NFC East: Tashard Choice

IRVING, Texas -- Another lively chat Wednesday with more than 100 questions from you guys wanting to know this, that and everything about the Dallas Cowboys.

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Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

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    21%
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    49%
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    19%
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    5%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,576)

In the chat we talked about:

  • The return of Anthony Spencer.
  • The chances of Johnny Manziel coming to the Cowboys.
  • The chances Kony Ealy comes to the Cowboys.
  • The Morris Claiborne "trade" talks. I put quotes around that on purpose.


  • To read the whole chat, click here.

    Let's talk about the whole 'need vs. best player' debate some more:

    Kyle from Virginia asked: With Will McClay playing a bigger role in this draft, do you see Dallas taking the best player available regardless of position more often this year or just filling their needs? I am hoping they are focusing on the long-term, not just the upcoming season.

    Here is my answer: I'm not being a wise guy here, but the answer is: Yes. We always speak in this perfect world of taking the best player available, but you have to factor in need. The key is to not make the need overwhelm the evaluation process so you're inflating a player's worth. I do believe the Cowboys look at the draft as a multi-year deal not specific to one year, but need will always play a part in the process. It just has to. You can't eliminate it.

    To elaborate, much of the draft operates in a gray area. Ideally everything is crystal clear. I'm sure in the past I've said, 'You always take the best player available.' Heck, I probably said it two weeks ago, but I'd like to add two caveats:

    You always take the best player in the first round. You always take the best player when the best player's grade is much higher than the player you are going to take.

    It's clear the Cowboys need defensive line help, though I think the signings they've had in free agency helps steer them away from reaching for a player at No. 16. If they are unable to get one of their top defensive linemen at No. 16, be it Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald or whomever, then don't reach for the next-best defensive linemen if you don't believe he is better than somebody at another position.

    That's why I've had the Cowboys taking Zack Martin in the mock drafts I've been asked about. The Cowboys look to be in no-man's land at No. 16 when it comes to the top defensive linemen. Too low for Donald and Barr. Too high for Ealy or Easley. If they trade back in the first round, then it becomes a little more palatable to take one of the lower-ranked guys.

    In 2009, the Cowboys should have drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round. They had a first-round grade on McCoy but instead of taking him they traded down to get third- and fourth-round picks from the Buffalo Bills.

    At the time the Cowboys had Marion Barber on a big-time deal and drafted Felix Jones in the first round in 2008. They also liked Tashard Choice. They probably thought they were stacking it up at the position if they took McCoy. So what? You had a chance to get a first-round player with a pick in the 50s. Do it.

    We want everything to be black and white when it comes to the draft, but it's not that easy.
    Hey, you know how we do predictions on Fridays? Well, I'm looking at the schedule and it turns out I'm going to have to do at least one of this week's predictions today. Wednesday. Chew on that with your links.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Todd Archer thinks the Cowboys should put in a waiver claim on recently waived Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, in part to keep him away from the Bears, with whom they could be competing for a playoff spot, but also for other reasons including depth at the sport's most important position now and into the future.

    Tony Romo is 4-0 with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions in his career on Thanksgiving Day games. He missed last year's because of his injury, but he does go in on a roll this year.

    New York Giants

    I think we're all looking forward to the part of the week when the Giants start looking ahead to the Saints game and stop venting their anger over Sunday's loss to the Eagles. On Tuesday, it was Antrel Rolle's turn to take to the airwaves and talk about how much that loss ticked him off. Just a thought, but if they'd managed to be this angry and annoyed about the Eagles before the game... well, whatever.

    The Giants' pass rush says it will be re-focused this week after picking up just five sacks in its past three games. Drew Brees says he's not going to take the Giants' pass rush lightly. The Giants need more of a pass rush than they got Sunday night if they're going to have a chance against Brees on Monday Night.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Bob Ford said don't buy the Eagles-are-still-in-the-playoff-hunt narrative, mainly because a team that has shown no propensity to win games when it matters shouldn't be counted on to win five or six of its remaining six. I also kind of like the point Bob raises at the beginning, that the Eagles really weren't playing under pressure Sunday night because the loss to Arizona killed their chances. Anyway, food for thought.

    The Patriots say they'll prepare for "all three" Eagles quarterbacks this week and hope that they get some clue later in the week as to which one they'll actually see Sunday. I'm betting it's Vince Young, but I don't know anything more than I did Monday, so stay tuned.

    Washington Redskins

    So the Tashard Choice Era in Washington didn't last long. The Redskins cut Choice and brought back rookie Evan Royster, leading some to wonder if the only reason they signed Choice in the first place was in case he could tell them secrets about the Cowboys in advance of Sunday's game. Could be.

    Don't be surprised if Royster gets into some games. As John Keim discusses in his "five questions," the Redskins need to start finding answers in the run game or else the offense won't work the way it's supposed to. And Ryan Torain as starter and Roy Helu of change-of-pace back aren't making it work right now.

    Breakfast links: Skins' offensive woes

    November, 16, 2011
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    Ah, Wednesday. The day when we might finally be able to answer the most popular Monday and Tuesday question: "What's the latest on ______'s injury and status for Sunday?" Give it a few hours and we'll see what we see. Meantime, you know... links.

    New York Giants

    If Michael Vick's not playing Sunday, the Giants are going to have to see it to believe it. The players on New York's defense say their plan this week is to prepare as if Vick's playing, and if his broken ribs keep him out, then they're happy to adjust down to Vince Young or whomever.

    Giants.com breaks down some Eli Manning numbers and assesses his place among other current quarterbacks and some others throughout history. Five more starts in a row and he'll have the third-longest consecutive-starts streak of any quarterback in history, behind only his big brother and Brett Favre.

    Dallas Cowboys

    It took a while, but it seems folks in Dallas have woken up to the idea that the Cowboys have a good chance to make the playoffs. Tim MacMahon writes that it's theirs for the taking, given the schedule and their two remaining head-to-head matchups with the Giants. If Tony Romo can be as effective and as responsible with the ball the rest of the way as he was Sunday, they should win a lot more games.

    Felix Jones says he wants to make sure he's healthy before he worries about whether he's the "starting" running back anymore. We could all learn a lesson about priorities from ol' Felix, who will share carries with DeMarco Murray and is willing to wait and see how it all breaks down rather than worry about it ahead of time.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Well, the whole DeSean Jackson thing doesn't seem to exactly be ending. Jackson gave an interview in which he says he'd never seen Andy Reid bench a player for missing a meeting before. Of course, he didn't say how often he's seen guys miss meetings, or the extent to which he's kept track of other people's attendance or punishments. But the way things are going in Philly, the one quote will get pulled out and hammered into the ground, context or no.

    One interesting thing about this is that it doesn't seem to be bothering Jackson's teammates. Jackson addressed his team Monday and apologized, and it doesn't surprise me to know that it's a non-issue in the locker room. I imagine it will linger between Jackson and the team, but the Eagles' locker room has not endured much infighting in spite of all that's gone wrong this season. There's a real sense in that room that they're all in this together. The problem is that "this" is a season-long crapfest of underachievement and fourth-quarter gag jobs.

    Washington Redskins

    Mike Shanahan says to make sure and blame the running game, too, for the Redskins' offensive struggles. Which is fine. I'm sure we're all happy to spread blame around. Upshot of that link, for me, is that Shanahan sees the running game as something with which he can tinker (unlike quarterback, where he's got nothing), and all of you foolish folk who have Redskins running backs on your fantasy teams will continue to be frustrated. Tashard Choice hasn't even entered the picture yet!

    Speaking of the offense, Rich Campbell has his game review, and he awards no "game balls" at all to anyone on the offense. Especially interesting up high is the stuff about what a dropoff Fred Davis has been from Chris Cooley as a blocker. They have a lot of problems, and most don't seem fixable in the short term. Next year, folks. Next year.

    A new Choice in the Redskins' backfield

    November, 10, 2011
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    So you think Roy Helu's the guy now in the backfield for the Washington Redskins, do you? Feeling good about how you picked him off the waiver wire in your fantasy football league two weeks ago? Sliding him into your starting lineup off his 14-catch game and laughing at the guy who traded for Ryan Torain during the Week 5 bye?

    Well, Tashard Choice is here to make you wonder again. The former Dallas Cowboys running back, signed by the Redskins after the Cowboys cut him last month, is feeling healthy and could be playing for Washington as soon as Sunday in Miami. Per Mike Jones:
    "It's going down," Choice said on if he expected to play this week. "I'm eager to show people how to make a blessing out of bad breaks. It's going to be fun. These eight games, it's about to be fun. I can't wait. … Absolutely. I'm rolling. I'm rolling this week."

    Although now fully healthy, Choice still isn't a complete certainty to play on Sunday. He must demonstrate to coaches that he has a good enough understanding for the offense to be trusted in a game. But so far, coach Mike Shanahan liked what he saw out of the fourth-year Georgia Tech product.

    So there you have it. Fact is, it's impossible to predict what Shanahan will do with his running backs Sunday, for the rest of the year or as long as he remains an NFL head coach. If I had to guess, I'd say you'll still see plenty of Helu -- maybe even as the starter, as he was Sunday. The thing they liked about Tim Hightower before his injury was his value in the passing game as a receiver and a blocker. They rate Helu more highly in those areas than they do Torain, which is why you saw so much of him Sunday. But my sense is that they see him more as that change-of-pace guy than a run-between-the-tackles guy.

    Choice is a player the Cowboys once thought had a world of ability, and obviously it didn't pan out in Dallas. The fact that Shanahan picked him up indicates he saw something as well, and we'll have to wait and see how he's used before we figure out what that was. He could potentially be that between-the-tackles guy with Helu serving as the third-down back. He could be there strictly for bench depth. Or for goal-line work. Regardless, the Redskins' offense needs a jolt, and if Shanahan thinks Choice can help provide it, don't be surprised to see the coach give him a real chance.

    NFC East Stock Watch

    November, 8, 2011
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    NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    FALLING

    1. Eagles' playoff hopes. Not only are the Eagles 3-5, but three of their five losses are to the Giants, Bears and Falcons. The Giants are one of the teams they have to catch if they want to win their division, and the Bears and Falcons are the two teams tied for the last NFC wild-card spot. That means the Eagles lose on all the tiebreakers as of now and will have to jump over teams, not just catch them, if they want to get in. The Giants could come back to the pack, of course, and those other teams could falter as well. But they aren't the only teams the Eagles have to jump over, and they have put themselves in a position where they really can't lose more than one more game, if that. With eight games left on the schedule, that's a pretty weak margin for error.

    2. Ryan Torain, Redskins running back. He looked like the starting running back in Washington once Tim Hightower went down for the season, but he now appears to have been jumped in the rotation by rookie Roy Helu, who got the start Sunday and was a huge factor in the passing game. That's no coincidence. One of the reasons the Redskins like Hightower better than Torain was they thought Hightower was a better pass-blocker and receiver, and they appear to feel the same way about Helu. It'll be interesting to see how Tashard Choice factors into this mix once healthy, and it's certainly not beyond Mike Shanahan to change his mind more than once again before the season ends. But right now it appears Helu is the lead back in D.C.

    3. Miles Austin, Cowboys wide receiver. Out again with a bad hamstring, this time it looks like for two to four weeks. This season surely has not gone the way Austin had hoped it would go, and the Cowboys are going to have to get by for a while with Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson at wide receiver. They're fortunate that they have Jason Witten as a reliable option in the passing game, and once Felix Jones gets back they'll have two strong options at running back with him and DeMarco Murray. So they're not short on weapons. But Austin looked early on as though he was in for a big season, and it's not working out that way.

    [+] EnlargeJake Ballard
    Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJake Ballard came up big for the Giants in their win over New England.
    RISING

    1. Jake Ballard, Giants tight end. The tight end no one saw coming was the star of the show Sunday as Eli Manning found him in key spots during the Giants' comeback victory in New England. I think Manning deserves a great deal of the credit for what has become of Ballard and Victor Cruz (and Ramses Barden, who was a factor late in that game as well). I'm not buying that Jerry Reese saw Ballard coming. They were all talking up Travis Beckum. But Reese did have faith in his coaching staff and his quarterback to make it work with whatever personnel they had, and that faith is being rewarded.

    2. Laurent Robinson. Cowboys wide receiver. His opportunity to show something is here. With Austin out, Robinson looks like a starting wide receiver for the Cowboys, and to this point he has played better than anyone could have expected. All of the hand-wringing in the preseason about the No. 3 receiver, and it turns out he wasn't even on the roster yet. Now, he's the No. 2, and Tony Romo seems to like to throw to him.

    3. Leonard Hankerson, Redskins wide receiver. Like Helu, Hankerson got his first NFL start Sunday, and Washington's rookie wide receiver looked pretty good. I expect to see him and many of the Redskins' other young players continue to get long looks the rest of the way as the Redskins work to find out what they have and what they still need on offense heading into next offseason. Hankerson has size, speed and athleticism and could be a very good NFL receiver. His biggest problem has been actually catching and holding on to the ball, but that problem was not in evidence Sunday, so maybe it's something that's getting better.
    It is Thursday, and all I can promise is that I will not be limited in practice today. All those other guys, well, we'll just have to wait a few hours and see. Meantime, links.

    New York Giants

    Antrel Rolle had some stuff to say Wednesday, which was pretty entertaining. Some of the highlights included "I don't worry about our schedule. I think our schedule needs to worry about us," and, of Patriots receiver Wes Welker, "I don't know, you've got to ask those guys he's giving trouble to. I don't plan on having to answer those questions." The Giants don't scare, that's for sure.

    Victor Cruz was lonely at practice Wednesday with fellow receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham absent, Mike Vorkunov writes. Mike's report also includes some information regarding Nicks' injury -- namely that it's (a) not new, (b) severe enough to have kept him out of a game of lesser importance and (c) not certain to keep him out of Sunday's game in New England.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Paul Domowitch writes that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is more in sync now with his defense and with defensive line coach Jim Washburn than he was at the start of the season. This is the new narrative around the Eagles -- that it only made sense that it would take a while for all of the new pieces to jell. And there's real validity to it. The question is whether that 1-4 start was too much to overcome.

    Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wasn't overly impressed with what he saw from Rob Ryan's Cowboys defense Sunday night, and that included the four-sack effort from DeMarcus Ware.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Adam Schefter reported Wednesday that there was a chance Sean Lee's dislocated wrist could result in surgery that would end his season. And while Lee didn't deny that was a possibility, the linebacker is saying he'll do everything he can do get back on the field as soon as possible, and he's not ruling out Sunday.

    Tim MacMahon wonders how many more chances Martellus Bennett will get before the Cowboys ditch him. Jason Garrett's answer is apparently that it doesn't really matter since they don't use Bennett much anyway. I'm still stuck on the number of cuts they could have made last week that weren't Tashard Choice when they decided to activate Bruce Carter and only use him on special teams. I go back to Sunday night, when I was walking out of Lincoln Financial Field thinking that carrying a kickoff specialist feels especially silly on a night when you only kick off twice.

    Washington Redskins

    One of the big criticisms of cornerback Carlos Rogers during his time in Washington was that he couldn't hold onto the ball for interceptions. (Which is so silly, because if cornerbacks could catch they'd have been receivers, right?) But Rogers, who comes back to Washington on Sunday with the 49ers, seems to have corrected that little problem so far this year. He's got three interceptions already.

    John Beck and Mike Shanahan watched film together of the 10 sacks Beck took Sunday and went over the ways in which Beck can improve the situation. The Redskins are sticking with Beck for now, so the idea is to find a way to make it go better with him back there.

    NFC East Stock Watch

    November, 1, 2011
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    NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    FALLING

    1. Redskins' offense. The injuries to the left side of the offensive line appear to have rendered the Washington Redskins helpless on offense. They gave up nine sacks Sunday to a Buffalo team that had collected only four sacks -- total -- in its first six games. It's impossible to grade John Beck as the replacement for Rex Grossman at quarterback because it doesn't appear he has enough time to do anything back there. They can't get the run game going with Ryan Torain and Roy Helu, so they picked up former Cowboys running back Tashard Choice this week hoping maybe he could help. The end result of all of this was the first-ever shutout of a Mike Shanahan-coached team and a frightening ongoing situation in which the offensive ineptitude is requiring the defense to be on the field too long. The Redskins have to find a way to sustain drives, or we could see repeats of Sunday's debacle.

    2. Rob Ryan. It was a rough week for the Dallas Cowboys' first-year defensive coordinator. His defense was trampled by a Philadelphia Eagles team he'd derided as the "all-hype team." He lost breakout star linebacker Sean Lee to a wrist injury and starting cornerback Mike Jenkins to a hamstring injury. Ryan's defense had a great first half of the season prior to Sunday night, but it appears fresh new challenges await. The Eagles put a lot of informative stuff on tape about how to attack the middle of the Dallas defense without Lee, and even though the Cowboys are heading into the soft second half of their schedule, a 3-4 record leaves them little margin for error going forward.

    3. Giants' running game. Rather than build off of Ahmad Bradshaw's first 100-yard game of the season, the Giants' 30th-ranked rushing offense regressed in Sunday's victory over the winless Dolphins. The Giants rushed for 58 yards on 23 carries as Eli Manning had to put the ball in the air 45 times to lead the Giants from behind. The problem appears to be the line, which is getting no push and opening very few holes in the run game. The Giants' line has done well in pass protection this year, but it appears to get pushed around on running downs, and Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are just slamming into large men at the line of scrimmage. The Giants are heading into the tough part of their schedule now and will need to fix this in order to maintain their early-season success.

    [+] EnlargeEli Manning
    Nick Laham/Getty ImagesEli Manning remained cool under pressure while rallying the Giants on Sunday.
    RISING

    1. Manning. The flip side of that last bit is that Manning is playing like an MVP candidate this year, limiting mistakes, making good decisions and acting like the reliable veteran leader the Giants need him to be. One of the things the Giants love about Manning is his consistency. He never misses a game, and perhaps more important, he's always the same guy from game to game and play to play. He doesn't get rattled or upset when his team is, say, way behind one of the worst teams in the league and shooting itself in the foot with red zone penalties. He just brings everybody back to where they need to be, makes plays and finds ways to win. Add in the fact that he seems to have his interception issues fixed this year, and you have -- dare we say it -- an elite NFL quarterback.

    2. LeSean McCoy. It's tough to imagine how much more he can "rise," but if anybody didn't think McCoy was a star when this season began, he's answered whatever questions may have been lingering. After carrying the ball 28 times for 126 yards against the Redskins two weeks earlier, McCoy followed up with 185 yards on 30 carries in Sunday night's domination of the Cowboys (who'd come into the game with the best run defense in the league). It remains to be seen whether the Eagles will continue to lean on McCoy that much. To hear Andy Reid and the coaches tell it, there will be games in which it makes more sense to pass all night. But what they know about McCoy after the past two games is that he's the kind of player who doesn't mind taking the ball -- a lot -- and grinding out clock when that's what needs to be done. That should serve the Eagles well as they attempt to climb back into contention.

    3. Juan Castillo. The Eagles' much-maligned former offensive line coach and current defensive coordinator is getting a lot of credit this week after the job his defense did against Dallas. Sure, the Cowboys had the ball for only 18 total minutes in the game, but during those 18 minutes we saw a rejuvenated Nnamdi Asomugha making plays all over the field, a fully healthy defensive line shifting up looks to successfully confuse Tony Romo and a suddenly much more comfortable Jamar Chaney solidifying things at the middle linebacker spot. Castillo is saying it only made sense that it would take time for everything to come together on defense with so many new players and new coaches working together to establish a new scheme. If he's right, the Eagles are going to be tough to beat the rest of the way. They'll just have to hope that 1-4 start didn't knock them all the way out.
    Tuesday links are in the over and will be ready in 3... 2...

    New York Giants

    The Giants Tough Guy of the Week Award goes to cornerback Justin Tryon, who apparently broke his arm in the first half of Sunday's game, broke it even more tackling Reggie Bush to prevent a fourth-quarter punt return and is out for the year now after surgery to repair the break Monday. Tryon tweeted the X-rays of his arm pre-surgery. Not for the squeamish.

    While the Giants have slugged their way to a 5-2 start, there are underlying issues, not the least of which so far are their inability to run the ball on offense or stop the run on defense, as Mike Mazzeo writes.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    We heard a lot after Sunday night's game about how much better the Eagles were playing on defense now that they've spent some time in Juan Castillo's scheme. But Sheil Kapadia writes that it goes deeper than that -- that the increased comfort level of the players is allowing Castillo to add more wrinkles to the defense that should benefit it going forward by allowing it to do more to confuse offenses.

    As for the offense, the biggest thing the Eagles have going for them right now is the emergence of LeSean McCoy as one of the best running backs in the league, and the wisdom the coaching staff has shown in deciding to take advantage of McCoy's blossoming and unique abilities.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Monday might have been a worse day for the Cowboys' defense than Sunday was, as the news on a couple of key players came back negative. Inside linebacker Sean Lee has a dislocated left wrist and doesn't know whether or not he'll be able to play Sunday against the Seahawks. Cornerback Mike Jenkins is saying his hamstring injury could cost him 3-to-4 weeks. And to top it all off, punter Mat McBriar has a serious injury to his non-kicking foot that forced him out of Sunday's game and could cost him more time. All serious problems, but Lee's may be the biggest. He and DeMarcus Ware have been the Cowboys' best defensive players this season, and they looked lost without him Sunday night in Philadelphia.

    Jean-Jacques Taylor suggests that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should tone down his act until such time as the Cowboys are once again "an upper-echelon team." I guess that's a worthwhile point of view, but I feel like I've read it before about Rob's brother, Rex, and I just don't think there's much point in hoping for it. These guys are going to do it their way, and if the teams for which they're working don't like it, the Ryan brothers' attitude that is, they're welcome to find somebody else. They both believe themselves to be great at what they do and they're confident enough that they're not going to change the outward manifestations of their personalities just because they stand out from the staid, establishment NFL crowd.

    Washington Redskins

    Lots of people tweeted at me Monday asking about the job status of Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Here it is in a nutshell: His father is the head coach. And while Mike Wise makes some interesting points (with the help of Bobby Bowden) on the pitfalls of hiring your son to be your offensive coordinator, facts are facts. It's a stone-cold waste of time for anybody right now to wish or wonder about Kyle Shanahan losing his job. Besides, this isn't a coordinator problem, folks. This guy's out of players, and probably didn't have enough good ones to begin with.

    The Redskins have apparently decided to replace injured running back Tim Hightower with former Cowboys running back Tashard Choice. Dallas cut Choice over the weekend due to shoulder and leg injuries and their insistence on continuing to carry two kickers once it came time to activate rookie linebacker Bruce Carter. If he can get healthy, Choice should soon find himself part of a weird, unpredictable running back committee with Ryan Torain and Roy Helu in Washington.

    Cowboys waive RB Tashard Choice

    October, 29, 2011
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    The Dallas Cowboys on Saturday waived/injured running back Tashard Choice to make room on the roster for rookie linebacker Bruce Carter, who is scheduled to come off the PUP list and make his NFL debut Sunday night against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

    That's a pretty rapid fall, considering that Choice was technically the Cowboys' starting running back last week against the Rams in place of the injured Felix Jones. But rookie DeMarco Murray ran 91 yards for a touchdown on the team's fifth play from scrimmage and finished the game with a team-record 253 rushing yards. Choice also injured his shoulder in the third quarter of that game and his hamstring in practice this week.

    The Cowboys drafted Carter in the second round this year and plan to use him on special teams Sunday while they work him into the mix at inside linebacker. He had to begin the season on the PUP list because he was still recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL.

    Choice was the team's fourth-round draft pick in 2008 and rushed for 1,139 yards on 250 carries in his Cowboys career. While Jones continues to recover from his ankle injury, it appears Murray will handle the workload as the team's No. 1 running back with Phillip Tanner backing him up.

    Breakfast links: Eli's advice for Luck

    October, 27, 2011
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    Four days until Eagles-Cowboys. I'm sorry, Giants and Redskins fans. You know I love you. But this week, Eagles-Cowboys is just plain where it's at. Fortunately, the links play no favorites.

    New York Giants

    Back in 2004, when he was the No. 1 pick in the draft, Eli Manning wanted to be in New York, not in San Diego, and he got his wish. His message for presumptive 2012 No. 1 pick Andrew Luck: He has no regrets about directing where he ended up.

    Jason Pierre-Paul is one of the breakout defensive stars of the NFL this year. But if having Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora healthy at the same time means he has to play fewer snaps, that's fine with young Jason, who appreciates what those guys have done to help him become the player he's become so quickly.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Jason Garrett continues to say he hasn't yet decided who will start at running back this week -- the perpetually disappointing Tashard Choice, or DeMarco Murray, the rookie who broke Emmitt Smith's team record for rush yards in a game last week. Whatever. Who cares who "starts"? And who cares who gets more carries once Felix Jones is healthy again? Aren't the Cowboys better off using their talented backs in the situations that best fit their skills? Shouldn't they all get to play? Aren't there enough snaps for everyone? I think there should be.

    And on defense, the Cowboys could be getting stronger, as another 2011 draft pick is now ready to help out. Bruce Carter could be limited to special teams at first, but you never know. He could help out at linebacker sooner rather than later.

    Washington Redskins

    Santana Moss puts his return timetable at three to six weeks, which would obviously be better than the five-to-seven-week timetable we were given earlier in the week. Regardless, it would seem that Fred Davis is liable to catch a boatload of passes between now and whenever Moss gets back.

    And here's a story about John Beck getting more comfortable with the starting quarterback's job, even though I really don't think quarterback is the Redskins' most important position and I expect it to change back and forth between Beck and Rex Grossman at least a couple of more times before this season ends.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Asante Samuel is upset that the Eagles talked about trading him. He said some nasty stuff about the guys running the front office, then kinda sorta backed off of it later in the day. Whatever. It's all there if you're into that sort of thing. The Eagles didn't trade Samuel. They might next offseason. Meantime, I'm sure he's perfectly interested in helping this year's team win.

    Trent Cole should be back this week, and overall the Eagles' defense is getting healthier. 2010 first-rounder Brandon Graham might even be back soon, though it's unclear what role he'd play. Cole's return can only mean good things, though, for Philly as it prepares for a crucial game against Dallas on Sunday night.

    Breakfast links: Asante's bruised ego

    October, 26, 2011
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    Wednesday in the East, and five days left until the big Cowboys-Eagles showdown Sunday night in Philly. I think it's a game that could help decide the division, but the Redskins and Giants are playing games they absolutely have to have Sunday as well. Lots to do between now and then, for them and for us, so let's make sure you get your links.

    New York Giants

    Somebody asked me on Twitter on Tuesday whether or not the Giants would be better off resting guys like Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs one more week, since they're playing a Dolphins team that isn't trying to win and they're going to need to be at full strength for their brutal second-half schedule. I think it's quite the opposite, in fact. The loss to Seattle a few weeks back showed the Giants that there are no givens, and they absolutely have to beat the Dolphins. It's the lone "easy" game left on their schedule. Ohm Youngmisuk agrees.

    Looks as though Chris Snee is recovered from his concussion and ready to go Sunday. Considering the way the run game performed in the last game with its star guard sidelined, hopes are high for Ahmad Bradshaw and an encore performance this week with Snee back in the mix.

    Dallas Cowboys

    DeMarco Murray fever may be sweeping the nation, but Brandon George says not to expect Murray to see that many carries in a game again. I've long felt the Cowboys would be better off rotating their backs and finding the best situations in which each can succeed, and I expect that to happen with Murray once Felix Jones is healthy again and maybe even before. Tashard Choice is still on the team, after all.

    Oh, and that Tony Romo works fast. I feel like it was just yesterday we were filling long, dull lockout days with posts about his wedding. Now it appears he and his wife are expecting their first child. And I had to link it, because I know how you guys love to keep up with Romo's non-football activities.

    Washington Redskins

    Deron Snyder is saying the Redskins' 3-1 start was a mirage and got expectations up too high. Maybe, but does anybody else get tired of all of this week-to-week recalibrating? They're still 3-3. Their schedule is still favorable. Their defense still has a ton of good players on it. Do I think they'll make the playoffs? No, I don't, and I never did. But it's not impossible and shouldn't be ruled out after two straight losses. Big picture, folks. The division is down this year and there are competent replacements for Tim Hightower and Chris Cooley. It's not ridiculous to think these Redskins have better times ahead than those they've endured these past two weeks.

    Sunday was really the first poor game the Redskins' defense has played this year, and Mike Shanahan said he didn't think they were prepared for what the Panthers threw at them. He says that's his fault, and I imagine that means he'll work the defense a little bit harder this week as it gets ready for Buffalo. He'd better, since their hopes really do rest on that side of the ball.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    I got another interesting question on Twitter on Tuesday -- one that wondered if the Eagles would consider playing Brandon Graham at linebacker now that he's healthy. They're so deep on the defensive line and so weak at linebacker, the idea was that maybe they could do something along the lines of what the Giants have done with Mathias Kiwanuka. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Graham is healthy or willing enough to do such a thing, but in the meantime he's back and healthy and eager to play whenever it is that theyr'e ready to put him out there.

    Phil Sheridan thinks the Eagles bear a large portion of the responsibility for Asante Samuel's unhappiness because they kicked him where it hurts -- right in the ego. And since the Eagles know Samuel, they should have known better and expected this reaction.

    OK, off to finish up this week's All-Division Team. Wonder if there are any changes this week. Wonder who'll be the first to ask, "No DeMarco Murray? Are you serious???? Your out of you're mind!!!?"

    NFC East Stock Watch

    October, 25, 2011
    10/25/11
    1:00
    PM ET
    NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    FALLING

    1. Redskins' health. They lost two starting offensive linemen -- one for the season -- and valuable tight end Chris Cooley last week. This week, they lost starting running back Tim Hightower for the season and top wide receiver Santana Moss for five to seven weeks. The Redskins were always going to be a team for which everything had to be just right, and things seem to be going very, very wrong all of a sudden. They're liable to be able to fill in at running back with Ryan Torain and Roy Helu, but the injuries on the line are a major concern, as those are likely to show up more as the year goes along than they did in the first week without Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger on the left side.

    2. Tashard Choice. For a time, there was an opinion in Dallas that Choice deserved a chance to start -- or at least get more carries -- over Felix Jones. But he's failed to emerge, and his failure to take advantage of an opportunity against the pitiful Rams on Sunday could spell the end of his time with the Cowboys. Rookie DeMarco Murray seized that same opportunity and literally ran with it for a team-record 253 yards. There's no question which back will be featured until Jones is healthy again. The only question now is whether Choice will have a spot on the team once Jones gets back.

    3. Redskins' defense. Through four games, Washington was allowing 15.25 points per game. They even did an impressive job in Week 6 against the Eagles, holding Philadelphia scoreless in the second half after giving up 20 in the first. But they allowed 33 points and 407 total yards to Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday, and they may be trending the wrong way. Granted, the way the offense is playing, it's asking too much of the defense. But that's not likely to get better any time soon, so the Redskins need to toughen up starting this week against Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and the high-powered offense of the Buffalo Bills.

    RISING

    [+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
    Tim Heitman/US PresswireDeMarco Murray had the ninth-best rushing day in NFL history, shredding the Rams for 253 yards.
    1. DeMarco Murray. No, he's not going to get the Rams' defense every week. And scouts will tell you that his falling-forward running style will create a problem for him down the line if he doesn't clean it up. But Murray runs hard and is quick, and his performance showed the Cowboys what can be when they rely on their run game. Once Jones does come back, they would do well -- as some have been saying all along -- to mix up their running backs, not ask too much of any single one and develop a rotation that keeps their running game healthy and dangerous all year long. I don't think Tony Romo would mind the break.

    2. Giants' health. What wonders a bye week can work. The Giants got Justin Tuck, Brandon Jacobs, Chris Snee, Prince Amukamara... even perpetually injured receiver Ramses Barden back at practice Monday and should be at something close to full strength for Sunday's game against the Dolphins. Health was a major issue for the Giants at the start of the season, but they've managed to go 4-2 while missing a number of key players. And except for Terrell Thomas and Jonathan Goff and guys who suffered season-ending injuries, it looks as though they may be getting most of their key contributors back on the field in time for their challenging second-half schedule.

    3. Ryan Torain. He was a huge Week 6 flop against the Eagles as the Redskins got behind early and only ran the ball 12 times. But with Hightower out of the picture and Helu still a rookie, Torain should get a chance to be the Redskins' feature back this week against Buffalo. We've seen what he can do with that role, and I think you can expect big numbers as long as he stays healthy. I say "I think," because we never know with Mike Shanahan. But he likes the way Torain runs, and I'm expecting that he'll give him a chance.

    Breakfast links: Back to full strength

    October, 25, 2011
    10/25/11
    8:00
    AM ET
    No more byes in the NFC East this year, and all four teams are back in action this week. The Redskins head up to Canada to play the Bills in a stop-the-bleeding game. The Giants host Miami in the final game before their schedule turns into a meat grinder. And in the marquee matchup of the week, the Cowboys visit the Eagles in a game that could help determine the direction this division takes for the rest of the season. Lots going on, so you'd better make sure and get your links.

    New York Giants

    Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, Brandon Jacobs, Prince Amukamara... you name him, he practiced for the suddenly very healthy-looking Giants on Monday. The return of Tuck in particular would be very unsettling news for the winless Miami Dolphins team that's coming to the Meadowlands on Sunday to face a rested and refreshed bunch of Giants.

    Eli Manning offered his post-bye thoughts on everything from the Dolphins to the Giants' upcoming schedule to pumpkin-picking to the way the Colts are playing without his brother in his latest weekly radio spot on ESPN-1050 in New York.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Jason Garrett said he's not ready to name DeMarco Murray the starter for Sunday's game against the Eagles, but come on. I'd be less surprised if Garrett asked me to start the game than I will if Tashard Choice got the assignment.

    Re-signing Montrae Holland worked out Sunday, and he'll remain a starter for the time being, but the Cowboys still could use some additional offensive line depth, and to that end they will take a look at former Eagle Nick Cole.

    Washington Redskins

    As the Redskins' season begins to leak oil, Sally Jenkins writes that it's on the remaining healthy players to make a stand and stop things from slipping away. They can surely beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday if they get back to playing defense the way they did in their first four games. And if they do, they're 4-3 and still in the mix. The key for Washington may be to remember the basic building-block stuff at which they were so good before their bye week.

    Winning Sunday would also help the Redskins combat this growing "Same Old Skins" buzz that seems to be building around them. A win would avoid what Dan Daly says would be Washington's 17th losing streak of three games or longer in the past 11 seasons.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    John Smallwood writes that the Cowboys-Eagles rivalry has lost some luster, at least in Philadelphia. I guess I'll take his word for it, since he lives there and I don't. But sheesh, this week's game feels pretty huge, doesn't it?

    The Eagles may get some reinforcements for the Cowboys game, as Trent Cole, Jason Peters and (get this) Brandon Graham were back at practice Monday. Could be a nice boost to both lines, though think fans would be happier to see a couple of healthy linebackers who haven't been around before show up and practice.

    It's Tuesday, so we'll have our weekly chat at noon. We'll have Stock Watch. We'll have Power Rankings. We'll have ourselves a time, I promise.

    Weekend mailbag: Redskins RB questions

    October, 22, 2011
    10/22/11
    9:42
    AM ET
    Been a while since we dipped into the mailbag. Once I sifted through all of the submissions that were nothing more than profane insults, I did manage to find some questions:

    Zack from Atlanta asks, "Who's going to start for the Redskins at running back this week and going forward? Does anyone know?"

    Dan Graziano: I'm not sure even Mike Shanahan knows who's going to start at running back "going forward," but I do expect to see Ryan Torain as the feature back Sunday in Carolina. Torain has been hands-down the most effective runner the Redskins have had this season, and last week's game against the Eagles is an easy one to throw out because they got behind so quickly and only ended up calling 12 run plays all game. My prediction (and it is only that -- Shanahan could always throw a curve) is that this will be Torain's first real test as the "starter," that he'll get most of the carries while Tim Hightower and Roy Helu get some later in the game, and that "going forward" each of the three is likely to get some run as a starter as Shanahan rides the hot hand. Remember, Torain has some injury history here, so even if he gets on a roll there's no guarantee he keeps the job all year.


    Jon Espinoza from Detroit, Mich. wants to know when we can expect to see rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara on the field for the Giants.

    DG: Amukamara was practicing a bit with the team this past week and is hoping to do more this week. I don't know if he'll be able to play in Week 8 against the Dolphins, but there seems to be at least some hope of that. Once he is on the field, I agree with Jon that he will help, as the secondary has played well in his absence but could use some depth at cornerback. I do think we need to temper our expectations, however, for how he'll play. He is a rookie who missed all of training camp and will, I believe, he playing with screws in his surgically repaired foot.


    Jason from Bryn Mawr, Pa. asks me to "tap the brakes on the Eagles being a great team again," asserting that the victory against the Redskins wasn't all that impressive because the Redskins aren't really a good team and that the Eagles just went 2-4 against "the easiest part of their schedule."

    DG: I mean, I guess, but the Eagles were supposed to be a good enough team to handle any and every part of their schedule, and the victory last week in Washington had the players on the team feeling more confident about their chances to be the kind of team they expected to be. The Redskins have a very tough defense, whether Jason thinks so or not, and any road win in the NFL is a good win. I don't think anybody was writing after last week's game that the Eagles are "a great team again," but certainly they're in better position to recover and make something of their season than they would have been had they lost that game.


    And finally, Travis, who would not reveal his location, asked if there was "any chance Phillip Tanner gets on the field for the Cowboys?"

    DG: With Felix Jones out, the Cowboys are going to be looking for anyone and anything that can help the run game. There's little doubt that Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray will get the first chances to carry the load in Jones' absence, but should one of those guys get injured or should both prove ineffective, you could see preseason star Tanner get a stray carry here and there and maybe a chance to show what he can do. Short answer: He's still pretty far down the depth chart, but not as far as he was a week ago.

    NFC East Stock Watch

    October, 18, 2011
    10/18/11
    1:00
    PM ET
    NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    FALLING

    1. Rex Grossman. Look, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan could come out Wednesday and say Grossman's still the starting quarterback. It's clear the Redskins aren't fully comfortable with John Beck, and Grossman does seem to have the support of the locker room. But regardless of what Shanahan decides for this week, that four-interception mess Grossman made against the Eagles on Sunday is a clear sign that he's not going to have an easy time holding onto this job all year. The good news for Grossman is that if he does lose it, that's no guarantee he's lost it for the whole year, either. Things could be about to get ugly for the offense in Washington, which brings us to...

    2. The Redskins' offensive line. Season-ending injuries to left guards don't get a lot of national publicity, but the play of Kory Lichtensteiger and the offensive line were perhaps the main reason the Redskins' offense was functioning as effectively as it was through the first four games. They're not loaded with playmakers on offense, so they have to dominate in the trenches as they had been. But with Lichtensteiger now gone, left tackle Trent Williams out for a few weeks with an ankle sprain and tight end Chris Cooley out indefinitely with a broken hand, the Redskins are going to have a hard time with their run-first, ball-control offense.

    3. Felix Jones. Hurt again, and now possibly out two to four weeks with his own ankle sprain, Jones and the Cowboys' running game have been major disappointments this season. Coach Jason Garrett deserves blame for his unimaginative play calling when the Cowboys needed to pick up a first down or two to beat the Patriots on Sunday, but the fact is that the Cowboys haven't been able to rely on their run game all year. It'll be interesting to see if Tashard Choice or rookie DeMarco Murray can perform more effectively and reliably than Jones has as he's tried to play through shoulder and now ankle injuries.

    RISING

    [+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
    AP Photo/Evan VucciThe Eagles turned to LeSean McCoy when the team needed to protect its lead Sunday and the running back delivered.
    1. LeSean McCoy. You hear fans complain all the time that their team can't run the ball to run out the clock when it has a lead. Well, the Eagles have blown their share of fourth-quarter leads this year, but watching McCoy run Sunday it was hard to imagine how. He may not be the stereotypical big, bruising back that picks up those tough yards through sheer will and physicality, but McCoy is clearly an elite runner who loves to fidget his way through the tiniest spots and fight for extra yards that way. The Eagles' coaching staff should pay close attention to what McCoy gave them in the second half Sunday and learn to rely on it. He just might save their season.

    2. Corey Webster. Two absolutely huge interceptions by a guy who was just about the last defensive back standing for the Giants this year. And yeah, he got beat on the Stevie Johnson touchdown, but he made the big plays when he had to, which is what the Giants have been about so far this season. Webster is playing at a very high level, taking on the opposing team's best receiver every week in Terrell Thomas' absence. And while the Giants' defense is keyed around pressuring the quarterback, it has to be nice for them to get a strong, surprising contribution from Webster.

    3. Eagles defense? Yeah, still a question mark, but they said they were going to be able to build on some encouraging things they did in the second half of the Buffalo game, and they did. They tightened up their "Wide-9" formation to account for the Redskins' zone blocking run game, and it's encouraging to see that they're willing to adjust and adapt. Now, about those cornerbacks playing so far off receivers ...

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