NFC East: Michael Johnson

Could Giants 'make over' their pass rush?

December, 28, 2012
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Amazing what a difference a couple of bad weeks can make. In this NFL32 clip, Chris Mortensen talks about the potential changes that could loom in the offseason for the New York Giants -- even if all of the breaks go their way and they manage to sneak into the playoffs Sunday.

"They know they've got to make some changes," Mort says, then specifically lists Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck as candidates to depart before also mentioning the offensive line and the secondary. "I've been told to expect a fair makeover of the New York Giants come 2013 regardless of what happens this weekend."

That word "fair" is key, because a major makeover would seem to be out of character for the Giants' front office. But what would be even more out of character is Jerry Reese sitting on his hands if he decided big changes were needed. (Remember, when Reese sat on his hands two offseasons ago it was because he thought he already had a team capable of winning the Super Bowl, and he turned out to be right.) If the Giants decide they aren't moving in exactly the direction they'd hoped to be moving at this point, things certainly could change.

But what caught my attention is this idea that they could part ways with both Tuck and Umenyiora. Even with Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end, ridding themselves of those two veterans would likely ensure that the Giants make the pass rush the cornerstone of their offseason plan. They'd almost certainly take a pass-rusher in the first round of the draft (though they're always liable to do that anyway), and they'd probably have to probe a free-agent market that potentially includes such names as Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson or even Dwight Freeney.

A strong pass rush as the foundation of the defense is a Giants' organizational philosophy, established and ingrained in their DNA and unlikely to change even if they were to alter their defensive coaching staff. I'd personally be surprised if both Tuck and Umenyiora were gone this offseason, and if they are we'll all know what the Giants' top offseason priority will be.

RG3 can't do it alone, but may have to

September, 23, 2012
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Robert Griffin IIIMark Gail/MCT/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III threw for 221 yards and a score, but he was also the Redskins' leading rusher Sunday, gaining 85 yards and scoring a TD.

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins' third game of the season was a 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in which very few things went well in general and the defense looked as though it was playing with only nine guys half the time. It ended with coach Mike Shanahan furious at the officials for not knowing the rules and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that lengthened their shot at a game-tying touchdown by 15 impossible yards. It was not a good day for the Redskins, or for Shanahan, but he made it clear in his postgame news conference that he couldn't have been happier with the effort he got from rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

The question, though, that I asked Shanahan as he walked back to his office was whether he fears he might be asking too much of the young man. The size to which his eyes grew provided the answer.

"There's only five guys," Shanahan said, talking about quarterbacks in the past decade who've posted winning records in their first NFL seasons. "And four of them, their teams finished in the top 10 in defense and three of them finished in the top five in rushing."

The message, as it has been since the Redskins drafted Griffin, is that the success of his first season will come down to the quality of the group the Redskins are able to put around him. After three games, the returns on that don't look too encouraging. The only reason the Redskins were in Sunday's game late was the grit, toughness and playmaking of their rookie quarterback. And unless some things change very soon, it looks as though it's going to be this way all year.

"As a team, we know we'll always have a chance if we can keep the game close, because you see the things he can do," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "But we don't want it to always be like that."

What it was like Sunday was this: The defense, down four starters due to injuries and suspensions, couldn't cover anybody all day and couldn't stop the Bengals from scoring after the Redskins had come back to tie the game in the second half. The offense, without left tackle Trent Williams after a first-quarter knee injury wiped out his day, couldn't get on track until they started tricking the Bengals with Brandon Banks option plays in the third quarter. Griffin took hit after hit, including five sacks, and kept getting up because he knew there was no other choice.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Dale Zanine/US PresswireRobert Griffin III was sacked five times and took several other shots from the Bengals' defense.
"It's football, so I got hit a lot," Griffin said with a shrug when it was over. "One is too many, to be honest. I'm not trying to be funny. When you're a mobile quarterback, teams are going to come after you even more. A lot of teams believe, if you hit the quarterback enough, he's going to stop coming after you. I just want everybody to know that's never going to happen with me."

Tough talk, and you get the sense that Griffin thinks he's got to act tough in the face of two straight losses, the injuries piling up around him and the shots he's taking from opposing defenses. But he denies that he's being anything but honest.

"It's not a show," he said. "In college we had a saying: 'Tough guys have to be tough guys. You can't talk tough and play soft.'"

Show or not, it has to be Griffin's mantra for the rest of this season. Those five guys about whom Shanahan spoke were Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Andy Dalton. Each took his team to the playoffs as a rookie quarterback, but each had lots of help. Roethlisberger's 2004 Steelers ranked first in the league in defense and second in rush offense. Flacco's 2008 Ravens were second and fourth in the same categories. Sanchez's 2009 Jets were first in both. It is not realistic to ask your rookie quarterback to carry you and also expect a winning record in his rookie season. The NFL is too hard. Even Eli Manning, who seems to carry the Giants in the fourth quarter every week now, couldn't do it in his younger days.

"He's going to do what he can do to win, especially when you're down 14 points and it's late, and that's great to see," Shanahan said. "But it's not an ideal situation for a young guy."

It's entirely possible that the best the Redskins can hope for in Griffin's rookie season is that he comes out of it (A) in one piece, and (B) tougher and better educated about how to succeed in the NFL than he was when the season began. They're fortunate in that he already appears pretty wise about what he's up against, and that he seems tough enough to take his rookie licks as things fall apart around him. He said that there was a point late in the game when Bengals defensive lineman Michael Johnson knocked him down and offered him a hand, saying, "Get up."

"I think you earn players' respect," Griffin said, "when you don't say anything and just get up from those hits."

It appears, given the state of his offensive line, that Griffin is going to keep getting opportunities to do just that. It appears, given the state of his defense, that he's going to keep getting chances to bring the Redskins back late in games. That's all going to make for a very exciting rookie season, but it's not a recipe for a very successful one. If the Redskins are going to contend this year, Griffin's going to need some help. And right now, it does not appear as though he has enough.

Cowboys-Bengals observations

August, 9, 2010
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Dallas-Cincinnati was a Hall of Fame Game in name only. It wasn't pretty to watch either offense, but the Cowboys have reason feel good about their defense, which provided their only touchdown. Tight end John Phillips had an excellent evening, but it was cut short by what appears to be a serious knee injury. With Martellus Bennett's inconsistency last season, the Cowboys were counting on Phillips to play a significant role in the offense. The way his knee completely gave out as he started his route was not a good sign. Now, let's talk about what stood out to me in the Cowboys' 16-7 win over the Bengals.

  • I know it was only one series, but left tackle Doug Free was outstanding in protecting Tony Romo. Antwan Odom's a pretty solid pass-rusher, but Free controlled him throughout the series. Even when he got knocked off balance on one play, he stayed in front of Odom. Before he got hurt, second-team left tackle Alex Barron did not impress me at all. The Cowboys' backup linemen made Geno Atkins look like he belonged in Canton, Ohio, on a permanent basis. And Michael Johnson also gave the Cowboys' blockers fits. John Phillips was the only player who consistently stayed with his blocks throughout the first half.

  • When I saw that Ron Winter was running the show, I knew we were in for a long evening. I know it wasn't his usual officiating crew, but he made sure they called everything. They hit Andre Gurode for a holding penalty on the Cowboys' first drive.

  • That was pretty entertaining to watch Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton match up with Adam Jones. The cornerback held his own for the most part, but Crayton and Romo fooled him on an excellent back-shoulder pass. Just exquisite timing -- especially since it's so early in camp.

  • Romo connected with Roy Williams on a crossing route during that first drive. The ball was a little behind Williams and it was high, but he snagged it anyway. That's a really good sign for Williams. I thought he and Austin made the most of their limited opportunities. Jason Garrett made it a point to get Williams involved quite a bit.

  • Felix Jones got bailed out by an offside call when the Cowboys were inside the Bengals' 10-yard line. He has to secure the ball in that situation.

  • [+] EnlargeBrandon Sharpe
    AP Photo/Ron SchwaneBrandon Sharpe of Dallas scored the Cowboys' only touchdown, returning an interception 6 yards against the Bengals.
    Through one preseason game, it doesn't look like the Cowboys have solved those red-zone issues. It was only one opportunity, but there was no reason to get bogged down inside the 5-yard line.

  • David Buehler made his short field-goal attempts, but he missed a 49-yarder by about 20 yards to the left. It was a gigantic hook, and that's something that has to concern Wade Phillips. You can handle a miss from 49 yards, but it's concerning when the ball's not even close. I Thought I was watching more "highlights" of Tiger at the World Golf Challenge.

  • I loved how defensive end Stephen Bowen played Sunday night. He was an absolute beast from the right side. He forced a poor throw from Carson Palmer by collapsing the pocket in the first quarter. The Cowboys will be just fine if Marcus Spears isn't able to make it back for the first game. Jason Hatcher and Bowen both played well against the Bengals.

  • What an awful deal for John Phillips. He was the Cowboys' best offensive player in the first half and he hurt his knee in a non-contact situation. I seriously think he was ready to surpass Bennett. He can line up in the backfield as the lead blocker and he can make nice catches downfield. He was on his way to being the best blocking tight end on the team. I really believe that. Tough, tough injury for a guy who was having an excellent camp.

  • Kevin Ogletree caught everything thrown his way, but he has to know where he is on the field. On his first catch, he sort of staggered forward and lost the first down. It was an awkward play from a normally smooth player.

  • Tashard Choice showed some nice acceleration on that 21-yard run around the right side. You have to find a way to get him more involved in the offense. He's too good to only have two or three carries per game.

  • Herb Donaldson, it was nice knowing you. You can't fumble on your first carry of the evening. Gibril Wilson made a nice play to poke it out of there, but Donaldson did not secure the ball properly.

  • I thought Cris Collinsworth made a really nice assessment of Bowen when he compared him to Jim Jeffcoat. He's obviously not there yet, but he sort of moves like Jeffcoat. He doesn't look very fast, but he always seems to be causing trouble in the backfield. Really good night for him.

  • I'm not sure what happened to third-string quarterback Stephen McGee. He looked confident early in completing his first five passes. But as the night went on, he became more and more tentative. You're going to get sacked if you hold it that long. He reminded me of Drew Henson tonight because he just took too long to process things. McGee has good athleticism and an excellent arm, but you need to unload the ball. Otherwise, a guy named Michael Johnson suddenly looks like an All-Pro linebacker. Mike Zimmer appears to be onto something with that guy.

  • It was a good night for former Texas Tech players. Jamar Wall did an excellent job in coverage. On one particular play, Chad Ochocinco could not shake Wall. And linebackers Brandon Williams and Brandon Sharpe both had big interceptions. Williams had a nice return that should've set up a touchdown. Sharpe picked off a Jordan Palmer pass and returned it for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sort of fun to see Tony Romo cut off an interview with NBC to celebrate the touchdown with a loud, "Yes!" And if I'm Carson Palmer, I'm in there tomorrow morning begging the coaches not to cut my little brother. For goodness sakes, Jordan Palmer looked nothing like an NFL quarterback. He held the ball too long, and then he made backbreaking decisions.

  • Sorry, but Robert Brewster looked like a bust on this evening. The former Ball State offensive tackle was taken in the third round in '09. He promptly tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights. On Sunday, he had no chance against the Bengals backup defensive ends and linebackers. He wasn't strong enough to anchor his body and he just got bullied the whole time he was in there. I was not impressed with anything about his performance.

  • Brian McCann's back there trying to make a play on a punt return and Brandon Ghee just nails him. I know they said Ghee was blocked into McCann, but I thought the play could've been avoided. You hate to see a defenseless player take a shot in the chest like that.

  • I thought Danny McCray had a nice outing. He had the interception, but he also was very active on special teams. The Cowboys wanted more turnovers this season, and on Sunday, they caused four. Jason Hatcher applied the pressure that led to McCray's interception. Did I mention how poorly the Bengals' backup quarterbacks played?

  • Wall had a solid game, but he got burned going for an interception on a pass to Matt Jones.

  • The Cowboys' young linebackers were incredibly active. Insider backer Jason Williams flattened one of the Bengals' running backs and Brandon Williams was flying all over the field. Also strong showings by Victor Butler and Steve Octavien. It looks like the Cowboys have a ton of depth at linebacker based on what we saw Sunday night. And rookie Sean Lee didn't even play because of a quadriceps injury that has slowed him early in camp.

  • Great special teams play by former Oklahoma standout Manuel Johnson to help the Cowboys down a Mat McBriar punt at the 1-yard line.

  • I liked how Marcus Dixon played in the second half. He was very active and he always seemed to be in the right place. If Jordan Palmer's going to hold the ball, Butler and Dixon are going to get to him. For a first preseason game, the defense was very impressive.

  • I thought Marion Barber looked quick early in the game. And he brought a ton of energy to the offense. I think the Cowboys will try to do a better job of keeping him fresh for the fourth quarter this season.

  • Former University of Texas star Jordan Shipley burned the Cowboys for a 64-yard punt return. Apparently Carson Palmer has been raving about Shipley. Shipley and Wall have faced each other several times in Big 12 play. Shipley certainly got the best of Wall with a nice move in the open field. And McBriar's one of the best punters in the league, but open-field tackling's not his strength.

  • It's probably time to end the Pat McQuistan era in Dallas. He's just not quick enough to hold off defensive tackles. And if you run a stunt against him, he's in big trouble.

  • Rookie running back Lonyae Miller out of Fresno State had his moments. He'll be a good practice squad candidate.

  • Overall, not a bad first outing. The Phillips injury is tough blow.

On the radar: Uncertainty at safety

June, 17, 2010
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

When examining the landscape of the NFC East, it is somewhat surprising how many issues there are across the board at the safety position. Let’s take a quick overview of the situation while remembering that this is a division that features tight ends such as Jason Witten and Brent Celek, a lot of firepower at the wide receiver position and a fine foursome of passers to attack safeties at the third level.

In Dallas, Gerald Sensabaugh looks entrenched as the starting strong safety, while Alan Ball will do battle with Mike Hamlin at free safety, with the long shot of rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah factoring in here as well.

Sensabaugh is probably the best safety on the roster, but his coverage skills are average. He is best against the run, but it should be noted that he played a large portion of the season with a broken thumb. Everyone else is really an unknown, other than Pat Watkins, but Watkins has proved to be someone not worth getting excited about. Ball is small and has more of a cornerback skill set than that of your typical safety.

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe Giants, who signed Antrel Rolle to a $37 million deal, should have the best situation at safety in the division.
The Giants were horrendous at safety last season and obviously some of that had to do with the brutal knee injury to Kenny Phillips, who looked like a real up-and-comer before he got hurt. It’s hard to speculate if Phillips will be ready for this season or if he will be the same player when he does return, but the Giants were quite proactive in their approach to the position.

Though they spent a lot of money to acquire him, I commend the signing of Antrel Rolle. He is extremely talented and entered the league as a highly touted cornerback prospect. While already a very good player, he should only improve with more reps at free safety, where he will start for the Giants. His ability to read the play from the deep middle does need work though.

If Phillips cannot man the strong safety spot, the job would go to either Deon Grant, recently signed as a free agent, or Michael Johnson, who had a rough year in 2009 and makes too many errors with his assignments. New York also used a third-round pick on Chad Jones, a player with a lot of ability. His game seems best suited for free safety, but he has the body to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

While New York was probably the worst off in this division at safety last year, I expect them to be the best of the four in 2010. You have to commend their aggressive approach to fixing a problem. And although all these moves seem to indicate that New York is seriously worried about Phillips’ recovery, it also should be noted that new defensive coordinator Percy Fewell used a lot of three-safety sets with the Bills and that could carry over to the Giants this year.

Philadelphia also was proactive in improving its free safety position, but an Achilles injury to Marlin Jackson took him out of the equation. Second-round pick Nate Allen also is a fine-looking prospect for this position. That is a lot of pressure to put on a rookie -- especially in this division -- but Allen has the skills to handle it. What is worrisome, however, is how well he will handle the mental aspects of the position, which can be taxing.

The Eagles are set at strong safety with Quintin Mikell, who is a very solid all-around safety who is asked to do many things in an attacking scheme -- and does just about everything well. With Jackson’s injury, depth here is a major concern, although Macho Harris could potentially move back to free safety if needed. Still, the Eagles are not real deep at cornerback either, which gives me some pause about their sub package defenses. If we lined up today, I would attack this defense with three- and four-wide receiver sets until the secondary proved it could handle the stress.

Like their counterparts in the division, the Redskins have questions at safety as well. I see three decent safeties -- one with loads of ability -- but all three are more strong safety types. The player with loads of ability is LaRon Landry, who will handle the starting strong safety spot. Landry was overwhelming coming out of college, but certainly has not lived up to his draft position. As the Redskins move to a 3-4 scheme, maybe Landry will see more of a versatile role, such as the one Pittsburgh uses with Troy Polamalu. Landry has reportedly bulked up for the role, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how it affects his movement skills. He really struggled in deep coverage, but I am predicting a breakout season for him.

Neither Chris Horton nor Reed Doughty is the ideal fit at free safety. Doughty fits the mold better and should get the nod, but he isn’t going to make anyone forget about Sean Taylor in terms of his physical skill set. He plays the run better than the pass. This safety situation could lead to a lot of big plays deep downfield against the Redskins.

There are some good football players at safety in this division and there are others with a lot of ability who could flourish in 2010. But it does surprise me that three of the four teams -- Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington -- do not appear interested in adding a true centerfield type in Oshiomogho Atogwe. And while there are questions across the board at safety, for the most part, the teams in the NFC East can really rush the passer -- which of course can make problems on the backend disappear.

Handicapping the Beast -- in April

April, 8, 2010
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US PresswireWill Tony Romo, Kevin Kolb or Eli Manning be leading the NFC East's top team in 2010? Matt Mosley takes an early look.
One of the most important things to do when overreacting to a blockbuster trade within a division is to suggest one of the teams will leapfrog pretty much everyone in the league. And although I'm wired to have knee-jerk reactions in most phases of life, I've so far resisted the urge to elevate the Redskins to playoff contender status. Do they have a much better chance? Absolutely.

But in the spirit of wild, reactionary behavior, let's now handicap the most compelling division in football heading into this month's draft. I have analyzed all the free-agency moves and have looked at several of Mike Sando's NFL databases in my attempt to determine the early bird power rankings in the Beast. Now, here are the fruits of my labor:

My NFC East post-Easter, pre-draft power rankings:

1. Dallas Cowboys: The releases of left tackle Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, which may have been predicted in this space, caused shockwaves in the division -- until the move was trumped by Sunday evening's events. It's rare to see a legitimate Super Bowl contender release a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and a veteran starter at safety. Jerry Jones looked me in the eye recently (for an awkwardly long time) and insisted that Doug Free was capable of starting at left tackle in this league. I took this to mean that Jones would release Adams, but it happened sooner than most of us thought.

I don't think Friday's moves did serious damage to the Cowboys' hopes of winning another division title, but it puts enormous pressure on Free and whomever replaces Hamlin at safety. Right now, the candidates are Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and a player to be drafted later. The Cowboys are still the most stable team in the division heading into the draft, but I'm a bit concerned wide receiver Miles Austin has chosen to work out in Los Angeles rather than Valley Ranch. Hey, I realize the recent trip to Hugh Hefner's mansion had to be an eye-opening experience, but Austin should come on home at some point.

This may be a ploy to get Jones' attention since Austin's a restricted free agent set to make roughly $3.6 million while fellow starter Roy Williams will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million this season. And honestly, Austin and his agent, David Dunn, who showed nice separation skills from reporters at the recent owners meetings, have a pretty good point. But ultimately, I don't think staying away from Tony Romo and his other teammates will improve Austin's standing.

With that said, the NFC East title still goes through Dallas. Just ask Keith Brooking if you don't believe me.

Cowboys win prediction in April: 12

2. New York Giants: Our old friends from the New Jersey swamps have managed to fly under the radar this offseason -- other than that coin flip. General manager Jerry Reese has told me on three separate occasions this offseason the play at safety last season was unacceptable -- and I'm sure Giants fans would agree with that assessment. He's responded by signing former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle to an enormous contract and then bringing in journeyman Deon Grant, who's a definite upgrade over C.C. Brown.

With Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Michael Johnson and Grant, the Giants have some much-needed depth at the position. But don't be shocked to see them draft another safety in two weeks. It's hard to say how much of the Giants' failures on defense had to do with all the injuries and how much of it hinged on poor play. I'd lean toward the former, but Tom Coughlin and Reese aren't going to sit around and find out. They need to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. And you can't simply hope that Jonathan Goff or Gerris Wilkinson will get the job done. If the Giants land Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 15, they'll have an immediate starter and one of the most intelligent players in this draft.

It's just hard for me to imagine the Giants going through another awful stretch, as they did last season. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is poised to become an electric player and Steve Smith proved that he can be a front-line receiver. Mix in Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden and you have the makings of an elite receiving corps. Right now, you'd have to say the Eagles and Giants are neck in neck at that position.

I also think the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will solve some issues. He'll be more aggressive with the pass rush and he'll attempt to use Osi Umenyiora's unease to his advantage. I also think you'll see a much healthier Justin Tuck. He was limited for most of last season after being tripped by Flozell Adams in the Week 2 game at Cowboys Stadium. I think Tuck's poised to have a huge bounce-back season. That's a big reason why the Giants will return to the playoffs.

Giants win prediction in April: 10

3. Philadelphia Eagles: First of all, I think Kevin Kolb is going to win a lot of games with the Eagles. But there will be bumps along the way. No one really knows how he'll look as the full-time starter, but he's shown signs he can get the job done. I think he'll immediately be a more accurate passer than McNabb, but I also know that opposing defensive coordinators will go to great lengths to confuse him in coverage.

Kolb will reach out to fellow Texan Drew Brees this offseason for advice on dealing with all the adversity he's sure to face. I think that's an excellent move. The Eagles will surround Kolb with some potent weapons at receiver and tight end. But what Andy Reid truly needs to do is commit to the running game. That will help an inexperienced quarterback more than anything. Will Reid do that? I have my doubts.

The Eagles need to add more depth in the secondary during the draft. You can't depend on Marlin Jackson, owner of two surgically repaired knees, to be the answer. I think the Eagles have to draft a safety and a cornerback in the early rounds. Of course, that No. 37 pick should really help. If someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen begins to slip a little bit, the Eagles should be ready to take him. I think defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be much more comfortable in his second season. But with the Redskins becoming more of a force and the Giants likely bouncing back, finding 10 wins will be tough. Kolb will one day lead this team on a deep playoff run. But that won't happen in 2010.

Eagles win prediction in April: 9

4. Washington Redskins: No, it didn't slip my mind that Washington landed an elite-level quarterback. But count me among the skeptics who think playing behind an offensive line that could feature Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer isn't a recipe for a huge turnaround. When the Dolphins had a remarkable turnaround two seasons ago, they benefited from the rest of the division wilting down the stretch. I don't think the Redskins can count on any help from their division rivals this season.

McNabb will make the Redskins better, but he'll need to make them at least six wins better to have a shot at the playoffs. He's still an excellent quarterback and leader, but I don't see him making a six-win difference. Brett Favre inherited a 10-win team and the best running back in the game last season. McNabb inherits a four-win team and a collection of fading stars at running back.

I know McNabb took a jab at the Eagles when he said the Redskins will run the ball, but it's not like a young Brian Westbrook's walking through that door. Mike Shanahan won Super Bowls with a young Terrell Davis. He then put up huge numbers with backs such as Mike Anderson, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2000. But most of the running backs who put up big numbers for Shanahan were young and hungry. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are just holding on to their careers for another two or three seasons. McNabb needs to win nine games (or go to the Pro Bowl) in order for the Eagles to receive a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. I don't see it happening at this point. This team will be much improved, but it''ll need more than that in the rugged NFC East.

Redskins win prediction in April: 8

Editor's note: Mosley reserves the right to completely change his mind following the draft.

Report: Rolle receives Giant deal

March, 5, 2010
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The New York Giants and free-agent safety Antrel Rolle have agreed to a five-year, $37 million contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Rolle will become the highest-paid safety in league history and his new contract includes a $15 million signing bonus.

Rolle
Rolle
Judging by that contract ($22.5 mil in first three years), the Giants are still angry about how their secondary was torched in '09. If Kenny Phillips is fully recovered from microfracture surgery on his knee, he and Rolle should form one of the best safety duos in the league. They both played at the University of Miami and both possess excellent range. In fact, Rolle entered the league as a cornerback.

General manager Jerry Reese was very open about his disappointment in the way Michael Johnson and C.C. Brown performed at safety last season and he vowed not to let something like that happen again. With Rolle in the fold, the Giants have to feel a lot better about their secondary. The Cardinals are quickly becoming the top talent supplier in the league with Rolle, Anquan Boldin and Karlos Dansby already joining other teams.

In his 59 starts with the Cardinals, Rolle had 12 interceptions and four forced fumbles. He'll obviously be an immediate starter for the Giants. Not a lot of $37 million backup safeties in the league. I think this decision also had a lot to do with the fact the Giants play in the same division with some very talented tight ends in Jason Witten, Brent Celek and Chris Cooley.

Scouts Inc.: Fixing the Giants' defense

March, 1, 2010
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Considering their reputation and level of play in 2008, the New York Giants’ defense was very disappointing last season. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took the head-coaching job in St. Louis and his innovative and timely play calling was missed. Also, there were conflicts between new coordinator Bill Sheridan and the Giants’ defensive players. Now both the run and pass defenses need an upgrade.

The Giants’ pass rush was middle of the road last year. That is unacceptable considering the talent they have at the defensive end position and the overall resources they dedicated to their defensive front last offseason. Did this dip in production stem from coaching or the players? Surely it was a little of both, but with Perry Fewell taking over the defense, expect a step up from the perimeter rushers. Fewell stresses fundamentals and is considered a players’ coach. One worry up front is the defensive tackles’ run defense, which clearly was not up to par.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
Steve Mitchell/US PresswirePerry Fewell takes over a Giants defense that struggled last season.
There is no getting around the problems in personnel last season in the pass defense, which also hindered Sheridan’s play-calling options. The loss of talented safety Kenny Phillips was crushing. Safety is a huge need going forward, even if he is expected to return at full strength. Michael Johnson, Aaron Rouse and C.C. Brown were simply overmatched in coverage. The Giants were very weak up the middle with their pass defense, and because it lacked qualified coverage safeties, New York forced players to line up out of position. It was a desperate -- and unsuccessful -- ploy. If Philips returns to form and the Giants add one starting-caliber safety, this secondary can be quite good. They are strong at cornerback and have found a real keeper in Terrell Thomas to go along with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, who too often was forced to play safety instead of his natural corner position.

There are issues at linebacker though. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was released, which is a move I agree with. Never the most physically gifted player, it appears as though what Pierce did have from an athletic standpoint began to fail him. Much more range and playmaking ability is needed in the middle against both run and pass, especially considering the tight ends and pass-catching running backs in the NFC East.

The Michael Boley experiment on the outside did not yield enough overall, but he was particularly poor against the run. Boley is more of a run-and-hit player and running at him directly exposes his weaknesses. Perhaps his best role would be as a sub package linebacker; they need to create competition for his starting weakside spot on early downs.

While the Giants have several mediocre options for both the Mike and Will linebacker spots, I don’t see a lot of upside with that crew outside of Boley. On the strong side, Danny Clark isn’t flashy, but he is tough and effective. He is an unrestricted free agent and hopefully the Giants lock him up, but his backup, Clint Sintim, does has more ability, speed and potential. However, neither of these two project well to the middle or weak side.

Having a new coordinator could yield immediate results, but Fewell’s scheme is based a great deal on speed and range. With that in mind, New York needs to find one linebacker with elite playmaking abilities, maybe Rolando McClain in the draft or Karlos Dansby in free agency.

I see safety as the No. 1 personnel need here, followed immediately by a difference-maker at linebacker. A nose tackle-type would be third, as the foursome of Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were all underwhelming, but there is ability among this defensive tackle rotation. Robbins can push the pocket, but more was needed from him stopping the run and his stamina is questionable. He is an unrestricted free agent and could be replaced. A second linebacker to battle for a starting spot would be ideal.

This sounds like a long list, but the Giants are set on the offensive side of the ball, so expect their resources to be dedicated to fixing this once-proud defense.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Giants' GM Reese ready to fill holes

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
12:59
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The optimist in New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese believes that help is coming from within the roster. But like any personnel chief, that's not going to prevent him from making contingency plans. Reese knows injuries to key players in 2009 hampered the Giants -- but they won't receive any sympathy from their NFC East rivals.

“I think there are some holes we need to fill defensively,” Reese said Saturday during his news conference at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Are there some guys on the roster? I hope there are, but we’re still going to try to go out and fill some spots.

"If there’s a guy on the roster that we don’t see yet that emerges, fantastic. But we’re definitely not going to depend on that. We’re going to try to bolster a lot of positions offensively and defensively."

Reese isn't one for trashing players, but he called out safeties Michael Johnson and C.C. Brown for their poor play in '09. And he also took some of the blame for not getting the right players on the field. I remember him telling me in training camp last year that safety Kenny Phillips was about to become an absolute star in the league. Phillips indeed had a remarkable first two games, but then he missed the rest of the season with a serious knee injury that required microfracture surgery. Reese said Phillips is making excellent progress in his rehabilitation, but that won't prevent him from trying to upgrade the position via free agency or the draft.

Reese didn't spend a lot of time talking about defensive end Osi Umenyiora, but he confirmed that a meeting took place between the two of them. He dismissed Umenyiora's recent complaints as offseason "chatter" and said that it's something he's used to by now.

"I don’t get upset about players in the offseason,” Reese said. “Again, it happens every season with almost every team. That’s just what you get in the offseason. It doesn’t bother me a bit."

The one player that Reese went out of his way to praise was cornerback Terrell Thomas, who took over as the starter while Aaron Ross battled a hamstring injury. From a news standpoint, Reese hinted Will Beatty is in the mix to become the starting left tackle. If that happens, David Diehl would likely move to left guard. Reese believes Diehl's versatility is a huge asset for this team.

Reese also talked at length about new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. We'll have more on that over the next few days.

Draft Watch: NFC East

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Dallas Cowboys

From a bust standpoint, let me offer up the '09 draft class. But that's not completely fair because the class was pretty much wiped out by injuries last season. The one unquestionable gem is USC kickoff specialist David Buehler. Some of us laughed when the Cowboys spent a sixth-round pick on a player who wasn't supposed to compete for the place-kicking job. But Buehler led the league in touchbacks and participated on the punt and kick return units. Another gem is 2008 fourth-round pick Tashard Choice. When offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has gotten him on the field, Choice has produced in a big way. In 2008, he appeared to be the most complete back on the roster at times. From a bust standpoint, go back to the '07 draft and look at third-round pick James Marten out of Boston College. You could tell pretty quickly that Marten wasn't a player. And in the fourth round of that same draft, the Cowboys got cute in taking former University of Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback to play wide receiver. Stanback was a shoulder injury waiting to happen and he didn't take advantage of numerous opportunities.

New York Giants

They'll be talking about the '07 draft for years. The Giants have four starters from that class and they found the ultimate gem in seventh-rounder Ahmad Bradshaw. The former Marshall running back had some off-the-field issues that caused him to plummet in the draft, but he was a valuable part of the Giants' march to the Super Bowl in '07. The Giants also landed cornerback Aaron Ross (first), wide receiver Steve Smith (second) and tight end Kevin Boss (fifth) in that draft. And don't forget about starting safety Michael Johnson (seventh). That's the draft that put new general manager Jerry Reese on the map. In '08, the Giants were able to land starting safety Kenny Phillips late in the first round and Terrell Thomas late in the second. Phillips appeared to be on his way to stardom but a season-ending knee injury in '09 has tempered those expectations. Thomas was forced into a starting position in '09 and performed admirably. We're still waiting to find out what mid-round picks Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff turn out to be. Those guys aren't really gems or busts. The verdict's still out on 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim. Certainly not a bust, but he needs to show something this season. And for all the time we spent bragging on Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, the guy couldn't get on the field. If he can't get on the field in 2010, he'll be trending toward bust status. North Carolina State running back Andre Brown had gem potential, but he suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles found two gems in the '07 draft. Stewart Bradley is a quality starting middle linebacker who was selected in the third round and the Eagles took Pro Bowl-worthy tight end Brent Celek in the fifth round. The two players have become close friends and they're a huge part of the Eagles' future. In fact, Philly has already signed Celek to a contract extension. From a bust standpoint, the Eagles wasted a pick on Penn State running back Tony Hunt in '07. It's hard to believe that they took Hunt in the third round. And it's not as if Victor Abiamiri has been some type of standout second-round pick. Obviously, we're still waiting to see what becomes of the Eagles' top pick in '07, Kevin Kolb. In '08, the Eagles landed DeSean Jackson in the second round. But two picks before Jackson, they selected defensive tackle Trevor Laws. So there's your boom and bust scenario. The rest of that class is pretty forgettable. Fourth-round selection Quintin Demps has been serviceable, but I wouldn't refer to him as a hidden gem or anything. From the '09 class, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were excellent value picks. They should both be a huge part of the offense for several years. Moise Fokou was a gem in the seventh round. He has the potential to be a special-teams standout and he eventually cracked the starting lineup, although that was predicated by a string of injuries. Still, it's obvious the Eagles like Fokou. He's constantly around the ball.

Washington Redskins

The '07 draft was pretty much a waste of time. The Redskins barely had any picks, but they did manage to select safety LaRon Landry sixth overall. The tragic loss of Sean Taylor meant that Landry had to become the main man at safety. He wasn't ready for that type of responsibility and he's never really lived up to his immense potential. We'll see if Jim Haslett can help him reach the next level. In the second round of the '08 draft, the Skins took wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Neither player has really distinguished himself, although Thomas took some important steps in '09. Kelly won the starting job coming out of training camp, but he didn't do anything with it. Sandwiched between those two picks was former USC tight end Fred Davis. He came on strong in '09 once Chris Cooley was lost to injury. It looks like Davis will be a player. Thomas and Kelly could go either way. Unless there's a dramatic change this offseason, third-round pick Chad Rinehart will be a bust at guard. Seventh-round pick Chris Horton was a great story early in 2008, but his star has faded a bit. Until he reclaims his starting safety spot, it's hard to call him a gem. The '09 draft was another one-hit wonder. It looks like first-round pick Brian Orakpo will be a perennial Pro Bowler. He's an excellent pass-rusher and I think he'll flourish in Haslett's 3-4 scheme. No one else in the class stood out.

Giants hope to 'beat up' Eagles

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
5:00
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Giants defenders have spent the week trying to explain why they were gashed in the running game by the Eagles last month. Safety Michael Johnson, who said he expects to play with a groin injury, provided the following explanation:

"Probably somebody out of the wrong gap," he told reporters in the Meadowlands on Friday. "If the defense was supposed to be gap-sound, somebody was in the wrong gap. The ball might pop, but we will just chase them down and make them snap it again. Hopefully our defense will hold up. We didn’t play physical enough. This time we will go out there and play a lot more physical. Try to intimidate one-on-one every play. One-on-one battles every play. Try to beat them up. Play aggressive the whole game and win the physical battle."

By the way, it's 29 degrees (feels like 15) in East Rutherford, N.J., this afternoon. And there are winds gusting up to 35-mph. Oh, and Tom Coughlin made his players practice outside. You have to love the approach. The team just built a gorgeous new indoor facility -- and they're out practicing in the elements. I remember that Brian Billick used to receive a lot of criticism in Baltimore for refusing to practice outdoors when you knew the Ravens were going to play games in awful weather.

The Beast Injury Report

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
1:46
PM ET
Let's take a quick look around the division to see who's playing and who's sitting:

Cowboys
Eagles
Giants
  • All 53 players on the roster participated in today's practice. Ahmad Bradshaw (ankles/foot) sat out Thursday's practice but he's back on the field today. This is as healthy as the Giants have been in two months. Chris Snee (knee) and Michael Johnson (groin) both looked fine during the small portion of practice reporters are allowed to observe.
Redskins
  • David Elfin of the Washington Times says DeAngelo Hall (knee), Albert Haynesworth (ankle) and Mike Sellers (thigh) will all miss Sunday's game against the Raiders. Elfin was the first reporter in the D.C. area to report Haynesworth being out. So do Redskins fans think they're getting their money's worth? You guarantee a man $41 million, you'd like to see him out there for at least 13 or 14 games of the season.

Update on Giants' injuries

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
7:18
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Giants guard Chris Snee (knee) and safety Michael Johnson (groin) were back in practice today, but running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot/ankles) was on the sideline working with trainers. From what I'm hearing, it looks like all three players will be ready to go against the Eagles.

Snee is the Giants' best offensive lineman at this point and they need him on the field Sunday. Coughlin has called Snee's injury a "hyperflexed" knee. But when I saw Snee on Sunday evening, he wasn't walking with a limp. The good news for the Giants is that Kevin Boothe stepped in and did a pretty nice job.

Next year, I expect the Giants to retool their offensive line. But for now, they're more interested in maintaining continuity. With a lot of players on both teams getting healthy, I think we're about to see an excellent game between the Giants and Eagles.

Giants injury update

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
12:05
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Giants guard Chris Snee (knee) and safety Michael Johnson (groin) will not practice today, according to Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Snee's "hyperflexed" knee has him on a day-to-day status. The athletic trainers will test Johnson on the side today and see how close he is to being ready.

DJ Ware (concussion) and Travis Beckum (groin) are both expected to practice. Snee's considered one of the toughest players on the team, so it's hard to imagine him sitting out a game against the Eagles.

I'll have injury updates on all four teams later this afternoon.

Wednesday Beastlines

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
12:06
PM ET
Let's take a quick look at the top stories from around the division:

Cowboys
Eagles
Giants
Redskins

Eagles take down Giants in a laugher

November, 1, 2009
11/01/09
7:50
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AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver made his presence felt against the Giants on Sunday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- All the talk in the offseason was about how Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb would finally have enough weapons around him to do some serious damage. But I don't recall Leonard Weaver's name coming up a lot in those conversations.

On Sunday, the former Seahawks fullback made like a seasoned tailback, racing through the Giants' once-vaunted defense. The Eagles waited exactly three plays before unleashing Weaver -- and he responded with a 41-yard touchdown run. Weaver, a non-factor in the running game for much of this season, finished with eight carries for 75 yards, helping to lead the Eagles to a 40-17 win over the Giants.

The dominating win put the Eagles in a first-place tie with the Cowboys in the NFC East -- and those two teams will meet next Sunday night at the Linc. For now, we have to consider the Giants an afterthought in the division race. Quarterback Eli Manning played his worst game of the season -- and that's saying something based on his performances against the Saints and Cardinals. It's not as if the Giants were going to keep up with the big-play Eagles anyway, but Manning's two first-half interceptions were inexcusable. He set up the Eagles for two touchdowns -- not that their offense needed much assistance.


Week 8 Coverage
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Monday Night Football HQ

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Weaver, who signed with the Eagles during free-agency last March, was caught off-guard by his heavy involvement in the running game. He said there were no signs during practice last week that he would be an important part of the game plan.

"It was kind of a shock at first," Weaver said. "During the week, I really didn't run the ball. It felt good to know that Andy Reid and [offensive coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg] would trust me in that way and trust me enough to give it to me a couple times."

Weaver was supposed to assume a larger role in pass protection because of the absence of Brian Westbrook (concussion), but Reid and Mornhinweg decided to turn him into a playmaker. Once again, the Eagles lost the time of possession battle -- because they kept scoring so quickly. The Saints provided the league with a blueprint for shredding the Giants' secondary two weeks ago, and the Eagles followed directions superbly.

For starters, the Giants' safeties can't cover anyone in space -- especially someone with DeSean Jackson's speed. The Giants had just trimmed the Eagles' lead to 16-7 with 1:54 left in the first half. On the next play from scrimmage, Jackson froze Giants safety C.C. Brown with a slight inside fake and then cut upfield for an easy 54-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach. The Giants didn't get any push up front on the play, allowing McNabb plenty of time to deliver a perfect pass.

"All week in practice, we knew that if they ran a Cover 2 on that play, it was going to be great for us," Jackson said. "We run that play a lot and I cross the field. So I faked the cross and rode it back out, there was nobody else there and Donovan made a great throw."

McNabb immediately pointed at Mornhinweg, who called the play. It was an afternoon where pretty much everything worked for the Eagles -- and that's why Reid singled out his offensive and defensive coordinators after the game.

"That was a heck of a call," Reid said of the touchdown pass to Jackson. "Donovan was fired up because [the Giants] played it just like we hoped they would play it. Sometimes those things work out. Marty had a good feel on it, he and Donovan had talked about it, and it was a great job on both their parts."

Perhaps the most demoralizing part of Sunday's loss for the Giants was being dominated at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles' patchwork offensive line blew open huge holes for Weaver and rookie running back LeSean McCoy. The two of them were so effective that no one missed Westbrook, a player who has had huge games against the Giants. And Eagles right tackle Winston Justice was so effective against Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck that reporters may finally stop asking him about the infamous '07 game in which McNabb was sacked 12 times.

For now, the Giants are a team without an identity. They're still in the thick of the playoff race at 5-3, but they've effectively blown their margin for error during a three-game losing streak. And at least for one week, they're sitting behind both the Eagles and Cowboys in the division race. It's far too early to bury them, but they're not a good team right now.

"It's a complete embarrassment and disappointment," said linebacker Antonio Pierce after the game. "We didn't tackle, we gave up big plays, we didn't cover. We're not communicating. We all have to look at each other in the mirror and we all have to make a change, because what we're doing right now is not working."

After two subpar efforts from McNabb, he was 17-of-23 for 240 yards and three touchdowns against the Giants. For unknown reasons, the Giants used one-on-one coverage against Eagles tight end Brent Celek -- with very limited success. Celek made safety Michael Johnson think he was going to cross his face before cutting his route upfield to make a 17-yard touchdown catch early in the first quarter.

Celek, who had four catches for 61 yards, has quietly emerged as one of the top tight ends in the NFC. He'll have a hard time being voted into the Pro Bowl because of the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten, but he certainly belongs in the conversation.

Now, the Eagles will try to complete a three-game sweep of their division rivals. That loss to Oakland seems like a long time ago -- and that's a really good thing for Philly.

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