NFC East: Kevin Burnett
The Cowboys won the 2009 matchup 24-7 with Tony Romo throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns and Miles Austin catching seven passes for 145 yards. Since that game Austin has had more yards in a game just twice.
ESPN.com's Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you this week's holiday version of Double Coverage.
Todd Archer: The Cowboys are bad in most areas defensively, but they have given up 200 yards rushing in three games this season. The Raiders' strength, from afar, seems to be their running game. What makes it so good and how has it differed with Terrelle Pryor out?
Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Todd, it's not just Pryor being out, but also Darren McFadden, who has missed three straight games and four overall with a strained right hamstring. He said Monday night he hopes to play after practicing (limited) for the first time since Nov. 1. The run game, though, has not missed a beat with underrated Rashad Jennings picking up the slack. In the past four games, he has run for 413 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In fact, the running game has been so surprisingly solid without McFadden and Pryor that the play-action pass game has picked up with undrafted rookie Matt McGloin under center.
Speaking of passing games ... no doubt Tony Romo can rack up stats, but has he decided to assume more of a leadership role yet as the QB of America's Team, or is that just not in his makeup?
Archer: He has developed over the years as a leader, but there's no question that this has been "his" team the past three seasons. He is the veteran. He is the guy the Cowboys look to. The guys on this team now don't know of the Romo who burst on the scene in 2006 or had to deal with the Terrell Owens stuff. He's the guy who led the lockout practices and has been the big voice in the room. This year he has been given the added responsibility of being more involved in the game plan. The Cowboys' past two wins have come on last-minute drives led by Romo to beat Minnesota and the New York Giants. I don't think there's anybody questioning his leadership anymore. And if they did, well, the $106 million extension Jerry Jones gave him in the offseason should be more than enough proof to those guys that this is Romo's team.
Let's stick with the quarterback theme. Before the Cowboys lucked into Romo, they ran through a ton of guys after Troy Aikman's departure. Is there any reason to believe McGloin or Pryor can be a solution or do the Raiders need to go after one of these guys in next April's draft?
Gutierrez: Well, the way I put it earlier in the season, before Pryor hit his purported ceiling and sprained his right knee, robbing him of his greatest strength (running) while accentuating his biggest weakness (passing), if Pryor was not the Raiders' Mr. Right, he was their Mr. Right Now. McGloin is a pure quarterback, a pocket passer whom Dennis Allen prefers for what he wants to accomplish offensively. It's hard to give Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie much credit for their evaluation of QBs, though, what with their misses on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson, not caring much for Pryor early on and then, similar to the Cowboys with Romo, stumbling upon McGloin. But it's hard to see them going all in with the undrafted rookie from Penn State, too. At least hard at the moment. Unless McGloin continues to improve and wins a few games, it would behoove the Raiders to draft another QB if they see one as a can't-miss prospect. I know, I know, they really wanted USC's Matt Barkley but Philadelphia traded in front of them so they traded back and selected Wilson. Oops. There is no doubt, though, that this Raiders regime prefers McGloin as a prototypical QB over the more electric Pryor.
No matter who is under center for Oakland, though, the Raiders' QB is going to have to keep an eye on DeMarcus Ware. Is he rounding back into shape as a dominant pass-rusher, or is he more decoy as he rehabs from his quad strain?
Archer: I think he's still feeling his way through it. The fact that he made it through the Giants game healthy was a plus. He has been dinged up in just about every game with stinger and back strains earlier in the season before the quadriceps injury. We'll see how he fares on a short week, but the defense is a lot better with even the threat of Ware on the field. Jason Hatcher had two sacks against the Giants at least in part because of the attention Ware received. Ware has talked about wanting to make up for lost time. He has five sacks so far, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year in 2005. Thursday would be a good time to look like the DeMarcus Ware of old.
This game is a homecoming of sorts for guys like Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Kevin Burnett and Tony Sparano, but it's a real homecoming for Dennis Allen. How is he perceived in Oakland and will McKenzie be more patient with him than, say, Al Davis would have been?
Gutierrez: The jury, so to speak, is still out on Allen in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. Of course, when the Raiders win a game, he's the man. When he loses, the fans turn on him and start pining for Jon Gruden ... again. But isn't that the nature of the beast? Even Allen himself said this was a results-oriented business. Of course, he was referring to the quarterback position at the time, but it still applies. Make no mistake about it, Allen is McKenzie's "guy" and he's going to roll with him and have patience with him. The plan coming in was to give Allen at least three years to right this ship and really, the only thing that could damage Allen's chances of lasting another year would be if the team quit on him, like it did last November before playing hard again at the end. Then again, it might not be McKenzie's choice. Owner Mark Davis is a more patient owner than his father and wants McKenzie to handle all football-related decisions. But a year after stating he was fine with just about anything but regression, Davis wants progress. Stagnancy won't cut it, either. So, stay tuned.
Sticking with the coaching theme, is Jason Garrett in Jerry World for the long haul, or was Jerry Jones' support merely the dreaded vote of confidence?
Archer: Jerry has publicly backed Garrett, but he's also been a guy who's said, "Just because I say something, doesn't mean it's true." I do know this: He wants Garrett to be the guy. He desperately wants it to work. I really believe that. He believes in Garrett's approach and how he builds a team. Garrett will provide some blow-back to Jerry but not as much as, say, a Bill Parcells. Garrett knows what makes Jerry work and knows how to work around it to a degree or push Jerry in a certain direction. Honestly, Cowboys fans should want the Garrett deal to work out because it might be the best combination to mitigate the bad parts of Jerry and keep the good parts of Jerry.
On Thursday Romo was asked what he remembered about the week leading into the game against the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts.
“Well, Bill (said to) me on Monday, ‘I’m going to turn this game over to you,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Romo said. “… And we ran it 36 times.”
Manning brings an undefeated Denver Broncos to AT&T Stadium. Romo will be making the 98th regular-season start of his career.
This will be Romo’s fifth start against teams that have started at least 4-0. He beat Manning’s Colts, lost to Tom Brady’s 5-0 New England Patriots in 2007, beat Drew Brees' 13-0 New Orleans Saints in 2009, and lost to Matt Ryan's 7-0 Atlanta Falcons last year.
“I think what you do is, you do what needs to be done throughout most of the football game, and as the game gets to a certain point in the game and the score dictates what you need to do to help your football team win,” Romo said. “Before then, I just think as a quarterback you need to do what gives you the best chance to be successful on that play. If that’s a deep ball, if that’s a dump off, that’s a handoff, whatever it might entail that gives your team the best chance to move the ball, that’s what you need to do."
The Cowboys beat the Colts by holding the ball for 33 minutes, 42 seconds, and running the ball 36 times for 117 yards. On the second play of the game the defense recovered a fumble. On the fifth play, DeMarcus Ware sacked Manning. On the 11th play Jay Ratliff had a sack-fumble. Roy Williams had an interception near the Dallas goal line, and Kevin Burnett returned an interception for a touchdown.
Against the Patriots, the Cowboys were matching Brady, and the defense scored a touchdown on a Jason Hatcher fumble recovery. Trailing 31-24 early in the fourth quarter a fourth-and-1 conversion was overturned by a holding penalty, forcing a punt. Five plays later, Brady threw a 69-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots went on to win 48-27.
Against the Saints the Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives and took a 24-3 lead on the opening drive of the second half. Mike Jenkins intercepted Brees near the Cowboys’ goal line, and Ware, who was not supposed to play because of a neck injury, had two sacks of Brees and three hurries.
The Cowboys won 24-17, rushing 36 times for 145 yards and converting on eight of 15 third-down opportunities.
Last year at Atlanta, the Cowboys sputtered on their first two possessions inside the red zone and had to settle for two Dan Bailey field goals for a 6-0 lead. The Falcons took a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Romo connected with Kevin Ogletree for a touchdown with 5:21 to play to cut the deficit to three points. The defense, however, could not get off the field on the ensuing drive (three third-down conversions) and Atlanta ate up all but 17 seconds on the clock.
“Teams get to 9, 10-0, 12-0 or whatever it might be, and they’ve obviously done a lot of good things right and Denver hasn’t really played in a football game yet,” Romo said. “It’s a testament to their players. They’re playing at a very high level. They deserve everything they’ve gotten. To beat a football team like this you have to play at a very high level, and you have to do a lot of things right. Saying that, there’s a certain recipe and certain way to go about the process, and we’re trying to do that.”
Rookie Casey Matthews was the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles' first training-camp practice, with Jamar Chaney playing on the strong side. And it seems as if the strong side is where Castillo wants Chaney to stay. From the Philadelphia Daily News' Eagles blog:
But the way Castillo envisions the Eagles' D, the strongside 'backer is going to need to be a very physical presence, which Chaney is.
"We're going to attack and get up the field," Castillo said.
The team has reportedly decided not to bring back oft-injured middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who is said to be talking to the Cardinals. But instead of handing that job off to Chaney, who manned the middle in Bradley's absence last season, the Eagles are going to keep Chaney on the outside and ... do something else in the middle. Castillo talked up Matthews, and hey, you never know. But no draft analysis I saw ever had Matthews projected as a 2011 starter. So if we read between the lines here, it looks as though the Eagles will pursue a free-agent middle linebacker to start in between Chaney and, I guess, Moise Fokou.
Options? Well, the top middle linebacker on the market is Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch, but Reuben Frank's got a source telling him the Eagles have no interest in Tulloch and not much in Nick Barnett, who was just cut by the Packers. Other highly regarded names on the market include Barrett Ruud, Kirk Morrison, Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper. Fair number of options for the Eagles to consider, but for now it appears, from reading the tea leaves, they'll be looking for someone for the middle.
NFC East teams in need
Giants: They've overlooked the linebacker spot in general for the past couple of years, and as a result there are a few ways they could go. They could stick with Jonathan Goff in the middle and beef up on the outside, or they could sign a good middle linebacker and move Goff outside, where he'd probably be an upgrade over Clint Sintim. There are a lot of potential middle linebacker targets for the Giants, if this is the time they finally decide to get serious about it.
Redskins: Washington could be fine even with Rocky McIntosh leaving, because there's a chance Lorenzo Alexander has to move inside anyway to make room for top draft pick Ryan Kerrigan. But after they address needs on the defensive line, there's a chance they could look to add depth here.
Eagles: Hard to imagine this is a major priority for them, since even if Stewart Bradley leaves they can probably just leave Jamar Chaney in the middle. But if Bradley leaves and they decide Chaney's better on the outside, there will be some interesting options for them on the middle linebacker market.
Top five potential unrestricted free-agent inside linebackers
1. Stephen Tulloch. Likely out in Tennessee because they fear he'll cost too much to keep, the 26-year-old Tulloch is the cream of this particular crop. He's a bit small, but he has great range and has shown the ability to handle the middle linebacker's responsibilities for the Titans. Lots of people expect former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, now the Lions' head coach, to be Tulloch's most aggressive pursuer as he continues to build a monster defense in Detroit.
2. Barrett Ruud. The question is how much responsibility he bore for the Buccaneers' miserable run defense in 2010. It's possible he was dragged down by those around him and he'll rebound with a big 2011. But his chances at a big free-agent deal certainly took a hit with his step-back 2010 campaign.
3. Paul Posluszny. The Bills will work to keep him, and there's some thought that he's better off as an inside guy in a 3-4 scheme than as the middle man in a 4-3. But we've heard the Giants connected to him a lot, so it's possible he's a name on their list of targets for their middle spot.
4. Kevin Burnett. Had a career season in San Diego, and the Chargers will try everything they can to re-sign him. It's more likely that his teammate, Stephen Cooper, will be free, and while slightly older than Burnett, Cooper could still be a helpful piece for a 3-4 team looking for help on the inside.
5. Bradley. If he still wants to play in the middle, and if he can convince teams he's fully recovered from his knee surgery, Bradley could leave Philadelphia in free agency. Will be interesting to see if the Eagles commit to keeping him in the middle and if that helps convince him to stay.
Predictions that mean nothing: Giants sign Ruud after Tulloch's price goes too high for their liking. Redskins stand pat or move further down this list (Dhani Jones?) as they focus on greater needs in the secondary and along the line. Eagles keep Bradley and play Chaney on the outside to start the season.
With the defense short on quality personnel, the Eagles needed their offense to realize its explosive potential and beat the Chargers in a shootout. But by the time wide receiver Jason Avant decided to take over the game, the Eagles had already dug themselves too deep a hole to overcome.
Donovan McNabb's eye-popping 35-of-55 for 450 yards and two touchdowns will please fantasy owners, but those are empty numbers when it comes to this team's win total, which by the way is stuck on five. By taking the weekend off, the New York Giants leaped into a second-place tie with the Eagles at 5-4, and the Dallas Cowboys fell to 6-3 with a 17-7 loss in Green Bay. The Eagles are still in the thick of the playoff race, which says more about the watered-down NFC than it does about anything this team has actually accomplished.
The Eagles' defense found a way to revive LaDainian Tomlinson's fading career, allowing him to rush for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott paid homage to Tomlinson after the game, but he tacked on a few harsh words for his players.
"When you play passive football, and not attacking, any running back's going to have a good day," McDermott said.
But it's hard to pick on a unit that was filled out by such immortals as Dimitri Patterson and Ramzee Robinson. On the play that the Chargers basically sealed the win late in the fourth quarter, McDermott called for safety Quintin Mikell to cover Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates. The Eagles actually have a puncher's chance in that matchup, but someone on the field checked out of that coverage, which forced Patterson to cover Gates instead. Rivers connected with Gates for a 17-yard completion -- and the Eagles began preparing for the in-flight movie.
"Yeah, if we could go back to that, we'd probably make a different check," Mikell deadpanned.
But at least the defense had some legitimate excuses for yielding 31 points. The Eagles' offense had all of its weapons on the field during the second half. They were missing left tackle Jason Peters (ankle), but McNabb had plenty of time to deliver the ball throughout the game.
After falling behind 14-0, the Eagles drove 77 yards and had first-and-goal at the Chargers' 1-yard line after Jeremy Maclin drew a pass interference penalty from Quentin Jammer. Three failed plays later, the Eagles were forced to settle for an 18-yard field goal.
On first down, Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver was stuffed for no gain, and on the next play McNabb fired an incomplete pass to Brent Celek in the corner of the end zone. On third-and-goal from the 1, coach Andy Reid decided it was a good spot to give rookie Eldra Buckley the first meaningful carry of his career. Former Cowboys linebacker Kevin Burnett blew up the play.
"When we get in there, we take a lot of pride in scoring touchdowns and not field goals," Reid said. "When you're that close with a first down, you expect to get in there, especially when you've seen [the Chargers] do it the week before, you want to use that and better yourself off somebody else's errors. We weren't able to do that."
The Eagles made two other trips inside the Chargers' 10-yard line that resulted in field goals. Trailing 21-6 in the third quarter, Reid opted to kick the field goal when the Eagles had a fourth-and-1 at the Chargers' 7-yard line. Avant could be seen mouthing the words, "C'mon coach!" in frustration as Reid sent David Akers onto the field.
For all of his offensive genius, Reid may be among the worst multi-taskers in the league. His problems with game management (burn those timeouts early) are well-documented, but you also have to question his game planning after Sunday's loss.
It took another Brian Westbrook concussion for rookie LeSean McCoy to get involved Sunday. McCoy had only two carries in the first half. And we're not talking about a guy who's been a fringe participant on this team. He's been one of the top rookies in the league, but Reid couldn't find a way to get him involved.
The coach said last week that Westbrook and McCoy probably would rotate series, but that's not what happened. At halftime, the Eagles had eight carries for 9 yards. McCoy, who finished with three carries for 5 yards, was at a loss for words as he was asked to explain his limited role.
"I really can't answer that," said McCoy. "It was kind of a normal week. There really wasn't a big difference."
I've heard some people within the organization suggest that Reid doesn't trust McCoy as a pass-blocker, but that's not a concern as long as McCoy has the ball in his hands. I think Reid spent the week trying to make sure Westbrook was featured in the game plan -- to the detriment of McCoy.
Reid devoted more time to calling plays for Reggie Brown (yes, still on the roster) than he did for one of the league's most talented rookie running backs. The Eagles had so much success with the big play in the first half of the season that they've forgotten how to score from point-blank range.
The silver lining for the Eagles is that they appear to be surrounded by mediocrity in the NFC East. Oh, and the West Coast portion of their schedule is complete.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Happy times are here again. The upside to the Cowboys losing former second-round pick Kevin Burnett in free agency is that it creates an opportunity for former first-round pick Bobby Carpenter. In addition to being a go-to guy on ESPN's "First Take," Carpenter has been a valuable part of the Cowboys' special teams unit.
Now Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News thinks that Carpenter can be an adequate replacement for Burnett at inside linebacker: "Carpenter is athletic. He is a workout fiend. He can cover tight ends and backs. He has experience blitzing. Those are musts in this defense as a nickel linebacker. At least give him the chance to really show he can't do it."
You could argue that Carpenter's done a pretty good job showing he can't do it over the past four seasons, but that feels like such a cynical point of view. Is anyone out there holding out hope that Carpenter can be a steady contributor as a nickel linebacker?
I'm willing to listen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Even though they drafted him in the second round, the Dallas Cowboys never saw Kevin Burnett as a starter. And that's why he's in San Diego today. Burnett signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 million. Roughly $4 million of the contract is guaranteed.
Burnett was a valuable part of the Cowboys' special teams and nickel units. But in the end, he was too much of a luxury player for the club to keep. The Cowboys wouldn't have brought in veteran Keith Brooking if they thought Burnett had a chance to be the starter. In San Diego, he'll have a much better chance to start.
Burnett grew up in the Los Angeles area, so it's a move he's very comfortable with. He was a T.O. disciple from early on, but he was also an independent thinker. He authored an entertaining blog for the Dallas Morning News in which he took readers inside the game. Will this come back to haunt the Cowboys?
Well, I think that Burnett will eventually go to a Pro Bowl with the Chargers. That ought to tell you something.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Cowboys might be making a mistake by letting a talented player like Burnett walk, but at least for the time being, there's not much of a market for him. He'd be wise to sign a one-year deal like the one safety Sean Jones agreed to with the Eagles. If he starts and plays well, a team would probably try to lock him down in a long-term deal. If he plays a reserve role, he can take his chances again in free agency -- in what could be an uncapped year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Take a break from work for a few moments to read the following stories. It beats having to read that sports section someone left in the fourth-floor bathroom. The Beast realizes you have many choices on the Internet. Thanks for choosing us for the next 10-15 minutes. And don't worry, conspiracy theorists. The Eagles, Giants and Redskins' editions are on the way.
- Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News reports the Cowboys didn't honor safety Roy Williams' request to be traded by sundown Tuesday.
- Clarence E. Hill of the Star-Telegram says DeMarcus Ware was thrilled for Albert Haynesworth.
- Jacques Taylor of DallasNews.com talks about the Anthony Henry for Jon Kitna swap.
- Kevin Burnett is on the verge of signing with Chargers, according to Clarence E. Hill.
- Congratulations to the great Lee Roy Jordan as he enters the Texas Sports Hall of Fame tonight. Jordan played at the same time as guys like Dick Butkus, Tommy Nobis and Sam Huff, so he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But anyone from that era will tell you that he was one of the best players in the NFL. He deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the Texas Hall will have to do for now.
- The Cowboys and the City of Arlington spent over $35 million on their new stadium last month alone.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Thanks to everyone who took part in our record-breaking (just assuming) free agency coverage on The Beast. Even though things have slowed down a bit, we'll continue to monitor the situation. Now let's go around the NFC East to see what everyone's saying:
- Jen Engel of the Star-Telegram doesn't think Jon Kitna is a huge upgrade from Brad Johnson. I think she's wrong. It's not like the Cowboys were going to find a capable backup on Day 2 of the draft. And I think Kitna could get you some wins if Tony Romo gets hurt again. From the medical folks who I've talked to, Kitna's back injury was a farce. He could've returned two weeks after the injury.
- Clarence E. Hill Jr. has the Chris Canty to New York story.
- Engel's husband puts Saturday's moves in perspective.
- Linebacker Bradie James won't hold Kitna's comments from 2006 against him.
- Don Banks of SI.com has some good details on the Canty signing and Ray Lewis' rough weekend.
- Here's Jean-Jacques Taylor's take on Canty's departure.
- Calvin Watkins says Kevin Burnett's on his way to visit the Raiders.
- Pacman Jones has a new gig.
- Brian Dawkins tells the Daily News that he'll "always be an Eagle."
- Dawkins also talked to the Inquirer.
- Bob Ford of the Inquirer didn't go the sentimental route with this column.
- There's nothing like a Gonzo Mailbag to start your day.
- Here's Rich Hofmann's take on Dawkins. He wasn't as cold-hearted as Ford.
- The Eagles may have some interest in Ravens safety Jim Leonhard.
- Ralph Vacchiano weighs in on the Chris Canty deal.
- Let's hear from Joe LaPointe of the Times on this topic.
- Tom Rock provides some helpful quotes from Canty, Coughlin and Reese.
- Bob Glauber lavishes GM Jerry Reese with praise on his "What About Bob?" blog. Give it a rest, Glauber. Reese already has a favorite blog.
IRVING, Texas -- With Cowboys linebacker Kevin Burnett out with a knee injury, Bradie James will end up playing on more passing downs. On the Texans' touchdown earlier in this quarter, James allowed wide receiver Kevin Walter to cross his face and then waltz in for an easy score.
James was called out a couple of years ago by Lions quarterback Jon Kitna for being clueless in pass coverage, but it's a part of his game that he's really improved. When he first came out of LSU in 2003, he was very stiff and had trouble identifying certain routes. He's better now, but as Walter showed, there is still room for improvement.
Cowboys score to make it 17-10, and we have a barnburner on our hands.