NFC East Roundup: No Rush To Bring Back Romo
With three weeks of the NFL season in the books, let’s take a spin around the NFC East and see what’s going on with the rest of the division.
We’ll begin in Dallas, where the Cowboys defeated the Chicago Bears, 31-17, and got their first win at home in over a year. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 248 yards and his first career touchdown pass in the NFL to Dez Bryant, and also ran for 36 yards and a score.
With the success of Prescott, owner Jerry Jones says it allows the team to be patient with bringing back starter Tony Romo, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Jones said Romo is improving every week and the Cowboys will be have a better feel for the healing over the bone over next few weeks.
“We want to make sure that he’s risk-free from anything permanent,” Jones said. And that should be relatively soon. And that’s it.
From that point forward it’s just how it’s functioning and how it feels.The first and most important thing is he risk-free as to this particular injury – as to any long-term injury. You hear such things as bone heals and such. The minute you get that then it will be just up to his ability to function.But we’re very strong on the first part, and should be, and he is too but we wouldn’t dare put him out there with a risk.”
While Prescott’s play has those outside the Cowboys wondering if there is a chance the rookie quarterback can keep the job even when Romo returns, that is not consideration inside the organization.
The Cowboys are just happy they are winning games without Romo, considering they went 1-11 without him last year and are now 12-24 without him since 2006. Prescott is keeping them in the race and is giving them a chance to make a run when Romo returns.
“I think we’re different than we were last year,” Jones said. “But the two guys that were pump-fisted in the training room a minute ago was me and Romo, be because we’re getting some wins in that win column, so when he gets back we won’t be looking uphill at it as much as we experienced last year.”
Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott had his first career 100-yard rushing game in the league, running for 140 yards on 30 carries. He’s made a big adjustment from his first two games of the season, as Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News writes.
Elliott didn’t play well in his first two games at Ohio State, rushing seven times for 38 yards. But in his third game, a 76-0 win over Florida A&M, he carried 14 times for 162 yards and two scores.
“I think I’m just settling in,” he said. “I’m settling in to this offense. I’m settling in to this system. It’s a little bit different playing under center than when you come from a school where you play in the gun the whole time.”
So where did he make adjustments?
“Just my pace to the line,” Elliott said. “I was trying to go 100 miles per hour. I had to slow it down and give it time to develop. Just placing my landmark and making sure I wasn’t impatient.”
The Cowboys travel to San Francisco on Sunday to take on Chip Kelly and the 49ers.
Moving to the Redskins, who came away with a 29-27 road win over the Giants after falling behind early. Kirk Cousins threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, while two late interceptions by Quinton Dunbar and rookie Su’a Cravens helped the Redskins get their first win of the year. Punter Tress Way also had a pivotal fake punt in the third quarter to put the Redskins in Giants territory.
Dunbar’s performance was an example of the inconsistencies that the team has in their youth, pens Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post.
Beyond the record, this season should be judged by how well Coach Jay Gruden and his staff experiment with all the parts. That doesn’t mean blindly handing playing time to younger players simply because they have yet to show their limitations. Player development is far more sophisticated than throwing youth onto the field and letting it play through its mistakes. The coaches want to make the players earn it, and last season, they did solid work guiding that rookie class. In particular, while others screamed for linebacker Preston Smith to play more early in the season, they challenged him to work harder and then unleashed him on the league in the second half of the season.
This time, the challenge is different because there are expectations to make the playoffs for a second straight year. But against the Giants, it became clear that some of Washington’s greenest talents — Dunbar and Su’a Cravens stood out the most — are also playmakers who give the team a greater margin for error. They might drain some of that margin with their follies, but there’s a benefit to the naivete, fearlessness and energy they provide.
Dunbar, who also had positive moments last season, started the game with one of the biggest blunders in an afternoon full of them. After Washington forced New York to punt on its opening drive, Dunbar touched a live ball, which the Giants recovered. He messed up, and punt returner Jamison Crowder messed up by not running to catch the ball before it bounced. It cost Washington seven points after Shane Vereen scored on a one-yard touchdown run.
But later, Dunbar accounted for six or 10 points of playmaking. First, he caught a 31-yard pass from punter Tress Way in the third quarter, which led to an early fourth-quarter field goal by Dustin Hopkins to give Washington a 26-24 lead. Then, on the Giants’ next drive, he leaped, extended to the left side of his body and intercepted Eli Manning’s pass in the end zone, making a one-handed snag that will go down as one of the best catches of the season. The play saved his defense from giving up the lead. It was worth at least three points, maybe seven.
Dunbar wouldn’t have been in the game if Bashaud Breeland and Dashaun Phillips hadn’t suffered injuries. But this wasn’t any ol’ example of the “next man up” mentality. The next man up is supposed to have limitations. Dunbar makes you dream of possibilities.
The Redskins suffered injuries to key players on Sunday, including losing safety DeAngelo Hall for the year with a torn ACL. Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times says Jay Gruden will be looking for replacements on the offensive line and the secondary.
The Redskins began the second half without [Shaun] Lauvao at left guard and on the second play, [Kory] Lichtensteiger was injured. Spencer Long, both the backup left guard and center, took over at center. The only other available lineman was tackle Ty Nsekhe, which forced the Redskins to move [Trent] Williams inside. It was an ominous predicament, but Williams’ strong play helped avoid a disaster. He delivered a key block on wide receiver Jamison Crowder’s 55-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
Gruden said on Monday that the Redskins are looking to bring in a “center-type body” to help boost the depth of the offensive line. Austin Reiter, who was in his second season and the only other true center the team had, was signed off Washington’s practice squad by the Cleveland Browns last week. The in-house option would be to start Arie Kouandjio, who has played just one offensive snap in his first two seasons, at left guard. Kouandjio has been inactive in the first two games. If the Redskins feel comfortable with him there, that would allow them to keep Williams at left tackle and Long at center.
“[Williams is] so good at tackle, but he actually played pretty darn good at guard,”Gruden said. “He’s a great athlete, probably be a good center too. I think we’ll just have to evaluate that situation and see how it goes, see how Arie does at left guard. Ty is an excellent player, there’s no question about it, but to move your Pro-Bowl left tackle out of the mix to guard is something that’s a little unique and hard to do.”
In the secondary, Gruden said Will Blackmon will take over for Hall at free safety. Both Blackmon and Hall transitioned from cornerback to safety this season. Blackmon played well when he filled in for Hall on Sunday and forced a fumble, but then had to switch to the slot cornerback position once Dashaun Phillips sustained a hamstring injury.
“The first couple of games we didn’t get [Blackmon] a lot of reps out there, we wanted D-Hall to take it and run with the position,” Gruden said. “But now it’s up to Will and we have total faith that he’ll get the job done.”
Washington hosts the Cleveland Browns next week.
And finally to the Giants, who were on the opposite end of their game against the Redskins on Sunday. Eli Manning threw for 350 yards and a touchdown, while Shane Vereen ran for 67 yards and a touchdown. But Vereen lost a fumble for the second straight week, and now needs triceps surgery that could force him to miss the rest of the season.
Odell Beckham Jr. caught seven passes for 121 yards in his highly touted matchup against cornerback Josh Norman. But his play on the field was overshadowed by his tantrum on the sideline, where a kicking net fell onto him. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News writes the team needs to find a way to calm their star receiver down.
Ben McAdoo said in his weekly Monday conference call that Beckham has to “become less of a distraction” after watching his wide receiver throw a fourth-quarter tantrum by swinging his helmet at the Giants’ kicking net, collapsing the net’s metal bar into his own face, and tearing up with emotion.
“He needs to control his emotions better and become less of a distraction to himself and to his teammates,” McAdoo said. “It’s our job to help him with that process and maturing.”
McAdoo said “it takes a village” to help that maturation and said in his experience, he must help Beckham with “communication, having a variety of different people, coaches, staff members to communicate with. Just help him direct his focus.”
McAdoo granted that “it takes time” to direct an overly emotional player’s focus but added that he had “two different” conversations with Beckham during Sunday’s loss.
Eli Manning also said in his own way postgame that Beckham has to calm down.
“I was trying to figure out what was going on, why he was getting frustrated,” Manning said. “He was getting catches, he was making plays, and we just need everybody to stay calm. We don’t need to get rattled. We don’t need to get fired up. You can get excited, celebrate with your teammates, but we just need to do a better job offensively, everybody, to stay calm and stay in our rhythm.”
After a great first two games, the $200 million upgrade the Giants spent on defense was nonexistent, pens Zach Braziller of the New York Post.
The Giants, who added high-priced starters Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins among others in the offseason, were torched for 403 yards, 313 through the air. They allowed big plays all afternoon, highlighted by a pair of long Kirk Cousins touchdown passes. They did well to hold the Redskins to five Dustin Hopkins field goals, but Big Blue was unable to get off the field when it needed to, allowing the Redskins to convert seven of 16 third-down chances.
“We got to hurry up and give our offense the ball,” said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of the few Giants defensive starters to speak to the media. “They established the run a little bit and play-action a little bit. We just got to be better.”
The Giants got to Cousins just twice, giving him way too much time to throw. He was comfortable in the pocket, picking apart the Giants’ secondary, which played large portions of the contest without cornerbacks Eli Apple and Rodgers-Cromartie.
The two big pass plays were killers, a 44-yard bomb to notorious Giants killer DeSean Jackson and a 55-yard wide-receiver screen Jamison Crowder took to the house. Crowder broke multiple tackles on the play, converting a third-and-15, and giving the Redskins their first lead, 23-21, early in the third quarter. Over the season’s first two weeks, the longest play the Giants had allowed was a 23-yard pass.
“That’s something we key on, and that’s something we don’t want to [let happen],” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “One of the biggest things that has an impact of winning and losing is turnovers and big plays. We didn’t get many turnovers and gave up some big plays.
“We got to learn from it. We’re going to sit back, look at the film, make our corrections and move on.”
The Giants travel to Minnesota to take on Sam Bradford and the undefeated Vikings on Monday night.