As we wade into a fifth week of action, there are some nuggets that are too in-depth for the podcast, too smart for Twitter and a little too short for the full column. Enjoy these Week 5 Quick Hits:
Your byes for Week 5: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Be sure your lineups are adjusted accordingly. And keep an eye on the progress of Darrius Heyward-Bey, who could be back in Week 6 and might be dropped in your leagues for flavor-of-the-week wire pickups. If you have room on your bench, he could be a nice, sneaky pickup who won't play this week, but could contribute down the line.
Let's move on ... to the Jets. To put it bluntly, the Jets are a huge mess right now. They have a weird situation at running back and have lost their top three receiving threats (Stephen Hill, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller) to injuries over the first four weeks. Holmes is out for the season, while Hill and Keller should be back soon. For now, though, the Jets' starters looks like this:
QB: Mark Sanchez
RB: Shonn Greene, Bilal Powell
WR: Jeremy Kerley, Chaz Schilens, Clyde Gates
TE: Jeff Cumberland
Throw Hill or Keller into the mix and they instantly become the team's top offensive threat. But if the roster stands as is (which it shouldn't, as they could sign someone like Plaxico Burress, who at least understands last year's system) for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans -- who have given up the fewest points (14.0 per game) and yards (273 per game) in the NFL this season -- it's going to be ugly. However, it's not entirely hopeless looking forward. Here's a look at the the way things shake out for three shaky skill positions:
Jets running backs:
Shonn Greene has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the last two seasons. He's only scored a combined eight touchdowns over that span, but keep in mind that he had to share the load with LaDainian Tomlinson, who led the team in rushing in 2010. Greene should be benefitting from Offensive Coordinator Tony Sparano's ground-and-pound strategy -- as coach of the Dolphins, the team finished in the top 12 of rushing attempts all four years, and finished in the top six twice. But one detail lost in the mix was Sparano's usage of both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the offense -- and, in 2011, both Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas:
2008: Brown -- 214 attempts, 916 yards, 4.3 ypc, 10 TD; Williams -- 160 attempts, 659 yards, 4.1 ypc, four TD
2009: Brown -- 147 attempts, 648 yards, 4.4 ypc, eight TD (in just nine games); Williams -- 241 attempts, 1,121 yards, 4.7 ypc, 11 TD
2010: Brown -- 200 attempts, 734 yards, 3.7 ypc, five TD; Williams -- 159 attempts, 673 yards, 4.2 ypc, two TD
2011: Bush -- 216 attempts, 1,086 yards, 5.0 ypc, six TD; Thomas -- 165 attmepts, 581 yards, 3.5 ypc, zero TD
What Sparano tends to do -- or, at least, what we can cull from his history -- is use both backs. Although he seems to pick one guy and stick with him as his lead back. Had Brown not been injured in 2009, he would have had the better set of numbers. Take away 2009, and this is the Sparano trend: the lead back gets 200 carries, second guy gets 160. Or, more precisely, the lead back gets 210, the supplemental back gets 161.3, which is a 58/42 split. So far this season, the Jets' running game looks like this:
2012: Shonn Greene -- 68 attempts, 191 yards, 2.8 ypc, one TD; Bilal Powell -- 26 attempts, 99 yards, 3.8 ypc, zero TD
That's a 72/28 split, which is way off from what Sparano did as coach of the Dolphins. If anything, Greene is getting plenty more carries than what we should have expected. The results are far less impressive than what Sparano got from either Brown or Williams, but it doesn't seem to be costing Greene any carries yet. There are two ways to look at this: Greene is being used to pound at and wear down the defense so Powell can catch them off guard with a burst of energy, or Greene is being overused and Powell will eventually catch up to the carries and get the running game back to the 58/42 split that Sparano established in Miami. Whatever the case, we can probably deduce this much: if you had Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams from 2008 to 2010, or even Reggie Bush last year, you will likely find yourself just as frustrated, if not more so, if you happen to own Greene or Powell. At best (for a Greene owner), this 72/28 pace will continue and Greene will be used to wear down defenses, leaving him with a low ypc average but a handful of touchdowns and yardage from volume of carries, while Powell will get receptions and longer runs in smaller numbers. At worst (for a Greene owner), Greene slips to the Ricky Williams 42-percent-of-carries role, leaving both running backs with only marginal Fantasy value.
Jets wide receivers/tight ends:
Let's just imagine a game this Sunday without Keller or Hill. The Jets will likely start Jeremy Kerley, Chaz Schillens, or Clyde Gates. Kerley has been targeted 14 times this season, Schillens has been targeted seven times, and Gates has been targeted twice. And then there's Jeff Cumberland, the tight end who has 88 receiving yards on 11 catches so far this season. Kerley will likely pace the team against the stingy Texans defense. Already this season, he has two games of 65 or more receiving yards, and has caught two touchdown passes. Last year, he had five games of four or more receptions and twice got over the 70-yard mark. He caught one touchdown pass on the season, as well. But the star of the game may be Cumberland, who has a few things working for him:
1. Mark Sanchez tends to throw to his tight end. Dustin Keller has seen his receiving yards rise from 522 yards in 2009 to 687 in 2010 to 815 in 2011. Cumberland isn't exactly at that level yet, but in the role of tight end, he could see some passes come his way.
2. For all the ground-and-pound hype that surrounds Sparano, he made his way through the NFL as a tight ends coach. His highlights include Kyle Brady's 461 yard, four touchdown effort in 2002 (and Pete Mitchell had 246/2 that year, as well), and Jason Witten's rookie and second year campaigns in Dallas in 2003 and 2004 (347/1 and 980/6). Going back to the Dolphins, Sparano involved Anthony Fasano in all four years, with a 454/7 effort in 2008, 339/2 effort in 2009, 528/4 in 2010, and 451/5 in 2011. It's not an overwhelming set of data, but it does seem to work in Cumberland's favor.
3. There's not really anything else going on in the passing game. The Texans have given up 182.8 pasing yards per game. Mark Sanchez has three possible wide receiver targets, who will be locked down by the defense. Maybe we'll see some Tim Tebow trickery, and perhaps Sparano will line up Bilal Powell in the split, like he and Brian Daboll wanted to do in 2011 with Reggie Bush. But, with the Jets likely down early, they'll probably pass a good amount before reverting to the run when all hope seems lost toward the end. And with the Houston pass defense being so solid, Sanchez could look for shorter passes, which would suggest that Cumberland could run, turn, and help Sanchez find a few first downs.
Of course, if Keller plays, just assign all these points to him. But if he's out again, Cumberland could be Week 4's "who is this guy?" Fantasy breakout.
So... So if you're desperate due to injury or bye weeks, I'd rank the Jets as Kerley and then Cumberland, assuming Powell, who could play a Reggie Bush 2011-type role, is already off wires in PPR leagues. And don't get too excited about Powell, or too low on Greene. But do remember that they're playing what is arguably the best defense in the NFL this week, and not to expect much from any Jet this week, as far as Fantasy value.
Enough with the Jets. What about Ryan Mathews?
Mathews broke his clavicle in the first preseason game, causing him to miss, essentially, the entire preseason and the first two regular season games. He returned in Week 3 with a 10-carry, 44-yard game, and finished Week 4 with 61 yards on 14 carries. These are steadily-improving numbers for Mathews. His carries went up, as did his yardage. Granted, he caught three fewer passes in Week 4, but his total yards were still better, going from 76 to 82. Mathews ran for 1,091 yards last year and had 50 receptions for 455 yards, despite missing two games. But consider this -- Mathews is returning from an injury that could cause him to be a little tentative when hard hits are coming his way. It might be subconscious -- it might not even be happening -- but if you broke your collarbone and then had to basically put it out there for helmets to ram their way into it, there is probably some instinct buried deep in your DNA that would cause you to adjust and protect yourself, which may be cause for his fumbling.
Part two of this theory is that the coaches know this and are trying to ease Mathews into his full-time role (10 carries followed by 14 carries may imply this). And part three of the theory is taking a look at Mathews' usage in his career. In 2011, he had just four games of 100 or more rushing yards and only five games of 20 or more carries. However, with his receiving yards mixed in, Mathews ended up with 10 games (out of 14 played) with 100 or more total yards. And then there's this fun stat:
Over his first two games in 2011, Mathews averaged 12 carries and five receptions. Over his first two games of 2012, Mathews has averaged... 12 carries and 3.5 receptions. And had he not fumbled on the goal line, he would have a touchdown.
Mathews is close to being the player he was in 2011, it's just not apparent yet in his stats. But with a Week 5 game against New Orleans, the NFL's worst rushing defense (186.6 yards per game and six touchdowns allowed), Mathews could shine.
Justin Blackmon quietly had a nice Week 4. Justin Blackmon began the season owned in 100 percent of leagues. After catching four passes for 31 yards over the first three weeks, Blackmon saw his ownership numbers dip to his current 71 percent level. But Blackmon had some encouraging numbers in Week 4 against Cincinnati, a team that is in the middle of the pack as far as passing yards allowed: six receptions from 10 targets for 48 yards. It may not look overly impressive on paper, but Blackmon has seen his targets rise over the last three weeks, from 4 to 5 to 10. It's not a slam dunk that he's going to improve on the Week 4 performance, but Blackmon had a ton of hype coming into the season for a reason (skill and opportunity, mainly), and was taken in the top 100 of most drafts, ahead of Danny Amendola, Denarius Moore and Anquan Boldin. While he ranks just fifth on his own team in receiving yards, behind Cecil Shorts, Laurent Robinson, Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew, he leads the team in targets with 25. In fact, Blackmon has more targets than James Jones, Mike Wallace, Brandon LaFell and Andrew Hawkins. And Blackmon and LaFell are the only two wide receivers with more than 20 targets but fewer than 11 receptions. The major difference between the two is that while LaFell has 182 yards on his 10 receptions, Blackmon has 79. It might look bad, but it's not exactly the death knell for a receiver. Greg Jennings, who is injured (but that detail is irrelevant for this stat), has just 78 yards on 12 receptions off 22 targets. And it's been shown what he's capable of offensively. If you have a Peyton Hillis dangling on the end of your bench, it might be worth it to consider picking up Blackmon and seeing if he can get hot.
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