AROUND THE NFC EAST – DOWN THE HATCH: Washington Redskins will open 2014 training camp without Jason Hatcher | Former Dallas Cowboys DE sidelined
RICHMOND, Va. — Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden says defensive end Jason Hatcher and three other players will be sidelined when training camp practice begins Thursday.
Gruden said today that Hatcher, defensive end Stephen Bowen and receiver Leonard Hankerson are still recovering from knee surgeries, while backup guard Maurice Hurt is out of shape.
Hatcher, acquired as a free agent from the Dallas Cowboys, had arthroscopic surgery last month. He is expected to return quicker than Bowen and Hankerson, who had more significant injuries.
The coach says quarterback Robert Griffin III’s physical condition is “not an issue” 18 months removed from major knee surgery. Says Gruden: “The key for him is to learn from his mistakes.”
Gruden is leading a camp for the first time. He says he’ll have “butterflies” making sure everything’s right.
AROUND THE NFC EAST: Tracking The Evil Empire | The 2014-2015 division pre-training camp watch | Assessing the biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys rivals
IRVING, Texas – It’s a bit hard to believe, but football is here – the makings of football, at least.
It would have been too easy and too boring for the Dallas Cowboys if DeSean Jackson had disappeared off to Oakland or Cleveland.
Instead, he’ll turn the spotlight back on Washington — which is precisely where it was for much of 2013, if you’ll remember. Jackson agreed to terms with the Redskins last night.
DeSean Jackson has never been a fan of the Cowboys. The receiver once famously declared “we gonna sting they ass’’ when he played for Philadelphia.
Jackson didn’t do a lot of stinging against the Cowboys the last three seasons. Will he have a better chance now that he’s with Washington?
It almost seemed like the inevitable conclusion to Jackson’s release from Philadelphia last week. In keeping with the NFC East’s penchant for drama, the move not only keeps him within the same division as his old team, the Eagles, but also his old nemesis, the Cowboys.
The news brings a strange story to an end, as it had only been five days since the Eagles released Jackson for no definitive reason. It was widely speculated the three-time Pro Bowler would find a new home relatively quickly, and Washington wasted no time after visiting with Jackson on Monday night.
As if the storied Cowboys-Redskins rivalry needed any more juice, it certainly has picked up a bit this offseason. Washington signed lifelong Cowboys and 2013 Pro Bowler Jason Hatcher just three days into free agency, and now the Redskins have added Jackson — a favorite target of Dallas fans during his career in Philadelphia.
In truth, Jackson’s success against the Cowboys has been lacking when compared to his impressive six-year career. He has played 11 games against Dallas, tallying 39 catches for 688 yards and just two touchdowns. That’s an average of 3.5 catches for 62.5 yards per game.
There are two obvious outliers there: Jackson torched the Cowboys for 210 yards and a touchdown on four catches in 2010, and he was also limited to just six catches for 49 yards in two games last year.
That said, the addition of one of the league’s best deep threats is an undeniable boon for Washington. The Redskins have been lacking explosiveness in the passing game for what feels like ages. In fact, Pierre Garcon’s 1,346-yard effort in 2013 was the team’s first 1,000-yard season by a receiver since 2010, and it was just the team’s fourth 1,000-yard receiving season since 2004.
Combining Garcon and Jackson is undoubtedly going to open up the passing game for Robert Griffin III, who hasn’t had a true No. 1 receiver during his brief NFL career. It should also decrease the focus on Alfred Morris and Washington’s vaunted ground game, which was already plenty successful when the Redskins didn’t have a deep threat like Jackson.
On paper, at least, this is Washington’s most intimidating offense in some time. If Griffin returns to his 2012 form, and the offensive line can keep him on his feet, the Redskins should have no problems scoring points.
Of course, the offense scored plenty last season. The bigger problem was a leaky defense — something every team in the NFC East can likely relate to. The Redskins have taken some steps toward fixing that, headlined by the addition of Hatcher.
But there’s no doubt that adding Jackson is the first truly blockbuster move an NFC East team has made this offseason. The Cowboys and Redskins had both already added Pro Bowlers to this point — but Hatcher is turning 32 and Henry Melton is coming off ACL surgery.
The Eagles made waves by trading for Darren Sproles, but he is more of a complimentary piece. The Giants have added several good-not-great players, but no bonafide stars.
The Jackson deal is sure to put the Redskins in the limelight during Jay Gruden’s first season as coach. It’s hard to imagine high expectations for a team that finished 3-13 and doesn’t possess a first-round draft pick, but that’s what it’s looking like.
Signing an All-Pro, hot button target can do that for you — especially in this division.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — Too much of the discussion in the days leading up to this game had to do with Peyton Manning’s legacy.
Now that another NFL season has come to a close, let’s shift the focus to where it rightfully belongs.
A young, brash Seahawks team did more than beat Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. Seattle’s 43-8 victory delivered a message to the rest of the league.
Beware. This isn’t a team catching fire late to win the title as Baltimore did last February. This isn’t the New York Giants or Green Bay Packers slipping into the playoffs on the final day and then beating the odds.
No, this is something different. It has the feel of Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 when the young, brash Dallas Cowboys burst on the scene with a 52-17 win over Buffalo.
That was the first of three Lombardi Trophies in four years for the Cowboys. It’s premature to suggest the Seahawks will enjoy that sort of success. But their dominance was sobering.
“It’s all about making history,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. “This was a dominant performance from top to bottom.”
Seattle has been building for this moment ever since head coach Pete Carroll arrived four years ago. The Seahawks are young, fast, and deep on defense. They have a quarterback of poise and leadership beyond his years in Russell Wilson, a hammer for a running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a refusal to accept the limitations of inexperience.
Not one player on the Seattle roster appeared in a Super Bowl before Sunday’s game. The last team to make that claim was Buffalo in ’90.
Unlike that franchise, the Seahawks came away champions.
“This is an amazing team,” Carroll said. “It started a long time ago, I’m talking four years ago. They never took a step sideways or backward to get to where they are now.
“These guys would not take anything other than winning this game. They didn’t think anything else would happen.”
It quickly became evident that nothing other than a Seattle win would be the outcome. The Seahawks defense came up with a safety 12 seconds into the game. Two plays later, on a crossing pattern to Demaryius Thomas, safety Kam Chancellor leveled the Denver receiver with a hit that registered on the Richter scale.
“All of my teammates came up to me and said that set the tone,” said Chancellor, the man who puts the boom in the defense’s Legion of Boom moniker.
Seattle controlled the ball for 14:41 of the first 18 minutes on its way to a 15-0 lead. The Seahawks later added a 69-yard interception return for touchdown by linebacker Malcolm Smith, the game’s Most Valuable Player, and opened the third quarter with an 87-yard kickoff return for touchdown by Percy Harvin.
About that time, the audience for Downton Abbey on PBS experienced a significant spike.
Injuries sidelined Harvin for all but 19 snaps during the regular season. The receiver rewarded the organization’s patience with that kickoff return and by leading the team in rushing with 45 yards on his two end-around runs.
“I was finally able to give my team something for four quarters,” Harvin said. “That meant a lot to me.”
This game was supposed to represent an intriguing clash of styles. It never did because Seattle’s No. 1 defense smothered Manning and the No. 1 offense of the Broncos.
The Seahawks forced four turnovers and held the Broncos’ high-octane offense to one meaningless touchdown once the lead ballooned to 36 points.
Yes, what happened Sunday was unexpected on several fronts. That doesn’t mean the Seahawks lacked faith. When the season got underway Wilson told his teammates, “Hey, why not us?”
“We’re not sleeping tonight,” Carroll said of the impending celebration. “We’re staying up all night.”
There will be lot of sleepless nights around the NFL in the months and years to come figuring out how to compete with this young, brash Seattle team.
HONOLULU — The NFL wanted Pro Bowl drama. The NFL got Pro Bowl drama.
Alex Smith, the final pick in last Wednesday’s Pro Bowl Draft, led Team Rice on the final touchdown drive on a rain-soaked field. Then Jerry Rice and Riverboat Ron Rivera went for two and clinched a 22-21 win over Team Sanders in the first unconferenced Pro Bowl.
This was the best Pro Bowl in a long, long time.
Here’s what else we learned from Sunday’s game (Watch highlight video):
1. Even if the banter was manufactured by the 2014 Pro Bowl Draft, players after the game said they enjoyed the process and the opportunity to play with guys they never had a chance to team with before. It was a theme all week.
2. Teammates hitting each other didn’t seem like a big deal. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson laid the wood on teammate Jamaal Charles early. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward later flipped Josh Gordon to the ground. We never did get that teammate-on-quarterback sack, though.
3. Speaking of quarterback sacks, the defensive lines dominated. The two teams ended up with nine sacks. Early in the contest, we wondered if Sean Payton would call Team Rice’s coach (and division rival) Ron Rivera and ask him to sit Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback was sacked twice and battered often. The QB pressures were a big reason for all the turnovers.
4. J.J. Watt was a beast. Playing next to Ndamukong Suh and later Greg Hardy, Watt was unblockable. With Team Rice double-teaming Watt, Hardy picked up a sack. Don’t think management in Houston didn’t see that and ponder what Jadeveon Clowney would look like next to Watt.
5. The playful teammate trash talk was constant and likely will linger in texts and tweets the next couple days. Mike Tolbert’s SuperCam mock-celebration after his two-point conversion was emblematic. “I told Cam I was going to mess with him if I got in the end zone, so I had to,” Tolbert said laughing.
6. The lack of continuity on offense clearly hurt the product. Not only were there fewer teammate combinations due to the draft, the new format also lessened the practice time by one day. There were a multitude of miscommunications between quarterback and receiver.
7. Speaking of teammates, Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for an early touchdown pass. On the play, Brent Grimes (all 5-foot-10 of him) ended up on the 6-foot-7 tight end. That, friends, is a mismatch.
8. What was going through Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe’s mind as he rumbled toward the end zone after his second-quarter interception? “I was thinking of a touchdown celebration dance,” Poe said after the game. “I didn’t get there, but next time I will though.”
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Seahawks parlay 49ers mistakes into Super Bowl trip
SEATTLE — All season long, the Seattle Seahawks’ defense carried them at times the offense sputtered. Its biggest challenge yet will come in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks forced turnovers on the San Francisco 49ers’ final three drives, the last an interception by Malcolm Smith on a deflection by Richard Sherman in the end zone with 22 seconds to go that sealed a 23-17 victory in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
Next up: a title date with Peyton Manning and the high-powered Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Colin Kaepernick fumbled and threw an interception on the 49ers’ previous two drives. But the Seahawks scored only one field goal off those turnovers, keeping the game alive.
Given the ball once more with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to go, Kaepernick completed four consecutive passes, including a fourth-and-2 strike to crossing Frank Gore as the 49ers drove to the Seattle 18.
But Sherman got a piece of Kaepernick’s jump-ball throw to the corner of the end zone and Smith corralled the ball in bounds, allowing Seattle to run out the clock and set off a celebration during which Sherman leaped into the stands at CenturyLink Field.
It’s the second George Halas Trophy and Super Bowl trip in the 38-year history of the Seahawks, who also won the NFC title after the 2005 season before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
No players remain from that team, and no one on Seattle’s roster has appeared in a Super Bowl. Neither has coach Pete Carroll, who did take the University of Southern California to two BCS championship games before becoming the Seahawks’ coach in 2010.
Sunday’s win was the Seahawks’ third straight against the 49ers in Seattle, where they rolled 42-13 on Dec. 23, 2012, and 29-3 on Sept. 15 before San Francisco won this regular season’s rematch 19-17 on Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park. This one was far tighter.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Peyton Manning passes Broncos past Patriots into Super Bowl
DENVER — Two years ago, the NFL world was wondering if Peyton Manning might ever throw another pass. Even he wasn’t sure.
Yet there were a gaggle of Mannings in a jubilant Denver Broncos locker room on Sunday, celebrating the Broncos’ 26-16 win in the AFC Championship Game and Manning’s third trip to the Super Bowl. Manning has a chance to win a second Super Bowl ring — his first with the Broncos and his first since having four surgeries on his neck.
“One of my favorite things to tell him is, ‘Enjoy the journey.’ I tell him that all the time. And it’s been a good journey,” Manning’s father and former NFL quarterback Archie Manning said.
Archie was joined by his other two sons, New York Giants quarterback Eli, who made the trip to Denver to surprise his brother, and Cooper, whose two sons scampered around the locker room in their orange No.18 jerseys, taking pictures of the AFC championship memorabilia and posing in their uncle’s locker.
“Oh, we’re proud. Obviously we’re proud of Peyton, but we’re just like all the other parents of Broncos that are going to the Super Bowl,” Archie said.
Peyton Manning was brilliant in leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl since his boss, John Elway, retired after the 1998 season. Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, both at the end of drives lasting more than seven minutes. He was clearly the best player on the field in his 15th meeting with longtime nemesis Tom Brady.
Manning will be joined in East Rutherford, N.J., at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 by a suddenly stout defense that held the New England Patriots to 320 yards. The Broncos shut down the Patriots running game (64 yards) and held Brady to 277 passing yards. Brady was sacked twice, including a 10-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the Broncos 29-yard line in the third quarter with Denver leading 20-3. That sack, by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, killed the Patriots’ 13-play drive and drew some of the loudest cheers of the day from a sold-out crowd at Sports Authority Field.
“We knew it would take a dominant performance on defense. We knew our offense was going to go out there with a rhythm. I knew Peyton would throw for all that, and we just wanted to do our part,” Knighton said. “We didn’t want to be the missing link.”
Fans relished the Broncos’ first AFC title game since the 2005 season (when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers), and the resurgence of a team that was 4-12 three years ago. But the brief and disastrous tenure of coach Josh McDaniels, now New England’s offensive coordinator, led to the hiring of Elway as executive vice president of football operations. Elway has rebuilt the team and was a key element to the signing of Manning in March 2012.
Denver has gone 13-3 in the two seasons since, while Manning and the offense shattered records this season with 55 passing touchdowns and 606 points scored. But none of that would have really mattered without a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos, the preseason favorites to win the AFC, did not get here easily. They played the first six games of the season without their star pass rusher as Von Miller served a suspension, lost all-pro left tackle Ryan Clady in Week 2, lost defensive starters Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Chris Harris to season-ending injuries and played four weeks without coach John Fox, who had heart surgery in early November.
“Every Super Bowl team that has held up that trophy has been through some type of adversity,” Knighton said. “We just wanted to respond.”
COWBOYS RIVAL HEADLINE: Aaron Rodgers listed as out for Sunday’s game vs. Dallas Cowboys | Green Bay Journal Sentinel
Green Bay – Highlights from Mike McCarthy‘s Friday news conference …
- (On Rodgers) Frankly it’s been a difficult morning going through conversation with Dr. McKenzie and Aaron. He feels ready to play. …He’s very disappointed. He’s frustrated. Speaking with Dr. McKenzie, this is the right decision. He was not scanned this morning — whens, ifs, buts will continue to go on . The hurdle Aaron wanted to get over, he felt he achieved it. Listening to all the facts, it’s in our best interest as a team for him not to play.
- (On Flynn’s week) Thought Matt had his best practice today. Matt Flynn was very sharp today and he obviously took the reps.
- (On Lacy) Ready. Looks good. All of those guys look good.
- (On maybe letting this play out for strategy) I’m not very good at that. …Minnesota last year with Christian Ponder not playing was about as well-kept as I’ve ever seen. Had researched Joe Webb earlier.
- (On if he was OK with decision) I’m definitely OK with it. …Aaron feels he’s ready to play. With what he did Wednesday and Thursday, he feels ready to go. It’s not easy to tell your franchise quarterback he can’t play. But this is in the best interest of Aaron Rodgers.
- (On Starks maybe seeing reps) I have no problem giving the ball to James 20 times if that’s the way it worked out. Like our running back situation.
Courtesy: Tyler Dunne | Journal Sentinel
RELATED: Green Bay Packers official website announcement
GREEN BAY–Aaron Rodgers will not play in Dallas on Sunday.
“Aaron Rodgers is declared out for Sunday’s game. It’s been a difficult morning going through the conversation with Aaron and Dr. McKenzie. He’s very disappointed. He’s frustrated. He was not scanned this morning. He felt like he was ready to play. It’s in our best interests as a football team for Aaron not to play,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday.
“I’m definitely OK with it. (Aaron) feels he’s ready to play,” McCarthy said.
More from McCarthy:
“(Rodgers) feels based on what he’s accomplished physically, what he was able to do at practice on Wednesday and Thursday, he’s ready to go. Hey, it’s not the easiest thing to sit there and tell your franchise quarterback he can’t play in the game when he wants to play in the game. This is clearly a decision that’s made in the best interests of Aaron Rodgers.”
Matt Flynn, obviously, will start his third straight game on Sunday.
“I thought Matt had his best practice today of the two weeks of preparation,” McCarthy said. “I thought Matt was very sharp today, and he obviously took all the reps.”
Other than Rodgers and DE C.J. Wilson (knee), who is also out, everyone else on the Packers’ injury report is probable. That includes RB Eddie Lacy (ankle) and inside LBs Brad Jones (ankle) and Jamari Lattimore (knee), who practiced for the first time this week on Friday.
“I felt like we got healthy as the week went on,” McCarthy said. As for the inside LB situation, which looked tenuous all week, McCarthy said, “We have different packages. We feel we’re prepared to do what we need to do.”
Based on Lacy’s limited practice work, it’s possible RB James Starks will play a larger role in the offense on Sunday, though McCarthy remains confident Lacy will be ready to go.
“I have no problem giving the ball to James 20 times if that’s the way it shakes out. I like our running back situation right now.”
Courtesy: Green Bay Packers website
Jay Cutler caught an underhanded snap from Bears quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh early in practice Thursday. He dropped back to pass, shuffled right, then forward, then threw a 10-yard pass to his left.
The simple passing drill was a significant milestone for Cutler as he returned to practice for the first time since suffering a high left ankle sprain Nov. 10.
But the favorable news stopped there.
He will miss Monday night’s game against the Cowboys, his fourth straight on the sideline. Coach Marc Trestman on Thursday ruled him out 10 days after Cutler said on his radio show he “would be pretty disappointed if I wasn’t able to play for (the Cowboys) game.”
Trestman, however, reiterated his belief Cutler will play again this season, meaning the Bears should expect to change quarterbacks from backup Josh McCown to Cutler during the final postseason push this month.
“I know the type of fighter Jay is,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “I have only been here for a few months, but I know the passion he has toward this game and toward this team. We want him to come back and be himself. But if things don’t work out, they don’t work out, and we’ll go hit it with Josh.”
Cutler quarterbacked the scout team during Thursday’s practice. He declined the Tribune’s interview request afterward.
Trestman was not sure of Cutler’s status for the Dec. 15 road game against the Browns, saying that will be evaluated next week. Cutler on his radio show Nov. 25 characterized a return for the Browns game as a worst-case scenario.
Trestman said Cutler was not deflated because he failed to meet his Dec. 9 target to return.
“Jay is very clear on where he is medically,” Trestman said. “He’s continuing to progress. We’ve been very, very clear that he has to be released by the doctors before he can play, and he has come to terms with that. He’s a strong-willed and strong-minded guy. He can’t control this decision on Monday other than to continue to work on his rehab.”
Cutler sprained his ankle late in the first half Nov. 10 against the Lions. He stayed in the game and played into the fourth quarter after Bears medical staffers expressed belief he could not damage the ankle more extensively.
Since then, the Bears have insisted Cutler did no additional harm to ankle by continuing to play.
Cutler on Nov. 18 created an air of mystery about the injury when he said on his radio show: “There are a couple of ligaments we’re a little bit worried about that are different than a normal high ankle sprain.”
Neither the team nor Cutler offered further details or explanation.
Cutler’s injuries have been a major subplot in the final season of his contract. He has not finished a game since the Oct. 10 victory over the Giants. He suffered a torn groin muscle against the Redskins on Oct. 20 and was sidelined for the Nov. 4 game against the Packers.
The Bears have won two of the four games Cutler has missed this season. McCown, who started all four of those, will start Monday.
Trestman, meanwhile, looks to Cutler’s return.
“I was encouraged today just by the work that he got in considering the injury wasn’t that long ago, so we’ll see where he is next week,” Trestman said. “But it was a good first day for him to come out and get some work. He threw the ball very, very well.”
Courtesy: Rich Campbell | Tribune reporter
When Green Bay visits Dallas on Dec. 15, it could be a crucial game for the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.
And the Packers might come to Texas without their star quarterback.
There’s speculation (from the drama queens at NFL.com) that if Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) can’t play next week against Atlanta, Green Bay might shut the quarterback down for the season, if the Packers are out of the playoff race.
Rodgers, who did not play in Thursday’s loss to Detroit, was cleared to practice on a limited basis earlier this week and did some throwing on the field Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Packers are 5-6-1 and in third place in the NFC North.
When asked Friday whether Rodgers has a chance to play against Atlanta, coach Mike McCarthy replied, “I don’t know that.”
“I just know when we came off the field Wednesday that he wasn’t ready to play yet,” McCarthy added. “So, we’ll see how the testing goes. But it needs to be the right thing. I know he wants to play, I know he’s trying to gear up each and every week to play, but we’ll see what happens next week.”
Feeling the sting of the Packers’ most lopsided loss since they fell 35-0 at home against New England in McCarthy’s first season as coach in 2006, at least one frustrated player commented on how much Rodgers has been missed.
Green Bay didn’t have a victory in its five November games after Rodgers went out after the first series of the loss to Chicago on Nov. 4. The last time the Packers were winless in a full month of games was December 1990, when they went 0-5.
“It definitely made things a lot more difficult without Aaron,” left guard Josh Sitton said Thursday. “I think we all know that. There’s no denying that. You can’t say, ‘Hey, we can go and play just as good without Aaron.’ We haven’t won a game without him in five weeks. He’s the best player on this team. Yeah, we need him, but there’s a lot more going on than just that.”
Their Nemesis: DeMarcus Ware
When you have been in this league as long as guys like Tony Romo and Jason Witten, you are going to get the opportunity to be in a lot of games. DeMarcus Ware is in that same category and like Romo and Witten, he has only faced the Oakland Raiders twice in his career. In those two games, Ware has recorded a sack in each of those meetings. For Ware and his teammates, it might not be so much about rushing Matt McGloin but having to slow down Rashad Jennings and this Raiders running game. The Raiders will do their best to try and protect McGloin, the best way they can and that will be trying to run the ball. It’s a physical rushing attack and Ware will be the key at the point of attack but also on the backside when that ball goes away. What would help Ware in this game, is if the Cowboys offense can put pressure on the Raiders to have to score right along with them, thus allowing Ware more chances to rush the passer. In this matchup, Ware could be facing Jared Veldheer who will be making his first start since the last time these two teams met in the preseason. Veldheer is coming off a triceps injury and in his place, Khalif Barnes has done a nice job and will draw the assignment of handling Ware.
Our Weapon: Tony Romo
Turn back the calendar to Thanksgiving Day 2009, when Tony Romo made his only career start against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium. For Romo, it was an efficient day throwing the ball going 18 – 29 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. For Jason Garrett and this offensive staff, they would take that exact same day from Romo when the Cowboys and Raiders again meet this Thursday. My film study leading up to the game, tells me that the Cowboys are going to have trouble running the ball and it will fall on Romo and these skilled players to have to make plays to move the ball and score points. I believe the key to this game is going to be how well the Cowboys can execute plays like they did last week against the Giants on that final drive. This offense is hard to deal with when that is the case. I believe the Raiders will come after Romo and not allow him to feel comfortable in the pocket with linebacker and secondary blitzes. Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver know that if Romo does have time and the rush does not get home, that their secondary would be under attack. The best way for Tony Romo to help his defense is to keep the pressure on this Raiders offense to have to score points. By doing this, Romo can make the Raiders one dimensional and put the pressure on Matt McGloin to have to come up with plays in the game.
Under Their Radar: Kyle Wilber
I keep talking about the Raiders and their desire to run the ball against the Cowboys on Thursday. Kyle Wilber will be making his second start at Sam linebacker, after really doing a nice job against the Giants last week. Wilber was up to the challenge on several plays when the ball came in his direction. For the Cowboys to have any success of slowing Rashad Jennings down, Wilber is going to once again have that same type of effort. For these Cowboys linebackers, it’s going to be about taking on blocks and getting to the ball. The Raiders are a physical team when it comes to running the ball and with the size of their backs plus how well their fullbacks attack the line, its going to be an all day chore. Like the Giants tight ends last week, I am not that impressed with what I have seen from these on the Raiders. Jeron Mastrud, Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa are not great point of attack blockers and I expect Wilber to be able to control them and work to the ball. Where Wilber had his troubles when he was a defensive end was taking on offensive tackles and having to deal with that mass and power, against these tight ends, they are more of his size and it is easier for him to have to deal with them.
The Nemesis: Charles Woodson
When it comes to all time great players to line up and play in this league, there are none better than Charles Woodson and what he has done throughout his long NFL career. Woodson has faced the Cowboys on five different occasions with a 4 – 1 record. In those meetings, Woodson has recorded 15 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Woodson has returned the Raiders where he began his career after seven seasons in Green Bay. Woodson has made the transition from shut down corner to safety without any issues. He might not have the speed or quickness that he once had, in his early days with the Raiders and later with the Packers but he is still around the ball and has that ability to turn a mistake by the quarterback, into a turnover or pick up a fumble and score. Next to Rhonde Barber, he was one of the best slot blitzers that I had ever scouted. Woodson had a knack for not tipping off that he was rushing, then explode off the edge for a sack. Even at his age, he is still a physical tackler and can bring a ball carrier down in space. Where teams have had some success attacking the Raiders has been in the middle of the field but it appears that it is more about the other safeties than really his play.
Their Weapon: Rashad Jennings
This Dallas Cowboys defense has seen it share of outstanding running backs this season and this week is no different with Rashad Jennings. When you sit down and really study Jennings, you cannot come away not impressed with how he runs the ball. There is a violence in his running style that leaves you shaking your head in his ability to punish defenders. He is a load and whether they hand him the ball straight down hill or toss it on the edge, he is running until he feels contact, then he is going to give you a lot more. There is no secret in what you are going to get from him whether there is a hole or not. He is going to put his head down and carry bodies with him until they get him on the ground. He plays with really strong leg drive. For a big man, has a really nice burst. Doesn’t have great timed speed but when you watch him play, he is plenty fast. Has soft hands and looks very comfortable catching in them. Can take simple passes and make them large gains in the open field because of his running style. If he has a weakness, for someone his size, he is a poor pass blocker. He tends to try and cut instead of staying on his feet and taking on his man sqaure. If this game is close on Thursday, it will not favor the Cowboys because the Raiders will pound them with him. Need to get bodies to him quickly.
Under The Radar: Sio Moore
If you asked me the strength of this Oakland defense, I would say that it is their linebackers. I know that Lamarr Houston can be a problem off the edge but these linebackers can make some plays. Rookie Sio Moore, plays as the Sam linebacker in this scheme and he really is a good football player. He is not the tallest guy but he plays with outstanding quickness and lateral range. He can get to full speed very quickly and when he sees the ball, he is going to make a play. Can be an explosive guy when it comes to taking on blocks and shedding them. For such a young guy, he plays with really nice instincts and awareness. It was rare to see him get fooled on a play. He showed the ability to drop or handle his man in coverage. His best trait might be his ability to blitz. In 10 games this season, he has 3.5 sacks and that is because of his quickness. Was surprised at the power he was able to show when taking on blockers. Does a really nice job with his hands and plays with really good leverage. As mentioned, plays with a solid group of guys in Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett. Has a chance to really develop and become something special for the Raiders. Cannot leave him unaccounted for or unblocked because he will make the play. Should have been higher on his college grade in my report last spring.
IRVING, Texas – Dez Bryant wouldn’t be baited so easily.
Whether it was the Calvin Johnson debate, or the sideline debates, the Dallas Cowboys mercurial receiver has been the focus of several storylines this season.
That simple fact made Bryant a prime candidate to respond to recent comments from Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Following New York’s win Sunday against Green Bay, Pierre-Paul told reporters the Giants were going to “put it on” the Cowboys. He followed up by adding: “It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a dogfight. There’s going to be a lot of blood spilled out there.”
Bryant smiled ruefully when asked for his take, but he didn’t bite, saying it goes with the territory of competition.
“He’s supposed to feel that way,” Bryant said. “You’re an opponent, and we’re the opponent for them. It’s great confidence.”
That wasn’t the only thing Bryant had to be happy about. As has been noted, Miles Austin returned to practice after several weeks coping with the same hamstring injury he suffered in Week 3.
Austin contributed 10 catches for 72 yards in the season-opening win against New York – a fact Bryant said could only help the Cowboys offense.
“You put a smile on my face saying that. It’s going to be great – it’s going to be outstanding,” he said. “You’ve got Terrance Williams, you’ve got Jason Witten, you’ve got Miles Austin, you’ve got me, you’ve got Cole Beasley – what more can you ask for?”
The answer to that is probably more production. The offense has sputtered in recent weeks, lowlighted by a miserable 193 total yards during the Week 10 loss in New Orleans – just 44 of which belonged to Bryant.
It stands to reason the Giants will also try to limit Bryant. They held him to just 22 yards on four catches in Week 1. But on top of Austin’s return, the Giants must also prepare for two more weapons – Beasley and Williams – who weren’t prominently involved during the first meeting.
Bryant said that combination should make it hard for New York to focus too much on him.
“I’m just giving you my opinion — it’s going to be kind of hard. We’ve got some tremendous players on this team,” he said. “You see Beas – if you give him space, you’re dead … We got Miles back – big, shifty, strong, fast. Terrance will blow right past you.”
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” Bryant added. “I’m just another part to it, and whenever I have opportunities to get my hands on the ball, I’ll try my best to do something with it.”
As far as responding to Pierre-Paul, though, he wasn’t having it.
“It ain’t about proving anybody wrong,” he said. “We’re just trying to go out there and play some great football and try to execute the plays we practice on each and every day in practice.”
COWBOYS VS. SAINTS GUT-CHECK REVIEW: Dallas offense shut down; Saints rip Cowboys defense in 49-17 loss
NEW ORLEANS – Initial thoughts following the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys’ 49-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Kavner: No one predicted the massacre that occurred Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Dallas Cowboys established a strong running presence early on and took a quick 3-0 lead, but that’s about the only positive thing to say about a team that got smashed the rest of the way. Tony Romo only had three completions for 20 yards at the half, and the Saints offense continued to move the ball at will against the Cowboys defense, particularly after Sean Lee went out with an injury. I thought we’d see a back-and-forth shootout in New Orleans. It turned out this one was over early in the third quarter, when thoughts shifted more to the Cowboys’ immediate future without Lee than it did the game, which was already wrapped up.
Helman: The popular saying around this team is that they play to their level of competition, but that was far from the case Sunday night. The offense, aside from one short drive in the third quarter, couldn’t find any rhythm or consistent production. It was nice to see the Cowboys commit to the run and find some early success, but was it worth it at the cost of such a poor passing performance? This team lives and dies with Tony Romo, as far as I’m concerned, and his inability to find even 100 passing yards when the game was still in the balance just wasn’t going to cut it. Once again we saw the defense fall well short of top-notch competition, as the Saints racked up both points and yardage. Obviously, injuries play a role in that, as Jason Hatcher was inactive and Sean Lee left the game early. But that doesn’t excuse the poor tackling or the dozen penalties. The Cowboys have dealt with their fair share of disappointment this season, but this is the first time in 10 weeks we’ve seen them get definitively outplayed.
Eatman: I really thought we’d see an old-fashioned shootout. The Saints were certainly down for it, although Rob Ryan wasn’t having it. The Cowboys just weren’t good enough on any side of the ball to stay with the Saints. Cole Beasley wasn’t really a factor like I thought. Then again neither was Dez Bryant or Jason Witten or anyone Tony Romo was throwing to. To me, the game changed completely when Sean Lee went out with a hamstring injury. That’s when the Saints just ripped the Cowboys’ defense up to no end. Drew Brees did anything he wanted and was rarely challenged. Injuries for this team aren’t excuses anymore, it’s just reality. This team was average before these injuries and now it’s even worse. The bye week just couldn’t come at a better time.
Editors note: This article relates to the pregame predictions made by the Dallas Cowboys writers on Saturday.
Jason Garrett: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints road game (15:33)
- Comparing Brees to the other prolific passers faced in 2013-2014 season
- Everett Dawkins addition to Marinelli’s Misfits
- Key to stopping New Orleans offense
- Confidence in secondary, after seeing how they’ve covered similar offenses
- DeMarcus Ware’s return to practice; expected game impact
- Familiarity with Rob Ryan vs. Rob Ryan’s familiarity with Cowboys offense
- Comparing the Rob Ryan defense in New Orleans compared to his Dallas scheme
- Relationship he has with Rob Ryan after termination, and now
- Lessons learned from Sean Payton’s style, as an offensive play caller
- Comparing the defensive injuries from this season compared to last year
- Applying lessons from other tight ends this season to game planning Graham
- Will Graham be defended as a tight end or wide receiver
- Evaluating Gavin Escobar production relative to the spot taken in the NFL Draft
- Staying with Jason Witten, even when he’s in catching slumps; overall impact
- How they’ll preparing for uniquely gifted athletes, like Darren Sproles
- Addressing the locker room situations that have developed in Miami
- Simulating and handling stadiums with crowd noise issues
- Weather yards-per-carry is an effective way to grade offensive linemen
- Evaluating run efficiency vs. yards-per-carry; season grade on this line
- Bruce Carter and Ernie Simms competition for starting spot
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This is going to sound a lot like whining, but it’s really just an interesting observation.
A couple of days removed from his injury on Monday Night Football, we’re now aware Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a broken clavicle. The Packers’ signal-caller is slated to miss at least three or so weeks, but he is expected back before the end of the season.
By a twist of fate, that simple fact is likely going to affect the NFC East championship race in a very direct manner. The NFC North drew the NFC East on the schedule this season, which pits the Packers against all four East squads.
Rodgers and Co. have only played one team from the division to this point, however. The Packers crushed the Redskins, 38-20, in Week 2 of the season. But the other three matchups against the NFC East are slated for later in the season.
And now it brings us to this point. The Packers’ next two games, with Rodgers sidelined, are a home date against Philadelphia this weekend and a road trip to play the Giants on Nov. 17.
Obviously, anything can happen in any NFL matchup – that’s what makes this league so much fun. But you’ve got to admit the prospects of defeating Green Bay with Seneca Wallace running the offense look a lot brighter than if it was one-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers round into view on the Dallas Cowboys’ schedule on Dec. 15, by which point it’s a good bet Rodgers will be coming back to full health, if not back on the field already.
In the same vein, the Bears look likely to have Jay Cutler back for the home stretch – which includes the Cowboys – after Cutler said he planned to play this weekend against Detroit. Cutler went down with a groin injury early in the Bears’ game against the Redskins – a game they lost. But he will be back in the mix for games against the Eagles and Cowboys.
It’s the NFL. So counting games ahead of the schedule is an exercise in futility. Green Bay is still probably a good enough team to beat Philadelphia and New York without Rodgers. And with four games on the schedule before the Packers come to town, it’s not worth fretting over matters outside the Cowboys’ next opponent.
But it’s certainly not a twist that looks likely to benefit the Cowboys.
This was supposed to be an easy one. The 4-4 Cowboys against the lowly 1-6 Vikings? At home? Favorites across the board? Bring on the Saints.
In a game that wasn’t always pretty – face it, downright ugly – the Cowboys sent 85,360 fans home perhaps more relieved than happy with a 27-23 triumph over the Vikings. The Dallas Cowboys offense struggled to find any kind of consistency, but came up big when they needed to, as Tony Romo led the team on a game-winning drive, reaching the end zone with only 35 seconds left.
Despite the Cowboys running game totaling only 36 yards, the offense still finished the day with 350 total yards, thanks to Romo dinks and his 34-of-51 passing for 337 yards and two touchdowns. His main connection was tight end Jason Witten, who hauled in eight passes for 102 yards and a score, while Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant each caught six attempts for 68 and 64 yards, respectively.
Defensively, well, Adrian Peterson did what Adrian Peterson does, racking up 140 yards on 25 carries with another 37 yards on three catches. But overall, Dallas kept the Vikings aerial attack in check, quarterback Christian Ponder completing 25-of-37 passes for just 236 yards.
The first quarter was largely uneventful, as the two teams traded field goals, Dan Bailey kicking a 41-yarder for Dallas and Blair Walsh splitting the uprights from 23 yards to even the score 3-3.
Still, Dallas seemed to be building a little momentum in the second frame. Things got going with Minnesota on the move, the Vikings set up with great field position on the Cowboys’ 37-yard line after a 26-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels. But the visitors elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 16-yard line, only to have Peterson stuffed for no gain.
The Cowboys then marched right back down the field on a 12-play, 58-yard drive that ate up 6:56 of the clock, the series eventually resulting in a 44-yard field goal by Bailey and a 6-3 lead.
But that momentum was temporarily lost before the half could end. Starting at their own 21-yard line, the Vikings mixed in a dose of runs and passes before Ponder scrambled in from the 6-yard line to give Minnesota the advantage at the break, 10-6.
Temporarily, however, was the key word. When the second half got underway the Cowboys immediately grabbed back said momentum in a big way. Taking first possession of the third quarter, Romo threw passes to Beasley for 11 yards, a short one to Terrance Williams for 4 and then back-to-back 26-yard strikes to Witten, the latter seeing the tight end rumble into the end zone of the score to take the lead, 13-10.
That was then followed on the ensuing kickoff by Vikings return man Cordarrelle Patterson muffing the ball out of bounds at the Minnesota 5-yard line. On the very next snap, Ponder dropped back to pass and was stripped of the ball by defensive end George Selvie with teammate Nick Hayden then pouncing on the fumble for the score. Dallas suddenly had a 20-10 lead less than four minutes into the second half.
But things never seem easy for the Cowboys. After seemingly having things well in hand, the defense couldn’t keep the Vikings from coming right back with a 77-yard drive of their own. This time Minnesota did their damage in the air, as Ponder completed passes of 27 and 12 yards during the series before finding tight end Kyle Rudolph down the right seam for a 31-yard touchdown, narrowing the score to 20-17.
The Cowboys had their chances to expand the lead, first when the team drove into enemy territory, reaching the Minnesota 34-yard line. But on third-and-15, Bryant was called for offensive pass interference. What made matters worse, though, was he pulled off his helmet to argue the call, an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. With the loss of 15 yards, any hopes for a lengthy field goal by Bailey were quashed.
Then, as the clock ticked over into the fourth quarter, the Dallas defense produced its second turnover of the game when Orlando Scandrick intercepted a deep attempt by Ponder down the left sideline. But set up at their own 47-yard line, Dallas managed to reach the Vikings 38 before another offensive pass interference call, this time on Witten, pushed them back to the 46. Once again, they were forced to punt.
This time, the Vikings’ workhorse took momentum into his own hands. Peterson first broke loose on a 52-yard scramble down the right sideline, then after Minnesota moved down to the Dallas 11, the future Hall of Fame running back kept churning, carrying a whole pack of Cowboys defenders – who seemed more intent on stripping the ball, than actually getting the man on the ground – into the end zone. Walsh somehow missed the extra point, but Minnesota had the lead, 23-20 with just over five minutes left in the game.
The Vikings then had a chance to salt the game away themselves when cornerback A.J. Jefferson stepped in front of a pass intended for Williams and tiptoed the sidelines for an interception at the Dallas 41. Thankfully, the Cowboys defense stood strong forcing a three-and-out, the offense taking over at its own 10-yard line after the punt with 2:44 remaining on the clock.
That was plenty of time for Romo, who hit Witten for 11 yards, Dwayne Harris for 6, and Beasley for 18. Then on second-and-10 at the Dallas 45, the quarterback found Bryant streaking across the middle, the wideout turning upfield for a big 34-yard gain to the Minnesota 21.
Three plays later, Romo stepped up in the pocket and darted one into Harris who lunged across the goal line for the game-winning score, 27-23.
With the victory, the Cowboys pushed their record back above .500 for the season, and assured their NFC East counterparts could gain no ground in the division race. They’ll now travel to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints in primetime next Sunday night.
ARLINGTON, Texas — A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys’ 27-23 win against the Minnesota Vikings:
What it means for the Cowboys: They didn’t make it look easy, going down to the final minute before dropping the one-win Vikings.
Tony Romo’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris won the game with 35 seconds to go and kept the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East with a 5-4 record. They also continued a trend of beating teams .500 or worse under Jason Garrett. The Cowboys are now 17-1 since 2011 against the bad teams.
The win was the Cowboys’ fourth at AT&T Stadium, matching their home win total from a year ago.
It was an ugly win, but Garrett will undoubtedly say winning in the NFL is a hard thing to do. It’s even harder when you let bad teams stick around.
Stock watch: After an ugly :58 minutes, and with the game on the line, Romo responded with a game-winning drive after throwing what could have been a crippling interception. Romo completed 7 of 9 passes on the 90-yard drive.
Forget the ground game: The return of DeMarco Murray was supposed to bring some sort of renewed emphasis of the running game, but it never happened.
The Cowboys chose to attack through the air against the 29th-ranked defense, but it’s not as if Minnesota has a great run defense. In the second quarter, the Cowboys got to the Vikings’ 12 and did not even give a pretense of running the ball with back-to-back plays out of an empty set and a three-wide receiver formation. The result was a drop and two sacks, forcing the Cowboys to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal.
Murray, who was playing after a two-game absence with a knee injury, finished with four carries for 31 yards and the Dallas Cowboys had just nine carries for the game.
Seeing stars: Last week the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t stop Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who had 329 yards. This week it was Adrian Peterson.
It wasn’t a historic day for Peterson, but he had some vintage moments when it mattered most on his way to 140 yards rushing. He busted free for a 52-yard run at the Minnesota 28 and then scored the go-ahead touchdown with 5:40 to play when he ran through safety Jeff Heath and linebacker Justin Durant for an 11-yard score on fourth-and-1.
What’s next: The Dallas Cowboys travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints next week. This was a game New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has had circled since he joined the Saints after he was dismissed as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator last January. The Cowboys have lost seven of their eight games to the Saints. Their only victory came at the Superdome in 2009, 24-17, when New Orleans was undefeated.
THE PLOT THICKENS: Ex-Cowboy Jay Ratliff agrees to deal with Chicago Bears; Could face Dallas in December
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys didn’t think Jay Ratliff would be able to play with them this year. Now, they’re scheduled to play against him.
Just two weeks after Ratliff was released from the Cowboys for a failed physical, the defensive tackle agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Bears, who are set to play the Cowboys on Monday night on Dec. 9 in Chicago.
The latest news continues an ongoing saga between the Cowboys and Ratliff, who hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 18, 2012. Despite multiple off-field incidents, the Cowboys cited his lingering health issues as primary reasons for the release.
Ratliff underwent sports hernia surgery in December and came back to run in the team’s conditioning test at the start of training camp, where he hurt his hamstring. He never again got on the field for the Cowboys and was put on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
After his release, Ratliff’s agent, Mark Slough, said the injury was much more serious than a sports hernia and claimed Ratliff actually had muscle ripped off from the pelvic bone. He said that Ratliff still had a desire to play, but that the plan would be for a 2014 return. At the time, there was no expectation Ratliff would be ready to play this quickly.
Ratliff is still maybe two to four weeks away from being able to play. The Bears, however, have a huge need at defensive tackle after losing Henry Melton and Nate Collins.
Ratliff visited the Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins this week. The Cincinnati Bengals also made inquiries after a season-ending injury to Geno Atkins.
The Bears made the most sense for Ratliff of the teams he visited, as he should have a chance start when healthy. In Kansas City or Miami, he likely would have been a rotational player.
“Those people that ever questioned his loyalty, maybe questioned his desire to play, integrity – all those things – those questions were misplaced,” Slough said. “But again, I think a lot of that came from the fact that no one really understood the severity of the injury that Jay had suffered. As a result, there were unrealistic expectations for his return being bantered about publicly.”
The Cowboys and owner/general manager tried to stay as mum as possible after Ratliff was medically cleared to play this season, citing legal reasons. It’s possible the Cowboys try to get some of the money back on Ratliff’s contract extension he signed in 2011.
“I don’t want to comment because of the legal aspect of it, and I had said earlier that I was going to focus on good things – the contribution that he made here, and this team needed him real bad,” Jones said Oct. 24. “It was disappointing that he’s not playing, disappointing that the resources involved aren’t going to guys out here making plays.”
Ratliff has some familiarity with staff members on the Bears. Running backs coach Skip Peete and special teams coach/assistant head coach Joe DeCamillis were with the Cowboys last year. Former Cowboy Martellus Bennett is also on the Bears’ roster.
Ratliff was thought to be an ideal fit in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys’ new 4-3 defense. The Bears evidently hope the same in their scheme.
The Bears sit just outside of the playoff race and are trying to stay in contention while they wait for the return of injured quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs.
A healthy Ratliff is a step toward saving the Bears’ playoff hopes if they can stay afloat with backup quarterback Josh McCown and a patchwork defensive.
NFC BEAST OF THE EAST: Review of the Dallas Cowboys division at the halfway point in the 2013-2014 NFL season (Special Feature)
The focus of this article is on the NFC East as a whole. Outside of the enormous popularity of the Dallas Cowboys, the division features some pretty prominent, popular franchises in their own right – and there’s the undeniable truth that all three are in the way of a Dallas Cowboys playoff berth.
NFC East: Analyzing The Importance Of November
It’s not October anymore. When the ball kicks off this Sunday for our three fair NFC East contestants, we’ll be into the second half of the season. The temperatures are starting to drop, and the games that determine the playoff picture are about to begin.
With that in mind, lets take a look at a stat that Dallas Cowboys fans should be well-familiar with by now, considering it’s one of Tony Romo’s most impressive numbers. As it’s been documented, since he took over starting duties for the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 29, 2006, Romo has a staggering 21-4 record in the month of November.
That’s a statistic the Cowboys would desperately love to keep in line with. Dallas has four games sandwiched around a bye week this month – Minnesota tomorrow, at New Orleans in a week, at New York after the bye and home for Thanksgiving against Oakland.
That’s a combined record of 12-17, with the Saints comprising 50 percent of that win total. Take the current NFC No. 2 seed out of the equation, and the other three opponents are just 6-16. With outdoor road trips to Chicago and Washington, not to mention a home date against Green Bay, looming in December, a winning mark in November would be huge for Romo and Co.
It’s even more important when you look at the upcoming slates for the rest of the division.
The Redskins, captained by Robert Griffin III, actually begin their six-game win streak and eventual march to the playoffs in November last year. They’re going to need him to improve on his 2-1 November mark to remain in the hunt, as they host the white-hot Philip Rivers this weekend before making back-to-back road trips to Minnesota and Philly, and then finishing the month off with a Monday night game against San Francisco.
Philadelphia has the last bye week in the league, with the final weekend of November the goal for a much-needed rest. In the meantime, they also have back-to-back road trips, to Oakland and Green Bay, before facing the Redskins at home. Nick Foles is winless in November, with an 0-2 mark. The Eagles would love to have Michael Vick back – though his career November record of 12-12-1 is hardly awe-inspiring.
Expect the upcoming month to sink both Washington and Philadelphia’s playoff hopes. Ironically enough, however, this 11th month of the year just may give a fighting chance to the once-buried Giants.
The much-needed bye week falls on the Giants this weekend. After a reprieve and a chance to get some guys healthy, they don’t have to leave the confines of MetLife Stadium until Dec. 1. During the three-game homestand, they’ll host the Raiders, Packers and Cowboys.
Despite the Giants’ run of postseason success, Eli Manning’s November record sits at just 13-19. In fact, New York is just 2-6 in November since 2011.
Does any of that mean anything? It’s hard to say for sure. It’s hard for some to take Romo’s winning ways in November too seriously when he hasn’t guided a team to the playoffs since 2009.
We didn’t decide much in this division in the first eight weeks – other than the fact that there isn’t a dominant team among the four.
Whoever manages the best over the next four or five weeks may find themselves in an enviable position when December starts.
NFC East: Burning Questions At The Halfway Point
Can we just chuck the first half of the season out the window? Is there a fan base in the NFC East that would really mind?
The array of mediocre traverses the entire spectrum among the NFL’s most volatile division. This is a group that’s had four different champions in the past four years, and it’s certainly playing up that moniker of parity.
Division leader Dallas has four wins – just two games ahead of cellar-dweller New York at the halfway point of the season. What’s the worst predicament?
Cowboys fans will tell you they should probably be 6-2, but you could make an easy argument the team has come painstakingly close to winning all eight games – refer yourself to the total margin of defeat of 14 points.
The Giants, continual contenders in the NFC with two Super Bowls in the last six seasons, plummeted to an 0-6 start – their worst such start to a season in 37 years. The division’s middling middle, Philadelphia and Washington, will go the way of their dynamic but injury-riddled quarterbacks.
It has all combined to give the NFC East the worst win total among the NFL’s eight divisions – 11-20. That’s one win more than the AFC South, which boasts a 10-19 mark thanks to hapless Jacksonville, but it’s also one more loss.
Go figure, the league’s western half – the AFC and NFC West, which boast four of the best teams in football in Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle – are running away with collective records of 22-8 and 20-12, respectively.
In those divisions, and in several others, things are beginning to settle. We have a good idea of what’s going to happen in four or five of the league’s divisions.
But that’s not so in the NFC East, where the first half of the season hasn’t determined much other than that all four teams are equally flawed.
So what storylines are going to dictate the stretch run and the eventual division champion?
Dallas Cowboys: How well can they weather the injuries?
It sounds like a copout, because there’s a lot to be said about the shakiness of the Dallas offense, not to mention late-game decisions in all four Cowboys losses.
But as of Monday, they have lost starting right guard Brian Waters, likely for the year. Starting cornerback Morris Claiborne is also out for at least a handful of games with a bad hamstring. Starting safety Barry Church may also be iffy with a hamstring.
Don’t forget to factor those injuries in with the prior ones suffered by starters DeMarco Murray, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin and J.J. Wilcox. All four players are expected back soon, but as of yet, we don’t know for sure when that will happen.
Don’t count on many teams stringing together wins with as many as six or seven starters missing from the lineup. The Dallas Cowboys need the bye week to get here, and quickly.
Philadelphia Eagles: What is Michael Vick’s status for the last eight games?
Michael Vick tried to give it a go on his injured hamstring last week against New York. It didn’t work out quite as well as he’d hoped – he completed 6-of-9 passes for 30 yards and a pick before exiting prior to halftime.
It doesn’t look likely he’ll be ready for this weekend’s trip to Oakland, and that’s a problem for the Philadelphia offense. Yes, the Eagles romped over winless Tampa Bay with Nick Foles at the helm. But it’s becoming increasingly more evident that as Vick goes, so goes the Philly attack.
In the four full games that Vick played before injuring the hamstring in the first game against the Giants, the Philadelphia offense was averaging 458 yards per game. In the three games since the injury, the average has plummeted to 300 yards per game.
Yes, the Eagles’ defense is atrocious, and it has cost them opportunities at a better record. But Chip Kelly’s offense has not hummed without his starting quarterback behind center. With a bad defense, they’ll need a strong offense to earn wins.
They need Vick.
Washington Redskins: Can RG3 rediscover his mojo?
It’s a pretty similar situation in D.C. as it is in Philly. The Redskins are an average team with a bad defense. They need a strong performance from their leader and pace-setter of a quarterback if they’re going to match last season’s division championship.
It seemed like Griffin had turned a corner after a slow start to 2013. He threw for a combined 544 yards in Weeks 6 and 7, and he led the Redskins to a last-minute victory against Chicago.
More notably in that, he rushed for a combined 181 yards in those two games after totaling just 72 yards on the ground in the first month of the season. He was beginning to look comfortable using both of his skillsets.
That all derailed in Sunday’s blowout loss to Denver. Griffin managed just seven rushing yards on five attempts, and he completed 50 percent of his passes for just 132 yards. He left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury, though he has since been declared OK.
The fact of the matter is that Griffin is slumping across the board in his sophomore season. His completion percentage after seven games is at just 59 percent. He’s actually on pace to throw for 1,000 more yards than his 3,200 yards last season, but he already has eight interceptions in seven games, where he threw just five picks his entire rookie campaign.
The running issues are well-documented. Griffin is averaging roughly 34 yards on the ground to this point, and he hasn’t found the end zone as a runner yet.
These are the pressures that go with being a No. 2 pick. The Redskins need to win at least six of the last nine games, and they won’t do it unless Griffin’s play improves.
New York Giants: Can the lines continue to improve?
Sunday’s win against Philadelphia was not pretty, but it saw two significant improvements for the New York Giants.
Firstly, the offensive line won the day. The Giants weren’t great running the ball, with just 88 total yards, but they outrushed an Eagles rushing attack that has been tops in the league for most of the year. It also gave Eli Manning time to the make decisions, which allowed him to put together his second-straight interception-free game.
The Giants are 2-0 in games where Manning hasn’t thrown a pick. In their previous six, all losses, he threw 15 balls to the other team.
Secondly, the Giants’ defense managed four sacks against the Eagles after notching six combined sacks in the seven previous games. It’s a long way to go before anyone believes New York has re-discovered its pass rushing reputation, but it’s a start.
No team has ever started 0-6 and reached the playoffs. But in this division, the Giants now just sit two games out of first. If they can keep people away from their quarterback, and keep finding ways to reach opposing quarterbacks, they have a chance.
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IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys are 4-4, halfway to their regular-season record of the past two years. With the Saints coming up next week, this matchup with the Vikings seems crucial for the Cowboys to get back over .500.
Here are the gut feelings for beat writers Nick Eatman, Bryan Broaddus, David Helman, and Rowan Kavner.
A home game against a 1-6 squad with a struggling defense and no clear answer at quarterback. Basically, this is the easiest game remaining on the Dallas Cowboys’ schedule, in my humble opinion. It’s not must-win in an immediate, win-or-go-home sense, but they certainly can’t afford to drop a game to a team that will be in contention for the top pick in the draft. And I don’t think they will. The Cowboys have been excellent at starting well this season, and I think they’ll have 10 or 14 points by the end of the first quarter. An early deficit will make it hard for Minnesota to pound the rock with Adrian Peterson, and it should lead to more pass attempts. Pass attempts mean interceptions. I think the Cowboys get two, with one of them coming from Jeff Heath. It’s not going to be a high-flying beatdown, but I think Dallas works its way to an efficient, one-sided, 27-13 win.
The Dallas Cowboys should win this one. It’s the first and last time I’ll say that this year, given the rest of games on their schedule. I don’t call it a “must-win” like some games have been labeled before. They just should win it against a one-win team that doesn’t know their starting quarterback on any given week and boasts a struggling defense. The Cowboys’ defensive injuries could make this interesting, though. I think after a couple down weeks, Jason Witten finds the end zone, as does Terrance Williams to give the rookie five straight scoring games. DeMarco Murray also adds another, while either B.W. Webb or Micah Pellerin picks off a pass en route to a two-score win.
This is one of the games where we won’t really find out if the Dallas Cowboys can be contenders. But we’ll find out for sure if they aren’t. If they lose to the Vikings or even play down to their level, it won’t be a good sign, considering they’ve got some tough games coming up. I see this one playing out like the Rams game a few weeks ago. The Cowboys are that much better and they’ll show it. I see a big day from Jason Witten, who hasn’t done much in recent weeks. I don’t see Terrance Williams extending his streak of touchdown grabs, but he’ll play well. I do see the Cowboys out-rushing the Vikings, but in a collective effort. And Brandon Carr bounces back this week with at least one interception, but I’m thinking he might get two. I’m seeing a 17-point win by the Cowboys at least.
When you team is 1 – 6, not much is going right for you but if there is a bright spot on this Vikings defense, it is the play of Jared Allen. No matter what the score or situation, Allen is going to give you everything he has. He is a relentless player in every sense of the word and there is no quit to his game . Tyron Smith was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys to play against guys like Allen and keep them from being that disruptive player. Despite what happened with the holding call last week against the Lions, Smith has brought his “A” game each week. He has been consistent with his technique and finish which has allowed him to be rock solid on that left side. My gut tells me that Tyron Smith finds a way to pitch a shutout in his matchup with Jared Allen this Sunday.
NFL Films Preview: Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys (2:01)
NFL Films previews the 2013-2014 week 9 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys. (Watch Video | No Audio)
COWBOYS VS. VIKINGS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson still after Emmitt Smith’s NFL record
Adrian Peterson is on Emmitt Smith’s pace. Peterson has 9,420 yards seven games into his seventh season. Smith had 9,488 to this point.
But Peterson would have to play five-plus seasons after this one, averaging the 1,475 he has averaged per season in his career, to break Smith’s all-time rushing record of 18,355.
Peterson, a Palestine and Oklahoma product, thinks it’ll be sooner than that. He predicted last summer that he would become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher in Week 16 of 2017.
He stuck by that prediction in the conference call with Dallas media today.
“I definitely have to keep my game up to par.. and that record can be broken,” Peterson said. “But I’m not focusing on that. I set goals, and I just go out and play and if happens, it happens and if doesn’t, it doesn’t. I don’t harp on it.”
Peterson, 28, nearly set the single-season rushing record last season with 2,097 yards. He is behind that pace this year with 571 yards.
“Coming off last year, MVP, 2,000 yards, guys are coming in to stop the run, and this is how they’ve always played the Vikings for the past seven years — come in and stop the run,” Peterson said, “definitely with a more emphasis on it now. So you’re going to have those. Then again, you’re going to have the opportunity to break the long one, too. I just take them when it comes.”
Here’s the math:
He would need to rack up 8,936 yards over the next 73 games to break Smith’s record. That comes to an average of 122.4 yards a game. Peterson currently averages 98.1 yards a game for his career.
Know The Enemy: Adrian Peterson (3:12)
Film break down on Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. (Watch Video)
This is a new feature from The Boys Are Back website. After each game, we’ll provide gameday perspectives from both teams … the winner and the loser. Oddly enough, each team can find highlights and lowlights, win or lose! So, here we go …
FROM THE DETROIT LIONS:
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz postgame press conference (9:57)
Detroit Lions postgame show (36:38)
FROM THE DALLAS COWBOYS:
Cowboys vs. Lions Highlights (4:35)
Jason Garrett Postgame Press Conference (8:33)
Tony Romo Postgame Press Conference (6:28)
Jerry Jones reacts to Dez Bryant’s sideline frustration (:49)
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talks about wide receiver Dez Bryant’s frustration during today’s game against the Detroit Lions. Jerry Jones addressed Bryant’s tirade following the game.
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COWBOYS RIVAL HEADLINE: Detroit Free Press | Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s 1-yard TD caps improbable comeback
Matthew Stafford was yelling, screaming like his house was on fire, and figuratively it was.
Riley Reiff was 30 yards downfield celebrating what he thought was a game-winning touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson as the precious final seconds ticked off the clock in a game the Detroit Lions couldn’t afford to lose.
Twenty-two, 21, 20 …
Stafford waved his arms maniacally for his starting left tackle, the one playing through a hamstring injury, to get to the line of scrimmage. He motioned with his right arm to spike the ball and told his offensive linemen — everyone within earshot, really — that he was about to do just that.
As Reiff raced into his three-point stance — “I think he probably ran a 4.3,” Reggie Bush said — Stafford surveyed a Dallas Cowboys defense trying to catch its breath, called for the snap from Dominic Raiola, climbed over his center’s back and extended his arms across the goal line as a few stunned linebackers made a last-ditch effort to swat the ball away.
The clock froze at 12 seconds and Stafford booked around left end into the middle of the end zone where he celebrated a touchdown so unexpected he had to explain what happened to several linemen in the locker room after the game with the most ferocious spike you’ve ever seen.
Ballgame. Lions win 31-30. Another amazing comeback complete.
“I told everybody I was spiking it,” Stafford said. “I was screaming clock, I was going to spike it. It was a feel thing. I was yelling, ‘Spike.’ They knew I was yelling spike. I saw linebackers kind of standing like this (back off the line of scrimmage). Our guys didn’t fire off, they just stood up but I looked down and we were that far, shoot I’m going to figure I’ll get that. So I just need to go — shoot, I don’t know, I was making a play, man. I was trying to help my team win and sure am glad I got across.”
Stafford, who now has nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, completed 33 of 48 passes for a season-high 488 yards and got plenty of help from Johnson and a costly Cowboys holding penalty that left the Lions enough time for the game-winning drive.
Johnson caught 14 passes for a Lions record 329 yards, the second-highest single-game total in NFL history, and had his way with Dallas’ $10-million-a-year cornerback, Brandon Carr.
He opened the scoring with a 2-yard touchdown catch and made another of his signature jump-ball grabs amid two defenders, but until the final minute it looked like his heroics might be lost in a crush of Lions turnovers.
Dallas led, 27-24, with 1:24 to play and had a chance to run out the clock after stopping the Lions (5-3) on fourth-and-12 at their own 31.
But DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch stuffed Joseph Randle for a 3-yard loss on first down, Travis Lewis dropped Phillip Tanner for a 1-yard loss on second down, and after the Lions used their final timeout, Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith grabbed Devin Taylor for a holding penalty on third down that stopped the clock with 1:14 to play.
The Lions, who would have got the ball back with about 25 seconds left if not for the penalty, gave up a field goal and started their final drive at their own 20 with 1:02 on the clock.
“Our emotions, we were a little down, we were a little up. I think I experienced just about every emotion possible today,” Bush said. “Guys just keep fighting and then defense gave us a chance. When they got that holding penalty it stopped the clock and that gave us a chance. … Sometimes it just works out that way.”
Stafford completed 4 of 5 passes for 79 yards on the game-winning drive with one spike, and took advantage of a Dallas defense that lost starting safety Barry Church to a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter and played the entire day without its other starter at safety, J.J. Wilcox.
Kris Durham caught a 40-yard pass down the Lions sideline when backup safety Jakar Hamilton, who signed off the practice squad earlier in the week, was late helping Orlando Scandrick, and one play later Johnson split Hamilton and Carr down the right seam for a 22-yard gain to the Dallas 1.
Church said he felt “helpless” watching the final drive, and Lions coach Jim Schwartz said few quarterbacks other than Stafford could have engineered the series.
“We know what we got in him,” center Dominic Raiola said. “I just said earlier, Calvin had a huge day, player of the game and everything, but for Matt to come back and do what he did after what he went through early in the game it’s crazy. … I mean, what can you say about the guy? Love his toughness, love his moxie.”
Stafford threw two interceptions, both to Sean Lee, and all four of the Lions’ turnovers came in Cowboys territory.
Tony Romo completed just 14 of 30 passes for 206 yards for the Cowboys and threw second-half touchdowns of 50 yards to Dez Bryant and 60 yards to Terrance Williams.
Johnson’s 329 yards were the most ever by a receiver in regulation in NFL history. Flipper Anderson had 336 yards receiving in 1989, but 40 of those yards came in overtime.
Courtesy: Dave Birkett | Detroit Free Press
Detroit — Just another game, huh coach? Just one of 16? Not this one.
“Yeah, I might rethink my mantra on this one,” coach Jim Schwartz said after the Lions staged a thrillingly improbable 31-30 comeback victory against the Cowboys. “This was a big win for us. Going into the bye week at 5-3 instead of 4-4, I don’t care how you look at it, 5-3 is a successful first half of the season.”
The Lions were down 30-24 with 62 seconds left. They were 80 yards away from the winning score with no timeouts.
“People were leaving the stadium,” Calvin Johnson said. “Nobody thought we could pull it off in one minute. But we’ve got some firepower over here.”
Indeed. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (33 for 48, 488 yards and one touchdown) shook off two earlier interceptions and started dissecting the Cowboys’ injury-depleted secondary.
Stafford connected with Johnson for 17 yards, Kris Durham for 40 yards and then Johnson again, splitting two defenders, for 22 yards to put it at the 1 with the clock ticking down inside 15 seconds. Here’s where it got interesting.
First left tackle Riley Reiff, thinking Johnson had scored, was 40 yards behind the play celebrating as Stafford hurried to set the offense.
“He about gave the head coach a heart attack there,” Schwartz said. “He’s going to pay for that somewhere down the line.”
Once set, Stafford called out “spike, spike,” meaning he was going to clock the ball. Everybody on the field, offense and defense alive, thought he was going to spike the ball. Stafford didn’t spike the ball.
“It was a feel thing,” he said. “I was yelling spike. They knew I was yelling spike. I saw their linebackers standing still. Our guys didn’t fire off (the line). They just stood up. But I looked down. We were that far (inches); shoot, I’m going to get that. Just trying to make a play to help us win.”
Stafford stuck the ball over the goal line and for good measure rolled off the stack and ran it in. Replay upheld the winning score.
“He kind of caught us off-guard,” Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher acknowledged.
“This is an amazing win today,” said running back Reggie Bush, who had 92 yards rushing. “It’s a testament to the character of the guys on the team. We kept fighting. I think we made about every mistake possible in that game, but we kept fighting until the end. We just kept telling each other to keep fighting, keep going. Matt was amazing today.”
The Lions became the first team since 2007 to win a game with a minus-four turnover ratio. All four turnovers came in Dallas territory. Stafford threw two interceptions early, both to linebacker Sean Lee. Lee returned the second one 74 yards to set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant.
Bush fumbled. Johnson fumbled.
The Lions gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Newman and a 50-yard touchdown pass to Bryant – in the fourth quarter.
“Our team has been resilient through a lot of things, and they needed to be today,” Schwartz said. “We certainly didn’t make it easy for ourselves.”
The Lions responded to every punch the Cowboys threw. Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards — the second most in a single game in NFL history.
“He had his way,” Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said of Johnson. “And, we couldn’t find a way to keep him from rolling.”
“Just wait until he’s 100 percent,” Schwartz joked.
Joique Bell scored on a 1-yard run. Bush had a 1-yard touchdown run set up by a 54-yard pass to Johnson.
Still, with 1:07 left in the game, the Lions looked dead in the water. They were down 27-24. Their previous drive had stalled at their own 31. The timeouts had been exhausted. The Cowboys were called for holding rookie defensive end Devin Taylor on a third-and-14 run play.
That holding call probably saved the day for the Lions because it stopped the clock.
“If we don’t get called for a penalty, I think they probably had 20 seconds or so left,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said.
“We had 40 more seconds than we were planning on at that point,” said Schwartz, who declined the penalty and allowed kicker Dan Bailey to make it 30-24 with a 44-yard field goal. “I thought that was a really key point in the game. Any time you got a minute, you got our offense, we like the odds that we can go put that ball in the end zone.”
Never a doubt, joked Stafford.
“I know it’s a tall order,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I was sitting there comfortable in my boots like, ‘Oh, here we go, no timeouts and we got to go 80 against that defense.’ But there’s always a chance. Our guys believed, they battled, they made some great catches and plays.
“We won the game and that’s all that matters now.”
Courtesy: Chris McCosky | The Detroit News | Associated Press contributed
First Take on 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions (2:56)
DETROIT – The initial reactions following the Cowboys 31-30 loss to the Lions.
We called the Kansas City and San Diego losses missed opportunities at the time, but they pale in comparison to this. I could talk about the turnover margin or the inability to stop Calvin Johnson. But my biggest impression is that the Cowboys had the ball and the lead at the end of the game and couldn’t seal the deal. The play calling was incredibly conservative for a team whose defense surrendered a record day to Megatron, and I think it was the difference. As soon as the Cowboys put the game on their defense, I figured it would end poorly. Now it’s back to .500.
It took until the fourth quarter for it to be the shootout we all expected, but it came in a massive way late in Sunday’s loss. The Cowboys benefitted from the long ball tremendously, with Terrance Williams still defying at least my expectations by scoring in his fourth straight game. Otherwise, it was Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson trading blows with two touchdowns for the former and an unreal 329 receiving yards for the latter. I thought they’d both surpass the 100-yard mark, though only Johnson did. In the end, the Cowboys did settle for more field goals than the Lions, whose last-minute touchdown sealed the deal. Never before this year have the Cowboys let one slip like this, and all the talk of mediocrity and .500 football will be back on the table again as they dropped to 4-4.
Without looking at the film, I thought that Jeff Heath held up well. There were a couple of angles on some routes that he could have taken better and in the 4th quarter in a ball down the middle of the field, to Calvin Johnson, I thought he was in good position to make the play but didn’t. With Heath, you are going to get a player that is always around the ball and will be a physical tackler. I thought he was that today even causing a fumble on Reggie Bush in the open field. He showed some burst and range on the play which is all you can ask from your safety.
I thought the Cowboys would win this game earlier in the week. Once it started, it was clear to me Detroit was better. You can say the Lions stole a game here but I think it would’ve been miraculous for Dallas to pull that out. Of course they had no answer for Calvin Johnson but you didn’t think it’d be a 329-yard day. Then again if you had told me BW Webb, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton would play most of the game, we might have predicted this. Tony Romo wasn’t bad but he wasn’t good. And if your defense is average against the pass and you have no running game, your quarterback can’t be average. Speaking of, that’s your team once again – sitting at 4-4. Halfway home to consistency.
Here we’re the gut feelings for writers Nick Eatman, Bryan Broaddus, David Helman and Rowan Kavner, posted Saturday afternoon.