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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.”

This year I’m taking the opposite approach to the FFTOC than in ’05. I’m starting known studs early so I can see which the fantasy unlikely and unknowns rise to the occasion. Funny enough, I didn’t think I’d be satisfied with an FFTOC performance where Carson Palmer and Warrick Dunn disappoint, but when you see my lineup, you’ll understand.

FFTOC Update
 Pos  Player  Pts  Comments
QB C. Palmer 9.8 A relative shocker that Palmer didn’t have a good game.
RB L. Johnson 26.2 If there were a week LJ would break out, this was it.
RB W. Dunn 6.5 The Falcons took control early due to poor offensive line play by Arizona. More about the Cardinals later.
WR A. Johnson 16.1 Miami’s secondary needs work—a good match up for a decent QB/WR.
WR T. Holt 16.2 I’m satisfied.
WR S. Smith 14.7 Smith played in 77% of the snaps last week without suffering any effects after the game. A good time to play him.
TE K. Winslow 9.1 My streak of picking a TE that scores a TD is now in its fourth week.
K R. Longwell 6.0 Disappointing pick. I thought Minnesota would have more success.
DEF Cowboys 12.0 Another 4-week streak of picking decent performers at this position.
  Total 117.6 Great picks at WR, but #2 RB & QB didn’t deliver. A decent day overall.

This should keep me in the top 65-80 teams heading into week five. So far I’ve learned that it’s been a successful strategy to pick a defense that faces the Titans, a runner matched up against the 49ers, and a QB/WR combo versus the Dolphins. Although I’ve used LT, LJ, Palmer, McNabb, and several stud receivers, I still have plenty of ammo left. Since the FFTOC playoffs coincide with NFL weeks where some fantasy studs aren’t given a full complement of playing time as the regular season winds down, I’m hoping if I go with the known quantity of performers and build up enough good performances to get within the top 30-40 teams, I can begin using the Marques Colstons, Bernard Berrians, and Joseph Addais of the NFL to keep me steady down the stretch.

The week four files of 20/20 Hindsight have some well-known players from last week’s Nagging Feelings section, and those the Gut Check has both favored and disdained in recent seasons. Last week through week seven should be the time where fantasy owners begin to get a sense of which players are for real, which are in a downward spiral, and which are just off to a rough start but coming back.

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

Kevin Jones Would Come To Life
The Lions starter had 93 yards and two scores on the ground, compiling an impressive 4.9 yards per carry in the process. I’m telling you now the success of the Lions offense has to do with Kevin Jones. In the two games Detroit scored at least 24 points, Jones averaged 18 carries for 87 yards and a score. In the two games the Motor City Kitties only managed seven points or less, Jones averaged 13 carries for 39 yards. In three of these four games, Jones had 5 receptions and no less than 4 catches in the fourth contest. It’s clear Jones involvement in the passing game doesn’t make as big of a difference. But it is obvious the Lions need to be successful on the ground to afford Kitna and company the time to air it out. Seattle and Chicago were tough defenses to face in the opening weeks, so look for steady improvement from Jones—especially from weeks 7-13. I think those match ups could be the time to ride Jones into the playoffs. This summer I thought Jones was going to have a decent year based on his off-season preparation. Hard work usually pays off, and I think the Lions may need more time to really show they are moving in the right direction, but Jones will be one of those players leading the way.

Isaac Bruce Still Has It
I mentioned Bruce was a player I felt still had the skills to contribute at a high level. So far, the Reverend is on pace for an 80-catch, 1280-yard season. I don’t think he’ll compile these totals, but he won’t be too far away, either. If anything, the emphasis on the ground game provides Bruce more opportunities to get open due to the better mix of play calling in Scott Linehan’s offensive system. If Bruce is still sitting on your waiver wire, and he shouldn’t be, snag him before someone else does. There are a few tough opponents on the docket for the Rams, but interspersed are some soft defenses against the pass. You should like Ike as a #3 receiver for your fantasy squad.

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

Reggie Williams Would Finally Play To His Potential
This is a receiver I busted on last year (and early this season) for his antics after making receptions with no discernable impact on the game. But admittedly, Williams came through yesterday against the Redskins. He looked like the player he was at the University of Washington. Williams made tough catches in traffic, displayed the ability to get separation on deeper routes, and the after the catch running skills that had many draftniks comparing him with a younger Eric Moulds—or dare say, Terrell Owens. Jack Del Rio has been championing Williams for over a year, despite his sub-par game day performances. He said that one day Williams is going to begin playing like he does in practice and training camp. Yesterday was certainly an example: 5 receptions, 93 yards, and 2 scores. When you are averaging 18.6 yards per catch with no reception longer than 35 yards, you are doing an excellent job getting open and catching the football. I’m beginning to regret I dropped him (and Berrian) in a dynasty league this summer. Then again, I wasn’t going to drop Maroney or Stallworth…maybe I should have traded Randy Moss…definitely should have traded Randy Moss…shoot, Randy Moss might have told me to trade Randy Moss—my league mates are laughing pretty hard right now.

Clinton Portis Would Outplay All The Doom And Gloom Of His Preseason Injury
I admit it, I jumped off this guy’s bandwagon the moment I heard the words shoulder, sling, and partial dislocation. I had Portis as my 2nd-ranked fantasy back prior to this injury. I listened to all the talk about a strong possibility that Portis won’t be able to withstand the pounding of an NFL season and the likelihood of the shoulder popping out of joint once again. So now what? Portis had 112 yards against one of the tough defensive fronts in pro football (8th against the run) and averaged 4 yards per carry against a team that only allows 3.4—and that includes what the Redskins starter and o-line did to them yesterday. Now Washington faces the Giants, Titans, and Colts—a relative break before he gets into some tougher defensive match ups down the stretch—and Portis should really get into gear. As I said about Kevin Jones and the Lions, the play of Clinton Portis has an even greater impact on the Redskins passing game. Just look at Brunell’s play in weeks 3-4 verus 1-2. Do you really need the stats to know the difference? I didn’t think so. I’ll be starting Portis against the Titans in a couple of weeks in FFTOC.

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

Started Laurence Maroney This Week
The prospect of Frank Gore facing Kansas City’s defense, despite his sore ribs, was too enticing to pass up. Now I’m not sure why. The Bengals defense is horrible up the middle. Maroney ran roughshod both inside and outside the tackles, displaying the balance, acceleration, and trademark stiff arm I saw him use repeatedly (once three times on one run against Purdue last year) at Minnesota. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maroney has the best stiff arm of any NFL back playing today. The Patriots #2 RB carried the ball 15 times for 125 yards and 2 scores. Although I recommended Maroney last week in this column, I stuck with Gore. Now I have to see if Favre, Westbrook, and Stallworth can earn me a victory Monday night…

Kept Jerious Norwood On My Dynasty Roster
This is from the same league as above, a contract/dynasty league with a salary cap. I drafted Maroney, Norwood, and Jones-Drew in that order. Pretty nice, but what do you expect from a guy that studied the game film of nearly 120 skill position prospects last year? The problem was I have a roster loaded with veteran talent at a premium price. I’m cap-strapped and I was looking for a tight end prospect that could help me unload Jeremy Shockey. So I traded Norwood for Ben Watson—yes, I confess, dumb move. Thus far, I still have Shockey because Watson isn’t doing all that well for me and Norwood looks more like Gale Sayers at this point of the season than the next Gale Sayers, Reggie Bush…

Lamont Jordan Would Be Finally Worth A Start Coming Off A Bye Week Versus Cleveland
Including a 59-yard touchdown run, Jordan had 21 carries for 128 yards and a score. If you didn’t start Jordan, hopefully you will next week versus the 49ers. Remember, Titans, 49ers, and Dolphins are all very FFTOC-friendly lately. If you’re like me, and my fellow FFTOC league email correspondent, Henry Muto, who is adopting a variation of my 2005 strategy—Henry, I hope it works better for you than it did me—then this is worth noting.

If Jordan is on your permanent roster, I think this is probably the best possible time to trade Jordan and get good value. Give you trading partner one good game or at least offer the trade this week so he can stall, watch Jordan rip up the Niners next week, and then ask if you are still offering. That’s how I’d try it. Then again, I’m better at draft strategies than trade offers.

Jordan has all the skills to be a stud, but like the Cardinals, the Raiders offensive line has been putrid. But nothing can get a ground game healthier than a bye week, an injury to the player having the most problems (Robert Gallery), and extra time to prepare for a 3-4 defense that is naturally weaker up the middle. If Oakland can improve their offensive line’s run blocking, this team could be dangerous down the stretch, but the possibility of it happening seems like a stretch in a different sense of the word.

Nagging Feelings—Week 4
Okay, I finally got to see a Cardinals game and I went straight out of my denial and moved into the acceptance stage of healing. The offensive line is terrible. You can’t completely blame Kurt Warner. Heck, Matt Leinart came in and had many of the same mishaps in two series that Warner had in his first three games! The line just doesn’t provide enough spacing for the QB to have passing lanes to see the field and make the throw (see Tom Brady’s patchwork line versus the Bengals for a great example of how it was correctly done).

This spells trouble for Fitzgerald and Boldin—I’d consider trading them if you want more than customary garbage time points, because that’s what I believe is going to be the fantasy mode of operation for this receiving combo if the o-line doesn’t get their act together soon. Edgerrin James is going to be in the same situation. His outlook does not look good at all. The best possible scenario for Arizona is that Leinart is mobile enough for the Cardinals to use more play action pass plays and rollouts than what they could do with Warner. This might keep opposing defenses off balance and get more production out of the existing offensive talent.

Doug Gabriel is for real. Did you pick him up or keep him? He’ll still be inconsistent for the next few weeks, but as I mentioned last week, he’s poised for bigger production down the stretch. I think he’ll lessen the sting of losing Deion Branch sooner than later.

This spring I had written myself a note to devote a Gut Check column to Drew Brees. Unfortunately I didn’t write one, but I did state a case for him in his breakout season with San Diego a couple of years ago in this column. I’m bringing this up because I’ve watched a game and a half of the Saints this year and came away very impressed with their new QB. He’s a true field general that commands respect in the locker room and the huddle. New Orleans’ defense has played better than expected thus far—although they’re still mediocre at best. If this unit didn’t have a lapse against DeShaun Foster in the 4th QTR, this game would have been in Brees’ hands. You could tell the way Brees and company marched right back down the field to score after Foster’s run that this offense is playing with poise and a belief that they can match up against anyone. What does this mean fantasy-wise? Marques Colston and Deuce McAllister have been productive, but look for Reggie Bush and Joe Horn—the two players defenses have been keying primarily—to benefit from this early production as the season progresses. These guys might be relatively good buy low candidates in trade scenarios in your league, because they should explode in quite a few games down the stretch.

You all know by now I’m a fan of Jags quarterback, Byron Leftwich. He’s accurate, tough, and I pegged him as a signal caller that would one day outperform Michael Vick. Thus far, I’ve been wrong. But I think the Jags discovered in the past two weeks that if they allow Leftwich to be aggressive, they are a better team. Len Pasquerilli of ESPN brought this up in his Morning After column following the Colts loss when it appeared the Jaguars kept the reins on Leftwich. Despite the fact the 4th-year signal caller threw the game-clinching interception for the Colts victory in the final minutes, did you know he has nine game-winning drives in the brief span of his career? Not bad. Against Washington, Leftwich actually tied up the game in its waning seconds and forced overtime.

This is a team with skill personnel that matches a downfield passing attack but plays in a stodgy offense. The offense needs to be more aggressive early in the game. Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and Ernest Wilford are huge targets that should have the advantage when Leftwich drills his passes into tight coverage. All three have deceiving, deep speed. Leftwich throws a great deep ball, but he needs to be allowed to do it consistently. Going deep also allows the team to stretch the defense. Think about the Bengals offense. Do you really think Rudi Johnson was that much better than Corey Dillon? Seriously. Dillon was unhappy and wanted out, but in his prime the Bengals didn’t have a consistent deep game. Carl Pickens was already on the downside of his career and Darnay Scott was like Ashlie Lelie, good speed but inconsistent hands and routes. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were still adjusting to the pro game.

The point is Cincinnati’s run game is just as much a product of their deep passing attack. Poke fun at Raiders owner Al Davis all you want—and sometimes for good reason—but Davis forgot more about football than most people will ever know. Davis fundamentally has the right idea for what he wants with Oakland’s offense. Think about all the teams that have dominated offensively in recent years: Minnesota, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Cincinnati. All five teams could stretch the field vertically with a variant of the Don Coryell-70’s San Diego Chargers offense. The Coryell offense came from coaching legend Sid Gillman. Guess who is connected to Gillman? Al Davis, who was an offensive coach under Gillman two years before becoming the owner and coach of the Raiders in ’63.

The problem is Davis wants to relive the 1970’s version under Madden rather than the more evolved approach we’ve seen with Martz, Linehan, and Saunders. Jacksonville has all the tools to use this type of offense, especially with the addition of electric rookie RB, Maurice Jones-Drew. A back with Drew’s talents would be perfect in a system where spacing of 3-reciever sets spreads out the defense and makes them more vulnerable to the running plays best-suited to a scat back. If the Jags unleash Leftwich, they should get deeper into the playoffs this year. If not, look for a similar exit and more unnecessary blame on a talented QB they haven’t allowed to be a franchise player.