Exploiting stretch-run schedules

Time to take advantage of spot starters with soft opponents ahead

Updated: November 22, 2013, 10:51 AM ET
By Tim Hasselbeck | ESPN Insider

Nick FolesRob Carr/Getty ImagesNick Foles figures to stay hot with some suspect pass defenses ahead of him.

We've been hearing a lot about matchups lately. Certain players have been called "matchup-proof," and fantasy playoff matchups have been dissected in just about every which way imaginable. I'm someone who looks at players' upcoming schedules for some tidbits on how they might do in the weeks ahead, and the whole concept of specific player-on-player matchups is one that I saw play out first-hand almost 11 years ago to the day.

Leading up to the "Monday Night Football" game on Nov. 25, 2002, my Philadelphia Eagles teammates and I were preparing to face the San Francisco 49ers without our starting quarterback, Donovan McNabb. Koy Detmer was filling in, and Andy Reid's main message that week was that with McNabb out, everyone else needed to be better than usual for us to do what we needed to do.

During our film sessions and in practice that week, one thing became clear: We were going after 49ers cornerback Mike Rumph specifically. Rumph wasn't a bad player -- he was the Niners' first-round pick that year -- but the coaches believed that there were specific ways that our receivers had an advantage against him.

One thing that showed up quite a bit in our red zone plan was our attempt to get Rumph isolated against Antonio Freeman by using different formations and motion. At that point, Freeman was toward the end of his playing days, but he still had great short-area quickness and was so strong.

On one red zone play in particular, we had called a play where Freeman was going to run a "Dino" route, which was a slant-corner-slant, double-move type of route. On the play, Rumph happened to be isolated on Freeman. And not surprisingly, Freeman caught a touchdown.

We had a plan, we saw the matchup that we wanted and it worked perfectly. This concept applies in the NFL, and it also applies in fantasy football. Some guys -- the matchup-proof guys -- will be started every week, regardless of who they're facing. But it's important to keep your eye out for players who can have the same kind of advantage that Freeman had on Rumph on that November night back in 2002.

What I'm seeing

During the preseason and early part of the regular season, the consensus seemed to be that Chip Kelly needed a running QB to be able to run his offense properly. What we've seen over the past few weeks is that the QB doesn't have to be a great runner, he just has to be able to get positive yards so that the defense has to account for him in that way.

Former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck joined ESPN in August 2008 as a NFL studio analyst. He appears on NFL Live, SportsCenter, Fantasy Football Now and ESPN Radio.