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NFL Skinny: Moss is Back

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

Running Back Radar
NEW YORK GIANTS RED HOT
1st Chair: Derrick Ward
2nd Chair: Reuben Droughns
Injured: Brandon Jacobs
Skinny: Jacobs sustained a sprained MCL (knee) early in the Giants' 45-35 loss to Dallas on Sunday night. Critics of Jacobs who claimed his upright style wouldn't hold up in a fully-featured role are likely feeling pretty full of themselves at the moment. Jacobs is expected to be out at least three weeks. Ward filled in for Jacobs and responded with 89 yards on 13 carries (6.8 ypc) in what turned out to be a bizarre shootout between the division rivals. In their next six games, the Giants don't face a defense that ranked among the 10 best last season in fantasy against opposing running backs, so Ward is an obvious add that is likely to have some usefulness for all but the wealthiest of owners.
MIAMI DOLPHINS HOT
1st Chair: Ronnie Brown
2nd Chair: Jesse Chatman
Skinny: Brown owners suffered the indignity of watching Chatman steal seven carries on Sunday, including two at the goal line (both were thwarted by the Washington defense). Both Brown (11 carries, 32 yards) and Chatman (7 carries, 15 yards) struggled to find daylight. Said coach Cam Cameron, "Washington had eight men up a lot, especially early. They had (rookie safety LaRon) Landry down in the box. I bet there won't be a lot of people to run on that defense with Landry in the box as the eighth man." Until Miami's passing game can burn defenses that stack the line of scrimmage, Brown and Chatman can expect similar treatment from opponents. Brown should continue to handle the majority of carries, but it's clear that Chatman is not going away – Cameron used them together in the same backfield at times. If you used a second-round pick on Brown, it's hard to believe he'll return fair value at this point.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS WARM
1st Chair: Laurence Maroney
2nd Chair: Sammy Morris
Skinny: With Maroney coming off of shoulder surgery, I'd been stockpiling Morris as a fifth or sixth running back in several of the dozen leagues I compete in. I figured that among first-round backs, Maroney was among the top few most likely to sustain an injury during the season – he had two DNPs last season. I didn't, however, figure that Morris would get 11 carries in Week 1. That caught me a bit by surprise, pleasant though it was. With 11 carries for 54 yards on Sunday, Morris did an excellent impression of Corey Dillon, who parlayed an average of 12 carries a week into 13 TDs a year ago. Maroney had four red zone carries to Morris' two, so goal-line carries could truly be up for grabs here. In deep leagues, Morris has value as a player likely to get 8-12 carries a week in an effort to keep Maroney fresh and healthy.
ATLANTA FALCONS WARM
1st Chair: Warrick Dunn
2nd Chair: Jerious Norwood
Skinny: How long can Atlanta keep Norwood down? The NFL's leader in yards per carry in '06 (6.4) handled just five carries on Sunday, but picked up 33 yards (6.6 ypc) against Minnesota, the league's top run defense a year ago. Meanwhile, Dunn could muster just 55 yards on 22 carries (2.5 ypc). In total, Norwood touched the ball seven times (2 receptions), four of which went for nine yards or more. One of his other touches was a two-yard conversion on 3rd-and-2. The writing is on the wall, Norwood owners. Keep the faith. Patience will be rewarded.
HOUSTON TEXANS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ahman Green
Injured: Ron Dayne
Skinny: Like Miami and New England, Houston was another backfield that saw more participation from a backup than expected. Dayne fell three carries shy of matching Green's carry load on Sunday (16 to 13). Green, however, was much more effective than Dayne, averaging 4.6 ypc compared to Big Daddy's 2.5 ypc average.
Also See: Sunday Scene | Roto Arcade: Injuries

Week 1 is in the books. I'm clearly not in mid-season form yet. My head was on a swivel the moment I sat down at the local bar in front of the bank of TV monitors, taking in the early Sunday games. Focus is important in times like these, but the giddiness that comes with the opening of a new season had my inner ADD operating at maximum levels. To compound matters, I'm managing a dozen fantasy teams this season – an occupational hazard. With 12 leagues in play, I was forced to do something I had never done before. I created an Excel spreadsheet with the rosters for every team so I could have a better idea of what to watch/root for. Even with an attempt at organization, I still found myself overwhelmed trying to take it all in. While I work my brain back into playing shape, here's what I did manage to glean from the Week 1 action:

The Good: "Meet the new Moss, same as the old Moss …" I realize I'm taking a little liberty with lyrics by classic rock icons The Who, but had Peter Townsend, Roger Daltrey and the gang been playing a post-game event in The Meadowlands on Sunday, Randy Moss might have inspired them to tweak their lyrics as a tribute to the wideout's resurgent performance. After two malaise-clouded seasons in Oakland, Moss had some fantasy owners singing "Won't Get Fooled Again" on draft day. But, in his Week 1 debut for New England, Moss looked every bit the receiver that accumulated 1,632 receiving yards and 17 TDs in 2003. He ran past defensive backs, he hauled in passes across the middle, he smiled, and he was even engaged on the sidelines – the camera caught him and Wes Welker talking Xs and Os on the bench, a scene that had me day-dreaming about a ray gun that could zap two players into one super receiver. All told, Moss finished with 183 receiving yards (third-most in his career) and a TD. Early on, it seemed as though Welker was going to be the one that would have us all kicking ourselves for letting him slip by in fantasy drafts – and he probably still will. But the chemistry between Tom Brady and Moss eventually kicked into high gear and we all got to see just what happens when you pair an All-World talent at receiver with an All-World quarterback. Brady's too smart to ignore Moss. The only thing that can keep this connection down is Moss' physical frailty. If he can avoid the injury bug, his owners have clearly hit the jackpot.

The Bad: Brandon Jacobs' sprained knee has been well chronicled since it was sustained on Sunday night. He's expected to miss three to five weeks. The news rocked the world of my colleague Brad Evans. You see, they had agreed to go steady this season, and Brad had been seen wearing Jacobs' letterman's jacket for weeks. So, it's understandable that he's pretty distraught right now. The Giants were at one point on Monday thought to have suffered a similar fate with QB Eli Manning, who suffered a shoulder injury in the game. It was deemed a sprain, however, leaving open the door of possibility that he could still play in Week 2. It seems more likely, though, that Manning will sit at least one game, which would land water buffalo Jared Lorenzen his first NFL start. If Manning does miss Week 2, it'll be a blow to Plaxico Burress owners. Manning and Burress have a good thing going, especially this past Sunday – Burress hauled in eight of 11 targets for 144 yards and three TDs.

The Ugly: I haven't seen an uglier game than Monday's nightcap matchup between San Francisco and Arizona since a Seattle team sans Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander shutout the Oakland Raiders 16-0 on Monday night back in October of last season. I went into Monday night's affair needing a moderately strong performance from Vernon Davis to win my matchup in my all-important friends league. San Francisco didn't even let me flirt with the thought of victory, though. Davis finished with two catches for four yards. Alex Smith was rushed all night long and his passes were continually off target. He finished 15-of-31 for 126 yards. From a fantasy perspective, Arizona QB Matt Leinart was only slightly better, tallying 102 passing yards and a scoring toss to Anquan Boldin. A defensive donnybrook broke out in what was expected to be a typical offensive shootout – these teams averaged a combined 53.5 points in two meetings last season. I think we can write off much of the offensive ineptitude on Monday night as Week 1 rust, but San Francisco's passing game may not so easily fall into that categorization. The unit was just so God-awful. For those who drafted Alex Smith thinking he'd be this sneaky-good steal in the later rounds, I really don't see it. He's still got so far to go in his development. And his offensive line has to figure out how to buy him more time. And his receivers have to figure out how to run routes that actually create separation from defenders. There really is a lot to fix here and, as a Vernon Davis owner, its cause for melancholy.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Adrian Peterson, Min, RB – Head coach Brad Childress wants Chester Taylor to be an integral part of the Vikings rushing attack, but it's going to be tough to follow through on that desire if Peterson continues to post eye-popping numbers like in Week 1 – 163 total yards, including a 60-yard TD reception off a screen pass. Taylor suffered a bruised oblique muscle in the first quarter on Sunday, opening the door for more carries for Peterson (19) than Childress would like. Taylor is likely questionable for Week 2 at Detroit. No matter what happens with Taylor, fantasy owners need to have Peterson locked and loaded for the Lions next Sunday.

LaMont Jordan, Oak, RB – New Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin apparently looked at film from '05, a season in which Jordan hauled in 70 passes. Art Shell completely ignored that aspect of Jordan's game last season, exasperating many fantasy owners in the process. Air Jordan was back on Sunday, though, catching nine passes for 89 yards. Jordan also picked up an impressive 70 yards on 15 carries as he tries to prove his featured-back abilities before Dominic Rhodes' return in Week 6 from suspension.

Ronald Curry, Oak, WR – I've always felt that Curry was basically a more franchise-challenged version of Anquan Boldin. He's big, athletic, seam-savvy, and he's blessed with excellent hands. In addition to being stuck in a bad situation, he's also had trouble staying healthy. But the times could be changing. Curry didn't miss a game in '06 and he finished as one of the league's hottest receivers in December. And when Josh McCown aired it out 40 times on Sunday, 30 percent of the time (12) he threw it Curry's way – Curry finished with 10 catches for 133 yards and a TD, numbers that were wasted on the bench of nearly half my teams.

Marshawn Lynch, Buf, RB – Forget about the paltry 1.7 ypc in his preseason work. Lynch apparently got the message loud and clear that he needs to just go hard to the hole and not dance so much. Against Denver, he picked up 90 hard-fought rushing yards and a TD.

Calvin Johnson, Det, WR – I admit, I chickened out. After touting Johnson's abilities all summer, I advised benching the wunderkind in Week 1 given his opponent – the Raiders were No. 2 in fantasy against opposing receivers in '06 – and the thought that Johnson wasn't completely up to speed with Mike Martz's offense yet. But, apparently, that was all much ado about nothing. Johnson hauled in four passes for 70 yards, including a 16-yard TD catch. The lesson learned here is that we don't bench Calvin Johnson.

Eric Johnson, NO, TE – Johnson was the second-most targeted TE in Week 1, behind Antonio Gates. The former Yale wideout caught eight of nine passes thrown his way. His steady looks probably had something to do with the Cover-2 defense of the Colts, but Johnson is a skilled veteran receiver and both coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have a strong history of utilizing the tight end.

Tennessee Running Backs – The Titans' offensive line knows how to run block. How else do you explain the 282 rushing yards the RBBC of Chris Brown (175), LenDale White (66) and company dropped on a typically staunch Jacksonville defense? The offense is picking up where it left off last year – Tennessee averaged 4.7 ypc in '06. The head-scratcher is how successful the team has been on the ground despite employing a quarterback in Vince Young who is virtually no threat in the passing game.

Chris Chambers, Mia, WR – Chambers was targeted early and often by new Miami quarterback Trent Green, who threw Chambers' way 11 times on Sunday. Chambers finished with 92 yards on six catches, both totals that he surpassed just once in '06.

Brandon Marshall, Den, WR – Teammate Javon Walker saw nearly twice as many passes – Walker's 15 targets led receivers in Week 1 – but Marshall made his presence known with five catches for 52 yards and a 5-yard TD catch. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Marshall should continue to see steady looks in the red zone.

Dallas Cowboys offense – QB Tony Romo led all fantasy performers in Week 1 (35 points in default scoring system), Jason Witten led all tight ends in scoring (17), Terrell Owens finished fourth among receivers (20) and Marion Barber III was 12th among running backs (14). If you are an irrational Cowboys fan who had to get every one of their players for your fantasy team, you're sitting pretty at 1-0 to start the season.

Edgerrin James, Ari, RB – There was little daylight for James against the Niners on Monday night, but a maximum effort allowed him to churn out 92 yards and a TD on 26 carries. His hard-nosed performance will sit well with new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who brings his ground-hog philosophy over from Pittsburgh.

Steven Jackson, StL, RB – Jackson managed just 58 yards on 18 carries on Sunday. He also witnessed the loss of stud LT Orlando Pace for the rest of the season (torn labrum and rotator cuff). Jackson was 8-for-8 in quality fantasy performances at home last season, so it was tough for his owners to swallow a home dud in the '07 opener.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Fred Taylor, Jac, RB – In '06, the Jaguars' dynamic backfield duo averaged a combined 173 yards from scrimmage in two meetings with Tennessee. On Sunday, the two couldn't even muster half of that total, combining for a mere 76 yards (60 of which was Jones-Drew).

Deion Branch, Sea, WR – Branch was virtually ignored by QB Matt Hasselbeck on Sunday. He was targeted three times, but did not catch a single pass against the Bucs. Some of the blame likely lies in the Seahawks' game plan for Tampa Bay's Cover-2 defense. Slot receiver Bobby Engram and TE Marcus Pollard led the team in receiving as the 'Hawks worked the seams of the zone.

Jamal Lewis, Cle, RB – Lewis can't be blamed too much for an 11-carry, 35-yard effort against Pittsburgh on Sunday. After all, the Steelers have never been a walk in the park for running backs. But the Browns' quarterback nightmare is likely to keep defenses stacked in the box to stop the run and force Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson or rookie Brady Quinn (whoever it may be at the time) into quick decisions.

Cedric Benson, Chi, RB – In his first start in the post-Thomas Jones era, Benson was held to 42 yards on 19 carries by a swarming San Diego defense. It wouldn't normally be that big a deal that Benson struggled against a typically tough Chargers run defense. But Benson is coming off a preseason in which he averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. To then go out and gain 2.2 yards per carry in Week 1 and compound it with a fumble lost is cause for concern. After the game, head coach Lovie Smith had to field a question about whether backup Adrian Peterson fit the Bears running scheme better than Benson. Smith replied, "I'd say that (Benson's) running style fits a little bit better. We like both players." It's a little vote of confidence from Smith, but Benson owners have to hate the fact that the question already has to be addressed.

Brandon Jackson, GB, RB – In his NFL regular season debut, Jackson could muster just 40 rushing yards on 15 carries (2.7 ypc). It wasn't necessarily Jackson's fault. The Packers offensive line was miserable and was called out afterwards by coach Mike McCarthy for simply getting their rear ends handed to them by the Philly defensive front. It's bad situation for Jackson to be in. He needs to make a strong impression before Vernand Morency gets fully healthy. But O-line issues could continue to prevent that from happening.