Exclusive Interview with Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl CB Clayton Holmes

How We Fared With Our Teams in NFL Week Ten

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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.

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.

Week 10 was like a breath of fresh air for my fantasy teams. I have four of them, two of which we follow in this blog, and this was the first time I can remember checking up on my teams after the Sunday afternoon games and seeing that the outcomes were already in the bag and there was no need to wait and see what would happen during the Sunday and Monday Night contests. This is also that time of year in the fantasy season when you tend to get a favorable tailwind, as there are always some owners who lose interest and stop setting their line-ups, which has an especially beneficial effect if you're playing one of them during the bye weeks. After Week 12 things won't be so easy since even a deadbeat owner can have decent players on his roster.

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.

This week my team was nearly at full strength. Ahmad Bradshaw and Nick Novak were my only players on a bye week and many had jaw-dropping match-ups so the only difficult decisions were who to play and who to leave on the bench. The win would not come easy however, as my opponent, Crazy Eights, despite sporting a record of just 4-5, had some talented players on his roster, such as DeMarco Murray, Russell Wilson, and Jimmy Graham. Even though Kicker was the only position where I needed immediate help, I made a few moves on the waiver wire to replace injured or ineffective players. I swapped out an injured Nick Foles with a soon-to-be-injured Carson Palmer (yeah, you don't want to be a fantasy QB on my team if you want to enjoy a long, healthy season!) and picked up the Eagles' kicker, Cody Parkey. I also upgraded a few positions, getting rid of players who were underperforming. Thus I swapped Branden Oliver out with Mark Ingram, replaced Zach Ertz with Larry Donnell, and dropped the Chiefs defense for the Lions. After two games with over 100 rushing yards, Oliver had been largely ineffective for fantasy owners the last 3 weeks, while Ingram, with both Thomas and Robinson injured, was lighting up the fantasy scoreboard.

I decided to do the unthinkable and sit my stud quarterback, Drew Brees, in favor of Carson Palmer. The Cardinals QB had a very favorable match-up at home against a Rams team allowing over 18 points a game to fantasy quarterbacks, while Brees had a much tougher match-up against the 49ers. This would have probably worked out for me were it not for Palmer going down in the 3rd quarter with a torn ACL. At running back Ronnie Hillman and LeSean McCoy had juicy match-ups against sub-par Oakland and Carolina run defenses, so I chose to start them and kept Justin Forsett and the newly-acquired Ingram on my bench. Ingram had a difficult match-up against a tough 49ers run defense that was allowing less than 14 points a game to running backs but the decision to bench Forsett, who also had a nice match-up, didn't come easy. In the end it came down to who I felt would get the most opportunities and in the end I got it all wrong, as every QB and RB on my bench performed better than my starters. C' la vie! Luckily, there were no real decisions to make at the other spots: Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin were by far my best two receivers, so I didn't even give thought to benching one of them for Vincent Jackson, who had a favorable match-up with the Falcons. Likewise, I had only one player to play at TE, DST, K, and the two IDP spots.

Lucky for me, DeMarco Murray and Jimmy Graham were the only players to show up for my opponent this Sunday. Murray had 131 total yards, getting a bonus for reaching 100 rushing yards, which ended up netting 27.38 points, while Graham (31.5) had a monster day with just 76 receiving yards but two scores. The rest of his team did diddly squat and his QB Russell Wilson (57.26) had a miserable game, throwing for under 200 yards with 2 INTs against the Giants. I won't profess to understand this league's scoring system but somehow Carson Palmer, throwing for 241 yards with no TDs and an INT, managed to score 40 more points than Wilson (who did have 107 rushing yards and a TD on the ground). However, it was my two receivers who won the day for me. Nelson (55.0), who went off for 152 yards and 2 TDs, racked up bonuses for 40+ yard TDs and reaching the 100 receiving yard threshold, while Benjamin (27.75) torched the Eagles for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Final Score: Bengalized 241.65 Crazy Eights 166.65. I'm still a game behind league leader The Manziel Hustle but am in a nice position to make the playoffs, as the next two teams are both two games behind me. Next up is a bit of a breather against the league's doormat, a winless BacktoBack team. I'm not quite sure what "BacktoBack" is meant to imply (maybe back-to-back last place finishes?) but I won't take this game too lightly, as he still has a few good players on his roster.

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.

My Swamp Pigs were feeling giddy, full of elation after vanquishing their last two foes. Having washed out the Green Solution and scared off the Ghosts, it was now time to flex some aardvine muscle and treat this squad of Goons to a good old knock-down, drag-out, mud-bath stomping.

Full of smugness and fighting spirit, my army of burrow-digging, mud-encrusted warriors was nonetheless badly in need of reinforcement. Hence, I went to the waiver wire to enlist a few battle-tested warriors who'd welcome the opportunity to seek glory on the fantasy battlefield. I signed up Bobby Rainey, who had a great match-up against a terrible Falcons run defense and de-commissioned Branden Oliver, who had been getting weak at the knees in recent weeks. I added the fearless warrior, Mychal Rivera, who had been bravely making crossing soirees into enemy territory, becoming fantasy relevant over the last couple of weeks, and discharged Timothy Wright, who'd gone Elvis on me. Finally, I added Cody Parkey, since my starting kicker, Stephen Gostkowski was on leave for the weekend (aka a bye week). My opponent was also actively recruiting new warriors, adding a few young greenhorns like Odell Beckham Jr., Anthony Dixon, and Charles Sims.

Thanks to the bye week, I didn't have a lot of decisions to make as far as who to start. The one difficult one was whether to send Cam Newton to the front against a weak Eagles pass defense or start Carson Palmer against a wretched Rams pass defense. I decided to go with the hot hand and started the latter, who unfortunately got Alpha Charlied by a Rams lineman. At running back I sat Tre Mason on the bench due to a very tough match-up with the Cardinals' 3rd-ranked run defense.

Distracted by a plentiful supply of lichens and grubs, my army of fierce, mud-covered swamp rodents failed to grasp the objective at hand. A few of them, like Justin Forsett (112 rushing yards and 2 TDs) and Denard Robinson (70 total yards, 2 TDs and a fumble) managed to single-handedly wipe-out hordes of enemy Goons, while others, like Bobby Rainey and my two receiving units, Maclin and Watkins, were content to leisurely stroll about the battlefield smelling flowers and ignoring all the action. At the end of the day, it didn't matter, since the enemy Goons weren't any more interested in joining the fray than my blood-lusting Aardvarks were. Goons ended up getting nice performances from his receivers, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., and a so-so performance from Matt Ryan, who failed to capitalize on a great match-up against a suspect Tampa Bay defense. The rest of his players went AWOL and were missing-in-action.

Final Score: Swamp Pigs 88.44 Goons 66.56, which goes to show you that sometimes the race doesn't go to the swift and the fleet of foot but to the one with a pea-sized brain, filthy hygiene habits, and a tendency to dig burrows at the first sign of any impending danger. Next up is a much stiffer challenge against a 6-4 Curtains team in a battle for 4th-place in the league and a possible playoff spot. Stay tuned as my Swamp Pigs battle for league supremacy and a chance to set every other hapless team in the world firmly under their dirt-encrusted yellow toenails...

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

Matt has a press pass to an Atlanta Hawks game this weekend. He'll provide an update on his teams next week.

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

Tune in next week to see how Matt's teams did!