Sunday, November 15, 2009
Instant Replay: Is it still Friday the 13th?
By Tristan H. Cockcroft
I've entered an interesting time in my 2-year-old son's development. He's finally in that curious-about-pain stage. (You parents out there likely know just what I'm talking about.)
For example, say he bumps his head, even lightly, on the coffee table. He'll immediately spout an all-too-familiar phrase: "Owwwch, Daddy. Kiss make better?" Fortunately, one kiss to the forehead always does "make better," whether the injury was significant or not.
As I look back at Week 10 in the NFL, I can't help thinking to myself how nice it would be if a simple kiss to the forehead really could "make better" every injury. Because let's just say it was a rough week on the injury front, one that is going to require an increased amount of monitoring news conferences and practice reports in the next several days. As always, Stephania Bell will have the latest developments on the following players in her Tuesday blog, but let's pop our heads into the trainers' rooms briefly:
• Michael Turner, who entered the week ranked fourth among running backs in ESPN standard fantasy points, suffered a sprained right ankle in the second quarter. Fortunately for his owners, he departed after tallying 111 yards on nine carries, offering a respectable 11 fantasy points. Still, it was a rough loss being that the matchup was so fantastic, as evidenced by his "relief back," Jason Snelling, going off for another 15 points. Snelling, typically a passing-down back who resides low on the depth chart, might actually have a shot at starting in Week 11 should Turner's injury be as serious as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is now hinting. According to the paper, Turner will undergo an MRI exam Monday to determine the extent of the sprain, but there remains the possibility that he has a high ankle sprain that might sideline him for multiple weeks. The Falcons were already down Jerious Norwood (hip), meaning they're currently without their top two running backs.
Owners in PPR leagues should especially target Snelling: He already has 14 receptions for 132 yards and a score this season, quality numbers for a player who has barely been involved in more than half his team's games.
• Cedric Benson, seventh among running backs in fantasy scoring entering the week, suffered a strained hip early in the second quarter, attempted to return two series later and was then ruled out for the rest of the game. He wound up being a total fantasy bust for the week, unfortunately, totaling seven carries for 22 yards for a total of two fantasy points, though it was hardly an easy matchup for him in a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Benson sidelined, the Bengals gave return man Bernard Scott -- who took a kickoff 98 yards for a score earlier in the game -- 13 carries (he managed just 33 yards). Scott should get most of the touches in the Cincinnati Bengals' backfield if Benson misses further time, but don't be surprised if Brian Leonard eats into Scott's work both on third downs and in short-yardage situations. Neither one is a high-profile pickup right now, though, as all indications are that Benson's injury isn't serious.
• Ronnie Brown, the No. 9 running back in fantasy scoring entering Week 10, departed in the third quarter because of a right ankle injury. He managed a solid 12 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown before exiting, but let's give kudos to backup Ricky Williams for a strong relief effort. It was Williams' 27-yard scamper with 23 seconds remaining that put the Miami Dolphins in position to kick the game-winning field goal, and for the day Williams ran 20 times for 102 yards. Williams is a must-add in the few leagues in which he remains available, and he'll presumably get the bulk of the carries if Brown's injury is significant. (Speaking of that, Brown was on crutches and required X-rays, though he did say afterward, "I don't think it's too bad.") Don't be surprised, however, if the Dolphins utilize Lousaka Polite as a change-of-pace option.
• Brian Westbrook, a name fantasy owners have come to know and love over the years, suffered another concussion in Week 10, which could put the rest of his season in jeopardy. And ask any fantasy hockey owner: Concussions, especially multiple instances of them, can be a significant long-term concern. That goes double for Westbrook, who is now all of 30 years old and has a lot of wear and tear on his body as it is. Rookie LeSean McCoy is more than capable of stepping in for the veteran as needed, and while there was no immediate word on how much time Westbrook might miss, he sat out two games because of a concussion before playing in this game.
Besides just the in-house options, don't forget the possibility that any of the above teams might make a phone call to Larry Johnson's agent if their starter's injury is deemed long-term. Johnson, now a free agent, could provide valuable depth for a team like the Falcons or Eagles, who now might be precariously thin at the position.
I'll have more information on the other significant injuries in Week 10 in my traditional "Injury Report" section below
|So far, the news on Cedric Benson's hip injury isn't too bad.|
It's Donovan McNabb, because when it comes to fantasy football, we say "Garbage time, schmarbage time." Who cares if the only reason McNabb managed 24 fantasy points, the Week 10 high among quarterbacks, is because he attempted 55 passes? Who cares if his team suffered yet another disappointing loss on the road against an AFC West foe? Who cares if he cemented his team's fate by throwing a last-second interception in the end zone? Bah! We care about numbers, and numbers is what McNabb gave us.
Facing a San Diego Chargers defense that entered the week having allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, McNabb was a quantitative beast, throwing for 450 passing yards, the second-best single-game total in his career, and two touchdowns. Yes, Philadelphia Eagles fans might be preparing to crucify me for the pro-McNabb comments, but folks, that's fantasy football for you. Sometimes simple quantity wins you a fantasy matchup.
|Donovan McNabb + 55 passes = Week 10 MVP|
• Ladell Betts: "Betts pays off!" (If that reference is lost on you, check my "Called Out" column from this past Thursday.) Apparently this was more the 2006 version of Betts; you know, the one who managed five 100-yard performances in seven starts that season as opposed to the poor-performing backup who averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 36 games from 2007 through Week 8 of this season. What's most promising with Betts is that, despite reports that he might have been at only about 75 percent health because of a foot injury, he carried the football 26 times, including all four times in "goal-to-go" situations. No Rock Cartwright vulturing here, and I'm a believer Betts might be the Washington Redskins' go-to guy the remainder of the year.
• Lee Evans: Inconsistency is going to remain an issue with Buffalo Bills receivers, a byproduct of their poor-performing quarterbacks, but if I'm picking from the lot, Evans is my guy. He's the one with four touchdowns in his past four games, he has just one fewer target than Terrell Owens all season (57-56, imagine that) and he's the one who appeared to have better chemistry with the fresh-off-injury Trent Edwards on Sunday. The Bills now enter a portion of their schedule that is rather receiver-friendly -- the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, three of their next four opponents, ranked second, 11th and fourth, respectively, in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to opposing wide receivers entering Week 10. Now is a good time to have Evans on your roster.
• Kellen Winslow: New Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman might not be lighting the fantasy world ablaze -- though I must admit I'm impressed by his first two career starts -- but one thing he is absolutely doing is improving the level of play of his starting tight end. That's two, count 'em, two games of the Freeman-Winslow connection, one that has resulted in 11 receptions, 159 yards and a touchdown for Winslow. This kid knows how to check down, and he has a heck of a tight end to look to when he does.
• Donnie Avery: Now that was the kind of game that had Avery fans everywhere touting his breakout potential heading into this season. Of course, the first nine weeks of the season, between injuries and poor quarterback performance, Avery had been a virtual non-factor. Now, it must be noted that his matchup in Week 10 was exceptional, what with the New Orleans Saints' defense so bruised and battered that, by game's end, strong safety Roman Harper was the only regular starter still healthy. Still, Avery made some pretty plays in this one, which bodes well for a guy who has matchups versus the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans, respectively, in Weeks 12-14.
• Marshawn Lynch: I admit I was not a Lynch fan entering this season, nor was I when he returned from his suspension, but even the most optimistic of his owners can't be pleased to see the kind of workload split the Bills employed this week. Fresh off the bye, the Bills divvied up the carries pretty evenly, with nine carries going to Lynch and eight to Christopher Harris sleeper selection Fred Jackson (Christopher was pretty close on this call), and that closely resembles the nine apiece each had in Week 8. The Tennessee Titans represented a somewhat more favorable matchup than you might think, and the fact that Lynch now had had three underwhelming fantasy performances facing somewhat soft run defenses has to cast doubt upon his future potential.
• Kevin Smith: Could it be that the shoulder injury that dogged him before the bye week is still causing him trouble? It wouldn't be surprising, considering that for the fifth consecutive game the sophomore was held to single-digit fantasy points, and for the season he's now averaging 3.4 yards per carry. He gets one more soft matchup (the Cleveland Browns) in Week 11 with which to recapture our favor, but after that, Smith's schedule is brutal. From Weeks 12-15 he faces the Green Bay Packers (third-fewest fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs), Cincinnati Bengals (sixth-fewest), Baltimore Ravens (who typically have a shutdown run D) and Arizona Cardinals (at one point the No. 1 run defense in the league). Might be a good time to sell high if he stands out next week.
• Santana Moss: Let's cut the guy a break since he's the victim of having an unproductive quarterback, as well as serving as the only reliable pass-catcher in his team's offense. When the men who start across from you are such career disappointments as Malcolm Kelly, Antwaan Randle El and Devin Thomas, you can count on opposing defenses bracketing you all day. Sure enough, Moss was limited to only two receptions for eight yards Sunday, as the Redskins have begun resorting to more of a short passing game to have any chance at success. That plays poorly for Moss, and it's relevant to evaluating his future fantasy potential.
• Tim Hightower: I actually had an abundance of "Four Up" choices this week, so my "fifth Four Up" selection, Beanie Wells, is designed to also tie into my final "Four Down" pick, Hightower. If you watched the Cardinals' Week 10 contest, the team's gradual shift from Hightower to Wells seemed evident. Wells was the one with more carries (16 to 10), more red-zone work (5 touches to 4) and more second-half work (11 touches to 6). He's also the one who has been more explosive the past four weeks, averaging 5.3 yards per carry with three touchdowns, compared to Hightower's 4.4 and two scores. The job hasn't entirely changed hands, and might not the remainder of the season, but there's a good chance Wells might soon be getting two touches to every one for Hightower.
|Marshawn Lynch is firmly entrenched in a timeshare. Sigh.|
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week, and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Keenan Burton (knee): He was carted off the field with what the Rams' official Web site described as a "serious leg injury." With Burton sidelined, Brandon Gibson -- the receiver acquired in the Will Witherspoon trade -- saw a substantial increase in targets; nine of them to be exact. Gibson finished with seven receptions for 93 yards and might be in line for a start in Week 11 if Burton is out.
• S Troy Polamalu (knee): He left Sunday's game in the first quarter with what many sources suggest might have been an aggravation of the knee injury that sidelined him for four games earlier this season. The Steelers' defense didn't appear to suffer terribly from Polamalu's absence late in the game, but his absence will be felt if it's long-term. Keep tabs on his health this week.
• Kyle Orton (ankle): He was unable to return following halftime after having his ankle rolled up on in the second quarter, reports ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Broncos have to be sweating this news, as Chris Simms was awful in relief of Orton. Simms completed only three of 13 pass attempts for 13 yards and an interception; this after Orton had kicked off the game with 193 yards and two touchdowns.
• LT Jordan Gross (broken right ankle): Not a fantasy consideration himself, Gross has a significant impact on our game in that he's the anchor of the Panthers' offensive line. He's probably out for the season, which will have an adverse effect on the entire offense, particularly Jake Delhomme and the passing game. Gross protected Delhomme's blind side.
• Julius Jones (chest): If he were in the class of a Brian Westbrook or had been on a hotter streak, I might have included Jones among the notable names at the top. But considering Jones had 30 fantasy points combined in his past five games heading into Week 10, his absence might not be felt in many leagues. Heck, fantasy owners might be happy that Justin Forsett can finally get a chance to shine as a starter, especially after romping for 113 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries.
Go get 'em!
As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:
• Justin Forsett: This one is a no-brainer, and it ties directly into the previous note about Julius Jones. Forsett managed a 100-yard game in relief of Jones and scored a touchdown versus a Cardinals defense that had excelled against the run earlier this season. Forsett is a capable pass-catcher, and with matchups coming against the Rams (Week 12) and Texans (Week 14), he'll please those owners who nab him with the top waiver pick if he's given the start in those games.
• As mentioned in the intro, your top pickups (after Forsett) will surely be Jason Snelling of the Falcons and Bernard Scott of the Bengals, pending the midweek health reports of the men ahead of them on the depth chart.
• Jake Delhomme: Despite the Gross news, I'm endorsing a roll-of-the-dice pickup of Delhomme, at least as a short-term play. He seemed to perform better when the Panthers went no-huddle, and is effectively adapting to a shorter passing game. Case in point: He has zero interceptions in his past three games, after 13 in his first six games this season. The Panthers face the Buccaneers and Dolphins at home in two of the next three weeks, and coming into Week 10 those teams had allowed the fifth- and seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks.
• Marc Bulger: Again, I'm gambling upon old, previously erratic quarterbacks, albeit two who have favorable upcoming matchups in their future. I'm actually more pro-Bulger than I am pro-Delhomme, but that's to be expected when Bulger shows the kind of arm Sunday that he used to have in his prime. Yes, the matchup (versus the injury-ravaged Saints) played in his favor, but so do matchups versus the Cardinals, Seahawks, Bears and Titans in Weeks 11-14. Those teams have served up a total of 68 passing touchdowns in 28 games this season. Remember, I play in a key two-quarterback league; I won't hide my creative thinking for that format.
• Robert Meachem: Granted, he caught only one pass in Week 10, but if you're a James Jones fan, then you should also be fond of Meachem. They're similarly talented deep threats whose number of targets is limited by their status as No. 3 (or lower) men on the WR depth chart. But just as Jones was a decent deep-league option while Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley were sidelined, Meachem, I feel, brings similar value, while Lance Moore continues to be hampered by a high ankle sprain. Saints opponents are clamping down on Marques Colston in the passing game, and that's helping Meachem get open from time to time on deep routes.
Pulling "a Westbrook"
Shades of Brian Westbrook in 2007
if you're a Maurice Jones-Drew owner who loses by six or fewer points in your Week 10 matchup, let's just say you might not be a happy fella. With less than two minutes to play, Jones-Drew took the ball nine yards to the Jets' one-yard line -- then stopped, à la Westbrook, to allow his team to run down the clock. One key difference between this and the Westbrook play: The Jaguars actually trailed at the time and needed the last-second field goal for victory, whereas the Eagles were leading in their game. Risky bet, but it paid off.
Not that fantasy owners have much of a right to complain. Jones-Drew did finish with 20 fantasy points (instead of 26), and let's commend the guy for a smart play while sacrificing personal accomplishments. After all, Jones-Drew is the NFL's leader in touchdowns with 12; you never know if this might eventually cost him that lead.
The matchups did the talking
• Chris Johnson (132 yards rushing, 100 yards receiving, 2 TDs versus Bills): With Keith Ellison, Terrence McGee and Kyle Williams all out for the Bills, who entered the week easily tops in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs, what did you expect? Owners of Maurice Jones-Drew and Ronnie Brown have to be drooling right about now; those are the next two running backs who draw the Bills as opponents.
• Steven Jackson (176 total yards, 1 TD versus Saints): Another case of a running back with Pro Bowl skills capitalizing upon a matchup against an injury-ravaged defense. With Sedrick Ellis out, the Saints were carved up by Jackson, at least until they started stacking the box in the second half (they limited him to 31 yards on 10 second-half carries). No matter. The Rams merely resorted to using him as a short receiver, as he caught seven passes for 24 yards after that point.
• Carson Palmer (18-of-30 passing, 178 yards, 0 TD, 0 interceptions at Steelers): This game was more of a defensive affair, and predictably so, as Palmer didn't set out to win with the vertical passing game. Instead, he worked the shorter routes on the outside to advance his team repeatedly into field goal position. Maybe that's the way to beat this Steelers team: Pile on three-pointers and hope your defense can keep their offense in check. One thing fantasy owners can hang their hat on: at least Palmer didn't commit any costly interceptions.
• Hines Ward (4 catches for 24 yards versus Bengals): Curses, foiled by the Bengals' secondary again! It has actually been a terribly unfavorable matchup for opposing wide receivers -- just ask Derrick Mason -- though at least it's not like many fantasy owners will be harmed by it in the next couple of weeks. After all, their Weeks 11 and 12 opponents are the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, respectively, and does anyone really count on wide receivers from those teams?
• Nate Burleson (shut out at Cardinals): Credit Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for this one, as he shadowed Burleson for much of the game. Hard to imagine a receiver as talented as Burleson posting a big, fat doughnut in a game in which his team passed 53 times, but that was the case, as he was targeted only five times, while T.J. Houshmandzadeh exploded for nine receptions for 165 yards across from him. We'll give Burleson a pass for this one, though.
and the flip side: So much for the matchups!
• Mike Sims-Walker (3 catches, 49 yards, 1 TD): Before you call this a blown call on my part -- I was noting everywhere Sims-Walker's 30-yard, 0-TD road average this season -- let's point out that much of the reason for the catches he got was that the Jets foolishly put Dwight Lowery on him in man-to-man coverage early. Naturally, Sims-Walker burned Lowery on multiple occasions, after which point the Jets rolled Darrelle Revis -- the reason I feared the matchup in the first place -- over to his side. Sure enough, in the game's second half, Sims-Walker hauled in one pass on four targets for nine yards. But the damage was already done.
Now that wasn't part of the game plan!
One of the most fun aspects of Sunday football is chatting up some of the other ESPN analysts about their thoughts, their teams, their favorite kind of doughnuts, etc. Case in point: My discussion with Nate Ravitz about the increased difficulty in managing a fantasy bench. His contention -- with which I agree -- is that the larger number of running-back-by-committees around the league has made it tougher to retain handcuffs, especially on teams that had a top tight end or defense that had to be slotted on the bench for a sub in the bye week. He was the victim in a previous week, and I was this week in one of my leagues, in which I had to let Reggie Bush go (seriously, there was seemingly no one better to shed).
So of course this is the week Bush goes off, not only scoring two touchdowns but also dancing for 83 yards on six carries. Where the heck has that been all year? Bush looked the part of the college stud every fantasy owner was drooling over entering his rookie season, and he sure made me look bad with my forecast of a big Pierre Thomas game. Now it's back to an unpredictable committee in New Orleans, as Thomas had 11 mediocre carries, Mike Bell had eight comparably forgettable attempts and Bush did all the dirty work. Sigh.
A quick preview of what's in store for Week 11
• It's another episode of the "Live with Revis and Randy" show (OK, OK, I'm full of brutal puns this week) as the Patriots' Randy Moss and Jets' Darrelle Revis go head-to-head for the sixth time since Revis' 2007 rookie season. In their first meeting, Moss scorched the Jets cornerback for nine receptions, 183 yards and one touchdown, but in their next four games, it was all Revis, all the time, as Moss totaled only 14 catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. In their Week 2 battle, Moss caught only four of his eight targets for 24 yards and no scores, and Tom Brady had 216 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception passing. Of course, what fantasy owners probably remember from that day was Revis' postgame boasting about being glued to Moss, then Moss refuting the notion of a "shutdown corner." Who wins the rematch? Well, it's in New England this time, which tilts the balance slightly. But I must point out that Revis has been spectacular this season
• Wondering whether Chris Johnson will extend his streak of 100-rushing-yard, 2-plus-touchdown games to four, not to mention notch back-to-back games of at least 100 yards rushing and receiving? Well, if there's any matchup he could do it against, it's versus the Texans. Remember, he sliced and diced that defense for a total of 284 yards and three touchdowns in Week 2, all three of the scores on plays of greater than 50 yards. Not that Titans-Texans matchups are one-sided, though: Matt Schaub passed for 357 yards and four scores against a then-tattered Titans secondary, while Andre Johnson has routinely routed that defense regardless of personnel, with 21 receptions for 356 yards and three touchdowns in their past two meetings.
• The Cardinals' Kurt Warner returns to St. Louis for the fourth time since departing the Rams after the 2003 season. He's a big fan of playing there, apparently: He threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns at St. Louis in Week 9 of 2008, and has averaged 272.3 passing yards with six scores in his past three visits to the city.
• A little sleeper nugget for those of you hurting at tight end: Tony Scheffler has a touchdown in each of the past three Broncos-Chargers meetings, and 17 receptions for 240 yards and four scores total in those games. Oh, and the Chargers have allowed 17 touchdowns to opposing tight ends in their past 25 games, as well as an average of 9.6 fantasy points per game to the position during that span.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.