Exclusive Interview with Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl CB Clayton Holmes

How We Fared With Our Teams in NFL Week Twelve

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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 12 continued to provide favorable tailwinds that swept each of my four squads closer to the fantasy playoffs. Three of them won their games easily and the outcomes were already decided before the Sunday Night game kicked off but one of my weaker teams was locked in a battle for 2nd place in the league. I held a tenuous 40 point lead in that one but my opponent still had Forsett and Ingram left to play, while all I had was Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. When I checked the scoreboard after work, I was delighted to see that I had squeeked out a victory by the slimmest of margins - 0.9 fantasy points! This week's victories bumped just one of my teams up in the standings but did improve my Fantasy Coach of the Year ranking on NFL.com. I'm now up to 98% and I'm really not sure what that means, only that if I move up to 100 by the end of the season, I think I'm in line for a prize of some sort (probably just a really lame NFL.com T-shirt).

This week's game against the 6-5 Patriots was one I was worried about because my opponent had a roster full of talented players from top to bottom. He had Matt Stafford at QB, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin at WR, Gronk at TE, and Matt Forte and Frank Gore as his running backs, so it wouldn't be an easy contest (or so I feared). I put in waiver claims with this week's game in mind and was able to pick up every player on my wish list but after realizing I had already clinched a spot in the playoffs by virtue of tiebreakers, went and undid a couple of the moves that made sense for this week but not for the playoff weeks. Hence I dropped the Colts defense, who I had picked up to play against the lowly Jags, in favor of retaining my original Lions, and released Josh McCown, who I thought would go off against his old team the Bears, for my old back-up Mark Sanchez. Sometimes it pays to read the scoring rules for your league. Since this league awards a lot of points for attempts and completions, the prolific Sanchez was the better choice for a back-up quarterback. The moves I didn't undo were picking up C.J. Anderson to replace an injured Ahmad Bradshaw and upgrading my IDP players with CB Morgan Burnett and LB Brandon Marshall.

Unlike in past weeks, this week it was pretty much a no-brainer who to start. Drew Brees vs. a porous Ravens pass defense or a still untested Mark Sanchez against the Titans ball-hawking secondary? Justin Forsett and Shady McCoy against two of the weaker run defenses in the league or C.J. Anderson and Mark Ingram against tough opponents. Easy choices all of them. Since I had already clinched and was building a roster for the post-season, it left me with a TE (Dwayne Allen) who would miss the game and a defense (Lions) with a horrible match-up against a powerhouse Patriots offense.

Lucky for me, it didn't matter that my TE and DST were no-shows as every other player on my roster turned in a good (or great) performance. Brees threw for 420 yards, 3 TDs and 1 pick, which hauled in over 160 points for me, while Forsett and McCoy accounted for over 300 rushing yards and 3 TDs between them (over 77 points). My kicker and IDP players also delivered the goods. The Eagles kicker Cody Parkey had 4 PATs along with 5 field goals, including a 50+ yarder, while Morgan Burnett was all over the field, making 8 tackles and 2 assists. The only position group that underperformed was wide receiver. Jordy Nelson and Mike Evans had sub-par performances but thanks to the quirks of this league's scoring system it still resulted in 21.5 and 16.88 fantasy points due to Nelson making a fumble recovery and Evans notching a tackle.

My opponent, the Patriots, got nice performances from Matt Forte (112 total yards and 2 TDs), Dez Bryant (86 receiving yards and 2 TDs), and the Rams defense (3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, an INT, and a defensive TD) but the rest of his roster laid an egg. His quarterback, Matt Stafford, was harassed all day by a stout Patriots front four, while his standout TE, Gronkowski, had a pedestrian game. Finally, neither Frank Gore nor Jeremy Maclin could get anything going, as Gore was held to just 36 rushing yards and a fumble by an underrated Redskins run defense and Maclin had just 59 yards in the Eagles' blowout win.

Final score: Bengalized 328.19 Patriots 187.19. Next week I get a slightly easier match-up against a 6-6 Tebow Ate My Tivo team. 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.

This week was gut check time for my fearless Swamp Pigs so they tightened their belts a notch and sucked in their six-packs that rippled with layer upon layer of hardened yellowish bacon fat, ready for the battle for league domination that was about to commence. The opponent this week was mile20,000-and-something and my beady-eyed, 3-foot tall mud-encrusted warriors were ready for the challenge. New blood was needed for an epic battle like this, so I went to the local waiver wire office and put in claims for several fierce greenhorns, adding Isaiah Crowell, who had a nice match-up against a pathetic Falcons run defense; Josh McCown, who I knew would be hell-bent for revenge at the hands of his old employer; and Coby Fleenor, who was now a ranking officer for the Colts due to Dwayne Allen suffering an injury in battle. Lastly, I knew any good offensive battle plan revolves around a sound defense, so I added the San Francisco 49ers, who had a nice match-up against a Redskins offense that's been, well, offensive lately.

It was a cold and blustery Sunday morning when my fetid swamp pig warriors strode out onto the battlefield in full glory with their enlarged probosci proudly sniffing the scent of blood in the air. Letting out blood-curdling cries they swore an oath to Mithra not to let a single enemy gain 10 yards or cross the goal line and marched boldly onto that gridiron of glory in tight formation. The enemy quarterback, Tom Brady, hurled fireballs at our flanks (349 yards and 2 TDs worth of them) but our C.O. yelled out "Testudo!" and every one of my pygmy warriors promptly dug a hole in the ground and hid until the attack had ceased. Then Matt Bryant launched a fierce kick (of 50+ yards) and added 3 PATs but our defenses held as my swamp pig warriors were revelling in a mudbath and evaded detection behind the enemy's lines (as, unwashed and filthy, they blended in perfectly with the mud). Sensing the time had come to carpe some diem, my aardvark warriors arose onto their haunches and dug their yellowish, bacteria-dripping claws firmly into the earth to fortify their position, then launched a fiece tet offensive that would send the enemy scurrying. Isaiah Crowell engaged the enemy mano a mano, running over them for 88 yards and 2 scores, while Josh McCown assaulted them through the air, hurling brown obling projectiles a total of 341 yards (but sadly downing some of our own warriors with friendly fire or 2 interceptions as they're known in football jargon).

When the smoke had cleared that evening, the enemy lay scattered about on the battlefield, licking their wounds and wishing they had never met such a fierce troop of warriors so lacking in social skills and basic personal hygiene. But having showed up late for the pre-arranged festivities on Sunday and missed out on all the fun and carnage, Justin Forsett decided he would not be outdone and proceeded to run all over over the already downed enemy to the tune of 190 total yards and 2 touchdowns. He was having as much fun wielding the rock as a bloodlust-crazed Teutonic warrior at a company picnic!

Final score: Vicious Swamp Pigs 103.04 Mile22362 50.76. Next up, a match with an owner named "Igor" and his 5-7 nyg team. Sadly, this victory didn't bump me up in the standings. I'm still in 5th place in this 14-team league and the teams in front of me all own the head-to-head tiebreakers so my work's still cut out for me. It's eat or be eaten in this league and as Darwin would say you've got to either boogie on down or perish. Stay tuned to see how things go for my fierce squad of mite-infested aardvark warriors.

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

Looking for my second victory in as many weeks, I was pretty confident as I prepared to take on a 1-10 Dean’s Bold Team. With a victory, Reigning Champ would clinch a playoff spot and possibly pull within one game of a first round bye. With so many good receivers on my team (Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans, and Julian Edelman), I decided to make a trade prior to kickoff. With LeSean McCoy struggling, I wanted to grab a solid running back who I could plug into my lineup once the post-season arrived. I sent the overachieving rookie, Mike Evans, to SkullFuxNSkullKaeps for Andre Ellington. Despite the fact that Ellington has struggled in many games this season, I felt that this was a good move for my team’s depth at running back. It’s not as if I can start four receivers in my league anyway so there was no sense in keeping Evans.

As Sunday arrived, I tinkered with my lineup just to make sure that I had the best chance of winning. With only one quarterback on my roster, I plugged in Andrew Luck, the number one player at his position this season. Unfortunately, he had his worst performance of the season as he failed to throw for 300 yards and lost two fumbles. With Antonio Brown on his bye week, I started Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones, despite his recent struggles and a matchup with Joe Haden. Jones found the end zone for the first time since Week 4 but Marshall put up a dud. Jamaal Charles has been on fire lately so I plugged him into my line up but wasn’t sure what to do with my second running back. Even though my faith in Shady McCoy was dwindling, I decided to ride him in Week 12 due to his favorable matchup with a Titans defense that had just allowed Le’Veon Bell to run for 200 yards in Week 11. At the Flex I started my newest acquisition Andre Ellington against a weakened Seattle run defense without defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Since Julius Thomas had injured his ankle last week, I played it safe and went with Antonio Gates. At kicker Cody Parkey tore it up for me by scoring 21 points, the most by any kicker this season. Lastly, I added New England’s defense and started them over the Texans. That ended up being a mistake as Houston scored another defensive touchdown. It is looking like J.J. Watt and his unit are a must-start no matter whom they play.

Fortunately, the few mistakes I made didn’t end up hurting as my opponent had his worst week of the season. Reigning Champ moved to 8-4 with a 128.02-60.72 victory over Dean’s Bold Team. My faith in McCoy paid off as he rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown, leading me to a clinched playoff spot. With four starters that scored more points than my opponent’s highest scoring player, it was practically impossible to lose. Since Mark’s Crazy Team lost a heartbreaker against the undefeated league leader, Reigning Champ could get a first round bye if they win in Week 13 and Mark’s Crazy Team loses. Stay tuned for the results.

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

After moving into 4th place last week, Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe was only 95 points out of first with five weeks left in the fantasy season. Since this is a rotisserie league, there is no post-season and the top three spots at the end of the year place in the money. With my eye on the prize, I prepared for Week 12.

At quarterback my options were looking pretty bleak between RG3 and Colin Kaepernick. I decided to go with the Niner after Griffin’s awful showing in Week 11 against a very beatable Buccaneers defense. With Kaep and RG3 facing each other, I was pretty certain that the Niners would win this game and that Kaep would outplay his counterpart. Fortunately I was right but the production was still not what I was looking for as he finished with just one touchdown. At wide receiver I was nervous because my most consistent option had his bye week. With Antonio Brown sitting on the bench, I was very pleased to get Josh Gordon back from his ten-game suspension. I plugged him into my lineup, unsure of how he would do in his first game in almost eleven months. I was very happy to see that he picked up right where he left off, catching 8 passes for 120 yards. Next to Gordon I went with Alshon Jeffery against the Bucs. Although he delivered a touchdown, he did little else. Still, I was satisfied with my receivers’ production. At running back I hit the jackpot as I started LeSean McCoy and Justin Forsett. McCoy rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown while the Baltimore Raven recorded a career-high 182 yards and was able to break the plane of the goal line twice! 53.1 points between my two backs was much needed if I wanted to break into the top three. At tight end I started stud Rob Gronkowski, who had a quiet day but still caught five passes for 78 yards. The Flex position is where I really goofed. The three players I was considering were Julian Edelman, DeAndre Hopkins, and Ryan Mathews. Of course I went with Hopkins, the only one of the three who failed to score double-digit fantasy points this week. I thought that he would see a lot of balls thrown his way as the Texans played catch-up but Ryan Mallet struggled to get anything going. Meanwhile, Mathews has his best day of the season and Edelman caught eleven passes! Luckily, Steven Hauschka made up for it by scoring 15 points but Kansas City’s defense was extremely underwhelming as they were shockingly beat by David Carr and the Oakland Raiders.

Overall, I was still very pleased with a 137.64 point total for the week, the 2nd highest in my league. I remain in 4th place but I moved closer to the pack. If things continue to trend in this direction, Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe should be able to place in the top three and may even be able to squeak into first or second place. Tune in next week to see how Week 13 fares!