Around the AFC: Texans slowed by loss of Johnson
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: Despite QB J.P. Losman's poor performance the first two weeks of the season -- he has passed for 251 yards, 0 TDs and one interception total -- Bills coach Dick Jauron defended his starter during his Monday news conference. "It's under the same consideration that Jason Peters is, it's under the same consideration that Marshawn Lynch is," said Jauron regarding pulling Losman from a game if needed, according to the team's official Web site. "It's under that kind of consideration. Yeah we'd take anybody out of a game if we thought it would help us to win the game. So yeah, in that regard it is (a consideration)." It's hard to imagine Jauron would seriously consider yanking Lynch or Peters from a game, so in that sense, take his words as more of a defense of his starting QB. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Losman isn't close to trustworthy right now, and that hurts the appeal of wideout Lee Evans as well as the team's overall offense. Week 3 brings another challenging matchup (at Patriots), though at least the schedule gets better after that, with the Jets and Cowboys up next in Weeks 4 and 5.
Miami Dolphins: RB Ronnie Brown was on the sidelines for a good portion of the second half of the team's Week 2 game, hardly a shock considering the Dolphins were trailing for much of the day. Still, the fact that Brown wasn't used in many of the team's offensive packages is a slight worry, perhaps an indicator he won't be an every-down back at any point this season. "The game plan was Ronnie was in there in our 21-and-12 package, and then we were going to feature Jesse [Chatman] in our 11-package, and that is what we wound up going with in the two-minute, our 11-package," Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said during his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "It's a shotgun formation, it's 98 percent throwing. ... Jesse is a pretty good little runner, a good receiver. Ronnie is doing the same, but in this game that is the approach that we took." Brown did get 11 carries to Chatman's three on the day, but the defense is going to need a better performance than its shown the first two weeks for Brown's workload to increase. Brown might not be better than a No. 2 fantasy RB at any point this season.
New England Patriots: Leave it to a Bill Belichick team to mix and match its offensive parts. Despite WR Randy Moss' second consecutive 100-yard game to begin his Patriots career, Belichick indicated Monday the game plan isn't any different than it has been in the past. "I think that what we tried to do last night, what we tried to do in the first game of the year, is to use all of our skill players," said Belichick, according to the team's Web site. "Sometimes we have multiple receivers out there, sometimes we have multiple tight ends. Sometimes we have a couple of backs in the backfield. Sometimes there's one back. Sometimes there's no backs and we've tried to keep the defense off balance by using a variety of personnel." One thing is for sure: Belichick's comments aside, Moss is a go-to option in New England 's offense -- to the point that he was coming out in a one-wide receiver sets at times during Sunday night's game. It's clear he's a trustworthy weekly fantasy option, and it's the remainder of the receivers who could be mixed and matched. Wes Welker had a second straight standout game in Week 2, though Donte' Stallworth, held quiet the first two weeks of the season, should eventually have his share of decent games accounting for QB Tom Brady's tendency to spread the ball around.
New York Jets: Assuming his ankle has healed enough for him to play, QB Chad Pennington will reclaim his starting role in Week 3 against the Dolphins. "If he can, he will," said coach Eric Mangini, according to the team's Web site. "We'll just assess it throughout the week, but if he's able to, he will." Kellen Clemens, who managed a 260-yard, 1-touchdown, 2-interception day as the Week 2 starter, including helping rally his team to cut a 17-point deficit to only seven in the fourth quarter, would return to his traditional backup role in that event. Pennington was active for the Week 2 contest, serving as the No. 2 QB, a reward for his rehabilitation during the week. "The progress he made was outstanding," Mangini said. "I was really pleased with that and that's why he was at the two-spot." Pennington remains a risky fantasy start even if he's cleared to play, and this is almost assuredly not the last we've heard from Clemens this season. The Jets suddenly rank among the best bets for a quarterback controversy by midseason.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Steve McNair (groin) missed the first game of his Ravens career in Week 2, though coach Brian Billick said during his Monday news conference that the veteran should return to the lineup in Week 3. McNair should be ready to practice fully on Tuesday. "He felt pretty good on Sunday so that bodes well for us beginning the week on Wednesday," said Billick, according to The Baltimore Sun. McNair remains only fantasy-backup material, perhaps useful for spot-start status based on the matchup. ... Billick also said Monday that WR Mark Clayton should return to the starting lineup in Week 3, after being limited in each of the season's first two games coming off a preseason ankle sprain. "Based on what we saw the other day, I think he's going to be ready to go," Billick said. "Mark will be able to reinsert himself into the rotation. I think he's as healthy as he's been since that first [preseason] week against Philadelphia." Of course, with WR Demetrius Williams improving, Clayton will be on a short leash the next couple weeks, so don't get too cozy with him. Williams slides back into the No. 3 role on the team, though he remains useful bench depth in deeper leagues.
Cincinnati Bengals: Coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference that WR Tab Perry (strained hamstring) likely will not be available in Week 3, according to the team's official Web site. That should grant Antonio Chatman, who was cut in the preseason, re-signed and then sat out the season's first two weeks, a chance to play, with Glenn Holt moving up to the No. 3 receiver role. Holt had five catches for 52 yards and a TD in Week 2, and although it might seem he won't be that valuable if deemed the Bengals' No. 3 receiver, keep in mind that Chris Henry had 605 yards and 9 TDs out of that role in 2006. Owners in deeper leagues can consider stashing Holt on a bench, accounting for Perry's checkered injury history, and Holt's is a name to keep stashed away in the case of catastrophic injury to WRs Chad Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Cleveland Browns: Clearly, QB Derek Anderson is going to retain his starting role for a bit longer. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 328 yards, 5 TDs and one interception in Week 2, with his 121.8 passer rating the highest by a Browns player since Trent Dilfer had a 131.8 rating on Sept. 18, 2005. "He's the same guy we've had all along," coach Romeo Crennel said, according to the team's Web site. "He's the same guy who went into the Kansas City game and won that game last year. We knew the capabilities were there. It just came to the front yesterday." Rookie QB Brady Quinn still has a good chance at claiming the starting role before season's end, but Anderson's performance should quell the rumors of a QB change in the near future. Most notable regarding Anderson's game: He targeted WR Braylon Edwards 14 times, leading to a breakout eight-catch, 146-yard, 2-TD performance. That chemistry is an encouraging sign for Edwards owners, even with tougher matchups coming up for him the next three weeks (Week 3 at Raiders, Week 4 versus Ravens, Week 5 at Patriots).
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rookie TE Matt Spaeth scored a TD in Week 2, his second consecutive game with a score. He now leads the team in TDs with two, leading coach Mike Tomlin to toy with us fantasy owners during his Monday news conference. "He's a fantasy league all-star, I guess," said Tomlin, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I've always been a block-first tight end in college, and I've always accepted that role," Spaeth said. "At Minnesota we ran the ball a lot, more than we do here." Heath Miller remains the Steelers' pass-catching tight end, and those TD scores should even out between the two fairly quickly. Consider Miller a potential buy-low candidate in a more wide-open Steelers offense this season; he has seven targets to Spaeth's three in the two games. "My brother has me in his fantasy draft," said Spaeth, noting perhaps the only team in fantasy football that owns him. "He said he was going to start me today."
Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson will be listed as doubtful for the team's Week 3 game against the Colts due to a sprained left knee, said Texans coach Gary Kubiak during his Monday news conference. "We feel very fortunate, Andre's going to be fine," said Kubiak, according to the team's Web site. "Is he going to be fine in a week, or is he going to be fine in four weeks? We're still in an evaluation process right now. But he's definitely got a sprain and we'll know more here in a couple days." Johnson suffered the sprain on a 10-yard catch in the fourth quarter of the team's Week 2 win at Carolina, though an MRI revealed only limited swelling in the knee, and that the veteran won't require surgery. With Johnson most likely out for Week 3, Andre' Davis, inactive for the season's first two weeks, would be activated to join a four-receiver rotation including Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones and Jerome Mathis. None would be QB Matt Schaub's go-to guy in the fashion that Johnson is, but preseason sensation Jones would warrant keeping an eye on. TE Owen Daniels, currently second on the team with six receptions and 72 receiving yards, would most stand to benefit from any time Johnson misses.
Indianapolis Colts: Though the Colts surrendered 20 points and 141 yards on the ground to the Titans in Week 2, noticeably more than the 10 and 106 they gave up to the Saints in their regular-season opener, things should be looking up for the defense in Week 3 and future contests. Coach Tony Dungy said in his Monday news conference that he's hopeful both LBs Freddy Keiaho (dislocated elbow) and Rob Morris (abdominal strain) will be able to play against the Texans. The duo combined for 14 tackles and Keiaho had an interception in Week 1; replacements Rocky Boiman and Tyjuan Hagler had only eight tackles combined and struggled to hold back the Titans' rushing game in Week 2. The presence of both linebackers doesn't make the Colts a trustworthy weekly fantasy option, but it could lead to a couple opportunistic matchups for them this season. For instance, in Week 3 alone the Texans will be relying a fair share on Ahman Green and the running game, knowing the passing game is probably without top WR Andre Johnson.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Matt Jones' stock simply continues to slide. Despite his finishing the 2006 season with 4 TDs and two 100-yard efforts in his final six games, the third-year receiver hasn't been nearly as involved in the receiver rotation so far this year. Through two regular-season games, Jones has three catches for 36 yards, being targeted only six times. Coach Jack Del Rio expressed displeasure with Jones' effort on plays that don't involve him during his Monday news conference. "I'm not comfortable with some of the body language," said Del Rio, according to the team's Web site. "Sometimes body language can be misconstrued. It's not something that helps the team if it's not positive. When you have that casual demeanor about you, it can be misconstrued." Dennis Northcutt (9 catches, 132 yards) and, to a lesser extent, TE Marcedes Lewis (6-74) have been seemingly far more appealing targets to QB David Garrard through two games, and it's clear from Del Rio's game plan dating back to the start of last season that he'll spread the ball around to his different receivers. Jones has minimal fantasy appeal outside of deeper leagues, and in those he'd only be a matchups plan when he hits a hot streak.
Tennessee Titans: Coach Jeff Fisher made what facet of the game he wanted to his offense improve in during his Monday news conference: Red zone touchdowns. "We need to get better there," said Fisher, according to the team's Web site. The Titans been within their opponent's 20-yard line eight times in two games, and they have came away with only three touch downs (and four field goals). "If you can run the football, typically what happens over the course of the year is your scoring efficiency increases and improves, because teams become more and more concerned about the run," Fisher said. Take special note of that, because through two games, the Titans have called 17 running plays to nine passing plays in the red zone, with LenDale White (9) the leader in carries in those situations. Chris Brown (6) and Vince Young (2) rank behind him, seemingly cementing White's status as the goal-line back. Among receivers, no one has more than two targets in the red zone -- not even TE Bo Scaife (2) -- meaning no specific sleeper option to pick up for these situations.
Denver Broncos: Running back Travis Henry, who missed a handful of plays in Week 2 with an ankle injury, shouldn't be limited heading into the team's Week 3 contest against the Jaguars. "I think he's OK," said coach Mike Shanahan in his Monday news conference, according to the team's Web site. "I think it was worse this week than last week. He wasn't in here for treatment today, though. He should be all right." With 267 rushing yards and a 5.4 yards-per-carry average through two games, Henry has been every bit the standout anyone could have expected from his move to Denver. ... Backup RB Selvin Young, meanwhile, should get more frequent work to keep Henry fresh, Shanahan said. "We put Selvin Young in there on third downs," Shanahan said. "We thought that would help him [Henry] a little bit. [Young] wasn't out there the whole game, there were a lot of pass routes that we had him protect so that helped us." Shanahan noted he believes Young could be a starting running back at the NFL level in the future, something keeper-league owners should keep in mind, though for now, he's merely a useful Henry handcuff.
Kansas City Chiefs: Coach Herm Edwards said during his Monday news conference that he'll stick with QB Damon Huard as his starter for Week 3 against the Vikings. "He's the starting quarterback," said Edwards, according to The Kansas City Star. "He hasn't done anything to lose his job. The offense is not just one guy. Sometimes we look at the quarterback position and say it's the quarterback. I don't put it all on his play. It's on everybody." Huard, who managed an impressive 11 touchdowns to just one interception last year while filling in for the injured Trent Green, hasn't been nearly as effective this season, throwing for 343 yards, one TD and three interceptions in two games. In addition, with Brodie Croyle completing all four of his pass attempts in relief of Huard late in the Week 2 contest, a quarterback controversy could be in order. With the Chiefs' offensive line problems and neither QB a standout from a pure talent perspective, don't count on much from the team offensively this season. Neither Huard nor Croyle seems particularly fantasy-worthy.
Oakland Raiders: Speaking of quarterback controversies, the Raiders might not be far off a switch at that position. Coach Lane Kiffin, during his Monday news conference, put the pressure on starting QB Josh McCown to step up his game. "Josh has got to get better, that's no secret, or he won't be our starting quarterback for long, especially at this pace," said Kiffin, according to the team's Web site. "He has to be more accurate. Even after everything that went wrong, at the end of regulation Jerry Porter runs by Dre' Bly by about five, six yards. It's not a very hard completion to make. Those are plays that, if you're going to be really good on offense, and if you're going to be really good at quarterback, you gotta make those plays." It's possible McCown's recovery from a broken index finger and sprained right foot, which limited him in practice the past week, was a factor, though with a full week's practice entering Week 3, he'll be under the microscope. Daunte Culpepper stands to step in for McCown if needed, and although he's a risky fantasy choice, Culpepper might not be that bad a name to stash on a bench in deep leagues for future matchups play.
San Diego Chargers: Despite his receivers' underwhelming numbers the first two weeks of the season, coach Norv Turner said during his Monday news conference that he's pleased with their performance nonetheless. "I think with the number of opportunities and the situations they've been in, they're doing well," said Turner, according to the team's Web site. "I think Vincent Jackson is playing real well and I think he's going to continue to play better. Obviously we haven't had a lot of opportunities for Craig Davis, but I think he's growing. Malcom [Floyd] got an opportunity last night and had a big catch." Jackson is the one who should attract the most fantasy appeal. Remember that the Chargers faced two unfriendly matchups for fantasy purposes the first two weeks, though things should get better in that department, beginning with a Week 3 contest at Green Bay. Jackson did haul in 3 TD passes during the preseason, looking like QB Philip Rivers' go-to guy in the red zone, a signal that he might be an intriguing buy-low candidate right now.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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