Who's Hot, Who's Not After NFL Week 9?
The difficulty in this particular Monday morning column is that there are usually so many worthy performances we could do a 50-slide piece and still miss someone.
Then we could rewrite it Wednesday after watching the All-22 and add a bunch of other players who don't show up on the stat sheet. And we'd still miss players worthy (or unworthy) of this list.
You'd figure that in back-to-back weeks with six teams on bye, it'd be easier. But no, it's another week filled with unexpected performers as well as the usual suspects.
As always, we have a limited space (hence the "poor me" section of the intro), so make sure you shout out all the folks we missed. Because you just can't be everywhere at once, even with Red Zone.
HOT: Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans
St. Louis Rams rookie running back Zac Stacy has absolutely arrived after two straight weeks of producing over 120 yards on the ground.
This week, in a disappointing loss to the Tennessee Titans, Stacy added six catches for 51 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground (the first rushing touchdowns all season for the Rams). And he wasn't even the most productive running back on the field Sunday (more on that in a few slides).
Stacy has shown impressive strength, speed and vision in his first few starts, all despite being on a team that can't seem to come up on the right side of a close game.
You can expect him to continue to see most of the reps in the backfield—though, at some point, teams may decide he's enough of a threat to throw eight men in the box and stop him.
Things will definitely get interesting then.
NOT: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
It's been a rough stretch for quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. Over the last two games, Ryan has thrown seven interceptions and just two touchdowns. Not shockingly, the Falcons have lost the last two games by a score of 61-23.
But the road doesn't get any easier for him or the Falcons.
Next up are the Seattle Seahawks, followed by divisional matchups with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. After a game against the better-than-you-think Buffalo Bills, they head to Green Bay, take on Washington, go to San Francisco and finish with a tough divisional battle against a Carolina team that could be fighting for a wild-card berth, if not the division title.
The Falcons need Ryan to find a way to succeed even without his best weapons if they are going to compete the rest of the way.
HOT: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans at St. Louis Rams
With stats like the ones Zac Stacy put up, how could he be the second-best running back on the field Sunday?
Meet Titans running back Chris Johnson.
The Tennessee Titans have somehow scraped their way to a 4-4 record, despite losing their starting quarterback for a stretch, and have found a way to win quite frequently this season.
Part of that is because of the play of Johnson, specifically over the last two games.
Last week against the San Francisco 49ers, he had 110 combined yards and a touchdown. This week in the win over the St. Louis Rams, he carried the ball 22 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson also added three catches for 20 yards.
With quarterback Jake Locker still getting back into the rhythm of things after his injury, the Titans will sometimes need Johnson to put the team on his back.
The last two weeks, he's done that.
NOT: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins vs. Cincinnati Bengals
We expected some big things from second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but hasn't produced the last three weeks.
If it wasn't for some excellent defense in overtime, the Dolphins would have lost three straight games coming out of the bye—which just happens to line up with three straight games where Tannehill threw for just over or under 200 yards and threw for four interceptions.
Tannehill is constantly under siege this season. He was sacked another three times last Thursday, so you can certainly chalk some of his issues up to constant pressure. But that said, he needs to make better decisions with the ball and do a better job protecting it.
If the Dolphins can get an offensive line together, he might even survive long enough to do it.
HOT: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints at New York Jets
Even when he's on one foot, you can't stop New Orleans Saints All-World tight end Jimmy Graham. In fact, you can't even really contain him.
Graham saw a lot of tight coverage, but he still ended up with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. He's scored four touchdowns total in the last two games.
Sunday's production wasn't enough for the Saints to overcome the up-and-down New York Jets, but Graham was virtually unstoppable for the second week in a row.
Maybe he plays better when hurt, though he'd probably prefer to avoid any more injuries.
NOT: Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys
Two years into his time as a Minnesota Viking, Jerome Simpson hasn't quite lived up to his promise. Some of that has been the rotating quarterbacks, but some of it has been Simpson himself, dropping passes and being unable to separate from coverage.
Whatever the cause, Simpson isn't creating the production fans and the team hoped for.
With quarterback Christian Ponder back, we thought perhaps Simpson would see more work. Instead, tight end John Carlson—an afterthought for afterthoughts—had more targets than Simpson (six to Simpson's five), who was out-gained by four other players (Greg Jennings, Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright).
He is going to get crowded out this offseason as rookie Cordarrelle Patterson continues to improve and Greg Jennings continues to get more settled in.
HOT: Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers vs. Washington Redskins
Three of the last four games that San Diego Chargers rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen has started have resulted in 100-plus yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, only two of those games have been wins, but Allen's production has absolutely kept the team in both of those games.
Allen has become a reliable and trustworthy weapon for quarterback Philip Rivers and, along with head coach Mike McCoy, has been instrumental in Rivers' career reboot.
After being overlooked in the draft due to a knee injury and falling to the Chargers in the third round, Allen may be the definition of "value" in the NFL draft.
NOT: Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins
Normally, offensive linemen don't make this list—in part because it's too hard to quantify what they do live as it happens. Cameras don't focus on them much during the game, All-22 doesn't come out until Tuesday and even when we have it, we don't know the play calls and responsibilities.
Sometimes, though, a guy stands out so much that he needs to be called out one way or the other.
This time, it's Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito—and for all the wrong reasons.
Of course by now you've heard the hubbub about left tackle Jonathan Martin's departure from the team and the allegations he was bullied to the point that he broke. You can read this synopsis by ESPN's James Walker to catch up.
Incognito's name has been bandied about as one of the ringleaders, and Sunday morning found him very unhappy with the situation. He chose to lash out on Twitter at ESPN, Adam Schefter and pretty much anyone else who had reported on it.
A sampling is below. (Note: These tweets appeared on Incognito's Twitter page but have since been removed.)
@AdamSchefter Stop slandering my name. You hide behind "sources" who are not man enough to put their name behind the BS you report
@AdamSchefter Enough is enough If you or any of the agents you sound off for have a problem with me, you know where to find me #BRINGIT
Not surprisingly, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, he was suspended Sunday night by the Miami Dolphins while the NFL investigates the whole situation.
While Incognito may yet be vindicated, one can't help but wonder if he might have stayed active had he not try to browbeat (or, one might say, bully) Schefter into a retraction.
Good job, man, good effort.
Of course, Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports has reported that Incognito sent text messages and left voicemails for Martin that were threatening and racially charged. So maybe there is more to it.
I realize that there are some strong opinions on this whole case, so try to stay classy when talking about it in the comments.
Incognito is a hot topic, but he's been ice cold in his handling of it.
HOT: Case Keenum, Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
The Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts, but it wasn't because of undrafted rookie quarterback Case Keenum, who threw for 350 yards and a trio of Andre Johnson-fueled touchdowns.
No, that honor goes to Texans kicker Randy Bullock, who will also be known as the "shankapotomus of the day" for his awful kick at the end of the game.
At least Bullock will have company on the plane to the Houston airport, because Matt Schaub certainly won't be long for this team if Keenum keeps playing this well.
Keenum wasn't perfect—he held onto the ball a bit too long and made some poor passes—but for the most part, he had a solid outing against a good defense for the second straight game.
There's a long way to go before he really cements himself as the starting quarterback of the future for the Texans, but he's definitely shown that Schaub's struggles this year were pretty ridiculous.
NOT: Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
There was a theory someone floated to me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago—I wish I could recall who said it—that players coming out of the University of Alabama are often burned out.
We were talking about Jets cornerback Dee Milliner and his injury-filled, underwhelming rookie year, but it could be applied to Trent Richardson as well.
Since entering the league after the 2012 NFL draft, Richardson has often been hurt and seems to lack the burst and strength he had in college. He doesn't seem to see the field as well as he did when he played at Alabama, and, to put a fine point on it, he doesn't look like the same running back.
When I was talking Milliner and the Alabama theory, it was pointed out to me that a lot of players come out of that school fairly maxed-out. That leads them to struggle at times at the pro level and, because their bodies are worn down, be hurt more often and just less effective.
I asked B/R's own draft expert, Matt Miller, what he thought of it. He said the following:
The wear and tear on Alabama players is definitely something I'm noticing. Whether it's Richardson or Dont'a Hightower or Eddie Lacy, more and more, guys from 'Bama need time to almost rehab once they get in the NFL. Nick Saban wins, but his practices and use of players is tough. NFL-like, really. It's a growing trend that scouts must take note of.
So yeah, it bears watching.
Whatever the reasons (and there are many, as Miller detailed a little while back), Richardson is not playing well. Since joining the Colts, he's run the ball 83 times for just 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That's not what anyone expected (well, maybe Cleveland Browns fans) when he was no longer facing stacked fronts because of quarterback Andrew Luck.
Right now, Donald Brown is playing better than the guy selected two picks behind Luck.
Can Richardson rebound? Sure. It just might take time.
How much the Colts can wait might be another matter, though.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.