Instant Impressions: Week 4
Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle split touches; Michael Turner enjoys big game
Can you believe what the NFL is doing? I mean, trotting out these replacement officials week after week? It's disrespectful to the game! It's treating the fans like they're a joke! It's going to get someone hurt! I mean, the pass-interference madness at the end of the Philadelphia Eagles' win over the New York Giants? What a prank that was! Darren Sproles not getting called for a fumble when he clearly lost that ball late? Or the obvious offensive interference call on Marques Colston in the same game? Is it incompetence or a conspiracy? And on Thursday, the phantom holding call on Michael Oher that called back a long Ray Rice scamper! These replacements refs are ruining the dang league, and it's time we media and fans make as huge a public stink about it as possible, then the owners will know they can't get away with --
Uh, what's that?
Those were the real officials?
• That splashing sound you just heard is Ryan Mathews' fantasy stock sinking deep into the Pacific Ocean. Then again, maybe Mathews' lack of a role in Sunday's game is easily explicable: Of course the San Diego Chargers would view a trip to Kansas City as a chance for revenge for Jackie Battle, who was callously cut by the Chiefs this winter. Har. Battle came out as the lead RB in San Diego's attack Sunday, and he got all the Chargers' red zone work. He wound up with 19 touches for 81 yards and two TDs. Meanwhile, in the game's first three quarters (i.e., when it mattered), Mathews had five touches for 14 yards. Awesome. Whenever Norv Turner talks about his RBs, plug your ears. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, after the game, Turner told reporters, "You ask about the confidence I have in him. We're trying to put the game away, and he's the guy handling the ball, so I think that answers that question." Yeah, except you were winning by two TDs at that point, Norv. This was pretty clearly penance for Mathews' red zone fumble against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3. Will it continue? Nobody knows, and don't listen to Norv when he gives you an answer. I'll say this: Mathews probably has to go lower in our RB ranks heading into Week 5, although the team's matchup against the hapless New Orleans Saints defense could cure all ills.
• Michael Turner had never produced more than 40 receiving yards in any of his 122 NFL games, so naturally he caught a dump-off over the middle Sunday and took it for a 60-yard touchdown. (The TD was also the first receiving score in his career.) The erstwhile "Burner" wound up with a hearty 171 yards from scrimmage. If only someone could've predicted this. In the immortal words of "30 Rock": Oh wait, I did. On last week's Fantasy Underground podcast, I said that Turner would go crazy against the pathetic Carolina Panthers run defense -- and that you should immediately trade him thereafter. I admit, it's always tough to sell a guy coming off a career performance, but if you can find someone in your league to give you a king's ransom, do it. The essential facts of Turner's done-ness haven't changed. As I said, he's still a fine bet to score TDs, but the yards are going to be much tougher to come by when he's not facing Carolina.
• The most-tweeted panicked question to me during Sunday's games: "Where's Julio Jones?" He was out there; he just didn't get much work. After the Falcons' stirring comeback victory, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution casually mentioned that Jones was used "mostly as a decoy while his hand heals," which was news to me. I haven't watched the game tape yet, but it looked as if the Panthers were sending safety help Jones' way for much of the afternoon, and Roddy White was eating up single coverage, usually against Chris Gamble (but sometimes, unfortunately for Carolina, against Josh Norman). The result? White wound up with 169 yards and two TDs, and Jones had three targets, one catch and 30 yards. If the Jones owner in your league chooses to panic, by all means swoop in. These WRs will go back and forth all season.
• The Buffalo Bills' RB drama was some serious sound and fury signifying nothing, huh? Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller played Sunday, and neither guy reported any complications regarding his injury. Jackson led the way with 16 touches to 10 for Spiller, which probably is a decent indication of how the workload might be split going forward. Each man lost a fumble, although Spiller's was more painful for Bills fans and fantasy owners, coming as it did on the New England Patriots' 2-yard line right before halftime. Each of these RBs is going to be usable in fantasy leagues all year, but neither will be a No. 1 RB as long as the other is healthy. Think No. 2 RB and/or flex, and you'll be happier.
• If BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn't going to do his job at the goal line, what the heck good is he? The Law Firm got three carries literally from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 1 on Sunday, and he converted none of them. Not only that, he fumbled the third one, losing it in the end zone and letting the execrable Jags offense hang around. BJGE also fumbled later in the game, although he recovered that one, but I think it's fair to say that "he never fumbles" is no longer part of the narrative about this guy. (For the uninitiated, he really had never fumbled until Week 3, when he lost his first.) Green-Ellis produced 94 yards on 28 touches -- a result that looked just as plodding as it sounds -- against a bad Jaguars run defense. He does have at least seven fantasy points in all four games this year, which is something. But the sledding gets tougher against the Miami Dolphins in Week 5.
• I kind of hate the way the media cover failure these days. The results hadn't been there for Chris Johnson. That's obvious. But somehow, we went from CJ not producing to CJ not trying. I heard a dozen smarmy, smug hosts and/or analysts taking the narrative further and further the past few weeks, how Johnson is afraid to get hit, how he's trying to show up his offensive line by stinking, how he's just satisfied with his contract and doesn't care anymore. It's that sort of stupid, shortsighted analysis that serves as shorthand for nuance, and you should avoid it like the plague when you hear it. As I said all last week, the truth was that Johnson's tape was significantly better in Week 3; outside a few horrible plays, he was quite good, but the Tennessee Titans barely had the ball in the second half, so his attempts were low. Well, Johnson showed up in a difficult matchup against the Houston Texans on Sunday, to the tune of 157 yards from scrimmage on 27 touches. Sure, 63 of those yards came in the fourth quarter of a hopeless blowout, but CJ was good from his very first carry. This wasn't a mirage. I'm not saying "he's back." I'm saying this situation is much more about the quality of his offensive line than about his supposed lack of motivation or courage. On Sunday, the O-line found some rhythm, and it showed. At the Minnesota Vikings next week, it might not. But this won't be about Johnson suddenly being a bad player.
• Brian Hartline went off for the second time in three weeks, lending credence to that old saying: "Like clockwork, Brian Hartline produces big numbers every other week." Hartline was the beneficiary of uncharacteristic defensive confusion from the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, scoring an 80-yard TD on a bomb when nobody bothered to cover him. It's going too far to say Hartline is ready to be a fantasy star, or even a fantasy starter, but he should be added in all leagues. A franchise-record 253 receiving yards in a single game will do that. Davone Bess was also big, grabbing seven passes for 123 yards.
• Dwayne Bowe is the king of garbage time. The Chiefs have gotten blown out thrice in four games, and Bowe has made it count. His three TDs this season have all come in the fourth quarter with his team down by at least 21 points, and 87 of his 342 receiving yards have come under similar circumstances. I'm not sure this tells us much, other than that Matt Cassel does his best passing work when defenses are laying off. Jamaal Charles saved his day after losing two early fumbles, scoring two TDs and producing 118 yards from scrimmage, but you expect that from J-Mail. Bowe had better show some earlier-game chops soon because this hot start is beginning to take on the look of a fluke.
• There's a reason running QBs are fun to own. Even when they don't do much with their arms, they usually rescue their fantasy days via the ground. Robert Griffin III continues to be the poster child for this, as he amassed 12 fantasy points throwing and 10 rushing in Sunday's victory. Cam Newton's split wound up at 16 passing and 14 rushing. Only Michael Vick among the obvious high-rush-potential QBs had a more pedestrian split: 13 passing and 4 rushing. For as long as they stay healthy, these dudes are top-10 fantasy QBs every week for me. Of course, because they get hit so much, they're also among the worst bets in the NFL to stay healthy.
• The Patriots mostly put Danny Woodhead back on the shelf and unveiled undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, who split a massive workload with Stevan Ridley on Sunday. Bolden isn't as good a player as Ridley: He's slower and a bit smaller and doesn't have Ridley's wiggle. But 16 carries for 137 yards and a TD is nothing to sneeze at. (Ridley wound up with 106 rushing yards and two TDs of his own.) Bolden will merit waiver-wire consideration this week, but remember that the Pats are thoroughly unreliable when it comes to their backfield. I still won't be shocked if Shane Vereen has a good game or two this season.
• It wasn't heartening to see Doug Martin come out in favor of LeGarrette Blount for a late-game carry inside the opponent's 5 on Sunday, and it was even less heartening (for Martin's fantasy owners) to see Blount -- who's been short-yardage-challenged for his brief NFL career despite his size -- convert. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers threw it 39 times and ran it only 18 times this week, and the Muscle Hamster didn't play very often on third down. (D.J. Ware had that duty.) In all, Martin produced 42 yards on 10 touches, which led Tampa's RBs. But if he's not out there to catch it in passing situations and he's not in there to scoop up relatively easy TDs, his fantasy value will take a major shot. This kid looked great in Week 1 and hasn't shown much since. The Bucs are on bye in Week 5.
• Perhaps this summer's Ben Tate love, such as it was, was overstated. I never bought into the idea that Arian Foster would have his workload limited and that Tate would become a flex (or even a No. 2 fantasy back) as a result, but even I didn't foresee that, at the season's quarter pole, Foster would be on pace for a ludicrous 412 carries. Tate has shown up for his fantasy owners only once in four games, and he had seven touches for 14 yards Sunday. I suppose you could look at it this way: It's highly unlikely that Foster would make it through a 400-plus-carry season without getting hurt, so either he suffers an injury and Tate benefits, or the Texans finally begin to limit Foster's workload and Tate benefits. But until further notice, burly Tate is handcuff-only material.
• Maybe this isn't the best time for Greg Jennings to be showing up in so many TV commercials. Jennings did score an early red zone TD Sunday, but he exited the game at halftime because of his balky groin and didn't return, and the most anyone saw of him thereafter was as he did pushups with a WaveRunner on his back. The free-agent-to-be isn't exactly creating a "team-first" aura around himself, is he? As of this writing, it's tough for me to believe the Green Bay Packers will risk Jennings' health in a winnable Week 5 contest against the Indianapolis Colts.
• The New York Jets have scored one TD in their past 34 offensive possessions. I know the Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers have good defenses, but Mark Sanchez has been bad in ways that go beyond mere opponents. His confidence looks shot. And now it looks as if Santonio Holmes will undergo a multiweek absence because of a noncontact foot injury. Fantasy owners take note. It might not be Tim Tebow Time yet, but you can feel it in the air, can't you?