Around the NFC: RB injuries cause for concern
What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Brendan Roberts takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 NFC teams:
Dallas Cowboys: Coach Wade Phillips is not one to dish out heartwarming appreciation too often, but he was downright gushing over Patrick Crayton's play Sunday. "We got Terrell [Owens] early in the game, and I think it scared [the Rams]. So they started doubling him on almost every play, which gave Patrick a chance to show everybody what he could do," Phillips said at his Monday news conference. "Patrick played a great game I'm really glad for him. Him dropping one ball [last week], you know, I don't know that he's ever dropped a ball in a game. He paid us back." Phillips also said he has put Crayton back on punt returns to "just get back and catch the ball," but Crayton has solidified his status there with some nice returns, including a 26-yarder and a 16-yarder Sunday. Crayton has re-emerged as a viable third fantasy receiver (or better, if your league counts return yards) with this performance, as it is apparent he will get the ball if teams choose to double TO. Now what to do with him when Terry Glenn returns
New York Giants: Despite an implication to the contrary in John Clayton's injury report, Brandon Jacobs was not able to return in Week 4. Even though early reports have Jacobs returning this week, coach Tom Coughlin would neither confirm nor deny that. "We'll see where he is this week," Coughlin said in his Monday news conference. "We will increase his practice reps this week and see where he is, what his comfort zone is with all the maneuvers he will have to go through and build his confidence up by having him on the field more than just a couple days last week." Coughlin won't say it, but we have nothing here that suggests Jacobs won't again be front and center in the Giants' backfield Sunday, at least to start the game. Coughlin said Plaxico Burress (ankle) came out of Sunday's game "the way you would expect him to. He is sore the next day and sore by the end of the game." Burress likely will be able to play through the injury, but the chance of a potential setback does take a little shine off his otherwise glowing fantasy value.
Philadelphia Eagles: The absence of Brian Westbrook (abdominal strain) on Sunday night hurt many a fantasy owner, even the ones who didn't take the chance that he'd play and leave him in their lineup. The Eagles have been so decimated by injuries overall that they decided to take the week off before the team's bye to rest and get treatment. Coach Andy Reid was vague in his Monday news conference regarding Westbrook's status, but one would think he would be ready after the bye after being close to playing this week. Reid added that Donovan McNabb sprained his wrist but said on the team Web site that Donovan "should be fine."
Washington Redskins: Clinton Portis sat out Monday's practice with what coach Joe Gibbs called a recurrence of tendinitis in the running back's knee. "His knee is agitated, so we'll have to see how he goes during the week," Gibbs said on the Redskins' Web site. "He feels he's going to start taking work on Wednesday." So, the early reports on the injury are good there. The news is not as good regarding Santana Moss (groin), whose status for the team's Week 5 game against the Lions is uncertain. Moss told the Redskins' site reporter that he feels he "has to be smart with it I don't want this to continue to bother me [all season], so I'd rather just get this thing right." That's playerspeak for a "questionable" listing on this week's injury report. Even though he's 37 and has been out of football, Keenan McCardell could make an immediate impact on the Redskins. Coach Gibbs had nothing but good things to say about the veteran receiver: "He's a great person, a smart guy, and he could contribute a lot quickly. He knows the system inside and out he's already running quality routes right off the bat," Gibbs said. "He gives us depth, we do have some concerns [at receiver], and we didn't want to pass up this opportunity." Is he a fantasy option? Not yet, but don't be surprised if McCardell, who is ninth all-time in the NFL in catches, does have the occasional good game once he has settled in.
Chicago Bears: Coach Lovie Smith said in his news conference Monday that it's time for the Bears to get back to what they believe in, and that's running the football. Obviously, interceptions have hurt the team, and Smith noted that those turnovers had led directly to points for opposing teams. But he reaffirmed that the Bears are -- and will continue to be -- a running team. "Twenty-two carries Sunday. The situation forced us to throw late, but that's not enough [carries]," Smith said. "When you're 1-3, you get back to what you believe in We know Cedric [Benson] is the type of back that needs a lot of carries, and we hope to get him the ball more." Coach Smith added that he also hopes to get Greg Olsen the ball more in the passing game and that it's time to incorporate Devin Hester more into the offense: "It's becoming more and more obvious that we can't just talk about it, we have to do it. Let's just say you'll see Devin Hester more on the offensive side of the ball." Does that make him an option yet? Nay.
Detroit Lions: Coach Rod Marinelli said Calvin Johnson (back) was close to playing Sunday but fell short of saying he thinks the receiver will return against the Redskins in Week 5. "I think he feels better," Marinelli told the Detroit Free Press. "I think he's working toward that. I'm optimistic." Marinelli is protecting himself in case there's a setback, but all signs point to Johnson's being available in Week 5.
Green Bay Packers: Coach Mike McCarthy said in his Monday news conference that this is the most he has thrown the ball. However, he continues to imply that that is because of the success of the passing game and the emergence of the young receivers. But about that running game Said McCarthy: "I'm not interested in throwing the ball 45 times. That's not the answer over the course of the year. We'll continue to work on the running game." McCarthy said that Brandon Jackson (shin) will be listed as questionable on the injury report and that Vernand Morency's knee is still a little sore, so he'll be limited in Wednesday's practice. Unless those two are in full health, I can't see the Packers improving a whole lot on the ground.
Minnesota Vikings: At Brad Childress' news conference Monday, local reporters asked the very question Adrian Peterson owners wanted to hear: If Peterson gets 100 yards in the first half, do you want to get him the ball more in the second half? Ideal, but Childress' response wasn't as ideal for A-Pete owners: "I'm not so keen on that. We're going to continue to mix those guys [Peterson and Chester Taylor] in and out," Childress said. "That's not something that we run in and look at the statistics and say, 'Geez, he [has] 100.' We will keep the fresh legs in there, whether it's Chester's or Adrian's." There you have it. But that's good news, Peterson owners. It will keep your guy healthy and fresh for when you need him most, and Childress acknowledged that he is mindful not to wear out Peterson's legs early in the season. He also said he would try to get Peterson more work in must-pass situations, which is another good sign. Peterson still has plenty of value after Taylor's return.
Atlanta Falcons: Coach Bobby Petrino's pass-first philosophy definitely has wreaked havoc on the numbers we usually expect from Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood. The Falcons did run the ball better Sunday against the Texans, and it might have been a concerted effort from Petrino and his staff. "It's a consistency deal," Petrino said at his news conference Monday. "Maybe we run the ball more and give them more opportunities. Some of the [pass] pressures they brought [Sunday] hurt us." Petrino's Louisville offense was something most Norwood and Dunn owners failed to incorporate into their game plans (myself included). At least Sunday's 29-carry effort gave us hope that he is making an effort to improve the ground game.
Carolina Panthers: More than any fantasy owner, Panthers fans likely want to know when Jake Delhomme (elbow) will return. Coach John Fox was vague about that in his news conference Monday, saying the quarterback is still day-to-day. He wouldn't respond to a Fox Sports report last week that said Delhomme could be headed for surgery. "There are always options. You have different opinions with doctors," said Fox, before quickly changing the subject. So we're nowhere closer to having our answer. Track Delhomme's status this week. If David Carr's first start was any indication, all your Panthers options depend on it.
New Orleans Saints: Like it or not, the Saints will head back to battle with Reggie Bush, Aaron Stecker and rookie Pierre Thomas in their backfield, and not Deuce McAllister, who is done for the season after knee surgery. "The loss of Deuce is sizable, and it puts the onus on all of us to step up," coach Sean Payton told the Saints' Web site. "We like the depth we have at running back, and it will certainly be tested right now and for the remainder of the season." It wouldn't shock me if the Saints brought a veteran presence to back up Bush, most likely a short-yardage back. Bush is solid, but he has never had the feature back job to himself -- and we're including his time at USC. Stecker is clearly third RB material, and Thomas is too raw. It's only a matter of time before that "depth" is tested beyond its means.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Coach Jon Gruden said the team will use Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman to replace Carnell Williams, who is done for the season with a knee injury. "The [personnel people] will try to replace the roster spot as best we can," Gruden said at his Monday news conference. "But for now, Earnest and Pittman will take the bulk of the load, and we're confident in 'em." So, the early indication is the Bucs won't look at trying to acquire a big name to replace Cadillac. Graham and Pittman should be picked up this week, if they're not already owned, and Graham could be a force down the stretch as long as he continues to get the goal-line carries.
Arizona Cardinals: Matt Leinart reiterated Monday on the team's Web site that he is frustrated by having to share the quarterback position with Kurt Warner. "I have been very open about how I feel," Leinart said. "I would be lying if I said I was happy with the way things are going, but it is pushing me to be a better player." He definitely was a "better player" in the team's game-clinching drive to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday, but don't look for the platoon to change anytime soon. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the plan is still for Leinart to take over the entire offense, including the no-huddle. But the first-year head coach didn't say when that will be. As it is, neither quarterback is worth starting right now despite the weapons the Cardinals will have at receiver when Anquan Boldin (hip) is healthy again. No news on Boldin was offered Monday.
St. Louis Rams: Something is wrong with Marc Bulger, whether it's his ribs or his confidence. But coach Scott Linehan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday that he will continue to start Bulger, even if his quarterback is less than 100 percent. "Logic isn't always the answer for a number of reasons," Linehan said. "The decision [to play Bulger] was made based on whether he was capable of doing his job. Last year, he played with a very similar injury, and played his best football. He's our quarterback." And he should be. The problem isn't Bulger. The problem is an offensive line that has lost five players in six weeks, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson alluded to that: "We've got to protect Marc Bulger," Olson told the Post-Dispatch. "He's a true pocket passer. He's at his best when he's able to sit in the pocket and pick defenses apart." Bulger won't be a starting option again until he starts to get blocking up front.
San Francisco 49ers: Trent Dilfer is your new 49ers starting quarterback. With Alex Smith out indefinitely with a Grade 3 shoulder separation -- there are six grades, and coach Mike Nolan said that Smith won't need surgery -- the 49ers will have to do better protecting the immobile Dilfer. Nolan said in his Monday news conference that the team tried to change things under Dilfer on Sunday versus the Seahawks, without much luck: "We tried to get rid of it quicker, and we held it a little longer," Nolan said. "There was a time there when he came out when he shouldn't have come out, little things like that." But Nolan defended his veteran backup quarterback, saying it hurt Dilfer that he didn't get any first-team reps in the previous week's practice. "The starting quarterback takes the reps before the game, and the backup quarterback takes all the show team for the other side. So they get work, but it's not the real work that they would get if they were 'the guy.'" Will Dilfer improve with a week of first-team work? Probably not much. It could be a long day Sunday against an attacking Ravens defense. Dilfer could spend a lot of time on his backside.
Seattle Seahawks: Shaun Alexander continues to play with a cast on his left wrist to protect a small crack in the wrist, and the back appeared to be tentative in rushing for 78 yards on 25 carries Sunday against the 49ers. But coach Mike Holmgren isn't concerned. "So much of a running back's ability to continually gain yards and do the right thing is based on confidence," Holmgren told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "If you start slow in a game and get hit in the mouth a few times, all of sudden you go, 'Oh my, it's going to be one of those days.'" Holmgren instead cited "missed assignments" as the problem. Although I agree with Merril Hoge's recent point that Alexander probably is running a little more tentatively to protect his wrist, the 49ers do have a recent history of roughing up Alexander. That probably played a factor here, but Alexander got enough carries to remain valuable.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.
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