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20/20 Hindsight - Week 4

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.”

I am competing in seven leagues this year, about average for me since I began writing for FFToday. One of them is the FFToday Staff League. Although it is by far my worst team, it should provide excellent fodder for this column, and it did this weekend. My 2-1 unit faced Mike MacGregor’s undefeated squad in a divisional tilt with the lead at stake in the bracket.

Our teams are a study in contrasts. He made good decisions with his wide receivers and is winning handily each week. I made riskier picks and my two wins have been over teams more hapless than mine and I have been playing the waiver wire like a desperate gambler at the horse track looking for a winner.

I did manage to swoop in late Sunday morning and add Deuce McAllister and Matt Jones a half-hour before kickoff after one of our writers dropped them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the stones to start them although it wouldn’t have mattered much. Instead of simply needing a spectacular game from Santonio Holmes tonight, a miracle of Favreian proportions had to occur for me to win. I wasn’t counting on it.

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

Rashard Mendenhall would hurt the Steelers when he wasn’t in the game: The Before suffering a shoulder injury in the third quarter, the Steelers’ rookie had a few nice runs last night. But overall, the lanes were few and far between for the Illini-alum. But it was this back’s lack of skill as a pass blocker that hurt the team most despite not allowing a sack or missing an assignment. The fact Pittsburgh subbed Mewelde Moore for Mendenhall in most passing situations which tipped off the defense before the snap was the real factor. Roethlisberger was sacked three times in the first half alone and put the Steelers behind for the rest of the game.

Lesson Learned: The one thing I learned about Mendenhall when I studied him in college was that he was a huge liability as a pass blocker. He’s a physical runner and a decent pass catcher, but the greatest deficiency I saw was pass protection. Tony Kornheiser actually quoted Mendenhall as saying that in college he was just expected to run the ball and pass blocking wasn’t a high priority. Well, it showed in college and judging by his absence on third downs it shows in the pros. Its a skill Mendenhall must develop to become a starter. Otherwise, he’ll be a dynasty tease until then.

Jaguars Part I - David Garrard would be a better play than Brian Griese: All week I debated the merits of starting Garrard and Roethlisberger. Instead, I added Brian Griese to my roster to face the banged up Packers secondary. Yeah, I went with the chic, waiver wire pick that came off a 400-yard effort against the Bears’ stout defense. Garrard has only broken the 200-yard mark once so far and Houston has a history of playing the Jags tough. As you can see, I made the wrong choice. Garrard didn’t have impressive production through the air, but his ability to supplement production on the ground was the difference – a 14.4-point difference for my squad to be exact.

Lesson Learned: I need to stop making last-minute substitutions. Two weeks ago is was Muhammad for Houshmandzadeh. There is a reason Garrard is the starter and Griese is a temporary substitute-journeyman. The second string secondary of the Packers reminded me again Sunday when they forced the Michigan alum into three picks. To add insult to injury, dropped Reggie Brown to add Griese. It’s just that panic button looked to enticing for my quarterbacks this week. Garrard has a lot of Steve McNair’s game in him – accurate passer with the power and grit to run for first downs or hang in the pocket to make the necessary throw.

Jaguars Part II – Matt Jones would be the team’s best receiver heading into 2008: The guy is busted for cocaine possession in the preseason and his quarterback basically tells John Madden that Chris Mortensen’s draft day wet dream did didn’t even know the playbook in 2007. Who would have thought Jones would be Jacksonville’s leading receiver. His five catches for 71 yards and a score was his best effort this year. After next week’s Sunday Night matchup versus Pittsburgh, Jones faces the Broncos, Browns, Bengals, Lions, Vikings, and Texans. Quite a schedule for all but one of the remaining games in the regular fantasy season.

Lesson Learned: Jones’ respectable 14 yards per catch in this game was the result of breaking tackles off slant routes. He is not yet a viable deep threat this year – despite his speed – because the Jaguars line can’t provide Garrard that kind of protection at this point. If you need a #4 WR, or like me in the FFToday Staff League, desperate for a #3 receiver with consistency, Jones could be that guy. His play on Sundays is an obvious sign that his arrest was a big-time wake up call.

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

Joe Flacco could have moments that made the Steelers’ defense look like a Pee Wee league unit: It seemed like any Ravens player the media interviewed prior to this game lauded Flacco as if he were a veteran. Under the bright lights and a Steelers defense that beat up Donovan McNabb the weak before, Flacco demonstrated the poise to make a game of it. This didn’t even include a great, first quarter pass to Derrick Mason that should have been scored a touchdown.

Lesson Learned: Flacco didn’t look off the secondary like a veteran, but his ability to avoid the pass rush, throw the ball away, or make plays on the run were impressive. I also liked that the Ravens allowed Flacco to be aggressive and stretch the defense to begin the game. This opened some running lanes just enough to drive downfield.

Then there was the third quarter play where Flacco ran from one side of the field to the other, eluding the Pittsburgh defense, and hitting his receiver for a first down on the right sideline. It was one of the more impressive demonstrations of quarterback mobility I’ve seen in so far this year. I wouldn’t expect Flacco to have a rookie year like the quarterback he resembles (and faced last night), but his poise should help the Ravens stay in the game and allow the running game to be productive against all but the elite defensive units. Of course, Pittsburgh is too good to let this happen all night, but Flacco certain helped make it a game.

Deuce McAllister could return to fantasy productivity: Although I picked up McAllister a half-hour before kickoff, I didn’t think the move would produce immediate dividends. Not that I would have ever considered McAllister over Frank Gore in my lineup, but it turned out the Saints veteran had slightly better production with 73 yards on 20 carries, a reception for ten yards and a rushing score. The 29-year-old McAllister insisted after the game that he felt so good he could have played another quarter.

Lesson Learned: I’m not sure there’s a major one to learn here other than any player can have value in any given week, which makes fantasy football both a game of skill and luck in equal doses. McAllister’s production likely gives him a chance to be the main guy for the rest of the year. With the Vikings, Raiders, Panthers, and Chargers coming up, I wouldn’t expect a lot more than some goal line scores. But after the bye week, he’ll face the Chiefs, Packers, Bucs, and Falcons, which could make him a great, flex option or emergency starter. I wonder if I can trade him back to the owner who dropped him…

I could bench Larry Johnson and still win my match up: There’s nothing more I respect than a guy who does his talking on the field. A close second is the guy who talks and backs it up. LJ made it clear that he needed to have a heart to heart with his coaching staff after opening the year with two weeks of unimpressive performances, which included the team rotating him out of goal line packages. When you read the conclusions fantasy writers and football analysts made, Johnson sounded like a has-been in the making. Even after Johnson had a 100-yard day against Atlanta, the reaction was ‘don’t expect it to happen again’.

Unfortunately, I paid too much attention to this talk and not the Denver defense, because in a twisted way they were right. This week LJ was even better with 30 carries, 198 yards, and two scores against division-leading Denver. Do you think Larry Johnson had a point that the only conclusion he could make about his lack of use was that his coaching staff wanted to phase him out of the organization? I do. It certainly didn’t have to do with diminishing skills.

Lesson Learned: There are two positions the KC coaching staff wasted time with in the first month of the season – running back and quarterback. After Brodie Croyle got hurt, they were more excited about Tyler Thigpen than the more reliable and experienced Damon Huard. And during the first two weeks, the Chiefs abandon the run despite being very much in these games. Fortunately for me, the 28-point difference between LJ and my decision to start Chris Perry for the first time didn’t hurt me (thanks to Brett Favre…). Although Larry Johnson is missing a great offensive line and quarterback to be the consistent monster he was for fantasy owners two years ago, he will remain a quality #2 fantasy RB with great upside against weaker defenses as long as Huard can play much like Kyle Orton has for the Bears. Speaking of weak defenses…

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

Denver will live by its offense and die by its defense: Recently I mentioned Denver will need to keep scoring from 15:00 of the first quarter to 0:01 of the fourth quarter to win ballgames, because their defense is almost as bad as their offense is good. Denver’s moribund unit gave up 21 points to a Chiefs attack that pummeled the Broncos upfront.

The weakness of Denver’s defense is its front seven. When three members of a secondary lead their team in tackles during the game, it is symptomatic of a front seven that is getting mauled. The stats reflect it. Denver is giving up 6.6 yards per play and over 400 yards per game. They only have six sacks after four games. Of the nine teams that have this few sacks or less, six of them have only played three games.

Lesson Learned: It’s official. Denver’s defense will remain a strong match up for your players all season. Feel free to lick you chops when they appear on your players’ schedules.

Brett Favre would have a great game: Who knew Keyshawn Johnson would give better analysis than Steve Young about the quarterback position? At least the results this weekend indicate this is the case. Last week, Steve Young told a national audience it would take Brett Favre at least 10 weeks into the season to get in sync with the new offense.

On Sunday morning, Keyshawn Johnson essentially said this concept was hogwash. He explained that there were plenty of things the Jets could do to make it easier for Brett Favre and company to be productive out of the gate. It seems to me Young, the brainy, west coast quarterback, was guilty of a little over analysis. In contrast, leave it to a WR with a memoir called Just Give Me The Damn Ball to make the solution seem so easy.

Granted all-star safety, Adrian Wilson, was not in the lineup this weekend and Jets were given clearance to take off with little interference, but much of this had to do with Favre looking off the secondary and executing some good fakes to manipulate the defense. By the way, how many quarterbacks have thrown six touchdowns in any NFL game? All of them happened this decade:

  • Brady and the Pats vs. the Dolphins in 2007
  • Palmer and the Bengals vs. the Browns in 2007.
  • Manning and the Colts vs. the Lions on Thanksgiving 2004.
  • Manning and the Colts vs. the Saints in 2003.

The record is seven scoring tosses in a game held by five players: Sid Luckman (CHI), George Blanda (HOU), Joe Kapp (MIN), Y.A. Tittle (NYG), and Adrian Burk (PHI).

Lesson Learned: Six touchdowns. When someone mentions Farve and you’re one of those people that begins to think “Yeah, but…” when someone lauds him, just shut up. Seriously. Zip it. Bite your lip, your tongue, even your sleeve if you have to because you’re about to act like an idiot. When a quarterback has played this long at this high of a level and accumulated his stats and MVP honors, you have no argument against his greatness. Even if his fans say he’s the greatest QB ever and you’re a diehard fan of Montana, Brady, Unitas, etc. Of all the QBs that have played in the NFL – here have been at least 629 of them that have accumulated stats since 1937 – Favre is in the conversation if you’re willing to admit he’s in the top fifteen quarterbacks of all time.

There are just some things you don’t do: drink and drive, talk back to an on-duty cop, and say Brett Favre is overrated. Sure, go ahead and reference Sal Paolantonio’s book, you’ll just look like many sports writers, talk jocks, and television sports anchors that don’t understand the game as well as it appears. These scribes and broadcast journalists can piece stats together to make an argument appear cogent. Trust me, beat reporters most often regurgitate what the coaches and players tell them – they are about reporting facts. They write daily news about practice and press conferences. Few research and analyze the game. They rarely care enough to take the time. It’s what former player-analysts are for.

Sure the guy can write, but think about the amount of time these journalists spend in production meetings, tracking down quotes, and getting hair and makeup done for the camera. I’m a business writer by trade and I can tell you stories about accountants, boardrooms, and green information technology. But if you’re looking for expert analysis about this stuff, find the men and women I quote or paraphrase.

Paolantonio knows a ton about the dynamics of a locker room, practice field, players, and coaches, but it doesn’t mean he knows anything more about football than you and I. If you want to learn about the game or how underrated/overrated a player is, ask a former player at the position, a coach or a person who really studies the game. Paolantonio is most often shown outside a stadium, practice facility, or on an empty field in a raincoat talking about groin pulls. He’s reporting facts, not giving analysis.

One fact that that puzzles me about Paolantonio’s book is it is written ‘with Rueben Frank’. In publishing, if someone co-writes a book with you, the word ‘and’ is typically used to separate the authors. When a book is written ‘with’ someone, it usually means the guy before the ‘with’ is the figurehead that readers will recognize and the guy after is the one doing the writing. Frank is an award-winning writer regularly featured in Sports Illustrated. I don’t know if I have ever seen a journalist pull the equivalent of a celebrity autobiography with a ghostwriter in tow - especially someone like Paolantonio, an award-winning writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and biographer of Frank Rizzo in his own right. But if ‘written with’ indicates what it usually does, Paolantonio didn’t even write the publication.

“Sal” (or is it Rueben) rails against Barry Sanders and Jeff Fisher, but uses the same shallow thinking he used with Favre that can be easily rebutted. Favre didn’t have anywhere close to the quality of teams around him that he did in the 90s. Elway had also-rans at receiver when ‘he lost’ three Super Bowls. Bradshaw, Peyton Manning, Montana, and Unitas had Hall of Fame talent surrounding them on offense and defense.

No one argues that Favre is reckless and makes some God-awful throws. But to argue that he hasn’t reached the heights of greatness and has repeatedly performed at a level few will ever see at his position is a foolhardy assertion. If anything Favre deserves the credit he gets because he puts the game on his shoulders and takes the risks. Other quarterbacks in the same situations would make the smart play by throwing the ball away or taking the sack. The same scribes that criticize Favre often say these other quarterbacks were on teams simply overmatched. It’s a double standard that often occurs when a quarterback demonstrates on the field of play that he’s putting the game in his hands.

Maybe Paolantonio would argue that Favre’s six-score day was a result of the Packer-like, throwback jerseys. I might give more stock to this analysis than the excerpts I read of Palantonio’s book (‘with Rueben Frank’) on

Nagging Feelings—Week 5

The Bears look like a playoff team and Kyle Orton is one of the big reasons. Orton executes the game plan as the coaches intend it to go. He’s not a freelancer and he plays with enough humility to throw the ball away when the play isn’t there. Rex Grossman never grew past the ‘star QB’ syndrome most college quarterbacks have when they enter the NFL. Of course, the running game makes a big difference, too.

I’m impressed with JaMarcus Russell. He is demonstrating good pocket presence for a guy who is really the equivalent of a rookie starter. Sunday he played with a starting lineup of skill players that have less than two full seasons of experience in the league and he made enough plays to keep Oakland in the game. It will be a shame to watch this talent’s career get set back another year if Al Davis chooses to fire Lane Kiffin.

I was asked this weekend if Steve Breaston is worth fantasy consideration after his nine-catch, 122-yard performance. Considering that his production came as the third receiver in a game where the opposing team is well ahead and funneling throws to the middle of the field so the clock can continue to run, my answer is to remain cautious. If you watched the second-year Cardinal at Michigan you know he can run after the catch and all reports from the Cardinals this summer indicate he was one of the most improved players entering training camp. Although not likely, if Boldin is out for an extended period of time I think Breaston will be a guy you can count on for 50-60 yards with the occasional touchdown, solid, but not great handcuff material.

I have a feeling Jason Campbell converted some skeptics in Dallas. His ability to make good reads and make good decisions under fire combined with his responsiveness to Jim Zorn’s system and teaching is making him a difficult fantasy quarterback to leave on the bench. He’s probably due for an interception next week, but he hasn’t thrown one in all 97 attempts this year. Impressive start.

As most of us are aware, two tragic events have happened to NFL players Richard Collier and Matt Bryant. A telling thing about the state of our sports media is how NBC and ESPN chose to position this news in their Sunday and Monday night broadcasts, respectively. Although both appropriately timed these news stories at the tail end of a segment, both were handled awkwardly when they transitioned immediately to what viewers would see in the segment following the commercial break. Producers and directors, these are emotionally charged news stories. Please show some class and allow the hosts to just cut to commercial break without advertising what’s next. Your choice created an awkward situation for the hosts and portrayed your shows as callous and disingenuous to the gravity of the stories. In short, it was classless.

Here’s a tip from me, the relative amateur compared to you big boys with the multimedia giants, tell the news and end the segment without self-promotion. Something like this:

Richard Collier, who was shot 14 times a month ago, is still in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down. This weekend his left leg was amputated as a result of this criminal act. No suspect has been charged in the case. Buccaneers’ kicker, Matt Bryant played in Sunday’s game to honor the sudden death of his three-month-old son, Tryson, who the Bryant family buried the day before. We at FFToday send our thoughts and prayers to Collier, Bryant, and their families as they cope with these tragic events (fade to black).