Dallas Cowboys: Steve Smith

Five questions with: Brandon Carr

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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IRVING, Texas -- With the players entering the downtime of the offseason, we offer up a Five Questions segment.

Today's subject is Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr.

Carr signed with the Cowboys in 2012 with a five-year, $50 million deal. He has started every game in his six-year career, having spent the first four years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Carr
What is your first football memory?

Carr: I was 6 years old and for Christmas my parents bought me the Dallas Cowboys uniform with the helmet and the little shoulder pads and the jersey. It was Troy Aikman and my cousin, they bought him a Barry Sanders' Detroit Lions one and we used to always go outside and play one on one and do different things then we started hitting, so my first experience of actually tackling was on Christmas day in the snow. We played from about what, 3 in the afternoon all the way until about 8. My brother was the quarterback/referee.

If you could play any other position, what would it be?

Carr: I would want to be a (pause) wide receiver. I like catching the ball. I like when the ball is actually getting thrown to me. I wouldn't want to be a running back. Quarterback, that's OK. I did those years. I'd rather go to the other side of the ball and just switch hats and play and feel how they feel. I can use some of my knowledge on some DBs.

If you were the NFL commissioner for a day, what rule would you change?

Carr: Haha. There's two of them. I would change the targeting rule. Then I would change the pass interference rules. I'd let them play a little bit more. I'd let them be a little bit more physical down the field.

Who is the non-Cowboy you respect the most in the league?

Carr: I've always had a respect for Steve Smith. I played him my rookie year. Just a guy who seems like a pretty cool guy. Takes care of his business on the field, does the same off the field. He's always in the community and doing some kind of charitable things. He has some good movements going on.

If you weren't playing football, what would you be doing?

Carr: This is year seven, hopefully I'd just be getting ready to finish up my residency in the medical field for pediatrician. This is year seven, four years in college, so about 11-12 years. I would just probably being stressed out right now, eyes all red.

Debate time: Best NFC East WR tandems

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
11:35
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This came up in the chat Tuesday, and I figured it was worth a post in which you guys could bat it around and argue with each other: Who's got the best wide receivers in the NFC East at the moment? There is a poll over here in which you can vote on which team has the best starting duo.

SportsNation

Which NFC East team has the best starting WR duo?

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    40%
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    38%
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    13%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 15,796)

We did this a couple of years ago, I remember, and I picked the Giants' guys over the Eagles' guys and got some heat for it. I think at the time I was still projecting Steve Smith as the No. 2 in New York behind Hakeem Nicks. So while I think the past two years have supported my pick, I admit I didn't see Victor Cruz factoring into this debate to the extent that he has.

At this point, with Jackson and Maclin having failed to live up to those 2011 expectations, I think the Cowboys' tandem is the Giants' chief competition. The way Dez Bryant came on last year makes you think he might be about to live up to his incredible potential and become one of the dominant receivers in the league. This would make Miles Austin as good a No. 2 receiver as there is anywhere in the league, except in East Rutherford, where Cruz is a ridiculously productive No. 2 when Nicks is healthy.

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And that's the crux of it, right? If Nicks were healthy, I'd still vote for him and Cruz over Bryant and Austin, though I say it's close and Bryant right now is the best of the four. Nicks was not healthy last season, and has not shown much of an ability to stay healthy for a full season. So you have to downgrade him a little bit, which tightens the competition. I believe he's a more complete wide receiver (again, when healthy) than Bryant is at this point in their careers, but I think Bryant's game-breaking ability and the mismatches he creates in the secondary offer him the opportunity to be the better player long-term. Whether he cashes in on that opportunity, obviously, remains to be seen.

The Redskins are here too, of course, though I struggle to tell you for certain which of their wideouts is the No. 2 behind Pierre Garcon. In the poll, I went with Josh Morgan, though it could have been Leonard Hankerson or even Santana Moss, who's more of a slot receiver. I think the questions about No. 2, and the questions about the health of Garcon's foot, push them to fourth in this debate, even behind the Eagles' guys. But obviously, based on last season, you'd take Garcon over Jackson or Maclin.

So fire away. Duke it out. Have at it. These tend to be fun.

Cowboys could have edge in tight game

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
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The Dallas Cowboys have won eight straight regular-season games against the Carolina Panthers, and for the streak to reach nine the Cowboys should hope that it's a close game. Three of the Panthers’ four losses this season have been by eight points or less. Over the last two seasons, the Panthers are just 1-9 in games decided by a single possession, the worst mark in the NFL.

Here are four other statistical areas to watch Sunday:

* Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might be experiencing a sophomore slump in 2012. All four of Newton’s touchdown passes this season have come on passes completed outside of the end zone. Newton is 0-for-5 on throws into the end zone this season and is one of two quarterbacks in the league (the Titans’ Jake Locker is the other) without a completion on such throws. Wide receiver Steve Smith does not have a touchdown catch. It is the most games Smith has gone without a touchdown to start a season since 2009, when he did not have one in his first six games.

* The dual threat of Newton was evident in the Panthers’ Week 2 win against the Saints. The Panthers used a form of the option on 23 rushes for 145 yards against the Saints. In their four losses, the Panthers have used the option a combined 37 times. Carolina has averaged 5.4 yards per rush on such plays this season, compared to a 3.6 rate on non-option plays. The Cowboys have yet to face any option play this season. Most of the Panthers’ rushing success this season on option plays has come outside the tackles. The Panthers are averaging 8.3 yards on 24 rushing attempts outside the tackles on option plays this season. The Cowboys have allowed 3.0 yards per attempt (22 rushes, 66 yards) on such runs this season, which is fourth best in the NFL.

* Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is just 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) on throws more than 20 yards downfield this season and is just 2-of-10 when he targets Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Romo posted the third-highest completion percentage (53.2) on such throws since the start of the 2008 season. Romo might be able to improve upon his deep-passing numbers against the Panthers, who have allowed the league’s second-highest completion percentage (54.5) on throws more than 20 yards downfield this season.

* Romo has thrown an interception in six straight games, the second-longest streak of his career, and if he throws an interception in Week 7, it would be the seventh straight game with an interception dating back to last season. Where are Romo’s interceptions coming? This season it has been on shorter passes, as six of Romo’s nine interceptions have been on passes 14 or fewer yards downfield.

Rob Ryan thinking takeovers, not turnovers

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
1:39
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IRVING, Texas – Give Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan credit for coming up with an interesting way to address the unit’s inability to create turnovers.

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“Obviously we’re not good at getting turnovers, so we’re going to get takeovers this week,” Ryan said. “We’ve changed the game and I think we’re going to do much better. So we’re getting takeovers and we’re ready to go.”

In the first five games, the Cowboys have generated only four turnovers, including a league-low one interception. Only Indianapolis (three) has created fewer than the Cowboys. New England leads the NFL with 16 takeaways (six interceptions, 10 fumbles).

Sunday’s foe, Carolina, has turned it over 11 times on the season with five interceptions and two lost fumbles from Cam Newton, two lost fumbles from Joe Adams and one each from Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams.

The Cowboys have emphasized the importance of creating turnovers every possibly way through drills and video without success.

Maybe the name change works.

The Other Side: Jonathan Jones

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
11:00
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Jonathan Jones covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer. On this week's The Other Side, we talk to Jones about the the Cowboys' opponent for Sunday.

Here's our interview:

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Q: So, what's wrong with Cam Newton this season? Sophomore slump?

A: I'm not ready to call it a sophomore slump just yet, but it's getting there. First of all, it was going to be nearly impossible for him to repeat the type of production he had last season. But Cam's feeling more pressure this season. Last year the Panthers had a pass because it was obviously a rebuilding year, but after improving their win total 300%, that pressure mounts. And we still have to remember for as great a football player as Cam is -- his exploits at Auburn, what he did last season and what he'll do in the future -- he's still a 23-year-old barely in his second year as a professional. But I fully believe he's going to figure things out and stop pressing like he has been.

Q: Does Carolina need to start Jon Beason or Luke Kuechly?

A: I think they may have to start Kuechly just because Beason's knee has forced him to sit out two days of practice. Beason showed earlier this season that he's still the same Jon Beason who went to three Pro Bowls, but nagging shoulder and knee injuries have rendered him less effective. I charted that in his last game against Atlanta, he missed five tackles. And in Kuechly's first and only game at the Mike, he had the best game of his young career. The numbers show Kuechly is growing more comfortable on the field, and if Beason isn't close to full health, the decision is easy.

Q: Steve Smith doesn't have a touchdown this season. What's his biggest problem, if there is one?

A: I don't think it's his problem as much as Cam has been targeting Smith a lot. He threw to him 13 times against Seattle and essentially neglected some other targets. When that happens, it's easy for defensive backs to key in even more on the Panthers' top wideout. Newton hasn't distributed the ball through the air as well as he can -- and he's noted that. So once guys like Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen get more involved, things will open up for Smith.

Q: It looks like the defense has struggled this season. Injuries, poor play or the scheme to blame?

A: Honestly, had you told me before the season that this defense would hold Tampa Bay and Seattle to just 16 points, I would have told you those were automatic wins considering the Panthers' offense. The defense, really outside of Beason and one missed game by top corner Chris Gamble, has stayed relatively healthy. But the Panthers haven't established that strong running game they've been known for, and a healthy run-pass balance always keeps the chains moving and the defense resting on the sideline. Certainly there was some poor play involved, most notably the huge drive by Atlanta in the final minute, but overall I think this defense has exceeded preseason expectations.

Q: Panthers start a three-game stretch with Dallas, then play Chicago and Washington. Is this basically their last chance to salvage their season?

A: I think so, and I think that's the sentiment in the locker room. You hear the "take it one game at a time" refrain, but these guys know that they're 1-4 and they've spent their bye week. You look at the NFC South and see that Atlanta locked up the division weeks ago, so the Panthers are playing for a wild card. And if they can even their record at 4-4 after these next three games, there's some hope for Carolina. But obviously, that's a tall task.

Morris Claiborne passes test, denies Rams

August, 26, 2012
8/26/12
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne really got tested for the first time as a pro Saturday night.

He gave up a few catches, but Claiborne passed the tests with flying colors, especially in the red zone.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford targeted Claiborne twice in the end zone on St. Louis’ final series of the first half. Claiborne had good coverage on both occasions. He crowded Austin Pettis on an incomplete back-shoulder fade in the front corner of the end zone and swatted away a ball intended for Steve Smith while running across the back of the end zone.

“He seems comfortable out there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He seems like he feels more and more confident.”

This was probably the last playing time Claiborne will get this preseason, as is the case for all of the Cowboys’ starters. After missing all of offseason (wrist surgery) and a week of training camp plus the preseason opener (knee), he had acknowledged that he was still in the mode of thinking too much on the field.

Claiborne said he played looser Saturday night and felt like he made progress.

“I feel pretty good,” Claiborne said. “I’m going to keep working. These 10 days (before the season opener) I’m going to use to my advantage and try to get better and better.”
IRVING, Texas – Cole Beasley played it cool when asked about the spectacular catch he made over cornerback Teddy Williams on a deep ball Thursday.

“That’s just what you have to do in this league,” Beasley said. “(Kyle) Orton put it on the money. That’s all I can say about that one.”

We’ll say a little bit more.

It was the kind of catch that indicates that Beasley, an itty-bitty undrafted receiver out of SMU, might be more than just the stereotypical, short, white slot guy. He lined up outside, got open deep against a former NCAA sprint champion and made a twisting, leaping grab of a pass that was thrown above his outside shoulder.

“If you know how to run routes, you can beat anybody if the quarterback is as good as Kyle Orton,” said Beasley, who has tried to model his game after Wes Welker and Steve Smith. “He just puts it there. I mean quarterbacks in this league make it to where you’re open almost any time. You just have to make the play. Coaches want to see you make plays when you’re covered or not covered. So you got to do it.”

Beasley, who is listed at 5-foot-8, 177 pounds, is in the mix with the rest of the unproven receivers in camp who are competing for the No. 3 job and probably a couple of other roster spots.

He has caught the coaches’ eyes since rookie minicamp by consistently getting open and catching the ball. He’s shown over and over again that he’s capable of making the solid plays that keep the chains moving.

Beasley offered a glimpse of the spectacular Thursday.

Five-star: Hakeem Nicks will go for 100 yards

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
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Five-star question: Will Victor Cruz be the fourth consecutive receiver to have a 100-yard game against the Cowboys' secondary or will another Giants' receiver do it?

I’ll go with somebody other than Cruz this week. My answer is Hakeem Nicks. He had nine catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns in his last game at Cowboys Stadium.

It’s one thing to allow a wide receiver like Miami’s Brandon Marshall to go for more than 100 yards in a game. It’s a troubling matter when Washington’s Jabar Gaffney and Arizona’s Andre Roberts do it.

Cruz has become Eli Manning’s top target with the wide receivers banged up. He has 62 catches for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns. He is riding a personal three-game streak of at least 100 yards with 128, 157 and 119 yard games against Philadelphia New Orleans and Green Bay.

But Nicks gets the call for me. He has been targeted 24 times by Manning in the last two games with 14 catches for 175 yards and two scores. He is big, fast and hard to bring down. To me, Nicks is the Giants’ version of Dez Bryant.

If Steve Smith remained with the Giants, I would’ve picked him since he has a history of lighting up the Cowboys.

In the last four games against the Cowboys, the Giants have had four 100-yard games from receivers. Smith had two of them. Nicks had one. Mario Manningham had the other.

It won’t be Cruz on Sunday, but the Giants will have a receiver crack the century mark.

NFC East free-agency breakdown

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC East team:

New York Giants

1. Figure out which of their own guys to keep. With Ahmad Bradshaw, Barry Cofield, Mathias Kiwanuka, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss all set to potentially go free, the Giants have to prioritize and figure out which guys they're keeping. The top priority is probably going to be Bradshaw, an emerging star at running back, and it appears they'll let Cofield walk while trying to bring back Boss. They think the injury situations with Kiwanuka and Smith will help keep those guys' prices reasonable. But before the Giants hit the market, they'll need to get their own free-agent house in order.

2. Get at least one linebacker. The Giants have ignored this position over the past couple of years, and they seem to believe Jonathan Goff can handle the middle linebacker spot. They'd probably be better off moving him back outside and exploring the middle linebacker market, which includes Stephen Tulloch, Barrett Ruud and Paul Posluszny. But if they're set on keeping Goff in the middle, perhaps someone such as Manny Lawson or Nick Barnett could be a fit. It's one thing not to prioritize a position, but it's another to ignore it completely, and the Giants have been doing that with linebacker, to their detriment.

3. Some offensive line insurance. There were lots of injuries along the line in New York last season, and although it didn't kill them, it was a potential sign of things to come. The Giants hope Will Beatty will soon be ready to take over at left tackle for a declining David Diehl, but they must watch out for the health of Shaun O'Hara at center. And if they have to cut Shawn Andrews to sign some other guys, they'll need to replace him with a tackle who can provide depth.

Top five free agents: RB Bradshaw, DE/LB Kiwanuka, TE Boss, DT Cofield, WR Smith

Philadelphia Eagles

1. Settle the Kevin Kolb situation. If they can get the great deal for him that most believe they can (i.e., a first-round pick plus), the Eagles will deal Kolb and look for a reliable backup quarterback who can play if and when Michael Vick gets hurt. If they can't get good value for Kolb, they'll probably keep him to serve as said reliable backup. A trade is most likely, but whatever happens, the Eagles will probably settle this soon after the league year begins.

2. Sign a cornerback. The starting spot opposite Asante Samuel is open, and no one on the current roster appears able to fill it. That's why you've heard, and will continue to hear, the Eagles connected with Asomugha. Philadelphia must rank among his most likely destinations at this point. If they don't get him, they'll look down the list at guys such as Johnathan Joseph, Ike Taylor and Antonio Cromartie. And there's a chance they could get a cornerback for Kolb. But they'll get one somewhere.

3. Re-sign Stewart Bradley. Sure, they could let Bradley go and play Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker. Chaney looked, at least, capable in that spot last season and may be the Eagles' future at the position. But if Bradley leaves, the Eagles' problems will be about more than just the alignment of the linebackers. They'll actually be short on bodies and will need to play the free-agent field to find a replacement. Bradley's had injury problems, but when healthy, he's the Eagles' best linebacker and could be a key cog in whatever new defensive alignment Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn are cooking up.

Top five free agents: LB Bradley, S Mikell, G Nick Cole, RB Jerome Harrison, CB Ellis Hobbs

Washington Redskins

1. Fill out the defensive line. Whether they add a free-agent nose tackle such as Aubrayo Franklin or look at defensive end options like Jenkins, the Redskins must figure who their starting defensive linemen are. They like their linebacking corps, and although they also need a cornerback, they love their safeties with Oshiomogho Atogwe in the fold next to LaRon Landry. But their good, young outside linebackers will need big, space-eating ends in front of them to open up lanes to the passer. And they'll also need to get some sort of pass rush from the line, whether it's from the nose or the ends.

2. Re-sign Santana Moss. The Redskins are making noise about pursuing a big-time wideout such as Santonio Holmes or Sidney Rice. But the reality is that it's going to be tough to convince receivers to sign in Washington while they're not viewed as a contender and the quarterback situation remains so cloudy. Moss likes it in Washington. The Redskins like him. And he's a nice guy to have around to help out young receivers Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson -- not to mention inexperienced quarterback John Beck.

3. Resolve the Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth situations. They don't want either player on the team anymore, but the question is how to get rid of them. They might be able to dump McNabb for a late-round draft pick, but if they can't, they'll probably just cut him and let him find his next job on his own. Haynesworth has trade value in a league where many 4-3 teams are looking for interior defensive line help. Don't expect the Redskins to cut Haynesworth, because they don't want to do him any favors and they don't want him free to sign with former Tennessee D-line coach Washburn in Philadelphia. If they can't get value for him, don't be surprised if Haynesworth remains on the team all season and has a hard time getting into games.

Top five free agents: WR Moss, OT Jammal Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, LB Rocky McIntosh, QB Rex Grossman

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Giants

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
8:00
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A look at the key matchups for Sunday's Cowboys-Giants game:

Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins vs. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks: The Giants have three outstanding receivers, but with Steve Smith being ruled out for Sunday’s game, the main focus for the Cowboys now turns to Hakeem Nicks and his matchup with Mike Jenkins.

In the locker room on Friday, several of the media members were hanging around the lockers of Orlando Scandrick and Gerald Sensabaugh talking about how offenses attack defenses. Sensabaugh brought up the point that when you give up plays on defense especially in coverage, you are more likely to see offenses try and attack the same area or weakness.

[+] EnlargeMike Jenkins
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMICowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins will have a battle on his hands Sunday with Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Anyone who has watched Jenkins play this season knows that he has struggled in coverage, but there have been times where he has been in outstanding position and, whether it was a good throw or an adjusting catch, he has struggled to finish the plays. The Giants are well aware of Jenkins’ struggles and will attack him with Nicks.

When you study Nicks, you come away with the thought of what a nice vertical player he is. He can cover some ground in his routes and he can adjust to the ball at any point. Nicks will adjust his routes for back-shoulder throws and he is a weapon in the red zone.

Jenkins knows that he will have a battle on his hands but some early success could go a long way in giving him confidence to continue to carry the fight to Nicks. Jenkins has the skill to match Nicks. Now Jenkins just needs to go out put everything behind him and find the way to finish the play against a talented receiver.

*Cowboys run defense vs. Giants running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs: The last time these two teams met in October, the Giants physically dominated the Cowboys by running the ball 37 times for 200 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are powerful backs that run downhill at you and, if given a head of steam, are difficult to bring to the ground.

The biggest problem the Cowboys have had in the running game this season is shedding blocks. If you don’t play with your hands and don’t use leverage to work to free yourself from blocks, offenses can move the ball with ease.

The Giants are banged up along the offensive line on the left side, but that will not keep them from running the football. Left tackle Shawn Andrews has stepped in for David Diehl and has done an impressive job of creating push at the point of attack. He is a big man that plays light on his feet. The normal left guard, Rich Seubert, has moved to center to replace the injured Shaun O’Hara. There is nothing pretty about the way that Seubert, Chris Snee or Kareem McKenzie looks physically, but they use their bodies to lean on defenders and create lanes for these backs to run through. Rarely do you see these linemen on the ground and the way they finish blocks is quite impressive.

The front seven for the Cowboys cannot allow the Giants to control and mash them for 6 to 7 yards a running play and stay ahead of the chains. If the Giants do have an offensive weakness, and a slight one, it’s on third down. The Cowboys need to keep pressure on the Giants to have to convert as many third downs as possible in hopes of getting off the field.

*Cowboys running backs vs. Giants defense in blitz pickup: On the 13th play of the Cowboys-Giants game in October, linebacker Michael Boley came on a straight inside blitz that might have ended the season for quarterback Tony Romo. It was a missed assignment by fullback Chris Gronkowski that caused Romo’s broken collarbone.

Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna has been sacked nine times in three games and taken numerous other hits. He is nowhere near as mobile as Romo and protection needs to be planned for him. The Cowboys cannot struggle with assignments when the Giants decide to bring pressure in the form of linebacker or safety blitzes.

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to bring different looks and packages into a game. He will match up his personnel to take advantage of certain situations. The Cowboys running backs have to be aware when they get in passing situations and they are responsible to pick up the extra rusher. In the game last week, Felix Jones missed an assignment and got his quarterback hit.

Of the three running backs on the Cowboys roster, Tashard Choice is the weaker than Jones and Barber in protection. Don’t be surprised if Fewell tries to take advantage of these backs when calling defenses because of the struggles that they have had in blitz pickup cleanly getting their men.

Steve Smith is out for Giants

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
1:58
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IRVING -- The Friday injury report for the Cowboys-Giants revealed wide receiver Steve Smith will not play in Sunday's game with a partial tear of his pectoral muscle.

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"They say a limited amount of time but not necessarily 'right away' or 'this week' or 'next week,'" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I won't know until he starts rehabbing."

Here's moreon Smith's injury from ESPN's John Clayton.

In his career, Smith has averaged 11.8 yards per catch vs. the Cowboys. And in the last three games he has at least 100 yard receiving yards and two touchdowns.

"He's one of those guys I think a lot of good offenses have," Jason Garrett said."He's a go-to-guy. He's a guy you see them different situations throw the ball too. It's one of those deals where you almost sense everyone knows Eli [Manning] is throwing the ball to him, but somehow, someway, he finds a way to get himself open."

Regarding the Cowboys, linebackers Bradie James (knee) and Anthony Spencer (neck) were full participants in practice on Friday and are listed as probable.

Guard Montrae Holland was also a full participant and is listed as probable.

"I'm back," Holland said, who hasn't played since the first Giants game, Oct. 25. "I will do my part when called upon. We were being careful with it. We didn't want to be out a couple of weeks."

Holland used a hyperbaric chamber five days a week to help with the healing process. Holland said he spent at least an hour in the hyperbaric chamber.

"It's good now, lot's of rehab," he said.

Defensive ends Jason Hatcher (groin) and Sean Lissemore (ankle) and quarterback Tony Romo (broken collarbone) are out.

Hatcher said he's hopeful he can return for next week's game vs. Detroit, if not, he should be ready for the New Orleans game on Thanksgiving Day.

Lissemore continues to wear his walking boot, which he said will get removed next week.

Cornerback Terence Newman (ribs) did practice on Friday and is listed as probable.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Giants preview

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
9:02
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This season’s second game of this longtime series takes a new twist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest on Steve Smith's injury

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
6:46
PM ET
As most of you know, New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith strained his pectoral muscle during practice Thursday and his status for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys is up in the air. Mario Manningham will obviously replace him in the starting lineup, but it will be tough to make up for his production. Smith has killed the Cowboys over the past two seasons.

It looks like Ramses Barden will be the third receiver if Smith's not ready to go. As coach Tom Coughlin pointed out earlier today, it will be a huge opportunity for Barden, a player who's long on potential but has been short on production. With the way Mike Jenkins has played cornerback for the Cowboys, this might be a good week for Barden to get a look. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride didn't sound hopeful that Smith would be on the field Sunday.

"He's the most polished receiver we have," Gilbride said. "He's a guy who has really earned the respect of the defense to such a point that so many of the things they do are designed to stop him. I think people basically have said it's hard to cover him one-on-one inside so people have committed other people and additional resources ... so that either opens up running opportunities for us or passing opportunities for other people. It's a huge loss, but we'll make do."

If Smith's only out for a game or two, I think the Giants will be fine. But if this is an extended absence, it could eventually hurt this offense. Hakeem Nicks has become the Giants' home-run threat, but Smith's still one of the big-time clutch receivers in the league. On third down, Eli Manning's almost always looking for Smith.

I guess at this point we shouldn't doubt the Giants' ability to compensate for injured players, though. We've seen what they've done in Mathias Kiwanuka's absence. Now, it's time to see if the offense can flourish without a Pro Bowl wide receiver.

Scout's Eye: Giants-Cowboys review

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
9:20
AM ET
video
In my preview for the New York Giants matchup, I wrote about the importance for the Cowboys to find a way to get their record to 4-4 by the next time these teams met again in the new Meadowlands Stadium. Despite the fact that the Cowboys had some difficult matchups with the scheme and personnel of the Giants coming into this game, I felt that it was a game that the Cowboys were capable of winning on Monday night football in front of their home crowd.

Scout's Eye
The Cowboys needed this game more than the Giants. My thinking was the intensity and determination would carry the Cowboys on this night.

The game couldn’t have started any better for the Cowboys with the early turnovers and the building of the lead, but to the Giants credit, Tom Coughlin’s squad was able to weather the storm of the early mistakes and make plays.

With the Cowboys up 10-0 late in the first quarter, the Giants are faced with a second-and-goal from the Dallas 7. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride through scouting knew that if he uses his heavy or goal line package that Wade Phillips was going to match him with his personnel. Gilbride has Shawn Andrews, Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum all in the game as tight ends with Ahmad Bradshaw as the lone running back and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in the huddle as well. The call from upstairs in the coaching booth is for the heavy personnel group but fails to identify that Nicks is still on the field.

In this Cowboys’ goal-line or short-yardage group, there are five linebackers and three safeties but no corners. The linebackers were DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking, Sean Lee, Bradie James and Anthony Spencer. The safeties were Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church and Danny McCray. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Alan Ball, the one safety who has cover skills, were off the field.

When the Giants broke the huddle, Nicks went wide to his left, McCray originally lined up in front of him but then began to look inside to Sensabaugh, who was lined up to the side of the three-tight end set to the right. In the three-tight end set, Andrews was on the line, Boss was in a wing to the right of Andrews and Beckum was lined up as a wing next to Boss. Clearly the strength of the formation was to the Cowboys’ left.

Church was lined up on the line over Andrews, but as Manning begin to set the protection, Sensabaugh and McCray switched positions with Sensabaugh now lined up over Nicks. At the snap, Nicks starts out like he is going to run a slant, then works to the fade. Manning looks like he wants to throw the slant but double pumps the ball, waiting for Nicks to complete the route. Sensabaugh gets no jam on Nicks, who now plants off his left foot then works back outside. Sensabaugh is too far away from Nicks to make a clean play on the ball. Nicks is able to snatch the ball out of the air from Manning for the Giants first touchdown.

The play was successful and much too easy for the Giants, who were able to take advantage of the Cowboys and the personnel group they had on the field at the time. In the postgame press conference, Phillips was asked about the matchup that led to the touchdown and said that the staff did not realize that Nicks was on the field at the time and the normal corner that would have been on the field to match, Terence Newman, was injured.

Give the Giants credit for the matchup and how they were able to get one of their best receivers in position to make a play while the Cowboys were left wondering what personnel group the Giants were in.

*In the NFL, there is a saying that mistakes will get you beat, rookie mistakes will get you hurt.

It’s the second quarter and the Cowboys are holding onto a 10-7 lead with the football on the Dallas 43. Cowboys break the formation in an off set “I” to the left. Miles Austin and Jason Witten are lined up wide left with Austin on the ball and Witten off. Witten starts in motion inside. Dez Bryant is up top by himself. Giants are in a base or regular front with linebacker Michael Boley lined up on the outside hip of rookie defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

As Romo takes the snap, Giants defensive tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield run a twist stunt on the inside that Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Montrae Holland are able to sort out and keep the two defensive tackles along the line. The linebacker to that side was Jonathan Goff, and he begins to drop in coverage so now you have three blocking two.

On the outside, Pierre-Paul is now rushing Doug Free wide and to his left shoulder. Fullback Chris Gronkowski begins to release to outside the left side of Free as Boley begins his charge through the gap created by the widening Free and Holland working on the twist inside. There are three to four yards of separation between Boley and Gronkowski, who is unable to adjust back to pick up the Giants’ linebacker that has the best speed.

Romo sees that Boley is a free rusher and bravely hangs in the pocket to deliver the ball to Austin on the outside. With Romo’s right arm and ribs exposed, Boley catches him right in the side and drives the quarterback into the ground. Boley lands with his entire weight on Romo’s body, breaking the quarterback’s left collarbone and putting him on the shelf for the next six to eight weeks.

When you study this play, it was a perfect call by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Where Gronkowski was lined up in the formation, it was going to be difficult to complete that block and the path he took at the snap did not help the situation as well.

Later in the game, Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh has an opportunity to get a similar type of hit on Eli Manning. As he is coming forward in the blitz -- a well-designed one by Wade Phillips -- Sensabaugh checks up slightly in the hole and doesn’t get there in time or lay the wood to Manning. The result of the play was that Manning was able to deliver the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith for a touchdown. Smith was able to work around Orlando Scandrick, who was in man coverage and unable to handle the adjusting Smith.

Boley took an opportunity to deliver a huge blow to Romo and to the chances of the Cowboys’ hopes this season by knocking the quarterback out of the game. For the Cowboys, a well-designed blitz again was unable to get home -- not what the defense needed on a night when knockout blows were needed.

Scout's Eye: NY-Dallas Grudge Match

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
8:00
AM ET

Giants wide receivers vs. Cowboys defensive backs: As good as the Giants run the football with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, I could see offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride taking some shots down the field to try and gauge the state of the Cowboys’ secondary this week.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins has struggled with technique in several opportunities this season, and free safety Alan Ball hasn’t played with the instincts and range that I thought he would when he was moved from cornerback.

The challenge that lies ahead for the Cowboys is that Hakeem Nicks has emerged as the go-to guy for Eli Manning. Nicks wasn’t a factor in either of the two games last season, but the second-year receiver has six touchdowns in 36 receptions this year.

Nicks can cover some ground as he works up the field and his hands are dependable. The Giants like to use him on slants and on routes where he can get the ball on the move.

On the other side, Steve Smith was a productive receiver against the Cowboys last season. Smith had 16 catches in two games and, like Nicks, he will go all over the field to catch the ball. He is the quickest of the Giants receiver with the ball in his hands.

Mario Manningham is the third receiver, but you can’t sleep on his production either because he is deceptive in the way he runs his routes and adjusts to the ball. Manningham has a 16-yard average per catch as well.

When the Giants throw the ball, they will do everything in their power to protect Manning when he drops back to pass. You will see tight ends Kevin Boss and Bear Pascoe lining up with Bradshaw in the back field to limit the number of hits that Manning might have to take.

If the Giants protect Manning in this game, the pressure to hold up on the back end is even more critical for the Cowboys and their secondary.

Cowboys offensive tackles vs. Giants defensive ends: Another weekend finds tackles Doug Free and Marc Colombo in a battle with two of the better defensive ends in the NFL in Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.

In studying these two ends, Umenyiora is playing like a different player than the one that we had seen the last couple of season. His desire and passion once again appear to be back. He is focusing on being that dominant pass rusher that we once saw.

Umenyiora has a variety of pass rush moves that can hurt opponents. He just isn’t one of those ends that rushes up the field and tries to just beat you with quickness or power. Umenyiora likes to take you up the field and get the corner, but he is effective at rushing down inside. He has a very good spin move as well. What Free and Colombo need to be aware of is his movement.

Patience will be a key in handling these ends. They give you a lot of moves and shake. Footwork and punch will be their friends. If you can get your hands on these rushers, you can slow down their progress but technique will need to be sound.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will move Umenyiora and Tuck around in the defense. The Cowboys will need to be aware of where these guys line up at all times.

Watch how the Cowboys handle these rushers. Last week against the Vikings, they went to a quicker passing game with some screen packages mixed in. If they have some success with this, it could slow down and frustrate this Giants rush.

Pressure Giants quarterback Eli Manning: Manning has a career record of 2-3 against the Cowboys on the road. If the Cowboys are going to win this game, Wade Phillips is going to need to find a way to pressure Manning.

As good as Manning has played these last three weeks in victory, he still will make mistakes with the football. In the two losses the Giants have had this season against the Colts and Titans, Manning had been sacked six times and thrown three interceptions.

I spoke of the Giants’ ability to run the football and that might be the direction that they try to go to early in this game to keep the Cowboys’ rush off Manning. If the Cowboys can control the Giants’ running game and put them in some situations where they are behind the chains, the Cowboys will be able to focus on their pass rush.

The problem is that Manning still has is a tendency to try and make something out of nothing. He will throw the ball up for grabs instead of taking a sack and fighting for another play. The worst example of this was in the red zone against the Titans when he tried a left-handed pass that was intercepted.

A key matchup for the Giants will be tackle David Diehl against linebacker DeMarcus Ware. When you study Diehl, he has had trouble with rushers that take an inside rush on him. Ware needs to attack Diehl as hard as he can up the field and then hit him on a move to the inside. Diehl will struggle to handle quickness and power if he makes that move.

As far as scheme adjustments, I would not be surprised to see the Giants lining up Bradshaw and a tight end in the backfield to help in the protection of Manning on passing downs.

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