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The mission of this column—and a lot of my work—is to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality of football analysis. Football analysis—fantasy and reality—is often dramatized because there's a core belief that it's more important to entertain than to educate.
I don't live by the idea that it's better to be lucky than good. While I want to give you actionable recommendations that will help you get results, I prefer to get the process right. There will be a lot of people talking about how they were right to draft or start specific players. Many of them got the right result but with the wrong process.
The Top 10 will cover topics that attempt to get the process right (reality) while understanding that fantasy owners may not have time to wait for the necessary data to determine the best course of action (fantasy).
As always I recommend Sigmund Bloom's Waiver Wire piece which you'll find available on this page, Monday night. Bloom and I are not always going to agree on players—he errs more often towards players who flash elite athletic ability and I err more towards players who are more technically skilled and assignment-sound.
Straight, No Chaser: Week 13's Cliff's Notes
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points.
- James Washington is an elite ball-tracker. If his route running catches up to his receiving skill, Washington will become a Pro-Bowl player.
- Two 49ers runs against the Ravens illustrate the value of blocking for skill players and the complexity of execution involved with some run plays that, when performed to the level of San Francisco, can elevate fantasy running back play of many runners. Two Ravens runs against the 49ers also demonstrate how difficult it is to stop a high-functioning ground game.
- A 49ers sack of Lamar Jackson reveals that while a team can get pressure on Jackson, it's still difficult to stop him in the passing game and don't count on it happening throughout the course of an entire contest.
- Drew Lock made his debut in Denver. Although we really won't know how good he is for the next 12-20 games, Lock demonstrated a lot of what he showed at Missouri: Skill in the vertical game, a big arm, the potential for intelligent game management, and an off-platform throwing prowess that helps and hurts his game.
- Derrius Guice showed why he was a top talent from the 2018 NFL Draft class against the Panthers defense on Sunday.
- The Chiefs coverage confused and frustrated Derek Carr and the Raiders' passing game on Sunday. We examine a coverage concept that you don't often see in the NFL that led to an interception and ultimately put Oakland in an early hole.
- I define the term, "micro-movement," and show why it is the underlying skillset that separates elite backs like Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott from many of their peers.
- Speaking of Elliott, a touchdown pass on Thanksgiving Day provides one of several telling examples of how his presence influences opposing defenses.
- I believe that momentum exists in sport and the Bills-Cowboys game provided two series of plays where there's a compelling visual example of momentum.
- This week's Fresh Fish:
- Nick Foles' first half demonstrated last week's point that the Jaguars ruined its opportunity to get out of Foles' expensive contract.
- The Browns' offensive line struggled for most of the game and a Baker Mayfield interception put his team out of its misery at the end.
- The Colts' field goal unit gave up a pair of blocked kicks against the Titans, including the game-winning play for Tennessee late in the fourth quarter.
- Matt Ryan's red-zone play and difficulty trusting young receivers are underrated problems for the Falcons.
For those of you who wish to learn the why's, the details are below.
1. James Washington's Development Bears Close Monitoring
Accurate projection of player development is one of the pillars of winning football (real and fantasy) management. It can also one of the most difficult things to get right, which is why the sport (and our hobby) is so compelling to follow year after year. James Washington is one of these difficult projections.
Many will argue he's an easy projection—and if he emerges as a long-term starter, that sentiment will only increase as the hindsight bravado artists of football commentary emerge from under their rocks, barstools, or podcast mics to tout how they knew all along that Washington would be good. However, if we're examining the real process underscoring a player's development, then all of our loudmouth friends who incorrectly correlate highlight-worthy plays to successful long-term development need to zip it.
Before we shut them out, let's examine why they will think they were right about Washington: Elite pass-catching skill. Washington's best traits provide compelling evidence for the half-truths that we gobble up in any corrupted environment. In football media, great catches or runs after the catch are seemingly telltale signs that a wide receiver will someday emerge into an NFL star. In football, great catches or runs after the catch is that small island of ice floating in the North Atlantic.
More on that in a moment. First, witness the excellence of Washington's game on display against Cleveland—skills that made Washington an All-American at Oklahoma State.
Despite Ward pulling away James Washington’s inside arm, Washington’s outside hand softens recoil of ball so he has an easier time trapping the target to his chest. Great grab. pic.twitter.com/zgvKTjiHQo— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 1, 2019
These are two of the three excellent displays of ball-tracking and hand usage that Washington delivered against the Browns on Sunday. These are valuable skills that he possesses at a level that should make Washington a worthwhile contributor in three- and four-receiver sets for as long as he can earn a modicum of separation against man coverage or reach the open spaces of intermediate and deep zones of the defense on time.
What's missing from Washington's game that won't be seen on Sunday's tape is his struggles with running routes that a quarterback can consistently rely on in all phases of the gameplan. Want Washington to run a go or fade route and he can be that third or fourth receiver every week. However, ask him to run the out, the dig, the skinny post, the corner route, or any timing route where the depth of the stem and break must be precise with the quarterback's feet, and Washington has not proven reliable thus far.
This lack of detail in Washington's game is why he looks like a preseason stud to the highlight lovers but he wasn't starting or targeted heavily to begin the year. For Washington to emerge into an every-down receiver, he must refine this part of his game. Otherwise, he'll never become a fully-dimensional receiver.
The first question fantasy players ask upon reading this is, "how difficult is it to learn how to become a good route runner?"
The answer depends on the player's starting point along this path. If he's not a flexible athlete who cannot work in and out of hard breaks against tight coverage, then he may be limited to angular routes.
Vincent Jackson was a receiver who delivered Pro-Bowl production during his career despite having these limitations. However, his size, speed, and fluidity and strength at the catch-point compensated enough to make him reliable and dangerous with fewer routes in his portfolio.
Terrell Owens was a raw route runner out of Tennessee-Chattanooga but he had the physical skills to become a complete route runner. Despite having a high rate of drops for a starter, Owens had a great NFL career.
Washington lacks the size, strength, and speed of Jackson and Owens. However, you can see that he has terrific hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness. This is what happens when you take a good athlete like Washington and expose him to multiple sports as a youth. Washington earned a black belt in karate in middle school and played several sports with success, including tennis.
He can bend and manipulate opponents with his route running. Because he's not a big receiver or especially fast, he must execute with consistent precision against tight man coverage. He's had success because his spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination are developed beyond the scope we often see with the average NFL receiver.
Washington must continue refining his releases against press-man and running his routes at the depth his quarterback expects. Because of his background and what I have seen from him as a route runner, I believe he will. Still, what he must learn requires different skills than what makes him a great pass catcher and it's why projecting his development is deceptively more difficult that your friend posing as Skip Bayless on a bar stool may understand.
2. 49ERS-RAVENS: Why Skill-Player Blocking Matters
Matt Breida is an excellent running back who can't stay healthy for more than 3-5 consecutive quarters. Tevin Coleman is a great athlete with enough ability to deliver but he lacks the full gamut of skills to be a reliable runner in every facet of an NFL team's ground game. Raheem Mostert is a straight-line speedster with power and Jeffery Wilson is a versatile option with backup-caliber physical skills.
Despite having this patchwork backfield, the 49ers have one of the best ground games in the NFL. Running Backs Don't Matter acolytes will tell you this backs up their argument because a team can plug in any runner and get similar production.
Because a good ground game is the sum of its parts—running backs, linemen, wide receivers, tight ends, fullback, and scheme creativity—this idea can be true. For it to be true, the imagination of run design and caliber of blocking must function at a high level — the 49ers and Bills are good examples of this end of the spectrum.
Otherwise, the skill of the runner must compensate for what the support staff lacks. Surprisingly to some, the Cowboys are a good example of a team that is more reliant on its runner than it appears. The Cowboys line is playing decently but its more of a simpatico relationship. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Cleveland are bigger reasons for the success of the Browns ground game at this time than the surrounding talent.
As is the case with any process, the more a team relies on one extreme end of the spectrum, the more volatile the success. The 49ers are a good example. Watching this team block is like someone explaining a well-engineered plan or deconstructing a well-arranged, harmonically-rich musical composition.
Watch how the 49ers block this to. One Raven is passed around by three 49ers to set this up. Great teamwork by skill players and OL pic.twitter.com/en6Bs0TRvm— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 1, 2019
Watch how the 49ers block this to. One Raven is passed around by three 49ers to set this up. Great teamwork by skill players and OL pic.twitter.com/en6Bs0TRvm— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 1, 2019
Mostert makes excellent moves at the end of this last run to score the touchdown but you can reasonably imagine Coleman, Wilson, or Breida at least reaching the red zone on this play. It's easy to see that much of the credit for the running back getting past the line of scrimmage or reaching the open field belongs to the skill players and linemen creating the creases at 2-3 levels of the field.
The 49ers scheme has some complex interplay between linemen and skill players to set up these blocks that you don't see from every team. This requires good blockers from skill personnel that other teams don't always rely on as much.
To some extent, the same is true with the Ravens and its tight ends. A well-executed option running game fulfills the promise behind the scheme—if executed correctly, the defense will always guess wrong. Baltimore's option game does this well because it forces almost every defender to be assignment-sound. If one player fails in this regard, Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram can exploit it for big plays.
Even when the defense is in position, Jackson's elite quickness, vision, and footwork allow him to escape from corners the defense painted him into without leaving tracks.
A big part of this running game is the tight ends. Let's not forget that in this era of big wide receivers with tight end contracts, blocking can be a lost art at the position. It doesn't mean that tight ends must have Rob Gronkowski's skill set at the line of scrimmage, but they must have the ability to win one-on-one assignments with outside linebackers defensive backs.
Because the Ravens excel at the option as well as the blunt-force trauma of the downhill power running game, Baltimore can use heavy alignments to force opponents to overcommit to the inside while running plays that rely on one-on-one matchups on the perimeter between its tight ends and opposing defensive backs.
Here's an example of the power running game that rendered Nick Bosa into part of the asphalt on
And here's what Baltimore can do to trick defenses once it has established dominance up the middle.
Set everything up to look like an inside run with multiple double teams and match up a TE on the edge with a DB and Jackson with the ball. pic.twitter.com/Y4NTqgpvcp— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 1, 2019
While the 49ers win in the run game with a combination of team blocking that includes wide receivers, the Ravens compress the field and use tight ends as its edge players to win on the edges. Add a game-breaking speedster at quarterback to the mix and the tighter Baltimore can press opposing defenses into a small box, the more likely Jackson reaches the edge untouched.
Both teams are strong contenders for the Super Bowl and offensively, you can see why this was a tightly-contested game were the teams still combined for 37 points in a driving rainstorm.
3.49ers-Ravens II: Why it's So Difficult to Stop Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' Passing Game
Lamar Jackson's pocket presence, deft placement of passes against tight coverage over the middle, option-based offense, and game-breaking skill players after the catch are all compelling reasons why the Ravens have a formidable passing game that leads the league in touchdown passes and eighth in the NFL in yards per attempt. One play from Sunday's game underscored why it's possible to stop Lamar Jackson on any given play but the extremely difficult to achieve play-after-play.
Excellent team defense with the combo of a front side blitz, middle twist, and Bosa playing off in combo with front side blitz working back downfield to close off the edge and by time for Bosa and Buckner. pic.twitter.com/G3I4hYHFqi— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 1, 2019
For the 49ers to (barely) sack Jackson, look at how much the defense had to do to succeed:
- It had to blitz two defenders to one side hoping that one of them will show enough discipline to work back downfield to cut off the escape path if they didn't earn a free path to the quarterback—that one player essentially acting as a spy.
- It had to run a twist with two other players inside, timing the action so the looping defender reaches the crease before the quarterback but at the same time, the blitzes wall off the front side.
- The backside defensive linemen had to get enough of a push to all off the backside escape lane while one of them drops back and spies Jackson with the hope of catching Jackson before he breaks the pocket because there's little chance one of these 270-pound defenders has a shot in Hades to run Jackson down otherwise.
We're talking about 6-7 players doing specific tasks that require their own specific timing and opposition but somehow have to interrelate with some overall timing to achieve its grandest purpose of catching Jackson.
Most quarterbacks fail in the pocket if one source of pressure arrives quickly. Good NFL quarterbacks are the players that win enough against one source of pressure. Excellent passers can sometimes win against two sources of pressure arriving at the same time or in quick succession.
To consistently earn successful pressure on Lamar Jackson you need at least three sources of pressure arriving in quick succession at three different points of the pocket. Even so, you may need 1-2 spies to also help clean up when he invariably escapes the compressed area.
Piece of cake...
I can't wait to see what Bill Belichick creates in his lab if the Patriots meet the Ravens again in the playoffs. If it works, it will either require a ton of moving parts among highly skilled players who communicate well or something profoundly elegant in simplicity that trips up the entire Baltimore passing game.
History says it will happen at some point but I don't believe it will be this year.
4. Drew Lock's Denver Debut
It became clear a few weeks ago that Denver was on the brink of elimination from playoff contention and we'd likely see rookie Drew Lock once it became official. This weekend Lock made his debut under center at home against the Chargers.
Overall, Lock performed with poise at both ends of the field where quick thinking and wise management are most important, he showed off a strong arm and some skill for off-platform throws, and he demonstrated an aggressive mindset and good placement in the vertical game.
Lock hits the slant flat-footed pic.twitter.com/1RO4k8Iibw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
You’re going to like the velocity of Lock’s arm. pic.twitter.com/p5nwdGRbl9— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
TD 2 for Lock—the upside of having the type of arm that doesn’t always have to be connected to his feet. pic.twitter.com/66u98WAve4— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
Another wise decision by Lock. pic.twitter.com/uyoutMdh9P— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
Playing to win pic.twitter.com/Hn1T5ShpVr— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
Overall, Lock made more plays to put Denver in a position to win than mistakes that put his team in a hole. Many of those mistakes are typical issues involving common misreads of coverage among quarterbacks at all levels as well as miscommunications that new starters have with its receivers.
Lock’s INT is typical of a rookie... pic.twitter.com/5TJBtkwRC8— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
The greatest long-term concerns with Lock have to do with his penchant for off-platform throws where he relies too much on his arm talent. There was a contingent of football analysts who compared Lock favorably to Patrick Mahomes II in this respect but these takes overestimate Lock's skill and underestimate the repeatable accuracy, vision of the field, and range of arm talent that Mahomes displays to pull off these plays.
This may be normal for QBs in 10-15 years. Until then, this is worth celebrating Mahomes pic.twitter.com/K1mhMzXP1Z— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
Call this reckless all you want but because Patrick Mahomes II does this repeatedly with accuracy, I cannot call it reckless. There’s logic and repeatable accuracy underpinning this. Therefore, it is BOLD or DARING but not reckless. pic.twitter.com/gDmMGyZxMP— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
I never thought it was plausible to say this but perhaps Mahomes is so good at some of these throws requiring incredible placement that it requires equal timing and reaction from his receivers that might be too great an expectation. pic.twitter.com/LfMolmiRez— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
The source of this false comparison stems from the weight these analysts give collegiate success. However, they aren't using a systematic fashion to rate the quality of field vision, range of accuracy, and consistency of accuracy of these types of throws. As a result, Lock earns the benefit of the doubt because he piloted a winning program in the SEC and did so with solid-to-strong production that included occasional highlight throws that look similar in some respects to Mahomes.
High school and college coaches enabled both Mahomes and Lock's throwing behaviors because they were top athletes at these levels who could produce and help offenses win. Mahomes' physical skills, mental acumen for seeing the field, and a logic underpinning his decisions for abandoning traditional throwing platforms made sense in a way that made this behavior projectable for the NFL despite the fact that few did so.
Lock lacks the range of Mahomes and his vision and decision-making for going off-platform are neither as strong or as reliably logical. Much of Lock's behavior is rooted in laziness rather than a systematic behavior to generate solutions that are superior to setting one's feet and firing from a static position that we see from Mahomes.
Accurate screen but note the rushed process for Lock pic.twitter.com/n6dkiQX8tl— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
Lock performed well considering the circumstances he's in as a first-time starter and rookie playing against a defense that doesn't have any NFL game tape to analyze his tendencies. It will take at least 3-4 weeks before we see a team specifically game plan for a quarterback's specific habits, which means we should continue to see evidence of the things Lock did well against the Chargers that translated well from his college game.
Expect big plays in the vertical game and some balance at buying time but quick thinking and imaginative throwing in the red zone and other short-range targets. If he continued to display wise decision-making deep in his own territory as well as the red zone, Denver's defense is still good enough to help the offense stay in games. I think Lock will have another good game against Houston in Week 14. If the Lions secondary gets healthy and the Chiefs continue gelling as they displayed this weekend (see below), expect more bust in Lock's boom-bust potential in Weeks 15-16.
Long-term, I've come to the belief that quarterbacks usually require 18-24 NFL games before we clearly see how their potential translates to the field and which major issues are correctable or at least problems that teams can either work around and/or cope with successfully. For Lock, it means we will need to see things that he didn't display on Sunday or consistently enough at Missouri—elevated diagnostic skills of the defense pre-snap and immediately post-snap, refined footwork under pressure where quick and precise movement is necessary for accurate execution, and refined understanding of his limitations with his off-platform play.
5. Derrius Guice's (Real) return to the NFL
The two highlights from Guice's 100-yard, 2-touchdown performance against the Carolina Panthers show us enough to know that Guice is back to form after an arduous rehab of a torn ACL in early 2018.
Derrius Guice goes over the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career! @DhaSickest #HTTR #WASvsCAR— NFL (@NFL) December 1, 2019
ðŸ“±: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/uPnyeJSIAR pic.twitter.com/zXVYGKMpVx
What I see is burst to hold off the pursuit of athletic NFL linebackers once he hits the open field, efficient footwork to avoid an oncoming safety, an excellent stiff-arm, skill to deliver pressure cuts in succession without a loss in acceleration, and acceleration stamina with his rate of speed as a runner after contact.
It's enough to tell me that he's healthy, able, and has the skills to become a major component of the Washington offense. When Washington's line is healthy, it's actually a good run blocking unit with some flexibility to run a variety of plays that you only see from some of the most athletic units in the NFL.
Green Bay, Philadelphia, and the Giants are a pretty good trio of opponents for Guice to deliver starter production during the fantasy playoffs.
6. Kansas City's defense is on the Rise
Sure, Josh Jacobs ran wild on the Chiefs, but the Chiefs bedeviled Derek Carr and the Raiders passing game and a major component of their success came from its coverage. Safeties Juan Thornhill and Tyran Mathieu are developing a good feel for Steve Spagnulo's scheme and they're communicating well with the cornerbacks and linebackers to create big plays.
Thornhill worked well with his cornerback pre-snap to set up his pick-six of Carr by cutting off a route breaking over the middle. However, the play that underscores the confusion that Carr experienced throughout the game was the coverage wrinkle involving Mathieu, the linebacker, and the high safety baiting Carr into thinking he had a solution to a common type of NFL coverage that the Chiefs weren't actually playing.
Great job by Chiefs to bait Carr here. Mathieu INT pic.twitter.com/9kvyLLo0dw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 2, 2019
When a defense has the players to make this fluid of a switch of responsibilities from one player to another and disguise the look, it will lead to big plays. The Chiefs still have work to do on the defensive side of the ball but Sunday night was evidence that this unit is developing a rapport that could take them deep into the playoffs once again.
New England will be a good test of their progress this weekend but expect big plays against Lock and Mitchell Trubisky in Weeks 15 and 16. You might want to drop by Sigmund Bloom's rental store to check out their rates.
The best ball carriers possess a toolbox of movement skills that they apply adeptly to work through obstacles that defenders present to them. These are often small movements that many don't notice or simply describe as if their behavior was the athletic version of catching the holy ghost.
Football, like all performance crafts, requires detailed skills that performers can apply in the moment without thinking conscious thought. In order to acquire these skills, players have to practice alone, in scrimmages, and then apply them situationally on the field. This is just like rehearsing for a part in a play or practicing an improvised solo as a musician.
What they do on the field or stage may not emerge exactly as they practiced it because the circumstances may have just enough differences to alter the practiced behavior and the personality and physical makeup of the performer may also alter the idea to fit them best. These small moves that many think are instinctive when they're actually rehearsed until they can be performed to the speed of instinct—and there is a real difference—are what I call micro-movements.
Micro-movements help ballcarriers transition from one phase of a run to another, which helps them break multiple tackles, execute various changes of direction, make more than one defender miss, and do other things that elongate plays. Two of the best micro-movement runners are Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott.
They consistently do the little things to work past formidable obstacles that often go unnoticed or they're devalued.
This is a run I will gladly put on Ezekiel Elliott’s HOF nomination tape if his career continues along that trajectory.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 30, 2019
He uses his shoulders three different ways and makes a tremendous stride adjustment afterwards to deliver a cut of underrated difficulty for a 30-yard gain. pic.twitter.com/ZHyzovu8Kq
If you notice, Elliott's runs this year don't always come with the benefit of strong second- and third-level blocks. Against the Bills, the Cowboys struggled to open primary creases.
When comparing similar play calls between the Cowboys and Bills in this game, you'll notice that the Bills did a much better job opening initial creases to the second and third levels for Devin Singletary than the Cowboys did for Elliott.
Some important differences with this play but Singletary in contrast to Elliott has a lot more space to operate before first contact. pic.twitter.com/72kewmNy5g— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 30, 2019
When we evaluate running backs for fantasy football, I'm arriving at the idea that there is a range of factors you must weigh to determine success. Here are some that immediately come to mind:
- The compatibility of the runner's style and the blocking scheme.
- Perimeter runs versus runs between the tackles: Which are strengths and weaknesses for the runner and line as separate units?
- Do the receivers block downfield well and does the runner after the creativity and after-contact skills to reach these blocks?
- Do the receivers block but only sustain them a minimal amount without looking for secondary assignments?
- Are the run designs integrated well with the passing game so defenses guess wrong frequently? The Vikings, 49ers, and Ravens are three examples of good run-pass integration of concepts. The Browns are a good example of a team that's inconsistent with this and relies too heavily on it's running back talent to win without maximizing the surrounding talent to help them.
The fact that a contingent of Cowboys fans are dissatisfied with Elliott and he's still a top-10 performer at his position with elite movement skills that help him create yardage in difficult situations reinforces to me that we live in an age where some of us believe the earth is flat, President Kennedy died from a single magic bullet, and that climate change is a scientific hoax.
8. Elliott And The way An Elite Player Can Help An Offense AWay from the Ball
As a coda to my thoughts about Elliott and other elite runners, I saw a great example of how a top player can influence a defense without the ball in his hands. This touchdown pass that Dak Prescott delivered to Jason Witten is the product of Witten slipping behind the defense in the right flat thanks to play-action.
However, I'm not making the argument that the play-action to Elliott influenced the defense. Instead, it's Elliott's route to the same side of the field that draws three defenders to the runner and opens the field behind them for Witten to run free.
I've seen the arguments that defensive Shaq Lawson is actually covering Dak Prescott and it invalidates the three-defender argument. While absolutely true that Lawson's movement is to cut off the flat for Prescott, it's a dual-purpose assignment to cut off the run and serve as an obstacle in the passing lane by working wide with the movement of the quarterback and the runner.
I'm not going to argue that the fiscal value of Elliott for this team. This is not my lane and I have no interest in it. However, I've made it a point for the past three weeks to illustrate why Elliott remains a top runner and the value he brings to his team—value that you will not always get from other running backs plugged into this organization.
9. Momentum: Why I believe in Ghosts
There is a group of analytics-oriented football writers who will tell you that they don't believe in momentum because it has not been scientifically proven. I don't want to hear any of them share that they love or fear anything because if they don't believe emotion impacts individuals in group activities then they can't believe in the outcomes of love or fear.
And if you're that hardcore that you think momentum is a football ghost story because nothing I offer below has data in it, then I have no problem believing in football ghosts. For those of you willing to draw truth from spooky tales, then here are a pair for you from the Bills-Cowboys game that give compelling evidence to the qualitative value of momentum.
The first is the Bills' touchdown pass to Devin Singletary off a trick play that occurs the play after a gritty effort on a fourth-down sneak where Josh Allen turns a seemingly fatal mistake into a successful outcome.
Fine line between guts and foolish.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 30, 2019
I like it regardless of the outcome in this situation. pic.twitter.com/zeSuxdpgt3
The best thing about this successful trick play may not be the design and execution but the timing of the call.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 30, 2019
Already have the Cowboys off-balance after the Allen fumble-sneak. Stick the dagger in...
Momentum, you say? I believe in football ghosts, yes. pic.twitter.com/eBIeZ88ULk
If you don't think Allen's play excited the Bills while at the same time emotionally sucker-punched the Cowboys defense do not ever try to give anyone relationship, leadership, or motivational advice because you're either emotionally underdeveloped or intentionally obtuse.
Deny emotion and you only see a fraction of the game. The best players have the skills to often change the momentum of a game. Elliott is a good example of that player for the Cowboys.
The series after this touchdown, Dallas begins a drive with multiple mistakes where the team isn't executing sharp enough. However, at the apex of this mistake-filled sequence, Elliott makes a play on a target where he prevents a bad process from compounding into something disastrous. Based on the effort and intelligence of the play, Elliott's actions settle the team and reverses the momentum of mistakes into successful execution that leads to a successful drive ending with a field goal.
This is both a bad play and a great play by Ezekiel Elliott who I dare say, changes the momentum going against Cowboys and they earn three first downs and FG attempt.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 30, 2019
Regardless of momentum question, excellent players show awareness like Elliott here. pic.twitter.com/FPti3i2YrY
I don't care if you played a sport at a reasonably competitive level and don't believe in momentum. There are emotionally obtuse individuals everywhere and in every industry. I believe in it and I think it's important to share that point.
10. FRESH FISH: Week 13
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for that weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd love nothing more than having our players face an opponent whose game has come unglued on the field.
In the spirit of "The Shawshank Redemption," I provide my weekly shortlist of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
Special of the Week: Nick Foles and the Jaguars Management
As mentioned in last week's Top 10, the Jaguars' decision to bench Gardner Minshew for Nick Foles eliminated any mystery about Foles's true value as a starting NFL quarterback. Before the benching, Foles still held value in many circles that he would be an effective starter because of his work as a Super Bowl-winning passer in Philadelphia and the one strong season he had years prior during his first stint with the Eagles.
Jacksonville should have kept Foles on the bench, claimed (whether they believed it or not) that they have their starter and potential franchise option in Gardner Minshew, and tried to trade Foles for near the value it acquired and signed him. Then the organization could have gotten rid of Foles' contract.
Instead, Jacksonville started Foles and he performed bad enough to get benched midway through his second game. On Sunday, Foles lost the ball on a pair of sacks, including one in the red zone. He also delivered a reckless target in the middle of the field from deep in Jacksonville's territory for a pick-six.
Minshew entered the game and outscored the Buccaneers in the second half of the game 11-3, including some throws that displayed better rapport with D.J. Chark, skill to create in the red zone with Dede Westbrook, and mobility to earn yards after breaking the pocket.
Congratulations, Jaguars, you're stuck with Foles at starter money.
- Colts Field Goal Unit: Multiple blocked kicks in recent games, including a pair yesterday, land Indianapolis' unit on this list. One of these blocked kicks occurred with 5:02 left in the Titans game and Tennessee returned it for a game-winning score. You block inside-out as a unit but this unit failed to remember this multiple times.
- Browns' offensive line and Baker Mayfield: Cleveland's run blocking made gains of 3-5 yards an Olympian effort for Nick Chubb. Mayfield's game-sealing interception was completely on him.
- Matt Ryan: A good NFL starter, Ryan has to significant flaws with his game. He has difficulty making quick leverage reads or identifying the optimal target on two-man route combinations in the red zone. This has been true of him with and without Steve Sarkisian as his offensive coordinator. Ryan also doesn't trust his young receivers, even when the receivers are breaking wide open as initial reads. He either stares them down too long without throwing and they get covered up or he doesn't look them long enough within the built-in timing of the route and drop. Receiver Christian Blake would probably tell you if he were allowed to be honest about it. This happened to him multiple times on Thanksgiving night's loss to New Orleans. It took Ryan four years to trust Austin Hooper and he still doesn't throw targets that could make Hooper even more dangerous than he is.
Thanks again for all of your feedback with this column. Good luck next week and may your bold calls come true.