NFC East: Redskins-Eagles

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 31, Bengals 22

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
9:12
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

If the Cowboys truly want to be considered an elite team, it's not simply about winning and losing. After taking a 17-0 lead over the Bengals, the Cowboys let them back in the game.

The Bengals were a two-point conversion away from tying it at 24 in the fourth quarter. With the win, the Cowboys moved to 4-1 on the season to keep pace with the surging Redskins. The Giants are the division's only unbeaten team at 4-0.

A week after being criticized for not running the ball in a loss to the Redskins, the Cowboys ran it 38 times against the Bengals. Rookie Felix Jones had nine carries for 96 yards, including a sensational 33-yard touchdown run.

Marion Barber did the heavy lifting with 23 carries for 84 yards. The Cowboys, though, were not in a celebratory mood. This isn't a team that's allowed to be satisfied with relatively narrow wins over bad teams. I'm told that Phillips had a run-in with a Fort Worth columnist after the game, so I'll try to track that story down for you.

Chad Ocho Cinco had threatened to kiss the Cowboys star at midfield if he scored a touchdown, but he was a non-factor for much of the day. T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the Bengals with seven catches for 85 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

Tony Romo threw for three touchdowns, but he also threw an interception in his eighth consecutive game. That's the longest streak in the league, but the most alarming part, is that it occurred when the game was still in doubt. A team like the Cowboys has to put the Bengals away. On Sunday, they weren't up to the task -- until late.

Redskins take two for the road

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
8:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- It's hard to believe there was a time when we thought the Washington Redskins were the cellar dwellers in the NFC East. It has only been a month since they opened the Jim Zorn era with a stumbling 16-7 loss, but this isn't the same team.
 
 Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
 Clinton Portis rushed 29 times for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles.

The Redskins completed a remarkable two-week swing with a 23-17 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field to improve to 4-1. This is no longer an upset-minded team. Quite simply, this has all the makings of a playoff team.

Washington withstood a furious start by the Eagles, and then spent the final three quarters dominating every aspect of the game. Eagles coach Andy Reid was left mumbling something about putting his team in the right position, which for now is dead last in the NFC East.

A week after gashing the Cowboys for 144 rushing yards, the Redskins picked up 203 against the Eagles. Philadelphia came into the game giving up 53.8 yards per game, but Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined for 70 in the first half alone. Portis finished with 29 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown.

With the Redskins facing fourth-and-1 at the Eagles' 38-yard line with 2:48 left, Zorn never hesitated to call Portis' number. The running back plowed forward for three yards to seal another huge division win. And when Zorn emerged from the visiting locker room later, Portis' family members were waiting on him.

"I hope you don't think I abused your son today," Zorn said to Portis' mother. Some of you might recall that Portis was critical of Zorn's play-calling after the loss to the New York Giants, but that game's now a distant memory.

On Sunday, the Redskins couldn't have asked for a worse start. The Eagles scored on their first possession, and following a Redskins three-and-out, rookie DeSean Jackson returned a punt 68 yards to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead.

That's when Zorn made an important decision. He stuck with a game plan that included a steady dose of running plays to the left side and passes to Chris Cooley. With the Eagles taking Santana Moss out of the game, quarterback Jason Campbell stayed calm and relied on other players.

"It would've been easy to get away from the game plan and get pass happy," Campbell told me after the game. "But it was too early for that. We had a good game plan, so we just decided to stick with it."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 23, Eagles 17

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
4:04
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- No one would've blamed the Redskins for coming out a little flat following last Sunday's emotional win over the Cowboys. In fact, that's exactly what happened when the Redskins found themselves down, 14-0, midway through the first quarter.

But instead of cratering, Washington stuck to its bread and butter -- a bruising running game with running back Clinton Portis -- and weathered the storm in a stunning 23-17 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles (2-3) now face an uphill climb to get back in the NFC East race. And maybe we should stop referring to Redskins (4-1) wins as "stunning." Perhaps they're simply one of the best teams in football right now.

The Redskins took their first lead in the game when they dialed up an old favorite -- the Antwaan Randle El pass. Randle El, a former college quarterback at Indiana, took an end-around to the right side, stopped in his tracks and threw back across the field to Chris Cooley for an 18-yard touchdown. It was a huge play in the game, and the Eagles couldn't respond.

Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell sealed the game with two outstanding plays late in the fourth quarter. He used his legs to buy time on a third-and-long pass to Randle El. Then he extended the drive by running for another first down.

Facing a fourth-and-2 from the Eagles' 37-yard line with just over two minutes left in the game, Jim Zorn showed how much faith he has in his offense. The Redskins called on Clinton Portis to plow straight ahead for the game-sealing first down.

It was another dominating road performance for a team that appears to be headed for the playoffs. The loss puts the Eagles in desperation mode -- something they should've been in coming into the game.

Redskins gashing the Eagles

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
3:36
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- Unless something changes quickly, the Redskins are about to pull off one of the most remarkable two-game road swings in recent memory. Much like last week against the Cowboys, the Redskins are gashing the Eagles with their running game.

Clinton Portis just made it 23-14 with a 4-yard touchdown run, but the one that set it up was a 27-yard gain off left tackle. Fullback Mike Sellers absolutely destroyed safety Quintin Mikell on the play. And left tackle Chris Samuels did a superb job against defensive end Trent Cole.

The Eagles are in danger of falling out of the NFC East race -- and we're in Week 5! Just amazing. No one in this stadium thought the Redskins had a chance when they fell behind, 14-0 with eight minutes left in the first quarter. But they sort of weathered the early storm, and then took over the game in the second half. The Eagles have looked completely inept on offense following a great start.

Randle El's passer rating keeps climbing

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
3:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- We just did the math. After his 18-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cooley in the third quarter, Antwaan Randle El has a passer rating of 154.1. The former Indiana quarterback is 19 of 23 for 264 yards and four touchdowns during his pro career.

Eagles fans getting restless. Hearing some boos as the offense runs off the field late in the third quarter. Randle El had two touchdown passes for the Steelers and now has two for the Redskins.



Redskins in BIG trouble early

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
1:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- So far, Brian Westbrook's gimpy ankle looks fine.

He opened the game with a 17-yard gain on a middle screen, and then had four carries for 22 yards. Westbrook scored on a 9-yard touchdown run.

I kept a close eye on him when Redskins linebacker Rocky McInstosh tackled him around the ankles on the first play. He jumped to his feet and didn't show any signs of injury. It's a huge boost for this Eagles offense to have him on the field.

And rookie DeSean Jackson puts the Eagles up, 14-0, with a 68-yard punt return.

The Redskins look shell-shocked. Jim Zorn is trying to stay with the run on the team's second possession, which is a good idea. This team can't afford any more three-and-outs right now.

Jim Johnson is bringing pressure from all over the field. Juqua Parker's getting a lot of push at defensive end, but he's also bringing middle linebacker Stewart Bradley quite a bit early.

Bradley told the NFC Beast blog Friday that Johnson had installed 26 blitz packages for this game. He was reading directly from his playbook, but unlike Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, he decided not to post it on his blog.

What's Plax doing this weekend?

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
1:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.coms' Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Interesting story about Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress in this morning's New York Daily News. We've heard most of it before, but it's helpful to have all his transgressions in one place. As you'll see in the following quote, Burress' teammates didn't exactly rush to his defense:

"This wasn't the first time he broke the rules," one of Burress' teammates told the Daily News. "We all knew something had to be done."

According to one of his teammates, Plax is probably vacationing at his home in Fort Lauderdale.

Pre-game report: Westbrook's active

October, 5, 2008
10/05/08
12:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Greetings from Lincoln Financial Field, where we're about an hour away from kickoff. It's 66 degrees with 63 percent humidity right now. We'll have a high of 73.

In other news, the Redskins will be without starting cornerback Shawn Springs (calf) and linebacker Marcus Washington (hamstring) for today's game against the Eagles. Fred Smoot and H.B. Blades will start.

For the Eagles, Brian Westbrook (ankle) will return after missing last Sunday's game against the Bears. Westbrook came out about two and a half hours before the game and appeared to be cutting pretty well. I still think Correll Buckhalter could end up carrying the load, but Westbrook's presence gives the Eagles a lift.

The Eagles are also missing Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews, but we knew he was going to be out. Andrews doesn't seem to be making much progress with his back, and that's something we should keep our eye on.

Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor will miss his second consecutive game and Jon Jansen will once again start for Stephon Heyer at right tackle.

Here's the entire list of inactives: Eagles: QB A.J. Feeley (emergency), LB Joe Mays, DE Bryan Smith, G Shawn Andrews, G Mike McGlynn, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Matt Schobel, DE Victor Abiamiri Redskins: QB Colt Brennan (emergency), CB Shawn Springs, S Justin Hamilton, LB Marcus Washington, DE Jason Taylor, T Stephon Heyer, T Chad Rinehart.

Beast Exclusive: The Stew Bradley interview

October, 4, 2008
10/04/08
8:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

We had the good fortune to visit with Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley for a few minutes Friday before he stepped into a team meeting. This is Bradley's first season as a starter, but he seems to be making the transition well. The Eagles have been excellent against the run, and the linebackers have been a major part of the success.

Bradley talked about how much respect the defense has for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. He said that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has designed a game plan around trying to knock Campbell out of rhythm. He threw for 188 yards in the first half of last Sunday's 26-24 win over the Cowboys.

In an effort to pressure Campbell, the Eagles have 15 different blitz packages in their base defense and 11 more in their specialty packages. If you're keeping track at home, the Eagles are bringing 26 blitzes to this game. The normal team might not have more than five different blitz packages in their base defense. So how does Bradley remember it all?

"It was a little overwhelming at first," he said. "I think we had three or four different blitzes in college."

Bradley also talked about how important it will be to maintain the proper gaps against the Redskins, a team that loves running to the left. We call the Redskins a left-handed running team. Oops ... I'm boarding my flight to Philadelphia. I'll have more from Bradley when we land

Report: Burress settlement official

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
6:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger is reporting that the Plaxico Burress settlement is finally official. As we've heard for a week now, Burress will lose a week's paycheck ($117,000) instead of the $235,000 he was set to lose in the two-week (one-game) suspension.

He also has the assurance that the Giants won't go after any roster-bonus money. All in all, I think Burress came out pretty well when you consider that he skipped a mandatory practice without attempting to contact his employers. Who knows what would've happened in an arbitration hearing. The Giants knew it would be a distraction, and decided to move on.

The good news for Giants fans is that Burress came back strong the last time he was reprimanded with a loss of playing time. If anyone can use a suspension as a source of inspiration, it's Tom Coughlin. He spent most of Friday coming up with T-shirt ideas.

You guys have been wonderful. Next time we talk, I'll be in Philly. 

Westbrook ready to roll?

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
5:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook (ankle) finally made it through a full practice Friday, which is a good indicator that he'll play against the Redskins on Sunday. Of course, his younger brother Byron, a member of the Redskins practice squad, indicated earlier in the week that the Eagles weren't being forthright with Brian's injury and that he was nowhere close to playing.

Coach Andy Reid sounded optimistic when asked about Westbrook on Friday, although he still said he'd be a game-time decision.

"He was able to get through everything, and it looked like he did well," said Reid. "We'll just see how he feels later today and then tomorrow. Most importantly, we'll see how he feels on Sunday."

I think Westbrook will play Sunday, but don't expect him to be anywhere near 100 percent. If you're trying to make fantasy decisions, I'm being told that Correll Buckhalter will end up with more carries in this one.

The thing that really concerns me is this Shawn Andrews back injury. He not only has a disc problem (causing inflammation), but he's also having back spasms. Take it from someone who broke his back about eight years ago. These things don't calm down very quickly.

Reid didn't indicate that the Eagles were considering surgery, but that will become an option if Andrews keeps missing games.

If you're looking for a key matchup in this game, focus on Santana Moss vs. Sheldon Brown. I honestly thought Lito Sheppard could do a better job against Moss, but Jim Johnson is no longer speaking to me before games.

Did I mention my exclusive with middle linebacker Stewart Bradley earlier today? I'll have that for you tomorrow.

Just a quick tidbit: I'm told that Jim Johnson has installed 26 blitzes for this game (15 in the base defense, 11 in the specialty packages).

Audibles: NFC East Week 5 preview

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cincinnati Bengals (0-4) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1), 4:15 p.m. ET

This should be the game that puts the Cowboys back on track following last Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Redskins.

Terrell Owens will have 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns by the time the first half ends. Then, the Cowboys can rediscover their running game with Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the second half. Tony Romo has been instructed to only check out of running plays if the Bengals put all 11 men on the line of scrimmage.

Chad Ocho Cinco said some outlandish things Wednesday in order to pump life into what looks like a dud of a game. The one thing the Cowboys have to fix is covering the deep ball. The Eagles, Packers and Redskins all hit on deep balls and Braylon Edwards dropped one that would've gone for a touchdown for the sadsack Browns.

The Cowboys will try to make life miserable for Carson Palmer, which won't be anything new for him. The Bengals did take the Giants to overtime in the Meadowlands two weeks ago, but they're about to run into an angry team. The Bengals don't have a running game, so they'll be one-dimensional from the start. The Cowboys are favored by 17, which is a huge number in the NFL. The one thing the Bengals have in their favor is that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knows their personnel better than anyone. Cowboys get back in the winning column, and T.O. skips the "serious conversation" with Romo after the game.

Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at New York Giants (3-0), 1 p.m. ET

The Seahawks get starting receivers Bobby Engram and Deion Branch back for this game, but it won't matter. The Giants' defensive line will take quarterback Matt Hasselbeck out of rhythm early, and he'll hold the ball too long. He trusts Engram, but he won't click with Branch.

As Giants center Shaun O'Hara pointed out earlier this week, the Meadowlands crowd could play a big role in this one. A lot of fans remember that the Qwest Field crowd induced the Giants into 11 false starts three years ago. The Giants want their fans to be loud, in part, because Hasselbeck loves to audible at the line of scrimmage. He's been known to check into running plays on third-and-6, which has actually worked well against aggressive teams such as the Giants.

As Tom Coughlin pointed out Friday, the Seahawks have scored 31 points in the first quarter in the past two games. Mike Holmgren does a better job than anyone at scripting the first 15 plays. The only problem is that the Seahawks have only scored three points in the third quarter all season. OK, I've done entirely too much research. Let's move on.

Washington Redskins (3-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) 1 p.m. ET
Can the Redskins do it two weeks in a row? I think it's possible -- especially if Brian Westbrook isn't at full speed. And I don't think he will be. He finally made it through a full practice Friday, but he's still a game-time decision. Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley told me earlier Friday that the Eagles will have 15 different blitz packages out of their base defense and 11 more in their situational packages. Folks that's 26 blitzes in one game.

The average defensive coordinator might install five or six blitzes heading into a game. Wait, am I bogging down? The bottom line is that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson wants to bring pressure from all over the field against Jason Campbell. The Redskins' quarterback has shown that he can burn you if you let him find any type of rhythm. The Eagles don't want to allow that. I'll be there for all the action.

Eagles lead the league in drops

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
10:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Disturbing news for Eagles fans coming out of Pat Yasinskas' NFC South blog Thursday afternoon. Pat revealed (via Stats Inc.) that the Eagles are leading the NFL with 11 drops this season. The Lions and Broncos are tied for second place in this dubious category with 10 apiece.

So quick, let's try to justify this alarming number. For starters, only Jay Cutler (157) and Drew Brees (148) have attempted more passes than Donovan McNabb's 146. If you put it in the air that much, you're going to have some drops. The Eagles have also been without starters Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis most of the regular season. DeSean Jackson has been brilliant at times, but he's also had a couple of drops. I'll see if I can get the complete breakdown by player at some point today.

The Cowboys have seven drops and the Redskins and Giants are tied with five. Combined, the NFC East has dropped 28 balls, so they're one drop off the pace of the league-leading NFC North (29). I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm guessing Terrell Owens has at least four of the Cowboys' seven drops. He always seems to be among the league leaders in drops, but he still manages to put up big numbers.

Mosley Mailbag begins in 3-2-1

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The American people have spoken. You want me to read your e-mails more than once a week, so I've hired a focus group to look into this and see if it's something we should consider.

But seriously, I appreciate the fact that NFC Beast readers are the most prolific group of the NFL Blog Network. It's with great pride and some trepidation that we once again try to clean out my Mailbag. Many of you (from the 214 area code) have demanded more Cowboys coverage, but I'm planning to spend a great deal of time on the other three teams in the division this week.

 
 Icon SMI
 If Chris Horton, left, keeps getting takeaways, coordinator Greg Blache will put up with some mistakes from the rookie.

Thanks for your eloquently phrased questions, but more importantly, for your honesty. The Mailbag has allowed us to meet on a quasi-personal level, and that's something we can build on. Surfing through your (favorable) comments is an edifying and lasting experience. I promise to only answer one (perhaps three) Big 12 questions in this edition.

Let's begin with Isaac from Maryland. Isaac, what's on your mind this morning? Really liking all this Chris Horton coverage, including your recent column. One article I read, might have been yours, stated that his interceptions have covered up his coverage mistakes on the field. (The Witten TD last week). Besides his interceptions, how is the rest of his game?

Mosley: As founder and president of the Chris Horton fan club, rest assured that we'll continue to monitor the young man's progress. I'll admit that I only watched the play you mentioned twice but it seems the Redskins were worried about that wheel route (I love a good wheel route) Cowboys rookie Felix Jones was running down the left sideline. Marcus Washington got locked in one-on-one coverage with Witten, and that's a bad place for him to be. Witten sells him on a double-move, touchdown Cowboys. Witten was actually open several times in the second half, but the Cowboys had launched their T.O. appeasement program.

Listen, Horton will make a lot of mistakes. At one point, the Redskins had to pull him off the field against the Cowboys. But as Bill Parcells used to say about certain players, the ball always seems to find Horton. You need that type of player on the field. He's not going to be a great coverage guy, but there's not a lot of strong safeties who fit that description. Horton's pretty solid against the run, and he looks a bit lost in coverage at times. But if defensive coordinator Greg Blache keeps getting takeaways out of the rookie, he'll be willing to put up with the mistakes. Just a really neat kid who shares my passion for "Dexter," although don't send me an e-mail about the first episode. And I mean it.


Bryan from DC has been reading Pat Yasinskas' excellent NFC South blog: In Pat Yasinskas' blog it says Phily has dropped a league-leading 11 passes so far this year. Do you know who is the main culprit behind that statistic?

Mosley: Bryan, I'll track down my Stats Inc. password, and try to provide the breakdown on the NFC East blog later today. What I can tell you (after intensive research) is that Donovan McNabb has thrown the most passes in the division. His 146 attempts leads Tony Romo by seven, and the other two quarterbacks by 20 or more attempts (Eli's played one less game). The Eagles have had more opportunities to drop balls. Off the top of my head, I remember rookie DeSean Jackson having a big drop in the red zone against the Cowboys, which forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal.

But you have to cut the Eagles a little slack for beginning the season without their starting wideouts. If you put the ball in the air that many times, there will be some drops. Over the years, starter Reggie Brown and veteran Greg Lewis have dropped their fair share of passes. It shouldn't be surprising that Jason Avant and Hank Baskett also dropped a few balls. And throw L.J. Smith in there, too. For a guy who needed to be an impact player this season, he's been pretty quiet.


Sniper1532 writes: Way to go and attack the reports for the Cowboys. Wow, you guys (ESPN) only get worse, and people like you who just love to hate on the Cowboys and T.O., but that's OK. I stopped watching you guys a long time ago for this reason. You guys know what T.O. is gonna say when you ask questions like, "Did you get the ball enough?" I mean come on.

Mosley: Sniper, this e-mail actually warms my heart. The folks in the "Cowboys bias" camp never knew my reputation as an alleged "Cowboys hater," as you put it. If I can reach across the aisle (I watched the Palin-Biden debate), then we've reached some bipartisanship on the blog.

To your T.O. point, my colleague and good friend Ed Werder is the reporter who asked the question you referenced. There's a laughable premise that T.O. should somehow be protected from himself by people working in the media. T.O. has stated after several games that he didn't receive enough passes, which makes him a lot like most star receivers in this league. I'm not sure Ed phrased the question exactly like you did, but even if he did, what the heck's wrong with it? T.O. seemed visibly upset when he'd come to the sideline. This sort of behavior might lead a reporter to ask whether he felt like he was being used properly.

I've defended T.O. several times in the past and I'm taken him to task when I think he's in the wrong. This notion that we shouldn't take the chance of asking a question that might cause someone to say something that they will later be criticized for is ridiculous. Given T.O.'s history with quarterbacks, it makes sense to pursue this line of questioning. A reporter from the Cowboys' in-house Internet operation apparently accused Ed of lacking objectivity, which led to an entertaining exchange at Valley Ranch on Wednesday. And Sniper, I'm sorry if you've actually stopped watching ESPN. I'm certainly happy that you're still supporting ESPN.com.

(Read full post)

Manningham goes from hospital to practice field

October, 2, 2008
10/02/08
6:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

New York Giants rookie wide receiver Mario Manningham went to the hospital Wednesday because he was throwing up three times a day, and that seemed odd. Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger reports that Manningham caught a screen pass and immediately turned upfield today -- without vomiting.

I don't think we should get too excited about seeing Manningham on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has installed a couple of plays for the rookie, but he won't feel compelled to call them.

On the other hand, Domenik Hixon will be large part of the offense. Here's my bold prediction for Hixon: He will have a touchdown of 45 yards or more Sunday. In fact, I'm willing to place some blog entries on this. If Hixon doesn't have a 45-yard touchdown Sunday, I will write 14 blog entries on the Giants next week.

The breakdown would be 14 Giants entries, seven for the Redskins, seven Eagles and 28 Cowboys entries. Thanks for your continued support.

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