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The All-Out Blitz - Vol. 10
Black Sunday

Aggressiveness is a characteristic that tends to reward fantasy owners more times than not. In the NFL, an offensive line will sometimes hold up long enough to give the quarterback enough time to beat man coverage down the field and make the defense look foolish against a fierce pass rush. More often than not, though, when a defense brings the heat and forces the action, crisis management becomes the name of the game for the opposing team.

In that same vein, I hope to apply that same kind of pressure to the owners in all of my leagues by beating my opponents to the punch in regards to personnel moves. Sometimes, reaching a conclusion about a player too quickly is much like trying to blitz Peyton Manning – dangerous and painful. However, coming to a correct conclusion two weeks or two minutes quicker than your opponents is considered foresight. Fantasy owners can be a uneasy lot, knowing that one two-or-three-game losing streak can wreak irreparable damage to his/her team’s chances to make a visit to the fantasy postseason. But just as it is in the NFL and in life, it’s hard to land the big prize by playing scared. Thus, I will strive each week to help each of you become a smart blitzer, so to speak.

For the customer (especially one that gets the day off from work), "Black Friday" is a wonderful opportunity to attend to the chore of holiday shopping. Quite often, a person can cross off the majority of the items on their list and do so in a cost-efficient manner as many highly sought-after gifts can be purchased at discount. For the retailer, it represents an incredible boon to the bottom line of the company. However, the day after Thanksgiving is a truly dark day for the employees of said retailer. Not only are they often required to show up in the early hours of the morning, they are also often asked to work overtime and deal with what can be a frenzied crowd.

Many years prior to the coining of the phrase "Black Friday", "Black Monday" was used to describe the day of the Stock Market Crash of October 28, 1929. While the day ushered in one of the lowest points in American history, it also set in motion some much-needed change in regards to the oversight of the stock market. Even though "The Great Depression" followed shortly thereafter, the positive change that occurred because of it has allowed the country to avoid a similar disaster.

As I was watching the events of Week 10 unfold on Sunday, it crossed my mind as I saw/read about important fantasy player after important fantasy player succumb to injury that Sunday represented of a very dark day for fantasy owners. Almost splitting the two above dates on the calendar in half, I couldn't help but referring to this past weekend's games as fantasy football's version of "Black Sunday". In all the years that I have played fantasy football, I cannot recall a single week in which so many key players all were shelved on the same day. Even though only one player below is known to be out for the season, it is quite possible the landscape of thousands of fantasy leagues changed with the events of this past Sunday.

For many of us with contending teams that had one of the players below, it almost felt like our own personal stock market crashed. For those owners who just needed that one big break to happen to make their late-round pick/early waiver-wire add of Ricky Williams potentially pay off even more than it already has, Sunday represented the type of deal a customer can sometimes find on “Black Friday”. For those people waiting on a bid/waiver claim to go through, well, let’s just say you probably understand the frenzied crowd mentioned above. And it’s probably also safe to say the bottom line of many fantasy teams was greatly affected because of “Black Sunday”.

Because Week 10 was so devastating, let's review the players that are feeling a bit worse physically than their fantasy owners are emotionally right now:

  • Cedric Benson (Hip flexor/abductor strain) - Benson routinely sits out practices during the middle of the week, so owners will need to monitor his situation closely as he will likely be a game-time decision. Of all the RBs listed here, his situation seems to be causing the least amount of concern, but with the Raiders next on the schedule, the Bengals may be wise to sit him out and see if his optimistic projection of "it may take one week to get ready, but not two" comes true. Considering Atlanta's Jerious Norwood has missed the last four weeks due to a similar type of injury, I'd be rather surprised if Benson is anywhere close to 100% in either of the next two weeks. I could easily see rookie Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard splitting carries at a 60-40 rate while Benson is recovering. Because Benson owners look to have gotten off easy, now would be a great time to put in a small bid/waiver claim to secure Scott and chalk it up as a warning. While there are different degrees to this injury, HC Marvin Lewis stated earlier this week that Benson has been dealing with hip soreness for a while. His incredible workload up to this point was bound to catch up with him - this year or next - so if Scott is sitting out there to be had, make sure he isn't out there this time next week, especially if you own Benson.

    Michael Turner

    Turner's sprained ankle needs at least two weeks of rest.

  • Michael Turner (High ankle sprain) - Much like Benson, it seems to me the recovery forecast for Turner is a bit too optimistic. Some outlets have him as a possibility to miss only one game while Falcons HC Mike Smith is "very confident" that he will play again in 2009 - the latter of which is hardly a ringing endorsement. Bear in mind while Turner's injury is being reported as "not as serious as most high ankle sprains", but the fact of the matter is that injuries of this nature just don't heal all that quickly. The Falcons would be wise to rest Turner at least two weeks and avoid an Anquan Boldin-type of situation in which they get 5-10 decent carries and a re-aggravation of the injury. Jason Snelling filled in well in Turner's absence in Week 10 and is probably the best waiver-wire pickup in most leagues this week. Norwood is a fair pickup as well, but he might be back for Week 11 and wouldn't steal all that many touches this week. But realistically, two coaching staffs in Atlanta have pretty much agreed Norwood is best when used in small doses and he's not that good of a bet to stay healthy all that long anyway, so don’t put a high priority on him. Because Snelling is an accomplished pass-catcher, view him as a quasi-feature back in PPR leagues for as long as Turner is sidelined.

  • Ronnie Brown (Ankle/foot) - Unlike Benson and Turner, there was an awful lot of gloom and doom regarding Brown's injury, although it appeared to me that Brown's injury happened pretty much the same way that Turner's did. The fact that Brown was sent to a foot specialist on Tuesday raised a few eyebrows and, sure enough, the Dolphins placed him on IR on Wednesday even though we still do not have an official diagnosis. In his stead, the almost universally-owned Ricky Williams becomes a solid RB2 with potential to perform at a top-10 RB level, but keep in mind that a fair amount of Williams' value came on the outside sweeps ran out of the "Wildcat", so his numbers may not improve much even with an increased workload. Going forward, expect Williams to receive 20+ touches for as long as his 32-year-old body can handle it. Keep in mind that Miami RBs are averaging 35 touches/game this season, so a realistic split to start would see Williams averaging 22-23 touches, FB Lousaka Polite grabbing 5-6 touches and third-string RB Lex Hilliard taking the rest of the load. I would anticipate that Hilliard will absorb many of Polite's touches before the end of the season, however, and he is easily worth a waiver wire pickup in deeper leagues (if only because the likelihood that Williams holds up without incident is slim). On a team that wants to run the ball as much as Miami does, no RB should be expected to carry the full load, even if just for six games. Because Hilliard is more of a power back, a reasonable assumption would be that he could take a few of the inside "Wildcat" carries that Brown ran with for much of the first half of the season. I suspect we won’t have to wait long to find out about Hilliard, as he’ll likely see the first touches of his career Thursday in Carolina.

  • Brian Westbrook (Concussion) - This one was just plain sad. The Eagles took more precaution than most teams in sitting Westbrook out two entire games (and nearly three weeks) after he received his first concussion vs. Washington in Week 7, even resting him one more week after he experienced a headache in the days leading up to Week 9. Now his playing future is in doubt - season and career. At this point, I would be rather surprised to see him play again this season. With the $7.25 M he was due for 2010, it was already unlikely he was going to return to the team next season anyway. When asked about Westbrook's first concussion prior to Week 9 on "The NFL Today", CBS Sports' Boomer Esiason suggested that NFL players should be down for a minimum of four games following a concussion and if they suffer a second concussion during the season, they should be placed on IR and not allowed to play the rest of the year. I'm not sure the Westbrook situation will be enough of a case for the league to consider that stance, but perhaps it should. With HC Andy Reid suggesting that football is secondary at this point for Westbrook, I have to believe his season is over, if not his career (as an Eagle at the very least).

    As most fantasy leaguers already know, rookie LeSean McCoy will fill in (with some help from Leonard Weaver) and should be a more-than-serviceable fantasy RB2 for the remainder of the season. In most PPR leagues, McCoy has put up at least 10+ fantasy points in each of the four games he has seen at least 11 carries (or 13 touches). But in what should be considered a somewhat odd twist, look for Philadelphia to balance out the offense a bit more going forward. Because the team doesn't trust the rookie yet as a pass blocker, it would be hard to justify a lopsided run-pass ratio anything close to what we say from Philly in Week 10. The Eagles are still very much a passing team, but another 55 pass-attempt day from Donovan McNabb seems highly unlikely now. Because Philadelphia is one of the best screen teams in the league, I would expect a steady dose of those for the rookie to offset his shortcoming in pass protection.

  • Julius Jones (Bruised chest/cracked rib?) - Much like Benson and Turner, it appears optimism on Monday turned quickly into reality on Tuesday. After HC Jim Mora suggested Jones' injury wasn't "real serious" on Monday, he expressed on Tuesday he is unlikely to play in Week 11. When a player is ruled out so early during a given week, it doesn't usually speak well to play the following week either. To be fair, Jones hasn't rushed the ball particularly well since Week 3 (the injuries along the o-line has had something to do with that) so his grasp on the full-time job was loosening anyway. The fact that Justin Forsett got his chance for a significant increase in carries the same week that Seattle got LT Sean Locklear back probably doesn't help Jones' fantasy stock either. Forsett is a pretty fair talent that has been tagged a third-down back for most of his career due to his size. He's a good receiver out of the backfield, so he could muster up some value in PPR leagues this week vs. Minnesota before possibly having another big game vs. St. Louis in Week 12. If he shows well and Jones is out 2-3 weeks, Forsett may force a timeshare or steal the starting job outright, so don’t be afraid to pursue him. Louis Rankin - a favorite of Mora's - should also not be discounted. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he will see goal-line carries and he could easily have a reasonable amount of value for the rest of the season.

If I’m ranking the “new starters” for the rest of the season in PPR or non-PPR, I’d probably go Williams, McCoy, Forsett, Snelling and Scott (although I believe there is very little difference going forward fantasy-wise between Forsett and Snelling).

I wouldn't be doing my job if I also didn't touch on the other non-RB injuries on a Sunday that likely altered the landscape of your fantasy league.

  • Troy Polamalu (PCL strain) - Even though he was unable to return after suffering his injury in Week 10's loss to the Bengals, the good news for the Steelers' top defensive playmaker is that he did not re-aggravate the same MCL sprain injury that sidelined him that cost him four full games earlier in the season. With the Chiefs next on the schedule, expect Pittsburgh to sit him out (and for the defense to suffer a bit) and get him closer to 100% as the Steelers would like to have him in decent shape when they travel to Baltimore in Week 12.

  • Steve Smith (CAR) (Bruised ribs) - The Panthers' mighty mite probably would have enjoyed a full week to recover, but he will likely suit up and wear a flak jacket for Thursday's battle of 4-5 teams against the Dolphins. The upside is that if he can make it out of the Miami game no worse for wear, he will have an additional three days to heal up in preparation for Week 12. Even though Jake Delhomme deserves almost all of the blame for the down year Smith is having, the 30-year-old WR has started to produce more like a fantasy WR1 over the last four weeks, even if his yardage totals haven't been eye-popping. Over the last three games, Smith has scored all three of his TDs and, assuming he can stand the pain he'll likely experience on Thursday, he should be a handful for the Dolphins' big rookie CBs, both of which probably haven't had to guard a player like Smith yet in their pro career.

    Kyle Orton

    History Lesson: The Broncos would be wise to keep Kyle Orton on the sidelines this weekend.

  • Kyle Orton (Ankle) - Who knew that 1) Orton could throw a deep ball and 2) that the Broncos offense would fall completely off the grid once he sprained his ankle? Unlike last year's right ankle injury, Week 10's ankle injury was on his left side. Despite suffering what is being reported as torn ligaments, it appears he's a go for Week 11 vs. San Diego, but it's hard to forget just how much his play fell off for Chicago after he went down in 2008, mostly because he rushed himself back. Chris Simms looked absolutely dreadful when he was called upon vs. Washington in Week 10, so there is reason for worry here, particularly for Brandon Marshall owners. While some are saying Simms was understandably rusty, I find it inexcusable for a veteran QB to come off the sideline and not show any ability to move his team, which speaks to a lack of preparation on his part (in my opinion). As stated before, Orton should play this week but if he were to go down for any length of time, it may be bad news for the rest of the offense and their fantasy prospects.

  • Jordan Gross (Broken ankle) - The loss of Gross is just another reason to trade DeAngelo Williams if you still can (playoff schedule, presence of Jonathan Stewart, Jake Delhomme are among other reasons to deal him). LG Travelle Wharton has experience at LT, but Gross' departure represents a considerable downgrade to the left side of the Panthers' offensive line. It should be noted that 124 of Williams' 168 carries and five of his seven rushing TDs this season have come either up the middle or to the left.

  • Marc Colombo (Ankle) - The Cowboys' RT reportedly also suffered a fractured fibula in addition to torn ligaments in his right ankle, but is out for the next six weeks due to the ankle surgery and not the leg injury, which is supposed to heal on its own. An injury liability in his four seasons with the Bears, Colombo had logged 57 consecutive regular-season starts for Dallas before Week 10. The team likes highly athletic backup Doug Free, who has yet to make a start in his career, as a strong pass protector. With that said, it’s not unrealistic to expect some growing pains here and a slight dropoff in the Cowboys' running game.

Tying it all together, there are some lessons to be learned for future seasons. For one, just about every time I have heavily invested in a single player in multiple leagues, I have gotten burned. Many years ago, that player was Ed McCaffrey after his 100-catch season. This year, it was Ronnie Brown. While I don’t regret following my heart on Brown, it is always a wise move to “diversify your portfolio” during the season. I am fortunate, however, to have a pretty decent option on each of my teams behind Brown, which leads me to my next point.

My loyal readers may remember that I said a few weeks ago how I am willing to deal depth away at the trading deadline to shore up any holes in my starting lineup. Weekends like the most recent one show the biggest flaw in taking that approach, however, I also recall stating that I make sure I have some viable alternatives in case one of my front-liners goes down. Those alternatives may be the player's most likely handcuff or another starter that has been riding my bench for most of the season. The road to a fantasy title is rarely ever a smooth one and, often, winning the championship comes down to the owner who perseveres and finds a way to keep his/her team in contention, up until the time when that one waiver-wire gem absolutely explodes down the stretch and becomes a fantasy football legend (and it seems like they emerge every year)..

Allow me to end this Blitz with some random thoughts:

The Cleveland Browns' performance on MNF this past week was one of the worst displays of offense I have seen in all my years of watching and covering football. Sure, when Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are traded away in the same calendar year and there is little proven depth behind them, there are bound to be significant bumps in the road. However, Cleveland's biggest problems right now don't revolve a lack of talent, rather a complete lack of offensive imagination and execution. Most play-callers nowadays understand the easiest way to create some semblance of offensive momentum is to find a few plays that suit their personnel the best and to build off of those core plays.

OC Brian Daboll appears completely unprepared for his current role, as the Browns' answer to just about every third-and-forever situation they face is running Josh Cribbs out of the "Wildcat" or asking a WR to break a tackle or two and take one of 10 called screen passes past the first-down marker. There was no attempt to stretch the field until late in the game and when Cleveland did take a few shots, QB Brady Quinn threw just about every pass about 5-10 yards out of bounds. It's ironic that RB Jamal Lewis called out his coach earlier in the week for practicing too long; after what I saw on Monday and considering the Browns have scored just five offensive TDs over their last 15 games, one would think this team doesn't even bother to practice.

On a more positive note, I strongly recommend deep leaguers consider Texans rookie TE James Casey. With Owen Daniels racing off to the start he did, Casey was strictly limited to special teams. Then, just as Daniels went down and it appeared Casey’s time might be coming, he opted for surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his knee - an injury he had played with for about a month prior to the surgery. Because a knee scope of this nature does not require a lot of recovery time, the rookie needed only a few days before he was working out again. He reportedly spent 3-4 hours a day rehabbing the knee over the Texans' bye week and appears ready to see his first significant playing time Monday night vs. the Titans. It appears HC Gary Kubiak may be willing to see what he has.

"He can bring a lot," Kubiak told the AP. "Obviously, he can do some things for us offensively, so he'll become a big part of what we're doing over the course of the next seven weeks."

Yes, that could easily be typical coach-speak, but considering he's in a strong passing offense that loves its TEs and is the only receiving TE left on the roster, I think he is definitely worth an add. Even though I considered Brandon Pettigrew was the best all-around TE in the 2009 draft, I thought Casey was the best receiving TE of the bunch. As a fantasy owner, all I care about is his value as a receiver. When you consider that Daniels went 34-352-5 over 14 games in his rookie year in 2006 under Kubiak and that Daniels entered the league with a similar skill set as Casey, it's not a stretch to suggest the rookie could emerge as a second-half stud. As usual, I'm not endorsing an automatic ascension into your fantasy team's starting lineup, but if you have the room on your roster to make a speculative add with the bye weeks over and could use a high-upside option at TE, Casey should be your man.

e-mail me with any questions/comments.