Down 28-10 to the Patriots late in the third quarter last Sunday, the Titans lined up for the first play of a new series in a shotgun formation with three receivers and tight end Jared Cook in the slot. Everything from the scoreboard to the formation suggested a pass was coming and the defense was looking for such a thing. Instead, quarterback Jake Locker handed off to Chris Johnson, who couldn't find a hole in the middle of his line and bounced to the outside. Three Patriots defenders were waiting for him, tackling him to the ground. As he lay there on his belly, fresh off of a zero-yard gain, Johnson rolled the ball out of his hands, hung his head and shook it in disgust.
Fantasy owners who had Johnson in their lineups might have done the same thing.
It was a year ago when Johnson morphed from a lightning-quick speedster into a slower, more tentative running back with smaller statistics and a bigger wallet. We watched helplessly as he went scoreless through his first four games, ultimately finding the end zone four times in three matchups. Our jaws dropped as we watched a guy who previously would wake up in the morning with 100 rushing yards only accomplished that feat four times in 2011 (he had seven 100-total-yard games). And we somehow couldn't believe it when his season ended with just over 1,000 rushing yards and over 1,450 total yards -- he never looked good enough to put up those kind of numbers.
Now it's déjà vu, as Johnson opened the season with only the 11th sub-15 carry game since 2010 (he had eight last season). Is Johnson on the verge of being a Fantasy nightmare again? Head coach Mike Munchak won't say so.
"I probably won't evaluate it over one game," Munchak said while affirming Johnson won't lose his starting job. "For 11 carries, I'm not going to break down every run he made or whose fault it was or why it went the way it went. ... Anything's possible but I don't think [benching him is] anything that's going to ever happen."
A look at the tape suggests Johnson is a little more quick-twitch than he was last season. At worst he has the same acceleration and speed as he had last year, though you couldn't really tell because he didn't have any plays longer than 16 yards.
The more substantial issue was the Titans' run blocking. On many occasions, Johnson had nowhere to go because the Patriots' big boys clogged lanes the offensive line couldn't crack. On a first-and-goal in the fourth quarter Johnson barely had time to get the ball from Matt Hasselbeck before Vince Wilfork beat center Fernando Velasco and wrapped up Johnson like he was a six-foot submarine sandwich. Maybe part of the problem was the matchup itself as the Patriots' run defense was outstanding in Week 1, but unless this O-line can work out its kinks Johnson will have to ramp up his efforts to break long gains and based on what we saw last year and through the preseason, I'm not convinced he's dying to put in the work.
Last year some owners never hit the panic button with Johnson and just took their lumps with him. This year it's going to be tough to wait as long, knowing what he did in 2011. The matchups don't get much easier -- he's at the Chargers this week followed by the Lions at home and at Houston in Week 4. Those defenses allowed 202 rush yards (none more than 79 yards) and zero touchdowns combined in Week 1. Later on in the season he'll have some favorable matchups for sure, but it might not mean much.
After one week, he looks more like CJ2011k than CJ2K, and that's not good.
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: Adrian Peterson's knee cannot be trusted! Exactly what was "limited" in Peterson's "exposure" when he cannonballed over the top of his offensive line and into the end zone for his second touchdown of Week 1? While it stings if you lost with Peterson on your bench, at least you know what to do with him going forward. And if we knew then what we know now, there's no doubt Peterson would have been a Top 8 pick, maybe even a Top 4 pick, in drafts.
Reality: It was better to wait on quarterbacks after all. It's only one week, but just two of the Top 5 consensus quarterbacks drafted this summer finished in the Top 10. Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton all failed to live up to expectations in their openers. Meanwhile Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III finished as the top three passers. Mark Sanchez and Blaine Gabbert were barely drafted and they even found their way into the Top 10. It's only one week, but if this continues then there will be no reason to spend an early pick on a quarterback ever again.
And on a related note, the Top 2 tight ends are both 1 for 1 in justifying their lofty draft positions. Maybe we should keep track of this.
Fantasy: DeAngelo Williams will bowl over the Buccaneers. What a crock! The Panthers barely gave Williams the chance to play, calling six running plays for him and 13 total in the game. When Carolina fell behind 13-0 late in the first half, Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski went into two-minute drill mode and never snapped out of it. The Panthers had eight runs in the second half split between Williams and Newton. It is worth noticing that the Panthers offensive line struggled in the game.
Reality: We're going to get the best from Pierre Garcon. For lack of a better comparison, Garcon is Kendall Wright. Doesn't make sense at face value but when you go back and look at how Wright succeeded at Baylor with Robert Griffin III, you'll recognize Garcon could be in the same position. On the big play everyone couldn't stop talking about, Garcon ran a deep crossing pattern, got some help from Saints defenders running into each other and sped off to the end zone. Mike Shanahan brought Garcon to Washington for his speed and ability to run after the catch and it paid off in Week 1.
Fantasy: Fred Jackson has the Bills' running job on lockdown. It's not fair to anyone who drafted Jackson, but the injury he suffered combined with the dynamic play of C.J. Spiller against a good Jets run defense will change the pecking order of the Bills' run game. It has to. Chan Gailey knew Spiller had playmaking ability but what he flashed against a Jets defense that allowed four 100-yard rushing efforts last season will leave an impression. His 169 yards on a mere 14 carries is the kind of thing he did last year and it'll only continue so long as Jackson is out. We said all summer that Jackson would be the Bills' best back until he gave the team a reason not to be. Seems like that has happened.
Reality: Alfred Morris will be involved in the Redskins offense. Involved here meaning starting, dominating the carries with Roy Helu and Evan Royster and working the goal line for two touchdowns. Statistically it was a nice start for "ALF" but it didn't begin pretty. In the first half he looked every bit as awful as the 2.3 rushing average he had on nine carries suggested. But then he turned it up in the second half, averaging nearly 4.0 yards per carry and punching in touchdowns when called upon. Our little gamble on Morris as a late-round flier has paid off thus far. His next few games -- at St. Louis, vs. Cincinnati and at Tampa Bay -- should yield more good numbers. By then, we might be talking about a "sell-high" running back, not a guy you should count on the rest of the year. Check out the Redskins' schedule starting in Week 7 and you might get nervous.
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers: Groin injury kept him out of practice following a tepid game against the Niners. Playing on the short week could force him to miss Week 2 on Thursday.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: Hip problem puts his Week 2 availability in jeopardy. The Eagles are in big trouble if he can't play against the Ravens. Moreover, Maclin is starting to wear the "injury prone" sash a little more prominently than we'd like.
Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: Knee sprain to an unknown degree puts him on the shelf for at least three weeks. Spiller looked bad on Draft Day but he looks incredible now.
David Nelson, WR, Bills: Torn ACL means he's out for the season. Brutal blow to the Bills who just can't stay healthy. Scott Chandler and Donald Jones should pick up some targets as might speedy rookie T.J. Graham.
Rodger Saffold, LT, Scott Wells, C, Rams: Saffold suffered a serious neck injury but should eventually be fine. Wells is done for the foreseeable future with a broken foot but could return later in the year. The next few weeks could be tough on Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford.
DST sleepers for Week 2
Bengals (vs. CLE) ... Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions and fumbled twice against Philadelphia last week. The Browns offense failed to score a touchdown.
Raiders (at MIA) ... Ryan Tannehill tossed three interceptions and the Miami offense couldn't find the end zone. A better week is expected but better doesn't necessarily mean bigger.
Chargers (vs. TEN) ... Nice effort from the Bolts against the Raiders. Titans couldn't run against the Patriots, Jake Locker banged up. Don't love this one but if you're desperate they'll do.
Two for the road
• If you buy into Stephen Hill, then you also have to buy into Mark Sanchez. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Lost in the Tebowmania from this summer is the rock-solid fact that Sanchez totaled 32 touchdowns last season. If all it takes for Sanchez to keep up his level of productivity is lobbing jump balls to Hill, he might not have deserved the criticism we've been dumping upon him. At the very least, Hill can reprise the role Plaxico Burress had last season with the Jets as the big receiver in the offense. He's raw, but per ProFootballFocus.com he was on the field for 33 snaps, which suggests he's a big part of their game plan and certainly their passing attack (he missed plenty of running plays). Hill went to the same school as Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas and has a lot in common with them physically. Probably couldn't hurt to stash him on your roster. I actually like his upside more than Kevin Ogletree but not as much as Randall Cobb.
• Peyton Manning doesn't look exactly the same as I remember him in 2010 but his receiving corps doesn't look the same as I remember them in 2010. That's to say it's better. Demaryius Thomas offers incredible explosion as evidenced on his touchdown. Eric Decker is a solid route runner and he almost got in for a score. Jacob Tamme didn't drop a pass near the goal line. Manning's protection against the Steelers was fine. Maybe this game turns out differently if Ryan Clark and James Harrison play for the Steelers, but at the very least we should all feel comfortable rolling with Manning in our lineups.