NFL Nation: Cory Procter

Final Word: Texans-Lions

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
4:00
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Final Word: Texans-Lions | Redskins-Cowboys | Patriots-Jets

Three nuggets of knowledge about Thursday's game at Ford Field:

Thanksgiving doldrums: The Detroit Lions have lost eight consecutive Thanksgiving Day games and are matched up against the NFL's best team, at least according to ESPN.com's weekly Power Rankings. The Houston Texans are 9-1 this season, including 4-0 on the road, and the Lions will have to rally in a hurry after losing a late lead last Sunday to fall to 4-6. Their dismissal of disruptive receiver Titus Young, at least for one week, could be a wakeup call.

[+] EnlargeJeff Backus
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIf Lions left tackle Jeff Backus doesn't start Thursday due to injury, it will break his consecutive games streak at 186.
End of era: Nothing will be official until 90 minutes before the game, but indications are that left tackle Jeff Backus won't play because of a hamstring injury. If that's the case, we won't just see the end of Backus' run of 186 consecutive starts. We'll also a rare disruption in what has become the NFL's most consistent deployment of an offensive line. Since the start of the 2010 season, Backus has joined Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus to play 2,382 of a possible 2,887 snaps. Over that stretch, no other offensive line has played more than 1,466 snaps together. In fact, before Backus left last Sunday's game, the Lions' five linemen had played every snap of the season together. Rookie Riley Reiff is expected to make his first NFL start in Backus' place.

Pressuring Stafford: If the Texans stay true to form, the Lions' offense line will face much more pressure than it typically does. Through 11 weeks, the Texans have the NFL's highest blitz percentage at 45.2 percent. Historically, though, opponents have blitzed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford rarely and preferred to drop maximum defenders in coverage. This season, Stafford has been blitzed on 15.3 percent of his dropbacks, the league's lowest rate. You wonder if the Texans will back off as well.

(Programming note: Tweet me your Thanksgiving photos for use in a slideshow later this week. The NFC North blog handle is @espn_nfcnblog. It can be Lions-related or reflect any other NFC North team.)

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
9:14
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Dolphins offensive line: Once the Dolphins' pride and joy, their O-line hasn't held up lately. They were forced to move guard Richie Incognito to center against Chicago last week, when backup center Cory Procter suffered a season-ending knee injury. A shoulder injury to Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long has weakened the unit further. The Dolphins averaged 3.0 yards a rush against the Bears, a lackluster pass-rushing team that also sacked Tyler Thigpen six times.

2. Dustin Keller, Jets tight end: Through the first four games, Keller averaged 4.8 receptions, 63.5 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Since then -- and perhaps because Santonio Holmes returned from his suspension -- Keller has averaged 2.7 receptions, 37.5 yards and 0.0 touchdowns. In Sunday's victory over the Texans, Mark Sanchez targeted Keller six times, but they connected just twice for a season-low 7 yards.

3. Jairus Byrd, Bills safety: As a rookie last year, Byrd was selected for the Pro Bowl and tied for the league lead with nine interceptions in 14 games. Byrd's follow-up season has been empty so far. He has zero interceptions and just one pass defensed. He has no sacks or forced fumbles, and he never has been known for his run support.

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets celebrating
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Jets' comeback Sunday against Houston is another example of why this is a team to watch down the stretch.
RISING

1. Jets' feeling of invincibility: There's not much in sports that stuns me anymore. I was able to assemble coherent thoughts after I watched Mike Tyson bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear. Any singular event can be explained as a wild occurrence or merely happenstance. But what the Jets did to the Texans on Sunday astonished me for the sheer absurdity of this hot streak Rex Ryan's team is on. In Week 10 they became the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back overtime road games, and then they went 72 yards in 45 seconds with no timeouts to score the winning touchdown against the Texans.

2. Buffalo's dynamic offense: The Bills scored 49 points -- five touchdowns in the second half -- in a rollicking comeback road victory over the Bengals. So many players are surging that I couldn't pick just one. Steve Johnson caught a career-high three touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick tied a career-high with four TD passes. Fred Jackson posted consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time. Undrafted rookie receiver Donald Jones scored his first NFL touchdown.

3. Danny Woodhead, Patriots running back: If ever the Jets need to be reminded they're not infallible, they just need to check what Woodhead is doing for the Patriots. The Jets didn't have a spot on their 53-man roster for him. Yet he has scored a touchdown in half of his eight games for the Patriots. Woodhead scored on a spectacular 36-yard run in Sunday's victory over the Colts and then made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff. He finished with seven carries for a career-high 69 yards and had four catches for 21 yards.

Dolphins run game historically anemic

November, 19, 2010
11/19/10
10:37
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The Miami Dolphins were forced to start their third-string quarterback Thursday night against the Chicago Bears.

Tyler Thigpen revealed during the week he hadn't taken a single practice rep since the regular season began, and he had only three days to prepare for his first start in two years.

[+] EnlargeRicky Williams and Ronnie Brown
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for just six carries for 11 yards against the Bears.
One might think the Dolphins would help him out by letting Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown take as many handoffs as possible.

Whoever would dare think such a thing turned out to be dead wrong. The Dolphins abandoned the run in a 16-0 loss at Sun Life Stadium. It was only the second home shutout in 40 years for Miami.

"You know, that was our game plan," Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long said. "We wanted to come out and establish the run and then protect Tyler. We didn't do either of them."

Three quick nuggets that should disgust Dolfans:

  • The Dolphins rushed for only 39 yards, their worst output since Tony Sparano became head coach.
  • They have rushed for under 100 yards in each of their past eight home games, the longest current streak by any NFL team and the longest such streak in Dolphins history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • They tied a franchise record for fewest combined rushes by fullbacks and running backs with seven.
Seven rushing attempts? This from the team that was known for fielding one of the most punishing ground games in the NFL since Sparano took over in 2008.

Brown ran three times for 10 yards. Williams ran three times for 1 yard. Patrick Cobbs ran once for 1 yards. Lousaka Polite didn't have any carries.

Where did the other 27 rushing yards come from? Thigpen on six scrambles, preventing the Bears from adding to their sack total of six.

The only other times Miami running backs ran seven times were, as you would expect, during the Dan Marino era: in a 42-20 loss to the Washington Redskins in 1990 and in a 34-7 loss to the Bears in 1988.

Don Shula watched Thursday night's game from the Dolphins bench. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning calls plays from the booth. I wonder what Shula might've said to Henning had they been on the sideline together.

Sparano justified the low number of handoffs by pointing to the fact the Bears dominated time of possession at nearly 38 minutes, leaving the Dolphins with only 48 offensive plays.

The Dolphins also went into the game with a banged up offensive line and lost center Cory Procter to a knee injury early. That forced left guard Richie Incognito to handle snaps.

"We didn't get out of our way on offense," Sparano said. "We couldn't help ourselves there and really couldn't get off the field consistently on defense.

"So starting to talk about whether or not you didn't run the ball or throw the ball -- now, at one point you're down 16 points you've got to throw the ball."

Rapid Reaction: Bears 16, Dolphins 0

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
11:47
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MIAMI -- The Chicago Bears turned a short week of preparation into a defensive shutout of a depleted team Thursday night in a 16-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Here are a few quick thoughts from the Bears’ third straight victory:

What it means: Like the Green Bay Packers, the Bears are also on a three-game winning streak. But the Bears continue to lead an NFC North race that is down to just two teams. Chicago’s victory over the Dolphins raises the stakes for the Packers, who face division rival Minnesota on Sunday needing to keep pace with the Bears.

Sackfest: Led by Julius Peppers, the Bears racked up a season-high six sacks Thursday night against a depleted Dolphins offensive line competing with a backup quarterback in third-stringer Tyler Thigpen.

Peppers finished with three sacks, and Israel Idonije, Brian Urlacher and Henry Melton registered one sack apiece.

Playing with an injured shoulder, Miami left tackle Jake Long surprisingly held his own for a half against Peppers, who seemed poised to have a breakout performance against the Dolphins. Peppers registered his first sack since Oct. 3. Peppers dropped Thigpen for a 1-yard loss with 1:25 left in the first half, in addition to batting down a pass. Two of Peppers’ sacks came in the first half, and he tacked on another sack in the fourth quarter.

Miami’s offensive line, meanwhile, was further banged up in the first quarter when backup center Cory Procter -- subbing for starter Joe Berger -- left the game with a knee injury. The Dolphins slid over guard Richie Incognito to fill in for Procter.

About time: Running back Matt Forte rushed for 97 yards. He has reached the century mark just twice all season.

Melton contributing: Considered almost an afterthought in the club’s plans on defense heading into the season, Melton seems to be making meaningful contributions in the defensive line rotation. He registered his second sack in two outings Thursday night.

Melton, a second-year player, has had at least two tackles in four of his past five games, and has been on the active roster every week. As a rookie last year, Melton was placed on the injured reserve before the regular season even started.

Law of threes: The Dolphins had their third center (Incognito) hiking the ball to the No. 3 quarterback (Thigpen). The Bears, meanwhile, seemed able to score solely in increments of three, taking a 9-0 lead in the third quarter on three field goals from Robbie Gould.

Taking it further, three different players -- Melton, Peppers, and Idonije -- were responsible for the Bears’ first three sacks, which also occurred within the first three quarters. The club didn’t post another sack until the fourth quarter.

What’s next: A week from Sunday the Bears will host a potent Philadelphia Eagles squad that stomped the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football" behind a phenomenal effort by quarterback Michael Vick. Chicago’s defense has been consistent all season, but it faces by far its biggest test in containing the red-hot quarterback.

Wrap-up: Bears 16, Dolphins 0

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
11:33
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A few thoughts about Miami's 16-0 loss to the Bears.

What it means: The Dolphins technically aren't out of the playoff race, but they're almost out of hope.

To get a wild-card berth, the Dolphins must catch either the AFC East runners-up (New York Jets or New England Patriots) or surpass the AFC North runners-up (Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers) while also outjockeying the other teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans.

The Dolphins won't win many tiebreakers, having already lost head-to-head versus the Jets, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens.

Rare shutout: The Dolphins had been blanked at home only once in the past 40 years. That was in 2001 against the Jets.

Dolphins quarterback update: Tyler Thigpen didn't get much help. His line was banged up, the Dolphins failed to establish a running game and he had only three days to prepare for the match. Still, Thigpen didn't give Dolfans much hope for the homestretch, completing 17 of 29 passes for 187 yards and an interception.

Miami abandons the run: The Dolphins rushed for a season-low 39 yards, with Thigpen gaining 27 of them. Ronnie Brown ran three times for 10 yards. Ricky Williams ran three times for 1 yard.

Marshall disappoints again: Brandon Marshall, after insisting over the summer he was a changed man, is living up to his reputation as a clown. On one second quarter possession he had two bad drops and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct along the Bears sideline for throwing the ball at old Denver Broncos teammate Jay Cutler. That's the second straight week Marshall was flagged for chucking the ball after a catch. Marshall permanently left the game in the second quarter with a right hamstring injury.

More injuries: The Dolphins are eroding by the week, but at least they have 10 days to slather on some spackle. Cory Procter, playing center for the injured Joe Berger, went down with a non-contact knee injury in the first quarter. That's bad news. Left guard Richie Incognito was shifted to center and had trouble with shotgun snaps.

Wake a bright spot for Miami: Unless he gets hurt, Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake is headed to the Pro Bowl. He was a force in the first half, recording a strip sack (the Bears recovered) and drawing two holding calls on tackle J'Marcus Webb.

Third-down woes: Miami was awful on third down. Chicago converted 55 percent in the game. On a drive that straddled the first and second quarters, Chicago converted third downs of 9 and 16 yards (a Cutler scramble) before kicking a field goal. Miami's offense converted 9 percent of its third downs.

Henne in uniform: Chad Henne dressed as the third quarterback. That doesn't necessarily indicate anything about his injured knee, but it's a better sign than going to the injured reserve. The thing is, if the Dolphins can't generate any momentum, then there's no motivation to bring him back this year, and they might as well shelve him.

What's next: The Dolphins have extra time to prepare, but they'll have to travel cross-continent to play the Oakland Raiders in Week 12.

Miami Dolphins cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
6:48
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Check here for a full list of roster moves.

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins' decision to release tight end David Martin isn't surprising on account of his ability, but because of the depth chart. Joey Haynos is out with a foot injury, leaving incumbent starter Anthony Fasano and the unconvincing John Nalbone. The Dolphins also cut guard Donald Thomas, who was good enough to be their opening-day starter as a rookie in 2008 and again last year. Thomas played all 16 games last year and started 12. But the Dolphins have been trying to find the correct combination for the interior offensive line since Bill Parcells arrived at the end of the 2007 season. They signed free agents Richie Incognito and Cory Procter, drafted John Jerry in the third round and just traded for Pat McQuistan from the Dallas Cowboys. Thomas couldn't beat out any of them.

No-brainers: Based on 2008 draft status, it's notable that the Dolphins already have given up on quarterback Pat White (second round) and receiver Patrick Turner (third round). But they didn't belong. Neither of them ever showed they belonged in the NFL. White was drafted to enhance the Wildcat package, but he couldn't throw. Turner was deactivated for all but two games last year and was outplayed by undrafted rookies this summer.

What's next: Miami has no glaring needs, but they could stand to improve at a number of positions. General manager Jeff Ireland will be scavenging for what he call "acorns" that have fallen out of other teams' trees. Areas to look at will be the pass rush and, as always, interior O-line.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:49
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Dallas Cowboys

Potential unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland

Potential restricted free agents: NT Junior Siavii, WR Miles Austin, DE Stephen Bowen, CB Cletis Gordon, DE Jason Hatcher, WR Sam Hurd, T Pat McQuistan, C Duke Preston, G Cory Procter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears, S Pat Watkins, K Shaun Suisham.

What to expect: Anything is possible with Jerry Jones in charge, and the Cowboys could make a big splash after an underwhelming offseason a year ago. But in terms of team needs and what is required to take the next step, Dallas really doesn’t need much. A big-time impact safety makes some sense and could make a very good defense great, but that might be a project for the draft in a trade-up scenario for someone like Earl Thomas. But Darren Sharper might pique their interest. They also need to get younger along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, but that seems like a draft-day project, too. Maybe Jones gets real aggressive in the wide receiver market, as Roy Williams certainly is not living up to his billing, but the Cowboys are still rather stacked with pass-catchers. All in all, this is a team that is sitting pretty and doesn’t have a prominent unrestricted free agent who is poised to leave.

New York Giants

Potential unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins

Potential restricted free agents: WR Domenik Hixon, TE Darcy Johnson, DE Dave Tollefson, G Kevin Boothe, S C.C. Brown, DT Barry Cofield, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Derek Hagan, WR Sinorice Moss, T Guy Whimper, LB Gerris Wilkinson.

What to expect: Big things could be in the works here, as there are already rumors swirling that New York could be a prime suitor for linebacker Karlos Dansby. An impact linebacker is certainly near the top of their wish list and Dansby fits the bill. Plus, he is extremely versatile. Getting faster on defense is a huge priority with new coordinator Perry Fewell stressing the ability to cover a lot of ground. However, Dansby isn’t really the thumper they need in the middle and is more of an outside linebacker for this system, although he would be great on passing downs. This is a group of decision-makers who might be starting to feel some heat, so do not rule out a big move or two.

Philadelphia Eagles

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracy White

Potential restricted free agents: LB Akeem Jordan, P Saverio Rocca, WR Jason Avant, C Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, LB Chris Gocong, CB Ellis Hobbs, G Max Jean-Gilles, TE Alex Smith, FB Leonard Weaver.

What to expect: There are questions on the offensive line, but overall, the Eagles are in a prime situation to improve their defense, particularly up front and at safety. Remember, they have quarterbacks to dangle as trade bait and really do not have any unrestricted guys that they need to bring back. This is a possible landing spot for Julius Peppers and he would be terrific on the opposite side of Trent Cole, who is among the most underrated players in the game and could blow up with someone taking pass protection attention away from his side. Count on the Eagles being aggressive in the free-agent and/or trade market. It might just be enough to get them that ever elusive Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened.

Washington Redskins

Potential unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, DE Phillip Daniels, T Levi Jones, C Casey Rabach,
P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, TE Todd Yoder.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Lorenzo Alexander, T Stephon Heyer, LB Chris Wilson, QB Jason Campbell, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, C Will Montgomery, CB Carlos Rogers.

What to expect: This is a difficult team to get a grasp on in terms of what they might do in free agency, but I think it is safe to say that ownership will not hold Mike Shanahan and company back from opening up the check book and signing (and even overpaying) players whom they desire. It would be wise for Washington to have an excellent idea of what they are going to do with the fourth overall draft pick in terms of going quarterback or offensive tackle before really devising a free-agency plan. Rebuilding the offensive line is a must and Shanahan needs lighter, quicker (and younger) linemen than are on the roster. A running back they can trust wouldn’t hurt either, although it looks as though Clinton Portis will return, which they may regret. But don’t forget, this is a team that -- unwisely in my opinion -- is switching to a 3-4 scheme, so inside linebacker help is required, as are defensive linemen who fit the new scheme. The Redskins have a long wish list, but also have the ownership to endorse big spending when free agency opens.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


The Cowboys closed out the preseason Friday with a heart-stopping 35-31 victory over the Vikings. OK, maybe no one's heart stopped, but there were some fairly interesting things to discuss following the game. Some players sealed roster spots. Others simply confirmed their tickets out of Dallas. Now let's take a look at my Cowboys-Vikings observations. And yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing my final commentary on a preseason game.
  • Second-year tight end Martellus Bennett was the offensive star of this game. He led the team in receiving during the preseason and he added three more catches for 51 yards in the first quarter. At 6-6, he offers Tony Romo and Jon Kitna a big strike zone. And he's very graceful in making catches. On his 31-yard catch on the opening drive, he positioned his body perfectly to shield the ball from the safety. Witten and Bennett have to be considered the top tight end duo in the NFC (and maybe the entire league) heading into the season. I also liked how Bennett sold that he was blocking down on the Kitna waggle, and then he bolted out to the right to provide an easy target. Bennett's poised for a breakout season -- and one Dallas columnist flew all the way to Minneapolis to chart his progress.
  • Kevin Ogletree, welcome to the 53-man roster. Not that I had any doubt heading into this game, but the free-agent rookie out of Virginia validated all the praise he's received in the preseason with a nice catch on third down and a 5-yard touchdown on the Cowboys' first drive. He's a smooth route runner who has a knack for getting wide open in the end zone. When the Vikings busted coverage, Ogletree came racing across the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
  • Some people will say that Ogletree took Isaiah Stanback's spot on the roster. But even if Ogletree hadn't flashed, Stanback needed to go. He finished with one catch in the preseason -- and he fumbled that one. He started against the Vikings on Friday, but I don't think Jon Kitna ever looked his way. Stanback also muffed a couple of kickoff returns. He's obviously an excellent athlete, but it really doesn't translate to anything on the field. I'd be shocked if he's not one of the cuts Saturday.
  • Why can't Jon Kitna take a snap from center? We've been over this before. Kitna and Cory Procter had problems, so the Cowboys tried another center (Duke Preston) Friday. This time, Kitna left the snap on the ground and the Vikings recovered. Kitna still has a live arm, but he has to figure out what's going on with the snaps. It's almost like a mental thing at this point. By my count, Kitna has been involved in at least four botched snaps. You don't want to overreact to anything that happens in the preseason, but it certainly has to be something the Cowboys are concerned about.
  • Oops, someone forgot to tell Steve Octavien he wasn't supposed to make the team. The former Cornhusker looks small (6-0, 238) when he lines up at outside linebacker, but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He and fellow rookie Victor Butler could be called upon to give DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer a rest at some point. If that happens, I really like Octavien's chances. He has really good instincts and his quickness was giving the Vikings' reserve left tackle fits.
  • Patrick Watkins isn't going anywhere. I thought the former Florida State player was on his way out early in camp. But on Friday, he was Cowboys' best defensive player on the field. Wasn't even close. He finished with seven tackles, a blocked field goal and an interception return for a touchdown. He had the best first half of his career, and then he backed it up in the third quarter. At 6-5, you always thought Watkins could cause problems for wide receivers. But he's only started showing that recently. With Friday's performance, there's no way you can keep him off the 53-man roster.
  • The reserve offensive linemen seem to be penalized at the worst-possible moments. A promising drive in the first quarter was interrupted by a Doug Free holding penalty. The play nullified a first-down run for Tashard Choice. On another play in the first half, Pat McQuistan tackled a defender right in front of the officials. Easiest call of the game. That wiped out a nifty run by Tashard Choice -- and it was so unnecessary. McQuistan was completely out of the play. It's maddening watching these two guys. The first time Kitna was stripped, it was because McQuistan hesitated for a moment to look inside and then let a Vikings defensive end beat him to the outside on a speed rush.
  • Wade Phillips had to enjoy watching backup nose tackle Junior Siavii blow a third-and-short play for the Vikings late in the first quarter. Siavii held his own for most of the game. Nothing flashy, but he clogs up the middle. Completely different style than starter Jay Ratliff, who uses his speed and quickness.
  • It's way too late, but we finally had a Manny Johnson sighting. The former Sooner was taken by the Cowboys in the seventh round, but Johnson never made much of an impression during training camp. He made a nice grab along the sideline for 11 yards. And he also showed his speed on special teams. He might be a good practice squad candidate.
  • Is it just me or was Bobby Carpenter really unimpressive in the first half? I try to watch Carpenter on running plays and he's always getting pushed at least five yards backwards. He's still not aggressive enough in taking on blockers and I wouldn't trust him to play an entire game -- if something happens to one of the starting inside linebackers. He simply gets caught inside way too much. The Vikings had a long touchdown drive in the first half and I thought Carpenter was exposed in a big way. It was like the Cowboys wanted no part of Vikings reserve running back Ian Johnson.
  • Still too early to panic about the special teams? Joe DeCamillis' unit allowed a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. But in DeCamillis' defense, Jesse Holley and Scott Chandler were in great position to make a tackle. Obviously things didn't work out. This is happening way too much. Sort of similar to last season's unit, but I think the Cowboys will get it turned around early in the regular season. It's not like the special teams had any continuity in a game like that.
  • We saw good Mike Mickens and bad Mike Mickens on Friday. It's obvious the seventh-rounder out of Cincinnati is talented, but he's taking too many chances. What he has to learn is that going for an interception and missing can end up costing you about 50 yards. But on the next play after he allowed a big gain, he came back and broke up a pass. I think he'll be a good player eventually. Way too early to count on him at this point.
  • I almost forgot Watkins' play near the goal line. He recovered nicely to tackle Sage Rosenfels for a loss when the Vikings went for it on fourth down. Watkins bit on the original play, but he quickly made up the ground and dragged Rosenfels down. Outstanding play.
  • I think rookie tight end John Phillips has a little something. He did a great job of competing for the ball on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. That play didn't lead to anything, but it was nice to see that he had a little explosiveness.
  • Who were you guys impressed with? Let me hear from you. And remember that we'll have full cut-down day coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Thanks for joining us.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The Cowboys' starters had a 10-3 lead over the 49ers' starters at halftime, but the reserves weren't able to protect the lead. The 20-13 loss to San Francisco didn't really matter, although a local TV station in Dallas led its newscast with the following words: "The Cowboys' preseason winning streak in their new stadium is over."

Hey, it was good while it lasted. Since the game wasn't televised nationally, I'll try to give you a little more analysis than usual. You'll be relieved to know that neither punter banged a punt off the 90-foot-high video board during Saturday's preseason game. San Francisco punter Andy Lee made contact with the board before the game, but he admitted that he was trying to hit a moon shot.

Now that the dream of a perfect preseason is over, let's take a look at what happened against the 49ers:

I think Kevin Ogletree, a rookie free-agent receiver out of Virginia, deserves the lead note. I don't think many people gave Ogletree a chance to make the team heading into training camp, but he kept making plays in practice. And unlike a lot of rookies, he was able to take those solid plays into the preseason games. During the Cowboys' first possession of the game, Ogletree used excellent body control coming out of his break to get some separation from Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Clements. And on the same drive, he ran a crossing route before catching a perfectly thrown ball from Tony Romo. There's no way you can keep the guy off the roster. Right now, he's running better routes than some of the more experienced wide receivers such as Miles Austin -- and Romo's looking for him a lot. In Washington, there's Marko Mitchell. In Dallas, it's Ogletree. Isaiah Stanback had a fumble in Saturday's game and he doesn't look as smooth as Ogletree. I'd be shocked if Stanback makes the final roster.

Why is everyone in the '09 draft class getting injured? Offensive tackle Robert Brewster and linebacker Brandon Williams are already out for the season. And on Saturday, rookie safety Michael Hamlin suffered a broken right wrist and linebacker Jason Williams had to leave the game with a sprained ankle. The Cowboys expect Hamlin to miss six weeks. The coaching staff loved Hamlin's ball skills and he catches the ball like a wide receiver. At this rate, the Cowboys will have a special-teams unit comprised mostly of starters at some point.

If Cory Procter wants to make this team, he has to find a way to successfully snap the ball to Jon Kitna. I'm not sure what the problem is with these two, but it's been happening since early in camp. On Saturday, a botched snap ended what had been a promising Cowboys drive. Kitna's not going anywhere, so it's up to Procter to figure out the problem. Offensive coordinatorJason Garrett doesn't show a lot of emotion on the sideline, but you could tell he was upset with the play.

Courtney Brown's trying to learn how to play cornerback on the fly -- and it's not working out so well. That was a really bad pass interference when he basically face-guarded Jason Hill and then made some contact. That's one of the main plays that helped the 49ers win the game. I realize there's a learning curve for learing a new position, but Brown's running out of time.

That was Leonard Davis getting flagged for the holding penalty on Nick Folk's 49-yard field goal. You can't let that happen in the regular season. I didn't get to see a replay of what Davis did, but you have to be doing quite a bit to get noticed during a field goal attempt.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher must've been reading our blog. I basically said that Hatcher had been non-existent for much of the preseason. But he played a lot better Saturday. I saw him beat Alex Boone for a sack. I'm not familiar with Boone's body of work, but I know that Hatcher overwhelmed him at the line of scrimmage.

Also in the bad, bad penalty category was rookie DeAngelo Smith's horse collar tackle. I realize it's hard to bring someone down from behind without grabbing for their shoulder pads, but Smith will have to figure it out. Watching him in that No. 31 jersey reminded me of the man who inspired the horse collar penalty, Cincinnati Bengals safety Roy Williams.

Jay Ratliff is one of the quickest interior linemen in the league. On one play, 49ers guard Chilo Rachal didn't know what to do with Ratliff as he raced past him. Inside linebacker Bradie James and Ratliff teamed up to put consistent pressure on 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill. Wade Phillips is going to have a difficult time taking Ratliff off the field, but he needs to keep him fresh. I do not like the Cowboys' depth behind Ratliff at all.

That was very generous of the announcers on our local CBS affiliate to say that an upset stomach may have led to a Martellus Bennett drop. I don't think Bennett needs any apologists. He's extremely confident, but he does need to hold onto the ball. His drop in the first half was unacceptable. Everyone's going to drop the ball, but I didn't like how lethargic Bennett looked during Saturday's game.

I thought the Cowboys' first-team defense did an excellent job against the 49ers' version of the Wildcat formation.
At times, defensive end Marcus Spears doesn't get off the ball quickly enough. But he did a really nice job of stuffing the run up the middle out of the Wildcat. Very heady player.

Late in the first quarter, I hear local TV anchor and former Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg say that Romo's still "very early in his career" and that he's close to becoming a "really, really elite guy." On the next play, Romo fired an ill-advised pass that was easily picked off by safety Mark Roman. The Cowboys quarterback admitted after the game that he should've taken the sack and lived to see another down. Romo's doing a much better job of protecting the football in the pocket, but he still has to watch his throws. He gets careless with the ball -- and he could've been picked off by Dre' Bly on another play. And when is it OK to stop using the "he's early in his career" defense of Romo? He's been the starter since taking over for Drew Bledsoe six games into the '06 season. Now it's '09 and Romo's pushing 30. He can't play the "inexperienced" card any longer.

I think Keith Brooking's going to be a better fit than Zach Thomas in this defense. Brooking appears to be more physical than Thomas and he's putting some heat on the quarterback. The combination of James and Brooking at the inside backer spots already looks good.

Austin is too talented to remain in the shadows. I've been concerned about the lack of production Austin's had in the preseason. I love the way he blocks in the running game, but he has to get back to being a deep threat. Austin should've had the catch on the sideline in the first half. And later, he stumbled during a route, which nearly caused an interception. Austin bounced back and made a nifty catch on a ball thrown behind him. He needs to do more of that.

How dynamic is Felix Jones? I think he's on the verge of becoming one of the most elusive running backs in the league. He almost broke a 94-yard touchdown in the first half. He eluded a defender at the line of scrimmage and then he froze another player before darting into a clearing. (Shades of Tony D. in Minneapolis). The safety made a shoestring tackle on Jones, but it was still an exciting run. He's one of those rare players who can make a run of any distance seem entertaining.

In a halftime interview on local TV, Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be looking for reinforcements at linebacker. They could wait until next Saturday and see who gets cut. Or they could try to make a trade this week. The Cowboys need someone who can rush the passer and I'm not sure if their latest addition, Tearrius George, is up to the task.

When he's healthy, Terence Newman's still an elite corner. He made an excellent play on the ball when the 49ers tried to go to Josh Morgan in the first half. And his 43-yard punt return had to please Jerry Jones. The owner's been looking for a dynamic return man for years. Maybe Newman's a guy who can return a couple punts per game.

Jason Witten is the best tight end in football right now. End of discussion. He's an excellent route runner, but the part of the game that has steadily improved is his blocking. He buried a 49ers defensive end on a fourth-and-1 play in the first half. Witten's just really smart with how he sets up his blocks. He engaged with the defensive end for a split second and then he turned him inside and shoved him to the ground. Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo also had nice blocks, but it was Witten who sealed off the player with the best chance to make a play.

I still don't think Doug Free's ready to start at left tackle in a pinch, but he has looked a lot better. And by the way, kudos to Davis for a pancake block on a running play in the first half. He cleared the way for a Felix Jones touchdown run. With Free, you can see that's he's improved a lot with his footwork -- and he's pretty aggressive. I just don't know if he's ready to go one-on-one with Osi Umenyiora or Justin Tuck. And throw in Trent Cole while we're at it.

It was interesting to see Marion Barber do all the legwork on the Cowboys' touchdown drive and then get replaced by Jones near the goal line. Jones looks more and more like a featured back to me every day. He just doesn't have a weakness. I was impressed with how he lowered his shoulder and banged his way into the end zone.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of Cowboys training camp was much more physical. Running back Marion Barber punished anyone who tried to take him on and a rookie linebacker by the name of Victor Butler was all over the field. I'm prepared to touch on some of the position battles and other things that are going on inside the Alamodome, home to the poorest lighting in sports.

     
      AP Photo/Eric Gay
      Marion Barber and the other Cowboys running backs have looked dangerous early on in camp.
  • I've been as impressed with second-year running back Tashard Choice as anyone in camp. Running backs coach Skip Peete told me Wednesday that Choice was one of the most complete backs in the nation when he was at Georgia Tech, but there were questions about his speed. On Thursday, he used his acceleration to race away from linebackers and safeties. If I had to pick a player who's performed the best after three practices, I'd have to go with Choice. After talking to Peete for a while, I think Choice is a guy who could play three or four series per game -- especially if he gets hot.
  • Marion Barber appears to be lighter, in part, because he actually dropped five pounds. He's still administering punishment to linebackers, but he appears to have a little more wiggle than I recall at this point in camp. If you're wanting to get excited about something, let me suggest this team's three running backs. Felix Jones is showing that he could have a big impact in the passing game. He didn't catch the ball a lot at Arkansas, but he has pretty good hands from what I've gathered. For those of you who keep asking, I haven't seen any Wildcat formation plays to this point in camp.
  • I want to see more of Victor Butler, the fourth-round player out of Oregon State. He had 12 sacks his senior season at Oregon State, and he was all over the Cowboys' quarterbacks in Thursday's morning practice. He appears to be pretty quick off the edge and he actually showed some nice versatility in dropping back in coverage to make plays. In the morning practice, Butler was the guy constantly catching my eye.
  • After observing three practices, I'm convinced the Cowboys could be in big trouble if any of their offensive linemen go down with injury. Pat McQuistan looked completely helpless through much of Thursday's practices. And the worst part is that he got worse with each rep. He freaked out when DeMarcus Ware lined up over him and had a false start. Doug Free, a former third-round pick, looked a little better in the one-on-one drills I watched, but he's not ready to step in for  left tackle Flozell Adams if something happens. Cory Procter's a guy that can get you through a couple of games at center or guard, but he needs to stay in that role. This team has done a very poor job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. They took Andre Gurode out of Colorado in the second round in 2002. They've been striking out ever since.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Now that we're three weeks into the season, some of you are starting to feel some anxiety about your teams. In some precincts (not in ours), fans are experiencing full-blown panic attacks.

Those poor Patriots were stunned by an ol' SEC trick that Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee had in his hip pocket. And Jets fans can't believe the Brett Favre honeymoon phase already has ended.

Teams in the NFC East have a combined 10-2 record. The word "panic" seems a little strong at this point, so we'll focus on potential "concerns."

The New York Giants (3-0) woke up with some concerns this morning. For reasons that we've yet to hear, star receiver Plaxico Burress decided to skip team meetings Monday. He also didn't pick up the phone when GM Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin started calling. He's now been suspended for the Oct. 5 game against the Seahawks.

This is no time to panic, but it's not a good sign when your top receiver decides to flake out. We'll continue to monitor the situation throughout the afternoon.

In Philly, it looks like running back Brian Westbrook will miss Sunday's game in Chicago with an ankle injury. Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker should do an adequate job filling in, so I don't advise anyone to push the panic button.

The Cowboys are once again missing starting left guard Kyle Kosier, but Cory Procter will do a nice job filling in. The Redskins will be without defensive end Jason Taylor against the Cowboys. You'd love to have your top pass rusher against a guy like Tony Romo, but based on Taylor's play so far this season, this isn't anything to get worked up about.

As I stated recently in a column, this the best division in football. Let's wait a week or two before anyone panics.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- I'm not believing this: Eagles rookie DeSean Jackson catches a long pass for what would have been a touchdown, but decided to celebrate after 59 yards, short of the end zone. It was an unbelievable play. Eagles got the ball on the 1-yard line because the play was blown dead.

Jackson is now credited with a 60-yard catch. One play later, Brian Westbrook flipped into the end zone. Something tells me that Andy Reid will have a long talk with Jackson about that play. It was one of the most careless things I've ever seen. Cowboys fans couldn't have been too shocked, though. No one will ever forget the Leon Lett fumble.

At this rate, the first team to 50 points wins.

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