NFC East: Brian Stewart

Wade Phillips didn't stay down for long

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
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Despite a 5-10 record, the Houston Texans will bring back head coach Gary Kubiak for a sixth season and hire former Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, according to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain.

I can't believe that owner Bob McNair is patient enough to stick with Kubiak after another disappointing season, but apparently he thinks bringing back the son of Bum might finally spark this defense. Phillips has a good track record as a defensive coordinator and his family is beloved in Houston. It actually sounds like a good fit.

McClain also mentions the possibility of Phillips hiring University of Houston defensive coordinator Brian Stewart as his secondary coach. Stewart was Phillips' defensive coordinator with the Cowboys in '07 and '08 before being fired. Stewart coached the Eagles' secondary in '09 before joining Kevin Sumlin's staff at Houston this past season.

If Phillips can do for the Texans what he once did for the San Diego Chargers, there's reason for hope in Houston. But fans should also note that this is the same man who had a group of players in Dallas quit on him this season before finally getting him fired after eight games.

Observation deck: Eagles OTAs

June, 8, 2010
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PHILADELPHIA -- How much can one man overreact to a single OTA session? Well, we're about to find out. I've spent the past several hours observing and talking to Eagles players and administrators. You can read about my conversation with quarterback Kevin Kolb in Thursday's column. I also spent time with first-round pick Brandon Graham and general manager Howie Roseman. Tight end Brent Celek is next on the agenda. Now, here are some quick-hit observations after a day with the Eagles:

  • It doesn't take long to realize which team the Eagles are gunning for in the NFC East. On one wall in his new office, Roseman has the Dallas Cowboys' depth chart posted. (Looks like Doug Free and Alex Barron are co-starters). Roseman says the Eagles aren't obsessing with the Cowboys, but those last two losses aren't far from his mind. For the record, he has the Saints' and Colts' depth charts posted next to the Cowboys'. "That's who we have to go through based on last season," said Roseman.
  • Rookie safety Nate Allen looks a lot bigger than what I imagined. He's listed at 6-1, 210 pounds. And I'm told that he's beefing up as we speak. Roseman and coach Andy Reid love the fact that Allen played quarterback in high school and they believe he has the aptitude to make an immediate impact. Roseman expressed disappointment over Marlin Jackson's season-ending injury, but he added, "We didn't take a guy at No. 37 to be on the sideline. We drafted him there so that he could play immediately." Still, Roseman was watching film of a veteran safety who's currently on the street when I entered his office. The Eagles aren't planning to sign anyone immediately, but they'll be ready if someone else is injured.
  • Former Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram, who is returning from an ACL tear, is an impressive looking player. He's been a little shaky with his hands, but he could be an enormous target for Kevin Kolb. When he opened up on one play down the seam, he appeared to have pretty good speed. I think having a second tight end to go along with the talented Celek would help the Eagles. Right now, the Redskins appear to have the best tandem in the division with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.
  • Former Florida standout Riley Cooper doesn't look like a fifth-round pick. He was plucking throws from Kolb no matter where he put them, and he and Hank Baskett had excellent days. I'm told, though, that Jeremy Maclin put on a show Monday. He's added some muscle to his lanky frame and people within the organization believe he's about to make a similar leap to what DeSean Jackson did in his second season.
  • Roseman headed me off at the pass before I could ask about Jackson's absence. He would only say that Jackson's had an excellent offseason and that this week's workouts were "voluntary." Kevin Kolb was very complimentary of Jackson, but he did note that his absence allowed a couple other receivers to flash this week. I asked Kolb if he knew Jackson was planning to skip this week. He paused and said, "I had an inclination." He added that he was sure Jackson had "a good explanation." ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Jackson's absence wasn't related to concerns about his contract. But we haven't been given any other explanation.
  • I had no clue it was this gorgeous in Philly in early June. If Reid could've guranteed Jackson this 78-degree weather, perhaps he wouldn't have retreated to Southern California, where's he reportedly spending the week.
  • Baskett was the MVP of today's session. He made several tough catches in traffic, including an acrobatic play along the sideline with three defensive backs in the area. Kolb simply threw it up high and Baskett made a play.
  • Speaking of Kolb, he's been remarkably sharp this week. He and Celek are close friends, and they've brought that chemistry to the field. He fired a pass down the middle of the field that Celek collected without ever having to break stride. There are going to be throws that Kolb doesn't make as well as Donovan McNabb, but he's showing excellent touch on passes in the middle of the field. And the fact that he's hitting his targets in stride will give them an opportunity to make plays. Kolb said he's never been a position before in which he had this many reliable targets. By the way, Jason Avant might be one of the most underrated players in the game. He catches everything, and he's capable of making the spectacular play as well.
  • Former LSU running back Charles Scott has good quickness, but he'll have to work on his concentration. On a screen pass, he was looking upfield and dropped the ball.
  • I still have my doubts about Moise Fokou as a starter at linebacker, but he was excellent in coverage Tuesday. He raced down the center of the field and broke up a pass to Celek 25 yards from the line of scrimmage. It was a big-time play and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was the first to rush over and congratulate him. Keep your eye on seventh-round pick Jamar Chaney out of Mississippi State. That's the one guy Roseman kept bringing up. The Eagles couldn't believe they were able to get him at that point in the draft. And so far, he looks like he belongs.
  • The Eagles have made first-round pick Brandon Graham a highlight tape of some of the top defensive ends in the league who share his relatively small frame. He's become a big fan of Denver's Elvis Dumervil and he's trying to take some of his moves to the practice field. Graham already knows how to get leverage, but he's used to offensive tackles taking angles against him. He said it's been adjustment to face tackles who are dropping straight back. It's made it more difficult to turn the corner, so he's trying to refine his inside moves. Graham's calling his new move the "chop, dip and rip."
  • With Asante Samuel absent this week and Ellis Hobbs sitting out team drills because of a neck injury, Dimitri Patterson and Joselio Hanson were the starting cornerbacks. Macho Harris also received plenty of reps at cornerback. And if you're looking for a darkhorse in training camp, check out the redemption of safety Quintin Demps. He was in the dog house with Reid last season, in part, because of his mouth. Now, he's taking a much more mature approach and I think he could earn some playing time. Former secondary coach Brian Stewart told me last season that Demps had immense potential, but he didn't take advantage of his opportunities. At this point, he's saying all the right things. And Roseman and Reid have both taken notice.
  • This is my first time to attend an Eagles practice when Donovan McNabb wasn't present. Very strange to look out there and see Kolb running the show with the first team. But he doesn't seem fazed by all the hoopla surrounding the trade. You can sense how much respect he has from his teammates as he walks around the facility. Some of the rookies actually seem a little nervous around him, which is a bit odd given his lack of experience. But he sort of has a swagger to him that suggests he's ready for this challenge. I'll have a lot more on Kolb in Thursday's column. His college coach, Art Briles, dropped by to see him last week and gave him a few pointers on throwing to his right. Much, much more to come.

Eagles assistant leaving for college

January, 25, 2010
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Former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart spent the '09 season coaching the Eagles' secondary, but he's leaving the club to become defensive coordinator at the University of Houston.

"We thank Brian for the job he did this past year in Philadelphia," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a press release Monday. "He’s a good football coach and he’s well deserving of this new opportunity. He will bring a great deal of coaching experience to the already strong football staff at the University of Houston. We wish Brian and his family all the best."

Stewart did a nice job working with an injury-ravaged secondary this season. But he thinks the defensive coordinator role at Houston could lead a head-coaching opportunity in college.

Eagles-Cowboys: Mosley's Key Matchups

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
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Brent Celek and Jason WittenGetty ImagesTight ends Brent Celek and Jason Witten both figure to be an important part of the game plan for the Eagles and Cowboys.
There have been times that Week 17 hasn't had much to offer in terms of competitive games, but this should be a superb matchup. The Cowboys haven't forgotten about being embarrassed by the Eagles, 44-6, in Week 17 last season. This time around, both teams have already qualified for the playoffs but they are each playing for the right to host at least one playoff game. I've spent hours in the Beast film room this week and I'm prepared to offer five key matchups that will prepare your hearts and minds for Sunday's big game:

Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff vs. Eagles C Nick Cole and RG Max Jean-Gilles: For the Eagles to sustain drives, they'll have to account for Ratliff on almost every snap. He has the rare combination of speed and power that makes it difficult to control him for prolonged periods of time. As you've probably heard by now, Cole's making his first start at center for the Eagles. Of course, he's started at left and right guard this season, but that's different than having to call out assignments to teammates. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Lawton, Okla., native is an intelligent player who does a nice job of adjusting on the fly. As long as Cole and quarterback Donovan McNabb have ironed out their snap-exchange issues from last Sunday, I don't think Cole will be much of a downgrade from Jamaal Jackson. Andy Reid would never say this publicly, but I believe there was a time this past offseason when he thought Cole might challenge Jackson for the starting center job. Now that Jackson's hurt, it seems like everyone in Philly is making him out to be some type of elite offensive lineman. He's certainly been effective and durable, but it's wrong to say he's irreplaceable. My bigger concern would be with Jean-Gilles. He and Cole have to be on the same page at all times. The Cowboys like to run a lot of slants with Ratliff, who's capable of jumping the snap and being in the backfield before a guard can get out of his stance. Jean-Gilles is somewhat of a mauler, but on Sunday he'll need to play under control. Ratliff's a highly intelligent player with a nonstop motor. If the Eagles can somehow neutralize him, they'll have a much better chance of moving the ball.

Cowboys LT Flozell Adams vs. Eagles RDE Trent Cole: These two players have had some pretty good battles over the years. Cole's relentless motor and his ability to get underneath Adams' pads gives him the advantage at this point in their careers. Adams is a false start waiting to happen, but he certainly does a better job at staying focused when the Cowboys are playing at home. When he wants to, Adams can still dominate an opposing player. But from game to game, you never know which player's going to show up. I look for Cole to go right at him with the bull-rush early in Sunday's game in order to set him up for some outside moves. I'm glad to see that players and coaches recognized Cole's ability and put him in the Pro Bowl. It's not like he needs to have two or three sacks to be effective. He simply needs to get as many knockdowns or hurries on quarterback Tony Romo as possible. If Romo starts thinking about the rush too much, the Eagles will have succeeded. I think this will be a matchup that folks are talking about Monday morning.

Tony Romo vs. Sean McDermott's blitz package: Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had no clue how to protect Romo against Jim Johnson's blitzes in last season's 44-6 loss. It was another masterful performance by Johnson and it was a game that haunted Romo throughout the offseason. He and Garrett have done a much better job this season of taking advantage of pressure. In the first matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys, Romo was sacked four times. But he also beat the Eagles on a 49-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin that changed the game. If you don't get to Romo right away, he'll find Austin streaking across the middle. And with the way the Eagles' secondary tackles, that's a dangerous proposition. McDermott loves to line up nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson in the slot and send him on blitzes. He had some success against the 49ers and Broncos with that approach. McDermott doesn't blitz as much as Johnson, but he does seem to choose his spots well. And don't forget that former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is coaching the Eagles' secondary this season. Stewart has a great feel for the Cowboys' offensive personnel, so that could be a factor on Sunday.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Eagles defense: Witten absolutely loves facing the Eagles. For whatever reason, Jim Johnson never really found an answer for the Pro Bowl tight end. He has 70 catches for 835 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games against the Eagles. He's the master at setting up routes and he always did a nice job of exposing middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who now rotates with Akeem Jordan at middle linebacker. The Eagles will try a variety of things against Witten. They may try to figure out how to get Hanson on Witten or they may even chip him with a linebacker before passing him off to safety Quintin Mikell. McDermott has a ton of respect for Witten and that's where a lot of his preparation will be leading up to the game.

Eagles TE Brent Celek vs. Cowboys defense: Celek arrives in Arlington, Texas, with a chip on his shoulder after not making the Pro Bowl team even though he has seven more touchdowns than Witten this season. It's not like he begrudges Witten, though, because he's studied and learned from the Cowboys tight end ever since he entered the league three years ago. Celek is an extremely intelligent and physical player. He caught a touchdown pass against the Cowboys in the last game but he only had three catches for 39 yards. Last week, he had three catches of 30 yards or more and he's averaged 19.1 yards per catch over the past three games. If the Cowboys focus too much on DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Celek will make them pay. And since I brought up Jackson's name, I think the Cowboys will play him straight up and not have Mike Jenkins follow him around the way Champ Bailey did last week. Jackson didn't have a big game against the Cowboys earlier this season, but he's obviously capable of going off at any moment.

Happy New Year! And enjoy the game.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 6, 2009
11/06/09
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

The Cowboys believe they can attack the Eagles' defense in the middle of the field. I just returned from Valley Ranch, where two Cowboys offensive players said they thought the middle of the Eagles' defense would be vulnerable. In particular, the Cowboys believe Eagles safeties Sean Jones and Quintin Mikell could leave some holes in that area of the field. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is very respectful of cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, but he also knows that both players like to gamble at times. The Cowboys hope to use some of that aggressiveness against the Eagles. Players are saying that Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has been a little more aggressive with his defensive backs than his mentor Jim Johnson. The past couple of games, McDermott hasn't had to blitz a lot to generate pressure. I think you'll see a few more blitzes Sunday because the Eagles believe that quarterback Tony Romo doesn't respond as well to contact as some of the other quarterbacks around the league.

 
 AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
 Tom Coughlin is trying to motivate the Giants to a victory over the Chargers.
Tom Coughlin is reaching into his bag of motivational tricks against the Chargers. He's let his team know all week that this game's pretty much a must-win. That's not normally Coughlin's style, but he's not used to being on three-game losing streaks. If the Giants lose, Coughlin's all-or-nothing approach will look pretty lame. But I don't think that will happen. More than ever, Coughlin has talked about getting off to a fast start this week. In recent losses, the Giants' defense has been overwhelmed on opening drives. Quarterback Eli Manning hasn't responded well to the pressure -- and it looks like that injured foot is bothering him. To his credit, he's not using as an excuse. ESPN's Chris Mortensen told me Thursday that he thinks Manning's foot has to be bothering him. Let's see if Manning can respond at home Sunday.

The Redskins will be relieved to return to the field. With the constant drama surrounding owner Dan Snyder and his organization, it has to be somewhat refreshing to actually play a game. Unfortunately, the Redskins will face a Falcons team in desperate need of a win to stay in the playoff hunt. Even though he'll probably be rusty, the Redskins have to find a way to get offensive tackle Levi Jones on the field. He's better than some of the lightweights they've been putting out there. Hopefully Jim Zorn and Sherm Lewis holed up and figured out a way for quarterback Jason Campbell to get the ball away quickly. They need more three- and five-step drops in the game plan. Otherwise, the Falcons will be in Campbell's face the entire game. It's encouraging that second-year tight end Fred Davis is making some progress. I think he'll need to become Campbell's best option until tight end Chris Cooley returns. With this offensive line, you don't have enough time to hit Santana Moss on a post pattern. Perhaps Devin Thomas is ready to take on a larger role, too. This team isn't going to challenge for a playoff spot, but a win over the Falcons would certainly help the atmosphere at Redskins Park.

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips will match wits with his old pal Brian Stewart. When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones vowed to take his organization "to the woodshed" after last season's 44-6 loss to the Eagles, he soon fired his defensive coordinator, Stewart. Phillips and Stewart have been close friends for years, so it's made for an awkward situation. Now Stewart is the secondary coach for the Eagles. And he spent part of the week prepping the Eagles' offensive coaches for the Cowboys' defense. As Bradie James told me yesterday, "Stew knows our entire defense." But Phillips have changed up a couple of things and he thinks the new personnel will help disguise his approach in some ways. It will be interesting to see if Stewart's inside knowledge pays off for the Eagles.

How effective will Brian Westbrook be after missing time with a concussion? Westbrook has admitted to being worried about his long-term health -- and that's understandable. But he can't take that mentality onto the field Sunday. Westbrook isn't having a big season, in part, because of injuries. The honest truth, though, is the Eagles haven't really needed him much this season. Rookie LeSean McCoy's been pretty effective and DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin have all played starring roles at times. The Cowboys will try to defend Celek one-on-one with Gerald Sensabaugh, which could be a mistake. Sensabaugh has done a pretty nice job on tight ends this season, but Celek's having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He's tied with Jason Witten in catches with 37, but he's averaging over 12 yards per catch. Witten is under 10 yards per catch right now and he hasn't been a vital part of the offense since Miles Austin began lighting up the league. Keep your eye on that Sensabaugh vs. Celek matchup. It could be huge.

Cowboys return to scene of the crime

November, 5, 2009
11/05/09
1:45
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 Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRE
 Jason Witten and the Cowboys will return to Lincoln Financial Field for the first since last year's devastating 44-6 loss there on the season's final week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- In a span of about five minutes on Dec. 28, 2008, the Eagles' and Cowboys' seasons took completely different paths. There was a good chance heading into the final game of the regular season that the Eagles would not have anything to play for in terms of making the playoffs.

But shortly before the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff, everyone at the Linc found out that the Oakland Raiders had done the Eagles a remarkable favor with a comeback win over Tampa Bay. Suddenly, the Eagles and Cowboys were in a winner-take-all situation -- and we all know what happened next.

In one of the most regrettable performances in franchise history, the Cowboys suffered an embarrassing 44-6 loss. Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo late in the first half, setting up a Brent Celek touchdown catch that gave the Eagles a 24-3 lead. The rest of the afternoon is still a blur for some Cowboys players and coaches -- and they'd prefer to keep it that way.

In the postgame locker room, Romo delivered his now infamous "life goes on" speech. Romo made some critical remarks about offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but that wasn't the worst part. He tried to offer some perspective at a time when Cowboys fans weren't ready for it by saying that if he never reached the Super Bowl, he'd still end up having a pretty good life.

It's something you might be able to get away with saying a few months later, but it was an awful miscalculation at the time. It fed the perception that other things were more important to Romo than winning football games -- and it's something that will linger until he wins his first playoff game.

Moments after the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones delivered the message of continuity, saying he would stick with head coach Wade Phillips. He also promised that he would take some of his employees "to the woodshed" in an effort to find out what went wrong. Based on their 13-3 '07 season, the '08 Cowboys had been a popular Super Bowl pick. An extremely disappointed and angry Jones set out to change the culture in his locker room, although he never phrased it quite like that.

Jones shut down his reform school that had housed Adam "Pacman" Jones and Tank Johnson. And then he made one of the toughest decisions of his career in releasing Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens. It shouldn't have been a difficult decision after watching T.O. splinter the locker room, but it was because it required Jones to admit that he'd made a mistake in giving Owens a lucrative contract extension.

Jones fired defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and gave that title to Phillips. He also replaced special teams coach Bruce Read with Joe DeCamillis, perhaps one of the most underrated moves of the offseason based on the Cowboys' immediate improvement in that area.

 
 Tim Heitman/US Presswire
 Miles Austin's emergence has been a boon for the Cowboys' receiving corps.
Now seven games into the '09 season, there doesn't seem to be as much sense of entitlement in the Cowboys' locker room. The one minor controversy -- Roy Williams' lack of chemistry with Romo -- doesn't seem to faze the other players. I'm sure it's embarrassing for Jones to see Williams go for about 19 yards per game, but that is offset by the remarkable rise of former undrafted wide receiver Miles Austin.

I almost laughed in Jones' face when he told us at the owners meeting that Austin had the potential to make people forget about T.O. -- but that's exactly what's happened. The only time you hear T.O.'s name in Dallas is when someone's joking about his lack of production in Buffalo.

The Cowboys return to the Linc on Sunday a confident team. They're well aware of their reputation for falling apart in December -- and that's why they need to stack wins in November. It helps that their new emotional leader on defense, inside linebacker Keith Brooking, doesn't give a rip about last season's 44-6 loss. He was a member of a Falcons playoff team at the time, and his refusal to buy into the Cowboys' past has been an important part of the culture change at Valley Ranch. Players such as linebacker Bradie James certainly haven't forgotten how their '08 season ended, but they don't seem obsessed with it.

"We know what happened last year," James told reporters Wednesday. "This is a different team, a different season, but we haven't forgotten. The only way we can right that wrong is to go out there and win, whether it's ugly, sexy, it doesn't really matter. We've got to go out there and find a way to win. We'll definitely know where we are as a team after we play this game."

Williams said Wednesday that Phillips hasn't even brought up the Cowboys' last trip to the Linc. And the receiver said he didn't intend on reliving his two-catch, 4-yard performance in the game.

I think it's a good sign for the Cowboys. This team appears to have a different approach. It should be enough motivation that the winner of this game will be in the driver's seat in the division race. And you know what they say about crippling 44-6 losses.

Life goes on.

Former Cowboys' DC Stewart joins Eagles

June, 1, 2009
6/01/09
1:31
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The Eagles made it official Monday that former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart will be joining the club as a special assistant to the defense. We alerted you to this impending news Saturday, so it shouldn't come as a surprise. 

"Brian Stewart brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our football club," said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. "He especially has a good understanding of the NFC East acquired during his time with the Cowboys. He'll be a nice addition to our coaching staff."

Reid was the offensive line coach at Northern Arizona when Stewart, 44, was playing cornerback there in the mid-80s. Stewart has remained close to Reid and Vikings head coach Brad Childress (the offensive coordinator on that N. Arizona staff) over the years. The Eagles acknowledged in a press release that Stewart would work primarily with the team's secondary. Stewart was the defensive coordinator in Dallas in 2007 and 2008, but he had his play-calling duties stripped midway through the '08 season. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, a longtime mentor and friend of Stewart's, fired him after the season.

Needless to say, Stewart has some extra incentive in at least two games in '09. The Eagles haven't said how long Stewart will be with the club. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has taken a leave of absence as he battles cancer and he's been replaced by secondary coach Sean McDermott on an interim basis. 

Former Cowboys DC Stewart to join Eagles

May, 30, 2009
5/30/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart will soon join the Eagles' coaching staff, according to the sports blog of WFAA-TV in Dallas. Stewart was the defensive coordinator under Wade Phillips when the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007, but he was stripped of his play-calling duties midway through the '08 season. Phillips fired Stewart a few days after the team's humiliating 44-6 loss to the Eagles. 

Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Stewart have remained close since they were at Northern Arizona together in the mid-1980s. Reid coached the offensive line and Stewart played cornerback. Both men grew up in Los Angeles and spent time at junior colleges in the area. 

With defensive coordinator Jim Johnson taking a leave of absence as he receives treatment for cancer, secondary coach Sean McDermott has assumed his duties. Stewart's role hasn't been officially announced, but it's likely he'll coach the secondary. That was his expertise on Marty Schottenheimer's staff in San Diego before he followed Phillips to Dallas in 2007. 

Reid obviously has a huge comfort level with Stewart, but it doesn't hurt that he'll get to pick his brain on the Cowboys' 3-4 defense twice a season. Stewart was set to join former Vikings and Cardinals head coach Dennis Green with the San Francisco representative in the United Football League, but he'll now remain in the NFL. 

Somewhat interesting sidenote: Eagles tight end coach Tom Melvin, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, former offensive coordinator Brad Childress and Reid all spent time on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks' coaching staff. 

Did Jerry Jones hint that T.O.'s returning?

February, 17, 2009
2/17/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones held a news conference Tuesday to announce that country music legend George Strait is headlining the first major event at his new stadium in June. Afterwards, he was asked about the status of wide receiver Terrell Owens.

"You and I both know that the one you're asking about all the time, if I gave you the answer that you want to hear, then you would have already had it," he said. "So the fact you don't have it ought to tell you something."

You know I'm never one to read into things, but that statement certainly makes it seem like T.O. will return. I'm also told that Jones became very testy when he was asked about the Cowboys' locker-room chemistry. He thinks that particular angle is completely overrated and that's why he's doing very little to change the culture at Valley Ranch.

In other news, head coach Wade Phillips officially named himself defensive coordinator. That's right folks. The Cowboys will not fill Brian Stewart's position with another body. To my knowledge, the Cowboys will be the only team in the league with a head coach-defensive coordinator.

Update: Lovie Smith doesn't have a defensive coordinator in Chicago.

Qadry Ismail thinks it is time for the Cowboys and Terrell Owens to part ways.

Another Cowboy rides away

February, 5, 2009
2/05/09
1:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' reputation for being a renegade helped him forge a friendship with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in the early '90s. And based on Jones' recent moves, it's becoming difficult to tell the men apart.

 
  Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
  Jerry Jones was unable to get Dan Reeves to stay with the organization.

Since taking over the Cowboys in 1989, Jones has emulated his GM predecessor, Tex Schramm, when it comes to selling his product. He's one of the most accessible owners in professional sports, in part because he loves the attention. But since the Cowboys' season ended with an embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones has basically gone underground.

Just before disappearing from sight, he made the worst sales pitch of his illustrious career in a call for continuity that centered on head coach Wade Phillips suddenly changing his personality after 30 years of back-slapping. For the first time anyone can remember, Jones informed reporters at the Senior Bowl that several topics were off limits, including anything that seemed remotely pertinent.

Privately, he has conducted a witch hunt to identify the anonymous sources who've had ESPN's Ed Werder on speed dial this season. When I reached a longtime Cowboys employee by phone two weeks ago, he spoke in hushed tones as he explained that an internal e-mail had warned people in the building not to speak to the media unless they have clearance from the club's public relations office. That's in stark contrast to the beginning of the Phillips era, when Valley Ranch basically turned into a public park.

Phillips may have been the first head coach in club history to decline interviews at the Senior Bowl because "[P.R. director] Rich [Dalrymple] told me not to talk."

The latest gaffe involves a beloved member of the Cowboys family, Dan Reeves. At his end-of-the-season news conference, Phillips indicated that he would consult with former associates about how to clean up the mess at Valley Ranch. Reeves played and coached under Tom Landry before head-coaching stops with the Broncos, Giants and Falcons. Phillips had replaced him as head coach in Denver and Atlanta, but the two men had remained friends over the years.

  Cowboys timeline
  NFL.com Video
  Rise and fall of the 2008 Cowboys.

As I understand it, Phillips recommended that Reeves be brought in to serve as a consultant. Jones already had fired Phillips' close friend and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and Phillips thought Reeves' expertise on offense would allow him to devote most of his time to the defense. It seemed like such a good fit that Reeves moved into an office at Valley Ranch on Monday before details of his contract had been finalized.

A local TV station first broke the news of Reeves' presence at Valley Ranch on Tuesday evening. The next morning, Werder reported that Reeves would report directly to Jones. And by late Wednesday afternoon, Reeves was out of a job. (Cue the "Benny Hill" music.)

"I thought the thing was done, and we finally agreed on what the title was going to be," Reeves told ESPN late Wednesday. "I didn't want to have a coaching title and not have authority coaching-wise. I wanted to work with him [Jones] and Wade and help in any way that I possibly could. We finally agreed the coaching thing wouldn't be in there, but then the contract changed and there were some things in there I couldn't see being in there, and they were important to him. He made a lot of concessions, but this was something that was important to him, and I just didn't feel like I could live with it. So it didn't make sense for us to go forward."

(Read full post)

Paging Dan Reeves

February, 4, 2009
2/04/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Reeves

We're still waiting for an official press release from the Dallas Cowboys, but we've confirmed that former NFL head coach Dan Reeves has begun his work as a consultant for the club. The organization has been in lockdown mode for the past three weeks.

According to a source, an internal e-mail was sent out reminding employees that they are not to talk to reporters unless it is cleared through director of public relations Rich Dalrymple. In the past, Cowboys head coaches have visited with the local media during the Senior Bowl, but Wade Phillips told reporters in Mobile that Dalrymple had instructed him not to speak.

Moments ago, I called Reeves' new extension at Valley Ranch. Apparently he's moved into former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's office because that's whose voice I heard on the message. Reeves will report directly to owner Jerry Jones, according to ESPN's Ed Werder.

And for those of you with short memories, Reeves was replaced by Phillips as head coach in both Denver (1992) and Atlanta (2003). Phillips was the interim coach for the Falcons when Reeves asked to be released with a 3-10 record. I'm sure Phillips is thrilled to have a former head coach with a lot more skins on the wall strolling around the complex.

Which team does this organization remind you of right now? Do the Oakland Raiders ring a bell?

A look at the Super Bowl matchup

January, 24, 2009
1/24/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

When the teams from the NFC East sit down to watch the Super Bowl next Sunday (probably not together), they will see some familiar faces. The NFC East split with the Steelers, with the Eagles and Giants grabbing the wins. And the division went 3-1 against the Cardinals in the regular season before the Eagles lost the one that counted most.

We gave the Eagles some grace since that 32-25 loss in Glendale, Ariz., is still pretty fresh. But I tracked down Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray, former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to talk about both teams. All of them picked the Steelers to win, but they reserved the right to change their minds at least twice. You'll read and hear a ton of analysis this week, but hopefully these guys can take you inside the game.

Gray, a former All-American safety at the University of Texas, helped design a game plan that led to a 24-17 Redskins win over the Cardinals early in the season. As you might expect, Larry Fitzgerald is the focal point for any defensive game plan.

"We didn't want to get beat by No. 11," said Gray. "And you can't leave a defensive back alone out there with him. [Quarterback] Kurt Warner's so smart that you can't disguise anything. You have to try and make him hold the ball. If you hit him early, you have a chance."

The Redskins put Shawn Springs in one-on-one coverage with Anquan Boldin. They put cornerback Carlos Rogers on Fitzgerald and then shaded a safety to that side. Washington did a nice job against Fitzgerald for much of the game, but he turned what the Redskins thought was a corner route into a post for a 62-yard touchdown.

Pierce is still shocked that the Eagles gave Fitzgerald a free release at the line of scrimmage last week. The Giants had Aaron Ross jam Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage and a safety play right behind Ross. Fitzgerald can beat a jam, but that split-second he's forced to dance around a defender gives the defensive line more time to get to the quarterback.

Gray said it's difficult to defend the Steelers, in part, because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't appear to have a favorite wide receiver right now. His ability to slide out of the pocket and extend plays makes him dangerous. And Pierce said the Giants missed at least three or four sacks in their win over the Steelers because of Roethlisberger's strength.

"Some quarterbacks will go down if you blown on them," said Pierce. "You actually have to wrap up Big Ben or he'll get away and make a play."

Pierce has a lot of respect for Donovan McNabb, but he said that Roethlisberger is tougher to defend. Interestingly, Pierce was the guy who said after the Giants' 37-29 win over the Cardinals that the two teams would meet again in the NFC Championship Game. Of course, the Giants came up a week short on that bid, but it's pretty impressive if Pierce really saw this coming. The Cardinals fell to 7-5 after that loss, which set up the cross-country trip to Philly, where things didn't go well -- to the tune of a 28-point deficit.

(Read full post)

Big changes in Dallas

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
7:52
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

It's been a wild afternoon in NFL coaching circles, and a lot of it involves the Dallas Cowboys. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett flew to St. Louis on Friday night for a second interview with the Rams. As we reported earlier today, owner Jerry Jones won't go out of his way to retain Garrett this time around. When he was offered the Baltimore head-coaching job last year, Jones responded by making him the highest paid assistant in football.

  Cowboys timeline
  NFL.com Video
  Rise and fall of the 2008 Cowboys.

The Cowboys also fired defensive coordinator Brian Stewart on Friday. The decision was made by Jones, according to club sources. It's further proof that head coach Wade Phillips has very little say at Valley Ranch. Stewart was Phillips' hand-picked defensive coordinator and the two have been close friends since working together in San Diego.

Phillips was ordered by Jones to take over defensive play-calling duties before the Tampa Bay game midway through the 2008 season. Phillips didn't acknowledge that the change had been made until the defense was playing well later in the season.

In his end-of-the-season news conference, Phillips said that Stewart would be back as defensive coordinator. Of course, that's not what happened. Phillips once lost a job in Buffalo because he refused to fire one of his assistants. He wasn't going to let that happen again.

Stewart, who coached with the Texans and Chargers before coming to Dallas in 2007, had the respect of several defensive players, but nose tackle Tank Johnson and outside linebacker Greg Ellis complained about him to Jones.

Now, the Cowboys' owner has some decisions to make. With Garrett and Stewart gone, he could promote from within by choosing receivers coach Ray Sherman and secondary coach Dave Campo to be his new coordinators.

But he could also do something more radical, such as replacing Phillips with Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden, who was fired today in Tampa Bay. The two biggest priorities at Valley Ranch should be addressing the poor chemistry in the locker room and hiring someone who can get through to quarterback Tony Romo.

It's been suggested that Jones needed to choose between T.O. and Garrett. But I think both of those guys will be gone when the Cowboys open their $1.3 billion stadium this fall.

Now I'm anxious to see what you guys think.

Jerry Jones: Nothing to see here, folks

December, 12, 2008
12/12/08
1:17
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ended his self-imposed silence following his infamous Marion Barber comments from last Sunday to shed light on the latest drama at Valley Ranch on Friday. Reports of a growing divide in the Cowboys' locker room continue to unfold, but Jones said it's all part of the club's cutting-edge "continual communication" program in which players are allowed to complain about each other without fear of retribution. Think of it as the Cowboys' whistle-blower rule.

Bill Parcells once benched a quarterback for having the audacity to ask about his role on the team. My how things have changed. Fortunately, Jones cleared the whole thing up on his weekly radio show on 1310 "The Ticket" in Dallas.

"There is no issue between the players. None," said Jones. "I'm underlining none. If you could be out there right this minute, or right out there today, you'll see these players. They're co-captains. You'll see these guys -- Witten, Owens, Bradie James -- you'll see these guys talking it up and getting ready for a ballgame Sunday.

"There's just no issue. And I think if you and I continue to talk about it and speculate and give what-ifs, then you make something that's not an issue an issue. Let's talk about something else that's going on out there. Who's Wade meeting with right now? Do you think he's meeting with Brian [Stewart], or do you think he's meeting with the special teams coach? Let's talk about that."

So you can see Jones' strategy is to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary took place at Valley Ranch this week. And with this team, he may not be far off. If I have this straight, Witten did a radio interview with a New York radio station Thursday that was booked before the latest controversy. He confirmed his close friendship with Romo, but said he and his pal were not secretly drawing up plays in their private time.

Cornerback Terence Newman went on ESPN's "First Take" on Friday and said the team chemistry was "great," but then he insinuated that coaches aren't owning up to their mistakes. But let me once again stress that team chemistry is better than ever.

Terrell Owens responded to the controversy last night in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.

"I'm not jealous of Witten," Owens said. "I'm not jealous of nobody. I can take the approach that I got paid, so screw everything, but that's not me."

The nobility of this man is stunning. He's continuing to play football -- after he's already been paid. T.O. called the meeting with Garrett "productive" and said there was "nothing negative about it."

Jones said he had the opportunity to visit with T.O. for 10 to 15 minutes during Thursday's practice, but said the subject of the meeting with Garrett never came up. And honestly, that points to the larger problem: These players aren't accountable to their teammates and coaches, in part, because they can always run to Jones' office. He is the ultimate enabler, and as long as he's running the team, this type of stuff will go in.

Phillips will go back to the time-honored tradition of blaming this entire episode on the media -- and maybe many of you guys will agree. Certainly, if the Cowboys beat the Giants on Sunday, all will be right with the world. But if they don't, the "secret meeting" will be another chapter in the story of how the 2008 Cowboys missed the playoffs.

Jones called Sunday's game the "most important one we've had in many, many years." And we'll have more on that game -- as well as the other two games involving NFC East teams -- in Audibles later today.

Overreaction Monday

October, 27, 2008
10/27/08
1:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The NFC Beast came roaring back Sunday with big wins over NFC South and AFC North teams. The Redskins' win over the Lions wasn't quite as impressive, but it sure beats the alternative. Now, settle in for another exciting edition of Overreaction Monday:

Cowboys

  • Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram praises the "Stewart 3-4" in his Monday column.

    "Let us celebrate fairness by saluting the Stewart 3-4," writes Galloway. "After a 13-9 sweatfest of a win, it wasn't defensive coordinator Brian Stewart who received the praise, or the game ball, from up high. Jerry Jones was mushy and benevolent in saluting head coach Wade Phillips, who no doubt had a rough week of criticism.

    "Then again, Stewart had to endure the embarrassment of being publicly demoted, at least in theory, from his defensive play-calling duties. An exhaustive search, however, of the postgame locker room failed to uncover even one defensive player who thought anything was different, either in practice or during Sunday's game."

  • Tim MacMahon of DallasNews.com fame has the scoop on punter Sam Palescu's game-changing tackle in the first half.

"But, when pressed on the subject, it's clear that Paulescu does take pride in his tackling ability. After all, the guy was a pretty good safety for itty-bitty Whittier Christian, his private high school in Orange County, Calif."

  • Jean-Jacques Taylor gives most of the credit to Wade Phillips. And it doesn't sound like he had an issue with Phillips' decision to go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

Eagles

Giants

  • Gary Myers talks about how Eli Manning outplayed Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. And you have to appreciate this quote from defensive end Justin Tuck: "Everyone wants to call him dopey when he looks on the football field and he has no expression on his face," Tuck says of Manning. "But he's clutch. He really doesn't get rattled. He's just as calm as the back side of a pillow." Now that's calm!

Redskins

  • Jason Reid talks about the dramatic impact that Santana Moss had in Sunday's 25-17 win over the Lions.
  • Mike Wise says that head coach Jim Zorn continues to fuel the Redskins' surprising 6-2 start. And on Sunday, the Z Man was on fire.
  • David Elfin focuses on the remarkable Jason Campbell, who still hasn't thrown an interception this season. Campbell, by the way, will appear on ESPN2's "First Take" on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET.

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