NFL Skinny: The king is dead …

Brandon Funston
Yahoo! SportsSeptember 23, 2008

Also See: Sunday Scene | Monday Brunch | Week 3 leaders

Last week I opened by talking about not overreacting to two weeks worth of data. I used an example of an owner in my buddy league contemplating sending me LaDainian Tomlinson for Terrell Owens – turns out that owner took exception to being called out for this and, in a huff of bravado not long after the column went live, he made that proposal official. And, although I quickly accepted that deal, I'll admit that the proposal wasn't that outrageous. I just don't think you bail out on the top pick in the draft after two sub-par weeks brought on by a turf toe – an injury that will soon subside.

There's an exception to almost every rule, though, and sometimes two weeks can be enough of an indicator of what's to come. (Enter Randy Moss). As Scott Pianowski pointed out in Monday Brunch, life after Tom Brady has been miserable for Moss. The Patriots have fastened the training wheels to Matt Cassel's right arm and he averaged just 4.2 yards per completion on Sunday. Unless there's a change at quarterback – I wonder what Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe are doing these days? – it's looking pretty dire for Moss. My colleague Pianowski mentioned that he jumped on an offer of Greg Jennings for Moss this week in one of his leagues. And shortly after he shared that with me, I saw that he was also dishing Moss for a Moss of a different color in the Fantasy Football Live League – Randy for Santana. Pianowski shared with me that he could understand still exercising patience with Moss, but that he was particularly bearish about him. And I have to admit, I wouldn't put money in Vegas right now on Moss reaching even half his TD total from a year ago (24).

The Patriots were kings of the world in '07, but their 21-game regular-season winning streak went up in flames on Sunday in a shocking 38-13 rout by the visiting Miami Dolphins. Brady and Moss were consensus first-round picks on draft day. Brady is no longer worth the paper he was drafted on, while Moss is set to take a tumble way down my Big Board – likely somewhere in the 40-50 range.

Yes, it sure looks like the kings are dead. Long live Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall (or Tony Romo and Terrell Owens), the new royal aerial combo of fantasyland.

Week 3: Take 10
A look at 10 significant developments/situations from Week 3

1. To be fair to Cleveland's Derek Anderson, he entered the season still dealing, to a small extent, with the side effects of a preseason concussion. And, in the first three weeks, he's been thrown straight into the fire, having to face Dallas, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, three of the top defenses in the league. You can't argue that he's been dealt a tough hand. But he's still managed to play those cards even more poorly than expected. His 10-for-28, 125-yard performance, which included one touchdown pass and three interceptions, at Baltimore on Sunday marked the third straight game that his QB Rating failed to reach 75.0. For the year, he's completing just 46.2 percent of his passes and has a TD:INT ratio of 2-to-5. And, as Andy Behrens points out, his troubles extend into last season. Accuracy has always been a question mark of Anderson's and if he doesn't have time to throw, the problem is exacerbated – he's been sacked eight times already (five times on Sunday) compared to just 14 times all last season.

It sounds like Anderson has nearly played himself out of a job. After the loss to Baltimore, head coach Romeo Crennel said, "We have to evaluate what we've done so far and who is going to give us the best chance to win …" Ballyhooed backup Brady Quinn is going to see more reps with the first-team offense this week. I'd expect that Anderson is going to get at least get one final shot at redemption this coming Sunday against a Cincinnati squad that he threw for seven touchdowns and a 290 passing yard average against in two '07 meetings. If he struggles, you can bet Quinn will be pushed into action. If that's the case, it would set up nicely for the Browns, who would then head into a Week 5 bye with Quinn getting an extra week to prepare as the starter for a Week 6 Monday night matchup with the New York Giants.

2. I made the mistake of benching Maurice Jones-Drew and his 166 yards of offense and a TD in favor of Chris Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson in my buddy league. It remains to be seen if I should have benched a turf-toe ridden LT, but MoJo was certainly more productive than Chris Johnson (79 yfs). Jones-Drew has been a slow starter in his two-plus year career, and you figured he'd soon breakout as he has in each of his previous seasons. But I was heartened by the fact that he picked up 19 carries on Sunday, which amounted to the third-highest single-game carry mark of his career and just the sixth time that he has taken at least 15 handoffs in a game. His increased workload is a good sign that his sore ankle is feeling much better.

You can bet I won't make the mistake of benching MoJo next Sunday against a Houston team that has allowed 4.5 ypc and five touchdowns to running backs in two contests. In fact, Jones-Drew's upcoming schedule, other than a Week 5 date with Pittsburgh, looks pretty fantastic: Houston in Week 4, at Denver (4.4 ypc, 5 TDs allowed to RBs) in Week 6, bye in Week 7, Cleveland (4.1 ypc, 6 TDs allowed to RBs) in Week 8, at Cincinnati (4.7 ypc) in Week 9 and, the cherry on top, at Detroit (5.6 ypc, 5 TDs allowed to RBs) in Week 10. MoJo risin', indeed …

3. Indianapolis was allowing 4.9 yards per carry entering Week 3. And that number remained the same on Sunday against Jacksonville despite being without the services of All-Pro safety Bob Sanders. The only problem is that the Jaguars, down three starting offensive linemen, were producing just three yards per attempt coming into the game. I think it's safe to say that this is one of the worst run defenses in the league, and a Week 4 bye isn't going to be enough time to fix what ails it. Houston's Steve Slaton gets first crack at the Colts when they return in Week 5.

4. Speaking of Slaton, he had a fantastic debut start on Sunday, rushing for an improbable 116 yards on 18 carries in Tennessee against a Titans defense that had allowed just 2.7 ypc coming into the contest. Houston head coach Gary Kubiak said that he planned on working a platoon in the backfield on Sunday but that Slaton was just too good. Kubiak also noted that he probably should have leaned on Slaton on the ground even more. The rookie is one of those ultra-quick, ultra-versatile types that can often transcend even the toughest matchups. And, he showed more than quickness against the Titans, consistently fighting through contact. It was encouraging to see him utilized so heavily in the red zone – three pass targets and six rushes, one for a six-yard touchdown. His Week 3 effort is likely to have secured him a featured role going forward. And next up for the mighty mouse is a road trip to Jacksonville, a defense that has yielded the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs, thus far.

5. Brian Westbrook owners held their collective breaths until Monday when it was revealed that the running back had sustained only a strained ankle on Sunday against Pittsburgh. The diminutive dynamo was limited to just five carries against the Steelers before leaving the contest. He's now listed as day-to-day, which is familiar territory for the running back and his owners. You draft him expecting "day-to-day" and "questionable" and "game-time decision" tags to come with the territory. Head coach Andy Reid said, "It will be a race to get him ready for Sunday." But one thing we know about Westbrook is that the guy is tough. There seems to be an early consensus of opinion that Westbrook isn't going to play, but I'm betting the opposite.

6. Steve Smith's return from suspension on Sunday wasn't nearly as dramatic as Brandon Marshall's was a week prior, but it was solid, nonetheless – four catches for 70 yards. I expected Jake Delhomme to inflict more damage through the air against Minnesota than he did – 191 yards, 0 TDs – but Delhomme had the usual affection for Smith on display that Smith's fantasy owners from years past have come to know and love. Smith had at least twice as many targets (10) as any other Carolina receiver save Muhsin Muhammad (6). And he had at least 33 more receiving yards than any other Panther player.

7. I don't want to pile on analysis of Ronnie Brown's four touchdown (and a TD pass) performance on Sunday too much. You've all seen the numbers (and highlights) by now. But I had my eye on that game, and I'm sitting here, while I write, watching highlights of the Dolphins upset on the NFL Network. And, all I can say is that you really wouldn't have guessed that Brown was coming off an ACL injury suffered less than a year ago. There was no sign of tentativeness, and there was a whole lot of power and giddy-up on display. Brown's backfield platoon partner, Ricky Williams, also played very well against the Pats (119 yfs), but Brown got all the red zone work on Sunday, and he leads Williams for the season 12 to 3 in red zone touches.

8. The jury isn't still out on Michael Turner – five touchdowns and 366 rushing yards through three weeks (104 rush yards, 3 TDs on Sunday) have certainly gone a long way toward establishing his legitimacy as a member of this year's running back upper class. But understand that his two huge games have come against defenses that have allowed more than 5.5 yards per carry (Detroit and Kansas City). He was very mortal against a stouter Tampa Bay defense in Week 2 (14-for-42) and he'll face another stiff test in Week 4 against a Carolina defense that is allowing just 3.9 yards per carry despite facing great rush offenses in San Diego and Minnesota, as well as Chicago's emerging ground game. In fact, three of Turner's next four opponents have held the opposition to under 4.0 yards per carry so far. And, if he can bust out a couple more times in the next month, I think we can much more safely claim that, in this run-heavy offense, Turner is a top 10 fantasy talent.

9. Oakland's Michael Bush and Darren McFadden split the workload evenly (14 carries each) in the first game without Justin Fargas. One can assume that the even distribution will continue going forward. And one can also fairly speculate that there'll be a bigger piece of the pie to share. Bush rushed for just 55 yards against Buffalo, but it marked the most rushing yards against the Bills this season. The Bills held Seattle and Jacksonville in check in Weeks 1 and 2, and both those backfields looked pretty explosive on Sunday. I've been saying this since watching Buffalo crush my beloved Seahawks in the opener: DT Marcus Stroud has made a big difference for this run defense. It's now a defense that you'd like your running backs to avoid, which wasn't the case a year ago.

10. I chose Robert Meachem, at Denver, as my Hail Mary pick for Sunday's Fantasy Football Live show, and the second-year Tennessee product came through with a respectable two catches for 80 yards. I remain as bullish as ever in regards to Meachem, especially after it was revealed on Monday that TE Jeremy Shockey has a sports hernia (out 3-6 weeks) and WR David Patten is dealing with a strained groin. This is only going to open up more opportunities in the Saints passing game. And Meachem, who has caught all three of the pass attempts to come his way in the first two regular season games of his career, including a 19-yard TD catch and a 74-yard reception, is a player just begging for more work.

Week 4 Short List
Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 4

QB J.T. O'Sullivan, SF (65% owned) – O'Sullivan is still available in a lot of leagues, and he's put together two nice performances in a row running Mike Martz's air show. The Week 4 bye will impact owners of Peyton and Eli Manning, as well as Matt Hasselbeck and Jon Kitna owners. O'Sullivan is a fantastic bye week stop-gap facing a New Orleans defense that has serious issues on the defensive side of the ball.
QB Trent Edwards, Buf (70%) – Edwards might still be kicking around in your league and, if so, he's another quarterback with an advantageous Week 4 matchup (at St. Louis). The Rams have allowed the third-most fantasy points to QBs, thus far, and they even made Seattle's passing game look "healthy" on Sunday.
QB Brian Griese, TB (24%) – Griese aired it out a whopping 67 times on Sunday (407 yards and 2 TD passes) and Green Bay is next up in Week 4. As I mention at the bottom of this column, the Packers just suffered a huge loss in the secondary (Al Harris' ruptured spleen).
QB Sage Rosenfels, Hou; Brady Quinn, Cle (2%;9%) – If you are in a really deep league, a two-QB league or have Derek Anderson or Matt Schaub as your starter, you may want to make a proactive pickup of one of these two backups, both who are inching ever closer to holding the reins of their team's offense.
RB Correll Buckhalter, Phi (39%) – A must-add as insurance for Brian Westbrook owners, and for anyone in dire need of backfield help this week, as it's possible (if Westbrook can't play on his strained ankle) that Buckhalter will inherit the featured role against Chicago in Week 4.
RB Tim Hightower, Ari (55%) – I was keeping tabs on the Arizona game on Sunday and, although Edgerrin James handled the rock 12 more times than Hightower, I sure seemed to notice Hightower more than James. Edge actually had a strong game (18 carries, 93 yards), but Hightower gets the goal-line work and certainly looks the part of the heir apparent in the backfield.
RB Rudi Johnson, Det (59%) – The Lions "kinda went with" Rudi on Sunday, and the veteran responded with 131 yards from scrimmage against San Francisco. Andy Behrens broke it down in the Roto Arcade blog.
RB Michael Bush, Oak (56%) – He stepped into Justin Fargas' role on Sunday and handled 14 carries for 55 yards, which was the most for a RB against Buffalo this season. Oakland's very run heavy, and Bush owns an even share of that workload, so jump on him if you still can.
RB Pierre Thomas, NO (52%) – He's Reggie Bush's backup and has the goal-line duties in a high-powered offense, which has worked out to three touchdowns, thus far.
RB Le'Ron McClain, Bal (26%) – When Baltimore talked about employing a backfield platoon when Willis McGahee returned this past week, I harbored hopes that that meant rookie Ray Rice would remain in the mix and McClain would resume more traditional fullback duties – I'm overly invested in Rice. But, as it turned out, McClain was just as active on Sunday as he was in Week 1 when he carried 19 times for 86 yards. In fact, McClain was the team's Week 3 leader with 17 carries, and he turned out 66 yards and a couple touchdowns in the process.
WR Bobby Engram, Sea (37%) – The window for grabbing Seattle's leading receiver from '07 is closing. Engram is expected to return from a shoulder injury after the team's Week 4 bye.
WR Robert Meachem, NO (34%) – As I mentioned above, there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Meachem.
WR Antonio Bryant, TB (23%) – With Joey Galloway out, Bryant was the recipient of the largest share of Brian Griese's 38 completions on Sunday. Bryant caught 10 passes for 138 yards.
TE Anthony Fasano, Mia (50%) – Fasano, who caught eight balls for 84 yards a TD in Week 1, picked up 66 yards and a score in an upset of New England on Sunday. If you were waiting for an encore, you got it.
TE Jeremy Stevens, TB (5%) – He's a big-time head case, but he had 61 yards and a TD on Sunday. It was his first game action of the season after sitting out the first two weeks on a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. That said, he's extremely talented, this is a tight end friendly offense and, if Brian Griese continues to take a liking to him, he's capable of making a fantasy impact.

WR David Patten (groin) – If Patten can't go in Week 4, I've already mentioned I like Robert Meachem. But WR Lance Moore needs to be mentioned, as well.
WR Joey Galloway, TB (foot) – Galloway reportedly sprained his foot on Sunday and could very likely miss a trip to Chicago in Week 3.
TE Dallas Clark, Ind (knee) – Clark sat in Week 2, and there's a good chance he'll be listed as questionable for Week 3 against Jacksonville.
DT Casey Hampton, Pit (groin) – He experienced more problems with his groin on Sunday. He's an absolute stud in the middle for the Steelers, so it would be very noteworthy the Baltimore running game if Hampton has to miss the Monday night matchup with the Ravens next week.
CB Al Harris, GB (spleen) – One of the top corners in the league, Harris could be out for the season after rupturing his spleen in Sunday night's loss to Dallas. This is a major blow to the Packers secondary that was already banged up as it was. In the recent past, there were receivers that you just wouldn't want to play against Green Bay because of the Harris/Charles Woodson shadow. But there'll be much less reason to avoid the Packers secondary going forward.