September 15, 2008
Sundays are all about collecting stories and stats, angles and observations. Mondays are about clearing the notebook. Here's what caught my eye during Week 2 of the elegant violence.
The 49ers are a long way from being Super Bowl contenders. The coaching staff is on a short leash. The defense is several players away from being formidable. The offensive line has holes, the receiving corps is ordinary.
And yet, they're on my must-see list. In a lot of ways, they put the fun in dysfunctional. San Francisco's overtime win at Seattle was overshadowed by some of the other fantastic finishes in Week 2, but from a fantasy perspective, it had something for everybody. Lots of yards, lost of points, sacks and turnovers too. Welcome to the NFL Carnival, 2008 edition, and make sure you stop in every week (look at their schedule, it fits the suit perfectly).
J.T. O'Sullivan was running for his life most of the day (eight sacks), but there's a lot to like here. He clearly grasps the Mike Martz scheme and is comfortable in a timing offense. He's capable of keeping a pass play alive when on the run, and he never forget that a dump-off to Frank Gore (man does he have gears) is a good fallback if the downfield stuff is covered. O'Sullivan's rainbow to Isaac Bruce in overtime Sunday was just about the prettiest pass I saw in Week 2 (even as it sunk a few of my Survivor teams).
Bruce, the most underrated technician of his era, still has some juice on the outside. Bryant Johnson is just starting to get comfortable in the offense (remember he was hurt all summer) and it's starting to show. Gore has been good-not-great in the first two weeks but I could see him exploding at any time; if you can get him at value right now, I'm on board, better days are ahead.
The Cleveland Browns were last year's Carnival, giving us a high-drama, high-scoring shootout just about every week. Nobody could stop them, and they couldn't stop too many teams. I don't like this year's Niners offense quite as much as that Cleveland group, but the Carnival potential remains. Go where the points are, get your calculator ready.
• Congratulations if you invested in the Denver passing game, you've hit the bonanza. So many things are in place here; a third-year franchise quarterback on the cusp of greatness (Jay Cutler), an alpha-dog receiver who has a chance to outscore everyone at the position (wow, did Brandon Marshall undress Antonio Cromartie), a plug-and-play dynamo at the other wideout spot (Eddie Royal), and a dynamic pass-catcher down the seam (Tony Scheffler). Throw in one of the best offensive minds of our generation in Mike Shanahan and a messy Denver defense on the other side (slow linebackers, overrated secondary), and we'll see plenty of offense (on both sides) in Mile High this season. Drop in two quarters, let's play pinball.
Cutler also gets a boost from the mediocre ground game in Denver. Shanahan plays to his personnel like all the top coaches do, and he knows his best play is airing the ball out.
If you've guy another name quarterback in addition to Cutler, it's time to throw them both on the market (though really, you want to deal the other guy and keep Cutler). Same thing with Scheffler; if you can liquidate someone else's brand value at TE, do it and roll with Scheff. Smart owners are always looking to cash in on depth anyway, if it makes the new starting lineup that much stronger. (I know many of you grasp this already; I say no to about fifty 2-for-1 offers every day.)
• The numbers have been great with Aaron Rodgers, but I'm most impressed with how he's getting them. Looking off defenders, hitting third and fourth options, maintaining downfield focus while scrambling; you'd never guess this guy has just two NFL starts under his belt. Obviously it's not that hard to pass on the Vikings and Lions, but Rodgers is legit, and I look forward to watching him square off against the Cowboys next week.
• I'm not going to bury the Browns offense for being slow off the mark. The schedule didn't help, and Sunday night's weather was nasty. Braylon Edwards is about as appetizing a buy-low as there is right now.
• Short cuts, by the way, are the greatest thing ever. If you're a DirecTV subscriber, drop the extra bucks, it's worth it. The fan in you can't see every play on a Sunday, but the scout in you can catch to every snap on Monday and Tuesday, with all the filler taken out. Turn your TV room into a film room. (The Red Zone Channel also gets high marks as a game-day companion.)
• "Seattle receiver" has turned into the "Spinal Tap Drummer" position of the year. Don't run pass routes in the Pacific Northwest this fall, amigos, it's just not worth it.
• Detroit's freak receivers can make almost any quarterback look good at least some of the time; cue the Jon Kitna tape. Of course Kitna shifted into point-shaving mode for the endgame, which is why the Lions went down in flames again in their home opener. In very deep leagues where backup QBs get owned, it's time to look into Dan Orlovsky as a stash-and-hope guy. It's not so much that I believe in him, but we know what Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams can do - and the Lions defense provides a nice safety net, shootouts a plenty.
Williams, for what it's worth, complained Monday about his role as the team's No. 2 receiver. We've seen this before, all top receivers are divas.
• You can win with Larry Johnson but can you go 4-12 with him? This has Moss-in-Oakland written all over it, and is going to end badly. The game isn't about buying high and selling low, but if I had LJ on a roster right now, I'd certainly be selling at the first sign of daylight.
• It's just two weeks, but Willie Parker sure has that Top 10-12 look to him. You know about his home-run ability but he's always been underrated for his work between the tackles; what he lacks in brute power he makes up for with vision and decisiveness. The Steelers certainly see him as their meal ticket; Rashard Mendenhall didn't even see a snap Sunday night in Cleveland. Throw Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder injury into the mix and Parker becomes, without question, the featured element in the Pittsburgh offense.
• It's been a helluva ride for Joey Galloway, especially in his 30s, but welcome to the cliff season.
• It's not all his fault but David Garrard sure looks like a context guy to me, not someone who can carry an offense when other elements are falling apart. Doesn't make him a stiff or a bum, but let go of the pre-play excellence everyone fell in love with in 2007, it's not coming back.
• The Titans are a full-on time share in the backfield, but it's going to be more lucrative than most because of the way the team is built. The outstanding Tennessee defense will ensure that the ground game stay relevant most weeks, and no matter who the Titans are using at quarterback, Mike Heimerdinger knows the limitations of his passing game. I feel confident we'll see 15 touches or more from both Chris Johnson and LenDale White most weeks, and given the current lay of the land in the NFL, that's enough to start either with confidence as a No. 2 back or flex play.
• LaMont Jordan looked plenty powerful in his clock-killing stint, making the New England backfield even more complicated than ever.
• Justin Gage worked well with Kerry Collins last year and they've hit the ground running in 2008. There's a somewhat limited upside, but Gage will be usable as a third receiver or a flex play most weeks in deeper leagues, so long as it's Collins pitching the pig.
• If you're left holding shares of Randy Moss, I don't think you have much of a choice. Hold, wait for him to do something explosive, then quietly let it be known that you want to "move a receiver." Now's not the time to act. He came pretty close to a score in New Jersey, for what it's worth, beating his defender but Matt Cassel misfired on the throw.
• Give credit to Jim Zorn and the Washington offense for rallying nicely after the nightmare opener. I'm still not ready to make a long-term bet on Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis's comments from earlier in the week concern me a little bit, but that's tomorrow's story.
• I don't know how many touches and yards we can expect from Tim Hightower, but he's going to score double-digit touchdowns, easy.
• As bad as things look in Cincinnati, remember this - wind is the worst enemy to a passing game. If you can get a discount on Carson Palmer or T.J. Houshmandzadeh, I'm interested. I have no idea what to make of the other receiver there, what's his name again?
• So much for the rust in Indy's passing game - Peyton Manning willed them to a win, and Anthony Gonzalez was dynamic in the slot (I'm using him every week until further notice). Marvin Harrison can still beat you with his mind, but he can't run by anyone these days.
• The maturation of Trent Edwards doesn't make him a fantasy option today, but it makes Lee Evans easy to trust, and it ties Marshawn Lynch to a better situation. Edwards may have improved more in the last 8-12 months than any other quarterback in the league, and offensive coordinator Turk Schonert looks like a rising star. This team isn't going away; underrated defense, nasty returns, hard place to play. Throw in a digestible schedule and Buffalo might be looking at double-digit wins.
• Reach out to your San Diego friends today, make a call, drop an email. The way they lost their first two games is almost cruel; almost has a Greg Norman feel to it.
• To Brad Childress's credit, he did try to get Adrian Peterson involved as a receiver this week (four catches, 20 yards). Here's hoping they stick with it; getting the ball to the league's most electrifying open-field runner in space is a no-brainer.
• DeAngelo Williams can succeed in Carolina's zone blocking scheme, but Jonathan Stewart is tailor-made for it. Big difference. I don't care who starts and who doesn't here; when you see Wednesday's rest-of-season ranks, it will be clear that I'm prepared to "Boogie With Stew."
• Earnest Graham's late, long touchdown bailed out his fantasy day, but he also lost an early score due to a holding penalty. Warrick Dunn continues to steal touches, sure, but Graham impresses me every time I see him - keeps moving the pile, gets the extra yard, a surprising breakaway gear, good hands. He's still somewhat undervalued in the fantasy world.