NFC East: Matt Hasselbeck

Chess match: Fletcher versus Manning

October, 24, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning waves his arms, shouts signals and tries to confuse the defense -- either with an audible or with a false call. He’s one of the best in the NFL, perhaps the best, at doing this and at knowing what the defense wants to do.

Meanwhile, Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher has been one of the best at his position dissecting offenses.

Fletcher
Manning
“It’s definitely somewhat of a chess match,” Fletcher said. “But he’s definitely a master chess player.”

Fletcher and Manning have been two of the most successful players from the class of 1998. You can’t say draft class because Fletcher wasn’t drafted. Manning, though, went No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts. Yet here they both still are, Manning with the Broncos (his second team) and Fletcher with the Redskins (his third). Both have won a Super Bowl, albeit with other teams. Manning never missed a game until sitting out the 2011 season -- and he hasn't missed one since returning. Fletcher, of course, has played in 246 consecutive games.

Ironically, after Sunday the Redskins will have faced the remaining members of that 1998 class: Oakland Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson; Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck; Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly. Manning and Woodson both went in the top 5; Hasselbeck and Mannelly were sixth-round picks.

“Us old graybeards out there,” Fletcher said. “[Manning] don’t wear a beard, but I do. If he did, he’d probably have some greys in his beard as well. It’s not a lot of guys left from ’98.”

There’s a kinship that develops knowing you came out in the same year. Fletcher might not want to see Manning fare well Sunday, but he’s glad to see him still performing at a high level.

“I like to see that. I take pride in that to see him playing at the level he’s playing at,” Fletcher said. “He’s off to the best start I think he’s ever had so that says something about him, his preparation, his work ethic, the things he’s done to get himself back to this level.”

To which Manning says: right back at ya.

“For him to always answer the bell every Sunday, it tells you how tough he is. It tells you also what a professional he is,” Manning said, “keeping himself in great shape and taking care of himself. But also, there’s real want-to in that. There’s no question. He’s had tons and tons of injuries, but he always answers the bell. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen. A smart veteran and really kind of the leader of that defense -- gets them lined up. It’s always a challenge playing against London.”

Observation deck: Colts-Giants

August, 18, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the benefit of those who are new around here, I'll restate this: I simply will not overreact to preseason NFL games. If you, as a fan, want to do that, that's fine with me. But don't come here expecting me to join in. So if you want me to tell you to be worried that the New York Giants had trouble scoring in the red zone in Sunday night's 20-12 "loss" to the Indianapolis Colts, or that they struggled to cover receivers, or that Eli Manning didn't look sharp, too bad. You're going to have to go get that somewhere else. History clearly shows us that preseason games offer no predictive value whatsoever. Teams aren't game-planning for each other this time of year, and the fact that one team's offense/defense was effective/ineffective against another's on Aug. 18 is simply immaterial. How bad the Giants looked Sunday night means no more than how bad the Cowboys looked Saturday or how good the Eagles looked Thursday. It's the wrong place to focus.

So what we do here when we break down preseason games is highlight some individual performances or personnel patterns that might turn out to be noteworthy or significant. And, of course, we discuss injuries, which is where we will start Sunday night.
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz and center David Baas both left the game during the first offensive series for X-rays, which turned out to be negative. The Giants say Baas has a knee sprain and Cruz has a heel bruise. Both are likely to get more tests, Baas especially. And while the news on Cruz obviously could have been worse, it's worth watching to see whether this is something that limits him this week in practice.
  • "He runs to make his living, and, obviously, he's got an issue with his heel," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Cruz. "Hopefully, it's not going to be a long thing. They're going to continue to do some tests on him."
  • Justin Tuck also left the game with a hamstring injury. Prior to that, I personally thought Tuck looked great. I'd singled him out prior to the game as someone I was going to watch, and in the first quarter he looked quick and energized as he hassled Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and batted down a pass. An energized Tuck would be a tremendous positive for the Giants this season, provided, of course, that energy comes with fully healthy hamstrings.
  • David Wilson is a lot of fun to watch run. He broke a 21-yarder and threw in a 16-yard reception on which he almost impossibly avoided falling to the ground along the sideline. But unless I missed one, there wasn't a single third down during his part of the game on which he wasn't replaced by Andre Brown. We know how important pass protection is going to be when evaluating these running backs and assigning them carries, and it seems clear that the Giants trust Brown more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. Brown looked good picking up blitzing safety Antoine Bethea on a third-down play in the second quarter that resulted in an 11-yard pass to Rueben Randle. Can that change before the season starts? Sure, and certainly before it ends. But a Wilson/Brown backfield committee looks like the plan right now. Brown had 36 yards on eight carries and caught one pass. Wilson had 34 yards on eight carries and caught two passes. Wilson did not return any kickoffs.
  • Michael Cox looks like a keeper, and not just because he looks like a non-Wilson option on kick returns. Cox had just two carries for four yards but also had two long receptions out of the backfield -- one for 20 yards and another for 28. "He's got a lot of fight," Coughlin said. "He breaks tackles, and he's very persistent in what he does. And he does the same thing on special teams, so he's making good progress." Cox is obviously ahead of Da'Rel Scott, who did not play in the game, in pursuit of a roster spot. And it's possible he could pass Ryan Torain on the depth chart as well, though Torain went into the game before he did and shows a lot as a blocker.
  • Right tackle David Diehl got beaten badly on a couple of plays, one of which resulted in an Erik Walden sack of Manning. But the Giants seem committed to playing him at right tackle over first-round rookie Justin Pugh, who's being brought along slowly. The offensive line is tough to judge because right guard Chris Snee barely played (he's still recovering from offseason hip surgery) and Baas went out early.
  • Lots of moving the linebackers in and out. Tough to pick out anything that either Mark Herzlich or Dan Connor did to separate himself in the middle linebacker competition. Jacquian Williams showed excellent speed and quickness in short-range coverage on a third-down pass attempt by Matt Hasselbeck to Robert Hughes in the third quarter. Williams is likely the Giants' best coverage linebacker and as such was used mainly on passing downs.
  • Justin Trattou had a sack on which he got help from Marvin Austin and Adewale Ojomo in collapsing the pocket. It was a decent night for the Giants' backup defensive ends in terms of creating pressure, even though they got only one sack. As for the defensive tackles, Austin looked fine on that one play but, in general, doesn't show much power at the point of attack. Second-round pick Johnathan Hankins looks like he could stand to get stronger as well.
  • Coughlin said last week that David Carr would play this game and Curtis Painter would play Saturday's game against the Jets. With fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib sure to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback, Carr and Painter are competing for the No. 2 job. Carr was just meh -- seven for 11, 57 yards -- and he got sacked three times. I guess if Painter looks great, he could win the job. But the Giants know and like Carr, so it's no sure thing.
  • And, finally, on the Reggie Wayne touchdown catch that first bounced off the hands of cornerback Aaron Ross: Ross said the lights blinded him and he lost the ball. He said he usually wears eye black or special contact lenses that help with that, but for some reason he wasn't wearing them Sunday. "Just one of those freak plays that thankfully doesn't count," Ross said. "I knew he was behind me, so as soon as I hit it, I looked back and … it was bad."

Preseason, though, Aaron. Just preseason. As Ross pointed out, it didn't count. None of it. And while Coughlin was annoyed about the performance, that's his job -- to keep giving these guys things to work on in the final three weeks before the start of the regular season.
PHOENIX -- Good morning again from the desert, where it's 5 a.m. and I may be sleeping while you read this. Can't say officially. Anyway, it's AFC coaches' breakfast day today at the NFL owners' meetings, which means most of the juicy stuff in our division is still a day away. But we'll have plenty, I promise, and it starts as always with a big plate of links.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins continue to work on re-signing tight end Fred Davis (and third-string quarterback Rex Grossman, in case you're wondering), but to this point have not been able to come to terms. Since they likely need to clear more cap room in order to fit Davis under the cap, keep an eye out for news on potential restructures. That could portend a signing, maybe.

Mike Shanahan says he won't put Robert Griffin III into a game until he's 100 percent recovered from his knee surgery, and that the Redskins are planning for backup Kirk Cousins to take the first-team reps in preseason. An abundance of caution is completely the way to go in this case.

New York Giants

The biggest difference on the Giants' defense next year could turn out to be up front, where the starting ends might do less rotating in and out of position than they did in years past.

With David Carr looking for work on the free-agent market, the Giants need a backup quarterback for Eli Manning and expressed interest in recently released veteran Matt Hasselbeck, though it appears he'll end up in Indianapolis.

Dallas Cowboys

Stephen Jones revealed in a lobby session with the media Monday that the Cowboys had re-signed linebacker Ernie Sims, but of greater interest to fans may be that he said Kyle Wilber would be the starting strongside linebacker as of today.

The Cowboys are one of the candidates to play in the preseason-opening Hall of Fame game this year in Canton, Ohio. Traditionally, that's an extra preseason game, which would mean the Cowboys (and their opponent) would play five instead of the usual four.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jeffrey Lurie said the reason he went on last week's scouting trip to West Virginia to see quarterback Geno Smith was because the decision about whether to pick a quarterback No. 4 overall -- whether they actually do it or not -- is a huge one and the owner needs to be involved. Said the last one he remembered going on was to see Donovan McNabb, which he said was the last time his team had a "lottery pick."

Reuben Frank has the contract details on the Eagles' recent free-agent signings and a rundown of the team's financial and salary cap state at this point in the offseason.

NFC East Top 20: No. 1 Eli Manning

September, 4, 2012
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In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

No. 1 -- Eli Manning, Giants QB

Manning
This wasn't easy, and the fact that it wasn't easy to pick a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback as the best player in the division says a ton about the rest of the players in the division. It was a very tough, close call between Manning and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware for this spot, and I gave more than a passing thought to Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who finished third.

But in the end, Manning deserves the spot. He's earned it by performing with incredible consistency at a high level and in the biggest of spots. He ranks behind only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck in passing yards among active quarterbacks, and each of those players has at least a three-year head start on him. He's fifth (behind those same four guys) in touchdown passes among active quarterbacks. Only Peyton Manning, Brady, Brees and Ben Roethlisberger among active quarterbacks have engineered more game-winning drives, and only Peyton Manning and Brady have more comeback victories.

So Eli is a top-level quarterback in terms of production (and in spite of a stubborn, lingering reputation to the contrary), but what truly sets him apart as a great player is the way he's performed during the two Super Bowl title runs the Giants have made with him under center. He has a 61.5 career completion percentage, a 17-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his 11 career playoff games and has led the team from behind to beat Bill Belichick, Brady and the New England Patriots in two separate Super Bowls. He's the unquestioned leader of his team, the calming influence which Giants players know they can count on in tough times, a key to his team's uncanny ability to handle adversity and a proven champion without whose individual performance those Super Bowl titles would not have been possible. The best quarterback in the NFC East is the most clutch quarterback in the NFL right now and is the division's best player.

The rest of the rankings:

2. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys
3. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles RB
4. Trent Cole, DE, Eagles DE
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
6. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
7. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
8. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
9. Jason Babin, DE, Eagles
10. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
11. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins
12. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles
13. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys
14. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins
15. Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
16. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
17. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles
18. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
19. Evan Mathis, G, Eagles
20. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants

Was Babin the best free-agent signing?

December, 30, 2011
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Over at the AFC South blog, Paul Kuharsky has a post that says the Texans' Johnathan Joseph was the most valuable free-agent signing of this past offseason. Surely, the transformation of the Texans' defense is a big part of the reason for their division title, and Joseph was a big part of that transformation.

But if you disagree with the choice, there's a SportsNation poll in Paul's post that allows you to vote for someone besides Joseph as the best 2011 free-agent signing. Other choices include New Orleans running back Darren Sproles, Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Denver running back Willis McGahee and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason Babin.

What's interesting about this is that none of these guys was projected to have the impact he has had, while bigger-name signings have had far less impact. I guess that's the way it always works, but it got me thinking.

Babin was clearly the best free-agent signing in our division, the best of many by the Eagles, who likely imagined ballyhooed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha would top their list. Asomugha has played fine, for the most part, but has had some memorable negative moments in his first season in Philadelphia. Babin, meanwhile, ranks among the league leaders in sacks and has made it clear that his first season as a dominant NFL pass-rusher (2010, in Tennessee) was no fluke.

So Asomugha was supposed to be the Eagles' best free-agent signing, but Babin actually was. How about our other three teams? Let's take a look:

Dallas Cowboys

Then: The biggest deal was to lock up left tackle Doug Free before he hit the market, and the Cowboys did. But Free has been a disappointment and could be moving back to right tackle next season as impressive rookie Tyron Smith moves over to the left side. Free-agent safeties Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh have had their moments but are part of a struggling secondary.

Now: The Cowboys' best signing turned out to be wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who has 797 yards and nine touchdowns on 50 catches. He answered the team's preseason questions about the No. 3 receiver spot and was a more-than-adequate replacement for Miles Austin during Austin's many injury problems.

New York Giants

Then: The Giants eschewed external free-agent pursuits because of the importance of signing their own. At the time, the highest priority was running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who has played well on either side of the foot injury that cut out the middle of his season. Center David Baas has been a bit of a disappointment in his first year in New York.

Now: When the Giants re-signed defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and said they would be moving him to linebacker, it seemed like a desperate move from a team that had very little behind its defensive line. But Kiwanuka has been a major stabilizing force for the Giants at his new position, and he still moves up to rush the passer with his old defensive line buddies on third downs.

Washington Redskins

Then: The Redskins made a big splash when they signed defensive tackle Barry Cofield away from the Giants and made him a nose tackle for the first time in his career. Cofield has played well, but it took him a while to adjust to his new position. A year from now, this will look like their best 2011 signing from a list that includes Santana Moss, Donte' Stallworth and yes, Rex Grossman.

Now: The Redskins signed safety O.J. Atogwe just before the lockout -- a move a lot of people almost forgot they made once free agency began in earnest. He's had some injury problems, but when he's been on the field, Atogwe's been an impact player, as has cornerback Josh Wilson, whom they signed away from Baltimore.

Chat wrap: Nnamdi fit for Eagles?

June, 29, 2011
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Our weekly chat was affected but not eliminated by the technical issues that plagued our site Tuesday. We still managed an hour of questions and answers, and some of them came out all right. Here are some highlights.

Mike from Statesboro, Ga. wondered if signing free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha would hurt the Eagles' chances of effectively addressing their other defensive needs, including defensive end: "Basically, do you think the Birds are putting all their eggs into Nnamdi's basket?"

Dan Graziano: "No, but I think they would do better to sign Nnamdi and get a second-line guy for defensive end than to sign the best DE and get a second-line CB. For instance, if you can get Nnamdi and, say, Andre Carter, isn't that better than spending a bunch of money on Jason Babin and having to settle for a cornerback who's not as good as Nnamdi?"

Dan from Harrisburg, Pa. asked if I really believe "Dan Snyder would give Shanahan a whole year to toy around with Grossman and unproven Beck knowing the draft could be good next year or are they actually planning on going after somebody like Hasselbeck?"

DG: "This comes up a lot. I think, if the Redskins don't see a better long-term option than Beck right now, it makes sense to see what he can do knowing there are going to be better long-term options available in next year's draft. Now, some people say that means "tanking" the season for a good draft pick. That's not what I'm advocating, nor is it what I think the Redskins will do. But why commit resources (and maybe years) to Hasselbeck when you know you need a long-term answer and might need those resources to secure it in 2012?"

Ricky Ross from Scottsdale, Ariz. wanted to know if the Cowboys might bring in David Akers to push David Buehler for the kicker job, since he doesn't think Kris Brown is the answer either.

DG: "I think they brought in Brown to push Buehler, motivate him to be better. If that doesn't work, you may be right that they look for a better upgrade than Brown."

Ryne from Peekskill, NY wondered whether recent Giants draft picks Linval Joseph and Marvin Austin, both defensive tackles, will be "rocks in the middle or high round busts?"

DG: "It takes time to develop at that position in the NFL, so it's far too early to know. But I'll say that those guys are in a great position, playing as they do for a team that provides a good environment for growth and development of defensive linemen."

Thanks to all who hung with us through the technical difficulties. We'll be back next week and, as Mike & Mike say, better than ever.
We continue our position-by-position look at the way the free-agent seasons of the NFC East teams could be affected by the proposed return to the system that makes players unrestricted free agents after just four years of service time. Over the past couple of days, we've done cornerbacks, running backs, guards, outside linebackers and safeties. Today, we look at quarterbacks. And since Jon Kitna has proved himself a more-than-capable Tony Romo backup in Dallas and Eli Manning is as durable as any quarterback in the league, we're focusing on two of the division's teams.

NFC East teams in need

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireMatt Hasselbeck could be a decent stopgap starter until the Redskins find their long-term answer at quarterback.
Redskins: Mike Shanahan has said he likes John Beck and is willing to give him a chance at being the starter. Rex Grossman, once re-signed, will hope to challenge for the position. Donovan McNabb is still on the roster, but there's no chance he'll be back. Clearly, if they intend to be a serious contender this year, Washington could use an upgrade at the most crucial position in sports. But with so many other needs, and with the projected first round of next year's draft deep at the quarterback position, it might not make sense for the Redskins to devote resources (especially long-term dollars) to a 2011 answer that isn't a long-term answer. So maybe they hunt for a veteran who can compete for the job in training camp, but they're not going to be looking to make a big commitment to a free-agent quarterback. Fortunately, the field leans heavily toward the former group.

Eagles: The Eagles are actually very strong at the position at the moment. But assuming they trade Kevin Kolb once the lockout ends, they will need to find a veteran backup for starter Michael Vick, a running quarterback whose style puts him at risk of injury. They like the way Mike Kafka has developed in a reserve role, but he's not the kind of guy they could put into a game right now, should Vick get hurt, and expect to win it. The Eagles are a win-now, go-for-it team and they'll want someone more reliable in there if Vick has to miss a game or two.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent quarterbacks

1. Matt Hasselbeck. Looks like he's out in Seattle, and if healthy he can probably help someone as a starter. If they could get him for one year, he'd make a lot of sense for the Redskins. But I wonder if a place like Miami or Minnesota might give him more than one year and a chance to start.

2. Alex Smith. Sounds as if he's staying in San Francisco. But if he were to leave, he probably has the most upside of this somewhat underwhelming bunch. Hard to see why he'd justify much more of Shanahan's faith than Beck, however.

3. Bruce Gradkowski. Has some starting experience over the past couple of years in Oakland, and he's managed to have a modicum of success with it. Seems to have an ability to get guys around him to play hard for him. Another guy who'd be a better short-term option in Washington but likely isn't worth investing any real part of the future in. Might make sense as the Vick backup in Philly.

4. Kerry Collins. If the Eagles are looking for a backup with experience who can competently manage a game should their starter have to leave due to injury...well...

5. Billy Volek. Career backup probably doesn't fit what either of these teams is looking for, though some have speculated that he could wander east from San Diego with new Panthers coach Ron Rivera and be the stopgap starter until Cam Newton is ready.

Predictions that mean nothing: Eagles wait to see if Vince Young becomes available and pounce if he does. If not, they sign Gradkowski. Redskins go with what they have, filling other needs and hoping to be or get in position to draft their franchise quarterback next April.

The Seattle Seahawks and Kevin Kolb

March, 23, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- A reporter asked me Tuesday whether the Seattle Seahawks were the team to have reportedly offered a first-round draft choice to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Seattle was among the teams that spoke to the Eagles about Kolb last offseason, when the asking price was more than a first-rounder and ultimately prohibitive.

This is a story we'll want to monitor closely. For now, however, the Eagles are doing what teams often do when seeking value for a player. They're trying to create a stronger market by suggesting teams are clamoring for their player and willing to pay a high price.

As Eagles president Joe Banner told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "You can figure if there's a quarterback that a number of teams are interested in, you're going to end up with some meaningful compensation. You can kind of figure out what that means and speculate from there. That's the situation we're in."

Teams tend to discourage speculation when it doesn't serve their interests. In this case, Banner is more than happy to indulge rumors that only enhance his team's position.

Could I see the Seahawks making a play for Kolb? Absolutely. It's a subject we've discussed at length on the blog. The lockout is preventing teams from making trades or even executing formal offers for players, but we all know Seattle could use a quarterback pending resolution to Matt Hasselbeck's contract situation, and perhaps anyway.

Giants want this to be only trip to Seattle

November, 7, 2010
11/07/10
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The New York Giants haven't fared well in Seattle over the years, so they want to make sure to not return to Qwest Field for a playoff game this season. ESPN.com's John Clayton addressed this topic in his weekly First-and-10 column.

"The Giants have had two bad experiences going cross-country and playing the Seahawks," writes the affable Professor Clayton. "In 2005, they lost in overtime, 24-21. The next year, they lost a 42-30 shootout in which the Seahawks jumped to a 35-0 first-half lead. The games have been marred with false starts and mistakes. If the Giants lose, it could set up a possible return to Qwest in the playoffs. For that to happen, the Seahawks would have to win the NFC West and the Giants would have to get a wild card behind either the Eagles or Redskins. Winning Sunday would put the Giants on a path to win the NFC East and to not have to worry about traveling back to Seattle."

It's a shame the NFC West gets to send a team to the playoffs, but it's something the league refuses to address. And Clayton certainly has a point. The Giants can't afford to lose to an injury-depleted Seahawks team and run the risk of returning in the wild-card round of the playoffs. I think the Eagles are about to get on a little roll, so the Giants need to keep stacking wins.

The Giants' best noise-reducer

November, 5, 2010
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As many of you know, the Seattle Seahawks have one of the best home-field advantages in all of professional sports. Qwest Field is one of the loudest facilities in the league, which leads to a ton of false starts. This is a fully caffeinated crowd that likes to set the tone for the Seahawks. Teams are averaging three false starts per game in Seattle this season, which is second in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And our Seattle-based NFC West blogger Mike Sando says the Seahawks lead the league with 99 false starts caused at home since '05. (The Vikings' Metrodome is second with 89).

But the New York Giants are built to withstand this type of volume. As Star-Ledger beat man Mike Garafolo notes, the Giants lead the NFC with 6.47 yards per play on first down. That's good enough for second in the league. And if the Giants can continue that trend, I think they have a good chance to take the crowd out of this game early.

"We’ve done a good job in our preparation, having a sense of what we’re anticipating them giving us and calling plays that give our guys a chance to be successful,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride told reporters Thursday. “And then, the implementation of the calling or the actual execution, the guys have done a good job with it. It’s a combination of all of those things."

The run-to-pass ratio for the Giants is 124-to-95, which makes them remarkably balanced this season. Both Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw have been highly effective on first down, which puts the offense in good situations on second and third downs. Now that we know Charlie Whitehurst will replace an injured Matt Hasselbeck this week, it's obvious the Seahawks will need some breaks to go their way in order to stay in this game.

The Giants could put Whitehurst in a bind early if they could score on their first drive. And I think that's a point that Gilbride is driving home this week. He puts a ton of time into planning for that initial drive. Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith are both capable of scoring on a deep ball, but something tells me that Bradshaw will be featured on those first couple drives.

Zorn lands on his feet with Ravens

February, 1, 2010
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After a disastrous 2009 campaign as head coach of the Redskins, no one would have blamed Jim Zorn for taking a season off and enjoying the $2.4 million that he's reportedly owed by Dan Snyder in 2010. But on Saturday, Zorn instead agreed to become the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens.

It's about as good of a situation as Zorn could've hoped for from both a professional and personal standpoint. For starters, he won't have to uproot his family again after two years in the Washington D.C. area. And he'll be back on firm ground as a quarterbacks coach.

Zorn was overwhelmed by the responsibilities that now come with being a head coach in this league. The Redskins asked him to coach the quarterbacks, call plays and preside over the team. Despite the team's quick start in '08, this was a poor fit from the beginning. Zorn was so cerebral and thorough that he could often turn a 30-minute meeting into two hours.

Zorn had the respect of quarterback Jason Campbell in the beginning but that started to erode once Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent last offseason trying to find Campbell's replacement. I don't think multitasking was a particular strength of Zorn's and that's a problem when you're running a team.

As the quarterbacks coach in Baltimore, Zorn will be able to return to a position of strength. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck swears by Zorn and gives him much of the credit for his success. I think the biggest problem for Zorn is that he skipped a step in becoming a head coach. It would've been interesting to see how Zorn could've performed as an offensive coordinator in Washington.

Unfortunately, he never got that chance because the Skins ran out of legitimate head-coaching candidates. Now Zorn has the opportunity to hit the reset button (sound familiar?) on his coaching career. And I think he has a much better chance of succeeding with the Ravens than he had with the Redskins.

Check out Trent Dilfer's QB rankings

September, 2, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer has made a really nice transition into broadcasting over the past year or so. He's particularly adept at breaking down the quarterback position -- and he was kind enough to contribute his analysis of 49 different NFL quarterbacks to ESPN.com. He said he's tired of hearing quarterbacks take unfair criticism and wanted to have a deeper discussion. Here's his list. And he puts quarterbacks in the following categories: The Elite, The Superstars, Stars, Knocking at the Door, Glad They're Ours (GTOs), Gotta Prove It (GPIs), In The On-Deck Circle, Just-win Baby, Not Enough Evidence, Rehab Projects and Do Not Write Them Off Yet.

Here's where the quarterbacks on NFC East teams ended up:

Stars: 2. Donovan McNabb, 3. Eli Manning

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the only two quarterbacks in "The Elite" category and they were followed by Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in "The Superstars" division. I personally think that McNabb, Eli and Ben Roethlisberger belong in the same category as Rivers and Brees -- but that's just me.

Knocking at the door: 1. Tony Romo

Romo led this category and Carson Palmer was No. 2. I'm a little surprised Palmer was this low. Do you guys think Romo should be ranked behind Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck? That's what Dilfer thinks. Here's Dilfer's take on Romo: "Quickest release in the NFL … unparalleled ability to throw from multiple foot platforms, both intermediately and down the field … as artistic as any quarterback in the league, instinctively using all available resources (eye placement, shoulder nods, pump fakes, arm angles, you name it) … can make something out of nothing on a consistent basis … sometimes careless with the football, both in the pocket and through the air … limited big-game success."

Wow! After reading that first part, I'm sort of baffled by Dilfer putting Romo behind Hasselbeck. Yes, Hasselbeck's been to a Super Bowl. But who would you rather have as a starter right now?

GPI (Gotta Prove it): 3. Jason Campbell

Campbell's ranked behind Matt Schaub and Trent Edwards on the list. Here's what Dilfer said about Campbell: "Very good arm talent … hard worker who has embraced the cerebral part of game … still must demonstrate consistency in production."

Rehab Projects: 1. Michael Vick 2. David Carr

Vick comes in just ahead of Carr. Kyle Boller, Chris Simms and Vince Young were the players ranked immediately behind Vick and Carr.

Do Not Write Them Off: 2. Jon Kitna

Kitna checks in just behind Jeff Garcia and in front of Billy Volek

My Predictions: Cowboys will win 10 games

April, 14, 2009
4/14/09
10:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

OK, I've returned from watching an hour of our SportsCenter special NFL schedule show with Trey Wingo at the helm. In checking some of the Web sites dedicated to covering NFL East teams, I came across Todd Archer's game-by-game schedule analysis of the Cowboys.

Here's how I would break it down for the Cowboys:

Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay -- Going up against a brand new coach and a below average starting quarterback. You could do a lot worse in terms of a road game. Just ask the Redskins. I have the Cowboys winning this game.

Sept. 20 New York Giants -- Lots of emotion tied up in the new stadium's first game. Jerry Jones will make sure to provide a nutty atmosphere -- and he won't have to go out of his way. I think the Cowboys take care of business to improve to 2-0.

Sept. 28 Carolina Panthers -- After an emotional win over the Giants, the Cowboys come back to earth with a loss on "Monday Night Football." If you're scoring at home, they're 2-1 now.

Oct. 4 at Denver -- Most of us thought this would be the first road game. It will be another opportunity to play against a first-time head coach. And DeMarcus Ware could feast on Kyle Orton. This could be a huge game for Tony Romo against an overmatched defense. 3-1

Oct. 11 at Kansas City -- Guess what? ANOTHER first-time head coach in Todd Haley, who loves coaching against his old team. This time, though, he doesn't have Larry Fitzgerald. Give me the Cowboys in a close one. 4-1

Oct. 18 BYE -- This is a little earlier than Wade Phillips wanted.

Oct. 25 Atlanta -- Cowboys welcome a playoff team from '08. I think Matt Ryan will face a much different type of pressure this season. Now, he's expected to perform like a stud quarterback. He might take his lumps in this one. Cowboys improve to 5-1.

Nov. 1 Seattle -- The Cowboys love seeing the Seahawks come to town. Matt Hasselbeck should be banged up at this point. Cowboys improve to 6-1. Dallas rejoices.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 20, Seahawks 17

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
9:28
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Jim Zorn's homecoming resulted in a Redskins win, but it was anything but easy.

Redskins safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Shawn Springs each had huge interceptions to help preserve the victory. The Redskins were able to keep pace with the Cowboys at 7-4 in the NFC East.

It was a game that Zorn had worried about because he didn't want to be too emotional. And as many predicted, the Seahawks (2-9) stood up and played. Jason Campbell was somewhat erratic in the first half, but he did a nice job of protecting the ball. Running back Clinton Portis refused to allow a nagging injury to keep him off the field, and he had 29 carries for 143 yards.

The Redskins will now host the Giants at FedEx Field next Sunday. It's an opportunity to atone for a dreadful performance against the Giants in Week 1. On Sunday, Zorn's Redskins kept Matt Hasselbeck off-balance for much of the afternoon, causing him to connect on only 50 percent of his passes. Zorn played a huge role in Hasselbeck's success in Seattle.

I'm told Hasselbeck's wife cried when Zorn left to take the Redskins' job because he was so close to the family. The win snapped a two-game losing streak and Portis resumed his MVP campaign. Pretty amazing that Landry's three career interceptions have all come against the Seahawks.

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