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NFL Preseason Week 2 Observations

+ There’s no player that excites me more than C.J. Spiller heading into the 2013 season. He’s going to be the focal point of Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s up-tempo, run-heavy offense in Buffalo. He flashed his speed and strength against Minnesota on Saturday, knifing through the defense while displaying quick feet. It’s just too bad that he’ll face 8-man fronts all season.

+ Speaking of the Bills, their pass rush looked good against the Vikings. There were times when Jerry Hughes ran himself out of plays but he has great acceleration off the snap. He, Manny Lawson and Marcell Dareus stood out, but the entire starting front seven for Buffalo had a solid night.

+ The transition from Rob Chudzinski to Mike Shula in Carolina hasn’t been seamless for Cam Newton. On Thursday night in Philadelphia, Newton struggled with errant passes, throwing receivers open and hitting targets in stride. Most of his completions came with receivers coming back to the ball, which is fine if a quarterback is accurate. But Newton completed 57.7% of his passes a year ago and thus far in preseason he’s 11-for-23 (47%). Shula figured to rely heavily on DeAngelo Williams and the running game, and it’s unlikely that that plan has changed.

+ Nick Foles was 6-for-8 for 53 yards and a rushing touchdown on Thursday night against Carolina, but Michael Vick was clearly the more efficient quarterback. He was poised and confident in the pocket, displayed good mobility while extending plays with his feet, and got the ball out of his hand quickly (a requisite in Chip Kelly’s offense). While Kelly has avoided naming a starter for Week 1, it’s safe to assume Vick is the current frontrunner…

+ …Now, whether or not Kelly can keep Vick healthy is a different subject altogether. Kelly’s offense will be predicated on short-to-intermediate passing out of multiple personnel groupings and formations. The read option also appears to be a key feature, which suits Vick’s skill set but also puts him at risk for injury. Even if Foles doesn’t win the starting job out of camp, history tells us that Vick’s backup needs to be ready at a moment’s notice. It’s only a matter of time before the veteran suffers some sort of aliment.

+ We’ll see what happens when opponents start game planning to beat them on Sundays but thus far the Browns have been intriguing. Brandon Weeden looks comfortable and confident running Norv Turner’s offense and a star is rising in tight end Jordan Cameron, who made an incredible catch for a touchdown versus the Lions on Thursday night (one of his two scoring receptions in the game). Save for guard John Greco (who was manhandled by Nick Fairley on consecutive plays in the first half), the offensive line has also performed well and the defense might turn out to be the most underrated unit in the NFL by seasons end. Usually it takes about 10 games before Ray Horton’s system takes hold but his players in Cleveland have taken to it like a fish to water.

+ Dirk Koetter finally has his power running game to complement his vertical passing attack in Atlanta. The Falcons ran Steven Jackson out of the “11″ and “12″ personnel groupings on Thursday night in Baltimore, trying to match hat-for-hat and allowing him to do what he does best: Run downhill. Thanks to Matt Ryan and his assortment of weapons in the passing game, that offense was already difficult to stop. If they can build a lead and then run clock in the second half of games, they’ll avoid having what happened in the NFC title game when they allowed the 49ers to erase a 17-point deficit.

+ It’s becoming evident that the Ravens will be held back by their lack of weapons in the passing game. Torrey Smith took a simple slant for a touchdown against the Falcons on Thursday but William Moore also took a horrible angle on the play and turned a 7-yard gain into a 77-yard score. Without Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin drawing attention in the short-to-intermediate game, opponents will likely bracket Smith in coverage and force somebody else to beat them. Visanthe Shiancoe won’t be that somebody else.

+ The run-blocking units for San Diego and Chicago had good nights on Thursday. Matt Forte finished with a 9.2 average and Ryan Mathews rushed for 5.0 yards per clip, as both running backs flashed burst and acceleration through open lanes. Rookie Kyle Long stood out for Chicago, as he consistently was stout at the point of attack and finished blocks in the running game. Sadly though, Philip Rivers was often on his back and Jay Cutler had pass rushers around his feet throughout the first quarter. Pass protection will be a major question mark for both teams all season.

+ Alex Smith completed 7-of-8 passes last week against a Saints team that played a soft zone, but he struggled against a more aggressive 49er defense on Saturday. He’ll be able to dink and dunk past lesser opponents but what happens when the Chiefs are trailing and he has to beat opponents vertically in the fourth quarter? There’s no question he’s an upgrade over Matt Cassel and Kansas City is going to win a few contests on Andy Reid’s game-planning alone. But Smith remains limited as a passer and thus, it’s hard envisioning the Chiefs beating teams like Denver or New England if they’re able to make it to the postseason.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Running back injuries shake up fantasy drafts

Ryan Mathews aims to look tough in this Twitter photo as he flexes his bicep and flashes his arm tattoo, but he got injured again in the first preseason game for the San Diego Chargers, shaking things up in the top 5 in many drafts.

Fantasy guru Evan Silva addresses this in one of his ongoing drafts where Mathews was the overall #2 pick before news broke of his injury. Now you grab him later as a value pick as he should be back by week 2-4.

Another injury involves Trent Richardson, who went #17 in this draft. It’s not clear whether this pick was made before or after his latest injury news. Richardson, however, is expected to be back in week one. He’ll certainly slip a bit in many leagues, but he has looked great in camp and should get a ton of carries in the Browns offense this year.

Is Ryan Mathews Really A Top 5 Running Back?

In two years, Mathews has missed an average of three games per season, which is roughly a quarter of the NFL season. In an average 14 week fantasy season, these missed games are even more significant. Additionally, he’s been a top 10 running back each of the last two years and failed to produce- what is different this year?

Regardless of that, Mathews is being drafted on average as the fourth overall running back selected. By not re-signing Mike Tolbert, it clears the way for Mathews to be a workhorse running back- but, the signings of Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle show you that even the Chargers brain trust isn’t convinced.

So as a fantasy player, why should you be? Especially when you can get MJD, Matt Forte or Steven Jackson instead- proven commodities who are being drafted after him.

Paul Eide can be heard dispensing fantasy football advice every Friday AM during the NFL season on Jacksonville’s 930 AM “The Fox” at 8:00 EST. Email Paul at paul@pauleide.com

Sunday Morning NFL Quick-Hits: Adrian Peterson, Steelers defense, Saints defense

Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league.

+ Let’s hold judgment on Adrian Peterson before all of the details have been released following his arrest. This is a player with no history of off-field issues and it’s extremely bizarre that he was only charged with resisting arrest. The current details of the situation are that Peterson and some family members were out at a Houston nightclub when police entered the building at closing time. When they instructed people to leave, Peterson apparently wanted some water but an officer told him no and AP headed for the exit. At some point an officer was pushed, causing him to stumble and then three policemen had to “detain” Peterson. What’s unclear is how a push led to three officers attempting to detain the running back and then escalating to an actual arrest. Again, we should hold judgment until the full details have been released because something doesn’t sound right here. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Houston police overreacted and didn’t handle the situation properly.

+ Many have argued that the Saints players involved in the New Orleans bounty scandal were simply following the orders of Gregg Williams and thus, they had little to no choice but to follow their coach’s orders. I get that. If you’re a fringe player looking to stick with a team because your career and livelihood is on the line, then you may be more apt to get along and go along then to cause waves. But what everyone seems to overlook is that Roger Goodell was lied to, and that’s why he came down hard on these participants. When Goodell went to Williams, Sean Payton and Anthony Hargrove asking if a bounty program was in place, they all told him no. Then, instead of stopping the program right then and there, they continued their pay-for-performance system. And while players like Hargrove, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fuijta insist that Goodell has no prove that a bounty program was in place, has everyone forgotten that Williams has already apologized and thrown himself at the mercy of the court? He already admitted that he was putting bounties on opposing players. So yes, maybe the players were simply following orders. But at one point Goodell asked the participants to tell the truth and nobody spoke up, so they remain in a hell of their own making.

+ Dick LeBeau remains one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, so don’t think for a moment that the Steelers’ defense is going to fall apart. That said, there’s no question that Pittsburgh is old on that side of the ball. Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will continue to be the focal point of the defense but younger players like Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta’amu to make an impact (especially with Casey Hampton recovering from ACL surgery).

+ It’ll be interesting to see how the Chargers’ offense develops throughout the 2012 season. The run blocking wasn’t very good last season and the pass protection was below average as well, which led to Philip Rivers make a fair amount of mistakes. Ryan Mathews is an emerging star and if the blocking improves, then obviously the running game on a whole will be better than it was a year ago. But the question is how effective will Norv Turner’s coveted vertical offense be. Can Robert Meachem finally have that breakout year that many have expected since he entered the league as a first-rounder? What will the absence of Vincent Jackson have on the passing game? Can an aging Antonio Gates stay healthy? Will Malcolm Floyd be as effective this season without Jackson on the other side? Rivers made the passing game flourish without V-Jax two years ago but he needs help, mostly from his offensive line. Again, it’ll be interesting to see if Turner, who is undoubtedly on the hot seat once again, can blend the new elements together to make the passing game thrive.

+ It’s easy to make the argument that the Texans’ window to win a championship in the next three years is wide open. Even with the loss of Mario Williams their defense has a ton of talent and is coached by one of the best in the game in Wade Phillips. But Matt Schaub has still yet to play in a postseason game and Andre Johnson, now 31, will have to remain healthy or Houston will fail to take the next step after making the playoffs last year. Losing Joel Dreessen to the Broncos in free agency hurt. Not only was Dreessen a solid blocker last year for Houston, but he also averaged 12.6 yards per play in the Texans’ big-play offense. That said, if Schaub and Johnson can stay healthy then Houston will make the postseason again this year. Thanks to the offensive line and the explosiveness of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the running game will be enough to win games on its own. It’s just a matter of whether or not the Texans can stay healthy long enough to make a deep run.

+ The reports out of San Francisco this offseason have not be positive for first-rounder A.J. Jenkins. He reportedly has made some difficult plays but he’s also had a hard time staying on his feet during workouts and is viewed as a major project. But let’s keep in mind that if Jenkins struggles this year it won’t be the end of the world. It used to be that players could take their time developing but nowadays teams need their first round picks to make an immediate impact. That said, considering the 49ers have veterans Mario Manningham and Randy Moss manning the outsides, they don’t necessarily need Jenkins to be on the fast track to NFL stardom. Is it good that the kid can’t stay on his feet and is viewed as a major project? No, but it wouldn’t be life or death if he needed a year. Besides, the 49ers will make sure that Jenkins contributes one way or another, including getting him involved in sub packages. Just don’t expect him to be a No. 1 as a rookie.

+ Good for Joe Philbin and the Dolphins coaching staff for taking it slow with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Reports out of Miami are that the starting job is between David Garrard and Matt Moore because Tannehill is currently struggling with the speed of the game. Last year in Jacksonville, the thought was that Blaine Gabbert would be allowed to take his time while observe ring Garrard in his first year. But Garrard was released before the season and Gabbert was rushed into action way too soon. The results were disastrous and now observers are already questioning whether or not Gabbert can develop. Tannehill shouldn’t have been a top 10 selection but the Dolphins needed a quarterback and they went with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s guy. Fine. Now let the kid learn the game for a year before the weight of the franchise is thrust onto his shoulders. It’s not like the Dolphins are expected to compete this year so there should be no qualms about Garrard or Moore starting while Tannehill observes in his first year.

+ It looks like it’s going to be all or nothing this year for Montario Hardesty. Says ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi: “If Hardesty gets injured again, it’s easy – he will be gone, in my opinion. But if Hardesty stays healthy and is the productive player [Browns GM Tom] Heckert saw at Tennessee, I think he checks in at No. 2.” So essentially Hardesty will either be the first running back off the bench when Trent Richardson needs a blow or else he’ll be in another city at some point this year. Hopefully Hardesty isn’t another talented prospect that never developed because he was held back by injuries. He has all the talent to be a productive player in a two-back system but because of various injuries he hasn’t shown the same explosion he had coming out of college. Maybe this is the year he’ll finally stick.

Fantasy Points Per Touch: RBs

New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs fends off Washington Redskins line backer Brian Orakpo to pick up get back to the line of scrimmage in the first quarter at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on January 2, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

After each fantasy football season, I like to do something of a post-mortem by looking at certain stats that might give me a clearer picture of what in the hell just happened. One such stat is fantasy points per touch, which takes the total (non-PPR) fantasy points divided by the sum of the player’s carries and catches.

Here’s a look at the top 20 RBs (with at least 150 total touches) ranked by fantasy points per touch.

When trying to predict a player’s outlook, I always go back to the old fantasy addage, “Talent + Opportunity = Success.” This stat gives us an idea of a player’s talent by answering the question — how productive was this player with the touches he received? If a back is listed here, it indicates that he may very well have the talent to be a top 20 fantasy RB in the NFL if he were to receive the appropriate amount of touches.

A few takeaways:

- Brandon Jacobs can run the ball. His numbers here are a little skewed due to the nine TDs he scored in 147 carries, but he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and should be the feature back somewhere even if Ahmad Bradshaw is the better all around back. 2010 marks the third season in the last four that Jacobs averaged 5.0-plus yards per carry, so his poor 2009 numbers (3.6 ypc) look to be more of an aberration than a trend.

- Jamaal Charles is really, really good. If not for the presence of Thomas Jones, he would be a top 2 or 3 RB heading into the 2011 season. As it stands, I suspect he’ll be a mid-first round pick.

- Ryan Mathews has what it takes to be a very good RB2, but he needs to stay healthy and he needs RB2 touches. His teammate, Mike Tolbert, vultured his touchdowns and will do so again if he’s still a Charger next season.

- BenJarvus Green-Ellis figures to be a sleeper heading into the 2011 season. He’s a touchdown machine and a good runner (4.4 ypc), but Belichick’s fickleness at the RB position will likely depress the Law Firm’s value a bit. He should be a very solid RB2 next season.

- Peyton Hillis outperformed Chris Johnson, Frank Gore and Michael Turner on a per touch basis. Hillis should be the Browns’ feature back heading into 2011, and should continue to be productive even if Cleveland moves to a West Coast offense since he has the pass-catching skills to be effective out of the backfield.

- Michael Bush could be a star with a new team. He’s a free agent this summer, so if the Raiders don’t resign him (though they should), he could turn into a fantasy RB2 if he lands with the right team.

- Maybe Tim Hightower should be the Cardinals’ feature back. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and has good hands out of the backfield. People complain about his breakaway speed, but he had an 80-yard run this season. In 292 career carries, Beanie Wells has a career long run of 33 yards.

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