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20/20 Hindsight - Week 11

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.”

What a crazy, ugly, and entertaining game last night. Trent Edwards played about as well as I did picking players for some of my weekly line ups. At least the one where I picked Edwards, I squeaked out a needed victory that should have been much easier.

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

Kevin Smith could be an effective starting runner: Many owners drafted Kevin Smith in the first half of their drafts upon FFToday’s recommendation that he would be a decent No. 2 fantasy RB. He’s had his share of doubters. In fact, many pronounced his season dead after “losing” the starting gig to Rudi Johnson and the Lions placing Jon Kitna on IR and trading Roy Williams to the Cowboys. But after week 11, Smith is the No. 18 fantasy RB, averaging 10.3 points per game.

Lesson Learned: This is a great example why you draft as many running backs (and receivers) as possible. From strictly a re-draft angle, Smith could be one of those guys with the potential to make fantasy owners ecstatic in the playoffs. His 112-yard output against a decent Carolina Panther run defense was a surprise to many. But since Rod Marinelli has decided to hand the reins to Smith, he’s averaged 23.5 carries for 104 yards and 25 yards receiving against the likes of the other two cats this Lion has faced (Panthers and Jaguars).

He’ll face three really tough run units to finish the month - Tampa, Tennessee, and Minnesota – but if I contend he’s a great player to have if you have back like Brandon Jacobs, Thomas Jones, or Willie Parker in the fold. These three runners are on teams that should be able to rest their players come weeks 15 and 16. Kevin Smith has become the gravy train and if he stays healthy through the gauntlet of teams I mentioned earlier, he’ll be rewarded with Indy and New Orleans in the final two weeks of the fantasy playoffs.

Smith is the guy I touted in the preseason as an instant impact player. I said he has the most upside of any runner this year and enough untapped potential to be a pro bowl runner if he continues to develop. This wasn’t the consensus view, but I think the most difficult thing to do when evaluating a player is to accurately see what a player is capable of doing, but hasn’t fully demonstrated in the immediate present. One of the things that impressed me about Smith at this time last year was that it was clear without interviewing him, seeing him practice, or talk to his teammates that this guy is a warrior and loves the game.

I saw this when he carried the load against some tough defenses like Texas or Mississippi State. He would take some hard shots, get banged up, but get back on the field and run just as hard. A lot of college stars aren’t used to getting hit hard and when they take punishment and don’t average their gaudy yards per carry, they lack the maturity and toughness to persist. It’s pretty common and somewhat expected. Smith on the other hand, would continue to grind it out.

So when Rudi Johnson “won” the job and Smith basically responded by working harder on his game and challenging him self, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I made a deal for Smith in a dynasty league to acquire him as my back up to Brandon Jacobs and Brian Westbrook. Unfortunately, I didn’t use him this week but the long term dividends have promise.

You have to be patient with players and you can’t write them off if they don’t being their pro careers looking like all stars. Otherwise, 60%-70% of you would probably have been run out of your respective careers by week five in your first office job upon graduation.

Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw would take the Ravens defense to the woodshed: Not I. In fact, I was ready to take ESPN’s NFL Countdown team to the woodshed for basing their prediction on an inaccurate argument. Tom Jackson told viewers on Sunday morning that the Giants would have an advantage because they were able to run against the Steelers’ No. 2 ranked run defense. When I checked the stats I saw that Jacobs and Ward combined for 84 yards on 31 carries, I could envision a similar effort against the Ravens and wagging my finger at the countdown crew. Instead, the Giants backfield did a much better job with 31 carries versus Baltimore’s unit, gaining 210 yards and 2 scores in a 20-point blowout.

Lesson Learned: Sometimes the message is right, but the messenger is wrong. The Giants put on a clinic at home against a terrific defense. They were more physical with Jacobs early. Then they were quicker with Ward and his slashing style. Finally, they finessed them with a great counter play where Ahmad Bradshaw gained 77 yards and nearly scored. This is one of those games that’s probably been on diagrammed by every former NFL lineman-turned-analyst that has a gig on a sports network channel.

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

Kerry Collins and Justin Gage could torch a defense with the deep ball: I still can’t believe what I just saw Sunday afternoon. Seriously, I haven’t seen Collins hit a player deep since he was throwing balls to Amani Toomer in New York. After that, he was one of the accomplices in the slow, torture-killing of the career of Randy Moss in Oakland. But Sunday afternoon, I’m in my office, with my feet propped up on my desk watching the game and I see Kerry Collins throw a 56-yard score to Justin Gage. I just had some warm soup so I thinking I must have been dreaming. The Titans were down 14-10 and Collins already threw a 13-yard score less than two minutes earlier.

But I was awake. In fact, I was doing some serious fist-pumping. What I wasn’t ready for was the 38-yard dagger with 4:05 left that put the game away. I thought I was having flashbacks of McNair flashing is frat symbol as he ran towards the end zone to congratulate his receiver. Instead, I’m watching Kerry Collins stick the fork in the Jaguars with 230 yards and 3 scores. And Justin Gage had stats like a real NFL primary receiver – 4 grabs 147 yards and 2 scores.

Lesson Learned: Don’t make the mistake of thinking Jeff Fisher is a conservative coach. He has an aggressive take on the game, but believes in building a franchise in the trenches which leads the casual observer to think the Titans are conservative. Dull sometimes? Oh yeah, but not conservative.

The plays Gage made this weekend are indicative of his strengths – out-running and out-jumping the competition on the perimeter of the offense. Because the Titans are known for making protracted drives and sticking to their game, the Jaguars were ripe for Tennessee to hit the big play. It’s the corollary to what we saw in New England last year: every team was expecting Randy Moss to by them and Tom Brady to throw it over them. Next thing you know, Wes Welker is nickel and diming them down the field for a long scoring drive that took as many minutes off the clock as Phil Simms/Jeff Hostetler, Ottis Anderson, and Mark Ingram did for the Giants of the 80s-90s.

Most teams possess enough self awareness to see how the opposition is game planning them. If they have the horses, they can counter it with plays like we saw on Sunday. The horses weren’t Gage or Collins. It was the offensive line. If Collins had this type of line in Oakland, we might still be talking about Randy the Raider. Of course, if they had this type of line in Oakland, I’d think wouldn’t be talking about Al Davis every other week.

That the Falcons-Broncos match up could have been billed the best game of the weekend: Think about what was happening with these two teams last year and you would have laughed with me if I mentioned that these two organizations would be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend, much less have winning records. The Broncos, despite using the backfield tandem of former Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis and Bowling Green runner P.J. Pope, were able to edge the up and coming Falcons 24-20 in Atlanta.

As good as the Falcons have played I find it incredible that they did not run the ball up the middle of the Broncos defense earlier in this game. Instead of attempting to pound the Broncos into submission, they tried to use Michael Turner on the edge of the defense. C’mon Atlanta, you have a bull in a china shop – we want to see some broken dishes! Instead, they tried to get too cute with all their pre-snap formation movement and by the time they got serious running the ball, Denver was ahead.

What we learned: Although Michael Turner had a good day, this should have been a great day. Sometimes a team can coach themselves out of a win. I think this week the Falcons did just that.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be going “Back to the Future” with their backfield: Jon Gruden told Anwar Richardson of the Tampa Tribune that he does not foresee RB Earnest Graham returning this season after sustaining an ankle injury. This means the remaining two backs on his roster are Warrick Dunn, who has shown he still has something left upon his return to Tampa after a six-year stay in Atlanta, and Carnell “Cadillac Williams” who had 1178 yards and six scores during his 2005 rookie campaign.

What we learned: Throw in Tatum Bell’s return to Denver and you see that even in the NFL where there’s an extremely short career span for the average RB that if you play long enough, what comes around truly does go around.

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

Start T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Speaking of coaching one’s self out of a win, I did just that this weekend when I decided the Eagles defense was a bigger challenge than the Rams and inserted Jason Hill in the place of T.J. Houshmandzadeh with the hope of some upside points. Instead, I had to shut down my Internet browser as I watched the Bengals’ go-to guy pile on the points with a sick feeling that my lead wasn’t good enough to maintain against my opponent and his corps, led by Anquan Boldin. I was right.

Lesson Learned: Good players have bad games. Good possession receivers shouldn’t be benched even if they have a backup QB slinging them the ball. Some ideas are only good on paper.

Donovan McNabb would be a lightning rod for controversy: Unless you’ve been on the space shuttle (like one of my high school classmates is right now) or you have a life (unlike most of us this time of year), you’ve already heard a dozen times about Donovan McNabb’s post game interview where he admitted he didn’t know regular season overtime games end in a tie if the 15:00 period ends without a score. Based on the reaction, you would have thought McNabb was the biggest idiot ever. When it comes to the talk show wonks that never strapped on a helmet in the NFL, I’m not surprised. But when Cris Carter said that he doesn’t believe for a minute that McNabb’s ignorance didn’t cost the Eagles the game, I got annoyed. Carter says McNabb would have played with a greater sense of urgency or done something different if he knew the game could end in a tie.

Cris Carter, you’re going to have to try a different way of making your argument because it didn’t fly. You’re telling me that McNabb would have tried harder to win? How? Would he have called some super secret play he drew up in the dirt with Brian Westbrook? Would have told the Philly receivers, who are among the league leaders in drops, that this time they really need to catch the football because it means the game if they don’t? Maybe Carter expected McNabb to press a button on his utility belt that would make the Eagles wings pop from his helmet and propel him over the Bengals defense for a long touchdown run. It sure seems like some Eagles fans and local talk radio hosts feel this way. It leaves me to wonder if they are on (or need) some mood-altering substances when they watch Eagles football. You have to be on something (or need something) to boo Santa Claus. You definitely have to be on something (or need something) to have booed McNabb when he was drafted because some of these fans (most) wanted Ricky Williams. I think there’s a common link here.

Before Cris Carter was known as a great receiver with Hall of Fame credentials – and equal part locker room legislator – he was kicked out of Philly because he had too great an affinity for the snow on the street. He was welcomed to Philly to start his career.

Come to think of it the first guy to really criticize McNabb to a national audience was Rush Limbaugh during his short-lived stint with ESPN’s NFL Countdown. Soon after they canned him, he checked into a drug treatment facility after getting arrested in an illegal prescription drug sting. I think Limbaugh said something to the effect that McNabb wasn’t really an elite QB and the NFL was propping him up because he’s black. All I know is that when McNabb was getting shot up with painkillers, he actually performed well in his job despite not having anyone to catch the ball consistently…

When he did get someone who could make big plays that player got jealous and began acting like an ass. From what I recall, that same ass was on the sideline nursing a bad leg while McNabb finally got the Eagles over the hump and into the Super Bowl. Sure, the ass played well in the Super Bowl, but he made up for his good behavior by the next summer. Wasn’t it a year or two later that this ass’ publicist had to correct a statement she made to 911 when her client swallowed too many mood-altering substances and say he had $20 million reasons to live?
Lesson Learned: McNabb was ignorant about this rule, but if you think it really impacted his effort in Sunday’s game stay off the drugs, turn off the TV/radio/Internet, and get a life.

Nagging Feelings—Week 12

I’m still slow to come around on rookie back Steve Slaton. He’s proven to be a more decisive runner than he was at West Virginia and I can’t bring myself to say “well if it weren’t for that 71-yard score, he’d have…” because he’d have “still a hell of a lot of yards.”

I have the feeling Marvin Harrison watches ESPN. Every time they predict his demise, he has a nice game. Keep talking ESPN; Harrison might go on a hot streak.

Tim Hightower has 24 carries for 57 yards and no scores since his 109-yard day versus the hapless Rams in week nine. The Cardinals have squeaked by in both these games. Maybe I gave the fantasy R.I.P. to Edgerrin James a bit too soon. Honestly, I hope so – it’s hard to believe James can’t do better than what Hightower is doing right now.

Not everything is wrong with ESPN’s NFL coverage – a lot is actually pretty good. Ron Jaworski was the best possible pick they could have made as their Monday Night Football analyst. I think I learn something new about the game every week because of him.

Who Is?

John Standeford (2 receptions, 48 yards) of the Lions: Standeford was the main target of Drew Brees at Purdue, and as you can imagine, he was the Big Ten as the conference’s all-time receptions and receiving yards leader when he left. He’s a tall, skinny guy with excellent hands and concentration. He’s bounced around a bit, never getting any real time – although he was with the Colts for their Super Bowl Season. This could be a bottom of the barrel excavation that Rod Marinelli is engaging, but it could also mean that Standeford showed him something that he liked enough to consider with his other options. We’ll see if Standeford remains on the Lions’ bill next week.

P.J. Pope (4 carries, 35 yards) of the Broncos: Pope was the runner for Bowling Green when Urban Meyer was the head coach. As you can imagine Pope was not featured prominently with in Meyer’s spread offense that had Omar Jacobs at the helm. Still he compiled decent career stats, showing a tough, straight ahead running style, decent hands, and good balance. Not extremely big, fast, or agile, Pope bounced from the Bears to the Packers, back to the Bears, and then to the Broncos. I don’t foresee a reason for anyone to consider this Pope for your roster.

Ken Darby (11 carries, 59 yards and 8 receptions for 83 yards in two games) of the Rams: I know, I know, I keep bringing up Ken Darby, but after 8 receptions for 83 yards and 11 carries for 59 yards in the past two games, don’t you think the Bucs wish they kept him on their practice squad (maybe not if you see who beat him out for the roster spot). Antonio Pittman looked sharp enough that he’ll keep starting job for as long as Steven Jackson is out. Nonetheless Darby continues to show he can play at this level and I think he’ll get a chance to back someone up as early as next year.

Clifton Smith (7 carries, 38 yards and 3 receptions for 15 yards in three games) of the Bucs: He’s a kick returner out of Fresno State- their MVP - and he’s a Warrick Dunn clone in dimensions: 5-8, 190-lbs. Gruden initially called him “Little Dunn.” He’s heavier, and he sure looked good against Georgia Tech – even without the editing. Gruden says they may look elsewhere for a back. Considering Dunn and a not quite ready for prime time Cadillac are options one and two, Smith will get some looks at least next week, but not enough to add him especially with three fumbles in as many weeks he’s played.