Dallas Cowboys: Reed Doughty

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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

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

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

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

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

NFC East position battles to watch

May, 11, 2012
So John Clayton has this piece on the 10 best position battles brewing this summer between rookies and veterans in the NFL. I scrolled through it, thinking it would provide me with some material for a late-Friday afternoon post, and to my shock and dismay there wasn't one NFC East mention in the whole thing. Come on, John! Help a guy out, will ya?

Anyway, it got me thinking: There must be some interesting position battles to keep an eye on throughout the offseason and training camps in our division, right? I mean, some situations where things aren't yet set in stone? There are, and here's one for each team.

Dallas Cowboys' inside linebackers: Sean Lee is set at one of these spots, but the other will be interesting to watch. The team drafted Bruce Carter in the second round in 2011, and they believe he's part of their future on defense. But he was coming off an injury when they drafted him and played in just 10 games as a rookie, and they can't be sure he'll be ready to hold down a starter's spot full-time in 2012. So they went out on the free-agent market and signed Dan Connor, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to start next to Lee while Carter continues to acclimate himself to the pro game. The interesting aspect of this will be how good Carter looks in training camp and whether he can play well enough to demand to take reps and snaps away from Connor. The veteran, Connor, will start with the job, but Carter is the future there, and it's just a question of when he's ready.

New York Giants running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw is the unquestioned veteran starter, but he doesn't come without questions. Foot injuries have limited him over the past several seasons, and his good friend and veteran safety net, Brandon Jacobs, is off to San Francisco to play for the 49ers. Assuming Bradshaw won't be able to make it through the season fully healthy on a starter's workload, there are going to be plenty of snaps to go around. The question is how many of those snaps first-round pick David Wilson can steal from holdover youngsters like D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown (who's suspended for the first four games for drugs).

Philadelphia Eagles safeties: The team wants Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, its second-round picks from the 2010 and 2011 drafts, respectively, to be the starters. Of the two, they're more confident about Allen, who's had some injury issues but played well when healthy last season. They have him penciled in as a starter. Whether Jarrett can fight off Kurt Coleman for the other starting spot is one of the training-camp questions the Eagles will face. It's also possible they'll add a free-agent veteran to the mix, but they'd rather get the production they need from their young guys if they can.

Washington Redskins secondary: There are currently 15 defensive backs listed on the Redskins' roster, and it's safe to assume they can't all make the team. The question is which of them will play. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall would appear to be set as the starting cornerbacks, but the team did sign free agent Cedric Griffin, and intriguing undrafted free-agent cornerback Chase Minnifield will be a name to watch in the summer. The more interesting questions are at safety, where the Redskins lost starters LaRon Landry and O.J. Atowge and things are wide open. The guy they like the best for the future is 2011 draft pick DeJon Gomes, but while they view him as a starter at some point, they don't know yet whether that point is this year. Their free-agent safety signing list is a fascinating one, including Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson, any of whom c0uld emerge as a starter. Griffin also might have been brought in with an eye toward playing him at safety, and Reed Doughty was a valuable injury fill-in last season and could get a shot at more playing time in this crowded field. The Redskins appear to be installing an all-out competition for safety roles, and from here it's impossible to know who will play well enough to nail them down.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins preview

November, 18, 2011

Scout's Eye
The last time the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys met, some eight weeks ago, the Redskins were off to a 2-0 start with an impressive opening day win against the New York Giants while the Cowboys had just evened their record to 1-1 after Tony Romo managed to steal a game in San Francisco despite a broken rib.

Blame quarterbacks for Redskins' slide

Since that meeting, the Redskins have lost five of their last six. A large part of those losses are due to the poor play of the quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck. When you study the Redskins, the first thing that comes to mind is what we had to deal with during the Dave Campo years here in Dallas when it came to the quarterbacks. During that span we wasted a lot of time trying to get quarterbacks ready to play that gave us no opportunity to win games. I am seeing a lot of the same things in Washington.

Mike Shanahan’s inability to successfully identify a quarterback has done a lot of damage to the Redskins. Time, money and draft selections have been wasted on players like Donovan McNabb, Grossman and Beck.

Any pro personnel director could tell you without hesitation that McNabb was slipping badly and Andy Reid was more than ready to move on from McNabb with Michael Vick. As much as Shanahan wanted to believe that there was still gas left in McNabb’s tank, it wasn’t the case at all. Everyone knew that except Shanahan.

As the Redskins were going through training camp, Shanahan was still in search of a quarterback and placed a call to the Dolphins about Beck, who have had their quarterback issues as well. The Dolphins were more than happy to ship Beck to the Redskins. Shanahan made his biggest mistake of the off season by not addressing the quarterback situation through the draft when he had the opportunity to do so with a top-10 selection.

Shanahan could have selected Andy Dalton, Jake Locker or Christian Ponder but instead chose to trade down and select linebacker Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue. Kerrigan has been a nice player this season but doesn’t help his quarterback situation now or in the future.

Beck has made three starts this season and has yet to win a game. As a matter of fact, Beck has an 0-7 record as an NFL starter. He plays like a quarterback that is afraid to make a mistake. You never see him really push the ball down the field. Everything Beck does is short and underneath.

Beck really struggles because he isn’t that accurate when it comes to throwing the ball at any level. He will struggle to hit receivers on the move and he will also struggle to hit them when stationary. The ball doesn’t come off his hand with any zip at all; there is no power to his game.

This is also the case of Grossman, who is back after throwing four interceptions in a loss to the Eagles. I have never been a fan of Grossman’s game because he really lacks arm strength, but I can’t question his toughness. He will stand in there and take shots.

Grossman is not the tallest or most mobile quarterback in the league, but you will see him slide in the pocket to try to help him with throwing lanes. The lack of arm strength appears when the Redskins try to throw the ball down the field.

Cowboys catch a break: No Moss

There have been too many times where Anthony Armstrong or Santana Moss get a step on a corner but have to wait on the ball because neither Grossman or Beck can get it down the field.

The Cowboys catch a huge break in this game because Moss will miss it due to a hand injury. Moss has punished the Cowboys over the years with his playmaking ability, so the fact that he is out of the lineup is a huge plus for Rob Ryan and this defense.

The Redskins generate offense in two areas.

Tight end Fred Davis is the real deal and is someone that nickel back Frank Walker and safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam are going to have to deal with. Davis doesn’t play like a traditional in line tight end. Not to say that you won’t see him inline, but the majority of his work is in the slot or flexed. Davis likes to work the middle of the field and he will be the go-to guy on third downs. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to move him around the formation and create opportunities.

Redskins also will struggle to run the ball

Shanahan will also try to run the ball against the Cowboys’ front seven. Last week against the Bills, Dallas’ run defense was outstanding when the game was in the balance. That wasn’t the case the previous games against the Eagles and Seahawks.

The Cowboys will need to be ready for running backs Ryan Torain and Roy Helu in this zone blocking attack. Torain runs the ball hard but he is really straight line and doesn’t have many moves. He will attack the hole, then lower his head to finish the run.

The back that I think is the best fit for this offense is Helu. He just plays like he has a better feel for the offense when it comes to reading the blocks, then making the cut. Torain is more about attacking the hole; Helu is more about allowing the blocks to develop then making his cut.

Helu also does a nice job of catching the ball out of the backfield. Solid, dependable hands and does a nice job of getting up the field and gaining positive yards.

I mentioned the issues that the Redskins have at quarterback, which I feel are the most important, but their offensive line -- other than left tackle Trent Williams -- really struggle, run or pass.

Left guard Maurice Hurt is the weak link of this line. He plays overextended, doesn’t adjust to twist stunts and has poor sustain. He has been nursing a knee injury and might not be active for this game. Center Will Montgomery would slide over to his spot and Erik Cook would take over at center.

Right tackle Jammal Brown has had his shares of problems when it has come to pass protection. Have seen defenders get the edge on him without many problems.

Williams can make the cut-off block on the backside and reach the front. Williams had a little trouble in the 49ers game when he and Hurt had to sort out the twist game. Both of them did not adjust all that well. Look for Rob Ryan to throw some movement stunts against this line to see if they have corrected those problems or teams will continue to take advantage of them.

Redskins' defense will create pressure

If the Redskins can ever find a way to build any type of offense, they would have a shot in this division. No matter how bad the offense plays, the Redskins defense is always there to clean up the mess.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his staff have done a nice job in the games I studied. The pressure that they have able to generate with their front seven, particularly outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Kerrigan, has been impressive.

Orakpo was the first rusher that Doug Free faced after the 49ers game, when he struggled so bad with his technique. I was told that Free was really worried about the inside rush from Orakpo and it affected him in the game. Free has been rock solid the last two weeks and appears to once again be playing with confidence.

Both Orakpo and Kerrigan are relentless rushers when coming after the quarterback, but you will also have to deal with them on the backside when running down plays. If the Cowboys’ tackles and tight ends don’t finish blocks on the backside, then Orakpo and Kerrigan will be right there to make a play.

One of the major reasons for success in this Cowboys running game has been their ability to secure blocks and allow DeMarco Murray to use his vision to make cuts when he reads it. Without those backside blocks, this running game wouldn’t be as potent.

Watch for safety Landry to key on Cowboys' rushers

In the Buffalo game, safety LaRon Landry played more in the box, almost like a linebacker. I have a feeling that Haslett will probably try to do the same to see if he can have some success stopping Murray. Garrett can counter much like he did last week against the Bills -- throw the ball early in the game to get them out of that.

The Redskins have some run players in nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Adam Carriker. Cofield shows the ability to get up field quickly off the snap and be disruptive in the backfield. Will be interested to see if Cofield lines up over Montrae Holland, who has struggled with quickness in the past.

Carriker plays with more brute force and power than great technique. When Tyron Smith has had his troubles, it’s been against ends that play with power. But to Smith’s advantage, this will be the second time that he has faced Carriker, so he can go back and study how he needs to attack him.

Former Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen is not playing as well against the run as he did when he was here. There is something about Bowen that leads me to believe that he really was an outstanding nickel or backup player, and the more snaps that he has to play, the more he will struggle. Bowen can still generate some pass rush, but he isn’t nearly as affective as he was when here.

At inside linebacker, the ageless London Fletcher is still around the ball a great deal. When in position to make a tackle, he can get the job done.

I was not impressed with Rocky McIntosh at all. I saw too many times where he was beaten in coverage or he missed a tackle. In the 49ers and Bills games, he was really bad in both those areas. McIntosh struggled much more than Fletcher at getting off blocks.

Cowboys should target Barnes in Redskins' secondary

In the secondary, the Redskins will use three safeties when they are all healthy, which at this time they are not. Landry has missed the first two days of practice with an Achilles injury, but he should play. O.J. Atogwe has been dealing with knee and toe problems and Reed Doughty has a chest issue.

The best combination for the Redskins is when Atogwe and Landry are the starters. Doughty will try to be physical in the run but doesn’t cover all that well.

Of the two corners, Josh Wilson knows how to play the fade and doesn’t give you much room. He also runs very well. DeAngelo Hall likes to bait quarterbacks into throws and will drive on routes. Have been told that he hasn’t been playing well this year, but in the games I studied, I didn’t see that. The weak link in the group is nickel Kevin Barnes, who needs to be attacked.

Scout's Eye: Skins-Cowboys key matchups

September, 24, 2011

Scout's Eye
Here are the key matchups for the Dallas Cowboys' Monday Night Football contest against the Washington Redskins:

Cowboys OT Doug Free vs. Redskins OLB Brian Orakpo: After playing one of his poorest games since he was named a starter two years ago, Free has the opportunity to put the 49ers game behind him and lock up with one of the NFL's young rising stars in Orakpo.

Last week, Free was as off balance as I had ever seen him at tackle. His punch and footwork was off to the point where I was surprised that Justin Smith wasn't more of a factor. The Redskins have two nice rushers in Orakpo and rookie Ryan Kerrigan but Orakpo is the more explosive of the two, and that is what Free will have to deal with.

Orakpo works to get the edge on you first but is athletic enough to adjust in mid-rush. Free needs to be careful not TO allow Orakpo to set him up to the outside getting all his weight on that left foot, then working back inside to take a run at the quarterback.

Again, Free struggled last week when he had to adjust quickly. In studying the Redskins-Cardinals matchup, Arizona got hurt most when it used a back or tight end to handle Orakpo. This doesn't work scheme-wise, and don't expect Jason Garrett and the staff to make that as part of the game plan.

Bryan Broaddus, the official scout of ESPN Dallas, joins Ben and Skin to preview the Monday night matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins.

Listen Listen
I don't see Free playing poorly two weeks in a row, but Orakpo is the type of player who can make you look bad if you don't handle him the right way.

Cowboys nickel CB Alan Ball vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss: Of all the matchups for the Cowboys defense Monday night, this is the one that might be the most important.

When Rob Ryan plays nickel, the adjustment that he will make is putting Ball in as the slot corner to cover Moss. Last week against the 49ers, Ball played inside while Frank Walker took his spot at left corner on the outside. Ball wasn't bad in the second half but in the first he had struggles when having to deal with Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan.

The biggest problem I see with Ball is that he will play way too cautious. There are times when he allows too much space between himself and the receiver. He has the quickness to drive on the ball but he doesn't always do it.

Moss is a handful because of his skill set. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to move him all over the formation, trying to create mismatches to convert third downs. Moss is a fearless player and will go inside or outside. He will find away to catch the football.

When you watch the Redskins play, you can see the confidence that Rex Grossman has in trying to get the ball in Moss' direction. This is a battle that the Cowboys can't lose or handle poorly if they are to get off the field on third down.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Redskins S Reed Doughty and OJ Atogwe: The situation at receiver as Garrett would put it is truly day to day.

Miles Austin is out with a hamstring injury and Dez Bryant is trying to work through a thigh injury that hasn't allowed him to practice for the last two weeks. Friday was the first day that the trainers allowed Bryant to even attempt to put weight on the injury. He still has two days to try and get ready for Washington.

Even if Bryant is able to go, Witten is going to once again play a key role in how this offense will function, much like he did last week against the 49ers. The real problem here is that the Redskins will not allow Witten to beat them, so he should see some special coverage schemes from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Of the two Redskins safeties, Doughty will struggle the most in coverage. He doesn't run well enough to hang with Witten down the field or in routes, so Atogwe could draw that assignment. Against the 49ers, Witten was able to make plays by releases from in line or the normal tight end spot against a Cover 2 look. Look for the Redskins not to respect the other Cowboys receivers other than Bryant and try to make it difficult on Witten to get open.

Scout's Eye: Redskins-Cowboys preview

September, 23, 2011

In the three seasons I worked with Bill Parcells for the Cowboys, I was always impressed with his ability to not allow injuries to become an excuse for how well our team was going to play that week.

Scout's Eye
Parcells fought daily to prepare, practice and play with those players that were healthy enough to go, including those players that were able to play despite not being 100 percent. Watching Tony Romo play last week against the 49ers in the condition he was in reminded me of the message that Parcells was trying to drill into our teams.

I get that same feeling listening to and watching Jason Garrett. It’s on the players that are on that 46-man game day roster to step up and continue to play regardless of who is taking the snaps, running the routes or carrying the football that day.

The Cowboys have had their share of injuries to key players through the first two weeks of the season, but to the credit of the staff and players in that locker room, no one is making excuses. In the NFL, no one feels sorry for the condition your team is in and the last time I checked the league is not going to cancel the season because you have several starters that will not be able to line up.

With that being said, the Redskins present an interesting challenge to the Cowboys.

Redskins offense

In the second season under Mike Shanahan, this Redskins offense is really a collection of veteran players that Shanahan has been able to piece together and develop into a productive unit.

The Shanahan scheme is about running the football first to set up other opportunities off play-action, using boots and throwing to tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. When the Redskins run the ball, they like to run the zone stretch with all the blockers stepping hard play side either to the right or left, thus allowing the back to press the ball hard front side, find the soft spot, make a cut, then head up field.

When Shanahan was with the Broncos, there was more violence in the way his offensive line was able to block the backside with cut-off blocks diving into the legs of the defensive linemen. This blocking style was a nightmare for defensive linemen having to fight blockers with their hands to protect their knees and then try to tackle a ball carrier going through the hole. This offensive line will play low on the backside, but it’s now more about trying to stay on their feet and run with the defenders.

In the Shanahan scheme, he has always been able to plug in what seemed like any back and have a 1,000-yard rusher. However, when I studied the Giants and Cardinals games, the one area I noticed improvement over last season was at running back.

Last season, the majority of the work went to a broken down Clinton Portis, who just couldn’t stay healthy enough to help the Redskins sustain any type of rushing attack. In the offseason, the Redskins went out and made two improvements at running back, adding Tim Hightower from the Cardinals and drafting Roy Helu from Nebraska. I have really been impressed with both of these runners.

Hightower has a real feel for how to run the ball in this scheme. He is a patient runner but also a powerful one. He can get the ball on the edge and around the corner.

Helu doesn’t look like he is moving quickly, but once he gets through the hole, he has some shiftiness in the open field. Helu is also an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. There are designed plays where they use wide receiver picks for him to quickly work him into the flat to pick up first downs.

At wide receiver, veterans Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney are the starters. Moss has always been a difficult player for the Cowboys to deal with no matter who the coach was for the Redskins. It will still once again be that way in that Shanahan will line Moss up all over the formation. The place that he is the most dangerous is when they line him up in the slot and use him to attack the secondary on third down. Moss has always been fearless taking his routes inside and catching the ball on the move.

Gaffney has become a sneaky receiver. Had a nice out-and-up route against the Giants that was a huge play in the game. Like Moss, he is not afraid to take his route anywhere on the field. Will run the slant in the red zone and show no fear for the safety sitting inside.

Earlier in the report, I mentioned the play of tight ends Cooley and Davis. This will be the third week in a row that Rob Ryan’s defense will face a tight end that can be a difference maker in the game. Cooley or Davis are not trained killers as run blockers but what they can do is line up flexed or in the slot and get down the field quickly. Both have outstanding hands and can adjust to any type of pass that is thrown from Rex Grossman. Both tight ends are problems for defenses in the red zone because of their ability to use their size to separate.

The Cowboys have to be careful if the Redskins get their running game going on the stretch play, then they try to take advantage of the play-action game using Cooley and Davis.

At quarterback, I have never been a Rex Grossman fan. But to his credit, he has managed to lead his team to a 2-0 start. There is a side of me that truly believes that Shanahan wanted John Beck to start, but Grossman did enough to win the job.

When you study Grossman, you still see the same mistakes that ended his career in Chicago: red zone interceptions, fumbles in the pocket when sacked and tipped passes at the line. Grossman will still struggle with his decision making and his reckless way that he will throw the ball into coverage, thinking that his arm strength can get the job done.

What Grossman does well, is that he can show accuracy hitting the receiver on the move. In the Giants game, he was able to work the ball on the fade to Anthony Armstrong, who made a pretty play.

The Cowboys have to try to affect Grossman in the middle of the pocket. He will move if flushed but the majority of the snaps he likes to stand in the middle of the pocket and throw the ball. The problem with that is that he is not that tall and he will struggle to get power on the pass when he feels the rush in his face.

Last week against the 49ers, Jay Ratliff and the blitzing linebackers were able to cause problems for Alex Smith. I look for Rob Ryan to try and do the same thing to Grossman.

Redskins defense

When I broke down the Redskins offense, I spoke of the new additions at running back and what a difference they have made. But in my view where the Redskins have improved the most is on defense.

I like what the Redskins did with the additions of defensive end Stephen Bowen, nose tackle Barry Cofield from the Giants and the drafting of outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. If you are a fan of the Cowboys, you grew to appreciate the fine work of Bowen but Cofield and Kerrigan are really nice players.

Cofield is a strong point-of-attack player that knows how to fight blocks and keep himself square to stop the run. Cofield is also strong in his ability to get push in the middle over the guards on pass rush.

Kerrigan was the Redskins first-round selection out of Purdue this year and opposite Brian Orakpo has been a force not only against the run but as a pass rusher. Kerrigan at Purdue was a hand-in-the-dirt player, but he has made the transition to the outside linebacker spot. Kerrigan is strong against the run and can cover down the field, but he is most effective as a relentless, effort pass rusher.

Kerrigan will see the majority of his plays against Tyron Smith, who I thought was the best offensive linemen for the Cowboys last week against the 49ers. Smith will once again need to match the effort and intensity of Kerrigan and not allow him to get off the rock with any consistency or pace.

In the secondary, Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall are the corners with Kevin Barnes the nickel. Hall has always been a gambler in coverage. Wilson is good in tight coverage and can really close on the ball. Wilson can also run well enough to hang with any of the Cowboys receivers. Have seen Wilson be a bit of a hit or miss tackler.

At safety, O.J. Atogwe from the Rams plays as the free safety with Reed Doughty in the lineup for the injured LaRon Landry, who is trying to work his way back from a hamstring injury. Atogwe plays well in the box and is a willing tackler. Doughty will also fill in the running game but doesn’t have catch-up speed in coverage. If the Cowboys are to try and take advantage of one of these safeties, it will be Doughty.

There is a ton of movement in this front. The Redskins will slant the line one way then bring the linebackers back the other way. On the blitz, they like to bring the inside linebackers on games.

The Cowboys can’t make the mistake that the Cardinals did and that’s block Orakpo or Kerrigan with backs. Both play with way too much power and quickness. The way to successfully handle these rushers is try to keep them wide in their rush. Orakpo and Kerrigan like to take a direct path to the quarterback, but they have struggled the most when tackles forced them up the field.

If the Cowboys are going to win this game, Doug Free and Tyron Smith are going to have to handle Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

Scout's Eye: Redskins-Cowboys review

December, 21, 2010
In a contest of two teams going in the opposite direction, the Cowboys were able to hold onto a victory against a Redskins squad that many thought would roll over and quit after Mike Shanahan made the Friday quarterback switch to go with Rex Grossman over the popular Donovan McNabb.

Scout's Eye
Some of the Redskins’ problems on offense could be blamed on McNabb, but not all of them. In studying their last two games against the Giants and Bucs, the offensive line has had more of their share of problems protecting McNabb.

The matchup of rookie left tackle Trent Williams and DeMarcus Ware was one that drew my interest. Williams made his first career start against Ware on opening day and to this point has progressed nicely. In this matchup, Williams was athletic enough to handle Ware’s ability to rush the passer and play the run, but throughout the contest, Ware was able to put the talented tackle in some bad positions with his rushes.

Ware was able to use his power on the bull rush and drive Williams back into Grossman. He was able to explode off the snap, get the edge of Williams and get around him for a sack. On his second sack when he also caused a fumble, he worked Williams wide, got his balance off and weight going up field, then worked inside for the sack on Grossman.

On Victor Butler’s sack, he is going to work a game where Butler picks Williams and Ware comes inside. At the snap, Butler and Ware start to work together on the game, Williams fans outside and guard Kory Lichtensteiger works down inside, leaving a gap for Butler to rush through. To Butler’s credit, he sees this and takes the opportunity to rush inside and get the sack.

* Along the defensive front, Jay Ratliff started off the game slowly, not getting off Casey Rabach’s blocks in the running game, but as the game wore on Ratliff did a better job of creating pressure in the middle of the pocket. Stephen Bowen started the game missing a tackle on the screen to Moss but rebounded to play well.

Bowen has a feel for how to get pressure inside by getting push. The more you study Bowen, the more you realize truly what a valuable player he really is. Physically he is not the most impressive player, but he is relentless and his technique causes blockers problems.

Of the three Cowboys defensive ends that are playing under one-year contracts (Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Bowen), Bowen is the one player that I would try to re-sign because of what he brings as a nickel rusher and spot starter.

To me, Bowen has more value than Spears, who is a two-down player, and Hatcher, who has been way too inconsistent in the opportunities given to him.

* In the secondary, nickel back Orlando Scandrick played well. Scandrick did a nice job of playing the routes of Santana Moss and Roydell Williams. Scandrick understands how to keep leverage in the route and has the quickness and awareness to play the ball in the air.

As a blitzer, Scandrick is developing his timing and technique to gain results when his number is called. This has become a go-to blitz for Paul Pasqualoni in the weekly game plan. Scandrick also is the most consistent and effective tacklers in the open field of all the defensive backs.

With the injury to Gerald Sensabaugh in the game, Barry Church took over at safety and really had a mixed bag of a game.

There were times where he missed tackles, whether he lunged and missed or he didn’t wrap up and bring his feet. He ran around going to the ball instead of taking a direct path to the ball. On the two-point play to tight end Chris Cooley, he had too much depth in the route and didn’t react quickly enough to the pass. He also struggled with Cooley on another two-point play where Cooley drives outside, then back inside causing Church to have to grab him and getting the holding call.

After the game, Church commented that the speed of the game was much different than what he had experienced in the preseason, which is okay. Despite his struggles, Church playing in these games are not a bad thing because it gives the front office and coaches the opportunity to really see what they have there at safety, which will be an area of concern during free agency and the draft.

*The Cowboys were short-handed at receiver with Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree on injured reserve and Roy Williams missing the game with a groin injury. With Sam Hurd starting on the outside and Manny Johnson seeing action as the third, the Cowboys still managed to have another 30-point game.

One of the main reasons that Jason Garrett can get away with playing without key players is the play of tight end Jason Witten. In this offense, Witten’s ability to break down defenses is impressive. His route running has never been better and his understanding of the game and what he needs to do on “hot” routes allows this offense to maintain drives.

We often talk about Witten as this mismatch player. He is too big for safeties to deal with and too athletic for linebackers to carry around the field. Witten’s ability to swim defenders, work up field, nod to the outside, then work back inside to create space is a nightmare for safeties like Reed Doughty. He also can line up on the far right of the formation as a receiver against DeAngelo Hall, run up the field then work outside, use his body to shield Hall from the ball, make the catch, shake a tackle, then get into the end zone.

Running back Tashard Choice continues to make the most of his opportunities -- not just in the running game, but as a pass blocker. Choice did have a nice touchdown run following the block of Kyle Kosier off the edge, but where Choice helped this team the most was his ability to know his assignment, read the defensive scheme and execute his assignment.

The Redskins really struggle to create pressure with their base rush, so defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had to try to create pressure with different looks and bringing pressure from the secondary. There were several plays where Choice had to sort out the rush and step up to make a clean pick up. To his credit, he was successful in his job, which allowed Jon Kitna to make successful throws down the field.

As a group, this was one of the better games for the offensive line. There have been too many games this season where four guys manage to do their jobs and one fails on each play. Doug Free had the toughest task of dealing with Brian Orakpo. Until Orakpo went out in the third quarter, Free played technique wise as good as you could play. His feet, sets, punch, angles were all in line. He played without much panic or stress. In the running game, his down blocks and sustain were outstanding.

Kosier had a solid game adjusting on the edge when he pulled, working to the linebackers on the second level on backside blocks.

The line was successful sorting out what the Redskins where trying to deal to them when it came to the passing game.

The one flaw in the game was the fourth-and-1 play on the goal line. Garrett puts Montrae Holland in the backfield as the blocking fullback but at the snap, the front side or the left side of the line gets no push. On the back side, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo get beat inside and linebackers Rocky Mcintosh and London Fletcher go over the top. Choice has no opportunity to even start into the line because the Redskins front is now on the Cowboys side of the line of scrimmage, which led to the play being stuffed.

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Redskins

September, 11, 2010

*Redskins LT Trent Williams vs. Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware: I have to admit that I have been impressed with Trent Williams and what he has done in the preseason for the Redskins, considering that he is just a rookie.

Williams is a nice fit in the type of offensive scheme that Mike Shanahan likes to run. He is athletic and mobile, which helps him on the front-side reach or the back-side cutoff blocks. Williams does a nice job of fitting on his man, working his hands and feet together to keep his man from the ball.

But Williams struggled some in two areas against Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. Suggs is an explosive pass rusher with outstanding first-step quickness and strength in the upper body. As mentioned, Williams can run his man up the field, but where Suggs was able to get him was with power. Williams is strong, but he doesn’t have that type of strength where he can just sit down on his man and stop him in tracks.

Ware will give you all kinds of pass rush moves, plus he is very good at playing with his hands in the running game. The Redskins in the preseason did keep Cooley and Davis in to help in protection, but it wasn’t to Williams’ side. If Williams struggles early in this game, I can see some adjustments being made there.

*Cowboys run defense vs. Redskins stretch play: Mike Shanahan has always been able to run the football during tenure with the Denver Broncos because of the use of the stretch play and the scheme problems it presents for the opposing defense.

The stretch allows the running back to press front side then make a cut when he finds the hole. On the backside of the play, the defensive linemen and linebackers have to deal with offensive linemen diving into their legs. Defenders having to use their hands to fight off blocks are not looking for the back coming through the hole, thus getting the back into the second level.

The Cowboys played a team in preseason that is very similar to what the Redskins are trying to do scheme wise in the Houston Texans. who had some success running the football ones vs. ones.

What the Redskins want to do is get the running game going with Clinton Portis then use Donovan McNabb on boots and waggles off play-action to set up plays down the field to Santana Moss or Chris Cooley. The Cowboys can match up better is with the return of Marcus Spears and Keith Brooking to the lineup. Both are nice run defenders and could give the defense a real boost.

*Tight Ends vs. Safeties: Both the Cowboys and Redskins have outstanding tight ends on their squads. Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett for the Cowboys and Chris Cooley, Fred Davis for the Redskins.

Witten and Cooley are playmakers. They are match up nightmares for defensive coordinators because of their ability to consistently catch the football. Witten is faster than Cooley, but Cooley does a nice job of finding space in the secondary.

Throughout the preseason, Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb had already developed a connection with Cooley, along with receiver Santana Moss as his go-to guys.

Davis is the backup to Cooley and he will line up all over the place. Davis is a nice receiver that has dependable hands. He is a big guy that moves well down the field. Where Davis is effective is when the team uses it’s boot or waggle scheme. Davis will hold like he is going to block, then work out into the route. Cowboys’ safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh will need to be aware of where these Redskins tight ends are at all times because of their ability to make plays.

The Redskins don’t have many weapons, but Cooley and Davis can more than hold their own on making plays.

On the other side of the coin, the Redskins run into a matchup problem with Witten and Bennett. The Redskins safeties do not do a good job in coverage and in this game it might do them in.

LaRon Landry is a big hitter and can be a force, but when it comes to coverage he is technique poor. Landry really struggles with movement and keeping route contact. You can fool and move him.

Reed Doughty is a decent tackler but doesn’t have the foot quickness or the cover skills to be able to control a guy like Witten or Bennett. If this game becomes tight, watch how Romo and McNabb will go to their tight ends to make plays.

The Cowboys have more weapons on the outside at receiver and along with the Redskins will have their hands full with these tight ends.