Commentary

Around the NFC: Bulger back as the starter

Updated: October 16, 2007, 4:17 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

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:

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: The Patriots racked up 358 net passing yards against the Cowboys, but Wade Phillips acknowledged in his news conference Monday that not having Anthony Henry (ankle) was at least a factor in the team's struggles to stop the pass. Phillips said the team likes to put Terence Newman on the slot receiver and Henry at corner. "Newman is the best matchup in the slot of anybody we have because he's much faster [than Henry], and he can cover a [Wes] Welker type." Instead the team had to put Newman out at corner, and it didn't work out. But Phillips indicated that having Henry back would make a difference for the pass defense. "Once we have the full complement of people, we'll be better ... because we'll have better people doing it." Unfortunately for the 'Boys and fortunately for the Vikings, their Week 7 opponent, it doesn't look like Henry will return anytime soon.

New York Giants: In his postgame news conference, coach Tom Coughlin talked about the rapport Plaxico Burress and Eli Manning are developing and the impact it has on Manning's confidence: "They've developed this timing and confidence level of where Plaxico is going to be," said Coughlin "Also, [on Monday night] we got [Jeremy] Shockey and [Amani] Toomer involved early in the game, and that was huge." People talk about brother Peyton's receiving corps and support group, but, with Burress, Shockey and Toomer, Eli is in pretty good shape, too. Now that Eli has developed a better feel for playing with his vets, his numbers are improving; he is eighth in the league in passing yards. He might even be considered a weekly fantasy starter, something we couldn't say about him before the season.

Philadelphia Eagles: The big difference in the Eagles' offense clicking in Week 6: healthy players. In his news conference Monday, coach Andy Reid said he was pleased injured players such as Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith rallied to make it back on the field. Smith looked a little rusty, and probably will continue to be for a few weeks, but Westbrook looked like his normal self, and tackle William Thomas' return also made a difference. That leaves Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard as the only key players who are still out. And the best news of all: "Really, we don't have any [new] injuries to report today," said Reid.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins' offensive line is already without tackle Jon Jansen for the remainder of the season and guard Randy Thomas indefinitely, and it was another injury-plagued day along the line Sunday. According to the Redskins' Web site, right tackle Todd Wade and

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center Casey Rabach both suffered groin injuries, and right tackle Stephon Heyer, who had replaced Wade, suffered a hamstring injury. Ouch. Coach Joe Gibbs said Monday that he and his coaching staff will take a look at the alternatives, which could include moving tackle Jason Fabini to guard and activating veteran Rick DeMulling, and even moving first-year defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander to the offensive side of the ball. You want know why the Redskins haven't run the ball as well as they did last season? Here's the reason. Remember that if you're thinking of trading for Clinton Portis. Oh, and another thing, a story on the Web site brought up the possibility that Chris Cooley would be left in to block more, given the line troubles. Gulp!

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Most of coach Lovie Smith's news conference Monday was focused on the slipup of the Bears' defense against the Vikings, and Smith assured reporters there is nothing wrong and no drastic changes will be made. Our guess: They got bit by the A-Pete bug. We've seen that happen to teams before, and it'll happen to other teams down the road. But the key fantasy question: Why did you go away from Cedric Benson (in the second half)? Said Smith: "No reason. Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe both played, but it was just our normal rotation. I thought Cedric ran hard throughout the game." My fantasy spin: The Bears were chuckin' the ball in the second half to keep up with the soaring Vikings offense. Brian Griese threw the ball 45 times, and Peterson, who had five catches, and Wolfe are better receiving options than Big Cedric. The better question, and one I can't answer, is why did the Bears give up on the running game when they technically didn't have to? Hmm.

Detroit Lions: It has been a slow progression, but as a story on the Lions' Web site noted, Kevin Jones has become the Lions' lead back. In his first game back from a foot injury in Week 3, Jones carried the ball three times. In Week 4, it was up to 10 carries. In Week 5, he had 11 carries and two catches. And now, after a full week off? "As far as percentage-wise, I'm pretty close," Jones told the site reporter. "[The last game] gave me a good idea where I'm at. I now know mentally that I can just go back-to-back, back-to-back without grabbing my foot or worrying if it's going to hold up." That's a good sign for Jones owners. While he is still fighting through some scar tissue and tightness in the foot, the team has been careful with him in practice so he can play on Sundays. Look, we're not saying Jones is the cat's meow as a fantasy back right now, but let's not forget that he's the same guy who averaged 4.7 yards per carry and rushed for 1,133 yards in his rookie season, and we still haven't seen his best this season.

Green Bay Packers: It seems like every week this area focuses on the failures of the Packers' running game, but to be honest, coach Mike McCarthy's Monday news conferences have had the same slant. It seems like half of the questions are centered around the running game, and McCarthy is finding new ways to answer the questions. The twist he took this week was by placing some blame on the run blocking, saying the line calls haven't been the best despite having much the same line personnel as last year. But McCarthy was quick to point out the root of the problem: "If you want to get into what's different this year and last year, the first thing is attempts." So, does that mean McCarthy will place more emphasis on the running game after the bye? Probably not. "The benefit of the run game is not the actual back carrying the ball and achieving yards. It's what it creates, and the quarterback has taken advantage of that," McCarthy said. "So if you want to be statistically correct, you could make a case to factor that into your run game. I don't do that, but that is part of your run game." It sounds like the coach is perfectly happy focusing on the pass.

Minnesota Vikings: The media at Brad Childress' news conference Monday was downright gushing over Adrian Peterson, and so was Childress himself. "He is the best [rookie back] that I have seen or coached," Childress said. Does Peterson care about how historic his Week 6 performance was? Childress again: "My sense would be no. He has had a lot of good days at Oklahoma. And I can say it over and over, but he is just happy to be contributing and being a viable part of this team. It's extremely refreshing." And finally, and more importantly, would the balance of carries ever shift more toward Peterson (and away from Chester Taylor)? "Then we would lose the element of surprise, wouldn't we?" Childress said. "You still want to keep those guys fresh. The fresh legs and the fresh looks give you a chance to have those explosions." We have to agree. Keep doing what your doing, coach Childress, especially if it means running the ball as many times as you ran it in Chicago (43 times).

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Byron Leftwich has said publicly he feels ready to start for the Falcons. Apparently coach Bobby Petrino, who moved Leftwich back to the No. 3 quarterback job for Monday night's game, disagrees. Petrino offered an explanation after the game: "He injured his ankle in practice this week and missed two days. With being new to everything and not practicing I felt like it was the only thing we could do." Like it or not, Joey Harrington is still "the man" in Atlanta, and that won't change anytime soon. In fact, even if it does, I feel relatively confident in saying that Leftwich won't do much better.

Carolina Panthers:

Vinny Testaverde ... check that, 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde leads the Panthers to victory over the Cardinals. Hey, even Vinny himself sounded a bit surprised: "I'm just glad they believed a guy my age could come in and help them win," said Testaverde on the Panthers' Web site. Coach John Fox said the team rallied around him after seeing what he can do in practices leading up to the game. The Panthers have a bye in Week 7, so there's no urgency to pick up Testaverde now. But if all signs point to Testaverde remaining the starter over David Carr, owners in deep and/or two-quarterback leagues might want to look at him when he faces the Colts at home in Week 8.

New Orleans Saints: Both coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees addressed the team's sluggish second half (after a strong first half) against Seattle in their postgame news conferences. "We had a chance to break this game open, but I backed off a little because I wanted the clock to move," Payton said. And Brees: "We had a big first half. Second half, I was a little disappointed. We should have won that thing going away, but we made it interesting in the end." This is a good sign. The Saints acknowledged that they got conservative in the second half in Seattle, and that it's not really their strength. Look for the team to stay aggressive deeper into games in the future, having learned from this experience.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: In his news conference Monday, coach Jon Gruden said it best: "We've had some good days running the ball, and we've had days that weren't so good... especially in the last couple outings." But Gruden said it isn't all the fault of the backs. "Situationally, we haven't given our runners the opportunities that we did earlier in the season. We were way behind in Indianapolis and had to throw the ball. Yesterday we didn't have much success running the ball, and we felt the best way [to succeed] was by throwing the ball." What this likely means is that the Bucs will still try to run the ball early and, in favorable matchups, could succeed. But if things don't go well in the first half, they'll likely abandon it again and stick to the air. In other words, Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett, who was acquired in a trade on Tuesday, still have value, but it won't manifest itself in most weeks. ... Tight end Alex Smith's injury Sunday looked gruesome, but Gruden said Smith's ankle problem is not serious, and he has a chance to play this week.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: In his Monday news conference, coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't have much information about Kurt Warner's left elbow injury, but he did express his concern with playing him even though the injury was to his nonthrowing arm. "I don't know the function of this [elbow] ligament," Whisenhunt said. "I think the biggest issue that Kurt is going to have, other than the pain issue, is going to be squeezing the ball, physically hold it." There you have it: Warner's left elbow is important, and it's unlikely we'll see him in Week 7. But Whisenhunt expects a better performance from backup Tim Rattay this week. "We can give [Rattay] more because the game plan will be geared more toward what his strengths are and passes he can make," said Whisenhunt. "When we did the plan last week, it was focused toward Kurt." That's all well and good, but there's probably a good reason Rattay was unemployed two weeks ago. Don't expect much.

St. Louis Rams: Marc Bulger is back! According to the Rams' Web site, coach Scott Linehan announced Monday that Bulger will again be the Rams' starting quarterback in Week 7, as long as the quarterback proves this week he is healthy. "Marc will be cleared," Linehan said. "Our intention is to start him this week. He should be as close to about 100 percent [as he was] before he hurt his ribs. If that's the case, then he will start." Bulger suffered broken ribs against the 49ers in Week 2. He played against Tampa Bay and Dallas the next two weeks but didn't look like himself. So the Rams benched him in favor of Gus Frerotte. Now Bulger is set to return for this week's game at Seattle. Bulger certainly has well-known fantasy value, but don't go expecting pre-2007 Bulger numbers from the get-go. Bulger said taking two weeks off "helped some," but, as the report on the site noted, it takes longer than two weeks to heal from broken ribs. The Rams will do everything they can to protect Bulger, including extra blocking and having him wear a flak jacket, in hopes that the ribs won't take any more direct hits, but fantasy owners should take a "guilty until proven innocent" opinion of him for now.

San Francisco 49ers: In last week's news conference (before a bye week), coach Mike Nolan said he thought Vernon Davis and Alex D. Smith would return from their injuries to play against the Giants. He fell short of guaranteeing their return in this week's news conference. "It's questionable. We'll see how they practice on Wednesday," said Nolan. Davis' and Smith's return not only would make them fantasy options again (more Davis than Smith), but it also would help Frank Gore owners, knowing he would have more offensive support than quarterback fill-in Trent Dilfer and tight end Delanie Walker would provide.

Seattle Seahawks: Who in the world is Leonard Weaver, and what is he doing leading the Seahawks in rushing Sunday? Well, Weaver is the new starting fullback; Mack Strong was placed on injured reserve with what the Seahawks' Web site is calling a career-ending neck injury. Weaver isn't the blocker that Strong is (few fullbacks are), but he appears to be the superior back with the ball in his hands. He broke off a 37-yard run late in the game (Strong's career long was 21 yards in his 14-year career) and added four catches for 53 yards. So is he a fantasy option? Not yet in standard leagues. We'd need to see him do that another time or two. The bigger news is what this does to Shaun Alexander's value. Not only is Weaver stealing carries from the former MVP, but he's also not blocking like Strong did. Now is not a good time to own Mr. Alexander.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.

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