Dallas Cowboys: Jason Babin

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:

@toddarcher: He will go on the refused to report list if he does not show and is not cut and the Cowboys would gain a spot on the 90-man roster in his absence. I want to get more into the "why" on Orton's absence. I don't believe it's unhappiness with his contract. I don't think he is looking to go anywhere else. I truly believe he doesn't want to play. But if the Cowboys don't cut him, then he might have to play. We all should be so burned to have to come back and earn $3 million for a season in which he might not play a snap. Orton can skip the first week of camp before the Cowboys would be able to come after some of his signing bonus money. If he retired, then he would have to repay the team $3.4 million. Would you want to write that check? Would you be willing to give up about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators and still make excellent money? I believe we'll see Orton sometime in late July in California. @toddarcher: No, because those aren't his strengths either. He can run with running backs and tight ends. When he plays with confidence, he is fine. He had a solid offseason in coverage, improving as the OTAs and minicamp went along. Now that doesn't mean anything when the pads come on but there were some encouraging signs. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus made it sound like Carter is much more into the process of learning everything he needs to learn. That's a good thing. He's just not built to be a run stopper/pass-rusher. The weak-side backer in this scheme has to be the playmaker. Think Lance Briggs in Chicago. Carter has those skills, but can he put it all together? I'm not sure, but he did some good things in the spring. @toddarcher: As an Aussie, I was expecting a Mat McBriar question. Oh well. The Cowboys had nine picks. Do I think all nine will make the 53-man roster? No. I'll make Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens and Devin Street locks. I like Ben Gardner, Ahmad Dixon and Terrance Mitchell to make it as seventh rounders. I think Ken Bishop and Will Smith will have chances too, but I'm just playing a numbers game right now. Then there are the undrafted rookies, like Tyler Patmon, Ben Malena and Davin Coleman. The Cowboys look to have some rookies who can contribute if not this year, then in the future. @toddarcher: I've asked and was told no. I think his day is done and I think the Cowboys want to see what they already have. There's something about Babin that just doesn't fit. He has been in a ton of spots the last couple of years. Teams keep biting on his talent. The Cowboys are content with their defensive line mix. @toddarcher: If you think about it, it is their base package. They will play more nickel defense than base package just because of what you said. It's all dependent on personnel groupings. If teams want to line up with a fullback or two tight ends, you'll see their base defense. If they want to spread the field, they'll go with a nickel look. The Cowboys feel like they're covered at cornerback with Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. They like their defensive line rotation, although there are a lot of questions simply based on the untested or unknown players added in the offseason or coming back from injuries. But at the end of the day, Rod Marinelli will be in a nickel defense 60-65 percent of the snaps. 

Tony Romo should keep firing vs. Eagles

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
1:10
PM ET

The Dallas Cowboys should look to throw the ball deep, early and often Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Opponents have completed 76.5 percent of passes and thrown eight touchdowns on passes more than 10 yards downfield against the Eagles since the firing of Juan Castillo five games ago. Prior to Castillo’s firing, the Eagles allowed a league-best 31.8 completion percentage on such throws, and intercepted or defended 13 of them.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has only completed 46.3 of his passes more than 10 yards downfield this season, but nine of his 16 TD passes have come on such throws. In the Cowboys’ 38-23 win over the Eagles in Week 10, Romo completed 4-of-6 passes of 10-plus yards, including a touchdown.

Here are four other statistical areas to watch Sunday:
  • The Eagles released defensive end Jason Babin this week. Babin finished third in the NFL in 2011 with 18.0 sacks -- tied for the third-highest total in Eagles history. His 5.5 sacks this season was tied for 34th in the league. Babin has done most of his damage from a standard pass rush -- 18 of his sacks since the start of the 2011 season came with four or fewer pass rushers, which is third in the NFL. Twelve of the Eagles' 18 sacks this season came with Babin on the field.

  • Speaking of sacks, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer has been just as important to his team’s pass rush. Eighteen of the Cowboys' 23 sacks this season have come with Spencer on the field, including a career-high 6.5 for Spencer. The Cowboys have also relied on standard pass pressure as 16 of their sacks have come with four or fewer pass rushers.

  • The Cowboys’ rushing attack has been non-existent this season but that could change against the Eagles, especially on rushes outside the tackles. The Eagles have allowed 6.0 yards per attempt on rushes outside the tackles, fifth worst in the league. Three of the Cowboys' five rushing touchdowns this season have come on rush attempts outside the tackles.

  • Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has 145 receiving yards in each of his last two games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last player to have at least 145 receiving yards in three straight games was Isaac Bruce in 1995. Bryant has been a reliable deep threat the past two as 169 of 290 receiving yards have come on receptions more than 10 yards downfield.
Well, the rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles is Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium, and in our weekly segment, The Other Side, we get a chance to chat with Jeff McLane, the Eagles beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Enjoy.

Q: Is the Philadelphia defense this bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Side: Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
9:21
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – For this week’s episode of The Other Side we check in with Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun for his thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens as they prepare to get ready for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Archer: Aside from last week's game at KC, it appears as if the Ravens have an offense that can take pressure off the defense. People always ask this nebulous question about the "next step," but has Joe Flacco taken the next step? If so, why? How?

Wilson: What has changed about Joe Flacco is he's been granted greater command of the offense in terms of ability to audible and they implemented a no-huddle offense and have emphasized the shotgun formation, all things he did more of in college at Delaware. His deep-ball accuracy still isn't excellent, but it's much improved. He still has a tendency to stare down his primary read, which is what's happened on virtually all of his four interceptions. While Flacco has definitely improved overall, he still has a tendency to have inconsistency, on the road particularly, and will get into cold streaks where his fundamentals lapse. In Philadelphia, the pass rush of Trent Cole and Jason Babin affected him to the point where he was throwing off his back foot. Flacco seems to still be in the very good category with all the skills and capability to be great and is knocking on the door of getting to that point. He's just not totally there yet despite better personnel outside than he's had in the past. This isn't on Flacco, but his offensive tackle tandem of Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele are holding back the offense a bit. They gave up a total of four sacks and eight quarterback pressures to Kansas City Chiefs edge rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. That could be a problem obviously against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

TA: Are we seeing a different Ravens defense? The Chiefs ran all over them. Is Ray Lewis slowing down finally? How much do they miss Terrell Suggs?

AW: The defense is much different, and not in a good way. Traditionally stingy against the run, they were gashed by Jamaal Charles for 125 yards in the first half primarily through the use of the zone stretch play. Dean Pees' halftime adjustment of walking up the linebackers and shifting the defensive linemen wider was an effective strategy as Charles had only 15 yards on 10 carries after halftime. However, middle linebacker Ray Lewis looked slow in his reactions and got stuck to blocks. He had one hard hit, but that was in the fourth quarter on Cyrus Gray. Lewis has had some solid games this year, but he's also 37 years old. And it shows. Although he's lighter at 235 pounds, he's not as explosive as he used to be and doesn't get enough depth on his pass drops, which makes him vulnerable to tight ends' patterns. As tough and smart and great a tackler as Lewis is, he's been getting overpowered at times at the point of attack and beaten to the outside by faster runners like Charles and Trent Richardson. Terrell Suggs is definitely missed. The Ravens had no sacks against the Chiefs. Pees creates pressure by blitzing primarily. Other than Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, one of the most disruptive interior forces in the game, hardly anyone is defeating blocks and getting to the quarterback. Ngata is commanding double-team attention regularly and still getting penetration. Without Suggs, this has become a bend-but-don't-break defense that still excels at getting turnovers and being stout in the red zone.

TA: The Cowboys took Felix Jones in 2008. The Ravens took Ray Rice. Clearly the Ravens made out on that one, but just how vital is Rice to that offense?

AW: Ray Rice is the centerpiece of the offense even though the Ravens are transitioning to a passing outfit. Rice is a dynamic open-field runner who plays bigger than 5-foot-8, 212 pounds. He's also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and has good hands. This guy is tough, durable and fast. The Ravens are trying to preserve him as much as possible and not wear him out, but he rarely takes a hard hit because he's elusive.

TA: Jason Garrett nearly got the Baltimore job a few years ago. Any idea how close he came to getting it over John Harbaugh?

AW: The Ravens offered Garrett the job, showed his wife the local real estate listings and it was his for the taking with a fairly high salary offer. However, he declined the offer and it seemed like his tour of interviews was just him going through the motions and he had an arrangement or understanding all along with owner Jerry Jones to become the Cowboys' new head coach. The sense many got from Garrett during his visit is that he wasn't enthralled with the idea of coming to Baltimore. John Harbaugh wasn't the Ravens' first choice, but he impressed owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome during the interview process and was vouched for by Andy Reid and Bill Belichick. They liked his personality and leadership qualities and unconventional special-teams background. He was unproven then and had never been a head coach before, but he has made the playoffs every year and won at least one playoff game and made two AFC championship game appearances. Harbaugh had to win over a tough locker room at first, too. The Ravens are happy with how things worked out, but they definitely respect Garrett and held a high opinion of him to give him that offer before later hiring Harbaugh.

TA: The Ravens haven't lost at home in a long time. Is it the team? Is it the venue?

AW: It's loud at M&T Bank Stadium, and the Ravens just seem to play with more confidence at home. On the road, they aren't the same team. They use the no-huddle less. The defense seems more vulnerable. At home, Joe Flacco has been markedly more accurate and efficient. Like most good NFL teams, they seem to thrive on a home-field advantage. It's a matter of intangibles, but the numbers don't lie since they've won 15 games in a row at home, including the postseason.

All-NFC East Team: Week 5 update

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

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

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

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins (Morris)

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

Tight end: Brent Celek, Eagles (Martellus Bennett)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

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

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 3 Update

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
10:23
AM ET
Yes, we have a change at the quarterback position this week, and that's the position about which everyone seems to get the most excited. But it wasn't that difficult a decision, really. Through three games, Eli Manning has 264 more passing yards, a marginally lower completion percentage and one more touchdown that Robert Griffin III. He's thrown three interceptions to Griffin's one, but these things happen when you actually throw the ball down the field. He has also taken five fewer sacks. It was close last week and remains close this week, but Manning has surpassed the rookie in terms of overall body of work in 2012.

The tougher call was actually at running back. By now you all should know about the disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply an All-Star team based on the previous week's performance. This is why Ramses Barden is not on it.

However, the team's running back is the Giants' Andre Brown, who has only played a game and a half. He won out over the Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Redskins' Alfred Morris, each of whom has been a starter for all three games this season. Brown's addition to the team would seem to fly directly in the face of the aforementioned disclaimer, and in order for him to make the team I would have to be convinced that his six-quarter performance was more impressive than what Morris and McCoy have done in their 12. Fact is, I was.

Brown has 79 fewer rushing yards than Morris and 77 fewer than McCoy. But his yards-per-carry average of 5.6 is far better than their 4.3 and 4.5. He has three touchdowns, which ties Morris and is two more than McCoy. He has no fumbles, and neither does Morris, but McCoy has two. It was Morris, and not McCoy, who was Brown's closest competition for this week's honor, and the simple fact is that I think Brown has been the better runner this season. It was a difficult call, and with the return of Ahmad Bradshaw likely this week, I have to imagine this is Brown's only appearance on this list, but I thought he deserved it based on the overall performance of everyone in the division in the first three weeks of the season. Had either of the other two been performing at a standout level, it would have been impossible for Brown to overtake them after a game and a half. But neither is (and yes, I know you can argue that McCoy's issue is one of limited opportunity), so Brown gets the nod because he has.

Here's the team, which this week includes nine Giants, eight Eagles, five Redskins and five Cowboys, and I have some more observations down at the bottom:

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

Running back: Andre Brown, Giants (LeSean McCoy)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Hakeem Nicks)

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, Giants (Brent Celek)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Washington Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

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

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

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

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

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

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; Gerald Sensabaugh, Cowboys (Phillips, Sensabaugh)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Billy Cundiff)

Punter: Chris Jones, Cowboys (Jones)

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (David Wilson)

Punt returner: Damaris Johnson, Eagles (Brandon Banks)
  • Carr takes his place at cornerback, supplanting Wilson after Wilson's tough game against Cincinnati. Wilson is actually having a very good season overall, but Carr hasn't had one bad play that I've seen, and he gets good-teammate bonus points for moving over to safety once Barry Church went out. Carr has shut down opposing receivers in all three games, and his work against Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson on Sunday was his best yet.
  • Sorry, Jason Hatcher. It might be unfair, but as a 3-4 defensive end you almost have to be over-the-top great to hold off the 4-3 sack artists. Hatcher barely beat out Babin (and fellow 3-4 end Stephen Bowen) last week, but Babin's three-game tape is simply more impressive. Could be because of the difference in the position they play, but dem's the breaks.
  • On the flip side, Ware hasn't looked like his usual horrifying self yet this season, and while I imagine he'll come back and take his spot, Kendricks deserves this mention for the way he's played consistently as a 4-3 outside linebacker in all three Eagles' games. Along with Ryans, he's a huge part of the reason for this season's defensive improvements.
  • Bennett has been a monster blocker and has caught a touchdown pass in all three games. Cowboys fans can scoff, and justifiably doubt whether it will continue. But through three games, he's been a difference-maker at tight end for the Giants.
  • Trent Williams left Sunday's game with a knee injury in the first quarter, which would have opened up this team's left tackle spot if anybody had been close behind him. But no one has been, as tackle continues to be a huge problem division-wide. Will Beatty of the Giants played it the best this week, but that was only one game, and Williams was excellent in the first two.
  • The kicker decision wasn't easy, as Cundiff continues to hammer touchback after touchback and has made every one of his field goal attempts inside 62 yards. But Tynes is 10-for-10 on field goals, and for me that's better by enough than Cundiff's 5-for-6 to overcome Cundiff's proficiency on kickoffs.

That's what I've got for this week. I welcome your thoughts, as always.

All-NFC East Team: Week 1 Update

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
10:00
AM ET


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

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

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

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

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

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles

Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

Safety: Kurt Coleman, Eagles; Antrel Rolle, Giants

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins

Punter: Chas Henry, Eagles

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins

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

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

NFC East Top 20: No. 1 Eli Manning

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
9:43
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

No. 1 -- Eli Manning, Giants QB

Manning
This wasn't easy, and the fact that it wasn't easy to pick a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback as the best player in the division says a ton about the rest of the players in the division. It was a very tough, close call between Manning and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware for this spot, and I gave more than a passing thought to Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who finished third.

But in the end, Manning deserves the spot. He's earned it by performing with incredible consistency at a high level and in the biggest of spots. He ranks behind only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck in passing yards among active quarterbacks, and each of those players has at least a three-year head start on him. He's fifth (behind those same four guys) in touchdown passes among active quarterbacks. Only Peyton Manning, Brady, Brees and Ben Roethlisberger among active quarterbacks have engineered more game-winning drives, and only Peyton Manning and Brady have more comeback victories.

So Eli is a top-level quarterback in terms of production (and in spite of a stubborn, lingering reputation to the contrary), but what truly sets him apart as a great player is the way he's performed during the two Super Bowl title runs the Giants have made with him under center. He has a 61.5 career completion percentage, a 17-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his 11 career playoff games and has led the team from behind to beat Bill Belichick, Brady and the New England Patriots in two separate Super Bowls. He's the unquestioned leader of his team, the calming influence which Giants players know they can count on in tough times, a key to his team's uncanny ability to handle adversity and a proven champion without whose individual performance those Super Bowl titles would not have been possible. The best quarterback in the NFC East is the most clutch quarterback in the NFL right now and is the division's best player.

The rest of the rankings:

2. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys
3. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles RB
4. Trent Cole, DE, Eagles DE
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 2 DeMarcus Ware

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
11:40
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

No. 2 -- DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys LB

Ware
A six-time Pro Bowler who's led the league in sacks twice, Ware is universally regarded as one of the very best defensive players in the NFL. There are plenty of people who call him the best. He is fifth among active players in sacks and 29th in league history already at the age of 30. His lowest sack total of the past six years is the 11 he posted in 2009. He led the league with 20 the year before that and 15 the year after, and his 19.5 in 2011 would have led the league in almost any other year. He enters each season a threat to break the all-time single-season sacks record. He's as good at hunting down quarterbacks as any player in the league.

Sacks are his game, but they're not his whole game. Ware is smart and fast and athletic enough to make a decision on the fly to change course and run down a running back. He can play either side of the field and get into the backfield just as quickly. He is constantly double-teamed, which is a testament to his own remarkable ability as well as the fact that the Cowboys have yet to establish a consistent pass-rushing threat other than him. But he's handled that responsibility every year and hasn't allowed it to affect his production. He's a classy professional who sets a strong example for younger Cowboy players who revere him.

Ware is a superstar in his prime and shows no signs of slowing down. He is one of the headline players who help this star-studded division retain its reputation as one of the toughest in which to play year after year.

Rankings so far:

3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
4. Trent Cole, DE, Eagles
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 3 LeSean McCoy

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
1:20
PM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

No. 3 -- LeSean McCoy, Eagles RB

McCoy
Amid the quarterbacks and pass-rushers who dominate the top part of our list we find a running back -- the best in the division and one who may be on the verge of becoming the best in the entire league. After rushing for 1,080 yards in 2010 in his second year in the league, McCoy rushed for 1,309 in the 15 games he played in 2011 to rank fourth in the NFL. He also ran for 17 touchdowns and caught three more in 2011, establishing himself as the top scoring threat on the Eagles' high-powered offense.

McCoy has shown an ability to be a workhorse back, a goal-line back and a receiving back. His 78 catches led the Eagles in 2010, and while his total dropped to a more reasonable 48 in 2011, he's obviously a help to the passing game as well as the run game. His speed and vision make him a dangerous threat when he gets the ball in his hands and has space in which to operate. He's the complete package in an era that is seeing the running back position become more specialized. It says a lot that the only criticism Eagles fans have of McCoy is that the team needs to give him the ball more often.

McCoy is poised for even greater things. He just turned 24 years old in July, making him one of the youngest stars on this list. He was already one of its brightest.

Rankings so far:

4. Trent Cole, DE, Eagles
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 4 Trent Cole

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
11:12
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

No. 4 -- Trent Cole, Eagles DE

Cole
Quick quiz: Cole entered the league the same year as Justin Tuck. Who has more sacks? The answer is Cole, and it's not even close. Cole has 68 sacks in his seven-year career, which is good for 10th among active players. Tuck has 45.5. Cole's only one behind Tuck's teammate, Osi Umenyiora, who has 69 and began his career two years earlier. He doesn't have the Subway endorsement deal or the two Super Bowl titles, and I'm sure he'd trade all of his sacks for the latter. But those numbers help to illustrate that Cole is a much better player than his rather low national profile tends to indicate.

Cole is the Eagles' do-everything defensive end, kind of like Tuck is for the Giants. While teammate Jason Babin was hanging out with the league sack leaders last year, Cole got his 11, reaching double digits for the third year in a row. He also plays the run very well, shows a variety of ways of getting to the passer from the outside or, when needed, the inside. And because opposing offensive coordinators don't care about headlines or national profiles and know who the scariest player is on the defense, Cole found himself fighting through double-teams more often than his teammate on the other side of the line. His Pro Football Focus grade last year ranked him the No. 1 4-3 defensive end in the entire league, first in the pass rush and 10th against the run.

Cole is a quiet star, but make no mistake about it -- he is a star. In a division loaded with some of the top pass-rushers in the league, he deserves to be ranked here, behind only the very best and ahead of some of his better-known rivals.

Rankings so far:

5. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 5 Jason Pierre-Paul

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
9:30
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

Pierre-Paul
No. 5 -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants DE

Since we began this list, oh, I guess about 15 days ago, people have asked me what the criteria are. Career accomplishment? 2011 performance? Projections for 2012? The answer is, as you can see if you look at the list, a combination of all of those things. But in the case of the first member of our top five, it's clear that the second has played an overwhelming role.

Pierre-Paul's second year in the NFL was a thunderous exclamation point of a season that established the New York Giants' defensive end as the kind of player who can completely dominate a game. He registered 16.5 sacks, which was good for fourth in the league, and added another half-sack in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco. He was the lone stalwart in the Giants' pass rush in a season that saw Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora struggle with injuries, and more often than not he looked like the best player on the field when the Giants were on defense.

Pierre-Paul's signature game was the Week 14 victory in Dallas, in which he had two sacks, eight tackles, a forced fumble and blocked the field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. His standout performance in a game that featured almost no defense by either team otherwise helped the Giants end a four-game losing streak and secure a victory that would prove crucial in their ability to overtake the Cowboys for the division title. Still just 23 years old, he's already among the most feared defensive players in the NFL, and his potential appears to be nearly unlimited.

Rankings so far:

6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants

7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys

8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants

9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles

10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants

11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys

14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys

16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys

17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants

19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles

20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 6 Hakeem Nicks

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
12:00
PM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

Nicks
No. 6 -- Hakeem Nicks, Giants WR

The best wide receiver in the NFC East is a soft-spoken workaholic who calls no attention to himself and has been obsessively studying game film since he was in high school. He knows where everyone on the offense is supposed to line up on every play, and what each person's responsibility is. He knows how to bait a cornerback, outrun a cornerback, outjump a cornerback and find the ball in traffic before the cornerback can find it. He's a master at getting open when he has to on a big play, and he doesn't mind being a decoy or absorbing double coverage if that's what it takes for a teammate to make one instead. Nicks has been every bit the player, worker and leader the New York Giants believed he would be when they made him their first-round draft pick in 2009.

He has exceeded 75 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his past two seasons as he and Eli Manning have flourished together in the Giants' passing game. Nicks has also helped tutor fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz, who finished third in the league in receiving yards in 2011. In Cruz, Nicks has found a friend and a kindred spirit -- someone as interested and invested in the wide receiver position as a craft to be honed and constantly worked on in search of the slightest improvement. The two make each other better, but Nicks is the veteran and the one who has set the example.

Nicks may have saved his best work for the Giants' playoff run last year. In four postseason games, including the Super Bowl, he averaged seven catches, 111 yards and a touchdown. One of those touchdowns was his Hail Mary catch at the end of the first half against the Packers at Lambeau Field. And his 10 catches for 109 yards in the Super Bowl may have made him a candidate for MVP if that hadn't, somewhere along the line, been changed to a quarterback-only award. Nicks is the division's best receiver and one of the best in the entire NFL.

Rankings so far:

7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys

8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants

9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles

10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants

11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys

14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys

16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys

17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants

19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles

20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 7 Tony Romo

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
11:00
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

Romo
No. 7 -- Tony Romo, Cowboys QB

Romo may be the ultimate example of a player whose reputation fails to jibe with reality. His inability to elevate the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl contenders during his time as their starting quarterback has come to define him. Critics ignore the facts of poor offensive line play and substandard defense and blame Romo for failing to win more than one playoff game to this point. Games such as last year's in which Romo helped blow second-half leads with interceptions against the Jets and the Lions don't help.

But the easy criticisms and unfair reputation obscure the reality that Romo performs pretty consistently as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. His career passer rating of 96.9 ranks among the greatest quarterbacks in league history. Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are the only active quarterbacks with a higher career completion percentage. His career fourth-quarter numbers are excellent. And for all of the talk about interceptions, Romo only threw 10 of them last year against 31 touchdowns. His career TD/INT rate is 2.07 to 1.

Romo deserves to have a lot of the same things said about him that are said about quarterbacks with better reputations. He moves well in the pocket. He keeps plays alive, makes something out of nothing. He has shown an ability to overcome poor line play and a revolving door at running back and still deliver top-level production. He has shown an ability to help make receivers better. He deserves to be ranked among the current greats at his position and, obviously, among the best players in the NFC East. And if he ever does find a way to lead the Cowboys to a championship, the reputation might finally match up with the reality.

Rankings so far:

8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants

9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles

10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants

11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys

14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys

16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys

17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants

19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles

20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

NFC East Top 20: No. 8 Justin Tuck

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
10:00
AM ET
In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post.

No. 8. -- Justin Tuck, Giants DE

Having apprenticed under Michael Strahan at an early age, Tuck seemed destined to emerge as one of the top all-around defensive players in the NFL. He has been one of the dependable anchors of the New York Giants defensive lines that have helped deliver two of the last five Super Bowls. And while teammates such as Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul may have produced more highlight plays or better sack numbers, Tuck has been the best player on the Giants' defense since Strahan retired.

He's made two Pro Bowls in the past five years, and unlike some of his 4-3 defensive end peers, he's known for more than just sacks. Tuck consistently grades out among the best at his position against the run. He's able to move inside and play defensive tackle when the Giants decide they need to load up on pass rushers. His versatility is a critical part of the Giants' team success and the individual success others have had around him. And he's a willing and sober voice of reason around younger players in a Giants locker room whose hallmark is cohesion and development.

A year ago, Tuck would have been higher on this list. He's coming off a down year that was plagued by injuries and, he says, forced him to consider his future in the game. But his reinvigorated return to action in late December coincided with the start of the Giants' run to the Super Bowl, and that's no coincidence. Teams have players without whom they just don't seem to operate correctly, and Tuck is such a player for the Giants.

Rankings so far:

9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles

10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants

11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys

14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys

16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys

17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants

19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles

20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

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