- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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You've got questions. You mail them in. I answer. Some of them at least. It's called the weekend mailbag, and it goes a little something like this.
Joseph in Asheville, N.C, took exception to a comment I made in Tuesday's chat about Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris having been "solid but not spectacular." Joseph points out that Morris is among the top five leading rushers in the league [which is something I had in fact already known] and believes that "the way he runs within the running scheme is some of the best [Joseph has] ever seen."
Dan Graziano: Morris is, in fact, perfect for the scheme and has thus far been extremely successful in it. Of this there is no doubt. And I was surprised to see in our ESPN Stats & Information packet this week that he has 17 runs of at least 10 yards, which is more than anyone else in the league this year. My intent was not to insult Morris, and I'm sure if you read me regularly you are aware that I have been liberal with my praise of the season he's having. However, we all can admit that this is not one of the speedier backs in the league, right? So "solid but not spectacular" was meant to indicate that Morris is a guy who's going to do what's asked of him, do it well and do it to the benefit of the team but isn't likely to do anything eye-popping that's going to make him a regular on the highlight reels. Nothing wrong with that at all, especially as long as he's doing the job he's doing.
Bo from Minneapolis writes to say he thinks I'm "writing the Dallas Cowboys off a little too soon." As part of his argument, Bo points out that the NFC East was won last year with a 9-7 record. Bo also says he agrees with my preseason pick that the Giants will win the division. He just thinks I should give the Cowboys a chance.
DG: So I did some research, and while I was able to discover that the NFC East was indeed won last year by a team with a 9-7 record, I was unable to find a single piece of written copy anywhere on the Internet in which I said the Cowboys had no chance. Guess I'll keep looking. Meantime, if you want to discuss what I actually have said and written about the Cowboys, it is this: Prior to the season, I believed them to be a .500 team that would not reach the playoffs. Their first four games of the season have changed my opinion of them not one millimeter in either direction. Of course they have a chance, as each of the other three flawed teams in this division does. But when people ask me, "Do you think the Cowboys will recover and make the playoffs?" I have to answer by telling them what I think, which is that they will not. I may be (and have been) wrong. But as of now, this is my assessment. Neither the Cowboys nor the Eagles have done anything to make me alter my preseason opinions of them. The Giants have, by losing two division games and suffering a slew of significant injuries. The Redskins have, by playing much worse on defense (due in part to some major injuries) and much better on offense than I anticipated they would. But the Cowboys? They look about the way I expected. A .500 team. We shall see if that holds up.
Vlad from Yonkers, N.Y., is a New York Giants fan with an admiration for the way they have been able to successfully replace players on their offense in recent years. In particular, he thinks the revolving door at tight end and the success Eli Manning has had with a variety of people in that role stands out, and it makes him question the relative draft value of the tight end position as a whole.
DG: I think we can call this a Giants-specific phenomenon. Not that other teams and other quarterbacks don't show the ability to elevate the performance level of the players around them, but Manning has obviously demonstrated this to an extraordinary degree, and I think he and tight ends coach Mike Pope, who is regarded as one of the best around, justifiably share credit. I don't think it's as simple as just being able to plug anyone into the tight end position who can block and catch. I think the Giants have demonstrated ways of maximizing the skills of the players they've used in that position in recent years. Specifically with Martellus Bennett this year, they believe he has a great deal of latent talent that wasn't being maximized in Dallas, and they signed him thinking he'd play better for them.
Bill in Philadelphia thinks the Philadelphia Eagles' defense is getting too much credit this year and the low-scoring offense (31st in the league in points per game) too much blame. Bill points out that "the defense can't seem to force 3 and outs, generate sacks, or create turnovers, forcing the offense to have to consistently go the length of the field," and thinks the defense should be doing a better of job of getting the offense better starting field position.
DG: I think this is an astute observation, Bill, and it led me to seek out ESPN Stats & Information, which informed me that Philadelphia's average starting field position for all drives this season is its own 25-yard line. That's worse than all but six teams in the league, so your notion that they are starting way back has validity. Furthermore, they have forced only seven turnovers, which is a middle-of-the-pack total, as only 12 teams have fewer takeaways. And they have only seven sacks, which is the fourth-lowest total in the league, after leading the league with 50 a year ago. So while in general I think the Eagles' defense has performed well (eighth in the league in fewest yards per game allowed, 10th in fewest points per game allowed), I agree with you that it could be doing a better job of making the kinds of plays that help set its offense up in a better position to succeed. Very good point.
Thanks for all of the questions. Talk to you from Baltimore.