NFC East: St. Louis Rams

Live blog: Rams at Cowboys

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
12:41
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the St. Louis Rams' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Of the Rams, RG3 and 'cheap shots'

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
2:28
PM ET
Rookies get tested in any line of work, and in the NFL you get tested by being assaulted. If you're a hotshot rookie quarterback about whom everyone's gushing, the opposing defenses are going to take that personally. They're going to be extra motivated to play against you. They might even design a game plan specifically built around hitting you, maybe even excessively, just to see if they can get you off your game. A couple of penalties early in the game might be worth it, the theory goes, if it makes the quarterback more tentative later in the game. Prior to the Saints' bounty scandal, it was even OK to suggest that teams might be trying to knock quarterbacks out of the game.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Photo by Scott Rovak/US PresswireRedskins quarterback Robert Griffin III seems unfazed after being roughed up by the Rams.
So this is the environment in which young Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins finds himself. And after his second NFL game -- a rough one against the Rams in St. Louis -- Griffin spoke out about it:
"There was some extracurricular stuff going on after the plays," Griffin said. "They were doing a lot of dirty things. I still think they have an extremely good team, that doesn't take anything away from them, but the game was unprofessional. Who am I to talk? I've barely been a pro for very long, but from what I experienced against the Saints compared to that game, it was definitely unprofessional and it does need to be cleaned up."

Griffin was sacked only once by the Rams, but he was knocked down several times.

"I don't want to tip-toe the lines of anything that's happened with bounties or anything like that, but they were definitely going after me," Griffin said. "They made it a point, obviously, all week to hit me. Some of the shots were cheap of that nature. But it's nothing I can control. Teams are going to try to hit me because they don't think I can take a hit. I think I've proved over my career that I can."

Thing is, whether it's right or not, he's going to have to prove it again at this level. Not every team will play that way, but a look back at the game film indicates the Rams did. There were some after-the-play digs at Griffin -- a post-whistle elbow here, a little-too-excessive shove along the sideline there. It's nothing you haven't seen before. Teams are still doing it to the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick, who has carried a brittle reputation with him throughout his career, and the Baltimore Ravens played the same kind of game in Philly on Sunday that the Rams played against the Redskins in St. Louis. After the game in Philly, Eagles players spoke openly about knowing the Ravens were trying to "bully" them, and that part of their game plan was to stand up to it. They did, and they won.

In this case, Griffin is clearly walking a fine line between answering a question honestly in a way that gets his point across and sounding like a complainer. I think he does a good job here for achieving the former without the latter. He sounds like a guy who's determined to stand up for himself and prove to everyone who's looking to test him that he's capable of passing every test. Whether he does or not will depend on everything from toughness to good, old-fashioned luck. I guess if you're a Redskins fan, you have to be happy he got this first physical NFL wake-up call without it doing any real damage to him.

Wrap-up: Rams 31, Redskins 28

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
8:12
PM ET

A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' disappointing Week 2, 31-28, loss to the Rams in St. Louis:

What it means: Well, Robert Griffin III isn't going to go undefeated for the season or his career. I know some wondered about this after last week's victory in New Orleans, but we kept saying there would be bumps in the road, and this was a bump. St. Louis may be better this year than it was last year, but it's still the kind of team you need to beat if you want to be a surprise contender in the NFC this year. Griffin made some breathtaking plays, and the 82 rushing yards on top of 206 passing yards must have made a lot of fantasy football players happy. But he also had some plays on which he looked like a rookie. All totally understandable, and pretty much what to expect as the year goes along. A lot of excitement and some areas that need work. It also bears mentioning that his best wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, missed the game with a foot injury.

Goat of the week: Wide receiver Josh Morgan, are you kidding me? The Redskins got a late turnover and were moving the ball, looking as though they might at least get a shot at a field goal to send the game into overtime. Morgan caught a pass at the Rams' 29-yard line, which would have set up Billy Cundiff for a 47-yard try. No gimme, but certainly within Cundiff's range. However, Morgan got mad and flipped the ball at a Rams defender and was (correctly) flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The result was a 15-yard penalty, and Cundiff's game-tying try from 62 yards fell well short, as you would expect. There were other things that cost the Redskins this game, but Morgan ended any chance at a miracle, final-seconds comeback. Terribly stupid play.

He's the man: Rookie Alfred Morris was once again the only Redskins running back of note, collecting 89 rushing yards on 16 carries. Griffin carried the ball 11 times, but no other Redskin got more than one carry. Roy Helu got none, and was only targeted once in the passing game. Morris is the Redskins' running back right now. Not sure how long it'll last, but he's not doing anything to prod a change.

Pressure up front: I expected the Redskins to get some pressure from the defensive line as well as the outside linebackers, and it appears from what I was able to see that Stephen Bowen had a big game. The box score credits him with a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a pass defended and two quarterback hits. Active.

Be careful: I loved watching Griffin run the ball on those designed runs and broken plays, of which there were several in a row on one early fourth-quarter possession. But man, he's taking some shots. Breathtaking runner, and you don't want to take that out of his game, but they need to find ways to protect him from the hits. They have to be cringing every time he takes one, considering what's invested in him.

Young at heart: I see you, London Fletcher.

What's next: Griffin will make his home debut Sunday at 1 p.m. ET against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are 1-1 after beating the Browns at home Sunday afternoon.

How you feeling? Redskins-Rams

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
12:35
PM ET
As the Washington Redskins get set to take on the Rams later this afternoon in St. Louis, here's one reason for Redskins fans to be feeling good and one cause for concern.

Feeling good: The Rams' offensive line has major injury problems, and the Redskins' defensive front seven is one of the strengths of their team. They should have little trouble getting pressure on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford with outside rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, and if the Rams are determined to attack them with Steven Jackson and the ground game, they should have little trouble remaining stout on the defensive line. Even if Robert Griffin III isn't as brilliant as he was last week in New Orleans, the Redskins should be able to control this game on the other side of the ball.

Cause for concern: St. Louis did play very tough last week against the Lions, especially on defense and especially in the secondary. They had a historically poor run defense last year, when the Redskins were able to gash them on the ground with Ryan Torain, so you should expect to see a heavy diet of Alfred Morris and the Washington ground game at least to start. But if they can't get it going on the ground and have to take to the air, the Redskins could conceivably meet more resistance than many expect.

Observation deck: Rams-Cowboys

August, 26, 2012
8/26/12
8:00
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I don't know. Maybe the preseason is finally getting to me. Maybe I was brainwashed by the beautiful California weather at their training camp. Maybe they just looked really good against a lousy St. Louis Rams team in their 20-19 preseason victory Saturday night. Maybe it's all of the above, but as crazy as this looks to me even as I type it, I kind of like this Dallas Cowboys' defense.

The cornerbacks are covering their men. Brandon Carr was a star of last week's game, and rookie Morris Claiborne made plays on second and fourth downs on a goal-line stand Saturday. Safeties Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh are both playing well, patrolling their zones and making their tackles. The linebackers (of which injured DeMarcus Ware was not one on this night) have been active and aggressive, led by Sean Lee on the inside. Jason Hatcher was back on the defensive line and disrupting things in the backfield. Coordinator Rob Ryan was showing off more options, scheme-wise, for the pass rush, and the improved coverage on the back end has been helping with with that. The only points the Rams scored in the first half were on field goals of 52 and 55 yards.

Now, the postgame news of Jay Ratliff's ankle sprain certainly puts a damper on things for the Cowboys going forward, as it sounds like the season opener is in doubt for him. And yeah, I know those guys on the back end were covering Donnie Avery and Danny Amendola and that it's going to be 100 times tougher 10 days from now when it's Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz instead. I get it. I write all the time that we can't draw long-range conclusions from preseason games, and I'm not doing that. But it's completely fair to like the way the Cowboys' defense has performed on the practice field and in these preseason games. And if they're building confidence based on those performances, that's the kind of thing that could conceivably carry into the regular season. So, good for them. Neither matters in the long run, but playing well in preseason is better than playing poorly in the preseason.

Here's what else I saw Saturday night:

Tony Romo was excellent, dodging the rush, extending plays and completing 9 of 13 passes for 198 yards, including touchdowns of 61 and 38 yards to Dwayne Harris. Romo's starting receivers in this game were Harris and Kevin Ogletree, and his starting tight end was John Phillips. Romo is ready to start the season.

So is Harris, by the way. Ogletree went into the game the favorite to be the No. 3 wide receiver, and he might still be, but Harris more than made his case. Yes, the touchdowns were partly the result of poor tackling by the Rams in the secondary, but Harris made the catches and the plays, he looks good in the return game and he made a key block on a DeMarco Murray run one play before his 61-yard touchdown catch. He's certainly made the team, I'd have to think, and he could continue to play himself into more time. Ogletree led the team in targets with six, and he caught five passes for 75 yards, so you can't exactly consider him out of the picture. He had a bad third-down drop, but he caught a ball up the right sideline that you couldn't help but thing looked like the one Miles Austin didn't catch in the first Giants game last year. You know the one I mean. I know you do.

Murray also looked very good against the team that let him rush for 253 yards in his starting debut last year. Murray had 26 yards on five carries and 16 yards on two catches before leaving the game with a hand injury that he said afterward is not serious. Next you'll see him is Sept. 5 in the Meadowlands, I'd imagine. The Cowboys plan to run a lot of their offense through Murray this year.

I'm sorry, but the offensive line still looks awful to me, and I commend Romo and Murray for succeeding in spite of its performance. David Arkin can actually snap the ball to the quarterback now, but he still doesn't look strong enough to hold up at center. The guards looked like they were getting pushed back into the pocket all night. Doug Free is a mess, and even Tyron Smith got beaten on the outside by Robert Quinn on a play early in the game. If the best thing you can say about the offensive line is that it'll be better when Phil Costa gets healthy, you've got a problem. At offensive line, I believe the Cowboys have a significant problem.

The Ratliff injury is a big deal if it lingers deep into the regular season. The Cowboys expect to know more about its severity Sunday. My guess is Josh Brent would fill in at nose tackle, but it could also be Sean Lissemore. Lissemore is also in the mix at defensive end.

I'd take Bruce Carter over Dan Connor as the starting inside linebacker next to Lee. Connor may look better going forward, and maybe they can use him in certain pressure packages. But Carter looks faster and better in coverage, and I think that's going to matter more at that spot.

Felix Jones made a nice blitz-pickup block on Harris' second touchdown, but he whiffed badly on one later that resulted in a Kyle Orton sack. Phillip Tanner also missed in blitz pickup with Orton behind him. Orton has to be wondering what he did to make the backs not like him.

Rookie tight end James Hanna continues to look good as a receiver, and Adrian Hamilton continues to make plays on defense. Remains to be seen what roles the team will have for them this year.

Special-teams ace Danny McCray left with a neck injury, but he told reporters after the game that he should be fine.


ARLINGTON, Texas -- As expected, the Cowboys' first-team offense and defense played the majority of the first half in their best performances of the preseason. Tony Romo threw two touchdown passes and the defense, with the return of starters Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, beat the St. Louis Rams, 20-19, Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium.

What it means? The Cowboys' preseason home opener couldn't have gone any better with the first-team offense scoring 17 points, the most this summer. The first-team defense held the Rams without a touchdown. The Cowboys did have one major injury, as safety Danny McCray left the game with a strained neck. Coming into the contest, the Cowboys were missing nine players, a list which included starting outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

How did Romo perform?: The Cowboys' starting quarterback threw his first touchdown passes of the preseason, both to wide receiver Dwayne Harris. Romo connected on passes of 61 and 38 yards. It seemed as if Romo got better as the preseason wore on. The fact he he did it with backup receivers tells you a lot about how Romo makes players better. Romo completed nine of 13 passes for 198 yards.

Harris plays well: Competition is something the Cowboys like to promote within their locker room. The third receiver spot is up for grabs, but there are strong candidates. Harris showed up Saturday night with three catches for 118 yards and two scores. Kevin Ogletree finished with five catches for 75 yards, and Cole Beasley had three catches for 40 yards. Harris seems like a strong candidate to make the roster because he gives the Cowboys position flexibility. He can return punts and of course play receiver.

"Big Three" returns: The defensive "Big Three" of Ratliff, Spencer and Hatcher -- who were injured and missed the first two preseason games -- returned and played well. Spencer had three tackles, and Ratliff and Hatcher had one each. Hatcher, however, had a tackle for loss, and Ratliff nearly had one.

Claiborne gets a pass breakup: In his second preseason game, first-round pick Morris Claiborne picked up his first breakup on a pass into the end zone. Claiborne has been playing pretty well in the preseason, but this was the first game where it seemed the opponent tried to target him more than three times. Claiborne did fine, especially with the pass breakup.

Cowboys history made with officials: With the NFL using replacement officials, line judge Shannon Eastin became the first woman to officiate a game in Cowboys history. Eastin has been a referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which consists of schools from historically African-American colleges.

Who played well?: At first glance, Harris, of course, with his two touchdown receptions.

Who didn't play well?: Ronald Leary was penalized twice. It seems he would make the team over Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper, but the Cowboys have to be slightly concerned about Leary's penalties.

What's next?: The Cowboys have 87 players on their current roster and have to get down to 75 on Monday. It would appear the Cowboys place Caleb McSurdy and Donovan Kemp on injured reserve, unless they negotiate an injury settlement with Kemp. Kevin Kowalski could be placed on the physically unable to perform list and won't count against the 53-man roster. The Cowboys take on the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium to conclude the preseason.

What I'll be watching: Rams-Cowboys

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
2:33
PM ET
The Dallas Cowboys play their third preseason game of 2012 at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday against the St. Louis Rams in Arlington, Texas. Here's what I'll be watching...

Most closely: The backup wide receivers. With Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (not to mention tight end Jason Witten) out with injuries, I'm very interested to see who catches Tony Romo's passes in this game. Kevin Ogletree has been the standout among the No. 3 wide receiver candidates so far this preseason, but Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes, Cole Beasley and others are still in the mix and should get opportunities with the first-team offense tonight. It's still audition time for those guys, and with this likely to be Romo's final preseason game of the year, it's probably their best chance to show their stuff.

On the other side of the ball: The defense looks to be getting healthy, as nose tackle Jay Ratliff, defensive end Jason Hatcher and linebacker Anthony Spencer all have a chance to see their first preseason action. The Cowboys have struggled a bit against the run in the preseason so far, but Hatcher and Spencer are two of their best run defenders, and Ratliff's presence in the middle of the defensive line should shore things up there. Seeing the starting defense on the field together all at the same time will be encouraging to Cowboys fans, and it should be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the playing time at that defensive end spot opposite Hatcher. Some roster decisions looming over there.

If I think of it: DeMarco Murray's touches have been very limited this preseason, and Dallas doesn't want to risk injury to the running back on whom it plans to rely on a great deal this year. Murray will probably get more carries in this game, but don't expect to see very much of him. I'll be looking at Morris Claiborne again at cornerback, as he's going to have to hit the ground running if the defense is to function the way they want it to. And of course, the offensive line, whose struggles have been the story of the preseason. Are they getting healthier and/or better there?

Of Mike Holmgren and sour grapes

March, 15, 2012
3/15/12
6:40
PM ET
I play fantasy football. I know a lot of you guys do, too. You ever have a trade go down in your league that really ticked you off because you thought you'd made a better offer and the guy just wanted to make a deal with his friend or his brother or his cousin or something like that?

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCleveland president Mike Holmgren says the Redskins had an advantage in completing their trade with the Rams for the No. 2 pick in the draft, expected to be used for QB Robert Griffin III.
Yeah, that's pretty much what Cleveland Browns team president Mike Holmgren says happened with the trade between the St. Louis Rams and the Washington Redskins that allowed the Redskins to move up to the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. Jamison Hensley has the rundown on the AFC North blog:
In a conference call with Browns season-ticket holders today, Holmgren said "a very close relationship" between the Rams and Redskins prevented Cleveland from moving two spots up in the draft. Holmgren didn't go into specifics about the relationship, but it's well-known that Rams coach Jeff Fisher and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan are close friends.

Click through to that Cleveland.com link, and you'll see Holmgren further explain that he's "not sure any offer was going to be good enough. We were very aggressive and it didn't work. Rest assured, we were aggressively involved in that."

Couple of issues with this. First of all, Holmgren won't elaborate on what his offer was, which is silly if he really thinks it was better. Presumably, it was an offer of picks and not players, so he doesn't have to be worried about any of his players being upset that he tried to trade them. If you really think your offer was better, let's hear what it was and we can judge for ourselves. If you're right, it'll only help make your case.

Second, what are we here? Six years old? You didn't get the deal, Mike. It happens. I can understand that you need to sell the idea to your fans that you tried as hard as you could to solve your glaring quarterback problem by moving up to get Robert Griffin III. But there were other teams interested, and you didn't get it. Sometimes in life, things don't work out the way we want them to. Doesn't do much good to whine about it.

And third, even if what he says is 100 percent accurate, so what? Aren't personal relationships a reasonable and acceptable tool to assist in business transactions? If Shanahan has a close relationship with Fisher and the people who run the Rams, and as a result he knows how to appeal to them or is otherwise more likely to convince them to do a deal, then good for him. It means that, somewhere along the line, he did something that laid the groundwork to allow him to get business done down the road. Happens in sports and any other business in the world, and there's nothing wrong with it.

The Rams got an absolute haul from the Redskins -- three first-round picks and a second-round pick for one first. If Holmgren was going to beat that, it wasn't going to be by much. And even if he did, the Rams got more than fair value for their pick. Good for them, good for the Redskins and too bad for the Browns, who are just going to have to look elsewhere for a quarterback. Because those are the breaks.
Officially, the trade that will send three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder from the Washington Redskins to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for this year's No. 2 pick can't be announced or finalized until the new league year opens Tuesday. But it has been agreed upon several days early, and there are some good reasons for that from the Redskins' standpoint.

With that pick, and assuming the Colts draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck at No. 1, the Redskins are expected to draft Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. And the fact that the rest of the NFL knows or assumes that is vital to the Redskins as they begin their plans for free agency.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Dave MartinKnowing, and letting it be known, that they'll draft Robert Griffin III can help the Redskins in many areas as they prepare for 2012.
The Redskins have upwards of $40 million in projected salary-cap room, so they'll be able to make very competitive offers for high-profile free agents. But with this deal done before any of those, they'll also be able to answer a lot of the questions those prospective free agents were going to be asking them. Chief among those questions is "Who's your quarterback?"

Coach Mike Shanahan wants to go out and get a No. 1 wide receiver -- someone like Vincent Jackson of the Chargers. And while a big pile of money surely would have been an enticement, the Redskins are not the only team that's going to be offering Jackson a big pile of money. Now they can go to him with the money and the promise of Griffin -- a player who generates a great deal of positive buzz. Not only do the Redskins have their answer at quarterback, they have an answer that's liable to get prospective free agents excited.

The Redskins also have been trying to re-sign veteran linebacker London Fletcher. They consider him a top priority and would love to get him signed before the free-agent market opens Tuesday. Fletcher likes it in Washington but was probably justifiably curious about what the team was doing at quarterback for next season. This deal is an easy one to sell to Fletcher. He's about to turn 37. He doesn't care about the Redskins' 2013 and 2014 draft. He's thinking about the 2012 season, and this deal makes it look a lot brighter for Washington than it did 24 hours ago. Maybe this is the kind of thing, along with some of that big money, that helps bring back this vital veteran piece.

Washington needs to do a lot yet to build around Griffin, for now and for the future. But it has the means with which to do that. If the Redskins hadn't done this deal when they did it, every free-agent signing (heck, every draft pick) they made would have been accompanied by cries of "Yeah, great, but who's the quarterback?" Having done this when they did it, they no longer have to worry about that. They have solved their greatest need early in their offseason, and they still have plenty of money with which to play in the market.

Thoughts on trading up for Griffin

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
6:15
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Adam Schefter reports that "multiple teams have already had preliminary discussions with St. Louis" about trading up to get the No. 2 pick in the draft. I put the chances that the Washington Redskins are one of those teams at 100 percent, give or take zero percent.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesNo doubt, having Robert Griffin III was a boon for Baylor's recruiting efforts.
See, the Colts are taking Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick, and the Rams took a quarterback with the No. 1 pick two years ago so they don't need to use this year's No. 2 on Robert Griffin III. Other teams, though, really do need a quarterback and would love to pick second in the draft so they could get Griffin. These teams include the Redskins, Browns, Dolphins and maybe a surprise entry such as the Seahawks or Cardinals.

It is not surprising to learn that these discussions have already taken place. Before deciding how to proceed on a free-agent quarterback market that's likely to include Peyton Manning, it behooves quarterback-needy teams to have some sense of what the cost would be to move up to that No. 2 slot. If you're the Redskins, who have multiple needs all over the roster, and you're going to have to give up two first-round picks and more to move up, then maybe you decide the best bet is to stay put at No. 6 in the draft, let someone else grab Griffin and fill your quarterback need via free agency. If you find the cost is more reasonable than you expected, maybe you proceed with some degree of confidence that you can get Griffin.

Total confidence is unattainable, however, since the Rams (a) could stay put and draft franchise left tackle Matt Kalil or wide receiver Justin Blackmon at No. 2 and (b) almost certainly will want to wait as long as possible to make the deal in order to maximize value. The best the Redskins and other interested teams can hope for right now is to get some sense of what the cost will be to move up to No. 2 and then proceed with their free-agency plans thus edified.

These discussions could go right up to 7:30 pm on the night of April 26, which is about when the Rams are scheduled to pick. Given that they could select a useful impact player for themselves at No. 2, they have no incentive to make a deal as long as they have multiple desperate suitors on the line. If they don't get fair value for the pick, they could just make a pick and leave it to the Vikings, picking third, to strike a deal with Washington or Miami or Cleveland or whomever. And that'd be interesting, because the Vikings really want to trade their pick but can't because the Rams are picking ahead of them. Imagine if you traded for the No. 3 pick in March thinking it was going to be Griffin and then some other team swooped in and traded for the No. 2 the night before the draft.

No, this is likely to take a while to sort itself out. The Redskins and the other interested teams can only do as much research as possible to prepare themselves to make a deal when and if one presents itself. And they're going to take a look very seriously at their Plans B. Because only one team's going to get Griffin.

Mock draft: Kiper on the NFC East

February, 15, 2012
2/15/12
2:25
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By now, all of you draft-crazy maniacs must know that Mel Kiper Jr. has released his second mock draft. It's Insider Insider (and no, we're not just doing Insider stuff today — it's a coincidence, and for goodness' sake, it's a mock draft!), but I asked Mel and he said it'd be OK if I told you guys who he has the four NFC East teams taking. Just this once.

6. Washington Redskins: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Mel believes the Redskins could move out of this slot***, in particular if they make a play to move up and take quarterback Robert Griffin III. But Mel's mocks don't deal in potential trades, and he believes Claiborne represents the best value for Washington at No. 6, even given the team's obvious needs on offense. Mel says Claiborne "is actually a better pure cover corner than Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick from last year." No question, that would help.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama. Yes, a big percentage of this year's first round will be players who played in the BCS National Championship Game. Mel thinks Dallas' biggest need is defensive back, and he thinks the safety Barron represents better value at 14 than the next-best cornerback he has still available (Barron's teammate, Dre Kirkpatrick). As ever, the caveat is what happens in free agency. If they get a bunch of defensive backs in free agency, I believe they'll be looking for a pass rusher here. The next pass rusher off Mel's board is Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, whom he has going to Tennessee at No. 20.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT Mississippi State. Mel has Luke Kuechly gone already, and while linebacker is the Eagles' greater need, he doesn't see value for them at that position in this spot. I kind of agree, though if they don't get a linebacker here I think they need to make sure and get one in Round 2 or 3. Cox would help shore up the middle of Jim Washburn's defensive line rotation.

32. New York Giants: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson. The champs lost two tight ends in the Super Bowl, and if Allen's still on the board at 32, he makes as much sense as anyone. If not, my guess is they pick an offensive lineman here.

***NOTE: This isn't, per se, an NFC East point, but it does affect the Redskins, at least tangentially. Mel has the Rams taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the No. 2 pick, and it made me think about the Rams' leverage in these negotiations with the teams that will want the pick to ensure they get Griffin. Even if, say, the Redskins become the only team willing to trade for the pick, the Rams still have plenty of leverage. Someone like Blackmon or USC tackle Matt Kalil would fill a major need for them, and if no team wants to give them the multiple-first-round-picks package they'll surely be seeking in exchange, they can very easily stay right where they are and get a potentially great player who can help them for years to come. It's not as though the Rams need to be out of No. 2. They'll only do it if they get blown away. Worth keeping in mind.

The West was won, but not by enough

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
9:55
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People sometimes tell me I look at the schedule too much. To which I say: No. I play Zombie Farm too much. I look at the schedule as much as is appropriate to aid my analysis of the NFL. The schedule is important because, while we obviously cannot accurately predict results of individual game, over the long haul playing weaker teams helps your chances and playing stronger teams hurts them. A month ago, for example, it wasn't hard to figure out that the Cowboys had a good chance to overtake the Giants by now, given the relative strengths of the teams they were going to play in November.

Back in August, when we were forecasting the season, a theory emerged that the records of the NFC East's teams would be helped this year by the fact that they were playing all of the teams in the NFC West. The West, you'll remember, failed to produce a winning record last season, as the Seahawks and Rams finished tied for the division lead at 7-9 and Seattle won on a tiebreaker. John Clayton was the first I saw to put forth this theory, based on the idea that the NFC South came up with three 10-win teams last season, in part because the West was on its schedule.

Well, playing the NFC West has helped the Cowboys. And the Redskins, actually. But it hasn't worked out exactly the way we imagined it would. No one expected the 49ers to be one of the best teams in the league, and the fact that they're 9-2 has kept the West from being the same kind of laughingstock it was last season. But the other three teams in the West are a combined 11-23, which means teams that get to play them should be taking advantage.

The NFC East has gone a combined 9-6 against Mike Sando's division with only one game -- Dallas' game this Sunday in Arizona -- left to play. Here's how it breaks down:

Cowboys (3-0): The only team in the division (and one of only two in the league) to beat the 49ers, the Cowboys can complete the NFC West sweep Sunday. And if they do that and the Giants lose to Green Bay, the Cowboys can clinch the division the following Sunday by beating the Giants.

Redskins (3-1): Three of Washington's four wins have come against the NFC West. And frankly, they played the Niners kind of tough, losing 19-11 in Week 9 during the John Beck era. Early season victories against Arizona and St. Louis helped them to their 3-1 start, and Sunday's victory in Seattle broke their six-game losing streak. I think the Redskins will miss playing the West.

Giants (2-2): The home loss to Seattle really stings as they find themselves one game out of first place. That and the loss in San Francisco hurt them in their tiebreaker efforts against the Cowboys, who beat both of those teams. They had to come back to beat Arizona, and they beat St. Louis in a sloppy Week 2 game at home.

Eagles (1-3): Surprised? Everyone's favorite underachievers won their opener in St. Louis. But they blew a 23-3 third-quarter lead to the Niners in Week 4 before everybody knew the Niners were legit and the Eagles weren't. Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin haven't played since the Week 10 collapse and loss to the Cardinals. And Thursday night's loss in Seattle ensured that the Eagles can't have a winning record. There are a lot of places you can look to find missed Eagle opportunities, but those games against the West stand out as big ones. Sweep the West, and they're 7-5 right now.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 34, Rams 7

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
7:27
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- This was the type of game you're supposed to win, no matter where you are as a team. The Cowboys beat up the winless St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon, 34-7.

The Cowboys dominated on defense and ran with power behind rookie DeMarco Murray.

What it means: The Cowboys ended two streaks on Sunday. They ended a two-game losing streak and an 11-game stretch where games were decided by four points or fewer. It was good for the Cowboys to have an easy game for a change, and with a new right guard (Montrae Holland) and running back (Murray), Dallas had few problems taking care of business.

Rookie's record day: Rookie running back Murray rushed for franchise-record 253 yards on 25 carries. Murray had a 91-yard touchdown run, the second longest in franchise history. He set the record on a run to the left side in the fourth quarter, and when he came out Dez Bryant was the first player to greet him. It was a magical day for Murray, who didn't even start the game.

Bryant shows up in second half: After going two games with no catches in the second half, Bryant had four in the second half and finished with five catches for 90 yards with one touchdown. There were questions about why Bryant couldn't get the ball in the second half. Bryant said defenses didn't do anything to him, he just couldn't get any passes. Wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson backed up that statement. Regardless of what it was, it was something to be concerned about.

What's next? The Cowboys visit the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday. The Cowboys can gain some ground in the NFC East with a victory and possibly gain some momentum heading into November.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Rams

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
11:00
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As you get ready for this afternoon's game against the St. Louis Rams in Dallas, here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: It's tough to pick just one, honestly. The Rams have yet to win a game. They allow 33 more yards per game on the ground than does the second-worst run-defense team in the league. It looks as though they'll be without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, which means DeMarcus Ware gets a shot at A.J. Feeley once he gets past St. Louis' woeful pass protection. The Rams' best hope is running back Steven Jackson, and no team in the league has been better at stopping the run this year than have the Cowboys. Unless Feeley can get something going right away with new receiver Brandon Lloyd, Dallas should be able to key on the run game and limit it effectively.

Cause for concern: If the Rams can keep it close, they have the kind of pass-rushing defensive line that could cause trouble for the Cowboys' banged-up offensive line. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have shown an ability to get to the quarterback, and rookie right tackle Tyron Smith looked like a rookie for the first time last week.

Video: NFC East Week 7 predictions

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
12:00
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The bag brought us luck last week, and I'm taking full credit for its 2-1 record. But this week's picks are mine and mine alone, and here they are:

Redskins 17, Panthers 13
Cowboys 24, Rams 10

Last week: 2-1
Season to date: 8-10

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