Dallas Cowboys: Perry Riley

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
3/10/14
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Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

Nicks
5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

Vick
Vick
11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.

NFC East wrap: The year of RG III

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
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» 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
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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
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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
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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.

All-NFC East Team: Week 13 update

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
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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.

All-NFC East Team: Week 8 update

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
10:29
AM ET
None of the NFC East's quarterbacks played especially well this weekend, so there's no change at the most scrutinized position on our All-Division Team. We did have some changes this week, including an interesting one at outside linebacker and the first in quite a while on the offensive line.

More on all of that later. First, 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 rundown of the best individual performances from the past week. That's why Cedric Thornton isn't on it.

Here's this week's update to the team, and my explanations are at the bottom:

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, DeSean Jackson)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Martellus Bennett)

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 Chester, Redskins (Chris Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

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

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

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

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

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie)

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

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Rueben Randle)
  • How good are the Cowboys' linebackers? They occupy three of the four linebacker spots on this week's team, and one of them didn't even play this week and is out for the season with a foot injury. Lee won't be on this list forever, and the guy who's pushing hardest for his spot is Washington's Perry Riley, but his overall body of work this season is still better than that of any inside linebacker in the division but Ryans, so in spite of his injury he keeps the spot.
  • As for outside linebacker, yeah. Kerrigan was one of the best defensive players in the league in September. He was not the same player in October, and Spencer has played at an extremely high level. He still doesn't get as much pressure on the quarterback as you'd like your 3-4 outside linebackers to get, but he's a wonder in the run game. And with Lee out, especially, that's invaluable.
  • Austin has kind of been threatening Jackson's spot at wide receiver for a while now, and with the Eagles' passing game going nowhere Jackson (who's having perhaps his finest season as a receiver) slips behind him. They have an identical number of catches (34), and Austin has 37 more yards and three more touchdowns.
  • Washington's Darrel Young was a fixture at the fullback spot last year and early this year, but what Hynoski is doing as a blocker in New York is on another level. He and Bennett have been huge in the run game, though Witten takes over Bennett's tight end spot this week due to the rapidly increasing gap in their relative productivity as receivers.
  • Been thinking for a while about Chester at right guard, and watching his performance against the Steelers on Sunday finally convinced me to pull the trigger. Almost pulled it at left tackle, too, where the Giants' Will Beatty has been excellent.
  • Josh Wilson got his cornerback spot after Rodgers-Cromartie's lousy game Sunday. Wilson overall has been much better this year than that one play at the end of the Giants' loss showed. He lost his spot last week to Amukamara, and now he's back at the expense of another September star whose October was less inspiring.
  • If I needed a big kick made and I had to pick someone in the division, I'd pick Dallas' Dan Bailey. He's also better than Tynes is on kickoffs. But Tynes has attempted 12 more field goals, made 11 more field goals and kicked 10 more extra points than Bailey has this year. He's almost doubled him in each category. Tynes is having an excellent season, and the sheer volume of opportunity he's received and cashed in puts him well ahead of the rest of the division's kickers.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 7 update

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
1:16
PM ET

Not a lot of changes this week to the All-Division Team. Only two, I think, and neither one is the quarterback. Both Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning are playing at an extremely high level right now, and yes, I thought about using the fact that Manning won the game against Griffin's team as the tiebreaker. But as I watched that game Sunday, for those three hours, the best player on that field was not the two-time Super Bowl MVP. He got the last laugh, sure. And everyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I feel about Manning. But as of this moment, he's a notch behind Griffin for the starting quarterback spot on the All-NFC East Team. I think this is the first week all year in which they haven't switched places, so it's that close.

Before we go on, 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 position-by-position list of those who played the best this week. That's why Santana Moss isn't on it.

So as I said, only two changes this week. Not the most exciting week we've had with this. I'll explain those two changes, and offer some insight on which players nearly changed my mind, after I give you the team:

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

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

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, Giants (Brent Celek)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

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 Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

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

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

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

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles, Prince Amukamara, Giants (Rodgers-Cromartie, Josh Wilson)

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

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Rueben Randle, Giants (Randle)
  • Bennett had the big game catching the ball, yes, and Celek was off, but Bennett was close behind to begin with. What he and Hynoski are doing as blockers, in the run game and the passing game, is absolutely invaluable to the way the Giants are playing right now.
  • And yes, Amukamara is the best cornerback in the division at this moment. Wilson is having a fine season, the final play of Sunday's game notwithstanding, but Amukamara has done absolutely nothing wrong since returning from his injuries. With Corey Webster having a down year and the Giants' secondary in need of a boost, he's performing like a first-round pick.
  • Williams holds down his spot at left tackle after holding off Pierre-Paul all day Sunday. He's playing left tackle as well as anyone in the league. His closest competition in this division is the Giants' Will Beatty.
  • Looked at Nate Livings for left guard and Chris Chester for right guard, but I still have each a notch below the guy listed at his spot. Herremans hasn't been great, but you don't have to be to beat out Doug Free, Sean Locklear and Tyler Polumbus. I did think Polumbus played a good game Sunday. But again, year-long list.
  • Thought about Miles Austin over Jackson at that receiver spot but didn't pull the trigger. Another big Ahmad Bradshaw game could have threatened Morris at running back, because of what Bradshaw brings as a blocker. But Morris is the clear running back leader in this division right now.
  • Kerrigan's had two kinda bad games in a row, and I thought about putting Dallas' Anthony Spencer there instead. (He got a sack!) Will monitor this in the coming weeks to see if Kerrigan returns to his dominant early season form.
  • I didn't think Rolle or Brown looked remarkably impressive Sunday (Brown's interception notwithstanding), but I really don't see who deserves to have taken the spots from them. Maybe Nate Allen? Meh.
  • And finally, Lee is obviously not long for this inside linebacker spot, as he's out for the year with a foot injury. The leading candidate to take the spot at this moment is Washington's Perry Riley, but we'll see how the potential replacements play in the coming weeks. It's not ridiculous to think that Lee could hold the spot for a week or two without playing. That's how good he's been.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

2012 NFC East predictions: Giants repeat

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
1:11
PM ET


You asked for it, you got it. Our season predictions roll out today, and I hereby present to you that for which you have been asking me since before the draft: My predictions for the NFC East. Now, as you read these, I will go hide for five days and wait for it all to blow over. See ya.

1. New York Giants (12-4)

I'm not buying the tough-schedule stuff. We don't know which teams are going to be good. No one thought having the 49ers on your schedule last year was going to be tough. I say the Giants have the coach, the quarterback, the wide receivers and the defensive line to beat anyone in the league in any given week. Will they look worse at times than they should? Of course. Could they go through another brutal stretch like the one that nearly sank them last November? Anything's possible. But what the Giants showed us all last season is that they have as much ability to handle and rebound from adversity as any team in the league. And on the presumption that every team will have to handle adversity at some point, I'm casting my lot with the team that handles it best.

For me, this came down to a choice between the Giants and the Eagles, and in the end I went with Eli Manning, who plays every game, over Michael Vick, who's in danger of being knocked out for a month on every play. When I went through the schedules, I had the Giants and Eagles tied at 11-4 going into the final week. And while I know full well that the Eagles have had the Giants' number over the past four years in the head-to-head matchups, I'll take the defending champs at home for all the marbles.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

Top to bottom, the most deep and talented roster in the division. If Vick is healthy and on the field for all 16 games, they could be the best team in the league. I think their defense will play better this year with DeMeco Ryans in the middle of it. I think their defensive line gives the Giants' defensive line a run for its money as the best in the league, and that it probably has more depth. I love LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin and what I think DeSean Jackson can do if he really is more focused and serious this year. (We'll see on that.) I think they have, easily, the best offensive line in the division, in spite of the absence of star left tackle Jason Peters. I just feel like the gap between best-case and worst-case scenarios at the quarterback position is significant enough to merit a slight downgrade in preseason predictions. I still have the Eagles making the NFC playoff field as a wild card, and one no one would want to play if they go in healthy.

3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Just too flimsy in too many spots for me, this year's Cowboys. I like what they're building on defense, and you know I like their skill-position players on offense, including (heck, maybe especially) DeMarco Murray. But all of those guys, including Tony Romo, come with a history of health question marks, and there's very little behind them in terms of proven talent. There's also very little in front of them in terms of offensive line, and I think that has a way of wearing down and frustrating players like Romo, Murray, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten even if they manage to perform in spite of it. On defense, yes, they should be much improved at cornerback. And I think they look really good at linebacker, too. But I have to see what they bring up front in terms of a pass rush this year to complement DeMarcus Ware before I believe it. They seem to think being better at cornerback will help the pass rush. I think that works better in the other direction (See: Giants, New York). But we'll see. Overall, I think this is a team looking more down the road than it is at 2012, and I think if you see guys like Murray, Sean Lee, Morris Claiborne and of course Bryant take big steps toward stardom this year, that's about the best for which Cowboys fans can hope.

4. Washington Redskins (8-8)

No, I don't have RG3 fever. I like rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and I think he's going to be a very good player. I also like wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, and I think they'll find something at running back. But the reason this prediction is so much more optimistic than a lot of what you're seeing on the Redskins right now is that I really like their defensive front seven. I mean, a lot. With Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as the pass-rushing outside linebackers and London Fletcher and Perry Riley as the inside guys playing behind a deep, huge, strong rotation of defensive linemen led by Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and Jarvis Jenkins, I think this is a defense that will put pressure on quarterbacks, physically beat up offensive lines and be strong against the run as well. What holds me back from liking them even more is that there are questions in the secondary, especially at cornerback. But the Redskins don't isolate their corners in coverage very much, and I think they can do some things with their safeties and linebackers to minimize the exposure. They should give up some big plays, but I think they're going to be physically very tough for people to handle this year, and I think they'll surprise a lot of people. I have them beating each of the other three teams in the division once.

So there you go. One year after no one in the NFC East won 10 games, this year no one finishes under .500. Maybe I'm nuts. Maybe preseason football has finally got to me. But I thought a lot about this and looked at it a lot of different ways. And I put it off as long as I could, in spite of all of your requests. Now that it's here, I hope you have enjoyed my division prediction. Check out my picks for the rest of the league, as well as those of all of our other fine NFL scribes, on our NFL page today.

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