Patrick Daugherty

Football Daily Dose

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At Long Last

Friday, September 09, 2011

Finally, a game.

And what a game it was. After defensive slogs christened the past two seasons (Pittsburgh downed Tennessee 13-10 in 2009 while New Orleans edged Minnesota 14-9 last year), the Packers and Saints played like they left their defenders at the negotiating table.  

Although a surprising number of punts (six) and three-and-outs (four) showed up on the stat-sheet, we were treated to 915 yards of offense, a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 108-yard kick return for a touchdown and a pair of 300-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performances.

The takeaways?

James Starks is the man in the Packers backfield. Although Ryan Grant was able to take the ball for a respectable 40 yards on his nine carries, he looked a step slower than the back that rushed for nearly 2,500 yards between 2008 and 2009 before blowing out his ankle last opening day.

The Packers seemed to agree, featuring Starks more as the game wore on, including three more times in the second half. The second-year back out of Buffalo looked powerful and aggressive throughout, punctuating his 12-carry, 57-yard performance with a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, bouncing off of a number of defenders in the process.

Grant will still have a role, however. While Starks was clearly the better downhill runner last evening, he continued to struggle in pass protection. That, coupled with the fact that Grant only looked slower — and not washed up — should ensure one of the Packers’ longest tenured players remains a factor on offense. He’s just no longer the player to own in Green Bay’s backfield.

Randall Cobb is ready for the NFL. Some players score touchdowns in their NFL debuts. Others tie for the second longest play in league history. That’s what Cobb did on his 108-yard kickoff-return touchdown in the third, which also showed that perhaps the kick return isn’t dead after all.

For good measure, he added two catches for 35 yards and another score. Playing in an absolutely loaded receiver corps, Cobb is going to struggle for consistent targets, and still isn’t worth an own in a majority of 12-to-14 team leagues for the time being. But it’s clear after just one game the Kentucky product is not going to be easily ignored during his rookie campaign, and is certainly someone to monitor in all formats.

Darren Sproles didn’t take long to get comfortable in New Orleans. Although Sproles was hardly under-utilized during his five seasons in San Diego, it looks like he could be headed for a much bigger role in Sean Payton’s offense.

His biggest splash came in the second quarter, where he took a Tim Masthay punt 72 yards to the house. His biggest impact came in the passing game, however, as he hauled in seven catches for 75 yards, twice turning third downs into long conversions.    

Sproles tallied seven catches just three times during his 78-game Chargers career. Reggie Bush has finally arrived in New Orleans, only in the form of a 5-foot-6, 190 pound former fourth-round pick.

Mark Ingram might not be an overnight sensation. The 44th player off the board by average draft position this summer, the 2009 Heisman Trophy had a quiet NFL debut, carrying the ball 13 times for just 40 yards against a run defense that ranked 18th in the NFL last season. Eight of his 13 totes went for three or fewer yards, while none of them went for more than nine.

On his final three carries of the evening, Ingram went for negative-two yards, getting stopped for no gain on a critical third-and-one before being stuffed at the goal-line on the final play of the night. Had he scored, the Saints would have been a two-point conversion away from forcing overtime. He received all of one fourth-quarter carry with New Orleans playing catch up.

Pierre Thomas, meanwhile, appeared no worse for the wear after missing 10 games with an ankle injury last season, taking the ball five times for 31 yards.

Obviously, one ho-hum performance is nothing to panic about , especially since Ingram did appear to be quite powerful and his worst carries all came in painfully obvious running situations. But with Thomas looking healthy and Sproles looking lethal on passing downs, it’s not too early to fear that Ingram might have a hard time living up to his owners’ RB2 expectations.

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While the Saints and Packers were reminding everybody why we love this game so much in the first place, a more sobering tale was playing out in Indianapolis.


After days of speculation, innuendo and occasional facts, the Colts finally ended the drama surrounding Peyton Manning, announcing the greatest player in franchise history (sorry Johnny Unitas) did indeed require a third operation on his ailing neck and is in grave danger of missing the entire season.

Although rumors that Manning’s career may be over have been convincingly debunked, the odds are extremely high the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft will not attempt a pass for the first since Bill Clinton was president

A quick aside: on the off chance Manning has actually attempted his final throw, here is where he would rank all time in a number of the most important passing categories: Passes completed, third (4,682). Passing yards, third (54,828). Touchdown passes, third (399). Career passer rating, sixth (94.9). Staggering stuff for a player who is still only 35 years old.  

The fantasy ramifications are wide ranging. Joseph Addai and Delone Carter are trending up, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon are trending down and Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are treading water.

Although the Colts are built to pass more than any other team in the league, the reality is things are going to have to change dramatically under Kerry Collins if they are going to have any chance of staying afloat in what should be a wide open AFC South.

You are not going to notch five wins throwing the ball 40 times a game with a quarterback who owns a career 55.9 completion percentage, 206/195 TD/INT ratio and 73.9 QB rating, let alone make the playoffs.

Addai may have little left, but he’s now clearly a RB2 until he inevitably gets hurt. Carter, meanwhile, has gone from deep league touchdown vulture to legitimate flier in all formats. The Colts will be running, even if every fiber of their recent offensive philosophy goes against it.

That doesn’t mean Clark and Wayne are going to fall off the map, however. Collins is going to have to throw to someone, and chances are he’s going to spend a lot of time forcing the ball to Indy’s two most talented and reliable targets.

Will Clark will come anywhere near matching his historic 2009 numbers? No. Will Wayne come within 20 catches of his AFC-leading 2010 total? Probably not. Will both remain impact players in 10-to-12 team fantasy leagues? Absolutely.   

Collie and Garcon are where you are going to run into trouble. There simply won’t be enough targets to go around with Colling slinging the ball, and if you were banking on a Collie breakout or Garcon bounce-back, your best bet is likely unloading them for whatever you can get while you still can.

Montario Hardesty will enter Week 1 with “no restrictions” after nearly a year and a half in the injury wilderness. He’s not yet a threat to Peyton Hillis’ backfield supremacy in Cleveland, but keep him on your radar. … Carson Palmer has been staying in shape by working out with former NFL QB Ken O’Brien. We still think there’s no question he’d be a better option under center than either Alex Smith or Tarvaris Jackson. O’Brien, that is. … Michael Crabtree (foot) appears as if he will be active against the Seahawks this Sunday. … Matt Cassel (rib) will not only start against the Bills, but should be without any restrictions. … Former Rams WR Donnie Avery worked out for the 49ers on Thursday. He’d at least be in line for targets if he ended up in San Francisco.

Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for He can be found on Twitter .
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