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Friday, October 5, 2007
Hoge's Tape Room: Lewis good, McGahee not

By Merril Hoge

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 sit down for my first few hours of studying tape, and I plug in the Browns offense. The first thing that pops out to me is Jamal Lewis' quick feet and strong running. He does not look as though he is toward the end of his career. So then I put in the Ravens offense, and the first thing that pops out to me there is how slow and "old" Willis McGahee looks. I see no explosion from him. Believe it or not, as a fantasy owner, I'd start Lewis over McGahee, even this week, when the Browns are playing the Pats.

• I also like what I'm seeing out of the Cleveland passing game. The Browns are moving Kellen Winslow around and creating mismatches for him. He is on the rise!

• Last week's game marked the first time in a long time that I witnessed the Steelers' offensive line get whipped, but the Cardinals did just that. Their D-line shot gaps and did stunts and twists, and the Pittsburgh O-line did not respond well. They also struggled to keep track of Arizona safety Adrian Wilson, who was lining up all over the field and making plays. The reason I mention this is because Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt, both Steelers assistant coaches last year, knew that attacking at the line of scrimmage and confusing Ben Roethlisberger is the way to beat the Steelers. The Ravens also had success doing that last year. If the Steelers are going to make a playoff run, they'd better figure this out pretty quickly, or else teams such as the Patriots (Week 14) will find this blueprint.

• People in Minnesota are wondering why Adrian Peterson got only two carries in the second half against the Packers. Well, a quick review of the tape revealed why: because of the formations the Vikings were in. Down 23-6 to the Packers at one point, the Vikings felt they had to throw and were basically running all shotgun sets, which is Chester Taylor's formation. (Personally, I think it's a bad idea when teams revert to the shotgun midway through the game, especially against defenses such as the Packers'.) Peterson is not ready for all the added responsibilities right now, but I can tell you that he is definitely their best runner. He's always a threat to break off a long gain, and he'll continue to get a lot of carries. Taylor isn't exactly chopped liver, and he needs to get his touches, as well. But as time wears on, this will become Peterson's team.

• Playing Cover 2 against the Colts doesn't work unless teams are able to put consistent pressure on Peyton Manning. The Broncos tried to, but Simeon Rice was (and has been) a nonfactor for them. As I study teams and how they try to defend Manning, the goal is usually to not give up the big play. Well, Denver never gave up a big play ... but it gave up chunks and chunks of yards. My point: The only way to stop the Colts is by getting to Manning quickly. As well as Joseph Addai is doing as a runner and as well as the offensive line is playing, that's a pretty tall order. If you don't get to Manning quickly, he'll kill you. He has seen it all, so nothing confuses him. Time for a new game plan, boys.

• If your fantasy defense is struggling and you're looking for a sleeper, go get the Giants defense. These guys will continue to get better. They are starting to grasp new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's "pressure" concept. By my count, on the past 23 blitzes the Giants have run, the opposing quarterback has completed only seven passes. They are disguising the blitzes so well that quarterbacks don't even see 'em coming. Oh, and it helps that their front four might be the best in football at rushing the quarterback.

• Buc ball. When I used to hear that, I'd think, "Great defense, no offense." Well, this Buccaneers team has an offense this year. As I watched tape of Jeff Garcia's performance Sunday, the thing I noticed is how many big plays he passed up, for whatever reason. Garcia still made some big plays, but I saw many more that could have been made. This offense has real potential. The Tampa Bay linemen are mauling defenders, so no matter who is running the ball, he will be productive. Oh, and Garcia will hit on more of those big-play opportunities.

• Even after some 50 hours of tape, I knew I could find time to study Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. I'm glad I did. Videotapes tell the truth, and the truth about Edwards is that he's an advanced quarterback. I can always tell what a coach thinks about a young quarterback by what kinds of formations he uses and what kinds of plays he calls. Right out of the gate, the Bills were lining up in bunch formations (three receivers close together) and throwing the ball all over the field. A formation like that, in which there are a lot of people moving in one area, usually will overload a young quarterback. But Edwards handled it very well, as well as all the other three- or four-receiver sets the Bills used. He sees things quickly and is a very accurate passer. I remember studying him in college and making a note that he was twice the quarterback Brady Quinn was. But Edwards' shoulder injury, which sidelined him part of his senior year, and his terrible team hurt him on draft day. (Oh, and not playing for Notre Dame and Charlie Weis, of course.) But he's an accurate passer and a good athlete. All signs point to his being the real deal. I know I love what I saw of him.

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.