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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Keep eye on rushing zones

By Ken Daube
Special to ESPN.com

Through four weeks, the Miami Dolphins represent one of the most surprising aspects of the young NFL season. If you aren't paying attention, the Dolphins' run defense has been downright amazing this season, surrendering just 56.8 yards per game. Despite this fact, there are several people hwo are still viewing Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a starter this week. Do not be one of those people.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been a top-20 running back so far this season, but expectations may be lower this week.

Rushing plays can go in one of five directions: Left (outside numbers), Left, Center, Right and Right (outside numbers). For the season, the Bengals have been most productive when running to the center or left, gaining 311 of their 440 total rushing yards in those two rush zones. This week, that becomes very problematic, as the Dolphins are clearly the best team in the NFL in defending those types of runs as they have only allowed 28 yards per game on runs to those areas.

As the Bengals' 311 yards in these rush areas are 30 percent more than the average team's rushes into these zones, it's not irresponsible to project them to over-perform compared to the Dolphins' previous opponents. However, even if you are super aggressive and project the Bengals to almost double the total yardage in these rush areas, the most optimistic projections for Green-Ellis should only project 70 total yards for this week. Based on these expectations, in order for you to want him as a starting running back this week, you'll have to be hoping for a rushing touchdown. The only player to score a rushing touchdown against the Dolphins this year is Arian Foster. Green-Ellis is no Foster, so beware.

On target

Most Targets, Week 4

Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. So while your receiver may have scored only 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know if it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If he had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.

You'll see all the players who received seven or more targets in Week 4, what their average number of targets is per game and how many of them were on plays that began in the red zone, but here are some of the top storylines from Week 4.

Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. ESPN Stats and Information's philosophy is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was actually intended for the player. Therefore if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is, a pass thrown to a particular player with the intent for that player to catch the ball, and therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.

Everyone is in love with what Brian Hartline did this past week. There's nothing much more really to be said here as his historic game ensures that his ownership percentage will hit triple digits as soon as waivers are run. That being said, don't ignore Davone Bess, whose value may be artificially suppressed because of Hartline's monster game.

It's beginning to look like Lance Moore has a real chance at unseating Marques Colston as Drew Brees' No. 1 wide receiver target. The New Orleans Saints' offense is still going to be a juggernaut and if you can secure Moore to be your third receiver, you'll be in good shape the rest of the way.

For as long as Pierre Garcon is dealing with his foot issue, Leonard Hankerson remains worthy of a bye-week fill-in option for deeper leagues. That being said, if you are offered anything of value for Hankerson, it's probably best that you accept the offer.

One week after Ramses Barden filled in for the New York Giants, Domenik Hixon tried to fill the same role. Against the talented defensive secondary of the Philadelphia Eagles, Hixon acquitted himself well. Barden has a higher upside, but Hixon's usage make Barden less of a direct handcuff and more of a luxury roster slot.

Despite the disparity in the physical stature that would lead you to assume something else, Eric Decker has been targeted seven times in the red zone by Peyton Manning this season to Demaryius Thomas' three attempts. If this trend continues, the rest-of-season projections for Thomas' production need to be scaled back significantly.

From the only-if-you-are-completely-desperate column: Both Cleveland Browns receivers Greg Little and Jordan Norwood received 10 targets this Sunday. If bye weeks and injuries have decimated your receiving corps, taking a flier on one of these two isn't completely insane. Just a little bit.

While I am an unabashed fan of Roddy White's value compared to Julio Jones', those looking to use this Sunday as a barometer of where the two stand should temper those thoughts. Jones isn't fully healthy and his production and usage suffered because of it.

It will be interesting to see if the Denver Broncos attempt to use Jacob Tamme over the middle the same way the Buffalo Bills used Scott Chandler versus the New England Patriots. For those who lose Jason Witten to the bye this week, starting Tamme if available is a wise play as he matches up well against the Patriots' linebackers.

Joique Bell came out of nowhere to register seven targets this week. Based on the way this game played out, this was probably more because the Lions trailed the Minnesota Vikings by double digits with 13:09 left in the third quarter. From that point on, Bell had all seven of his targets, so his production isn't likely to be duplicated.

Big plays and up close

There were 13 NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each: Brandon Bolden (7), LeSean McCoy (5), Michael Turner (5), Chris Johnson (4), Willis McGahee (4), Cam Newton (4), Adrian Peterson (4), Reggie Bush (3), Jamaal Charles (3), Kendall Hunter (3), Alfred Morris (3), Michael Vick (3) and DeAngelo Williams (3).

Meanwhile, there were eight players with at least two carries inside their opponent's 5-yard line: Jackie Battle (4), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), Kendall Hunter (3), LeSean McCoy (3), Colin Kaepernick (2), Frank Gore (2), Ray Rice (2) and Willis McGahee (2). Only Battle, Hunter, Gore and McGahee converted at least one of those carries into a touchdown.

Chris Johnson's four rushes of 10 yards or more in a game where he gained at least 100 total yards was only his second such game since Dec. 19, 2010. For comparison, LeSean McCoy has six such games over the same time period.

Normally, Brandon Bolden's presence on this list would infuriate Stevan Ridley's owners. However, Ridley's stat line was enough to satisfy his owners. Be wary of this because Ridley has had fumbling problems in the past and Bolden could jump into a bigger role if those problems resurface.

Data Diving

Scared of slotting a Buffalo Bills running back into your starting lineup this week because of their matchup? Don't be. The Bills are most effective this season when running up the middle as evidenced by their 328 rushing yards attained on those runs. The soft spot in the San Francisco 49ers' run defense is the middle, where they have allowed more than half of their total rushing yardage (179 yards).

The Tennessee Titans have gained a total of 17 yards when rushing outside the numbers so far this season. Their opponent this week, the Minnesota Vikings, has allowed 132 rushing yards on runs going outside the numbers to the left. Only three teams in the league performed worse according to this metric. If Chris Johnson can't get it done here, all the progress he seemed to make last week should be discarded.

Until next week, thanks for reading.

Note: Statistical information used within this column was compiled by ESPN Stats and Information.