NFC East: Ndamukong Suh

The guy coming off the record-setting season opted for the same trainer as the one just trying to hang on. Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon wants to build on 2013; Chris Neild wants to make the roster. And Mike Barwis worked with both toward that goal -- as the series, "American Muscle," will highlight.

Neild
Barwis, a senior advisor to the New York Mets and a consultant for the Miami Dolphins, has long worked with Neild and became a strong admirer years ago. This past offseason was the first time he worked with Garcon, who wanted to improve his explosiveness with route-running.

Barwis worked with a number of other pros, including Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, both of whom also will be part of the series that begins at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday on the Discovery Channel. Garcon will be part of a later episode, though Neild will be on Wednesday night.

Neild spent nearly two months working out with Barwis, who said Garcon's stay was considerably shorter because what he wanted to achieve was more specific. But Neild also has worked with Barwis since his freshman season at West Virginia.

"Chris is blood to me," Barwis said. "He's an absolute warrior. His mentality is incredible. He's one of the major aspects of the premier of our show. ...You won't find a lot who are tougher and work harder than Chris."

For Neild, spending so much time with Barwis could make the difference in making the roster. He's already lasted three seasons, but if the Redskins keep six defensive linemen as they've done in the past, then Neild has work to do. He's not as versatile as some of the other defensive linemen because he's just a nose tackle.

But Barwis, who said he has trained more than 500 Olympic and professional athletes in his career, said Neild stands out.

"He always makes the chemistry better," he said. "He's the soldier. He's the one who will fight. He gives everything he has to be good. ...That type of attitude and charisma is what builds championship teams."

Garcon
Garcon
They focused on helping Neild with the demands of the position, with the need to take on two blockers with regularity. Neild benches more than 450 pounds and squats better than 600. They worked on nutrition, supplements as well as balance and functional training to better control your body; increasing the ability to play with leverage, working on increasing explosiveness through plyometrics, among other means.

"It's a lifestyle," Barwis said.

Garcon's stint wasn't as involved. Barwis said he wanted to refine his speed and running mechanics. He did not want to get specific with what Garcon did, but, in general it could involve minute details. For example, Barwis works on his clients on where their toes should be pointed when their foot is off the ground (up; leads to better explosion when you hit the ground). Or on where his body should be when you cut.

"Pierre was a very disciplined guy and a very hard worker," Barwis said. "Very coachable. He's a guy that stays focused. He's soft spoken and he gets after it. He's a great leader by example, does what he has to do and works hard.

"He's a tremendous athlete. The thing that's neat to me is when you get top athletes like that and they still want to be better and are still focused on how to make themselves two steps quicker. The kid is saying, ‘I'm not satisfied with having a record year.'"
The Washington Redskins' defense is optimistic about where it's headed, thanks to the addition of Jason Hatcher and a tweaked philosophy regarding the pass rush. Whether their play matches that optimism always remains the biggest hurdle. What's not in doubt: They will have two players among the most expensive at their positions when it comes to the salary cap. The fact both are in their front seven isn't a coincidence as the Redskins' offseason goal has been to improve the pass rush. So, after breaking down where the Redskins' top cap hits at each position offensively stood in comparison to their NFL counterparts earlier this week, it's time to take a look at the defense.

Safety

NFL's top five cap hits
Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs $11,619,700
Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers, $10,100,000
Antrel Rolle, New York Giants, $9,250,000
Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $9,000,000
Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans, $8,000,000

Meriweather
Redskins' top cap hit
Brandon Meriweather (59th), $1,000,000

Summing it up: Notice who’s not in the top five? Jairus Byrd, after his new deal with New Orleans. But don’t worry: He’s set to take up the most cap room in 2015 at $10.3 million. I like Byrd, but not at that figure (I’d have paid Sean Taylor that sort of cash). But Byrd was never really a legitimate option for the Redskins. Mike Mitchell was and he’ll count $2.2 million this season and $4.95 million in 2015. But the overriding point is Washington views the best way to help this position is by bolstering the pass rush. Starters Meriweather and Ryan Clark both are on one-year contracts, so this position is still a question mark beyond this season (and still will be one entering the year).

Corner

NFL's top five cap hits
Brandon Carr, Dallas, $12,217,000
Johnathan Joseph, Houston, $11,250,000
Lardarius Webb, Baltimore, $10,500,000
Brandon Flowers, Kansas City, $10,500,000
Tramon Williams, Green Bay, $9,500,000

Porter
Redskins' top cap hit
Tracy Porter (43rd), $2,800,000

Summing it up: Next season, Darrelle Revis' cap hit jumps to $25 million. Which means he’s playing on a one-year deal. Is it a good thing the Redskins’ biggest cap hit here belongs to Porter, who has battled injury issues along with consistency during his career? Of course, it’s not like he occupies a lot of space. DeAngelo Hall's cap hit is $2,062,500 but that jumps to $4,812,500 in 2015. By then the Redskins need young corner David Amerson to have fully emerged -- can he become their best corner? If not, then they’ll have to start looking for a No. 1 corner. By the way, the top five on the list for 2014? They’ve combined for four Pro Bowl appearances and one All-Pro spot (Joseph). But Carr did do a good job vs. Washington last year (and in at least one game against then-Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson).

Linebacker

NFL's top five cap hits
Lawrence Timmons, $11,816,250
Tamba Hali, Kansas City, $11,464,706
Brian Orakpo, Washington, $11,455,000
Clay Matthews, Green Bay, $10,943,750
James Laurinaitis, St. Louis, $10,400,000

Orakpo
Redskins' top cap hit
Orakpo

Summing it up: That’s quite a list for Orakpo to be part of, but to stay on there after this season -- at least in Washington -- he’ll have to be a little more productive. But even if he has another season like last year, Orakpo will still be in the $10-million range. When Hali got paid, he responded with sack totals of 12, nine and 11 in the next three seasons (with nine forced fumbles and one interception). I don’t think anyone says Hali's overpaid (well, at least not many). In Orakpo’s last three full seasons, he has a combined 27.5 sacks, but only four forced fumbles. More game-changing plays and he’ll get the contract he desires. Another interesting part on this is that two of the five are inside linebackers, though Timmons plays in a 3-4 and Laurinaitis in a 4-3.

Defensive tackle

NFL's top five cap hits
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit, $22,412,000
Haloti Ngata, Baltimore, $16,000,000
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay, $15,627,253
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati, $9,000,000
Barry Cofield, Washington, $7,667,500

Cofield
Redskins' top cap hit
Cofield

Summing it up: Cofield’s base salary jumped from $840,000 last season to $4.55 million (the lower figure was the result of a restructuring last spring in which $3.5 million in base salary was converted to a signing bonus). This is as high as Cofield’s cap number will be and in two years it falls to $6,877,500. I know the coaches felt he would become the NFL’s top nose tackle by this time. That’s not the case, but Cofield does have his strengths and has done a nice job with Washington. For a short stretch last season he was playing as well as anyone on the team defensively, and he always plays hard. He’ll be helped by having Hatcher in the pass rush, perhaps giving Cofield more one-on-one matchups. If that happens, then perhaps Cofield will have the sort of season in all phases that coaches have hoped for.

Defensive end

NFL's top five cap hits
Mario Williams, Buffalo, $18,800,000
Charles Johnson, Carolina, $16,420,000
Chris Long, St. Louis, $14,900,000
Greg Hardy, Carolina, $13,116,000
Calais Campbell , Arizona, $11,250,000

Bowen
Redskins' top cap hit
Stephen Bowen (15th), $7,020,000

Summing it up: All of the top five on this list play in a 4-3, where ends can excel as playmakers and, therefore, command big bucks. The 3-4 ends, typically, are not -- with some exceptions. Bowen has not been a playmaker, though for a while he was an effective player both against the run and as a rusher. However, he has just one sack since the 2011 season (26 games). And after microfracture surgery and being 30, I wonder about the level at which he’ll be able to play. Multiple Redskins sources said they still expect him to be in the Redskins' plans, but will it be at this cap figure? That's a big hit for someone in his situation. If Bowen returns healthy and plays well, the Redskins will greatly benefit. If not? That's a lot of cap room to occupy. One more note: Johnson and Hardy combine for approximately 23 percent of Carolina's cap.

NFLN survey/feared player: Giants

January, 9, 2014
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ESPN.com's NFL Nation surveyed 10 players from every team on a variety of questions, and the results will be released in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. The first question addressed in our series was, "Who is the most feared player in the NFL?", and while the results don't include any New York Giants players, they do include a few players the Giants faced this season.

The top two players on the list were Detroit Lions -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who got 19 percent of the vote, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who got 18.1 percent of the vote. The vast difference in the roles those two players have for the Lions indicates the open-endedness of the question, which was a characteristic I found interesting in my own confidential polling of Giants players. There were defensive players named for their fearsome ability to dominate games physically, and there were offensive players named for their ability to demoralize defenses.

As for those two particular Lions, neither turned in any kind of eye-popping performance in the Week 16 game the Giants came back to win in overtime in Detroit. The Lions were toast by then, and were eliminated from postseason contention by that game's result.

Other players on the list who played on Giants 2013 opponents included Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who took them apart in Week 2, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who didn't do much in that "Monday Night Football" game in Week 7 that produced the Giants' first victory of the season.

The survey was a fun and fascinating exercise, and I look forward to sharing more of the results with you as the weeks before the Super Bowl unfold.

NFLN survey/feared player: Redskins

January, 9, 2014
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The first two names on the list help explain why Detroit is considered the prime landing spot for a coach. The Lions have premier talent in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and receiver Calvin Johnson, among others.

When I talked to 10 Redskins players for this survey, these were the two names mentioned -- with Suh by far the leader. Yes, there have been issues about his extracurricular behavior on the field, but he’s a supreme talent.

I’m sure some said he was feared because he can be a bit, uh, temperamental on the field. There’s no doubt that’s why he tops the list, even though his talent warrants inclusion. When it comes to his game, what impressed me against the Redskins in Week 3 is how hard the guy played from start to finish. He did so despite playing 70 out of a possible 73 snaps in the game.

Here’s what I wrote after that game: “Also, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh started controlling the middle even more in the second half. Not sure I’ve seen a tackle with the motor Suh has -- the guy played 70 of the 73 snaps Sunday. That’s phenomenal. And he was dominating late. Three times over four plays (covering two series), Suh made a huge impact. First: penetration through the middle (against center Will Montgomery) to force a 13-yard loss on a sack. Next: He shed guard Chris Chester and caught Garcon on a smoke route to the left for 5 yards. Next: He got past Chester to the outside, reached out and slowed [Alfred] Morris, holding him to three yards when more would have been available.”

Johnson, though, scares me even more. The Redskins actually did a solid job on him for much of the game in September and yet he still managed seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. When in doubt, Matthew Stafford can throw to him with great trust because more often than not he’ll catch it. You can double-team him or put your best guy on him, and it doesn’t always matter. Johnson pursues the ball in the air as well any other receiver in the NFL. Actually, I don’t know many with his ability to go after the ball.

I think it’s surprising that in a quarterback-driven league, the three most feared players do not play the position. But I also think that could stem from several quarterbacks getting a number of votes.

Redskins angle: This is the result of a 3-13 season – safety Brandon Meriweather received the most votes by a Redskin in this category. He had four votes while quarterback Robert Griffin III received one. Meriweather did not receive that many for his stellar play; rather, he earned that many because of the way he hits. His desire long ago, he said, was to intimidate receivers. I think he’s done that, but now the next time he gets in trouble for a hit it could result in a long suspension. As for Griffin, a year ago he would have been much higher on the list. Given how he played this season I’m surprised he got one vote. But whoever voted for him might still have had nightmares from what he saw, or tried to defend, in 2012.

Also, as much as I like receiver Pierre Garcon and his record-setting 107 catches, I didn't view him as a feared player the same way I would other receivers around the NFL. All those catches produced only five touchdowns. Part of the problem for Garcon being feared this season was the lack of a downfield passing game. Garcon did have a lot of yards after the catch, but that also was a result of many screens and horizontal throws. I also think Garcon's game and impact often is more subtle -- the way he blocks, his ability to break tackles, etc. I think he's a guy you respect and worry about, but fear is reserved for others.

Finally, it's telling, too, that linebacker Brian Orakpo did not receive a vote. I wasn't surprised by that because, again, fear is reserved for major game-changers (or guys with certain reputations for hits). But I wonder how other teams view him as he enters free agency.

W2W4: Giants at Lions

December, 21, 2013
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Because the schedule says so, the 5-9 New York Giants travel this weekend to Detroit to play the 7-7 Lions in a 4:05 pm ET game Sunday. Here are a couple of things to watch for in the game:

Restricting Reggie. There's been so much talk this week about how the Giants plan to cover wide receiver Calvin Johnson and very little about their plan of attack versus dynamic Detroit running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. The Giants have been fairly stout against the run this year. They've only allowed two running backs to reach 100 rush yards in a game against them -- Carolina's DeAngelo Williams in Week 3 and San Diego's Ryan Mathews in Week 14. But both Bush and Bell are factors in the passing game, too, and the Giants have been susceptible to that all year. Last week, for instance, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch rushed for just 47 yards but caught six passes for 73 more. Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte are among the other top running backs who succeeded as receivers against the Giants in spite of struggling against them as runners. So the Giants must be on the lookout for Bush and Bell when they escape the backfield on Matthew Stafford dropbacks.

Containing Calvin: That said, the big-play threat remains the 6-foot-5 Johnson, who is coming off two straight disappointing games and is liable to post huge numbers at any time. The Giants say they're not planning to put 6-foot cornerback Prince Amukamara on Johnson exclusively, instead splitting the field with their corners as they prefer to do. That means 5-foot-8 Trumaine McBride will see Johnson some of the time, and that's a matchup on which Stafford is likely to pick liberally.

Stopping Suh: Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley headline a fearsome Detroit defensive line that has to be licking its chops knowing that Giants quarterback Eli Manning already has absorbed 36 sacks this season. The Giants could be without guard David Diehl, who is listed as doubtful for the game due to a knee injury. That would mean backups James Brewer and Brandon Mosley at the guard spots against one of the best interior pass rushes in the league. Gadzooks.

Jernigan's chance: With slot receiver Victor Cruz out for the rest of the season following knee surgery and fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks appearing to play at half-speed all season, Jerrel Jernigan could play a significant role in the passing game Sunday. He replaces Cruz in the slot, and he showed the coaching staff something Sunday when he had to go in after Cruz got hurt. Head coach Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride both lauded Jernigan's toughness against Seattle's physical secondary, and he's likely to find the matchups more favorable this week in Detroit. If Manning has to unload the ball quickly, as it appears he will due to the protection issues, Jernigan could see a lot of targets and has a chance to make his case to be on next year's team with a big performance.
Justin Tuck and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesJustin Tuck, left, and the Giants will be trying to end the playoff hopes of Matthew Stafford's Lions.
It is a battle of disappointments on Sunday at Ford Field: the New York Giants, who have been disappointing all season, against the Detroit Lions, who have been one of the more surprising teams over the second half of the season -- in a bad way.

The Giants have no playoff hopes. The Lions need to win their final two games and then hope for help (i.e., losses) from Green Bay and Chicago.

Taking you through Sunday’s matchup are ESPN.com NFL reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Dan Graziano (Giants).

Rothstein: The Giants have struggled all season, and Eli Manning has been at the forefront of that. What has changed there?

Graziano: It's basically just a complete bottoming-out on all fronts, starting with the protection. A line that wasn't great to begin with is down two starters and has been playing a rookie at right tackle all season. The blocking help the line used to get from running backs and tight ends disappeared when the Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett leave in the offseason. Hakeem Nicks has had a terrible year at receiver, playing like he is more worried about staying healthy in advance of free agency than trying his best to win. There has been no run game at all for long stretches. And Manning has failed to elevate above his miserable circumstances, missing too many throws and too often looking as though it has all been too much for him. It's been a total whitewash of a season for the Giants' offense. They are the only team in the league that has been shut out even once this season, and they've been shut out twice.

What is the deal out there in Detroit? To my eyes, the Lions should have put this division away by now with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having been out for so long. What is the main reason they seem to have squandered such a great opportunity?

Rothstein: I don't know whether there are enough words to describe all that has gone on, although the simplest way to put it would be consistent end-game meltdowns, either from turnovers, coaching decisions or a defense that suddenly faltered.

A lot of it has to do with Matthew Stafford, who has had accuracy issues in the second half of the season. Really, there have been issues everywhere but the lines, from turnovers to coverage breakdowns on defense.

This is a team that should be safely in the playoffs right now instead of needing to win out and get help.

That obviously leads to job-security questions for Jim Schwartz. Although that doesn't seem to be the case for Tom Coughlin, has this season given any indication as to how much longer he plans to be on the sideline?

Graziano: No, Coughlin is really a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of guy. He's completely believable when he insists he's focused on only this week's game and doesn't want to address anything beyond this season. People close to Coughlin insist he won't quit as long as he feels he can still do the job, and there is no indication he feels otherwise. He has as much passion and energy as anyone else in the building (and right now, more than most!). I don't think Giants ownership would fire him, and I'd be stunned if he got into the offseason and decided he was done. As one person close to him told me, "He has no hobbies. There's nothing for him to retire TO." At 67 years old, he understands why the questions get asked, but he doesn't view himself as near the end of a career, I don't think. As of now, he plans to be part of the solution here, and it would be a major upset if he wasn't back in 2014.

One of Coughlin's biggest immediate problems is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. How is that Detroit pass rush looking these days?

Rothstein: Eli, meet Ndamukong. He will be the guy tossing you to the ground today. In all seriousness, though, the Lions' pass rush has been interesting. The Lions have been great at applying pressure (other than against Pittsburgh) but don't have the actual numbers to show for it, which can be confusing.

What teams have done is bottle the middle on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and have either a tight end or running back help on either Willie Young or Ziggy Ansah on the ends.

So to answer your question, it has been OK, but not the consistently dominant force some were expecting.

That leads into my last question. The Lions' run defense, headed by that front, has been one of the best in the league this season. Have the Giants figured any way to solve their run woes?

Graziano: Andre Brown was hot for a while when he came back from his injury, and the offensive line was starting to block better for the run. But the past two weeks have seen a step backward, and the way the line is configured now, with starting left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backups rotating in and out at left guard, has left it very vulnerable and one-dimensional. The Giants were able to take advantage of some good matchups with Brown running well, but against tougher fronts like the one they saw against Seattle last week, they struggle. I imagine they will struggle against the Lions' front in the run game as well.

Two straight disappointing games for Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Do you expect Megatron to blow up this week and victimize the Giants' secondary?

Rothstein: Kind of. As cornerback Rashean Mathis told me this week, if the Lions don’t find their urgency now, they’ll never find it this season. So I’d imagine you would see Johnson -- who is Detroit's best player -- at the forefront of that if the Lions have any shot over the next two weeks. Plus, those two drops he had against Baltimore will gnaw at him all week long. I expect he’ll have a big game.

Stafford, on the other hand, I’m not as sure about because he seems genuinely rattled this second half of the season. Detroit needs to find what was working for him at the start of the season and bring that back, otherwise its season is over.

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LeSean McCoyHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy, right, gained 217 yards Sunday, setting a new single-game team rushing record.
PHILADELPHIA -- Whether you're Chip Kelly or Bode Miller, the best way to handle 3 1/2 inches of fresh snow is the same.

Go downhill. Fast.

The Eagles weren't able to build a freestyle course in time for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. But they were able to turn running back LeSean McCoy loose, letting him freestyle his way to a franchise-record 217 rushing yards -- including game-changing touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards.

"It was very tough, especially with this defense, to go lateral," Kelly said. "We learned with the weather that it was very difficult to go lateral. We felt like we had to get a downhill game going."

In football talk, of course, that means running straight ahead rather than skiing down a slope. The problem here was that the Lions' defensive line, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle, is very good against the run. The Lions had held their past six opponents to fewer than 70 total rushing yards.

The Eagles ran for 299 yards Sunday -- 244 of them after halftime. McCoy ran for 148 yards and both touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

He regained the NFL rushing lead from Adrian Peterson, who was injured Sunday. McCoy has 1,305 rushing yards on the season.

"He's obviously a great player," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "He's done great things in this offense. As long as I have known him, he's been doing great things. It's a blessing to have that guy on our team."

Listening to his teammates marvel, you'd think McCoy can walk on water. In this game, he did. It was frozen, which made McCoy's cuts and moves that much more impressive.

"It was insane," tight end Brent Celek said. "Sometimes it felt like there were eight inches of snow out there. When you would step, you wouldn't be touching the grass. The fact that he was doing that, it's insane."

McCoy's Twitter handle, @CutonDime25, is a not-so-humble reference to his ability to change direction and leave defenders with armfuls of nothing. He wasn't able to make the really sharp moves, but then, the Lions' defenders were hampered at least as much.

"To be honest, it was definitely tough," McCoy said. "You just didn't have the normal footing and traction that you get when stopping and cutting. Sometimes I couldn't really plant. I can usually plant on a dime, but it all worked out. The guys were giving me so much room.

"I feel like it is a mental thing. Obviously, it's going to be tough because of the snow and weather, but you don't think about it when you're running."

The Eagles had minus-2 yards of total offense in the first quarter. They weren't much better in the second and were trailing 8-0 at halftime. After Detroit's Jeremy Ross returned a punt 58 yards for a third-quarter touchdown, it was 14-0 and the game seemed out of reach. That's how extreme the conditions were and how poorly the Eagles seemed to be handling them.

But quarterback Nick Foles threw two passes -- a 44-yarder that Riley Cooper caught while rolling through the snow like a sled and a 19-yard touchdown to Jackson -- to make it 14-6 (there was no kicking game in this one).

"I think we took some shots deep, which kind of set [the Lions] back a little bit," McCoy said. "The guys up front gave me opportunities one-on-one by blowing those guys off the ball. I just felt with how well the line was blocking today, we would gash them once Nick started throwing the ball."

"We just kind of kept poking and prodding and then we started to move the ball," Kelly said. "When we got in here at halftime, I thought our offensive staff did a good job of putting together some formations of how to run some things and what we could come back with."

Center Jason Kelce said Kelly's scheme was designed "to attack the explosion out of [their defense]. Those guys rely on such explosion, and I think that slowed them down a bit. I think as we got the game going, we realized the snow was taking them out of their game, in terms of the defensive ends being able to rush up the field quickly. We just had some success moving the ball vertically and the coaches picked up on that."

Vertically. Downhill. North and south. Whatever you call it, McCoy was suddenly unstoppable. He broke a 40-yard run to tie the game. After Ross took the kickoff back 98 yards for a second touchdown return, the Eagles came back with the same offensive approach.

"We just weren't firing off the ball," Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. "We really had to slow it up and let the Lions linebackers overrun their gaps. Then we just sealed off and Shady [McCoy] hit them on the back side for long runs."

McCoy broke a 57-yarder to give the Eagles the lead for good 22-20. Chris Polk ran 38 yards for another fourth-quarter touchdown. Foles took one in from the 1-yard line.

In the fourth quarter, McCoy broke Steve Van Buren's 64-year-old franchise record of 205 rushing yards in a game.

It was a win that gave the Eagles an 8-5 record, doubling their win total from last season. It kept pressure on the Dallas Cowboys, who have to beat the Bears in Chicago to keep pace in the NFC East race. Mostly, it was a comeback win in adverse conditions that represented another step in the growth of this team in Kelly's first season.

"I don't think this group gives up," Kelly said. "I think they've got way too much invested, and I think the more you have invested in something, it's a lot more difficult to quit."

With three games left, as Bode Miller might have said, it's all downhill from here.
Fairley/FolesGetty ImagesNick Fairley and the Lions' defense will have their hands full slowing down Eagles QB Nick Foles.
The Philadelphia Eagles have exceeded expectations so far in coach Chip Kelly's first season. The Detroit Lions have arguably fallen a little short of expectations in coach Jim Schwartz's fifth season.

When the two 7-5 teams meet in Philadelphia, it won't matter how they got there. The Eagles and Lions are both in position to win their division titles, and a win Sunday will be a major step toward achieving that goal.

The game will feature two potent but very different offenses. Nick Foles may not be the bona fide franchise quarterback that Matthew Stafford is, but he is the hottest quarterback in the league over the past five weeks. The Eagles' defense may lack stars like Ndamukong Suh, but it is playing better every week as a group. Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will provide its toughest test since the Denver disaster back in September.

ESPN.com reporters Michael Rothstein, who covers the Lions, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, took a look at some key issues in a game with major playoff implications.

Sheridan: The NFC North race has been deeply affected by quarterback injuries, with Chicago's Jay Cutler and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers out of the picture lately. Despite a healthy and productive Stafford, the Lions haven't been able to separate from the rest. What are some key reasons for that?

Rothstein: It starts with turnovers and inconsistency. The Lions' defensive line, the same group that dominated on Thanksgiving, largely disappeared in some earlier games. Turnovers are a major issue, too. The Lions have three or more turnovers in four of their past five games. Against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, that was a key factor in those losses. Detroit is a very talented team that continues to feel like a group still finding out exactly how it wants to play. But it does start with those turnovers. A couple of the Lions' players even told me after Thursday's game -- by far the Lions' best performance this season -- that turnovers were still a major issue. And Detroit committed four of them and still scored 40 points. If they do that Sunday, the Lions will be leaving with a loss.

Speaking of turnovers, Foles appears allergic to mistakes, especially turnovers, this season. Is it all fitting in with Chip Kelly's system? Maturation? Magic? Something different? What has turned him into this quarterback this season?

Sheridan: There is almost certainly an element of magic involved. By that I mean that Foles has had a bit of luck on his side. He threw two would-be interceptions to Patrick Peterson Sunday, for instance. DeSean Jackson batted one away and a penalty negated the other. But there is no doubt that Foles has played extremely well and with remarkable poise and confidence. He has fully embraced and absorbed Kelly's offense, which includes sound pass protection and a great running game -- two of every quarterback's best friends. Foles has been accurate and unafraid to trust his receivers to make plays on the ball. If you make good decisions and sharp throws in a well-designed offense, it turns out pretty much like what we've seen from Foles the past two months.

The Eagles felt pretty good about running their offense effectively against good Tampa Bay and Arizona defenses. The Lions seem like a new challenge with that front of theirs. Was the Thanksgiving game a sign the Lions have gotten it going on defense or are they just as likely to disappear in the face of Kelly's uptempo, unorthodox offense?

Rothstein: It's tough to say because the Lions haven't really seen this type of offense before, although I'm guessing the three younger guys on the line -- tackle Nick Fairley and ends Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor -- are somewhat familiar from their recent college days. Getting pressure with the front four -- and, at least last week, well-timed blitzes from linebackers and safeties -- is still going to be the key for any Detroit defensive success. And doing it for one week doesn't make it a guarantee that it'll continue. Even though he doesn't have huge stats, Suh has been a consistent force up front and if he and Fairley can get going early, it opens things up for Ansah on the outside.

The pressure key, though, is more important for Detroit's cornerbacks. The Lions have been very inconsistent there this season, but they were able to take the first read away from Green Bay's Matt Flynn a lot. By doing that, it gave the defensive line an extra second to get to Flynn so it all worked together. But it has been a matter of consistency, which the Lions have not had there this season.

Since we were talking about the Detroit defensive line, the Lions have been extremely good against the run. They haven't allowed a rushing touchdown in two months and have gone six straight games holding teams under 70 yards rushing total. Some of this is the proliferation of passing in the NFL, but considering LeSean McCoy's numbers this season, how much do the Eagles try running before sticking with Foles and his arm?

Sheridan: One of the most striking differences between Kelly and Andy Reid, a guy I covered for 14 years and respect a lot, is that Kelly is very committed to the run. He sticks with it almost no matter what, with the belief that it will eventually wear a defense down. Reid would abandon the run game after two or three unsuccessful plays. Early in the season, McCoy was on pace to break the NFL record for rushing attempts in a season. He is now on pace for 100 fewer carries than that, about 310. That's because Foles' success in the passing game has allowed Kelly to be more balanced. A few teams -- the Giants and Cowboys, especially -- were able to shut the Eagles' running game down. Arizona did a good job of it in the second half. But Kelly hasn't completely abandoned it in any of those games. If that changes Sunday, it will mean he really thinks the Lions' defense is invulnerable to it.

The Eagles were moderately successful keeping Larry Fitzgerald from going off last week. Johnson is another matter. Has anyone been really effective in stopping Megatron and, if so, how did they go about it? Does it take an elite corner or an elite scheme? A drone strike?

Rothstein: The team that has been most successful in limiting Johnson this season has been ... the Detroit Lions. There have been times during games this season when the Lions have seemed to go away from the best receiver in football, most notably in the second half against Pittsburgh, when he had no catches. Darrelle Revis has been pretty good on Johnson as well, but for the most part, it takes a really good scheme to keep the ball out of his hands. Unless you have a corner like Revis, usually some sort of bracketing of Johnson can be effective. But the Lions are OK with that happening because it opens up the field for Bush and Nate Burleson. That was a big reason the Lions got Bush -- just for that.

This kind of leads into my last question. Philadelphia's pass defense has been both poor and porous this season. Do they have any sort of manpower to match up with Johnson -- and to a lesser extent Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Kris Durham and Bush -- or could this be another game like he had against the Cowboys or Bengals?

Sheridan: Before getting to the answer (spoiler alert: It's no, the Eagles can't match up with Johnson), let me clarify a bit. It's true that the numbers show the Eagles to be terrible as far as yards allowed. They really have given up vast chunks of yardage. But they are keeping teams out of the end zone, and that is giving the offense breathing room to function.

While insisting the Eagles' defense is better than its stats, I have to say this matchup could be the one that breaks some of those trends. Stafford is better than Carson Palmer and Johnson is better than anyone, so this may be the week the yards translate into more points. The Eagles' strength right now is their front seven, and if they can get pressure on Stafford and force him into some of the mistakes he is prone to making, that will go a long way toward covering up the mismatches on the back end.

PHILADELPHIA -- Michael Vick talked to reporters Tuesday for the first time since a new Forbes.com poll declared him the “most disliked” active player in the NFL.

Vick
Vick
After talking about practice, potentially starting Sunday against the New York Giants and the progress of his injured hamstring, Vick was asked about the dubious distinction.

“I care nothing about that,” Vick said. “I care nothing about people that dislike me. I care nothing about people who still have ill feelings about me. What matters most to me is the people I do know care about me. That’s something you can never take away from me.”

According to the poll, 53 percent of respondents named Vick as an NFL player they disliked. San Diego linebacker Manti Te’o was second at 48 percent, followed by Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

It has been four years since Vick was released from federal prison, where he served 18 months for charges resulting from a dogfighting ring. Vick was reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in 2009 and signed with the Eagles that August.

He has not been in any kind of trouble since then. He has gotten a few endorsement deals. Still, his image clearly remains tarnished.

“I don’t feed into all that,” Vick said. “People are entitled to their own opinions, and I respect it. Just let me do what I do, let me be me. As long as I have my freedom, my health and my family, nothing else matters.”

Redskins Film Review: Offense

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
10:00
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1. Left tackle Trent Williams had a terrific game a week ago at Green Bay. But I have not seen the Pro Bowl performer in the Redskins’ other two games, including Sunday. He gave up too much pressure, especially for a guy who has the talent to be an elite player at his position. Williams has played a lot better. I’m not going to point out every mistake, but he did not sustain blocks at the second level. In the fourth quarter he allowed inside pressure. Williams was caught leaning outside and this mistake led to Robert Griffin III getting hit. Several plays later Williams set wide and was still beaten outside, leading to another Griffin hit. Earlier in the game he was called for holding to wipe out a 32-yard gain; he was aggressive against the end and was beat inside. Not used to seeing that sort of pressure allowed by Williams in one game.

2. Fullback Darrel Young blocked well all game; he’s improved each year as a blocker and while he hasn’t been even an occasional weapon yet, he is helping when he’s in the game. Young had a key block on Pierre Garcon's end-around on the first play of the game. He blocked the end a few plays later on a zone read. And he had a pancake block on a defensive end. The end sort of slowed when he rushed, but Young lit him up. Later, he popped rookie end Ziggy Ansah (whom I like, by the way; has a good future). There was one time in which the Redskins wanted to throw a screen to Young, but the Lions read it and Griffin couldn’t throw the ball.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Pierre Garcon
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are looking for more depth at receiver to complement Pierre Garcon.
3. Receiver Pierre Garcon puts in as much work as anyone at catching the ball and it continues to show in games, where his hands have been reliable. Yes, I know: He’ll now drop several passes next week. But through three games and even in the preseason his hands have been strong. Though I’m not sure Garcon and Griffin are on the same page when it comes to the quarterback’s knee, they definitely are in synch most of the time on the field. Griffin can throw with more trust in Garcon’s direction because of his ability to shield defenders and withstand big hits.

4. Their timing or reads aren’t always the best on deeper routes. It happened in the Eagles game where Garcon and Griffin read a play differently, leading to a bad miss. It happened Sunday; can’t tell if Griffin thought Garcon was going to run a deep comeback or turn out. Garcon did not have a step on the defender, though he could have gotten inside him. The pass ended up about 5 yards from Garcon.

5. The two did connect well on a back shoulder pass in the second quarter. Both have to read that right and they did, with Garcon turning out once he failed to gain leverage on the defensive back. The pass was right there. Garcon has been as productive as hoped for this season.

6. Tight end Jordan Reed threw a nice block on running back Alfred Morris' 30-yard touchdown run. The Lions’ defensive end lost contain on the outside and that enabled Morris to get wide. But Reed also did a good job moving his feet to get around. In the times where I’ve seen Reed not hold his block, it’s usually related to his footwork as much as anything. On this one, he did a good job. Reed also did a nice job on a 10-yard Morris run that was nullified by Garcon lining up wrong. Again: footwork.

7. That last play also was set up by classic Morris: on an inside toss, the linebackers flowed hard to the playside and he cut back to the left to an opening, then juked a safety and cut inside. He also showed good vision on his touchdown as a defensive back filled a gap that he was going to cut into. But Morris bounced wide and won the footrace. He’s playing at a high level the past two games.

8. Also, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh started controlling the middle even more in the second half. Not sure I’ve seen a tackle with the motor Suh has -- the guy played 70 of the 73 snaps Sunday. That’s phenomenal. And he was dominating late. Three times over four plays (covering two series), Suh made a huge impact. First: penetration through the middle (against center Will Montgomery) to force a 13-yard loss on a sack. Next: He shed guard Chris Chester and caught Garcon on a smoke route to the left for 5 yards. Next: He got past Chester to the outside, reached out and slowed Morris, holding him to three yards when more would have been available.

9. Nick Fairley = Albert Haynesworth. In many ways.

10. Kory Lichtensteiger has played better than he did a year ago, perhaps helped by being one more year removed from his surgery. He made a block Sunday that I don’t think he would have made a year ago. Fairley swatted Lichtensteiger aside, knocking him a couple yards to the inside. But Lichtensteiger regained himself, peeled back inside and dove at Fairley, preventing him from hitting Griffin.

Shanahan defends run-pass balance

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
6:15
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins couldn’t run the ball much in their first two games, not when they trailed by three touchdowns at halftime in each case. It was different Sunday: the Redskins were within a touchdown until late in the game.

Shanahan
Shanahan
Still, the pass-run disparity remained large. Quarterback Robert Griffin III attempted 50 passes; running back Alfred Morris ran the ball 15 times. Last season the Redskins were balanced, passing 442 times to 519 runs. Part of that stemmed from being in every game.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Sunday’s game dictated a shift from their game plan again. He did not point this out, but the Lions did a good job taking away the run in the second half with their interior linemen -- tackle Ndamukong Suh in particular. They used more eight-man fronts and focused on stopping Morris, holding him to 17 yards on eight carries.

Morris did have chances for better runs, but Detroit’s line did a good job getting off blocks to either plug holes or turn potential 8-yard gains into 4. That could be why 10 of Washington's first 12 plays in the fourth quarter were passes (though Griffin ran on three of those drop-backs) after a third quarter in which it ran seven times and passed eight.

But Shanahan’s point was simple: The Redskins threw more because of situations at the end of the half and game. The Redskins dropped back to pass four times at the end of the first half after getting the ball back with 38 seconds left. And once they trailed by 10 points with 4:02 remaining, the Redskins went to an all-aerial assault, dropping back 16 times.

So, of their 56 drop-backs (including two sacks and four Griffin runs), 19 occurred during pass-only situations. They were balanced on first down (excluding the final two drives of the game) with 14 pass drop-backs to 13 runs.

“That’s the type of ratio we’re looking for,” Shanahan said. “Once we’re into two-minute situations, those numbers get carried away one way or another, and that’s what happened.”
Ndamukong Suh and Robert Griffin III Getty ImagesWill Ndamukong Suh and the Lions defensive line cause Redskins Robert Griffin III issues on Sunday?


The Washington Redskins are dangerously close to letting yet another season of big expectations stumble into one of grand disappointment. And the season is only two games old.

If this isn’t a must-win for them, it’s awfully close. The Detroit Lions need a win after a close loss to Arizona -- and to rebound from their disappointing season a year ago. A 1-2 start will not help restore confidence in the Motor City.

Should we mention that Detroit has never won in Washington? The Lions are 0-21 in the nation’s capital (and its suburbs).

ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim and ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the key elements to this matchup.

Keim: Why don’t we start up front defensively because that seems to be the Lions strength. The focus on Suh often centers on his extracurricular activities, but how well has he played and why is this unit strong up front?

Rothstein: John, he's been nothing short of dominant thus far. While he may not have the statistics to back that up, his disruption has been the reason for both of linebacker DeAndre Levy's interceptions and he commands a presence in the middle of the defensive line that must be accounted for. Unfortunately for Suh, even in talking about his dominance, his other transgressions pop up because he negated one of Levy's interceptions going for a touchdown with his block on John Sullivan that resulted in a six-figure fine. But the Redskins will have to double-team Suh or he'll cause major havoc for Washington's offense.

Sticking with that, the biggest question around Washington is with Robert Griffin III. Considering Suh's dominance, how mobile is RG III these days and will a dominant defensive line cause him major issues?

Keim: Everyone says he’s mobile (and healthy), but we haven’t seen it -- the mobility that is. Maybe it’s the brace. Green Bay did a terrific job pressuring him up the middle with blitzes and keeping him contained on the outside. He’s seeing five-man or more rushes on 42 percent of his drop-backs compared to 21 percent a year ago. The interior of the line is not built to handle big, strong defensive tackles, and that’s where Washington could have a problem. This group is better on the move. If the Lions can pressure him with just the front four, the Redskins are in trouble. The question will be whether the Redskins can get their run game going against this group. They’re so much better when they can then use play-action passes.

Speaking of which, it sounds like the Redskins aren’t the only team with defensive backfield issues. Why have the Lions struggled in the back end?

Rothstein: They've struggled back there -- kind of. A lot of the focus has been on rookie Darius Slay, who has been replaced in his first two NFL games by veteran Rashean Mathis. So there are some problems when Slay is in, but with a rookie, that should be expected. The rest of the defensive backfield has been decent. Chris Houston is playing well thus far opposite Slay/Mathis, defending three passes, making 11 tackles and not being beaten much by opposing receivers. Bill Bentley has had some issues at nickel, though, and it wouldn't be shocking to see teams go at him if Mathis plays more to see if they can lull him into a pass interference call or two.

Speaking of defense, what is going on with Washington? More than 1,000 total yards allowed in the first two games? That almost has to be more concerning than anything related to Griffin, right?

Keim: Very much so. The offense will come around and showed legitimate signs of life last week, despite the lopsided score. The same can’t be said of the defense. It misses too many tackles, and it's not sound against the run. Linebacker London Fletcher is not getting off blocks to make tackles, and the defense surrenders too many big plays. Other than that? Things are terrific. The Eagles and Packers forced the Redskins into a lot of nickel looks, and they're struggling to stop the run. Teams are also forcing the Redskins to prove they can tackle in space, and thus far they’ve failed. They start two rookies in the secondary (assuming they open in nickel), and that’s led to breakdowns in communication or technique. Corner David Amerson takes his eyes off his work at times. I like his talent, but he’s still growing as a player. Safety Bacarri Rambo would not have started if they had a legitimate option at free safety. He’s made mistakes too. But at least they can improve. I’m surprised how bad this group has played. I thought with Brian Orakpo returning they would do better (playing fine down the stretch last season). They need to get a lot of pressure from their four-man rushes or else risk exposing a weak secondary.

I’m guessing the Lions offense is excited to face this group. How dangerous can this group become, and what has Reggie Bush added?

Rothstein: If the Lions can hold on to the ball -- currently the league leaders in drops with eight -- they are extremely effective. Adding Bush to the team gives Detroit two players who can score any time they touch the ball along with Calvin Johnson. The question for this week is whether Bush will play. If he is able to come back from a helmet to the knee against Arizona on Sunday, Washington will have some major problems. If not, the Skins will likely do well to focus on Johnson and make Joique Bell and the other Lions options beat them. It will be interesting to see how Washington handles Detroit if Bush is healthy. Thus far, opponents have dropped deep against Johnson and given Bush space, but I'd imagine as he continues to be effective, that'll change.

I'll close with this question: What's the vibe around the Washington locker room? I'd imagine there is a bit of surprise of the predicament the team is in. To put it succinctly, is this team just struggling or does it have a dominant performance in it?

Keim: Michael, the vibe is that they’ve been here before, having gone 3-6 a year ago only to win seven straight. But if they’re honest with themselves, they would admit this is a lot uglier because they haven’t been in either game and the defense could have given up 50 last week. Last year, there was only one game in their first nine that they didn’t have a chance to win (Pittsburgh). They are surprised, but I think they understand how to handle this situation. It was a resilient group a year ago, and it needs to prove it again now. I think the offense has a dominant performance in it. I’m not sure what the defense has, other than a desire to not face a high-powered offense. As long as Griffin keeps getting his game back, the offense will be fine. There’s no simple solution for the defense. It needs to create turnovers and get lots of help from the offense. So one side of the ball is struggling mightily, the other side is working through some rust.

 

Big Blue Morning: Manning Bowl week

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
8:00
AM ET
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants

The news of the day: The news of Tuesday was the signing of former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who's being brought in to help the team with its pass protection and to help the development of starting running back David Wilson, who had a rough first game in several areas. Now, should fumbling continue to be an issue for Wilson, Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott and maybe another street free agent could enter the picture in terms of getting more carries. But I think the Giants have a very specific and unexciting (but important) role in mind for Jacobs. And besides, this is an offense that had three 100-yard receivers Sunday night. Aren't we spending too much time focusing on the run game? It's Manning Bowl Week! Gonna go over to Giants practice today, see if anybody's asking Eli Manning about what it's going to be like to play against his brother Sunday. Think they will? I think they will.

Behind enemy lines: Tight end Brandon Myers wasn't a big part of the passing game plan Sunday night against the Cowboys -- at least not once the Giants got behind. But Jeff Legwold points out that the Broncos were especially vulnerable to tight ends last season. Surely, if Jeff knows this, the Giants' coaching staff does as well, and it's possible you'll see more of Myers as a receiver Sunday due to the matchup. Of course, it's also possible the Giants are keeping the tight ends in more as they struggle with pass protection due to the offensive-line issues and the aforementioned problems the backs have had with it.

Around the division: Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he felt his offense was too slow Monday night, which everybody thinks is funny, right, because that's different from what everybody else thinks? But Kelly makes some good points about which pace-related aspects of the game his team needs to improve and also discusses why things slowed down in the second half. Always interesting to listen to Kelly, a man with at least one reason and explanation for every little detail of his plan.

Around the league: The NFL fined Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh $100,000 for his low block on Vikings center John Sullivan, which is a stunning amount. But as we discussed here yesterday, the league believes in escalating discipline for repeat offenders as a deterrent. Not working in Suh's case. I think what's most interesting about this story is that the NFL Players Association is getting involved, and not just as defenders of Suh against the discipline but to offer support and guidance if he needs it to help him deal with the obvious issues that keep resulting in these punishments. Whether it's an anger-management problem or something else, Suh needs to get under control. He's a brilliant player who should be a high-rated superstar in this league. But this is what he's going to end up being known for -- being the guy who set records for fines because he couldn't control himself on the field.
So I have this idea, since everybody loves draft talk and speculation so much, to go through each team's picks and the history of players taken at those spots. It doesn't mean much, since there's no way to know if the guy your team takes in the sixth round is going to become anything or not, but I thought it'd be fun, so I'm going to do it for each of our division's four teams. We'll go in first-round order, so we'll start with the Redskins, who have seven picks.

The Redskins have the No. 2 pick in the draft, which as you might expect has produced a number of great players, including 13 Hall of Famers. But in doing this exercise, I learned that the Redskins this year also have the pick (No. 102) that produced both Johnny Unitas and Nick Buoniconti. The Redskins' second pick in this year's draft is No. 69, which is noteworthy because the Redskins likely made the best No. 69 pick of all time when they drafted Hall of Famer Russ Grimm in 1981. Enjoy.

PICK 2 (second pick of first round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Von Miller, LB, Broncos

2010 -- Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions

2009 -- Jason Smith, T, Rams

2008 -- Chris Long, DE, Rams

2007 -- Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions

Redskins' history of No. 2 picks


2000 -- LaVar Arrington

1962 -- Norm Snead

1953 -- Jack Scarbath

Hall of Famers picked No. 2

Marshall Faulk (1994), Eric Dickerson (1983), Lawrence Taylor (1981), Tony Dorsett (1977), Randy White (1975), Tom Mack (1966), Joe Namath (1965, AFL), Bob Brown (1964), Merlin Olsen (1962), Les Richter (1952), Y.A. Tittle (1951), George McAfee (1940), Sid Luckman (1939)

Other notables

Reggie Bush (2006), Julius Peppers (2002), Ryan Leaf (1998), Tony Mandarich (1989), Cornelius Bennett (1987), Archie Manning (1971)

Last quarterback taken No. 2


1999 -- Donovan McNabb, Eagles

PICK 69 (sixth pick, third round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals

2010 -- Jared Veldheer, T, Raiders

2009 -- Jason Williams, LB, Cowboys

2008 -- Jacob Hester, FB, Chargers

2007 -- Buster Davis, LB, Cardinals

Redskins' history of No. 69 pick

1998 -- Skip Hicks

1981 -- Russ Grimm

Hall of Famers picked No. 69

Russ Grimm (1981), Jack Christiansen (1951)

PICK 102 (seventh pick, fourth round)

Last five players taken

2011 --Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns

2010 -- Darryl Sharpton, LB, Texans

2009 -- Donald Washington, DB, Chiefs

2008 -- Jeremy Thompson, DE, Packers

2007 -- Brian Robison, DE, Vikings

Redskins history of No. 102 pick

1996 -- Stephen Davis

1984 -- Jimmy Smith

Hall of Famers taken N0. 102

Nick Buoniconti (1962), Johnny Unitas (1955)

PICK 109 (14th pick, fourth round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Colin McCarthy, LB, Titans

2010 -- Corey Wootton, DE, Bears

2009 -- T.J. Lang, T, Packers

2008 -- Mike McGlynn, G, Eagles

2007 -- Stephen Nicholas, LB, Falcons

Redskins history of No. 109 pick


2001 -- Sage Rosenfels

1990 -- Rico Labbe

1988 -- Jamie Morris

Hall of Famers taken No. 109

Don Maynard (1957)

PICK 141 (sixth pick, fifth round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- D.J. Williams, TE, Packers

2010 -- Joshua Moore, DB, Bears

2009 -- Kenny McKinley, WR, Broncos

2008 -- Gary Barnidge, TE, Panthers

2007 -- Greg Peterson, DT, Buccaneers

Redskins history of No. 141 pick

1971 -- Conway Hayman

Hall of Famers taken No. 141

None

PICK 173 (third pick, sixth round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Byron Maxwell, DB, Seahawks

2010 -- Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers

2009 -- Javon Ringer, RB, Titans

2008 -- Dominique Barber, S, Texans

2007 -- Michael Coe, CB, Colts

Redskins history of No. 173 pick

2006 -- Reed Doughty

1970 -- Roland Merritt

1969 -- John Didion

Hall of Famers picked No. 173

None

PICK 213 (sixth pick, seventh round)

Last five players taken

2011 -- Brandyn Thompson, DB, Redskins

2010 -- Willie Young, DE, Lions

2009 -- Paul Fanaika, G, Eagles

2008 --Chauncey Washington, RB Jaguars

2007 -- Chase Pittman, DE, Browns

Redskins history of No. 213 pick

2011 -- Brandyn Thompson

1986 -- Kurt Gouveia

Hall of Famers picked No. 213

None
Good morning, NFC East folk. Cold out this way today. Let's warm up with a plate of hot, fresh links.

New York Giants

The Giants have begun their playoff week by commenting on the offensive line of their wild-card playoff foe, the Atlanta Falcons. Seems they are what Justin Tuck refers to as "dirt bags," and have a reputation for dirty play, blocking after the whistle, etc. Matt Ehalt found some opponent quotes from earlier in the season and hey, if Ndamukong Suh thinks you're dirty, you need to take a long look in the mirror. The Giants will need to win the battle up front with their defensive line against those dirt bags if they're to beat Atlanta and advance, so it's not a bad strategy to be out in front with this stuff this week. In case the officials are listening, ya know.

Steve Serby says there are multiple reasons to believe this Giants team can make a Super Bowl run the way the Giants of four years ago did, and he lists them. Of course they could, and they very well may. But I still say comparing this team to the one four years ago does a disservice to that team's thrilling surprise run and to this team's own mission. Different time, different circumstances different challenge. Drives me nuts when everybody goes for the easy comparison without thinking it through.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie meets the media at 2:30 pm ET today, and while everyone expects Andy Reid back at this point, we don't know for sure. We also don't know what will become of first-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. Jonathan Tamari writes that the case for canning Castillo is not as open and shut as it once seemed.

Meanwhile, Michael Vick says he'll scramble less next year in an effort to keep his body from breaking down and with the goal of actually playing all 16 games. I feel like we've heard this before, no?

Dallas Cowboys

Dez Bryant said, "I think I did OK," in evaluating his second NFL season, and I think that's fair. Everybody wants Bryant to be better, of course, since he was a first-round pick and has all of the obvious talent, but not everybody's as great in their second year as they eventually will be, and Bryant was a productive player in a year in which Laurent Robinson got the touchdowns and the offense worked best when DeMarco Murray was running the ball. The concerns with Bryant are off-the-field concerns. On the field, he seems to be coming along fine.

Some people asked yesterday whether Rob Ryan would be fired as defensive coordinator. I don't think he will, and it's worth remembering, as Calvin Watkins points out, that Ryan has a multiyear deal and could get some head-coach interviews. Even if the Cowboys want to fire him (which, again, I do not believe they will), I imagine they'd wait so as not to torpedo his chances of getting a bigger job elsewhere.

Washington Redskins

Sally Jenkins writes that the Redskins' offseason focus needs to predicate itself, at least in part, on the idea of getting bigger. In the column, former Redskins great Joe Theismann agrees with her and says part of the problem is that the Redskins haven't been able to physically dominate opponents.

Lots of talk around the Redskins these days about the progress they've made, but it seems clear that the players and coaches would like to see that progress translated into more actual victories. That was the theme Monday as players packed up lockers -- that for all of the talk and good feeling, 5-11 is still 5-11 and doesn't feel very good.

We have a chat later today at noon, and the Pineapple Edition of the NFL Power Rankings is due out sometime shortly thereafter. And more from my Mike Shanahan interview later this morning. Today's entry talks about his relationships with his offensive coordinator and the team's owner, and his thoughts on the criticism he takes for his offensive philosophies.

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