Dallas Cowboys: Fletcher Cox

Are the Cowboys just bad at the draft?

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
10:40
AM ET
PODCAST
Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett live from Kansas City to discuss Jerry Jones' attendance at the Bush Library on NFL draft day, what he expects the Chiefs to do with the No. 1 pick and tell a funny tale about Bill Clinton and Jerry Jones.

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Todd Archer ran some numbers, and his conclusion is that the Dallas Cowboys struggle with the draft. Here's some of his data:
Since 2007, the Cowboys have drafted 47 players and only 18 remain. That’s not good. After a quick perusal of the NFC East, it’s the worst percentage (38.3%) of any team in the division. From 2007-12, Philadelphia has 28 of 59 picks left (47.5%); Washington has 24 of 48 picks (50%) and the New York Giants have 24 of 46 picks left (52%).

...

In the last three years, which should be the core of a team, the Cowboys have 15 of 21 picks left. The Eagles are the worst with 23 of 33 picks. Washington is the best at 21 of 27 and the Giants have 16 of 22 picks remaining.

The point of entry for Todd's analysis was a discussion about whether they should have moved down in the 2011 draft, when they stayed put and took Tyron Smith at No. 9 and whether they were wise to move up in 2012, when they used their first-round pick and their second-round pick to draft Morris Claiborne. Todd thinks last year's move and 2011's non-move were mistakes. I agree, as I think most of you know, about last year. Because I think Smith will be a franchise left tackle, I don't hold the 2011 decision against them.

But what I see here is a clue about how the Cowboys play the top of the draft, and it's a discouraging one. It appears to me that Jerry Jones, who ultimately makes these decisions, falls in love with a player and does what he can to get him, the rest of the draft be damned. And a roster as thin with top-level talent as Dallas' has been for the last couple of years needs to make the second, third and fourth rounds more productive than the Cowboys usually have.

They love Claiborne as a keystone piece for the future, and that's fine. But had they held onto that second-round pick, they might have been able to come out of the first two rounds with, for example, Fletcher Cox and Peter Konz. (Yes, they'd have had to move up for Cox, but likely not with a second-rounder in the deal.) Two starting pieces instead of one. This is the approach Dallas needs to take this year -- finding a new starting offensive lineman in the first round and then looking for immediate contributors, on either line or at safety, in Rounds 2 and 3.

When they dealt away their second-round pick last year, a lot of Cowboys' fans said that was OK because they always mess up the second round anyway. But 2011's second-rounder was Bruce Carter and 2010's was Sean Lee. They also got DeMarco Murray in the third round in 2011. These are players on which they're attempting to build their future core, and it would be wise to keep in mind the value those picks (and those that follow them) have when things get hot and heavy tomorrow night and the temptation to grab a player they love overrides the value of the pick or picks needed to get him.

Remember, when we critique a draft in progress on this blog, we're not making predictions about how guys will play, because we can't and neither can anyone else. We're looking at the value of the picks and how they were used -- whether they could have waited until the fifth or sixth round for a guy they took in the fourth, for example. That's what you'll find here Thursday night through Saturday night, and we'll have a close eye on the Cowboys, of course, since this is a gigantic draft for them and they can't mess it up.

NFC East wrap: The year of RG III

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Season Wraps: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five things to know and my 2012 all-division team:

Division MVP: Interesting word, "value." The Washington Redskins decided that fixing their problem at quarterback by drafting Robert Griffin III was worth three first-round picks and a second-round pick. That's the "value" they assigned to Griffin as their short-term and long-term solution at the game's most critical position -- willingly not having another first-round pick until 2015. The first-year result is the current six-game winning streak that has delivered the Redskins' first winning season since 2007 and a shot Sunday night at their first division title since 1999.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jonathan Newton/Getty ImagesThe Redskins paid a steep price to acquire Robert Griffin III, but the move has paid off handsomely.
A number of things have gone right to help the Redskins to this point, but at the center of it all has been Griffin, who has delivered big plays with his arm and his legs, has thrown just five interceptions and piloted a Redskins offense that has the most rushing yards and the fewest turnovers in the league through 16 weeks. In their wildest dreams, the Redskins couldn't have imagined Griffin performing at this level in his first year, but the fact that he has is the biggest reason they're where they are at this point. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is having a big year, as are Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris. But the award is for the Most "Valuable" Player, and the upgrade Griffin has provided for the Redskins at the most important position on the field has a value that surpasses anything anyone else in the NFC East has provided this year.

Biggest disappointment: This one isn't hard. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were a disappointment. That word isn't strong enough to describe what the 2012 Eagles turned out to be. They went into training camp with Super Bowl expectations and a chip on their collective shoulder after last year's flop, and they out-flopped even themselves. There was promise in their 3-1 start, in spite of the turnovers and the fact that they were barely winning. The defense was playing well, Michael Vick was leading them from behind in the fourth quarter and it made some level of sense to believe that they would play better and start winning more comfortably.

Instead, it went the other way. The eight-game losing streak that followed that 3-1 start doomed the Eagles to a sub-.500 season, and the 11 losses they already have with one game to go ties the most Andy Reid has ever had as a head coach. (He lost 11 in his first season there.) Injuries were a huge part of this, as 10 of the Eagles' Week 1 starters on offense have had to miss at least one game and the offensive line hasn't been together all year. But the problems go much deeper, and center on a poorly constructed roster that failed to adequately address holes at positions such as safety and a dysfunctional coaching staff mismanaged by the man in charge. Reid appears certain to pay with his job for failing to make good on his mulligan, and big changes are around the corner in Philadelphia.

No defense: The NFC East hasn't had a repeat champion since the Eagles won it back-to-back in 2003-04, and it won't have one this year either. The New York Giants opened November with three more wins than any other team in the division, but their collapse following a 6-2 start has eliminated them from the division race with a week to go. The winner of Sunday night's game between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys will be division champs. If it's Dallas, it'll be the team's second title in four years and would be the second year in a row (and ever) that the division didn't produce at least one 10-win team. If it's Washington, it'll be its first division title in 13 years and would mean four different division champs in four years. This may not be the dominant, monster, "Beast" division it's been in some years past, but the intensity of the rivalries and the closeness of the quality of the four teams keep it the league's most competitive and entertaining year in and year out.

Each NFC East team had a turn in the spotlight this year. The Cowboys flashed greatness in their nationally televised victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in the season opener. The Eagles got out to that 3-1 start. The Giants at one point stood 6-2, and their victories over San Francisco and Green Bay had folks talking about them as the best team in the league. The Redskins are on a six-game winning streak right now and one of the hottest stories in sports. Say what you will about this division or any of its teams, but you can't say it's not fun.

Better "corner" the market: Looking ahead to the 2013 offseason, expect each of the NFC East's teams to make the secondary a high priority. The Cowboys like their corners, and they may be OK at safety if Barry Church comes back healthy, but they'll probably lose Mike Jenkins to free agency and could look to maintain their depth back there. The Giants need to figure out whether this is just a bad year for Corey Webster or if he's a player in decline, and at safety there are questions about Kenny Phillips' long-term status with the team after his injury-plagued season. The Redskins need all kinds of help in the secondary, where Josh Wilson has been fairly consistent but not great at corner, DeAngelo Hall is clearly in decline and they're getting by with backups at safety. And the Eagles have to figure out whether to keep one, both or neither of their veteran cornerbacks and whether it's time to cut bait with safety Nate Allen.

This division includes the No. 21, No. 28 and No. 30 pass defenses in the NFL, and the only NFC East team in the top half in the league in that category (Philadelphia, No. 11) has major question marks at cornerback and especially safety. Once known for its fearsome pass rushes, the NFC East learned this year that you can't always count on even that to be consistent, and it's time for this division's teams to prioritize their last lines of defense.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanJason Garrett's Cowboys, winners of five of their past seven, can win the NFC East with a victory over the archrival Redskins on Sunday.
The men in charge: You can expect wholesale coaching staff changes in Philadelphia, of course. But what of the division's other three teams, at least one and likely two of which won't make the playoffs? Head coaches Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan are clearly safe in New York and Washington, and Jason Garrett appears safe as well in Dallas after a year in which he's admirably led the Cowboys through injury and off-field tragedy into another Week 17 division title game. But that doesn't mean there can't or won't be changes at the coordinator level.

Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are both whispered about when head-coaching jobs come up, and the success of Griffin and the Redskins' offensive system could make Kyle Shanahan an especially hot candidate this offseason. Would he jump ship, or stay to see things through and possibly succeed his father down the road in D.C.? Redskins fans clamor for the head of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and I guess you never know, but I think Haslett's got this Washington defense overachieving, and I've heard nothing to indicate that the team is dissatisfied with the job he's doing. As for the Giants' Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell ... Fewell's no longer the head-coaching candidate he used to be for some reason, so it's likely a matter of whether they want to keep those guys around. The Giants tend to value organizational stability, and Gilbride and Fewell were coaching in and winning a Super Bowl less than 11 months ago, so it's hard to imagine they're in trouble. But I think the Giants are surprised at the way the last couple of weeks have gone, and I doubt they've seriously considered yet whether changes on the staff are warranted or necessary.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

We do this every week, so you're used to a lot of these names in a lot of these places. There are some close calls, including at quarterback, where the Cowboys' Romo is as hot as anyone in the league and has thrown just three interceptions in his past eight games after throwing 13 in his first seven. Romo is third in the league in passing yards, and his responsible play and leadership are central reasons for the Cowboys' second-half surge. And if he beats Griffin and Washington on Sunday night, you can make the argument that he deserves the spot. I think it's that close right now. But Griffin's had the more consistent season and, as detailed above, the more dramatic impact. So he holds the spot.

The only other very tough call is at fullback, where Darrel Young and the Giants' Henry Hynoski are both excellent and worthy. Hynoski, for me, has been the slightly better blocker, but the Giants' recent struggles have hurt his case and Young, who actually touches the ball every now and then, takes the spot away from him. ... Kicker is a good race, as all four have had good seasons. And yes, I know Kai Forbath hasn't missed, but he's kicked barely half as many as Dan Bailey has. ... Philadelphia's Brandon Graham has made a strong case at defensive end with his second-half play, but Jason Hatcher's been a rock all season as a 3-4 end for Dallas. ... Dez Bryant and Alfred Morris are no-brainers as the division's best wide receiver and running back. What kind of odds could you have got on that in early September?

All-NFC East Team: Week 16 update

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
1:23
PM ET
Washington's Robert Griffin III has had a stranglehold on the quarterback spot on the All-NFC East Team for months now, but after he sat out Sunday with an injury, his backup won in Cleveland and Dallas' Tony Romo beat the Steelers, this became a very tough call for the first time in a while. I really think it's a two-man race, and I think Romo's candidacy is legitimate.

Romo has 4,269 passing yards. Griffin has 2,902. Even if you add in their rushing yards, Romo still leads significantly in total yards, 4,318 to 3,650. He has 22 passing touchdowns and one rushing (23 total) while Griffin has 18 passing and six rushing (24). Griffin has a significant edge in the interception department, having thrown only four to Romo's 16. And while Romo's only thrown three in his past seven games, this isn't a last-seven-games team. It's a year-to-date team.

Which reminds me about the disclaimer no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Kirk Cousins isn't on it.

Griffin is, though, by a surprisingly tight margin over Romo. He still has the better overall numbers everywhere but in yardage, and he did win the head-to-head matchup on Thanksgiving, which I think is a worthy tiebreaker for now. But if Griffin has to miss another game and/or Romo stays hot, this could change next week. Last year, it was Romo vs. Eli Manning for this spot, back and forth all year, and the final game of the regular season decided it. Could that happen again?

Anyway, here's the team, with some more thoughts after.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; (Bryant, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Nate Livings, Cowboys (Mathis, Chris Chester)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Cowboys; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Carr, Prince Amukamara)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • That second guard spot is a three-way toss-up for me between Livings, Chester and Chris Snee, and I've been looking at Livings for several weeks now. The Cowboys' line has been a wreck for much of the season, but Livings has been a bright spot and has played well overall.
  • I honestly thought about Washington's Rob Jackson at outside linebacker, and I think the way Spencer's playing, it'd be Ware's spot he'd take. But I didn't want to deal with the wrath of Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com if I dared to take Ware off the team. And I don't think he deserves to be taken off the team. Let's just say it says a lot about the way Jackson's playing that it was worth thinking about.
  • I've explained Hynoski over Darrel Young plenty of times -- real, real, close, both excellent, Hynoski blocks a little bit more consistently. Both awesome. I wish one of them played cornerback, since I'm looking for good suggestions there.
  • Final story and then I'm out. In the Redskins' locker room after Sunday's game, I went over to talk to Cofield. He was talking to someone else but saw me out of the corner of his eye. "Graziano," he said, and shook his head. "Bout time I made that All-NFC East Team." Don't think we're not doing important work here, people. We're providing motivation.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 15 update

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
1:00
PM ET
For a while, the quarterback position on the All-NFC East team has looked like a boat race, with Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III the clear winner of the spot. But Griffin hurt his knee Sunday, and if he has to miss a few games, he could be caught. Both Tony Romo and Eli Manning are hot and have big numbers (though Griffin's remarkably small number in the interception category is a big part of his lead.)

The disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Nick Foles isn't on it.

Just a few changes this week -- one on the offensive line, a couple at kicker and punter and the rest in the secondary, where I admit I'm at a loss. More explanation after the list itself.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; (Bryant, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Chris Chester, Redskins (Mathis, Chris Snee)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Brandon Carr, Cowboys (Amukamara, Morris Claiborne)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Kenny Phillips)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Lawrence Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Brian Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • Did you know this division doesn't have one single cornerback ranked in Pro Football Focus' top 50 for the season? This is what I'm working with, folks. Their highest-ranked NFC East corners are Orlando Scandrick (52), Brandon Boykin (54) and Cedric Griffin (63). So you tell me. I gave Claiborne's spot to Carr this week because I think they're pretty close and Carr's had a couple of game-changing plays the last couple of weeks. But these spots could belong to guys like Josh Wilson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just as easily. This is two years now, and no one in this division plays this position consistently well.
  • Safety's a problem, too, and with the best one in the division (Phillips) in and out due to injury, his spot goes to his real-life replacement, who has seven interceptions.
  • That second guard spot is a mishmash, with Chester, Snee, Nate Livings and Kevin Boothe all getting consideration. Snee has the track record, Chester's had the more consistent season. Slightly.
  • And no, Redskins fans, I'm not "ignoring" Darrel Young at fullback. For the millionth time, both Young and Hynoski are having excellent seasons. It's a tough call, every week. But Hynoski's on the field more, and while he doesn't catch or carry the ball once or twice a week like Young does, he's been the slightly better blocker. And that's the important part of their jobs. I'd love to see both guys go to the Pro Bowl. I can't put them both on this team, though. Maybe if one of them learned to play cornerback. There are spots open there.
  • Tynes is out at kicker. The only question was his replacement, and Bailey, Alex Henery and Kai Forbath all made good cases. I went with Bailey, who hasn't missed from inside 50 and has made more (2) from 50-plus than any of the others have. Forbath is perfect since joining the Redskins, and he's made some huge kicks, including this week and on Thanksgiving. But he's got 14 field goals to Bailey's 25 (and Tynes' 33 and Henery's 23). Didn't seem right. Henery is the best of the bunch on kickoffs, statistically. Good year for kickers in the NFC East.
  • Moorman's also out at punter after that debacle Sunday. Our old friend Rocca returns, though you know Steve Weatherford got a long look.
  • And yes, David Wilson's kick return for a touchdown would have won him the kick-returner spot for the rest of the season, but he already had it.

Your thoughts?

All-NFC East Team: Week 14 update

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
10:00
AM ET
Certain things creep up on you when you do an exercise like this one every week. You really have to look at it fresh, or else you might miss a trend.

Did you know, for instance, that Tony Romo leads this division in passing yards this year, and by quite a lot -- 490 more than Eli Manning and 1,000 more than All-Division Team QB Robert Griffin III? Romo has a higher passer rating than Manning and more touchdowns. He also leads the division with 15 interceptions, but he's only thrown two in his last five games.

That's not enough to give Romo the spot ahead of Griffin, who makes up yardage and touchdown differentials with his rushing numbers and who's only thrown four interceptions all year. But it was enough to make me stop and think about it, which I do each week at each of these positions. Just because there are few, if any, changes in a given week doesn't mean I'm copy/pasting this thing from the week before. There's a lot of jockeying for position underneath the starter line.

Anyway, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Pierre Garcon isn't on it.

This week's team includes only one change from last week, and it's at the very exciting position of defensive tackle. But I have some thoughts on a few of the positions that I'll share with you after you look at the team.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Bryant)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Chris Snee, Giants (Mathis, Snee)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Linval Joseph)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (Amukamara, Claiborne)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Giants (Rolle, Phillips)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • After a year and three quarters of doing the team with a left and right tackle and a left and right guard, I have decided to just pick the best two tackles and guards in the division regardless of where they line up. For the past few weeks, we'd been putting Beatty at right tackle on this team even though he plays left for the Giants, since there weren't any good choices at right tackle and Beatty's been excellent. This new way makes it a lot easier. Beatty and Williams are the two best tackles in the division, so they get the spots.
  • One of the reasons I decided to do this was Cowboys left guard Nate Livings, who is playing very well while the Cowboys' line struggles through a rough season. For a while, I considered using Mathis and Livings as my guards this week, but in the end Snee kept his spot, though it's close between the two of them.
  • Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson, who's occupied that Claiborne spot for much of this season, played very well Monday night against the Giants and nearly go this spot back. But Claiborne also played well, and scored a touchdown, and you know how I struggle at cornerback. I'm like a coach here. Gonna leave Claiborne in there, be patient with him and see how he handles it.
  • The change at defensive tackle was the return of Cox to a starting spot ahead of Joseph, who's had one all year but has been slipping in recent weeks. That position's a tough one, at which almost everyone wears down. And Cox is banged up and didn't play as much Sunday as he normally does. But I think his overall body of work this year edges out Joseph's at this point. First half of the season, Joseph was the No. 1 at this position in the division. At this point, I think that honor goes to Cofield.
  • Redskins fans get mad about fullback, and trust me, I think Darrel Young is a great player. But while Hynoski doesn't touch the ball the couple or three times a game that Young does, he's a road-grader of a blocker in the run game, and Young only plays 3/4 as many snaps as Hynoski does. It's close, and they're both great, but overall I think Hynoski's been the better player in 2012. I like both players a lot. Wish one of them played cornerback or safety, so I could put them both on the team.
  • No one returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown in this division in 2011, but after Damaris Johnson took a punt back for Philly on Sunday, two players have done so this year. I said forever that the first player to run one back would get the spot, and Harris was the first. After Johnson scored, though, I had to think about it. Overall, Harris' stats on punt returns allow him to keep the job.
  • And I almost put Alex Henery in at kicker, but Tynes still has him 32-22 in field goals and I can't forget that I saw Henery miss an extra point.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.
Well, the rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles is Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium, and in our weekly segment, The Other Side, we get a chance to chat with Jeff McLane, the Eagles beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Enjoy.

Q: Is the Philadelphia defense this bad?

A: It sure looks it. It wasn't that bad in the first six games under Juan Castillo. He had significant struggles last season but appeared to have the defense playing as a cohesive unit before Andy Reid fired him in October. But since Todd Bowles took over, things have gone ridiculously downhill. In five games, opposing quarterbacks have a 139.9 passer rating, completed 75.2 percent of their passes and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt. They’ve thrown 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. When Castillo was in charge, opposing quarterbacks had a 69.4 passer rating, completed 52.6 percent of their passes and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt.(And they tossed seven touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Q: Is it worth it to even play Michael Vick at this point?

A: For the Eagles, no. Vick may see things the opposite way. He will obviously want to play once he's cleared to return from a concussion to show prospective employers that he can rebound from the head injury and that he isn't one of the primary reasons for his team's demise. But the Eagles need to see what they have in Nick Foles. And with the final eight games all but meaningless, now is as good a time as any to see if the rookie can be the quarterback of the future.

Q: Do the Eagles have any young players worth watching Sunday night?

A: While the 2010 and 2011 drafts were busts, the Eagles' 2012 class looks promising. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the Birds' top pick, has been their most consistent lineman all season. He has a lower back contusion, however, and probably won't play in Dallas. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks has hit that proverbial rookie wall, but he still comes up with a play or two every game. Second-round pick Vinny Curry finally dressed on Sunday and showed lots of promise. The defensive end's effort paved the way for the release of Jason Babin on Tuesday. And then there's Nick Foles, of course.

Q: Any chance Andy Reid gets one more chance to coach the team in 2013?

A: I think I have a better chance of coaching the Eagles next season than Reid. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the season that the Eagles needed to show "substantial improvement" upon last season's 8-8 finish for Reid to return for a 15th season. The Eagles, of course, have already reached the eight-loss bar Lurie set. He also said it would be obvious at the end whether Reid should stay or go. And this season's disaster -- after last season -- makes it's perfectly clear that Reid's time has come to its end.

Q: Can the Eagles beat anybody that's left on their schedule?

A: Good question. A few weeks ago it looked like Tampa may be their easiest opponent, but the Bucs have come on strong. The Eagles still have all three of their NFC East rivals to face. Those games almost always seem to be up for grabs. So I think they should be able to win one of those games. They did already beat the New York Giants, as hard as that is to comprehend. The unknown question, though, is whether Vick will be at quarterback for any of those games. He at least gives them a fighter's chance every week.

All-NFC East Team: Week 13 update

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
9:15
AM ET
At this point in the season, there aren't too many week-to-week changes on the All-NFC East roster. By the time most of these guys have put 11 games on tape, there's not a lot that can happen in one particular week to effect major swings. However, there are some races that have been close, some players who have been playing better at certain positions and closing in on spots, and so you do see some tweaks on this week's team.

Giants safety Kenny Phillips, for instance, gets his spot back even though he couldn't finish Sunday night's game after missing the previous six with a knee injury. Phillips seems fine to go Monday night in Washington, and while Stevie Brown did a nice job in his absence, Phillips showed Sunday that he's a game-changing kind of player who has a positive effect on all three levels of the defense. He's outplayed Brown this year when he's been on the field, and now that he's back Perry Fewell and Tom Coughlin had no qualms about giving him his spot back. Neither did I.

Anyway, the disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Bryce Brown isn't on it.

Here is this week's team, which includes four changes, all on defense. After the team, I'll offer a few more thoughts.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Bryant)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Beatty)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Barry Cofield, Redskins (Joseph, Fletcher Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Bruce Carter)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (Amukamara, Josh Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Giants (Rolle, Stevie Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)

Cofield's development as a nose tackle since signing in Washington prior to 2011 has been impressive, and his increased comfort level at the position is starting to show up as he's dominating up front. The Redskins' defense has played much better since its Week 10 bye, and Cofield has emerged as one of its anchors. Cox has played very well as a rookie in Philadelphia, and the change at the DT spot is more about Cofield playing better than it is about any drop-off in Cox's performance. It also has nothing to do with the fact that Cox left Monday night's game with an injury.

You know I haven't been able to feel good about the cornerback position on this team for two years now, since no one in the division has played it very well. But Wilson's had too many out-and-out bad games, and while he's covered well for the most part his mistakes can get too egregious. So I'm giving the spot to Dallas' exciting rookie, Claiborne, for this week in the hope that he doesn't do something Sunday night to make me look bad. He's had his mistakes too, don't get me wrong. I was there the day he kept getting called offside in Philadelphia. But again, the level of competition at cornerback in the NFC East isn't top-notch, and Claiborne has shown enough flashes of the ability that made him the No. 1 defensive player in this year's draft.

At inside linebacker, Riley was never far behind Carter, and with Carter getting hurt on Thanksgiving, Riley ascends to Sean Lee's former spot. London Fletcher's protégé looks like a long-term keeper in Washington.

For those who aren't regular readers: Yes, I know Beatty plays left tackle for the Giants. But in the absence of a worthy right tackle candidate this year, I've moved him to that side to recognize excellent seasons he and Williams are having as the division's top tackles. Plus, he has played one game there, so technically I'm in the clear.

And one more thing: I spent a lot of time looking at kicker, trying to see if the excellent seasons Dan Bailey and Alex Henery are having in Dallas and Philadelphia merited a change there. And yeah, I looked at Kai Forbath after that huge clutch kick he made for the Redskins on Thanksgiving. But Tynes has done nothing to deserve losing the spot, and he's kicked more field goals than any of them. It's a banner year for kickers in the NFC East, but Tynes is still having the best year of any of them.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

Rookie Watch: Praise for Morris Claiborne

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
1:48
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Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne does not appear in this week's edition of Matt Williamson's Rookie Watch -- not even among the honorable mentions. But Matt uses the introduction to his weekly feature to address Claiborne as a prospect -- one he likes very much. Matt discusses the natural difficulty rookie cornerbacks have with their transition to the NFL, the reasons for which include the significant difference in the quality of the wide receivers and quarterbacks:
Plus, the rules of playing cornerback at this level take some time to get used to, as they favor the offense a great deal. But Claiborne is a natural press man corner -- and those guys are very difficult to find. He fits exactly what Dallas wants to do at the position, which allows the Cowboys to be aggressive with a variety of Rob Ryan blitz packages.

As Peterson has in his short time in the NFL, Claiborne will improve. In fact, he is one of the few players in the league with true shut-down potential.

Matt's conclusion is that it was worth it for the Cowboys to trade both their first-round and second-round picks for Claiborne, even if the payoff won't necessarily come this year. Had the Cowboys been trying to use the early part of the draft to solidify this year's team, it would have made sense to hold the two picks and draft linemen of some sort (one defensive, one offensive?) in those first two rounds. But as we have discussed here many times, the Cowboys' main focus right now is on building for the future, and they see Claiborne as a key piece of that. Matt agrees.

As for who's actually on the rookie watch -- Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is second behind Andrew Luck, and Redskins running back Alfred Morris is No. 9. Kind of thought I might see Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox among the honorable mentions, but I do not.

All-NFC East Team: Week 12 update

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:17
AM ET
Not too many changes on this week's All-Division team. Just two, in fact. Dez Bryant has overtaken teammate Miles Austin for one of the wide receiver spots as his performance week over week has begun to exceed Austin's. And Brian Moorman is having a great year as the Cowboys' punter. Though he has eight fewer punts than the Giants' Steve Weatherford has, Moorman has four more inside the 20, one more inside the 10, four more fair catches and zero touchbacks to Weatherford's six. Moorman is your new All-NFC East punter.

The disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Aldrick Robinson isn't on it.

Here's the list, and a few thoughts afterwards, but again, not many, since there are only the two changes.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Miles Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Beatty)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Joseph, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Bruce Carter, Cowboys (Ryans, Carter)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Steve Weatherford)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)

If you were reading last week, you remember I explained why Giants left tackle Beatty is our right tackle -- since he's playing lights-out and there are no good right tackle candidates in the division. Also why Harris gets the punt return spot -- because he actually ran one back for a touchdown, something no one else in the division has done in the past two seasons. All else feels pretty self-explanatory.

All-NFC East Team: Week 11 update

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
9:53
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Back to our regular format this week after last week's dalliance as part of a league-wide midseason report. Not a lot has changed, especially at quarterback, where no one seems to be challenging Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III for the lead spot. Perhaps young Nick Foles can make a run. Or maybe Eli Manning gets it together after his bye. And Tony Romo's schedule is soft the rest of the way, in case you hadn't heard, so you never know.

The disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Andre Brown is not on it.

Anyway, to the team, with my comments to follow -- especially on the tweak I felt necessary to make on the offensive line.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Todd Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Joseph, Jay Ratliff)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Bruce Carter, Cowboys (Ryans, Sean Lee)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Steve Weatherford, Giants (Weatherford)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Brandon Banks)
  • First, the offensive line. Plain fact is, I don't have a right tackle. Herremans, who's had the spot all year, is out for the season. Neither David Diehl nor Sean Locklear in New York deserve the spot, nor does Tyler Polumbus in Washington or obviously Doug Free in Dallas. What I do have is two left tackles playing as well as any in the league -- Williams in Washington and Beatty in New York. So, since this is my team and I make the rules, I'm making Beatty my starting right tackle even though he's played left in all but one game this year. It's a way of recognizing his stellar performance without elevating him past Williams, who I think is outperforming him. And with the right tackle spot basically vacant, it made sense to me.
  • And punt returner! Yes, I have said since the middle of last season that the first guy to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown during my time on this blog would win the spot by default, even if it were a big, burly lineman who caught a line drive and got lucky. Harris is not that, but on Sunday he did become the first NFC East player since DeSean Jackson in 2010 to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown. So, by the arbitrary rule I made up, he gets the spot.
  • Carter has played so well in Dallas that he's making up for the loss of Lee to injury, and he takes Lee's spot on the team since Lee hasn't played in weeks. Man, when the Cowboys pick an inside linebacker in the second round, they don't mess it up, huh?
  • Cox over Ratliff was a tough call, but the kid's been incredible, and he was a standout player for me in Sunday's game. Close call on who's having the better season.
  • Thought about Chris Chester at right guard over Snee, who had a rough game in Cincinnati.
  • Thought about Dez Bryant over Austin at wide receiver, but Austin still has more yards and touchdowns.
  • Wilson keeps his cornerback spot. He's been a fine cover corner this year with one or two spectacularly bad exceptions. I'm sorry, but when I watch those Dallas corners, I don't see what's so great about they way they're playing.

Not much else of real controversy, I don't think, but I welcome your thoughts.

Eagles are a study in 'miscalculation'

November, 6, 2012
11/06/12
5:00
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Amid all of the perfectly justified rip jobs and sky-is-falling coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles' latest loss, this short item by Jeff McLane caught my eye. He's got someone with the Eagles telling him Andy Reid's bye-week firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was a "miscalculation." This comes as neither news nor a surprise to anyone who's been tracking the Eagles over the past two seasons, during which it appears "miscalculation" has been the hallmark of the front office's game plan.

Yeah, when you watch the Eagles play, it's easy to get caught up in the on-field, in-game issues. Why don't they run the ball more? Why can't Michael Vick make pre-snap reads? Have they quit on Andy Reid? Stuff like that. But I think if you look back over the past two years, it's easy to see that the flaws with this team are flaws of construction, and that the miscalculations are myriad and extensive. A partial list, in no particular order:

    [+] EnlargeMichael Vick
    AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelSigning QB Michael Vick to a $100 million contract appears to be a costly move for the Eagles.
  • Deciding on Vick as a $100 million franchise quarterback based on the spectacular aspect of the way he played in 2010, ignoring the likelihood that his issues reading the field, making audibles and adjusting on the fly were too ingrained to overcome in his 30s. And no, it's not that they should have kept Kevin Kolb or that they didn't get great value for him in the trade. It's just that tying so much of their 2011-12 success to Vick is going to set them back as they head into 2013 and beyond. And the bust potential that Vick came with at the time of the contract was high enough to make it a questionable decision at best.
  • Signing Nnamdi Asomugha on the presumption that he'd play like a top shutdown cornerback, then playing him in zone coverage for his first year because they didn't have the guts to move Asante Samuel. This resulted in their having to trade Samuel for nearly nothing a year later, and Asomugha has struggled at times this year in one-on-one coverage against speedy wideouts.
  • Drafting Danny Watkins in the first round after hiring Howard Mudd to run the offensive line. Mudd found Jason Kelce in the sixth round, identified him as the type of guy who could play his scheme and quickly molded him into a top NFL center. Surely, he could have found a guard in the fifth or seventh that fit his profile and done the same with him, and the Eagles could have used that first-rounder on something more immediately helpful. And no, the Eagles could not have imagined the extent to which injuries would ravage their offensive line this season, but it does seem as though they could have found backup players better suited to adapt quickly to Mudd's blocking schemes. Perhaps if they hadn't been so focused on bringing in high-profile, ultimately useless skill-position backups like Vince Young and Ronnie Brown last year, this could have been more of a point of emphasis.
  • Designing a defense predicated on the down linemen selling out for sacks, then failing in 2011 to support the defensive line with anything resembling adequate linebacker play.
  • In 2012, after bolstering the linebacker corps, failing to adjust anything about the defensive line scheme even though the whole league knew they'd be selling out for sacks on every play. The extent to which opposing offensive coordinators have appeared to be ahead of Castillo, Todd Bowles, Jim Washburn or whoever's been in charge of setting up the Eagles' defense on a given week this year is staggering.
  • Making Castillo the defensive coordinator in the first place, then of course firing him during the bye week just because they felt like they had to do something.

Look, I understand this is an exercise in second-guessing. I fell for it, as did a lot of the people who have been writing about this Eagles team for the past two years. Philadelphia's roster-construction efforts the past two springs and summers looked good as they were going on, and I for one failed to spot the number of flaws that have ultimately manifested themselves. The very good lesson, for those of us who write the NFL, is as usual about waiting for the games to be played before making broad conclusions about how they will go.

As we look back on it now, though, not much the Eagles have done in assembling their roster over the past couple of years has worked. There's the occasional DeMeco Ryans or Fletcher Cox, sure. The DeSean Jackson contract is a good one for them, and I don't think it was necessarily wrong for them to spend resources this past offseason locking up cornerstone pieces like Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy and Todd Herremans for the long-term. But in terms of building a Super Bowl contender in the short term, Reid and the rest of the people who run the Eagles have failed spectacularly. The product they've put on the field simply isn't as good as they believed it to be, and they are likely to pay for their run of miscalculations with their jobs.

All-NFC East Team: Week 5 update

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
9:43
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Not a lot of changes this week to the All-Division Team, which now includes nine Giants, nine Eagles, six Redskins and three Cowboys. The most significant are at quarterback, where the Redskins' concussed rookie lost his spot to the guy I think is playing the position better than anyone else in the league right now, and at outside linebacker, where Mychal Kendricks' first bad game as a pro was enough to cost him his spot and force all of you DeMarcus Ware fans to find something else to yell at me about this week.

Before we get to the list, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall performance in the season to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT merely a position-by-position list of the best Week 5 performances. That's why Ahmad Bradshaw isn't on it.

That out of the way, I present this week's edition of the team, with some explanatory notes at the bottom.

Quarterback: Eli Manning, New York Giants (Last week: Robert Griffin III)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (Cruz, Jackson)

Tight end: Brent Celek, Eagles (Martellus Bennett)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Babin, Eagles (Pierre-Paul, Babin)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Linval Joseph, Giants (Jenkins, Rocky Bernard)

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys (Kerrigan, Mychal Kendricks)

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles (Lee, Ryans)

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles, Brandon Carr, Cowboys (Rodgers-Cromartie, Carr)

Safety: Nate Allen, Eagles, Antrel Rolle, Giants (Allen, Kenny Phillips)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Rueben Randle, Giants (Randle)
  • Yes, I consider LeSean McCoy a better running back than Alfred Morris. No, I do not think McCoy is having the better season. Morris has more yards, more yards per carry and more touchdowns. He deserves the spot for now.
  • Bennett had been holding off Celek for the tight end spot because of his blocking. But Celek's blocking has also been tremendous, and for me he surpassed Bennett this week.
  • Will Beatty of the Giants is one more very good week away from passing Trent Williams at left tackle, and that's no knock on Williams, who's having a very good year. Beatty is playing that well.
  • Feel free to help me out at safety. Almost no one's playing that position well. Almost left Phillips in there even though he's out for the foreseeable future with an injury. Weak spot this year in the division.
  • Got a lot of grief last week for ranking Jenkins over teammate Fletcher Cox at defensive tackle. I think Cox has played well, but I see what I see. Jenkins moves all over the line and does more. I went back and looked it all over again, watched last week's game tape and this week's over to see if I was nuts. And I feel good about the pick.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 2 Update

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
10:00
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Eli Manning made it tough. I'm not going to deny that. His performance in the fourth quarter in Sunday's comeback victory against Tampa Bay was nearly enough to get him the starting quarterback spot on this week's edition of the All-Division Team. His yardage total of 510 for the game was the ninth-highest in league history, and is only 16 yards short of Robert Griffin III's two-game yardage total so far. When I sat down to make this week's team, I did so on the assumption that Manning would regain his 2011 season-ending spot as the quarterback.

But then I remembered the disclaimer that nobody reads: This All-Division Team is not simply a roundup of the best performances of the past week. It's an assessment of overall season performance to date. Griffin has a higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions and -- yes, this matters -- is the division's fourth-leading rusher with 124 yards on 20 carries. Manning has proven more over his career, obviously, and yes he's being asked to do more in the passing game than Griffin is in Washington. But it's not as though Griffin's being asked to play like Alex Smith. He's made big plays and protected the ball, and in the end this week's spot goes to the guy who's played eight good quarters so far this season, as opposed to one astoundingly brilliant one.

One of the results of this, I found when I tallied things up at the end, is what I believe to be a first. The Redskins have the most players (eight) on this week's All-NFC East team. The Giants and Eagles each have seven, and the Cowboys only have five for some reason, including their punter. Odd, since the Cowboys' Week 1 game was perhaps the best all-around game played by anyone in the division to this point. Strange how these things shake out sometimes.

Anyway here is the rest of the team, and then the explanations after:

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (DeMarco Murray)

Wide receiver: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, New York Giants (Kevin Ogletree and Jeremy Maclin)

Tight end: Brent Celek, Eagles (Martellus Bennett)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Washington Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Jason Kelce)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Fletcher Cox, Eagles; Rocky Bernard, Giants (Bernard, Cox)

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys (Kerrigan, Ware)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Sean Lee, Cowboys (Ryans, Lee)

Cornerback: Josh Wilson, Redskins; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles (Wilson, Rodgers-Cromartie)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; Gerald Sensabaugh, Cowboys (Kurt Coleman, Antrel Rolle)

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins (Cundiff)

Punter: Chris Jones, Cowboys (Chas Henry)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Brandon Banks)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)
  • Pierre-Paul is a slam-dunk at one of the defensive end spots. He's a nightmare for opposing defenses, and Tampa Bay was clearly focused on his side almost all game. He needs help from his teammates on the other side, who have yet to do anything. For the second week in a row, I went with a 3-4 end along with Pierre-Paul, which was a little bit tougher this week given the way Jason Babin and Trent Cole played Sunday. But I really think Hatcher is bringing something special to the Cowboys' defensive front, and that he showed as much as anyone on the defense this week coming off his huge Week 1. The guy who nearly bumped him out, actually, was another 3-4 end -- Washington's Stephen Bowen, which would have made nine Redskins! Bowen is worthy of consideration. I think Hatcher's played a tick better.
  • And truth be told, it could have been 10 Redskins, as I very nearly gave the second outside linebacker spot to Brian Orakpo over Ware, who was invisible this week. But this is an all-year team, and sadly, Orakpo won't be making it this year, as this turns out to have been his last chance. He's out for the season with a chest muscle injury.
  • Cornerback is a place where Cowboys fans will complain, and I hear you. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have played very well. But I think Wilson and Rodgers-Cromartie, when you go back and watch the tape, are playing at a remarkably high level right now. In last season's cornerback competition on this weekly exercise, Dallas' guys would have been winning easily. This year the competition is tougher.
  • Switched up the safeties. Nate Allen of the Eagles came close to snagging Sensabaugh's spot, especially with Sensabaugh getting hurt. Phillips is the division's best safety and one of the best in the league.
  • I didn't think I'd put Mathis back in at left guard because of the penalties, and Nate Livings is the No. 2 guy on my list here. But what Mathis does in the run game is just ridiculous, and it keeps him at the very top.
  • Almost kept Bennett in at tight end because of the job he's doing as a blocker, but Celek is the third-leading receiver in the division right now, behind the Giants' studs.
  • Trent Williams is making it easy at his spot, as he's always had the ability to do. He's fun to watch.

Okay, that's it from me. Your thoughts?

All-NFC East Team: Week 1 Update

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
10:00
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One of the in-season features I really liked last year was our weekly, running All-Division Team, where we'd pick the best player at each starting position in the division and continue to update it as the weeks went along. Over the course of the year, some things changed from week to week (I could never seem to figure out cornerback, mainly because very few NFC East cornerbacks were having good years) and some players solidified their positions with consistent excellence (LeSean McCoy jumps to mind).

Anyway, it's back. We'll do this every Wednesday. And while it is meant to be an All-Star team based on cumulative season performance to date, each team has so far played only one game. So for this week only, yes, this All-Division Team is based only on the performances of the past week. This week's team includes nine Eagles (they did play very well on defense), seven Redskins, five Cowboys, five Giants, one DeMarco, one DeMarcus, one DeMeco and a Dominique.

I'll give you the team and then offer some comments at the end. Enjoy.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

Wide receiver: Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys; Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles

Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys

Defensive tackle: Rocky Bernard, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles; Josh Wilson, Redskins

Safety: Kurt Coleman, Eagles; Antrel Rolle, Giants

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins

Punter: Chas Henry, Eagles

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins
  • Quarterback was obviously very close between Griffin and the Cowboys' Tony Romo, who both had excellent games in big road victories. Griffin edged out Romo because of his rushing yards and a little bit of added degree of difficulty for the venue in which he won. Both quarterbacks excelled at keeping plays alive and finding success downfield in difficult circumstances. Each handled the rush well. Could have flipped a coin.
  • Maclin was a close call over Washington's Pierre Garcon for that receiver spot, but Maclin played more and caught more passes, so he got the nod.
  • Bennett might or might not continue to catch passes for the Giants, but regardless of whether he does, he's going to merit a look here each week. That guy can seriously block.
  • Williams' and Kelce's were the only performances among the offensive linemen that I thought were particularly strong. The other three offensive linemen were kind of best-of-a-bad-bunch selections on a week in which none of the lines played very well. The Eagles' linemen do stand out at bit when you watch the games back, though. I wonder how much of that is the difference between Howard Mudd's blocking schemes, which require linemen to push upfield and establish new blocking points, and a more standard scheme. Washington's line played okay, and I thought about Will Montgomery at center over Kelce.
  • Defensive end was tricky. Pierre-Paul didn't get a sack, but he was clearly the most disruptive player among the 4-3 ends this week and required an overload of attention from the Cowboys. Hatcher gets the other spot over Jason Babin, which I admit is rare -- a 3-4 end beating out a 4-3 end on a team like this. But that word "disruptive" again is the best to describe Hatcher's night against the Giants.
  • Ditto Kerrigan at outside linebacker. What a game he had.
  • Rolle played the run very well, which is something the Dallas safeties didn't do in the same game. Now, maybe they weren't asked to. I understand that's possible. But Rolle's individual performance deserves the recognition.
  • Fine debut for Cundiff, who showed on kickoffs why they got him. Six of his nine kickoffs were touchbacks.

So that's the first one of these. I welcome your thoughts.

NFC East: State of the pass rushes

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
12:29
PM ET
Jason Pierre-Paul, DeMarcus Ware and Jason BabinGetty Images, US PresswireJason Pierre-Paul, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Babin had 54 of the NFC East's 181 sacks in 2011.

The 2011 season was not the most, well, beastly season in NFC East history. It was the first time in a full, 16-game season that no team in the division won at least 10 games, and for much of the year the talk around the division was that it wasn't what it used to be.

Buncha baloney if you ask me. Even forgetting for a second that an NFC East team won the Super Bowl, this division still does one very important thing better than any other: rush the passer. The NFC East's 181 sacks led all NFL divisions in 2011, and by quite a bit. (The AFC North, which had three playoff teams, was second with 160). The Eagles tied for the league lead with 50. The Giants tied for third with 48. The Cowboys tied for seventh with 42, and the Redskins tied for 10th with 41.

SportsNation

Which team in the NFC East has the best pass rush?

  •  
    47%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 29,232)

Look deeper, into the film-based, number-crunching stats from Pro Football Focus -- stats that take into account more than just sacks when evaluating the extent to which teams rushed, hassled and affected opposing quarterbacks, and the division still rules. The Eagles rank No. 1 in PFF's 2011 team rankings, the Cowboys No. 3, the Giants No. 6 and the Redskins No. 9. No division prizes this critical aspect of the game more than the NFC East does, and it shows up in the numbers.

So, as we slug our way through a slow news month in the NFC East, I thought it'd be a good idea to check in on the pass rushes of our four teams and see how they're doing -- what they've done to get better or worse, what their 2012 prospects look like from this far out and yes, how they rank against each other. You guys asked for more polls, and I promised I'd listen, so there's one right here for you to vote on. After you finish reading, of course. I'm addressing them in order of how many sacks they got in 2011, in case you're wondering how I decided. Seemed fair.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key contributors: DE Trent Cole, DE Jason Babin, DT Cullen Jenkins. PFF ranked Cole the No. 1 overall 4-3 defensive end in the league last year. Babin ranked 10th overall and third in pass rush, finishing third in the league with 18 sacks. Jenkins ranked as the No. 4 pass-rushing defensive tackle, and Derek Landri was No. 10. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, each of whom is entering his second season in his current position with the Eagles, believe the front four is responsible for the pass rush. And while they got a lot of publicity for how wide they like to line up their defensive ends, they like to get pressure from the defensive tackles as well.

Newcomer: DT Fletcher Cox. The Eagles traded up in the first round to pick Cox because they believed he could be an impact pass-rusher from one of those interior spots right away. They need to toughen up against the run, and that will have to be part of Cox's game. But what appealed to them was his ability to get to the passer. Rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks could conceivably factor in here too, but the Eagles don't ask their linebackers to rush very much in the new scheme.

Stock watch: UP. The addition of Cox, as well as the possible return to full health of Mike Patterson and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, give the Eagles incredible depth at a position at which they were already very strong in 2011. It's possible they'll rush the passer even better in 2012.

New York Giants

Key contributors: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Justin Tuck, DE Osi Umenyiora, DE/LB Mathias Kiwanuka. No one's roster goes as deep as the Giants' does in terms of star-caliber defensive ends. Pierre-Paul was fourth in the league with 16.5 sacks in just his second NFL season. Umenyiora had nine in just nine games. Tuck turned it on at the end and in the playoffs, and Kiwanuka is a defensive end playing linebacker. The Giants believe a strong pass rush is their heritage and their key to being an annual contender.

Newcomer: DT Marvin Austin. The Giants didn't really bring in anyone this offseason who looks like a 2012 pass-rush contributor, but their 2011 second-round pick missed all of last season due to injury, so we'll call him a newcomer. The Giants would like to get more help from inside. Linval Joseph was their best pass-rushing defensive tackle in 2011, according to PFF's rankings. A healthy Austin could be a difference-maker.

Stock watch: DOWN. Not by much, but a little, because of the loss of reliable, underrated reserve DE Dave Tollefson. If Tuck and Umenyiora have injury problems again, or if Umenyiora holds out, they could get kind of thin at defensive end pretty quickly without Tollefson there to fill in this time. Now, this is the Giants, and they'll probably figure it out. The addition of linebacker Keith Rivers could allow them to move Kiwanuka back to end in case of injury. But it's worth pointing out that they did lose a somewhat important piece of the pass rush and didn't replace him.

Dallas Cowboys

Key contributors: LB DeMarcus Ware, LB Anthony Spencer, DE Jason Hatcher, NT Jay Ratliff. There's no one like Ware, who rang up another 19.5 sacks in 2011. That's nearly half the team total, and the conventional wisdom says he needs more help. But PFF ranked Spencer its 11th-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the pass rush and Hatcher as its eighth-best 3-4 pass-rushing defensive end. Add in Ratliff, who can generate pressure up the middle, and the Cowboys look better in this area than we tend to think.

Newcomer: DE Tyrone Crawford. Dallas' third-round pick is looked at by many as a project, but as one that can eventually help with the pass rush whether he ends up as a 3-4 end or standing up as an outside linebacker. Whether he can help in 2012 remains a question, but the Cowboys didn't see a first-round or second-round pass-rusher they liked better than Spencer, so they focused on the secondary instead and picked up some down-the-road guys for the pass rush.

Stock watch: EVEN. They're bringing back basically the same group, and while there's a theory that the improvements at defensive back will help the pass rush by giving it extra time to get sacks, we have yet to see that in action. Spencer must play with more aggressiveness if this unit is to take a step forward into the upper tier with the Eagles and Giants.

Washington Redskins

Key contributors: LB Brian Orakpo, LB Ryan Kerrigan, DE Stephen Bowen. The Redskins' pass rush is all about those young outside linebackers, and they are fearsome. But with only 16.5 sacks between them in 2011, their numbers have a ways to go to get into the big-time stratosphere we're talking about in the NFC East. PFF did rank Orakpo fifth and Kerrigan ninth among pass-rushing 3-4 OLBs in 2011, so they do a lot of things well in that area. Bowen had six sacks and DE Adam Carriker came up with 5.5.

Newcomer: DE Jarvis Jenkins. Just as we did with the Giants, we'll go with a 2011 second-round pick who missed his rookie season due to injury. Jenkins may not be a pass-rusher, but adding him to the defensive line rotation could help free up more room for the linebackers and maybe help the other linemen get to the passer more often as well.

Stock watch: EVEN. This is really all about how much and how quickly Orakpo and especially Kerrigan continue to develop as elite pass-rushers. They've both shown flashes of incredible raw ability, and they have to continue to hone their craft so they can play at the level of the other pass-rushers in their division. Ware, Cole, Pierre-Paul and the rest of these guys are setting a high bar, and the Redskins know they have to have their own pass-rush monsters if they want to hang with them year in and year out.

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