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Week 2 watch list: Running games to re-emerge after passing fancy

Duck! Man, you almost just bought the farm. That football darn near hit you in the head.

There are footballs flying through the air everywhere. Watch out! There goes another one. It's raining cats and footballs out there.

Now, in our own contrarian way, ignore those flying footballs and pass-happy offenses. OK, don't ignore them entirely, but defensive coordinators this week have crunched through hundreds of bags of Cheetos game-planning to slow the record-setting Week 1 of passing offenses.

Week 2 is going to be more of a running back showcase.

There are still going to be shootouts, including an epic one in New England between Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Matt Schaub and Chad Henne should be winging it around in the South Florida heat. And no one is really going to stop Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Drew Brees and Tony Romo -- good luck with that, Panthers, Falcons, Bears and 49ers.

But our disappointing, underutilized running backs we paid such a premium for on draft day are going to pay us back in Week 2. The NFL is a league of read and react.

Don't think defensive coordinators haven't read the papers about the pass-happy NFL. They are going to react with a plan to confuse and slow all of these wide-open offenses. They had better, or they are going to be out of a job and trying to make an honest by playing to win fantasy leagues.

How do you stop what seems so unstoppable? You play keep-away.

The Titans, Chiefs, Steelers, Falcons, Giants, Browns, Bucs, Cowboys, Colts, Broncos and Panthers all lost because they forgot how to win football games. It is still run the ball, even in this modern NFL.

Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Rashard Mendenhall, Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw (and Brandon Jacobs), Peyton Hillis, LeGarrette Blount, Felix Jones, Joseph Addai, whoever starts for the Broncos (Knowshon Moreno -- knee -- or Willis McGahee) and DeAngelo Williams (OK, not him so much) should all be much better in Week 2. You know they will at least get more touches than they did last week.

It is payback time for running backs.

If you followed this space closely at the end of the preseason, we delved deeply into the running back position as you made your final preparations for draft day.

It should be reminded where we began that discussion: with the top handcuffs to have.

• No. 1 on that list was Ben Tate behind Arian Foster. Wow, did that factor in Week 1 or what?

• No. 2 on that list was Cadillac Williams behind Steven Jackson. Again, genius.

• No. 3 on that list was James Starks behind Ryan Grant. We wish we could take credit for that, but this writer had said this preseason that Grant was the one to have, even if you have to get Starks. It should have been the other way around.

• That makes No. 4 and No. 5 all that more important. What is Daniel Thomas (hamstring) going to do behind Reggie Bush and is Shonn Greene finally going to put LaDainian Tomlinson in his rear-view mirror?

The Dolphins say the Bush-Thomas split will be 70-30 on touches in Week 2, assuming Thomas plays against the Texans amid his hamstring woes. That is at least clear intel to use if you own either of those guys -- for as long as Bush stays healthy, if he stays healthy.

We are all still trying to figure out when Greene is going to make good on his postseason promises. It just has to be Week 2 against the Jags. The Jags did shutdown a likely rusty Chris Johnson in Week 1, but they were fourth-worst in fantasy last season against running backs. The regression should come and Greene should benefit.

In Week 1 Greene was merely a victim of circumstance. The Jets were behind and were forced to stage a rally in their opener against the Cowboys. They shouldn't have to stage many rallies this season with the defense they have. Greene is going to be doing a lot of clock grinding and that should mean a playoff-like amount of touches and production.

The question is whether Tomlinson is still going to be his touchdown vulture. Tomlinson is one of the greatest touchdown scorers in NFL history, which doesn't bode well for the fact that Greene needs to reach double-digit scores if he is going to truly take off for fantasy owners.

Watch what Greene does in a blowout victory over the Jags on Sunday. It should give us everything we need to know about this duo -- at least until the aged Tomlinson suffers the anticipated mid- to late-season breakdown.

It Foster's hamstring that kept him out of Week 1 doesn't scare you, Tate's performance against the Colts must. It was enough to consider Foster as being far more in a time-share than he was a year ago.

This year, Foster is an early round pick you have to start in fantasy. He could be one of those cases, though, where he starts, plays a little, maybe even impresses a little and then gives way to Tate and Derrick Ward -- particularly if Schaub and company get up big on the Dolphins early.

Foster is in shaky territory, although his loyal fantasy owners are trusting he is going to be fine. It should be interesting to see how he does as the offensive focal point of a top contender that actually might be able to play defense this season.

It is always a lot easier to rack up huge fantasy totals when you're a fledgling team playing from behind in a shootout.

Deeper into the preseason we looked at the top five RB combos to avoid and the top five one-man shows. Those reviews bear, well, reviewing.

The bad ones were bad. No. 1, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart,did zilch against last season's second-most suspect defense against running backs in terms of fantasy scoring. No. 2, Charles and Thomas Jones of the Chiefs, were inconspicuously absent in the blowout loss to the Bills, who were just behind the Cardinals at third-worst against running backs last season.

The next three, we actually found some value out of:

• No., 3 Fred Jackson, and, for the first time ever, C.J. Spiller, were both productive. They should be decent plays against the Raiders.

• No. 4, Tim Hightower, owned the Redskins' running game, only surrendering one carry to backup Roy Helu and giving nary a sniff to Ryan Torain. Hightower draws those Cardinals (again, the Cards' struggles last season against RBs should come back to us).

• No. 5, Cedric Benson, owned it against the Browns (gulp) and didn't even need backup Bernard Scott to spell him much at all in the process.

It was said by this writer to sit Benson last week against the Browns, who, perhaps surprisingly, were stingy in RB points allowed in fantasy last season. Now, Benson looks like he won't be a bust for the Bengals.

Oh, and get this (there is a pattern here with these potential fantasy 2011 disappointments): Benson now draws the team that gave up the most points in fantasy to running backs, the Denver Broncos. Darren McFadden didn't score on them Monday night, but he was the only back in the NFL to break three carries of 20-plus yards, and he happened to lead all rushers by 28 yards.

(By the way, McFadden led the NFL in long gains of 20-yards-plus last season with 11).

1. Adrian Peterson; 2. Mendenhall; 3. Ray Rice; 4. Blount; 5. Beanie Wells (Honorable mention: Jahvid Best).

Mendenhall and Blount didn't bring it in Week 2, but they are going to pay you back in a big way this week. Mendenhall won't be facing the Ravens' stiff run defense; he gets the Titans, who were run over, around and through by Maurice Jones-Drew (hey, that rhymes!). Mendenhall is headed for 100-plus yards and two scores.

Blount has a tougher matching in the Vikings, conceivably, because the Vikings can stop the run. But do you care to venture a guess which team gave up the most fantasy points to running backs in Week 1?

If you didn't have the context here, you likely wouldn't have guessed the Vikings. They were gashed by the Chargers, not on the ground, but through the air by running backs. They gave up 15 receptions, 144 yards and two scores to the Chargers' backs (Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert) through the air and another 80 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Blount won't be a factor much in the passing game for the Bucs, not after the Vikings defensive coordinator chewed his unit out about covering their backs (pun intended). Blount will get far more plays than the Bucs gave him in Week 1. The Bucs' linchpin rushed just five times last week -- ridiculous.

But head coach Raheem Morris has set Blount up for a big Week 2: "We want to win games with Blount bludgeoning you for 130 yards and having a couple of play-action bombs and being efficient with [Josh Freeman]."

That's music to Blount's owners' ears: Now, go make it happen.

OK, so we'd be be remiss if we didn't mention we were probably wrong about saying postseason performances can fool us. Starks and Jordy Nelson looked like world beaters in the last postseason as both took advantage of holes created by injuries and the transcendent play of Rodgers.

We warned not to be sucked in by Starks and Nelson, because Grant was coming back from his season-ending injury -- tight end Jermichael Finley was, too -- and Nelson would be back down on the depth chart behind a slew of Packers receivers.

Well, Nelson has put James Jones in his dust as the Packers' No. 3 receiver -- actually, No. 2 to Greg Jennings in fantasy because Donald Driver is up there in years. Nelson was a great sleeper in Week 1 and he could be a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown breakthrough among the 25 best receivers in fantasy.

And Starks already has his coaches saying he deserved more carries than he got in Week 1. Starks had more touches than Grant anyway, and more for Starks will make Grant insignificant for fantasy, outside of being a bye-week replacement.

The Packers likely have gotten better, but not necessarily because Grant and Finley are healthy now. They just found something in Nelson and Starks en route to the Super Bowl title. This writer should have had more faith in those two.

Watching them unfold in Week 2 against a suspect Panthers defense should be interesting.

Fantasy owners have to love what they saw from Cam Newton in his NFL debut. After all, he went all Star Trek: Where no man has gone before.

Now he gets a test against the defending champs, who boast one of the elite defenses in the NFL. It will be a great measuring stick for his true worth in fantasy. A big game, win or lose, legitimizes him for fantasy owners.

Rookie quarterbacks are streaky, if they are worth anything at all. After one game, Newton clearly has proved capable of huge performances. But shredding the Arizona Cardinals is one thing; doing it against the Packers will be something else. You shouldn't start Newton this week, but you can bet every one of his owners will have him active for Week 3 against the Jags, if he proves capable against a stout Packers defense.

The Panthers' Steve Smith is not the other Steve Smith now.

The Eagles version (aka ex-Giant) surprisingly was active for Week 1, but he was blanked in his return from microfracture surgery. He will eventually make an impact with Michael Vick and the Eagles.

The Panthers version, the original, appears to be a renaissance man with a legit quarterback. Newton found his Smith for a pair of scores, making the former elite fantasy option the No. 1 scoring wide receiver in fantasy through one week. Smith gets the same litmus test Newton gets against the Packers: Another strong game will return Smith to every-week starter status.

Unlike Jimmy Clausen and whoever pretended to play quarterback for the Panthers last year, Newton is being coached to look at Smith's way first on every pass. For Newton, the options tree is Smith, then tight end and then run for your life. Any of those three are pretty good, as long as it can remain that simple.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watchlist and his Sunday night staple, Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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