NFC East: Denver Broncos

Live blog: Broncos at Cowboys

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
2:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Denver Broncos' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
Wes Welker and Dez BryantIcon SMI, USA TODAY SportsWes Welker, left, and Dez Bryant have combined for 49 catches and 10 touchdowns this season.
Peyton Manning makes his first appearance at AT&T Stadium when the undefeated Denver Broncos come to town to take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Manning has done just about everything right this season, but he’s lost his past two games to the Cowboys and has been intercepted six times.

That seems a lifetime ago now, but Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Cowboys team reporter Todd Archer bring you this week’s Double Coverage:

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Archer: This Peyton Manning guy seems pretty good. What does he do that is so different from just about every other quarterback in the NFL?

Legwold: Todd, all of the work he put in physically to return from his missed season in 2011 is now combined with his other-worldly preparation and game-day recall for the start he’s put together. When John Elway signed him, Elway said he wanted a player who “raised all the boats’’ in the organization, a guy to set the bar in terms of getting ready to play. And despite Manning’s résumé, he practices harder, prepares more and pours more of himself into each week than almost any other player. It sets the tone even with the coaches, who have to try to stay a step ahead of him as they all get ready. And behind center he is rarely fooled because of it. He is on a historic pace in an offense Elway has built from his own experiences at quarterback, and defenses have rarely put a hand on him, especially in the past two games. Monte Kiffin has certainly seen Manning plenty over the years: How do you think he’ll go about defending him and the Broncos?

Archer: Coming off the meltdown last week against San Diego’s Philip Rivers (401 yards, three touchdowns), I think Kiffin will petition the NFL to ask for a 12th defender. And I’m not sure that will work. Manning knows everything about this defense, so it’s not about tricking him. The Cowboys must get pressure on him and that starts with DeMarcus Ware, who strained a muscle in his back last week. Kiffin knows if he blitzes, then Manning will beat him. Kiffin is also dealing with a cornerback in Morris Claiborne who lacks confidence and technique, which is never a good combination. The last time Orlando Scandrick saw Wes Welker, he did a good job limiting him in New England, so maybe the Cowboys feel OK about that matchup. But there are so many weapons for Manning to choose from that it’s hard to slow the Broncos down. The key will be early pressure and red zone defense. Somehow Dallas has to force the Broncos to kick field goals.

Manning gets all of the attention -- and for good reason -- but what has not received as much attention in Denver's 4-0 start?

Legwold: Manning’s ridiculous numbers have overwhelmed almost every discussion about the team, but the ability for the offensive line to perform, consistently, at a fairly high level given the fact All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady is on injured reserve and Manny Ramirez had never started a regular-season game at center until the opener, has been key. The Broncos haven’t always been all that proficient in the run game -- 39 carries this season of two or fewer yards (32.5 percent of their runs) -- but they have protected Manning well and that’s certainly Job 1. The Eagles sacked Manning just once this past Sunday and may not have touched him on any other play in the game. The Broncos also have high-end team speed up and down the roster -- an Elway initiative since he took the job. And while the defense has benefited from the big leads, it has performed well overall considering Champ Bailey and Von Miller haven’t played this season.

Quarterback Tony Romo’s numbers look good on paper. What is the level of patience right now with Romo, both inside and outside of the organization?

Archer: To me there is no player more scrutinized than Romo. There is no gray area when people discuss him. He’s either terrible or great. From the fans, they expect Super Bowls because that’s what Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman delivered and they hear about the great talent on this roster. There is talent, but it’s not as abundant as the national talking heads believe. From inside the organization, Romo is the guy. They just guaranteed him $55 million this offseason and have given him more control of the offense than he has ever had. Jerry Jones came up with the famous “Peyton Manning time” quote about how much he wants the quarterback involved. He’s playing well, completing 72 percent of his throws and avoiding mistakes. His one interception was on a receiver running the wrong route. Fans might want him gone, but they tend to forget the long wait this franchise had in finding Romo after Aikman retired.

You mentioned Miller. He’s a local kid. What kind of fall has he taken and does he have the full support of the organization?

Legwold: Miller is four games into his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. And he had a bumpy ride through training camp with news of the suspension, to go with an arrest for failing to appear for a court appearance when he was going through a mandatory background check at a gun shop near the Broncos’ facility, to go with some traffic violations and the revelation he tried to beat the drug test with a side deal with the sample collector, who has since been fired. His reputation and image have taken a big hit, and privately some in the organization and even some of his teammates shake their heads at what they say is immaturity and the fact he hasn’t publicly taken much responsibility for it all. He, at one point, said the media has harmed his reputation, but he hasn’t shown much accountability in the public arena and that has bothered some. But that said, he is one of the Broncos' best players, a physically gifted athlete, and the organization has tried to get him help and on the right track. They will have an enormous decision to make in regard to a contract extension at some point given Miller is now in Stage 3 of the drug program and, at least according to the policy, will remain there for the remainder of his career.

In terms of the Cowboys' pass rush, are the injuries starting to catch up to DeMarcus Ware a bit, and how key is he still to what Kiffin wants to do on defense?

Archer: Maybe a little bit, but he is still an elite pass-rusher. Last year he played most of the second half of the season with a shoulder that needed reconstructive surgery, and a hyperextended elbow. This year he is battling stingers and now a muscle strain in his back. For far too long the Cowboys' pass rush has been Ware and nobody else. As well as George Selvie (three sacks) has played, he’s not Anthony Spencer, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Jason Hatcher has taken to this scheme, but the Cowboys have yet to see Jay Ratliff, who is on the physically unable to perform list, practice since last season. Ware is the key. The Cowboys are moving him around to try to take advantage of matchups and he has four sacks. He just needs some help and has for some time. Who it comes from, however, is another story.

Do we see Champ Bailey this week and how have the Broncos compensated?

Legwold: On Friday last week, it looked like Bailey would at least get some situational work in the defense against the Eagles, but the Broncos held out the 12-time Pro Bowl selection for the fourth consecutive game. Bailey has characterized it, including after Sunday’s win over the Eagles, as “close, very close,’’ and if he continues to go through practice this week -- it is his third week back in practice -- he would seem to be on track to play. The Broncos have gotten everything they hoped from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. When they signed him they essentially told him he had the talent to play like a No. 1 cornerback, but would have to lift his game and be ready to be coached hard. Rodgers-Cromartie was on board with that and has played like a No. 1 on the outside. The Broncos have matched him on receivers already this season and will give plenty of thought to matching him on Dez Bryant. Also, Chris Harris, who made this team as an undrafted rookie in 2011, has played like a starter almost since his first training-camp practice. Harris is tough, competitive and versatile -- he can play inside or outside -- and Denver has gotten enough from Tony Carter and rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster to make it work.

On offense for the Cowboys, how has Bill Callahan, whose son is a Broncos quality control assistant, fared as the playcaller so far?

Archer: He’s been OK. It’s hard to get a feel for his style. The Cowboys have run it better the past two weeks, but they were spotty the first two weeks. They have not taken many shots down the field. Romo has only three completions of 25 yards or more this year and he has averaged 33 a season. I don’t know if that is Callahan’s West Coast background or Romo not trusting his line yet to hold off the rush. The issue I had (and have) with Callahan as the playcaller has nothing to do with his résumé, but the fact that this is not his system. This is Jason Garrett’s passing game still. So, to me, they’re putting him in a situation that doesn’t work best for him. Again, he’s been OK and he seems to be working fine with Romo, but I think there is still a feeling-out process going on.

A little offbeat here, but I want to ask about Elway. As you know, the Jerry Jones/general manager story is something that doesn’t die. I wonder if Troy Aikman ever looks at Elway as a possible example if he ever wanted to jump into the personnel game. How good has Elway been? How involved in everything is he?

Legwold: Todd, it is unprecedented that a Hall of Fame quarterback has jumped into the day-to-day grind of personnel since most make a handsome living on TV, card shows or the celebrity golf circuit, but Elway has dived in and shown himself to be a nuts-and-bolts talent evaluator. He knows what he likes in players and in three drafts has consistently stuck to those evaluations, and the Broncos have worked their draft board with consistency. He believes a draft-built team is the key, but will spend Pat Bowlen’s money when he has a chance at somebody like Manning or Wes Welker. His challenge now will be to avoid what so many teams do with the alpha quarterback behind center -- sign too many older players to high-end deals they can’t play up to -- and keep the roster young and homegrown. But overall he works it, looks at the video and has created an environment where the scouts and personnel guys believe what they’re doing is important to what the team is trying to do.

On that, do you think Jerry Jones will ever really give the draft the importance it deserves in team building?

Archer: Why would he start now? Sorry, I kid. Here’s where I think Jerry goes wrong with the draft: He listens to too many people. Honestly, he does. He has too many people in his ear and it affects his decision-making. The coaches have too much say. His friends outside the building have too much say. He needs to trust his scouts, which he often talks about but rarely does. The Cowboys could have picked Sharrif Floyd in the first round. They had him as a top-10 player on their board, but when it came time to pick, they passed because Rod Marinelli didn’t believe Floyd had enough pass rush skill. If that’s the case, then Floyd shouldn’t have been that high on the Dallas board. The Cowboys traded down and took Travis Frederick, who many saw as a second- or third-round pick. Now, Frederick has the makings of a long-term starter, so I won’t quibble with the pick, but the process in which Dallas got there was highly flawed. To me, that’s the Cowboys’ biggest issue when it comes to the draft.

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Double Coverage: Broncos at Giants

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
12:00
PM ET

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.

The latest team being mentioned as interested in acquiring Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel are the Atlanta Falcons, per Adam Schefter, who also reports that the Denver Broncos have dropped out of the running. It seems fair to say that the Eagles' market for Samuel is not expanding, but they don't really need it to. They just need one team interested enough to offer what they want -- a Day 3 draft pick -- in exchange for Samuel, and they need that team to be interesting enough to Samuel that he's willing to restructure his contract in order to facilitate the trade.

It has been reported in Philadelphia that Samuel would be willing to restructure in order to get a trade done, but to this point that has not happened. The Eagles would obviously like to trade Samuel sometime between now and the end of the draft Saturday (otherwise they obviously won't be able to get a 2012 pick for him), and today being Tuesday, the timetable does start to get a bit compressed.

So, what of Atlanta as a suitor? Surely, this is a team for which a player wouldn't mind playing. They are coming off of two straight playoff appearances and by all appearances should be a contender again this coming season. But with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson already there, would Samuel be leaving one crowded cornerback situation for another? And if so, would that upset him enough to give them enough of a problem about the contract to scuttle a deal?

It's also worth raising a question here about Atlanta's motivation. The report came out this morning that they were interested in Samuel, and then a few hours later Grimes signed his franchise tender. That could be a coincidence, or it could be that the interest in Samuel was a ploy by the Falcons to get Grimes' situation settled as the offseason program begins?

Much intrigue still swirls around this situation, as it seems to swirl around every situation this time of year. I still think Samuel gets dealt by Saturday night, but I'd only be guessing if I predicted to which team.
There is a report from the Denver Post that the Broncos are interested in Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel but haven't been able to strike a deal. And within Mike Klis' report is a key detail that helps answer the many questions I'm getting that go something like, "Why can't they get more than a fifth-round pick for Samuel?"
Samuel
Samuel has two years left on his contract — $10 million, counting a $100,000 offseason workout bonus this season, and $11.5 million, counting the $100,000 workout bonus in 2013.

None of that money is guaranteed, so the expectation is Samuel would have to alter his contract for a trade to be done.

And there's the problem. Sure, if Samuel were 25 years old and signed to a reasonable contract, the Eagles could get a lot more for him than a fourth-round pick or a fifth-round pick. But if those things were true, they wouldn't be trying to trade him. The reasons the Eagles are trying to get rid of Samuel are the same reasons teams aren't lining up to trade good players and/or high picks in return.

Samuel is a very good cornerback and likely to help whatever team he's on in 2012. Teams that need cornerback help would happily give up something of value to get a corner of Samuel's ability. But to give up something of value and pay him what he's got left on his contract is a much tougher commitment to make. And that's why the Eagles aren't likely to get much in return when and if they deal Samuel between now and the end of the draft.

That's also what gives Samuel a little bit of leverage over whether he gets dealt or even where he ends up. If he lets it be known that he's willing to restructure his deal, he'll be more attractive to teams. But the trick is to find a way to let an interested team know that without risking a violation of tampering rules by said team. The Eagles could technically go to Samuel said say, "We have a deal to send you to Team X, but they want you to restructure. Will you do it so we can make the trade?" And he could technically tell them to pound sand, in which case they'd have to take less to trade him. But Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month that Samuel would be willing to restructure if dealt.

The Eagles can wait. With six days left until the draft and teams obviously interested in the player, they have no reason to jump if they're not getting a deal they consider worth it. In the end, though, I believe they'll end up taking whatever the best deal ends up being, and leaving Samuel's contract as some other team's problem.

Shanahan mourns loss of Heimerdinger

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
12:48
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Mike Heimerdinger, the former offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, has died of cancer at the age of 58. As Bill Williamson writes on his AFC West blog, Heimerdinger was a critical part of the success that Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos had in winning two Super Bowls in the late 1990s. Heimerdinger and Shanahan were also college roommates and remained close friends throughout their coaching careers.
"We lost a very special person and my best friend in Mike Heimerdinger," Shanahan said in a statement released by the Redskins on Saturday. "I know the man upstairs needed a superstar so he took him earlier than we all wanted. His love for his family was unprecedented and I will forever miss him."

A sad day for the NFL and for Shanahan. I did not have the pleasure of knowing Mike Heimerdinger, but it is clear from the reaction to today's news that he touched a great many people and will be missed. All the best to those who knew and loved him.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Broncos

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
12:16
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I'm not sure if there are fans out there who care whether or not their teams actually win preseason games. But if you're a Dallas Cowboys fan and you do, then the ending of Thursday night's preseason opener was fun. Stephen McGee's touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris in the final minute, and the two-point conversion play that followed to give the Cowboys a 24-23 exhibition victory over the Denver Broncos, provided decent (if meaningless) theater for fans happy to have football back after so long.

Of course, if you're enough of a fan to care about the final score, you almost certainly care even more about the stuff that was going on hours earlier, when the first-teamers were in the game. Here's what I saw from the Cowboys in their first preseason game:

1. The defense is a work in progress, and appears to know it. They've had just two weeks, since the lockout ended, to learn and adjust to Rob Ryan's new scheme. They are still learning. Especially in the secondary, there were lots of times early on where guys were looking around or at each other after the play as if they were trying to figure out what should have happened. The safeties got caught looking into the backfield at critical times. They did a fine job on the goal line in the first quarter, holding the Broncos to a field goal after Kyle Orton had marched down the field somewhat easily, and they got some nice pressure from defensive ends Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher. But overall, this looked like a defense that's still learning. And that's fine. No one would have expected them to know Ryan's scheme already. He's keeping things simple, withholding the kinds of complicated blitzes and fake-out looks we'll surely see from him as his players get more comfortable with their assignments. These preseason games will be part of the learning process for a defense that will surely look better one, two and three months hence than it does now, and the Cowboys should not be judged on their inability to stop Orton or Tim Tebow on this particular night.

2. Tyron Smith is talented. The Cowboys' first-round draft pick failed to pick up a safety blitz, and that led to a sack. But overall, he held his own against the Broncos' line. What I liked best may have been the fact that, after almost every play, you could see Smith talking to Kyle Kosier as they walked back to the huddle. Moving the veteran Kosier to the right side to play next to the rookie Smith was a sharp idea, and as Smith also uses these games as learning opportunities, he'll benefit from proximity to the Cowboys' brainy guard.

3. More Victor Butler, please. If they don't think they can snap Anthony Spencer back into his late-2009 form, why not use Butler as a pass-rusher on the side opposite DeMarcus Ware? All reports indicate that he's looked good in practice and has a grasp of the scheme and the playbook. He was everywhere Thursday night when he was in the game. With a new coordinator in town, it makes sense to think guys will have chances to play their way into more playing time and larger roles, and Butler could be such a guy.

4. Felix Jones looks speedy. I mean, real nice bust through the line in his first-quarter action. We didn't see Tashard Choice or DeMarco Murray tonight, and Lonyae Miller failed to impress in what was thought to be his big chance. But Jones looked like a guy who wants to be a full-time starting running back in the league and has the tools to make it happen. Time will tell if this is the year, whether he'll have the opportunity to do so and how much he'll rotate with Choice and Murray. But Jones was fun to watch Thursday.

5. How about Dwayne Harris? There doesn't appear to be an immediate threat on the roster to Kevin Ogletree's hold on the No. 3 receiver spot. But if Ogletree struggles, there are some playmakers further down the depth chart. Harris caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and looked tough as he created space and outfought a defender or two for the ball in a couple of spots.

6. Of course David Buehler's field goal was good. Hey, look. As I watched it, I was sure it had missed, too. But the official is standing right there under the upright, and there's pretty much no way to miss that call. It was ugly, but it was good, and it was the only field goal either he or Dan Bailey, his competitor for the kicker job, attempted all night. Buehler made his one extra point attempt and Bailey didn't get a chance at his because of a bungled snap. Bailey handled all the kickoffs, presumably because the Cowboys have no concerns about Buehler's ability to kick the ball through the back of the end zone now that it appears almost everyone can. No blood drawn, it would seem, in the kicker competition Thursday.

7. Stephen McGee. No idea what to make of it, since he was playing with and against backups, but the young man played some very nice football in this game and deserves to be recognized for that. At the very least, he provides potential fodder for the nuts who think Tony Romo should be replaced if the Cowboys don't win the Super Bowl. And that's good. Got to keep the nuts happy.

New this morning from Mike Klis of the Denver Post, who reports that the Broncos are putting Kyle Orton on the trade market. Now, you're wondering why I care, and why you, as a reader of the NFC East blog, should care. Are the Redskins going to go after Orton? Likely not. We've already established that the Redskins' 2011 quarterback plan is to see what John Beck's got while conserving resources in case he's a bust and they need to maneuver to draft their franchise quarterback in April.

Orton
Kolb
No, the way the Orton news impacts the NFC East is in relation to the Eagles' efforts to trade Kevin Kolb. We are minutes away from the opening of the trade season, and everybody expects the Eagles to send Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals. But as we've also discussed many times, the Eagles will (and should) only move Kolb if they're getting very good value for him. The Cardinals, of course, will want to get him as cheaply as possible. And if they can convince the Eagles (whether it's true or not) that Orton is on their radar as another viable option, it will help Arizona's leverage in negotiations.

Oddly, I feel like Orton should be an option for Arizona, maybe even before Kolb is. He's had more NFL success than Kolb has, and if the Cardinals feel they're a quarterback away from winning their division in 2011, he's the better answer. But if Arizona's going to give up a first-round draft pick, or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, as part of a package for their starting quarterback, they want someone they think can be their present and their future at the position. And indications are that they think Kolb can be that.

The Eagles, meanwhile, will try and leverage the Cardinals by drumming up the idea that the Seattle Seahawks are interested in Kolb and could snatch him away from Arizona the way they did with Charlie Whitehurst when both were pursuing him last year. As long as Orton is available and Seattle needs a quarterback, each side in the Philadelphia-Arizona talks maintains its leverage. If the Broncos trade Orton to Seattle this morning, the Eagles and Cardinals could be stuck with each other.

And, of course, this could all be outdated real soon, if the Kolb deal goes down at 10:01 a.m. ET as it could. But if that happens, at least you got this 10 minutes or so of incredibly insightful analysis. Yeah, don't all rush to thank me.

Report: Shanahan hires RBs coach Turner

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
4:43
PM ET
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has hired longtime Broncos assistant Bobby Turner to be his associate head coach/running backs, according to the Denver Post. The Broncos initially blocked Turner's exit, according to the report, but relented when Shanahan added the title of "associate head coach."

Turner presided over one of the most successful running games in the league beginning in 1995. The Broncos pretty much introduced the phrase "system running back" with their ability to mine 1,000-yard seasons out of relatively obscure players such as Olandis Gary (fourth round), Mike Anderson (sixth round) and the great Terrell Davis (sixth round). Of course, it's worth pointing out that the Broncos haven't had an 1,000-yard rusher since 2006.

In Washington, Turner will be reunited with Clinton Portis, who surpassed 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Broncos. I'm sure both Shanahan and Turner will meet with Portis in the coming weeks to measure his desire to return from what was effectively a lost season for him in 2009. Shanahan has already alluded to the fact that a veteran back has to be willing to put in the work in the offseason, something that hasn't been one of Portis' strengths in the past.

We'll see if the presence of a former mentor can have any influence on Portis, a player who chose to criticize his teammates on the radio this past season rather than actually hang around and help them through some tough times.

Did Romo forget what down it was?

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


I spent a good portion of the morning looking at video that seemed to indicate that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo thought he had another down left after he threw an incomplete pass in the end zone with 1 second left on the clock in Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Broncos. The video was captured by photographer Larry Rodriguez who shoots for the Fox affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Here's what ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon said about the play earlier today. After reviewing the footage several times, it looks like Romo must've forgotten about clocking the ball on second-and-goal from the Broncos' 2-yard line. He appeared to be trying to get his teammates to line up and then he was shown holding up three fingers to the officials as if to tell them the previous play had actually been third down.

In watching the video, you can see the moment when Romo appears to realize the mistake he's made and shouts something in frustration as he trudges off the field. On Monday, coach Wade Phillips told reporters that they'd have to ask Romo about what happened. He said everyone on the sideline knew the final pass to Hurd occurred on fourth down.

Romo isn't scheduled to talk to reporters until Wednesday or Thursday. Here's the major issue: If Romo possibly thought he had an extra down, did he unload the ball sooner than he otherwise would have? I have a hard time believing that because it seemed like everyone in the stadium pretty much thought there was only time for one more play -- no matter what down it was.

I should point out that Clarence E. Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was first to report this story.

Video: Cowboys finding ways to lose

October, 5, 2009
10/05/09
12:20
PM ET
video

The Dallas Morning News' Jean-Jacques Taylor on the Cowboys loss to the Broncos.

Cowboys lower expectations with Mile High loss

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
11:07
PM ET
 
  Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
 Quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas offense had no answer for the Broncos defense Sunday night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- If you looked at the schedule in April and chalked up Sunday as a win for the Cowboys, at least you have company. But this team took a 17-10 loss to the Broncos in stride, perhaps because no one in charge expected anything more.

Maybe it's time we forget about the immense potential that the '07 team displayed and realize that the current Cowboys were fortunate to even stay on the field with the 4-0 Broncos. That's right, Josh McDaniels has put his team in the playoff conversation the old-fashioned way: by alienating and then trading his bonus-baby quarterback for a bus-driver with a prominent neckbeard.

Week 4 Coverage
Walker: Mendenhall mends fences in victory
Mosley: Cowboys adjust expectations
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Graham: Brady is back
Kuharsky: Garcon, Collie producing
Seifert: Bears build swagger
Sando: Rams looking for answers
Wojciechowski: Bears give Chicago a break
Reiss: Patriots-Ravens game a classic
Watkins: Cowboys offense sputters
Clayton: Colts running away with division
Pasquarelli: Embattled Zorn adjusts
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

• MNF: Packers, Favre can bury the hatchet
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a man who naively believed that his players would perform to the level of a $1.2 billion stadium, went completely soft after the game. To listen to him, you'd think the Cowboys ran into John Elway and the Orange Crush circa 1984.

"There's a reason they're 4-0," Jones kept repeating as he sucked on an orange. "The Broncos are better than what anybody would have thought."

Jones didn't seem one bit surprised the Cowboys would surrender a fourth-quarter lead and lose to a team from the AFC West. Judging by his reaction, the Cowboys would've uncorked champagne at Invesco Field had they been able to escape with a win. As it stands, the Cowboys are a 2-2 team in search of an identity.

In their previous two games, the Cowboys appeared to have one of the most dominant running games in the league. And on Sunday, they fed off the energy of Marion Barber, who was returning from a left quad injury. He delivered blows to Broncos defenders in the first half and then did forward rolls in celebration. Barber had 10 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown in the first half, helping the Cowboys take a 10-7 lead and wearing down the Broncos' front seven.

Then in one half, the Cowboys' offense pretended it was December (it was brisk) and pretty much fell all over itself. After touching the ball 12 times in the first half, Barber only had one carry the rest of the way. Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett indicated that Barber's injury was a concern, but the head coach and owner acted as if that was news to them.

The Cowboys only ran the ball seven times in the second half, with limited success. Through 14 quarters, Garrett had been remarkably balanced with his play calling, then for no apparent reason he abandoned the running game. It wasn't as if the Broncos were putting eight players in the box to stop the run. They brought their fair share of blitzes, but they also stayed back in coverage for most of the game in an effort to take away the deep ball.

The Broncos sacked Romo five times, but at least three of those were coverage sacks. He was 14-of-18 for 134 yards in the first half because he was simply dumping off the ball to his running backs. He made a good throw to Roy Williams on the sideline to set up the Cowboys' only touchdown, but that was the longest throw he made.

For no apparent reason, Garrett basically put the game in Romo's hands in the second half. And despite a brilliant throw to Sam Hurd for a 53-yard gain on fourth-and-3 with 1:16 left, it should've never come to that. The Cowboys had the ball at the Broncos' 17-yard line early in the second half when Romo threw a pass to the sideline that was picked off by Champ Bailey. Several people in the locker room told me that Miles Austin turned the wrong direction on the route and that it wasn't Romo's fault, but it was still a huge play.

Romo was 11-of-24 in the second half and he kept hanging his receivers out to dry. Just ask Roy Williams, who took what he called the hardest hit of his life from Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams. He returned to make a clutch catch on the Cowboys' final drive, but he was on the sideline when Romo fired two passes into the end zone from the 2-yard line. Williams would've been a nice option on a fade route. Instead, Romo threw two passes to Hurd, who was blanketed by Bailey.

The Cowboys are obviously more explosive with Felix Jones (left knee) in the lineup, but I'm not convinced Garrett would've had him in the game. We somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that the Cowboys have a lot of weapons on offense. They appear to have three talented running backs and an excellent pair of tight ends. But there's no one at wide receiver who poses a consistent threat. Nothing against Hurd, but is he really the best option on consecutive plays from the 2-yard line?

The Cowboys' defense performed admirably for most of the afternoon, but it cratered at the worst possible moment. And if you're pinning your playoff hopes on the defense holding the opponent to seven points each week, you're dreaming. After putting 31 points on the board against the Giants, the Cowboys' offense has managed a combined 24 points against the Panthers and Broncos. It was a pitiful game plan in the second half -- and the execution wasn't any better.

"We had limited opportunities [in the second half]," Garrett told me after the game. "But you have to take advantage of those opportunities."

It did look like Garrett was ready to commit to the running game early in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty on Martellus Bennett wiped out a 17-yard run by Choice. The Cowboys would've had the ball first-and-10 at the Broncos' 44. Instead, they were forced to punt and the Broncos tied the score on their next possession.

As he loaded up on Vitamin C, Jones kept repeating the Broncos' record as if that should explain everything. I guess we should've known that the Broncos' wins over the Bengals, Browns and Raiders had placed them among the NFL's elite. Jones even attempted to attribute the loss to the Cowboys' change in philosophy.

"That's part of the plan," he said. "There's more running and less depending on the pass."

And how's that working out for you, Jerry?

Does anyone want to win this game?

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
6:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- The Cowboys just got the benefit of a huge pass interference penalty on Broncos cornerback Andre' Goodman. But of course they followed that up with an awful holding penalty on Martellus Bennett. The Cowboys only have six penalties, but it seems like all of them have come at horrible times. Bennett's penalty wiped out what would've been a big gain by Tashard Choice.

And if Tony Romo keeps hanging out his wide receivers, the Cowboys aren't going to have anyone left to throw to. Roy Williams barely made it off the field after taking a huge hit from D.J. Williams.

Penalties killing the Cowboys

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
5:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- You get the feeling that the Cowboys could take this game over on the ground, but they keep shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. They would've had a first down midway through the second quarter on the inside handoff to Tashard Choice but Tony Romo was called for delay of game. He was trying to call an audible and took too long.

Right now, Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is getting exposed by the Broncos. Josh McDaniels is doing a really nice job of creating mismatches. If Kyle Orton was even decent right now, the Broncos might be in the lead. He's been wildly inaccurate -- even when he has plenty of time. And as I say that, he's starting to get in a little rhythm.

Broncos giving Romo several looks

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
4:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- If you're watching this game on TV, you can see that the Broncos are trying to move their linebackers around quite a bit before the snap. The Cowboys have been using their two-tight end offense, "12," quite a bit in this game, and it looks like the Broncos are leaving Martellus Bennett open.

And finally, a catch by a Cowboys wide receiver not named Sam Hurd. Roy Williams made a nice catch at the 2-yard line, and unlike last week, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called two consecutive running plays near the goal line. So far, Marion Barber looks pretty strong. The Cowboys are pretty much splitting carries between Tashard Choice and Barber.

It looks like Barber's left quad is holding up pretty well. I'm watching him stretch it right now on the sideline. If Kyle Orton can't start hitting moving targets, the Broncos are in for a long afternoon.

Josh McDaniels can't panic and abandon the run. He's not running the ball on first down -- and that's really hurting this offense.

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