NFC East: Ramses Barden

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Damontre Moore is expected to miss another preseason game with a shoulder injury.

Moore was on the Giants' list of players not expected to play tonight against the Patriots in the preseason finale. Wide receiver Ramses Barden (knee), cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle), fullback Henry Hynoski (knee), center David Baas (knee), tackle David Diehl (thumb), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee/PUP), wide receiver Victor Cruz (heel) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back) are not expected to play.

Safety Antrel Rolle (ankle) is in uniform and likely will play.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Giants got one of their injured wide receivers back on the field Tuesday, as Louis Murphy did some work after being sidelined in recent days with a leg injury.

Murphy did have to leave practice briefly, but that was due to a contact lens issue, not because of his leg. The speedy Murphy looked good in training camp, and could be another weapon at the disposal of Eli Manning.

On the other hand, wideout Ramses Barden (knee) did not practice Tuesday, after returning to practice Monday. Cornerback Jayron Hosley (ankle) and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) also did not practice. All three did some running and/or agility drills on the side.

Wide receiver Victor Cruz (heel) did not practice, but spoke to reporters.

Offensive linemen David Baas (knee) and David Diehl (thumb) did not practice. When asked about Baas, coach Tom Coughlin said, "He’s working hard, and feels a little bit better each day."

Rookie defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) got some team reps Tuesday, after returning to practice and doing only individual work Monday. And rookie safety Cooper Taylor (hamstring), who has missed the team's first three preseason games, continued to work as well.

Coughlin indicated Taylor will play against the Patriots on Thursday, but wasn't as confident about Moore. "I don’t know; we’ll see," Coughlin said. "I’d like for him to play."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thursday will mark exactly two years since the last time New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas played in a football game. On Aug. 22, 2011, Thomas, tore the ACL in his right knee in a preseason game against the Bears. He tore it again in training camp last year -- the third time in his career he's torn the same vital ligament -- and missed a second straight season. But after yet another grueling rehab, Thomas is looking good in practice and is set to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Jets.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Thomas
AP Photo/Evan PinkusAfter two years of rehabbing ACL tears, Terrell Thomas is ready to play in another game.
"He's going to go, yeah," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday, after a practice in which Thomas snagged one interception and saw another bounce off his hands. "He looked good yesterday, too. Really moved well out there today."

Thomas says he has worked mainly as the nickel corner so far in camp, but has been also playing some on the outside and "studying the safety position" in case there are packages in which they can use him as a safety. With starting cornerback Corey Webster sidelined due to knee and groin problems, Aaron Ross has been running with the first team at corner, but Thomas has seen his practice opportunities increase along with his strength and confidence.

"Whatever they need me to do, they know I'm that utility type of player," Thomas said before practice Tuesday. "My biggest thing is just getting back on the field. I haven't played in two years. My goals of starting and getting back in the lineup and doing all that, yeah, those are my goals. But first I've got to get on the field. That's foremost. And whatever capacity they want me in, I'll do it."

My take: Thomas' story is an easy one to root for, and a lot of people around here are. To say nothing of how valuable he could be if he could approach the form he showed as a starter in 2010, there's an awful lot to admire about a guy who was willing to put himself through a third ACL rehab. I spoke with Thomas for a while Tuesday, and I'll have more on him in a story that will post later this week.

Reshuffled O-line... again: After the announcement that offensive lineman David Diehl would need thumb surgery and be out six weeks, the Giants moved Kevin Boothe back to left guard and Jim Cordle to center with the first-team offensive line Wednesday. Starting center David Baas is out with a knee injury, and the initial plan was to move Diehl from right tackle to left guard, Boothe to center and play first-round rookie Justin Pugh at right tackle. But the Diehl injury forced another change, and Cordle is getting a chance to show what he can do after filling in for Baas in Sunday night's game against the Colts.

"Cordle played very well the other night, so we thought that was the best move for now," Coughlin said. "We're really excited about the way Cordle played the other night. Hopefully he'll keep on going."

My take: I was surprised they didn't leave Boothe at center and go with James Brewer at left guard. It's possible they want to keep working Brewer at tackle in case Pugh doesn't turn out to be ready. It's possible they expect Baas back for the opener and want to leave Boothe alone and let him play guard. Heck, it's possible they're really fired up about Cordle. Nothing's set in stone. If these guys don't play well in their new spots, the Giants won't be shy about making more changes.

The rookie: Pugh said he doesn't know whether he's auditioning for a starting spot or whether he's got one now to lose, but he believes he can handle the role regardless.

"I'm ready," he said. "[Offensive line coach Pat] Flaherty's definitely making sure I'm covering all the bases and going over game film, and this week the extra things the Jets bring to the table. It's exciting that I get out there and get to play, and getting out there for the game will give me valuable experience, which is something that I need coming back from the concussion."

My take: The Giants don't rush their draft picks, even the first-rounders. If Pugh looks like he can be their starter at right tackle, he probably keeps the job even once Diehl returns. But if not, they're not going to leave him out there to take his lumps just because he was this year's first-round pick. And I'm skeptical, since all I heard pre-draft was that Pugh was better off as a guard than as a tackle at the NFL level. But we'll all find out together.

Notes: Coughlin said injured cornerback Corey Webster was dealing with a knee injury as well as the groin problem that's been holding him out of action... Wide receivers Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden and Louis Murphy all missed practice with their injuries, which resulted in a lot of opportunities for Jerrel Jernigan, who worked everywhere and is an interesting option as the slot receiver while Cruz recovers from his heel injury... Justin Tuck, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, practiced for the second straight day and appears fine.
Morning. Going back over Monday's content, it seems as though I was a tad grouchy. I hope you at least found it entertaining. I can't really explain it. I was in a fine mood all day, met my wife for lunch, coached a Little League playoff victory at night ... fine day all around. Can't tell you why the blog was grouchy. Perhaps today my output will reflect my mood better. Links.

New York Giants

So a few hours after the New York Daily News reported that he was in talks about his own reality TV show, Victor Cruz went on Twitter and denied that this was the case. Which was weird, since the News' story used Cruz himself as its sole source and quoted him on the topic extensively.

Wondering which current Giants you might see on TV or hear on the radio when their playing days are done? Current Giants Ramses Barden and Steve Weatherford are two of the players who will go to "NFL Broadcast Boot Camp" in Mount Laurel, N.J., later this month. Pretty cool program, that. They do it at the NFL Films offices and put these guys through all the paces. I went and did a story on it a few years ago for my previous employer, and it was fun to watch.

Philadelphia Eagles

Voluntary means voluntary, which means any grief Cary Williams has taken for missing any Eagles workouts so far is completely unfair and unjustified. But mandatory means mandatory, which is why Williams is skipping the Super Bowl champion Ravens' White House visit this week so he can attend minicamp with his new team, the Eagles.

Sheil Kapadia has an in-depth look at the Eagles' offensive line personnel. I think it's important to monitor the snaps people get this offseason, as the up-temp offense Chip Kelly is installing likely will lean hard on offensive line depth, and they'll likely need more than five guys they feel good about using.

Washington Redskins

London Fletcher doesn't want this season to be a victory lap. He says he still has much to give to this Redskins team, and the way he played in the second half as he got healthier backs him up.

Jason Reid is happy to know that Brian Orakpo feels fully healthy this offseason, but he thinks the point with Orakpo is that the sack total still needs to go up. I think Jason is right, and that whether it does or not will determine a great deal about this Redskins season.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys' signing of tight end Dante Rosario is interesting, mainly because I thought they were looking for a blocking tight end to help supplement guys like James Hanna and Gavin Escobar, who are receivers first and foremost. Rosario isn't a blocking tight end, so they may still be on the lookout for another. But it's clear the Cowboys want to make use of two-tight end sets as much as possible this year, so they can't have too many.

If you saw the Blogging the Boys item on the Cowboys' draft board and concluded that Jerry Jones had once again overruled his scouts, Randy Galloway explains why you're wrong and why Jones actually stayed true to the board this time.
Good Thursday morning and welcome to your links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Damaris Johnson looks at Chip Kelly's offense and sees an opportunity for himself. I look at the Eagles' roster and see 14 wide receivers and four tight ends, and I say Johnson had better play his tail off if he wants to cash in that opportunity.

Almost everyone has an opportunity at safety, where the Eagles are rotating different guys in at different spots in these early practices. Former Giant Kenny Phillips has consistently been running with the second team, Tim McManus says, and Phillips believes he has to prove to the coaches that he is healthy.

Washington Redskins

Reporters get a look at the Redskins' organized team activities today, so we'll have some news out of there, which is exciting for Redskins fans and those of us who've struggled to find things to write about the Redskins lately. Mike Jones fills you in on what he'll be looking for, including the levels of activity for quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.

Lots of speculation, for months now, about Griffin's recovery from his January knee surgery, and the team has made it clear that Griffin won't play until the doctors say he's ready to play. But what will the doctors exactly be looking for in order to make that decision?

Dallas Cowboys

Jean-Jacques Taylor thinks Tony Romo blew a chance to assert himself and his new role in the Cowboys' offense when he spoke to the media the other day. I love Jacques, but I disagree with him strongly on this one. I think judging athletes and coaches on their performances in press conferences is a disturbing trend. While I would prefer (for my own sake) that these guys be as forthcoming as possible, many of them have decided the right way to handle press conferences is to reveal little. I just don't agree that Romo's hesitance to get into detail about the team's plans in front of reporters has anything to do with his status as a team leader or a top quarterback. I think you can argue either way on both of those issues, but I don't think a May 20 press conference is worthy evidence for serious conclusions.

Gil Brandt offers 10 reasons he thinks the Cowboys will win the NFC East. I saw this last night when I was on Twitter, and you may have noticed my reaction. I have no problem believing the Cowboys, who made it to Week 17 with a chance to win the division each of the last two seasons, can win it this year. But I honestly don't think I could come up with 10 ways to convince myself to pick any one of these four teams. Perhaps that's an idea for some posts during this ultra-slow time of the year.

New York Giants

There are already enough questions about the Giants' running game. It cannot afford to lose Henry Hynoski, who was one of the league's best blocking fullbacks in 2012. Hynoski had to be carted off the field during Wednesday's practice, and the team awaits word on his knee.

This is interesting. With Hakeem Nicks surprisingly joining Victor Cruz in missing the Giants' OTA practice Wednesday, Ralph Vacchiano reports that wide receiver Ramses Barden appears to be headed back to the Giants. Bit of a surprise, but even if Nicks and Cruz are back and healthy, there are question marks on the depth chart behind them.
Washington Redskins

Mike Jones has a look at the complicated season the Redskins' defense had, the ways in which it worked to overcome its deficiencies and help deliver a division title, and the questions that face it (especially in the secondary) as it heads into the offseason.

Thom Loverro wonders if Robert Griffin III actually shirked his responsibility as team leader and captain when he successfully argued to keep himself in the team's playoff loss to the Seahawks. It's a point worth pondering. We assume the tough-guy thing is the way football players are supposed to handle these situations. But it was obvious to everyone in the building that Griffin couldn't play, so you have to assume Griffin knew as well. His staying in the game hurt their chances of winning. Still think it's up to the coach to make that call, but again, a perspective at least worth discussing.

New York Giants

This week's salt-in-the-wound series from ESPNNewYork.com is "Five Giant Losses," and the first edition takes a look at the loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia, which didn't seem all that ridiculous until the Eagles lost their next eight games.

Here is an interview from Vibe magazine with Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden. If you're a Barden fan, you learn some things about him off the field here.

Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Watkins writes that middle linebacker Sean Lee and pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware are the two most important pieces for the Cowboys defense as it switches to a 4-3. Other than staying healthy, I can't see how Lee would have any problems. And as is pointed out in Calvin's piece, Ware is the best player on the defense. I have had some people tell me they wonder about Ware's ability to hold up as a full-time 4-3 end, but I wouldn't bet against him.

Jerry Jones says that he and coach Jason Garrett have spent time discussing coaching staff changes, which is more likely than the alternative and would be in line with the way things have worked around Valley Ranch the last couple of offseasons. I think it's possible some of the behind-the-scenes stuff gets overblown, though I admit it's possible Jones is raging unreasonably, and I would obviously accept the hiring of an offensive playcaller and/or the firing of Garrett's brother as evidence that I am wrong. I have my opinions, but I'm not obtuse. I will say I think the Cowboys would be better off if Jones took a breath and remembered how good he felt about the team in Week 15. Not that that needs to rule the day, but I think it should be a factor along with how mad he is about the way the final two weeks went.

Philadelphia Eagles

On the day when it was revealed they interviewed former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, the big news out of Eagles camp was that they are bringing in Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley for a second interview. This is a strong indication that Bradley is the leading candidate for the job. And I think that'd be fine. Bradley's 46 and well regarded, and just because he's a defensive coordinator and not an offensive coordinator doesn't mean he should be ignored in the current offense-heavy NFL. If the Eagles see something in Bradley as an up-and-coming leader, good for them for taking a shot. He's the kind of guy who fits this job well, regardless of which side of the ball his background is in.

On the roster side of things, the team's website looks at the situation at defensive end, which is a spot at which the defense looks pretty strong heading into 2013. The emergence of Brandon Graham was a very positive development for the 2012 Eagles, and I don't think it's reasonable to believe Trent Cole is done just because he didn't thrive in this year's mess of a defense.
I have attempted another "all-22" breakdown using the NFL Game Rewind app, and this time I went through Sunday night's game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles with a specific focus on the left tackles. I will have a post up later today on the Eagles' Demetress Bell, but this post here focuses on the very strong work by Giants left tackle Will Beatty, particularly against Eagles star defensive end Trent Cole.

Beatty, you may recall, was the Giants' starting left tackle for the first 10 games last year, and had some mixed results before an eye injury ended his season prematurely. Back injuries plagued his offseason, and his inability to get healthy cost him his starting job at the start of this season. But an injury to David Diehl forced the Giants to reshuffle, and it appears Beatty has reclaimed the starting left tackle role as a result.

[+] EnlargeWill Beatty
Howard Smith/US PresswireGiants tackle Will Beatty (65) blocks during the first quarter against the Eagles in their Week 4 game.
To me, he looks considerably stronger and more confident as a blocker than he did in 2011. I saw a lot of reaching and grabbing and late-reacting last year. Sunday night against Cole, his footwork was consistent and he held up very well strength-wise against one of the toughest defensive linemen in the league. Cole has a variety of moves out of his Wide-9 four-point stance, but the one that really stands out is the one on which he tries to go through the lineman, bursting off the line and into the tackle with shocking force. There are plenty of tackles in the league Cole can knock over with this move, and at the very least he can rattle them and beat them around the edge while they are dazed. Beatty wasn't having any. He took those big shots from Cole (I noticed it specifically on a seven-yard Eli Manning pass to Domenik Hixon toward the end of the first half and again on a five-yard pass to Ramses Barden on the Giants' first play of the second half) and stood his ground.

Some of the numbers from what I saw:
  • Beatty plays 68 snaps. On 26 of those, he has a tight end lined up next to him. On two others, he has two tight ends with him. Which means he was by himself on 40 of his 68 plays.
  • He ends up blocking Cole by himself, without any help or chipping from anyone else, 31 times. He should get hazard pay for this. Cole is a relentless nightmare to block. However, I only counted five plays out of those 31 on which I'd say Cole beat him. And there were only a couple of those that matters to the outcome of the play. Their final matchup of the night, which will go down as the Barden offensive pass interference play, has to be a satisfying capper for Beatty on a tough but very good night, as he flattens Cole and takes him to the ground.
  • He ends up blocking Darryl Tapp one-on-one eight times, and Tapp has no chance against him.

My favorite Beatty sequence is the Giants possession that begins with 9:55 left in the third quarter and results in the Victor Cruz touchdown catch. There are eight plays on the drive, and he's by himself on the left side for seven of them. The only exception is the second play, when Bennett motions to his side and Beatty goes inside and dominates Derek Landri. He gets Cole five times and Tapp twice on the drive, and the only play on which he doesn't dominate is the touchdown pass, on which Cole beats him a little bit with a spin move but Manning releases the ball too quickly for it to matter.

Beatty's best play on that drive is the first-and-10 from the Eagles' 34 on which Manning completes a 13-yard pass to Hixon. He's by himself on the left side, with Cole lined up super-wide with both hands on the ground. As the ball is snapped, Beatty keeps his eyes upfield for a moment to make sure the linebacker isn't coming. But as he does so, he's swinging his left leg and rotating his arms and shoulders out to anticipate Cole's wide rush. This enables him to get back in time to disrupt and block Cole while Manning finds Hixon on the left side of the field. The play showed instincts, intelligence and an ability to multi-task. This looks like the player the Giants believe can be their left tackle of the future, and he's leaps and bounds better than he was a year ago.

I did mark seven "bad plays" and one other possible mistake on Beatty's 68 snaps. But all seven of the bad plays were in the first half, so he seemed to get better as the game went along. And the bad plays were often the result of poor decisions and not his being overmatched. For example:
  • On the second play of the game, he goes the wrong way and ends up having to grab at linebacker Jamar Chaney, who assists on the tackle of Andre Brown.
  • Cole flat-out beats him on third-and-five on the Giants' second possession and again on third-and-three on their fourth, and Beatty reverts to his grabby ways. The first was called holding. The second could have been.
  • The Eagles successfully confuse Beatty on third-and-four from the Giants' 39-yard line in the second quarter. Cullen Jenkins is lined up as the defensive end on that side, and tight end Martellus Bennett handles him. Beatty kinds of drifts that way as if to help when he should be picking up linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who gets to Manning and helps force an incomplete pass.
  • And the possible mistake was on a first-and-10 run two plays before the Bear Pascoe touchdown. It looks to me as though he should be helping Bennett with Cole on the edge instead of helping Kevin Boothe with Landri inside, and Cole indeed beats Bennett to disrupt the play. But I don't know what the assignment was there.

All in all, though, a very good night from Beatty against as tough an opponent as he'll ever face. His improvement over 2011 is an outstanding sign for the Giants.

Giants are still all about Eli Manning

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
10:40
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PHILADELPHIA -- We may have been lulled to sleep a little bit by the New York Giants' easy Week 3 victory over the Panthers. Not that they're not a good team, because I still think they are, but that game didn't really test the important stuff. It was too easy for them to run the ball, to complete short passes against soft coverage in the middle of the field. The Giants aren't about winning when it's easy. That's not what reveals who they are. The Giants are about the close games, about passing the toughest tests, and Sunday night they fell just the tiniest bit short of passing an important early-season test against the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Al Bello/Getty ImagesEli Manning was unable to rally the Giants Sunday night.
In the end, it was not a missed field goal that cost them. Lawrence Tynes isn't there to make 54-yard field goals. That's not his game. The mistake that cost the Giants, as Ian O'Connor writes for ESPNNewYork.com, was the bad throw and bad decision one play earlier by quarterback Eli Manning that led to Ramses Barden's offensive pass interference call and pushed the game-winning field goal attempt out of Tynes' range. This is a rare thing these days -- a costly fourth-quarter mistake by Manning -- and so it stands out.

But what really comes through when you break it down this way is how reliant the Giants are on Manning, especially in the fourth quarter. Much like the Eagles, who are 3-1 in spite of a whole host of well-chronicled ball-security and drive-finishing problems, the Giants are a team still finding its 2012 footing. Andre Brown's breakout against Carolina aside, they still struggle to run the ball. Their defense, beset by early-season injuries in the secondary and the linebacking corps, ranks in the bottom half of the league. For goodness' sake, they have only eight sacks in four games. These are the Giants we're talking about here. There are 16 teams in the league that have more sacks so far this year than do the Justin Tuck/Osi Umenyiora/Jason Pierre-Paul Giants.

Not that these things can't or won't get better. The offensive line looks as though it's improving. Pierre-Paul is still terrorizing backfields and disrupting things even as the sack totals stay low. There's little reason not to think a big pass-rush game is somewhere on the Giants' horizon. But in the meantime, this is still a team that leans hard on Manning's ability to win them a close game against a divisional rival in the fourth quarter. And on Sunday night, he did not make the play.

"Looking back on it, I had the corner up top and I should have tried to throw to Barden's back shoulder to keep it away from the corner," Manning said. "I would have rather not thrown it so far down the field to cause the pass interference."

It was one of two costly throws by the usually reliable Manning, along with the end-zone interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that killed an earlier drive. If he'd made just one of those two throws -- or thrown the ball away instead on either of them -- then we're likely sitting here today and writing about how the Giants are rolling and the Eagles can't finish off drives. Instead, it's the Eagles who are 3-1 in spite of a host of early-season issues their deep, talented roster has been able to overcome. And the Giants are 0-2 in the division.

That's how razor-thin the margins are in the NFL, and it's for that reason that Manning usually gives the Giants the advantage. He's shown a fearless willingness and ability to make all of the tough fourth-quarter throws and to cash in close games that help determine the outcome of a season. When he does not, it's a bit of a shock, and right now it's something the rest of the roster cannot overcome. He made them all in Week 2 against Tampa Bay. On Sunday night, he didn't.

There is no fresh reason to doubt or worry about Manning. He's still the same clutch quarterback who's won the Giants two Super Bowls, and they'll continue to believe, every time they get into a close fourth-quarter scrap, that there's no one they'd rather have trying to bail them out of it. But his inability to do so in this game served as a reminder of how far these 2012 Giants have to go before they're as good as they can be. And it showed once again that, when it comes down to it, Manning has to win them the big game, because the rest of the team right now doesn't have enough to win it for him.
A good Monday morning to you in the NFC East. As always, we present our breakfast links in order of the current division standings. Even if there's still one division game to play before Week 4 is complete. More on that later. For now, well... links.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

Reuben Frank thinks the Eagles are onto something, with this idea of basing an offensive game plan around running back LeSean McCoy. And while I get Reuben's point, I continue to believe the Eagles will alter their offensive game plan depending on their opponents and matchups. They were having success with the run game Sunday night, picking up big chunks of yardage, and that's why they stuck with it. If they're not hitting big plays, they're not going to stick with it. The Eagles want big plays on offense.

Nnamdi Asomugha did not go to the hospital for his eye injury Sunday night. He had the tests administered at the stadium, and he said after the game that he had talked his way back into the game and was headed for more tests postgame. So, not out of the woods yet, but he didn't seem overly concerned.

Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

In case you missed this one Sunday, Tony Romo has told the Cowboys that he won't discuss a contract extension prior to the end of this season. As I've written before, this is the smart move, and Tessio was always smarter... I mean... No, that's from something else. This is a smart move for Romo because he's playing as well as he ever has and there's not going to be a quarterback on the market that would represent an upgrade for the Cowboys over him. His leverage isn't going anywhere but up.

And if you're up for some nitty-gritty film-study stuff as you get ready for the "Monday Night Football" game between the Cowboys and the Bears, Blogging the Boys takes a look at what's made the Cowboys the best defense in the NFL so far this season.

Washington Redskins (2-2)

As exciting as it's been to watch Robert Griffin III in his first four games as the Redskins' quarterback, Sunday's game showed once again that they're only scratching the surface of what his talents will enable to them to do as an offense. Jason Reid breaks it all down as only Jason Reid can.

Brandon Meriweather was all set to make his Redskins debut, but he collided with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson in warmups and both players were knocked out of the game. Meriweather heads for yet another MRI on his knee to determine how much more time, if any, he'll have to miss.

New York Giants (2-2)

The offensive pass interference call on Ramses Barden was absolutely the correct call, as he had his arm around Asomugha's neck. Barden tried to explain it afterwards without shifting blame, even as his coach and his quarterback indicated that Eli Manning had put him in a bad spot with a poor throw and decision.

Kenny Phillips will surely have an MRI today on his injured knee, and the Giants have their fingers crossed that the injury won't keep him out for an extended period of time. They've managed to weather some injuries in their secondary so far, but Phillips is the unit's best player -- a critical asset in run support and in coverage -- and they can ill afford to be without him.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 19, Giants 17

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
11:45
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PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' key divisional victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: In spite of all of their early-season struggles, Michael Vick and the Eagles are 3-1 and on top in the NFC East with a game in hand against their fiercest rivals and the defending division and Super Bowl champions. For the Giants, it means the Eagles still have their number. They've now lost eight of their past nine games against Philadelphia and, perhaps more importantly, are 0-2 this year against NFC East opponents.

Protecting the ball: When the Eagles commit to the run and do not turn the ball over, they can be as good as any team in the league. After a stop-and-start offensive first half, the Eagles came out running with LeSean McCoy in the second half and had tremendous success with it. Their issue on offense was an inability to finish drives and turn their hard work into touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. That's what left the Giants with the late-game opportunity to march down the field and take the lead in the fourth quarter. After turning the ball over 12 times in their first three games (and yet somehow winning two of them), the Eagles did not turn the ball over once Sunday night, and they beat the Super Bowl champs.

Eli Manning does not play favorites: The Giants' quarterback tells his receivers that, if they run their routes and get open, they will get opportunities to catch the ball. With Hakeem Nicks out last week, Ramses Barden got his catches and yards on slant routes all night. With Nicks out again Sunday, Domenik Hixon went more than 100 yards receiving and Bear Pascoe caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Giants their first lead of the game. Manning makes his receivers better, and maximizes their ability to produce in their specific roles and circumstances. He completed passes to eight different players Sunday night.

Mr. Wilson: I think Giants fans need to get used to the idea of first-round pick David Wilson as a developmental player who needs more work and practice before he's a factor in the run game. There's actually nothing wrong with that. The Giants like Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown and have a good track record of developing young, talented players. In the meantime, Wilson looks as though he has become a real weapon in the kick-return game.

The Prince: Last year's Giants first-rounder, Prince Amukamara, is playing very well at cornerback. He covered Jeremy Maclin most of the night, and Maclin didn't catch one pass in the first 55 minutes of the game. Amukamara looks like a good technician, and the Eagles seemed very comfortable testing out Corey Webster with DeSean Jackson rather than picking on Amukamara as many teams have so far in his short career. Amukamara could be a real asset to a banged-up secondary that lost safety Kenny Phillips to a knee injury in the first quarter.

What's next: The Giants will host the 0-4 Cleveland Browns on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in East Rutherford, N.J., and should pound them senseless. The Eagles will travel to Pittsburgh for a 1 p.m. ET game against the 1-2 Steelers, who were off this week.

Hakeem Nicks in doubt for Eagles game

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
2:57
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Nicks
When New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks had to miss last Thursday's game in Carolina due to his foot injury, the thought was that the week and a half off before the Week 4 game would provide enough time to get him healthy. However, Nicks showed up on the Giants' injury report Friday as "doubtful" for Sunday's game in Philadelphia, having added a knee problem to the foot injury that's troubled him since spring.

The designation is a surprise, as through Thursday Nicks appeared to be following his normal practice plan and on track to play in the key divisional showdown. And while they haven't ruled him out just yet and might not decide on his status until just before the game, popping up as doubtful with a new injury on Friday is not a sure recipe for being 100 percent by game time Sunday.

Should Nicks have to miss his second game in a row, either Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden or some combination of the two would pick up the slack. Barden had the big game last week in Carolina while Hixon also sat out after suffering a concussion the week before, but Hixon is back for this game, and the two of them together could help take some of the pressure off of Victor Cruz.

Regardless, losing Nicks for this game would be a hit. Philadelphia isn't the same kind of pushover on defense that the Panthers were last week. Carolina chose to double-team Cruz while Barden ate them alive, but the Eagles have more coverage weapons to make life difficult for Eli Manning and his backup receivers if need be.

All-NFC East Team: Week 3 Update

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
10:08
AM ET
Yes, we have a change at the quarterback position this week, and that's the position about which everyone seems to get the most excited. But it wasn't that difficult a decision, really. Through three games, Eli Manning has 264 more passing yards, a marginally lower completion percentage and one more touchdown that Robert Griffin III. He's thrown three interceptions to Griffin's one, but these things happen when you actually throw the ball down the field. He has also taken five fewer sacks. It was close last week and remains close this week, but Manning has surpassed the rookie in terms of overall body of work in 2012.

The tougher call was actually at running back. By now you all should know about the disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply an All-Star team based on the previous week's performance. This is why Ramses Barden is not on it.

However, the team's running back is the Giants' Andre Brown, who has only played a game and a half. He won out over the Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Redskins' Alfred Morris, each of whom has been a starter for all three games this season. Brown's addition to the team would seem to fly directly in the face of the aforementioned disclaimer, and in order for him to make the team I would have to be convinced that his six-quarter performance was more impressive than what Morris and McCoy have done in their 12. Fact is, I was.

Brown has 79 fewer rushing yards than Morris and 77 fewer than McCoy. But his yards-per-carry average of 5.6 is far better than their 4.3 and 4.5. He has three touchdowns, which ties Morris and is two more than McCoy. He has no fumbles, and neither does Morris, but McCoy has two. It was Morris, and not McCoy, who was Brown's closest competition for this week's honor, and the simple fact is that I think Brown has been the better runner this season. It was a difficult call, and with the return of Ahmad Bradshaw likely this week, I have to imagine this is Brown's only appearance on this list, but I thought he deserved it based on the overall performance of everyone in the division in the first three weeks of the season. Had either of the other two been performing at a standout level, it would have been impossible for Brown to overtake them after a game and a half. But neither is (and yes, I know you can argue that McCoy's issue is one of limited opportunity), so Brown gets the nod because he has.

Here's the team, which this week includes nine Giants, eight Eagles, five Redskins and five Cowboys, and I have some more observations down at the bottom:

Quarterback: Eli Manning, New York Giants (Last week: Robert Griffin III)

Running back: Andre Brown, Giants (LeSean McCoy)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Hakeem Nicks)

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, Giants (Brent Celek)

Fullback: Darrel Young, Washington Redskins (Young)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Babin, Eagles (Pierre-Paul, Jason Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Rocky Bernard, Giants (Bernard, Fletcher Cox)

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; Mychal Kendricks, Eagles (Kerrigan, DeMarcus Ware)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Sean Lee, Cowboys (Ryans, Lee)

Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Cowboys; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles (Rodgers-Cromartie, Josh Wilson)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; Gerald Sensabaugh, Cowboys (Phillips, Sensabaugh)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Billy Cundiff)

Punter: Chris Jones, Cowboys (Jones)

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (David Wilson)

Punt returner: Damaris Johnson, Eagles (Brandon Banks)
  • Carr takes his place at cornerback, supplanting Wilson after Wilson's tough game against Cincinnati. Wilson is actually having a very good season overall, but Carr hasn't had one bad play that I've seen, and he gets good-teammate bonus points for moving over to safety once Barry Church went out. Carr has shut down opposing receivers in all three games, and his work against Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson on Sunday was his best yet.
  • Sorry, Jason Hatcher. It might be unfair, but as a 3-4 defensive end you almost have to be over-the-top great to hold off the 4-3 sack artists. Hatcher barely beat out Babin (and fellow 3-4 end Stephen Bowen) last week, but Babin's three-game tape is simply more impressive. Could be because of the difference in the position they play, but dem's the breaks.
  • On the flip side, Ware hasn't looked like his usual horrifying self yet this season, and while I imagine he'll come back and take his spot, Kendricks deserves this mention for the way he's played consistently as a 4-3 outside linebacker in all three Eagles' games. Along with Ryans, he's a huge part of the reason for this season's defensive improvements.
  • Bennett has been a monster blocker and has caught a touchdown pass in all three games. Cowboys fans can scoff, and justifiably doubt whether it will continue. But through three games, he's been a difference-maker at tight end for the Giants.
  • Trent Williams left Sunday's game with a knee injury in the first quarter, which would have opened up this team's left tackle spot if anybody had been close behind him. But no one has been, as tackle continues to be a huge problem division-wide. Will Beatty of the Giants played it the best this week, but that was only one game, and Williams was excellent in the first two.
  • The kicker decision wasn't easy, as Cundiff continues to hammer touchback after touchback and has made every one of his field goal attempts inside 62 yards. But Tynes is 10-for-10 on field goals, and for me that's better by enough than Cundiff's 5-for-6 to overcome Cundiff's proficiency on kickoffs.

That's what I've got for this week. I welcome your thoughts, as always.

Breakfast links: 2-1 and wondering

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
8:00
AM ET
Monday morning in the links means a reshuffling of the order. We do them by division standings when we're in season, and the tiebreaker is division record, which is still odd since there's only been one division game. But whatever. Increasingly, I think I'm the only one who spends any time caring about the order. Let's just have the links, shall we?

Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

Jean-Jacques Taylor doesn't think the Cowboys are going anywhere until Jason Garrett figures out how to fix the offense. I can't tell you exactly why the Cowboys weren't able to ravage the same Tampa Bay defense that gave up six billion passing yards to the Giants one week earlier, but I do know this: Dallas' offensive line is legitimately horrible, and that infects everything else an offense tries to do.

The big injury news from the game is the loss of starting safety Barry Church for the season due to an Achilles injury. This is a bad loss. Church's progress, which made free-agent signee Brodney Pool expendable early in training camp, is a major part of the reason the Cowboys' defense has looked so drastically improved early this season. And I'm not sure moving Brandon Carr to safety is a permanent solution, even though Carr looked good there Sunday. Can they really count on Mike Jenkins to stay healthy as a starting corner?

Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)

The Eagles' coverage plan for Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday obviously didn't work, as Fitzgerald torched them for nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. In this story, Nnamdi Asomugha explains that the original plan was for him to shadow Fitzgerald all day, but that they had to switch up once the Cardinals started moving Fitzgerald around so much. This sounds to me as though they got outcoached on this particular point, no?

Rich Hofmann wants to know how much longer Michael Vick can be expected to take beatings like the one he took Sunday against Arizona. This seems to be an annual question, and the answer usually is that he can't -- that Vick will at some point get injured and have to miss games. Vick is not free from responsibility, of course. Even on the game-changing sack/fumble, you can see he never turns his head, and if he'd been able/willing/whatever to see more of the field, he might have at least been able to unload the ball and get a field goal out of it. But he can't block for himself, and that was the larger problem Sunday.

New York Giants (2-1)

Wide receiver Ramses Barden is hoping that his strong performance in relief of Hakeem Nicks in Thursday night's victory leads to more opportunities for him, even once Nicks returns. Surely, he's shown enough to warrant a look as the No. 3 wide receiver, which is not an insignificant role in the Giants' ideal offense but has not been a major part of it so far this year. Perhaps Barden's emergence will change that.

Ohm believes that Thursday's other super-sub star, running back Andre Brown, has secured a role for himself in the running game even once Ahmad Bradshaw returns from his neck injury. And no, we still don't know when that will be.

Washington Redskins (1-2)

John Keim weighs in on the Redskins' alarming tendency so far this season to give up very big plays on offense. Their coverage is a weakness, obviously, and they try to compensate by loading up in the pass rush, too often using a "cover-zero" look that leaves cornerbacks on an island in the hope that the safeties and the rest of the defense can get to the quarterback before the receiver has time to get open. The Bengals absolutely abused that strategy Sunday, and John is right that the Redskins need to adjust.

Part of Jason Reid's game review focuses on the impact the loss of left tackle Trent Williams to a knee injury had. It's Williams' athleticism that sets him apart, and that's a big part of what the Redskins are able to do in protection and also in the running game. If Williams is lost for a significant amount of time, they will struggle to overcome that. After the game, he said that when he went back in briefly in the second quarter he could move left but not right. You need both.

Giants throw a 2009 class party

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
10:02
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If the New York Giants' 2009 draft had produced nothing of value other than first-rounder Hakeem Nicks, it certainly wouldn't have been the worst thing ever to happen to the franchise. Nicks has blossomed into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL -- a reliable and electric target for Eli Manning, and a major contributor to the Giants' fourth Super Bowl championship.

But scouts and general managers and personnel people work hard on their drafts and want them to be deep with productive players. They want to be able to point back to a draft and say, "See? Look how many useful guys we got that year." And this is why Thursday night's 36-7 victory against the Carolina Panthers had to be as much fun for Giants GM Jerry Reese as any regular-season game he's ever seen.

Nicks was on the shelf, first of all, which is the great irony of this point: Three of the game's most important surprise stars were also members of that same 2009 draft class. Tackle Will Beatty, who was their second pick in that year's second round, returned from an injury-ravaged offseason and was outstanding as the offensive line played its best game of the year. Wide receiver Ramses Barden, the first of that year's two third-round picks, started in Nicks' place and caught nine passes for 138 yards. And running back Andre Brown, who was their fourth-round pick in 2009, got injured that year and has since been cut eight times by NFL teams including twice by the Giants, ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns in place of injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw.

Per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com:
Reese said he doesn't always subscribe to the theory that a player usually has to show something by his third season in the league. Some are just late-bloomers.

"I have seen a lot of guys after their third year enter their fourth year and turn it on," Reese said. "Amani Toomer comes to mind. His first three years, he was trying to get it, trying to get it.

"In his fourth year, he was lights out," Reese continued. "He was one of the all-time great receivers. It is not always a three-year rule with guys."

It is not, but it came pretty close. The Giants did give up on Brown twice, and he had to beat out D.J. Ware in camp to make this year's team as a backup. Barden also entered the preseason on the roster bubble, but won his spot with an excellent camp. Beatty has been anointed the left tackle of the future for the Giants, but his play in that role was spotty last year before an eye injury ended his season prematurely, and it's been easy to detect the organization's frustration with him as he's struggled with a back injury this summer. Even once he returned healthy, Beatty found himself on the bench, and it took an injury to David Diehl to get him back into the starting lineup.

So a lot of this is luck and fate, and it's not exactly as simple as crediting the Giants for staying patient with their guys. But they're more patient than most organizations are, and Thursday offered them a chance to feel good about that. The stability they've established at the ownership, GM and coach level -- along with the success they've had -- allows the Giants to run their team without the panicky, knee-jerk issues that afflict so many of the league's franchises in this win-now-or-else era. They believe in their program. They believe in player development. They believe, stubbornly, that when they have a hole to fill they can generally fill it with someone in their own locker room.

This is worth remembering for Giants fans who start to get impatient with players like Prince Amukamara and David Wilson. The Giants don't necessarily draft guys to make an instant impact. It's nice when they do, sure, but for every Jason Pierre-Paul there's a Kenny Phillips. For every Mathias Kiwanuka an Eli Manning. Some guys hit it big right away. Others need to play and learn and develop and improve. It's that latter group that the Giants believe forms the backbone of what they do. And on Thursday night, they got to watch that philosophy pay off with a big, fun and decisive win.

At long last, Giants get a laugher

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
12:28
AM ET
It had been quite a while since the New York Giants won a game as easily as they beat the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. Turns out, all they needed to do was hand the ball off to Andre Brown and throw it to Ramses Barden.

With their starting running back and best wide receiver injured and unable to play, the Giants were forced to turn to a pair of little-used backups from the middle rounds of their 2009 draft. But with a steady-as-ever Eli Manning directing the offense, Brown rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns while Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards in a 36-7 Giants victory in Carolina.

Let's start with Brown, who ran hard and with power behind an offensive line that hasn't been able to open holes in the run game for Ahmad Bradshaw at all over the past year-plus. Carolina's run defense has been one of the worst in the league this season, and that clearly had something to do with Brown's success, but Bradshaw has run against poor defenses, too, and he hasn't had as many as 113 rushing yards in a game since Oct. 25, 2010. The Giants used Brown in a very specific way, a lot of draw plays and straight-ahead running that took advantage of his power style. But he also ran with patience, showed some burst when he needed to and found the holes he needed to find.

It's possible this line Thursday, with David Diehl injured, Will Beatty back at left tackle and Sean Locklear at right tackle, just blocked better than it's been blocking in the other alignment. But it's also possible Brown is running better right now than Bradshaw is. And if Bradshaw is recovered from his neck injury in time for the Giants' Week 4 game in Philadelphia 10 days from now, the Giants might still be looking to reward Brown's performance with an increased number of snaps. Maybe they will rotate carries now the way Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs used to. Heck, maybe Brown just went Lou Gehrig to Bradshaw's Wally Pipp. We shall see, but whatever the reason, it's been a long time since the Giants' run game looked as good as it did in this game.

Brown was the fourth-round pick of the Giants' 2009 draft and kept coming back after being cut twice. Barden was the third-round pick in that same draft, and his big problem over his first three years in the league was an inability to stay healthy. He got surpassed by Victor Cruz and had to fight for a roster spot this preseason, but during camp and in preseason games, he looked very good running those slant routes over the middle, using his size to shield the ball from defenders and showing good hands. So he made the team, and that's exactly the way the Giants used him in this game as the starter in place of the injured Hakeem Nicks. With Cruz drawing extra coverage on the other side, Barden was open all through the first half, and Manning kept throwing it to him with great success. Brown's runs and Barden's slants, along with a big game from a tight end, Martellus Bennett (who was supposed to be a run-blocker), helped the Giants march the ball down the field and build a 23-0 lead against a Carolina team whose starters looked overmatched against the Giants' backups.

[+] EnlargeRamses Barden, Martellus Bennett
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneUnlikely heroes Ramses Barden (13) and Martellus Bennett combined for 15 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown -- Bennett's, here.
The Giants believe in maintaining a deep roster, developing players and replenishing their roster from within. A game such as the one they played Thursday night shows the validity of that philosophy. It also shows the value of Manning, who continues to find ways to get the best out of the players around him, no matter who or how experienced they are. Manning was a ho-hum 27-of-35 for 288 yards and a win the Giants get to enjoy for a week and a half before their huge Sept. 30 division matchup in Philadelphia.

Some other thoughts:

Beatty, by the way, was one of the Giants' second-round picks in that same 2009 draft. (Nicks was the first-rounder.) I will watch the game again to make sure, but it seemed he looked very good in his return to the starting lineup. The offensive line was a huge part of this game, in pass protection and in run blocking. And if Beatty is fully healthy at long last, the Giants have a chance to have the line they planned to have all along.

Top cornerback Corey Webster continued his early-season struggles and broke his hand, although he says he'll be ready for Philadelphia. But second-year corner Prince Amukamara played well, as did rookie Jayron Hosley. Amukamara still needs experience and will continue to be picked on while he accumulates it, and he might give up a big play or two here or there. But he's a technically proficient defensive back. He's sharp in his coverages. His footwork looks good. He positions his body well and uses his hands well. He plays the position very well and should be an asset as he continues to develop. Hosley, the Giants' third-round pick this year, plays fast and hard, and stays with the play even when it looks like it's dead. It helped him get an interception and disrupt a Cam Newton pass after Newton juked him on a corner blitz. Hosley looks like a mid-round gem who was ready right away. He injured his hamstring in the game, but it doesn't seem to be too serious.

Safety Antrel Rolle banged his left knee on a camera lens while racing out of bounds near the end zone toward the end of the game. The Giants said after the game that it didn't appear serious, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rolle got an MRI on Friday to be sure. Rolle would be a bad loss, as the Giants don't have much proven depth at safety. But whatever. Nicks and Bradshaw should have been bad losses, too, and their replacements combined for 268 total yards from scrimmage Thursday.

Jason Pierre-Paul. There's just not much left to say. He's playing defense as well as any player in the league right now, and offenses are having a miserable time trying to even slow him down. His early batted passes had to be a big reason Newton couldn't get into a rhythm.

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