Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
24 Sep 2004
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Al: If Week 2 was a Friends episode it would have been titled "The One Where Everyone Gets Hurt." Kellen Winslow -- out at least eight weeks. Deuce McAllister -- don't expect him back until Halloween. Were you waiting for Julius Jones to emerge in Dallas? You'll have to wait at least another two months. Mike Brown helped spark the Bears' upset win over Green Bay with a TD return but he won't get a chance to repeat that performance until next season. The Ben Roethlisberger era will start a bit sooner than expected in Pittsburgh now that Tommy Maddox is gone for at least six weeks with an elbow injury. Edgerrin James is doubtful for Sunday, Kevin Mawae broke his snapping finger, and the list goes on.
I think Jones' injury will have the biggest impact on his team. He was the only real hope that Dallas had of putting together a respectable running game. Dallas will have no choice now but to rely on Eddie "I haven't averaged over 3.5 yards/carry this millenium" George to gain yards on the ground. Teams will be able to focus on stopping Vinny Testeverde, who isn't exactly afraid to throw the ball to the other team. I didn't like Dallas' chances of making the playoffs before the season started and I like them even less right now. Who knows, maybe the Giants won't finish in the basement of the NFC East.
Vivek: Don't forget that Priest Holmes is questionable at best for Sunday's matchup with the Texans. Almost everyone's participant in the AFC Championship game is in danger of starting the season 0-3 then has to go to Baltimore. If Priest is out, then an upset is definitely in the cards. Trent Green is still looking for his first touchdown, and now he loses Eddie Kennison for several weeks. With Marc Boerigter already lost for the season, Green's top wide receivers are now Johnnie Morton, Dante Hall and Derrick Blaylock. No, that's not fear that those wideouts are striking in your heart, ladies and gentlemen. It's more heartburn from seeing your pre-season predictions go down the toilet.
And how can we leave out this year's Mr. Greatest Differential Between Media Coverage and Impact -- Deion Sanders. 37 catches up to you very quickly.
You already mentioned Roethlisberger's first start in Pittsburgh. Kudos to Alan Faneca for saying what everyone on the team was probably thinking. The Steelers probably went into the season thinking that they had just as good of a shot of making the playoffs as anyone in the AFC, but the last two rookie quarterbacks to lead their teams to a playoff berth were Todd Marinovich and Shaun King. More of an aberration in their careers, so that does not offer much, if any, hope for Big Ben.
So Al, is it exciting to team up with a rookie columnist for Scramble?
Al: Do you want to go work with some little young kid who's just out of college?
Vivek: Let's see how Roethlisberger answers Faneca's challenge. If this is a mental game on Faneca's part, it could be a great move. As often as we call rookies "kids," these are not Pee Wee league footballers who need earmuffs. They should be ready to fight back with a solid performance.
Al: I agree. Of course they'd rather have Maddox in there, but he's hurt. No matter what, Maddox would be out this week. Is Faneca saying he'd rather have Charlie Batch, or a washed up Jeff George? I doubt it. With the Rottweiler (eh? How about that for a nickname?) there's the enticing aroma of upside.
At least Faneca didn't say Ben was going to have to "take his diapers off." Getting back to an earlier point you made, of course Priest Holmes being out of action will have a huge impact on Kansas City, but it's not like they were doing much of anything with him in the lineup. I'm shocked that they don't appear to have improved at all on defense from their embarrassing game against the Colts in the playoffs last year. If they were merely a below average defense, they would have been in the AFC Championship game. Maybe Gunther should go back to training lions instead of trying to teach his linebackers how not to guess "pass" on every single play from scrimmage. NFL Matchup did a great job of highlighting after Week 1 how out of position the Chief linebackers were when Quentin Griffin was breaking off long runs against them. Yes, you can't go out there and make the plays for your players. But the defensive coordinator has to take the blame for his players consistently being out of position.
Vivek: So Greg Robinson's system didn't work. Now Gunther Cunningham's scheme is not getting better results. That only leaves one point of blame...
Al: The Amish.
Viv: Detroit and Jacksonville both sitting at 2-0? It took them nine and ten games last year to hit that mark. Yes, it is still early, but when you have the Chiefs at 0-2, you have to question your prognostication skills.
Al: Yeah, it's going to be another one of those years. The Redskins looked like Super Bowl contenders in Week 1, and then turned the ball over seven times against the Giants in Week 2. The only team that you can really have any confidence in to be good week in and week out is New England. Which, of course, means they'll go on a three game losing streak after the bye.
Al: Last year, Cincinnati had the worst run defense in football. In Week 1, 31-year-old Curtis Martin dropped nearly 200 rushing yards on the Bengals. In Week 2, Cincinnati looked like the greatest run defense of all time, holding Miami to a paltry 1.2 yards per carry. Was it because the Bengals finally bought into the defensive system Marvin Lewis used to create great defenses in Baltimore? No, it was because the Dolphin offensive linemen had more men run past them than "Wave 'Em In" Wendall Kim and Dale Sveum combined.
Al: We have another fantasy team review in our mailbag this week. Remember to send us your questions and comments at email@example.com. We'll be sure to answer your questions each week. This week's email comes from Reinhard:
I don't know if you get a ton of these, but this is my team that I drafted against my friends, offline. So I don't know the draft positions very well. But, what do you think? (QB,WR, WR, RB, RB, WR/RB, TE, K, Def, D, DB, DL, only three bench spots)
QB: Rich Gannon, Trent Green
WR: Eric Moulds, Deion Branch, Javon Walker
RB: Shaun Alexander, Corey Dillon, Quentin Griffin, Chris Brown
TE: Eric Johnson
K: John Kasay
Def: Tampa Bay
Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis, Philip Buchanan
Great articles, btw!
Al: Thanks, Reinhard. It's tough to judge the individual defensive players since you didn't tell us how they're scored. IDP scoring usually differs from league to league more than offensive player scoring does. That being said, I can't imagine Ray Lewis being a bad pick under any scoring system. Eric Johnson has done well in San Francisco so far and I'd expect him to keep it up. I love the RBs. Alexander and Dillon will put up good numbers every week. Brown should be great in the flex spot. I'd look to deal Griffin after he runs for 150 yards this week against San Diego. Get the benefit of his top performances against poor run defenses before the Broncos start playing more teams that can actually contain a rushing attack. I'd try to use Griffin to bolster your QB situation. The KC offense hasn't looked as explosive as it did last year. Gannon's had good numbers so far, but you don't know how long he can keep up this pace. I'd be much more comfortable with him as my team's backup QB than I would having to rely on him every week.
Vivek: As I mentioned before, the Chiefs are woefully lacking in the receiver department, and that has already hurt Trent Green's numbers. You wonder how long it will take for Gannon to hit the wall, so I agree with Al that you should move Griffin while his value is high.
Viv: The next question comes from loyal reader NEPAT1 Don.
What is the latest word on Todd Heap. Does his injury look season-threatening, or should I feel fine about having him take up a bench spot on my fantasy team?
Viv: It's only a few weeks, so it's a no-brainer to keep him. Six to eight, different question. I'm not a fan of keeping dead weight at this position for the simple reason that tight ends are not big point-scorers. Most leagues are TD heavy, but a good TE probably totals four to six scores per season. You can easily pick up someone who will record two to four. When Heap comes back, he will probably only average 50 yards per game. Any other TE will bring in that amount on any given week.
Al: I agree. Unless your league allows you to put a player on injured reserve, there's no reason to waste a roster spot on a tight end that's gone for at least a month and isn't named Tony Gonzalez. I might take a flyer on Chris Baker from the Jets. Anthony Becht has been a disappointment as a pass catching TE in NY and Pennington went to Baker a few times against San Diego. I could see him take an increased role in NY's offense, especially around the goal line, where the Jets may be hesitant of letting Curtis Martin take a beating on too many 3rd and goals.
The rest of the mailbag was filled with messages all touching on the same theme. Here's a typical one from Ian in Braintree:
And where was Keep Choppin Wood Award last week?
Al: So, back by popular demand...
Al: Newer readers might not know about what exactly the Keep Choppin' Wood award is. Previous Scramble co-writer Ian and I started handing it out each week last season after Jaguar punter Chris Hanson was lost for the season after he cut his right foot with an axe in the Jacksonville locker room. What was an axe doing in the Jacksonville locker room? It was part of coach Jack Del Rio's motivational technique. He had placed a tree stump and an axe in the middle of the locker room to symbolize his motivational theme "Keep Choppin' Wood."
It didn't make much sense last year either.
So, in honor of this ridiculous event, we started handing out an award for the player that did the most to help his team lose that week. At the end of the year, we even named the All Keep Choppin' Wood team, captained by Drew Bledsoe.
It's appropriate that we start the award this week since there are so many worthy candidates. There's Wade Smith and the abysmal Miami offensive line, Patrick Ramsey and his three interception performance against the Giants, and Quentin Griffin's failure to get a first down on three different third and one opportunities combine with a fumble late in the game that ultimately cost Denver a shot at a victory.
My award for Week 2, however, goes to Drew Brees who put on one of the worst quarterbacking performances I've ever seen. His first half numbers were unbelievably bad: 1/6, 8 yards, 1 INT, 1 sack. The second half wasn't much better. Brees had open receivers, he just didn't throw the ball anywhere near them. Even worse than Brees' performance, though, was listening to Solomon Wilcots continually blame everyone else on the Chargers but Brees for his awful performance. Wilcox was actually questioning why the Chargers would take Brees out in the second half and replace him with Doug Flutie. I don't know Solomon, maybe the Chargers were actually trying to win and didn't want to see Drew Brees and his 47.1 QB rating throw INT #3 on the day. As the coach on the other side of the field once said, "You Play to Win the Game." I've never heard an announcer make more excuses for a player's poor performance than Wilcox did for Brees on Sunday. And I've listened to the Yankees on the radio.
Vivek: Taking a page out of the Nintendo classic Tecmo Bowl, my Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to "QB Redskins." Randall Cunningham, Jim Kelly and a few others were too good for the game, so the Nintendo folks just dubbed them "QB Eagles" and "QB Bills." Well, "QB Redskins" is a combo of Patrick Ramsey and Mark Brunell. The duo combined for a fumble and four interceptions in Giants territory, including two within the Giants' ten-yard line. And to bring Giants fans back down to Earth, remember that the Skins only lost by six.
Al: (0-3 last week, 1-5 overall) Yeah, so I'm not very good at this whole "picking the winner of football games" thing. I'll give this another week before I try to reverse my fortunes by picking against my first impressions. As it is, I hate all the lines this week and have no first impressions so I'm bound to go 0-3.
New Orleans +7 over ST. LOUIS
I think the nation learns about Aaron Stecker on Sunday. I've been a fan of his since he was in Tampa at it's nice to see that he finally may get some regular playing time in New Orleans with Deuce McAllister injured. Warrick Dunn scored twice against the Rams last week, and Stecker is the same kind of back. I've been down on the Ram defense for a while now and I think Aaron Brooks will be able to exploit the holes in it like his cousin did last week.
NY GIANTS -3 over Cleveland
Cleveland is exactly the type of team that the Giants can beat. They don't have an exceptionally fast RB to outrun the slow Giant defenders. They don't have above average receivers coming out of the backfield or the TE spot with Kellen Winslow out, which will allow the Giants to play more defenders back in pass coverage to help out the secondary. I can see the Browns struggling to put up points against New York and Kurt Warner only needing to lead a drive or two down the field for the Giants to win a low scoring game.
MIAMI +1 over Pittsburgh
I can't believe I'm actually picking Miami this week, but they have to be able to beat an under-prepared rookie quarterback that doesn't have the full support of his teammates making his first NFL start on the road. The Dolphins have been proactive about their offensive line problems this week, replacing left tackle/turnstile Wade Smith with someone that isn't Wade Smith. Maybe this will be the wake up call that the Dolphin line needs to have at least an average game.
Vivek: (1-2 last week, 2-4 overall) At least I'm consistent, right? The Jaguars will not continue their fluke wins. This team should be 0-2, if not for a Hail Mary and a Quentin Griffin fumble. Now onto my Best Bets, and I use the word "best" very loosely.
ATLANTA -10 over Arizona
The Falcons will dedicate their performance to the pride of Cobb County, GA who passed away this week. Jim Mora's not-so-West Coast Offense is molding into a scheme for Vick. The game plan still calls for shorter timing routes but still gives Vick the ability to throw the ball on the move and take off when the time is right. Vick should have a field day against the worst ranked defense in this young season.
TENNESSEE -6 over Jacksonville
Again, Jacksonville was a prayer and fumble away from starting 0-2. There is no chance that ten points per game and 200 yards per game is good enough to knock of the Titans.
Pittsburgh +1 over MIAMI
Don't be too surprised to see a few more carries for the Bus this week. Look for Bill Cowher to keep pounding the ball down the Dolphins throat to keep the defense on the field. Combine that with the Miami offense turning out short drives, and the second half could be all Steelers.
Al: This season isn't off to a good start for me. I've never started the year in one of these leagues losing two teams right out of the gate, but that's what's happening this season. Team Upside didn't reach their potential in Week 2. Only Domanick Davis and Drew Bledsoe reached double digits in points. If your fantasy team is carried by Drew Bledsoe throwing 1 TD and 198 passing yards, it's not going to be a good week for you. Ian's team These Guys Are Good won immunity thanks to big games from Aaron Brooks, Curtis Martin, Hines Ward and Donte' Stallworth. My team First, Last, Everything would have been knocked out if it wasn't for their strong, immunity winning performance in Week 1. With as many as two RBs and two WRs sitting out Week 3 because of injury, odds are they'll be knocked out this week anyway. But who knows, maybe they'll be able to get enough out of Quentin Griffin to squeak past Ian's XFL Wannabees -- who could be without all three RBs this week.
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