Stop yourself if you have said the following statement over the
last few days: “What’s wrong with ____?” (Fill in the blank with
the names of players such as Cam
Decker and so on.)
I have purposely stayed away from the usual Week 1 chatter this
year for a number of reasons, not the least being because Opening
Week always has been and probably will always be the most unpredictable
of weeks during any given NFL season. New coaches enter the picture
every year, bringing along different philosophies and new schemes
on both sides of the ball. Players who may have not seen the field
for more than a half during the preseason are being asked to play
full games. Adjustments cannot be made until coordinators and
coaches have seen the new wrinkles actually play out – no
matter how much they have been discussed in the media.
In other situations, players are being asked to fill new roles
and not all of them are up to the challenge, especially when they
are performing on the big stage for the first time (and they know
it). Last but not least, there are still players on the other
side of the ball whose main purpose is to make sure the other
team’s best offensive players don’t succeed. In other
words, it’s Week 1 and a lot of mistakes can be made when
fantasy owners make decisions based on a small sample size.
And in case there are those readers that believe I’m just
recycling the same old tired “don’t panic after Week
1” message year after year, it is because I experience it
myself. Although I don’t keep track of such statistics,
I’d be willing to bet my lowest winning percentage of any
week is Opening Week and it probably isn’t even close. So
when I say, “It will get better,” to all the owners
who are disappointed in their teams’ Week 1 performance,
it is because I tell myself that. I know I drafted well, but I’m
hardly clairvoyant. And even if I was, it wouldn’t change
whatever opponent I am matched up against in Week 1.
In the coming weeks, I intend on passing along insightful pieces
of information that goes above and beyond what readers typically
expect from a fantasy column. Some will come via my own research
methods and some will come by way of Pro Football Focus,
which has become an incredibly useful tool in helping me make
smarter lineup decisions. One of the areas I plan on discussing
her is the different categories PFF charts in regards to cornerbacks.
I am excited to do this since owners tend to make the most “mistakes”
at the receiver position when setting their lineups. By researching
which cornerbacks are targeted the most, surrender the highest
passer rating or give up the most touchdowns, owners can get a
good sense of which defensive backs are getting “picked
on” the most. With the NFL evolving into a “matchup
league”, it can only help if we know what players offenses
want to target each week.
For now, however, I’m going to avoid making rash judgments
on what I saw play out last weekend and focus more on what I observed
thanks to NFL Game Rewind. After each “observation”,
I will take some time to discuss the fantasy impact in the “Week
1 Reaction”. I won’t discuss every game, but rather
highlight some of the more notable things that stood out to me.
There is no need for me to discuss Peyton
Manning at the moment; there are plenty of other people already
doing that. The most fascinating part of Denver’s win wasn’t the
reaction to Manning tying an NFL touchdown record, but the notion
that one game “proved” that Eric
Decker is no longer a vital part of the Broncos’ offense.
Decker himself called his performance “ridiculous”.
The idea that the most-targeted red-zone receiver from a season
ago – and James
Jones owners may be feeling the same way about him this week
– will simply go away in an offense that will probably average
70+ plays with a Hall of Fame quarterback is mind-boggling to
me. Decker saw 7.6 targets on average (and didn’t score until
Week 4) in 2012; he saw seven targets in the opener despite his
struggles. On the field, I was most perplexed by Baltimore’s unwillingness
to use top CB Lardarius Webb on Wes
Welker in the slot (Webb’s usual responsibility in three-wide
packages) and leave him on Decker all game long. Not surprisingly,
Manning attacked CB Corey
Graham and FS Michael
Huff relentlessly, each of whom allowed three touchdown passes.
The Broncos obviously trust Montee Ball with the ball; however,
it is also very clear they don't trust Ball without the ball.
The fact they brought him on during the clock-killing mode suggests
the only thing keeping him off the field is the faith Denver has
in his pass-blocking assignments (not exactly surprising news).
Like Ahmad Bradshaw in Indianapolis, this is going to take a little
bit of patience, even if it is for a much different reason.
Week 1 Reaction: Nothing to
see here in regards to Decker. Perhaps his touchdown total goes
down from 2012, but there’s a much better chance Decker’s
a good buy-low candidate right now than a bust in this offense.
As far as Ball is concerned, anyone who was following along in
the preseason had a pretty good sense that his rise into the starting
lineup was going to be more gradual than meteoric. It would be
foolish of me to suggest I know exactly when Ball will earn the
trust of his coaching staff as a pass blocker, but it seems pretty
clear that is the one obstacle he needs to overcome in order to
become Denver’s lead back.
Terrelle Pryor may have a short run as
a fantasy QB1.
The world may have known Terrelle Pryor was going to draw the
start against Indianapolis, but the Colts sure didn’t play
defense like it. Pryor is a gifted athlete that lacks deep-ball
accuracy, so why did Indy play its corners off all game (allowing
Pryor to complete short passes) and consistently crash down on
running plays when it was fairly obvious he would keep the ball
about as often as handed it off?
Ballard looked much lighter on his feet than he did last season
and even during the exhibition season. As (should have been) expected,
he saw nearly three times as many snaps as Ahmad
Bradshaw (41-15). The ex-Giant saw his first action on the
Colts’ third series, came on again midway through the first drive
of the second half and had the backfield to himself on the following
drive. He did not see another touch for the rest of the game.
Week 1 Reaction: Pryor could
have a short run as an impact fantasy player with Jacksonville
and Denver next up on the schedule, but defenses that play with
any discipline in the run game, recognize that he drifts to his
right when pressured – like many young mobile quarterbacks
– and aren’t afraid to make Pryor burn them deep will
probably have a field day against the Oakland offense.
The Ballard-Bradshaw situation will be one to monitor going forward,
but Bradshaw owners should feel good that he touched the ball
on eight of his 15 snaps while Ballard touched the ball of 14
of his 41 plays. That kind of ratio hints that Bradshaw will move
into even timeshare status (or more) soon enough – at which
point he should be a fine flex option or low-end RB2 in all leagues.
Johnson came within a few inches of one touchdown and could
have scored another had the officials decided he was a runner
at the point he fell to the ground and not a receiver “in the
process” of a catch on his first potential score. Adrian
Peterson, on the other hand, was oh-so-close to a 20-yard
rushing performance. (In case you missed the highlights, he ran
for a 78-yard touchdown on his first carry of the year and rushed
for a total of 15 yards on 17 attempts thereafter.) Detroit routinely
beat Minnesota’s offensive line off the ball and generally played
up to its considerable talent level.
Jerome Simpson has given us a spectacular show before, most notably
at the end of the 2010 season with the Bengals. What he has never
done is consistently play to his talent level. With that said,
his 47-yard catch over-the-head catch down the middle of the field
in the third quarter was exactly the kind of amazing play he used
to make with Cincinnati, only to blow an assignment or drop the
easiest of passes a short time later.
Week 1 Reaction: As snake-bitten
as Megatron owners must feel over the last year or so in regards
to his bad luck in the touchdown department, Matthew Stafford
will continue to go to him and OC Scott Linehan will spend as
much time as necessary to free him up against double teams as
he has done time and time again in recent years. Peterson was
without his usual lead blocker (suspended FB Jerome Felton), but
that wasn’t the reason why he was bottled up after his big
early run. Had I not seen Detroit’s run defense dominate
at times in the preseason, I might be willing to dismiss this
performance a bit more. However, as long as the Lions’ talented
front four stays healthy, their run defense will probably represent
a below-average matchup for just about every opponent going forward.
Simpson might be worth an add in deeper leagues just to see if
this is going to be the season the 27-year-old puts it together,
but there is just too much history working against him at this
point to suggest this may be the start of something good. Also
working against him is OC Bill Musgrave and the Vikings’
investment in rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, who will almost certainly
overtake Simpson in the lineup (or split time at the very least)
when he is ready.
Pittsburgh looked exactly like the same team I saw in the preseason
– a team capable of holding an opponent to one offensive touchdown
or less but unable to sustain offense. Of course, that was before
the season-ending injuries to C Maurkice Pouncey and RB LaRod
Stephens-Howling, who was acting as the team’s every-down
back after Isaac
Redman’s inauspicious start. Le’Veon
Bell’s return will help somewhat, but he isn’t going to create
holes on his own nor is he the type of back that will carry an
offense for long stretches. The Steelers’ offensive line appeared
very much to be a unit in transition. Quite honestly, this was
the worst offensive effort I have seen from a Pittsburgh team
in as long as I can remember. Apparently, Tennessee felt the same
way. Despite a 2.7 YPC and a long run of 11 yards, the Titans
ran the ball 42 times and never showed an inclination to open
up the offense even though they took most of the first half to
score and never really pulled away in the second half.
Week 1 Reaction: The Steelers
are in trouble and the problems go beyond the loss of Mike Wallace.
The offensive line – which used to get unfairly blamed for
yielding too many sacks when Ben Roethlisberger’s propensity
to hold on to the ball too long contributed as much to the high
totals as much as anything – was getting manhandled in the
passing and running game. The fact that Pouncey was lost because
RG David DeCastro blindly dive-blocked into his knee was symbolic
of the performance in general. Pittsburgh has the look of a 4-12
team right now.
Carolina has reason to be a bit optimistic, especially if the
team follows through on opening up the offensive playbook after
acknowledging it was too conservative against Seattle. DeAngelo
Williams showed much more life in his legs than he did at
any point in the preseason, The Panthers’ defensive front seven
did a remarkable job of containing the Seahawks’ running game.
The pass defense will continue to be Carolina’s weakness, although
Wilson reaffirmed he is the real deal. His ability to improvise
and turn a potentially devastating play into a positive one for
the offense is remarkable for a second-year quarterback.
Week 1 Reaction: The Panthers
began to field a respectable defense in 2012 about the time they
moved Luke Kuechly from outside linebacker into the middle. The
run defense was further bolstered last week when the team added
S Quintin Mikell. However, their inability to defend the pass
is likely to be their undoing as Josh Thomas and Josh Norman each
surrendered a QB rating of 96.4 or higher in 2012 while Captain
Munnerlyn was highly inconsistent despite a lower QB rating (76.6).
I’d like to be a believer in D-Will, but ultimately think
Jonathan Stewart will return at some point this season and make
him somewhat irrelevant. I have little doubt that while Wilson
may be a bit inconsistent in fantasy when the running game is
working well, he’ll also do enough himself to be a top-notch
starter most weeks.
Marc Trestman may end up being the answer to Matt Forte and
his owners' prayers. Michael Bush saw 14 snaps – compared
to 52 for Forte – and all of his carries came in clock-killing
mode. The Bengals’ defense was incredibly impressive at
times in the preseason and that carried over into Week 1, so it
was rather surprising that Forte still managed 91 total yards
and a score. If he is also going to remain on the field in most
goal-line situations on top of usual in-between-the-20s work,
he is going to live up to his fantasy draft status and then some
Week 1 Reaction: So far, so
good for those of us who took a chance on Forte in the first round
of our drafts. Forte has been tagged as a poor short-yardage and
goal-line back throughout his career, but I have long believed
he was more a victim of Chicago’s unwillingness to invest
enough resources to fix their offensive line issues – which
was also leading to Jay Cutler’s inability to stay healthy.
Furthermore, this year is the first time I can remember Forte
actually have something resembling a solid supporting cast, so
the fact he is now playing for a noted offensive coach makes it
that much better.
The most impressive player in Jacksonville-Kansas City was...Ace
Sanders? Three catches for 14 yards isn't going to turn the
heads of fantasy owners, but nine targets in a quick-hitting offense
that will be playing its fair share of garbage-time ball should
raise an eyebrow. For those of you that missed Chiefs-Jaguars
(go ahead and admit it, there’s no shame in it), Sanders was originally
credited with a 57-yard reception that was (correctly) brought
back after replay for an 18-yard gain and a 33-yard catch that
was wiped out due to an questionable offensive pass interference
call on Cecil
Shorts on a pick/rub play. This likely begs the question:
Why I am mentioning these plays? Quite simply, the fact that the
plays only resulted in 18 total yards doesn’t take away from the
idea he could have easily piled up almost 100 receiving yards.
Jacksonville was not afraid to use him on the outside in addition
to his normal slot duties, which was a bit of a shocker.
Staying on the receiver front, my late preseason fears about
Dwayne Bowe were not squashed after watching this game. There
could be any number of reasons why he posted a 4-30-0 line against
the Jaguars, but six targets on 63 plays is a bad ratio for any
lead receiver – especially one as good as Bowe in a plus
matchup. Bowe played 55 snaps, so it wasn’t because he didn’t
see much time. From my perspective, Alex Smith did a lot of checking
down despite the fact the Jaguars didn’t put a lot of pressure
on him. The Chiefs don’t face many stout pass defenses this
season, but they aren’t going to have a much better opportunity
to open things up than they did against the Jaguars.
Week 1 Reaction: I get it;
people are going to have a hard time wrapping their minds around
a 5-7, 173-pound slot receiver in an offense led by either Chad
Henne or Blaine Gabbert. And those fears are justified. However,
let’s remember that fellow rookie Tavon Austin may have
an inch and a pound on him physically (and that’s about
it) and Jacksonville is now one of the many up-tempo teams in
the NFL. Of course, I’m not suggesting Sanders is the same
kind of prospect Austin is. However, more plays leads to more
opportunities and the Jaguars will be spending a fair amount of
time playing from behind. Teammates called Sanders the most impressive
rookie during training camp and the preseason and I noted during
my Big Board series that he was one of the players that stood
out to me during exhibition action.
It’s hard to believe that Kansas City’s target distribution will
be as balanced as it was in Week 1 every week (FB Anthony
Sherman led the team in receiving yards and tied Bowe for
the team lead in receptions), but this is the type of game that
Bowe should have easily posted twice as many catches and yards
than he did. Balance in this kind of game is acceptable when a
team sits on the ball, but Smith still threw the ball 34 times
even though the Chiefs had the game in hand for most of the second
half. Furthermore, the talent gap between Bowe and every other
Kansas City receiver is significant enough that Bowe should see
substantially more targets than any other Chiefs receiver every
For those of you that don't mind playing ahead a little bit,
I would start putting out offers for Bryce
Brown. While LeSean
McCoy isn't in any danger of losing his job, he's also not
likely to withstand the kind of workload he put in during Week
1. There’s no reason for Chip Kelly to back off his approach,
but I’m pretty confident McCoy and Michael
Vick will not carrying the ball 40 times like they did on
Monday every week. Vick continues to talk about playing smarter,
but he still finds way too much contact for someone trying to
protect himself and he was already limping a bit after one game.
If Vick is hurt and Kelly wants to continue running the ball 40
times per game, Vick’s piece of the pie will have to fall on Brown
– and not on Nick
Foles or McCoy.
Week 1 Reaction: It seems unlikely
McCoy will continue to see 32 touches every week, so buying into
Brown is really more of an investment in the likelihood that Kelly
isn’t going to slow his tempo. Kelly routinely used multiple
backs at Oregon and, if Week 1 was any indication, there will
be large holes for Philadelphia running backs to run through.
McCoy is the unquestioned best runner on the team (and one of
the best backs in the league), but Kelly’s attack figures
to wear down his players as the season progresses as much as it
figures to wear out the Eagles’ opponents each week.
San Francisco – as far as Frank Gore is concerned –
is a between-the-tackles running team. So when a defense is able
to plug up the middle of the field like the Packers did in Week
1, Gore’s impact will be limited. It became clear relatively
early that Green Bay was going to stop the run at all costs and
live with Colin Kaepernick beating its zone through the air, which
he did. The reason I bring up Gore is because he – along
with Steven Jackson – will be attempting to buck the trend
of 30-year-old running backs falling off the fantasy map. One
week isn’t enough to draw any rock-solid conclusions (midseason
will be a better barometer), but Gore looked exactly the same
to me in this game as he did for the majority of last season.
Week 1 Reaction: Owners of
Gore and the Packers’ defense should actually be pleased
despite a relatively poor fantasy performance on both ends. The
nine-year veteran got what he could, handled 23 touches without
incident and the Niners did a good job of sprinkling in enough
Kendall Hunter as to not wear him out. San Francisco’s opponents
will have to pick their poison each week and, after last year’s
playoff matchup, Green Bay couldn’t justify giving up 323
yards rushing and 256 yards passing again. An officiating mistake
didn’t help the Packers’ cause this time, but they
know they are close to solving the San Francisco riddle.
Suggestions, comments, about the article
or fantasy football in general? E-mail
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Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy
football internet chat every Sunday this past season. Doug regularly
appears as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.