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20/20 Hindsight - Week 10

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)

Ray Rice would get Willis McGahee healthy: McGahee had 112 yards and 2 scores against the Texans Sunday, just after Chris Mortensen and the rest of the non-McGahee-starting world thought Ray Rice would get the majority of the carries.

Lesson Learned:: We should have expected McGahee to get healthy quickly. It’s just human nature to step up your work when the threat of losing your job looms close. Just look at L.J. Smith getting back on the field after Brent Celek had his huge day for the Eagles. The Texans are mediocre versus the run at best, so it’s no surprise someone would get be productive on the ground for the Ravens. Just remember that McGahee didn’t have a gain over 12 yards in this contest and the competition head isn’t going to be far stingier (Can you tell I’ve been down on McGahee since training camp?). I just believe McGahee is a slightly above average NFL runner and I expect the Ravens to part ways with him by June of 2009. Meanwhile, McGahee will continue to use his experience to hold off Rice.

The Titans runners would gain a combined 20 yards on the ground and still win: That’s right ladies and gents, Lendale White and Chris Johnson had 22 yards and Kerry Collins and Ahmard Hall had a total of –2 yards against the Chicago Bears, but they still managed to score 21 points and win by seven at Soldier Field.

Lesson Learned: The Titans offense is an excellent unit when it comes to converting long drives. This is not a quick-strike offense unless Smash or Dash breaks a long one. As a result, most of the passing is done within 5-15 yards from the line of scrimmage. Although they only had two drives of more than 5 plays (including an 11-yard drive in the third quarter resulting in the game-winning TD), Tennessee had seven drives of 6 plays or more against Green Bay and drives of 11, 14, and 13 plays respectively against Indianapolis the week before.

In order to move the changes this consistently, you have to be a disciplined football team that is composed, has good rapport with each other, makes good decisions, and has few penalties. It may be flashier to hit the big gainer, but it’s far more impressive to sustain drives – it may not show up as domination on the scoreboard, but it has for the Titans in the win column.

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

A rookie TE would outscore the rest of Brett Favre and Marc Bulger’s receivers: Dustin Keller out-gained the sum of the entire Jets receiving corps this weekend with 6 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in route to a 47-3 victory over the Rams.

Lesson Learned: We learned that the book on Keller was right: he’s fast, he has good hands, he can adjust to the football, and get yardage after the catch much like a running back. What he needs to continue to do is apply better form at route running, learn the complexities of the pro passing game, and becoming a better in-line blocker when necessary. Keller had a good start to the season, but then slumped a bit in October. If he can build on this performance down the stretch, he could be on track to become a star TE as soon as 2009.

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

Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t resist holding onto the ball: I talked about this last week. Roethlisberger is hurting his team because he tried too hard to extend every play. It appeared he learned his lesson early in Sunday’s game. He was hitting Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes with a quick-strike passing game. The turning point was actually a terrific play on a flea flicker where Roethlisberger avoided the rush to hit Ward downfield.

Lesson Learned: Although this was a great play, Roethlisberger behaved like a shark smelling blood in the water, because from that point forward, Big Ben went into a frenzy of extending the play against a heavy rush. He could no longer resist holding onto the ball and stopped getting rid of the ball as quickly. The Colts defense also gets credit for clamping down on the shorter passes which also resulted in a couple of sacks, three picks, and a sputtering offense. Still, Pittsburgh nearly pulled it off on the last play drive of the game. Roethlisberger has elite player skills and guts, but his inability to make the necessary adjustment (and getting punished regularly) keeps him from joining the ranks of the best in the game.

Never to listen to talk show sports personalities: Tony Kornheiser was on Monday Night Football expressing surprise about the 49ers winning at halftime. He said they didn’t think they had enough talent. This is the same team that selected David Baas, Justin Smiley, Jason Hill, Josh Morgan, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, and Frank Gore in the draft and added Isaac Bruce, Michael Lewis, Nate Clements, and Takeo Spikes through free agency. The problem isn’t talent; the problem has been lack of strong leadership to mold these players into winners.

Lessons Learned: First, Tony Kornheiser may be on Monday Night Football as an announcer, but it doesn’t mean he knows any more about football than Dennis Miller or you and me. In fact, with all the time spent talking about every imaginable sports issue that pops up each day, Kornheiser probably knows less about football than fans that watch multiple games per week. He simply doesn’t have the time. His views are interesting, but his knowledge of the game isn’t something to count on.

Secondly, the Niners do have talent. When you consider the parity in the NFL the gap in talent between a bad team and a good team is much smaller than it is at any other level in football. Jason Hill has enough skill to become the next Isaac Bruce. Patrick Willis could be the next Ray Lewis. Frank Gore, the next Emmitt Smith. When Mike Singletary says he sees great things from these players, it’s more than a motivational ploy. He understands the difference between a winner and a loser in the NFL is more about the attitude than it is about the physical skill.

Nagging Feelings—Week 10

When you hear Drew Brees throws for 422 yards, you normally think the Saints won. But three interceptions – two in the end zone – demonstrate that there’s not a great deal of rapport with this receiving corps. Look at the revolving door of players that have seen significant time in games this year: Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, David Patten, Lance Moore, Billy Miller, and Jeremy Shockey. Throw in the fact that Reggie Bush would qualify as a receiver that has missed time in this offense – a receiver with a significant number of important offensive packages that they cannot find a substitute player – you realize that Brees and his offense has lacked rapport. It’s going to show up in those tight spaces inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

The Lions signed Daunte Culpepper to a 2-year deal this week and the former Viking-Raider-Dolphin-retiree threw for a coin flip percentage (5/10 for 104 yards and a pick), getting 88 percent of his production from two throws to Calvin Johnson. The one good thing about Culpepper was that he has played enough to recognize decent single coverage opportunities despite not being familiar with the Lions offense. This is probably why they went after him rather than give Drew Stanton a chance. More on that in a moment…

But back to Johnson, he is one of two players that could produce with a better team surrounding them. It’s astonishing that Johnson is the top fantasy receiver heading into this week despite production alternating between two and four catches from weeks three through eight. Kevin Smith is another player getting better every week. He had 96 yards on 23 carries but also had two big plays – a 27-yard reception and a 32-yard gainer on the ground, imagine if the Lions actually had linemen on both sides of the ball.

One thing is for sure, the Drew Stanton show was something the Lions were desperately hoping to avoid putting on air. Stanton, a Michigan State product, is a nice-looking athlete, but I can personally tell you that his ability to read defenses, make good decisions under pressure (see the dump off he made to a TE on a 4th and 34 play during Sunday), and keep his body out of harm’s way. This was as puzzling of a pick the Matt Millen regime had made during his tenure. But with Culpepper already hurt, it appears they may have to allow Ruprecht a seat at the table. I have a nagging feeling NFL Films will be able to do a Football Follies Special on Stanton alone.

Former Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebel, BenJarvus Green-Ellis-Hatfield-McCoy-Junkman’s-Daughter’s-Brother’s-Goldfish, ran up the gut of the Bills defense with 105 yards and a score. Throw in another gut shot from Matt Cassel and that was basically the ball game. When the multi-moniker running back wasn’t moving the chains for New England, Wes Welker took over with a typical 10-grab for 107-yard game. It looks like New England has a great shot to at least earn a wild card spot. I think this team will be a first-round playoff loser, but they deserve credit for hanging tough after losing one of the best players in the league in week one.

Miami continued to be the most unlikely contender of 2008 and the Wildcat formation helped them out again. This time, Ricky Williams had one of the highlights of the day – a 51-yard run up the gut. I only wish Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were pieces of turf under Williams’ feet, so I didn’t have to hear another pot joke. Both of then sound as if NBC strong-armed them into reuniting to do sports highlights because they sound bored with it. Based on NBC’s track record with David Letterman and Howard Stern, I wouldn’t be surprised.

In a related matter, it would make my year if someone would spike Bob Costas’ Dr. Brown’s soda with some LSD. He would be infinitely more bearable to watch. Maybe Dr. Brown’s will actually pay Costas not to plug their product. Chris Berman’s act has gotten old, but at least he’s not stiff. Other than Collinsworth, Bettis, and Barber, the rest of the team looks stiff. They are the Lions of NFL wrap-up shows.