NFC East: Chad Johnson
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' season-opening 24-17 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.
What it means: That the Cowboys intend to be a factor in the NFC East race this year. They needed this game much more than the Giants did, if for no other reason than to let the Giants and the rest of the world know they don't plan to be the same kind of big-game pushover they were last year. Given their history, it's safe to assume the Giants will recover fine from this, address their issues and remain in the race all year long. But of the three teams expected to compete for the NFC East title this year, the Cowboys are the one that came into the season with the most questions. They get 11 days off now before their next game to feel very good about their initial answer to those questions.
He's No. 3: I don't expect to get quite as many panicked questions from Cowboys fans this week about whether their team will or should sign a veteran wide receiver such as Plaxico Burress or Chad Johnson. The Cowboys believed they had enough depth at receiver, and Kevin Ogletree followed up a strong preseason with the game of his life. Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yarder on which he got behind the Giants' best cornerback, Corey Webster, and burned him for the score. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seemed to seek out Ogletree pretty consistently on third down, and Ogletree responded by showing an ability to get open, catch the ball and move the chains. His biggest catch may have been a third-and-12 that converted a first down just before the two-minute warning and prevented the Giants from getting the ball back with time to tie the game. Remember, as you ponder whether or not to add Ogletree in your fantasy league this morning, that the guy who played that position last year put up some pretty big numbers.
Secondary issues: With Terrell Thomas out for the year with a knee injury and Prince Amukamara out for the game with a sprained ankle, the Giants were forced to start Michael Coe at cornerback opposite Webster and put rookie Jayron Hosley on the slot receiver. Webster played Dez Bryant most of the night (I still don't know why he was on Ogletree on the one play), and Coe played Ogletree or Miles Austin, whichever lined up outside. Coe played pretty well, but he hurt his hamstring in the third quarter, and the Giants were forced to go to fourth option Justin Tryon, who got beaten badly by Austin on the fourth-quarter touchdown catch that sealed Dallas' victory. By contrast, the Cowboys' revamped secondary with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne at corner and Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh at safety, covered very well all night. They were even able to get a handful of sacks when they blitzed, which was something they couldn't do against Eli Manning and the Giants last year because they couldn't trust their coverage to stay sound long enough to get to the quarterback. Claiborne looks like he needs work, as you'd expect, especially in run support. But for this night at least, the Cowboys' plan to fix their defense from the back end forward appeared to succeed.
Wobbly champs: Part of the issue Manning and the Giants had on offense was the inability of their receivers to get separation. That speaks to the Cowboys' coverage, of course, but also to a relative lack of options in the passing game. Manning did find Domenik Hixon in coverage for a long gain one time, but it took a spectacular grab by Hixon (and a whiff in coverage by Carr) to complete that one. And none of the Giants' third wide receiver options looked anywhere near as reliable as Ogletree looked for Dallas. Manning targeted Victor Cruz the most by far, and Hakeem Nicks the second-most, and he looked the way of Hixon and tight end Martellus Bennett a fair bit, and Bennett made a nice catch for a late touchdown. But Manning was just a bit off with some of his throws, and overall the Giants' passing game appeared rusty. One has to believe that will turn out to be the least of their problems.
Leaky lines: Both offensive lines looked awful. The Cowboys' guards couldn't hold off the interior pass rush of the Giants, and the tackles couldn't stop committing false starts. Tyron Smith had an especially tough first game at left tackle. The Giants, who ranked last in the league in rush yards last year, couldn't open holes for running back Ahmad Bradshaw (or David Wilson, who got some early carries before fumbling and getting benched) and were unable to sustain drives as a result. The offensive lines still figure to be the biggest areas of concern for both of these teams going forward (assuming the Giants can get their secondary healthy), and it's doubtful either offense will be able to function at its best from week to week if they can't get some of the issues fixed.
Individual stars: DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray and of course Romo all had standout performances for the Cowboys (though I have no idea why Murray turned inside on his long sideline run when it appeared he'd have a touchdown if he kept running straight). Austin and Bryant each made important catches at big times. For the Giants, defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard each had a sack, and Jason Pierre-Paul was nearly impossible to stop all night. Keith Rivers also was a factor early at linebacker before an injury forced him from the game. Both punters were excellent, and you know how much we love punters on the NFC East blog.
What's next: Dallas will play the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday, Sept. 16, and they'll hope that this long break between games will be enough to get nose tackle Jay Ratliff and cornerback Mike Jenkins healthy and get their offensive lineman to stop false-starting on every other play. The Giants will be back home that same day to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They'll hope that Amukamara and/or Coe can get healthy by then and they'll have more in the secondary than they did Wednesday night.
Every time a player of whom anyone has ever heard of gets cut, fans want to know if their team will go and sign him. So I guess it's no real shock that Dallas Cowboys fans, unnecessarily panicked about the No. 3 wide receiver situation, would ask whether the team would be interested in former Dolphins receiver Chad Johnson. The Dolphins, who need receivers about 500 times worse than the Cowboys do, just released Johnson after he was arrested last weekend on domestic violence charges. And while he would make no sense whatsoever for the Cowboys to even consider, somehow Jason Garrett found himself answering a question about his team's interest in Wednesday's news conference. Per Tim MacMahon:
"We haven't had any discussions about Chad Johnson," Garrett said.
Rough translation: There is a zero percent chance of Ochocinco joining the Cowboys.
Seriously, folks. Enough. Nothing's changed since the last time Johnson was on the market except his last name and his police record. Only one of those changed for the better, and it wasn't the right one. There's no chance whatsoever that the Cowboys, who already have Dez Bryant, would want to have to stand there and explain why they seem to be collecting receivers who've been arrested on domestic violence charges in the past couple of months.
Johnson also has not become any younger since the last time he was available, nor has he been a good NFL player since 2009. There's nothing whatsoever to suggest that he's a better option than Kevin Ogletree or Andre Holmes or Cole Beasley or any of the other guys currently competing for the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver spot. He's not good, he's a huge potential headache, and there would be no reason for the Cowboys to even consider it. I doubt they did, and I have no problem believing Garrett spoke for the entire organization when he shot it down without hesitation.
No word on whether he was also asked if they had any interest in Isaac Bruce or Rod Smith.
Here's some actual, real, relevant news about the Cowboys' receiving corps.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The last time we heard from ESPN's Michael Smith, he was reporting the infamous meeting between Donovan McNabb and Eagles management. Now Smith's hearing rumblings that the Eagles could be kicking the tires on Bengals wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco.
"I am hearing there is interest in Chad Johnson," Smith said Wednesday on "NFL Live." "Now there's been some back-and-forth as to whether or not he is officially on the market. I think everybody in Cincinnati has signed off on moving Chad Johnson, except for owner Mike Brown. The Eagles could be in the picture. They have two first-round picks. They need a receiver."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I was doing some research for an upcoming Plaxico Burress column when I ran across this story from the Star-Ledger's Mike Garafolo. According to Garafolo, the Giants were upset about a leaguewide memo from agent Drew Rosenhaus in which he identified three of his clients as tradeable.
Those clients were Anquan Boldin, Chad Johnson and Plaxico Burress. Giants assistant general manager Kevin Abrams notified the other 31 teams that the club hadn't authorized Rosenhaus to pursue trade scenarios, according to the report. This caused Rosenhaus to clarify his remarks Wednesday, saying he did not have permission to pursue a trade for the aforementioned players.
If the Giants decide to go after another receiver, Boldin would be a likely target. That's why it seems like a bad time for Rosenhaus to be angering the club. We'll keep our eye on this one for you as things continue to unfold.
John Clayton on Rosenhaus shopping Burress to other teams.
We read all the NFC East stories to save you time while you're blowing off work. Also remember to check back at 4 p.m. ET for our award-winning Audibles. The name certainly doesn't make any sense, but we think you'll appreciate the information:
- Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News reports on the latest Pacman Jones news. Jones met with reporters after hosting sponsors at a practice-field luncheon. That's right, there was a carving station, a chef and two waiters standing next to the Cowboys' practice field.
- As Mac Engel reports in the Star-Telegram, Wade Phillips is pleased with the Cowboys' pass rush. But John Madden has other thoughts.
- Dallas Morning News NBA guru is covering the Redskins this week. He has a story on how Santana Moss has tortured the Cowboys over the years.
- Randy Galloway of ESPN 103.3 FM and the Star-Telegram says the Cowboys only hope is Tony Romo.
- Archer says it's time for the Romo-to-Williams Show to debut.
- Donovan McNabb spent part of his offseason counseling the receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson.
- The Inquirer columnists get together to compile an Eagles "disaster" list.
- Is Donovan McNabb really a clutch quarterback?
- Well, at least the Eagles have some good stats.
- Some solid commentary from Les Bowen earlier in the week.
- Kristie Ackert says the Giants have a lot of respect for Ravens rookie Joe Flacco.
- Mike Garafolo says it will be important to put pressure on the rookie.
- Vic Ziegel says the Giants come up big every week.
- Even though he calls me "Mark" every time we cross paths, Tom Rock does a really nice job covering the Giants. Here's a good one on linebacker Chase Blackburn.
- Giants linebacker Danny Clark tries his hand at blogging.
- Mike Puma says Plaxico Burress is looking forward to a breakout performance.
- I'm sure DeAngelo Hall is enjoying his work as the "jammer" on the punt unit.
- Jason Reid says Jason Campbell can make himself some money this season.
- David Elfin gives the interior of the Redskins' offensive line some credit.
- Will we see Malcolm Kelly on the field soon?
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
On the same afternoon that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell trumped Jerry Jones' speedy internal investigation of last week's Pacman Jones incident with an indefinite suspension, the Cowboys' owner engineered a dramatic trade for Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams. ESPN's Ed Werder first reported that the deal was close to being consummated, and the Cowboys have now confirmed it.
It sounds as if Jones fought hard to keep his first-round pick, but in a rare "victory" for Lions management, they finally talked him out of it. The Cowboys gave up a first-round draft choice, a third and a sixth in exchange for Williams and the Lions' seventh-round pick in 2009.
At a time when the Cowboys appeared to be imploding with the loss of starting quarterback Tony Romo for three games and the suspension of Pacman, the trade for Williams might provide the spark they need to regroup as a team.
Jerry Jones spent the entire offseason coveting veteran wide receivers such as Chad Johnson, Anquan Boldin and Williams. But two weeks ago, he denied that he was in the market for a wide receiver. Would this deal have been done if Romo and rookie running back Felix Jones hadn't been hurt against the Cardinals? I think it would have, because Jones was sick of watching T.O. get dominated by no-name cornerbacks.
Jones hated to give up the first-rounder because he remembers how the trade for Joey Galloway blew up in his face in 2000. But that was a move made in a desperate attempt to win one more Super Bowl with Troy Aikman. Williams will now have a chance to grow old (as a football player) with Romo, Jason Witten, Marion Barber and Felix Jones.
Of course, the trade begs the obvious question, "How will T.O. react?" I'm sure he'll say all the right things Wednesday, but we'll see what he thinks when Williams has seven or eight catches and he has three.
The Cowboys have tried to cover up T.O.'s ineptitude the past three weeks by talking about how teams have double- and triple-teamed him. But the truth of the matter is that T.O. can't get off the line of scrimmage against cornerbacking greats such as "Neon" Leon Hall and Rod Hood.
T.O. could definitely benefit from Williams' presence, but there's a chance he will feel threatened by his arrival. Williams is the big, fast receiver that Jones has coveted. Like the player the Cowboys just faced, Larry Fitzgerald, Williams is capable of making huge plays downfield. T.O. does a superb job of running after the catch, but he has never been great at competing for balls in tight spaces. And if that sounds wrong to you, just ask any NFC scout for his opinion.
Williams is the happiest man in Michigan right now. He grew up in West Texas (he played at Odessa Permian High, the inspiration for "Friday Night Lights"), and he has been open about his desire to play for the Cowboys. He had 82 catches for 1,310 yards in 2006 and made his first Pro Bowl appearance, but his career has been in a steady decline since then.
In 2007, he averaged 5.3 receptions per game and 69.8 yards. This season, he has averaged 3.4 receptions and 46.4 yards per game. He'll immediately replace Patrick Crayton as the team's second receiver.
Who's the happiest man at Valley Ranch today? That would be Tony Romo. Adding another star receiver may have a healing effect on his broken pinkie finger.
By the way, Brad Johnson also has to be excited. He doesn't have much of an arm left, but he can still launch it high enough to let Williams make a play on the ball. It wouldn't surprise me if the Cowboys activated Williams for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.
This entire trade is a classic Jerry Jones misdirection play. The news cycle for Wednesday would've been all about Pacman, but now Jerry Jones has caused a diversion. Werder called a few minutes ago to remind me about a story from the early '90s. Former Cowboys wide receiver Jimmy Smith had just won a grievance against the club, and Jerry Jones had been very smug about how he never "lost in court."
On the day before the embarrassing story was set to run in the Dallas Morning News, Jones decided to announce a monster extension for Aikman. Do you think that was a coincidence? Yeah, me neither.
I'm not saying the Cowboys are headed to a Super Bowl, but they have a much better chance this afternoon than they did this morning. T.O.'s recent decline only reinforced Jones' desire to bring in another quality wide receiver. He has learned the hard way that you have to wait two or three years for a young receiver to develop. On Tuesday, he took a shortcut.
He should send flowers to the Ford family for finally firing Lions general manager Matt Millen. Or given the state of the economy, maybe purchasing some stock would be the most appropriate display of gratitude.
And if you're wondering why your team isn't receiving more coverage today, tell your owner to have a player suspended and then trade for a Pro Bowl wide receiver on the same afternoon. We go wherever the news is. And today, it's all coming out of Valley Ranch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I'm told the Bengals receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson came out smokin' today in a news conference with the Dallas media. I'll try to track down the entire transcript a little later, but here's the headliner, courtesy of the Dallas Morning News:
Chad Ocho Cinco: "I've got so much respect for y'all, if I score Sunday, I've love Dallas so much, I'm going to take my helmet off, get a fine and kiss the star."
Q: The one at midfield?
CO: Midfield? That's a long [expletive] jog.
Q: What do you mean 'if?'
CO: OK, when I score, I'm going to take my helmet off and kiss the star. Can I do that?
Q: Why not?
CO: That's not a sign of disrespect. That's a good thing isn't it?
And here's more fantastic stuff from Ocho Cinco:
"Get up, get your pen, get your records, get everything you need to get, because I'm letting it rip. I'm not holding nothin' back. We 0-4. We pissed off. I'm pissed off. The players over here are pissed off. Somebody's got to pay.
"I want you to tell [defensive coordinator] Brian Stewart that I love him to death, but somebody's got to get it."
"Man, we are going to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, out there in Dallas. I'm bringing the cold tub, the hot tub, I'm bringing the training room. What else can we do?"
That certainly seems like a lot of equipment for one man to transport to Dallas. OK, I'm headed out to Valley Ranch to listen to T.O. And don't worry. The entire afternoon will be devoted to the Eagles, Giants and Redskins. I have a phone interview set up with Redskins safety Chris Horton a little later. Talk soon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I just received a transcript from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis' conference call with Giants reporters this morning. In attempting to praise wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco for his new approach, Lewis ended up taking another swipe at him. Asked to comment on the controversial receiver's recent name change, Lewis responded:
"He is still Chad to me and it doesn't matter to me what name is on the back of his jersey, he is still Chad. That is what he is and it is good to have him back and not to worry about the other guy that was around here for the last two years. He has his spirit back and he feels good about things and that is good. He has kind of put some of the issues he was dealing with in his past behind him and that has been a good, refreshing experience in this season thus far compared to where we were the last two seasons."
How's that for a back-handed compliment? What's interesting is that coaches are often more candid when talking with reporters who cover other teams. It's like they let down their guard a little bit because of the different audience.
That said, Lewis hasn't shied away from being critical of Ocho Cinco (isn't this fun?). It's just a little curious that he would use a conference call with New York reporters to take another swipe.
And what does it mean to say a player has his "spirit" back? I think Ocho Cinco has looked like a clown at times, but it's probably unfair for Lewis to cryptically refer to his "issues."
All that does is make us want to know more about the player's state of mind.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
- The highest-paid offensive coordinator in football talks about his fondness for wide receiver Patrick Crayton. By the way, Jerry Jones said on his TV show Saturday that the Cowboys are still in the market for a wide receiver. He thinks he has a surplus at a couple of places (linebacker, defensive line) and wants to find a team willing to part with a receiver. He hasn't hidden his desire to land a player such as Chad Johnson, Roy Williams or Anquan Boldin, but that's not going to happen.
- The Cowboys have a Choice to make at running back. I think Tashard Choice will be the third back, but the team really likes Alonzo Coleman as a change-of-pace type guy.
- Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has five things to watch in training camp.
- Please tell me Wade Phillips didn't really say "get the ring finger ready."
- Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Smallwood doesn't even wait for the first practice to declare the Eagles out of the Super Bowl race. But if you're going to be negative, why not stick with the gimpy quarterback and a questionable group of receivers? Indicating that we've already seen the best of Brian Westbrook at soon-to-be 29 doesn't make a lot of sense. He should have another huge season -- especially if tight end L.J. Smith and rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson can take some of the pressure off him.
- Inquirer columnist Ashley Fox says the Eagles need a happy Brian Westbrook in camp. And there's only one way to make that happen. And yes, the quote from the normally guarded Andy Reid on Jason Taylor was pretty surprising.
- Les Bowen from the Daily News described Reid as "glib" during last night's news conference. I expect that to last until at least today's second practice.
- Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann has made his annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem. And he's taken a much more hopeful view than Smallwood.
- William Rhoden of the New York Times provides his take on the Shockey trade. He says the burden of proof is now on Shockey, not the Giants.
- And here's what John Branch said about Shockey. John's wondering when I'm going to reimburse him for that bowl of soup in the Green Bay Airport. Just go ahead and expense that meal if you don't mind.
- The folks at HailRedskins.com do a nice job of analyzing the roster.
- Redskins fans will be thrilled to hear that Pat Kirwan of NFL.com once again has them as a top-five depth team.
- Due to inclement weather, the Redskins had to leave the field this morning. Oh, and Jason Taylor is wearing No. 55 for now. Defensive end Andre Carter wears Taylor's familiar 99. Carter could probably make some serious cash on this deal. As Jason La Canfora points out, Taylor's brother-in-law Zach Thomas is wearing No. 55 for the Cowboys.
- Noted author and Stanford grad Jason Cole weighs in on the Taylor trade. It was Jason's report in March that prompted Bill Parcells to make the following statement:
"Taylor is going to play for the Dolphins unless he retires. And I tell you what: If we trade Jason Taylor, I'll call you myself to tell you it's happening. But I'm not going to have to do that because it isn't happening. That's how sure I am."
As James Walker indicated Thursday on the AFC North blog, we recently surveyed NFL head coaches on a variety of topics. In exchange for candid answers and brief eye contact, we granted them anonymity.
Coaches were asked to name a Pro Bowl-caliber player they wouldn't want on their roster. In a vote that would not have surprised me two years ago, Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens received 14 out of 20 votes. (The other coaches declined to answer this question).
Chad Johnson, who is coming off a strenuous offseason of pouting, only received three votes. And the most notorious man not officially in the league, Adam Jones, received one vote. I think the low turnout for Jones has a lot to do with most of the coaches not considering him a Pro Bowl-caliber player after sitting out an entire season.
But the fact that 14 coaches said they wouldn't want arguably the second-best receiver in the game seems somewhat misguided. I've been one of T.O.'s harshest critics over the years, but other than an accidental overdose, he hasn't been much of a distraction for the Cowboys.
Former head coach Bill Parcells and wide receivers coach Todd Haley never warmed to T.O., but from my perspective, that was just as much their fault as his. When quarterback Drew Bledsoe sent T.O. a text that said, "Stay with me" following a poor game, you had a feeling that the relationship had already fizzled.
But once Bledsoe was benched, T.O. fell hopelessly in love with Tony Romo. The relationship has remained strong, as evidenced by the receiver's tearful defense of Romo following a playoff loss against the Giants last season.
The reality is that Owens has become a positive presence in the locker room. He's close to Romo, but he's also kept up his tradition of befriending low-profile players such as receiver Sam Hurd, whom he's mentored since the beginning of the 2006 training camp.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but T.O. has blended into a locker room that includes Romo, Tank Johnson and now Jones. Chad Johnson has always been supremely talented and quirky, but over the past couple of seasons, he's come across as petty and selfish at times. While he was stumping for a trade this offseason, T.O. was patiently waiting for a contract extension.
He never once seem worried about being in the final year of his contract because he trusted that owner Jerry Jones would take care of him. With that in mind, are there really 14 head coaches in the NFL who wouldn't want this guy on their roster?
My guess is that Owens is still the first name that comes to mind on this type question. But if the coaches thought for a little longer, I think there are more viable options.
The survey question was further debated Friday on "First Take."