Baltimore Ravens 30, Denver Broncos 7
The Ravens weren’t wearing throwbacks, but their defense put up an effort worthy of their Super Bowl era forbearers; unfortunately, the offense also turned back the clock and was largely quiet. Joe Flacco was efficient in completing 80 percent of his passes, but he mustered only 175 yards and threw just one touchdown. Derrick Mason caught that score and tied with Kelley Washington for the team lead with four catches, but Mason had just 40 yards while Washington paced the team with 58. That left the bulk of the offense to Ray Rice, who responded with 23-84-1 on the ground and another 5-24 via the air.
Denver didn’t cross midfield until just before halftime and, after taking the opening drive of the second half 86 yards for a touchdown (half of the yardage coming on Baltimore penalties), they didn’t return to Ravens territory until the final 18 seconds of the game. For the game they mustered just 218 yards of offense, with Knowshon Moreno’s touchdown the only fantasy-worthy number on Denver’s stat sheet.
Fantasy Impact: Denver’s offense never got anything started against Baltimore; a 23-yard completion to Daniel Graham was their longest play of the game, and no player amassed more yardage than Correll Buckhalter’s 46. However, a road trip to Baltimore has sidetracked many a good offense, so there’s no need to hit the panic button just yet. The Ravens had little more success and also didn’t do much down the field. However, Flacco’s passing yardage was spread evenly amongst their three wideouts and tight end Todd Heap (3-16), with Rice’s five catches pacing the passing game. LeRon McClain handled some late time-killing carries and broke off a 20-yarder to cap a 3-31 afternoon, while Willis McGahee faded further into the background with three touches for a total of three yards.
Houston Texans 31, Buffalo Bills 10
Steve Slaton’s fantasy owners were salivating over his matchup with the worst run defense in the league. Instead, Slaton’s fifth fumble of the year led to a benching as Gary Kubiak sent a message. The message? Anybody with a pulse can run on the Bills, as demonstrated by career backup Ryan Moats’ 23-126-3 blowup. The Texans needed all the help they could get on the ground as Matt Schaub threw two picks and no touchdowns and Houston lost tight end Owen Daniels to a potentially season-ending knee injury. Andre Johnson led Houston receivers with six catches for 63 yards, but Schaub’s 268 yards were spread amongst 10 different receivers.
Fantasy expectations were low for the Bills, and they didn’t disappoint. The passing game produced just 117 yards, running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson combined for 71 yards, and the lone highlight was Terrell Owens taking an end-around 29 yards to the house.
Fantasy Impact: Lynch and Jackson were back to evenly splitting carries, and they couldn’t even provide the Bills’ only ground-game highlight; that went to T.O., who also led the moribund Buffalo passing game with five catches for 39 yards. Meanwhile, two of Houston’s fantasy studs face serious questions. The early report on Daniels is a torn ACL, which would not only end his season but sap Schaub of his second-favorite receiver. Joel Dreessen is the backup, but he wasn’t even one of the 10 Texans with a catch on Sunday and has just five grabs on the year (and 25 for his four-year career). Slaton was benched earlier in the season, but with Moats’ success Kubiak may feel empowered to keep transmitting the message. Given that Moats has one career start and seven receptions in four NFL seasons, he wouldn’t seem to fit Houston’s offensive scheme. Plus, there are no more dates with Buffalo on the Texans’ schedule. But at least he’ll hang on to the football.
Chicago Bears 30, Cleveland Browns 6
Those who drafted Matt Forte much too early finally got a little bit of a return on that investment as he ground out 90 yards on 26 carries—and scored twice—against one of the worst run defenses in the league. Jay Cutler (17-30-225-0-1) was still the focal point of the offense, and he leaned heavily on Devin Hester (7-91). But despite the 30 points, this was an underwhelming showing by the Bears’ offense against an awful Cleveland defense. After two three-and-outs, Chicago took three drives into the red zone and settled for short field goals; that’s not what you should be doing to a visiting team that’s as clearly overmatched as the Browns.
The Browns actually rushed for 117 yards on the afternoon, 69 of them by Jamal Lewis and another 28 by Joshua Cribbs. But it was Derek Anderson who called his own number for the lone Cleveland touchdown. That was about all Anderson had to show for an afternoon that saw him complete just six of 17 passes for 76 yards and throw two picks before being benched for Brady Quinn.
Fantasy Impact: With half the season gone, the Browns can safely go to Quinn without worrying about him reaching the 70% of snaps milestone that would trigger bonuses in his contract. Hey, if their offense is going to blow they may as well save money while doing it. Go ahead and sell high on Forte now that he’s had one serviceable game; the two TDs cover up a 3.4 yards per carry average (by contrast, Cutler averaged better than six ypc on five scrambles and backup Garrett Wolfe gouged the Browns at a rate of 10 yards a pop.
Dallas Cowboys 38, Seattle Seahawks 17
Screw the running game; it’s Tony Romo’s world, and the Cowboys are—for the moment at least—just living in it. Romo threw 36 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns, spreading the wealth amongst all his pass-catchers. Miles Austin capitalized on a third straight cushy match-up with a team-high 5-61-1, while Sam Hurd took his lone catch to the house for a score and Roy Williams fumbled into the end zone for a touchdown on one of his two catches. Even Patrick Crayton scored, for the second straight week bringing a punt return all the way back. Romo handed off to his backs just 26 times, with Marion Barber (14-53-1) leading the way.
Seattle kept Matt Hasselbeck upright most of the afternoon, as he was sacked just three times. That afforded him the opportunity to complete 22 of 39 passes for 249 yards and two scores, with Nate Burleson (6-89) doing most of the heavy lifting while secondary options Deion Branch (3-36-1) and fullback Justin Griffith (2-12-1) finding the end zone. Julius Jones provided some semblance of a ground game, carrying 15 times for 56 yards against his old team and adding 32 yards on two catches.
Fantasy Impact: T.J. Houshmandzadeh has hardly lived up to the hype; this week he produced four catches for 24 yards, supported by a two-point conversion and accompanied by a whole lot of complaining. Wait, wasn’t Chad Ochocinco supposed to be the problem child? Jason Witten continues to take a back burner to the wideouts in the Cowboys’ attack; his four catches tied a season low, and he hasn’t scored since Week 2. After having so much success down the field, the question remains: once Dallas starts running into tougher defenses—such as the five NFC East tilts remaining on their schedule—will they remember how to run the ball and throw underneath?
Miami Dolphins 30, New York Jets 25
The 30-point outburst is more than a little misleading; 21 of the points came on returns (two 100-yard kick returns by demoted wide receiver Ted Ginn, one fumble return by Jason Taylor). The offense managed only a late five-yard TD catch by backup tight end Joey Haynos and got nothing from either the passing game (Chad Henne’s 12-21-112-1) or a ground game that featured 27 yards apiece from Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. At least Ricky added 41 yards as the Dolphins’ leading receiver.
The stat sheet strongly suggests the Jets should have won this game. Mark Sanchez posted the most producitve fantasy game of his career (20-35-265-2 plus a rushing score), Thomas Jones rushed for 102 yards, and three receivers—Dustin Keller (8-76), Brayon Edwards (4-74-1), and Jerricho Cotchery (3-70)—topped 70 yards. But a fumble by Shonn Greene (8-18) and the inability to corral Ted Ginn on kickoff returns led to the Jets’ demise.
Fantasy Impact: Greene was unquestionably the big-ticket free agent acquisition with Leon Washington being lost for the season, but he carried just eight times while Jones had 27 totes and a 28-yard reception. Greene doesn’t offer the versatility Washington did, so he won’t be used in the same way. Ginn’s benching really kick-started the Miami receiving corps, which was led by Davonne Bess and his 4-18. Greg Camarillo added one catch for 15 yards, while Brian Hartline—who started in place of Ginn—didn’t catch a ball.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 18, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 14
This wasn’t the blowout many expected, despite 347 yards from Peyton Manning and a 12-catch, 147-yard, one-TD performance from Reggie Wayne. A steady stream of pressure from the 49ers’ defensive line kept Manning without a touchdown toss, but Joseph Addai (20-62 on the ground and 2-4 as a receiver) picked up the slack with the first passing touchdown of his career. The rest of the day went about as expected for the Colts, with healthy contributions up and down the receiving corps—from Dallas Clark (8-99) to Austin Collie (6-66) to Pierre Garçon (4-53).
The Niners refused to go away, buoyed by an early 64-yard TD run by Frank Gore (13-91-1) and yet another Alex Smith-to-Vernon Davis touchdown that gave San Francisco an improbable 14-6 lead in the second quarter. In the second half, however, the Niners lost the time of possession battle and mustered only 87 yards of offense as the Colts caught up.
Fantasy Impact: Michael Crabtree continues to be a favored target, catching six balls for 81 yards against a stout Indy secondary. But it was Davis who scored yet again, the first tight end touchdown the Colts have allowed this season. And for the second straight week Gore was limited to 13 carries. Maybe more work for Mike Singletary’s beloved ground game might have let the Niners hold the ball for more than 12:33 in the second half? Without Donald Brown, Indy’s ground game wasn’t nearly as productive. Instead of Addai handling all of the productivity, he handled all of the touches but produced roughly the same as he’d been delivering previously. Chad Simpson carried just once, so maybe this ground game needs both backs to be effective.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 40, NEW YORK GIANTS 17
The Eagles ran 24 fewer plays than the Giants, but they averaged eight yards per snap and rattled off six plays of 20 or more yards—four of them for touchdowns. The home run ball came from likely sources—DeSean Jackson’s 54-yard TD grab as part of a 3-78-1 outing—as well as the unlikely—a career-long 41-yard touchdown run from Leonard Weaver, who finished with 75 yards on eight carries. In between Donovan McNabb rolled up 240 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing, connecting on scoring strikes with both Brent Celek (4-61-1) and Jeremy Maclin (4-47-1).
By the time the Giants came up for air, they were down 17—and it didn’t help that by halftime they had dug themselves a 24-point hole. They still were able to run the ball with reasonable success—at least, Brandon Jacobs (20-86) was; Ahmad Bradshaw stole the goal-line touchdown but totaled just 21 yards on nine carries. Philly put the clamps on the Giants’ wideouts, keeping Steve Smith (8-68) and Hakeem Nicks (4-53) out of the end zone and forcing Eli Manning (20-39-222-1-2) to turn to backup plans like Kevin Boss (3-70-1) and even Jacobs (2-21).
Fantasy Impact: Whether it was the foot injury or the flow of the game, Bradshaw was clearly the second banana to Jacobs with 13 fewer touches and 86 fewer yards. And this was with the Giants playing from behind the entire game, where you’d think they would have their third-down offense on the field. They also appeared to miss the big-play threat of Mario Manningham; Domenik Hixon (1-3) did not fill that need, and his fumble of the second-half kickoff set the Giants even further back prior to their mini-comeback. Jackson scored on yet another home run, this time a 54-yard reception in which he was 10 yards behind the nearest defender. While the inconsistency can be frustrating, there’s something about having a home run hitter in your lineup. The final stat line suggests that McCoy capably filled in for the injured Brian Westbrook, but until his 66-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter he was looking at an 8-18 effort and being significantly outplayed by Weaver.
ST. LOUIS RAMS 17, DETROIT LIONS 10
You knew Steven Jackson would shine, and he didn’t disappoint; not only did he carry 22 times for 149 yards and chip in three catches for 17 yards, he also scored his first touchdown of the year with a 25-yard game-winning burst late in the fourth quarter. And aside from a 36-yard touchdown pass from Josh Brown (yes, the kicker) to backup tight end Daniel Fells, that was the extent of the offensive fireworks. Marc Bulger (17-35-176-0-1) couldn’t even dissect the Detroit secondary for a 50% completion percentage, and Donnie Avery caught just one ball for 15 yards.
The Lions didn’t have Calvin Johnson, and Kevin Smith (16-45 on the ground, a team-high 4-49 as a receiver) was limited by a shoulder injury; they did have rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford back under center, but his lone fantasy contribution came on the ground (a four-yard TD scramble) and not via the pass (14-33-168-0-1). Stafford received little help from the Megatron-less receiving corps; Bryant Johnson’s 2-43 was the best production by a downfield pass-catcher.
Fantasy Impact: Smith should have shredded the St. Louis defense; instead, his sore shoulder forced him to the sidelines while Maurice Morris stepped in and carried 14 times for 63 yards. The Lions clearly need a healthy Smith, but if this injury will plague him the rest of the way a job share is an extremely unfortunate likelihood. The sorry showing of the Rams’ passing game against a soft Detroit secondary confirms what we already knew; aside from Jackson, there’s simply no fantasy value on this roster.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 24, OAKLAND RAIDERS 16
It probably should have been easier than it was, but it’s tough to complain about a 13th straight win over the Raiders. Philip Rivers (16-25-249-1-1) wasn’t afraid of the Oakland pass defense; of course, he had Vincent Jackson (8-103-1) to lean on. LaDainian Tomlinson scored twice but averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per carry on 18 totes; Darren Sproles (5-38) was actually more effective running the ball.
When the Raiders got a short field, they capitalized; when they started inside their own 30, they were... well, the Raiders. In an offense with just 208 yards of offense there were few highlights; Justin Fargas (18-59) scored the lone touchdown and Zack Miller (5-52) paced the perennially pathetic passing game.
Fantasy Impact: Oakland wideouts caught two passes for 16 yards. That’s actually an above-average showing, but it has to fall dramatically short of Al Davis’ vision of a vertical attack. At least Fargas salvaged something on the ground, though more was expected of both he and Michael Bush (7-27) against a soft San Diego run defense. Speaking of soft run defenses, it’s worth noting that all three of LT’s touchdowns this year have come against the Raiders—and that the Chargers have no remaining dates with Oakland on their schedule. Sproles’ 3.5 yards per carry average heading into this game hasn’t exactly earned him a larger share of the workload, but at least he brings some explosiveness to the party.
TENNESSEE TITANS 30, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 13
Facing the league’s second-worst pass defense, the Titans turned to Vince Young; okay, they also turned to a ground game for 49 carries (against 18 VY passes) paced by Chris Johnson’s monster 24-228-2 effort. Johnson scored on runs of 52 and 89 yards, while Young threw a nice fade to Nate Washington (2-22-1) for the Titans’ first touchdown. The rest of the receiving corps was quiet; Justin Gage (3-41) led them in yardage while Bo Scaife (4-27) had the most catches.
Something about road games rubs David Garrard the wrong way; he failed to throw a touchdown for the fourth straight away game and is averaging almost 150 fewer yards through the air on the road than at home. As you might expect, that led to some brutal passing game stats—against the league’s worst pass defense, no less—with none more frustrating than Mike Sims-Walker’s 2-9 line. At least Maurice Jones-Drew showed up, matching Johnson with a pair of lengthy touchdown runs. The Jaguars gave him just eight carries, but 79- and 80-yard jaunts helped him put together a more than solid fantasy day.
Fantasy Impact: Four games of evidence, including the absolute egg he laid in Tennessee, make Garrard an impossible start in any of Jacksonville’s four remaining road games. That has to extend to the receiving corps as well—including Sims-Walker, who previously had been money regardless of venue. There is no question Young won’t be beating teams with his arm; he had almost as many rushes (12) as completions (15). Despite Washington’s touchdown catch you can essentially take all Titans receivers off the table fantasy-wise; instead, you may be able to once again turn to LenDale White, who received 13 carries (for 47 yards) as the Titans ran the ball almost three times as much as they threw.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS 38, GREEN BAY PACKERS 26
Who says you can’t come home again? Brett Favre returned to Lambeau Field amidst a chorus of boos, then proceeded to carve up the Packers for the second time this season. Favre tied Dan Marino’s record for most four-touchdown games as part of his 17-28-244-4 afternoon, and as he is wont to do spread the ball around to targets primary (Percy Harvin, 5-84-1; Bernard Berrian, 3-47-1) and tertiary (Visanthe Shiancoe, 1-12-1; Jeff Dugan, 1-2-1). Adrian Peterson kicked in 97 rushing yards and a touchdown as well as a key 44-yard reception that set up the Vikings’ final score.
This wasn’t the outcome the Packer faithful were hoping for, but it’s not because their quarterback was outplayed; when Aaron Rodgers wasn’t running for his life—the Vikings sacked him six times, to go along with eight in the previous meeting—he threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 52 yards on the ground. Unfortunately, aside from the return of Greg Jennings (8-88-1) to the good graces of fantasy owners and a decent contribution from Donald Driver (6-63), the rest of the Packers didn’t offer much help—unless you had backup tight end Spencer Havner, who scored on both of his two catches.
Fantasy Impact: Yes, the Vikings have a good run defense but you’d think Ryan Grant would have at least showed up on Sunday; his 10-30 effort on the ground and three catches for 21 yards suggest otherwise. And just when we had started trusting Grant as an every-week fantasy starter, too. The word may be out on Sidney Rice (4-40), as he saw decidedly more attention from the Packers than in the earlier meeting. That opened things up for Harvin and Berrian, but fantasy-wise it just muddies up the Vikings’ receiving corps.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 34, ARIZONA CARDINALS 21
What do you do when you’re facing the league’s top-ranked run defense? Why, you throw DeAngelo Williams (23-158-0) and Jonathan Stewart (17-87-2) at them, of course. The Panthers ran the ball 44 times and only let Jake Delhomme (7-14-90-1) throw 14; one of them was a beautiful pump-and-go to Steve Smith (3-56-1) for a 50-yard touchdown. That was the extent of Carolina’s offense, but when you run the ball that much it kind of milks the clock.
Apparently, prior to the game Delhomme and Kurt Warner (27-46-242-2-5) switched places. After a touchdown pass on the opening drive, followed by two punts, Warner capped three consecutive possessions with picks as the Panthers rolled to a 28-7 lead. Carolina’s top-ranked pass defense proved to be less fraudulent than the Cards’ top-ranked run defense, as all three Arizona wideouts were held without scores; while Larry Fitzgerald (6-68) and Steve Breaston (6-57) had the bigger numbers, Warner’s touchdowns went to tight end Ben Patrick (2-18-1) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (1-14-1).
Fantasy Impact: So much for Chris Wells taking over Arizona’s newfound ground game; while he carried eight times for a healthy 47 yards, it was Tim Hightower (8-39) who scored on a one-yard run. Hightower also remained heavily involved in the passing game with a team-high eight catches for 57 yards. Delhomme left the game in the fourth quarter with a chest injury; Matt Moore came on and attempted one pass. But who needs a quarterback? In Carolina’s three wins, Williams and Stewart have combined for an average of 38 carries, as opposed to a max of 25 in their four losses.