NFC East: Brandon Marshall

IRVING, Texas -- Jimmy Graham was unable to declare himself a wide receiver in an arbitration case, but the New Orleans Saints tight end did fairly well with his reported four-year, $40 million deal that includes $21 million guaranteed.

As the Dallas Cowboys and Dez Bryant look for ways to come to an agreement on a long-term deal so they can avoid any franchise-tag hassle next offseason, can Graham’s deal be something of a barometer for Bryant?

Graham
Bryant
Bryant
Graham argued he was a receiver because he lined up mostly off the line. It was an argument that was eventually denied by an arbiter, but there is some truth to what he was saying. Graham is not a tight end in the way Jason Witten is a tight end. But that is his position. Bryant will never be asked to put his hand on the ground to block somebody the way Graham is asked to do at least part of the time for the Saints.

But I digress. Let’s just look at the statistical comparisons of Bryant and Graham. Both players were selected in the 2010 draft. Bryant was a first-round pick, so he has an extra year on his rookie deal. Graham was a third-round pick.

In the past three seasons their numbers are fairly similar.

Bryant: 248 catches, 3,543 yards, 34 touchdowns.
Graham: 270 catches, 3,507 yards, 36 touchdowns.

Any discussions between the Cowboys and Bryant’s agent, Eugene Parker, have been kept under wraps for the most part. Most of the figures thrown around have been by the media. There are seven wide receivers with an average annual value of at least $10 million: Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson.

Marshall, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Wallace, Bowe and Jackson have at least $20 million in guaranteed money in their deals, as does Andre Johnson, who is threatening a holdout from the Houston Texans' training camp.

Graham’s contract puts him in line with receivers if not with the top-paid guys like Johnson ($16.2 million), Fitzgerald ($16.1 million). Harvin ($12.9 million) and Wallace ($12 million) who cashed in during free agency. Bowe averages $11.2 million. The Washington Redskins signed DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $24 million deal that included $16 million guaranteed in the offseason.

So where does Bryant fit in? Should he get Graham’s $10 million average or play out the season and possibly get tagged (that was $12.3 million in 2014)?

There is some middle ground in which both sides can compromise, but Graham's deal could help define just where that ground is, even if he is a tight end (wink, wink).

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant is right. He does deserve to be paid by the Dallas Cowboys. He has earned it.

The question is how will he be paid?

He is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He deserves to be in the conversation with the best receivers in the NFL, such as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and whoever else you want to add to the list. That doesn't mean he is at the top of the group just yet, but he deserves to be in the conversation.

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He is only 25. He has had more than 90 catches in each of the past two seasons. He has posted 1,382 and 1,233 yards the past two seasons, and he has caught 25 touchdown passes in that span. Those are elite numbers. And he went to his first Pro Bowl last season.

Bryant has improved each year on and off the field, and the Cowboys deserve praise for how they have helped guide him in certain manners. But Bryant deserves the most credit. He has developed close relationships with Jason Witten and Tony Romo. He has changed how he has operated.

He has become one of Jason Garrett’s guys. This year he will be asked to take more of a leadership role in the wide receivers’ meeting room with Miles Austin gone. He likes the responsibility and is not afraid of being “the guy.”

What will make or break a long-term deal for Bryant will be the structure of the contract. The Cowboys will want some insurance.

Most of the bigger deals for receivers revolve around large signing bonuses and lower base salaries in the first few years to help with the salary cap. But do the Cowboys follow that path? They want to keep Bryant hungry and happy. They have seen their past two big-time contracts for wide receivers (Roy Williams and Miles Austin) go up in smoke.

If something were to go awry with Bryant, the Cowboys don’t want to be in a position where they are hamstrung by the salary cap. With higher base salaries, the thinking is Bryant will have to remain motivated to make sure he cashes in every year. It also gives the team an out without killing them against the cap.

Believe it or not, the Cowboys can look at Terrell Owens’ deal in 2006 as a blueprint.

They structured Owens’ first contract with the Cowboys that way. In 2006, Owens received a $5 million signing bonus and $5 million salary in a three-year, $25 million deal. His base salaries in Years 2 and 3 were $7 million and $8 million. Owens had been upset at the structure of his deal when he signed with Philadelphia, which ultimately led him to the Cowboys after a hellacious year with the Eagles.

The Cowboys would want to avoid something similar with Bryant. His agent, Eugene Parker, has a good working relationship with the team, so there could be some common ground to find where Bryant is happy and the team is happy.

Eagles add WR Joe Anderson

February, 7, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- Those looking for a clue on the Philadelphia Eagles’ plans for Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper can probably disregard Friday’s transaction.

The Eagles signed wide receiver Joe Anderson, who finished the season on injured reserve for the Chicago Bears. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Anderson has played in nine NFL games without catching a pass.

So Anderson was added for his special teams experience first, and his potential to develop into a wide receiver option second. His signing probably will have more impact on Brad Smith and Jeff Maehl than on free agents-to-be Maclin and Cooper.

Anderson, who was undrafted out of Texas Southern in 2012, spent most of that season on the practice squad. He made the Bears' roster in 2013, but was unable to supplant Earl Bennett as Chicago’s No. 3 receiver. With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery having monster seasons, there wasn’t much room for Anderson to make progress in Chicago.

Anderson played in six games in 2013. He was placed on injured reserve with an abdominal/groin injury.
PHILADELPHIA -- If you’re looking for signs the Eagles can handle New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, you won’t find much comfort in Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tight end Jason Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards in a game the Eagles hung on to win, 24-22.
Graham is bigger (6-foot-7), faster and just plain better than Witten at this point in his career. But Witten is probably not the best precedent for gauging the Eagles’ ability to cover Graham. Wide receivers like Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson are.

"I think Witten had a great game the other night on us, but he's a great player," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He's a Pro Bowl player and he's going to make those plays. The first game, he didn't have so much but we kind of shifted where we were helping different places, put a little more help on Dez (Bryant). You move it around and great players play great, especially this time of the year when it's playoff football."

In other words, Davis focused on defending Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. That left Witten more space to operate. The Saints present a number of challenges, but Graham is a lot closer to the top of the list of priorities.

"He's the No. 1 target they have and he's been their most consistent target," Davis said. "He's a big, athletic tight end, catches everything thrown near him. They move him all over the place so it's tough to practice and get a bead on how to help guys on him."

Against those big wide receivers, the Eagles were far from perfect, but they did limit the damage. And that will likely be their approach with Graham. It wouldn’t be surprising if Davis used linebacker Connor Barwin as he did against Fitzgerald and other big wideouts. Barwin would line up at cornerback and jam the receiver, trying to throw him off his route and disrupt his timing. Usually, a defensive back would then pick the receiver up.

Considering how quickly quarterback Drew Brees makes his first read and gets the ball out, that could be enough to get him looking away from Graham at least some of the time.

"It’s a big thing, messing up that timing between he and his receivers," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "With that quick release that he has, it’s going to be huge."

New England used cornerback Aqib Talib to follow Graham all over the field. Davis has not used his corners that way all season. Cary Williams is on the right side and Bradley Fletcher is on the left. It seems unlikely Davis would ask them to change up at this late date.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if Barwin, Kendricks and Trent Cole played Graham physically at the line and then a safety or nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin took over. Boykin can run with anyone, but he gives up nine inches to Graham. That requires a different solution.

"Jump," Kendricks said. "You’re playing ball, man. You’ve just got to go for it. That factor’s not going to change. You’ve got to study him and his routes and attack his hands."
PHILADELPHIA -- Cary Williams realized he had a problem when he began to hear the same thing from the most important people in his life.

The Eagles cornerback heard from his brother and his best friend. His longtime pastor expressed his concern. And finally, when his wife Amanda confronted him about the issue, Williams knew it was time to face the truth.

He was being too darn nice.

"When my wife said it, it really kind of sunk in," Williams said. "I had to listen. She's been following for a long time and watching when I played. She said I just didn't have the same aggressiveness I used to."

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams and the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013 despite allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Williams they knew had a mean streak -- on the football field, that is. Williams is a doting husband and father off the field. On it, he has an edge. Or at least he did when he was playing with the Baltimore Ravens. Since signing with the Eagles as a free agent this year, Williams' inner circle noticed a change in his on-field demeanor.

"I gave a bunch of excuses why," Williams said. "When I looked in the mirror, it is what it is. I am what I put out on the field. I just wanted to come out and play with aggressiveness and a passion for the game. You have to have that type of nastiness to you, to a degree."

If the words of his wife and family and friends didn't do it, then the Eagles' 48-30 loss in Minnesota would have. The secondary, including Williams, was beaten up and down the field by Vikings receiver Greg Jennings and his cohorts.

With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears coming to town, Williams knew it was time.

"I had to get back in character," he said.

And he did. The whole secondary played with an aggressiveness and physicality that was missing from the Minnesota game. Williams broke up two passes intended for Marshall. The second was an especially physical play that had Marshall looking at Williams like he'd gone crazy.

"Our corners challenged them," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our corners stepped up on their own and handled them. I had a lot of things in the plan, but as I watched it unfold and saw how the corners were holding up -- and they really were holding up well -- I left them out there on their own. They did a great job."

Williams and Bradley Fletcher seem better against bigger, more physical receivers. That's not a bad thing with Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys coming up this Sunday. Bryant is a favorite target of Tony Romo, but with Romo reportedly sidelined, he may be even more of a security blanket for backup quarterback Kyle Orton. He's the kind of receiver who can catch balls thrown near him, even if he's covered.

That will require Williams to stay in character.

"People were telling me I'm not the same guy I was in Baltimore, with the ferociousness," Williams said. "When they said that, I had to change the perception. Hopefully, I did."

He did it by being the nasty, aggressive Williams -- the one his wife and pastor want him to be.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Taking a look at several issues arising from the Philadelphia Eagles' 54-11 blowout victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.

McCoy sets the tone. When the Eagles played the Dallas Cowboys in Philadelphia in October, Nick Foles had his worst game of the season, and LeSean McCoy ran for just 55 yards on 18 carries in a 17-3 loss.

“I can't even remember that far back,” McCoy said after rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears. “I did not play well, so I can't even remember how that game went.”

The Eagles and Cowboys meet again Sunday. Winner goes to the playoffs.

“I can tell you that they didn't see the best of the Eagles,” McCoy said. “They didn't see the best of Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy -- they didn't see the best of us, but they will this Sunday, so it will be a different story.”

McCoy retained his lead in the race for the NFL rushing title. That wouldn't have happened if coach Chip Kelly had decided to hold him out or limit his touches in an effort to avoid injury.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesTrent Cole had his first three-sack game in three years against the Bears.
“There are times when you're clinched in and you want to keep your guys healthy,” McCoy said. “I understand that. But for the most part ... this is our job. They pay us to come out here and play ball. The fans pay hard-earned money to watch us.”

Accurate Foles. Nick Foles' 84 percent completion rate (21-for-25) was the highest ever for an Eagles quarterback. But that's not even the full story.

Foles' incompletions all came on balls he threw away deliberately. He didn't miss a single pass he intended for a receiver. One of the dumped passes kept the Eagles in position for Alex Henery's 49-yard field goal.

“I thought he made really good decisions,” Kelly said. “That's one thing that he's been great with is his decision making has been outstanding. He hasn't put the ball in harm's way. He could have taken a sack and gotten us out of field goal range.”

Foles said he has “learned the hard way” how and when to throw the ball away. “I have forced balls before. You watch film and understand the game and the strategy. It is not bad to throw the ball away. It actually is really good.”

Foles has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions this season.

“He was throwing the ball well in that pregame routine that we've been doing every week,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “He was throwing the ball with a lot of zip, and you kind of knew he was going to be on fire from the get-go.”

Cole minding. Outside linebacker Trent Cole's first three-sack game in three years was a testament to the veteran's perseverance in making the transition from defensive end in the Eagles' old 4-3 defense.

“Trent was lights-out tonight,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “That's what Trent is capable of doing -- taking over games, dominating offensive tackles and getting to the quarterback. It's a tough transition when you ask a guy who has been rushing for 10 years to drop back and cover zones. He's an unselfish player.”

Cole, 31, didn't have a single sack through the first half of the season. He has eight in the last seven games.

“Anybody that plays as hard as Trent Cole, you love seeing success,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “That man's never seen a down where he hasn't given everything he's had.”

Wolff nicked. Rookie safety Earl Wolff returned after missing four games with a knee injury. He left the game after one series.

“He did nick the knee,” Davis said.

The plan was for veteran Patrick Chung to start and to ease Wolff back into action after the layoff. Chung played the first two series. Wolff came out for the Bears' third possession.

On the first play of the second quarter, a third-and-2, Jay Cutler threw for Brandon Marshall. Wolff made a nice play, breaking up the pass. But he looked a little shaky going to the sideline and didn't return to the game.

“It's not anything that bad,” Davis said. “I just made the decision, 'Unless, I need you, I'm not going to roll you in because you're still fighting that.'"

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in January. He might have become Philadelphia's head coach Sunday night.

At about 4 p.m. ET, the Dallas Cowboys beat Washington with a late comeback, robbing the Eagles of a chance to clinch the division against the Chicago Bears. By about 9 p.m., the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on their way to a dominating 54-11 victory over a team that had its own division title on the line.

All that speculation about resting starters for the must-win game in Dallas next Sunday? Forget about it.

"Very simply, we're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said. "If there's a game on, we're playing. End of story. And all this stuff about backing in, not worrying, all these other things, I have no idea.

"So many scenarios. What if there's a tie when we go play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week? If we're going to line up and kick off, tell us what time to show up and we'll be there."

If there aren't “We're from Philadelphia and we fight” T-shirts rolling off a silk-screen machine somewhere, someone is missing a golden opportunity.

Kelly's demeanor might have been different if one of his key players had been injured. But that didn't happen. Even better, the players who might have been candidates for the injury-avoidance program were the ones who delivered the biggest momentum-building performances of the game.

LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns to retain his place atop the NFL rushing leaders list and position himself to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for yards in a season next week. McCoy needs just 37 yards to break the mark of 1,512 yards.

Quarterback Nick Foles was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 25 passes (84 percent) for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off an inconsistent performance against the Vikings, Foles now goes to Dallas with a hot hand.

“I'm just excited to play another game,” Foles said. “I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.”

Trent Cole, the oldest player on the Eagles' defense, sacked Jay Cutler on the Bears' third play from scrimmage, setting a tone and forcing the Bears to punt. Cole had three sacks, his most in a game in three years.

“I was very excited for this game,” Cole said. “This is just the start. Coming off a loss like that, it's good for confidence in the team. This does build momentum for us going into Dallas. That's the start of our playoffs right there.”

Kelly convinced his team to treat this as a big game. The way his players responded has to be considered a good sign as they prepare for the franchise's biggest game since a playoff loss to Green Bay here after the 2011 season.

“It's going to be the biggest show on earth,” Cole said. “It's going to be a circus down there, like always.”

“This is what we want,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who sacked Cutler twice and forced a fumble. “We're on the biggest stage. We're in Dallas' stadium, which is a great place to play. We're excited.”

Not only did the Eagles not want to sit this one out, veterans were volunteering for hazardous duty. With key special teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson sidelined by injuries, starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were covering kickoffs -- as if holding receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in check wasn't enough to worry about.

“Whatever it takes, man,” Williams said. “No 'I' in 'team.' Coach needed me to do that, then dang it, I'm going to do it. It didn't matter. It was a great game plan we had in place. There were a lot of DBs out there. It didn't bother us, because the game was so significant. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”

Fletcher forced Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester to fumble in the first quarter. Williams recovered, giving the Eagles the ball at the Chicago 39.

“That's what we do,” nickel corner and special-teams regular Brandon Boykin said. “That's our personality. The starters on kickoffs, that's the want-to, that's the attitude of our team. Get the job done no matter who's out there.”

The Eagles scored on McCoy's 1-yard run five plays later, their second touchdown in 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It was 14-0, and the Eagles were on their way.

It was hard to believe they were the same players who got crushed by the Vikings the week before.

“Redeeming ourselves,” Boykin said. “That was huge, man. It was a great team win. Knowing where we are, knowing our possibilities, we wanted to come out and get our momentum rolling again. Especially at home, Sunday night football. There's nothing better.”

It's also hard to believe this is the same Eagles offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys here in the teams' first meeting this season. That was Oct. 20. The Eagles lost the next week to the Giants, falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season.

They are 6-1 since then, with the only loss that mystifying game in Minnesota.

“We stumbled when we were in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “Minnesota beat us and played better than us that day. But we weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice.”

Now the task is not letting Dallas beat them twice. Win next week, and they earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. For Kelly, it also would mean eliminating the rival Cowboys. There's no better way to win over Eagles fans.

“One down, one to go,” Kelly said.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' injury report contained mixed news for Sunday night's game against the Chicago Bears.

Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) are out. That has more impact on the Eagles' special teams than their defense. Both players are key members of the kicking and return teams.

Wolff
The defense will be helped by the likely return of safety Earl Wolff, who is listed as probable after missing five games with a knee injury. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who was knocked out of last week's game with a concussion, was also listed as probable.

That gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis close to a full complement of defensive backs as he tries to cope with the Bears' array of receiving options. Chicago likes to use wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the slot a fair percentage of the time.

Boykin
"They look for him," Boykin said. "I plan on being matched up with him quite a bit."

Although the Eagles have faced Denver's group, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Boykin said he thought the Bears' Marshall and Alshon Jeffery presented the biggest overall challenge to the secondary.

"You're talking about guys that are 6-3, 6-4 and they're both playing at a very, very high level," Boykin said. "Normally, you might have two big guys, but one of them is better than the other. I don't think that's the case. They can throw to either one of them."

"Whenever the quarterback throws the ball in the air," Wolff said, "they go and get it. Those are the big plays we're going to have to stop. I feel like we're up for the challenge."

Wolff may be eased back into action after missing so much time. Patrick Chung could start and play a fair amount.

"I feel like I came in this week in a groove more than I was last week," Wolff said. "Last week, I was still kind of trying to get back into it. Now I feel like I'm pretty much back to where I was before."

As for special teams, the Eagles are likely to have linebacker Najee Goode back from his hamstring injury. He was also listed as questionable. Keelan Johnson, a safety signed off the practice squad earlier in the week, could also be active and help fill in for Coleman and Anderson.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) and wide receiver/special teamer Brad Smith (hamstring) were also listed as questionable.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' blurry secondary picture is beginning to come into focus.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and was back at practice Thursday afternoon. Boykin was injured while returning a kickoff Sunday in Minnesota.

Rookie safety Earl Wolff said Wednesday his right knee feels the best it has felt since he injured it in Green Bay on Nov. 10. Wolff is almost certain to play, but likely to rotate with veteran Patrick Chung until he’s reacclimated.

Safeties Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) did not practice. There’s a good chance Keelan Johnson, who was signed off the practice squad Tuesday, will be active for Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.

The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Johnson could serve as a backup to Wolff, Chung and Nate Allen. But his main contribution is likely to be on special teams, where Coleman and Anderson are key players.

“I’m actually on a couple of special teams,” Johnson said. “I think that’s where I’m likely to start out at during this game on Sunday and then work my way into the safety rotation. I just have to keep showing coach [Bill] Davis and my position coach I’m on top of the calls, I’m on top of my checks, things like that.”

Johnson was undrafted despite a solid senior season at Arizona State. He signed with the Miami Dolphins and was released at the end of training camp. He has been on the Eagles’ practice squad all season.

“I always felt like I was good enough to play,” Johnson said. “I feel like I could have been a drafted player. I feel like I had a good season and all that stuff. It was just frustrating sitting on the sideline, watching these guys playing the sport I love, and I’m not out there with them.”

Johnson might be forced into action if injuries strike as they did last week. But the return of Boykin and Wolff will help restore some normalcy to a secondary that was badly burned by the Vikings. That is a major development for a team preparing for a Bears offense that features Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

“Don’t sleep on Earl Bennett, either,” Chung said. “He’s really good, too.”

Boykin has done an excellent job playing in the slot, leading the Eagles with four interceptions. Without him, Chung or Roc Carmichael would have to play the slot, which would lead to a domino effect. If Chung were to play the slot, that’s one less safety available to Davis.

The Philadelphia Eagles have found themselves in the middle of the NFC North race as much as the NFC East race over the past month. Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears is their third game in a row against an opponent from the North.

Two weeks ago, the Eagles and Bears helped each other out. Chicago defeated the Dallas Cowboys, pushing the Eagles into first place in the East. The Eagles beat the Detroit Lions, opening the door for the Bears in the North.

They won’t be helping each other this week. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss some of the issues facing both teams.

Sheridan: Like the Eagles, the Bears survived this season when a backup quarterback took over and played unexpectedly well. Unlike the Eagles, who stayed with Nick Foles, Chicago went back to Jay Cutler and sent Josh McCown to the sideline. So, Michael, how is that scenario playing out in the locker room, on the field and among the fans?

Wright: The reaction is quite a bit different between the fans and the players, obviously. In the immediate aftermath of Cutler’s ankle injury on Nov. 10 against Detroit, Bears coach Marc Trestman told the team and the media that Cutler would be the starter again as soon as he was medically cleared to play. The coach never wavered on that declaration, and that was apparent even among the players during McCown’s incredible four-game run. In answering questions about McCown during that stretch, Trestman and the players seemed to temper the compliments regarding the backup, making it a point to state that Cutler was still the starter once he would be able to return to action. So within the locker room, the message was always that Cutler would return, but among the fan base, as McCown flourished, the call to make him the permanent starter grew louder regardless of what Trestman and the players said on the record. Cutler certainly helped himself by bouncing back from a bad start at Cleveland to throw for three touchdowns in a win, but there’s certainly a segment of the Chicago fan base still calling for McCown to be the man under center.

Phil, Chicago’s defense simply can’t stop the run, so LeSean McCoy is poised to have a pretty big game if the Eagles decide to feature him. What was the deal with McCoy running the ball just eight times against the Vikings?

Sheridan: That was one of the head-scratching strategies Chip Kelly deployed Sunday. It was like stepping into a time machine and watching an Andy Reid-coached game. Kelly’s explanation was simple enough: The Vikings were missing four cornerbacks and the Eagles thought they could exploit the inexperienced backups. Then, he said, the Eagles fell behind and had to throw, but McCoy had run for 217 yards the week before, mostly in the second half as the Eagles staged a comeback win. Ultimately, there is no explanation or excuse for eliminating a weapon as dangerous as McCoy from your offense. That’s supposed to be the defense’s job.

The Eagles did a better job against Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in recent weeks than against the Vikings’ deeper, less star-studded receiving corps. How much more dangerous are the Bears now that Alshon Jeffery has emerged alongside Brandon Marshall? Is Jeffery even better at this point?

Wright: In the past, teams focused most of their game plan on shutting down Marshall. That involved double-teams and shading coverage over to his side. Teams are now finding they can’t do that anymore because if you double Marshall, you put Jeffery in one-on-one matchups that he’s going to win the majority of the time. The Bears say teams are now starting to mix it up against those receivers, which makes it important for Cutler to be able to quickly recognize the coverage and distribute the ball accordingly. I wouldn’t say Jeffery is the better receiver overall at this point, but I will say that he tracks the ball in the air better than anybody else on Chicago’s roster, which has allowed him to make some unbelievable grabs in contested situations. I’d say one player to watch is No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett. With all the focus on Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have made it a point in recent weeks to involve Bennett more in the offense. Remember, Bennett played college football with Cutler at Vanderbilt, so there’s chemistry. Bennett has hauled in a touchdown in each of the past two games.

How will Philadelphia’s secondary look on Sunday? I know the Eagles are banged up, causing something of a musical-chairs effect in the secondary. At this point, do you know which guys the Eagles will have available to face Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett?

Sheridan: We don’t know yet, Michael. The larger problem is that, even when everyone is healthy, the Eagles' secondary isn’t equipped to handle a receiving corps as deep and talented as the Bears’ is. The Eagles have the 31st-ranked pass defense for a reason. During their five-game winning streak, they were able to give yards but minimize points allowed by forcing turnovers and playing well in the red zone. That formula fell apart in Minnesota. As for the injuries, the biggest loss would be nickel corner Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions and is a very good cover guy. It looks like rookie safety Earl Wolff will be back after missing four games with a knee injury, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be after missing that much time. If the Bears go three or four wide, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to match up with all those weapons. Their best hope would be to pressure Cutler, but they have struggled against guys who get the ball out as quickly as he does.

There’s a chance linebacker Lance Briggs returns Sunday night. What impact would that have on Chicago’s defense? Can the Bears clamp down on the Eagles or is this thing destined to be a shootout like their win over Dallas two weeks back?

Wright: I see this one being a shootout. I think Briggs will have an impact on the defense in terms of making sure the calls get in quickly and the defense is lined up correctly. Briggs should also be an upgrade over rookie Khaseem Greene, who has filled in on the weak side over the past seven games. But Briggs has been on the shelf for a month and a half, and there’s no way he’s in football shape yet. So you have to wonder how much he will actually be able to contribute from a physical standpoint. If Briggs plays like the Briggs we all know, then Chicago will have a much better shot at controlling Philadelphia’s rushing attack, but I’m not sure he’ll return as that guy. So let’s count on a shootout. The team with the defense that gets that one or two key stops down the stretch will be the team that comes out on top.

Early in the season, Philadelphia’s frenetic pace seemed to be the next new thing, the revolution. Now that the Eagles have basically an entire season under their belts, how have teams adjusted to their pace on offense? Is it still as big an advantage as it seemed to be early in the season?

Sheridan: It has been an effective tactic at times. The up-tempo approach is one of the reasons Foles replaced Michael Vick as the No. 1 quarterback. Vick is obviously a bigger threat in the read-option, but Foles is more comfortable with the pace Kelly likes. Hard to blame Vick, who had a career’s worth of offensive football to unlearn. But the pace can hurt the Eagles, too. When they have a couple of three-and-outs in a row, as they did against the Vikings, their defense is back on the field way too quickly. And when a team moves the ball as well as the Vikings did, the defense wears down. It was useless by the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense has been on the field for more plays than any team in the NFL. That is partly a side effect of Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
1:30
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PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”

Jerry Jones is too fickle

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
3:05
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IRVING, Texas -- It's good that Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones believes in Monte Kiffin.

On his radio show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas Tuesday morning, Jones said, "First of all, he knows what's happening to us better than anyone. And if there are adjustments to be made, he's the right man for the job right now."

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJerry Jones says "there'll be a little different cast of players out there up against Green Bay," after the Cowboys owner and GM witnessed a MNF loss at Chicago.
Yet after the 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," Jones was saying the Cowboys must change what they do defensively.

He saw Josh McCown throw for four touchdowns against Kiffin's defense. He saw Kiffin's defense give up 33 first downs and 490 yards. He saw Kiffin's defense allow the Bears to convert on eight of 11 third-down opportunities. If you're scoring at home, that's the sixth time teams have converted on at least half of their third downs in a game against Kiffin's defense.

Brandon Marshall had 100 receiving yards against Kiffin's defense. Matt Forte had 102 rushing yards against Kiffin's defense.

How does Jones have confidence in what Kiffin is doing?

"Well, I think that you realize you don't have a choice," Jones said immediately after the game. "We can do some things different out there. It's not as safe, but it could be more effective. Maybe get us a turnover when it could have made a difference and change the tide out there. But I'll assure you that we'll be doing some different things up against Green Bay. There'll be a little different cast of players out there up against Green Bay. But they used their assets very effectively, those big receivers, and to the quarterback's credit, he put it on them and we just couldn't defend it."

I'm not a certified decipherer of Jones-ese, but it sounds lile he wants Kiffin to gamble more, to be unsound if necessary. It sounds like he wants Kiffin to be (gulp) more like Rob Ryan. Jones lived in fear of all the exotic packages Ryan rolled out in 2011 and had the coordinator scale it back in 2012. He thought the players had to think too much and thus reacted slowly. Ryan was fired after last season.

Jones is like Goldilocks looking for the defense that's "just right." That's the problem. His convictions change too conveniently. If Ryan is too blitz happy, he wants to change. If Kiffin is too conservative, he wants to change.

The owner and general manager cannot be that fickle.

Kiffin's scheme has never been built on tricking people. It was built on great players making plays. He had great players playing for him in Tampa Bay. There's a chance three more of them could one day join Warren Sapp in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The defense is built on getting pressure with four players. It is built mostly on zone concepts. The Cowboys can't get pressure with four players right now and their corners play best in man-to-man, although Monday it did not matter what coverage they played.

The owner has paid a lot of money for pieces that do not fit or have not performed, and the general manager does not have enough pieces for Kiffin's scheme -- or Ryan's scheme -- to work well enough to just be presentable.

Dallas Cowboys Graphic

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
11:37
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CHICAGO - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.

What it means for the Cowboys: With this embarrassment, the Cowboys now find themselves chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, and they need to win intervening games versus Green Bay and at Washington to make sure the Week 17 meeting at AT&T Stadium is for the NFC East title.

If they can, they will be in their third straight de facto NFC East title game to close the season. If they can't, owner and general manager Jerry Jones will have to reassess his statement that Jason Garrett will be the coach in 2014.

It's December, so the Cowboys struggle because that's what they do. Tony Romo has taken the brunt of the criticism for that record, but Monday's loss falls squarely on the defense. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did whatever they wanted against whomever they wanted. Matt Forte ran for more than 100 yards.

If there was ever a sign that Monte Kiffin should be out as coordinator after this season, it was this game. It's one thing to get lit up by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It's quite another to have it happen against a backup quarterback, even if McCown had been playing well in Jay Cutler's absence.

Stock watch: DeMarcus Ware, falling. Last week, Ware said the strength had finally returned to the quadriceps that kept him out for three games. But he was invisible versus the Bears before he was gifted a sack in the fourth quarter. Ware has two sacks since his return but is likely to see his streak of having at least 10 sacks in a season end at seven.

There's no defense in Dallas: Blame the injuries all you want, but Rob Ryan at least had an injury-riddled defense competitive last year. Kiffin has had to deal with injuries, but he had zero answers for the Bears.

The Cowboys allowed 24 points in Monday's first half. Only New Orleans and Denver had more against the Cowboys in an opening half (28 each). The Cowboys allowed 32 first downs. Only New Orleans (an NFL-record 40) and Denver (34) had more. The Cowboys allowed 498 yards. Only San Diego (506), Denver (517), Detroit (623) and New Orleans (625) had more. It's the fourth time a quarterback has had four touchdown passes against the Cowboys.

In the first half, the Bears had 12 plays of at least 10 yards. They scored quickly (a 37-second drive) and they ate up clock (90 yards, 8:10).

They did whatever they wanted to do.

Hurt again: Sean Lee made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury but he could not finish the game after suffering a neck injury with 12:33 left in the third quarter.

Lee returned briefly for five plays before he went to the locker room for the rest of the game. Lee has yet to play a full season in his career because of injuries. He is the best playmaker on the defense, but even with him the defense has not been close to adequate. Imagine how bad things would be if Lee missed even more playing time?

The Cowboys might be about to find out.

Hey, a running game: Let's get about the only positive the Cowboys had from Monday's game: They ran the ball well. DeMarco Murray ran for 145 yards on 18 carries. He now has 842 on the year and has a shot at reaching 1,000 for the season.

But why be positive on a night like this?

What's next: The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers. The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will make his return from a collarbone injury. If he does, the task is much more difficult. The Cowboys are 5-1 at AT&T Stadium this season, but the Packers have some good memories there as well, having won Super Bowl XLV there.

Big Blue Morning: Passing game woes

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
8:00
AM ET
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants

The news of the day: Tight end Brandon Myers didn't practice Thursday due to a groin injury, but he said it's not a real problem and he expects to practice Friday. The Giants have been using Myers more as a receiver in recent weeks, and he's caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two games. So he'd probably be missed by a passing game that hasn't been able to get going all year in terms of big plays down the field. To me, the biggest reason for that problem is the pass protection, and we've written about that extensively. But rookie right tackle Justin Pugh is one guy on that line who's definitely shown week-to-week improvement and has handled the job well in his first year in the league.

Behind enemy lines: The Giants-Chargers game Sunday may not be a real popular watch in San Diego, where the Chargers are trying hard to avoid a second straight week in which their home game is blacked out in their home market due to insufficient ticket sales.

Around the division: Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says his team will be trying to stop basketball players when it faces off against the Bears and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on Monday Night Football. You may (or may not) remember the game against Chicago as a pretty low point for the Cowboys last season. They will need to win it this time either to assert control of the division or to keep pace with the Eagles, depending on what Philly does Sunday against Detroit.

Around the league: Join me, Chris Mortensen, Jarrett Bell and Suzy Kolber at 3 pm ET today on ESPN for "NFL Insiders," where we'll take a look at this weekend's big games and maybe throw you a Giants note or two if they'll let me. Go ahead and leave work early. Tell your boss I said it was OK.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says his defense will face a couple of basketball players in Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears.

Carr
The Bears' starting receivers are Brandon Marshall, 6-4 and 230 pounds, and Alshon Jeffery, 6-3, 216 pounds. Of course, when you add tight end Martellus Bennett, at 6-6, 265 pounds, you got a couple of power forwards.

"They're something else," Kiffin said. "It's like a NBA team getting off the bus, good gosh, all power forwards. You know they can run and jump, and I'm sure they’ve all played basketball somewhere down the line. They're really good athletes and they really do get it to them, and the quarterbacks do a great job, it doesn’t matter who's in there. They put the ball up without a doubt, a heck of a group of receivers."

Jeffery is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,109), and Marshall is ninth (990). Last week, Jeffery set a franchise single-game record with 245 receiving yards in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The Cowboys' tallest defensive back is safety Barry Church at 6-2. But the starting cornerbacks, Orlando Scandrick (5-10) and Brandon Carr (6-0), could have some problems.

"You just got to play the ball," Scandrick said. "When receivers are tall you can't get caught up playing the man, because most of the time when you're going to try to rip through the ball, he's going to get it at its highest point. Were going to have to stay on top of routes."

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