Always pay attention to the little things
Posted: Friday November 14, 2003 4:43PM; Updated: Friday November 14, 2003 5:37PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
In fantasy football, as in most aspects of life, the more attention you pay to the details, the better off you're likely to be. And depth of information can be a fantasy owner's secret weapon heading down the stretch.
After all, this is the time of year that minor injuries tend to take a greater toll, a time when younger players often start making an impact. And it's often the best time for you to nail down a playoff spot in your league.
With that in mind, here's a minor tidbit of fantasy interest for each of the 32 NFL teams.
They didn't count, but according to the Arizona Republic, Neil Rackers made five field goals in practice Wednesday and drew a standing ovation from his new Cardinals teammates.
Of course, there is no place to sit at practice, so any ovation is a standing one.
"Rackers thought he was coming to kick in Arizona in a nice climate, and he had a rainstorm out there," head coach Dave McGinnis said. "He's got good distance, a strong leg, and I want some consistency out of that position."
Rackers takes over for Tim Duncan, who was cut Monday. Bill Gramatica, the regular kicker, will miss his sixth game Sunday in Cleveland, and it's questionable if he will make it back this season because of back pain.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, head coach Dan Reeves is leaning toward keeping Warrick Dunn in the lineup over T.J. Duckett, and with good reason.
Dunn, making his first start since the third game of the season, played one of the best games of his career Sunday against the Giants. That followed a strong first half against the Eagles the previous week.
"When you're that successful running the football, you don't change what you did," Reeves said. "I would say that's probably the way we will go."
Dunn did well against the Saints earlier this season, scoring on a 69-yard run. Remember, however, even though Dunn received the bulk of the work last Sunday (25 carries, 178 yards, one touchdown), Duckett pitched in seven quality runs and two touchdowns.
In an article Monday, Baltimore Sun staffer Mike Preston noted that quarterback isn't the only position hurting the Ravens' passing attack, which is also burdened by veteran receivers who no longer can get separation.
Both Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson have contributed little, and Preston suggested the passing scheme also is too vanilla. There are not enough "pick" plays, zone-flooding plays or crossing routes, which would help receivers get open. Opponents like to play the Ravens man-to-man and don't believe they can beat them deep.
For what it's worth, Robinson likely will move into the starting lineup with Sanders slowed by a sprained ankle.
In an article Monday, the Buffalo News ' Allen Wilson said Willis McGahee is not as close to returning to the field as first thought. McGahee's surgically repaired left knee is healed, and he is making strides in practice. But he is not running with the burst and confidence the team needs to see to put him in a game.
General manager Tom Donahoe and head coach Gregg Williams have told McGahee that he should not feel pressure to play. Essentially, the team drafted him to play next season.
Kevin Dyson could be activated this week against Washington. This will be Dyson's second week of practice with the team. He said he was ready to play three weeks ago.
Asked about Dyson's status after Thursday's workout, head coach John Fox was noncommittal. "We are in the same mode right now," he said. "We are taking it one day at a time. He is progressing well and getting himself back in football shape and continuing to learn what we are doing."
Dyson has been out of action since mini-camp, when he tore his Achilles tendon; his return should be viewed as bad -- or should I say worse -- news for Muhsin Muhammad owners.
With players still questioning offensive coordinator John Shoop's game plan after the Bears' loss to the Lions, head coach Dick Jauron said Monday he is not considering stripping Shoop of his responsibilities.
"There are people [other than Shoop] capable of it, but it's nothing that we've considered or talked about at this point," Jauron told the Chicago Sun-Times. "As we do every week, particularly when we lose, we look at everything. But right now, I would say no, that's not a direction we would go in."
The offense mustered only 199 yards and could not, or at times chose not to, run on a seven-man front.
"I thought we would run the ball a little bit more, especially in the first half, but that wasn't a play that was called," tight end Desmond Clark said. "They also had a weak secondary, so either way you look at it, whatever we did, we should have capitalized on it. It's not good when they're playing a soft cover-two shell and we don't put up the numbers that we should have put up."
Rudi Johnson's 43 rushing attempts Sunday have put him in the NFL record book. He is now tied for second for the most carries in a single game. Washington's Jamie Morris holds the record with 45 carries against the Bengals in an overtime game on Dec. 17, 1988.
Johnson's 182-yard game is the fifth best in the NFL this season. The top three are Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, 295; and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, 200 and 187; Green Bay's Ahman Green racked up 192 against the Eagles Monday night.
James Jackson is stronger and healthier than he was a season ago, which goes a long way toward explaining why he's been running harder this year.
Even before William Green's current difficulties became a factor, Jackson was getting the carries that once went to Jamel White, who has been a major disappointment since getting a new contract in the offseason.
According to the Dallas Morning News, head coach Bill Parcells said there's no running back controversy. Troy Hambrick is the starter. Adrian Murrell is the backup. And Parcells said he doesn't understand what all of the fuss is about.
"[Murrell] had nine carries for 20-something yards last week and 16 carries for 76 yards [Sunday], so he has 25 carries for what, 100 yards? I wouldn't say that's lighting it up. Would you?" Parcells said. "I know everybody wants to get into this. They tell me I'm benching Hambrick and all of this stuff, and it's ridiculous. You've got to use the players you have."
Still, Hambrick didn't carry the ball in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Bills, when the outcome was in doubt. And Hambrick had three fewer carries than Murrell. It marked the first time this season Hambrick has not been the Cowboys' leading ball carrier.
But Parcells maintains he isn't interested in changing the dynamics of the running game or making Murrell a starter. Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Maurice Carthon usually determines which running back is in the game.
"I don't envision a 50-50 ratio, but I'd like [Murrell] to get carries every week. He gives us something we really haven't had in the early part of the season," Parcells said. "He is pretty elusive. When he sees a hole, he can get through it."
Ed McCaffrey returned to the practice field on a limited basis and could return this week, but it still doesn't look like he's ready to return from a quadriceps tendon injury. That means more playing time for Ashley Lelie and Chris Cole.
Rookie Charles Rogers will miss his fifth consecutive game with a broken right collarbone Sunday when the Lions play at Seattle and it appears likely he will miss at least two more after that. Despite missing four games, Rogers still leads the Lions wide receivers with 22 catches for 243 yards and three TDs.
Green Bay Packers
Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher owners take heart: According to the Sports XChange, Ahman Green's playing time will continue to be closely monitored in the second half of the season, because the last thing the Packers want to do is burn out their franchise running back.
"Really, I think Ahman probably was playing too much early in the year, but at times we didn't have a choice," running backs coach Sylvester Croom said. "We've got three pretty good backs right now. It's worked out the way we hoped."
An offense that ranked last in the NFL last season in every major statistical category has been drastically improved behind a newfound running game, fewer sacks and a passing game that features deep threats Andre Johnson, Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney. The Texans are averaging 322 yards per game compared with 223.3 during their inaugural season in 2002.
With seven games remaining, the Texans are 51 points away from the single-season team scoring record of 213.
In an article Monday, Indianapolis Star-News staffer Mike Chappell said injuries to Marvin Harrison (hamstring) and fellow wideout Brandon Stokley (concussion) could lead to the first meaningful playing time for rookie receiver Aaron Moorehead.
"He has excellent size [6-foot-3, 200 pounds], which could be a factor in the red zone offense," Chappell said. "Moorehead had two touchdown catches in the preseason, both times catching passes over smaller defenders."
Fred Taylor finished with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in an upset of the Colts. Taylor, who had been without a touchdown since Week 5, scored a 32-yard touchdown with just over a minute left.
Kansas City Chiefs
Priest Holmes is closing in on Marcus Allen on the Chiefs' all-time rushing TD list. Allen scored 44 times in 77 games. Holmes, who recently passed Christian Okoye for second place, has 43 touchdowns in only 39 games.
Derrius Thompson will hold on to his starting wide receiver job for now. Head coach Dave Wannstedt has been critical lately of Thompson's aggressiveness, and rookie Kendall Newson is cutting into Thompson's playing time.
According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, coaches continue to simplify the Vikings' attack. Michael Bennett, recovered from a foot injury, will get more rushes in an attempt to balance the offense. Tight end Jim Kleinsasser will become more involved in the passing game.
The offense won't become one-dimensional, but coordinator Scott Linehan will use a more simple game until the team gets back on track. Instead of looking for the right time to make a big play, the Vikings will look to just get the first down and to continue drives.
New England Patriots
With David Patten on injured reserve, an intriguing prospect is former Dolphins receiver Oronde Gadsden, but any move to sign him appears unlikely. The Patriots have cap room to sign a player if one comes along since they are about $3 million under.
New Orleans Saints
Deuce McAllister has rushed for 100 yards in six straight games, a club record, and has 871 yards and a 4.5-yard average. McAllister is only five yards shy of having eight 100-yard efforts in nine games, since he ran for 99 and 96 yards in two other games.
He is on pace to rush for almost 1,548 yards, which would leave him with the second-highest single-season total in franchise history behind George Rogers' 1,674 yards in 1981.
New York Giants
Team officials still aren't sure when tight end Jeremy Shockey can be expected back from the knee injury he suffered Sunday, with the estimates ranging from the original six to eight weeks to the three weeks head coach Jim Fassel offered Wednesday.
"We don't know. Nobody really knows for sure," Fassel said. "Sometimes it can be longer, sometimes it can be shorter. Jeremy's pretty well bent on getting back."
New York Jets
Last Sunday's six-catch, 146-yard, one-TD performance against the Raiders marked the fifth straight game in which Santana Moss had a touchdown catch. He has four straight games of 96 yards or more and has gone over 100 yards in three of his past four appearances. In the past four games, Moss has seven touchdown grabs, and he has 44 catches for 726 yards and eight scores through nine games.
Not bad, considering that in his first two seasons combined Moss had but 32 catches for 473 yards and four touchdowns.
Jerry Rice wants to be a bigger part of the Oakland Raiders' offense, even if it's too late to salvage the season. The 19-year NFL veteran is the team's leading receiver with 41 catches for 523 yards, but he has yet to find the end zone.
"Warren Sapp's got me beat. Jerry Porter came out and he's got me beat now," Rice told The Associated Press, referring to players who have scored this season, including Porter's 2-yard TD catch for Oakland on Sunday.
"It's up to the coaches to make the calls and give me the opportunity," the 41-year-old Rice said. "I haven't had the opportunities this year. It's just unfortunate. I have a hard time dealing with it. Sometimes it's not all about scoring touchdowns. It's about all the little things you do on the field."
Undrafted rookie receiver Greg Lewis has been playing more than Billy McMullen, a third-round pick who has fallen out of favor with the coaches, according to the Trenton Times. Lewis is a good route runner with decent speed.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tommy Maddox isn't getting much help from his receivers other than Hines Ward.
Nonetheless, Maddox had his best passer rating since he led the NFL after one week with a 134.3. He had a 110.9 against Arizona on Sunday and improved his season rating to 76.6.
St. Louis Rams
Torry Holt has emerged as one of the league's top three receivers, along with Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison, mostly because of maturity and preparation, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Holt now takes game film home and watches it on his laptop, which has led to better route running and greater awareness of what defenses are doing.
Holt still isn't as fluid a route runner as teammate Isaac Bruce, the newspaper noted, but he uses his leg strength to fight through jams and generate speed. Holt is dropping fewer passes and aggressively is plucking the ball out of the air.
San Diego Chargers
Drew Brees, who started 24 consecutive games before being benched, acknowledged it was tough watching the offense excel with him on the sideline.
"It's frustrating, No. 1, because you're not the one out there being a part of it," he said. "And No. 2, you just look to the past couple of weeks and we probably scored more points today than we did the last three games combined [two more, actually]. That is the frustrating part of it.
"But things were clicking today and guys were where they needed to be and making their blocks. We threw the ball very well, ran the ball extremely well, caught the ball extremely well. We were on."
What will Brees take from his time on the sideline?
"To just know that when I get back in there that's the way we need to move the ball."
San Francisco 49ers
According to those who follow the team closely, rookie Brandon Lloyd is gaining fast on Cedrick Wilson for the team's No. 3 WR role.
Jerramy Stevens, who had only two catches heading into Week 10, continues to be a big disappointment. According to Pro Football Weekly, after watching Stevens make an outstanding one-handed grab in practice last Wednesday, an unnamed teammate was overheard saying: "I sure wish he'd make more catches like that in the real games."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
According to those who follow the team closely, the Bucs will not sign former Falcons power runner Jamal Anderson.
Team officials said nice things about Anderson after his workout for club officials last week, but privately they felt Anderson was too rusty to make a significant contribution right out of the chute.
According to the Sports XChange, rookie receiver Tyrone Calico had been asked to know only one of the Titans' three receiver spots all season.
But heading into the Miami game, with Bennett out, the Titans asked him to learn a second spot, and head coach Jeff Fisher said he came through nicely, which led to Calico grabbing a TD pass from McNair.
The Redskins committed a season-low four penalties and dropped just below pace to break the NFL record of 158 in a season. Washington now has 85 penalties in nine games, on pace for 151.
"They played smarter," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "They didn't have near the number of careless penalties that we've had most of the year. That certainly gave us a good chance."