Dallas Cowboys: Todd Herremans

Eight in the Box: Returning from injury

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
12:52
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at key players for each NFC East team who are coming back from injuries:

Dallas Cowboys: LB Sean Lee

Lee has been a breakout defensive star for the Cowboys the past two seasons, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy. A wrist injury limited him after a raging hot start in 2011, and after another hot start in 2012 he injured a toe in Week 7 and missed the remainder of the season. The Cowboys' defense is different when Lee is on the field and at his instinctive, playmaking best, and it misses him terribly when he's not. Now set to play the middle linebacker position in Dallas' new 4-3 defensive alignment, Lee is more important than ever to the every-down success of the defense. We easily could have picked running back DeMarco Murray or even perpetually nicked-up wide receiver Miles Austin for this exercise, but the Cowboys' biggest question marks lie on defense, where six starters missed time last year because of injury. Improved health on defense is the surest way for the Cowboys as a whole to improve in 2013, and Lee is right in the middle of it all.

New York Giants: WR Hakeem Nicks

Nicks broke a bone in his foot during minicamp last year, and while he made it back in time for the start of the season, he was not himself all year. Foot and knee problems cost him three games and limited him to 692 yards and three touchdowns on 53 catches (10 catches and 199 yards of which came in a Week 2 game for which he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week). Without his top wide receiver healthy for much of the year, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was unable to duplicate the Super Bowl-winning magic of the previous season. With Nicks hobbled, defenses were often able to focus more on Victor Cruz, whose production dropped from the previous year's dazzling yardage numbers. Nicks is a vital part of the Giants' passing game, which is the vital part of their offense. When he's at his best, he's among the top all-around wide receivers in the league. He needs to stay healthy for the Giants to function at peak levels.

Philadelphia Eagles: LT Jason Peters

Peters tore his right Achilles tendon twice during the 2012 offseason and was obviously unable to play at all as a result. He was the first of three Eagles starting offensive linemen to land on injured reserve last year, but after the year he had in 2011, his was the absence they had the greatest difficulty overcoming. Peters was essential to the Eagles offense in 2011 as a multi-level blocker who could take out his man at the line and then get upfield quickly and block a linebacker or a safety as well. Without him, the run game suffered, the screen game suffered, and quarterback Michael Vick's ability to succeed when he extended plays suffered. The Eagles need Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce back on the offensive line, and they need first-round pick Lane Johnson to play well at right tackle. But the most important offensive line recovery is that of Peters, who brings something to the equation no one else brings. He needs not only to be healthy, but to play like his old, spry self.

Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III

If you've been living in a cave without access to TV or the Internet for the past six months, it will come as news to you that Griffin tore his ACL in the Redskins' playoff game (yes, they made the playoffs) and had reconstructive surgery in January. While the Redskins believe they have a capable backup in Kirk Cousins, much of their 2012 success was because of Griffin's unique talents and abilities. Even if Griffin is back to 100 percent, the Redskins probably will take greater care with how they use him in the read-option this year. But the threat he poses to defenses as a runner and a passer is not something Cousins or very many other quarterbacks in the league can replicate. The Redskins must be careful not to rush Griffin back from his injury, as he's their franchise quarterback and vital to the long-term success and health of the team. But their 2013 fortunes are tightly tied to the timing and extent of his recovery.

NFC East gets wise, looks to the line

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
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Justin Pugh, Lane Johnson & Travis FrederickAP Photo, Getty ImagesThe NFC East added offensive linemen Justin Pugh, Lane Johnson and Travis Frederick.

NEW YORK -- Three NFC East teams picked in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, and the combined weight of the three players they picked is 922 pounds. Finally, they're paying attention to what's important.

Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys each picked an offensive lineman in this year's first round. And while that had something to do with the oddity of a first round that included one quarterback, no running backs and nine offensive lineman, it also says a lot about how badly this division as a whole needs to address this long-neglected need.

Tackle Lane Johnson, tackle/guard Justin Pugh and center/guard Travis Frederick, the 2013 first-round picks of the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys, are no cosmic coincidence. They are medicine, ordered with a purpose by teams that have figured out where they're lacking and that they all need to muscle up in the short-term and long-term.

I am of the belief -- and have written at length on this blog -- that one of the main reasons the NFC East is in a down cycle is division-wide offensive line decay. And yes, the division is down. Over the past three seasons, the division's combined record is 97-101 (yes, counting postseason and the Super Bowl). No NFC East team has won 11 games since 2009, which was also the last year in which it fielded more than one playoff team. Two years ago, the Giants won the division with a 9-7 record. This past year, the Washington Redskins won it at 10-6. Bleh.

The NFC East has superstar talent at quarterback and running back and wide receiver and pass-rusher. But with the exception of a magical six-game run the Giants made at the end of the 2011 season, excellence has eluded its once-feared teams. And the consistent issue that seems to be holding them back is the offensive line. To wit:

The Giants have basically been getting by with an aging, patchwork group. Former second-round pick Will Beatty emerged as a star last year when finally healthy, but veterans Chris Snee and David Diehl are fading and Kevin Boothe and David Baas aren't special. Until Thursday night, the Giants hadn't taken a first-round lineman since Luke Petitgout in 1999. You can try and hit on free agents and second- and third-rounders for a while, but eventually you need to add some top-end talent to the mix. Enter Pugh, a college tackle who may project as a pro guard and offers versatility in the short-term and a possible long-term answer at any one of several positions.

The Eagles had a fine line in 2011, but four of their five starters missed significant time due to injury in 2012, and they finished 4-12 and changed head coaches. Enter Johnson, this year's No. 4 overall pick, who likely starts at right tackle right away, moving Todd Herremans inside to guard and serving as an eventual replacement for left tackle Jason Peters.

The Cowboys' neglect of the offensive line had reached epidemic proportions before they took tackle Tyron Smith in the first round in 2011, and if you watched them last year you came away thinking they needed to upgrade every one of the starting line positions but his. Enter Frederick, who was a surprise first-rounder, but not as much of a reach as he initially looked. With four tackles and the top two guards gone in the top 11 picks, the Cowboys decided to trade down from 18 and get the guy they wanted at the tail end of the first round. Quibble if you want with the return they got on their trade. And sure, maybe Frederick would have been there when they picked again Friday night at 47. But (a) maybe not, since offensive lineman are going faster than ever and (b) so what? The Cowboys' short-term and long-term needs at offensive line were significant enough that they needed to come away from this year's first round with an upgrade. Frederick is almost certain to be an upgrade over one or more of Phil Costa, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, and the Cowboys were absolutely right to make this need a priority on this night.

The Redskins' line played fine in 2012 and has a superstar in left tackle Trent Williams. But a lot of its success has to do with the help it gets from its mobile quarterback. The Redskins remain unsettled at right tackle. They didn't have a first-round pick this year as a result of last year's deal for Robert Griffin III, but don't be surprised if they too look to address the line once they start picking Friday and Saturday.

This seems obvious, of course. It's a long-held NFL adage that the best way to build teams is through the lines. Consistent, reliable offensive line play helps you control games and maximize your skill-position talent. Deficient line play helps you squander your skill-position talent, or worse, make it more susceptible to injury. But while it may seem obvious from the outside, the NFC East's teams have let the line play lapse. Thursday was a clear sign that they have realized this and plan to address it moving forward. I don't think these three will be the last offensive linemen taken by NFC East teams in this year's draft, but each is vital to the division's effort to regain its status as one of the toughest in the NFL. Because thanks to the decay of its offensive lines over the past few years, the fact is that it has not been.

Eight in the Box: Ideal first rounds

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
11:46
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What would be the ideal first-round scenario for the Cowboys in next week's NFL draft?

Dallas Cowboys

PODCAST
Arlington and Texas A&M product Luke Joeckel, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett to discuss the draft, coaches and advice from his dad.

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Because of the perceived lack of top-level skill-position talent in this year's draft, a lot of the mock drafts and projections have the top offensive linemen going off the board early. Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock Insider, for example, has six offensive linemen going in the top 12 picks, which means well before the Cowboys pick at 18 and probably too early for them to make a sensible trade-up to grab someone like Alabama guard Chance Warmack or North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. This would be unfortunate and far from ideal for the Cowboys, but history offers hope. The last time six of the first 17 picks in the draft were offensive linemen was 1966, when there were only 15 teams in the league. Only three times since then -- 1977, 1985 and 2008 -- have as many as five offensive linemen been picked in the top 17. The Cowboys probably can't expect any of the top three tackles to fall to them, but their ideal first-round situation would be for Warmack, Cooper or even Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker to fall to 18 and allow them to shore up their most significant area of short-term and long-term need. If only one of those guys is still available by 14, the Cowboys should look into trading up to get him.

To see the ideal first-round scenario for the other NFC East teams, click here.

Draft look-ahead: Dallas Cowboys

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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Over at our NFL Draft blog, Steve Muench is taking a look at the way the offseason activity so far in the NFC East has affected the way each team may approach next month's draft. Let's take a team-by-team spin through Steve's evaluation along with a list of each team's draft picks, per the official draft order the league released Thursday.

DALLAS COWBOYS (6 picks -- Nos. 18, 47, 80, 114, 151, 185)

Steve's take: "Dallas taking Alabama G Chance Warmack or North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper with the 18th overall pick makes sense from both a value and need standpoint... But don't be surprised to see the Cowboys go in another direction and take a different Tar Heel at No. 18. They need talent and depth at defensive tackle to make a successful transition to a base four-man front, and North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams can provide both with his quick feet and hands, agility and range."

My take: By now I'm kind of all-in on this. I think not coming out of the first round with a new starter on the offensive line would be franchise negligence by the Cowboys. And the way their offseason has gone so far, with pretty much all of their available resources committed to franchising defensive end Anthony Spencer, only strengthens that belief.

Dallas Cowboys could use Eric Winston

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
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So the Chiefs cut right tackle Eric Winston on Wednesday, probably because they've decided to take a tackle with the first pick in the draft. But this isn't a Chiefs blog. This is a Cowboys blog, peopled by fans of America's Team. So why are we talking about this?

Winston
Because whenever a player of whom fans have heard gets cut in the middle of his contract, one of the first questions fans immediately ask is, "Should [my team] try to sign [this player that was just cut in the middle of his contract]?" And if you cheer for the Cowboys, and the player in question is Winston, the answer is yes.

It amazes me sometimes, the similarities our four NFC East teams can share. They all need help in the secondary, for instance, and they all need help on the right side of the offensive line. So here's a quickie rundown of why the Cowboys should kick the tires on this 29-year-old offensive lineman who is allowed to sign any time.

Dallas Cowboys

Obviously, the Doug Free contract is a huge bust and the Cowboys need a right tackle. They need guard help, too, but a right tackle is a fine place to start. Sadly for the Cowboys, they're too tight up against the cap to really compete for a free agent if that free agent is going to draw interest from multiple teams. I still think they address this in the draft.

We've got new NFL mock drafts

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
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Both Todd McShay Insider and Mel Kiper Jr. Insider have new mock drafts out today, and here's a look at who they project for each NFC East team in the first round. (Remember, the Redskins don't have a first-round pick this year).

4. Philadelphia Eagles

McShay: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

Kiper: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

In Mel's mock, Joeckel is gone at No. 1 to Andy Reid and the Chiefs. But if he's there at 4, I think he makes a ton of sense for the Eagles as a right-now right tackle (with Todd Herremans moving to guard) or a right-now left tackle (if Jason Peters can't make it all the way back from injury) or a critical building block for the future. With Joeckel and Star Lotulelei off the board in Mel's mock, Milliner makes sense as the Eagles look to rebuild the secondary. And I still think West Virginia QB Geno Smith gets heard from up here before this is all said and done.

18. Dallas Cowboys

McShay: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

Kiper: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

Can't go wrong either way, can the Cowboys, picking offensive line or defensive line here. Warmack at 18 would be incredibly tempting for a team that has huge weaknesses on the interior of its offensive line.

19. New York Giants

McShay: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

Kiper: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

All due respect to Todd, and while I agree with the assessment of need, I will believe the Giants are taking a linebacker in the first round when it is announced and not one second before. Mel's prediction of a potentially elite passing-game weapon at tight end feels more like Jerry Reese's speed.

All-NFC East Team: Week 11 update

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
9:53
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Back to our regular format this week after last week's dalliance as part of a league-wide midseason report. Not a lot has changed, especially at quarterback, where no one seems to be challenging Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III for the lead spot. Perhaps young Nick Foles can make a run. Or maybe Eli Manning gets it together after his bye. And Tony Romo's schedule is soft the rest of the way, in case you hadn't heard, so you never know.

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

Anyway, to the team, with my comments to follow -- especially on the tweak I felt necessary to make on the offensive line.

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Todd Herremans)

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

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Joseph, Jay Ratliff)

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

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

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Wilson)

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

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Steve Weatherford, Giants (Weatherford)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Brandon Banks)
  • First, the offensive line. Plain fact is, I don't have a right tackle. Herremans, who's had the spot all year, is out for the season. Neither David Diehl nor Sean Locklear in New York deserve the spot, nor does Tyler Polumbus in Washington or obviously Doug Free in Dallas. What I do have is two left tackles playing as well as any in the league -- Williams in Washington and Beatty in New York. So, since this is my team and I make the rules, I'm making Beatty my starting right tackle even though he's played left in all but one game this year. It's a way of recognizing his stellar performance without elevating him past Williams, who I think is outperforming him. And with the right tackle spot basically vacant, it made sense to me.
  • And punt returner! Yes, I have said since the middle of last season that the first guy to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown during my time on this blog would win the spot by default, even if it were a big, burly lineman who caught a line drive and got lucky. Harris is not that, but on Sunday he did become the first NFC East player since DeSean Jackson in 2010 to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown. So, by the arbitrary rule I made up, he gets the spot.
  • Carter has played so well in Dallas that he's making up for the loss of Lee to injury, and he takes Lee's spot on the team since Lee hasn't played in weeks. Man, when the Cowboys pick an inside linebacker in the second round, they don't mess it up, huh?
  • Cox over Ratliff was a tough call, but the kid's been incredible, and he was a standout player for me in Sunday's game. Close call on who's having the better season.
  • Thought about Chris Chester at right guard over Snee, who had a rough game in Cincinnati.
  • Thought about Dez Bryant over Austin at wide receiver, but Austin still has more yards and touchdowns.
  • Wilson keeps his cornerback spot. He's been a fine cover corner this year with one or two spectacularly bad exceptions. I'm sorry, but when I watch those Dallas corners, I don't see what's so great about they way they're playing.

Not much else of real controversy, I don't think, but I welcome your thoughts.

Eagles' offensive line is completely toast

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
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The Philadelphia Eagles made it official Wednesday, putting right tackle Todd Herremans on season-ending injured reserve with the ankle injury he suffered in Monday night's loss to the Saints in New Orleans. That means the Eagles right now are without four of the five players they planned to use this year as starting offensive linemen. All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters tore his Achilles tendon twice in the offseason and is unlikely to play this year. Center Jason Kelce tore knee ligaments in Week 2 and is out for the season. Right guard Danny Watkins has missed the past two games and remains out with an ankle injury. And now Herremans is down for the season.

Left guard Evan Mathis is looking around wondering where everybody went.

In all seriousness, this is the kind of thing that really starts to convince you there's no chance for the Eagles to turn this season around. You can talk all you want about how Michael Vick needs to play better or they need to run the ball more with LeSean McCoy, but there's simply no way for an offense to work if the offensive line isn't right. And there's simply no way for any NFL team to lose four starting offensive linemen and not struggle offensively.

Part of the problem is that Demetress Bell, the talented but disappointing tackle they signed right after Peters got hurt, has been a total flop. But even if Bell had locked down left tackle, the entire right side of the line from center over would be on the shelf right now. King Dunlap, Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly haven't been awful in and of themselves as replacements, but a line needs to play together in order to be effective, and if you watched the Eagles on Monday night you saw a line that can't handle its joint assignments in pass protection or really in the run game.

This was supposed to have been a strength for the Eagles this year, but it's now fallen completely apart to an extent they could not have possibly imagined. And it's the single greatest impediment to the miracle comeback they'll need to make in the second half of the season to save Andy Reid's job as head coach.

The Other Side: Philly Inquirer's Jeff McLane

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
10:34
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IRVING, Texas -- For this week’s version of The Other Side, we check in with Jeff McLane from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Archer - Some people here are saying Jason Garrett is in trouble especially with the Sean Payton news. How much trouble is Andy Reid in and could Payton be an option there?

McLane -- He's in a boatload of trouble. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the season that the Eagles needed to show "substantial improvement" from last season's 8-8 record for Reid to return for a 15th season. With the Eagles 3-5, Reid would have to finish at least 7-1, maybe 6-2, and make the playoffs to survive. That is a tall order considering how horrendous the team has looked during a four-game losing streak. As for Payton, I think there's a 1-2 percent chance he ends up in Philly should Reid get fired. Most likely, he's stays in New Orleans, and if he goes anywhere it's clear Dallas would be No. 1 on his list. Payton has ties to the Eagles and the area, and Lurie would be a fool not to consider the Saints coach, but it's probably a long shot.

TA -- Tony Romo has not put up good numbers this year. Neither has Vick. The Cowboys offensive line isn't very good. Neither is Philly's. Is there a correlation?

JM -- You bet. The Eagles offensive line has been the Achilles heel of the offense all season long. There have been significant injuries -- Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans are all lost for the season -- but the Eagles failed to stock the line with competent reserves and have paid the price. Vick hasn't been sharp by any means. But he's been hit far too many times and has had little time to throw and it's affected his decision-making.

TA -- How much longer before Nick Foles gets on the field?

JM -- If the Eagles keep on losing Foles will have to get on the field at some point. If they lose the next two and fall to 3-7, it might be time to play the rookie. If they hang around and win a few more over the next month and are, say, 5-8, with three to go, you might see Foles at that point. Reid would have an obligation to show the organization what Foles could do as a starter and whether he was a legitimate option next season.

TA -- It's been a rough start for Todd Bowles, the former Dallas assistant. He's been a 3-4 guy in the past, now he's running this defense. Any long-term hopes for him?

JM -- Bowles was thrown into a difficult situation replacing Juan Castillo two weeks ago. He has never been a coordinator in the NFL before, was taking over a defense in disarray and had to face Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in his first two games. Andy Reid has touted Bowles as a head coaching candidate, but it's hard to see him being a candidate for the Eagles' job -- or any job for that matter -- if the defense continues to look this sloppy.

TA -- We'll keep it light on the last one. Mat McBriar is the Cowboys' best punter, great guy. How's he doing up there?

JM -- He's been OK as a punter. He's still got enough leg, but he's booted a few too many into the end zone and a few too many line drives. As for McBriar the person, we've already found out he's a fine bloke. He's living downtown, so I've tried to give him some dining -- and drinking -- options when he's hungry or looking to have a Foster's.

Eagles are a study in 'miscalculation'

November, 6, 2012
11/06/12
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Amid all of the perfectly justified rip jobs and sky-is-falling coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles' latest loss, this short item by Jeff McLane caught my eye. He's got someone with the Eagles telling him Andy Reid's bye-week firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was a "miscalculation." This comes as neither news nor a surprise to anyone who's been tracking the Eagles over the past two seasons, during which it appears "miscalculation" has been the hallmark of the front office's game plan.

Yeah, when you watch the Eagles play, it's easy to get caught up in the on-field, in-game issues. Why don't they run the ball more? Why can't Michael Vick make pre-snap reads? Have they quit on Andy Reid? Stuff like that. But I think if you look back over the past two years, it's easy to see that the flaws with this team are flaws of construction, and that the miscalculations are myriad and extensive. A partial list, in no particular order:

    [+] EnlargeMichael Vick
    AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelSigning QB Michael Vick to a $100 million contract appears to be a costly move for the Eagles.
  • Deciding on Vick as a $100 million franchise quarterback based on the spectacular aspect of the way he played in 2010, ignoring the likelihood that his issues reading the field, making audibles and adjusting on the fly were too ingrained to overcome in his 30s. And no, it's not that they should have kept Kevin Kolb or that they didn't get great value for him in the trade. It's just that tying so much of their 2011-12 success to Vick is going to set them back as they head into 2013 and beyond. And the bust potential that Vick came with at the time of the contract was high enough to make it a questionable decision at best.
  • Signing Nnamdi Asomugha on the presumption that he'd play like a top shutdown cornerback, then playing him in zone coverage for his first year because they didn't have the guts to move Asante Samuel. This resulted in their having to trade Samuel for nearly nothing a year later, and Asomugha has struggled at times this year in one-on-one coverage against speedy wideouts.
  • Drafting Danny Watkins in the first round after hiring Howard Mudd to run the offensive line. Mudd found Jason Kelce in the sixth round, identified him as the type of guy who could play his scheme and quickly molded him into a top NFL center. Surely, he could have found a guard in the fifth or seventh that fit his profile and done the same with him, and the Eagles could have used that first-rounder on something more immediately helpful. And no, the Eagles could not have imagined the extent to which injuries would ravage their offensive line this season, but it does seem as though they could have found backup players better suited to adapt quickly to Mudd's blocking schemes. Perhaps if they hadn't been so focused on bringing in high-profile, ultimately useless skill-position backups like Vince Young and Ronnie Brown last year, this could have been more of a point of emphasis.
  • Designing a defense predicated on the down linemen selling out for sacks, then failing in 2011 to support the defensive line with anything resembling adequate linebacker play.
  • In 2012, after bolstering the linebacker corps, failing to adjust anything about the defensive line scheme even though the whole league knew they'd be selling out for sacks on every play. The extent to which opposing offensive coordinators have appeared to be ahead of Castillo, Todd Bowles, Jim Washburn or whoever's been in charge of setting up the Eagles' defense on a given week this year is staggering.
  • Making Castillo the defensive coordinator in the first place, then of course firing him during the bye week just because they felt like they had to do something.

Look, I understand this is an exercise in second-guessing. I fell for it, as did a lot of the people who have been writing about this Eagles team for the past two years. Philadelphia's roster-construction efforts the past two springs and summers looked good as they were going on, and I for one failed to spot the number of flaws that have ultimately manifested themselves. The very good lesson, for those of us who write the NFL, is as usual about waiting for the games to be played before making broad conclusions about how they will go.

As we look back on it now, though, not much the Eagles have done in assembling their roster over the past couple of years has worked. There's the occasional DeMeco Ryans or Fletcher Cox, sure. The DeSean Jackson contract is a good one for them, and I don't think it was necessarily wrong for them to spend resources this past offseason locking up cornerstone pieces like Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy and Todd Herremans for the long-term. But in terms of building a Super Bowl contender in the short term, Reid and the rest of the people who run the Eagles have failed spectacularly. The product they've put on the field simply isn't as good as they believed it to be, and they are likely to pay for their run of miscalculations with their jobs.

All-NFC East Team: Week 8 update

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
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None of the NFC East's quarterbacks played especially well this weekend, so there's no change at the most scrutinized position on our All-Division Team. We did have some changes this week, including an interesting one at outside linebacker and the first in quite a while on the offensive line.

More on all of that later. First, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a rundown of the best individual performances from the past week. That's why Cedric Thornton isn't on it.

Here's this week's update to the team, and my explanations are at the bottom:

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, DeSean Jackson)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Martellus Bennett)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Chester, Redskins (Chris Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

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

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

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

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

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie)

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

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Rueben Randle)
  • How good are the Cowboys' linebackers? They occupy three of the four linebacker spots on this week's team, and one of them didn't even play this week and is out for the season with a foot injury. Lee won't be on this list forever, and the guy who's pushing hardest for his spot is Washington's Perry Riley, but his overall body of work this season is still better than that of any inside linebacker in the division but Ryans, so in spite of his injury he keeps the spot.
  • As for outside linebacker, yeah. Kerrigan was one of the best defensive players in the league in September. He was not the same player in October, and Spencer has played at an extremely high level. He still doesn't get as much pressure on the quarterback as you'd like your 3-4 outside linebackers to get, but he's a wonder in the run game. And with Lee out, especially, that's invaluable.
  • Austin has kind of been threatening Jackson's spot at wide receiver for a while now, and with the Eagles' passing game going nowhere Jackson (who's having perhaps his finest season as a receiver) slips behind him. They have an identical number of catches (34), and Austin has 37 more yards and three more touchdowns.
  • Washington's Darrel Young was a fixture at the fullback spot last year and early this year, but what Hynoski is doing as a blocker in New York is on another level. He and Bennett have been huge in the run game, though Witten takes over Bennett's tight end spot this week due to the rapidly increasing gap in their relative productivity as receivers.
  • Been thinking for a while about Chester at right guard, and watching his performance against the Steelers on Sunday finally convinced me to pull the trigger. Almost pulled it at left tackle, too, where the Giants' Will Beatty has been excellent.
  • Josh Wilson got his cornerback spot after Rodgers-Cromartie's lousy game Sunday. Wilson overall has been much better this year than that one play at the end of the Giants' loss showed. He lost his spot last week to Amukamara, and now he's back at the expense of another September star whose October was less inspiring.
  • If I needed a big kick made and I had to pick someone in the division, I'd pick Dallas' Dan Bailey. He's also better than Tynes is on kickoffs. But Tynes has attempted 12 more field goals, made 11 more field goals and kicked 10 more extra points than Bailey has this year. He's almost doubled him in each category. Tynes is having an excellent season, and the sheer volume of opportunity he's received and cashed in puts him well ahead of the rest of the division's kickers.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 7 update

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
1:16
PM ET

Not a lot of changes this week to the All-Division Team. Only two, I think, and neither one is the quarterback. Both Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning are playing at an extremely high level right now, and yes, I thought about using the fact that Manning won the game against Griffin's team as the tiebreaker. But as I watched that game Sunday, for those three hours, the best player on that field was not the two-time Super Bowl MVP. He got the last laugh, sure. And everyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I feel about Manning. But as of this moment, he's a notch behind Griffin for the starting quarterback spot on the All-NFC East Team. I think this is the first week all year in which they haven't switched places, so it's that close.

Before we go on, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an all-division team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a position-by-position list of those who played the best this week. That's why Santana Moss isn't on it.

So as I said, only two changes this week. Not the most exciting week we've had with this. I'll explain those two changes, and offer some insight on which players nearly changed my mind, after I give you the team:

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

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

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

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, Giants (Brent Celek)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

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

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

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

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

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles, Prince Amukamara, Giants (Rodgers-Cromartie, Josh Wilson)

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

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Rueben Randle, Giants (Randle)
  • Bennett had the big game catching the ball, yes, and Celek was off, but Bennett was close behind to begin with. What he and Hynoski are doing as blockers, in the run game and the passing game, is absolutely invaluable to the way the Giants are playing right now.
  • And yes, Amukamara is the best cornerback in the division at this moment. Wilson is having a fine season, the final play of Sunday's game notwithstanding, but Amukamara has done absolutely nothing wrong since returning from his injuries. With Corey Webster having a down year and the Giants' secondary in need of a boost, he's performing like a first-round pick.
  • Williams holds down his spot at left tackle after holding off Pierre-Paul all day Sunday. He's playing left tackle as well as anyone in the league. His closest competition in this division is the Giants' Will Beatty.
  • Looked at Nate Livings for left guard and Chris Chester for right guard, but I still have each a notch below the guy listed at his spot. Herremans hasn't been great, but you don't have to be to beat out Doug Free, Sean Locklear and Tyler Polumbus. I did think Polumbus played a good game Sunday. But again, year-long list.
  • Thought about Miles Austin over Jackson at that receiver spot but didn't pull the trigger. Another big Ahmad Bradshaw game could have threatened Morris at running back, because of what Bradshaw brings as a blocker. But Morris is the clear running back leader in this division right now.
  • Kerrigan's had two kinda bad games in a row, and I thought about putting Dallas' Anthony Spencer there instead. (He got a sack!) Will monitor this in the coming weeks to see if Kerrigan returns to his dominant early season form.
  • I didn't think Rolle or Brown looked remarkably impressive Sunday (Brown's interception notwithstanding), but I really don't see who deserves to have taken the spots from them. Maybe Nate Allen? Meh.
  • And finally, Lee is obviously not long for this inside linebacker spot, as he's out for the year with a foot injury. The leading candidate to take the spot at this moment is Washington's Perry Riley, but we'll see how the potential replacements play in the coming weeks. It's not ridiculous to think that Lee could hold the spot for a week or two without playing. That's how good he's been.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 1 Update

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


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

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

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

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

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

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles

Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

Safety: Kurt Coleman, Eagles; Antrel Rolle, Giants

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins

Punter: Chas Henry, Eagles

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins

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

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

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Eagles preview

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
11:42
AM ET

Scout's Eye
When Jason Garrett's Cowboys met at Valley Ranch this week, all they had to do to be reminded of what these Philadelphia Eagles did to them in Week 8 is sit down in their meeting rooms and study the tape of the total domination to understand what they will be up against this weekend.

The Cowboys have faced some quality opponents, but when you study the Eagles you see nothing like the other teams in the league with what you have to deal with from an offensive standpoint. There were days when I was in Green Bay and playing the '90s Cowboys when you went into a game against them trying to figure out how you were going to stop Emmitt Smith from running the ball or Jay Novacek on third downs or Michael Irvin on the slant. Just when you thought that you had one of those areas taken care of, the other players would find a way to take the game from you. This Eagles offense puts a lot of those same thoughts in my mind that I experienced against those Cowboys teams.

In the last meeting between these two teams, Rob Ryan and his staff made the decision to not allow these Eagles wide receivers to make any vertical plays down the field. Safeties Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh, as Ryan put it, played "503 yards deep" from the line of scrimmage. The problem with this decision for Ryan was with his safeties so deep, he opened up the middle of the field.

Then to compound the problem, he lost Sean Lee in the game -- the only linebacker that was athletic enough to make a play in the middle of the field. This was a horrible situation for Ryan because it meant that he had to rely on Keith Brooking and Bradie James, who were exposed in coverage and in the running game. With the deep safeties, it allowed tight end Brent Celek and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson to work crossing routes inside.

When I have studied Vick his last four games, the one area that he likes to attack is the middle of the field. Matter of fact, his best and worst throws come when he is working the middle of the field. Vick just looks more comfortable throwing to targets right in front of him, but like I mentioned he will make mistakes trying to fit ball down the middle against safeties.

McCoy looms as multi-dimensional threat


The deep safeties also hurt Ryan in the running game dealing with LeSean McCoy.

There are three areas that McCoy can hurt your defense.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Matt SlocumExpect LeSean McCoy to give Sean Lee and the Cowboys defense the most fits.
The first one is on the stretch play when you have the offensive line with full flow running with defenders and he takes the ball all the way to the edge and around the corner. The Cowboys got gashed in the last meeting by the down blocking by tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremans, who were able to set the edge allowing the ball to get outside. Watch how Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman play in this contest, because if the Eagles are running the ball well on the edges, it's probably because the defensive ends are not doing their jobs getting off blocks.

The second way that McCoy hurts you is with the sprint draw. Teams have various ways they run the draw, but the Eagles take full advantage of the ball-handling skill of Vick. Teams try so hard to get up the field and attack the Eagles before they get going that it leaves lanes in the defense. As the defense is coming up the field, Vick does an outstanding job of tucking the ball into McCoy and letting him use his vision and quickness to get the ball up the field past the oncoming defenders.

The final way that McCoy can hurt you is as a pass catcher, whether that is in the flat or more impressively in the screen game. The Eagles love to run screens and they will do them from anywhere on the field. The Eagles are the most dangerous when they get into the red zone and once again try to take advantage of defenders getting up the field. The Eagles will throw wide receiver screens to Jackson, they will use Celek in a delay screen where he blocks for two or three counts, then works his way to the outside in the open field, but the player that gives defenses the most trouble is McCoy. He catches the ball so well on the move and when he gets one-on-one, he can break anyone down. The problem for Ryan is that he doesn't really know when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is going to use these screens, but he knows they will.

The Eagles' struggles this season have been with their offensive line. Against the Cowboys in the last meeting, I felt like that they were better than the Dallas front seven. There were too many plays where the Cowboys didn't do a good enough job of getting off blocks allowing the Eagles to control the game upfront.

The best offensive lineman for the Eagles is Peters at left tackle. In the games I was able to study, Peters more than has held his own, whereas earlier in the season, he didn't appear to move all that well. I thought he moved way too slow with his feet, but that has changed.

Teams have taken advantage of the Eagles inside with guards Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins. Rookie center Jason Kelce will get overpowered at the point of attack. The mobility of Vick and the quickness of McCoy really assist this offensive line in overcoming a great deal of their shortcomings.

Smith handles Babin once more


The last time that these two clubs met, there was a great deal of pressure on Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo because of the direction that the defense was going. Losses were mounting and the players that were brought in had yet to truly play as a collective unit.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Matt SlocumJason Babin will play wide on the outside shoulders of the tackles seeking to add to his league-leading sack total.
The buzzword that you will hear in all the pregame shows will be how the Eagles play this defensive alignment of a "Wide 9," which is simply, defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin play wide on the outside shoulder of the tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith. At times they will be a full man removed from the tackle. When you play this type of scheme, you are asking your ends to get up the field as quickly as possible to disrupt the running game but more importantly cause problems in the passing game. Pass rush is where the Eagles cause the most problems.

Usually your best pass rusher will rush from the offensive left hand side, but the Eagles' best rusher comes from the offensive right. The Green Bay Packers are the same way with Clay Matthews rushing from the offensive right.

Babin, who has a league-leading 18 sacks, is as explosive as any rusher Smith will face all season. As a matter of fact, Babin was the rusher who gave Smith the most trouble with his inside move. Talking to Smith, he now understands what he is up against and I think he is better for it.

Babin is unique with this move because he is able to do it at the depth and level of the quarterback's drop. He has a real feel for how to push up the field and get all of the weight of the tackle on his outside foot then quickly duck underneath. Smith really struggled when Babin used this technique on him.

At the other end is Trent Cole against Free. There should be serious cause for concern here because of the struggles that Free has had with technique this season. Cole is a better run player than Babin.

The Eagles are at their best in run defense when the ball goes wide and they are able to handle the play. It is when teams have run the ball at them that they have had their struggles. I thought the Seahawks did a real nice job with this in the regard that they physically came off the ball, getting hats on hats and making the Eagles fight blocks then have to deal with Marshawn Lynch.

The Eagles' weakness on defense is at linebacker. In studying Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews, I didn't feel like they did a good enough job of taking on blocks. With the injury to Felix Jones, I would not be one bit surprised to see Jason Garrett try to attack this Eagles defense with fullback Tony Fiammetta, Jones and Sammy Morris going straight ahead.

Teams have had also had success running the ball with misdirection plays. By that, I mean starting flow one way and getting the defense to react then bringing the ball backside with an H-blocker or fullback. If Jones was healthy, this is something you might see more of.

In the secondary, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are the corners with Joselio Hanson as the nickel. Asomugha will play the slot. The last time that these two teams met, he covered Jason Witten when he was in line and in the slot.

Something else to watch for is that Castillo has gone back to some of the old exotic blitz schemes that former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson used. In the Jets and Dolphins games, Castillo used two down linemen and had Cole, Babin and Matthews standing up in the middle of the defense. The Cowboys have had their troubles with blitz pickups when teams put pressure in the middle of the pocket with twist stunts.

Two things must happen this week: the Cowboys receivers must find a way to win on the outside and the offensive line must be able to pick up blitzes in the middle of Eagles defense. If they struggle in either area, you will see sacks much like Mark Sanchez and Matt Moore suffered in their games against the Eagles.

Rabid Reaction: Beware the R-word peddlers

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
8:49
AM ET
Rabid Reaction: Our series of knee-jerk-styled, emotional overreactions from Ben Rogers of 103.3 FM ESPN's Ben and Skin Show. He's known to get way too excited over even the slightest of developments with the teams he grew up with in the DFW. Proceed with caution ...

The word on the street is a horde of hoodwinked football souls are out peddling doom and gloom to an already beleaguered and vulnerable Dallas Cowboys fan base. Half-empty glass brokers are cornering susceptible co-workers at water coolers, pulling up barstools next to defenseless buddies at happy hour, and fashioning well-worded, panic-inducing crisis columns on world class websites.

Not only are these Debbie Downers breaking out their giant Paul Bunyan axes on your trees of hope, but they’re also using extremely rude langue in the process. They’re throwing around the “R-word” like it’s a Nerf football in your front yard on Thanksgiving Day.

“Rebuilding.”

Now that’s just plain reckless.

To classify a team as being in “rebuilding mode” is to say that they have zero chance for success in the present. Teams rebuild when they hit rock bottom, can longer compete, lose all remaining shreds of hope and have no choice but to tear everything down and start over.

August pigeonholing of an NFL team as such is a flat-out declaration that their upcoming season is entirely inconsequential.

The idea is that a rebuilding team sacrifices their short-term aspirations in an effort to invest in their future. Take a step back now in order to take two forward down the road. Play the youngest guys you can find in your locker room during a season that won’t matter in hopes that the experience will pay off for those players once games matter again some day.

People who think along these lines generally believe there are just two gears for a franchise engine: rebuild, and contend. They think you do your best to build a contender until it clearly runs out of gas, and then you tear it down and start over.

The reality is that the healthiest sports organizations simultaneously execute both gears. They are not mutually exclusive.

When the Cowboys added five-time Pro-Bowl center Andre Gurode to the parade of veterans being shown the door, local panic mongers leapt at the opportunity to scream “Shark!” on the football beach.

They alleged that by overhauling their offensive line with three young, new starters, the Cowboys have given clear indication that they are officially (gulp!) rebuilding. After all, how can they part ways with legends like Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Gurode? How can they replace them with two rookies (Tyron Smith and Bill Nagy) and a second-year player (Phil Costa)? How can they do that and expect to compete with the likes of the mighty Philadelphia Eagles in the treacherous NFC East?

The Eagles, who just treated free agency like it was their own private superstar buffet, would never find themselves in the embarrassing and pitiful position that the Cowboys do with their offensive line. They wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Someone hand Jason Garrett a white towel, quickly. Stop the fight! Stop the fight!

Um, yeah ... about that.

Truth is, the Philadelphia World Champs of August find themselves in an extremely similar situation with their big uglies. As it stands now, it appears that they too will start two bright-eyed rookies (RG Danny Watkins and C Jason Kelce) on their offensive line. In addition, they’ve moved their left guard of the past several seasons, Todd Herremans, to right tackle and will be starting Evan Mathis at left guard. He joined their team a week into camp.

Maybe the incredibly average Winston Justice hobbles back to the rescue at tackle to save the day a few weeks into the season. Either way, the Eagles are still looking at two rookies and lots of chaos on the offensive line that protects their $100 million quarterback.

So with all of that youth and transition, are the Eagles rebuilding too?

No. Of course not. They signed most of their post-lockout free agent horses to one-year deals. They’re in go-for-it-now mode as much as anyone in the league, and you better believe they’re contenders.

By the way, last season the Eagles went to the playoffs as one of the youngest teams in the league, which ultimately proves that they were both rebuilding and contending simultaneously.

That’s not to say that the Cowboys are anywhere near as rosy-cheeked an organization as the Eagles, who seem to have more cap room hidden under their mattress than any team in the history of ever. But perhaps the Cowboys are learning a thing or two from their hated rival.

Working young players into the mix is merely a sign of a healthy franchise. It’s nothing to panic over. Jason Garrett has created a competitive environment where no job is secure based solely on contract commas. Fierce competition for jobs will bring the best out of a football team that has admittedly felt "entitled" in the past.

It’s a sizable leap to go from fueling the fires of competition to cowering under the umbrella of surrender.

Besides, why would a team with superstars in the prime of their prime like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff concede a season in a league drenched in parity sauce? Let’s not forget that the NFC featured a 7-9 team in the playoffs last year.

The Cowboys’ schedule doesn’t exactly breathe fire on tiny people. It’s hardly a scary monster. Nine of their first 12 opponents had sub-.500 records in 2010. Why in the world would they concede this upcoming season in order to rebuild?

Granted, they have holes. Their new offensive line will need to find continuity quickly in order to keep Romo off of a stretcher. And you get the feeling that this new defense will remain a work in progress as the mad silver-mulleted scientist Rob Ryan and his two-ton playbook will take some time for players to wrap their arms around. But once again, the schedule is more than willing to lend a helping hand as the Cowboys work out the kinks.

A bye in Week 5 is generally viewed as a potential disruption for early season momentum. Teams typically would rather have the bye in the back half of the season to give broken bodies an extra week to recover before the stretch run. However, in the Cowboys' case, considering that the lockout deprived them of critical installation time for Ryan’s mysterious blueprint, Week 5 will serve as an ideal opportunity to regroup, adjust and move forward with four games of valuable film to dissect.

This team is two years removed from being 11-5 with a playoff win. They rid themselves of a somewhat directionless head coach, replaced a stale defensive scheme and have run off a handful of generals from the entitlement brigade.

Uncontaminated competition at it’s purest is fueling a talent revolution at Valley Ranch. Suddenly, Cowboys draft picks can do more than grab Bill Parcells a cup of water and accompany Tony Romo to an exotic beach destination. A much-maligned football culture has been miraculously transformed.

Their schedule is friendly. Their quarterback is healthy. Their defense will soon learn the ways of the Ryan family swagger. Most importantly, their head coach is in charge.

This thing is finally headed in the right direction, and it isn’t backwards.

If anyone tries to tell you that the Cowboys are “rebuilding”, just smile and ask yourself if they truly understand the meaning of that big "R-word" that they’re so recklessly brandishing.

10-6.

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