Final Fantasy: A giant collapse

elimanningdownOne of the great divides between fantasy football and reality football is that even when everything else is crumbling and every pillar is falling, a player can still have a decent and sometimes even great fantasy day. This is mostly achieved through the magic of garbage time, with the player in question accumulating all his yards and touchdowns long after the game stopped mattering.

Examples: Cecil Shorts had a career high 143 receiving yards today even while his Jaguars were beaten behind every woodshed by Seattle, and last week while the Redskins were getting pumped 38-20, Robert Griffin III still passed for 320 yards and threw three touchdowns.

Today in Carolina during a historic throttling, every Giant vanished.

We’ve now reached a breaking point with all formerly relevant Giants players. A sad one, as starting anyone not named Victor Cruz may be a horrible idea for the foreseeable future. Why? Welp…

  • Eli Manning was sacked six times by the Panthers…in the first half. Carolina added another sack in the second half to tie a franchise single-game record while giving the Giants a thorough 38-0 snot rocking, the worst loss in the Tom Couglin era, and it’s now the first time the Giants have started 0-3 since 1996. The Giants have now allowed 35 or more points in three straight games, and they’ve been outscored 79-23 over the past two weeks.
  • Elsewhere in Giants awfulness which hurts both fans in realty, and fans of Hakeem Nicks in fantasy: Manning targeted Nicks only once, a ball he didn’t catch. But in fairness, no one was targeted a whole lot, which is the sort of thing that happens when a team finishes with a horrifying 119 passing yards on 5.2 per attempt.
  • At one point early in the third quarter, Manning had 14 rushing yards on one of his freak, rare carries for positive yardage. Last year, he had 30 yards on the season, and going further, he’s totaled 45 yards over the past two years. The David Wilson pain train kept chugging, as he finished with only 39 yards on 11 carries.

There’s just no end in sight. To credit the opposition, they were facing one of the most imposing front sevens in the league that’s anchored by Luke Kuechly, and now has even more bulk up the middle with rookie Star Lotulelei. But to discredit the Giants’ offense, a fierce front hasn’t stopped them from at least scoring points and moving the ball until today.

The Cowboys’ defensive front isn’t exactly inviting either between Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware, and their cornerback tandem of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr isn’t fun either. Yet Manning was still able to drive his offense down the field repeatedly, enough to score 31 points back in Week 1.

Today there was just nothing, with an average of 3.0 yards gained per play, and only 150 yards of total offense. Manning lost more yardage in sacks (45) than what Wilson gained going forward, and Victor Cruz was held to just 25 receiving yards.

The worst number from the carnage? Eight. That’s the number of combined fantasy points for Manning, Cruz, Nicks, and Wilson (Manning now has only 13 over the past two weeks), four universally owned and widely started fantasy players. Rock bottom may still be a destination the Giants’ offense hasn’t reached yet too, with the Chiefs and their defense that sacked Michael Vick six times Thursday night teed up next.

That could easily end in tears, and after today Cruz is the only player you can start with any confidence.

Fun with numbers

  • Cam Newton is good at running fast. We know this and he does too, but over the first two weeks he had seemingly forgotten how much fun it is to run far and make defenders look foolish. Coming into today he had attempted only nine runs in losses to the Seahawks and Bills for a total of 53 yards, which is pretty pathetic next to his average of 46.3 rushing yards per game last year. Thankfully, sanity prevailed today as Newton found his legs, running for 40 yards on just the Panthers’ first two possessions. He finished with 45 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
  • The relationship between Kenny Britt and the number five is troubling. He has five penalties this year and only five receptions, and he had zero catches today on five targets.
  • Drew Brees passed for  342 yards during the Saints’ win over Arizona, which did two things: it made fantasy owners smile wide smiles (he finished with 31 fantasy points, nearly matching his total of 32 over the first two weeks), and he extended his streak of +300-yard passing games to eight, one shy of tying his own record.
  • That Arian Foster first-round pick still isn’t looking so hot. With just 54 yards on 12 carries today, he’s now averaging 3.8 YPC. First-round pick suck on that level cripples fantasy seasons fast.
  • We’ve spent the first two weeks of the season marveling at the general insanity of the games as a record 22 were decided by a touchdown or less. Some of that insanity was present today too (see: Packers-Bengals), but we were due for a swift correction and a few stinkers. Of the 14 games Sunday, the margin of victory in half of them was 20 points or more.
  • In the first quarter of the Bills’ loss to the Jets, Fred Jackson had a 59-yard reception which remarkably wasn’t even a career high (a 65-yarder in 2010 still stands). But here’s what is remarkable, or at least wildly unexpected back in late August when Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was talking about using C.J Spiller until he puked his guts out: on that one catch, Jackson had more receiving yardage than Spiller’s total over two games (only 28 yards).
  • Also in oddness that’s awesomeness too: with a 47-yard touchdown today, Ted Ginn Jr. had his second straight game with a catch of 40 yards or more. Having two such long catches only three games into this season is quite the upward trend when we remember that Ginn had only six career 40 yarders over six years entering 2013. Ginn is finally getting a chance to do something in Carolina after being viewed as little more than a kick returner for much of his career.
  • In the first quarter of their Jacksonville steamrolling, Seattle had 114 total offensive yards. The Jaguars’ total offense in the same quarter tells us why they were nearly three-touchdown underdogs: they had -9 yards. Yep, nine yards in the black.
  • With Peyton Manning’s hocus pocus show still on deck Monday night, there are already five receivers with 140 or more yards in Week 3, a list that somehow includes Donnie Avery.

Giovanni Bernard is more athletic than you

It doesn’t take much on a Sunday to remind me that my athletic peak has come and gone. Usually, this reminder happens weekly at about, oh, 1:15 p.m. ET, all of 15 minutes into the day of football. On this particular Sunday, Giovanni Bernard provided the shaming.

It’s all good, Gio. As long as you keep doing things to gradually bury BenJarvus Green-Ellis in backfield purgatory where he belongs, we’re cool.

Now let’s gush about Sunday’s other great feats of strength…

DeMarco Murray

There had been little good from Murray thus far, and consistently over the first two weeks he’s been busy reminding us that while he’s fast, making tacklers miss is a problem. That’s not a good thing for a guy who has “make tacklers miss” very much in his job description as an NFL running back.

Then today happened. Through two weeks Murray was plodding along at only 3.5 yards per carry, and he had a mediocre 111 rushing yards overall. Today he ran for 98 yards over just the first quarter and a bit against a Rams defense that’s just fine when asked to rush the passer, but not so fine when asked to defend a running back. For Murray that sudden burst came on 16 first-half carries, which was already half of his carry total over two games.

He finished with 175 rushing yards on 26 attempts, a pace of 6.7 per carry. Beware, we’ve seen this crappy movie before: last year Murray went boom on opening night for 131 yards, and then over his next three games he had 106 yards.

Cam Newton

Beyond the return of Newton’s legs (his legs didn’t actually go anywhere and he still had them, just so we’re clear), it was also nice to see him connect for yardage of some significant while throwing the ball. His weekly yards per attempt over the first two weeks was just 5.4 and 6.0, but today that jumped to 8.3 during Carolina’s slobber-knocking of New York, while Newton threw just as many touchdown passes today as he had in the two games prior. Toss in his 223 passing yards with four total touchdowns, and it all adds up to 28 fantasy points.

Joique Bell

The bad: Bell plodded in a lead role with Reggie Bush out, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry in a win over Washington. The good: that didn’t matter at all even a little bit, because we know that slugging between the tackles is something Bell can do, but it’s not his greatest strength.

Similar to Bush, he’s at his best in space, which is why even when Bush returns he’ll remain a PPR super stud. Bell’s 132 total yards were split almost dead even between rushing and receiving. If Bush is healthy next week, Bell falls back down to flex status, but he’s a high one at that since he’s now been targeted by Matthew Stafford 15 times.

Jordan Cameron

Ho hum, Jordan Cameron. We’ll get to the reason why Brian Hoyer should now have the keys to every city in a minute, but first let’s celebrate Cameron and his continued efforts to make us all look really smart.

He was a sleeper darling all summer, with anyone who’s capable of using the Internet noting how much tight ends have thrived in offenses that Rob Chudzinski and/or Norv Turner are involved in. Now after his three touchdowns today he has four on just 20 receptions.

To put that touchdown-to-reception ratio in perspective, we look to Rob Gronkowski, the union leader of tight end scoring. Last year despite missing five games Gronk scored 11 times, which led his position. Gronk’s line over three games last year: 14 receptions, two touchdowns, and 156 yards. Cameron’s? 20 receptions, four touchdowns, and 269 yards. Yeah, I’d say that 10th-round pick you spent is working out pretty well.

Santonio Holmes

Attempting to predict football is not an exercise I would recommend for anyone. Usually it ends in broken hearts and lost wages, yet that’s pretty much what we’re all doing when we sign up for each fake football league. Enter Santonio Holmes.

In today’s battle of the division rival rookies won by Geno Smith, Holmes finished with 154 yards on just five catches. Of all the averages and paces I list off weekly in this space, Holmes’ is the one that makes us say mmmm: 30.8 yards per catch, a rate powered grabs for 24, 40, and 69 yards.

Josh Gordon

The year of the wide receiver has been a good year. We’re only two weeks removed from a Week 1 with just one +100 yard rusher who plays running back, and although the world has since corrected itself (there were five this week), it’s pretty nice being the folks who catch footballs right about now.

Take our boy Josh here. He missed two weeks due to a suspension, and then he just slid in against a Vikings secondary that features the blossoming Harrison Smith to record a career single-game high with 142 yards on 10 catches.

Antonio Brown

His spectacular one-handed catch didn’t mean much as the stench on this Steelers’ season grew thicker with their third straight loss Sunday night. But we care so very little about that.

Brown capitalized on Charles Tillman’s injury and Pittsburgh’s need to chuck after sucking so thoroughly to record more yards Sunday (196) than his season total so far before Week 3 (128).

Joe Fauria is a charitable man

The Lions tight end summoned his inner boy band after his latest touchdown. You see, Jimmy Fallon made this…

…and then he challenged any NFL player to bust out one of the dances featured in his history lesson, and said player would then get $10,000 donated to the charity of his choosing. Fauria happily obliged, going with Justin Timberlake’s iconic/scarring dance in “Bye bye bye”.

Yep, that happened, and Joe Fauria might just be the best.

Where did you come from?

Brian Hoyer

I’m still trying to process what my eyes saw from Hoyer. For years we heard that Tom Brady’s backup in New England was wicked good, and then he left New England and he wasn’t all that great (though in fairness, no one was good in Arizona). Now today in just his second career start, Hoyer was…good.

He wasn’t great, because throwing three interceptions isn’t great, and averaging 5.9 yards per attempt is less than great. But with his three touchdown passes and 321 passing yards in the Browns’ win over Minnesota, he far exceeded the expectations for a third-string quarterback. Which is to say, we expected nothing.

Most importantly, he’s assured us that even with Trent Richardson gone and even with the Browns embracing the title of tank nation, the fantasy production of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron won’t be torpedoed.

Bilal Powell

Yes, the defense Powell diced for 149 rushing yards was a (slightly) improved one in Buffalo, but the Bills’ front seven is still horribly weak. The most important development in the Jets’ backfield today, though, was one of clarity and fate. Chris Ivory did what Chris Ivory does when he went down with a hamstring injury, giving Powell sole possession of the backfield keys. That’s when he rumbled for easily single-game highs in touches (29) and total yards (158). He’s still unowned in 40 percent of ESPN leagues, which is about to change fast.

Johnathan Franklin

Franklin was surprisingly not awful after coming in for an injured James Starks, though only his Packer crushing fumble that was returned for a 58-yard touchdown by Terrence Newman will be remembered now. But prior to that he was effective during an afternoon highlighted by a 51-yard run.

Don’t bite on Franklin, though, and burn either your waiver dollars or priority. The Packers are heading into a bye, which will provide both Starks and Eddie Lacy with plenty of time to get healthy. At least one and possibly both should return for Week 5, leaving Franklin with little value.

Stephen Hill

We always knew that Hill can catch deep balls, and do it in abundance. We had that knowledge before he played a single meaningful NFL snap, as in his final year at Georgia Tech Hill averaged 29.3 yards per catch, which should be illegal. Injuries have been a problem during his first year and a bit in the NFL (he missed five games last year), but even when healthy relaying on Mark Sanchez to throw a deep ball with any accuracy leads to hating yourself.

But Geno Smith was more than capable of that today. He connected with Hill on a career long 51-yard reception, and in just the first half of the Jets’ win over Buffalo he had 108 yards on only three catches. Hill is rising to be what the Jets drafted him to be: a fine complement to Santonio Holmes, and he’s now been targeted 17 times. Getcha waiver wire guns ready, you guys.

Pictured: confusion

We break for another comedic interlude, this time to explore the deep thoughts of a man whose mind is clearly divided and fractured.

weirdolionsfan

I can only conclude that in a self-preservation measure this Lions fan tried to ward off verbal abuse by wearing opposing colors during his trip deep behind enemy lines in Washington, with the thinking being that his jersey was then counter balanced. Unfortunately, he rolled with the zubaz hat, which by law meant he must then be thoroughly ridiculed. It’s only one step above the fanny pack.

Quotes of the week

Phil Simms is, without a doubt, still the absolute worst.

After the Redskins’ 27-20 loss to Detroit that wasn’t nearly as much of a clustermess as their first two drubbings but it still counts (they’ve now started 0-3 for the first time since 2001), Pierre Garcon dropped some serious real talk.

Players are always aware of their fleeting existence in the NFL, a feeling which can’t be quantified with any fancy stats. And when that fear grows and festers, hands that are supposed to be catching and throwing passes become just a little tighter.

TAKE THAT

You never forget your first, or so I’m told. Jordan Todman scored his first career touchdown when his team was down by 35 points in the fourth quarter, a time when the Seahawks-Jaguars “game” had essentially reverted to the football we watched a month ago in August, with first teamers on the bench.

But hey, it still counted, so keep your head up and be proud young man, because you’ve now done something sort of meaningful in an NFL game. Just maaaaybe the “shhhhhh” celebration should be left in the bag for a more, um, appropriate time.

todmanquietplease

Hey Pam, there’s a bunch of guys playing loud instruments behind you

A few weeks back Pam Oliver was beaned Ian Rapoport style while doing a sideline interview. We laughed because that’s what we do when people get hit by footballs, and then we stopped laughing when Oliver said she suffered a concussion.

Now Oliver is dealing with a different on-field foe…

Ouch

There was some especially painful hurt on a day when fantasyland was already mourning the loss of Ray Rice for one week. The list below is a little NSFW.

  • C.J. Spiller: He was downright horrible, and somewhere above O was all set to go for the jugular with a rant about how much the first-round pick (and often top-five pick) has caused great fantasy angst. Incredibly, Spiller had more carries (10) than he had yards on those carries (9), while Fred Jackson still refused to die (96 yards on just nine touches). But oddly, this may be the rare time we’re relieved to hear about an injury, because now we can blame Spiller’s sucking on a knee problem that was limiting him, and it kept him on the sideline sporting a large bandage for much of the second half.
  • Jermichael Finley: He suffered a concussion and was visibly shaken after a first half hit, and one that should have been flagged. The standard week of waiting and going through the concussion protocol will now follow.
  • Vincent Jackson: Josh Freeman’s primary target left Tampa’s latest effort to fuel their dumpster fire in the second half with a rib injury.
  • James Starks: Hey, remember that time you spent half your waiver wire budget or a high waiver priority on the Packers’ running back who was only going to have a featured role for one week anyway? Yeah, about that. Starks suffered a knee injury, and missed the entire second half.
  • Daryl Richardson: And hey, remember in the offseason when there was a belief that Running Back X who leads the Rams’ backfield would be really super duper? Yeah. Richardson exited after just one snap when he aggravated his foot injury, and then Isaiah Pead and Benny Cunningham combined for all of 26 yards on 10 carries.
  • Patrick Willis: The 49ers’ defensive anchor left their loss to Indianapolis with a groin injury, and he was immediately ruled out. That hints strongly at an injury which could be a little more serious in nature, and any extended absence for Willis clearly means rosy things for the fantasy outlook of opposing running backs.