Enter the Red Zone

It’s hard to believe, but the conclusion of Week 4 will put us one-quarter of the way through the 2009 NFL season.

Four weeks of fantasy football games is generally a pretty good indicator of what type of team you’re working with. While certain players and teams may be under- or over-performing due to a favorable September schedule, for the most part, the stats don’t lie.

With three games of hardcore statistics in the books, I’m introducing a new Friday feature today at the National Football Post called “Enter the Red Zone.”

What better way to kill off the work week than 20 quick hits of statistical breakdowns, start/sit recommendations, game predictions and more.

You are now entering the Red Zone…

From the 20: Watch out for the blitz in the Jets-Saints game

Sunday’s showdown in New Orleans features the NFL’s No. 1-ranked quarterback against the blitz, Drew Brees, against the No. 1 ranked blitzing defense, the New York Jets.

Brees has completed 9 of 11 passes against the blitz this season for 177 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. For the math impaired, the Pro Bowl quarterback is completing 81.8 percent of his passes and is posting a QB rating of 158.3 when opposing defenses bring the heat.

Meanwhile, when the Jets blitz, opposing quarterbacks do not respond well. The three QBs the Jets have blitzed this year have combined for a QB rating of 45.2 (worst in the NFL), been sacked twice and thrown two interceptions with no touchdowns. Clearly, Rex Ryan’s blitzing defense knows how to disrupt a quarterback’s rhythm.

So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’ll find out Sunday in the Big Easy. Look for Brees to try and counter the heavy pressure with pre-snap reads and three-step drops.

From the 19: Notes from the Week 3 Target Report

It’s no surprise that the Patriots’ Randy Moss (40) and the Panthers’ Steve Smith (35) are the two most targeted receivers in the NFL. But did you expect to see these names in the top ten: Nate Burleson (33, third), Brent Celek (27, ninth) and Ted Ginn (27, ninth)?

Keep in mind that the Seahawks have three different players who rank in the top 15 in targets (tight end John Carlson is 14th, with 26 targets).

And before you go snatching up Ginn, be advised: The Dolphins wideout may rank ninth in targets, but he ranks just 38th in receptions, with 13.

From the 18: Big-play quarterbacks

Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers lead the league in completions of 25 or more yards, with nine. But Denver Broncos signal-caller Kyle Orton is currently sitting 4th, with seven.

What’s even more surprising? The high-powered offense known as the Arizona Cardinals may not be as explosive as we think. Quarterback Kurt Warner ranks 22nd in completions of 25-plus yards, with three.

He’s just one spot ahead of Marc Bulger (2).

From the 17: Pick ‘em No. 1

NEW YORK GIANTS (-9) at Kansas City Chiefs

My motto? Go against bad football teams.

The Chiefs are giving up 28.3 points per game in 2009, rank 19th against the rush (119.3 yards/game) and welcome a very sound and physical New York Giants team to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Expect a big day from Brandon Jacobs.

From the 16: Did you know…

That “stuffs” is an official stat for running backs? A stuff occurs when a RB is stopped for a loss in the backfield by the opposing defense.

Tennessee Titans dynamo Chris Johnson leads the league in stuffs, with 13 on just 53 total attempts.

Despite having 24.5 percent of his carries result in no gain, Johnson still ranks second among running backs in fantasy scoring, with 60 points (standard scoring format).

On the flip side, New York Jets running back Leon Washington has only been stuffed twice in 41 rushing attempts.

From the 15: Speaking of running backs…

Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts and Knowshon Moreno of the Denver Broncos are currently tied for the lead in fantasy points among rookie running backs, with 25.

Arizona Cardinals rookie rusher Chris “Beanie” Wells has only seven fantasy points and has carried the ball just one time in the fourth quarter this season.

From the 14: That was quick

The San Francisco 49ers lead the league in three-and-out drives in 2009.

The 49ers have had the ball 39 times in three games and have gone three and out 18 times (46.2 percent).

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys have gone three and out just four times in 33 offensive series (12.1 percent).

From the 13: Matt Bowen fun fact

Through three games, the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints are tied for the league lead in interceptions, with seven. The Packers rank eighth among fantasy defenses (standard scoring) and the Saints are fourth.

The seven interceptions that both teams have racked up are already three more than NFP analyst and former NFL safety Matt Bowen had in his seven-year career (four). However, he does claim to have picked off New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady once.

From the 12: Start ‘Em

Shaun Hill Quarterback San Francisco 49ers

Hill and the 49ers host the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, proud owners of the league’s 25th-ranked passing defense (255.3 yards per game). In addition, the Rams are giving up an average of 24.3 points per game (26th).

In two starts against the Rams last season, Hill threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns both times. Not surprisingly, the 49ers won both games.

From the 11: A blast from the past

Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee leads the league in rushing attempts inside the red zone. McGahee has carried the ball inside the 20 on 15 occasions this season, scoring five touchdowns. For those math wizards out there, yes, you are correct. McGahee is scoring a rushing touchdown one out of every three times he carries the ball in the red zone.

McGahee is currently ranked third among fantasy running backs in scoring, with 56 points. He trails only Adrian Peterson (62 points) and Chris Johnson (60 points).

From the 10: Nate-Dogg and D-Mase

They may not be flashy, but Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson and Baltimore Ravens wideout Derrick Mason are two guys you should watch on first downs this Sunday.

Burleson and Mason are tied for the NFL lead in receptions on first down, with 10. Burleson has been targeted 14 times on first down (second in NFL), while Mason has been targeted 13 times (fourth).

Both receivers currently rank in the top 25 in fantasy scoring among wideouts.

From the 9: Sit ‘Em

Steven Jackson Running Back St. Louis Rams

We like to roll the dice here on Fridays (as you saw above with the Shaun Hill start recommendation), so it’s time to keep the train moving and tell you to put S-Jax on the bench this Sunday.

In seven career games against the 49ers, Jackson has only scored three touchdowns and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.

While the Rams running back is averaging a respectable 81.8 yards per game on the ground against San Fran, keep in mind that in four of those seven games he failed to eclipse 65 yards rushing.

He’s not a terrible start for Week 4, but I wouldn’t expect a big game against Mike Singletary’s defense.

From the 8: Start thinking about…

Jamaal Charles Running Back Kansas City Chiefs

How much longer is Chiefs head coach Todd Haley going to keep aging running back Larry Johnson in the star ting lineup?

The soon-to-be 30-year-old rusher is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry and has yet to score a touchdown or bust a run longer than 14 yards.

L.J. is currently ranked 45th in scoring among fantasy running backs, just ahead of Jason Snelling (Atlanta) and right behind Heath Evans (New Orleans).

From the 7: Did you know…

That “burned defenders” is an actual statistical category?

Congratulations to Tennessee Titans cornerback Nick Harper, who’s been burned 27 times this season, leading all defenders.

From the 6: Look out!

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sacked more times (12) than any other quarterback this season.

That’s not a good sign heading into Monday night, when Rodgers and the Pack visit a Vikings defense that ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks (six). Expect Rodgers to be running for his life for the better part of Monday evening.

From the 5: Don’t jump on the train just yet

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is currently ranked third in fantasy scoring among tight ends with 28 points, due in large part to his Week 3 performance against the Vikings in which he caught seven passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns.

<strong>Keep in mind: Outside of last Sunday’s showing, Davis has appeared in 42 NFL games. He’s only topped 75 receiving yards three times while scoring just nine touchdowns (that’s one TD every 4.6 games).

Unless the Niners continue to play Cover 2 defenses that are willing to get burned by the tight end position like Minnesota was, expect Davis’ numbers to come back down to earth.

From the 4: How the Raiders upset the Texans

Run, run, run.

Houston ranks 32nd in the NFL in run defense and is the only team in the league allowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground (205.0).

Thomas Jones, Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew have already had a shot against this unit with ridiculous results. All three rushers topped 100 yards and found the end zone against the Texans.

If Oakland keeps the ball on the ground and out of quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s hands, they’ll be able to control the clock and keep the Houston offense off the field.

Sounds simple, right?

From the 3: Why don’t you throw him more passes?

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess leads the NFL in “overall reception percentage.”

Bess has caught 17 of the 19 targets he has seen for a league-leading 89.5 percent (minimum 15 receptions).

From the 2: Injuries to watch

Marion Barber (quadriceps), Kevin Smith (shoulder), Cedric Benson (knee), Jamal Lewis (hamstring), Felix Jones (knee), Dwayne Bowe (hamstring), Wes Welker (knee), Lance Moore (hamstring), Mike Bell (knee), Ahmad Bradshaw (knee), Willie Parker (turf toe), LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle), Frank Gore (ankle, foot), Matt Hasselbeck (ribs), Antonio Bryant (knee), Derrick Ward (knee), LenDale White (illness) and Clinton Portis (calf).

Stay tuned.

From the 1: Let’s cash in

CINCINNATI BENGALS (-6) at Cleveland Browns

This game will probably be closer than most people think, but I’m still going with the Bengals.

Why? Cleveland ranks dead last in total offense (218.0 yards, 9.7 points per game) and 30th in total defense (412.7 yards, 31.7 points per game).

That’s all I needed to see. Have a great weekend.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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