- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 AFC teams:
Buffalo Bills: Lost in the shuffle of the Bills' near upset on Monday night was the fact that their offense, with the exception of K Rian Lindell, was held scoreless. "[The Cowboys] are a very talented football team," said Dick Jauron said after the game, speaking of the opposing defense, according to the Buffalo News. "They have a lot of No. 1 [draft picks] over there playing football." Most distressing was WR Lee Evans' one catch for 12 yards; he was targeted only four times all game. That's discouraging considering he appeared to have decent chemistry with new QB Trent Edwards in Week 4, but Evans' stock seems again to have sunk to an all-time low. He's not a trustworthy fantasy option, not until a fair share of passes are thrown his way again.
Miami Dolphins: QB Trent Green suffered a Grade 3 concussion, the most severe form, when he tried to block a lineman and was kneed in the head in Sunday's game, according to the team's official Web site. "He did lose consciousness early on, and with that in mind, he'll be out this week," said coach Cam Cameron in his Monday news conference. "We haven't set any timetable on his return." Cleo Lemon, who has one previous career start, passing for 210 yards, one TD and one interception in Week 17 in 2006, will earn his second start in Week 6. His backup will be rookie John Beck, who isn't an immediate threat to Lemon's job despite the team's 0-5 record. "If John Beck had won the backup competition, he would have been the backup at this point," Cameron said. Green missed eight games in 2006 with a concussion he suffered in the season's first game, so it's unclear whether he'll be back at all this year. With the Dolphins' season quickly slipping out of their hands, don't be shocked if Beck gets a look by year's end with an eye toward 2008. Regardless, neither Lemon nor Beck should be trusted in fantasy, and the hit at quarterback could easily negatively impact the hot streaks going for both WR Chris Chambers and RB Ronnie Brown.
New England Patriots: WR Randy Moss' incredible hot streak -- four consecutive 100-yard efforts with at least a TD in each -- came to an end Sunday against the Browns. "[The Browns] definitely put some coverage over there," said coach Bill Belichick in his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "I wouldn't say they took him out of the game, but they made a strong effort to limit his production." Moss managed only three receptions for 46 yards; the Browns focused their defensive attention on him, leaving TE Ben Watson (six catches, 107 yards, two TDs) and WR Donte' Stallworth (four catches, 65 yards, one TD) open for solid numbers. Such an example shouldn't be a knock on Moss' value, but it's somewhat a representation of the team's ability to spread the ball around, as most everyone anticipated before the season. ... Belichick didn't address RB Laurence Maroney's status on Monday after he sat out his second consecutive game with a groin injury. He'll probably be on the injury report again in Week 6, so monitor his practices, though his absence continues to make RB Sammy Morris a prime fantasy start. Morris had a second straight 100-yard effort in Week 5.
New York Jets: For the second consecutive week, RB Thomas Jones had fewer than 15 carries, rushing 13 times for 36 yards after managing only 35 on 12 the week before. Most disturbingly, backup RB Leon Washington picked up nine carries Sunday, much of those as his team was playing from behind. Jones expressed his displeasure to the New York Daily News on Monday. "Most feature backs in this league get the ball 20 to 25 times a game," Jones said. "You can get a feel for what the defense is doing and you can get a feel for how the offensive line is blocking. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to do that the past couple of weeks." Coach Eric Mangini in his Monday news conference, though, said Sunday's workload breakdown wasn't a sign of Jones having lost stock in the backfield, according to the team's official Web site. "It's not a function of trying to move away from him," Mangini said. "You're always looking to be balanced offensively." With a career-worst 3.3 yards-per-carry average and zero TDs, Jones has been disappointing thus far, leading to speculation that Washington could be worked in more often, as he was in Week 4. It's a backfield situation to watch, although Jones, with his four-year, $20-million contract, will assuredly get more chances to shine. Be patient with him for a few more weeks, but he'll need to pick up the pace.
Baltimore Ravens: Coach Brian Billick, in his Monday news conference, expressed optimism that TE Todd Heap, who sat out Week 5 against the 49ers with a hamstring injury, would return for Week 6, according to the Baltimore Sun. "[Opposing defenses] are not going to look at Quinn Sypniewski the way they look at Todd Heap," Billick said. Sypniewski still warrants consideration as a bye-week fill-in for Heap in deep leagues, but Billick's comments do demonstrate the difference in raw talent and reputation between the two. Heap is a must-start for any game in which he's healthy, even at less than 100 percent. G Chris Chester, incidentally, was the backup TE to Sypniewski in Week 5. ... Billick also disputed questions that QB Steve McNair remains limited by a groin injury. "[He] took a couple shots down the field, but didn't get them," Billick said. McNair has averaged only 239.7 passing yards with two TDs and one interception in three games since sitting Week 2, and the deep ball has long been considered his most notable weakness. He's not that fantasy-worthy, but it seems he's healthy enough to retain his starting role.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Cincinnati Enquirer reports RB Rudi Johnson (hamstring) missed Monday's practice, while WRs Chad Johnson (ankle) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (knee) did return to the field. Both receivers should be fine for Week 6 and looking forward, not that many fantasy owners were worried about them, but Johnson warrants monitoring closely in the next few days. The team's official Web site noted Wednesday that Johnson was expected to play in Week 6, but keep in mind he missed Week 4 after rushing for only 9 yards on 17 carries the week before that. RB Kenny Watson would presumably earn another start if Johnson's health doesn't improve, something for owners thin in depth to keep in mind during these bye weeks.
Cleveland Browns: RB Jamal Lewis suffered a strained foot on his first play of the game Sunday. "He wanted to come back in and they tested him on the sidelines and jogged him up and down, but the medical people didn't feel like it was enough so they held him out," head coach Romeo Crennel said after the game, according to the team's official Web site. Lewis' status for Week 6 is unclear, though Jason Wright, who managed 59 yards on 15 carries, almost assuredly would start if Lewis can't play. "If [Lewis] can't go, we have a running back inactive [Jerome Harrison] and we'd make Jamal inactive," Crennel said. "I think [Lewis] wanted to come back in, but the medical people didn't think he should play." Wright warrants picking up in all fantasy leagues, though he's not the runner Lewis is. If he gets any game action, he'd be a bye-week flex option at best. ... Crennel also said that QB Derek Anderson's job is safe for another week, despite Brady Quinn being seen warming up on the sidelines on Sunday. Crennel blamed only one of Anderson's three interceptions on his quarterback, so he'll give Anderson another chance.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Despite RB Najeh Davenport's two TDs in Week 5, coach Mike Tomlin stressed in his Monday news conference that it shouldn't be construed as a decrease in RB Willie Parker's workload. "We aren't trying to etch out roles," Tomlin said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We are just trying to do what is required for us to win week to week." Tomlin has said in the past that the Steelers will ride Parker "until the wheels come off," so don't take this as an indication that he's losing all his goal-line carries. Parker had 28 carries in Week 5, compared to Davenport's seven, so it makes sense that Tomlin would give Davenport some of the tougher work in the red zone to give Parker a breather. Parker already has 121 carries on the season, tops in the league by 14, putting him on pace for 387. That'd tie him for 12th all-time, and three behind Barry Foster's franchise record (390, 1992). At age 27 perhaps Parker wouldn't show any ill effects of such a hefty workload this season, but his health and usage bear watching the next few weeks.
Houston Texans: Coach Gary Kubiak said, during his Monday news conference, that he thinks RB Ahman Green (knee) could return in Week 6, according to the team's official website. That's good news, considering RB Ron Dayne has averaged only 3.3 yards per carry and Samkon Gado 2.4, in two games stepping in for Green. "When we look at our situation in the backfield, we can't sit here and tell you that we're not running the ball well because Ronnie and Samkon aren't running the ball well," said Kubiak. "Can they run the ball better? Yes, they can. But it's a combination of problems, some of the things we're doing up front. We're running some bad plays; that's on us as coaches to make sure we're in the right scheme and not running uphill so to speak." A healthy Green remains the Texans' most reliable fantasy option, and even he has his limitations; he's averaging 4.3 yards per carry this year, 3.9 since 2005. ... Kubiak was less confident WR Andre Johnson (knee) would be able to play in Week 6. "I think we're still day to day," said Kubiak. "I can't say that right now about him, even though he did do some running on Friday. We expect him to do some more tomorrow, and everything is looking very, very good. To say that he may be ready to go this week may still be a little bit of a reach." Expect WR Andre Davis to pick up his third straight start, though it's a tougher matchup this time (at Jacksonville).
Indianapolis Colts: Coach Tony Dungy, in his Monday news conference, expressed no serious concerns about his ailing players headed into the team's bye week. "There probably were a couple of guys that could have played [in Week 5]," said Dungy, according to the team's official website. "We had a lot of talks with Joseph Addai all week, and he was very similar to how he was in the playoffs, and maybe could've gone if it had been a playoff game." Kenton Keith managed 121 yards and two TDs on 28 carries in place of Addai, and is a must-own handcuff at this point. "Aaron Moorehead tried to go and we really just held him out after watching him in the warm-ups," said Dungy, turning his focus to his banged-up receivers. "Marvin Harrison possibly could've gone if it was a playoff type atmosphere." Rookie Anthony Gonzalez earned his first career start in place of Harrison (and Harrison's backup, Moorehead), catching seven passes for 71 yards. He'll likely return to his traditional No. 3/4 WR role in the offense after the bye, though, limiting his appeal outside of keeper leagues. "I think most of those guys probably would be listed as probable this week," said Dungy of his players' chances if the team had a game scheduled for Week 6, "and by next week should be even better."
Jacksonville Jaguars: Among the more surprising developments of the season is QB David Garrard's success in spite of a shaky group of receivers with which to work. Through four games he has yet to be intercepted, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for four TDs, and that's despite Dennis Northcutt being his only receiver with more than six catches or 75 yards (Northcutt has 15 and 242). Coach Jack Del Rio, in his Monday news conference, said it's not surprising; many teams in the past and present have made their passing games run on either spreading the ball around or using one or two key receivers. "There are a lot of different ways to do it," said Del Rio, according to the Florida Times-Union. "I think you can be successful either way. ... Right now, we're more concerned with our guys working hard, understanding where they belong, being accountable to the quarterback and the quarterback trusting they'll be there, throwing the ball on time. When you coordinate all that, you have a chance to have a good offense." Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the Jaguars' balanced pass attack and game-manager strategy at QB hurts the team in terms of trustworthy options for our purposes. Garrard remains a bye-week consideration based upon the matchup, but unless one receiver -- Northcutt currently seems most likely -- steps up in the coming weeks, none is a safe regular starter.
Tennessee Titans: Coach Jeff Fisher registered no complaints with QB Vince Young's performance during his Monday news conference, according to the team's official website. "We won the football game and he was our quarterback," said Fisher. "He started the game and finished the game, and we won. This team is 3-1 right now. If my memory serves me right, the two teams he's lost to in the last 11 or 12 games would be the Colts and the Patriots. He's won just about every other game. I think he's doing a pretty good job." No, Jeff, Young has won every other game but the ones against the Colts and Patriots in his last 11. That's not a bad track record, though he'll need to improve his 14 TD-to-17 interception ratio in 17 career starts to be considered anything close to elite. Young's job isn't at all in jeopardy, but for fantasy, he has let down his owners to an extent. He could stand a little work on his accuracy and decision-making, meaning the rest of this year might be marred with more inconsistency, but he's got a bright future ahead.
Denver Broncos: CB Champ Bailey left this past Sunday's game in the third quarter with a quadriceps injury, though coach Mike Shanahan said in his Monday news conference that an MRI exam came back negative. "Right now, it feels pretty good," Bailey told the Denver Post on Sunday night. "But you have to see with a quad. If I had to play a game right now, I don't know if I could. I can really use this bye week and hopefully, in two weeks, I can come back." Bailey is one of the few things going right defensively for the Broncos right now, so monitor his health closely leading into the team's next game in Week 7. ... Shanahan also noted that Pro Bowl C Tom Nalen suffered a torn biceps muscle on Sunday, ending his season. According to the team's official website, the injury isn't career-threatening, but it'll require a four-month recovery period following surgery. Shanahan said Ben Hamilton would have moved to center had he been healthy, but with him sidelined too, it's unclear in what direction the team will turn. The team will focus much of its practice time during the bye on snaps to get QB Jay Cutler acquainted to his new center, and the team might take a hit as a result of a key loss on the O-line.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Damon Huard suffered a right shoulder injury in Week 5, putting his status next Sunday in question. Coach Herm Edwards left open the possibility in his Monday news conference that Huard could be available for Week 6, according to the Kansas City Star, though he won't receive Huard's MRI results until sometime Tuesday. Brodie Croyle, who completed six of 13 passes for 83 yards and a score in relief of Huard this past Sunday, would get the start if Huard can't go. "If [Croyle] is going to have the opportunity to play, and we won't know that until later this week, you'd like things functioning around him well," said Edwards. "This last game, we had to throw the ball 43 times. You don't want to do that. That kills you." Though Huard hasn't been anything special so far this season, keep in mind Croyle completed only 42.5 percent of his pass attempts with 1 TD, 3 interceptions and a 34.5 passer rating in the preseason. Those aren't promising numbers, meaning fantasy owners shouldn't expect much from him.
Oakland Raiders: The Oakland Tribune reports RB LaMont Jordan (back) and QB Josh McCown (foot) missed warm-ups and drills before their Monday practice, leading to speculation each will be limited all week. Jordan also missed this past Wednesday's practice, and while X-rays on his back taken this past Monday came back negative, his status is in question for Week 6. RB Dominic Rhodes is back from suspension this week, and Justin Fargas is coming off a 22-carry, 179-yard career effort from Week 4. Expect the two to share carries if Jordan misses any more time, though neither is close to the fantasy option Jordan has been so far. ... As for McCown, the San Francisco Chronicle reports he was spotted walking without a protective boot for the first time since breaking his big toe this past Thursday. Daunte Culpepper hasn't officially claimed the permanent starting role in McCown's absence, so a quarterback controversy could indeed be in order in the next few weeks. The San Francisco Chronicle reports Culpepper will start in McCown's place in Week 6, though. With McCown due back soon, he'll need to perform.
San Diego Chargers: Though his first four games left a bit to be desired, QB Philip Rivers bounced back with a standout, 270-yard, two-TD passing effort that included a 2-yard rushing TD in Week 5. "When you get that kind of lead, and you get going and you make plays, it's easier," Chargers head coach Norv Turner said of Rivers in his Monday news conference, according to the North County Times. "He had great protection; our line did a great job." The O-line had been much to blame for Rivers' struggles, though it also helped that WR Vincent Jackson stepped up with a strong game in spite of a challenging matchup against the Broncos CBs; Jackson caught three passes for 84 yards and a score. Now that the Chargers are beginning to develop some chemistry, Rivers -- and to a lesser extent Jackson -- should be a better matchups play in coming weeks.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Tristan H. Cockcroft discusses the latest news from around the AFC, including good news on Joseph Addai.