Posted 10/5 by FBG Staff, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Question: What's the story with the Atlanta Falcon LB unit? Why has Michael
Boley produced so well from the strong side? Will Ed Hartwell immediately return
to a starting role when healthy?
Shawn Culcasi: Michael Boley's solid production from the strongside
in Atlanta is certainly a head-scratcher. It leads me to believe that the Falcons
have been getting creative with their formations to compensate for both John
Abraham and Ed Hartwell missing from the lineup. Aside from the Arizona game,
Atlanta's schedule hasn't been particularly LB-friendly, which could've been
a factor to point to. A team placing a developing player in spots to make plays.
Will it continue? Both Abraham and Hartwell have targeted an October 15th return,
which gives Boley one more week to shine in their absence. After that, don't
be surprised if Boley reverts back into his traditional level of production
(mediocre and inconsistent). Although, with John Abraham and Ed Hartwell being
very familiar with the injury report, Boley's opportunity could resurface at
Jene Bramel: The Falcon LB unit (and defense overall) has made an about-face
against the run this year, stiffening up from 4.7 ypc to 3.1 ypc thus far in
2006. While free agent signee Grady Jackson has been a big part of this by clogging
up the middle and freeing up WLB Demorrio Williams to make plays around the
line of scrimmage instead of around the first down marker, SLB Michael Boley
has been a big part of the transformation too. He's routinely getting off blocks
and making tackles from the strong side. He's also been a big part of the Falcon
nickel package, both in coverage (on pace for four picks and 16 PD) and at times
as a pass rushing DE with John Abraham out with a groin injury. The concern
with Boley has to be how he'll produce when Abraham returns. In week 1, Boley
was not a part of the nickel package and put up the dreaded 0-0-0 in the boxscore.
No matter what happens with Boley's production, he is not coming out of the
lineup when Hartwell is deemed healthy enough to play. It remains to be seen
what will happen, but the Falcons will very likely revert to their preseason
plan of moving Demorrio Williams to a hybrid nickel backer/safety role (similar
to what the Eagles are trying to do with Brian Dawkins) should Hartwell rejoin
the first team on rushing downs.
Bob Magaw: I still think Brooking is the man. His versatility is a little
bit of a curse in that he is probably best positioned for IDP production from
his preferred WLB spot, but he began his NFL career at MLB for the first few
seasons, and with multiple injuries keeping prized free agent MLB but suddenly
brittle-looking Edgerton Hartwell out of the lineup (early season-ending ruptured
Achilles tendon in 05 followed by twin knee scopes to start 06), he has been
shunted to MLB on an interim basis. In some systems MLB is the money position,
but from the weak side he doesn't have to wrangle with blockers as much and
can more fully leverage his elite combo of athleticism, speed, quickness, strength
and instincts to fly to the ball carrier and be a sideline-to-sideline playmaker.
If Hartwell doesn't have a setback, he could be back in a few weeks, but at
present it is unclear if the ATL coaching staff will ease him back into the
starting lineup gradually. Even when healthy last year, Hartwell had been hit
and miss in the box score, and somewhat of a disappointment relative to the
huge expectations from his stint in BAL. The addition of massive two-gab block-eater
Grady Jackson could be a boon to him in 06, though, but I am in wait and see
mode with Hartwell, and not just because of the medical issues that have clouded
his future (though Achilles tendon injuries have been known to rob players of
their explosiveness -- Sam Cowart most notably in recent seasons, and multi-Pro
Bowler Julian Peterson in 05, though he seems close to all the back with SEA).
Boley's SLB job should be safe regardless of Hartwell's status, but like some
of my FBG IDP teammates, I'm a little skeptical that he will maintain his current
elevated tackle levels once Hartwell and John Abraham return to health and the
starting lineup. Perhaps in a best-case scenario he could be like a poor man's
Leroy Hill and compensate for a lack of consistent tackle numbers with above
average, Marcus Washington-like sack numbers. Monitor the Hartwell situation
closely, because if for any reason he suffers complications and is slow to return,
the player that could benefit the most is "interim" WLB Demorrio Williams.
He looked like a future star as a rookie, compensating for a lack of prototypical
size (he reportedly struggled to maintain even a SS-like 220 in season) with
an electric first step, innate sense of pursuit angles, outstanding speed and
open field tackling ability. He regressed in 05, though, often getting pushed
around by smash mouth attacks, abandoning his gap assignments by running around
blocks, over-pursuing and generally underwhelming and being one of the chief
culprits when the Falcons were painfully and repeatedly gashed by opponents
in the run game. This season he looks more like the 04 iteration, in which the
arrow looked pointed up on his career. If Hartwell returns to some semblance
of his prior form, however, Williams is expected to be relegated to nickel LB
detail, which should severely mute his production and temper enthusiasm for
his near to intermediate-term prospects.
Q: Mario Williams and Tamba Hali finally broke into the sack column this
week. What are the prospects of both for the rest of the year in redraft leagues?
Shawn Culcasi: After his performance to open the season, I'd be surprised
if anyone was relying on Mario Williams in redraft leagues (let alone wasting
a roster spot). Even with 1.5 sacks in week 4, he's just not involved in enough
plays to justify consideration. Guys like Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers
opened their careers with similar tackle production, but both offered more to
the boxscore and you felt optimistic about their prospects. I don't feel as
optimistic with Williams.
Unlike Williams, Tamba Hali has been active through his first three games (8
solo tackles, 6 assists, 1.5 sacks, one FF) and, while he lacks Williams' physical
attributes, he makes up for it with nonstop desire. I'd feel much more comfortable
relying on Hali on a weekly basis based on what we've seen to this point. It's
been reported that Hali's mother, whom he hasn't seen in 12 years, is moving
to the United States from Liberia. It'll be interesting to see if this effects
his play at all, you'd think that her presence would help him ease into the
Jene Bramel: Mario Williams took some of the heat off himself by getting
to Daunte Culpepper twice (awarded 1 1/2 sacks in the boxscore) last week. Although
he did look better collapsing the pocket against Miami, what the boxscore doesn't
tell you is that his rookie counterpart DeMeco Ryans was primarily responsible
for disrupting the play on both sacks on blitzes but didn't finish the play.
Williams should still be a desirable target in dynasty leagues as he is showing
flashes of his freakish talent, but until the Texans surround him with something
other than replacement level talent on the defensive line, he's going to struggle
in all phases of the game as opposing offenses gameplan against him.
Tamba Hali is a different story. After more than holding his own against two
solid pass blocking RT in Cincinnati's Willie Anderson and Denver's George Foster,
Hali broke through with 1 1/2 sacks against another reasonable RT in 49er Kwame
Harris. Hali, though not nearly as well sized as Williams, plays with excellent
leverage and pursuit against the run (12 total tackles less sacks in 3 games)
and has the benefit of elite pass rusher Jared Allen on the other side of the
KC line. I've shared the chauffeur's license on the Hali bus with a couple of
others on staff; in my opinion his time is now.
Bob Magaw: Long-term, I still like the upside of Mario Williams freakish
athleticism and movement skills for his size (and he will fill out and get bigger
and stronger under year round, NFL-style weight training, nutrition and conditioning
regimens). But getting back on point, in redraft leagues, Hali appears to have
a more NFL ready game. It may not have helped with Super Mario's initial development
to move him all over the DL and force a rookie with an already steep and daunting
learning curve to learn multiple positions, responsibilities and assignments...
a good credo and maxim for rookies is KISS (keep it simple, stupid!). If the
HOU coaching staff can keep from outsmarting themselves and just let Williams
get comfortable in one position and allow his formidable natural tools to come
to the fore, he could eventually become the monster that many predicted of him
(though it takes some DEs a few years for the light to come on... see first
three to four seasons for Michael Strahan, Leonard Little and Jason Taylor).
Williams flashed rare talent on film, but he did come with some questions about
his motor. The vast majority of his sacks were in the last few games of the
season, when his coaches at N.C. State reportedly had to challenge him to fulfill
his potential and had to resort to lighting a fire under him... he also wasn't
even the best defensive player on his own team in the estimation of some scouts
(they also had the highly regarded DE/OLB/track star Manny Lawson and MLB Stephen
Tulloch). Hali is almost the complete opposite in that he has far from prototypical
physical traits and lacks elite measurables, but he possesses off-the-charts
intangibles, work ethic, character, leadership, passion for the game, desire
to be great, motor, hustle and consistent, snap-to-snap intensity. Hali ran
a pedestrian 40 time at his workout, but so did Terrell Suggs and he turned
out more than OK (almost certainly one of the top 5 young DEs in the game for
dynasty purposes). BAL HC Brian Billick once wryly noted in the wake of selecting
Suggs that when DEs had to run 40 yards to catch the QB and get a sack, he would
start worrying about his inability to clock a scorchingly fast 40 time. In retrospect,
I may have have under-appreciated Hali and underestimated his ability to make
a sudden impact (I was under the impression that he would get pushed around
and struggle initially far more than he has proven to so far). Hali's best traits
may be his relentlessness and tenaciousness, which are outstanding attributes
for a DE. He has nice versatility in his background, and was a converted DT
at Penn State who takes pride and devotes considerable attention and effort
to run support. So even if he hits some dry patches in the sack department through
a 16 game season, he looks capable of racking up consistent, above average tackle
numbers for a DE. He is also superbly conditioned for a DL, which may make him
more impervious and refractory to the effects of the dreaded rookie wall, which
typically hits sometime around midseason. Anybody who knows even the bare minimum
about Hali's background and improbable trek from his war-torn African homeland
to college stardom and potential future NFL greatness knows there can be no
doubt that he has supreme appreciation for the rare gift it is to be a professional
athlete in America, and there is virtually zero risk that he will ever succumb
to an Odell Thurman- type meltdown. You've gotta like that attitude and mind
Q: Will anyone in the Dallas 3-4 defense have a consistently good fantasy
Shawn Culcasi: Not likely. Through the first three games we've already
seen the peaks and valleys that come with Cowboys defense. The one guy that
you'd think could be a consistent performer is middle linebacker Bradie James,
but with just 8 solo tackles that idea is shot. The OLBs will have great games
and then disappear, the defensive linemen are pretty much useless. Terrence
Newman is even off a bit with only 2 passes defended on the year and he's been
one of the leagues most consistent performers over the last three seasons.
Jene Bramel: I wouldn't count out DB Roy Williams yet, but he's not
having the breakout year many thought he might. The ILB in this defense have
been a HUGE disappointment. Parcells' ILB in 3-4 defenses have been stud options
everywhere but Dallas (Pepper Johnson, Marvin Jones, et al) but Bradie James
just can't keep it together despite a very good three man front. And hopes that
Akinola Ayodele would thrive in the 'Jack' LB role that is usually the money
position in this 3-4 are fading. Demarcus Ware is probably an excellent buy
low candidate in big play leagues, but he's yet to translate his improvement
as an all-around LB to the boxscore to give him value in standard scoring setups.
Don't give up on this scheme yet, it should provide some good fantasy points.
Unfortunately, Parcells will probably take his scheme into the sunset with him
before they get the talent to play well both on field and in the boxscore.
Bob Magaw: Working systematically through the positions in Parcells'
favored 3-4 defense...
Marcus Spears and Chris Canty are outstanding 3-4 DEs and have almost perfect
skill sets as far as meshing with what they are asked to do in this system.
But lets face it, much of the time they are blocking sled dummies that free
up the OLBs to make plays, and are rarely afforded the opportunities to make
plays in their own right within the confines of the scheme. On to NT Jason Ferguson,
do we even need to go there. Just as a cursory dismissal and IDP public service
announcement, Norton's seminal defensive positional analysis hips us to the
fact that the 3-4 NT is to IDP scoring potential what Larry Storch and Steven
Seagal are to great American dramatic actors and Rosie O'Donnell and Kathy Bates
are to hotness quotient. Among the LBs, although ILB Bradie James has made strides
towards becoming more consistent (and was rewarded with a recent long-term contract
extension), he remains somewhat of an enigma and too up and down for my taste.
DeMarcus Ware is likely the most interesting LB option. He could be an ascendant
player and emergent star, but as talented as he is, it remains to be seen if
he can overcome the stigma of uneven production that seems to plague even the
best 3-4 OLBs (see Willie McGinest), with erratic tackle numbers punctuated
by the occasional flashes of dominance and multi-sack game outbursts which overall
and on balance presents the unfortunate uncertainty and week-to-week unpredictability
that is the antithesis of how to construct championship IDP rosters. In some
respects, the scheme is reminiscent of Belichick's in NE (unsurprising since
he spent his formative years with Parcells as a mentor), where it is hard to
find many rocks of consistency, as part of the point is to use the inherent
flexibility of the 3-4 as an advantage, opting to attack from different places
and in different ways, exploiting matchups as they change literally from game
to game... sometimes even WITHIN GAMES (depending on adjustments of opposing
offenses... or lack thereof)! Except in this case, DAL doesn't seem to have
even a Tedy Bruschi-like analogue in the front seven that offers a semi-consistent
and dependable scoring option. The Cowboys best IDP scoring options may well
be in the secondary. Newman and Henry are among the more talented and well-rounded
CB tandems in the NFL. Both are solid in run support, with Newman having superior
coverage chops. This might make Henry the more attractive option (especially
in mandatory start CB leagues that break out DB scoring separately), as defenses
would be expected to try and pick on him more than the nearly unbreachable Newman.
Rookie FS Pat Watkins has been a very pleasant surprise. He wasn't necessarily
-counted on or expected to start so quickly, but he has gotten off to a very
good start. I agree with some of my IDP compadres that star SS Roy Williams
probably has the most upside, but it is contingent on how he is used within
the scheme. If he is turned loose and allowed to do what he does best, attacking
the LOS and playing in fast forward mode, he has the talent to be one of the
top playmaking DBs in the game. With Watkins looking promising in a center fielder
capacity, the hope is that his presence will be conducive to more fully unleashing
the full fury that is Roy Williams and better enable bringing to bear the full
scope of his talents in attacking offenses. To extend the Pats comparison evoked
above, Williams has a chance to be the top IDP option in DAL as Rodney Harrison
was in NE. Ultimately, though, the face of the Cowboys doesn't likely have the
upside of his even more versatile, well-rounded and talented Pro Bowl counterpart.
While both are monster hitters, Williams isn't nearly as reliable an open field
tackler and has far more severe limitations in coverage.
Q: Can Stuart Schweigert keep up his recent production? Or is he a two week
Shawn Culcasi: I wouldn't call Schweigert a two-week wonder because
he's shown in the past that he capable of producing a handful of solo tackles
per game, but whether or not he's able to keep his current pace will likely
be determined by the Raiders offense. Currently they sit at next-to-last in
time of possession (behind Tennessee) with their defense being on the field
for an average of 34:58 per game. Last week was even worse (37:06) and Schweigert
was able to take advantage of the opportunity with 10 solo tackles. If the offense
in Oakland can find any sort of ball control ability, the overall stats for
their defenders should come down.
Jene Bramel: It's probably a little harsh to call Schweigert a two week
wonder as he's been very productive when starting for the Raiders. However,
it is a little surprising that Schweigert is continuing his solid performance
outside the "Big Nickel" defense this year behind two solid tackling
options at LB (Kirk Morrison/Thomas Howard) and alongside highly regarded rookie
SS Michael Huff. But Morrison has struggled at times behind a weak DT corps
at a new position and Huff hasn't impressed at all, leaving Schweigert to fill
up the boxscores again. He's a solid option until those two issues get resolved.
Playing for a Raider defense likely to be on the field a significant portion
of every game, he may have solid value even when Morrison and Huff settle into
their new roles.
Bob Magaw: I'll take the cop-out answer of maybe somewhere in-between.
I think it was FBGs Bob Henry that informed me Stu actually beat Charles Rogers
in a sprint as a Michigan prep. On the other hand, the trampling he received
at the feet of Greg Jones in a memorable Senior Bowl run left an indelible image
of the wrong kind. I wasn't that high on him before this season, but many players
have surprised me in the past and taken off after a few seasons in the league.
For now, there are a lot of safeties I would rather have in dynasty leagues,
though. The most important point made earlier, in my opinion, was that the prospects
of continued and sustained elevated numbers is probably best thought as a function
of and tightly connected with the state of the OAK offense. If they continue
their bumbling ways, opposing offenses will dominate in time of possession,
affording many more tackle (and big plays such as sacks, FFs & INTs) opportunities.
If only because in these situations with horrifically skewed time of possession
numbers they will tend to be on the field so much more often than their more
fortunate counterparts with competent offenses. A creepy and spooky pre-Halloween
thought is that if Count Chocula had his head cryogenically frozen like Walt
Disney, he could continue to haunt the Raiders franchise and cast a dark pall
over their future prospects, not just for years or even decades... but CENTURIES...
Q: Close starting lineup calls are becoming more of an issue during the
bye week portion of the schedule? Are there one or two primary matchup keys
you use to decide on close lineup decisions regardless of scoring system?
Shawn Culcasi: I play close attention to time of possession differential
and how long each defense is "expected" to be on the field. If it's
a close call, going with the player who will have more opportunities to make
plays is a good bet.
If your league uses My Fantasy League, they have a great option that shows
you how many points have been allowed by each team to each position...with your
scoring system. Makes life pretty easy, as do the Strength of Schedule and Fantasy
Points Scored/Allowed reports provided by Clayton Gray at Footballguys.
Jene Bramel: Not really. We're just now starting to get enough data
to use Clayton Gray's fantasy points against charts, which are helpful in pointing
out matchups that aren't as good as you thought they might be and vice versa.
I also like to look at the game logs on our player pages and find similar players
that faced the same matchup for a player you're questioning for your current
lineup. But weekly variance is a fact of life in football. You're going to err
on close decisions. Otherwise, we'd all be millionaire sports bettors. Oftentimes,
I'll make an effort to trade a couple of second tier guys for a clear every
week starter even if it means overpaying a little just to rid myself of the
Bob Magaw: I'll do the impossible and try and limit myself to a few
One thing would be to exhort others to not limit yourself to one thing (attend
to as many important factors you can think of when making lineup decisions)...
If forced to restrict to just a few factors most important... three words already
mentioned above can have massive importance... TIME OF POSSESSION. Study this
concept, understand it, apply it & win more.
Matchups are also huge. It is hoped in future FBG can amass more specific data
about patterns and tendencies related to tracking points offenses allow to different
IDP positions (broken down by team on offense and defense). This will create
a better statistical/empirical foundation with which to extract broader principles
and provide better data for feeding probability engines we try and make better
and more accurate predictions with.