NFC East: 2013 preseason reaction Week 2

Highlights from the Washington Redskins' 24-13 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1. It’s a good thing Barry Cofield's hand injury isn’t more serious and shouldn’t keep him out of any regular-season games. Cofield has looked exceptional in camp and was particularly good versus the Steelers. He twice beat Maurkice Pouncey with a swim move past his left shoulder and was disruptive in the backfield. What’s becoming clear is that Cofield and Stephen Bowen will receive fewer double teams with an improved rush from the linebackers, forcing extra attention. The more the Redskins can collapse the pocket, the better off they will be. On Cofield’s sack, one reason he was able to get there was because of an extra push by Bowen and end Kedric Golston (who is having an excellent camp). Cofield relied on athleticism to get him through his first season at nose tackle; now he’s using quickness and smarts. His ability to read plays has definitely improved. Combine that with his speed and he could be a major pest for offensive lines.

2. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan heard someone yelling to watch for the screen -- he thinks it was London Fletcher. But Kerrigan deserves credit for reading his clues as well, something he’s done an excellent job of since entering the league. It makes a difference. He noticed the tackle trying to lure him a little deeper and he saw the angle of the back coming out. So Kerrigan stopped, backed up a little and timed his jump. Just a smart play. Kerrigan’s growth in this defense is a big reason why the pass rush should be better. He lined up at right tackle, left tackle and left outside linebacker. The Redskins can pair him next to a speed linebacker (Brandon Jenkins) or a powerful one (Darryl Tapp). More importantly, they can throw a changeup to guards inside because of his speed. Kerrigan’s rush when aligned wide was also good. He did a better job getting into the tackle, closing any space between he and the tackle, and allowing him to use a quick rip move and then to strip the ball for a fumble. He took a more direct path to the quarterback -- too often when aligned over the tackle he goes too straight upfield; this time, he went more toward the quarterback.

3. The Redskins have committed 18 penalties in the first two preseason games, with three unnecessary roughness penalties in the first half (two by DeJon Gomes). Even Fletcher was called for one, on the second play from scrimmage. Fletcher pushed Pouncey to the ground drawing the foul (for some reason, I initially thought it was the tight end, but it was indeed the center). As a captain, he must be more mindful of his actions. Nobody knows this more than Fletcher.

4. Thus far, the Redskins have shown an ability to rush the passer in various ways -- without needing to resort to extra rushers. Will that continue? We’ll find out. But they applied pressure Monday night with four-man rushes from their base linemen as well as from their nickel set, tapping into their versatility at linebacker. Oh, and they did it without Brian Orakpo as well. One reason Orakpo was not missed? Darryl Tapp. The veteran is one of the more surprising players this summer, mostly because he was a veteran changing positions and that’s not easy to do. But Tapp played with the strength that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett talked about the other day. He did a nice job setting the edge against the run and was able to move left tackle Mike Adams off line with a big left-handed slap. All power. Tapp also drew a hold on Adams with a spin move. He’s not the same threat as Orakpo, clearly, but Tapp has improved. There was one rush early that still illustrated Orakpo’s importance by his absence. Rookie Brandon Jenkins rushed too wide on the left side and Tapp was a bit upfield. Kerrigan got a decent push at left tackle, but Bowen was double teamed inside and generated no pressure. Thanks to good coverage, Ben Roethlisberger was limited to a two-yard scramble. With issues in the secondary, whether from injuries or youth, the pass rush needs to be a major factor, especially early in the season while those problems are being corrected.

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Observation deck: Colts-Giants

August, 18, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the benefit of those who are new around here, I'll restate this: I simply will not overreact to preseason NFL games. If you, as a fan, want to do that, that's fine with me. But don't come here expecting me to join in. So if you want me to tell you to be worried that the New York Giants had trouble scoring in the red zone in Sunday night's 20-12 "loss" to the Indianapolis Colts, or that they struggled to cover receivers, or that Eli Manning didn't look sharp, too bad. You're going to have to go get that somewhere else. History clearly shows us that preseason games offer no predictive value whatsoever. Teams aren't game-planning for each other this time of year, and the fact that one team's offense/defense was effective/ineffective against another's on Aug. 18 is simply immaterial. How bad the Giants looked Sunday night means no more than how bad the Cowboys looked Saturday or how good the Eagles looked Thursday. It's the wrong place to focus.

So what we do here when we break down preseason games is highlight some individual performances or personnel patterns that might turn out to be noteworthy or significant. And, of course, we discuss injuries, which is where we will start Sunday night.
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz and center David Baas both left the game during the first offensive series for X-rays, which turned out to be negative. The Giants say Baas has a knee sprain and Cruz has a heel bruise. Both are likely to get more tests, Baas especially. And while the news on Cruz obviously could have been worse, it's worth watching to see whether this is something that limits him this week in practice.
  • "He runs to make his living, and, obviously, he's got an issue with his heel," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Cruz. "Hopefully, it's not going to be a long thing. They're going to continue to do some tests on him."
  • Justin Tuck also left the game with a hamstring injury. Prior to that, I personally thought Tuck looked great. I'd singled him out prior to the game as someone I was going to watch, and in the first quarter he looked quick and energized as he hassled Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and batted down a pass. An energized Tuck would be a tremendous positive for the Giants this season, provided, of course, that energy comes with fully healthy hamstrings.
  • David Wilson is a lot of fun to watch run. He broke a 21-yarder and threw in a 16-yard reception on which he almost impossibly avoided falling to the ground along the sideline. But unless I missed one, there wasn't a single third down during his part of the game on which he wasn't replaced by Andre Brown. We know how important pass protection is going to be when evaluating these running backs and assigning them carries, and it seems clear that the Giants trust Brown more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. Brown looked good picking up blitzing safety Antoine Bethea on a third-down play in the second quarter that resulted in an 11-yard pass to Rueben Randle. Can that change before the season starts? Sure, and certainly before it ends. But a Wilson/Brown backfield committee looks like the plan right now. Brown had 36 yards on eight carries and caught one pass. Wilson had 34 yards on eight carries and caught two passes. Wilson did not return any kickoffs.
  • Michael Cox looks like a keeper, and not just because he looks like a non-Wilson option on kick returns. Cox had just two carries for four yards but also had two long receptions out of the backfield -- one for 20 yards and another for 28. "He's got a lot of fight," Coughlin said. "He breaks tackles, and he's very persistent in what he does. And he does the same thing on special teams, so he's making good progress." Cox is obviously ahead of Da'Rel Scott, who did not play in the game, in pursuit of a roster spot. And it's possible he could pass Ryan Torain on the depth chart as well, though Torain went into the game before he did and shows a lot as a blocker.
  • Right tackle David Diehl got beaten badly on a couple of plays, one of which resulted in an Erik Walden sack of Manning. But the Giants seem committed to playing him at right tackle over first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's being brought along slowly. The offensive line is tough to judge because right guard Chris Snee barely played (he's still recovering from offseason hip surgery) and Baas went out early.
  • Lots of moving the linebackers in and out. Tough to pick out anything that either Mark Herzlich or Dan Connor did to separate himself in the middle linebacker competition. Jacquian Williams showed excellent speed and quickness in short-range coverage on a third-down pass attempt by Matt Hasselbeck to Robert Hughes in the third quarter. Williams is likely the Giants' best coverage linebacker and as such was used mainly on passing downs.
  • Justin Trattou had a sack on which he got help from Marvin Austin and Adewale Ojomo in collapsing the pocket. It was a decent night for the Giants' backup defensive ends in terms of creating pressure, even though they got only one sack. As for the defensive tackles, Austin looked fine on that one play but, in general, doesn't show much power at the point of attack. Second-round pick Johnathan Hankins looks like he could stand to get stronger as well.
  • Coughlin said last week that David Carr would play this game and Curtis Painter would play Saturday's game against the Jets. With fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib sure to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback, Carr and Painter are competing for the No. 2 job. Carr was just meh -- seven for 11, 57 yards -- and he got sacked three times. I guess if Painter looks great, he could win the job. But the Giants know and like Carr, so it's no sure thing.
  • And, finally, on the Reggie Wayne touchdown catch that first bounced off the hands of cornerback Aaron Ross: Ross said the lights blinded him and he lost the ball. He said he usually wears eye black or special contact lenses that help with that, but for some reason he wasn't wearing them Sunday. "Just one of those freak plays that thankfully doesn't count," Ross said. "I knew he was behind me, so as soon as I hit it, I looked back and … it was bad."

Preseason, though, Aaron. Just preseason. As Ross pointed out, it didn't count. None of it. And while Coughlin was annoyed about the performance, that's his job -- to keep giving these guys things to work on in the final three weeks before the start of the regular season.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dreadful. Just dreadful. The Dallas Cowboys (1-2) completed the West Coast portion of training camp with a 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals (2-0) on Saturday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Cowboys' first-team offense was able to move the ball but failed to score, in large part because of turnovers that gave the Cardinals prime field position.

Here are some thoughts on the Cowboys' loss:

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The Cowboys committed six turnovers against Arizona. Kyle Orton threw two interceptions, both on bad throws. Lance Dunbar and Dez Bryant fumbled after long receptions, and for the second consecutive week, the Cowboys' special-teams unit muffed a punt. This time, it was Dwayne Harris losing a fumble. Alex Tanney also threw a late pick. But Arizona managed only 12 points (four field goals on five tries).

First-team offense shut out: Tony Romo completed 7 of 10 passes for 142 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions during three drives. Romo looked in tune once again with Bryant, who caught four passes for 74 yards. But the Cowboys' two best plays led to turnovers. Romo connected with Dunbar on a catch-and-run, but the running back fumbled while being tackled after a 43-yard gain. The play would have given the Cowboys the ball at the Arizona 7. Bryant fumbled on the next possession after making a catch in the middle of the field. He was stripped by cornerback Jerraud Powers while being pulled down, giving the Cardinals the ball at their own 24.

Arkin starts at left guard: With Ronald Leary out while recovering from right knee surgery, David Arkin got the start and played a little more than three quarters. Arkin did a nice job as a run- and pass-blocker. There did, however, seem to be confusion on a pass play when Arizona's defensive linemen used a stunt against Arkin that resulted in a sack.

Tanney leads scoring drive: After not scoring for three quarters, Tanney connected with Gavin Escobar on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 10:55 to play in the fourth quarter to bring the Cowboys to within 9-7. The score ended a 16-play, 89-yard drive that lasted just under 10 minutes. Tanney had two chances to give his team the lead in the final five minutes, but one drive ended with a punt and the other on an interception. Tanney finished 14-of-19 for 136 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Surprise decisions: Jermey Parnell, who returned to practice late last week from a strained hamstring, was a healthy scratch. Demetress Bell was the right tackle with the second team in the second half. Darrion Weems was the left tackle. The Cowboys might have played Bell just to get a good look at him against another opponent. He was signed after camp started but failed the conditioning test. Coach Jason Garrett said Bell needed to get in shape. Phillip Tanner, who was getting snaps behind starter DeMarco Murray and Dunbar at running back, didn't get any snaps Saturday. Instead, rookie Joseph Randle was the running back with the third team. Tanney took all the snaps after Romo and Orton were done for the day. The Cowboys didn't give Nick Stephens any snaps in the second half. It's doubtful if the Cowboys go with three quarterbacks, but Tanney played better than Orton.

What's next? The Cowboys finally come home after a month on the West Coast. They will be off Sunday and resume practices at 8 a.m. Monday in Irving.

Observation deck: Eagles-Panthers

August, 15, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- Round 2 of Chip Kelly’s quarterback derby, a 14-9 Eagles victory over the visiting Carolina Panthers Thursday night, is in the books. Here are some observations from Kelly’s first NFL win:
  • Michael Vick and Nick Foles each played a quarter, with Foles getting the start this week. Each led the Eagles to one touchdown and had one promising drive end with a turnover in Carolina territory. Vick completed 9 of 10 passes for 105 yards while Foles was 6-for-8 for 53. Foles again seemed more comfortable in the uptempo offense, working shorter routes, while Vick took deeper shots. Each ran the ball twice, Foles for a 7-yard TD scramble.
  • Vick did run a no-huddle offense after taking over at his own 26 with 2:53 left in the first half. Vick completed all four attempts, including a perfect 22-yard throw to Riley Cooper. He ran the ball twice, once a 14-yard scramble and once a designed 6-yard run.
  • All interceptions are not created equal. Vick threw one on the last play of the first half, but it came on a desperate heave after he sprinted left a step ahead of the Panthers’ pressure. Foles’ pick was a result of a physical mistake -- fumbling a shotgun snap -- and a mental one -- failing to throw the ball high enough through the end zone. Turnovers were a huge problem for both QBs last year and will weigh heavily in Kelly’s evaluations.
  • Kelly has said he doesn’t have to choose a starting QB until he’s preparing for the Sept. 9 season opener at Washington. Traditionally, the starting QB plays half of the third preseason game and only a series in the final tune-up, so there could be some clues when the Eagles play in Jacksonville Saturday night. Then again, the word “traditionally” is anathema to Kelly.
  • Running back LeSean McCoy, who missed the preseason opener with a sore knee, was dazzling on a 21-yard run in the first quarter. McCoy sprinted around left end, then made a physics-busting cut to his right that left several defenders clutching air. McCoy had 8 carries for 47 yards and caught three passes for 16 yards. He has said he expects to be a major weapon in Kelly’s offense and there was no reason to doubt him here.
  • Chris Polk, competing with Bryce Brown for the backup tailback spot, hurt himself with a fumble that killed a second-quarter drive. Polk finished with 24 yards on five carries. Fumbles were a problem last season for Brown, who missed this game with a bruised quad. Meanwhile, former Cowboys running back Felix Jones left the game with a rib injury and looks like an even longer shot to make the team.
  • It is no surprise the Eagles defense looked better than it did in Friday’s loss to New England. It couldn’t have looked much worse. There were several breakdowns in coverage, with receivers running free, but the run defense was tighter and the front seven was able to generate some pressure on Cam Newton. Bottom line: The Eagles held Newton to two first-half field goals.
  • Mychal Kendricks showed a lot of promise early last season, before being engulfed in the general malaise that defined the 4-12 Eagles. So it was going to be interesting to see how the second-year linebacker was used in Bill Davis’ hybrid system. Now an inside ‘backer, Kendricks disrupted several plays. He flushed Newton once, forcing an incompletion, dropped DeAngelo Williams for a 1-yard loss and got to Newton just as he threw after one disguised blitz. In a defense desperate for playmakers, that was very encouraging.
  • So was the play of defensive end Vinny Curry, who continues to find his way into the opponent’s backfield. Cedric Thornton, who started at left defensive end, blew up a Carolina running play, dropping Williams for a 5-yard loss. Davis is looking for players who fit his modified 3-4 front, and plays like that help.
  • The Eagles would be thrilled not to have to expose DeSean Jackson to the risks that come with returning punts. That gives Damaris Johnson an enormous opportunity to seize a roster spot. Johnson, who at 5-8, 175 pounds is even smaller than Jackson, helped himself with an 18-yard punt return and a 30-yard kickoff return. On the latter, Johnson used good judgment in bringing the ball out of the end zone. He also had a bad drop of a Matt Barkley pass in the third quarter.
  • With the intrigue at QB and the overhaul of the defense, scant attention has been paid to Dave Fipp’s special teams. The return and coverage units have been solid, for the most part. Brandon Boykin, who dropped an easy interception in the first half, had a 41-yard kickoff return. On the down side, Alex Henery was wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
  • The Eagles lost a fourth player to an ACL tear during this training camp. Phillip Hunt, a backup outside linebacker/defensive end, went down during practice this week. The Eagles announced the injury before Friday’s game. Hunt joins Jeremy Maclin, Arrelious Benn and Jason Phillips. The spate of season-ending injuries comes despite Kelly’s effort to avoid injuries by minimizing contact in practice.