Exclusive Interview with Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl CB Clayton Holmes

How We Fared With Our Teams in NFL Week Eleven

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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.

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.

Week 11 was kind to me as all 4 of my teams won their games, two of them clinched playoff berths, and I now have three that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

My Bengalized squad got a virtual week off, playing a winless Back2Back team who was still starting Adrian Peterson (suspended), Zac Stacy (now 3rd string), and Vontaze Burfict (injured). Nonetheless, since you never know which player's going to go off in a particular week (I remember a game one year where almost all my players outperformed my opponent's line-up, yet I still lost because his starting RB Jamaal Charles had a game for the ages), I made a few moves on the waiver wire to replace players who were either injured or on byes. I picked up Mark Sanchez to replace the injured Carson Palmer and swapped out the ineffective Vincent Jackson with his teammate Mike Evans. Since I hadn't clinched a playoff spot yet, I decided I needed a LB who'd be active on Sunday, letting the magnificent rookie C.J. Mosley go to pick up Lawrence Timmons, who's not the same caliber of player but would be suiting up on Sunday. One move that didn't end up helping me out this week is picking up Dwayne Allen, who'd been dropped last week due to his bye, and dumping Larry Donnell (who went on to score 15.75 points, while Allen got injured and produced nothing).

My choices at quarterback were Drew Brees or an untested Mark Sanchez. Brees was facing the Bengals, who've been tough on opposing quarterbacks, but I felt the Saints QB would bounce back playing at home after a tough loss to the Niners. I really wasn't sure which Bengals team would show up though, as they're really good against NFC teams but often stink on the road. The choice turned out to be the right one as somehow in this crazy league where passing attempts and completions count as much as yards and TDs, Brees' 255 yards and 1 TD counted for more than Sanchez's 346 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs (139.58 for Brees vs. just 94.84 for Sanchez). I wasn't quite as fortunate with my choices at RB. I chose to start Ahmad Bradshaw and Mark Ingram and leave Shady McCoy on the bench. Ingram was a no-brainer, facing a porous Bengals run defense, but I deliberated back-and-forth on whether to start Bradshaw against the Patriots or Shady against the Packers. Green Bay had yielded more points to opposing RBs but they were allowing more yards per game and per carry than the Patriots were. In the end I felt there was more of a risk that the Eagles, with an untested back-up QB in the game, would fail to score points, so went with Bradshaw, who promptly got injured in the second half. Starting Ingram paid off in spades, as he had 97 total yards and scored 19.13 points, but Bradshaw delivered just 9.38 points.

My WRs were the stars of the game and made up for the fact that Dwayne Allen, who left with a high ankle sprain in the first quarter, put up a big goose egg. Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin had identical stats, 109 yards and a TD, which produced 28.63 and 35.63 points, respectively. (Don't ask me why Benjamin's day was worth 7 points more!) I didn't get much from either my new LB Timmons or the Lions defense, which I had high hopes for facing a back-up quarterback in Arizona, but did get a nice contribution from DB Rashad Johnson, who put up 17 points with 4 tackles, 2 assists, and an interception.

Back2Back got nice performances from Brandon Marshall and his 49ers defense and Cam Newton played decently but it wasn't enough to overcome the dead weight on his roster. Final score: Bengalized 268.35 Back2Back 182.44. This victory clinches a playoff spot for me, so now I have the luxury of making waiver wire moves with the post-season in mind. Next up is a battle with a stronger 6-5 Patriots squad so stay tuned...

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 in hog heaven, winners of three-in-a-row, and about to "go to the trough" against the hometown homers of the league, Curtains. Every year there's always at least one team who drafts all the players on their local team and throws their fantasy fate in the ring with their favorite NFL team. Usually that doesn't work out too well for them but when your hometown team has the leading receiver in the league, a top 5 quarterback, and a top 5 running back, well, you get the picture. Lucky for my squinty-eyed warriors, neither Antonio Brown nor Le'Veon Bell were available when my opponent drafted, so he was forced to settle for Martavis Bryant and LeGarrette Blount. Still, he was sporting a 6-4 record and was standing squarely in the way of a victory march to the post-season, so needed to be dispatched mercifullessly and cruelly in the proper aardvark fashion.

Reinforcements were in order for an epic battle of this proportion, so my mealy-eyed swamp vermin went to the local fantasy league unemployment office and sized up the available green recruits. I put in waiver claims for C.J. Anderson and Jonas Gray as a back-up plan, but Anderson got snatched up by another team with a higher waiver priority, so was left with Gray as a booby prize. I replaced Carson Palmer, who went home in a body bag last week, with the greenhorn Mark Sanchez and added Reggie Wayne, dropping Cody Parkey, whose services were only needed for a week. Finally, I added the Chargers defense, which had a great match-up against a terminally sick Raider offense and dropped the Seahawks, who were playing a conservative Kansas City team that rarely turns the ball over.

My fearsome beady-eyed swamp pig warriors with their unusually large probisci were a fearsome sight to behold on the battlefield, disemboweling the enemy with pleasure and revelling in the sweet, acrid smell of victory. None was more fearsome and terrifying for the lily-livered enemy to behold than the new recruit Jonas Gray, whose 201 yards and 4 TDs served as a shining example to the rest of the squad but helped no one, since he was sitting firmly on my bench. Fortunately, my field marshal, Cam Newton, and his adjutants, Jeremy Maclin and Tre Mason, were able to out-manoever the enemy. Newton scored 18.68 points on 322 total yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs, while Maclin delivered 93 yards and a TD, and Mason eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. The Chargers defense also proved to be the right call, as they allowed just 6 points to the Raiders and had a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery.

When the smoke had cleared and the last goat horn sounded, my yellow-toothed denizens of the swampy underworld had stood tall (about 3 feet tall actually, give or take an inch), smiting the enemy into oblivion with ruthless blows of their grubby, bacteria-infected claws. Final score: Fighting Aardvarks 82.78 Curtains 63.98.

Now that it's Curtains for Curtains it's on to take on a 4-7 mile22362 team that's been beset by injuries but will be at full strength for this contest. Despite the thrill of four victories in a row, I'm still on the outside looking in when it comes to the final scrum for the playoffs. My Fighting Aardvarks are in 5th place in this 14-team league and behind in every tie-breaker scenario imaginable, thanks to having suffered defeat at the hands of every team in front of them in the standings. If I want to make the playoffs, I'm probably going to have to win out the last 3 games. Tune in next week as my bold, fearsome swamp pig warriors try and gnaw and nibble their way to the playoffs!

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

Since I had a press box invitation to an Atlanta Hawks game last week, I regretfully wasn't able to write this column last week, so I'll try and bring everyone up to speed on what my teams did. Week 10 was a tough one for my Reigning Champ squad as Maxwell Sauer’s Team learned what the phrase “by the skin of my teeth” really means. Jordy Nelson’s 38.2 points helped lead his team to his second victory against me this season, edging me out by just .002 points: 122.38-122.36. Ronnie Hillman’s injury resulted in a heartbreaking loss for Reigning Champ who fell to 6-4 and a three-way tie for 3rd place.

Without even knowing that Hillman was significantly injured, I accepted a trade proposal in which I sent Hillman, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Michael Crabtree to Dean’s Bold Team for Brandon Marshall, Julian Edelman, and Antonio Gates. I’m not quite sure what he was thinking other than the fact that his two running backs were Darren McFadden and Frank Gore and he really needed a running back. He also rarely used Gates since he had Greg Olsen and I was happy to accept the trade.

Week 11 was a breath of fresh air for Reigning Champ. It was rivalry week and I was matched up with my cousin who I defeated in the league championship last season. Facing the 5-5 I Have Crabs, there weren’t many decisions to make, as my lineup was pretty obvious. At quarterback, Andrew Luck has been fantastic and as my only option at that position, I plugged him into my lineup. At wide receiver and the Flex, I went with my trio of stud receivers in Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Brandon Marshall. It turns out that I should have played Mike Evans instead of Jones but it made no difference, as my opponent’s best player (Arian Foster) was unable to suit up. At running back, I stuck with Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy and at tight end, I started Julius Thomas over Antonio Gates. That was a mistake, as Thomas injured his ankle in the first quarter and only produced 2.3 points. However, I was just happy I traded for Gates in case Thomas is going to miss an extended period of time. Cody Parkey had a solid day at the office kicking and Houston’s defense was effective again allowing just 7 points to the Cleveland Browns. Charles led the way for me with 34.8 points and Alshon Jeffery was my opponent’s leading scorer with 35.5 points. Everyone else in my opponent’s lineup underachieved aside from Alfred Blue while I had stellar outings from Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown, and Andrew Luck. Reigning Champ won convincingly 152.32-104.88.

This was the second time this season that Reigning Champ has blown out I Have Crabs. If Reigning Champ played every team every week, they would have a 77-22 record, the second best in the league. I took sole possession of third place and now have the 2nd-most points in the league behind the 11-0 Iupati in my Pants. At 7-4, it looks as if I will make the post-season but I still need to finish strong. If I win out and Mark’s Crazy Team (9-2) loses his next two games, I will move into second place and get a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Reigning Champ continues to chug on.

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

Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe had a very weak output scoring just 93 points, the 3rd-fewest in the league in Week 10. Considering half of my team was on their bye week including Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Reggie Wayne and DeAndre Hopkins, it wasn’t all that surprising. Still, I dropped two places in the standings to fifth place and was over 100 points behind the league leader.

The trade deadline passed and I was unfortunately unable to make any moves. Frustrated by this, I decided to drop the injured Delanie Walker and underachieving Michael Floyd in favor of RG3 and Brandin Cooks. Little did I know that Cooks would suffer a broken thumb that would force him to miss the next month while Floyd would catch two touchdown passes in Week 11. However, I needed another quarterback since I dropped Foles after he broke his collarbone and Kaepernick has not been consistent enough to start him every week.

I decided to start my new acquisition banking on the fact that RG3 would throw all over Tampa Bay’s depleted defense. The matchup was real good, however, the execution was lacking as he threw for just 207 yards, one touchdown, and was picked off twice. Fortunately, the rest of my squad made up for it. At wide receiver, I started Antonio Brown and Alshon Jeffery who each tore it up. They combined for 20 receptions, 226 yards and two touchdowns. Because Justin Forsett was on his bye week, I needed to start Ryan Mathews in his first game back since his Week 2 injury. Mathews was mediocre alongside LeSean McCoy while I left Ben Tate on the bench. I was very happy to have Rob Gronkowski back at tight end, as he caught four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. At the Flex position, my options were Brandin Cooks, DeAndre Hopkins, Julian Edelman, and Reggie Wayne. I went with the Patriot, as I thought that the Colts-Pats game would be a shootout. Belichick ran it down Indy’s throat with Jonas Gray but Edelman was able to produce a respectable stat line rushing for 31 yards and catching five passes for another 50 yards. Steven Hauschka kicked well but the Broncos defense was awful against the Rams. Still, overall, Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe put up 128.28 points, the 2nd-highest point total of all teams in Week 11. I moved into 4th place and am just 1 point out of third place. I still have 95 points to go if I want to catch the league leader but with 5 weeks left in the season, that number is not insurmountable.