This column addresses some of the Monday-Tuesday fallout from Sunday’s games and provides some notes into the Monday night action. This week we’ll talk about the rise of the Antonios, depth chart doings in Big D, and a sloppy Monday night game that showed off interesting trends.
- Mike Shanahan continues to confound fantasy owners, but it’s not something we didn’t see coming. Ryan Torain and his people join the ranks of the disenchanted and crestfallen, while Roy Helu emerges as the flavor of the week in D.C. The rookie back hauled in a franchise-record 14 receptions out of the backfield and was targeted 17 times by John Beck as the fledgling QB checked down repeatedly against the overwhelming San Francisco defense. You still can’t count out Tashard Choice – who could be in line for touches once they get him active – but I continue to be bullish on Helu’s prospects the rest of the way, especially in PPR leagues.
- Probably just to spite me for including him in my Week 9 Trade Bait column, Miles Austin sustained another hamstring injury and will miss about 2-4 weeks. This vaults Laurent Robinson, who’s already been getting consistent targets from Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant – a No. 1 WR waiting to happen – up the rankings.
- DeMarco Murray’s now had three effective games in a row, giving the Cowboys some leeway in bringing Felix Jones back into the fray. There’s no need to rush the incumbent starter if Murray continues to perform at such a high level. The Bills provide a little tougher test for the Cowboys and their up-and-down running game, and will also test their run defense – which has been shaky since losing Sean Lee to a dislocated wrist. Unlike their situation with Jones, the Cowboys can little afford their standout ILB to miss any more time.
- Antonio Brown’s solid season continues. Big Ben’s second-favorite target racked up 105 yards and a TD – giving him 21 catches, 278 receiving yards and two TDs in his last three games. His expanded role in the offense should keep him a viable fantasy option (a WR3 with major upside) over the next few weeks.
- Tim Tebow got himself another victory, but it remains to be seen what he can accomplish against more sophisticated NFL defenses. For me, a lot of the credit for this victory goes to the offensive line and running game, highlighted by Willis McGahee’s successful return from a broken hand. The veteran back racked up 163 rushing yards (including two big TD runs of 60 and 24 yards), and a couple schematic shifts on the offensive line utilizing extra blockers helped spring the 60-yard run. I know Tebow’s a relevant fantasy guy – don’t get me wrong – but I also sympathize with John Elway and understand exactly where he’s coming from when he says Tebow “showed improvement” but is still just a “week-to-week” starter. If Tebow’s as stubborn and faithful as he appears to be, he’ll use this as motivation to prove he’s worthy of his GM’s confidence.
- Just in case you were wondering, Philip Rivers is still a great fantasy option. He tossed three picks on Sunday, two of which were returned for scores by Packers DBs, but threw four TDs of his own – three of which went to second-half sensation Vincent Jackson. The other was hauled in by Antonio Gates, who’s also a good bet for an excellent finish to the 2011 season if he can stay healthy. Rivers has two favorable matchups coming up, so he’s definitely a top five or six QB play both weeks, regardless of his INT problems.
- The Monday night game was kind of sloppy, but both teams showed what they are good at – running the football and playing to their QB’s strengths. While Michael Vick couldn’t really get off (the Bears cornerbacks did a great job on receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson), LeSean McCoy had another brilliant performance and Brent Celek was once again a reliable outlet for Vick. Jay Cutler was even more impressive, as he found Earl Bennett repeatedly on huge third down plays – converting time and time again with the pressure on. The Bears offensive line is playing at a level that was completely unexpected by even the shrewdest of fantasy and reality prognosticators before the season. I can only think of one NFL writer who predicted the line’s severely underrated crew would be a much-improved unit in 2011. From my preseason piece on Matt Forte:
“Offensive line coach Mike Tice doesn’t have a bevy of road-graders to work with, but he’s a smart personnel guy and knows how to develop young lines. Tice has shuffled around his veterans (Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis), found a gem in second year-tackle J’Marcus Webb (now at all-important left tackle) and added rookie tackle Gabe Carimi – a Wisconsin product who could flourish on the right side. It’s a group that’s played well in preseason and could surprise some folks in 2011.”
- Here’s a bonus bullet – Four WR sleeper picks for Week 10: Josh Cribbs, CLE (vs. STL); Jason Hill, JAC (@IND); Michael Jenkins, MIN (@GB); and Denarius Moore, OAK (@SD). Hill’s been a surprisingly effective big-play guy for Blaine Gabbert and I like his chances of getting loose a couple of times like Julio Jones did in Week 9. Cribbs is riding a hot streak with Mohammed Massaquoi out, and Jenkins could rack up some catches during garbage time. As for Moore, he’s a total crap shoot. He caught just four of the 12 balls Palmer threw his way in Week 9, but the Chargers have shown they are quite lax in the pass defense department.