Sunday Scene: Duce is Loose

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

Happiness is owning Steve Smith. Nirvana is owning Shaun Alexander or LaDainian Tomlinson. While this jackpot trio enjoyed typical outstanding fantasy performances in Week 9, there was several other developments worth talking about. Let's take a look at what grabbed my attention on Sunday:

I've told several people in the past couple weeks that Duce Staley won't figure into Pittsburgh's mix unless Jerome Bettis or Willie Parker get knocked out of action. Of course, Murphy's Law mandated that both would be derailed this week so as to immediately mock my Staley pessimism. On Sunday, Bettis sat with a thigh injury and Parker twisted his ankle during the second-half of a 20-10 victory at Green Bay. With his first shot at playing time this season, Staley carried 12 times after halftime for 68 yards and a touchdown. He had just three carries for eight yards in the first half. What this means for Bettis, Parker and Staley going forward is unclear. But there is no doubt that it just further convolutes the situation. Pittsburgh is such fertile fantasy real estate; it's just a shame that there is no way for fantasy owners to get rich from it.
Speaking of messed up backfields, Michael Bennett landed back on the fantasy radar on Sunday, carrying 18 times (106 yards) to Mewelde Moore's 11 (49 yards). Bennett picked up seven of his carries and 40 rushing yards in the fourth quarter after Moore sprained his wrist. Those who have followed Mike Tice in Minnesota can't be surprised by Bennett's re-emergence. Tice has played musical chairs with his backs as much as anyone, last season mixing and matching Bennett, Moore and Onterrio Smith, with a splash of Moe Williams for extra spice. In the Vikings 27-14 victory, Tice also planted rookie Ciatrick Fason into fantasy owners' minds by affording him five carries, including a TD run from three yards out. Give me a root canal as opposed to owning any of these guys. No thanks!
Detroit's Kevin Jones banged up his shoulder in the second quarter on Sunday and left the game having carried just seven times for 15 yards. In one of my least prophetic statements off the year on Friday, I wrote in my football Big Board about Jones that I "Get the feeling big days are ahead." Hmm, not exactly what I had in mind. Of course, with Joey Harrington behind center, all bets on Jones were off anyway. And, unfortunately, I have to wait until Friday to change my Big Board statement on Jones to something along the lines of "R.I.P."
As I mentioned earlier in the week, Kurt Warner is a decent fantasy backup because Arizona throws so often. And in his return to the starter's role on Sunday, he aired it out 48 times, compiling 334 yards and a TD pass. But, he also threw three INTs and was sacked four times. Warner's biggest problem seems to be that he holds on to the ball forever, and he has no mobility to make up for his slow trigger. Fantasy owners looking for a defense in coming weeks should note who is facing Warner, as it usually proves profitable for that defense. In a little more than three games, Warner has thrown five INTs, been sacked 13 times and has lost two fumbles.
During the Carolina/Tampa Bay game, a graphic flashed on the TV screen pointing out that Steve Smith had the highest percentage of a team's total receptions (40 percent). He was well out in front of second- and third-place receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward. In fact, his 40 percent stake in Carolina's pass completions would rank as the best of all-time if it holds up. And if you've watched Carolina this season, you'd probably be willing to lay money down in Las Vegas that it will hold up. QB Jake Delhomme searches out Smith like a blood hound. Smith was thrown to eight times on Sunday, catching five balls. Delhomme threw just 18 times, only completing 11 passes. Smith had nearly half of them, while among Smith's teammates, RB DeShaun Foster was the only other Panther to catch more than one ball (2).
Baltimore's Jamal Lewis entered the week with seven consecutive 100-yard games against the Cincinnati Bengals. With another century-mark total on Sunday, he would have broken the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard games against an opponent. Instead, Lewis finished with just 49 yards on 15 carries, giving him less than 100 yards in all eight games this season. In watching Lewis, he doesn't look as bad as he's been. But what you don't see anymore is those runs where he carries tacklers for an extra five yards or so after contact. He is more willing to be tackled, something that he said is derived from the fact that he doesn't have a contract extension yet. It is getting increasingly peculiar that head coach Brian Billick has such a blind commitment to a guy that spent the offseason in jail and is now saying that he's practicing self-preservation on the gridiron for the sake of future dollars. Once again, I ask, "When does Chester Taylor get a shot?"
The borrowed time that Thomas Jones owners were operating on may have finally run out. Jones was knocked out of Sunday's game at the end of the first half, allowing rookie Cedric Benson to carry 14 times after halftime for 79 yards. Adrian Peterson also handled some of the second half load, tallying six carries, 58 yards and a TD. Up until Week 9, Jones has been the clear-cut frontrunner in Chicago's backfield. But he has had a hard time staying healthy, and lately it has allowed Benson to start to get into a groove. After accruing just 73 rushing yards on his first 23 carries of the season, Benson now has 114 rushing yards in his past 21 carries. With platoons being in vogue these days, it's likely that Jones' 20-carry efforts – eclipsed that mark six times this season – are a thing of the past.
A week after we saw the upside of Tiki Barber – 206 rushing yards versus Washington – we got a glimpse of the downside of the Giants' featured back. On Sunday, Barber picked up a serviceable 71 rushing yards at San Francisco, but he yielded to goal line bulldozer Brandon Jacobs on two one-yard TD runs. Despite 126 fewer carries than Barber, Jacobs has the same number of rushing TDs (5). Surely, it's frustrating for Barber owners to see these point-blank opportunities doled out elsewhere.
Cleveland's Reuben Droughns is quietly gathering steam. With 116 rushing yards in a 20-14 victory over Tennessee on Sunday, the Browns' featured back now has 99 rushing yards or more in each of the past three games. Droughns also picked up a season-high 73 receiving yards. About the only thing to complain about at this point is that he still hasn't found the end zone. Cleveland did manage its first rushing TD of the season against the Titans, but it was backup RB Jason Wright who performed the scoring honors.
Oakland's Kerry Collins and Randy Moss had some bad chemistry going throughout most of Sunday's heartbreaking 27-23 loss to Kansas City on Sunday. Collins failed to connect with Moss the first seven times he threw Moss' way. Finally, with just under two minutes remaining in the game, Collins found Moss for a seven-yard TD pass. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that Moss will have limited yardage upside as he works through his injuries, but that he'll still have a good chance to score TDs. That point was validated on Sunday by the fact that Collins threw Moss' way four times in the red zone.
You have to elevate Atlanta's Brian Finneran to the top of the waiver wire heap this coming week. The Atlanta receiver was targeted 13 times by Michael Vick on Sunday, including three times in the red zone. Vick and Finneran, a nice red zone bull's eye at 6-feet-5 inches tall, connected on a one-yard scoring toss in the second quarter that was nullified by a holding call. On the ensuing play, the pair hooked up on an 11-yard scoring strike. Finneran finished with eight catches for 92 yards and the score. He has long been a preferred target of Vick and it's worth gambling that the two can continue to click.
Carnell Williams' slump continues. After rushing for 29 yards on 11 carries in a 34-14 loss to Carolina on Sunday, Williams now has just 62 yards on 35 carries in the past three games. A few things factor into his downward spiral. First, he has been afforded very little running room. He's also coming off foot and hamstring injuries. And, lastly, Tampa Bay has fallen behind in each of the past two games, forcing it to pass more often in the second half. A fantasy owner would have to be pretty thin at RB to consider starting Williams going forward. I'm not ready to write him off yet, but there is little reason to be optimistic for a quick turnaround here.
One axiom that has held true all season is that it's not beneficial to start a team's go-to receiver versus Cincinnati. Thus far, the Bengals have yielded just one TD pass (Hines Ward) and have allowed no more than 76 receiving yards (Donald Driver) to the opposition's No. 1 wideout. On Sunday, Baltimore's Derrick Mason took his shots at the Cincinnati secondary but could do no better than four catches for 53 yards. In Deltha O'Neal and Tory James, the Bengals have two superb corners, making it hard for a go-to receiver to find an advantageous matchup.