Once a week, we’ll take a spin around the NFC East to check in on what’s going on with some of the Eagles’ division rivals.
Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com takes a look at the most pressing issues the Cowboys face this year, including play calling:
From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.
Brian Urlacher made an interesting comment the other day. He said that the Cowboys never actually ran the Tampa Cover 2 last year under Kiffin, and that they will under Marinelli. I'm not sure what Kiffin could have been running instead, but that's a little disconcerting. Kiffin asked the corners to play more zone than they're comfortable doing. So Carr and Claiborne should be better playing man. The best reason to expect improvement is if the DL stays healthy, it gets some pressure on the QB, and they don't have to keep shopping in bus stations for help.
Free safety is one of the the Cowboys' weakest positions, writes Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News:
2013 Review: This has been one of the weakest positions on the Cowboys roster since Darren Woodson retired in 2004. Dallas struggled to find a quality compliment to Barry Church last season. J.J. Wilcox showed glimpses in training camp but never solidified the starting spot. Jeff Heath held his own at times but was also over matched on several occasions. Matt Johnson continued to battle hamstring injuries.
2014 Outlook: The Cowboys had the chance to instantly upgrade the position in the first round of this year’s draft. Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were available, but Dallas saw better value in Zack Martin at No. 16. The Cowboys didn’t view the safeties on the board after that as being an upgrade over Wilcox, who will likely get every chance to earn the starting spot this season. If Wilcox struggles, Heath and Jakar Hamilton are next in line. Perhaps Johnson can stay healthy and earn some playing time as well.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News on the Giants' five key position battles heading into training camp:
Manning has long craved a big, reliable target at tight end, and he has several options. Thing is, none of them has proven reliable yet.
The Giants are hoping third-year player Adrien Robinson, a 6-4, 264-pound bear of a man, will emerge as that reliable force. Dubbed the “JPP of tight ends” by GM Jerry Reese, Robinson served as the first-team tight end throughout the spring and made several plays near the goal line during goal line drills. He’ll need to show he can stay healthy, though, after missing time due to injury in each of his first two seasons.
Larry Donnell should back up Robinson, but if neither player seizes the spotlight in the preseason, the Giants may still consider free agent (and former Packer) Jermichael Finley.
Adapting to a new offense is one of the most important issues the Giants face, says Dan Graziano of ESPNNewYork.com:
All eyes are on new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and a Giants offense that's likely to look much different from the one quarterback Eli Manning ran for his first 10 years in the NFL. The fact that Manning was able to bounce back from his ankle surgery and participate in organized team activities and minicamp was a huge help to the learning process, but it's still an extensive and complex process that could conceivably linger into the season. Pay particular attention to the running game, whose concepts seem to be more complex than what the Giants are installing in the passing game. David Wilson said last month that the new offense gives the running backs the ability to "create and dictate" plays, but obviously a lot of that is going to depend on the ability of the offensive line to get the play blocked. There are a lot of questions to be answered on the offense: Who will the starting center be? Who will play tight end? Will Chris Snee be able to hold up at right guard? Can Will Beatty recover in time to start the season? Do the Giants have enough at wide receiver? Is Wilson healthy enough to be a factor in the run game? But central to everything is the ability of the players on the field to smoothly integrate themselves into a new system -- and to do so in time for the start of the regular season.
Jason Pierre-Paul will be the key to New York's defense, Giants play-by-play man Bob Papa tells the New York Post:
Q: Did you like the additions on defense?
A: The whole thing is fascinating. Their defense ranked eighth in the NFL last year and they spent most of the money on the defensive side of the ball. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is going to be a wonderful addition, and then you add Walter Thurmond and Quintin Demps, and I think their secondary is going to be fortified even more. You can talk about all the additions, but the linchpin in Jason Pierre-Paul. He’s been pretty much non-existent for the last year and a half. Unless he regains that form, and I know he’ s had injuries, they are going to have issues. They desperately need that from him.
Mark Bullock of the Washington Post examines how the Redskins will use DeSean Jackson and their other receivers:
From watching the Bengals, I can easily picture Jackson playing a role similar to [A.J.] Green’s. Green played the Z role, allowing him to line up a yard off the line of scrimmage, making it easier for him to beat press coverage. Both Green and Jackson are legitimate deep threats that defenses have to account for on every play.
... The sluggo route is something of a favorite in the Gruden family, with Jay’s brother Jon using it regularly during his coaching career. Jackson’s speed will make him just as much a threat on this type of play as Green, which will force defences to offer more safety help to Jackson’s side or play more conservative coverage.
John Keim of ESPN.com writes about what to expect from Washington's defense this year:
What they must do: Tackle better. The Redskins allowed 756 yards after contact in the run game (23rd worst in the NFL) and 544 after contact by receivers (22nd worst). They were 26th in the NFL for their combined yards after contact allowed. Improve this area and the defense will be better, with or without a ton of sacks. [Ryan] Clark is a better tackler than Bacarri Rambo. But it wasn’t just Rambo missing tackles; Brandon Meriweather had some issues early on, but playing in the box more should help him. Former linebacker London Fletcher missed too many; Keenan Robinson, though, has to prove he can handle this role. Though he should be better in coverage, Robinson has to show how he can play going forward against the run. If he anticipates well, his speed should be a tremendous asset.
If the Redskins' offense cuts down on turnovers and the special teams improve, the Redskins' defense will be helped. But to take a big step they must help themselves. It's a major storyline to watch.
CSNWashington.com ranked the Redskins' roster 1-53, with Robert Griffin III at the top and Jackson right behind:
Everyone has to perform well for the team to succeed but if Griffin isn't more like the '12 version than what we saw last year it will be tough going.