Commentary

Around the NFC: Giants' RB depth tested

Updated: November 20, 2007, 2:40 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 Cowboys rank 24th in the league in pass defense, allowing 226.7 yards per game. That team ranking most likely has owners of Brett Favre, Jon Kitna and Donovan McNabb, who will face that defense in Weeks 13-15, respectively, licking their chops, and rightfully so. But in his Monday news conference, coach Wade Phillips was quick to point out another stat: The Cowboys are in the top 10 in fewest pass yards per attempt. Teams are just choosing to pass on the Boys rather than run the ball. For instance, and Phillips was quick to point this out, the Redskins threw for 361 yards Sunday, but they threw 55 passes. "When they throw 50 times, they're going to throw for 250[-plus] yards," Phillips said. A very good point, and one that fantasy owners tend to overlook. But the follow-up question can be asked: So what makes you believe other teams won't follow that recipe as well? They probably will, and the Cowboys know it, which is why they were dropping extra defenders back in coverage against Washington. "They only had three receivers. That's what bothered me. We had seven people dropping, and they had only three guys out, and we didn't cover them well enough," Phillips said. "Sometimes we just didn't play it right." Bottom line here is that Favre, Kitna and McNabb need not be concerned when they see "DAL" on the schedule.

New York Giants: Get to know Reuben Droughns and Ahmad Bradshaw. Running back Brandon Jacobs injured his left hamstring Sunday, and backup Derrick Ward is still banged up. Coach Tom Coughlin didn't have many details about either player in his Monday news conference, but he admitted that he is concerned with what was once a deep position. But Reuben Droughns is ready to step in, and Coughlin believes in him: "He is a proven rusher in this league, and we have great confidence in him." And Bradshaw, the little rookie from Marshall? "He would be ready. We have used him in certain situations even more than you have seen in the game. We have had things ready from a practice standpoint that haven't been used," Coughlin said to reporters. "He is ready, and he seems to be very aware of pass protection as well. He would right now, at this point in time, have to be looked at as the second guy to go in the game." That's a pretty clear indication Coughlin doesn't expect much from Jacobs or Ward this week versus Minnesota. Prepare accordingly. As far as the remaining options, Droughns would be the most value. But even if were he to get a majority of the carries, he still wouldn't be a solid option because: (a) The Vikings rank third in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed; and (b) He's Reuben Droughns. But keep an eye on Bradshaw, whom the Giants seem to be very high on. He won't have starter value this week, but he's worth a waiver pickup as long as owners aren't giving up a top-three waiver pick they've patiently waited to get.

Philadelphia Eagles: Head coach Andy Reid said Monday on the Eagles' Web site that an MRI revealed some swelling in Donovan McNabb's ankle, although he was sure to reiterate that it's not a high ankle sprain. However, a swollen thumb on the quarterback's throwing hand is just as much of a concern. The thumb is not broken, but Reid said he is "as worried about the thumb as I am about the ankle, maybe a little bit more because that's what he's gripping the football with … He has some swelling in there." Reid said the injuries are "day-to-day" and that the team's quarterback Sunday in New England could be a game-time decision. So it's another situation fantasy owners have to watch this week. But even if McNabb doesn't practice this week, Reid would not rule out the possibility of him playing Sunday night. "I think Donovan's far enough along in his career where you can get away with it, more so than one of the younger guys," Reid said. "Would you like him to be there for the preparation? Absolutely. But if he can't physically, then that's the way we go." Hey, running back Brian Westbrook and tackle Jon Runyan didn't practice during past weeks and still played well that Sunday, so the precedence has been set. The Eagles can't say this now, but McNabb's injury would have to be pretty extensive for him not to play against the Pats. Whether to start him in that matchup is another story.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins lost a tough game versus the division-rival Cowboys on Sunday, but according to what the reporters indicated in Joe Gibbs' news conference Monday, the mood was not all somber in the Skins' locker room Monday. Why? Because the game signified a breakout for Jason Campbell and the team's receiving corps. Campbell threw the ball 54 times in Dallas, finishing with 348 yards, two touchdowns and only one sack allowed. (Antwaan Randle El threw the 55th pass, for those of you following along at home.) The team's running backs had only 14 carries. And this happened just one week after Campbell threw 34 times for three scores and no interceptions against Philadelphia. "We showed we can throw the ball pretty good if we have to," Gibbs said on Monday. "You don't want to be throwing it that much. You want to have balance in what you do. But in this one, we were forced into throwing, and we showed we can throw the football." Indeed. Gibbs had been saying in previous weeks that the team would open up the offense when Campbell was ready for it. Well, it's finally happened, which makes Campbell and really all the team's top offensive options a bit more attractive fantasywise. As Gibbs himself noted: "Jason [showed] if [we] gotta throw it, he can throw it. That will help for down the road."

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Hey, was that Cedric Benson bustin' loose for a 43-yard touchdown run in the first minute of Sunday's game in Seattle? It was. So finally he helps his fantasy owners, and the Bears give him the ball only 11 times. Figures. "I've been asked a lot about the number [or lack thereof] of carries he got. When a guy averages over eight yards per carry, I can see why you'd ask [that]," said coach Lovie Smith in his news conference Monday. "But we moved the ball very well throughout. Whether you move the ball with the run or the pass, it doesn't really matter. I like what we did offensively." He's right. Offense really wasn't the problem in Seattle; defense was. But it should mean something that Benson finally showed us (and Smith) something, and the team chose not to change its game plan. … Smith wouldn't name a starting quarterback for next week, but he did say he was pleased with Rex Grossman's play Sunday. Translation: Look for Rex to start.

Detroit Lions: They did it again. One week after rushing only eight times against Arizona, the Lions threw the ball 43 times and rushed just 11 times. This certainly qualifies as a trend, but coach Rod Marinelli this time dismissed the imbalance in his Monday news conference. "Well, we ran the ball and tried to attempt it early in the game. We were down. The score dictated it, I believe," said Marinelli on the Lions' Web site. "We felt, as we were going in, how we moved the ball, we matched up well. You've got to go to the matchups we think can help us win." Jon Kitna threw for 377 yards, and there was a Calvin Johnson sighting. But Kevin Jones, who had all 11 of the team's carries for just 25 yards, is all but an afterthought in the offense. He should be the same in yours, too, including this Thanksgiving versus the Packers.

Green Bay Packers: In his Monday news conference, coach Mike McCarthy continued to praise his emerging run game. Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson combined to rush for 101 yards on 23 carries against the Panthers on Sunday. "I thought we ran the ball well. I'm happy with the progress we're making," McCarthy said. "We've got a lot of production out of our one-back run game, and we need to continue to do so and just try to make sure we're balanced in all our personnel groups." So will Ryan Grant be that "one back" Thursday against the Lions? McCarthy said Grant suffered a mild ankle sprain, and he hopes to have the back available despite the quick turnaround.

Minnesota Vikings: Typical Brad Childress news conference Monday. There were questions about Tarvaris Jackson, how well the offensive line is playing, blah, blah, blah. What about Adrian Peterson? Well, Peterson is running in the pool (but not on land) and getting used to wearing a knee brace when walking around. So will he have to keep wearing the brace when he plays? "Yeah, yeah, and it's fairly benign," Childress said. "Just something he is getting used to right now." So could he play this week? "Hard to say that right now. He hasn't been on hard land yet … but he is working at it literally 6-8 hours a day." So is he at least a game-time decision? "Well, you have to get back to practice. You gave to get back and get your timing … I'd say it's a long shot right now to get back there, but we'll see. He's surprised me before." And us. Don't look for Peterson this week versus the Giants, but he's obviously working hard to return sooner rather than later.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: In his postgame news conference Sunday night, coach Bobby Petrino failed to name a starting quarterback for Thursday's game versus the Colts, and he wouldn't even offer a timetable as to when he'd have that decision made. On Sunday, new starter Byron Leftwich clearly struggled, while former starter Joey Harrington came in and actually did OK. So should there have been a grace period for Leftwich? "No, I wouldn't say that. We felt that with the way he practiced and moved around that he should start," Petrino said. "I don't think you can always put all the blame on the quarterback. On the interception, he was being pressured, and we dropped some passes early, which really hurt us. We have a lot to evaluate and look at over the next few days." You might never read these words from a fantasy "expert" again, but given the way Leftwich played Sunday, I'm almost hoping the team starts Harrington versus Indianapolis.

Carolina Panthers: In his news conference Monday, John Fox said receiver Steve Smith "has a much better chance this week [of playing] than, say, later in the week last week." That's a lot of words for meaning that Smith most likely will return. But Fox was asked to respond to a report that Smith had a hip injury in addition to his shin injury. Fox pleaded ignorance but did say Smith "did have a hurt hip at one point." So Smith might return this week, but his owners have to wonder how effective he'll be down the stretch. Against the Saints and the Niners the next two weeks, he could be very effective. But is he the same Steve Smith?

New Orleans Saints: Coach Sean Payton didn't have a news conference Monday -- Drew Brees did. Seriously, the Saints' Web site often treats Brees with almost a coach's reverence, so this isn't surprising. But it's always odd to go to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper site and see the words "Drew Brees transcript." Now that's star power. Anyway, the big news in Saints Land on Monday was the move of the Saints' Week 13 game versus the Bucs from 1 p.m. ET to 4:15 p.m. ET. The NFL practices "flexible scheduling" in Weeks 11-17 to ensure the Sunday night game and doubleheader games have playoff implications. The only other game-time move so far this year is Denver at Chicago moving to 4:15 p.m. this Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Earnest Graham topped 100 yards for the second straight week, and in his Monday news conference, coach Jon Gruden praised him, calling him "the real deal." But he heaped even more praise on a guy he thinks has been just as important to the running game -- fullback B.J. Askew. "I like the film he's putting out there every week," Gruden said. "I like the way he leads into the hole. I like the way he instinctively gets to the second level, the way he finishes, the way he picks up blitzes. I like what he's brought to our team. I tip my hat to him." Behind, or perhaps in front of, every great running back is a great fullback, such as Lorenzo Neal for LT. Is it any coincidence that Shaun Alexander fell apart after losing Mack Strong for the year? Hearing this leads me to believe Graham's success will continue.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Coach Ken Whisenhunt announced in his news conference Monday that Larry Fitzgerald has been playing with pain in one of his shoulders for several weeks. However, it's nothing that has shown up on the injury report, and Fitzgerald obviously has remained consistent despite the injury. No worries here. … IDP owners, Antrel Rolle is the real deal. The eighth pick in the 2005 draft had three interceptions versus the Bengals, returning two of them for touchdowns. He's just coming into his own after two mediocre seasons. "He's been doing that for a number of weeks; it just came to him this game. Antrel is feeling very comfortable with his role, so it gives him more freedom to make plays," Whisenhunt told reporters on Monday. "The thing I'm most impressed with is his focus in practice. Antrel intercepts a lot of balls in practice, and it's good to see that carry over to the game." He scored his first two career touchdowns Sunday, but I predict there will be plenty more to come.

St. Louis Rams: About the only player on the Rams' offensive line we don't see missing games because of injury is right tackle Alex Barron. That may have changed. Barron strained his neck Sunday, although he came back and was able to play through pain. Fellow offensive lineman Brett Romberg has a sore ankle and was inactive in Week 11. He hopes to play this week. Andy McCollum is questionable this week because of a sore right knee. The team hopes to get Todd Steussie back from a foot fracture, but this is clearly a line that continues to be in flux because of injuries, even after losing Orlando Pace for the year. Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson seem to have re-emerged, but be careful with your expectations of them. They won't have much help up front.

San Francisco 49ers: Trent Dilfer threw for a respectable 231 yards on Sunday against the Rams, but he must receive some of the blame for the team scoring only nine points. So when will Alex Smith return? Well, coach Mike Nolan said in his Monday news conference that Smith is getting a second opinion on his throwing arm from famed Dr. James Andrews in Alabama, and he doesn't yet know his status. Nolan said Smith will be listed as questionable for Week 12 initially, and he's "hopeful" the quarterback will play. The way this offense is going right now, it needs more than a healthy Smith to revive it.

Seattle Seahawks: According to the Tacoma News-Tribune, coach Mike Holmgren wouldn't say outright Monday that Shaun Alexander won't be available to play Week 12 versus the Rams, but all signs point to Alexander missing the game. Holmgren said Alexander would have to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and that appears unlikely. Alexander would like to get the cast off his hand, but the team is saying that's not possible. It might give him a smaller cast, though. … In other injury news, Matt Hasselbeck re-aggravated his oblique strain Sunday. He and the team expect him to play versus the Rams in Week 12, but the quarterback might not practice as much during the week. No worries here from a fantasy perspective, mostly because he doesn't need a healthy oblique to torch the Rams.

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.