With four games in the books for all but four clubs (Green Bay, New Orleans, Miami and Carolina), it’s time to get vaguely serious about on-pace statistics. Some will be gone with the wind before the seasons even change (Eddie Royal’s 20 touchdowns). Others are fun to marvel at, but equally unrealistic (Peyton Manning’s 64:0 TD:INT ratio). Then there are some where you’re not sure what to think.
When Brian Cushing housed Philip Rivers’ 24th pass attempt of the Chargers’ most recent come-from-ahead loss in Week 1, things seemed the same as they ever were in San Diego. Losing remained performance art for a team that fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season. Maybe the flames wouldn’t be quite as roaring with Norval Turner departed for the Rust Belt, but one thing was clear: The Chargers were still going to be going down in them on a weekly basis. One of the main reasons was Rivers, a shell-shocked has been who produced almost as many turnovers (47) as touchdowns (54) in 2011-12.
So it could be considered a surprise that Rivers has completed 91 of 113 passes (80.5 percent) since, and tossed only one interception in three games. His Sunday performance — 35-of-42 for 401 yards, three touchdowns and a pick — was the most accurate of all time for a player who threw for at least 400 yards. It’s all added up to an 11:2 TD:INT ratio for the league’s most INT-happy quarterback this side of Mark Sanchez, and put him on pace for 4,796 yards, which would be a new career high. Rivers is completing 73.9 percent of his throws after converting just 63.5 percent of them his final two years under Turner. He’s done this even though:
1. Injuries have limited top downfield threat Malcom Floyd to two games, 90 snaps and 11 targets.
2. His current No. 1-3 receivers (Royal, Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen) combined for two starts and 23 catches in 2012.
3. He’s thrown for less than 200 yards in two of his four starts.
4. Both of his interceptions have been returned for touchdowns.
It makes discussions of whether or not Rivers is “back” rather complicated. What can’t be disputed? New coach Mike McCoy has installed a more intelligent, realistic system than the one Turner ran in 2012, eliminating low-percentage deep passes to underneath wideouts who can’t catch them. Rivers is asked to get the ball out quickly. The Chargers are picking their spots to go vertical instead of forcing them. It’s resulted in plays like Sunday’s 56-yard score to Antonio Gates, where Gates scorched the Cowboys and LB Bruce Carter deep after lulling them to sleep over the middle. Of Gates’ first eight catches Sunday, two went for longer than seven yards (nine and 14). His final two? The aforementioned 56-yard score and a 26-yarder.
McCoy has developed a system that acknowledges his personnel rather than square pegging it into a round hole, much like he did with Tim Tebow in 2011. Can he and Rivers keep it up? It won’t be easy with no one to stretch the field. Allen has 4.7 speed and Brown has averaged 6.1 yards per catch this season. Eddie Royal is Eddie Royal. Gates is 33 with two bad feet. All we know is, McCoy is wringing success out of a player who appeared to be wrung out, and Rivers couldn’t be more on board with his plan. Every-week QB1 status may still be too much to ask for, but Rivers is at the top of the QB2 crop. Who knows, maybe he’ll even steal one for you after years of having them stolen away.
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1. Tony Gonzalez
Gonzo entered Week 4 with just 11 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Whispers were mounting that he hadn’t lost only a step, but a career. Suffice to say, they’ve been silenced after he doubled his season totals in every category (12/149/2) against a team that almost never gets beat by tight ends. His 149 yards were a career high. Gonzalez’s ability to catch the ball away from his body — and his coverage — remains as elite as ever, which is why his TE1 status remains as cemented as ever.
2. Reggie Bush
Bush shredded the Bears’ formerly imposing defense for 173 yards, putting him on pace for 2,165 yards from scrimmage even though he missed Week 3. Catching passes and doing major damage after the catch/first contact, Bush has risen to the occasion of his high expectations in the Lions’ high-octane offense, and fantasy owners have an RB1 as a result.
3. Le’Veon Bell
Bell’s route has been circuitous — three weeks in the Lisfranc wilderness only to make his debut in Greenwich Mean Time — but his destination remained the same: Every-down duties for a team desperate to end its Isaac Redman/Jonathan Dwyer/Felix Jones sideshow. Bell’s talent doesn’t jump off the page, but his workloads are going to, and that’s half of the fantasy battle.
1. Andy Dalton
This is what getting exposed looks like. If you want a nice guy or affable “Hard Knocks” presence, Dalton is your man. If you want a quarterback who rises above simply managing games? Dalton didn’t even game manage on Sunday, getting out-dueled by Brian Hoyer as he managed just 206 yards. Dalton has now thrown for 211 yards or fewer in nine of his past 15 starts. Even if you toss out Dalton’s 78-yard Week 17, he’s averaging only 214 yards over his past 14 games. He’s barely replacement level, and it could cost an otherwise Super Bowl-worthy roster its shot at a playoff spot.
2. Rashard Mendenhall
Mendenhall has taken the ball 52 times for 176 yards this season. That comes out to just 3.38 yards per pop. Sunday, he was out-gained 51-34 by rookie Andre Ellington despite touching the ball eight more times (15-7). Afterward, coach Bruce Arians let him know that wasn’t good enough. "Rashard had a very tough day and he can’t play that way," Arians said curtly. He damningly added, "We need to practice him a little bit harder." Mendenhall’s FLEX star is about to supernova.
3. Darren McFadden
It doesn’t matter if DMC’s hamstring injury is minor or not. It only matters that the most disappointing player in football is yet again letting fantasy players down. You can’t drop McFadden now, but you can give up the ghost on his walk year being any different than the ones that have preceded it.
1. Greg Schiano for USC 2014? Lane Kiffin for Bucs WRs coach 2014?
2. Baltimore, maybe — just maybe — you should run the ball more than nine times against the league’s (then) 30th ranked run defense?
3. Maybe Jay Cutler was just fumble sixin’, double-coverage INTin’ it all over the joint one more time for old times’ sake in Detroit?
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