NFC East: Scott Tolzien

PHILADELPHIA -- If it’s better to be lucky than good, the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles could win the NFC East title by being a little of both.

They opened the season against Washington, with Robert Griffin III looking very much like a young quarterback who hadn’t taken a preseason snap.

They played Tampa Bay in Mike Glennon's second career start, while the Buccaneers were dealing with fallout from the Josh Freeman mess and a MRSA outbreak.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Matt RourkeTony Romo passed for 317 yards in Dallas' 17-3 win against Philadelphia on Oct. 20.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone six days before the Eagles played the Packers, and his backup, Seneca Wallace, left with an injury in the first quarter.

When the Eagles were worried about how to cover Calvin Johnson, eight inches of snow covered the Detroit receiver for them.

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson injured his foot the week before the Eagles played the Vikings. His backup, Toby Gerhart, also missed that game.

And now Tony Romo will be out for the biggest game of the season, the virtual playoff game between the Eagles and Dallas, according to ESPN reports.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Chip Kelly’s super-secret sports science program includes hexes and voodoo dolls.

While there will be plenty of jokes about the Cowboys being better off without Romo and his 1-6 record in win-or-go-home games, his absence clearly takes some of the luster off of this much anticipated battle for the NFC East title.

Kelly, speaking before the news broke, had little regard for those criticisms of Romo. He cited the game-winning touchdown Romo threw Sunday to beat Washington and force the showdown with the Eagles.

“Fourth [down], game on the line, scrambles, keeps the ball alive, hits the mark to [DeMarco] Murray and they win the game,” Kelly said. “I'm always on what you did last, and what he did last was pretty special -- the way he avoided the rush, kept drives alive, and I think he's as talented a quarterback as there is in this league.

“Any time with that position, sometimes I think you get probably too much credit and too much blame. But he's one of the really, really, really good quarterbacks we've seen, and I said that the first time we played him. If you're a fan of just quarterback play, he's pretty special.”

As the Eagles learned the hard way, a little luck is no guarantee. They went to Minnesota two Sundays ago knowing that Peterson and Gerhart were unlikely to play. And they still were stomped 48-30 by Matt Cassel and the Vikings. A virtually unknown running back named Matt Asiata ran for three touchdowns in that game.

Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton has more of a pedigree than Asiata or -- sticking with his position -- Glennon, Wallace or Scott Tolzien, who played most of the Packers game. Orton has faced the Eagles twice. He beat them in 2008 while with the Bears, and lost to them the following year as a Bronco.

Though the Eagles have had their share of luck this season, they aren’t going to feel too sorry for the Cowboys. Remember, Michael Vick was their starting quarterback when the season began. After he was hurt, Nick Foles took over and played too well to be sent back down the depth chart.

Throughout that process, Kelly repeatedly said that you had to have two good quarterbacks in the NFL. The Packers found out what happens when you don’t. If Orton isn’t able to compete, that’s on the Cowboys for not having another quarterback in development.

The year Orton and the Bears beat them, the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game against Arizona. If Orton can beat them this time, they’re going home.

Five Wonders: Tagging Jason Hatcher?

December, 3, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys have had some time to wonder some things after their win on Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders.

Every Tuesday as always wonder about some things. Five Wonders is back and off we go:
  • Jason Hatcher is having a career year and it could not have come at a better time. Hatcher will be a free agent after the season and already has more sacks this year than he has had in any season. And he could make the Pro Bowl, which is something he mentions frequently. But Hatcher will turn 32 next July. I'm on record saying the Cowboys can't pay age. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on him. It would chew up $9-10 million in salary-cap room, but they would buy some time in finding defensive line help for beyond 2014. The Cowboys will have to make a number of moves to get under the cap, but they would be able to fit Hatcher in at the franchise number. Is it worth it? The Cowboys put the tag on Anthony Spencer last year, paying him $10.6 million. I thought it was the right move at the time and did not second guess it after Spencer's knee injury cost him all but one game this season. I'm not as sure about tagging Hatcher. They might have to restructure more deals than they would want and that would also affect the cap in 2015 and beyond. And last year the defensive line market was thin, even for the top players.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys will have a decision to make on backup quarterback Kyle Orton in the offseason. He will make $3.25 million in 2014 and count $4.377 against the salary cap. The Cowboys will have to do a lot of maneuvering to get under the cap in the offseason and could just restructure Orton's contract in the same way they did last March. The Cowboys have yet to start the clock on finding Tony Romo's replacement, which is another reason to keep Orton around. But the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers also offer up valid reasons to keep Orton even if he does not throw a pass this year. The Packers season has gone to shreds without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won since losing Rodgers, turning first to Seneca Wallace, who got hurt, then to Scott Tolzien and now they're on Matt Flynn. The Bears are 2-3 without Jay Cutler, though it is difficult to put much of the blame on Josh McCown. He's done a nice job and been a stabilizing force, but the Bears appeared to learn their lesson when they lost Cutler in previous seasons. Romo turns 34 in April. He's battled injuries in the past and had back surgery last April. Keeping Orton makes sense and something I think the Cowboys do. It's an insurance policy worth keeping.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys had Laurent Robinson in the back of their mind when they have signed some of these defensive linemen this season. Confused? Hear me out. In 2011, Robinson had a career year with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, but because the Cowboys signed him to a minimum salary-benefit contract they were unable to re-sign him before he hit free agency. Jacksonville swooped in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. It was way too rich for the Cowboys -- and ultimately the Jaguars -- but without the restriction Robinson would have re-signed with the Cowboys at a much cheaper rate. That brings me to the defensive linemen. When the Cowboys signed George Selvie, Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis and Martez Wilson, they made sure they got a second year on the contracts. They are all signed through 2014, so if they hit -- and Selvie is a hit -- the Cowboys hold their rights for a second year. That's a shrewd move, in my opinion.
  • I wonder if DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 yards. Yep, I do. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and essentially missed a third when he got just four carries for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings when the game plan called for Tony Romo to pass the ball early and often. But with four games to go Murray needs 303 yards to reach 1,000. In his last three games Murray has rushed for 89, 86 and 63 yards. If he keeps up that pace, he would get there. Reaching 1,000 yards should not be that difficult, but the Cowboys sure seem to make it difficult after years of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith almost annually reaching the mark. The last Dallas runner to go for more than 1,000 yards was Julius Jones (1,084) in 2006 and that's the Cowboys only 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
  • I don't wonder if the Cowboys will rue the day they lost Alex Tanney, just as I don't think the Cowboys have rued the day since losing Matt Moore oh so many years ago. (Long-time readers will know how I feel about Moore). The Cleveland Browns signed Tanney off the Cowboys' practice squad last week. I liked what Tanney did in a short time with the Cowboys over the summer. He showed some things in his preseason work, but there will be a new Tanney next summer. Or even next week. I wonder if the Cowboys add a quarterback to the practice squad over the final month of the season. They could use the last four weeks to bring a guy in for a free look and essentially give him a “signing bonus” for four weeks of being on the practice squad and sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.
Larry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoyGetty ImagesLarry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoy will look to keep their teams streaking on Sunday.
Bruce Arians and Chip Kelly come at their news jobs from very different places.

Kelly was the hot college head coach of the moment, hired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to replace the institution that was Andy Reid. Arians was a college head coach, too, at Temple back in the 1980s. He got his job with the Arizona Cardinals, though, based upon years as an often-overlooked NFL assistant.

And now here they are. Arians’ Cardinals are 7-4 with a four-game winning streak, while Kelly’s Eagles are 6-5 after a three-game winning streak. Their teams meet at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday in a game with major NFC playoff implications.

ESPN.com reporters Josh Weinfuss, who covers the Cardinals, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, take a closer look at the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: Bruce Arians is best known in Philadelphia as one of the rare coaches to survive a stint at Temple University. Nationally, he’s known for winning the Coach of the Year Award after filling in for Chuck Pagano last year in Indianapolis. How has he conducted business and how much of this four-game winning streak results from that?

Josh Weinfuss: I think all of it. Arians is the ultimate players coach and from everything I’ve heard about him from former players and current Cardinals who were with him in other places, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’ll tell the players like it is and if they can’t handle it, they have to figure out a way to deal with it. He’s not big on the sugarcoating, and the players appreciate it. As a head coach, he’s taken a little bit from each of the coaches he worked for and put it into play in Arizona. He’s learned how to delegate and put together a staff that complements him very well. On top of it all, he’s an offensive genius who stayed patient with this team while they learned his scheme, and it’s paying off.

On the topic of schemes, is Kelly’s high-octane offense here to stay or will he need to adapt as the season progresses?

Sheridan: Probably a little of both. Kelly already has adjusted to some degree. The foundation of his approach seems to be figuring out how a defense is designed to stop his offense and then exploiting whatever weaknesses and mismatches created by that design. When teams played man coverage and pressed to eliminate his bubble screens, Kelly shrugged and started throwing deep. When the Giants and Cowboys found a weakness in his run-blocking scheme, Kelly adjusted and got LeSean McCoy back on track. Kelly seems to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game with opposing coaches. That said, the foundations of what he does -- creating mismatches and exploiting weaknesses -- are as old as football. He just has some intriguing ways of getting there.

While we’re on that side of the ball, how has Todd Bowles been able to win the hearts and minds of a defense that thrived under former coordinator Ray Horton? And how important is having Karlos Dansby back in the fold?

Weinfuss: Bowles made one minor change up front and he’s been the glimmer in the defensive line’s eyes ever since. He went from a multi-gap system to a one-gap scheme, which has taken out the thinking from football. Now, the Cardinals front line can just rear back and go, and the changes are obvious. Darnell Dockett is having his best season in a while, Calais Campbell has emerged as one of the toughest defensive ends in the league and nose tackle Dan Williams has plugged the holes in the middle, forcing plays out to the edges -- and right into the hands of guys like John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, Daryl Washington and, of course, Dansby. He’s playing at the lowest weight of his career and he’s been able to fly around, going from sideline to sideline with relative ease for a guy who’s been in this league for 10 years. While everything for the Cardinals’ defense starts up front, each level has been benefiting from the line’s presence.

Let’s stay on defense. The Eagles have the worst pass defense in the league. How can they muster enough plays to slow the Cardinals' recently high-flying passing game under Carson Palmer?

Sheridan: Josh, that could be the question that determines the outcome of this game. The only answer I have is that, somehow, that’s just what the Eagles' defense has been doing in the seven games since Peyton Manning hung 52 points on them. They give up a lot of yards, but they haven’t given up more than 21 points in a game since then. They’ve been good in the red zone and have started generating pressure and, in turn, turnovers. Palmer provides a very good measuring stick. The Eagles have thrived against the Mike Glennons and Scott Tolziens of the world, although in fairness they played well against Eli Manning and Tony Romo, too. But Palmer and that Larry Fitzgerald fellow definitely represent the kind of test the Eagles must pass before being considered a good defense.

Speaking of Palmer, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, there seems to be a Kurt Warner vibe at work here -- veteran guy getting one more shot to prove he still has it. Warner did -- does Palmer? What’s the ceiling on the offense with him at the helm?

Weinfuss: All the evidence from the past four games points to yes -- Palmer does have a Warner-esque resurgence in him, but that’s only because the Cardinals’ offense is finally working. If it was still struggling, we’d be talking about Palmer being replaced either now or after the season. Crazy how that works. Palmer is the perfect quarterback for a Bruce Arians scheme. He has a big arm and can make throws on a dime. And those two things will carry this offense as far as it can until Palmer makes bad decisions. Even though the bad decisions have been cut down during the Cards’ four-game winning streak, it would be na´ve of anybody to think they’re totally done with. Arizona is just getting lucky. Twice against the Colts, Palmer had probable interceptions dropped, and against Jacksonville two weeks ago, a well-timed timeout by Arians saved Palmer from a potentially costly interception. If Palmer can take chances without making ill-advised throws, the ceiling is quite high, especially with the depth at receiver, tight end and running back.

A lot of University of Arizona fans out this way are loving the fact that Nick Foles is starting and playing well. Is he Mr. Right for the Eagles in Kelly’s offense or Mr. Right Now?

Sheridan: That’s the question that will haunt the Eagles through the offseason. Foles has had some of the luck you described Palmer having. That seven-touchdown game against Oakland was partly the product of some of the worst defensive football I’ve ever seen (and I watched Nnamdi Asomugha jog through two years here). But Foles is smart, he’s accurate and you can see him gaining confidence and comfort with every game. Clearly, he is not the quarterback Chip Kelly would order from the factory. But as he continues having success and winning games, you have to wonder how far Kelly is willing to tailor his offense to Foles for the long haul. It’s the decision that will define the Kelly era, at least for the next few years. My gut says Foles is a good NFL quarterback, but Kelly will make a move to find his guy at the earliest possible convenience. If Foles keeps this up, though, my gut might be proven wrong.

Cowboys return to work, know where stand

November, 18, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – Jason Garrett isn't one for "global views," in the middle of the season, but with the Dallas Cowboys returning to work today after their bye week it's quite clear where they stand with six games to play.

For the first time this season the Cowboys are not in first place in the NFC East.

The Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) have a half-game lead on the Cowboys with their win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. If there is a bright spot in falling out of the top spot it is that the Redskins are that much closer to elimination in the division at 3-7.

The Cowboys will face a rejuvenated New York Giants next week after their fourth straight win, a 27-13 decision over the Green Bay Packers. Luck does not appear to be on the Cowboys' side with the Packers having to play third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien against the Eagles and Giants because of an injury to Aaron Rodgers. The Cowboys play Green Bay on Dec. 15 and Rodgers is expected to be back.

By the time the Cowboys walk out of MetLife Stadium, they could be tied with the Giants with five games to play should they lose and in free-fall mode. But for all of the talk about the Giants' dominance at AT&T Stadium before the Cowboys' season-opening win this year, the Cowboys have won two of their three games at MetLife Stadium.

If not for a 90-yard drive in the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 3, the Cowboys would be on a three-game losing streak.

The losses to the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos eliminated the Cowboys' margin for error. They face a must-win situation on Sunday and possibly must-wins for the rest of the season.

But let's be honest, doesn't it seem like the Cowboys will be playing for the NFC East title in Week 17 for the third straight year when the Eagles visit AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29?

They lost at New York in 2011, and at Washington in 2012. At least this game would be at home.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 11

November, 18, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 27-13 victory against the Green Bay Packers:

Pierre-Paul
Anatomy of a game-changer: Linebacker Jon Beason said part of the scouting report on the Packers' Scott Tolzien was that the ball came out of his hand on a low trajectory. So if the Packers were going to be taking three-step drops all night, as they were, the Giants' pass-rushers were instructed to get their hands up quickly to try to bat down the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul knew this, and he said he also knew, right before that fourth-quarter play, that Tolzien was going to throw a screen pass to his side of the field. So Pierre-Paul stayed home instead of rushing and threw his hands up in the air. But he didn't want to bat down the ball; he wanted to catch it. Which he did. And then he ran 24 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

Don't blame Eli for this one: Eli Manning's second-quarter interception was his league-leading 17th of the year, but it was clearly not his fault. Wide receiver Louis Murphy was supposed to break inside -- Giants coach Tom Coughlin said there was no option on the route, and that Murphy just blew it. What was weirder, though, was that Murphy was on the field instead of Hakeem Nicks, who appeared to hurt himself on a play earlier in the drive on which Tramon Williams was called for pass interference. Nicks sat out a few plays, and after the Murphy blunder some teammates went over to talk to and encourage Nicks, who returned to the game on the next drive and didn't want to talk after the game about what was bothering him.

Getting the ball: After allowing an average of only 206.3 yards per game during the first three games of their winning streak, the Giants gave up 394 to the Packers on Sunday. But they also got three turnovers, giving them a total of 11 during their four-game winning streak after forcing only seven during the first six games of the year. They have won the turnover battle in three of their past four games.

Looking ahead: Pierre-Paul said of the Cowboys, who come to town next week, "We're going to put it on them, man." Brandon Jacobs said, "Playing the Cowboys is always good. That's one of the opponents I love to play more than anybody in the National Football League. It means something to our football team." The Giants moved the ball against a relatively full-strength Cowboys defense in Week 1 but lost mainly because they turned it over six times. They are eager for revenge against a Cowboys defense that will be without middle linebacker Sean Lee. If the Giants' offensive line can protect Manning, the game could be a shootout. That's a big "if," but Manning's 279 passing yards Sunday were his most since Week 5, his 71.4 completion percentage was by far his highest of the season and his 92.4 passer rating was his highest since the opener in Dallas.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- I mean, the New York Giants should be leading this game by a considerable margin. They are not. They lead it 10-6 over Scott Tolzien's Green Bay Packers after a first half in which they possessed the ball for 19:59 of a possible 30:00. Nothing I've seen so far indicates that they should lose to a Packers team that isn't covering very well and isn't protecting its third-string quarterback and isn't opening holes for its running game, but ... in spite of it all, the Giants' lead is only four points and the Packers are getting the ball to start the second half.

Things looked very good for the Giants early. They took a 7-0 lead on their second possession, as Eli Manning found Rueben Randle open over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown catch. They held the Packers to three-and-outs on each of Green Bay's first two possessions. They went up 10-0 early in the second quarter on a 40-yard Josh Brown field goal and looked for all the world as though they'd run away with this game and win their fourth in a row.

Which they still might.

But that second quarter didn't continue to go well, did it? As they were going in for what looked like another touchdown, Manning threw his league-leading 17th interception of the season. It didn't appear to be his fault, as wide receiver Louis Murphy didn't do what he was supposed to do and the ball sailed into the hands of Packers cornerback Tramon Williams. Murphy was in the game because Hakeem Nicks appeared to get injured on a play where he got hit on a pass interference call, but after some teammates talked to him on the sideline, Nicks returned for the Giants' final possession of the half. He couldn't convert on third down, though, and the Giants punted it away with enough time for the Packers to move into position for a 57-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time ran out.

So it's 10-6, as I said, and I really don't know what to make of it. At one point, I'd have told you Manning looked as comfortable under pressure as he has at any point this year, but then he started missing on throws, including one that could have been a Victor Cruz touchdown up the right sideline six plays before the interception. The Giants are doing a good job against the run, holding Packers running back Eddie Lacy to 14 yards so far on seven carries, but Tolzien has found some open receivers and begun to move the ball.

Giants running back Andre Brown looks fantastic again, with 40 yards on eight carries so far to go with a 12-yard reception, and Brandon Jacobs converted a couple of short fourth downs. So there's reason to believe the Giants can control the second half with the run game if they can hold the lead. But after a great first quarter, the second kind of shook your confidence that the Giants are good enough to put a game like this in their pocket. We shall see.

The Cowboys' rooting interests

November, 16, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – By Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys could be out of first place in the NFC East for the first time this season. By Sunday night they might be only one game out of third place.

The Cowboys have a rooting interest in what happens this weekend as they rest up on their bye weekend for their final six-game push.

If the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys will be looking up at the Eagles in the division. It would also be Philadelphia’s third straight win, which would be a boost to its confidence. And it would be Philadelphia’s first home win since last season.

The Cowboys should want the Redskins to win the game so they can maintain the top spot in the NFC East, but a Redskins’ loss would be a huge blow to Washington. Last year the Redskins won their final seven games to win the division, including their Week 17 win against the Cowboys.

Maybe all-but eliminating the Redskins would be a better thing, considering the Cowboys will host the Eagles at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29 in what could be their third straight winner-take-all finale.

The Cowboys have to be big Green Bay Packer fans this week and hope Scott Tolzien can deliver a win against the Giants. It’s just the Cowboys luck that the Eagles and Giants would play the Packers with Aaron Rodgers injured. The Cowboys might not be as fortunate on their Dec. 15 meeting against Green Bay.

The Giants started out 0-6 and looked putrid. They have now won three in a row and with a win Sunday they would be rolling into the Nov. 24 meeting against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. A loss would put the Giants in danger of being out of it entering the final stages of the season.

The Cowboys don’t want these teams to have fighting chances in December.

W2W4: Giants vs. Packers

November, 16, 2013
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The New York Giants have won three games in a row following an 0-6 start and marching their way back toward .500 as they take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at 4:25 pm ET at MetLife Stadium. This game was originally scheduled for 8:30 pm ET, but has been moved up four hours as part of the league's flex scheduling rules. So if you're going to the game, or if you have plans to watch it, bear in mind the start time isn't the same as the one on the magnetic schedule you got at the beginning of the year.

Here are a few things besides that to watch in Sunday's Giants-Packers game:

An Andre Brown encore? After rushing for 115 yards on 30 carries in his season debut Sunday against the Raiders, Brown is back and hoping for a big follow-up now that he's clearly the No. 1 man in the Giants' backfield. Green Bay counters with some big, mean monsters in the middle of their defensive line, and B.J. Raji & Co. will be tougher for the Giants' interior offensive linemen to push around than the Raiders were. Brown looked good keeping his legs moving and gaining yards after contact, but it's possible the contact could come a lot sooner this week between the tackles.

Wary of Packers' run game, too: On Thursday after Giants practice I asked Justin Tuck if there was anyone of whom Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy reminded him when he watched Lacy on tape. Without hesitating, Tuck said, "A bigger Marshawn Lynch." Pretty high praise there. We looked it up, and Lacy does actually list at 230 pounds to Lynch's 215, but Tuck said he didn't know the numbers. "All I see is a lot of broken tackles," he said. The Giants aren't spending time thinking they got a break because Aaron Rodgers is injured and out for this game. They're locked in on Lacy and the best rushing attack the Packers have had in years.

Who is Scott Tolzien? On the Packers' practice squad two weeks ago, Tolzien has been elevated to the starting quarterback's role due to injuries to Rodgers and backup Seneca Wallace. The Giants admit they don't know much about Tolzien and haven't seen much tape on him, but what little they have seen shows them he's not afraid to throw deep and take chances downfield. A Giants secondary that feels very good about itself right now sees that as a potential opportunity to create turnovers and tilt the field position and the game in their favor.

Could Eli air it out? Giants quarterback Eli Manning leads the league with 16 interceptions, 15 of which came in the first six games. Manning has appeared more cautious over the past three games, perhaps making a more conscious effort not to turn the ball over. But that's not really who he is. This week could offer him a chance to take more chances. The Packers' defense has only intercepted three passes this year -- the lowest team total in the league.
Scott Tolzien and Mathias KiwanukaGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNew Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien will face Mathias Kiwanuka and an improved Giants pass rush.
 
The New York Giants will be looking for their fourth win in a row following an 0-6 start. The Green Bay Packers will be trying to snap their first two-game losing streak since 2010. The two teams square off Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson (filling in for Packers reporter Rob Demovsky) break down the matchup for you.

Dan Graziano: Hey, Matt. Thanks for filling in while Rob's on the inactive list this week. The big question the Giants have this week is: Who is Scott Tolzien and what can we expect to see from him? So let's start with that one.

Matt Williamson: Well, Dan, that's a good question! I don't think we really know the answer, but he did move the team well in relief of an injured Seneca Wallace and was generally a smart distributor of the football. And we know Green Bay has weapons to get the ball to. We don't have a lot of tape to evaluate, but I think the Packers are better off with Tolzien over Wallace while Aaron Rodgers recovers from a broken collarbone.

While we are talking quarterbacks, what on Earth is going on with Eli Manning? Despite this winning streak, he really has not played well.

Graziano: Matt, my theory on Eli is that the protection issues at the beginning of the season were so egregious that he just fell into this zone of discomfort from which he's been unable to extricate himself. He just doesn't look right back there, and while the protection issues have improved some, they're still present. The Giants have had no blocking help from the tight-end position at all. They're vulnerable in the middle of the line, and I'm not sold on either tackle, to be honest. They haven't had reliable blitz pickup help from the running backs.

Downfield, Hakeem Nicks isn't playing wide receiver the way he used to play it. A lot has gone on around Manning to make him far less comfortable with his surroundings, and I'm not sure what it's going to take before he starts playing with that old Eli confidence again. Great quarterbacks make the best of bad situations, and Manning has not done that this year. As the Giants' situation improves, they will need him to play much better if they're really going to make this miracle run they still believe they can make.

They get another break this week with Rodgers out and Tolzien in, but they are already talking about that improved Packers running game. What do you see from Eddie Lacy & Co. and how do you think they'll attack the Giants, who have generally been pretty good against opposing running backs this season?

Williamson: This Packers' running game is terrific and should continue to excel even with less of a passing threat. The left side of the offensive line is playing great, but isn't healthy on the right side and has had to do a lot of shuffling of personnel there. Still, the rushing attack isn't easy to prepare for, as the Packers can run a wide variety of plays out of a wide variety of personnel groupings and formations. Lacy is quick to get downhill and is a punishing runner who can wear a defense down, and he also excels at reading his blocks and showing patience with the ball in his hands -- rare traits for a rookie running back. The Packers' ability to run the ball will probably be the most crucial component of this game.

Along those lines, I feel like the Giants might actually have a respectable rushing attack of their own now with Andre Brown carrying the rock. Do you agree?

Graziano: Yeah, the 30 carries and 115 yards for Brown on Sunday in his first game back off a twice-broken leg were eye-opening. I think the workload they gave him showed that the Giants knew just how much they were missing this season at running back. David Wilson never got going and then got hurt, and they patched it together with Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis. But watching Brown run with vision and power and gain yards after contact Sunday, it was obvious that he's the Giants' best option going forward and the best they've had all season.

The injury risk has to be considered, given Brown's history, but at this point the Giants need to win pretty much every game, and they're going to have to lean hard on Brown to do it. Even if he can't be as productive every week as he was against the Raiders, the legitimate threat he poses on film should open up the play-action passing game as a way for Manning to combat those protection issues.

So the Giants feel they can offer a balanced offensive attack against a Packers defense that couldn't get the ball back from the Eagles in the final 9:32 of Sunday's game. Was that a LeSean McCoy issue, or are the Packers really struggling on defense right now?

Williamson: The Packers are struggling on defense and allowing too many big plays. I expected last week's return from injury by Clay Matthews to pay off much more than it did. However, we know Matthews is a great player, and maybe he just needed a week to get back into the swing of things. I still expect Matthews to torment the Giants' tackles this week.

On the inside of their defensive line, the Packers have a lot of sheer mass and power with guys like B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett. I also expect the Giants' interior offensive line to have a difficult time moving this group in the running game. This could be a bounce-back week for Green Bay on this side of the ball.

The Packers' run defense had a difficult time when the Eagles stacked both of their offensive tackles on the same side of the formation. While I expect the Giants could use some personnel groupings with six offensive linemen, I don't see them duplicating what Philadelphia did to make room for McCoy.

Watching the Giants game from last week, I noticed they had a difficult time getting the Raiders' Pat Sims blocked. Sims is a big-bodied and powerful defensive tackle in much the same mold as the Packers' group. I think that bodes well for Green Bay this week.

And expect the Giants to have a difficult time blocking little-known Mike Daniels in the passing game. Daniels has taken over the Cullen Jenkins role -- a spot Green Bay drafted Datone Jones for in the first round -- as an interior pass-rusher, and he has excelled.

The Giants' defense is based entirely on great defensive line play. This is a deep group with a ton of important resources tied up in it, but it hasn't been an elite group. It is improving, however. Where do you see this unit right now and this week against the Packers?

Graziano: Well, the sack numbers have come up. The Giants had only six sacks in their first seven games, but then got eight in their past two games. So they've moved from last in the league in sacks, where they spent most of the season, to a tie for 30th in that category. Odd thing is, of the eight sacks in their past two games, only four have come from defensive linemen. Safety Antrel Rolle has as many sacks (two) in the Giants' past two games as defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has in their past 16.

The line has been very good, as I mentioned, against the run this year. But over the first seven games of the season, opposing quarterbacks did a good job of unloading the ball before the Giants' pass-rushers could stop them from doing so. Not sure they get the full test this week against Tolzien, but at some point we're going to find out whether the front four really has improved, or whether it has just been feasting on lesser competition.

Thanks again, Matt. Catch you online in one of our game chats soon, I'm sure.

 
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: The Giants return to work to look at tape on Packers third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien, about whom they know little if anything in advance of his start against them Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The players on the Giants' defense have begun to feel good enough about themselves to believe they can handle anyone. They say they're not going into games thinking about limiting damage anymore, but instead thinking about shutting teams out.

Behind enemy lines: Here's our man Matt Williamson's scouting report on Tolzien, who Matt says won't be afraid to try tough throws and could have an opportunity to hit some plays downfield if the Giants key on the Packers' vastly improved running game.

Around the division: The Dallas Cowboys are off this week before facing the Giants in Week 12, but the bye may not be enough to get them healthy on defense. They'll surely be without linebacker Sean Lee, who's probably the best player on their team and is out for a few weeks with a pulled hamstring. Fellow starting linebacker Justin Durant is also out for that game, and it remains to be seen whether the Cowboys' defense can expect to get linemen DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher back in time for the Giants game. Big mess down there in Big D.

Around the league: No, I do not expect the Giants to try to sign veteran safety Ed Reed following his release from the Texans. From what little I've seen, my impression is that Reed is done or close to it. And safety is one of the positions at which the Giants actually look very good, with Antrel Rolle and Will Hill and Ryan Mundy. They have no cap room and bigger problems. If Reed could play center, that'd be one thing.

Najee Goode better than his last drop

November, 13, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- John Goode spent two easily overlooked seasons in the NFL, one in St. Louis and one with the Philadelphia Eagles.

His son, Najee Goode, is a young linebacker preparing to make his first NFL start. That he is doing it in Philadelphia, the city where his father spent a season, is both coincidental and instructional.

lastname
Goode
"He told me to embrace everything in the city," Najee Goode said Tuesday. "The fans take the game to a different altitude. People may say they boo and this and that, but they support the team. That's why it's a great place to play. I can already tell, the fans are up and at it. You see them on Twitter, you see them on Facebook, all the social media. It's great."

Goode replaced Mychal Kendricks Sunday in Green Bay after the second-year, star-in-the-making went out with a knee injury. Goode acquitted himself well. He blitzed effectively and played well in the run game.

"Right after I got in," Goode said, "it was like the third or fourth play, I was able to slash in and hit Eddie Lacy in the backfield. It was kind of a statement play: I was going to be here all game."

Goode is likely to start against Washington Sunday. Kendricks was the defensive player most likely to be assigned to spying quarterback Robert Griffin III, just as he did against Oakland's Terrelle Pryor. It's a big challenge.

"You're starting, now what can you do with it," Goode said.

His most memorable play in Green Bay was a near miss. Goode stepped in front of a Scott Tolzien pass with nothing but the end zone in front of him. He dropped the interception.

That was catnip to his father, the former tight end. Turns out the two Goodes maintain a competitive aspect to their relationship.

"I must have had Vaseline on my hands," Goode said. "I'll get it next time."

The play was Najee's comeuppance, in a sense. He recovered an errant snap for a touchdown against the Giants. That gave him one more touchdown than his father managed in his own brief NFL career.

"As soon as I got back to the house," Najee Goode said, "I called him and told him I had him, 1-0. We got drafted in the same round, he just got drafted three picks before I did. So he always talked crap about that. My dad always kept a healthy competition going between me and him."

If the touchdown gave Najee the advantage, that dropped pick-six brought the karmic wheel all the way around.

"I used to play offense in high school and everything," Goode said. "After that, my dad told me never to try to play offense again."

He laughed. His father's career is in the books. Najee's is just beginning. He may have the last laugh yet.
PHILADELPHIA – Upon further review, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly doesn’t think his replay-challenge procedure needs any further review.

There was a play, a 36-yard completion from Green Bay’s Scott Tolzien to Jarrett Boykin, that Kelly should have challenged. The replay shown on the FOX broadcast showed Boykin’s hand touching down out of bounds before he got a second foot down.

The catch, which came on third-and-9, gave Green Bay a first down at the Eagles’ 35-yard line. A reversal wouldn’t have forced a punt, as the Eagles were called for offside on the play. But it would have forced Tolzien to make another third-down conversion from his own end of the field.

Kelly gets advice on replay reviews from assistant coaches who sit on the pressbox level and have access to the TV feed.

“They said they got one clip up in the box,” Kelly said Monday. “They saw both feet down. Couldn't really tell where the elbow was. Then they were snapping the ball and going. … There was really no discussion after that.”

Kelly didn’t know what feed his coaches can see, but the standard is for the national broadcast to be on the monitors in the coaches’ box.

That Packers drive ended with Brandon Boykin intercepting Tolzien on a throw for Jordy Nelson in the end zone. So the lack of a challenge didn’t cost the Eagles any points – this time.

• According to general manager Howie Roseman, speaking on his weekly radio show on 94.1 FM-WIP, safety Earl Wolff's knee injurycould keep him out of action for “multiple weeks.” Kelly didn’t give any update on the Eagles’ injuries.

Meanwhile, Roseman indicated that injuries to linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) and left tackle Jason Peters (quad) were not as serious.

Kelly said Najee Goode played in place of Kendricks, but that Emmanuel Acho is the backup for DeMeco Ryans, the other inside linebacker.

• As for Michael Vick, Kelly said the injured quarterback tested his hamstring with a good pregame run at Lambeau Field. But Vick is not expected to be able to participate fully in practice Tuesday.

• Kicker Alex Henery missed a 39-yard field goal Sunday. Kelly blamed it on the wind swirling around Lambeau Field.

“When you watch it on tape, he hit it right down the middle,” Kelly said. “I talked to Alex about it. He thought he had it. We talked to [holder] Donnie Jones about it. He said, ‘Coach, I saw it go right off his foot. It was heading right down the middle toward the goal post, then it got pushed with the wind.’ Their kicker (Mason Crosby) had the exact same situation. Blew it the same way.”

Crosby missed two of four field goal tries. Henery hit two of three. But he has missed five of 21 field goal tries this season, including three from under 50 yards. And his range has led to a couple of Kelly’s more debatable in-game decisions.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The narrative intrudes from the outside, breathlessly, from week to week. Players in NFL locker rooms face cameras and notebooks wielded by people in need of comment on whatever latest turn the story has taken. This week with the New York Giants, who have won three straight games after an 0-6 start to push their way onto the fringe of one of the worst division races in sports history, the story is supposed to be "They're in it!"

But the Giants themselves don't seem all interested in playing along.

"I wouldn't say, necessarily, that we're back in it," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said Monday afternoon. "We're taking steps. We're building. We have some wins and we have some momentum going, but there's still a long way to go to the point where we feel like we're right back there, or tied, or something like that. We can't get too caught up in that."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTom Coughlin's Giants have maintained their usual calm, professional approach during
an up and down season.
This is one of the great strengths of the Giants' locker room: Walking in there Monday, nothing felt different than it did when the team was 0-4, 0-5 or 0-6. Throughout the losing streak, the Giants maintained professionalism and perspective, never ducking reporters or shouting at us or venting their frustration in any obvious way. So it's little surprise that they're handling their sudden prosperity with the exact same attitude and demeanor. It says a great deal about their head coach, who was asked Monday what he thought about his players' cool reluctance to engage in the we're-still-in-this-thing storyline.

"It's smart," Tom Coughlin said. "It's one game at a time. Obviously, you keep your dreams alive, but you focus on the task at hand. And we've got enough things that have to improve on our team than to worry about that right now."

In truth, the Giants have not played especially well during their current win streak. Eli Manning and the offense are way out of sync, and the special teams are a complete nightmare. The defense has been excellent, allowing just one short-field touchdown over the past 14 quarters, but while praise is justified, it has to come with a disclaimer about the level of competition they've faced and whether they can perform as well in December against the Seahawks, Lions and Chargers as they have against the Raiders and the unprepared backup quarterbacks of the Vikings and Eagles.

The good thing for the Giants is that they get that. They understand exactly where they are -- and where they are not -- in the NFL picture right now. Yes, they can look at the standings and see that the two teams tied for first place in their division are only 5-5. But those same standings remind them that they are not one of those two teams. Though their next two games are at home against the Scott Tolzien Packers and a Dallas Cowboys team that right now doesn't have 11 healthy NFL-quality defensive players, they're not concerning themselves with the problems of their opponents.

"We're 3-6," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We're in no way, shape or form in position to underestimate anyone. We know exactly who we have ahead of us. I think they have something they haven't had there in a long time, and that's a running game. We're looking forward to playing those guys."

The focus for the Giants this week is not the standings, but the Packers. Just as, when they were losing every week, the focus was not on the standings, but on the next week's opponent. There's nothing they can do this week about the Cowboys or the Eagles or the Redskins, and so they put that out of their minds and do their work, just as they have every week this season, whether things were going well or not.

"This is a pretty serious bunch, and they were like that today," Coughlin said. "Mondays have been serious and fairly quiet, to be honest with you. They're well aware, as I told them yesterday, that the reason for the outcome was because we believed. We kept believing. And that's a process."

The Giants' belief in themselves isn't new and it isn't the result of their win streak. It's the same belief they kept while it was being challenged and battered throughout those miserable first six weeks of the season. It comes from the top, and from a veteran coach who knows that preaching focus and simplicity works with this team, and continues to preach it while the players continue to buy in.

There's no way to know at this point how this season will end up for the Giants. The odds they face continue to be extremely long. They need to win five of their final seven games just to finish .500, which is unlikely to get them into the playoff field. But all of that is for us to discuss among ourselves. The Giants are happy to let us do it. You'll just have to excuse them if they don't want to join in.

To contend, Eagles must win at home

November, 11, 2013
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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.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For all the yardage and carnage, the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers came down to two red zone throws from Scott Tolzien to Jordy Nelson.

LeSean McCoy ran for 155 yards. It seemed like the training staffs were out on the field as much as the offensive or defensive units. Nick Foles followed his seven-touchdown day in Oakland with a three-touchdown day.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Boykin and Jordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerBrandon Boykin was able to wrestle this pass away from Jordy Nelson for a crucial red zone takeaway.
But it would have been an entirely different game if Tolzien, making his NFL debut after Seneca Wallace injured his groin, had completed those two short passes to Nelson. Come to think of it, he actually might have completed one.

Let's start with the first one. Earlier in the second quarter, with the Eagles leading 7-0, Tolzien drove the Packers from their own 18 to the Eagles' 5-yard line. A touchdown there would have tied the game and swung the momentum to Green Bay. On third-and-3, though, Tolzien underthrew Nelson in the end zone.

Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin pounced. He returned the interception 76 yards.

“I was able to get my hands on it,” Boykin said. “I am a little bit disappointed that I wasn't able to score, but it was a big stop in the red zone, so it was good.”

The Eagles wound up missing a field goal, but the pick kept momentum on the visitors' side.

In the fourth quarter, with the Eagles ahead 27-13, the Packers recovered a Foles fumble at the Philadelphia 13. On fourth-and-4 at the 7, Tolzien threw a fade to Nelson on his right. The play was ruled incomplete on the field and Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged it.

After review of replays that seemed to show Nelson's hand under the ball, referee Mike Carey upheld the call.

“A relief,” Eagles linebacker Trent Cole said.

It was the Eagles' ball. The Packers never got the ball back, as the Eagles ran out the final 9:32 on the clock. If the touchdown had counted, Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, it would have changed his strategy.

“If it's a one-score game, I think you have to go down and try to score,” Kelly said. “We talked about both scenarios.”

Because those passes to Nelson didn't find their target, the Eagles were able to run out the clock on a 14-point win.

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