IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray deflects questions about the amount of work he has received this season like defenders.

He doesn’t much care that he is 31 carries away from the most he has had in a season and that Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins is just the eighth game of the season. He says his body feels good.

Part of it has to do with what he did in the offseason. Starting in March, before the official beginning of the Cowboys’ offseason program, Murray became Jason Witten’s workout partner. For the next two months they were together at Valley Ranch for hours, running, lifting and sweating.

“It helped a lot, obviously with the stamina aspect just building a good armor for your body so you can take some hits and take the pounding of a long season,” Murray said. “He's done it for a long time and he's someone who has had a lot of success in this league and he knows what to do to take care of your body in season and out of season, so it helped extremely a lot and I have to thank him and we're still working together.”

Witten has missed one game in his career. Witten has played in 178 straight games, the longest active streak for a position player.

“I just asked him one day,” Witten said. “Don’t remember exactly how it went down, but we’re going to work out together.”

In every way, Witten is the conscience of the Cowboys. He is their leader. Murray called him “the big dog.”

“I couldn’t say no,” Murray said.

No player has caught more passes as a Cowboy than Witten. He has played in nine Pro Bowls. Not only does he not miss games, he does not miss practices, either.

Murray has missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries. He missed a day of practice last week because he was ill. He sprained an ankle in the second quarter of last week’s victory against the New York Giants but finished the game with 128 yards on 28 carries.

Witten turned 32 in May, in the middle of the offseason. Murray is 26.

“I knew it was good for me to be with a young guy that can push you,” Witten said. “Obviously he’s physically talented. I kind of known that was the way our team was going and what we were trying to mold ourselves into. Even since he’s been a rookie, he’s always kind of latched on to certain people and asked questions, eager to learn. The thing I like about him since an early age was you could always see that he wanted to be really, really good. He had a great offseason. There were many days where I was really sore and we’d come in and say, ‘Are you sore?’ And he’d tell me, ‘Nah, not really. What about you?’ ‘Nah, I feel all right.’ He’s everything you want in a teammate from that standpoint. It was good to work out with him that way because I kept telling him, November and December this will pay off for us, the work that we put in. You can see it in the way he’s playing.”

Witten is not taking credit for Murray’s season by any stretch, but Murray believes the workouts have made a difference.

Said Murray, “Whenever you talk to a guy like that that's had the success like that and played so long in this league and done some of the things he’s done, you definitely try to take as much information as you possibly can from him.”
PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles’ Friday injury report, the last official word from the team before Sunday’s game in Arizona, left open the possibility linebacker Mychal Kendricks could play.

Kendricks, who has missed four games after straining his calf in Indianapolis, was listed as questionable. That was also the category for running back Darren Sproles (knee) and center Jason Kelce (sports hernia). Wide receiver Brad Smith, coming off surgery for a muscle tear in his abdomen, is the only player listed as out for the game.

Three players were listed as probable: running back Chris Polk (hamstring), linebacker DeMeco Ryans (groin) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (wrist). Watkins is likely to be inactive whether he’s healthy or not.

Most of the speculation revolves around Kendricks and Sproles. Both were limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, the most involved training sessions of the week. Both were listed as full participants in Friday’s session, but that tells you more about the session than the players’ condition. Friday’s practice is a walk-through with little football activity.

If Kendricks can play, he would start alongside Ryans on the inside of the Eagles’ defense. If not, Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews would replace him, a platoon that has gotten more effective over the last few games.

If Sproles is unable to play, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin could take his place as the punt returner. Polk’s availability would minimize the impact Sproles’ absence would have on the offense. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the Eagles could use Polk in the same ways they’ve used Sproles this season.

Kelce seemed the least likely to play this week. The center had surgery to repair the hernia after being forced to leave the Sept. 21 game against Washington. After the surgery, Kelce said he was hoping to return for the Nov. 10 game against Carolina. There is a chance he could be ready for next week’s game in Houston.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ health keeps improving.

With quarterback Tony Romo returning to practice after sitting Thursday’s workout, only right tackle Doug Free and defensive end Jack Crawford were missing from practice.

Free is expected to miss two more games with a small fracture in his right foot. Crawford has been battling a strained calf for the last two weeks. Safety Jakar Hamilton returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session to tend to a personal matter.

Linebacker Bruce Carter is practicing for the second straight day, as is defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is looking to practice all three days leading up to a game for the first time this season.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is eligible to return Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals and has looked good in practice since he returned last week from a broken foot. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who started the year on the non-football injury list, is practicing for the second straight day. The Cowboys have until the Nov. 16 bye week to activate him to the 53-man roster, keep him on the non-football injury list or release him.

The Cowboys are keeping a close eye on Okoye, who is attempting a comeback from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain disease that left him in a coma in 2013.

“We’ve certainly got our arms around where he came from and we’ve been very judicious in bringing him back,” Garrett said. “He’s worked very hard to get back. He was a good player when he was playing before and we want to get him back to that level, but it was a good start for him, good to see him in a uniform, moving around as a football player. He’s worked very hard on the side to get himself there and we’ll monitor his progress and see how he’s doing.”

Three things I learned: Dallas Cowboys

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24

  1. [+] EnlargeZack Martin
    Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys investment in its offensive line -- including spending a 2014 first-round pick on Zach Martin -- has been paying off.
    DeMarco Murray is a good RB having a great season behind a fantastic O-line. It’s not like they have a Pro Bowler at every position, but they do have studs at left tackle (Tyron Smith), center (Travis Frederick) and right guard (Zack Martin). Right tackle Doug Free can be beaten. Free seemed to do well on the move, but when just one-on-one straight up, he had more issues. But, again, those issues rarely hurt Dallas. Martin blocks with a bit of an attitude and works well to the second level. When he blocks a linebacker, the guy typically gets moved back. Washington’s guards might get there, but they don’t move anyone. Smith is a wonderful athlete, who will pull on occasion. Also saw him cut two defenders on one play while on his knees. This group has enabled Dallas to stay committed to the run. The Cowboys have run the ball an NFL-high 235 times, compared to 148 at the same point last season. The result: an NFL-best 31 runs for 11-plus yards (no one else has more than 22). Murray is a good back and you need to stop him; his vision is solid and he’s doing a good job finding the holes -- patience helps, as does knowing those holes will develop. Backup Joseph Randle can be a shifty back and has 18 carries for 120 yards.
  2. Tony Romo uses the talent around him well. It’s not just about Dez Bryant or Jason Witten, it’s also tight end Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams (19 catches, six touchdowns; likes post-corners if a safety covers him) or, on occasion, Cole Beasley. Those players get in favorable spots because of what’s around them. But Romo also is given time to find those players; they’re not always a first option. For example, on a 15-yard touchdown pass against the Giants, Romo faced a four-man rush, had 3.2 seconds to throw and was never in danger before throwing to Escobar, likely a third option, in the back of the end zone. Romo trusts his line and it shows. Escobar will line up wide as well. Dallas will run some misdirection on occasion – faking an end around to the left and throwing a screen back to the other side. The Cowboys will sometimes send a back on a route on what essentially is a pick from the receiver. Mostly, though, they execute well and if a team doesn’t stick in its rush lanes, Romo will buy time. Bryant is fantastic and does a terrific job fighting for the ball in the air. He’ll also nudge off corners on back shoulder throws in the end zone, much like a basketball player getting free from his man. It’s subtle; it works.
  3. The defense does just enough. They’re helped by an offense that dominates time of possession. The only defenses that have faced fewer plays than Dallas are those that have played one fewer game. It matters. This is a blue-collar unit that hustles and stays after quarterbacks, but lacks a playmaker. They will mix coverages; last season it was a lot of Cover 2, but they’ve used more of the Seattle-type looks this season. They don’t trick teams up front, though they will stunt. Teams have had success spreading them out with three receivers and running (85 carries, 500 yards). File that away for Monday. They will give up yards after contact -- an average of 1.94 per carry (27th in NFL). They have some who can rush with a little power and the Redskins have holes on their line, but overall the Cowboys only have seven sacks and no one has more than 1.5. Corner Orlando Scandrick has played well against Washington. Linebacker Rolando McClain is a surprising twist, leading Dallas with two interceptions and playing well for the first time in a tumultuous career. The Cowboys rank ninth in points allowed. The key: few big pass plays (only 16 for more than 20 yards, which is best by a team with seven games and second overall) and few trips to the red zone (19 -- only one team with seven games has faced fewer). Again, when your offense controls the ball, scores a lot and doesn’t turn it over, it helps your defense a lot.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels has kept a firm hold on his job and endeared himself to special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer over the past three seasons in large part because of his reliability. Sherels is sure-handed, generally makes good decisions and has been able to keep the Vikings out of bad situations on special teams.

This season, though, Sherels has made a couple decisions to fair-catch punts that would have likely rolled into the end zone for a touchback, including one in Buffalo last Sunday where he called for a fair catch and fielded the ball at the Vikings' 6, earning him a sideline conversation with an irate Priefer.

Reviewing the punt, Priefer could understand what led Sherels to make the decision he did, but he still didn't want to see it happen again. Allow the special-teams coordinator to explain, in his typical expository style.

"It was a windy day; they’re kicking with the wind," Priefer said. "It wasn’t a plus-50 situation (where the Bills are punting in Vikings territory). He was actually aligned up at the 12-yard line. We had them, I think, at 50 yards because their punter was hitting the ball really well. When he went back to catch it, he didn’t realize where he was and you could see it on tape; he kind of hesitated about the 8-(yard line), which is his rule, and then at the last second it drifted a couple more yards.

"In hindsight, you hope he doesn’t fair-catch that -- that he grabs it and goes, because I think he had some room. The second point would be, let it go in the end zone, because the wind was blowing pretty good. It was probably, you can classify that as a poor decision and hopefully won’t make those going forward."

Priefer said he doesn't want to see Sherels back up to field punts that deep in his own territory, especially when he has opportunities to block a gunner and hinder a team's ability to down the ball before it goes into the end zone. "He’s actually had one of those, I think, against Atlanta (on Sept. 28), where he did a really nice job," Priefer said. "No fair catch, bluffed the catch, slowed down the gunner a little bit and gave him a little nudge and knocked him off. The ball hit at the 2 and went in the end zone for a touchback. That was a big play for us. It was obviously 18 or 20 yards of field position."

Sherels has been accused of being too cautious with punts at times over the years, but as Priefer said, Sherels is more aggressive with deciding to return punts than he was in his first years as a returner. As solid as he's been at fielding punts and staying out of trouble, he's understandably earned some leeway when he makes occasional mistakes.

" I think Marcus has done a really nice job, or he wouldn’t still be here as our punt returner for a fourth straight year," Priefer said. "He’s a quality young man, he’s going to work hard, he’s going to do everything we ask him to do."
PHILADELPHIA – Everything Chip Kelly wants done on a football field, he wants done fast. His offense is built to take advantage of mismatches created when opposing defenses don’t have the time to get their desired personnel on the field.

In previous games this season, opposing defenses had settled on one personnel grouping that could handle most of what the Eagles tried to do. That was not the case last year, however, when the Eagles met the Arizona Cardinals.

The teams play each other again Sunday, and Kelly expects the Cardinals to be as varied in their defensive approach as they were in 2013.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsNick Foles and the Eagles will face a Cardinals team that had some success with a varied approach against head coach Chip Kelly's offense last year.
“Todd [Bowles, Arizona’s defensive coordinator] does a really good job,” Kelly said. “They get in and out of everything. I don't think anything we did affected in terms of them, and they showed a lot of different looks, a lot of multiple looks, and did a real good job in defending us last year.”

The Eagles got out to a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter of that game. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes to tight ends. After the third, to Brent Celek, the Cardinals shut out the Eagles the rest of the game. Arizona scored two touchdowns to get within 24-21, but were unable to close the gap.

While time of possession is not important to Kelly, that was one game where the Eagles held the ball nearly as long as their opponent: 29 minutes, 21 seconds compared to 30:39.

“We were just trying to work the clock a little bit more,” Kelly said. “So we were running the ball, and I think everybody in the stadium knew we were running the ball. So they went to some zero-blitz stuff and kind of crowded the line of scrimmage. But you're still working the clock. If you throw the ball in those situations and it's incomplete, you stop the clock.

“You're in that bleed-the-clock -- you're obviously trying to get first downs to stay on the field, but there's kind of a risk-reward situation if you say, ‘All right, now let's just throw the ball over the top.’ They are forcing you to throw it over the top -- if it's an incomplete pass, it stops the clock also.”

Kelly said it helps preparations when facing a team with the same coaching staff and offensive and defensive approaches. But quarterback Nick Foles said there wasn’t much benefit for him in facing the same defense he’s already played against.

“You go into each game as prepared as possible, whether you’ve played them or you haven’t,” Foles said. “Everybody switches up players from year to year, guys are injured. They might add different things. So maybe you’re used to seeing the jerseys a little bit more, but when it comes to playing each week, you try to treat it the same.”

The Cardinals are especially challenging because they change their defensive approach so much, even within the same game.

“Their scheme is somewhat unique in terms of getting in and out of fronts,” Kelly said. “They run a lot of different looks on the defensive side of the ball, so they can confuse you a little bit, but also they've got some really, really good football players on the defensive side of the ball.”
Injuries could force the New York Giants' defense to look a little bit different in the weeks that follow this week's bye. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins strained his right calf in Sunday's loss in Dallas. Middle linebacker Jon Beason might need surgery to repair the toe injury that's been limiting him since June. And injuries at cornerback could lead the Giants to bring back the three-safety look they used on their way to their most recent Super Bowl title three seasons ago.

"The game plan last week was to have Stevie Brown in the game with the three-safety package versus certain personnel groupings," safeties coach Dave Merritt said Tuesday. "That worked out for us, because Stevie went in and did his job and did what we asked him to do. The fact that we used to play the three-safety package a ton back in the day was because of the fact that we had three veterans who were able to play. I'm talking about Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. Right now, we feel like we've tested the waters and we have the same right now in our camp here."

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Seth WenigStevie Brown could see more playing time as the Giants adapt to injuries in their secondary.
The plan coming into this year was to play three cornerbacks most of the time. The team signed Walter Thurmond to play the nickel spot, but he suffered a season-ending injury in September, and Trumaine McBride, who took over, suffered his own season-ending injury in Week 6. So they are down to their third-string nickel cornerback, Jayron Hosley, and they don't seem comfortable leaning on him to the extent that they leaned on Thurmond or McBride.

Brown entered the season as a starting safety, but he lost his job in Week 4 after a poor start to the season and was replaced by Quintin Demps. Coaches have been pleased with the work Brown has put in since the demotion, and they believe there are situations in which it's better to have him, Demps and Rolle on the field at the same time than it is to have three cornerbacks. This arrangement could force Rolle into the nickel spot, a position he has said in the past he's willing to play but prefers not to, but Merritt said they are comfortable with Brown in there as well.

On the defensive line, Jenkins' absence for at least a few weeks leaves the Giants thin at defensive tackle. But they have had success playing defensive ends Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at interior positions in pass-rush situations this season, and they might decide to do that more going forward to augment the defensive tackle rotation. Rookie defensive tackle Jay Bromley likely will be elevated to the active roster in Jenkins' absence, but there's also a chance second-year defensive end Damontre Moore could get more looks on the outside when Ayers and/or Kiwanuka move inside.

"Damontre needs to continue to improve and stay focused on what we're doing on first and second down," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said. "He can do it. He's a lighter body, not ideal, but he can play it. He has to stay focused and continue to improve in that area, and he will get more at-bats. He's going to get more opportunities on third down, so he just has to keep coming along and improve on first and second down. If he does that, then he's going to get those opportunities in pass-rush situations."

Moore has shown exciting ability in pass-rush situations and on special teams. But he has yet to earn the complete trust of the coaching staff as a player who can stop the run (and avoid jumping offsides).

No trust issues at linebacker, though. When Beason missed time early in the season, Jameel McClain filled in for him in the middle. At the time, rookie Devon Kennard was hurt, so Mark Herzlich replaced McClain on the strong side. This time, if Beason is out a while, Kennard could be the one who sees more playing time.

"Now that he's healthy, he's contributing on special teams, and last week was able to go in the game and do some good things," linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said of Kennard. "It was good to see him get out and get some game experience, because that is invaluable for a young linebacker. The other guys love him. He's got a great personality, and he wants to be great. I think we'll see some really good things out of him."
Anyone looking for a good, old-fashioned running battle won’t have to look further than University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals' top-ranked rushing defense will have its hands full trying to corral Philadelphia Eagles running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. Can Arizona retain that No. 1 ranking after just a week?

Though the focus will be on the ground games, the matchup of 5-1 teams might be decided in the air. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles' penchant for interceptions will be countered by Arizona’s 31st-ranked pass defense.

Then there is the battle for the end zone. Arizona is allowing 19.8 points per game, and the Eagles are scoring 30.5 points per game, the third-highest clip in the league.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss Sunday’s game.

Weinfuss: The start to Foles' season is dramatically different than a year ago. What is the biggest reason he has been prone to so many interceptions? How does he fix it?

Sheridan: This is the single most puzzling aspect of the Eagles' season so far. We all kind of suspected Foles wouldn’t throw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions again, as he did while leading the NFL in passer rating last season. I thought there was plenty of room for him to come back toward earth without crash landing too hard.

For Foles to have seven interceptions, and 10 turnovers altogether, is surprising. Even more stunning, he has done all that while going 5-1. It doesn’t seem possible, and it’s widely assumed Foles can’t keep this up. Sooner or later, those turnovers are going to lead to losses, so he has to find a way to turn it around.

There are several possible reasons for all this. The most disturbing for Eagles fans would be this is just the real Nick Foles. During his six-game stint as a starter in 2012, rookie Foles threw six touchdown passes and five picks. So 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions might just be a typical season, with 27 and two as the outlier.

But there are other variables. Foles’ quarterbacks coach last season, Bill Lazor, left to become offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. That could be part of it, especially when you watch Foles’ throwing mechanics on some of those interceptions. There is also the offensive line situation. Though he hasn’t been sacked much, Foles has had to deal with pressure and a not completely secure pocket because of injuries along the line.

Ultimately, Foles has to get himself out of this. The interceptions have mostly resulted from the kind of ill-conceived throws that he never made last season. If he started making them, he can stop. At least that is what Eagles fans hope.

Asked about the Cardinals’ 31st-ranked pass defense, Eagles coach Chip Kelly said it was misleading. The Cards rank first against the run and are 5-1. That means teams are usually trailing late in games and forced to pile up empty passing yards against the Cards. Is that how it looks when you’re watching the team every week?

Weinfuss: That is exactly how it looks to me. It seems like Arizona’s defense swarms offenses in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, forcing them to abandon the run and start passing the ball more than they did in the first half. But that is actually not the case. Arizona is allowing eight fewer passing yards per game in the second half than in the first, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams are attempting more passes in the second half (115) than the first (110) with more than half of those coming in the fourth quarter. Arizona’s run defense has locked teams down in the fourth quarter, allowing just 16.5 yards per game, which is forcing teams to pass to catch up. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 60 attempts against Arizona in the fourth quarter this season. Arizona is allowing just 10.5 dropbacks in the fourth quarter, compared to 11.5 in the second. As games go on, teams seem to start with the run in the first quarter and turn to the pass in the second quarter, and then the Cardinals’ defense begins to eliminate the running game in the second half, forcing teams to keep passing.

To show that, here’s a quick stat: Last weekend against Oakland, Arizona allowed just four rushing yards in the final 23:49.

How do you explain the Eagles' seven return touchdowns? Is it luck? An improved special-teams unit?

Sheridan: Probably a mixture. The Eagles did put some focus on signing good special-teams players in free agency. There weren’t any marquee acquisitions, but they did add Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman and Nolan Carroll. Those guys have been part of the improvement. So was the trade that brought Sproles from New Orleans.

And the Eagles' defense has been a work in progress since new coordinator Bill Davis switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base last season. That group has started making some big plays -- sacks, pressures that lead to turnovers, interceptions returned for touchdowns and so forth. Between the defense and special teams, the Eagles are getting plenty of big plays and even touchdowns from returns.

The Eagles beat the Cardinals last season when Arizona running back Andre Ellington didn’t play. How much of a difference-maker is Ellington, and is he likely to be active and effective with his sore ribs?

Weinfuss: First, I’ll address his ribs. They seem to be fine. There wasn’t structural damage to them after the Oakland game, and he returned to practice in a limited manner Wednesday.

As for how much of a difference-maker he is, he's a major reason the Cardinals are 5-1 -- maybe the biggest reason. He is dynamic out of the backfield as both a runner and a receiver. He is quick enough to break free for 80 yards but smart enough to get out of bounds or get down before taking a huge hit. But it’s his versatility that coach Bruce Arians loves. During the offseason, Arians said he wanted to give Ellington 25 to 30 touches per game -- a bit ambitious if you ask me -- but Ellington had exactly 30 on Sunday (24 carries and 6 catches) and was the workhorse for the offense. When Ellington is playing as well as he has been recently, despite a foot injury, he is the difference between wins and losses for Arizona.

How is this Eagles team still scoring 30 points a game and sitting at 5-1 when it has given the ball away 14 times?

Sheridan: The answer is twofold. Those return touchdowns have a lot to do with it. In San Francisco, the Eagles lost 26-21 without scoring a single point on offense. They had three return touchdowns. They got two more in their win against St. Louis the next week.

But the other part of the equation is Kelly's offensive approach. The Eagles are third in the NFL in offensive plays run per game. They would be even higher if they could avoid turnovers and sustain more long drives. But Kelly's up-tempo offense is all about creating as many opportunities to score as possible. So even when they have a few turnovers or fizzle in the red zone a bit, they still score some points. Add the offensive production to all the return touchdowns and you get a deceptively high number on the scoreboard.

The Cardinals are sitting atop perhaps (on paper) the toughest division in the NFL this season. Is that just a temporary aberration, or are they capable of fending off Seattle and San Francisco?

Weinfuss: This is a tough question. It might look like an aberration -- or a typo, for that matter -- but I think the Cardinals can give Seattle and San Francisco fits this season. When they beat the 49ers in Week 3, San Francisco was reeling and missing a few key players because of injuries. One would expect Seattle and San Francisco to figure out their woes and get healthy for the meetings in the second half of the season, but the same could be said about the Cardinals. When this team puts together a total offensive game, it can be among the most potent in the league. It has already showed on occasion this season how tough it is to be slowed down. But the key to winning the West comes on defense. Against the run Arizona is fine, but making sure the secondary doesn’t give up big yardage to receivers could be the difference between another disappointing January and keeping the season going.


Redskins vs. Cowboys preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
For the 16th time on “Monday Night Football,” the Dallas Cowboys will meet the Washington Redskins.

Only the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (17) have met on "Monday Night Football" more. The Cowboys come in with a six-game winning streak, their longest since 2007, and the Redskins halted a four-game losing streak last week.

Just looking at the records -- Cowboys 6-1 and Redskins 2-5 -- this should be an easy win for Dallas. But that is not the case in this series. Only two of the past 12 meetings have been decided by more than a touchdown.

NFL Nation reporters John Keim and Todd Archer bring you this week’s game preview:

Todd Archer: It looks like Colt McCoy will start against the Cowboys, so at least one Texas kid will make the start for Washington -- if not the one everybody expected at the start of the season in Robert Griffin III. But I want to talk RG III. When he comes back, it’s his job, but if he continues to look only so-so in his return, when do the Redskins start to wonder if he is the long-term guy?

John Keim: I think there’s already some wonder. There’s no doubt about his talent but he has to get a better grasp of the offense and what the coaches need from him. There was some frustration over the pace of his development this summer, especially compared to Kirk Cousins’ growth. People don’t like hearing that, but it’s the truth. However, they also have a commitment to developing Griffin, who still has a massive amount of talent -- and, as we saw two years ago, a guy who can be a major playmaker when used properly. I think he can still make plays while learning and so do they. The final half of the season will be all about his development. You can’t turn him into some robotic quarterback but he has to show some strong development if he wants them to give him a fifth-year extension in the spring. Otherwise, he’ll be playing for a new contract next season.

DeMarco Murray showed in the past that he could be a good runner, but what he’s doing now is extraordinary. I know they have an excellent offensive line, but has something changed with him as a runner? Or is he a by-product of the talent around him?

Archer: I can’t guarantee this, but I think something changed for him last Thanksgiving against the Raiders. Lance Dunbar carried 12 times for 82 yards before suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the game. Murray had 17 carries for 63 yards in that game and really had left a lot of yards on the field not only in that game but in a lot of games. He wasn’t seeing things well at all. But I think seeing Dunbar perform so well he knew he needed to pick his play up. Since then he has had nine 100-yard efforts in his 11 games. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I think that could be something. Plus, he and running backs coach Gary Brown spent a lot of time looking at defensive fronts and how to find the softness in those fronts with the designs of the run. Runners have to feel natural. They can’t become robots. Murray has found a good blend of being natural while also understanding what the fronts will do to not only stop him but potentially help him.

Jason Hatcher had 11 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle last year with the Cowboys. He signed a good deal with Washington to return to 3-4 defensive end. How is he playing and do you think he will have some extra motivation entering this game?

Keim: Yes, I do. It’s always natural, as you know, for a player to play at a different emotional level against his former team. And he made it clear that he doesn’t regret signing here despite Dallas’ success. But he is playing pretty well here. He’s clearly their best defensive lineman and one of their best players overall defensively. Jay Gruden has wanted some players to take control and rattle things a little bit and there have been times Hatcher has tried to be that guy. He has three sacks, but he’s done a nice job taking on double teams and occupying blockers. He plays with some fire and they need that. My worry for him is that he’ll wear down -- he’s had a couple of nagging things -- and if that happens they’re in big trouble up front.

At what point did you say, "This team might be for real." Did you see hints of this sort of season being a possibility back in training camp?

Archer: I didn’t have that feeling at all. I still have some questions, honestly. I went into training camp thinking they would be 8-8. After camp I thought about dropping them down to 6-10 but decided to stick with 8-8. I figured the offense would be fine. There’s too much talent on that side of the ball not to be above average. I believed Scott Linehan would bring it all together after it was something of a disjointed mess in 2013 with Jason Garrett still kind of involved, Bill Callahan calling plays for a passing game he didn’t really know and Tony Romo having a large say. But what kept me from thinking anything better than 8-8 was the defense. There were many times in practice the offense just embarrassed them. There was one practice where Murray and Dunbar wouldn’t get touched until 10 yards down the field. There were few interceptions. It was beyond bad. And I didn’t think it made sense to rely a ton on Rolando McClain given his history. I’ve remained somewhat skeptical but after taking care of New Orleans, they've really opened my eyes. I think this team is just rolling with a ton of confidence right now.

People will look at the records of these teams and think it will be an easy Dallas win. I think I know better. What is it about the Cowboys, even when things are not going so well for Washington, that makes the Redskins raise their level of play?

Keim: Yeah, this one sometimes defies rational thinking. I’m guessing this rivalry from a fan’s perspective is more one-sided to the Washington, D.C., area. Players say they hear a lot about the need to beat Dallas after they sign here or when they meet fans in the offseason. I mean, it’s a constant topic they hear about when out in public. So the importance of beating them is ingrained. However, I also think it’s about how teams match up. And as inconsistent as the Redskins’ defense has been of late, it's always matched up well against that offense. The Redskins might lose, but they always play better than anticipated (it seems). Dallas’ line had enough holes that the Redskins' front could expose, whether one-on-one or with stunts (which worked well in 2012). That line is, um, slightly better now it appears. Still, the combination of that matchup and the ability to make a few plays on offense -- remember Santana Moss? -- allowed them to compete more than anticipated in some games.

Are you sold on the Cowboys’ defense? If so, why? What concerns do you have about the team overall as we near the second half of the season?

Archer: I’m not renting on the defense, but I’m not sure I’m buying, either. They don’t rush the passer well. They can have spotty moments. I just don’t know if they can handle the burden when the offense has a down game and the offense will have a down game or two. It happens to every team. But they have far surpassed the expectations I had in camp (see previous answer). Rod Marinelli is doing a great job of using the players’ strengths. It’s not that he is really flexible with what he does. He’s just really basic with what he does and that allows the players to play fast. McClain has been a revelation but so has Justin Durant. He has more tackles in five games than he had in 10 games last year. Orlando Scandrick has played at a high level. Tyrone Crawford has fit in nicely as the 3-technique, which has made Henry Melton a situational player. They haven’t missed Morris Claiborne at all. But the biggest concern is the pass rush. They have seven sacks in seven games. DeMarcus Ware has seven in Denver. They can’t get to the quarterback and they’re not a big blitz team, although Marinelli has done it more than he has in the past. They’re counting on rookie DeMarcus Lawrence to make a huge impact when he comes back from short-term injured reserve Nov. 2. It’s a lot to put on a second-rounder but they really don’t have any choice at this time.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Quarterback isn't the only position that's somewhat in limbo for the Washington Redskins. In all honesty, quarterback really isn't a question, as it's quite simple: Colt McCoy will start, barring some major (and unforeseen) turnaround from Robert Griffin III.

But other positions have some questions:

Inside linebacker: Perry Riley was a full participant in practice Thursday, but he’s still not quite fully recovered from his sprained MCL. Gruden said Riley and Will Compton could alternate Monday night. Compton did a solid job the past two weeks filling in for Riley. But, Gruden said, “When Perry does come back at 100 percent, it’s his job.”

Right tackle: Gruden still isn’t sure who will start from among Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton or even Morgan Moses. Gruden said it’s a close decision and said part of Polumbus’ problems this season stem from soreness in his knee. He also said Compton deserved a chance last week, which is why they alternated him with Polumbus. A rotation remains an option Monday.

Left guard: There really wasn’t any decision to make because it’s not as if Gruden had said anything about a change. But it’s also not as if Shawn Lauvao has been solid all season. So Gruden was asked if Josh LeRibeus would be getting more reps. “We’re not anticipating moving Shawn out of the spot at left guard,” Gruden said. “We feel good about him. We feel good about Trent [Williams]. Kory [Lichtensteiger] is doing a good job, Chris Chester’s doing a good job.”
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and wide receiver Greg Salas (wrist, ankle) are unlikely to play Sunday when the New York Jets face the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.

“Trevor Reilly, I would think it’s a stretch to see him go,” Ryan said. “Greg Salas, that’s probably not going to happen.”

Ryan said he was confident that the rest of the roster would be ready to go.


Limited: LB Trevor Reilly (knee), G Oday Aboushi (shoulder), CB Phillip Adams (groin), G Willie Colon (knee), WR Eric Decker (hamstring), LB David Harris (shoulder) and WR Greg Salas (wrist, ankle).

Full: LB Antwan Barnes (knee), RB Chris Johnson (ankle), C Nick Mangold (shoulder), RB Bilal Powell (foot) and CB Darrin Walls (knee).


Did not participate: WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), LB Ty Powell (ankle), RB Fred Jackson (groin).

Limited participation: WR Marcus Easley (knee), S Aaron Williams (neck).

Full participation: DE Mario Williams (thumb), WR Sammy Watkins (groin), LB Brandon Spikes (ribs).
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer was limited in practice on Thursday with a sprained foot. Spencer, who has recovered from microfracture surgery, is expected to play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh), who missed the last three games, was a limited participant in practice on Thursday. Carter said he felt good and should play against Washington.

"I did all the drills, special teams, I did everything," said Carter, who worked in the base and nickel packages. "I think as the week goes on and me running around, I'll be able to open up more each day and I think I'll be fine on Monday night."

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) were full participants in practice.

Defensive end Jack Crawford (calf), right tackle Doug Free (foot), safety Jakar Hamilton (personal reasons) and quarterback Tony Romo (back) didn't practice.
PHILADELPHIA – No news is seldom good news when it comes to injuries. Based on that truism, it seems more likely that Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks will miss a fifth game Sunday because of a calf injury sustained late in the game at Indianapolis.

Kendricks was listed as limited in practice Thursday, the last full session of the week. His participation was listed the same as that of center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis, who are not expected to play this week, and running back Darren Sproles, whose status is similarly unclear.

The Eagles will have a lighter walk-through practice Friday, but the real preparation for Sunday’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, is done. Kendricks was in the trainers’ room after practice. He was not in the locker room all week when it was open to media.

“Mychal’s been running around,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve been watching him get acclimated back into drills, and the team settings and how does he fit in. We’ve still got three training sessions to figure out how much he can contribute – or can he contribute?”

If Kendricks is unavailable, Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews would again platoon at his inside linebacker spot. Veteran DeMeco Ryans, who injured his groin during the Eagles’ game against St. Louis three weeks ago but played the next week against the Giants, will start at the other inside spot.

Meanwhile, first-round draft pick Marcus Smith will play some inside linebacker in nickel defensive packages.

Expectations were high for Kendricks this season. He improved during the course of the 2013 season, his first in coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme. Kendricks recorded three of his four sacks in the final three games of the season. After a strong preseason, he appeared poised to build on his strong finish from 2013.

Earlier this week, Kendricks wrote a blog post on his website saying he planned to practice this week. He was vague on whether he expected to play.

“It's a day-to-day thing,” Davis said Wednesday. “We're slowly leaking him back in there to see what he can do. These athletes know their bodies better than anything. Do all you can without going backwards with the injury. … So we're excited about the opportunity that we might get him back.”

They might or might not. Based on the available signs, the best guess is it might take another week.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Hatcher knew the end was coming in Dallas. So when he left, he did so minus any bitterness or regret. It allowed him to shelve certain emotions while making a move to a division rival.

“It was an easy transition,” Hatcher said.

The Washington Redskins have been pleased with Hatcher, who signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract in the offseason. He’s added a physical presence inside, as well as pass-rush help with three sacks -- and he's drawing numerous double-teams.

Dallas, meanwhile, has gone from a potentially bad defense to one that ranks 15th overall in yards and 10th in points allowed. It’s not as if the Cowboys necessarily miss him, though they only have seven sacks this season -- Hatcher had a career-best 11 for them a year ago.

Still, Hatcher maintains a just-another-game mentality as the Redskins prepare to play the Cowboys Monday night.

“You’ve just got to be locked into what is at stake for this team, and I am,” he said. “What’s at stake is another win. So that is what I’m focusing on. I’m not going out there trying to be no hero or anything like that. I’m just going to continue to be the player I am. I am not going to go do nothing special.”

Hatcher does stay in contact with players from his former team. He also said he could sense a culture change in Dallas, which is now 6-1.

“It took a while, with me being an a-hole sometimes, you know the culture kind of changed,” he said. “You could see it happening. I’m excited for those guys. I wish the best for them.”

Hatcher is trying to become more of a leader in Washington. Though Hatcher said his new teammates accepted him as if he’s been here his whole career, he’s trying to exert more influence on changing the culture in Washington. Typically, wins do the trick. Until then, Hatcher is trying to do his part.

“It’s slowly but surely coming in,” Hatcher said. “I’m just being the guy that I have always been, the leader that they expect me to be. Some things you’re not going to like that I say, but I am here to be that leader and that voice. The team is going in the right direction.”

And, yes, he’s anxious to sack his former teammate, Tony Romo -- something Hatcher wasn’t allowed to do in practice for the Cowboys.

“It’s exciting for every quarterback, man,” he said. “I enjoy rushing the passer, man. That is what I do. I love it, so it just happens to be my old teammate. It’s going to be great. I don’t like quarterbacks, so every quarterback, all quarterbacks, are going to get rushed the same by me.”
Geoff Schwartz was the big offensive line pickup of the New York Giants' offseason, and he has yet to play a meaningful game for the team. A toe injury he suffered late in the preseason forced Schwartz to short-term injured reserve, and he wasn't eligible to practice with the team until last week. The first game in which he's allowed to play is their next game -- Nov. 3 against the Indianapolis Colts. But while Schwartz and the team are hopeful he can play in their first game after the bye week, they're still not certain.

"That's a great question, and I don't know the answer," Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said Tuesday. "Geoff has been very active in our meetings. He's stayed on top of everything. He's worked his tail off in there, and from all reports I get, he's done the same thing in the training room. As far as how close he is to playing, I'll know more next week when I see him."

Aside from obsessing over the World Series (he's a San Francisco Giants fan), Schwartz has been spending his bye week getting treatment at the Giants' team facility. He said Monday that he wasn't sure whether he'd be able to practice with the team next week when they all got back to work. A lot will depend on how that toe feels once he starts really testing it out. He did some running on the side during practices last week, but hasn't tried to block or punch anyone, and he doesn't know how his foot will hold up right now to the rigors of his position.

"I would think he's not going to stand on the sideline [once he's cleared]," Flaherty said. "But how much? Is he ready to play 75 plays? That's the question. If he's not, then he's got to play X number of plays, and we have to figure out when to insert him into the games."

They also have to figure out where. Flaherty said Schwartz looked good in the preseason making the transition to left guard after playing on the right side of the offensive line for most of his career. But it's hard right now to identify where the greatest need is on the offensive line. Rookie Weston Richburg has had his share of struggles at left guard since replacing Schwartz there late in camp, but John Jerry hasn't been Mr. Reliable over at right guard, either. The Giants might have to decide where they think Schwartz can best help them once they decide he's ready to help them.

"I'm really not closed-minded on one side or the other," Flaherty said. "I think wherever he fits and can help us, he can adjust, because he's had that versatility of playing on the left side and the right side. So at this point, I'm not sure what side it's going to be. We'll have to see how it unfolds as he progresses."



Sunday, 10/26
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