Monday Dinner: The Pierre Thomas problem

Scott Pianowski
November 24, 2009

On Sundays, I watch football and take notes. On Mondays, I come here and whip up a ghoulash. Sit down for a spell and let's digest Week 11.

There's a lot of fantasy frustration buzzing about with the Pierre Thomas(notes) situation in New Orleans, but don't pin all the blame on Sean Payton. Save a little bit for yourself, PT owner.

Our numbers racket isn't limited to scouting the players – our make-believe thing is about situations, game flow, coaching tendencies and the like. Yes, Thomas sure looks like the best back in New Orleans, he's jumped off the screen for two years now. But let's stop acting surprised when Thomas doesn't get a host of carries in any given game. Thomas is averaging just 13 carries per start in 2009, and he hasn't hit the 20 mark yet. For whatever reason, Payton doesn't want to burden Thomas with a heavy workload, and he keeps funneling scoring chances to his other backs (that's Mike Bell(notes) leaping to glory above, and Reggie Bush(notes) was on a touchdown binge before sitting out in Week 11).

Mind you, if Bell keeps doing the airborne thing 2-3 times a game, he'll have a hard time staying healthy for the balance of the year. And perhaps Payton is just looking to keep Thomas fresh, mindful of the fact that the Saints might have to play full-out for all 17 weeks to secure the NFC's top seed. Heavier touch counts might be ahead for Thomas if things break right, but at this point in time, it doesn't look like Payton will go in that direction by choice. Accept it for what it is.

Kansas City's victory over Pittsburgh was a fun game and it added some juice to 2009 Survivor, but let's not misread the flukiness factor at play. Pittsburgh had 27 first downs, KC had 13. The Steelers outgained the Chiefs, 401-214. While you credit the Chiefs for forcing three turnovers and scoring on special teams, it's more important to be able to matriculate the ball down the field (or stop the other guys from doing the same). Look for order to be restored next week – San Diego will beat Kansas City soundly.

Be careful not to overstate a possible "shutdown corner" matchup as you're choosing your fantasy receivers. Yes, Darrelle Revis(notes) did follow Randy Moss(notes) for most of Sunday, but that didn't keep Moss from collecting 11 targets and a touchdown. The previous week, Mike Sims-Walker(notes) was pretty much held down by Revis, but he was able to score on a play where Revis wasn't covering him. It takes more than one good coverage man to present a nasty matchup.

Also consider that a lot of star cornerbacks stay on the same side of the field and cover whomever lines up opposite them, and every team plays zone coverage much of the time. Forget the days of the 1-on-1 matchup, all day, every snap – that's very rare in the current game.

Jeff Fisher took a lot of heat for waiting so long to get Vince Young(notes) back in the starting lineup, and it's easy to jump on that delayed decision as the Titans play well behind Young (3-0 so far, and tied with the Texans at halftime as I post this). But keep in mind the shift from Kerry Collins(notes) to Young is a radical shift in offensive personality – heck, it's really a 180 for the entire organization – and in order to have Young best prepared to play and be successful, the move really had to wait for Tennessee's off week. The NFL is a "fix it now!" sort of league, but I'm starting to accept that Fisher was right to wait on the change.

Chris Johnson's recent rampage is partly due to the switch as well; defenses have to scheme differently when the mobile Young is in the game. Obviously Johnson is going to be a star in any system, but it sure looks like his best form comes out when it's the Young offense on the field.

It's important for a quarterback to take care of the ball, but you can't do it at the expense of big plays. Said another way, Jay Cutler's(notes) line Sunday night (24-for-43, 171 yards, one endgame pick) does not represent progress.

Did you catch Buffalo absolutely butchering the clock at the end of the first half at Jacksonville? Interim head coach Perry Fewell comes from a defensive background, not that there's any excuse for how the Bills handled that situation.

Roy Williams should donate his hands to the diamond industry.

Let's look at the facts with this Antonio Gates(notes) situation. In 16 of his last 18 games, he's been held out of the end zone. In nine of his 10 starts this year, he's posted fewer than 10 points in a basic scoring league. He's had 10 targets or more in just one game this year, and he's had a modest 32 targets in his last five starts. It doesn't make him a stiff, of course, you're still starting him every week. But the Chargers aren't doing anything special to get Gates the rock in the end zone, and it's also worth noting that San Diego still treats LaDainian Tomnlinson like a red-zone weapon, even as his skill set no longer demands it.

The Cowboys better straighten out their offense against Oakland on Thursday, because the schedule gets significantly harder after that (Giants, Chargers, Saints). Tony Romo's(notes) crew has just two scoring drives over the last two weeks, and that slump occurred against a pair of struggling defensive units (Packers, Redskins). The Pokes are having problems sustaining drives, with third down a particular problem; Romo had a 79.1 rating on the money down, while the offense is converting a pedestrian 38.7 percent on third down.

Someday, I'd like an explanation as to why DeAngelo Williams(notes) sat behind Deshaun Foster(notes) for multiple seasons. The baton should have been passed during Williams's first year – remember this showing at Philly? Instead, John Fox and friends made Williams wait two full years, and then they drafted Jonathan Stewart(notes) to overload the position. Talk about misjudging your own talent.

It's hard to be underrated when you play on a team as visible as the Patriots, but Wes Welker(notes) is one of the most underrated commodities in football. Go back and re-read some of the web jabberwocky back from Week 2 when the Jets upset the Welker-less Patriots; some scribes insisted Julian Edelman(notes) wasn't all that different than Welker. In Week 11, with a healthy Welker and a confident Tom Brady(notes) in the mix, order was restored in the AFC East.

Mark Sanchez(notes) remains a messy work-in-progress for the Jets. Be careful of system quarterbacks who play for a dominant offense in college; Sanchez was seldom rushed at USC, and it's held back the development of his pocket presence.

Let's cut Matt Millen a break and let him settle in as an announcer. Yes, he was a joke as a general manager. No, he never should have gotten that position without any front office experience. But that doesn't mean he can't be decent in his second go-round in the booth. Millen's best game isn't going to come out working with Stuart Scott on ESPN, but Bob Papa is an excellent partner on the NFL Network games.

Brad Childress doesn't get a lot of props in this blog but it was very wise to give Brett Favre(notes) a quick hook against the Seahawks. The Seattle offense isn't built to come back from 28-point deficits (especially on the road), and heck, getting Tarvaris Jackson(notes) some snaps (and some confidence) probably wasn't a bad idea.

I gotta give it up to Favre, too – I thought I was "Favred out" for life, the never-ending story, but he's forcing me to root for him. He's no worse than No. 2 or No. 3 in the MVP debate right now, and if you want to give it to him, I wouldn't complain. I'd probably go Peyton Manning(notes) 1, Favre 2, Drew Brees(notes) 3 at the moment; obviously there's a lot of play ahead of us.

It's time to throw Devil Ray rules at Jon Gruden – every time he says "football player" on a telecast, fine him $5,000.

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