NFL Skinny: Dynamic Duo

Mike Harmon
Running Back Radar
1st Chair: Marcel Shipp
2nd Chair: J.J. Arrington
Skinny: Shipp has tallied 50 rushing yards only once this year, and has yet to find the end zone. That leaves Coach Dennis Green looking for a spark in the running game, and he'd like nothing better than to prove to the critics that his selection of Arrington was the right move in the '05 draft. Arrington has ripped off runs longer than 10 yards in three contests, including a 32-yarder against the Titans (he curiously finished that game with only 30 yards on five carries). In any event, the shift is on for those in need of backfield help and assured touches.
1st Chair: Kevan Barlow
2nd Chair: Frank Gore
Skinny: Barlow shined in the big upset win of the weekend, running for 101 yards on 26 carries and hauling in two passes for 21 yards. It appears that Mike Nolan is content to leave Barlow as the workhorse, with Gore seeing only spot duty in relief. Nolan's heart-to-heart talk with the O-Line, combined with the enthusiasm of playing for Cody Pickett (who plays on special teams), lifted San Francisco to a home win.
1st Chair: Jamal Lewis
2nd Chair: Chester Taylor
Skinny: A little of the Jamal Lewis of old emerged on Monday night, applying stiff-arms to would-be tacklers, moving the pile, and running with passion and little concern for his injured ankle. It was this heart that led to a costly fumble deep in Ravens territory as he fought for more yards. His performance suffered mightily after that play. Lewis' hard running opened things up for Taylor in the passing game. Brian Billick finds himself needing to pull the strings to get both backs on the field and to solve the riddle of Lewis' inconsistent play.
1st Chair: Ronnie Brown
2nd Chair: Ricky Williams
Skinny: Brown remains the starter in Miami, but Nick Saban would like nothing better than to see the type of workload split exhibited on Sunday. The duo combined for more than 180 rushing yards and dominated the Saints defense. Saban told the Miami Herald, ''There is a statistic in football that says the team that doesn't rush for the most yards, but runs the ball the most has a 75 percent chance of winning the game." Expect a steady and balanced diet of this duo going forward.
1st Chair: Priest Holmes
2nd Chair: Larry Johnson
Skinny: Holmes left Sunday's game against the Chargers after taking a big hit from Shawne Merriman. Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star reports that initial tests on Holmes came back negative, and that he'll be ready to roll against the Raiders this week. Johnson ran well in spot duty (six carries for 55 yards) against San Diego, but the Chiefs faced too big a deficit to stick with it. The injury to Holmes does raise concerns of his durability and may signal a shift to more of Johnson in the coming week.
1st Chair: Thomas Jones
2nd Chair: Cedric Benson
Skinny: This duo appears on the list due to the mounting injuries for Jones. He added bruised ribs to his knee strain and continues to miss practice. That means a more extended look for Benson in practice and the three carries he received in OT last week (35 yards on the ground). Coach Lovie Smith was impressed by his effort and ability to run well at that critical juncture. Jones remains the starter, but given his injuries, don't be surprised to see Benson's touches increase this week against New Orleans.
1st Chair: Tiki Barber
2nd Chair: Brandon Jacobs
Skinny: Barber ran wild against Washington this past week, but watched the rookie Jacobs return to action to pilfer one of the TD carries in the 36-0 rout. After scoring in the first two games, Jacobs has been ineffective in the role of "hammer," so Coughlin clearly wanted to help him get back on track and into the mix in the lopsided win. All this performance indicates is that Jacobs will likely be back to the vulture role in the coming weeks, as the Giants look to save Barber from the weekly pounding with an eye on the playoffs.

It was another topsy-turvy week in the NFL, with all the heavy favorites (save Dallas) battling for their lives, and one (Tampa Bay) taking a big fall.

The Steelers have found an offensive force to be reckoned with in rookie TE Heath Miller. Minnesota goes back to the future with the ascension of Brad Johnson to the starting role following Daunte Culpepper's injury. Tiki Barber honored Wellington Mara with a 57-yard run to open the game against Washington en route to a career day on the ground. And, in Cincinnati, Brett Favre was left confused and frustrated by his team and performance as much as the lapse in security.

We're at the halfway point of the NFL season. It's time to get The Skinny on the week that was.

Week 8 Update: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • Speed kills. That's been on public service announcements as long as I can remember. Now, that'll be the opening salvo for film review by upcoming opponents of the Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, Steve Smith hauled in 11 passes for 201 yards and a TD from Jake Delhomme. Smith leads the NFL in both receiving yards (797) and touchdowns (eight). His performance has been truly amazing, considering that his game is speed and has not been impacted by last year's season-ending injury. Smith and the Panthers head to Tampa Bay for one of the premier matchups of Week 9 and supremacy in the NFC South (pending the Atlanta-Miami outcome, of course).
  • The Denver juggernaut strikes again. Both Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson are on pace to run more than 1,000 yards this season. The duo has run for 1,166 yards to date with nine touchdowns. It's the tried and true formula: Anderson lays the hammer, punishing opponents 16 times per game (4.5 YPC average) and allowing the speedy Bell to run at only 10 touches per week (7.5 YPC average). Credit the work of the offensive line, as both these backs rank in the top 14 in the NFL in rushing average per attempt (Bell is first, Anderson is tied for 14th).
  • Lost somewhat in the remarkable story of Tedy Bruschi's return to the field was the outstanding performance turned in by Corey Dillon in New England's win over Buffalo. Dillon relieved an injured Patrick Pass, and battled through soreness in his ankle to run for 72 yards and two scores on 18 carries. It served as the perfect tune up for next week's Monday night showdown against the Indianapolis Colts.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Marcus Robinson, WR, Min: The trade of Randy Moss to Oakland was supposed to elevate Nate Burleson to the top spot in Minnesota. Saddled by injuries and ineffectiveness, Burleson no longer stands out from a pile of receivers in the Minnesota attack. Stepping to the head of the pack the past two weeks has been 6-foot-3 wideout Marcus Robinson. He's scored in two straight games, while catching seven balls for 137 yards in those contests. Robinson has had tremendous runs in Chicago and Baltimore in the past, and looks to add his stint in Minnesota to the list.
  • New York Giants Defense: The Giants still rank 30th against the pass, but have risen to 15th overall at 19.6 points per game. The big shutout against the Redskins, teamed with solid season totals in both the interception and sack counts have made them a fantasy pickup this week, as owners dive off of the Eagles, Patriots, and Ravens.
  • Ricky Williams, RB, Mia: Williams turned in his heaviest workload since his return with a 17-carry, 82-yard day against the Saints. He won't eclipse Ronnie Brown as the starter, but with injuries decimating fantasy squads left and right, even a split workload boosts Williams' fantasy value.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Joe Nedney, K, SF: Sure, Nedney will likely never see another day like he had on Sunday, but his prowess from 40-49 yards out needed to be acknowledged. After booting only four field goals (a perfect 4-for-4) in the 49ers' first six games, Nedney converted five-of-six attempts in a big upset over the Buccaneers. With the rising Giants and Bears defenses on tap for the next two weeks, Nedney is worth a look-see for those seeing lackluster efforts in the kicking game.

Tiki Barber, RB, NYG: You're not going to find Barber on the waiver wire, quite obviously, but his turnaround this season at the halfway mark merits noting. Barber has scored in five of the Giants' seven games, and got his wish from Coach Tom Coughlin after requesting a heavier workload. Barber matched a season-high 24 carries, and rumbled for 206 yards in the blowout victory over Washington.

Jerry Porter, WR, Oak: With Randy Moss slowed by injury, the Raiders needed Jerry Porter to bring his "A" game against the Titans this past week. He responded with his best game of the year, hauling in six balls for 123 yards and his first two touchdowns from Kerry Collins. Barring a miracle recovery by Moss or a complete meltdown by the Raiders offense, Porter is in good shape for an encore performance against the Chiefs in Week 9.

Jake Plummer, QB, Den: Following in the footsteps of the television program "My Name is Earl," Plummer continued his efforts to right the fantasy wrongs of the past with a huge game against Philadelphia. He turned in his sixth straight game without a turnover … and, oh yeah, he threw four TD passes as well. The efforts of Anderson and Bell in the backfield made for great passing lanes, and Plummer's first 300-yard game of the year.

Courtney Roby, WR, Ten: Roby and fellow rookie Roydell Williams are literally the last men standing in the Tennessee receiving corps. Tyrone Calico and Ben Troupe both sustained injuries in the Week 8 game versus Oakland, and their availability for Week 9 is in jeopardy. Their departures led to the emergence of Roby, and he registered seven catches for 83 yards and a score. Roby is emerging as one of the top waiver pickups for Week 9.

Ernest Wilford, WR, Jac: The day was tailor-made for Jimmy Smith to dance against the St. Louis secondary. Second-year man Ernest Wilford got that opportunity instead. Wilford hauled in his third TD pass of the season from Byron Leftwich, and piled up six catches for a whopping 145 yards. Coach Jack Del Rio expects his role to increase in a favorable matchup this week against the Texans.

Chester Taylor, RB, Bal: Another lackluster effort from Jamal Lewis against the Steelers (fifth game under 70 yards rushing) is slowly pushing the door open for a bigger workload for Taylor. They forgot about him in the Week 7 loss to Chicago, but got him involved in the passing game against Pittsburgh (five catches for 55 yards and a TD). Though he was limited to just nine yards on eight carries, Brian Billick needs to re-evaluate the workload split to get the Ravens back in the hunt.

Kyle Orton, QB, Chi: Monster 300-yard passing games and a dominant passing game are at least a year away for the Bears, but Orton's maturation has been fast. He's tossed at least one TD pass in four straight games since the bye week, and seems to have shaken off his miserable five-INT game against the Bengals. The Bears face New Orleans and San Francisco in the next two weeks, which makes Orton a potential spot starter for those crippled by injury or bye weeks.

Bryant Johnson, WR, Ari: Anquan Boldin is expected to miss time with the knee injury sustained against Dallas. That thrusts Johnson into the starting lineup against the Seahawks. Though the matchup isn't overly attractive on paper, the attention that will go to stopping Larry Fitzgerald should allow Johnson some space. He's worth a look-see at the third wideout position.

Brad Johnson, QB, Min: And, I finish this list with another Johnson. Brad Johnson inherits a mess in Minnesota, but let's not forget that he is only two years removed from throwing 26 touchdowns in Tampa Bay. I don't expect a huge turnaround in Minnesota, but Johnson was mildly productive in relief on Sunday (13-for-28 for 162 yards and a score). The next three games against Detroit, New York (Giants), Green Bay offer Johnson a great opportunity to put up solid numbers. Two of those games will be played on the fast track at home.

Brett Favre, QB, GB: The walls are crumbling down around the Packers, with injuries continuing to mount on the offense and their record dropping to 1-6 after Sunday's loss to Cincinnati. Without his two top tailbacks, Favre forced many throws and tossed five interceptions. At the end of the game, he appeared frustrated and worn out from the team's tough start and the failed comeback attempt. Favre usually bounces back from bad performances, but he'll face an uphill battle without his prime targets against a tough Pittsburgh defense in Week 9.

Nate Burleson, WR, Min: He was a fifth-round draft pick in fantasy leagues after a brilliant 2004 campaign in which he stepped up huge in place of an injured Randy Moss. Burleson has left fantasy owners frustrated, first for missing three games after a slow start, and second, for being a non-contributor in his two games back (four catches for 43 yards). He was targeted only four times (and carried the ball once) in the crushing loss to the Panthers on Sunday.

Carnell Williams, RB, Tam: After missing two games and sitting out his team's bye week, it looked like Williams was primed for a monster comeback game against San Francisco. That output never materialized, as he gained a feeble 20 yards on 13 attempts. Owners should be concerned about their prized sleeper draft pick, as he next goes up against a tough Carolina run defense (second in the NFL, allowing a mere 78 rushing yards per game).

David Patten, WR, Was: Patten saw his role in the revamped Washington offense increase in Week 5 against Denver (seven catches for 63 yards) and it looked like he was ready to become a full-fledged No. 2 option for Mark Brunell. In the three games since, he's tallied only five catches for 84 yards. Patten has yet to find the end zone this year, despite Washington's ascent to the No. 19 slot in scoring offense this year.

Lee Evans, WR, Buf: Evans scored his first TD of the season last week after a six game drought to start the year. He had only three catches for 19 yards, but the TD appeared to be the start of something. Appearances can be deceiving, as Evans caught one pass for 14 yards in the narrow loss to New England. The Bills have been reluctant to throw the ball deep this year, taking away Evans' bread and butter. With a bye week on tap followed by a visit from Kansas City, we'll soon see whether Eric Moulds' public outcry for more vertical passing attempts will raise Evans' prospects.

Jerome Bettis, RB, Pit: Bettis was called upon to push the line in the game-winning drive against Baltimore, but he failed to reach pay dirt for the third straight week. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger continued to make use of his new best friend, TE Heath Miller, leaving Bettis scoreless again. He's still a viable roster holder, as he'll continue to be involved in the game plan, but until he gets back in the end zone, he's solely a bench player and insurance card.

Marcel Shipp, RB, Ari: Once expected to pick up the torch from Emmitt Smith in Arizona, Shipp has been horribly ineffective for the Cardinals this season. He's yet to eclipse 55 yards rushing in a single game, and has only twice contributed 90 total yards. Shipp has yet to find the end zone, and should continue to lose carries to rookie J.J. Arrington as the season progresses.

Gus Frerotte, QB, Mia: Frerotte started strong out of the gate, but has dropped off significantly since the narrow loss to Buffalo in Week 5. He's thrown just one TD pass in his past three games, and has thrown for a dismal 293 yards in the past two weeks combined. The evolution of the Brown/Williams backfield will only serve to dampen his output further.

Philadelphia Defense: The Eagles allowed more than 30 points for the third time in four games, surrendering an astonishing 564 yards of offense to the Broncos on Sunday. The inability of the offense to sustain a drive (Donovan McNabb started the game 0-for-12) keeps the Eagles defense on the field and on its heels. The Eagles secondary has allowed 13 TD passes already, which ties them for seventh-most in the NFL.

Mike Nugent, K, NYJ: Through seven games, Nugent has averaged just over one FG attempt per contest. And, he's converted five of those eight attempts. With the injury issues at QB and the inability of the Jets offense to sustain drives, fantasy owners finally put this popular sleeper pick out to pasture with the Jets' Week 8 Bye.

Water Cooler Ruler
I mentioned the Giants-Redskins game from Week 8 at several points during this piece. The shutout pitched by the Giants defense was the first recorded in the NFL this season, and came the week following a 52-point outburst by the Redskins. Teams have been limited to seven or fewer points on 23 occasions this season, with teams currently possessing one or two wins accounting for 15 of those instances.

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