Monday, October 8, 2012

NFL WEEK 5 – T&R (thought and revelations)

I try not to point out the obvious. So you may notice I rarely comment on a big name runner or a top receiver unless I really believe the game is on his shoulders. Is it going to matter anyway? Are you going to bench Andre Johnson because I suggest it? Are you ever going to sit LeSean McCoy? No, even if the matchup below didn't favor him, it's not worth making the recommendation. The mantra of fantasy still remains, always start your studs. You didn't draft Ray Rice or Tom Brady to sit him because of the matchup. You drafted him to play weekly, regardless of matchup. So if you don't see me mention that stud runner or receiver in a matchup, usually it's because I assume you're playing him, and you don't need me telling you something that's a no-brainer.

Steelers' linebacker Lawrence Timmons was everywhere. The return of James Harrison no doubt affected the way the Eagles handled the pass rush, and the Steelers hurried and harried Michael Vick into four fumbles, two turnovers and three sacks. Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran like a possessed man against an Eagles defense ranked 12th against the run, putting up 81 yards on just 14 rushes, and the Steelers managed to eke out a two point victory. The Steelers lost safety Troy Polamalu again, as he re-aggravated his calf injury, which means he'll likely be out a few more weeks. That makes Thursday's game a near impossibility and Ryan Mundy will act has his fill-in again. Two more important notes as regards the Steelers: First, Antonio Brown continues to be the most targeted receiver for Pittsburgh, and when it came to third down conversions, Brown was targeted on three in the second half, including the third and 12 conversion on their final drive; second, Todd Haley's offense is finding ways for TE Heath Miller to be more involved, raising his fantasy profile. He's on pace for career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns, having caught 19 balls, four for touchdowns in the first four games. As for Michael Vick, his post-game press conference made no sense.  Michael Vick came to the microphones after the game to declare he doesn't have
Michael Vick has fumbled eight times this season.
a fumbling problem.  He's right, he doesn't have a fumbling problem…. It's more like he's got a fumbling epidemic. When the Eagles found a way to retain possession and move into the red zone, Vick found Brent Celek for the touchdown. Celek only had three grabs, and has seen his numbers decline since Week Two. Part of the reason might be the Eagles offensive line, which in pass-blocking terms hasn't exactly been stellar. On Sunday, Vick was tormented, and sacked three more times, making that 14 times on the season. If you're a Vick owner, you should be looking ahead at the schedule, and considering when Vick might cede his role to Nick Foles. It's very possible if things don't improve.

The return of Dwight Freeney can't be understated. He had one of the Colts five sacks and Andrew Luck led the Colts on scoring drives all through the third and fourth quarters, none more important than with just 39 ticks left on the clock. Reggie Wayne continues to be one of the feel-good stories of the year, both in the NFL and among fantasy circles. His 212 yards receiving broke his career best of 200 set back in 2010. However, as great as his day was, I'm pretty sure the headline on is not one he'd have preferred, Reggie Wayne endures severe cramps in Colts win.

For Green Bay, Alex Green becomes a huge pick-up on the waiver wire as Cedric Benson was carted off the field with a Lisfranc injury.  He may miss up to eight weeks.  The Packers have already made it clear by signing Benson they didn't fully believe in the talents of James Starks. Thus, expect Alex Green to get one heck of a tryout, especially after his nine carry, 55 yard performance Sunday.  Aaron Rodgers gave you three touchdowns, two to James Jones, who continues his career year. Jones has never caught more than 50 passes and seven touchdowns. Through five games he has 20 grabs and five touchdowns. No doubt those who drafted Green Bay receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson (guilty on Nelson) have to be getting frustrated. Jennings has been fighting a groin injury, but Nelson is fresh off of signing a three year extension in October 2011. He's coming off a 1,300 yard season where he had 68 receptions. So far, his reception totals are decent (23) but his yardage through five games is just 289 and he's scored once. The inconsistency has plenty to do with Rodgers' offensive line woes, which is not going to improve overnight. The Packers now at 2-3 need Jennings to return sooner than later, especially since TE Jermichael Finley went down Sunday with a shoulder injury.

The Browns scared the Giants just enough in the first half to get them re-focused, and RB Ahmad Bradshaw gave a tour de force performance for 200 rushing yards alone and touchdown.  Giants QB Eli Manning found Victor Cruz three times in the end zone, effectively making Reuben Randle's 82 yards receiving nothing more than a footnote. However, for fantasy owners, Randle's nine targets should be recognized for what they are, a direct result of Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden being ruled out of the game. However, a solid performance such as this can change things, and Barden and Randle are of the same breed of physical receiver. Barden has four more inches of height, which theoretically could mean more targets around the red zone, but Barden is injured and has made his share of bone-headed mistakes.  Thus, Randle could easily see more targets in the future that cut into Barden's playing time. He has put everyone on notice. For Cleveland, Josh Gordon made himself relevant this game, but his numbers looked like those of Greg Little, as he managed two catches on eight targets. Little was targeted just twice and didn't have a catch. It is also worth noting that in just two games with the Browns Jerious Norwood has 13 catches. While Norwood hardly figures in with ground yardage, he appears to be a PPR specialist in waiting, especially on a Browns team desperate for output.

The first half was a mistake-filled battle with penalties and turnovers, a defensive battle of who would bend but not break if you will. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they continued that style in the second half, while Miami pulled themselves together, picked off Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton to open the second half and capped off a 36-yard drive with a Reggie Bush touchdown run. Dalton was picked off a second time in the fourth quarter and that was the game. The Miami defense was gaining a reputation of not being able to hold onto victories, much like the Colts last year. This time they eliminated any Bengals rushing attack, forcing Dalton to make 43 pass attempts. They kept Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns from having any say in the outcome, while holding A.J. Green to 65 yards and a touchdown on his nine catches. Miami RB Lamar Miller was lost to a hamstring injury, meaning Daniel Thomas' value has just increased for fantasy owners. Not only is he the red zone back, as he showed today again with a one-yard touchdown plunge, but Miller's carries are headed Thomas' way. He had 10 on Sunday. Bernard Scott, the man Cincinnati's been waiting on to become their top runner, fears he tore his ACL after leading the team in carries and yards. If so, he'll miss the remainder of the season, keeping BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a solid third RB on your fantasy team.

Washington backup QB Kirk Cousins stepped in and immediately gave the Redskins back the lead, finding veteran receiving Santana Moss for a 77 yard touchdown strike. Unfortunately, the reverie was short-lived as Cousins' two final drives ended in interceptions, and the Falcons were able to secure the victory. The Redskins kept Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers in check all day up until the final drive when Turner found the end zone. Both Roddy White and Julio Jones, were kept under 100 yards receiving, something that's only happened one other time this season. However, Tony Gonzalez continues to defy his age and put up over 120 receiving yard and a score. For Washington, RB Alfred Morris continues to be one of the top backs in the NFL and in fantasy, as he had 115 rushing yards on 18 carries and 20 more receiving yards. However, the 'Skins lost another game where he failed to carry more than 20 times. Kirk Cousins might be the starter next week depending on how serious the concussion is to Robert Griffin III. Griffin tweeted after the game that he feels all right, but that will be up to the medical staff this coming week. Fred Davis did lead all Washington receivers in yards until Moss' big play. Pierre Garcon had seven targets to lead Washington.

Brady Quinn: Chiefs Savior?
Leave it to Joe Flacco to make a statement that he believes he's an elite quarterback only then to lay an egg against the Chiefs defense. This is why Flacco has his disbelievers, with me being one of them. It's not that he's not a solid QB. But he's not "Matty Ice." He's not Brady. Coming into Sunday's game, Baltimore's passing offense was ranked fourth, their running game ranked 12th.  The Chiefs passing defense had given up 10 passing touchdowns. Their rushing defense had given up four rushing touchdowns and 4.2 yards per carry. Baltimore failed to score a single touchdown. Flacco went 13 for 27 for 189 yards and an interception. Perhaps this is why they say good defense beats good offense. However, Baltimore's defense isn't very good. Jamaal Charles dropped 140 rushing yards on them and 21 receiving yards. The Chiefs gave up 118 all purpose yards to Ray Rice.  To Eric Winston, who stood up for his quarterback, Matt Cassel, who has endured his share of boos, and had to endure a positive reaction to him getting hurt, kudos to you. Matt Cassel hasn't always played well. He has a lot of interceptions this year, no doubt, But of his eight total interceptions, much like Sunday's pick that went of Dwayne Bowe's hands, he has endured the faults of his players as much as his own. At least half of these interceptions should have been receptions. You can make the case that Sunday's fumbled exchange on the one yard line was Cassel's fault, but who's to say it wasn't the Center's. That doesn't make it any more welcome, but nevertheless, mistakes are easily blamed on the quarterback. I haven't seen Matt Cassel play a ton of great football this year. However, I haven't seen him play as bad as the Chiefs have been. Sunday, the Chiefs gave Cassel just 15 pass attempts, instead placing the game in Jamaal Charles hands. Cassel's fumbles surely hurt his team badly today. He didn't have the benefit Jamaal Charles did fumbling the ball out of bounds. He doesn't get a pass like Dwayne Bowe does for tipping passes into defenders, or committing offensive holding on a key third down conversion. Cassel won't get the benefit Dexter McCluster did for committing pass interference on a Brady Quinn touchdown pass to Bowe in the fourth quarter that should have given the Chiefs the lead. For now, until Cassel is cleared to play, Brady Quinn will give the Chiefs fans the break they wanted. Yet after looking at Quinn's 52 percent completion percentage, 10:9 TD:INT ratio, and 5.39 yard per attempt average, Chiefs fans might want to reconsider about what they're wishing for.

The biggest news from the game, and perhaps from the Carolina season so far has been the criticism being levied on QB Cam Newton, who apparently has not gotten used to losing. See parents, this is what happens if you spoil your children. They grow up to be million dollar quarterbacks who pout when they lose. Look, the second year for many NFL quarterbacks is tough. There's enough game tape for NFL teams who study every moment of every game multiple times to pick up on things. The problem with Newton is that he is such a gifted athlete and is so used to expressing the invisible "S" under his uniform, he forgets that what he did his rookie season was something that had never been seen. He ran for an obscene number of touchdowns. He also added 706 yards rushing to over 4,000 yards passing for a team that had one relevant wide receiver and a few decent running backs. Ask Reggie Bush what it's like to get a dose of reality upon entering the NFL.  Bush was the guy that once outran any college player.  Suddenly, he's in the NFL and can't outrun anyone anymore.  Quarterbacks in the NFL take great risks when they expose themselves out of the pocket, and it's really not so shocking that Newton, who fumbled only twice last year and lost none, has fumbled five times this year. It's also not surprising that he has learned to rely on Steve Smith, the one solid receiving threat he has. This past Sunday, Smith was targeted 13 times. That was three times more than Newton's second favorite target Sunday, RB Jonathan Stewart. Smith only caught four of those 13 passes, making Newton's day futile.

On the other side of the ball, Sidney Rice had another five receptions, leading the Seahawks, but again, failed to find the end zone. This shouldn't be a surprise, as Pete Carroll knows he's going to have to bring Russell Wilson along slowly.  As recent as last week spoke of his being ready to put Matt Flynn under center if things didn't improve. They did improve in terms of winning, though Wilson threw another two interceptions and managed a QB rating of 82.3. After grabbing another touchdown pass on Sunday, WR Golden Tate already has three touchdowns this year, equaling his career total. So far, he's Wilson's favorite target around the end zone, but still hasn't managed a game with more than three receptions.

This one was as ugly as advertised, and the Jags offense helped the Bears defense accomplish something never done before. For the second straight week LB Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman returned an interception for a touchdown. So when people talk about the Bears scoring a lot of points, remember the defense has as much to do with this as the offense. In fact, Briggs and Tillman have scored as many touchdowns as Alshon Jeffery, and more touchdowns than every other receiver besides Brandon Marshall.  However, for the first half it was a game, one that could have turned out very differently if the Jags had taken the lead. With 2nd and 11 at the Chicago 21, Blaine Gabbert was sacked and fumbled the ball. It's the kind of turnover good quarterbacks somehow avoid.   Had Gabbert held onto the football, the worst case scenario is that Jacksonville goes up 6-3 at halftime. Instead, the Bears came out from halftime, took a 6-3 lead, then intercepted Gabbert to go up 13-3 and the game was all but over. Maurice Jones-Drew was effectively shut down, gaining 59 all purpose yards. For that again you have to give the Bears defense credit. Justin Blackmon is quickly becoming the top target in Jacksonville as I wrote about in the previews. For the second straight week, Blackmon garnered eight targets, tying for the team lead again.


Wright is reaching new heights in Tennessee.
The Vikings are a surprising 4-1 and not necessarily because RB Adrian Peterson is having a great year. Peterson has only one 100-yard game thus far, and hasn't scored since Week One. He also slightly injured his ankle on Sunday. You have to give the guy credit just for being out there. As fast as he's healed, he may not be returning the kind of league-winning draft pick you were hoping, but the season is just five weeks old. Kyle Rudolph found the end zone again via Christian Ponder's arm, and Percy Harvin, well, when the kid is healthy is probably one of the most dangerous football players around. He's a hybrid type player who is a rare find, and if Minnesota could complement him by even half, they'd have a darn good chance to go far. Offensively though, no one has really stepped up but Rudolph. Jerome Simpson appeared rusty as he caught zero of the three balls thrown his way. Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu were targeted four times each, but it amounted to very little. On the flip side, Matt Hasselbeck continues his struggles against the Vikings, and if you waited to sell Chris Johnson, the chance has gone. Johnson averaged 1.6 yards per carry against the stout Minnesota rush defense. His 15 carries gave you 24 yards. As for the wide receivers, Kendall Wright is developing into a consistent target and worthy of fantasy attention. He had nine receptions on 11 targets, resulting in 66 yards. In PPR leagues, he has given 10 points or more the last four weeks.

What do we take from this game? Simple, the New England's offensive line is getting scary good. Keep in mind, Denver's rushing defense was giving up just 3.4 yards per carry before running into the Patriots. After Sunday's game, that average vaulted to 3.8. The Patriots now have the third best rushing attack in the NFL, and Stevan Ridley ranks fourth in rushing yards. Some tougher opponents lie ahead, including Seattle next week, but let's look at what really happened here. Denver's front seven got pushed around almost the entire game. Even when they knew the Patriots were going to run, which used to be something that was a rare as a good steak, Denver couldn't slow down any of their runners. Ridley averaged 5.9 yards per carry, Danny Woodhead averaged 6.7. Brandon Bolden averaged 3.9, and that was the worst of the day. On third and 17, Woodhead broke a run for 19 yards. Since we've seen the Patriots can run this year more than once, perhaps it's less a condemnation of Denver and more an accolade to be bestowed upon New England, which at the beginning of this year had major offensive line worries. Tom Brady was still sacked four times, but the running game is now a force to be reckoned with. With Aaron Hernandez possibly one week away from returning, how scary will this team be if Brady no longer has to throw on third and long every time.  As for Denver, Demaryius Thomas is a superior athlete atop Denver's receiver class. However, his fumbling problem is becoming a serious one, as this was the second game in a row he lost a potential touchdown by not securing the ball well. Fantasy owners shouldn't worry as Thomas will continue to be the Broncos top weapon of choice. However, in the red zone, this may mean fewer chances to make plays in space unless he's already in the end zone. His 188 yards receiving Sunday speaks to this as it didn't include a touchdown.

Alex Smith threw for only his third 300-yard passing game of his career, and the 49ers had three rushing touchdowns to clobber the already wounded Bills 45-3. No surprise that Frank Gore ran for over 100 yards and touchdown, but even Anthony Dixon, a name we haven't called in almost as long as Glen Coffee, scored his first touchdown since January last season. The Bills have fallen frightfully low, as their running game amassed just 89 total yards, and their passing game only 37 more yards than that. C. J. Spiller probably wasn't fully healthy this game and his totals showed it: seven rushes, 24 yards and zero receptions. It wasn't any turnover that changed the momentum of this one. It was an ill-timed penalty. After stopping San Francisco for a three and out on their first drive, Leodis McKelvin took the punt back 80 yards for a score, but it was nullified by a holding call. What could have been a 7-0 lead suddenly wasn't. Later, a Scott Chandler fumble after what would have been a first down catch turned the ball back to the 49ers with just 29 seconds left in the half. Smith found Michael Crabtree for Crabtree's first TD of the year and the 49ers led 17-3 at half. From there the Bills lost their rhythm and lost the game. Vernon Davis continues to be the most consistent fantasy player for San Francisco, while Randy Moss has not only been surpassed by Mario Manningham, he's basically disappeared. He finished with one catch for 11 yards.


Forget the New Orleans offense if you would for second. The New Orleans defensive front seven, which now includes pro-bowlers Curtis Lofton and Will Smith, star DE out of USC Sedrick Ellis, as well as tough inside man Scott Shanle, is simply hapless. Teams are simply running by, through and over them, and watching them reminds me of the Detroit Lions in 2008, who simply got pushed around for the second most rushing yards ever allowed with 2,754. When the Chargers start with 1:48 left in the half at their own ten yard line and choose to run with Ronnie Brown, and he gains 21 yards, there's a lot wrong with your defense. By the way, Ryan Mathews looked hungry Sunday night, like a man possessed. I've never seen him run that hard or aggressive. Perhaps he realizes, as was confirmed later in the game, that he's got almost no shot of toting the rock inside the ten yard line anymore. Robert Meachem reminded you why it almost goes without saying that when a player you own faces his old team, you start him. Meachem, who had managed just six reception and 92 yards this season, had three catches for 63 yards and two scores. Sell high while you can. Malcom Floyd will continue to lead this group as long as he's healthy. Tight end Antonio Gates is clearly not the same player he once was, and I just wonder how long until the team pushes more action to Randy McMichael and rookie Ladarius Green. Green was one of my big sleepers this season, so naturally I'm biased, but in a game that had this much passing, Gates managed just three catches for 19 yards. He complained a whole lot about being held, but with his size and strength, Gates used to throw around defensive backs. Now he can't escape them. Oh, and Jackie Battle lovers who thought his move up was going to last, expect more of the same unpredictability while Mathews is healthy.


Is the Rex Ryan era treading on thin ice? Will Mark Sanchez abdicate his position to Tim Tebow? Does anyone think that blaming Mark Sanchez for the Jets dismal performance so far is logical? Monday night, Sanchez became victim again to one of the cruelest statistics in football – the tipped interception. The stat book says Sanchez threw two interceptions, taking no account of how they happened. Ask Matt Cassel how much he digs this rule, huh? Granted, his second interception to Jeff Cumberland wasn't the best of passes, but it hit him the hands. And if a pass hits you in the hands, then you either have to catch it, or make sure it goes to the ground. In all fairness to Sanchez, his touchdown pass to Cumberland earlier in the game was on tightly wound rope. It was a thing of beauty and showcased his potential.  As for Houston, WR Andre Johnson was held to just one catch for 15 yards. Another Matt Schaub pass intended for Johnsonswas intercepted by Antonio Cromartie.  However, besides Week One, Johnson's tallies have hardly made him worthy of a second round draft pick. He has two scores this season, but other than that he hasn't record more than three catches the last four weeks. The truth is it probably has little to do with Johnson. When you're on a team with as powerful a running back as Arian Foster and his backup Ben Tate, you're going to play second fiddle. Johnson simply isn't getting enough targets, as the play calling leans more on the running game, and my thought is that if he has another big game, you try to sell him for another option.