Around the NFC: Strict RB platoon in Big D?
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:
Coach Wade Phillips said there was no set game plan as to how many carries Julius Jones and Marion Barber III will get every Sunday, but he did offer some explanation as to why Jones got one more carry (15) than Barber (14) despite rushing for 57 fewer yards (32 to Barber's 89). "For some reason, Barber was having trouble breathing," said Phillips. "There are different factors that go into how much they play, and that includes how they're feeling and if one of them is banged up." Hmm, something to be said about that. Just speculating here, but Barber likely was just struggling with the South Florida heat and humidity. However, it could be a good indication that the young back is not quite ready to take over the feature back role, as some expect. Phillips said he sees that Barber is doing some great things and that he will continue to be featured at the goal line, but the head coach added that "the other guy is doing some good things for us, too." The platoon is still in order. Patrick Crayton dislocated his finger Sunday, but he taped it up, returned to the game and later had a 49-yard punt return.
Coach Tom Coughlin was barraged with questions about his porous defense, and for good reason since it has given up an NFL-high 80 points in the first two weeks. He seemed as unable to explain his team's defensive struggles as the reporters questioning him. No major overhaul is in order. Instead, Coughlin and his assistants are going to make small tweaks and hope for improvement as Michael Strahan plays into game shape, Mathias Kiwanuka picks up his LB responsibilities, rookie Aaron Ross develops into a solid cornerback and Osi Umenyiora works his way back to health. "We'll keep working at it. ... The players that we have are the players we have," Coughlin said. Translation: This defense is still a gold mine for your fantasy offensive options. But the big question fantasy owners had was the status of Plaxico Burress, who sprained a finger and injured his ankle Sunday. Coughlin said Burress has been battling the ankle injury for some time and probably will be able to play through it, but it still sounds like he'll be questionable, at best, this week in Washington. Also, fellow WR Steve Smith suffered a fractured scapula (shoulder blade). No surgery is necessary, but he'll miss at least two weeks and likely much more. But at least Eli Manning is OK -- there were no questions about his health this week.
Andy Reid and the Eagles were booed off the field, which was not expected in Donovan McNabb's first game back at Lincoln Financial Field since knee surgery. But the Eagles struggled to make the plays they needed to make in the red zone, and Reid took responsibility for that in the postgame news conference. He added that a big part of the team's problem was the inability to rush the ball near the goal line -- could it be because they lack a short-yardage back? -- and that McNabb still had some rust to shake off. But ESPN's Sal Paolantonio offered some insight after the game, saying that Reid noted there were "other quarterbacks on this team," which is perhaps an early indication that the team won't live with bad quarterback play for too long. With one touchdown in 23 possessions, the Eagles shouldn't. But expect McNabb to have a long leash, which he should.
After losing reliable tackle Jon Jansen (ankle) for the season in Week 1, the Skins appear to have lost another top offensive lineman Monday night. Guard Randy Thomas left the stadium with his left arm in a sling with what The Associated Press called a triceps injury and coach Joe Gibbs called a biceps injury just after the game. The Skins showed few ill effects after Thomas' departure, and coach Gibbs commended veterans Jason Fabini and Todd Wade for their fill-in work. However, one would think that the loss of Jansen and potentially Thomas will eventually catch up to the offense, especially young quarterback Jason Campbell.
The Bears couldn't have scripted it any better. The elite special teams, the conservative approach, the early lead, the shutdown of a good opposing running back ... according to postgame quotes from Cedric Benson, Rex Grossman and Lovie Smith, the team would win that way every week. This was Bears football, and this was Benson's offense against Kansas City. "It meant a lot early in the season to finally get into a groove," Benson told the Chicago Tribune after rushing for 100 yards for the second time in his career. Benson was a hot topic -- stud or stumbler? -- among leaguemates on draft day. At least on one Sunday, he was a stud, and it appears he'll get plenty more chances to be one. Injury note: Lovie Smith said he expects to have rookie TE Greg Olsen make his debut this week, then backed up later and said the team "hopefully" would have him. Track that this week.
Jon Kitna said Monday that he has no lingering effects from the head injury he suffered Sunday that forced him to miss almost two quarters of action. "You can't explain it," Kitna said. "I have no headache, no symptoms now ... but that was the worst my head has ever felt, yet at halftime there was nothing." Detroit's medical staff conducted a follow-up examination of Kitna on Monday morning and confirmed that there are no lasting signs that would indicate a concussion. Coach Rod Marinelli said Kitna was lobbying to return to the game but that he felt his trainers gave a fair evaluation and made the final call.
DeShawn Wynn emerged Sunday as a fantasy pickup, but don't look for coach Mike McCarthy to turn over the keys to the backfield to Wynn based on this one performance. In fact, he had kudos for all his backs. "We're trying to get them all involved," McCarthy said. "Ryan Grant is a guy that you have to be excited about, just the little bit he played. I thought Brandon [Jackson] did some nice things. DeShawn had a big day with the two touchdown runs. So it's really trying to find the formula to use all those guys. And then when Vernand Morency comes back, you have another playmaker in the mix, too. Our biggest challenge is really to get it organized and get it repped so the continuity exists with the run-blocking unit." As for Morency (knee), McCarthy said they will push him Wednesday to see how he reacts. The back will have to get through a full day without soreness. However, the Packers might hold out Greg Jennings (hamstring) until later in the week so he has a chance to be fully recovered for Week 3.
Coach Brad Childress said Tarvaris Jackson showed evidence of a right groin strain in overtime Sunday, but the quarterback actually suffered the injury earlier in the day. The team won't have an early read on whether he'll be able to play in Week 3 until Wednesday, but one thing is for sure: The coach still believes in his first-year starter. When asked if he miscalculated Jackson's readiness as a starter, Childress said, "I don't feel that way, I feel like he is more than ready. It is just a matter of him taking care of the football. I see him make a lot of good plays out there ... but you can't do those things [turn the ball over] and put your team in that situation, and he knows that. But he's still my starter." Childress wouldn't comment on whether Kelly Holcomb or current backup Brooks Bollinger would get the start if Jackson must miss the game. He also wouldn't speculate as to whether Chester Taylor would return this week, and added that Troy Williamson's hamstring "just spasmed, and that can be because of dehydration." He thinks Williamson will be OK this week, although he won't know for sure until Wednesday.
Coach Bobby Petrino said the team's pass protection is a mix of missed assignments, receivers not getting open and Joey Harrington holding on to the ball too long. But he was equally disappointed with his running game. "One of my concerns was that our longest run was eight yards against Jacksonville," Petrino said. "We're not getting any big plays by running the ball. It takes everyone to do that. When you watch the video, we had some plays that were there, particularly on drives where we ran the ball and mixed in play-action. We have to keep working at it." The key note to take from Petrino's news conference Monday was what sounds to be some early frustration with Harrington's play: "I think Joey is playing a little conservative and playing not to throw the interception. Therefore, it's causing him to hold the ball. He needs to open up his confidence and play to win the game."
Coach John Fox seemed as amazed with Steve Smith's performance Sunday as we did, but acknowledged that the team needs to have someone else step up. We can assume he means another wide receiver, and it stands to reason if someone can show even a hint of support for our third-ranked wide receiver, they'll get plenty of chances to shine.Charles Grant went on record and said the team will still win at least 12 games. The overwhelming concerns culled from the quotes Monday were the team's problems with turnovers and allowing big plays on defense. But the team isn't going to make any mass adjustments and expects to play better in its first home game Monday night against the Titans.
Coach Jon Gruden said Jeff Garcia balances the offense and even is looking for his veteran quarterback to add some rushing yards with his feet, too. Gruden said Garcia provides a lot of input into the play calling and is a "barbed wire kind of guy" in the locker room and in the huddle. He has an edge to him that is rubbing off on his younger teammates and having the kind of impact he had post-Donovan McNabb's injury last year in Philadelphia. Now if only Garcia could help that Bucs rushing offense, which Gruden acknowledged was "disappointing" Sunday.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he has been pleased with his pass protection, which is something that was something that was lacking in Arizona last season. He also noted that Matt Leinart has been moving around well in the pocket; Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren also noted this during his press conference. Whisenhunt was also pleased with his run defense, and it is worth noting that the Cardinals held Shaun Alexander to 70 rushing yards one week after holding Frank Gore to 55 rushing yards on 18 carries. The Cardinals are far from a defensive force, but they've held their own against a couple of top-6 fantasy backs, and that has to mean something.
After losing Orlando Pace in Week 1, the Rams suffered a few other injuries in Week 2. Marc Bulger injured his ribs but was able to play through it, Leonard Little injured his toe, and Randy McMichael suffered a hamstring injury. However, Scott Linehan indicated Monday that the Week 2 injuries were minor. Linehan also told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday that, if faced with the same situation, he would again choose to have Jeff Wilkins try a 56-yard field goal in the final seconds to win the game. Wilkins missed by just a few feet and had hit a 53-yarder earlier in the game.
Coach Mike Nolan acknowledged that allowing the Rams to pass for so many yards (almost 300 net yards passing) was not ideal, but his team focused on stopping Steven Jackson, and the Niners did that, allowing him just 60 yards on 21 carries. So the Niners now have held a busy Edgerrin James to 3.5 yards per carry in Week 1 and Jackson to fewer than three yards per carry at home. Perhaps a run defense to be reckoned with? Nolan said Darrell Jackson tweaked his back on a block during the game and that Frank Gore strained his leg slightly, but expects both players to be fine this week versus Pittsburgh. Finally, Nolan was questioned about his offense looking a bit "conservative" in the opening two weeks and whether that had anything to do in a lack of confidence in Alex Smith or Vernon Davis. Nolan had all the right answers, but reading between the lines, it's obvious this offense goes as far as Gore takes it. Don't look for that conservative run-heavy philosophy to change much.
Mike Holmgren had some injury updates Monday, noting that Maurice Morris (hip) has a good chance of being available in Week 3. However, he says D.J. Hackett will be "a little longer." Shaun Alexander will continue to play with a brace on his left wrist. Holmgren said the running back had a little trouble getting used to playing with the brace but eventually adjusted. "It's doing what it's supposed to be doing, and he feels good today. The swelling has gone down," Holmgren said. "But the doctors are likely going to keep it on there a little longer." This shouldn't concern us, unless we see Alexander begin to fumble more.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer and editor for ESPN.com.
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