This was supposed to be the week that Chris Johnson finally proved useful to fantasy owners. Johnson was going to give us a decent stat line against the Colts — how could he not, facing a defense that ranked 31st against the run? — and then we'd simply toss his name on the trade block, recovering a portion of our initial investment. That was the plan, and it seemed like a good one.
But just as he's done all season, CJ failed to uphold his end of the arrangement. In fact, Johnson saved one of his worst efforts for one of his best match-ups. Johnson was a disaster against Indianapolis, gaining just 34 yards on 14 carries. For the fifth time in seven games, he averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per attempt.
NFL analysts and fantasy gurus (myself included) have tried out various excuses for Johnson all year, but blame for this wretched half-season belongs entirely to the player. On Sunday, backup Javon Ringer outperformed CJ by a wide margin, rushing for 60 yards on an identical number of carries. In the process, Ringer earned a greater role in the Titans' ground game going forward.
"I think every game will be different," head coach Mike Munchak told reporters after the win. "I just think it depends on the flow of the game, how it's going. I don't think we're consciously trying to decide by series who's playing."
Down the stretch in Week 8, Munchak's subconscious clearly preferred Ringer. The third-year back dominated the fourth quarter carries, serving as his team's closer. You'll find more of Munchak's backfield analysis right here, via NFL.com. Let's review a few of the key quotes regarding the Johnson-Ringer split...
"I think in general, we knew we were going to give them both a chance to get some plays. He made a couple runs, which was good, Ringer did. Chris had some runs there early in the game."
OK, quick break right here for a fact check. While it's technically accurate to say that Johnson "had some runs" early in the game, I think it would be more accurate to say that "he had some useless runs." Here's a complete log of CJ's five carries in the first quarter:
10:37, 5-yard gain
9:52, 1-yard gain
8:30, no gain
4:55, 5-yard loss
1:22, no gain
We now return to Munchak's presser...
"So it was just a matter of how we were rotating them. Really not much thought to it, just more or less how the game was going. Heck, Ringer came out after one of his best runs, I think, and Chris came in."
There's little doubt that we'll have a rotation here, unless Johnson can recapture the form that earned him the $53 million deal. He's a toxic asset in fantasy right now, an uninjured top-of-draft pick who's producing like a slower, less-explosive version of, say, Julius Jones.
Perhaps it's holdout hangover with Johnson, perhaps it's lack of motivation, perhaps it's conditioning. Just please don't tell me that CJ is struggling because defenses have stacked the line to stop him. It's not as if he's the only brand-name runner who receives special attention from opposing defenses. Go tell Maurice Jones-Drew about the lousy team context. Or tell Steven Jackson, or Adrian Peterson, or Frank Gore.
So I'll offer no more excuses for Johnson. He's a lifeless player at the moment, an extremely well-compensated committee member. His second-half schedule is incredibly friendly, but he's flashed no ability whatsoever to exploit match-ups. There are no clear answers here, except to add Ringer wherever you can. He's owned in just 6 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but that's obviously about to change.
• There's no way to sweeten the Tim Tebow story, not this week. He was awful against Detroit, not even close to NFL starting standards as a passer. No timing, no touch, remarkably inaccurate and indecisive. Tebow was actually much worse than his final numbers indicate, and the stats weren't pretty: 18-for-39, 172 yards, TD, INT, fumble. He ran for 63 yards on 10 attempts, which helped him overcome his turnovers for fantasy purposes, though not in real-life. A pair of second-half giveaways were returned for scores by the Lions. Just a terrible, terrible day — and this after the Broncos altered their game-plan to suit him. He has issues that can't be fixed by the shotgun spread. Forget about the rest of the year, it's tough to argue that Tebow deserves next week's start.
Eric Decker caught a late TD and nearly had another in the first half, so you've got a window in which to deal him. I really want no part of this passing game right now, unless I'm streaming defenses against Denver. (Next week, Oakland. Then the Chiefs, Jets and Chargers and Vikings).
• New England's defense entered the week ranked dead-last against the pass, and their generosity continued on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger roasted the Pats for 365 and a pair of scores, as four different Pittsburgh receivers finished with over 65 receiving yards. Antonio Brown finally delivered the touchdown we've been promising since Week 1, and he led his team in catches (9 for 67).
Pittsburgh's defense held Tom Brady below 200 yards, which basically never happens, and they limited Wes Welker to 39 receiving yards on six catches. These are not simple achievements. New England had little interest in the ground game, so BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a non-factor (five carries, nine yards). Kevin Faulk actually led the team in rushing in his 2011 debut (32 yards), and he caught five passes for 20 yards, just like old times. I'm moderately interested, in a deep-league/PPR sort of way.
• If it's possible for a receiver to be credited with two drops on a single throw, then Braylon Edwards pulled off that feat on Sunday. He was struck by a pass in the first half, then defenders swatted at the ball until it found Edwards' hands again ... and then it hit the grass. The rare double-drop. (Or a least that's how I chose to score it). Braylon still had a good-enough day in his return, with four catches for 42 yards. Michael Crabtree was better, with five for 54, including a 2-yard TD. And Frank Gore was terrific again, rushing for 134 yards on a season-high 31 carries.
• I may have done some griping below about fantasy being a cruel game, but, um ... I'd like to now rescind that comment. I started Titus Young in at least one league, thus benefiting from this ridiculous blown-coverage touchdown. So I really have no business complaining. That was the first of Matthew Stafford's three TD passes; he appeared to be at full strength, untroubled by the ankle injury.
• Andy Dalton didn't put up a big yardage number at Seattle (168 on 29 attempts), but he connected with AJ Green on a beautifully thrown 43-yard score in the final minutes of the first half, while pressured. That's a team with a few impressive young pieces. Green finished with four catches for 63 yards. While filling in for the suspended Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott delivered a classic Ced stat line: 22 carries, 76 yards, three catches for zero yards.
• Pete Carroll's preference was to rest the injured Tarvaris Jackson on Sunday, but Charlie Whitehurst was just too brutally ineffective. This from the Seattle Times:
"It just didn't feel like we were moving anywhere," Carroll said. "So what I said to the fellas was, 'Let's put Tarvaris in, let's see what happens.'"
With Tarvaris at the controls, the Seahawks were at least competitive, the passing game functional. Jackson delivered 323 yards on 40 throws (one of them a pick-six), and he allowed Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu to each post respectable lines. Rice and Obomanu topped 100 yards, while Baldwin caught five balls for 73.
• Washington's offense was almost completely dysfunctional on Sunday, as the team gained just 178 total yards and scored no points on the road versus the Bills. Entering the week, Buffalo was allowing the second-most total yards per game (420.5), so it's not like that defense had stopped anyone. Fred Davis had a nice day for the 'Skins (8-94), but he was the only bright spot. Ryan Torain and Roy Helu were both duds, as each gained just 20 yards from scrimmage. (Torain had nine touches, Helu three). And so ends the friendly portion of Washington's schedule. The 'Skins have a few of the NFL's toughest run defenses coming up. Details right here.
• Peyton Hillis was inactive in Week 8 and Montario Hardesty suffered an early calf injury (MRI upcoming), so the rushing workload fell to the uninteresting Chris Ogbonnaya (11 carries, 37 yards). It was an ugly day for the Browns, except for that one play by Joshua Cribbs. And yes, I've written that last sentence approximately 47 times here in Sunday Scene.
Early Waiver Adds for Week 9...
QB Matt Cassel vs. Mia
QB Kevin Kolb vs. STL (toe injury, so that's a worry. Also a worry: He's Kevin Kolb)
QB Tarvaris Jackson at Dal
RB Javon Ringer vs. Cin
RB Michael Bush vs. Den (51 percent owned)
RB Kevin Faulk vs. NYG
RB Maurice Morris, bye
RB Lance Ball at Oak
RB Donald Brown vs. Atl (pay no attention to this one; just stacking up names at this point)
WR Michael Crabtree at Was (40 percent owned)
WR Early Doucet vs. STL
WR Doug Baldwin at Dal
WR Greg Salas at Ari
WR Emmanuel Sanders vs. Bal
WR Damian Williams vs. Cin
-posted at 10:50 pm ET
• Just when we think the elite teams are separating from the bottom-feeders in the NFL, we get a result like this: St. Louis 31, New Orleans 21.
Maybe the throwback uniforms inspired the Rams, or maybe they were simply shamed by last week's performance. Tough to say. But St. Louis is winless no more.
Steven Jackson was a unstoppable terror, needing less than three quarters of action to top 100 yards against the Saints. The New Orleans defense entered the week allowing 5.4 yards per carry, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by Jackson's huge day (25 carries, 159 yards, 2 TDs). Brandon Lloyd had a few degree-of-difficulty catches among his six grabs, and he hauled in an 8-yard score just before halftime, giving his team a 17-point lead.
The Rams harassed Drew Brees all afternoon, as Chris Long had three of his team's six sacks. Brees connected with Lance Moore for a garbage-time TD, but it was a mostly miserable day for the Saints QB. And so ends your survivor pool. Thanks for playing; please pay the commish.
• At halftime, Chris Johnson had gained only 14 rushing yards on eight carries, and he'd already slipped into a rotation with Javon Ringer. Going forward, this is a job-share. Johnson entered the week with a fantastic match-up against the Colts and a vote of confidence from his head coach, then his team raced out to an early lead — a perfect storm for fantasy production, essentially. But he's looked cadaverous all season, and Sunday was no different. There's zero home run potential here. Johnson finished his day with 51 scrimmage yards on 17 touches, Ringer with 102 on 19. Almost without question, Ringer will be the add of the week.
The news wasn't all bad for Tennessee, clearly, as the team beat the Colts with relative ease. Nate Washington hauled in a pair of touchdowns, one of which was officially a running score. (Backward pass. Sorry, Hasselbeck owners).
• If you'd like to see some awful tackling technique — not sure why you would, but maybe it's a fetish — then seek out the clip of Reggie Bush's 35-yard run in the second quarter against the Giants. Reggie bounced away from four-man collision when nobody wrapped him up. Naturally, Dan Dierdorf followed with a "Back in my day..." lecture, as if defenders never whiffed on tackles in 1977. The Dolphins eventually broke the plane to cap off the drive, as quarterback Matt Moore walked into the end zone off a nifty piece of misdirection on fourth down. Reggie finished with 103 rushing yards on 15 carries, but Steve Slaton — repeat: Slaton, not Lex Hilliard — took the goal line work.
• Matt Schaub has his detractors, but even they have to be relatively impressed by the Houston QB's performance during Andre Johnson's extended absence. Schaub has passed for at least 220 yards in each of his last four games, with six passing touchdowns during that rather challenging stretch. His 2-yard rushing score against the Jags on Sunday was his first TD on the ground since '08, and just the third of his career.
• After Adrian Peterson's 175-yard rushing effort in Week 7, the Packers offered up a few quotes that were a bit more flattering than what you'd typically expect. Here's a sample:
"Oh, man," nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "If it was any other running back, I'd be embarrassed. But this guy is going to be in the Hall of Fame someday."
And here's another:
"For the most part, we had the lanes filled and everybody was in their gap," linebacker Desmond Bishop said. "The runs he was getting, I've never seen anybody like that. He's going straight and then cutting all the way back. Who does that?"
Peterson followed last week's huge effort with another, gaining 162 total yards on 26 touches, crossing the goal line twice. Just look at this ridiculous score. Peterson caught five passes on Sunday, a season-high.
• Cam Newton showed us the entire skill set in Week 8, in a losing effort at home against the Vikings. Newton passed for 290 yards and three scores, and he led his team in rushing, with 53 yards on just six carries. I'm not sure if his best throw was this 39-yard strike to Greg Olsen, or if it was the fourth-and-14 bullet to Brandon LaFell on the final drive. One of Cam's better (and more surprising) traits is his willingness to hang in the pocket, calm and unhurried, waiting for receivers to come open. The Panthers should have made it to overtime versus the Vikes, but Olindo Mare missed a 31-yard field goal attempt inside the final minute.
• We've seen several impressive performances by rookie quarterbacks this season, but none of them have been authored by Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert. For the second straight week, Gabbert finished with less than 100 passing yards. He completed just 33 percent of his passes against Houston, lowering an already atrocious full-season percentage. It's remarkable that Maurice Jones-Drew has managed to deliver useful fantasy performances, given the team context. MJD found the end zone on Sunday, gaining 74 yards on 19 touches.
• Ahmad Bradshaw limped to the locker room with a reported foot injury in the second half, but he eventually returned to the game. Worrisome near-injury, because this is a guy playing on rebuilt feet. Bradshaw finished with 88 total yards on 18 touches, and he was one of four Giants to catch at least five passes. Eli Manning had the big day that everyone expected (349 yards, two TDs). Victor Cruz starred again, with seven catches for 99 yards and a score. Hakeem Nicks checked out of the game late, reportedly with a hamstring issue, so Cruz and Mario Manningham could both see heavy workloads at New England in Week 9 .
• At least one of my fantasy teams is being punished by Ray Rice this week, a fact that wouldn't actually bother me under normal circumstances — Rice is an elite player, and those guys do great things. But I've got Anquan Boldin starting in a couple leagues, and he deserves a share of the fantasy points on two of Rice's short rushing scores. Boldin drew a pair of key flags in the end zone on Cards DBs, teeing up Rice. Fantasy can be such a cruel game.
• The stiff-arm of the day, at least to this point, was delivered by Steve Smith to the face of Cedric Griffin. You won't often see a 5-foot-9 receiver punish a larger DB quite so viciously. Smith finished with seven catches for 100 yards and a TD, but this was the highlight play.
• Beanie Wells wasn't operating at full capacity in Week 8, dealing with another knee issue, but give him credit for performing admirably — almost heroically — in a difficult match-up at Baltimore. Wells carried 22 times for 83 yards against the Ravens, making an end zone plunge in the second quarter. He didn't exactly stick the landing on the TD, but the points still count.
-posted at 5:15 pm ET
If you manage a large, diverse fantasy portfolio, this is really a messy week. Six teams have byes, half the league is injured, and there's snow on the ground. We'll do what we can to help you deal with the Week 8 chaos.
Please join us at noon ET for Fantasy Football Live, where we'll address your sit/start questions, plus we'll hit all the late-breaking news. Check back with Sunday Scene later in the day for game-day observations with fantasy spin. (Programming note: This week's Scene will have two updates, not the usual four. But the projected word-count remains the same). And of course you're all invited to the costume contest, beginning now in comments...
Photos via Getty Images (keg, CJ, Tebow) and US Presswire (Jackson, Cam)