Booms and Busts: Cam goes ham in New England

Hats off to you, Cam, after a Week 4 fantasy breakout (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

How do you fix a broken quarterback? Extra film study? Different approaches in practice?

Maybe it’s as simple as shipping them up to (greater) Boston.

Cam Newton was just another quarterback in a funk through three weeks, but his Week 4 date in Foxboro was the magic elixir. Newton showcased his 2015 MVP form in Sunday’s 33-30 upset, throwing for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Newton added 44 yards and another score on the ground, and clicked on 22-of-29 pass attempts. He kept the negative plays at a minimum — one pick, two sacks taken.

In a basic Yahoo scoring system, that’s a 34-point bonanza.

As always, we have to try to decipher how much of Sunday was Newton playing well, and how much of it was the Patriots defense giving away the store. Newton was decisive and confident from the jump, and he seemed more proactive with running the ball, be it through improvisation or designed plays. But sometimes Newton was throwing to wide-open targets. Devin Funchess (7-70-2) made the most of nine opportunities, and Kelvin Benjamin secured his four chances (4-104-0).

When you consider Newton had offseason shoulder surgery and hardly played through the summer, perhaps his quiet opening month was to be expected. He gets an interesting challenge in Week 5, at a Detroit defense that’s played shockingly well through the opening quarter. But after Newton’s Week 4 breakout game, I can’t imagine anyone benching him now.

Christian McCaffrey was the one downer to Carolina’s offense — he was held to 16 yards on six carries, and had a modest 4-33-0 on six targets. McCaffrey has yet to show his best foot in the NFL, averaging less than three yards per carry. His value to the Panthers has been primarily as a receiver, basically a glorified slot player.

Tom Brady was passable on the other side (32-for-45, 307 yards, two TDs, zero picks), though the Patriots left some points on the field. New England settled for three Stephen Gostkowski field goals, and the aerial attack struggled to get vertical (6.8 YPA). Brady led two inspired touchdown drives in the final quarter, eventually squaring the game, but he could only watch, helplessly, as Carolina negotiated the game-clinching drive.

There’s no pretty spin on this historically-bad Patriots defense. New England has coughed up 1,341 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes, 9.4 YPA. It hashes out to a 116.5 rating — basically the same neighborhood Brady visited in the famous 2007 season (117.2). Usually the Bill Belichick scheme is bend-don’t-break; this unit is bend-and-break. Everyone goes ham against these guys.

Congratulations, Jameis Winston, you’re the next contestant on the list; the Pats and Bucs play on Thursday. After that, Josh McCown, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers take dead aim at this broken defense. Can Belichick fix this unit? What players on the roster can turn this around? I don’t see any answers, only rhetorical questions.

Deshaun Watson Backs It Up 

Every week gets better and better for Watson, Houston’s immensely-talented and eminently-likable rookie quarterback. Week 1, he got his feet wet in a relief appearance. Week 2, he made just enough plays to eke past Cincinnati. Week 3, Watson was almost perfect in a high-scoring loss to New England. Yeah, but it was just the Patriots, some critics scoffed.

Watson’s biggest test came Week 4 against Tennessee, and he passed with flying colors. Heck, this looked like the pitch-and-catch circus he ran at Clemson.

Watson finished 25-for-34 passing for 283 yards and four touchdowns, and added a fifth score on the ground. It added up to a 57-14 thrashing of the Titans, a deafening statement in this AFC South supremacy game. Watson also nudged past Newton on the early Week 4 fantasy leaderboard, the highest-scoring player on the early card.

Watson’s full toolbox was on display here: poise; athleticism; the ability to throw accurately from different platforms. He’s never going to have the strongest arm in the league, but I’m convinced it’s plenty strong enough. He made a number of NFL throws into tight windows last week, and his touch and accuracy were first-rate in the Tennessee beatdown.

There’s plenty of time to jump on the Watson bandwagon, as he’s unowned in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues. And I guess his critics might be tripling down in Week 5, when he gets a stiffer challenge against Kansas City. But I’m squarely in the kid’s corner, albeit I don’t have many fantasy shares in this offense. For the first time in their history, I see a potential superstar manning the quarterback position in Houston.

(AP Foto/Ron Schwane)

Pianow on the Take

• The Bengals offense took a significant step forward in Green Bay, and then the ball hardly hit the ground at Cleveland; Andy Dalton was 25-for-30 for 286 yards, four touchdowns, no picks. I didn’t think Tyler Kroft was going to be much in place of Tyler Eifert, but he caught two touchdown passes and six of seven targets. Hue Jackson has just one win since joining the Browns.

• One reason why I don’t pay much attention to preseason strength of schedule — especially the type of SOS that looks ahead months at a time — is the significant variance we see with defenses from year to year. Consider that Buffalo’s pass defense was ordinary last year, and Detroit’s the worst in the league. Through four weeks, the Bills have been tremendous on defense (hat tip, Sean McDermott) and Detroit has been stingy.

Sure, the schedule has helped out, but did you expect Buffalo to beat Atlanta on Sunday, even after the Falcons lost two key receivers? Did you expect Minnesota to score seven points? Fantasy football is best played with a microscope, not a telescope.

• Jay Ajayi is going to be fine and DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry are simple players to project, but I don’t see any upside with QB Jay Cutler. I’d say it’s at least a coin flip that the offense would be better with Matt Moore.

The last two London games have been blowouts, and in each instance, the team that traveled early in the week pasted the team that traveled late in the week. Shouldn’t it be a no-brainer, the early trip? Time changes are a killer. The culture is different, the food, the facilities. Give your personnel a chance to get comfortable.

• Anyone who has a good theory on Amari Cooper, I’m all ears. The yips? An eyesight problem? I can’t just say “variance” and walk away when it’s gone on for a month.

• Matt Forte is a borderline Hall of Famer, but the Jets shouldn’t feel beholden to him when he retunes. Maybe Bilal Powell isn’t young enough to be the true future back — though I’ve always liked Powell — but Elijah McGuire might be. Every time I look at a Jets game, it feels like McGuire is making an explosive play.

• The turnaround of the Rams underscores how coaching matters more in the NFL than any other major sport, and it’s not even close. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley had no chance last year. They have a chance now.

• We don’t have a good explanation as to why Ben Roethlisberger isn’t productive on the road, but it’s gone on far too long for us to ignore it. At least Pittsburgh is almost done with its 1 pm ET road games (just one left); Big Ben has a better resume in games that start later in the day.

• Is there some logical way to back out of the Chargers being in Los Angeles? The city doesn’t care about the team. Every Chargers home game is an embarrassing display, a de-facto home game for the opposing team. Melvin Gordon 2017 is starting to look like Todd Gurley 2016.

• With the horrendous Giants offensive line, I don’t see how any of their backs have a chance. There isn’t a special running talent on the roster anyway, but I’m not going to get seduced by anyone who has a long run or a cosmetically-interesting game now and then. It’s possible to mask a weak line in the passing game, and that’s what the Giants will try to do — it’s their only path here, their only play. Eli Manning threw 49 passes and didn’t take a sack at Tampa Bay.