NFC East: alshon jeffery
The Eagles signed wide receiver Joe Anderson, who finished the season on injured reserve for the Chicago Bears. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Anderson has played in nine NFL games without catching a pass.
So Anderson was added for his special teams experience first, and his potential to develop into a wide receiver option second. His signing probably will have more impact on Brad Smith and Jeff Maehl than on free agents-to-be Maclin and Cooper.
Anderson, who was undrafted out of Texas Southern in 2012, spent most of that season on the practice squad. He made the Bears' roster in 2013, but was unable to supplant Earl Bennett as Chicago’s No. 3 receiver. With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery having monster seasons, there wasn’t much room for Anderson to make progress in Chicago.
Anderson played in six games in 2013. He was placed on injured reserve with an abdominal/groin injury.
The Eagles cornerback heard from his brother and his best friend. His longtime pastor expressed his concern. And finally, when his wife Amanda confronted him about the issue, Williams knew it was time to face the truth.
He was being too darn nice.
"When my wife said it, it really kind of sunk in," Williams said. "I had to listen. She's been following for a long time and watching when I played. She said I just didn't have the same aggressiveness I used to."
"I gave a bunch of excuses why," Williams said. "When I looked in the mirror, it is what it is. I am what I put out on the field. I just wanted to come out and play with aggressiveness and a passion for the game. You have to have that type of nastiness to you, to a degree."
If the words of his wife and family and friends didn't do it, then the Eagles' 48-30 loss in Minnesota would have. The secondary, including Williams, was beaten up and down the field by Vikings receiver Greg Jennings and his cohorts.
With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears coming to town, Williams knew it was time.
"I had to get back in character," he said.
And he did. The whole secondary played with an aggressiveness and physicality that was missing from the Minnesota game. Williams broke up two passes intended for Marshall. The second was an especially physical play that had Marshall looking at Williams like he'd gone crazy.
"Our corners challenged them," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our corners stepped up on their own and handled them. I had a lot of things in the plan, but as I watched it unfold and saw how the corners were holding up -- and they really were holding up well -- I left them out there on their own. They did a great job."
Williams and Bradley Fletcher seem better against bigger, more physical receivers. That's not a bad thing with Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys coming up this Sunday. Bryant is a favorite target of Tony Romo, but with Romo reportedly sidelined, he may be even more of a security blanket for backup quarterback Kyle Orton. He's the kind of receiver who can catch balls thrown near him, even if he's covered.
That will require Williams to stay in character.
"People were telling me I'm not the same guy I was in Baltimore, with the ferociousness," Williams said. "When they said that, I had to change the perception. Hopefully, I did."
He did it by being the nasty, aggressive Williams -- the one his wife and pastor want him to be.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in January. He might have become Philadelphia's head coach Sunday night.
At about 4 p.m. ET, the Dallas Cowboys beat Washington with a late comeback, robbing the Eagles of a chance to clinch the division against the Chicago Bears. By about 9 p.m., the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on their way to a dominating 54-11 victory over a team that had its own division title on the line.
All that speculation about resting starters for the must-win game in Dallas next Sunday? Forget about it.
"Very simply, we're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said. "If there's a game on, we're playing. End of story. And all this stuff about backing in, not worrying, all these other things, I have no idea.
"So many scenarios. What if there's a tie when we go play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week? If we're going to line up and kick off, tell us what time to show up and we'll be there."
If there aren't “We're from Philadelphia and we fight” T-shirts rolling off a silk-screen machine somewhere, someone is missing a golden opportunity.
Kelly's demeanor might have been different if one of his key players had been injured. But that didn't happen. Even better, the players who might have been candidates for the injury-avoidance program were the ones who delivered the biggest momentum-building performances of the game.
LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns to retain his place atop the NFL rushing leaders list and position himself to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for yards in a season next week. McCoy needs just 37 yards to break the mark of 1,512 yards.
Quarterback Nick Foles was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 25 passes (84 percent) for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off an inconsistent performance against the Vikings, Foles now goes to Dallas with a hot hand.
“I'm just excited to play another game,” Foles said. “I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.”
Trent Cole, the oldest player on the Eagles' defense, sacked Jay Cutler on the Bears' third play from scrimmage, setting a tone and forcing the Bears to punt. Cole had three sacks, his most in a game in three years.
“I was very excited for this game,” Cole said. “This is just the start. Coming off a loss like that, it's good for confidence in the team. This does build momentum for us going into Dallas. That's the start of our playoffs right there.”
Kelly convinced his team to treat this as a big game. The way his players responded has to be considered a good sign as they prepare for the franchise's biggest game since a playoff loss to Green Bay here after the 2011 season.
“It's going to be the biggest show on earth,” Cole said. “It's going to be a circus down there, like always.”
“This is what we want,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who sacked Cutler twice and forced a fumble. “We're on the biggest stage. We're in Dallas' stadium, which is a great place to play. We're excited.”
Not only did the Eagles not want to sit this one out, veterans were volunteering for hazardous duty. With key special teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson sidelined by injuries, starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were covering kickoffs -- as if holding receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in check wasn't enough to worry about.
“Whatever it takes, man,” Williams said. “No 'I' in 'team.' Coach needed me to do that, then dang it, I'm going to do it. It didn't matter. It was a great game plan we had in place. There were a lot of DBs out there. It didn't bother us, because the game was so significant. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”
Fletcher forced Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester to fumble in the first quarter. Williams recovered, giving the Eagles the ball at the Chicago 39.
“That's what we do,” nickel corner and special-teams regular Brandon Boykin said. “That's our personality. The starters on kickoffs, that's the want-to, that's the attitude of our team. Get the job done no matter who's out there.”
The Eagles scored on McCoy's 1-yard run five plays later, their second touchdown in 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It was 14-0, and the Eagles were on their way.
It was hard to believe they were the same players who got crushed by the Vikings the week before.
“Redeeming ourselves,” Boykin said. “That was huge, man. It was a great team win. Knowing where we are, knowing our possibilities, we wanted to come out and get our momentum rolling again. Especially at home, Sunday night football. There's nothing better.”
It's also hard to believe this is the same Eagles offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys here in the teams' first meeting this season. That was Oct. 20. The Eagles lost the next week to the Giants, falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season.
They are 6-1 since then, with the only loss that mystifying game in Minnesota.
“We stumbled when we were in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “Minnesota beat us and played better than us that day. But we weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice.”
Now the task is not letting Dallas beat them twice. Win next week, and they earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. For Kelly, it also would mean eliminating the rival Cowboys. There's no better way to win over Eagles fans.
“One down, one to go,” Kelly said.
PHILADELPHIA -- Thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 54-11 victory against the Chicago Bears Sunday night.
What it means: The Eagles will play the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title next Sunday night in Arlington, Texas. Coach Chip Kelly motivated his team to play perhaps its best all-around game despite an oddly deflating turn of events. When Dallas rallied to beat the Washington Redskins earlier in the day, the Eagles lost the ability to clinch the division. Considering their awful performance against the Minnesota Vikings last week, they very well could have come out flat again. Instead, they jumped all over the Bears, smothering a high-powered offense and striking quickly for a 21-0 first-quarter lead.
Stock watch: Rising: Chip Kelly. The NFL rookie will have a winning record and, with one more victory, a postseason appearance in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Kelly said right away he would treat this game the same regardless of its impact on the NFC East race. And he did. Every coach talks about focusing only on each week’s game, but the Eagles turned that cliché into a belief system this season. Less obvious, but equally worth noting, was the way the Eagles continued to play well in the second half. They had let big leads get whittled down by Washington and Arizona in recent wins. This time, they piled 30 second-half points onto the 24 they scored in the first half.
Defensive rebound: The Eagles' defense got humiliated -- there's no other word for it -- in Minnesota last week. Giving up 48 points to a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson made you question just how much progress the defense really had made. It also made you wonder how much worse it would be with Jay Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and the rest of the Bears. But the Eagles' defense was outstanding from the beginning, allowing a season-low 11 points. The Eagles scored nine points with a safety and a late pick-six by Brandon Boykin. Their defense sacked Cutler five times and held Matt Forte in check. The performance allows the Eagles to go into Dallas with a huge shot of confidence.
What’s next: A virtual playoff game in Dallas next Sunday night. With a victory, the Eagles would be the third seed in the NFC, hosting the second wild-card team in a first-round game. The Eagles lost to Dallas at home 17-3 on Oct. 20. That was Nick Foles’ worst game of the season, the first of two consecutive home losses in which the Eagles failed to score an offensive touchdown.
Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) are out. That has more impact on the Eagles' special teams than their defense. Both players are key members of the kicking and return teams.
That gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis close to a full complement of defensive backs as he tries to cope with the Bears' array of receiving options. Chicago likes to use wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the slot a fair percentage of the time.
Although the Eagles have faced Denver's group, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Boykin said he thought the Bears' Marshall and Alshon Jeffery presented the biggest overall challenge to the secondary.
"You're talking about guys that are 6-3, 6-4 and they're both playing at a very, very high level," Boykin said. "Normally, you might have two big guys, but one of them is better than the other. I don't think that's the case. They can throw to either one of them."
"Whenever the quarterback throws the ball in the air," Wolff said, "they go and get it. Those are the big plays we're going to have to stop. I feel like we're up for the challenge."
Wolff may be eased back into action after missing so much time. Patrick Chung could start and play a fair amount.
"I feel like I came in this week in a groove more than I was last week," Wolff said. "Last week, I was still kind of trying to get back into it. Now I feel like I'm pretty much back to where I was before."
As for special teams, the Eagles are likely to have linebacker Najee Goode back from his hamstring injury. He was also listed as questionable. Keelan Johnson, a safety signed off the practice squad earlier in the week, could also be active and help fill in for Coleman and Anderson.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) and wide receiver/special teamer Brad Smith (hamstring) were also listed as questionable.
Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and was back at practice Thursday afternoon. Boykin was injured while returning a kickoff Sunday in Minnesota.
Rookie safety Earl Wolff said Wednesday his right knee feels the best it has felt since he injured it in Green Bay on Nov. 10. Wolff is almost certain to play, but likely to rotate with veteran Patrick Chung until he’s reacclimated.
Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) did not practice. There’s a good chance Keelan Johnson, who was signed off the practice squad Tuesday, will be active for Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Johnson could serve as a backup to Wolff, Chung and Nate Allen. But his main contribution is likely to be on special teams, where Coleman and Anderson are key players.
“I’m actually on a couple of special teams,” Johnson said. “I think that’s where I’m likely to start out at during this game on Sunday and then work my way into the safety rotation. I just have to keep showing coach [Bill] Davis and my position coach I’m on top of the calls, I’m on top of my checks, things like that.”
Johnson was undrafted despite a solid senior season at Arizona State. He signed with the Miami Dolphins and was released at the end of training camp. He has been on the Eagles’ practice squad all season.
“I always felt like I was good enough to play,” Johnson said. “I feel like I could have been a drafted player. I feel like I had a good season and all that stuff. It was just frustrating sitting on the sideline, watching these guys playing the sport I love, and I’m not out there with them.”
Johnson might be forced into action if injuries strike as they did last week. But the return of Boykin and Wolff will help restore some normalcy to a secondary that was badly burned by the Vikings. That is a major development for a team preparing for a Bears offense that features Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
“Don’t sleep on Earl Bennett, either,” Chung said. “He’s really good, too.”
Boykin has done an excellent job playing in the slot, leading the Eagles with four interceptions. Without him, Chung or Roc Carmichael would have to play the slot, which would lead to a domino effect. If Chung were to play the slot, that’s one less safety available to Davis.
The Philadelphia Eagles have found themselves in the middle of the NFC North race as much as the NFC East race over the past month. Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears is their third game in a row against an opponent from the North.
Two weeks ago, the Eagles and Bears helped each other out. Chicago defeated the Dallas Cowboys, pushing the Eagles into first place in the East. The Eagles beat the Detroit Lions, opening the door for the Bears in the North.
They won’t be helping each other this week. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss some of the issues facing both teams.
Sheridan: Like the Eagles, the Bears survived this season when a backup quarterback took over and played unexpectedly well. Unlike the Eagles, who stayed with Nick Foles, Chicago went back to Jay Cutler and sent Josh McCown to the sideline. So, Michael, how is that scenario playing out in the locker room, on the field and among the fans?
Wright: The reaction is quite a bit different between the fans and the players, obviously. In the immediate aftermath of Cutler’s ankle injury on Nov. 10 against Detroit, Bears coach Marc Trestman told the team and the media that Cutler would be the starter again as soon as he was medically cleared to play. The coach never wavered on that declaration, and that was apparent even among the players during McCown’s incredible four-game run. In answering questions about McCown during that stretch, Trestman and the players seemed to temper the compliments regarding the backup, making it a point to state that Cutler was still the starter once he would be able to return to action. So within the locker room, the message was always that Cutler would return, but among the fan base, as McCown flourished, the call to make him the permanent starter grew louder regardless of what Trestman and the players said on the record. Cutler certainly helped himself by bouncing back from a bad start at Cleveland to throw for three touchdowns in a win, but there’s certainly a segment of the Chicago fan base still calling for McCown to be the man under center.
Phil, Chicago’s defense simply can’t stop the run, so LeSean McCoy is poised to have a pretty big game if the Eagles decide to feature him. What was the deal with McCoy running the ball just eight times against the Vikings?
Sheridan: That was one of the head-scratching strategies Chip Kelly deployed Sunday. It was like stepping into a time machine and watching an Andy Reid-coached game. Kelly’s explanation was simple enough: The Vikings were missing four cornerbacks and the Eagles thought they could exploit the inexperienced backups. Then, he said, the Eagles fell behind and had to throw, but McCoy had run for 217 yards the week before, mostly in the second half as the Eagles staged a comeback win. Ultimately, there is no explanation or excuse for eliminating a weapon as dangerous as McCoy from your offense. That’s supposed to be the defense’s job.
The Eagles did a better job against Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in recent weeks than against the Vikings’ deeper, less star-studded receiving corps. How much more dangerous are the Bears now that Alshon Jeffery has emerged alongside Brandon Marshall? Is Jeffery even better at this point?
Wright: In the past, teams focused most of their game plan on shutting down Marshall. That involved double-teams and shading coverage over to his side. Teams are now finding they can’t do that anymore because if you double Marshall, you put Jeffery in one-on-one matchups that he’s going to win the majority of the time. The Bears say teams are now starting to mix it up against those receivers, which makes it important for Cutler to be able to quickly recognize the coverage and distribute the ball accordingly. I wouldn’t say Jeffery is the better receiver overall at this point, but I will say that he tracks the ball in the air better than anybody else on Chicago’s roster, which has allowed him to make some unbelievable grabs in contested situations. I’d say one player to watch is No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett. With all the focus on Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have made it a point in recent weeks to involve Bennett more in the offense. Remember, Bennett played college football with Cutler at Vanderbilt, so there’s chemistry. Bennett has hauled in a touchdown in each of the past two games.
How will Philadelphia’s secondary look on Sunday? I know the Eagles are banged up, causing something of a musical-chairs effect in the secondary. At this point, do you know which guys the Eagles will have available to face Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett?
Sheridan: We don’t know yet, Michael. The larger problem is that, even when everyone is healthy, the Eagles' secondary isn’t equipped to handle a receiving corps as deep and talented as the Bears’ is. The Eagles have the 31st-ranked pass defense for a reason. During their five-game winning streak, they were able to give yards but minimize points allowed by forcing turnovers and playing well in the red zone. That formula fell apart in Minnesota. As for the injuries, the biggest loss would be nickel corner Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions and is a very good cover guy. It looks like rookie safety Earl Wolff will be back after missing four games with a knee injury, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be after missing that much time. If the Bears go three or four wide, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to match up with all those weapons. Their best hope would be to pressure Cutler, but they have struggled against guys who get the ball out as quickly as he does.
There’s a chance linebacker Lance Briggs returns Sunday night. What impact would that have on Chicago’s defense? Can the Bears clamp down on the Eagles or is this thing destined to be a shootout like their win over Dallas two weeks back?
Wright: I see this one being a shootout. I think Briggs will have an impact on the defense in terms of making sure the calls get in quickly and the defense is lined up correctly. Briggs should also be an upgrade over rookie Khaseem Greene, who has filled in on the weak side over the past seven games. But Briggs has been on the shelf for a month and a half, and there’s no way he’s in football shape yet. So you have to wonder how much he will actually be able to contribute from a physical standpoint. If Briggs plays like the Briggs we all know, then Chicago will have a much better shot at controlling Philadelphia’s rushing attack, but I’m not sure he’ll return as that guy. So let’s count on a shootout. The team with the defense that gets that one or two key stops down the stretch will be the team that comes out on top.
Early in the season, Philadelphia’s frenetic pace seemed to be the next new thing, the revolution. Now that the Eagles have basically an entire season under their belts, how have teams adjusted to their pace on offense? Is it still as big an advantage as it seemed to be early in the season?
Sheridan: It has been an effective tactic at times. The up-tempo approach is one of the reasons Foles replaced Michael Vick as the No. 1 quarterback. Vick is obviously a bigger threat in the read-option, but Foles is more comfortable with the pace Kelly likes. Hard to blame Vick, who had a career’s worth of offensive football to unlearn. But the pace can hurt the Eagles, too. When they have a couple of three-and-outs in a row, as they did against the Vikings, their defense is back on the field way too quickly. And when a team moves the ball as well as the Vikings did, the defense wears down. It was useless by the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense has been on the field for more plays than any team in the NFL. That is partly a side effect of Kelly’s up-tempo offense.
That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).
But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.
“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”
That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.
Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.
Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.
Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.
“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”
Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.
Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”
And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.
“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”
CHICAGO - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.
What it means for the Cowboys: With this embarrassment, the Cowboys now find themselves chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, and they need to win intervening games versus Green Bay and at Washington to make sure the Week 17 meeting at AT&T Stadium is for the NFC East title.
If they can, they will be in their third straight de facto NFC East title game to close the season. If they can't, owner and general manager Jerry Jones will have to reassess his statement that Jason Garrett will be the coach in 2014.
It's December, so the Cowboys struggle because that's what they do. Tony Romo has taken the brunt of the criticism for that record, but Monday's loss falls squarely on the defense. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did whatever they wanted against whomever they wanted. Matt Forte ran for more than 100 yards.
If there was ever a sign that Monte Kiffin should be out as coordinator after this season, it was this game. It's one thing to get lit up by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It's quite another to have it happen against a backup quarterback, even if McCown had been playing well in Jay Cutler's absence.
Stock watch: DeMarcus Ware, falling. Last week, Ware said the strength had finally returned to the quadriceps that kept him out for three games. But he was invisible versus the Bears before he was gifted a sack in the fourth quarter. Ware has two sacks since his return but is likely to see his streak of having at least 10 sacks in a season end at seven.
There's no defense in Dallas: Blame the injuries all you want, but Rob Ryan at least had an injury-riddled defense competitive last year. Kiffin has had to deal with injuries, but he had zero answers for the Bears.
The Cowboys allowed 24 points in Monday's first half. Only New Orleans and Denver had more against the Cowboys in an opening half (28 each). The Cowboys allowed 32 first downs. Only New Orleans (an NFL-record 40) and Denver (34) had more. The Cowboys allowed 498 yards. Only San Diego (506), Denver (517), Detroit (623) and New Orleans (625) had more. It's the fourth time a quarterback has had four touchdown passes against the Cowboys.
In the first half, the Bears had 12 plays of at least 10 yards. They scored quickly (a 37-second drive) and they ate up clock (90 yards, 8:10).
They did whatever they wanted to do.
Hurt again: Sean Lee made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury but he could not finish the game after suffering a neck injury with 12:33 left in the third quarter.
Lee returned briefly for five plays before he went to the locker room for the rest of the game. Lee has yet to play a full season in his career because of injuries. He is the best playmaker on the defense, but even with him the defense has not been close to adequate. Imagine how bad things would be if Lee missed even more playing time?
The Cowboys might be about to find out.
Hey, a running game: Let's get about the only positive the Cowboys had from Monday's game: They ran the ball well. DeMarco Murray ran for 145 yards on 18 carries. He now has 842 on the year and has a shot at reaching 1,000 for the season.
But why be positive on a night like this?
What's next: The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers. The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will make his return from a collarbone injury. If he does, the task is much more difficult. The Cowboys are 5-1 at AT&T Stadium this season, but the Packers have some good memories there as well, having won Super Bowl XLV there.
The news of the day: Tight end Brandon Myers didn't practice Thursday due to a groin injury, but he said it's not a real problem and he expects to practice Friday. The Giants have been using Myers more as a receiver in recent weeks, and he's caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two games. So he'd probably be missed by a passing game that hasn't been able to get going all year in terms of big plays down the field. To me, the biggest reason for that problem is the pass protection, and we've written about that extensively. But rookie right tackle Justin Pugh is one guy on that line who's definitely shown week-to-week improvement and has handled the job well in his first year in the league.
Behind enemy lines: The Giants-Chargers game Sunday may not be a real popular watch in San Diego, where the Chargers are trying hard to avoid a second straight week in which their home game is blacked out in their home market due to insufficient ticket sales.
Around the division: Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says his team will be trying to stop basketball players when it faces off against the Bears and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on Monday Night Football. You may (or may not) remember the game against Chicago as a pretty low point for the Cowboys last season. They will need to win it this time either to assert control of the division or to keep pace with the Eagles, depending on what Philly does Sunday against Detroit.
Around the league: Join me, Chris Mortensen, Jarrett Bell and Suzy Kolber at 3 pm ET today on ESPN for "NFL Insiders," where we'll take a look at this weekend's big games and maybe throw you a Giants note or two if they'll let me. Go ahead and leave work early. Tell your boss I said it was OK.
"They're something else," Kiffin said. "It's like a NBA team getting off the bus, good gosh, all power forwards. You know they can run and jump, and I'm sure they’ve all played basketball somewhere down the line. They're really good athletes and they really do get it to them, and the quarterbacks do a great job, it doesn’t matter who's in there. They put the ball up without a doubt, a heck of a group of receivers."
Jeffery is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,109), and Marshall is ninth (990). Last week, Jeffery set a franchise single-game record with 245 receiving yards in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Cowboys' tallest defensive back is safety Barry Church at 6-2. But the starting cornerbacks, Orlando Scandrick (5-10) and Brandon Carr (6-0), could have some problems.
"You just got to play the ball," Scandrick said. "When receivers are tall you can't get caught up playing the man, because most of the time when you're going to try to rip through the ball, he's going to get it at its highest point. Were going to have to stay on top of routes."
- One win should not be cause for anyone to say the Redskins have turned their season around. That’s not how it works. It only means they’re capable of winning at home. Last year’s turnaround really began on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas after a lay-up win over the struggling Philadelphia Eagles at home. Beat the Denver Broncos? They become legitimate factors. Short of that, just play well in Denver and, if they lose, win a couple games in a row. They need to play well for an extended stretch before we can talk turnarounds.
- What I liked, however, is that the Redskins had to gut this one out. Of course, that shouldn’t have been the case with Jay Cutler out and Josh McCown in at quarterback for Chicago. McCown picked them apart and hurt them with his legs. However, it did force the Redskins to reveal more of their character because they were tested. They gave up a punt return for a touchdown and responded with an 11-play touchdown drive to regain the lead. They allowed a 50-yard game-tying run to Matt Forte for a touchdown and followed that with an 83-yard scoring drive to regain the lead. Chicago scored three times in the fourth quarter; Washington scored twice. Punch; counter punch. Sometimes the most rewarding games are one’s like this, when you are tested. Of course, a 45-20 win would have said a little bit more. But you get the point.
- Brian Orakpo, it turns out, does have hands. It’s quite shocking that Orakpo had never before scored in a game. For a guy who started playing in middle school, that’s astounding. “I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. It was a phenomenal feeling. I’ve been preaching that I’m trying to get my ‘Ryan Kerrigan’ on,” Orakpo said. That play was huge (and give a big assist to safety Reed Doughty for being so quick to the ball and preventing Alshon Jeffery from catching a bobbled pass).
- Yes, the zone read still works. Like any other play it must be run correctly and when it does? It works. The Bears focused so hard on stopping running back Alfred Morris that it enabled Griffin to get outside time and again. “I thought they would have had a better plan because we showed so much of it last week,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “But there’s only so much you can do. We’ve seen those looks.”
- The Bears also helped by playing a lot of man coverage (as Dallas did) so when Griffin ran wide all he needed to do was beat a linebacker. And if that linebacker was focused inside, as they often were, it was a foot race he was going to win. Chicago would send two linebackers to the zone read side, with one who was supposed to eye Griffin. However, that wasn’t always happening and Griffin could slip outside. But the Redskins also took advantage of this strategy. The 26-yard pass to tight end Jordan Reed on the final drive did just that. Both the inside linebacker and left outside linebacker flowed to the right to defend a zone read look that way (and a fake end around by Josh Morgan). Griffin could throw back to the left, with no linebacker in front of Reed.
- The no-huddle look worked once again. I loved how they ran it with running back Roy Helu in the third quarter. He made it harder on a tiring defense because of his speed. The Redskins helped by doing what they did in Oakland: making the Bears defend wide to the right side one play, then force back to defend wide to the left on the next. Eventually, you could see the defense not getting down in their stance enough to shoot hard off the ball. “The defense can’t get the call in quickly so you get those looks where half are up and half are down looking at each other waiting for the call,” Paulsen said. Mix that with a little fatigue and it was a good recipe.
- Thus far it’s worked a change-of-pace. That doesn’t mean it would work the entire game (I’m a huge Seinfeld fan, but would an entire show about Kramer have worked? No. Sometimes less is more). The Redskins can run a good chunk of their offense from this look, but the real fear is that if you run a no-huddle a quick three-and-out could eat up about 15 seconds. It has to happen at the right time, with the right field position and at a point where you have the right defensive personnel on the field.
- Can you really say the special teams were that much better when they still allowed an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. Yes, take that play away and the Bears had 109 return yards (four on punts; 105 on seven kickoffs). They avoided Devin Hester on kickoffs -- he managed 40 yards on two kick returns and, of course, the 81-yard punt return. The Redskins still get nothing out of their return game. Absolutely nothing. Do you hear me?
- Nobody should be surprised by Reed’s emergence. This is what he showed in training camp. I talked to tight ends coach Sean McVay on Friday about Reed and the next step he would take: the deep ball. Reed showed his downfield speed Sunday and, just as important, he played after getting banged up. That’s huge for a young kid who came out of college with durability issues. And the fade throw to him in the end zone, matched against safety Chris Conte, was a no-brainer. Conte never had a chance as Reed took him inside and cut back outside. It was like lobbing the ball into the post to a big man against a guard.
- When you run for more than 200 yards, you should have a strong game. This is who the Redskins are and the reason their offense has looked better the past two weeks. If they can’t run play-action they’re in trouble, but they could. They also could be more balanced in the red zone, something they haven’t been able to be much of this season because of various factors: score, time of game, etc. It made a difference; they had four legitimate drives inside the 20 and scored touchdowns on each. Their play calling kept Chicago off-balance.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather insisted that he had changed the way he tackles. He’s trying to go lower. He’s trying not to lead with his helmet. Yet Meriweather still managed two more personal fouls, which means he’ll once again be fined for the way he hits.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he hopes Meriweather doesn’t get suspended for those hits.
“I know it’s not intentional,” Shanahan said.
“One ref said it was good and one ref said it was bad,” Meriweather said. “It’ll be just like that with the NFL. One person will look at it in slow motion and will say he could have did this, he could have did that. One person will be like, ‘Look, man, going full speed you don’t have time to think about that.’ It all depends on who’s watching.”
There was little doubt about the second hit was Meriweather was called for a personal foul on a hit after receiver Brandon Marshall dropped the ball in the end zone. It was not a bang-bang play.
“I feel every hit I took was a legal hit,” Meriweather said. “I wasn’t trying to be dirty. I wasn’t trying to hurt nobody. I didn’t lead with, lunge with my head. I used my shoulders like they told me to do.”
The officials saw it differently.
“I don’t think the first one was head to head,” Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. “I don’t know what he can do in that situation. I didn’t see the second one but [secondary coach Raheem Morris] said, yeah that’s probably one.”
Meriweather was fined $42,000 for two hits in a Week 2 loss at Green Bay.
“I understand big hits,” Marshall said. “That’s a part of our game, but when you have a guy that does it week in and week out, that’s when it becomes a problem.”
Meriweather was fined $50,000 for a hit in 2010 and accrued $45,000 in fines a year later.
“If you watch my first five years compared to the way I played the last three or four games, everyone in the league will tell you I have changed the way I hit,” Meriweather said. “I’m not lunging into people. I’m actually squaring them up. I’m trying to tackle the way I’ve been coached.
“Am I being targeted? I don’t want to say that. I would hope not.”
Meriweather said he’s not sure what the right way is to hit a ball carrier.
“No matter what I do I feel I’ll be in the wrong,” he said. “If I hit you in the shoulder and slipped up, they still say it’s head to head. If I hit them too low, I think somebody just got flagged for hitting somebody too low. It all depends on who’s watching. I don’t think we can be right.
“I think they’re trying to be safe and I think the only way to be safe is to do what they’re doing. But at the same time this is tackle football. A job of a safety is to instill fear and you can’t do that with pulling up.”
But the fines hurt his wallet and the penalties hurt the team.
"It's one of those things where you want them to be aggressive," Shanahan said. "But get lower -- mainly just talking from the team's standpoint and not even talking about the possible injury or things that go with it. We have to eliminate those 15-yard penalties."
"I like to play that way -- physical, up on the line, where the officials can see everything that's going on," Amukamara said Tuesday. "It's a fight all the way down the field, but I know I can play that way. And I'd rather play against guys like that than a guy like DeSean Jackson, who's just so fast it's amazing."
"He's the fastest receiver I've ever seen, by far," Amukamara said. "I just remember watching when I was in college -- and nobody around here will talk about this -- but that punt return against the Giants [in 2010]. And I remember wondering, 'How fast must he look on the field?,' and it's unbelievable."
Marshall has 31 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Jeffrey caught 10 passes for a Bears-record 218 yards in Sunday's loss to the Saints. It's unclear how the Giants will deploy their cornerbacks against the pair, but Amukamara's a good bet to shadow Marshall, the veteran and the tougher of the two. The Giants' other starting cornerback, Corey Webster, is likely to miss a fourth straight game with a groin injury, and Trumaine McBride is likely to replace him.
Beason to be involved: Linebacker Jon Beason didn't have a chance to play defense in Sunday's game, since the Giants had acquired him in a trade with the Panthers just 48 hours before kickoff. But defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Beason would definitely be a factor at the middle linebacker spot Thursday in Chicago.
The Giants have struggled at the middle linebacker position this year. Free-agent signee Dan Connor is on injured reserve. Mark Herzlich hasn't played as well as they'd hoped. And Allen Bradford didn't pick things up as quickly as they thought he might when they signed him. So enter Beason, who was miscast as an outside linebacker in Carolina (and, ironically, replaced by former Giant Chase Blackburn) but has middle linebacker experience at a high level. If he's over his knee issues of the past few years, he could be a find.
"I'm in the playbook heavy," Beason said. "It's different terminology, but I've played football in this league for a long time, so I feel pretty comfortable about it."
Outside linebacker Spencer Paysinger has been the one making the calls on the defense, which is usually the middle linebacker's job. Fewell and Beason both said they'd like Beason to take over some of those responsibilities, but that's not likely to happen right away this week.
New secondary alignment: Terrell Thomas served as the Giants' nickel cornerback for the first four games of the season but didn't play any defensive snaps Sunday, as Will Hill returned from suspension and played safety while safety Antrel Rolle moved up to play Thomas' slot position. Thomas said he believed that would change back, and that the arrangement Sunday was part of the maintenance plan for his surgically repaired knee, since the Giants are in a stretch of three games in 12 days. But Fewell indicated that the look Thursday would be similar to Sunday's.
"We try to strive for consistency as much as we can," Fewell said.
The Giants were high on Hill in the preseason and clearly had a plan for what they wanted to do when he returned from his four-game drug suspension.
Practice squad: The Giants signed cornerback Junior Mertile and linebacker Darin Drakeford to their practice squad. One of those spots came open last week when they promoted cornerback Charles James to the active roster, the other when the Buffalo Bills signed linebacker Ty Powell away.