Instant Replay: Blount breaks out
It's only fitting that, on Halloween, it was a good day to be a Buccaneer.
No, that's not only because it was my son's costume of choice. Rather, for the first time all season, we got some clarity in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backfield. Finally, a Buccaneers running back managed 20-plus fantasy points in a game -- heck, it was the first time any had more than 12 -- and finally a Buccaneers running back cracked the 100-yard plateau, as LeGarrette Blount ran 22 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns, posting a 22-point fantasy day.
Talk about building upon a performance. Shrewd fantasy owners -- specifically the ones in the 17.2 percent of ESPN leagues who added him in the past week -- noticed Blount's 11 carries for 72 yards in Week 7, as well as coach Raheem Morris' recent praise of the rookie, and took a chance on the up-and-comer. And break out he did, including three runs of double-digit yardage and one for 48 yards, remarkable for a man his size (6 feet, 247 pounds). As commentators said during the game, "His last name really describes his running style."
One can only imagine Morris' opinion now; maybe Blount will finally earn a start ahead of Cadillac Williams in Week 9 (not that "starts" actually matter a whole lot).
Blount is a powerful runner, but he's surprisingly agile when he hits the second level. Obviously a man of his size isn't likely to tear off long gain after long gain, but when he finds his openings, he'll be the kind of player who can make a fantasy day on one play. Pile that on top of his skills in short-yardage situations -- he converted two third-down plays as well as his only goal-line carry -- and he might yet reside in the class of No. 2 fantasy backs, at least when the matchups dictate.
Of course, owners of any Buccaneers back should be concerned about the threat of their players being yanked from the game plan in weeks the team falls behind, and especially in Blount's case; he's the least-skilled pass-catcher from the mix that also includes Williams and Earnest Graham. For that reason, Blount shouldn't be rushed into the top 20 at his position -- something I will not be doing in my Tuesday re-ranks -- because he's going to have his share of quiet weeks.
But the schedule does have some weeks Blount should start for his owners: Week 10 versus the Carolina Panthers and Week 17 versus the Detroit Lions, to name two. Week 14 at the Washington Redskins and Week 16 versus the Seattle Seahawks should be favorable matchups as well. Interestingly enough, that means he shapes up rather nicely right around the time our playoffs arrive, meaning plenty of additional time to evaluate his prospects entering that period.
It's truly amazing what Calvin Johnson can do, because he's so clearly the most trusted offensive weapon on the Lions' roster, making him a prospect for additional defensive attention, and he hasn't had much in the way of consistency at the team's quarterback position, what with Matthew Stafford healthy for only 12 of his first 23 NFL games (and not every minute of all 12).
Johnson has excelled nevertheless, including a nine-catch, 101-yard, three-touchdown, 28-point fantasy day that ranked second overall for the week (so far) and actually could have been greater if not for some rustiness by Stafford in his return to the lineup. Stafford's lone interception -- hauled in by the white-hot DeAngelo Hall -- was actually an underthrown ball to Johnson that would have been a certain touchdown. Still, who's going to complain? Megatron made Stafford's return from a shoulder separation look easy, and he now has 20 or more fantasy points in three of his past four games.
Now in Week 9, we get a matchup of one of the game's most skilled wide receivers against one of its best cover corners (Darrelle Revis), when Johnson and the Lions take on the New York Jets. Could you ask for a better battle on "Revis Island"? I'll say this: There's no way I'm doubting the Lions wideout, not the way he's playing and especially not with the injury issues Revis has had so far this year.
One play makes your day
Anthony Armstrong gets the "honor" this week, not so much because his 50-yard reception made his fantasy day "exciting" -- is nine points really exciting? -- but rather because his long catch continued a bizarre trend exhibited by the Redskins to date. With that catch, the team now has six receptions of 50 yards or more, tops in the NFL, yet ranked only 14th in passing yards per game (230.9) entering Sunday night's game and had more interceptions (8) than passing touchdowns (7). Donovan McNabb's inaccuracy and poor decision-making skills, things exhibited all too often this season, might be having an adverse impact on the team's overall offensive numbers, but every so often the Redskins are going "boom" on one throw. Armstrong, incidentally, has three catches of 40-plus yards, very often the recipient of those throws. Don't toss him aside when you're looking for Hail Mary-style plug-ins to fill in for bye weeks or injuries.
Week 8 observations
• OK, so let's get back to the two quarterbacks mentioned briefly above, starting with McNabb. His coach, Mike Shanahan, made headlines when he yanked his veteran quarterback -- one who cost a second- and a fourth-round pick -- when the Redskins were down by one touchdown with two minutes remaining in Sunday's game. Oddly enough, Shanahan afterward explained the move to Rex Grossman as greater confidence in the latter to run the two-minute drill. Grossman was promptly sacked and fumbled, leading to a Lions touchdown, then went 4-for-7 for 44 yards in the final drive. Shanahan insisted that McNabb remains his starter, and regardless of the veteran's struggles, anything different would be a shocker. But wasn't the in-game switch enough of a shocker? One can only wonder what kind of long-term impact this might have on McNabb, and it certainly won't inspire confidence in his owners that he's fully comfortable running the Washington offense.
• As for Stafford, while his stat line -- 212 yards, four scores and an interception -- might make his return to the lineup appear seamless, don't be too hasty. He had all the signs of rust you'd expect from a player who hadn't appeared since Week 1, completing only 26 of 45 pass attempts while frequently missing his targets. The Jets matchup, while not a huge concern for Calvin Johnson's owners, should trouble Stafford's. He'll need to be sharper to repeat the effort in Week 9, but more likely he's going to settle right back in as the matchups consideration he was before being hurt. If so, the good news is that he has favorable matchups ahead in Weeks 11 (at Dallas Cowboys) and 12 (versus New England Patriots).
• Speaking of favorable matchups against the Cowboys, keep in mind that's the very matchup David Garrard just exploited to top the fantasy leaderboard on Sunday. In addition to their lack of secondary depth, the Cowboys look like a team that mentally checks out from time to time. Garrard diced them for 260 yards and four scores through the air (on an amazingly small 21 attempts) as well as a score on the ground. Incidentally, Garrard's success might not be fleeting; he faces a similarly soft secondary in the Houston Texans in Week 10, just after a bye week.
• The Kansas City Chiefs owe quite a bit to Jamaal Charles for helping rally them to overtime victory; he managed 177 yards on 22 carries and 238 total yards on 26 touches, both of the yardage numbers being the second-best in his career. He continues to shred opposing defenses -- his yards-per-carry average is up to 6.5 -- and if there's one plus about his near-even split of the rushing chores with Thomas Jones, it's that it's keeping him fresh for an extraordinarily favorable second-half schedule.
• Darren McFadden managed his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the season, and second in a row since returning from his hamstring injury, and don't read too much into Michael Bush's nine carries for 51 yards and a touchdown behind him. Five of Bush's carries, as well as 40 of the yards and the score, came late in the fourth quarter, well after the Raiders had guaranteed victory. McFadden was the clear go-to back, and he continued to look like a running back with top-10 fantasy potential in the weeks he's healthy.
• Maybe I'm just trying to find the silver lining for Cowboys fans, who had to watch as their new starting quarterback, Jon Kitna, threw four interceptions in a miserable performance by their team, but Jason Witten's stock actually seems to have benefited from Kitna's re-emergence. Witten was targeted 12 times this week after 11 following Tony Romo's injury in Week 8, and he had 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown Sunday. Kitna seems to be relying on his safety valve more often than usual, perhaps partly because his other receivers have not been performing well, and perhaps partly because of his own inaccuracy.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Brett Favre (jaw/face): After making a remarkable recovery from an ankle/foot injury -- particularly remarkable if you consider his age -- Favre did indeed leave Sunday's game early, though not because of a setback with his ankle. He departed after taking a hard hit to his chin and chest, and admitted afterward that he needed eight stitches for a laceration on his chin. Favre and Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said there are no plans for the veteran quarterback to miss Week 9, which at least puts his chances of playing ahead of where they were at this point a week ago. Still, Favre's nagging injuries are becoming a clear concern, and the questions about whether snapping his 292 consecutive-starts streak might give his Vikings a better chance to win might only increase in the coming week.
• Ryan Torain (hamstring): He suffered a hamstring pull on a 13-yard catch with 11 seconds left in the first half, finishing the day with a total of 29 yards, one touchdown and eight fantasy points. "I was just striding out the last play of the half, and strained my left hamstring," Torain told The Washington Post, who added that it was "hard to say" how serious the injury is. Fortunately for Torain, the Redskins have their bye in Week 9, so he might be ready in time for Week 10 versus the Philadelphia Eagles. But with the chance that Torain's injury might not be just a one-week ailment, Keiland Williams should be a popular pickup if you can afford the bench spot. Williams totaled 53 yards and a touchdown on nine total touches Sunday, much of that in relief of Torain. James Davis might also warrant a look in larger leagues if Torain is ruled out for a lengthy period.
• Vernon Davis (ankle): He left after making just one catch for 12 yards in the first quarter, though it wasn't immediately known whether it was an aggravation of the ankle injury he was dealing with entering the game. It's likely it was, and Davis' owners should merely hope this isn't a high ankle sprain that he just made worse by attempting to play. Fortunately, the San Francisco 49ers have their bye in Week 9, but if Davis needs to miss additional time after that, Delanie Walker, who caught five of his seven targets for 85 yards, all three of those numbers tops for the team in Week 8, might continue to see increased work.
• Donald Driver (quadriceps): His was definitely an aggravation, as Driver left Sunday's game late in the first half, finishing the contest without a catch. He missed two days of practice in the past week, and very likely will sit out Week 9 in order to get two weeks' rest, with the Green Bay Packers on bye in Week 10. Driver has been in a dreadful funk of late and his owners in shallow leagues might need to consider cutting him in order to make it through the bye weeks. Expect James Jones and Jordy Nelson, who have alternated good games, to see an increase in targets if Driver is forced to sit out next week.
• Chris Cooley (back, ankle): He missed much of the second half of the Redskins' game with back spasms, though coach Mike Shanahan added after the contest that Cooley was battling a sore ankle as well. The bye week's rest should help the tight end, but in the event he misses Week 10, Fred Davis would step up as the team's pass-catcher at the position, with Logan Paulsen stepping in during two-tight end sets. Davis would be the only one with fantasy appeal.
• Vince Young (ankle): Yet another of the many aggravations in Week 8, Young reinjured his left ankle while scrambling in the fourth quarter, immediately grabbing his left leg, and had to be helped off the field. As with the Redskins, the Tennessee Titans are on bye in Week 9, helping Young's chances of not missing a game. Kerry Collins would get the start at quarterback if Young is unable to play in Week 10, at a time when the Titans face the meaty portion of their schedule; they face the Miami Dolphins, Redskins, Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars in Weeks 10-13.
• Kenny Britt (hamstring): Young's favorite target, Week 8 standout Britt, was also injured Sunday, departing in the first quarter after pulling his hamstring. He limped to the sidelines, finishing the day with zero catches and just one target. Britt might need more than the bye week's rest in order to heal; in that event, Justin Gage would presumably step into his starting role come Week 10.
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