Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WEEK ONE NFL - T&R (thoughts & revelations)

Wrong, Jon!!  I can hear the voice in my head taunting me like a little sister.  Predicting Week One in the NFL is an exercise in abject futility, as is most sports betting if you ask me.  How many people took St. Louis and Cleveland to cover the point spreads?  Did you take Arizona to beat Seattle?  What about Tampa Bay over Carolina?  Then came Monday night where the status quo was regained.  I picked the underdogs in both – and was very wrong.  However, there were some important things to take away from this first week of football, and not the ones you're thinking:

Not that Peyton Manning is back and better than ever – it's not true.

Not that RG III is the coming of the Redskins messiah – it's not true.

Not that Michael Vick is terrible – we're about to find out.

Not that you should abandon Trent Richardson or Beanie Wells or Darius Heyward-Bey… okay, maybe Darius Heyward-Bey.  But don't give up on the Raiders.

There was a lot more to be gained if you were paying attention.

 
INDIANAPOLIS @ CHICAGO
You’re going to read me writing this a lot.  Does anyone else think a game plan with a rookie QB is not supposed to involve more than 35 passing attempts? On the one hand, it shows a ton of faith by a head coach in said QB.  On the other hand, well, duh, he’s prone to make extra mistakes. Amazingly enough, even with Andrew Luck making 45 pass attempts in his first game as a pro, the Bears sacked the rookie just once.  That either bodes very well for the Colts offensive line or badly for the Bears defense.  Donald Brown got only nine carries, but made the most of them, scampering 48 yards and a touchdown.  The only other player to get a rushing play was Vick Ballard, meaning you have little to worry about in terms of Brown’s output as there’s little competition behind him.  Jay Cutler got you over 300 yards passing.  Do you know that during Cutler’s career in every opener he’s started but one he’s thrown for 300 yards or more?  In all but one year, his follow up game in Week Two saw a decline in his stats.  If you drafted Reggie Wayne, you’re in for a nice year.  Wayne was targeted a team high 18 times and caught nine balls for 135 yards.

PHILADELPHIA @ CLEVELAND
Is it me, or does anyone else think a game plan involving a rookie QB shouldn’t involve 35 or more attempts?  Oh wait, I said that already.  You were warned.  Brandon Weeden, the 28-year-old rookie attempted 35 passes.  At least with Andrew Luck it’s understandable in the sense he has a group of receivers who can play.  Greg Little, the Browns top receiver last year was targeted four times and had zero catches.  Mohamed Massaquoi was targeted eight times and caught three for 41 yards.  Trent Richardson’s 2.1 yards per carry might scare you, but remember this is an Eagles defense loaded with talent, and he’s maybe a month out of a second knee surgery.  The guy shouldn’t really be out there.  Another point of interest, Cleveland’s defense is talented; just don’t count on as great a performance for the next few weeks as Joe Haden has been suspended for four games.  For Philadelphia, this was not a good performance.  Michael Vick has had one truly solid year as a quarterback that didn’t involve running out of the pocket every few plays, and a four interception game against the Browns this first week isn’t going to make me believe that year wasn’t the anomaly.  Yes, he led his team back to victory, but with Jeremy Maclin once again coming up lame with an injury, how questionable is Vick going to be next week against Baltimore?

BUFFALO @ NEW YORK
Are the Bills really this bad?  Are the Jets really this good?  One thing is for certain, things couldn’t get much better for C .J. Spiller in terms of joining a team where he’ll get to make an impact.  He tore apart the Jets single-handedly, making one wonder why Chan Gailey opted to throw the ball at all after their first two drives ended interceptions.  The loss of Fred Jackson is a huge morale killer, not only for the team, but for my fantasy prediction he was a top five back this year, and that’s really what’s important.  He’s out at least three weeks, and then there’s more bad news for Ryan Fitzpatrick, as if he can afford any at all.  David Nelson has torn a ligament in his knee and is out for the season.  Donald Jones just became a hot waiver wire pickup this week.  Both teams were amazingly efficient on third down (Bill 6-9: Jets 10-14), something to keep an eye on if you own these defenses.  Shonn Greene averaged 3.5 yards per carry and had zero catches.  That’s pretty mundane, but the good news is when you get 27 carries you’re going to get yards.  Of note, Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus managed just two tackles between the two of them and zero sacks.  That’s not exactly the vaunted pass rush the Bills are paying for.

NEW ENGLAND @ TENNESSEE
This was a game of pleasant surprises.  The first was RB Stevan Ridley, who behind a fairly seasoned Patriots line tore the heart out of Tennessee every time they needed to slow down a Patriots drive.  He averaged a whopping six yards per carry.  Shane Vereen owners have seen the new sheriff in the Patriots backfield and it isn’t him.  However, don’t panic on him.  In the Bill Belichick era, only one running back of his has ever reached 300 carries, meaning he generally mixes things up.  However, if he’s found a workhorse back (like he did with Corey Dillon or Antowain Smith) those runners handled the load at nearly a 5:1 clip.  Now, Vereen was inactive on Sunday, but Ridley’s impact in this game was hard to ignore.  Vereen’s diminutive stature may make him the ‘Kevin Faulk’ PPR option in this offense.  Monitor this.  Second, first round picks Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones played big and could be found all over the field.  That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the division.  Third, Jake Locker has a strong arm and generally makes good decisions…problem is he’s a bit inaccurate at times.  He’ll have to fix that as a number of receivers he missed were open for what could have been big plays.  Kenny Britt’s return should help, as he’s the kind of athletic receiver where Locker has more room for error.  Lastly, Chris Johnson is running behind an experienced line.  The youngest member of the Titans line is their center, Fernando Velasco who is in his third year.  So, which is more disconcerting: the fact Johnson garnered just 11 carries or that he managed a ridiculous four yards?  New England’s defense was featuring two rookies, and a free agent safety.  You have to question Munchak’s game plan.  Yes, he’s got a franchise QB in the making, but Locker isn’t ready to own this team just yet. 

JACKSONVILLE @ MINNESOTA
How do you describe Adrian Peterson?  Amazing?  Nah, too droll.  Heroic?  Not quite appropriate.  Inhuman?  Robotic?  The first black man to appear in most white men’s dreams which involve love?  His abbreviated load, and I use that term loosely, of 17 carries, 84 yards and two scores, means those who ignored the warnings may have just landed the best third to fourth round pick in fantasy history.  On the flip side, Maurice Jones-Drew did his share considering he reported to the team all of a week or so ago.  Some of that was forced action, as Rashad Jennings exited the game after the first half and did not return.  Mike Mularkey is saying Jenning's knee injury isn’t serious.  More importantly, second year quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert were efficient to say the least.  Ponder didn’t throw a touchdown, but completed 20 of 27 passes for 270 yard.  Gabbert was 23-of-39 for 260 yards and two scores, including a fourth quarter toss to Cecil Shorts that gave the Jags the lead with 20 seconds to play.  It might tell you something about the Jaguars defense that they couldn’t protect that three point lead for 20 seconds.  It tells you something even greater about Christian Ponder – this kid has a future.  TE Marcedes Lewis already has one more touchdown than he did all last season, which makes him a more interesting consideration as the season goes on.  More importantly, fantasy owners will be looking for the player who steps up as the number two receiver for each of these offenses.  Will Cecil Shorts stay healthy and be viable for the Jags?  Is this the year a kind aroma emanates off of Devin Aromashodu for Minnesota?

WASHINGTON @ NEW ORLEANS
Is it me, or does anyone else think a game plan involving a rookie QB shouldn’t involve 35 or more passing attempts?  Oh wait, it didn't.  You think coaching doesn't matter?  Look at the Redskins game plan.  Robert Griffin III completed his first seven passes, and nearly all of them were within five yards of the line of scrimmage.  Not to take away from his incredible poise in the pocket, RGIII was guided into a hostile environment by a masterful strategy enacted by Kyle Shanahan.  He let the receivers make plays, and give credit to the offensive line that simply pushed the Saints defense around.  Losing Pierre Garcon to a foot injury though will cause some problems, though Aldrick Robinson made some nice plays, and could have some nice value going forward.  The other surprise was Alfred Morris, who usurped nearly all carries his direction to the tune of 28 for 96 yards and two scores. Evan Royster and Roy Helu saw a combined four carries, though Helu contributed mightily in pass protection, picking up several key blitzes.   New Orleans was 2-for-11 on third down and ran for a measly 32 yards.  Any time a franchise can't run well I worry about their long-term prospects in terms of winning.  In this case, Mark Ingram looked healthy, but his offensive line was unable to clear any room for him.  Darren Sproles is a PPR guy only, and those that took him very high in the draft are not going to get you the kind of value someone like Jamaal Charles or Darren McFadden will give, barring health issues.  Sproles had five receptions for 35 yards and a score.  It's clear though, that besides Jimmy Graham, WR Lance Moore is one of Brees' favorite targets, especially when it comes to the end zone.  Each of the past two years Moore's scored eight times, despite missing two games last season.  Moore's size is his only disadvantage when it comes to staying healthy.  He's high risk, high reward for those that want to invest.

ST. LOUIS @ DETROIT
Strangely enough, St. Louis doesn't look like a doormat anymore, though they did blow the game in the final few minutes, allowing a wide open Kevin Smith to sneak into the end zone.  It's hard to believe that just two seasons ago Smith was out of football.  His 13 carries led all Detroit rushers, pointing out again how desperate Detroit is for another runner.  Joique Bell and Keiland Williams each got one carry, the same amount as wide outs Stefan Logan, Titus Young and Nate Burleson.  That tells you how much faith Jim Schwartz is putting in these guys.  Young also received just three targets, not the kind of growth you'd have hoped for when Burleson had eight.  Sam Bradford completed 68 percent of his passes, but boy is he missing a big play receiver.  Not that I loved Brandon Lloyd, who looked slightly lost in his first game with the Patriots, but Brandon Gibson and Denario Alexander, should he return to health ever, don't give anyone that warm offensive feeling inside.  Danny Amendola did as predicted, leading the group with targets and receptions.  The biggest problem is that St. Louis lost two offensive linemen to injury. Both Roger Saffold and Scott Wells will miss several games, with Wells the worst for wear with a broken foot.  If Steven Jackson was having problems gaining yards with the line intact, I don't want to see what he's going to do with one that is patch work. 

ATLANTA @ KANSAS CITY
Matt Cassel did all he could to keep Kansas City in the game, scoring a rushing TD and throwing two more, but Atlanta is too powerful right now to turn the ball over three consecutive times and expect to win.  It should be noted that KC ran the ball 33 times and averaged 4.6 per carry as a team.  That kind of output could explain why at halftime this game had been an even match.  If anything, it looked as if KC would hang around just long enough to make my prophecy of their victory possible.  Michael Turner got just 11 rushes, perhaps because Mike Smith and his staff realize how much tread are on this guy's tires.  He managed just 2.9 per carry, while Jacquizz Rodgers carried seven times for 22 yards, a 3.1 ypc clip.  If there were any questions at how monstrous the Atlanta offensive beast could become, you witnessed 12 catches totaling 195 yards between Roddy White and Julio Jones.  Dexter McCluster was Cassel's favorite target, but don't expect anything more than PPR value, and it won't necessarily be consistent.  On the other hand, Jon Baldwin received no targets, something that not only raises eyebrows but causes head-scratches, jock itches, and other uncomfortable rash-like symptoms.  Supposedly he had a good camp, and there is still an expectation he'll step forward.  Hold on, I'm feeling another itch again.

MIAMI @ HOUSTON
Is it me, or does anyone else believe a game plan involving a rookie QB shouldn’t involve 35 or more attempts?  Yes, again – this time Chuck Pagano thought it prudent to go toe-to-toe with the Texans, and it worked for a little more than a quarter.  Reggie Bush was thwapping (is that a word?  Oh well, it is now) the Texans defense gaining 43 yards by the 10:48 point of the second quarter.  Yet it seemed his one fumble got him into trouble, as it stymied a drive and gave Miami a FG attempt instead of continuing on for a touchdown.  Bush finished the game with almost five yards per carry and 69 yards on 14 carries. He also led the team in receptions with six.  That's when a light should have gone off in Pagano's head that he just doesn't have anyone on this team that resembles even an Andre Johnson sparring partner.  So the equation is health plus Reggie Bush should equal a monster season this year.  Note that Miami's defense held a still healing Arian Foster to just three yards per carry, though they couldn't keep him out of the end zone.  Ben Tate fared worse with 1.2 yards per touch.  Those numbers should be of concern to Houston as they move forward, considering how good Foster's numbers have been in the past running behind his front five.  Houston will also be waiting to find their second receiver as rookie Keshawn Martin had just one target, and second year man Lestar Jean had one catch on two targets.  Miami shouldn't panic, as Ryan Tannenhill is a work-in-progress.  He gets a tough Raiders defense next week, something I'll elaborate on down below.

SAN FRANCISCO @ GREEN BAY
Not having a running game is not good news --- I think I've written that somewhere.  The 49ers defense is already good enough without bringing a fairly one-dimensional offense into this meeting.  Green Bay's Cedric Benson continued his pedestrian ways, just this time he was in a championship caliber uniform.  He rushed nine times for a shoddy 18 yards.  Thus, Aaron Rodgers led all Green Bay rushers, something which is just bad news heading into Chicago.  We knew the Packers defense was suspect by the amount of yards they gave up last year.  Well, they helped Frank Gore along to his first 100-yard performance since November of 2011.  The same Alex Smith the 49ers almost let walk performed like a stud, making it eight straight games without an interception, inclusive of his two playoff games last year.  He completed nearly 80 percent of his passes and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt.  I'm not ready to label him MVP or anything, but those are Pro Bowl numbers for a quarterback people were saying couldn't hold Aaron Rodgers jock (as one radio guy put it last week).  Randy Moss proved this game that while he's not going to be shedding or bowling over tacklers, he's still a crisp route-runner and great possession man.  Any doubts fantasy players had on Jermichael Finley at least get put to rest for now after an 11 target afternoon where he caught seven balls for 47 yards and a score.  He also generated a pass interference call in the end zone.  The 49ers have announced themselves early as a top NFC candidate.  Last year was no fluke.

SEATTLE @ ARIZONA
It is just shocking to see Seattle lineman Russell Okung down with an injury again.  At least he'll avoid surgery, and could even see the field this Sunday, but so far that guy finds the bench more than he finds opposing linemen.  Russell Wilson showed why pre-season hardly matters, as unlike before where he found time to throw, he was harassed all game long.  Marshawn Lynch gave you 85 yards on 21 carries playing with back spasms, a good effort.  Wilson attempted 34 passes --- again why Lord?  Why? – And Braylon Edwards made his return to the NFL in a Seahawks uniform, catching five balls for 43 yards.  Doug Baldwin dropped a touchdown pass, and I expect he'll get more opportunities around the red zone.  Arizona finds more irony than ever as Kevin Kolb now takes the helm of the Cardinals after leading them to a victory.  It should be noted also that Kolb gave Larry Fitzgerald his two longest receptions of the day, 14 and 23 yards on the winning drive.  I like Kolb's arm better than Skelton's in terms of accuracy.  He just needs to get confidence again, and 6-of-8 for 66 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown certainly will assist in that.  Ryan Williams started the game over Beanie Wells and promptly fumbled the ball away.  Neither fared well against Seattle's tough defense, but as the Cardinals move forward I still expect Whisenhunt to try to develop a better rushing attack.

CAROLINA @ TAMPA BAY
If I had told you just two touchdowns would be scored in this game, you probably would have thought both would have been registered by the Panthers.  Not so.  It is very clear Tampa Bay has upgraded themselves defensively under new head coach Greg Schiano.  Doug Martin appears to be the undisputed ball-carrier for Tampa Bay right now, though one game does not a season make.  But it's possible if we don't see the carries rise for LeGarrette Blount that he's falling out of favor.  Mike Williams did what he seems to do, catch a few balls and score a touchdown.  He's a fantasy tease, acting like the new Cris Carter of the NFL.  Note also Dallas Clark may have only had one catch but it was for 33 yards and led to a field goal.  I'm very interested to see how his season goes with his new team.  As for Carolina, Steve Smith is still chugging along, but are teams starting to figure Cam Newton out?  Is this a case of the sophomore blues setting in?  He had more than one turnover Sunday, something he did only four times last year, and he only ran five times for four yards.  However, he did complete almost 70 percent of his throws.  Now someone just has to ask Ron Rivera why when he has three great runners (though Jonathan Stewart was inactive for the game), does he never run the football?  Thirteen rushes all day?  Not how I would have tried to attack Tampa with their somewhat aggressive secondary, but then again, I'm now a blogger.

PITTSBURGH @ DENVER
All of Denver is on cloud nine.  And why shouldn't they be?  Peyton Manning not only survived the Pittsburgh defense, he chomped on them for part of the game.  However, digging deeper there are two important things to make note of:  1) Manning threw the ball only 26 times, something that might hint that he's still building up stamina; 2) Pittsburgh was without their most underrated safety Ryan Clark, without whom they've lost twice to Denver, and linebacker James Harrison, perhaps there most fearsome pass rusher.  Imagine if you removed Von Miller and Champ Bailey from the Denver defense and then replayed the game?  The outcome would be a lot different. Bad news is that Antonio Brown appeared to get his bell rung, and when the Steelers lost him, they lost their most reliable receiver since Mike Wallace just joined the team a week before.  Demaryius Thomas has proven that he is big and incredibly fast once he gets going.  He's going to lead this team in receiving yards this year because of his big play capability.  Neither defense looked very good, though Denver's red zone defense was what made the difference.  The Steelers offensive line needs David DeCastro back, though rookie Mike Adams is going to get a crash course very quickly.  We'll see if he's as talented as he's supposed to be, because the Steelers managed just two rushing first downs opposed to Denver's eight.  With that kind of output, it won't matter who you put in the backfield.  Keep that in mind Rashard Mendenhall owners.


MONDAY NIGHT GAMES

CINCINNATI @ BALTIMORE
Well, much like Shonn Greene, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still a straight ahead, one-cut runner, but he's going to get a lot of work.  He averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 18 carries, not a bad workload for opening week.  I still don't have a lot of faith in him.  He doesn't make people miss much and has maybe one move to his repertoire.  You look across the way with Ray Rice and you see the difference immediately.  One thing I will say is how impressive Joe Flacco was.  Yes, he got a nice call on the Anquan Boldin touchdown that probably wasn't, but that pass was heaved off his back foot and hit Boldin in stride.  His average pass play measured over 10 yards, an obscene amount, and that was against what was considered to be a pretty good Bengals' secondary.  It's possible the Ravens have finally found their group of receivers, including TE Dennis Pitta, who made one heck of a one-on-one grab for a touchdown on a perfect Flacco touch pass.  The Bengals, for the most part, hung in there, and then the wheels just came off.  A few turnovers in the second half, including another big play by Ed Reed, who seemingly only makes them at crucial times, turned the game in a big way.  There's little doubt A.J. Green is a star, and this little spunky Andrew Hawkins may make some big waves in PPR leagues.

SAN DIEGO @ OAKLAND
Time to panic in Oakland?  I think not.  While everyone comments on how bad Oakland was, particularly after they lost their long snapper (yes, it was an embarrassment to watch that aftermath), Oakland fans aren't looking at the numbers at all.  With about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, San Diego had an average starting field position in the second half of the Oakland 43 yard line.  Let me repeat that – the Oakland 43 yard line was their average starting field position.  And how many touchdowns did the Chargers' come away with after beginning with that field position.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  The Raiders kept them out of the end zone the entire second half despite the terrible and comical play of their special teams.  That's huge.  The one drawback was that the Raiders were unable to generate much pass rush on Philip Rivers.  You also have to be extremely concerned with the fact that Darren McFadden caught 13 passes and was thrown to 18 times.  It means that Carson Palmer isn't seeing the field well, and let's face it, compared to Rivers, he doesn't.  Not only that, he doesn't have the arm he once had, underthrowing passes, including screens.  The bigger problem is that Darius Heyward-Bey, the guy who is supposed to step up, disappeared during this game.  So Oakland should be optimistic about their defense but not so much their offense.  If their offense improves, they'll win their share of games.  For the Chargers, most teams would kill a unit that settled for five field goals on scoring drives.  The San Diego defense did play pretty well shutting down McFadden.  Robert Meachem was, as he has been for the Saints in general, a non-factor.  They had little running game without Ryan Matthews, who should be cleared to play this weekend.  San Diego needs him badly.