- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Every week in the Engel Eye, I'll take a look at some key performances from Sunday. We'll determine which players to keep watching, and I'll pinpoint emerging trends.
Stealing Steeler: Willie Parker had his fourth 100-yard game of the season on Sunday, and a touchdown that finished off a 20-yard run was ruled down at the 1-yard line by a Seattle challenge. Parker has one score this season. Meanwhile, Najeh Davenport scored twice and now has three touchdowns. Fantasy owners of Parker are no doubt wondering if Davenport has now officially become Parker's touchdown "vulture." Parker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Davenport's performance Sunday reminded him of another memorable Steelers short-yardage runner. "Coming in and scoring touchdowns, that was more of a Jerome thing," Parker said, referring to Bettis, his old backfield partner during the run to the Super Bowl XL title. But Davenport said Parker isn't really bothered by losing the possible scoring chances. "We laugh and joke about it," Davenport said. During the offseason, coach Mike Tomlin had hinted about finding a more physical runner to complement Parker. After scoring only once in 2006, Davenport finally seems to be settling into a niche as a short-yardage runner and occasional replacement for Parker to keep him fresh. Parker's owners drafted him with the memory of his 13 touchdowns last season still fresh in their memories. It's time to forget last year, though. As long as Davenport continues to play well, he'll continue to be an important part of the offense, and that means fewer scoring chances for Parker in the weeks ahead, even if the yardage numbers continue to look good.
Can't trust him: As good as Vince Young can look sometimes, he can look like an inexperienced quarterback in other weeks. It seems either Young's talents will take over and lead to a successful day, or his lack of seasoning will take over and hurt his fantasy owners. There's not much in between. On Sunday, Tennessee's defense saved it from a loss to Atlanta, but there was nothing to save Young's owners from a day in which he registered no scores, tossed three interceptions and registered only 157 passing yards. He also was limited to 27 rushing yards. Young made questionable throws on key downs, and several of his decisions were ill-timed. Young has only three touchdown passes this season, and two of them came against the reeling Saints two weeks ago. He has rushed for only one score so far. Sure, Young can bust out and have a big fantasy day in any given week. But he is far from reliable, and you should keep him on your bench until further notice if you have a more consistent option at quarterback.
Hall of Fame flash: Maurice Jones-Drew finally rediscovered the form that vaulted him into the Fantasy Hall of Fame, scoring on a 52-yard run in Jacksonville's win over Kansas City. It was good to see Jones-Drew outrun the aging Ty Law and safety Jarrad Page, who had no prayer of catching him. While the score was certainly thrilling to watch and a relief to see, it's going to take more than one long touchdown run to prove Jones-Drew has fully shrugged off his early-season slump. Opponents will still focus on containing Jacksonville's ground game, so Jones-Drew is still going to face a lot of defensive attention. One long run can bring temporary relief, but we need to see more from MJD, especially in short-yardage situations.
Taking control: Matt Leinart is out indefinitely with a fractured collarbone, and while it's never good to see any player get hurt, the Arizona offense can now move forward with more stability. There will be no more rotating of quarterbacks, at least for now, and that will be good for the Cardinals if Kurt Warner can stay upright. Leinart was clearly struggling with his mechanics and form before he went down; many of his passes lacked the proper zip and accuracy. Warner makes better reads, delivers the ball quicker and with more accuracy and is playing with a lot of confidence right now. If the defense and running game can continue to hold up their end of the bargain, Warner won't be so susceptible to the big hits that have put him out of action in the past. These Cardinals are clearly improved, and Warner won't be susceptible to playing from behind and facing a furious pass rush on a regular basis, like he has in the past with the Cardinals. Warner is not only a solid addition to your roster, but he also will ensure that Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (when he returns) will continue to post good numbers.
Pull the plug on Pennington: The Jets might have the most underrated pair of wide receivers in the NFL. They are the ones who make Chad Pennington look good at times, plucking jump balls out of the air, making adjustments to poorly thrown passes, and often gaining yards after the catch when Pennington can complete shorter throws. In Sunday's loss to the Giants, though, it became apparent the Jets can't stick with Pennington for too much longer. The Jets' passing game is dependent on Pennington placing the ball in the right spots because his receivers are often challenged to fight for the ball. He lacks proper velocity on his throws and is inconsistent in terms of accuracy, and when he makes a wrong read, his lack of arm strength will increase the odds of an interception. Pennington threw one touchdown and was intercepted three times in a game the Jets really needed to win. Now that the team is 1-4, the local clamoring for Kellen Clemens will get louder. When he gets in the lineup, look for Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery to post better numbers instead of having to battle for poorly thrown balls. They'll also make more plays downfield. The switch should come sometime soon, and when it does, Coles and Cotchery will prove they are one of the more dangerous pairings in the NFL. They combined for just 120 yards receiving on Sunday, so buy low now on them, if you can.
Pivotal defeat: The highly powered Detroit offense was completely shut down by an underrated and determined Washington defense. As noted in this outstanding piece by ESPN.com senior writer Jeffri Chadiha, Washington dropped seven defenders into coverage and let its defensive line apply the pressure on Jon Kitna. The Detroit quarterback was sacked five times, including one that resulted in a safety. Kitna was held to 106 passing yards, threw no touchdown passes and was intercepted twice. He regularly struggled to find open receivers (Roy Williams led Detroit in receiving with three catches for 36 yards). The Lions tried to mount a ground game with minimal success; Kevin Jones and Tatum Bell were held to 63 rushing yards. The defense is notoriously bad and will continue to make the offense work to keep pace against better opponents. The Redskins might have just laid the blueprint for how to defend the Lions. We'll have to wait and see how Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz adjusts, but the lack of balance on the Lions' offense and as a team overall was exposed Sunday, and if the Lions don't respond and adjust accordingly, their fast and impressive start could quickly become a distant memory. You can't count on Kitna and Co. to keep stacking up fine totals on a regular basis, and it will be interesting to see how the Lions perform against Tampa Bay after a bye next week.
No superstars, no worries: The Colts also have a bye coming up, and it will give Joseph Addai and Marvin Harrison more time to recover from injuries that left them inactive against the Buccaneers. The Colts didn't miss a beat, though, and should Addai or Harrison miss any more time this season, you can count on Kenton Keith and Anthony Gonzalez to step in and get the job done. Keith would struggle on many other teams, but he rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay, and he is the ultimate handcuff right now. Gonzalez caught seven passes for 71 yards in Harrison 's place, because Peyton Manning can make any receiver look good. Addai has already been banged up twice this season, and it might not be the last time he misses action in 2007. Keith doesn't have Addai's strength, explosion or pass-catching skills, but he has good vision and hits holes quickly. Behind a terrific offensive line, he will get the job done every time when needed. As for Harrison, age might finally be catching up to him, and while Gonzalez will be much less productive as a third receiver for the Colts, it's good to keep him around in case he is needed to start again. He is especially good to have if you're a Harrison owner.
Timely turnaround: Not only did the Chargers sandblast the Broncos, but they might have steered Philip Rivers in the right direction for the rest of the season. With the running game and defense finally playing up to expectations, Rivers was free to enjoy the fruits of playing for the "real" Chargers after four mostly disappointing weeks to open the season. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in what is easily his best performance of the season, even though his stats looked a bit better at Green Bay two weeks ago. Rivers had lots of time to throw, used play-action passes effectively and made all the right throws in key situations. Don't give up on Rivers yet. He still can be a very steady fantasy starter as the Chargers start to point their ship toward higher seas in the weeks ahead.
Random reads: Ben Roethlisberger might not be spectacular, but he's certainly good enough. Even without his top two receivers, he moved the Pittsburgh offense well against Seattle, and better numbers are ahead when Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes return to the lineup. Seattle clearly missed Deion Branch, who was carted off with a foot injury. Matt Hasselbeck's fantasy success is heavily tied to his flanker. Brandon Jacobs had a good statistical day, but he still runs too high, especially in traffic. His high running style might have contributed to a lost fumble that led to a touchdown, and it could expose him to more injuries. Jason Campbell is doing a great job of taking what defenses are giving him, and he is becoming a solid fantasy option. Matt Schaub couldn't get the Texans in the end zone, but he made all the right throws when it counted and is going to be an above-average fantasy starter when Andre Johnson returns. Greg Olsen caught four passes for 57 yards and a score in what appears to be his breakthrough game as a fantasy option. Olsen, a great pickup this week, has the speed to challenge defensive backs downfield. He's a future fantasy star and is only going to improve. James Jones learned some hard lessons with his two fumbles Sunday night. He will bounce back and continue to impress in the weeks ahead. LenDale White had a fumble returned for a touchdown. He is not making the most of his opportunity to play more, because he doesn't appear to be focused and capable of consistently
running well. Jacksonville's defensive line was dominant, and the major reason for Larry Johnson's awful day. Things get easier for LJ against the Bengals next week, though. The Rams protected Gus Frerotte better than Marc Bulger, and the return of guard Richie Incognito helped. Frerotte doesn't adjust well when things are going bad and makes some questionable throws, but he also can get the ball to Torry Holt more often and will execute a game plan well at times. He's not a recommended fantasy starter, but Holt and Drew Bennett both scored, and Frerotte will throw enough to keep the St. Louis wide receivers happy. Devery Henderson totaled 101 receiving yards against the Panthers. But he also dropped more than one important throw, and he still is very unreliable for fantasy purposes. Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith scored twice, but one touchdown came in garbage time. He won't be a regular passing option for Jeff Garcia going forward.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
6mTristan H. Cockcroft