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Under the Numbers: Week 14
John U. Miller
December 6, 2011

Digging deeper for a baker’s dozen of did-you-know stuff from Fantasy Week 13.

1. Cam Newton completed 12 of 21 passes for 204 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT in the 38-19 win at Tampa Bay.  He also carried 14 times for 54 yards and 3 TDs.  Newton was only sacked twice and did not turn the ball over.

Sorry Andy Dalton but wins and losses are not everything.  Newton is the Rookie of the Year going away.  His physical ability continues to amaze me more and more each week as he churns his way into fantasy football history.  DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart can complain (with good reason) about a lack of touches near the goal line but they have to bang ‘em in when they get ‘em.  In the 1st quarter Williams had a crack from the 3-yard line and couldn’t get in.  Cam went in on the next play.  Later it was Stewart on 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line but he got stuffed.  On 3rd down Newton threw incomplete to Greg Olsen but a penalty gave them a new set of downs, and Stewart lucked out and scored with another opportunity.  In the 4th quarter Williams got the call from the 8-yard line and got stopped at the 1.  Cam goes in.  For the year Michael Turner leads all players with 16 rushing attempts from inside the 3-yard line, then it’s Newton tied at No. 2 with Ray Rice at 11 attempts.  Next are Frank Gore (10), Michael Bush (10 in only 6 starts), LeSean McCoy (9), and Beanie Wells (9).  Believe it or not Jonathan Stewart has had 8 chances but only scored on 3 of them.  After 12 games Newton has 347 fantasy points and is on pace to score 463 on the season – exactly 1 more point than Tom Brady in 2007 when he threw 50 TD passes!  Of course Aaron Rodgers has 373 points and is on pace for 497 points, a new fantasy football record. 

2. Arian Foster carried 31 times for 111 yards and 1 TD in the 17-10 win over Atlanta.  He also caught 3 passes for 41 yards.  Despite missing 2 games in September Foster is the No. 3 fantasy RB with a decent chance to overtake LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice for the title.

In the 2nd quarter Foster had two other shots from inside the 5-yard line and couldn’t make it happen.  T.J. Yates threw a TD to Joel Dreessen on 3rd and goal.  The great thing is that in the 4th quarter Foster got three straight shots from inside the 10-yard line and slammed it in.  How many other stud RBs get that kind of playbook devotion?  Foster now has 18+ fantasy points in 17 of his last 25 full games, far and away #1 in that metric.  There will be a lot of talk about LeSean McCoy being the #1 fantasy RB pick next year but I’ve got to give it to Foster – primarily because he came back from a pretty nasty hamstring blowout in August.  I also like that 4 Texans offensive line starters are under contract in 2012, save for C Chris Myers, who will most certainly be re-signed after his stellar play this year.  Foster’s next 3 games are at Cincinnati (ranked 12th in defending fantasy RBs), vs. Carolina (32nd), and at Indianapolis (30th).

3. DeSean Jackson caught four passes for 34 yards in the 31-14 loss at Seattle on Thursday night.  He added 1 carry for 5 yards.

I can’t think of another player who has disappointed so much at the WR position, except Andre Johnson – but his leg blew up (twice) so he has an excuse.  In the last eight weeks Jackson has not topped 88 receiving yards and has only scored 1 touchdown – plus he was deactivated in Week 10 for missing a team meeting.  In week 11 Jackson dropped 2 passes in the end zone and got benched in the fourth quarter – which really killed fantasy owners because he missed two garbage drives where Vince Young put the ball in the air a whopping 18 times.  What’s gone wrong this year?  Sheil Kapadia says Jackson’s concussions are a big factor.  Michael Vick (ribs) should be back in Week 14 at Miami but how much faith can we place in Jackson anymore?  And the Dolphins secondary has been tougher than oak bark lately with only 4 TD passes allowed in the last 5 weeks.

4. Chris Johnson carried 23 times for 153 yards and 2 TDs in the 23-17 win at Buffalo.  He was only targeted once and caught the pass for 4 yards.

Who cares about receptions, this guy is hot and he’s going to help some patient fantasy owners win trophies!  Johnson has had at least 157 total yards in 3 of the last 4 games and scored 3 TDs in this span.  It’s like a bad dream, many of Johnson’s first 8 or 9 games this year – and I don’t think we’ll ever know what was really wrong.  It was easy to blame CJ himself, playing with less fire after pocketing $30 million guaranteed but deep inside we knew that wasn’t it.  He’s never missed a regular season game – much less a practice – due to injury in his career.  Was Johnson dealing with a nagging thigh injury (like last year, when he failed to inform us until the day the season ended)?  Nope.  No injury.  Was it the blocking?  Yes, sort of.  My eye test showed the holes were closing a little quicker than in years’ past… as if the offensive linemen weren’t quite bringing that extra “nasty” to the table.  Looking ahead, CJ is unbenchable again and it’s no coincidence that the Titans are 4-0 when he tops 100 rushing yards this year.  He’s going to get a ton of carries vs. New Orleans and at Indianapolis in the next 2 games as the 7-5 Titans fight to scrape out a playoff berth. 

5. C.J. Spiller carried 14 times for 83 yards and 1 TD, plus he caught 3 passes for 19 yards, in the 23-17 loss to Tennessee.

Spiller had his official breakout in the 26th game of his career.  He was electric, clearly motivated, and it was evidenced by the fact that he recovered his own fumble for a TD after nearly coughing it up for a touchback.  Spiller’s head was in the moment as he chased the ball down before it went out the back of the end zone (though I think it really was a touchback).  Four plays later Spiller broke a 41-yard TD run but it was nullified by a holding penalty!  He could have had 20-25 carries easily but Chan Gailey inexplicably called only 6 runs in the 2nd half.  In the 4th quarter Spiller did make a huge mistake, dropping an easy 2-yard TD pass on 3rd and goal.  Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown on 4th and goal.  I did notice that backup RB Tashard Choice got 3 red-zone carries in this game, though 2 of them were because Spiller was catching a breather after a 25-yard scamper.  I believe Spiller is a must-flex and even a dandy RB2 in Week 14 at San Diego, who just got ripped up by Maurice Jones-Drew.  JUMbo Whisper:  The nightmare continues for Fred Jackson, whose upcoming contract extension shrinks by a couple million dollars with every good game Spiller puts on film.

6. Stevie Johnson caught 5 passes for 52 yards and 1 TD vs. Tennessee.

Johnson bailed many of you out with a late TD in the 4th quarter.  He was targeted a respectable 8 times, though strangely it was WR Brad Smith who led the team with 10 targets (7 catches for 72 yards).  Smith played all but two of the Bills’ offensive snaps.  Stevie should have had an easy score in the 3rd quarter when he shook off CB Cortland Finnegan and was wide open in the end zone – but Fitzpatrick checked down to Spiller instead.  In the 2nd quarter Fitzpatrick tried to get it to him on a hitch route at the Titans’ 5-yard line but he was off the mark.  Johnson’s 2nd season continues to underwhelm but you have to give him credit for playing through injuries and managing to score 6 TDs so far despite Fitzpatrick’s obvious slump.  He’s a top-20 fantasy WR in all formats and should be considered a must-start in 12-team leagues at San Diego this week.  The Week 16 home game vs. Denver looks great too (Broncos rank 26th against fantasy WRs) if the weather is manageable.

7. Maurice Jones-Drew carried 20 times for 97 yards and caught 6 passes for 91 yards & 1 TD in the loss to San Diego on Monday night.

What a breath of fresh air, this warrior running back.  Jones-Drew has quietly risen to 4th among all fantasy RBs thanks to a 4-game streak with at least 17 fantasy points.  He’s had at least 84 total yards and/or 1 TD in every single game this year.  MJD gets my vote for Most Underrated Fantasy Player in 2011.  He’s #1 in the league with 1,137 rushing yards, on pace for over 1,500!  Jones-Drew draws the reeling Buccaneers defense at home in Week 14.  JUMbo Whisper:  Backup RB Deji Karim was inactive Monday night.  MJD will continue to gobble almost every Jags RB carry available.

8. Packers RB Brandon Saine carried 6 times for 16 yards and caught 4 passes for 29 yards (off 6 targets) in the 38-35 win over the New York Giants.

I feel this Saine kid must be mentioned right now – while he’s still on waiver wires – because it’s obvious the coaching staff has confidence in him.  James Starks aggravated his ankle (or knee, whichever) and left early again.  They need to shut Starks down for a while.  Ryan Grant’s ability is fading faster each week too.  Did you know Grant hasn’t had a run longer than 9 yards in his last 67 attempts?  Saine is 5’11/220 and generates power behind his pads (like Michael Turner), and is very comfortable in the passing game (unlike Michael Turner).  Against the Giants he touched the ball 10 times in barely over 2 full quarters of action, including a few nifty screens that he executed with patience and burst like Ahman Green used to do so well.  And Saine’s not just a 3rd-down type of fill-in, people.  For the record, 9 of Saine’s touches were on 1st down, 3 of his touches/targets were on 2nd down.  I’m putting in for Saine in two leagues as you read this.  I suggest you do too.   

9. Matthew Stafford 31 of 44 passes for 408 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in the 31-17 loss at New Orleans.

First off, many of you want to know what’s happened to Calvin Johnson lately.  In this game a whopping 12 of Stafford’s 31 completions went to RBs – and he spread it around to a season-high 10 different receivers – so that pretty much explains Megatron last week.  He’s also been targeted 24 times in the last 3 games compared to 37 in the previous 3 games.  Against the Saints I didn’t see Stafford showing any ill effects of the broken finger.  Plenty of zip and accuracy.  It was the offensive penalties that really damaged Stafford’s rhythm in this one.  Detroit had 3 offensive pass interference calls, a personal foul on Brandon Pettigrew for physical contact with an official, and a personal foul on Titus Young that made the Lions settle for a field goal.  Jim Schwartz has built a deep and talented team, but he has lost complete control of them on the field.  Stafford is at home vs. Minnesota in Week 14.  They rank 30th in allowed fantasy points to QBs.  Juicy matchup.

10. Julio Jones caught 4 passes for 68 yards in the 17-10 loss to Houston.  Roddy White caught 4 passes for 51 yards and 1 TD.  Tony Gonzalez caught 7 passes for 100 yards. 

A glance at the box score – without seeing the game – would indicate Jones still might be less than 100% healthy.  Not true.  He was running all over the field, going deep, cutting hard on comeback routes, everything… but he and Matt Ryan just couldn’t make the magic happen.  Ryan overthrew Jones and White on two potential TD bombs.  Jones also had an apparent TD catch hauled in over Texans S Jason Allen but he couldn’t get both feet down.  On the last play of the game Jones had another apparent (game-tying) TD but didn’t come down with it.  That one was on him.  White continues his elevated production and is the 3rd best fantasy WR over the last 3 weeks.  He’s once again unbenchable in any league now.  Believe it or not, Gonzalez ranks #3 among all fantasy TEs this year and only Jimmy Graham has more TE targets.  You have to start talking about Gonzo as one of the best 25 or 30 players in NFL history regardless of position.  He’s almost 36 years old!  

11. The Ravens defense only allowed 233 total yards and 10 points in the win at Cleveland, adding 3 sacks, 1 INT, and a 68-yard punt return TD from Lardarius Webb. A fumble recovery by Ed Reed was overturned by replay.  Baltimore went into a little “prevent” mode with 7:00 left and the score 24-3, allowing Colt McCoy to inch down the field and throw a garbage score to TE Evan Moore.

Ray who?  Baltimore has only allowed 2 TD runs and 2 TD passes in the 3 games that Ray Lewis has missed.  Those 3 opponents – Cincinnati, San Francisco, Cleveland – have a combined 5 red-zone trips in those games.  That’s very stingy.  DE Pernell McPhee is quietly picking up some slack with 7 tackles, 3 sacks, and 1 tipped pass in those 3 games as well.  I don’t usually mention defenses much in Under The Numbers but with a home game coming against Colts QB Dan Orlovsky there’s a potential felony about to be committed.  The Ravens won’t be near as friendly as the soft Patriots defense. 

12. Pierre Garcon caught 9 passes for 150 yards and 2 TDs in the 31-24 loss to New England.  He was targeted 12 times while Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie were targeted a combined 14 times. 

I don’t want to get too crazy over this performance – the opponent’s defense was severely lacking – but Garcon was ballin’ folks.  Dan Orlovsky proved that his serviceable play in Detroit a few years ago was no fluke, as he stuck the ball where it needed to go on numerous occasions.  Orlovsky posted a 113.2 QB rating and the Colts’ first 300-yard passing game since Peyton Manning’s 319 in Week 14 last year.  Garcon’s production has been hugely sporadic (like Vincent Jackson) but facts are facts: He’s the 13th ranked fantasy WR.  He’s on pace for 1073 yards and might reach double-digit TDs with 6 right now. 

13. Tim Tebow completed 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs in the 35-32 win at Minnesota.  He carried 4 times for 13 yards and ran in a 2-point conversion.

The best all-around game of Tebow’s career in my opinion, though admittedly I haven’t watched all his games in their entirety.  Man, does Merril Hoge feel like a dork.  Tebow was hitting deeper passes against a Cover-2 defense for the first time.  Demaryius Thomas was his favorite target (7 targets against 6 combined for Decker, Royal, and Willis) and caught 4 passes for 144 yards and 2 TDs.  I thought Tebow’s best play was an incomplete pass.  Late in the game, Denver down 32-29, it’s 3rd and 10 from the Vikings 28-yard line.  OC Mike McCoy could have called a safe Tebow sneak to line it up for a pretty easy 43-44 yard field goal, but he goes 4-wide and puts Tebow in the shotgun.  The Vikings have 9 in the box and 4 of them are shuffling around pre-snap with saliva hanging on their chins.  Tim stands in the face of the wild rush and drops a perfect 30-yard dime in Thomas’ hands – but he couldn’t bring it in.  Tebow kid is averaging 20 fantasy points over the last 7 games, a pace that would put him in the top-12 QBs if maintained over 16 games.  His Week 14 game at home vs. Chicago is pretty menacing, but if you own Tebow and make it to Week 15 he’ll be at home vs. New England’s 32nd-ranked total defense. 

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