NFC East: Tarvaris Jackson
But in the end, Davis decided to return to the Washington Redskins on a one-year deal, which is the way it looked as though it would go all along and is the best thing for him and for the Redskins. According to John Keim, Buffalo's offer was a two-year deal (such as they are in the NFL) and could have been worth $700,000 more than the Redskins offered.
So why didn't Davis jump? Well, the Bills don't currently have a real NFL starting quarterback and are petitioning the league to allow them to use one of those Jugs machines (you know, with the two spinning rubber wheels, where you put the football in and it kind of shoots out?) in games instead. That appeal is unlikely to work, which means Tarvaris Jackson (or, more likely, a drafted rookie) will be throwing the passes in Buffalo this year. And Davis, coming off an Achilles injury and looking to put up big receiving numbers to prove himself and get a better deal next year, is better off catching passes from Robert Griffin III and/or Kirk Cousins.
This is a very good re-sign for the Redskins, who have had salary-cap problems this offseason as a result of league-impose penalties but have nonetheless been able to retain a good number of the free-agent players from their 2012 NFC East title team. They had to cut starting cornerback DeAngelo Hall, and reserve linebacker and special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander signed with Arizona, but everyone else they wanted to keep they have kept. Should Davis make a full recovery from his injury, he'll be a valuable passing-game weapon for the Redskins this year and will put himself in a position to really cash in this time next year. At that point, the Redskins will have cap room to offer him the deal he seeks.
So this is a win for both sides. The Redskins get back a player they wanted to keep. Davis got to dip his toe into free agency and still ended up back where he belongs. Sometimes these things take longer than the fans want them to, but this one all worked out in the end.
The latest example of this comes courtesy of Dan Steinberg, who watched Davis' interview with NFL Network over the weekend and culled this gem from it:
“A lot of people are looking at the [Achilles] injury and that stuff,” Davis told the NFL Network on Friday. (Watch the video here.) “I definitely feel like whatever team signed any tight ends right now, I’m gonna make them regret anything that they do -- AND the Redskins, too, as well -- because I know I’m gonna go out here and I’m gonna do what I have to do. And I’ll bet you next year’s gonna be a good year for me. This is The One right here. This is The Big One. You ever watch Fred Sanford? He had The Big One. That’s what this year is for me. Elizabeth, I’m coming!”
I guess you could say Davis is "serious as a heart attack" about this situation. There's much more, of course, including Davis' assertion that he'd take himself over Rob Gronkowski if he had Tom Brady as his quarterback (No offense, Robert Griffin III). And this one, which is my personal favorite:
He said he doesn’t enjoy talking about himself, but that “since I’ve been in the league I haven’t really been recognized to the liking that I would like to be.”
Anyway, it seems clear that we've reached the point in the offseason at which Davis would like his contract situation settled. If the Redskins had any cap room, it likely would have been settled weeks ago. They likely would have franchised him again. But they can't afford to do that, and to this point they have not been able to afford to sign him to a one-year or multiyear deal. The $18 million still hanging over them in salary-cap penalties this year have left them hamstrung, and while they've been able to retain most of their own free agents, Davis to this point has eluded them.
So over the weekend, you hear about the Bills having interest, and the Jets maybe having interest. And that's to Davis' benefit because it might make the Redskins worry they could lose him and, if blood can be procured from this particular stone, up their offer. Thing is, if I'm the Redskins, I dare Davis to sign with a team whose current depth chart has Tarvaris Jackson or Mark Sanchez on the top line at quarterback. Try heading to a place like that and putting up the kinds of numbers that'll help you get a new deal this time next year if you're healthy. Good luck with that.
This is why I think, ultimately, the marriage stays intact for another year in Washington. Davis comes with a few red flags, dontcha know, including the Achilles tear from which he's recovering and the fact that his next drug offense will get him suspended for one full year. So as talented as he is, it's not as though he can expect the offers to come flooding in. It appears he is arriving at that realization.
Sando: Well, Dan, we meet again. It wasn't all that long ago that I was reduced to fly-on-the-wall status during a three-way discussion with our AFC South guy, Paul Kuharsky, over which quarterback -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson -- was looking like the offensive rookie of the year. That was before Week 11. Griffin and Luck were still seen as prohibitive favorites. Since then, all Wilson has done is go 5-1 as a starter with two road wins while leading the NFL in Total QBR and ranking second to his wild-card counterpart, Griffin, in NFL passer rating. This should be a showcase game for both.
Graziano: Yeah, this year's NFL playoffs mark the death of patience, I fear, as those three rookie quarterbacks have led their teams into the playoffs and now people will expect one-year turnarounds all over the league. It seems these are a couple of pretty special cases, though. I was arguing Wilson for rookie of the year on TV last week on the grounds that his team has performed the best of the three, but that was merely a random tiebreaker I picked -- the idea that while Griffin, Wilson and Luck have all elevated their teams, Wilson has elevated his to the highest level. What amazes me about Griffin is that he has been the same guy from Week 1. I know Wilson had to work his way into his current level of excellence, while Griffin had one of his best games in the opener against the Saints and hasn't looked back. Even the past couple of weeks, as he plays on a bad knee, you see a level of maturity and confidence that just leaves you unable to believe this is a 22-year-old rookie. He makes the right throw and the right decision regardless of pain or dire circumstances, and while the knee does appear to be affecting him when he runs, it doesn't appear to affect the other key aspects of his game -- most notably operating this complex Shanahan offense from play to play.
Sando: Yes, Griffin has been the same guy all the way through. I give the Redskins' coaches credit for having the flexibility to basically install the offense Griffin ran in college. That had to smooth the transition. How many Super Bowl-winning offensive coaches would do that for a rookie? Not many. Wilson had run one system at North Carolina State and another at Wisconsin before learning yet another in Seattle -- all while sharing practice reps with one or two veterans (we forget that incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson (!) was on the roster for a while with Wilson and Matt Flynn). Once the season started, the Seahawks' coaches seemed to suddenly realize they had a rookie behind center. It was as though Pete Carroll's defensive background hit the override switch on all the preseason excitement. Seattle didn't really unleash Wilson for several weeks.
Graziano: I think the interesting part of this game will be what the defenses decide to do to try to slow down these rookie quarterbacks. Washington's defense ended up ranked 28th in the league, but they're winning lately by forcing turnovers and getting sacks at a higher rate than they did earlier in the season. And defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has excelled at changing schemes week to week and sometimes even within games to confuse offenses. The blitz-heavy package they used against Tony Romo and the Cowboys on Sunday night was unlike anything they'd put on film all year, and it clearly confused the Cowboys, who never adjusted to it. I doubt Wilson can expect to see the same kind of defense Romo saw Sunday. The numbers seem to indicate that they'd be wise to blitz him, but having watched the Redskins for the last couple of months there's no way to predict what Haslett will come up with.
Sando: The Seahawks led the NFL in fewest points allowed this season, but it didn't always feel that way. Their ability to generate a pass rush late in games has been a problem, particularly on the road. They aren't a heavy blitzing team. Sometimes I think they've been too conservative defensively late in games. They were leading late at Detroit and Miami, but broke down defensively in the end. The Seahawks also ranked only 24th in QBR against play-action passes, an area where Griffin averages an additional 5.0 yards per attempt (11.7). Seattle does have the defensive speed, however, to handle running quarterbacks. Cam Newton had his roughest outing of the season against Seattle. My thinking is that Griffin is going to have to beat this defense with his arm.
Graziano: Griffin has been pretty lethal against the blitz, so the Seahawks probably are better off in coverage against him anyway. And he has beaten plenty of teams with his arm. Dallas on Thanksgiving comes to mind. I am intrigued about the matchups in the secondary, as Pierre Garcon and the Redskins' receivers are big and physical but don't often see the kind of big, physical corners the Seahawks have in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. (Who does?) The Redskins were 9-1 this year in games in which Garcon played (he missed six games with a foot injury), and his ability to win his matchups deep as well as on slants over the middle has added a great deal to the Washington passing game in the second half of the season. How will the Seahawks play him?
Sando: I'm not anticipating any special plan for Garcon. Seattle played more zone than usual when holding Calvin Johnson to three catches for 46 yards, but the defense sprung leaks everywhere else. Seattle did not appear comfortable changing its style for that game. Matthew Stafford wound up having a career day on third down. Garcon is good, but I don't think the Seahawks will feel as though he's a scheme buster. They'll need to watch him on first down. Garcon has 66 percent of his receiving yards on first down. He has 13 catches for 337 yards -- that's 25-plus yards per catch -- from play-action throws on first down. Those types of plays haven't been pivotal against Seattle this season. The Seahawks have been more vulnerable, at times, against good slot receivers. Santana Moss might be of greater concern to Seattle.
Graziano: Interesting. And what about the run game? Alfred Morris finished second in the league in rushing yards, and I know Seattle has a reputation as a tough run defense, though I see the Seahawks finished in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed per attempt. Morris and the Redskins' play-action passing game go hand-in-hand (obviously), but is he going to be able to find anything like the running room he found against Dallas the other night? Teams have had to back off a bit because of the threat of RG III as a runner. You mention the way they handled Cam Newton as a running quarterback, but Morris seems to add something Carolina didn't offer as a threat from the running back position in Week 5.
Sando: The Seahawks ranked 30th in yards per carry allowed from Week 7 forward. They became vulnerable to trap runs against Frank Gore in Week 7. In my view, that game and perhaps another one at Miami were the only ones in which poor run defense played a meaningful role in a Seahawks defeat. Adrian Peterson had a monster game against the Seahawks, but that said more about Peterson than it said about Seattle. The Seahawks won that game by 10, anyway. I'd be surprised if Seattle's defense struggled against Morris the way Dallas' defense struggled against him. The Seahawks are so much healthier. I really liked the way Cincinnati defended the Redskins earlier in the year, cutting off the perimeter and delivering big hits. That is how Seattle will try to play.
Graziano: Yeah, the game I'm looking at is the Monday night game against the Giants in Week 13, when Washington trailed 13-10 at the half and won 17-16. They couldn't stop Eli Manning and the Giants from moving the ball in the first half, but they totally changed their defensive game plan at halftime, increasing the pressure on Manning and playing more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. New York was able to contain Griffin but for a 46-yard run in the third quarter, but the Redskins stayed patient and won a close game. That patience is going to be the key. Washington, for the past month or so, has displayed a patience and maturity befitting a team that has been here before, and if that continues Sunday I think they have a chance to slug it out with Seattle and be in position to win it in the end. It'll be the toughest game they've played in quite a while (heck, we haven't even talked about Marshawn Lynch!), and it's likely to be a lower-scoring game than they're used to playing, but as long as the playoff stage doesn't freak them out, I anticipate they'll have a chance.
Sando: Having covered the Seahawks for some time and knowing their playoff history, it’s odd seeing them favored to win a road playoff game (something the team has not done since the 1983 season, by the way). That’s how much of a game-changer Wilson has been. Seattle is a team without a glaring weakness. Not much about this team surprises me any longer. I feel as though the Seahawks have the healthier and hotter quarterback at this time. That could be the difference.
Wrap up Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks' running back is on a roll, having rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his past four games and scored a touchdown in each of his last seven. During those past four games, Stats & Info says, Lynch has amassed a league-leading 212 rush yards after contact. He is big and forceful and tough to bring down, but the Eagles must make a commitment to doing that, or else he's capable of busting a big one. Philadelphia should be able to commit all of its energy to stopping Lynch, since Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is (a) banged up, (b) Tarvaris Jackson and (c) without his best receiver, Sidney Rice, who's out for the year because of a concussion.
Get DeSean Jackson's mind right. Here's a recap of Jackson's past three games: Week 10, listed as inactive and told to stay home from the Arizona game after missing a team meeting the day before; Week 11, played well but mixed in an inexcusable post-catch taunting penalty that cost him a 50-yard reception; Week 12, dropped two touchdown passes, including a short one on which he appeared to pull up short because he was afraid of getting hit, and was benched in the fourth quarter for poor performance. We all know Jackson's unhappy about and distracted by his contract situation. He's admitted it. But he and the Eagles need to find a way to get his head in the game. Without the injured Jeremy Maclin, Jackson is absolutely vital to the downfield passing game. And as important as it is for them to use McCoy, they are going to get some shots downfield against that Seattle secondary. Jackson needs to cash them in.
Rattle the Hawks. The Eagles were super-feisty two weeks ago, getting in the faces of Giants players, trash-talking before and after plays and baiting some of the Giants into foolish retaliation penalties. They like to do that against the Giants, since they believe they've been able to get into the Giants' heads over the past couple of years and beat them as a result. They might want to take a page out of that playbook against the Seahawks, who lead the league with 129 penalties and can be baited as well. Of course, the Eagles will have to watch their own penalties, particularly false starts in one of the loudest outdoor stadiums in the league.
Get along! Assistant coaches Marty Mornhinweg and Jim Washburn got into a visible spat on the sideline Sunday against the Patriots. Everybody says it's all copacetic at this point, but the Eagles need to stick together if they're going to figure out a way to win games down the stretch. Save it for the locker room, fellas!
A couple of thoughts on the win in Seattle that broke the Washington Redskins' six-game losing streak.
What it means: Redskins fans, your long national nightmare is over. And I think it means a lot. Certainly not to this season, which is lost to them, but to the confidence of a group of players that have been grinding it out under the weight of mounting negativity. The Redskins' players -- especially the defensive ones -- deserved to know what it felt like to win a game again, and the players who are part of the long-term rebuilding project and will be in Washington next year and beyond will benefit from knowing what it's like to win.
Run, Roy, run: First on the list of praiseworthy performances was that of rookie running back Roy Helu, who banged away and banged away at a very tough Seattle run defense before finally cashing in an acrobatic 28-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to three points early in the fourth quarter. If ever a coach wanted to show his players an example of the importance of sticking with the run even when it doesn't seem to be working, he could show them video of Helu's day. The rookie got the start and showed an ability to handle a full workload. That doesn't mean he'll continue to get them the rest of the way, of course. This is Mike Shanahan, after all. I'm sure he will want to see Evan Royster and doesn't want to get Helu killed if he's part of next year's plans. But the Redskins may have found something special in the run game with Helu.
Great game for Grossman: Yeah, he threw the two interceptions. And yeah, they cost the team points. But that's who Rex Grossman is. You can't have Grossman as your quarterback and not accept the fact that he's going to throw interceptions. His final numbers say he was 26-for-35 for 314 yards and two touchdowns, and if that comes with the two interceptions every week, at this point, I'd say the Redskins would be happy to take it.
Defense, take a bow: You might sit there and say there's no great glory in limiting Tarvaris Jackson. And you might point out that Marshawn Lynch ran for tough yards all day against the middle of the Redskins' defense. But this is a defense that has played well all season, that made the plays Sunday when it needed to make them -- right up until the DeAngelo Hall interception that sealed the victory. One of the touchdowns they gave up came on a short field after a Grossman pick, and other than that they were as tough as they've been and should get more than a few of the game balls.
What's next: On Sunday at FedEx Field, the Redskins will host the New York Jets, who are in playoff mode right now and at one point this year had one of the best defenses in the whole league, though they haven't been playing like it lately.
Feeling good: The Cowboys' passing game should be back today. Seattle defends the run very well, so I wouldn't expect a huge game out of DeMarco Murray. But the Seahawks aren't strong in the secondary, and this should be the day quarterback Tony Romo once again begins to find wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant down the field. They couldn't do that on a frustrating night last Sunday in Philadelphia against the Eagles' talented cornerbacks, but they should have more chances to hit big plays in this one.
Cause for concern: Oddly the way the Cowboys should be able to beat the Seahawks is the way the Seahawks might be able to give the Cowboys trouble as well. Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has actually been a pretty good downfield passer when he's been healthy this season, and he's got a real rhythm with wide receiver Sidney Rice from their days together on the Minnesota Vikings' second-team offense. With cornerback Mike Jenkins and inside linebacker Sean Lee out with injuries, the Dallas defense could be weaker than usual at the second level and will have to limit the Seahawks' big plays in the passing game.
Feeling good: The Seahawks have allowed 14 sacks so far this season. Only two teams -- the Bears and the Rams -- have allowed more. This, of course, plays into the Giants' greatest defensive strength. Even if Justin Tuck isn't playing, they'll generate plenty of pass rush with Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul at the defensive end spots. The only wrinkle could be if the Giants are more focused this week on stopping the run, since that's been a weakness of theirs. But Seattle has the second-fewest rushing yards of any team in the league, so the Giants ought to be able to stick to what they do well and pressure Tarvaris Jackson into mistakes.
Cause for concern: There isn't much, as this looks like a lopsided matchup on paper, especially with the Giants at home. But if Jackson can use his above-average mobility to elude that Giants pass rush, top receiver Sidney Rice will be creating mismatches against Giants defensive backs all day. Rice has the size and speed to manhandle Corey Webster and/or Aaron Ross, and the ability to make catches even in tight coverage. The Giants will need to do as good a job limiting Rice's ability to beat them with a big play as they did against the Eagles and their great receivers two weeks ago in Philadelphia.
So, how was your day...
"Efficient." Dallas needed to make some cuts to work on getting under the salary cap, and they trimmed Marion Barber, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Kris Brown from their roster. Marc Colombo's status remained up in the air at day's end, and the next order of business was likely the restructuring of some veteran contracts (Romo, Austin, etc.) to keep freeing up room for outside free-agent pursuits. Reports surfaced that they reached out to Abe Elam to talk about one of their openings at safety, and they are talking with guard Kyle Kosier, who along with Doug Free is an important re-sign for them. Knocking $16.6 million off their 2011 payroll represents a good first day for a team that needs to rebuild its defense within the next week.
New York Giants?
"Confusing." When the Giants decided not to make offensive line a priority in the draft, many people assumed it was because they felt they had enough depth at the position. But Tuesday brought news that veterans Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Shawn Andrews would be cut. Adam Schefter reported that Kevin Boothe would return on a two-year deal, but even if Will Beatty is ready to be the starting left tackle, the Giants will need reinforcements. They also needed to get under the cap, but such a drastic purge at one position suggests a recalibration of free-agent priorities for a team that has work to do to bring back several of its own free agents. Adam also reports that the Giants have been speaking with Plaxico Burress about a reunion, which is confusing in light of what Burress had to say about Tom Coughlin after his release from prison last month. Giants fans tend to trust their team's front office, but if there's a sound plan here, it has yet to reveal itself. The Giants did make a feel-good move in the morning, signing undrafted rookie and cancer survivor Mark Herzlich, who could be part of the solution at linebacker if he can return to the form that made him one of the best defensive players in college football in 2008. Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com reported on Twitter that potential linebacker target Paul Posluszny would sign with the Jaguars, but I still expect the Giants to find another linebacker in free agency. Herzlich has big upside but is no sure thing.
"Unsatisfying." We woke with the idea that the long-expected Kevin Kolb trade could happen as soon as the clock struck 10 am. It did not happen, and in fact the market for Kolb took a hit with the news that the Broncos were trying to trade Kyle Orton (thereby providing the Cardinals with another option) and that the Seahawks were going to sign Tarvaris Jackson (depriving the Eagles of the most viable other trade partner with which they could leverage Arizona). Kolb to Arizona still seems the most likely outcome here, but the longer it goes without the Eagles getting what they need to get in return, the more likely it is that he ends up staying in Philadelphia. Michael Vick hinted that DeSean Jackson could hold out of training camp due to dissatisfaction with his contract situation, which portends trouble on that front. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that the Eagles were planning to let go of all of their own free agents, including linebacker Stewart Bradley and backup running back Jerome Harrison -- news that led some (including me) to speculate that they were clearing the financial decks for a big signing such as Nnamdi Asomugha. One of those free agents, safety Quintin Mikell, agreed to a deal with the Rams, according to a report by Schefter. And the team announced the signing of undrafted running back Noel Devine of West Virginia, who could perhaps compete with Dion Lewis for that backup running back spot. Fair amount of business conducted, but none of the big moves we've been expecting from the Eagles ... yet.
"Encouraging." There were reports of discussions of a trade of Donovan McNabb to Minnesota, which was a mild surprise. If they can get anything -- even a fifth-round pick -- for McNabb, they'll have to call that a win. Schefter reported that Santana Moss had agreed to return on a three-year, $15 million deal, which is a move each side wanted to make sure happened and will help the Redskins' inexperienced quarterback and receivers. I don't think that move takes them out of the running for Santonio Holmes, but The Star-Ledger reported that the Jets are moving to re-sign Holmes, as was expected. So he remains a long shot, and potential offensive line target Marshal Yanda re-upped with the Ravens, taking him out of Washington's plans. But the re-signing of Moss and the serious McNabb talks have to count as a good first day for a team with a lot to do.
How was my day, you ask? Busy, but lots of fun. Looking forward to another busy/fun one tomorrow. Love that we have actual news to write about, at long last. And I hope you enjoyed your day here on the NFC East blog. Talk to you again in the morning.
Well, he apparently didn't show up at Eagles camp today. And he isn't an Arizona Cardinal yet either. So what's up? What are we hearing? What's the latest on the deal that was supposed to have sent Kolb from Philly to Arizona in the opening seconds of the trading season?
It didn't happen that quickly, obviously, but there were discussions today. The Eagles spoke with the Cardinals as well as the Seattle Seahawks, and were asking for a lot in return. (As we have discussed, they do not think they should trade him unless they get a lot in return, because he has value to them as Michael Vick's backup.)
But within the past hour or so, it has come out that the Seahawks will be signing former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and bidding farewell to Matt Hasselbeck. Presumably, there'd be no reason for Seattle to acquire both Jackson and Kolb, and signing Jackson takes them out of the Kolb market. This is unwelcome news for the Eagles, whose leverage would have been maximized by the ability to play the Cardinals and Seahawks off each other the way the San Diego Chargers did last year when the prize was Charlie Whitehurst.
And while teams such as Miami and Cleveland still loom as potential dark-horse candidates in the Kolb sweepstakes, it would seem as though Arizona is the overwhelming favorite with Seattle out of the picture. The Cardinals, according to Kent Somers, are making it clear (presumably to the Eagles as well as to Somers) that they're keeping their options open. Somers reports that the Cardinals are talking to the Eagles about Kolb, to the Broncos about Kyle Orton and to free agents Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger.
Now, of that group, Kolb is the only one who makes sense as a potential long-term solution as opposed to a one- or two-year stopgap. So a lot of this could be posturing for leverage. But if the Eagles are asking for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a high draft pick, it may be that the Cardinals would prefer to go with the one-year stopgap and save their picks to draft a quarterback in April.
Again, if the Eagles don't get starting-quarterback value for Kolb, they have no reason to trade him. Vick is not signed beyond this season and there's no way to know if they can expect a repeat performance or a fully healthy season from him. Dealing Kolb only makes sense if they get a lot in return. If the Cardinals really aren't interested enough to pay the Eagles as though they're getting a starter, the chances are high that Kolb stays put, as unhappy as that might make him.
You know I'll do my very, very best to keep you posted.
What it means: Mother Nature couldn’t extend Brett Favre’s streak and she couldn’t slow down the Giants either. After flying to Kansas City and then to Detroit, the Giants finally faced the Vikings and beat them for the first time in the past five meetings. They won their third straight game by avenging a 44-7 loss to the Vikings in the season finale last year while keeping pace in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles. They also took advantage of Green Bay’s loss here in Detroit the day before. The Giants showed that despite being jet-lagged and weary from all the havoc created by the snowstorm, they remained resilient and took care of business against a team that was without Favre, Percy Harvin, Steve Hutchinson and Ray Edwards.
Iron man streak finished: Favre’s streak of 297 consecutive starts ended in Detroit against the Giants when he was unable to play because of a shoulder injury. The Giants have been bad luck for Favre. He played against them in his final game as a Packer in the NFC Championship Game and now his streak ends against the Giants.
Eli's streak continues: Eli Manning made his 100th consecutive start and it started off looking like another streak would continue. Manning entered the game 0-4 against the Vikings with nine interceptions and two touchdowns. He threw two more picks in the first half but he finally beat the Vikings. He wasn’t at his sharpest but the bottom line is Manning got the win. Manning did have another streak end when he was sacked. The Giants had a five-game streak of surrendering no sacks.
Home-field advantage: Ford Field painted a Vikings logo at midfield over the Lions logo, which looked like it had been erased with a pencil eraser. The stadium also played the Vikings horn several times but it never quite felt like home for Minnesota. Even though there were more Vikings fans in the building than Giants’ fans, the crowd of 45,910 seemed more concerned with doing variations of the wave than with the Vikings’ performance. While tickets were distributed for free and the Lions stopped distribution after huge crowds braved the frigid cold in the morning, the stadium was not filled to the capacity of 64,500. It appeared that many of the fans who had original tickets to this game, and those who went to Sunday’s Lions-Packers game and were eligible to come to the game, chose to stay home.
Welcome back: The Giants welcomed back wide receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks and tackle David Diehl from injuries. Nicks started the game opposite Mario Manningham while Smith opened as the third wide receiver. However, Manningham injured his hip flexor in the first half and Smith replaced him. Then Smith injured his hamstring and did not return in the fourth quarter. Smith finished with one catch for 12 yards. Manning looked like he needed a game to get back on the same page with his top two receivers. Smith had missed the previous four games with a partially torn pectoral. Nicks, who finished the game with seven receptions for 96 yards, returned after a two-game absence following surgery to relieve swelling in his leg.
Keep on trucking: The Giants' running game continues to look better and better as the season progresses. Brandon Jacobs started the game and busted a 73-yard run down the left side in the first half. He finished with 116 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries. Ahmad Bradshaw also had a huge run, scoring on a 48-yard sprint down the left side that gave the Giants a 21-3 lead with under three minutes left in the third quarter. Bradshaw finished with 103 yards on 11 carries.
Fewell-injected: Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell does it again as the Giants smothered Tarvaris Jackson, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings' offense. Without Favre and Hutchinson, the Vikings' offense looked inept at times. Peterson was stuffed numerous times and finished with 26 yards rushing on 14 carries. Jackson started off strong, completing 10 of his first 13 passes, but he kept going in and out of the game with injuries.
What's next: The Giants have only a few days to prepare for their biggest game of the season against the Eagles. The NFC East could very well ride on this game as the winner will take a lead with two games remaining. The Giants made Michael Vick look somewhat human last time in Philadelphia, but turnovers and a late defensive breakdown led to a crushing loss four weeks ago. If the Giants want to be a serious contender, they must make a stand against the Eagles and beat them at home.
I actually think the Vikings are much more dangerous with Tarvaris Jackson in the lineup, and that's who the Giants have spent the majority of their time preparing for. I know that defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have a lot of respect for Jackson and his ability to move around in the pocket.
There will be an emphasis on staying outside on the edge and bringing the pressure from the middle. And look for Perry Fewell to bring his cornerbacks and safeties on delayed blitzes. I'll be observing the game and offering commentary Tuesday morning.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14.
The New York Giants need to continue their emphasis on starting fast. In last week's win over the Washington Redskins, the Giants scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has placed more emphasis on scoring quickly, and it's paid off in recent games. With David Diehl likely returning to the lineup at left tackle, look for the Giants to run right at Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Brandon Jacobs raced for 39 yards on a carry to the left side on the first possession against the Redskins. I think the Giants will try the same thing against the Vikings. If they can score quickly, it will take one of the loudest crowds in the league out of the game.
It's time for Mike Shanahan to bust out the running game. The Redskins should have tailback Ryan Torain in the starting lineup against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Torain had back-to-back 100-yard rushing days earlier in the season, but we haven't seen him since Week 8 because of lingering hamstring issues. The Bucs are 26th in the league against the run, allowing 128.5 yards per game on the ground. If Trent Williams can come back strong at left tackle, I think Torain will have some success on that side. Stephon Heyer was overwhelmed at left tackle last week, which pretty much fouled up everything. Williams hasn't been great in his rookie season, but he's about the best the Skins have to offer at this point.
The Cowboys will try to follow the Chicago Bears' game plan against Michael Vick: The Cowboys may blitz a little more than the Bears did against Vick two weeks ago, but they'll rely heavily on their defensive front. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh told me Wednesday that the secondary has watched all of the double moves DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin like to use. Sensabaugh said the key will be not taking his eyes off the receiver too soon. If you look up to get your bearings, one of the Eagles receivers will race past you for a touchdown. The Cowboys will probably play their safeties deeper than usual, and they'll try to frustrate Jackson by not allowing him to have anything downfield. The Cowboys did a great job against Jackson last season. One matchup to keep an eye on will be Jason Avant versus Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. If Scandrick is unable to play because of a concussion, look for rookie Bryan McCann to line up across from Avant, one of the most underrated receivers in the league. He and the Giants' Steve Smith do a superb job on third downs.
Will the New York Giants face Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson? The Giants spent most of the week preparing for Favre, but they'll be ready to adjust if the famous streak ends. I think the Vikings are actually more dangerous with Jackson right now. He moves around the pocket much better than Favre and he's a threat to take off when everybody is covered. Much like they did in the second half against Vick, the Giants need to knock down Jackson. With Favre, I think the key will be to make sure you catch those interceptions. He's going to make some mistakes, and right now this Giants defense is doing a good job of capitalizing. If Devin Thomas can mix in another partially blocked punt, the Giants will be in business.
For the first time in his tenure as GM -- he took over in '07 -- Reese received heavy criticism for what happened to the Giants last season. Injuries at safety, cornerback and linebacker left the Giants in a situation they couldn't recover from. Reese desperately tried to bring in safeties, but none of them worked out. He vowed this past offseason not to let something like that happen again, and that's why he signed Antrel Rolle to a lucrative contract extension and then followed that up by bringing in Deon Grant. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com has a column today detailing all the successful moves that Reese has made. He asked Reese why the Giants have been able to stay afloat while losing two starting wide receivers and three starters along the offensive line for extended periods of time this season.
"It is just the way it happens sometimes," Reese said Sunday following the Giants' win over the Redskins. "You expect it to happen every year; you think you find the right guys to stand in a gap and help you out. Sometimes it doesn't happen that way. It didn't happen last year. And that is disappointing that we couldn't find the right guys to help us out."
The Giants have a first-round pick who is starting to figure things out at the right time. I wondered if defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would put things together this season. In the previous draft, the Giants took a linebacker in the second round named Clint Sintim, and he hasn't been able to secure a starting role. But Pierre-Paul is starting to make a similar move to what Justin Tuck made in '07.
If the Giants can get past the Vikings on Sunday (and that's no easy task), I like their chances in the Meadowlands against the Eagles. And thought no one will tell me this on the record, I cant' help but think the Giants are hoping that Brett Favre plays Sunday instead of Tarvaris Jackson.
I honestly think the Vikings are much easier to defend with Favre at the helm right now. Do you guys think Reese is one of the more underrated talent evaluators in the league or do you think he gets plenty of credit?
|Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said his coversations with Brett Favre helped him maintain focus on the 2009 season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
As far as NFL offseasons go, I'm pretty sure Jason Campbell could've done better. He'd only started at quarterback for 2 1/2 seasons, but the Redskins' brass had seen enough.
First, owner Daniel Snyder fell head over heels for Jay Cutler, who was successfully whining his way out of Denver. He and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato did little to hide their affection for the rocket-armed Cutler, while head coach Jim Zorn was left in the awkward position of trying to console Campbell.
When the Skins lost out on Cutler to the Bears, Campbell was invited to a closed-door session with Snyder, Cerrato and Zorn. They supposedly cleared the air, but it wasn't long before Snyder and Cerrato developed another crush -- USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. Campbell learned about both situations the old-fashioned way -- on local television.
Though he didn't like it, he'd made peace with the Cutler scenario because at least the guy was a Pro Bowl quarterback. The thought of being replaced by a rookie was much more galling to him. And he couldn't figure out why the Redskins chose to wine and dine Sanchez in such a public way.
"It was like they were putting it out there in public that I was not a good quarterback," Campbell told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I had my friends and family calling to ask what was going on, and I was like, 'I have no earthly idea.'"
Though he was stung by the Skins' pursuit of another quarterback, Campbell never missed a workout. He continued to show up at Redskins Park because he thought he owed that to his teammates. It served as quite a contrast to the "he said, he said" flap that had gone on between Cutler and new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.
"No matter what people were saying, I was still a Washington Redskin," Campbell said. "I couldn't afford to let something distract me from what I knew would be a big season for me. No matter if it was here or somewhere else, I had to be ready. I just couldn't let all that stuff bring me down."
When the offseason program ended, Campbell took a trip to the Bahamas and St. Kitts to get away from all the drama. But a lot of his inspiration for this season came from a fishing trip he took to Brett Favre's farm in Hattiesburg, Miss. Campbell grew up a few miles down the road and has had access to Favre's ponds (bass and perch) for a couple of years. Campbell and his father had been fishing for a couple of hours one day in late June when Favre showed up for a visit.
Campbell said he didn't ask Favre a single question about his much-publicized comeback attempt because he "figured he could use a break from that." Instead, Campbell listened as Favre gave him some encouraging advice on how to handle his situation with the Redskins.
"Brett told me he knew how hard it was to change systems all the time," said Campbell, who has already been in three different systems in Washington. "He said it was important to play my game and not to forget what it was that got me to this point."
|Tom Dahlin/Getty Images|
|Jason Campbell plans to contact Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson, who recently was displaced by Brett Favre.|
Campbell said Favre talked to him that day for more than an hour. He talked about his struggles in Green Bay early in his career and said that it took five seasons for him to feel completely comfortable in the Packers' system.
"He told me that every coach and every coordinator is different and that they wanted to teach you the game their way," Campbell said. "He told me to forget about all the stuff swirling around and go play my game."
Campbell said the Redskins' pursuit of a replacement had "tested his manhood," but the conversation with Favre helped him focus on the '09 season. If Campbell can lead his team to the playoffs in the final year of his contract, there's a chance he could receive a lucrative extension. If not, he could be a hot commodity in free agency.
Ironically, Campbell now finds himself wanting to reach out to the quarterbacks Favre is leap-frogging in Minnesota. Campbell and Tarvaris Jackson share the same agent (Joel Segal) and have always been supportive of each other. Campbell's planning to call him in the next few days.
"Tarvaris is still early in his career and Sage is in the middle," Campbell said. "I think both of them can turn what seems like a negative into a positive. I'm going to tell Tarvaris to keep his head up and recognize the opportunity he'll have to pick Brett's brain this season."
Sounds like pretty good advice all the way around.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Gregg Easterbrook of TMQ fame had some interesting observations on why the Eagles' blitz had so much success against Tarvaris Jackson and the Vikings. He thinks the Eagles' use of the safety blitz is a sign that Philadelphia didn't have much respect for Jackson. I tend to agree. He also thinks the Eagles' front seven is even with the Giants' front seven. I wouldn't have agreed with that five or six weeks ago, but you can at least make the argument now.
"As for Philadelphia, its front seven -- Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trent Cole, Akeem Jordan, Stewart Bradley and Chris Gocong -- are playing as well as the Giants' front seven was when the G-Persons rolled to the Super Bowl last season," writes Easterbrook. "Plus the Eagles' defensive schemes have become less predictable lately, as Philadelphia now shows blitz and then backs off more than it did in the past. If we can't have a Manning-Manning Super Bowl, at least a Pennsylvania Turnpike matchup of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh remains possible."