Fantasy & Reality: Offensive observations
After one week the Patriots look dicey on offense while the Eagles seem unstoppable. Our Dave Richard takes a closer look at both units, both for Week 2 and beyond.
It feels like we're right back to square one with Tom Brady and his receiving corps.
No Shane Vereen (wrist) for a long time, no Rob Gronkowski (forearm, back) until maybe Week 3, presumably no Danny Amendola (groin) for at least one game and even Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) could find himself on the bench.
It might only be for a week, but Brady is left with a near-empty cupboard. Available to throw to are rookies Kenbrell Thompkins , Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson , tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and veterans Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman , who looked awesome in Week 1 but has a bad track record of foot injuries (he was in a walking boot as recently four months ago). The running back corps is down to veteran third-down back Leon Washington and a group of bigger backs not known for their receiving skills, including Stevan Ridley .
The Patriots have always been good at using what they have to stay competitive in games, and it's in that spirit that Ridley's Fantasy owners should keep calm and carry on even in the face of his benching for fumbling last week (the turnover led to a Bills touchdown). If the Patriots are going to lean on their playmakers then Ridley is going to get work, even after fumbling.
Ridley's been taken out of games before for fumbling but the punishment never lasted too long. In both 2012 games he lost fumbles in he came back the following week and had just about his normal slate of work -- 17 carries on average. The stats that came with them weren't great but game circumstances played a role in that.
Now the Patriots need him badly. A sensible person would bet Ridley starts and sees a lot of work against the Jets on Thursday now that the biggest threat to his touches -- Vereen -- is sidelined. Plus, with the game being on a short week and Ridley only getting nine touches before hitting the pine, one would argue he's the most rested Patriot starter. We'll get an idea of how the Pats will use their backs until Vereen comes back beginning this week.
What about Edelman, the waiver-wire darling following his two-score game at Buffalo? He's also worth starting in Fantasy. Of all the receivers left for Brady to throw to, he's the one he likely trusts the most. Edelman and Brady have been teammates since 2009 and have hooked up for touchdowns long before this past weekend. Edelman was even locked into a big role this past weekend -- he lined up for 47 plays with Amendola at Buffalo and was on the field for 31 snaps without Amendola including just four when Amendola left with a groin injury. Edelman's worth rolling with.
Thompkins is your other sure-fire receiver. He struggled in his debut but the targets say a lot: 14 total, including three deep pass attempts (20-plus yards) and two passes into the end zone. Those targets aren't going to go away if other key Patriots receiving threats are sidelined. This is a big week for Thompkins; a preseason's worth of playing time with Brady along with more snaps played in Week 1 than any other receiver (87) should give him enough work to finally flourish.
As for the matchup ahead, I wouldn't worry about the Jets pass rush rattling Brady or Antonio Cromartie lining up on a specific receiver all game long. The Jets flipped him from side to side last week and if that continues the Patriots will adjust by moving their receivers around. Brady himself threw five touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Jets last year with at least 22 Fantasy points per game. He'll be fine.
Last point: The Patriots' next four games after Week 2 come against the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals and Saints. They'll need those offensive weapons back then or else their record will have some serious blemishes.
Chipping away at the Eagles
When I was younger, before a wife and kids, I spent a lot of my spare time playing Madden. And I was pretty darn good at it. One year I figured out how to consistently tear apart the All-Pro level by memorizing three separate audibles and calling one additional play, then running the no-huddle using just those four plays. I'd go undefeated en route to the Super Bowl in franchise mode just by out-hustling the defense game after game.
I was reminded of this when I watched the fast break Eagles offense on Monday at the Redskins. The Eagles have ditched the huddle and use signals from the sideline in part to call in plays immediately after the last play has been run. The offense keeps the defense on its heels and uses simple philosophies to pick up gobs of yardage in a hurry. It's fun to watch.
But my video-game team is fictional. The Eagles are real. These guys can't be counted on to hold up week after week like this. LeSean McCoy had a personal-best 31 carries but needed attention from the trainers during the second half. Michael Vick totaled three touchdowns but was gimpy by the fourth quarter -- not the best news for a guy known for getting hurt. Again, this is the first game of the season.
And while the players might wear down, defenses will catch up with what Chip Kelly's doing. Just consider the two halves for the Eagles: They ran 51 plays in the first half, totaling 341 yards and 26 points. In the second half they ran just 23 plays, totaled 125 yards and scored seven points. The Redskins adjusted to the scheme by hitting Vick repeatedly and being more physical defensively while taking their time offensively -- Washington owned the clock by more than five minutes in the second half.
What it means to me is that the players involved are among the most high-risk, high-reward in Fantasy Football history. It'll be this way until Kelly makes some changes to limit his players' exposure to big hits. DeSean Jackson might be little but he is a good start so long as Vick is the one throwing to him. McCoy is a no-brainer No. 1 Fantasy running back but the second he gets worn down too much the offense is in trouble -- Bryce Brown had a weak camp and couldn't accelerate to the edge against the Redskins. Chris Polk isn't exactly a burner. And as for Vick ... I mean, use him so long as he is upright, but it's a game of hot potato. You just don't know which week he'll end up needing help getting up off the turf. And sorry, I can't see this offense being as electric with Nick Foles under center.
The good news is that not many people drafted Vick without taking another quarterback. That's the way it should be -- no one should carry Vick without another good option. The outlook for McCoy isn't nearly as simple because the handcuff for him isn't very good. I own McCoy in several leagues and am aiming to carry a number of capable runners from other teams for the possible moment when McCoy doesn't suit up for a game.
Thinking more short-term, the Eagles host the Chargers this week in what should be an outstanding matchup. The Bolts are making a cross-country trip fresh off a heartbreaking loss against the Texans -- Houston dominated them offensively.
This is a good week to reap the rewards of Kelly's offense but things get ugly in a hurry. The Eagles are at home on a short week against a very good Chiefs defense next Thursday before playing three straight on the road at Denver, at the Giants and at Tampa Bay. Then Dallas gets a crack at them. That's quite a gauntlet. I'm not in the injury predicting business but I'll be surprised if Vick's name doesn't start popping up on the injury report.