1. Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton spent all of the preseason looking over his shoulder at 2010 1st round pick Tim Tebow and the evidence is beginning to mount that a change may be in order in Denver. With one win and a pair of losses to open the season, Orton’s record over his last 25 games now stands at an unimpressive 6-19. While that may be an indictment of the Broncos as much as Orton, he has committed turnovers at key moments in each of the team’s losses and that hasn’t endured him to a fan base already clamoring to see Tebow in the starting line up.
2. Staying with the Broncos, there has been much speculation that former Raven Willis McGahee may take over as the team’s starting running back ahead of 2009 1st round pick Knowshon Moreno. Which begs the question – how does that make any sense? While Moreno has not lived up to his draft billing, the aging McGahee needed only two games of heavy use to prove that he is no longer a capable starter, gaining just 153 yards on 50 carries. He padded his fantasy stats with a pair of touchdowns (one on the ground and one receiving) making him an obvious sell-high candidate. While Moreno may prove that he isn’t the solution to solving the Broncos inconsistent rushing attack, there can be little doubt that McGahhe certainly isn’t the answer. Look for Denver to wisely spend the balance of the season figuring out just what they have in Moreno with McGahee relegated to a backup role.
3. Sticking with running back controversies, we move to Cleveland where 2nd year player Montario Hardesty subbed in for Peyton Hillis against Miami and had a solid game with 67 yards on 14 carries and three receptions for 19 yards. That prompted head coach Pat Shurmur to suggest that Hardesty was worthy of an increased role. However, that should come as no surprise since Hardesty was barely used during the first two games of the season, with only eight touches, this after the Browns spend the offseason saying they wanted to reduce Hillis’ workload due to his struggles down the stretch last season (272 rushing yards and no touchdowns over Cleveland’s final five games). This isn’t a case of Hardesty being a legitimate challenger to Hillis’ spot in the starting line up. It’s the Browns getting around to doing what they said they were going to do all along.
4. Next up we move to New England where rookie 3rd round pick Stevan Ridley is getting a lot of hype for out producing BenJarvis Green-Ellis this week. Ridley subbed in for Green-Ellis and looked impressive in gaining 42 yards on six carries and catching one pass for eight yards. Meanwhile, Green-Ellis struggled to his worst rushing day since Week 9 of last season with just 18 yards on 10 carries. Just don’t look for Ridley in the starting line up any time soon. The rookie missed time in training camp and the Patriots are not going to jeopardize the health of quarterback Tom Brady to get Ridley touches until he’s gotten all of the team’s blitz protections down pat. Not to mention that Green-Ellis was the Patriots most successful rusher since Corey Dillon last season, gaining 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
5. The Falcons have struggled to a 1-2 record to open the season and head coach Mike Smith has squarely put the blame on the team’s offensive line. This week, Smith told his offensive lineman that he was opening up all of the team’s starting positions to competition due to the poor play in both pass blocking and run blocking. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked 13 times in three games and while running back Michael Turner is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, that statistic is misleading. The Falcons trailed early against the Bears and were more focused on stopping big plays, allowing Turner to run 10 times for 100 yards, and the Falcons Week 2 opponent, the Eagles, have perhaps the worst run defense in the league. While general manager Thomas Dimitroff has done a superb job of talent evaluation on the pro and college levels, the decision not to re-sign starting left guard Harvey Dahl is proving to be ill founded since he brought a mean streak to the unit that appears to be lacking. Unfortunately for Smith, there are no solid veterans or promising prospects behind his starters. Backups Joe Hawley, Will Svitek, Mike Johnson and Brett Romberg have a combined 24 career starts with 18 of those belonging to Romberg, the least likely backup to work his way into the starting line up. That likely ensures the current starting five will retain their jobs, with Dahl’s replacement Garrett Reynolds the only starter in jeopardy of being benched, so improvement will need to come from within and that may not bode well for the fantasy prospects of Ryan and Turner.
6. There are a number of head coaches on the hot seat due to the play of their teams over the first three weeks of the season but the Jaguars Jack Del Rio has managed to escaped much of the criticism that has been leveled at the Chiefs Todd Haley, Andy Reid of the Eagles and the Dolphins Tony Sparano amongst others. Jacksonville sits at 1-2 having eked out an opening week win over Tennessee followed by a crushing defeat to the Jets and a six point loss to Carolina. However, Del Rio’s decision to jettison quarterback David Garrard in favor of Luke McCown is looking worse each week as the AFC South is there for the taking. Perennial division winner Indianapolis has struggled mightily without Peyton Manning, current division leader Houston has a history of underperforming in big games and Tennessee sits at 2-1 but appears to be more pretender than contender. Meanwhile, Del Rio was forced to quickly abandon the McCown decision in favor of rookie 1st round pick Blaine Gabbert who looked serviceable running the team’s dink and dunk offense in his first start. Del Rio’s miscalculation will almost certainly earn the wrath of owner Wayne Weaver given that a run at the AFC South title seems improbable but was a definite possibility with Garrard. Such a scenario would have reenergized the team’ fan base which is a big concern for Weaver.
7. If you subscribe to the theory that starting running backs in the NFL need to be able to successfully run the ball to maintain their jobs, then it might be time to sell high on the Lions Jahvid Best. Best has put up 44.5 fantasy points over the Lions first three games, rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown and gaining 183 yards through the air to go along with another touchdown. However, he is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry after averaging 3.2 in 2010 for which most of us gave him a free pass due to the numerous injuries that marred his rookie season. Considering the Lions have featured one of the most dynamic passing offenses in the league over the first three weeks of the season, there’s no free pass in 2011. What Best amounts to is a running back that relies on touchdowns and passing yards for points and that is a recipe for inconsistent production, not to mention a spot on the bench when a team is trying to eat up the clock.