Sunday Scene: Platoons

Daunte Culpepper suffered a knee injury on Sunday. If he's lost for the season, as expected, it would mark the third player drafted on average among the top 20 picks in Yahoo! default leagues to be sidelined for the remainder of '05. While Culpepper's injury topped the headlines for Week 8, there was plenty more to talk about from where I was sitting:

Culpepper's backup, Brad Johnson, was 13-for-28 for 162 yards and a TD pass in relief of the Vikings' fallen star. Johnson isn't a bad insurance pickup for fantasy owners, and is probably a necessary add for Culpepper owners. Johnson, who spent his first five seasons in Minnesota, will have at least a couple soft dates on his schedule the rest of the way. And he has some weapons he can work with that fit his short-passing style. Those owners who needed to pick up Jeff Garcia last week should now consider Johnson instead.

Ronnie Brown had his second career 100-yard game on Sunday, but the bad news for Brown owners is that Ricky Williams also looked the part of an NFL running back, something he failed at in his first two games back from suspension. Williams ran 17 times for 82 yards, and the Dolphins ran 47 times in total, dominating the game's time of possession. This, no doubt, will serve as validation for head coach Nick Saban to keep his platoon system running as is. Despite the fact that Brown has outplayed Williams, he'll have to keep sharing the ball for the foreseeable future. And, to Williams' credit, he broke some tackles and made some nice runs on Sunday.

LaDainian Tomlinson threw his third TD pass of the season in Week 8. He now has as many TD passes as current St. Louis starting QB Jamie Martin, who has thrown 71 times to Tomlinson's three. One more TD pass and LT will catch Detroit's Joey Harrington, who threw four scoring tosses in 143 attempts before he was sent to the bench. While Tomlinson found pay dirt throwing the ball, he was held out of the end zone on the ground for the second consecutive week. The last time he was denied ground entrance to the end zone two consecutive weeks in the regular season was Week 1 and Week 2 of '03.

Priest Holmes had his bell rung by rookie linebacker Shawn Merriman in the third quarter on Sunday and did not return to the game. He hadn't done anything to write home about on the field up that point – 14 carries, 38 rushing yards and three catches for 15 yards. Larry Johnson, on the other hand, handled six carries for 55 yards, including a 46-yard run. For the season, Johnson has outrushed Holmes in four of seven games, including three straight. Holmes owners have to be at least a bit concerned that this platoon could soon become a more equitable split, or start to favor Johnson ever so slightly. Holmes currently holds a 119 to 75 advantage in carries.

Tatum Bell had just nine carries for 27 yards with just under seven minutes to play on Sunday when he subbed in for platoon partner Mike Anderson, who had just carried three times on the drive for 20 yards. Bell took the next handoff and broke loose for a 67-yard TD romp. On Denver's following drive, its final possession of the game, Bell carried four times for 13 yards and a six-yard scoring run. In five carries, Bell padded his numbers with 80 yards and two TDs to finish with 107 rushing yards for the day. He now has seven runs this season of 20 yards or more. Bell's breakaway ability in the Broncos offense is too ripe with potential to keep him on the fantasy bench. He has three 100-yard games in his past four outings, and he's had at least 60 rushing yards in five straight. Unfortunately, Bell isn't likely to see much more than a dozen carries a game so long as Anderson continues to excel at doing the dirty work. Anderson topped the 100-yard mark on Sunday for the second consecutive week and scored for the third straight week. He's getting much more carries than Bell, but you can't find fault with Anderson's production.

Terrell Owens only had three catches against Denver, but he appeased his fantasy owners with 154 yards and a TD. Give Owens credit for always finding his way into the end zone. But, on this day, Champ Bailey's hamstring certainly deserves some credit, as well. Bailey clearly wasn't his usual shut-down self. Owens, who usually thrives by way of his size, strength and field awareness, ran right by Bailey on a couple occasions. Owens has good, but not great, speed and you could clearly see Bailey gimping in pursuit of Owens. Denver finally pulled Bailey late in the game and his replacement, rookie Domonique Foxworth, soon thereafter came up with a key interception.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the clear winners of the Mr. Yuck sticker for Week 8. Facing a San Francisco squad that entered the game having lost five straight by a combined score of 187-68, Bucs QB Chris Simms was intercepted twice and also lost a fumble. RB Carnell Williams' expected cakewalk return from hamstring and ankle injuries never materialized. He carried 13 times for just 20 yards. The team's only bright spot was WR Joey Galloway, who made the seamless transition from QB Brian Griese to Simms by nabbing eight receptions for 149 yards and a 78-yard TD catch that served as just another reminder that he can still leave defenders in the dust. Cadillac owners have to be wondering right now what they have in this running back. The three consecutive 100-yard games to start his NFL career seem so long ago now.

While Brett Favre – five interceptions, an embarrassing pass attempt on the final play of the game and the ball stolen out of his hands by a fan that ran on the field – endured a miserable afternoon in a 21-14 loss to Cincinnati, Tony Fisher did right by his fantasy owners in his first start of the season – 17 carries, 51 yards and the team's third rushing TD of the season. Fisher, however, had just two catches for seven yards, surprising considering the team threw 40 times and Fisher is an excellent receiver. He should be more involved in the passing game going forward. But his ability to find the end zone will remain a crap shoot from week to week.

Bill Parcells doesn't hand out compliments lightly, but he has high praise for Marion Barber's efforts on Sunday. Said Parcells: "That kid will run, he will block and he will catch. I don't know if he's going to be Gale Sayers, I kind of doubt that. But he is a complete back …" Barber had 127 rushing yards and a TD and now has 222 rushing yards in the past two games. Julius Jones should be squirming a bit after Barber's stellar Week 8 performance. Jones has been out the past three games with a high ankle sprain, an injury that prompted Parcells to question the back's durability. Parcells' unabashed compliment of Barber will likely have Jones scrambling to prove his readiness during the Cowboys bye week.

Randy Moss surprised the fantasy world last week by playing through injuries – he was listed as "doubtful" – and scoring a TD. This week, Moss' health improved and he was upgraded to an optimistic "questionable" on the injury report. And, while he did suit up again on Sunday, he was targeted just six times, and caught just three passes for 26 yards. While Moss was a non-factor, he was used as a decoy to help free Jerry Porter up for his best day of the season – six catches, 123 yards and two TDs. Moss went through a frustrating injury stretch last season that rendered him a volatile fantasy play. You have to wonder how long it will be until we can start counting on Moss for 100-yard games like he posted in three of his first four games this season. Being able to use the star as a decoy serves the Oakland Raiders well, but it does nothing for fantasy owners.

Rookie Courtney Roby was targeted 13 times by Steve McNair on Sunday, answering the questions as to which receiver would step into the go-to role with both Drew Bennett and Brandon Jones out with injuries. Roby finished with seven catches for 83 yards and a TD. If Jones can't go again in Week 9, fantasy owners looking for some receiving help should keep the speedy Roby in mind.

If one player jumped out at me this weekend, it was Ernest Wilford. Every time I looked up at the Jacksonville/St. Louis game, Wilford was involved in the action. In actuality, he was only targeted seven times by QB Byron Leftwich, but Wilford caught six of those for 145 yards and a spectacular TD catch that came by way of a deflection off another player. Wilford stands 6-foot-4 and has proven to be a good red-zone threat in his short career. He caught a TD in first two NFL games – Week 1 and Week 2 of last season. And despite only 15 receptions in '05, he has found the end zone three times, giving him five career TDs on just 34 catches operating primarily as the team's No. 3 or No. 4 wideout. WR Reggie Williams took a blow to the head early in the game and his absence opened the door for more playing time for Wilford. Williams is likely fine for next week but, if he can't go, Wilford then offers some fantasy intrigue.

Steven Jackson owners should be bowing at the feet of St. Louis head coach Joe Vitt. Since Vitt took over for Mike Martz, Jackson is averaging 20.7 carries a game, an increase of 5.5 carries per week compared to his workload average under Martz (15.2 carries). Jackson finished with 200 yards from scrimmage (179 rushing yards) and a TD reception on Sunday, made all the more impressive because it came against a staunch Jacksonville defense.

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