Thursday, September 15, 2011

Learning From Week 1 (Part 2 of 4)

If you missed Part 1 of this 4 part series, you can find it here:

Today, we’ll see what we can learn from the Week 1 matchups of Atlanta @ Chicago, Cincinnati @ Cleveland, Dallas @ New York Jets, and New York Giants @ Washington.

Atlanta Falcons

Optimistic about: Julio Jones.

Jones was drastically over-valued in my primary league’s auction draft ($20!), but considering where he was being drafted in normal leagues, he’s already shown a lot of promise for a #3/#4 WR. I still don’t think he’s worth starting unless you’re in dire straits, since he received less than half as many targets as Roddy White, less than Jason Snelling, and I don’t suspect Matt Ryan will throw the ball 47 times in a game again this season; but it’s tough to overlook the rookie’s 5 receptions for 71 yards. Of the 4 RB/WR taken in the first round of the draft (Jones, AJ Green, Mark Ingram, Jonathan Baldwin), I think Jones showed the most promise. 

Not worried about: Lack of scoring.

It’s borderline impressive that the Falcons had a 300 yard passer, a 100 yard rusher, and failed to score an offensive touchdown. Don’t forget that the Bears typically have one of the best defenses in the league, so there’s little shame in struggling against them. They’ll turn things around soon, so don’t sweat it if Ryan, Turner, and White let you down in week 1.

Definitely worried about: Matt Ryan’s pass protection.

Once again, it’s worth noting that this outing came against the Bears who usually have a solid defense; but they don’t typically record a lot of sacks, and the Falcons don’t typically allow many. Over the past 3 seasons, the Bears have recorded 2.02 sacks per game, and the Falcons have allowed 1.4 sacks per game, so the 5 sacks and 11 hits on Matt Ryan are rather alarming. The bar I was at on Sunday was having issues with the reception on this game, so I didn’t get a chance to see whether these were coverage sacks, whether Ryan’s timing is just off, or whether the aging Bears defense was able to just plow through the Falcons line. At the very least I’m concerned and, depending on my options, might consider sitting Ryan this week until we get a better feel for whether that pocket is collapsing on him; especially since the Falcons are facing the Eagles, who are coming off of a 5 sack performance against Sam Bradford in which they made him look like more of a rookie than he ever looked last season.

Chicago Bears

Optimistic about: Matt Forte.

He’s really become the Wes Welker of running backs: serviceable in all leagues, but even more so in PPR leagues. His rushing totals were only slightly above average, but the 5 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown would have tied him with Miles Austin for 10th best wide receiver.

Not worried about: Jay Cutler.

Unless you’re in a 2 QB or 16/18 team league, it’s unlikely that you drafted him with the intent to start him every week, but if he was your Peyton Manning insurance, I think he’ll eventually be safe to start in most leagues. You’d be a little crazy to ride him for the next two weeks against New Orleans and Green Bay, but I think you have to be a little crazy to have owned him in the first place.

Definitely worried about: The lack of Greg Olsen.

Do you want to know why I think Matt Forte had such a big receiving game this past week? Kellen Davis + Matt Spaeth does not equal Greg Olsen. Cutler’s short passes are going to primarily go to Forte or Devin Hester on a drag pattern until he’s able to develop a rapport with one of those tight ends…if he’s able to develop one at all. It’s not as if the ideal Mike Martz offense would even have a tight end on the roster, but Olsen was Cutler’s security blanket last season, and without him, I think Cutler will make even more poor decisions than usual when he’s under pressure. It shouldn’t much affect his fantasy numbers, but I think it’ll affect the Bears offensive rhythm.

Dallas Cowboys

Optimistic about: Tony Romo.

He made 2 horribly awful WTF decisions in the 4th quarter against the Jets on Sunday night, but in his first regular season action since breaking his collar bone last season, he looked solid and played well enough to beat one of the best teams in the league. If the Cowboys hadn’t had a punt blocked for a Jets touchdown, or if Jason Witten had just outrun Brian Leonhard for 3 more yards, those 2 bone headed plays never would have happened or mattered anyway, and the talking heads would have spent the past few days discussing the fact that Romo is back with a vengeance instead of making him the scapegoat in a game the Cowboys would have been destroyed in if he wasn’t the quarterback. Maybe he doesn’t give you the necessary confidence to gamble on the Cowboys, but he’s a must-start QB in all league formats.

Not worried about: Felix Jones.

It wasn’t pretty, but he got double-digit fantasy points against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Despite amassing only 66 all-purpose yards, I stand by my claim that he’s a #2 running back who’s going to give you #1 running back production when healthy.

Definitely worried about: Team discipline.

Too many turnovers. Too many penalties. Too many blown coverages. More than a few questionable play calls. And they still should have beaten the twice-reigning AFC runners-up. The Cowboys are one of the best teams in the league on paper and would cakewalk into the playoffs if they’re able to address those intangibles before it’s too late.

New York Jets

Optimistic about: Mark Sanchez.

In the past, the likelihood of a Jets victory was indirectly proportional to the number of times that Sanchez throws the ball. I don’t suspect he’ll have many more games with 40+ pass attempts, and he certainly wasn’t the reason the Jets won the game (he was 2-7 for 11 yards and a sack in his final 2 series), but it was nice to see that he didn’t completely collapse in the 4th quarter, especially after his interception at the end of the 3rd quarter gave the Cowboys a 2 TD lead. In baseball, the most valuable pitchers are the ones who don’t get rattled and find a way to get by when they don’t have their best stuff. The same could be said for quarterbacks, and on this particular evening, Sanchez did enough to keep his team in the game.

Not worried about: Defense.

It’s not every week that a quarterback throws for 300+ yards against the Jets, but the Cowboys have 4 great offensive weapons and just came out guns blazing. If Luke McCown throws for 300 yards on them this week, then I’d be concerned. Hell, if Luke McCown plays all 4 quarters against the Jets this week, I’d be amazed.

Definitely worried about: Shonn Greene.

I can’t be the only person who’s starting to wonder if Greene will ever suffice as an every down back in the NFL. Of his 30 career games, only 3 of them have resulted in 73 or more rushing yards, each of which came against one of the worst rush defenses in the league in that particular season. Only 4 of his 303 career carries have gone for scores. His career arc is akin to that of Donald Brown or Justin Forsett, and I’m going to go ahead and assume that neither of those guys is owned in 100% of leagues. Even Cadillac Williams has been more valuable than him for the past 2 seasons. Luckily, Greene has a chance to redeem himself in the next two weeks against the Jaguars and Raiders, but he also has just as much of a chance to cement his status as a bust. It’s nice that he’s able to keep LT fresh, but he has yet to prove himself worthy of being a feature back or worthy of 100% fantasy ownership.

New York Giants

Optimistic about: Hakeem Nicks.

In my pre-season post, I wrote the following about Nicks: "Let's just say he's 12 to 1 odds to have the most regular season receiving yards this season, and I think Vegas is going to pay dearly for that mistake." 7 receptions and 122 yards later and I’m feeling pretty good about that claim. He was the only thing resembling a bright spot for the Giants in their opening week loss to the Redskins.

Not worried about: Ahmad Bradshaw.

Perhaps they didn’t amount to much yardage, but it’s hard to complain about him receiving more than twice as many touches as Jacobs. The only extent to which I’m worried about Bradshaw is the one in which the Giants probably won’t be afforded the luxury of rushing the ball in the 2nd half for most of the season. Translation: I expect to see a lot of “E. Manning pass incomplete deep right” and not so much “A. Bradshaw up the middle” in the Giants play-by-play summary.

Definitely worried about: Defense.

Rex Grossman threw the ball 34 times for 2 TD, 0 INT, and a passer rating of 110.5. Prior to this game, Grossman had attempted 34 or more passes in a game 15 times in his career. His numbers in those games were 16 TD, 22 INT, and a passer rating of approximately 63.2; and 2 of the best games out of those 15 came late in the 2006 season against the Lions and Buccaneers who combined to go 7-25 that year, and allowed opposing QBs to amass the 2nd and 4th highest QB ratings in the league along the way. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, but I’m one of the few logical people living in the DC Metro area who believes this game was a sign of things to come for the Giants defense as opposed to a sign of things to come for the Redskins offense.

Washington Redskins

Optimistic about: Defense.

Very few teams had a worse defense than the Redskins last year – I would argue that only the Broncos and Texans were more abysmal – but they held the Bradshaw/Jacobs two-headed monster to 73 yards and kept Eli Manning from doing much of anything aside from padding Hakeem Nicks’ receiving yard total. With Grossman and/or John Beck at the helm, holding opponents to 2 TD and scoring 1 on defense is how they’re going to have to win games, because I would say there’s a 1/15 chance that any Skins QB has passer rating above 110 again this season.

Not worried about: Starting Tim Hightower.

I wouldn’t put it past Shanahan to arbitrarily bench Hightower for the rest of the season, but for the time being, it looks like we can put the Hightower/Torain/Helu debate to rest, as Hightower had 25 of the team’s 26 rushing attempts on the day. I somehow doubt it will last forever, because he blew chance after chance after chance to become the feature back in Arizona over the past two years, but if you insist on starting a Redskin in your fantasy league, Hightower is the guy you want for now.

Definitely worried about: The Fred Davis situation.

The guy looks like more of a wide receiver than any of the wide receivers on the team, but it’s difficult to justify starting a tight end in a platoon situation with a quarterback that isn’t Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. It’s somewhat similar to the Greene/Tomlinson situation in New York or the Stewart/Williams situation in Carolina: if you have either Davis or Cooley on your team, you’re selfishly wishing that one of them gets injured so you can feel better about either dropping him or starting him on a regular basis. Until then, the combined forces of the Redskins tight end duo may very well be a top 10 fantasy tight end, but you can’t confidently play either of them.

Cleveland Browns

Optimistic about: Colt McCoy.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” How often do you get work an Aristotle quotation into a fantasy football article? Not very. In layman’s terms, Colt McCoy is definitely worth owning in anything deeper than an 8 team league, but nobody that he’s throwing it to (aside from Hillis) is worth owning in anything more shallow than an 18 team league. Maybe you could talk me into Ben Watson as a bye week tight end, but if you can’t do better than Massaquoi, Cribbs, or Evan Moore, then you are SOL.

Not worried about: The Madden Curse.

8 targets, 17 carries, 87 all-purpose yards, and 0 injuries for the cover boy. I don’t know anyone who thinks he’ll actually duplicate last year’s effort, but I don’t think he’ll suffer any sort of injury either, because putting a curse on a Cleveland Brown is like using Jigglypuff in battle against a pokemon that’s already asleep. And no, I didn’t know it was possible to go from Aristotle to pokemon in less than 200 words either.

Definitely worried about: Everything else.

The defense is pathetic, the receivers aren’t talented, and a team that already had minimal margin for error committed 11 penalties against the Bengals on Sunday. A lot of people looked at their schedule and jumped on the Brownie bandwagon before the season began, but I have no idea who they were expecting to carry the team to 9 wins, and at this point, neither do they.

Cincinnati Bengals

Optimistic about: Jerome Simpson.

He should really be behind Jordan Shipley on the depth chart, but that doesn’t appear to be the case as he led the Bengals in targets this past weekend, and was the only wide receiver to make more than one reception. Now if only the Bengals would sign someone who can accurately throw a football further than 10 yards downfield…

Not worried about: Benson’s jail time.

Good to see those 20 minutes in jail didn’t faze him, although after a few years in the Bengals locker room, he probably felt right at home. I think we all knew he was going to (injury gods willing) rush the ball over 300 times this season, but I think we also all suspected that he’d be getting most of those touches with no fewer than 8 men in the box on no fewer than 95% of those plays. The 39 yard TD came on the last true offensive play of the game for the Bengals as he was able to find some daylight on the Browns’ attempt to prolong the game on 3rd and 3 with time winding down. Before that play, he was looking at a fairly mediocre 24 carries for 82 yards stat line, but trust me, the Bengals will take mediocre any time they can get it this year.

Definitely worried about: The quarterback situation.

Brandy Daltowksi somehow completed over 50% of its pass attempts with 2 TD and no turnovers. It's probably the most impressive stat line that (Cincinnati QB) will compile this entire season, but even if you could combine their totals, they would have finished 18th among fantasy quarterbacks last week. With the Bengals' luck, they'll win another 4 games this season, thanks to an above average defense and a very favorable schedule, and play themselves right out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

To be continued...

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