Instant Impressions for Week 6
Blackmon, Moreno shine; Packers WRs Cobb, Jones injured
Blackmon lit up the Denver Broncos for 14 grabs and 190 yards on an incredible 20 targets. The common thought -- and the main reason we ranked Blackmon as a No. 3 fantasy wideout for Week 6 -- was that the Broncos would bury the Jags early, there would be tons of garbage time and some Jacksonville wideouts could back into some stats. Instead, some pretty awful Peyton Manning turnovers kept the Jaguars in the game; they trailed by two with five minutes left in the third quarter and by nine midway through the fourth. And throughout, Blackmon was a full-grown man on the short stuff, running hooks, slants and crosses with impunity, taking big hits, getting up and doing it again. It was an impressive performance for a kid whose attitude was routinely questioned in his rookie year.[+] EnlargeDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJustin Blackmon took full advantage of his 20 targets on Sunday in Denver.
It didn't hurt his numbers (though it certainly hurt the Jags' chances) that Cecil Shorts took a hit on the team's third offensive play and suffered an injury that cost him at least the rest of the contest. The question for early this week will be whether Shorts' ribs are broken, in which case he could be looking at a prolonged absence.
If that happens, Blackmon will be the kind of target monster who can carry a fantasy squad. Amazingly still unowned in 47 percent of ESPN leagues (despite my weekly efforts), Blackmon will be a borderline top-20 fantasy WR in Week 7 against the San Diego Chargers if Shorts can't go. He's not going to make a big number of downfield plays in this offense and he's not a Calvinc Johnson-sized flanker, but volume makes up for such quibbling flaws.
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:
• Peyton Manning "struggled." He struggled to the tune of 290 yards passing. That's the kind of impossible standard the Sheriff has set for himself thus far; he scored "only" 13 fantasy points after averaging 31 through five games. But obviously, let's not get carried away. Knowshon Moreno was handed three second-half bunny TDs from inside the Jacksonville 10; had Peyton fired scores, we wouldn't be having this conversation. There will be weeks like this, because Manning is human, and because any NFL defense can play inspired in any given week. But of course, you're not panicking. This is not a sell high. Ride him.
• Jimmy Graham's doughnut day was clearly more problematic, especially because he left Sunday's loss early with what appeared to be a left ankle injury. In the first half, Aqib Talib shadowed Graham all over the field and shut the big guy down. Early in the second half, Talib injured a hip and couldn't return, but Devin McCourty switched over to Graham (getting quite a bit of help) and did the job as well. The good news for Graham is that the New Orleans Saints have a bye in Week 7, so he'll have plenty of time to rest up. Listen, a good NFL defense can sometimes pick its poison, and the New England Patriots decided Graham flat-out wasn't going to beat them. Drew Brees still took six shots Graham's way and will absolutely be inspired to have him rack up points against the Buffalo Bills next time out. More alarming, probably, was the fact that no other pass-catcher -- particularly Marques Colston -- could step up with the defense focusing so heavily on Graham. Three targets, one catch and 11 yards isn't going to cut it for Colston.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Steven SenneIn addition to scoring his first two touchdowns of the season, Stevan Ridley had season highs for carries (20) and rushing yards (96) on Sunday.
• In the same game, Stevan Ridley marked a return to fantasy relevance with 21 touches for 110 yards and two scores from inside the 5. LeGarrette Blount started the game and looked like his usual sluggish self, and Brandon Bolden got the Pats' second possession. Ridley didn't even get his first touch until the very end of the first quarter, but on that carry he rumbled for 18 yards and never looked back. So the question we have to ask ourselves is: Does this mean Ridley is the primary New England RB again? I'm tempted to fret that Ridley's performance was "game plan-specific," because that's what the Pats do: change things up from week to week. It seems clear the plan against the Saints was to alternate RBs, and if one guy stepped forward, they'd concentrate on him. (Blount finished with seven carries for 9 yards; Bolden had seven touches for 26 yards and another terrible drop on a screen pass.) Does that mean Ridley has permanently moved to the front of the class? I don't know. It's frustrating.
• Perhaps the day's most damaging injuries were to Green Bay Packers receivers Randall Cobb (knee) and James Jones (shin). Jones was hurt on the Pack's second play and had to leave, while Cobb took a big hit on his knee near the end of the first half. In their stead, you'd probably have imagined that the Baltimore Ravens might focus much of their defensive attention on Jordy Nelson, but Nelson got free for a huge 64-yard TD toward the end of the third quarter, a play that was the difference in the game. Jarrett Boykin subbed as Green Bay's No. 2 wideout and took a short pass 43 yards, but he also produced two awful drops. Early word is that the Packers believe both Cobb and Jones avoided season-ending injuries, but Cobb left the stadium on crutches.
• Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson traded body blows in the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. V-Jax saw 14 targets and caught nine of them for 114 yards and two scores; he took advantage of the fact that Mike Williams was a late scratch because of a hamstring injury, and he also benefited because Doug Martin was tackled on the Philly 1 late in the first half, whereupon V-Jax scored his second TD. D-Jax caught all six of his targets from Nick Foles for 64 yards and two TDs. Foles and Mike Glennon clearly aren't hindrances to the fantasy stocks of these Jacksons. Keep using them.
• A few top-five draftees at their respective positions who've generated some recent angst also had huge Week 6 days. Cam Newton drove the Carolina Panthers all day, and unlike his vexing Week 5 performance against the Arizona Cardinals, he finished off drives. His first two TD passes came from inside the Minnesota Vikings 10: He scrambled up the middle for a 7-yard TD run, and for good measure he hit Brandon LaFell on a bomb. Meanwhile, Arian Foster had back-to-back runs for 23 and 22 yards in the second quarter to set the tone; he was the Houston Texans' lone bright spot in an embarrassing home loss, with 198 total yards (and a 1-yard TD vultured by Ben Tate). At tight end, Vernon Davis had 171 yards and two TDs in the first half alone, as Colin Kaepernick found him downfield over and over again. Davis settled down in the second half and wound up with "only" 180 yards. What a slacker.
• Ray Rice and Fred Jackson made few fantasy friends Sunday; within a few minutes of each other, the RBs were each stuffed on three consecutive carries from inside an opponent's 5. To add insult to injury, their respective teams (the Ravens and the Bills) went for it on fourth down from the 1, and neither team scored, setting the stage for close losses. Rice's day ended with 49 total yards on 17 touches. Jackson had 14 touches for 48 yards. Neither of these RBs is talent-deficient, but they play behind inconsistent offensive lines; you probably keep playing both of them (Rice probably more so than Jackson), but it would be nice to see more room to run.[+] EnlargeJason Miller/Getty ImagesCalvin Johnson wasn't his normal self on Sunday in Cleveland, totaling just 25 yards receiving.
• Calvin Johnson was a shadow of himself Sunday; he played limited snaps in the first half, and while he was on the field much more as the game tightened in the second, he rarely ran the downfield routes that make him such a stud. The result? Three catches on eight targets, for only 25 yards. He did get two red zone (and one end zone) looks in the first quarter, but couldn't convert. Then he had to stand by as the immortal Joseph Fauria scored three TDs. Fauria now has five TDs on the season. On seven catches. And nine targets. It's true Fauria performs a mighty fine goalpost slam dunk after he scores, but you probably can't chase his fantasy points.
• Even when Sam Bradford leads the St. Louis Rams to a blowout win, he maddens. Because the Texans couldn't get out of their own way and kept giving Bradford great field position and defensive TDs, the QB went 12-of-16 for 117 yards. He threw three TD passes -- all fewer than 5 yards -- and who caught them? Cory Harkey, Lance Kendricks and Brian Quick. Awesome. (Yes, two TEs had touchdown receptions for the Rams, and neither was named Jared Cook.) You can't blame Bradford for Chris Givens' awful second-quarter drop down the deep middle, which would've been an 80-yard TD. And hey, Bradford did what he had to do. It would just be nice if the bill of goods we were sold this summer (The Greatest Show on Turf: Part 2!) could actually come true one of these weeks.
• Speaking of the Rams, it seems they've settled on a running back. Whereas in Week 5, Zac Stacy mostly split the load with Daryl Richardson, who played on third downs, Stacy had the gig to himself Sunday. He had 20 touches to Richardson's four. Can you argue that the Rams had a big lead and thus had no need for their hurry-up packages? Yes. But I don't think that fully explains a 20-to-4 split. Stacy is the man, and will be ranked as such Week 7 against the Panthers.
• The very moment Cris Collinsworth commented that the Dallas Cowboys have decided to go with one rusher instead of their most typical platoon, DeMarco Murray took a carry around the right end, was toppled by tacklers, landed squarely on his left knee and limped off the field. Murray suffered a knee sprain and didn't return. Surprise! The best player on the RB depth chart behind Murray is probably Lance Dunbar, but Dunbar was inactive Sunday night because of a hamstring injury. If Murray's absence is longer term, Dunbar could be involved, but the player who carried the mail Sunday night was rookie Joseph Randle. It would be a stretch to say Randle looked good (11 carries for 17 yards), but he did score a short TD and played ahead of Phillip Tanner.
• Two of my favorite slightly undersized rookie rushers made highlights Sunday: Giovani Bernard and Andre Ellington. Bernard's 20-yard TD was a jump-off-the-couch moment, as he accepted a shovel pass and juked through half the Bills defense; he rushed for only 28 yards on 15 carries, but caught six passes for 72 yards and most important, he played around the same number of snaps as BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ellington was filthy on three separate occasions, juking San Francisco 49ers out of their jocks. He wound up with 12 touches and 92 yards, and split looks with Rashard Mendenhall. He's going to get the national spotlight Thursday night in a bad matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, but don't let that scare you off him. If he's unowned in your league, grab him.
• Danny Amendola was shut out as a pass-catcher through no fault of his own. He beat a blown Saints coverage and should've had an 84-yard TD, but Tom Brady overthrew him. Unfortunately, later in the game Amendola was knocked out by a huge hit on an end-around and didn't return.
• Antonio Brown was terrific again with 86 yards on nine catches, though he did commit a truly horrendous red zone drop on what should've been a Ben Roethlisberger TD pass. Brown is everything we hoped he'd be in 2012, when he suffered all season with a high ankle sprain, and he needs to be in your lineup every week.
• The Matt Cassel Era will almost certainly end at two games in Minnesota. Cassel was a checkdown machine, even as the score spiraled out of control, and the wolves will be out for a change under center. My guess is Josh Freeman will get the call in Week 7 against the New York Giants, though Christian Ponder did practice on a limited basis last week. But the Vikes probably need to know what they have in Freeman. Unfortunately, they have a pretty good idea what Ponder and Cassel are.
• Maurice Jones-Drew had 74 yards on 24 touches and barreled his way to a 5-yard third-quarter score for the Jags, but honestly, you shouldn't be fooled. He just doesn't look like the same player we remember from a few years back. He looks heavy, and he just doesn't accelerate into the hole or into tacklers the way he once did. If you can use this good statistical day as leverage toward dealing MJD for something useful, I'd do it. He could be a trade candidate for the Jaguars in the coming weeks, but even on a better NFL team, I'm dubious he has many star turns left.
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