NFC East: Todd Haley

IRVING, Texas – As Todd Haley walked to his car outside Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 11, 2009, he kept saying the same thing.

“I told them all about Miles,” Haley said.

Haley was in his first year as Kansas City’s head coach, with an earlier three-season stint with the Dallas Cowboys, where his tenure overlapped with Austin's.

Austin finished that 2009 contest with 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns, including the 60-yard game-winner in overtime as the Cowboys dropped Haley’s Chiefs to 0-5.

“(Haley) talked about him all week as far as a guy with an incredible motor and a work ethic like none other,” said Brandon Carr, Austin’s current teammate and a starting cornerback for the Chiefs that day. “He came and showed up and validated everything that coach told us that week and put on a good show.”

Carr wasn’t the only current Cowboy on the Chiefs’ roster that day. Brian Waters was Kansas City’s left guard.

“We just had this conversation (Wednesday),” Waters said. “I told him, ‘We didn’t know who you were.’ We were all looking at each other like, ‘Who in the world is 19?’”

Forgive Waters, because he was not in the defensive meetings; now, he said he hopes Austin “has that type of day again. I hope I’m on the right side of that this time.”

Said Carr, “Miles got his name from 2009, that performance. We heard a lot about him going into that week. He showed up and took over the game. That’s those games that kind of spark players' careers, and that was a catalyst for him to get to where he is right now.”

Perry Fewell making the rounds

January, 10, 2011
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I'm sure Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would rather be in the playoffs right now, but New York's abrupt ending to the season did provide him a head start on interviewing for some of the head-coaching vacancies around the league. The Denver Broncos were an open book when it came to Fewell's recent interview.

Fewell has emerged as a serious candidate in Denver, although you have to wonder if John Fox's experience will eventually give him the edge. Fox was scheduled to interview in Denver on Tuesday, but it's been postponed due to weather issues in North Carolina. I think Fox is a good coach, but I'm not sure the Denver fan base would be that enthusiastic about a retread.

[+] EnlargePerry Fewell
AP Photo/Mike GrollPerry Fewell is a candidate for the head-coaching job with the Broncos, Panthers and Browns.
With the success of first-time head coaches such as Mike Smith, Raheem Morris, John Harbaugh and Todd Haley in recent years, everyone's trying to identify who's next. The Broncos just tried to go that route, though, and failed miserably.

Fewell certainly brought some much-needed energy to the Giants' coaching staff and several of his new players put up big numbers. But I think teams such as the Broncos, Panthers and Browns are more interested in how Fewell functioned when he was the interim coach for the Bills for part of the '09 season. His players swore by him and it's obvious that he has some unique leadership skills. If Fewell doesn't land a job, I think he'll be perfectly happy to try to help lead the Giants back to the playoffs. But he's having trouble containing his excitement right now.

"It’s constantly on your mind,” said Fewell during an interview that appeared on the team's website. “It’s a situation that you are so excited about that you are ready to jump out of your skin.

"But you’ve got all these plans that you want to put into action. You have these beliefs and you’re trying to draw upon your years of experience in coaching to say ‘Yes, I can do this job. Yes, I can relate to the management staff. I can identify with the fans and I can help coach and teach the players.’ And we can put together a quality staff. It seems like your dreams are like almost coming true, but then they haven’t come true yet."

Fewell did a tremendous job communicating with his players this season. Justin Tuck has told me before that he and his teammates aren't easily impressed. They're actually a pretty skeptical bunch, but Fewell won them over quickly with his positive and energetic approach. Training camp in Albany was a completely different experience with Fewell racing around the practice field to praise or chastise players. Coughlin seemed amused when Fewell would run next to one of his safeties when he made an interception.

It will be interesting to see if the Giants do anything to persuade Fewell to stay. When Sean Payton nearly left Dallas to take the Oakland job six years ago, Jerry Jones gave him a $500,000 raise to stay. It's probably the best decision of Payton's career. And we all remember Jason Garrett getting $3 million to remain offensive coordinator of the Cowboys following the '07 season.

No matter what happens with these openings, I do think Fewell is destined to be a head coach. But I bet a few of his players are secretly hoping it won't happen this time around.

Cowboys lost their dignity on the field

October, 31, 2010
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Wade PhillipsMatthew Emmons/US PresswireLittle went right for Wade Phillips and the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Last week, the Dallas Cowboys lost their starting quarterback. On Sunday, they simply lost their dignity in front of an alleged sellout crowd at Cowboys Stadium.

If the 35-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars isn't the bottom, I'm not sure where this free fall ends. But at least we can dismiss this notion of the players rallying around backup quarterback Jon Kitna in Tony Romo's absence. Kitna threw for 379 yards, but he was undermined by teammates who performed tip drills on behalf of the Jaguars, who had four interceptions.

Cowboys coach Wade Phillips looked more befuddled than usual following this loss -- and that's saying something. I honestly think Phillips would've fired himself Sunday -- if he had that type of authority in the organization. His defense was repeatedly embarrassed by Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard and wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who jump-started his Pro Bowl campaign with eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The Cowboys were helpless against the NFL's 25th-ranked offense. Sims-Walker turned short passes into big gains and tight end Marcedes Lewis had two catches, both resulting in touchdowns. Players seemed sincere when they said Phillips hasn't lost the locker room, but the man in question wasn't as convincing.

"Well, I hope not," said Phillips with a blank expression. "We fought all the way the other games, but this game just got away from us and we couldn't get it back. ... I look at a lot defensively, a lot of the basic things that we've worked on, they scored on and that's what bothers me."

If Jerry Jones is thinking about changing his philosophy of not sacking head coaches during the season, now would be the time. Phillips has never been quality head-coaching material, but his credentials as a defensive coordinator have always been solid. But watching Garrard shred the Cowboys' secondary on his way to a near-perfect passer rating (157.8), it's hard to imagine how Phillips is still employed. Even the club's chairman of continuity, Jones, didn't exactly rush to Phillips' defense.

"There’s no way that the result and the way we played tonight, there’s no way that I can rest, sleep, figuratively speaking eat well with a diet of that right there," Jones told reporters. "There’s no way. And if you look at it, if you look at what we’re about -- our team, our stadium, the pride I have in this franchise -- you’d know it doesn’t digest. It doesn’t go down. We’ve got to do something that changes this on the field."

It's never a good sign when an owner makes a passionate apology to fans seven games into the season. This is a man who realistically thought he'd put a team together that had a chance of playing in the North Texas Super Bowl. Just the thought of that seems like a bad joke in light of Sunday's performance and the Cowboys' 1-6 record.

"I’m very, very, very sorry to our fans," said Jones, who's well aware that his Rangers neighbors were set to host Game 4 of the World Series. "You should have better than this."

But all Jones must do is look in the mirror as he grasps for answers. It's not like Phillips had a track record of prolonged success at his previous stops. Jones soothed his own ego two weeks ago by suggesting the Cowboys had beaten themselves and that a 1-4 record (at the time) wasn't indicative of how they'd played. But in losses to the Giants and Jaguars, the Cowboys have simply been overwhelmed on both sides of the ball.

[+] EnlargeJon Kitna
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJon Kitna threw four interceptions in Dallas' loss.
The Cowboys once had a coaching staff stocked with head-coaching candidates -- Sean Payton, Tony Sparano, Todd Haley -- but Jones didn't realize it at the time. His hand-picked successor for Phillips, Jason Garrett, no longer shows up on anyone's short list. After witnessing Sunday's performance in person, I subscribe to the change for the sake of change theory. Let Garrett or special teams coach Joe DeCamillis have a crack at this thing for nine games because this team's no longer performing for Phillips.

The Cowboys' ineptitude was on full display late in the first half when they had a third-and-goal at the Jaguars' 1-yard line with 15 seconds left. After Marion Barber was stoned for no gain, the Cowboys went with a similar play on fourth down. Left tackle Doug Free was blown up at the point of attack and tackle-eligible Alex Barron staggered toward the line of scrimmage, tripped near the goal line and failed to make contact with a defender.

Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman and defensive end Marcus Spears both had their head coach's back in the postgame locker room, but it doesn't really matter at this point. Even Phillips couldn't put a positive spin on this one.

"Everybody knows we have a lot of talented players, and that's the problem," said Phillips. "I have talented players and I'm not getting them to play well enough. To me, that's the root of the problem."

Well, at least someone's willing to admit it.

Eagles-Chiefs: Random observations

August, 28, 2010
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Kevin KolbJohn Rieger/US PresswireKevin Kolb was just 11- for-25 for 103 yards against the Chiefs, and he was sacked four times.
If Andy Reid was trying not to show anything on offense in Friday's preseason game in Kansas City, he did a remarkable job. The Eagles lost their most explosive player, DeSean Jackson, on their first possession to what Reid called a neck strain and then defensive end Trent Cole was carted off the field with an ankle injury. Neither injury looks too serious, although Cole will have an MRI on Saturday. Here's some observations I've made after watching a replay of the game:

  • Scary injury to Chiefs rookie linebacker Cameron Sheffield in the third quarter. I sort of lost interest in the game after that. Sheffield wasn't moving his arms or legs as he was carted off the field. Hoping we have some encouraging news on him soon.

  • Perhaps the Eagles gave up on Andy Studebaker too quickly. He had two sacks in the first half for the Chiefs and celebrated as if we were in Week 8. And early in the fourth quarter, it was Studebaker who forced Kevin Kolb to unload the ball before he was ready in the red zone.

  • Cornerback Asante Samuel's been looking for a 5-foot-7 player to tackle for years. Rookie Dexter McCluster gave him that opportunity late in the second quarter. That was a pretty nice hit, although the flexing after the tackle was a bit much. McCluster's going to be a fan favorite in Kansas City. Probably the most entertaining player on the field once Jackson made his exit.

  • I liked how rookie defensive end Brandon Graham stood his ground when Todd Haley tried to run the ball into the end zone in the second quarter. He then came back with a nice bull rush on the Chiefs' right tackle. Ernie Sims should've had the interception on the awful pass from Matt Cassel. He threw a touchdown on the next play. Looked like Quintin Mikell and Samuel were trying to decide who's fault it was. I thought Samuel was out of position on the play.

  • How do you not throw those crossing patterns to Jeremy Maclin all the time? It's impossible to cover. I didn't think Maclin was aggressive enough in going for some of Kolb's passes. On the deep ball in the first half, Maclin allowed Brandon Carr to rip the ball away. Then Maclin dropped a ball late in the first half when he felt Carr closing fast.

  • Left tackle Jason Peters picked up right where he left off last season with some untimely false starts. The second false start knocked the Eagles out of field goal position.

  • Late in the first half, Todd Haley called a delayed draw to Jamaal Charles and defensive end Darryl Tapp really made a weak attempt on the tackle. On the same drive, Ernie Sims couldn't make a play on Charles in the open field after he caught a swing pass from Cassel. I kept reading how Sims was destroying his teammates in camp, but Chiefs running backs were bouncing off him for additional yardage Friday.

  • Somebody better teach Kevin Kolb how to slide -- and I mean now. He moves really well, but he can't keep leading with his head or we'll be seeing a lot of Michael Vick this season.

  • Best literary retweet of the evening: Daily News beat man Les Bowen retweeted this from HighCheese: "Kafka known for ability to portray despair, not lead football team out of it."

  • Chad Hall was shaky on punt returns in the second half. Hopefully he'll make it to the practice squad because there's not going to be a spot for him on the 53-man roster.

  • Kolb made a really poor decision to throw it up for grabs on the interception in the third quarter. Maclin didn't have a chance to make the play because he was bracketed by a cornerback and safety. Easy pick for Kendrick Lewis, a fifth-round pick out of Ole Miss.

  • Rookie linebacker Jamar Chaney took a really poor angle on the Thomas Jones touchdown run in the third quarter. Looked like the big tight end Leonard Pope held Quintin Demps on the play. Chiefs broadcasters laud Jones for his willingness to bypass autographs seekers in order to spend extra time in the weight room. Someone get this man an Ed Block Courage award.

  • I was not impressed with Bobby April's coverage units. McCluster gave the Eagles fits on kickoff returns.

  • Rookie cornerback Trevard Lindley has shown flashes, but I didn't like him in run support in the fourth quarter. McCluster made one little inside move and Lindley went flying out of the picture. On another McCluster run in the fourth quarter, defensive end Ricky Sapp allowed himself to be driven off the ball, leaving a large running lane.

  • Really nice play by defensive end Eric Moncur to bring down McCluster in the backfield in the fourth quarter. The play pushed the Chiefs out of field goal range.

  • Rookie left tackle Austin Howard has been impressive this preseason, but he was beaten badly on an inside move by a reserve Chiefs defensive end and Mike Kafka was sacked. In other rookie news, linebacker Keenan Clayton made a really nice open-field tackle to force the Chiefs to punt in the fourth quarter.

Skins, Larry Johnson agree to contract

March, 12, 2010
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So much for the lack of intrigue at Redskins Park. Washington has agreed to a three-year contract with former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson that could be worth as much as $12 million if he reaches several incentives, according to ESPN.com's Adam Schefter. Johnson, 30, finished last season with the Bengals. His production has plummeted over the past few seasons and he earned himself a release from the Chiefs with some controversial Tweets regarding coach Todd Haley and some derogatory comments toward a reporter.

Johnson
Johnson
Obviously, this is more of a stopgap move than a long-term solution. I would still expect the Redskins to draft a running back next month. Coach Mike Shanahan admired Johnson while playing against him in the AFC West. And if you've followed Shanahan's career, you know how much he loves older players who've been productive earlier in their careers.

This is the first offseason program general manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan have had, and this is truly open to question. Johnson was one of the best running backs in the league, but he's four years removed from that. If I'm trying to build chemistry in the locker room, Johnson's not the guy I'd turn to. I'm sure the guaranteed money's pretty low based on Johnson's past behavior, but that doesn't make it a good move.

Earlier this week, the Redskins hosted former Steelers running back Willie Parker. I think he would've been a better option. The Redskins will now "complement" Clinton Portis with a guy who's had a ridiculous amount of carries. So now you have two aging backs who've taken way too much punishment over the years.

You guys have a different opinion?

Ex-Cowboys TE signs with Redskins

March, 11, 2010
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Sean Ryan's nomadic NFL career continued Thursday when he signed with the Washington Redskins. Ryan, a fifth-round pick by the Cowboys in '04, has now been on six different rosters in as many seasons.

I was covering the Cowboys for The Dallas Morning News when Ryan entered the league. Bill Parcells loved him from the start because he was an extremely tough player from the Northeast. Parcells had an affinity for Boston College players (see Marc Colombo) and Ryan turned out to be a solid special-teams player who could be a punishing blocker. He played for former Cowboys assistant Todd Haley in Kansas City last season and had a career-high 14 catches and two touchdowns.

He's not going to take any touches away from Chris Cooley or Fred Davis, but he can replace unrestricted free agent Todd Yoder as the Redskins' blocking tight end. Next up, the Redskins will take a look at former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. We'll let you know how that visit went later today.

Report: Giants contact Crennel

January, 7, 2010
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Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has reached out to Romeo Crennel about his opening at defensive coordinator, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. It's not a surprising move considering that Coughlin and Crennel worked together for three years on Bill Parcells' Giants staff.

"I know they've talked," Crennel's agent Joe Linta told the Star-Ledger. "And I'm sure they weren't just calling him to say hi."

Coughlin is expected to go through a very thorough search, but it wouldn't surprise me if he chooses someone he's coached with before. Crennel helped make the Patriots the team of the past decade. He would have instant credibility in the Giants' locker room. Of course, Todd Haley has already hired another member of the the Parcells coaching tree, Charlie Weis, in Kansas City and could go after Crennel next.

The only issue with Crennel is that he's a believer in the 3-4 scheme. The Giants have been drafting for the 4-3 for years and it would be virtually impossible to make an overnight change. But Crennel could certainly bring some 3-4 elements to the 4-3.

The Giants are fortunate that there are so many talented defensive assistants on the street right now.

Could Larry Johnson land with Skins?

November, 9, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

For anyone in the market for a disgruntled star running back, Larry Johnson's now on the street. In a remarkable descent from a once-promising career, Johnson has been released by the Chiefs and he'll become a free agent once he clears waivers.

And guess which team has already expressed some interest in Johnson? Yep, that would be the Washington Redskins, a team eight wins away from being 10-6. With Clinton Portis likely out for at least a week with a concussion, the Skins need a running back. Why not bring in one with a ton of baggage who recently used a gay slur on Twitter?

Redskins coach Jim Zorn acknowledged that the team had internal discussion regarding Johnson on Monday morning, but he said he needed to find out more.

"I need to have a longer conversation than I've had to make a decision," Zorn said.

It's a farce that Zorn's even participating in the internal discussions at this point. The organization will clearly move on without him after the season, so let's stop the charade of sending him out to make announcements. The Redskins have an embarrassing enough situation without signing a malcontent such as Johnson. It's not as if his recent comments about Chiefs coach Todd Haley were completely out of step with some of his previous gems.

More than 1,000 people have participated in an online poll on the Post's Web site regarding whether the Redskins should sign Johnson. At this point, 80 percent of the voters don't want Johnson to join the Redskins. And I'm right there with them.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 16, 2009
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

 
 Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/Getty Images
 A key for the Giants will be whether Osi Umenyiora and the Giants' defense can get pressure on Drew Brees.
The Giants need to take the crowd out of the game early. The Giants are prepared to use a silent count in the Superdome, but I think the crowd noise could definitely be a factor. Giants quarterback Eli Manning approached training camp with a strong desire to improve his accuracy with the deep ball. Even with all his success, the Giants couldn't really be considered a big-play offense. But that's changed this season. Look for offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to send an early message with a deep ball to Hakeem Nicks. The Giants feel like they can use Saints safety Darren Sharper's aggressiveness against him. Watch for the double move from Nicks at some point in the first half -- and then watch him celebrate a 55-yard touchdown. That's the best way to silence what should be a pretty jacked-up audience.

The Redskins need a blowout in the worst way. I realize the Redskins should take anything they can get at this point, but a decisive win would go a long way toward restoring some confidence in the locker room. The Chiefs almost found a way to beat the Cowboys and coach Todd Haley won't let them simply roll over at FedEx. The Redskins need to dominate an opponent. But I'm not sure they can do it with this patchwork offensive line. Stephon Heyer at left tackle is a scary proposition. Jim Zorn needs to call plays that allow Jason Campbell to get the ball away quickly. That means that it could be a quiet day for Santana Moss, who needs a little time to get downfield.

Brian Westbrook could use a few touches against the Raiders. Andy Reid finally has a ton of offensive weapons. Now, the trick is trying to keep all of his players happy. Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook is going to become frustrated with only eight touches -- as he had against the Bucs last Sunday. This would be a good game to actually use the running game. Reid could even do something conventional, such as allowing Donovan McNabb to hand the ball to Westbrook. This is a game that you want to quickly establish a big lead and then get everyone off the field. I'd feed the ball to Westbrook several times in the first half and let him find some type of rhythm. No use frustrating a player who you'll need in December.

The Giants have to make Drew Brees uncomfortable. The Saints lost their starting left tackle, Jammal Brown, for the season -- and it hasn't really slowed them down. The Giants have to take advantage of Brown's absence in applying pressure on Brees. But they also have to be under control. I think we'll see Sean Payton try to neutralize the Giants' pass-rush with a variety of short passes to Reggie Bush and his other running backs. This is not a team you can be overly aggressive against -- or you'll give up a 70-yard touchdown. I think Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora desperately want to get Brees moving around in the pocket. If he's forced to throw it on the run, there's a chance he'll make some mistakes. This is a huge game for Brees in terms of proving that he can play well in a big game. This definitely has a big-game feel to it.

The Eagles need to reduce their penalties against the Raiders. You know the Raiders are going to end up with a bunch of penalties, but the Eagles can't get drawn into that type of game. The defense made some big plays against the Bucs last Sunday, but it also made too many mistakes. The Eagles have to clean up some of their mistakes before they start playing their division rivals. When you're playing a bad team, it's easy to get sloppy. If the Eagles could finish the game with five or fewer penalties, that would be a real accomplishment. Those mistakes come back to haunt you against good teams. The Eagles need to forget they're playing the Raiders -- if that's possible.

Wrap-up: Cowboys 26, Chiefs 20 (OT)

October, 11, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


The Kansas City Chiefs pushed the Cowboys to the brink, but they lost the game because they couldn't contain wide receiver Miles Austin of Monmouth University fame. Making his first NFL start, Austin showed everyone why owner Jerry Jones spent the past offseason praising him at every turn.

Without running back Felix Jones (knee) in the lineup, the Cowboys have been in desperate need of a playmaker. On Sunday, Austin responded with 10 catches for 250 yards, eclipsing the single-game record that Bob Hayes had held since 1966. The win puts the Cowboys at 3-2 heading into the bye week.

But for the better part of the game, the Chiefs played the role of the hungry team. We'll never know what may have happened had the Cowboys lost at Arrowhead on Sunday. Jones had said last week that coach Wade Phillips' job was safe, but you never know what can happen in the aftermath of a crippling loss.

Instead, the Cowboys celebrated a win -- and it's one they won't apologize for. You can no longer style-point Cowboys victories. They'll take them any way they can get them. Running back Tashard Choice came up big on a drive that allowed the Cowboys to close the gap to 13-10. It was his 36-yard touchdown run that seemed to finally bring the Cowboys' offense to life.

From that point on, it was the Tony Romo-to-Austin show. It was only a week ago that Romo was intercepted when he tried to throw a pass to Austin in Broncos territory. It's been widely debated in Dallas whose fault it was, but it didn't matter Sunday. Austin used his speed and power to overwhelm the Chiefs defense.

And the Chiefs fell to 0-5. It was a bitter defeat for first-year coach Todd Haley, who has an intimate knowledge of the Cowboys' personnel from his time in Dallas. He's not the type of coach who will take pride in coming close.

Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware collected his first two sacks of the season and finished with six tackles. Inside linebacker Keith Brooking had 11 tackles, including a sack. The Cowboys are still a team in search of an identity, but on Sunday afternoon they found a hero.

His name is Miles Austin -- and they're going to have a tough time keeping him off the field. Here's a postgame story from ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s games:

 
 John Rieger/US Presswire
 Todd Haley's familiarity with the Cowboys organization could give him an advantage.
Chiefs coach Todd Haley knows the Cowboys' personnel and would love to beat his former employer. Haley still has a lot of friends in the Cowboys organization, but he knows what a win could do for his credibility. Haley and general manager Scott Pioli have done a lot of interesting things to try to change the culture with the Chiefs, but winning is the only thing that will truly do the trick. I thought Haley and his defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, put a tremendous game plan together to help the Cardinals beat the Cowboys in '08. Haley told me Thursday that he's watched that game on film twice this week. The Cowboys should win the game, but don't discount how important Haley's knowledge of the Dallas personnel will be in this game.

The Giants are going to beat the Raiders with or without Eli Manning. Who are we kidding? Coach Tom Coughlin's not going to let his team lose to a Tom Cable outfit. Steve Smith has been one of the best wide receivers in the league through four games -- and it will take more than the best cornerback in the game to slow him down. I talked to Justin Tuck on Thursday afternoon and he talked about how the Giants always seem to rally around injuries and other distractions. If Manning doesn't play, I think David Carr will be just fine. As long as he doesn't have any flashbacks of playing behind the Texans' offensive line, it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Can Jim Zorn find a way to lead his team to a win with all this turmoil going on? Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato have made an interesting move in bringing in offensive consultant Sherman Lewis to help right the offensive ship. What they've done is embarrass a good man in the process. Bully for offensive coordinator Sherman Smith for saying what was on his mind once Lewis was hired. This is franchise stumbling all over itself right now. Would anyone be surprised if they lost to the Panthers on Sunday? Didn't think so.

The Beast is headed to Philly to watch Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick on the same field: I'm anxious to see how many snaps Eagles coach Andy Reid gives Vick in the shot gun. My best guess is eight or nine. And I think he'll see some snaps in the red zone. How will McNabb react? We're about to find out. If it's a blowout -- as I expect it to be -- then there won't be any problem. I think poor Josh Johnson's in for a long day. He'll be scrambling for his life -- and Eagles defensive end Trent Cole will have at least two sacks. Huge day coming for Brent Celek. Write that one down, folks. Clip and save.

Could Wade Phillips' job be in jeopardy if the Cowboys lose at Arrowhead? Jerry Jones has never fired a coach during the season, but this would be a huge embarrassment. Jones said Friday that Phillips' job would not be in jeopardy if he lost to the Chiefs, but let's wait and see what happens. One of the problems is that you really don't have an interim guy who could handle things. It's not like Jason Garrett is inspiring a ton of confidence right now. I guess former head coach Dave Campo might get the nod -- and Garrett could remain as offensive coordinator. Have a head coach, defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator ever been fired at the same time during a season? I'll try to look that up for you guys. Have a tremendous weekend.

Phillips: Romo's not 'playing terrible'

October, 8, 2009
10/08/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Tony Romo spoke to reporters in Dallas today for the first time since Sunday's 17-10 loss in Denver. He didn't say anything particularly revealing, but he sort of bristled at the suggestion that he was becoming more of a game manager than a playmaker.

"I think you want to be a guy who protects the football and makes plays," Romo said. "That's what you're looking for."

Coach Wade Phillips came to Romo's defense -- in that sort of underwhelming Phillips sort of way. Asked if Romo's desire to protect the ball could be affecting his ability to make plays in the passing game, Phillips said, "Sure it could. But I don't think he's doing that. He's working through it and we're working through it. He's not playing terrible. We've just got to get him playing as one of the top guys in the league, which he is. We've just got to get him back there."

OK, I'll be visiting with Chiefs coach Todd Haley via phone Friday. I'll let you know what he says.

Did we overrate the Beast?

October, 1, 2009
10/01/09
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  Getty Images
 Quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jason Campbell lead the two most overrated teams in the Beast.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


It's much too early to make any sweeping statements about the '09 season, but I'm planning to do it anyway. The NFC East is overrated.

I know the division is still showing up atop ESPN.com's Power Rankings -- now syndicated in more than 100 nations -- but that will soon change. The NFC North, commonly referred to as the Favre Division, is on pace to overtake the Beast by next Tuesday -- especially if John "The Professor" Clayton continues to rank the mighty New York Giants sixth overall.

As a former power rankings panelist, I believe the Giants are the best team in the league heading into Week 4. But after that, all bets are off. The Cowboys are 2-1, but our four distinguished voters don't even have them in the top half of the league (No. 17). And only by the grace of God and Clayton did the Redskins end up at No. 26 overall. They deserved much worse after their performance in Detroit.

Now let's take a look at all four teams to see where we may have overrated them. We'll assign them an overrated score on a 1-10 scale. The teams with the highest scores are the most overrated. If you're confused by this ranking system, please skip to the next blog entry:

Anyone who says they have the Eagles figured out is not being truthful: Seriously, how in the world are we supposed to have any feel for this team? They opened by destroying Jake Delhomme's fake elbow and the rest of the Panthers. Now that the Panthers are 0-3, that win doesn't seem quite as impressive. And the Eagles' defense, an alleged strength after Week 1, was awful against the high-flying Saints. The Eagles bounced back with a dominating performance against the Chiefs, but that's a team most teams should dominate.

Eagles coach Andy Reid has brought in the prototypical Wildcat quarterback in Michael Vick, but the formation had nothing to do with the Eagles' win over the Chiefs. The Eagles have an aging star quarterback recovering from a cracked rib and an aging star running back trying to bounce back from an ankle injury. There are simply too many uncertainties in Philly to make any logical guess as to where this team is headed. Reid made the mistake of banking on the highly unpredictable Shawn Andrews to start at right tackle. That's already backfired and I'm not convinced Winston Justice is the answer. Some of us thought the Eagles might have one of the better offensive lines in football heading into the season. That doesn't appear to be the case now.

Overrated factor: 7

I'm pretty sure the Cowboys' pass rush is overrated: The Cowboys are about to face one of the worst 3-0 teams (Denver Broncos) since the merger. After wins over Denver and Kansas City, Dallas will head into a bye with a nice-looking 4-1 record. But there are still some flaws that have emerged. A year removed from leading the league in sacks, the Cowboys were shut out the first two games. They had three sacks in the Monday night win over the Panthers, but two of them came after the game had already been decided.

The Cowboys won't win many games scoring 14 points on offense, although they pulled it off against Carolina. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seems to be realizing that this team has a new identity. In the post-T.O. era, the Cowboys' best chance for success is in a run-based offense. When Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are all healthy, the Cowboys potentially have the most dangerous running attack in the league. Unfortunately, Jones and Barber appear to be injury prone at this point in their careers. This may sound crazy, but I think the Cowboys are actually the most underrated team in the division right now. Our power rankings specialists put them at No. 17, which seems ridiculously low.

If this team can find anyone to rush the quarterback opposite DeMarcus Ware (hello, Anthony Spencer?), the Cowboys could get on a roll.

Overrated factor: 3


Why do we always fall for the Skins' offseason tricks? Most of us had the Redskins finishing fourth in the division, but a few brave souls (Mort) felt like they belonged in the playoff conversation. The signing of All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was supposed to make this an intimidating defense. But when Lions rookie Matt Stafford calmly picks your defense apart in a 99-yard drive early in a game, you have some problems.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder spent an enormous amount of money on Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the offseason, but he neglected other areas. Take the offensive line for instance. The Skins brought in Derrick Dockery to address one of the guard spots and they plucked Mike Williams from the Duke weight loss program. The Skins' other starting guard, Randy Thomas, is already out for the season with a triceps injury and he's been replaced by a former third-round pick who appears to be nothing more than a stopgap.

Throw in the team's embattled head coach/quarterback guru Jim Zorn and you have the recipe for a 6-10 season.

Overrated factor: 9.3

At least the Giants are pulling their weight. Unlike some other coaches in the Beast, Tom Coughlin never makes excuses for his team. This a locker room that has battled through a lot of adversity over the past couple years and it seems to inspire the team rather than bring it down. Losing safety Kenny Phillips to a season-ending knee injury is a big deal because he was on his way to becoming a star, but this team will recover.

Eli Manning's also gaining confidence in his young receivers each week. We spent a large portion of the offseason tracking rumors about Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards, but the Giants are getting it done with in-house players. Steve Smith and Mario Manningham have already made some clutch plays this season. I think beating the Cowboys in a close game in front of more than 100,000 fans is something that gave this team a huge boost.

The Giants have definitely replaced the Eagles as the Beast's flagship team. And I don't see that changing any time soon.

Overrated factor: 3.2

NFC East: Final Word

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's and Monday's games:
J. Meric/Getty Images
Look for Felix Jones to get more touches if Marion Barber is unable to play Monday night.
I don't think the Cowboys will have Marion Barber: Earlier today, someone close to the situation said the Cowboys were "leaning toward" sitting Barber for this game. And with superb depth in Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, it sounds like a solid course of action. Barber's still lobbying to play against the Panthers, but I'd be really surprised if he wins this debate. He probably knows how awful the Panthers have been against the run and would like to get a piece of that action. With Barber out, look for offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to try to get Jones and Choice involved in the passing game early. My best guess is that Jones will end up with about 15 to 18 carries and Choice will be somewhere in the 10-to-12 range. Choice did a really nice job filling in last December, so I could see him getting hot in this game and reeling off 75 yards and a touchdown.

The Giants have to overcome more adversity: This Kenny Phillips injury has really upset the locker room. Phillips, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday, was poised to make a run at the Pro Bowl, in my opinion. Now the Giants will replace him with C.C. Brown, who's not nearly as good in coverage. There's also a chance that Justin Tuck (shoulder) might not be able to play. He's also lobbying pretty hard to play, but right now he's feeling some resistance. I think the Giants would like to rest him one game to let the shoulder injury settle down. The Giants are really banged up in the secondary. Getting Kevin Dockery (hamstring) would help immensely, but I wouldn't bet on it happening.

The Redskins need a convincing win: A win's a win -- unless you're playing the Rams and Lions in back-to-back weeks. Jim Zorn is already feeling the heat following Sunday's 9-7 win over the Rams in which the Skins were horrendous in the red zone. I think you'll see a lot more poise from them against the Lions, and Jason Campbell's about to have a big day. If they lose this game, the discussion of an in-season coaching change will start up. Actually, I've already started that, I guess. Look for Santana Moss to have a big game against the Lions. Zorn's been trying to get him more involved and I think this is the week he breaks out.

Should I attempt to make an Eagles point that doesn't involve Michael Vick? Well, let's give it a try. All the focus will be on the Wildcat formation, but the defense needs to win this game. You have to put bad teams away early -- and that's why the defense needs to cause a couple of turnovers. The Eagles let Drew Brees do anything he wanted in an embarrassing 48-22 loss. This week, the Eagles will call a lot more blitzes and you'll see fewer mistakes. You also need to eliminate the mistakes on special teams. Chiefs coach Todd Haley knows a thing or two about moving the ball on the Eagles (see NFC Championship Game), so I don't think this will be the blowout Eagles fans are craving.

There's one way Jason Garrett could cut down on Tony Romo's turnovers: The Princeton man saw what this running game could do against an elite front seven. And that's why he should come out and let the Cowboys' offensive line dominate the Panthers, who have allowed 168 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys could've put the Giants away if they'd kept running the ball late in the third quarter. Garrett gave Romo the opportunity to go for the deep ball -- and it backfired. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice should both have big days. If that doesn't happen, Garrett's going with the wrong game plan.

Let's also hope Jerry Jones gets the Party Pass situation taken care of. That was a potentially dangerous situation when a large number of fans broke down a barricade to get into the Party Pass area. OK, thanks for joining us for the Final Word.

Interconference matchups: NFC East/AFC West

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Interconference Matchups
A rundown of seven observations on each division's interconference games:

Tuesday: AFC North vs. NFC North
Wednesday: AFC East vs. NFC South
Thursday: AFC West vs. NFC East

Friday: AFC South vs. NFC West

Though they'd never admit it, you have to know the NFC East teams have been looking forward to facing this division. The Chiefs will eventually be good because Scott Pioli helped Bill Belichick invent football, and Todd Haley's going to be an excellent head coach. But it won't happen for them this quickly. The Broncos aren't poised for a breakout season by any means -- and the Raiders are the Raiders. The biggest challenge will be the Chargers, and that's where I'll spend most of my time during this exciting summer feature. Here are seven things to watch as we prepare for this AFC West-NFC East showdown:

1. Wade Phillips gets a look at his old defense: The Cowboys' head coach helped Shawne Merriman have the best season of his career when he was the defensive coordinator in San Diego. In fact, the Chargers' defense hasn't been nearly as dominant since Phillips brought his version of the 3-4 to Dallas. The Chargers will play on the road against the Browns and then come to Dallas on Dec. 13. It will be a great opportunity to see Merriman and DeMarcus Ware on the same field. The Cowboys opted for Ware over Merriman, and at this point, it looks like they made the right decision.

 
  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  When the Chargers visit the Cowboys in December, Wade Phillips will be facing a defense he helped build.

2. Philip Rivers visits the Meadowlands: On Nov. 8, the Chargers will visit Giants Stadium. Obviously Rivers and Giants quarterback Eli Manning will always be linked because of the big trade in 2004. Chargers fans -- and AFC West blogger Bill Williamson -- are convinced that Rivers is a better quarterback than Manning. But Rivers doesn't have a ring, and he puts up a lot of big numbers against inferior teams in the AFC West. Manning and the Giants win this one.

3. Should be an interesting Thanksgiving between the two divisions: Can't wait to watch Cowboys owner Jerry Jones give his mentor, Al Davis, a tour of the new stadium. That velour sweatsuit that Davis pulls out from time to time should keep him toasty in a domed stadium that is a little on the coolish side. I'm actually intrigued to see whether Darrius Heyward-Bey has anything. He'll have some opportunities against a Cowboys secondary that doesn't have a lot of depth and could be banged up. The other matchup, the Giants at Denver, is a lot more interesting. The Broncos could be in full fade mode at this point, but Invesco Field is still a tough place to play at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night. Or at least I think it will be.

4. Another reason I love that Cowboys-Chargers matchup Dec. 13: Chargers coach Norv Turner thinks he should've been the successor to Bill Parcells in Dallas, although he's always very complimentary of Phillips. Turner would've been exactly what Tony Romo needs -- someone who won't accept the careless mistakes. I think Phillips and Turner will bring a little something extra to this game.

2009 team schedules: NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
Philadelphia Eagles
New York Giants
Washington Redskins
5. The DeAngelo Hall "homecoming" game in Oakland: I'm not saying it's going to be a good game, but it will be fun to watch Hall return to Oakland on Dec. 13. Raiders owner Al Davis couldn't wait to dump the cornerback, but Hall has revived his career in Washington. Tom Cable vs. Jim Zorn. Isn't that the one you guys have been waiting for?

6. Eagles have a cross-country trip after an emotional game: The Eagles host the Cowboys in Week 9 and then fly across the country to play the Chargers in Week 10. It's the first part of a really tough stretch for Philly. I think it will be a great test for the Eagles, in part, because this is about the time the Chargers usually start putting things together.

7. Todd Haley will be waiting on the Cowboys: In Week 5, the Cowboys will make the trip to Arrowhead. I think Haley, the former passing game coordinator in Dallas, will take this one personally. He
still knows a lot of people with the organization and he definitely has a tremendous grasp of the Cowboys' personnel. Potential loss for the Cowboys. I assure you Haley already has this one circled.

Who benefits most?

The Redskins have the best schedule against the AFC West. I like that they host the Chiefs and Broncos before they get into late November. The Skins make the trip to Oakland on Dec. 13, and that game doesn't scare me because the Raiders will be out of it. The Redskins finish the season with a cross-country trip to San Diego. Something tells me that game won't matter for the Chargers because they will have sewn up a playoff spot. And that would be a good thing for the Skins if they're actually still in the hunt.

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