I'm a huge trivia buff, so it would only be fitting to start off this week's Instant Replay with some trivia: Who is the only quarterback to have begun the 2010 season with five games of 295-plus passing yards?
It's not Peyton Manning. It's not Aaron Rodgers. It's not Tom Brady. And it's not Drew Brees. No, the only man to have done it is the same one who currently leads the NFL in the category: Kyle Orton (1,733 yards).
Whoa, wait a second, the Kyle Orton, the same guy who before this season had only two 300-yard passing performances in 48 career starts? The same Kyle Orton who finished the 2009 campaign only 14th among quarterbacks in fantasy points (206)? Believe it. Orton is off to a white-hot start to 2010, and even with his matchups of late increasing in difficulty, his performances have been just as good.
Perhaps you scoffed at the idea of Orton as a top-10 fantasy quarterback when he managed a respectable 14 points against the mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars secondary, or when he trounced the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts for 20 and 22 fantasy points, respectively. But check out those numbers the past two weeks: 20 points apiece at the Tennessee Titans (Week 4) and Baltimore Ravens (Week 5). Both of those defenses ranked among the 10 best in football in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks entering those games.
Orton's success is a product of two things: one, his Denver Broncos' complete lack of a running game, what with Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) missing his third consecutive game in Week 5. Two, Orton's ability to spread the field with a variety of skilled wide receivers, a group that includes a rejuvenated Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal and rookie Demaryius Thomas. Defenses haven't been able to contain the multitude of weapons the Broncos are throwing at them, affording Orton enough options to overcome his somewhat limited arm strength.
Let's not label Orton as weak-armed. His chemistry with Lloyd at this point is extraordinary, and on Sunday he completed three passes of 25-plus yards to his top receiver. In fact, Lloyd's 42- and 44-yard touchdown receptions represent the longest catches the opposing Ravens have allowed all season. After eight years in the league with four different organizations, Lloyd is quietly transforming into one of the NFL's better deep threats; he has 11 catches of 20-plus yards and five of 40-plus, compared with 33 and nine, respectively, in his first seven seasons combined.
Critics of the hot-starting Broncos passing game might quickly point out that they face the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders the next two weeks, neither of which is a favorable matchup. But considering Orton's play the past two weeks, why assume he's incapable of rising above those challenges? He'll crack my top 10 fantasy quarterbacks in Tuesday's 2010 rankings, and a significant reason is this: After his Week 9 bye, these are his remaining matchups: KC, @SD, STL, @KC, @ARI, @OAK, HOU, SD. Boy, his late-season schedule couldn't look much better.
Lloyd, meanwhile, has top-20 wide receiver potential, and very well might crack that plateau in Tuesday's rankings (he'd be just outside if not). His hot streak, however, might draw the attention of the Jets' Darrelle Revis, or the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha; if he has quieter Weeks 6-7, don't give up hope.
Who needs a passing game? It's Matt Forte, because it's not every day that a running back tops the fantasy leaderboard in a game in which his quarterbacks complete just eight passes and are picked off four times combined. Forte, started in 80.4 percent of ESPN leagues (presumably due to his No. 12 ranking among running backs in fantasy points entering the week, as well as his matchup against a Carolina Panthers defense that had allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to the position) was a true workhorse this week. With 22 carries, he managed 166 yards and two scores rushing, his burst most evident in a 68-yard scamper for a touchdown in the first quarter. Forte also paced the receiving game; he was tops in both receptions (2) and receiving yards (22). He might need Jay Cutler back under center to keep better defenses honest in future weeks, but this was a huge plus for a player who entered the game averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. It cements his status as a weekly high-end No. 2 fantasy option, and a top-10 candidate in point-per-reception leagues.
Week 5 observations
• Todd Haley's backfield decisions rank among the most frustrating developments of the 2010 season, but let's credit him this: He picked the right running back to lead the way in Week 5. Jamaal Charles managed 87 yards on 16 carries and 14 yards on three catches and, unlike past weeks, he was the Kansas City Chiefs' featured back for practically all but the opening possessions of the first and third quarters. Thomas Jones might still be the Chiefs' "starter," but he finished with eight carries for 19 yards despite a favorable matchup against the Colts. Maybe Haley will continue to get this right; Charles' owners can only hope that's the case.
• Beanie Wells begged for more work entering the week and Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt obliged, but wouldn't it have been nice to see him manage better than 35 yards on 20 carries, not to mention failing to score on his only goal-line chance? The New Orleans Saints hardly boast a stout run defense, having allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs entering the week, meaning Wells' one positive exiting Week 5 is that Tim Hightower managed only 6 yards on his four carries. I still have serious questions about this offense, even with Max Hall now the starting quarterback.
• Who needs Vincent Jackson? Philip Rivers might have had his issues with the deep pass the first four weeks of the season, but his chemistry with Malcom Floyd in Week 5 was unmistakable. Facing the Raiders, who had allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, Floyd broke out with eight receptions on 10 targets for 213 yards and a touchdown. Four times Floyd caught a pass of 30 yards or greater, as he routinely burned the Raiders' secondary, which left him open far too often. He clearly has the skills to break off at least one long play per week, regardless of coverage, and his schedule the next two weeks (@STL, NE) should lead to another pair of standout fantasy performances. Floyd has the skills to be a top-20 fantasy wide receiver come season's end.
One play makes your day
I've made no secret of my disbelief in Brandon Jackson as a viable fantasy option, and while his 115-rushing-yard performance against the Washington Redskins, his second career 100-yard rushing effort, might tempt people to hop aboard his bandwagon, I'll caution that I believe he's still in for a bumpy ride. Jackson's day was made by a 71-yard scamper on his first carry -- and the Green Bay Packers' third offensive play -- of the game; he managed 44 yards on nine other carries. Jackson's fantasy day was actually most noteworthy in that he managed five catches for 25 yards in the receiving game, while John Kuhn, with whom Jackson contends with for carries, was stuffed in his only goal-line chance. Kuhn's forgettable performance assures Jackson should at least match him in terms of rushing attempts looking forward, and in PPR leagues, Jackson's value is greater. But his is a limited skill set; he's a back more likely to give you 50 rushing yards (and 75 total) than 100-plus (and 125-plus) most weeks. The Packers also face the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets in Weeks 7-8; those are brutal matchups ahead.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Jermichael Finley (hamstring) and Donald Lee (shoulder): Finley left after the second play of the game with what was initially described as a knee injury, but Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported afterward that it was Finley's hamstring ligament that popped out of place. Bedard noted that Finley will probably be out at least one week "to err on the side of caution." That leaves the Packers in a bit of a pinch, as second-string tight end Donald Lee also suffered a shoulder stinger while catching his first-quarter touchdown. If neither is available in Week 6, rookie Andrew Quarless, who caught four passes on six targets for 51 yards, would be in line to start. Donald Driver might be the biggest benefactor of a Finley absence; he'd gobble up the multitude of underneath tosses Aaron Rodgers has been forced to make lately.
• Aaron Rodgers (concussion): Speaking of the Packers quarterback, Rodgers reportedly suffered a concussion during Week 5, reports Bedard. The Packers didn't reveal when the injury occurred or detail its severity, but Rodgers did get up slowly following his overtime interception. This might be nothing, but in a week when Jay Cutler's streak of 57 consecutive starts was snapped with a similar injury -- not to mention accounting for the league's strict rules about concussions -- Rodgers' status bears close watching this week.
• Mark Clayton (knee): He might not be the most prominent fantasy name to get hurt in Week 5, but his injury was probably the most devastating; Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Clayton's knee injury is a season-ender. Clayton's knee gave out on him while he was running a deep route during the first quarter; he had to be carried off on a stretcher. Brandon Gibson and Laurent Robinson took over as the "starters" following Clayton's departure, but it was actually Danny Amendola who became Sam Bradford's preferred target; Amendola caught 12 passes on 19 targets for 95 yards. The problem: Bradford's performance collapsed after Clayton's injury, which takes all the air out of his proverbial balloon in fantasy. Downgrade the rookie passer, who still makes questionable decisions, though Amendola might warrant a pickup in deeper leagues.
• Joseph Addai (shoulder): He departed late in the third quarter after suffering a shoulder injury on a 3-yard loss, though the severity of the injury wasn't immediately known. Mike Hart managed 40 yards and a touchdown on eight carries following Addai's departure, and bears watching as a pickup candidate, being that in addition to Addai's injury, Donald Brown (hamstring) was inactive in Week 5. Considering the Colts reach their bye in Week 7, it's possible they might give Addai two weeks or Brown two more weeks of rest, in which case Hart could see a fair share of work in Week 6.
• Maurice Jones-Drew (wrist): He left briefly in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars' game, but was able to return on the team's next possession. Still, Jones-Drew's brief absence is noteworthy as it pertains to his backups' status: Rookie Deji Karim managed 70 yards on 15 carries and 145 yards on four kickoff returns; his role expanded due to Rashad Jennings' absence because of a shoulder injury. Karim might soon battle Jennings for the honor of Jones-Drew's handcuff.
• Arian Foster (knee): Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak admitted in his postgame news conference that Foster "banged up his knee a little bit" just before halftime, according to the team's official website. Perhaps that explains why Foster was given only three of the team's six second-half carries, and didn't get the ball at the goal line when Derrick Ward poked home a 1-yard score in the third quarter. Foster's status bears watching during midweek practices; if he's unable to play in Week 6, Ward might be called upon to start. The Texans are off in Week 7, so the prospect of two weeks' rest might be tempting.
• Calvin Johnson (shoulder): He sat out the final few plays after suffering a shoulder injury on a diving catch during the fourth quarter, and he said afterward that his shoulder was sore. Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz said that Johnson merely "landed funny," so perhaps this isn't an injury of any concern. Still, keep tabs on Johnson's status early in the practice week.
• Seneca Wallace (ankle): He was knocked from the game near the end of the second quarter because of a sprained ankle, finishing 11-for-15 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown. Jake Delhomme relieved him but finished with a miserable 13-for-23, 97-yard, 2-interception stat line. That Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini said in his postgame news conference that he considered putting Wallace back in the game speaks volumes; it hints that Wallace' injury won't cost him additional time, and that Wallace is probably set to start the Browns' next game. Wallace isn't much of a fantasy option when healthy, but his presence under center at least gives Peyton Hillis and the running game a fighting chance. Hillis managed just 21 yards on seven carries after Delhomme entered.
• Demaryius Thomas (head/neck): He was ruled out with what the Broncos described as head and neck injuries following a violent hit on a kickoff return in the second quarter, according to NFL.com. Thomas took two hits -- one high and one low -- and had his neck checked on the sidelines during the game. With Kyle Orton off to a scorching start spreading things around to his slew of capable receivers, the Broncos have no reason to push Thomas come Week 6, what with the Jets next up on the schedule. Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal are all more than capable of getting the job done.