Commentary

Best of the Blogs: More fodder from Dallas

Updated: October 29, 2008, 5:35 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

I won't lie to you. On any given Wednesday this season, the "Best of the Blogs" column has 16 or so news items, and probably a third of 'em could be about the Cowboys.

I don't allow that to happen, of course, because most of the story lines already are covered in detail across all the ESPN platforms. Plus, I try to combine the drama (trauma?) into one. But oh, the troubles they've had this season, with schemes, with inconsistency, with injuries. Good Lord, the injuries.

Fortunately, NFC East blogger Matt Mosley does a fine job covering them; he regularly has strong, well-researched opinions, often gleaned from information straight from the team. That has made us all well-informed fantasy owners, and it sure helps this "Best of the Blogs" writer, too.

Well, this week's news is about Jason Witten having a broken rib and wanting to play through it. The team already has been without Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Roy L. Williams and guard Kyle Kosier. And now it's Witten, the consistent rock of the passing game.

Witten should sit, Mosley acknowledges. The Cowboys have a bye in Week 10, so sitting this one week would give him two weeks of rest. But as Mosley put it, "that's not how [Witten] operates." Witten is lobbying to play, and Mosley is not surprised. "I did an interview with him in 2003 in which he was mumbling because he had two steel plates in his broken jaw. The injury kept him out of one game, but he returned to the field the following week," Mosley wrote in a Tuesday night blog entry. "Witten has already been in pain because of a shoulder injury that's required pain-killing injections, but he refused to let it keep him off the field."

There's really no way of knowing right now whether Witten will play Sunday, just as there was no way of knowing whether Romo was going to quarterback the Cowboys against the Rams after fracturing his pinkie. Were I to guess, purely speculative here, I would guess he would play, albeit on fewer snaps and with less than maximum ability.

Then we move to the quarterback situation. Namely, the anti-Brad Johnson bandwagon that is starting to get mighty full. And from what I can tell, Mosley has a grip on the reins. "After watching Brad Johnson on Sunday, I'm convinced Brooks Bollinger should take over as the starter," Mosley wrote in a Tuesday blog entry. "Yes, I know he has a career record of 2-8 that would likely fall to 2-9, but he's 12 years younger than the 40-year-old Johnson and he's capable of throwing the ball 20 yards downfield without a running start.

"At this point, Johnson is a sitting duck in the pocket. The Giants sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times Sunday -- and he's considered a mobile quarterback. Johnson is considered sedentary."

Mosley goes on to report that a member of the Cowboys' coaching staff said Bollinger (pronounced BALL-in-jer, not BOWL-in-jer, by the way) has been giving them good looks on the scout team in practice, including a nice Donovan McNabb emulation prior to their Week 2 game against Philly (not that it prevented McNabb from having a big game).

So Bollinger probably is the better option, but it probably doesn't matter. Johnson will start, so fantasy owners have only him (or probably not) to choose from. Bollinger might provide a fine game in relief, but there's no guarantee he'll even play, and Romo will return after the team's bye week. Thus, the only Week 9 fantasy implications from this week's drama are centered on Witten and Roy E. Williams. If Witten plays, he should start for you. If he doesn't, Williams' owners probably can justify starting him as a flex or a No. 3 receiver (but probably no higher, unless byes or injuries have taken a toll).

With that, we move on to this week's non-Cowboys news and analysis:

Jones appears clear to play in Week 9 | Read full blog entry

"The story as we know it: Matt Jones has been suspended for three games by the league for a violation of its substance abuse policy. He has appealed and is awaiting word. Indications are he did not hear anything [Tuesday], which means he'll be at work [Wednesday] and get in another week of work before a verdict." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: This magnifies another difference between fantasy football and the real NFL. Kuharsky notes the timing of Jones' possible suspension could be bad for the Jags, in that the receiver likely would miss the team's key Week 11 game versus the Titans. But this actually would work out better for fantasy owners. We would get to use him for a cushy Week 9 matchup versus the Bengals and maybe even another cushy matchup versus Detroit in Week 10. But he'll be sitting for most owners in Week 11 against the Titans, regardless of suspension. We'll just have to see how this plays out, but his owners should plan on using him this week. The NFL announces suspension hearing statuses before the end of the day on Tuesdays, and the fact that Jones wasn't notified means he should be good to go.

Vikings' running defense will take a hit if reports are true | Read full blog entry

"Fox Sports reported Sunday that Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are among eight NFL players who could be suspended after testing positive for a masking agent during a random drug test. (These drugs are sometimes known as "water pills" because they can be used to "wash" illicit substances from a player's system.) According to the report, the Williamses are awaiting an appeal hearing. There is no confirmation on how many games they would be suspended, but New Orleans offensive lineman Jamar Nesbit received a four-game suspension for what was reported to be a similar violation." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: ESPN's John Clayton has since confirmed the report. Although it's still in the early stages of this process, and it could be weeks before those players miss time, if it happens at all, do note that the Vikings could be considerably weaker come, oh, fantasy playoff time. So if you're in the middle of trying to trade Matt Forte because he has back-to-back games against Minnesota and Jacksonville in weeks 13 and 14, respectively, maybe you need not fear the Vikes so much. Like I said, though, we don't know much about this case, and we can't do much until we do, but it's the first thing that entered my mind.

Steelers hoping to get Parker back Monday | Read full blog entry

" Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Pittsburgh Steelers are cautiously optimistic tailback Willie Parker could return Monday against the Washington Redskins." -- James Walker

Fantasy spin: Right now, it looks like Parker is a go, and his owners (and Mewelde Moore's) should consider him a go. But even the buzz phrases I've seen this week regarding Parker's status, such as "probably" and "cautiously optimistic," lead me to believe he's not ready for a full workload. Instead, he'll probably split time against the Redskins' No. 5-ranked run defense. It would be tough for me to do, but if I had decent running back depth, I'd find a way to sit both Parker and Moore.

More missed time for LJ? | Read full blog entry

"Larry Johnson is visiting the commissioner today after a series of off-field issues. This is not going to end well for Johnson. Expect within the next couple of weeks that Johnson will be suspended by the league. Of course, Johnson is already being punished by the Chiefs. He has been inactive the past two games and general manager Carl Peterson indicated Monday that Johnson will be gone from the team for more time." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: There's probably not enough here yet to warrant dropping him, but let's just say his future ain't so bright.

Redskins without two key defensive players | Read full blog entry

"Jason Taylor and Shawn Springs have been ruled out for Monday's game." -- Matt Mosley

Fantasy spin: In my chat Tuesday afternoon, I got a lot of questions from concerned Roethlisberger owners wondering whether this would be a week to bench their guy. I said no, for two reasons: 1) Big Ben is a big-game quarterback, and a key midseason Monday night game qualifies as a big game; and 2) The loss of Taylor and extended loss of Springs takes some teeth out of this pass defense. To their credit, the Skins have limited some fine passing offenses this season, even though the schedule hasn't been kind. But Springs and Taylor fit their system so well, and Big Ben has the weapons, including a returning Santonio Holmes and ridin'-high Nate Washington, to exploit those players' absences.

Hasselbeck out 'extended period'? | Read full blog entry

"Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks will remain without Matt Hasselbeck while the quarterback recovers from a back injury. A doctor tells Hasselbeck he won't need surgery, but a timetable remains elusive. Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes Hasselbeck's brother, Tim, as saying the back injury could keep Hasselbeck on the sideline for an extended period." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: Matt Hasselbeck might not have been an elite quarterback, but this offense was set to go through him. Anyone else running it just doesn't do it justice. This is as much a bummer for owners of receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram as anybody else.

Ryan's key backside blocker still hurt | Read full blog entry

"The news that left tackle Sam Baker's hip isn't responding to treatment and he's seeking additional medical opinions is more than a little concerning. The rookie has played very well when he's been able to play. But Baker also had problems with a concussion earlier in the season, and the Falcons don't have a lot of depth on the offensive line. Veteran Todd Weiner filled in for Baker on Sunday, but his knees are shaky. Look for the Falcons to go out and sign a tackle shortly." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: Matt Ryan has proved to be pretty elusive in the pocket, but this situation should be watched. If you see his sacks and "hurries" numbers going up, the left tackle problem might be most to blame. Fantasy owners should never underrate the value of the backside tackle in the team's passing game.

Packers healed up and ready to roll | Read full blog entry

"For the first time this season, Green Bay could have all five of its receivers healthy for a game. That's assuming James Jones (knee) is ready to play Sunday at Tennessee. ... Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he 'definitely' feels better after resting his sore throwing shoulder during the bye week, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: The two go together. Ya know, the Packers' receiving corps doesn't get the credit it deserves. They really have a little bit of everything in that group, from solid possession receivers (Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson) to downfield receivers (James Jones) to a guy who can do both (Greg Jennings) to backs who can catch the ball (Brandon Jackson). As long as his shoulder (and receiving corps) stays healthy and strong, Rodgers should have a big second half.

Orton to have another big week? | Read full blog entry

"Based on recent history, this is a good week to be Kyle Orton. The Chicago quarterback will be facing his favorite opponent Sunday when Detroit arrives at Soldier Field. In three previous starts against the Lions, Orton is 3-0 with a 105.5 passer rating. That includes a career-high 334-yard performance earlier this month in Detroit. In his other 23 NFL starts, Orton is 13-9 with a 67.3 rating. ... There is an incredible statistic over on Birk's Eye View: Six of seven opposing quarterbacks have established a career high in passer rating against the Lions. Minnesota veteran Gus Frerotte is the only exception, and his 82.4 rating wasn't shabby." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: I never thought I'd be saying this, but Orton is definitely a top-10 and maybe even a top-6 quarterback start this week.

Saints reportedly looking for new kicker | Read full blog entry

"The team reportedly has cut kicker Taylor Mehlhaff. That's not all that surprising because the Saints have shown very little patience on special teams, and the holder/kicker duo was part of a missed extra-point attempt Sunday. Mehlhaff, who was a draft pick, does have a chance to return at some point (maybe even on the practice squad)." -- Pat Yasinskas

Fantasy spin: Ho hum, a kicker is cut. Not big news, but sheesh, wouldn't it be nice for the league's seventh-highest scoring team to have a reliable kicker fantasy owners could use? That Saints kicking job is a fantasy boon -- great offense, not a lock in the red zone, home games at a dome -- and yet there really hasn't been anybody usable this season. Maybe Lawrence Tynes will return for the Giants and the team will cut John Carney, who then will re-sign with his old team. Sadly, that's about the best we can hope for here.

Cassel catching on | Read full blog entry

"Matt Cassel has quarterbacked the New England Patriots to a 5-2 record and a first-place tie with the Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East. Cassel might not be the AFC East's least-desirable quarterback anymore. He is the conference's best on third down, when his passer rating is more than 50 points higher than Chad Pennington's and Brett Favre's. Cassel's third-down passer rating is an eye-popping 108.9, eclipsed only by NFC quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tony Romo." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: OK, so that's just one number, but it's obvious the training wheels are off Cassel. He's throwing downfield more and taking up bigger chunks of yards. Consider these statistics: In Week 8 against the Rams, he had a career-high 267 yards passing. He had 21 completions (one short of his season/career high), and a season/career-high 15 of them went for first downs. By comparison, he completed 19 passes in Week 3, and only six of 'em went for first downs. So he's throwing down the field more. He also had 137 yards passing, before yards after catch, in Week 8. Go back to Week 2, and he had 16 completions for a paltry 28 non-YAC yards. Ouch. Now he heads to Indianapolis to quarterback a highly motivated team against a highly motivated team in a game that could be a shootout. I like him this week.

Breaston a hit in Arizona | Read full blog entry

"Breaston has outperformed all reasonable expectations. He has outperformed Bryant Johnson, who has struggled with injuries since joining the 49ers. Breaston has a few things on his side: 1) Kurt Warner is playing at a high level; 2) The Cardinals are throwing a high percentage of the time; and 3) Anquan Boldin's injury thrust Breaston into a more prominent role. Breaston can be a difficult matchup in part because he isn't a refined receiver. The mentality that served Breaston well on special teams is working to his advantage as a receiver. He appears fearless in traffic and after the catch. He can also be a little wild and unpredictable in how he runs, making it tougher for defensive backs to get a read on him. Sometimes you'll see a defensive back freeze trying to figure out which way Breaston is going to turn." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: A fine scouting report on a breakout receiver. So, to answer the very question many of you Steve Breaston owners have: "Yes, keep him around, and even start him in bye-heavy or injury-plagued weeks, or maybe even when his matchup is favorable (like the Rams on Sunday?) and your other options aren't intriguing. The kid looks like the real deal, at least in this offense."

Porter having monster season | Read full blog entry

"Porter, with an NFL-leading 10.5 sacks, is on pace to break Michael Strahan's record for most in a season. If Porter maintains his pace, he will finish with 24. ... Porter's 10.5 sacks match his career-high set in 2000 and equaled in 2005 for the Pittsburgh Steelers." -- Tim Graham

Fantasy spin: Graham has a good story detailing what's behind Joey Porter's resurgent season, and it of course includes quotes from Porter that show off his arrogance and standoff attitude (my words, not Graham's). But sacks can be a predictable stat, too, and I've tracked 'em enough over the years to know that hot "sack starts" fizzle more often than they continue to sizzle. Remember Kyle Vanden Bosch a few years ago? Sure, he wasn't the established player Porter is, but he was a lot younger, too. He jumped out to 10 1/2 sacks in his first 11 games and was all the rage. In his last five games, he had two sacks. I predict Porter will top out at 16 sacks.

Maybe it's the system, not the quarterback | Read full blog entry

"The 49ers built their offense with a power running game in mind. That's why the hiring of Mike Martz as coordinator came as a surprise. The move made sense on one level; the 49ers needed a strong offensive leader to provide credibility on that side of the ball after a disastrous 2007 season. The move raised questions for the longer term because the 49ers lacked personnel suited for a Martz offense. This is now the longer term. We have interim coach Mike Singletary benching Martz's preferred quarterback, J.T. O'Sullivan, while scaling back what Martz wants to do in the passing game. Against Seattle, we still saw Martz running his offense in the face of obvious personnel deficiencies, more than once leaving third-string right tackle Adam Snyder to block Seattle's Patrick Kerney without help. The 49ers' offensive line is simply not suited to protect the passer for extended periods of times." -- Mike Sando

Fantasy spin: And this is why the 49ers have been sacked more than any other team in the NFL. The keys behind a Martz offense stack up like this: 1) Having a line and backs who can pass block well, even in one-on-one situations; 2) Having a quarterback who has the gall and physical strength to take a hit; and 3) Having receivers who can get open quickly and make catches on passes thrown to them before they're even looking. Right now, the Niners really have only No. 2, and that quarterback, O'Sullivan, is benched. The team's struggles weren't O'Sullivan's fault. But at least we'll get to see new blood in there with Shaun Hill, who had his moments last season. More than anything, Singletary's impact on the play calling might slant things a little more Frank Gore's way. Ultimately, that's all that matters.

See, the Torain hype machine goes beyond ESPN Fantasy | Read full blog entry

"Rookie running back Ryan Torain is close to making his debut after sitting the past three months with an elbow injury. Never has so much been expected from a fifth-round pick. But Denver coach Mike Shanahan set the tone when Torain was hurt. He said it was a huge loss and that Torain reminded him of a young Terrell Davis. Torain is now edging closer to playing and he is hopeful of playing Sunday against Miami. Will he be an instant success? It will be difficult. He's a rookie and he's rusty. It may take a few weeks. No matter how long it takes, Denver could use a shot in the arm and maybe Torain is it." -- Bill Williamson

Fantasy spin: A few people in the conversation for last week's column wondered why I would lead with a player on a bye week. Because, of course, that is the perfect time to pick up a sleeper running back. I realize most of you knew this, but ... Anyway, I also want to follow up by saying Torain probably shouldn't be started this week. We need to see whether he's for real. I want people to know he has plenty of upside -- more than anyone else on the waiver wire in most leagues -- and could help during your all-important fantasy playoffs. He just might not be the back to get you there.

Reason to believe in Shiancoe again? | Read full blog entry

"Ah, here's the reason: Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said he hasn't dropped a pass since changing the style of gloves he wears during games. Shiancoe's new gloves have no webbing between the fingers, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press." -- Kevin Seifert

Fantasy spin: Pardon me while I clear my throat. Yup, it's the gloves. Just like the only reason Michael Jordan could jump so high was because of his shoes. It's a nice story, but I'm not buying it. I still love Shiancoe's talent, but he's frustrated me so many times before that I have a proverbial "handle with care" sticker attached to him.

Texans offense looking prolific? | Read full blog entry

"The Texans are up to fourth overall in the league's offensive ratings, and Houston has had the most prolific offense in the NFL over the last five weeks. Since the Texans' Sept. 28 overtime loss at Jacksonville, they are averaging 410 yards per game. That's better than New Orleans, which ranks as the NFL's best offense this season. The Texans are 3-2 in those games, in which it should be pointed out that they faced defenses ranked an average of 27th in the NFL." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: Did you realize the Texans' offense ranked in the top five in yards per game? Because I didn't, to be honest. I mean, I know they've been rolling, and Andre Johnson has been all-world ... The matchups have been a bit soft of late, but I/we definitely need to rethink their matchup this week at Minnesota. It's unlikely the Vikings will shut down this hot offense.

Colts too young? | Read full blog entry

"It's easy to watch [the Colts'] struggles this year and conclude that their window of opportunity is closing. The clock usually starts ticking on teams that piece together long stretches of success, and the Colts have enjoyed six consecutive years of 10 wins or more and five years in a row with at least 12 wins. The Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison connection has looked terrible, and the 36-year-old receiver, coming off knee issues, could be slowing down. Beyond that, if the Colts have an age issue, it's that they are too young, not too old. They have the third-youngest roster in the league, behind only Green Bay and Kansas City. A closer look shows the Colts have the NFL's third-youngest starting defense and youngest overall defense. Also, they have the 13th-youngest starting offense. This is not a team that is getting creaky." -- Paul Kuharsky

Fantasy spin: Good stuff by Kuharsky, especially about the defense (which obviously has been a focus of the Colts' in recent drafts). With youth comes inconsistency, so if anything, I now have confidence this semi-talented Colts D will have a good game when the matchup is right.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN 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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