Five things to know for Week 9: Helu's turn coming for Redskins
It probably won't happen against a tough San Francisco run defense this week, but with the way the Redskins have run their offense recently, there's no reason Helu can't earn the top ball-carrier role in Washington in the next few weeks.
The primary reason he didn't initially project well into a feature-back role was that, after coming out of Nebraska's option-heavy offense, he was untested as a pass blocker. But after playing (according to Ryan O'Halloran of Comcast Sportsnet Washington) 34 snaps against Buffalo on Sunday -- 12 more than Ryan Torain -- it seems safe to say that Washington is beginning to favor Helu as a passing-down back. The Skins called eight carries for Torain, meaning that he was on the field for only 10 non-rush plays, while Helu's 34 snaps didn't feature a single carry.
Meanwhile, despite his 135-yard showing against a weak St. Louis run defense in Week 4, Torain is averaging 4.3 yards per carry after totaling 31 yards on 20 carries since that game. Helu is simply the more talented runner, and Washington has to realize it sooner than later. Given that he's apparently already considered the better passing-down back, Helu should turn into a three-down back for the Skins before the year ends.
In any case, don't make much of the team's addition of Tashard Choice. Besides dealing with shoulder and hamstring troubles, Choice has lost as many fumbles (three) in his last 22 games as he has rushed for touchdowns, averaging 3.4 yards per carry over that span. He might have been claimed on waivers for his knowledge of Dallas' playcalling more than anything else.
If the Johnson owner in your league has given up on the Tennessee runner -- who is doubtlessly a huge bust for 2011 -- it might be worth your time to see just how cheap the price tag is after this week's matchup against a tough Cincinnati defense. Given that Johnson has been a non-factor of Chester-Taylor proportions (2.8 YPC through seven games), it might not take much at all to get him.
If that is the case, he's worth a gamble. There's little doubt that Johnson is to blame for his awful season more than the Tennessee offensive line, particularly in light of Javon Ringer's 102 yards from scrimmage against Indianapolis on Sunday, but it's still difficult to imagine Johnson failing to improve.
Not only is Johnson likely to run harder in response to the criticism he's facing, but defenses are likely to defend the run less aggressively until he does produce. Matt Hasselbeck and the Tennessee passing game are the bigger threat, and defenses figure to respond accordingly. Also, Johnson's remaining schedule looks significantly lighter than what he has faced thus far.
Johnson's first seven opponents have combined to allow roughly 4.0 yards per carry, but after this week's game against Cincinnati, the remainder of Johnson's pre-Week 17 schedule is allowing 4.5 yards per carry. More than anything, though, it would simply be shocking if a player of Johnson's talent really went the whole year playing like he has to this point.
Steve Breaston is still a bit of an obstacle, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario where Baldwin doesn't displace him in the Kansas City offense in the immediate future.
Not only do the Chiefs have much more invested in Baldwin, the team's 2011 first-round pick, but Baldwin probably deserves the more prominent role on productivity alone. Baldwin's size (6-foot-4, 230) and athleticism (4.50-second 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical at the NFL Combine) are well documented, and he demonstrated an impressive ability to catch in traffic when he high-pointed a 39-yard touchdown against San Diego on Monday night.
Considering Matt Cassel's modest-at-best accuracy, a big wideout with a wide catch radius like Baldwin is more than a little useful, particularly with defenses loading coverage toward Dwayne Bowe.
Peyton Hillis (hamstring) is expected to play against Houston this week, but given his slow recovery and 3.5 YPC average, it would surprise if he reclaimed a feature-back workload. Besides, Hillis was initially expected to play in last week's game against San Francisco, so there's no guarantee he'll be back this week.
Ogbonnaya, in either case, should receive a sizeable workload for the third week straight now that Montario Hardesty is out with a calf injury. As a skilled pass-catcher, Ogbonnaya is particularly intriguing in PPR leagues -- he has five receptions in each of his last two games despite playing a complementary role in both cases.
Given that Cleveland picked up Ogbonnaya off of Houston's practice squad, he should run especially hard this weekend. And with Houston's average of 25.8 points scored per game, there's a good chance that Cleveland will be playing from behind, forcing checkdown-machine Colt McCoy to throw a lot of passes, which should play to Ogbonnaya's strengths.
The return of Hines Ward (ankle) figures to lower the target volume of Antonio Brown relative to the last two weeks, but the former shouldn't be expected to reclaim the WR2 role in Pittsburgh given Brown's greater effectiveness.
That's not to mention that Brown has 24 targets in the last two games -- 15 against New England and nine against Arizona. That's a huge endorsement from Ben Roethlisberger, and the results (16 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown) seem to indicate that Brown is more than qualified to serve as an effective chain mover as defenses fret over Mike Wallace's whereabouts. Emmanuel Sanders might be a greater concern to Brown at this point than Ward -- the former is more athletically gifted than Brown and represents a greater investment on Pittsburgh's part (Sanders was a third-round pick in 2010 while Brown was a sixth-round pick), but it's difficult to see the Steelers messing too much with what has been a successful formula the last two weeks, particularly with the Ravens and Bengals sitting at 5-2.