There weren't many people willing to trust Matt Schaub facing the stiff Tennessee Titans' defense in Week 2 -- he was active in just 43.9 percent of ESPN leagues -- but those who did were pleasantly rewarded.
After getting bottled up by the New York Jets in Week 1, Schaub rattled his division rival with a 357-yard, four-touchdown passing day, earning the Houston Texans a 34-31 upset victory, only the second time in franchise history the team has won a game in Tennessee. Schaub's performance was worth 30 points, tops among quarterbacks Sunday.
Schaub did it despite lacking two of his receivers in starter Kevin Walter and backup Andre Davis. Jacoby Jones, typically a return man, stepped into the starting lineup and didn't skip a beat; he caught a 29-yard score. Andre Johnson also frustrated Titans cornerbacks Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan time after time, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
But if you're a Schaub fan, as I am, surely you know already the type of big-game ability he brings to the table. In 2008 he managed four games of 300-plus yards passing and five games of multiple passing scores, and his 8.0 yards per pass attempt for the season ranked him second in the NFL, behind only Philip Rivers (8.4). It's health that has long been the question with Schaub; he missed five of 16 games last season and battled an ankle injury this preseason.
Fortunately for Schaub, he has two of the tougher matchups on his schedule out of the way. He'll draw the sorry Jacksonville Jaguars secondary in Week 3, painting him as a must-start, and check out some of his opponents after that: Arizona Cardinals (road, Week 5), then Cincinnati Bengals (road, Week 6). Boy, if only we could guarantee he'd stay healthy
Tristan's Week 2 MVP
Not that he didn't have a very favorable matchup -- all four of our ranking experts (not to mention probably every football-savvy individual on the planet) had him top-five among running backs -- but Chris Johnson's performance was one for the record books. He ran 16 times for 197 yards and two touchdowns and caught nine passes for 87 yards and another score, amassing 45 fantasy points. That's the most by any player since Adrian Peterson's 46 in Week 8 of the 2007 season, and it places his game among the top 20 single-game performances since 1970. And Johnson did it, incredibly, despite failing to receive a single carry in the red zone.
You read that correctly, folks, Johnson scored three touchdowns despite not getting a carry from closer than 31 yards from the end zone, nor a single target from closer than 25 yards from payday. Talk about a heck of a day between the 20s (though technically Johnson ran the ball from his own 9-yard line for one score).
LenDale White might scare the dickens out of Johnson's owners, threatening them with his goal-line vulturing, but it's matchups like these that make Johnson such an attractive top-tier running back. He's among the most explosive backs in football, and while stronger defensive fronts might bottle him up more than the Texans did (see: Week 1, at Pittsburgh Steelers), Johnson has the skills to break off long runs for scores against middling-or-worse defenses, rendering the White factor irrelevant. This week, for instance, he managed three -- count 'em, three -- scores of 50 yards or longer. Now that is why he was a first-rounder!
I'm full of excitement about the following four players based upon the week's results, and I recommend you stick with or trade for them.
• Carson Palmer: It was a game that effectively demonstrated his boom/bust status, but accounting for the matchup versus the Green Bay Packers' shut-down corners, Palmer's 185-yard, three-touchdown day passing that included a rushing score, not to mention a performance that earned his team an upset win (and angered this particular columnist for busting his "Eliminator Challenge" entry), warrants a big thumbs-up in my book. His two interceptions underscore the "bust" part of the equation, but look no further than his perfect 5-for-5, 86-yard performance on the team's final possession of the first half for your "boom" example. Palmer has a bit of a challenging schedule in the next eight weeks, including two games apiece versus the Baltimore Ravens and Steelers, but outside of that, I see a lot to like about him looking forward.
• Mark Sanchez: No, it's not like he's going to be a fantasy superstar in the near future. Still, I like what I've seen from Sanchez in his first two NFL games, especially things like his two monster drives to begin the second half of a game against the rival New England Patriots and their not-too-shabby defense. He's becoming even more attractive to those of you in dynasty/keeper or two-quarterback leagues. Sanchez has demonstrated remarkable chemistry with Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller and Chansi Stuckey thus far, and I see no reason he can't at least offer a handful of useful outings.
• Darren Sproles: A quick look at his rushing numbers -- 10 carries for 26 yards -- might inspire a "ho-hum" reaction, but accounting for the dreadful-on-paper matchup (versus the Ravens' stingy run defense) and including his receiving work -- seven catches for 124 yards and a score -- Sproles' first start in place of the injured LaDainian Tomlinson was actually quite exceptional. The San Diego Chargers surely will take notice, and if LT2 suffers any further setbacks with his sprained ankle, Sproles will almost assuredly see increased work to help keep the veteran fresh.
• Fred Jackson: That's two weeks' worth of certain-starter fantasy numbers, and Jackson will get one more start before he gives way to Marshawn Lynch, who is currently suspended. But here's a thought: Might Jackson's 328 yards from scrimmage (as either a runner or receiver) the first two weeks combined keep him heavily involved in the game plan? I wouldn't be shocked if it did. After all, he did have 167 touches to Lynch's 297 in 2008, a closer split than you might have realized.
Be it because of poor performance, role change or injury, these four players I'm downgrading, looking to trade or cutting based on the week's results:
• Julius Jones: I know, I know, a week ago I had him tabbed as a "Four Up" pick, and it took just one week to send me back in the opposite direction. But if you have watched any of Jones' performances the first two weeks of the season, might you not understand that he's seemingly turning into the fantasy yo-yo of 2009? Sure, the San Francisco 49ers put the Seattle Seahawks in an early hole, which limited Jones' workload, but he did little with the carries he did receive. Justin Forsett ran five times for 35 yards behind the veteran; it's not unthinkable that Forsett, not Edgerrin James, is the one who presses Jones for touches as the year progresses.
• Jamal Lewis: I wasn't high on him in the preseason and I'm especially not now. James Davis, the hotshot rookie who seemed destined to overtake the 30-year-old on the depth chart before getting into an untimely car accident, sat out again Sunday, giving Lewis a golden opportunity -- which he promptly blew. Lewis averaged 2.7 yards per carry versus the Denver Broncos, a team Cedric Benson carved up for 76 yards and a score in Week 1. That's the third time in his past six regular-season games that Lewis has been held to fewer than 3 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Davis' owners should keep him on hand, because he should get his chances when he returns.
• Eddie Royal: Another golden opportunity wasted, really, as Brandon Marshall's preseason antics might have opened the door for Royal to breeze through and claim the designation of Kyle Orton's top target. Not the case; he caught only three passes for 20 yards out of nine times targeted, giving him five receptions, 38 yards and 13 targets total through two games. Marshall has already bested him in receptions (7) and matched him in targets (13), and the Broncos' passing game has looked lackluster, to say the least.
• Josh Morgan: OK, here's a guy I was high on in the preseason, but not necessarily now. Morgan was shut out in Week 2 and didn't even get a look from Shaun Hill, who through two games has been a remarkably conservative quarterback in Mike Singletary's run-heavy offense. Hill's 6.2 yards per attempt doesn't bode well for Morgan's chances of having an imminent breakthrough.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Jerious Norwood (head): He suffered the injury on a hard hit at the end of a 6-yard run (presumably the one negated by penalty in the first quarter), reports the Augusta Chronicle. Norwood's condition is unknown, but it's worth pointing out that Jason Snelling, who took over as Michael Turner's "caddy," caught a 10-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and totaled 47 yards on seven touches in relief. If you're a Turner fan in a league deep enough to fret over owning his handcuff, be prepared to add Snelling if Norwood's condition worsens.
• Brian Westbrook (ankle): He suffered a sprained right ankle but claims he just "tweaked" it, according to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. Hopefully you Westbrook owners also have his handcuff, LeSean McCoy.
• Lance Moore (hamstring): Most distressing about his early exit is that he played a little more than half a game yet had no targets, let alone catches. Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem would benefit if Moore's injury lingers.
• Mike Bell (knee): So short might his time as a red-hot fantasy fill-in be. Bell's status won't be known before Monday, but what was interesting was that Pierre Thomas, active for Week 2, remained on the sidelines even after Bell's departure. Reggie Bush got the rushing work from that point on -- six carries for 26 yards and a score in two separate series -- though the best guess would be that Thomas and Bush share the work to some extent if Bell misses future weeks.
• Matt Hasselbeck (ribs): He was knocked out late in the second quarter after taking a hard hit to his back by 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, and was unable to return. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that X-rays were negative and that Hasselbeck merely has bruised ribs, but if he misses any time, downgrade the entire Seahawks' passing game with Seneca Wallace under center.
It's safe to say that
• Brett Favre is going to be more of a conservative passer than an explosive fantasy play. Yes, with his two passing touchdowns in Week 2, he now has three in two games, compared to zero interceptions, but he also has a paltry 5.5 yards per attempt despite some talented deep threats at his disposal. It's nice to see that he's adapting his game due to his advancing age, but I don't expect anything more than No. 2 quarterback value from him this season.
• Darren McFadden is the Oakland Raiders' goal-line back. In the only drive in which the Raiders got into the red zone, both of their plays involved McFadden, including a 5-yard carry in which the second-year back scored the team's only touchdown. So much for Michael Bush serving in that role, and McFadden's owners shouldn't mind that Justin Fargas has been a scratch in back-to-back weeks (a healthy scratch this week).
• Drew Brees is great. OK, so that statement doesn't border on the obvious, it leaps over the line well into obvious territory, but a 311-yard, three-touchdown day versus the Philadelphia Eagles qualifies as a pretty impressive against-the-grain outing. Top fantasy quarterback right here, so long as he stays healthy.
• Tony Gonzalez will be primarily a pass-catcher, not a blocker, in the Atlanta Falcons' offense. Ditto my comments on him last week; he has 12 catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns through two games and has flashed great chemistry with sophomore quarterback Matt Ryan.
One play makes your day
DeSean Jackson might have amassed 17 fantasy points, fourth most among wide receivers, and he did get a fair amount of work as the quarterback when the team went into Wildcat formation. Still, take out his 71-touchdown catch on blown coverage and Jackson would have had 45 total yards and no scores, and four fantasy points for the day. In other words, having Kevin Kolb lofting him the football still does present a downside for the receiver, as long as Kolb is under center.
Now that wasn't part of the game plan!
OK, so first of all, Greg Jennings was a limited participant during midweek practices due to his wrist injury. But as the week progressed, it was clear he was going to play and be fine. Then as the minutes crept closer to game time there were lingering doubts about his health. Then he was listed as active. Then he was shut out in the receptions department on five targets. What a disappointment for our third-ranked receiver this week. I'm not downgrading Jennings -- it's why he dodged my "Four Down" list -- but it's a frustrating development and certainly one that bears watching throughout the week. With more limited practice time, I might take a step back.
Go get 'em!
As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:
• Mike Sims-Walker: You might remember him as the former Mike Walker, who had back-to-back weeks of five-plus receptions early last season and a 107-yard receiving day in Week 5 versus the Steelers. Sims-Walker stepped up as David Garrard's most reliable target as the Jacksonville Jaguars played catch-up for much of Week 2, earning eight of his nine targets after Troy Williamson departed with a shoulder injury in the second quarter. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect the Jaguars to throw 43 times every week, and Sims-Walker does bring with him a lot of health risk, but it's pretty clear that in an offense in which Torry Holt seems like more of a possession receiver, Sims-Walker might step up as a decent matchups-play deep threat. He's worth a look in larger leagues.
• Julian Edelman: I'm not a big believer in Edelman's fantasy staying power; it would take Wes Welker missing extended time for me to think otherwise. Still, for a guy making his NFL debut stepping right into Welker's slot receiver role, Edelman had a strong outing, including 15 targets (plus two others on plays negated by penalty), eight catches and 98 yards receiving. There are fantasy owners in deeper leagues who must think creatively, and if Welker's knee injury lingers, then Edelman gets a boost in value. Not like there was reason to doubt it, but the Patriots are so clearly a team whose system creates the player and not the other way around, and Edelman's performance proves it.
• Johnny Knox: Again, there are people in uber-deep leagues who must dig deep for pickups, and Knox might fit the bill as a "hail mary" style play. Hey, Jay Cutler has to throw to someone, right? Knox has eight receptions for 152 yards and a score through two games, and he was targeted nine times this week.
• Brent Celek: Not many people seemed to trust this guy in the preseason, but those who follow the Eagles know their penchant for throwing to tight ends. Sure enough, Celek caught eight passes for 104 yards as Kolb's safety valve. Kolb almost assuredly earned himself a Week 3 start, and that means those owners hurting at tight end should take a look.
So much for Week 1
• Though Oakland Raiders rookie Louis Murphy stepped up with team highs in targets (9) and fantasy points (14) a week ago, he came crashing back to Earth versus the Kansas City Chiefs, which by the way is a favorable matchup on paper. He led the team in receiving yards (26), sure, but JaMarcus Russell completed only seven passes all day and targeted the rookie only six times. Zach Miller might have been shut out in receptions and garnered only three targets, but in this offense, the tight end is really the only "reliable" fantasy option, and even then I'd term him that only when he faces a team that struggles defending the position.
• Benjamin Watson was once a somewhat appealing fantasy option in 2006 and '07, and he stepped up with a two-touchdown day in Week 1, beating up on a mediocre Buffalo Bills defense. Matched up with the Jets this week, however, Watson returned to his more traditional, invisible self, catching three passes for 23 yards.
The matchups did the talking
• Steve Slaton (59 total yards, 0 touchdowns): To be fair to Slaton, he has endured dreadful matchups for two weeks now, facing the Jets in Week 1 and Titans this week, and at least his schedule gets better from here. In short, it's not time to jump off the proverbial cliff, though he does need a bounce-back performance versus the Jaguars at home in Week 3. Chris Brown got snaps in the red zone this week and was threatening to serve as Slaton's goal-line vulture in the preseason, and with another so-so effort, those fears will only increase.
• Tom Brady (216 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception at Jets): Though it was his first loss in a road game against the New York Jets in his career, Brady deserves a mulligan for this one. Though he wasn't sacked, he was constantly hassled by the Jets' defense, much like the aforementioned Schaub was when he was sacked twice, intercepted once and held to a 55.9 passer rating in Week 1. Brady was also without Welker, which had an impact no matter how impressive Welker's fill-ins. If you're a Brady owner, write this one off. If you're not, hope the Jets just did you a favor and caused his owner to begin doubting him.
• Kurt Warner (243 passing yards, 2 touchdowns): Before we officially declare Warner "back," let's all take a step back and recognize that the Jaguars' secondary is one of the weaker ones in football, and represents a fabulous matchup for any opposing quarterback. It's an encouraging sign that Warner completed 24 of his 26 pass attempts, including 15 in a row to start the game, but the "real" Warner surely could have carved this defense up for 300-plus and three scores, no? I want to see more before I step back from last week's comments.
A quick preview of what's in store for Week 3
• I'll have my eye on Frank Gore and the 49ers when they head north to take on the Minnesota Vikings and the threatening "Williams Wall." So far the leading man in the team's run-run-run offense has 237 yards and three scores on 38 carries, though conversely, the Vikings have served up 218 yards and no scores on the ground. Gore can't be benched, but this will surely be one of his taller tasks of 2009.
• If you watched any of the Cardinals-Jaguars game this week, surely you saw that the Cardinals' secondary still gives up countless big plays, just as it did a year ago. It's not tough to rack up yards or scores, and that'll play directly into the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts as they come to town. Depending on their Monday night performance this week, even a Pierre Garcon or Austin Collie could be a deep-play sleeper in Week 3.
• Carson Palmer might face a stiff matchup when he plays the Steelers, but two points: One, it's a home game for him, which helps him and his mates' chances, and two, he has 10 passing scores in his past five games against the Steelers.
• If there's any week for Eli Manning's owners to get giddy, this is it: He takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their overrated pass defense. Through two games, the Bucs have served up 564 yards and five scores through the air.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.