Around the NFC: Grant impresses Packers' staff
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: In terms of fantasy scoring, Jason Witten had his worst game of the season in Week 10, with two catches for just 12 yards against the Giants. Turns out that wasn't coincidental. Witten told the Dallas Morning News after the game he was kept in to block a little more than usual, and coach Wade Phillips confirmed that in his Monday news conference. "That was our protection. We wanted to protect the quarterback, No. 1. So we did block Witten a little bit more," Phillips said. Tough break for Witten owners, most of whom took this with Witten in the starting lineup. A freak occurrence, perhaps? Well, the Giants do lead the league in sacks, so the game plan makes sense. But the Cowboys' opponents in Weeks 13-15 (Green Bay, Detroit, Philly) all rank in the top 10 in sacks as well.
New York Giants: Whither Plaxico Burress? He started out gangbusters, injured his ankle, kept playing well despite the injury and now has just 38 receiving yards (and no touchdowns) in his past two games. Is it the ankle? "Well, there isn't any question he is bothered by the ankle," Tom Coughlin said in his news conference Monday. "It doesn't wait until after the game to start bothering him. He is down [right now] because we lost and he's hurting today. The process normally is he is swollen the day after and then gets a little better and his spirits come back up, but he continues to work well in meetings and try to prepare as best without a lot of snaps." Ugh. So he's hurt and not actively participating in practice, which is not a good situation. Plaxico will have another good game or two down the road, but his best games likely are behind him this season. Perhaps owners can wait for another good game and use his strong numbers this season to sell high, before it's too late.
Philadelphia Eagles: Sometimes you just have to stand and applaud. To be more specific, when Brian Westbrook racks up 100 yards rushing and 83 receiving yards and scores three total touchdowns, even coach Andy Reid had to use glowing terms to describe him. "I have a hard time believing anybody in the NFL is doing it better than Brian is right now," Reid said in his news conference Monday. "He proves it over and over. He has a knack for making big plays at the end of games. I don't know why that is, other than he's a good football player." Reid cited Westbrook's ability to catch the ball, out of the backfield and as a flex receiver, as an asset and said the team's downfield blocking also was superb. "Get Brian in the open field, and there's not a lot guys who can tackle him," Reid said. Here, here. It's amazing what Westbrook can do when he's 100 percent.
Washington Redskins: The Skins have a tall order in facing the division-rival Cowboys and their third-ranked offense in Week 11, and they'll have to do it without star safety Sean Taylor. The team announced Monday that Taylor will miss two weeks because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his knee, and two weeks even sounds generous. "I would say he will be out for a little while," coach Joe Gibbs said in his Monday news conference. "How long? I'm careful to say with these guys because physically they aren't like the rest of us. We just need to take it day by day, but I would assume he will be out for a little bit." The Redskins' Web site is reporting Pierson Prioleau is expected to take Taylor's place at free safety, but assistant coach Gregg Williams could use several defenders and defensive packages to make up for Taylor's absence. It's also looking like James Thrash will not play versus the Cowboys. The Redskins' Web site is reporting Thrash suffered a high ankle sprain Sunday against the Eagles. He was at Redskins Park on Monday walking on crutches, and the team was not optimistic he would be available for Week 11. Fellow receiver Santana Moss had an MRI Monday, which determined his heel was only bruised. He'll try to work out in practice this week, but still likely will be listed as questionable versus Dallas.
Chicago Bears: On Monday, coach Lovie Smith declined to speculate about whether Rex Grossman or Brian Griese would start at quarterback Sunday in Seattle. Griese has what the team is calling a sprained left shoulder, and his status for their next game is not yet known. But reading between the lines, Smith seems comfortable with the thought of going back to Rex Grossman as the starter. "I really like what Grossman was able to do when he stepped in and led us to the victory at the end of the game," he said Monday, according to the Bears' Web site. "I like what Rex did. Whenever you come in like that in a hostile environment and lead your team to a win, you have to take notice, and I definitely took notice." Smith even went so far as to call Rex a "good football player" later on. My call: Unless Griese rebounds quickly, look for Grossman to start at quarterback versus the Seahawks, like it or not.
Detroit Lions: When a team rushes just eight times in a game, it's a bad sign for their running game. When that team has Mike Martz at offensive coordinator, it's cause for alarm. The Lions rushed for minus-18 yards, the worst single-game mark in modern NFL history. And coach Rod Marinelli told the Detroit Free Press on Monday that the team didn't run that little because of Kevin Jones' foot problems or because they fell behind. "We felt going into the game, this was the best way to attack this defense," Marinelli said. "You could see how they overloaded the boxes inside, moving people all over the place. We liked our matchups outside. You have to go out and execute." On the positive side, Jones' ongoing foot pain isn't any worse than it normally is, and "he's just sore," according to Marinelli. He shouldn't miss any time. Neither should Jon Kitna, who has a back problem but expects to practice Wednesday. Let's just call this an anomaly and hope Marinelli (and Martz) put greater emphasis on the run game in Week 11 versus the Giants and their voracious pass rush.
Green Bay Packers: Three weeks ago, coach Mike McCarthy was talking about DeShawn Wynn and Vernand Morency and Brandon Jackson, mentioning Ryan Grant only in passing. Now it's the other way around. When asked in his news conference Monday how Morency and Jackson did Sunday, McCarthy talked about their "positive grades on special teams" and added that "Ryan is our feature back." The new comparison in Green Bay is between Grant and former Packers great Dorsey Levens, and McCarthy couldn't dispute that: "As far as their frame, their history, their background there are a lot of similarities," McCarthy said. "Brett [Favre] said it the first week he was here; that's the closest body type he's seen compared to Levens." So is McCarthy surprised by Grant's success? No. "I really liked his running style when he was presented to the offensive staff, and he really fits what we're doing. He runs downhill; he has a one-cut mentality. I've been impressed and Ryan is only going to improve. I look forward to moving forward with him." Not to state the obvious, but neither Morency nor Jackson should be owned in even deep leagues at this point.
Minnesota Vikings: Reporters must be careful when quoting coaches regarding injuries, but Brad Childress was very helpful and precise in his news conference Monday regarding Adrian Peterson. Straight from the coach: "Adrian Peterson has a lateral collateral ligament tear. What they do is they identify it both clinically and with an MRI, and they grade it with three being the worst and one being the least. Clinically he has a two-plus tear in that ligament, and then MRI, two headed to three, so he has a tear there," said Childress. "The good news is that the knee otherwise is stable. It is isolated to that ligament; PCL, ACL, meniscus, all of the other structures are good in that knee and I am told that is a good healing ligament. If it was a lineman, maybe he's braced up and plays this week. But we'll reserve judgment on what is appropriate for that in time, and everybody heals differently." Peterson doesn't need surgery, and he's not done for the season. But he is likely to miss Sunday's game versus the Raiders, and Childress indicated Peterson could hurt the knee further if he comes back too soon. Peterson owners probably have no choice but to hang on to their star back unless they're desperate and in danger of not making their fantasy playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons: In his news conference Monday, coach Bobby Petrino had no update on quarterback Byron Leftwich's health. "We don't know how his health is yet, and we have to wait and see," Petrino said. "He felt like he would be back last week, but that didn't materialize. He did get a lot of work in later in the week and felt better about it. There is no reason to say anything until we know his health status." Incumbent starter Joey Harrington took care of the ball in Sunday's win over the Panthers, and Petrino apparently liked the performance enough that he wouldn't commit to Leftwich starting when the veteran quarterback returned: "There are a lot of things you have to consider." Look for this guessing game to continue for at least another few weeks, although few fantasy owners will be affected.
Carolina Panthers: Our weekly theme in this space tends to be about who is starting at quarterback for the Panthers, and that still hasn't been determined for this week. Either way, does it even matter? So I'll focus on another facet of John Fox's news conference Monday: the questions regarding defensive end Julius Peppers' struggles. That's a worthwhile inquiry, considering Peppers is tied for 87th among defensive linemen in sacks (1.5) and tied for 40th in tackles. Fox was asked whether Peppers' struggles were because he was rumored to be ill during training camp. "That's probably why they call it [a rumor]. He does not have an illness. He just hasn't made as many sacks as he has in the past," Fox said. "He's doing everything in his power. He works hard. He prepares hard. He just hasn't [been as disruptive] this year." As shocking as this sounds, Peppers shouldn't even be owned right now in IDP leagues.
New Orleans Saints: While watching the Rams-Saints game live, I must admit I was a little worried for Reggie Bush (and his owners) when the back was lying prone on the field Sunday after getting hit in the middle of the field. Thankfully, in a matter of plays, he was back on the field. So was it a concussion? "We were able to put him back in the game. You get dinged like that, and our trainers and doctors are very sensitive to that type of injury," coach Sean Payton said in his Monday news conference. "He felt better after about a series, so we were fortunate there as well." So no injury for Bush after all. In fact, it doesn't look like he'll be listed on this week's injury report.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Receiver Michael Clayton and running back Michael Pittman, both recovering from ankle injuries, are back on the practice field following the bye and expressed optimism they would be able to play this week. Coach Jon Gruden wasn't so optimistic. "I don't know [if they will return]; maybe so," Gruden said, according to the Bucs' Web site. "Getting some guys back will help us. But at the same time, we realize we have a tough opponent waiting for us." With Maurice Stovall and Michael Bennett, two similar players, now established at their respective positions, you can bet the Bucs are not going to rush back Clayton and Pittman. In fact, neither player probably should be owned right now.
Arizona Cardinals: Coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged in his Monday news conference that Bertrand Berry likely tore his left triceps, an injury that would end the star defensive end's season. Though Berry wasn't having a dominant season statistically (just 2.5 sacks), losing him is a key blow to the Cardinals. Also, safety Adrian Wilson left Sunday's game with an Achilles/calf injury, according to the team Web site. Losing both players, even if Wilson just misses a week, would devastate a defense currently ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense. And the Cardinals' Week 11 matchup, at Cincinnati, is hardly a cakewalk. Joe Tafoya and Darryl Blackstock will fill in for Berry, at least to start. But as the Web site is reporting, the team is checking the free-agent wire to see if anybody intrigues them. Matt Ware and Oliver Celestin would replace Wilson if the latter is unable to play versus the Bengals. None of the replacements are household names, obviously. Whisenhunt also acknowledged Monday that Anquan Boldin continues to have trouble with his hip, which is why the receiver isn't doing as much on the field. Boldin is averaging just 31.3 yards in three games since returning from the injury. "[The injury] affects you when you drive in and out of routes and your explosiveness," Whisenhunt said Monday, according to the Cards' Web site. "Until he is 100 percent, maybe he's not going to be as good as you would expect him to be." Not a good time to own Boldin right now.
St. Louis Rams: Another week, another discussion about the team's latest injuries. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Rams have indicated Isaac Bruce would miss a game or two because of a hamstring injury he suffered in New Orleans. On the plus side, Steven Jackson came out of the game OK, Drew Bennett is healthy again, and the bye week appears to have helped Torry Holt's sore knee. Despite the loss of Bruce, this offense is coming together and has become a worthwhile draw for fantasy owners once again.
San Francisco 49ers: Even normally reserved coach Mike Nolan seemed disgusted after his team's 24-0 loss in Seattle on Monday night. "I don't think the attitude is bad in the game, but when the opportunity strikes for us to make a play, it just doesn't go," Nolan said in his postgame news conference. "I don't know how many balls we dropped today. Tip the ball, and nobody is around to intercept it. Fumble the ball, and nobody is around to pick it up. One thing I will say, they're consistently looking the same. It's missed opportunities more than anything else; it's not as if we had [no opportunities]." This organization is a mess right now, and Frank Gore, though he did gain 5.5 yards per carry Monday, appears to have been sucked in by the vortex.
Seattle Seahawks: Coach Mike Holmgren followed through on his plan to "return to his passing roots" on Monday, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was pleasantly surprised. "I guess he wasn't kidding," Hasselbeck told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. As the P-I noted, the final tally was 40 passes and 36 runs, but 13 of those runs came on the Seahawks' final three series when they were attempting to burn the clock. It's also worth noting here that the Seahawks were without Shaun Alexander (knee), which might have impacted the game plan. Deion Branch (foot) also didn't play, but Holmgren noted the receiver would have played if it was the Super Bowl. So he's obviously close and should play this week. D.J. Hackett (eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown) and Maurice Morris filled in admirably for Branch and Alexander, respectively, and are solid starts as long as the incumbent starters are out.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.