Tuesday Dinner: Coach like a Belichick today

Scott Pianowski
November 18, 2009

We're coming out of the kitchen at a different time this week, so please microwave liberally. Here's my take on Week 10.

It's been two days since Bill Belichick's controversial call and the battle lines have been drawn. Some feel Belichick is a shrewd genius with the guts of a burglar; others insist he's an egomaniac who fritted away a game the Patriots were likely to win. Old school on one side, new school on the other side.

I'm not convinced either call in the fourth down position is the clear-cut "right" call – I can see a solid case for both sides. My gut leans ever so slightly to punting in that spot, but I don't blame Belichick for playing his hand as he did. I admire his guts, and as a football writer and a fan of the league, I appreciate that he's given us such a meaty story to dissect and discuss.

From a fantasy perspective, we can learn from Belichick's MO. Don't play for the friendliest loss. Go for what you consider to be the most plausible win.

The sports world is filled with managers and coaches who are conventional and conservative to a fault. The save rule in baseball determines how most managers handle their bullpens. Spineless coaches often punt in the fourth quarter when trailing, even as the game might be within reach with aggressive play. Some decision makers seem to be hung up on making the least controversial decision in a tight spot. Forget playing for the win, the focus shifts to "playing not to be hammered by the media (and public) after the game."

I see the same risk-averse concepts seeping into a lot of our fantasy sports, and while that might be the best way to play it in a non-competitive group, I know from experience that you need to be aggressive if you want to win a strong league. Some owners are afraid to trade. Some owners won't bench a slumping player because he was an early pick. Some owners would rather let 4-5 rules of thumb dictate their lineup decisions rather than get their hands dirty.

Fantasy glory does not come to the Dick Jaurons of the world, the guys who punt while a game is still winnable. Don't be afraid of how a loss is going to feel afterwards. Identify the most logical path to a victory and trust your instincts.

I'd like a mulligan on the Bengals defense – I thought this unit was in big trouble when sack master Antwan Odom(notes) got hurt but it hasn't missed a beat. Leon Hall(notes) and Johnathan Joseph(notes) are turning into a dynamite pair of corners, and this unit plays with an intelligence and swagger. When you stroll into Heinz Field and limit an outstanding Pittsburgh offense to just 12 points, you've got my attention. Take a bow, Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer.

Fantasy owners, sit back and enjoy the ride, the Cincinnati schedule is a blast with four cupcakes over the next six weeks (Raiders, Browns, Lions, Vikings, Chargers, Chiefs).

I've been in Michael Turner's(notes) corner for most of the season but one thing that would help Matt Ryan(notes) a bunch is an additional back who's dynamic as a receiver (Jerious Norwood(notes) doesn't qualify while he's hurt). I'd like to see Jason Snelling(notes) catch at least four balls against the Giants this week.

For all of Sean Payton's offensive genius, there might be a little of the designer ego in there, a need to be cute as he calls the plays and divvies up the touches. Said a different way, I think Pierre Thomas(notes) is going to drive us crazy all year.

I've run out of adjectives and comparisons for this pathetic Browns offense. Who matches up with these guys? Can you think of a comparable group from the last 10 years? I feel bad for Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), who could be a fantasy staple with a different club. He doesn't have a chance here.

Chris Simms(notes) has the pedigree, I'll grant you that, but what else do other teams keep seeing in this guy? Does he impress in the interview room? Is he sharp as a tack when analyzing film? I don't see anything I like from Simms on the field.

It's the wrong year to have Chris Johnson on zero teams (it was nothing intentional, just how it fell for the most part). Welcome to my world.

Andy Reid doesn't understand field position equity and I guess he never will. If you're not up against the end of the half or faced with a scenario where three points wins for you, it's almost never correct to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 1.

Jay Cutler(notes) clearly has that problem that Brett Favre(notes) has faced for much of his career – a howitzer of an arm and a little too much confidence in it. Favre's career was saved by Mike Holmgren's teachings; it remains to be seen if Cutler can find the right mentor and if he'll be receptive to coaching, and perhaps a mechanical overhaul, at this stage of his career.

Josh Freeman(notes) has a long way to go as a quarterback, but I like his poise, I like his athleticism. He has a chance to be something. He certainly doesn't look overwhelmed out there. He's quickly established a rapport with Kellen Winslow(notes), too.

You can tell a lot about an offense by noting what it does on third down – the best clubs convert around 45 percent of the time. Indy currently leads the way at 50 percent, followed by the Dolphins (surprise), Saints, Patriots and Vikings. Your bottom five stacks up this way: Chiefs (20 percent, yuck), Browns, Raiders, Bills, 49ers. Three inconsistent offenses that are stuck in the middle: Cowboys (39.8 percent), Eagles (36.1 percent), Cardinals (33.0 percent).

Connor Barth(notes) nailed three 50-plus field goals against the Dolphins last week and it's a shame no one got a piece of it.

The numbers were fairly pedestrian but nonetheless I thought Matthew Stafford(notes) played significantly better last week at Minnesota, and it was encouraging to see Calvin Johnson(notes) engaged early and often. Johnson and Kevin Smith(notes) have been massive fantasy busts this year, but a little payback should be in order this week against Cleveland (albeit the Browns defense isn't anywhere near as bad as the Browns offense).

Marion Barber(notes) hasn't topped 53 yards rushing since Week 2 and he's only got one TD in his last five starts. He's averaging 13 carries per game and the Cowboys basically shelved him for the final 45 minutes in Green Bay because his fractured thumb was bothering him. What a shame; when Barber is right, he's one of my favorite backs to watch. I don't see how we can start him with any confidence right now.

RIP, Ken Ober. Coincidence or not, MTV has pretty much sucked since your show left the airwaves.