So much for the theory that a good rushing defense will shut down a good running back.
Week Eight featured a lot of intriguing matchups, but what stood out the most in my opinion was the way some of the league’s most respected rushing defenses got absolutely run over en route to stinging defeats.
The Arizona Cardinals entered Sunday as the NFL’s top rushing defense. After the Carolina tandem of DeAngelo Williams (23-158-6.9-0 TDs) and Jonathan Stewart (17-87-5.1-2 TDs) got finished with them, the Cardinals are now ranked ninth.
But Arizona was not alone. Ravens running back Ray Rice ripped up the Broncos (23-84-3.7-1 TD), Thomas Jones did his thing against the Dolphins (27-102-3.8-0 TD), and the unheralded tandem of Philly fullback Leonard Weaver (8-75-9.4-1 TD) and rookie tailback LeSean McCoy (11-82-7.5-1 TD) sent the New York Giants back to the drawing board.
But in terms of running the football, the day still belonged to a backfield threat who found himself in a very favorable matchup heading into Week Eight...
MBP Award (Most Beastly Performance)
Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Welcome back, old friend. Johnson put together his second “performance for the ages” of 2009 when he carved up the Jacksonville Jaguars for 228 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries (9.5 YPC). For good measure, he also caught two passes for 11 yards to give PPR owners three extra points to tack on to his ridiculous total.
If you take Johnson’s two best performances of the season (Week Eight vs. Jacksonville and Week Two vs. Houston) and combine the totals, the numbers will blow you away. In those two games, the second-year back racked up 425 rushing yards on 40 carries and 98 receiving yards on 11 receptions. In addition, he found the end zone five times.
Two weeks ago, Johnson was our top-ranked buy-low candidate in the NFP Total Access Pass. Hopefully, many of you took the advice and swung a deal to land the Tennessee speed freak.
Players on the rise
Michael Crabtree, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers
The rookie from Texas Tech continues to impress. In a close game on the road against the NFL’s sixth-ranked passing defense, Crabtree stepped up his game and hauled in six passes for 81 yards (13.5 YPC) on a healthy nine targets.
In just two games since signing his rookie contract and joining the 49ers, Crabtree has now caught a total of 11 passes for 137 yards (12.5 YPC) on 15 targets. He’s finding ways to get open on the deep out routes and is being targeted more and more by quarterback Alex Smith.
Speaking of Alex Smith...
The former first-round pick has been playing some very effective football since taking over for Shaun Hill at Houston in Week Seven. Smith is completing 63 percent of his passes and has thrown for 404 yards and four touchdowns with just two interceptions in less than two games.
Matt Forte, Running Back, Chicago Bears—ALERT: SELL NOW!
Forte owners finally have something to smile about as their first-round pick decided to beat up on the helpless Browns defense on Sunday, posting 121 total yards and scoring two touchdowns.
While Week Eight was arguably his best fantasy performance of the season (he rushed for 121 yards and one touchdown in Week Four against the Lions), now is the time to ship the second-year back out of town while you still have a chance.
Forte only has one 100-plus-yard rushing performance this season and has found the end zone a grand total of three times in seven games. His two quality performances came against the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, not exactly a who’s who of NFL run defenses.
With an upcoming schedule that features games against the 49ers, Eagles, Vikings (twice), and Ravens, now is the perfect time to swing a deal. Keep in mind: Forte’s second clash with the Minnesota run defense takes place in Week 16, which happens to be championship weekend for several fantasy owners.
Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
Jennings is another prime sell-high candidate this week, as he’s coming off his first game since Week One in which he found the end zone. Sunday’s eight-catch, 88-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Vikings secondary was just the second time this season the Green Bay wideout posted more than 10 fantasy points in a game.
Jennings found some success in Week Eight for two reasons. First, stud cornerback Antoine Winfield didn’t play. Winfield was the guy who held Jennings to just three receptions for 31 yards the first time the Vikings and Packers met in Week Four.
Second, Green Bay was forced to throw because it was playing from behind the entire afternoon, meaning the opportunities to make plays were more readily available than they have been over the last few weeks.
Expect opposing defenses to stick with the game plan that several defenses have used with success against Jennings this season: Jam him at the line of scrimmage with a cornerback and roll a safety over the top for support.
Outside of his upcoming Week Nine showdown against a lousy Buccaneers secondary, Jennings still has to face the Steelers, Cowboys, 49ers, Ravens, and Bears.
Three more who are climbing the boards
James Casey, Tight End, Houston Texans
The rookie from Rice finds himself in a favorable situation now that starting tight end Owen Daniels is out for the season with a knee injury.
Casey only has two receptions for 14 yards this season (both came Sunday at Buffalo), but this kid is a playmaker. During his senior season at Rice, he caught an astounding 111 passes for 1,329 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yeah, he knows how to catch a football.
LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
Another game without starting running back Brian Westbrook, another impressive performance from the rookie out of Pittsburgh. McCoy picked up 82 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in Week Eight against the New York Giants. If he ever figures out how to pass protect, he’ll find himself with a whole lot more playing time.
Dallas Cowboys, D/ST
In their last five games (4-1) the Dallas defense has held the opposition to just 16.4 points per game while racking up 17 sacks, four interceptions, and five fumble recoveries. A Week Nine date in Philadelphia on Sunday night is must-see TV.
Falling down the boards
Marshawn Lynch, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
Blame it on the suspect Buffalo offensive line or lack of an adequate passing game all you like, but the fact of the matter is that Lynch just isn’t getting it done. He’s carried the ball 26 times for only 83 yards over the past two weeks, while catching four passes for 13 yards during that span.
Lynch has failed to rush for more than 70 yards in any game this season, and Sunday against the Texans saw him get the same number of carries (nine) as backup running back Fred Jackson, which isn’t a good sign.
At the moment, Lynch can only be viewed as a flex player at best. With the Buffalo offense averaging just 264.8 yards (29th) and 15.4 points (26th) per game, you really can’t expect all that much production.
Roy Williams, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys
Thank goodness for Miles Austin, because if Cowboys fans were stuck with Williams as their top wideout, I’d imagine a mutiny would break out at JerryWorld.
Remember the line in the movie Major League when one of the Indians’ coaches says to the general manager, “I thought you didn’t have any high-priced talent on this team,” and the general manager responds, “I forgot about Dorn because he’s only high-priced”?
That is exactly the sentiment that’s being echoed in Big D.
Williams has caught just six passes for 70 yards over his past three games. Yes, he scored a touchdown Sunday, but it was the first time he found pay dirt since Week One against a soft Tampa Bay secondary. Williams has only seen 19 targets over the past three weeks and has just two receptions for 25 or more yards on the season.
Add in the fact that Austin’s emergence has essentially relegated him to the No. 2 spot, and you have a stock that’s sinking faster than the Phillies’ World Series hopes.
David Garrard, Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars
At one point this season, Garrard found himself ranked in the top 10 in scoring among fantasy quarterbacks.
Then he posted a stretch of three games (which is still active, by the way) in which he tossed zero touchdown passes, threw four interceptions, lost two fumbles, got sacked 10 times, and threw for an average of less than 225 passing yards per game.
That says it all.
Three more ships that are taking on water...
New York Jets, D/ST
If you eliminate the Oakland shutout from two weeks ago (which you should, because that’s one of the worst offenses in league history), the Jets have lost four straight and are giving up an average of 25.2 points per game.
The good news is that the upcoming schedule features games against the Jaguars, Bills, and Buccaneers. The bad news is that New England, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati are on the horizon as well.
Steve Smith, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
Smith has caught only 19 passes for 251 yards and zero touchdowns over his past four games. Not terrible, but not on par with the red-hot way he opened up 2009.
Steve Slaton, Running Back, Houston Texans
After carrying the ball one time for one yard and fumbling on Sunday, Slaton was sent to the bench in favor of Ryan Moats, who promptly rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. This is a major red flag. If Double S doesn’t get his act together, he could be trying to pull off a miracle by attempting to score fantasy points from the sidelines.
Monday night mania is back
My goal is to send at least one of you a free NFP T-shirt Tuesday. In order for you to make that happen, follow these very precise and complex steps:
1. Leave a comment in this article with your Monday night winner and the total amount of points that will be scored in the game. Example: Saints and 56.
2. If you pick the winning team and are closest to the total number of points scored by both teams in tonight’s showdown (check back in the comments section tomorrow, where I will announce the winner), I’ll send you a free NFP T-shirt.
Very complex, I know.
Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh