NFC East: Kevin Ogletree

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is active and expected to play for the New York Giants here Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Rodgers-Cromartie was listed as questionable after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday and being only a limited participant Friday due to continuing leg and back injuries.

It remains to be seen how much Rodgers-Cromartie will be able to play. He was in and out of the Giants' Week 4 and 5 games due to leg injuries, and he left last week's game for good in the second quarter due to back spasms that the team said were related to the ongoing leg problems. Zack Bowman will fill in for Rodgers-Cromartie when he's not on the field, but if Rodgers-Cromartie can play at all, he'll have a tough time containing top Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant if he's less than 100 percent.

On the offensive side of the ball, newly signed wide receiver Kevin Ogletree is active and rookie Corey Washington, for the first time, is not. Due to last week's season-ending injury to Victor Cruz, the Giants have only four wide receivers active for the game -- Ogletree, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr. and Preston Parker -- and are likely to deploy a run-heavy game plan that leans on the tight ends as blockers and receivers.

The full list of inactives for Sunday's game here at AT&T Stadium:

RB Rashad Jennings
WR Corey Washington
OL Brandon Mosley
OL James Brewer
OL Adam Snyder
DE Kerry Wynn
DT Jay Bromley

LB Bruce Carter
RT Doug Free
DE Jack Crawford
QB Dustin Vaughan
S Jakar Hamilton
DT Davon Coleman
OT Donald Hawkins
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- First of all, Kevin Ogletree wants everyone to know, he's not here to replace Victor Cruz. The New York Giants signed Ogletree on Tuesday after Cruz was lost for the season with a knee injury. But the former Cowboys, Lions and Buccaneers receiver is well aware of the magnitude of the loss that created his opportunity.

"What a great player he is," Ogletree said of Cruz. "You're not going to find a guy anywhere who's going to come in and do what he did. It's going to have to be a group thing, and we're all going to have to do something better."

Ogletree said he hopes to be able to contribute Sunday in Dallas against the Cowboys even though he's just arrived. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he shares that hope. But Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning also said the arrangement of the wide receivers without Cruz is going to have to vary and change to suit the personnel the Giants have left on the roster.

"I think we'll have a couple of guys doing a couple of different things depending on what they do best and what they feel comfortable with," Manning said. "Some guys will be in the slot and have to run the routes that Victor ran just because those were part of the plays that we have."

Preston Parker replaced Cruz as the slot receiver Sunday, and Ogletree has experience there as well. The Giants would prefer to keep Rueben Randle and rookie Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside if at all possible, but Beckham said he's learned all three positions and can move inside if need be. It sounds as though the Giants have some plays that could feature him inside, but they don't want to move him in their permanently because they don't want to cap his ability to stretch the defense deep with his speed.

"They might move me around," Beckham said. "I'm here to do whatever they need me to do. I'm comfortable anywhere they put me."

As for Ogletree, this week's opponent knows him well. He played for the Cowboys from 2009-12 and had his best game in the 2012 season opener against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. He caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys' victory that night.

"Kevin is a good player," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday. "He has a lot of physical tools. He can run. He's a very good route runner. Very quarterback-friendly receiver, and our guys always loved to throw to him. He can do a lot of things. He can play outside, he can play inside, he stretches the field and he's a sophisticated route-runner on the underneath stuff. They certainly got a good player."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A sudden rash of injuries has left Tom Coughlin and the rest of the New York Giants' coaching staff shuffling pieces around in advance of Sunday's key division matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Coughlin addressed a few of the issues in his Wednesday morning news conference:
  • Jennings
    As expected, running back Rashad Jennings will miss a second straight game with his knee injury. The Giants have a bye next week and play a "Monday Night Football" game in Week 9. Asked whether Jennings might be back for that game, Coughlin said, "I hope so. I can't tell you that for sure, but I would hope." Rookie Andre Williams is likely to start in Jennings' place again, but as you saw Sunday night, he shares the workload with Peyton Hillis, whom they trust more on passing downs.
  • Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continues to struggle with leg and back injuries. Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would practice Wednesday, but added, "What can he do? You'd have to put it in the 'limited' category." Rodgers-Cromartie was not on the field for the portion of practice that was open to the media, which indicates he may not have practiced after all. Zack Bowman would fill in for Rodgers-Cromartie if he can't play Sunday.
  • With Walter Thurmond and Trumaine McBride now both out for the season, Jayron Hosley will be the nickel cornerback. It's an opportunity for the 2012 third-round pick, who missed the first four games of this season on a drug suspension, to prove he belongs in the league after a disappointing first couple of years.
  • Coughlin said Preston Parker, who filled in as the slot wide receiver when Victor Cruz went down Sunday night, will get an opportunity with Cruz and backup slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan out for the year. But Coughlin also said there might be some game-planning adjustments to account for the relative abilities of the players they have left at wide receiver. Rookie Corey Washington could conceivably see more looks, and Coughlin said he hoped newly signed Kevin Ogletree would be able to help this weekend.
  • Cruz made a brief visit to the team facility Wednesday morning, but he did not stop to talk to reporters and the team was on the practice field while he was here. Cruz had surgery Monday to repair the torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

More to come after practice and Wednesday's open locker room session.
Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it, we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1 of the mailbag, click here. And this will be our last Twitter mailbag for a few weeks thanks to some vacation.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: Since Romo is such a golf guy, let's use a golf analogy: he's on the back nine. I don't know how anybody could think otherwise. He is 34. He is coming off two back surgeries. He is in his eighth year as a full-time starter. Just because he is on the back nine doesn't mean he can't play at a high level. I know the odds are stacked and thirty-something quarterbacks haven't won a lot of Super Bowls here lately, but I'd take my chances he's on Holes 12 and 13, if you will. He still has football in him, provided he can stay upright. I do think Romo is smart enough to adapt his game as he gets older. If you allow me to carry on with other sports analogies, here's another one: fastball pitchers can develop into multipitch guys over the years. Romo has done a lot on his own with some improvisation and ability to buy time. I don't think you'll see him run around as much as he did when he was younger. I think you'll see him pick and choose his spots. I believe he did some of that last year, which is one of the reasons his sack total was so high. He was willing to take the sack -- not necessarily the big hit mind you -- and move on to the next play rather than take a risk of a hit or a poor throw. @toddarcher: Conventional wisdom says DeMarco Murray because when he gets 20 carries in a game, the Cowboys win. I hate that stat. If it really means what it says it means, then Murray should get the ball on the first 20 plays of every game. We all know it doesn't work that way. But I'm also of the opinion that the running back position has been devalued. I think the Cowboys could get by without Murray. Would they be as good? No, but they would not be lost. To me, if they lost Jason Witten, then they would be in trouble. Witten has been a mainstay. He does everything. The passing game has missed receivers over the years, but Romo has been able to throw for more than 300 yards in game whether he has Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson or Dwayne Harris playing big roles. Without Witten, I don't know that that would continue. And in the running game, Witten can set the edge. He's not a blow-them-up blocker, but he can displace defensive ends and linebackers to allow backs to pick holes. On defense, I really didn't have a candidate, but if I did, I'd probably go with Barry Church. I don't know what they would do at safety without him. The defense would take a different look, for sure. @toddarcher: If you're talking left defensive end, then sure. If you're looking for a pure right defensive end, then no. But he has position flexibility. He can move inside if necessary as well. The left side has to be a stronger player at the point of attack. He is that type of guy and he has some good pass rush to him, but not to the point where you can say he would be a DeMarcus Ware type. He can be a Greg Ellis type. If he does not play well, then the Cowboys' defensive line will struggle. They need him to have a good year. I think the expectations have been raised on the kid from comments by guys like Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo. People need to remember he didn't have a sack in 2012 and he missed last year. There will be some growing pains, but the potential is definitely there. @toddarcher: He has done a better job. He appears to be playing more confident. Now, does that mean he is a shutdown corner worth the No. 6 pick in the draft? I don't want to go that far from watching football in helmets and jerseys in the spring, but it sure beats the alternative. He is as healthy as he has been, which plays a part into the confidence. He's not thinking about injuries out there. His comments at the end of the minicamp were encouraging. He was going to take a few days off here and there between now and training camp but he planned on staying on the grind. That's good news. He knows how important this year is to him. The Cowboys need him as much as anybody else on defense to be successful. As I said, I like what I've seen but I still think Orlando Scandrick will be the starter Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. To win that job from Scandrick he will have to knock out the champ, if you know what I mean. @toddarcher: Yes, there is. If you want to take a look at the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, look at Article 4, Section 9. It's about forfeiture. If I had to bet when Kyle Orton shows up at training camp it would be either July 27 or July 28. Once he misses six practices, the Cowboys can come after the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014. So in addition to the fines he induced in the offseason -- $69,455 for missing the minicamp, $10,930 for missing the physical -- and the $75,000 de-escalator in his contract for missing too many workouts, Orton would be fined $30,000 for missing camp. So let's say he misses a week, costing him $150,000. You're looking at about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators, which brings his base salary to just under $3 million. I think for 17 regular-season weeks and a month of preseason, Orton would be OK to make that kind of money and then walk away from the game. It will be interesting to see how this goes when the Cowboys get to camp. They have remained patient, to say the least, while Orton has been silent. 

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

May, 23, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • When Dez Bryant might sign an extension.
  • Lance Dunbar’s roster spot with the addition of Ryan Williams.
  • The team’s best free-agent pickup
  • The state of the defensive line.
  • The best of the undrafted receivers.

Look for Part 2 of the mailbag on Saturday.

Away we go:
IRVING, Texas -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.
Tony Romo and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesBoth Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford have seen needed improvements in certain aspects of their games this season.

It is a matchup between two potential playoff teams and two of the best wide receivers in the game, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant.

But the Dallas-Detroit game on Sunday has other twists, too. For the Lions, Sunday is a chance to grab back some momentum from a strong start to the season. For the Cowboys, it could be a chance to widen their lead on their NFC East opponents.

Dallas NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer and Detroit NFL Nation reporter Michael Rothstein break down what you might see Sunday afternoon.

Rothstein: Let's start here -- last week in Detroit there was a lot of discussion of A.J. Green and Johnson as two of the best receivers in the league. Now it is Bryant and Johnson this week. What is it that Bryant does that should really concern Detroit's cornerbacks, who let Green go for 155 yards Sunday?

Archer: Bryant can go get the ball. He is virtually impossible to defend in the red zone (and sometimes he'll push off too), but cornerbacks just don't have a chance on him. He's a better route runner now than he was last year and the Cowboys are using him on more varied routes. When he came into the league he would make the spectacular play but couldn't make the boring play consistently. Now he's doing both. But his No. 1 attribute is his physical style. He will fight for the ball and fight for yardage. He's special in that regard.

The Cowboys have had Brandon Carr follow Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson the past three games. I'm sure they'll do the same with Calvin Johnson. When teams have matched up with Johnson like that, how has or hasn't it worked?

Rothstein: There haven't been too many teams that have single-covered Johnson -- at least not for extended periods of the game. The closest would have been against Arizona in Week 2, but the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson and Johnson had six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against him. Really, the only thing that has slowed Johnson this season was a knee issue that kept him out of the loss to Green Bay and limited him against Cleveland a week later. Not surprisingly, Johnson still draws a ton of attention with a safety rolling to him over the top.

What that has done is opened up the offense underneath for Reggie Bush and, to an extent, Joique Bell. When both are healthy and playing well, the Lions have had a pretty strong offensive threat from deep threats to short bursts. How does Dallas plan on dealing with that, especially considering DeMarcus Ware's questionable status?

Archer: Running backs and tight ends have hurt the Cowboys in the passing game this year. The safeties have been only OK but are coming off a pretty good game at Philadelphia against LeSean McCoy, who's as shifty or more than Bush. The Cowboys had their best tackling game last season against the Eagles. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter have played better here lately and will be largely responsible for the backs, but safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox will be a presence too. Losing Ware would be a big blow to a defense that has to get pressure on Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys have been rolling in new guys pretty much every week across the defensive line, and added Marvin Austin this week to help at tackle.

Speaking about the defensive line allows me to talk about Rod Marinelli. He has been nothing but great here with those no-name guys, but what's the feeling of him up there considering that 0-16 season?

Rothstein: That was before my time -- I was still covering the Charlie Weis Notre Dame years when Marinelli was in Detroit -- but I can say I have not heard anything about that season in my short time here and most of the current team arrived in 2009 or later.

But the 0-16 season contributes to the typical angst the Lions fan base has over any success the team has -- as in waiting for the bottom to drop out. But most of this team is so new, there isn't much of that feeling. Plus, as injured receiver Nate Burleson said earlier this year, when you go to play in Detroit, you know there are going to be questions about losing streaks to be broken and demons to be exorcised.

Since we're chatting a little bit about defense, Tony Romo is being sacked on 6 percent of his attempts, so is Dallas' line doing a good job protecting him or are these more coverage sacks? What's going on with the protections?

Archer: The line has improved a lot from recent years, especially in pass protection. They revamped their interior line with Travis Frederick, their first-round pick at center, Ronald Leary at left guard and Brian Waters, who did not play last season, at right guard. Tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free are performing better than they did a year ago. Romo has taken a number of coverage sacks this year, and he's also elusive for a guy who does not appear to be the most athletic. He has terrific vision and a quick release that can bail him out of trouble. As strange as it sounds, I think Romo also has seen the value of taking a sack and not forcing a throw.

Let's stick with the quarterback play. Stafford is a Dallas kid, so we know his background. He likes to throw it around, but like Romo, his interceptions are down. Is he just being more careful with the ball or has the attack changed a little?

Rothstein: Having Reggie Bush in the offense has allowed Stafford to throw the ball shorter more often and as an old coach I used to cover once said, "Short passes are happy passes." They are also more likely to be completed passes. Here's something to consider with Stafford as well. His numbers could be much better, but his receivers have dropped 6.9 percent of his passes. Hold on to even half those and he's completing around 65 percent of his passes this season. He also has gotten much better at throwing the ball away instead of forcing passes. That's been a big change. There is an accuracy component to it as well, but he isn't taking nearly as many downfield chances.

Speaking of semi-homecomings, you mentioned Carr earlier. Does this game mean more to him because he is coming home as he grew up and played his college ball in Michigan? And second thing on that, has Dallas changed a lot from last season or can a guy like Kevin Ogletree help this week?

Archer: I'm sure it does but Carr will attempt to downplay it. He still carries that Grand Valley State/fifth-round pick chip on his shoulder even if the Cowboys gave him a $50 million deal last year as a free agent. He has done a terrific job here the past three weeks as we talked about earlier. Jason Garrett even went out of his way to praise Carr's work on special teams, so you can see the Flint in him hasn't left. As for the Ogletree angle, he had a hard enough time with the offense that I don't think he would help with the defense. The Cowboys have a completely different scheme from Rob Ryan's 3-4 to Monte Kiffin's 4-3. Ogletree will know some personnel, but the corners are playing a little different than they did a year ago so I don't think it will matter much.

I haven't asked about the Lions defense yet. Just by looking at the numbers they seem to be pretty good situationally: third down, red zone. Is that the wrong read here?

Rothstein: The defense is kind of a little bit of everywhere. Great on third down over the first month of the season -- not as much over the past three weeks. Perhaps a corollary here is the defensive line not getting quite as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks the past three weeks as it did during the first month of the season. Red zone defense has been pretty good. Overall, it is a decent Lions defense. DeAndre Levy is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season at linebacker and the defensive line and safeties have been good. Cornerback has been a bit up-and-down, though.

My final question to you sticks with this theme. We touched on the Dallas offensive line earlier, but how do the Cowboys deal with Ndamukong Suh? He is a guy who can change games on his own.

Archer: This is part of the reason why the Cowboys wanted Frederick, Waters and Leary. They're stout players. The Cowboys have not had much power in the middle and it has hurt the running game as well as pass protection. Suh, obviously, offers a different challenge. Waters has the strength necessary but he does not move like he did a few years ago. The Cowboys will give him some help but not all the time. And I think Romo can help out the line as well by getting rid of the ball quickly. The Cowboys only take a handful of downfield shots a game, relying mostly on underneath stuff to work their way down the field.

The Lions are 4-3 like the Cowboys and this is a huge game for both when you start thinking about December and playoff chases. You touched on this earlier, but is the town ready to get behind the Lions, especially because the Tigers aren't in the World Series and it's still early in the Red Wings' season?

Rothstein: I think there is some of that, for sure, and I think there is the hope among the fan base that this year’s Lions team is for real. But as I mentioned earlier, there is going to be that sense of dread -- which is why a win for Detroit on Sunday would really go a long way to bolster that fan base confidence. And probably to maintain the confidence in the locker room as well.

Washington Redskins

Mike Wise is of the opinion that the Redskins have themselves to blame for the salary-cap penalties the league imposed on them a year ago. And while I think what the league did was ridiculous and inexcusable, Mike's point is one I've also made and is worth considering as everybody remains so angry about it. The Redskins and the Cowboys didn't do what they did to take a stand against the league-endorsed collusion that was going on. They did it to try to gain a competitive advantage. That's what ticked off the management council and led to the penalties. And while it's crazy to think that spending behavior in an uncapped season could be subject to discipline, there are no "good guys" in this mess. The Redskins and Cowboys are victims, and this should not have happened to them. But they are not innocent victims. This whole thing was a mess, and no one has reason to be proud of anything they did.

To help fill the void left by Lorenzo Alexander's free-agent defection to Arizona, the Redskins re-signed linbacker Bryan Kehl, who'll presumably take on a little more responsibility as a backup and special-teamer.

New York Giants

Aaron Ross says he always had it in his mind that he would return someday to the Giants, who were happy to welcome him back to their secondary after a year away in Jacksonville.

John Mara hopes the fact that Victor Cruz's new agent is the same one Eli Manning has helps lead to a new deal with the Giants' dynamic slot receiver. But we all know that what Mara's hoping is that Cruz's new agent talks Cruz into accepting what the Giants want to pay him, right?

Dallas Cowboys

Teams can have as many as 30 pre-draft visits with prospective draft picks, and one of the guys the Cowboys are having in is Alabama guard Chance Warmack. I believe this would be their dream pick at No. 18 in the first round -- a blue-chip guard prospect who would immediately become either the best or second-best player on their line.

Remember how great Kevin Ogletree was in the Week 1 victory over the Giants? Well, they'll always have East Rutherford. But Ogletree is going to go play for the Buccaneers now.

Philadelphia Eagles

Reputations are tough to shake, and new Eagles cornerback Cary Williams would really like to find a way to shed his reputation as a loose cannon. Williams is penciled in right now as one of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks, and I'm not sure how it's going to go. He's got his pluses, but he struggles downfield in one-on-one matchups against physical wide receivers, and he can be beaten for the big play. Maybe he should play up the whole crazy-guy thing instead of trying to shake it. Somebody told me the Eagles fans like passion and stuff.

Jeff McLane assesses the pickups the Eagles have made on defense, and looks at the ways in which the new pieces and the returning ones might fit into Chip Kelly's and Bill Davis' expected defensive scheme.

Breakfast links: Back to normal

February, 5, 2013
Yep, back home and settling into a regular Tuesday groove. We'll do our chat at noon, get that thing back on its regular schedule, and just basically try to get caught up on what, if anything, is going on with our four teams. It should be an interesting couple of days coming up here for the Eagles at least. Let's start with some links.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins' coaches are getting back to work this week after their postseason hiatus, and that work includes figuring out who they want to interview at the scouting combine as they assess potential second-round and third-round draft picks who could help them in the secondary.

Robert Griffin III offers an update on his condition as he recovers from knee surgery. Griffin is upbeat and optimistic, as he always is, but there's still no way to tell yet when to expect him to be able to play.

New York Giants

Paul Schwartz takes a look at the five things the Giants need to do if they're to get back to the Super Bowl and play it in their home stadium next year.

Former Giants quarterback Scott Brunner was one of the many people able to take pride in Joe Flacco's Super Bowl MVP performance Sunday night in New Orleans.

Dallas Cowboys

Derek Dooley was officially named Cowboys wide receivers coach, which we all already knew he was but bears mentioning since this is quite obviously a Jason Garrett hire and everybody seems so interested in pointing out the ones that don't appear to be that.

Remember Kevin Ogletree's big game in Week 1? Yeah, well, he's free-agent eligible now, and the late-season emergence of Dwayne Harris might mean it's okay for the Cowboys to move on.

Philadelphia Eagles

So it turns out Wednesday is not the hard-and-fast deadline we believed it was for the Eagles to make a decision on whether to keep Michael Vick. That $3 million that becomes guaranteed if he's still on the roster Feb. 6 is only the Eagles' problem if they keep him or if he fails to find work elsewhere. That means there's no reason for them to have to rush to make a decision on Vick's status by tomorrow night after all.

The Bears, Lions, Cardinals, Chiefs, Chargers, Redskins, Giants and Cowboys will all be eager this spring to learn whether they'll be the team that gets to play the Eagles in Philadelphia's home opener next year. After all, if they do, recent history suggests that they'll win the Super Bowl.

So there is news on Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, and it is not good. There is a chance Bryant could require surgery on his finger that would end his season. According to, Bryant was meeting with a hand specialist Monday to determine the proper course of action, which also could be to play hurt:
If Bryant needs surgery, he will miss the rest of the season. According to a source, the best-case scenario is that Bryant will be able to play with his fingers taped for the rest of the season and delay surgery.

Bryant suffered the injury on a 6-yard slant route after he was tackled by Adam "Pacman" Jones. Television replays show him shaking his finger and pulling on it as he lined up for the next play. He went to the sideline after a DeMarco Murray run and missed the next five plays. On the second play after his return, he caught a 27-yard touchdown to spark the Cowboys' rally.

Whether Bryant can play at the level at which he's been playing -- acrobatic sideline and end-zone catches, using his size to dominate matchups against defensive backs and make big-time plays after the catch -- with the injury is a question to which the Cowboys hope they'll be able to find the answer. Surgery that would end his season, and deprive the Cowboys of a receiver who has played as well as any in the league over the past five weeks, would be crushing to the Cowboys' sudden playoff hopes.

Dallas has won four of its past five games and improved to 7-6, one game behind the first-place New York Giants and tied with the Washington Redskins in the NFC East and one game out of an NFC wild-card spot. With tough games still remaining against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Redskins, it's not going to be easy for the Cowboys to get in anyway. If they have to play without Bryant, it's hard to imagine it's possible. The Cowboys are not a deep team, but are instead a team that needs its excellent players to play at a high level in order to sustain success. Bryant is one of those players, as his 33 catches for 525 yards and seven touchdowns in the past five games attest. Without him, quarterback Tony Romo would still have Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten but would lose the receiver who has been his most reliable target during the current run. Replacing Bryant with Kevin Ogletree or Dwayne Harris or Cole Beasley would be an insufficient solution, since even if those guys were productive they can't play the way Bryant can play at his best.

So we wait to hear more. Could be Monday night, could be Tuesday, I don't know. If he has to have surgery, his season ends. If he doesn't, playing hurt could limit his production. Either way, it's the latest bit of bad news for the Cowboys in a year that has been too full of it. Considering what they've endured, from injuries on defense to the tragic car accident that happened Saturday, it's pretty remarkable that the Cowboys are over .500 with three games to go. The reason is that their elite players have performed when they've had to. If they lose Bryant, that takes a real hit.
New York Giants

Rookie David Wilson says the biggest difference this week is that he knows he's going to get an opportunity, whereas in prior weeks he was merely hoping for one. With Andre Brown out, Wilson is the No. 2 running back on the Giants' depth chart behind the banged-up Ahmad Bradshaw, and he'll get some reps.

The knee injury that knocked Kenny Phillips out of Sunday's game -- the same knee that had cost him the previous six games -- is not serious enough to keep him from playing against the Redskins on Monday night. So says Phillips, at least.

Washington Redskins

Left tackle Trent Williams played hurt on Thanksgiving, and he's still dealing with a thigh injury he hopes isn't serious enough to keep him out of Monday night's game against the Giants. Williams is having a great year and is essential to the Redskins' chances of keeping the Giants' pass rush off of Robert Griffin III.

Fred Davis is out for the year, and Chris Cooley has been a non-factor since re-signing, but the Redskins are still getting production out of the tight-end position.

Dallas Cowboys

Ed Werder reports that Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, who left the Thanksgiving Day game with a hip injury, will be ready to play Sunday night against the Eagles. Austin has been able to stay healthy since the start of the regular season, which is something of a bonus for the Cowboys since they're used to having to deal with Austin injuries most years.

Remember Kevin Ogletree's big Week 1 performance against the Giants in New Jersey? Yeah, well, he'll always have that. He's been passed on the depth chart by Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, and the snap counts from Thanksgiving show no need to go back to Ogletree at this point.

Philadelphia Eagles

John Gonzalez wonders why no one seems to have any sympathy for Andy Reid in Philadelphia, considering that he's obviously enduring a tough time and has done a great deal for the Eagles organization. It's a worthwhile point to ponder amid the inevitably of the end of Reid's time with the team.

And Bob Ford thinks the cutting of Jason Babin was just more scapegoating and that Babin shouldn't be the only one to get kicked off the team. Bob has a point, but there are few positions at which the Eagles are deep enough, as they are at defensive end, to allow for such a move this soon.

How you feeling? Giants-Cowboys

October, 28, 2012
As the New York Giants prepare to play the Dallas Cowboys at 4:25 p.m. ET (3:25 p.m. CT) today at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, here's one reason for Giants fans to feel good and one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good.

Giants feeling good: Things are in better shape for the defending Super Bowl champions than they were when the Cowboys beat them in their building in Week 1. Cornerback Prince Amukamara has settled the secondary, making it less likely that someone like Kevin Ogletree could have another monster game against them. The Giants have found something in the running game, and whether it's Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Brown or David Wilson running the ball they should be able to demonstrate more balance on offense than they did in early September. On the flip side, Dallas is much more banged-up than it was that night, with star linebacker Sean Lee and starting running back DeMarco Murray out due to injuries. The Giants have gone 5-1 since that game, and the Cowboys have gone 2-3, and the reversal of fortunes are representative of the way things stand with each team right now.

Cowboys feeling good: The fact of the Week 1 victory should help the Cowboys' confidence that they can confuse Giants quarterback Eli Manning with their coverages on defense, and on offense their receivers should be able to win their matchups in the Giants' secondary. The Giants have played well on defense, but as the Redskins showed last week, you can have success against them if your quarterback can stay agile enough to avoid the pass rush and lengthen the play. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is a master of doing just that, and he has a strong record of doing it against the Giants in particular.

The Dallas Cowboys' chance to prove it

October, 25, 2012
Tony RomoCary Edmondson/US PRESSWIRETony Romo and the Cowboys face a tough schedule the next weeks, against the Giants and Falcons.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said he thinks his team can contend for a Super Bowl title this season. I have written here many times that I disagree. Public proclamations aside, I think that the roster remains a work in progress and that the actions of the men who run the Cowboys over the last year-plus have been those of an organization more concerned about building for the long-term than about winning right now.

But this being the NFL, neither I nor Jones actually knows whether the Cowboys will play well enough over their final 10 games to make the playoffs and make a run at the Super Bowl. What I do know is that their next two games -- this week's home game against the Giants and next week's game against the currently undefeated Falcons in Atlanta -- offer a really good chance to prove that what Jones has said is true.

The Cowboys' next two opponents are as tough as they come -- the defending Super Bowl champs, who are still mad about the way the Cowboys beat them at their place in early September, and then the team that's played better than any other in the league so far this season. They are the top two teams in this week's ESPN Power Rankings, and if the Cowboys can play well against and/or beat either one of them, then Jones' claims of 2012 contention might start to hold a little more water.

After the Atlanta game, the Cowboys will have half of their season remaining, but not one of their final eight games is against an opponent that currently has a winning record. This works two ways. Yes, those games might be easier than these next two for them to win. But none offers as good a chance as the ones they have this Sunday and next Sunday to find out just how tough they are against the kinds of teams they could expect to see if they did make the playoffs.

Dallas looked every bit the championship contender in that Sept. 5 opener against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The defense looked vastly improved with the additions of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. The offense was clicking; quarterback Tony Romo artfully dodged the Giants' pass rush and DeMarco Murray kept them honest in the run game. Had Jones been crowing about Super Bowl dreams that night, he'd have been much easier to believe.

But since then, things have been leaky. Murray is hurt now, as is defensive leader and star linebacker Sean Lee. Romo has had a tough time connecting with his star wide receivers since he and Kevin Ogletree lit it up in the opener. Carr and Claiborne haven't played as well the last three games as they did in the first three. The Cowboys let a game get away two weeks ago in Baltimore and had to fight every inch to take out a lousy Carolina Panthers team Sunday. Since Sept. 5, there has been precious little evidence that this Dallas team is one that could, even if it improved enough over the final half of the season and took advantage of that soft-looking schedule, make any kind of noise in the postseason.

Here, then, is their chance to present more. If the offensive line really is playing better, and if there are good, consistent, productive things to come from Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, the next two weeks are the time to prove it. If they can run the ball -- at all -- without Murray, the next two weeks are their chance to show it. If they're capable of being tough and physical enough to stare down the top teams in their conference, the next two weeks might be the last chance they get all year to demonstrate that -- to themselves, never mind anyone else.

After Atlanta, the schedule is full of "yeah, but" teams. As in: Yeah, you beat the Eagles, but anybody can make Michael Vick turn the ball over; Yeah, you beat the Redskins, but they have no secondary; Yeah, you beat the Browns, but come on. There's no "yeah, but" when you beat the Giants or the Falcons in 2012. Unless you're the Cowboys at this very moment, about whom folks can say, "Yeah, they beat the Giants in Week 1, but what have they shown you since?"

The chance sits directly in front of Jones' team to erase a lot of the "yeah, but." Sweeping the Giants would make people take notice. Knocking off Atlanta, whether or not the Eagles do it first this week, would make people start to wonder whether Jones might have a point about this team's potential. Losing to both wouldn't be embarrassing or mean the end of the Cowboys' season, but it would allow a few more layers of dust to settle on the memory of Week 1. It would leave them wide open to continued presumptions that they're just another middle-of-the-pack team this year. "Yeah, they could win nine games and sneak into the playoffs, but it's not as though they can beat any of the teams they're going to face when they get there."

Personally, I don't think they have enough. Even with Murray and Lee healthy, I didn't think this was a team capable of hanging with the NFC elites come January. But you all know I've been wrong before. And if the Cowboys can beat the Giants this week, the Falcons next week, or both, they could give me and a lot of other folks reason to think we might have been wrong about them.

Cowboys' WRs must start making plays

October, 22, 2012
One of the questions in the wake of the Dallas Cowboys' 19-14 victory in Carolina on Sunday was why they called such a conservative play on third-and-nine at the Carolina 15-yard line with 3:39 left in the game. Personally, I didn't find it at all surprising, since the Cowboys had been hyper-conservative on offense all game.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw exactly one pass all game that traveled 20 or more yards downfield -- the very pretty 26-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin. Stats & Info also tells me that Romo was 19-for-22 for 129 yards on throws that traveled less than 10 yards downfield, which means he was 4-for-11 for 72 yards on throws that traveled between 10 and 19 yards downfield.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireMiles Austin had five receptions for 97 yards and one touchdown against the Panthers Sunday.
When I watched the game, it seemed as though Romo was looking downfield, and that in most cases he had time to throw. But he wasn't finding anyone open, so he'd check it down to the running back or to tight end Jason Witten. Romo targeted Austin nine times, but the next two most-targeted Cowboys on Sunday were Witten and running back Felix Jones.

This is the way it's been going this year with the Dallas passing game. Romo was a 53.2 percent passer last year on throws 20 or more yards downfield -- one of the highest marks in that category in the past five seasons. But this year, he's just 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on such throws -- 3-for-11 to Austin and Dez Bryant. The Cowboys' deep passing game has vanished, and it's a big part of the reason they're 24th in the NFL in scoring offense at 18.8 points per game.

There are a number of reasons why this is happening. First, for much of this season, the play of the Cowboys' offensive line has been of remedial quality. The line has shown improvement over the last two weeks, but it's still got a ways to go before it can even call itself average. Even as the line blocks better and shows more strength, it continues to hurt itself and the offense in general with penalties.

There's also the issue of the run game, which of course was fantastic against Baltimore two weeks ago but couldn't get going Sunday in Carolina behind backups Jones and Phillip Tanner with starter DeMarco Murray out. Part of the reason Romo wasn't able to find Austin and Bryant downfield more may have been extra coverage the Panthers were able to devote to them as a result of not having to fear the run game.

All of that said, however, Austin and Bryant are two of the best players the Cowboys have. And since they aren't loaded with talent across the rest of the roster (though many still insist they are), the players who have top-level talent have to perform that way. You saw it with the defense Sunday, as DeMarcus Ware and his gang benefited from the return of Anthony Spencer and the Cowboys made plays at all three levels (at least until Sean Lee had to leave the game, and they looked a little more vulnerable in the middle of the field). You saw it with Romo, who managed the game well in spite of a lack of downfield options and broke a streak of six straight games with at least one interception.

But you're not seeing it from Austin and Bryant -- especially Bryant. Austin's fumble was a blot on an otherwise fine day for him. Bryant's end-zone drop and subsequent complaints to the officials were symptoms of the larger problem that is his failure to develop as a consistent performer. Kevin Ogletree's drop was a reminder that he's Kevin Ogletree, and that the Cowboys are basically two-deep at wide receiver and need Bryant and Austin to win their matchups more than they're doing.

The Cowboys got out of Carolina with a win, and that's what counts. The defense looked much better. They're a very good tackling team, which is a huge improvement over last year, and they can beat the softer teams on their schedule with defense. But they're not likely to ambush the Giants again next week the way they did in the season opener. And after next week they have daunting road games in Atlanta and Philadelphia. If they want to remain in the playoff hunt, the Cowboys are going to need to play the same kind of solid defensive game they played Sunday but add in some big plays on offense. Right now, they're barely even trying those. And while there are several reasons they haven't been able to try them this year, in the end it comes down to this: Their playmaking wide receivers need to get open, and they need to make more plays.
Tony RomoRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesMonday night's loss to the Bears was one to forget for Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
As everyone shouts and scrambles this morning to figure out who's to blame for what happened to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, I'd like to suggest that we at least consider the Bears as one possible answer. Chicago has a good, tough team with an opportunistic defense that's built on forcing turnovers. They are well coached and understand where to press their advantages. I'm sure, for example, that forcing Brandon Marshall inside on short routes to limit the damage he might do on the outside seemed like a good idea to the Cowboys in their defensive meetings last week. The Bears saw it as a chance to get him matched up on linebackers, whom he could dominate with his size. They were right. Sometimes you get outplayed and outcoached. It's a tough league, and the other team's getting paid, too.

For me, the most disturbing thing about Monday night for the Cowboys was the way they fell apart once the game appeared lost -- the sloppy, unfocused and downcast way they played the fourth quarter when all they still had to play for was pride. For a team that's trying, as Jason Garrett has said, to "build a football program for the future," that part of the performance stands out as something that needs to be addressed.

There was a point in the game at which Tony Romo had thrown only three interceptions, and you could have reasonably said two were not his fault. Dez Bryant made a mistake that led to the first one (though I still think blame is shared there, as it appears Charles Tillman may have jumped the route and picked the ball anyway), and Kevin Ogletree's stone hands act caused the second. The third was a result of a poor, over-aggressive decision by Romo to try to make something happen. The fourth and fifth were just plain sloppy, and their effect was the eradication of Romo's benefit of the doubt. By running his interception total into the realm of the incomprehensible, he invited those who would blame him for every loss to blame him for the loss.

Once the Bears were up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were in the worst possible situation -- one in which Romo was trying to do too much and making bad decisions as a result. Adversity can be a very bad thing for Romo, and last night was an example of a guy flooring the gas pedal after blowing out a tire. When keeping it together would have showed his team a lot, even if a comeback wasn't possible, Romo fell totally apart.

Same thing happened on defense, where at the end of their first bad game of this season the Cowboys' defensive backs appeared to have left early to beat the traffic. It's no picnic trying to cover Marshall, but you are expected to try, and to do so for all 60 minutes. Marshall's 31-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that put Chicago up 34-10 should have come in a gift bag with a note thanking him for visiting Cowboys Stadium. Contesting plays like that in the game's final minutes would have shown you something about this revamped Dallas defense, and it might have been something even more impressive and valuable than the high quality of its play in the first three games of the season.

And yeah, I know the defense was missing three starters, and I know Bryant dropped too many passes, and I know it's disheartening when you realize a game has slipped away from you, at home, with a billion people watching in prime time, etc. But that doesn't mean you just fold up like an umbrella and let the visiting team continue to embarrass you.

The Cowboys players were accountable after the game. They stood there and took responsibility for the loss and their many failures in it. And that does show you something about a team and give you reason to feel as though it has the kinds of solid citizens and dedicated professionals it needs to succeed. But they could have offered even more reason to feel that way if they'd appeared, in Monday night's fourth quarter, to be angry or upset about what was happening to them, or showed more determination to keep it from getting worse.

Monday's wasn't a game the Cowboys should have won. The Bears were in the NFC Championship Game two years ago. It's fair to say they're a little further along in their program than the Cowboys are in theirs. It would be far less of a surprise to see Chicago in this year's playoffs than it would to see Dallas there. That was true before the season started, and it's obvious this morning. The Cowboys are building something, and they have a ways to go.

But where they failed Monday was at the end, when they had a chance to use a tough loss to a tough team as a character-building experience. To show grit and determination in the face of insurmountable difficulty. When the going got tough Monday, the Cowboys collapsed utterly. And if I were a Cowboys fan or coach or player, that would bother me a lot more than the turnovers, the dropped passes or the loss itself.