NFC East: A.J. Feeley
According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Romo's yards per pass attempt have declined in each of the past three seasons and are now at a level so low that only the Rams' A.J. Feeley has a lower figure among qualifying NFL quarterbacks this season. Stats & Info's numbers begin with 2008, the last year Terrell Owens played in Dallas:
Tony Romo's Air Yards Per Pass Attempt
Now, there are a couple of possible explanations for this trend, and especially for the way it's bottoming out so far in 2011. Top wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant missed time earlier this year with injuries. The Cowboys clearly like to throw the ball to their running backs and tight end Jason Witten. And some have theorized that, after Romo cost them a couple of early games with bad-decision interceptions, the coaching staff might be trying to rein him in to limit his opportunities to make costly mistakes.
If that's the case, I think it's the coaching staff making the mistake. The Cowboys need to run the ball, sure, but they can't ignore the downfield passing game completely. With talent like Austin and Bryant at wide receiver, they can get mismatches against almost any secondary in the league. Romo has the arm to make any throw in the playbook, and with the soft schedule they have coming up, the Cowboys would be wise to be bullies on offense and flex some of that downfield muscle. My theory is that Sunday night's loss to the Eagles was a fluky one, since they'll not soon meet another talented secondary like the Eagles'. Romo can get on a roll with his receivers over the next month or so and get that number up and out of A.J. Feeley territory.
But will they ever take it.
This is a Cowboys team that has had every play, every route, every pre-snap audible examined down to the nub all season long. A team that had played 11 straight games, dating back into last November, that were decided by four or fewer points. This is a team that is hailed when it wins and excoriated when it loses, on whom no fan or pundit anywhere can ever seem to find any middle ground. Wild extremes of feeling and opinion have defined the assessment and evaluation of these Cowboys. What a relief it must have been to finally, at long last, play a game that defied picking-apart.
What a relief it must have been for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to be a non-story. The quarterback who's always either a superstar or a bum, depending on the final score, was downright ordinary Sunday. He was 12-for-24 for 166 yards and two touchdowns. I yawn just typing those numbers. They're not great. They're not awful. They just are. And they weren't the story.
What a relief it must have been for the defense to get a game against A.J. Feeley and a shredded Rams offensive line, for cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins to be put in a situation where they could look so good -- pitting their skills against a team that had to throw the ball but didn't have sufficient personnel with which to do it.
What a relief it must have been for this whole veteran Cowboy team, which has been through so much struggle and disappointment for the past two seasons, to sit back and watch their rookie running back break the team record for rushing yards in a game, and to coast to their easiest win in nearly a year on Murray's back. The Cowboys needed a game like this. They needed it badly. And now that they got it, it may just set them up to put a nifty run together.
Last week, receiver Dez Bryant made some weird headlines when he said he believed the Cowboys to be "unbeatable." It was an odd assertion to make about a team that, at the time, had a record of 2-3. But Bryant's an odd guy with an odd way of making a decent point. He believes the Cowboys cost themselves each of their three losses -- that all three would have been wins but for avoidable mistakes they themselves made. Sunday's game against the Rams let the Cowboys feel unbeatable for an afternoon, and that's a feeling they haven't had (except for maybe Bryant) in quite some time.
The timing is good, because the Cowboys' schedule has just gone as soft as warm cream cheese. Their next game, Sunday night in Philadelphia, could be a tough one because the Eagles are feeling good now and Andy Reid is 12-0 lifetime after the bye. But even if Dallas loses that game and falls to 3-4, the weeks that follow offer piles and piles of hope. Only four of the Cowboys' remaining 10 games are against teams that currently have winning records, and only one of those four (Nov. 13 at home against the Bills) comes before mid-December. They can split with the Eagles and the Giants and still get to 11 wins. I'm not saying they will, mind you, but they're good enough to beat every team they have left and the boost of confidence they got Sunday can only help.
The Cowboys are healthy and strong and finally got to relax and breathe a little bit Sunday. It had been a while. It's a feeling they could surely get used to, and the coming weeks and months offer them a chance to do just that.
Feeling good: It's tough to pick just one, honestly. The Rams have yet to win a game. They allow 33 more yards per game on the ground than does the second-worst run-defense team in the league. It looks as though they'll be without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, which means DeMarcus Ware gets a shot at A.J. Feeley once he gets past St. Louis' woeful pass protection. The Rams' best hope is running back Steven Jackson, and no team in the league has been better at stopping the run this year than have the Cowboys. Unless Feeley can get something going right away with new receiver Brandon Lloyd, Dallas should be able to key on the run game and limit it effectively.
Cause for concern: If the Rams can keep it close, they have the kind of pass-rushing defensive line that could cause trouble for the Cowboys' banged-up offensive line. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have shown an ability to get to the quarterback, and rookie right tackle Tyron Smith looked like a rookie for the first time last week.
Van Brocklin was at the end of the career, but he made his final season count by delivering bombs to McDonald and Retzlaff. McDonald, a Hall of Famer, averaged more than 20 yards per catch in 1960. He scored a 35-yard touchdown in the Eagles’ classic 17-13 win over the Packers. The Eagles won their other two titles in the late 1940s under coach Greasy Neale, but the ’60 team made more of an impact in the community. It’s only appropriate that the Eagles will break out the kelly green jerseys for the season opener against the Packers. Too bad they can’t play at Franklin Field (they supposedly looked into it).
Most impressive win: Definitely the title game against the Packers. In his second season as head coach of the Packers, Vince Lombardi had Jim Taylor, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Max McGee, Jerry Kramer and Forrest Gregg on offense. This was a dynasty in the making, but the Eagles forced the Packers to wait a year before Green Bay won the NFL title in ’61.
Best player: McDonald was a burner, but I’ll go with Bednarik because he gave the team its identity. He played center and linebacker.
2004: Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens formed one of the top combinations in the league, and Brian Westbrook was dangerous as a dual threat. This was a superb team -- as evidenced by its playoff run without the injured T.O.
1980: Eagles fans have fond memories of Wilbert Montgomery carving up the Cowboys in the NFC title game for 194 yards and a touchdown. Nose tackle Charlie Johnson helped anchor a dominating defense.
2002: Duce Staley ran for 1,000 yards and had 500 yards receiving. The Eagles were deep enough that they made it to the NFC title game during a season in which A.J. Feeley had to start five games because McNabb was injured. I don’t have to remind you what happened against Tampa Bay in the playoffs. By the way, the Eagles dominated the Bucs in a 20-10 win earlier that season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
ARLINGTON, Texas -- As we've been predicting all week, Cowboys running back Marion Barber will be inactive tonight against the Panthers. Owner Jerry Jones all but ruled him out this afternoon, and now it's clear that Felix Jones and Tashard Choice will get the majority of the carries.
Here are the rest of the Cowboys' inactives: QB Stephen McGee (emergency), S Mike Hamlin, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C/G Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, WR Kevin Ogletree
For the Panthers: QB A.J. Feeley (emergency), RB Tyrell Sutton, S Chris Harris, FB Brad Hoover, LB Na'il Diggs, T Garry Williams, G Duke Robinson, DE Everette Brown
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Just when you thought the Eagles couldn't have any more drama at the quarterback position, they've gone out and found a blast from the past in Jeff Garcia. With Donovan McNabb questionable for Sunday's game with a cracked rib, the Eagles have agreed to terms with Garcia, according to Adam Schefter. (Update: Eagles coach Andy Reid has confirmed the signing.)
And you thought the Eagles would simply bring in a body in case Kevin Kolb got hurt Sunday against the Saints? Nope, they're signing a player who replaced an injured McNabb in '06 and led the Eagles to a 5-1 record down the stretch and a playoff appearance.
Garcia spent '07 and 08 with Tampa Bay before signing with the Raiders this past offseason. And Garcia's not the type of quarterback who shows up and fades into the background. Now, the Eagles will have McNabb, Michael Vick and Garcia under the same roof. Nice.
Garcia certainly knows Andy Reid's offense and I think he'll be able to step in and be the backup Sunday. And yes, I think he's a better option than A.J. Feely even though he's signficantly older.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer has a column today looking back at how Eagles fans chanted in support of Donovan McNabb's backup in 2003. The chant went something like this: "We want A.J., we want A.J."
A.J. Feeley's no longer on the roster (as of Sunday), but former Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick is. Sheridan could see history repeating itself if McNabb gets off to a slow start in the first two games:
"But it is the ticking time bomb planted in the locker room by coach Andy Reid that makes McNabb's situation really precarious," writes Sheridan. "He has exactly two weeks to introduce himself to the strangers in his huddle and make this offense work. If he doesn't accomplish this very tricky task, the crowd at the Linc is apt to be less than supportive by Week 3, when a certain former Pro Bowl quarterback is eligible to return to action. If McNabb has two weeks even remotely as difficult as those first two in '03, this whole season will deteriorate into bad soap opera."
The Eagles open the season on the road against the Panthers and then return home for a game against the Saints. I think they'll at least win one of those games, which should delay a potential quarterback controversy for a week or two. But unlike Sheridan (and this blog), most of the national media is taking a "nothing to see here" approach to the McNabb-Vick relationship. What do you guys think will happen?
How many games do you think Vick will start this season? My guess is three. Is that number too high/low? Please feel free to weigh in.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Eagles held onto reserve quarterback A.J. Feeley for an extra day in an attempt to buy time for a trade. On Sunday the team went ahead and cut Feeley to make room for defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, who spent the preseason with the Washington Redskins.
I'm pretty sure Vinny Cerrato was hoping to sneak Dixon onto the practice squad after he recorded eight tackles during the preseason. And just in case you're wondering, players can turn down the opportunity to join another team's 53-man roster if they'd rather stay with an organization. It's rare to see it happen, but I remember a quarterback turning down the opportunity to join the Chiefs' 53-man roster in order to remain with the Cowboys' practice squad.
Anyway, look for the Eagles to continue making moves leading up to the season opener. For now, suspended quarterback Michael Vick remains on the commissioner's special exempt list, which means he can't practice with the team. The Eagles can add him to the 53-man roster at any time, and I'd expect that move to happen sooner than later. The Inquirer's Birds' Eye View blog mentions New England as a likely destination for Feeley -- and that makes a lot of sense given the Patriots' current situation. The Giants were able to get a conditional draft pick from the Pats for tight end Michael Matthews. I'm a little surprised the Eagles couldn't get something from the Patriots for Feeley.
Bob Ford of the Inquirer thinks the Eagles' roster is a work in progress. By the way, here's a really interesting story on Dixon from his days with the Miami Hurricanes.
Biggest surprise: I guess putting quarterback Michael Vick on the commissioner's special exemption list might qualify, but it might only be for a day or two. The Eagles kept A.J. Feeley on the 53-man roster, probably so they can keep trying to trade him. As long as Vick's on that exemption list, he can't practice with the Eagles. But they can take him off the list at any time. The Eagles are known for cutting ties with former draft picks rather quickly if they don't see steady progress. They've done that with cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu and defensive end Bryan Smith. Tom Heckert hinted that the Eagles might try to bring at least one of those players back on the practice squad.
I noticed that some folks had fullback Kyle Eckel and defensive tackle Dan Klecko projected to make the team. Eckel didn't help himself by whiffing on a blitz pickup in the final preseason game and Klecko was one of the reasons a Jets rookie running back ran wild. Biggest surprise may have been the fact that Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett both made the 53-man roster. The Eagles have seven wide receivers right now. But something could certainly change on that front. They're in the same boat as the Giants at wide receiver. I think the Eagles might downsize at receiver if they can find a third tight end they like.
No-brainers: There was no way to keep rookie Brandon Gibson and veteran defensive end Jason Babin off this team. Babin, a former first-round draft pick, performed so well that he received a restructured contract and Gibson simply made plays throughout camp. He outperformed first-round pick Jeremy Maclin. I think Danny Amendola is a fun player to watch, but he's NOT Wes Welker. He's not anywhere close to Welker, but he may be good enough to make the Eagles' practice squad. I think he could be a decent punt returner. Can't hold up as a receiver. The drop in the end zone against the Jets didn't help.
What's next? Well, we have to see how this quarterback situation plays out. I don't think a team's going to give up anything significant for Feeley at this point in his career. It wouldn't surprise me if Vick's back with the team by Wednesday. He's making too much progress right now to suddenly take him out of the locker room.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I'm stepping away for a couple of hours to bang out a Cowboys column, but here are some headlines you may want to check out:
- Phil Sheridan of the Inquirer thinks the Eagles should consider moving Kevin Kolb instead of A.J. Feeley.
- Cris Collinsworth has his doubts about all the "rosy" Donovan McNabb-Michael Vick talk.
- Marcus Hayes of the Daily News says that Kevin Kolb is trying to remain focused.
- Reuben Frank of the Burlington County Times says the Eagles have a different "problem" at wide receiver this season.
- John Smallwood of the Daily News has come up with some reasons to watch tonight's preseason finale.
- Sinorice Moss isn't getting any answers regarding his lack of playing time. Anyone think the Giants could get something for Moss in a trade?
- Mike Garafolo is preparing to say goodbye to David Tyree and Moss.
- Eli Manning predicts Giants will be "the most prepared team in the NFL."
- Great headline on this Ryan O'Halloran story about the Skins' final cuts. Story's not so bad either.
- We have located the one Rock Cartwright apologist in the D.C. area.
- Are the Redskins bringing lawsuits against some of their loyal fans? Yes, says this Washington Post report. But before the newspaper went to press, the team delivered a pre-emptive news release taking a jab or two at the Post. The two sides appear to be going old school.
- Dan Steinberg of the Post has an interesting little story on Colt Brennan's decision to wear a visor on his face mask.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Bob Brookover, Eagles beat writer for the Inquirer, took a stab at nailing the final 53-man roster for the club. Brookover's been known to hit this thing out of the park, so keep his list handy for Saturday afternoon. And speaking of Saturday, we'll be providing full cut-down day coverage on the Beast and several of our affiliate blogs.
I'd take Eldra Buckley over Kyle Eckel at the running back/fullback spot, but Brookover disagrees with me. If Reggie Brown's not traded, Brookover thinks the Eagles will come up with a fake injury and put Brandon Gibson on the IR. I don't see that happening. Gibson could actually make a contribution this season. And with Kevin Curtis' history of injuries, I'd keep Gibson around.
Brooky has Bryan Smith getting cut. I don't think the Eagles are going to do that. Jason Babin's had his moments this preseason, but I'm not convinced he'll be on that final roster. So does Jack Ikegwuonu make the team? That will be interesting to watch. The guy was a fourth-round pick and the Eagles would like to see where he's headed. We'll have to say goodbye to Dimitri Patterson if that happens -- and that's too bad.
What can the Eagles get for A.J. Feeley? Well, we're about to find out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Eagles coach Andy Reid said on his radio show Monday that Kevin Kolb will start Thursday's preseason finale and be replaced by Michael Vick in the second half. Vick will likely see some action in the Wildcat formation in the first half. We'll see if Kolb becomes as perturbed as Donovan McNabb appeared to be last Thursday when Vick interrupted his flow.
No word on whether A.J. Feeley will see any time against the Jets. This should be a good opportunity to measure where Vick is in terms of conditioning. I have a hard time thinking he's ready to play an entire half, but maybe it will happen. Should be a relatively intriguing matchup -- for the fourth preseason game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I'm anxious to watch the Colts and Eagles tonight for several reasons. It will be interesting to see how left tackle King Dunlap performs against Dwight Freeney. I'm sure Donovan McNabb's head will be on a swivel. Winston Justice will be lining up at right tackle. He needs to have a strong effort against the Colts.
Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News said he's looking for three main things in tonight's game. This is the last preseason game in which most people will focus solely on McNabb. Michael Vick is expected to make his debut in the third preseason game.
But let's get tonight's game out of the way first. I'm ready to watch LeSean McCoy get about 10 carries. I have a hunch that McNabb and A.J. Feeley will be throwing the ball to McCoy several times. This will also be a good opportunity to see if the Colts' secondary can come close to covering DeSean Jackson. He's been unstoppable during training camp.
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb took part in a pretty revealing news conference Monday in Philadelphia. He was very forthcoming about his desire to have Michael Vick join the Eagles, and said he started lobbying coach Andy Reid before Vick was released from house arrest in July.
Perhaps wanting to clear up some reports that he'd been reading, McNabb offered a partial timeline of how things went down. Sounds like he went out of his way to let everyone know the Vick signing wasn't forced upon him.
"Just to put it out there, I brought it up to [Reid's] attention in July, before Mike got away from house arrest, before July 20th," McNabb said. "And I mentioned it to him and I said why don't we think about signing Vick and bringing him into camp and he'll get an opportunity to get his feet up under him, I'll get a chance to work with him and he'll get a chance to learn from the best. Obviously, at that time nobody wanted to put it out there if they were interested or whatever. And I just kind of reassured him a couple weeks later and just said, 'What do you think about Vick? I think it would be a great opportunity for him.' And they thought about it and obviously continued to have things happen. And hopefully with this, we can get something from it and help us out in so many ways."
The message is clear: McNabb wants everyone to know that he signed off on Vick's signing. Some people in the national media seem to think McNabb-Vick is the perfect pairing. I think those folks are being naive, in part, because of the way McNabb responded when the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb a few years ago. McNabb's never come across as the most secure guy in the world, and that's why all this seems a bit forced to me.
McNabb did have a great line when someone asked him if his decision to lobby for Vick was based on their friendship or would he do the same thing on behalf of someone like Plaxico Burress.
"I did. I brought T.O. here," joked McNabb. "I have a relationship with Plaxico as well. When you have been in this league for a while you build relationships and you want to see guys get an opportunity to continue on. And Ray [Lewis] was able to get his feet back under him and move forward as well. I'm sure Plaxico, hopefully, will get an opportunity to do so as well. Michael, there are a lot of guys who have gotten into certain situations, maybe not as deep as this one but, you just want to see guys get another chance."
McNabb was quickly asked if Burress could help the Eagles.
"I don't think he would hurt," McNabb said. "We have some great guys here at our receiver position. But, whatever you can do to enhance the team, you would look into it."
To be clear, McNabb never indicated that he was lobbying for the Eagles to sign Burress. And here's one more interesting quote from McNabb. Asked if he would be worried about getting hurt and then potentially losing his job to Vick, he said:
"I don't understand why. It wouldn't be any different with Kevin [Kolb]. I've been through many situations throughout my career where if I got injured or someone wasn't liking the way I was playing, they cheered for the backup or whoever they wanted to cheer for was the one they wanted in. It happened with [Jeff] Garcia, it happened with Kolb, it happened with A.J. [Feeley]. So I'm used to that. That's not the reason why this is going about right now. And I think it's a situation where I can kind of be a mentor for him and give him an opportunity to get his feet up under him and get his life together. And for us, the guys that are out there, to stay healthy and just play or game and to have fun doing it."
Is it just me or will this be the most scrutinized mentorship in the league?
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
|Drew Hallowell/Getty Images|
|Michael Vick played exclusively at quarterback in his first practice back.|
In what may have been one of the most anticipated training camp practices in Eagles history, quarterback Michael Vick led the scout team through a series of plays Saturday morning and then got a quick weightlifting session in. As we speak, Vick is going through his second practice.
Between practices, coach Andy Reid shed a little light on what type of condition Vick is in. And by the way, I've been sort of surprised at how open Reid has been with the media throughout this process.
"I think he would tell you that he probably needs to lose two pounds and with the next four days, it probably being 90 degrees, that will probably happen," Reid said of Vick. "If you're in a two- to three-pound range or a five-pound range then that's pretty good after a two-year hiatus. But, there's the other part of that, there's throwing the football and timing and all of those factors that go into it and he's been away. So, he's going to need to do that, and not every throw is going to be a perfect throw and he's going to have to get his legs under him.
"We've got a period of time here where we can do that, so we'll just play it by ear as we go. And, I'll communicate with Michael and I'll watch his performance and see how he does."
I think Reid's aware of everyone's desire to figure out how Vick will be used in the Eagles' West Coast offense. The coach thinks that Vick's exposure to the offense in Atlanta under Jim Mora puts him ahead of the curve. Reid also reiterated that Kevin Kolb is still the No. 2 quarterback and that his knee injury is not what dictated the decision to sign Vick. Reid continued to echo owner Jeffrey Lurie's theme about Vick giving back to the community. Asked whether he's measuring Vick's success more as a player or as a person, Reid said:
"I think it's a combination of both. He's been so proactive with the Humane Society and the things that he's done there. When he first got out of jail he worked with the Boys and Girls club. That was the first step and then he went from there, he did a nice job there. I've always told you, these guys are people first. I think the part of the rehabilitation of the person is a work in progress and focused in and you've got the mindset, the confidence that he's going to do the right thing. And then the other side of it is the football side. They're two different things."
My biggest concern with signing Vick would be the potential distractions that his presence could cause. In particular, I'm referring to the seven satellite trucks I saw in the NovaCare Complex parking lot Friday and the increased level of media coverage, which will now include additional news outlets. And while I'm thinking about it, remember to watch Vick's appearance on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night. Something tells me the folks at CBS were able to go back in and include the news of Vick's signing in the package. Here's what Reid had to say about the potential distractions:
"I can only tell you what I've read and then how I've communicated with the players and asked them that same question, 'how are you?' The guys have been so upbeat and positive with it and I haven't really felt a distraction, there's almost a little bit of energy. I think they're all pulling for Michael. We're just kind of a microcosm of the city and really the world with the little football team there. I think people deep down are pulling for him. Now, it's important he does the right thing. He's got to continue doing what he's been doing, and right now he's very focused on that."
Will continue to keep you up to date on the most recognizable third-string quarterback in the league. Yes, I'm assuming that Vick has moved past A.J. Feeley on the depth chart. You think I'm safe there?