Instant Impressions from Week 3
Browns' passing game sparkles; what to make of running back injuries
There's no other way for me to express my feelings for the man: Brian Hoyer for president.
OK, not really. But Hoyer offered competent work at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and more importantly offered hope that Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron can be fantasy factors. Hoyer went 30-of-54 for 321 yards, three TDs and three INTs. Against a better and/or healthier defense than the Minnesota Vikings, one gets the sense that Hoyer's continued mistakes would've been fatal, and I wouldn't consider starting him next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. But with the Browns showing zero sign of a running game sans Trent Richardson -- Willis McGahee had eight carries for 9 yards -- it was heartening to know Hoyer was capable of taking advantage of a good matchup. That's often been beyond Brandon Weeden.
Gordon -- who reportedly might be made available for trade by the Browns -- was targeted an overwhelming 19 times Sunday, and caught 10 of them for 146 yards, including a 47-yard bomb TD. Cameron was a red zone monster with three TDs (to be fair, one came on a fake field goal attempt). Per my friend and colleague Tristan Cockcroft, Cameron's 49 standard-league fantasy points is the third-most for a TE through three weeks since 2001. (Jimmy Graham's 58 this year is the most.) Please believe me that it absolutely won't be this easy every week. The Vikings lost a couple of members of their secondary during Sunday's game, and aren't good on the back end anyway. The Bengals, for instance, are awfully good on defense and in particular at stopping opposing passing games (they haven't allowed a 300-yard passer for 18 straight games, including some fellow named Aaron Rodgers on Sunday). But no matter the state of Weeden's injured thumb, Hoyer is starting next week. And that's good news. Keep your expectations for Gordon in check, but feel free to go loony on Cameron, who now at minimum looks like a top-five fantasy TE.
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:
• Speaking of Twitter, hey followers: Remember when some of you were slagging me because I didn't have C.J. Spiller at No. 2 overall in my draft rankings? Yeah, that was great. Of course, I still did have Spiller at No. 8 overall, which isn't looking very good, either. Sunday afternoon, Spiller had 10 yards on 11 touches, and had to leave the game with what the Buffalo Bills called a "knee injury," and refused to clarify. In his stead, Fred Jackson was his usual lunch-pail self, with 109 total yards on 11 touches (59 of them came on a single run). We'll wait for word on Spiller's longer-term health, but here's hoping you handcuffed Jackson to him. F-Jax would likely be a flex next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
• Drew Brees and Cam Newton took their turn among the elite QBs, producing giant weeks, including each man's first rushing TD of the season. Brees and Graham are well-nigh unstoppable; they connected nine times for 134 yards and two scores Sunday. Newton started slow and still hasn't exceeded 229 yards passing in a game this season, but he was strong in finding Brandon LaFell in the end zone a couple of times. It'll be a rare week when each of these guys isn't in the top five of my QB ranks.
• Why can't DeMarco Murray play the St. Louis Rams every game? In Week 6 of his rookie season, he produced a Dallas Cowboys team-record 253 rushing yards, which served as his fantasy coming-out party. Sunday, Murray rushed for 175 and a TD against the Rams and didn't even play in the fourth quarter because the game was a blowout. It was Murray's first 100-yard rushing game since Week 1 last season.
• Of the two handcuffs thrust into a clear starting RB role Sunday, Joique Bell produced better numbers than Bernard Pierce. Bell's skills really don't match those of Reggie Bush; he's not particularly quick or straight-line fast. But he's a tremendous receiver and an almost impossibly slippery and balanced runner who's very difficult to bring down. In other words: The Detroit Lions' offense hums just fine when Bush isn't in there. Bell racked up 132 yards from scrimmage and a TD. Meanwhile, Pierce had a more difficult matchup against the Houston Texans and he gutted out some strong runs in traffic, but 65 yards on 24 carries isn't pretty. He got two straight chances inside Houston's 5 and converted on the second, saving his fantasy day. Expect Bush back in the Lions' lineup next week, relegating Bell to deep-league flex territory. Meanwhile, Ray Rice could miss another game, and if that's so, Pierce will continue to be a No. 2 fantasy back against the Bills.
• Maybe we can't dismiss Ahmad Bradshaw so easily after all. Richardson's first carry Sunday afternoon came from the San Francisco 49ers' 1, and he converted for a TD. But Bradshaw was easily the better RB Sunday, especially when the Indianapolis Colts were in clock-killing mode and the Niners were clearly stuffing the box to stop him. This is a reminder to be circumspect about T-Rich next week. My guess is still that eventually Richardson will be the more valuable commodity, not least because Bradshaw will have a hard time staying healthy with 22 touches per week. But it's hard to imagine the Colts withdrawing Bradshaw from the game plan after this performance.
• Speaking of the Niners, what the heck is up with Colin Kaepernick? I can't wait to break down the film and get the full story for myself, but having seen Frank Gore just eat the Colts alive on the game's first drive, and then seeing San Francisco do absolutely nothing thereafter? Weird. Kaepernick's problem in Week 2 was supposedly the vicious Seattle Seahawks defense, but having already watched them play twice this season, I have a hard time buying the Indy D as elite. There seems to be very little read-option in the 49ers game plan now, which was fine Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, but hasn't worked since.
Fantasy Focus Football
Nate Ravitz and Matthew Berry recap Week 3, explaining why Arian Foster owners should be concerned and finding legit talent on the Browns.
• The Packers are going to need their Week 4 bye. James Starks had 55 yards on 14 carries against that tough Bengals D before suffering a knee injury, from which he didn't return. That's just not a surprise; Starks has talent, but has never been able to stay healthy when given significant playing time. Jermichael Finley took a brutal hit over the middle and suffered a concussion. Clay Matthews suffered a hamstring injury and didn't return. And Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn were both inactive with injuries. In particular the RB carnage is significant because it gave rookie Johnathan Franklin a huge opportunity. For a while, he did a lot with it. Franklin wound up with 126 total yards on 16 touches and scored a nice speedy red zone TD, but he also fumbled at a terrible time, when the Packers were going for it on fourth-and-inches trying to salt the game away. The lost fumble was returned for the winning Cincy TD. Franklin did some good things, and it's possible he'll stay involved. But any chance that he ran away with the starting job ended with that fumble. Lacy is the starter here.
• All the way back in 2009, the New England Patriots were known as the Bermuda Triangle of fantasy RBs. You never knew from week to week who'd be the game plan's focus, as such luminaries as Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk took turns. Then BenJarvus Green-Ellis became Tom Brady's goal-line caddie for a couple of years, and Stevan Ridley took over that role last season. Well, it's back to the future in New England. Ridley, Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount seem set to create a problematic backfield triumvirate. Don't be fooled by Blount's 14 carries; eight of those came in clock-killing mode against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his old team. But Bolden was out there a ton with the score close, and proved he's the best receiving RB Brady has without Shane Vereen in the mix. Ridley is still the best runner in New England, but he isn't always used that way. I'm going to have a difficult time ranking any of these guys as better than a flex in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons.
• Speaking of Green-Ellis, he lost a fumble that the Packers returned for a TD on Sunday, and once again was easily outshone skills-wise by rookie Giovani Bernard. Fantasy owners desperately want Bernard to get a chance to be a true lead back, and maybe that's coming soon. I admit that despite his Week 3 mistake, Green-Ellis is a trustworthy (if uninspiring) veteran. That said, Bernard and the Law Firm shared a pair of red zone scores, and Bernard is just a menace catching it out of the backfield. In terms of talent, Bernard deserves to be rated as a top-20 fantasy back. I think the Bengals are going to figure that out sooner rather than later.
• This Week in Tom Brady Panic: Tom Terrific scored only 15 fantasy points by going 25-of-36 for 225 yards, two TDs and an end zone interception, which still isn't good enough. That said, his rookie wideouts were much better. Aaron Dobson actually seemed like the more reliable of the kids; I didn't see him drop anything, plus Brady absolutely blew what should've been an all-alone red zone TD to Dobson. But Kenbrell Thompkins scored two TDs (and had an awful drop). At this point, you have to figure Rob Gronkowski is on his way back for next week, which could render all these guys pretty much unusable. But things look rosier for Brady now than they did after Week 2.
• We all figured it would be a nice matchup for the New York Jets' backfield against a soft Buffalo run defense. We just thought it might be Chris Ivory who'd take advantage, because he looked stronger than Bilal Powell in Week 2. But Ivory suffered a hamstring injury early, and totaled just 5 yards on four carries. In his absence, Powell put together the first 100-yard rushing day of his NFL career, with 149 yards on a whopping 29 carries. (Third-stringer Alex Green saw five totes himself). It seems pretty possible the oft-injured Ivory will miss more time, which would mean Powell would have a starting job to himself in Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans.
• Wideout injuries continue to daunt fantasy owners. Andre Johnson suffered an injured shin in the first half and returned after halftime, but was unable to continue. Vincent Jackson hurt his ribs and couldn't return. And Miles Austin pulled a hamstring and left the game (surprise!). Stay tuned for updates on these guys throughout the week. The most interesting fantasy asset among all these guys' backups is DeAndre Hopkins.
• Daryl Richardson aggravated his foot injury on the first snap of the game Sunday, which gave Isaiah Pead a full workload. Pead didn't do anything with his carries (six totes for 20 yards) but did catch all seven of his targets from check-down monster Sam Bradford. The Rams play the 49ers on Thursday night, which puts Richardson's status very much in doubt for Week 4.
• Are you proud that I've gone this long without complaining about David Wilson? In the New York Giants' shutout loss, Wilson had 11 carries for 39 yards, but was stuck on six carries for minus-2 yards until the game was 31-0. There was momentary hope early in the second quarter when Wilson flashed the sick speed we all know he has, getting around the left edge and scampering for a 17-yard TD, but the play was called back because of a hold. Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott weren't factors, and the offensive line is just horrendous. But Wilson is just such a disappointment. I'll continue to rank him way outside my top 20 RBs.
• Marshawn Lynch was stopped twice on the one-inch line. Ouch. I lip-read Pete Carroll telling Beast Mode that he'd get him into the end zone next time, but it never happened. Instead, unusual suspects Sidney Rice and Zach Miller each scored two TDs. That stings.
• Christian Ponder scored 21 standard-league fantasy points. Thirteen of those were on rushing TDs (which went for a combined 14 yards). Nobody can take those scores away from him, but otherwise the Vikings QB was an uninspiring mess. He checks almost everything down, or else throws long passes up for grabs. When he gets pressure, he starts running around backwards in the pocket and inevitably either gets sacked or fumbles. At one point in the game broadcast, in unwarranted praise of Ponder, Solomon Wilcots said, "There are some quarterbacks who need playmakers, and there are some quarterbacks that are playmakers." And I just shook my head.
• Eddie Royal caught another TD! Unfortunately, it came on a blatant pick play, which was called back for offensive pass interference. So everyone's favorite San Diego Chargers slot receiver is only on pace for 26.7 TDs now. For shame.
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