Stepping off the Ledge - NBC New York

Stepping off the Ledge

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The most furious fourth quarter comeback in NFL history started with a man named Tom Santi. The backup Colts tight end wasn't even open on his fourth quarter touchdown, but Peyton Manning had no choice but to throw him the ball on fourth-and-goal from the seven-yard line.

    Santi held on for the score despite having a defender draped on his back. The touchdown got Indy within ten points with just over four minutes left. The rest, as the say, is the Sage Rosenfels Experience spectacularly imploding.

    If Santi doesn't hold on, this column is about Manning's failure to throw a touchdown against one of the worst defenses in the league. It's about Manning misfiring on deep balls and Marvin Harrison struggling to find his rhythm while the Colts defense couldn't get off the field. It's about the bye week failing to fix what ails the Colts offense.

    One play can dramatically change a box score and the course of a season for two franchises. Manning finished with two touchdowns, offering hope for owners that a breakthrough is right around the corner. Perhaps the comeback will ignite Indy's season, but don't forget that Rosenfels was the best quarterback on the field for 56 minutes Sunday and Andre Johnson was the best wide receiver. That is little consolation to Texans fans, but it should concern owners of Manning and Harrison. One Tom Santi catch can only change so much.

    Stepping Off the Ledge

    1. Shoulder injuries have replaced supermodels as the hot accessory for premier quarterbacks this season. Aaron Rodgers showed plenty of zip throughout his 313-yard, three-touchdown effort against the Falcons. He threw deep passes and he fit passes into tough spots. While he appeared to be in pain late in the game, it was his mental errors that cost Green Bay, not his shoulder. Fantasy owners can live with interceptions.

    2. Ben Roethlisberger also showed why practicing and pain-free shoulders are overrated. He put up his first 300-yard game since 2006 against a Jacksonville secondary that now ranks among the best matchups in fantasy football. It was the type of effort Ben's owners needed to avoid doing something rash like selling low during Pittsburgh's bye. The Steelers has better weapons in the passing game than on the ground; this won't be Roethlisberger's last 300-yard game of the season.

    3. There was no earthly explanation for Andre Johnson's two-week disappearance, so we shouldn't be surprised that he looked like his old self with nine catches, 131 yards, and a touchdown against the Colts. Number one wide receivers in their prime don't just disappear unless they change their name. Perhaps all Johnson needed was a little Sage Rosenfels Experience. We all did.

    Johnson was tough to take down in the open field. Instead of dropping passes, he held on tough grabs over the middle before he got his clock cleaned. And shame on everyone who jumped off the bandwagon! After the big game, Johnson is back on pace for 1,240 yards.

    4. Brandon Jacobs needed a big game to re-establish his place atop the Giants pecking order at running back. 136 yards and two touchdowns before resting for much of the second half should help keep him on the field when the games are closer.

    5. I own Matt Schaub in one league, Andre Johnson in another. Sunday went about as well as I could have hoped. Rosenfels helped A.J. break out of his slump, but his late collapse prematurely ended any quarterback controversy.

    6. So Matt Cassel can throw the deep ball, after all. Cassel, in fact, can make all the throws. His measurables are not what is holding him or Randy Moss back. It's Cassel's head and pocket presence. Despite the encouraging 259 yards, Cassel still takes way too many sacks and processes plays too slowly in the pocket. Much like J.T. O'Sullivan.

    There were many positive moments for Cassel against the 49ers and his overall numbers (6.8 YPA) look respectable on the year. He certainly won't have to answer job security questions this week. But Cassel still looks like an average QB2 at best to me that will only be a fantasy option in the easiest of matchups.

    We like Ike

    I want to dislike Ike Hilliard, especially after his late touchdown against the Broncos gave my boss a commanding lead in our fantasy matchup this week. But all is forgiven when he gave this exchange in a St. Petersburg Times interview this weekend.

    A weekly question: What Web site do you visit the most?
    Rotoworld.com, because I like to see what's going on in fantasy basketball. That's usually the first page that I go to once I see what's going on in the world. Fantasy basketball is my thing. I'm big on that. I even get the (cable package). I'm a big NBA guy.
    Clearly a man of good taste.

    Don't Panic

    1. We all keep getting burned by Jonathan Stewart. He gets benched while he scores, then we play him only to watch DeAngelo Williams roll a turkey against the Chiefs. These things happen in committees. Stewart is going to be inconsistent, and makes for a better flex play than an every-week RB2. But most owners don't have that luxury, especially during bye weeks. Live with some inconsistency because the big weeks will come.

    2. Receivers have off weeks. Rookie receivers are going to have a few of them. That's why I'm not too worried about DeSean Jackson's quiet day, aside from his punt return touchdown. The Redskins secondary has limited opponents to their worst passing day and the Washington offense plays keep-away. Reggie Brown is here to stay again, but there should be enough yards to go around. If there are any itchy McNabb owners out there, it could be a good time to buy low.

    3. Just a week ago, we were lauding Santana Moss' consistency, and then he throws up a goose egg. No one said this was going to be fair. Rest easy, Moss fans. The Rams are coming up next.

    4. Brandon Marshall. I don't need to say this one, right? I'd still rather have Marshall than any fantasy wideout.

    5. Marshawn Lynch has been a mild disappointment thus far, and his weak game going into the bye week could have owners willing to sell. He makes a fantastic buy low opportunity because there aren't many running backs as rock solid as Lynch.

    Short Declarative Sentences About Defenses

    The Dolphins defense is going to be a much tougher matchup than we anticipated. The Seahawks will be much easier. The Packers and the Jaguars aren't nearly as good as their reputations. The 49ers are easy to push around.

    Some Panic is Acceptable

    1. Anthony Gonzalez's injury opened up targets for Marvin Harrison, but the veteran couldn't do anything with them. Harrison's only catches lately are on shallow crosses, hardly what the former speedster is known for. When Harrison goes deep, Peyton Manning either overthrows him or Harrison is well covered.

    2. And in the fifth week, the Titans gave up on LenDale White. Okay, maybe they just knew he wasn't going to do anything against the Ravens. Still, White stops being a decent flex option once he stops scoring every week on 15 carries. My guess is the Titans backfield will continue to lean heavily on Chris Johnson, but White will get over ten touches most weeks.

    3. Hope you sold high on Larry Johnson! Has their ever been a bigger one game comedown that doesn't include an injury than 198 yards to two? I'd love to hear any examples if you have one. That object you see approaching in the rearview mirror is Brodie Croyle. Enjoy.

    4. I've been warning about the Orlovsky effect in Detroit for a while, but the UConn grad may have blown his chance to start with a high ankle sprain against the Bears. It's debatable whether Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson are better with Jon Kitna at this point anyway. He seems like the quarterback with no clothes since Mike Martz left. It's an appropriate nickname for a man who once dressed as Joe Cullen at the Drive Thru for Halloween.

    5. Every Patriots fan I know prefers to see Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, and Kevin Faulk in the backfield rather than Laurence Maroney. They move the chains. They don't dance around at the line of scrimmage, miss big holes, and go out of bounds half a yard short of a first down. Patriots coaches are starting to feel the same way. Maroney isn't even a good role player right now. He rarely stays in the game for long. LaMont Jordan probably would have led the Patriots in carries if he didn't get hurt Sunday. Sammy Morris did instead. Maroney needs to be out of all lineups.

    6. Remember when it seemed crazy for anyone to draft Adrian Peterson or Brian Westbrook over LaDainian Tomlinson? Ask LT2 owners what they would do if they had the decision to make again.

    7. Deion Branch couldn't last two quarters without getting hurt again. Matt Hasselbeck averaged five yards-per-attempt before leaving with a minor knee injury. Mike Holmgren probably wishes he just retired last year.

    Free Mewelde

    Mewelde Moore has started 13 games in his career. He's topped 100 yards from scrimmage in nine of them! (And one of those failures included an injury.) Look for MeMo to get more passing down work, even when Willie Parker returns.

    They're real and they're spectacular

    1. Forget Ronnie Brown's five-touchdown game during the unveiling of the "Wildcat" package. That was all trickeration, a feat that wasn't necessarily repeatable. His 125-yard, 25-carry outing against San Diego Sunday was more impressive. Yes, they ran the "Wildcat" 12 times for a total of 48 yards. But Brown averaged more yards on his other 13 carries. The committee with Ricky Williams is basically over. Ronnie Brown is back to being an every-week starter and a workhorse. It took less than four games. Kudos for taking the long view and grabbing him despite the rough training camp.

    2. Kyle Orton's last three games combined: 801 yards, seven touchdowns, and four picks. He's bringing Greg Olsen along for the ride. Everyone stomps on the Lions, but Orton put up numbers against Tampa and Philly too. And the old Bears didn't stomp on anyone.

    3. Jake Delhomme did what he was supposed to with the non-conference, small school part of the schedule. He's actually playing better, certainly smarter, after elbow surgery.

    4. Matt Ryan is on his way to having one of the best two rookie quarterback seasons of the last five years, along with Vince Young. I suspect Ryan will develop a little faster than Young in years two and three. With Ryan playing so well, Roddy White will continue to build on his breakout 2007. He's back to being an every-week WR2.

    The new Cris Carter

    Isaac Bruce only catches touchdowns. Ike has four scores on only 14 grabs in five games. He's somehow averaging 19.6 yards-per-catch because teams don't respect his deep speed. He makes for a good sell high, if anyone is buying.

    Committee Time

    1. No matter the injury, Willis McGahee continues to get the touches in the Baltimore backfield. And LeRon McClain continues to get the scores. Still, with Ray Rice long forgotten, this is a good development for McGahee. The schedule is getting easier and McGahee could be ready to start putting up RB2 production.

    2. No matter the backup, the Texans like to split up Steve Slaton's carries to keep him fresh. No matter the backup, Slaton is the one scoring touchdowns and breaking big plays. Versatility is a great way to hedge your bets as a running back. If Slaton doesn't catch passes, he'll score short-yardage touchdown. If he struggles to move the chains, like he did most of Sunday against Indy, he can still break off a long run to save the stat line.

    3. Fred Taylor has gained fewer than 30 rushing yards in three games out of five. Maurice Jones-Drew has gained fewer than 20 rushing yards in three games out of five. Mo-Jo is turning into Reggie Bush lite, with nearly equal receiving and rushing value: 176 rushing yards to 161 receiving.

    4. Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham split work evenly yet again, each topping 80 total yards against Denver. Graham has only eleven more touches on the season, an average of two extra per week.

    5. The three-headed Denver backfield continues, with Andre Hall losing some work to Michael Pittman. The situation has rendered all Broncos essentially unplayable.

    Rising Bolt?

    With Chris Chambers hurt and LaDainian Tomlinson still struggling, someone is going to have to step up in San Diego. Calling Vincent Jackson! The third-year pro is off to the best start of his career and could present problems for New England's smurf secondary next week.