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Monday, November 11, 2013
Instant Impressions for Week 10

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

Coaches lie.

Again and again, we get suckered by news-conference platitudes in which NFL head men purport to reveal glimpses of their game-day strategies. Usually, I don't listen. I try so hard. But when it came to the New York Giants this weekend, I allowed myself to be swayed by insiders whose coaching sources revealed, to a person, that the team would ease Andre Brown into action after his long, broken-leg-related absence. Peyton Hillis would start, Brown would work his way in.

Andre Brown
In his career, Andre Brown has scored a touchdown in eight of the 10 games in which he had a carry or reception.

The truth is that we'll never know what the Giants' real plan was, because Hillis lost a fumble on his first carry of the game. But it's easy to believe that Tom Coughlin & Co. were lying, especially considering it was actually Brown who started versus the Oakland Raiders. Regardless, in a tight contest the workload broke down like this: Hillis, five carries and one catch for 21 total yards; Brown, 30 carries and one catch for 119 total yards and a TD. Alas, while I've been recommending Brown as a valuable waiver add over the past month, I was hoodwinked into believing he wasn't a good start in Week 10.

Never again! We must stop believing what these coaches say! And we simply must add Brown, who as of this writing was still available in three-quarters of ESPN leagues. Do I think this injury-prone player will survive even half a season with 30-plus touches per week? Um, no. But for as long as he's good to go, he needs to be in most fantasy lineups.

Remember: Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @CHarrisESPN for more analysis during the week. For now, let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:

• Please, please, please don't get distracted by Tavon Austin, at least not yet. It was a nice showing. I'm on the record as being relatively bullish about his pro career, but this was a fluky effort. Austin backwards-caught a punt on his own 2 and took it to the house: an impressive run, but not advisable strategy. He ran a pure fly pattern down the left side to catch a bomb, another case of impressive speed but a play that hasn't worked all year because most defenses run a safety deeper than the deepest and prevent the St. Louis Rams from successfully taking such shots. And the third TD was the kind of pass Austin has been catching all year, a harmless short cross, but the Indianapolis Colts play a ton of man and don't tackle well from the safety position, and Austin got away for an 81-yard score. Austin had three targets, and caught two of them for 138 yards and two scores. Again, if and when the Rams get their stuff together on offense, Austin will be an interesting ancillary weapon, but he's not Percy Harvin. He's three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. And he's not yet worth adding in 10-team leagues.

• Not to be overly negative, but Nick Foles is a mirage, too. You're going to hear all week how incredible it is that Foles has 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions! But his 22-fantasy-point Sunday against the Green Bay Packers comes with several asterisks. His first two passing scores never should've been thrown; the first was a deep flutterball into double coverage where the Packers defenders crashed into one another, deflected the ball up in the air, and let DeSean Jackson get away, and the second was (surprise!) a deep flutterball that got sucked away by the wind or else it would've been picked, and Riley Cooper was able to run under it. And Foles' third score was to a wide-open Cooper down the left side, yet another blown coverage for a defense facing the Philadelphia Eagles. Give Chip Kelly credit: He had a lead and didn't feel the need to overthrow it much, so Foles was only 12-for-18 while LeSean McCoy had 25 carries and Bryce Brown added four more. But Foles lost a fumble on a fourth-quarter sack, which allowed the Packers to stay in the game longer than they should've. I agree that not throwing interceptions is a good quality for a young QB, and I also agree that I've probably underrated Foles' athleticism, as the kid scrambled out of some tough situations Sunday, but his throwing isn't there. I continue to believe it'll bite him, which is why he's only a desperation fantasy fill-in.

Scott Tolzien
Scott Tolzien had 280 yards passing, but threw two costly interceptions in his NFL debut against the Eagles.

• Speaking of the Packers, their season appears to be spiraling around the bowl. Aaron Rodgers is already out with a broken collarbone for "an unknown amount of time" (expect at least a couple more weeks), and Sunday Seneca Wallace left in the first quarter because of a groin injury. That left practice-squad denizen Scott Tolzien under center, and the truth is that Tolzien was OK. Clearly, this is a matter of expectations, but under Tolzien the Pack had a whole bunch of long drives. In fact, they had three drives that went 72 yards or more. But they accomplished this mostly via short passing and even shorter running, and when they got near the end zone, they flopped. Tolzien has already been named Green Bay's Week 11 starter against the Giants. It's true that Jarrett Boykin had a team-high 13 targets and eight grabs for 112 yards, and Jordy Nelson nearly caught a late TD to add to his six grabs and 56 yards. But predicting such production week to week with such an unknown commodity at QB is hard to do.

• Hey, how about some happy news? A.J. Green's owners were staring down the barrel of a six-catch, 91-yard effort Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. That would've been acceptable. Then Andy Dalton -- who'd done just about everything he could to mess up the Cincinnati Bengals' last-gasp drive -- launched a Hail Mary that bounced around and landed in Green's arms in the end zone. The game went to OT, and many fantasy scores were toppled. What can you say about Green? He's saddled with a subpar QB but all he does is produce.

• Going the other direction, we got yet another disappointing Ray Rice day. In the first quarter, the Ravens got inside Cincy's 5 and handed it to Rice, but he got stuffed. The next carry went to Vonta Leach, and again, nada. Joe Flacco was left to throw a short TD score to Dallas Clark. And that was pretty much it for high-value plays. Rice wound up with 18 carries and 30 yards rushing, to go with six catches and 26 yards receiving. How much of this is a Rice problem? I still put more than half the blame on the Ravens' O-line. But listen, you'd have to be blind to watch Rice in the open field and not think something is going on. A couple of times, Rice caught a checkdown with nobody within 10 yards of him, started upfield, saw a potential tackler break down in front of him, and pitter-pattered his feet as though he was about to make some kind of darting cut, whereupon he pretty much just plowed directly into the tackler's stomach. Rice doesn't see open space often, but when he does, he's just not changing direction as hard as we've seen in the past. He's not going to be in my top 20 RBs any time soon.

• This just in: The Denver Broncos continue to be ridiculous on offense. They did not become the first team in NFL history to score 30-plus points in their first nine games, but Peyton Manning keeps making it look easy. He threw four TD passes in the first 33:19 Sunday, three of which went to Demaryius Thomas, and most important Manning didn't evince any of the inaccuracy or questionable decision-making that plagued his prior couple of outings. He did take a big shot on his knee or ankle while trying to run out the clock against the San Diego Chargers, so we'll have to see if his struggles resurface (if, in fact, they were injury-related). For the moment, though, he's on pace for a record 58 TD passes.

Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram recorded his first career 100-yard game Sunday against the Cowboys.
• It also was a pretty amazing night for the New Orleans Saints' backfield. It's not often you see three running backs from the same team post 20-plus fantasy points in the same game. But that's what happened in Week 10. Pierre Thomas had 24 touches for 111 yards and two TDs and continued to be the lead of this platoon, Darren Sproles fumbled away an early punt but had 12 offensive touches for 88 yards and two TDs, and Mark Ingram returned to the headlines with 16 touches for 160 yards and a TD of his own. Ingram's solid play -- albeit against a Dallas Cowboys defense that allowed massive running lanes all night -- can only muddy the waters here. I have a hard time believing he'll suddenly become a fantasy-relevant player, but he sure can mess things up on a weekly basis for Frenchy and Sproles.

• Sure, half the first-round RBs have been crushers, including Arian Foster, who'll miss the rest of the season because of his back injury. But it was a good week for the guys who haven't hurt you. Adrian Peterson (77 yards on 22 touches with two TDs) was a beast in a comeback effort Thursday night. Marshawn Lynch ate the Atlanta Falcons alive with 161 total yards on 27 touches with a TD and some crazy, leg-churning, ridiculous sideline runs. Alfred Morris (26 carries, 139 yards) was also terrific Thursday night. And LeSean McCoy touched it 26 times for 161 yards. (We'll also cut Jamaal Charles some slack, as he was on bye.) If your first-round RB has remained unscathed in this carnage-heavy year, your fantasy team has had a massive leg up.

• Three players about whom I got harassed on Twitter this week: Jake Locker, Andre Ellington and Keenan Allen. I was too low on all of them! Was I stupid? Well, through a quarter-and-a-half, Locker was 4-of-9 for 24 yards, an interception and a lost fumble (which was at least partly Chris Johnson's fault), and then he suffered a non-contact foot injury and reportedly will miss the rest of the season. The lesson with Locker? Don't artificially pump up mediocre players who are made of glass because you think the matchup is ultra-tasty, especially when recent evidence showed the Jacksonville Jaguars had been playing better on defense. Ellington had 11 carries compared to 13 for Rashard Mendenhall; the lesson with Ellington is that the Arizona Cardinals don't seem to envision him as a No. 1 back, though Mendy lost a late fumble Sunday and appeared to be benched, so maybe there's hope. And Allen had four catches on five targets for 41 yards. The lesson with him is: When a rookie wideout is not the most-targeted option and is sometimes the No. 3 aerial threat on a team that doesn't want to throw it deep, counting on him to be a No. 1 fantasy wideout is futile.

• Coming off a week during that they allowed a franchise-worst 55 points to the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers basically allowed three points to the Buffalo Bills, until Chris Gragg caught a TD with no time left in the fourth quarter. Of course. Listen, assuming a favorable matchup for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller this week was based on more than just the Pats game; Pittsburgh had allowed 11 TDs to RBs through eight contests, and an average of 111.3 rush yards per game to running backs. But hey, tip your cap to the Steelers, because they didn't give Jackson (15 touches, 62 total yards) or Spiller (11 touches, 34 total yards) much room at all. Jackson had a couple chances from inside the Steelers' 5, but couldn't convert, and otherwise it was a slog.

• My friend and colleague Adam Schefter reported that the Seattle Seahawks think they'll get Percy Harvin back to game action in Week 11 versus his old Minnesota Vikings squad. So while it was fun to see Doug Baldwin (five catches for 76 yards) and Jermaine Kearse (three catches for 75 yards and a TD) do nice work in ancillary roles Sunday, don't add them in standard-sized leagues. Instead, make sure Harvin isn't a free agent. He's too good not to consider using right away.

Vernon Davis suffered a concussion when his head slammed the turf on a controversial second-quarter play (it should've been ruled a fumble, though the San Francisco 49ers were only able to get a field goal out of the possession), and didn't return. Jay Cutler limped around and grabbed at his injured groin throughout the second half of the Chicago Bears' loss, and then had to leave the game because of a potentially different injury for the team's last-gasp drive (initial reports indicate it might've been his ankle). Steve Johnson came out of the Bills' disconsolate loss because of an injured groin, and considering how long injuries tend to linger with Stevie, it'll be worth watching heading into Week 11. Tony Gonzalez suffered a toe injury and played through it, but reportedly was hobbling in the Falcons locker room. And Michael Floyd left Sunday afternoon's win with a sprained shoulder; Bruce Arians reportedly doesn't consider the injury serious, but we'll have to check in with Floyd during the week.