- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Here is why the San Diego Chargers should fire Norv Turner today: He might start winning again.
Turner is the current Rasputin of NFL coaches, somehow avoiding the assassin's knife, poison and bullets at the end of each lost season. It's been five-plus years and the Chargers are going backward, and soft-hearted (and soft-headed?) owner Alex Spanos can't be given another chance to rescue Turner. Remember 2010? Norv was finally doomed, seeing his team begin 2-5. But then the offense got clicking, meaningless wins piled up, and suddenly the Chargers were 9-7. They missed the playoffs, but they bought Turner more life. It can't happen again.
I don't see how fantasy owners can start Philip Rivers, even against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night, not until they see a halfway-decent performance from him. The guy has one 300-yard passing game all season! Why was Rivers constantly heaving the ball down the field into the wind Sunday, rather than looking short to Antonio Gates, who had all of four targets? Why did Ryan Mathews, a swell pass-catching running back, have only two catches, while Ronnie Brown continues to take up space? (Sure, point to Brown's seven grabs for 85 yards, but I maintain if Mathews was playing on third down, the numbers would be even better.) Rivers -- who, disastrously, was one of my "flag players" as a value pick this summer -- is in full shot put mode, slinging the ball from his chin at mostly covered receivers. Except for the time he saw the $26 million man Robert Meachem streaking by himself, wide open against a blown coverage, and laid it in beautifully for what should've been a 51-yard TD, but Meachem literally just had the pass bounce off his hands as if he'd fallen asleep. Surely that's not what a team spokesman meant last week when he advised Chargers fans to "take a chill pill."
This is a rudderless, directionless team with an offense that's looked so bad over the past six quarters, an insane Russian monk couldn't love it. Go ahead, blame the elements; it was windy and wet in Cleveland on Sunday. But it shouldn't have been that bad. At the moment, I can't consider Gates or Malcom Floyd must-starts, either. Only Mathews, who fumbled but did produce 104 yards from scrimmage, earns a place in most fantasy lineups on Thursday.
I know it's difficult to change coaches midstream. You can't adopt a new playbook overnight, so a switch might wind up being more nominal than anything. But I don't care. Turner must not be given a chance to survive, not after the second-half tank job two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos, and not after Rivers and Co. came out of the bye looking putrid. Turner has earned a place in the Wayne Fontes Museum of coaches who would not go gently into that good night. It's time to force him not-so-gently.
Let's look at Sunday's other top stories:
• Dez Bryant isn't boring. He got in trouble in Week 7 for being loosey-goosey with punt returns, then did it again Sunday and lost a fumble. He probably messed up a route that led to Tony Romo's first interception, and he had at least one long potential gain ricochet off his hands. But you look up and his stat line is five catches for 110 yards, plus he came within a hangnail of converting a Hail Mary at game's end. Bryant has at least 95 yards receiving in three of his past four games, and it's fair to wonder if his two catches for 15 yards versus the Carolina Panthers a couple of weeks back happened because of his injured groin. Miles Austin is about five times more reliable, but Bryant is the scary, explosive player who all defenses fear most. He's half-brain-dead much of the time, but how can you not start him every week?
• It's time to dial back the Matthew Stafford Freak-Out-O-Meter. Stafford was 34-of-49 for 352 yards, three passing TDs, one rushing TD and an interception against a very good Seattle Seahawks secondary. He's on pace for 4,818 passing yards and somehow has scored a rushing TD in three of his past four games. Suffice it to say, you don't have to trade him away. Stafford's connection with Calvin Johnson is the only thing that hasn't fully come around (but he's on pace for 1,458 receiving yards!), and Sunday Megatron played poorly, dropping a couple of passes and failing to catch a lovely ball in the end zone which caromed off his fingertips. But you should still be playing Megatron every game. Meanwhile, Titus Young (nine catches, 100 yards, two TDs) showed up for me approximately two months late, but I'm still glad to see him. It took a Nate Burleson injury, but here, finally, is the guy we were promised. While Ryan Broyles scored his second TD in two weeks, he's not yet seeing enough targets to be startable.
• Robert Griffin III finally had a game in which he looked rookie-ish, though he had help. The Washington Redskins saw Leonard Hankerson drop an easy score on a perfectly thrown pass early in the game, then Dezmon Briscoe flubbed a slant in the end zone. In all, the Washington Post counted eight uncontested drops, which would've made RG3's stat line of 16-of-34 for 177 yards and a TD look better. But there's no getting around the fact that Griffin didn't play particularly well, especially as the afternoon wore on. He blew an open deep look to Logan Paulsen, and committed an offensive pass interference penalty on a flea flicker in which he also got absolutely rocked by a Pittsburgh Steelers defender. Worst of all, RG3 had six carries for 8 yards. That's brutal.
• Neither did Aaron Rodgers play well in what seemed to be a fine matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It doesn't help the Green Bay Packers that they don't seem to have a serviceable RB on their squad -- for the second straight week, Alex Green (22 carries, 54 yards) seemed to be running on ice skates -- and Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings missing Sunday's game left the Pack without a true deep threat. But A-Rod contributed to the mess with some shaky accuracy, a couple of poor sacks when he should've thrown the ball away (one of which led to a lost fumble), and little connection on anything other than dinks and dunks. Obviously he's fine, and you keep starting him. But after four straight games of at least 24 fantasy points, putting up a meager 13 stings.
• Another NFC North QB, the Bears' Jay Cutler, had difficulties Sunday, as the toothless Carolina Panthers looked like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens coming off the edge in the first half. Cutler's end stat line was 19-of-28 for 186 yards, one TD and three turnovers, and while all six of his sacks did take place in that execrable first half, and while the Bears did clear things up in the second stanza, it's nevertheless alarming to see Carolina (14 sacks in six games before Sunday) wreak that kind of havoc, however temporary. It serves as a reminder that the Bears' O-line can disintegrate at a moment's notice, which is a shaky fact of life for a 6-1 squad. It's also why you shouldn't ever be tempted to start Cutler.
• Just when you were ready to totally jump off the Brandon Lloyd bandwagon, he scores two TDs in London. Then just when you were ready to jump back on, you realized he had two catches the entire game. The theory that he'll be a high-volume receiver for the New England Patriots is fading, and he didn't really even go deep Sunday, either. The production is swell, but one worries this was a bit of fool's gold. I don't mind Lloyd as a sell-high candidate during the Pats' bye.
• DeAngelo Williams wasn't completely phased out of the Panthers' game plan; he took a few Wildcat snaps and wound up with 11 carries for 33 yards. But Jonathan Stewart (21 touches, 80 yards) played more snaps and did fairly impressive work considering how tough the Bears' D has been lately. After the game, the Charlotte Observer reported that D-Willy could be a candidate to be traded before Tuesday's deadline -- which I'll believe when I see -- but the fact that such speculation is filtering among beat reporters tells you how decisively the balance of power in the Carolina backfield has tilted. The Daily Show is the guy to own in Carolina, and as soon as next week against the Redskins, he could be startable.
• Felix Jones, on the other hand, is a big woof-woof. I know he scored a 4-yard TD that saved his fantasy day, but any Dallas Cowboys fan watching that wrenching loss knows where much of the blame rests. Amid an impressive fourth-quarter drive while his team was down two points, Jones ran into his own lineman and fumbled. And while that can happen to anyone, I suppose, it was also an afternoon in which Felix couldn't get the edge any time he tried, often getting run down by linebackers. The man just has no juice. DeMarco Murray reportedly has a chance to play in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons, and that would be heartening. Jones just isn't a good player.
• So much for that oft-quoted stat about how an Andy Reid team hadn't lost a game after a bye, right? (I put about as much faith in that as I do, "Come on! I have to start that guy! He's so good in home games!") Surprisingly, the Philadelphia Eagles didn't turn the ball over once, and the loss probably can't be blamed on scapegoat Michael Vick. Instead, the Philly D just couldn't get off the field. Vick went 21-of-35 for 191 yards passing and a TD, plus 42 yards rushing, but the offensive game plan was ultra-conservative (as Vick's 5.5 yards per attempt indicates). Vick's 15 fantasy points eclipsed Rodgers' 13, but of course, Rodgers has amassed more goodwill than Philly's QB, who has reached 21 fantasy points only twice in '12.
• If you're Rex Ryan heading into the bye, how do you not get Tim Tebow ready to play? Mark Sanchez is awful. He threw a terrible red zone pick in the third quarter down "only" 27-3, after Reggie Bush gifted a fumble, and as seems to be the case every week he's not facing the Patriots, Sanchez offered up his requisite supply of grounders and sideline overthrows. He's barely completing half his throws and is skittish in the face of a pass rush; it's just not happening for him. The New York Jets claim they're sticking with Sanchez, but in a deeper league I'm still holding onto Tebow. I know Timmy T isn't any more accurate than Marky Mark, but he's a bear for opposing defenses to prepare for, and I genuinely believe he's the best option to get the Jets on a win streak.
• Sidney Rice was all over the field Sunday in Detroit, and Russell Wilson actually played well enough that it gives me hope for Rice's immediate future. Golden Tate actually looks more impressive in the box score, but the Seattle Seahawks seemed intent on getting the ball to Rice, as he scored on a red zone throw and was an end zone target on an intercepted pass. Rice also had a reverse that went for only 3 yards. As he gets further removed from dual shoulder surgeries and the concussions that plagued him last season, Rice has started to look more like the beast who powered the Minnesota Vikings back in '09, and he's also looking more like a fantasy starter in deeper leagues.
• The Chiefs haven't led for a single second during regulation time through their first seven games, the first time in NFL history that's ever happened. The K.C. defense isn't terrible. It's the offense. Oy, the offense. Brady Quinn was concussed and had to leave, and Matt Cassel (returning from his own blow to the head) was terrible in relief. And for some reason, coming out of their bye, the Chiefs decided to give Jamaal Charles five carries and three receptions. (Call it the Brian Daboll Effect.) Peyton Hillis at least looked spry on a 17-yard run early in the third quarter, but that's no excuse for ignoring J-Mail, especially when the Chiefs were down just 13-6 at halftime. Then again, remember that Charles had only six carries in Week 2, then got 33 in Week 3. So, y'know, science.
Christopher Harris breaks down Sunday's Week 8 action, and explains why it may take the departure of Norv Turner for him to trust Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates this season.