- 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!
• Rudi Johnson used to be the hardest back in football to bring down, but this season he seems to be lacking the skill that made him so good: The ability to hit a seam or an alley and get the tough yards. As I've studied him this year, I've noticed he now tries to run laterally and make something happen. Instead of grinding it out and getting a two-yard gain out of nothing, he now gets strung out and loses two yards. And the O-line deserves only part of the blame for that. I would be very concerned if I owned him on my fantasy team!
• Don't look for the Seahawks to walk all over the 49ers' defense this week. The 49ers held the Seahawks to 14 points both times they faced them last year, and a big reason is because they played a 4-2-5 defense no matter how many wide receivers were on the field. What that did was give them plenty of pass coverage, and they forced turnovers. And despite having only six guys upfront to defend the run, they were able to hold Shaun Alexander to just 73 yards on 23 carries in their Week 15 meeting. I love the Niners' defense game plan, and I expect a similar result again this week.
• DeShaun Foster has looked good this season, but he faces a tough Bucs defense this week. No worries. What I think favors Foster in this matchup is his pass-catching ability. The Panthers will throw to him often, and there will be times he will be matched up with Derrick Brooks one-on-one. Brooks is still a stud, but he's no longer the best cover guy.
• When I watched tapes of the Lions' defense this week, I hardly could believe my eyes. They looked dazed and confused. In the first half Sunday in Philadelphia, the linebackers were everywhere except where they were supposed to be, and the defensive backs never touched an Eagles wide receiver and tried to re-route them. I don't expect that bad of a performance this week, but this is still an average defense, at best. Brian Griese should have a good first start.
• The Vikings' offense lacks a consistent passing attack. Against a Packers defense that plays a lot of man-to-man and can pressure the quarterback, I don't see the Vikings' passing game getting on track this week. Their running can still be effective, though. Adrian Peterson is a special runner. The more I study him, the more impressed I am with his big-play ability and willingness to get you the tough yards.
• While watching the Cardinals' offense on about hour No. 56 this week, I realized why Arizona created a package for Kurt Warner: They wanted to throw the ball to their wide receivers. Watching Warner zip the ball into tight coverage to his receivers with tremendous accuracy, it became obvious. Meanwhile, Matt Leinart was throwing soft floaters that either didn't make it to their targets or forced his receivers to make great catches. Game tapes reveal truths like this, and it'll be hard for Ken Whisenhunt to keep the truth from his team. Warner gives the Cardinals the best chance to win because he is the only quarterback who can "max out" everyone's talent. Lienart does not enhance anyone's skills on the field. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out because this spills over to the politics of teams. The Arizona coaches no doubt watched the game tape and want to make the change to Warner ASAP, but the front office/owners still see the Leinart hype and will resist the switch. To be continued
• Jaguars offensive coordinator has done a good job adapting his offense to David Garrard's strengths, and Garrard looked great against Denver. Meanwhile, Denver's linebackers bit a lot on play-action in last week's loss and now face one of the best play-action passers in the business in Peyton Manning. Look out!
• Donovan McNabb rebounded beautifully against the Lions, but it wasn't just a "response" to his critics. The Lions never challenged Philly's receivers off the line of scrimmage like the Packers did in Week 1. When you let receivers get off the line of scrimmage and run routes without being disrupted, and the quarterback has all the time in the world to throw, you give up 56 points in this league. The Giants, the Eagles' opponent this week, will be more like the Packers in that they will be in the face of the receivers. The Giants aren't as good defensively as Green Bay, but don't look for a big another big performance from McNabb.
• 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is fast and a very good athlete, but he needs to run routes better if he's going to become a consistent tight end. And he still has a long ways to go.
• The Saints should study Philadelphia's offense to see how the Eagles use Brian Westbrook. Perhaps it will help them figure out what to do with Reggie Bush. Then again, Bush still has plenty to learn. Reggie, I speak from experience here: If you're going to be a successful runner in this league, sometimes you need to be able to find a small alley to cut into and get two yards instead of scrambling and looking for a big gain. You'll learn how to do that, and the big runs will still come.
• Do not write off Joey Harrington just because Byron Leftwich signed there. Watching him on tape this week, I was very impressed with his poise and accuracy. If that continues, Byron will have a hard time getting on the field.
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.
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