Ronald Leary questionable for Sunday

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
IRVING, Texas – In addition to quarterback Tony Romo, left guard Ronald Leary is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Leary has not practiced this week, but he said he is feeling much better and was able to do more running Friday than he did all week.

“It’s going to be a game-time decision,” Leary said. “I didn’t practice any this week so that was big, but I did some more moving around today and I’ll do some more tomorrow, then I’m going to get up Sunday and do more and judge it on how I feel. That’s going to decide if I play or not.”

It is possible Leary could be active but not start, with Mackenzy Bernadeau taking over as the starter.

Linebacker Rolando McClain (shoulder), cornerback Brandon Carr (hamstring), linebacker Bruce Carter (finger), defensive end Jack Crawford (calf), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee, foot) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (chest are probable. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey did not practice because he was sick but is also probable.

Right tackle Doug Free will miss his third straight game with a foot injury. He could return Nov. 9 when the Cowboys play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, but with the bye week after that game the Cowboys could choose to keep him out another week.
IRVING, Texas -- Outside of talking about the status of quarterback Tony Romo, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones discussed a potential position change for one of his best players: Sean Lee.

 Jones, speaking to 105.3 The Fan on Friday said Lee, the Cowboys' starting middle linebacker, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, could change positions.

Jones said Lee could move to weakside linebacker, a spot where Justin Durant, who is now out for the season with a torn biceps muscle, played.

"That's really going to be hard," Jones said of losing Durant. "That's quite a loss for us, he plays a key spot, that weakside linebacker in what [defensive coordinator] Rod Marinelli and [assistant head coach/defense] Monte Kiffin want to do with this system. It's probably likely, and we're probably getting ahead of ourselves but it's where Sean Lee will end up. That's when you got a guy who can play that way, he becomes next to what they call the three-technique or quick tackle on your defensive front, your pressure player, that guy comes right there with him as an important player."

The thinking of moving Lee, who has yet to finish a 16-game season due to injuries, allows him to take on fewer blockers by playing the weakside.

At middle linebacker, he faces guards and centers on nearly every play. With Lee out for the season, the Cowboys have started Rolando McClain at that position, but he's retired twice in his career and prior to this season, there was concern about his commitment to the game.

After the solid start to the season, McClain's commitment hasn't been an issue, still the Cowboys have to be cautious regarding the middle linebacker position if Lee doesn't start there in 2015.

Of course, the team could move Anthony Hitchens to that spot, and he's performed at all three linebacker positions this year. Durant's solid season and now his loss, in addition to how McClain is playing, raises some interesting questions.

"Durant has been that for us and to a lot of peoples surprise, he's really come onto his own," Jones said on 105.3. "Having said all that, we're going to miss him. He had his best game ever last week as you read about and heard about. We're going to not be able to replace him heads up."
PHILADELPHIA -- Timing is an issue whenever an offensive line has to undergo changes because of injuries. That’s not quite what we’re talking about here.

For the Eagles, it’s always good timing when starting center Jason Kelce is able to return to the lineup. Kelce makes sure everyone on the line understands the blocking scheme and is on the same page as far as what the defense is doing. He is also significantly bigger and more agile than his backup, David Molk.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Alex Goodlett/Getty ImagesThe Eagles expect center Jason Kelce back just in time to help deal with J.J. Watt.
But Kelce is expected to return Sunday against the Houston Texans, a team uniquely qualified to exploit whatever problems the offensive line is experiencing. Defensive end J.J. Watt can move anywhere along the defensive front to line up across from any weak link.

“I think they move him around at so many different spots,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “I think you don't have a bead on when you can and when you can't handle in terms of pushing things to him and not pushing things to him. There's going to be some times where he's one on one and you're going to have to be able to block him in one-on-one situations.”

This week, in a conference call with Philadelphia media, Watt talked knowledgeably about the biceps injury that right guard Todd Herremans is attempting to play through. That is one potential target for Watt. Kelce, who hasn’t played in more than a month and is sore in the area around his surgically repaired sports hernia, is another. Left guard Matt Tobin, who has been starting in place of Pro Bowler Evan Mathis, is a third.

“He's certainly a guy that can wreck the game and he's proven it,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He's taken interceptions back for touchdowns. He's a very difficult guy to block. He's going to be a tough challenge for our guys. And it's not like you can double him because he shows up all over the place; he's on the right, he's on the left, he's in the middle. I heard an interview at one point where I think that's part of their scheme, but then there's also a little bit of randomness in it that he can do, as well. “

The tackles, Jason Peters on the left and Lane Johnson on the right, are healthy, but Watt will surely try to find ways to get around them, as well. It is what he does. And now that Jadeveon Clowney is playing again, the Texans have a second elite pass rusher for the Eagles to contend with.

Second? Make that third or fourth.

“The one thing that I don't think people give them enough credit for is that [Whitney] Mercilus and [Brooks] Reed are really, really good,” Kelly said. “So it's not like they don't have players at that position. I think they have a couple really good outside linebackers. And then obviously they move Watt around. If Clowney hadn’t been gone, they use Watt a little bit more at defensive end. So they have some other players besides him.

“If your sole attention is just on stopping 99 [Watt], you can do a great job of stopping 99, but Mercilus, Clowney, Reed, all those other guys are very good football players, too. And it's a very sound defensive scheme. It's not just geared towards one guy.”
IRVING, Texas – One game does not make a trend, but the Dallas Cowboys know the Arizona Cardinals will try to emulate what the Washington Redskins did against them Monday.

Passing game coordinator Scott Linehan, however, did not like the suggestion that the Cowboys were exposed by Washington. The Cowboys were able to beat the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints when they brought pressure.

“We’ve defeated the blitz all year,” Linehan said. “We got sacked a couple of times last week that was disappointing, but the fact that we were able to have the long runs that we’ve had and the average per carry we’ve had, and the average per attempt we’ve had, that’s what we’ve done. We’ve done it consistently all year. Not as well this last game, but all year we’ve been pretty good at it.”

The Cowboys had few answers for Washington’s pressure and it led to Tony Romo being sacked a season-high five times. The Cardinals are a heavy blitz team as well, but they don’t bring the Cover 0 blitzes as much as the Redskins where the cornerbacks have no help.

“I don’t think that’s Arizona’s tendency, although you’ve seen it,” center Travis Frederick said. “They have it. We know they have it, so they might bring it out.”

The Cowboys believe they will have the correct answers this week whether Romo plays or if Brandon Weeden has to start.

Frederick said the good that came from the Washington game is that it can get corrected in a hurry.

“It gets you a chance to see that, find where your flaws are and fix it,” Frederick said. “It’s finding the leak before it explodes I guess. You could say the pipe exploded last week but as long as you get it fixed, you get a patch on it. Hopefully we can make it so nobody is coming through this week.”

Redskins vs. Vikings preview

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
The Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins will meet for the fifth consecutive season on Sunday, continuing a series that has included some memorable moments recently.

On Nov. 28, 2010, the Vikings played their first game under Leslie Frazier after Brad Childress had been fired. Adrian Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve in 2011, with backup quarterback Joe Webb leading the Vikings to a win at FedEx Field that effectively took the Vikings out of the running for the No. 2 overall pick. That pick wound up in the hands of the Redskins, who selected quarterback Robert Griffin III, and Griffin's 76-yard touchdown run helped the Redskins beat the Vikings in 2012. And last year, in a Thursday night game at the Metrodome, the Vikings used two quarterbacks and scored 20 unanswered points on their way to a 34-27 win.

This year's game could be memorable, as well. Griffin is expected to make his return from a dislocated ankle, while the Vikings' and Redskins' new coaches -- Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden -- square off after three years together in Cincinnati.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's matchup.

Goessling: John, the big question for the Redskins, of course, is how their quarterback situation will shake out this week. Do you expect Robert Griffin III to be back in there this week, and, in light of how well Colt McCoy played against Dallas on Monday night, should Griffin get the job back right now?

Keim: It’ll be Griffin as long as there’s no setback between now and game time. The organization feels strongly that Griffin provides the best chance to win and, in fact, he was a lot closer a week ago than the coaches anticipated. If you want players to trust your word, then you have to follow through and play them when they’re ready. It must be obvious, though. McCoy played well in the second half of Monday’s game, but if the defense had not played great then I think there would have been a different narrative on McCoy’s night -- the first-half rustiness and missed opportunities. They had only three points in the first half despite great starting field position. McCoy gives them a calm presence, someone who responded well to adversity and made plays as the game unfolded. But they know developing Griffin is crucial to their future. It looks like that that future will resume Sunday.

Speaking of young quarterbacks, what have you thought of Teddy Bridgewater? Are his stats (only two touchdowns, 16 sacks) a byproduct of his youth or those around him?

Goessling: He’s had his moments, though I think any impressions of him have to be heavily influenced by all the uncertainty around him. He doesn’t have Peterson or Kyle Rudolph. Brandon Fusco (who was probably the Vikings’ best run-blocker and might have been their best lineman overall) is out for the season. A line that was supposed to be a strength has been abysmal in pass protection. It’s not anywhere close to the environment the Vikings thought they’d have for Bridgewater, and none of this mentions the fact they had planned to keep him on the bench longer than they did, until Matt Cassel got hurt in Week 3. All things considered, I think he’s done about what you’d expect. The encouraging thing about Bridgewater is he doesn’t seem overtly rattled by the pass rush. He’s been willing to stay in the pocket and go through his reads rather than bailing at the first sign of trouble, like we often saw Christian Ponder do. He’s athletic enough to make plays with his feet, but I think he knows that’s a skill best used to extend plays rather than an alternative to finding his receivers.

The Vikings look like they’ll be in for a tough test against the Redskins’ blitz package on Sunday, although it seems like the teams that solve it find plenty of room to operate against that secondary. What’s the key to beating the Redskins’ defense right now?

Keim: The Redskins’ defense has done a pretty good job this season -- 11th in total yards but 22nd in points. The latter is in part because of offensive turnovers, putting the defense in bad spots. The big issue for them often stems from youthful mistakes in the secondary -- they start a second-year corner and a rookie. Safety Ryan Clark hasn’t been a security blanket deep, and safety Brandon Meriweather, coming off a terrific game, will make mistakes in coverage. So, too, will linebacker Perry Riley (when in zone coverage). The key is to take advantage when those issues arise -- they happen a couple of times a game. The Redskins do a good job of being creative with blitzes; Dallas did a poor job of anticipating what was coming. If a team blocks it right, big plays will follow, especially if a quarterback can buy himself a little time. Heck, Tennessee’s Charlie Whitehurst missed a few guys who were open for what should have/could have resulted in touchdowns. But it’s the offense that usually hurts the Redskins’ defense -- it has given up 54 points off turnovers.

I know Mike Zimmer is a defensive coach, but it seems like he’s turned that group around rather quickly. Why is that, and what’s gotten into Everson Griffen? The guy looks great.

Goessling: It’s not a finished product yet -- the Vikings still have a young secondary prone to some lapses in coverage, and they’ve struggled to stop the run at times -- but the defense certainly is in a different place than it was last year. Part of it is a change in personnel; the Vikings added Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn, drafted Anthony Barr and got Harrison Smith healthy. Those four players are probably among the six most important in the Vikings’ defense, so that has to be considered, too. But Zimmer’s system, and his attention to detail, has made a big difference. We’re not seeing the busted coverages we saw last year. The defense is getting off the field on third downs, and though young corners such as Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson still have a ways to go, they’ve been much better in man coverage than they were last year. As for Griffen, he’s finally playing in one spot after the Vikings moved him around the last couple years, and he made a point to bulk up this spring in preparation for an every-down role. He used to disappear too easily, but he’s got the strength now to punish left tackles when they try to compensate for his speed. The Vikings took a risk in giving him a five-year deal, but the confidence they showed meant a lot to him, and he’s certainly proving them right so far.

While we’re on the subject of Griffen, he leads a pass rush that’s tied with the Jaguars for the second-most sacks in the league. How effectively do you think the Redskins will be able to protect their quarterback on Sunday, and how much does whatever familiarity Jay Gruden has with Mike Zimmer’s defense help in that regard?

Keim: Well, that all depends on the situation. Are they running the ball well and avoiding third-and-longs? If so, then I think they’ll be OK. If they aren’t, then it could be a long night. You have a quarterback in Griffin who has not played since Week 2 facing a team that shows a lot of creative looks and likes to blitz. So this is as much about the quarterback being able to help himself with quick reads and decisions and avoiding danger. Griffin didn’t always do this in the past, so I’m not sure how much that will change when he hasn’t played in a while. One positive for Washington is that left tackle Trent Williams will face Griffen. But the Redskins have had issues on the right side all season; that’s an area Minnesota likely should, and will, attack. The fact that Gruden knows Zimmer’s defense helps from the standpoint that he knows how aggressive he likes to play and how he might handle certain looks. But the flip side is true, as well; Zimmer knows what Gruden likes against certain looks. So I don’t know who has the advantage -- and smart coaches always tailor different things to personnel anyway. What they both might have done in Cincinnati has been tweaked to fit the talent, though their philosophies have not.

Zimmer was presented a huge issue right away with the Peterson case. How has Zimmer handled this, and what sort of difference has he made overall?

Goessling: He's handled it well, from my perspective. He's admitted how much it was to deal with in September, but the Vikings have found a running game with Jerick McKinnon and are starting to forge an identity away from Peterson (which will probably be important going forward). Their defense has improved markedly, which is a credit to Zimmer, and I think the defense will eventually be the key to this team, which hasn't been the case in quite a while. Zimmer isn't one to feel sorry for himself, and that was evident during the first stages of the Peterson ordeal.

Colts vs. Giants preview

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
The Indianapolis Colts had won five games in a row before last week's 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh. The New York Giants had won three in a row before losing in Philadelphia and Dallas prior to last week's bye. These two teams are looking to remind everyone of better times as they meet at MetLife Stadium on "Monday Night Football."

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano are here with your game preview:

Wells: Dan, the Cowboys went from Super Bowl contenders to having to worry about Tony Romo's back, and the Eagles are coming off a loss. Do you feel like the Giants have a realistic shot at winning the NFC East?

Graziano: It's not impossible, but I don't think it's realistic. They trail Dallas by 2½ games and Philadelphia by two, and they lost to each of those teams before the bye. The idea that they could catch both is far-fetched, especially since they can't go 2-0 against either.

Fundamentally, I just don't think the Giants are very good. Eli Manning is playing well in the new offense, but the group around him is made up of young guys and backups. Injuries to Victor Cruz (out for the year) and Rashad Jennings (who will miss a third straight game) have sapped the offense of much of its explosiveness, and guys such as Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell and Andre Williams have shown promise but are still developing. The offensive line, also quite young in spots, has been inconsistent. On the defensive side, they're extremely banged up at cornerback and they just lost middle linebacker Jon Beason for the season.

The Giants are a team with a clear vision for the future and they've already shown progress in the new offense, but they're going to be outmanned most weeks.

How about the Colts? The group around Andrew Luck seems to have come together better than I expected it would. What are the main reasons (other than himself) that Luck is leading the league in passing yards?

Wells: The main reason is that Luck's ability to spread the ball around makes it difficult for defenses to key on one area. He had back-to-back games earlier this season where he completed passes to nine different receivers. Another reason: Two key players -- receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen -- are back after having their 2013 seasons cut short. Wayne is second on the team with 434 receiving yards -- trailing only T.Y. Hilton -- despite missing the Pittsburgh game. Allen is tied with former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with six.

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton took a lot of criticism last season for being determined to make Indianapolis a power-running team despite having Luck at quarterback. Hamilton is more comfortable in Year 2 as an NFL coordinator and it's showing, as the Colts run the ball just enough to keep defenses honest.

Manning is 22nd in the league in passing yards. Would it be safe to say he's on the decline of his career, or does he have enough left in the tank to win his third Super Bowl ring at some point?

Graziano: I don't think he's declining. They just totally changed the offensive system. Longtime coordinator Kevin Gilbride "retired" (cough, was forced out, cough) and was replaced by Ben McAdoo, a former Packers assistant who brought Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense with him. The emphasis for Manning has been on avoiding turnovers after leading the league with 27 interceptions last year, and as a result the Giants are leaning hard on the run and the short-passing game. A whopping 67 percent of Manning's throws have traveled fewer than 10 yards down the field, compared with 61 and 62 percent the two seasons prior.

It's possible the offense develops more of a downfield element as everyone continues to develop -- especially first-round rookie Beckham, who has field-stretching speed but has only played three games. GM Jerry Reese said Monday that he'd like to see the offense be more aggressive, but coach Tom Coughlin has insisted that they're not looking to take more chances downfield and prefer to play it close to the vest so as to avoid a recurrence of last year's turnover problems.

Long term, I think Manning has enough time to win another Super Bowl if this new group develops around him. I imagine he'll get his contract extension this offseason, and the way the league is set up for quarterbacks right now, it's not crazy to think he has five or six good years left.

When we talked to Eli on Monday, he said he'd watched the Colts' past two games and noted the significant difference in the number of points they surrendered in them. His take was that the defensive scheme wasn't different but that Pittsburgh did a great job against it, while Cincinnati obviously did not. What on earth went wrong Sunday, and which Colts defense is the one we should expect to see Monday?

Wells: I'm not even sure the Colts know what went wrong against the Steelers. There wasn't a defense in the league that probably could have stopped Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois summed it up best when he said they got a wake-up call and Roethlisberger was a step ahead of them the entire game. He found the soft spots of the defense when they played zone and torched them when they blitzed. He also laid out the blueprint on how to beat a Colts defense that had 20 sacks and nine turnovers in the five games leading up to that matchup. Indy's front seven couldn't get any pressure on Roethlisberger; it was the first time since Week 2 that the Colts didn't have a sack.

Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards in six straight games. The Giants are 25th in the league against the pass. How do they expect to slow Luck down?

Graziano: Their best bet is that the offense clicks and they put together long, sustained drives that keep Luck off the field for long stretches. Their pass defense is in tatters. Top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been trying to play through leg and back injuries, and he doesn't seem to have improved much over the bye. They lost nickelback Walter Thurmond (arm) and backup nickel Trumaine McBride (thumb) to a season-ending injuries.

To overcome those losses, they've been putting Prince Amukamara on the opposing team's top receiver and experimenting with a three-safety look that includes Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps and Stevie Brown, who was demoted earlier in the year due to ineffectiveness. It would help if they could generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but in spite of a solid performance against the run, Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of the defensive line have not been getting sacks. (As a team, the Giants have only 13 in seven games.) Luck has a chance for a big night.

If Luck does have a big night, however, it doesn't seem as though former Giant Hakeem Nicks will be a part of it. Has he been as much of a non-factor there as he was here last year, and if so, why do the Colts think that is?

Wells: The Colts are saying the right things publicly, but it's been a mystery why Nicks hasn't been a factor. Last weekend's game basically summed up his time with the Colts. With Wayne out with an elbow injury, Nicks was the No. 2 receiver, but he was clearly outplayed by rookie Donte Moncrief. Nicks only caught one of the six targets from Luck for 27 yards while playing 60 of 66 snaps. Moncrief only needed 40 snaps to catch seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. You would have thought having a bigger role in the offense would help Nicks. Now you have to wonder if he'll fit in at all this season because Wayne will likely play Monday and Moncrief's performance may have been good enough to move him ahead of Nicks as the third receiver.

Graziano: Thanks, Mike. Travel safe and I'll see you Monday.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It all sounds good, and the fact that it came from his general manager forces him to take it seriously. But while New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning understands Jerry Reese's desire for the offense to be more aggressive, he wants to make it clear that he's not going to take chances with the ball just for the sake of taking chances.

"I think we're just trying to run the offense," Manning said Thursday. "I think we're trying to run things we feel comfortable with and that we know our guys do well. If we can create some throws down the field, that's great. But we can't force them just because you want to throw the ball downfield. We're looking for completions, and then hopefully we can create some big plays."

The Giants changed offensive coordinators and installed a new West Coast system designed to limit turnovers after Manning led the league with 27 interceptions last season. Manning has said he enjoys not having to constantly be trying to extend plays and make the big play downfield, and while the Giants were winning three games in a row earlier this season, the offense was scoring points reliably and in rhythm.

Now that they're playing without starting running back Rashad Jennings and top wide receiver Victor Cruz due to injury, the Giants likely are concentrating even more on sticking to the game plan and executing the plays that are called. But again, this suggestion comes from the top, so Manning can't just dismiss it.

"I'm just trying to go through my reads," Manning said. "In some cases, maybe my first progression might have been open, and you look back and say, 'Well, if you would have gotten to your second progression, you had a go-route that was open on it. But that's part of football. You can't start second-guessing or start changing your reads just to try to get something deep, because all of a sudden you do that, and the deep one doesn't win, then you're stuck with sacks or several bad plays.

"So I just have to stay the course and keep going through my progressions, and hopefully guys can keep winning their routes and we'll find completions. As long as you're getting completions and first downs, moving the ball, having drives, that's good also."

When the crowd dispersed a bit, I asked Manning this question: "If your first read is open, you have to throw it to him, right?"

"Pretty much, yup," he said.

So then I asked whether they'd consider changing the plays so that the first reads are occasionally deeper ones, and he pretty much said no to that too.

"You can throw it short and still hit a big play," Manning said.

So there you have it. Don't expect any big changes anytime soon. If they get a great matchup and have a chance to throw deep without significant risk of a turnover, sure, the Giants will try that out. But this is a run-based, short-passing-game offense, and that's what it's going to continue to be.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys are doing all they can to make sure Tony Romo will be protected if he can play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Romo has not practiced this week and it is not clear he will be able to do so on Friday, but the Cowboys’ equipment staff is sewing added Nike Combat gear protection into the undershirt Romo wears on game day. They have done similar things for other players for extra protection.

Romo has worn a rib protector since he became the starter, and when he suffered a punctured lung and broken rib, it was fortified with Kevlar. He also wore a specially designed vest as added protection for several games that year as his rib healed. He already has an longer-than-normal back plate for more protection after undergoing two back surgeries.

Coach Jason Garrett has said the team has no hard and fast rules about whether a player needs to practice in order to play. Romo has talked about the importance of practice leading into a game, but he has played without a practice before.

If it happens again this week, the Cowboys want to make sure Romo has extra protection.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant underwent season-ending surgery Thursday to repair a significant tear in his right biceps.

Durant, the Cowboys' leading tackler, thought about avoiding surgery with the goal of returning in December, but the team's medical staff said it wouldn't heal in enough time.

"I wasn’t going to be effective," Durant said. "And the way that I play, it was going to be impossible for me to play with the type of tear that I have. The trainers talked to me about it and we decided that was the best thing to do."

Durant wanted to get the surgery done as quickly as possible so he could start the rehabilitation process. What makes the injury even more difficult is the uncertain future for Durant.

He becomes a free agent after the season and there's no guarantees the Cowboys will bring him back.

"I’ll just leave that up to people in front offices to decide, let my agent handle everything that comes with free agency," Durant said of his future. "I just play."

The team likes rookie Anthony Hitchens, who most likely will see time at the weakside and middle linebacker spots, and even Durant has praised him.

"He has all the ability and he has young legs," Durant said. "He’s going to be a force once he gets a little more experience. We all get better with experience. The more and more he’s out there the better he’s going to be, so I have full confidence in him. I’m definitely going to be here as much as I can to help him out."

As far as his own future, the 29-year old Durant was unsure. Health has been an issue for him since he signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys in 2013. He played in 10 games last season before he was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

He was off to a solid start this season, and received one of the highest production grades given to a linebacker this season at 37. Normally a player might receive an 18 or something in the 20s as an example of a high grade.

"I just want to play," he said. "I’m just sad right now but I know that guys are going to step up and we’re going to be alright."

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One of the more common frustrated-fan questions I get about the New York Giants is when they'll let second-year pass-rusher Damontre Moore play more on defense. General manager Jerry Reese mentioned earlier this week that he'd like to see it. Defensive line coach Robert Nunn said last week he planned to try it. Even head coach Tom Coughlin mentioned in his Thursday morning news conference that he'd like to get Moore involved in the pass-rush rotation, though Coughlin did add, "and Robert Ayers as well."

It's all reasonable and understandable. Moore has electrifying speed and talent and has shown an ability to make an impact on special teams and on defense. And part of the reason they picked him in the third round of the 2013 draft was because they thought his college production indicated he was a player who could help right away, at least as a situational pass-rusher.

But the answer I give when I get the question is that Moore is still quite young (he just turned 22 last month) and inexperienced and hasn't yet earned the trust of the coaching staff. You know who knows this as well as anyone? Damontre Moore does.

"We've been putting more of an emphasis on making sure I'm fundamentally sound in my technique, but Rome wasn't built in a day," Moore said Thursday. "This second half of the season, I want to make sure I'm more fundamentally sound and studying my opponent more, doing all of the little things and making sure I don't leave anything to chance. I have to prove I know my scheme and make sure my teammates know they can trust me not to make mistakes."

That's it. Once the Giants feel they can put Moore into a key spot and trust him not to jump offside or overpursue a running back or make any number of mistakes you'd expect a high-energy 22-year-old to make, they'll play him more. They only have 13 sacks so far, and it's not as though Mathias Kiwanuka is playing at such a high level at defensive end that there aren't reps to be had. With defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins likely out a few weeks with a calf injury, Kiwanuka and Ayers are going to have to play inside more, and that could be the chance for Moore to demonstrate whatever improvements he's made on his own reliability.

"I've got all the right people saying it," Moore said of his chances of getting more plays. "I'm just waiting for it to come when they say it's going to come, like everything else has. I think I can make some things happen."

Nick Foles: `I have to prove it'

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles know what’s going wrong. He can see it on film, he can correct it throughout the week of practice.

 And then, on Sundays, he goes out and throws another couple of interceptions. It’s a pattern that has persisted this season, and one the Eagles are trying to figure out how to end.

“You’ve got to show it to him on film,” coach Chip Kelly said. “The learning process for anybody is, `I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.’ You’ve got to see it on film to understand what’s going on. You’ve really got to put him through it. You go on the field and drill him in those situations where he can get a feel for how the pocket’s coming in on him.”

Foles acknowledged that it’s time for action rather than words.

“Every single day, I learn more and more about playing this position and playing in this league,” Foles said. “It’s easy when you’re doing great, easy when you’re throwing a lot of touchdowns and you’re not making any mistakes. But when mistakes happen, it’s going to be brought up. You can’t let it affect you, because when it starts affecting you, then you don’t throw it, you’re a split-second later.”

Foles’ first interception Sunday was typical. He seemed to be feeling pressure that wasn’t really upon him. He threw a ball for Josh Huff in the end zone. Huff looked open, but Antonio Cromartie was close enough to charge in and pick off the underthrown ball.

“It's a concern when we turn the ball over, certainly,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “What I'm finding with Nick is when he sets his feet and steps into the throws, he's awesome. What we're also finding is there are times when he gets flushed or he flushes himself and he doesn't have his feet underneath him, and he's not as good as he could be if they were, and I think that can be said for all quarterbacks.”

“A few plays, fundamentally I just missed it,” Foles said. “I think I just have to continue to work through practice and in the game, just trust it. Trust my footwork, trust the pocket. Just because I made a few mistakes, I’m not going to not throw it when I don’t have my feet under me. It’s decision-making where I really have to get better.”

That covers a lot of ground, and Foles knows it.

“I’m the decision-maker on offense,” Foles said. “I have the ball every single play. Yes, I have to do a better job. Word can’t describe it. I have to go out here and keep working. It doesn’t feel good at times. You have to keep working on fundamentals and on decision-making. I’m going to keep working, and I’m going to fix it.

“My words don’t mean anything. I have to go out here, and I have to prove it.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly said he wasn’t concerned about the Philadelphia Eagles' safeties, which makes him perhaps the only person in the Philadelphia area who feels that way.

Kelly was talking about the availability of the injured Nate Allen (hamstring) and Earl Wolff (knee), and he clarified his lack of concern by pointing out that it was only Thursday morning. There were three more practices to get through before Sunday’s game in Houston. As Kelly likes to say, who knows if someone else will twist an ankle by then?

In other words, his lack of concern is based more on Kelly’s personal philosophy than on the status of the players.

"I’m not a doctor," Kelly said. "It’s that simple. People waste a lot of time on things they can’t control. I can’t control injuries. For me to weigh in on it, it’s ludicrous. What position can I take? 'Dr. (Peter) DeLuca, I see it this way.' Just tell us who can go. I’m not Dr. Miyagi. I can’t put my hands together and touch his leg and make it better."

(Actually, Mr. Miyagi, from "The Karate Kid", was not a doctor, either, but that’s another story.)

One positive development: Allen, who missed practice on Wednesday, was on the field with a helmet on during the beginning of Thursday’s session. Wolff was dressed and ready to go. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who also missed Wednesday’s drills with a hamstring injury, wore his helmet on Thursday.

If Allen can’t play, Kelly said several players could fill in. Wolff, who lost the training camp competition for the job, would be one. Chris Maragos, who excels on special team, is another. Rookie Jaylen Watkins, who hasn’t played much this season, is the third.

"It depends on how we go through training and what package Billy (Davis, the defensive coordinator) is in," Kelly said. "There’s a lot of different variables."

On Wednesday, Kelly was less than enthusiastic when asked how Wolff was playing.

"Earl’s been OK," Kelly said. "I think he needs to be a little bit more consistent from that standpoint, but he's OK."

Asked about that Thursday, Kelly elaborated.

"Everybody does," Kelly said. "That’s not a slight on Earl. There’s no one, right now, that I can say, 'They’ve got it, go take it in, don’t practice today.' He needs to be more consistent in terms of practice, and I think he’d be the first to tell you that."

Said Wolff: "I’m just waiting on my shot. I may play this week. At the end of the day, I’m preparing for every game like I’m going to play. So it’s not like I’m doing anything different. I’m going to be ready if my name’s called."
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session with a sore shoulder.

 Quarterback Tony Romo (back), left guard Ronald Leary (groin) and tackle Doug Free (foot) missed practice.

The Cowboys, preparing for the Arizona Cardinals on a short week, didn't practice in helmets on Wednesday but did so on Thursday.

Also, suspended defensive tackle Josh Brent practiced for the first time.

He saw limited work on Wednesday but was able to get scout team action Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants hoped starting running back Rashad Jennings would be able to return from his knee injury and play Monday night against the Colts. He will not.

 Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Thursday that there was no chance Jennings would be able to play Monday, leaving the running game once again in the hands of rookie Andre Williams and fading veteran Peyton Hillis. Jennings will miss his third game in a row since spraining his knee in the Week 5 victory against the Falcons.

The Giants rank 27th in the NFL so far in rush yards per attempt -- 3.7. And in that category, there hasn't been a perceptible dropoff since Jennings went down. They were averaging 3.7 yards per carry in their first five games and are averaging 3.8 in their past two, which are the two Williams has started.

However, when Jennings was the starter, they were averaging 121 rush yards per game. In the two games Williams has started, they're averaging 95. Part of that may be skewed by the fact that they trailed and lost by so much in Week 6 in Philadelphia, but the Giants' run game hasn't generated nearly as much confidence as they had in it when Jennings was healthy.

The coaching staff doesn't yet trust Williams as a receiver or a blocker in passing situations, so there's more juggling going on in terms of substitution and play-calling, and as a result, they haven't established the same kind of rhythm on offense as they had during their three-game winning streak.

Williams himself is averaging 3.1 yards per rush attempt and has caught four passes for 25 yards on the season. Jennings is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has 11 catches for 109 yards. He's the more complete back and obviously the more experienced, and Williams has played like a rookie still finding his way in the league and the offense, which is what you'd expect. He could have a hard time getting things going Monday night against the Colts, who rank ninth in the league in rush defense, allowing 99.3 rush yards per game.

As for when to expect Jennings back, he's working on it. He was planning to do some running and cutting Wednesday to evaluate the strength in his knee and the surrounding muscles. It's not out of the question he could return for the Week 10 game in Seattle, though he obviously has to make significant progress before that happens.

Also not practicing Wednesday was defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who's likely to miss a few games with the calf injury he suffered in Week 7 in Dallas. Coughlin said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who's been severely limited by back and hamstring problems, would continue to practice on a limited basis. Guard Geoff Schwartz, who's eligible to return this week from the toe injury that's kept him out since the preseason, is just starting to practice and likely isn't ready to be activated for this upcoming game.
ASHBURN, Va. -- When the Washington Redskins hired Jay Gruden, the message was clear: Develop Robert Griffin III. The organization had surrendered a lot for him; he was their most talented quarterback and he was also the guy who excited the fan base.

So if Griffin is ready to return, then return he will.

At this point in the season, at 3-5, the Redskins can’t just worry about who is their quarterback of the future. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, they are still trying to make the playoffs. They need to win games now.

Kirk Cousins did not help them do that as a starter; he made some terrific plays, but his turnovers haunted them. Colt McCoy won a huge game Monday night and certainly provided a sort of "hmmmm" when it came to what the Redskins should do with Griffin. Maybe let McCoy start another game, get Griffin more time to not just recover, but get his rhythm and timing back in the passing game. Heck, he was still finding it when he was hurt in Week 2.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderWashington has won two straight and hopes to keep its momentum when QB Robert Griffin III returns.
But McCoy is not the future. He played a terrific second half Monday night, but without the defense the Redskins would have viewed that game as one in which they wasted big chance after big chance in the first half. If the defense plays like that, any quarterback will be helped. McCoy showed he could be a quality backup, showing guts and an ability to make plays and stay calm under duress. Maybe in a different setting he would get a longer look. He’s not in that setting.

Gruden, though, has said all along that when Griffin is ready, he will return. Griffin’s last relationship with a head coach went sour in part because he felt a lack of trust -- whether that’s fair or not. If you tell him something, it’s best to stick with your word. If the Redskins had been winning and Cousins was playing at a high level, then you don’t make the change. You ride the hot hand. You have to factor in the other 52 guys on the roster who like to win. But I don’t get the sense that one quarterback has a hold on that locker room. All have something to offer; all have something to prove.

Thing is, the coaches still want to see how Griffin performs the rest of this week. For a while, the plan has been to start him against Minnesota, though I’m not sold that the coaches would want such a firm return date. Gruden has consistently harped on needing to see where Griffin is mentally before making a decision. Apparently, not everyone in the organization needed to see that part.

Regardless, this is why Gruden is in Washington. Now it’s up to him and Griffin to prove this was the wise choice -- to return him against a good defense that can be tough for a player in Griffin’s position.

What I hope not to see is a quarterback confined to the pocket. If that means more zone-read runs, so be it -- those plays worked in the past for a reason. It opens the run game, it opens the play-action pass game.

But Griffin’s game is his legs and ability to make plays. Yes, he has to improve as a pocket passer. But, yes, he also has to improve on the move. That means realizing he is not the only playmaker on this offense. Extend plays; find the playmakers. There are enough on this offense that that should be his primary job. He doesn’t need to be the hero anymore. The coaches can live with growing pains in the pocket as long as Griffin shows he can make good decisions on the run: when to tuck and run, when to throw it away, how to avoid hits. We’re past the point of proving toughness. Hopefully, being able to sit during the season helped Griffin truly learn more about the offense, more about how he must be on the field.

If the Redskins had lost Monday, there would be little consternation about this decision. The rest of the season would be about seeing whether Griffin could be the long-term answer at quarterback. In many ways that is still the case, especially when it becomes clear there will be no playoffs. Thing is, they have won two straight and they play a winnable game Sunday -- and then face Tampa Bay after a bye week. If Griffin plays well and they win, the buzz in town will be palpable. Electric, even. But if he struggles? That is not a scenario the Redskins want to face.

Griffin still offers a unique blend at quarterback, with a strong arm and fast feet. You absolutely need to see where that can take you. But the Redskins need him to find his game in a hurry. They have won two straight and don’t want to stop now.