It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the Rams’ 2015 fortunes hinged on Todd Gurley. Jeff Fisher’s squad entered Week 4 29th in passing and 29th in rushing. Tre Mason and company were averaging 3.8 yards per carry, and had yet to bust a run longer than 24 yards. Fisher had to have offense, and if his risky first-round pick — Gurley is still less than a removed from tearing his ACL — wasn’t going to provide it, no one was.
Gurley provided it on Sunday, rushing 19 times for an eye-popping 146 yards. Gurley averaged 7.7 yards per carry, and almost single-handedly subdued a Cardinals team that had looked like the NFL’s best through the season’s first three weeks. Gurley moved the chains when the Rams needed it most, ripping off gains of 23, 12, 52, 20 and 30 yards in the second half. The 30-yarder ended the game, with Gurley slicing through the left side of the Cardinals’ defense before having the presence of mind to go down in bounds and kill the clock when he might have been able to finish off the run in the end zone.
Not that it was a perfect day for the Rams’ rookie runner. He was feast or famine, gaining 137 of his yards on five carries. He managed nine total yards on his 14 other totes. But, that’s a small problem when, you know, you’re gaining 137 yards on your five best carries. Not to mention, this was a back making his second career appearance on the road against a run defense that had been permitting just 3.5 yards per attempt.
The Rams drafted Gurley to carry their offense, and it took him only two games to do so. He won’t be able to do it every week, but Gurley gives the Rams their ace in the hole, their fallback option. For years, Fisher’s teams have lacked an answer to the question: Who gets the ball when we need a play the most? Now they have it, and fantasy owners have an RB2 where their RB3 flier used to be. Winners all around.
Five Week 4 Positives
Devonta Freeman. Freeman has 44 carries over the past two weeks. 13.6 percent of them have ended in touchdowns. Freeman has rushed for nearly as many yards in his past two games (209) as he did his entire rookie season (248). He could have easily bested his 14 carries for 68 yards on Sunday had coach Dan Quinn not started pulling his starters midway through the third quarter. Freeman has carried the Falcons and fantasy owners alike, and changed the game in Atlanta’s backfield. No. 1 status was third-rounder Tevin Coleman’s to lose. Instead, Freeman has gone and won it while Coleman nurses a rib injury. Freeman was supposed to be the bit player to Coleman’s bell-cow, but things will be the other way around whenever Coleman finally returns. Even in a tough matchup with the Redskins, Freeman will be on the RB1 radar for Week 5.
Ronnie Hillman’s performance. Hillman out-rushed C.J. Anderson for the third time in four games, scoring a 72-yard touchdown and becoming the first Broncos’ rusher to cross the century mark in 2015. Hillman will still never be a between-the-tackles banger, but neither is Anderson right now. CJA is averaging a pathetic 2.7 yards per carry, more than two yards off Hillman’s 4.9 mark. CJA’s fantasy season can’t be pronounced dead just yet, but it’s hard to see how he earns Peyton Manning’s trust over Hillman in Week 5.
C.J. Spiller’s awakening. Spiller entered Week 4 with 52 yards on seven touches. He had played 22 total snaps in two games as a Saint. Sunday, with the Saints trying to snap a six-game home losing streak, Spiller walked his team off. Spiller caught an 80-yard touchdown on the second play of overtime, bringing his final line to 109 yards on seven touches. Still not the kind of usage Sean Payton envisioned when he gave Spiller a four-year, $16 million contract, but a good start for fantasy owners who were about to give up the RB3 ghost. With Mark Ingram struggling and Drew Brees having trouble driving the ball, more Spiller should be a Week 5 prescription against the Eagles.
Doug Martin’s return from the brink. Martin finally broke out against the Panthers’ stout defense, taking the rock 20 times for 106 yards and a score, adding five catches for an additional 37 yards. Even with the Bucs playing from behind all afternoon, Martin out-touched Charles Sims 25-9. He flashed quick feet, and gained a good amount of yardage after first contact. The 100-yard day on the ground was just Martin’s third in the past three seasons, while his 5.3 YPC was his third highest since 2012. Sims isn’t going away, but Martin’s RB2 status lives to fight another week.
Sam Bradford’s deep ball. Battered in the first half, Bradford was moving closer to a benching than salvation. Then he found Riley Cooper for a 62-yard touchdown before hitting Miles Austin for a 39-yard score, and stabilized his standing at the head of Chip Kelly’s offense. Bradford narrowly missed a third long touchdown to Jordan Matthews, and had a second-quarter strike to Zach Ertz called back by penalty. You can’t pop champagne for a player who’s basically played two good halves out of eight, but you can’t leave him for dead just yet, either. New Orleans’ burnable defense looms as a juicy Week 5 matchup.
Five Week 4 Negatives
The Dolphins. Joe Philbin’s team got humiliated in all phases in London, and it was fantasy owners who were left holding the bag. Ryan Tannehill struggled for time and rhythm behind a disastrous offensive line, and Lamar Miller struggled for anything at all for a coaching staff that seemed to forget he existed. With the game in the balance midway through the fourth quarter, the Dolphins got not one, not two, but nine plays from inside the Jets’ 12-yard line. They ran on zero of them, finally turning the ball over when Tannehill threw a pick on 4th-and-9. Granted, the interior of the Dolphins’ line was collapsing like a dollar-stone tent, but the sheer bullheadedness of the sequence was stunning, and symbolic of the Dolphins’ lack of ideas under over-his-head coach Philbin. With a pall hanging over their team, Tannehill is a borderline QB1, and Miller a barely-there RB2. At least Philbin is gone.
Arian Foster’s limited return. It was reported that Foster would be on a snap count in his 2015 debut. That turned into 10 yards on eight carries, one of which was a fumble six. Thankfully, Foster declared himself healthy afterward, and everything that happened in Houston’s 48-21 loss only reaffirmed their need to ride their bell cow going forward. Sunday was inauspicious, but Foster will be a locked-in RB1 for however long he can stay on the field.
Colin Kaepernick’s further descent into Gabbert-land. If Sunday wasn’t rock bottom for Kaepernick, he’ll soon be below sea level. Kaep was sub-rookie, displaying zero touch and failing to make any plays down the field. The former Super Bowl starter has now been held scoreless in 2-of-4 games, and 3-of-4 through the air. He’s on pace for 2,908 yards passing, and 12 total scores. In other words, he’s on pace to get benched for Blaine Gabbert, a fate so wretched as to be inconceivable. The Packers were supposed to be a “good matchup” for the fourth-year starter, but it’s clear now there are no good matchups for Jim Harbaugh’s hand-picked quarterback. There’s not a transfer to Michigan coming, either. Save your money the next time you think about playing Kaep in DFS.
Jordan Reed’s latest concussion. Reed took a knee to his helmet late in the fourth quarter, ending his latest five-catch day and raising serious questions about his Week 5 availability. It’s Reed’s fifth-known concussion going back to his days at Florida, and third of his NFL career. Reed’s breakout has been one of the early season’s most pleasant surprises, but he should be considered a long shot for next Sunday’s game against the Falcons.
Lance Dunbar’s knee injury. The Cowboys’ secret weapon went down writhing in pain on a second-half kick return. He was in so much agony he immediately tossed the ball away after ensuring that he’d be ruled down. A vacuum cleaner of a pass catcher, Dunbar provided balance to the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray-less backfield. He’s worth holding onto in Dynasty leagues if you can spare the roster spot.
2. Has there ever been more definitive proof that time travel is possible than losing to a team quarterbacked by Matt Hasselbeck in the year of our lord 2015?
3. What’s your excuse for not intercepting Jameis Winston on Sunday?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Stats of the Week
It had been 343 days since the Saints won at home.
There were 52 converted field goals on Sunday. 13.5 percent of them belonged to the Chiefs (in a 15-point loss).
Along those same lines, Alex Smith’s (career high) 386 yards were the most ever by a team that failed to score an offensive touchdown.
Andre Johnson has seven catches for 51 yards. Johnson has caught at least seven passes for 51 yards 75 times in his career, including five times last season.
Todd Gurley is already tied for the league lead in 20-yard rushes.
Prediction of the Week, via Dan Graziano: “Tom Coughlin told his players before Sunday’s game that the Bills would beat themselves with penalties. They committed 17 for 135 yards.”
Quote of the Week, from since-fired coach Joe Philbin: “I thought the guys gave a good effort.”
The Jim Zorn Memorial Award: Joe Philbin.
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