The Cowboys are simply running out of enough quality players to win games. They lost Sean Lee (concussion) and Lance Dunbar (knee) to injuries and are already playing without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
If you look at the upcoming schedule, where is the next win?
The undefeated New England Patriots visit AT&T Stadium next week coming off a bye. The Cowboys then get a week off before making a trip to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Giants, who have won two in a row. Then they play the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles.
Somehow the Cowboys have to come away with a win while Romo and Bryant rest and Sunday proved they don't have any margin for error. The defense missed several opportunities for big plays and wore down.
The offense was able to deliver an 8-play, 91-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown catch by Terrance Williams from Brandon Weeden on fourth down with 1:51 to play, and got some luck when Zach Hocker's 30-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left upright.
In overtime, they weren't so lucky. The Cowboys were late in setting up their defense and Drew Brees took advantage with a 80-yard touchdown to C.J. Spiller, who ran by rookie linebacker Damien Wilson, who was playing because Lee was hurt and Andrew Gachkar limped off on the first play of overtime.
Spiller ran through safety J.J. Wilcox and was able to dance into the end zone and sink the Cowboys' hearts.
At 2-2, the Cowboys' saving grace might be the NFC East, but they need any kind of win and in a hurry.
What were they thinking? For the second straight week the Cowboys had a difficult time counting to 11. They were called for 12-men on the field on New Orleans' first drive of the second half, allowing the Saints to kick a 51-yard field goal after punting. Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, they had 10 men on the field for a 2-point play.
One reason to get excited: Is it too harsh to say the Cowboys are one week closer to have Bryant and Romo back on the field? If you're looking for something, then the pass rush was able to get three sacks of Brees after putting up just three sacks in the first three games. Or maybe the final drive from Weeden was a sign the coaches can trust him a little more.
One reason to panic: In some ways Dunbar has been the Cowboys' big-play threat on offense. He suffered a left knee injury returning the opening kickoff of the second half. He had a 45-yard run in the first quarter and he entered the game with a team-high 215 receiving yards. Without Dunbar the Cowboys lose a big part of their third-down offense.
Fantasy watch: Joseph Randle's chances at the Cowboys lead back might be over. He had 11 carries for 26 yards and had a 1-yard touchdown but he drew the ire of the entire coaching staff with that score by leaping over the top. The carry was initially ruled a fumble but replay gave him the touchdown. It didn't matter. The coaches were furious because they don't want runners leaping because of the chances of a fumble.
Ouch: Already banged up, the Cowboys lost Lee in the first half with a concussion and Dunbar on the opening kick of the second half with a knee injury. Neither returned and Dunbar's injury could be serious. Wide receiver Brice Butler contributed a 67-yard catch in the third quarter and suffered a hamstring injury.
Help on the way: When the Cowboys report to work on Monday defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain will be full-time members of the team with their four-game suspensions over. McClain has been able to work out at the team's facility and take part in meetings. The Cowboys medical staff has had contact with Hardy and he is believed to be in good shape.
What he got was much worse.
Hurricane Joaquin veered out to the ocean before the Eagles' game Sunday at FedEx Field. The storm blew away any excuses Sturgis would have for missing an extra point and a 33-yard field-goal try. That was four lost points in a 23-20 Eagles loss to Washington.
"I missed," Sturgis said. "It was on me."
Sturgis was signed after winning an open audition for kickers last Monday. The Eagles had to place kicker Cody Parkey on injured reserve that day. Parkey tore a groin muscle before last Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
It won't be surprising if the team holds another audition this week. Coach Chip Kelly was noncommittal after the game.
"He was fine in practice," Kelly said. "There's a difference between practice and a game. You can't simulate anything in practice that's going to give you this environment. That's what I said the other day, that it's going to be a big unknown because he hasn't had the opportunity to kick for us in a game."
It was windy Sunday, but Sturgis said that wasn't a factor.
"It really wasn't that bad out there," Sturgis said. "I just went out there and missed and hurt the team. It's on me."
"He missed them," Kelly said. "It was a clean look, it was a clean snap and a clean hold from where I saw on the sideline. I haven't seen the film yet."
It won't look much different.
NEW ORLEANS -- After taking snaps with the regulars during the week for the first time since being acquired by the Dallas Cowboys, running back Christine Michael is active for Sunday night's game against the New Orleans Saints.
Michael was inactive for the first three games, but he is not expected to see an expanded role behind Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar. He does provide help in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The Cowboys will also have defensive lineman David Irving active less than a week after claiming him off the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad. Rookie Ryan Russell, a fifth-round pick, is inactive to make room for Irving.
The Cowboys have won 10 straight road games and the Saints have lost six straight home games. Who would have thought that possible after the Saints humiliated the Cowboys, 49-17, in 2013?
With a win tonight, the Cowboys would establish the longest road regular-season win streak in franchise history and the third longest in NFL history. But more importantly they would improve to 3-1 and straighten themselves up in their early run without Tony Romo.
A loss tonight would not be crippling to the big picture, but the Cowboys do play the New England Patriots next week at AT&T Stadium and the defending Super Bowl champions are coming off a bye week.
A sort of homecoming: Lance Dunbar lived in New Orleans until his family was displaced because of Hurricane Katrina, forcing his move to Texas. He does not get back to New Orleans much but will have family in the stands.
Growing up, Dunbar studied ex-Saints running back Darren Sproles.
“He was one of my favorites,” Dunbar said. “Just his size and my size, we compare to each other. That’s why I watched him and liked him. He’s a small guy out there making plays.”
Dunbar is on a Sproles-ian start to the season with 21 catches, which is already a career high. He is on pace for what would be an NFL-record for running backs with 112 catches, not that he is worried at all about that.
“It’s a whole lot of fun just to get out there and help get out on the field and show what you can do and help your team win,” Dunbar said. “I’ve been here three years and I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. It’s pretty fun and exciting.”
In 2011, the Cowboys considered trading back into the first round to take Ingram. Last March it was believed the Cowboys were going to make a run at Ingram as a free agent if they lost DeMarco Murray, but Ingram re-upped with the Saints before the market opened.
A broken thumb kept Ingram out of last year’s meeting with the Cowboys. In 2013, he ran for 145 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown in a New Orleans’ win. So far this season he has 127 yards on 39 carries and two touchdowns to go along with 16 catches for 152 yards.
“He’s just an excellent runner, and has a feel for the game,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s physical. He finishes runs. He’s a good receiver. He's certainly a good weapon for them coming out of the backfield.”
The ref: For the first time the Cowboys will play a game with Brad Allen as the referee. His crew was off last week but in the first two games they had just 23 accepted penalties. Here is a breakdown of Allen’s work from the Week 2 meeting between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.
LANDOVER, Md. -- A big reason why Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon is so valuable was evident during Sunday's game-winning drive. He plays with violence and with a hunger that few possess. And when the Redskins needed him most, Garcon came through with two critical catches in a 23-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Garcon's toughness first showed when he caught a third-down pass between two defenders and was jarred immediately upon grabbing the ball. Then, on the game-winning touchdown, Garcon signaled to quarterback Kirk Cousins then caught another pass between defenders -- and was immediately hit again.
Saying a guy plays with a chip on his shoulder can get tiresome, but that’s probably the best way to describe Garcon. He’s never left his Division III roots behind -- the guy who had to come from far down to become a quality starter. That determination helped the Redskins beat the Eagles.
What it means: The Redskins evened their record and won a game in dramatic fashion over a division rival. This will provide a massive dose of confidence heading into consecutive road games. It also was huge for Cousins to deliver a game-winning drive, something he had not done in any prior start. Cousins showed excellent poise and was aided greatly by Garcon. Given the lack of enthusiasm around this team for much of the past year, it was a necessary injection of energy. It’s been a while since the Redskins won a game in this fashion at home, and it quells any criticism of Cousins and the coaching staff.
What were they thinking? Rookie Quinton Dunbar provided the Eagles life in the third quarter on a fair catch by returner Darren Sproles. Dunbar, playing in his first game, apparently didn’t see the fair catch signal and hit Sproles after he caught the ball. Instead of starting at their own 29, the Eagles started at the 44 and needed only five plays to score the tying touchdown.
One reason to get excited: Slot receiver Jamison Crowder showed he can make a positive impact. He won the job over Andre Roberts, and it’s hard to imagine him losing it back after a seven-catch, 62-yard game.
One reason to panic: Redskins corner Chris Culliver, playing with a sore knee, was not himself and beaten for two deep touchdowns. That’s not a good sign heading into a game against an explosive Atlanta offense.
Fantasy watch: Neither running back Alfred Morris nor Matt Jones could do anything vs. the Eagles' defensive front. Morris finished with 17 carries for 62 yards while Jones gained just 11 yards on seven carries.
Ouch: Garcon exited the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his knee on a deep ball down the left side. He obviously returned.
From Devon Kennard's interception to the fourth-quarter goal-line stand to Rashad Jennings' stiff-arm on the game-sealing touchdown run to the consistently tough play of Kerry Wynn in run defense, Tom Coughlin's Giants played a tough, intense, clean game. They took advantage of an undisciplined Bills team that couldn't get a first down or stop committing penalties for much of the day. They made the plays they needed to make on both sides of the ball. For the second week in a row, they looked like a team simply better prepared and more fired up to play than its opponent.
What it means: Despite coughing up fourth-quarter leads in each of their first two games, the Giants are 2-2, which could be tied for first in the NFC East if the depleted Dallas Cowboys lose Sunday night to the New Orleans Saints. They have issues to work out, but they're managing to stay in and even win games while they do it.
What were they thinking? It was too late to do any harm, but Eli Manning's first interception of 2015 was inexplicable as it came near the goal line with a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Run the ball there.
One reason to get excited: The way the Giants swarm to the ball on defense. They can get outrun on defense, and they have coverage and pass-rush issues, but there's no doubting their energy and intensity. They're not missing many tackles, and a big reason is the emphasis on gang-tackling.
One reason to panic: The pass-rush doesn't appear on the verge of being solved. The Giants' inability to get to the quarterback has been a consistent problem this year, and it's one of the main reasons Buffalo was able to mount drives in the second half.
Fantasy watch: Manning threw three touchdown passes -- his third game in a row with more than one -- and it seems he's becoming a somewhat reliable weekly option in fantasy leagues.
Ouch: Left tackle Ereck Flowers started the game despite an ankle injury, left after one play but returned and played admirably even though he clearly was not 100 percent healthy. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the game a few times but returned each time. Kick returner Dwayne Harris suffered a rib injury but returned. Kennard left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
The Eagles' 23-20 loss to the Washington Redskins was a grim performance on Sunday at FedEx Field.
The Eagles were held scoreless in the first half for the second time this season. They rallied to take a 20-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, then allowed Washington’s offense to burn nearly the last six minutes of game clock as quarterback Kirk Cousins drove Washington 90 yards for the game-winning score.
Cousins found wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a first down at the Eagles’ 4-yard line with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter, with Washington needing a touchdown for the win. Washington got it, as Cousins fired a strike that was caught by a diving Garcon just inside the end zone. The 4-yard touchdown essentially gave Washington the win and the advantage in the NFC East race.
What it means: The Eagles are in disarray. Their offense was largely anemic, producing just 20 points against an injury-riddled Washington defense. At 1-3, the Eagles aren’t dead, but they absolutely must win their next two games against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants. Worse still, the Eagles managed to miss points on special teams and allow a 90-yard scoring drive on defense. It was an all-phases breakdown. There’s nothing for the Eagles to hang their hats on right now.
What were they thinking? The Eagles worked out a bunch of kickers last week after Cody Parkey tore muscles in his groin. They chose former Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis. In his first game, Sturgis missed an extra point and a 33-yard field goal attempt. It won’t be surprising if there’s another cattle call at the NovaCare Complex this week.
One reason to get excited: Sam Bradford can throw the ball downfield after all. Bradford had mysteriously avoided taking any deep shots through three games. Was it him? The receivers? The way defenses were playing? At Washington, Bradford took five or six deep shots, resulting in a 62-yard touchdown for Riley Cooper, a 39-yard score for Miles Austin and a 45-yard gain by Nelson Agholor. Bradford missed Austin and Jordan Matthews on some deep balls, but the plays added some big-play potential to the Eagles’ offense.
One reason to panic: The Eagles' offense was a mess for the entire first half. Although they got the deep ball going in the second half, you have to wonder how Chip Kelly’s offense would have fared against a team with a healthy secondary. The Eagles were able to get back into the game against a less-than-impressive Washington team, but there was still plenty to be concerned about as this team goes forward.
Fantasy watch: Agholor, the rookie wide receiver, moved the needle by hauling in a rare deep ball from Bradford. Agholor picked up 45 yards on the play, which he accented with a one-handed catch. Later, Bradford went deep a couple of times. He missed Matthews on one throw but caught Cooper in stride for a 62-yard touchdown.
Ouch: The Eagles lost four players to leg injuries in the first half, which makes you wonder about their choices of footwear on a wet surface. Cornerback Byron Maxwell hurt a quadriceps muscle. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks aggravated his hamstring. Defensive end Brandon Bair left with a groin injury. And late in the half, left tackle Jason Peters exited the game with a quad injury.
LANDOVER, Maryland -- The Washington Redskins want to get wide receiver Jamison Crowder more involved -- and that means less time for Andre Roberts. Sunday, it means no time, as the Redskins placed Roberts on their inactive list for their game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Redskins also made corner Chris Culliver active, after he tested his knee during pre-game warmups. That's good news for Washington, which could not afford to lose another secondary member. The Redskins are already without corner DeAngelo Hall, who is out for three to four weeks with a sprained toe. Quarterbacks have completed 53.8 percent of their throws to Culliver's side compared to 81.8 percent to the other side. Bashaud Breeland will start on the left side, with Kyshoen Jarrett and Will Blackmon likely handling duties in the slot, depending on the situation.
Culliver had injured his knee in practice Wednesday and did not work Thursday or Friday.
As for Roberts, the Redskins have said Crowder will get more opportunities, and one coach said late in the week he would start playing more. They like his ability to create separation and feel he does that best along with tight end Jordan Reed among their active players. With DeSean Jackson also inactive, it's important to have receivers with that skill.
Roberts has not produced in his one-plus years in Washington. He's been targeted 79 times with 41 receptions. But he dropped two passes against the Giants last week (after dropping five last season). The drops have been an issue throughout his career. Here's a section from a post I wrote last week on Roberts' drops:
In 2012, he averaged one drop every 13.5 targets; the next season it was one every 25 passes and last year it was one every 14.2. By comparison, Pierre Garcon’s last three seasons look like this: one drop every 16.8 passes; one every 29.3 and, last year, he didn’t drop anything.
The Redskins' other inactives for Sunday's game against the Eagles are: Hall, Jackson, quarterback Robert Griffin III, linebacker Perry Riley Jr., defensive end Kedric Golston (who is dealing with a hand injury) and tackle Tom Compton.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Long before Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan signed his big contract, he poked holes in his game and saw areas he could improve. After failing to be voted into the Pro Bowl, despite 13.5 sacks, Kerrigan mentioned the games he could have done more.
So any desire to improve this season, and start becoming more productive, stems from personal pride more than trying to live up to his contract. That’s why he said he doesn’t feel as though the contract has altered his approach or played with his head.
He does want to show he was worth the money, however. Kerrigan signed a five-year extension worth potentially $57.5 million.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s a lot of personal pride. I got that big contract and I want to show I’m worthy of it. Of course you want to justify it, but it’s not something like I wake up every day and say I’ve got to [justify] it.”
Kerrigan has a half a sack in three games, though he had some quality rushes against the New York Giants. He just didn’t sack quarterback Eli Manning. He’s pressured opposing quarterbacks 23 times this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s 7.7 times per game compared to 9.2 last season. His previous low was 8.1 pressures per game as a rookie.
Sometimes it’s a matter of the quarterback getting the ball out faster, but not always.
“I’ve been close a number of times, but close doesn’t cut it,” Kerrigan said. “I have to win my one-on-ones more and win them quicker. I’ve been close a lot of times, but I have to win it quicker and make things happen quicker.”
Not that the Redskins want him to change much of anything. They look at past production and know there will be more plays made by Kerrigan in the future. Last season was his first with double-digit sacks, but what they also could use are the game-changing turnovers -- Kerrigan has forced 16 fumbles in his career, including one this season.
“Ryan is his own toughest critic. He is extremely hard on himself and he knows that and wants to play better and by playing better [I mean] from a statistical standpoint,” Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “From an effort standpoint, from a ‘want-to,’ from a trying standpoint, Ryan Kerrigan’s fine. If he’s going to keep doing what he’s doing, he’s going to be fine.”
But Kerrigan wants more.
“I know if I win my one-on-one matchups more and get to the quarterback quicker, then I have a chance to get the ball out,” Kerrigan said. “Who knows what happens?”
ASHBURN, Va. – The Washington Redskins will be without their most dangerous weapon again. They’re hoping their top corner won’t join him on the sidelines.
Receiver DeSean Jackson and linebacker Perry Riley are listed as out for Sunday’s game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. Corner Chris Culliver is questionable after not practicing for a second consecutive day. Coach Jay Gruden maintains belief that Culliver will play, though he had hoped the veteran corner would be able to practice Friday.
Culliver exited practice early Wednesday with a sore knee that caused him to limp around the facility on Thursday.
“He’s got soreness down there,” Gruden said. “Whether it’s wear and tear, I don’t know what it is. We’ll take it easy on him and try to get [him] ready for Sunday. I feel optimistic, but you never know. It’s up to him and how he feels.”
If Culliver can’t play, the Redskins could use veteran Will Blackmon in his place. They also signed Quinton Dunbar off the practice squad earlier in the week. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett can help out in the nickel.
The Redskins signed Blackmon after the season opener. He has played in some nickel packages as well as their six-defensive back set.
“I’m good to go whether I play a lot or a little,” Blackmon said. “I’ll anticipate my role being what it has been, but I’m confident that I know everything so whenever they insert me anywhere, I’m good to go.”
Bashaud Breeland will start at the other corner regardless.
As for Jackson, the original timetable was three to four weeks -- and Sunday would be the start of the third week. Gruden said he's not sure yet when Jackson will return, saying, "as far as your progression from slowly starting to jog to picking up your speed to full sprint, that can take two weeks, three weeks, eight weeks -- just depends."
The Redskins will miss his speed, but will try to compensate by using rookie Jamison Crowder more in the slot. They also have Rashad Ross, who is fast but who plays the same position as Pierre Garcon.
“I could see him being a little more incorporated,” Gruden said of Ross. “His comfort level in the system is night and day from where it was last year when he was trying out for the team. We have no problem with him in a game at any time.”
Will Compton will start a second consecutive game in place of Riley.
IRVING, Texas -- Jeremy Mincey will return to his right defensive end spot Sunday for the Dallas Cowboys. He was able to take part in a full practice on Thursday and said he would be fine to play against the New Orleans Saints.
The Cowboys surely need Mincey. While not a star, he is a consistent performer, a leader and a guy defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli leans on.
But for the second time in a nine-month span, Mincey played with a concussion. He did so in the Cowboys’ wild-card win against the Detroit Lions last season. And he did two weeks ago in the Week 2 win against the Philadelphia Eagles.
He suffered the most recent concussion after banging heads with Tyron Smith in warm-ups. He knew something wasn’t right but he did not tell anybody. He even practiced the following Wednesday but came out of practice the next day. He was ruled out of last week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons and held out of practice for a day this week until he cleared the mandated protocol.
“I shouldn’t have held back on that,” Mincey said. “That’s important. I got to deal with my family after this is over. That the team I got to play for when it’s all said and done and I definitely want to be an "A game" player for them.”
Mincey was married last June. He has two kids. He is in his eighth year in the NFL and second with the Cowboys. He has already beaten the average playing career and made a good amount of money that might not make him set for life, but have him set up for life.
He turns 32 in December.
"I know that was selfish as far as me being a husband and a father to children, but I just wanted to win," Mincey said. "I made a bad decision by doing that. You learn from your mistakes and that's something I definitely won't do again."
The NFL’s education of players regarding the effects of concussions has grown greatly in recent years. Mincey said he knows more about them now than he did when he entered the league. According to a recent study by the Concussion Legacy Foundation, 87 of 91 former NFL players who donated their brains to science after death tested posted for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Mincey and Chris Nowinski, the executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and co-founder of the CTE Center at Boston University, exchanged Twitter messages earlier in the week.
“He’s a good man,” Mincey said. “It was good that he chimed in and gave his input, but I just wanted him to know what I was thinking at the time. I’m not saying, ‘I’ll play through a concussion because I’m tough.’ Players do it all the time to try to win. That’s all. I tried to win and put my team in the best position possible.”
As much as the league and teams try to educate players about the importance of communication in dealing with concussions, a player’s pride can often get in the way. Coach Jason Garrett stresses a player has to be honest regardless of injury.
“We are never going to put a player in a situation where we are going to compromise him in any way,” Garrett said. “We just simply wouldn’t do that. I think the players understand that and the training staff and medical people understand that as well. We care about our players. We have relationships with our players. Their health and well-being is the No. 1 thing on our mind. Having said that, it’s a physical sport. We all understand that. Players have to play through things. If you want to be a good football player you need to be mentally and physically tough to be able to play this game. So, you are not always right. The more complicated issues are regarding concussions. Those are real issues. And we try to handle those the absolute right way and make the players’ health our No. 1 priority.”
Mincey expressed regret at not only playing against the Eagles but attempting to practice.
“I’m glad the NFL is emphasizing concussion protocol and concussions, period, because they are serious,” Mincey said. “I mean, you only get one brain.”
The Eagles have an excellent run defense. This was true last season as well, but it remains so as they lead the NFL in allowing only 3.11 yards per carry. That’s not to say you can’t run on them, but their front seven makes it difficult.
It starts with the line and two players in particular: Fletcher Cox and nose tackle Bennie Logan. Cox receives a lot of attention, but Logan is terrific. He uses his hands very well and can be disruptive. The Eagles also make life difficult for opposing linemen by the way they’ll occasionally stunt him on run downs, either to the play side or to contain. These two set the tone for the defense because both are capable of making plays.
The Eagles do more movement on run downs than most teams, whether with run blitzes or stunts and it makes life difficult for zone blocking teams. You must be patient on the ground against them. Last year, for example, Redskins running back Alfred Morris carried the ball 44 times against the Eagles with only two carries for 10 or more yards. He had 15 carries for one yard or less and 27 of three yards or less.
The Eagles will test a team’s commitment to the run. They gave the Redskins problems at times last year by widening their linebackers, making it tough for linemen and tight ends to reach their blocks at times. There will be gaps at times and while the Redskins expect their backs to split carries, it’s something that Matt Jones and his speed can perhaps exploit. Washington used a lot of outside zone against the Eagles last season, but the Redskins are more varied in their rushing attack this season. Opposing coaches say the Eagles’ secondary is the weakness, though safety Malcolm Jenkins provides versatility with his ability to play with range deep or cover at the line. And the Eagles have intercepted five passes.
The offense lacks the same punch. Maybe the Eagles get there eventually as new parts come together, but through three games the offense has not looked good. There was a crispness and sharpness to their offense in Chip Kelly’s first two seasons -- they had a lot of talent at the skill positions, too (gone are LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson). That always helps. But they’re not using much zone-read -- only two carries from this look all season -- and that limits their attack a little. They will run some packaged plays like in the past, with options for a pass or run. Quarterback Sam Bradford has not been accurate and has not tested teams deep. In fact, he’s 0-for-5 on throws that travel 20 or more yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The line has not been great (starting right guard Andrew Gardner was placed on injured reserve this week), which is partly why running back DeMarco Murray is off to a slow start. At times against Atlanta, the Falcons appeared to know what was coming and reacted fast (often when a tight end or receiver would go in motion and pivot back, it was a tip-off to a run). The screen game has not worked as consistently well as it has in the past. Drops and poor throws have hurt the offense, too.
But they still have talent on offense. Maybe it will just take time. Maybe Kelly has overrated his scheme and underrated the need for certain talent. But with running backs Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, the Eagles do have two quick backs to threaten teams. Sproles can hurt in the return game, too -- that’s the thing with Philly, they score in multiple ways (on defense, too). They will still test defenses' ability to play the entire field, running wide to one side on a play only to go wide to the opposite side on the next. In the red zone, they’ll test a defense’s discipline with unbalanced lines and play-action fakes. They’ll send either Sproles or Mathews one way and if the linebackers pay too much attention, they’ll hit the defense with something to the other side. Or if two defenders run at a back on a route, as has happened, they’ll find the tight end. Rookie Nelson Agholor, in time, could be a solid outside target but he has just four catches thus far (slot receiver Jordan Matthews has 22 catches).
The rest? Well, not so much.
Often lost amid the talk of learning a new system when a player changes teams is how his life gets turned upside down. Cassel and his wife, Lauren, were two weeks into their first season in Buffalo when they learned of the trade. They had a place to live and had become familiar with the area.
And then came the text from his agent that the Cowboys were close to picking him up in a trade on Sept. 21. A day later the trade was completed.
Lauren is 36 weeks pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. They have two girls, Quinn and Ella, and a boy, Matthew Jr. Yes, he knows his wife should not have been on a plane that late in her pregnancy.
“Well, we kind of bent the rules a little bit,” Cassel said. “We may have went against the doctor’s rules there, but we figured we had to get her out here as quickly as possible. I don’t think they recommend that, but we figured it was better to do that and get her out here and get the family settled.”
For now, the Cassels remain in an area hotel. The kids are sleeping on air mattresses.
“They don’t know any better,” Cassel said. "They’re like, 'This is amazing. We get to sleep in Mom and Dad’s room.'"
Cassel said he has received plenty of support from the organization with the director of player development Bryan Wansley and assistant director of football operations Craig Gleiber. They have answered any question he has had. Cassel has asked teammates about areas in which to live that are close enough to the team’s Valley Ranch facility but good for his family.
“You kind of get a feel for the area and we’ve been going around checking everything out,” Cassel said. “I think it’s also a process of trying to figure out where we are because I’m not too familiar with Dallas and neither is my wife.”
In between settling his family life, Cassel is trying to settle his football life. In his 11th season, he has played for four teams, going through a number of different offensive systems. The Cowboys' system is most like the one he played in last year with the Minnesota Vikings with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He said there is some carryover from Greg Roman’s offense in Buffalo as well.
“I’d say it’s that complicated because you have to unlearn certain words,” Cassel said. “One word in one system might mean something else … You have to get a feel for it and study hard and then also when you get into these game-plan weeks, just bear down on what we’re doing on a week-to-week basis.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has tested Cassel on the practice field, asking him to recite a play call and the checks off each play. Cassel said he will simulate the play calls as Brandon Weeden runs them just to get more familiar with the verbiage.
He joked he will use his kids to line up in different formations at the hotel to study more.
“My 2-year-old just wants to come tackle me,” he said, “so that’s helpful.”
“As a player, you always have to come with the mindset that you have to be ready to play at any given time,” Cassel said. “Whether or not that opportunity comes, you don’t know. That’s a coach’s decision. At the same time, for me, as a competitor, you have to get yourself ready to play.”
“This is a big week for him to get a full week in,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “Last week it was a little bit of he got here late on Wednesday, extra meetings, ‘OK, I’ve got to get all of this out of my head, this is what I used to call it. Now what do we call it? What’s the snap count? OK, all right, I did it wrong, and then I went three plays and did it right. Now I did it the old way.’ Those are the kind of things you’ve got to get through. This week is much smoother.”
And Cassel hopes it becomes smoother with more time on and off the field.
“All hands have been on deck, especially with my wife being pregnant and we’ve got three young ones,” Cassel said. “It’s been an adjustment, but I’ve got an amazing wife and everybody’s kind of rallied together.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have one of the weakest pass-rushes in the NFL, and they might be without arguably their best pass-rusher on Sunday against the Bills.
Defensive end Robert Ayers (hamstring) did not practice Thursday after practicing on a limited basis Wednesday. Head coach Tom Coughlin said Ayers had "a little problem" about three-quarters of the way through practice Wednesday.
The Giants have three sacks in the first three games of the season -- only two teams in the league have fewer sacks: the Dolphins and Chargers -- and Ayers has one of those three sacks.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz did not practice Thursday and has already been ruled out for Sunday's game after aggravating his calf injury Wednesday.
Three other players did not practice Thursday: defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee), and tight ends Daniel Fells (ankle) and Jerome Cunningham (knee). Coughlin does believe Fells will play against the Bills.
Left tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle) practiced on a limited basis for the second day in a row Thursday, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (concussion), defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (foot) and running back Orleans Darkwa (knee) were full participants.
It appears that Odighizuwa, the Giants' third-round draft pick out of UCLA, will make his NFL regular-season debut Sunday. Perhaps he can spark the pass rush?
"I’m confident that if the coaches put me out there to get after the quarterback, I’m confident that I can get it done," Odighizuwa said.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he hopes that's the case.
"We're gonna have to live with some growing pains -- you can see that already in practice, because he's not up to speed with some of the things we've been doing since he's been out," Spangnuolo said. "But yeah, he's got some juice.
"I think he's a strong edge player. I think he can play tight ends well, so I hope that helps us on defense. And then certainly when we get to throwing downs, those third downs, I'm hopeful, we're all hopeful, that he can give us something in the pass rush."
Jackson missed another day of practice because of his hamstring injury. This would have been on the earlier end of his recovery anyway. When he injured the hamstring in the season opener, the estimate was for a three- to-four-week recovery.
“He’s not officially out yet,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Weirder things have happened. He hasn’t practiced in a while and that’s a concern. You’d like to have your receivers and quarterbacks get work done [together]. He’s a special player so if he says he can go, there’s a chance.”
However, Jackson made it clear after he hurt himself that he did not want to rush back with this injury. Because he relies on his speed, Jackson wants to make sure his hamstring is completely healed.
As for Culliver, Gruden said his knee was still sore after tweaking it in practice Wednesday. Culliver was limping as he headed to the locker room at the end of practice Thursday.
“Anytime a guy doesn’t practice on Thursday, there’s a level of concern,” Gruden said. “But we are confident he’ll feel better tomorrow. Hopefully it clears up by [Friday].”
The Redskins can’t afford more losses in the secondary with corner DeAngelo Hall already out for three to four weeks with a toe injury and safety Duke Ihenacho on injured reserve. If Culliver can’t play, then the Redskins would have to start either Will Blackmon or Quinton Dunbar. Blackmon was signed after the season began and Dunbar switched from receiver to corner in training camp. They can use safety Kyshoen Jarrett as a slot cover corner. Bashaud Breeland will start at corner regardless.