NFC East: Brandon Banks

Redskins vs. Bills: What to watch

August, 23, 2013
Here's what I'll be watching when the Redskins host the Bills at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday in the third preseason game for both teams:

  1. The pace of Buffalo’s offense. I wrote about this Friday morning, but Buffalo likes to use a fast-paced attack, something the Redskins’ season-opening opponent, Philadelphia, does as well. How will the Redskins handle this? What will the Redskins do if caught in a personnel grouping that isn’t the best for what Buffalo’s offense has on the field? Because the starters will play only 15-20 snaps, it will provide only a small test -- the pace can take its toll over the course of a game -- but it will be a help nonetheless.
  2. Safety Bacarri Rambo’s progression. I’d play him more than the other starters, or at least in the final preseason game, just to give him more chances to tackle in the open field. He clearly needs the work. He might end up starting, but he still has yet to truly win the position. At this point he’s in there by default. He has a lot of skills to offer, but if this area doesn’t improve it’ll cause big problems.
  3. Corner Josh Wilson. He’ll make his preseason debut after sitting out the first two games while his surgically repaired shoulder continued to heal. Wilson remains the starter, ahead of rookie David Amerson. But Wilson is not coming off his best season and was asked to take a pay cut in the offseason -- so it’s not as if he’s firmly entrenched at this position. He’s much more knowledgeable about the defense than Amerson and, with a rookie safety, that matters. The Redskins can’t afford a lot of defensive backs learning on the go, though Amerson has looked good at times. But Wilson still needs to play well.
  4. [+] EnlargeBacarri Rambo
    AP Photo/Wade PayneRookie safety Bacarri Rambo (29) needs more work on his open-field tackling to avoid headaches later.
    Backup running backs. There’s no doubt who the top two players are at this position (Alfred Morris and Roy Helu -- but you really didn't need me to tell you that, did you?). Is Evan Royster in any danger? The problem is, the rookies have yet to show that they deserve a roster spot. Chris Thompson has flash, but he’s barely done anything in practice, let alone a game, in part because of injuries. Coaches are big on players being available; can they rely on Thompson in this area? His speed is intriguing (and speed is why Mike Shanahan, among others, initially fell in love with Brandon Banks in 2010). So it matters. But based on performance Thompson still needs to prove he belongs. I like Jawan Jamison’s running style, but the same applies to him. Royster is an average runner, so he’s no lock. Keiland Williams is a good special-teams player, but not much help from scrimmage.
  5. Veteran backups. Specifically linebacker Nick Barnett and receiver Donte' Stallworth. Barnett, the ex-Bill, isn’t worried about any sort of revenge; rather, he needs to show that he can still play at a certain level. This will be his first chance to do so. The Redskins have a pressing need for inside linebacker depth, and having a former starter who is familiar with this defense would help. As for Stallworth, he’ll make it only if the Redskins keep six wideouts. He’s played special teams sparingly in his career, but will have to show he can help there to stick around. And stay healthy. Lingering injuries never help aging vets.
  6. Right tackle. If Bills defensive end Mario Williams plays -- he went two series in the opener and did not see time last week -- then Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus will have a good game to measure any progress. Polumbus did not have a strong game last week. Nobody else has taken first-team reps at right tackle. But along with watching Polumbus, I want to keep an eye on veteran Tony Pashos. He’s Washington's most aggressive right tackle when it comes to using his hands, but what does he have left? The Redskins likely would need to keep nine linemen for him to make the roster. And Tom Compton is still working on the left side, but he’s coming off a strong game.
  7. Nose tackle Chris Neild. With Barry Cofield sidelined by a fractured bone in his right hand, Neild will get a chance to work against the Bills’ starting line. He’s not in danger of being cut, but this is a good opportunity to face quality blockers.
  8. Rookie tight end Jordan Reed. He struggled as a blocker last week, mostly, it appeared, because of inconsistent technique. He was not overpowered, which is a good sign for him. But he does need to help in this area. Reed also dropped a ball last week; I’d like to see him get a chance to display his athleticism.

Redskins rookie report: Chris Thompson

August, 22, 2013
His game film provided highlights of electric runs and flashy plays. The Redskins want a little more of both in their offense so they selected Florida State running back Chris Thompson in the fifth round. But Thompson can only help if healthy. Can he do so in the NFL?

What he’s learning: How to run at an NFL level as well as how to pass protect. Thompson has the speed; just take a look at his college film. He had mixed reviews against the Steelers, with a good first run and then fumbling on his second. He could have helped himself on the fumble by pressing the hole just a little longer, but because he cut back early the safety was in good position to fill the hole and hit him hard. That can be corrected by staying patient (which running backs coach Bobby Turner preaches; it’s an absolute must in this offense). Like fellow rookie Jawan Jamison, he can duck behind his blockers at times to sort of get lost in the crowd, making it hard for defenders to see -- and use his short stature to his advantage. Thompson said he’s not struggling with the track he must take on runs, something Alfred Morris needed to work on early last year, because it’s similar to what he ran at Florida State. It’s more about the tempo.

“Too fast or the [the hole] is closing up or just missing reads here and there,” Thompson said of what he’s learning. “I go back and look at film and try to correct it every day.”

“He shows signs of what we’re expecting,” Turner said.

Thompson also is learning how to pass protect at an NFL level. Check the next topic for the physical demands of that role, but for now it’s about learning how to read blitzes. In college, Thompson was only responsible for half the field. Here, he’d be responsible for the entire field.

Finally, Thompson has to learn how to be a returner. He said he was going to get a chance to return kickoffs against Pittsburgh, but did not. He did return kicks at Florida State early in his career. He also has been fielding punts in practice, though he never did it in college (except in practice) and, based on how he was catching the ball, has a long ways to go.

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Steve Helber/AP PhotoChris Thompson's big-play ability is something that could help land him a spot on the Redskins' roster.
“The punters, their hang time is ridiculous at this level,” he said. “Kickoffs are a whoooole lot easier.”

What needs to be seen: Durability. Thompson missed much of training camp while recovering from knee surgery last fall. He then hurt his shoulder against Pittsburgh on his second carry. He’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 192 pounds, so his size always will draw concerns. But two years ago he broke his back and last year tore his ACL. Those can be considered freak injuries and not the nagging sort that derail some players. But even Thompson admitted he has to show he won’t be affected by his knee injury. The Redskins just ended a three-year run with pint-sized Brandon Banks, who struggled to maintain his explosiveness because of injury issues. I like Thompson's character a whole lot more, and if the Redskins truly were worried about his size they wouldn't have drafted him. But if you can't stay healthy, that' s an issue. The one benefit for Thompson is that he won’t be an every-down back in Washington; the Redskins need him to be a change-of-pace back. Still, if he plays on third downs he’ll have to prove he can handle blitz pickups. The physics of the job -- small running back meets bigger hard-charging linebacker -- can be difficult. In college, Thompson was not asked to handle much of the protection duties, especially as a senior. He did block a linebacker on one rush, hitting him low.

“I have confidence I can block anybody,” Thompson said. “I can do whatever a coach needs me to do. If he wants me to carry it 20, 30 times I can do it. Size doesn’t mean a thing. DeSean Jackson is like 160 pounds and he’s been doing great. It’s confidence. If you listen so much about people saying you’re too small and you just need to be a third-down back or catching balls out of the backfield, that’s what you’re gonna believe. I don’t believe that. I believe I can do anything.”

What stands out: His speed and quickness. That was true watching his games at Florida State in particular and at times during training camp workouts. The tough part is we only saw it in snippets because he missed all that time and was admittedly not quite yet himself. But that speed is evident, as is his ability to quickly cut. It was shown on his 8-yard run in the fourth quarter versus Pittsburgh. He ran an outside zone and was able to string the outside linebacker wider than desired. The impressive part? Thompson’s cut. He stuck his right foot in the ground and cut upfield. In about three steps Thompson executed his cut and got about 3 or 4 yards upfield. Some backs shuffle a little when they cut; he did not on this play. His size did not hurt him here either because the defense was flowing, no one was in the hole and nobody had a good angle on him so there was no clean shot. Instead, he could burrow into the opening and gain another 5 or 6 yards after contact.

“He has outstanding speed, cutting ability, ability to make the big plays and that’s what we’re looking for, to make the big plays,” Turner said.

Projection: Practice squad, assuming they keep only three running backs and a fullback. Thompson is a tough call because I know the coaches really like what he has to offer. Right now I’d take three other backs -- Morris, Roy Helu, Evan Royster -- ahead of him because I don’t see Thompson helping in any sort of big role at this point and his durability is a major issue. He’d be a Banks-type player if he makes the team, a threat in their triple-option game, etc. But Banks made the roster by making big plays; Thompson needs to do the same. However, if they keep four running backs (plus a fullback) then he has a shot because of his explosiveness. I also think Thompson’s status could change dramatically with one or two runs Saturday. But you can’t fumble after the first time you get popped -- and also hurt your shoulder (though he did return).
Maybe it was out of need; maybe it was about finding a gem. Most likely it was a little of both. Regardless, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has kept an undrafted free agent in two of his first three camps in Washington. It’ll be tougher this year because the Redskins are deeper than they were in 2010 when tight end Logan Paulsen, returner Brandon Banks and running back Keiland Williams all made the cut. A year later tackle Willie Smith made the roster. Paulsen has developed into a solid blocker and Williams, noted for his special teams play, is on the bubble. Banks and Smith are gone.

Last season? Nobody made it -- though if Chase Minnifield had stayed healthy he would have. Then again, if he had been healthy before the draft he'd have been a third-round pick at worst. The Redskins had drafted 21 players in 2011 and ’12 combined, making it tougher for an undrafted free agent to earn a spot. It’ll be more of the same this year, but here’s a breakdown of this year’s group:
  1. Receivers: Skye Dawson (TCU), Nick Williams (Connecticut), Chip Reeves (Troy). Dawson impressed in training camp with his quickness and sharp cuts, leading to success in one-on-one drills vs. cornerbacks (a drill set up for receivers to look good). When they got to 11-on-11 work, Dawson did not show up as much. He’s one of four players who worked at kick returner Tuesday, along with Niles Paul, Evan Royster and Williams. So Dawson and Williams will have a chance to make noise more so than Reeves. Both still have a long way to go.
  2. Linebackers: Will Compton (Nebraska), Melvin Burdette (UAB) and Jeremy Kimbrough (Appalachian State). None of them have flashed in a big way during training camp, though it’s obvious that Kimbrough, arrives with some pop, something the coaches have noticed. He’s listed at 5-foot-11, which might be a little generous. The Redskins need depth inside, but several players are ahead of this group. It’ll be tough for anyone here. But it’s always good to stash a young linebacker or two on practice squad.
  3. Tight ends: Emmanuel Ogbuehi (Georgia State). He will not make the roster simply because the four guys ahead of him will (provided they all stay healthy). And even if one of them gets hurt the Redskins likely would go with three tight ends and keep an extra player elsewhere. Ogbuehi’s hands aren’t the most consistent, but he is athletic – he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and has a 35-inch vertical. He has decent strength. He’s the definition of raw.
  4. Offensive line: tackle Xavier Nixon (Florida), guards Jacolby Ashworth (Houston) and Tevita Stevens (Utah). Nixon has a name because he played at Florida, but he has a long ways to go. He is just not ready to play tackle (he’s worked on the left side) in the NFL and would ideally need at least a year on practice squad (or more). Ashworth and Stevens are behind players the Redskins drafted a year ago (Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis, both of whom still project to backups). All three of these undrafteds are major longshots.
LANDOVER, Md. -- Washington Redskins left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who missed practice all week with an ankle injury, is nonetheless active and expected to start Sunday's playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks here at FedEx Field. This is good news for the Redskins, who likely hope to combat Seattle's defensive speed with the help of cutback runs by running back Alfred Morris. As we discussed in this morning's matchups post, substituting rookie Josh LeRibeus in that spot could have affected the timing of the blocking on the cutbacks and made that more difficult. Of course, if Lichtensteiger is playing with an ankle injury, that could affect things in the run game as well as well as in the pass protection in front of quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Redskins appear satisfied, after watching him work out prior to the game, that he can be effective.

Also active for the game are safety DeJon Gomes, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, and cornerback Cedric Griffin, who missed the final four games of the regular season due to a drug suspension.

Wide receiver/return man Brandon Banks is inactive, as has become custom. The Redskins say Niles Paul will return kickoffs and Richard Crawford will return punts. Also inactive is quarterback Rex Grossman, who was active last week when the Redskins activated three quarterbacks for the first time all season.

I'm here in the press box at FedEx Field, sitting next to the great John Clayton and a few seats over from our fine NFC West blogger, Mike Sando. We'll have plenty for you all day and into the night, and it'd be swell if you could join our Countdown Live chat during the game.

Meantime, the full list of inactives:


Enjoy the game, everyone. Talk to you again real soon.
You knew that Washington Redskins return man Brandon Banks shouldn't have fielded that punt at the goal line in the Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas. And I knew that Washington Redskins return man Brandon Banks shouldn't have fielded that punt at the goal line in the Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas. Banks probably knew it too, if you ask him honestly, but he did it anyway, and it was one of several questionable decisions he made in the game.

Well, Mike Shanahan is planning to stick with Banks in the returner role, though he's interested in evaluating Banks' decision-making and working with him on it. Banks is viewed by the Redskins' coaches as a valuable guy due to his unusual speed, and if anything the Redskins are trying to find more ways to work him into the offense. Per Mike Jones:
"Brandon is a smart guy, and sometimes, smart guys with a lot of ability, they're going to try to make plays," Shanahan said. "There's common sense that prevails and then there's a mindset of, hey, you're going to have to fair catch it or keep it in the end zone. It's tough with a guy who really believes he's going to make plays. We're going to take a hard look at it, make sure he makes the best decisions that are in the best interest of our football team."

The Redskins have used Banks in some option packages, although most of those plays have featured him as a decoy. But Shanahan said because of the speed and versatility the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Banks possesses, coaches still see value in him.

"The reason why we do have [him] in our offense as a receiver and a running back [is] we know the potential that he has to make plays," Shanahan said. "He's made some big plays for us. We're going to give him those options. He's a guy who's got a lot of energy. He can make plays."

What the Redskins have here with Banks is a good old-fashioned conundrum. They have a guy who's really only on the team because he offers the potential for the spectacular, game-breaking play. And in order to avoid disaster in the return game, they find themselves having to coach him not to always try for the spectacular, game-breaking play. There's no doubting Banks' speed or its usefulness, and that speed is the reason he's continued to get second chances in Washington in spite of not yet showing enough consistency. But at some point, if that speed doesn't come with improved reliability, you have to wonder how many more chances it will buy him.

Weekend mailbag: Andre or Ahmad?

November, 10, 2012
Before we get to this week's mailbag, I'd just like to point out that none of the many people who have written in here or Twitter complaining that Brandon Banks (punt returner), Todd Herremans (right tackle) and Josh Wilson (cornerback) made the midseason All-Division team have suggested who should have made it instead. Devin Hester doesn't play in this division, folks. Some of these choices were default ones.

Anyway, mailbag.

David from Irvine, Calif. wonders, "When are the New York Giants going to try and use Andre Brown more?" Like many Giants fans, David is of the belief that Brown appears to be the stronger, quicker and more determined runner than Ahmad Bradshaw at this point, and he'd like to see Bradshaw start ceding more carries to Brown if that is in fact the case.

Dan Graziano: David, I think there's evidence to support your case, but it's not overwhelming. Brown's yards-per-carry average this year is 4.8, Bradshaw's 4.4. Brown looked excellent in that Carolina game early in the season when Bradshaw was hurt, but at the time Carolina was stopping no one on the ground. The argument could be made to give Brown more touches because Bradshaw appears to be injured and hesitant, but the important thing to remember is that the Giants' priority when deciding on a running back isn't necessarily which one runs better. The Giants are a passing offense, with a quarterback in Eli Manning who's their clear most valuable player. Bradshaw is as good a blitz-pickup running back as there is in the NFL. Even if Brown and David Wilson are showing improvement in pass protection, neither brings what Bradshaw brings to it. And as long as Manning is their quarterback and their priority, they're going to put the group on the field they believe is best suited to protect him. Watch Bradshaw throw those crushing blocks in the backfield and you'll see why he's getting so much rope.

Mark from Milwaukee agrees with the prevailing opinion that the Philadelphia Eagles need to change head coaches and move on. His question is whether they should fire Andy Reid midseason or wait until the end of the year.

DG: Mark, there's no chance Jeffrey Lurie fires Reid while the Eagles are still mathematically alive in the playoff race. The only reason you'd do that is if you believed you could replace him with someone who could take this same group and reach the playoffs with it. There's no evidence to support that idea. Even if you believe Reid's a big part of the Eagles' problem this season, you have to admit he's far from their only problem. And even if they do get eliminated in, say, Week 13 or 14, I still think Reid's been there long enough, has earned enough respect and is beloved and respected enough by Lurie that the Eagles' owner would not do him the indignity of firing him before the end of the season. When and if the Eagles fire Reid, it's going to be a very difficult decision for an owner who has loved everything Reid has brought to the table in his 14 years. There will be discussions about whether Reid would be better off moving into a front-office position, and ways to present the decision in such a way as to preserve Reid's dignity. He's done a lot in Philadelphia, and Lurie doesn't want to get rid of him. So even if he decides he has to, I imagine it'll take a while to actually do it.

Chris in Falls Church, Va. asks about Tanard Jackson, who appeared poised to be one of the Washington Redskins' starting safeties this year until his most recent drug suspension hit right before the start of the season. Chris wants to know what the chances are that Jackson can play for the Redskins in 2013.

DG: Jackson's suspension is indefinite, but it's for at least one calendar year and not up for review until Aug. 31, 2013 at the earliest. What that means is that, even if the Redskins do want him back, they'd have to go through their entire offseason and make their plans without knowing for sure whether Jackson's case will even be heard again on the eve of the regular season, let alone be lifted. Basically, they're going to have to operate as though they aren't going to have him on the team, and if he's someone they still want when and if his suspension is lifted, they'd have to count him as a pleasant surprise addition. But the larger issues with Jackson are (a) that the team won't be able to feel it can trust him even if it does welcome him back and (b) that the young man appears to have a serious problem with drugs and needs to get his off-field life in order before he can really even think about a return to the NFL. It's a sad case, really.

Chuck from Wilmington, Del. has some Dallas Cowboys-related All-Division Team questions. Specifically, Chuck wants to know how much consideration Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are getting for the cornerback spots and whether Bruce Carter would be a candidate to claim Sean Lee's inside linebacker spot once Lee has missed enough games to lose it.

DG: I was very close to giving the second cornerback spot to Claiborne instead of Washington's Josh Wilson this week. But while Wilson has been burned on a couple of obviously noteworthy plays this year, I just feel when I watch every game that he's been more consistent with his coverage than the Dallas guys have with theirs. Carr and Claiborne have had games this year in which they were flat-out excellent, and they've have some in which they were nearly invisible. I know the Wilson pick got a lot of criticism and everyone remembers Victor Cruz running by him at the end of the Giants game. And that's the cornerback's fate, as with a baseball relief pitcher, to be remembered for the spectacular failure rather than the mundane repeated successes. Wilson's played better overall if you watch the film of every game. As for inside linebacker, yes, Carter's played great since Lee's injury (and was playing well before it). He'd be a candidate. At this point, if I took Lee off the team, it'd likely be for Washington's Perry Riley, who's having an excellent season. But Carter is not someone I'm ignoring, I promise.

Thanks for the curiosity. Catch you tomorrow from Philly.

All-NFC East Team: Week 8 update

October, 31, 2012
None of the NFC East's quarterbacks played especially well this weekend, so there's no change at the most scrutinized position on our All-Division Team. We did have some changes this week, including an interesting one at outside linebacker and the first in quite a while on the offensive line.

More on all of that later. First, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a rundown of the best individual performances from the past week. That's why Cedric Thornton isn't on it.

Here's this week's update to the team, and my explanations are at the bottom:

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, DeSean Jackson)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Martellus Bennett)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Chester, Redskins (Chris Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Linval Joseph, Giants (Jenkins, Joseph)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles (Lee, Ryans)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie)

Safety: Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Rueben Randle)
  • How good are the Cowboys' linebackers? They occupy three of the four linebacker spots on this week's team, and one of them didn't even play this week and is out for the season with a foot injury. Lee won't be on this list forever, and the guy who's pushing hardest for his spot is Washington's Perry Riley, but his overall body of work this season is still better than that of any inside linebacker in the division but Ryans, so in spite of his injury he keeps the spot.
  • As for outside linebacker, yeah. Kerrigan was one of the best defensive players in the league in September. He was not the same player in October, and Spencer has played at an extremely high level. He still doesn't get as much pressure on the quarterback as you'd like your 3-4 outside linebackers to get, but he's a wonder in the run game. And with Lee out, especially, that's invaluable.
  • Austin has kind of been threatening Jackson's spot at wide receiver for a while now, and with the Eagles' passing game going nowhere Jackson (who's having perhaps his finest season as a receiver) slips behind him. They have an identical number of catches (34), and Austin has 37 more yards and three more touchdowns.
  • Washington's Darrel Young was a fixture at the fullback spot last year and early this year, but what Hynoski is doing as a blocker in New York is on another level. He and Bennett have been huge in the run game, though Witten takes over Bennett's tight end spot this week due to the rapidly increasing gap in their relative productivity as receivers.
  • Been thinking for a while about Chester at right guard, and watching his performance against the Steelers on Sunday finally convinced me to pull the trigger. Almost pulled it at left tackle, too, where the Giants' Will Beatty has been excellent.
  • Josh Wilson got his cornerback spot after Rodgers-Cromartie's lousy game Sunday. Wilson overall has been much better this year than that one play at the end of the Giants' loss showed. He lost his spot last week to Amukamara, and now he's back at the expense of another September star whose October was less inspiring.
  • If I needed a big kick made and I had to pick someone in the division, I'd pick Dallas' Dan Bailey. He's also better than Tynes is on kickoffs. But Tynes has attempted 12 more field goals, made 11 more field goals and kicked 10 more extra points than Bailey has this year. He's almost doubled him in each category. Tynes is having an excellent season, and the sheer volume of opportunity he's received and cashed in puts him well ahead of the rest of the division's kickers.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Breakfast links: Can Cruz cash in?

October, 24, 2012
Welcome to Wednesday. Let's link.

New York Giants

Victor Cruz is at that point at which many young NFL stars so often find themselves. He understands how brief NFL careers are. He's playing his position as well as anyone in the league, possibly better than he ever will again. And so the time to look into that long-term contract is now. So, while on one hand he insists he's focused on football, on the other hand he hopes he can get a new contract worked out during this season. Could the Giants afford to do this? Sure. Will they? Not so sure. They have other issues, including the contract status of fellow wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, to address next offseason. My guess is they let this year play out and decide on this after it's over.

Antrel Rolle admits the Cowboys were the better team Sept. 5 when they beat the Giants at MetLife Stadium. He believes the Giants will prove to be the better team Sunday in Arlington. And there's some stuff in there about whether or not Jerry Jones ever played football, and the upshot is that all these guys go on the radio every Tuesday and it passes for news.

Philadelphia Eagles

Amid all of the talk of bye-week changes, one thing remains the same as it was before the season ever started -- these Eagles will go as far as Michael Vick takes them.

Ray Didinger looks at reasons to doubt that the 6-0 Falcons who come to town to play the Eagles on Monday are not "for real." One of Ray's reasons is that none of the teams the Falcons have beaten so far has a winning record. Of course, it's worth pointing out that neither does the team they're playing Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys

Here's the lowdown on the potential loss of Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee for the remainder of the season, in case you missed it last night. I think it's as brutal a loss as the Cowboys could possibly suffer, and that you can make the strong case that Lee has been Dallas' best player this season.

The Cowboys are going to sign former Packers safety Charlie Peprah, since they're banged-up at that position and, obviously, on defense in general. Can't hurt.

Washington Redskins

Remember when Brandon Banks as the tailback was going to be a difference-making key for the Redskins on those triple-option plays? Well, they didn't use him in that role Sunday. I don't know. I think what it means is that the Redskins' coaches are going to keep changing the offense all the time, from game to game or even quarter to quarter, and that if opposing defenses can't keep up with it then probably neither can we.

Robert Griffin III is extremely conscious of the way people perceive him. And in the case of his teammates, it's very important to him. He explains why and how he's endeavored to present himself as something other than a rookie.
Dallas Cowboys

Mike Jenkins has wisely left his contract and trade-demand gripes behind now that the season has begun. Jenkins has determined that the best way to get the new deal he's looking for in free agency is to play as well as he can in whatever cornerback snaps the Cowboys will give him. And injuries in the secondary may be opening up more opportunity than he anticipated.

The first three games of this season have formed one of the lowest-scoring stretches of Cowboys football in the Tony Romo era. But head coach Jason Garrett, who runs the offense, says he remains confident that things will get turned around.

Philadelphia Eagles

Playing more conservatively on offense and/or calling more run plays. These would be ways to combat a crippling turnover problem. But the Eagles, who have turned the ball over 12 times in their first three games, do not intend to change their ways. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg says they plan to remain aggressive and believe that's the best way to approach things given their personnel. Got to admire his resolve, I guess.

Don't expect to see the Eagles blitz Eli Manning a lot Sunday night. They blitzed just five times last year in their Week 11 victory at MetLife Stadium, and they believe the formula for beating Manning is to generate pressure with the front four (as they did) and drop seven into coverage. The game could turn on the ability of the Giants' offensive line to slow down the Eagles' defensive line.

New York Giants

Being a first-round pick hasn't helped David Wilson get on the field in his rookie season. With the Giants, you have to perform if you want to play. When given his chances this year, Andre Brown has and Wilson has not. So Wilson, for whom the Giants still expect big things, will have to wait for his next opportunity.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara will get his first NFL start Sunday night as the banged-up Giants secondary looks for a jolt. Corey Webster, the other starting corner, is playing with a broken hand. And safety Antrel Rolle may have to miss the game with a knee injury.

Washington Redskins

That triple-option look the Redskins ran Sunday with Brandon Banks as the halfback? Banks thinks they'll be able to have success with it all year, even after teams start seeing it on film. And in theory, he's right. The whole thing works on the premise that, at some point, a defender will have to make a choice between two offensive players. As long as quarterback Robert Griffin III stays patient and makes his decision based on where the defender commits, they should be able to gain positive yards with it. The issue is that it exposes Griffin to too much contact.

On the flip side, the Redskins' defense is giving up a league-worst 8.8 yards per pass attempt, and the secondary is currently the biggest problem the team has. They believe the return of safety Brandon Meriweather from his knee injury would help, but the way they have him play the position won't necessarily address their vulnerability on big plays down the field.
Mike Shanahan Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe 2012 Redskins put up offensive numbers that compared favorably to coach Mike Shanahan's Super Bowl title teams.

If you thought you were excited about Robert Griffin III, you're starting to realize that was nothing compared to the way Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan felt about him. In Griffin, for whom he traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick, Shanahan saw a quarterback who opened up nearly limitless offensive possibilities. And in the first three games of the season, Shanahan has tried quite a number of those possibilities, with great success.

Griffin right now is the 16th-leading rusher in the NFL. His 209 yards on the ground put him ahead of star running backs such as Darren McFadden and Michael Turner, and 128 yards ahead of the next two quarterbacks on the list -- Michael Vick and Cam Newton. Griffin is an excellent runner with speed and vision, and it would be unwise not to take advantage of his talents in this department.

Of course, Griffin is also the No. 6-rated passer in the league with a mark of 103.5 that's higher than those of Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers. He's only 18th in passing yards, in large part due to the absence of injured top wide receiver Pierre Garcon since the first half of the first game of the season, but he's fourth in yards per attempt, so when he does throw it, he's productive.

All of this adds up to the somewhat surprising fact that the Redskins have scored more points (99) through three weeks than any team in the league, and all of that is, yes, very exciting. But it's important for Shanahan not to get carried away with the excitement and expose Griffin to too much unnecessary risk.

As thrilling as it must be to have what he has at quarterback, Shanahan must remember that his team is one that isn't all the way there yet. Deficiencies remain, especially on defense and on the offensive line, and unless the Redskins account for them by resisting the temptation to devise game plans as though anything's possible, Griffin could find himself exposed to enough injury risk to threaten not only his rookie season but his long-term health.

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Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesIf Robert Griffin III continues getting hit at the current pace, he may not make it through the season.
The Washington Times reports that Griffin underwent (and passed) a concussion test at one point during Sunday's game against the Bengals -- a game in which the Times says he was knocked to the ground 28 times. According to Pro Football Focus, Griffin is facing pressure on 37 percent of his dropbacks, which is the ninth-highest figure in the league. But he also has eight more carries than any quarterback in the league and is exposing himself to hits on every one of them.

Shanahan defended the designed runs after Sunday's game, saying Griffin had been hit on just four of 20 carries in the first two weeks.

"Even though it's a designed run, he doesn't always get contacted," Shanahan said. "But it does present a big problem to the defense. Now, if he had those designed runs and he was getting hit quite a bit, obviously you couldn't do that. But I think designed runs really keep a defense off balance."

Of course they do, and that's why it's so tempting to keep using them. Running the triple option with Alfred Morris lined up at fullback and Brandon Banks at halfback is going to keep defenses off balance, too. It's going to confuse the heck out of them. And that's going to result in more yards and more points for the Redskins. Every coach in the NFL loves feeling as though he's outsmarted and outschemed the guy in the headset on the other sideline, and Griffin's ability to understand and operate such a thrilling array of offensive possibilities has to have Shanahan up all night with excitement about what they can accomplish together.

But it's important that Shanahan keep this in perspective. It's important, as he draws up more new, fun ways to use Griffin, that he keep in the back of his mind the fact that he also has a torn-up defense that's going to give up more points most weeks than whatever offense he dreams up is able to score. He has to remember that Griffin is still taking snaps behind an offensive line that isn't all it could be -- that his star left tackle is banged up, and his right tackle is a career backup who's trying very hard but in general isn't going to be able to keep the league's best pass-rushers from getting their shots at the franchise's most important player.

In the end, as he continues to draw up game plans for Griffin and the offense for the rest of the season, Shanahan always must keep in mind Griffin's importance to the future of the Redskins. Griffin doesn't want to be reined in. He wants to stand there after the game and talk about how tough he is and how opposing defenses determined to hit him over and over again aren't going to deter him.

Even that's fun about this guy -- he's got determination and toughness to go along with all of the exciting skills. It would be easy and understandable to get caught up and just run with it, throwing the kitchen sink at him and trying every new offensive wrinkle a coach could fit into 16 games.

But Shanahan's job is to not get caught up. It's to keep the big picture in mind. It's to prioritize Griffin's safety into some of these game plans. In doing so, he may limit what his enthralling young quarterback can accomplish in his first season. But he may also ensure that the young man is still upright and able to accomplish far more in the seasons to come.

All-NFC East Team: Week 1 Update

September, 12, 2012
One of the in-season features I really liked last year was our weekly, running All-Division Team, where we'd pick the best player at each starting position in the division and continue to update it as the weeks went along. Over the course of the year, some things changed from week to week (I could never seem to figure out cornerback, mainly because very few NFC East cornerbacks were having good years) and some players solidified their positions with consistent excellence (LeSean McCoy jumps to mind).

Anyway, it's back. We'll do this every Wednesday. And while it is meant to be an All-Star team based on cumulative season performance to date, each team has so far played only one game. So for this week only, yes, this All-Division Team is based only on the performances of the past week. This week's team includes nine Eagles (they did play very well on defense), seven Redskins, five Cowboys, five Giants, one DeMarco, one DeMarcus, one DeMeco and a Dominique.

I'll give you the team and then offer some comments at the end. Enjoy.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

Wide receiver: Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys; Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles

Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys

Defensive tackle: Rocky Bernard, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles; Josh Wilson, Redskins

Safety: Kurt Coleman, Eagles; Antrel Rolle, Giants

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins

Punter: Chas Henry, Eagles

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins
  • Quarterback was obviously very close between Griffin and the Cowboys' Tony Romo, who both had excellent games in big road victories. Griffin edged out Romo because of his rushing yards and a little bit of added degree of difficulty for the venue in which he won. Both quarterbacks excelled at keeping plays alive and finding success downfield in difficult circumstances. Each handled the rush well. Could have flipped a coin.
  • Maclin was a close call over Washington's Pierre Garcon for that receiver spot, but Maclin played more and caught more passes, so he got the nod.
  • Bennett might or might not continue to catch passes for the Giants, but regardless of whether he does, he's going to merit a look here each week. That guy can seriously block.
  • Williams' and Kelce's were the only performances among the offensive linemen that I thought were particularly strong. The other three offensive linemen were kind of best-of-a-bad-bunch selections on a week in which none of the lines played very well. The Eagles' linemen do stand out at bit when you watch the games back, though. I wonder how much of that is the difference between Howard Mudd's blocking schemes, which require linemen to push upfield and establish new blocking points, and a more standard scheme. Washington's line played okay, and I thought about Will Montgomery at center over Kelce.
  • Defensive end was tricky. Pierre-Paul didn't get a sack, but he was clearly the most disruptive player among the 4-3 ends this week and required an overload of attention from the Cowboys. Hatcher gets the other spot over Jason Babin, which I admit is rare -- a 3-4 end beating out a 4-3 end on a team like this. But that word "disruptive" again is the best to describe Hatcher's night against the Giants.
  • Ditto Kerrigan at outside linebacker. What a game he had.
  • Rolle played the run very well, which is something the Dallas safeties didn't do in the same game. Now, maybe they weren't asked to. I understand that's possible. But Rolle's individual performance deserves the recognition.
  • Fine debut for Cundiff, who showed on kickoffs why they got him. Six of his nine kickoffs were touchbacks.

So that's the first one of these. I welcome your thoughts.

Breakfast links: Happy New Year

September, 5, 2012
The day has arrived. In a little more than 12 hours, the Cowboys and the Giants will play the first game of the 2012 NFL regular season. The Elias Sports Bureau says this will be the first NFL game played on a Wednesday since Sept. 22, 1948, when Tom Fears and the Rams beat the Lions 44-7. I say let's get it on. The offseason is, mercifully, over at long last and starting tonight we get to talk about real football games that count. How's that sound to go with your morning links?

New York Giants

With the Giants attempting to become the ninth team to win back-to-back Super Bowls and the first since the 2003-04 Patriots, took a look at three things to feel confident about and three things they're concerned about. The first three are pretty obvious -- pass rush, quarterback and coach. And the latter three -- offensive line, cornerback and run defense -- are really no surprise if you've been paying attention. The Giants know every team in this salary-cap era has weaknesses, and they believe they've built a team whose strengths can cover for theirs.

John Mara knows his franchise's history, and what disappointments have followed past Super Bowl titles. So while he'd love to buck the trend, he tells Steve Politi, he's not interested in hearing words like "repeat" or "dynasty."

Philadelphia Eagles

David Sims has been an NFL afterthought for a long time. Phil Sheridan wonders if his story is just offbeat enough to make him the surprise answer to the Eagles' long-running problems at safety. Sims was picked up in a depth move Friday night after the 53-man roster was set, but the Eagles are an injury away from promoting someone unlikely to a starting safety spot, and Sims would do well to be ready.

There are a number of rookies that could make an impact for the Eagles in 2012. Of the ones listed here, I'd call Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin the most likely to make an early splash. First-round pick Fletcher Cox is likely to be better later in the year than he is right now, and defensive tackle is a position at which it can take a couple of years to fully develop. They'll have a rotational role for Cox this year, but he might not be their star 2012 rookie.

Dallas Cowboys

We'd hoped to have news on Jason Witten's status Tuesday night, but none came. Witten is officially listed as doubtful for tonight's game with a lacerated spleen, and I have to think it'd be a surprise if he played. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff has already been ruled out, as he has a high ankle sprain. The Cowboys have 11 days between their first game and their second, and they could use it to get some of these key guys healthy again. But if Witten can't play, they're going to have a tough time against the Giants.

Despite some issues with game management last year, the Cowboys remain confident in Jason Garrett as their head coach. There's little doubt Garrett has set the tone for the organization and wields a great deal more power in personnel decisions than have many of the Cowboys' recent coaches. But fans want to see if he's improved his game-day abilities after his first full year on the job.

Washington Redskins

Brandon Banks barely made the Redskins' roster, and you have to think his remarkable speed is the reason the Redskins have kept him around. But he's going to have to start showing something as a wide receiver if he's to have a future in Washington. He believes he's much more capable of showing that something this year than he has been in the past.

Alfred Morris could well be the Redskins' starting running back Sunday in New Orleans. Mike Jones offers a story of Morris and where he came from.
Click here for the complete list of Washington Redskins roster moves.

Most significant move: The release of running back Tim Hightower was obviously a surprise, because he was the starting running back last season and the favorite to be so again if he'd been able to recover from ACL surgery. But he was not able to do so, and so the team made the decision to release him. That leaves Roy Helu, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris as the only running backs (not counting fullback Darrel Young) on the roster. Which one will start Week 1? Your guess is as good as mine. Will each of the three get a turn as the starter at some point this season? Almost certainly. Might the Redskins add another one? Yeah, there was talk early Friday that they were trying to trade wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to the Dolphins for Steve Slaton. Didn't happen, and Armstrong was cut, but it shows they're on the lookout. The Redskins' running back situation remains far from settled, but they do like the three guys they have, as long as Helu and Royster can stay healthy. And I don't think they'd hesitate to start Morris in a game right now.

Onward and upward: Armstrong has some experience and the kind of speed that will make other teams take notice. He was beaten out by Aldrick Robinson and Brandon Banks, and it's not as though the Redskins cut him because they didn't like him. They felt they had too many good options at wide receiver this season. ... Linebacker Bryan Kehl might have impressed some people with his performance in preseason games.

What's next: Well, the Redskins cut all the way to 52 players, which means they have one more spot to fill. Could be they find that veteran running back. Maybe they bring back tight end Chris Cooley at a lower salary if he deosn't find work elsewhere. Maybe they try to find a safety to replace the suspended Tanard Jackson. Not sure what their plan is for that spot, but it shouldn't be long before we find out.

Breakfast links: Busy day under way

August, 31, 2012
Yes, it's roster cut day -- the day on which teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by 9 p.m. ET. It's a day of cuts and trades and lots of activity, and we'll keep you posted on all of it as best we can here on the NFC East blog. Heck, it's already started with a trade in Dallas. See? Links:

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have acquired offensive lineman Ryan Cook from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Cook can play center, which is key. He's played tackle and guard as well (he started at left tackle for the Vikings in 2008), but center is the position at which the Cowboys consider themselves the thinnest. My guess is he's being brought in to be a backup, but you never know. If Bill Callahan saw something he really liked, it's not as though there aren't starting Cowboys linemen who could be replaced if they struggle early. Cook was slated to be a backup in Miami and is scheduled to make $1 million this year, so that's why they traded him.

Fifth-round wide receiver Danny Coale and linebacker Adrian Hamilton were among the Cowboys cuts. When the Cowboys picked Coale, some had hoped he'd work his way into that No. 3 wide receiver mix. But he got hurt, and the other guys played well, and it didn't work out for him.

New York Giants

The Giants think left tackle Will Beatty could be ready to start the season opener Wednesday against the Cowboys. I guess that would be good, but are we sure? Beatty wasn't exactly Jonathan Ogden over there last year to begin with, and he's barely practiced because of a back problem he's had since May. So even if he does play, it's hard to say how good the Giants should feel about his chances to perform the way they need him to and get through the whole game.

The NFL changed its injured reserve rule Thursday, which means teams can now designate one player as a short-term IR guy and bring him back after eight weeks if he's healthy. It seems likely that cornerback Terrell Thomas would be that guy for the Giants as they pare down their roster tonight.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said another 8-8 record would not be good enough for Andy Reid to return as coach in 2013. People are going to hold Lurie to that, though obviously his hope and that of Eagles fans is that they will not have to. Reid has finished better than 8-8 in nine of his 13 seasons as Eagles head coach.

Trent Edwards will learn today whether he's done enough in preseason to beat out Mike Kafka for the lone backup quarterback spot in question. If it's to be based on preseason performance, there's little question he has. But how much of a break do they give Kafka for the injury that kept him from participating in a competition no one even expected to happen?

Washington Redskins

Wide receiver is one of the places at which the Redskins have some tough decisions to make tonight. Guys like Anthony Armstrong, Dezmon Briscoe and Brandon Banks are very much on the bubble.

I do expect the Redskins to keep all four of the running backs who are candidates to start the Sept. 9 season opener in New Orleans because... well, they're all candidates to start the season opener in New Orleans. The Redskins like all four backs, and each comes with question marks, and right now the best plan is to keep all four for depth and see what shakes out.
I'm all out of witty introductions. The preseason games have broken my spirit. We have one more to go and then no more until 2013. And six days from tonight, the Giants and Cowboys will play for real. Six days, people. Six. We're going to make it. I promise. One link at a time. Well, okay, eight links at a time. Anyway, point is, links.

Dallas Cowboys

Doctors continue to monitor the lacerated spleen of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, and while things are looking good, he doesn't appear to be out of the woods just yet. (By the way, Calvin Watkins is calling that thing a "slightly lacerated" spleen in this story. I'm thinking a "slightly" lacerated spleen can only be a spleen that isn't yours.) Anyway, no decision yet on Witten for Wednesday's regular-season opener. I can't imagine he plays, right? It's a spleen, not a hamstring. And they have 11 days between Games 1 and 2. I'd have to say sit out. But again, not my spleen, so we'll see.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins has been cleared to practice. Per league rules, he can't do so until Saturday. This news broke late Wednesday night and people were asking if I thought Jenkins could play in Wednesday's opener. How is that even a consideration? If he practices Saturday, Sunday and Monday and the team flies to New Jersey on Tuesday, that would give him a grand total of three practices. Since December. I'd be happy with Week 2 if I were you guys. Plus, setbacks and all.

New York Giants

Hakeem Nicks came out of Wednesday night's preseason finale feeling fine and 100 percent ready to go for next Wednesday. Which is all the Giants wanted to have happen with Nicks this week. It was his first game action since he broke his foot in the spring, and he seemed fine.

The way a couple of their back-of-the-roster guys have played in the preseason, the Giants are facing tougher decisions than they expected to face at defensive end, Mike Garafolo writes. Those final roster cuts are due by 9 pm ET on Friday, so the decisions will be made today or tomorrow, no matter how tough they may be.

Philadelphia Eagles

That backup quarterbacks Nick Foles and Trent Edwards have both been ascendant this preseason is no coincidence, given their relationship. Tim McManus has an interesting story about the way in which Foles and Edwards have helped each other this preseason. They could both make the team over Mike Kafka, who entered the preseason as Michael Vick's backup but has been out with a broken hand.

And it appears second-year man Chas Henry has won the punter competition in Philadelphia over former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar. This comes as a surprise and makes me think McBriar isn't fully healthy. Les Bowen thinks it might be because he isn't a great holder on field goals. I'd probably go with Les on this one, but let's see if McBriar gets a look somewhere else. If not, don't rule out that health thing.

Washington Redskins

When I want instant Redskins analysis -- and lots of it -- I click on John Keim. John's intrigued by Dezmon Briscoe, unconvinced on Brandon Banks and was really, really impressed with the technique Richard Crawford showed on his interception. And much, much more.

If you went to Wednesday's game, you didn't get to see Robert Griffin III play quarterback. But if you got there early enough, you got to see him kick some field goals in pregame warmups. I mean, it's not leaping tall buildings in a single bound. More like Roy Hobbs showing off his pitching arm that one time as he was running in from the outfield after New York Knights batting practice, but not exactly. Still, kind of a cool little thing.