Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NFL WEEK 9 – ELECTION NIGHT T & R (thoughts and revelations)

There's a saying that goes you're only as good as your last victory. In football, that is often the case. In fantasy football, it's always the case. How else do explain a fantasy team that starts 6-1 and barely makes the playoffs? It happens all the time. A few weeks ago, Jamaal Charles owners were on top of the world, while Doug Martin owners were barely satisfied. Now those who own Charles are wondering if he'll ever look like the guy who tore off 233 yards against the Saints, and Martin owners feel like they stole one from all of us. So goes the fantasy football world. So goes the NFL world. The 4-0 Cardinals are now 4-5. The once 2-3 Steelers are now the 5-3 Steelers. The once 2-3 Packers are the 6-3 Packers. While certain teams are one injury away from being relegated to turf fodder, other teams are one player returning from becoming healthy and exacting a hurt on a contender.

On a personal note, I owe readers two apologies. The first was for laying out the Giants and Steelers as part of the 1pm docket. They were a 4:25 pm start EST, and no amount of sleeplessness should cause that. Second, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, who was very questionable for Sunday's start in Indianapolis, found his way onto the field. In turn, a lot of what was provided for you in the Dolphins-Colt matchup mattered not.

Naturally, with the election I decided to post this on the one day that most people will be glued to anything but football. But here's some alternative reading for you.

The loss of Jordy Nelson a week ago to a knee injury seemed daunting enough, but as often happens when one part of a leg is compromised sometimes another is unable to work as well. Thus Nelson is now nursing an ankle sprain which Mike McCarthy says is not serious. We'll know when the Packers reappear after their Bye Week. James Starks got a full load of work this week with 17 carries, six more than Alex Green. Is the Alex Green experiment over with? Starks wasn't targeted on any passes, meaning either he can't catch or they just haven't added him to that part of the playbook. Funny though, on 11 carries Green averaged 4.8 yards per carry, his first time averaging above four yards per carry since his Week 5 tally against Indianapolis. Another issue is that of Jermichael Finley, who seems to be losing ground in the passing attack. This is probably less on Finley and more on the dreadful Green Bay offensive line. With Rodgers being hit as often as he has, Finley has likely had to stay home in protection. Both he and Tom Crabtree received two targets, but Crabtree made his count for a 72 yard TD reception. Clay Matthews is out for a couple of weeks with a knee problem, and that could spell problems for Green Bay in big ways. He's their top pass rusher, and even when he's not getting to opposing quarterbacks, he has to be accounted for. Indirectly, this could affect the Packers offense, as they could lose valuable field position and time of possession if their defense takes a big step back. They also lost RT Bryan Bulaga to a hip injury, and while most fantasy players will say, who?, you should always note when starting offensive linemen take a seat. Not that you invested a ton in Green Bay's run production, but it's bad for the running game, and it could be worse for Green Bay's already shoddy pass protection.

For Arizona, you might want to take note of rookie WR Michael Floyd. He's had two straight games now with five receptions. Early Doucet had four targets and zero catches. That's not good news when the rookie behind you on the depth chart is getting hot. The only good news for Arizona is they kept John Skelton upright. He was sacked just twice.

For the second straight week
LB Wesley Woodyard outshone cohorts Von Miller and Keith Brooking to be the leading tackler on the Broncos defense. He's also added a sack, an interception and two defensed passes in that span. As for Cincinnati, Cedric Peerman played on the return teams but did not receive any looks or passes on offense. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis had another 17 carries, it was Brian Leonard, seeing his first action since Week 6, who got four carries and four targets in backup duty. The big difference in the game was that the Broncos were 9-of-14 on third down conversions, while Cincinnati converted just five of its 14 attempts. That means for the season now the Bengals have converted just 29 percent of the time on third down, ranking them 31st in the NFL, and explaining a lot of the reason for their recent slide in the standings.

Give the Cleveland Browns credit for not panicking when they were down 14 points by early in the second quarter. They knew what they have in Trent Richardson and they continued to feed him the ball. That's the kind of reinforcement you want when you own a runner on a fairly bad team. It should be noted that neither of Brandon Weeden's two interceptions led to points for Baltimore. The second one actually came as Cleveland was attempting their desperate attempt to score starting on their own 14-yard line with 2:49 left. Mohamed Massaquoi returned to see his first action in six weeks, and this likely will relegate deep PPR specialist Chris Ogbonnaya to having little value. Montario Hardesty received zero touches for the game.  The Browns actually did take the lead for a brief period, so give Joe Flacco and the Ravens sputtering offense credit for taking it on themselves to score when it was absolutely necessary. However, this offense which once ranked in the top ten has now fallen to 23rd. Anquan Boldin did lead the team in receptions and gave you a two-point conversion, however, it was Torrey Smith who got the touchdown.

What can be said about the Bears' defense that hasn't already been written or talked about? What is worth talking about is Chris Johnson, who put up 141 yards rushing and a touchdown after starting the game off with two lost fumbles. Johnson's 8.8 yards per carry is easily the best average against this Bears unit this year by far. Perhaps the Titans line just matches up well with the Bears, but for those analysts that were saying the Tennessee line was the reason Johnson was so bad (Chris Harris) this takes that theory and tosses it almost directly out the window. So what is or was Johnson's issue? Motivation? Desire? Really, that kind of speculation can make you nuts. One thing is for certain, the Titans play the Miami Dolphins next week down in the Florida sun. This is a matchup most of us would look at and say bench CJ2K, but how can you now? How can you sit the guy that you drafted probably in the second or third round, and just watched dismantle the Bears front seven? I'll tell you how, and this is one of those gut things that's tough to put out there, but humor me. Johnson had 15 yards and a lost fumble in the first quarter. By halftime, he had 47 yards and two lost fumbles. So he was on track for 94 yards possibly when the game mattered. When the third quarter came around, this game was already over. The Bears led 31-5, and would add 21 more offensive points in the second half. This is when Johnson added 94 more yards to his tally and a meaningless touchdown. While it wasn't meaningless for fantasy players, it was for the Titans, and in some regards, you have to question how much fire was under a Bears defense when they had so thoroughly embarrassed the Titans. I'm saying bench him against Miami. They're the third best rushing defense in the league, and the game will be a lot closer. Miami will have plenty of motivation after this week's loss. You may be in a position where Johnson is your RB1 and can't sit him. Understood. But I'm plenty skeptical of Johnson's motivation now and you should be too.

As projected, WRs Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton that did the damage against the Miami secondary Sunday, both getting you over 100 receiving yards, and becoming the second duo to do it on the day. However, Reggie Wayne wasn't a total loss as part of Andrew Luck's rookie record passing day was Wayne gaining 78 yards and a TD. Donald Brown disappeared in this game and you have to wonder whether he reinjured himself or Bruce Arians has become dedicated to Vick Ballard after that terrific overtime TD dive he made last week. Well, the injury report speaks to added swelling in Brown's knee. Thus, Ballard had 16 carries to Delone Carter's eight, and Brown didn't rush the ball at all. Brown has been no stranger to injury and he did lead all Colts runners with 14 carries the week before. When he returns, he most likely will resume RB1 duties. However, this is what has been typical with Brown in the past, and under Bruce Arians, his PPR numbers are just dreadful. For Miami, Ryan Tannehill did line up under center, and while Davone Bess did have a good day as this blog projected, Brian Hartline also put up very solid numbers. I don't think there has been a bigger surprise this year than the Miami Dolphins, and while their secondary is of concern, their team has really progressed in ways few thought they would. A lot of that is on Ryan Tannehill's shoulders, and he deserves kudos for playing well. A lot was made this week of Daniel Thomas's added role to the offense, and I still defer to the health of Reggie Bush this year as the biggest factor. If you're in a dynasty league and looking for the future of this team, Thomas appears to have the inside track no doubt. For now, watching Bush's touchdown run on Sunday showed again that he has become a solid threat and in the second tier of runners, he's among the top.

Who the heck is Armanti Edwards? Plenty of fantasy players were wondering how this guy caught the 82-yard strike from Cam Newton. Carolina was nursing a 14-6 lead and pinned deep in their own territory when the third year player from Appalachian State broke loose down the left sideline and Newton hit him in stride. The play set up a game-sealing fourth quarter touchdown. What can we expect from Edwards going forward? Well, probably not much in the near future. He's competing with Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and David Gettis (just activated from the PUP list), not to mention Louis Murphy and TE Greg Olsen. Much like Kealoha Pilares, he's not likely to make an impact on too many contests.

I think it's worth repeating, though I think after this week, Andrew Luck is all but a shoe-in to take the ROTY award; as Alfred Morris goes, so do the Washington Redskins. The last two games Morris has been held under 20 carries and hasn't scored. In both cases the Redskins lost. In only one of their victories was this the case, and it took Robert Griffin III rushing for 138 yards and two scores to seal that victory, something the coaching staff probably wouldn't consider a common objective. Without Fred Davis (I.R.) and Pierre Garcon (foot), who may not return this year, the Redskins passing offense just isn't going to win many games for this team. It is incumbent upon Kyle Shanahan's offense to run the football well or face more losses like their last two.

The good news for Jacksonville is that even though Blaine Gabbert was intercepted twice, he still put up respectable numbers. The biggest problem was that the Jags failed to convert on any big plays, and his longest completion of the day was 25 yards. Laurent Robinson returned to action for the first time five weeks since his concussion and had six catches for 41 yards. For Matthew Stafford owners, a day full of promise turned into a big bust with Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell accounting for all four touchdowns, leaving Stafford with just 285 yards passing. The good news is that though he still didn't score, Calvin Johnson awoke from his slumber, providing seven catches for 129 yards.

Tight end Garrett Graham caught his first career touchdown pass, and Houston controlled the game start to finish, keeping the Bills out of the end zone the entire contest. One has to wonder if Chan Gailey sees the same game picture as the rest of us, as C. J. Spiller managed a 6.5 yards per carry average, yet received just six carries. Houston rush defense is second in the NFL, and it is hard to understand how a road team with Buffalo's weapons isn't running the ball more, particularly when Spiller closed out the half with a 12 yard reception and a 22-yard run. It is clear from the game that Fred Jackson and Spiller alternate series generally, but 12 total carries between them when the Bills were in the game the entire first half and only down eight early in the second half seems unforgiveable.

Pittsburgh's once hardly noticeable running game has suddenly burst to life, with not one, but three performances by the second and third string runners of over 100 yards. The result has been three straight Steelers' wins, and suddenly the depth that seemed lacking at the position is chalk full of possibility. Fantasy owners won't be so pleased depending on who is healthy, but there is more to be noted. The Steelers offensive line might be gelling in a way it hasn't for quite a while. Rookie RT Mike Adams has done pretty well filling in for Marcus Gilbert and LG Willie Colon has been a run-blocking monster. As for the Giants, Eli Manning was 10-for-24 for just 125 yards, and was just two of 10 on third downs. The Steelers defense only got to him twice, but in the fourth quarter they confused him and hit him repeatedly. There's no alarm here for New York, but for Steelers country, it was a big, big victory.
The Buccaneers offense continues to roll, and Doug Martin owners continue to reap the benefits. While I nailed this game on just about everything else including Rob Streater, Martin, who had 31 net rushing yards in the first half, busted out in the second half for 220 yards. However, when it comes to consistency, I'm also looking at those that invested in Josh Freeman. Freeman's last three games read like a near elite passer: 61 completions of 108 attempts for a 56% completion rate, 929 yards and 8 touchdowns. He has no interceptions in his last three contests. The Buccaneers have won two of those three and put up no less than 28 points. Carson Palmer had the better fantasy day overall, throwing four touchdowns out of necessity just to keep pace with Tampa Bay. I mentioned in my last T&R that Palmer may be an even stronger play in the next four weeks, facing Baltimore, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Palmer's biggest problem was he threw three more interceptions, but that still resulted in him getting you 28 fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring leagues.

Russell Wilson may have had his finest day as quarterback, completing 67% of his passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns. That gave him a statistical QB rating of 127.3, his second best of the year. However, unlike his performance against New England, this was a stronger defensive opponent, and while Adrian Peterson gashed the Seahawks for 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the Seahawks never lost their composure even when they lost the lead. Golden Tate got you two touchdowns and now leads all Seahawks receivers with five. Going forward I think that Tate will take over as the top receiver in this group.

Miles Austin and Jason Witten led the team each with seven receptions while Kevin Ogletree topped out on yards and captured a TD pass, Romo's only one of the game. Running back Phillip Tanner must not be performing up to standards in practice for he didn't receive the two carries he got last week – he received just one. Instead newcomer to the field Lance Dunbar ran eight times for 28 yards. The Cowboys running game with DeMarco Murray was average to begin with. Now it's just plain abysmal. I wouldn't invest too much time in Dunbar right now. Atlanta's wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones became the second duo of the day to eclipse 100 receiving yards each. Michael Turner had a second 100-yard game of the season, and against the Cowboys makes it all the more impressive, as this unit was ranked highly on rush defense.

The Eagles ship is invariably sinking, and with it seems to be LeSean McCoy's TD numbers. The inefficiency of the offense is costing McCoy owners in tremendous ways. Against New Orleans, one of the worst defenses, at least McCoy was able to offset his losses with a strong yardage total. To compare, this time last year McCoy had nine rushing touchdowns and two receiving scores. This year he has just two rushing TDs and three TD receptions. His rushing attempts are down by five, his receptions down by two. If the Eagles stay with Michael Vick, there's no doubt these trends will continue downward. The turnovers have killed them, and the Eagles are simply gaining fewer yards per carry. My guess is that teams are stacking more players inside and letting the reactive Vick attempt to beat them. And Vick is reactive. Watching him last night, you could see how many passes found a stationary receiver, or a third receiver after the first or second progression, and this was against New Orleans. Philadelphia's receivers are pretty solid, so in my judgment this falls on Vick. Nick Foles, while just a rookie, would likely turn the trend toward McCoy having a much stronger fantasy season. The need to be run would be reinforced and he'd more likely stick to a shorter passing game initially. If you catch wind of Foles replacing Vick, I would do my best to grab McCoy from a frustrated owner.

As for New Orleans, what do we make of Christopher Ivory? We've been down this road before with him. He's had a few moments in the sun for the Saints, but he's also never managed more than 12 games in a season, as injury has constantly derailed him. This is the kind of add that makes sense if you have room to stack depth. There are so many RBs competing for time in New Orleans, and none seem to get more looks based on performance. After all, Pierre Thomas had just six carries but averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Instead, of getting more looks, Thomas had less carries than Mark Ingram and Ivory. New Orleans also gave rookie Travaris Caderet one carry, his first of the year. The traffic in this backfield is a logjam, so don't look for any consistency when starting any of these guys.