On the morning of October 16, Gray was cooling his heels on the practice squad, waiting to find out if he’d get the call to the big leagues in the wake of Stevan Ridley’s (ACL) season-ending injury. On the morning of November 16, he was waiting to be unleashed as the focal point of New England’s Week 11 game plan.
And boy, unleashed he was. Gray just didn’t have a good game for a third-year undrafted free agent, he had the best game by any running back this season. 38 rushes for 199 yards and four touchdowns. Both Gray’s attempts and rushing yards were the most by any back in 2014, while his four scores matched Marshawn Lynch’s total from Week 10. The four-TD effort was the first by a player with zero previous career scores since 1921. That’s what Gray dropped on the AFC South-leading Colts, and a run defense that had been surrendering just 98.1 yards per game.
For the season, Gray is now averaging 4.71 yards per carry, and has notched at least 12 totes in three-straight games. Which brings us to our obvious question of the week: What can we expect going forward? The answer is frustrating and vague. Although there’s no doubt as to Gray’s place on the depth chart — he’s the Pats’ No. 1 “big back” ahead of Brandon Bolden and James White — anyone who has followed Bill Belichick for more than two weeks knows his game plans are team specific, and ever changing. Belichick has had great success smashing the Colts on the ground in recent years, so that’s what he did on Sunday.
But that is not what Belichick is going to do in Week 12, where the Pats host the Lions. These are the same Lions who limited Andre Ellington to 42 yards on 19 carries (2.2 YPC) Sunday, and are allowing just 3.0 yards per rush, and 68.8 yards per game. Both numbers lead the NFL. The Lions also have stout aerial defenses, but coughed up 306 yards to journeyman Drew Stanton in Week 11. In other words, the Pats will be much better off taking their shots through the air than on the ground.
Depressing for this week’s waiver wire golden boy, huh? But just as quickly as things turn sour for Gray, they’ll be back to good in Week 13. The Pats will be making the trip to Green Bay, where the Pack are much better at stopping the pass than run. Dom Capers’ unit is getting stung for 139.2 yards per week on the ground, setting up nicely for another Gray Out. That’s doubly true, as the Pats may decide their best strategy against a white-hot Aaron Rodgers is to play keep away in what will likely be cold conditions.
The point of all this is, as the Pats’ game plans go, so will Gray. He had a dynamite day on Sunday, probably the best for any New England runner since Corey Dillon. But he’s not about to supplant Tom Brady or be an RB1. Add Gray if he’s still available in your league, and start him if you’re short at running back. Just know that like Ridley and many others before him, his week-to-week fortunes will be hard to forecast, and prone to wild swings you might not always see coming.
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Five Things That Went According To Plan In Week 11
Ryan Mallett sparking the Texans’ offense. We’ve always known Mallett has a hose, but he’s never been accused of having touch. That’s just what he displayed on his first-career score, however, lofting the ball to the corner of the end zone on a perfectly-placed pass to … wait for it … J.J. Watt. There’s a strong chance neither that pass nor Mallett’s 66.6 completion percentage are a sign of things to come. But at least for one week, he did his job, re-establishing the deep and intermediate threats that had been lacking under Ryan Fitzpatrick. Mallett has a whale of a Week 12 test in a Bengals pass defense that shut Drew Brees down on Sunday.
It being a matter of when, not if, Ahmad Bradshaw gets hurt. This one is a heartbreaker, as Bradshaw is an all-out effort player who has been shining in one of the league’s best offenses. But few backs have taken more of a pounding, while no appendages have been as star-crossed as Bradshaw’s feet. It was Bradshaw’s left ankle that he injured against the Patriots, apparently suffering a break. He’s staring at a 4-6 week absence, if not injured reserve. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Bradshaw has undergone “just” one operation on his left foot, as opposed to three on his right. But it’s still the worst-possible news for a player having a renaissance season in his age-28 campaign.
Mike Evans’ rollicking arrival. Rare is it that the Rankings cover boy actually lets me off easy, but that’s exactly what Evans did Sunday, pasting the pathetic Redskins for seven catches, 209 yards and two touchdowns. Evans has now blown by 120 yards each of the past three weeks, and has seven scores over his past six starts. He’s the first rookie wideout since Randy Moss to clear 100 yards with a touchdown in three-straight games. Evans’ 458 yards over his past three contests are a Bucs team record, rookie or otherwise. At 21 years and 88 days old, Evans is the youngest receiver in NFL history with a 200-yard game on his résumé. His reward is a Week 12 matchup with a Bears defense that’s been getting dominated by elite receivers. Evans has a chance to put a stranglehold on Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Rashad Jennings reassuming every-down duties for the Giants. Active for the first time since Week 5, Jennings got the rock 22 times, including 18 on the ground. He managed only 67 total yards, but depressingly for the G-Men, that’s a number Andre Williams failed to surpass the entire time Jennings was sidelined. With Eli Manning going further in the tank, the Giants are only going to rely on Jennings more going forward. He has a plus Week 12 matchup in the Cowboys’ soft run defense.
A.J. Green finally looking like A.J. Green. Facing a hobbled Keenan Lewis and rookie Brian Dixon, Green ate up the Saints for 6/127/1, routinely reeling in passes in tight spaces. The 100-yard effort was Green’s first since Week 3 in what’s been an injury-ruined campaign, but likely the first of many during the Bengals’ critical stretch run. The Texans, who have struggled all season against WR1s, are a great Week 12 matchup, while the similarly-leaky Bucs and Steelers are on deck for Weeks 13 and 14.
Five Things That Didn’t Go According To Plan In Week 11
Peyton Manning’s demolition of the Rams. The Broncos’ seven points were the fewest of the Manning era in Denver. Personally, they were Manning’s fewest since the Patriots held him and the Colts to three in the 2004 playoffs. The Broncos could have easily been shut out if not for a blown coverage on Emmanuel Sanders’ 42-yard touchdown. How did it happen? Pressure, what else. Manning took only two sacks, but was chased all afternoon. The story was the same for his pass catchers, with thundering hits knocking out Sanders and Julius Thomas. Manning and the Broncos will undoubtedly bounce back in Week 12 against the Dolphins, but it was a warning to Manning that his kryptonite remains the same.
The Browns’ backfield. What else is new? 90 minutes before kickoff, word leaked of another new Cleveland starter, this one Isaiah Crowell. The Browns surprisingly lost 23-7 to the Texans, but Crowell held up his end of the bargain, rushing 14 times for 61 yards while adding 30 additional yards through the air. He out-touched Terrance West and Ben Tate a combined 16-7, and even kept operating as the No. 1 back after losing a second-quarter fumble. Ball security has been Crowell’s bugaboo, but perhaps the Browns are willing to grin and bear it because they know he’s their best back. The situation is obviously an unpredictable quagmire, but as it stands right now, Crowell is an upside FLEX for Week 12 against the Falcons.
Montee Ball’s return from his groin injury. One play. That’s how long it took Ball to re-injure the groin that held him out for five weeks. Now he’s staring at another extended absence, one that could quite possibly end his season. With Ronnie Hillman (foot) sidelined at least another 1-2 weeks. C.J. Anderson suddenly has free reign of the Broncos’ backfield, and a clear path to RB1/2 status despite Sunday’s disappointing effort in St. Louis.
Teddy Bridgewater putting something good on film against the Bears’ league-worst defense. Instead, Bridgewater bumbled his way to just 158 yards on 28 attempts (5.64 YPA), and got nothing going outside of checkdowns and dumpoffs. Bridgewater has now had one good start in six games, and has yet to tally multiple scores. That’s almost unfathomable for a quarterback in the year 2014, rookie or not. Bridgewater needs to show something down the stretch if he wants some breathing room heading into 2015.
Shane Vereen’s big night in a shootout. The yin to Jonas Gray’s yang was Vereen, who again had the rug pulled out from underneath him. Vereen handled the ball only five times, his lowest total of the season, and eight off the mark he had been managing on a weekly basis since Stevan Ridley was lost for the year. Vereen is going to remain involved as a pass catcher, of course, but dreams of game-to-game reliability are once again out the window. It just isn’t that simple in New England.
1. Guest question, from the incomparable Dick Vitale: “When is @JManziel2 going to get some snaps ?”
2. Really, NFC South?
3. Is there anything Bruce Arians can’t do?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Stats of the Week
The incomparable Aaron Rodgers has thrown 322 straight passes without an interception at Lambeau Field, the longest home streak in NFL history.
Lack of Awareness of the Week, from Robert Griffin III on his struggles: "Great quarterbacks, the Peytons, the Aaron Rodgers ... those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well.”
Quote of the Week, Rob Gronkowski on his vicious Sergio Brown block: "He was just yappin' at me the whole time. So I took him and threw him out of the club."
Justice of the Week, from @adamlevitan: Three straight goal-line plays for NYG. Three straight fades. Three straight incompletions. Then an Eli pick, fifth of the day.