Cullen: Manning, Brady still peak performers

Scott Cullen
10/29/2012 1:26:22 PM
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Manning and Brady can still deliver the goods, the Cowboys and Panthers have productive days in losing efforts and Doug Martin goes off in Minnesota in Scott Cullen's Week Eight Recap.

Broncos QB Peyton Manning continued his marvelous run (22-for-30, 305 YDS, 3 TD) against New Orleans, giving him 14 touchdowns and one interception over the last five games. He ranks first in the league in yards per attempt (8.22) and QB Rating (109.0), second in yards per game (301.9) and tied for third in passing touchdowns (17). Imagine if he was 100% healthy.

With Manning orchestrating the passing game, the Broncos also ran wild on New Orleans. Willis McGahee gained 155 yards on 25 touches while backup Ronnie Hillman checked in for 86 rushing yards on 14 carrries as Denver accrued 530 yards in total offence.

Heading to London, England for a game against St. Louis didn't bother the Patriots, as they cruised to a 45-7 win and had several strong performances, not least of which was QB Tom Brady, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Brady now leads the league with 2408 passing yards and his touchdown-to-interception ratio (16:3) is best in the league, just ahead of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (21:4).

The Patriots delivered somewhat surprising news late last week, when it was announced that TE Aaron Hernandez wouldn't be playing (sending fantasy owners in a panic to the waiver wire), due to ongoing ankle concerns, leaving a prime opportunity for Rob Gronkowski, who had a monster (8 REC, 146 YDS, 2 TD) game in London. For all the concern about whether Gronk could match his phenomenal 2011 season, he is once again leading tight ends in yards/game (72.5) and touchdowns (7).

In a blowout win it's also not surprising that RB Stevan Ridley produced (15 carries, 127 YDS, 1 TD) another big game. Ridley currently ranks fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (89.5), behind Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster and Alfred Morris.

Dallas' Week Eight loss to the Giants was an emotional rollercoaster, yet typical of the Cowboys in recent seasons. They were a complete mess early, falling behind 23-0 and turning the ball over, but then the offence was able to move up and down the field against the Giants, taking a 24-23 lead and coming within an inch or two of Dez Bryant scoring the winning touchdown in the final 20 seconds of the game.

Nevertheless, in the just good enough to lose category, Dallas' offence had a very productive day. Despite throwing four interceptions, which can't be ignored since he now leads the league with 13, QB Tony Romo was 36-of-62 for 437 YDS and a touchdown and had three receivers go for more than 100 yards. TE Jason Witten (18 REC, 167 YDS) had a day to tell the grandkids about, with career-highs in receptions and yards.

WR Miles Austin (9 REC, 133 YDS) has been consistently productive and ranks 13th among wide receivers with 80.1 receiving yards per game. Across from Austin, Dez Bryant is much more up-and-down, but he can ball when he gets focused on the task at hand. His game (5 REC, a career-high 110 YDS) could have been even better had his survival instinct not caused him to put his hand down (barely touching the end line) to brace for the long fall after a leaping catch in the back of the end zone on the 37-yard pass from Romo.

Buccaneers rookie RB Doug Martin exploded (214 YDS, 2 TD, 32 touches) for the best game of his first pro season, doing so against a Vikings defence that had previously been better than average against the run. Martin has exceeded 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the last three games,

Despite suffering another narrow loss the Carolina Panthers had a solid day in terms of offensive production. QB Cam Newton (30-for-39, 314 YDS, 2 INT) didn't find the end zone and turned the ball over a couple times, but his 314 passing yards was his most since Week Four last season.

The Panthers have decided to give RB Jonathan Stewart the role as their number one back, avoiding the timeshare with DeAngelo Williams. Stewart didn't get loose against the Bears, but ended up with 80 yards on 21 touches against a Bears defence that allows a league-low 77.9 rushing yards per game.

With Newton airing the ball out, perhaps more than anticipated, against Chicago, Steve Smith (7 REC, 118 YDS) and Brandon LaFell (3 REC, 88 YDS) both had productive games. Smith ranks ninth in the league with 84.1 receiving yards per game, but has yet to score a touchdown, leaving him with the most receiving yards this season (589) without a touchdown. Miami's Davone Bess, with 416 yards, is second in that dubious category.

Eagles QB Michael Vick has been underwhelming this season, ranking 14th in passing yards per game (260.4) and tied for 16th in touchdown passes (9). His touchdown-to-interception ratio (9:8) is tied with Jay Cutler, better than only Romo, Newton and Matt Cassel.

In any event, Vick suggested after Sunday's loss to Atlanta that there could be a change at QB for the Eagles, which would mean that rookie Nick Foles would get the nod. Vick says he would support the change and head coach Andy Reid didn't exactly give Vick a vote of confidence in his postgame comments. The collars are getting tight in Philadelphia after three straight losses and even though Foles was impressive in the preseason, it would be amazing for them to sit Vick in place of an untested rookie. It's certainly a situation to monitor this week.

For the first time this season, Washington QB Robert Griffin III was kept under wraps (16-for-34, 177 YDS, 1 TD passing, six rushes, 8 YDS), complement of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was the first game in which Griffin completed fewer than 60% of his passes, and his 5.21 yards per attempt was his lowest in seven pro games. It was a typical defensive performance from the Steelers, who rank second in the league with 182.6 passing yards allowed per game.

After being relegated to street clothes in Weeks Four and Five, Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer was handed a starting opportunity when injuries took Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman out of the lineup. After putting up 229 yards on 34 carries (6.7 ypc), Dwyer may be earning himself a role for the future even when the others are healthy.

With Nate Burleson suffering a season-ending ankle injury and Calvin Johnson bothered by a kneep issue in practice last week, the door was opened for Lions WR Titus Young, who led the way (9 REC, 100 YDS, 2 TD) against Seattle. Young was a popular breakthrough candidate this season, but had largely been a disappointment until the last couple weeks, as he has put up 15 catches for 181 yards (compared to 11 catches for 123 yards in the first five games) in that time.

I've been taking a wait-and-see approach with Lions QB Matthew Stafford after his slow start to the season, but after a big game (34-for-49, 352 YDS, 3 TD, 1 INT) against Seattle, Stafford now ranks third in the league with 301.1 passing yards per game and with Young (and rookie Ryan Broyles) picking up the slack in the receiving game, perhaps it's time to give Stafford more love.

The ongoing battle for touches between Michael Turner (64 yards on 25 touches) and Jacquizz Rodgers (80 yards on 13 touches) continued against Philadelphia on Sunday. Turner has had some decent games and Sunday's 25 touches represented his most in a game since Week Seven last season, but he's managed a modest 166 yards from scrimmage over the last three games, at a time when Rodgers has managed 111 yards. The starting job remains Turner's, but if he's not putting up big numbers, there are more chances for Rodgers to shine.

The Indianapolis Colts had a strong day on the ground against Tennessee, getting starting RB Donald Brown (14 carries, 80 YDS) back in the lineup, complemented well by Vick Ballard (12 carries, 55 YDS). Ballard also won the game on a 16-yard touchdown reception, a screen pass that ended with an acrobatic backwards dive towards the pylon at the front corner of the end zone.

It appeared that Titans RB Chris Johnson was on his way to killing fantasy seasons across the nation when he rushed for 210 yards through the first five games of the season. But, after another solid game (21 carries, 99 YDS) against Indianapolis, Johnson has now put up 385 rushing yards over the last three weeks and has climbed up to 13th in rushing yards per game (74.4). He may not be all the way back, but appears to be a must-start once again.

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews has regained his place at the top of the Chargers' depth chart (104 YDS on a season-high 26 touches at Cleveland), but he fumbled again, the second time this season that he's lost a fumble and the 12th time in his career (on 553 touches) that he has fumbled. Those concerns have troubled the Chargers and keep Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown at the ready for a role in the San Diego backfield.

After he was held to eight yards on eight carries at Indianapolis in Week Seven, Browns RB Trent Richardson had his best game (134 YDS, 25 touches, 1 TD) so far in his rookie season. And, just like that, no more worries about a lingering rib injury.

Miami won convincingly at the Jets, even though Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill suffered a knee injury and was replaced by Matt Moore. The Dolphins also split their carries, sitting Reggie Bush down after a third-quarter fumble, so RB Daniel Thomas finished with more touches (16) than Bush (15), but Thomas is going to have to do better than his season average of 3.0 yards per carry if he's going to sustain anything more than a short yardage role for the Dolphins.

Initial reports suggest Tannehill is expected to play next week.

Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings (115 yards, 23 touches, one fumble) had a solid day, starting in place of Maurice Jones-Drew, at Green Bay. He has 13 catches for 114 yards over the last two weeks and that additional yardage helps his overall level of production.

Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts had a career day (8 REC, 116 YDS) at Green Bay. He's been a low-percentage play, catching 20 of 41 passes sent his way this season, but he averages 20.0 yards per catch and has more than 70 yards receiving in four games this season, including the last two.

Brady Quinn's turn as Kansas City's starting quarterback ended abruptly when he suffered a head injury against Oakland Sunday, leaving the game with four pass attempts. Matt Cassel returned to action and was adequate (20-for-30, 218 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT) -- not good enough to win, but not bad enough to be blamed for the loss either.

Kansas City's bigger problems rested with the ground game, where RB Jamaal Charles (five carries, 4 YDS; 3 catches, 6 YDS) couldn't get loose, but the Chiefs' game plan didn't seem to focus on running the ball. Aside from Charles' five rushes, Peyton Hillis, Shaun Draughn and Dexter McCluster combined for 45 yards on eight carries, an average (5.6 ypc) that might suggest more carries would have been in order.

Ben Tate, RB, Houston (hamstring)
Brady Quinn, QB, Kansas City (head)
Dan Connor, ILB, Dallas (neck)
Louis Delmas, S, Detroit (knee)
Chris Cook, CB, Minnesota (wrist)
Chase Blackburn, MLB, N.Y. Giants (hamstring)
Joe Mays, MLB, Denver (leg)

Peyton Manning (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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