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Inside Week 1

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RUNNING BACKS: VULTURE WATCH
Miami Dolphins Lead role RED HOT
Incumbent: Travis Minor
Challenger: Lamar Gordon
Outlook: Like an efficiency consultant coming into corporate America, it's no surprise that the addition of Gordon means the end for Minor's starting career before it began. Gordon played extensively in the opening loss to Tennessee. He'll overtake Minor full-time by the end of Week 2's contest against Cincinnati.
Minnesota Vikings Lead role RED HOT
Incumbent: Moe Williams
Challenger: Onterrio Smith
Outlook: Williams sprained an ankle in the Week 1 victory over Dallas, meaning that the explosive Smith will likely see the bulk of the work on Monday night. Michael Bennett is circling the wagons for a Week 3 return against Chicago. Watch for Williams to resume his normal TD-stealing role once Bennett returns.
Pittsburgh Steelers Goal line HOT
Incumbent: Duce Staley
Challenger: Jerome Bettis
Outlook: Staley's job is between the 20s and to be fair, he had his share of red zone opportunities. For Week 1, it was as if the StatTracker (TM) was taunting you; Bettis couldn't possibly have one yard on five carries for three touchdowns. Ah, but he did. Bettis will continue to steal touchdowns down low, but here's thinking that the hat trick was merely head coach Bill Cowher playing to the home crowd.
Carolina Panthers Lead role WARM
Incumbent: Stephen Davis
Challenger: DeShaun Foster
Outlook: Davis' ineffectiveness against the Green Bay defense combined with the loss of Steve Smith to a broken leg swings the door open for Foster. Fox will need to utilize his pass-catching abilities with the loss of Smith. Davis needs to perform this week against Kansas City, although the quick feet of Quentin Griffin showed what a speed back like Foster can do against the Chiefs.
New York Giants Lead role WARM
Incumbent: Tiki Barber
Challenger: Ron Dayne
Outlook: The running backs were one of the bright spots in the shellacking put on the Giants by the Eagles in Week 1. Granted, half of Barber's 200 all-purpose yards came after the Philly defense had checked into prevent mode and started making dinner plans. In this case it was the fantasy player's best friend. Keep an eye on things around the goal line. If Dayne struggles again, this becomes a three-headed debate with the Giants' signing of Mike Cloud.
Indianapolis Colts Goal line LUKEWARM
Incumbent: Edgerrin James
Challenger: Dominic Rhodes
Outlook: Forget about any controversy here. I know it hurt to see Dominic Rhodes find the house first, but let's not forget that Tony Dungy gave the Edge his opportunity later in the game. Chalk it up to a couple of long drives and the need for a breather. James will reclaim his TD gait soon enough.
Atlanta Falcons Lead role LUKEWARM
Incumbent: Warrick Dunn
Challenger: T.J. Duckett
Outlook: In trying to get the West Coast offense on track, T.J. Duckett's name wasn't called until late in the third quarter. He's not much of a pass-receiving threat, despite past assurances from analysts that this part of his game would develop quickly. Strangely enough, Warrick Dunn didn't catch a pass in Week 1. Duckett doesn't appear to be a big threat short-term, save a Bettis-like outburst.
It was a great Week 1, with much ado about nothing so far as the five-yard contact rule is concerned. Penalties on the whole were down one per game from 2003 totals. Additionally, scoring was actually down 3.8 percent from last year's lofty totals. But, as we're all aware, past performance by players and referees alike is not indicative of future performance.

Today we unveil a new set of features this week designed to get you deeper than the initial box score reviews or your favorite highlight show will capture. Each week, I'll exhaust all resources at my disposal to offer you the listing of top receiving targets for each team. Get the news on who has found favor with his QB. Also, with the number of running backs involved in their respective team's passing attacks and the proliferation of platoons and specialist roles, I'll review the running backs with the most touches (carries plus catches) each week.

Three data points jumped off of the page at me during my research.

First, Warrick Dunn, believed to be the greatest benficiary of the newly installed West Coast offense, failed to make a catch for the Falcons. It breaks a consecutive reception streak for Dunn reaching back to 2002. He did make for a nice decoy against the 49ers while T.J. Duckett warmed the bench.

Second, the trio of Ahman Green, Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson combined to register seven catches for minus-9 yards and 1 TD. The reception total was half of their combined weekly average and the yardage total a staggering 120 yards off of last year's pace. Ok, they also rushed for six TDs and averaged over 28 carries each in Week 1.

Let's get after it:

Shouldering the load: Most active RBs (carries+catches)

Week 1 Touch Leaders
RANK PLAYER TOUCHES
1 Ahman Green, GB 35
2 Clinton Portis, WAS 33
2 Edgerrin James, IND 33
4 Curtis Martin, NYJ 32
5 Shaun Alexander, SEA 30
6 LaDainian Tomlinson, SD 29
7 Priest Holmes, KC 28
8 Thomas Jones, CHI 27
9 Domanick Davis, HOU 26
9 William Green, CLE 26
9 Travis Henry, BUF 26

Attention getters: Top intended targets (looks)

Week 1 Look Leaders
RANK PLAYER LOOKS
1 Keyshawn Johnson, DAL 15
2 Todd Heap, BAL 14
2 Isaac Bruce, STL 13
4 Eddie Kennison, KAN 12
4 Brandon Lloyd, SFO 12
4 Jimmy Smith, JAC 12
7 Antonio Bryant, DAL 11
7 Cedrick Wilson, SFO 11
7 Michael Clayton, TAM 11
7 Chris Chambers, MIA 11
7 Terrell Owens, PHI 11

Trainers's table: Updates on the wounded in action

  • The Panthers lost Steve Smith for at least a month with a cracked fibula in Monday's loss to Green Bay. Keary Colbert and Chris Gamble are auditioning for his return job. Read my full analysis on how this affects the offense here .
  • Joey Galloway of the Buccaneers will be out 4-6 weeks with a groin tear. Rookie Michael Clayton and the veteran Tim Brown will see more tosses from Brad Johnson in his absence.
  • San Francisco 49ers starter Tim Rattay will miss at least one week with a separated shoulder. Ken Dorsey will start in his place. Dorsey doesn't warrant a start, but Cedrick Wilson, Brandon Lloyd and Eric Johnson are solid plays against New Orleans.
  • Charles Rogers re-injured the collarbone that sidelined him in 2003 and he will again miss the entire season. Roy Williams and Az Zahir-Hakim step up for Steve Mariucci's offense.
  • Vikings tailback Michael Bennett is mending quicker than expected and may be ready for Week 3 against Chicago. Moe Williams is also slowed by injury, leaving Onterrio Smith and rookie Mewelde Moore to shoulder the load against Philadelphia in Week 2.
  • Staying in Minnesota, Jim Kleinsasser is out a month with an ACL injury. Jermaine Wiggins will get his reps while the Vikings look for other options. Both Jed Weaver and Byron Chamberlain are two distinct possibilities.
  • Justin Fargas of the Raiders is afflicted by turf toe. He's currently day-to-day, but the groundswell of support for him to displace Tyrone Wheatley in the Raiders' backfield will be quelled for the moment.
  • Lee Suggs of the Browns continues to recover from a neck stinger and had previously been diagnosed with a condition involving the narrowing of his spinal column. He may sit out the Week 2 matchup against Dallas.
  • Reports are that the ankle injury sustained by 100-yard rusher Chris Brown against Miami isn't serious and that he'll play in Week 2 versus Indianapolis.
  • Shaun Alexander's knee injury has been downgraded. Initially thought to force the Seahawks' star out of action for two weeks, he's listed as day-to-day. Protect yourself by claiming Maurice Morris and stashing him on your bench.
  • Tackle Jonathan Ogden was sorely missed in the Ravens' embarassing loss to the Browns. He's expected to return to action Sunday against Pittsburgh, music to the ears of Jamal Lewis owners.
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