Chris Wesseling

The Morning After

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Better Late Than Never

Monday, November 28, 2011


Coach Mike Munchak downplayed Chris Johnson's 13-yard washout against the Falcons last week, placing the blame squarely on the offensive line. According to Profootballtalk, Munchak reiterated that sentiment in a pre-game meeting Sunday, calling out several linemen in front of the team. It must have been the kick in the pants sorely needed by the Titans' ground attack. Johnson responded with the third-best rushing performance of his caeer and the most yards he's gained in over three years.

 
Showing more decisiveness, a stronger burst, and renewed quickness on his jump-cut move, Johnson broke off four second-half runs of 20+ yards, including a season-long 34-yard scamper. Johnson certainly appears to have turned a corner, though it's fair to wonder if he would have taken two or three of those 20-yard runs to the house two years ago. He's now cleared 170 scrimmage yards in two of the past three games (and 100 yards in three of the past four), with the caveat that the Panthers and Bucs are two of the five worst run defenses in the NFL.  
 
The saving grace for fantasy owners who spent the first half of the season scrambling to survive one Johnson flop after another is a schedule that only gets easier through the fantasy playoffs. With a per-carry average now threatening to jump over the 4.0 mark, Johnson draws the Bills (4.5 YPC allowed), Saints (5.2 YPC), and Colts (4.2 YPC, 31st in run defense) in Weeks 13-15. Fantasy playoff championship week features a matchup against a Jaguars defense that has lost four key starters in the past two weeks. From the better late than never department, that first-round draft pick could pay off handsomely after all. 

Game Balls

Tom Brady / Wes Welker - Entering Week 12, more than half (53.1 percent) of the passing yards allowed by the Eagles had come after the catch. No team in the league misses more tackles after the catch. It was an ideal matchup for a quarterback who leads the NFL in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes, and yards per attempts on passes thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Welker and Deion Branch contributed tackle-breaking gains of 41 and 63 yards respectively while Brady joined Brett Favre as the only QBs in history with eight games of 350+ yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. After a mid-season mini-slump, Brady has completed 65-of-100 passes for 926 yards, an 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio, and 121.5 rating the past three games against elite corners Darrelle Revis, Brandon Flowers, and Asante Samuel. Brady’s 119 regular-season wins are now tied with Johnny Unitas while his 133 total victories have matched Joe Montana. His Patriots are going to win or share the best reocord in the AFC East for the 11th consecutive season. Explained one Eagles player of the performance, “I just feel like we got outcoached [Sunday] – by Tom Brady. That [expletive]’s good, and he just sat back and picked us apart. It seemed like they had more receivers than we had defenders.” 

Beanie Wells - In a week where bad fantasy teams routinely knocked off first-place outfits, Wells was the poster boy. Becoming the second back in six weeks to eclipse 225 yards against the Rams' vulnerable run defense, Beanie bettered his single-game career-high by 90 yards (and breaking LeShon Johnson's franchise record of 214 yards). While it's fair to chalk up the performance as a bit of an outlier for a player with just two career games of 100+ yards entering Week 12, the Cardinals' beat writers noted last week that Wells' knee was finally rounding into pre-injury form. Depite the injury that robbed him of explosiveness for a month, Beanie is 10th in fantasy points with only LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson topping his eight rushing touchdowns. Five years after Ken Whisenhunt took over in Arizona, the former ground 'n' pound Steelers play-caller finally has a strong running game.
 
Matt Ryan / Roddy White - Credit Ryan for turning his and the Falcons’ season around. After a shaky start, he’s had four games with 100+ ratings in his last six, leading to five wins. Ryan's 79.4 completion rate against the Vikes was the second-best of his career and the best ever by a Falcons QB with at least 30 pass attempts. In fact, his 23rd career game with an 80+ Total QBR is second only to Aaron Rodgers' total since entering the league in 2008. Through 12 weeks, Ryan is up to No. 7 in QB fantasy points (though Eli Manning will likely pass him after Monday night’s game). After a similarly slow start, White is up to 11th in wide receiver fantasy points, buoyed by back-to-back games over 120 yards. White tied Andre Rison's team record for most games with at least 10 receptions (7) while moving past Alfred Jenkins for third on the franchise TD list (41).

Percy Harvin - The box score shows that Harvin totaled 210 all-purpose yards at Atlanta, but it still obscures his dominance. This could have easily been a three-touchdown game for the one-man gang in purple. Harvin showed impressive "my ball" mentality with a tough catch in traffic at the 1-yard line, leading to a Toby Gerhart plunge. Two series later, Harvin burned LB Curtis Lofton for a 39-yard bomb in the back of the end zone to bring the Vikings to within a field goal. After the Falcons scored again, Harvin responded with the longest nonscoring kick return (104 yards) in NFL history, stopped just shy of pay dirt by Chris Owens
 
Roy Helu - Early in the week coach Mike Shanahan declared that the rookie was not ready for the starting job. Five days later, Helu replaced Ryan Torain in the starting lineup, racking up 30 touches as the every-down back in an upset victory at Seattle. This time around, the performance was enough to convince Shanahan that Helu is ready to take over as the full-time back. “He was ready to play a full game, and protection against a good defensive team," said Shanahan. "He should get the chance to get the load put on him. ... He got his opportunity and he ran extremely hard.” Fantasy owners burned by Shanahan in the past can't be blamed for being twice shy, but Helu has a shot at RB2 value the rest of the way with Rex Grossman playing as well as he has in six years. 

Tim Tebow - Tebow is not only the first QB since 1950 with 20+ rushing attempts in a game, he's also the first since 1960 (and perhaps ever) with 18+ pass and rush attempts in a single game. Complementing an improving defense allowing just 15 points per over the past four games, Tebow has hit on a recipe for success: Don’t turn the ball over, control time of possession, hit on a few big pass plays, and keep the game close until Tebow Time late in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Tebow’s 17.1 QBR from quarters one thru three this season ranks last in the league. On the flip side, his 81.4 QBR in the fourth quarter is fifth-best among starting QBs. It's also worth noting that Tebow actually showed improvement on downfield passes, hitting 5-of-10 throws of more than 10 yards compared to his NFL-low season average of 26 percent on such throws. 


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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