- 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 plugged in the tape of the Chiefs' offense this week to really study them and find out why they're struggling to run the ball. Once again, game tape revealed the truth (which is why I love watching them). Yes, the Chiefs' offensive line is struggling at the point of attack, and the running lanes are not as pronounced as they were in the past. But here's what has made things worse: Larry Johnson quitting on running plays. Yup, you're reading this right. And that's not the only problem with LJ. He isn't, and really never has been, a complete back. On more than one occasion, I have seen his poor pass-blocking get his quarterback killed. Well, last week against Jacksonville was no different. He is dogging it on pass plays and run plays. I have a saying that you can win with guys like Larry Johnson, but you will never turn a season around with guys like him.
• The biggest game of the season is in Dallas this weekend between the Patriots and Cowboys. There will be a lot of fantasy options on display. So which ones will end up posting big fantasy scores? Let's start with the Patriots. It will be very hard for Dallas to hide Roy Williams in pass coverage against Randy Moss. The Cowboys must generate quick pressure on Tom Brady with the fewest guys possible, which is a tall order. But remember that Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator in San Diego last season, and the Chargers were able to do just that by moving linebackers around and creating confusion on the offensive line. I'm sure the plan will be similar this Sunday but I still think Moss will have a big game. The Cowboys also will have a hard time containing the Pats' running game. The Pats run the ball well to the right, and the Cowboys have struggled there. Whoever is at running back for the Pats this week will have a good day.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, will face a very disciplined group of linebackers and defensive backs. How can they beat them? By using a formation that makes a linebacker in the middle cover a receiver man-to-man. Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas are good, but they can't cover Jason Witten or Terrell Owens in the middle of the field. The Cowboys no doubt will try that. Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been able to do that to other teams this season, but he'll have to have his best game as a play-caller for the Cowboys to be successful. And, of course, the Cowboys' offensive line is going to have to give quarterback Tony Romo time to throw. If they can, and I expect they will, Witten, T.O. and Romo will all have nice days. I also believe the Cowboys will try and be more balanced in this one and they will feature Marion Barber III.
• Raiders football is no longer about the vertical passing game, but I love what their offensive line is doing in the running game. Rookie tight end Zach Miller is blocking well, allowing the team to run the ball to the strong side. This running game is for real, no matter who the back is.
• I love watching Jason Campbell get better every week, but the Packers' defense will be his biggest challenge yet. The Packers' secondary is airtight, and Campbell will have to really stick his throws. Will he do it? After watching game film, my money is on the Packers to make this week's game a learning experience for the young quarterback.
• Chad Pennington gets a bad rap. There is no question he does not have a strong arm, but a "strong arm" is not all it takes to be a good starting quarterback. He's starting because he is a good decision maker, and that is where he broke down last week. He did make some impressive throws, and a few other passes were dropped, but the thing that would bring on a quarterback change would be if he keeps making bad decisions that result in interceptions.
• I'm telling you the most impressive unit I saw all week -- and I love watching them every week -- is the Titans' defense. They have bailed out Vince Young and their offense numerous times. Speaking of VY, don't look for him to run wild on the Bucs' defense this week. The Bucs know how to defend a running quarterback, having matched up well against Michael Vick for so many years. I expect the Titans to just pound away with Chris Brown and LenDale White.
As for the Bucs on offense, coach Jon Gruden will have to move quarterback Jeff Garcia around so the Titans' front four can't tee off on him. If the Bucs are to win this game, Garcia will have to have a big day because their running game will be grounded.
• Joey Harrington never should have been benched last week. If this team has any shot to win, it will be because of him. This week against the Giants, I expect the Falcons to use more bootleg action to help Joey throw the ball and help the offensive line. Oh, and I also expect a big day on the ground from the Falcons.
• After studying the Bengals' offense and the Chiefs' defense from last week, I expect the Bengals to attack Ty Law hard and heavy in this matchup.
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 and expresses concern about Larry Johnson's effort.