By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
Read full column on Ohio.com
This is a good week to pay attention to the Dallas Cowboys. Why?
Well, we’re fresh off Greg Hardy’s latest outburst, with this one coming on the field, and we’re also a week away from seeing a much different look for the Cowboys on offense.
Dez Bryant is closer to playing (maybe this Sunday!), and Tony Romo is expected back in Cowboys practice next week. If you were one of those dedicated, loyal, ride-or-cut-once-he-hits-IR people like myself, you probably are itching to move Bryant from your bench to your starting lineup. Same goes for Romo.
Patience, my friends. The time is near.
Also, I bet you’re glad you listened to me about the Dolphins this week. Yes? I thought so.
Let’s get a hot streak going. Follow my picks for more success. Or don’t, and risk failure — and loneliness.
Chris Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals
In this week’s edition of “Play This Running Back Against the Browns,” our guest will be Cardinals running back Chris Johnson, who is in the midst of a career renaissance.
How drastic is his rejuvenation? Johnson has gone from being an irrelevant runner in the New York Jets’ offense, to currently ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards. He finished 2014 with 663 yards. He was without a team until the middle of the 2015 preseason. He now has 567 yards (5.1 yards per carry) through seven games this season.
The man once known as CJ2K (for topping 2,000 yards in 2009) is one of the NFL’s best redemption stories this season. He strolls into Cleveland this week to face the worst rushing defense in the NFL, a team that gets gashed by both breakout rookie stars like Todd Gurley, and the less-prestigious Dexter McCluster.
It’s about as sure a bet as you’re going to get.
Martellus Bennett, tight end, Chicago Bears
Martellus Bennett owes me $15.
About four years ago, Bennett had this little clothing line. They sold T-shirts and the like with hip patterns printed on them for fairly cheap. I bought a shirt, and after a month of waiting for it to arrive, I returned to the site, only to find it had been shut down. The Twitter account for the line was essentially unresponsive. I was cheated out of $15.
Despite this unfortunate moment in history, I still like Bennett as an option for your starting lineup this week. He’s failed to produce anything notable for the past couple of weeks, but much like the Oakland Raiders struggle with tight ends, the Minnesota Vikings also have problems with the position that made an ex-girlfriend of mine laugh every time she heard it. The Vikings have allowed opposing tight ends to score a combined 26 points in the past two weeks, including two weeks of 100-plus receiving yards.
The Vikings were a boost last week for Eric Ebron, who was coming off injury and ineptitude to start the season, so much that I cut him weeks ago. You can guess who was kicking himself after reading the box score last week, much like I was kicking myself as the days passed and my T-shirt from Rockit Dope Clothing never arrived.
Alshon Jeffery’s return might hinder Bennett’s production a bit this week, but Bennett is still a pretty good bet to post about 10 points. Just don’t invest in his future startups.
Jonathan Stewart, running back, Carolina Panthers
I often make light of how bad the Browns are against the run. They’re atrocious. It hurts my eyes, and yet I ritualistically return for more punishment.
But if there was a little brother to the Browns’ run defense — a less-imposing, less damaging (to the soul), but physically similar counterpart — it would be the Indianapolis Colts’ run defense. The unit allowed 38 fantasy points to the New Orleans Saints last week, 25 to the pass-happy New England Patriots the week prior, and 15 to the Houston Texans, who might have the worst assortment of players in the NFL.
The Panthers are nowhere near the worst. In fact, the Panthers are perched atop their division at 6-0. They’re also in the top five in total rushing, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt and are tied for seventh-most rushing touchdowns in the league with seven.
With the offseason departure of DeAngelo Williams, the weight of the Panthers’ carries falls on the shoulders of Stewart, with Mike Tolbert playing goal-line vulture. Stewart’s gotten off to a slow start, but that’s due in part to the excellence of dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton. Stewart’s production has seen an uptick in the past few weeks, and is poised for his first 100-yard game this week against the Colts.
If it comes down to Stewart or a recent waiver wire addition (Duke Johnson, for example) at the RB2 slot, choose Stewart.
Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders
Attention: Week 8 is not a good matchup for any Raider on the offensive side of the ball.
This could be Cooper, quarterback David Carr, or running back Latavius Murray. None of them look like good starts against one of the NFL’s premier defenses in the New York Jets. We clear? Good.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to take the next paragraph to gush over Cooper.
The rookie out of Alabama has been everything we all expected, and then some. He had his career-best game against the Browns (predictable), but a week prior also posted 109 yards and a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens. He’s made big play after big play, be it a bubble screen romp for six, or an unbelievable grab on a jump ball (both happened against the San Diego Chargers). He’s a young playmaker, or if you’re Brandon Marshall, “he’s a stud muffin.”
This guy, paired with Derek Carr, is going to be a bonafide superstar. Just not this week.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
A knee injury will keep Mariota from playing Sunday. You didn’t need me to tell you this, but I’m glad we’ve become acquainted. Would you like some coffee? It’s pumpkin-flavored.
But since a good third of my tweets received on Sundays revolve around Mariota or Drew Brees (you know who you are out there, you with the obscure Twitter handle and egg avatar), I’m printing this now so that you’ll either A) read and think back to your lineup before realizing you already made that lineup change for the week, or B) rush to your nearest device to bench Mariota before 1 p.m.
If you’re skimming, DON’T PLAY MARCUS MARIOTA.
Follow Nick Shook on Twitter at @TheNickShook or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.