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Cullen: Rookies Luck, Martin shine in Week Nine

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Scott Cullen
11/5/2012 2:12:25 PM
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Rookies Andrew Luck and Doug Martin are coming off monster games, the best wide receiver tandems this season, Megatron comes up big again and more in Scott Cullen's Week Nine Review.

GOOD NIGHT AND VERY GOOD LUCK
With the desire for immediate judgement becoming more prevalent, thanks to the Interwebs and so on, it was popular early in the 2012 NFL season to question the Indianapolis Colts for drafting Andrew Luck, the consenus No. 1 prospect, ahead of Robert Griffin III, who burst onto the scene with immediate production for the Washington Redskins.

Never mind that teams don't draft quarterbacks for the first four games -- more like the next 10 years, or more, ideally -- but as the season has progressed, Luck has established that he was more than deserving of his draft slot.

After Sunday, when Luck completed 30 of 48 passes for 433 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the rookie is now tied (with Peyton Manning) for third in the league with 2404 passing yards (300.5 per game). Keep in mind that Cam Newton became the first rookie to eclipse the 4,000-yard threshold last season, so there is a very good chance that Luck is going to set a new mark for rookie passing yardage.

While some would also point to the Colts' 5-3 record with Luck, compared to last season's 2-14 record, as evidence that Luck should be in consideration for NFL MVP, that analysis ignores that Luck is replacing a mish-mash of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins at quarterback, a trio that averaged 201.3 yards per game and put up a total of 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2011.

Luck, then, is inarguably a massive upgrade at quarterback for the Colts, but taking over from incompetence can't be the foundation for an MVP candidacy. As such, Luck doesn't warrant MVP consideration, yet.

At the same time, Luck's presence has immensely improved Indianapolis' passing game. Veteran WR Reggie Wayne (7 REC, 78 YDS, 1 TD vs. Miami) is the most frequent beneficiary, leading the league with 104.4 receiving yards per game, but secondary options rose to the challenge Sunday. Wide receivers Donnie Avery (5 REC, 108 YDS) and T.Y. Hilton (6 REC, 102 YDS, 1 TD) both surpassed 100 yards receiving against Miami and TE Dwayne Allen was productive (6 REC, 75 YDS), starting in place of Coby Fleener.

The Colts' running game wasn't especially effective against Miami, which isn't surprising given the Dolphins' stoutness against the run, but Donald Brown didn't play Sunday, leaving Vick Ballard (66 YDS on 19 touches) to handle the bulk of the workload.

MUSCLE UP
Luck may be pushing into the lead for the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, but Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin is mounting a serious charge in his own right. Muscle Hamster, as Martin is known, shredded the Raiders (25 carries, 251 YDS, 4 TD) Sunday, the second straight week in which he's accumulated more than 200 yards from scrimmage. Martin leads all running backs with an average of 129.9 yards per game.

DYNAMIC DUO
It's not necessarily a surprise that Atlanta's wide receivers were productive, even going against Dallas' generally strong corners. Roddy White (7 REC, 118 YDS) and Julio Jones (5 REC, 129 YDS) both surpassed 100 yards, giving them a combined average of 167.1 receiving yards per game.

Top WR Duos - Yardage, 2012 Season

No. Players Team Yds/Gm TDs
1. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker Denver 167.4 11
2. Roddy White, Julio Jones Atlanta 167.1 9
3. Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery Indianapolis 161.2 4
4. Marques Colston, Lance Moore New Orleans 155.1 7
5. Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams Tampa Bay 151.8 11
6. Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd New England 146.4 5
7. Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks N.Y. Giants 144.7 8
8. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant Dallas 142.5 6
9. A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins Cincinnati 139.2 10
10. Calvin Johnson, Titus Young Detroit 136.4 4

HART ATTACK
While the top 10 wide receivers, in terms of yards per game, comprise a list of familiar names -- including those in the table above, along with Bears WR Brandon Marshall -- the guy sitting 10th in receiving yards per game is Dolphins WR Brian Hartline who had another solid game (8 REC, 107 YDS, 1 TD) at Indianapolis, giving him 82.8 yards per game this season.

TEXAN TWO-STEP
Houston's offence is largely predicated on their strong running game, but there remains value in their receivers too. Andre Johnson went through some lean games (nine catches for 164 yards from Week Two through Five), but has returned to his prominent role in the Texans' offence. After eight catches for 118 yards against Buffalo Sunday, Johnson now has 25 catches for 279 yards in the last three games. If only he could get back to the end zone; he hasn't scored a touchdown since Week Three.

Though Johnson isn't finding paydirt, Texans TE Owen Daniels (4 REC, 62 YDS, 1 TD vs. Buffalo) is. Daniels now has five touchdowns this season (scored in the last six games) and ranks fourth among tight ends with 59.8 receiving yards per game.

MORE TIGHT END VALUE
Not far behind Daniels are a couple of less-heralded tight ends. Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham (6 REC, 108 YDS vs. Denver) is at 54.1 yards per game and Oakland's Brandon Myers continued his quietly productive season (8 REC, 59 YDS, 2 TD), scoring for the first time this year and ranking sixth among tight ends in yards per game (55.3).

BEAR MARKET
When the Chicago Bears put up 28 first-quarter points on their way to a 51-20 win at Tennessee, they naturally had some productive games, though from mostly familiar faces. RB Matt Forte (148 YDS, 1 TD on just 14 touches) and WR Brandon Marshall (9 REC, 122 YDS, 3 TD) led the way while MLB Brian Urlacher scored a touchdown on a 46-yard interception return and, perhaps most impressively, CB Charles Tillman forced four fumbles, giving him seven on the season.

By way of comparison, there are only three players in the league that have forced four fumbles through the first half of the season: Elvis Dumervil, DeMarcus Ware and Rob Ninkovich. Tillman's seven forced fumbles ties the number recorded by 2011 leader Terrell Suggs, who had seven over the entire season. There have been five instances in the last 11 seasons in which players finished a season with more than seven forced fumbles, so Tillman's midway production is pretty much off the charts.

ON TRACK
Titans RB Chris Johnson continued his resurrection, at least in terms of productivity (16 carries, 141 YDS, 1 TD) against Chicago, though a pair of fumbles cut into what might have been an otherwise productive day. Johnson now ranks eighth in the league with 81.8 rushing yards per game, after averaging 131.5 in the last four games.

BE LIKE IKE
Just when it looked like Jonathan Dwyer might be the answer to Pittsburgh's rushing needs, Dwyer was sidelined with a strained quad, so back into the lineup cam Isaac Redman who gashed (147 YDS, 1 TD, 26 carries) the Giants, thereby creating even more competition in a backfield that has been up for grabs with incumbent starter Rashard Mendenhall injured.

LION'S SHARE
After missing three practices during the week due to a lingering knee injury, Lions WR Calvin Johnson not only started but had a big day (7 REC, 129 YDS) against Jacksonville. Titus Young certainly holds appeal if Johnson is slowed by this knee injury, but also consider rookie Ryan Broyles, who had six catches for 52 yards against the Jaguars.

Detroit's offence is working well not only because they have a quality receiving corps, but they are manufacturing some production out of the backfield. Mikel Leshoure (16 CAR, 70 YDS, 3 TD) and Joique Bell (109 YDS, 1 TD, 17 touches) both had strong games against Jacksonville. While that is a reflection of the Jaguars' less-than-stellar play too, Bell has been a quality backup, going for at least 60 yards from scrimmage four times in the last six games.

PACK IT UP
Green Bay has been forced to cobble together a complete offence and it hasn't been easy to cover for all the injuries. As they try to establish a serviceable ground game in the absence of Cedric Benson, they gave former starter James Starks a longer look (61 YDS, 17 carries) against Arizona even after a relatively productive game (53 YDS, 11 carries, 2 REC, 25 YDS) from Alex Green, who now has 160 yards from scrimmage in the last couple games.

Packers TE Tom Crabtree scored another touchdown against Arizona, a 72-yard score, his third touchdown on six catches. That's two more touchdowns than starter Jermichael Finley has put up this season.

As injuries mount among Packers wide receivers -- Jordy Nelson returned to action Sunday only to leave with an ankle injury and Greg Jennings has been nursing a groin injury -- opportunity has favoured Randall Cobb who delivered (66 YDS, 2 TD on six touches) against Arizona. In the last six weeks, Cobb has 34 catches for 404 yards and six touchdowns.

PRODUCTIVE PALMER
Raiders QB Carson Palmer is much maligned, but has been productive for fantasy purposes. He put up big numbers (39-for-61, 414 YDS, 4 TD, 3 INT) Sunday against Tampa Bay, but those three interceptions were enough to undo the good that he accomplished. Nevertheless, Palmer ranks eighth among quarterbacks with 294.4 passing yards per game.

Palmer's job isn't made easier by injuries to his running backs. Darren McFadden (20 YDS, nine touches vs. Tampa Bay) and second-stringer Mike Goodson (52 YDS, eight touches vs. Tampa Bay) both suffered ankle injuries. FB Marcel Reese responded with a productive day, but as a receiver, catching eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

If McFadden and Goodson are out, Reece may see some carries, but Taiwain Jones would be the most likely candidate to handle lead back duties for Oakland.

PONDER THIS
Early in the season, Minnesota QB Christian Ponder was an efficient game manager who helped the Vikings get off to a 4-1 start. Since then, however, Ponder has struggled, including this week at Seattle (11-for-22, 63 YDS, 1 INT), the second time in the last three games that he has finished with fewer than 75 yards passing.

If there is even more reason to be concerned about Ponder it is that WR Percy Harvin suffered an apparent ankle injury against Seattle and while he returned to action, he finished with just two catches for 10 yards.

Despite Ponder's struggles, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been superhuman in his quick return from a torn ACL. He ripped up the Seahawks defence (17 rushes, 182 YDS, 2 TD) in a losing effort Sunday, his seventh straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage and he leads all runners with an average of 106.3 yards per game.

INTO THE VALLEY OF ELI
Pittsburgh's shutdown pass defence, allowing 182.6 passing yards per game before facing off with the Giants Sunday, was even more effective against Eli Manning (10-for-24, 125 YDS, 1 INT). It was Manning's fewest passing yards in a game since December, 2008.

GETTING DEFENSIVE
Looking for some defensive upgrades? Check out Bucs OLB Lavonte David, who registered 16 total tackles against Oakland and Cowboys ILB Bruce Carter, who stepped in for injured Sean Lee and produced 10 tackles at Atlanta.

INJURIES
Percy Harvin, WR, MinnesotA (ankle)
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland (ankle)
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay (ankle)
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh (ankle)
Donnie Avery, WR, Indianapolis (hip)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay (hamstring)
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee (elbow)
K.J. Wright, OLB, Seattle (concussion)
Mike Goodson, RB, Oakland (ankle)

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Andrew Luck (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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