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20/20 Hindsight - Week 2

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)

Isaac Bruce would return to form: What do you call 4 catches for 153 yards after a non-existent week one? A statement that screams, I never left football geeks, I was just a bit rusty. Bruce averaged 38 yards per catch Sunday against a Seahawks defense that most thought would make the Niners receiver’s day more miserable than the Cardinals the week before. It’s too bad I sat him for Mushin Muhammad and Joey Galloway in two of the three leagues I could start him, because I had a feeling I needed to give him another week.

Lesson Learned: When a QB tells you to watch the film, listen. After week one’s loss, Niners QB J.T. O’Sullivan explained Isaac Bruce’s conspicuous absence from the box score as an issue with pass protection. O’Sullivan said he had Bruce open for a 20-yard score, but he was blindsided as he was about to release the ball.

Mike Martz labeled Bruce’s first week woes a product of rust due to limited play in the preseason. I’m not sure why people would doubt Martz on this matter. You don’t bring in Bruce as a free agent and not expect him to be a productive starter coming off 694-yard effort despite his starting QB getting hurt. Remember, Bruce had a 1000-yard season in 2006 – the expected drop off has been anticipated too early. Generally a receiver’s skill begins to decline after a major injury. Bruce has suffered minor injuries throughout his career, but there hasn’t been a documented history of joint deterioration in the knees or ankles.

Although I don’t expect Bruce to continue averaging 38 yards per catch, I do believe those who wrote off the Reverend Ike in the preseason would gladly have him as a number-three or number-four receiver in most weeks.

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

Philly-Dallas Part I - DeSean Jackson would both thrill and generate the ire of fantasy owners around the country: With the amount of people playing fantasy football in the country, I’m surprised we didn’t hear a cacophonous din of epithets from Jackson owners as their rookie wunderkind with an overdose of arrogance, tossed away the football just a yard short of the end zone. Maybe it was because they were in the middle of choking down the rest of that celebratory scream that turned that suddenly didn’t taste so good. Because I have Jackson in a contest league I normally would have been one of them, but my opponent in another league has Jackson and the rookie tossed away six points for him in a game close enough that it would have made a difference.

Lesson Learned: Don’t worry DeSean, you may have a reputation for being too stuck on yourself, but Plaxico Burress is among the other successful players who pulled similar stunts as rookies. Just remember, Donovan McNabb is a big straw that stirs your drink. Another problem is that classic story Mike Tirico told last night of Jackson doing a premature swan dive at the five-yard line and landing a yard short of the end zone in a high school game. The stunt not only cost him a score, but it earned his team an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I guess some lessons are more difficult to learn.

Jay Cutler would get a gift on the winning drive and then earn it a couple of plays later… What a roller coaster of a ball game in Denver. The Broncos QB starts the game on fire, throwing for three, first-half scores and nearly 300 yards. But until the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, he was missing in action. In fact, he gave away the game twice. The first time was an interception in the red zone on a ball he really shouldn’t have thrown. This resulted in a Darren Sproles touchdown off a swing pass where he looked like was back at Kansas State.

The second time he gave away the game, the officials gave it back without the Chargers permission. The call on the field was an incomplete pass, but the replay clearly showed Cutler fumbled away the football. But because Ed Hochuli blew the whistle, the rules state the play was dead and could not be reviewed. Two plays later, Cutler squeezes a 4th down pass into rookie Eddie Royal’s mitts on a crossing route behind the linebacker. And in a mind-blowing follow up, The Broncos go for the win right there and do with the same play!

Lesson Learned: If you don’t watch Broncos games lately (which you will next year when the networks decided to go overboard on what will likely be Cutler-mania in 2009), you should have learned two things:

  1. Shanny will take risks – this is not a risk adverse coach. Especially when he has a quarterback he believes in. Remember, he’s been waiting over a decade to replace John Elway. It’s why he rode Jake Plummer, a big-time risk taker, to the AFC Championship Game. Cutler is that guy with Elway-like capabilities. You don’t jump several spots in the rookie draft to grab him if you don’t. In Cutler, Shanny finally has that player who has shown the athleticism and daring to make the game changing play and the acumen to play consistently.

  2. Shanny will run the same play consecutive times – NFL Films documented the head coach’s propensity to run the same play multiple times in a row until a defense proves they can stop it. When I saw him giving Cutler the peace sign, I wish I could have been called someone to bet it would be the same play. Technically, Royal ran a short hitch and then went across the end zone on a cross, catching the ball past double coverage and still holding on after a big hit.

There are a few other lesson worthy points. One is that Eddie Royal is for real. Coaches don’t call a player’s number in the fourth quarter unless they trust him. Brandon Marshall may have broken the single game reception record, but Cutler and Shanny targeted Royal for the game winner – not veterans Darrell Jackson or Brandon Stokley – but the Hokie rookie who lead the league in receiving yards in week one.

I had a reader e-mail me a week before the season with a ‘you didn’t list Royal – Oops!’ comment after reading my Impact Rookie Receivers article. He’s right, I missed Royal for this year. I was just too cautious to mention him because I didn’t see enough games to confidently list my opinion on him outside of what was in my book. What I did see didn’t show me he could handle press coverage or run a variety of routes that he demonstrated against DeAngelo Hall in Oakland.

Another is Denver will be a pass-first offense this year. I don’t care if Ryan Torain will be ready mid-season; the odds of him being effective in the regular season are small. Now that Royal is in the fold and Brandon Stokely can be a slot receiver, having Darrell Jackson as the number four rather than a starter makes this a deep enough corps for Denver to be competitive in every game.

A pass-first offense will be important this year, because we’ve seen in recent seasons that Denver is a vulnerable defense and the running game has two street free agents as their starting backfield tandem. Neither Young nor Hall is impressive. Their box score stats are decent in terms of yards per carry average, but they have yet to prove they can consistently impose their will upon a defense with the game on the line.

This is a team that will have to score to win and will be able to score at will (with the exception of games versus elite defenses). Cutler will be a top-five quarterback in the NFL this year. Count on it.

Jason Campbell could light up the Saints like a roman candle: This one is killing me, because I dropped him too soon in a league where my starter is Jake Delhomme. As bad as the Redskins looked in week one, they looked that good this weekend. Campbell went 24 for 36 for 321 yards a great connection to Santana Moss on a post pattern for a 67-yard score.

Lesson Learned: Campbell has a gun, he demonstrated this week he could step up in the pocket and make a big throw, and he has the weapons to operate a balanced attack. The issues are inexperience with the west coast offense; the coaching staff’s play calling; and Campbell’s continued quest to gain recognition of defensive schemes.

Jim Zorn’s staff will need the first quarter of the season to begin learning how to best use their personnel in their new offense. We heard from Clinton Portis last week that the play calling was ineffective in week one and it took a 14-point, fourth quarter for the offense to look like it was clicking.

The fact that Campbell has done a good job protecting the football in his first two games is encouraging. If he continues to build upon the fourth quarter of the Saints game, Campbell could turn out to be a decent ‘match up’ play for fantasy owners throughout the year.

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

Darren Sproles would be the back up to LaDainian Tomlinson: Why does the fantasy media and football media continue to mention Jacob Hester as the back up to LT? Can we finally put this to rest after Sproles posted 317 yards from scrimmage and two scores against the Broncos in relief of Tomlinson? Sproles has the kind of acceleration to break a play open from anywhere on the field. He also possesses the vision and balance to exploit the type of lanes San Diego is capable of opening on the offensive line.

Lesson Learned: Jacob Hester is a short yardage, between the tackles runner with decent receiving skills. He’s a useful player. Darren Sproles is a dynamic player, who is beginning to make a habit of demonstrating the ability to change the game whenever he touches the football. It’s like the difference between a hammer and a nail gun. The hammer may be more versatile for a variety of jobs, but when it comes to putting a nail through a piece of wood, the nail gun is the way to go. Hester is the hammer. I don’t need to tell you what Sproles is.

If you’re a Tomlinson owner, I would be worried about your starter’s toe. Several players have never really been the same once they deal with a toe injury. Look at Antonio Gates. He has been serviceable, but no longer the stud after the catch he was before the injury. Throw in Eddie George, Laveranues Coles, Darrell Jackson, and several other skill players who never made it fully back and there’s a good reason you may want to begin looking for ways to improve your starting line up. Tomlinson’s injury still allowed him to gain 96 yards, but I remember when Eddie George was gutting out this type of injury, too. It may turn out to be a less serious injury, but if it isn’t, LT may never be the same.

Philly-Dallas Part II – I should have known this game would be a points-fest: I actually read this would be a low-scoring affair due to the defenses. Okay, let’s get this straight: Tony Romo? Pro Bowler. Terrell Owens? Pro Bowler. Marion Barber? Ditto. Jason Witten? Check. Flozell Adams? Andre Gurode? Yep. Leonard Davis? First time was last year. And the Eagles sport Donovan McNabb (who would make your flag football team look like they earned a bust in Canton), Brian Westbrook, and John Runyon. The only thing that could stop these guys is Hurricane Ike.

Lesson Learned: Don’t overanalyze the situation. Jim Johnson may have a great scheme and three starting grade corners, but neither of these teams’ defenders possesses a clear athletic and skill advantage to the opposing offenses that understand each other.

Ryan Grant was a bad play this week (even if it were the Lions): What? Michael Turner put up 220 last week against the pussy cats. Then again, Michael Turner didn’t have a bad hammy that limited him in practice. Grant was held to 20 yards on 15 carries while his understudies Brandon Jackson and Kregg Lumpkin had 8 carries for 80 yards. Jamal Lewis had a seemingly less serious hamstring issue and he has been less than impressive thus far.

Lesson Learned: Good match ups don’t equal good results if you have a bum wheel.

Nagging Feelings—Week 3

The Detroit Lions will have to live and die with Kitna throwing the ball at least 25-30 times a game this year. Their schedule for the next month includes the Bears, Vikings, and Texans – all much better against the run than the pass. I like that Detroit threw the ball on first down early in the game. If they can get 4-6 yards when they run the ball on first and second down, the offense will become much more dangerous. Right now, the running game is holding them back. Kevin Smith may have averaged 4 yards per carry, but gaining 2 yards on six out of seven first down attempts in this game is a telltale sign the ground game isn’t working right now.

Although it’s also a hope, I do have the feeling Jake Delhomme will become a better fantasy quarterback when Steve Smith returns to the lineup. I think it’s reasonable to add five more attempts per game to Delhomme’s future efforts and between the addition and subtraction of targets to Smith and his teammates, I’d expect an additional 60 to 70 yards per game with another 8-10 scores. Last week, six of his twelve completions were to backs and tight ends. Only two receivers caught passes and Muhmmad caught over 80 percent of them. Of course it was the Bears and they had a better distribution to receivers against the Chargers the week before.

I might be ready to push the panic button on Marvin Harrison. Remember all those quick strike plays to between Manning and Harrison over the years? Many of them came in the red zone. We’ve seen none of it in the first two games. The Bears and Vikings have the kind of front seven that would predicate a quarterback to throw short timing routes with a receiver that can get quick separation. If Harrison were getting open, Manning would hit him. If this isn’t happening now, I don’t see the all-time great getting better once Manning can get his knee healthy enough to execute the stretch play. Although I would give it another week, I’m beginning to think Harrison might have lost a step.

Was it me or did Brad Childress change the play calling with the rushing attack in the second half of the Colts game? Peterson was lining up deeper in the backfield earlier in the game and he was more effective than he was in the formations where he was closer to the line of scrimmage.

Matt Ryan is going to be a viable fantasy quarterback down the stretch with games against San Diego, New Orleans, Minnesota, and St. Louis. He’ll also get another shot at Monte Kiffin’s cover-two scheme during this period. Although he didn’t produce this week, Ryan fought through it and showed good toughness and composure.