Instant Replay: Brady back to old tricks
The Patriots quarterback needed just 30 minutes to match the day's high fantasy total
Foxborough had a decidedly 2007 feel to it Sunday.
Oh sure, the visiting Tennessee Titans might have wanted you to believe it was more like 1960, as they styled themselves as the Houston Oilers to honor the 50th season of the old AFL teams, but we weren't fooled. That's because Tom Brady and his boys ravaged that Oilers er, Titans defense for 35 points. Oh wait, no, I meant 35 points in the second quarter. For the day, Brady, Bill Belichick & Co. totaled 59 points in a bone-crushing victory.
The Brady of old was on parade, as he completed 24 of 28 passes for 345 yards and five scores in the first 30 minutes, moving him into a tie for the day's lead in fantasy points with Maurice Jones-Drew by halftime. His day would end about eight minutes into the second half after adding a sixth score. With pinpoint strikes to Randy Moss, who hauled in eight passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns, and Wes Welker, who totaled 10 receptions for 150 yards and two scores, Brady did exactly what he should have been expected to do: annihilate a Titans defense that had been underperforming and was down three key players.
The absences of Cortland Finnegan, Nick Harper and Vincent Fuller might have put the Titans at a decided disadvantage, but as I mention often in this space, Brady's performance is the mark of a fantasy superstar in that he utterly dominates in the matchups in which it should have been expected. Oh, he's back all right.
The other thing fantasy owners have to love about Brady's recent performance: He now has averaged 282.5 passing yards in his past four games, during which time he has completed 10 touchdown passes without an interception. Folks, if that's not shades of 2007 -- or at least numbers within the ballpark -- I don't know what is.
It's Brady, obviously.
But let's give a little "honorable mention" love to Matt Schaub for his 392-yard, four-touchdown performance on the road versus the hot-starting Cincinnati Bengals defense, shall we? Schaub made Mike Zimmer's Bengals look more like Chuck Bresnahan's Bengals, though to be fair to Zimmer, his defense lost its top pass-rusher (Antwan Odom) in the first quarter. It's the fourth 300-yard passing performance by Schaub in his past five games, three of which were three-touchdown efforts and each of which was a multiscore outing. With Steve Slaton continuing to perform like a more ordinary running back in his sophomore season, the Houston Texans have been leaning heavily on Schaub to carry them to victory, and he has been more than up to the task. Here's the best part: With the exception of the Indianapolis Colts matchups in Weeks 9 and 12, Schaub's schedule looks pretty favorable the rest of the way. All he needs to do: Stay healthy.
• Jonathan Stewart: Tough to forecast him for huge returns looking forward because the man ahead of him on the depth chart, DeAngelo Williams, had every bit as productive (if not more so) a game. Still, what I like about Stewart is that he's making this a true battle for carries, giving Williams a run for his money even when the veteran is running at his best. Fantasy owners need productive backups like this to count on -- a la Ahmad Bradshaw a week ago -- during the thinned-out bye weeks, and there's little doubt Stewart will fit the bill as that versus the Buffalo Bills in Week 7. I expect double-digit touches most every week, and with his explosiveness, the "Daily Show" should continue to be a hit.
• Ray Rice: Yes, that's back-to-back weeks in which Rice was the Baltimore Ravens' go-to guy, and it's no small feat that he managed to crack the fabled "Williams Wall" for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, not to mention he chipped in 10 receptions for 117 yards in what was nearly a remarkable come-from-behind victory. Willis McGahee, whom I was previously convinced was this team's goal-line/short-yardage back, tallied an unremarkable three yards on his seven carries, meaning in Weeks 5-6 combined he had five total yards on nine touches, compared to Rice's 327 yards and three scores on 41 touches. McGahee could yet pose a touchdown-vulture threat to Rice every now and then, but apparently not to the degree that it will significantly diminish Rice's appeal.
• Visanthe Shiancoe: I admit I had my doubts that Shiancoe would be able to match his breakout 2008, including seven touchdowns on 42 receptions, but there's apparently something to the idea that Brett Favre -- at least the late-career edition of Favre -- significantly boosts the numbers of his tight ends. He loves looking their way in red zone situations; he has now targeted Shiancoe six times in the red zone, and the big tight end has converted five of those for touchdowns. Most remarkable: Shiancoe has only 22 targets in six games all season, so more than a quarter of the balls sent his way came in scoring position. He won't come close to the yardage lead at his position, but there's little denying his value now.
• Heath Miller: Speaking of tight ends who serve as ideal red zone targets, let's welcome back this 2007 fantasy megastud-turned-afterthought last season. The Pittsburgh Steelers' pass-happy offense has sure helped his cause, and it's nice to see him catching Ben Roethlisberger's eye once more in scoring situations. Check out these numbers: Miller has nine red zone targets and four touchdowns in six games, paces of 24 and six, respectively. By comparison, in 2007 his numbers in those categories were 17 and seven.
• Pierre Thomas: One of the more frustrating things to fantasy owners is learning that a team scored seven touchdowns on a given day, only to call up the box score to discover that among those, not one was scored by your particular player. Such was the story with Thomas, who was seemingly the only member of the New Orleans Saints offense who didn't find the end zone versus the New York Giants (OK, Devery Henderson didn't either, but Thomas is a heck of a lot more highly regarded by fantasy owners). Normally I'd say chalk it up to bad luck, but it's a concern that Mike Bell was both active and clearly the team's preferred ball carrier in goal-line situations. He poked through one score from a yard out and nearly scored another (nullified by penalty), and might yet bring legitimacy to talk that the Saints' backfield is a true three-headed attack.
• Steve Smith (the Panther): I hate to put a player this talented in this category, but as it has become abundantly clear that Jake Delhomme is close to done as an NFL starter, Smith's numbers have taken a huge hit. In his past six "games that matter" (i.e., including last year's playoff loss), Delhomme has attempted 167 passes and thrown for five touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. Smith was his intended target on 55 of those throws (32.9 percent) and has caught only 23 for 302 yards and one score (which came in that playoff loss). That's an average of 9.2 targets but only 3.8 catches per game, and it has me wondering whether the only way Smith gets back to top-10 status is if there's a quarterback switch in Carolina.
• Matt Hasselbeck: One could pick most anyone from the Seattle Seahawks' offense as a player of concern, but I'm picking on Hasselbeck, being that the Seahawks' offensive line issues are most disconcerting for the quarterback. Good examples: He was sacked five times and picked off once, terrorized by the Arizona Cardinals defenders. Christopher Harris did caution about this in Thursday's "Called Out!" and I chose not to listen, but his points were valid, and I knew it at the time; the matchup wasn't as favorable as the poor Cardinals secondary made it appear. The Seahawks have had a patchwork O-line for a long time -- not just this season -- and that's going to lead to not only some more miserable performances from time to time, but potentially further injury to the brittle passer.
• John Carlson: I'll pick on Carlson, too, being that if there's a second player most adversely affected by the Seahawks' O-line issues, surely it's the tight end. He caught two passes for 55 yards, marking the fifth consecutive week he has been held to five or fewer fantasy points. Carlson has been needed to stay in to block on a healthy chunk of snaps, and until players such as Walter Jones and Sean Locklear return to the lineup, that might remain the case in future contests.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Donnie Avery (bruised hip): The Rams, already weak at wide receiver, continue to be snakebitten in the health department. Avery departed in the second quarter, replacement Tim Carter was knocked from the game a few plays later and then tight end Daniel Fells got injured almost immediately after Carter's absence. Avery remains the one Rams wide receiver -- and maybe one of only two players on the entire offense -- you want, but his health bears watching. The Rams might want to audition a receiver or two early in the week to stockpile some depth.
• Percy Harvin (shoulder): He aggravated his previous injury when he was tackled on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Coach Brad Childress suggested Harvin "nicked" the shoulder and noted that X-rays showed no further damage, but if the rookie misses any time, Sidney Rice would benefit.
• Vikings CB Antoine Winfield (foot): He left Sunday's game in the first quarter, and the Vikings' radio team initially said he had turf toe. It's unclear how serious Winfield's injury is, but if he misses further time, it might revert the Vikings to their former elite-versus-run, poor-versus-pass defensive leaning of previous years.
• Daunte Culpepper (hamstring): He suffered his injury in the second quarter and was finally lifted for good in the third, replaced by Drew Stanton, who performed miserably late in the game. The Detroit Lions get their bye week to allow their quarterbacks to heal, and Matthew Stafford (knee) might yet be able to play come Week 8. If not, this offense could be a real mess in that game, too.
• LenDale White (leg): He was carted off in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, and further details of his health weren't immediately known. Any extended absence by White will benefit Chris Johnson's owners, as Johnson should get the bulk of the carries in that event.
• Trent Edwards (concussion): He was knocked from the game in the second quarter after taking a sack, and was unable to return. Concussions can be dicey things; Edwards might not be able to bounce back quickly. If he can't play next week, expect Ryan Fitzpatrick to get the start.
• Sammy Morris (knee): He lasted fewer than three minutes into the Patriots' blowout victory, and since he's a Patriot, you can count on only sketchy details about his health all week. Notable was that Laurence Maroney dashed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in relief, and facing a respectable run defense, at that. Maroney should earn the start in Week 7 if Morris misses further time, which is a definite possibility considering his brittle nature.
It's safe to say that
• Jim Zorn's job security is probably shakier than Jason Campbell's, despite the former yanking the latter from Sunday's game at halftime. Zorn hinted in his postgame news conference that Campbell might not be done as the Washington Redskins' quarterback, and it makes sense, being that backup Todd Collins, age 37, wasn't any more impressive in relief and is hardly this team's future at the position. A coaching change might alter the team's quarterback plans, though, so suffice it to say fantasy owners shouldn't expect anything from Campbell the rest of the way.
• Mike Sims-Walker learned his lesson for violating his curfew last week, and the Jacksonville Jaguars learned their lesson that they need him in order to be successful as a passing offense. He led the team in targets (11), receptions (9) and receiving yards (120), and remains entrenched as David Garrard's go-to guy.
• The Vince Young era has resumed in Tennessee, as he finally made an appearance late in Sunday's blowout. OK, there's no official word of that yet, and the Titans do hit their bye in Week 7. Still, at 0-6, the Titans have little to lose by going to Young in Week 8, not that fantasy owners should care. For his career, Young has completed just 56.9 percent of his passes and has a 22-to-33 split of touchdowns to interceptions. He might be no more a "game manager" than Kerry Collins was, though perhaps he'll at least be more effective in that role than Collins was.
One play makes your day
No question this belongs to Clinton Portis. After sitting out the first series of the second half with an ankle injury, the veteran ripped off a career-best 78-yard run on his first carry after returning to the game. Now, I'm an advocate that "every play counts" in fantasy analysis, but I just want to plant a thought in Portis owners' minds: Take out that play and the guy would have run 14 times for 31 yards, a 2.2 average, versus the Kansas City Chiefs, who ranked 25th defending the run entering the week. Exclude that play and for the season, Portis would now be averaging 3.5 yards per carry, a career worst. Oh, and keep in mind he has now faced the league's Nos. 15, 23, 21, 28, 30 and 25 run defenses (pre-Week 6 rankings) to begin his season, and he's 28 years old with 2,158 career carries on his legs. If none of this troubles you, you're either a Washington Redskins fan turning a blind eye to the facts or simply a much more optimistic fella than I.
Now that wasn't part of the game plan!
The Carolina Panthers have four receiving touchdowns all season, and all of them have been caught by tight ends. Wait, wha?! These are John Fox's Panthers, who in Fox's seven-plus years at the helm have never seen a tight end amass more than 46 receptions or four receiving touchdowns, right? Jeff King was the benefactor Sunday, and while he has now matched Dante Rosario for the team lead with two scores, the two remain in a rotation that for all its touchdown production has amounted to 17 receptions for the season. I'd chalk it all up more to Delhomme's aforementioned passing issues than a shift in offensive philosophy. If the veteran quarterback gets benched, expect those touchdowns to quickly dry up.
Go get 'em!
As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:
• Hakeem Nicks: Back-to-back weeks on this list, yes, but also back-to-back-to-back weeks with touchdowns, plus he remains available in a shocking 89 percent of ESPN leagues. What are you waiting for? The New York Giants might have found themselves in a boatload of passing situations Sunday, sure, but break down the wide receivers' targets/receptions numbers and it's clear Nicks is going to remain heavily involved: Mario Manningham 9 targets and 4 catches, Nicks 8 and 5, Steve Smith 6 and 3 and Domenik Hixon 7 and 3.
• Lance Moore: A "now that wasn't part of the game plan" candidate, Moore was heavily involved in the New Orleans Saints' pass attack right from the start, catching three passes for 29 yards in the team's first drive and adding a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Having been dropped in a fair share of ESPN leagues because of his hamstring trouble earlier in the year -- his ownership percentage is down to 49.9 percent -- Moore might be worth a look after seeing seven targets Sunday. Apparently the bye week's rest did him some good, but be prepared for inconsistency, as Marques Colston is still this team's clear No. 1.
• Beanie Wells: He's not as widely available as the above two but remains out there in 42.6 percent of ESPN leagues, which isn't bad and perhaps too many. As they said they would in recent days, the Cardinals got Wells more involved in the offense, giving him 12 carries (to Tim Hightower's 13) and one reception (to Hightower's four). Wells' 36 total yards leave a bit to be desired, but considering Hightower's best traits are his pass-catching skills and short-yardage ability, there's plenty here for Wells in terms of eating up yardage.
The matchups did the talking
• Aaron Rodgers (358 yards, 2 touchdowns passing): Shocking that Rodgers routed the Detroit Lions, huh? That means he now has three consecutive games with at least 300 yards and two passing scores versus that defense. Rodgers owners, look forward to that Week 12 rematch in Detroit and drool.
• Ravens run defense (167 yards allowed, second consecutive 100-yard rusher allowed): Hey, the Vikings' starting running back is Adrian Peterson, and I don't mean the Chicago Bears back who was inactive. You can dismiss this performance by the defense, at least to a degree, but it's worth noting that the offseason departure of Bart Scott, coupled with the season-ending injury to Brendon Ayanbadejo, does make this run defense a little weaker than in the past.
And the flip side: So much for "tough" matchups!
• Andre Johnson (8 catches for 135 yards): "So much for" the Bengals' bracket coverage containing opponents' No. 1 receivers. After holding Derrick Mason, Braylon Edwards and Greg Jennings catchless in three of their past four games, the Bengals served up a "typical day at the office" to Johnson. Granted, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels had the bigger receiving games among Texans, totaling 13 receptions for 180 yards and three scores, but it just goes to show you how talent so often overcomes matchups. It might have served the week's best example of that, with the possible exception of
• Drew Brees (369 yards and 4 touchdowns passing): for whom I can simply say "so much for" the New York Giants' vaunted pass defense, which entering the week had allowed an NFL-low 104.8 passing yards per game. Of course, the Giants got to that number partly by feasting on cozy matchups versus the Byron Leftwich/Josh Johnson Buccaneers tandem and JaMarcus Russell in two of the past three weeks, but it's an impressive performance nonetheless. It speaks volumes about Brees' immense talent, but at the same time in no way does it significantly affect my opinion of the Giants' defense.
A quick preview of what's in store for Week 7
• The bye weeks start running two teams deeper, as six teams are off: the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. Six-team byes run through Week 9.
• The NFL is back in London, as the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tangle at Wembley Stadium at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. Ugh, what an ugly game, right? Hey, at least it shouldn't be as ugly a contest as the one played in 2007 between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, when the playing field was in miserable condition due to poor weather. Last year, when the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers played at Wembley, the teams totaled 69 points and had a much more fantasy-friendly contest on a better-conditioned field (amazing what a year's experience can do for a grounds crew). Expect the field conditions to be more like the 2008 than the 2007 game, though it'll surely be a one-sided game, with Tom Brady and the Patriots' potent pass attack facing the Buccaneers' miserable pass defense (13 passing touchdowns allowed in six games).
• There are only two intradivision games in Week 9: the San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, and the Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football." That means less emphasis on historical matchups data, though from those two games I do have two nuggets worth pointing out: One, the Chiefs tended to throw to their tight end a ton in past meetings with the Chargers, who are weak defending the position. Tony Gonzalez had either 100-plus receiving yards or a score in each of these teams' past four meetings, totaling 386 yards and four scores. Not to suggest Ben Patrick is close to Gonzalez's equal in terms of talent, but there's some sleeper potential there. As for the other tidbit, Donovan McNabb was held without a passing touchdown in 75 attempts in two games versus the Redskins in 2008, and that was before the addition of Albert Haynesworth. McNabb is generally a must-start, but a tad quieter performance is likely.
• Everyone loves the Raiders. OK, I'll specify, everyone who owns a fantasy player scheduled to face the Oakland Raiders loves the Raiders. The New York Jets draw the honor this week of facing a defense that thus far has surrendered 2,193 total yards and 139 points in six games. Oh, and the Jets' D stacks up pretty nicely, too; the Raiders' offense has totaled only 1,283 yards and 62 points.
• The city of New York will quite possibly be rocking Sunday night. The New York Giants host the Arizona Cardinals on "Sunday Night Football" at potentially the same time the New York Yankees could host the Los Angeles Angels in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. But let's get our priorities straight, shall we? What matters to us is this: Eli Manning threw for 240 yards and three scores versus the Cardinals and his "mentor," Kurt Warner, in their meeting in Week 12 last season. It makes sense, as the Cardinals have served up 52 passing scores in their past 25 "games that matter" (meaning the 2008 postseason is included).
• Frank Gore is expected to return from his ankle injury, and it's an ideal matchup for him in his comeback. He'll battle the Texans, who have surrendered a total of 828 yards, 10 touchdowns and 132 fantasy points (that's 138.0, 1.7 and 22.0 per game) to opposing running backs this season. Michael Crabtree is also expected to make his NFL debut in that game, playing 12-15 snaps, meaning he bears watching but shouldn't see enough targets to be fantasy-relevant.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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