ASHBURN, Va., -- The Washington Redskins might have more juggling to do defensively as defensive end Jason Hatcher and cornerback E.J. Biggers both missed practice for a second straight day.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Coach Jay Gruden, though, said he's hopeful that Hatcher will return for Sunday's game in Indianapolis. He has been bothered by a sore right knee. Biggers, meanwhile, is still going through the protocol after having a concussion. But he was not on the field Thursday. Last week, for example, guard Shawn Lauvao was limited in practice while also going through the concussion protocol.

Also, left tackle Trent Williams was a full participant in practice after missing Sunday's loss in San Francisco with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He said he's still not moving the way he wants.

"But it's close enough," he said. "I'm not expecting it to be 100 percent, but as long as I can be effective."

Gruden said Hatcher's issue stems from the grind of a season. He said they are resting him now so he can play Sunday.

"He's just got lingering soreness, just from wear and tear," Gruden said. "But I think he'll be fine. It's something he has to deal with. Some of these injuries this late in the season catch up to you a little bit, and they just kind of linger."

If Biggers can't play, the Redskins would use Greg Ducre and Chase Minnifield as their third and fourth cornerbacks, respectively, behind Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson. They can also use safety Trenton Robinson in a pinch, and perhaps in slot coverage, as he did a week ago.

Also on the injury report, tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), defensive lineman Chris Baker (sternum) and safety Ryan Clark (shoulder) were limited.

Milestone game Sunday for Tom Coughlin

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
12:00
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Deadpan Tom Coughlin swore Wednesday he didn't know Sunday's game in Jacksonville will be his 300th as an NFL head coach.

"Really? Thank you very much. I didn't realize that," the New York Giants' coach said. "For a young guy, that's hard to believe, 300 games. I must have started when I was 15."

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Coughlin is the oldest coach in the NFL at 68, but he often says he considers himself younger than outsiders do because he got into the head-coaching game so late in life. Obviously, with the Giants sitting at 3-8 and about to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, uncertainty surrounds Coughlin's future as Giants coach beyond this season. But he never addresses that issue in-season, preferring to stick to his mantra of focusing on the week and the game at hand to the exclusion of all else. The Giants may decide to move on from their two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, or he may decide to move on from them, but all of those decisions are for January.

This week is about the game in Jacksonville and an attempt to end the longest current losing streak in the NFL (six games). But because it's in Jacksonville, where Coughlin served as the inaugural head coach of the Jaguars from 1995-2002, it also is a little bit about reflection, much as Coughlin may try to brush that part of it aside.

"We've traveled to Jacksonville before, and I've been very appreciative. The fans have been great when we return back there," Coughlin said. "It will be the same, my family will all be there at the game. I understand it's alumni day, so obviously a lot of emotion going back there. I'll certainly be appreciative of all those things. But just as the Jaguars' will be, our full intention is to get ready to play a game and win a game."

Coughlin has a career record of 161-138 in 299 games as an NFL head coach.

Giants vs. Jaguars preview

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
8:00
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video When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. TV: Fox

Welcome back, Tom.

Former coach Tom Coughlin brings his New York Giants into EverBank Field on Sunday in a matchup of teams that have combined to lose 10 games in a row. The Giants haven’t won a game since Oct. 5 (over Atlanta) and the Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t won since beating Cleveland on Oct. 19.

One team’s streak has to end, right?

Unless -- a tie?

Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:

DiRocco: It seems like this topic has come up the last several years, but with the Giants on a six-game losing streak, Coughlin’s seat is as hot as it has ever been. Is this going to be his last season with the Giants and is there anything he can do to save his job?

Graziano: Yeah, last time Coughlin’s seat was this hot, he was coaching the Jaguars! But seriously, folks, the Giants and Coughlin haven’t made any decisions yet about next year, and I think the way they play in these final five games will go into the hopper along with anything and everything else they’ll consider. Their next four games are against teams with losing records. They’re 3-0 this year against teams with losing records. If they play well and get this thing back to, say, 7-9 as they did last year, it’ll be clear the team didn’t quit on Coughlin and it’ll be easier for the Giants to keep their all-time-great franchise coach around for Year 2 of this rebuilding process they’re undertaking. If they fall apart over this final month and finish 4-12 or something like that, I imagine all bets are off. But the Giants are in a dicey situation with Coughlin, because they ARE rebuilding on offense and he IS a two-time Super Bowl winner, so there are small-picture and big-picture reasons why just firing him isn’t an easy thing to do. When and if it’s time for the Giants to move on from Coughlin, I feel pretty safe guaranteeing that it’ll be presented as HIS decision, and a celebration of his time there, as opposed to an ugly firing.

They’re clearly rebuilding in Jacksonville, and I don’t think they’d be shy about admitting it. How’s that going in Year 2 of Gus Bradley and Year 1 of Blake Bortles? Do they look like the men to save the franchise?

DiRocco: It has certainly been rough. Bradley is 5-22 since he became the Jaguars’ coach and 18 of those 22 losses have been by double digits. While fans may not have understood just how bad things were going to get, general manager David Caldwell and Bradley did – but that’s not making it any easier for them to handle. The best way to describe the situation is to think of the Jaguars as a 1-year-old expansion franchise that didn’t get the benefit of an expansion draft or extra draft picks. The Jaguars and Carolina Panthers had those advantages in 1995 and were both playing in conference title games the following season. These Jaguars are still trying to piece together a roster from scratch. One of those pieces is Bortles, who seems to have everything you want in a franchise quarterback: size, athleticism, poise in the pocket, unflappable confidence, a good work ethic and intelligence. He played better earlier in the season and now seems like he’s trying to be too careful and not turn the ball over. Like all young quarterbacks, he has to learn to push through that. It’s hard to know right now if Bradley and Bortles are the right people to save the franchise. How much, if any, progress the team makes in 2015 should give us a clue.

Dan, Odell Beckham Jr.’s ridiculous catch against the Cowboys aside, what’s your projection on how good he can be? Megatron-level? Dez Bryant-level?

Graziano: Beckham was the No. 12 pick in the draft, so hopes were always high. I doubt he ends up comparable to either of those guys just because he doesn’t have their size. But obviously he can jump, and his speed and his hands are exceptional. Eli Manning and the Giants coaches have been especially impressed with the precision with which Beckham runs his routes, for a player so young. He seems driven to be great. After he missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, he gravitated toward running back Rashad Jennings to ask him about his elaborate pre-practice and pregame warm-up routines, which are designed to limit the risk of soft-tissue injuries, and now he and Jennings do them together before practices and games. I think he can be a legitimate star receiver in the league as long as he stays healthy. He did leave Sunday night’s game briefly with a back injury, so that’s something to watch in terms of how much the Jags can expect to see him Sunday.

Which of Bortles’ young receivers do you think has the best chance to emerge as his No. 1 for the long term?

DiRocco: Marqise Lee was a big-time player at USC and has a lot of speed and big-play ability, but he struggled early in the season picking up the offense. He wasn’t always sure where he was supposed to be, didn’t completely have an understanding of the route adjustments he needed to make based on coverages, and didn’t run consistent routes. Plus, he had a hamstring injury that cost him three games. That’s why Allen Robinson, who was taken 22 picks after Lee in the second round, has had a bigger impact as a rookie. He’s still the team’s leading receiver (48 catches) despite the fact that he’ll only play in 10 games (he’s out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot). But Lee has the rare combination of speed and play-making ability. Defenses have to account for him because of that. It may take him another season to fully adjust, but I think he’ll eventually become Bortles’ No. 1 target.

The Giants rank 31st in total defense and rushing defense. What’s been their biggest issue and is it something that can be fixed over the final five games?

Graziano: Well, they’ve had a lot of injuries, but mainly in the secondary, where three of their top four cornerbacks are out for the year and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is playing hurt. Up front, they’re without middle linebacker Jon Beason but have otherwise been fairly healthy. The guys who are supposed to dominate in the front four just haven’t. They’re not generating any pass rush at all. Before the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday night, Tony Romo had time to text his wife, “Hey, I’m gonna throw this touchdown pass as soon as Dez gets open and then I’m gonna head home. You need me to pick anything up?” Jason Pierre-Paul is playing for a contract, but he hasn’t been consistent enough to wow anyone into giving him the one he’ll want. They just don’t tend to win enough of their physical matchups, on either line, really.

Which brings me to my final question: The Jaguars are way up there among the league leaders in sacks, and Manning has faced a lot of pressure over this six-game losing streak. How tough is Jacksonville’s defensive front, and do you expect a big game from them Sunday?

DiRocco: The unit has played very well and what makes the pass rush so effective is that the production has come from across the front. Defensive end Chris Clemons, who had three sacks against Indianapolis last week, leads the group with 7.0 sacks. But 14.5 of the team’s 33 sacks have come from the interior of the defensive line. The two biggest contributors there are tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (5.0) and Ryan Davis (5.5), a part-time player who primarily lines up inside when the Jaguars go to their third-down rush package. The Jaguars got to Andrew Luck five times in the first half last week and that kept the Jaguars in the game. I think the defensive front is going to have to put the same kind of pressure on Manning to keep the game close because the offense is struggling so badly right now. Getting five sacks would be great, but it’s more important to pressure Manning into some bad decisions and hopefully get turnovers to put the offense in good field position.
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Colt McCoy returns with more confidence

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
6:45
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The game only occurred a month ago, but Colt McCoy says he’s a different quarterback. And it didn’t dent his confidence when the Redskins opted to re-insert Robert Griffin III back into the starting lineup.

Still, in McCoy’s last appearance, the Redskins beat Dallas and McCoy received a major boost as well.

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“You gain confidence from a game like that,” McCoy said. “You gain confidence from the game before that, coming off the bench. My approach has been a little different since then as far as seeing things, understanding what we want to do offensively.”

McCoy has played six quarters for Washington this season, leading a comeback win over Tennessee and the "Monday Night Football" upset over Dallas a week later. In those games, McCoy completed 36 of 42 passes for one touchdown and one interception.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said a case could be made for sticking with Griffin and letting him develop. But after the past two games, it was evident a change needed to be made.

“I feel strongly that players who play well, practice well, deserve an opportunity,” Gruden said. “I feel very strongly about Colt. He deserves an opportunity to get a shot again. For Robert to take a step back and be a backup quarterback is not the end of the world. It’s happened to great quarterbacks in the past. It will happen again. And he’s just got to work and fight through this and continue to learn and compete.”

McCoy will be making his 23rd career start on Sunday at Indianapolis. Thirteen of those starts occurred in 2011 with Cleveland. He said he’s grown up a lot since that time.

“I’ve learned a lot from some of the experiences I have had,” McCoy said. “The biggest thing is, just trust in my teammates. I trust the offensive line – they’re going to do their job. We have great receivers who are capable of doing tremendous things when the ball is in their hands.”

McCoy said he understands what Griffin is going through and that they remain “good friends.” Griffin hung around the locker room waiting for McCoy to go to a post-practice meeting.

But McCoy did not think he was benched last month as much as he was just returning to the role for which he was signed. McCoy was signed to be a No. 3 quarterback.

“I know the things I’ve been through throughout my career,” McCoy said. “I’m probably as thankful and appreciative as anybody to be playing again. My approach needs to be the same that it’s been since the day I got here, understanding what Jay wants within our offense, within our quarterback play and where he wants us to go with the football – being smart, being confident, being a leader. All those things. I’ve tried to be the same guy every day and that’s not going to change.”
ASHBURN, Va., -- The Redskins placed Tracy Porter on injured reserve, ending a frustrating and injury-plagued season for the veteran corner. They promoted corner Chase Minnifield off injured reserve to fill his roster spot.

The Redskins signed Porter to be their No. 3 corner and played him in the slot. But Porter, who has struggled with durability issues throughout his career, appeared in a career-low three games. Last season was the only time in his first six seasons that he played in all 16 games.

He had offseason shoulder surgery that limited him in training camp and dealt with a hamstring issue twice. He injured his shoulder again in Sunday’s 17-13 loss to San Francisco.

This is the second time this season Minnifield has been promoted to the active roster. He appeared in six games before being cut earlier this month and re-signed to the practice squad.

Meanwhile, Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher (right knee) and corner E.J. Biggers (concussion) did not practice. Tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), Chris Baker (sternum), Silas Redd (ribs), Trent Williams (knee) and Ryan Clark (stinger/shoulder) were limited.

Colts vs. Redskins preview

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
4:21
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video When: 1 p.m., Sunday Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis TV: Fox

INDIANAPOLIS -- So much for Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III. Now it’s simply the Indianapolis Colts trying to move a step closer to winning their second consecutive AFC South title and the Washington Redskins seeing if quarterback Colt McCoy can improve his record to 3-0 this season when the two teams meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.

McCoy replaces Griffin, who was benched on Wednesday.

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss the matchup in Indianapolis.

Wells: John, why hasn’t it worked out for Griffin the way it’s worked out for Luck? Is it that he hasn’t regained his speed from the knee injury? Is he not a student of the game? And what does his benching mean for his future?

Keim: It’s a combination of reasons, and I think the injury from his rookie season definitely has played a part. It cost him an offseason of needed development and it was clear when he played last season that he did not have the same explosiveness. And then he lost more time this season with a dislocated ankle. So there’s that aspect -- and all of that did have an impact on his game. But the other part is that he did not develop at the pace they needed, something they started to get concerned about this summer. He wasn’t making the proper reads, going through his progressions at the right pace and was failing to throw to open receivers. They want him to learn that they don’t have to be wide open for him to deliver the ball. As for his future, it’s murky. He’s under contract for another season, and the organization will say they remain committed to him. But I don’t sense wild enthusiasm for what the coaches feel he can do and how long it will take him to get there.

What has jumped out at you about Luck, something you see up close that helps explain why he’s improved and why he might fulfill the lofty expectations?

Wells: Too often the media have talked to Luck after he threw for more than 300 yards and a Colts victory and usually the first thing he points out are the mistakes he made. An interception. A completion he should have made. Not converting in the red zone. While some quarterbacks enjoy the pats on the back, Luck’s determination to constantly get better has him talking about his mistakes before anything else. And it's never Luck’s teammates' fault. He’ll fall on a sword for his teammates before he throws them under the bus. The offensive line does a poor job blocking up front and Luck will say he just needs to get rid of the ball quicker. A receiver drops a pass and Luck will say he needs to make a better throw next time. That’s the type of player you want to lead your franchise for at least the next decade.

Where would the Redskins be had the Colts taken Griffin with the No. 1 pick and Luck fell in their lap at No. 2? Would Mike Shanahan still be coaching the team and would they be pushing Philadelphia for the top spot in the NFC East?

Keim: Yes, Shanahan would still be in charge. At the time the Redskins were sold on Griffin, and I don’t want to start hearing any revisionism. They considered themselves to be in a win-win situation by having the second pick, knowing they had a good option either way. But Luck would have been a perfect fit for Shanahan’s system (though they said the same about Griffin too). And because Luck was further along as a passer than Griffin, the Redskins could have developed him a lot quicker. Also, when these two entered the league, the sense was that Luck’s size would make him a lot more durable. That’s how it has played out too.

At the time, many people I spoke to considered Luck and Griffin 1 and 1A. There was a big debate over which one would be better. But do you think the Colts ever seriously considered drafting Griffin? What do you think might have happened had they done so?

Wells: There was zero consideration of the Colts selecting Griffin. I talked to former Colts general manager Bill Polian recently and he said he watched every throw Luck and Griffin made in college on video, but he watched Luck live at least six times and watched Griffin live only twice during their final seasons at Stanford and Baylor, respectively. Polian also told owner Jim Irsay they should select Luck two days before he was relieved of his duties. Punter Pat McAfee, who was on the roster back in 2012, probably put it best: “Everybody in our building knew there was only one player to take. He had been touted as the next John Elway since his sophomore year.” That’s a pretty big compliment there.

Why would they start Colt McCoy?

Keim: Because he offers them two things the other two quarterbacks do not. McCoy is a flawed quarterback and I think it’s a stretch at this point to suggest he could be the quarterback of the future. But he does have a chance to make a case for himself. What McCoy provides is someone who knows the offense and can execute it the way the coaches desire, getting rid of the ball on time and making the proper adjustments. That’s something they needed Griffin to do a better job of during his time. And Kirk Cousins' penchant for turning the ball over and being unable to shake bad plays was problematic. The coaches feel McCoy will at least respond well to adversity.

We all know the drama that has enveloped the Redskins with the Griffin saga for a while now -- some of it his own doing, but certainly not all. How has Luck managed to avoid that sort of attention and what’s he like to cover? Clearly he does not seek the spotlight, but is there something more to it? I’m curious how Griffin would have fared in a smaller media market.

Wells: We’re talking about a player who still uses a flip phone and shies away from doing national endorsement deals. The smaller market definitely helps Luck and most players who play in Indianapolis. As you know from your years of covering the Redskins, they’re a national team where every good step, and definitely every bad step, is chronicled. What has also helped Luck is that his father, Oliver, played in the NFL, so he was able to go to the kitchen table at his house and get excellent firsthand experience. I asked Andrew Luck one time how he learned to handle the media so well. He said he did an interview while in high school after he committed to Stanford and he made a reference to “when he becomes the starter” there. His father saw the quote and had a talk with him about what to say and not say when it comes to the media.

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Lots of New York Giants showed up on Wednesday's pre-practice injury report, but there seemed to be more good injury news than bad.

The only Giants who didn't practice due to injury were guard Adam Snyder, who injured his knee in Sunday's game, linebacker Jameel McClain, who did the same, and defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who has been practicing on a limited schedule all season due to a knee issue. Safety Antrel Rolle also missed practice, and the team said that was due to a personal matter.

Linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion), tackle Justin Pugh (quad) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), each of whom missed Sunday's game due to their injuries, were doing individual work at practice, which is progress for each of them. Guard Geoff Schwartz, who made his debut Sunday after missing the first 10 games of the season with a toe injury, was also a limited participant in practice.

And Odell Beckham Jr., the star of the week, was a full participant in practice in spite of the back injury he suffered at the end of Sunday's loss to the Cowboys.

"I was full-go today," said Beckham, who described his injury as "a bruise to the bone."

"It was sore after the game for sure and the next day and even yesterday, but it’s feeling a lot better today."

The Giants will have a practice Thursday morning before they're sent home to spend Thanksgiving with their families, then return for a full Friday practice before flying to Jacksonville on Saturday for Sunday's game there. At this point, the biggest question marks for Sunday are Snyder, Williams, Pugh and Jenkins, though the fact that the latter three are doing any work at all is encouraging.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin admitted the obvious on Wednesday: His team's pass rush has been a major disappointment this season.

"It is something that has been missing the majority of the time this year," Coughlin said. "The effectiveness of pressures, whether they come out of the secondary, the linebacker level, we have not been good with that.

"Plus, to be honest with you, we’ve had some missed assignments when those are called. The responsibility starts with me."

It may start with Coughlin, but it quickly extends to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and the players themselves. Yes, Fewell could've called more blitzes against the Cowboys last Sunday, particularly on that final drive. But the guys up front have failed to live up to expectations this season.

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Starting defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka have a combined six sacks -- 3.5 for Pierre-Paul, 2.5 for Kiwanuka. Pierre-Paul had 16.5 in 2011 and Kiwanuka had as many as eight in 2008.

"We’d like to think we would be a better team with pressure," Coughlin said. "There are a bunch of guys up front that are supposed to be known for that."

Robert Ayers leads the team with five sacks and is also tops in quarterback hits (12) and quarterback hurries (24), according to Pro Football Focus. This despite the fact that he has played only 350 snaps. In comparison, Pierre-Paul has played 651 and Kiwanuka 558.

Ayers had gotten more playing time of late, until the game against the Cowboys, when he was in for only 20 of 55 defensive snaps and was not on the field for Dallas' game-winning drive.

When asked Wednesday if he felt he was benched, Ayers shrugged, then said, "I’m not the starter, so how can a backup be benched? The guys that started the game were the guys that played (at the end)."

"Ayers has had some success, (but) didn’t play very well last weekend," Coughlin said earlier.

For what it's worth, Ayers was credited with three of the Giants' six quarterback hurries against the Cowboys, despite the limited amount of snaps. And he received a positive grade for the game from Pro Football Focus -- in fact, he got the highest grade of any defensive player on the team.

"Maybe? That’s his assessment," Ayers said, when Coughlin's criticism was brought to his attention. "The way I viewed it was, there wasn’t any other game this season when the starters didn’t finish the game. If I was benched, I was benched. I don’t know."

Speaking of sacks, second-year defensive end Damontre Moore had one of the Giants' two against the Cowboys (Kiwanuka had the other). But Moore played only six snaps and has played only 167 on the season, despite being active for every game.

"Young Damontre, everybody wants him in the ballgame. He did have some success the other day with one sack," Coughlin said. "He should have been playing a little bit more."

When asked why we haven't seen more of Moore, Coughlin indicated that poor performances in practice are the reason.

"Because there are times, to be honest with you, during the week when you talk about confidence level, whether it’s assignment football or whatever -- for whatever reason, it hasn’t been something that we thought he knows exactly what he’s doing and so on and so forth," Coughlin said. "The practices have to fulfill the idea that we can go ahead and play him under all kinds of circumstances is what we’d like to do, not just on third down."

The Jacksonville Jaguars, the Giants' opponent this coming Sunday, have given up 43 sacks through 11 games, the worst total in the entire NFL. So if the pass rush is going to come alive this season, this would be the week.

But the Giants have just 19 sacks in 11 games, ranking them 26th in the league.

At 3-8 and virtually eliminated from playoff contention, perhaps it's time for the Giants to give guys like Ayers and Moore a bigger opportunity to show what they can really do.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have a lot of worries when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles offense.

There is LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles running the ball. There are wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews. There are tight ends Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey.

Mark Sanchez has thrown for 300 yards in each of his three starts.

But it’s more than just the personnel. It’s the tempo at which Philadelphia plays that worries the Cowboys most. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli went with a basketball comparison.

“You remember Loyola-Marymount with coach (Paul) Westhead, that pace?” Marinelli said. “They just run the pace and run their system, run the pace and run the system with speed. That’s something we’ve kind of believed in on defense. We’ve got to align, get set, get ready to get our feet in the ground and we have to play fast. So we’ve got to match that. The challenge is there.”

The Cowboys performed rather well against the Eagles last year, but the short week has made it difficult to simulate the speed of play in practice. The Cowboys were not in pads all week, going through mostly jog-through sessions. They used multiple huddles with the scout-team offenses to get the defense prepared, running one play and then turn around to face the next play in a matter of seconds.

The New York Giants had success against the Cowboys last week with a no-huddle attack, but Eli Manning was calling plays at the line of scrimmage and the pace of play was not drastically different.

“Philly gets up there and snaps it,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “The tempo is before the ball is snapped. We need to be lined up and ready to play when they come to the line of scrimmage.”

The Eagles average nearly 73 plays per game. The Cowboys’ defense was on the field a season-high 74 plays against the Giants and average 60.5 snaps per game.

“Now, they’ve got really good players and a challenging scheme,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They attack you a lot of different ways. Really just that basic element of 11 guys lined up the right way, everybody running the same defense, doing their job; that’s what gives you a chance to be successful against a team like this.”
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The first regular-season meeting between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III officially ended before it even started when Colt McCoy was named the starter in Washington on Wednesday.

No Luck vs. RG III. No battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2012 draft.

While it’s easy to point to Griffin’s win-loss record and definitely his benching to say the Colts made the right decision in picking Luck, many say it was an easy decision even before commissioner Roger Goodell stood at the podium on April 26, 2012, and announced that Indianapolis had selected Luck with the No. 1 overall pick.

Wednesday’s benching of RG III just validated it.

“Everybody in our building knew there was only player to take,” Colts punter Pat McAfee said. “He had been touted as the next John Elway since his sophomore year [at Stanford]. We were all excited to see how good Andrew Luck was going to be. I think we got really lucky with a legendary quarterback coming out of college and taking the place of some of the biggest shoes ever in Peyton Manning.”

ESPN The Magazine
Bill Polian, the Colts' general manager during their 2-14 season in 2011, watched every throw Griffin and Luck made on video during their time at Baylor and Stanford, respectively. One difference, though, is that Polian watched Griffin in person only twice and he watched “at least six" of Luck’s games in person.

What separated the two?

“It was quite close because they were both outstanding quarterbacks, outstanding winners, outstanding people,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. “I told [owner] Jim Irsay we can’t go wrong with either guy in terms of their ability but we should take Luck, two days before I was let go. We wanted the whole template of a quarterback. We weren’t looking for one individual thing and we weren’t looking to replicate Peyton because I don’t think that could be done.”

Irsay preferred Luck too because, according to Polian, Griffin ran too much and he feared he'd get hurt. Irsay was right, because Griffin’s career changed when he injured his knee late in his rookie season when he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and led the Redskins to the NFC East title.

Irsay and Colts general manager Ryan Grigson both declined interviews.

ESPN The Magazine
Griffin lost some of his athleticism, lost some of his confidence and now he’s lost his job. He's only 4-14 as a starter since his rookie season.

“Some people say it was closer than you think; I don’t really believe it,” ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson said. “I think RG III, eight out of 10 years is the No. 1 pick. But 10 out of 10 years, Luck is the first pick overall. He’s a special player and I think the gap was pretty wide.”

The Colts were just one victory away from sliding to the No. 2 pick and selecting Griffin, possibly putting them in the same the situation the Redskins are currently in. That possibility ended when Colts closed out the 2011 season with a 19-13 loss at Jacksonville.

Indianapolis is thankful it lost that game to Jacksonville because it got its franchise quarterback for at least the next decade in Luck. All he’s done is win 11 games in each of his first two seasons, and he is in position to lead the Colts to the playoffs for the third straight season and to a second straight AFC South title.

So just like the Colts did when they selected Manning over Ryan Leaf in 1998, they wisely made the right decision in picking Luck over Griffin.

“You have a guy like Luck who has the same attributes as Peyton Manning but can run the ball and move in the pocket,” said Colts running back Trent Richardson, who was the No. 3 pick in 2012. “There was no way [the Colts] couldn’t take him as No. 1. You have a guy like RG III, he is what he is and that’s a playmaker and he makes plays. Everybody knew Luck was that guy from the beginning. He just makes plays.”

ESPN The Magazine
IRVING, Texas - Dwayne Harris turned in his best performance of the season against the New York Giants.

The Cowboys could use a similar performance Thursday against Philadelphia, which has one of the best special teams units in the league.

Harris
Harris returned four punts for 68 yards with a long of 20. He also made a nice tackle on Odell Beckham Jr. on a punt return and downed another punt inside the 10.

He has only two punt returns of more than 20 yards this season -- he had eight in 2012 -- but he showed signs against the Giants of finding a rhythm.

“It looked like he got his swagger back and he was making the plays we’re used to having him making,” Jason Garrett said. “It’s always a collective effort.

“The return unit has to get the return started, and he has the unique ability to make guys miss and get north and south. I felt we were real close to making a couple of big plays.”

Harris’ contribution to the coverage units will be as important as his returns this week. Two weeks ago, Darren Sproles returned a punt for a touchdown. In Philadelphia’s last game, Josh Huff returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

The Cowboys have had a punt and two field goals blocked this year. They must avoid those mistakes against Philadelphia by being much more sound in the kicking game.
IRVING, Texas - Terrell McClain signed a three-year, $3 million deal with the Cowboys in the offseason. Thus far, they haven’t received much return on their investment.

A high ankle sprain limited the defensive tackle in training camp, and he missed the New Orleans game as he recovered from a concussion.

McClain
McClain, inactive against the Giants on Sunday, has 12 tackles and virtually no impact this season. It’s worth noting he was inactive against the Giants because he had one of his best games of the season in the Cowboys’ first matchup against New York, when he had four tackles, including two for loss.

But the Cowboys opted to activate Jack Crawford instead of McClain. Crawford, who had thumb surgery on Tuesday, will miss at least one game and that should give McClain an opportunity to prove he deserves more playing time.

“He dealt with some injuries early on and when he’s gotten some opportunities to play he’s done a good job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We made a decision to keep Jack up because he played really well the last couple of weeks and deserved an opportunity.

“We went back and watched the Giants game prior to last week’s Giants game and he really showed up in that game. We feel good about what he’s done with the opportunities he’s gotten and working around the injuries he’s had.”
IRVING, Texas -- Running backs know running backs.

McCoy
Murray
Before Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray became the NFL's leading rusher -- he has 1,354 yards -- Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was a fan.

"Not just this year." McCoy said. "I always felt like if he got the ball more, he could do some special things."

Murray and McCoy struck up a friendship at the Pro Bowl last January. Murray was a late addition after rushing for a career-high 1,121 yards. McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013, fitting in perfectly in Chip Kelly's offense.

Things have been a little different for McCoy this season. He has 859 yards on 217 carries and three touchdowns, but he looked more like last year's McCoy last week when he ran for 130 yards on 21 carries against the Tennessee Titans.

That was the same Titans defense that Murray had 167 yards on 29 carries in September.

"I like his game," McCoy said. "He runs hard, he finishes very well. They're a good team. They're giving him some lanes to run in. I think the way he finishes runs and how strong he is, that's what makes him an elite back. I think we have different styles, so I wouldn't want to take anything from his game. I like it how it is."

DeMarco Murray says he feels great

November, 26, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was a smash in the first eight games of the 2014 season.

Murray
He led the NFL in yards (1,054) and carries (206) and tied for the league lead in touchdowns (seven) the first eight games. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (161 carries) and Houston's Arian Foster (766 yards) were the closest to Murray in these categories.

The Cowboys cooled down Murray's carries in the second half of the season. While he still leads the NFL in overall rushing yards, he's fifth in the league with 300 rushing yards the last three weeks and his 62 carries are second to only Chicago's Matt Forte (66) in the same time span.

Does this mean Murray is getting tired?

Does it mean Murray is getting limited carries because the team doesn't want to wear him down?

Murray believes he's getting stronger as the season progresses.

"I feel great," Murray said. "As the year goes on you feel better and I definitely feel like I've gotten stronger throughout the year and I got to continue to work hard during the week and continue to show up on Sundays."

In the last four weeks, Murray has three games where had 19 carries, but he produced four games of 25 or more carries in the seven weeks before that. As the weather gets colder and games become closer, especially with three division games remaining, the Cowboys might rely on Murray more.

The question is can he handle it?

Tony Romo eager for Eagles' meeting

November, 26, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The last time the Dallas Cowboys played the Philadelphia Eagles, Tony Romo was at his home, two days removed from back surgery.

The pain from the surgery could not touch the pain he felt when he saw the Cowboys lose, 24-22, to the Eagles and miss the playoffs for the third straight year with a Week 17 defeat to an NFC East rival.

"I would have enjoyed playing them last year," Romo said. "Obviously I would have felt more comfortable being in that situation. We were at home. That was a situation where you would have felt good. They're two different teams now. They're a much-improved team than they were last year. I didn't think they were as balanced as they are this year on defense."

[+] EnlargeRomo
AP Photo/Kathy WillensTony Romo has completed 71 percent of his passes, throwing for 521 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in two wins since a new injury.
Romo is still working through issues from that back surgery as he gets ready for Thursday's game. He is also working through two small fractures in his back suffered the last time he played at AT&T Stadium on Oct. 27 against the Washington Redskins.

His practice schedule has been a topic of discussion from training camp through the regular season, but he might actually "practice" more this week than he has since the second game. Because of the quick turnaround between games, the Cowboys' practices are more "jogthroughs." Players have not even worn helmets for the practices.

But Romo foresees no issues with playing a second game in five days.

Romo has played even better after getting hurt. He has completed 71 percent of his passes, throwing for 521 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in wins against the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants.

"That's just him," tight end Jason Witten said. "He finds way to get through all that. And just the way he is with the ball in his hands, he's just really smart with it. He knows where he wants to go and guys are making plays for him."

Romo views what he has done with his back injury no different than what other teammates have done all season.

"You don't really think about it," Romo said. "You just go and play. I mean, everyone has something wrong with them during the football season. We say it all the time, once you step on the field no one cares what you have. You've got to go produce. Our job is to play well regardless of what's going on around you. That's our job as players."

The Redskins harassed Romo with heavy blitzes with one of them leading to the two transverse process fractures in his back. The Eagles are a pressure-happy team as well and have 38 sacks on the season.

Yet Romo sounds as if he is almost inviting the pressure.

"Playing against a really good football team who is going to bring great energy," Romo said. "We understand how important this game is for both teams and I think it'll be fun to just to see them try and attack us and come after you and be an aggressive team. That will be an enjoyable game to go against."

The NFC East is not on the line Thursday like it was last December when Romo was a spectator, but there is some significance to it. The Cowboys have a division loss. The Eagles don't. That's what separates them in the standings right now.

On Dec. 14, the teams play again in Philadelphia and more could be on the line.

"I don't think you're going to decide the division right here, but I do think there's a lot of games left," Romo said "But we also understand the importance of it obviously going against a team that we're tied with at this point in the year. They're a good ballclub. I think you put the tape on, you see that they do a very good job. They're a physical group. They're defensive front plays hard, they're good at the back end and they're going to be a great challenge for us. And they're well coached. So we'll have to bear down on the tape this week, really get yourself mentally ready to go to gain the advantages that will hopefully decide the outcome of the game."

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