NFC East: Tramon Williams

The Washington Redskins' defense is optimistic about where it's headed, thanks to the addition of Jason Hatcher and a tweaked philosophy regarding the pass rush. Whether their play matches that optimism always remains the biggest hurdle. What's not in doubt: They will have two players among the most expensive at their positions when it comes to the salary cap. The fact both are in their front seven isn't a coincidence as the Redskins' offseason goal has been to improve the pass rush. So, after breaking down where the Redskins' top cap hits at each position offensively stood in comparison to their NFL counterparts earlier this week, it's time to take a look at the defense.

Safety

NFL's top five cap hits
Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs $11,619,700
Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers, $10,100,000
Antrel Rolle, New York Giants, $9,250,000
Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $9,000,000
Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans, $8,000,000

Meriweather
Redskins' top cap hit
Brandon Meriweather (59th), $1,000,000

Summing it up: Notice who’s not in the top five? Jairus Byrd, after his new deal with New Orleans. But don’t worry: He’s set to take up the most cap room in 2015 at $10.3 million. I like Byrd, but not at that figure (I’d have paid Sean Taylor that sort of cash). But Byrd was never really a legitimate option for the Redskins. Mike Mitchell was and he’ll count $2.2 million this season and $4.95 million in 2015. But the overriding point is Washington views the best way to help this position is by bolstering the pass rush. Starters Meriweather and Ryan Clark both are on one-year contracts, so this position is still a question mark beyond this season (and still will be one entering the year).

Corner

NFL's top five cap hits
Brandon Carr, Dallas, $12,217,000
Johnathan Joseph, Houston, $11,250,000
Lardarius Webb, Baltimore, $10,500,000
Brandon Flowers, Kansas City, $10,500,000
Tramon Williams, Green Bay, $9,500,000

Porter
Redskins' top cap hit
Tracy Porter (43rd), $2,800,000

Summing it up: Next season, Darrelle Revis' cap hit jumps to $25 million. Which means he’s playing on a one-year deal. Is it a good thing the Redskins’ biggest cap hit here belongs to Porter, who has battled injury issues along with consistency during his career? Of course, it’s not like he occupies a lot of space. DeAngelo Hall's cap hit is $2,062,500 but that jumps to $4,812,500 in 2015. By then the Redskins need young corner David Amerson to have fully emerged -- can he become their best corner? If not, then they’ll have to start looking for a No. 1 corner. By the way, the top five on the list for 2014? They’ve combined for four Pro Bowl appearances and one All-Pro spot (Joseph). But Carr did do a good job vs. Washington last year (and in at least one game against then-Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson).

Linebacker

NFL's top five cap hits
Lawrence Timmons, $11,816,250
Tamba Hali, Kansas City, $11,464,706
Brian Orakpo, Washington, $11,455,000
Clay Matthews, Green Bay, $10,943,750
James Laurinaitis, St. Louis, $10,400,000

Orakpo
Redskins' top cap hit
Orakpo

Summing it up: That’s quite a list for Orakpo to be part of, but to stay on there after this season -- at least in Washington -- he’ll have to be a little more productive. But even if he has another season like last year, Orakpo will still be in the $10-million range. When Hali got paid, he responded with sack totals of 12, nine and 11 in the next three seasons (with nine forced fumbles and one interception). I don’t think anyone says Hali's overpaid (well, at least not many). In Orakpo’s last three full seasons, he has a combined 27.5 sacks, but only four forced fumbles. More game-changing plays and he’ll get the contract he desires. Another interesting part on this is that two of the five are inside linebackers, though Timmons plays in a 3-4 and Laurinaitis in a 4-3.

Defensive tackle

NFL's top five cap hits
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit, $22,412,000
Haloti Ngata, Baltimore, $16,000,000
Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay, $15,627,253
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati, $9,000,000
Barry Cofield, Washington, $7,667,500

Cofield
Redskins' top cap hit
Cofield

Summing it up: Cofield’s base salary jumped from $840,000 last season to $4.55 million (the lower figure was the result of a restructuring last spring in which $3.5 million in base salary was converted to a signing bonus). This is as high as Cofield’s cap number will be and in two years it falls to $6,877,500. I know the coaches felt he would become the NFL’s top nose tackle by this time. That’s not the case, but Cofield does have his strengths and has done a nice job with Washington. For a short stretch last season he was playing as well as anyone on the team defensively, and he always plays hard. He’ll be helped by having Hatcher in the pass rush, perhaps giving Cofield more one-on-one matchups. If that happens, then perhaps Cofield will have the sort of season in all phases that coaches have hoped for.

Defensive end

NFL's top five cap hits
Mario Williams, Buffalo, $18,800,000
Charles Johnson, Carolina, $16,420,000
Chris Long, St. Louis, $14,900,000
Greg Hardy, Carolina, $13,116,000
Calais Campbell , Arizona, $11,250,000

Bowen
Redskins' top cap hit
Stephen Bowen (15th), $7,020,000

Summing it up: All of the top five on this list play in a 4-3, where ends can excel as playmakers and, therefore, command big bucks. The 3-4 ends, typically, are not -- with some exceptions. Bowen has not been a playmaker, though for a while he was an effective player both against the run and as a rusher. However, he has just one sack since the 2011 season (26 games). And after microfracture surgery and being 30, I wonder about the level at which he’ll be able to play. Multiple Redskins sources said they still expect him to be in the Redskins' plans, but will it be at this cap figure? That's a big hit for someone in his situation. If Bowen returns healthy and plays well, the Redskins will greatly benefit. If not? That's a lot of cap room to occupy. One more note: Johnson and Hardy combine for approximately 23 percent of Carolina's cap.

Late picks only part of Romo's whole story

December, 15, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- At some point you would think there is not enough room for losses like Sunday's against the Green Bay Packers, that the mantel might finally run out of space.

Somehow the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo keep expanding it.

Put Sunday's loss right next to the loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2006 playoffs. Nestle it up to the loss in the 2007 playoffs to the New York Giants and the crushing 44-6 season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008. Don't forget the 2010 loss to the Detroit Lions when they coughed up a 24-point lead.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTony Romo's two fourth-quarter interceptions helped the Packers mount a 23-point comeback.
Romo opened 2011 with a fourth-quarter interception that led to the New York Jets' winning field goal and then in December saw an 11-point lead disappear against the Giants after Miles Austin lost a sure touchdown in the stadium lights.

And don't forget the three-interception finale against the Washington Redskins that led to the Cowboys' second straight loss in a de facto NFC East title game.

Oh, and there's this year's loss to the Denver Broncos when a fourth-quarter interception led to the game-winning field goal.

This one might not be the cruelest -- it's hard to top the Seattle loss because of the playoff significance and what it meant to the franchise -- but it is no less disheartening.

Romo was intercepted on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter to set up the Packers' 37-36 victory as the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead and a 12-point advantage with 7:55 to go.

The decision to thread a pass to Miles Austin after Romo escaped an unblocked Clay Matthews and the miscommunication with wide receiver Cole Beasley will be scrutinized for the next week and even longer if the Cowboys do not make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

The decision on the Austin throw that was intercepted by Sam Shields was a poor one. The Cowboys had a running play called, but with the Packers stacked where the Cowboys would run it, Romo threw a "smoke" route to Austin. He had to hitch because Matthews was in his way and he was unable to lead Austin, giving Shields the chance to come down with the interception.

"It was my fault for obviously putting the ball in a position where the defense could make a play," Romo said.

The Packers took the lead on the ensuing drive with 1:31 to play on Eddie Lacy's 1-yard touchdown run.

The Packers took the game seven seconds later when Beasley cut off his route and Romo threw wide, where Tramon Williams came up with the turnover after the pass was initially ruled incomplete. By the time Walt Coleman announced the reversal, Cowboys fans were headed to the exits and Dez Bryant was just about to the locker room.

"I think [Beasley] and Tony were just not on the same page on how to read the defense," coach Jason Garrett said.

Those throws will be the most scrutinized, but Romo missed a few chances to put the game out of reach earlier in the game. Twice he underthrew Bryant on deep balls that allowed Green Bay defenders to break up the passes. One pass to Bryant in the end zone in the first half was a hair too far in front. Once he underthrew Jason Witten when the tight end got behind the defense.

Garrett answered in coachspeak about Romo's deep misses, saying they needed to look at the tape but mostly lauded the quarterback's game -- 29-of-48, 358 yards, two touchdowns, two picks -- while almost ignoring just how much better those numbers could have been.

The Cowboys have not thrown deep much this year. Romo entered Sunday averaging a career-low 7.1 yards per attempt. He entered the season averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and made his name since taking over in 2006 with big plays to Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Austin and Bryant.

This season it has been different and it never was more evident than on the Cowboys' second-to-last drive that ended up in Shields' interception.

"We know what they're going to do," Garrett said. "They're going to put nine guys on the line of scrimmage. They're going to try and get you in second-and-12 and third-and-14 and get the ball back that way."

On first down from the Dallas 20, Shields was in single coverage on Bryant. Romo saw it. Bryant saw it. The chance for a big play was there, but Romo's pass was short and Shields was able to make a play. If the ball is two yards further, Bryant scores a touchdown and the aggressiveness of Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and Romo is lauded.

Instead they are criticized for not running the ball more and the loss gets added to a mantel that just never seems to get too crowded.

"I think the worst thing you can do sometimes with Dez is overthrow him," Romo said. "Obviously you would like to hit him perfectly in stride and go. Sometimes he's such a great athlete that he comes down with most of them. I look back and I wish I had one or two where I gave it a little bit more. Usually I make sure if I err it's just slightly less and he always goes up and gets it. Obviously when I look back I'll push those down the field if I have the opportunity."

Romo will have two more opportunities with games left against the Redskins and Eagles.

"Hopefully we can get better," Romo said before turning down a hallway to an elevator. "We need to get better."
Nick Foles and A.J. HawkGetty ImagesNick Foles and A.J. Hawk meet Sunday in Green Bay in a game that's turned in the Eagles' favor.
If you expected the Philadelphia Eagles to have the edge at quarterback for their Week 10 meeting against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, go to the head of the class.

The teams play Sunday, a week after their quarterbacks made headline news. The Pack's Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Monday night's loss to the Chicago Bears, a day after the Eagles' Nick Foles tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders.

A game that looked to be safely in the Packers' column is suddenly wide open. NFC North aficionado and all-around NFL expert Kevin Seifert breaks down the game with ESPN.com Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan.

Phil Sheridan: I'll start with the obvious one: Can the Packers win without Rodgers? Did they take his durability for granted in not having a better backup in place?

Kevin Seifert: On a local level, the backup quarterback has been an annual source of controversy for the Packers throughout Rodgers' career as a starter. Nationally, most people didn't find out about it until Monday night.

Seneca Wallace is the backup only because he was available when they realized none of the players they took to training camp was up to the job. He is 6-15 in his career as a starter, and his career seemed over in August 2012 when the Cleveland Browns released him.

The Packers' entire scheme is built around Rodgers doing things that only Rodgers can do. Think of what happened when the Indianapolis Colts played without Peyton Manning in 2011. The Packers will need to make fundamental changes to their offense -- and expect substantial elevation in other areas of their team -- to make it through this wilderness.

I have to imagine the Eagles can't believe their luck to be facing Wallace instead of Rodgers, huh?

Sheridan: They are saying all the right things about wanting to face the best and never wanting to see anyone get hurt, but they aren't oblivious. This game looked like a double-digit loss the day the schedule came out, and it still looked like an easy Packers home win until Rodgers' collarbone broke Monday night. So it not only becomes a winnable game for the Eagles, it comes when a win, combined with a Dallas loss (the Boys are in New Orleans), would move them even with the Cowboys at 5-5.

And it's not like the Eagles owe anybody an apology when it comes to luck. They haven't had a quarterback start and finish two games in a row since September, and they've been down to Matt Barkley twice.

They may not have a starter as good as Rodgers, but their backup isn't half bad. Foles threw for seven touchdowns Sunday against an Oakland defense that didn't blitz or, at times, even cover receivers. Given Dom Capers' background, how would you expect him to respond to a challenge like this?

Seifert: Capers is known for major scheme changes from week to week, depending on matchups. But as usual, the Packers are dealing with injuries that will limit his options. They are down four linebackers at the moment, although the Packers are hopeful that Clay Matthews can return soon -- if not Sunday -- and play with a club to protect his broken thumb.

In short, I'm not sure how many options Capers will have. He does have a group of talented cornerbacks -- Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House. Capers will have to hope that they can stick with the Eagles' group of perennial All-Pros and future Hall of Famers better than the Raiders did.

Are the Eagles' receivers really that good?

Sheridan: If they are, they have managed to keep that greatness a secret until Sunday in Oakland. DeSean Jackson is a dynamic player, no question about that, but he has been taken out of games in the past when cornerbacks get physical with him. The Raiders did not, and Jackson went off.

As for Riley Cooper and Jason Avant, they have not made up for the loss of Jeremy Maclin to a torn ACL during training camp. Cooper had great numbers Sunday -- five catches, three touchdowns, 139 yards -- but he has been neutralized more often than not during the season.

Tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz had big numbers at Oakland too. So either the Eagles offense really turned a corner or the Raiders just didn't have anyone playing corner. Maybe a bit of both.

The Packers have added a more robust running game to their offense this season. Now that Rodgers is hurt, can Eddie Lacy & Co. carry the team until the quarterback is back? Is that even possible in this pass-happy league?

Seifert: I tend to doubt it. Up until Monday night's game against the Bears, much of the Packers' success in the run game came against light boxes (six men or fewer) designed to focus first on the pass, according to the charting we get from ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears brought a safety into the box Monday night and the Packers still rushed for 199 yards, but we should note that the Bears have the NFL's fourth-worst rush defense this year.

And even when you run successfully, it usually takes longer to score and thus your total points can drive down. The Packers were averaging 30 points per game before scoring 20 Monday night against the Bears.

How do you think the Eagles will approach it? Eight men in the box? Nine? How about 11?

Sheridan: This sets up a bit like the Tampa Bay game, I guess. Mike Glennon was making his second start, and the Bucs' passing game was not expected to be a big threat. The Eagles focused on shutting down Doug Martin, and they did, holding him to 67 yards on 16 carries. It helps, of course, to get a lead and force the opponent to throw the ball more.

All season, the Eagles' focus has been to stop the run while limiting big pass plays downfield. That made them vulnerable to intermediate passing and runs after the catch. Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson, for instance, had nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns while the Eagles were focused on Martin.

That has to be the Packers' blueprint for success. If Wallace can get the ball out quickly and catch Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless in stride, the Packers can move the ball. The Eagles are better at tackling and covering underneath than they were, but there's opportunity there.

A couple of weekend links

January, 14, 2012
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Usually we take a break from the links on the weekend, because of the cholesterol. But it's the playoffs, so just a few won't hurt too much.
  • New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs and Green Bay Packers defensive back Tramon Williams were high school teammates in a tiny town in Louisiana once upon a time. They'll play on opposite sides in Sunday's playoff game. This is an enjoyable story by David Fleming about the path both guys took. My favorite quote is from a recruiter, who described Jacobs in high school as "something Oliver Stone would've created for a football movie."
  • Very interesting John Branch story in The New York Times about the artificial heating and lighting systems that keep Lambeau Field's "frozen tundra" warm and green through the Wisconsin winters. Won't be very cold there Sunday, at least by Wisconsin winter standards.
  • A top-five post on "What Went Wrong" with the 2011 Dallas Cowboys wasn't enough to cover it all. Todd Archer has a few more things. Five rushing touchdowns all year really doesn't seem like enough.
  • Bleeding Green Nation, with the help of the National Football Post, muses on Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict as the cure for what ails the Philadelphia Eagles' linebacker corps.
  • And the Washington Redskins are keeping their general admission ticket prices the same for the seventh year in a row. Which is nice. I think if they raise them after their next great season, people really won't mind.

Who are the Eagles' X factors?

January, 4, 2011
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Longtime Scouts Inc. writer Gary Horton has come up with a list of 48 players who he's calling the "X factors" in the playoffs. He picked four players from every roster who have a chance to make a significant impact in the playoffs.

Let's see who Horton came up with for the Eagles. (This is for ESPN Insiders only, but I've taken some liberties in order to produce a blog entry).

Philadelphia Eagles
MLB Jamar Chaney: He is a rookie replacing veteran Stewart Bradley, and while he has good athletic skills, he must improve his recognition skills in the playoffs.

FS Kurt Coleman: He replaces Nate Allen in the secondary and even though he is a rookie, he is playing with range and composure and is usually in the right place.

WR Jeremy Maclin: He can work out of the slot or wide, he is an excellent red zone target, he is good on third down, and he is an underrated blocker.

TE Brent Celek: Early in the season Michael Vick concentrated on deep passes to his WRs, but Celek will be a bigger part of this offense in the playoffs.

It's a bit strange to see front-line players such as Maclin and Celek referred to as X factors, but it's true that the Eagles' tight end's numbers were down this season while playing with Vick. Celek was banged-up early in the season and had some drops. But it was in the 2008 playoffs that Celek grabbed everyone's attention and helped lead the Eagles to the NFC title game. I agree with Horton that he could emerge as a threat again in the playoffs. But for that to happen, Jason Peters might have to block someone on his own a time or two against the Green Bay Packers.

One of Horton's X factors for the Packers is cornerback Tramon Williams. I actually think Williams had a better overall season than Charles Woodson. Vick will need to be aware of Williams at all times because he does an excellent job of baiting quarterbacks into interceptions.

Quick Take: Packers at Eagles

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
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Three things to know about next Sunday’s Packers-Eagles wild-card game:

1. Can the Philadelphia Eagles recover from two consecutive losses to end the season? I don't think a season-ending loss to the Cowboys on Sunday will have a major impact because the Eagles left most of their stars on the sideline. In fact, it was pretty impressive that a bunch of backups nearly handed the full-strength Cowboys a loss. But the loss to Minnesota last Tuesday is still baffling. The Eagles actually had something to play for in that game, and they didn't show up. If Michael Vick continues to recover from his quadriceps injury and DeSean Jackson's foot heals, the Eagles should regain their devastating speed. Resting the starters against the Cowboys was the right move. Now, the Eagles will face one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. The Chicago Bears held the Packers down for much of Sunday's game, but Rodgers was able to connect with Greg Jennings on a gorgeous throw to set up the winning touchdown.

2. Michael Vick began his remarkable season against this team. When Kevin Kolb left the Eagles' season-opener against the Packers with a concussion, Vick was sensational in relief. He threw for 175 yards and a touchdown to go along with 103 rushing yards. He famously said after the game that he thought the Eagles would've won had he been on the field the entire time. Andy Reid ended up making Vick the starter, and the rest is history. But this week, the sixth-seeded Packers will be game-planning for Vick. Cornerback Charles Woodson may be headed to the Pro Bowl, but I believe that Tramon Williams has had the better season. The Packers' defensive backs will try to be physical with Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at the line of scrimmage. The Packers held Jay Cutler and the Bears to a field goal Sunday in bailing out what is normally a prolific offense. Why did the Bears play their starters when nothing was on the line? It's probably because they desperately wanted to keep a dangerous team such as the Packers out of the playoffs. I think the Eagles would've preferred playing the Giants a third time to playing the Packers again.

3. The Eagles' secondary is about to encounter perhaps the best group of receivers in the league. The Packers' receivers do a tremendous job of running after the catch, as the Giants learned last week. If Rodgers gets in a groove early, the Eagles could be in trouble. The Eagles have given up 31 passing touchdowns this season, which ranks them right behind the Cowboys in terms of worst in the NFC. Rodgers thrives on finding his receivers on crossing routes and watching them add 20 or 30 yards to the play. The Eagles' defensive backs must do a much better job tackling against this group. The Eagles have the offensive firepower to keep up in a shootout, but Reid doesn't want it to come to that. Philadelphia's biggest flaw is its defense, and the Packers have the weapons to expose it. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Packers' offensive tackles have struggled at times. This is the type game when defensive end Trent Cole's ability to get leverage will help in a big way. And the Eagles must figure out a way to keep defensive end Juqua Parker from playing too many snaps. D-end Darryl Tapp made some nice plays against the Cowboys on Sunday and the Eagles need him to continue his strong play. But I can't imagine a better first-round matchup than this. If you can think of the last No. 6 seed that looked this scary, let me know.

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