Ninja Recap: Critical Fantasy Observations From the Steelers-Titans Game

John ZaktanskyCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 29: Running back Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to celebrate after his touchdown in the second quarter during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field on August 29, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

For a majority of Thursday night’s season opener between the Steelers and Titans, the game didn’t resemble much of a football contest, but more sumo wrestling match. The teams smacked each other around until both sides were weary. I know I was weary just watching the game.

However, in the middle of this low scoring slugfest, there were several interesting tidbits worth rehashing from a fantasy standpoint. So, with no further introduction, here some trained chinstrap ninja viewpoints on the season-opener.

1. The Steelers running game was surprisingly inept much of last season, but much of that was attributed to injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker. Both were healthy last night, and the Steelers still couldn’t run the ball.

Parker was pulled in favor of Mewelde Moore, making one wonder if the Steeler backfield will be more a committee approach in 2009 that we’d all like to believe. It was hard to tell whether the lack of running room was due to poor offensive line run blocking or an extra-effective Titans defense. Either way, it is ways too early to start panicking over the Pittsburgh rushing attack from a fantasy standpoint. Easier matchups are coming.

2. Anyone who doesn’t think that fantasy owners are fickle should check out the Yahoo fantasy football page. As of this writing, Rashard Mendenhall was dropped in 7,576 leagues. This after just one game.

Sure Mendenhall wasn’t used a whole lot, but he will produce fantasy worthy numbers this season. If you are lucky enough to be in one of the 7,576 leagues were Mendenhall is going to be available, feel free to pounce and stash Mendenhall away on your bench for a rainy day.

3. Continuing with the Steelers, it is time to start wondering if Santonio Holmes will be considered one of 2009’s big-value wide receivers in fantasy circles when the season wraps up. His stat line (seven catches, 131 yards and a touchdown) from Thursday was exactly the same as his Super Bowl numbers.

If the Steelers continue to struggle on the ground and if Ben Roethlisberger continues to be as effective in the pocket (he had enough time to knit a sweater before each pass), than there is no reason to doubt that Santonio Holmes will be anything less than a solid WR2 in most fantasy formats. Time to bump up the stock a tick or two.

4. Speaking of receivers who impressed, both Kenny Britt and Justin Gage were effective last night, especially after Troy Polamalu left the game due to injury. I was most impressed with Justin Gage, who I was driving the bandwagon for last year but ready to evacuate after a majorly disappointing campaign. However, Thusday night,

Gage flashed his talent and was the go-to receiver many predicted he would be last year. He’s worth an add in your league if still available (he still on waivers in 36 percent of Yahoo leagues), although I’d take a wait-and-see approach to starting him on your roster if you can.

One point to note is that in a few weeks, speedster Nate Washington is scheduled back from injury, and it remains to be seen how that will affect the numbers of both Gage and Britt moving forward.

5. The Steelers wasn’t the only team that struggled in rushing yards, although Chris Johnson did fare better than the Steelers combined in rushing yards (that wasn’t saying much with 78 on the ground).

The Titans will continue to see some tough defenses in the coming weeks, and Johnson may not really perform the way you were hoping until after the first quarter to third of the season. Hang in there if you own Johnson. While I expect him to backslide from his 2008 numbers, I also think he will be a serviceable RB2 with RB1 upside. If you don’t own him, you might be able to get him at a discounted rate in a few weeks.

6. With Troy Polamalu out for three to six weeks, you can almost hear the sigh of relief from opposing quarterbacks for the next month of the season. Expect Jay Cutler’s stock to rise in his squad’s Week Two matchup with the Steelers. Same for Carson Palmer in Week Three and Philip Rivers in Week Four.

7. Heath Miller was an effective stop-gap for Roethlisberger Thursday night … his eight catches was the stat that impressed me the most, and if he continues to see a similar boost in targets this season, he will vault into the top 10 fantasy tight end at one point or another.

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