Tuesday October 21st, 2014

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably a big fan of games. Fantasy football is, itself, a game using a different game as its basis. So let’s kick off this week’s Fact or Fiction with a guessing game. In the next paragraph is a list of numbers. I will tell you right now that the numbers represent a specific team’s game-by-game rushing totals heading into Week 7. You see if you can guess which is the team in question. Here we go.

Week 1: 25 carries, 64 yards

Week 2: 10 carries, 25 yards

Week 3: 20 carries, 105 yards

Week 4: 25 carries, 85 yards

Week 5: 15 carries, 56 yards

Week 6: 23 carries, 82 yards

Pretty ugly, right? Before Sunday, this team averaged a league-worst 69.5 rushing yards per game. Basically, this entire team's rushing attack was around one half of DeMarco Murray's weekly output. Do you know which team it is? If you guessed the Jacksonville Jaguars, you win the prize, which is the satisfaction of knowing you were right. For the first six weeks of the season, the Jaguars were completely impotent on the ground. Toby Gerhart was the face of their struggles, and for good reason. The man whom Jacksonville brought in during the offseason to be the workhorse currently grades as the third-worst runner in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He has 123 yards on 48 carries, good for 2.6 yards per tote. To put that pathetic season total in context, a running back has rushed for more than 123 yards in a single game 15 times this season. Gerhart likely had some interest in the most recent of those games, since it served as the final nail in the coffin that now holds his 2014 fantasy value.

Fact: Denard Robinson is the man in Jacksonville

The Jaguars quietly announced on Sunday morning that it would be Robinson, not rookie Storm Johnson, who would start against the Browns in Week 7. Robinson had been a consistent part of the offense all season, but he was never in a featured role until last week. He took advantage of a great matchup, running for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in Jacksonville’s 24-6 win over Cleveland. The Browns have now surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, allowing at least one back to go for double-digits in five of their six games. As evidence of the Browns’ ineptitude against the run, they failed to bring Robinson down when they had him surrounded like this:

And the Jaguars offensive line consistently opened up holes like this:

So, yeah, the Browns played a role in this that, say, the Lions may not have. Robinson, however, did more than enough to be anointed the permanent starting running back in Jacksonville.

• BURKE: Hooray! The Jaguars get their first win of the 2014 season

The most obvious play was Robinson’s eight-yard touchdown run that gave the Jaguars an 11-point lead with six minutes left in the game. On1st-and-goal, the Jaguars lined up with two receivers and two tight ends. Robinson was the lone back, and both tight ends were in two-point stances tight to the line. Allen Robinson started out split to the left, and Cecil Shorts motioned to the left, resulting in an unbalanced line. Here’s what it looked like at the snap.

At the snap, left tackle Luke Joeckel, left guard Zane Beadles, and tight end Nick Jacobs seal the left side, giving Robinson a lane to the outside. Just seconds into the play, you can already see that developing. A second or two later, it’s clear that Robinson has the edge. Both of those screenshots are below.

While the big guys up front did their respective jobs, Allen Robinson whiffed on his blocking assignment, and Cleveland linebacker Barkevious Mingo was able to disengage from Jacobs after Denard Robinson took the edge. With a few yards to paydirt, here’s how the situation looked for the new starting running back.

That’s not exactly a comfortable predicament, and one in which Gerhart almost certainly would have been brought down short of the goal line. Not so for Robinson. The following series of screenshots shows how he got from the 7-yard-line, with two defenders and zero blockers in front of him, into the end zone.

That’s an impressive move from anyone, let alone a guy who really didn’t play running back until this season. After suffering through a terrible month and change with Gerhart as the starter, the Jaguars owe it to Robinson to see what he can do. Their upcoming schedule -- Miami, Cincinnati and Dallas -- isn’t bad for a running back. Both the Bengals and Cowboys rank in the bottom-third of the league in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus. If the Jaguars can keep the games at least somewhat competitive, the touches will be there for Robinson. Furthermore, he’s a respectable receiver who can flourish in Jacksonville’s screen game. He may not be the key to a fantasy championship, but he can be a solid depth back, and potential RB2 in the right matchup. With six teams on bye in Weeks 9 and 10, Robinson will be a valuable commodity, at least in the short term.

Fiction: The Falcons’ offense will be fine

Atlanta lost its fourth consecutive game last week, falling to the Ravens, 29-7. Baltimore jumped out to a 7-0 lead on its first drive and led 17-0 at halftime. By time the ineffective Falcons’ offense put together a drive of significance, the outcome of the game was well in hand. Since hanging 56 points on the Buccaneers in Week 3, the Falcons have scored a total of 68 points in four games. Their point totals in their four straight losses have decreased from 28 to 20, 13 and seven. It isn’t hard to find the root of the problem.

The Atlanta offensive line is in shambles. It all began in training camp, when starting left tackle Sam Baker suffered a season-ending knee injury. Center Joe Hawley joined Baker on IR after he tore his ACL against the Vikings in Week 4. His backup, Peter Konz, went down with a knee injury last week that ended his season. That means the team will turn to its third center of the year when it takes on the Lions in London on Sunday. Rookie Jake Matthews grades as the worst pass-blocking tackle thus far this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Gabe Carimi, pressed into action after Baker’s injury, ranks 58th out of 71 tackles. This was probably the last team that could afford an injury to its line at this point of the season.

Baltimore sacked Matt Ryan five times on Sunday. Only five quarterbacks -- Russell Wilson, Austin Davis, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Colin Kaepernick -- have thrown a greater percentage of their passes under pressure than Ryan. Ryan has actually been pretty decent in the face of all the pressure he's faced, completing 42 of his 87 attempts, good for a completion percentage of 48.3 percent, which checks in at ninth best in the league when pressured. He has also been the victim of six drops, so that percentage could be even better.

• BURKE: Sour Rankings for Week 7

Unfortunately, with Ryan under pressure so frequently, Julio Jones doesn’t have enough time to get open deep down the field. In the three games since Hawley’s injury, Ryan and Jones have connected on just two of seven pass attempts that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. In the four games Hawley was active, they were 7-for-12 for 172 yards and a touchdown. All the injuries to the Atlanta offensive line have trickled down to the rest of the offense. But if you’re looking for the most important thing lost, it’s right here: With the line unable to give Ryan enough time to allow Jones to take the top off the defense, the Falcons’ offense has been rendered toothless. They can’t hit on big plays with any consistency, and an already underwhelming run game faces more eight-man fronts with an overmatched line unable to open any holes.

Jones and Roddy White both deserve plenty of leash from fantasy owners. Jones remains a legitimate WR1, and, despite the team’s struggles last week, White caught nine passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Still, this is not the high-powered offense many fantasy owners expected during the preseason, and with all the injuries up front, it is unlikely to be that offense at any point in 2014.

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