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Monday Brunch: Pump up the volume, Cedric Benson

Cedric Benson(notes) hasn't been a very exciting player over his Cincinnati career. He's averaging 3.9 yards a carry this season, up from last year's messy 3.5. He's a straight-line runner who immediately disappears into the pile more often than not. No one is putting together a two-hour film of the most exciting Benson runs; you've have 97 minutes of empty tape. This Cedric is not an entertainer.

But sometimes boring consistency is your best friend in this numbers racket. And the set-up is right for Benson down the stretch; he has an excellent chance to be a major difference maker in the Fantasy Playoffs. Seriously, go get Cedric Benson if you can. He's a card-carrying member of the Circle of Trust.

First let's appreciate what Benson has already done for us in 2011. He's picked up 15 carries or more in all ten of his starts, and he's collected five touchdowns. And maybe an uptick in the passing game is coming; Benson had four receptions in Sunday's win over Cleveland. Benson even gave us a win off the field; his legal team found a way to negotiate his pending multiple-game suspension down to a single game. Every little bit counts.

Upside is the buzzy word in our arcade world, but floor is just as important to me. Benson's environment lines up perfectly, ensures that he never gets left behind in the flow of the game. The Bengals are a winning team with a strong defense, and while I'm impressed with Andy Dalton(notes), the idea every week is to stay on schedule with the game plan, stay balanced. Benson doesn't have a teammate nipping at his heels — Bernard Scott(notes) has talent, but he's not an inside runner. And while Benson hasn't posted a lot of big fantasy outings, he always gives you something. Volume is a beautiful thing.

If you can make it to your fantasy semifinal (the Bengals play Pittsburgh and Houston the next two weeks), Benson will be ready to help at money time. The Bengals get the Rams (a tollbooth) and the Cardinals (not a per-play sieve, but beatable) in the final two weeks. A healthy Benson figures to produce against St. Louis from the opening snap, while the Arizona game could come down to wearing the opponent out and winning through volume. Again, no one is saying Benson will start doing a Walter Payton imitation, but a heavy workload against a weak club is always a quick recipe to success.

Marshawn Lynch's(notes) run in Seattle is similar to the Benson story. Lynch only averages 3.9 yards a carry, but the Seahawks are working him into the ground of late, giving him 106 carries and 115 touches over the last four weeks. Lynch has a score in seven straight games, and he's produced in some tricky spots (at Dallas, against Baltimore, against Washington). Lynch's schedule is the opposite of Benson's out the door — Lynch gets the easy plays now (Philly, St. Louis), then gets tested by Chicago and San Francisco in the money weeks. But so long as the offense stays committed to Beast Mode, sure, we'll play along.

Monday Brunch: Pump up the volume, Cedric Benson• There was a considerable amount of Arian Foster(notes) angst and worry in the Sunday Night Fantasy Chat, which caught me by surprise. There's no reason to be worried here, Foster owner. Your man is going to be a major part of your championship push.

Foster had a couple of fumbles in Sunday's game, his first two fumbles of the year. Until we see a recurrence of this problem, it's a non-story to me (the first drop was a stone-fluke anyway, an odd collision between Foster and Andre Johnson(notes)). Foster also had a piddly 3.0 YPC for the afternoon but hey, that will happen sometimes. Give the Jags credit — this defense is in the top quarter of the league in rushing defense on a per-play basis. Those guys are pros, too; they get paid, too.

Foster owners have to love that even on an off-day, he still picked up 29 touches and a score (not to mention seven juicy receptions for the PPR crowd). He's had 21 touches or more in eight straight games, he works behind the best offensive line in the league, and the Panthers (Week 15) and Colts (Week 16) are waiting for the fantasy playoffs. The setup remains supreme here.

The Matt Leinart(notes) injury doesn't sway my faith in Foster. Stopping an elite running game is a tricky assignment; you can't simply load up the box and put the clamps down on anyone you like (consider how Adrian Peterson has regularly produced in the past even when his supporting cast isn't good). While play-calling and design will have something to say in how effective a rushing game is, a lot of it comes down to simple execution, a hat on a hat, winning the one-on-one battle in front of you. If there were an easy way to keep Arian Foster under wraps (Ben Tate(notes) as well), opponents would already be employing it.

• There are plenty of opinions floating around on the Stevie Johnson(notes) celebration. Some pundits tip the cap at his creativity, while others blanche at the lack of class. And plenty of observers don't understand why the NFL has to be so draconian with its celebration rules — given the massive physical risk that every player accepts on any given play, why not let the men feel good for a few seconds after they do something well?

I'd be in favor of taking a lot of the celebration penalties off the books, but here are the two elements from Johnson's Week 12 dance fever that bother me. First and foremost, I think it's incredibly immature and selfish to go ahead with an elaborate celebration when you know it's going to result in a 15-yard penalty against your team. Sure, the rule is a joke, but you're basically saying "my humpty dance is worth it; I'll gladly put myself above the team." Bush league, Johnson. And then there's the drop-a-thon Johnson had on Buffalo's final drive, letting two catchable passes fall to the turf when they should have been caught (one drop was horrendous, the other came on a pass behind the receiver). Perhaps if Johnson were more focused on playing ball then dancing up a storm and taking a cheap-shot at his opponent, he makes one of those catches.

• It was encouraging to see Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) have a strong game — against a formidable opponent — after a string of no-shows. As my friend (and Buffalo fan) Mark Stopa pointed out, Fitzpatrick didn't lose any snaps to the wildcat on Sunday; the Jets had Brad Smith(notes) in receiver mode and didn't use any gimmicky packages. Perhaps that had something to do with Fitzpatrick's smooth game, or maybe it led to a better week of practice. No one can say for sure, but I think it's an interesting note (thanks, Stopes).

Monday Brunch: Pump up the volume, Cedric Benson• If you watch Plaxico Burress(notes) every week, you see the mistakes, the sloppy routes, the lapses in focus. And yet Burress has seven touchdowns for the year, despite the modest 34 receptions. He hasn't been consistent for the Jets, not even close, but he's providing value.

Perhaps there's a logical reason why Burress is still a factor in the red area. Maybe he's better at the in-close routes because they're shorter and simpler, with less ad-libbing required. Maybe his focus level increases when he knows there's a touchdown reward waiting for him. Maybe he outthinks himself between the 20s, but is more of a reaction player in the red area. Or maybe all of these theories are best thrown in the rubbish, you can decide.

• It's a funny thing about that Denver defense — it went from being an underreported story to an overreported story in about 24 hours. The defense wasn't getting anywhere near its fair share of credit before Week 12, and now all the makeup columns are out.

The Broncos are a tricky team to analyze, of course; they play a unique style and there's no real precedent here. And I'll openly admit that you can offer 100 valid critiques of Tim Tebow(notes), who remains a work in progress. But let's make sure we credit Tebow for one critical thing he's doing right: he doesn't have a turnover in five of his six starts, and he's cleaned up the earlier sack problem (Denver has allowed just three sacks in the last four games).

I recognize that part of the mistake-free offense is tied to game situation; it's a lot harder to stay away from miscues when you're playing from a deficit and forced to throw the ball 30-40 times. But let's at least give Tebow credit for being a solid combination of game manager and playmaker, even if the game-manager switch gets 90 percent of the action. He's making good decisions, even if most of them are conservative and unexciting. And he's not asking his defense to defend a short field very often.

• Volume was just about the only thing C.J. Spiller(notes) had going for him at New York. Spiller picked up 19 carries but went nowhere with them: just 55 yards, nothing past nine yards. He also had three catches for 15 yards; one nifty catch-and-run, but that was it. Where are the splash plays with this guy? Wouldn't you expect the No. 9 overall pick from a draft class to show special qualities on the field now and then, make an unblocked defender miss, run past a few people now and then? Spiller never flashes on the tape, and if the Bills couldn't unlock him through two seasons, I'm not optimistic going forward.

• Roy Helu(notes) just hit for the grand slam. He ran the ball well against a solid Seattle rushing defense, he was handy as a receiver, he was capable in blitz pickup, and he picked up Mike Shanahan's public endorsement (amazing) on Monday. Helu is a solid RB2 for the balance of the year, especially considering how he can play in all packages. Yes, you can own a Washington back and respect yourself in the morning.

• Prefer your brunch on Sundays? Follow me on Twitter: @scott_pianowski


Images courtesy of US Presswire

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