NFC East: Edgerrin James
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Thanks once again for planning your weekend around the Mailbag. It's a labor of love -- especially for those of you who read the whole thing. I've been asked to limit the Bag to 3,000 words this weekend. We have lots of ground to cover, so let's cut the monologue short and go right to your questions.
RodeoJones000 left this question in the "comments" section Friday afternoon: Matt, thanks for the blog. It's the first thing (and usually the second through 12th thing) I check online each day. In regards to Westbrook, assuming it's not as serious as some are implying, do you think this could actually be a blessing in disguise for Philly? Westbrook gets another thing done to help ensure his heath, and he gets to rest up for the season. And [LeSean] McCoy then gets to spend training camp running with the first team and learning the offense. Again, this is assuming Westbrook's procedure was just a simple "cleaning" and not a sign of something serious.
And also regarding Westbrook, do you think the Eagles go out and sign someone as insurance just in case he's hurt more than he's saying? If so, any idea who?
Mosley: RodeoJones, we really appreciate your efforts. You doubled our numbers last week with all those clicks. And, no, I don't think it's necessarily a good thing for Westbrook to go through yet another surgery. No matter what spin the Eagles on it, Westbrook's been cut on twice this offseason. And he's nearing that stage of his career when running backs often seen their numbers start to fall off. McCoy would've received plenty of reps whether or not Westbrook was out. And none of the guys out there really do much for me. The Giants have an embarrassment of riches at tailback, but they probably don't want Danny Ware turning into the next Ryan Grant. Lorenzo Booker's still on the roster, but he hasn't been able to get on the field. And that was the case for him in Miami, too. As NFC Beast senior correspondent Sal Paolantonio wrote Thursday, Edgerrin James and Rudi Johnson are names to consider. I don't think James really fits what the Eagles are trying to do. Johnson might be a little better fit. And Warrick Dunn might be a better fit than either one of those guys.
Pete R. is worried about Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett: I'm wondering if Garrett did the right thing staying in Dallas. If they do well, Phillips gets the credit. If they do poorly, most likely they'll both get the axe. I can't see Jerry Jones deciding that after a bad season, he needs to get rid of Wade, but keep his OC. Should Jason have pursued the opportunities that were out there last year?
Mosley: Garrett did pursue the opportunities that were out there after the '08 season. But he did turn down the opportunity to coach the Ravens or Falcons following the '07 campaign. I wouldn't worry about Garrett too much. He's the highest paid assistant coach in football at $3 million last time I checked. And if the Cowboys' offense succeeds without T.O., Garrett's star will be on the rise again. In fact, he'd probably receive more credit than Phillips. If the Cowboys have another poor season, neither guy will be back.
Gilldog41 says it's foolish to be concerned about the Cowboys' secondary: Matt, you ranked the Cowboys' secondary third in the NFC East? They were fifth in pass defense in the NFL and [Terence] Newman wasn't healthy until midseason and he's the best corner in the NFC. [Orlando] Scandrick and [Mike] Jenkins are going to be better than [Anthony] Henry. [Gerald] Sensabaugh will be better than Roy Williams/Pat Watkins/Keith Davis. And Ken Hamlin couldn't play any worse than he did last year. I'm loving their secondary right now. Its comical when fans are concerned about Dallas' secondary.
Mosley: When healthy, Newman is an elite corner. But he's struggled with injuries for two years running and he's in his early 30s. The Cowboys have asked Newman to back off some of his workouts this offseason in an effort to keep him fresh for the season. He's a finely tuned machine, but if one little thing goes wrong, he tends to break down all over. And I think you can make the argument that Corey Webster and Asante Samuel are both better corners than Newman right now. I agree that Sensabaugh's an upgrade, but it has to concern you a little bit that he was allowed to hit the free-agent market. He's an amazing athlete, but I'm not convinced he's the long-term solution. I expect Hamlin to improve this season, in part, because he'll trust Sensabaugh.
Bcohn17 has asked to make a statement: Matt, I just want to thank you for not having my account shut down for all the [grief] I give you. It can't be easy satisfying such voracious fans that are all in competition.That's it...no questions from me.
Mosley: Bcohn, I finally figured out how to pull the plug on your account. Consider this your final comment -- in this mailbag.
Skflogan has a question about the position battle going on at right tackle for the Redskins: With Jon Jansen gone, do you think that anyone that we have will be a good fit? To tell the truth, I'm not sold on [Stephon] Heyer. All signs point to him being the starter since that's what they had planned for last year.
Mosley: It's Heyer's job to lose, Skflogan. I think the Mike Williams comeback story is pretty compelling, but there's no way (in my mind) that he'll be in game shape early in the season. I think his best-case scenario is to make the team as a backup. And don't forget about Jeremy Bridges. He's a guy who's had some off-field issues, but he still has some ability. If Heyer falters, Bridges might be the guy waiting in the wings. Too many of you have bitten hook, line and sinker on this Williams story line. There's almost no way he sees the field in '09.
MJC121 wants to discuss a certain Cowboys wide receiver: Mr. Mosley, I want to know the role of WR Miles Austin this season. He showed signs of greatness last year. Is he going to be a major target for [Tony] Romo this year? And if he is, what kind of impact does he bring to an already diverse offense?
Mosley: At this point, Austin's actually Romo's favo
rite receiver. I'm serious. The two bonded big time in last year's training camp, and Romo has a lot of confidence in him. Romo and Roy Williams still don't appear to be on the same page in the OTAs I've observed. And Williams' insistence on talking about how Romo and him have "broken down boundaries" is sort of embarrassing. There's a chance that Austin is one of the Beast's breakout stars in '09. I had a chance to talk to him for a little while Friday. Everyone keeps asking him if he's going to be the No. 2 receiver. And you can tell it sort of frustrates him. In his mind, he has a chance to be the No. 1 receiver.
ProbablyJason is making things personal: Personal questions on the life of a blogger: Ever gotten to sit down with any of the owners? If so, who's the chillest to be around? Does the new Cowboys Stadium blow everything away or is it pretty standard, just really big? Did you go to school for journalism? Ever think you'd get such a cool job at ESPN?
Mosley: PJ, I've had the opportunity to sit down with several owners over the past seven or eight years. My first NFL gig was covering the Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News/Dallasnews.com, so I've had a chance to spend a lot of time with Jerry Jones over the years. I don't know if I'd call him the "chillest" owner I've been around, but he's had a pretty remarkable career. In my mind, his best trait is his thick skin. He never takes anything personal. and that's why we've continued to have a solid rapport over the years. I've had good visits with Dan Snyder, the late Lamar Hunt and Dan Rooney over the years. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way Mr. Rooney approaches things. Cowboys Stadium is the biggest venue I've ever been in. Until you see it close, it's impossible to describe the size. I certainly wouldn't call it "pretty standard." It's about what you'd expect from Jones...I only took one journalism class at Baylor (Gould's travels), but I did a lot of writing in my English and History courses. I majored in speech communications with a minor in history. I actually attended law school, but decided pretty quickly that I didn't want to be a lawyer. Most of my professors supported that decision. I never really thought about working for ESPN.com. I grew up in the Dallas area, so the Dallas Morning News was my dream job. But my editor at the DMN took a job with ESPN.com -- and he took me with him. OK, that's enough personal stuff for one mailbag.
Jwuer has a Giants question -- thank goodness: Matt, I hope I can get a question in. I've never been able to. The Giants have something new in their WR corps that they have not had in the past, and it seems to be overlooked by the "No Plax/No Toomer" crowd. They have a ton more speed in their WR group this year. Hixon, Smith, Manningham are all quick guys and Nicks seems to have quick game speed. Do you think [Kevin] Gilbride will be able to effectively deploy this new explosive combination, and will Eli [Manning]be able to be accurate enough to deal with it? Also, do you see [Sinorice] Moss being a Giant at the end of training camp?
Mosley: Jwuer, congrats on your first mailbag appearance. Something you'll be able to tell the grandkids about. Regarding your question, I'm not sure it's breaking news that the Giants have some speed. Manningham, Moss and Hixon were all on the roster last year. I wouldn't put Steve Smith in the "speed" category. He's able to get open because of his route-running and he certainly has good hands. But no matter what he says, he doesn't have the speed to play wideout at this level. Nicks will remind you of Anquan Boldin. Big, thick guy who will do a nice job of running after the catch. He'll also work the middle of the field. So I don't think the departure of Burress means a whole new emphasis on speed. I think what will happen, though, is Manning will have an entire offseason to work exclusively with these guys. Manningham might be the biggest wild card of all the guys. I think the Giants love his potential, but they don't trust him yet. And you're right to ask about Moss. This is sink or swim season for him. He's obviously limited because of his lack of size. If he doesn't shine in preseason, it wouldn't surprise me to see him get cut. I think Smith and Hixon will start. And Nicks might crack the starting lineup midway through the season. Sorry we waited so long to talk Giants. That's my fault.
Jiggybree wants to go back to Westbrook: Are the Eagles hiding the fact that Westbrook's injury is more serious then originally thought? If so, will they look to the free agent market for a replacement, with so many veterans available? (IE- E.James, R.Johnson, W.Dunn)
Mosley: When you isolate the surgery that Westbrook had to remove bone spurs in his right ankle, it's not that serious. And no, I don't think the Eagles have a huge secret with Westbrook that they're "hiding." But the problem is that Westbrook's had a history of knee and ankle injuries. Those things add up. If he didn't have an history of ankle issues, we wouldn't give the bone spurs surgery a lot of attention. But this is a guy who makes his living on being able to cut on a dime and make people miss. We've seen what Westbrook looks like when he's not quite right (see '08), and it's sort of naive to believe that separate knee and ankle surgeries in the same offseason aren't cause for concern. And, yes, I think the Eagles need insurance at tailback. They need an instinctive runner who will perform well in the team's zone-blocking scheme. As I said earlier, I don't think James is the right fit at all. If you determine that Dunn still has a little something left, that's the direction I'd go. Rudi Johnson needs a fresh start, but I'm not sure Philly's a great fit for him either, Truthfully, there's no one out there who excites me. I'd give it some time and see what happens in the other training camps.
OK, we've surpassed 2,100 words. Alarms going off in Bristol. Thanks for your time.
Posted by ESPN's Sal Paolantonio
PHILADELPHIA -- In light of ankle surgery for Brian Westbrook, should the Eagles be in the market for a veteran running back?
Westbrook is having bone spurs in his right ankle removed Friday by Dr. Mark Myerson of Baltimore in a procedure called "debridement," which is essentially a clean-out of dead debris around his joint. Most orthopedic surgeons will tell you that Westbrook will not be able to run on that ankle for about six weeks. Two weeks of running and conditioning puts Westbrook on the doorstep of training camp, which opens for Eagles veterans July 29.
It is not unreasonable to believe that Westbrook will be held out of any contact drills at camp in the early stages and probably will not play for the first two preseason games.
In the meantime, that would be a heavy workload to put on backups Lorenzo Booker and rookie LeSean McCoy. Both are smallish backs: Booker is 5-foot-10, 191 pounds; McCoy is 5-10, 198. Before the season starts, that will be a lot of wear and tear on two backs who have yet to prove they can handle it. The Eagles have six more OTA practices until they break for the summer. Booker and McCoy will report to training camp with the rookies and selected veterans July 26.
Last year, Booker could not get on the field because he was an ineffective blocker and could not break tackles in the interior. He had just 20 carries for 53 yards and no touchdowns. At Pitt, the knock on McCoy was his blocking, which is critical in the Eagles' West Coast offense. If he can't pick up the blitz, he won't stay on the field very long.
And what if Westbrook, who already had offseason surgery on his left knee, has another setback? He turns 30 on Sept. 2. He is coming off his least productive year as an Eagle, especially in the playoffs, when he rushed for just 2.4 yards a carry, well below his postseason career average of 4.6 yards a pop.
So, whom can the Eagles target? They are $23 million under the NFL salary cap, the fifth-most cap room in the league. So, it's financially doable. Here is a list of free agents out there:
- Warrick Dunn: 34 years old, 786 rush yards, 330 receiving yards last season
- Ahman Green: 32 years old, 294 rush yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- Rudi Johnson: 29 years old, 237 rush yards, 1 rushing touchdown
- Deuce McAllister: 30 years old, 418 rush yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
- Edgerrin James: 30 years old (31 in August), 514 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- DeShaun Foster: 29 years old, 514 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
- Chris Perry: 27 years old, 269 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
- Michael Pittman: 33 years old, 320 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Sal Paolantonio is an ESPN bureau reporter based in Philadelphia
The Arizona Cardinals released three pretty good players Tuesday in running back Edgerrin James, cornerback Rod Hood and defensive end Travis LaBoy. The James release was pretty much guaranteed when the Cardinals selected Chris "Beanie" Wells in the first round of the draft Saturday.
I think the Redskins should target both James and LaBoy. Last year, the Redskins became so desperate at running back that they brought in washed-up Shaun Alexander to back up Clinton Portis. The Cowboys and Giants have tremendous depth at the running back position, but the Redskins are relying on Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright to spell Portis. James would be a nice addition to the team. He and Portis are both former University of Miami guys, and I think he could flourish catching passes out of the backfield.
The Redskins would also be wise to pursue LaBoy. They have Brian Orakpo now, but you can't enough quality defensive ends. LaBoy played with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in Tennessee so they're already on the same page. LaBoy would immediately challenge for a starting job. That would also help limit the reps for aging defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald torched Philadelphia's defense for 152 yards and three touchdowns.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Philadelphia Eagles spent the past two months digging themselves out of a huge hole. So maybe that's why we weren't surprised that it took an 18-point deficit to rouse their competitive spirit in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
After a dreadful first half in which the Eagles acted as if they'd never seen film of the best wide receiver in football, they came storming back to take a 25-24 lead over Arizona in the fourth quarter. The Big Toaster fell silent and the Eagles were poised to pull off one of the greatest postseason comebacks this side of Frank Reich.
In the end, though, the Eagles didn't leave themselves enough margin for error. The same defense that had carried the team throughout the postseason faltered at the worst possible moment, and the Cardinals escaped with a 32-25 victory.
At some point, the Eagles will look back and take pride in their postseason accomplishments. But on this day, they weren't interested in providing perspective. They let a golden opportunity slip through their hands because they had no answers for the Cardinals' offense in the first half -- or on its game-winning drive.
"I expected the guys to step up, they expected to step up, but it didn't happen," said coach Andy Reid.
After his team amassed eight yards in the third quarter, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner dialed up All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald on several key plays on the winning drive, including a remarkable 6-yard catch at the Eagles' 14 with two Eagles defenders hanging on him.
Fitzgerald has emerged as the most dangerous offensive player in the league and the Eagles didn't have anyone capable of defending him. Cornerback Asante Samuel signed a lucrative free agent contract last March because the Eagles thought he could match up with explosive receivers such as Fitzgerald. On Sunday, he wasn't up to the task.
The Eagles should take pride in what they accomplished this season, but Sunday was no time for perspective.
From the start, it was obvious the Eagles didn't respect the Cardinals' running game. Despite their relative success in the postseason -- the Cardinals were last in rushing during the regular season -- Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson flooded the field with defensive backs to account for Warner and the passing game. The Cardinals responded by pounding away with running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, who combined for 68 yards in the first half.
Fitzgerald had six catches for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. His second score came off a trick play on which J.J. Arrington threw a lateral pass to Warner, who then launched the ball downfield to Fitzgerald. Reserve safety Quintin Demps appeared to be in decent position but got turned around at the last second and fell down at Fitzgerald's ankles. In the somber visiting locker room, Eagles players didn't want to admit they were overmatched, but they were clearly in awe of Fitzgerald.
"He was out of his mind today," said Brown, who was victimized on Fitzgerald's third touchdown. "He's a great player. And I like him because he's not a showman. He does everything in the context of the team."
Later, Brown told me he looked forward to telling his grandchildren about playing against Fitzgerald. Late in the first half, Brown lined up in one-on-one coverage against Fitzgerald at the Eagles' 1-yard line.
In the Thanksgiving game between the two teams, he'd been able to break up a slant route to Fitzgerald in a similar situation. Fitzgerald "started dancing" at the line of scrimmage, and when Brown guessed slant, Fitzgerald caught a fade route for a touchdown.
Even 20 minutes after the game, defensive ends Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Chris Clemons and Darren Howard sat together near their lockers and angrily discussed the Cardinals' winning drive. A few feet away, offensive line coach Juan Castillo sat alone, his face buried in his hands.
The Eagles insisted they didn't underestimate the Cardinals. They had beaten Arizona by 28 points on Thanksgiving, but Reid stressed all week that they didn't get the Cardinals' best shot.
That didn't happen until Sunday.
Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley spent about 15 minutes attempting to explain what had happened, but he finally settled on a hard reality.
"At the end of the day, they did their jobs and we didn't," said Bradley. "And they're going to the Super Bowl and we're going home."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Matt Mosley
The Cardinals and Eagles aren't the only ones with a Super Bowl trip on the line Sunday. Our NFC West and NFC East bloggers also have travel itineraries at stake.
Which one is headed to Florida for the big game? Hear them out and decide.
Who has the advantage when Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson matches wits with Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley?
Matt Mosley: First of all, Haley's not getting enough credit for his work with Kurt Warner and the offense this season. Obviously, I blame most of that on Sando. That said, the Cardinals are preparing to face a defense that destroyed them in their Thanksgiving night matchup. Yes, I know the Cardinals played the Giants the previous week and then made the cross-country flight to Philly, but the results are still instructive. Johnson brought his usual 15 to 20 blitz packages to the game and was in Warner's head from the start. Warner had three interceptions in that game and a 65.7 passer rating -- if you're into that sort of thing.
Let's not go overboard on all these "the Cardinals can now run" story lines. They dusted off Edgerrin James and he gained 57 yards on 20 carries in the win over the Panthers. I'm glad to see Edge back, but he won't be able to do anything against an Eagles defense that held both Adrian Peterson and Brandon Jacobs to under 100 yards. Johnson's not going to let Larry Fitzgerald beat him. He'll let Asante Samuel follow him around and he'll provide safety help over the top. You'll also see Johnson use some safety blitzes, which will force Warner to work the middle of the field instead of launching jump balls down the sideline to Fitzgerald.
Mike Sando: Haley's NFC East roots apparently go a long way with Matt. Whisenhunt and Haley will need their best game plan for this one. I think they're up to the challenge, no question. Both are sharp coaches. Both have identified the Cardinals' strengths and played to them. They have taken the Cardinals further than anyone expected.
I do question whether Arizona has the offensive personnel to fend off those Johnson blitzes consistently enough. The key for Whisenhunt and Haley remains sticking with the running game even when the passing game becomes irresistible by comparison. Arizona must create at least the illusion of balance to keep the Eagles from getting to Warner.
Whisenhunt and Haley have done that late in the season. Their decision to go back to James showed they'll put the team first. They're more interested in winning than advancing personal agendas or making themselves appear to have all the answers. That's a great sign for Arizona.