NFC East: Chris Johnson

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 5, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. We touch on a number of subjects ranging from: Chris Johnson, Miles Austin, Tony Romo's successor and cap hell.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

PHILADELPHIA -- The good news for Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly is he doesn’t have to spend the next couple months traveling to high school kids’ homes and recruiting them.

The bad news?

"It’s a different league," Kelly said. "This isn't recruiting where you can go out and offer and try to get them to come. There's a selection in the draft process and we're not going to pick until the 22nd [spot in the first round]. There's 21 other guys that we may covet, but we don't have an opportunity to get them."

If a team drafted 22d every year and did well, it could be awfully good. Based on the last 10 years, drafting only players taken between No. 22 and No. 32 (the end of the first round), a team could have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Santonio Holmes, running backs Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, safety Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Sharrif Floyd.

You could do worse. Plenty of teams did do worse. Cleveland took two quarterbacks, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden, at No. 22.

Later we’ll look at some possible players the Eagles could consider at No. 22 in this year’s draft. For now, here’s a quick look at the 22nd pick in each of the past 10 NFL drafts, along with a few players that were on the board at the time (I didn’t go beyond the end of the first round out of fairness; just looking at first-round graded players):

2013: Cornerback Desmond Trufant from Washington, selected by Atlanta.

On the board: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, WR/Returner Cordarrelle Patterson, defensive end Datone Jones.

2012: Quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State, selected by Cleveland.

On the board: Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Nick Perry, running back Doug Martin.

2011: Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo from Boston College, selected by Indianapolis.

On the board: Offensive lineman Danny Watkins, defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Mark Ingram.

2010: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech, selected by Denver.

On the board: Wide receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tim Tebow, cornerback Devin McCourty.

2009: Wide receiver Percy Harvin from Florida, selected by Minnesota.

On the board: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Clay Matthews.

2008: RB Felix Jones from Arkansas, selected by Dallas.

On the board: Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, cornerback Mike Jenkins.

2007: Quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame, selected by Cleveland.

On the board: Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, safety Brandon Meriweather, linebackers Jon Beason and Anthony Spencer, offensive tackle Joe Staley.

2006: Linebacker Manny Lawson from N.C. State, selected by San Francisco.

On the board: Offensive lineman Davin Joseph, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.

2005: Wide receiver Mark Clayton from Oklahoma, selected by Baltimore.

On the board: Cornerback Fabian Washington, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Roddy White.

2004: Quarterback J.P. Losman from Tulane, selected by Buffalo.

On the board: Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Jason Babin.

A quick look back at Washington's 22-21 preseason opening win over Tennessee on Thursday:
  1. Kirk Cousins continues to mature at quarterback. What he showed Thursday were traits similar to what he revealed last summer, too. Poise in the pocket. Toughness. Decisive throws. Only this time, he can now mix in knowledge of the offense and how to read an NFL defense to go with those traits. It led to a good opening night for Cousins and the Redskins’ offense. Cousins completed 6 of 7 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. You don’t want to go overboard, partly because even in practice Cousins still throws his share of interceptions. But his mind seems to slow down amid chaos and that helps give him a chance for continued growth.
  2. Cousins does an excellent job of ignoring pressure in his face. He did it on a pass to Logan Paulsen that was initially ruled a 3-yard catch only to be overturned. Two defenders were about to unload on Cousins when he showed a calm urgency to find him. But the other play I liked was an 11-yard pass to tight end Fred Davis in the red zone. As Cousins dropped back, he quickly looked at his primary receiver. It looked to be mostly a glance to confirm what he thought pre-snap. Cousins quickly left that target and turned to Davis, sticking in a tight throw. One big difference after last year will be the ability to make quick decisions with the ball.
  3. Running back Roy Helu also had a strong night with 57 yards on 13 carries (24 yards came on two runs). He showed why the Redskins like him. He has speed and a lot of it. It seemed early on that he was almost a little too fast to the hole. You have to run with some patience, something starter Alfred Morris does so well. You need to be able to set up blockers, again something that Morris does well. But Helu started to do this as he got more carries. In the second quarter, and facing backups, Helu did a better job being patient, pressing the hole and getting the linebackers to overcommit. So when Helu cut back, he had blockers in position to seal the opening for an 11-yard gain. On an earlier run guard Kory Lichtensteiger lost a block on a cutback run in part because the linebacker was never forced to commit outside. But Helu’s night is a good reminder of why the Redskins need him to stay healthy.
  4. Safety Bacarri Rambo learned a valuable lesson in the opening quarter. The SEC might have speed, but the NFL is at a different level. It wasn’t his fault that Chris Johnson broke through the middle – end Stephen Bowen and nose tackle Chris Neild were blocked inside and linebacker Brian Orakpo went too far upfield, thereby creating a gap. Orakpo seemed unsure if he wanted to go at the ball carrier or play the bootleg. He did neither and the hole was huge. But Rambo failed to do his job as the last line of defense, allowing Johnson to juke him. One of the big transitions for a safety is learning how to tackle in the open field and knowing the proper angle to take. Having said that, it was a tough play to make for many safeties let alone a rookie. He was put in a bad spot, but actually came up fine from deep middle. On another long run by Johnson, it was linebacker Perry Riley who took a bad angle. The young guys in the secondary may or may not be the future. And in the present there will be growing pains. That's why it's not bad that DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson sat out the game. It provides more time for rookie DBs in need of a lot of time.
  5. It wasn’t a good night for rookie strong safety Phillip Thomas, who left the game with a shoulder and foot injury. He likely wouldn’t start the season anyway, but he’s someone they like and who has improved at learning his run fits when in the box. Liked what little I truly watched of Chase Minnifield. He is a physical corner, though he did miss a tackle after allowing one catch.
  6. Corner David Amerson had a strong night, showing the advantage of length. He could have played a little more shallow on his intended target, Kenny Britt, on one route in which Amerson should have picked it off. He broke inside and almost baited quarterback Jake Locker to throw the ball, making it appear Britt was open. Amerson dropped the pick, but the point is: His length enabled him to play a little more off his man to the inside. The coaches wanted to see how physical Amerson would play. He is not a big hitter nor is his technique always the best. But at times in college you didn’t always see the willingness. It was much more evident Thursday. Amerson even came up hard on an outside run, ducked under the guard and helped make a tackle for a loss.
  7. Another rookie who stood out: linebacker Brandon Jenkins. The more I see of him, the more I like. The coaches wanted to see how he fared in a game before going overboard about him and certainly they’ll find enough mistakes in his night. But he adds something. And unlike other young players, he had some success against Tennessee’s first-team offense. He helped set up Ryan Kerrigan's first quarter sack. Orakpo collapsed his man on the right side and Jenkins absolutely stunned the right tackle, popping his hands into him before he could react. Kerrigan, in a four-point stance, then worked inside on a quarterback who had nowhere to go. Jenkins later drew a hands-to-the-face penalty on a rush, getting around the tackle. He was noticeable. And I like using him next to Kerrigan. He explodes a little quicker to the outside than Kerrigan, more known for his hands when rushing wide. There was one rush in the second half in which Jenkins stumbled off the line, the right tackle dropped back and Jenkins still managed to get around him. Jenkins needs to learn a lot about the position, notably dropping into coverage. But he showed something Thursday night.
  8. Penalties were a problem last season and they were an issue Thursday (11 penalties). That’s not a stunner considering all the false starts and other transgressions that seemed to take place in camp. The Redskins need to get that taken care of. Early last season they said it stemmed in part from replacement officials. But the issue never really went away. It needs to.
  9. I wish Jarvis Jenkins had made more noise in the pass rush. He’ll be suspended for four games, but still started and played into the fourth quarter. Yet he really didn’t make a whole lot happen in the backfield. He worked on a longer first step in the offseason but it didn’t seem like much was working for him.
  10. It was a mixed night for the backup offensive linemen. The Redskins say their depth is much improved there, but the guys they hope are their future remain unproven. Tom Compton started at left tackle and had a mixed night. There were times he was beaten inside or outside. But a quick throw or a running back helped him. But I also saw Compton knock a guy off his path and then recover on a spin move to the inside, which gave him fits last summer. At first glance, Compton seemed more consistent in the run game. Josh LeRibeus, a third-round pick in 2012, did not distinguish himself. He allowed pressure to his outside and has a tendency to get himself in trouble when he lunges. That led to two pressures. He needs to play better if he wants to become a starter someday; nobody knows that more than he does. On first glance right guard Adam Gettis seemed to do OK. It helped that in the fourth quarter quarterback Pat White could scramble to avoid pressure. He showed poise and made plays, though I worry about how advanced he is as a passer. Still, it was a good showing for a guy who looked really bad two months ago.

The Dallas Cowboys selected running back Felix Jones with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. The next two picks that day were running backs as well -- Rashard Mendenhall to the Steelers and Chris Johnson to the Titans. That year's second-round running backs were Matt Forte and Ray Rice. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build draft boards.

Anyway, after five years as one of the worst kinds of NFL running backs -- the injury-prone backup -- Jones was cut loose by the Cowboys this offseason and has, as Adam Schefter reports, agreed to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Because the Eagles already have LeSean McCoy as their No. 1 running back and Bryce Brown -- who ran like a No. 1 last year when McCoy got hurt -- as a No. 2, you likely have questions about why they want Jones. I'm sure they'll explain it when asked, but here's my first stab at it:

New Eagles coach Chip Kelly wants to run the ball a heck of a lot, and it's entirely possible he'll find ways to get more than two running backs semi-regular carries. Eagles fans aren't used to this, but a lot of things are going to be different this year and this is one of them. Jones also offers some level of versatility, provided he can stay healthy. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He has big-play ability. And should things go wrong with McCoy and/or Brown, Jones has some experience (though you can question its quality) as a between-the-tackles starting running back as well.

So yeah, I figure Jones has a chance to make the Eagles as a No. 3 back and get some amount of work in games if he does. And remember that this is a new coaching staff that might have a different opinion of Brown than the old one did. Brown showed a lot of good things late last year, but he also showed a penchant for fumbling that likely leaves his spot on the depth chart somewhat less secure. There was a time when someone thought Jones was a first-round talent -- well ahead of backs who actually turned out to be. Surely, he's worth a May 14 flier for a team that's looking to run as many offensive plays as possible in 2013.
In honor of the formerly great, perpetually overpaid Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and the spectacular end of his season last week, our man John Clayton has compiled a list of the 10 worst current contracts in the NFL. There are two NFC East contracts on the list. Quarterback Michael Vick's six-year, $100 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles is No. 2 (behind only Chris Johnson's deal with Tennessee), and tackle Doug Free's six-year, $48 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys ranks No. 9.

Here's what John has to say about the Vick deal:
Vick is the quarterback for now, but after the so-called "Dream Team" didn't make the playoffs last season, the 3-3 start has everything under review. Andy Reid could be in trouble if the Eagles don't make the playoffs, and that would affect Vick. He has $47.5 million coming to him in 2013-15, but the Eagles might try to get out of the deal if Reid is gone.

We know that the Eagles can escape the remainder of the Vick deal if they choose to opt out in January or early February. As ridiculous as this deal looks now, at the time Vick was coming off of one of the most spectacular seasons any quarterback ever had, and the Eagles had decided to trade Kevin Kolb and commit completely to Vick as their starter. This is what quarterbacks cost. It's now on Vick and the Eagles to use the next 10 games of this season to make the deal look more worthwhile.

Here's what John has to say about Free:
Jerry Jones thought he got a steal when the Cowboys signed Free, then a left tackle, to this contract last year. The coaching staff moved him to right tackle this season, and he's struggled in the transition. Free and left tackle Tyron Smith have been among the league leaders in penalties this season, making things tough on quarterback Tony Romo.

Remember how important it was to Cowboys fans that the team not let Free get away during that post-lockout free-agent frenzy? He's been a disaster. And it's not that he's struggling with the transition from left tackle to right tackle -- the team transitioned him there because he was so awful last year at left tackle. Again, the deal looked fine in the wake of Free's excellent 2010 season. But in retrospect, he's not an NFL left tackle and doesn't look much like an NFL right tackle either. Free's complete fall off a cliff after his big 2010 is one of the major mysteries with which the Cowboys are dealing right now.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 25, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Redskins will have to (gulp) throw. The Seattle Seahawks are allowing 100 rushing yards a game (the eighth-lowest figure in the league) and only 3.5 yards a carry (the fourth-best figure in the league). Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins, for whom the running game was such a big key in their early-season success, have become one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Their 83 rushing yards a game ranks better than only two teams -- the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans -- and their 3.7 yards a carry ranks 27th. They're also not committing to the run the way they intended to, as only two teams in the league -- the Colts and the Buccaneers -- have had fewer rushing attempts. This is clearly not the week for the Redskins to get their run game back on track, which means the passing game and Rex Grossman. The good news there is that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins are averaging 10.6 more pass yards per game and 8.1 more points per game with Grossman as the quarterback than they were when John Beck was the quarterback.

Weird, likely irrelevant historical note. The game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is the 13th matchup this season between teams that have played each other in the Super Bowl. That bodes ill for the Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, because only three of the previous 12 rematches have gone to the team that lost the Super Bowl matchup. The Packers beat the Broncos this year, and the Bills and Dolphins both beat the Redskins, though the Dolphins-Redskins game gets an asterisk because they met in two Super Bowls and split them. Either way, if you're the Eagles, Terrell Owens isn't walking through that door. And Tom Brady is.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLeSean McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts.
Eagles should get some push. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is thriving with the help of one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league this season. ESPN Stats & Info says McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts. The good news this week is that the Patriots give up 2.74 yards per contact to opposing runners, which is the sixth-highest number in the league. So if the Eagles commit to the run, they have a chance against Brady and the Pats. Of course, that's a fairly big "if"...

Jacobs not toughing it out. I've said many times here, and still believe, that the Giants' run-game problems are thanks to the poor performance of their offensive line and that people have been too hard on Brandon Jacobs and the running backs. However, there is some proof, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, that Jacobs could be doing more to help his own cause. Jacobs is averaging just 1.61 rushing yards per carry after contact, which is the fourth-lowest figure in the league among running backs with at least 90 carries. Each of the three backs behind him on that list -- Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson -- weighs at least 37 pounds less than Jacobs, whose size used to be among his greatest assets as a running back. It's possible he has slowed down as he's gotten older. It's possible that he is so discouraged by the lack of running room that he doesn't push through first contact the way he used to. It'd be understandable, given that no one likes to get hit. But it also would feed into the perceptions about him that the booing home fans have developed.

Eli against the blitz. The Saints love to blitz, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning surely will face extra pass-rushers on Monday night. But in spite of the injury to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who's one of the best backs in the league at picking up the blitz, Manning has fared well this season against five or more rushers. In fact, over the past two years, Manning ranks among the best quarterbacks in the league when teams send five or more pass-rushers. His 74.6 Total QBR in those situations is fifth-best; his 8.4 yards per attempt and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of plus-16 are third-best; and only Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdown passes than the 26 Manning has thrown over the past two years when teams send five or more.

Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? It's the debate of the moment in today's NFL. Which superstar quarterback is the best? Who, between that pair of excellent, future Hall of Fame signal-callers, would you pick if you had the choice? That's not the question that was asked of our Power Rankings panel this week, but it turned out to be the one we answered.

Yes, after weeks upon weeks of power-ranking everything we could think of in the NFL, we've decided to throw all qualifiers and designations out the window and make it very simple: Who are the best players in the league?

As was the case when our panel was asked to rank the league's top quarterbacks, Brady beat out Manning for the top spot in this week's power rankings. Six of the eight NFL bloggers polled ranked Brady No. 1 overall, and the two who didn't -- Mike Sando and Paul Kuharsky -- ranked him second behind Manning. The top four players in our rankings and seven of the top 10 (of the top 11, technically, since Michael Vick and Andre Johnson tied for the No. 10 spot) all play the same position -- quarterback -- which says a lot about the way we value that position.

"Quarterback is the most significant position on the field and can make the difference between a lopsided losing record and the playoffs," said AFC East blogger Tim Graham, whose ballot had quarterbacks in each of the first seven spots and eight of 10 overall. "It takes a truly special running back or defensive player to outweigh the importance of a quarterback. For example, Adrian Peterson is a sensational player. But without Brett Favre producing at quarterback, Peterson couldn't carry the Vikings to the playoffs."

So the question then became which quarterback was the best. The debate these days seems to be squarely between Manning and Brady, though two of our eight bloggers did rank Manning third on this week's list. We'll get to them in a minute. We'll start with the majority opinion -- that Brady is the best player in the league right now.

I was one of the six who ranked Brady in the top spot, and the main reason was that I think Brady has attained a level of excellence in New England that's beyond what Manning has been able to attain in Indianapolis. Brady's accomplishments in 2007, when he combined with Randy Moss to set all kinds of offensive records and went undefeated until losing the Super Bowl to the Giants, were all-time legendary. But what people may not realize (perhaps because of the ludicrous level at which Brady excelled that year) is that the past two seasons have been the second-best and third-best statistical seasons of Brady's career. If Brady hadn't hurt his knee in the first game of the 2008 season and missed the rest of that year, it's very possible he would be on the kind of run right now that would make a Brady-Manning debate seem silly.

After the Patriots traded Randy Moss in the middle of 2010, the question was whether they were giving up on the season. What they were doing instead was committing to a midseason overhaul of the offense that wouldn't have been possible without the confidence they had in Brady to manage it. All Brady did was muster the second-best completion percentage and second-highest touchdown-pass total of his career while throwing just four interceptions and winning at least 14 games for the fourth time.

Not everybody agreed, however.

"Manning is simply asked to do more than any player in the league is asked to do," Kuharsky said. "He's superb at it. I love Brady. But Manning can do more, is asked to do more, and has to do more. Jim Caldwell is an OK coach so far. Bill Belichick is an all-time great. The guy making up the gap in order to have the Colts stay in range of the Patriots is Manning."

But the Colts really weren't in range of the Patriots this year, and for that reason Manning's star has dimmed in the eyes of a couple of our panelists. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert ranked Aaron Rodgers No. 2 and Manning No. 3. And NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas ranked Saints quarterback Drew Brees in that No. 2 spot ahead of Manning.

"I'm not trying to diminish Peyton in any way. He's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But, if you look at his numbers and Brees' numbers over the last three or four years, they're similar and, in some ways, Brees' numbers are better," Yasinskas said. "Brees and Manning each have won one Super Bowl title. My argument is that, right now, Brees is even more valuable to the Saints than Manning is to the Colts. Times change and circumstances change. But right now I think Brees is the perfect quarterback for the Saints and is in the perfect situation with their offensive system and coaching staff. In fact, I considered voting for Brees No. 1 overall, but couldn't quite bring myself to rank him ahead of Tom Brady."

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who came in first in the defensive player power rankings, ranked fifth on the overall list. AFC North blogger James Walker ranked Polamalu fourth, and Seifert ranked him fifth. Walker's ballot was the most generous overall to defensive players, as he ranked Polamalu fourth, Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Ware fifth, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis eighth and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis ninth.

Walker and Kuharsky (who ranked him 10th) were the only ones who ranked Ware at all, and Kuharsky seemed a little chapped about it.

"If we rate these quarterbacks so highly, how can we not rate the guy we said was tops at disrupting quarterbacks highly too," Paul asked. "Makes no sense. I had him too low at 10. For six of you guys to leave him off entirely dents your collective credibility. Next I imagine you'll say the E Street Band isn't the all-time best backing band."

Paul is grouchy.

"I value pass-rushers, and no player has more sacks the past two seasons than DeMarcus Ware (26.5)," Walker said. "Getting to the quarterback is the best way to combat the league's increasing number of pass-happy offenses, and no one does it better right now than Ware."

The highest-ranked offensive player who wasn't a quarterback was Peterson, who came in sixth after being named on five of eight ballots. Sando, Walker and AFC West blogger Bill Williamson left the Minnesota running back off their ballots -- the third time in three tries that Williamson has ranked Peterson lower than most of the rest of us did.

"This is a quarterback league and that's how I built my top 10," Williamson explained. "There were only three non-quarterbacks on my top 10. After I constructed the quarterback rankings, I went to the best available non-quarterbacks, and the list was quite short. But to reiterate, this is the top 10. The best of the best. I think Peterson is probably a top-15 guy and that’s pretty good in a league of 1,800-plus professionals."

Pretty good indeed. But as Bill said, it's a quarterback league. And for that reason, the debate about the best player in the league came down, once again, to Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

A good morning to all. I hope you all had as nice a holiday weekend as I did. That Bill P from NJ really knows how to throw a barbecue.

The Eagles' DeSean Jackson was a hot topic on our lil' ol' blog Friday, as the debate over the division's best wide receiver corps got everybody nice and fired up heading into the weekend. But there's no debating the fact that Jackson is using his lockout-induced free time for good. We've linked here before about his work with his Pancreatic Cancer foundation and mentioned the time he's spent back in Oakland going to schools to talk about the dangers of bullying. The Oakland Tribune's Monte Poole recently accompanied Jackson on a visit to San Quentin, where he spent time chatting with inmates. Impressive dude on and off the field, it would seem, is Jackson.

Meanwhile, here at the blog, with the holiday behind us, we link:

More Eagles

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Ashley Fox thinks Kevin Kolb is naive to trust Andy Reid to do right by him, and that Reid will only do so if it's also what's best for the team. Kolb, who said after the season that he wants to be traded to a team for which he can be the starting quarterback, softened a bit last week and said he wouldn't be "a turd" if stuck in Philly. Which is nice.

This report indicates that the Arizona Cardinals, thought to be the Eagles' most likely trade partner for Kolb, still have some questions about him. Now, they could be putting that out there for leverage reasons, sure. But the longer the lockout drags on, the more difficult it's going to be to put this deal together. What may have seemed like an obvious fit months ago might start to break apart under more extensive examination. Just saying, don't assume it's a done deal.

Dallas Cowboys

There were short ribs on the menu and, apparently, a "pizza bar" at the Tony Romo wedding Saturday night. Sure, I mean, when you invite that many football players to your wedding, you've got to give them something to eat. But man, I'm going to be thinking about "pizza bar" all week. And I'm not even hungry right now.

Rainer Sabin mulls the question of whether the Cowboys were actually right to pick Felix Jones with the No. 22 selection in the 2008 NFL draft, one pick before Pittsburgh selected the considerably more productive Rashard Mendenhall. The conclusion here seems to be that Jones, the better receiver, fits the Cowboys' scheme better than Mendenhall would have. To which I say: Okaaaaaay, but ... Tennessee took Chris Johnson at 24. How we rationalizing that one?

New York Giants

Justin Tuck is assembling celebrities for his annual charity pool tournament this week in New York. Tuck's charity benefits literacy programs in central Alabama, where he's from. Tuck takes a lot of pride in being from Alabama and was recently there helping to raise money for tornado victims.

Giants 101 spoke with Kevin Boothe, who said rookies are missing out on valuable classroom time because of the NFL lockout.

Washington Redskins

Mike Jones from the Washington Post spoke with the father of Brandon Banks about how the Redskins' receiver is dealing with the aftermath of his November knee surgery and his February stabbing. The Redskins' exclusion from our discussion of the division's best wide receivers would seem to speak to a potential opportunity for Banks, who would be a nice comeback story if he could return to the field and make a positive contribution.

Word here that Albert Haynesworth might settle his road rage case, which would be good. I'm sure Haynesworth would like to move on so he can go find something else about which to be angry.

Not me, though. I'm as happy as can be to be back with you for another week. Let's do it to them before they do it to us.

Wrap-up: Redskins 19, Titans 16 OT

November, 21, 2010
Some quick thoughts on the Washington Redskins' clutch 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans.

What it means: This is an enormous win for a team that was thoroughly embarrassed by the Philadelphia Eagles Monday. The Redskins faced a lot of adversity in this game with at least eight players having to leave for some time due to injury. And it's not like Washington was at full strength at the beginning. Quarterback Donovan McNabb showed excellent poise in leading a two-minute drill at the end of regulation and then he again put the Skins in position to win the game in overtime. McNabb finished the game 30-of-50 for 376 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Playing behind a patchwork offensive line, McNabb used his feet to extend plays and deliver strikes downfield. He had the one bad interception in the first half, but I still think this was his best performance of the season.

McNabb's play of the game: With the Redskins starting from their own 13-yard line in overtime, McNabb avoided a sack and launched the ball to tight end Chris Cooley for a 26-yard gain on first down. The Redskins certainly had help on the game-winning drive with two 15-yard penalties on the Titans, but McNabb's throw to Cooley got things off to a good start. If Cooley was able to keep on his feet on the play, he had a chance at a touchdown.

Injuries everywhere: The Redskins can't even get running backs through pregame warmups without getting injured. The Skins were down to two running backs because Chad Simpson injured himself before the game. Clinton Portis got off to a quick start with 32 yards on five carries, but then he re-injured his groin and had to leave the game.You have to hand it to Keiland Williams, who ran the ball 23 times for 68 yards and also caught six passes.

The Redskins' defense continued to get the job done despite losing players to injuries. The Titans moved the ball with Chris Johnson on the ground, but they never punched the ball in the end zone against the Skins. Tennessee's only touchdown came on a punt return. Washington had 17 more first downs than the Titans and nearly 100 more total yards on offense. But the Titans win games like these, as the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys will attest. Of course, knocking Titans quarterback Vince Young out of the game in the third quarter didn't hurt the Skins' cause. Third-stringer Rusty Smith had one long completion to set up a field goal, but he threw a crucial interception to Phillip Buchanon and then struggled in overtime. I'll never understand why the Titans didn't simply keep feeding the ball to Johnson in overtime. Putting the game in Smith's hands after Johnson had opened with a 15-yard run was a baffling call by the Titans.

What's next: It's hard to believe, but the Skins (5-5) could hop right back into the playoff picture with a win at home over the struggling Vikings next Sunday. And then it's off to New Meadowlands Stadium to face the New York Giants. That's suddenly looking like a pretty good game Dec. 5.

Friday Morning Beastlines

October, 22, 2010
Let's take a quick spin around the division this morning. I'll be away from the blog for much of the day while preparing two columns for Saturday. Thanks in advance for your patience:


Ed Werder likes the Cowboys' chances

October, 8, 2010
ESPN's Ed Werder is currently hosting a chat at He's been in Kansas City preparing a feature on Todd Haley and the Chiefs, but he's still plugged into Valley Ranch. Here's an entertaining portion of the chat transcript:

Dave from Tampa: I see this Titans game as being very competitive. I think TN will be more physical than the Cowboys are expecting. IF Vince Young has some success in the first quarter with a little running and completing a few passes, it will do wonders for his confidence. I think final score will be about 20-17 or so. What do you think?

The highly compensated Ed Werder at 10:18 Dallas time: I think the Cowboys are a strong defensive team that should be capable of holding down the score against a one-dimensional opponent like the Titans. Now, with Chris Johnson and the unique running ability of Vince Young, the Titans are the kind of team that can beat you even if you win on all but two or three plays defensively. The Cowboys have had two weeks to prepare for this game and they're playing at home. They should win. It will be a physical game -- Cortland Finnegan has been fined three straight weeks -- and the Cowboys will need to remain disciplined and let the Titans -- the league's most penalized team -- self-destruct rather than have their players baited into mindless personal-foul penalties. The Bears' defensive players said the Cowboys were easily intimidated. This will be a chance to disprove that accusation.

Ed also told readers how much he loved his trip to London 20 years ago. For more on that and other Werder witticisms, please refer to the full chat transcript on

Closing thoughts on Giants-Titans

September, 27, 2010
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As I await takeoff on my final leg to Dallas, here are a few final thoughts from the Giants' 29-10 loss to the Titans.
  • Is it really accurate to tell everyone you "should've won" when your team has six personal fouls and two turnovers inside an opponent's 5-yard line?
  • Will the prestigious Manning Passing Camp now include courses for youngsters wanting to throw with both arms? Eli Manning had a career-high 34 completions Sunday, but that left-handed attempt in the first quarter is what everyone will remember. It was unnecessary and I was stunned to see him attempt the throw. It looked like something Brett Favre or Tony Romo would try at some point, but not Manning.
  • Very awkward to hear fans booing Tom Coughlin through a glass partition at his postgame news conference. That's as frustrated as I've seen him in quite some time. If the Giants fall to 1-3 next Sunday night against the Bears, Coughlin's job security will become a major topic.
  • The only silver lining was the way the Giants' defense played for most of the game. Chris Johnson surpassed 100 yards only because of a long run after the game had been decided in the fourth quarter.

Giants leave foul smell in Meadowlands

September, 26, 2010
Tom CoughlinAndrew Burton/Getty ImagesTom Coughlin's New York Giants totaled six personal fouls in a sloppy loss to the Tennessee Titans.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Led by their head coach's postgame monologue, the New York Giants claimed to have been the best team on the field Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. But they were also the dumbest team, which undermined any positives in a 29-10 loss to the Titans that puts them in a 1-2 hole.

We've told ourselves since the 2007 Super Bowl season that Tom Coughlin's teams don't beat themselves, but that's exactly what happened Sunday. The Giants appear to be one of the most undisciplined teams in the league, although it's progress that no helmets made their way into the stands. Of course, that didn't keep the Giants from losing their heads.

Quarterback Eli Manning set the tone early with what may have been the most clueless decision of his career. A brilliant throw down the seam to tight end Kevin Boss for 54 yards gave the Giants a first-and-goal on the Titans' 9-yard line midway through the first quarter. On third down from the 2-yard line, Manning tried to escape pressure before inexplicably lobbing the ball into the end zone with his left hand. Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon tipped the weakly thrown pass and cornerback Jason McCourty made a diving interception.

The Giants' benevolence in the red zone would continue, but it was the utter lack of composure that brought back Terrible Tom's sideline act. Through the magic of film, players and coaches had noticed how the Titans liked to play through the whistle. They shouldn't have been surprised that cornerback Cortland Finnegan, one of the most underrated players in the league, likes to add an extra shove or a few choice words following plays. Yet the Giants retaliated time after time, leading to six personal fouls, two of which were called on veteran right tackle Kareem McKenzie.

When McKenzie was flagged for his second unnecessary roughness penalty in the fourth quarter, Coughlin stormed down the sideline and told offensive line coach Pat Flaherty to find an immediate replacement. Former Eagles Pro Bowler Shawn Andrews came jogging onto the field and played the rest of the way. On the Titans' ensuing possession, Coughlin yanked safety Antrel Rolle from the field for drawing another 15-yard penalty for taking a swipe at tight end Craig Stevens after the whistle. Rolle complained last week that Coughlin pulled players off at a road game too early. Rolle said he wasn't provided with an explanation for his early departure, but I'm sure the coaches will accommodate him soon.

"I got struck twice, and I struck back," said Rolle. "There was no explanation about it. I’m a ballplayer, and that means I’m fiery. He struck me twice, and I definitely struck him back. I wasn’t ejected, but the coaches pulled me out probably to calm me down. I understand that. It’s a game of emotions. That guy took two strikes at me, and I made sure I struck him back."

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesEli Manning threw two picks against the Titans, including this drive-ending interecption at the goal line.
Rolle admitted that he made a mistake, but he seemed to stand by his retribution. I wouldn't blame Coughlin if he benched both Rolle and McKenzie next week. During a postgame news conference that was held in clear sight of some boisterous Giants fans, Coughlin took full responsibility for the red zone turnovers and personal fouls.

"The way in which we play in between the lines is my responsibility and I’m taking full responsibility for that," said Coughlin. "This is a game that we should have won, we didn’t win."

Told that Coughlin had taken the blame for the all the personal fouls, defensive end Justin Tuck told a small group of reporters, "That's horse [expletive]! That's an individual penalty, not a coach's penalty."

Even with all the mistakes, the Giants had an opportunity to get back in the game late in the third quarter. Ahmad Bradshaw had gashed the Titans for runs of 22 and 20 yards on a drive to set up a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line. On the next play, Titans safety Michael Griffin poked the ball out of Bradshaw's arms and the Titans recovered to maintain a 19-10 lead.

The two red zone turnovers and six personal fouls undermined a strong performance by the defense against Titans All-Pro running back Chris Johnson, who tacked on a 42-yard gain after the game had been decided. The Giants outgained the Titans by a staggering 200 yards but it didn't matter because of 11 penalties and three turnovers.

It was a completely different feeling from the whipping they took from the Colts last week, but the result was the same. Even in the watered-down NFC East, the Giants are already in trouble. They have the same 1-2 record as the Dallas Cowboys, but those teams had much different experiences Sunday. The Cowboys' win over the Texans could serve as a springboard for a quick turnaround, while the Giants will host a Bears team next Sunday night that could potentially be 3-0.

This season is already on the brink, and you could say the same thing about Coughlin's future as head coach. He talks about always putting the team first, but several individuals made a joke of that concept in Sunday's loss. The fact that most of those players are veterans has to be the most galling part for Coughlin.

"I’m disappointed that it comes at all, that it comes from our team because, as I said, it’ll be very, very difficult to win football games under those circumstances," said Coughlin.

Cowboys' offense allergic to end zone

August, 13, 2010
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's too bad we can't get those 60 minutes of our lives back. The Cowboys' first-team offense once again failed in the red zone, and the backups didn't do any better in a 17-9 loss to the Raiders. With the Cowboys having played Sunday, it was obvious they didn't belong on the field Thursday night.

The defense certainly had its moments, but the story of the game (from my vantage point) is that Tony Romo was sacked three times and the running game was non-existent. Other than that, it was a wonderful night of football. The Cowboys have nine days before playing a preseason game in San Diego. Maybe we'll get a better feel for where this team is at that point. But in the interest of producing a blog entry before most of you arrive at work, here are a few observations from Thursday's contest:
[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo was sacked three times in Thursday's loss to Oakland.

  • The Cowboys were 0-for-4 in red zone efficiency, including a quick trip inside the 20 before Romo was sacked for a 9-yard loss. Dallas gave up six sacks in the game, three on Romo. The most disturbing to me was seeing Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy beat Doug Free on a speed rush and then drag down Romo with one arm. Free was with Shaughnessy the whole time on the play, but he never delivered a solid punch. Shaughnessy's a nice second-year player out of Wisconsin, but he's not Trent Cole, Justin Tuck and Brian Orakpo. Free needs to clean things up before he meets any of those players. At least two of the three sacks on Romo were coverage sacks. He needs to do a better job of unloading the ball in those situations.
  • Linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking were both excellent in coverage in the first quarter. James was throwing his body all over the place and Brooking was superb in not letting anyone get separation from him. Brooking still moves really well. I hope Sean Lee is watching Brooking's every move right now. The rookie needs to get past this quadriceps injury and return to the practice field. Otherwise, he's not going to have a chance to earn time in sub packages. Bobby Carpenter was replacing Brooking in the nickel last season, but right now I wouldn't replace him with anyone.
  • Raiders safety Tyvon Branch was a mismatch for Jason Witten. The Pro Bowl tight end got plenty of separation and Romo hit him in stride for a big play on the first drive.
  • Miles Austin made a beautiful adjustment to a ball thrown slightly behind him in the first quarter for a 24-yard catch. Austin brought a lot of energy to the field Thursday and ran some excellent routes. On the twisting grab, he beat cornerback Chris Johnson. The Raiders are vulnerable on that side of the field.
  • Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston had one of the sacks on Romo. He was able to sneak in the backside and crunch the quarterback. Romo didn't feel the pressure coming on the play. He just seemed content to stay in the pocket, and that wasn't helping matters. Of course, everyone in the stadium gasped when he took off running up the middle of the field on one play.
  • It was a good night for kicker David Buehler. He nailed a 42-yard field goal and then connected on two short ones. He also recorded three touchbacks. The 42-yarder was a good sign because that's a distance that plagued the team during a miserable stretch in '09. Buehler has all the confidence in the world. If he'll trust his leg, the distance will be there.
  • Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick might be the best tackler of all the defensive backs. He does a really nice job of wrapping up and you don't see guys bounce off him. Scandrick decked wide receiver Louis Murphy early in the game. Then he absorbed a blow from James. The Cowboys were flying to the ball early.
  • The running game was awful, but I did see Marion Barber put a nice little move on cornerback Stanford Routt in the first quarter. He froze Routt with a little stutter-step. Barber stumbled after that and only gained 2 yards.
  • Romo and Austin have tremendous chemistry on the slant. On a third-down play, Austin got Johnson on his hip and then made a nice grab across the middle. Even when cornerbacks see it coming, they have an awful time getting inside position.
  • All the goodwill that Kevin Ogletree earned in the offseason is being wasted early in the preseason. He's not making contested catches and it just seems like there's a lack of concentration. I still think he'll make the roster as the fifth receiver, but he hasn't seized some of these extra repetitions that were created by Dez Bryant's absence.
  • Linebacker Victor Butler picked up a personal foul on a punt return. The officials will not have any tolerance this season for those blindside hits on defenseless players. There's just too much of a risk for head and neck injuries. Butler must have better awareness on that play.
  • In the first quarter, cornerback Terence Newman closed quickly to break up a Jason Campbell throw in the flat. Newman was in position to make the interception, but he opted for knocking down the ball with one arm. It was a very instinctive play and it caught Campbell by surprise.
  • Free-agent rookie Bryan McCann out of SMU had one really nice punt return (28 yards) late in the second quarter when he allowed Ogletree to set him up with a good block. McCann's also getting a lot of opportunities with the second-team defense. He was late on a Campbell throw to Murphy, but you can tell that he's not far away from making those plays. I get the sense that Wade Phillips is really pulling for McCann.
  • I was eager to see how former third-round draft pick Robert Brewster performed at left tackle against the Raiders. And once again, he turned in a dud. Not even the optimistic Phillips will be able to praise Brewster after Thursday's showing. His feet are stuck in neutral and there's absolutely no anchor. When you watch him, he's getting pushed directly toward the quarterback. He's most susceptible to an outside speed rush right now, and that's not a good sign. Brewster will keep getting chances, but I thought that was a poor showing. Brewster was also penalized for grabbing a defensive end as he raced past.
  • Butler does an excellent job getting pressure on the quarterback. He's so much more consistent this season in causing problems for the offensive line. And the other linebacker who caught my eye Thursday was Leon Williams. He's just a really tough player who brings some attitude to the field. Inside linebacker Jason Williams is still a work in progress, but he did race through and make a nice play against running back Michael Bush.
  • Safety Mike Hamlin suffered a neck strain and a concussion in the third quarter, according to's Tim MacMahon. Some folks in the organization thought Hamlin might challenge Alan Ball for the starting role, but that hasn't happened so far in camp. The good news for the Cowboys is that Hamlin was the only player injured. That's a lot different situation than what took place against the Bengals.
  • Roy Williams and Romo weren't on the same page in the first quarter. On one play, Romo rolled right and wanted Williams to come back to him. Williams sort of posted up the cornerback along the sideline and hoped for the best. There wasn't any rhythm to his routes against the Raiders. By the way, Bryant gave Williams and the rest of the receivers some new shoes.
  • In one of the Cowboys' four trips inside the red zone, Jon Kitna rolled right and threw to Deon Anderson in the flat. It was a poorly conceived play on fourth-and-1. Linebacker Thomas Howard applied the pressure to Kitna.
  • I thought safety Danny McCray did a really nice job hustling over to break up a deep ball to Johnnie Lee Higgins. McCray's been a camp phenom, and I'm eager to see if he can keep it up in Oxnard, Calif., next week. The Beast will be on the ground in Oxnard beginning Sunday evening.
  • The Cowboys were 3-for-16 on third down. The lack of a running game put the Cowboys in third-and-long situations far too often. Losing in the preseason isn't a big issue, but this red zone issue is something that goes back to last season. The Cowboys need a touchdown from the first-team offense against the Chargers next Saturday.
  • Guard Pat McQuistan simply doesn't play with any power. Every time I watch him, he's getting thrown toward the quarterback. It's about time to move on without him. The Cowboys have invested a lot of time in him, but I don't think he'll ever be a starter. And he doesn't seem like a reliable backup. On the other hand, I like the backup center, Phil Costa. The guy will stand his ground and he seems to have a little attitude. Give me that guy over McQuistan any day. I also liked the way rookie Sam Young played.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 31, 2010
NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in that spot.

Dallas Cowboys

My colleague Mike Sando from the NFC West bureau has done some outstanding research on this very topic. Over the past 15 years, he's discovered that running backs have been quite popular at No. 27. From 1995-09, there were four running backs taken, three wide receivers and three offensive linemen. True to form, the Colts selected Donald Brown at No. 27 overall in '09 and there's a good chance he'll start for the next six or seven seasons.

In '08, the Chargers selected cornerback Antoine Cason at No. 27. He's had four interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his first two seasons. Teams at the bottom of the first round love it when cornerbacks slip a little bit. That's why I keep saying the Cowboys will keep a close eye on Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty. And remember, you heard it here first. In '07, I took at trip to Tulsa, Okla., to do a story on a former team roper named Robert Meachem. He'd become a star receiver at Tennessee and the Saints selected him at No. 27 . Meachem was a huge disappointment in his rookie season, reporting to work out of shape. But now he's a key member of the Saints' elite corps of receivers. So in the past three years, you've seen teams connect on those late first-round picks.

New York Giants

Most people believe the Giants need to draft a linebacker in the first round. And as Sando's research indicates, that's been a very popular position at the No. 15 spot, where the Giants will be. In the past 15 drafts, teams have selected five linebackers at No. 15. Will Alabama's Rolando McClain still be available? We're about to find out. The Steelers selected Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons at No. 15 overall in '07 and I'd say that's worked out pretty well. The Chiefs took offensive tackle Branden Albert out of Virginia in '08 and last year the Texans went with former USC linebacker Brian Cushing. That's two excellent linebackers at No. 15 in the past three years. Bodes pretty well for Giants fans.

Philadelphia Eagles

For whatever reason, there's been an inordinate number of defensive backs taken at No. 24 overall. And it wouldn't surprise me to see the Eagles continue that trend. The team could take a safety or cornerback and feel pretty good about it in my mind. The Eagles have a lot of practice selecting in this range, so they won't get caught off guard. Last year, the Falcons took defensive tackle Peria Jerry out of Ole Miss in the No. 24 hole. And in '08, the Titans selected running back Chris Johnson, now the most prolific runner in the league. In '07, the Patriots drafted Miami safety Brandon Meriweather and turned him into a pretty versatile player. And how can anyone forget the No. 24 pick in the '05 draft? It was the ultimate green room debacle, Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That's obviously worked out pretty well for the Packers.

Washington Redskins

There's no real consensus at the No. 4 pick over the past 15 drafts. But there's only been one quarterback taken No. 4 overall -- if you can believe that. The position is so valuable that the top player at that position (Sam Bradford this year) is almost always gone by No. 4. Last season, the Seahawks played it really safe with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, who's going to be an excellent player in the league for years to come. The Raiders selected Arkansas running back Darren McFadden No. 4 overall in '08 and you can't say that's really panned out for them. Of course, nothing they've done the past decade has really panned out for them. The Bucs took Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams No. 4 overall in '07 and we all know that his life ended tragically this past January. In '06, the Jets found an excellent left tackle in D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia. The Redskins would be wise to follow the Jets' lead in three weeks. In '05, the Bears went with Texas running back Cedric Benson. But I wouldn't worry about the Redskins taking a running back at No. 4. There's no one good enough to tempt them at that spot. Shanahan would rather go with the old warhorses, Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson.