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What Did We Learn – Week 4

The San Francisco 49ers are now a very disappointing 0-4. As you might expect, an 0-4 team has very few significant fantasy performers. Frank Gore is still a stud, somehow managing to put up solid numbers week in and week out. Vernon Davis is useful, but his success is tied to Alex Smith’s, who is about as inconsistent as they come. Davis scored this week to save his fantasy day, and Smith had another lackluster performance. Michael Crabtree is so talented, but can’t really be counted on right now. The Atlanta Falcons are interesting. Matt Ryan has been OK and Roddy White is his receiver of choice. White is a Top 5 receiver, and he once again topped the century mark. The running back situation in Atlanta is one to monitor. Prior to the season, Michael Turner was “the guy.” Now, Turner is still the lead back, but he’s more of a 1A to Jason Snelling’s 1B. Turner received about twice as many carries as Snelling, but Snelling still has value.

Like the 49ers, the Buffalo Bills are also 0-4, and, like the 49ers, they are lacking viable fantasy options. The Bills have … um … Ryan Fitzpatrick? Actually, in deeper leagues, Fitzpatrick is somewhat useful. The rushing situation continues to lack clarity and there are no receivers worth starting. The New York Jets, meanwhile, look great, even on offense. LaDainian Tomlinson looks revived, with 22 touches for more than 150 yards and two scores. Shonn Greene even got the ball another 22 times for 117 yards. Mark Sanchez looked good, avoiding turnovers for the third straight week. Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller are still his best options, and he also gets the previously suspended Santonio Holmes back this week, a guy who could make an immediate impact, and needs to be owned.

The Cleveland Browns won a big AFC North divisional matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. The only Brown worth starting right now is Peyton Hillis, who put up 100-plus yards and a score for the second straight week against a good rushing defense. There’s really no one else you want to depend on. As for the Bengals, Carson Palmer threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Terrell Owens who blew up with 10 catches for 222 yards and a score on a long catch and run. This looked to be more an issue of a favorable matchup than anything else. Chad Ochocinco will typically outscore Owens.

If I’d have told you that one of the quarterbacks in the Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers game would nearly double the passing yardage of the other, you’d assume Aaron Rodgers had a big day. And you’d be wrong. The Lions are the exception to the 0-4 team rule mentioned above. Shaun Hill threw for more than 300 yards for the second time in three starts. He struggles to protect the football, but he’s putting up useful numbers. He threw two touchdowns, both to Calvin Johnson, who looked good against a solid Packers’ pass defense. Despite being bothered by turf toe, Jahvid Best was decent for the Lions. Keep an eye on Detroit’s tight ends. Both of them. Aaron Rodgers only threw for 188 yards, but tossed three touchdowns. He spread the ball around effectively, scoring via Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. This trend will continue, making Jennings frustrating to own, especially considering his second- or third-round draft status.

It looks like the Denver Broncos offense might be for real. Knowshon Moreno is out, so Kyle Orton has taken to the air. He attempted at least 50 passes for the second straight week, throwing for 341 yards. He also led the Broncos in rushing (with 11 yards). Brandon Lloyd appears to have ingratiated himself to Orton, catching 11 balls for 115 yards. Eddie Royal added 113 yards and a score. These two guys are no fluke, and with Denver’s pass-heavy offense, both should be productive. The Tennessee Titans didn’t do much. Even Chris Johnson struggled with only 53 yards rushing, without a score. He’ll be fine going forward, but teams are keying on him. Vince Young is a bye week fill-in and potential matchup play, but I wouldn’t start any of his receivers.

The St. Louis Rams are now 2-2 after defeating division rival Seattle. Sam Bradford is showing why the Rams took him first overall back in April. He’s making good decisions, taking what he can get and checking down when necessary. Steven Jackson was questionable for the game, but pushed through the pain. Normally, pushing through the pain for a running back isn’t good, but Jackson was able to put up more than 120 total yards. Matt Hasselbeck looked old, struggling against a mediocre Rams defense. Justin Forsett got 19 carries, while no other back had more than one attempt. He’ll be Seattle’s lead back, but with just 65 yards, “lead back” is a relative term. Still, if you must own one of them, he’s the one with the others being droppable.

When the defending champion New Orleans Saints hosted the Carolina Panthers, we all expected Drew Brees to blow up. Instead, Brees put up a modest 275 yards and a touchdown. As we’ve discussed in past weeks, it’s difficult to know who will be Brees’ receiver of choice on a given day, but Lance Moore has thrown his name back into the mix. It appears as though he’ll get some of the touches normally reserved for Reggie Bush. Pierre Thomas was inactive, and Chris Ivory and Ladell Betts split carries. Jimmy Clausen still looks like a lost rookie out there, but DeAngelo Williams finally decided to show up, breaking a 39-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Steve Smith left the game in the second quarter with a dreaded high ankle sprain. He is most likely out for Week 5, and would return in Week 7 following the Panthers’ bye.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers slugged it out in a matchup that was dominated predictably by defense. Joe Flacco was very good against the Steelers defense, perhaps a sign of good things to come for the Ravens’ signal caller. Ray Rice’s troublesome knee meant Willis McGahee got the bulk of the carries. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and even T.J. Houshmandzadeh were productive outside. Charlie Batch, on the other hand, was not so good. The Ravens’ defense is still the Ravens defense, and Batch did what he could. Rashard Mendenhall carried the load, scoring twice against the stout Ravens’ run defense. The Steelers are off next week, but will have Ben Roethlisberger under center when they face the Browns in Week 6 (a great matchup for Roethlisberger).

The Houston Texans are one of the more explosive offenses in the league, and they put up 31 against the Oakland Raiders this week. Matt Schaub didn’t top 200 yards, but threw for two scores. Arian Foster put owners into a panic when he was benched for the first quarter for disciplinary reasons. Once he was inserted into the lineup, he put up 131 yards rushing, 56 receiving and two scores. While Andre Johnson did not play, he is expected back this week, but Jacoby Jones left with a mild calf strain. His Week 5 status is unknown. The Raiders got a decent game out of Bruce Gradkowski, another quarterback who can put up effective, yet ugly, numbers. Darren McFadden got going early with 47 yards rushing and 82 receiving, but left with hamstring tightness. He has already been declared “out” for Week 5, so it looks like Michael Bush will get his shot. Sadly, McFadden had been very good thus far, but he just can’t stay healthy. Zach Miller added 11 catches for 122 yards and is worth a look if available in your league.

After getting blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Jacksonville Jaguars eked out a win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. David Garrard threw two touchdowns and was mistake-free. Maurice Jones-Drew finally looked like a Top 4 pick, running for 100-plus yards and scoring twice. Peyton Manning threw for 350+ yards, and apparently drew Reggie Wayne’s name out of his hat before the game. Wayne blew up with 15 catches and 196 yards. Dallas Clark added 68 yards and a score, with Austin Collie registering 39 yards and a score of his own. Manning will throw the ball to whoever is open, meaning any of his targets could show up big at any given time. In the absence of Donald Brown, Joseph Addai shouldered the load, running for 63 yards and two scores. Addai is the guy to have, but his role is inconsistent.

In his much-anticipated return to Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb emerged with a win. His numbers were unimpressive, but he won the real-life football game. Clinton Portis left with a groin injury and Ryan Torain filled in quite capably. He’s the guy you want going forward, as he looked fast and physical. Portis has looked slow lately, and Torain gives the Redskins something extra. Michael Vick suffered a cartilage injury in his rib cage, knocking him out of the game (and Week 5), meaning the Kevin Kolb era in Philadelphia is on once again. Kolb can’t stretch the field at all, instead choosing to check down time and again. This means a downgrade for DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, but an upgrade for Brent Celek and the Eagles’ running backs. I say running backs and not LeSean McCoy because McCoy fractured a rib and will miss Week 5. Mike Bell is expected to fill in.

Nothing cures a team quite like playing the Arizona Cardinals, who appear more like their old selves without Kurt Warner. Philip Rivers was phenomenal, as was Antonio Gates, who caught both of Rivers’ touchdown passes. Ryan Mathews was back in action, running for 55 yards and a score, but it was Mike Tolbert once again hogging the ball, running for 100 yards and a score. This may be a timeshare going forward, but Mathews should begin to get more work in the split. There’s little to get excited about on the Arizona side. Derek Anderson was pulled in favor of rookie Max Hall. Hall was better than Anderson, but that isn’t saying much. He looked for Larry Fitzgerald about as much as Anderson did, but neither of them has the arm to make Fitzgerald the deep threat he should be. Tim Hightower and Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells both struggled to get going on Sunday. The Cardinals’ offense will continue to struggle until a legitimate passing threat gets going, and whether or not Hall is that guy remains to be seen.

The New York Giants beat up on the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Eli Manning was decent, although he didn’t score. Ahmad Bradshaw ran well, putting up 129 yards and a score on 23 carries. He left with an ankle injury, but returned to the game. His status for Week 5 is unknown. His backup, Brandon Jacobs, ran well in garbage time, but is really just a Bradshaw handcuff. Hakeem Nicks caught eight balls for 110 yards and has established himself as Manning’s go-to guy. Jay Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half, suffering a mild concussion on the final sack of the half. Although he didn’t return to this game, he is expected to start in Week 5. No one on the Bears played well. Hopefully, the team can get back on the right track next week against Carolina.

All the talk going into the Monday night was around Tom Brady in Miami. The talk after the game was about the Patriots’ defense and special teams. The Patriots blocked a field goal and a punt, running the punt back for a score. They also ran back the opening kick of the second half for a score, and had a pick-six. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran well and scored, and is the back you want in New England. Wes Welker caught eight balls for 70 yards, but Randy Moss was held without a catch on the night. Chad Henne couldn’t get the job done, throwing three interceptions. He topped 300 yards, but ball security was a problem. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown were OK, but did nothing against what was thought to be a weak Patriot defense. Davone Bess had a nice day receiving, and should be considered in deeper leagues and points-per-reception formats.

Remember that Miami, New England, Pittsburgh and Seattle are on a bye next week.

Good luck in Week 5.

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