Patrick Daugherty

Football Daily Dose

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Don't Play CJ2K?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Give Chris Johnson this: the man recognizes a good plot twist.

As if things hadn’t gotten complicated enough with CJwhateverK, the league’s most infuriating player is now dealing with an ankle injury that’s inhibiting his ability to cut. Cutting is, of course, everything for a 5’11, sub-200 pound running back who relies on burst and precise movement to slice through walls of hulking linemen and linebackers.

Throw in the fact that Johnson wasn’t doing a particularly good job of cutting and hitting holes even before coming down with a bum wheel, and you find yourself facing a decision that would have seemed unthinkable in Week 1: should you bench your first-round pick for the fantasy finals? “Bench” because no matter what happens with Johnson in practice this afternoon, he’s expected to at least begin the day as Tennessee’s feature back Saturday.

But is this a man you can trust with everything on the line?  

Even after Johnson shredded the Bucs and Bills for a combined 343 yards rushing in Weeks 12 and 13, not everything appeared right. Despite the lofty yardage totals, the former Mr. 2,000 still seemed to mostly be relying on his offensive line and lousy defenses, and never quite displayed the long-form speed that made him famous in 2009.  

That’s why it wasn’t shocking when Johnson regressed to his literal midseason form against the Saints in Week 14, gaining only 23 yards on 11 carries. Despite a slightly better line (15/55) one week later against the Colts, Johnson was arguably worse, goosing his stats by reeling off 35 yards on his final carry. On his first 14 totes, he was stopped for two yards or fewer an astounding nine times.  

Again, is this a man you really want to go to Week 16 war with?

Benching Johnson for the most important week of the season might seem like an overreaction on the surface. The man does have 930 rushing yards after all. But throw in the fact that coach Mike Munchak has already hinted rookie Jamie Harper is likely to eat into Johnson’s workload regardless of the progress he makes the next two days, and things come into clear focus. Winning it all requires bold moves, and benching a player you originally thought would lead you to the promised land could prove to the boldest — and smartest — move of all.    

The Rams have endured a lot of things in 2011. Historic futility on offense, a lingering injury to their franchise quarterback, the loss of both starting offensive tackles, OC Josh McDaniels’ refusal to use one of the league’s most powerful runners at the goal-line and the complete and utter inability to keep cornerbacks healthy, just to name a few.

One thing the Rams hadn’t had to deal with was a steroid suspension. On Wednesday, Austin Pettis helped them cross it off the list.

Pressed into duty as the Rams’ slot receiver after Greg Salas joined Danny Amendola on injured reserve, Pettis had all the makings of a late-season PPR savior. Not because the third-round pick out of Boise State was unusually skilled, but because he was being thrust into one of the most targeted positions in the league. Since coming into the NFL, Sam Bradford has proven masterful at one thing: checking down to his slot receiver.

Only with Pettis the connection never developed. With Bradford in and out of the lineup with a high-ankle sprain, Pettis averaged just 2.6 catches for 27.6 yards across his six starts. Those numbers pale in comparison to what Amendola and Salas were able to do. In 16 games a year ago, Amendola averaged a weekly 5.3 catches for 43 yards. The yardage stunk, but the catches were PPR gold. In four starts between Weeks 6-9 this season, Salas was even more prolific, averaging 5.5/54. Again, PPR money in the bank.  

Unable to tack on anything after the catch or get open with any regularity, Pettis never came close to becoming the PPR plug-and-play his forebears were before receiving his unceremonious four-game ban.

With Salas and Amendola both expected to be 100 percent healthy for training camp next summer and Pettis slated to miss the first two games of the season, he may not even be guaranteed a roster spot in St. Louis, and is off the radar in dynasty leagues. 

If 2011’s first episode of As the Ben Turns had a mixed ending (Ben plays! But Ben also turns the ball over four times!), the second might not even get the chance to be so bittersweet.

After all signs pointed to Ben Roethlisberger playing through his high-ankle sprain in Week 15, all signs are pointing toward him giving it a rest in Week 16.

With the Steelers locked into the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs barring an upset loss from the Ravens one of the two next weeks, the main reason — home-field advantage — to risk their most important player’s health has disappeared.

With Pittsburgh probably believing it’s capable of beating the 2-12 Rams with Charlie Batch under center anyway, expect Roethlisberger to miss just his fourth game with injury since 2006.   

Andre Johnson (hamstring) will miss his third straight game, and ninth of the season. Respected Texans’ beat writer John McClain has reported Johnson is likely to get in a tune-up appearance in Week 17. … The man being counted on to pick up the Texans’ receiving slack in Johnson’s absence, tight end Owen Daniels, is a game-time decision with a knee injury. Barring a setback, he’s expected to be active against the Colts’ bottom-10 pass defense. … Dallas Clark (neck) is officially doubtful, and will give way to Jacob Tamme for the second consecutive week. Tamme is a low-end TE2 for the fantasy finals.

Another day, another no-show from Felix Jones (hamstring). Coach Jason Garrett said he’s “hopeful” Jones will be active against the Eagles, and that it “seems” like he is improving. Not exactly the most confident endorsement of his feature back’s Week 16 status. … Vincent Jackson was a surprise absentee from Chargers practice with a groin injury. Coach Norv Turner has said he expects Jackson to suit up Saturday, but what he’s able to do today will be critical. … Roy Helu (toe, ankle) returned to Redskins practice, getting in a limited session. A “little sore,” he’s unlikely to be in for another 20-carry day Saturday, but should still be an RB2 against the Vikings’ stout run defense. … Stevie Johnson (groin) returned to Bills practice. In the middle of a hot streak, he’ll be a high-end WR2 against the Broncos. … Michael Bush was a surprise entrant on the Raiders’ injury report with a shoulder ailment, but should be near his normal effectiveness against the Chiefs. … Marion Barber (calf) missed Bears practice. He’s expected to be active against the Packers, but likely as Kahlil Bell’s backup. … DeSean Jackson (elbow), Jeremy Maclin (shoulder, hamstring) and Michael Vick (ribs) are all practicing in full this week. … Kevin Smith (ankle) was a full participant in Lions practice, and can be started with confidence this weekend.

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