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20/20 Hindsight - Week 5

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.”

For the sake of transparency, it is time for me to give full disclosure of my performances in fantasy leagues for 2008. I am in eight leagues this year and thus far, there is only one where I am eyeing the panic button. That league is the FFToday Staff League, but I think I may have averted disaster for another week. I’ll give you my report card after the weekly round up.

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

DeAngelo Williams would have a career day in a full-blown RBBC: Not that Williams lacked the talent, if anything the heading for this section could have been The Carolina offensive line could still dominate the defense with both starting tackles missing or the Kansas City Chiefs are that bad against the run. But the Broncos ground game didn’t go ballistic last week and the Panthers substitutes at left and right tackle were anything, but unproven players.

The real story was Williams, who demonstrated the burst and vision to average over six yards per carry Sunday. Remember, Williams averaged over five yards per carry down the stretch of 2007 – before the Panthers got Jeff Otah and Jonathan Stewart; before Mushin Muhammad rejoined the fold; and before Jake Delhomme was ready to return as the starting quarterback.

Lesson Learned: This running back situation for fantasy owners isn’t remotely close to sorting itself out if both players remain healthy. My recommendation is to see which one of these two backs played the best against specific defenses and try to project their future stats with this knowledge.

Jonathan Stewart ran over the Bears defense – a fast unit of athletic linebackers and defensive ends. DeAngelo Williams seemed to do better against bigger, stronger units like the Chargers (4.8 ypc) and Chiefs (6.1 ypc). Both faired the same against Minnesota and Atlanta. The main difference is Stewart got the opportunities at the goal line.

Thus far, these two have been a study in contrasts. Williams is nearly a yard per carry better in the first half and Stewart is that much better in the second half. Williams has been more productive when the Panthers are ahead and Stewart is dominant when Carolina trails or tied. One would think these results are inflated by one getting more carries than the other in these situations, but it does not appear to be the case.

This isn’t a great remedy for owners of these two backs, but one experiment worth monitoring for the next few games is determine your starter based on the difficulty of the matchup. Here’s how I would experiment:

a) If the game is on grass and the opponent is seen as an even, or better match up with Carolina, start Stewart.
b) If the game is on grass and Carolina is favored by five points or more, start Williams.
c) If the game is on turf start neither one unless you have no choice and then start Stewart.

So judging by their schedule, I would start Stewart next week against the Buccaneers fast, cover two type unit. I would switch to DeAngelo Williams against New Orleans in week seven and flip-flop to Stewart against the Cardinals in week eight. Check back with me October 27.

Kyle Orton would become a viable fantasy starter: Orton, a former Purdue Boilermaker who, like Drew Brees, starred in Joe Tiller’s prolific passing offense, is winning over the Chicago Bears faithful with solid performances against teams with strong defenses – a 64.7 completion percentage against the Bucs and three scores against the Eagles – and a big game against a weak Lions club that included 334 pass yards, two scores, and 70.6 percent completion rating.

Orton is on pace for at least 3300 yards, 21 scores, and 12 picks. He and and former Illinois coach Ron Turner are clicking and they are doing it without a big name wide receiver. They are distributing the ball effectively. This week Orton hit eight different receivers and the longest pass was to tight end Ben Olson, which a heavy portion of the yardage gained, came after the catch.

Lesson Learned: The next three games include the Vikings, Falcons, and Lions in the rematch. If you can still get him on the waiver wire, he’s a great mid-season, bye week substitute.

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

That I’d rather have Isaac Bruce than Randy Moss to begin the season: In a fantasy starting lineup? You bet. Moss may have out-pointed Bruce by a slim margin last week, but Bruce has a quarterback who has done a better job of making the read and getting him the football. I don’t trust Cassel to spot the best opportunities to hit Moss deep on a regular basis. There will be far too many throws into double and triple coverage that can result in interceptions or injury.

Lesson Learned: If you’re a numbers guy, you might try to take Moss’ projections and figure out what he would have to produce in the remaining portion of the season to reach the totals factored for him in the preseason. If you do, Moss will be on fire for the remaining three quarters of the year…that is, if you’re deluded to believe you would project these kinds of stats for a Brady-less Moss.

But…look at the schedule for the remainder of the month. San Diego, Denver, and St. Louis have been horrific pass defenses. Could Moss’s fantasy numbers get healthy in October? Yeah, but if I were a betting man Bailey and Cromartie will be effective against Moss. Tye Hill, coming back from a knee injury (maybe), might be the week you put Moss in your lineup over a guy like Bruce who gets the Eagles that week, but begins this stretch with the Seahawks and the Giants.

The fact most people would seriously consider applying this strategy tells you the loss of Brady makes Moss a #3 WR in fantasy leagues right now.

One player could make such a difference: If you were an NFL running back, the mafia kidnapped you and they offered you the option of two body parts to injure, which would you choose, toe or knee? Let’s look at two backs and their 2008 stats for the answer.

Toe: 89 carries, 331 yards, 3.7 average, four scores.
Knee: 58 carries, 286 yards, 4.9 average, six scores.

After watching Ronnie Brown the past couple of weeks in comparison to LaDainian Tomlinson, I’m beginning to think ‘knee’, aren’t you?

It is true Miami’s run defense is statistically one of the best against fantasy runners, but they have played the pass-happy Cardinals, the Maroney-less Pats, and the toe-jammed Chargers in consecutive weeks. The only runner to notch a c-note on them was Thomas Jones in the opener, when Mangini had the wraps on Favre.

When you get hit in the backfield on fourth and one in a goal line situation and don’t get the first down because you lack the burst you had when 100% healthy – and it is not the first time I’ve seen LT have trouble getting out of the blocks – you would take the knee over the toe.

Lesson Learned: I was wrong about the knee; it is looking pretty good for Ronnie Brown right now. His ability to pick and slide into the open lane has been excellent in the past two weeks. He does get a stiff test against Baltimore and Buffalo in weeks seven and eight, but these ringers are couched by Houston and Denver. With what appears to be a fantasy friendly schedule, week’s 13-16, Ronnie Brown could become a hero for many by New Year’s.

From purely a football standpoint, the fact that Tomlinson is running more like Rudi Johnson is having a huge impact on the Chargers in the win-loss column. This team does not control the line of scrimmage, relies too much on the big play, and the defense cannot play aggressive football without lead, which exposes their secondary.

However, Brown makes life easier for Pennington and his generic corps of receivers. The fact the offense can control the clock actually makes players like Matt Roth, Randy Starks, Yeremiah Bell, and Channing Crowder almost appealing. One player for each team is making a huge difference.

Domenik Hixon is no Plaxico Burress…but Eli Manning can imitate Peyton: Four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown off a 44-yard bomb put the former Bronco on the map this week. Denver used to have promising things to say about Hixon, a pick out of Akron, but they ran out of patience a couple of years ago. Sunday, Hixon made the most of his opportunity.

Lesson Learned: He’s at best a well-known substitute for Burress for whatever period of time the Giants stud receiver misses, but as you can see in the box score, he didn’t command a lot of targets or receptions. It doesn’t make him a bad player, but don’t expect him to make this type of performance a regular thing. If anything, Eli Manning is doing an awfully good Peyton imitation, completing the ball to eight different receivers, throwing no interceptions, and exploiting the opposing secondary with lesser known talents (Hixon and Sinorice Moss) over the more established Amani Toomer and Steve Smith.

Santana Moss and Brandon Marshall could do such an inspiring Domenik Hixon imitation (when Hixon isn’t attempting to replace Plaxico Burress): Talk about a letdown. Moss’ lack of production could have earned him a feature in Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action films. Heck, even rookie Devin Thomas had more production.

As for Marshall, you might have wondered if he were serving out an additional suspension were it not for three catches for 25 yards that were about as scintillating as watching Cloris Leachman flirt with Warren Sapp. You know, maybe they should do a celebrity match maker show and pair Leachman with Al Davis. It could help the Raiders…

Lesson Learned: It’s about time these two studs had a down week. NFL defenses are bound to catch up with them at some point and implement a decent game plan, especially when the coordinators are Monte Kiffin and Jim Johnson. Don’t worry, Moss and Marshall will be back next week as good as every.

Adrian Wilson could make the game-changing play and not appear in the stat column: He was like an assassin; there was no trace of him on the box score. He had no sacks, not a single tackle, or even a pass defense. But on the third play of the game, he knocked out the Bills Trent Edwards for the rest of the game and from that point on, the game was effectively over.

Lesson Learned: Unless you award points for game-ending hits and you have the NSA tracking your stats in a NORAD bunker, there will always be a gap between fantasy football scoring and how the game is won and lost.

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

T.J. Houshmandzadeh would heat up: Fantasy football commercial’s favorite name has 25 receptions for 281 yards and three scores in his last three games. He is on track for another 90-plus receptions and 1100-plus yards.

Lesson Learned: Cincinnati’s possession guy is a sanctuary for fantasy owners in need of some life in their passing game. With Cedric Benson added to the mix, I am almost counting on them screwing up any opportunity to run the football because neither Benson nor Perry will be given the opportunity to get into a rhythm. The fact that Cincinnati was desperate for a spark from the running game in the fourth quarter and would predictably put Benson on the field in run situations and Perry in passing situations was even worse. Hopefully they won’t be this foolish with their play calling once Benson learns the offense.

This gigantic mess will hurt the deep passing game (Chad Johnson and Chris Henry), but will allow a player like Houshmadzadeh to thrive.

Mike Walker was the best receiver on the Jags roster: Like Cincinnati, the Jags are in trouble. Their offensive line is decimated, Maurice Jones Drew is now nicked up, and the defense isn’t stopping anyone. Matt Jones is improving at a rapid pace, but he is best at running the slant, the go, the crossing route, and the fade route.

What the Jags have needed is the guy who can run the deep in – intermediate routes that will move the chains but not require more time than the offensive line can give. Mike Walker is that guy. If you recall, Walker was touted as the best receiver in camp last year – when he was a rookie!

Sufficiently recovered from a knee injury he sustained in college that took a prolonged time to heal, Walker is getting better with every game. It’s not just the stats, but he is once again holding onto balls in traffic that he used to do consistently at the University of Central Florida.

Lesson Learned: You have to be patient with some players – especially injured studs coming out of college who showed they could perform with an injury but need more time to recover. Add Walker to the list of the Isaac Bruce’s, Frank Gore’s and Jamal Lewis’ of pro football that needed to get healthy before they could begin making an impact. I would expect Walker to hold onto the starting job and deliver strong numbers on par with a solid #3 fantasy WR in most leagues, if not a solid #2 WR.

Nagging Feelings—Week 5

Justin Fargas is back and that will compound the nightmare for McFadden owners hoping to see a Peterson-like rookie season. Now that we saw what Michael Turner and DeAngelo Williams did against the Chiefs defense, I think McFadden’s game should be placed in a bit more perspective.

The Saints were weak up the middle of the their defense so they drafted Sedrick Ellis at nose tackle and acquired middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma through free agency. Vilma is a good sideline-to-sideline guy, but gets a bit overwhelmed when he doesn’t have that help up the middle (think about his lack of production in the 3-4). So you’re Brad Childress, offensive coordinator genius and you have one of the best ground attacks in the game and you’re facing the Saints who will be without Ellis, which means Jonathan Vilma will be easier to attack up the middle rather than attempting to run to the outside where he can use his speed to catch your backs. What do you do? You avoid running up the middle, stall your offense, and have to rely up on the erratic play of veteran Gus Frerotte. Note to Vikings: the better teams will stick with their strength and wait for their best players to break it open when they wear out the opposing defense. They make adjustments, but they don’t make reactionary changes. The fact the Vikings won this game was a credit to none other than Antoine Winfield and the Vikings defense. I have a feeling the worst thing you can be labeled as a new coach is “an offensive guru.” Think Jim Fassel, Brian Billick, Scott Linehan, Cam Cameron, and Brad Childress translated those skills to their teams as head coaches? Not a chance. I do give Sean Payton and Jim Zorn credit.

My Leagues After The Quarter Pole

League: Fantasy Auctioneer Invitational Expert League
Record: 4-1
Avg. Points For: 99.8

Key Starters: Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Terrell Owens, and Titans defense. This quintet of players has kept me competitive in every game and at least one of them has had a huge week every week. Kyle Orton came through for me during the bye week, but he was a free agent pick up.

What's Ailing: My second running back – the one week I bench Larry Johnson, he goes off against Denver. Chris Perry hasn’t worked out as I hoped, but I knew I was a taking a chance on him in my drafts. He still could work out, but averaging a fumble per week isn’t promising. If Peterson gets hurt, my RB corps will be awful. This is the best and worst of targeting studs in an auction draft: great starters, not much depth.

Comments: I was the last undefeated team until the Vikings interception to end the game. I won this league in 2005 and 2006. I’m hoping to rebound from a rough 2007 to have a chance at becoming its first, three-time champ.

League: SOFA Auction League
Record: 3-1-1
Avg. Points For: 124

Key Starters: Drew Brees, Marshawn Lynch, Clinton Portis, Isaac Bruce, Jerricho Cotchery, and Greg Jennings provide me a workmanlike crew and my depth of Eli Manning, DeAngelo Williams, Le’Ron McClain (free agent acquisition), Antonio Bryant, and Joey Galloway should keep me in good shape for much of the year.

What's Ailing: My corps of tight ends, yes, I meant the plural form of the word. I have two, despite the fact I advocate carrying one. It is because I struck out on Vernon Davis and had to take my chances on the waiver wire. If Olsen or Keller comes through, this team will have a strong chance to contend.

Comments: The one week I bench DeAngelo Williams as my flex option and look what happens! Thus far, I have a game and a half lead over for the division. As much as I like this team, there are seven teams in this 12-team league that have enough quality to contend for a playoff spot, so I’m not as confident as I am about the team I profiled earlier.

League: Local League
Record: 3-2
Avg. Points For: 109

Key Starters: Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Isaac Bruce, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Titans Defense, and Santonio Holmes. Throw in James Stewart and my running back depth chart is in good shape.

What's Ailing: Until recently, quarterback, tight end, and receiver. Jake Delhomme is coming to life and I managed to retrieve Jason Campbell from the trash heap after dropping him after week one. I traded Chris Perry for Chris Cooley to shore up my tight end spot, and Houshmandzadeh and Holmes are showing signs of life.

Comments: I have made some poor lineup decisions that cost me major points in this league, including starting Holmes or Johnson over Isaac Bruce, but I’m still a strong contender and less than a dozen points off the scoring lead. Calvin Johnson’s prospects are beginning to worry me after a strong start, because the Lions cannot protect the quarterback. If they can make enough improvements to help him rebound from the past two weeks, my team could be very strong.

Record: 3-2
Avg. Points For: 133.9

Key Starters: Brett Favre; Adrian Peterson; Michael Turner; Isaac Bruce; Hines Ward; my linebacker corps; Cortland Finnegan; Troy Polamalu, and Brian Willams. Who would have thought a CB would have more points than all my players save my quarterback and one of my running backs?

What's Ailing: Marques Colston, my tight end corps (yes, another Vernon Davis gaffe) and my refusal to start LB LaMarr Woodley in the right week(s), which cost me this week’s game.

Comments: My strength with this team is my corps of RBs and LBs. DeAngelo Williams, Chester Taylor, Chris Perry and Ricky Williams should keep me in good stead for the year. LaMarr Woodley is about to take over for London Fletcher, Brian Urlacher, or Julian Peterson. The problem is deciding who sees the bench when I also have Gerald Hayes. I may need to package one of these guys to make a deal for receiver if Colston doesn’t return to form. I should remain a contender in this 12-team league, but there is a cluster of six teams within a game of each other. I’m one of the top point-getters, so I like my chances.

League: HAFAX-II
Record: 3-2
Avg. Points For: 170.3

Key Starters: Favre/McNabb (pick one); Clinton Portis; Johnnie Lee Higgins (return yards); Jason Witten; Dustin Colquitt (I know, I can’t believe a punter is this valuable); and Albert Haynesworth.

What's Ailing: Receivers, when Johnnie Lee Higgins is a leading player at the position in this league due to return yards, you know this league isn’t conventional. But Higgins was a recent waiver wire pick up (after I drafted and dropped him early in the season). I also have Mike Walker, who would have won Mike MacGregor and I this match up if we inserted him into the starting lineup over Reggie Williams – go figure.

Comments: This squad is in decent shape to make noise in the playoffs if it remains healthy and as productive as it has been thus far.

League: FFToday Staff League
Record: 3-2
Avg. Points For: 81.4

Key Starters: Frank Gore, Titans Defense, and Chris Johnson. Those are the only three that have consistently helped me. Roethlisberger has been up and down and my receiving corps has been a revolving door.

What's Ailing: This team was built as much after the draft as it was constructed during it; not something I normally have to do. So far it hasn’t worked out very well. I gave up DeAngelo Williams for Eddie Royal. I dropped Robert Meachem and I added and dropped Reggie Brown. Fortunately Mushin Muhammad is coming through for me and Santonio Holmes is warming up.

Comments: I have been able to add a number of significant players to my roster because others have panicked early on. If this continues, this team still has a fighting chance to be good, but I’ll need continued help from the outside to be a serious contender.

League: Ironman 3
Record: 2-3
Avg. Points For: 163
Key Starters: Brian Westbrook; Brandon Jacobs; Larry Fitzgerald; Patrick Willis; Karlos Dansby, Derrick Johnson; and Kyle Vanden Bosch. This is a team with a mediocre offense and a strong defense. If I played David Garrad and Jacobs this week – don’t ask me why I didn’t play Jacobs – I would have been 3-2.

What's Ailing: My lineup decisions.
Comments: This team should contend, but I need to make sure I’m starting the right players. I was out of town last weekend and neglected to give this lineup a once over before I left. It cost me.

League: Challenge League with a weekly elimination cutoff
Status: Still alive (I think)
Avg. Points For: 175.3

Key Players: Each team in this league had a budget to purchase players before the season began. The best scorers in parenthesis next to the players below constitute the lineup. I misread the rules and thought the budget would be weekly and not the entire season. Still, my “Week one” roster has been good in a contest with at least 20,000 participants:

QBs: Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Kyle Orton, and Troy Smith (1)
RBs: Brian Westbrook, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Ricky Williams, Ray Rice, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Justin Fargas (2).
WRs: Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Bryant, David Patten, Darrell Jackson, and Derek Hagan (3)
TE: Robert Royal and Chris Baker (1)
PK: Joe Nedney (1)
TD: Tennessee Titans (1)

What's Ailing: Tight end, what else?
Comments: I’ve made it a lot farther than I thought when I realized I misunderstood the strategy. By the time this is published we’ll see if I made the next cutoff. It might be close, but I think I did well enough.