NFC East: Matt Cassel

Giants actually add Josh Freeman

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Even after we spent the past couple of days discussing it here, and even after Matt Flynn went back to Green Bay and left Josh Freeman as the last man standing in the New York Giants' search for an extra quarterback for the offseason, it was still hard to believe it would happen. Freeman washed out of two organizations last year, and the one game he played for the Vikings after the Buccaneers cut him was hardly a helpful audition. You'll remember that "Monday Night Football" fiasco as the Giants' first victory of the season, and the fact Freeman obviously wasn't at all prepared to play in the game was the main reason they were able to stop their losing streak.

But they did it. The Giants have in fact agreed to terms with Freeman on a one-year deal, which means he'll likely be in the building next week when they start their offseason program and will be a candidate to take some of the snaps in OTAs and minicamp if starting quarterback Eli Manning's recovery from ankle surgery takes longer than expected.

I guess, if he shows something, Freeman could beat out Curtis Painter for the backup quarterback job. That assumes second-year project Ryan Nassib can't get into that mix, but given the level of his competition I don't know why he couldn't.

I know there isn't much out there on the quarterback market, and that Freeman was the best and most experienced of the candidates once Manning had surgery last week, and the Giants decided they needed to add a reserve quarterback. But if Freeman is on the 2014 Giants, I can't see how that helps them. Nothing we've heard about Freeman over the past year has indicated he'd be a useful backup. And while I'm willing to give him a pass for his ugly exit from Tampa Bay because I believe loony former Bucs coach Greg Schiano to have been at least as much at fault for their conflict as Freeman, it says a lot that he couldn't beat out Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder for playing time after the Vikings signed him in October. It also says a lot that this week was the first time any sort of market materialized for Freeman this offseason, given the state of the quarterback market.

So if you think Freeman is going to be some sort of diamond-in-the-rough signing for the Giants, or that having him on the team makes them better prepared to weather a potential Manning absence than they were yesterday, I'm going to take the opposite point of view. The best thing you can say about this move is that it probably can't hurt. But if the addition of Freeman has any impact on the Giants' 2014 season, they're in trouble.
When it comes to Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, the only thing that has changed is the date.

We are days away from the start of NFL free agency, when we will find out for sure whether (and where) Vick gets his chance to be a starting quarterback. Whatever happens, it has been clear since Jan. 6 that Vick’s time in Philadelphia is almost certainly over.

As those other Eagles sang, he's "already gone."

Nick Foles is the starter. Matt Barkley is going to be here. The team could very well draft a quarterback again this year. If coach Chip Kelly feels he needs a veteran backup, there will be several attractive options in free agency that aren’t named Vick: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Kellen Clemens among them.

None of those names may excite your imagination, but they’re not supposed to. They’re potential backup quarterbacks. Signing any one of them would provide competition for Barkley without what we’ll call the Vick Factor -- a guy some percentage of the fans will be clamoring for the moment Foles has a bad game, or even a bad half.

Going into last season, I thought Kelly should have moved on from Vick. He judged him only on what he did in training camp and the preseason, ignoring the pre-Kelly history of injuries and turnovers. Lo and behold, Vick pulled his hamstring running out of bounds on Oct. 6.

When the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point, and had gone two games in a row without a single offensive touchdown, Kelly explained the problem in five words: “instability at the quarterback position.”

Anyone can get hurt. Foles missed a game with a concussion. But after a firsthand experience with Vick, the walking definition of “instability at the quarterback position,” it’s hard to see Kelly bringing him back for his age-34 season, especially when he has invested serious coaching time in Barkley.

But that was obvious on Jan. 6, when Vick gave what amounted to a farewell speech to the media and posed for photos with his soon-to-be former teammates. The only reason to report that Vick isn’t coming back is that the calendar says March, and his departure is imminent.

Where will he go? It was fascinating to see Adrian Peterson tweet his interest in bringing Vick to Minnesota. That seemed like a possible fit all along, although the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator didn’t exactly line up with that. Peterson is 29 and has bounced back from a torn ACL. He wants to win now. It wouldn’t be surprising if new head coach Mike Zimmer, who waited a long time for this opportunity, feels the same.

There are a number of teams that could use Vick as a quick-fix starter and a bridge to a young quarterback.

The Eagles aren’t one of them. They’ve already crossed that bridge.
Nick FolesDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesNick Foles will enter the 2014 season as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback.
PHILADELPHIA -- Let's move to the offensive side of the ball this week in our position-by-position look at the state of the Eagles.

Since it's Presidents Day, let's look at the leader of the offense, the quarterback. This should be the easiest position on the team to assess, but in classic Eagles fashion, things are not as clear as they might seem.

Here's a mental exercise worth trying: Imagine the Eagles traded up in the 2012 draft and took Nick Foles with, say, the 12th pick in the first round. In this version of events, Andy Reid spent the summer of '12 talking about his plan to start Michael Vick early and ease Foles into the job -- just as he did with Donovan McNabb back in 1999.

When Chip Kelly took over, his approach would reflect Foles' status as a recent first-round pick. He might have the same competition between Vick and Foles that he had last summer, but Foles would have the edge in anything approaching a tie. Vick clearly had the edge in real life (and he played superbly in the preseason to claim the job).

Now put Foles' 2013 performance into the context of this alternate reality. The 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. The 8-2 record as a starter. The NFL-best passer rating. Offensive MVP of the Pro Bowl.

All that from a heralded first-round quarterback? Folks would be rushing to anoint Foles the starter for life instead of debating whether Kelly deep down wants a different style of quarterback to run his offense. When general manager Howie Roseman left open the possibility, however slight, of taking a quarterback in the first round of this year's draft, you would have checked him for a fever.

Imagine that kind of talk in Seattle, Indianapolis and Carolina, where young franchise quarterbacks are in place.

In Foles, the Eagles have their starter for 2014. Period. If he continues to perform at his 2013 level, Foles will get the kind of contract that establishes him as the franchise guy. If not, then we'll be talking about the true Kelly-style quarterbacks available in the 2015 draft.

There are legitimate reasons to withhold judgment on Foles. When things were going great, there was an unmistakable sense that he was very lucky as well as very good. When underthrown passes bounce off a defensive back's hands and into DeSean Jackson's for a touchdown -- which happened in Green Bay -- there is more than a little luck involved. On his record-tying seven touchdown passes in Oakland, Foles' receivers were almost comically open thanks to blown coverages and falling defenders.

In his final two games, Foles was frustrated by the defensive strategies deployed in Dallas and against New Orleans. He is going to see variations of those schemes next season until he and Kelly prove they have solved them. And he is going to face some pretty good defenses, Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina among them.

So 2014 will be Foles' acid test. He will be the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback all year, a first for him. As for his backups, that's another area where things get a little murky.

Roseman has said the Eagles would welcome Vick back if the veteran can't find a starting opportunity in free agency. The feeling here, though, is that everyone concerned feels it is best for Vick, and the Eagles, to move on.

Matt Barkley was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He played in three games as a rookie. In the first two, he was forced to play because of injuries to the starter and without the benefit of any meaningful practice reps.

So take Barkley's stats with the appropriate grain of salt. He completed 30 of 49 passes (61.2 percent) for 300 yards. Those numbers are actually pretty encouraging. But Barkley threw four interceptions and fumbled away one red zone opportunity. Those plays tend to stick in the memory better than the rest.

Can Barkley be the No. 2 quarterback behind Foles? Absolutely. If he's forced to play? Well, a midround pick from a major Pac-12 program in his second season -- that description would have applied to Foles in 2013 just as it applies to Barkley in 2014. G.J. Kinne, who was on the practice squad, knows the offense, but is not likely to be in the mix. Of course, the media hasn't seen him practice since training camp, so information is limited.

If the Eagles want to bring in a veteran free agent to compete with Barkley for the No. 2 spot, they will have good options: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Tarvaris Jackson, Josh McCown. Remember, we're talking about a solid veteran who would be competing with Barkley for the backup spot.

The draft should provide more possibilities. Using a first- or second-round pick would change the dynamic too much -- while shorting the many other areas the Eagles need to improve. But another midround pick? Certainly. Training and developing quarterbacks in the Kelly system should be a priority for as long the coach is here.
PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Cassel reportedly is opting out of his contract with the Minnesota Vikings, which could directly affect Michael Vick’s situation.

Cassel, 31, will be another veteran quarterback on the free-agent market. But his departure from Minnesota also creates another opening. Christian Ponder will be the only quarterback the Vikings have under contract.

With a new head coach, Mike Zimmer, and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Vikings are strong candidates to take a quarterback high in the 2014 draft. But sitting at No. 8 in the first round puts them at the mercy of seven other teams. So it would be smart for the Vikings to add a veteran quarterback they have confidence in.

Could that be the 33-year-old Vick? He seems an unlikely pairing with Turner, whose history is almost exclusively with traditional pocket quarterbacks like Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers and Gus Frerotte. But Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator getting his shot as a head coach, may want a mobile quarterback. He also may want to win right away, while Adrian Peterson is still an elite back. Those X factors could make Vick a candidate in Minnesota.

As for Cassel, he has a history with new Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Cassel and O’Brien were with the Patriots at the same time. O’Brien could be looking for a veteran to play ahead of a rookie if Houston takes a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.

Cassel also has a history with Bill Musgrave, the Eagles’ new quarterbacks coach. Musgrave was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota this past season, when Cassel riddled the Eagles' defense in a 48-30 Vikings win.

“I thought Cassel played a really good game,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said the day after that game. “You go back and watch the tape, and I thought he put the ball in some tight coverage sometimes and in perfect situations. … He was decisive. He ripped it, and put the ball on the money.”

Kelly’s unusually effusive praise for Cassel rang a bell the day he hired Musgrave, and it rings the same bell now. If Kelly is looking for a veteran to slot between Nick Foles and Matt Barkley on the depth chart, Cassel would be an interesting possibility.

Of course, Cassel probably wouldn’t have opted out of a contract that would have paid him $3.7 million for 2014 if he didn’t expect to land a starting job. That’s Vick’s hope, too. They will both be vying for the same precious few opportunities. But Cassel’s biggest impact on Vick could be claiming his fallback position, with the Eagles.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s easy to understand why Eagles coach Chip Kelly would be impressed with Bill Musgrave.

A month ago, Musgrave was calling the plays for the Minnesota Vikings when Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-30 blowout. Without Adrian Peterson or backup Toby Gerhart, Musgrave helped deal Kelly and the Eagles their only loss in the second half of the regular season.

[+] EnlargeBill Musgrave
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsBill Musgrave's work as the Vikings' playcaller likely impressed Eagles coach Chip Kelly during their December meeting.
Kelly hired Musgrave, the former Minnesota offensive coordinator, as his new quarterbacks coach on Tuesday. Musgrave, 46, replaces Bill Lazor, who left the Eagles after one season to become offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. The hiring was first reported by Alex Marvez of Fox Sports.

Musgrave’s history is intriguing for three very different reasons.

Most important, he has deep roots in the West Coast offense, as does Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Musgrave spent most of his playing career as a backup in San Francisco, where he played under Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. He followed Shanahan to Denver, where he backed up John Elway for a couple of years.

Kelly, of course, is not a West Coast offense guy. He dubbed the Eagles' offense the “See Coast” offense, because he and his staff borrow from things they see and like. Kelly stressed that the Eagles' offense is the product of his entire staff, not an attempt to replicate what he ran at Oregon.

After the season, rookie quarterback Matt Barkley said the Eagles’ running game was very similar to the one Barkley saw while playing for USC against Oregon. But the passing game had West Coast influences thanks to the presence of Shurmur and Lazor.

In that sense, then, Musgrave represents continuity.

Musgrave also has a history with Michael Vick, having served as quarterbacks coach for Vick’s final season in Atlanta. It isn’t clear whether that’s good or bad for Vick’s potential return to the Eagles, since the Falcons went 7-9 that year and took Matt Ryan in the first round of the 2008 draft. Musgrave worked with Ryan for two seasons.

The other interesting thing about Musgrave’s coaching career is the odd way that it began. He was hired immediately after his playing career as the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders, serving on the staff of a first-year head coach named Jon Gruden.

That job lasted for only the 1997 season.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were in utter disarray after losing Gruden, their offensive coordinator, to the Raiders. Head coach Ray Rhodes hired Dana Bible to replace Gruden, but by the end of training camp was already regretting the decision. Rhodes hired Musgrave as an offensive consultant.

By mid-October, Musgrave had unofficially taken over offensive coordinator duties. He was just 30 years old, a year younger than starting quarterback Rodney Peete. Bible remained on the staff. So did the quarterbacks coach, a young up-and-comer named Sean Payton.

The whole staff was fired at the end of that 3-13 season. Andy Reid and his crew came in as replacements.

Musgrave rebounded, coaching quarterbacks in Carolina, Jacksonville, Washington and Atlanta before becoming the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 2011. He returns to Philadelphia under much better circumstances this time around. Musgrave will work with Nick Foles, Barkley and possibly an as-yet unknown third quarterback.

One other change: Eric Chinander, the Eagles’ assistant defensive line coach, returned to the University of Oregon as a linebackers coach. Chinander followed Kelly to Philadelphia last year. Jerry Azzinaro remains the defensive line coach.

The way things have gone for the Philadelphia Eagles this season, you half expected to hear that Drew Brees fell down an elevator shaft or was hit by some space junk. But no, the New Orleans Saints' superb quarterback will not go the way of Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Tony Romo the week before their teams played the Eagles.

Of course, that doesn't mean anyone knows which Brees will show up for the first-round playoff game Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. Will it be the Brees with the 8-0 record at home, or the Brees who has gone 3-5 on the road this season?

In search of the answer to this and other questions, reporters Mike Triplett in New Orleans and Phil Sheridan in Philadelphia exchanged insight and info.

Phil Sheridan: Let’s start with the obvious: the disparity between the Saints at home and on the road. Is it mostly Brees? The fast track at the Superdome versus grass fields elsewhere? Exposure to electromagnetic waves in the outdoors? Some combination?

Mike Triplett: Shoot, if I had the answer to that question, I’d probably be interviewing for some of these head-coaching vacancies around the league. It really is a mystery. Of course, the most obvious answer is that it’s harder for all teams to play on the road -- especially when weather conditions become a factor. And the Saints have had some road struggles in the past (including an 0-3 playoff record with Sean Payton and Drew Brees). But even in those playoff losses, their offense showed up. We've never seen a season quite like this, where they've had so much trouble scoring points on the road.

Honestly, it’s really come down to the football stuff: Early turnovers that put them in a hole, drive-killing penalties, an inability to stop the run. I expect their offense will still put up plenty of yards and points in this game, but I’m curious to see if they can avoid those costly turnovers -- and if they can find a way to contain LeSean McCoy. Those are the trends they must reverse from their previous road losses.

While we’re dwelling on the negative, what could be the Eagles’ fatal flaw? If something goes wrong for them in this game, what do you think it will be?

Sheridan: The Snowball Effect. While the Eagles' defense has done a remarkable job of keeping points low -- 11 of the past 12 opponents have scored 22 or fewer -- there is a persistent suspicion that the smoke could clear and the mirrors could crack. Matt Cassel hung 48 points on them two weeks ago, the most since Peyton Manning put up 52 in Week 4. Even Sunday night, Kyle Orton was only a couple of slightly better throws away from scoring another touchdown or two. Brees is obviously capable of making those throws. If the Saints can move the ball the way many teams have, plus translate the yards into points, it could force the Eagles to play catch-up. And we haven’t really seen Nick Foles in a shootout-type game yet. Jay Cutler didn't show up two weeks ago when the Bears came to town, and a freak snowfall took Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson out of their game.

The stats say Rob Ryan has transformed the Saints' defense from a farce into a force. Does that align with what you see when you watch them? Does Ryan have the scheme and the personnel to be physical with the Eagles' receivers while getting pressure on Foles?

Triplett: That’s absolutely true, Phil. Ryan has been an outstanding fit for this team. I know Philly fans didn't see his best results with the Dallas Cowboys the past two years. But it must have been a perfect storm here, where the Saints' defense had just given up the most yards in NFL history under former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in 2012. The players were ready for a change -- and Ryan is all about change. He constantly adapts his approach from week to week, building around his players’ strengths and tailoring game plans for certain opponents.

Several young players are having breakout years -- including pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette (12 sacks each this season) and cornerback Keenan Lewis, who is a true No. 1 corner. He’s physical with long arms and plays well in man coverage. I imagine he’ll be matched up a lot against DeSean Jackson.

From what I've read about Chip Kelly, it seems as though he’s a kindred spirit of both Ryan and Sean Payton -- trying to create confusion and mismatches. Is it possible for you to boil down his philosophy to one or two paragraphs?

Sheridan: Force the issue. That’s the underlying principle. It’s behind the no-huddle, up-tempo approach, and it drives many of the unusual things he does with formations and blocking schemes. Kelly wants to spread the field horizontally and vertically, forcing defenses to account for every offensive player and every square foot of grass. He’ll line right tackle Lane Johnson out like a wide receiver, or left tackle Jason Peters at tight end on the right, or DeSean Jackson in the backfield, just to see how the defense responds. If he sees a mismatch, he’ll exploit it until the defense corrects it.

It must be said that Kelly inherited a lot of offensive talent that was pretty darn good under Andy Reid. The line has been outstanding and, just as important, healthy. Jackson, McCoy and the other skill players are exceptional. The X factor has been the way Foles has mastered what Kelly wants to do. There are a lot of quick reads and decisions for the quarterback to make -- whether it’s a zone-read or a package play with run/pass options -- and Foles has translated Kelly’s dry-erase board to the field very well, leading the Eagles to a 7-1 record since they were 3-5 at the midway point.

Payton is a similar creative offensive mind with an NFL pedigree. The first time I met him, he was the Eagles' quarterback coach on Ray Rhodes' late 1990s teams, trying to win with Bobby Hoying and various Detmers. Is he any different or more driven since serving his one-year suspension? Is there a sense the Saints are back where they belong and determined to make a deep run?

Triplett: I think it’s a great comparison. Although the offenses don’t look identical, the philosophies are the same -- create, identify and exploit mismatches. The Saints will actually rotate in a ton of different personnel groupings early in games, as well as mix up their formations, to see how defenses react.

Payton hasn't changed drastically this season. One of the things that stood out to me most early in the season was his patience in games -- how he’d stick with a methodical attack, settling for a lot of check-down passes, etc., to win games against teams such as Chicago and San Francisco. Lately, Payton's been a little stumped in similar-style games on the road, though.

Overall, the idea with him is that he is hyperfocused on every detail that can help this team win. Brees keeps saying Payton’s leaving no stone unturned. It started with switching defensive coordinators on his second day back on the job, then things such as changing the team’s conditioning program, then recently switching out the left tackle and kicker heading into Week 16.

I’ll leave you with a quick question, Phil. Who are the one or two players we haven’t talked about much who could have a big impact on this game? From my end, the answer would probably be those young pass-rushers, Jordan and Galette.

Sheridan: I’m going to go with the Eagles’ key pass-rushers, too -- Fletcher Cox, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. The Eagles didn't sack Orton at all Sunday night in Dallas. Orton is no Brees, but he does get the ball out quickly. So it might not result in many sacks against the Saints, but the defense has to disrupt Brees' rhythm as much as possible. Cole had eight sacks in the second half of the season. Cox has been outstanding at collapsing the pocket. Barwin is as likely to jam Jimmy Graham at the line of scrimmage as rush the passer.

But somebody from that group -- or maybe it will be Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry -- has to make Brees feel uncomfortable, or it’s going to be a long night for the Eagles. As you pointed out, the Saints have made more mistakes on the road than at home. Forcing some of those mistakes, preferably early, could make the air feel colder and the wind feel sharper.

PHILADELPHIA -- Tony Romo is officially out and the dynamics of the Philadelphia Eagles' showdown with the Dallas Cowboys are officially very different.

The pressure on Romo -- to win in Week 17, to avoid a fourth-quarter interception, to save coach Jason Garrett’s job -- does not shift to his backup, Kyle Orton.

It shifts to Nick Foles. Not all of it, of course. Foles doesn’t have Chip Kelly’s job security on his shoulders, and there isn’t an ongoing national debate about whether he rises or shrinks in clutch moments.

But Foles is now the clearly superior quarterback in a must-win game, and that comes with pressure to deliver.

“It’s very important to be a good quarterback on a big stage,” Foles said. “Obviously, this game is a little bit bigger because we want to keep playing. In these games, you really have to execute. You have to block out all the other distractions and other feelings.”

If Romo led the Cowboys to a victory and the NFC East title, that would be viewed as another step in Foles' learning process. Getting outdueled by Orton would be a little tougher for Eagles fans to digest.

“Tony Romo is a great player,” Foles said. “He’s a great quarterback. You never want to see anybody injured. I hope he has a speedy recovery and he heals. But I’m playing against that team. Tony doesn’t play defense and I don’t play defense. I don't really worry about that. I just know this is what it is and I’m going to be ready for it.”

Romo has played 16 career games against the Eagles, including a playoff game after the 2010 season. All but one of those were against Andy Reid-coached teams and their 4-3 defensive scheme.

In October, against Bill Davis’ 3-4 defense, Romo played well enough to win, but he was far from great. The Cowboys scored just three points in the first half. In the second half, Romo directed a third-quarter touchdown drive. After Foles went down with a concussion, the Cowboys spent the fourth quarter intercepting Matt Barkley and giving Romo the ball back.

Romo's final numbers: 28 for 47, 317 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. So you can see why Eagles defenders weren’t high-fiving in the meeting rooms when they heard Romo was injured. This is a group that just held Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears to 11 points.

It’s also a group that allowed 48 points the week before to Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings. So the sense is that the Eagles’ performance, rather than the identity of the opponent, will go a long way toward determining the outcome Sunday night.

“I don’t know who that team was (in Minnesota),” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “That wasn’t us. There can’t be any letdown. Our playoffs start this week. There’s no overlooking anybody.”

Other than Minnesota, the Eagles have held 10 of 11 opponents to 21 or fewer points. That includes Romo and the Cowboys in Week 7. If they can do that Sunday night, it should be enough to win.

If Foles delivers, that is.
PHILADELPHIA -- Cornerback Cary Williams raised some eyebrows a couple weeks back when he said he was "glad" the Eagles lost to the Minnesota Vikings.

"It definitely knocked us off our high horse," Williams said. "It's something that was bittersweet. It was sad that we lost, the bitter part, but it was sweet that we lost. ... It's great that they were able to knock us off. We learned from the experience. We're going to get better."

Two weeks after getting trounced by a Minnesota team without Adrian Peterson and with Matt Cassel playing quarterback, the Eagles are again preparing for a depleted opponent. This time, it's the Dallas Cowboys and the stakes are higher. With a division title on the line, it turns out Williams had a point -- the Eagles might be better for having been humbled a bit.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Matt Cassel and the Vikings hammered the Eagles 48-30 earlier this month.
"You saw what happened the last time we played a backup quarterback," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "Nobody here is taking anybody lightly."

The Cowboys appear likely to be without their quarterback, Tony Romo, and their quarterback on defense, inside linebacker Sean Lee.

"I know they're going to miss (Lee)," Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. "But I also know teams rally when guys are hurt, so I'm going to be ready for their best shot."

It isn't that the Eagles don't care who plays quarterback Sunday night. There are very practical football considerations if the less mobile Kyle Orton plays instead of the freewheeling Romo.

"You know where he's going to be," linebacker Brandon Graham said or Orton.

"We have to get back there really fast," linebacker Trent Cole said. "He likes to get the ball out. He's a rhythm quarterback. We've just got to get to him. Romo, he's very athletic. He can get out of the pocket. He can get hot.

"Of course we're very curious -- who's going to be the quarterback? But it's not going to change anything. We might not know until we step on the field who we're playing."

Head coach Chip Kelly didn't buy the Minnesota angle for a minute. That would mean acknowledging that his team wasn't prepared properly for the Vikings game, and Kelly isn't about to do that.

"I don't think that was our mind set going in," Kelly said. "I thought we had a great week of practice and as I said before, I think you've got to give Matt Cassel a lot of credit. Go back and watch the film of how well he played in that game -- they made plays and we didn't and that's what it is. I don't think anybody in this group was like, ‘Hey, we don't have to get ready this week because such and such and such and such isn't going to play.' I know this team is not going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe trick. We are not concerned with that stuff."

However you brand it, the loss to Minnesota is fresh enough to prevent a repeat of the Eagles' flat approach. And if that doesn't do it, the stakes this Sunday should.

"We're fighting for the division," Cole said. "This is. Win or go home. This is where we start our road to the Super Bowl or we end our road to the Super Bowl and get ready for next year. This is big."
PHILADELPHIA -- If it’s better to be lucky than good, the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles could win the NFC East title by being a little of both.

They opened the season against Washington, with Robert Griffin III looking very much like a young quarterback who hadn’t taken a preseason snap.

They played Tampa Bay in Mike Glennon's second career start, while the Buccaneers were dealing with fallout from the Josh Freeman mess and a MRSA outbreak.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Matt RourkeTony Romo passed for 317 yards in Dallas' 17-3 win against Philadelphia on Oct. 20.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone six days before the Eagles played the Packers, and his backup, Seneca Wallace, left with an injury in the first quarter.

When the Eagles were worried about how to cover Calvin Johnson, eight inches of snow covered the Detroit receiver for them.

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson injured his foot the week before the Eagles played the Vikings. His backup, Toby Gerhart, also missed that game.

And now Tony Romo will be out for the biggest game of the season, the virtual playoff game between the Eagles and Dallas, according to ESPN reports.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Chip Kelly’s super-secret sports science program includes hexes and voodoo dolls.

While there will be plenty of jokes about the Cowboys being better off without Romo and his 1-6 record in win-or-go-home games, his absence clearly takes some of the luster off of this much anticipated battle for the NFC East title.

Kelly, speaking before the news broke, had little regard for those criticisms of Romo. He cited the game-winning touchdown Romo threw Sunday to beat Washington and force the showdown with the Eagles.

“Fourth [down], game on the line, scrambles, keeps the ball alive, hits the mark to [DeMarco] Murray and they win the game,” Kelly said. “I'm always on what you did last, and what he did last was pretty special -- the way he avoided the rush, kept drives alive, and I think he's as talented a quarterback as there is in this league.

“Any time with that position, sometimes I think you get probably too much credit and too much blame. But he's one of the really, really, really good quarterbacks we've seen, and I said that the first time we played him. If you're a fan of just quarterback play, he's pretty special.”

As the Eagles learned the hard way, a little luck is no guarantee. They went to Minnesota two Sundays ago knowing that Peterson and Gerhart were unlikely to play. And they still were stomped 48-30 by Matt Cassel and the Vikings. A virtually unknown running back named Matt Asiata ran for three touchdowns in that game.

Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton has more of a pedigree than Asiata or -- sticking with his position -- Glennon, Wallace or Scott Tolzien, who played most of the Packers game. Orton has faced the Eagles twice. He beat them in 2008 while with the Bears, and lost to them the following year as a Bronco.

Though the Eagles have had their share of luck this season, they aren’t going to feel too sorry for the Cowboys. Remember, Michael Vick was their starting quarterback when the season began. After he was hurt, Nick Foles took over and played too well to be sent back down the depth chart.

Throughout that process, Kelly repeatedly said that you had to have two good quarterbacks in the NFL. The Packers found out what happens when you don’t. If Orton isn’t able to compete, that’s on the Cowboys for not having another quarterback in development.

The year Orton and the Bears beat them, the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game against Arizona. If Orton can beat them this time, they’re going home.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 15, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' ugly 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday:

What it means: Eagles coach Chip Kelly officially has a bad loss on his NFL résumé. His Eagles were in first place in the NFC East, facing a 3-9-1 team without its best player, running back Adrian Peterson. Instead of securing their hold on a playoff berth, the Eagles were flat and looked unprepared and poorly coached in all three phases. Kelly didn’t use running back LeSean McCoy enough and handed the Vikings three points by going for a fourth-and-1 at his own 24-yard line in the third quarter. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had no answers for Matt Cassel, even with the Vikings down to a practice-squad running back. Special-teams coach Dave Fipp’s plan to kick away from Cordarrelle Patterson gave the Vikings great field position all game.

Shredded and wounded: Philadelphia's secondary was terrible even before losing nickel corner Brandon Boykin (possible concussion) and safety Kurt Coleman (hamstring). Cassel beat the Eagles deep for a 57-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings in the first quarter. He was able to convert third downs all too easily. Safety Patrick Chung was benched in favor of Coleman, then had to return when Coleman got hurt. Colt Anderson, forced into action, got burned on a big play by tight end Chase Ford. To make matters worse, the secondary committed a rash of penalties in the fourth quarter to fuel a Vikings touchdown drive.

Stock watch: Falling: Nick Foles. He wasn’t Sports Illustrated-cover-jinx terrible, but the magic carpet ride is over. Foles took sacks by holding the ball too long. He threw a jump ball for DeSean Jackson that was intercepted. Foles was also called for a penalty for an illegal block, which negated a Jackson touchdown run on a reverse. Foles threw three second-half touchdown passes, but his chance to stage a comeback win was undermined by the Eagles’ inability to stop the Vikings at all.

What’s next: The Eagles face two must-win games. They host the Chicago Bears next week in a game that was flexed into prime time. Then they finish the regular season at the Dallas Cowboys, a game that could decide the NFC East title. The Eagles, who would lose on tiebreakers if they finish with the same record as the Cowboys, made things harder on themselves by not taking care of the Vikings.

Double Coverage: Vikings at Cowboys

October, 31, 2013
Jared Allen and Tony RomoAP PhotoJared Allen's Vikings and Tony Romo's Cowboys match up on Sunday in a game where neither team looks like much of a playoff threat.

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys kick off the second half of their season at AT&T Stadium on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, who are still looking for their first win in the United States this season.

A playoff team a year ago, the Vikings have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL. At 4-4, the Cowboys are looking at their third straight 8-8 season under Jason Garrett. Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer debate the game in this week’s Double Coverage.

Archer: I think a lot of people assumed the Vikings would be a serious playoff threat, but obviously that’s not the case. How is it sitting with the veterans on the team like Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and guys who have experienced success?

Goessling: A lot of those players have been disappointed, but they all seem to be sticking behind coach Leslie Frazier, at least for now. There have been a few hints of discontent from players with the defensive scheme, but nobody seems to be quitting on the season. A lot of the problems are out of the Vikings’ control, at least in the sense that they can do only so much with the roster they have. It’s hard to win and have an open competition at quarterback at the same time. And the Vikings’ moves in the secondary have backfired terribly. This hasn’t been the same team without Antoine Winfield, and now that Harrison Smith is hurt, the Vikings have few playmakers on the back end of their defense.

Speaking of quarterbacks, it looks like Tony Romo is playing some of his best football this year. I suppose with him, we never really know what to think until the playoffs, but does it seem to you like he’s turned any type of a corner?

Archer: I think he’s played at a higher level than most people want to say for the past few years, but he’s been stuck with this tag that he can’t shake until (if) the Cowboys make the playoffs and win a couple of games. This year, he has more say in the offense in terms of the game plan, so I think that has him feeling more weight to make the correct play and not be so much of a gunslinger. He’s struggled the past three games with his accuracy, but he’s made big plays and mostly stayed away from the bad ones. He remains creative when things break down, but he’s also willing to take a sack or throw the ball away.

Peterson is coming home, so to speak. How have things been different for him this season after 2,000 yards last season?

Goessling: He has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury for the past few weeks, but I think the biggest problem for Peterson has been the play of his offensive line. The group hasn’t been anywhere near as good as it was last season at opening holes for Peterson, and fullback Jerome Felton has struggled to get into a rhythm after missing the first three games because of a suspension. At times, Peterson has looked impatient, wanting to make that one extra cut for a 60-yard run and winding up with a 2- or 3-yarder when the hole closes. He’s also seeing more eight-man fronts than any other back in the league, and without a line that’s able to handle the extra attention, Peterson isn’t going to beat those defenses all the time. Even he isn’t that good.

But maybe this is the week the Vikings can resurrect their passing game, playing against the worst pass defense in the league. Are the Cowboys so bad that they’ll have trouble even with the Vikings’ ensemble cast at quarterback?

Archer: Unless Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman or Matt Cassel morph into Peyton or Eli Manning, Philip Rivers or Matthew Stafford, I can’t see it happening, even as bad as the pass defense has been. When it has played against middling quarterbacks -- Alex Smith (yes, I know he’s 8-0, but he’s not a great passer), Sam Bradford, a returning-to-health Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles -- the defense has looked good. When it has faced top passers, it has allowed the most 400-yard games in NFL history for a season -- in just eight games. Monte Kiffin’s scheme is very basic and designed to not give up big plays, yet the Cowboys have given up a ton of big plays. They have missed DeMarcus Ware the past two games and will have a banged-up secondary Sunday. If Ware returns, that should help, but I think the biggest aid for the defense will be whomever Frazier picks to play quarterback.

For years, the strength of the Vikings D, to me anyway, has been the pass rush. Statistically, it’s not very good, but is that a product of the secondary issues you talked about?

Goessling: I’d say it’s the other way around. The Vikings were certainly better in the secondary last year than they are this year, but they were helped out by the fact the front four was getting to the quarterback enough to keep teams from exploiting them in the passing game. This year, the Vikings have been done in by teams that can get the ball out quickly (the Lions and Packers, especially), and they just haven’t gotten much push up the middle. Allen and Brian Robison are hustling, but they can do only so much when they’re getting the bulk of opposing teams’ attention. The Vikings still aren’t a blitz-heavy team, but they have had to bring extra guys a little more often than usual this year and Aaron Rodgers burned them on a blitz Sunday. If Romo gets the ball out quickly, he should have plenty of openings. The good news for the Cowboys is A) the Vikings could have three defensive backs out with injury, and B) Josh Robinson will be on the field.

The week after the Vikings lost in the final seconds against the Bears, they got beat by the Browns at home. Do you expect any kind of shell shock from the Cowboys after that Matthew Stafford touchdown last week?

Archer: I really don’t. The Cowboys have had so many of these types of losses that they know how to bounce back. The bad thing is they have had to do this too often. We came up with 21 losses since 2005 that can be described as “crazy” with late-game shenanigans. The Lions loss was just another one to add to the list. The Cowboys lost a game in 2010 because they missed an extra point. They lost a game in 2008 in overtime on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. And those both came at Arizona.

So the Cowboys somehow do a good job of compartmentalizing things and putting a bad week behind them. Garrett deserves some credit for that, I guess.

It looks as though the Kansas City Chiefs will be the first of the seven teams that fired their head coaches to hire a new one, and it appears the man they will hire will be former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. I know Eagles fans are more interested in reading about Reid's replacement in Philadelphia, but that process appears to have a long way to go yet and I assume there's some residual interest in Reid, so a short post on this is worthwhile before we turn Big Red over to Bill Williamson's blog.

Reid will have a lot going for him in Kansas City. He'll have the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, three Pro Bowlers on defense and one on offense, Jamaal Charles, who's a speedy big-play threat at running back. He goes to a place where the fan base has just as much passion without the same ... (how to put this without offending too many people?) ... "edge." He'll be a fresh voice who commands respect based on his reputation and the success he had in Philadelphia, and his reputation as a coach for whom players enjoy playing is likely to make his transition easy.

But the question is whether he can be successful with the Chiefs, and to answer that we need at least two more bits of information:

1. Who's the quarterback? Shaky quarterback play was the common thread this Black Monday. By and large the coaches who got fired, including Reid, had teams with bad or unreliable performances at quarterback this season. One of those coaches was Kansas City's Romeo Crennel, who found himself bouncing back and forth between Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. That's the quarterback situation Reid inherits, and it's a bad one. And while the Chiefs do have the No. 1 pick in the draft, there does not appear to be a franchise-level Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III type to take this year. Can Reid fix Cassel or Quinn? Can he find a solution on the free-agent market, such as Alex Smith or Matt Flynn, and turn that into something? Does he bring Michael Vick along with him? None of the potential solutions is perfect. Each challenge Reid's reputation as a quarterback-maker. And Reid's ability to find and implement the appropriate solution is likely to determine whether he can succeed in his new job.

2. Who's running the defense? Reid's defenses in Philadelphia were at best inconsistent and at worst terrible in the four years since the late Jim Johnson held the job. Reid tried three defensive coordinators in that time, and the problems were evident. Reid's going to need to bring a strong and effective defensive coordinator with him if he's going to succeed as head coach in Kansas City. And if he's looking for innovation, he should leave it in the hands of the coordinator and not the defensive line coach.

Eagles-Chiefs: Random observations

August, 28, 2010
Kevin KolbJohn Rieger/US PresswireKevin Kolb was just 11- for-25 for 103 yards against the Chiefs, and he was sacked four times.
If Andy Reid was trying not to show anything on offense in Friday's preseason game in Kansas City, he did a remarkable job. The Eagles lost their most explosive player, DeSean Jackson, on their first possession to what Reid called a neck strain and then defensive end Trent Cole was carted off the field with an ankle injury. Neither injury looks too serious, although Cole will have an MRI on Saturday. Here's some observations I've made after watching a replay of the game:

  • Scary injury to Chiefs rookie linebacker Cameron Sheffield in the third quarter. I sort of lost interest in the game after that. Sheffield wasn't moving his arms or legs as he was carted off the field. Hoping we have some encouraging news on him soon.

  • Perhaps the Eagles gave up on Andy Studebaker too quickly. He had two sacks in the first half for the Chiefs and celebrated as if we were in Week 8. And early in the fourth quarter, it was Studebaker who forced Kevin Kolb to unload the ball before he was ready in the red zone.

  • Cornerback Asante Samuel's been looking for a 5-foot-7 player to tackle for years. Rookie Dexter McCluster gave him that opportunity late in the second quarter. That was a pretty nice hit, although the flexing after the tackle was a bit much. McCluster's going to be a fan favorite in Kansas City. Probably the most entertaining player on the field once Jackson made his exit.

  • I liked how rookie defensive end Brandon Graham stood his ground when Todd Haley tried to run the ball into the end zone in the second quarter. He then came back with a nice bull rush on the Chiefs' right tackle. Ernie Sims should've had the interception on the awful pass from Matt Cassel. He threw a touchdown on the next play. Looked like Quintin Mikell and Samuel were trying to decide who's fault it was. I thought Samuel was out of position on the play.

  • How do you not throw those crossing patterns to Jeremy Maclin all the time? It's impossible to cover. I didn't think Maclin was aggressive enough in going for some of Kolb's passes. On the deep ball in the first half, Maclin allowed Brandon Carr to rip the ball away. Then Maclin dropped a ball late in the first half when he felt Carr closing fast.

  • Left tackle Jason Peters picked up right where he left off last season with some untimely false starts. The second false start knocked the Eagles out of field goal position.

  • Late in the first half, Todd Haley called a delayed draw to Jamaal Charles and defensive end Darryl Tapp really made a weak attempt on the tackle. On the same drive, Ernie Sims couldn't make a play on Charles in the open field after he caught a swing pass from Cassel. I kept reading how Sims was destroying his teammates in camp, but Chiefs running backs were bouncing off him for additional yardage Friday.

  • Somebody better teach Kevin Kolb how to slide -- and I mean now. He moves really well, but he can't keep leading with his head or we'll be seeing a lot of Michael Vick this season.

  • Best literary retweet of the evening: Daily News beat man Les Bowen retweeted this from HighCheese: "Kafka known for ability to portray despair, not lead football team out of it."

  • Chad Hall was shaky on punt returns in the second half. Hopefully he'll make it to the practice squad because there's not going to be a spot for him on the 53-man roster.

  • Kolb made a really poor decision to throw it up for grabs on the interception in the third quarter. Maclin didn't have a chance to make the play because he was bracketed by a cornerback and safety. Easy pick for Kendrick Lewis, a fifth-round pick out of Ole Miss.

  • Rookie linebacker Jamar Chaney took a really poor angle on the Thomas Jones touchdown run in the third quarter. Looked like the big tight end Leonard Pope held Quintin Demps on the play. Chiefs broadcasters laud Jones for his willingness to bypass autographs seekers in order to spend extra time in the weight room. Someone get this man an Ed Block Courage award.

  • I was not impressed with Bobby April's coverage units. McCluster gave the Eagles fits on kickoff returns.

  • Rookie cornerback Trevard Lindley has shown flashes, but I didn't like him in run support in the fourth quarter. McCluster made one little inside move and Lindley went flying out of the picture. On another McCluster run in the fourth quarter, defensive end Ricky Sapp allowed himself to be driven off the ball, leaving a large running lane.

  • Really nice play by defensive end Eric Moncur to bring down McCluster in the backfield in the fourth quarter. The play pushed the Chiefs out of field goal range.

  • Rookie left tackle Austin Howard has been impressive this preseason, but he was beaten badly on an inside move by a reserve Chiefs defensive end and Mike Kafka was sacked. In other rookie news, linebacker Keenan Clayton made a really nice open-field tackle to force the Chiefs to punt in the fourth quarter.

Wrap-up: Eagles 34, Chiefs 14

September, 27, 2009

Posted by's Matt Mosley

The buildup to this game was all about Michael Vick's return to the NFL, but Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb stole the show. Vick finished 0-of-2 passing and gained seven yards on the ground. He didn't look particularly bad, but his impact was minimal.

Kolb, on the other hand, did exactly what he needed to. He put a bad team away early with some really nice throws and he didn't turn the ball over. He was 24 of 34 for 327 yards and two touchdowns. Even though he threw for a lot of yards last week, he looked a lot more comfortable in his second start. It's not like he's going to overtake Donovan McNabb any time soon, but at least the Eagles know he can play relatively well in a couple of spot starts.

I was particularly impressed with the way he drove his passes down the field early in the second half. He was putting the ball in spots where only DeSean Jackson had a chance to catch them -- and he just didn't have many careless plays at all. Jackson showed why he's one of the most electrifying players in the division, finishing with six catches for 149 yards and a touchdown.

And it was a great sign for the Eagles that rookie running back LeSean McCoy was very effective. Their confidence in McCoy is one of the reasons Brian Westbrook will get plenty of time for his ankle to heal. The Eagles ran out of the Wildcat formation 15 times, gaining 55 yards. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but it's a start.

Vick hinted after the game that the Eagles may have been keeping some things under wraps against the Chiefs. He believes the offense will open up a little bit more as the season continues. And it sounded like he felt like 11 plays were enough for him -- at least at this point. The Eagles now head into their bye week with a 2-1 record. Normally they wouldn't like having such an early bye, but with Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook recovering from injuries, things have worked out pretty well.

The best news for the Eagles, though, was probably the defensive performance. They shut down the Chiefs' running game and refused to let Matt Cassel throw the ball downfield. The Chiefs are not a good football team right now and the Eagles did what they needed to do to them. It was also a good week for the special teams unit following the previous Sunday's debacle against the Saints.

The Eagles didn't make nearly as many mistakes and now they get an early break.

Eagles' Hobbs stops by SportsNation

June, 30, 2009

Posted by's Matt Mosley

Since Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs grew up playing high school ball down the street from my house in Dallas (actually 25 miles), I looked forward to reading his SportsNation chat transcript. Unfortunately, Hobbs appeared to be in a rush during the chat -- considering he averaged about 11 words per answer.


But I'm sure he'll open up a little bit in the future. He was asked to describe his relationship with former Patriots teammate Asante Samuel.

"Everyone portrays it negatively because we're different styles of player, but we're actually good friends," said Hobbs in one of his longer answers.

Hmm. Did you guys realize that Hobbs and Samuel's relationship had been portrayed "negatively?" I guess that was a relationship I didn't really follow until recently. I don't call it being a "Jon and Kate" type negativity, but we'll do some back reading to see how Samuel and Hobbs were once portrayed.

Hobbs was also asked which receiver he looked most forward to playing against. Interestingly (mildly), he went with a quarterback instead.

"Probably the receiver I'm looking forward to facing the most is not necessarily a receiver, but a quarterback ... Matt Cassel," said Hobbs during the chat. "He was my teammate and I'm looking forward to playing against him."

During my weekly chat, which was well-attended I might add, Eagles fans wanted to know whether Hobbs would be returning kicks this season. Here's his response to that question:

"That's the million-dollar question right there," writes Hobbs. "I would like to, if I can still be successful at it, but we would have to see, depending on the status."

So I guess that pretty much sums it up. Can't believe we just got a blog entry out of that chat. Pretty remarkable.

Update: Hobbs also stopped by for a quick podcast chat where he spoke about what it was like playing for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, how talented Randy Moss is, his relationship with Tom Brady and what he expects from Philadelphia.