NFC East: Brad Johnson
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
As the Redskins look to the future, it’s clear that one person holds the key to their success over the next three years: Griffin. They could still succeed if Griffin fails, but that would require them to solve a position they haven’t been able to for a long, long time. (They’ve had two Pro Bowl quarterbacks since 1998: Brad Johnson in ’99 and Griffin in ’12.) Maybe backup quarterback Kirk Cousins could be that guy, but that’s far from certain.
Of course, the defense must play better. And the defense is hardly built for long-term success at this point, unlike an offense that features a young nucleus. The defense is aging and needs more good young players.
The head coach, Jay Gruden, needs to prove he can handle his new gig. The general manager, Bruce Allen, must show he can build a winner -- he’s fully in charge now for the first time in his career. The pressure is on both men, but Griffin’s play on the field trumps all because of the importance of the position. If he plays well, it’s easier for Gruden to coach and for Allen to build. If Griffin stumbles or gets hurt, everyone in charge has a much tougher task. Griffin's play can get guys paid -- or fired. That's power.
The Redskins also tied their future to Griffin the minute they sent a large haul to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick: three first-round picks and a second. That preceded news about the two-year salary-cap penalty that restricted their ability to fortify the roster. Add it up and Griffin’s success became even more important. They need him to deliver.
If Griffin improves and stays healthy, the Redskins have a dynamic young quarterback capable of delivering big plays and, perhaps, titles for years to come. Doing the latter takes more than one player, but Griffin’s performance in 2012 gave Washington something it had not had in a long time: hope. That hope still exists, though it now comes with fingers crossed. But nobody else can deliver what Washington needs more than Griffin.
ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay said it. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said it. A lot of fans have said it. A lot of others have said it.
If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, then it must be early in the draft. At least, that’s the general philosophy of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery when it comes to taking quarterbacks.
"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said in this ESPNChicago story. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay [Cutler's] on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.
"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."
From 2006 to 2013, there were 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7. Only two are top-end starters: Russell Wilson (third round, 2012, Seattle Seahawks) and Nick Foles(third round, 2012, Philadelphia Eagles). And Foles might have more to prove, but he was Pro Bowl-worthy in 2013.
The best of the rest: Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round, 2006); Matt Flynn (seventh round, 2008); Curtis Painter (sixth round, 2009); Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011); Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012). Other considerations: Colt McCoy (third round, 2010); T.J. Yates (fifth round, 2011); Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, 2011).
The odds are stacked against a team looking to develop a quarterback. Teams are not a lock to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster these days. The Cowboys have not done it since 2011, when they had Stephen McGee (fourth round, 2009). There just aren’t enough snaps to go around in a season for a quarterback to develop. The pressure on coaches to win means they want guys who can help carry games if a starter goes down, part of the reason why the Cowboys have gone with Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton as Romo's backups.
Maybe the Cowboys will draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds this week. The odds of him turning into Wilson, Foles or Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) are remote. He’s more likely to be Andre Woodson (sixth round, 2008), Mike Teel (sixth round, 2009), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round, 2010) or Nate Enderle (fifth round, 2011).
- If I'm Robert Griffin III, I'm a little miffed that Santana Moss chose to air his comments publicly rather than coming to him privately. It clearly made Griffin uncomfortable Wednesday and, when you're 3-7, such comments make it easy to paint the team in a negative light.
- But from Moss' perspective, he'd heard enough -- not just from Griffin but from others who were making comments that brought a negative focus (including Pierre Garcon's comments about how the passing game “sucks”. Moss texted him after those comments).
- In my years covering the Redskins, Moss has been one of the most professional to deal with and a favorite, even having won the Media Good Guy award one year (and receiving votes probably in the other years). It's not because he dishes gossip or anything, it's because he's always available during the season, upbeat and will answer any question.
- So if he felt he had to say something, then it must have been eating him up. He made it clear he wasn't just talking about Griffin, though I don't think his comments were taken out of context.
- I remember former Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson being knocked one time for not using the word, ‘I' enough after bad plays or losses. I don't remember it being an issue. I do think it's good for players to sometimes just say, “I messed up.” If, say, there's an interception, it'll be easy enough to find out what happened, either by watching the film or poking around. So, for a quarterback, you don't usually have to explain those away. Teammates will appreciate it.
- Here's a good example. After the Detroit game, Griffin wouldn't just say he made a bad decision on his interception in the red zone (when he was about to be tackled). I thought it was a bad decision and remember saying so. Even coach Mike Shanahan initially thought so. But, on the film, it was obvious what happened: Garcon had stopped coming back to the ball. Opinions were changed. Shanahan even publicly stated that after watching it he understood what Griffin was doing. Point is, things are usually discovered.
- I don't worry about Griffin's leadership. I don't think it's bad to go through some adversity, not coming back from knee surgery, but something that tests who you are and what you're about. It can strengthen you. And if teammates see you going through a hard time and that you show up to work every day with the same resolve and put in the same time and compete hard? They will follow you even more. I've seen athletes who say the right things, but are not good leaders because behind closed doors they're not living what they're preaching. But media/fans become fooled by their words and make assumptions.
- The Redskins insist the locker room is not divided. It's still one of the better locker rooms I've dealt with over the years. This is not like the Jim Zorn era or even the Steve Spurrier days when there was not a lot of confidence in the coach and plenty of backstabbing in the front office and even among coaches. There's definite frustration and perhaps there will be issues if they keep losing. If the Redskins finish poorly, I don't know how you don't question the direction of the franchise, regardless if you think someone's a good coach or not. As a franchise -- players, coaches, etc. -- you can't lose double-digit games three times in four years and think everything's OK. You just can't.
- But for now a main reason the Redskins feel like they can have a strong finish is because of their cohesiveness. Again, there isn't proof that they don't.
- I've said this before that leadership is not the issue with this team. An inconsistent passing game and a bad pass defense are the problems. That's been the case all season. And special teams, of course (which is where you'll still hear grumbling; that hasn't changed but the players seem to be rolling with it).
IRVING, Texas – With sources saying Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could miss three weeks with a fractured left collarbone, the Dallas Cowboys stand to benefit. Sort of.
At 5-4, the Cowboys could see a potential wild-card partner in the Packers be greatly affected by missing their quarterback. In 2008, Tony Romo missed three games with a broken pinky. The Cowboys lost two of the three games with Brad Johnson at quarterback, including a 34-14 embarrassment to the St. Louis Rams, and missed the playoffs by a game.
The Packers are set to give Seneca Wallace the keys to the offense, which shows you why the Cowboys value the quarterback position and have Kyle Orton as their backup.
The smoothest road for the Cowboys to take for a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 is to win the NFC East. They have a one-game lead on the Philadelphia Eagles and a 3-0 record in the division.
Thinking wild card should not enter into their equation. They would lose a tiebreaker to the Detroit Lions. The San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers have better records at this point. The Cowboys control their fate in the division.
If they get into a wild-card battle, then they almost have to sweep the Chicago Bears and Packers in December meetings.
Rodgers could be back for the Packers by Dec. 15. The last time he played at AT&T Stadium, he won Super Bowl XLV.
The Washington Redskins' rookie quarterback has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for a Week 11 performance in which he completed 14-of-15 passes for four touchdowns and rushed for 84 yards in a 31-6 demolition of the Philadelphia Eagles. It is the second time he has won this award already, since he won it in Week 1 for his performance against the Saints in the first game of his professional career.
Griffin is this year's second two-time winner of the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award, joining Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who won it in Week 4 and 6. Charles Tillman of the Bears has been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week twice this year, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (AFC Offensive Player of Weeks 4 and 8) is the only other player in the league who won two of these weekly awards in the first 10 weeks.
Griffin is the first rookie quarterback to win this award twice since it was established in 1984. He's the first Redskins player to win two Offensive Player of the Week awards in the same season since Santana Moss in 2005. The last Redskins quarterback to do it was Brad Johnson in 1999. That's right, folks. We're going all the way back to the Brad Johnson era for perspective on this one.
No, seriously, though. The guy's really good, is my point.
It was the Wednesday before Washington opened the 2006 "Monday Night Football" season against visiting Minnesota and former Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson. Assistant head coach/defense Gregg Williams knew about the bad blood between Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Johnson and decided to do something about it in the defensive meeting room.
"Gregg came in and dropped $15,000 on the (table) and said, 'Brad Johnson doesn't finish this game. This is Wednesday and the money will go up later in the week. It could double or triple by the end of the week,'" one of the players recalled. "A couple of guys kinda got excited. (Defensive line coach) Greg Blache said, 'If you get fined, it will be taken care of.'
Elfin's story has a lot of details, supplied by anonymous players, that aren't hard to believe in light of the practices of which Williams and others have been found guilty in New Orleans. And it strikes at the issue that this bounty thing has gone on for some time in several different locations before the Saints got caught for their wide-reaching violations.
It also points out, with the help of one of those anonymous players, that it's pretty hard to knock an opposing player out of a game even if that's what you're trying to do. Johnson finished the game in question, just as Vikings quarterback Brett Favre finished the NFC Championship Game three years ago in spite of the Saints' best efforts.
The upshot of this isn't much other than more damage to Williams' already-shredded reputation. The NFL investigated Williams' time in Washington as part of its investigation of the Saints, and in announcing the discipline earlier this week against Williams and the Saints it also announced that it had found no reason to discipline other teams for the same kind of stuff. The release said the league reserves the right to impose discipline if new evidence comes to light, but it's hard to imagine this story constitutes anything the league couldn't have already learned about Williams' time in Washington. It's also pretty tame in comparison to what appears to have gone on in New Orleans.
Doesn't make it any less interesting, of course. I just don't want Redskins fans to start worrying that their team might be about to get fined or lose draft picks for anything that happened when Williams was there, because it's not. The only thing the NFL is angry at the Redskins about is all the money they spent against a phantom salary cap in 2010.
Grossman's haunting me right now. I didn't think he had a real shot to win the job in preseason and he proved me wrong. Now everywhere I look there's a story about whether he might actually be turning a corner in his career. I'm trying to decide whether to trade Fred Jackson for him in a fantasy league where we have to start two quarterbacks and I only have one. The guy won't leave me alone.
So I consulted Sprow, who has some theories as to why Grossman might be able to sustain the little bit of success he's had so far in Washington. Reasons include the Redskins' soft schedule, the similarities between this Redskins offense and the Chicago Bears one Grossman took to the Super Bowl and a chart showing other quarterbacks such as Warren Moon, Roger Staubach and Vinny Testaverde whose post-30 production exceeded what they did in their 20s:
There's no evidence that a quarterback can't greatly enhance his career beyond his age-30 season. There are 67 quarterbacks who've thrown for more yards past that point than they did before it, and at the top of the list, there aren't just some good names, there are instances of dramatic improvement. Trent Green couldn't get on the field, or stay consistently healthy up to age 30, but after, in a better situation, he threw for another 22,971 yards and, like many of the guys you see in the chart, dramatically improved his accuracy. Grossman can't be confused with Green, or the limited but steady Brad Johnson, or even the late-blooming, accurate Rich Gannon (Johnson at 34 and Gannon at 37 met in the Super Bowl). But none of the guys listed here, at age 30, would be confused with how we perceive them now.
So I don't know. If you have the Insider access, give it a look and let me know what you think. I will say that Grossman does seem to be in a system that suits him well, as long as the supporting cast of running backs, receivers and offensive line holds up around him. That was Mike Shanahan's biggest concern when I spoke with him in training camp -- not whether he had the right quarterback but whether that quarterback, whoever it was, would have enough around him. I thought he was messing with me, or nuts, but now I wonder. We always wonder when it comes to Grossman.
For Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, it’s uncertain whether he will follow tradition in replacing Wade Phillips and new interim head coach Jason Garrett after the season. Phillips has always been a coach who creates a positive, supportive environment for players, which has led to criticism his teams sometimes were undisciplined.
The logical move would be to hire a disciplinarian, as Jones did in 2003 when he chose Bill Parcells to replace Dave Campo. Logic would point to a big-name coach with winning experience.
Although successful, the Parcells experience was tough on Jones. Parcells wanted a big voice in personnel. Jones likes to pick the players and have coaches teach them. That’s why Bill Cowher -- perhaps the biggest winning name available -- probably won’t get the job. Since leaving the Steelers, Cowher has been looking for a head-coaching job that pays top dollar on a franchise that has an elite quarterback. Like Parcells, Cowher wants control of the personnel office. That’s why he probably isn’t a fit. Remember, Jones could have hired Mike Shanahan during the offseason but decided to stay with Phillips. Expect Garrett to be interviewed, but I don't think he will get this job.
Here are the main candidates for the Cowboys’ job:
Jon Gruden, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gruden is the perfect choice, but there is more of a chance he will stay in broadcasting until at least 2012. Should Gruden decide to coach in 2011, Mike Holmgren of the Cleveland Browns could be after him, but Jones will be all over him. Gruden, who signed a multiyear extension with ESPN last November, has a brilliant offensive mind. He is a master of the West Coast offense, but he also orchestrates a well-structured running attack. Some of Gruden’s run schemes are the most innovative in football. Gruden would be a nice mentor for Tony Romo. Though he can be tough on veteran quarterbacks, Gruden got the best out of Rich Gannon when he was with the Raiders and Brad Johnson when he was with the Bucs. This could be Gruden’s job to lose, but don’t be surprised if he passes on the opportunity.
John Fox, Carolina Panthers head coach: There would be no better compromise candidate than Fox. He’s a winner. He fits in Dallas because he doesn’t demand control of personnel. He’s a coach’s coach. Fox, in the last year of his contract with the Panthers, has taken players given to him in Carolina and made the most of the situation. With Jones, Fox would be getting an owner who isn’t afraid to spend and keep a talented team together. Fox is considered a players’ coach, but he is organized and runs a disciplined operation in which players enjoy the experience.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals head coach: Lewis, whose contract is up after the season, has won two division titles for Mike Brown in Cincinnati. He would like more control of personnel in Cincinnati. Although he might not get that control in Dallas, coaching for one of the best brands in sports is highly appealing. Jones knows Lewis well from their time together on the Competition Committee.
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator: Frazier is one of the league’s hotter assistant coaches, but it’s debatable whether Jones will go for an assistant. Phillips was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator when Jones hired him as Dallas’ head coach. Phillips’ head-coaching experience in Denver and Buffalo appealed to Jones. This would be Frazier’s first chance to be a head coach.
Ron Rivera, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator: Rivera was a hot name a few years ago when he was the Chicago Bears 'defensive coordinator. He’s getting hot again because of the work he has done in San Diego, which has the league’s second-ranked defense. Rivera took a chance in joining the Chargers to learn the 3-4 scheme. Even though the talent base of the Chargers has dropped off the past couple of years, Rivera has put together creative schemes.
Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator: A former position coach and defensive coordinator in Dallas, Zimmer is disciplined and aggressive, and players like playing for him. And Jones knows him, a big plus.
Omar from Oakland, Calif., has some concerns with my recent column suggesting the Cowboys should have hired Norv Turner instead of Wade Phillips: Listen, the Cowboys did not make the wrong decision with Phillips over Turner. Record comparison is comparable with Turner 28-16 and Phillips 30-14. Of course, Turner has won three playoff games to Wade's zero. But here's the thing. Tony Romo is a good quarterback and not a great one. Philips Rivers is the best quarterback in the leauge this side of Manning and Brees. Believe me, the Chargers are winning in spite of Turner. He is a great offensive coordinator and Wade is great defensive coordinator. Neither are great head coaches and never will be, although because of Rivers, Turner may get to a Super Bowl this year while the Cowboys are the fourth or fifth best team at best in the NFC. Bottom line, Turner has Rivers and Wade has Romo. Simply put, no comparison.
Mosley: Could we at least give Turner a little credit for his work with making Rivers one of the top quarterbacks in the league? Turner's recognized as one of the best quarterback gurus (Troy Aikman anyone?) in the game and I think he would've done an unbelievable job with Romo. When you simply talk about skill level, I don't think Rivers is far ahead of Romo -- if at all. But yes, Rivers has three more playoff wins than Romo. Turner has taken quarterbacks such as Brad Johnson and Alex Smith and led them to excellent seasons. Let's not act like he just lucked into a good quarterback. I think Turner's a huge part of Rivers' success and I can't help but think that he would've already helped Romo get at least one playoff win.
Yatin from Los Angeles has a question about Kevin Kolb: Hey Matt, I've tried asking this several times in the chats, but no luck. So I'm giving your mailbag a shot. What do you think Eagles management should do with Kevin Kolb? It's not too different from Favre-Rodgers in that there's a veteran quarterback in Donovan McNabb who is still playing at a high level, but a young talent in Kolb who is not going to be happy sitting forever. While I love Donovan and don't think we should release him, I'm worried we're going to lose our potential quarterback of the future in Kolb.
Mosley: The good thing for the Eagles is that they've now seen that Kolb can perform well in a regular-season game. It wasn't fair to judge the guy on the second half against the Ravens last year. In two games this season, Kolb put up solid numbers and proved that he's a capable backup. My thought is that McNabb will be the starter in 2010 for sure. After that, who knows what will happen? If there's a team out there that thinks of Kolb like the Texans thought of Matt Schaub when he played for the Falcons, then the Eagles will be all ears. But for now, I think Andy Reid still believes that Kolb is the heir apparent to McNabb.
Amari H. from Richmond, Va., doesn't think London Fletcher deserves your Pro Bowl vote: I'm sorry but I couldn't disagree with you more. Although London Fletcher is a really good player, he obviously hasn't stood out enough to be considered a Pro Bowl player. There is no way you can compare his numbers to Ray Lewis'. He may get a similar number of tackles, but if you want to go to the Pro Bowl then you have to be a dynamic linebacker. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Patrick Willis not only make tackles but they make interceptions, cause fumbles, get sacks, and score touchdowns. They make dynamic plays for their football team. Only two of these guys can get on the Pro Bowl squad and clearly Fletcher hasn't seperated from the pack enough to warrant consideration. This story comes up literally every year and yet still no results. Are you really asking for a handout on behalf of London Fletcher? Right now I got Willis, A.J. Hawk and Keith Brooking ahead of him. And if you can give me any reason to put him ahead of those guys, I am all ears. But can this please be the last time this story comes up. I know he won Super Bowl, I know he's started so many games and I know that he always makes a lot of tackles. But these Redskins players are whining about the Pro Bowl too much.
Mosley: I don't think Peter King would've placed London Fletcher on his all-decade team if he didn't have a little something. No one's looking for handouts, but it is a tremendous slap in the face that Fletcher's never made a Pro Bowl. You brought up forced fumbles and sacks. Well, he's right up there with Lewis in those categories over the past decade. He's also the ultimate leader. I've watched him completely take over football games, so I don't know how you can argue that he's not a dynamic player. He's having another brilliant season at linebacker. This is not some lifetime achievement award we're talking about. He's earned a Pro Bowl trip this season, just like he has for the past six or seven.
Jonathan from Boulder, Colo. has a question about the Giants' O-line: You keep saying in chats and columns that you expect the Giants to change up their O-line in the offseason. After all the success they had last year, what is the difference this year? Who's the weak link and who do you expect to be gone?
Mosley: Last year the offensive line did a nice job of protecting Eli Manning the first 12 or 13 games of the season. This year, the line has given up too many sacks and hasn't done a good job opening up holes in the running game. There are still good players up front -- right guard Chris Snee is one of the best in the league -- but I do think there are changes on the way. For starters, I think David Diehl's days at left tackle are numbered. I think he'd be more effective at left guard. I could also see third-round draft pick Will Beatty pushing Kareem McKenzie at right tackle. It would not surprise me at all to see some of those changes take place this offseason. The Giants' offensive line has had remarkable continuity dating back to the Super Bowl season, but I think changes are on the way.
|Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE|
|Once one of the most in-demand assistants in the league, Jason Garrett may be on the hot seat if the Cowboys don't make a run in the playoffs this season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
In the aftermath of the Cowboys' 13-3 season in 2007, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was one of the hottest coaches on the market. He reportedly could've had the top jobs in Atlanta and Baltimore, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones paid him $3 million to stay at Valley Ranch.
Based on the '08 season, you'd have to say that both sides made a mistake. In one season, Garrett went from boy genius to a punching dummy for quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Terrell Owens. Early in the season, Garrett inexplicably kept home-run threat Felix Jones on ice in a loss to Washington, in part, because he was seemingly so busy trying to appease T.O.
In 2007, Garrett leaned on offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who had been the playcaller under Bill Parcells in '06. Sparano left to become head coach with the Dolphins following the '07 season and Garrett was on his own. He had the misfortune of losing Romo for three games midway through the season, which forced famed check-down artist Brad Johnson into action.
I don't think most people know how angry Jones was as he watched Johnson flail around for those three games -- and most of that anger was aimed at Garrett, who had convinced him that the team was set at the backup spot.
When the Cowboys ended the season with a humiliating 44-6 loss to the Eagles, Romo pointed the finger squarely at Garrett -- and he wasn't the only one. I still believe that Jones would've fired both Wade Phillips and Garrett if not for the fact that he may have ended up paying them a combined $6 million to sit out the '09 season. Yes, it sounds ridiculous to say that a man who coughed up roughly $700 million of his own money to build a new stadium would quibble over $6 million, but I think that's exactly what happened. He delivered a message of continuity in the wake of the Eagles loss, but quite honestly there really wasn't anything worth continuing.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
More: Chadiha: The plan | Scouts: Rating QBs | Rank 'em | Clayton: Next Cassel?
Dallas: If Tony Romo is unavailable, the Cowboys would still have a chance at winning games. Jon Kitna's moving into his late 30s, but he still has plenty of arm strength and he's a huge improvement over Brad Johnson. Kitna doesn't have the mobility of Romo and he took a lot of sacks in Detroit. But he can make all the throws and he could succeed for an extended amount of time. The only thing that worries me about Kitna is that he's had a lot of trouble getting the snap from center in training camp and in preseason games. Not sure what the problem is there.
Roy Williams had the best year of his NFL career playing with Kitna. Romo's the unquestioned starter, but Kitna's presence makes the Cowboys feel a lot more comfortable heading into '09.
New York: If Eli Manning's unavailable, the Giants are in trouble. David Carr looked a lot better against the Jets, but he had really been struggling before that. He's still sort of shell-shocked from his time with the Texans. He might be fine to get you through a game or two, but the Giants would struggle if Carr has to play four or five games. I don't think he gets the ball out quickly enough at this point. Even his own quarterbacks coach, Chris Palmer, called him out recently. With the arrival of Michael Vick in Philly, the Giants might have the weakest backup situation in the division. Right now, it seems Andre Woodson has the edge on Rhett Bomar to be the third quarterback.
Philadelphia: If Donovan McNabb's unavailable, it will be Michael Vick time for the Eagles. Obviously, he won't become the No. 2 quarterback until he's fully reinstated by Roger Goodell, but that will likely happen fairly early in the season. Vick automatically becomes the best backup in the division based on his previous work. He'll be a huge threat in the Wildcat formation and I think he'd function well as the starter if something happens to McNabb. Vick's too young and talented to have the mind-set of a backup -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing for the Eagles. If McNabb gets injured, they want Vick to feel plenty of confidence as his replacement.
Washington: If Jason Campbell is unavailable, Todd Collins will take over. Collins doesn't do anything flashy but he can do a good job of managing the team. He replaced an injured Campbell in the second half of the '07 season and led the Redskins on a remarkable playoff run. Collins doesn't have the arm strength to light it up in the vertical passing game, but he does a good job of checking down passes and not turning the ball over. Coach Jim Zorn thought that Colt Brennan might be ready to challenge Collins, but that never happened.
There's a good chance that former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel will beat out Brennan for the No. 3 spot. He's outplayed him in the preseason. Daniel's nowhere close to being a starter in this league, but he's played with a lot of poise in the preseason. Let's see how he does in the Skins' final preseason game.
|AP Photo/Eric Gay|
|The Cowboys rid themselves of players who had been distractions in the past and built a more "Romo friendly" team this offseason.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
SAN ANTONIO -- If you can believe it, the Cowboys have actually lost their swagger heading into the 2009 season. And owner Jerry Jones thinks that's a good thing.
Last year in Oxnard, Calif., the Cowboys spent time mugging for the "Hard Knocks" cameras and basking in the glow of 13 returning Pro Bowlers. The regular season seemed like an afterthought as everyone talked about fast-forwarding to the playoffs. We all know what happened next.
The Cowboys once again imploded in December and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Based on the team's high expectations, it may have been the biggest flop in franchise history. Jones has talked about the "embarrassment" of last season several times in this camp, and he thinks his team can use that as motivation in '09.
One of the biggest sideshows in professional sports, Terrell Owens, was banished in the offseason. And Adam "Pacman" Jones and Tank Johnson were also sent packing. Jerry Jones has provided numerous reasons for T.O.'s departure, but his son, Stephen, probably came up with No. 1: Quarterback Tony Romo couldn't be the leader he needed to be with a divisive force such as T.O. in the locker room.
This offseason and this training camp have been all about making the Cowboys a "Romo friendly" team. The quarterback has played that concept down, but the elder Jones says it involves several facets, including a stronger all-around defense and a running game the team can lean on throughout the season.
Romo, who once again made TMZ headlines by breaking up with Jessica Simpson, has relished the fact that this camp is all about football. The team's only held 14 practice sessions to this point, but it's apparent that Romo's having fun again. On Wednesday, he kept the ball on a naked bootleg and raced down the sideline with a huge grin on his face before accidentally hitting the field judge in the head with the football. More than 8,000 fans inside the Alamodome roared with approval.
Most people (including me) think the Cowboys are the third-best team in the NFC East -- and it's a role they seem to relish. At least for now, the sense of entitlement that derailed the '08 season seems to be missing.
"In the last few years, this is probably the first time that we feel, not that we're being overlooked, but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference and things of that nature," said Romo. "That's a different role, playing that kind of role -- not that that serves you good or bad. It's just a little different in that regard. That might be the only thing I see as a little different."
Despite his humble beginnings, Romo pretty much relinquished his underdog status when he received a $30 million signing bonus during the '07 season and showed up on the celebrity dating scene. But perhaps he can channel his Eastern Illinois roots and imagine that he's sneaking up on teams.
With the additions of safety Gerald Sensabaugh, defensive end Igor Olshansky and linebacker Keith Brooking, the defense could be the strength of the team. The Cowboys need to cause more turnovers and help give the offense short fields. I don't know if DeMarcus Ware, perhaps the game's best defensive player, will have another 20-sack season, but he will be a force at outside linebacker. The next step for him is to elevate everyone else along the line. And I think you'll see that with linebacker Anthony Spencer and nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who's on his way to becoming one of the team's best Day 2 picks in the last 20 years. Now let's take a closer look at what's going on inside the Alamodome:
|AP Photo/Eric Gay|
|Jason Witten will be key in filling the void left by Terrell Owens' departure.|
How will the Cowboys replace T.O.'s production in the passing game?
No matter where you stand when it comes to T.O., it's impossible to ignore the gaudy stats he put up during his three seasons with the Cowboys. You keep hearing all this talk about addition by subtraction, but what does that actually look like? For starters, Jason Garrett has spent a lot of time coming up with ways to use his talented tight ends, Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett.
In his second year, Bennett seems to be taking a much more mature approach -- at least on the practice field. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys line up in a two tight end formation 50 percent of the time. Obviously, teams are going to worry about Witten the most, which should open things up for Bennett, a former basketball player who has superb athleticism to go along with above-average blocking skills. There's a chance that Bennett's the third-leading receiver on this team.
Garrett could also help himself by striving for more balance in the offense. He has three talented backs, including an all-out burner in Felix Jones. Before he went down with an injury last season against the Cardinals, Jones had displayed his explosiveness. He needs to have at least 12 to 15 touches per game, and it's Garrett's job to make sure that happens. Marion Barber is about five pounds lighter in this camp and he's actually shown some nice acceleration. Tashard Choice has been one of the most impressive players in camp. He slipped into the fourth round of the '08 draft because of his lack of speed. But he ripped off several long plays last season, and he has left defenders in his wake throughout camp.
What happens if the Cowboys have an injury on the offensive line?
The Cowboys may have one of the most overrated offensive lines in the league. They go to a lot of Pro Bowls, but you saw what happened when they had to protect an immobile quarterback such as Brad Johnson. That's when they needed to elevate their games. Romo's ability to keep plays alive helped the line's image for a couple of years. Pro Bowl right guard Leonard Davis weighs less (352 pounds) than at any time in his NFL career. He's moving around better than ever, and I think he'll improve as a run-blocker this season.
But the scary part is the Cowboys' lack of depth along the line. They've done a poor job drafting and developing offensive linemen over the years, which has caused them to sign players such as Marc Colombo, Kyle Kosier and Davis via free agency. I guess Doug Free would have to step in and play left tackle if Flozell Adams were injured, and that's a dicey proposition. Maybe that's why the Cowboys have been giving Davis some reps at left tackle in some drills.
It's not like other teams have great players at backup spots along the offensive line, but the Cowboys appear to be particularly vulnerable. If you see Pat McQuistan or Free on the field for an extended amount of time, it will be a really bad sign.
Can Wade Phillips handle his new role as head coach/defensive coordinator?
I've spent a little time with Phillips during camp and I think he's truly enjoying his new role. He's spending more time in meetings, and several players have bragged about how much all the communication is helping them. Phillips' biggest strength is that he's able to put players in the best positions to have success. This could be the year that Anthony Spencer breaks through with a nine- or 10-sack season. And I think Phillips' familiarity with inside linebacker Keith Brooking from his Atlanta days will pay dividends. Brooking has been a passionate defender of Phillips, and he totally buys into the Phillips 3-4 scheme. You can already tell that Brooking and Bradie James have excellent chemistry as the inside 'backers. Last year, it took Zach Thomas at least five or six games to find a place Brooking has already reached.
Reserve wide receivers Miles Austin and Sam Hurd are having an excellent camp. Austin's a burner who's learning how to be more patient in his routes, according to Phillips. In the past, Austin's simply raced down the field trying to use his elite speed. Now, he's slowing down and finding soft spots in the secondary. He's just a really smooth-looking player right now. Nothing seems rushed. With Hurd and Austin, you have to watch for injuries. They have a tendency to break down, but maybe they can get away from that this season.
Hurd's a San Antonio native who has thrilled the hometown fans with a series of acrobatic catches. He's sort of flying under the radar, but at this rate, he'll be impossible to keep off the field. Patrick Crayton's had a very steady camp. Nothing spectacular, but according to receivers coach Ray Sherman, he's still a starter. We'll see if that stands up when Coach Jones weighs in later in camp.
|James D. Smith/Icon SMI|
|Rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler has looked sharp in camp.|
Newcomer to watch
As I flip through my steno pad, No. 57 keeps appearing. That's the number of rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler out of Oregon State. He's been incredibly active in this camp, and I love the fact that you rarely see any hesitation from him. He and fellow outside linebacker Brandon Williams have had productive camps. Williams, the former Texas Tech Red Raider, is a very instinctive pass-rusher who simply needs to add more bulk to his frame. The team's top overall pick, inside linebacker Jason Williams, is really struggling. He's nowhere close to being able to help this defense right now. Does former first-round pick Bobby Carpenter count as a newcomer? He's actually having a pretty strong camp.
I still think former fifth-round pick Orlando Scandrick is a better player than former first-round pick Mike Jenkins at cornerback -- at this point in their careers. But Scandrick will probably begin the season as the nickel corner. He's a fearless player and the Cowboys need more like that ... Ratliff has dropped down to 296 pounds after playing at 302 last season. But it looks like he's been able to retain his power while becoming even quicker. At this point, Ratliff's hands down the second-best defensive player behind DeMarcus Ware ... Speaking of Ware, he's still waiting on a contract. He told me Thursday that it's not something he's worried about -- and I believe him. I'm thinking somewhere in the $40 million guaranteed range ... There's a free-agent rookie named Kevin Ogletree who might make the team as a fifth receiver. He's made some difficult catches in traffic and has good speed ... For fans of "4th and Long," I regret to tell you that Jesse Holley's not going to make this team. But he could sneak on the practice squad. Good hands, but not enough speed ... Rookie quarterback Stephen McGee's really struggling right now. Maybe he can shine in the preseason, but right now he's thinking way too much. Just release the ball already ... Romo made some nice throws on the move in red zone drills Thursday. And Jon Kitna still has a strong arm. He's been deadly accurate at times ... Reserve guard/center Montrae Holland is always on the ground. Not good. Cory Procter is better as a reserve lineman ... Rookie kicker David Buehler is putting everything in the end zone on kickoffs. He obviously has a monster leg. And the Cowboys are also working him in on kickoff returns and punt coverage ... Rookie safety Michael Hamlin has excellent ball skills. He's a former high school receiver who has worked to improve his hands. I've watched him on low throws and he has the hands of a shortstop. He doesn't lunge at anything. He just scoops up the ball. Of all the rookies, I think he'll be the first to make an impact on defense...On Wednesday and Thursday, the Romo-to-Roy Williams connection finally clicked.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Missed you guys at the United Football League draft party the other night. Things got a little wild in the first round, but for the most part, the Beast UFL Mock Draft held up pretty well. If you don't know how the UFL draft works, we're in the same boat.
From what I understand, the teams drafted players who are no longer on NFL rosters. There were 96 players taken in the draft -- and at least six or seven that will sound vaguely familiar. The draft served as a "showcase" for former Cowboys. Last year's third-string quarterback (until we saw Brad Johnson play), Brooks Bollinger was taken by the Orlando team.
And former sixth-round pick Rob Petitti, who once started 15 games for the Cowboys, also ended up with Orlando -- as did former training camp favorite Ronnie Cruz. Former Cowboys running back Tyson Thompson, one of the greatest high school backs I've ever seen in person, ended up with Las Vegas.
The teams will wait for players to be released during NFL training camps to fill out their rosters. And the six-game schedule will begin this fall. Is it just me or does this seem like a can't-miss project?
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
OK, I've returned from watching an hour of our SportsCenter special NFL schedule show with Trey Wingo at the helm. In checking some of the Web sites dedicated to covering NFL East teams, I came across Todd Archer's game-by-game schedule analysis of the Cowboys.
Here's how I would break it down for the Cowboys:
Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay -- Going up against a brand new coach and a below average starting quarterback. You could do a lot worse in terms of a road game. Just ask the Redskins. I have the Cowboys winning this game.
Sept. 20 New York Giants -- Lots of emotion tied up in the new stadium's first game. Jerry Jones will make sure to provide a nutty atmosphere -- and he won't have to go out of his way. I think the Cowboys take care of business to improve to 2-0.
Sept. 28 Carolina Panthers -- After an emotional win over the Giants, the Cowboys come back to earth with a loss on "Monday Night Football." If you're scoring at home, they're 2-1 now.
Oct. 4 at Denver -- Most of us thought this would be the first road game. It will be another opportunity to play against a first-time head coach. And DeMarcus Ware could feast on Kyle Orton. This could be a huge game for Tony Romo against an overmatched defense. 3-1
Oct. 11 at Kansas City -- Guess what? ANOTHER first-time head coach in Todd Haley, who loves coaching against his old team. This time, though, he doesn't have Larry Fitzgerald. Give me the Cowboys in a close one. 4-1
Oct. 18 BYE -- This is a little earlier than Wade Phillips wanted.
Oct. 25 Atlanta -- Cowboys welcome a playoff team from '08. I think Matt Ryan will face a much different type of pressure this season. Now, he's expected to perform like a stud quarterback. He might take his lumps in this one. Cowboys improve to 5-1.
Nov. 1 Seattle -- The Cowboys love seeing the Seahawks come to town. Matt Hasselbeck should be banged up at this point. Cowboys improve to 6-1. Dallas rejoices.