1. If there was any doubt who is the best backup running back in the league, the Raiders Michael Bush put those doubts to bed with his performance Thursday night against the Chargers. With Darren McFadden out of the line up, Bush ran roughshod over a solid Chargers run defense, gaining 157 yards on 30 carries and catching three passes for another 85 yards, allowing Oakland to win the time of possession battle and ultimately prevail over the Chargers in a key road game against a division rival. His 242 total yards were the fourth highest ever by a Raider and the most since Bo Jackson gained 235 yards against the Seahawks in a 1987 contest – many of you may remember that game. Bush has now topped 100 total yards in three straight games, gaining 482 yards and two touchdowns over that stretch. Dynasty leaguers should take note of his contract status with Bush having signed a one-year deal to remain in Oakland, allowing him to test the free agent waters in 2012. While the Raiders would clearly love to re-sign Bush, look for another team to offer him a starting role (and commensurate salary) and for this to be his last season in Oakland.
2. Sticking with the Raiders, the perplexing situation of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey continued last night. After coming off the best four game stretch of his career (22 receptions for 385 yards and a touchdown), he barely played in a Week 8 loss to the Broncos, getting targeted only once. That carried over to last night’s game with DHB not receiving a single target despite Jacoby Ford getting injured and not returning. Consider DHB waiver wire fodder until the Raiders bring some clarity to why he has suddenly become persona non grata in the team’s offensive game plan.
3. The Seahawks made a big splash in free agency, signing tight end Zach Miller away from the Raiders despite the presence of 2009 1st round pick John Carlson. With more speed than Carlson and having averaged 61 receptions for 756 yards and three touchdowns over his past three seasons, Miller was expected to provide Seattle with a tight end capable of splitting the safeties and making some big plays in the passing game. However, even with Carlson suffering a torn labrum that caused him to be placed on injured reserve in the preseason, Miller has been a non-factor in the Seattle passing game, hardly justifying the five-year, $34-million ($17-million guaranteed) he received in the offseason. He has been targeted just 20 times, catching 11 passes for 99 yards and failing to find the end zone. With Miller spending most of his time blocking, backups Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah have combined to have more targets than Miller. Signing Miller to such a large contract and using him as little more than a blocker is another in a growing list of questionable decisions made by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
4. Eight games into the 2011 season, it is safe to conclude that the Eagles grand plan to utilize three Pro Bowl quality cornerbacks has backfired badly and it is not just because of the performance of those players. Free agent signee Nnamdi Asomugha has regressed badly from his play a season ago in Oakland, giving up big plays to journeyman receivers such as the Bears’ Earl Bennett and Victor Cruz of the Giants. Fellow starter Asante Samuel has played reasonably well but has not come up with the big plays that have been a hallmark of his career. He is on pace to finish the season with just two interceptions, an unjustifiably low number considering the Eagles pass rush has been solid for most games this season. Meanwhile, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has often been forced to line up in the slot and he has struggled badly in that role. His incredible closing speed is wasted in that role and he lacks the short area quickness to be effective playing out of the slot. In addition, the salary cap space used on the Eagles cornerbacks resulted in the team having to use inexperienced players in the starting line up at linebacker and caused a severe lack of depth along the offensive line, two areas that have struggled this season.
5. Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green has had an amazing start to his career, catching 40 passes for 599 yards and five touchdowns eight games into the season. The fourth pick in the rookie draft has made a smooth transition to the pro game, displaying his speed and athleticism in almost every game he has played save for Week 1 where his lone reception went for a 43-yard touchdown on a busted play where he was uncovered. Green’s owners may want to take note of Cincinnati’s upcoming schedule which features five consecutive games against pass defenses ranked in the top five (Ravens, Browns, Texans and the Steelers twice). Although Green is clearly destined to be a top five wide receiver for several years, rookies often hit the wall around the 10-game mark and with a difficult schedule on the horizon, his owners may want to temper their expectations over the next few weeks.
6. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has always been a boom or bust player but he’s testing the patience of his fantasy owners even more than usual in 2011, particularly over the last three weeks. In games against the Redskins, Cowboys and Bears, Jackson has been a relative non-factor, catching eight passes for 93 yards and no touchdowns despite being targeted 20 times. With Philadelphia’s offensive line struggling and opposing defenses playing plenty of soft coverages, the coaching staff has used more screens, checkdowns and intermediate patterns in the middle of the field in recent weeks. Jackson has always been more of downfield threat (witness his career yards per reception average of 18.1) but opposing defenses are more determined to force the Eagles to march down the field methodically rather than allowing big plays to Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Since Maclin is more inclined to go over the middle than the frequently alligator-armed Jackson, he is the Eagles wide receiver to own for fantasy purposes.
7. There has been some silly talk lately about how Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is the league MVP based on HIS NOT PLAYING and the Colts failing to win a game thus far in 2011. While Manning’s absence is a large part of the reason for the team’s poor record, a look at their drafts over the last five years provides another large clue as to why they are winless. The team has failed to hit on many players taken in the later rounds and their 1st and 2nd round picks have fared very poorly. Players taken in those rounds since 2007 that have failed to live up to expectations include Anthony Gonzalez, Tony Ugoh, Mike Pollak, Donald Brown, Fili Moala and Jerry Hughes.