- Merril Hoge, NFL
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I spend all week watching game film: hours and hours of footage. And I have a passion for fantasy football. So it was only natural that I took the next step and put pen to paper, so to speak, and jotted down my fantasy thoughts as I went along. I'll continue to do so each week during the NFL season. Enjoy!
• I've studied the Broncos' defense a lot in recent weeks and have one huge fantasy tip: Start any and every fantasy running back against it. For whatever reason, their linebackers look like they are guessing on every play, instead of reading things, and they end up going the wrong way most of the time. Meanwhile, their defensive linemen are getting blown off the ball, and even their cornerbacks are getting beaten regularly. Fantasy owners should take advantage of that.
• Niners quarterback Alex Smith concerns me. When I study him, I'll see a couple of throws that are pretty impressive, and then within a few plays, a receiver or tight end will beat his guy, and Smith will overthrow him by 5 yards. In this league, you must be able to make defenses pay when your guys get open and it's an easy throw. But he has been missing those passes, which keeps him from getting better.
• Adrian Peterson (aka The Cashier) is the most exciting player in football. I watched him on tape this week, and he pulverizes defenders with his aggressive downhill style. Next time you watch him, notice how deep he lines up. It's about 8 or 9 yards from the line of scrimmage. He does that because he attacks the line of scrimmage so hard and so fast that if he were any closer, the timing in the running game would not be there. I said it in Week 1, and I'll say it again: Peterson is and will continue to be the best and most consistent fantasy player for years to come.
• The Cowboys have changed things in their defensive secondary since their Week 1 win over the Giants. They play more "quarter coverage," which means they play with four deep defenders. There are two reasons for this: (1) They are protecting against the big play, and the Giants had a few of them in the first half of the first game (Eli Manning threw for 312 yards, 144 of them to Plaxico Burress); and (2) they are protecting their safeties, who are not very good in coverage. It will be harder for the Giants to get those big plays this time around.
• The Giants' defense is different, too. In fact, it doesn't even look like the same unit, given the way the Giants blitz all the time. But Tony Romo is getting better and better at reading the blitz and throwing against it.
• It's so hard to cover the Steelers' tight ends and wide receivers. They are so disciplined on their releases from the line of scrimmage, they confuse defenders and make them wonder who they are supposed to cover. That causes a lot of mental errors, and if Ben Roethlisberger can keep putting games together like he had Monday night, we can put him in the elite category.
• I love watching the Browns' offense. They move tight end Kellen Winslow around and make it very hard for defensive coordinators to match up with him. It doesn't help that no linebacker or safety can cover him and that Derek Anderson just keeps getting better.
• It appears the Packers have no running game, and the way Brett Favre is throwing the ball, why run? Well, as I study them, they are attempting to get better at it, but they have one big strike against them. They do not have a real feature back, so that makes it difficult. I will say this: Their passing game will be difficult to stop because they can attack from all levels.
• The Bengals' defense is a great example of one that lacks playmakers. I constantly see players in position to make plays that the defense is designed to make, and they fail to do it. So, before they get better, they may get worse, until they get some better players.
• The Washington Redskins ran the ball better in Week 9, and it wasn't just because they were playing the Jets. They ran more of the stretch play, which is what the Broncos run so well, and it's what Clinton Portis feels good running. I will be interested to see if they keep calling these kinds of runs instead of the counters and powers that Joe Gibbs is famous for.
• Now that Reggie Bush is running more like an NFL back -- and what I mean by that is, instead of trying to beat people to the corner all day, he is hitting the hole and getting yards -- he has helped put the rhythm back into the Saints' offense. Last week, the Saints had a different group of people on the field almost every other play, which really makes it hard on a defense. New Orleans will become the second team to start 0-4 and make it to the playoffs.
Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. Check him out Sunday on "NFL Matchup" at 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and on "ESPNEWS Fantasy Insider" with Matthew Berry from 11 a.m. to noon on ESPNEWS. He also will be on "NFL Live" on ESPN at various times throughout the weekend.
Merril Hoge offers scouting tips, including a closer look at the Cowboys-Giants showdown.