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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Breakfast links: Smith vs. Babin

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

It's quiet this morning. Too quiet. Quick, somebody put a microphone in front of a Giants or Jets player while I work on these links.

Dallas Cowboys

Rookie right tackle Tyron Smith has been one of the Cowboys' best players this year, but he knows he's got his hands full Saturday against red-hot Eagles pass-rusher Jason Babin, who has six sacks in his last two games, a league-leading 18 for the year and got the better of Smith the last time they faced off.

Brandon George explains why the Cowboys aren't even allowed to negotiate a contract extension with surprise standout wide receiver Laurent Robinson if they want to before the end of this season. Expect the Cowboys to make him one of their priorities when the season ends, but he's likely to have other suitors as well and drive the price up. Which is the point of this vested-veteran rule.

New York Giants

Gary Myers writes that, if Eli Manning wants to keep Tom Coughlin around as his head coach, he'd do well to deliver him a win on Christmas Eve against the Jets. A loss would drop the Giants to 7-8 and possibly out of the playoffs for the third year in a row. And whether you blame Coughlin for this season or not, the recent history just isn't real helpful to his chances.

The Jets' wide receivers have the rings and the cool nickname, Johnette Howard says, but the Giants' wide receivers are simply better. This is likely why Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham were so confident and unflinching Wednesday in discussing the Jets' defense and top cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Philadelphia Eagles

Les Bowen writes on the development over the course of this season of the Eagles' young and much-maligned linebacking corps. There's no question that the Eagles' defense, and especially this unit, is playing much better than it did over the first half of the season. The problem is that the youth and mistakes of the linebackers were a big reason for the rotten start. So as much as they're doing to try and salvage things now that they're all more comfortable, it's likely too late.

Juan Castillo is headed home to Dallas for Saturday's game, and given the way this season has gone for him, it's anything but a triumphant homecoming. One has to wonder what level of miracle has to occur over the final two games or even beyond for Castillo to return as the Eagles' defensive coordinator in 2012.

Washington Redskins

Hey, remember what we were talking about up at the top with the Smith-Babin matchup? Well, the Redskins have a rookie tackle, too -- Willie Smith, who's been pressed into left tackle duty by the Trent Williams drug suspension. And he gets to go up Saturday against Minnesota's Jared Allen, who has 17.5 sacks and is right there behind Babin in the race for the league lead. Tough test for young Willie, to be sure. But the Redskins are checking him out to see what he might be able to offer in 2012 and beyond.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan thinks Lorenzo Alexander should have received more votes than he did from fans as a special-teams Pro Bowler. Alexander is a bit of a coach's dream. Since Shanahan got there, he's moved Alexander from defensive lineman to outside linebacker and then to backup linebacker/special-teams captain. Alexander makes nary a peep, just works and plays his tail off and sets a great example for the younger players on the team. It's no surprise his coach feels strongly about him and wants to help get him some recognition.