Cullen: Hartline, Patriots and passers star in Week Four

Scott Cullen
10/1/2012 2:39:00 PM
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An emerging wide receiver, a monster second half for the Patriots, Megatron is held in check during a pass-happy week, the Jets are a mess and more in Scott Cullen's Week Four Recap.

Even in a losing effort, the story of Sunday, when it came to individual player production was Dolphins WR Brian Hartline, who had 14 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown at Arizona.

Hartline, in his fourth season, had his first 100-yard receiving game in Week Two against Oakland, but this assault on the Cardinals' secondary was shocking. In a Dolphins receiving corps without any established number one target for rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, Hartline has emerged as the primary option, ahead of slot receiver Davone Bess, who had seven catches for 123 yards at Arizona.

Despite a pedestrian first half in which they scored seven points on their first (90-yard) drive, and before six possessions that ended with two punts, two missed field goals and two fumbles, the New England Patriots ended up as a source for big yardage days at Buffalo Sunday.

The revelation for the Patriots was the success of their running game. Stevan Ridley, their second-year back out of LSU, rushed for 125 yards in the season opener, but had a reduced role the next two weeks, before getting loose for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Bills.

While Ridley's big days was impressive, it wasn't nearly as stunning as the effort from rookie Brandon Bolden, who had seven carries for 15 yards in the first three weeks of the season, but then went off for 137 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries as a complement to Ridley in the New England backfield.

That the Patriots were also effective in the passing game wasn't as surprising. WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski, both targeted 11 times by QB Tom Brady, each had more than 100 yards receiving, giving Welker 366 yards and 22 catches in the last three games and Gronkowski a nice bounceback after he was limited to two catches for 21 yards against Baltimore in Week Three.

The Vikings held Lions WR Calvin Johnson to a modest five catches for 54 yards, even though Megatron was targeted a dozen times by QB Matthew Stafford, more than his average of 10.33 targets per game going into Week Four. Credit Vikings CB Antoine Winfield, who handled the tough assignment and held Johnson to his fewest receiving yards since, strangely enough, Week 14 last year, also against Minnesota (a game Winfield missed).

Going into the Monday night game, there were 13 quarterbacks that passed for more than Josh Freeman's 299 yards and 14 wide receivers with more than DeSean Jackson's 99 yards this week. There were nine running backs top top the century mark.

Returning home to Denver worked well for Broncos QB Peyton Manning, who was 30-of-38 for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a rout over the Raiders. For the second straight week (he passed for 330 in the loss to Houston), Manning hit a new passing yardage high since Week 12 of the 2010 season and his 130.0 QB rating for the game was his highest since Week Two of the 2010 season.

With Manning on the mark, it's no surprise that wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker had productive games, combining for a dozen catches and 182 yards, while RB Willis McGahee helped grind out the victory, rushing for 72 of his 112 yards in the second half as the Broncos put the finishing touches on the overmatched Raiders.

The New Orleans Saints may be 0-4 -- in fact, they are -- but the offence can march down the field when they're in sync and QB Drew Brees was doing his thing at Green Bay Sunday, throwing for 446 yards and three touchdowns.

New Orleans' running game was ineffective, with the trio of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram combining for 45 rushing yards on 19 carries, so Brees spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, including four running backs, two tight ends and four wide receivers.

It's bad enough that that New York Jets went into Sunday's game against San Francisco with rookie WR Stephen Hill and veteran TE Dustin Keller out due to injuries, but that lack of depth only exacerbated New York's inability to create offence.

Santonio Holmes, likely the Jets' most accomplished playmaker, suffered a foot injury against San Francisco, leaving Chaz Schilens and Jeremy Kerley as the top two wideouts. Thus, it's not surprising that Mark Sanchez (13-for-29, 103 yards, 1 INT) wasn't very productive against the 49ers.

Without a passing attack, the Jets haven't been able to make a difference on the ground either. RB Shonn Greene has rushed for 191 yards in the first four weeks, averaging 2.8 yards per carry.

The outlook isn't immediately promising either, as the Jets host unbeaten Houston next week and if the Jets struggle, as expected, the calls will get louder for Tim Tebow to come off the bench and work a miracle with this offence.

Incumbent Chargers starting running back Ryan Mathews was lifted from the starting lineup, ostensibly because of fumble problems, he responded with a productive game (82 yards, 16 touches) at Kansas City.

With Mathews' workload cut back, former Chief Jackie Battle was the beneficiary (81 yards, 19 touches, 2 TD) against Kansas City, though Mathews remains the best option in the San Diego backfield.

Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe has become a productive garbage time performer early this season. In Week Two, he scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns after Kansas City had fallen behind 35-3 and he added one with 5:49 remaining to cut the Chargers' lead to 34-20. No matter when the scores are coming, it's tough to complain about 22 catches for 289 yards and three scores in the last three weeks.

While there is always a certain amount of hype for a rookie quarterback, Seattle's Russell Wilson received plenty of advance praise when he won the starting job in training camp. However, Wilson is still struggling (17-for-25, 160 yards, 3 INT at St. Louis) and his 148.5 passing yards per game is lowest among all starting quarterbacks, 15 yards fewer than Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, who ranks 31st in the category.

Falcons RB Michael Turner, a relative afterthought in Atlanta's pass-oriented offence, broke through for 171 yards on 16 touches, including a 60-yard reception for a touchdown (the first receiving touchdown of his career) against Carolina. He's light years away from being The Burner, that he was at Northern Illinois, but Turner has also run for 183 yards on 27 carries (6.8 yards per carry) in the last two weeks and that's going to warrant continued touches.

With Turner having a big game, and WR Roddy White having a huge game (8 REC, 169 YDS, 2 TD) it's notable that second-year WR Julio Jones managed just one catch (for 30 yards) against Carolina, the first time since Week Five last season that Jones was held to just one reception.

Perhaps it's not shocking that RB Mikel Leshoure's second start wasn't as effective as his 100-yard debut, but he was held in check by Minnesota, rushing for 26 yards on 13 carries (adding 37 yards on four receptions), but the Lions also moved the chains by using Joique Bell, the journeyman running back who has earned a regular role in the Lions offence and led them with six catches for 72 yards against Minnesota.

In his first game with Minnesota, Vikings WR Jerome Simpson led the team with four catches for 50 yards against Detroit; modest totals, but an indication that Simpson may have some decent value as the deep threat in the Minnesota offence.

Jake Locker didn't last long against Houston, attempting two passes before he was sacked by Texans S Glover Quinn and forced from the game with a shoulder injury. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck (17-for-25, 193 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT at Houston) is a viable backup, who should be more productive against defences that aren't equal to the Texans.

After miserable production (108 yards from scrimmage on 42 touches) for the first three games of the season, Titans RB Chris Johnson finally kicked into gear against Houston, gaining 157 yards on 27 touches. Granted, 99 of those yards came in the second half, but 59 yards on 11 first-half touches against a quality defence was already a major improvement for the 2009 rushing leader.

A groin injury limited the production of Packers WR Greg Jennings (one nine-yard TD catch) Sunday, but the Packers have the depth to overcome such things. Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb combined for 20 catches, 215 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans and are capable of producing if Jennings misses additional time.

With 175 receiving yards through the first four games Bills TE Scott Chandler ranks 16th in yardage, but he's tied for the lead with four touchdowns after scoring a pair against New England. Before getting too excited, remember that Chandler had four touchdowns in the first three weeks last season, scoring two more the rest of the way (both in Week Eight against Washington).

While Arizona's top receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, was targeted 15 times and finished with eight catches for 64 yards, against Miami, the big weapon in the Cardinals' passing game was Andre Roberts, who had six receptions for 118 yards with two touchdowns. It was a career-best performance, and third 100-yard game of his career, for the third-year wideout, so it's not as though Roberts can be expected to deliver on a weekly basis but, with four touchdowns in four games, he's emerging as a solid contributor in the Arizona offence.

Both Tampa Bay wide receivers, Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson, finished with better than 100 yards receiving in their loss against Washington. It's difficult to trust them, due in part to the inconsistency of quarterback Josh Freeman, but both are in the top 35 for wide receiver yardage to this point in the season.

Bucs rookie LB Lavonte David, a second-round pick out of Nebraska, registered 14 total tackles against Washington.

While it might have been expected that Ramses Barden would be the one thriving with Hakeem Nicks out of the Giants lineup Sunday night, it turned out that Domenik Hixon (6 REC, 114 YDS) was the prime beneficiary. Barden's ill-advised offensive pass interference penalty in the waning moments Sunday night will probably help keep that order of things on the Giants' depth chart.

Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay (groin)
Santonio Holmes, WR, N.Y. Jets (foot)
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee (shoulder)
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit (back)
Cordy Glenn, LT, Buffalo (ankle)
Kraig Urbik, RG, Buffalo (ankle)
J.D. Walton, C, Denver (ankle)

Jones and Hartline celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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