Lane Johnson back at start RT

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
PHILADELPHIA -- Lane Johnson's suspension was good for one thing. The second-year right tackle avoided the injury epidemic that has swept along the offensive line the past four weeks.

Johnson returned to the NovaCare Complex fields Tuesday following a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. If all goes well, he will start at right tackle when the Eagles play the St. Louis Rams Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

"It wasn't fun," Johnson said of his exile. "I'm just a bystander. I don't care what people say. The only way you can get in football shape is playing football. I'm in pretty decent shape. I'm not exactly where I want to be, but I'll be good enough. The way it is, I've got to play."

Johnson spent his time in Mesquite, Texas, staying with a friend. That allowed him to drive to API, a training facility near Dallas, five days a week. Johnson worked out there, and was able to do some football drills against linebacker Victor Butler. Butler was released by the New Orleans Saints in August, and signed with the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago.

"I'd do movement stuff in the morning, pass-rushing stuff against other guys," Johnson said. "I'd lift in the afternoon and do a little bit more running."

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the plan for Johnson was simple.

"Put him in there, let him play," Shurmur said. "He came back, he's in great shape. He kind of informed us what he was doing, because we really weren't allowed to have any contact with him. We'll put him in there and get him going."

With Johnson back, Todd Herremans can slide back to right guard. That will give the Eagles three starters -- left tackle Jason Peters is the other -- from last year's line. David Molk will continue to work at center and Matt Tobin will start again at left guard.

Johnson stayed in touch with his teammates, especially Herremans, exchanging text messages about the injuries and also about different techniques the linemen were using. Johnson was not allowed to communicate with Eagles coaches.

"I feel like, playing next to Todd last year, he helped me out a lot," Johnson said. "This year, I'm a lot more knowledgeable, but Todd's there just in case I do need him. I think me and Todd are going to play well together."

The Eagles' running game could use the help. LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing last year. He gained just 17 yards on 10 carries Sunday in San Francisco.

"I think me and Todd got it going pretty good last year," Johnson said. "We were moving the ball pretty well. We'll try to get Shady (McCoy) back in the game, get those yards back up and start attacking again."
Three thoughts on the Cowboys’ 38-17 win over New Orleans:

 1. I think Bruce Carter must wonder what football gods have against him, since a quadriceps strain will probably cost him at least one game.

Two seasons ago, he was playing the best he’d ever played when he suffered a dislocated elbow that ended his season. He spent last season in an unproductive fog but seemed to find his niche again this season after moving to strongside linebacker.

He had six tackles an two pass deflections before getting hurt against New Orleans. The Cowboys hope he’s not out long and that he returns with the same passion and performance.

  2. I think the Cowboys need to make sure they continue to get Joseph Randle involved, which is admittedly hard to do with DeMarco Murray leading the NFL in rushing and carries.

Murray, who has missed 11 games in his first three seasons, has 99 carries in the first four games. He’s on pace to carry 396 times, a huge number for a dude who has never carried more than 396 times in a season.

Coach Jason Garrett gave Randle the final series of the third quarter, and he responded with three carries for 21 yards and had an 18-yard run negated by a penalty. Garrett said Randle is running confidently and aggressively.

That’s why it’s time to ease Murray’s load just a tad, so he’s still able to grind in November and December.

3. I think the Cowboys’ defensive line is going to be better than I figured.
It’s because they don’t have any bad players in their rotation. You don’t think about it much, but there’s a significant difference between an average player and a bad player.

You can survive with average players in the right circumstance. You can’t survive with bad players.

The Cowboys don’t have any stars, but with the mix of guys they have, there’s little difference when one comes out and another goes in, and the result is the defensive line plays to the same standard the entire game. They can play with maximum effort because they’re getting consistent rest and the offense has been keeping them off the field.

KEY STAT: 50.8

Garrett always talks about having the ability to attack a defense in a lot of different ways.

Well, the Cowboys have achieved perfect offensive harmony during their first four games, as they’re running it 50.8 percent of the time -- and that has helped lead to a three-game winning streak.

The Cowboys are No. 1 in the NFL with 165.0 yards rushing per games and rank fourth with a 5.08 average per carry.

This is the first time under Garrett that the Cowboys have made the running game the epicenter of their offense -- and it’s opening up everything else.

That’s because the more opponents have to use an additional safety to stop Murray, the more the Cowboys can attack downfield with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams or Jason Witten.

Bryant and Williams each scored on touchdown passes Sunday against New Orleans, in part, because they were facing single coverage so the Saints could devote more manpower to stopping the Cowboys’ running game.

 PLAYER TO WATCH: Barry Church

He’s not flashy, but he doesn't mistake that for not being effective. Actually, Church would be really good on a great defense because he could freelance more and put himself in position to make more plays.

But in the Cowboys’ defensive scheme and with their personnel, he tends to play it safe, as he should.

Church is solid in coverage, a willing tackler and a guy who makes the right play most of the time. He had six tackles against the Saints and made a couple of nice tackles that stopped New Orleans from converting third downs.

They weren’t spectacular plays, but they were effective and ended the drive. They were typical Church plays.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

Chip Kelly has to find a way to get Nick Foles comfortable enough to throw the ball in rhythm without feeling as if he’s about to get run over. The St. Louis Rams come to town Sunday knowing they don’t have to bring the house to get pressure.

Opposing defenses have blitzed Foles on only 16 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s the second-lowest rate in the NFL. But Foles has been under pressure on 39 of his pass attempts, the most in the NFL. Bottom line: Defenses are getting more pressure while using fewer pass-rushers, and that is affecting Foles’ confidence and timing.

Yes, the Eagles’ offensive line has been a mess because of injuries. Part of Kelly’s task is to shore things up there. It will help if right tackle Lane Johnson, back from his suspension, can step right in. That will slide Todd Herremans back to right guard, which will solidify two spots.

But the middle of the line is still an issue. Undersized David Molk is at center and Matt Tobin played left guard after missing a month with a high ankle sprain. Maybe they’ll settle into those jobs, helping to keep the pressure out of Foles’ face. If not, Kelly has to consider using veteran Wade Smith at one spot.

Either way, Kelly has to call plays and create situations that allow Foles to make quick reads, quick decisions and quick throws. A little early success will help Foles feel more confident and slow the pass rush.
IRVING, Texas -- Last week Jason Witten's blocking on Dez Bryant's 68-yard touchdown against the St. Louis Rams brought extra attention. In the win against the New Orleans Saints, it is a critical third-down catch in the fourth quarter by Witten that brings extra attention.

Witten has said thousands of times one of the best feelings is making a play when everybody in the stands and on the sideline knows the ball is coming to you, like Troy Aikman to Jay Novacek in the 1990s.

On third-and-9 with 5:26 to play at the New Orleans 38, everybody knew Tony Romo would look to Witten. The Cowboys stopped the Saints' momentum by sniffing out a fake punt, but needed at least a first down to end their chances of a comeback.

The Cowboys were in 11 personnel (three wide receivers) with Witten flexed wide of right tackle Doug Free. New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro was lined up on top of Witten, a sign of how much respect defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had for Witten.

The Saints had nine defenders close to the line of scrimmage. One safety played over the top of Bryant to Romo’s left. The other was splitting the difference between Witten, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams.

Here’s where playcaller Scott Linehan delivered some genius.

Beasley runs mostly short in- or out-breaking routes, but this time streaked down the field. Williams had an inside release and went vertical as well, to occupy safety Rafael Bush, leaving Vaccaro on Witten.

Witten breaks inside at the snap, takes five steps and reverse pivots back to his right, creating separation from Vaccaro and an easy throw for Romo. With Beasley and Williams running down the field, there is a ton of space for Witten to run for a first down and pick up 16 yards.

“That’s Linehan’s touch,” Romo said. “Pretty good one, too, huh?”

Three plays later, Romo hit Bryant for an 18-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw, ending the game.

“After we stopped the fake punt,” Witten said, “our mindset was, ‘We need to score.’”

Before the Cowboys could score, they needed a big third-down conversion.

The Film Don't Lie: Cowboys

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
IRVING, Texas -- A weekly look at what the Dallas Cowboys must fix:

The Cowboys have been excellent on third down through the first four games of the season, so it isn't necessarily a problem they must fix. But it's an area in which they need to be particularly sharp when they face the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The Texans’ opponents have the worst third-down conversion percentage this season (28.6). The Cowboys are tied for second in third-down success rate, converting 55.1 percent of the time (27-of-49).

The Cowboys' third-down production was awful last year -- they converted just 35 percent of the time and could not consistently help their defense by staying on the field longer. This year they are staying on the field more and keeping their defense rested. The Cowboys have held the ball for at least 31 minutes, 24 seconds in three of the first four games.

The biggest reason the Cowboys have been good on third down has been their work on first down. They have averaged 6 yards per rush on first down and 8.3 yards per pass on first down. Having the entire playbook open on second and third down has made life easier for playcaller Scott Linehan.

With a pass-rusher like J.J. Watt, the Cowboys have to stay ahead of the chains and continue to win on first down.

The Film Don't Lie: Redskins

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
The Washington Redskins’ defense started strong in the first two games, but there were tiny cracks that made you wonder when it came to big plays allowed. Only a few were made, but it was clear it was something to watch -- because it has been an issue for a few years. Sure enough, it’s an issue again.

In the first two games, Washington allowed a combined five plays for 20 yards or more. In the past two games, it has allowed a combined 12 such plays. The Redskins faced quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne in the first two games compared to Nick Foles and Eli Manning in the next two. The latter two have taken advantage of a back seven that routinely leaves targets open -- too often because of a miscommunication or coverage breakdown.

Seattle’s offense has been good in its first three games, but the Seahawks have not been a big-play team. In the first three games they’ve had only 10 plays go for 20 yards or more -- eight passing and two rushing. But be warned: The Giants entered last week’s game with seven such plays and managed five. The Seahawks have a dangerous threat in Percy Harvin.

The Redskins have the talent for a good pass rush, but their jobs are difficult when the back seven don’t do their jobs in coverage or even attempt to disrupt the timing of a route. So the result is quick passes, with the quarterback rarely feeling heat from the rush. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, opposing quarterbacks have thrown 85 passes in 2.3 seconds or less versus Washington -- fourth most in the NFL. That’s 65.4 of all the passes the Redskins have faced.

If Washington’s defense wants to improve, the surest way possible is to eliminate the big plays allowed -- but this has been a trend. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, since 2010, the Redskins have allowed 231 pass plays of 20 yards or more, third highest in the NFL over that period. If this trend doesn’t change, the defense will never achieve what it hopes.

The Film Don't Lie: Giants

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
A weekly look at what the New York Giants must fix before their next game:

After the game the Giants played Thursday, anything we say here will qualify as a nitpick. But they definitely could be getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and if they don't get to the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan on Sunday, there'll be no excuse. Atlanta's offensive line troubles run so deep that they had to play tight end Levine Toilolo at right tackle in their last game.

The Giants' defensive line has done a good job against the run, but it needs to generate more consistent pressure from more different spots on the line. Jason Pierre-Paul is playing well enough at defensive end that he's getting more attention from opposing offenses in the form of double-teams. That should free up Mathias Kiwanuka at the other defensive end spot, but, aside from the early sack/fumble in the Washington game, Kiwanuka was a nonfactor in the pass rush. By contrast, Robert Ayers had two quarterback hits and one hurry in just 18 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranks Ayers as the No. 2 4-3 defensive end in the league this season.

Ayers has played on only about 48 percent of the Giants' defensive snaps this season, as compared with 78 percent for Kiwanuka. It might be time for Ayers to see more time on the field if the Giants want to get the most out of their pass rush.

Examining Kirk Cousins' starts

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Aside from the up-and-down pattern, dramatic conclusions often are reached about Kirk Cousins' future after each game. Here’s a look at his starts and the prevailing thought after those games:

Redskins 38, Browns 21 (Dec. 16, 2012)
Stat line: 26-of-37, 329 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
What stood out: Cousins struggled from the pocket in the first quarter. But the Redskins did a better job thereafter of moving him and killing the Browns, intent on stopping Alfred Morris, with their boot game. Cousins found a rhythm and repeatedly made big throws.
The takeaway: The Redskins potentially have a strong backup behind Robert Griffin III. For the first time in a long time, it appears Washington is set at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/Mark TenallyKirk Cousins had arguably his worst start of his NFL career last week against the Giants.
Falcons 27, Redskins 26 (Dec. 15, 2013)
Stat line: 29-of-45, 381 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
What stood out: Cousins looked sharp and the passing game had a rhythm. The problem, of course, is that he also threw two costly interceptions. It’s a theme. Cousins led Washington on a drive late in the game, but the Redskins failed on the two-point conversion.
The takeaway: Cousins could perhaps increase his trade stock, if nothing else. And while it’s just one start in a season gone bad, is there any way there could be a controversy entering 2014 if this continues?

Cowboys 24, Redskins 23 (Dec. 22, 2013)
Stat line: 21-of-36, 197 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception
What stood out: Nothing. He was ordinary. He forced more passes, one of which was intercepted and a couple of others that were not. He made some nice throws, too. But in the fourth quarter he completed just 2-of-8 passes and failed on Washington’s last drive. The Redskins had a minute left starting at their own 13 and moved 4 yards.
The takeaway: One good game and one mediocre one. The jets cooled big time on the idea of a future controversy. And while some stuck with the "he could fetch a first-rounder" line, most realized that was not going to happen.

Giants 20, Redskins 6 (Dec. 29, 2013)
Stat line: 19-of-49, 169 yards, 2 interceptions
What stood out: The coaches appeared intent on killing his trade value by having him throw so much in terrible weather. Cousins was off-target on numerous throws and could have had more than two interceptions. It was the best defense he had faced as a starter.
The takeaway: What controversy? Griffin would clearly be the starter entering 2014. Goodbye first-rounder and likely a second. Some clung to a belief he could fetch this, but it was never realistic.

Eagles 37, Redskins 34 (Sept. 21, 2014)
Stat line: 30-of-48, 427 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
What stood out: Cousins’ poise in the pocket and the timing of the passing game. He built on a terrific relief showing in the previous game. However, in the final two quarters, Cousins completed three long passes but overall struggled against the five-man rush, too often looking hurried. It was a stark contrast to the first half. And the Redskins failed to even get a field goal attempt after taking over on the Eagles’ 41 late in the game.
The takeaway: One great half and one in which he struggled still produced 34 points and 511 yards of offense. So six of his eight quarters in 2014 were very good. Is he the real quarterback of the future?

Giants 45, Redskins 14 (Sept. 25, 2014)
Stat line: 19-of-33, 257 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions
What stood out: Cousins had a pedestrian first half, but a horrendous second one. He forced throws, as he had in the past, and lost the poise that had earned him praise a few weeks earlier. The more Washington struggled or fell behind, the more Cousins pressed to make it all up with one throw. He stared down receivers and bypassed smarter throws to try to score two touchdowns on one pass.
The takeaway: Cool it on the future talk; Cousins’ youth showed (he's 26) and he has some work to do to be a quality starter. But now the question becomes: Can he develop into a quality starter, or is his tendency to turn the ball over -- and, more importantly, the panicked play that leads to those turnovers -- one that will never be fixed?

Washington Redskins failed with technique

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
The problem started with the bump-and-run coverage coach Jay Gruden said they employed against the New York Giants. It becomes a problem if the corners don’t get their hands on the receiver -- as the Washington Redskins rarely tried to do in their 45-14 loss.

“We asked them to do it,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “If you’re in bump and run, it’s called ‘bump’ and run for a reason and we just weren’t getting a good piece of them.”

Time and again the Redskins’ corners were beaten off the ball. It’s a function of having two young corners in the starting lineup and a third corner in Tracy Porter who did not play this season until the second half of that loss.

The Giants routinely got clean releases and that allowed quarterback Eli Manning to get rid of the ball fast. In fact, he threw a season-best 27 passes (out of 39) while spending less than 2.3 seconds in the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He completed 22 of those for 227 yards and three touchdowns. It’s tough to get legitimate pressure on a quarterback throwing so fast.

“We’ve got to do a better job as defensive backs and linebackers when we’re out there playing bump and run -- get hands on them and reroute the guys,” Gruden said. “That wasn’t happening, and when you reroute them, it gives your defensive linemen that extra count to get home.

“Eli was throwing everything on rhythm and didn’t really have to pull the ball down at all to go to his second or third receiver. He was pretty efficient on who he wanted to go to and was able to get it out quick and didn’t really let our defensive line get a chance to pressure him.”

It’s been a season-long problem. The Redskins have faced 85 passes that were thrown in 2.3 seconds or less, fourth most in the NFL. Conversely, they’ve faced 43 passes in which the quarterback was in the pocket for 2.4 seconds or more -- only three teams have faced fewer, and two of those (Kansas City, St. Louis) have played just three games.

There are plenty of examples where receivers took clean releases, leading to big plays. (This was also a result of botched coverage whether via communication errors or simple misunderstanding of the defensive call. More on that later in the week). But here’s what happened on the four touchdown passes:
  • No. 1: Linebacker Perry Riley actually had decent position, but by the time tight end Larry Donnell was on him, he was five yards downfield. Riley lightly touched him, but not enough to cause any disruption – and he might have been worried about an illegal contact penalty. Manning threw a jump ball that Donnell easily won.
  • No. 2: Once again, Donnell got a clean release. At 6-foot-6, 269 pounds he’s tough to jam. But he’s clearly hard to stop when his release is free. This time, he ran at safety Brandon Meriweather, who had outside leverage. Meriweather backpedaled and Donnell then cut back inside without any contact for an easy catch. If Meriweather expected inside help, it wasn’t there: Linebacker Keenan Robinson turned to the three-receiver side at the snap and then back to Donnell’s side. Safety Ryan Clark was shaded to the other side as well.
  • No. 3: Donnell was paired one-on-one with corner Bashaud Breeland, a height difference of seven inches. That’s tough enough and Manning had to salivate at what he saw. Too easy. It’s hard for Breeland to jam such a big player, but if you’re not going to jam him, then you can’t lose on technique. Breeland opened his hips to the inside and had outside leverage, as if knowing he had inside help (safety Ryan Clark was dropping to the inside area). But Donnell crossed him up with a hard plant to the inside that Breeland bought. Donnell then cut back to the fade; this created enough separation to make for another lob pass and touchdown. Breeland is talented, but will undergo numerous lessons this season.
  • No. 4: Another one to the tight end. Daniel Fells released cleanly on a first and goal from the 4-yard line. Riley took the flat where the running back ran. Linebacker Gabe Miller, in the middle, eyed Manning and eventually ran towards Fells. Ryan Kerrigan rushed the passer from that side. I don’t yet know who was at fault; I do know Miller was the closest in coverage and was cut two days later, though it was mostly for special teams.

Quad strain could limit Bruce Carter

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garett put linebacker Bruce Carter in the day-to-day category with a quadriceps strain in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win against the New Orleans Saints.

Carter pulled up on a 62-yard run by Khiry Robinson on the Saints’ first touchdown drive and did not return.

After the game Carter said he would be OK, but defensive end DeMarcus Ware suffered a quadriceps strain last season and missed three games.

Garrett said Carter played his best game of the season Sunday. He was credited with six tackles and two pass deflections, including one that ended up in Justin Durant’s arms for an interception.

“He was around the ball, made the big tip on the interception, just seemed to be around the ball,” Garrett said. “Hits on the ball, both in the run game and in the pass game. I thought he did a good job of knocking them back when he tackled them. I thought we did a good job of that as a football team. That’s a point of emphasis for us, the way you tackle matters. I thought Bruce was a part of those tackles besides just being around the ball most of the night.”

When Carter went down for the night, Rolando McClain took more work in the nickel defense. He had been playing only in the base defense as he recovered from a groin strain that kept him out of the Sept. 21 meeting against the St. Louis Rams

McClain was questionable heading into the game after taking part in a limited portion of Friday’s practice. Garrett said McClain came out of the Saints’ win fine.

“He’s a smart player – very instinctive, he picks things up quickly,” Garrett said. “I think that certainly helped in his ability to play in that game.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was scheduled to meet with Josh Brent Monday afternoon after the NFL modified the defensive tackle’s suspension.

While Brent will miss the first 10 games, the NFL allowed him to take part in meetings and workouts two weeks earlier than originally planned after reaching an agreement with him late last week. He can return to practice beginning on Week 9 and he is eligible to play in a game for the first time on Nov. 23 against the New York Giants

Brent has not played in a game since Dec. 2, 2012, after a car accident that cost the life of teammate and friend Jerry Brown. The Cowboys placed Brent on the non-football injury list for the remainder of the season and he retired before training camp began in 2013.

Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and spent the final 45 days at a treatment facility. On Sept. 2 commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him 10 games for violating the league’s personal conduct and substance-abuse policies.

Brent and the NFL came to the agreement on the modifications after his appeal was not heard in the time limits prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement.

“I think it’s a really good thing for him to lay the foundation to get back,” Garrett said. “The biggest emphasis that we have with Josh is to make sure he gets himself settled back as a human being, as a man. We feel like being around football, his livelihood, his passion, can be good for him in that regard. I think it’s set up the right way for him. He has to stay in this mode for about four weeks before he can get back on the practice field and I think that will allow him a good transition period to come back and be ready to go.”

The Cowboys have supported Brent since the accident in part because they believed it was the right thing to do and in part because of the request of Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson.

Safety Jakar Hamilton’s four-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy is over and he will be allowed to practice with the team this week. The Cowboys will have a one-week roster exemption for Hamilton and would need to make a move to add him to the 53-man roster.

Hamilton was able to be around the team and work out but not practice or take part in meetings.

“It’s been a good month for him and consistency of behavior each and every day, doing the right things he’s able to do, I think those are all good things,” Garrett said. “I think you want to make sure that all players are developing the right habits. Gave him a chance to do that and good to get him back.”

Rolando McClain with solid effort

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Last week, Rolando McClain appeared doubtful for Sunday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

The Dallas Cowboys linebacker was battling a groin injury and hadn’t practiced until Friday, and when he did step onto the field, it was in limited fashion. Sunday night, McClain was a force, again, for a Cowboys’ defense that was part of a strong effort in a 38-17 victory.

"I just had to work out with the trainers before the game and I felt OK," said McClain, who forced a fumble and recorded two tackles.

McClain didn’t start the game because the Cowboys were in the nickel defense, but he was in on the base package at middle linebacker.

"I need them," McClain said. "I need to be on the field. They want me on the field, we need everybody. It’s not taking one, it’s taking everybody to finish the game. It was a great team win, it’s not just me, it’s everybody."

Through four weeks, McClain, who has 17 total tackles, 14 solo, has set the tone with his violent tackles and aggressive play.

The Cowboys have missed several players because of injuries to linebacker Justin Durant, defensive end Anthony Spencer and defensive tackle Henry Melton.

All three, along with McClain, participated in Sunday’s victory.

The Cowboys needed them to erase what happened in last season’s loss to the Saints. The Cowboys allowed 625 yards in a 49-17 loss in New Orleans. The return meeting was in Arlington, and the Cowboys were aggressive to the ball and were able to contain quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense.

"It was physical," McClain said of Sunday’s win. "I wasn’t here last year, but we watched the tape from the game and it was embarrassing and everybody knew that. As a defense, we just want to go out and play better."
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles' offense didn’t look particularly healthy in San Francisco. Its stars are healthy, at least as far as coach Chip Kelly is willing to reveal.

Running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles are not injured, Kelly said in his Monday news conference.
McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, gained just 17 yards on 10 carries on Sunday. It was his fourth consecutive below-average performance. Could it be linked to the case of turf toe McCoy had during the preseason?

“No,” Kelly said. “Not that I’m aware of.”

After the game in San Francisco, McCoy said it “doesn’t matter” if he’s healthy. He followed that cryptic comment by saying that he’s fine.

“He’s not on the treatment list,” Kelly said. “He does normal maintenance like everybody else, but he hasn't had any injuries where we've done anything with him.”

As for Foles, he was slow to get up from a couple of hits during the Washington game a week earlier. He appeared to be trying to get his left shoulder loose. On Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Foles failed to complete any of his 10 passes traveling more than 20 yards downfield. Two of those passes were intercepted. Last year, Foles completed 35.3 percent of passes thrown more than 20 yards. This year, his completion percentage on such throws is 17.2 percent.

Kelly said there’s no connection between Foles’ troubles with deep throws and his shoulder.

“I think it's the exact opposite if you look at him,” Kelly said. “He overthrew four balls, so he's throwing the ball too far in some situations. That's got nothing to do with his left shoulder. Now, if every ball was underthrown, then I would think that he was banged up. I don't think he's trying to overcompensate. I just think he's got to get his timing down.”

Foles is no longer throwing to DeSean Jackson, his favorite deep target last season. His two primary wide receivers, Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, were injured during training camp. Foles did not throw deep to them as often as he would have. That could affect their timing.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After a rough first game of the season, New York Giants left tackle Will Beatty has performed quite well in his last three games -- much more like the 2012 Will Beatty who earned a five-year free-agent contract than the 2013 version who admitted in December that the contract had proven too much for him to handle psychologically in its first season.

"Last year," Beatty said Monday, "was just an anomaly."

If that's the case, then Beatty's recovery from a broken leg and the rebound in his performance have come at a good time. The Atlanta Falcons come to town Sunday, and one of their pass-rushers is former Giant Osi Umenyiora, who meant a great deal to Beatty when Beatty and Umenyiora was at the top of his game.

"When I came in the league, Osi was the guy I was practicing against," Beatty said. "If you could pass-block him, you knew there was nobody that could beat you on the outside, because of his speed. So having worked with him and now having the chance to go against him, I want to make sure he sees how far I've come and thank him for all he's taught me."

Beatty said that with a smile, because his hope is to "thank" Umenyiora by keeping him and his fellow Falcons pass-rushers far away from Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Umenyiora does not have a sack this season after recording 7.5 in 2013 in his first season with the Falcons. He's not a starter for Atlanta. He plays on about 35 percent of the Falcons' defensive snaps, usually as a pass-rush specialist. He'll no doubt he eager to perform well Sunday, but the Giants' offensive line has stepped up its pass protection significantly since the preseason and the messy Week 1 loss in Detroit.

Beatty's performance at the key left tackle position is a huge part of that. He struggled last year with his technique -- everything from first step to hand position -- and it snowballed as the season went along. This year, coming off the injury and an offseason of rehab, his technique is sound, he's using his quickness to his advantage better, and Pro Football Focus has him rated as its top offensive tackle in the league overall -- second in pass blocking and sixth in run blocking.

"I know I still have a lot of work to do," Beatty said. "The coaches are still on me. I'm showing a lot of good things, but I'm not there yet."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- How did Eli Manning spend a rare Sunday off during football season?

Watching football, of course.

Manning said he did some channel-surfing during the afternoon, but while the division rival Dallas Cowboys were beating up on the New Orleans Saints in the evening, Manning's attention was focused elsewhere.

"I knew we had practice today -- I wanted to start watching a little Atlanta film, and get a little idea of what they’re doing," Manning said Monday.

The Atlanta Falcons are the New York Giants' next opponent, and Manning said he has now watched all of their games on film. He probably liked what he saw, considering Atlanta's defense is ranked third-to-last in passing yards allowed per game (276.3), and fifth-to-last in rushing yards allowed per game (153.5).

The Falcons fell to 2-2 after a surprising 41-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday -- a game in which Minnesota was without star running back Adrian Peterson yet still accumulated a whopping 558 total yards.

The Giants are also 2-2, but are coming off back-to-back wins, with the offense looking better and better as the season progresses. Manning threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in Thursday's 45-14 win over the Washington Redskins, but says there's still plenty of room for improvement.

"We missed a third down early on to Victor [Cruz], it was just a bad throw," Manning said. "I had a couple other throws we could have made in the green zone. There’s still some mishaps, and that’s football -- those are gonna happen every game, you’re never gonna have a perfect game, but you can strive for it."

Manning may have a new weapon at his disposal Sunday, rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who continued to make progress Monday and could make his debut against the Falcons. Regardless, it sounds like Manning is feeling more and more comfortable in Ben McAdoo's new offense.

"It’s just good to see the rhythm of this offense," Manning said. "I think the no-huddle has been effective, we’re pushing the tempo, we’re getting positive plays, guys are playing fast, we’re not having the mental errors."

Manning did flip on the Cowboys-Saints game in the second half, in time to see Dallas improve its record to 3-1 on the season.

"They’ve played well the last couple of weeks, a couple big wins," Manning said. "Obviously we know they’re 3-1, the Eagles are 3-1, so we gotta do some catching up."

Despite all the talk about the NFC East being weak this year, it's one of only two divisions that currently boasts two teams with three wins, along with the AFC North (Bengals, Ravens).

And the Giants, at 2-2, look like a playoff contender as well -- at this moment, anyway.

"It’s always strong," Manning said, of the NFC East. "That’s football -- you never know who’s gonna be the hot team, the hot division. It's all competitive, and you just gotta keep finding ways to win games."