NFC East: Steve Jackson
New York Giants
Ian O'Connor looked back at the Lawrence Tynes kick that delivered the Giants' last playoff victory in Green Bay four years ago and talked with members of Tynes' family about the tough times they've all endured and the toughness that lives in the Giants' kicker as a result. It's a real good story. Apropos of nothing, though, did you know this Sunday's will be the first playoff game at Lambeau Field since that one? Not just for the Giants, but for the Packers too. They were a wild-card team last year. Played 'em all on the road.
More trivia: Gary Myers writes that this will be the first-ever playoff game featuring two quarterbacks who have previously won a Super Bowl MVP award. Gary takes a look at the matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning.
The Eagles lost their player personnel director Wednesday, as Ryan Grigson went off to run the Colts. So they'll need to restructure some things in their personnel department. Once they do, they have decisions to make on their own potential free agents, and Geoff Mosher runs through the list.
Those who assume the Eagles are sure to sign Steve Spagnuolo as their defensive coordinator simply because he used to work there have consistently ignored the obvious fact that the Eagles will have competition for the man's services. The Atlanta Falcons, who actually have an opening at defensive coordinator, have emerged as a strong suitor.
Remember when Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was a hot name for potential head coaching jobs? Calvin Watkins writes that the way the Dallas defense played down the stretch may have taken Ryan off some of those lists -- for this year, at least.
Todd Archer believes, as I do, that there's a real good chance the Cowboys take an offensive linemen in the first round of the draft. But if they're going to put that high a value on their interior line needs, Todd writes, might they spend what it takes in free agency to sign someone like Saints guard Carl Nicks? Intriguing.
The Redskins are hiring former Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris to coach their defensive backs, according to Mike Jones. Lots of good connections here. Morris has worked on the same staff as Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and under GM Bruce Allen before. He's 35 years old and likely still a hot coaching prospect, regardless of what happened this year in Tampa Bay. I'll be interesting to see which defensive backs stick around for Morris to coach. Safeties coach Steve Jackson and wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell won't be back, Jason Reid writes. Jackson was in Washington for eight years.
Redskins kicker Graham Gano broke two bones in his back making a tackle in the season finale. Gano is a free agent and, as he rehabs his back, he wonders what his own future holds in Washington.
Taylor was away from his teammates at the time of his death because he was recovering from an injury. I think the fact that he hadn't been around his teammates as much as usual made it harder for them to accept what had happened. Because Henry was on injured reserve and wasn't required to be around his teammates all the time, I'm sure they're going through something similar.
Redskins players such as former University of Miami stars Clinton Portis and Santana Moss took it harder than anyone because of the special bond that players from The U enjoy. Moss was having a difficult season and he was almost inconsolable after Taylor's death.
Taylor, 24 at the time of his death, was a more accomplished player than Henry. And he didn't have a particularly troubled past -- as some people portrayed it to be at the time. One of the most important things that former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs did was allow his players time to grieve. He encouraged everyone to talk about Taylor. I recall hearing that safeties coach Steve Jackson could barely make it through team meetings. But all the tears from the coaches definitely brought the team closer together.
After a last-second loss to the Bills, the team flew to attend Taylor's funeral. Todd Collins had become the quarterback because of an injury to Jason Campbell. The Redskins went on an improbable winning streak and somehow made the playoffs. I know they used their pain and their love for Taylor to drive them during those weeks. I always think it seems trite, and even downright insensitive, when we immediately start talking about how teams are going to rally around a tragic situation. I don't look it at that way. But I do think the Redskins played with more passion the rest of the way in order to honor their fallen teammate.
It was one of Gibbs' finest moments in a Hall of Fame career. He let players see him grieving -- and that was important. It let them know that it was OK to open up to each other and put a voice to what they were feeling. With the death of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife, Vikki, and now this tragedy, the Bengals are a team that has seen a ridiculous amount of adversity. I think this is a group that performs at a high level no matter what the circumstances.
But I do think that the Bengals will face a lot of things this week and next that are nearly impossible to prepare for. I think coach Marvin Lewis would be wise to give Gibbs a call. He's one of the few coaches out there who could relate to how Lewis is feeling right now.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Every time I see Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson quoted in a story, my respect for him grows. And my guy Paul Kuharsky of AFC South blog fame speaks very highly of him. Earlier today, we linked you to a Redskins Insider report in which coach Jim Zorn expressed disappointment over LaRon Landry's absence from organzied team activities -- and his phone manners.
I've been known to let a call or two go to voicemail through the years, but something tells me ignoring a head coach's calls is a bad idea. For the second consecutive offseason, Landry has decided to spend most of his time working out in Arizona and thumbing his nose at silly voluntary workouts.
Though Zorn might not admit it, Landry's absence has been a slap in the face to him. Pretty much everyone else is in Ashburn, Va., for OTAs, but Landry doesn't even take the time to offer his coach an explanation. Landry's position coach, Jackson, also spoke his mind on the topic to the Washington Examiner.
"I'm very disappointed because everyone else is here," Jackson told The Examiner. "I'll be candid with you: He has to be here in the offseason not so much just because it's OTAs, but his teammates are here and there are a lot of things we're discussing that he's a part of that he has no idea are even going on -- calls, coverages, techniques.
"He's our free safety and he's the one who has to get the ball rolling. As he improves, our defense usually improves, but when he's not here …"
And Jackson had one more thing to add:
"He has talent, but we need him to be a better player. You become a better player working on the field, not running on the track with a tank top on in shorts. You don't go to Arizona to become a player; maybe to get in shape but not to become a player."
Folks, that's a man who's not afraid to speak his mind. Jackson's trying to send a message to Landry. Hopefully he received the message.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I've had the pleasure of getting to know Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray a little bit, but I've never spoken with safeties coach Steve Jackson. Based on this interview on Matt Terl's excellent Redskins Blog, I should change that soon.
Here's what Jackson said when asked why LaRon Landry doesn't play strong safety:
"That's a good question, and I hear it all the time, too. With the style of defense that we play, the strong safety is more a box type player. He's gonna cover tight ends, and he has to be able to attack fullbacks and take the physical rigors of being down there. He's like a small linebacker.
"LaRon's biggest assets are his speed and his range. With the way we play our free safety, he has to be a guy that can run from sideline to sideline to protect the corners. If anybody breaks free, the free safety has to be the one to run that guy down. And that's what he does better than anybody we have on this team.
"As far as taking on fullbacks and just being the guy to get in there and get dirty and grimy and do all the dirty work, that's not LaRon. It's a waste of his particular talents to put him down in there. Nothing against the position, but he's better for our defense with his physical skills back there being the traffic cop and being the savior, the angel for anyone who gets into trouble."