Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NFL WEEK 13 - T & R (thoughts and revelations)


Ricky Ricardo, Lucille Ball's character husband played by real life husband Desi Arnaz on I LOVE LUCY often used to chase Lucy around exclaiming, Lucy, you have some esplaining to do!  This week's NFL wrap finds me perplexed in many ways, after all, even as a new daddy, I found my way into watching as much football this Sunday as I could.  And the more I watched, the more my eyebrows furled, my forehead wrinkled, my eyes widened.  Somebody please explain these things to me.

CAROLINA @ KANSAS CITY
Playing with the heaviest of hearts and the never-ending question of why this happened, the 1-10 Kansas City Chiefs put together their most complete game of the year.  Just one day after LB Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then himself, the Chiefs returned to the facility where Belcher took his life to play a football game.  Why play the game?  Because right or wrong, it's what these guys know how to do.  They play football.  It's how they take out aggression, vent anger and emotion, and in this case get through tragedy. 

The question is why it took such a colossal event for these guys to put together such a good game?  Brady Quinn completed 19-of-23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns.  Channeling the ghost of Len Dawson, Quinn average 8.6 yards per attempt.  For his career, Quinn has had only one game where he has averaged over eight yards per pass, and that was against the 2-14 Lions team back in 2009.  These weren't short drives set up by the defense.  Quinn delivered touchdown drives of 74 yards, 80 yards and 87 yards.  His first drive he completed passes of 34 and 21 yards.  Is this the Brady Quinn we can expect to see going forward?  Maybe the light really did go on against Tampa Bay?  The crucial deciding factor will be his decision-making going forward.  Will he pull down the ball and run several times when he can, or will he force the issue?  His next test?  His former club, Cleveland, which is coming off two straight victories.  

SAN FRANCISCO @ ST LOUIS
Now someone really has some explaining to do.  It’s overtime.  You’ve got great field position on third and six from the 34-yard line of St. Louis.  Colin Kaepernick rolls to his left and has two options but it’s the kind of play that wreaks indecision by the coaching staff.  It ends up being a throwaway.  David Akers is sent out to kick from 51 yards, no easy guaranty.  He misses.  This turns into Greg Zuerlein’s kick that won the Rams the game and probably saved Johnny Hekker’s punting job.  Hekker had three shanks on the day, and the one in overtime was unforgiveable.  Nevertheless, Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco faithful proclaimed C.K. the difference maker – the one that gave them a better chance to win.  Yet when they had a chance to take the ‘cuffs’ off, as Vernon Davis had put it after Kapernick’s first week, they locked them back into place, ran with Frank Gore, and did the EXACT same thing they would do with Alex Smith.  For this, Smith was benched.  Which is it?  Is Kaepernick someone you’re going to put your faith in or not, because this game, especially after his wayward pitch missed Ted Ginn, they showed no faith.  Ginn should be benched for altogether letting his team down by not making a concerted, aggressive effort to recover the fumble.  As a veteran player, he knows better than to try to pick the ball up and he has to bail his young QB out in that situation.  To be fair, Kapernick played pretty well considering the Rams are no slouch defensively and he's only started three games.  The 49ers have now lost a chance at home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

It’s not about who’s right.  Sometimes it’s about doing what’s right in the face of adversity.  There’s no telling if Alex Smith would have made the difference and turned this loss into a victory.  It’s about the fact he had EARNED the right to try. 



MINNESOTA @ GREEN BAY
Adrian Peterson continued his improbable year with a 200-yard rushing day and a touchdown.  He’s exceeded all expectations by far, and is in my mind one of the greatest to ever play the game.  NFL fans will have to remember there are few players like this, and that most players after having the kind of knee injury Peterson did don’t return the same way.  For some it’s the end of their careers.  As for Christian Ponder, things for some reason have sunk to new lows, and pundits are speculating whether Joe Webb will make an appearance soon.

As for Green Bay, those experts downgrading James Jones really looked only at the stat sheet and not what he’s meant to this team.  Not to mention the fact that Aaron Rodgers stumped for Jones prior to the 2011 season.  Jones had a hot start and one that probably wasn’t sustainable considering the talent on this team.  It took Greg Jennings’ injury and the subsequent injury to Jordy Nelson to keep him on pace for his best year.  But those two players returning to health doesn’t take away from his high level of performance at the NFL level.  Randall Cobb has nice upside because of his speed, but his size is going to limit him, especially if he continues to return kicks.  With Jordy Nelson going down again with his nagging hamstring problems, Jones will again be primed to get single coverage.  Don’t be surprised after seeing the catch he made Sunday if Rodgers continues to look his way in the red zone.


ARIZONA @ NEW YORK JETS
Well, I think it’s fair to say Ryan Lindley nor Mark Sanchez will be starting for a team next season.  Lindley was 10-for-31 for just 72 yards and an interception.  That stat line sounds horrific until you see Sanchez’s 10-for-21 line for 95 yards and three interceptions, and that was just in the first half (he completed one two-yard pass in the second half).  This forced Rex Ryan to call on third string QB Greg McElroy, who was interviewed by New York Magazine at the beginning of the season on what he thought of all the talk about Tim Tebow and Sanchez, and how he’d ever fit in.   Would he ever be ready to step in if it mattered?  Well it did Sunday, and if ready is five out of seven for 29 yards and a score then I guess he was ready.  Running back Shonn Greene was the lone highlight, rushing for 104 yards on 24 carries.  It was only the second time this year that he crossed 100 yards for a game, and only the fourth time he managed over four yards per carry.  Fantasy owners now have to question whether any of the receivers on these clubs will be worth starting as the playoffs begin.  Larry Fitzgerald started the day with a 23-yard reception, but that was all he would get.  If he can’t manage more than one reception in a game, how can anybody feel comfortable putting anyone else in their lineup wearing a Cardinal's uniform.  Beanie Wells proved inconsistent again, providing 22 yards on 15 carries and while getting stuffed on situations like 4th-and-1.  Did anyone expect differently?  Wells has been the poster boy for inconsistency, and even with this horrific offensively line, you'd still expect he could manage at least three yards per carry.  Shonn Greene has, and the Jets front five are no fun to run behind.


JACKSONVILLE @ BUFFALO
At the start of the third quarter, Chad Henne was 5-of-15, but at least he got you 16 fantasy points or so, depending on your scoring.  However, he reminded us that he still has issues with defenses and pressure.  Henne was sacked four times and hit eight other times, and even with Cecil Shorts coming through for him, Henne's still challenged at getting rid of the ball quickly.  However, somebody's going to have to explain how even with the bad weather Rashad Jennings continued to be so dreadful behind the same line that sprung the smaller Jalen Parmele.  We expect the Jaguars to struggle on defense.  They lost arguably their best linebacker in Daryl Smith to the I.R.  They lost free agent acquisition Clint Sessions as well.  Defensive Tackle D'Anthony Smith went down six games in.  But this offense was going against the Bills dismal defense.  It should have been a stronger performance for them, particularly in the running game. 

As for the Bills, they continue to give the majority of rushes to Fred Jackson, who finished with an even 100 yards on 25 carries.  C. J. Spiller made the most of his 14 rushes for 77 yards, including a 44-yard TD burst.  Steve Johnson still garnered the more targets, but against the Jags that amounted to just two receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown.  T. J. Graham continued his ever potent two-catch-per-game romp, which began with Houston and has merrily continued for four of the last five games.  However, one of those catches was for 51 yards this week, meaning…. Well, you can probably call it an anomaly and let the other guy go get him.      


NEW ENGLAND @ MIAMI
Everyone wants to know why, mostly me, the man who invested in Tom Brady and needed a top notch performance the week before the fantasy playoffs.  You see, it's never been Bill Belichick's mantra to play it conservative or safe.  So why on third down and goal from the two yard line did Brady call his own number and fall to the ground, making sure the ball was securely tucked in his hands.  I needed a TD, as did countless others I'm sure.  The Patriots’ non-traditional conservative left Brady owners like myself with the short end of the stick.  He finished with just 12 points in ESPN standard scoring leagues, and he goes up against the Texans next week.  For his career, Brady is 2-1 against Houston, with a 64.6% completion rate, 663 yards, four TDs and three interceptions, and those numbers came against Houston defenses that weren’t nearly as good as this one.  No expert is going to go out on the line and say you should bench a guy with a track record as long as Tom Brady’s.  However without Rob Gronkowski, you have to wonder if this matchup is going to be your best choice assuming you’ve rostered two solid QBs.

Perhaps what is testament to Ryan Tannehill’s development, though it is to the chagrin of Reggie Bush owners, is the fact that Bush has been all but absent from the passing attack.  If you’re in PPR leagues, you’ve noticed that Bush has seven catches in the last six games and was held without any receptions this past weekend.  During that same span, Daniel Thomas has 11 receptions.  Whether this is a change in priority or a reflection of Bush fighting through his knee injury earlier this year, it would seem that Bush’s days as a PPR guaranty may be waning.  He’s on pace for 32 receptions, which would be less than his lowest career tally of 34, and that was starting in just eight games for New Orleans in 2010.


HOUSTON @ TENNESSEE
Both Arian Foster and Chris Johnson has some explaining to do.  They both disappeared in this game, leaving Justin Forsett to lead all rushers with 64 yards on 14 carries.  I understand how CJ2K might be challenged by a Houston defense that has been incredibly tough against the run, so perhaps 13 carries for 51 yards is decent.  However, he lost a fumble early on, and by halftime Houston owned a 21-3 lead.  That meant limited engagement for Johnson in the second half as the Titans tried to climb back into the game.  Foster did score a red zone TD, but he managed just 38 yards on 14 carries. 

Houston's defense forced three turnovers, which in turn led to 10 points, and sacked Locker six times.  Yet, no one on the Texans really stepped up for a really strong game.  Matt Schaub averaged a measly 5.9 yards per attempt.  He threw two scores, one of which was a 54 strike to Lestar Jean.  But if you had to point to a true MVP on this team, you'd have to look no further than FB James Casey.  Casey is one of the thankless, unnoticed stars of the team.  His blocking, pass catching and ability to be flexible and move into other positions, such as tight end, which he did Sunday after Garrett Graham left with a concussion, makes him invaluable.  He scored his third TD Sunday, and built on his career best receptions tally with 29.  Casey obviously isn't someone for fantasy consideration, but should he leave the backfield of Houston, Arian Foster and Ben Tate's job will get a lot harder.

SEATTLE @ CHICAGO
This may have been the defining game in Russell Wilson’s rookie season.  After all, with just 28 ticks left on the clock, Seattle had scored what appeared to be the winning touchdown.  Chicago got the ball on their own 14 with just 24 seconds left.  Yet somehow Gus Bradley’s defense allowed Jay Cutler a 56-yard pass to Brandon Marshall, and a two-yard run from Matt Forte.  The game ended a tie in regulation, an embarrassment to Seattle’s defense.  That type of momentum change would have knocked a lot of teams out of it.  Instead, the unflappable Wilson put together 12-play drive, converting two key third downs with his feet, and found Sidney Rice for the game-winning touchdown.  It was his third game in seven weeks of 20 fantasy points or more.  However, if you’ve considered Wilson for your playoff run because you were a Ben Roethlisberger owner, you should know he’s facing two defenses in the next three weeks that stymied him completely: Arizona (though it was Week 1) and San Francisco.
Coming off a bad ankle sprain, Matt Forte’s performance should provide some confidence for fantasy owners this week.  He provided 66 yards rushing, but more importantly, found his way back into the passing game, grabbing three receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown. 
 

CLEVELAND @ OAKLAND
Coming into the 2012 season, TE Brandon Myers had a total of 32 receptions for 250 yards and hadn’t scored a single touchdown.  The fourth year player out of Iowa was supposed to primarily be a blocker, and there was some expectation that David Ausberry had the upside to be a true receiving target.  Thirteen games later, Myers has 69 receptions and 721 yards and four touchdowns.  That puts him second of all tight ends in terms of receptions and second overall in yards behind Rob Gronkowski.  That for a tight end that was originally expected to assist more in the running game than the passing game is remarkable.  Those that were expecting the return of Darren McFadden got a disappointing surprise when he was listed as inactive Sunday.  Marcel Reece got seven carries which he turned into 36 yards, but it was FB Jeremy Stewart that led all Oakland rushers with nine carries for 46 yards.  You don’t need to worry that that will become precedent, and Reece did add five catches, but all in all, a disappointing day for Oakland runners.

In general, the Browns have been playing better football as of late.  Since Ahmad Bradshaw skewered their defense for 200 rushing yards back in Week 5, only two running backs have scored a rushing touchdown against them, and no runner has exceeded 100 rushing yards in a game.  It’s not so simple anymore as saying start everyone against Cleveland’s defense and seeing as this is the fantasy playoffs now, owners will have to pick their matchups wisely.  Cleveland has Kansas City and Washington next, and that could mean unpredictable days for Jamaal Charles and Alfred Morris.

CINCINNATI @ SAN DIEGO
You're Norv Turner, or for that matter Philip Rivers.  Down seven with two timeouts and the ball just inside your opponent's 15-yard line, you have just over a minute to go and can still get a first down.  So what do you do?  Why, you throw the ball into the end zone four straight times and waste one timeout.  That's right, the Chargers were sitting easily on the Bengals' 17-yard line, well in range to tie the game Sunday afternoon when for some reason they attempted three incomplete passes toward each corner of the end zone, then used their second timeout to discuss their fourth down strategy, and then hurled a fourth attempt to the corner of the end zone where the pass was intercepted.  This left them with a timeout in the bag.  Instead of going for the first down, and moving the ball ten yards to the seven where they could have stopped the clock with over 30 seconds left, they simply threw a fourth toss-up pass.  It's the kind of play-calling that fantasy owners I suppose should love – I mean, Norv and Co. did elect to go for the end zone four times.  At the same time, extending the game would have made most fantasy owners a lot happier, even if their guy didn't get the game-tying touchdown.  Regardless, the San Diego faithful have to be exasperated beyond words.  This organization might be only second to the Pirates in being as awful at convincing their faithful fans they're really trying to win, all the while letting go of the players that deserve the salary increase and replacing them with cheap clones made of foreign parts.  Robert Meachem to replace Vincent Jackson; Ronnie Brown who is in the long line of replacing Michael Turner, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert – at least Brown's paid some dividends with his receiving skills, unlike Meachem. 

PITTSBURGH @ BALTIMORE
If someone can explain the trajectory of Baltimore Joe Flacco, I would love to hear it.  To hear Joe tell it at the beginning of the season, he was a rocket ship.  But if you were to plot it on a graph, he would look more like a fly who was hit with a gas pellet.  Flacco’s interception was the worst kind, a duck tossed in a moment of desperation that didn’t need to be so desperate.  His fourth quarter fumble turned out to be a game-changer.  Flacco is now ranked 15th in terms of fantasy QBs in standard scoring leagues.  However, whereas he scored 19 fantasy points or more in thee of the first four weeks, he has provided just one game over 19 points since. 
For Antonio Brown owners, I feel your pain more than most.  Brown’s interception gave him four points instead of six, and I lost a game by less than a point while vying to get into the playoffs.  Brown’s value is still as a PPR guy, even with Batch in at QB, simply because he’s a possession receiver.  Mike Wallace’s value for the deep ball has been verified to be gone until Ben Roethlisberger returns, but what’s even more frustrating is Wallace's dropped passes.  It’s not nearly as frustrating as the fact Batch missed him wide open in the end zone, but Wallace should have had at least 70 yards and 6-7 catches.  Keep an eye on Roethlisberger’s return date. 


TAMPA BAY @ DENVER
Vincent Jackson is now the fifth best receiver in fantasy in standard scoring leagues.  Someone needs to explain how he went from a San Diego offense that was supposed to be a high-powered scoring machine to Tampa Bay and ended up having a career year?  He’s just 153 yards shy of his career best 1,167 yards, and will likely break his highest reception total of 68.  Perhaps the real problem in San Diego had as much to do with his QB as it did to do with Jackson’s documented attitude.  When San Diego refused to sign him, many thought Robert Meachem was a cheaper and capable fill-in, while no one could be sure how V.J. would do in Tampa Bay where QB Josh Freeman had struggled.  Sure, V.J. provided Freeman with a true WR1, a big target who could manipulate defensive backs with his size and strength.  Jackson has been silent in the media and deadly on the field, making him yet another in a list of players released by the Chargers because they simply under-valued them.   As for Doug Martin, this was a tough matchup, but with the rush defenses of Philadelphia (18th) and New Orleans (32nd) next, timing couldn’t be better for his owners in terms of your playoff run.

For Denver, Knowshon Moreno continued to be the runner of choice, meaning that John Fox may be reserving Ronnie Hillman for next year.  Fox and the Broncos need to know what they’ve got with Moreno, who has been one big injury after another.  My best guess is with the NFC West clinched you can expect Moreno to continue his audition as the lead back, with a sprinkling of Ronnie Hillman.  Moreno carried 20 times for 69 yards against Tampa Bay’s top-rated rush defense, and added another 14 yards on four receptions.  Hillman had five rushes for 29 yards, and was not targeted.  With Oakland next, Moreno has a strong matchup but be cautious.  He has struggled against Oakland (68 carries for 216 yards and one TD in six games) in the past, and there’s a reason a lot of writers have dubbed him “no-show”.  Oakland’s rush defense is ranked 28th and is giving up 4.7 yards per attempt, meaning if you grabbed Moreno for added depth, you can sneak him into your lineup as a flex, but that's about as much trust as I'd throw his way.

SUNDAY NIGHT

PHILADELPHIA @ DALLASNick Foles has been named the Eagles' starting quarterback for the rest of the season, as if we didn't see that coming, but really the only person you're concerning yourself with is Bryce Brown.  Brown has added a whole new dimension to the Philadelphia running game, especially when you address the fact that Philly's offensive line has come under plenty of fire for being a minor disaster.  In two starts, Brown has carried 43 times for 347 yards, an eight yards per carry average.  The knock on Brown was his problems in college – he left two programs and had three carries at Kansas State.  He also fumbled three times in two starts, losing all three so far.  Nevertheless, he was the top-rated runner coming out of high school, and as far as fantasy goes, guys like these don't come around often mid-season.  Even if LeSean McCoy returns, Brown is going to be given the opportunity to make plays.  He'll likely split the load or be demoted to one-third of McCoy's carries to suit McCoy's track record and ego, but Andy Reid, who is firing his staff one piece at a time, seems intent on giving all of the underlings a chance to show what they can do.

In fact, maybe someone should explain why Reid, who is done after this season, is getting rid of his staff piece-meal?  My take – Andy knows he's done, and if he's done, all his coordinators are likely out of jobs too.  Thus, the veteran guys are being fired to give the guys who have no name a chance at a small promotion.  Knowing Reid's magnanimous nature, by allowing some of his coaches a shot for the rest of the year, he allows them a chance to move up during the next hiring season.  I have no knowledge of this actually being the base, but it makes sense in light of the fact that the coordinators and line coaches are being dismissed weekly when the season's already a wash.

The Cowboys didn't spare any time using DeMarco Murray, and he repaid them with 83 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.  Felix Jones was relegated to just seven carries for 26 yards.  You can expect more of that going forward, making Jones someone I would only consider in PPR leagues generally.  The Cowboys have the Bengals and Steelers next – not great matchups for any runner (yes the Bengals are ranked 11th versus the run).

MONDAY NIGHT

NEW YORK GIANTS @ WASHINGTON
If you've read this blog, you know I'm a huge fan of what Alfred Morris has done not only for the Redskins offense, but for Robert Griffin.  Morris' ability to run outside and inside has made Griffin's ability to option and use play-action special.  With Morris eating the Giants up for yardage (he finished with 124, his fifth 100-yard outing) Griffin was able to run several option plays, one which resulted in his 'fumbled' touchdown pitch to Josh Morgan, and the other for a burst of 46 yards.  Running the majority of these runs out of the pistol formation (according to ESPN.com they ran 32 of 52 snaps from this set), the Redskins Morris and Griffin are about to add to their accomplishments the record for most combined rushing yards for a QB and RB in their rookie seasons.

The Giants have some major issues to deal with.  They lost OT Sean Locklear to a leg injury in the fourth quarter and he is expected to be placed on the I.R.  Ahmad Bradshaw ran well against Washington's tough front seven, but losing a piece of the blocking scheme this late in the season could serious alter things.  The Giants sent 13 rushes to the right side of the line, seven behind the right guard and three behind the right tackle, so it's not as if they favor either side heavily.  This could change that, though they have decent depth at the position, with long-time veteran David Diehl able to step in.  David Wilson received just four carries for nine yards, but I still anticipate him getting more use as long as he can hold onto the football.