Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
04 Oct 2006
by Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky
Ian: Howdy Scramble-maniacs, and welcome to another week of Scramble for the Ball. Plenty going on in the league this week, from both real and fantasy perspectives. First of all, let's talk about lines. Offensive and defensive lines, that is.
Is it me, or does it seem like games are won more by the offensive and defensive lines than by any other position in football these days? For an excellent example of this, look no further than the New England Patriots. Two weeks ago, The Pats were demolished at home by Denver. Even though the final score was 17-7, the game wasn't that close. What happened? When the Patriots had the ball, Denver's defensive line dominated. Neither Laurence Maroney nor Corey Dillon could find any room to run; as a team New England had 21 carries for 50 yards -- a paltry 2.4 average. With the running game going nowhere, the passing game couldn't get going, and the offense could do nothing. The lone Patriots touchdown was late in the game and meaningless.
When the Broncos had the ball, their offensive line didn't dominate, but it was good enough to neutralize a usually strong Patriots defensive front and lead Tatum Bell to 123 yards rushing. With the Broncos running effectively, the passing game opened up enough for some big plays that made the difference in the game.
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Richard Seymour and company owned the Bengals up front. They didn't shut down Rudi Johnson, but they relentlessly pressured Carson Palmer on passing downs, forcing fumbles and third-down incompletions. The Bengals have a talented group of wideouts, but if the quarterback has no time to find them, it won't do much good. On offense, the Patriots dominated in the ground game. Not to take anything away from Laurence Maroney, who made the most of his carries in the open field, but it was a heck of a lot easier with the offensive line parting the defense like the Red Sea.
You have to believe that just about any running back would have had a terrible game running against Denver behind the Pats line two weeks ago, while even Kevan Barlow would be racking up yardage against Cincinnati last week. Rex Grossman may look like the next coming of Brett Favre, but did you see the protection he had against Seattle Sunday night? Teams may look good one week and bad another, but you'd better believe it's the battle of the trenches that has the most impact.
Bill: I agree with you, Ian, but Kevan Barlow couldn't rack up clothes at Old Navy, let alone yards at Cincinnati.
Ian:Elsewhere in the league, the Baltimore Ravens continued to exceed expectations with a huge win against San Diego. Watching the game, frankly, San Diego was the better team for the first 55 minutes of the game. They could move the ball some; the Ravens could not move the ball at all. While the Ravens as a team are clearly for real, the offense is not.
Bill: This means our bet is a push. Right? Right???
Ian: After watching a lot of Jamal Lewis, take it from me, the guy is finished. His happy feet routine behind the line of scrimmage, followed by plowing into the line for a gain of 2 to 4 yards, is as depressing as it is predictable. McNair makes as many bad passes as Donovan McNabb; he just doesn't make enough sweet passes to make up for it. All that being said, he's got it when it counts; McNair can certainly lead the team down the field with the game on the line. With a defense that keeps the score close, that's all the Ravens need, isn't it?
One team that needs more than a good defense is the Minnesota Vikings. They're only giving up just over 16 points per game, but they're only scoring just under 16. Their fumbled handoff against the Bears in Week 3 was crushing: They'd likely still be tied for first place if they could have simply run the clock some then punted. When you're a team that relies on strong defense and an offense that's just good enough, big mistakes are unacceptable. This week, two second-half interceptions proved to be a decisive factor in a tight loss to the Bills. The Vikings can win a lot of games if they can simply ride the defense and not turn the ball over. They've got to get their act together.
Hey, look, it's a Santana Moss sighting! The Redskins finally remembered how to be successful: Get the ball in the hands of their best playmaker. The threat of Clinton Portis is enough to keep a defense honest; look for offensive games like this to be the norm rather than the exception as the season goes on. This may be your last chance to buy low on Chris Cooley before he returns to the form of last season. Speaking of which, here are some quick hits on fantasy football advice:
Sell high on Laurence Maroney; he's still splitting carries with Dillon and his stock won't get higher ... A matchup against Cleveland was exactly what the doctor ordered for Lamont Jordan. Expect another nice week against San Francisco, but then look to deal him if you can; it's a brutal schedule the rest of the way ... It may be time to give up on the Miami offense; they're flat-out terrible ... What can you say about Pennington and the Jets? Keep riding them while they're hot ... Those of you who drafted Reggie Bush as a starter, it's time to abandon that experiment ... Finally, don't look now, but Kevin Jones is starting to live up to the hype. Expect him to get better before he gets worse.
Bill: Kevin Jones has had two decent games against the Packers and the Rams. If he got to play his own team, I would say that he would have some potential for big games, but unless you're in a Lions Practice Fantasy League, no dice. That being said, he has a pretty favorable schedule for run defenses over the next few weeks; he doesn't play an above-average one until Miami in Week 12.
Bill: You know how we get down at the Loser League: All direness, all the time. This week, finally, brings us some truly awful performances, even from players whose teams actually won in Week 4. In addition, this week also saw some widely-selected favorites lead their Loser League teams to ... the opposite of glory.
QB: I don't have the data on how often players were selected in the Loser League this season, but if I had to guess, Alex Smith had to be one of the most-selected players. While he's started off the season relatively strong (compared to last season), he harbored no such delusions of mediocrity in Week 4. 92 yards passing and two interceptions cancel each other, meaning the 11-yard run that Smith went on is the only thing that earned him a 1. Kurt Warner, meanwhile, celebrated what will likely be his final week of actually helping his Loser League teams by contributing a 2; his -6 yards rushing came close to earning him a negative rushing point, which might have actually been up for discussion by the Loser League judges.
RB: Full marks this week go to Jamal Lewis (3) and Cedric Benson (3), both of whose teams did, in fact, come up victorious. Chris Brown also rolled a 3, but his team didn't do so well. And, for those non-believers, Reggie Bush only mustered a 4 this week.
WR: It wasn't a good week to be a tall, white wide receiver in the AFC. Matt Jones and Drew Bennett each scored a 1 in Week 4 play. The real loser of the week, though, was Kansas City's Samie Parker, who scored a 0 while his team racked up 41 points. 41! And he couldn't even muster ten yards receiving on two catches!
K: While Samie Parker was busy not helping his team to 41, Joe Nedney was on the other side of the field, helping his team to ... zero. Nedney missed a 51-yard field goal en route to a -2 and low score of the week dishonors. On the bright side for San Francisco, though, at least Frank Gore didn't fumble on the goal line again this week -- only his own 30 this time.
B. Hooven: I've been offered either Isaac Bruce or Greg Jennings for Reuben Droughns. I'm pretty much going to take it; which one should I take?
Also, what do you think about my trading Matt Hasselbeck for Laurence Maroney? I haven't decided if I'm getting screwed (as the current Hasselbeck owner). I have David Carr who I'm perfectly comfortable starting, and I could pick up Huard as a backup.
Ian: Can I talk you out of this? Admittedly, there isn't much context here; but a starting running back, even one who's been as poor as Droughns, is almost always worth more than a third or fourth wide receiver. That being said, you're probably in a position where you have running back depth and need help at wideout, so if you're set on choosing I'd go with Greg Jennnigs. Favre looks to him often, giving him planty of chances to break loose for a big play. The running game hasn't been strong enough to keep Favre from throwing often. Jennings is pretty much the second scoring option in Green Bay, while Bruce is the third option in St. Louis. And when all else fails, go for the upside.
As far as trading Hasselbeck for Maroney -- can I at least talk you out of that one? Seriously. Maroney had a great game and Hasselbeck had a terrible one, but this is a classic case of selling low and buying high. Maroney still splits carries with Dillon, while Hasslebeck still pilots one of the best offenses in the NFC.
A. Bundy: Hey guys. Here's a real test for your fantasy knowledge. Which two of the following three quarterbacks should I start this week: Damon Huard, Vince Young, or Andrew Walter? Yeah, it's that bad.
Bill: I don't know if this is that much of a test, Mr. Bundy. I mean, you're in trouble no matter what you do here. It's not like anything I say is going to help that. This is a situation where you should be starting people based on their opposition as opposed to anything they really bring to the table. Huard is playing Arizona (19th in Pass Defense DVOA), Young Indianapolis (20th), and Walter San Francisco (28th). Young might end up throwing forty passes in the game, but he might also get taken out for his own safety. I'd go with Huard and Walter.
Eli: Should I go with the Saints Defense at home against a terrible Tampa offense, or Indy's Defense at home against Vince Young's Titans? Turnovers are huge in my league.
Bill: You ask that like Tennessee's offense is a well-oiled machine. Colts defense.
Josh: I never thought I'd be asking whether to sit Antonio Gates, but he's been quiet, in large part due to Martyball, and I have Colston as a WR/TE. Should I play Colston over Gates?
Bill: Assuming you don't have a TE slot to put Gates in, when it comes to FLEX spots, it's a lot like a catcher coming out from behind the plate and playing first base or the outfield in baseball (I'm looking at you, Josh Phelps); the different context strips away some of his value. Antonio Gates goes from being the #1 TE in football to being, well, a top 10 or so WR that's off to a slow start. That all being said, New Orleans is at lowly Tampa Bay this week. It's hard to see them needing to throw the ball very frequently. San Diego is playing at Pittsburgh -- while Pittsburgh's defense is a lot better, the pressure they bring upon Philip Rivers could have him relying on targets that are close by, in front of his face, and gigantic -- like Gates. I'd hold out hope for Gates, but don't feel like benching him for a WR is an impossibility.
Bill: It would be easy to award this week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award to Albert Haynesworth for his end zone stomp but, well, it's not as if the Titans EV went down that much after his ejection. If you're already down multiple scores at home, chances are losing a defensive tackle isn't going to make that much of a difference.
This week, the Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to Jets RB/KR Leon Washington. The Colts followed a fourth quarter Justin Miller kickoff return for a touchdown with a drive of their own where the Jets, realistically, should've just allowed them to score without defending whatsoever in order to get the ball back, Madden-style. Regardless, the Colts kicked off with 50 seconds left. The ball bounced (Martin Gramatica: Kickoff Specialist) all the way down to about two feet inside the Jets end zone, where kick returner Leon Washington decided to pick it up and, instead of downing it, return the kick. He then proceeded to stop on the two yard line, stutter step to deke no one in particular, and then go down under a hail of Colts. He'd taken three crucial seconds off the clock and made the Jets' job eighteen yards harder, not costing the game, but making an already hard task a near-impossible one. For that, Leon Washington can Keep Choppin' Wood.
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Bill: OK. So last week, I picked the Titans against the Cowboys giving up ten points on the road, and as you all know, the Cowboys shellacked the Titans. Now, I have been asked to eat crow and admit that Dallas is a "great team" in more than one of our threads. Unfortunately for the person that requested I do so, I cannot make such a statement.
When it comes to the bet I made, as you again are all aware, Tennessee changed starting quarterbacks on Saturday night, switching from Kerry Collins to Vince Young. Now, I am not entirely positive on this -- Ian can correct me if I am wrong -- but that would be a drastic move that would allow me to cancel my bet, which was made on Monday night. While I'll be counting the bet against my record, had I made it in real-life, I would've cancelled it because the situation changed drastically. I would not, under any circumstances, back a quarterback in his NFL start. Especially if that quarterback is Vince Young (sorry, Tim).
As for the Cowboys being a great team, to be honest, I don't see it. They did beat the Titans by a wide margin, and I did say that a great team would do that. However, I feel like instead of underestimating the Cowboys, I overestimated the Titans instead. Having not watched the Titans play this year, I was operating under the impression that the team had a pulse. I was and am clearly mistaken. The Titans aren't as bad as most analysts say they are -- they're worse. Even ignoring the Albert Haynesworth foot stomp, the game was just embarrassing from the Titans' standpoint. I can't fathom why they signed four or five veteran free agents the second salary cap space became available; they were at the bottom of the success cycle and I guess they must've deluded themselves into thinking they were better off than they actually were. On this form, the Titans look to be fighting it out with the Raiders for the privilege of being the NFL's worst team; unfortunately, though, the Titans can't use Brady Quinn.
Now, if the Cowboys beat the Eagles by two touchdowns...
Bill (1-2 last week, 7-5 overall)
OK, so Miami's been relatively awful through four weeks. And, on top of that, New England's coming off of an emphatic victory over a Super Bowl contender. So, why Miami here? For one, Saban and Belichick know each other well enough that they're going to anticipate what the other does before they do it. To me -- and I am basing this off of exactly two games' worth of evidence, so it may be entirely untrue -- that would suggest a low-scoring, relatively close game.
The Dolphins kept it close against the Patriots last year, losing by six in Miami (and winning a meaningless game in Foxborough), and I think that the Patriots are worse and the Dolphins are better than they were at that point last year, even if neither showed it last week. In addition, the Patriots' offensive strength (rushing) is mirrored by a good Dolphins rush defense (fourth against the rush so far this season). After all, that kind of analysis has never got me in trouble before. Think I've talked myself into this one being a good idea. Onward.
I've watched the last three Jets games. The Jets are better than they were last year -- they certainly try harder, as Dan Dierdorf said last week in a thinly-veiled shot at Herman Edwards. In fact, there was pretty much no veiling. Let's go with sheerly-veiled shot. The Jaguars, on the other hand, are 2-2 and in danger of falling three games behind Indianapolis, who play Tennessee -- at home, even -- in Week 5. The Jets are playing a little over their heads, and some regression to the mean is in store for their performance. The Jets have shown very little proclivity for stopping the run so far this season, which bodes well for Jacksonville's scheme. I'm going to say 210 yards rushing for Jacksonville, and a double-digit win.
I will essentially continue to bet against Baltimore until they lose. It's really just out of spite at this point. I mean, I've already all but lost the Jersey Watch -- sure, not because of the Ravens' passing offense, but nonetheless I am already pricing out Ravens jerseys (I hope you like those commercials for Manhattan on TV, Dembsky, because that's where your jersey is coming from) and cursing Charlie Frye and Marty Schottenheimer. This team, I will keep repeating, just isn't that good. Will they make the playoffs? Probably, because it's hard to win four games to start off the season and not go 6-6 the rest of the way. Are they staying within a touchdown of Denver in Denver? Nope.
Ian: Until I can turn things around, I'm calling this Worst Bets. What's going on? Hard to say -- maybe I had too much faith in Brett Favre and Peyton Manning this past week. No better time to turn things around than the present.
Ian (1-2 last week, 4-6-1 overall)
The Washington offense is clicking, and there's no real reason to think the Giants will slow them down. If the Giants win, it will probably be after Eli gets his act together in the last 10 minutes of the game, and it probably won't be by more than four points.
Damon Huard is finally getting comfortable in the Kansas City offense, finding both Dante Hall and Eddie Kennison for touchdowns last week. L.J. is heating up, while Matt Leinart is making his first NFL start. This doesn't look promising for the home team.
The Bills offense hasn't looked that bad lately, which is the only thing keeping this line as low as it is. The Seattle offense hadn't looked that bad either before last Sunday night. The Bears probably won't give up a touchdown, and Robbie Gould will probably continue his torrid field goal pace. Look for a comfortable win for Chicago.
125 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2006, 1:07pm by Adam B