Dallas Cowboys: Chip Kelly

Could Eagles make a play for Ware?

March, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- It was not surprising that the Dallas Cowboys parted ways with DeMarcus Ware, but it's still strange to believe he will no longer be with the club that drafted him in 2005.

But could the Cowboys end up seeing Ware twice a year?

ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick wonders if Ware could end up with the Philadelphia Eagles.



Now wouldn't that be a kick to the Cowboys and their fans to see Ware end up in Philadelphia?

The Eagles play a 3-4, which might be a better fit for Ware than playing defensive end in a 4-3. They have Trent Cole playing outside linebacker and he had eight sacks in 2013, but he seems to be more of a defensive end playing outside linebacker than a true outside linebacker.

Cole has been solid. Ware has been special.

According to a source close to Ware, the seven-time Pro Bowler will be selective in where he looks and would like to make a decision quickly. The Eagles have cap space. They have a team that looks to be on the rise with Chip Kelly.

It might be something to keep watching.

Blame falls on Jones -- not the system

February, 26, 2014
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Chip KellyTommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA -- The best news from the NFL combine, at least as far as the Philadelphia Eagles are concerned, might have come from the mouth of Jerry Jones.

The owner/general manager of the Dallas Cowboys told reporters that NFL realities make it impossible for his franchise to make a major change in direction.

“You can't do what I did in 1989 because of the contracts and cap," Jones said Monday, according to ESPN.com’s Todd Archer. "The system automatically creates about a third turnover, but it also creates contractually for clubs a situation where you cannot just strip it. You couldn't even field a team with the hits against your cap by canceling the contracts."

If the chief decision-maker of their chief division rival feels constrained by the NFL system, that is very good news for the Eagles. Good because it means the Cowboys are more likely to remain trapped in a cycle of 8-8 finishes. News because the Eagles themselves just demonstrated that it is not only possible to tear things up and start over, but it is easier in the NFL than in any other major American sports league.

The Eagles went 4-12 in 2012 with Andy Reid as their head coach. It was Reid's 14th season, making the Eagles one of the most stable franchises in sports. While it was admittedly difficult for owner Jeffrey Lurie to pull the plug on Reid's tenure after working so closely together for so long, Lurie did just that.

Lurie hired Chip Kelly out of the University of Oregon. The Eagles went 10-6 in 2013, defeating the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East title.

If that isn't a quick turnaround, what is?

Across the parking lot from Lincoln Financial Field sits the Wells Fargo Center, where the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to turn their franchise around. The NBA's system -- fully guaranteed contracts and intricate trade rules that make salary dumping impossible -- all but forces teams to tank in order to have a shot at a superstar-caliber player.

The 76ers traded away most of the recognizable names from their already threadbare roster at the deadline. They were rewarded with a 20-point loss Monday night to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the worst record in the NBA.

A long 3-point basket away from the arena is Citizens Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies reside. The 2008 World Series champions have spent massive amounts of payroll money to try to win another title while their core of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley remains intact. But age, injuries and (again) those fully guaranteed contracts have the Phillies trapped in a cycle of ever diminishing returns.

Baseball and basketball present enormous challenges for a team trying to turn itself around quickly. The NFL? Sorry, Jerry, that excuse just doesn't fly.

It may have been easier when Jones bought the franchise 25 years ago, hired Jimmy Johnson and started amassing the talent that won three Super Bowls in four seasons. Things did change with the introduction of free agency and a salary cap, but that was 22 years ago. There has been time to adjust.

Since the Cowboys' last title in 1996, the Green Bay Packers have built two separate Super Bowl-winning programs -- one with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre, one with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. So have the Baltimore Ravens, who won it all in 2000 with Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer and in 2012 with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

The New York Giants won a Super Bowl in 2007. When they won another four years later, there were only 14 players left from the 2007 team. New England, the team the Giants beat both times, had only seven players on the roster for both games.

Seattle just won the Super Bowl with a team that had exactly four players who were on the roster before 2010.

You get the point. It is very possible in the NFL to change cultures, turn over rosters and flip a losing franchise into a winner in a short period of time. It takes two things: the ability to recognize change is needed and smart decisions when making it.

The New Orleans Saints established themselves as one of the league’s elite teams and won a Super Bowl. The key was hiring Sean Payton, a coach who had spent the three previous seasons working as an assistant for Jones.

The Eagles have had three major reboots with Lurie as their owner. They hired Ray Rhodes in 1995 and cut their losses after a 3-13 season in 1998. Lurie hired the virtually unknown Reid in 1999. While Reid did not produce a championship, he was coach and eventually chief personnel man for a six-year stretch in which the Eagles were the class of the NFC East.

Lurie stuck with Reid a year or three too long, out of some combination of loyalty and finger-crossed hope things would improve. When he finally did make a change, Lurie admitted it was the toughest decision of his tenure as owner. Clearly, there was no guarantee he was going to find as good a coach as the one he fired.

For Jones, such a wrenching decision is even harder because the man whose work he's judging is one Jerry Jones. A clear-eyed owner wouldn't accept a GM's rationale that the team is stuck in mediocrity because of bad cap management, ill-advised contracts and misplaced loyalty.

It was hard for Lurie to reach that point with his friend Reid. Evidently, it's even harder to get there when the guy making excuses is yourself.

Cowboys vs. new coaches in 2014

January, 16, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL's game of musical chairs involving head coaches just about over -- except for the uber-patient Cleveland Browns -- let's look at the effect the new names in new spots will have on the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys will face three teams with new head coaches in 2014: Jay Gruden with the Washington Redskins, Bill O'Brien with the Houston Texans and Ken Whisenhunt with the Tennessee Titans.

In 2013, the Cowboys went 1-4 against teams with new coaches. The lone win was the October meeting against Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, but they returned the favor in the more-important Week 17 rematch that won the NFC East.

The Cowboys also lost to Kansas City's Andy Reid, San Diego's Mike McCoy and Chicago's Marc Trestman.

Gruden and O'Brien will be head coaches for the first time in the NFL. Whisenhunt had a six-year run with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cowboys went 0-3 against Whisenhunt. Two of the losses came in overtime and the third was by a point. And they were three of the strangest losses. In 2008, they lost on a blocked punt for a touchdown in overtime. In 2010 they lost in part because David Buehler missed an extra point. In 2011 they lost in overtime in a game in which many believe Jason Garrett iced Dan Bailey at the end of regulation.

(Personal aside: I don't believe that was the case. The play clock was running down and Garrett called the timeout at the request of special-teams coaches Joe DeCamillis and Chris Boniol. Bailey's first miss of that season at San Francisco came with the operation rushed because of the play clock. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

O'Brien was the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2011 when Tom Brady beat the Cowboys on a final-minute touchdown pass 20-16. The Texans have the top pick in the draft and a team that could be in line for a quick turnaround.

Gruden was the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator when Bailey won the game on a last-second field goal after Andy Dalton was limited to 206 yards passing. The Redskins folded under Mike Shanahan and have a ton of needs, but the return of a healthy and motivated Robert Griffin III could change their fortunes quickly.

The Cowboys could have six more games against teams that will lose assistant coaches in 2014.

As of Thursday, the only assistant the Cowboys have lost is Boniol, who oversaw one of the best kickers in the NFL. Maybe that will change too. Maybe.
IRVING, Texas -- Maybe there is a different way to look at Jerry Jones' decision to keep Jason Garrett as the Dallas Cowboys' head coach for a fourth season.

Maybe the owner is aware the general manager has not delivered enough for the head coach to have more than an 8-8 record. Bill Parcells used to say the goal was to get his team to play to the level that he perceived it to be.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett and Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Gus RuelasJerry Jones must allow Jason Garrett more control of his own fate.
Could Jones be conceding he has not done enough for Garrett, despite his statements that the Cowboys had a chance to not only make the playoffs but make a run to the Super Bowl as well? It requires you to believe Jones separates the owner job description from the general manager job description, but it is not that far-fetched.

Late in the season, Jones mentioned the team lacked the personnel in some key spots because of injuries. Of the 12 regulars -- including the nickel corner -- on defense, seven were in their projected spots when training camp began in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne essentially flipped roles. George Selvie, Nick Hayden, DeVonte Holloman, Kyle Wilber and Jeff Heath were starters.

Perhaps Garrett maximized the 8-8 finish this year and last year because of injuries.

In his address to the media Monday, Garrett repeated the statement he made after the 2012 season ended in a Week 17 loss in an NFC East title game: it takes time to build a program. While he acknowledged wins and losses matter most, he failed to recognize the guy he lost to last week, Chip Kelly, was in his first year and took over a 4-12 team. Mike McCoy brought the San Diego Chargers to the playoffs in his first year. Andy Reid took the Kansas City Chiefs to the postseason after they had the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.

Jones has a lot invested in Garrett beyond money. He believes in how Garrett is building the team and how he prepares the team. Quibble about the execution, but players' effort has not been an issue with Garrett as coach. Jones wants Garrett to be his long-term coach. If Garrett finishes out 2014, only Jimmy Johnson will have coached the Cowboys longer under Jones.

Jones is right to bring back Garrett in 2014.

What he needs to do now is allow Garrett more control of his own fate. If Garrett wants to call plays, then let Garrett call plays. If Garrett wants to change the defensive coordinator, then let him, and if he doesn't want to replace Monte Kiffin, Garrett will only be hurting himself.

Jones made sure everybody was "uncomfortable" in 2013 and it produced the same 8-8 record. He wanted Bill Callahan to call plays. He wanted Kiffin. He wanted Tony Romo more involved in the offense. He wanted Garrett to become a walk-around head coach.

Much will be made of Garrett's lame-duck status in 2014 but if he doesn't win, then he shouldn't get an extension.

The pressure will be good.

It's time Jones is "uncomfortable." At least a little bit anyway.

Double Coverage: Eagles-Cowboys

December, 27, 2013
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Kyle Orton and Nick FolesAP Photo, Getty ImagesDallas QB Kyle Orton, left, and the Eagles' Nick Foles didn't open the season as starters, but are expected to be leading their teams Sunday night with the NFC East title and a playoff berth at stake.
IRVING, Texas -- The NFC East title is at stake Sunday at AT&T Stadium when the Dallas Cowboys play the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys have been in this spot for the past three seasons, but for the first time the are likely to be without quarterback Tony Romo, who sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen is not expected to play. The Eagles were not expected to be in this situation in Chip Kelly’s first season.

ESPN.com NFL reporters Todd Archer and Phil Sheridan dissect the matchup in this week’s Double Coverage.

Archer: Nick Foles was awful when these teams met earlier in the season. Where has that guy gone?

Phil Sheridan: This is the great mystery of the Eagles’ season. Theories abound. Foles had been on the Eagles’ injury report the week before that with a groin injury. Was it the groin? He left the game with a concussion. Had he suffered it earlier and been affected by that? He didn’t play well in a bowl game at Arizona. Did he shrivel up in big games? Did Jerry Jones have his family tied up in a dungeon?

It was just such an outlier of a performance from anything else he’s done this season, it seemed like there had to be some explanation. Best guess: He had a bad day. A really bad day. And he moved on from it and hasn’t let it happen again. In his next game, he threw seven touchdown passes in Oakland. He’s been outstanding since.

We’ve heard a lot about how involved Romo has been in running the offense. How much would that change with Kyle Orton in there? And is there any way he’s ready to play at all?

Archer: Honestly, I don’t believe it changes all that much. The scheme will be the same. What they will miss is Romo’s ability to make things up as things break down. That is not Orton’s game. The offensive line has played much better down the stretch, especially running the ball. The pass protection has been good enough, but needs to be better because Orton simply doesn’t move like Romo. But Orton has the arm strength to push the ball down the field, and his receivers like him even if they have not had much work with him. I’ll go back to 2010 when the Cowboys lost Romo to a collarbone injury and Jon Kitna took over. In the six games Kitna started and finished with Garrett as interim head coach, the Cowboys averaged more than 30 points a game. They need to have Orton trust the system the way Kitna trusted the system.

How much credit does Chip Kelly deserve for getting the Eagles to this point? Certainly things didn't look stable when the Cowboys visited in October.

Sheridan: Kelly deserves tons of credit. The Eagles were a smoking husk by the end of the Andy Reid era, as evidenced by their 4-12 record last season. Change was necessary, and Kelly is about as big a change as you can get. The players bought into it immediately, and they really seem to enjoy playing for him. He got a great effort from them Sunday night against the Bears, just hours after the Cowboys won and the Eagles knew they couldn’t clinch the division.

I think two things happened to account for the rough patch the Eagles hit in October. The Giants had found some ways to disrupt the Eagles’ run-blocking scheme, and the Cowboys deployed a similar approach. Also, the quarterbacks were both terrible and injured, in that order, in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Giants. Kelly adjusted the run blocking, Foles came back, and the Eagles are 6-1 since.

Let me ask the flip side of the Foles question: The Cowboys didn't have DeMarcus Ware in that first game. They dominated Foles and held LeSean McCoy to 55 rushing yards. What happened to those guys?

Archer: Injuries have happened. The Cowboys have lost Sean Lee to hamstring and neck injuries, and he’s not likely to play Sunday because of the neck. Morris Claiborne has missed six of the past seven games with a hamstring injury. He might play Sunday, but he’s not been effective when he has played. Ware has not been anywhere close to form because of a variety of injuries and just poor play. Jason Hatcher has slumped after a solid start. Brandon Carr has slumped, too. Bruce Carter has not played well. Are you sensing a trend? To me there is a huge crisis of confidence with this defense from a player and coach standpoint. I don’t know if the players trust the coaches, and I don’t know if the coaches can dial up changes to stop anybody. But they can hang their hat on that first game as they enter this one, so we won’t have to bring up Kelly’s collegiate success vs. Monte Kiffin as much.

LeSean McCoy for MVP? It sure seems like he's perfect for what Kelly wants to do.

Sheridan: Bears coach Marc Trestman nailed it after McCoy went for 133 rushing yards Sunday night: “I don’t think it would matter what offensive system he plays in. Chip has done a tremendous job putting his offense in, no doubt about it, but he is just a great back.”

One of the perennial gripes about Andy Reid was that he called running plays about as often as he turned down a second helping. That was true when he had Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and McCoy. But McCoy was effective in Reid’s offense. It’s just that Kelly loves to run the ball, and his play designs reliably get McCoy into the secondary with one man to beat. And McCoy can beat almost anybody one-on-one.

MVP? Guessing the Sportsman of the Year Peyton Manning already has his name engraved on the trophy, but McCoy certainly belongs in the conversation.

What is the sense you get of the Cowboys' mindset? Do they see the blowout in Chicago, the collapse against Green Bay and the struggle at Washington as three bad games in a row? Or does pulling out the win Sunday give them a feeling they're back on the right track? And are they right?

Archer: If you asked me this after the Redskins game, I would say they are riding high. It was the kind of win that can carry a team emotionally. But with the Romo news, I think that deflates them some. This team has shown a resiliency. They bounced back after tough losses to Denver, Detroit and Green Bay. I’ll give Garrett credit for that. He has a mentally tough team. He just doesn’t have a terribly talented team. Romo creates so much for this offense that they will need others to raise their games. It’s possible. They still have Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Miles Austin on offense. That’s not a shabby group by any stretch. And Orton is smart enough to know what he isn’t. I think with the Romo news coming early in the week, it will allow them to prepare knowing he probably can’t play.

.

How did Dallas D dominate Eagles?

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the NFL season.

How did this Dallas defense dominate that Philadelphia Eagles' offense? How did Monte Kiffin’s vulnerable bunch shut down Chip Kelly’s explosive group?

The Cowboys rank last in defense, allowing an average of 418.6 yards per game. The Eagles average 420.7 yards of offense, ranking second in the league. Kelly’s Oregon offenses put up an average of 601 yards and 50 points in three Pac-12 matchups against Kiffin’s USC defenses.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys were able to contain LeSean McCoy in their first meeting with the Eagles this season.
But the Cowboys limited the Eagles to 278 yards and a field goal Oct. 20 in Philadelphia, keying a 17-3 Dallas win that was critical to making Sunday night’s rematch a win-or-go-home affair.

“We hustled and just really played well that day,” Kiffin said. “We have to do it again. They’re better now.”

The Cowboys defense, to put it kindly, is not better now. Middle linebacker Sean Lee, whose outstanding performance against the Eagles earned him NFC defensive player of the week honors, is sidelined with a strained neck. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher hasn’t recently resembled the dominant force who wreaked havoc that afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who frustrated Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson (three catches, 21 yards), has been struggling.

The Eagles offense, on the other hand, is better than ever, coming off a 54-point explosion in last week’s win over the Chicago Bears.

It appeared on Oct. 20 that Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles, who was still considered Michael Vick’s backup at the time, was exposed. However, his poor performance (11-of-29 for 80 yards) turned out to be the exception.

Foles has the NFL’s highest passer rating (118.8) and has thrown 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions, putting him in position to set the league record for touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has averaged a league-high 10.0 yards per attempt since looking so bad against the Cowboys, leading to some speculation about when he actually suffered the concussion that caused him to leave that game in the third quarter.

“I felt like he just missed a couple of throws that game,” said Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who repeatedly referred to the Eagles offense as an “extreme challenge.”

To the credit of the Cowboys’ front four, it affected Foles frequently that afternoon despite DeMarcus Ware missing the first game of his NFL career. But the Cowboys haven’t been able to generate a consistent pass rush often, ranking 31st in the league in sacks (29) and last in sack percentage (4.5).

Defensive end George Selvie had two sacks in that Week 7 win. He’s had two sacks since.

Hatcher had seven tackles, a sack and four pressures in that game. He has a total of seven tackles, zero sacks and five pressures in the Cowboys’ past four games.

The consensus opinion among the Cowboys is that containing LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher, was the key to their defensive dominance in Philadelphia. McCoy gained only 55 yards on 18 carries, about half his average in the rest of the Eagles’ games this season.

“We just ran and hit and got to the football,” Hatcher said. “There’s nothing different. We’re just going to go and get after the football, contain 25 and affect the quarterback.”

The Dallas defense did that miraculously well in Philadelphia. We’ll find out Sunday night whether that was a fluke.

Lee leads dominant defensive outing

October, 20, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly joked this week that he never saw Sean Lee wreaking havoc while he was studying the USC defenses the last few years.

It was Kelly’s way of downplaying the relevance of his success against Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin at the college level, pointing out that personnel mattered much more than scheme. It was a much more prescient comment than the Eagles coach would have preferred.

Lee, the Cowboys’ middle linebacker, headlined a dominant defensive effort in Dallas’ 17-3 victory Sunday afternoon.

“I’m glad he’s on our side and we’re counting on him,” owner Jerry Jones said. “You could argue there’s nobody that’s more important to the success of our team than Sean Lee.”

Lee provided plenty of ammunition for that argument against the Eagles. He was credited with 11 tackles, one tackle for a loss, an interception and a pass deflection as the Philadelphia offense sputtered all day.

That’s the kind of outing that makes an owner smile after the six-year, $42 million contract extension he gave Lee just before the season started.

LeSean McCoy’s statistical line might be the best indicator of Lee’s impact on the game. McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to only 55 yards on 18 carries. The most impressive play Lee made was when he ran down McCoy a few yards behind the line of scrimmage on a sweep, when it appeared that McCoy was going to turn the corner and rip off a big gain.

“I remember the last time I came up here and played two years ago, he ran for 180,” Lee said, acknowledging that he took the challenge of containing McCoy personally. “He ran all over us, so I knew coming in, this guy’s an unbelievable player and an extreme challenge. All week we were working on finding a way to stop him, finding a way to stop him. I think we did a pretty good job today doing it.”

McCoy has been the best running back in the league this season, but Lee was the best player at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

Monte Kiffin gets better of Chip Kelly

October, 20, 2013
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Kiffin-Kelly AP Photo/Matt RourkeCowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, right, succeeded in slowing down Chip Kelly's offense.
PHILADELPHIA -- Leading up to Dallas' game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, maybe you heard that Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had some tough times against Chip Kelly in the Pac-12.

Kiffin heard it.

“It seems like I remember that,” Kiffin smiled.

The numbers from the three meetings were staggering.

When Kelly was the coach at Oregon, the Ducks averaged 50 points and 601 yards in three games against USC when Kiffin was the Trojans' defensive coordinator. Oregon scored 62 points and had 730 yards last year against USC.

So, of course, when Kiffin and Kelly had their first NFL meeting on Sunday, Kiffin’s defense gave up only a field goal in the Cowboys' 17-3 victory against the Eagles.

It makes perfect sense, right?

Dallas' defense had allowed 1,456 yards in its three previous games. This was a defense that did not force a punt two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos and allowed 216 rushing yards last week to the Washington Redskins. Plus, the defense was without DE DeMarcus Ware, who missed the first game of his career with a quadriceps strain.

Dallas' defense was going against an offense that became only the second offense in NFL history to put up at least 1,500 yards passing and 1,050 yards rushing in six games. This defense was going against an offense that had the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and that put up at least 400 yards in each of its first six games, only the fourth team in league history to do that.

And on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Kiffin’s defense gave up only 278 yards, sacked quarterback Nick Foles three times, and intercepted backup QB Matt Barkley three times (all in the fourth quarter).

“Sometimes you get them,” Kiffin said. "[Sometimes] they get you. He got us pretty good at Southern Cal. We did get him one year when we were up at Oregon, but even that was a 38-35 game so it still was a shootout. But, no, he’s a great coach. It’s one of those days. You’re going to have days like that.”

The Cowboys' defense had days like that against QB Philip Rivers and then Peyton Manning and the Redskins’ running game, so much so that some questioned whether Kiffin still had it at 73 years old. Kelly’s offense seemed to be coming at the wrong time.

“If it was personal, he did a good job of hiding it,” safety Barry Church said. “He didn’t say anything about this own past with Chip Kelly, but he had a great game plan this week and we were able to execute.”

The plan was simple: contain McCoy and harass WR DeSean Jackson.

“When you become a good defense, you play fast and you know what you are doing,” Kiffin said. “Like I say, you see a little, you see a lot. You see a lot, you see nothing. Well, we were seeing a lot earlier in the year. We were seeing a lot, but we weren’t seeing anything. Just see a little bit, read your keys, and you have a chance to see better.”

McCoy carried 18 times for 55 yards and did not have a run longer than 10 yards. Jackson, who was shadowed most of the game by CB Brandon Carr, caught three passes for 16 yards. Philadelphia converted on only four of 22 third-down tries.

It helped that Foles was off target and his receivers were unable to make some catches they would normally make. It helped that that the Cowboys held the ball for 36 minutes, 13 seconds to keep the Eagles from getting any sort of rhythm.

“I heard stories about him at USC struggling with that particular offense, but when you sprint to the football, I mean, it makes things a lot easier,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. “We got 11 guys sprinting to the football and that’s what we did.”

Locker Room Buzz: Dallas Cowboys

October, 20, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Observed in the locker room after the Dallas Cowboys' 17-3 win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday:

Jones
Jones
Owning the division: For the first time since 2007 the Cowboys are 3-0 in the NFC East. In a division that has come down to the final game of the season the past two years, the Cowboys are doing their best to get some separation from the Eagles, Washington Redskins and New York Giants.

“It’s meaningful because by the nature of the way the game is today you’re going to have these teams knock each other off and you’re really getting some legs up on everybody when you can win all your division games,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “To get this win on the road, we’ve got two more that we’ve got to play on the road, this is the way to start it.”

This isn’t college ball: To say Chip Kelly owned Monte Kiffin when the two were at Oregon and Southern Cal, respectively, is being kind. Oregon averaged 50 points and 600 yards in three games against Kiffin’s defense and scored 70 points last year.

Playing without DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys held the Eagles to 278 yards, forced three turnovers and came up with three sacks.

“The college deal, it’s not even close,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “It’s apples and oranges comparing college teams to pro teams. It’s the time we spend. We have different players. Defenses can be different. I see that as an apples-and-oranges comparison.”

Rookie shines again: Wide receiver Terrance Williams is making sure the Cowboys' offense does not miss a beat as Miles Austin tries to get back in step.

Williams caught six passes for 71 yards and had a touchdown in his third straight game. His 9-yard slant from Tony Romo iced the game for the Cowboys with 9:25 to play and a 17-3 lead. Austin has played the past two games, but has not recorded a catch in seven throws from Romo.

The last rookie receiver to have a touchdown catch in three straight games was Dez Bryant in 2010 against the Green Bay Packers, Giants and Detroit Lions.

Welcome to Lincoln Financial Field

October, 20, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Welcome to Lincoln Financial Field where the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles with first place in the NFC East on the line.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the NFC East had a team that was only one game over .500 hold sole possession of first place this late in the season was in 2001 when the Eagles were 4-3. They went on to win the division that year with an 11-5 record.

Slow-down the Eagles: Monte Kiffin’s struggles against Chip Kelly while the two were in the college game have been well-documented.

What’s more relevant is how Kiffin’s Dallas defense is struggling against any offense right now. In the last three games, the Cowboys have given up 1,456 yards. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos shredded the Cowboys through the air, and the Washington Redskins did it on the ground.

The third-down defense has been particularly bad, allowing 22 first downs on 41 tries in the last three games.

The key will be red-zone defense. The Cowboys can give up the yards and even field goals, but they need to make stops deep in their own territory. It’s what they did last week against Washington, stopping them on three red-zone trips.

Randle
And they will have to do it without DeMarcus Ware, who has a quadriceps strain.

New-look run game: Rookie Joseph Randle will take over as the lead running back with DeMarco Murray out with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

“I think whenever you lose a valuable player, like Murray, that obviously affects the team,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “At the same time, I think Randle will step in and do a good job. (Phillip) Tanner has shown us what he can do, so he’ll do a good job as well. We’re excited to see those guys.”

But how much?

The Eagles are allowing the most yards per game (420.2) and 29.8 points per game, which is 29th in the NFL.

Bryant
Bryant
In the last two games the Cowboys have been effective with their empty package, spreading the field. The Eagles have allowed 13 touchdown passes, but they have picked off six passes and sacked opposing quarterbacks 13 times.

Knowing Dez: The division games have not been kind to Dez Bryant so far. In wins against the New York Giants and Redskins, he has nine catches for 58 yards.

In the four non-division games, Bryant has averaged 6.3 catches for 100 yards and has all six of his touchdowns.

The Eagles have a new defensive staff with new cornerbacks. Perhaps that makes this closer to a non-division game.

Double Coverage: Cowboys at Eagles

October, 17, 2013
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There was a time when the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys both had a good chance of being undefeated going into an October showdown. That time may be long gone, but this meeting between a pair of 3-3 teams still has a lot of cachet.

The winner will have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. With Washington (1-4) and the New York Giants (0-6) already wrecked on the side of the road, this game will establish pole position for the race ahead.

Todd Archer, who covers the Cowboys for ESPN.com's NFL Nation, and Philadelphia counterpart Phil Sheridan discussed some of the big questions going into the game.

Sheridan: DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray -- whether they're out or just limited by injury -- which can the Cowboys least afford to lose and why?

Archer: To me, the easy answer is Ware because they really don't have much of a pass rush without him. The Cowboys can get by without Murray because of Tony Romo and the passing game. Ware has several little injuries this year with a stinger, a back strain, dehydration, getting poked in the eye and now this quad strain. He says he is a fast healer, but I don't think he'll heal fast enough for this week and the Cowboys will have to get by with what Jerry Jones called the "no-names," like George Selvie, Kyle Wilber and Caesar Rayford.

I'll go with the either/or as well: Michael Vick or Nick Foles? If both are healthy, whom does Chip Kelly eventually roll with?

Sheridan: I wish I knew what Chipper is really thinking. Ultimately, I think he has to get an extended look at Foles this season. Vick's injury opened the door, and Foles certainly took a confident stride through it Sunday, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in Tampa. But part of being a successful NFL quarterback is coming back, week after week, through nagging injuries and fatigue. Kelly has to know whether Foles can do that before this season is over. Combine that with the fact that Foles may actually run the offense more effectively and I think it may be a while before we see Vick again.

Foles had a good day in Tampa. Now he faces the godfather of the Tampa 2. How is Monte Kiffin's defense coming together after six games?

Archer: To be kind, not well. The Cowboys have allowed three 400-yard passers this season. They allowed 216 rushing yards last week against Washington. They likely won't have Ware, so that will hinder the pass rush. The Cowboys aren't really the true Tampa 2 scheme that Kiffin ran so well in Tampa. First off, he doesn't have Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks or John Lynch, but the Cowboys are mixing their coverages a lot more because of their cornerbacks. They paid a lot of money for Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick and have tried to play more man-to-man lately. They were fairly effective against the Redskins, and that helped the pass rush. They'll have to be that effective this week too.

I mentioned the 216 rushing yards, and LeSean McCoy is on the docket for the Dallas D. He's off to a great start and seems to be a perfect fit in this offense. True?

Sheridan: One hundred percent true, although McCoy might be a pretty good fit in any offense that involves a football. Some of the Broncos, who don't see him often, were comparing him to Barry Sanders, and it's not as big a reach as you might think at first. He's quick, he's strong, he changes direction almost magically, and his instincts are remarkable. For a few weeks, the Eagles were piling up rushing yards without getting enough points. Against Tampa Bay, McCoy went for 116 yards and there was a 31 on the scoreboard. That's where the Eagles need to be.

Let's turn to the Dallas offense. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said this week what a lot of people think, that Romo is capable of making a big play or a big mistake at any time. How is the franchise quarterback's confidence this year?

Archer: I wonder if Davis has seen Romo play much this year. Maybe he just saw the end of the Broncos game when he had the interception, but Romo has only three picks on the year. One was a busted route by a rookie receiver, and another was a tipped ball. I think his involvement in the game plan really has Romo tuned into the opposing defenses and what they're trying to do. He is not forcing throws (no, I'm not forgetting the late Broncos interception), and he is being more patient than ever. This is his offense in a lot of ways, and he doesn't want to screw it up. That being said, the offense has not performed well in its first two road games, scoring 16 and 14 points against Kansas City and San Diego. In the last two games, the Cowboys have spread it out more, and without Murray this week, I think you'll see more spread looks Sunday.

For so long we've been used to seeing a Jim Johnson-type defense in Philly, but Davis has a different style. What has or hasn't happened so far in the Eagles' move to the 3-4?

Sheridan: It is a process, as Davis and Kelly constantly remind us. It's a tough transition when you have players better suited to a 4-3. It's even tougher with players who aren't suited to any defensive scheme at all. The Eagles seemed to have a few of those while giving up 33 passing touchdowns last year. They made a lot of changes in the secondary, but it has still been vulnerable -- especially on third down. The defense seemed to make progress against the Giants and Bucs, but those are two winless teams. It will be a big deal if the Eagles can continue to make progress against a quarterback like Romo.

How good is Dez Bryant right now, and how much more potent can this offense be if and when Miles Austin gets it going?

Archer: Bryant has carried over his success from the second half of last season to this season, at least in terms of touchdowns. He is a nightmare for cornerbacks in the red zone. He's just too big and physical down there for them to handle. He's almost too physical and might get a pass interference penalty one of these days. But Romo is so confident in him down tight that he'll just throw it up knowing Bryant will get it or nobody else will. What's strange, however, is that Bryant has had three games in which he has averaged less than 10 yards per catch. If teams want to take him out with help, they can. And that's where Austin comes in. He's just not healthy yet but was off to a good start before injuring his hamstring. Rookie Terrance Williams has really caught on lately and helped make up for Austin's absence/lack of production. When he's right, Austin is dangerous in the slot and outside and is a tough matchup.

Let's stick with the receivers. Is DeSean Jackson, well, DeSean Jackson again?

Sheridan: DeSean Jackson is DeSean Jackson, only better. He seems to have matured almost overnight. He says he worked out and added a little muscle mass during the offseason. Not sure whether it's that or Foles or Kelly's offensive approach, but Jackson is suddenly a factor in the red zone. He was always a deep threat but disappeared inside the 20. He has red zone scores in each of the last two games. He'll never be the kind of receiver you described Bryant as being, but he's added a better understanding of the game to his gift of speed.

Both teams are 3-3. It's not exactly the 1990s, when they might both be undefeated when they met in October, but this will still decide who is in first place in the NFC East. Do you think the Cowboys have what it takes to knuckle down and win the division in a decidedly down year?

Archer: I think they do, but if there's one thing I've figured out in covering this team, it is to never come to expect anything. They are just too up and down. There's no doubt the NFC East is down, but the prevailing wisdom is that the Cowboys are infinitely more talented than every other team in the division, so they should run away with it. I don't know about that. They're good at the top but not so much in the middle and bottom. They have a ton of questions on defense. They can't afford injuries. They might have the best chance to win the NFC East, but it's not a lock. This game, to me, is huge. If they can get to 3-0 in the division, it gets a little easier. If they lose, they're riding that 8-8 bus again.

Is Kelly in this for the long haul?

Sheridan: Here's another case where I wish I knew what was going on inside Kelly's head. He's good at talking about football, what he's trying to do and why. He doesn't entertain any questions that appear to be probing into his personal life or his feelings about anything. I think he's learned the NFL is difficult in different ways from the college game. Whether he enjoys being out of his comfort zone and sees it as a challenge to excel at this level or whether he can't wait to get back to a college gig, I have no idea. He just doesn't share that kind of thing. I can say that neither extreme would surprise me. More to the point, I think he can be a very good NFL coach. His offense certainly works in the league.

Is Kelly-Kiffin history relevant for Sunday?

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
10:00
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IRVING, Texas – The most attractive thing to Chip Kelly about the Philadelphia Eagles job might have been the chance to face Monte Kiffin’s defense twice a year.

That’s just a joke. Kelly made a point to say he has the “utmost respect” for Kiffin, the Dallas Cowboys’ 73-year-old defensive coordinator, who had a heck of a track record in Tampa before his stint on his son’s staffs at the college level.

But could you blame Kelly for wanting to see as much of Kiffin as possible? Just look at the stats from the three times they faced each other in Oregon-USC games:
  • Oregon averaged 50 points and 601 yards in the three games, capped by a 62-point, 730-yard performance last season. USC did beat Kelly’s Ducks in 2011, managing to hold Oregon to only 35 points and 474 yards.
  • The Ducks averaged 285.6 yards on 68.9 percent passing in the three games. Oregon threw for nine touchdowns against Kiffin’s USC defenses, including four in each of the wins. Then-freshman Marcus Mariota threw for 304 yards on 20-of-23 passing in last season’s Oregon-USC shootout.
  • Oregon averaged 315.3 yards on the ground and ran for 11 touchdowns against Kiffin’s USC defenses, gaining more than 6 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner trampled the Trojans for 321 yards and five scores on 38 carries last season.

Is any of this relevant to Sunday’s Cowboys-Eagles game?

Kiffin said he wasn’t too sure, although he had high praise for Kelly's coaching ability. Kelly downplayed it, diplomatically, pointing out that he never saw anyone like Sean Lee while studying the USC defense the last few years.

“Football is a players’ game,” Kelly said. “I was fortunate when I was at Oregon to have just some outstanding players.”

Of course, the Oregon offenses didn’t feature LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, either. Those Philly playmakers rank first in the NFL in rushing yards and second in receiving yards, respectively, this season.

Kelly added that another reason he doesn’t “draw that much parallel” is that Kiffin’s USC and Dallas defenses have significant schematic differences. The Cowboys don’t play nearly as much traditional Tampa 2 as Kiffin did with the Trojans.

On the other hand, Kiffin sees a scheme that is frighteningly familiar when he watches Kelly’s Philadelphia offense, which ranks third in the NFL with 449.8 yards per game. The Eagles aren't likely to have much of a quarterback run-game element with Nick Foles replacing the injured Michael Vick, but that fell well down Kiffin’s list of problems with the Ducks the last few years.

“He didn’t change a whole lot,” said Kiffin, who quickly shot down a suggestion that the narrower hashmarks in the NFL adversely affects Kelly’s scheme. “He said it the other day in the paper: He’s going to run his offense. He doesn’t care what you’re doing on defense. That’s what he does. That’s why he’s a good coach.”

Asked why Kelly had so much success against him at the college level, Kiffin didn’t delve into any X’s and O’s. He couldn’t have offered a much less complicated explanation.

“They just did a good job,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully, we come out and play better, that’s for sure.”

For better or worse, Kiffin will only have to wait a couple of months for a rematch with Kelly, now that they’re coaching NFC East rivals.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 31-16 victory against the Washington Redskins.

What it means for the Cowboys: It might be too early in the season to say this was a must-win for the Cowboys, but coming off the disheartening 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos last week it really was.

Falling to 2-4 would have been devastating with back-to-back road games upcoming and the team in the midst of the first three-game losing streak of the Jason Garrett era.

This was by no means a masterpiece, but the Cowboys travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles with a 3-3 record and feeling a lot better about their team. The Cowboys are 2-0 in the division for the first time since 2007.

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The special teams kick-started the victory with Dwayne Harris' punt return for a touchdown and the offense was able to take advantage of two short fields (set up by a Harris kick return and a Kyle Wilber fumble recovery) for two touchdowns.

The first touchdown was a thing of beauty from Tony Romo, who sidestepped a blitzing Josh Wilson and fired a pass to the corner for Terrance Williams. The second score was Joseph Randle's from 2 yards with 9:36 to play, but center Travis Frederick should get an assist for helping push the rookie running back across the goal line.

Stock watch: Rising -- Jason Hatcher. He was without DeMarcus Ware for most of the game, but he was simply a terror on the interior, giving the Redskins fits throughout. He had two sacks of Robert Griffin III to give him five on the season, which is a career high.

A special returner: Harris was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his three-tackle effort versus the New York Giants in Week 1. He could win his second honor of the season for his returns against the Redskins.

Harris had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Cowboys a 14-3 lead. His 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter set up Williams’ 15-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 21-9 lead.

It was the third kickoff return of at least 90 yards in franchise history that did not go for a touchdown.

Defense makes a stand: The Cowboys' D wasn’t perfect, but after allowing 1,023 yard and 81 points in the previous two games, it didn’t need to be perfect, though Dallas still allowed 416 yards.

The Cowboys allowed a 45-yard touchdown to Alfred Morris, but made him work for his yards. After allowing back-to-back 400-yard passing games, they kept Robert Griffin III in check for most of the game as well, limiting him to 246 yards.

Wilber came up with a sack/fumble of Griffin to set up the clinching touchdown, and Orlando Scandrick had a pick of Griffin in the end zone to end a fourth-quarter threat.

The defense even had three sacks after putting up one in the previous two games combined.

What’s next: The Cowboys travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Eagles. For defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin it will be a chance to show he can slow down Chip Kelly’s offense at the NFL level. He didn’t do it at Southern California. In three games against Oregon, Kiffin’s defense allowed an average of 601 yards and 50 points in losing two games. Last November the Trojans gave up 730 yards in a 62-51 loss.

Eight in the Box: NFC East camp battles

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
12:00
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each NFC East team as training camps get underway.

Dallas Cowboys: No. 2 tight end

The Cowboys used a second-round pick on tight end Gavin Escobar, even though starting tight end Jason Witten isn't going anywhere, and they liked what James Hanna showed as a receiver during his 2012 rookie season. They also signed veteran Dante Rosario and continue to look out for a more blocking-oriented tight end. What this all means is that the Cowboys would like to use more two-tight end sets in 2013 (and presumably beyond), largely eliminating the fullback position from their offense and offering quarterback Tony Romo a greater variety of options in the passing game. Training camp will help reveal the depth chart and the ways in which these guys all can expect to be used. Was Escobar drafted because they liked his ability to do something specific? Can Hanna hold him off for reps? How does Rosario factor into the mix? Change is afoot in the Cowboys' offense, and the tight end position is a big part of it.

New York Giants: Starting running back

David Wilson, their first-round pick from the 2012 draft, emerged as an electrifying kick returner in his rookie season and flashed big-play ability out of the backfield. He is the odds-on favorite to seize the starting running back role following the team's release of Ahmad Bradshaw. But, as is often the case, things aren't that simple. The Giants liked Andre Brown a lot as a goal-line back last season and used him a couple of times as a starter, with some success. He's back, and he doesn't intend to hand the job to Wilson without a fight. The Giants' backfield depth chart also includes veteran Ryan Torain, third-year fan favorite Da'Rel Scott and rookie Michael Cox. And these are the Giants, remember -- a pass-first offensive team that needs its running backs to pick up the blitz and help keep Eli Manning safe. Wilson offers the most upside as a runner, but it's entirely possible he could lose the starting job to a better blocker during this camp.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starting quarterback

What else is there? This is the big story of the Eagles' camp and will be one of the big stories in the NFL for the next month. Veteran Michael Vick has the experience, the foot speed and the arm strength, but new coach Chip Kelly wants a quarterback who can avoid turnovers, get rid of the ball quickly and make good, fast decisions in tight spots. These have not been Vick's strengths, which is likely why he faces a challenge from second-year quarterback Nick Foles and maybe even rookie Matt Barkley or veteran backup Dennis Dixon. Vick has to show that he's capable of running Kelly's offense the way Kelly wants it run -- and that he won't revert to his career-long tendencies to try to extend plays and make something happen with pure athleticism. If he can rein it in and operate the offense efficiently, it's his job. If he can't, one of the younger guys could snatch it from him and cost him his roster spot entirely.

Washington Redskins: No. 2 wide receiver

This would be the "Z" receiver in the Redskins' offense. Pierre Garcon plays the "X" position -- the outside receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage. Santana Moss likely plays the slot again. The "Z" is the outside receiver opposite Garcon -- the "flanker" who lines up off the line of scrimmage to keep the tight end eligible and motions to different parts of the formation if that's called for. The candidates here are Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan and Aldrick Robinson. Morgan is the most polished and well rounded of this group, but he has trouble staying healthy. Hankerson is the one the coaches believe has the most upside, but he hasn't been able to develop consistency in his game. If he could, he'd be a valuable piece, because the Redskins believe they can use him in the slot as well. Robinson showed a lot of potential as a favored deep threat last season for Robert Griffin III, but he also has a lot to learn before he's a complete enough player to be used reliably here. Watch to see if Hankerson shows drastic Year 3 improvement in camp. If he does, it's likely his spot to lose, especially if Morgan is banged up as usual.

Eight in the Box: Offseason regret

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
4:53
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.

Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.

New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.

Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.

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