Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara

Dez Bryant won't take trash-talking bait

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant isn't biting on all the barking from the New York Giants' secondary.

Bryant heard about the Giants' vow to get physical with him Sunday. The competitor in Bryant might have wanted to fire back, but he plans to let his actions speak for themselves Sunday at MetLife Stadium instead of getting sucked into a trash-talk exchange.

Bryant
Bryant
“They can say whatever they want to say,” said Bryant, who added that he's never had a problem defeating press coverage. “That's what they believe, we'll let them believe that. We're going to go out and we're going to play our game.”

The Giants held Bryant to four catches for 22 yards in the Cowboys' season-opening win, often double-teaming him with a cornerback playing press coverage and a safety over the top. The New York defensive backs apparently think they've got the formula for stopping Bryant figured out.

"Get your hands on him," Giants safety Will Hill told reporters, comments that were seconded in a little less inflammatory manner by cornerback Prince Amukamara. "He doesn't like to be touched, like most receivers in this league. But really him. He doesn't like to be touched."

Kind of sounds like Hill is calling the 6-foot-2, 222-pound Bryant soft, huh?

“Call it whatever you want to call it,” Bryant said, refusing to take the bait and playfully bantering with the Valley Ranch media. “Like I said, we're just going out and playing our game on Sunday. I have no comment to really none of that. I'm not getting into no trash talk. Not going to let [the media] bait me.

“I'm just going out there and just playing, you know. Play Cowboy football.”
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC East team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys: Last offseason, the Cowboys used premium resources to acquire Brandon Carr in free agency and Morris Claiborne in the draft so they could be better equipped to play man coverage on the outside. Then this offseason, they went out and hired Cover 2 guru Monte Kiffin as their defensive coordinator. Kiffin supposedly will incorporate more man coverage into his play calls, but Carr and Claiborne are not ideal players for Cover 2, which will be Dallas’ base coverage. Still, these two, along with nickelback Orlando Scandrick and fourth-round pick B.W. Webb, give the Cowboys an excellent set of cornerbacks overall. Scheme notwithstanding, Claiborne should be much improved in his second season. Safety is another story though. This position was a huge weakness in 2012. Free-agent signee Will Allen is penciled in to start opposite Barry Church, who is highly unproven. The Cowboys used a third-round pick on J.J. Wilcox, but Allen is not starting material and Wilcox is extremely raw. Wilcox has a ton of ability and should be an immediate standout on special teams, but trusting him to read quarterbacks and route combinations as a rookie could be a disaster. To me, safety remains an immediate weakness for Dallas.

New York Giants: There isn’t a lot of change here from 2012 -- and that isn’t really a good thing. Gone is Kenny Phillips and in are Aaron Ross and Ryan Mundy, but this is a franchise that relies on its defensive line to make the defense go -- and the line does look impressive. Safety Stevie Brown made a lot of plays last season and will be asked to replace Phillips on more of a full-time basis alongside Antrel Rolle, whose best trait is probably his overall versatility. At cornerback, the Giants are counting on Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley to take noticeable steps forward in their young careers, especially from an overall consistency standpoint. Terrell Thomas returns from yet another major injury and Ross will provide corner depth, but Corey Webster is the player New York absolutely needs to play like he did earlier in his career. In 2012, Webster struggled mightily and Hosley was often beaten, which obviously is a huge concern.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles gave their secondary a total overhaul this offseason. While there was talent in this group a year ago, it collectively made a ton of mistakes and just allowed far too many big plays. Simply said, the Eagles’ secondary was dreadful in 2012. One carryover is Brandon Boykin, who played well as a rookie and should be the ideal nickel cornerback going forward. The starters at corner, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, have plenty of questions around them. I don’t see either player as close to being a true No. 1 cornerback, but if they can show some consistency it will be an improvement for Philadelphia at the position. At safety, the Eagles signed Kenny Phillips from the Giants, an excellent move and a massive upgrade if he stays healthy. They also inked Patrick Chung away from the Patriots. There is much more uncertainty around Chung, who has never stepped up as many expected he would have by now. Earl Wolff, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Curtis Marsh provide the Eagles with young talented depth, but while the secondary has been totally reshuffled, the starters here are far from sure things. But like the rest of Philadelphia’s secondary in 2012, Allen and Coleman had a rough go of it last season.

Washington Redskins: Probably the biggest need area for this team heading into this offseason was the secondary. In free agency, the Redskins added E.J. Biggers, who should be a very solid all-around third cornerback. In the draft, Washington addressed its secondary in a big way, using a second-round pick on David Amerson, a fourth-rounder on Phillip Thomas and a sixth-rounder on Bacarri Rambo. Right now, the starters are DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson at cornerback and Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty at safety. Surely the Redskins would love for Amerson, Thomas and Rambo all to challenge for starting spots right out of the gate, but rookie cover men often struggle. Still, Doughty is very average. Meriweather is returning from injury and has been highly inconsistent and untrustworthy, while Hall is one of the more overrated players in the NFL, who can look great one week and terrible the next. Wilson might be the best member of Washington’s secondary, which is an indictment of the status of this unit overall. The Redskins have, however, added young talent, and the return from injury of Brian Orakpo, their only truly top-notch pass-rusher, also should help the cover men a great deal.

Eight in the Box: Ideal first rounds

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
11:46
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» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

What would be the ideal first-round scenario for the Cowboys in next week's NFL draft?

Dallas Cowboys

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Arlington and Texas A&M product Luke Joeckel, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett to discuss the draft, coaches and advice from his dad.

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Because of the perceived lack of top-level skill-position talent in this year's draft, a lot of the mock drafts and projections have the top offensive linemen going off the board early. Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock Insider, for example, has six offensive linemen going in the top 12 picks, which means well before the Cowboys pick at 18 and probably too early for them to make a sensible trade-up to grab someone like Alabama guard Chance Warmack or North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. This would be unfortunate and far from ideal for the Cowboys, but history offers hope. The last time six of the first 17 picks in the draft were offensive linemen was 1966, when there were only 15 teams in the league. Only three times since then -- 1977, 1985 and 2008 -- have as many as five offensive linemen been picked in the top 17. The Cowboys probably can't expect any of the top three tackles to fall to them, but their ideal first-round situation would be for Warmack, Cooper or even Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker to fall to 18 and allow them to shore up their most significant area of short-term and long-term need. If only one of those guys is still available by 14, the Cowboys should look into trading up to get him.

To see the ideal first-round scenario for the other NFC East teams, click here.

Waiting out the defensive backs market

March, 13, 2013
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The main reason Tuesday night was so quiet in the NFC East in free agency was the relative lack of salary cap space among the division's teams. But another reason was that all four have significant needs in the secondary, and defensive backs aren't really signing anywhere just yet.

It's simple supply and demand -- so many veteran cornerbacks and safeties have been released in the past couple of weeks that the market is now flooded. When supply goes up, prices go down, and that could mean the defensive backs on the market aren't finding the deals for which they'd hoped. Assuming that's the case, it would be good news for the teams in the NFC East, all of whom are in the market for at least some help in the secondary:

[+] EnlargeAntoine Winfield
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesA glut of veterans like Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield, 26, has created a buyer's market for teams seeking secondary help.
The Dallas Cowboys have their starting cornerbacks, but have a need at safety after releasing Gerald Sensabaugh. The Cowboys are dealing with $5 million worth of those same cap penalties the Redskins have, and will need to create room and find a bargain if they're to address the position. Every day that goes by without a flurry of big safety signings is good news for the Giants and the Cowboys.

You want names? They are too many to list here. Check out ESPN.com's free agency tracker if you want wish lists for these teams at cornerback Insider or at safety Insider. As you can see, plenty of interesting choices across the spectra of talent, age and versatility. One of the reasons the defensive backs market is likely slow to rev up is because of the big names that have landed on it in recent days. If you were a team making plans to pursue a free-agent defensive back and then, over a 48-hour stretch, guys like Hall, Nnamdi Asomugha and Antoine Winfield became available, you'd have to at least press pause and evaluate, no?

Whatever the reason, the slow-developing, supply-choked market for cornerbacks and safeties is good for teams in the market for help at those positions. The NFC East has four such teams. So while I understand it's a fan's job to panic when your team doesn't sign anyone on the first day of free agency, I ask you to take a deep breath and consider that, in this case, that might turn out to be a good thing.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

Home-field disadvantage? The Atlanta Falcons are 6-0 at home this season, have won 10 straight home games overall, and are 32-7 in the Georgia Dome over the past five seasons. So the fact that they are playing at home this week should help them, right? Well, maybe not. Their opponent is the New York Giants, who not only beat the Falcons in a playoff game in New Jersey in January but have won seven straight games against the Falcons in Atlanta. The most recent of those games was a 31-10 victory on Oct. 15, 2007, but the Falcons have not won a home game against the Giants since Oct. 1, 1978, when they were able to hold Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik to 86 yards on 7-of-21 passing and win on a 9-yard touchdown run by Haskel Stanback in the fourth quarter. Yeah, that's right. You know where to come for your Haskel Stanback notes.

[+] EnlargeJones
Brad Barr/US PresswireTackling explosive Atlanta WR Julio Jones after he touches the ball will certainly be a point of emphasis for the Giants on Sunday.
Keep 'em in front of you: In their playoff victory in January, the Giants held Falcons wide receivers to a total of just 47 yards after the catch -- a figure that accounted for 23.6 percent of Matt Ryan's passing yards in that game. So far this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, only 39 percent of Giants opponents' receiving yards have come after the catch, which is the second-lowest such figure in the league. However, the possibility that cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Kenny Phillips could miss the game due to injuries could hurt the Giants' ability to prevent big plays after the Falcons catch the ball.

Uncommon streakers: The Washington Redskins have won four games in a row and are trying for their first five-game winning streak since the 2005 season. They visit the Cleveland Browns, who have won three games in a row and are trying for their first four-game winning streak since the final four weeks of the 2009 season.

Getting to 300: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is averaging 347.3 passing yards in home games this season, the best such mark in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Info. He has passed for at least 300 yards in each of his past five home games. However, Sunday's opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have allowed fewer than 300 yards in eight straight games. That's the longest such streak since the 2008 Steelers went 14 straight games without allowing 300 yards. Playing without injured cornerback Ike Taylor could affect that, but Romo's top receiver, Dez Bryant, has a broken finger, which could impact Romo's 300-yard streak.

Season of giving? The Steelers lead the NFL with 16 turnovers in the past four weeks. This should be good news for the Cowboys, but the Cowboys have struggled this year to take the ball away from opponents. Only five teams -- Miami, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Philadelphia -- have fewer takeaways this season than the Cowboys' 14.

*Bonus playoff-picture note* The 11-2 Falcons are playing for something. They can clinch a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs with a win or a tie and loss by either the Packers or the 49ers. And if the Falcons win and the Packers and 49ers both lose, the Falcons would clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. No NFC East team can clinch a playoff spot this week.

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 12 update

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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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
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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.

All-NFC East midseason team

November, 7, 2012
11/07/12
11:30
AM ET
» NFC Midseason Teams: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

I hereby present the midseason All-NFC East team.

Those of you who are regulars on the NFC East blog know that we actually do a running all-division team each week, updating it when warranted based on overall performance to date. This is a site-wide midseason exercise in which each of our eight division bloggers has done his own all-division team, but we've kept the format the same as we usually do -- four linebackers and four defensive linemen, for instance, to reflect that half of our division plays a 3-4 and the other half a 4-3. Jason Hatcher has been on the team for a few weeks now, outplaying many of the division's 4-3 defensive ends even from his spot in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The position that causes the most weekly consternation is quarterback, which this year has been a two-man race between Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III and the Giants' Eli Manning. Griffin has held the spot for a couple of weeks now in a close race, helped by the addition of his rushing yardage and touchdown numbers to his passing numbers. None of the division's quarterbacks has been playing especially well over the past two weeks, so there hasn't been much reason to change.

Changes from last week's team include the return of Chris Snee to the right guard spot in place of Chris Chester, Jay Ratliff at one of the defensive tackle spots in place of Cullen Jenkins and Steve Weatherford as the punter. Sean Lee has retained his inside linebacker spot in spite of the season-ending injury he suffered three weeks ago, since his overall body of work at that position for the year is still better than that of the next inside linebacker on the list (likely Washington's Perry Riley).

Anyway, here's the list. Feel free to offer 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.

NFC East Stock Watch

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
11:27
AM ET
FALLING

[+] EnlargeKevin Ogletree
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe New York Giants secondary allowed the Cowboys and receier Kevin Ogletree to have a field day.
1. Giants' secondary. Tony Romo had a field day in last Wednesday's opener, consistently finding open receivers in the New York Giants' defensive backfield. It wasn't Miles Austin and Dez Bryant doing all the damage, as Laurent Robinson Kevin Ogletree had the biggest statistical day and scored two touchdowns. And it wasn't just backup cornerbacks Michael Coe and Justin Tryon getting burned, as Corey Webster was the victim on two of the most important plays. The Giants could get a boost this weekend if Prince Amukamara returns from injury, but he's far from proven as an NFL cornerback and they will need to play better overall on the back end going forward.

2. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. Yes, they won. Yes, Vick engineered the game-winning drive (something he didn't do all of last year). But four interceptions in the season opener after an offseason in which you promised everyone from King of Prussia on up to the Mars Rover that you were a new man? It's possible Vick was rusty, but if that's the case he's going to have to shake off the rust extremely soon and show proof of his offseason claims about a newfound devotion to study and detail. We didn't see much of that Sunday.

3. Roy Helu and Evan Royster, Washington Redskins running backs. This is more about the "rising" of rookie sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, who was Washington's starting running back and carried the ball 28 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. No other Redskins running back got more than two carries in the game. And while Helu still looks as though he could be an option here and there on third downs and in the passing game, for right now this appears to be Morris' job. The Redskins have health concerns about the other two backs, and Morris has played well enough to earn the carries.

RISING

1. Cowboys' defense. The Dallas Cowboys believe they would have won the NFC East last year if they'd been able to cover receivers better, so they spent the bulk of their offseason resources on cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. In the season opener against the Giants, the performance of the Dallas secondary was critical. Not only did they get the Giants' excellent receivers covered with the combination of Carr, Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick, but safeties Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh both looked quick and aggressive and made smart plays on the ball. The return of cornerback Mike Jenkins from injury, which could come as soon as this Sunday's game in Seattle, will only deepen a position group that the Cowboys believe they have turned from a crippling weakness into a strength.

2. Redskins' secondary. Lost amid the RG3 hype Sunday was the way the Washington Redskins' defensive backs performed, largely in man coverage. The Redskins don't usually like to isolate their cornerbacks on opposing wide receivers, but a sudden lack of depth at safety and the importance of devoting extra coverage to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham made it a necessity. Josh Wilson, Cedric Griffin and DeAngelo Hall were up to the task and covered the New Orleans receivers well all day while the linebackers and safeties did their best to try and slow down Graham. A perceived weakness of the team in the preseason, the secondary deserves praise for its effort in the opener.

3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles cornerback. The Eagles' defense was strong overall, and the performances of linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks as well as safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are all worthy of mention. But Rodgers-Cromartie is a player on whom lots of folks have their eye in Philadelphia this year. Playing the outside cornerback spot opposite Nnamdi Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie is going to be tested by opposing quarterbacks. The two interceptions he made Sunday should make them at least think twice.
IRVING, Texas – A depleted cornerback corps was the Giants’ primary personnel concern entering the season opener.

That continues to be the case after Tony Romo picked apart the New York secondary for 307 yards and three touchdowns.

However, it’s inaccurate to say the Cowboys simply exploited the Giants’ weak links over and over again. Sure, they had success against Michael Coe and Justin Tryon, a couple of journeyman corners forced into significant roles because of injuries to Terrell Thomas (season-ending torn ACL) and Prince Amukamara (high ankle sprain).

But the Cowboys had their most success in the air when attacking Corey Webster, the Giants’ best corner.

The Cowboys completed six of seven passes for 145 yards and a touchdown when targeting Webster. The lone incompletion was a dropped interception when Romo threw an ill-advised pass right to Webster after scrambling in the first quarter.

All four of Dez Bryant's catches for 85 yards, including a 38-yard deep ball, came against Webster. Kevin Ogletree, whose first touchdown came when he split a pair of linebackers in zone coverage, torched Webster on a stop-and-go for his 40-yard score. And Miles Austin had a 20-yard reception on a deep out the lone time he was thrown the ball while matched up against the Giants’ top corner.

The Cowboys were 4-of-6 for 37 yards against Coe, with Ogletree the intended receiver on each occasion. They exploited Tryon after Coe left with a tweaked hamstring, completing all three passes thrown his way for 61 yards, including the 34-yard KO TD to Austin on a jump ball down the left sideline.

“We knew their corner situation, but we wanted our receivers to go against their corners,” coach Jason Garrett said when asked about game-planning to attack weak links. “I think if you looked at the game we completed passes against every one of those corners, the guys who’d been playing a lot and also guys that not played as much. I think it’s important to understand the pattern vs. the coverage and where the ball needs to go, and I thought Tony did a really good job throughout the game last night.

“I thought our guys won on a consistent basis against all their guys.”

Webster was no exception. In fact, the Cowboys victimized the veteran starter more than anyone else.

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