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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Sunday Game Recaps - Week 2
John Tuvey
September 15, 2008
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Panthers 20, Bears 17

Carolina rallied once again, this time behind two second-half touchdowns from Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers did nothing offensively in the first half, and for the game Jake Delhomme threw for just 128 yards while starter DeAngelo Williams chipped in just 31 yards on 11 carries. Stewart’s 14-77-2—all but 1-1 of which came in the second half—sparked Carolina to 17 second-half points and a second come-from-behind victory in as many weeks. Last week’s hero, Dante Rosario, was thrown to just once while Muhsin Muhammad was Delhomme’s favorite target—for now, at least; Steve Smith returns from his suspension next week.

The Bears’ model of defense, special teams, and running the football may not win many style points, but it won them a game in Week 1 and had them in contention here as well. Kyle Orton continues to manage the game effectively, but a pair of Gregg Olsen fumbles proved costly. Rookie Matt Forte produced a second strong outing with 92 yards on 23 carries, but it was Jason McKie who scored Chicago’s lone offensive touchdown. It was also McKie who was stopped on fourth-and-one with two minutes left, ending the Bears’ hopes of a comeback of their own. Brandon Lloyd led the Bears with five catches for 66 yards, but his touchdown came on a blocked punt. Devin Hester left the game in the third quarter with bruised ribs and did not return.

Fantasy Impact: Stewart now has 16 second-half carries in two games, compared to Williams’ seven. Of course, DeAngelo has 25 first-half totes to the rookie’s eight. Is this the blueprint going forward, or is Stewart’s strong second half performance a harbinger of what John Fox has in store the rest of the way?

Titans 24, Bengals 7

Different quarterback, same model for the Titans: run the football. Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined for 37 carries, with Johnson the yardage guy (109 on the ground, another dozen through the air) and White the touchdown guy. Kerry Collins completed two thirds of his passes, with nine of his 14 completions, 94 of his 128 yards, and his lone touchdown to wide receivers. Justin Gage appears on your fantasy radar, with that touchdown counted amongst his five catches and 59 yards.

Remember when the Bengals’ offense used to be, you know… good? Carson Palmer now has 233 yards this season; he threw for that much in one game 10 times last season. Obviously, Palmer’s struggles trickle down to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, neither of whom are helping any fantasy team at this point. Chris Perry dodged injury for a second straight week and actually scored while averaging a shade over three yards per carry on 21 totes.

Fantasy Impact: Pop quiz: with Collins at the helm in Tennessee for the foreseeable future, is Gage a more reliable fantasy start than Housh or Ocho Cinco? The Bengals appear hovered over the “implode” button, to the point that Gage produced as many catches this week as either Bengals’ wideout has all season. And that’s on a team that has run the ball 73 times and thrown it just 45.

Packers 48, Lions 25

This one was just another Packers walk over the Lions… until things got extremely interesting in the fourth quarter. Green Bay scored half their points in the final frame as Aaron Rodgers finished with 328 yards and three scores. Perhaps more importantly, Rodgers spread the ball around; Greg Jennings tallied 167 yards while Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson did the scoring. Ryan Grant looked hampered by that hamstring injury, but he stuck around for 15 carries before giving way to Brandon Jackson in the fourth quarter. Five of Jackson’s seven carries, including his touchdown, came after Grant’s final tote.

Unfortunately for Jon Kitna, two of his four touchdowns went to Charles Woodson and Nick Barnett—and they weren’t wearing Honolulu blue. The Lions were forced to the air by necessity, limiting Kevin Smith’s opportunities. Speaking of opportunities, Calvin Johnson was targeted 11 times and caught six for 129 yards and two scores; meanwhile, Roy Williams caught three relatively short balls, was missed four times, and twice was targeted on a play involving a penalty (one offensive, one defensive). If the torch hasn’t been officially passed, it’s at least in the passing lane… and accelerating.

Fantasy Impact: Not that matchups with the Vikings and Lions—who ranked 32nd and 31st against the pass last season—are the best indicator, but at minimum they’re confidence boosters for Rodgers. However, five of the Packers’ next six games are against secondaries that were not fantasy-friendly last season, and three of those six rank among the top 10 pass defenses this year.

Bills 20, Jaguars 16

An early Marshawn Lynch touchdown and a late Trent Edwards-to-James Hardy hookup pushed the Bills to 2-0. Lynch was again the focal point of the offense with 20 touches for 67 yards, but Fred Jackson received 13 touches as well—seven receptions for a team-high 83 yards and six carries interspersed with Lynch’s totes. Lee Evans didn’t score but did catch four balls for 77 yards as Edwards overcame a third-quarter fumble to lead Buffalo back with 10 fourth-quarter points.

Didn’t believe offensive line play was a factor in fantasy football? Ask anyone who spent a high pick on Maurice Jones-Drew, thought they were getting a bargain late with Fred Taylor, or was counting on David Garrard to be the quarterback he was at the end of last year. It’s tough to run with no holes to run through, and it’s tough enough to throw with no receivers—now Garrard isn’t even getting time to sift through the dregs to find an open Jag. Matt Jones was his top pass catcher again this week and is bordering on fantasy relevancy, but for the most part Jacksonville’s offense has done little to help fantasy owners.

Fantasy Impact: It’s a disservice to call Edwards a game manager; while he’s only thrown one touchdown in each of the first two games, he’s been above 200 yards in each despite a couple of fairly tough matchups. He’s getting Lee Evans involved, and his red-zone strike to Hardy was exactly what folks pictured when the Bills called his name on draft day.

Raiders 23, Chiefs 8

Justin Fargas leaving in the second quarter with a groin injury was a blessing in disguise for the Raiders. Just when it looked as if a Darren McFadden fumble might plant the rookie in the doghouse, Fargas’ injury necessitated his return; 164 rushing yards and a touchdown later, McFadden was looking more than ready to join the 2008 rookie running back party. Michael Bush also received some carries in Fargas’ absence, turning 16 totes into 90 yards and a score. The 300 rushing yards meant JaMarcus Russell didn’t need to do much, and he complied with six completions for 55 yards.

Any game that starts with the backup quarterback under center and sees two more players follow him… well, it wasn’t pretty. Damon Huard left with what the team called “mild head trauma”, leaving practice squad wide receiver/quarterback Marcus Hagans to take a few snaps and thrusting developmental quarterback Tyler Thigpen into the fray. All KC quarterbacks seemed to know where to throw the ball, as Dwayne Bowe caught eight for 90 and Tony Gonzalez nabbed five for 39 and a score. But Larry Johnson received just a dozen carries against the NFL’s second-worst run defense from a year ago; worse, he managed a pathetic 1.8 yards per carry on those totes.

Fantasy Impact: McFadded proved to be equal parts exciting—four runs of 20 or more yards, plus a 19-yard touchdown—and infuriating, putting the ball on the ground twice. His ascension to regular fantasy starter—a given if Fargas’ injury keeps him out of the lineup for any length of the time—coincides with Johnson’s fall from grace. Matchups won’t get any better than this week, and if the Chiefs will be holding open auditions at the quarterback position LJ will have nowhere to run. Expectations for Johnson were already diminished this season; hard to believe they’re actually declining even further.

Colts 18, Vikings 15

For a half it looked as if a porous offensive line would not only stymie Joseph Addai and the Colts’ running game but also batter Peyton Manning and the passing game into submission. However, Addai was credited with a touchdown in the third quarter (replays showed everyone but the on-field official that he never crossed the goal line), and then Manning went to work—first to Reggie Wayne for a tying touchdown, then back to Wayne to set up the game-winning field goal. With Dallas Clark in street clothes Manning leaned heavily on Anthony Gonzalez, who caught nine balls for 137 yards. On Gonzo’s longest grab, he flipped a lateral to Wayne after racing 58 yards himself; Wayne took the ball another 17 yards to the one to set up Indy’s first score.

Five times the Vikings drove into field goal range, twice into the red zone; each time they settled for three instead of six, and ultimately it cost them the game. Adrian Peterson dominated the Colts early, rushing for 118 yards at better than eight yards a pop in the first half; either he wore down or the Colts’ nine- and 10-man fronts started working, because All Day’s 15 second-half carries netted just 42 yards—and Indy played much of the half without Bob Sanders. Without Peterson tearing off yardage in chunks the Vikings were forced to rely on the arm of Tarvaris Jackson. At times Jackson looked competent, with intermediate-range completions to Bobby Wade and Aundrae Allison as Bernard Berrian was held without a catch and Sidney Rice left in the third quarter after banging his knee. He also hit tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the end zone, but Shiancoe was unable to hold on. More often than not, however, Jackson misfired and is living up to his preseason billing as the team’s Achilles’ heel.

Fantasy Impact: The absence of Clark—and Gonzalez working primarily out of the slot position Clark frequents—was the main reason for Gonzo’s big day. But some of those balls also came out of the share usually directed at Marvin Harrison. Marv finished with just one catch and was targeted a total of four times, in part because Antoine Winfield picked Manning’s first pass intended for Marv and blanketed him most of the rest of the afternoon. But that hasn’t stopped Manning in the past; is Marv moving from 1A all the way down to the third option behind Wayne (targeted seven times) and Gonzalez (targeted a dozen times)?

Giants 41, Rams 13

Everybody throws on the Rams, and the Giants were no exception. Eli Manning was an efficient 20-for-29 for 260 yards and three touchdowns, leaning heavily on Plaxico Burress (five for 81 and a touchdown) and Amani Toomer (six for 67 and a score). Brandon Jacobs compiled 93 yards on 15 carries, but a monster fantasy day was thwarted by Derrick Ward (eight for 58) and Ahmad Bradshaw (five for 52 on the ground, one catch for 18 yards, and a pair of garbage time scores) stealing touches. Frankly, it would have been disconcerting had the Giants not had their way with what is looking to be one of the most fantasy-friendly defenses in the league.

Almost 110 minutes into the season, what was once the Greatest Show on Turf scored its first touchdown. Even playing from behind isn’t helping Marc Bulger or Torry Holt put up the numbers fantasy folks are used to; Bulger has yet to top 180 yards this year and hasn’t thrown for more than 219 since Week 10 of last year, while it’s been seven games since Holt reached triple digits. Give the Rams credit for trying to get Steven Jackson involved; his 13 carries were augmented with a team-high seven receptions, though he totaled just 90 yards from scrimmage.

Fantasy Impact: It’s not too early to hit the panic button on your Rams. Five of their next seven games are against teams ranking in the top 10 in fewest points allowed this season, and the matchups that don’t fall into that category are road trips to Seattle and Washington. By the time Jackson and Holt have a matchup you might actually be excited about, it’ll be Week 11.

Redskins 29, Saints 24

For the better part of three quarters the Redskins showed little more than they did in the season opener. Jason Campbell was solid but couldn’t finish, as Washington’s first five drives ended in field goal attempts. But Campbell closed strong, completing his final eight passes in the fourth quarter for 157 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown to Santana Moss (who finished with 164 yards on seven catches) and a fourth-down toss to Moss to clinch the win. Clinton Portis scored twice and tallied 96 yards on 21 carries, while Chris Cooley reappeared in the game plan with five catches for 72 yards.

The Saints couldn’t run the ball effectively, with their running backs combining for 46 yards on 18 carries. And the absence of Marques Colston was felt in the passing game, where David Patten (five for 55) couldn’t pick up the slack alone. Reggie Bush chipped in with 91 yards from scrimmage—most of it coming via the air—and added a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown, while Robert Meachem celebrated his first NFL appearance with a touchdown on his only catch. However, the Saints were hardly the point-producing juggernaut fantasy owners have come to know and love. Drew Brees was picked twice, had just one completion of more than 20 yards, and finished with a subpar 216 yards.

Fantasy Impact: Seeing as the Saints were missing three defensive starters and lost another during the game, and were generally considered an easy mark to begin with, it may be premature to suggest that Campbell and the Redskins’ version of the West Coast offense have arrived. At a minimum, however, it’s producing fantasy stats for Portis and now Cooley, the two most widely drafted Redskins, and Moss and Campbell seem to be developing a symbiotic relationship fantasy owners can capitalize on.

49ers 33, Seahawks 30

Mike Martz was right; J.T. O’Sullivan can run this offense. Martz mixed in a smattering of Frank Gore runs with some effective downfield passing by Sullivan to direct the 49ers to an early lead, then to a shot at a game-winning field goal in regulation, and ultimately the deciding kick in overtime. He finished with 321 yards and a touchdown, leaning heavily on veteran Isaac Bruce, who riddled the Seattle secondary with 153 yards on just four catches. Bryant Johnson found the end zone on one of his six catches and totaled 78 yards, while Gore produced 99 yards from scrimmage and scored a rushing touchdown. Vernon Davis? Targeted four times, but failed to record a catch. The 33 points San Fran scored were 30 more than they totaled in the season series with Seattle last year and 33 more than they scored on their last trip up the coast.

The good news is, the money Seattle threw at free agent Julius Jones appears to be well spent. Jones carried 26 times for 127 yards and a touchdown, shouldering the bulk of the workload with Maurice Morris out with an injury. T.J. Duckett siphoned a bit of the luster, stealing a short touchdown in the fourth quarter. The passing game provided most of the bad news, entering the game without four regular wideouts and losing Logan Payne on the first completion of the game. Matt Hasselbeck latched onto rookie tight end John Carlson, connecting six times for 78 yards, but no other pass catcher stepped up. Hass produced 189 yards and two picks while completing just 50 percent of his passes in a matchup he has traditionally owned.

Fantasy Impact: Coming into the season the questions surrounded San Francisco’s passing game; at this juncture, however, O’Sullivan appears to be a safer fantasy start than Hasselbeck if only because you’ve heard of his receivers. Bruce, Johnson, and Arnaz Battle barely appear on the fantasy radar, but at least they’re on; the same can’t be said for Billy McMullen, Courtney Taylor, and Mike Bumpus. Hasselbeck’s fantasy value will suffer until Deion Branch and Bobby Engram return… and that’s still a couple weeks away, minimum.

Buccaneers 24, Falcons 9

The Brian Griese Era, Version 2.0 got off to a victorious, if statistically underwhelming, start. Griese mostly worked the short and intermediate routes, completing just one pass of more than 13 yards and opting for tight ends and running backs more frequently than wide receivers (17 targets to 14). His touchdown—a five-yarder to tight end John Gilmore—came early on and after that the Bucs seemed content to let their defense smother the Falcons and reduce the chances their offense might take. Earnest Graham’s day was looking relatively pedestrian until he snapped off a 68-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Warrick Dunn continued to receive a large share of the touches, producing 70 yards from scrimmage on a dozen carries and three receptions.

Things didn’t come quite as easily for the Falcons in Week 2. Michael Turner was limited to 42 yards on 14 carries, while Matt Ryan completed just 13 of 33 throws for 158 yards and was picked twice. True to the Mike Mularkey offense, 10 of Ryan’s 13 completions went to wideouts and resulted in all but 20 of his passing yards. Laurent Robinson reappeared on the fantasy radar with four grabs for 45 yards, while Roddy White paced the Falcons with four catches for 59 yards. The silver lining to Atlanta’s offensive afternoon was a pair of 13-play drives in the second half; though both ended in field goals, and both were extended by roughing the passer penalties, they proved the Falcons could move the ball on a legitimate defense.

Fantasy Impact: The carry-sharing in Tampa Bay has to be disconcerting to those looking for a repeat of Graham’s 2007 numbers. At least Earnest has been productive despite the limited touches, producing 246 yards from scrimmage on just 29 combined carries and receptions. But, as always, fantasy owners don’t want just a share of the pie; they want the whole thing.

Cardinals 31, Dolphins 10

In Arizona’s game of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” Anquan Boldin saw Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown from a week ago and raised him two. Of course, Fitz’s 153 yards topped Boldin’s 140, but that’s just quibbling. The dynamic duo accounted for 293 of Kurt Warner’s 361 passing yards as Arizona did its damage through the air this week. Not that they ignored the run; Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower combined for 28 carries but just 79 yards, with Hightower stealing another short-yardage touchdown from Edge.

There were few highlights on the Miami side of the scoresheet. Ronnie Brown turned one of his 11 carries into a touchdown, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 21 with just over two minutes left to play. Ricky Williams also carried 11 times, and the Dolphins’ duo shared just 53 yards for their efforts. Chad Henne saw his first NFL action in relief of Chad Pennington, who was underwhelming. Last week’s fantasy find, tight end Anthony Fasano, was targeted once the entire game—late in the fourth quarter by Henne—and didn’t make a catch.

Fantasy Impact: James’ fantasy value continues to drop almost as quickly as his yards-per-carry-average—which barely topped three this week. With the Cards going to Fitz and Boldin and Hightower serving as the goal line closer, a big fantasy game for Edge will likely look like last week: barely reaching 100 yards on 20-plus carries, with no score to speak of.

Broncos 39 , Chargers 38

In a good ol’ fashioned AFL shootout, Jay Cutler fired the final shot. Surprisingly, it wasn’t to Brandon Marshall, who celebrated his return to action by setting a franchise record with 18 catches for 166 yards and a score. Nor was it to tight end Tony Scheffler, who scored twice and totaled 64 yards on his six grabs. No, for both the final touchdown and game-winning two-point conversion Cutler found rookie Eddie Royal in the middle of the end zone. Mike Shanahan was playing with house money going for two after a Cutler fumble was waved off due to an inadvertent whistle. Hey, it was the buff Ed Hochuli making the call; you wanna argue with him? Instead of a game-ending turnover the Broncos had another shot from the 10, and they didn’t blow the opportunity. Cutler wrapped the day with 350 yards and four scores, overcoming a late interception that at the time appeared it may cost Denver the game.

Philip Rivers proved he could sling with the best of ‘em, loading up a Chargers’ offense that played without LaDainian Tomlinson for large chunks of the game and throwing for 377 yards and three scores. Chris Chambers continues to find the end zone, scoring twice on four catches, while Vincent Jackson (six for 73) and Antonio Gates (four for 61) were hardly ignored. But with the Bolts getting just a dozen touches from LT—none in the fourth quarter—Darren Sproles stepped up with 53 yards on seven carries, a 66-yard touchdown reception, and a 103-yard kickoff return for a score. Toe injuries have been known to linger, and if Tomlinson is to miss any significant action it could require Rivers to throw like this more frequently—and also turn Sproles into a must-have fantasy commodity.

Fantasy Impact: True to form, Denver’s ground game produced 139 yards and a touchdown—with no back garnering more than eight carries (or fewer than seven), and one (Selvin Young) pacing the yardage while another (Michael Pittman) scored the touchdown. It bears repeating, since the situation continues to look oh-so-tempting to fantasy owners looking for help in the backfield: banking on a Bronco back for fantasy help puts your sanity and your liver in jeopardy.

Patriots 19, Jets 10

Matt Cassel is no Tom Brady; not yet, anyway. The Patriots played this one close to the vest, handing off 31 times and rarely asking Cassel to throw anything other than short passes. Only three of Cassel’s throws were of the downfield variety, and all were incomplete—including a potential touchdown that slipped through Randy Moss’s hands. Wes Welker was the primary target with seven grabs while Kevin Faulk contributed four catches and three carries; Moss finished with two catches for 22 yards and was carrying a rather disinterested posture by the end of the game. With all those carries fantasy owners would hope Laurence Maroney would do some damage; instead he finished with 16 yards on eight carries, with a long gain of eight yards. Worse, Maroney left the game early in the second quarter with an apparent shoulder injury; he did return for one carry late in the fourth, perhaps because he saw LaMont Jordan (11 for 62) stealing his job.

This still being the Patriots defense and all, even with Brett Favre at the helm expectations were tempered. And Gang Green delivered: Thomas Jones rushed for an adequate but hardly ground-breaking 70 yards on 17 carries, Favre threw for a pedestrian 181 yards, and Jerricho Cotchery was targeted three times in the first quarter and never heard from again. Laveranues Coles caught three balls for 72 yards, but it was something called Chansi Stuckey who paced the club with four catches and scored the Jets’ lone touchdown. That’s two weeks in a row for Stuckey, by the way—more evidence that Favre loves to involve the secondary (and third-ary?) receivers.

Fantasy Impact: If you saw Moss sitting on the bench late in the game and own him in a fantasy league you have to be a little concerned. A two-catch Moss quickly becomes a disinterested Moss, which may have been why he dropped the one deep ball directed his way. And a disinterested Moss… well, let’s just say we saw plenty of that in Oakland and it wasn’t pretty. Now that Cassel has his feet wet, his first start and first win under his belt, maybe they’ll let him take a few more shots down the field. If not, Welker might become the most valuable fantasy receiver on this team.

Steelers 10, Browns 6

With winds gusting at up to 50 miles per hour this game was more a matter of survival than anything else. Ben Roethlisberger, who we learned suffered a separated shoulder last week, completed 12 of 19 passes to just three different receivers. Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward each caught five balls, with Ward scoring for the second straight week while Holmes paced the Steelers with 94 yards. Heath Miller’s key contribution came with just over three minutes left when he caught a pass over the middle for a first down that essentially let the Steelers run out the clock. Willie Parker carried 28 times for 105 yards, while in a game where ball possession was critical Rashard Mendenhall failed to log a carry. Of course, the kickoff he muffed out of bounds at the two yard line late in the third quarter didn't help his chances.

The Browns are proving not ready for prime time. Though the weather did their passing game no favors, Derek Anderson continued to look less like the quarterback who blew up early last season and more like the one who stumbled to the finish. Once again his struggles were exacerbated by Braylon Edwards, who dropped two more balls and caught just three of the nine Anderson directed his way. Kellen Winslow led the Browns with seven catches for 55 yards, but the combination of no other targets and the nasty weather conspired to hold Anderson under 200 yards for the fifth time in his last six games. Jamal Lewis couldn’t get anything going on the ground, carrying 19 times for 38 yards with a long gain of eight. Jamal also got more involved in the passing game than usual, with three catches for 28 yards.

Fantasy Impact: After limited work together during the preseason, Anderson and Edwards are still lacking the chemistry that made both so valuable last season. And with Cleveland’s next three games against teams that currently rank in the top six in pass defense, it doesn’t promise to get any easier.

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