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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Around the NFC: Steven Jackson set to return

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 uncovered a new wrinkle in the first half against the Vikings in Week 7: the no-huddle offense. And the early returns were good. "I liked the results," coach Wade Phillips said in his news conference Monday. "We weren't trying to keep them from substituting. We just tried to get up there and see what they were doing, and Tony [Romo] did an excellent job of that." So will this be a regular facet of the Cowboys' offense? Not necessarily. "You can [run the no-huddle] easier at home, and we tried to take advantage of that," Phillips said. There probably is a good reason the Cowboys ran it in the first quarter: it was a trial. The Cowboys proved against a good Vikings defense they can run the no-huddle effectively, but don't expect Romo to become Peyton Manning or the Cowboys to become the Colts anytime soon. … The Cowboys announced Monday that Romo has a slight hamstring strain, but it was not considered serious. The team has a bye in Week 8.

New York Giants: Kicker Lawrence Tynes missed another extra-point attempt Sunday, his second of the season. He also has missed two field-goal attempts, although 10-of-12 isn't bad. You wouldn't think that would be enough to put a kicker in a coach's doghouse, but Tom Coughlin's doghouse has a lot of room in it. "Obviously, I am concerned about that," Coughlin said. "The extra point should be automatic. We certainly have to … do the best we can to establish some consistency there, which seems to come and go." Coughlin did note that Tynes made two field goals and said he was committed to his young kicker. Whereas some kickers might get two or three, Tynes might be allowed only one bad game before that commitment disappears.

Philadelphia Eagles: Has Donovan McNabb lost his magic feet? He hasn't been running or even scrambling as effectively this season as in years past. Consequently, he has been sacked 23 times in six games this season, two more than he was sacked in 10 games last season. Coach Andy Reid was asked about the high sack total in his Monday news conference. His response: "He sees things out there and thinks things are either gonna open up or he might take off and go with it. He's made a lot of big plays over the years by hanging on to it that extra second and making plays down the field." That he has, Coach. His eyes are in perfect working condition. We just wonder whether we can say the same about his legs, or to be more specific, a certain surgically repaired knee.

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Washington Redskins: The Redskins are tied for 24th in the league in yards per carry. That's right, the Clinton Portis- and Ladell Betts-led Skins are gaining just 3.6 yards per carry. That sets up an obvious question, which was asked of coach Joe Gibbs in his Monday news conference: At what point do you sway the balance and let Jason Campbell air it out? Gibbs adeptly responded that it already had reached that point. "It depends upon who you're playing," Gibbs said. "We did air it out against Green Bay; the problem is, we dropped a bunch." Aw, who are we kidding? With their current personnel, the Skins won't be an air-it-out team, and that's nothing against Campbell. Let's just say Campbell had 12 completions against the Cardinals, and five of them went to either Portis or Mike Sellers. He needs more help from his receivers.

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Brian Griese's "veteran leadership" is paying off in many ways. Not only has he stabilized the offense, but he also has shown the composure only a veteran can show. During Sunday's game-winning drive against the Eagles, Griese was forced to call the play himself "a few times," according to coach Lovie Smith, because his headset was not working and the team could not get the play to him in time. Griese came through in a big way, and Smith is appreciative. "It starts with the quarterback, and he's done a super job," Smith said in his news conference Monday. "He thrives when he has to lead his team down the field at the end of the game." Mr. Grossman, you can go ahead and put your name on that clipboard in permanent marker.

Detroit Lions: Kevin Jones' return to health has been a slow process, but he didn't disappoint Sunday in his first start in almost 10 months. Jones rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries versus a stout Bucs defense and also led the team with six catches. In a report on the Lions' Web site, Jones admitted he felt good: "[Getting into a rhythm] helps," he said. "The confidence -- coaches believing in you to do the job that you do every day -- that always helps." Even more encouraging was the fact that the Lions finished with 24 rushes, while quarterback Jon Kitna threw just 20 passes. The tone was set in the first half, as the Lions ran the ball seven out of 10 times on their first two drives, and they gained 6.1 yards per carry. Jones is back, and the Lions seem to relish that. Hang on to him, Jones owners, because it's only going to get better.

Green Bay Packers: You know a team is coming off a bye when the first few questions of a news conference focus on a new kick returner/backup receiver acquisition. Then again, in the Packers' case, that acquisition is the ballyhooed Koren Robinson. Coach Mike McCarthy had good things to say Monday about Robinson's return to the team: "He's in good shape; he seems to have excellent recall. … Everybody is excited he's back." McCarthy was not sure if Robinson would be active in Week 8, but clearly Robinson is off to a good start. Is he a fantasy option? No way, but he figures to give the Packers' defense/special teams more touchdown potential as a return man.

Minnesota Vikings: The Kelly Holcomb Era might be back in Minnesota. The big news coming out of coach Brad Childress' news conference Monday was that starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has what Childress called an "avulsion fracture." Reporters noted his hand was in a splint on Monday, which leads us to doubt whether Jackson will play this week against the Eagles. Considering how poorly the Vikings' passing game has been under Jackson, a change back to Holcomb probably isn't a bad thing, especially for sleepers such as Sidney Rice.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Alge Crumpler sounds like a physical mess right now. When asked in his Monday news conference about the severity of Crumpler's injury, coach Bobby Petrino didn't seem optimistic. "I don't think he'll get a procedure done. He came off a late [Monday night] game, and the combination of the knee and the ankle injuries put stress on his old knee injury," Petrino said. "Hopefully he'll come back from the bye week and prepare for the San Francisco game like he did when he took the rest in preseason camp." The bye week helps, but Crumpler is falling apart. He also is on pace to finish with 316 fewer yards than he had last season. He doesn't seem like a starting option anymore.

Carolina Panthers:

Who will start at quarterback: David Carr or Vinny Testaverde? Coach John Fox isn't saying much about it, at least to local media; the Charlotte Observer noted that Fox is relaxing with his wife at an undisclosed location. We might not find out until Wednesday, at the earliest, but my money is on Carr to be healthy enough to start. Neither quarterback is a fantasy option, but Testaverde at least proved he could move with the team with some consistency.

New Orleans Saints: There's no question that improvement in the Saints' receiving corps has been at least somewhat behind the team's two-game win streak. Coach Sean Payton seemed to agree when asked about his receivers in Monday's news conference. "We went through a period where we dropped more than we would like, and that has started to get cleaned up some," said Payton. Indeed. It's a good sign for the Saints that nine different receivers caught passes Sunday against the Falcons. It's also a bad sign that likely the only two who were in fantasy lineups, (Marques Colston and Reggie Bush), combined for only 64 of Drew Brees' 219 yards passing. Eric Johnson and Devery Henderson are inconsistent, and the rest of the team's receiving options are too raw. In a way, we hope Brees begins to focus in on Colston and Bush rather than spread the ball around.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Michael Bennett is not a fantasy option right now, but he could become one in the next few weeks. Coach Jon Gruden had good things to say about Bennett in his news conference Monday and said he wanted to expand Bennett's role. "We liked him. Here's a guy who doesn't even know most of his coaches or teammates' name or number, but he got in there and got three carries," Gruden said. "He's meeting with our coaching staff right now … to get caught up in terms of our offense. He's clearly a guy with some speed, a great guy and a good learner, and we'd like to get him out there more next week." Earnest Graham has (finally) proven he can be effective in the starting role, but look for Bennett to work his way into a platoon role. That would help deep leaguers who are starving for a No. 2 or flex back, but it probably would be at the expense of Graham owners.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: As you'd expect, coach Ken Whisenhunt on Monday had to address having Anquan Boldin play quarterback on the team's failed two-point conversion that would have tied the game late versus the Redskins. "It should be [second-guessed] … it didn't work, and we're responsible for that," Whisenhunt said in his news conference. "The bottom line is it's a well-designed play. It started with the ball in one of our best player's hands. But would I call that play again? Absolutely I would. Had the ball been thrown a bit higher, it would have been good." The most interesting thing from a fantasy perspective was just seeing Anquan Boldin taking the snap, which obviously helps his value. Then again, after watching him "gator-arm" that pass, I think you'd have to throw out that thought.

St. Louis Rams: Help is on the way. Coach Scott Linehan announced in his news conference Monday that there's a "good chance" Steven Jackson (groin) will play Sunday. A story on the Rams' Web site was sure to say that those plans aren't set in stone, but noted that Jackson returned to the practice field last week and showed promise. Said Linehan, "Just based on how he finished the week … my feeling is it's not 100 percent, but it's close enough where it looked like he had the burst he needs to have and the confidence based on practice here, and that's a good sign." Is Jackson being rushed back because the Rams are 0-7? Possibly a little, but he did practice a little last week and didn't play versus the Seahawks, so the Rams do appear to be taking this slow. One thing is for sure, though: He must be in your lineup if he does return. He has too much upside to leave on the bench.

San Francisco 49ers: Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler's play-calling has been in question all season long, and it jumped to a new level when Frank Gore questioned it following Sunday's game. Coach Mike Nolan addressed that in his news conference Monday. "I just think that Frank, more than anything else, acted out of frustration that we lost the game and the things that go along with that more than anything else," Nolan said. "But I do recognize it. I don't dismiss what people say, but I believe that's what came out of his words as opposed to an inability to get it done." When teams start 2-4, finger-pointing happens, which makes the situation even uglier, especially if it's the star player doing the pointing. But I also know that finger-pointing instigates change in football. In this case, that would be a good thing for the Niners' offense and especially Gore.

Seattle Seahawks: Shaun Alexander has been getting criticized in recent weeks for the team's lack of a running game. Coach Mike Holmgren addressed that in his Monday news conference. "The thing we've struggled with is running the football, and Shaun Alexander has been the lightning rod," Holmgren said. "But I just looked at the film again, and I am here to tell you there are times that there is nothing there. Nothing. He has been a little unfairly criticized, in my opinion. We are not blocking very well at this particular point, and that must improve." Not that this helps Alexander's disappointed owners much, but his "ballcoach" believes it's not his fault, which means Alexander probably will continue to get a heavy workload.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.