The Basics
By Matt Waldman
September 28th, 2011

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.


Heading in the quarter pole of the fantasy season we're nearing the point where we can begin to discern what we know and what we don't. I'll begin with a few of the more basic statements of knowledge and ignorance.

The Basics

We know that the Cardinals passing defense is the fantasy equivalent of the local ice cream truck. If Tarvaris Jackson can buy himself a few more weeks after facing Arizona then be watchful that the dregs of your fantasy bench aren't climbing over your starters to get into the lineup like a stampede of neighborhood kids with visions of bomb pops in their heads when they hear the tinkling music from that truck's loudspeaker as it comes around the corner.

We know that Cam Newton has been a yardage machine when rain isn't in the forecast, but 4 touchdowns to 4 interceptions simply isn't all that inspiring. Let's table any discussion of him as an elite-caliber quarterback despite producing line one for two out of three weeks. The elite potential has always been there but he's performed vastly better than any realistic, analytical person could expect.

However, give him time to be challenged and respond to it. That's how the process works. Otherwise you might as well be riding the highs and lows with the same foolhardiness that happened when folks got excited about Scott Mitchell, Derek Anderson, and Vince Young. Newton is doing great to begin his rookie year. Let's give him a chance to face and eventually overcome teams that have game planned especially for him.

We know that the difference between No. 24 QB Colt McCoy and his 634 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs and No. 10 QB Matt Hasselbeck's 932 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs is 298 yards and a handful of attempts. That's 99.33 yards per game. With the attempts between the two very similar that should tell you that the difference is the deep ball.

Hasselbeck had deep threat Kenny Britt who enhanced Hasselbeck's yards per attempt. McCoy lacks an established deep threat. Trust me, if Mohamed Massaquoi develops into a consistent primary receiver it will be the first time since high school. He's been a tease since his freshman year at Georgia. That I do know. What we don't know is if Nate Washington can stretch defenses without Britt or if the Titans have a complementary player to take Britt's place and fill the role effectively.

Rebounding

Buy low. Practice Patience. Find an old British naval hat from a custom shop and scream, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Whatever you decide to do is up to do after you read this list of players by position that I believe should rebound in the coming weeks.

QB Matt Schaub, Texans
The opening two weeks for the Texans turned out to be ripe for a ground and pound strategy regardless of the running back. However, I think the Texans stumbled into something that I sincerely believe they will continue to use if they have any self-awareness about the success of it: three tight end sets. Gary Kubiak admitted this week that he didn't expect that much success for James Casey against the Saints.

If he's smart, he continues to go to the well because neither Kevin Walter nor Jacoby Jones offer the same kind of mismatch opportunities and flexibility that they get with Casey, Owen Daniels, and yes, even Joel Dreessen or Garrett Graham in the lineup at the same time. Monday night, John Gruden made an excellent observation about the Shanahan style of play-calling where they like to use plays one after the other that appear the same but aren't at all.

Kyle Shanahan worked under Gary Kubiak before joining his dad in Washington. Don't be surprised if we see similar concepts in Houston. The Texans run the ball extremely well but Andre Johnson commands double teams. This scheme will force mismatches as well as balance out defensive fronts that try to overload one side of the formation. With Pittsburgh and Baltimore up next, this could prove highly beneficial.

I don't know if Matt Schaub is going to have Tom Brady-like outings, but I think 300 yards passing over the next 3 weeks will seem more like the norm than an exception.

RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
The Panthers running game has been overshadowed by Cam Newton. However, I believe Jonathan Stewart is about to hit his stride. The first two weeks were opponents that could throw the ball. This week, the Panthers get a Bears defense that's like the neighborhood tough talker who is in denial that his washboard is now a washtub. Get him into a physical confrontation and he's washed up.

While the Bears aren't in that bad of a situation as the linebackers are still very good, they aren't great against physical running backs. Maybe Brandon Meriweather will provide a physical brand of run support very soon, which is what he's known for, but Michael Turner and Ryan Grant proved as much thus far that the Bears are vulnerable. And those two have nothing on Stewart if he starts strong and the Panthers let him get into a rhythm. The Saints and Falcons are mistake prone at the linebacker position, especially in the passing game and Stewart has already flashed that he's the more sought after receiver of the Carolina backs.

Hakeem Nicks, Giants
Nicks dinged his knee at the end of a play near the sideline early in Week 1 and the bruise limited him somewhat once the game was over and his body cooled down. Those types of bruises can limit flexibility for a week or two even if there is no structural damage. Nicks still looked good in Week 2, but once Mario Manningham left the game with a concussion Nicks didn't have much to distract the opposition from taking him away from Manning in the second half. It was more of the same in Week 3.

Manningham will be back Week 4 versus the Cardinals and I think Nicks is getting ready to feast on a couple of bomb pops and maybe even a sherbet pushup for his lady. Seattle might be getting better on defense, but they aren't good enough to shut down Nicks and Manningham at home, either. I almost foolishly traded Nicks away this week to Bob Henry (thanks for declining the deal, brother).

Below the Radar

Damian Williams, Tennessee
I liked Williams' route running at USC because he demonstrated a natural skill at setting up defenders with small moves that ell a story leading up to a break. When you can do that consistently and then learn to read coverage and defeat the jam then you have a good shot at a long pro career. The party line in Tennessee when they drafted Williams is that they thought he was a value in the third round. He has good hands, catches the ball reasonably well in traffic and he has some skill after the catch. He's not Aaron Brown-Cedric Cobbs dynamic as a runner, but he's shifty. He's a naturally smart player, but this will be the time to see if he's been preparing all this time for the opportunity that comes suddenly with an injury. Williams is potential guy to grab off the wavier wire if Friday practices reveal he has a strong chance to start.

Marc Mariani, Tennessee
Matt Hasselbeck values smart players. He'll never say this, but it's why he made it a point to work extensively with Kenny Britt when he got here. Britt is a not a smart player. Let me clarify that I'm not saying he's a dumb person. I don't know Britt. However, Britt is an instinctive style player on the field and he thrived due to his enormous physical gifts. Hasselbeck knew that he needed to take Britt under his wing and mentor him on the practice field to get the most out of their playing relationship.

Marc Mariani is a smaller receiver, but he's quick and tough. He's a good open field runner and he could fulfill a Wes Welker, Lance Moore type of role in terms of his physical skill sets. Mariani isn't a guy to grab off the waiver wire, but just someone to remember his name.

Shane Vereen, Patriots
The talk is all Stevan Ridley in New England when it comes to rookie runners and it's earned from training camp. However, don't forget about Vereen. What makes him a talent is his slashing style. Think of a bigger, more powerful, but not quite as explosive Jahvid Best and that's what Vereen can provide in New England as a lead back. He's a long shot, but strange things happen during the NFL season and he's a name to tuck away.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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