NFL Nation: Stephon Heyer

Wrap-up: Raiders 27, Vikings 21

November, 20, 2011

A look at a fortunate day for the Oakland Raiders in the Twin Cities as they beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-21.

What it means: The Raiders are now 6-4 and they will remain in first place in the AFC West regardless of the rest of the action in the division in Week 11. Denver is 5-5 and San Diego and Kansas City are 4-5.

Survival: The Raiders looked great in the first two quarters against the undermanned Vikings, who fell to 2-8. Oakland scored 24 unanswered points and led 24-7 at the half. Yet, the Vikings came back thanks to several Oakland penalties. Had the Vikings not been mistake prone (they committed five turnovers, including two interceptions that were deep in Oakland’s territory), they could have won this game. The Raiders need to find a way to play a complete game moving forward, but a win is a win.

Spreading the ball around: In his third Oakland start, quarterback Carson Palmer had his moments, especially in the first half. He ended up 17-of-23 passing for 164 yards. It was a great sign that Palmer spread the ball around. He completed passes to seven different receivers and hit tight end Kevin Boss five times. Getting Boss more involved is paramount. Palmer’s comfort level in this offense is groining even though his numbers weren’t spectacular Sunday.

Scary scene: Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had a good game with four catches before he injured his neck or head in the fourth quarter. He had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.

Controlling Allen: Minnesota sack master Jared Allen came into the game with a sack in 11 straight games. The streak ended Sunday. Oakland did allow four sacks, but it was able to contain Allen.

Big game for Bush again: Oakland backup running back Michael Bush had 109 yards on 30 carries. He has a total of 266 rushing yards in the past two games as Darren McFadden has been out since Week 7 with a foot injury.

Satele hurt again: Center Samson Satele had a concussion in the first half. Rookie guard Stefen Wisniewski was moved to center and Stephon Heyer came in to play left guard. Wisniewski excelled at center in Week 10 at San Diego when Satele was injured.

Bringing the heat: The Raiders continued to get to the quarterback. They had five sacks Sunday and have 11 sacks in their past two games.

Penalties still an issue: The Raiders -- the most penalized team in the NFL -- were flagged 12 times for 117 yards. This is a major issue for Oakland that has to somehow be cleared up.

Fourth-quarter problems continue: The Raiders were shut out in the fourth quarter for the fifth straight game. It almost caught up to them Sunday.

What’s next: The Raiders host Chicago in Week 12.
Tyron Smith and Danny WatkinsIcon SMIThe Cowboys (with Tyron Smith) and the Eagles (with Danny Watkins) used the draft to address a need along the offensive line.
Our readers like to call this division "The Beast," but I'm not so sure. I mean, I get it -- it rhymes with "East," and it reflects the kind of toughness and meanness that fans like to attribute to their favorite teams. And not long ago, it fit nicely. The NFC East was the NFL's toughest division. Sent three teams to the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. Took out the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. Very Beast-like stuff, no question.

But things change quickly in the NFL, and 2010 wasn't this division's most Beastly year. For the first time in six seasons, the NFC East last year came up with just one playoff team. The division had as many 10-loss teams as 10-win teams, and the only playoff game it has won in the past two seasons was Dallas' January 2010 intradivision victory over Philadelphia.

A fluke? Sure, it's possible. Most people expect the Cowboys to bounce back in 2011 (assuming there is a 2011). And John Clayton pointed out last week that a slate of 2011 games against NFC West opponents could help inflate NFC East teams' records the way that delicious bit of scheduling helped out NFC South teams in 2010. But if the teams in this division want to make sure this little downturn is nothing more than a blip on history's radar, they would all do well to take a look at their offensive lines.

All four teams in the NFC East had offensive line issues last year. The Giants couldn't keep theirs healthy. The Cowboys couldn't seal off the right side. The Eagles couldn't keep Michael Vick's uniform clean. The Redskins were rebuilding. Although most, if not all, of those issues are resolvable, the teams need to work to make sure they're resolved. If there's one area whose erosion can really affect the toughness, meanness and other Beast-like qualities of a team or group of teams, it's the offensive line.

To their credit, the Cowboys and Eagles at least seem to understand they need to do something. Dallas took USC tackle Tyron Smith in the first round in April and spent three of their eight total draft picks on offensive linemen -- snagging guard David Arkin in the fourth round and guard/center Bill Nagy in the seventh. Smith is the only one of the three expected to start in 2011, as he's slated to be the right tackle, but depth on the O-line is never a negative.

Philadelphia needed a right guard so badly that it drafted 26-year-old former hockey player and firefighter Danny Watkins in the first round. He'll surely start at right guard, and Philadelphia picked up two more interior offensive linemen later in the draft. The Eagles still need to figure out what's going on there on the right side with Winston Justice and King Dunlap, and that tackle spot might potentially be something they address in free agency. With a left-handed quarterback, right tackle is to the Eagles what left tackle is to most other teams -- the protector of the "blind side."

Washington used only one pick this year on an offensive lineman, and it was a seventh-rounder. But the Redskins spent the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft on left tackle Trent Williams, who looks as if he'll be a star at that spot, and they're piecing things together across the middle. They will need to address right tackle if they lose both Jammal Brown and Stephon Heyer in free agency, but the Redskins are in rebuilding mode. At least they have the franchise left tackle in place.

The Giants ... sigh. The Giants could have used offensive line help in the draft. But these are stubborn people who don't believe in drafting for need. They used their first-rounder on a cornerback, even though they already had plenty of those. The "value" of Prince Amukamara that late in the round was too much for the Giants to pass up, so they didn't end up taking a lineman until the fourth round, and they didn't bother taking another one after that. Now, if healthy, the Giants' offensive line is the best one in the division. But the five projected starters have an average age of 31.6. Shaun O'Hara missed 10 games and David Diehl missed four last year as the fates practically screamed at the Giants about the value of depth on the O-line. Injury and age on the line didn't sink the Giants' season per se, but they reared their heads and offered a warning. So far the Giants have yet to show they heard it.

The success of the teams in the NFC East -- this year and in the years to come -- will depend largely on the ways in which the four teams address the issues bubbling up across their offensive lines. I believe the division could have three playoff-caliber teams in 2011. The Redskins are doing some nice things but still have a long way to go and, currently, no quarterback to take them there. The other three teams have skill-position talent spilling out of their ears, but holes along the line can keep even the most skilled players from making the highlight-reel plays for which they're paid. Offensive line play was one reason the NFC East looked a little meeker than usual in 2010. It may be the key to "The Beast" regaining its teeth.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 10, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
AP Photo/Bill NicholsJason Witten had 10 catches for a season-high 99 yards against New Orleans in Week 12.
The Philadelphia Eagles' defense will have to slow down Jason Witten. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna loves throwing the ball to Witten. Over the past three games, Witten has been targeted 20 times and has 19 catches. He's always been a matchup problem for the Eagles, and there's no way that middle linebacker Stewart Bradley can cover him one-on-one in the middle of the field. Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has immense respect for Witten, so he'll probably use safeties Nate Allen and Quintin Mikell against him at times.

The New York Giants need to continue their emphasis on starting fast. In last week's win over the Washington Redskins, the Giants scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has placed more emphasis on scoring quickly, and it's paid off in recent games. With David Diehl likely returning to the lineup at left tackle, look for the Giants to run right at Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Brandon Jacobs raced for 39 yards on a carry to the left side on the first possession against the Redskins. I think the Giants will try the same thing against the Vikings. If they can score quickly, it will take one of the loudest crowds in the league out of the game.

It's time for Mike Shanahan to bust out the running game. The Redskins should have tailback Ryan Torain in the starting lineup against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Torain had back-to-back 100-yard rushing days earlier in the season, but we haven't seen him since Week 8 because of lingering hamstring issues. The Bucs are 26th in the league against the run, allowing 128.5 yards per game on the ground. If Trent Williams can come back strong at left tackle, I think Torain will have some success on that side. Stephon Heyer was overwhelmed at left tackle last week, which pretty much fouled up everything. Williams hasn't been great in his rookie season, but he's about the best the Skins have to offer at this point.

The Cowboys will try to follow the Chicago Bears' game plan against Michael Vick: The Cowboys may blitz a little more than the Bears did against Vick two weeks ago, but they'll rely heavily on their defensive front. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh told me Wednesday that the secondary has watched all of the double moves DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin like to use. Sensabaugh said the key will be not taking his eyes off the receiver too soon. If you look up to get your bearings, one of the Eagles receivers will race past you for a touchdown. The Cowboys will probably play their safeties deeper than usual, and they'll try to frustrate Jackson by not allowing him to have anything downfield. The Cowboys did a great job against Jackson last season. One matchup to keep an eye on will be Jason Avant versus Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. If Scandrick is unable to play because of a concussion, look for rookie Bryan McCann to line up across from Avant, one of the most underrated receivers in the league. He and the Giants' Steve Smith do a superb job on third downs.

Will the New York Giants face Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson? The Giants spent most of the week preparing for Favre, but they'll be ready to adjust if the famous streak ends. I think the Vikings are actually more dangerous with Jackson right now. He moves around the pocket much better than Favre and he's a threat to take off when everybody is covered. Much like they did in the second half against Vick, the Giants need to knock down Jackson. With Favre, I think the key will be to make sure you catch those interceptions. He's going to make some mistakes, and right now this Giants defense is doing a good job of capitalizing. If Devin Thomas can mix in another partially blocked punt, the Giants will be in business.

On the radar: Skins' O-line

June, 10, 2010
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

In some precincts, the Redskins' stunning trade for Donovan McNabb automatically put them in the playoffs. My colleague John Clayton has said he sees the Cowboys and Redskins as the teams to beat in the rugged NFC East. But for some reason, I haven't been converted to the Skins-in-the-playoffs theory, and I'll tell you why.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireWashington's Trent Williams has to work on his blocking, one of the many issues on the Redskins' O-line.
I don't trust that offensive line one bit.

It's nothing personal. Watching Mike Williams return to football after eating himself out of the league has been heartening. And 32-year-old Casey Rabach does a decent job at center. But in the end, I don't think McNabb can hold up behind this offensive line as currently constructed. It's not like Mike Shanahan can take a beast like Williams and turn him into a cut blocker who opens up lanes for Clinton Portis. And Portis was a much younger man when he was darting through cutback lanes with the Broncos last decade.

The other Williams on the line, Trent, has the tools to be a special player. But he still has to learn the nuances of the NFL game while trying to block DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Trent Cole. As Bill Parcells liked to say, "this will not go smoothly." It's almost like everyone forgot about the beatings that Jason Campbell took on a weekly basis.

This isn't the McNabb who used to race around and extend plays by 10 seconds or so against the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football." He can slide around the pocket, but it's not like he speeds away from defenders on a regular basis. I'll point to his last two games against Dallas as Exhibits A and B. With center Jamaal Jackson out, the Eagles had to slide players around in the middle. The results against the Cowboys were disastrous.

For now, the Redskins have Artis Hicks lining up as the starting right tackle. To me, that means that Shanahan and his son, Kyle, aren't sold on Stephon Heyer. Most of us expected him to hold down that position. And the Mike Williams vs. Chad Rinehart battle at right guard isn't riveting stuff. Neither player would start for the three other teams in the division.

I certainly agree with the pundits who say the Redskins are better off with McNabb. He'll make Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly better receivers. And the combination of Fred Davis and Chris Cooley should be the best tandem in the Beast. But I don't like the thought of putting aging running backs behind a suspect offensive line.

At this point, the Redskins have the worst offensive line in the division and I don't see the Shanahan boys' zone-blocking scheme changing that right away. Could I be wrong about this?

There's always that slight chance.

Handicapping the Beast -- in April

April, 8, 2010

US PresswireWill Tony Romo, Kevin Kolb or Eli Manning be leading the NFC East's top team in 2010? Matt Mosley takes an early look.
One of the most important things to do when overreacting to a blockbuster trade within a division is to suggest one of the teams will leapfrog pretty much everyone in the league. And although I'm wired to have knee-jerk reactions in most phases of life, I've so far resisted the urge to elevate the Redskins to playoff contender status. Do they have a much better chance? Absolutely.

But in the spirit of wild, reactionary behavior, let's now handicap the most compelling division in football heading into this month's draft. I have analyzed all the free-agency moves and have looked at several of Mike Sando's NFL databases in my attempt to determine the early bird power rankings in the Beast. Now, here are the fruits of my labor:

My NFC East post-Easter, pre-draft power rankings:

1. Dallas Cowboys: The releases of left tackle Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, which may have been predicted in this space, caused shockwaves in the division -- until the move was trumped by Sunday evening's events. It's rare to see a legitimate Super Bowl contender release a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and a veteran starter at safety. Jerry Jones looked me in the eye recently (for an awkwardly long time) and insisted that Doug Free was capable of starting at left tackle in this league. I took this to mean that Jones would release Adams, but it happened sooner than most of us thought.

I don't think Friday's moves did serious damage to the Cowboys' hopes of winning another division title, but it puts enormous pressure on Free and whomever replaces Hamlin at safety. Right now, the candidates are Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and a player to be drafted later. The Cowboys are still the most stable team in the division heading into the draft, but I'm a bit concerned wide receiver Miles Austin has chosen to work out in Los Angeles rather than Valley Ranch. Hey, I realize the recent trip to Hugh Hefner's mansion had to be an eye-opening experience, but Austin should come on home at some point.

This may be a ploy to get Jones' attention since Austin's a restricted free agent set to make roughly $3.6 million while fellow starter Roy Williams will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million this season. And honestly, Austin and his agent, David Dunn, who showed nice separation skills from reporters at the recent owners meetings, have a pretty good point. But ultimately, I don't think staying away from Tony Romo and his other teammates will improve Austin's standing.

With that said, the NFC East title still goes through Dallas. Just ask Keith Brooking if you don't believe me.

Cowboys win prediction in April: 12

2. New York Giants: Our old friends from the New Jersey swamps have managed to fly under the radar this offseason -- other than that coin flip. General manager Jerry Reese has told me on three separate occasions this offseason the play at safety last season was unacceptable -- and I'm sure Giants fans would agree with that assessment. He's responded by signing former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle to an enormous contract and then bringing in journeyman Deon Grant, who's a definite upgrade over C.C. Brown.

With Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Michael Johnson and Grant, the Giants have some much-needed depth at the position. But don't be shocked to see them draft another safety in two weeks. It's hard to say how much of the Giants' failures on defense had to do with all the injuries and how much of it hinged on poor play. I'd lean toward the former, but Tom Coughlin and Reese aren't going to sit around and find out. They need to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. And you can't simply hope that Jonathan Goff or Gerris Wilkinson will get the job done. If the Giants land Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 15, they'll have an immediate starter and one of the most intelligent players in this draft.

It's just hard for me to imagine the Giants going through another awful stretch, as they did last season. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is poised to become an electric player and Steve Smith proved that he can be a front-line receiver. Mix in Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden and you have the makings of an elite receiving corps. Right now, you'd have to say the Eagles and Giants are neck in neck at that position.

I also think the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will solve some issues. He'll be more aggressive with the pass rush and he'll attempt to use Osi Umenyiora's unease to his advantage. I also think you'll see a much healthier Justin Tuck. He was limited for most of last season after being tripped by Flozell Adams in the Week 2 game at Cowboys Stadium. I think Tuck's poised to have a huge bounce-back season. That's a big reason why the Giants will return to the playoffs.

Giants win prediction in April: 10

3. Philadelphia Eagles: First of all, I think Kevin Kolb is going to win a lot of games with the Eagles. But there will be bumps along the way. No one really knows how he'll look as the full-time starter, but he's shown signs he can get the job done. I think he'll immediately be a more accurate passer than McNabb, but I also know that opposing defensive coordinators will go to great lengths to confuse him in coverage.

Kolb will reach out to fellow Texan Drew Brees this offseason for advice on dealing with all the adversity he's sure to face. I think that's an excellent move. The Eagles will surround Kolb with some potent weapons at receiver and tight end. But what Andy Reid truly needs to do is commit to the running game. That will help an inexperienced quarterback more than anything. Will Reid do that? I have my doubts.

The Eagles need to add more depth in the secondary during the draft. You can't depend on Marlin Jackson, owner of two surgically repaired knees, to be the answer. I think the Eagles have to draft a safety and a cornerback in the early rounds. Of course, that No. 37 pick should really help. If someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen begins to slip a little bit, the Eagles should be ready to take him. I think defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be much more comfortable in his second season. But with the Redskins becoming more of a force and the Giants likely bouncing back, finding 10 wins will be tough. Kolb will one day lead this team on a deep playoff run. But that won't happen in 2010.

Eagles win prediction in April: 9

4. Washington Redskins: No, it didn't slip my mind that Washington landed an elite-level quarterback. But count me among the skeptics who think playing behind an offensive line that could feature Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer isn't a recipe for a huge turnaround. When the Dolphins had a remarkable turnaround two seasons ago, they benefited from the rest of the division wilting down the stretch. I don't think the Redskins can count on any help from their division rivals this season.

McNabb will make the Redskins better, but he'll need to make them at least six wins better to have a shot at the playoffs. He's still an excellent quarterback and leader, but I don't see him making a six-win difference. Brett Favre inherited a 10-win team and the best running back in the game last season. McNabb inherits a four-win team and a collection of fading stars at running back.

I know McNabb took a jab at the Eagles when he said the Redskins will run the ball, but it's not like a young Brian Westbrook's walking through that door. Mike Shanahan won Super Bowls with a young Terrell Davis. He then put up huge numbers with backs such as Mike Anderson, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2000. But most of the running backs who put up big numbers for Shanahan were young and hungry. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are just holding on to their careers for another two or three seasons. McNabb needs to win nine games (or go to the Pro Bowl) in order for the Eagles to receive a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. I don't see it happening at this point. This team will be much improved, but it''ll need more than that in the rugged NFC East.

Redskins win prediction in April: 8

Editor's note: Mosley reserves the right to completely change his mind following the draft.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Redskins may have changed playcallers, but the results looked pretty much the same. Washington was no match for Philadelphia in a division game that felt like it was over in the first five minutes.

The Eagles were trying to get rid of that stench they had following a shameful performance against the Raiders last Sunday, and the Redskins were the perfect opponent. The Redskins' battered defense bit hard on a fake handoff early in the game -- and that's all the room DeSean Jackson needed as he took an end around 67 yards for a touchdown.

Jackson then removed all doubt with a 57-yard touchdown catch on which he beat the Redskins' secondary on a double move. The boobirds were out early Monday, and new playcaller Sherm Lewis stuck to the same script that has earned the Redskins a 2-5 record.

Make no mistake, the Redskins are one of the worst teams in the league. But still, the Eagles did what you have to do to an inferior opponent. Newly acquired linebacker Will Witherspoon led the way early with an interception return for a touchdown and a forced fumble. Then defensive end Trent Cole took over in the second half. He had two sacks and he made left tackle Stephon Heyer look awful.

There are only three players on the Redskins' offensive line who even belong in the NFL -- and that's the hand Lewis was dealt in his first coaching gig in almost five years. By the second half, Clinton Portis was having sideline meltdowns. He launched his helmet into the bench, which may have been the Skins' most aggressive act of the evening.

Eagles coach Andy Reid spent part of the second half tinkering with his much-maligned Wildcat formation. At this point, it's hard to determine why they went to the trouble of signing Michael Vick. But on this night, the Wildcat was simply a sideshow.

The biggest scare for the Eagles came in the first quarter when Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook took a knee to the head. He remained on the ground for about five minutes, but he was able to walk to the locker room -- and later returned to the sideline. The Eagles never really accomplished much in the running game after Jackson's long run, but it's not something they needed against the Redskins.

The Eagles' defense tormented Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell throughout the game, causing four turnovers and six sacks. This sets up a huge matchup between the Eagles and Giants at Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday.

The Giants are reeling after losing consecutive games, so the Eagles could at least share the division lead with a win. This wasn't much to look at, but the Eagles will certainly take it.

AP Photo
The Redskins recently stripped head coach Jim Zorn of play-calling duties and gave them to recently hired consultant Sherman Lewis.
Posted by's Matt Mosley

Of the four NFC East teams, the Eagles got off to the worst start in training camp. They had prepared for beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's death the best they could, but it was a painful thing to deal with nonetheless. Only days later, starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley suffered a season-ending knee injury. The injuries kept coming and starting right tackle Shawn Andrews (back) never stepped on the field before being placed on injured reserve and sent to Los Angeles to be close to his doctor.

And on Monday night against the Redskins, the Eagles will try to replace Bradley for the third time when the newly acquired Will Witherspoon lines up at middle linebacker. On the surface, the Eagles don't appear to have a very stable roster. But then, everything's relative when you share a division with Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins.

Snyder's done the impossible: He's making Al Davis look level-headed. Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato have embarrassed themselves by toying with head coach Jim Zorn over the past few weeks. They refused to give the man a public endorsement (for the remainder of the season) until after they'd stripped him of play-calling duties. Only two weeks earlier, Cerrato brought in former Bill Walsh disciple Sherm Lewis as an offensive consultant. As's Jeff Chadiha wrote Friday, some players couldn't pick Lewis out of lineup.

Yet this is the man who will stare at Zorn's laminated play-calling chart in the press box and then inform another neutralized member of the staff, Sherman Smith, which play to relay to Jason Campbell. This has success written all over it.

According to the folks I've talked to with the Eagles this week, their biggest fear is Lewis going rogue and coming up with a completely different approach. Though coach Andy Reid would never admit this, the Eagles believe they'll destroy the Redskins if they stick to the normal script -- the one that's produced just over 13 points per game. Personally, I'd be shocked if Lewis starts freelancing Monday. And if the former bingo caller suddenly barks out "B 11," what's Smith supposed to do?

When I talked to Campbell this week, he said he was attempting to remain "open-minded" about Lewis calling the plays. Campbell's shown a great deal of grace in the face of Snyder and Cerrato's bumbling ways -- dating back to their dogged offseason pursuit of Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez.

"We're all human," Campbell told me Tuesday. "Every now and then you have a moment where it gets to you."

Fortunately for Campbell, several teammates and ex-quarterbacks reached out to him after he was benched last Sunday. As we first reported last Monday, Campbell will get the start against the Eagles. Backup quarterback Todd Collins has been told to "be ready," which isn't exactly music to Campbell's ears. But there's at least one local legend who has Campbell's back.

"Joe [Theismann] reached out to me first thing," Campbell said. "I can just talk to him about a lot of things. He told me to go out Monday night and play freely. He said I've got to block everything out."

Campbell told me that he made the mistake of not trusting his offensive line against the Chiefs. He was playing behind a group that included two new starters and another teammate (Stephon Heyer) playing out of position at left tackle. Of course, Snyder and Cerrato's decision to ignore the offensive line both through the draft and free agency helped cause this problem, but that's a column for another day.

By the end of my conversation with Campbell, he'd actually talked himself into thinking the Skins could beat the Eagles on Monday.

"If we can get back to .500 at the midway point, there's a chance we could rally in the second half [of the season]," Campbell said. "When it rains, it pours. And right now, we need it to stop raining."

Unfortunately for Campbell, I don't see the dark clouds over FedEx beginning to clear.
Posted by's Matt Mosley

Redskins head coach Jim Zorn has informed quarterback Jason Campbell that he will start next Monday against the Eagles, a league source told the Beast this evening. Zorn went out of his way to make it clear that he would choose the starter -- despite having his play-calling duties stripped following Sunday's 14-6 loss to the Chiefs at FedEx Field.

Campbell has started every game during the Zorn era, but he was benched at halftime Sunday in favor of Todd Collins. Zorn said he made the move because the offense needed a "spark," but Collins only had limited success in moving the team. The Redskins are playing with an offensive line that includes Stephon Heyer at left tackle and Mike Williams at right tackle. Campbell appeared to be fearing for his life Sunday as he tried to quickly unload the ball.

The new playcaller will be Sherman Lewis, who was hired as an offensive consultant only two weeks ago. Most of the players haven't even met Lewis and he's still trying to get up to speed on the playbook. The 67-year-old Lewis has been out of the league since 2004 and he knows what it's like to have his play-calling duties stripped because that's what Dennis Green once did to him in Minnesota.

I suspect that Zorn will have an even quicker hook ready for Campbell against the Eagles. The quarterback will be under a lot of pressure to move the Redskins early in the game. At 2-4, the Skins need to beat the Eagles to have any realistic chance of turning their season around.

I'll have more details Tuesday.
  Geoff Burke-US Presswire
  Albert Haynesworth gives Washington's defense a credible and consistent threat.

 Posted by's Matt Mosley

If you simply looked at the overall rankings from the 2008 season, the Redskins' defense was among the best in the league. But that number couldn't cover up the fact that the Skins didn't create enough pressure and cause enough turnovers.

That's a big reason why owner Dan Snyder paid former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed to become the centerpiece of his defense. Haynesworth is the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and he's capable of drawing double and triple teams. With that one move, the Redskins' defense gained instant credibility in terms of becoming a disruptive force.

"It's pretty amazing to see how he goes about his business," said veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels. "He can blow up the pocket on his own and that creates a lot of opportunities for the rest of us."

Camp Confidential: NFC East
Cowboys: Fri., Aug. 7
Eagles: Tues., Aug. 11
Giants: Mon., Aug. 17
Redskins: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index

According to several players, the presence of Haynesworth has made old-school defensive coordinator Greg Blache more daring in his approach. With young players such as first-round pick Brian Orakpo and third-round supplemental pick Jeremy Jarmon, Blache has a lot more speed and depth to work with.

Haynesworth told me that he and Orakpo have been coming up with "games" during practice that will hopefully lead to sacks and turnovers. Haynesworth is coming off an 8.5 sack season, but says that is a total he is not worried about surpassing in 2009.

"I could have two sacks and still be happy as long as I'm taking on triple teams," Haynesworth said. "I love it when a team has to send everyone my way. That's when I really feel like I'm doing my job."

Haynesworth's only made it through all 16 games once in his career, but that doesn't concern him in the least.

"I'd rather play in 14 games at 1,000 percent than go out there and limp around through 16," he said.

Key questions

Who is going to end up as the No. 2 receiver?

Coach Jim Zorn is pleased with the progress that second-year wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are making. Kelly has shown a lot of maturity since struggling in last year's training camp. Quarterback Jason Campbell told me that Kelly has "crazy hands," which basically means he's snatching the ball from the air in traffic. Thomas is more of a deep threat. He's learning how to approach the game in a more structured way, which is helping him avoid some of the injuries that hampered him in 2008. I think he'll be the No. 2 receiver, but Kelly's not giving in.

  Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
  Quarterback Jason Campbell enters this season with some extra motivation.

How will Campbell fare in the final season of his contract?

Well, he couldn't have handled this situation with more grace. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent April looking for Campbell's replacement, but the quarterback kept showing up at the facility and trying to lead his teammates. The most important step he has taken is that he is getting through his reads a lot quicker. He'll take a peek at a receiver and then quickly move on. Last year, that wasn't happening all the time. He did a good job protecting the ball in the first half of the season, but now he needs to trust his instincts and take more shots downfield.

Could the lack of depth along the offensive line derail this season?

Absolutely. The Redskins haven't done a good job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Right tackle Stephon Heyer is ready to take the next step at right tackle, but right now they have Mike Williams backing him up. Williams has been out of the game for three years and I still don't think he is anywhere close to being a starter. Derrick Dockery is certainly an upgrade at guard and left tackle Chris Samuels has recovered nicely from being banged up last season. But the season will hinge on the starters staying healthy. Jeremy Bridges gives you at least one backup with some experience, but things get dicey after that.


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Carlos Rogers and Campbell played together at Auburn. They're both in make-or-break seasons. The Skins went out and spent big free agency money on DeAngelo Hall because he makes plays on the ball. Rogers has the size and athleticism to be a solid starter, but he hasn't always played with confidence. And I don't like hearing how inexperienced wide receiver Marko Mitchell keeps burning him in practice. This is the season Rogers needs to prove the Redskins made the right move taking him in the first round in 2005.

Newcomer to watch

I'm anxious to see how Orakpo takes to the SAM linebacker spot. He was a starter from Day 1. But what makes him an exceptional player is the fact that he chased down a bunch of Big 12 quarterbacks. Every time Orakpo has to drop back in coverage on first or second down is time he should be spending chasing the quarterback. Even Haynesworth told me he was surprised Orakpo wasn't lining up at defensive end all the time. But perhaps Orakpo will become a great linebacker. I just know that he could have a minimum of 10 sacks playing next to Haynesworth this season.

  Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRE
  Tight end Chris Cooley is showing improvement and could be poised for a huge season.

Observation deck

Sometimes you have to admit you made a mistake in the draft and simply cut your losses. The Redskins should do that with second-year cornerback Justin Tryon from Arizona State. At 5-foot-9, he doesn't have the size or the elite speed to cover wide receivers at this level. He made the Ravens' receivers look like world beaters last week. And that's not a talented group of wide receivers. ... Santana Moss is the heart and soul of the offense, but not many people know that. He's a relatively quiet guy who commands a lot of respect. Some veterans wouldn't want to groom the players who will eventually replace them. But Moss has jumped in and been a great mentor for Thomas and Kelly. ... Chris Cooley is about to have a huge season. He may be a little goofy off the field, but his speed and improved route running make him the perfect target for Campbell. Cooley could break through as an All-Pro this season. And yes, I know Anthony Gonzalez is playing for the Falcons and Jason Witten plays for the Cowboys. ... Trent Shelton is one of those wide receivers who shows up to a training camp and makes it impossible to cut him. He's not a speedster at all, but he can help you on special teams and he has pretty good size and body control. He always worked over the Texas A&M defense while at Baylor and he's taken that confidence into this camp. ... I like Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson as the safeties for the Giants, but for my money, LaRon Landry and Chris Horton could emerge as the best pair in the NFC. Horton loves playing downhill and he made some game-changing plays in 2008. Landry has the potential to replace Ed Reed as the best safety in the game someday. Now's a good time for him to start on that project. ... Colt Brennan likes to talk big, but he didn't back it up against the Ravens. He needs to bounce back with a nice performance this weekend to have any shot at overtaking Todd Collins as backup QB. ... Tight end Fred Davis is showing a lot more maturity in this camp and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an impact this season.

Three and Out: Redskins

August, 20, 2009

Posted by's Matt Mosley

Three quick hits on the Washington Redskins:

1. Who will win the No. 2 receiver opposite Santana Moss?

I think second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas has the edge at this point, but Malcolm Kelly impressed both Jim Zorn and quarterback Jason Campbell with his performance against the Ravens last Thursday. Zorn has been pulling for one of his young players to win the job and it appears that Antwaan Randle El is handling that news pretty well. Thomas needs to continue to show more maturity on and off the field. He has the size and breakaway speed to be a difference-maker in '09, but he still makes some careless mistakes. Fortunately, Kelly and Thomas have an excellent mentor in Moss. He's spent a lot of time with the receivers, and he's hoping they will take some heat off him.

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2. The offensive line is once again the key

Left tackle Chris Samuels appears to be all the way back from injuries that derailed his '08 season. When healthy, he's still one of the most athletic tackles in the game. Bringing in guard Derrick Dockery is a huge upgrade, but the Skins still face questions at right tackle. Stephon Heyer was having a superb camp before he got banged up. Campbell says he has a lot of faith in Heyer. As we've discussed many times, there's no way Mike Williams is prepared to make it through a season. Maybe he can get you through a game or two, but he's still more of reclamation project at this point. I think Jeremy Bridges will prove to be an important pickup. He can back up several spots along the line, and he could be a nice stopgap at right tackle if something happens to Heyer. I have no clue what Chad Rinehart's going to end up doing. He's shown some flashes in camp, but I don't see him as a future starter.

3. Can Albert Haynesworth live up to the huge expectations?

Haynesworth's going to play in the second preseason. I don't think he needs a lot of downs, but he does need to see some game action. Haynesworth's been very impressed with rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo, who will line up at defensive end in passing situations. The two have been working on some stunts together. Haynesworth said that Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache will try to create a lot of confusion with guys moving just before the snap. I think Haynesworth can lead this defense to the next level. He'll be very disruptive, which should lead to more turnovers. I don't know if he can lead the Skins to the playoffs, but he'll cause a lot of trouble for opposing offensive coordinators.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:

Dallas Cowboys


Who's out: Terrell Owens, WR, cut and signed with Bills.

Who's in: Roy Williams, WR

Outlook: Williams was acquired so that he could complement T.O., but that thought was abandoned when Jerry Jones released T.O. after the season.

Williams becomes the de facto No. 1 receiver -- and he'll face enormous pressure. His '08 campaign was shaky at best, but he'll get every opportunity to shine this season. In my mind, 65 catches for 850 yards and eight touchdowns sounds about right.

Williams needs Miles Austin to continue to develop as the potential No. 2 receiver. Austin's speed could open things up for Williams to work the middle of the field. Williams has been frustrated by all the doubters, but they're not going anywhere -- unless he helps take the Cowboys to a playoff game. 

New York Giants


Who's out: Plaxico Burress, WR, free agent awaiting trial

Who's in: Hakeem Nicks, WR

Outlook: The Giants won't ask Nicks to immediately replace Burress -- and they shouldn't. Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith should be able to hold the fort while Nicks gets up to speed.

But Nicks is too much of a playmaker to redshirt. At some point this season, he'll be called on to play a significant role. I think Eli Manning is relieved to not have the Plax drama hanging over his head this offseason.

I know that rookie Ramses Barden has a body type more like Burress', but he's more of a project at this point. Early in the season, the Giants will lean heavily on the running game. That should buy Nicks and Barden some time to grow up. 

Philadelphia Eagles


Who's out: Tra Thomas, LT, cut and signed with Jaguars

Who's in: Jason Peters, LT

Outlook: The trade for Peters jump-started the offseason. Yes, he gave up too many sacks last season in Buffalo, but he'll bounce back this season.

He finally feels appreciated, and I think he'll turn into one of the best in the league. You also have to remember the loss of Brian Dawkins. But Quintin Mikell is a pretty solid replacement. You get younger, although Dawkins' influence in the locker room will be missed.

Peters should make the Eagles a better running team -- immediately. Now, we just need to see how Brian Westbrook bounces back from a couple of offseason surgeries. 

Washington Redskins


Who's out: Jon Jansen, RT, cut and signed with Lions

Who's in: Stephon Heyer, RT

Outlook: The Redskins didn't really have any major losses, although Shawn Springs was a very solid presence in the locker room.

Springs was still talented, but he couldn't stay on the field because of injuries. Jansen gave the Redskins almost a decade of service, but he had no business starting this season.

Right tackle is Heyer's job to lose, and I think he'll nail it down in training camp. It's still a potential soft spot for this offense, though. Heyer has excellent size and pretty good feet for a big guy. But I'm not convinced he's the long-term answer.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Greetings from Lincoln Financial Field, where we're about an hour away from kickoff. It's 66 degrees with 63 percent humidity right now. We'll have a high of 73.

In other news, the Redskins will be without starting cornerback Shawn Springs (calf) and linebacker Marcus Washington (hamstring) for today's game against the Eagles. Fred Smoot and H.B. Blades will start.

For the Eagles, Brian Westbrook (ankle) will return after missing last Sunday's game against the Bears. Westbrook came out about two and a half hours before the game and appeared to be cutting pretty well. I still think Correll Buckhalter could end up carrying the load, but Westbrook's presence gives the Eagles a lift.

The Eagles are also missing Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews, but we knew he was going to be out. Andrews doesn't seem to be making much progress with his back, and that's something we should keep our eye on.

Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor will miss his second consecutive game and Jon Jansen will once again start for Stephon Heyer at right tackle.

Here's the entire list of inactives: Eagles: QB A.J. Feeley (emergency), LB Joe Mays, DE Bryan Smith, G Shawn Andrews, G Mike McGlynn, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Matt Schobel, DE Victor Abiamiri Redskins: QB Colt Brennan (emergency), CB Shawn Springs, S Justin Hamilton, LB Marcus Washington, DE Jason Taylor, T Stephon Heyer, T Chad Rinehart.




Thursday, 8/21
Friday, 8/22
Saturday, 8/23
Sunday, 8/24