NFC East: 2012 NFL preseason Week 4

Observation deck: Jets-Eagles

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:39
PM ET
Stop for a second. Take a deep breath. Now exhale, all the way. That's it. We're done with preseason football until 2013. Doesn't it feel awesome?

The NFC East's preseason finale was a 28-10 Eagles' exhibition victory over the New York Jets on Thursday night. None of the starters played, which didn't help the game's entertainment value, but kept any of them from getting hurt, which was the point. Those who did play obviously had their eye on Friday's 9 p.m. ET final roster cut deadline, and some of them were holding their final auditions for spots. These are their stories:
  • Trent Edwards, who was dropped by the Bills and Jaguars in 2010 and didn't play in the NFL last year, was an afterthought when training camp began. But he got a lot more preseason reps than expected after presumptive backup quarterback Mike Kafka broke his hand in the first game, and he played very well. Edwards played the final three quarters Thursday (after rookie Nick Foles, who's probably No. 2 behind Michael Vick after his own very strong preseason) and was 22-for-32 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles plan to keep only three of their quarterbacks, and with Vick and Foles both locks, that means it's a choice between Edwards and Kafka for the No. 3 spot. This is Kafka's third year in the system, and if the decision is to be based on more than just this preseason, he still has to have the edge. But if they saw enough from Edwards that they think he could run their offense if Vick went down, he could surprise. He definitely looks as though he can run the offense, but he has been playing against backups, obviously. And his reputation in Buffalo was as a "Captain Checkdown" type who didn't make it through progressions. First-team defenses play with more speed and could bring that back out if he were to appear in a real game. Worth considering.
  • Jaiquawn Jarrett played well at safety, and he looks safe as the backup to Nate Allen at strong safety. I think Jarrett has very good physical ability, and in a game like this that doesn't feature any game-planning, a player like Jarrett can look very good, seeking out ballcarriers and delivering big hits without getting tripped up by complex scheme or communication issues. But that's okay. Jarrett needed to show something, and he did. O.J. Atowge, on the other hand, who is slated to be Kurt Coleman's backup at free safety, got hurt again and will have an MRI on his hamstring Friday morning. Atogwe couldn't stay healthy with the Redskins last year either, and it's possible the Eagles will be hunting for safety help after the cuts come in Friday night.
  • I think Bryce Brown has shown enough to make the team as the No. 3 running back ahead of Chris Polk. I also think Polk has shown enough that some other team will pick him up and the Eagles won't be able to get him on the practice squad.
  • Brandon Graham and the defensive linemen getting called for offsides is something I think you should get used to. The Eagles want their defensive linemen to be hyper-aggressive, so they'll be offsides a lot. And some of them (Graham included) are quick enough off the ball to trick officials (replacement or otherwise) into thinking they're offsides even sometimes when they're not.
  • It was interesting that defensive tackle Antonio Dixon didn't play. It was also interesting that -- in his postgame news conference -- Eagles coach Andy Reid said he'd "seen enough of" Dixon. Couple of different ways to read that, and a few of them make you think Dixon is the odd man out when the tough defensive line cuts come Friday night. I have to think they've at least looked into trading Darryl Tapp and his $2.6 million salary. But whether they can pull that off or not, Dixon can't be having a restful night's sleep.
  • I liked Mardy Gilyard as a college player. I liked him in training camp when I was at Lehigh this summer. I liked him last night, when he doubled back and caught that duck Edwards threw into the end zone before anyone else saw it for a duck. With Damaris Johnson likely ahead of him as a receiver and a special teamer, I can't see how Gilyard makes the team. But maybe another team saw something they liked.
  • Something to remember: Derek Landri and Joselio Hanson were among last season's "final" roster cuts, and both ended up back on the team. So some of Friday's moves will be procedural. The Eagles have some high-level decisions to make and will be cutting some good players.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Cowboys

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
11:00
AM ET
Yeah, because I like to space these out. And no one reads them if I put them up in the middle of the night. And they put the ESPNDallas.com one up on the blog anyway. This is why you're just reading this now. Because I know some of you were asking.

I'm not sure how much there is to say about the Dallas Cowboys' 30-13 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday night anyway. Center Phil Costa was the only starter who played, and he only played because he'd been out for weeks with an injury and needed to see some game action, and he only played 11 snaps anyway. I didn't see anything egregious, and if you've been following my thoughts on the Cowboys' offensive line you know I was watching closely. He didn't have any problem getting the ball from the ground into the quarterback's hands, which sounds silly unless you've been paying attention to the Cowboys' backup center issues for the past few weeks. They tell me Costa's added bulk. We have yet to see whether or not he's added the strength he needs to make him a better player than he was last season. Could happen. We just haven't seen it.

Here's what else I saw in the Cowboys' final preseason game:
  • Kevin Ogletree didn't help himself much. He slipped on a route early and dropped a ball on third down on that same possession. Didn't catch any of the three balls thrown his way. I still think he showed enough in camp and in preseason to be the No. 3 wide receiver, but if that was still in doubt as of Wednesday, he didn't do anything to help himself. Of course, Dwayne Harris didn't catch a ball either, and Tim Benford was the only Cowboy who caught more than two. So it's possible Wednesday had no meaning whatsoever and I've wasted whatever time it took to type this paragraph.
  • Let's see, let's see, what else. ... Oh yeah, Josh Brent. I thought he looked real good a couple of times shoring up the middle against the run. I imagine he's the base-defense nose tackle assuming Jay Ratliff's ankle sprain keeps him out of Wednesday's regular-season opener against the Giants.
  • Victor Butler had a sack, which means it's still August. Seriously, we were saying this last year and it didn't happen, but don't the coaches have to find ways to use this guy more in the pass rush? He's got some skills. Rookie Tyrone Crawford had a sack, too. I know they plan to use him as a situational pass rusher this year in the hope that he adds size and can eventually be a starting defensive end for them down the road.
  • Orie Lemon had an interception and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown, which is good for Orie Lemon's effort to make the roster. He helps on special teams, too, so I'd think he's got a good chance. But they have some depth at linebacker and some choices to make there.
  • Choices at running back, too. I still think Phillip Tanner is the No. 3 behind DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones, but Lance Dunbar made a nifty cut to finish off his 58-yard touchdown run, and given his ability in the return game has to be making them at least think about keeping four running backs. I just like the way Tanner runs. If he can stay healthy, I'd have to think he's at least a threat to Jones' carries.
  • Teddy Williams fumbled a return and probably should have been flagged for pass interference in the end zone. Even the Cowboys' broadcasters were saying that was interference, so that kind of hurts Teddy Ballgame's case. On the fumble, one of the most alarming things was that Danny Coale couldn't come up with the ball at the bottom of the pile. Miami kicker Dan Carpenter outfought him for it. Coale and Matt Johnson have done pretty much nothing this preseason, and the team has decisions to make about their roster status. Which, if I were the kind of dude who liked to say I told you so. ... Nah, let's not go down that road.
  • Calvin Watkins tells me Dan Bailey was 8-for-8 on field goals in the preseason. That's good.

And that ought to just about do it. Next post is the one that's going nuclear anyway. See ya there!

Observation deck: Patriots-Giants

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
9:00
AM ET

I don't know why New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin played his starting offense for four series in Wednesday night's 6-3 preseason victory over the New England Patriots. It's kind of accepted that you're not supposed to play your veteran starters in the final preseason game, and it does seem silly to risk injury to them with a week left before the first game that actually counts. But Coughlin knows what he's doing, and he tends to do it his way. And hey, maybe Eli Manning really is indestructible -- and while we just joke about it, Coughlin knows for sure.

Anyway, everybody came out of it fine, including star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who only played the first two series as he got his first game action of the preseason. Nicks didn't show any effects from the foot fracture he suffered in the spring, and he should be good to go next Wednesday night against the Cowboys.

As for this game, in the four series he played, Manning didn't look in sync with his receivers, the offensive line looked awful in run-blocking and (likely as a result) the running backs didn't show much. No, not even David Wilson. What's it all mean? Absolutely nothing, of course. There's no way the Giants game-planned for this game and no way they were going to put anything on tape Wednesday night that might have been potentially helpful to the Cowboys next week. Manning and his gang will be ready, of that there should be no fear. Not now that they've made it through the preseason games healthy.

What else did we see in this fiasco of a non-game?
  • Defensive end Adewale Ojomo has to make the team, right? I don't know whether that means Adrian Tracy has to go or what, but Ojomo's done nothing to deserve being cut. Another sack, and man did he look good stuffing the run. If these games are ways for off-the-roster guys to make the roster, Ojomo could end up being this year's prime example.
  • While we're on the defensive line, Linval Joseph has flat-out been one of my favorite players to watch in this preseason. He's playing like a man possessed, and between him and Rocky Bernard the Giants shouldn't miss a beat in the first half of games in spite of their injuries at defensive tackle. My only question is if they have the depth they need to spell those guys and make sure they don't wear down in the second half or as the season goes along. But when Joseph is on the field, they have another dimension to the line. He's everywhere making plays right now.
  • The other line? Not so much. Chris Snee and Will Beatty sat this one out with injuries, and the issue with the line continues to be depth. Mitch Petrus had some trouble at guard, and the interior of the line just gets pushed back too easily, especially on run plays. They need to find better ways to extend forward and open some holes for the backs than they did this preseason. And last year, for that matter.
  • Ramses Barden made a highlight-film catch, reaching behind himself and a defender, and continues to impress. Finally healthy and producing, Barden looks like he's got a chance to make the team and an impact. Jerrel Jernigan helps more on special teams, and it's hard to see them cutting him so soon after drafting him so high, but again, Barden has outplayed him.
  • They're still using D.J. Ware as the third-down back, even with Wilson in the game, and that tells you what they think about Ware (and maybe Wilson) in pass protection.
  • I saw some nice plays by linebackers Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich in the third quarter. But I was watching three games at once by that point, so I can't tell you how they looked overall.
  • Can't imagine that Andre Brown fumble makes him feel real good about his chances with 36 hours left until final cuts are due.
  • Steve Weatherford is fantastic. He must really like punting against the Patriots.


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the preseason with a 30-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night. Unlike last season, when wide receiver Raymond Radway was injured in the closing seconds of the preseason at Miami, there were no such major health issues coming from this game. This was the last chance for several players to make an impact on the coaches and scouts, and join the 53-man roster.

What it means: The Cowboys finish the preseason 3-1 and have to make some hard decisions regarding the No. 3 quarterback spot, whether to keep a fourth running back or which running back to keep, whether Orie Lemon and Mario Butler make the team, and whether Danny Coale and Matt Johnson should earn paychecks in September.

McGee vs. Carpenter: There is this battle for the No. 3 quarterback position. Stephen McGee played the first half, led one touchdown drive and converted 13 first downs. He completed nine of 18 passes for 124 yards. The Cowboys led 20-6 at the break. Rudy Carpenter also led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive -- capped by a 58-yard run by Lance Dunbar -- and finished 4-of-10 for 48 yards. In addition, Carpenter had a 21-yard scramble. But it would appear neither quarterback did enough to secure a spot on the roster.

Only one starter plays: Between both units, only center Phil Costa played. Costa missed the first three preseason games with a strained lower back, and the Cowboys wanted to give him some snaps before putting him in a regular-season game. Costa didn't have any bad snaps, and it's unknown whether he had any blown assignments. David Arkin replaced Costa.

The running game is strong: There are no questions regarding the status of DeMarco Murray as the starter. Felix Jones has been guaranteed a roster spot by owner/general manager Jerry Jones. We thought the No. 3 running back gig was going to Phillip Tanner, but Dunbar came on strong Wednesday night. Dunbar ran with a burst, scoring on a 58-yard run. Let's not forget about Tanner, who burst up the middle for a 1-yard score. Dunbar rushed 15 times for 105 yards, and Tanner rushed for 48 yards on nine carries.

Lemon made his case: If linebacker Lemon was a bubble player, he should make the roster. He returned an interception 26 yards to give the Cowboys a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. Lemon was active on defense and, given what he does on special teams, should make the 53-man roster. Adrian Hamilton also was fighting for a roster spot, but he hasn't shown his pass-rush abilities on a consistent basis with the Cowboys.

Cowboys lose three players: Guard Derrick Dockery left the game for personal reasons, and fellow guard Daniel Loper suffered a hamstring injury. Cornerback Lionel Smith departed the game with a concussion. None of the three returned.

Who played well: Tyrone Crawford, Orie Lemon, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar and Dan Bailey.

Who didn't: Teddy Williams, David Arkin, Stephen McGee.

Bailey is perfect: Kicker Dan Bailey finished the preseason 8-for-8 on field goal attempts. Bailey made kicks of 25, 30 and 26 yards Wednesday night. The Cowboys didn't have any concerns about him heading into the preseason, but unlike last season when the team had a kicking competition, nothing was going on here. It was all Bailey. The longest kick of the preseason by Bailey was 49 yards.

Ryan Tannehill makes the start: The eighth pick of the NFL draft, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the start for the Dolphins. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 35 yards. The former Aggie played with a presence and threw some strong passes, but he still has a ways to go to help the Dolphins.

What's next? The Cowboys must cut their roster to 53 players by Friday night and then finalize their practice squad roster with as many as eight players. The team will practice over the weekend at Valley Ranch and prepare for the regular season opener at the New York Giants.

Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
10:28
PM ET


Just when I thought I was out, Roy Helu pulls me back in.

As this preseason has unfolded, the one thing we thought we knew about the Washington Redskins' running back situation was that Helu was confirming the coaching staff's fears about his ability to stay healthy. He hadn't been any kind of factor at all since the first preseason game, sitting out practices with sore Achilles' tendons while Evan Royster and Alfred Morris got starts and Tim Hightower made his return from last year's knee surgery. And in the first half of the Redskins' 30-3 preseason victory over the Buccaneers on Wednesday, it was all Royster.

But then in the second half came Helu, showing that burst through the line he showed when he got his chance last year and rolling up 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries. He even added 34 more yards on two catches, reminding everyone of that receiving ability with which they fell in love last year. I thought he looked good in blitz pickup, too. The result was the upstaging of Royster's 10-carry, 44-yard first half and a further deepening of the muddle that is the Redskins' starting running back picture with a week and a half left before the season opener. To wit:

Is Helu really their most talented back? And if he is, can they count on him to stay healthy? Or will nagging injuries always be an issue? Can they use him as a third-down back, or increase his reps in the second half after one of the other guys has softened up the defense?

Is Hightower healthy enough for a starter's workload 10 months after surgery to repair a torn ACL? And even if he is, has he lost a step?

Does Royster show more as a consistent runner than Helu does, in spite of the latter's explosiveness and receiving ability? And if so, is that the more important factor?

Is the rookie Morris good enough yet in pass protection to get significant reps as the starter if need be?

All we know is that (a) they like Hightower as the starter out of all of these guys if he's healthy and (b) he's not fully healthy right now. So there's no way to know who the starter will be on Sept. 9 in New Orleans until we see who runs on the field. But Mike Shanahan believes he has four good running backs who can succeed in his system, and that's fine by him. I reassert my belief that four different backs will start games for the Redskins this year, which is the same number of backs that started games for them last year, and that whoever it is that gets the ball from week-to-week will be a threat to clear 100 yards. Call the Redskins' running back "Timfred Heloyster."

Here's what else I noticed in the Redskins' final game of the preseason. Warning: It ain't much.
  • It's not that they had five sacks -- it's where they came from to get them. Marlon Favorite, Kedric Golston, Darrion Scott... the defensive line was generating pressure up the middle. With backups. And against backups, too, yes, I know that. But what this tells me is that the Redskins' defensive scheme doesn't plan to limit itself to using those outside linebackers to generate pressure. If they get an interior rush going, they could be a real force up front with the depth they do have (ahead of the guys who played Wednesday) on the defensive line.
  • The Redskins had to like seeing rookie cornerback Richard Crawford get an interception a few days after trading Kevin Barnes. Crawford's performance this preseason is one of the things that made Barnes expendable. The Redskins also like rookie safety Jordan Bernstine, who also had a pick.
  • I don't see how Brandon Banks has made the team as a wide receiver. He is still dangerous as a return man, and he had one very long catch. But he doesn't fight for the ball effectively against defenders and just doesn't show enough, technique-wise, as a wide receiver compared to the other guys competing for the spots. And Aldrick Robinson looks like he can handle kick returns, and someone (Santana Moss?) will figure out punt returns.
  • New kicker Billy Cundiff missed from 46 yards, but he sure looked good drilling those kickoffs through the back of the end zone. Expect a lot more of that from the guy who set an NFL record last year for touchbacks in a single season. I have to believe that's why he's on the team and Graham Gano is not.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The New York Giants can begin their title defense now after closing the preseason with a 6-3 victory over New England.

PatriotsGiantsWhat it means: The Patriots rested their starters, but the Giants actually played theirs –- what remained of their first team with several starters resting -- into the beginning of the second quarter. The offense looked sluggish. But it really doesn't mean anything for the starters, as the Giants just need to stay healthy entering the season opener next Wednesday.

The biggest thing to take from this game is the performance by backups who are fighting for roster spots. The Giants will trim their roster to 53 on Friday; here's my roster breakdown of the offense and defense.

Hakeem's debut: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks made his preseason debut and had a catch across the middle for six yards in limited action. Nicks has looked good in practice, and the most important thing is that he stayed healthy and is set to play against the Cowboys next week after undergoing toe surgery in late May.

"It felt real good to be out there for the first time this preseason," Nicks said. "Went out there, got my feet wet, got a couple reps. It was exactly what I needed to know that I'll be ready for next week.

"It was pretty much what I expected," Nicks continued. "No problem with the foot. It felt good, and I'll be ready to start the season."

Line issues: The Giants' offensive line struggled in the first half. With Chris Snee (leg), Will Beatty (back) and James Brewer (back) on the sideline, the first and second-team offensive line couldn't get the running game going while allowing three sacks.

Mitch Petrus started in place of Snee at right guard and was beaten badly by Jermaine Cunningham for a sack of Eli Manning. Backup quarterback David Carr was sacked twice in the second quarter.

Though the ground game got going in the third quarter behind Andre Brown's hard running, the offensive line reserves clearly have a lot to work on.

And it still remains to be seen who the Giants will trot out at left tackle. Beatty returned to practice this week but Sean Locklear has started at left tackle and has been solid.

Running back competition: Rookie David Wilson started in place of Ahmad Bradshaw (hand) and gained just 13 yards on eight carries. But the first-round pick made his case to be Bradshaw's backup with a strong game against Chicago last weekend.

Brown was impressive on the first drive of the third quarter as he gained 52 yards rushing and had nine yards on a reception. He also converted on a second-and-1 and third-and-1. But he fumbled the ball near the Giants' goal line midway through the fourth quarter. Bear Pascoe recovered the ball at the Giants' own 1.

D.J. Ware came in as the third-down back when Wilson was in the game with the starters, as the team opted to take a longer look at Brown and Da'Rel Scott.

Giants highlights: Wide receiver Ramses Barden followed up a strong performance against Chicago with another good outing. He had four catches for 31 yards and had another impressive catch nullified by a holding penalty. ... Middle linebacker Mark Herzlich was active and stuffed a run on a third-and-3 at the Giants' 3-yard-line. ... Defensive ends Adewale Ojomo and Matt Broha continued to look good. Ojomo looked good stopping the run with two big run-stuffing tackles and Broha had a half-sack in the first half. Ojomo also had a huge strip sack on Brian Hoyer that Marcus Thomas recovered and advanced to the Patriots' 17 with 2:27 left in the game. ... Linebacker Greg Jones, who could be fighting for a roster spot, had a sack in the third quarter.

What's next: The season finally begins next Wednesday when the Giants start their title defense against Dallas at home.

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