Dallas Cowboys: Jason Pierre-Paul

Dan Bailey not sure PATs need to be moved

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
11:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- At the NFL owners meetings next week in Orlando, Fla., the future of the point-after attempt will be discussed.

The New England Patriots have proposed moving the PAT back to the 25-yard line. The Competition Committee is also proposing using one week in the preseason games as a test case for PATs from the 20. Earlier in the offseason commissioner Roger Goodell suggested the tries need to be changed because they are close to automatic.

Bailey
“I definitely can see where he’s coming from,” Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey said in January after signing a seven-year extension with the team. “I can’t say that it doesn’t make sense to me, but at the same time I think it’s really just a matter of how you look at it. There’s just a million different examples you can argue that point. For me it’s like a handoff or maybe a center-quarterback exchange. To me and to most people, they feel like it would seem like an automatic thing, just handing the guy the ball, but as we all know that doesn’t always go smoothly. There’s fumbles and botched snaps. That’s just one example. I feel like if it was as automatic as everybody implies, I feel like we’d all be out of a job because everybody would be able to do it. I don’t think that’s the case. I understand where it comes from, but obviously I disagree on a couple of fronts.”

Of the 1,267 extra points attempted in 2013, only five were missed. One came against the Cowboys when Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh sliced a PAT wide with 5:40 left in the game. Instead of a four-point lead, the Vikings had a 23-20 advantage. The Cowboys eventually won with a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left.

Bailey has not missed a PAT in his career, making 123. He’s among the most accurate kickers in football, and could become the most-accurate in NFL history in 2014 once he has enough attempts to qualify for the spot.

If the PAT is spotted at the 25, that would be the equivalent of a 42-yard field goal. From 40-49 yards, Bailey is 27 of 29. His only two misses were memorable: the “ice the kicker” game against the Arizona Cardinals, and Jason Pierre-Paul’s block, in back-to-back games in 2011. He has made 17 attempts in a row from 40-49 yards.

If the ball is at the 20, that would be the equivalent of a 37-yard field goal. Bailey has made 32 of 33 tries from 30-39 yards. His lone miss was a 35-yarder last year against the St. Louis Rams.St. Louis Rams

How the Cowboys handle trash talking

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- When Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks to his players for the first time, he tells them to be brief and boring with the media.

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

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

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

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

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

And the Cowboys won 24-21.

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

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

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

Tony Romo blocks out the trash talk

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
5:30
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo isn't one to trash talk, and his teammates have been relatively quiet regarding what they're going to do in Sunday's game at the New York Giants.

It doesn't mean that Romo isn't aware of what's being said, starting with Jason Pierre-Paul's thoughts that there will be blood spilled in Sunday's game.

"More than anything you just go play the opponent and some places, some teams are better than others," Romo said after Thursday's practice. "And I think some teams matchup up well with other teams. This Giants team is a good football team, that’s playing really good right now. They’re obviously going to be ready to go, and we hear about all the stuff they’re saying this week, and I think it will be a great test and we’ll be ready to go."

Romo said he knows why the Giants are talking a little trash this week, they've won four consecutive games after an 0-6 start. A victory on Sunday would put the Giants in a good position, tied for second-place with the Cowboys, in the NFC East

"It happens sometimes, they’re getting on a roll and they understand how important this football game is," he said. "And we're going to put our head down and go to work and let everybody else out there talk."

Ware: Giants always have something to say

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
12:31
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul started off the week by saying his team is getting ready to “put it on,” the Dallas Cowboys.

Ware
Ware
On Wednesday, several Giants talked about the do-or-die nature of Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium for their chances. Pierre-Paul said, “it’s like a Super Bowl.” Safety Antrel Rolle said this game “is going to determine the outcome of the season.”

Safety Will Hill said the defense will get physical with Dez Bryant because the Cowboys receiver “doesn’t like to be touched, like most receivers in this league. But really him. He doesn’t like to be touched.”

The noise from New York always seems loud when they play against the Cowboys.

“You know they have something to say every time we play them,” DeMarcus Ware said. “They try to put the gas on the fire every time. It’s an NFC East game, that’s what we do.”

The Cowboys mostly do not return fire, especially since Patrick Crayton departed. It’s part of Jason Garrett’s message to the team. He does not want bulletin-board material. He wants the focus to be on the preparation.

But that should not belie the sense of urgency the Cowboys feel going into this game. In a way this is every bit a must-win game for the Cowboys.

“I don’t know there’s a correlation between what you say during the week and you’re intensity during the game,” Garrett said. “We’re getting ourselves ready to play this game. They’re a good football team. We have a great respect for their players, their coaches, their organization, and we’re going to prepare our best this week to play our best on Sunday.”

Jason Garrett not surprised by Giants turnaround

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – After a 0-6 start to the season, the New York Giants find themselves back in playoff contention thanks to four straight wins.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is not surprised at the turnaround.

“They’re a good football team,” Garrett said. “They’ve been a good football team for a long time, they’ve got a lot of good players. They’re doing what winning teams do, and I don’t think that’s anything of a surprise or a revelation at all. When you play winning football and you have talented players on your team and you’re well coached, typically you’re going to win more than you don’t.”

Eli Manning has played better. In the first six games he was intercepted 15 times, including three against the Cowboys. In the last four games he has been intercepted just twice. They have allowed just 47 points in their last four games with linebacker Jon Beason playing like he did in his time with the Carolina Panthers and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul playing more like he did two years ago.

The competition as certainly helped as well. The Giants played the Minnesota Vikings with Josh Freeman at quarterback. Matt Barkley started for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Oakland Raiders are, well, the Raiders though they have improved some. Last week the Giants got the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

Still, the Giants are hot and the Cowboys aren’t.

“I think it’s really important to focus on what the task is every week,” Garrett said. “You play these games one game at a time. Certainly when you’re feeling good about yourself, that’s a positive thing. But the best teams, the best players are the ones that take each situation independently of the other one and do it to the best of their ability. That’s why you play one game at a time in this league. Anything you did last week really doesn’t have that much of an impact in what you’re doing this week. It’s a clean slate. It happens within ballgames play after play after play. The teams and players who are able to do that, who are mentally strong enough to do that, put the last one behind them and focus on this one, are the ones that typically do the best.”

Cowboys shrug at Pierre-Paul's comments

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
2:25
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys responded to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's potential bulletin-board comments with a collective shrug.

Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul’s colorful vow to “put it on” the Cowboys with a “lot of blood spilled” Sunday afternoon didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows at Valley Ranch.

“He’s supposed to feel that way,” Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said. “You’re an opponent. We’re an opponent for them. It’s great confidence.

“We’re just going to go out there and play our game. All we focus on is the way we prepare and get ready for games. We’re going to go out there and give it our all.”

Sounds like something head coach Jason Garrett would say, right? That’s not a coincidence. Bryant was simply repeating the company line, which he happens to believe.

Maybe Pierre-Paul’s inflammatory quote will end up on a bulletin board this week, but Garrett doesn’t want the Cowboys to get caught up in any sort of trash-talking back-and-forth, like the good ol’ days with Brandon Jacobs and Patrick Crayton trading barbs.

“We just have to focus on what we need to do,” Garrett said. “We have great respect for the Giants, their players, their coaches, their football team. We have to go up there and play our best football.”

The Cowboys certainly shouldn’t need any additional motivational fodder this week. The fact that they’re 5-5 and fighting for their playoff lives ought to provide all the proverbial fire they need.

N.Y. suspension helps Cowboys

July, 20, 2013
7/20/13
1:25
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- It’s too early to think about the Cowboys’ Sept. 8 regular-season opener, but their opponent, the New York Giants, suffered a slight blow on Saturday when safety Will Hill was suspended for four games by the NFL.

Hill is a backup safety and core special-teamer, but he will not return until Sept. 30.

The Giants could also be without defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who had offseason back surgery. After the June operation, Pierre-Paul was looking at a three-month recovery period, which would have him ready the week of the opener. Even if he can play, will he be 100 percent football-ready?

Last season, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was not himself following offseason foot surgery in the season opener against the Cowboys.

For the Cowboys, any absences from the Giants’ lineup will help against a team they have yet to defeat at Cowboys Stadium (0-4).

Eight in the Box: Rookie eye-catchers

June, 7, 2013
6/07/13
6:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A first-year player from each NFC East team who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps.

Dallas Cowboys: Travis Frederick

The team's much-criticized first-round pick is getting first-team reps at center and looks likely to open training camp as the starter at that critical position. I don't know that he's necessarily "turned heads" with his performance in spring workouts, but it says a lot that the team threw him right in at center (the position he played in college) and seems willing to play around more with the guard positions. It's still possible that Phil Costa goes back to center and Frederick either wins one of the guard spots or opens the season as a backup. But given the Cowboys' offensive line issues last year and the fact that they used their first-round pick on Frederick, it's no surprise they want to try to get as much as they can out of him as soon as possible.

New York Giants: Damontre Moore

The Giants drafted Moore because of his collegiate accomplishments as a pass-rusher, thinking the productivity he showed at Texas A&M was a sign he could produce at a high level early on in the NFL. Moore is only 20 years old, but he's shown an ability to get off quickly at the snap, and his instincts for the defensive end position jump out at the coaching staff. Some guys come into the league with an innate ability to get to the quarterback, and Moore could be such a guy for the Giants. Osi Umenyiora is off to Atlanta and Jason Pierre-Paul had back surgery this week. Defensive ends will have opportunities to show what they can do this summer in Giants training camp. The Giants would love to see positive early signs from Moore.

Philadelphia Eagles: Earl Wolff

As we've discussed, it's hard to evaluate the secondary in these noncontact drills, and especially the safeties, for whom hitting is such a big part of the game. But Wolff was running with the first-team defense in Thursday's practices, alongside Patrick Chung at safety and with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher at cornerback. Coach Chip Kelly keeps insisting there's nothing to be read into position groups this time of year, but it's clear that opportunity exists for reps in the Eagles' secondary. Kenny Phillips' knee already has cost him on-field practice time, which means Wolff could get a chance to play his way into a significant role as a first-year player once the pads go on.

Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed

The rookie tight end has been working on the side with quarterback Robert Griffin III and other injured players who can't go through full-team drills so far in OTAs, but multiple reports say his athleticism has stood out when catching Griffin's passes. The Redskins drafted Reed to fill a "move" tight end role, which means he'll be expected to be more of a receiver than a traditional tight end. Although he may need work and time to learn the position and the responsibilities that go along with it at the professional level, the Redskins picked him for his upside, which apparently isn't hard to notice when you watch him run, jump and catch.
IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys’ season opener isn’t until Sept. 8, but they received some favorable news Tuesday when it was learned that New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would need surgery on his back.

PODCAST
Darren Woodson joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss why the Tampa 2 defense is easier to run than a 3-4 scheme, why he thinks the Cowboys' leaked draft board is a big deal and if RG III is doing too much talking this offseason.

Listen Listen
Pierre-Paul has four sacks, an interception that he returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble and two pass deflections in six games against the Cowboys.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, sources believe Pierre-Paul will be healthy to play against the Cowboys, but if he indeed returns it would come without the benefit of much of an offseason, training camp or preseason games.

Last year Hakeem Nicks missed most of the offseason, training camp and preseason games because of foot surgery. He played in the season opener against the Cowboys but was not a factor, catching four passes for 38 yards. The Cowboys won, 24-17.

With another key component of the Giants squad coming off injury this year, the Cowboys could benefit again.

Eight in the Box: Playing for a contract

June, 1, 2013
6/01/13
11:00
PM ET

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player entering a contract year on each NFC East team who must deliver in 2013.

Dallas Cowboys: Playing on a one-year franchise player deal for the second season in a row, defensive end Anthony Spencer is key to the Cowboys' transition to a 4-3 defensive front. He and fellow pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware will switch from the 3-4 outside linebacker position they've always played to a 4-3 defensive end position that will put them closer to the offensive line and likely require them to be more physical in their efforts to get to the quarterback. Spencer took a huge step forward in 2012 as a pass-rusher and was, for much of the season, the best player on the Cowboys' defense. He had 11 sacks, and his previous career high had been six. If he can make the transition to his new position and follow his best season with another excellent one, he'll likely be able to get the long-term deal he seeks. If he can't, the Cowboys will be looking for a new pass-rush anchor next offseason.

New York Giants: Sticking with the pass-rush theme, defensive end Justin Tuck is the Giants player under the most pressure this season to perform the way he used to perform. After racking up 11.5 sacks in 2010, Tuck has collected just nine, total, in the past two regular seasons. The Giants' pass rush took a step backward last season and lost Osi Umenyiora to free agency. They'll replace Umenyiora by moving Mathias Kiwanuka back up to the line from the linebacker spot he played the past two seasons, but their pass rush would function best with Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul as dominant bookend starters. Another lackluster season could mean the end of Tuck's decorated career with the Giants. A return to early-career form could transform the Giants back into a championship contender.

Philadelphia Eagles: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles' 2009 first-round pick, has averaged 65 receptions, 863 yards and 6.5 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the NFL. His numbers are actually pretty consistent, year to year. But what the Eagles had in mind when they drafted Maclin was a No. 1 wide receiver. And while he's flashed that ability at times, he hasn't been able to maintain that level or develop his game. The Eagles have fellow wideout DeSean Jackson signed long term, but they will have the money and the cap space to sign Maclin next offseason if they choose to do so. Whether they will want to depends on how Maclin plays in the new Chip Kelly offense and, likely, whether he looks as though he can be counted on to carry the load as a true No. 1.

Washington Redskins: I still think it's possible linebacker Brian Orakpo gets his contract extended before the season starts, but if he doesn't, he'll enter the season carrying the pressure of a contract year along with the pressure of having to kick-start the Redskins' pass rush. A pectoral muscle injury in Week 2 ended Orakpo's season, and fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan struggled without Orakpo on the other side to draw the attention of opposing blockers. The Redskins' 3-4 defense is designed around the idea of former first-rounders Orakpo and Kerrigan getting to the quarterback. They need Orakpo to stay healthy and to produce like one of the best pass-rushers in the league.

What Went Wrong, No. 5: Poor starts

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
12:30
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys showed a remarkable ability to come back from double-digit deficits throughout the course of the season.

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
Stephen Brashear/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys' three disastrous opening drives in Week 2 at Seattle included a blocked punt, and Dallas found itself down 10-0 early on.
Unfortunately, they were mostly caused by their poor starts. Whatever Jason Garrett was selling before the game, the Cowboys were not buying at the beginning, especially early in the season.

In Week 2 at Seattle, the Cowboys fumbled the opening kickoff, allowed a blocked punt return for a touchdown and had an interception on their first three drives, which led to a 10-0 deficit and 27-7 loss.

In Week 4 against Chicago, the Cowboys found themselves down 24-10 thanks to interception returns for touchdowns by Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.

In Week 8 against the New York Giants, they trailed 23-0 thanks in part to two interceptions, including a 28-yard pick-six by Jason Pierre-Paul.

On Thanksgiving, the Cowboys allowed 28 second-quarter points, falling behind by 25 at halftime against Washington.

For a team that had little margin for error, the poor starts were too much to overcome and played a big part in why the Cowboys finished 8-8 for the second straight year.

NFC East wrap: The year of RG III

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
10:00
AM ET
NFC Season Wraps: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five things to know and my 2012 all-division team:

Division MVP: Interesting word, "value." The Washington Redskins decided that fixing their problem at quarterback by drafting Robert Griffin III was worth three first-round picks and a second-round pick. That's the "value" they assigned to Griffin as their short-term and long-term solution at the game's most critical position -- willingly not having another first-round pick until 2015. The first-year result is the current six-game winning streak that has delivered the Redskins' first winning season since 2007 and a shot Sunday night at their first division title since 1999.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jonathan Newton/Getty ImagesThe Redskins paid a steep price to acquire Robert Griffin III, but the move has paid off handsomely.
A number of things have gone right to help the Redskins to this point, but at the center of it all has been Griffin, who has delivered big plays with his arm and his legs, has thrown just five interceptions and piloted a Redskins offense that has the most rushing yards and the fewest turnovers in the league through 16 weeks. In their wildest dreams, the Redskins couldn't have imagined Griffin performing at this level in his first year, but the fact that he has is the biggest reason they're where they are at this point. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is having a big year, as are Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris. But the award is for the Most "Valuable" Player, and the upgrade Griffin has provided for the Redskins at the most important position on the field has a value that surpasses anything anyone else in the NFC East has provided this year.

Biggest disappointment: This one isn't hard. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were a disappointment. That word isn't strong enough to describe what the 2012 Eagles turned out to be. They went into training camp with Super Bowl expectations and a chip on their collective shoulder after last year's flop, and they out-flopped even themselves. There was promise in their 3-1 start, in spite of the turnovers and the fact that they were barely winning. The defense was playing well, Michael Vick was leading them from behind in the fourth quarter and it made some level of sense to believe that they would play better and start winning more comfortably.

Instead, it went the other way. The eight-game losing streak that followed that 3-1 start doomed the Eagles to a sub-.500 season, and the 11 losses they already have with one game to go ties the most Andy Reid has ever had as a head coach. (He lost 11 in his first season there.) Injuries were a huge part of this, as 10 of the Eagles' Week 1 starters on offense have had to miss at least one game and the offensive line hasn't been together all year. But the problems go much deeper, and center on a poorly constructed roster that failed to adequately address holes at positions such as safety and a dysfunctional coaching staff mismanaged by the man in charge. Reid appears certain to pay with his job for failing to make good on his mulligan, and big changes are around the corner in Philadelphia.

No defense: The NFC East hasn't had a repeat champion since the Eagles won it back-to-back in 2003-04, and it won't have one this year either. The New York Giants opened November with three more wins than any other team in the division, but their collapse following a 6-2 start has eliminated them from the division race with a week to go. The winner of Sunday night's game between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys will be division champs. If it's Dallas, it'll be the team's second title in four years and would be the second year in a row (and ever) that the division didn't produce at least one 10-win team. If it's Washington, it'll be its first division title in 13 years and would mean four different division champs in four years. This may not be the dominant, monster, "Beast" division it's been in some years past, but the intensity of the rivalries and the closeness of the quality of the four teams keep it the league's most competitive and entertaining year in and year out.

Each NFC East team had a turn in the spotlight this year. The Cowboys flashed greatness in their nationally televised victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in the season opener. The Eagles got out to that 3-1 start. The Giants at one point stood 6-2, and their victories over San Francisco and Green Bay had folks talking about them as the best team in the league. The Redskins are on a six-game winning streak right now and one of the hottest stories in sports. Say what you will about this division or any of its teams, but you can't say it's not fun.

Better "corner" the market: Looking ahead to the 2013 offseason, expect each of the NFC East's teams to make the secondary a high priority. The Cowboys like their corners, and they may be OK at safety if Barry Church comes back healthy, but they'll probably lose Mike Jenkins to free agency and could look to maintain their depth back there. The Giants need to figure out whether this is just a bad year for Corey Webster or if he's a player in decline, and at safety there are questions about Kenny Phillips' long-term status with the team after his injury-plagued season. The Redskins need all kinds of help in the secondary, where Josh Wilson has been fairly consistent but not great at corner, DeAngelo Hall is clearly in decline and they're getting by with backups at safety. And the Eagles have to figure out whether to keep one, both or neither of their veteran cornerbacks and whether it's time to cut bait with safety Nate Allen.

This division includes the No. 21, No. 28 and No. 30 pass defenses in the NFL, and the only NFC East team in the top half in the league in that category (Philadelphia, No. 11) has major question marks at cornerback and especially safety. Once known for its fearsome pass rushes, the NFC East learned this year that you can't always count on even that to be consistent, and it's time for this division's teams to prioritize their last lines of defense.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanJason Garrett's Cowboys, winners of five of their past seven, can win the NFC East with a victory over the archrival Redskins on Sunday.
The men in charge: You can expect wholesale coaching staff changes in Philadelphia, of course. But what of the division's other three teams, at least one and likely two of which won't make the playoffs? Head coaches Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan are clearly safe in New York and Washington, and Jason Garrett appears safe as well in Dallas after a year in which he's admirably led the Cowboys through injury and off-field tragedy into another Week 17 division title game. But that doesn't mean there can't or won't be changes at the coordinator level.

Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are both whispered about when head-coaching jobs come up, and the success of Griffin and the Redskins' offensive system could make Kyle Shanahan an especially hot candidate this offseason. Would he jump ship, or stay to see things through and possibly succeed his father down the road in D.C.? Redskins fans clamor for the head of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and I guess you never know, but I think Haslett's got this Washington defense overachieving, and I've heard nothing to indicate that the team is dissatisfied with the job he's doing. As for the Giants' Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell ... Fewell's no longer the head-coaching candidate he used to be for some reason, so it's likely a matter of whether they want to keep those guys around. The Giants tend to value organizational stability, and Gilbride and Fewell were coaching in and winning a Super Bowl less than 11 months ago, so it's hard to imagine they're in trouble. But I think the Giants are surprised at the way the last couple of weeks have gone, and I doubt they've seriously considered yet whether changes on the staff are warranted or necessary.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

We do this every week, so you're used to a lot of these names in a lot of these places. There are some close calls, including at quarterback, where the Cowboys' Romo is as hot as anyone in the league and has thrown just three interceptions in his past eight games after throwing 13 in his first seven. Romo is third in the league in passing yards, and his responsible play and leadership are central reasons for the Cowboys' second-half surge. And if he beats Griffin and Washington on Sunday night, you can make the argument that he deserves the spot. I think it's that close right now. But Griffin's had the more consistent season and, as detailed above, the more dramatic impact. So he holds the spot.

The only other very tough call is at fullback, where Darrel Young and the Giants' Henry Hynoski are both excellent and worthy. Hynoski, for me, has been the slightly better blocker, but the Giants' recent struggles have hurt his case and Young, who actually touches the ball every now and then, takes the spot away from him. ... Kicker is a good race, as all four have had good seasons. And yes, I know Kai Forbath hasn't missed, but he's kicked barely half as many as Dan Bailey has. ... Philadelphia's Brandon Graham has made a strong case at defensive end with his second-half play, but Jason Hatcher's been a rock all season as a 3-4 end for Dallas. ... Dez Bryant and Alfred Morris are no-brainers as the division's best wide receiver and running back. What kind of odds could you have got on that in early September?

All-NFC East Team: Week 16 update

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
1:23
PM ET
Washington's Robert Griffin III has had a stranglehold on the quarterback spot on the All-NFC East Team for months now, but after he sat out Sunday with an injury, his backup won in Cleveland and Dallas' Tony Romo beat the Steelers, this became a very tough call for the first time in a while. I really think it's a two-man race, and I think Romo's candidacy is legitimate.

Romo has 4,269 passing yards. Griffin has 2,902. Even if you add in their rushing yards, Romo still leads significantly in total yards, 4,318 to 3,650. He has 22 passing touchdowns and one rushing (23 total) while Griffin has 18 passing and six rushing (24). Griffin has a significant edge in the interception department, having thrown only four to Romo's 16. And while Romo's only thrown three in his past seven games, this isn't a last-seven-games team. It's a year-to-date team.

Which reminds me about the disclaimer no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Kirk Cousins isn't on it.

Griffin is, though, by a surprisingly tight margin over Romo. He still has the better overall numbers everywhere but in yardage, and he did win the head-to-head matchup on Thanksgiving, which I think is a worthy tiebreaker for now. But if Griffin has to miss another game and/or Romo stays hot, this could change next week. Last year, it was Romo vs. Eli Manning for this spot, back and forth all year, and the final game of the regular season decided it. Could that happen again?

Anyway, here's the team, with some more thoughts after.

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; (Bryant, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Nate Livings, Cowboys (Mathis, Chris Chester)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

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

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Cowboys; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Carr, Prince Amukamara)

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

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • That second guard spot is a three-way toss-up for me between Livings, Chester and Chris Snee, and I've been looking at Livings for several weeks now. The Cowboys' line has been a wreck for much of the season, but Livings has been a bright spot and has played well overall.
  • I honestly thought about Washington's Rob Jackson at outside linebacker, and I think the way Spencer's playing, it'd be Ware's spot he'd take. But I didn't want to deal with the wrath of Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com if I dared to take Ware off the team. And I don't think he deserves to be taken off the team. Let's just say it says a lot about the way Jackson's playing that it was worth thinking about.
  • I've explained Hynoski over Darrel Young plenty of times -- real, real, close, both excellent, Hynoski blocks a little bit more consistently. Both awesome. I wish one of them played cornerback, since I'm looking for good suggestions there.
  • Final story and then I'm out. In the Redskins' locker room after Sunday's game, I went over to talk to Cofield. He was talking to someone else but saw me out of the corner of his eye. "Graziano," he said, and shook his head. "Bout time I made that All-NFC East Team." Don't think we're not doing important work here, people. We're providing motivation.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

Defenses will decide the NFC East

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
11:58
AM ET
Robert Griffin IIIBrad Penner/US PresswireNew York's title hopes may depend on Jason Pierre-Paul and a Giants pass rush that has been underwhelming this season.

Can the New York Giants' pass rush perk up and help a Big Blue defense that held the Falcons offense scoreless during the playoffs last season repeat that performance Sunday in Atlanta?

Can the two men the Dallas Cowboys brought in to be shutdown cornerbacks keep the Steelers receivers covered while Ben Roethlisberger scrambles to keep plays alive?

Can the Washington Redskins scheme, adjust and work around their defensive personnel shortages for another week, keeping Trent Richardson in check and daring Brandon Weeden to beat them in Cleveland?

These are the key storylines Sunday as the NFC East race spins into its final weeks. Amend them with different opponents, and they are likely to remain the key storylines in this division the rest of the way. Although the quarterbacks get all the attention in this division and statistically there's not a top-10 defense in the bunch, the team that plays the best defense in these final three games is the one most likely to emerge with the division title.

The NFC East race is a jumble. The defending champion Giants hold a one-game lead, but they have road games the next two weeks in Atlanta and Baltimore and are far from assured of winning out. The Falcons and Ravens are a combined 11-1 at home this season and 65-11 the past five. Sure, New York is a defending Super Bowl champion that has shown it can win anywhere, but there's not a team out there that could safely assume it would go 2-0 in those games. The Giants are going to have to play the way they played in January, not the way they've played for most of the past month and a half, if they're going to keep control of the division. To do that, they need to be more ferocious on defense.

The Giants have 31 sacks -- tied for 12th most in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul leads them with 6.5. Osi Umenyiora has six. Justin Tuck has only three.

The numbers are fine, but they're not Giants numbers. This is a pass rush that took out Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady en route to its second Super Bowl title in five years. Unless someone gets more than one sack a game the rest of the way, they're going to finish the regular season without anyone in double figures. That doesn't compute, and it has as much to do with why the Giants haven't already put away this division as anything.

It's possible that seeing Ryan and the Falcons will rekindle memories of how dominant they were up front 11 months ago, and if that's the case, the Giants could be the team that gets on the defensive run that gives them the division title.

The Cowboys sit one game back of the Giants, tied with the Redskins for second place. Statistically fine for much of the season, the defense has endured a brutal rash of injuries. Both starting inside linebackers, a starting safety, a starting defensive lineman and their nickel cornerback are on injured reserve. This week, star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware (elbow) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion) have already missed practice. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff remains in doubt, and his backup, Josh Brent, is out because of his well-publicized issues. The Cowboys are running short of players on defense, which could take them right out of this picture if it continues.

But they've made it this far in spite of their deficiencies. They've won four of their past five games. Running back DeMarco Murray is back in the fold, red-hot wide receiver Dez Bryant apparently is determined to play in spite of a broken finger, and the offense is humming.

The defense has to hold it together, and the key is in that secondary. Ware and Anthony Spencer are playing well at outside linebacker, and the defensive line is average and going to stay that way. The defense is counting on Claiborne and fellow corner Brandon Carr to shut down receivers, especially in a game such as this Sunday's against Pittsburgh's receivers. If Claiborne can't go, the responsibility falls to Sterling Moore, who has looked good in his short time in Dallas.

Carr and Claiborne have been occasionally brilliant but generally inconsistent in coverage this season. The price the Cowboys paid for Carr in free-agent money and for Claiborne in draft picks says they're big-time talents who need to play that way. If they can shut down opposing receivers the next three weeks, the Cowboys' chances of coming from behind and stealing this division are a lot better.

In Washington, all eyes are on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has a knee injury and may not play Sunday in Cleveland.

But the Redskins aren't really worried about their offense. They can run the ball with Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon can get open down the field for backup Kirk Cousins, and they can score enough points.

Defense has been the Redskins' issue all season. They rank 28th in total defense and 31st against the pass. A secondary that didn't look all that great to begin with is now missing two starting safeties and a starting cornerback. The defense is also missing its best pass-rusher, Brian Orakpo, and starting defensive lineman Adam Carriker. It has been a struggle.

Yet the Redskins, which have managed to win their past four games to move within a game of the Giants, have a real chance. They have looked bad on defense for long stretches during the streak -- the second half against Dallas on Thanksgiving, the first half against Baltimore last week -- but they've managed to hold on. Coordinator Jim Haslett is doing an excellent job of changing up the game plan from week to week and half to half to maximize any advantage he can find. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson can be a disruptive pass-rusher for a half. DeAngelo Hall can be a decent cover corner for a couple of drives.

They mix, match and patch it together, and so far it's not falling apart. The key will be for the Redskins to keep walking that tightrope, and if they can do it for three more games, they absolutely have a chance.

So if you're trying to make sense of this NFC East race as it hits the home stretch, look not to the big-name quarterbacks and receivers but instead to the defenses. If one of these three teams can do something on defense it hasn't been able to do so far, that could make enough of a difference to decide the division.

All-NFC East Team: Week 15 update

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
1:00
PM ET
For a while, the quarterback position on the All-NFC East team has looked like a boat race, with Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III the clear winner of the spot. But Griffin hurt his knee Sunday, and if he has to miss a few games, he could be caught. Both Tony Romo and Eli Manning are hot and have big numbers (though Griffin's remarkably small number in the interception category is a big part of his lead.)

The disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Nick Foles isn't on it.

Just a few changes this week -- one on the offensive line, a couple at kicker and punter and the rest in the secondary, where I admit I'm at a loss. More explanation after the list itself.

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; (Bryant, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Chris Chester, Redskins (Mathis, Chris Snee)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

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

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Brandon Carr, Cowboys (Amukamara, Morris Claiborne)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Kenny Phillips)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Lawrence Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Brian Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • Did you know this division doesn't have one single cornerback ranked in Pro Football Focus' top 50 for the season? This is what I'm working with, folks. Their highest-ranked NFC East corners are Orlando Scandrick (52), Brandon Boykin (54) and Cedric Griffin (63). So you tell me. I gave Claiborne's spot to Carr this week because I think they're pretty close and Carr's had a couple of game-changing plays the last couple of weeks. But these spots could belong to guys like Josh Wilson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just as easily. This is two years now, and no one in this division plays this position consistently well.
  • Safety's a problem, too, and with the best one in the division (Phillips) in and out due to injury, his spot goes to his real-life replacement, who has seven interceptions.
  • That second guard spot is a mishmash, with Chester, Snee, Nate Livings and Kevin Boothe all getting consideration. Snee has the track record, Chester's had the more consistent season. Slightly.
  • And no, Redskins fans, I'm not "ignoring" Darrel Young at fullback. For the millionth time, both Young and Hynoski are having excellent seasons. It's a tough call, every week. But Hynoski's on the field more, and while he doesn't catch or carry the ball once or twice a week like Young does, he's been the slightly better blocker. And that's the important part of their jobs. I'd love to see both guys go to the Pro Bowl. I can't put them both on this team, though. Maybe if one of them learned to play cornerback. There are spots open there.
  • Tynes is out at kicker. The only question was his replacement, and Bailey, Alex Henery and Kai Forbath all made good cases. I went with Bailey, who hasn't missed from inside 50 and has made more (2) from 50-plus than any of the others have. Forbath is perfect since joining the Redskins, and he's made some huge kicks, including this week and on Thanksgiving. But he's got 14 field goals to Bailey's 25 (and Tynes' 33 and Henery's 23). Didn't seem right. Henery is the best of the bunch on kickoffs, statistically. Good year for kickers in the NFC East.
  • Moorman's also out at punter after that debacle Sunday. Our old friend Rocca returns, though you know Steve Weatherford got a long look.
  • And yes, David Wilson's kick return for a touchdown would have won him the kick-returner spot for the rest of the season, but he already had it.

Your thoughts?

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider