NFC East: Bertrand Berry
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
As we speak, Eagles coaches are busy reviewing film of every player on the roster. Coach Andy Reid met with those players Monday, but he won't have a true evaluation until his coaches and personnel people file reports.
It looks like the Eagles will allow veteran players such as Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and Brian Dawkins to test the free-agent market. There might be a public outcry for keeping the 35-year-old Dawkins, but I'd be surprised to see him back. Runyan wants to play a few more years, but injuries took a toll on him in 2008. He had plenty of energy, but his knees and back were aching down the stretch.
I thought Thomas looked overmatched at times in the NFC Championship Game. He's been a steady player over the years, but Bertrand Berry beat him on outside moves several times. Obviously, L.J. Smith is gone. The Eagles franchised him last season. This time around, he'll have a chance to get a fresh start elsewhere. He's a talented player, but he's had too many injuries and drops to warrant a return. Plus, you saw how Brent Celek emerged in the second half of the season.
I think the Eagles will sign new deals with nickel corner Joselio Hanson and backup running back Correll Buckhalter. That said, the Eagles need to think about drafting a running back in the third or fourth round. Lorenzo Booker was a complete bust as a third-down back. Given Brian Westbrook's history of injuries, the Eagles need more depth at that position.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Eagles coach Andy Reid has been driving home a very specific message to his players this week. He wants them to remember what they did well in a 48-20 win over the Cardinals on Thanksgiving, but he wants them to forget about the margin of victory. It's a smart message because it would be easy for the Eagles to feel pretty good about themselves right about now.
In his news conference Wednesday, Reid was a little more specific about the changes the Cardinals have made on defense since that game.
"They are blitzing their safety, and their linebackers are doing a phenomenal job," said Reid. "I think it starts with their front getting off of the football the way they do. 92 [DE Bertrand Berry], 90 [DT Darnell Dockett], 94 [DE Antonio Smith] -- they all can rush the passer. Collectively that group is doing a great job. I think they have more confidence in their corners. [CB] Rod Hood did not play against us the last time, and he's playing. [CB Dominique] Rodgers-Cromartie has improved as the season went along and he's playing at a very high level right now. The better those guys play, the more I'm sure their coaches feel they can do schematically."
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE and Rich Kane-US PRESSWIRE|
|Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will use varied looks and movements in an effort to keep Eli Manning guessing.|
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd
One of the most intriguing matchups in Sunday's Giants-Cardinals game will be decided, to a large extent, not on the field but in the film room. How Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast decides to attack quarterback Eli Manning in passing situations will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
Pendergast, who should be on a number of short lists for NFL teams seeking a new head coach in the offseason, is a dynamic thinker who specializes in exotic pressure schemes. He builds his packages out of a base 3-4, though the Cardinals often move into a four-man front in nickel situations. It's a multiple scheme with variations and movements, and Pendergast isn't afraid to use them all. That may be necessary against Manning, a terrific talent who continues to deliver efficient play. But to get to him, the Cardinals first must put the clamps on the Giants' explosive run game.
New York has an excellent trio of backs -- Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward -- who complement each other well, not to mention one of the finest offensive lines in the league. The Giants' runners can punish opponents, and they excel at bouncing runs outside and getting to the edges. Arizona's defense is fast to the ball and aggressive in pursuit, but slowing New York's downhill running and interior power will be a challenge. Against two-back packages on early downs, Pendergast likely will invert strong safety Adrian Wilson near the line of scrimmage and use a lot of stems and single-zone linebacker blitzes to put stress on the Giants' blocking patterns. The Cardinals must force Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward to run laterally, create a new line of scrimmage and maintain gap discipline to put Manning in more difficult second- and third-down situations.
With that accomplished, Pendergast will utilize varied looks and movements to cover up back-end weaknesses and make it difficult for Manning to diagnose where the blitz is coming from on passing downs. Expect overload blitzes that attack the front side of the pocket (to affect Manning's eye level and passing windows) and back-side delays out of the slot. Pressure is the key to forcing game-changing mistakes. Manning has a tendency to telegraph passes and, when under duress, force throws into tight windows. Defensive end Darnell Dockett gets good interior penetration when he slides inside in sub packages, and Bertrand Berry, Travis LaBoy and Chike Okeafor all are capable pass-rushers. The players to watch, however, are Wilson and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Wilson, who spends a lot of time near the line in both regular and sub packages, is as effective rushing the passer as he is playing the run. Dansby, a versatile defender who can drop into zone or match up on a back in passing situations, might be at his best on the blitz.
Will Arizona's secondary hold up long enough to allow the pass-rushers to get home? The Cardinals don't move personnel around much on the back end, which should enable the Giants to dictate with their formations who and how they attack. Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played well in recent weeks, but he will be tested. Receiver Plaxico Burress likely will be aligned or motioned to exploit that matchup. The Giants also will try to use play-action to bait free safety Antrel Rolle, who has struggled a bit in deep zones. In any case, the Cardinals must be sound open-field tacklers, because there should be plenty of room to run for Giants pass-catchers in the areas vacated by blitzers.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For a few frantic moments Sunday, the Cowboys made you forget how pedestrian they've become. Marion Barber's mad dash to the end zone and a 52-yard field goal by Nick Folk at the end of regulation temporarily covered up another unimpressive effort.
But with one blocked punt return for a touchdown, the Cardinals delivered a jolt of reality. Arizona won the game 30-24, and any other result would've been a crime after watching the Cardinals dominate the second half.
|Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images|
|Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's solid numbers and high passer rating are misleading.|
The Cowboys probably should've turned the ball over four times in the first half, but they only had one. The aerial assault on what had been rumored to be an outmanned Cardinals secondary never materialized, and Tony Romo spent most of the day checking down to Barber.
Romo somehow always ends up with 300 yards and three touchdowns, but don't be fooled by those numbers -- or his 113.3 passer rating. He fumbled the ball three times, and was fortunate to lose only one. The only thing that prevented him from giving up a touchdown in the first half was the tuck rule, which makes less sense every time I see it called.
In fairness to Romo, his Pro Bowl-laden offensive line was dominated by the Cardinals' defensive line. Left tackle Flozell Adams offered little resistance as defensive ends Bertrand Berry and Antonio Smith raced past him. I've documented almost every Romo start since 2006, and I've never seen him take that much punishment. People want to ask where all the enthusiasm and child-like joy has gone. Well, getting hit in the mouth every other play isn't a particularly enjoyable experience.
Romo showed up to his news conference with a heavily bandaged right throwing hand. According to the Cowboys, he sprained his right pinky finger. And considering the punishment he took Sunday, he may have gotten off easy. Romo made an interesting statement when asked about the constant pressure he faced.
"I think there's a couple of things we've got to do to counteract ... one of our formations I think some of the teams are kind of getting a bead on," said Romo. "We'll rectify that this week and hopefully learn from it."