If your normally reliable fantasy football stars are struggling, you can probably blame somebody who wasn't on any preseason draft board: linemen.
The early season failures of this normally anonymous bunch are getting the notice of fantasy geeks everywhere, especially owners of Aaron Rodgers. He's been sacked an NFL-worst 10 times and hit a bunch more. Kurt Warner was flawless against the terrible Jags, but the week before his line couldn't stop anybody. Numerous others have looked far from comfy in the pocket.
It's not just quarterbacks who've been regularly confronted by unblocked defenders. First-round picks Steve Slaton (51 yards, 2.0 yards per carry) and Matt Forte (84 yards, 2.2 yards a carry) haven't sniffed the end zone. Willie Parker has 66 yards while tiptoeing for 2.4 yards per carry. Kevin Smith was decent last week, bringing his average up to 2.6 yards a pop.
The good news is, this surely can't last. After all, many struggling lines are the same ones that did well last year and their coaches should adjust. By now coaches are figuring out which 350-pounders need more help or need benching, so it seems safe to assume most of them will fix the problems.
As you wonder how much longer Rodgers can remain upright, here are some players to start and some to avoid in Week 3:
TAKE A SHOT:
_Fortunately for Rodgers, he faces a Rams defense that doesn't require much blocking. He's only played three career dome games, going for 3 touchdowns in two of them.
_Start both guys in the Monday Night Redemption Bowl. Dallas' Tony Romo should bounce back from his disaster against a bad Carolina team. Jake Delhomme is still embarrassed by his opening-day turnover binge, and Dallas' defense doesn't force turnovers or sack anybody.
_While the Saints have been piling up the points, they've also allowed an average of 288 yards passing to the likes of Matthew Stafford and Kevin Kolb. Look for Buffalo's Trent Edwards to continue the trend during his futile comeback effort.
_The Jets' Mark Sanchez only needs two weeks of experience to shred the Titans. Tennessee is great at stopping the run, but is the league's worst team against the pass (339 yards a game and 5 scores).
BACK AWAY SLOWLY AND NOBODY GETS HURT:
Please, in the name of Romo's aim, don't start these guys:
_Don't expect passing stats in the Caretaker Bowl, where Minnesota's Brett Favre and San Francisco's Shaun Hill will occasionally break from handoff duty to attempt short passes.
_Steer clear of whoever starts for Seattle. If Matt Hasselbeck starts against the Bears despite a rib injury, he may not finish. And when Hasselbeck doesn't start, the whole team seems to lose all football ability.
_Cincinnati's Carson Palmer is coming off his first 3-score game since 2007, but don't look for two in a row against the Steelers. He has one total TD in his last two games against Pittsburgh.
ALL DAY LONG:
_Overthinker Alert: You're truly not smart if you're considering benching the 49ers' Frank Gore against the Vikings. Sure, Minnesota's run defense is always frightening, but a guy coming off a 200-yard game should never sit.
_Now that the Giants have proven they can pick apart defenses stacked to stop the run, it seems a good time to unleash the so-far unimpressive Brandon Jacobs. He faces a Bucs run defense that offers little resistance.
_It seems safe to plug Denver's Knowshon Moreno into the lineup now that the rookie is warming up. He had 17 carries last week, and the Broncos continue to benefit from the greatest early schedule ever (Bengals, Browns and now Raiders).
_Seems you can't go wrong with Arizona's Tim Hightower. If the Colts can't stop the run again, he'll rack up the numbers. If the game's a shootout, he'll rack up a ton of catches again.
_Cedric Benson has emerged as a solid producer in Cincinnati, but should look more like the old Benson against a Pittsburgh defense that has so far stuffed Matt Forte and Chris Johnson.
_It might be time to rest whoever's starting for the Chargers, if for no other reason than the ridiculous run call on fourth-and-2 last week. The Chargers line is still injured and Miami is holding teams to 64.5 yards rushing a game.
_In other injury news, be prepared to bench any Saints back other than Reggie Bush. Mike Bell's hurt and may not be able to play, and Pierre Thomas is trying to come back from injury and may not be able to play.
THROW HIM THE DARN BALL:
_Surely the Redskins' offense will come alive against the terrible Lions, right? Oh, wait, that was supposed to happen last week against the Rams. Santana Moss, who has an awesome 41-yard season going so far, had 140 yards and a TD in Detroit last year.
_Go with the Giants' fantasy free-agent sensations Mario Manningham and Steve Smith. The Bucs are bad enough in every defensive area to invite the run and the pass, and they're good enough on offense to make the Giants do both.
_Mike Sims-Walker's big game last week gives the Jaguars yet another hyphenated weapon against a Houston defense that didn't think it was a good idea last week to cover Chris Johnson.
_Whoever Julian Edelman is, start him if Wes Welker's out again for the Patriots. He had nine catches last week, and the game against the Falcons should be a shootout.
SHOW HIM THE DARN BENCH:
_T.J. Houshmandzadeh is still looking for his first TD with Seattle. Problem is, so is everybody else – every time he's been targeted in the end zone, two or three defenders are with him.
_The 11-catch game for Miami's Ted Ginn Jr. sure seems fluky. That's the same number of catches he had in the previous five games combined.
_Last week we figured Earl Bennett was the Bears' main receiver. Now it may be some guy named Johnny Knox. Steer clear of all Bears WRs until the picture clears up.
FREE AGENT SHOPPING LIST: WR Mario Manningham (10 catches, 150 yards, TD), WR Steve Smith (10 catches, 134 yards, TD), QB Byron Leftwich (3 TDs), QB Trent Edwards (2 TDs), RB Tashard Choice (Marion Barber hurting), WR Mike Sims-Walker (106 yards, TD), QB Kevin Kolb (391 yards, 2 TDs), TE Brent Celek (104 yards), WR Jason Avant (79 yards, TD), WR Julian Edelman (98 yards), WR Johnny Knox (70 yards, TD).
WHAT DO I KNOW?
Big Hits: I expected success from Eli Manning (330 yards, 2 TDs), Brett Favre (2 TDs), Joe Flacco (2 TDs), Donald Driver (99 yards, TD), Fred Jackson (188 total yards), Chad Ochocinco (91 yards, TD) and Tim Hightower (TD).
Big Misses: I was too quick to bury Jake Delhomme (308 yards, TD), Kurt Warner (2 TDs, near perfection) and Jay Cutler (2 TDs). I expected Brandon Marshall (34 yards) to at least outperform Brandon Stokley. I thought Steve Slaton (34 yards) would break out of his slump.