Monday Dinner: In the passing game, it’s a matter of trust

Scott Pianowski
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It's an Elvis Costello album. It's a Hal Hartley movie. It's a Bob De Niro theme in a few parental movies.

Yep, trust is important. And in fantasy sports, it's one of our baselines, one of our guiding principles when decisions get complicated.

If you watched the Steelers dispatch of the Bengals on Sunday night, you probably saw Ben Roethlisberger's trust of Mike Wallace dissolving before your eyes. Wallace was a one-man dropping machine, leaving a ton of points and catches on the board. Pittsburgh's early 11-point deficit had plenty of goats attached to it, but Wallace was probably at the top of the list.

Fortunately for Roethlisberger, he has other targets he can rely upon. Antonio Brown was a force all night, working a variety of routes and showing juice in the return game. And then there's unheralded tight end Heath Miller, a sneaky veteran who's putting together a career season in his eighth year. The Virginia product has scored a touchdown in four of his six starts, and his other two games have been respectable (10-108 total). Consistency isn't easy to get in the receiver positions; embrace it when you find it.

Miller has secured 31 of the 42 passes aimed in his direction this year, a snappy 74-percent rate. That's how you build up trust. Miller's five touchdowns are tied for first at the tight end position, and he leads all tight ends in goal-line targets (13) and red-zone targets (7). It was no surprise when the Steelers called Miller's number for Sunday's two-point conversion toss.

Would you rather have Miller or a dinged-up Jimmy Graham for the balance of the year? It would have been a silly question a month or two ago; it's not so silly now.

The Steelers have already had their bye, another feather in Miller's cap. The remaining schedule is an up-and-down run, but he should do well against Washington (a seam-struggling unit) in Week 8. And it's comforting to see the Bengals rematch slated for Week 16.

I figured Brandon Lloyd would be high on the trust index when he signed on with the Patriots. He's been productive with Josh McDaniels over the last two years, of course, and the step up to Tom Brady (after the Rams and Broncos mess last year) surely had to help. Alas, you watch the Pats on a weekly basis and you don't see any real rapport between Brady and Lloyd. It's almost like they met for the first time five minutes before kickoff.

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Lloyd has only caught 35 of his 65 targets this year, a spotty 54 percent. Even accounting for the intermediate and deep routes Lloyd runs, that's not good enough (and it's not like an 11.6 YPC is making the angels weep). Lloyd dropped two of his seven targets against the Jets on Sunday, and only snagged one pass (a second grab was wiped out by a ticky-tack pass interference call). He's still stuck on one touchdown for the year. You can't blame Brady if he prefers to rely on Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez in a tough spot.

On the same field, you could see the trust building between Jeremy Kerley and Mark Sanchez. Kerley collected 120 yards for the day, landing seven of 11 targets. Sure, everyone seems to pick on the Patriots secondary these days, but Kerley also posted 94 yards on Houston's deep group back in Week 5. What the 5-foot-9 Kerley lacks in physical presence he makes up for with lateral agility; he's very difficult to mark out of the slot and on crossing routes. And the Jets have also had success throwing to Kerley as an outside receiver.

Would you rather have Kerley or Lloyd for the balance of the year? It would have been a silly question a month or two ago; it's not so silly now.

Sticking with the trust theme, let's look at a couple of issues going on in Tampa. I didn't have a lot of faith in Vincent Jackson changing teams for 2012, but he's made me regret that call. His catch rate is under 50 percent for the year but that's not really a big deal when you're getting 21.7 yards per completion. Jackson is fantasy's No. 3 receiver on a per-game basis and he's scored in three straight games (17-382-4). Jackson might be worth WR1 status the way he's clicking with Josh Freeman right now.

Jackson should get a stern test from the Vikings this coming Thursday, but then he takes dead aim at the Raiders and Chargers. Good work if you can get it. I don't have a single Jackson share on my rosters this year; I even scoffed at a Matt Forte-Jackson offer a few weeks ago. Flag me for that one. I hope he's all over your 2012 resume.

I wish I could offer some trusting words for Tampa head coach Greg Schiano. The Bucs failed to score from the New Orleans goal line in the middle of Sunday's third quarter (on the heels of a 95-yard Jackson grab), and the blood was all over Schiano's hands. The power-favoring coach insisted on using a heavy package and plodding inside runner LeGarrette Blount for three straight runs that went nowhere. Why invite more defenders to the point of attack? Why eliminate running lanes for your back? (A fourth-down rollout pass didn't fool the Saints, either.)

The progressive coaches realize that goal-line running is often a game of decisiveness and space. The best goal-line backs are the ones who hit the hole quickly. If you want to give your runner a chance in this spot, you need to provide some room to run. The next time the Bucs find themselves in this spot, I'm hoping they have the good sense to use Doug Martin (clearly their best back) — and a different formation on the field. Stop using a 1972 game plan to solve a 2012 problem.

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No day of trust would be complete without a mention of the 2012 Saints, perhaps the all-time fantasy carnival. You have to love this team for fake-football purposes. Every game is the same: the Saints throw the ball well, the Saints can't run the ball, and the Saints defense can't stop anything. Bring a pocket full of quarters, dig in for pinball scoring.

New Orleans games this year have featured 72, 62, 51, 55, 55 and 63 points. All offense, all the time. And here come three major opponents on the schedule, teams that can light up the scoreboard: at Denver; Philadelphia; Atlanta. Fantasy Nirvana. It's nice to have something you can rely on weekly in this crazy world.

I'm not a big fan of looking to the playoff weeks this early, but if you want to jump ahead, note the Saints get the Giants, Bucs and Cowboys in Weeks 14-16. The Tampa game is home, the other two on the road.

It was good to see Lance Moore (9-121) back in the mix Sunday, after missing the Week 5 match. He's always seemed like the bass player in this offense, the quiet tempo setter who keeps everything balanced and on schedule. And let's also be aware of sleeper Joseph Morgan, who's scored two distance touchdowns on his three receptions this year. His 48-yard catch-and-run at Tampa (skip to the :37 second mark) was one of the snappiest highlights of the week, a beautiful mix of speed, power and balance. Drew Brees tried another deep pass to Morgan later in the day, incomplete.

Hopefully the week 7 bye weeks didn't mess your teams up too much. The six-team shutdown was a debacle for the quality as much as the quantity — too many elite offenses had the day off. Fortunately for the balance of the year, we're only looking at four-team byes — and they're fairly balanced with respect to offensive firepower. Have a look:

-- Week 8: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Houston

-- Week 9: St. Louis, New England, NY Jets, San Francisco

-- Week 10: Cleveland, Green Bay, Arizona, Washington

-- Week 11: Tennessee, Minnesota, NY Giants, Seattle

What's the worst one in that lot? Losing Rodgers and RG3 in Week 10 will sting, but Cleveland and Arizona balance it out nicely. Maybe the Week 8 bye has the most skill players of note, but at least no elite quarterbacks are off the board.

• Brandon Weeden had a nice game at Indianapolis (25-for-41, 264 yards, two scores), as he continues to work his way into the Circle of Trust. Alas, there were too many drops (Josh Gordon coughed up a sure touchdown pass) and the usual Pat Shurmur follies (you can't punt on the opposing team's 41-yard line when it's 4th-and-1 and you're down four points). Weeden has a chance to post some respectable numbers against San Diego next week.

Justin Blackmon, Weeden's former Oklahoma State amigo, isn't someone we can depend on right now. He didn't do a thing against Oakland's vulnerable secondary (one lousy catch for seven yards, off four targets) and perhaps even more shocking, he didn't make any kind of effort after teammate Cecil Shorts fumbled in overtime. It will be therapeutic dropping Blackmon from one of my fake rosters this week, even if I don't get anything in return. Consider him Mars Blackmon going forward: if you don't have a telescope, he's just about invisible on game day.