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Monday, October 31, 2011
Instant Impressions: Week 8

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

• Trick or treat. We must start where we seemingly always start, with Chris Johnson and his endlessly crumbling fantasy football empire. CJ0K wound up with 34 yards on 14 carries Sunday against the supposedly woeful Colts run defense, and by the fourth quarter he was basically benched. Javon Ringer had nine carries for 44 yards in that final stanza as the Titans were putting Indy away, while Johnson had one carry for 5 yards. And then coach Mike Munchak told reporters after the game that he would determine his desired RB based on the "flow of the game," and that "every game will be different." If Johnson's owners weren't already in a panic, that should just about do it. You absolutely can consider benching Johnson now, depending on what else you have in your backfield. You can't trade Johnson away, nor should you be thinking about buying low. And you can't drop him. I said this all last week, but here it is again: I am just fine letting CJ0K ride fantasy pine until and if he posts a big game. And at this point, he's produced so many stinkers, I won't mind if he's on my bench when and if he finally goes off. At least then I'll know he's still capable of producing big games, and can consider starting him again.

Mario Manningham finally made an appearance on the fantasy rolls this week, with six grabs for 63 yards and a score on nine targets. He also nearly connected on another TD on a fade in the back corner of the end zone. And Victor Cruz was difficult to contain out of the slot, with seven grabs for 99 yards and the game-winning score on nine targets. These numbers are notable because these two players are usable as top-30 fantasy receivers every week, but considering Hakeem Nicks left Sunday's contest with an injured hamstring, Manningham and Cruz may be getting an even bigger bump. Nicks himself had a respectable six catches for 67 yards before the injury, but anyone who's owned the dude over the past few years knows that his legs are fragile entities, indeed. If Nicks misses time, Manningham and Cruz will each play in two-receiver sets, and be top-20 options.

• We got word late Sunday morning that Beanie Wells would be able to play despite a balky knee, but the general sense was that he'd be able to handle only a limited workload, and that fantasy owners would be wise to look elsewhere, especially considering that the Cardinals were headed to Baltimore to take on a testy Ravens squad. Well, Beanie did substantially more than just dabble in Sunday's contest, winding up with 22 carries for 83 yards and a short TD plunge, on which he landed on his head. There are still worries swirling about Wells' knee, which Arizona beat reporters contend may bother Beanie for the rest of the season. In other words, the risk hasn't been taken away. There's still a whole bunch of potential for fantasy frustration in the season's second half. But at least we did see him finally tough out an injury.

Kevin Faulk
Kevin Faulk's six carries were actually enough to lead the Patriots on Sunday.

• As though he wanted to tell Mike Shanahan, "No, I'm the most frustrating head coach in the league when it comes to my fantasy backfield," Bill Belichick activated Kevin Faulk for Sunday's game, and proceeded to give Faulk 11 touches from scrimmage, as opposed to five for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and zero for Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley. Certainly, this isn't an indication that Faulk is now Belichick's lead dog. The game situation (the Patriots were behind the entire way) dictated Faulk's usage. I don't view Faulk as addable, except perhaps in awfully deep PPR leagues. But let this serve as notice that we simply cannot predict what New England will do with its RBs on a weekly basis. As of this writing, I have no indication that BJGE's terrible day (hello, five carries for 9 yards) had anything to do with his injured toe. It was just the way the game went. And it's why your fantasy team is healthiest when you don't have to deal with any of these dudes.

• Does the Madden Curse trickle down to backups? Montario Hardesty made it through two carries for 6 yards before feeling his calf pop, and he sat out the rest of the Browns' game against the 49ers on Sunday afternoon. Of course, the main cursed player, Peyton Hillis, was already out of his second straight game because of an injured hammy, and Hillis is stuck on a woeful 60 carries for 211 yards and two TDs through seven games. Hardesty is reportedly due to undergo an MRI on his calf Monday, but one imagines this injury will linger at least into Week 9, meaning Cleveland really needs Hillis back next week. There's a chance that happens, and if it does, Hillis probably vaults back into flex territory. If it doesn't, we could be looking at a whole lot of Chris Ogbonnaya work, but only the desperate need to consider adding Ogbonnaya just yet.

• The most startling thing about the Cowboys rolling over like zombie corpses Sunday night was how Tony Romo basically did the Eagles a favor by refusing to look at Dez Bryant or Miles Austin. Yes, OK, those are some impressive defensive backs that Philly boasts. But when your defense is in the process of failing to even slow down Michael Vick and as the scoreboard deficit mounts, how in the world do you target Bryant only five times and Austin only three times? I watched the game, and I do understand that Romo was often under siege, but I don't care. If you're getting killed and your only hope of salvation is some big plays, you have to get those outside receivers involved. Not doing so is just stupid. The Cowboys play a depleted Seahawks secondary in Week 9, and one assumes Romo will go back to his gunslinging ways; I don't think you can bench him or his two top outside guys. But enough with this Laurent Robinson stuff, huh, Tony? As with Ogbonnaya, only the truly desperate need consider adding Robinson.

Tim Tebow
It was another rough outing for Tim Tebow against the Lions, as most of his positive numbers came very late.

• When Tim Tebow is good, we put him way up top of Instant Impressions. When he's as bad as he was in Week 8, we sneak him in way down here. That was an entirely brutal performance by Tebow, one that surely has Broncos fans chastened. Somehow Timmy T managed to salvage 12 fantasy points out of the day in standard ESPN.com leagues, but that was thanks to a garbage-time drive and a late TD to Eric Decker, after the Lions were already winning by 42 points. Tebow's stat line -- 18-of-39 for 172 yards and two turnovers that went for Detroit defensive TDs -- doesn't do justice for how poorly he played. Too often, his passes just have no chance for completion from the moment they leave his hand. He doesn't appear to read defenses, or really grasp the concepts involved in doing so. And despite 63 yards rushing on a few pretty good scrambles, overall his pocket presence regressed. Hey, the Lions can be pretty intimidating up front on defense, and I do think Tebow gets another start, next week at the Raiders. When you're this bad and can still salvage 12 fantasy points, well, I guess that's something, but another stinker like this, and Timmy T may not be starting in Denver any longer.

Percy Harvin suited up despite injured ribs that caused him to miss a great deal of game action in Week 7, and he scored on a first-quarter run that rewarded any fantasy owner brave enough to start him. Unfortunately, Harvin later took another shot to the midsection that caused him to sit out much of Sunday's second half, though he did return late on the Vikings' game-winning drive to make a couple of extra grabs. Minnesota is off for Week 9, so hopefully Harvin can rest and put this sporadic playing time behind him. With Christian Ponder in the mix, the Vikings' offense overall is looking sharper and more dynamic, and Harvin seems to have the ball in his hands more (when he's in there).

Joseph Addai was active for Sunday's contest against the Titans, but was unofficially designated the Colts' "emergency back," meaning Indy didn't want to use him, because of his injured hammy. Mission accomplished. Addai sat while Delone Carter (nine carries for 46 yards) and Donald Brown (10 carries for 33 yards and a 4-yard fourth-quarter score) carried the mail. For as long as Addai is out, neither Carter nor Brown is an attractive fantasy play, considering how poor Indy's offense is overall, and considering they're in a straight platoon with one another. The larger question is whether Addai can completely reclaim his starting gig when he finally gets right. I suspect he will, but we won't know for sure until health visits Addai's legs.

Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this e-book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.