Eric McClung dives into the mailbag for Ray Flowers, who is away making preparations for the holiday season. Scroll down to the end of the piece to submit a question for next week.
I'm thinking about 2011. I have three running backs I can protect at the same level next season. Those back are Ronnie Brown, Pierre Thomas and Felix Jones. Which do you suggest I hold on to?-- Derek, South Lake Tahoe, Nev.
While Brown is three games away from completing the full slate for just the second time in his career, he's on pace to set a career-low in yards per carry and has yet to record a 90-yard effort. That's not very promising for a player in a contract year, particularly an injury-prone running back who just turned 29 years old. Back in March, the Dolphins voided the final year of Brown's deal, so they either don't see him in their future or only want him back on the cheap. In any event, his sharp decline and cloudy outlook is not keeper material.
During the offseason Jones decided to pack on some pounds to improve his upper-body strength. In fact, he currently weighs slightly more than Marion Barber. Perhaps that is the reason the once explosive runner is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has just one run of over 20 yards. Last year, Jones had five such runs during the regular season despite missing two games and getting 30 fewer carries than he's already accumulated in 2010. At his best, Jones is a complementary back with some extra value in PPR formats, as he still shows flashes in the passing game, but he's not an ideal keeper given the poor condition of the Cowboys' overall rushing attack. Hopefully, Jones decides to lose the weight and his burst returns.
Thomas would be the back I'd hang onto. However, since he missed a lot of time with an ankle injury, he could turn into a bargain next year. Depending on your league rules for keepers, that may alter your final decision. In any event, Thomas will be 26 years old next year and is a key part of the offense, something that can't be said for your other two options. Now that is assuming the Saints elect to re-sign him, of course. With the lackluster free agent running backs that figure to be on the market, look for Thomas to stick around the Big Easy. When healthy, Thomas is a producer in the red zone and a solid check down option out of the backfield. The emergence of Christopher Ivory may have you concerned, but he's had his own woes staying healthy. Further, Ivory is inconsistent and has only one target in the passing game all season, a major sign that the youngster is unlikely to take over Thomas' role anytime soon.
My outlook for the playoffs keeps getting worse. I have to make a decision at quarterback this week, and goodness, my choices are Jon Kitna, Josh Freeman and Donovan McNabb. Can you please throw me a life vest?-- Brian, Ohio
McNabb on the road against the Cowboys would be a nice matchup if not for some glaring issues. First, McNabb was only 15 of 32 passing for 171 yards against his familiar foe in the season opener. If you are willing to look past that, consider McNabb is coming off just his second multi-touchdown effort of the season, coming against a battered Buccaneers defense. With a limited supporting cast around him, expect another pedestrian effort as McNabb concludes a disappointing season that has been full of them.
Freeman faces the Lions at home after dropping 266 yards on the aforementioned Redskins with just 15 completions. The second-year signal-caller picked up 148 of those yards on three big gainers of over 40 yards. While the Lions secondary has been generous at times, the Bucs' passing game is rarely that explosive. Freeman takes great care of the football, and that makes him a safe play, but he has surpassed 250 yards only three times this season while being limited to fewer than 200 in four of the last six.
The quarterback with the highest ceiling for your team this week is Kitna. He's at home against those same Redskins that just gave up several big plays to a conservative passing team. That could cure what's ailing the struggling Miles Austin, who caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Skins in Week 1. Coming off a season-best two touchdowns, Jason Witten should also benefit as Washington allowed a season-high 79 yards to tight ends last week. Kitna does have issues with interceptions, but the opposition has just two picks in the last five games and ranks dead last in total defense.
I was sailing along into the tail end of the season counting on Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Lloyd each week. They have both looked totally awful the past couple of weeks. Should I panic and add a guy like Davone Bess or Anthony Armstrong, or should I just continue to count on Bowe and Lloyd?-- Jimbo, Florida
If Matt Cassel (appendectomy) is able to play, Bowe has a very good chance to get you back on track as the Rams have allowed three touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in two of the last three games. Four of those scores have come in the red zone, where Bowe has been very good; all seven of his receptions inside the 20 have gone for touchdowns. A decision on Cassel likely won't come until Friday, but he is preparing as if he's going to play.
When it comes to Lloyd, things are a lot stickier. We can't blame his dip on an elite corner taking him out of the game or an injury to the quarterback. Kyle Orton has flat out stunk, going a combined 28-of-69 passing against the Chiefs and Cardinals. Prior to those two clunkers, Orton's season low in yards came against the Raiders. Even worse, Lloyd caught only one pass in that game and will have Nnamdi Asomugha blanketing him once again.
Start Bess, Britt or Bennett over Bowe (say that three times fast) if Cassel is ruled out given how awful the Chiefs backups are.
Eric McClung an Associate Editor for Fanball.com Owners Edge. To e-mail Ray Flowers a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear Ray's thoughts at the Fanball.com Sirius XM Homepage (Ray is the co-host of a daily radio show on XM 147 and Sirius 211 satellite radio).