Commentary

Around the NFC: T.O., Witten performances not a trend

Updated: December 11, 2007, 5:19 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. All quotes are from Monday's news conferences (unless otherwise noted):

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Whodathunkit? Jason Witten had 15 catches and Terrell Owens three on Sunday versus the Lions. Something for T.O. owners to be concerned about and Witten owners to be doubly excited about? Nah. Coach Wade Phillips said Monday it was all about the coverage. "Tony did an outstanding job [with his reads]," said Phillips. "They're going Tampa 2, [so] we're hitting the tight end. That's what they gotta give up in that coverage. If they keep playing it, we'll keep hitting it." T.O. should be back to his usual big-play self in Week 15 versus the Eagles. ... Wide receiver Patrick Crayton, who missed the team's Thanksgiving game because of an ankle injury, suffered a foot injury Sunday. He was able to finish the game, but, according to the team Web site, he had it heavily wrapped after the game. Starting cornerback Terence Newman, meanwhile, was getting treatment on both his right foot and right knee during Monday's open locker-room session. Coach Wade Phillips said both players will be evaluated this week. In related news, Terry Glenn (knee surgery) likely will return to practice this week, according to the team site. However, it's doubtful he'll be able to play this week -- or maybe at all during the regular season.

New York Giants: Brandon Jacobs was back Sunday, and so was Plaxico Burress. In all fairness, Burress hasn't missed a game since last season, but he re-emerged from fantasy mediocrity to catch seven balls for 136 yards Sunday versus the Eagles. Even normally reserved coach Tom Coughlin was optimistic about Burress' status in his postgame news conference Sunday. "He had a couple weeks where he was really hurting with various ailments," Coughlin said. "I think last week I noticed he had a bounce in his step, and I thought he was feeling a little bit better [Sunday]." That's a good sign as fantasy owners getting into the thick of their playoff run. Jacobs' report, however, is not so rosy. He returned to carry the ball 22 times, which is a good sign. But he averaged a little more than three yards per carry (70 yards, 3.2 average), and he fumbled twice, losing both of them. Ss one reporter noted, fumbling is a "pet peeve" of Coughlin's. "We have to continue to force the issue of where the ball is held and how it's held," Coughlin said Monday. "It can make a big difference in a close game. It's got to be corrected. I don't care if it makes a guy uncomfortable. What's important is the ball." Also, Jacobs might not be out of the woods with this hamstring problem. He told the New York Daily News that his hamstring was sore and that he was "a little shook up." With most backs, that's no big deal. With the injury-plagued Jacobs, it deserves monitoring.

Philadelphia Eagles: First things first, for those of you still wondering: There will be no change at quarterback for the Eagles. Coach Andy Reid was sure to mention that Monday. Hey, at least Donovan McNabb is healthy, which is not something a number of the Eagles' offensive players can say. Tight end L.J. Smith had MRIs Monday on both his ribs and his knee. The ribs test revealed a small cartilage tear, but nothing serious. The knee, however, is still being evaluated. Reid said Smith's knee is very sore and that the tight end had limited range of motion. Don't count on him next week. Backup running back Correll Buckhalter has a "pretty significant" concussion and could be forced to sit out Week 15 against the Cowboys. That would mean a few more carries for Tony Hunt, especially if the Eagles lighten the load on Brian Westbrook, who again banged his knee (it's nothing serious). Reggie Brown also hurt his knee, but his Week 15 status likely won't be affected. Finally, massive guard Shawn Andrews has a strained MCL, but the team doesn't expect him to miss any time. Monitor these injuries, though.

Washington Redskins: Because they played Thursday, the Skins get a few extra days before they take on the Giants. Sounds like they could use it. Guard Randy Thomas returned from a triceps injury versus the Bears in Week 14 but had to miss much of the game because his arm didn't feel right. Team officials said he did bruise his elbow, but Thomas said he still needed to build up the strength in his arm. Meanwhile, James Thrash, who has missed the past four games because of a high ankle sprain, will return to practice this week and might be able to play versus the Giants. Tight end Chris Cooley got kicked in the back of the leg, and it's pretty sore, but he vows not to miss Sunday's game. Then there's Jason Campbell, whose injury is being called a dislocated kneecap. The team reportedly thinks he might be able to return in Week 17, which is why they haven't placed him on injured reserve yet.

NFC North

Chicago Bears: As reported Monday, Kyle Orton will start at quarterback for the Bears in Week 15 at Minnesota. And maybe just this week. When asked if Orton would start the remainder of the season, coach Lovie Smith was quick to say he hasn't decided that. "We have the Vikings [in Week 15]. But I can't look any further than this game," Smith said. "Kyle gives us the best chance to win this week. No more than that." Orton does face the Vikings' porous pass defense, and Smith noted that the backup does have a strong arm and has started for the Bears previously (in 2005). So the transition might be seamless, but we still wouldn't touch him. The Bears' receiving options should be able to maintain their production this week, but only because of the soft matchup. It should be a different story in Week 16 versus the Packers.

Detroit Lions: Was that an actual running game we saw from Detroit against the Cowboys? It was. The Lions rushed for a season-high 152 yards Sunday versus Dallas, the first time we've seen that much life from that facet of the team in recent weeks. Coach Rod Marinelli offered an explanation: "I think [Damien] Woody has added a lot to the front as a right offensive tackle, and we've really solidified the pass protection over there," said Marinelli, according to the Lions' Web site. "We felt we had to keep their offense off the field [by controlling] the game." The Lions still lost, but it was good to see them at least focus on the run versus Dallas. And now they face a Chargers defense that is tied for 19th in the league against the run and likely will be missing run-stuffing defensive tackle Luis Castillo.

Green Bay Packers: Backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers was available to play Sunday, but he had a sore hamstring and wasn't 100 percent. If not for that, coach Mike McCarthy might have taken Brett Favre out earlier Sunday versus the Raiders. He didn't, nor did he feel he needed to, but he did acknowledge the possibility. "That's something that you definitely would think about there," said McCarthy, according to the Packers' Web site. "I think we've shown we're confident with Rodgers, but I didn't feel we were in any danger with Brett as far as the point in the game and what we were doing with him." McCarthy did say he was concerned by a couple of low hits that Favre took from Derrick Burgess but that he wasn't really concerned for Brett's health. We really shouldn't be either. ... No major injuries to report. Linebacker Nick Barnett was poked in the eye, but he should be OK, and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) came out of the game fine. Chad Clifton sprained his shoulder, but McCarthy said he doesn't expect the big offensive tackle to miss any game time.

Minnesota Vikings: Wide receiver Troy Williamson will consult with a neurologist this week after missing the past two games because of a concussion he suffered in Week 12. " We're still having questions, even though he practiced last week." coach Brad Childress said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "[His] headaches continue to linger." ... Adrian Peterson had 15 touches and Chester Taylor 14. That kind of split sounds good to us, but Taylor had 124 total yards and Peterson just three yards. That's not good, but Childress isn't concerned, noting it was "unfortunate when 28 had the ball." Don't think for a moment that the backfield split will shift as a result of this.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Chris Redman, making his first start at quarterback, targeted Michael Jenkins 14 times Monday night. Jenkins caught nine of those for 82 yards and a touchdown. Not a lot of yards for that many catches, but it was clear, at least Monday, that Jenkins, and not Alge Crumpler, was Redman's preferred check-down option. Roddy White, more of the big-play guy, had three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Now the Falcons head to Tampa Bay, where the "Tampa 2" tends to favor check-down receivers. Give Michael Jenkins a look, deep leaguers. Meanwhile, Redman ended up with 298 yards and two touchdowns (one interception). Not bad, but the Falcons were trailing early, and the Saints appeared to back off their coverage. And the Saints don't have a stellar pass defense to begin with.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were held to six points by the Jaguars on Sunday, and the questions for coach John Fox on Monday had a lot to do with why some of his best players (Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams) didn't get more chances. Fox, however, didn't cite any reasons for either player's decrease in touches, only the simple flow of the game. "We threw the ball deep some [to Smith]. Some of it was out of bounds. But there were some deep balls," said Fox, according to the team's Web site. "It has been difficult to get the ball to any of them, really. We've struggled in that area." As for Williams: "He actually played more than DeShaun [Foster]. He had 33 reps; DeShaun had 24," said Fox. "I think sometimes the way the game is going and the opponent's defense dictates that. It's not just all based on carries. A lot of times it's opportunities." Well, neither Smith nor Williams got many of them, and the team's struggling offense is to blame -- and probably will be again versus the Seahawks.

New Orleans Saints: Aaron Stecker filled in admirably for Reggie Bush on Monday, rushing for 100 yards on 20 carries, and Pierre Thomas added 31 yards on six carries. Definitely a good sign for Stecker's value with Bush (knee) likely done for the season. However, the Saints were up early and ran the ball often in the second half to milk the clock. They clearly used the pass to set up the run, and not vice versa. No Earnest Graham-esque "third-stringer makes good" story here. However, the team's Week 15 game against the Cardinals might follow a similar progression. ... Starting free safety Josh Bullocks tweaked his quadriceps in pregame warm-ups and was deactivated for Monday's game. Owners of Kurt Warner and Co. might want to track Bullocks' status this week; Kevin Kaesviharn, Bullocks' replacement, has plenty of pop as a safety, but he doesn't have Bullocks' coverage ability.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After being ruled out against the Texans at the last second, Jeff Garcia will return in Week 15. And coach Jon Gruden, for one, will be happy to have Garcia back. "He brings a lot of lift. We really missed him for three games. That is a tough strain on anybody," Gruden said, according to the Tampa Tribune. "We are eager to get him back and have him healthy, and ready to go play the way he has proven he likes to play; aggressive, creative and competitively." As for replacement starter Luke McCown, well, Gruden had nice things to say about him but was quick to note there was "clearly work to be done." ... Gruden said Ike Hilliard suffered an upper back injury Sunday. "We're confident he will be able to play [in Week 15], but we're concerned about him,'' Gruden said in his postgame conference. If Hilliard misses the game, Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall would split his playing time. ... Earnest Graham had another fine game against the Texans, averaging four yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns. But he did drop a few balls, and Gruden admits fatigue could be setting in. "I know I'm guilty of overworking him, but he gives our team the best chance to win right now," Gruden said. "We're expecting a lot more from Michael Bennett. We need him to pick it up. We're also relying on Earnest to win games for us because he's not only an outstanding runner, but he's an excellent receiver and he's proven that. But he did have a couple drops yesterday, and that was uncharacteristic." Gruden acknowledging that Graham has been overworked is perhaps the first indication that the team will cut back his workload in these final weeks in order to save him for the playoffs. You're still starting him, though.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald was able to play Sunday despite a sore groin, but he's not out of the woods yet. As the Cardinals' Web site noted, Fitzgerald was pushed out of bounds after making an eight-yard catch the first play of the game, and he pulled up, clearly favoring his sore groin. Coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't commit to Fitzgerald playing Week 15 against the Saints. "It'll be interesting to see how he does this week after [playing Sunday]," said Whisenhunt. "Hopefully he'll continue to improve, and it'll be a little easier to manage." ... Kurt Warner also was seen limping in the clubhouse after getting his knee "rolled up on," according to Whisenhunt, on a rough sack late in the game. Whisenhunt indicated Warner would be fine and that he was walking regularly when the team arrived home from Seattle. Warner's account of the injury sounds more concerning but he said he should be fine. "I felt it pop a little bit when it happened in the game, but they said structurally everything was good, and it actually feels OK," Warner said. "I think it is fine. I was a little concerned for a minute, but right now I feel alright." ... Anquan Boldin, inactive Sunday because of a dislocated toe, told the Arizona Republic he was "encouraged" by his progress and hopes to play in Week 15. He added that his inactive status was a "coach's decision." It appears favorable he'll be back for the Saints game ... Finally, starting tight end Leonard Pope is done for the season after dislocating his ankle Sunday. Ben Patrick and Troy Bienemann will split his playing time. Patrick is the better option, but neither player is worth adding in a standard league.

St. Louis Rams: Marc Bulger's (concussion) status is still questionable, at best, for the team's home game against the Packers. According to the Rams' Web site, Bulger said he is feeling better and that he anticipated practicing Wednesday and seeing how it goes. "It is now about how he feels. I think it is all going to be based on my interaction with him and his interaction with the doctor," coach Scott Linehan said. "I am going to evaluate it as the week goes on. Based on what happened last week, I think we have to be ready to make a decision or have an idea of what we are going to do Sunday based on how he feels during Wednesday's practice." Meanwhile, backup Gus Frerotte could return this week from a torn labrum and sprain in his right shoulder, but Linehan indicated Frerotte didn't do anything extensive in Monday's throwing session. Judging by Linehan's comments, and his preference to have a good idea who will be starting by the end of the day Wednesday, we'd have to consider Frerotte doubtful to return. So it's likely Bulger or Brock Berlin. We shouldn't need to say who we'd prefer to start.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Mike Nolan confirmed Monday that Trent Dilfer suffered a concussion versus the Vikings and that the quarterback is doubtful for Week 15. Nolan didn't know whether Dilfer had a history of concussions, but the backup quarterback needed to be hospitalized Sunday night and is considered to be out indefinitely. Meanwhile, a 49ers team spokesman confirmed late Monday to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that starter Alex Smith would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery and be placed on IR, likely so they can call up Drew Olson from the practice squad. It's likely Shaun Hill time in San Francisco, and Nolan is OK with that. "I thought Shaun Hill gave us a little spark in the second half [Sunday] coming in. He did a nice job moving the ball down, got a score," Nolan said, according to the 49ers' Web site. "He's very much like Trent [Dilfer]. He runs a little bit better than Trent, though, obviously because of the age. It's not as if we had put in an Arnaz [Battle] or a Michael Robinson or something like that. That would have been a little bit more of an extensive type of change." Based on what we saw from Hill on Sunday (even though it was against the Vikings' poor pass defense), the 49ers' offense shouldn't be any worse with Hill at the helm than it was with Dilfer in there.

Seattle Seahawks: Former league MVP Shaun Alexander was healthy Sunday versus the Cardinals, and yet Maurice Morris had 16 touches to Alexander's 10. Should we read anything into that? Coach Mike Holmgren said no. The two backs have been rotating in from series to series (not play to play) and Holmgren has left the rotation to offensive assistants Stump Mitchell and Nolan Cromwell. "Nolan will say, 'OK, this is Mo's series, this is Shaun's series,' then we go through our normal substitution patterns," Holmgren said. "You kind of couple all that together and you get what you get." So does Holmgren call plays based on his personnel? "I learned that I'm not good enough to do that," Holmgren said. "Both those athletes have to run what I call. To call a game is hard enough, and then to have to factor in those things, I can't do it. So I just call it." There you have it. The shift could easily slide back in Alexander's favor next week. Of course, nothing is more frustrating to fantasy owners than not having any idea how much work a potentially start-worthy fantasy back will get. ... According to the Tacoma News Tribune, wide receiver D.J. Hackett (ankle) is healing more rapidly than the team expected. However, he is unlikely to be available to play at Carolina.

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.

ALSO SEE