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JL's Observation Deck: Week 2

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If you heeded my warning of not taking Week 1 to heart; you probably were only mildly surprised by some of the outcomes of Week 2. If you thought you had everything figured out after the first week of the regular season, you likely went into shock Sunday afternoon about mid-fourth quarter of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals contest.

Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims that they know exactly how things will play out. The NFL remains an impossible league to predict on a weekly basis due to the obvious parity that is present throughout the league. Parity is what makes the NFL fun, and as I mentioned in the intro, can make the world of fantasy football extremely frustrating. How crazy is it to think Martellus Bennett scored just as many fantasy points this week as did Aaron Rodgers? Even crazier when you realize the 2012 season is just getting started.

Balance or Bail-Out?

Speaking of Rodgers, and Tom Brady for that matter, some owners might be slightly disappointed in their slow starts to the season. They aren’t playing bad football, but also haven’t had the game breaking type of game that we are all used to seeing out of both of these elite quarterbacks. Really, it is a pretty simple concept as to why both haven’t looked completely in rhythm yet this season. Both the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots are running the football too much. Think about it - Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead combine for 26 carries and gain only 89 yards on the ground. That is only 3.42 yards per carry for the Patriots’ two main running backs. Last season, Brady averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. That is right, almost nine yards on average every time Brady let go of the football. Even if you don’t want to use one of his absolute best seasons, Brady has never fallen below 7.8 yards per attempt in any of the last four years.

As for Rodgers and the Packers, it is much of the same. Cedric Benson looked as good as he ever has with the ball in his hands. The problem is, he and Alex Green still only managed 83 yards on the ground on their 22 attempts, only a slight uptick from the Patriots average Sunday, at 3.77 yards per carry. There is a big difference between keeping the defense honest, and bailing them out. Let Rodgers, a man who averaged 9.2 yards per attempt in 2011, and Brady air it out. Let them do what they do best. Don’t try to be something you are not.

The Packers and Patriots are spread-you-out, passing teams. Both teams are at their most dangerous and dominant when these two quarterbacks get into a rhythm. If the play calling isn’t allowing them to do just that, you are making it much easier for defenses to defend. All offensive coordinators should remember this - balance has nothing to do with running and passing the football an equal amount of times. Balance is only achieved when you can do either effectively at any point during the game. With both passing games not hitting on all cylinders and both running games not even gaining four yards per carry, neither of these two teams is close to being balanced at this point.

Stat Focus:

Tight ends and running backs are the most fluid positions in fantasy football. You might have thought you drafted a Top 10 tight end when you took the likes of Fred Davis or Jared Cook, only to discover that neither is producing at the level of a starter in standard 12-team leagues. What now? You have to go looking for a replacement.

Two players that could be easily attainable in a trade, or still might be available on the waiver wire are Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. Through two weeks, no tight end in the NFL has been targeted more than Pitta. Joe Flacco and he have obviously developed a lot of chemistry in the offseason, and Pitta has averaged 12 targets per game due to the trust Flacco has in him.

Daniels on the other hand, has always had a pretty solid connection with Matt Schaub and nothing has changed. The Texans still run the ball as much as any team in the NFL, and thus continue to put multiple tight ends on the field in their base offensive sets. No team can use, or does use, play-action as effectively as the Texans. Daniels has seen 17 targets in two games; more than either Rob Gronkowski or Jermichael Finley. Even New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett is off to a very good start, getting targeted 16 times in the Giants’ first two contests. Don’t be afraid to make a change at tight end if you aren’t sitting on a player you have full confidence in as an every week starter.

The Carolina backfield is the definition of a running back by committee. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all saw more than 15 snaps Sunday, with none of them seeing more than 25 snaps. Williams started the game, but as the game progressed it was Stewart who became the more effective weapon in the offense. In fact, Stewart touched the ball on more than half of the snaps he played. Stewart will be the best fantasy play of the three moving forward, but only as a low-end RB2 or flex. Williams led the team in carries last week, but there won’t be many games he sees more than the 14 he had Sunday. With Williams not being as involved in the passing game the first two weeks, he’ll remain a fine flex play, but doesn’t have the consistency you need to be a RB2 in 12-team leagues.

Another backfield that isn’t doing the fantasy community any favors resides down in New Orleans. I made my case in my last preseason article that Pierre Thomas should be the featured runner in this offense, and thus far he has been the most impressive by a wide margin. Thomas has racked up 172 yards in the first two games this season, while only touching the football a total of 18 times. Thomas not only provides more versatility than Mark Ingram, but he also provides more unpredictability in the play calling. If you think the absence of Sean Payton has affected this team in a negative manner, look no further than Ingram getting a carry (16 in total) on more than 76 percent of the plays he was on the field. Payton would almost surely be less predictable in how he would operate the potent Saints’ offense.

Quick Hits:

There has been a lot of talk that Tom Brady and his new wide receiver Brandon Lloyd are still a work in progress. If that is true, then the final product could be spectacular when you consider that Lloyd is tied for fifth in the league in wide receiver targets (21) and has caught a very good 61.9 percent of those targets. Sure, Lloyd and Brady have missed a few deep shots downfield, but that is to be expected. During the weeks Aaron Hernandez sits out with an ankle injury, Lloyd could very well turn into a legit WR1, as he remains a good buy-low candidate right now.

David Wilson is pressing. He drops a pass early on in the game against Tampa Bay and proceeds to only play six snaps in a game where the New York Giants ran more than 80 plays. If Bradshaw misses a few weeks, Wilson will have every opportunity to breakout. If coach Tom Coughlin continues to keep him on a short leash, though, we may never see what his potential truly is because Wilson will be so terrified to make a mistake on the field. It is a coaching tactic I have never thought was an effective one.

Please don’t go spending any of your waiver bids on Cincinnati wide receiver Brandon Tate. Tate played less than 15 snaps on Sunday, and was targeted only five times. He has had his chances to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL before, and has proven he just doesn’t have what it takes to make it his full-time gig.

I wrote before the season started that Frank Gore was much too important to the San Francisco 49ers to be phased out of the gameplan. What I wasn’t expecting was for him to be running like a 23-year-old. He and Kendall Hunter have put on a clinic in the first two weeks of the season. Both setup blocks extremely well and with even the smallest crease will eat up a 12-plus yard gain, as was displayed several times Sunday night against Detroit.

I’ve been asked what Wes Welker’s role will be in the offense now that Aaron Hernandez will likely miss a month’s worth of games. Well, the good news is the Patriots will go to many more three wide receivers sets in their base offense. Those wide receivers will consist of Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman. Interesting thing is, when only in two wide receiver sets, it is Edelman who actually plays more total snaps due to his effectiveness as a run blocker. I don’t think Welker is being completely phased out of the offense as many are saying, but after this stretch of games in the next month where he should catch 5-6 balls per game, he could go back to being an inconsistent option when the Patriots return to their two tight end base set.

Don’t sleep on Detroit running back Mikel Leshoure now coming off his two-game suspension. I have admittedly not been that high on Leshoure as an individual player, but I do believe he will be given the opportunity to be the lead back in the Lions offense. Don’t expect to see much more of Joique Bell, and don’t expect Kevin Smith to see the amount of touches he has thus far in 2012.

For more good information and tips, follow me on twitter @JLanfranca. Feel free to ask me questions, lineup decisions, etc. Have a great week.