Is a three-touchdown day a sign of good things to come for a beleaguered Ben Roethlisberger?
NOW THAT we're past the midway point of this fantasy season, it's time to look for the players who will help you make a playoff run and identify the ones who will hurt your chances. In the case of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, there's still hope, especially after his three-touchdown day against the Saints on Sunday. The key is whether the 24-year-old QB can stop making the backbreaking mistakes that have led to a league-high 14 interceptions. "Ben has to stop thinking he can make the same plays he made last year," one league source told me. "Teams aren't going to let him run around and improvise, but he still believes he can do that. Sometimes a quarterback just has to take what a defense gives him."
Roethlisberger's play has been so horrendous at times that it's easy to forget how productive he can be. He had another three-touchdown day against the Falcons in Week 7 and a two-TD game against the Chiefs the week before, without an interception in either game. The challenge, however, is figuring out whether he'll remain effective. Even though the Steelers are throwing enough to satisfy any fantasy owner--they're passing 56.9% of the time, up from 42.8% last season--Roethlisberger has been a feast-or-famine player. My bet is that he has turned the corner: As long as he stays healthy, his decision making should improve, as should his value.
SILVER AND BLACKED OUT Raiders running back LaMont Jordan offers far less promise for the second half. Jordan had great fantasy appeal as a featured back heading into the season, but he has rushed for only 410 yards and has already started to lose carries to backup Justin Fargas. Though the Raiders claim that this isn't the start of a trend--"[Fargas] is just a change-of-pace back," one team source says--the reality is that Jordan is mired in a lousy offense. Now that his touches are decreasing, there's no reason to think that Jordan will provide significant production down the stretch.
NO PASSING FANCY One surprise in the season's first half has been the emergence of running back Steven Jackson in the Rams' passing game. As quarterback Marc Bulger has cut down on the kind of risky, downfield throws that can lead to interceptions, the check-down has become a bigger part of the St. Louis offense. Jackson already has a career-high 47 receptions, and he has generated 1,236 yards from scrimmage. There's no reason to believe he won't continue that type of production in the second half. "I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to be among the top running backs," Jackson says. "I work on my all-around game, and hopefully it shows up on Sunday."
BURRESS UNDER DURESS Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress has five touchdown catches and, at 6'5", a proven ability to outleap smaller defenders in the end zone for fade passes from quarterback Eli Manning, but the going figures to get tougher for Burress now that running mate Amani Toomer is out for the season with a partial tear in his left ACL. Burress was on a similar roll last season, but defenses stepped up their coverage of him in the second half and he slumped badly. He also missed the Giants' Week 9 win over the Texans with back spasms, and fantasy owners should be warned that those spasms could recur at any time.
PETER KING I THINK ...
... you absolutely, positively should not give up on Rex Grossman
QUARTERBACK PRODUCTION is tough to predict. Who would have thought during the preseason that fans of a playoff contender would be rabidly screaming to keep Damon Huard as their team's starter? Or that Jon Kitna and Drew Brees would be ahead of Carson Palmer and Tom Brady in passing yardage through 10 weeks?
When it comes to quarterbacks, though, no one has been harder to figure out this season than Rex Grossman of the Bears, with whom I visited last week. After a strong 5--0 start, he had lousy games against the Cardinals and the Dolphins (throwing a combined seven interceptions), and his passer rating plunged to the middle of the pack. In Chicago there were cries for the Bears either to pull Grossman in favor of Brian Griese or to have Grossman play it much safer. With such a strong defense, the critics said, all Grossman has to do on offense is play not to lose.