Sunny Shady: Running back LeSean McCoy was dancing in the end zone after his 2-yard touchdown run. McCoy, who has been frustrated throughout this season, ran 21 times for 130 yards against the Titans. He was back to his normal, cheerful self. “We just stuck to it,” McCoy said of the running game. “If the run game’s not going, I’ll take the blame. Whatever.”
Required viewing: Kelly said he hoped his players would be going home while the coaches were working on a game plan Sunday night. With the Dallas Cowboys playing the New York Giants on Sunday night, it sounded like most players would be tuning in to that NFC East matchup. “Oh, yeah,” linebacker Trent Cole said when asked if he would watch it. “I think all of the guys will be watching it. I know I certainly will.”
Next man up: Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith has not played much in his rookie season. He may be pressed into action on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys. Inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho, part of the platoon that replaced defensive captain DeMeco Ryans, left the game with a groin injury. Will Smith be ready? “He’ll have to be,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Absolutely,” Smith said.
The Cowboys are coming off their bye week and are looking to sweep the Giants for the second straight season. The Cowboys are the NFL’s only undefeated road team this season (4-0), but they have lost four straight road games in prime time.
Their last road win in prime time was the 2012 season opener against the Giants.
With a win, the Cowboys would improve to 8-3. The last time they had that record came in 2009, which also happens to be the last time they made the playoffs.
The stat that means the most to the Dallas Cowboys head coach is turnover margin. Win that and your odds of winning improve. Lose that and you face an uphill climb.
Despite the Cowboys’ 7-3 record, they are minus-1 in turnovers on the season. Entering Sunday’s games, there was only one team with a winning record -- the Philadelphia Eagles -- with a worse turnover margin than the Cowboys. The Cowboys have lost 10 fumbles. Only the Eagles (11) had more.
Tony Romo has had at least one interception in six straight games (nine total) against the Giants, with 13 touchdown passes.
In the first meeting, Romo completed all nine second-half passes for 156 yards and a touchdown in the 31-21 win at AT&T Stadium.
“As the games get later in the year, if you’re lucky enough to be a team that’s going to be playing in January and late in the year, the turnovers are going to be what ultimately decides your season,” Romo said. “You can play a great football game and you can be a better team, but if you give up the ball, you’re not going to be able to accomplish your goals. So, I think that’s a very big key for us.”
In the three games since, Beckham has 21 catches for 357 yards. In that time span he is tied for third in the NFL in catches and second in yards.
“In this league everybody has the physical abilities to make plays,” Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said. “To survive in this league it comes down to intangibles, the mental part. His confidence is there. He has an elite quarterback I know that’s pushing him, motivating him and trying to get him the ball.”
Giants running back Rashad Jennings didn’t play in the first meeting between the teams. The Giants’ three wins this season have come with Jennings active. He has 109 carries for 455 yards on the season.
“He’s run the ball effectively for them when he’s healthy,” Garrett said. “But the other runners, they have are good players, too, and obviously when you go into any game, the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage and controlling the run is critical. We certainly have to do that this week.”
The ref: Bill Vinovich’s crew will work Sunday night’s game between the Cowboys and Giants. Here is a breakdown of what Vinovich called last week with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.
PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 43-24 win over the Tennessee Titans at Lincoln Financial Field.
What it means. The Eagles (8-3) will remain atop the NFC East standings entering their Thanksgiving Day date with the Dallas Cowboys, avoiding a potential trap against the Titans (2-9). This was not a pretty game by most measures, but the Eagles were still able to hang 40 points on the scoreboard. It started with rookie Josh Huff's 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Except for a lapse in the second quarter, when the Titans scored 17 points and put together two long drives, the Eagles' defense played miles better than it did in Green Bay last week. The offense had problems -- two more interceptions for Mark Sanchez, poor play in the red zone -- but was good enough. For Tennessee, at least. The Eagles went 4-0 against the AFC South this season and have won 10 in a row at the Linc.
Stock Watch. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy's stock bottomed out after the Green Bay game. McCoy stomped away from his weekly media session after someone asked if he was still the same player who led the NFL in rushing last season. In other words, McCoy needed a game like this. The Titans were gashed for more than 200 yards by Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell last week. McCoy had 100 by halftime Sunday, and finished with 130. He was on the sideline for the fourth quarter.
Many happy returns. Huff's score was the 10th return touchdown of the season for the Eagles. That total includes two kickoff returns, two punt returns, two interception returns, two blocked punt returns and two fumble recoveries. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other team since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to have 10 return touchdowns in its first 11 games was the 1976 Denver Broncos. Those extra touchdowns help explain how the Eagles have managed to score 30 points or more seven times in 11 games.
Game ball. The easy handoff would be to McCoy, but let's remember that it takes five offensive linemen plus tight ends and wide receivers to make the running game go. So let's give this game ball to outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. They combined for four sacks of Zach Mettenberger, three of them in the second half, when the Eagles took control of the game.
What's next. The next three-game stretch has highlighted the Eagles' 2014 calendar since the day the NFL announced the schedule. The Eagles play in Dallas on Thursday, then host Seattle and Dallas on consecutive Sundays. There was a time we all thought the defending champion Seahawks would be the toughest opponent of the season and those Cowboys games might not be that enthralling. Now? The Eagles are locked in a battle with the Cowboys for NFC East dominance. Those two games in 17 days will go a long way toward deciding the title.
Left tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jordan Reed, corner David Amerson and nose tackle Chris Baker all were declared inactive. Amerson was the unexpected one; he was not on the injury report during the week.
With Williams out, rookie Morgan Moses will make his first start after playing the final three quarters last week against Tampa Bay. Here's a story on Moses from earlier in the week regarding his performance. He'll face elite pass-rushing linebacker Aldon Smith on Sunday, which is a tougher task, but the Redskins probably won't leave him one-on-one too often.
Niles Paul will take over the role as pass-catching tight end; the Redskins felt the Niners were vulnerable in coverage against tight ends. Stephen Bowen will be active with Baker sidelined. The Redskins could end up with Barry Cofield at nose and Bowen and Jason Hatcher at end. Bowen was inactive last week. Tracy Porter will start for Amerson.
The other inactives: quarterback Kirk Cousins, receiver Aldrick Robinson and receiver Leonard Hankerson.
There was no reason given as to why Amerson would not be active, and he was not listed on the injury report during the week. Minus Amerson, the Redskins would have to start either Tracy Porter or E.J. Biggers. Though Amerson has been inconsistent this season, he does give them length on the outside and would be missed. It also means that two corners who have had their own issues in Porter and Biggers, will be elevated into greater roles.
Amerson has played in the first 26 games of his career and started the first 10 games this season. The Redskins' secondary already was weakened earlier this season when fellow starting corner DeAngelo Hall was injured. Bashaud Breeland replaced Hall and has impressed the Redskins with his performance.
Such is the life of waiting for the prime-time games. So what does coach Jason Garrett do to break up the boredom during the day?
“It’s an age-old issue,” Garett said. “You’re always asking about the schedule to try to make sure your players are at their best when you kick it off. Typically what we’ve done through the years is have some kind of walk-through the day of the night game to get them out of bed, moving around, thinking football and then giving them some times in the afternoon before the pregame meal and getting on the bus and going to the stadium.”
Players can get antsy during the day. Several players said they would watch at least some of the afternoon games. Others said they would review the game plan or just sleep some more to save energy.
“Some games you’re like, ‘I’m just ready to get it on,’ and it takes forever,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “For the most part it goes by pretty quick.”
The thought of playing at night is a real motivation.
“Obviously you’re amped for every game, but you know the whole nation is watching,” defensive tackle Nick Hayden said. “It’s even better because you have the showcase and you can show the whole nation what the Cowboys are about.”
Williams said his sprained right knee was “getting better” and that he was somewhat optimistic about playing. But he was walking rather stiff-legged. He also hasn’t practiced this week. Williams is listed as questionable on the injury report.
“He’s made some progress in the training room,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “There is a little more [optimism], but we’ll see how it goes. The five-hour flight and all that stuff, that will be a big deal, [if it] swells back up.”
On Monday, the Redskins held out little hope of Williams playing and they’re still preparing rookie Morgan Moses to make his first start.
Meanwhile, guard Shawn Lauvao also is questionable. He was limited again in practice Friday.
With Reed sidelined again – this will be the fifth game he’s missed this season – the bulk of the pass-catching duties at tight end fall on Niles Paul. He’s third on the team with 33 receptions and the 49ers have some weak spots in coverage at linebacker.
With Baker out, the Redskins likely will keep veteran Stephen Bowen active. He was inactive last week. It also means Barry Cofield will return to nose, one week after playing mostly in the nickel packages in his first game back from a high ankle sprain. Veteran Kedric Golston will be the backup nose tackle.
Baker injured his sternum vs. Tampa Bay and said Friday, "It's tough to lift your hands up, to reach across your body, breathe when you get tired. ... I should be OK next week."
McClain and Crawford went through their third straight day of a full practice on Friday and are listed as probable for Sunday’s game. Neither played Nov. 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars but McClain was active.
McClain leads the Cowboys with 68 tackles, and Crawford is second on the team in quarterback hurries with 20.
Cornerback Tyler Patmon was ruled out with a knee injury and could need 2-3 more weeks for his sprained medial collateral ligament to heal.
Quarterback Tony Romo (back), right tackle Doug Free (foot), defensive tackle Nick Hayden (shoulder) and defensive tackle Josh Brent (groin) are also probable. Brent is looking to be active for his first game since Dec. 2, 2012, but there are no guarantees he will be on the 46-man roster for the game.
It certainly looks like the kind of scheduling quirk that could lead a 7-3 Eagles team to overlook the Titans and sneak a glance ahead to Dallas. To Eagles coach Chip Kelly, though, there is no danger.
That sounds good, and that may be the way Kelly would like his players to behave. But it was just 11 months ago that the Eagles were traveling to Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles had won five games in a row to move into first place in the NFC East. The Vikings were 3-9-1 and would be playing without running back Adrian Peterson, who had a foot injury.
Trap game. The Eagles got crushed, 48-30. Running back Matt Asiata, whose name you do not recognize from your fantasy league draft this year, ran for three touchdowns. The game was an aberration, as the Eagles rebounded by defeating Chicago and Dallas in their final two games of the season.
The day after the Minnesota loss, Kelly was asked about how it could happen.
“I think you should go into every game with the same mentality whether it's people from the outside that consider you the favorite or don't consider you the favorite,” Kelly said. “I think if you're paying attention to that type of stuff, you're not focusing in on what you can control. The message I give and the message I've always lived with is worry about what you can control.
“You don't control what other people's opinions are. If you are, you're going to be a yo-yo up, yo-yo down guy depending on how people tell you what they think going into the game. I think your preparation should be the same. Your mindset should be the same. Sometimes it's easier said than done. It's not an easy thing to get accomplished, but I think that's ultimately the way you should get it done.”
Kelly will get more help from the Green Bay game than from the Titans on that front. A 53-20 loss should keep the players focused on the task at hand. As for the Dallas game, it will mean much more if the Eagles can win Sunday against Tennessee and be in a position to get a leg up on the Cowboys in the NFC East race.
Lose to the Titans, and the Eagles could be chasing the Cowboys the rest of the season.
Talk about a trap.
A 45-7 loss at Green Bay the previous week forced owner Jerry Jones to do something he never wanted to do: fire a coach during the season.
So in came Garrett, then the offensive coordinator, who was faced with taking on the New York Giants on the road in his first game.
The interim head coach wanted to change the culture around Valley Ranch, everything from dress codes to the approach. And the result, at least that day in East Rutherford. New Jersey worked.
"I remember we had a really good team, and we weren't winning," defensive end Anthony Spencer said of the time. "We needed a win. I loved Wade and the year before we went to the playoffs. But things just didn't work out for us the next year."
Many players didn't really know Garrett.
To deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur, Garrett was simply known for the color of his hair.
"Just knew him as Red and he was the quarterbacks coach, calling plays and then he goes by Coach Garrett," Ladouceur said. "Different freaking business now. I think he was overwhelmed, too I think every coach is thrown into it. It's like any job, you got to be a rookie at some point and you got to learn and learn on the fly, which as a NFL head coach, is even harder because you're scrutinized like crazy. But where we've been and where we're going and the way he's been handling [things] I think he's been doing a good job."
Of course, Garrett became the head coach permanently, and the Cowboys have finished the past three seasons at 8-8, missing a postseason berth with a loss in the regular-season finale.
Sunday night, Garrett takes his Cowboys, tied for first in the NFC East into MetLife Stadium again, to take on the Giants nearly four years since he became the coach.
A victory would give Garrett eight wins for the fourth consecutive season, and it would be the first time he's led a team to it's eight before December in his career. In the past three seasons, the Cowboys didn't earn it's eight victory until mid or late December.
Reaching eight victories now could fuel discussions the Cowboys might finally end their four-year playoff drought.
The players have brought into Garrett's one-game-at-a-time mantra. There are awards for scout team players, sayings posted on the walls of the practice facility about doing your job/not giving up and remaining focus on the task at hand.
Garrett has changed things from the hard nosed old-school approach of Bill Parcells and grandfatherly ways of Phillips, to how the Cowboys' did things in the 90s, when they won three Super Bowls.
Popular players such as outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware were released to make way for younger players.
“Well, we knew we had to make some hard decisions from the outset, and we had to make some decisions to move on from some players who had been cornerstone players for us and then get new players in here and along the way you have to compete. So that’s what we tried to do," Garrett said.
Along the way, they found a dominant running attack, which they have with DeMarco Murray who leads the league in rushing, and a young, hungry offensive line. The Cowboys invested three first round picks on linemen and changed the defense from a 3-4 to the 4-3, led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli who demands his players hustle.
It's all changed for the better.
"My honest opinion, I’m just speaking on our personnel relationship, I didn’t too much understand his mindset because he went to Princeton, I’m from this small, country town [Lufkin, Texas], I didn’t understand his whole type of structure," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "I used to always think, coach, he’s always on me, he’s always on me. I guess as I grew, he didn’t treat me no different as he treated the rest of the players. He seen a lot of potential in me, and I took that as he believed in me, so it was my job to show him what he want me to be or better, and I think he does an outstanding job with us. He don’t BS around with us. He lets us know the truth."
The truth is the Cowboys have a chance to do something for themselves in the next few weeks with a win on Sunday night. But it all started that windy day at MetLife when Garrett took over the Cowboys.
Against Jacksonville, Williams didn’t catch either of the passes directed his way. It marked the first time in his career he had failed to catch a pass in a game when he had at least one pass directed his way.
In the previous game against Arizona, Williams didn’t catch a pass until the final drive. More important, the big plays have dried up.
Williams had seven catches of 20 yards or more in the Cowboys’ first six games; he has none in the last four.
Jason Garrett doesn’t seem too concerned.
“We coach him hard and he’s respectful of that and he wants to do well -- not that everyone doesn’t want to do well, so don’t get me wrong,” Garrett said of Williams. “He’s one of those guys we noticed early on that if he made a mistake, he rarely made it again.
“I think he really listens to what you’re trying to get across to him and he really wants to put into practice so he can improve as a player. I think that’s why he’s improved so quickly in the early part of his career.”
Then came the Eagles’ 53-20 defeat in Green Bay. Sanchez was hardly to blame for that comprehensive beating. But he did throw two interceptions, one that Julius Peppers returned for a touchdown, and was charged with two lost fumbles. It was Sanchez’s first taste of the kind of disappointment that he’d grown accustomed to as a New York Jet.
“You’re always competing against yourself and trying to be better, and to be the best version of yourself for your teammates,” Sanchez said Thursday. “That’s really where the competitive side comes in. More than anything, you want to win. That’s really our goal each week. This is a really fun job when you’re winning. So we’ll just try to keep winning.”
Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he thinks Sanchez has “done a good job. He's played a lot of quarterback in this league. He's been very successful in what he's done, and I thought he played really well against Green Bay. He made a really bad decision on the pass where Peppers dropped into coverage, but besides that I thought he did a really good job.”
The interceptions were troubling, because Sanchez turned the ball over a lot during his tenure in New York. He threw two interceptions in Houston after replacing the injured Nick Foles. He did not throw any in the Eagles’ 45-21 victory over Carolina the next week. So Sunday’s four-turnover performance was a return to a not especially good form.
“The second interception to [Jeremy] Maclin, I’m kind of throwing off my back foot,” Sanchez said.”It’s kind of a desperation situation, but did we really need it? We’re in four-down territory anyway. We’re thinking we have to get this third down, but we’re in four-down territory, anyway. So even if I throw it in the stands or take a sack, we’re coming back and trying to convert on fourth down, anyway.”
Sanchez was being pressured from his right by Peppers. Instead of stepping up to his left and taking a fresh look at Maclin, Sanchez rushed the throw. So he didn’t see cornerback Tramon Williams knock Maclin down. At worst, he could have thrown the ball out of bounds there.
Thing is, the Eagles would have lost that game whether Sanchez handed Peppers a touchdown or made one rushed, ill-advised throw to Williams. The Packers jumped to too big of a lead for the rest of the game to mean that much. So Sanchez can write the mistakes off as hard lessons and come back Sunday with a clean slate.
“There’s good and bad,” Sanchez said, citing his successful throws to Jordan Matthews and Jeremy Maclin. “You correct the bad and reinforce the good.”
In it we discuss:
- Adrian Peterson in the future
- Tony Romo's practice schedule
- Helping Tyron Smith
- The cornerback conundrum
- Josh Brent's availability
Away we go:
@toddarcher: It certainly seems like everybody is trying to connect these dots between Adrian Peterson and the Cowboys. Some of it stems from the ESPN article on Jones earlier this season when he took a call from Peterson during a George Strait concert. Some of it has to do with Jones' penchant for stars. The first domino that has to fall is the Vikings saying goodbye to Peterson. Maybe that doesn't happen and we've all wasted a lot of breath thinking about this scenario. The threat of Peterson coming to the Cowboys could help in their talks with DeMarco Murray on a new deal. Peterson would bring a lot of baggage with him, but he's from Texas and remains a great talent. He would be an ideal fit for this offense, but so is Murray, who is younger. I don't know if either way to go would be wrong. The Cowboys have a lot of contract issues to resolve and it's not like Peterson would come cheap.
@toddarcher: I don't believe for a second that the Cowboys have not thought this through and are just focusing on the Giants. They would be doing themselves a disservice by not having a plan in place. But I do think we might be overstating this just a tad. Next week's practices aren't really practices. I'm not even sure the Cowboys will wear helmets during the three days of practice next week. They will be at most "jog-throughs," and Tony Romo should make it through those since he is doing the walk-throughs on Wednesdays when he doesn't practice. It's not that Romo can't practice on a Wednesday of a regular week. It's been the decision made by him and the team. This stretch is hardly normal but I think Romo will practice like everybody else practices next week and then gets back on the normal schedule for the Chicago Bears game. Why am I hearing Allen Iverson in my head as I type this?
@toddarcher: They are paying Tyron Smith to be the best left tackle in the NFL, so I wouldn't expect them to give him more help. He needs to play better. He has had a lot of moments where he has played like the best tackle in football. He has had some head-scratching moments too. Jason Pierre-Paul is a good player, so I wouldn't get carried away if Smith gets beat once or twice, but I don't think they need to give Smith help either. If they are sliding help to a $100 million tackle, then they have issues.
@toddarcher: I'd be surprised if Morris Claiborne isn't back. His money is guaranteed, so there is no salary-cap benefit to letting him go. They might as well see how he comes back from the knee surgery. I can guarantee they will not pick up his fifth-year option for 2016, so there's that. As for Brandon Carr, I think he could be in trouble if he does not take a cut in pay. And I'm not sure the Cowboys would offer one either, but maybe they do with him what they did with Doug Free two years ago. He is set to count $12.717 million against the cap in 2015 and I can't see the Cowboys doing a simple restructure, which would push money out against the cap in the future. He's been OK but not what they expected when he signed the $50 million deal. But if they get rid of Carr, then they put corner into the must-have territory in the draft and free agency. They would have just Orlando Scandrick as a for-sure starter.
@toddarcher: I'm not sure Josh Brent will even be active Sunday. It would be something of a surprise to me. He needs to get in better shape and he needs more practice time. I'm not sure three weeks is enough. Heck, I'm not sure four weeks is enough. But there's this question too: Whom does he bump from the 46-man roster to even be active for a game? The Cowboys like Nick Hayden more than the general fan does. Terrell McClain might be a target, but I think he has been OK too. They aren't going to take any of the defensive ends off the field. It's a difficult call without an injury to a player in the future. It wouldn't surprise me if Brent does not play at all this year.
The 7-3 Dallas Cowboys have a chance to mathematically eliminate the 3-7 New York Giants from the NFC East race on Sunday night. ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano hereby present your game preview:
Graziano: Hey, Todd, the Giants haven't won a game since the last time we did this, so I'm eager to see what questions you've come up with. But during their current five-game losing streak, the Giants' best offensive game was the loss in Dallas. It was the only game in the streak in which they've rushed for 100 yards and the only one in which the opponent didn't generate consistent, disruptive pressure on quarterback Eli Manning. How is that Dallas front seven looking these days?
Archer: The easy answer is not bad, but for those used to seeing DeMarcus Ware for close to a decade, he's not walking through that door again. The good news for the Cowboys is that they are getting healthier whereas last year they were signing guys on a Tuesday and playing them on Sunday. Tyrone Crawford did not play against Jacksonville, but he should be back. Rolando McClain didn't play against the Jaguars, but he will be back. Henry Melton has been much more active. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence didn't play in the first meeting because of a foot injury but he is coming on. Josh Brent is eligible to play but I don't think he will be on the 46-man roster Sunday. They have been decent against the run but have had some breakdowns. The pass rush has been better but it's still not good enough. Like the defense as a whole, the front seven is getting by.
I'll keep it simple off the top: Is this the end for Tom Coughlin?
Graziano: Well, this game surely isn't. Coughlin will certainly coach out this season, and I honestly think his future as the Giants' coach will depend a lot on how the Giants do in their final six games. If they rally against a December schedule that includes games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis and get back to 7-9 as they did last year, it'll be easier for Giants ownership to justify giving Coughlin another year of this rebuilding project. If they fall completely apart and finish, say, 4-12 or 3-13, I imagine all bets are off and no one is safe. A lot of people want a definitive answer on Coughlin's status, but I don't believe ownership has made one yet. They love him and love having him as their coach, and if he does decide to leave or if they decide to move on from him, they know they'll need a good plan in place for how to replace perhaps the best coach in franchise history (apologies to Bill Parcells). So it's no sure thing, but the way this team is playing and the inevitable fact that they'll miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons does not work in his or any other coach's favor.
What's Jason Garrett's status these days? Has the Cowboys' surprisingly good season done anything to quiet those who perpetually call for his head?
Archer: A little bit it has, but if they don't make the playoffs then the calls for his job will be heard again. I've written that he deserves to be extended. I think the plan he has put in place has started to come together. But it will all be determined by what they do from now on. As you know, they have lost three straight winner-take-all season finales to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. At least Garrett had them in position to win the division, but this year they have to get over the top. Jerry Jones has been patient with Garrett and often talks about wanting him to be the coach long term, but he hasn't backed those words up with a new deal. Along with the contractual statuses of Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, this one could get juicy here down the stretch.
How much of this Giants mess is on GM Jerry Reese? They have let guys go and not had replacements ready, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
Graziano: I think it's almost all on Reese, Todd, and you've hit it right on the head. His drafts have been flat-out terrible from the standpoint of finding players who have turned out to be foundation pieces. Do you know that, since Reese became Giants GM in 2007, only three of his draft picks have signed second contracts with the team? And none of those three was a first-rounder? (They're Will Beatty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Zak DeOssie.) You're right that the Giants haven't done a good enough job of finding and developing players to replace those who have left, and the result was that last year's roster got so hollowed out that they had to sign more free agents than any other team in the league just to fill out a 53-man roster. That's why I say this is a rebuilding project that has to take more than one year, and why I blame Reese much more than I blame Coughlin or the coaching staff for the mess this team is in. The Giants don't fire GMs as a matter of policy. They've had only three of them in the past 38 years. But as I said when we were talking about Coughlin, if things get really ugly over these final six weeks, all bets are off.
Let's move the discussion to the field. When the Giants and Cowboys played in that Week 7 game, Murray have to leave for a while with an injury. He came back and seems to have been fine since, but are there any signs of his extreme workload wearing on him? And are they doing anything to keep him from wearing down?
Archer: There really hasn't been any drastic change in his production. He has had 100 yards in every game but one this season and even in that Arizona game he averaged 4.2 yards per carry. He had at least 22 carries in the first seven games of the season but has maxed out at 19 in each of the past three. I don't know if that is by design. Some of it has been dictated by the circumstances of the games. They are using Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar earlier in games to spell Murray some. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said he is not worried so much about the carries as he is the snaps Murray plays. He's a three-down back and has 36 catches. It's a tricky balancing act the Cowboys have to follow because Murray is so valuable to what they do. He said he felt refreshed after the bye week and largely stayed off his feet. Whatever the Cowboys do in their final six games will be with the same formula they used in their first 10 games: a lot of Murray.
When these teams met in October, it looked like Manning was feeling his way through the change in offense pretty well. Is this scheme a fit for what Manning does best or is he held back by what's around him?
Graziano: The group around Manning sure has taken a pounding. The Giants lost top wide receiver Victor Cruz to a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, and they were without starting running back Rashad Jennings for four games due to a knee sprain. Jennings was back last week, and I thought the offense would look better as a result, but then Manning went and threw five interceptions, nearly doubling his season total. (He'd thrown six in his first nine games.) You're right that Manning was looking comfortable in the new offense until last week, and I think all eyes are on him Sunday night and the rest of the way to see whether this last game was a fluke or whether it's a sign that "Bad Eli" is always potentially around the corner no matter what system they put him in. One thing he has dealt with is a lot of pass-rush pressure, and that crescendoed a bit last week against the 49ers. They may make some changes on the offensive line this week, and if those changes help protect him better, I think he gets back into that rhythm he was in earlier in the year.