Exclusive Interview with Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl CB Clayton Holmes

How We Fared With Our Teams in the Fantasy Playoffs

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Former Dallas Cowboys CB Clayton Holmes
By Matt Brandonphoto of journalist Matt Brandon
Matt is a journalism major at SUNY Purchase College with a concentration in sportswriting. He graduates next January and is hoping to start a career as a sports journalist.
After attending Wilson High School, Clayton Holmes enrolled at North Greenville Junior College where he was the starting quarterback for two years. After transferring to Carson-Newman College, he was recognized for his speed and coverage ability and started playing cornerback. Holmes entered the 1992 NFL Draft and was drafted in the third round by Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. He went on to win three super bowls with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

Matt: What do you need in order to have a "shut down" defense?

Clayton: I love that question because I relate back to when I was part of the #1 defense in the NFL. The first thing is chemistry. Everyone on that team vibes together, they got along well, we could constructively criticize each other, and we would play together as a unit, not as individuals. It’s not about having 11 Pro-Bowl athletes on your defense. If those guys aren’t in sync, that can really destroy the chemistry of a football team… Everyone on that defense has to be on the same page.

Matt: In your opinion, what is the most important part of a defense?

Clayton: The D-line is most important because they are the front-line. A defensive back can only be so good if the quarterback has all sorts of time to throw the ball. A receiver is eventually going to get open. It all starts up front with getting pressure on the quarterback. You have to get in his head—make him think and worry about you hitting him—and that jumpstarts the rest of the defense.

Matt: What defenses do you really like this season? What defenses have surprised you with their production?

Clayton: The Detroit Lions are the best defense in the league but the Cleveland Browns are looking pretty nice too. I think they are going to surprise a lot of people. The Cowboys aren’t looking too bad either though.

Matt: Are there any defensive players in the league that you really like right now?

Clayton: I've been fascinated by Richard Sherman ever since the game-ending play he made against the Niners in the Conference Championship last season. I love people that can back up their talk. Last week, he made an amazing play—I think it was his first interception of the season—You don’t get too many defensive backs that can adjust like that and pick that ball off. I’m just amazed by the kid.

Matt: Are there any cornerbacks that are so good in coverage, you would avoid throwing towards them?

Clayton: Richard Sherman is one of those guys and Joe Haden is another. Haden made an amazing heads-up athletic play against the Bucs a week or so ago. He knew he couldn’t get an interception but he saw the safety, Donte Whitner in front of him so Haden leaped up and tipped the ball to Whitner for the pick. Most guys would just be worried about knocking the ball down since he couldn’t pick it off but you could see that he saw Whitner there and he tipped it right to him. It was absolutely amazing. That was not an accident. Those guys practice tip drills all the time. So I think he is a cornerback that is going to set his mark on the league.

Matt: What does it take to be a great cornerback in this league when it comes to skills and your mindset?

Clayton: Preparation. If you spend time in the film-room game-planning, you’re going to have a big advantage. If you add a person that already has some athletic ability and that has that “sense” of knowing what’s going to happen and where the ball is going to go, you are going to have a truly amazing cornerback and that’s what I see in guys like Richard Sherman and Joe Haden. If you have a corner out there who knows how to hone in on that ability and trust that feeling than your going to have a great cornerback… Awareness is definitely more important than speed. There were times when I wasn’t aware and my speed didn’t help me. If you are aware and you also have that speed, that’s just an amazing bonus. Between the two, I would rather be hyper-aware than very fast.

Matt: What defensive scheme is the most difficult to pass against?

Clayton: This is a tough question because there are certain defenses that some teams don’t play because they just don’t have the personnel. However, Cover 4 is probably the most difficult defense to throw against. For instance, if we were out on the field and we didn’t get the call, the defense that we would usually play is Cover 4 because that is the safest defense to play, especially if that is the defense that you have mastered.

Matt: What is the most vulnerable defense against the pass?

Clayton: Man-to-man coverage is probably the easiest defense to beat with the pass, even if the cornerbacks are skilled. That is a very tough defense to play, especially if there is no blitz. An NFL caliber wide receiver is eventually going to get open if given enough time.

Matt: Who were the most difficult quarterbacks to play against when you were playing? Which current quarterbacks do you expect to dominate down the stretch?

Clayton: John Elway, Steve Young, and Brett Favre were the most difficult quarterbacks to play against when I was playing. The current quarterbacks would be Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Russell Wilson.

Matt: What do those quarterbacks have in common?

Clayton: It’s not just that they all have good arms because you have to have a cannon to play in the pass-friendly NFL today. Some of those guys were capable of moving the chains with their feet like Elway and Young and Wilson is another guy who can do extraordinary things outside of the pocket with his speed… I’ve actually spent a couple of weeks with Tom Brady back in 2005 when I went up to New England. I would love to be in the huddle with that guy because he is intense. Even when he’s at practice, it’s a competition. I can only imagine what he is like during a game and I feel like Manning is the same way. An elite quarterback really garners the attention and respect from the guys in the huddle. That is very key.

Matt: What are the characteristics of a Pro Bowl Wide Receiver? Who were the most difficult receivers to cover in your day? Are there any current receivers that remind you of players you had to cover?

Clayton: Size, route running, and blocking ability are crucial attributes of a top-tier receiver. The toughest receivers for me to cover were Cris Carter—he was definitely a nightmare for me—Jerry Rice, Andre Reed, and Sterling Sharpe. Today’s receivers would be Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, and Calvin Johnson. Megatron reminds me of a bigger, stronger Michael Irvin (who I fortunately never had to cover since he was on my team).

Matt: In your opinion, are there any weather conditions that make it more difficult for a quarterback and wide receiver to execute?

Clayton: I think rain and wind are the hardest conditions to play in when trying to execute the passing attack. The ball can be slippery but more importantly, route running can become a bit sloppy and that is everything to a quarterback and receiver. The quarterback is throwing the ball to a spot so they do a lot of this stuff by timing. In rain or wind, you may have to hesitate a second or make sure you have your feet underneath you and that may throw off the timing just a little bit which can break the rhythm of an entire play.
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This is a blog we started back in Week 5 of the season, as we thought it would be fun to illustrate to fans of our site the trials and tribulations we go through with our own fantasy teams. Yes, just like you, we play fantasy football ourselves and have about 30 years of experience between the two of us. If you'd like to experience first-hand how our seasons have unfolded just start with Week 5 on our webpage and go from there. Hopefully, you'll learn from our mistakes and our successes!

Greg's Teamsphoto of journalist Greg Buch
Greg graduated from Gulf Coast State College with a degree in software and web development. He's the creator and developer of this site and has played in many fantasy football leagues over the last 15 years. He's been a life-long Cincinnati Bengals fan and wishes the team performed half as well in the playoffs as his fantasy teams have done.

photo of Bengalized fantasy football team logo

If you read our Week 5 blog, you know my Bengalized team plays in a standard IDP league that has a crazy, inflated point system that often results in teams scoring as many as 300 or 400 points a game.

My Bengalized team enjoyed a bye in Week 15 while the #3-#6 seeds battled for the right to advance and play the top two seeds. I believe I mentioned in my last blog that there was a chance for a rematch of Week 13's contest with Tebow Ate My Tivo. Sure enough, the latter defeated the #3 seed to advance and face me again for the right to play for the league title. I was pretty satisfied with the line-up I'd assembled throughout the year, so made just a couple of waiver wire moves. I picked up Chris Borland, who's had an outstanding year with the Niners, and dropped C.J. Mosley. (Borland promptly got injured, so this wasn't one of my better waiver moves). Lastly, I replaced Kelvin Benjamin with Jarvis Landry. Before you smack your forehead and say "You did what, you dolt?", let me explain: this league awards points for kick and punt return yards for any offensive position players. The Dolphins rookie had outperformed Benjamin by a wide margin so far this year and, more importantly, was a steady source of point production who was seeing more and more targets.

Had I been facing a tougher opponent, I might have been in real trouble this week. Three of my star players either laid an egg or underperformed relative to their usual production. Justin Forsett, whose knee was actually pretty banged up (and the Ravens weren't saying anything about it), ran for just 48 yards behind a Ravens offensive line that suddenly was having problems opening holes, while C.J. Anderson, who fared a little better with 96 total yards, was held scoreless. Finally, Aaron Rodgers was shut down by Buffalo's stingy defense, so Jordy Nelson was held to just 55 receiving yards and no touchdowns (this actually worked to my favor though since my opponent was starting Rodgers). The move from Benjamin to Jarvis Landry paid dividends, as the rookie racked up 8 catches for 99 receiving yards and added another 58 return yards. The real difference-maker though was Drew Brees, who picked apart a sorry Bears defense and threw for 375 yards and 3 TDs, outscoring my opponent's quarterback by a cool 100 points. The final score was Bengalized 253.09 Tebow Ate My Tivo 148.17 and on it was to play the league's #1 seed, The Manziel Hustle, in the championship round!

The final week of the season arrived and I suddenly felt motivated to spend a LOT of time analyzing the match-ups, getting busy on the waiver wire, and deliberating back-and-forth ad nauseum on what the best possible line-up was. I had swore at the start of the season not to spend that much time on my fantasy teams (the work on the website necessitated this) but (sigh) my competitive spirit got the upper hand on me. Whereas I had previously just glanced at the match-ups and player's game logs, I decided with a league championship on the line, I'd take a mathematical approach to my line-up decisions. So I took each player's point production per game and factored in the points allowed by the opponent and used the resulting figure as the basis of my decision-making. The resulting figures helped me eliminate some players with really bad match-ups but I didn't rely on it entirely, looking at more subjective things like how the player was playing recently, how many carries or targets he was getting, and so on.

I ended up picking up several "lesser" players with outstanding match-ups this week and starting them over a few of my "studs" who faced difficult opponents. So I picked up the Patriots LB Jamie Collins instead of a few bigger names, since he had a terrific match-up with a Jets defense that's allowed the most tackles to linebackers of any team in the league. I swapped out my DB, Rashad Johnson, who had a difficult match-up with a run-heavy Seahawks team, for Morgan Burnett, who had an attractive match-up with a Buccaneers team that's given up plenty of points to defensive backs. I also picked up Jonathan Stewart and Devin Hester but they ended up sitting on my bench. Stewart had an attractive match-up against a Browns run defense that's much worse than its fantasy stats (coming into the game they ranked around the middle of the pack in points per game but near the bottom of the league in yards per game and per carry). I figured he would tote the rock a lot with DeAngelo Williams out (the league awards points for both carries and catches) but ultimately didn't have the nerve to sit either C.J. Anderson or Justin Forsett. Hester had a great match-up against a porous Saints pass defense and should have put up some nice kick return yardage against Thomas Morstead, who has one of the lowest touchback percentages in the league. However, once I saw Julio Jones was active, I figured he wouldn't be targeted much in the passing game and opted to start Kelvin Benjamin instead.

As the Sunday games played out, just two of my studs on offense were delivering for me. Brees didn't have one of his better real life games, throwing for over 300 yards but with just 1 TD and 2 interceptions in what should have been a great match-up at home against the Falcons. However, in this league which awards a lot of points for completions and attempts, prolific counts more than proficient, and his performance netted me over 108 points. After a miserable Week 15, Jordy Nelson really delivered the goods, catching 9 passes for 113 yards and a TD, which qualified for a 100+ yard receiving bonus and brought home 34 points. Were it not for the tinkering I made with my IDP players though, I would have been in serious trouble this week, since none of my other starters on offense did much of anything. Fortunately, Jamie Collins was a beast, recording 6 tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed, and an INT, while Morgan Burnett was all over the field with 9 tackles, a half sack, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit. Together, these two IDP players added a whopping 50+ points and doubled the output of my opponent's defensive players.

As Monday Night Football got ready to kick-off, I was cautiously optimistic. I held a 114 point lead and still had C.J. Anderson yet to play, while my opponent had Peyton Manning starting. This may sound like a crazy lead but with the scoring system the way it is in this league, it was possible for Manning to score over 150 points if he had one of his best games of the year. Ironically enough for a team with the Bengals logo, my fate was now tied to whether or not the Cincinnati defense could contain the NFL's top quarterback.

Cincinnati's defense was dominant the entire first half, confusing Manning with a variety of shifts and stunts that neutralized his audibles and lining up five DBs on the field. It looked like this game was over and the fat lady was ready to sing but Denver mounted a furious comeback and Manning connected on 3 quick touchdown strikes, racking up a couple hundred yards in the space of just a quarter. Just as I became convinced my fantasy season was about to end in a loss and my Bengals once again would wilt on the prime-time stage, the elements and Dre Kirkpatrick conspired to turn the tide. The gods must have taken pity on me and the Bengals, as they unleashed a torrential downpour that all but eliminated Denver's chance of a comeback and the oft-maligned Kirkpatrick shed his "draft bust" label by picking off the legendary Hall of Fame QB not once but twice. Manning ended up posting a QBR of 0.0 in the fourth quarter and my Bengalized squad held on to claim the league title.

Final score: Bengalized 255.28 The Manziel Hustle 215.08.

The Fighting Aardvarks
photo of The Fighting Aardvarks fantasy football team logo

As you'll recall if you read the column last week, my Fighting Aardvarks play in an auction league that assigns more points for rushing TDs than passing scores but otherwise uses a pretty standard scoring system.

Their backs up against the wall, my aardvarks had done everything they could to prepare for battle. They had done hundreds of ab crunches, run up and down the stairs at the Philly Museum of Art, lifted heavy rocks, jogged on arduous mountain trails, drank raw eggs in one gulp, and followed a strict organic, fresh-kill Atkins diet. Now the moment had arrived to seize destiny: a meeting with a fierce third-place jhgcffv squad for the right to ascend to the league playoffs and set the rest of the league's quivering entrails firmly under their crusty yellow claws!

As they lined up on opposite sides of the gridiron, my squad sized up the teeming hordes of enemy pigskin warriors and swore an oath to Mithra to hold their ground until every last foe had been vanquished. Despite a valiant effort by the opponent, aided by a 25-point game from T.Y. Hilton, whose bold forays into our territory cut a swath of death and destruction exactly 150 yards by 2 touchdowns wide, our offensive and defensive lines held. The swamp pigs lived to fight another day and continue their quest for total league domination, while the motley jhgcffv team couldn't buy another vowel. Final score: Fighting Aardvarks 110.70 jhgcffv 83.50.

The first round of the playoffs pitted my group of fierce two-foot tall subterranean warriors against a formidable bms21 squad, the number 2 seed in the league. Since my players all had fantastic match-ups that week and the waivers cupboard was virtually bare, the only move I made going into the game was picking up and starting Latavius Murray against the Chiefs. This looked like a bad match-up on paper, as the Chiefs were stingy when it comes to points allowed to RBs, but I liked it nonetheless as K.C. ranked near the bottom of the league in both rushing yards allowed per game and yards per carry and Murray had torched them before for 112 yards and 2 TDs. I couldn't have asked for better match-ups for the playoffs: Roethlisberger against a porous Falcons pass defense; Forsett against a leaky Jaguars run defense; Isaiah Crowell against a Bengals team giving up the most fantasy points in the league to running backs; Antonio Gates against a Broncos secondary that's yielded a ton of passing yards; and a Rams defense that had been on a tear going against an Arizona team with a back-up quarterback (the Cardinals were tough on defenses over the course of the year but had allowed around 12 points a game with Stanton at the helm).

Alas, if every dog has its day, the same cannot be said of aardvarks. Despite a valiant effort by the pint-sized warriors with the big heart and the even larger Napoleon complex, their efforts to spread Pax Aardvarkicum to lesser privileged members of the league, ended in abrupt and dismal failure. Much like the proud Romans, who after setting vast territories under their belt, began to get complacent, my swamp pigs got a little high on the hog. After a string of seven great conquests in a row, they descended into a life of lustful revelry and wanton debauchery. When the smoke had cleared from the field, none of my players had shown up in spite of all their great match-ups. It was a devastating defeat and one that history shall remember as the end of an epoch, the death of a vast fantasy football empire and maybe the end of a legacy of total league domination.

Final score: bms21 91.06 Fighting Aardvarks 71.20.

Afternote: The team went on to place 3rd with a 102.70-86.72 victory in a rematch against jhgcfffv in the league's consolation game but then again, who cares about that? A true Fighting Aardvark is a sore loser at heart, so after this hollow victory, they returned to their swampy burrows resolved to conquer the league, if not the world, next season.

Matt's Teamsphoto of journalist Matt Brandon
Matt is a journalism major at SUNY Purchase College with a concentration in sportswriting. He graduates next January and is hoping to start a career as a sports journalist.

Reigning Champ
photo of Reigning Champ fantasy football team logo

Well, another season of fantasy football is in the books. Unfortunately, Reigning Champ is no longer a suitable team name as I failed to capture the coveted championship trophy this year. After a 9-4 regular season, my squad just squeaked into second place and received a buy in the first round of the playoffs. However, with a semi-finals matchup looming, I was incredibly nervous after losing Andre Ellington and Brandon Marshall to season-ending injuries. And to top that, Julio Jones and Jamaal Charles were in danger of sitting out with injuries of their own. I had to act swiftly and added Jonathan Stewart who was coming off a 155-yard and one touchdown performance.

Unfortunately, the injuries were too much to overcome as I had my lowest scoring output of the entire season in the most important matchup to date. Charles was able to play (barely) but Jones sat out. Andrew Luck threw for just 187 yards, Jamaal Charles gained only 53 total yards, Shady McCoy gained 65 yards, and my newest acquisition, Jonathan Stewart, gained 81 yards but lost a fumble. Meanwhile, Mark’s Crazy Team received huge games from Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Hill and Demaryius Thomas. My opponent had three players outperform Antonio Brown, my highest point producer. Overall, my team got manhandled, 193.2-114.68.

Fortunately, Julio Jones came back the following week and I was able to overcome Andrew Luck’s worst game of the season to win the third place matchup. And Mark’s Crazy Team went on to win the championship. It was a good season and I came up just a little short. With a team name change in order, I may have to go with Injuries Galore next season.

Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe
photo of Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe fantasy football team logo

After spending much of the season in the lower half of the standings, my team was able to make a run in the last few weeks. However, when I moved into third place, I stalled out and was unable to overcome the top two dogs.

With one week to go in the season, I needed to make up 50 points in order to reach first or second place. Since my chances were slim to none, I decided to take a chance and started the struggling Niners quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. That move paid dividends as he was my top scorer of the week due to his two touchdowns and 151 rushing yards. At receiver, both Antonio Brown and Alshon Jeffery gained 72 yards respectively and each scored a touchdown. Shady McCoy had a solid game with over 100 total yards and a touchdown and Rob Gronkowski also found the end zone. Things were looking good but Justin Forsett, DeAndre Hopkins, Steven Hauschka, and the Rams defense all underperformed, which proved costly for my championship hopes. I was able to make up ground but not enough and remained in third place.

So, the fantasy season has come to an end and another title will have to wait at least another year. Both of my squads had good seasons but good isn’t enough when seeking a championship. You have to be the greatest and this year my teams were not. Until next year…