Week 1 Instant Impressions
Temper expectations on Newton; Tate, Bryant look solid at times
• The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton looked better than even his staunchest supporter had any right to expect. And I am not his staunchest supporter. There's no question he made throws I didn't think he could make, and the chemistry he has already with Steve Smith is palpable. But please, please, please don't get too carried away. Newton threw to his first read an alarming number of times, often regardless of whether he was covered. And more importantly, the Arizona Cardinals' defense is putrid. I mean, putrid. CB Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick in April's draft, was thrown at more than a dunking-booth attendant, and Kerry Rhodes couldn't catch a cold. For me, this story is less about whether you're starting Newton going forward (you're not, not yet) than it is about using Rex Grossman against the Cardinals in Week 2.
• In Arian Foster's absence, Derrick Ward was given the first three carries for the Houston Texans on Sunday, but for the rest of the first half he split looks with the more talented Ben Tate. Ward saved his fantasy day with a touchdown but sprained an ankle and didn't play after halftime of the blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts. In a garbage half, Tate carried it 14 more times for 61 yards and lost a fumble. There's no early word on whether Foster will play in Week 2, and Ward's injury doesn't sound serious. I'm tempted to say that this is going to be a weird week-to-week workload situation almost regardless of who plays. I think you'd have to favor a healthy Foster, but Tate looked good enough that he's going to get used.
• I take issue with Michael Vick's statement that he "play(ed) lights-out," but anyone who drafted him in the first round can't be overly disappointed with 22 fantasy points in standard ESPN leagues. Still, the question with Vick wasn't really about his ability (note, though, that he didn't rush for a TD), but rather his staying power. Well, the Rams hit Vick 11 times Sunday (leading to one fumble), and that doesn't include his rush attempts. Some of the shots Vick took were awful. I don't worry any less that the future holds another injury for him.
• Buried under Tony Romo's fourth-quarter meltdown against the New York Jets and Dez Bryant slowing down after his impressive first quarter (three catches for 71 yards and a score, followed by zero catches the rest of the game) is that the Jets' defense changed its plan of attack against the Dallas Cowboys after Bryant's strong start. Darrelle Revis began the game on Miles Austin, but after Bryant scored a 3-yarder over Antonio Cromartie, the Jets switched. Bryant bruised his leg on a punt return and couldn't run well thereafter, so that injury will be something that bears watching. But when a defense changes its focus because a receiver looks so dominant? Time to pay attention. I still feel good about preferring Bryant over Austin this year.
• Boy, was I wrong about the Colts. I still thought they'd be able to score 21 points, even if I didn't pick them to win their opener against the Texans. But Kerry Collins was under siege, and the chicken-and-egg question (would Peyton Manning have suffered such pressure, or do defenses automatically back off against him?) doesn't matter much. The fact is Collins looked shaky whenever a defender got near him. I'm guessing Indy will still roll with Collins next week against the Cleveland Browns, but how can you not downgrade all their offensive weapons?
• We probably saw the very worst of LeGarrette Blount for the season, but I think he'll get close to those same depths a few more times this season. Is he as worthless as five carries for 15 yards indicates? Of course not. Don't drop him, for heaven's sake. However, this was always the concern with him: Blount can't pass block and can't catch it, which means when Tampa Bay falls behind, he's not on the field. Earnest Graham played tons more snaps than Blount in the second half Sunday and out-touched Blount 9-to-1 during that time. In games in which the Bucs are competitive, no problem, Blount will play loads. But that's the reason you downgrade guys such as Blount who don't play in passing situations. There will be games like this.
• So much for Josh McDaniels instantly upgrading the St. Louis Rams offense, eh? Sam Bradford threw for 188 yards and was sacked four times, and no Rams receiver had more than 50 yards. Mike Sims-Walker did his typical MSW routine and had one catch for five yards, and Danny Amendola is potentially out for the season with a dislocated elbow. Plus Bradford hurt a finger and had to come out of the game. Even if Bradford's injury is minor, though, I'm not surprised. I've said it before and I'll say it again: His apprenticeship in a dink-and-dunk offense didn't prepare Bradford to be a downfield stud right away. There will be good games. The Philadelphia Eagles are tough. But the Rams don't have the weapons to create a Brandon Lloyd the way McD did for the Denver Broncos last year. This will be a slow year of incremental advances for Bradford.
• Even if Sidney Rice makes it back soon for the Seattle Seahawks (no sure thing as the team evaluates the shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason), Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers re-emphasized the notion that Tarvaris Jackson is a diminishing tide that sinks all boats. The Seahawks offensive line is terrible, and Jackson is inaccurate. Mike Williams, Zach Miller and Marshawn Lynch should be nowhere near your starting lineup right now. And I'm not yet fooled by undrafted rookie Doug Baldwin, a diminutive slot guy who was Andrew Luck's favorite target at Stanford last year and who managed a 55-yard TD. But if Baldwin and the rest of the Seahawks play their cards right, they may get to catch passes from Luck real soon.
• Thanks for playing, Nate Kaeding. The preseason No. 1 kicker in fantasy may have torn an ACL on the opening kickoff of the San Diego Chargers-Minnesota Vikings game. That brings new meaning to the phrase "kicker instability," doesn't it?
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.
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