Sunday Superlatives: Randle, Freeman stage epic duel in Dallas
Week 3 was as exciting as Week 2 was bizarre. The Colts, Falcons, Cardinals, Bills and Patriots all scored at least 35 points, led by the Patriots’ 51. Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Joe Flacco and Josh McCown (seriously) all had at least 340 yards and two touchdowns. Three different running backs scored three touchdowns, seven receivers made a pair of trips to the end zone, and we saw our first 200-receiving-yard performance of the year.
We recap the most important developments of the day in the Week 3 Sunday Superlatives.
The premier running back duel
Joseph Randle and Devonta Freeman were both in great spots for their Week 3 meeting, though for different reasons. With Brandon Weeden under center, it was likely that the Cowboys would heavily feature the run, limiting Weeden’s opportunities to make mistakes. An injury to Tevin Coleman opened the door for Freeman in what figured to be a high-scoring game. Below, I present the first six touchdowns scored in the contest.
Ignore that pesky appearance by Darren McFadden and you’ll see the best back-and-forth battle between a pair of running backs thus far in 2015. Randle and Freeman combined for five rushing touchdowns in the first half, with Randle taking a three to two lead into the locker room. Freeman, however, would ultimately get the better of Randle. His third touchdown of the game gave the Falcons a 32–28 lead early in the fourth quarter. Atlanta would add another touchdown, this one belonging to Julio Jones, to secure a 39–28 win and move to 3–0 on the season. Freeman had the best game of his career, running for 141 yards and the three touchdowns on 30 carries. The story was a bit different on the other side. After a huge first half, Randle was almost non-existent in the second half. He had four carries for minus-5 yards after halftime as the Cowboys’ offense stalled. Randle still had a great fantasy performance, ending with 87 yards and three scores on 14 carries. His owners can’t complain after he gave them 28.5 points in standard-scoring leagues, but they were rightfully dreaming about a 40-point game after the first half.
The question for Randle and Freeman owners now: Can they keep it going for the balance of the season? Randle should continue to be a fixture in the Dallas offense. Even though Lance Dunbar, who had 10 catches for 100 yards, and Darren McFadden have consistent roles in the offense, Randle is the primary back. What’s more, Dallas’s path to staying atop the NFC East until it gets Tony Romo back is to win with defense and the run game. As for Freeman, he certainly opened some eyes with this performance, but Coleman should be back in a week or two. The rookie started the first two games of the year for a reason. Freeman is still looking at a timeshare in the long term, and one in which he may very well be the second back. This week might be a good time to shop him.
The best receivers who just can’t seem to get away from each other
Julio Jones and A.J. Green are historically attached at the hip. They both grew up in the southeast and were in the 2008 high school class. Jones was Rivals’ No. 1 receiver, and the fourth overall player in that class, while Green rated second and ninth, respectively. They played their college football at SEC powerhouses. Green got the better of Jones at the 2011 NFL draft, taken fourth overall, two spots before the Alabama standout. Both became stars immediately in their rookie years and are now among the five best receivers in the NFL.
In Week 3, these forever-connected players went reception-for-reception from afar.
Jones was determined not to let Freeman hog all the glory for the Falcons, catching 12 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. His first score was from 45 yards out and came three plays after he got the Falcons to midfield with a 22-yard catch. He was involved in all three of the team’s second-half touchdowns, and his last one put the game on ice. Jones now has 34 receptions through three games, the most in NFL history.
About 1,500 miles away, Green had an even better game against the Ravens. He rode a huge fourth quarter to a 10-catch, 227-yard, two-touchdown performance. Each of Green’s touchdowns put the Bengals in front, and Cincinnati did not relinquish the lead after his second score. The first, however, was the highlight-reel play. After C.J. Mosley returned a fumble for a touchdown to put the Bengals behind for the first time this season, Green scored an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing possession, shaking off two potential tacklers to break away and get in the end zone.
The Falcons and Bengals don’t play each other in the regular season, but with both teams sitting at 3–0, perhaps they’ll get to meet on the field much later in the year.
The injury with the most damaging fantasy side effects
When Ben Roethlisberger went down with what looked like a significant knee injury, it wasn’t just the entire city of Pittsburgh, as well as Roethlisberger’s fantasy owners, you could hear gasp. The value for every fantasy-relevant Steeler took a hit when Roethlisberger reached for his knee.
Roethlisberger suffered a sprained MCL and is expected to be out for four to six weeks. Michael Vick takes over as the team’s starter in the interim, and we got a glimpse at what the offense may look like without Roethlisberger on Sunday. Vick completed five of his six pass attempts for 38 yards, and the offense completely stalled out without Roethlisberger at the helm.
Antonio Brown did all of his damage with Roethlisberger in the game, hauling in all 11 of his receptions with the starter under center. Le’Veon Bell did his all-around thing in his first game of the season, running 19 times for 62 yards and a touchdown, and catching seven of his eight targets for 70 yards. He, too, won’t be nearly as dangerous without Roethlisberger in the lineup. Martavis Bryant will be back in the lineup in two weeks, but again, Roethlisberger helped make him last year. He was going to be the team’s prime deep threat, but Vick just doesn’t have the chops to make those plays down the field the way Roethlisberger does.
Brown and Bell are still all-world talents who will succeed with anyone under center. Their respective ceilings, though, are not nearly as high as they were with a healthy Roethlisberger.
The best level-jumper
The Raiders are 2–1 after going on the road and upending the Browns on Sunday behind huge games from their three most important offensive players. Latavius Murray ran for 139 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, his second straight game with at least 15 fantasy points. Derek Carr threw for 314 yards, 9.8 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. Amari Cooper pulled down eight receptions for 134 yards. This offense has clicked in consecutive games against defenses that are likely, at the very least, league average. This looks like an offense that fantasy owners can finally take seriously.
Murray flashed the two most important skills for a reliable fantasy running back on Sunday. He had a long run of 54 yards, showing off the explosiveness that he displayed on his 90-yard touchdown run against the Chiefs last year that first put him on the fantasy radar. He also converted near the goal line, scoring his touchdown from six yards out.
Carr has put up two straight 300-yard games and has five touchdowns against one interception in wins over the Ravens and Browns, and as is the case with Murray, it’s not just the numbers, but the way he got them. Carr connected with eight different receivers and had four completions of at least 20 yards. One of those went to Cooper, who is already emerging as a legitimate go-to receiver. In the last two weeks, he has a total of 15 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown, with 11 targets in both games. The Raiders may finally have the right players in place at three crucial offensive positions. What they undoubtedly have is an offense in which fantasy owners can invest.
The biggest sigh of relief
Heading into the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Colts were trailing the Titans 27–14, and Andrew Luck had zero touchdowns against two interceptions. At that point, you could forgive Colts fans and Luck owners if they walked away from the television to relieve their frustration by maybe running on a treadmill or banging their head on the wall. If they did so, hopefully they made it back to the TV before too long.
Luck and the Colts finally got going in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 points and coming from behind to pick up their first win of the season. Luck connected with Phillip Dorsett on a 35-yard scoring strike a little more than halfway through the quarter to begin salvaging his fantasy day. Marcus Mariota threw an interception on the first play of Tennessee’s next possession, and Luck followed that up with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief. The Colts would add another touchdown on a six-yard run by Frank Gore, who also gave his fantasy owners some confidence by picking up 86 yards and a pair of scores on just 14 carries.
When the Colts’ offense sputtered against the Bills and Jets, there was plenty of reason to take a few deep breaths and understand that they were dealing with two of the best defenses in the league. When they were falling apart against the Titans, there was reason to believe they would never live up to expectations. Luck and company turned that around with a flurry of action in the fourth quarter. The Colts' next four games are against the Jaguars, Texans, Patriots and Saints. Expect them to keep rolling.