NFC East: Champ Bailey

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

May, 17, 2014
5/17/14
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For Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, we're talking Robert Griffin III and the Hall of Fame (what!?), which offensive alignments the Redskins might favor, defensive sets against Philadelphia, the offensive line and more. Enjoy.
A theory: The media-savvy NFL didn't create this three-day “legal tampering” period to facilitate negotiations between teams and pending free agents. The real reason was to create three more days of intense fan interest and fevered speculation.

Acknowledging the lack of real news, here are some thoughts pertaining to the Eagles as the actual free agency period draws near:
  • Don't get locked into the names the Eagles reportedly contacted. Yes, they almost certainly did contact the agent for Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. That information leaked out all over the place. Does that mean the Eagles have targeted Mitchell as their solution at safety? Maybe. But all it really signifies is that someone in Mitchell's camp chose to share the Eagles' interest, which could range from casual to intense. The reality is, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is almost duty-bound to take the pulse of every free-agent safety who has one. It is that big a need for this team, and Roseman loses nothing by getting a feel for what each player is looking for. What if Jairus Byrd or Antoine Bethea really want to play for Chip Kelly and would take a slightly less-than-market deal? It isn't likely, but as long as there's a hint of a possibility, there's nothing to lose, and much to gain, by checking in with them.
  • Nothing matters until Tuesday when deals can be done. If Roseman has his eye on a particular free agent, someone he feels he has to pounce on right away with a major offer, he doesn't want to telegraph that to the rest of the league. That's why I think there has been so little reported “interest” in some of the bigger-name free agents. Having your team linked to a guy like Byrd or Seattle's Michael Bennett would serve only to give your division and conference rivals the heads-up that they may need to make a pre-emptive strike. And if you're a GM who has targeted Byrd -- just to take a random example -- it might be smart to let him spend the three-day tampering period thinking interest in him isn't that high. By Tuesday afternoon, he may be itching to take the first market deal on the table.
  • If the Eagles go after Champ Bailey -- who will be 36 when the season starts and has been hobbled by foot injuries -- it will be hard to defend their policies when they decline to risk big money on a 27-year-old Pro Bowler such as Byrd. The Denver Broncos are the definition of a team in win-now mode. They released Bailey for a reason. He may be able to keep his superb career on life support for another year or two by moving to safety, but giving him that opportunity would defy everything Roseman has said about building a team for the long term.
  • If Saints running back Darren Sproles is released, that is the kind of player the Eagles should be very interested in. Chip Kelly was very impressed with (maybe even envious of) the Saints' diverse running backs when he was preparing for the playoff game against New Orleans. Sproles is 30, but he still brings elements to an offense that complement LeSean McCoy's game and would give Kelly plenty to work with. It doesn't hurt that Sproles returns kicks -- including the one that all but won that playoff game for the Saints.
  • I'm perplexed when people say Green Bay's reported four-year, $39 million deal with Sam Shields represents a wild shift in the market for cornerbacks compared to last offseason. There just weren't any $9- to $10-million-a-year corners on the market a year ago. The Eagles signed Cary Williams from Baltimore at $17 million for three years. That's not because the market was down. Williams is solid, but he wouldn't be getting $9-million-a-year this year, either.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

March, 7, 2014
3/07/14
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Free agency begins next week. Naturally, this week's questions are heavy on free agency -- but there are some questions about the draft as well as Alfred Morris. Look for Round 2 on Saturday.
 

Should the Redskins pursue ...

March, 7, 2014
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It happens quite often: Well-known Player gets released and within seconds the question is asked. Will the Redskins pursue Well-known Player? It’s a, uh, fun game. But it’s also understandable, especially when the team involved (the Redskins) has many spots to fill.

So I thought I’d take a look at four players who have been in the news lately, which prompted a round of questions:

CB Champ Bailey: Loved covering him early in his career in Washington and also watching him play. But what does he have left? The assumption is he could move to safety. However, in doing that he’d have to learn a new defense and a new position. That’s a lot to ask. Denver’s decision to release him is not about money, it’s about where his game stands. Perhaps if that Lisfranc injury heals well this offseason he’ll regain some of that lost explosiveness. But the team that knows him best did not think that would happen. It’s a tricky injury. He liked playing in Washington. He definitely tired of the organization so it’s debatable if he’d even want to return.

CB Cortland Finnegan: The Redskins likely would have pursued him in 2012 had the salary-cap penalty not been applied. This is why free agency is dangerous: Finnegan never came close to living up to his five-year, $50 million contract in St. Louis. Just remember that next week. Injuries cost him nine games this past season – three because of a hamstring issue; he was then placed on injured reserve because he fractured an orbital bone behind his left eye. But he was playing poorly before the injury. Last year, he had a nagging hamstring injury that left him mostly as a nickel corner (though he played in every game). He’s considered good in the locker room. At 30, once corners start breaking down it’s hard to trust them. And, at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds a move to safety is probably not the best idea. St. Louis apparently wants him back. If I’m the Redskins, I stay away from an aging corner coming off injuries who is smaller and doesn’t know my defense.

CB Brandon Browner: Unlike the other two, he already was an unrestricted free agent. But I’m including him here because of his recent reinstatement, so he became a popular one to ask about. But as part of his return to the NFL, he’ll have to sit out the first four games of 2014. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he’s big and physical. That style works great – when you have a pass rush like Seattle to match. But he’ll also turn 30 before the season and he’s limited as to his style of play. What they don’t need are more aging defensive players. And when physical corners age, if they can’t get their hands on a receiver, they struggle. However, Browner was well-liked in the Seattle locker room. I’d consider him more for safety than corner at this point.

KR/PR Devin Hester: Another player who already was a free agent. But, like Browner, Hester was in the news when the Bears confirmed they would not be re-signing him So ... there were questions. I would definitely consider him because it’s clear he’s still good. Hester averaged 27.6 yards on 52 kickoff returns last season (with four fumbles) and 14.2 on punt returns. He returned a punt 81 yards for a score against the Redskins. Shocker there, I know. Of his 18 punt returns, four went for at least 20 yards -- that’s three more than the Redskins had in 35 returns.

Hester counted $2.98 million against the salary cap in 2013. The Bears do not want to pay a return specialist that kind of money and it’s hard to blame them when they have other areas to fill. His lack of versatility hurts – he was tried at other spots and never produced. Do not fool yourself into thinking it would be different elsewhere. He’s a bit of a luxury and for a team with bigger holes, should he be signed even for, say, $2 million a year? But he has averaged at least 14.2 yards per punt return in three of the past four years.

On Champ Bailey and the Redskins

January, 29, 2014
1/29/14
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A few thoughts on former Redskins corner Champ Bailey:

  • When I started covering the Redskins, Darrell Green was already deep into a Hall of Fame career. When Bruce Smith joined the Redskins, you knew he was on that path, too. But Bailey is the only player I’ve covered that I remember thinking after several years: This guy is going to be a Hall of Famer.
  • Sean Taylor might have gotten there, too. But, remember, he didn’t start playing at that level until his third season -- he certainly wasn’t bad before then -- and then in his fourth started to really take off and become a major difference-maker. And then he was murdered. It was right at the time when players separate themselves. Taylor was doing so.
  • Like Taylor, Bailey had all-world talent and both players were great with the ball and could have been standout offensive players. These players were ... just different.
  • [+] EnlargeDenver's Champ Bailey
    Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey played for the Redskins for five seasons before being traded to the Broncos in a deal for RB Clinton Portis.
    Bailey made the Pro Bowl in his second season (2000) and didn’t miss one until 2008. By then he was long gone from Washington. There was something different about him: He was athletically arrogant. Though he hasn't come across as boastful during his NFL tenure like some other corners do, you better believe he's competitive and felt like he was the NFL’s best corner. I remember talking to Bailey about that early in his career in an article for Pro Football Weekly. Bailey was matter-of-fact about where he thought he stood and he could say things without being perceived in a negative light.
  • He was also immensely talented. Every corner will be beat and when you’re a corner like Bailey, people expect perfection. I remember one game against the New York Giants -- I forget the year -- in which Bailey smothered his man off the line all game (I want to say it was Amani Toomer, but could be wrong). I remember the Giants’ quarterback looking in that direction and quickly going elsewhere. This happened all game. But Bailey did get beat once and it resulted in a touchdown. The life of a corner. Darrell Green got beat, too.
  • Bailey was great with the media. That’s not to say everyone was yukking it up around him and he was some sort of lively personality or sharing state secrets. No, he was respectful. There were many examples of Bailey being stopped by a group of reporters outside the locker room. He’d answer the questions. Another group would stop him inside the locker room. He’d answer the questions. And then another group would talk to him at his locker. Again, he’d answer the questions. I don’t think his demeanor ever changed. That demeanor is one reason he’s lasted so long at a position that demands steadiness. Santana Moss is similar in the way he deals with the media.
  • Bailey learned from his elders, notably Green and Deion Sanders. At the Super Bowl media day, Bailey told reporters, “I give a lot of credit to Darrell Green. He was an older guy and he had won Super Bowls, played in a lot of games, and he definitely helped me out a lot in my first couple years.”
  • Green told ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill for this in-depth look at Bailey and his career that they met twice a week in the morning to watch game film. "My motivation wasn't the fame, and people screaming my name," Green said. "It was going to work and being the best I could be."
  • Here’s what Bailey told reporters on his time in Washington: "I was very fortunate to be drafted by the Redskins, a great organization. But things just didn't work out and I was blessed to go to an even better organization with the Broncos. That was probably the best thing to happen for my career because I've been in a good place, a good city, and have worked for some of the best people in the world."
  • And Bailey’s thoughts on the Redskins now: "They're still a great organization. There's so much history there, and I appreciate them believing in my talents enough to draft me. That was pretty much [former Washington general manager] Charley Casserly all the way, but people forget about him. He's the one that made me a pro."
  • Casserly made some of his best moves in the 1999 draft to not only land Bailey, but to also leave the organization with three first-round picks in 2000 -- even though he knew he’d likely be gone -- courtesy of a trade with New Orleans. The Redskins turned those three picks into the first two picks in the draft, grabbing LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels.
  • Here’s Bailey’s secret to his success: "Really, my thing is you find something that works for you. I don't try to push my values and my faith on anybody. You find what works for you. Everybody's built a little different and just believing in myself and what I can do and things like that, that's what's really propelled me to the position I'm in."
  • I don’t know if Bailey is done as a player or when he’ll retire. He has the body type to shift to safety if he wants and he’s smart and athletic enough to make such a switch. But will he have to? Green told Merrill that he has more time. Green said, "If he is in the mold that I believe he is, he doesn't even have to begin to look over his shoulder for three years, maybe four. I didn't feel like until I was 38 or 39 years old that I needed to take a breath. That's a once-in-a-generation kind of gift. People don't have that. I say it humbly, but it's true. I was blessed that way, and I think Champ is, too."

 

Hankerson sidelined with foot injury

October, 23, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins receiver Leonard Hankerson did not practice Wednesday after hurting his foot playing with his kids on Tuesday, coach Mike Shanahan said. He did not go into detail on the severity of the injury. Nor is it known whether Hankerson will return to practice Thursday.

If Hankerson can't play, Josh Morgan would return to the lineup as the starting Z receiver. Neither player has been a consistent threat, so it wouldn't be a big drop-off from one to the other.

Defensive end Stephen Bowen was limited because of his torn posterior cruciate ligament. Bowen played with a similar injury two years ago in his other knee, and is hopeful that he'll play Sunday. Safety Reed Doughty (concussion) and backup nose tackle Chris Neild (calf) also were limited in practice. When asked whether he still had symptoms from his concussion, Doughty would only say he'll see how he's feeling Sunday.

For Denver, cornerback Champ Bailey (foot), receiver Eric Decker (toe), quarterback Peyton Manning (ankle), tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), tackle Orlando Franklin (ankle), guard Chris Kuper (ankle), defensive end Shaun Phillips (hamstring), receiver Wes Welker (ankle) all did not practice. Defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (groin) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck) were limited.

The Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles will collide in high-speed fashion Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff.

The 3-0 Broncos feature the league's highest-scoring offense -- their 127 points are 31 more than any other team this season after three weeks -- and quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown for more touchdowns (12) than 29 teams have scored overall.

The Eagles, at 1-2, lead the league in rushing and yards per play (7.0), so this one could have the look of a drag race, think Mile-High Nationals, a summer staple for race fans on the Front Range.

Eagles team reporter Phil Sheridan and Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold break down the game.

Legwold: Phil, you have been around the Eagles for a long time and have seen the organization go through many changes. Coach Chip Kelly's offense was certainly the talk of the offseason around the league, as most teams discussed wanting to join the fun, to go faster, to get more snaps, to stress defenses with speed. But given what the Broncos have done on offense this season, how fast does Kelly really want to go in Denver? Is there a risk of exposing his defense if he gives the Broncos too many possessions?

Sheridan: There is enormous risk, Jeff, but my sense of Kelly is that he'll want to put the pedal to the metal anyway. He's trying to build a culture, with an aggressive approach to every aspect of the sport. I don't see him easing up for one game, no matter the specific challenges. Besides, I think the Eagles' only chance is to try to match the Broncos score for score and take their chances with a close, high-scoring game. As the Eagles learned the hard way the past two weeks, their defense is not good enough to shut down an opponent at crunch time.

That leads me to this question: Doesn't Denver's up-tempo offense put stress on the Broncos defense? Oakland seemed to move the ball as the game wore on. Doesn't that suggest the Broncos will be vulnerable to Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Eagles offense?

Legwold: I think that is the risk overall with the move toward up-tempo offenses around the league. It's all well and good to be fast on offense, snapping the ball at light speed, but those 45-second possessions that end in a three-and-out are just about the worst thing for any defense that just got to the sideline. That's one of the most interesting items about the Eagles so far: They have had just one three-and-out that ended in a punt in 38 possessions.

The Broncos were aggressive against the Raiders defensively last week, and linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan did a quality job keeping Terrelle Pryor hemmed in. The Broncos are a speed defense overall, up and down the depth chart, so the teams that try to run out of open formations, like the three wide, tend not to do as consistently well as the teams that keep them in the base defense and pound away a bit. But McCoy and Vick will easily be their toughest challenge in the run game of the young season. In terms of defense, how would you expect the Eagles to approach the Broncos -- come after Manning a bit or drop into coverage and hope they can fill the gaps?

Sheridan: The Eagles' best bet might be to close their eyes and just pray Manning fumbles the snap. Don't think that's in the game plan, though. Seriously, they know their only hope is to generate some pressure from unexpected sources, be incredibly disciplined in their gap and coverage assignments and be exponentially better at tackling than they have been. They're not going to outsmart Manning, but if they can make him a little uncomfortable and get a break or two -- a fumble, a tipped pass that gets picked off -- they can keep the Broncos from running away with the game. Denver thrives on yards after the catch, which is what killed the Eagles in their two losses.

I was interested in your comments about getting the Broncos into their base defense, because the Eagles have used a lot of three wide receiver sets to get defenses into nickel personnel. So much depends on the corners, so let me ask A) If Champ Bailey is playing, and B) Why Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is so much better than he was in Philadelphia for two lost seasons?

Legwold: Bailey has not played since injuring his left foot in a preseason loss to the Seahawks in mid-August. He certainly wants to play, keeps saying he's "close" and even upped to it "very close" last week. The Broncos would like him out there, especially in this one, but he's going to have to move around better than he did a couple of hours before kickoff Monday night when it was pretty clear he was going to miss his third consecutive game. But if he shows a little better movement this week, especially Thursday and Friday, I think he'll be in uniform.

On DRC, the Broncos gambled a bit on tough love. They essentially, and Rodgers-Cromartie has said this as well, told him what was wrong with him on his visit. They told him why he wasn't playing as well as he should and that they could fix it if he was willing to be coached hard. He said he was and has been. A gifted athlete, Rodgers-Cromartie has been the saving grace with Bailey's injury and has played like a No. 1 guy. I won't be surprised if the Broncos try to work out a little longer deal at some point in the coming months.

I know we've spent plenty of time on offense, but I am wondering if Kelly sees Vick as the long-term future at quarterback -- or as long term as a 33-year-old can be -- or does Kelly have bigger plans at the position?

Sheridan: I would love to know the answer to that one too. The Vick situation is fascinating. If he has a great year and somehow gets the Eagles into the playoffs (not as far-fetched as it sounds in an NFC East where half the teams are 0-3), it would be awfully hard to let him walk. But can you re-sign a guy at his age, with his injury history, and expect him to be the guy when you're really ready to contend in one or two or three years? My hunch is that Kelly would love to get one of the quarterbacks in next year's draft, that this year is about getting as much of the rest of the program in place as possible. But that would make much more sense if he had gone with Nick Foles or even rookie Matt Barkley than with Vick, who is just good enough to keep you from drafting high enough for a franchise quarterback.

Since it's a subject of discussion, let me ask you about the altitude. Do the Broncos believe it gives them a physical advantage, or do they see it more as a psychological thing? Is their home-field advantage about thin air or having good teams with loud, passionate fans rocking the stadium?

Legwold: The Broncos believe it gives both a physical and mental advantage. Objectively, for an elite athlete to work for three or so hours in Denver likely has minimal impact on performance. But who's to say even a sliver of impact isn't enough to tip the scales at times. The Broncos' record at home over the decades is well over .600 since 1960, and in September games, they are over a .700 winning percentage at home. The Olympic Training Center is in Colorado and many of the world-class cyclists on the planet train in the area, so it means there's some athletic benefit for the Broncos to work in the altitude. The Broncos particularly feel it's an advantage when they go fast on offense. Watch the Ravens defense in the second half of the opener and it was pretty clear that group didn't enjoy Manning at 5,280 feet.

Phil, great stuff and that should cover it. It could be a long night for both defenses with these two high-powered offenses going at it.

Double Coverage: Broncos at Giants

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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For the third time in their careers, brothers Peyton Manning and Eli Manning will oppose each other as the starting quarterbacks in the same NFL game. Peyton's Denver Broncos travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on Eli's New York Giants at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Both of these teams have dreams of playing in the Super Bowl in that very same building in February. But while Denver looked the part of the contender in its Week 1 rout of the defending champion Ravens, the Giants turned the ball over six times in an ugly opening-week loss in Dallas. Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Giants team reporter Dan Graziano break down this week's Battle of the Brothers.

Dan Graziano: So yeah, Jeff, I don't know if you were able to dig this up on your end, but my research does indeed confirm that the two starting quarterbacks in this game grew up in the same house with the same parents. I wonder if others will catch on and ask some questions and write some stories about that angle this week. I don't expect Eli Manning to admit that he's looking for revenge after his big brother beat him twice while he was with the Colts, but I'm sure there's some element of that going on. I have two little brothers myself, and personally I'd be pretty annoyed if I ever lost an NFL game to either one of them. Do you think this game means a little something extra to Peyton Manning?

Jeff Legwold: Dan, I wasn’t planning to ask about this ... but OK, I'm in. I've been around Peyton since my time in Nashville and his at the University of Tennessee, so I'm fairly certain Peyton isn't a big fan of this from a personal perspective. Plenty of his friends said after the Colts released Peyton they didn't even think he would go to an NFC team, let alone the Redskins (pre 2012 draft, of course) because there was far more potential to face Eli if he did. They’ll talk this week, but there won’t be any football on the phone. From a football standpoint Peyton is in regular-season mode, which is intense, focused and running the show. The Broncos didn't show all of their changes on offense against the Ravens last week -- they have another gear they can hit in the no-huddle they didn't use against Baltimore -- but Peyton has plenty of places to go in the passing game. How do you think the Giants' revamped defensive front will approach all of that?

DG: Yeesh. Another gear? The rest of the league can't be excited to hear that. The most positive and effective change the Giants made on defense this offseason was at defensive tackle, where they believe they've beefed up and are better suited to stop the run than they were a year ago. But while that sounds nice and useful, the plain fact is that the Giants' defense needs a dominant pass rush from the front four in order to be effective. The linebackers are terrible, and Dallas' short-range-passing game plan Sunday night showed that it's not hard for the rest of the league to figure that out and take advantage of it. The cornerbacks are just so-so, and if Prince Amukamara is out with a concussion (still unknown at this time), that unit becomes a liability. The key will be Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul generating pressure on Peyton from the edge. Pierre-Paul looked rusty and didn't play a full game Sunday as he was coming off of June back surgery and missed the preseason. If he can take a big step forward this week in terms of conditioning and practice time, that would help. He's the difference-making player in their defensive front -- the one who has the ability to take over a game if he's 100 percent. They need him as close to that as possible if they're going to pressure Peyton Manning enough to limit the time he has to take advantage of all of those options.

Peyton's brother has his share of options as well. Three different Giants receivers had more than 100 yards in the opener, including big second-year wideout Rueben Randle. With Victor Cruz in the slot and Randle and Hakeem Nicks on the outside, how are the Broncos equipped to cover the Giants' receivers?

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJason Pierre-Paul and New York's pass rush may be the key to containing Peyton Manning.
JL: It is an issue for the Broncos, especially if Champ Bailey (left foot) isn't ready to go. He was jogging early in the week, but did not take part in Monday's practice. He has been in for treatment every day, including Tuesday, and still hopes to get himself back in the lineup. The Broncos signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason because they believed he could take his game to another level and that they could help him do that. He played like the former Pro Bowl pick (2009) he was in the opener and shut down Torrey Smith and showed plenty of athleticism. But take Bailey out of the mix and the Broncos are small when they go into the nickel. When Bailey doesn't play, the 5-foot-10 Chris Harris starts and the 5-foot-9 Tony Carter then comes in for the nickel. Without Bailey that puts Harris in the slot and Carter on the outside and quarterbacks tend to go after Carter in that situation. If Bailey plays -- and he's made no secret he wants to -- that gives the Broncos better matchups. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes to mix it up overall and uses a lot of people, and if they get the right down-and-distance situations, he likes to even break out a seven-defensive back look and the rushers come from everywhere in the formation.

When Del Rio is looking at the Giants' running game, what will he see?

DG: Oh, yes. The run game. Better known as "The Only Thing I've Been Writing About Since Sunday Night." I still think the answer to your question is second-year back David Wilson, though his much-publicized pair of fumbles (and his less-publicized issues in pass protection) have the Giants tweaking last week's plan to give Wilson a full starter's workload. They had a bunch of veteran backs in for workouts Tuesday and ended up signing Brandon Jacobs, but Wilson is still the former first-round pick and the big-play threat who's likely to get the bulk of the first-down and second-down work as long as he doesn't fumble anymore. They had planned to use Andre Brown as the passing-downs back and the goal-line back before Brown broke his leg in the final preseason game, and after Wilson's tough opener, it looks as though Jacobs has been brought in to fill Brown's role. But Wilson's still their best running back, and assuming they throw him right back in there, he's someone for whom the Broncos will have to account. When he does hold on to the ball, he's impressive to watch run.

One guy who obviously stood out for the Broncos in their opener was the tight end, Julius Thomas. The Giants had no answers for Jason Witten on Sunday and, as I mentioned earlier, don't have anyone in their linebacking corps to really cover tight ends. So was Thomas a one-game wonder, or is this a serious candidate for a major role in the passing game?

JL: Dan, the Broncos and Thomas waited two years to see what folks saw last Thursday night. Since the Broncos took the former Portland State basketball player in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, he offered glimpse after glimpse on the practice field of what the potential was. But he suffered an ankle injury on his first NFL catch -- in the second game of his rookie season -- and wasn't the same after. He had surgery to repair the ankle before last season and spent much of the year simply being a game-day inactive. But coming down the stretch last season, players kept talking about what Thomas was doing in practice, and in training camp this summer he consistently ran away from defensive backs. He's great at getting the ball in a crowd and the Ravens did what most defenses figure to do, rotate coverage to the likes of Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, and leave Thomas with just one defender. Thomas is still raw in some of his route running -- he is in just his fourth year of football after just one season's worth in college -- and sometimes will drop one he shouldn't, but the guy is a matchup problem for defenses, especially since Peyton Manning trusts him enough to throw it to him in almost any situation.

Opposing tight ends did plenty of damage against the Broncos' defense last season with 81 receptions for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns as a position group. They've seen Brandon Myers plenty in previous seasons, how does he fit in an offense with so much output at wide receiver?

DG: Yes, Myers was kind of the forgotten man Sunday night with all of the wideouts going nuts. And as long as those three wideouts are healthy and productive, I wouldn't be surprised to see that continue. Myers is the Giants' fourth different starting tight end in four years. And over the past five years, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 40.6 catches per season. Martellus Bennett's 55 catches last year were the most by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 in 2007. So while Myers was a big receiving threat in Oakland, I doubt he'll threaten 70-80 catches this year as a Giant. They just don't use their tight end as a weapon in the receiving game the way a lot of teams do. Now, might they pick a matchup, such as this one, in which you say the team hasn't been strong against tight ends, and throw it to him more in such a game? Entirely possible. Myers looked like a significant part of the offensive game plan in training camp practices, so there are definitely some packages in which they'll throw to him. But right now, with injuries on the offensive line and the problems they're having in general with pass protection, I believe they need Myers to stay in and block more.

Speaking of protection, and getting back to what I think is one of the key points at least from the New York end, what's the state of the Denver offensive line in front of big brother Manning? Are the Giants' pass-rushers in for a challenging day?

JL: That was THE story in the preseason for the Broncos. Two of their starting linemen -- right tackle Orlando Franklin and left tackle Ryan Clady -- had offseason surgeries and Clady didn't play in the preseason. They lost center Dan Koppen to a torn ACL in training camp and spent much of August signing veteran linemen to address depth issues, before finally bringing two of those signees -- John Moffitt and Steve Vallos -- onto the final 53-man roster. They want the three-wide set to be their base formation on offense -- they ran their first 20 plays from scrimmage out of it against the Ravens -- but can't play it if they can't protect. Their first target in free agency, because they felt like they surrendered far too much pressure up the middle, was guard Louis Vasquez, who got the longest deal (four years) the Broncos gave to any player they signed in the offseason. They had some bobbles early against the Ravens, went to a two-tight end set briefly in the second quarter to reset things and kept themselves together when they went to three-wide after that. Center Manny Ramirez is the key; when he plays well, the Broncos can stay in that three-wide look and they can consistently pressure defenses out of it.

Rushing a Manning is something the Broncos have to consider as well. What do the Giants think of a pass rush without Von Miller in it for another five games?

DG: I'm sure they wish he was coming back in time to face the Eagles in Week 4 and the Cowboys in Week 5. But as a Week 2 development, the Giants will take it. Preseason injuries shook up the Giants' line. They have rookie first-rounder Justin Pugh starting at right tackle, which wasn't the plan. They have left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backup tackle James Brewer playing left guard for the first time in his life. Add in the blocking downgrade at running back, and Eli Manning's protection is one of the major issues the Giants are having right now. Like his brother, Eli has an insanely quick release, so he doesn't need a Hall of Fame line in front of him in order to be successful. But he does need some level of comfort back there, because he's not at his best when he has to move his feet. George Selvie and a cast of backup rushers had success against the Giants' line Sunday night and helped rattle Manning into three interceptions, so it's not as though the Broncos necessarily need Miller to get the job done. What are they doing with their pass rush to overcome that significant loss and the loss of Elvis Dumervil to the whims of a fax machine?

JL: With Dumervil now in Baltimore and Miller suspended for five more games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the Broncos are missing 29.5 sacks from last season's defense that tied for the league lead (52) last season. The Broncos talked to plenty of veteran pass-rushers in the offseason and, after deciding John Abraham and Dwight Freeney wanted too much money, they signed Shaun Phillips during the draft weekend. And it's Phillips who is going to have to be the biggest part of the solution in the pass rush until Miller comes back. He was up to the challenge with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against the Ravens. Del Rio likes plenty of pressure packages when the Broncos get the lead and will rush players from anywhere in the formation The Broncos are particularly aggressive and creative out of their dime looks as well as the seven-defensive back look. They still have to show they can win one-on-one matchups in the rush when the game is tight, however. The rush didn't really kick in against the Ravens -- Flacco was largely untouched in the first half last Thursday -- until the Broncos had built the lead and the Ravens had to open things up some.

The Giants will be one of three NFC East teams the Broncos will play over the next four weeks, so do the Giants believe the Broncos' no-huddle look will be an kind of preview for what's to come with the Eagles?

DG: Good question. The Cowboys showed some no-huddle Sunday, and obviously the Giants are going to have to expect it from the Eagles, so perhaps these are some good early tests for them. Makes me think it really would help if they had some better all-around instinctive playmaker types in the linebacking corps. But they don't prioritize that position, and they think if they can get to the quarterback they can make up for deficiencies there and in the secondary. We'll see. It's a lot to ask of Tuck and Pierre-Paul, but they've both been great players at times in the past.

Anyway, I think that about covers it. Should be a fun one Sunday at the Meadowlands. See you there, Jeff.

Big Blue Morning: Manning Week rolls on

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants:

The news of the day: I wrote this on the Eli Manning-Peyton Manning matchup, which is something I just find totally fascinating. Maybe it's because I have two younger brothers and two sons, but the brother relationship is of great interest to me, and I think people have grown too blasť about just how wild it is that two brothers from the same family could grow up to be top NFL quarterbacks and play against each other three times. As someone with a TV camera said to Eli on Wednesday, you'd have a better chance of being struck by lightning.

To his credit, Eli said he understands that. "Obviously there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL right now and one of the other ones happens to be my brother," Eli said. "I understand that is rare. I don't know how it quite happened. I don't think my parents know how it quite happened. It just worked out that way, but I do feel blessed that I get to play this sport and I know Peyton feels the same way."

Other Giants news includes Da'Rel Scott's knee injury, which cropped up Wednesday and leaves them potentially thin again at running back against Denver, even after the signing of Brandon Jacobs on Tuesday. We'll check in on that Thursday at practice, and we'll also check in on starting cornerback Prince Amukamara, who sat out Wednesday as he continued to deal with the concussion he suffered in Sunday's game.

Behind enemy lines: The Broncos would like to have their secondary at full strength Sunday against a Giants team that had three wide receivers go over 100 yards in the opener in Dallas. But while top cornerback Champ Bailey is getting closer to returning from his foot injury, he didn't practice Wednesday and his status for the game remains in doubt.

Around the division: We dispatched our nationwide team of NFL reporters to ask players around the league the question of the week: Do you think Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles offense is sustainable? Here's the result of the collaboration (the sort of thing you can expect more of as the season goes on). And here's what I wrote from the Giants' end of things about the radically changed division rivals down I-95.

Around the league: Pretty cool read here from Jeff Chadiha on the NFL's young quarterbacks. He polled folks around the league and had them rank Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton on a variety of factors, including intelligence, accuracy and durability. I guess I'm not too surprised, because I always feel like memories in this league don't go back any further than six days, but it seems wrong that Newton ranks last so many times. He's got a year on all of these guys and has put up two monster seasons. I guess the beauty of it is, we'll all find out together.

QB Watch: Giants' Eli Manning

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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A weekly analysis of the New York Giants' quarterback play.

Manning
Rewind: Eli Manning had a microcosmic season's worth of ups and downs in the Giants' season-opening loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night. He completed 27-of-42 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Giants from behind and into a position where they could conceivably come back and win in the fourth quarter. But he also threw three interceptions, the third of which was returned for a touchdown to extend the Cowboys' lead from six points to 12 in the final two minutes. The Giants struggled off and on with their protection, and Manning rushed a couple of screen passes.

Fast-forward: The Denver Broncos come to town Sunday, which means Manning will have to try for the third time as an NFL quarterback to beat his older brother, Peyton Manning. Of course, Peyton won't be defending Eli's passes. And it's possible that Champ Bailey, Denver's top cornerback, won't either, as he missed Denver's Week 1 game with a foot injury. The Giants' big-bodied outside receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle, should match up well physically against the smaller Broncos defensive backs.

Big guy is back: Mentioned protection earlier, and the team took a step forward with that with the signing Tuesday of old friend Brandon Jacobs, who should help with blitz pickup from the running back position if the Giants deploy him in passing downs. Eli Manning knows Jacobs, of course, from the seven years Jacobs spent with the Giants prior to last season, and it should help Manning's comfort level to have a back in the huddle that knows the protection schemes as well as Jacobs does.

Prediction: I think Manning has another big statistical game, picking apart a depleted Broncos secondary and a pass rush that's missing the suspended Von Miller. Not 450 yards again, but not three interceptions, either.

What's in Mosley's Mailbag?

January, 8, 2011
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I'm about to board a flight to Philadelphia for Sunday's Packers-Eagles wild-card playoff game, but let's dip into the mailbag for a few questions first. A lot of folks are wondering what Jason Garrett will do at defensive coordinator now that he's been granted so much authority by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Let's get right to your questions:

Kevin in San Jose, Calif., what's on your mind? Is it reasonable to hope and wish for a Champ Baily-Washington reunion this coming offseason?

Mosley: I realize that Mike Shanahan seems to value veteran players more than most head coaches, but I don't see him committing a lot of money to Bailey at this point in his career. Bailey's been one of the best cornerbacks in the league for years, but he's a declining player at this point. The Redskins would be better off identifying a cornerback in the draft. I think LSU's Patrick Peterson might be gone by the time the Skins pick at No. 10 (Now No. 4 on Mel Kiper's Big Board), but he's certainly someone to keep in mind. I tried to focus on Peterson in last night's AT&T Cotton Bowl, but a freshman named Tyrann Mathieu kept stealing the show. It looked like Mathieu was the best defensive back on the field in the win against the Aggies, but it's not like I've watched a ton of LSU football this season. Bringing in aging players (see Donovan McNabb and Larry Johnson) didn't exactly work out for Shanahan in his first season, so I'd be surprised to see him make a play for Bailey.


Al from High Point, N.C., has two New York Giants questions: 1. Do you see [defensive coordinator] Perry Fewell as being interviewed by certain teams for a head-coaching job more as a legitimate concern for the Giants or are the other teams making him more of a Rooney Rule candidate? 2: How come the Giants do not find a way to keep coordinaters from becoming head coaches some other place by trying to make one of them a successor to Tom Coughlin?

Mosley: That whole coach-in-waiting thing rarely works out at any level. Ask the University of Texas about that strategy. Coughlin sees himself coaching for several more years, so he wouldn't be pleased with that type of scenario. The Redskins had Gregg Williams as their coach-in-waiting to Joe Gibbs, but that didn't work out for him. Fewell did some nice things this season, but it's too early to overreact and make him a coach-in-waiting. Jerry Jones basically did that with Jason Garrett by making him the highest-paid assistant in the league following the '07 season. And the plan of succession didn't go off that smoothly, with Wade Phillips getting fired eight games into the 2010 season. Regarding your first question, I think Fewell has a legitimate chance to be a head coach. I think owners and general managers across the league have a lot of respect for how he handled the interim job in Buffalo, and I don't think the Rooney Rule's the only reason he's getting a look right now. Ultimately, though, I think he'll be with the Giants for at least another season. And it's not a bad thing when teams want your assistants to be head coaches. It normally means a team is having a lot of success. You can't really say that about the Giants right now, but the defense certainly took some positive steps.


Jason from Bryn Mawr, Pa., is one of our most prolific mailbag participants. He has an Eagles thought: "Can the Eagles Flip the Switch?" is a great article, providing well-balanced information. Everyone seems to be concerned with only the Eagles' performance against the Vikings, but let's not forget they had not played very well in the weeks prior to that game. I believe the "Miracle in the Meadowlands II" has masked our recollection of prior events. They were then blown out by the Bears (final score is no indication) and required fourth-quarter come-from-behind TDs to beat both the Texans and Cowboys.

Mosley: Jason, I agree with you that teams have sort of caught up with Michael Vick a little bit since that first game against the Giants. But I'm afraid that Vick was so brilliant through the first 10 games that we sort of developed unreasonable expectations for him. He'd had enough near-interceptions earlier in the season to indicate that he'd eventually have some turnovers. But the fact that he has nine fumbles in his past six starts is pretty remarkable. But if Vick is close to 100 percent from that quad contusion suffered against the Vikings, he's capable of making the Packers' defense pay. I think Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have spent a lot more time getting Vick ready for some of those cornerback blitzes that the Vikings used with a lot of success. And I can promise you that Jason Peters will have some help at left tackle to make sure that Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews doesn't take over this game. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will try to be aggressive with the blitz early in this game. And if the Eagles can pick it up, they'll have a shot at a big play on that first drive. I'm told that Reid and Mornhinweg have emphasized a quick start on offense all week. That's why I wouldn't be surprised to see Vick dial up DeSean Jackson on one of those double moves on the first play from scrimmage.


Steve in Philadelphia wants to talk about Jason Garrett's decision-making power: Jerry Jones did not say that Jason Garrett would have final say on picking players. He said that no one would be on the team that Garrett doesn't want on the team. I believe that this may mean that while Jones continues to function as the GM, he would merely shy away from major free agents or draftees that Garrett has some apprehension about from a character perspective, like T.O. I do not believe this is the same as "final say" on all personnel decisions. Do you agree?

Mosley: Steve, I think you're on the right track. Jones did stunningly say that Garrett would have "final say" when it came to the hiring and firing of assistant coaches. But I don't think Garrett necessarily wants "final say" when it comes to player personnel decisions. Only Andy Reid and Mike Shanahan enjoy that type of power in the league right now. And it's not like Shanahan has a great track record when it comes to drafting players. I think Garrett's smart enough to know that he doesn't have the skins on the wall to demand complete authority on draft picks. I think what Jones was saying is that he won't release or sign a player against Garrett's wishes. It's still surprising that Jones made that statement Thursday, but it doesn't necessarily mean he'll follow it.

I'll check in with you guys from Philadelphia on Sunday.

DeAngelo Hall honored for four-pick game

October, 27, 2010
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The league made it official this morning that Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall is NFC Defensive Player of the Week based on his four-interception performance in Sunday's 17-14 win over the Chicago Bears. It's the first time Hall has received the award and it's the first time a Skins cornerback has been so honored since Champ Bailey won the award in '03.

Only 19 players in league history have had four-interception games, and three of them played for the Redskins. Sammy Baugh ('43) and Dan Sandifer ('48) are the other Skins in the Quad Club. It's the second time this season a Skins defensive back has been honored by the league. Safety LaRon Landry received the same award in Week 5.

Beast players named to All-Decade Team

January, 27, 2010
1/27/10
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The league will announce the 2000s All-Decade Team on Sunday during the Pro Bowl on ESPN, but we found out 12 of the players Wednesday. Four of them had ties to the NFC East. Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins and former Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey made the All-Decade team. They'll both be competing for the NFC in Sunday's Pro Bowl. Dawkins went to seven Pro Bowls with the Eagles and Bailey went to four with the Redskins before being traded to the Broncos.

Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and Eagles kicker David Akers were also named to the team. We'll wait to find out the rest of the list Sunday.

NFC East observation deck

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
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Several quick-hitting thoughts in the aftermath of Sunday's games.

• If Tom Coughlin wasn't already planning to make changes on his defensive staff, surely he is now. The offense actually performed reasonably well this season, but the defense has been a huge disappointment. Panthers backup running back Jonathan Stewart gashed the Giants for 206 yards. This unit doesn't tackle particularly well and the pass rush has all but disappeared. The Giants still have some talented personnel on defense but they are old and slow at key areas. It's time to replace Danny Clark and Antonio Pierce on a full-time basis.

• I talked to Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell via phone this morning. I'm not sure he has ever taken that much punishment in a game. Campbell has refused to make excuses this season but he admitted that not being able to go through his progressions has made it virtually impossible to be successful. As I said last night, the Skins should protect Campbell's future and think about playing Todd Collins in the final game. They'd like to take a look at third-stringer Richard Bartel in a game situation, but they hate to throw him to the wolves at this point in the season.

Jeremy Maclin made the biggest catch of his young career with 59 seconds left in Sunday's game. He was supposed to run a "go" route and Jason Avant ran a "corner." Maclin broke off his route and Donovan McNabb put the ball on his back shoulder. Maclin said the sideline drills the Eagles run in every practice came in handy. It's a tough adjustment for college receivers because they're only required to get one foot down. The 27-yard catch gave the Eagles the ball at the Broncos' 13-yard line and set up David Akers for the game-winning field goal.

• I thought Champ Bailey did an admirable job on DeSean Jackson for most of the game but he was caught out of position on a deep ball in the fourth quarter and called for pass interference. Even when he doesn't put up big numbers, Jackson is still the most valuable Eagles player on the field because he requires so much attention.

• I think the Eagles should think about locking right guard Nick Cole up for a few seasons. When center Jamaal Jackson left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter, Cole replaced him and the Eagles kept rolling. He and McNabb had trouble with a couple of snaps, but they can iron that out. The main point is that Cole has become a very valuable member of this team. Does anyone miss Stacy Andrews? If Cole wasn't playing so well, the Andrews signing would be getting a lot more attention.

• Did the Falcons know what they were doing when they let Michael Boley walk during free agency? I know he was signed to cover Brian Westbrook, but you'd like to see him be a little more physical. Way too many missed tackles if you ask me.

Miraculous TD catch by Avant

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
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Avant
Avant
PHILADELPHIA --Even when the Broncos make a nice play on the ball, something bad happens to them. Donovan McNabb threw a bullet across the middle that was tipped by Broncos safety Renaldo Hill. The ball glanced hard off of Hill's arms and wide receiver Jason Avant reached out and snagged it with one hand while he had one knee down. It was a brilliant play -- and the touchdown put the Eagles up 27-10.

The Broncos have asked All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey to follow DeSean Jackson all over the field, and for the most part, he's done a decent job against the explosive receiver. But on the pass interference play on that drive, Jackson put three different moves on him before drawing the penalty. It was a borderline call because Bailey didn't make much contact with Jackson.

The problem was that Bailey never turned around and found the ball.

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