With four games in the books for all but four clubs (Green Bay, New Orleans, Miami and Carolina), it’s time to get vaguely serious about on-pace statistics. Some will be gone with the wind before the seasons even change (Eddie Royal’s 20 touchdowns). Others are fun to marvel at, but equally unrealistic (Peyton Manning’s 64:0 TD:INT ratio). Then there are some where you’re not sure what to think.
When Brian Cushing housed Philip Rivers’ 24th pass attempt of the Chargers’ most recent come-from-ahead loss in Week 1, things seemed the same as they ever were in San Diego. Losing remained performance art for a team that fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season. Maybe the flames wouldn’t be quite as roaring with Norval Turner departed for the Rust Belt, but one thing was clear: The Chargers were still going to be going down in them on a weekly basis. One of the main reasons was Rivers, a shell-shocked has been who produced almost as many turnovers (47) as touchdowns (54) in 2011-12.
So it could be considered a surprise that Rivers has completed 91 of 113 passes (80.5 percent) since, and tossed only one interception in three games. His Sunday performance — 35-of-42 for 401 yards, three touchdowns and a pick — was the most accurate of all time for a player who threw for at least 400 yards. It’s all added up to an 11:2 TD:INT ratio for the league’s most INT-happy quarterback this side of Mark Sanchez, and put him on pace for 4,796 yards, which would be a new career high. Rivers is completing 73.9 percent of his throws after converting just 63.5 percent of them his final two years under Turner. He’s done this even though:
1. Injuries have limited top downfield threat Malcom Floyd to two games, 90 snaps and 11 targets.
2. His current No. 1-3 receivers (Royal, Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen) combined for two starts and 23 catches in 2012.
3. He’s thrown for less than 200 yards in two of his four starts.
4. Both of his interceptions have been returned for touchdowns.
It makes discussions of whether or not Rivers is “back” rather complicated. What can’t be disputed? New coach Mike McCoy has installed a more intelligent, realistic system than the one Turner ran in 2012, eliminating low-percentage deep passes to underneath wideouts who can’t catch them. Rivers is asked to get the ball out quickly. The Chargers are picking their spots to go vertical instead of forcing them. It’s resulted in plays like Sunday’s 56-yard score to Antonio Gates, where Gates scorched the Cowboys and LB Bruce Carter deep after lulling them to sleep over the middle. Of Gates’ first eight catches Sunday, two went for longer than seven yards (nine and 14). His final two? The aforementioned 56-yard score and a 26-yarder.
McCoy has developed a system that acknowledges his personnel rather than square pegging it into a round hole, much like he did with Tim Tebow in 2011. Can he and Rivers keep it up? It won’t be easy with no one to stretch the field. Allen has 4.7 speed and Brown has averaged 6.1 yards per catch this season. Eddie Royal is Eddie Royal. Gates is 33 with two bad feet. All we know is, McCoy is wringing success out of a player who appeared to be wrung out, and Rivers couldn’t be more on board with his plan. Every-week QB1 status may still be too much to ask for, but Rivers is at the top of the QB2 crop. Who knows, maybe he’ll even steal one for you after years of having them stolen away.
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1. Tony Gonzalez
Gonzo entered Week 4 with just 11 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Whispers were mounting that he hadn’t lost only a step, but a career. Suffice to say, they’ve been silenced after he doubled his season totals in every category (12/149/2) against a team that almost never gets beat by tight ends. His 149 yards were a career high. Gonzalez’s ability to catch the ball away from his body — and his coverage — remains as elite as ever, which is why his TE1 status remains as cemented as ever.
2. Reggie Bush
Bush shredded the Bears’ formerly imposing defense for 173 yards, putting him on pace for 2,165 yards from scrimmage even though he missed Week 3. Catching passes and doing major damage after the catch/first contact, Bush has risen to the occasion of his high expectations in the Lions’ high-octane offense, and fantasy owners have an RB1 as a result.
3. Le’Veon Bell
Bell’s route has been circuitous — three weeks in the Lisfranc wilderness only to make his debut in Greenwich Mean Time — but his destination remained the same: Every-down duties for a team desperate to end its Isaac Redman/Jonathan Dwyer/Felix Jones sideshow. Bell’s talent doesn’t jump off the page, but his workloads are going to, and that’s half of the fantasy battle.
1. Andy Dalton
This is what getting exposed looks like. If you want a nice guy or affable “Hard Knocks” presence, Dalton is your man. If you want a quarterback who rises above simply managing games? Dalton didn’t even game manage on Sunday, getting out-dueled by Brian Hoyer as he managed just 206 yards. Dalton has now thrown for 211 yards or fewer in nine of his past 15 starts. Even if you toss out Dalton’s 78-yard Week 17, he’s averaging only 214 yards over his past 14 games. He’s barely replacement level, and it could cost an otherwise Super Bowl-worthy roster its shot at a playoff spot.
2. Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall has taken the ball 52 times for 176 yards this season. That comes out to just 3.38 yards per pop. Sunday, he was out-gained 51-34 by rookie Andre Ellington despite touching the ball eight more times (15-7). Afterward, coach Bruce Arians let him know that wasn’t good enough. "Rashard had a very tough day and he can’t play that way," Arians said curtly. He damningly added, "We need to practice him a little bit harder." Mendenhall’s FLEX star is about to supernova.
3. Darren McFadden
It doesn’t matter if DMC’s hamstring injury is minor or not. It only matters that the most disappointing player in football is yet again letting fantasy players down. You can’t drop McFadden now, but you can give up the ghost on his walk year being any different than the ones that have preceded it.
1. Greg Schiano for USC 2014? Lane Kiffin for Bucs WRs coach 2014?
2. Baltimore, maybe — just maybe — you should run the ball more than nine times against the league’s (then) 30th ranked run defense?
3. Maybe Jay Cutler was just fumble sixin’, double-coverage INTin’ it all over the joint one more time for old times’ sake in Detroit?
What did bracket coverage and a bum knee do to Julio Jones Sunday evening? Limit him to six catches for 108 yards. The NFL’s still-leading receiver has now posted three consecutive 100-yard games, running his season line to 33/481/2. That’s despite the fact that he’s gotten in extremely little practice time, and been running alongside a No. 2 receiver limited to decoy duties (Roddy White). Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff was looking for a game-changing player when he traded up to get Jones at No. 6 in 2011. What he got was a truly special one.
Hoyer has thrown for five touchdowns through his first two starts. That’s something Brandon Weeden has never accomplished in any two-game stretch, and part of the reason Hoyer has put a stranglehold on Browns starting duties just four months after being waived by the Cardinals and going unclaimed. Hoyer attacks, getting the ball out quickly, usually to one of his top two targets, Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. His style pales in comparison to Weeden’s, who often looks like he’s trying to remember where he left his keys. The final mistake of the Mike Holmgren era will be watching from the bench with his reading glasses on for the foreseeable future.
It’s like NFL.com’s Patrick Crawley said: Adrian Peterson’s lead blocker returned from his three-game suspension, and AD did this. We’ll never know if Felton’s absence was the reason Peterson averaged “just” 93.6 yards and 4.1 yards per carry over his first three games. What we do know is that AD sure looks glad to have him back.
Stats of the Week
Every one of Peyton Manning’s stats. The most unbelievable start you will ever see.
The Texans have as many defensive touchdowns as the Jaguars do offensive touchdowns. Matt Schaub has also thrown as many pick sixes as the Texans have returned.
Schaub has attempted 177 passes, the second most in the NFL. None of them have gone farther than 32 yards.
Russell Wilson has attempted 86 fewer passes than Sam Bradford.
Andrew Luck has rushed for more yards than Robert Griffin III, and only 14 fewer than Colin Kaepernick.
Alex Smith has as many rushes as Ray Rice (30), but is averaging 2.0 more yards per carry (5.0 to 3.0).
A.J. Green has nine more targets than Torrey Smith, but 135 fewer yards. Jordy Nelson has 28 fewer targets than A.J. Green, but just 11 fewer yards. The Andy Dalton effect.
Wes Welker’s six touchdowns are already as many as he had in 2012.
Julio Jones’ 205 yards after the catch are 30 more than anyone else in football.
Maurice Jones-Drew has fewer fantasy points than Andre Ellington.
Most Absurd Moment of Week 4: This throw by Matt Schaub. In that situation … at home. Schaub’s best days are long behind him, and the Texans are the second best team in the AFC South because of it.
Least Valuable Player, Non-Gabbert Division: Still Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert’s 4.48 yards per attempt is less than half of Peyton Manning’s. It would be tied for 21st in yards per carry. It’s to the point where Jimmy Clausen would be an upgrade. Enough already.
The Most Hot And Cold Hands Award: Kenbrell Thompkins cares not for your perfect pass in stride. A circus ball in the end zone, however? Those he can work with.
The Jay Are You Still With Us Award: Jay Cutler was supposed to be a new quarterback under Marc Trestman, and at times has appeared to be one. After his four-turnover Sunday, though, he’s now on pace for as many giveaways (32) as touchdowns (32). Let’s rein it in, Jay.
The Your Season Has Become an SNL Digital Short Award: Eli Manning’s 2013 will be as memorable for its baffled sideline expressions as its “football.”
Fantasy All Pro Team
QB Peyton Manning, RB Adrian Peterson, RB Reggie Bush, WR Victor Cruz, WR Torrey Smith, WR Andre Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez, TE Antonio Gates