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20/20 Hindsight - Week 1

As we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted to learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday’s “Fantasy Football Confessional.”

Would've (From The Who Would Have Known File)

Matt Forte would be so effective: The rookie from Tulane had 23 carries for 123 yards and a score on the ground and three receptions for 18 yards through the air. He looked nothing like a rookie starting his first game against one of 2007’s top-five defensive units. Although the Colts were ranked third in total defense in 2007, they were ranked a very mediocre 15th against the run.

Lessons Learned: The Colts defensive unit has been vulnerable up the middle to a power running game and it hasn’t changed, which is one thing to take from this game as a fantasy owner looking for favorable match ups.

The other lesson is Matt Forte and the Bears offense. Here’s an excerpt of what I said about Forte in my rookie impact series this summer:

I saw quality skills from Forte against LSU that convinced me that Forte has NFL starter talent. Not only did the Tulane runner demonstrate the kind of vision, first step, and instincts he’ll need against pro defenses, but he also won the MVP award of the Senior Bowl. This is not to say top tier college talent is on the same level of pro talent, but when you watch a college back playing behind an offensive line that only had two lineman strong enough to bench press the weight that 80% of the LSU squad was capable of lift, you get the sense that Forte had to do more with less just to perform on par with more highly-touted backs.

I went on to say that I did not expect Forte to average more than 3.7-4.0 yards per carry this year. Although he sported a 5.3 yards per carry average in this game, remember what I said about the Colts rush defense. Some fantasy owners like to remove the big gainer from a runner’s average to see his production efficiency. In this case it would give Forte a 3.3 yard per carry average, about on par with the Bears ground game in 2007.

But I have a problem with that type of analysis, because it prevents you from honoring the skills of the runner. Forte looked a lot like the same runner I saw in the LSU game. John Madden noticed the same thing. He called it ‘sweet feet,’ the ability to make jump cuts or maneuver in traffic. Forte routinely turned potentially big losses into positive yardage against LSU because if his vision, quickness, and decisive use of his ‘sweet feet’.

I also liked the Bears offensive game plan. Kyle Orton was efficient and Ron Turner used his talented duo of tight ends to create match up problems in the passing game. The Bears passing game looked unproductive in the box score, but the play calling and schemes netted them seven first downs through the air and a total of 16 first downs in the game for an impressive 62% third down conversion rate.

The Bears won’t be able to do this every week on offense, but they executed their strategy to perfection against a defensive unit that does its best work when their offense puts them in a position to be the bully. Sunday night, the Bears defensive took advantage of Manning’s rust and the absence of Jeff Saturday by applying pressure up the middle against Saturday’s rookie replacement. I believe the outcome of the game would be dramatically different if they played again in week eight, but the Bears coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for the win.

Could've (From The Who Could Have Known File)

A career backup would set his new team’s franchise rushing mark … Michael ‘The Burner’ Turner toted the rock one less time than Matt Forte and gained 97 more yards (22 attempts, 220 yards, and two scores) and broke Gerald Riggs’ franchise, single game rushing record. Falcons’ fans, didn’t Turner look a little like Jamal Anderson to you with those gargantuan thighs, power, change of direction, and speed? He did to me.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Bobby Petrino is purely a college coach and was a poor match for the Falcons franchise. The demise of the running game in ’07 had little to do with Warrick Dunn and much to do with Petrino junking the blocking scheme for a strategy that didn’t match the physical gifts of his linemen. Although Turner is a bigger, younger, more powerful runner, Dunn would have been effective if the Falcons weren’t able to land LT’s long-time back up via free agency.

  2. Removing Rich McKay from the GM spot and replacing him with Thomas Dimitroff was the best move the Falcons organization made in the Arthur Blank era. I saw Arthur Blank speak a couple of weeks ago. He talked about his days at Home Depot, managing people, and the ups and downs as owner of the Falcons. What I got from his speaking appearance is that he is very good at learning from his mistakes.

    Blank and Bernard Marcus turned a home improvement business that H. Ross Perot’s advisor – one of the top men at Merrill Lynch at the time – dissuaded Perot from investing $2 million for 50% ownership, into a retail giant worth over $70 million. Blank and Marcus believed that the employee’s closest to the customer were the difference makers and they treated them as such. One of my former employers worked for Home Depot during the Blank-Marcus ownership era and he said there were store associates who were making more money than many middle managers made elsewhere. Store employees had Bernie Marcus walking them down the aisle at their weddings because they revered the leadership so much. Home Depot was never the same when this duo left.

    Blank brings a similar philosophy to the Falcons. The Rich McKay hire was the move of a good leader who needed an experienced NFL person to show him the lay of the land. The Dimitroff hire was the move of an owner who now understands the lay of the land and figured out how to incorporate his philosophy and leadership into a long term plan.

    As unfortunate as it was, I think the Vick conviction was probably the best thing that happened to this franchise in hindsight. The Falcons had talent, but couldn’t lure a high profile coach like Bill Cowher that fit their organization. I believe none of them wanted to be tied to Michael Vick. Vick was too talented to dump and not draw the ire of ownership and fans, but too erratic a passer and personality to want to tie your fortunes to him. The dog-fighting conviction allowed Blank to start from scratch. Dimitroff is young, but understands the game and how to shop for the groceries. Mike Smith is a great complement to Dimitroff. When an organization gets its act together from the top-down, the entire unit should improve quicker than expected. I don’t expect the Falcons to go .500, but they’ll be a lot closer than anyone would have thought.

  3. Matt Ryan deserves some credit: Sure, he’s a rookie and he’ll likely have some horrible outings at some point, but he played within himself and demonstrated good leadership. This wasn’t something that happened all of the sudden, either. He has behaved like a leader since he arrived in Atlanta. He may not fully understand the NFL game, but he understands how to act like the guy in charge on the field. This is something you can’t measure with a number, but is as important as a quarterback rating. Oh yeah, he’s also going to be a pretty good starter within a couple of seasons. He may not blossom into the next 4000-yard passer, but I think a 3300-yard guy with a 60%-65% completion percentage is likely.

  4. Exotic entrees are en vogue: Ever feast upon Lion? It may be illegal elsewhere, but not in the NFL. The run defense looked horrible before their best LB, Ernie Sims, was carted off the field. The Falcons only converted 33% of their third downs, but were able to average 7.6 yards per carry. Tim Tebow might have kept this game close for the Falcons with this running game and the Lions giving nature. With Boss Bailey and Shaun Rogers gone via free agency, and Ernie Sims and Paris Lenon getting nicked up, this could be a team that has difficulty stopping the run all year.

Should've (From The I Knew I Should’ve File)

Donovan McNabb would be dominant without an established receiver: Fully recovered from his ACL tear and a shoulder injury, Donovan McNabb was, in my opinion, the ultimate draft day bargain as an upper echelon player. It’s only week one and it was a Rams defense that hasn’t been good since Lovie Smith was the coordinator, but a 21-33 for 361 yards and 3-score performance without starting receivers is typically impressive McNabb.

Rookie wide out DeSean Jackson had 6 catches for 106 yards and looked more like the player the Eagles expected they would have when they drafted Freddie Mitchell at the beginning of McNabb’s career. It’s the reason I’m bemoaning the fact the FFToday Staff League waivers didn’t start last Thursday as I hoped. Jackson ran smooth routes, caught the ball well in traffic, and appeared to have a nice rapport with McNabb. If Jackson continues to play well, I’ll be mildly surprised if Kevin Curtis gets his job back. It would make more sense for the Eagles to relegate Curtis to the slot if Jackson continues to play well.

Lesson Learned: This is what McNabb fans expect when he’s healthy. His detractors will point out the Rams defense (as Dan Patrick or Keith Olbermann said last night) “was only a rumor,” and that the Philly signal caller is bound to get hurt by midseason. This may be true, but the lesson learned here is while many owners drafted Tom Brady a year late and way too early, most McNabb owners got him after round five and picked quality backs and receivers that balance out their squad.

While Tom Brady’s 50-score season was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence (as I’ve said all off-season, no QB has ever repeated a record-breaking touchdown season – or even a near, record-breaking season – or even come close due to slumping performance or injury), McNabb has produced among the best fantasy signal callers of his era without a superstar receiver for much of his career.

Marion Barber played well, but still got beat up: Barber was the same vicious runner we’ve grown to admire in the past few years, but he left the game in the 4th quarter with bruised ribs. Both Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett praised Barber for his ferocity but were critical of his running style because they don’t believe he’ll be able to last a season as the primary ball carrier if he doesn’t protect himself.

Lesson Learned: Smith and Dorsett were the two greatest runners in the history of the Cowboys franchise. If they tell the general public that Barber won’t last because he’s too reckless, I’m prone to believe them. At the same time Walter Payton played with this ferocity and he had a long career. So did Jim Brown. One thing we did learn is that Jerry Jones made a good move to draft Felix Jones and Tashard Choice to back up Barber.

Brodie Croyle wouldn’t make it through a game: Croyle reminds me of kid I knew in high school. He was the son of a famous local play-by-play broadcaster for a well-known professional sports franchise. He had some athletic talent for a kid in our high school.

I’m not talking about someone with real talent say, like my significant other, who still owns her high school’s 100 meter record with a time of 11.2 (that’s around a 4.43-4.48, 40-yard dash for you draftniks – she would have held her own against Forte, Stewart, Mendenhall, and several others drafted on the first day of the NFL draft) and was offered a full ride to FSU. In contrast, my high school’s marching band could give the football team a run for its money at least for three out of the four years we were there. You get the idea.

Back to this kid I’m talking about. He was rumored to be a good soccer player, but he broke his leg making a penalty kick in a soccer scrimmage – think Mike Nugent hurting himself on Sunday doing nothing. When he finally healed, he broke his arm doing dive rolls during Phys Ed. He was our high school’s Brodie Croyle. You’d see flashes of skills when he was healthy, but it was like Ground Hog Day, it only happened once a year. I think Croyle is born in February…

Lesson Learned: He got hurt at Alabama and he can’t stay healthy in Kansas City. He could be the next Kenny Stabler, but he’ll need Gene Upshaw and Art Shell (in other words, a miracle) to have a chance. Then again Chris Chandler had a long, albeit painful, career between visits to the emergency room.

Nagging Feelings—Week 2

It was a truly just a bold prediction – reasonable fluff I didn’t intend to take any credit of genius for getting right – but do you think my “Calvin Johnson will out-produce Randy Moss” prediction looks a little better this week?

Speaking of the Patriots, does Daunte Culpepper get a phone call from New England? Do the Pats work a trade with another team for a veteran? Could Vinny Testaverde or Doug Flutie get lured out of retirement? Flutie? I know I’m nuts, but why not? He knows the offense because he was just with them two years ago. My gut tells me they’ll stick with Cassel until they bring in a decent veteran via trade or free agency, but talk about a fun match up later this year against Favre, Flutie would have been entertaining.

It was a not a good week for the Jaguars. They lost guards Vince Manuwai to an MCL injury and Maurice Williams to a torn bicep. This was after reserve guard Richard Collier was shot by someone while he was sitting in his car outside an apartment complex while he and his buddy were waiting for some women they met at a nightclub. Before all this happened, they lost starting center Brad Meester for the first month of the season. The remaining healthy reserve guard entering the Tennessee contest is getting x-rays on his knee. The Titans may have lost their starting QB in the game for 2-4 weeks, but the Jags lost the game and potentially their season. If you’re at least 295 lbs and can move, the North Florida Pussy Cats are looking for you. So much for David Garrard being a lock as a value play in fantasy drafts this summer…

If you thought Indy, Detroit, and St. Louis had defenses that were hospitable to their opponents, here’s a few more that made dinner set the bath towels in the guest room:

  1. Cincinnati allowed 2nd year back, 6-0, 260-lb, Le’Ron McClain rumble for 86 yards on 19 carries. And if you saw Joe Flacco and his Lindsay Wagner imitation of the Bionic Woman for a 38-yard touchdown run, then you know the Bengals window of contention has slammed shut on Marvin Lewis’ hands.

  2. Cleveland’s secondary resembled the view from Elwood Blues’ efficiency overlooking the ‘L’ – every 30 seconds something was running past and making a lot of noise. It’s not all their fault, Tony Romo looked like was standing behind a line that was blocking junior college defenders. No pressure whatsoever.

  3. Houston’s improved defense? Big Ben went 13/14 for two scores and Fast Willie had his first three-touchdown game and 125 yards.

Another team in trouble is the Seattle Seahawks. They were already missing Deion Branch and Bobby Engram. Now Nate Burleson has a knee problem. Mo’ Morris had to leave the contest and before the game even began, Matt Hasselbeck was getting an epidural. Then there is the fact Mike Holmgren is a lame duck coach.

On paper, Buffalo should have won this game and they did so handily. I know some felt the Seahawks were better, but when your receiving corps is decimated and your QB is struggling to get on the field for the opener, and this component of your team is the strength of your offense, you’re in trouble. Buffalo has built a good defense and as long as Trent Edwards continues to develop (I’m telling you to the point of nagging, Trent Edwards is going to be a very good quarterback in this league), they could be a surprise contender in the AFC East – especially if Jacksonville and New England can’t get healthy at key positions.