Dallas Cowboys: Terrell Thomas

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
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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.

How the Cowboys handle trash talking

January, 29, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks to his players for the first time, he tells them to be brief and boring with the media.

It’s something the coach has mastered, although he is more forthcoming when the television lights go off.

Hatcher
Hatcher
For a team that has had colorful characters since forever, from Don Meredith to Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson to Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, the current version of the Cowboys lacks a true trash talker.

Irvin could verbally taunt defensive backs with the best of them. Sanders could do the same with wide receivers. They felt they were the best, and they let everybody know about it.

Dez Bryant might be viewed as the closest, but he does not instigate the talk. He reacts to it. And as we found out after the Detroit Lions game, his actions on the sideline are not always as dastardly as they come off.

When the Cowboys played the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in 2013, they listened to their NFC East rivals chirp all week. Jason Pierre-Paul said “blood would be shed.” Antrel Rolle said the game was the Giants Super Bowl. Terrell Thomas guaranteed a victory.

And the Cowboys won 24-21.

The Cowboys talking came after the game, which is just how Garrett would want it. Jason Hatcher spread fake Vampire blood on his face.

"I just finished eating a Giant," said Hatcher, who had two sacks of Eli Manning. "Y'all didn't see me out there? That's some leftover blood. They said blood is going to be shed, right?"

Later he added, "Action speaks louder than words, so we went out there and did what we were supposed to do tonight. They talked the talk. They had to back it up, and they didn't. We came out with the victory. We came into their house and took it from them."
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.

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.
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.

The NFC East: Living in the nickel

August, 9, 2012
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One big reason cornerback Terrell Thomas is important to the New York Giants is that the Giants really like to use defensive backs. The Giants learned earlier this week that Thomas' latest knee injury would not require surgery and that he should be able to play for them this year. This is good news, because with Aaron Ross having left via free agency and second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara still developing, the Giants need Thomas. Not just as the starter opposite Corey Webster, but in the nickel and dime defensive packages they used more than any other team in the league last year.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants used five or more defensive backs on 734 defensive snaps last year -- more than any other team in the league. That number accounted for 68.5 percent of their 1,072 defensive snaps. Only the Green Bay Packers went with five or more defensive backs on a higher percentage of their plays -- 69.0 percent, or 724 of 1,049.

I know this because our NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert, recently did a post about how often the NFC North's teams were in nickel or dime packages last year, and he passed along the chart he got from ESPN Stats & Info showing how often each team in the league went with extra defensive backs. That's how things work on the ESPN.com NFL blog network. We're a team. A brotherhood. Eight pistons firing as one. It's really quite beautiful to watch sometimes.

Anyway, I looked at the chart and noticed that the NFC East's teams basically lived in nickel and dime defenses. Well, three of them at least. The Giants ranked second in the league in percentage of plays with five or more defensive backs. The Dallas Cowboys were fifth, at 59.5 percent. The Philadelphia Eagles ranked eighth, at 56.8 percent. And the Washington Redskins were the exception, ranking 24th at 43.9 percent.

The Redskins had injury issues at safety, didn't like the job Kevin Barnes was doing as their inside corner and have very good linebackers that they don't like to take off the field. But the other three teams in our division ... they love them some nickel.

Back to the Giants for a second. Just because they used extra defensive backs this much last year doesn't automatically mean they'll do it again. They're deeper and stronger at linebacker this year, and they didn't re-sign veteran safety Deon Grant. That means, if they go to those three-safety looks they've run the past couple of years, the third safety would have to be someone like Tyler Sash or Will Hill. With Thomas currently on the shelf, there's a chance they could ask safety Antrel Rolle to play the nickel corner position, but that's not ideal. Michael Coe is likely the next corner off the bench if Amukamara is pressed into a starting role, and while he's looked good in camp, he lacks experience. The Giants liked linebacker Jacquian Williams in coverage late last year and in the postseason, and it's possible they could design more packages this year that use just four defensive backs, since their 2012 strengths may lie elsewhere.

The Cowboys' ideal plan is to start Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins backing them up. Scandrick is good in the nickel spot, and overall this plan would give them enough depth to go to the nickel as often as they like. The issue right now, of course, is that Jenkins and Claiborne are hurt, and even if they expect those guys back for the start of the season, they're probably not getting to practice those nickel looks as much as they'd like to. Or at least, not with the personnel they'd prefer to use.

As for the Eagles, they're similar to the Giants in that they're stronger at linebacker this year and subtracted one of last year's starting corners when they traded Asante Samuel. With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the starters, the nickel spot right now is likely to fall either to veteran Joselio Hanson or (more likely) rookie Brandon Boykin. Curtis Marsh has been getting a lot of work in camp and is the first option off the bench should one of the outside guys get hurt. And undrafted rookie Cliff Harris has a chance to make the team and add depth. Given the responsibility the Eagles' linebackers have for run support and gap control in the Wide 9, it's likely the Eagles will lean on their defensive backs as much as they did last year, and play as much nickel.

A lot of this depends on opponents, too. The Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all like to throw the ball a lot, so when they play each other they structure their defenses to stop the pass. And having teams like the Packers, Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Lions on the schedule, as NFC East teams do this year, can make teams go to the nickel more. But if we're basing it on last year alone, our teams like to use extra defensive backs as much as anyone in the entire league.

NFC East: What to watch for in OTAs

May, 21, 2012
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John Clayton has a preview of some of the hot issues teams face as organized team activities (or OTAs) begin this week. The only NFC East mentions in his piece are about the Philadelphia Eagles, and they are this one:
The Eagles signed Demetress Bell to replace left tackle Jason Peters, who is out for the season after tearing his Achilles twice. Bell was previously Peters' replacement in Buffalo but didn't stand out.

and this one:
Dream Team, take two: The Eagles were the winners of the 2011 offseason but losers when they underachieved last season and didn't make the playoffs. The key to OTAs is seeing whether they are going in the right direction on defense. Last year, they brought in man-to-man specialists Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and played them in zone. Andy Reid brought in secondary coach Todd Bowles to help defensive coordinator Juan Castillo sort out the plan in the secondary and see whether the Eagles can match up better with the talent on hand.

And yeah, as was the case when the 2011 season started, I think it's fair to say the Eagles will be the most compelling national story out of our division. Much is expected, and given the way they flopped last year, they'll be under even more scrutiny this year.

But we deal with all four teams equally here, so playing off of John's column, I figured it'd be a good idea to pick something to watch for each of our other three teams this week. Remember that these offseason workouts are voluntary, so not all of the players we're looking at will necessarily be on the field. The Redskins' OTAs begin today, the Eagles and Cowboys start theirs Tuesday and the Giants get on the field Wednesday.

Dallas Cowboys

Lining up the line: The injury that will keep free-agent guard Mackenzy Bernadeau out for the spring and summer deprives the Cowboys of a chance they were expecting to see Bernadeau at center. It also removes him temporarily from the offseason competition for one of the guard spots, and will give players such as David Arkin, Bill Nagy, Nate Livings and Kevin Kowalski a head-start on him as they get an early chance to show the coaches what they can do.

New York Giants

The replacements: The Giants have to figure some things out on the line as well, and they'll take a look this offseason at whether Will Beatty is making progress as the starting left tackle and whether veteran David Diehl is the solution at right tackle with Kareem McKenzie gone. But they also want to see whether first-round pick David Wilson can replace running back Brandon Jacobs, whether second-round pick Rueben Randle can emerge from the crowd hoping to replace wide receiver Mario Manningham, and whether Terrell Thomas and/or Prince Amukamara is healthy enough to replace cornerback Aaron Ross.

Washington Redskins

Here, catch! We know rookie Robert Griffin III is the guy who'll be throwing the ball for the Redskins -- now and, ideally, for the long-term future. But Washington still needs to sort out who's going to catch it. Free-agent signees Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan are obviously going to get the first shot at prominent roles in the receiving corps, and the coaching staff remains excited about 2011 rookie Leonard Hankerson. But veteran Santana Moss will also push for a role, and there are several holdovers at the wide receiver spot who will look to catch the coaches' attention this offseason so as not to get lost in the shuffle. And that doesn't even take into account tight end Fred Davis, who was the Redskins' best receiver last year.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 9, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys

Key free agents: WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, LB Keith Brooking, LB Anthony Spencer (franchise)

Where they stand: Dallas needs serious help in the secondary and will have to decide whether it wants Elam back at safety while it pursues at least one cornerback. The Cowboys are expected to release Terence Newman, and they could look to add depth at that position and a new starter. Franchising Spencer indicates that while they would like to improve their pass rush, they won't be players in the Mario Williams market. Expect their free-agent focus to be on defensive backs and possibly some upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. They would like Robinson back as their No. 3 receiver, but if he's going to get No. 2 receiver-type offers, they'll likely let him walk.

What to expect: The top two cornerback targets are likely Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan. You can't rule out Dallas making a play for Saints guard Carl Nicks, who'd be a huge help to their offensive line. But someone like Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is likely to be more attainable financially. What the Cowboys really need on the line is a center, but it's not a great market for those unless they can get their hands on Houston's Chris Myers. The Cowboys likely will hunt for some second-tier safeties and inside linebackers to add depth, then target defensive back again early in the draft.

New York Giants

Key free agents: WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, LB Jonathan Goff, P Steve Weatherford (franchise).

Where they stand: The Super Bowl champs must get their own cap situation in order first, as they project to be about $7.25 million over the projected cap. That may mean tough cuts of people like Brandon Jacobs or David Diehl, or it may just mean some contract restructuring (like the big one they apparently just did with Eli Manning). Regardless, don't expect the Giants to spend big to keep Manningham or Ross. They're likely to bring back Thomas on a team-favorable deal as a result of the knee injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, and they'll probably let McKenzie walk and try to replace him internally (which favors Diehl's chances of sticking around).

What to expect: Just like last year, don't expect the Giants to be big-game hunters. They like to grow their own replacements. If Manningham leaves, they won't go after the top wide receivers but might try to find a bargain or two to supplement the young players from whom they're expecting more production next season. They could find a midlevel safety if they don't bring back Deon Grant, and if Jacobs leaves they'll probably bring in a veteran running back or two to compete in training camp with their youngsters. They liked Ronnie Brown last year as a possible Ahmad Bradshaw replacement when Bradshaw was a pending free agent, so there's a name to watch for if you want one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key free agents: G Evan Mathis, DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon (restricted), WR DeSean Jackson (franchise), QB Vince Young

Where they stand: Other than Mathis, whom they're working to try and re-sign before he his the market, the Eagles don't have many internal free-agent issues to worry about. They franchised Jackson because they're not ready to give him a long-term deal just yet. He's a candidate for a trade, but it would have to be a very nice offer. If they traded him, they'd hunt for a wide receiver, but they may do so anyway -- just at a lower level (think Plaxico Burress). The interior of the defensive line is in fairly good hands with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters, but they could stand to add depth to that rotation. And while they signed Trent Edwards a couple of weeks ago, they'll keep looking for a better veteran backup quarterback option with Young sure to be gone.

What to expect: Do not -- I repeat, do not -- expect the Eagles to be the same kind of player they were in free agency a year ago. Andy Reid made it very clear several times during the 2011 offseason and season that last year was unique, and the Eagles don't like to do business that way in general. They do need linebackers, and they have the cap room to play on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton or even, if they wanted to get really nutty, London Fletcher. But while you can expect them to add a veteran or two at the position, don't be surprised if they sit out the higher-priced auctions this time around.

Washington Redskins

Key free agents: S LaRon Landry, LB London Fletcher, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis (franchise), QB Rex Grossman

Where they stand: Mike Shanahan said in December that Fletcher was a priority, but he remains unsigned with less than a week to go before free agency. Presumably, they'd still like to lock him up before he hits the market. If they can't, they'll have to replace a major on-field and off-field presence. Carriker is likely to be back, but the Fletcher situation has to be settled first. Landry likely is gone unless he wants to take a low-base, high-incentive deal to stay. The Redskins are sick of not knowing whether he'll be able to take the field from week to week. Grossman could return, but only as a backup to whatever quarterback upgrade they find.

What to expect: The Redskins could have more than $40 million in cap room with which to maneuver in free agency, and they're going to need it. They need a quarterback, of course, and if they can't make the trade with the Rams to move up to No. 2 in the draft and pick Robert Griffin III, they'll look at Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton and possibly Matt Flynn, though he doesn't appear to be high on their list. What Shanahan really wants is a true playmaking No. 1 wide receiver, which is why the Redskins have their eyes on Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, who are at the very top end of that market. They'll be able to outbid almost anyone for those guys if they want to, but they may have to get quarterback figured out first if they want to persuade one of them to take their offer over similar ones. They'll also hunt for help on the offensive line and in the secondary, as they need depth in both places.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Giants preview

November, 12, 2010
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This season’s second game of this longtime series takes a new twist.

Jason Garrett takes over for a departed Wade Phillips, who was unable to deliver the hopes and dreams of a Cowboys Super Bowl in the home stadium. Garrett out front has appeared to alter the culture of the franchise that struggled with issues throughout this 1-7 start to the season.

Scout's Eye
Make no mistake about it, the Giants are the last team the Cowboys need to be facing right now. When I study this squad, the first thing that comes to mind is how physical they are on offense. This is not a pretty offensive line in the way they sustain their blocks, and it’s not a group of running backs that are fleet afoot, but they beat up on you. If you are not ready to handle that, they can make you look poor playing defense.

The one advantage that the Cowboys have is that beating along the front is fresh in there minds. The Giants were able to rush the ball for 200 yards in the last meeting between the two clubs. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs both are down hill runners and provide little relief for those in their path.

Bradshaw is the perfect back in this offense for Kevin Gilbride because this line likes to push and shove opponents around the field. Shawn Andrews has been added to the mix and he will play at left tackle this week for David Diehl, who hurt his hip blocking for an extra point. Kevin Boothe moves inside to left guard off the physically unable to perform list and Rich Seubert moves from left guard to center to play for the underrated Shaun O’Hara.

The Giants wear you out with the size they bring at you at the point of attack. Kevin Boss and fullback Bear Pascoe are difficult to separate from once they get their hands on you.

The receiving crew has been super productive not only this season but games in the past against the Cowboys. Steve Smith was hurt in practice on Thursday and has shown up questionable on the injury report, which would be a huge break for the Cowboys. He has been a killer in the last three meetings with 25 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

Hakeem Nicks has had his share of production as well. Three of his 11 catches against the Cowboys have been for touchdowns. He has 14 catches for 20 yards or more this season.

Offensively, the one player who can derail the Giants or keep them on the track is the quarterback Eli Manning. With this offense, Manning doesn’t need to be great but steady works nicely. This team has the ability to run the football effectively and with purpose. The tight ends are dependable and the receivers are some of the best in the league. Manning just needs to be steady and not make the mistakes that have plagued him in years past.

It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys attack Manning to make him feel rushed. Will you see more zone coverage against these receivers that appear to eat up man coverage?

If the Cowboys are going to have any success on defense on Sunday, it will take a huge effort. If they don’t match the physical play of the Giants offense, then this will be a difficult opening trip to the new Meadowlands Stadium.

At the halfway mark, the Giants have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. It’s not by luck or playing against weak opponents, but a complete and total team effort of using talent and scheme to physically handle opponents each week.

Its starts up front with defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to give you different looks up front and the Giants do a nice job of working Umenyiora and Tuck around the defensive front to create different mismatches. The pass rush has been outstanding this season for the Giants and it’s helped them in the secondary as well.

Cornerback Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster both do a nice job in zone coverage of playing their responsibilities but have been equally as good when playing in man. There is not much room in this Giants secondary because of their ability to play tight and stay in route position, but the safety help has been solid too. Antrel Rolle has been an outstanding free agent signing for the Giants and Kenny Phillips can play up or back to help in the running game or work deep with these corners and offer support. When the Giants go to their nickel package, it’s Aaron Ross that comes into the game.

Of the three Giants linebackers, Michael Boley is the one that can really run. Boley plays all over the field and he has the speed to be an effective blitzer as the Cowboys learned in the first meeting with the Giants. Longtime Tennessee inside linebacker Keith Bulluck now plays the strong outside linebacker and is a hard guy to move in the running game. It’s been his physical play that has helped the Giants control the opponents’ running game. The inside three of Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker and defensive tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield play with more power than quickness.

It will be a difficult task for the Cowboys to run the ball against this front and we all know the pitfalls if this turns into a passing game for them. The Giants on defense will put a great deal of pressure on the Cowboys and challenge their ability to move the football.

Jason Garrett has to be smart mixing his play calls and not allowing Fewell to put his defense in attack mode.

The strength of this Cowboys offense has been its receivers and their ability to make plays. Protect and get the ball into your playmakers’ hands. Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Dez Bryant can put pressure on the Giants secondary.

Again, the Giants don’t give you much room back there but when given the opportunity, they need to convert on the chances they have. Jason Witten is going to have to play well. When Fewell puts coverage to the outside, it’s Witten working against linebackers that allows Jon Kitna an opportunity to deliver the football for a positive play.

If the Cowboys have to consistently play behind the chains, this offense will suffer too many three-and-outs, which puts their defense in harm’s way. Garrett needs to be aggressive, but he needs to put his players in the best possible situations to make plays.

More importantly, he needs to find a way to have his team play a physical game on both sides of the ball. They will need to match the intensity of their opponent this week down after down. If not, this Giants team will put a physical beating on them.

Scout's Eye: Giants-Cowboys preview

October, 22, 2010
10/22/10
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Scout's Eye
If the Cowboys are going to make any kind of run this season, it needs to start against the Giants on Monday night.

The goal of the Cowboys should be to even their record at 4-4 by the next time these two teams meet on Nov. 14 in New Jersey.

Three weeks ago, the Giants were in the same shape that the Cowboys are now. A loss to the Titans left the Giants with the reality that penalties and turnovers were killing their season. Tom Coughlin stood before the media after that Titans loss and took the heat for the struggles of his squad and vowed there would be changes the following week.

The Giants have since won three straight, while the Cowboys have lost two of their last three. It’s the Giants that are getting the turnovers and committing fewer penalties. The Cowboys on the other hand, have talked about making corrections and changes but still have been unable to get past those issues that have caused them defeat.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw
AP Photo/Evan PinkusThe Giants' running back tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has been carving up opposing defenses.
In studying the Giants on offense, there are some areas of this offense that really stand out. When they run the ball now, Ahmad Bradshaw not only does it with power but with more speed than Brandon Jacobs. The ball gets to and through the hole quicker than it had in the past.

The Giants’ offensive line is that of “mauler/brawler” types and not that of a sleek, athletic group. The Giants’ front likes to push and lean on you. When they go to extra tight end packages, they bring in tackle Shawn Andrews as an extra blocker. There is nothing pretty about the way they look or play, but they are effective.

In this contest, I will be interested to see how DeMarcus Ware plays against tackle David Diehl. If Diehl has problems, it’s when rushers take him down inside. In watching Diehl, he really fights hard to work outside with his footwork and set. Ware has the ability to take Diehl up the field then counter on him inside.

The Giants will do all they can to keep Manning upright in this game. Backup tight end Bear Pascoe will line up in the backfield and play as the “F” and help in protection if needed. Manning has been sacked 27 times in career games against the Cowboys.

Manning struggles the most with turnovers when he feels pressure. There are times where his decision-making is poor because of the way he handles pressure. There are times when faced with a rush that he is nowhere near as accurate as he needs to be. He will make his receivers work for the ball way too often.

In going back and studying the first game that the Cowboys and Giants played in 2009, Manning used a quick game to his wide receivers and allowed them to break tackles to make plays. It was a solid game plan by the Giants and their receivers showed the ability to make the Cowboys defenders miss and gain positive yards.

Where the Cowboys also have to be alert in this game is when the Giants try to run vertical and hit plays down the field. All three of the Giants’ receivers can get down the field and make plays. Hakeem Nicks is the most dangerous of the group, then Steve Smith.

Nicks is an impressive player because of his size and his ability to cover ground. Nicks has been Manning’s go-to guy. He plays with dependable hands and will take his routes all over the field.
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Galloway & Company go behind enemy lines with Giants defensive end Justin Tuck as he prepares to face the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.

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Smith was a Cowboys’ killer in 2009 with 16 catches in two games. He, like Nicks, will go anywhere for the ball and has the ability to take short catches and make them into huge gains due to his 4.44 speed coming out of USC.

Mario Manningham is not the fastest of the three receivers, but he has averaged 16 yards a reception this season.

The Cowboys secondary has struggled with the ball going down the field. To combat that last week, safety Alan Ball was playing 23 yards deep. Terence Newman has been the Cowboys’ most consistent defensive back and along with Mike Jenkins will need a huge day against this talented group.

When these two teams met last December, nickel back Orlando Scandrick played much better than he did in September. Scandrick is going to have a key role in this game because the way that the Giants like to use the three-wide receiver packages.

As important as it is for the Cowboys to focus on the Giants’ running game, how they play against these wide receivers could determine if they win the game on Monday night.

*Last week against the Vikings, the Cowboys faced a defense line that had the ability to take over a game and control the line of scrimmage. This week, they face a Giants defense that might not have the inside power of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams but their outside rushers, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, are just as difficult to handle as Jared Allen or Ray Edwards.

When you study Umenyiora and Tuck, they are both playing at a high level. Umenyiora is back to that attacking style that gave offensive tackles so much trouble over the years. Umenyiora has a wide variety of moves so there will not be one move that Doug Free can sit on.

Against the Lions last week, he carried Jeff Backus up the field on one move, he drove hard inside on another and then he used a spin move free himself from a set. Free will need to be on his toes on Monday night.

The Cowboys as a whole across the line will need to do the same because defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will move Umenyiora and Tuck all over the defense to try and get matchups they could win. When the Giants give the Cowboys one of those looks on defense with Umenyiora and Tuck standing up inside, it will be important for Romo to set the protection and the communication of the offensive line takes over to handle the games the Giants play out of those looks.

Terence Newman
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Terence Newman, a 2-time Pro Bowler, has been the Cowboys' most dependable defensive back.
Something to note that could be a problem for the Cowboys, with Montrae Holland starting for Kyle Kosier at guard, watch how well, he, Gurode and Davis are able to communicate and handle what is going on inside. The Giants like to use their linebackers and defensive line in games and stunts to create confusion in blocking schemes. If the Cowboys struggle with the communication of these calls, the offense can get exposed and the results can kill a drive or create a turnover.

I would not be the least bit surprised to see Jason Garrett once again roll out the game plan that he used in Minnesota with the quick passing game, the screen packages and selective running plays to keep their rush off Romo.

Where the Giants are better than the Vikings is in the secondary. Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas are solid corners, but where the Giants have made the most improvement and upgrade is the addition of Antrel Rolle from Arizona at safety.

Rolle paired with Kenny Phillips has been a good combination. Rolle and Phillips are always around the ball. They do a nice job with the range plays as well.

The Giants really struggled last season with the play of their safeties. When Phillips went on IR after the Dallas game in September, it was just one bad game after another for the defense, but you no longer see that for this defense. If you study the numbers, the Giants are ranked as one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The Cowboys can go toe to toe with them on several offensive areas, but if they continue to not protect the football and suffer untimely penalties, it will not matter how many third downs they convert or how many yards they throw for, it will just become another loss.

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