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“Crunch time” is not only a horrible cliché, it’s also completely arbitrary, as many times can be crunch time. However, if we’re going to determine the true beginning of crunch time in the fantasy football season, three games before the playoffs seems to be about right. Jostling for playoff position is happening, and so is securing playoff positions, and losing playoff positions. So each and every decision is that much more vital, including the ones you’re about to make prior to tonight’s game.

It pains me to have so many fantasy implications and the beginning of that crunching time riding on a game in which Ryan Fitzpatrick is a starting quarterback, but these are the times in which we live. Onwards, and to the business of prognosticating, predicting, and pondering.

1. Which Andrew Luck will we see tonight?

The good one, surely, because Andrew Luck is a good one. But despite the overall association of stench most have with the Titans, there are concerns heading into this matchup for Luck, one that’s far less than ideal for prime fantasy production.

Luck is coming off a three-interception game against the Rams. How many interceptions had he thrown over the Colts’ previous eight games, and his previous 271 pass attempts? Three. Just three, a total he needed only 47 attempts to equal this past Sunday. He managed to salvage that fantasy day with an abundance of passing that he turned into a season-high 353 passing yards, which is the sort of thing that happens when your team is down 28-0 at halftime.

I don’t think we should be overly worried about one hiccup of a game. Whatever, as even the very best drop a stink bomb every now and then. As long as they remain outliers, it’s all good (I guess this is the part when I remind you that Drew Brees threw five picks in a game last year, and currently Tom Brady is only a week removed from posting just 116 passing yards). But the problem lies in when we look at that rotten game against a pretty decent though not great secondary, and now directly after that Luck is chucking against a Titans secondary that’s something much better than decent.

It’s a unit that employs Alterraun Verner, whose five interceptions currently have him tied for the league lead. And it’s a unit that’s allowed only seven passing touchdowns through nine games, which ties Tennessee for the league low. That last number is especially woeful for fantasy purposes, because while Luck’s TD:INT ratio is still mighty fine despite last week (14:6), that touchdown total is just…meh. Here’s the ultimate barometer of how average that is: Sam Bradford is out for the year and he hasn’t played since Week 7, and he’s tossed 14 touchdown passes.

2. Why does Chris Johnson hate you so much?

I’ll try not to let this devolve too deeply into another session of Chris Johnson hate, because at this point I can pretty much rinse and repeat that rant.

Little has changed since the last time we journeyed down this road of despair. Johnson is still on a team that’s often clawing from behind which limits his carries, though what’s even more limiting is his dancing and inability to do anything with the carries he’s given. Take, for example, last week against the Jaguars, the not-so proud owners of the league’s worst run defense, and it’s not remotely close (the Jags are allowing 153.0 rushing yards per game, while the Bears are still awful but far ahead at 129.4). In that game Johnson received 12 carries, and he turned that into all of 30 yards.

The math on that leaves us with an average of 2.5 yards per carry, the sixth time in 10 games Johnson’s YPC has fallen below 3.0, and on the season it currently sits at 3.6. Yes, he often redeems at least a shred of value as a pass-catching option in space, and he’s only a week removed from a 170-yard game. But next to his five other games with less than 35 rushing yards, that’s far removed from the norm. What truly defines his strictly booming or busting is that two plays this year (catches for 66 and 49 yards) have accounted for 15 percent of Johnson’s entire offensive output as we enter Week 11 tonight. Two plays.

Tonight he gets to run against a defense giving up 126.6 rushing yards per game, though the Colts have shut it down around the goal-line with only six touchdowns allowed. That’s swell, and you can’t bench Johnson against such a weak run defense, even if you were lucky enough to scoop up, say, Andre Ellington or Rashad Jennings, two waiver wire darlings with equally fun matchups this week who sadly have far more upside. But look back at that output against Jacksonville once more, and prepare yourself for potential hurt tonight.

3. Should you sit Trent Richardson?

This is a much more difficult question than the Johnson problem. You see, whether it’ comes through a handoff or after the catch, at least Johnson still shows the ability to explode, and that alone can justify his starting roster spot in an appealing matchup. Richardson has shown…what, exactly?

He’s bouncing, shifting, and flat out missing running lanes, though the few times he gets in the open field there’s still a severely punishing element to his running style. But in the seven games following his move from the Browns which is now looking like a thorough fleecing, Richardson’s highest single-game output is 60 yards. It gets worse…

  • Over the last three weeks and his last 27 carries, his longest run is an eight yarder.
  • He hasn’t scored since Week 4, a stretch in which he’s touched a ball 61 times.
  • Similar to Johnson, both Richardson’s single-game and overall yards per carry are dismal. Overall he sits at 3.0, and he’s logged four games when it’s fallen even lower than that.

All that’s led to the inevitable: Donald Brown eating away at Richardson’s touches, because right now he’s simply a far better running back. Example, in Week 9 Brown received six carries that he turned into 49 yards, while Richardson ran for 20 yards on eight carries.

Like Johnson, though, Richardson remains difficult to bench because of the high draft investment you made (usually a first rounder). But unlike Johnson, if you have one of those waiver fliers, you’re benching Richardson.

Decisions, decisions

Standard preamble/dire warning: in the end it’s all the same, but sit and start decisions on Thursday night just feel more pressing and possibly painful, because if you make a poor call one roster spot has already been burned long before Sunday. That sucks (#analysis).

No-brainers: T.Y. Hilton, Andrew Luck, and Chris Johnson. The matchup for Hilton against Verner is less than desirable, but you would only bench a receiver with 251 yards and two +50 yard catches over just the past two weeks if losing is a favorite hobby of yours. The “no brainer” spirit of this here category doesn’t fit Johnson, but again, the mere chance that he’s able to bust one and somewhat resemble Week 9 Chris Johnson means he’s in your lineup.

Tweeners: Kendall Wright and Nate Washington are downgraded to flex plays at best, because watching Fitzpatrick attempt to throw a ball more than 15 yards down field gives me chronic muscle soreness. Donald Brown is also a sort of OK flex option with his increase in touches, and Shonn Greene is a decent deep league flex too with his goal-line plunging. But yeah, there’s some reaching and prayer happening with Brown and Greene.

Sleepers: Say, are you the type who streams tight ends? Go ahead and roll them dice with Delanie Walker, because that lack of arm strength from Fitzpatrick will lead to many a target for the Titans TE. After Jake Locker went down last week Fitzpatrick targeted Walker eight times for a season-high 62 yards. Coby Fleener can be approaching similarly, and he could be in for a pretty OK night with the Titans allowing 57.4 yards per game to tight ends.

Stay away: Even after the loss of Reggie Wayne, I can’t in good conscience promote the rostering of Darrius Heyward-Bey. He’s averaging only 25.7 receiving yards per game, and has just one +20 yard catch, which is pitiful for someone with his quicks.

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