NFC East: Jamaal Charles

History provides hope for Redskins

January, 28, 2014
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The Redskins will have a tough time recovering from a 3-13 season, especially with a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden. But it’s one that a number of other teams have done, including five teams since the 2006 season.

Here are the other teams that have recovered from a three-win season or worse to make the playoffs the following season, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
  • 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs): Andy Reid took over a team that had six players who made the Pro Bowl for the previous season, which ended with a 2-14 record. They also added quarterback Alex Smith, who made the Pro Bowl along with nine other players. An excellent defensive line and strong running game led by Jamaal Charles made a difference as both the offense and defense finished in the top six in points per game.
  • 2012 Minnesota Vikings (10-6, lost in the wild-card round): Running back Adrian Peterson had an historic season, rushing for 2,075 yards to lead the turnaround. The big jump occurred defensively where the Vikings went from 31st in points allowed to 14th. Nine of their 13 losses in 2011 were by seven points or less. By comparison, the Redskins had seven such games.
  • 2012 Indianapolis Colts (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): Like the Chiefs, the Colts had a first-year coach in Chuck Pagano. They also had a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, who threw 23 touchdown passes to 18 interceptions. They did not go crazy in free agency despite a 2-14 finish the previous season and, in fact, lost receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins. They even lost Pagano for 12 games while undergoing cancer treatment, yet went 9-3 in that span. The offense jumped in points per game from 28th a year earlier to 18th while the defense went from 28th to 21st.
  • 2008 Miami Dolphins (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): After a 1-15 season, the Dolphins hired Bill Parcells as team president and later Tony Sparano as head coach. They did not make a major splash in free agency, with their big signings being guard Justin Smiley and defensive end Randy Starks. However, after the Jets released Chad Pennington that August, the Dolphins pounced. And steady quarterback play made a big difference as Pennington threw 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That certainly topped the efforts of the 2007 group of Trent Green (five starts), Cleo Lemon (seven starts) and John Beck (four starts). The defense made a huge jump, going from 30th in points allowed to ninth.
  • 2006 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in conference championship): Hurricane Katrina disrupted the 2005 season under then-coach Jim Haslett, leading to a 3-13 record. But the Saints made two fantastic moves in the offseason: Hiring head coach Sean Payton and signing quarterback Drew Brees. They also drafted well, with running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, tackle Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston among the additions.
  • 2000 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in divisional playoff round): Haslett took over for Mike Ditka and found instant success, earning coach of the year honors. They had a terrific pass rush with La’Roi Glover (17 sacks), Joe Johnson (12) and rookie Darren Howard (11) as the defense went from 28th in points allowed to 10th. They did not have great quarterback play, but Jeff Blake was good enough as he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 starts. Receiver Joe Horn stood out with 94 receptions for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-3, lost in divisional round): They had finished 3-13 for two consecutive seasons before this stunning turnaround under second-year head coach Jim Mora, who had previously won 93 games in 11 seasons with New Orleans. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the same number of touchdown passes (26) that he did as a rookie but 13 fewer interceptions (15).
  • 1987 Indianapolis Colts (9-6, lost in the divisional round): They had won a combined 12 games in the previous three seasons, including only three in 1986. But in the strike-shortened season, the Colts’ defense ended up first in points per game. The Colts acquired running back Eric Dickerson during the season; he rushed for 1,011 yards in nine games.
  • 1982 New England Patriots (5-4, lost in the first round): Another strike-shortened season helped the Patriots recover from a 2-14 season (that was preceded by a 10-6 one). They did not receive great quarterback play, though Steve Grogan was steady in his six starts. The defense ranked seventh in points per game.
PHILADELPHIA -- Bill Belichick dropped the phrase “one-game season” in his news conference Friday. On the eve of the NFL’s championship-game weekend, that raised a minor, but sort of interesting, point regarding Chip Kelly's approach.

Belichick used the phrase to describe the NFL playoffs. Kelly used it to describe all 16 regular-season games.

Let’s be clear. Kelly’s “one-game season” mantra worked as intended. It helped keep the Eagles’ focus on each upcoming opponent without being distracted by the standings or playoff scenarios or media chatter.

Kelly’s approach was consistent. When the Eagles were 3-3 and improbably tied for first in the NFC East, Kelly joked about getting a trophy for this October achievement. When they were 3-5 and hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown for two weeks, Kelly directed everyone’s attention to the upcoming game in Oakland.

That was a pretty good one-week season: Eagles 49, Raiders 20.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDuring the regular season, Chip Kelly's defense was on the field more than any other defense in the NFL.
While it was an effective motivational tool, Kelly’s approach doesn’t apply in the NFL the way it literally did when he was at Oregon. In college, a team with national title aspirations really does have a series of one-week seasons. A single loss can knock your team out of contention.

That isn’t the case in the NFL, obviously. The Eagles lost six games before getting to the real one-game season. The San Diego Chargers lost seven regular-season games and still made it into the playoffs.

The Chargers won a playoff game. The Eagles didn’t. Who had the better one-game season?

If this was just a matter of semantics, it wouldn’t be worth bringing up. But as we’ve watched the truly elite teams separate themselves from the rest of the league in the playoffs, it’s natural to think about what the Eagles need to do to get back to that level.

No one is suggesting Kelly drop the “one-game season” idea when he’s addressing his players. But it’s important for a coach to approach the season as the 16-game, 17-week marathon that it really is.

Example: Kelly’s much-discussed disdain for time-of-possession might be fine in a one-game season, assuming you win. But over 16 regular-season games, the Eagles' defense was on the field more than any other defense in the NFL. More time and more plays, which means more collisions, more running, more of everything.

It isn’t exactly a reach to suggest a correlation between that workload and the way the Eagles couldn’t get off the field in the second half of the playoff loss to New Orleans. The Saints were able to run nearly five minutes off the clock on their game-winning drive. The Eagles' defenders were getting pushed around, unable to stand their ground in the running game.

The conceit that the Eagles were the best conditioned team in the league proved to be just that. They were fit, but not markedly more than the teams they were playing every week.

None of the four teams that will play this weekend were on the minus side in time of possession.

McCoy
Another example: LeSean McCoy carried the ball 314 times in the regular season. That is 25 more times than the NFL’s second-leading rusher, Chicago’s Matt Forte, and 55 more times than Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, who finished third in rushing yards. Only Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, with 301, topped the 300-carry mark.

(Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson was on pace for more carries than McCoy before getting hurt.)

McCoy had 31 carries for 184 yards in Week 1. The next week, he carried 11 times for 53 yards, averaging more than a yard less per carry. He averaged 7.9 yards in 20 carries against Kansas City in Week 3, then 4.6 yards in 16 carries against a lesser Denver defense in Week 4. That pattern continued most of the season: after averaging 7.5 yards in the snow against Detroit, McCoy averaged 4.8 in just eight carries in Minnesota.

The last two weeks of the regular season, McCoy carried the ball 45 times for 264 yards (5.9 yards per carry). In the first week of the postseason, against the 19th-ranked rush defense, McCoy carried the ball 21 times for 77 yards, a 3.7-yard average.

Would McCoy be stronger in the real one-game season if his carries over the regular season were managed differently? Would the defense have more in the tank in the playoffs if it didn’t have the heaviest workload in the league for 16 games?

It’s worth thinking about. Kelly has an eight-month offseason to do so.

Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”
PHILADELPHIA – Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, it must be noted, would not have to tackle Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson if the injured superstar were to play Sunday.

McCoy
With that established, McCoy said he’ll be disappointed if Peterson’s foot injury keeps him sidelined when the Eagles visit the Metrodome.

“When we saw them on the schedule,” McCoy said, “my eyes got big. I thought it was a chance to go one-on-one with one of the best backs. You always want to compete against one of the elite guys in the NFL.”

McCoy certainly considers himself among them. He is pretty matter-of-fact when discussing his abilities and his place in the hierarchy. It is why he caused a stir early in the season by tweeting an insult about Denver’s Knowshon Moreno, whose crime was being taken ahead of McCoy in the 2009 draft.

“I definitely think I’m in the top five [backs],” McCoy said. “Top three.”

Asked to name the rest of that top five, McCoy mentioned Peterson, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, San Francisco’s Frank Gore and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.

“There’s a lot of different guys,” McCoy said. “I like to give you a couple guys to think about, some elite guys. Arian Foster is in there, too, even though he’s banged up.”

McCoy said he valued consistency, versatility and longevity, but there was something else that was harder to define in identifying a great back.

“What makes you special?” McCoy said. “Guys that have great offensive lines, they’ll get yards. But what else do you do special? Is he a shifty back? Will he run you over? Can he catch, can he run routes? Is he a mismatch for defenders? What makes that guy special? All those guys I named, I can give two, three, four, five attributes that make them a special back.”

McCoy spoke from a bully pulpit. He is leading the NFL with 1,305 rushing yards, ahead of Peterson, and in total yards from scrimmage, ahead of Charles. In the latest ESPN.com MVP Watch, Dan Graziano had McCoy third behind only quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Charles, at No. 8, was the only other running back in Graziano’s top 10.

On Sunday, McCoy broke the Eagles’ 64-year-old franchise record for rushing yards in a game, topping Steve Van Buren 217 to 205. He is 207 yards away from Wilbert Montgomery’s 1979 record of 1,512 rushing yards in a season.

Redskins Game day: Ten Thoughts

December, 8, 2013
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1. I don’t know what this means, but it’s certainly an observation: The Redskins seemed as loose last week as they’ve been all season, whether when we could watch practice or during the open locker room sessions (especially Friday, a typically lively day). I don’t know if that’s good or bad -- though the answer will be revealed Sunday. I do know when they were 3-6 a year ago they also were rather loose and it probably helped.

2. Pierre Garcon has had an impressive season and his 84 receptions are the most in franchise history after 12 games. Next highest: Art Monk with 71 catches and Gary Clark with 66. Garcon has done a terrific job, but the problem here is the total yards. Despite having 13 and 18 more catches, respectively, than the Monk and Clark, Garcon does not have more receiving yards than at the same point. He has 980 yards compared to Monk (1,007) and Clark (1,126).

3. Garcon’s yards after the catch (491) rank fourth in the NFL, but that stems in part from how many screen passes and smoke routes he’s run -- plays designed for yards after the catch. He has not been a big threat downfield. It’s why he’s averaging just 11.7 yards per catch, tying his career low (for the five seasons in which he’s been a regular).

[+] EnlargeWashington's Pierre Garcon
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Pierre Garcon has been a bright spot for Washington's offense this season.
4. That’s not to say he’s not having a good season; he clearly is -- he's consistent and productive. But it does illustrate some of what’s been wrong in the passing game -- the inability to get the ball downfield. Of the top 10 receivers in the NFL in terms of catches, the only two who average less per reception are slot receivers Julian Edelman (10.2) and Wes Welker (10.5).

5. In fact, no Redskin with at least 10 catches is averaging more than 12.5 yards per catch, which is a major problem. Every other team in the NFL has at least one player averaging more yards per catch than 12.5. Last season, the Redskin had four players who finished with at least 20 catches who averaged at least 13.5 yards per reception. This also speaks to the lack of explosiveness at this position. Aldrick Robinson has speed, but I wouldn’t consider him explosive (though on his six catches he averages 25.3 yards. The problem? Six catches. He’s just not that good). Leonard Hankerson (obviously now hurt) runs good routes, but after the catch doesn’t make anyone miss. All of this is a function of how teams are defending the Redskins, the line not giving quarterback Robert Griffin III enough time to always throw deep, Griffin’s accuracy being off and receivers who don’t get open. That about sums it up.

6. This is the time of the year when the media starts voting on its Good Guy award winner, the player who helps the media best do its job. Despite a 3-9 record, the Redskins have players who routinely do this. It’s not easy getting asked all the time about bad performances or about whether or not a coach should be fired (it’s a bit rare when players publicly say yes) or about what might happen to them. They all know if there’s a regime change it puts them on notice, too. One player who has been largely absent during the week? Second-year back Alfred Morris. Not quite sure why; the press he gets is almost always good. But he does talk after games. He was terrific to talk to last season and even early in the year. He still seems jovial when seen around the facility.

7. Oh, yeah, the game. The Redskins’ defense will be challenged by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns. Charles is a big-time threat in the pass game, too, with a team-best 55 receptions. Charles hits holes fast, but he’s not going to lower his shoulder and drive through defenders. It’s not his running style.

8. Another thing: He and fellow back Dexter McCluster are used on a lot of screens. The Chiefs will use both players on the field at the same time and will get them the ball on a variety of routes. They’ll even have them run crossing routes underneath, trying to get them the ball in space in one-on-one situations. McCluster has 42 receptions.

9. The Chiefs haven’t applied a lot of pressure in recent games, but consider that two of their last three games have come against Denver and that’s a bit understandable. Few if any quarterbacks get rid of the ball faster than Denver’s Peyton Manning. With leading sacker Justin Houston (11 sacks) out Sunday, the Chiefs’ rush will take a hit. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali has nine sacks. While he’s fast, it’s his always-active hands that create issues. But they will try to manufacture pressure with a variety of looks. They had one blitz, for example, against New York earlier this season in which they stunted the end and the tackle on the nose on the left side with the inside linebackers executing the same move right behind them. Yes, it led to major pressure. That also came with a blitz. “They have a ton of stuff like that,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “Usually we have a meeting on Thursday and go over the blitz and what they like to do and it’s a short meeting. But this one was like 15 minutes because they do a lot of stuff we’re not used to.”

10. The key? Running the ball well, especially on early downs. Kansas City allows a hefty 4.6 yards per rush and any pass rush is negated by a team able to put itself in third-and-shorts. But going inside the numbers, I’m not sure the Chiefs are that bad. Some backs have had strong games (Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Denver's Montee Ball). But, for the most part, they’ve done well against a team’s top back. One reason: nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is strong and quick and occupies double teams. He’ll be a handful Sunday.
Alfred Morris, Eric BerryGetty ImagesWashington's Alfred Morris, left, and KC's Eric Berry lead teams trying to end losing streaks.
Fortunes have turned this season for the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. The Redskins, who won the NFC East championship last season, are 3-9. After winning just two games last season, the Chiefs are 9-3 and can clinch a playoff spot Sunday if they beat the Redskins and either the Baltimore Ravens or the Miami Dolphins lose. But the Chiefs have lost three straight, and their chances for winning the AFC West are virtually gone after being swept in their two games against the Denver Broncos.

ESPN.com's Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss Sunday's game:

Teicher: This is a complicated question, but what’s happened this season with Robert Griffin III? Still bothered by the knee? Feeling the effects of missing offseason practice?

Keim: Yeah, it’s complicated because there are a lot of issues that have added up to him having an inconsistent sophomore season. The knee played a factor early in that he wasn’t going to run a lot and wanted to be more of a dropback passer (partly because he was fooled by last season’s success). The knee brace restricts him a little, but he just hasn’t regained his explosiveness. He’s still fast, but that first-step burst isn’t the same, and that hurts on some of the read-option or escaping trouble. Defenses are playing them different -- teams with good fronts can sit back and take away their play-action. They’ve seen coverages they didn’t see a lot of last season, and a greater variety of stunts and blitzes (knowing Griffin might not hurt them as badly). Missing the offseason really hurt Griffin’s ability to develop as a passer, and that has been a big issue. There are games when he looks solid, like against the Giants, but he also has had a couple of games that are as bad as any since he entered the NFL. Because he came from a much less complex passing system at Baylor, he needs a full offseason of work.

Adam, who would have thought Alex Smith would be the quarterback with the better team in this game? What sort of difference has he made for the Chiefs?

Teicher: His stats haven’t been great until the past couple of games, but he’s actually had a pretty good season. He’s been burned to some extent by dropped passes or his statistics would actually look a lot better. Through the nine-game winning streak to start the season, Smith played well enough not to mess up a good thing. He wasn’t committing turnovers, and, although he wasn’t making many big plays in the passing game, he was bailing the Chiefs out of some tough situations, whether scrambling or on the option or on a called play. Lately, they have needed more points and big plays, and he has delivered.

Kansas City has given up some yards via the running game this season. Give us a little scouting report on how Washington uses Alfred Morris and Roy Helu, and what there is to choose from between those guys. Also, do most of RG III’s rushing yards come on the option, called runs or scrambles?

Keim: The Redskins love to use a lot of stretch-zone and outside zone runs with Morris and Helu. Both can run inside. They will use some boot action off the stretch-zone, as well. Morris does a much better job than Helu of setting up defenders by pressing the hole and cutting. He gets linebackers to overflow, then cuts back. Morris is more patient than Helu, who hits holes as fast as he can run, and that often means he doesn’t set up defenders and therefore doesn’t create lanes for himself. He’s a bigger threat in the open field as a receiver. Helu is used more as a third-down back, but he is capable of running and does have the speed to break a long run. But, again, just not patient enough, and therefore gets a lot of 2-yard runs. As for Griffin, he’s averaging 5.46 yards per carry off zone-read runs (compared with 8.0 last season). His longer runs have come off scrambles -- but that also depends on whether a team plays a lot of man coverage. He’s just not as explosive off the zone-read runs, but teams have adjusted to it -- they are more disciplined against it, and safeties are more aggressive coming up to defend.

Looking at the Chiefs’ defense, how would you assess them at this point after such a dominant start?

Teicher: Not very good. The Chiefs have allowed more than 400 yards in each of their past four games. They are going to give up some yards, given the style they play (pressure on the quarterback, cornerbacks frequently in one-on-one coverage). Kansas City gave up some yards and big plays early in the season. But now, the Chiefs are not getting to the quarterback often, are rarely forcing him into mistakes, and are not getting the turnovers and favorable field position that made them so successful early in the season. That is why I think Washington could move the ball and score some points against Kansas City. The Chiefs played against a series of journeymen, backups or inexperienced players at quarterback over several weeks and feasted against those guys. The past three weeks, though, they have faced Peyton Manning twice and Philip Rivers and haven't fared very well. Given Griffin's dual-threat abilities and Washington's running game, Kansas City has some things to worry about.

The Redskins have given up a ton of points. The run defense looks as if it has been decent, but Washington has been horrible against the pass. Pinpoint the problems areas in that regard for the Redskins.

Keim: The Redskins have not generated enough pressure from their four-man rushes, although there are times when they get what they would consider good rushes but it’s not making enough of an impact. I don’t sense that quarterbacks are uncomfortable in the pocket. Sometimes it is because the coverage behind them is too soft, especially when they play zone. Washington has a lot of holes in its zone coverages, and quarterbacks can quickly find them. Makes it tough to then pressure. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has been solid and made some big plays; he’s much better now in tight man coverage. But the safeties as a group have struggled, sometimes because of injury, and other times because of performance. The Redskins have to upgrade here. Brandon Meriweather is OK, but he’s one bad hit from a longer suspension. They have had to mix and match a lot at safety to try to make it work. But it’s not just here; the inside linebackers have not had a strong season. Cornerback Josh Wilson plays the run well out of the slot but can be picked on. He’s up and down. Rookie cornerback David Amerson can make big plays but also can surrender them (although some of that has subsided). It is an inconsistent group, and it is why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is under fire. It is not all his fault, as there are times the calls aren’t his, but that is life in the NFL.

How big a difference has coach Andy Reid made --- and are the Chiefs a legitimate contender?

Teicher: He has made a huge difference. He has given direction to an organization that before had a lot of guys pulling in a lot of different directions. Reid came through the door for the first time with an impressive résumé, and players -- tired of the losing and the way things had been -- were more than willing to listen. He has been able to get a lot of guys to put aside personal goals for the greater good. But I don't see the Chiefs as being legitimate contenders, not this season. Even during their nine-game winning streak, there were some red flags everyone knew were going to be problems down the road. The two games against the Broncos, particularly last week's, showed a wide gap between the Chiefs and one of the league's premier teams.

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Cowboys run D to be tested too

November, 23, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have offered up little resistance with their pass defense. They are allowing 313 yards per game through the air, worst in the league.

Eli Manning started it all off with 450 yards passing in the season opener with four touchdown passes. He was intercepted three times, but he has had his way with the Cowboys at times in his career.

But part of the Giants’ resurgence lately has not been with Manning leading the way. It’s been with a ball control offense. On a conference call Wednesday Giants coach Tom Coughlin made note of how much the Giants have run the ball in their four-game winning streak: 31, 32, 38 and 24 times.

“That’s what they used to do, run the ball and then play-action to pass it,” defensive tackle Nick Hayden said. “They’re just trying to get back to it and being balanced instead of just throwing the ball the whole time.”

It’s not that the Giants have run it great. They are averaging fewer than 3 yards per carry, but Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis can be bruising backs. The Cowboys have faced mostly shiftier backs in LeSean McCoy, Reggie Bush and Jamaal Charles.

“Just harder to bring down guys and they can break a lot of tackles,” Hayden said. “We’ve got to be more physical.”

And as bad as the pass defense has been, the Cowboys allowed the New Orleans Saints to rush for 242 yards in their last game.

“We just got the details, be where we’re supposed to be at when we’re supposed to be there,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. “We’ve been playing with a lot of guys, just here and there filling guys in. We’ve been banged up, but I’m not the guy to make excuses. We’ve got to do better. We just have to go out here and concentrate on it and take it one step at a time and we’ll be OK.”

McCoy: Winning, not yardage, matters

November, 7, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA – The questions for Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy are the same. The tone after a 49-20 blowout win is very different from the tone after two consecutive games without an offensive touchdown.

McCoy rushed for only 44 yards Sunday in Oakland, fewer than he did in ugly losses to the Cowboys (55 yards) and Giants (48).

“The biggest thing is winning,” McCoy said Wednesday. “I still lead the NFL in rushing, so I can’t be that pissed.”

McCoy
It’s true. In the Eagles’ first three games, McCoy put up two of the three biggest yardage totals of the season – 184 at Washington, 158 against Kansas City. He got far enough ahead of the pack that, even after a relatively quiet few weeks, no one has caught up to McCoy and his 777 rushing yards.

The pack is getting close. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is at 726 yards. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles is one yard back at 725. Adrian Peterson has 711.

As for the Pack, Green Bay rookie Eddie Lacy is eighth overall with 596 yards. But while McCoy jumped out to a big lead and has slowed down, Lacy has the most rushing yards in the NFL over the past month.

The Eagles really haven’t followed the NFL formula, using the passing game to get out to a lead and the running game to kill time. In Oakland, they got a big lead and just kept throwing.

“We scored almost every chance we had,” McCoy said. “We were making plays up and down the field.”

“When you’re throwing the ball like that, you’re probably not going to run the ball as much,” center Jason Kelce said. “I think Chip [Kelly] and the offensive staff are really good at taking what the defense gives you. That’s kind of what this whole offense is predicated on.”

Nick Foles’ record-tying passing splurge was made possible, at least in part, by the Raiders’ focus on McCoy. Oakland seldom blitzed, allowing Foles time to find open receivers romping through the secondary.

“They tried to stop the run so much, they left things open,” McCoy said.

Against Dallas and the Giants, the Eagles were unable to exploit those opportunities in the passing game. Foles had a terrible performance against the Cowboys. Michael Vick struggled early, then was forced to leave the Giants game.

It won’t always look as easy as it did against the Raiders’ gravity-challenged secondary, but that was how the offense is designed to respond to teams stacking up against the run. And that, in turn, could get McCoy rolling again.

“I feel comfortable going into this week that we can run the ball a little more,” McCoy said. “We threw the ball so well last game, a team will have to play us honest. When they try to stop the run, guys are making plays [in the pass game]. From now on, we’ll probably see more honest defensive looks.”

Double Coverage: Chiefs at Eagles

September, 19, 2013
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Andy Reid, Chip KellyAP Photo Can Andy Reid slow Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense and nab a win in his much-anticipated return to Philadelphia?
You may have heard about a certain head coach returning to the city where he spent 14 seasons, revived a franchise, helped build a stadium and went to a Super Bowl.

Yes, Chiefs coach Andy Reid would love to beat his former team Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field. And yes, Eagles coach Chip Kelly would like to make a statement by defeating his predecessor using the offensive stars Reid assembled in the first place.

Ultimately, though, the coaches will be sidebars on the sidelines once the ball is in the air. The players will determine whether the Kansas City Chiefs get off to a 3-0 start or the Philadelphia Eagles can get back into the plus column at 2-1.

Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss this week's matchup:

Adam Teicher: Once Michael Vick either passes the ball or hands it off, is there anybody for the Chiefs to fear besides DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy?

Phil Sheridan: Those are clearly the most dangerous men on the Eagles offense, and among the most dangerous in the NFL. Washington played a lot of nickel coverage in Week 1, and McCoy went for 184 rushing yards. San Diego stacked the box and Jackson caught nine balls for 193 yards. But Kelly has some other options: rookie tight end Zach Ertz, as well as veteran Brent Celek, could be the next to break out with a big game. Meanwhile, when McCoy is winded, backup Bryce Brown is a very real threat to break a big play.

He may not open up about it until afterward, but how emotional do you think Reid is about coming back to Philadelphia -- especially with a chance to go 3-0?

Teicher: You’re right in that he didn’t open up even the smallest of cracks about this publicly, but absolutely this is a big deal for him. He can’t be human and not feel something after 14 seasons in Philadelphia. The other part is that with the Chiefs at 2-0, he’s going back if not yet as a conquering hero than as much of a success as someone can be at this point of the season. He’s good at compartmentalizing things. The death of his son last year is evidence of that. So I’d be surprised if this issue interrupted his preparation for the game Thursday night. I’ll bet it hits him after the game and hits him with a ton of force. In that case, it’s probably good the Chiefs don’t play again after the Philadelphia game for almost a week and a half. But it is amazing how he can talk about the Eagles this week like how he talked about the Cowboys last week or the Jaguars the week before that. It’s just as though they’re another team.

Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, is off to a rough start. How is Lane Johnson, the tackle picked three spots behind him, doing for Philadelphia?

Sheridan: The highs have been pretty high, the lows fairly low. Johnson had a tough time with Dwight Freeney on Sunday, which doesn’t make him unique. And he was called for two illegal formation penalties -- he was off the line too far because he was concerned about Freeney -- and one of them negated a touchdown. But everything is relative. The Eagles have had plenty of first-round offensive linemen, from Danny Watkins back to Antone Davis, who have been disasters from day one. The Eagles liked Fisher a lot, but they are happy with Johnson’s upside. He adjusts well, he’s still adding strength and the coaches think he could eventually play left tackle, too.

Reid was infamous in Philadelphia for underutilizing his running backs (at least in the running game). How is he using Jamaal Charles this year?

Teicher: Charles has touched the ball a total of 43 times this season (32 carries, 11 receptions) and on average that’s probably close to what he can handle on a weekly basis. He’s only about 200 pounds, so the Chiefs have to be careful about his workload. He also has had some injury problems this summer (foot, quad), though he looks fine physically. The problem is that the Chiefs don’t appear comfortable with either of their backup running backs in all situations. Cyrus Gray comes in on a lot of passing downs. He’s a better pass-blocker and the equal to Charles as a pass-receiver, but he’s certainly not as good as a runner or as much of a big-play threat. Charles might have been given the ball more than he was last week against the Cowboys but he had only 8 yards on his first eight carries and Reid at that point decided to try to move the ball a different way.

The Eagles’ defense is rated 30th overall and 31st against the pass. Is this a true measure of where Philadelphia is defensively or more a function of the fast-paced games the Eagles have played?

Sheridan: Oh, it’s a true measure. The Eagles were brutally bad last year against the pass (33 TDs allowed, just five interceptions). They made huge changes in their secondary, but are also switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base. The combination of new scheme, new players and suspect talent would create problems anywhere. Throw in Kelly’s fast-paced offense and you get enough extra exposure to strain the defense even more. If you watch even the highlights from Sunday’s 33-30 loss, you can see Philip Rivers had wide-open receivers on nearly every play. I’m surprised Alex Smith didn’t fly to Philadelphia first thing Monday.

The Chiefs seemed to shut down the Cowboys offense. How are they equipped to handle Kelly’s pace and unusual approach?

Teicher: The Chiefs did a nice job against the Cowboys, with the exception of Dez Bryant. They were dominant the week before, albeit against the anemic Jaguars. Overall, they are third in the league in total defense and second against the run, so they look like they’re for real. They have a lot of guys playing extremely well on defense. But the Eagles present a different kind of challenge, one that is compounded by having a short practice week. When the Eagles are in their hurry-up mode, the Chiefs may have to go to some default defenses based on personnel and formation. New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has done a nice job of playing to the strengths of his players, so it will be interesting to see what he has cooked up for Philadelphia.

Yes, yes, yes, I am aware that it appears as though all I'm doing is sitting here watching these ESPN.com fantasy football videos. But that's not the case. I went for my run. I've checked in on my incredibly disappointing fantasy baseball team. I've looked ahead with an eye toward training camp travel plans. I wrote a non-fantasy Giants post on the Victor Cruz deal. Pretty productive July 8, you ask me.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Howard Smith/US PresswirePlaying in Chip Kelly's system could lead to hefty fantasy numbers for Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.
But in the meantime, it is Fantasy Week here on the NFC East blog, and I have this video in which the fantasy folks debate which of these three first-round running backs they'd rather have: Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles or the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy.

Now, I'm not saying I'd draft McCoy over those other two guys, or that anything the folks in the video say is wrong. But I'll say this: If I'm picking last in the first round and McCoy's still there, I'll take him without thinking twice and I'll feel real good about the way my draft has started.

This is a guy, McCoy, who was being talked about as a possible first overall pick at this time last year, and who was a consensus top-three pick. And we're downgrading him now why? Because he had a concussion? Because Bryce Brown had a couple of good games while he was out? Because he was on pace to score fewer than the 20 touchdowns he had the year before?

Please. You find reasons not to like LeSean McCoy. I'm happy to take him off your hands. McCoy's birthday is Friday. Which birthday? That's right, his 25th. He's 11 months younger than Spiller and a year and a half younger than Charles. And right up until the part about the fear of splitting carries, everything Matthew Berry says about Spiller in his opening speech in that video can be said about McCoy.

As for splitting carries, I'm not buying it as a reason to like these other backs over McCoy. I think Chip Kelly's going to run the ball a ton. I think Brown will get carries but not nearly as many as McCoy will get. I think there will be enough running plays and short passing plays in the fast-paced, no-huddle, get-the-ball-out-quickly Philadelphia offense that McCoy will get as many touches as any running back in the league, even if Brown gets his own share. I think Brown's a chronic fumbler who can't be trusted in big spots, and I think Kelly knows that. I don't think the Eagles' quarterback situation is significantly better than those in Kansas City and Buffalo. In short, I love McCoy, especially as a late first-round value pick in fantasy this year.

Spiller and Charles each bring the home-run threat, and I get that. But McCoy's a guy who's performed for an extended period of time like a top fantasy running back. If I'm picking 10th and he's still there, I feel pretty lucky, is all I'm saying.

Have I mentioned that ESPN.com's fantasy football draft kit is out? Here's the list of running back rankings, and right there at No. 9 you'll see the Washington Redskins' Alfred Morris, who finished second in the NFL in rushing yards last year as a rookie.

I was surprised to see Morris that low, because like I said, only Bionic Adrian Peterson rushed for more yards last year, and Morris plays for a coaching staff that sees leading the league in rushing as a point of pride. But fantasy analysts don't trust Mike Shanahan to stick with one back for any length of time, and there are legitimate concerns about Morris coming out on third down and the Redskins maybe throwing more this year with Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis healthy. He also doesn't factor in as a pass-catcher and he doesn't offer the big-play potential of guys like C.J. Spiller and Jamaal Charles, who are ranked right in front of him.

But that's for fantasy, and while we love our fantasy football here on the NFC East blog, most Redskins fans are more concerned about whether Morris can repeat his rookie-year performance or whether he'll suffer some sort of "sophomore slump" that will hurt the Redskins' chances of repeating as division champs.

In the video above, you will see a roundtable discussion of ESPN.com fantasy football experts talking about the running back position in general. Once you get to the 3:45 mark, Matthew Berry talks about Morris specifically, and I agree with him that concerns about a Morris fall-off don't have a lot of merit.

The Redskins want to run the ball and will continue to run the ball, in part because they won't want to run quarterback Robert Griffin III as much as they did last year and in part because a reliable run game is a key part of this zone-read offense they intend to keep in place. Morris will still get the ball at the goal line, and he'll still get the ball plenty on first and second downs because (a) it's important that the defense know for a fact they'll run and (b) the Redskins' coaches know exactly what Morris will do when he has the ball. He makes one cut and gets up the field, the way Shanahan's been teaching it for years. The offensive line knows that if it opens a hole, he'll find it. He runs with a forward lean that helps him pick up extra yards. He's not going to try to make some crazy extra-effort play that heightens the risk of a turnover or an injury.

Morris is only entering his second year, but in terms of the kind of runner he is and the way he fits his team's scheme, he's as reliable as any back this side of Minneapolis. He's not going to dazzle the way LeSean McCoy may in Philly, but he's going to do the exact job his coaches need him to do. And because the Redskins are a team that believes it must commit to the run no matter what, he's going to keep getting carries. I don't think a sophomore slump is coming. I think what Morris was last year is exactly what he'll be this year and for several years until he wears down or gets hurt, as between-the-tackles running backs do. For now, I say he's among the least of Washington's 2013 concerns.
[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
David Dermer/Diamond Images/ Getty ImagesEven at 24, LeSean McCoy could become one of the league's best backs for years to come.
So yeah, I'm reading this Insider post from Matt Williamson forecasting the top 10 NFL running backs for the 2016 season, Insider and I was a little startled to see the name of the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy at No. 2, behind only Cleveland Browns monster Trent Richardson. McCoy, after all, has played four full NFL seasons already at running back, and you wouldn't imagine a veteran with that kind of resume would be a candidate for a list like this based three years in the future. Everyone else in Matt's top seven is either a rookie or a second-year back. The only back in Matt's top 10 with more NFL service time than McCoy is Kansas City's Jamaal Charles at No. 10.

This served to remind me of a fact that startles me every time I encounter it: LeSean McCoy is not yet 25 years old. His 25th birthday is July 12. He's only six months older than Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, who's No. 3 on this list and was a rookie last year. He's almost a full year younger than Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, and he's a year and a half younger than Charles.

None of this is to say McCoy is a sure bet to outlast any of these guys. Charles and Spiller haven't been full-time starters for their entire careers. Running back is a position that wears you down, and McCoy has been a bell-cow guy, averaging 14.4 carries per game for his career (16.19 since his rookie season) as compared to Charles' 12.06 or Spiller's 8.43. Martin averaged 19.94 in 2012, but again... only one year in the league.

No, the point is that as brilliant as McCoy has been, it's incredible to imagine what's still possible for him, considering he's still only 24 as I write this. When we watch McCoy run, we see him do things other backs can't do in terms of vision and speed and shiftiness. Add to the fact that players his age aren't generally as good as they will eventually be, and you can start forecasting levels of brilliance for McCoy that boggle the mind. He missed time last year due to injury, and the popular perception of him has been bogged down somewhat in the argument about the extent to which Andy Reid did or did not use him. But with Chip Kelly now coaching in Philadelphia, I believe the offense is going to be heavily based on the run game. And with a weapon like McCoy, with as much as he likely still has left in the tank at this point in his career, why wouldn't it be?


We'll wrap today's run of fantasy football video content with this roundtable discussion about Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. He took the NFL and fantasy worlds by storm last season once he got the job as the Cowboys' starting running back, and before he broke his ankle in the December game against the Giants he'd emerged as a top fantasy option. He says he's healthy and will have no training camp limitations. So if we take him at his word, where do we draft him?

Eric Karabell starts off the discussion by saying he won't rank Murray in the top 10 because he fears a timeshare with Felix Jones. I think such fear is unfounded. When everyone was healthy last year, Murray was clearly the starter and Jones clearly the backup. Murray even showed enough pass-catching ability to keep Jones on the bench in those situations. So assuming he gets and stays healthy, I don't think there's any fear about Murray as the clear No. 1 back in Dallas.

Christopher Harris ranks Murray No. 9 among running backs. He has reservations because of the extent to which Murray's numbers were inflated by the one huge game against the Rams (as were the numbers of any good back who played the Rams, hello, Ryan Torain). And he qualifies his ranking by pointing out the questionable value of the other backs around him in the rankings (injury-recovery cases Darren McFadden and Jamaal Charles, to name two). But he says he's "willing to take a chance on the upside," and I agree. I think Murray should be viewed as a very good second-tier option after the elite guys are off the board. He plays in one of the league's top offenses. He performed as one when given the chance, and if he's healthy he has that experience on which to draw. I'd shy away a bit in keeper leagues, because I have this fear that he's not the kind of back that holds up long-term. But in the short term, I think Murray can be extremely productive, and he has a rare quality among fantasy running backs: There's no real threat to his starting job.
Peyton Hillis is one step away from becoming the first Cleveland Browns player to grace the cover of the popular "Madden" video game series.

Vick
Hillis
Hillis
ESPN.com's SportsNation announced Monday that Hillis, a No. 10 seed, pulled another upset in the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament. He garnered 61 percent of the vote to defeat Green Bay Packers quarterback and No. 1 seed Aaron Rodgers. Hillis will face Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in the finals.

This is the fourth consecutive week Hillis advanced against a higher seed. He also defeated No. 7 seed Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, No. 2 seed Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and No. 6 seed Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.

In many ways, Cleveland fans have treated this tournament like their Super Bowl.

The rebuilding Browns are just 64-128 since returning to the NFL in 1999 and are coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons. But the Dawgpound has come out in droves to support Hillis, who is coming off a breakout 2010 season where he rushed for 1,177 yards and scored 13 total touchdowns.

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