Instant Replay: Kolb tears up Falcons
Who says there's no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia?
Well, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, that's who. But just as Michael Vick did in Week 2, Kevin Kolb did a fantastic job as a fill-in Sunday, completing 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. That followed up a victory at San Francisco in Week 5 in which Kolb threw for 253 yards and a touchdown. History is repeating itself in Philly, except this time the roles are reversed; now it's the injured Vick who Reid insists is still his starter, while Kolb is the man making his best "Wally Pipp" attempt.
So let's just throw it out there, because we all remember what happened last time: What if, on Tuesday, Reid changes his mind and proclaims Kolb his new starter? After all, at this time following the Week 2 Sunday contest, Reid said Kolb, who was expected back for Week 3, would resume starting in that game. The following day (Monday), Kolb passed his concussion tests and was medically cleared, and the day after that (Tuesday), Kolb was benched with Vick declared the new starter.
Maybe things won't play out quite that way this time around, as Vick, the inactive No. 3 quarterback on Sunday, isn't guaranteed to return from his rib injury in time for Week 7. Remember, the Eagles have a bye in Week 8, so a conservative approach with Vick might be the sensible move. Kolb might get one more start, but at the same time, that could be all he needs to further fuel the controversy.
A matchup at the Tennessee Titans isn't as favorable for Kolb -- or Vick, if he returns -- as this week's against the Atlanta Falcons, but it was the style of game that Kolb played that warrants discussion. He opened things up by taking several deep shots, something he had been hesitant to do in previous weeks, and something Vick had been doing with tremendous success during his time as the starter. Kolb completed six passes of 20 or more yards against the Falcons, responding to those critics who complained about his tendency to check down. In short, he flashed the deep ball Vick did in his two standout starts, minus, of course, Vick's running ability (though Vick's aggressiveness does increase his chances at reinjuring himself).
Kolb's chemistry with Jeremy Maclin, elevated to the role of Eagles No. 1 wideout following the injury to DeSean Jackson (detailed below), was stark: The two hooked up seven times for 159 yards and two scores. Considering the assumption beforehand was that Kolb would look in tight end Brent Celek's direction time and time again, consider that a huge plus.
In terms of weekly value, whichever of the Eagles quarterbacks draws the start is a potential top-10 fantasy play, and that's any week, not just Week 7. But at the same time, I'm not about to push either Kolb or Vick into my top 10 in Tuesday's year-to-end rankings, being that, once again, it's unclear which one will get said starts from week to week. Both, however, could be top-15 candidates even facing that level of uncertainty.
In a season in which quarterback production drops off steeply after about 8-10 names, however, two members of a controversy for a team that should rank among the league's best in terms of passing offense are well worth owning across the board. It's a brilliant handcuff, if you can afford that luxury.
I admit it, I sort of want an excuse to talk about Ben Roethlisberger, but he's the pick this week because he was expected to have a huge game against the Cleveland Browns, and have a huge game he did. In his 2010 debut, Roethlisberger completed 16 of 27 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Let's forgive him for the interception; it came on the Pittsburgh Steelers' first drive of the game, one in which he completed 2 of 3 passes for 7 yards and looked rusty. But he shook the rust off quickly, as a little more than 10 minutes later he located deep threat Mike Wallace for a 29-yard score to put his team up, 14-3.
Here's the other reason Roethlisberger is MVP-worthy: Apparently people still had concerns about his level of rust following four missed games to begin the season. He was started in only 31.1 percent of ESPN leagues despite a No. 9 ranking by our four experts, as well as a No. 9 ranking in my year-to-end rankings last Tuesday. Roethlisberger promptly answered any lingering questions. Now he faces another favorable matchup at Miami in Week 7, and by Week 8 at New Orleans, he should be nothing short of midseason form. He significantly deepens the Steelers' offense, and in doing so, he makes Wallace an instant threat to win your fantasy matchup on one long play, he makes Hines Ward one of the better PPR options in the game, and he ensures the chains will move efficiently enough that Rashard Mendenhall will continue to get his yardage, as well as a healthy number of goal-line chances.
Week 6 observations
• How happy is Johnny Knox to see Jay Cutler back under center? Answer: Plenty. Knox led the Chicago Bears in targets (11), receptions (5) and receiving yards (120) in Cutler's return to the lineup, re-establishing himself as the most viable big-play receiver on the roster. That Cutler is a risk for reinjury, not to mention reliant on a significant number of screens and dump-offs, probably will keep Knox from rising to the fantasy elite, but there's value to be had here as long as Cutler sticks in the lineup. Next up: the soft-in-the-secondary Washington Redskins.
• Andre Johnson told the Houston Texans' official website after Sunday's game that his ankle is still not 100 percent. He could've fooled me: He had the fourth-most fantasy points at his position Sunday. I probably made a mistake dropping him from the No. 1 spot in my year-to-end rankings, but at least it was a mere one-spot drop.
• Don't put too much stock in Dwayne Bowe's 108-yard, 2-touchdown, 22-fantasy point outburst, because while it offers some hope for him looking forward, at least half of it was a product of about as favorable a matchup as he could have asked. In three of their first five games, the Texans have afforded opposing wide receivers at least 30 fantasy points, and for the season they have allowed the second-most per game to the position (27.0). Of course, Bowe's next matchup is against the team ranked No. 1 in that department, the Jacksonville Jaguars (31.2), so he might have another strong outing, then be a prime sell-high candidate.
• I said this was a week I preferred to keep Marshawn Lynch on the sidelines for evaluation purposes, and while that could be termed a bad call -- his 10 points ranked 17th at his position among the day games -- he showed enough for me to give him a starter's recommendation for at least the foreseeable future. Lynch isn't explosive; his self-described "beast mode" style will keep his yards-per-carry number low, but it'll also make him a decent bet for touchdowns, especially with Justin Forsett now spelling him nicely in third-down/change-of-pace situations. The Seattle Seahawks will almost assuredly hand him 15-plus carries per week -- scoreboard willing -- and the schedule plays nice the next five weeks: ARI, @OAK, NYG, @ARI, @NO. Entering Week 6, three of those defenses (Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints) ranked among the five worst in fantasy points per game allowed to running backs. It's time to call Lynch a definite No. 2 running back.
• Interesting subplot to Ray Rice's so-so 11-point fantasy day at New England: Backup Willis McGahee didn't play a single snap. Is there any better indication that Rice is the every-down back, goal-line chances and all?
• Another roster-related note: Jamaal Charles got the start for the Kansas City Chiefs this week, although that serves more to demonstrate the folly of putting stock in "starts" in football; Thomas Jones (19) had more carries than Charles (16), and each had exactly 20 touches. Both were comparably productive -- Charles averaged 5.9 yards per touch, Jones 5.5 -- so it's still a time-share in that backfield.
• Speaking of AFC West backfields, Michael Bush did little in his start this week to ensure that he'll remain in the role once Darren McFadden (hamstring) heals. Bush managed 59 yards on 22 total touches and averaged 2.4 yards per carry. Though he faced a defense stacking the box this week, he simply hasn't looked as explosive in his two starts as McFadden did in the opening month. If you're speculating which one has more long-term value, it's Run DMC, and I'll rank them accordingly Tuesday.
• Michael Crabtree scored a touchdown for the second consecutive week, and if you're keeping score at home, that's now 26 targets, 18 receptions and 220 receiving yards for him in three games since Mike Johnson took over as the San Francisco 49ers' new offensive coordinator, each of those numbers tops on the team. Crabtree's role has been a particular focus of Johnson, and if the young receiver had a more productive quarterback throwing to him, he might have a shot at top-10 numbers from this point forward. It's a shame, but we might have to settle for mere top-20 status.
One play makes your day
Usually this category is regarded as a negative reflection upon a player, but in the case of Greg Jennings, it might very well have been a positive. Take out his 86-yard touchdown in which he badly beat Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis on a double move and he'd have had a forgettable four fantasy points. With it, Jennings finished with six receptions on seven targets for 133 yards, a touchdown and a pleasant 19-point fantasy total, putting him among the top five for the week at his position.
The Green Bay Packers had stressed their plan to involve Jennings with more shots downfield heading into the week, and that play confirms it; it cements his status as one of the game's premier deep threats, set to make your fantasy day on one long catch. Jermichael Finley's absence is going to shift the game plan more toward Jennings, and opposing defenses might prepare accordingly, but look at his next two matchups and tell us you're scared: MIN (just lost top corner Cedric Griffin for the season) and @NYJ (who have Darrelle Revis fighting a season-long hamstring injury and underperforming because of it).
Quotes you don't want to hear
"I really saw some juice in him."
-- Texans coach Gary Kubiak, referring to running back Derrick Ward.
Certainly Arian Foster's owners hate hearing any hints that Kubiak, a master of the running back revolving door, might be thinking fondly of his backups. But here's a fact Foster owners can hang their hats on: After Ward's 38-yard scamper for a touchdown midway through the third quarter, Foster was handed the football on all five of the Texans' plays from within the Chiefs' 10-yard line, scoring touchdowns on two of those. Kubiak's take on Ward might be worrisome, but it's not yet threatening enough to call Ward a goal-line vulture.
So far, so good for both the Seahawks and New England Patriots following the former's trade of Deion Branch to the latter in the past week. New Seahawks starting flanker Deon Butler caught four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, while Branch caught nine of 12 targets for 98 yards and a score in his first game back with the Patriots. Both receivers will rank high on the list of potential Week 7 pickups, but it's Branch in particular who should catch your eye. He and tight end Aaron Hernandez were prominently featured in the Patriots' Randy Moss-less offense, and this is still a team that's going to earn its wins by throwing the football.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• DeSean Jackson (concussion): His was Week 6's nastiest-looking injury, as he took a vicious hit on a crossing route from Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, who was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. Jackson was able to get up and be helped off the field, but Eagles coach Andy Reid confirmed after the game that his star receiver has a concussion. In other words, Jackson will need to pass tests to be cleared to play in Week 6, and with the Eagles on a bye in Week 7, there's a good chance we won't see him again until Week 8. One plus for the Eagles: They didn't cave after Jackson's departure, as Kevin Kolb threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns in nearly three quarters, Jeremy Maclin catching both scores.
• Dunta Robinson (head): He suffered a possible concussion on the Jackson hit as well, and those post-Jackson Eagles passing statistics are damning of the Falcons' defensive performance when their top cornerback is absent. Not that the Falcons were excelling in that regard even when Robinson was healthy; Kolb threw for 84 yards and a score in the one quarter-plus that Jackson played.
• Antonio Gates (ankle): Fantasy football's unquestioned No. 1 tight end -- and a top-10 performer overall the first five weeks -- will be a key name to track throughout the practice week after suffering what the San Diego Union-Tribune reports is a left ankle injury. According to the paper, Gates had his ankle in a protective boot after the game after it "got rolled up on twice." If he's out for Week 7, either Kris Wilson or Randy McMichael would need to step up as the San Diego Chargers' starting tight end.
• Malcom Floyd (hamstring): He left in the fourth quarter of the Chargers' disappointing loss in St. Louis, meaning the team lost both of its two best pass-catchers during the game. The Chargers, primarily quarterback Philip Rivers, would be in quite a pinch if neither was able to play in Week 7 against the Patriots, though that might present some "Hail Mary" plays among the fill-ins accounting for the Patriots' weak secondary. Patrick Crayton had six catches for 117 yards and Buster Davis three catches for 39 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and if Floyd and Legedu Naanee (hamstring) can't play, both might earn starts.
• Josh Cribbs (head): In what was a brutal week full of helmet-to-helmet collisions, Cribbs was knocked from the game in the second quarter after being drilled helmet-to-helmet by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. If Cribbs is also diagnosed with a concussion, he might be out beyond the Browns' Week 8 bye, though his wouldn't be as painful a loss as Jackson's. After all, Cribbs barely ranked among the top 50 fantasy wide receivers entering the week, his primary value coming in leagues that reward for return yardage.
• Mohamed Massaquoi (head): He also took a helmet-to-helmet hit from the Steelers' Harrison, and following the departures of him and Cribbs, rookie quarterback Colt McCoy leaned heavily upon tight end Benjamin Watson in the passing game. Watson might have to play a big part in the offense if neither wideout is able to play in Week 7 at New Orleans, a game the Browns are almost certain to trail for much of the day. Chansi Stuckey and Brian Robiskie are the next two wide receivers on the team's depth chart.
• DeMeco Ryans (Achilles): He's out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, which he suffered late in the second quarter of Sunday's game. Ryan's absence might transform the Texans' defense, which was previously miserable against the pass and only mediocre against the run, into the "miserable" category in both facets. For instance, after Ryans' exit, the opposing Chiefs managed 130 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries (7.2 average), five times breaking off a run in the double digits.
• Shaun Hill (forearm): ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen reports that Hill suffered a broken left forearm when he was hit by New York Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield late in the second quarter of this week's game. Drew Stanton finished the game for Hill, and completed 19 of 34 pass attempts for 222 yards, one touchdown and a rally-killing interception late in the fourth quarter. It's unclear how much time Hill, a right-hander, will miss, but in the worst-case scenario, his season might be done. Fortunately for the Lions, they have a bye in Week 7, and Matthew Stafford (shoulder), well enough to be the No. 3 quarterback this week, is due back by Week 8. Stafford is suddenly looking like a worthwhile add for owners scrounging for quarterback scraps in deeper leagues.
• Todd Heap (shoulder): He suffered a shoulder stinger after taking another of this week's multitude of helmet-to-helmet hits, this one by Patriots strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who took a personal foul for the illegal hit. Heap was able to return to the game, however, which indicates that his injury was not to the head, and it provides hope that he can play in Week 7.
• Eddie Royal (groin): He left in the third quarter because of a groin injury, though it wasn't immediately clear whether he suffered the injury on a hit by the Jets' Darrelle Revis. The Denver Broncos might have just been conservative with him considering their depth at the position. It wouldn't be the first time; Demaryius Thomas (head) was in a similar spot a week ago.