Instant Impressions for Week 8
Stevan Ridley's role hard to figure, as are Tom Brady's underwhelming statistics
Tell me, friends, which is it? Is Stevan Ridley trapped in a maddening timeshare, or did he simply get benched in the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins because of an excessive TD celebration in Week 7? You'll never get the answer from the New England Patriots, of course, but I'm concerned. Ridley's first Week 8 carry didn't come until the second quarter, which, OK, maybe that's disciplinary. Or maybe not, because it's the third week in a row he's been uninvolved for approximately the first 15 minutes of a game. Brandon Bolden continues to play when the Pats go hurry-up, and when the team was winning by three and making its final important drive to salt away the game, LeGarrette Blount got carries on seven out of 10 plays, gaining 42 yards. He even got a carry from the Miami 2, but he still stinks in short yardage, and lost 2. Then Ridley came in and converted the score, papering over a little bit of a mess. Ridley is so obviously the more talented RB here, it's not funny, yet New England's week-to-week backfield usage continues to be maddening. And Shane Vereen is eligible to return in Week 11. Add all this up, and I hate to say it, but Ridley is probably a pretty decent sell-high candidate. If someone in your league wants to pay for him as though he's a rock-solid top-15 RB, you should probably do it.
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:
• Lest you think the Pats' running game is the only source of wild frustration, I give you the case of Tom Brady. On 2013 merit alone, we can no longer proclaim that Brady is a starting fantasy QB. At halftime Sunday, he was 6-of-8 for 25 yards and an interception; by game's end, he was 13-of-22 for 116 yards, one TD and one INT. He probably should've had a 40-yard TD to Rob Gronkowski, which was called back by a shaky offensive holding call (but by the same token, the Patriots benefited in a huge way from a couple of terrible calls by the officials in the second half). Danny Amendola caught three of six targets for 15 yards. Kenbrell Thompkins was targeted once and didn't catch it (for the second straight week, Aaron Dobson was the main outside threat). And Gronk himself had just two grabs for 27 yards, though again, he should've had that long TD. The fact remains, of course, that Brady doesn't exist in a vacuum, and we remember his great days. But next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you're forgiven for benching Tom Terrific.
• I don't need to spend too much time on Calvin Johnson's historic Week 8. He's good. His 329 yards is the second-best single-game performance in NFL history, behind only Flipper Anderson's from a game in 1989. But imagine this: Megatron was actually tackled inside the Dallas Cowboys' 5-yard line on four separate occasions. On the first, he actually converted a TD himself on a short slant, but on the other three, someone else scored (David Akers kicked a field goal, Joique Bell and Matthew Stafford each rushed for short scores). As it was, Johnson produced 36 fantasy points. Imagine if he'd made it into the end zone three more times!
• Dez Bryant wrung lots of hype out of the Cowboys/Detroit Lions matchup, comparing himself to Johnson, and while Dez is terrific, he ain't Megatron. That realization may explain why Bryant went loopy on the sidelines multiple times, clearly frustrated with an underachieving Tony Romo. Bryant made one of the prettiest 5-yard TD catches you'll ever see, muscling through a defender and trapping the catch against his helmet, and he also showed open-field moves and good speed on a fourth-quarter 50-yard score. But Bryant had only one other catch all day. He has reason to be miffed with Romo, who played as though he were asleep for three quarters. Some late-game heroics salvaged Romo's day with 20 fantasy points, and Brady's owners can scarcely dream of such an output at this point. But setting aside his 506-yard effort against the Denver Broncos earlier this month, Romo is averaging 244 yards per game (he had 206 Sunday), plus his completion percentage has gone down in four straight contests.
• Of course, when Marvin Jones is involved, every other WR is playing for second place. Ahem. Heading into Thursday's edition of the Fantasy Underground podcast, our plan was to talk about Jones at length, but just before our record time, word came that the Cincinnati Bengals were skeptical Jones would be able to play through a shoulder injury. So we talked about Andy Dalton (disparagingly, I might add … oops), and I mentioned Jones only tangentially. Ugh! By Friday, the Bengals grew more optimistic about Jones playing, and I did rank him 39th among WRs for the week. That wasn't quite high enough. Marvelous Marvin eviscerated the New York Jets to the tune of eight catches for 122 yards and four TDs. And yes, he equaled Megatron's ludicrous 36 fantasy points. Marv will be a hot waiver add this week, though obviously he's just had the best game of his life.
• Even take away Andre Ellington's 80-yard TD run, and he still played well, with 74 yards on his other 14 carries. Rashard Mendenhall missed Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons because of a toe injury and Ellington proved he's capable of at least being the main man in a platoon. Stepfan Taylor got 14 touches and seemed to be the team's preferred short-yardage option, and Alfonso Smith also saw snaps. I'm looking forward to watching the tape to get a full sense of how frequently Ellington came off the field; it didn't seem like all that often to me. Arizona is on bye in Week 9, so we'll have to wait to see what happens when Mendy returns. The guess here is that Ellington, one of my Super-Deep Sleepers this summer, will be at least a flex-worthy fantasy option.
• Michael Vick wasn't ready to play Sunday, and it showed. His first throw Sunday was awful and intercepted by Antrel Rolle. Later in the first quarter, he appeared to pull up lame on his only run of the game, and had to come out soon thereafter. And because Nick Foles is still out with a concussion, Matt Barkley had to come in again, and was just as awful in Week 8 as he was in Week 7. Nobody knows when Foles will be able to play again, which could set up Barkley to start next week versus the Oakland Raiders. And that really holds players like LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson hostage.
• Speaking of the Raiders, boy, their offense started out fun Sunday. Terrelle Pryor put LaMarr Woodley in the torture chamber on Oakland's first drive, faking a read-option handoff to Darren McFadden, keeping it, and scampering for a 93-yard TD, the longest by a QB in NFL history. On the downside, Pryor wasn't able to get anything else going; that first run was worth 15 fantasy points, and Pryor wound up with 15 fantasy points on the day. His team was able to make only one first down in the entire second half. But I'm looking forward to digging into the tape, because McFadden was able to run for two TDs, perhaps at least in part because the Pittsburgh Steelers were feeling burned by Pryor and were keying on him. Anyway, Oakland looks like one of the league's prime users of the read-option, though we'll also likely see a bunch of it Monday night from the Seattle Seahawks.
• How much more do the San Francisco 49ers need to see of Colin Kaepernick running the option before they start using it much more? Kaepernick's first rushing TD against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday was actually not an option, but rather a perfectly blocked old-fashioned QB sweep led by a blocking Frank Gore. But Kaepernick's second rushing TD was a thing-of-beauty read-option special. Granted, this was against the Jags, but Kaepernick also scored on an option play in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans. He had only 16 pass attempts in Sunday's blowout, which is embarrassing for a fantasy QB, but if the guy is going to run seven times per week, it may not matter. The Niners are off in Week 9.
• Steven Jackson's first game in six weeks didn't exactly go well. Eleven carries for 6 yards? Uh, that's Michael Turner territory. Jackson had no room to run and thudded time after time into the Arizona Cardinals' front seven, never springing anything longer than 4 yards. The Cards are tough, but this is ridiculous. The Atlanta Falcons visit the Carolina Panthers in Week 9 and the Seahawks in Week 10, which is no easier. Something pretty dramatic will have to change if you're going to feel great about using any Falcons players. Well, except maybe Harry Douglas, who's gone off two straight games to the tune of 19 catches for 270 yards.
• Robert Griffin III took back all the goodwill he earned in Week 7, with a pathetic 7 yards on five carries, three turnovers, and 132 yards passing. Yikes. And it started so well, as the Washington Redskins were leading the Denver Broncos 21-7 before giving up 38 consecutive points. But RGIII was overmatched in the second half, succumbing to blitz after blitz, watching his receivers drop pass after pass, and hurting his left (non-ACL-torn) knee in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, that injury doesn't appear serious. The wound he inflicted on his fantasy owners Sunday? Deadly.
• Josh Gordon's 39-yard TD came on a gimmick play, the kind we love: a flea-flicker that gave Jason Campbell some confidence late in the first half that nearly led to a Cleveland Browns upset. Was Campbell perfect? Of course not. But the Kansas City Chiefs didn't sack him until partway through the fourth quarter, mostly because he was impressively mobile in the pocket. There's no way the Browns can in good conscience go back to Brandon Weeden. And if Gordon is still a member of the Browns after Tuesday's trade deadline, Campbell's presence will be a good thing for him.
• Dolphins RB Lamar Miller had 19 touches compared to 10 for Daniel Thomas on Sunday, hopefully injecting some sanity into one of the league's least-sane backfields. But it wasn't quite so simple; while Miller did get the game's first two series to himself, Thomas asserted himself on a second-quarter drive, gaining 15 yards on a fourth-and-1 and later scoring on a middle screen from Ryan Tannehill. On the year, that means Thomas has a 3-2 TD lead over Miller. I'm heartened to see Miller get more work. I'm not ready to say we're out of platoon-land.
• Saints TE Jimmy Graham seemed only to play in red zone situations and caught only three passes, but two of them went for TDs, and the second score involved the kind of crazy athletic stretch that indicates this guy's foot is eventually going to be OK. You can't sit Graham if he's active. Ever.
• Giants K Josh Brown had seven total field goals coming into Week 8. On Sunday, he kicked five. Meanwhile, Shaun Suisham had drilled 14 of 14 attempts entering Week 8, but on Sunday, he blew two attempts inside of 40 yards in a game the Steelers lost by three. Of course.
FANTASY FOOTBALL: WEEK 9
Tom Brady is tied for 19th in standard fantasy points among QBs. How will he fare against a stingy Steelers pass defense? Rankings »