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Monday Brunch: For running backs, it’s all about game flow

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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A lot of big-name running backs were slow off the mark in Week 1, which means we might have a buying opportunity in front of us. Some runners get a pass for their quiet debuts, and some don't.

Flow of the game is a big thing to consider as we look to who produced and who didn't. Backs like Mark Ingram and Shonn Greene probably would have had much busier games had their teams not fallen behind 15 seconds after the National Anthem ended. Both runners have competition issues, of course — New Orleans always has a crowded backfield for Sean Payton to mess around with, while Greene loses the third-down and spread work to LaDainian Tomlinson. But I envision many weeks where the Saints and Jets control a game from start to finish, setting up Ingram and Greene to collect those easy second-half yards over tired, gassed defenses. If there's any kind of market discount on either back, count me in.

As for the panic file, DeAngelo Williams gets a major downgrade from Week 1. It's not so much for his small output (13 touches, 36 yards) but rather, everything that happened around him. Cam Newton went off through the air, of course, but he also stole a short rushing touchdown. The Carolina defense had several breakdowns, and it might be without stud linebacker Jon Beason for an extended period of time (Achilles injury).

For Williams to be a steady fantasy contributor, he needs conservative game plans — and some low scoring games wouldn't hurt. It looks like the Panthers could be the opposite type of team in 2011, a hybrid offense and a freak show on defense, a fantasy carnival but not a team that stays committed to the run every week. And even if the Panthers do get back to the ground roots, Williams still has to deal with Jonathan Stewart.

Sticking with the flow theme, here are some slow-starting backs I'm not worried about: Chris Johnson, Michael Turner (who had one big run anyway), Rashard Mendenhall (I'd buy low on any name Steeler, honestly). I don't like that LeGarrette Blount isn't seeing the third down work, but his five-carry game was a fluke, tied to game situation and a minor injury. If you'd like an audit on your favorite runner, hit me up in the comments.{ysp:more}

• The amazing thing about Michael Vick is that he can have a mediocre day and still post fantastic stats. The Rams pressured him, hit him and often confused him (a 14-for-32 passing day isn't impressive), and yet Vick still collected three total scores and 285 total yards. That said, if he feels the need to run the ball 8-10 times a week, he's not going to last for 16 weeks. I still wouldn't pay the freight on Vick if I were redrafting tomorrow. But with one week in the books, his investors certainly aren't complaining.

• James Jones has to wonder why he came back to Green Bay. There's no room at the inn. Greg Jennings is a star and a technician, Jermichael Finley an uncoverable freak, Jordy Nelson a breakout waiting to happen, and Randall Cobb an intriguing young talent, raw but athletic. Unless a score of teammates get hurt, Jones won't be worth much in 2011.

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• Most of my Survivor play was tied to the Browns, which I'm kicking myself over. I try not to get boxed in by rules, but using a divisional game and getting tied to a rookie head coach in his first game probably wasn't wise. Cleveland's brain cramp on the game-deciding touchdown wasn't appreciated, but it's not like the Browns played well for the balance of the afternoon. And I have to admit Mike Zimmer is doing some nice things with the Bengals unit, a pesky group. If the Cincinnati defense can keep games in range for most of the year, Cedric Benson will probably volume his way to a Top 20 fantasy season at running back.

Back to the Cleveland side, it seemed like Colt McCoy did his best work outside the pocket but struggled from the traditional throwing points (not unusual for an undersized quarterback). It doesn't help that he's dealing with a very mediocre set of wide receivers, of course. Look for more designed movement to enter the game plan in coming weeks; I still see McCoy as a sneaky QB2 over the course of the year. And it's no surprise that both of his scoring passes went to tight ends (Benjamin Watson, Evan Moore).

• Why I hate drafts and demand 2012 auctions (this is a recording): I wanted Ray Rice on a lot of teams this year — I ranked him at No. 2 overall, for crying out loud — and I kept getting slots where I couldn't land him. There's no reason to settle for checkers when Yahoo's fantasy game has a wonderful auction set-up ready to go. Reward skill, play a more dynamic game, give everyone a shot at every player. Challenge yourself.

• The only bothersome element in Buffalo's glorious upset at Kansas City was the use of Brad Smith (three rushes, one pass attempt). The Bills have an interesting player with the vastly-underrated Ryan Fitzpatrick, and I hate to see his rhythm get messed up by an occasional gimmick. For all the sunshine thrown at the Dolphins for their Wildcat packages, it didn't do Chad Henne any favors. I doubt Chan Gailey is going to second-guess himself, especially after a blowout win, but I wish he'd just leave Fitzpatrick alone.

• The play calling and offensive design spoke loud and clear in San Francisco: Jim Harbaugh knows he'll be playing "hide the quarterback" with Alex Smith all year. Downgrade Vernon Davis, and don't expect a lot from any of the wideouts here. It's such a shame — if you had even a league-average QB in this offense (think today's version of Carson Palmer), this team could go places

• Matt Ryan certainly deserves a mulligan for the Week 1 debacle in Chicago, but he also needs to figure out a way to play better football on the road. For his career he has a tidy 96.5 rating in home games (along with a 7.5 YPA), but that craters down to 79.4 (and a 6.5 YPA) when out of a suitcase. We'll get a good litmus test on him next week, at home but against the imposing Eagles (the Sunday night special).

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• It feels like 27 years ago, but Entourage was once a pretty good show. The final season was embarrassingly bad, however. I'm not expecting Masterpiece Theatre or anything — I know it's just breezy escapism — but the character development was a joke down the stretch. In their make-believe world, every woman is naive, insecure or flaky, and will throw out her convictions and do whatever you want after 15 minutes of flimsy coercion. I'm also disappointed Eric wasn't fed to live sharks on the farewell episode (I suppose Sloan could always chuck him out an airplane window).

• Every quarterback has an internal clock in his head, but for Kerry Collins, it's a grandfather clock. He's always had a slow release to begin with, and his pocket awareness was a mess at Houston. I'd sell Reggie Wayne while the selling is good; his late score (in complete garbage time) and 106-yard effort might look good to one of your leaguemates. And I don't want to hear about how me writing "sell high" on Wayne means you can't do it; there are other fantasy pundits who are pro-Wayne, and surely you can find someone in your league who (a) doesn't agree with me, or (b) didn't read this column in the first place.

• Percy Harvin has made something out of nothing before. I'm not going to downgrade him just because Donovan McNabb stunk the joint out in San Diego. But the Christian Ponder era might take off right after Halloween.

• I'm all in on Kenny Britt and I was delighted with his opener, even if the long score did come on a completely broken and random play. But we need Tennessee to stay competitive for maximum Britt return; we don't want to see the team get out of the AFC South race and turn to Jake Locker too early. Matt Hasselbeck isn't exactly a star maker at this juncture of his career, but he's without question the best quarterback in-house.

• Two programming notes for the chatters in the audience: we're continuing our Sunday Evening Fantasy Chats through football season. Tentatively, they'll kick off at halftime of every Sunday Night NFL game, but that could change down the road. Just know we're still going to be hosting them, and each one of them will have a stand-alone blog post as a reminder. Additionally, Shutdown Corner will be live chatting all through the Monday Night Football schedule (normally one or two of your Arcade friends will be in the mix), with tonight's event starting at 7 pm. Hope you can join us.

• Want your brunch on Sundays? Follow me on Twitter.

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Images courtesy Associated Press

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