NFC East: Jeff Fisher

It may be easy for you and I to sit here and say Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should give up on the idea of Jason Garrett as head coach, move on and start over with someone else. But it's important to remember that you and I probably wouldn't have hired Garrett to coach the Cowboys in the first place, and Jones did.

A half-season after he fired Wade Phillips as head coach and defensive coordinator, Jones looked at all of the available candidates and selected Garrett. Dan Snyder had beaten him to Mike Shanahan by a year, and the best remaining candidates at the time were either defensive coaches (John Fox, Jeff Fisher) like the one he'd just fired or offensive coaches (Jon Gruden, Brian Billick) whose stock had fallen since their Super Bowl title days. Garrett had just gone 5-3 over the second half of the 2010 season with Jon Kitna at quarterback. The team had responded to him, Jones had always thought highly of him, and so he made the decision that Garrett had earned his chance.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonIs a strong finish to the season a must in order for Jason Garrett to keep his job as Cowboys coach?
We fast-forward now to the present day. After Sunday night's loss to the undefeated Falcons in Atlanta, Garrett is 3-5 for this season, 4-9 in his last 13 games and 16-16 since taking over as head coach of the Cowboys in the middle of 2010. For the first time since he got the job, he does not have a winning record. Cowboys fans are profoundly disappointed that things have failed to get better over the past two calendar years, and since they believe their team has the talent to play with the league's best teams but isn't beating them, they assume it's a matter of coaching and that Garrett must go.

Now, I don't believe this Cowboys team is as "talented" as everybody wants to rush to believe it is. Sure, there are some excellent players on both sides of the ball. But they don't have the same kind of depth of talent on their roster as the teams to which they've barely lost to the past couple of weeks. And at the positions where they're strongest -- quarterback and wide receiver, for instance -- the Giants and Falcons are even better. The combined record of the five teams to which the Cowboys have lost this season is 32-10, which means they've been beaten by the very best teams in the league. Of their remaining eight games, five are at home and only one is against a team that currently has a winning record. There is reason to believe things so far have been tougher for the Cowboys than things will be the rest of the way.

But those are excuses, this is a results business and the results say Garrett is a .500 coach. So this becomes about evaluating the kind of job he's actually doing. And it's not great. The clock-management issues, the delays in sending in the plays ... these things are easy to spot, as is the fact that the offense (which is Garrett's responsibility) appears to be regressing. The additions of offensive line coach Bill Callahan and the free-agent guards they signed were moves of Garrett's making, and they have not paid off. Tony Romo's having a bad year. Dez Bryant isn't making the step forward he was supposed to make. There is no run game to speak of with DeMarco Murray injured, and it's not as though they were running for 175 yards a game when he was in there.

There are plenty of reasons, if you believe 32 games is a sufficient sample size, to conclude that Garrett isn't doing a good enough job. But only one man's opinion matters, and that man is the guy who hired Garrett in the first place. Just because fans are looking for reasons to fire Garrett doesn't mean they should assume Jerry Jones is, too. Jones has publicly said, many times, that he regrets firing Chan Gailey after only 32 games, and that he's learned lessons about the importance of continuity. Good leaders stand by their plan and their people, and Garrett is Jones' guy and his plan is to give him every chance to succeed.

Jones likes Garrett. Garrett is Jones' hand-picked choice to coach the team. If anything, he's looking for reasons to keep him. Another 5-3 finish that got the team back to .500 would allow Jones to claim that Garrett had done a good job recovering from a tough first half. It would push Garrett's record to 21-19, and Jones could very easily say he's not going to fire a guy with a winning record. A finish better than 5-3 would make the Cowboys a playoff contender, possibly even a playoff team if things broke the way they did last year in the NFC East.

A total flop against the soft second half of the schedule? Say, a 3-5 finish and a 6-10 record for the year? That's the kind of thing that could change Jones' mind. So could the sudden appearance in the coaching free-agent ranks of a highly qualified offensive coach such as Sean Payton or Andy Reid. As much as Jones likes Garrett, he likes Payton as well. And if a coach with Payton's pedigree hits the market, every team with even the faintest of question marks in the head coach's office is going to have to take a long look.

But the key thing to remember, amid the frustration, is that Jones feels differently about Jason Garrett than Cowboys fans do. Jones thinks more highly of Garrett than you ever did, or else Garrett would never have been the coach in the first place. Jones wants Garrett to succeed -- wants to build the Cowboys into a consistent winner around him and with the help of his vision. That might sound crazy and unjustified to you and to me, but it's what Jones has in mind for his franchise. And in order for him to get rid of Garrett, something big is going to have to happen to change his mind. So while you may want Garrett out and you may think it's obvious that he needs to go, you shouldn't assume it's definitely going to happen.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 12, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Y'all ain't got no Honey Nut? History says things will be tough for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Baltimore. The Ravens are 3-0 all time against the Cowboys and have outscored them 57-10 the past two times the teams met in Baltimore. The Ravens have won 13 straight and 21 of their past 22 at home. It's a tough place to win, and the Cowboys need a win to avoid dropping to 2-3. Only 20.6 percent of teams starting 2-3 have made the postseason under the current format. Working in the Cowboys' favor is that they are 16-7 after their bye weeks since 1990, which is the fourth-best such record in the league. Besides, they may as well be playing tough teams now. After all, how do you expect to run with the wolves at night when you spend all day sparring with puppies?

Something may not have to give. The Detroit Lions have forced only three turnovers in their first four games, which is tied for the lowest total in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles, as you may have heard, have turned over the ball 14 times, which is the second-highest total in the league. The Eagles were able to play an entire home game against the Giants two weeks ago without turning over the ball, and the Lions would appear to offer an opportunity to repeat that performance.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe 49ers will certainly be looking to put more pressure on Giants QB Eli Manning on Sunday.
Eli must avoid the rush. The San Francisco 49ers will be coming for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Sunday. San Francisco has one of the best defensive fronts in the league, and last year they sacked Manning seven times. Six of those sacks, ESPN Stats & Information informs me, came on plays on which the Niners sent five or more pass-rushers. However, when the Niners sent five or more and did not sack Manning, he was 16-for-21 for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Moving up the list. With his next victory, Giants coach Tom Coughlin will pass Bill Parcells for second place on the all-time Giants coaching victories list with 78. (He'll still be way behind Steve Owen, who racked up 153 wins from 1930-53, but I see little reason to believe Coughlin won't want to hang around and try to pass Owen, too.). Coughlin is also tied with Rams (and former Titans) coach Jeff Fisher for 18th place on the all-time NFL coaching wins list with 145.

Big-play guys. Washington Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris isn't known for his breakaway speed, but he's having success in the Redskins' zone-blocking scheme this year. He has 17 run plays on which he's gained at least 10 yards, the most such plays in the league according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Vikings obviously have a great running back in Adrian Peterson, but the Redskins will have to contend with an unusual threat in wide receiver Percy Harvin, whose 22 receptions at or behind the line of scrimmage this year are 12 more than the next-highest receiver. Harvin has gained a league-best 319 yards after the catch this year, and the Redskins' linebackers are going to have to be at their most disciplined if they hope to contain Harvin in the short passing game.

Breakfast links: 'Jerry Wipes'

September, 13, 2012
Good morning, all. There's a game tonight. No, not in our division, but still. Makes you realize it's time to get fired back up for Week 2 in the NFL. I'll be headed to Philadelphia this weekend to see the one team in the division I didn't catch in Week 1, as the Eagles take on the Ravens. Looking forward to seeing whether Michael Vick has knocked off the rust or if... well, we'll see. We'll get there one link at a time. Or actually eight.

Dallas Cowboys

If Phil Costa's back injury doesn't improve, Ryan Cook will find himself starting at center for the Cowboys, not just this week but potentially for weeks to come. The team likes Costa and wants to develop him, but if he's going to be an injury question mark and Cook is going to play well in his stead, Costa might find the plans for his development slowed down a bit.

Not only does the man who cleaned Jerry Jones' glasses in the season opener have an explanation for why he did it, he's had the idea to sell "Jerry Wipes" (with the proceeds going to charity, of course, since he's Jerry Jones' son-in-law and is OK on money) for $2.99 a pack. It's a world gone mad, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to see it clearly.

Washington Redskins

Rams coach Jeff Fisher is fine with the draft-pick haul he got in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the draft, and he's happy for his friend Mike Shanahan that the player Shanahan took with that pick had such an impressive debut. But that doesn't mean Fisher's looking forward to trying to stop Robert Griffin III when the Redskins arrive in St. Louis on Sunday.

Rich Campbell's defensive game review features several stars, including Ryan Kerrigan, DeJon Gomes and DeAngelo Hall, and very few negatives (Madieu Williams). The Redskins' front seven could have a field day Sunday against a depleted Rams offensive line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid says he takes the responsibility for the apparent mistake of taking safety Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round in 2011. Says he "goofed," which is a favorite word of his. I think the heat he's taking for this is justified. In the salary-cap era, those high draft picks are just too important to whiff on.

Vick is fine throwing the ball 56 times in a game if that's what the coaches want, though he admits it'd be nice to see more balance in the play calling. As I wrote Sunday, the Eagles absolutely needed to try and run the ball more than they did against a weak Browns run defense. I'm not sure trying to run it against the Ravens is the healthiest idea, though. The difference Sunday is that they're not likely to get 88 offensive plays this week.

New York Giants

Will Beatty appears to be healthy again, and now that he is he'd like his starting left tackle job back. It does not sound, however, as though he's certain to get it back anytime soon.

Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a game in 2010, will be at MetLife Stadium for Sunday's game and will be involved in the coin toss. LeGrand was at the Cowboys-Giants opener, too, but this game will be extra special. The visiting team is the Buccaneers, who are coached by LeGrand's college coach, Greg Schiano. After taking the job in Tampa Bay, Schiano signed LeGrand to a contract and brought him to offseason workouts so that he could experience life as an NFL player for a short time before he announced his retirement a few days later.
The day's least surprising announcement is that of a new contract for New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who is now locked up through 2014 after signing what amounts to a two-year contract extension. The New York Daily News reports that the team tore up the scheduled final year of his previous contract and did a new three-year deal that will pay Coughlin a total of $20 million. That would rank him among the highest-paid coaches in the NFL, according to a Forbes Magazine report that came out recently. That report had New England's Bill Belichick ranked first with a $7.5 million annual salary and the Redskins' Mike Shanahan, the Rams' Jeff Fisher, the Seahawks' Pete Carroll and the Saints' Sean Payton each making $7 million per year, though it admitted that the exact figures were unknown.

Regardless, the Giants' two-time Super Bowl champion coach now has his financial recognition as one of the best coaches in the league and a deal that will run out when he's 68 years old. But while that might be enough for some coaches, I would caution against assuming this contract will be Coughlin's last.

Coughlin laughed and looked bewildered all through January when people would ask him if he planned to retire. The question was literally not one he'd considered. People who know him say he has no hobbies or interests that he'd quit coaching to pursue, and that he'll coach until he thinks he can't do it anymore. Obviously, in the wake of his greatest coaching achievement, he's not of such a mind. I believe he'll coach the Giants as long as he wants to coach them, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if, two years from now, they're announcing another extension that takes him into his 70s.

Nothing's going to happen in the next three years to change the Giants' minds about Coughlin as their head coach. Certainly, things will happen that get the fans restless or prompt media speculation about a coaching change. But even through tough times in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Giants ownership has never wavered in the belief that Coughlin was the man for the job. And now that he's got the two championships on his résumé, he's a living coaching legend -- an all-time Giant whose name likely will someday adorn the team's ring of honor. Coughlin has earned not just this extension but the right to request and expect future ones. And especially when you factor in the strength of his team at core positions like quarterback and defensive line, there's little reason to believe he can't keep the Giants competitive enough to maintain his status as one of the best-regarded coaches in the league.

So while I expected Coughlin to get one more year than he got, I sincerely doubt he's at all concerned or unhappy with the way this turned out or worried about what the future holds beyond 2014. When you've accomplished what Coughlin's accomplished with an organization that runs like the Giants run, you control your own future. And you should.
In a world and a sports scene increasingly full of self-aggrandizing phonies, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is the real deal. He says what he feels, stands by what he believes and puts on no airs. He's refreshing for this, and the acclaim he's received after coolly and brilliantly coaching his Giants to a second Super Bowl title in five years has had the rare quality of being universally hailed as well deserved.

Coughlin's genuine away from the football field too, and that's a big reason why he was in Virginia on Wednesday night to be honored by the U.S. Army for his volunteer work with military personnel, veterans and wounded soldiers. Coughlin and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh were honored at the ceremony, and Coughlin said he was humbled to receive the Outstanding Civilian Service Award. Per Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post:
"When the general was standing there reading off that stuff about me, it was almost like I was saying to myself, 'Who's he talking about?'" Coughlin told The Post after the hour-long celebration overlooking the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.

"It was unbelievable to me," continued Coughlin, who was accompanied to the event by wife Judy. "The patriotism just came pouring out of me with all of the pomp and circumstance and standing there next to a four-star general. That's what you call humbling."

The Army honored Coughlin for allowing soldiers and the families to attend practices and games, for repeatedly visiting wounded soldiers at both Walter Reed Medical Center and other installations and for flying to Iraq in 2009 as part of a USO tour with John Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden.

Again, the real deal. Coughlin doesn't make a show of having military personnel at his games and practices. He'll drop a line here and there to make sure they're recognized and thanked for their service, but it comes from the heart. He feels this stuff deeply, and there's no doubt he means it when he says the ceremony Wednesday night ranked among his great professional thrills. The general who oversaw the ceremony, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno, is a Giants fan from New Jersey. But he said that had nothing to do with the fact that Coughlin was honored.
"You're talking about someone who has really dedicated himself over a long period of time to caring about our soldiers and their families," Onierno told The Post. "His dedication to the military is quite significant."

Asked jokingly if the fact he also bleeds Giant blue had anything to do with Coughlin's award, Odierno smiled and shook his head.

"Absolutely nothing to do with that," he said. "Absolutely everything to do with what he's done for the military."

Not much more to say on this. I just really thought it was worth writing about, in case you guys missed it.
Breakdown: There's no easing into the NFL, but assuming Robert Griffin III is the next starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins, the opening stretch of the schedule of his first professional season offers a couple of breaks. The Redskins open with a road game in New Orleans against the Saints, who will be without several coaches and possibly several key defensive players as a result of suspensions from the NFL's investigation of their bounty program. Their second game is against the Rams in St. Louis, and after the home opener Sept. 23 against the Bengals, they go on the road to Tampa Bay. Not that the Redskins are guaranteed to beat any of those teams with a rookie quarterback, but the tougher-looking part of their schedule doesn't come until a bit later on.

The Redskins' only scheduled prime-time game to this point is the Dec. 3 "Monday Night Football" matchup at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, but they will be in the spotlight at 4:15 p.m. ET Thanksgiving Day, when they take on the division-rival Cowboys in Dallas. And if Griffin is off to a strong start, the Redskins' Nov. 4 game at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers is likely to generate some advance hype.

The Redskins' bye comes in Week 10, and of the seven games that follow, a whopping five are against NFC East opponents -- one at home against the Giants and all of their matchups against the Eagles and Cowboys. They finish the season with a Week 16 trip to Philadelphia and a Week 17 home game against Dallas, so if they are in contention, they'll have their chances to pull something off. And Griffin can wait a while before finding himself in the heat of these NFC East rivalries.

Complaint department: If I were a Redskins fan, it would annoy me a bit that Griffin is scheduled to play only three home games prior to Nov. 4. A Dec. 16 trip to Cleveland has a chance to be pretty unpleasant, weather-wise. And having to play division games against the Eagles and Cowboys in a five-day stretch doesn't look like a lot of fun, either.

Week 2 in St. Lou: Lots of connections between the two teams that will play in St. Louis on Sept. 16. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and new Rams coach Jeff Fisher are close friends. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett served the Rams in the same role from 2006 to '08 and was the team's head coach for the final 12 games of that 2008 season. And of course, the Redskins wouldn't be in position to draft Griffin if they hadn't traded three first-round picks and this year's second-rounder to St. Louis for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. It'll be interesting to follow, over the coming years, the progress of the players the Rams take with the picks they got from the Redskins. It's possible two of those players could play in this game.

Redskins Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Tampa Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Minnesota, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 3, NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Dallas, 1:00 PM

Of Mike Holmgren and sour grapes

March, 15, 2012
I play fantasy football. I know a lot of you guys do, too. You ever have a trade go down in your league that really ticked you off because you thought you'd made a better offer and the guy just wanted to make a deal with his friend or his brother or his cousin or something like that?

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCleveland president Mike Holmgren says the Redskins had an advantage in completing their trade with the Rams for the No. 2 pick in the draft, expected to be used for QB Robert Griffin III.
Yeah, that's pretty much what Cleveland Browns team president Mike Holmgren says happened with the trade between the St. Louis Rams and the Washington Redskins that allowed the Redskins to move up to the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. Jamison Hensley has the rundown on the AFC North blog:
In a conference call with Browns season-ticket holders today, Holmgren said "a very close relationship" between the Rams and Redskins prevented Cleveland from moving two spots up in the draft. Holmgren didn't go into specifics about the relationship, but it's well-known that Rams coach Jeff Fisher and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan are close friends.

Click through to that link, and you'll see Holmgren further explain that he's "not sure any offer was going to be good enough. We were very aggressive and it didn't work. Rest assured, we were aggressively involved in that."

Couple of issues with this. First of all, Holmgren won't elaborate on what his offer was, which is silly if he really thinks it was better. Presumably, it was an offer of picks and not players, so he doesn't have to be worried about any of his players being upset that he tried to trade them. If you really think your offer was better, let's hear what it was and we can judge for ourselves. If you're right, it'll only help make your case.

Second, what are we here? Six years old? You didn't get the deal, Mike. It happens. I can understand that you need to sell the idea to your fans that you tried as hard as you could to solve your glaring quarterback problem by moving up to get Robert Griffin III. But there were other teams interested, and you didn't get it. Sometimes in life, things don't work out the way we want them to. Doesn't do much good to whine about it.

And third, even if what he says is 100 percent accurate, so what? Aren't personal relationships a reasonable and acceptable tool to assist in business transactions? If Shanahan has a close relationship with Fisher and the people who run the Rams, and as a result he knows how to appeal to them or is otherwise more likely to convince them to do a deal, then good for him. It means that, somewhere along the line, he did something that laid the groundwork to allow him to get business done down the road. Happens in sports and any other business in the world, and there's nothing wrong with it.

The Rams got an absolute haul from the Redskins -- three first-round picks and a second-round pick for one first. If Holmgren was going to beat that, it wasn't going to be by much. And even if he did, the Rams got more than fair value for their pick. Good for them, good for the Redskins and too bad for the Browns, who are just going to have to look elsewhere for a quarterback. Because those are the breaks.

Cowboys looking at Carr, Orton

March, 13, 2012
No signings yet as NFL free agency is still in its first hour. But thanks to our man Adam Schefter, reporting live on the NFL Live set, we have some clues about some of the teams' intentions. Schefter has so far reported that free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr and free-agent quarterback Kyle Orton are planning to visit the Dallas Cowboys in the early days of free agency.

These first-day visits matter, because teams tend to try as hard as they can not to let the players leave their facilities without a deal. The fact that Carr is going to Dallas first indicates he's the Cowboys' top choice to fill their need at cornerback, ahead of Cortland Finnegan, who's visiting his former coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. I think Carr's a better fit in Dallas than Finnegan is, since he's probably better on the outside, and that's what they need.

As for Orton, the Cowboys were one of the teams that put in a claim for him when the Broncos cut him during the season. They were outranked on the waiver wire by the Chiefs, who got him. But with Jon Kitna retired, the Cowboys are looking for a reliable veteran to be Tony Romo's backup. And Orton, who began each of the past two seasons as the Broncos' starter, is certainly that.

Adam also reports that free-agent wide receiver Laurent Robinson, a player the Cowboys had hoped to retain, was scheduled to visit the Jacksonville Jaguars Tuesday night. If Robinson's getting offered No. 1 or No. 2 wide receiver money elsewhere, don't expect the Cowboys to match it.

The latest on Steve Spagnuolo

January, 17, 2012
Remember the Family Guy episode where they talk about the Emperor figuring out the secret to great Star Wars dialogue, and they cut away to him and he's going, "Something something daaark siiiide... something something complete..."? Well, I kind of feel like, if I want to do a Philadelphia Eagles post these days, I could just write, "Something something Steve Spagnuolo something something Eagles..."

To that end, as Eagles fans continue to ponder whether Spagnuolo will return to the organization and replace Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator, here is the latest:

1. Our Adam Schefter is reporting that Spagnuolo interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday for their defensive coordinator position. The Colts just fired head coach Jim Caldwell, so things are clearly in flux there, but if they interviewed a defensive coordinator candidate before firing their head coach, you'd have to think they either know who their head coach is going to be or they're not going to let him pick his own. Regardless, the Colts are a team to add to the list of teams interested in Spagnuolo.

2. You can subtract a team, too, as the Falcons have hired Mike Nolan to be their defensive coordinator. Atlanta was one of the teams reportedly interested in Spagnuolo, along with the Colts, Eagles and Saints. If Spagnuolo was their first choice (and we don't know that he was), then the Nolan hire would indicate that Spagnuolo had turned down the Falcons and decided where to go. But that's speculation, so please don't take it any other way.

3. Castillo still has the job. This is an important thing to remember. The Eagles finished eighth in the league in total defense, and a lot of things happened throughout the year to indicate dramatic improvement under Castillo in his first year as a defensive coach. It's possible the Eagles don't want to make major changes to the defensive coaching staff for the second year in a row. Jim Washburn is also still in place as defensive line coach, and his arrival a year ago prompted a change in the Eagles' defensive scheme. Assuming Washburn stays (and doesn't jump to St. Louis with his former Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher), you wonder whether a new coordinator could overrule Washburn's belief in the "Wide 9" scheme that got so much publicity (and a certain degree of public scorn) in Philadelphia this year.

It's not as simple as just hiring Spagnuolo, even if the Eagles are the team to which he wants to go. Lot of moving parts yet. But now that Andy Reid is back from his vacation and some coaches are starting to settle into new roles around the league, things could pick up on this front soon.

Breakfast links: Another Giant week

January, 16, 2012
Hey, so, bad news for all of you Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins fans. If you thought last week on the blog was Giants-heavy... you ain't seen nothing yet. Links.

New York Giants

Ian O'Connor points out that Eli Manning has now beaten Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in playoff games in Green Bay, and that the only reason he didn't take out Bart Starr too is that he's too young to have had the chance. "Manning plays better than better quarterbacks," Ian writes, and while that's a nice way to put it, it seems pretty clear by now that Manning is a fairly great quarterback in his own right.

The play of Sunday's game may have been Hakeem Nicks' catch of Eli Manning's Hail Mary pass as time ran out in the second quarter. Brandon Jacobs said he saw Packers players walking to the locker room with their heads down and "pretty much knew they were done." Not sure about that, but the play had a strong whiff of significance. Kevin Seifert had just told me that the Packers specialized in scoring right before the end of the first half and then getting the ball to start the second half and scoring again. The opposite happened in this game. The Giants scored right before the end of the first half and the Packers turned the ball over on the first drive of the second. Game-changing stuff, that.

Philadelphia Eagles

The 700 Level looks at the likelihood of Steve Spagnuolo returning to the Eagles as defensive coordinator. With rumors now abounding that Gregg Williams will leave the Saints to join Jeff Fisher in St. Louis, you can add New Orleans to the list of interested Spagnuolo suitors. It won't be easy for the Eagles to get him, and there's also the troubling little fact that their defensive coordinator job is not, currently, open.

Sheil Kapadia wonders if Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn could go to St. Louis with Fisher, since the two had success together in Tennessee. Another reminder that the issues on the Eagles' defensive coaching staff are complicated and intertwined and don't seem to present any simple solutions.

Dallas Cowboys

Hudson Houck isn't saying the Cowboys will or should move Tyron Smith from right tackle to left tackle. But Smith's first NFL position coach, now retired, says that Smith could be "very, very good" at left tackle if such a move were made. With a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach coming in, I imagine that decision has yet to be made. But it would seem to make a pile of sense, given Doug Free's struggles on the left side this past year.

Two weeks may be enough time to have softened some fans who were bitterly disappointed by the way the Cowboys' season ended. Blogging the Boys has a post expressing "rampant and disproportionate optimism" about the Cowboys' future and direction. Kind of refreshing, really.

Washington Redskins

Rich Tandler watched Saturday's Saints-49ers playoff game with an eye on some potential offseason targets for the Redskins, including Saints receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem. Mike Shanahan will definitely be looking for a No. 1 receiver this offseason, but as Rich suggests, the Saints' guys come with questions about whether they'd perform the same way in a different system.

Rick Snider ponders the idea of the Redskins bringing in Peyton Manning to play quarterback for them next year. Some say it's farfetched. I'm not sure it is. But I know they'd have to be sure he's healthy before they decided to do it, and I'm not sure how anybody's going to be able to be sure of that.
This is an idea I feel like I've been writing about for months. And now that the Eagles have traded Kevin Kolb and the Titans have cut Vince Young, there's no reason for it not to happen. The Eagles should sign Young to be Michael Vick's backup quarterback. It makes all kinds of sense both ways.

Adam Schefter's on board, and reports that Young has been eyeing the Eagles as a potential destination. He'd be smart to jump if they're interested, and they'd be smart to grab him if he's interested in them.

[+] EnlargeYoung
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesVince Young is 30-18 in his career as a starting quarterback.
There's no starting quarterback job out there for Young right now that I can see. Maybe the Dolphins, if the Kyle Orton deal really does fall all the way apart. But that's a big "if" and a long shot, and unless it happens I think everybody else has their starter. Young could wait around to see if a training-camp injury opens up a starting job, but in a league whose coaches and executives think very highly of Jeff Fisher and don't enjoy courting potential headaches, Young might not even be the first choice of a team who loses its quarterback in camp and needs a starter.

And even if he were, the Eagles and their backup role might be closer to what Young needs at this point in his career than the spotlight and pressures that go along with a starting quarterback's job. Young is clearly a talented player and leader. His college national championship and his 30-18 career record as an NFL starter attest to that. But the falling-out he had with Fisher in Tennessee last year showed that there are still maturity lessons he needs to learn before he can make the transformation into reliable, long-term NFL star quarterback. Those lessons are learnable, and Young is not too dense to learn them. But he needs to be in a place where learning his remaining lessons is more important than having to go out and win a game every Sunday.

The Eagles have shown the ability to coach a quarterback to greatness from a backup role. In Philadelphia, Young is likely to find coaches who know how to get through to him -- to identify what remains to be fixed about his game or his attitude or whatever it is that isn't all the way there yet, and to put him in a better position to succeed. The recent example of Vick shows that the Eagles' coaches don't even care whether that success comes in Philadelphia or not. Yes, with Vick, it has. But while they were coaching Vick in the backup role in 2009, the Eagles' coaching staff weren't doing it with the belief that he'd soon be their starter. They were trying to help a guy who needed help get better, and they did it. They could do the same for Young, and he'd be wise to realize that.

The move would be a good one for the Eagles, too. With Kolb gone, they no longer have a backup quarterback they know can step in, if Vick goes down, and win them a game. They like Mike Kafka, but he's not there yet. Young has won a lot of NFL games, and with the skill-position talent the Eagles have, he could surely step in and give them a better-than-average chance if they lost Vick for a quarter or a half or a game or two.

If it happens, and all goes well, the Eagles a year from now could find themselves in a position similar to the one they were in this week -- able to trade a backup quarterback for a starting quarterback price because they don't need him and another team desperately does.

Young to the Eagles is a move that makes sense for both sides, and I don't see any reason it shouldn't happen.

Is Andy Reid's job on the line in 2011?

January, 30, 2011
The Philadelphia Eagles have given an enormous amount of power to coach Andy Reid over the years. But there are signs that his job security is starting to fade.

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin has a Lombardi trophy, but he always seems a couple of losses from being on the chopping block. Meanwhile, Reid has overseen one of the winningest organizations in the league -- that hasn't won the Super Bowl. Jeff McLane of the Inquirer has taken account of everything that's happened since defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died in July '09, and there are definite signs that Reid's no longer a sure thing to remain head coach following the 2011 season.

McLane points to the end of Jeff Fisher's reign with the Titans and the fact that several of Reid's closest allies have been ushered (or allowed) out of the building:

"General manager Tom Heckert left to take the same position at Cleveland, conveniently under Reid friend and mentor Mike Holmgren," writes McLane. "Quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded to Washington -- then considered a much friendlier landing spot than other possible destinations. And [defensive coordinator Sean] McDermott was given a two-day head start and conveniently was hired for the same job by friend and former colleague, and new Panthers head coach, Ron Rivera.

"These were Reid's guys and while a case could be made that each deserved to go, the coach obviously had to be coaxed into cutting the cords."

Reid didn't sound like a man who was preparing to fire McDermott immediately after the season. He was defiant in his defense of McDermott, indicating the organization would stay the course. When the Eagles fired McDermott 72 hours later, it created the appearance that Reid might have been overruled by one of his colleagues. McLane cites a source saying that Reid had already made up his mind about firing McDermott when he delivered those strong words the day after the season. But I don't believe Reid is that good of an actor.

With Michael Vick likely under contract for one more season via the franchise tag, I think it's fair to say that more is at stake than ever for Reid. When he pushed in his chips and replaced Kevin Kolb with Vick early last season, he lost the benefit of a "transition" season.

Now it looks like his future is officially on the clock.

Don't try to guilt trip Jim Washburn

January, 21, 2011
We normally don't devote many blog entries to the hiring of a defensive line coach, but then, it's not every day that someone of Jim Washburn's caliber becomes available. The Eagles' new defensive line coach tried to clear the air about his departure from the Tennessee Titans in an interview with The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt on Thursday:

"Everyone is trying to read different things into it, but I have choices and I feel good about it," said Washburn. "I have no buyer’s remorse or anything. I am not going to be ugly about anything. I want to leave here with a clean break and don’t want to have any sour grapes and I shouldn’t. It was a really good 12 years, most of them anyway. Maybe one or two of them (stunk), but I enjoyed it.

"I was frustrated when we didn’t play good. But my contract is up. So I don’t understand how anyone could fault me. Life is about choices. No one is going to put me on a guilt trip because I went over there and worked as hard as I could every day and I enjoyed every minute of it. Now I just wanted to do something a little different."

Washburn apparently didn't like the perception that he was leaving town because the Titans had a poor season or that he was forced out in some way. I don't really think Eagles coach Andy Reid is concerned with the back story on how Washburn became available. He's thrilled to land an assistant who's had a lot of success with Titans players over the past 12 seasons.

"I don’t have anything bad to say about anybody -- players or coaches,’’ Washburn told Wyatt. “I did my best for 12 years with the Titans. I was real happy with the way Jeff [Fisher] treated me; I thought he always went above and beyond the call of duty with me. He sort of allowed me to be myself, and he let me make my own hours. I was a real early bird and home little early and he was great with me.

"So I couldn’t have asked for a better boss than Jeff. He was great. I don’t think anybody ever treated me as well as Jeff Fisher did. I can swear to you on that one. It was like I was an independent contractor. So I thank him for that. Now I want to do good for Andy Reid now."

By the way, have you heard the one about Albert Haynesworth saying he'll take a pay cut to play for Washburn? I bet Dan Snyder got a kick out of that.

Eagles hire Jim Washburn

January, 19, 2011
The Philadelphia Eagles have officially hired 61-year-old Jim Washburn away from the Tennessee Titans. Now they just need to find a defensive coordinator.
"We are thrilled to add a quality defensive line coach in Jim Washburn,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement Wednesday. “He had a great tenure with Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans and he’ll play a big part in the development of our defensive line moving forward. He’s had a number of Pro Bowl players working under him over the years with the Titans and we’re happy to have him join our coaching staff in Philadelphia."

Washburn also released a statement:
"Words cannot express the gratitude I have for Jeff Fisher and the Titans organization for allowing a nobody like me to coach in the NFL for the last 12 years," said Washburn. "An opportunity came along for me to join the Eagles and I felt like it was good timing. At this stage of my career, I’m ready to make a change. This is no reflection on the state of the Titans but just a good opportunity for me."

No matter where a player was drafted, Washburn has a reputation for producing excellent results. In fact, he's played a large role in making a lot of players very, very wealthy. The Eagles still need to get this defensive coordinator job right, but Washburn is an excellent start.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 24, 2010
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16 games:

Can the Giants shake off last Sunday's devastating loss to the Eagles? Giants quarterback Eli Manning requested time alone with his teammates Monday, and coach Tom Coughlin was happy to oblige. His speech was short, but it grabbed everyone's attention. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield told me Thursday that he couldn't believe how much energy he saw in the locker room this week. The Giants have done a nice job of recognizing their obvious failure late in last Sunday's game and then moving on to Green Bay. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has tried to get his unit to come out with a sense of urgency in recent weeks, and I think you'll see that against the Packers on Sunday afternoon. New York will want to take the crowd out of the game as soon as possible.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Evan PinkusEli Manning held a players-only meeting on Monday to address the failures of Sunday's loss to Philadelphia and to get the team focused on Green Bay.
Can Eagles cornerback Dimitri Patterson bounce back from an embarrassing performance against the Giants? Patterson has played well at times this season, but the Giants' wide receivers made him look silly in the first half. The Vikings still have firepower at receiver, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Patterson gets matched up with Sidney Rice. "I'm looking forward to it," Patterson said Friday. "As far as I'm concerned, that was two quarters, three plays, however you want to look at it. I finished that game, I came back in the second half. And I will finish the rest of the season." I think Patterson will do a lot better this week because the Eagles will likely have a better pass rush against the Vikings' offensive line.

Jason Garrett needs this win to finalize his campaign to become permanent head coach. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted last week that a loss to the Washington Redskins would've given him pause about Garrett's future. But the Cowboys pulled out a 33-30 win with a late field goal, so Jones didn't have to worry about that. Dallas should dominate the Cardinals, who are playing with a rookie quarterback. If the Cardinals somehow pull off a Christmas miracle and beat the Cowboys, fans will call for Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher as the next head coach. But I'd be really surprised if the Cowboys found a way to lose this game.

Eli Manning needs to have a big-time game in Green Bay. As I wrote in Thursday's column, Manning has struggled in December throughout much of his career (14-16). He played well against the Eagles last week, but still has a good shot at leading the league in interceptions. The good news for Giants fans is that Manning has wonderful memories of Lambeau Field. He's said that he actually enjoyed winning the '07 NFC Championship Game (played in Jan. '08) more than the Super Bowl. Those wins helped define his career, and I think he'll draw on that experience from three seasons ago in beating the Packers on Sunday.

Can Mike Shanahan get something accomplished in Jacksonville? We learned Friday that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (hamstring, groin) will miss a game for the first time in his NFL career. Orakpo will be replaced by Rob Jackson, who will make the first start of his career. And there's also a chance that Kevin Barnes and Macho Harris could be the starting safeties. Reed Doughty is out with a concussion and Kareem Moore will be a game-time decision. I don't know if the Skins have much hope of winning, but Shanahan will have a chance to evaluate some young players. And it will be interesting to see how Rex Grossman performs following his excellent second half against the Dallas Cowboys. Shanahan will make massive roster changes this offseason, but a few players could help their cause with strong performances against Jacksonville.