NFC East: Earl Thomas
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.
If you want to read the whole chat, click here.
If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.
But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.
Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.
To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.
Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.
But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?
They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.
In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.
Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.
Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harris (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.
You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.
The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.
The media-produced rankings of potential NFL free agents may not tell us much about what the Eagles are thinking. But the wide range of evaluations can provide insight into how wildly divergent different teams' opinions can be.
Let's take a look at the safety position, which figures to be an area the Eagles try to address. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is generally considered the best safety available, but there are dissenting opinions.
Over at NFL.com, Byrd is listed as the No. 1 free agent available regardless of position. He is the only player tagged as a “difference-maker.” On ESPN Insider, former NFL executive Bill Polian and his team have Byrd as the fourth-ranked safety. Antoine Bethea of the Colts, the only safety with an A grade, is rated the best safety on the market.
Polian has Miami's Chris Clemons as his second-ranked safety, with Cleveland's T.J. Ward third. NFL.com calls Clemons “a league-average starter,” which would still make him an upgrade for the Eagles.
Over at Pro Football Focus, Byrd is rated the top safety and No. 2 free agent overall, behind only Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. PFF rates Ward as the second best safety (No. 8 overall), while Clemons is No. 30 overall. Bethea, the top safety and a Grade-A player for Polian, is No. 61 overall on PFF's list and No. 51 on the NFL.com list.
PFF places Byrd in the same category as Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Considering the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Thomas as a key defensive player, it is likely many teams will make a run at Byrd in hopes of recreating that success.
Ultimately, Roseman and his personnel staff have graded players based on their game tape and how they project players in the Eagles' scheme. Cleveland's Ward is considered a better run defender, more of a strong safety type. Byrd is better at playing deep and at coverage, which was a huge problem area for the Eagles. Their pass defense was dead last in the NFL.
Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints, a converted cornerback, might be a better fit than Ward, from the Eagles' perspective. And that's the bottom line here: The Eagles' perspective is the only one that will matter to them, and they haven't published their opinions on the Internet.
Taylor's memory will be at the Super Bowl with Seattle's Kam Chancellor. He's a Virginia native who played for Virginia Tech. (He was in college at the time of Taylor's death; in case you missed it, there was news regarding his killer Thursday.)
Here's what Chancellor told the Seattle Times earlier this month about Taylor:
Chancellor has patterned his game after Taylor's for a long time. Like Taylor, Chancellor is a big safety. When Taylor was in the secondary group, he looked like a linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds. He was an intimidating force in the secondary, though he was best as a playmaking free safety. Chancellor is a strong safety capable of damage in the box. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, his size and instincts allow him to be highly effective in this area.
“He was a big safety, the prototype guy for the position,” Chancellor once told the Roanoke Times about Taylor. “I'm a big safety, too, and I've just always wanted to be just like him. I don't necessarily say I can be Sean Taylor before it's over, but I think I can be just as good.”
“When I first took the job, I hadn't seen anybody that big, that fast, that athletic since Sean Taylor,” Seahawks defensive assistant Marquand Manuel, a former NFL free safety, told Seahawks.com.
Amazing to think that Chancellor was a fifth-round pick. Again: draft and develop. Chancellor has a skill that Seattle has allowed him to unleash. And often times that skill results in violent collisions against players such as San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis.
Obviously the Redskins could use such an enforcer in the back end. But there's another quote from Chancellor that caught my eye. This, too, is something the Redskins need. And it's something they haven't had enough of because of injuries and bad personnel decisions.
Here's Chancellor's quote on the Seattle secondary:
“I think it started clicking a lot more this year. I think it was starting to happen towards the end of last year, but this year sometimes man it's like we don't even say anything, but the movements are just right. It's like you can feel one another out there on the field, or out here at practice, especially with me and Earl with the way that we funnel the ball to each other. We always talk about that. We always talk about both of us running to the ball. If you miss it, I'm going to make it. If I miss it you're going to make it. That's just the mentality we have.”
It's not one Washington has had in recent years. It's a subtle, but huge difference. If a corner knows how a safety likes to play a certain look, he can adjust his coverage accordingly. If the free safety knows what to expect from the strong safety, he can compensate. It's not always about scheme. Could Phillip Thomas develop into such a player? No idea; we barely saw him last summer. Could Bacarri Rambo? I'd be shocked if that happens based on what we saw this season, especially late in the year.
This isn't about finding the next Sean Taylor. He wasn't hard to identify when he first came out; anyone could see his talent. Chancellor is not Sean Taylor, and was not expected to be coming out of college considering where he was drafted. But he developed into a Pro Bowl player. But Seattle also had a clear vision in what it wanted from its defensive backs: big, physical corners and punishing safeties. Earl Thomas is more a ball-hawking safety, but he's the best at his position right now.
The Seahawks have a secondary that everyone would want now. They also have a defensive front that complements this group. The Redskins had it in 2007 with Taylor, corners Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot and rookie strong safety LaRon Landry. They need to find a way to get that back. It's great that they have money to spend, but there are other ways to accomplish this goal. And doing so would help the Redskins not only return to respectability but, perhaps, finally stick around.
"It's never been about going to Hawaii," Rolle said in a statement released by the team Monday. "I've been to Hawaii before. I've enjoyed the festivities. I've enjoyed the honor of being a Pro Bowl safety, a Pro Bowl player. That was never what it was about. It was always about getting what I very well deserved and what I accomplished throughout the year and going out there and representing my team, the New York Giants."
It also probably doesn't hurt that Rolle's contract awards him a $100,000 bonus for being named to the Pro Bowl, which I assume he gets even though he's a late addition.
It's Rolle's third Pro Bowl. He went in 2009 as a member of the Arizona Cardinals and in 2010 as a member of the Giants. He'll be the only Giant at the Pro Bowl this year. The last time they didn't have more than one Pro Bowler was 2007.
The Redskins have made no announcement about Griffin's injury, since he has not yet missed a play. But we are left to assume it has something to do with the right knee ligament he injured in Week 14. Between drives, he was taken to some sort of enclosed structure behind the Redskins' bench and checked out by team's medical personnel, but he went back into the game as soon as Washington got the ball back. The problem is, the injury appears to have completely changed the ability of Washington's offense to move the ball. Griffin looks nearly immobile, in the pocket as well as outside of it, and he underthrew a pass toward the end of the second quarter that was intercepted by Seattle safety Earl Thomas. The fluidity of an offense that Seattle could not stop in the first quarter has evaporated, and it simply has to have something to do with the health of Griffin's leg.
Seattle, a very good team that entered the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, is taking advantage. After being outgained 129 yards to 9 in the first quarter, the Seahawks outgained the Redskins 168-11 in the second and cut the lead to 14-13 at halftime. Seattle will also get the ball back to begin the second half.
The question is, whenever the Redskins get the ball back in the second half, what will they do about quarterback? They're either going to have to adjust the offense around an obviously limited Griffin or think about replacing him with backup Kirk Cousins, who finished the Week 14 game and won the Week 15 game in Cleveland with Griffin sitting out due to the knee injury. It would be a tough decision to switch to the backup quarterback in the second half of a playoff game, but the Redskins must make an honest assessment of Griffin's ability to perform at the level at which they need him, or they risk seeing their season end today.
All of this happens amid a controversy resulting from a USA Today report in which Dr. James Andrews, who's working for the Redskins this year as part of their oversight of Griffin's health (short-term and long-term), contradicted Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's account of the way Griffin's injury was handled when it happened in Week 14. Andrews is on the Redskins' sideline today and presumably monitoring Griffin's health as the game progresses, and he'll surely be involved in whatever decision they make.
The Redskins could theoretically go run-heavy behind Alfred Morris, but the problem with that is that Seattle can simply stack the box and take away the run, daring Griffin and his bad leg to beat them. The way the second quarter went not only showed that to be a poor solution, it made it a more difficult one to employ. Would have been easier to grind out yards and clock with Morris if they were up 14 than it is up only one.
One other note that could have an impact on the game: Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka has an ankle injury, the team announced during the second quarter. He limped out to kick a 29-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, but it remains to be seen to what extent Seattle will be able to count on him if it needs a big kick made late in this game. This could affect their offensive strategy.
You may remember that Jaws had the Eagles' Michael Vick ranked 12th on this list, which he's unveiling at the rate of one player per day on the morning SportsCenter. In that segment, he spent a fair amount of time on Vick's weaknesses, though he said he believed they could be overcome and that Vick could be on the verge of a big year. But when he broke down Romo on Sunday morning's SportsCenter, Jaws had nothing but praise.
The early part of the segment focused on a 20-yard completion Romo made to Dez Bryant on third-and-9 on "Monday Night Football" against the Redskins last year. Jaws raved about the way Romo "recognized the blitz, set the protection and held his cadence to minimize Washington's aggressiveness" and touted it as an example of Romo's excellent "anticipation vs. man-to-man coverage."
"There's an instinctive awareness to Romo's play that I've always liked," Jaworski said. "He's always been able to move within the pocket, and he's also very good at extending plays outside the pocket, especially moving to his left. That's not easy for a right-handed quarterback to do."
Jaws also looked at a pair of long touchdown passes to Jason Witten, including one against Seattle on which Romo held safety Earl Thomas in place by keeping his eyes looking right before throwing to Witten in the seam on the left side. He said that Romo's ability to manipulate safeties "jumped out" when he re-evaluated Romo for this project.
And then there's this:
"I've always sensed the perception of Romo was that he turned the ball over too much," Jaws said. "That is dead wrong. In his last two full seasons, he's only thrown 19 interceptions in almost 1,100 attempts. That, my friends, is outstanding. Romo is, without question, a top-10 quarterback."
Obviously, I know many of you agree with this and many of you consider it ridiculous. I agree with it, and given the remaining names on Jaws' list, I'm surprised he's not ranked a little higher. From what I can tell, the remaining nine quarterbacks on the list are going to be, in some order, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. I do not know the order, only Eli's ranking, which I am not permitted to reveal until the segment airs.
This is the list so far. Remember, rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are not on the list, presumably because there is no NFL tape of them for Jaws or anyone else to review:
11. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
13. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
14. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
15. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
16. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
17. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans
19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
20. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
21. Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
22. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs
23. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills
25. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
26. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins
27. Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks
28. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
29. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Tim Tebow, Jets
Anyway, Bill's got the New York Giants ranked among "The Best" in his rankings, behind only the Ravens, Lions and Packers. He picks a "best value pick" and a "cornerstone pick" for each team, and for the Giants he lists wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (29th pick, 2009) as the best value pick and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (15th pick, 2010) as the cornerstone. Based on the results alone, these are both very good picks for the Giants, and they offer different types of examples of the Giants' broad-thinking approach to the first round.
The Giants believed Maclin and Nicks were both top-15 value picks that had slipped into the second half of the round. They had them rated very closely together and believed each offered something special. With Maclin it was his raw speed and special-teams ability. With Nicks, it was his studious nature and everything they'd been told by his college coaches about his attention to detail and the level of responsibility he'd assumed as a leader of the wide receiver corps at North Carolina. They were ecstatic to get him at 29. If not for the saturation of first-round wide receiver talent in that particular year, they might not have been able to sniff either guy. They took advantage of a rare and exciting confluence of value and need to make that year's first-round pick, and it's paid off.
As for Pierre-Paul, we've been over this story a million times. The Giants were picking in the middle of the first round that year, and the value at that spot was going to be pass-rushers, which is their wheelhouse. Five defensive ends went in that year's first round, and the names of Brandon Graham and Derrick Morgan were being kicked around for teams in the middle of the first round. Pierre-Paul was a mystery man -- raw and inexperienced but unquestionably gifted as a pure athlete. Everybody saw the tape of him doing the backflips. No one -- not even the Giants -- knew for sure how that would translate into NFL football.
The Eagles traded up to get Graham at 13 -- a move that has subjected them to derision in light of Pierre-Paul's rapid ascent and Graham's health struggles (and the fact that safety Earl Thomas went one pick later). And with the seemingly more NFL-ready Morgan still on the board, the Giants picked Pierre-Paul. They didn't know he'd be one of the best defensive players in the league two years later. They thought maybe he could eventually be that, and that his potential combined with their program made him worth the pick. This was a pick that made more sense for the Giants than it might have made for any other team picking in that spot. They identified that, and again, it has paid off.
Anyway, the other teams in the NFC East are much further down the list, all in the bottom-17 portion of Bill's list labeled "The Rest of the Rest." He picks Sean Lee as the Cowboys' value pick and Tyron Smith as the cornerstone. The Eagles' value pick is Jason Kelce (sixth round!) and the cornerstone pick is LeSean McCoy. The Redskins' value pick is Roy Helu (fourth round!) and their cornerstones are Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, though the Redskins are hoping the real cornerstone is the guy they're picking No. 2 overall next week.
Turning up some interesting trivia in these. For instance, the Cowboys have the 186th pick, which produced Deacon Jones, and the 152nd pick, with which the Houston Texans last year took a quarterback who a few months later started their first two playoff games in franchise history.
PICK 14 (14th pick, first round)
Last five players taken
2011 -- Robert Quinn, DE, Rams
2010 -- Earl Thomas, S, Seahawks
2009 -- Malcolm Jenkins, DB, Saints
2008 -- Chris Williams, T, Bears
2007 -- Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets
Cowboys' history of No. 14 picks
The Cowboys have never had the No. 14 pick.
Hall of Famers picked No. 14
Jim Kelly (1983), Gino Marchetti (1952), Len Ford (1948, AAFC)
Jeremy Shockey (2002), Eddie George (1996), Dick Stanfel (1951)
PICK 45 (13th pick, round 2)
Last five players taken
2011 -- Rahim Moore, DB, Broncos
2010 -- Zane Beadles, G, Broncos
2009 -- Clint Sintim, LB, Giants
2008 -- Jordon Dizon, LB, Lions
2007 -- Dwayne Jarrett, WR, Panthers
Cowboys' history of No. 45 picks
1968 -- Dave McDaniels
Hall of Famers picked No. 45
Dave Casper (1974)
PICK 81 (19th pick, third round)
Last five players taken
2011 --DeMarcus Van Dyke, DB, Raiders
2010 -- Earl Mitchell, DT, Texans
2009 -- Roy Miller, DT, Buccaneers
2008 -- Early Doucet, WR, Cardinals
2007 -- Jay Alford, DT, Giants
Cowboys' history of No. 81 picks
1984 -- Fred Cornwell
1982 -- Jim Eliopulos
1981 -- Glenn Titensor
1977 -- Val Belcher
Hall of Famers picked No. 81
None, though Art Shell was the 80th pick in 1968 and Joe Montana was the 82nd in 1979.
PICK 113 (18th pick, round four)
Last five players picked
2011 -- Chimdi Chekwa, DB, Raiders
2010 -- Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots
2009 -- Vaughn Martin, DT, Chargers
2008 -- Dwight Lowery, CB, Jets
2007 -- Brian Smith, DE, Jaguars
Cowboys' history of No. 113 picks
1989 -- Keith Jennings
1984 -- Steve Pelluer
1975 -- Kyle Davis
Hall of Famers picked No. 113
None. But Steve Largent was picked 117th in 1976 and George Blanda was picked 119th in 1949.
PICK 135 (40th pick, fourth round)
Last five players picked
2011 --Ricky Stanzi, QB, Chiefs
2010 -- Dominique Franks, DB, Falcons
2009 -- Troy Kropog, T, Titans
2008 -- Josh Sitton, G, Packers
2007 -- Joe Cohen, DT, 49ers
Cowboys' history of No. 135 picks
1983 -- Chuck McSwain
Hall of Famers picked No. 135
None. Closest were Jackie Smith and Roger Staubach, who were picked No. 129 in 1963 and 1964, respectively.
PICK 152 (17th pick, round 5)
Last five players picked
2011 -- T.J. Yates, QB, Texans
2010 -- Otis Hudson, G, Bengals
2009 -- James Casey, TE, Texans
2008 -- Letroy Guion, DT, Vikings
2007 -- Antonio Johnson, DT, Titans
Cowboys' history of No. 152 picks
1984 -- Eugene Lockhart
1969 -- Rick Shaw
Hall of Famers taken No. 152
None. Closest I found was Arnie Weinmeister, No. 166 in 1945.
PICK 186 (16th pick, round 6)
Last five players taken
2011 -- D.J. Smith, LB, Packers
2010 -- Clifton Geathers, DE, Browns
2009 -- Robert Henson, LB, Redskins
2008 -- Colt Brennan, QB, Redskins
2007 -- Thomas Clayton, RB, 49ers
Cowboys' history of No. 186 pick
2003 -- Zuriel Smith
1976 -- Greg Schaum
Hall of Famers picked No. 186
Deacon Jones (1961)
PICK 222 (15th pick, round 7)
Last five players taken
2011 -- Anthony Gaitor, DB, Buccaneers
2010 -- Marc Mariani, WR, Titans
2009 -- Pat McAfee, P, Colts
2008 -- Chester Adams, G, Bears
2007 -- Derek Schouman, FB, Bills
Cowboys' history of No. 222 picks
1984 -- Mike Revell
1978 -- Homer Butler
Hall of Famers picked No. 222
None. Closest was Andy Robustelli, picked 228th in 1951
Chris Snee, the Giants' best offensive lineman, sounds as though he's had enough.
"We just have to get it going, period," Snee said. "I'm tired of seeing 80 yards a game average and three yards a carry. So it's got to be fixed."
Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are averaging a combined 86 yards rushing per game this year. While the two running backs have a total of four rushing touchdowns, the Giants need more out of their running game.
The question is whether they'll be able to get it Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. In his weekly Wednesday news conference, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Seattle, "They give up literally no yards against the run," which is of course hyperbole since the Seahawks allow 105 rush yards per game and 3.3 per carry. But Coughlin's point is that Seattle is a tough team against which to run and that the Giants have their work cut out for them.
Mike Sando, over on the NFC West blog, explains what's different about Seattle's run defense now compared to the unit that New York played last season, when the Giants were able to rack up 197 rush yards on 47 carries. At that time, they were without key run-stoppers Red Bryant, Chris Cole and Brandon Mebane. Seattle is at full strength on defense now, and as Coughlin points out, they like to use safety Earl Thomas to support the run. There's no doubt the Giants will try to get the ground game going Sunday. The question is whether they'll succeed.
Original post: One of the helpful things Cowboys owner Jerry Jones does other than making colorful statements about his buddy Bill Parcells into hidden cell phone cameras is sharing his NFL draft board with the American public every other year or so. This year, Armando Salguero from the Miami Herald secured an image from the Cowboys' draft room. Salguero's a fine reporter, but he admittedly had a pretty easy scoop on his hands this time around.
A reader in Iowa sent him an image of Jerry Jones standing in front of the sacred board that had mistakenly been published on the Cowboys' website for a few moments. The picture was from Saturday, April 24, which was the third day of the draft. So what did we learn?
The Cowboys had Dez Bryant listed at No. 11 on the board before trading up to select him at No. 24. I'm told by scouts that players are often given the same first-round grade, so the player listed at No. 10 on the Cowboys' board, guard Mike Iupati, could have actually been tied with Bryant. In fact, I believe that running back C.J. Spiller, Iupati and Bryant essentially had the same grades in the 9-11 spots.
The board also backs up Jones' claim that the Cowboys gave Penn State linebacker Sean Lee a first-round grade. He showed up at No. 14 in the image that was mistakenly supplied by the club's in-house TV department, which may or may not still exist. The Cowboys were able to land Lee at No. 55.
I know the Cowboys were in love with Texas safety Earl Thomas (No. 12 on their board), but the price to move up the board was too steep. If the Cowboys had remained at No. 27, I think Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick would've been the pick. He appears at No. 15 on the Cowboys' board.
The Cowboys were also interested in left tackle Bryan Bulaga of Iowa, but he went off the board one pick before they selected Bryant with the 24th overall pick. Next year, we're hoping the Cowboys will release a photo of their board a couple days in advance of the draft. It would really be helpful in the mock draft community.
Marlin Jackson will certainly be in the mix, but I would expect for Allen to eventually take over as the starter. If you've watched any South Florida football the past three years, you know how many plays Allen makes. He's not as special as Earl Thomas and Eric Berry, but he's a huge upgrade over what the Eagles had last season.
The Eagles now match up with Jason Witten a lot better. And don't think that wasn't on Andy Reid's mind when he made the pick.
That may have required them giving up a first-round pick in 2011 in addition to their second-rounder, which was too steep. When the Cowboys saw the Eagles move to No. 13, they just knew the pick would be Thomas. And there was some relief in the room when Graham's name was called instead.
Tennessee's Eric Berry and Thomas were both considered "special" players. But Eagles coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman coveted Graham's pass-rushing ability. And I believe an elite pass-rusher has more effect on a game than a top-flight safety.
So what do the Eagles do this evening? They have the Donovan McNabb pick, which is the fifth pick of the second round. Paul Domowitch of the Daily News takes a look at all of the candidates at safety and cornerback. There was a big run on corners late in the first round. That's why it wouldn't surprise me if the Eagles selected South Florida safety Nate Allen. He's not in the Berry/Thomas category, but Allen makes plays on the ball and he has excellent range. He's a much better fit for Sean McDermott's defense than USC's Taylor Mays, who is still available.
Obviously, the story of the night in the league will be the quarterbacks. When will Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy go off the board? But the Eagles have a couple of premium picks in the second round. It's still too early to draft based solely on need, but don't be surprised if Allen's the guy. I also know the Cowboys like Allen, but not enough to move all the way from No. 59.
"We wanted to keep our two second round picks," said Reid. The Dolphins had been asking for the Eagles 37th pick -- the so-called Donovan Pick -- which the Eagles got from the Redskins for Donovan McNabb. But the Eagles refused to part with that pick. When San Diego jumped up to Miami's slot and took a running back, Reid knew he had to make a move soon or lose out to Tom Coughlin and the Giants.
Reid said Graham, whom he compared to former Eagles Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas, was the only player Philadelphia considered worth the investment of the extra picks. Many people had speculated that the Eagles wanted to move up for safety Earl Thomas of Texas.
"When you have a good defensive line, that makes everybody on the defense better," said Reid, who has now moved up four times in the first round in his 12 drafts with the Eagles.
The Giants wound up selecting Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida. Will they now listen to trade offers for veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora?
-- Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN
We thought it would be Texas safety Earl Thomas for a moment or two, but Graham was the pick. The guy played on a bad defense at Michigan last season. I've heard him compared to Pittsburgh linebacker Lamar Woodley at times. The only downside is that he's only 6-1. But he's a fierce tackler and he plays with an unbelievable amount of energy. I'm anxious to hear what the Eagles fans think about this trade. The Eagles give up two third-rounders, but retain the No. 37 overall pick -- also known as the Donovan McNabb pick.
I don't think that's too high a price to pay to move 11 spots in the draft. But I do think it would've been a high price to pay for Thomas.