Fourteen tackles in one game? That meant absolutely nothing…
For the first few years after I graduated high school, I helped coach my old high school football team.
"Helped coach" is a loose label for what I did; I was not there throughout the week, and I did not interact with the players at all. But each Friday night, I put on a headset and headed up to the booth above the field, where I communicated with the coaches on the sidelines throughout the game, letting them know what I was seeing from above. And each Saturday morning, I awoke bright and early to head to the field house and help the coaches break down film ("help the coaches break down film" is also a loose label for what I did; this was Oklahoma - a big high school football state - and the coaches were a few guys who had been doing this for over 30 years, and could watch a play once and tell you what all 22 guys had done).
There was one particular game in which a senior who had never played much before had been forced into duty due to injuries in front of him. He played strong-side linebacker on the night in question, and by the time the game ended, he had racked up 14 tackles.
He felt great after the game. Everyone was congratulating him. Surely, he must have thought he had earned himself more playing time moving forward.
When I showed up at the field house on Saturday morning, however, the talk throughout the film session focused on how consistently out of position that particular linebacker had been. Several times, I heard chuckles from the coaches - emissions of mirth they tried to suppress. They were rewinding plays to see how badly this kid had missed his gap assignment, or how poorly he had diagnosed a play. He had 14 tackles, sure, but these tackles mostly came because he was out of position; what's more, because he was out of position so often, there were a lot of big plays he allowed.
The following weekend, that kid hardly saw the field at all.
There are two things I want to use this illustration to talk about.
Firstly, I want to point out that on Saturday mornings, these coaches were not watching film of their upcoming opponent; instead, they spent Saturday morning watching film from their own team's game - identifying things the players had done well, things the players had done poorly, things they had done well as coaches, and things they had done poorly. I think this is an important path for us, as DFS players, to follow ourselves. The day after your weekend ends, the first thing you should do is self-assess (and realize: sometimes, your weekend ends after Monday Night Football…but there will always be those sad weekends on which your "weekend ends" before Sunday is even finished - to where you no longer have any chance whatsoever of cashing on FanDuel - and instead of wallowing in your disappointment and sadness, you should turn the page to self-assessment).
What did you do well?
What did you do poorly?
What can you continue to focus on - incorporating certain positive elements even further?
Where can you improve - making sure you no longer overlook things you were overlooking before?
And the second thing I want to point out is this: Just because someone has a big game does not mean they were a good play! Just because you rostered several guys who had disappointing games and failed to roster a few guys who had big games does not mean you "made mistakes you need to correct." When you self-evaluate the first day after your weekend ends, you need to do so with the following realization in mind:
Sometimes, bad plays work out, and sometimes, good plays do not. What you should be assessing is not, "Did I do well?" Instead, you should be assessing, "Did I make the smartest plays?"
One example for me, this last weekend, is the one "fade" that hurt me more than any other: Julian Edelman.
In case you don't know, I lived in New England until high school. I've been a Patriots fan since way back when they were awful. I have no issues rostering players from my favorite team; I have no biases against the Patriots.
And yet, I felt Julian Edelman was a poor play this last weekend. I felt his target total was going to be lower than normal, due to the way I saw the game going, and I felt he was priced like a touchdown scorer, when - in reality - he gets very little in the way of "Inside the 10" usage, and his price had risen higher than it should be because of his early-season touchdown fortune.
Then, Edelman - at super high ownership - scored a 59-yard touchdown and pretty much sank my weekend.
Did I make a bad play? No. I knew Edelman would be highly-owned, and I knew I had to be VERY certain in my assessment ("lower targets than normal, low touchdown-scoring opportunities, overpriced for what I expect") in order to fade him, as a big game from Edelman - given his high expected ownership - could ruin my weekend. Sure enough, Edelman had only five targets - far below the double-digit mark we always expect. And sure enough, he was not being looked to in the end zone. If Brady doesn't heave that pass to Edelman, and if Edelman doesn't come down with it and elude some tackles for an uncharacteristic 59-yard score, we're looking at three catches for about 60 yards - a very disappointing day, given his price. I correctly diagnosed everything; it just didn't work out.
Of course, there were a couple other plays I made (or a couple other guys I faded) this last weekend that were mistakes. It is important to identify those each weekend as well!
While it is probably easy for you to identify (and learn from) mistakes on your own, however, I want to look at one more area of self-assessment that many of us probably miss (and then we'll move onto our early-week look at the Week 6 slate), and that area of self-assessment is as follows:
Identifying "plays that worked out" that were actually incorrect plays!
In both Weeks 3 and 4, I talked up Allen Hurns. In Week 3, I talked him up because I felt Bill Belichick would be able to scheme Allen Robinson out of the game, and Blake Bortles would have to look to Hurns instead. In Week 4, I talked him up because I felt Vontae Davis would shut down Allen Robinson, and Blake Bortles would have to look to Hurns instead.
Each week, Hurns had a big game.
One week, however, I was wrong. And one week, I was right.
In Week 3, Hurns notched his "big game" on only four targets. It might have looked like I had "made a good call" because of his fantasy output, but the truth was - as I admitted in both articles and my RotoGrinders GrindersLive spot after Week 3 - it had actually been a bad call that simply worked out.
In Week 4, on the other hand, Hurns received 15 targets with Vontae Davis shutting down Allen Robinson. This was a good call - and it would have been a good call even if Hurns had somehow failed to produce.
You see? Self-assessment should not be about "end result." Instead, it should be about the process that led to your picks. Sometimes, after all, a guy gets 14 tackles by being constantly out of position…and sometimes, bad plays work out, and good plays do not.
Assess your Week 5 teams and your Week 5 approach, identify the things you did well and the things you did poorly, figure out how you can learn from those things, then turn the page to Week 6.
I can help you with that last item - "turning the page to Week 6." This week, I am going to use this space to explore one or two elements from each game we should think about as we head into our Week 6 preparation.
Falcons at Saints: Just because Willie Snead had 141 yards does not mean he is suddenly an ultra-elite fantasy option, and just because Leonard Hankerson put up a Week 5 dud does not mean he is suddenly off the fantasy radar. Snead is certainly someone who needs to be heavily considered (just as he was last week, when he was already receiving six or more targets per game!!!), but realize that Hankerson is still the number two option in this Falcons passing offense, and is playing an awful secondary in what should be a shootout, with Julio Jones likely somewhat limited due to his hamstring woes.
Bears at Lions: The Bears and Lions have been something of a mess (surprisingly, the Lions even more so than the Bears), but the "mess" of each team's secondary outweighs the "mess" of each team's passing offense. Alshon Jeffery should be back this week, and although Calvin Johnson is maybe not the Calvin Johnson we have rostered for years, he's still a top-end talent in his first good matchup of the entire season. This is an absolutely tremendous spot for each guy, and plenty of people will be scared off of them, making them excellent plays in tourneys.
Redskins at Jets: Each team wants to run the ball. Each team has a great run defense. On the one hand, this game sets up as a contest in which each team will end up passing plenty in order to try to find some sort of weakness to exploit; on the other hand, this game is an opportunity for all of us to be reminded that there is no rule that says you have to roster a player from every single game.
Cardinals at Steelers: The only thing likely to stop the Cardinals' offense in this game is their own defense. Carson Palmer has been one of the top fantasy quarterbacks on the season…while consistently having to throw very little, as his defense takes over the game. Pay attention to how the Steelers' offense looks on Monday Night Football to get an idea of whether or not they will stand any chance of staying in this game.
Chiefs at Vikings: You may see a lot of talk this week that "Charcandrick West is going to split time with Knile Davis now that Jamaal Charles is out," as there are already reports surfacing to this effect. Really? Listen: There is a reason West has seen 14 touches over the last two weeks to two for Davis. Let's all hope the media hypes this up as a timeshare, and that lots of DFS writers preach caution, so that West's ownership will stay low in his first game as the feature back.
Bengals at Bills: Defense vs Defense. Each team has a solid offense - especially as Sammy Watkins should be back for the Bills - but once again, remember: there is no rule that says you have to target players from every game. There is also no rule that says Hue Jackson has to use Jeremy Hill at all, against a run defense that is stout against the inside runs; if you are considering players here, give a long look at Giovani Bernard.
Broncos at Browns: The Broncos have a really good defense on both sides of the ball. On defense, they have an elite unit that can stop almost any opposing offense; on offense, they have Peyton Manning, who can stop even weapons as strong as Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. It is time for us to stop overrating Peyton Manning. He is not currently one of the 12 best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Dolphins at Titans: The Titans are a team on the way up? The Dolphins are a team on the way down? Each defense is better than you think (as in: the Titans' defense is better than you think…and the Dolphins Defense may not be as good as we thought, but it's a whole lot better than it has been lately), and each offense is prone to consistent misfires. This may be another game worth staying away from altogether.
Texans at Jaguars: There are two teams in this game that like to chuck the ball up to their best receivers. Guess which two teams they are. (Oh, wait…)
Panthers at Seahawks: Elite defense, meet mediocre offense - times two.
Chargers at Packers: The Chargers have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Well, okay, they also have a pretty bad pass defense, but this is the Packers at home. We're expecting them to get out to a lead. And there's this forgotten man named Eddie Lacy who just might have something to say about "what the Packers can do against a bad run defense once they get out to a lead."
Ravens at 49ers: The 49ers are a perfect example of "narratives getting out of hand." All the talk heading into this season was about "how bad the 49ers are," after their tumultuous offseason. No, they are not a good football team…but they are not a Pop Warner team, either. They have played well at home, and I will not be underestimating them this weekend against a depleted (and 1-4) Ravens team.
Patriots at Colts: #DeflateGateRevengeGame. That's really all that needs to be said…
Side note: Yes, I recognize the irony of mentioning "narratives getting out of hand," then saying "DeflateGate Revenge Game" is all that needs to be said about the Patriots visiting the Colts. Take everything with a grain of salt - even everything I say.
Giants at Eagles: The Eagles' offense is finally starting to click, just in time for a Monday Night Football game against a Giants' defense that is showing a lot of cracks. This game should feature a lot of passing, a lot of fantasy points, and a lot of ownership from you and me.
That's all from me today, my friends, but you can find me on RotoGrinders throughout the week (my NFL Edge on Wednesdays - for Incentives members only - in which I break down every game from a DFS perspective, my feature article on Thursday, and GrindersLive on Friday), and you can find me on Twitter @JMToWin.
In the meantime: self-assess! Turn the page. And get ready to dominate Week 6.