Romo's 'demise' greatly exaggerated
He was a lightning rod for debate in the preseason; his arm was a lightning rod Sunday
Who needs Terrell Owens (or for that matter, Jessica Simpson) anyway?
Tony Romo might have entered the 2009 campaign surrounded by question marks. Can Roy E. Williams step up and be the No. 1-caliber wideout that T.O. was for the past three years with the Dallas Cowboys? Can Romo escape the whispers that he's a terrible late-season/playoff (read: clutch) quarterback? Perhaps most importantly, can he stay healthy for 16 productive games of an NFL season?
One week might not solidify the right answers, but if you answered "yes" across the board on your preseason quiz, well, at least in Week 1 you were correct. Romo sliced and diced a declining Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary for a career-high 353 yards and three scores, and once again looked like the top overall quarterback candidate he has shown hints of being in seasons past. In fact, if not for some guy named Brees, he'd have been tops at the position in the season-opening week.
Now, let's not give all the credit to Romo. The Buccaneers have their share of problems on defense, which seemed entirely incapable of keeping pace with the Cowboys' vertical passing game. Romo had no problem locating Miles Austin, Williams and Patrick Crayton on separate touchdown passes of greater than 40 yards. Heck, he terrorized the Bucs so much that each successive scoring strike was longer than the one before it -- Austin's was 42, Williams' 66, Crayton's 80.
But let's also remember that is the sign of an elite quarterback; he's going to recognize his opponent's weaknesses and thoroughly dominate it. For one day anyway, Romo demonstrated that at his best, he still has the strength, accuracy and weapons to keep pace with most any quarterback in the game. As for the question about his late-season struggles, we'll just have to wait for that answer. However, even if his fantasy owners are concerned he'll struggle again, well, they can always deal with a sell-high trade come late October.
One thing is for sure: This is a bandwagon I'll be riding for at least the season's first two months. After this performance, he has now averaged 290.0 passing yards, 2.4 touchdowns and 1.0 interceptions in the first eight games of the season dating back to 2007, compared to 244.1-1.9-1.2 numbers, respectively, in the final eight.
He's a name you know, you spent a lot to get (duh, 8.9 average draft position in ESPN leagues, so of course you did), but Drew Brees' opening-week performance completely justified his first-round status. He completed six touchdown passes -- becoming the 14th player to do that since 1970 and sixth this decade -- to five different receivers and threw two completions or more to seven different receivers.
In fact, by halftime Brees had the kind of game that would have won many a fantasy week, completing 16 of 20 passes for 210 yards and four touchdowns, and amassing 22 fantasy points in the first half against the Detroit Lions. Heck, if you owned him, you could've checked out around 2:30 p.m. ET and taken the kids to the park!
I'm full of excitement about the following four players based upon the week's results, and I recommend you stick with or trade for them.
• Joe Flacco: Sunday's performance was one that nobody -- OK, except maybe Matthew Berry -- saw coming, and while it's easy to dismiss Flacco's 307-yard, three-touchdown performance because it came against the Kansas City Chiefs, I think it's one that bodes well for his future outlook. The numbers weren't a result of his spending most of his time playing catch-up, and they came in a home game in which the running game was surprisingly productive. Flacco gets three more cakewalk matchups at home in his next six games: the Cleveland Browns (Week 3), Cincinnati Bengals (Week 5) and Denver Broncos (Week 7).
• Thomas Jones: Heading into the season, I wasn't optimistic about Jones, whose touchdowns went from one sans Brett Favre in 2007 to 13 with him in 2008, not to mention his being 31 years of age, with nearly 2,000 carries on his legs. With Shonn Greene scratched for the opener, Jones capitalized upon increased goal-line work, and topped 100 yards rushing with two scores on the day. I might call him a "sell-high" option with time, but not yet.
• John Carlson: Nothing against his teammate, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but Carlson strikes me as one of the most underrated pass-catching tight ends in the game, and he plays in a division where he'll get six soft, easy matchups per year. Sure enough, in his first one, Carlson was good for two touchdowns. He won't stay underrated for long.
• Julius Jones: I admit that while I was somewhat optimistic about him at the time I wrote my Seattle Seahawks 32 Questions piece, the subsequent signing of Edgerrin James had me hedging my bets in most of my drafts. Jones seemed to validate my initial optimism, though, racing for 117 yards and one touchdown. And while James had 11 carries to Jones' 19, consider that seven of those came after Jones had punched home his 62-yard scamper to put the Seahawks up 28-0. James was more garbage-time than change-of-pace back.
Be it because of poor performance, role change or injury, these four players I'm downgrading, looking to trade or cutting based on the week's results:
• Jake Delhomme: His miserable performance brought back painful memories of his five-interception stinker in last year's divisional playoffs, and if you combined his numbers from that game and this year's Week 1, in his 51 pass attempts he had 24 completions (47.1 percent), 278 passing yards (5.5 average), one touchdown and nine picks. No wonder he got an early hook. In fact, if you take all his "games that matter" stats since Nov. 1, 2008, he has a 55.6 completion percentage, 7.6 yards per attempt and seven touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions. If I'm looking for something nice to say about Delhomme, it'd be that the Carolina Panthers lack a reliable alternative. But that's not saying much.
• Torry Holt: Just not a fan, nor was I in the preseason. As a game-changer, he looks done. The numbers are damning: Though he led the Jacksonville Jaguars in receiving yards (47), Holt had only three catches on five targets working with a quarterback who threw to wide receivers only 10 times in 28 attempts.
• Domenik Hixon: Incredibly, he was drafted in 85.0 percent of ESPN leagues, so people apparently believe in him as the New York Giants' de facto No. 1 wide receiver. Don't be so hasty. The impressive preseasons by both Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks had the Giants tempted to run a three-man rotation at split end, and each had more receptions (Manningham 3, Nicks 2) and targets (Manningham 4, Nicks 4) than Hixon (1 and 3) in the opener. Nicks is the one with the upside; he's not an instant pickup yet, especially not with his status in some question because of a foot injury. But if he's fine, he might be the key option sooner than later.
• Kurt Warner: I'm not really all that interested in sounding any warning sirens with Warner yet. After all, I was a believer in the preseason and remain so, though he was clearly drafted too high, judging by ADP. That said, he didn't look close to the Warner of old in the opener, some of which can be blamed upon Anquan Boldin being less than 100 percent and Steve Breaston's outright absence, but most of which should be blamed upon Warner. The stat that troubles me: He averaged 6.5 yards per attempt, and it wasn't small-sample-size driven since he threw 44 passes. In his career, Warner has averaged fewer yards per attempt despite at least as many throws only four times, and only once did it happen in 2008. I have an eerie feeling his owners are indeed going to need an insurance policy.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Antonio Bryant (knee): He left in the fourth quarter Sunday and bears watching after having been limited in the preseason coming off knee surgery.
• Anthony Gonzalez (knee): He suffered a non-contact injury, and had to be helped off the field. NFL.com reports he'll miss 2-6 weeks, in which case Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon will see expanded roles, while Dallas Clark might also receive more targets. Eric Karabell will also have more on Gonzalez's situation in his Monday blog.
• Donovan McNabb (fractured rib): Coach Andy Reid wouldn't specify how long McNabb would be sidelined, but remember, Michael Vick is ineligible to play before Week 3. If McNabb misses next week, Kevin Kolb, who threw for only 23 yards on 11 attempts, might have to start. Ugh.
No reason to think that
• Kevin Smith can't be an every-week fantasy starter despite playing for the Lions. The New Orleans Saints did make every effort to stack the box to stop him, but the Lions stayed true to their word that they'd include him more in the passing game when playing from behind. Smith garnered nine targets, second on the team to Calvin Johnson (12), and of the 12 red zone plays the Lions ran, Smith was involved in seven of them (five runs, two catches).
• The Baltimore Ravens can't boast as deep a running game as they had in 2008, or that they can have just one viable fantasy option at running back. Two Ravens (Willis McGahee 19, Ray Rice 11) had double-digit fantasy points Sunday, and Le'Ron McClain fell just short with nine, and every one of the three got at least one of the team's eight goal-line rushing attempts (McGahee had the most with five).
• Raheem Morris was lying when he said he would utilize a running back rotation, with Cadillac Williams his "starter" in Week 1. Williams had the best fantasy day of the Buccaneers' three running backs, and he played a little more frequently than Morris' proposed 2-2-1 by-series approach, but it's nice to see that what Morris says, Morris does. I'll probably be more trusting of his stated strategy for his three backs come Week 2 as a result, and I also won't be surprised if what he says is that Williams is now his go-to guy.
One play makes your day
One might look at the fact that Brandon Stokley had 87 yards receiving and a touchdown in Week 1, while Brandon Marshall had 27 yards and no scores, and think, "Well, I guess Marshall isn't out of Josh McDaniels' doghouse yet." The numbers mislead; Stokley's numbers all came on one catch, a ball intended for Marshall himself that was tipped by Bengals cornerback Leon Hall and snatched by Stokley. Don't read too much into it.
Now that wasn't part of the game plan!
I'm generally the point man on our fantasy football inactives page each week, and I'll admit I was a bit surprised, based upon the news leading into the day, when I learned that the Cardinals had kept the aforementioned Boldin active and scratched Breaston. It went against all preliminary indications and, almost predictably, Boldin looked noticeably less than 100 percent and was scarcely involved in the game plan, garnering five targets, two receptions and 19 yards. Just for a little comparison's sake, No. 1 Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 11 targets and six receptions and No. 3 option (well, No. 3 with Breaston out) Jerheme Urban had seven and five. That just goes to show you: Fantasy football can break your heart with its last-minute unpredictability.
Go get 'em!
As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:
• Mike Bell: It amazes me that he had only a 12.1 ESPN ownership percentage heading into Week 1. That's 12 points left on your league's waiver wire. Even if you want to dismiss six of his 28 carries and 28 of his 143 yards that came after the Saints rolled up the score to its 45-27 finishing point, "garbage time" stats if you will, can you really claim any team that gave up 27 points to the lowly Lions has the luxury of classifying anything as "garbage time"? Every offensive series matters to the Saints, we have no idea how quickly Pierre Thomas' knee will heal, and there was preseason chatter of a three-man rushing attack besides.
• Mark Sanchez: You know, for a rookie, that was not all that bad a performance, throwing for 272 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He has a running game that helps keep opposing defenses honest, and has flashed remarkable chemistry with Chansi Stuckey between the preseason and now Week 1, and I think in a two-quarterback league I might be able to extract a useful matchup or three. Hey, it could have been worse he could have had Matthew Stafford's NFL-debut stat line (16-for-37, 205 yards, 3 interceptions).
• Chansi Stuckey: See Sanchez, Mark.
• Robert Meachem: Now, the New Orleans Saints do have a multitude of weapons in the passing game, but while Devery Henderson will have praise heaped upon him for his opening-week performance, Meachem's might go a bit overlooked, which isn't right. He's as much a big-play candidate as Henderson, and at one point, he did look like he was the one with the brighter future. If I'm in a deep league and have the bench space, I'd stash him away and hope he keeps this up.
So much for the preseason
• Tony Gonzalez: So what was all that talk about the great Tony G. spending much of his time in Atlanta as a blocker? Hogwash, that's what it was! The all-time receptions leader among tight ends fattened his number with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown, and he tied for the team lead for the day with nine targets.
The matchups did the talking
• Steve Slaton (9 carries for 17 yards versus Jets): The Jets might have been down DE Shaun Ellis and LB Calvin Pace, but all that means was they didn't generate a ton of sacks. Their run defense was as stout as ever, so we'll forgive Slaton. After all, we did warn you to be patient through his tough-as-nails September schedule, including Week 2 at the Titans and Week 3 versus the Jaguars.
• Dwayne Bowe (40 yards and a touchdown at Ravens): The touchdown actually rescued his day for fantasy owners, but most of his owners probably are expecting more than 10 points from him in a typical week, accounting for his ADP. Remember, Brodie Croyle was the man slinging him the football, and this defense ranks among the stingiest in the game. I'd expect more once Matt Cassel heals.
A quick preview of what's in store for Week 2
• The Minnesota Vikings, coming off their 34-20 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns, next travel to Detroit to take on the Lions. That's good news for Bernard Berrian; he had his 2008 season high in receiving yards against them in Week 6, adding a touchdown on five receptions.
• Speaking of Romo, he and the Cowboys play the Giants in the Sunday night game in Week 2. That might be of concern on paper, but did you know that Romo has thrown for at least two touchdowns in each of his past three regular-season games versus the Giants?
• I'm very interested to see what LaDainian Tomlinson can do against a Baltimore Ravens defense that just held the Kansas City Chiefs to 29 rushing yards and no scores. Sure, Larry Johnson is no LT2, but Tomlinson was held to less than 100 yards rushing without a score by the Ravens in games in both 2006 and 2007.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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