NFC East: Philip Rivers

IRVING, Texas -- When it comes to ranking quarterbacks, the debates can be endless and sometimes pointless, but Mike Sando took the question to people inside the NFL with his latest ESPN Insider piece. Insider

Romo
It might surprise some of you that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished tied for eighth in the tier-rankings of 26 general managers, former GMs, pro personnel people, coordinators, head coaches, position coaches and an executive.

Four players tied for the top spot in Sando’s rankings, using a 1 for the best at the position and a 5 for the worst. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees shared the top spot. Andrew Luck was fifth.

Romo checked in after Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and tied with Russell Wilson and Eli Manning in the second tier.

Here’s what Sando wrote and the insiders had to say about Romo:
T-8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (2.23 average rating)

A few evaluators questioned whether Romo had the mind-set to play at the highest level consistently. It's a familiar refrain in league circles, a feeling that Romo is an undisciplined QB playing for an undisciplined organization with a poorly constructed roster.

"People want to knock him," one GM responded, "but the guy has talent and is one of the top 10 starters in the league."

Romo is 34 years old and coming off back surgery, but he still could be in line for a "monster" season, one evaluator said. "But I absolutely believe they will not win big with him. As soon as he decides it's a clutch moment, his brain goes elsewhere. He loses focus and tries to create something."




What’s funny is that the GM and evaluator have the same thoughts of those who love Romo or loathe Romo who are not on the inside. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far as to call Romo “underrated” in his yearly rankings, which drew the ire of some.

The “clutch” talk has been a big thing around Romo since the bobbled snap in 2006 against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. That talk is always followed up with Romo having the best fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history (102.4) and his 20 come-from-behind wins.

Those numbers aren’t hollow, although with one playoff win to his credit that’s what his detractors will say.

That’s why this debate is a good one. Both sides can declare victory with their points. If Romo were to ever win a Super Bowl -- or perhaps just get to one -- then the perception would change entirely.
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The quarterback-needy teams at the top of this year's NFL draft are miserable, and justifiably so. No one's sold on this year's top quarterbacks, so taking one with a top-five or a top-10 pick is a frightening proposition. If you spend a resource that valuable on a quarterback and you get it wrong, you've made a franchise-crippling mistake.

Oh, but if you get it right ... well, then, you've made a franchise.

The New York Giants were one of those teams 10 years ago. They held the No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft and needed a quarterback, and the guy they wanted was going to go No. 1. In order to get Eli Manning from San Diego (and he'd made it clear he didn't want to play there), they had to pick Philip Rivers at No. 4 and trade him and a third-round pick to the Chargers. The Giants also would have to send their 2005 first- and fifth-round picks. 'Twas a heavy price, and a difficult one to pay. But pay it the Giants did, because they decided they were sure that Manning was their guy. They were certain they were getting the right quarterback, and that the price to do so was worth it.

Ten years later, in advance of a draft that has no Eli Manning (and no Philip Rivers, for that matter), the Giants' move to get Manning stands as a prime example of getting the quarterback right. Manning hasn't always been perfect, and he's not and never will be his brother. But as No. 1-pick quarterbacks go, he's one who has lived up to the promise and the price.

Could the Giants have won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI with Rivers as their quarterback instead of Manning? Sure, it's possible. Rivers is a fine player who at times during the past decade has been better than Manning. And those Giants Super Bowl teams did have other high-quality aspects to them. It's entirely possible that had the Giants emerged from that draft with Rivers and their 2005 first-round pick, they'd still have won those titles.

But it's not certain, and what is certain is that Manning did deliver those two Super Bowl titles. While Rivers and others who haven't been there continue to carry uncertainty about whether they can be championship-caliber quarterbacks, Manning has been a championship-caliber quarterback. Twice. He was absolutely instrumental in those playoff runs and Super Bowl wins, and to say that Rivers or anyone else would have won those titles with those teams is to presume they'd have played at least as well in those games as Manning did.

The result has been franchise-altering in the best possible way. Think about the difference in the way you perceive the Giants now and the way you'd perceive them if they still hadn't won a Super Bowl since 1991. Think of what having Manning at quarterback has done for the reputations of Tom Coughlin, Jerry Reese ... John Mara, for goodness' sake. These are regarded around the league as men at the absolute top of their profession, the Giants as one of the league's exemplary franchises. Would that still be the case if they were working on a 23-year Super Bowl drought? If they'd only ever won two titles instead of four?

Just as Manning wasn't the only reason for the Giants' past two Super Bowl titles, he's not the only reason the reputations of the men in the previous paragraph stand out. But had they not made the move to get him in 2004 -- or had he not turned out to be the player they believed he would be -- they'd have spent all, or at least a good chunk, of the past decade trying to figure out the quarterback spot. And when you look around the league at teams that wander in that desert, you don't exactly see a lot of stability in the general manager's and coaches' offices. A franchise quarterback is an anchor. Having one makes everything else about your team and your football business seem brighter, all of your problems feel easier to solve. That's what Eli Manning has brought to the Giants since then-GM Ernie Accorsi made the move to get him in the 2004 draft. Because of what Manning has delivered on the high end, not even the low moments or the down years have ever given the Giants any reason to doubt whether they did the right thing.

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
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Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo echoed what others have said about Robert Griffin III this past season: he wasn’t good enough and he needs to make changes to his game.

Griffin
Which is why Angelo gave him a low grade and placed him 21st among NFL quarterbacks. Angelo also rated him as a 6.9 on his nine-point scale.

For Angelo (writing on the scouting website Sidelineview.com), falling between a 6.5-6.9 means a quarterback “has strong traits, but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.”

That about sums up Griffin after his second NFL season. Here’s what Angelo wrote on Griffin:
“Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.”


Right below Griffin: St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, a former top pick in the NFL draft (and a guy former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan loved). New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was only rated a 7.0; Dallas' Tony Romo (7.9) and Philadelphia's Nick Foles (8.0) were the tops in the NFC East.

Cousins
Angelo was not high on backup Kirk Cousins, giving him a 5.4 grade. On Angelo’s scale, that means a quarterback is a “band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.”

And here’s what he wrote about Cousins:
“Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.”


Safe to say if Angelo were still employed in the NFL, he would not be among the teams willing to give up a high draft pick for Cousins.

Angelo listed seven quarterbacks as elite this past season (in order): Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Here’s the rest of the article.

Pro Bowl selections: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 27, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles' late-season run to the brink of an NFC East title did not translate into many Pro Bowl berths.

LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, was an almost automatic selection. Left tackle Jason Peters, who had five Pro Bowl selections on his resume, was the only other Eagle chosen.

Five Cleveland Browns were chosen, so the wins-to-Pro-Bowl-berths relationship is kind of hard to figure sometimes.

McCoy was a lock. He needs just 37 rushing yards to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record of 1,512.

Three Eagles have legitimate gripes. And no, one of them is not quarterback Nick Foles, who was cited as the biggest snub via social media on the NFL Network's Pro Bowl selection special.

Foles has had 60 percent of a Pro Bowl season. The fact that he didn't start the Eagles' first five games, and missed another game because of a concussion, surely hurt his cause. It's also hard to argue with any of the six quarterbacks chosen: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.

The three Eagles who should have been ticketed for Hawaii:

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is having the best season of his career. There are plenty of wide receivers with big numbers, but Jackson has provided a huge big-play element to the Eagles' prolific offense.

Left guard Evan Mathis has been the highest-rated guard by Pro Football Focus for several seasons now. He is equally dominating in the run game and in pass protection.

Center Jason Kelce has battled back from an ACL tear to anchor the Eagles' offensive line. Kelce makes the line calls, snaps the ball and is still able to get downfield and block for McCoy in the secondary.

Foles was selected as a first alternate. Jackson and Mathis were second alternates.

No one from the Eagles defense was chosen. Again, not surprising. DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole have Pro Bowl pedigrees, but neither has the big sack or interception numbers that draw votes. Cole has eight sacks in the Eagles' last seven games but had zero through the first half of the season.

"I'd be disappointed if some of those guys didn't make it because I think [they're] deserving," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "But I don't think our guys -- I mean, it's a nice reward, but I think that their focus and attention is on what's going to go on this Sunday."

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”
CHICAGO -- It's one thing to get torched by quarterbacks who are household names, such as Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees.

McCown
But what about the sixth quarterback to pass for at least 300 yards against the Dallas Cowboys this season?

“Is that Luke McCown or Cade McCown?” Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick asked after Monday night's 45-28 blowout loss to the Chicago Bears.

Um, actually it was Josh McCown, who is Luke's brother and not related to former Bears first-round bust Cade McNown.

Scandrick meant no disrespect -- “He's been playing great this year,” he added -- but his slip of the mind makes the point. The Dallas defense got dominated by a 34-year-old journeyman backup.

McCown has consistently performed well while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler, but this was a career night for a guy who couldn't keep a starting job at SMU. He completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, plus he ran for another score.

To be brutally honest, the numbers would have been much more impressive if the Bears weren't in clock-killing mode for most of the fourth quarter. Chicago never punted or committed a turnover.

All due respect to McCown, but he's not a guy who should account for five touchdowns against an NFL defense.

“If you were back there at quarterback and we played the way we played, you'd probably have five touchdowns,” defensive end DeMarcus Ware said in response to a question from a 40-something television reporter. “I mean, that's the way I feel. If you don't play a fundamentally sound game, a guy that can just get out there and play, he'll hurt you and that's what he did.”

In doing so, McCown added his name to a long list featuring a bunch of big-name quarterbacks.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 14

December, 9, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesEli Manning threw two more interceptions, bringing him closer to a new career high.
Penalties a killer: The Giants were flagged for seven penalties for 72 yards. The worst may have been Charles James' offside penalty that gave Nick Novak a second chance at a field goal (he missed from 41 yards but then made it from 36), but that was just one of four offside calls against the Giants. "There's no excuse for that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Watch the ball. That's what you do all day long. If you watch us practice, we put a ball on the end of a stick, and the player doesn't move until the ball moves. There's absolutely no excuse for jumping offsides." It's easy to use a word like "undisciplined" to describe a team that gets called for too many penalties, but I think sometimes a team that feels overmatched can start jumping early in an effort to tilt the advantage back in its favor. The Giants have certainly felt overmatched at times this season, and Sunday was a strong example of such a game.

Chargers run wild: The Chargers rushed for 144 yards on 40 carries. Ryan Mathews had 103 yards and Danny Woodhead added 42. Justin Tuck grumbled that the total had more to do with San Diego's number of rushing attempts than anything special they did against the Giants' defense. But the 144 was the second-highest single-game rushing yardage total against the Giants this season (Carolina had 194 in Week 3), and Mathews found holes all day. The Chargers ended up possessing the ball for 36:56, which was the second-highest time-of-possession total against the Giants this season, just behind Dallas' 37:10 in the opener.

Third-down woes: The Chargers entered the game with a third-down conversion rate of 46.4 percent, which was second-best in the league to Denver, and they improved it, going 10-for-15 on third down Sunday. The Giants have struggled with third-down defense all season, and rank in the bottom third of the league in that department. But this was especially bad. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was 7-for-10 for 128 yards and two touchdowns on third down, and that was another huge reason for the time-of-possession edge.

Eli's rough year rolls on: Hakeem Nicks was able to make some plays down the field for a change, and ended up with 135 yards on five catches. But quarterback Eli Manning struggled again, missing some key throws and once again unable to get the offense into a rhythm. The Giants struggled to protect him early in the game, and he took two more sacks to raise his career-high total to 33 for the season. He also threw his 19th and 20th interceptions of the season, putting him five short of his career high in that department with three games to play. He threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Myers for the third game in a row, but Nicks doesn't have a touchdown all season and Victor Cruz hasn't caught one since September.

Chargers fans greet Manning with jeers

December, 8, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The public address announcer let the fans here at Qualcomm Stadium know who was starting at quarterback for the New York Giants. And as Eli Manning jogged out onto the field for the game's first series, they let him have it.

Fans of the team for which Manning famously didn't want to play when it drafted him first overall in 2004 hadn't had a chance to boo him since early in the 2005 season. But they have not forgiven Manning for spurning them, and they booed him every time he came onto the field and every time he dropped back to pass.

Having lost the game 37-14, Manning was in no mood to discuss the San Diego fans' treatment of him.

"Fans have never affected my play," Manning said. "I just tried to go out there and play good football."

After drafting Manning first overall in 2004, the Chargers immediately traded him to the Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers (whom the Giants selected fourth overall as a condition of the trade) and several other picks. Among the newspaper front pages of franchise highlights hanging on the wall in the press box is one from the 2005 game in which the Chargers beat Manning and the Giants 45-23 here in 2005. Until Sunday, that was Manning's only career game in San Diego.

Sunday, fans chanted things at Eli that we cannot print here. They held up unflattering signs. And as the teams went in for halftime with the Chargers up 24-0, the fans chanted "We love Philip" in reference to Rivers, who'd thrown three touchdown passes in the first half.

"I think that's more for you all or the fans I guess," Rivers said of the Manning issue. "I felt like I was competing, and we were competing, against the Giants' defense. I know that's a sidebar story, but I've never felt like it's me vs. him."
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants

The news of the day: The post-mortem on the Giants' fifth victory in their last six games was mostly positive Monday, as coach Tom Coughlin praised the ability of his team to recover from the early 14-0 deficit and comeback to defeat Washington on Sunday night. The defense was especially impressive, considering that they were playing thin in the secondary due to injuries and without starting defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, whose shoulder injury is likely to be a problem for the rest of the season. Pierre-Paul's absence left the Giants thin at defensive end, and Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka may have handle more of the workload the rest of the way if Pierre-Paul can't play or if his snaps have to be limited.

Behind enemy lines: San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is having a monster season and should pose another tough test for this improved Giants defense. But as Eric D. Williams points out, Qualcomm Stadium hasn't exactly been a tough place for opponents to play over the past few years. The Chargers are just 2-3 at home this year and 10-11 at home since the start of the 2011 season.

Around the division: Under ridiculously insane pressure, all the time, to issue definitive statements about his quarterback situation in a world and a league that defy definitive statements, Eagles coach Chip Kelly pronounced red-hot Nick Foles the Eagles' quarterback for the next 1,000 years. I think I speak for everyone when I say I'd really like to know what Kelly's putting in Foles' personalized post-practice smoothies.

Around the league: The Patriots say it's crazy to think they were spying on the Texans, as the Texans hinted after the game. Not sure where the Texans would have got the idea that the Patriots would do something like that ...

Five Wonders: A wild-card possibility?

November, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's a short week for the Dallas Cowboys with the Oakland Raiders visiting on Thanksgiving, but we're not shortening Five Wonders.

It's still five and we're still wondering.

On to the Wonders:
  • The easiest way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. With their 4-0 division record, the Cowboys appear to be in control there. But I wonder if they could sneak into a wild-card spot depending on how things play out. The Carolina Panthers (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) hold the wild-card spots right now. The Panthers have two games left with the New Orleans Saints, whom they trail by a game in the NFC South race. San Francisco has an easier schedule the rest of the way and maybe Monday's win is a sign of things to come, but it is scuffling more than people expected. The Arizona Cardinals (7-4) play two teams with losing records the rest of the way and still have the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers. The Cowboys have head-to-head matchups against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in December that could aid their wild-card possibilities should the Philadelphia Eagles remain hot. Of course, it all could come down to Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles for a third straight win-or-go-home game.
  • Because the Cowboys did not employ a dime defense at the start of the season, they felt they were safe in carrying only four cornerbacks -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb -- on the 53-man roster. They kept Micah Pellerin on the practice squad as insurance and needed Pellerin for a game. Now I wonder if keeping only four is catching up to them. Pellerin was cut last week and claimed by the Tennessee Titans, which forced the Cowboys to sign Sterling Moore on Monday now that Claiborne is out with a hamstring injury. Webb is OK in small doses, but it sure seems as if quarterbacks know when he is in the game, doesn't it? The Cowboys viewed Moore mostly as a slot player and did not believe he was worth keeping over Webb, a fourth-round pick. Until Claiborne got hurt, they were right, but the Cowboys now find themselves hoping Moore is in good shape and can pick up the defense quickly after nearly three months out of the game. Claiborne could be looking at a two-game absence again, if not three depending on the severity of his new hamstring injury.
  • I wonder if we'll see more Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar down the stretch. Jerry Jones made it a point of emphasis during the bye week that he wanted to see Dunbar get some snap. Dunbar had eight against the Giants and had 20 yards on three carries. His 18-yard run was the longest by a Dallas runner this season not named DeMarco Murray. He offers up a change of pace for this offense. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. So of the eight snaps, he delivered 46 yards, which is not a bad ratio. Escobar played in 12 snaps as the Cowboys used their “13 personnel” more and also had him split some of the No. 2 tight end work with James Hanna. Escobar also had his first catch since Oct. 6. He needs time to develop but he can be a decent outlet in the passing game because of his ability to make plays on the ball.
  • Sean Lee has plenty of incentive to get back on the field. First and foremost in his mind is to help the Cowboys win games. Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have, but he has missed all but one snap in the last seven quarters with a hamstring injury. He would like to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, but given the short week of preparation and the need for him to be healthy for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will most likely play it conservative. There is also a financial incentive. I wonder if Lee hits on the 80 percent play-time escalator in his contract that would boost his 2015 base salary from $2.5 million to $4 million. If Lee plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would get the extra $1.5 million. Before getting hurt, Lee played in at least 97 percent of the snaps in eight of the Cowboys' first nine games. He played in 78 percent of the snaps in the blowout win against the St. Louis Rams and just 15 snaps against New Orleans before getting hurt. He has missed 127 snaps in the past two games. If he doesn't play against the Raiders, that could be another 60 snaps. The Cowboys are on pace for 1,123 defensive snaps this season and Lee would have to play in 898 snaps to reach 80 percent. I believe he gets it but he can't have any setbacks.
  • I wonder if Tony Romo makes the Pro Bowl. The voting rules have changed. It is no longer the top three quarterbacks per conference. It is six for the league. It's safe to think Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will get in. Tom Brady might not be having the typical Tom Brady season but he's still Tom Brady, so he should get voted in as well. Aaron Rodgers will miss his fourth straight game on Thursday with a broken collarbone, so he's not a lock. Seattle's Russell Wilson has the NFL's best record and good numbers. So where does Romo start to fit in? He's fourth in touchdown passes with 23. He is seventh in passer rating. He has cut back on his interceptions. He has directed two final-minute drives to lead the Cowboys to their last two wins. Who else could be in the mix? San Diego's Philip Rivers will be in there. Philadelphia's Nick Foles has 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He could be there too. Remember, the two quarterbacks from the Super Bowl teams won't play in the game, so that adds to the pool. If Romo does not make it, you'd have to wonder if there is a Cowboys' bias. I kid. I kid.
Nick FolesAP Photo/Ben MargotThe Eagles didn't pick him as one and don't pay him like one, but Nick Foles is playing like an elite QB.

PHILADELPHIA – Try this exercise. Imagine the Philadelphia Eagles took quarterback Nick Foles near the top of the 2013 NFL draft. Imagine he came to town with the expectation that he would be an elite franchise quarterback.

Now look at what Foles has accomplished this season. He has started five games. He has won four. He threw seven touchdown passes in a game, tying the NFL record. Overall, he has thrown 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His passer rating is 128.0, best in the NFL.

If he were Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, his team’s fans would be over the moon with that kind of production. If he were Sam Bradford or Brandon Weeden or Ryan Tannehill, there would be full-fledged cults devoted to him.

In Philadelphia? There is a fascinating wait-and-see reaction to Foles’ phenomenal 2013 season. Hours of talk radio are filled with discussion about whether Foles can be the Eagles’ quarterback – for the season, for 2014, for the long haul.

There are good reasons for this, starting with the way coach Chip Kelly has handled the Eagles’ quarterback situation. Veteran Michael Vick was Kelly’s chosen quarterback after a training-camp competition. Since Vick was injured, even as Foles has put up the crazy numbers outlined above, Kelly has simply declined to say who his No. 1 quarterback is.

“I honestly really haven’t thought about it,” Foles said. “I don’t know. Whatever he decides, wherever he goes, I’m in it 100 percent. I’ll support whatever Chip says. I don’t know how the talk will go or when it will be, but I’m all in for this team. Whatever’s best for this team will always be the most important thing to me.”

But it goes beyond Kelly’s management of a tricky situation with the veteran Vick. Eagles fans have been down this road before: Ty Detmer, Bobby Hoying, A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb have raised hopes, only to disappoint and frustrate.

Kolb is the freshest wound. A second-round pick, Kolb started two games in place of the injured Donovan McNabb in 2009. He completed 55 of 85 passes for 718 yards and four touchdowns, with three interceptions. Kolb was the first quarterback in the history of the league to throw for more than 300 yards in each of his first two career starts.

Kolb did not become the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Neither did Feeley or Hoying or Detmer. Eagles fans are naturally skeptical of flash-in-the-pan quarterbacks. And when Foles delivered a truly terrible performance against Dallas in his second start of the season, that skepticism flared up.

Foles has played brilliantly since then, but he hasn’t quite erased the memory of his Dallas dud. But there is one more compelling reason fans here haven’t fully jumped on the Foles bandwagon. And it comes back to Kelly.

When Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman landed the Wizard of Oregon, the excitement was palpable. Kelly was going to bring his futuristic offense to Philadelphia. Surely there would be a dynamic quarterback sprinting all over the field and firing passes from the rocket launcher on his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDespite Nick Foles' great play, Eagles fans are at best cautious. They've been here before.
Foles was an afterthought. It isn’t easy going from afterthought to hero. But the truth is, Kelly has said from the start that he could run his offense with Foles as his quarterback.

“It's always about the individual, so it doesn't matter what plays are called or what scheme is run,” Kelly said. “They still have to be executed. I think he is executing them and all the credit goes to him. He spends a lot of time. He works extremely hard at it. He's got a really good grasp on what we're doing, extremely accurate in his throws. I think he's a really good decision-maker. It's exciting to see him grow here.”

Kelly has praised Foles but, with Vick to consider, he hasn’t really embraced him. Teammates who respect Vick as one of the great athletes ever to play the game are beginning to talk about Foles as a guy who just wins. Fans who keep waiting for the next Dallas dud are cautiously beginning to believe Foles just might be the guy.

For now, if not forever.

All of this puts the Eagles in a pretty good position. They didn’t have to commit to Foles the way other franchises had to commit to Bradford or Tannehill or Christian Ponder or EJ Manuel. They wouldn’t trade their situation with Foles for San Diego’s with Philip Rivers, Dallas’ with Tony Romo or Chicago’s with Jay Cutler.

If Foles continues to play at an elite level, the Eagles will have filled the most important position in the game without taking a big risk. And if he goes the way of Kolb and Hoying and the rest, they won’t be hamstrung by a huge contract and a wasted first-round pick.

Meanwhile, they have a quarterback who has gotten them into the playoff picture, earned a display in Canton for his seven-touchdown game and has no sense of entitlement.

“I never think that way,” Foles said. “When you start thinking that way, you start getting complacent. Just because you do a lot of great things the week before doesn’t mean you’re going to go out there and do it again.”

That’s what the great ones do. Foles may not become one of them, but he at least has the chance.

Redskins' pass rush fails late

November, 13, 2013
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Christian PonderBruce Kluckhohn/Bruce KluckhohnWashington linebacker Brian Orakpo's sack on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in the first quarter on Sunday was the only sack the Redskins recorded in the game.

It’s a pass rusher’s dream: a double-digit lead in the second half, providing a chance to focus on rushing the passer and picking up a sack. Or two.

The Redskins have been presented with those situations in each of the past three games. They haven’t feasted.

The Redskins led Denver by 14 points in the third quarter and lost. They led San Diego by 10 in the fourth quarter and surrendered the lead before winning in overtime. And they blew a 13-point third-quarter lead at Minnesota. What could have been a good stretch for the Redskins turned into a frustrating one, with two losses.

“We let those leads go,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “That’s disappointing because that’s a situation we want. We want them to be in obvious pass situations and we weren’t able to capitalize defensively.”

You can’t just blame the defense. In each of those games the offense also did not do its job. Against Denver, after the Broncos cut the lead to seven the Redskins responded with two first downs on their next five drives (and one turnover). Against San Diego the Redskins managed one first down on their next drive following the Chargers’ cutting it to three points. And, against Minnesota they managed one first down in three of their last four drives of the game. They need to respond better.

But here are the passing numbers of opposing quarterbacks the past three weeks when the Redskins lead by 10 or more points: 15-for-19, 153 yards, two touchdowns and one sack. Yes, they’ve faced Denver’s Peyton Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers, two of the NFL’s best. But Christian Ponder went 6-for-6 with a touchdown against them, too.

And, when the Redskins have led in the second half the past three games quarterbacks have completed 29-of-42 passes for 331 yards, three touchdowns, one sack and an interception.

“Teams haven’t gone away with what they’re going to do in the second half,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “You get those situations where you get a team that says, ‘Screw it we’ll start chucking the ball up left and right.’ Teams are sticking to their game plans, establishing the run, a little play action. It’s rare to see that. [Usually] you get teams that are down and they get pass happy.”

Orakpo is right; Denver ran the ball on five of its next 11 plays after falling behind by 14. Minnesota passed the ball on six of its nine plays after trailing by 13, but the threat of running back Adrian Peterson enabled the play-action to still work. Ponder hurt them by extending plays, too; the Redskins rushed six and played man on his 14-yard run late in the third quarter.

“To their credit it worked,” Orakpo said of the Vikings. “They stuck to the game plan and they didn’t panic. It almost came off like they weren’t down at all. We weren’t able to take off like me and Ryan wanted to.”

But the Redskins only hit Minnesota’s quarterbacks once on the last 14 pass drops. They did not hit Manning after the 21-7 lead. They did hit Rivers once and sacked him another time. In general, though, the pressure hasn’t been there.

In many cases, teams have attacked the Redskins with quick three-step drops and throws. Washington has tried to run stunts and blitzes, but the quick throws negate them. They ran an occasional stunt against the Vikings on a third and six, but Ponder unloaded the ball in 2.1 seconds; so by the time Orakpo raced inside the pass was gone. Another time on third down Ponder threw in 1.3 seconds for a first down. Manning and Rivers threw quickly as well, but there were downs when both held the ball a little longer (on the sack of Rivers, he had the ball for 4.4 seconds because of sound man-to-man coverage).

That means the coverage must buy the rush more time. The Redskins played more zone versus Minnesota, in part most likely to help defend Peterson better when he tries to bounce wide, and the Vikings pounced with quick throws to open areas.

“When you’re stunting you need them to hold the ball a half second or two longer,” Orakpo said.

Of course, defenses have pressured Washington on seemingly quick passes. Griffin was sacked in 2.4 seconds and then 2.8 seconds on consecutive plays in the third quarter last week -- not necessarily instant pressure, but certainly quick. So it can be done. Ponder escaped some pressure, but he did have a few drops where after 2.8 seconds he still faced no pressure.

If the Redskins want to turn their season around they must improve with their four-man rushes in particular.

“I’m surprised by it last week because we had them in situations we wanted them,” Kerrigan said. “We were up 27-14 and their backs were against the wall. As a pass rusher that’s a situation you dream of. That was disappointing to let that lead go. That’s the game Rak and I and everyone on the defense wants.”

A lot of it comes back to an inability to stop teams on third downs. In those three games, when playing with the lead in the second half, the Redskins have allowed six of 11 third downs to be converted. That goes back to pressure -- and coverage, too. The offense must be more consistent to help, but at some point the defense needs to do it themselves.

“If we were satisfied ,we would have won those games in the second half,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “So that’s what we’re talking about. What do you have to do to improve in that area? You’ve got to get better on third downs.”

To contend, Eagles must win at home

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
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PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly made a wisecrack about it, but the Philadelphia Eagles’ home losing streak is no longer a laughing matter – not with a division title at stake.

It was one thing when Andy Reid’s 4-12 Eagles team lost its last six home games of 2012. And it was not that big a deal when Reid’s still-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs came to Lincoln Financial Field and beat Kelly in his second home game.

But the streak has hit 10 games now. Kelly is 0-4 at the Linc. Somehow, though, the Eagles are 5-1 on the road and tied with the Dallas Cowboys atop the NFC East. If they are going to have a chance to win an unlikely division title in Kelly’s first season, the Eagles are going to have to snap that streak.

[+] EnlargeFoles
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCan a suddenly sizzling Nick Foles help the Eagles snap a franchise record 10-game home losing skid this Sunday?
Their next chance is Sunday against Washington.

“What’s the answer for us not winning at home and being 5-1 on the road? I don’t know,” Kelly said. “If we knew it, we’d replicate it. Do we have to take the buses and drive around for a half hour before we go to the stadium? I don’t know. If that was the answer, we would do it.”

It’s a funny idea, but it probably won’t fix anything. The real issue is who the Eagles have played and when.

They got Robert Griffin III in his first tentative game back from his knee injury on opening night at Washington. They’ve also won road games against Tampa Bay with Mike Glennon at quarterback, Oakland with Terrelle Pryor and Green Bay with Scott Tolzien replacing Seneca Wallace.

They split road games against the Manning brothers. Peyton took them apart in Denver and they beat Eli and the Giants the next week.

At home, they faced the Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Chiefs’ Alex Smith in a span of five days when the Eagles’ defense was still figuring out where to line up.

Their other two home losses were back-to-back division games against Dallas and the Giants. Both games were finished by rookie quarterback Matt Barkley. Nick Foles played his worst game against Dallas and left with a concussion. Michael Vick started against the Giants and reinjured his hamstring nine plays in. The Eagles didn’t score an offensive touchdown in either game.

That’s no way to win, at home or on the road.

Since then, Foles has thrown for 10 touchdowns in two weeks, so the offense is operating at a high level. And the defense hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in the six games since the Denver debacle. That’s how the Eagles got into the NFC race again.

Now they just have to take care of this franchise-record home losing streak. Kelly said he doesn’t believe it has gotten into the players’ heads.

“No, I don’t think that's our mindset,” Kelly said. “Our mindset is to win every single game we play. I watch these guys on a weekly basis prepare. And I don't think they say, ‘Hey, we're away, let's do this. We're home, let's do this.’ They're not like this. It's a consistent group in their approach. But I do think we have an advantage. We love playing at home. Our fans are outstanding. They deserve it. That's what our goal is right now.”

Gentlemen, start your buses.

Lessons Learned: David Amerson

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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1. David Amerson loves to play aggressive. That’s what enabled the Washington Redskins' rookie cornerback to intercept San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers in the fourth quarter Sunday. He played for the inside break by receiver Keenan Allen, was right behind him and ran through his upfield shoulder to grab the ball. A pretty interception.

2. He still gets greedy, a knock on him from his North Carolina State days. Playmakers tend to be greedy; it’s how they make plays. But it also leads to big plays allowed, too. And it makes such players easy to set up as the Chargers did in the fourth quarter. Allen had been running inside breaking routes all game, until he took one outside after Amerson’s interception. It resulted in an easy 16-yard touchdown catch. Amerson played for a slant route and lost.

[+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThis tackle by Redskins cornerback David Amerson against Chargers running back Danny Woodhead was a pivotal play in Washington's win.
“He gave that to me all game, so I anticipated it. I was extra aggressive. It was a great counter move,” Amerson said. “The best way to defend a double move is keeping your eyes on the receiver, not in the backfield. I was getting a little greedy.”

It’s tough to know where that line is between greed and aggressiveness. And the coaches say they like his mindset, but that fatigue led to his late-game mistakes. But Amerson has been set up in other games and will continue to be tested in this manner; teams often save that double move for late in the game as the Chargers did.

“Just being smart and knowing when to and when not to,” Amerson said. “That’s what really separates some of the great corners. That comes along with experience. ... There are some things you just have to live with, and you’re out there on the edge. All your mistakes are highlighted or touchdowns. It’s unfortunate, but as a corner it’s something you have to deal with.”

3. He made two excellent plays near the goal-line in the fourth quarter. The first was the diving tackle of Danny Woodhead, who was inches from touching the pylon with the ball. A knock on Amerson before the draft was his lack of physical play and his competitiveness. But on this play he was physical and competitive.

“I never thought I wasn’t a physical guy,” Amerson said. “People can say what they want, but you’ve just got to go out and compete and let your play speak for itself. A play like that will help me prove my case.”

Then, on third and goal from the 1, he defended Allen, who ran inside and then cut back to the outside.

“When I see him going in,” Amerson said, “out of the corner of my eye I see Philip scrambling and automatically I’m thinking this doesn’t look right, so I knew he was going to try to sit down and come back out.”

4. But Amerson was reminded of another valuable lesson when Allen caught a 12-yard pass off a Rivers scramble in the second quarter on a third-and-10. Allen ran another inside route, but when Rivers broke the pocket to his right, Allen cut back outside and was wide open.

“You can turn back to him and play better, but some things you’ve got to live with,” Amerson said.

5. One week earlier, Amerson did a nice job on Denver's Eric Decker. The Broncos tested him on two passes downfield in the same series; neither were complete. Decker wasn’t open.

“I was just trying to pressure him with outside leverage, and he kept releasing to my leverage,” Amerson said. “It allowed me to get my hands on him, and that killed most of everything.”

6. He’s feeling more comfortable in press coverage, something he did not play last year. He still gets out of position in this coverage occasionally, but has improved.

“The main thing is experience, knowing how a guy releases and studying your guy,” he said. “It’s just staying patient. That’s the biggest thing, and using my advantages and my length. Guys give you all this stuff and try to throw you off-balance, and all of a sudden you’re running side by side with them or they’re in front of you. You have to really study your guy.”

Ten Observations: Redskins 30, Chargers 24

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
10:20
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video.
  1. I don’t know if Sunday turned the Washington Redskins’ season around; I do know it would have been over with a loss, especially with both Dallas and Philadelphia winning. And until they play well in consecutive games it’ll be difficult to take them seriously. But Sunday was a good bounce-back game after a horrendous finish in Denver and after some bad plays in the first half (blocked field goal, tipped pass for a touchdown). They blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, but the focus was on a goal-line stand and touchdown drive in overtime. Quite a turnaround indeed. Now, do it again Thursday and we’ll talk.
  2. Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield knew the Chargers would try to catch them with their nickel defense on first-and-goal from the 1. So Cofield played it as a run. His penetration made a big difference in stopping Danny Woodhead. “I can just fire off the ball; I don’t want to get knocked out of the A gap,” he said. “I’m trying to force them to make a cut right away. I was able to penetrate and he had to cut back.” If Cofield had played for the pass? “You can get caught playing high or in a pass rush and get knocked out of your gap. … If it was a pass, then God bless 'em.” Defensive end Stephen Bowen said, “I was surprised they had Danny Woodhead in for a run.” We’ll add Bowen to the list.
  3. The Redskins were caught with one defensive back in a goal-line situation by Denver last week. When they shifted to a pass, the Redskins were overmatched and Denver scored. The Redskins tweaked that package this week. The result? Corner DeAngelo Hall was in the game and covered tight end Antonio Gates on the fade. Hall jammed him and disrupting the timing. “Thank God I was on him,” Hall said. “Normally we line up with a bunch of big guys trying to stop the run. It worked out for us.”
  4. Corner David Amerson made a terrific fourth-quarter play, intercepting Philip Rivers at the Redskins’ 49-yard line. It led to a field goal and 24-14 lead. Receiver Keenan Allen, Amerson’s boyhood buddy, took an inside release, tipping Amerson to two possibilities: a sucker route in which he cuts back out or a dig. Allen leaned hard on the outside to get back inside, another clue. “Basic stuff,” Amerson said. “I played the dig heavy and was able to get around him.” After that, the Chargers used more double moves to counter his aggressiveness – as they did on a touchdown later in the quarter, with Allen breaking hard inside and cutting out.
  5. On the fourth-and-2 that San Diego converted with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the game Hall could be seen pointing to his right. There was supposed to be an adjustment, but only Hall and Amerson got it. Corner Josh Wilson and Hall ran with the front man against the Chargers’ bunch formation while Amerson ran toward Antonio Gates near the first-down marker. Amerson called it a miscommunication as Wilson should have dropped to the outside – where Allen caught the ball.
  6. Still not sure the reason for all the batted passes (the field goals, based on replays both looked too low). It’s not like Robert Griffin III has had a lot of issues in this area. On the first one that resulted in a touchdown, Griffin paused before he threw and, with his eyes focused on his target, San Diego’s Lawrence Guy raised his arms at the right time and deflected the pass. Another time, there was too much push and a hand was in Griffin’s face. It’s not always a height issue; it’s about timing and reading clues for the release.
  7. But Griffin did a good job with his eyes on a critical third-and-8 on the game-winning drive in overtime, forcing linebacker Reggie Walker to stay in the middle. That enabled Griffin to squeeze in a pass to tight end Jordan Reed. Had Griffin eyed him the whole way, the pass would not have been open.
  8. The drift pass – when the Redskins fake the play-action and hit a receiver down the seam -- still works. There have been times it hasn’t this season, but it’s not as if teams had taken it away (some had based on how they used their safeties over the middle). But San Diego’s linebackers were fooled time and again on the play fakes, leaving nice throwing lanes that Griffin used to make big passes. He connected with Pierre Garcon on one of these routes for 17 yards in overtime, making a tremendous throw in tight coverage. As the game progressed, Griffin threw with more rhythm and decisiveness (and trust). There are missed plays, but it was a good bounce-back game from Griffin.
  9. Garcon was a beast all day and finished with seven catches for 172 yards. His blocking was good, but his hands were fantastic and he made plays downfield for a change. He made another one-handed grab while covered by corner Derek Cox and then caught a pass behind him while going to the ground on a dig route. Griffin has two targets that he can trust to catch the ball as long as it’s near them: Garcon and Reed. No one has been more frustrated the past several weeks than Garcon. But nobody plays harder all game than this guy.
  10. It’s hard to imagine a more popular player in the locker room than Darrel Young. All the guy does is try to open holes for Alfred Morris. Young has always wanted more opportunities, but it never affects how he plays. So players were genuinely thrilled that he scored three touchdowns in this one. They knew he could have success based on how the Chargers handled those situations, with the line playing straight up; that left gaps Young ran through.

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