Another week, another three-touchdown game for Devonta Freeman, and another necessary conversation around the second-year back out of Florida State. Regardless of the caliber of defense he has seen the last two weeks, you have to give him a ton of credit. Tevin Coleman had clearly asserted himself as the team’s starting back, relegating Freeman to a change-of-pace and third-down role. When the rookie Colean suffered his rib injury, Freeman had one more opportunity to show he could be the starter, and he has taken advantage. Now his owners have to try to read the minds of Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan. Has Freeman earned himself a larger role in the offense upon Coleman’s return? Or will the Indiana product remain the primary back?
The best thing Freeman has going right now, other than his performance, is health. Coleman could return to the field next week when Atlanta hosts Washington, but that is no guarantee. The Falcons really don’t lean on any backs other than the two youngsters, and Freeman has enjoyed having the backfield largely to himself over the last few weeks. If that is again the case in Week 5, Freeman could put together another good game, and essentially force his way into the lineup, even when Coleman is back in the fold. Still, that could be a risky bet, and no matter what we’re looking at some sort of timeshare in Atlanta. That makes now the best time to circulate Freeman’s name in trade discussions. His value isn’t going to get any higher than it is right now, and while everyone in your league will be able to see this as a sell-high situation, he still should be attractive, especially for an RB-needy owner.
With that, let’s get to the rest of what stood out this week in the Week 4 Sunday Superlatives.
The Best Coming-Out Party
A few days ago, Jeff Fisher said he expected Todd Gurley to play “a whole lot more” this week. Next week, and for the 11 subsequent Rams games this season, Gurley is probably going to be the only guy we see in their backfield in any significant fashion. Gurley, the first running back selected in the 2015 draft, ran all over the Cardinals, racking up 146 yards on 19 carries. Gurley barely played in the first half, but he needed just 30 minutes of game time to post his first career 100-yard game, which also came the first time he got double-digit carries.
Gurley actually got off to an inauspicious start in the second half, losing four yards on his first carry after halftime. His next two carries went for 23 and 12 yards, respectively. He added a 52-yard carry that helped set up a Tavon Austin touchdown, and then finished the game off with a 30-yard run that would have been a 38-yard touchdown if he didn’t give himself up so the Rams could run out the clock. Gurley looked like one of the best backs in the league on Sunday, and he did it in a tough matchup against an Arizona defense that held Matt Forte to 61 yards on 15 carries and Mark Ingram to 24 yards on nine totes.
What does Gurley’s breakout mean for his fantasy prospects the rest of the season? Well, Fisher didn’t come out and say this, but we can safely assume that the Georgia product will be the Rams primary back over their final 12 games. He showed the burst and explosiveness that made him such a weapon for the Bulldogs, and worthy of being the 10th overall pick in the draft in an era of devalued running backs. Gurley should provide his owners with, at least, high-end RB2 value for the rest of the year.
The Biggest Trainwreck That Could Result in a New Conductor
This was going to be the year. Again. This was really supposed to be the season that the Dolphins would get back into the mix in the AFC East, and they were going to do it with an offense that was ready to jump up a level and rate among the best in the league. So much for that.
The Dolphins got out of the States this week, but they didn’t find the cure for what ails them in London. For the fourth straight game, the offense failed to develop any sort of rhythm, and they dropped to 1-3 after losing to the Jets, 27-14. It’s basically impossible to pick just one or two stats or impressions that encapsulate just how disappointing this offense was on Sunday. Instead of trying to do that, let’s just look at all the things that made us scratch our heads:
• This team refuses to use Lamar Miller. He had seven carries for 26 yards and just two targets. Remember, he had 1,400 total yards last season. He should probably have a bit more of a role in the offense.
• Ryan Tannehill threw 44 passes. He completed 19 of them. He got 4.5 yards per attempt. Tannehill has had more than 7 YPA once this year, yet he has thrown at least 40 passes in three of the Dolphins’ four games. Again, maybe use Miller more?
• DeVante Parker didn’t have one target. Not one. The Dolphins used the 14th overall pick in the draft to secure his services.
The following sequence of offensive plays, which started with a first-and-goal at the Jets 4 with 6:30 left in the 4th quarter: Incomplete pass, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, penalty on the Jets to give Dolphins 1st and goal at the 2, Dolphins touchdown nullified by offensive pass interference, short pass for 1 yard, incomplete pass, short pass for 2 yards, interception.
If Joe Philbin gets fired on Monday, GM Dennis Hickey can just show him that eight-play stretch, in which the Dolphins started with a first-and-goal and ultimately lost five yards, capping off the possession with an interception, and that would suffice as an explanation for the decision. There should be better days for both Miller and Tannehill in the future, but it’s hard to have any real confidence in this offense after what we’ve seen from it for a month.
The Biggest Reason Why This Bengals Team is the Best of the Last Five Years
The three best quarterbacks of the first four weeks of the 2015 season have been, in some order, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Andy Dalton. Not many people expected Dalton to put himself in such heady company this season, but he looks like a completely different quarterback, and that’s why the 4-0 Bengals need to be taken seriously. Dalton is also helping make his team a fantasy juggernaut.
Dalton had another huge game on Sunday, throwing for 321 yards, 13.38 YPA and one touchdown in the Bengals’ 36-21 win over the Chiefs. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard hogged all the touchdown glory, but Dalton and his receivers did most of the work to get the team in scoring range. Dalton has scored at least 18 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues all four games this year, and is now just 0.6 points per game behind Rodgers.
Dalton again put on display why this team is so dangerous. In Week 1, Tyler Eifert was his primary weapon, going north of 100 yards and scoring twice in the win over the Raiders. Dalton spread the love in Week 2, with three different receivers catching one touchdown apiece. Last week it was A.J. Green who dominated the Ravens, piling up 227 yards and a pair of scores. He spread it around again in Week 4, with three different receivers getting at least 69 yards, and a fourth Brandon Tate, catching his only touchdown pass.
The Bengals are for real, and that is largely thanks to Dalton. He’ll be a strong QB1 all season. Don’t fear the Seahawks next week.
The Biggest Emergence of a WR1 That You May Not Have Noticed
It’s time to bring back one of my favorite little games in this corner of SI.com. Let’s have fun with blind resumes.
Can you name the receiver who has posted the following game log through four games?
Week 1: five catches, five targets, 79 yards, one touchdown
Week 2: eight catches, 11 targets, 97 yards, one touchdown
Week 3: seven catches, 12 targets, 95 yards, one touchdown
Week 4: 11 catches, 15 targets, 116 yards, one touchdown
Total: 31 catches, 43 targets, 387 yards, four touchdowns, 15.68 fantasy points per game
Any guesses as to who that receiver might be? What if I fess up and admit that I cheated a little bit because that’s not just one receiver. It is, however, the starting receivers who have played the Colts and have had the good fortune to avoid Vontae Davis. That was Percy Harvin in Week 1, Eric Decker in Week 2 and Kendall Wright in Week 3. That was all building to the crescendo provided by the Jags' Allen Hurns on Sunday.
Hurns set career highs in catches and yards in Jacksonville's overtime loss to the Colts, garnering attention from Blake Bortles early and often. Meanwhile, Allen Robinson, who did have to deal with Davis, had four catches for 80 yards, which actually isn’t that bad for a date with one of the league’s best corners. The point, however, is that No. 2 receivers against the Colts have put up WR1 numbers in all four games this season. That’s a bankable trend that fantasy owners need to exploit. Unfortunately, we might not have that opportunity in Week 5 when the Colts visit the Texans. Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts both left with injuries on Sunday, and that could mean Keith Mumphery and Jaelen Strong are the two receivers on the depth chart behind DeAndre Hopkins.
The League's Most Annoying Backfield
When Matt Jones rambled all over the Rams for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries two weeks ago, it seemed that he would soon take over as the lead back in Washington, if he hadn’t already. We knew Alfred Morris wouldn’t completely go away, but it looked like the team, and the fantasy community, had a new lead back. Jones followed up that breakout performance with an 11-carry, 38-yard flop, but the silver lining was that he still out-carried and out-snapped Morris, and didn’t land in Jay Gruden’s doghouse after fumbling at the goal line. Jones’s owners could confidently look forward to his Week 4 matchup with the Eagles. And then they all got a curveball on Sunday.
After Jones started for Washington last week, Morris was in the backfield on the team’s first possession on Sunday. He was right back out there to start Washington’s second possession, as well. Jones, on the other hand, was nothing more than a change-of-pace back against the Eagles. All told, Morris had 17 carries for 62 yards, while Jones took just seven handoffs and gained a paltry 11 yards.
Now, Jones owners looking for another silver lining can perhaps point to Morris’s stat line and comfort themselves that he didn’t do much with his opportunity back atop the depth chart. The bigger takeaway, however, is that this could very well be the league’s most unpredictable timeshare, and that’s always a headache for fantasy owners. Both Jones and Morris likely have strong fantasy games ahead of them, but it could be very hard to see those games coming. It’s not like, say, New England, where Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount fill very defined roles, making it a little easier to diagnose which one might lead the rushing attack based on matchup. Jones is a better athlete than Morris, but they fill essentially the same role in the Washington offense. That could be good news for the team in real life, but it’s horrible news for their fantasy owners.
Photos: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images (Freeman), Christian Petersen/Getty Images (Gurley), John Grieshop/Getty Images (Dalton), Evan Habeeb/Getty Images (Morris)