Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL WEEK 3 – T&R (thoughts & revelations)

Icing the kicker – it may be one of my greatest pet peeves of football.  Sunday may have been a case study in why or why not to do such a thing.  The idea behind this exercise in psychology is to call a last second time out just as the opposing team is about to snap the ball for a winning field goal try.  Joe Philbin did just that and cost his Dolphins a chance at winning the game.  Just as Philbin told the referee to call timeout, the Jets snapped the ball, and the Dolphins promptly blocked Nick Folk’s attempt. 

Picture courtesy of the Miami Herald
owever the timeout was honored, the Jets reset, and Folk split the uprights.  Game over.   Just about seven hours later, Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker lined up for a 27-yard attempt against New England.  Bill Belichick called timeout as Tucker split the uprights.  So they lined up and re-kicked.  And he missed…..made it.  Or did he?  The kick appeared to sail just over the right upright, and the play was oddly enough ruled unreviewable.  Regardless, icing the kicker is one of those things that wastes time.  These guys are professional athletes, and I would bet that for the one time this timeout forces the kicker to get into his own head enough to shank a field goal, there are 95 others where it has no affect, and those four other times, the coach hurts his own cause.  If the only thing a coach can do to affect the outcome is call timeout to enact some mental curse on a kicker, then he hasn’t done his job for the day.
At one point, the color announcer for the game stated that Frank Gore needed more carries.  Fantasy players screamed Gore needed more carries.  One can imagine Gore himself in the huddle hearing the play calls and saying, “is coach seeing the game I’m having?”  The holes were large and if they weren’t there, Gore created them by running over people.  The resurgent Frank Gore kept running to a 5.1 yards per carry average, yet he was given just 12 carries.  Meanwhile, Alex Smith was given 35 attempts, and though he didn’t play badly, he was unable to lead his team back to victory.  Perhaps it was the speed of the game, for this one was played at a breakneck playoff pace.  From the opening drive, the Vikings came out and punched San Francisco in the mouth.  That may have stunned Jim Harbaugh, who for the first time in recent memory got out-coached, and the Vikings won their fifth straight over the 49ers at the Dome.  The 49ers shut down Adrian Peterson and kept him from breaking tackles.  In fact, the 49ers might be the best tackling defense in the NFC.  However, this was a game to note for Christian Ponder, who in last week’s T&R I mentioned was now worth owning in fantasy.  This game may have been his coming out game that puts the league on notice.  Ponder is fast, and deceptively so, as the 49ers found out in the middle of the second quarter when a pass play broke down and Ponder tucked the ball and 23-yards later dove into the end zone, scoring the first rushing touchdown of the year against San Francisco.  While he didn’t average fantastic yards per attempt by any means, he played within himself, didn't turn the ball over (though he did get away with one Donte Whitner dropped), and made due with his limited arsenal of weapons.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was some experts sleeper picks at the position (not necessarily mine) still isn’t tallying big yardage totals, but two red zone touchdowns, including a fourth and one reception in the back of the end zone should put him on your radar.  Perhaps the most disappointing day of all was had by WR Randy Moss, who had only two receptions on his six targets.  He dropped one, and was missed for a touchdown on another.  With Erin Henderson out with a concussion, LB Jasper Brinkley filled in admirably for Minnesota's leading tackler registering four tackles and a hit on Alex Smith.

The Bears defense proved again they're at the heart and soul of this team, snuffing out any decent field position the Rams got from Chicago's offensive inefficiency.  Jay Cutler was better, but his footwork mechanics are sloppy.  He's jumpy in the pocket, and way too often throws off his back foot.  He's a terrific athlete, whereby he can even make some of those throws, and can even scramble as he showed in the fourth quarter when he scampered for 21 yards.  But the problem with Cutler hasn't changed much.  Besides his porous offensive protection, Cutler insists on relying on his athletic talents rather than using them in cohesion with good footwork and mechanics.  The result is a game like this, where he should have had better numbers.  It's my take on why he's an average quarterback, and may never be an elite QB in the pros.  The Bears did attempt to get Devin Hester involved in this game, and he found himself wide open in the end zone, only to mistime his jump on Cutler's corner throw.  Cutler again threw it off his back foot, but it was accurate enough.  Lastly, it's hard to blame Ram's QB Sam Bradford for being unable to get the Rams in the end zone.  The Bears secondary, led Sunday by Tim Jennings, easily handled the St. Louis receiving corps.  At least two of the Bears six sacks were caused by the secondary.  St. Louis has a great possession receiver in Danny Amendola, but they have no ability to stretch the field, and it's going to hurt them in all phases, particularly the running game.  Steven Jackson had just 11 carries, making a total of just 20 in the past two games, partly because of a hurt groin.  Yet, Daryl Richardson had only four carries, so it wasn't only about Jackson's injury.  St. Louis is desperate for someone that can threaten a secondary deep.

Just when things looked like they were turning up for C.J. Spiller, the worries about his size reared their ugly head.  Spiller sprained his AC joint and is likely to miss 2-3 weeks.  Luckily enough for Buffalo, Fred Jackson is expected to return this weekend, in what can only be deemed yet another shockingly quick recovery this year for an athlete with a knee injury.  Cleveland sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first time all season Sunday, the first time they’ve had less than two sacks all season.  Though he had a subpar rushing day, Trent Richardson caught six passes for 24 yards and still found the end zone.   Mohamed Massaquoi, who tallied his third highest  yardage tally of his career last week, sloughed back into his fantasy void, with just one reception.  Greg Little also disappeared in this game, which didn’t help Cleveland’s bid to come from behind.  The Browns are 0-3 for the second time in the last three seasons.  Cleveland has little time to regroup as they’ll head to Baltimore for a game this Thursday.

Doug Martin got another 19 carries, and his yards per carry was just 2.8.  LeGarrette Blount got just four carries for 19 yards.  Neither was productive, and neither is going to get moving when their quarterback  only manages 110 yards passing for the game.  That’s the kind of yardage Aaron Rodgers used to make when he sneezed.  Vincent Jackson had one catch.  Mike Williams had two.  They threw to Dallas Clark just once.  The Bucs offense was three of 15 on third down.  That was the good news.  Freeman averaged just three crummy yards per toss.  Perhaps the best news for the Cowboys was the Miles Austin and Dez Bryant finally held their respective places as the top two Dallas receivers.  Tony Romo forced a few throws that he probably shouldn’t have, but I’d prefer a quarterback who occasionally pushes the envelope then simply checks down to the most easily identifiable target.  This was a sloppy game.

Ghosts of last year returned as the Colts took a 14-3 lead into halftime and again their defense let them down.  With under a minute to play, Cecil Shorts took a mid-range post pattern the distance, and in one play added more than half to Blain Gabbert’s total passing yards.  The throw turned out to be a greatly timed one, though it originally looked like it barely had enough mustard to be intercepted.  Maurice Jones-Drew rounds out the top five in fantasy backs with a stellar week of 177 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, and 16 more receiving yards.    While T.Y. Hilton caught his first career touchdown pass and ended up with over 100 yards receiving, it was again Reggie Wayne with eight receptions and 88 yards.  That’s now three straight contests with six or more catches from Wayne and no less than 70 yards.  With Andrew Luck continuing  to show he’s the real deal at quarterback and with the fact Wayne has missed just three games in his entire career (his rookie season) his fantasy value is solid.  Those that picked up Donnie Avery were none too pleased to see Hilton strolling into the end zone.  Yet Avery has never been a consistent every week guy, and he should be approached as a riskier play week to week.  Perhaps the biggest dud so far on the Colts offense is Donald Brown, who caught his first pass this past week.  At least it went for 39 yards, but remember, Bruce Arians offensive scheme is geared to attack downfield.  Brown will continue to get his share of carries, but those that invested in him for PPR purposes might consider trading, using the idea his targets will increase.  I remain dubious.  By the way, Austin Collie was lost again for the year.  That means T.Y. Hilton's value could rise quite a bit as the year progresses.

The consistency of the New York Jets offense is startling, and not in a good way.  Shonn Greene continues to be a runner who can barely scrape over three yards per carry.  Bilal Powell outrushed him again and on less carries.  Powell may end up being the Jets runner to get now.  My guess is the coaches are going to give him more and more looks so long as he keeps the ball secure.  Santonio Holmes cracked 100 yards receiving, something he hasn’t done since November of 2010.  However, the wheels might be coming off the Jets defense as Darrelle Revis was lost for the year after tearing the ACL in his left knee.  

This is not an injury the Jets defense can afford
The Jets defense is already ranked 28th in rush defense.  Removing Revis from the pass defense is likely to put that 10th ranked unit into decline as well.  Miami lost Reggie Bush to a knee injury though there was no structural damage, so they're hoping he'll return this weekend.  However, his loss was Daniel Thomas’ owners gains.  The running back that made Joe Philbin ‘queasy’ on HARD KNOCKS scored his first rushing TD of the year, and added 80 all-purpose yards.  Wide receiver Brian Hartline sunk back to mediocrity, a factor that may be less about him and more about this offense.  However, this is just another case where Hartline was highlighted for fantasy players with a big blinking neon sign that says ‘Bye Week Play.’

Welcome to the rail elimination pool players.  My bet is a good majority looked at this week at thought this was a perfect game to key on.  New Orleans led 24-6, but as a lot of high-powered offenses are finding out this year, without a running game, it’s hard to keep control of the ball.  The Saints didn’t score the rest of the game, and didn’t manage a single second half drive of more than five plays.  Jamaal Charles tore apart a Saints defense that couldn’t stop a three-legged sloth with fumble problems.  As of now, the Saints defense is yielding over 477 yards per game.  Who knows if it’s focus from everything that went down in the off-season, or if Steve Spagnuolo is trying to make square pegs fit in round holes.  Whatever the reason, this defense is beyond porous, and Drew Brees is finding out he can’t simply throw his way to victory this year.  Jimmy Graham caught his third touchdown in as many games, though the Chiefs did a fantastic job keeping him in check, and held the entire Saints offense to just two catches in the middle of the field.  It is important to note that for the first time all year Darren Sproles led all rushers.  This simply muddies any picture fantasy owners are trying to paint when it comes to the Saints rushing attack. Mark Ingram, the Saints first round pick just a year ago has virtually disappeared.

In a year where most of us expected to be talking about Matthew Stafford, Stafford has been struggling.  On top of his struggles, he left this game before the comeback that Steve Sabol might have dubbed the Comeback Miracle in Music Town
.  Shaun Hill, who is now solid waiver wire fodder for those of you heading into the bye weeks with little QB depth, tossed two miraculous touchdowns in the final two minutes forcing an improbable overtime, made even more improbable by a fourth down QB sneak that Jim Schwartz says was never supposed to happen.  Of course, by Jim Schwartz saying that he is throwing his center and backup quarterback under the bus.  And this writer finds it very hard to believe that backup QB Hill decided at the line of scrimmage to suddenly tap his center on the back, signaling a snap if he was told not to.  If it had been Stafford that have done it, maybe I buy it.  But this looks like Schwartz protecting himself from what might was an incredibly risky, winner-take-all call.  It failed, and Schwartz should own up to it, not blame someone else.  I think it’s clear that Mikel LeShoure is going to be the lead runner in Detroit, if not right away, in the very near future. The second year man recorded his first 100-yard rushing game, and added four receptions and touchdown.  Keep an eye on Stafford’s status, but this is one case where Calvin Johnson’s value won’t suffer if Hill becomes the quarterback.  Hill is a veteran journeyman, and he’s purely capable of putting up good numbers.  He’s a career 62 percent passer with 41 touchdowns against 23 interceptions.  Detroit CB Chris Houston returned for his first game of the year, but it didn’t help much.  For Tennessee, there’s no doubt Jake Locker can appreciate the return of big play threat Kenny Britt, if for no other reason than he takes the heat off of smaller burners like Nate Washington, affording them single coverage for a 71-yard touchdown later in the game.  The other hope is that it further helps to open up the running game, because no one has fallen as far and as fast as Chris Johnson has.  Fourteen carries, one catch, and a total of 29 yards.  Jared Cook caught his first touchdown of the year and amassed 77 receiving yards.  Is this the start of his breakout campaign?  This may not be the time to pose that questions, as Tennessee heads to Reliant Stadium next week to face the Texans and their second best overall defense.

It wasn't his best game, but give Robert Griffin III his credit as well as the Redskin's defense for erasing a 24-7 as lead as they approached halftime.  The Redskins scored 17 unanswered points and tied the game by the fourth quarter.  It wasn’t his prettiest game, but he threw one touchdown, ran for another, and didn’t have an interception (though did lost a fumble).  Roy Helu has seemingly been removed from the running game and is now solely a PPR specialist for any team.  He had three catches on three targets for 20 yards.  He hasn’t had a carry the last two games, and for the season has two rushes total.  Leonard Hankerson had another solid game of four catches on seven targets for 46 yards.  He appears to be on his way up the depth chart.  As for the Bengals, they may have one of the most complete and exciting wide receiver groups of the last few years, and the majority of them have played less than two years.  Rookie Mohamed Sanu threw the game’s opening touchdown to second year man A.J. Green.  Andrew Hawkins, in his second year, had two grabs but turned that into 66 yards.  Rookie Armon Binns showed his speed on a 48-yard touchdown run.  Marvin Lewis may have the next greatest show of turf developing in front of him, and with Jay Gruden at the helm, we could be witnessing the birth of something very exciting in Cincinnati.  And in fantasy, I think QB Andy Dalton’s stock is very quickly on the rise.

People were already talking about how big the Cardinals win over Seattle appeared after the Seahawks disposed of Dallas, but now that they’ve toppled Green Bay (albeit doubtfully), the Cardinals look like a favorite to win the NFC West.  The problem the Cardinals still have is that the quarterback position is still undefined for Ken Whisnehunt. I mean, can any of us legitimately say that we are certain John Skelton won’t be under center in the near future?  Though QB Kevin Kolb looked like the player Arizona traded to get over a year ago, we know he has been brittle and has lacked a certain fire since he came to Arizona.  For that reason alone, you can invest a waiver wire pick if you want depth, but I’d tread cautiously even though I liked what I saw.  Running back Ryan Williams got himself back in his coach’s good graces with a 13 rush, 83 yard tally.  As for the Eagles, Michael Vick certainly is turning heads and it isn’t because he’s doing anything right.  The fumble that went for a touchdown was simply another case of Vick not reading the possibility of a safety blitz.  Philadelphia fans can at least thank Andy Reid and company for having the foresight to draft a quarterback this year in Nick Foles.  Whether or not he’s ready or able to do the job against first string units remains to be seen, but his chance is coming soon.  Rookie wide receiver Damaris Johnson led all Eagles receivers on the day filling in for the injured Jeremy Maclin.   When Maclin returns he’ll be relegated to slot duties and passing down situations, so monitor how he’s to be employed once Maclin returns.

It wasn't too long ago in Steelers history that Ben Roethlisberger made it clear he wanted the new offense under Bruce Arians to become a more passer-friendly attack.  Now under Todd Haley, the Steelers offense resembles nothing of what it was even four years ago, and the team is steadily declining.  Roethlisberger has the distinction of being the Pittsburgh quarterback who has the most games of 300 or more passing yards under his belt with 21.  And his record in those 21 games of passing brilliance: 12-9.  That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for throwing as often as the Steelers do.  Simply put, the Steelers waltzed into Oakland and looked as if they assumed the game was theirs.  They didn't lay a paw on Raiders QB Carson Palmer, who tore them apart in the second half.  And as I alluded to in the preview, the Steelers could be hurt on the ground.  Darren McFadden became just the fifth runner to post 100 yards or more against the Steelers in the last five seasons.  The best news is that if you're the owner of Roethlisberger in fantasy, you can truly say he has arrived.  Even with RB Rashard Mendenhall likely to make his first appearance after the bye week in Week Four, this offensive line won't make things easier for the ground game.  Mike Wallace's value is also solidly intact.  The truth is, the Steelers just aren't very good right now.  As for fantasy owners of McFadden, his game was a deep sigh of relief.  I still don't love Palmer overall, because I think the lack of multiple sacks on Palmer, a QB who had gone down 10 times in the first two weeks, was more a factor of the Steelers problematic pass rush. 

The game did come down to Matt Schaub and he delivered in a big way, tossing four touchdown passes to four different receivers.  Schaub owners shouldn't get too excited though.  This is still a rush first offense, designed around the talents of RB Arian Foster and his protégé Ben Tate.  Before Sunday, Schaub had one touchdown pass in his first two games, and while I'd expect the passing offense to gain more traction as the season wears on, you may find Schaub's attempts in the red zone will be limited with such a ground arsenal.  For Denver, Eric Decker posted just his second 100-yard performance, and I expect him to get more involved in moving the chains.  If you remember how much Peyton Manning used Austin Collie prior to Collie's concussion problems, this could be Decker; not a lot of touchdowns, but good yardage and decent PPR value.  Willis McGahee suffered a rib injury, which for anyone who owns him is a relief, because as long as it doesn't involve his knees, there's a chance he'll return quickly.  You can consider picking up Brandon Stokley in deep leagues for a WR3.  Stokley's receptions have increased each game, peaking with his six catch, 73 yard and a touchdown performance Sunday.  Keep in mind Stokley is 36, and that could be a factor as we reach the season's end in terms of fatigue.

I think it's become clear that the Atlanta Falcons defense is for real, but it doesn't help when you're leading sack artist gets into trouble with the law.  John Abraham for some reason would not leave the scene where there was a reported jumper threatening to leap off a roof.  He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of obstruction of justice.  Don't know if Abraham wanted to play hero, but he certainly has been an important part of a Falcons ranked eighth against the pass, and fourth in points allowed.  Thomas Decoud has three interceptions in three games, and Atlanta leagues the league with seven already; it's no surprise they're a plus-10 in the give/take this season.  Matt Ryan, one of my pre-season favorite quarterbacks to wait on while drafting the rest of you team, has had a terrific start, with eight touchdowns and one interception.  He's also completing 72 percent of his passes, in large part due to the consistency of TE Tony Gonzalez, who has caught 21 or 28 passes thrown his way.  San Diego we knew was in trouble when they couldn't convert against Oakland in a second half where their average field position began in Oakland territory.  Ryan Mathews had a little rust in his return, fumbling away a ball, but he did average 4.4 yards per carry.  Jackie Battle may see more carries in the near term, though I don't feel like he's a long term answer, based on how many years he's had opportunities and failed to excel.  Last year he had his career high tally of 149 carries, but barely scraped four yards per touch.  The question that remains to be answered is was that Battle or a lousy Chiefs line.  Mathews will get more and more carries as his health returns, and will become a bigger part of the passing attack, especially with Robert Meachem adding little so far.

I don’t think anyone watching this game came out of it without a slightly sick feeling in their stomach.  We know both of these teams are for real and are going to be around when the big dance rolls around.  However, it is important to note that unless you are in a league that award six points for a passing touchdown, Tom Brady has yet to give you 20 fantasy points.  He has yet to be ranked in the top ten, much less the top five.  He gets the Bills next, a team he is 18-2 against all time, and has thrown 46 TDs against 17 interceptions.  Meanwhile, Torrey Smith had an inspirational game, deciding to play the day his brother died in a tragic motorcycle accident.  He had just six receptions but for 127 yards and two touchdowns.  I don’t mean to be insensitive or downplay what Smith did, but why did it take a tragedy like this for him to step up and do what he’s been capable of all year long?  Prior to the game, Smith had 108 yards and four receptions for the season.  By the way, Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta  has been in the top ten tight ends two of three weeks, and hasn’t had less than 50 yards receiving in a week.  He’s the seventh best fantasy tight end overall.


Mike McCarthy made fantastic 2nd half adjustments
I haven’t been one to pick on the refereeing this season.  It is simply one of those exercises in futility as each team has had to deal with the league’s impertinence in being willing to work with the professional referees.  However, this game may have been one of the worst officiated games ever.  Forget about all the ridiculous pass interference calls that were and weren’t called.  The final play of the game was not only called wrong, but was then upheld wrong.  It so upset Jon Gruden, that he actually stated Green Bay shouldn’t have to fly 6,000 miles home on such a bad call.  Problem is the entire contiguous United States is only 3,000 miles.   Nevertheless, you can’t take away from Seattle their eight first half sacks, holding Aaron Rodgers to under 100 yards passing in the first half, to zero points in the first half, and the list goes on.  Seattle’s front four have put the NFC West on notice, and strangely enough with the Arizona at 3-0, the Western division may be the strongest division in the NFC.  However, head coach Mike McCarthy gave us all a demonstration of second half adjustments.  He gave up the deep passing game altogether.  He put Aaron Rodgers under center and ran Cedric Benson repeatedly.  Benson, who had two carries in the first half.  He finished the game with 17, and a combined 64 yards and a touchdown.
  That may be the lone highlight for Green Bay in this mess; they’ve found a running back for the near future.  Fantasy players ready to panic on Aaron Rodgers might have reason to, but only if next week goes as badly.  So far, the Packers have played three top ten defenses in the first three weeks.   Russell Wilson managed a pretty awful 10 completions in 21 attempts, and got the benefit of a roughing the passer call that nullified an interception.