Four Downs: Bay Area RBs struggle


Think about what the prime Bay Area running backs have done for fantasy owners this season. Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers has been a rock, a consensus first-round pick living up to expectations. Oakland Raiders stud Darren McFadden has been one of the most pleasant surprises. Each entered Sunday among fantasy's top six running backs in season scoring. Now look at what this duo did for fantasy owners on Sunday, combining for 37 rushing yards and seven standard fantasy points.

With the trading deadline coming up this Wednesday for many in ESPN standard leagues, Gore and McFadden certainly didn't send their owners off with great impressions, but now is not the time for overreaction, either. Gore had a bad game, odd considering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the worst run teams in the league against the run. The 49ers hadn't been shut out at home since 1977. McFadden's plight is more understandable, considering the far more accomplished Pittsburgh Steelers defense had to be bitter from being lit up by Tom Brady and pals for 39 points in Week 10. McFadden ran 10 times for 14 yards.

Fantasy owners shouldn't read too much into this. Yes, those who relied on the Bay Area quarterbacks and wide receivers should rethink things, but the running backs have been far too good this season to turn back now. With Gore, this is more obvious given his pedigree, but I've already seen McFadden's name bandied about in two of my leagues as trade bait ... and I'm calling him a clear buy-low option. McFadden has actually outperformed Gore, fantasy's No. 3 running back entering Week 11, on a per-game basis. Do you really want to give up on him now?

Gore has had rough times in the past, and he always bounces back. In Week 1 at Seattle, he ran for 38 yards; the next week he produced 28 fantasy points against the defending champion New Orleans Saints. He's got the Arizona Cardinals up next, and he's a lock against that franchise, averaging better than 100 total yards and a touchdown in his career against them. It doesn't matter which Smith 49ers coach Mike Singletary chooses to hand the ball off to him, Troy or Alex, Gore will be among my top five running backs in Week 12 rankings.

McFadden hasn't scored since Week 7, which might seem like a harbinger of more rough times, but his schedule is favorable as well, with the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars on deck. Plus, the Raiders remain AFC West contenders, despite Sunday's 35-3 blowout loss. Just don't expect much from Jason Campbell or Bruce Gradkowski or their wide receivers, and don't preemptively grab Michael Bush, either. McFadden is the stud, and unless there's an injury we haven't been told about, he'll be among my top 10 running backs this week.

Second down: Sunday marked the first time each Manning brother committed at least three turnovers the same day, but I'm not adjusting my thinking on either player. People really should cease using Peyton Manning's lack of weapons as a crutch. There's nothing wrong with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, and we've seen Manning make Jacob Tamme and Blair White productive. I'm still calling the elder Manning my No. 2 scorer for the season, behind only Philip Rivers. Eli Manning keeps throwing interceptions, but he was doing that even when Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs were productive, and when Steve Smith was playing. He might be this season's Jay Cutler, in a way; a year ago Cutler tossed an almost unheard of 26 interceptions, yet nearly cracked fantasy's top 10 quarterbacks for the good he provided. Eli Manning seems destined for similar, fantasy relevant statistics, despite the mistakes.

Third down: When will running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis get his fantasy due? The "Law Firm" still isn't 100 percent owned in ESPN leagues, and there were 20 other running backs active in more leagues in Week 11, including Shonn Greene and Ronnie Brown. Maybe I'm missing something; lost in the Randy Moss trade way back was the fact the Patriots could rely on a strong running game, thanks to Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Did you know this franchise is 43-1 since 2001 when one of its running backs gets 20 carries in a game? Green-Ellis became the first Patriots running back to garner 20 carries in a game this season, and I could see more performances like this coming as the weather adjusts. Green-Ellis might end up with 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns, yet he was active in barely half of ESPN's standard leagues Sunday.

Fourth down: I watched way too much of the Minnesota Vikings' loss to the Green Bay Packers, trying to figure out how this team with all these accomplished individual parts could manage just a field goal in a home game. I'm done touting Brett Favre as a fantasy starter, but not done calling him ownable, especially now that coach Brad Childress has been relieved of his duties. Don't be surprised if this team's offense starts to run smoother now, just like the aftermath of the Wade Phillips firing in Dallas. Let's not pretend all was well between Favre and Childress, and the schedule certainly gets easier with the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills pending. I'd specifically buy low on Sidney Rice, owned in 43.1 percent of leagues; he received 10 targets Sunday, and I expect Favre to play better in future weeks. The Vikings aren't playoff-bound, but I do believe Adrian Peterson, Favre, Percy Harvin and Rice will still help fantasy owners.