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Fantasy football red zone targets

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

Take a deep breath.

The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. While it’s easy to get enamored with the statistical heroes of Sunday’s games or to curse the failures (Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, etc.), fantasy owners must be careful not to overreact.

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I know that you only have 13 weeks to earn a playoff berth. Remember, Week 1 normally presents a number of curious events and surprises. Week 1 of the 2012 season was certainly no different.

Each week, I’m going to dig into the statistics, box scores and play logs (while taping my eyes open to watch a lot of tape) to put a spotlight on the red zone. Here, we will celebrate the painted grass and bemoan failed attempts to reach it. Let’s get started on the ground.

Rushing Attempts

Fantasy owners truly anticipated that Shonn Greene would take a backseat to Tim Tebow and gadgetry in red zone play. For one day, perhaps with the score under consideration, Greene logged six red zone carries for 28 yards and scored in the season-opening win over the Bills. Greene finished the day with 94 rushing yards. I suspect we’ll see Tebow and some of the extra packages in play during closer contests to come. Tebow did carry the ball three times in the red zone for five yards.

Arian Foster was a game-time decision because of a lingering knee issue. Foster tied for the league lead with red zone carries for 13 yards with two touchdowns. He carried the ball 26 times for 79 yards. Alas, he caught only a single pass for -4 yards.

Stevan Ridley dominated the touch count for New England (more on him later), but Brandon Bolden saw four red zone touches in the win over Tennessee. Bolden rushed for two yards on four carries. Is a vulture situation in the offing? Perhaps, but Ridley did rush five times for 26 yards in the red zone as well.

One expected touchdown vulture performed as you’d expect in Chicago. Michael Bush carried the ball three times for two yards and a touchdown in the Bears’ win over Indianapolis. Bush finished with 42 rushing yards on 12 carries. Matt Forte logged three red zone carries himself, finishing with 27 yards and a touchdown.

The Steelers employed a workload split in the backfield as well. Jonathan Dwyer (watch his workload going forward) led Pittsburgh with four red zone carries for 14 yards.

Michael Turner didn’t exhibit much burst in Sunday’s resounding win over the Chiefs (more on that later this week). He did post 15 yards on four red zone carries, including an 11-yard win. The calls for Jacquizz Rodgers to assume a larger workload started on Sunday afternoon.

Worried about LeGarrette Blount serving as a vulture in Tampa Bay? Rookie Doug Martin tied for the league lead with six red zone carries for 13 yards. Martin carried the ball 24 times for 95 yards in the Buccaneers’ home win.

Red Zone Targets

Julio Jones lived up to the preseason hype and positively tormented the injury-depleted Kansas City defense. Jones caught two of his three red zone targets for 22 yards and two touchdowns. He found space in the Chiefs secondary all day and flashed wide open in the red zone. Jones also tied for the NFL lead with two catches of at least 25 yards.

Sleeper Heath Miller was targeted four times by Ben Roethlisberger, corralling two receptions for 12 yards, including a touchdown. Miller finished with four receptions on seven targets for 50 yards.

Here’s another tight end to put on a list for future reference. Veteran Todd Heap was back on the field for the Cardinals and factored into the red zone play-calling. Heap was targeted three times, catching two passes for 22 yards. He finished Sunday’s win over the Seahawks with three receptions for 32 yards.

Randy Moss last scored in Week 7 of the 2010 season against the Packers in Lambeau Field. Moss was on the receiving end of an early Alex Smith touchdown strike and just pointed to the back of his jersey. He caught both of his red zone targets for 16 yards. Moss caught all four of his pass targets for 47 yards in the 49ers’ huge road victory.

Braylon Edwards emerged as a key target in Seattle during the preseason. Alas, he was unable to corral his three red zone targets, including the would-be game-winner, from Russell Wilson. Edwards yielded 43 receiving yards on five receptions (nine targets) overall.

Brandon Pettigrew was targeted twice in the red zone by Matthew Stafford and came up empty in the Lions’ narrow win over the Rams. Pettigrew stumbled backward and dropped a wide-open opportunity in the end zone.

Red Zone Passing

Russell Wilson didn’t light up the scoreboard as some suggested he might in Week 1 against the Cardinals. However, Wilson did put the Seahawks in position to win the game in the final moments, but was betrayed by Braylon Edwards’ hands. Wilson attempted 10 red zone passes (tied for first), completing two for 20 yards with a touchdown (Sidney Rice).

Ben Roethlisberger tied Wilson for the highest number of red zone passes on Sunday. Roethlisberger completed four of his 10 attempts for 40 yards and two touchdowns (the aforementioned Miller and Mike Wallace).

I’ll spare you the hyperbole regarding the Falcons. I already gave Julio Jones the Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy!” treatment. Matt Ryan might deserve a bit more. Cue the trumpets! Ryan completed 6-of-9 red zone passes for 48 yards, including the pair of touchdown passes he completed to Jones.

The Cleveland Browns posted a fantastic defensive scheme against Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles overall. They nearly overcame Brandon Weeden’s much-maligned 5.1 Passer Rating to pull off a huge home upset, but Vick found Clay Harbor in the end zone for the game-winner late. Vick completed 2-of-3 red zone attempts for 22 yards and two touchdowns.

Kevin Kolb completed all three of his red zone attempts in relief of the injured John Skelton, including the game-winning touchdown throw to Harmon sleeper special Andre Roberts (five receptions for 54 yards). Kolb completed 6-of-8 pass attempts overall for 66 yards and may be under center against the Patriots.

Random Stat Checks

I received a number of text messages, Tweets and Facebook notes about the lack of production from New England wide receiver Wes Welker. Per, Welker played only 43 of the Patriots’ 67 snaps.

Conversely, Stevan Ridley was a beast against the Titans with 125 rushing yards on 21 carries, including six runs of at least 10 yards (long of 17). Ridley next faces the Cardinals at home.

Marshawn Lynch shrugged off back spasms to post a strong game against the Cardinals. Lynch rumbled for 85 yards on 21 carries.

Adrian Peterson completed his miraculous (is that too far?) return to the field and posted a fantastic game against the Jaguars. Peterson relegated Toby Gerhart to the role of bystander by running for 84 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. It was a mighty impressive effort in the overtime victory, overshadowed only by RGIII and Peyton Manning’s heroics in Denver.

Manning passed for 253 yards with two touchdown passes against the short-handed Pittsburgh defense. Hey! Somebody had to say it (no Harrison or Clark). Still, it was a fantastic season debut on the big stage that included a 71-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. Manning and the Broncos switched to the no-huddle offense and kept the Steelers off-balance all day.

I’ve joked for years that Vince Wilfork swallows opposing running backs between the tackles. Wilfork and his colleagues dominated the line of scrimmage, thereby limiting Chris Johnson to four yards on 11 carries. Johnson caught six passes for 47 yards, a small, miniscule ray of light for desperate fantasy owners.

Jaguars tailback Maurice Jones-Drew took the field for 49 of the Jaguars’ 81 plays against the Vikings. Rashad Jennings was in for 19 snaps before an injury shut him down for the day. Jones-Drew carried the ball twice for 15 yards in the red zone and logged three runs of at least 10 yards.

Robert Griffin III set the Twitter-verse on fire with his ridiculous debut against the New Orleans Saints. The highlight reels for Week 1 will be led by Pierre Garcon’s 88-yard catch and sprint to the end zone. RGIII finished with 320 passing yards and 42 rushing yards with two touchdown passes and zero turnovers (one sack). He was confident, poised and outplayed Drew Brees.

Even with Jonathan Stewart in street clothes, DeAngelo Williams was hardly used in Carolina’s loss to the Buccaneers. Williams carried the ball just six times for -1 yards in the 16-10 defeat. We’d like to thank Stewart for dismissing the usual protocol of saying “We’ll see” about his playing time and Tweeting about his deactivation well in advance of kickoff.

Finally, I bestowed Mark Sanchez with “sleeper” status for Week 1 despite the presence of Tim Tebow and the sheer ineptitude of the preseason. Sanchez overcame an early interception to post a tremendous 266-yard, three-touchdown day. He’ll travel to Pittsburgh for Week 2.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Browns, Broncos, Lions, Titans, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Cardinals, Steelers, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Turner, Heath Miller, Braylon Edwards, Michael Bush, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte, Matt Ryan, Shonn Greene, Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Tim Tebow, John Skelton, Cam Newton, Julio Jones, Stevan Ridley, Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Brandon Bolden

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