ASHBURN, Va. -- A few nuggets from Redskins Park on Wednesday:
  • Robinson
    Robinson
    Linebacker Keenan Robinson was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his 14-tackle performance against Tennessee. Robinson and players such as cornerback Bashaud Breeland give Gruden hope for the future. “As a young player, you go through some rough patches, but when you play through it, you can see the progression of these guys. Breeland had a good game the other day against Tennessee also. So these young players are getting meaningful reps – that ones that continue to get better and better are the ones that are going to be special-type players and I hope that for Keenan. He had a great game.”
  • Receiver Leonard Hankerson said he feels “100 percent” and that his surgically-repaired knee has had no swelling since his return. It’s uncertain when he’ll be activated to the 53-man roster, but Hankerson said he’s ready. “I have teammates coming up to me and telling me how good I look,” Hankerson said. “I feel good. Like I said, I’ve been out moving around, working every day catching passes before practice, after practice. Timing-wise, there’s nothing holding me back.”
  • Linebacker Trent Murphy called it a huge leap that he’ll be making this week, going from backup to full-time starter for the injured Brian Orakpo. But he said the benefit is, “I know what to prepare for, whereas before I wasn’t quite sure when I’d be in for sure. I’d always have to be ready. Now I know so it’s no surprise and I can prepare accordingly.”
  • Murphy also said he’s still adjusting to the NFL. “A lot of things,” he said. “But no hesitation and playing fast and disruptive. I knew how fast the game would be and that’s where my improvement needs to be, always playing fast with no hesitation.”
PHILADELPHIA – Nick Foles was lined up under center more than usual during the Eagles’ 27-0 victory against the New York Giants last week. The Eagles’ running game also made a resurgence, with LeSean McCoy running for 149 yards.

Is there a connection? Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur didn’t really want to say.

McCoy
“There are reasons why we do it,” Shurmur said, referring to having the quarterback under center rather than in the shotgun formation. “And we like to keep those somewhat private.”

There are all kinds of possible factors: center David Molk might not be as good at snapping the ball in the shotgun. Foles might prefer to get the ball snapped directly, then drop back. Head coach Chip Kelly talked last week about the angles created when the quarterback is under center.

All of those might be in the mix. But the one thing we now know for sure is that McCoy prefers lining up behind an under-center quarterback.

“It really helps out,” McCoy said Wednesday. “You can see it better. You can see the lanes better. If there is some pressure, you can adjust to it. In the [shotgun], you’re kind of going sideways and if there is pressure, it kind of knocks you back. I like under center more.

“What makes me a good back is just vision. I think being under center, about 7 1/2 yards deep, I can see everything happen. I’m the farthest guy from the game. I’m all the way in the back. If a guy has leverage on a block, or a guy gets beat, I can see it. I can adjust to it. That’s why I like it better.”

McCoy is facing a difficult challenge Sunday in Arizona. The Cardinals are ranked first in the NFL against the run. They have allowed 72.5 rushing yards per game while going 5-1. So the Eagles’ improvement against the Giants will be tested in Arizona.

“I’m sure they’ll try to take the run away,” McCoy said. “They’re a good team; they play well together. They do a lot of blitzes. We’ll see how they play us, a team that plays at a fast tempo. I’m waiting to see how they play us.”

The Eagles will try to run the ball, because that’s what they do. They just might find that lining up under center helps McCoy to get going again.

Colt McCoy readies for return to Texas

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
4:50
PM ET
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Colt McCoy sees a difference in himself from the last time he started. The Washington Redskins quarterback is a little older, a little stronger and, he hopes, a little wiser from the lessons he’s learned. His road to this point hasn’t been easy, going from a rookie starter to a third-stringer in his fifth season.

But now he’ll get one game, at the least, to show that he is better than he was during his last time starting. McCoy hasn’t started since Dec. 8, 2011, with Cleveland. Since then, he’s appeared in eight games, having thrown a combined 30 passes.

He relieved Kirk Cousins for the second half of Washington’s 19-17 win over Tennessee. McCoy completed 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.

“It’s tough, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” McCoy said of his career. “I wouldn’t change some of my past experience. I’ve learned a lot from them -- a whole lot. My path in the NFL so far has been a lot different than other guys, but I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned and the experience I’ve gained."

Redskins coach Jay Gruden called McCoy one of college football’s most successful quarterbacks. And, he said, having watched him play in Cleveland, Gruden viewed McCoy as a talented player.

“I always liked the way he played,” Gruden said. “His accuracy, his toughness, has always been a strong quality of his."

McCoy will start Monday’s game at Dallas, barring a major improvement from Robert Griffin III in practice. Griffin has always been considered a long shot to start Monday, but the Redskins have left open a just-in-case possibility.

For McCoy, it would be a chance to start in his native state -- he did start a game there against Houston when he played for the Browns (they lost, 30-12). He also starred at the University of Texas.

“It’s really unbelievable,” McCoy said of a possible start in Texas. “I can’t even sometimes take my mind there. But I’m really just trying to approach this as a professional and know this is our next game.

“I was going to get a few tickets before I wasn’t playing and now it has turned into a laundry list. I don’t want it to be too big of a distraction though. I am excited about going back to Dallas. It is going to be a lot of fun.”

This will be the first time McCoy has taken first-team reps in practice since the '11 season. If Griffin is ready next week, then it could be the last time he takes those reps for a while.

“I’ll get some timing down with receivers, with the O-line, work on silent counts,” McCoy said. "A lot of things that I just hadn’t been able to do. So it’ll be a huge week in practice for me to get more comfortable. This is a huge game for us and our season."
ASHBURN, Va. -- Robert Griffin III showed a little more Wednesday, participating in more of the practice, showing a little more to his game. However, there’s still a lot more he’d need to show to warrant starting Monday night’s game at Dallas.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden has made it clear that Griffin would have to show an awful lot for him to start him against the Cowboys. But Gruden also left open the possibility of being wowed by Griffin. Barring that, it’ll still be Colt McCoy’s job. Griffin hasn’t played since Week 2 because of a dislocated left ankle.

“I’ve already made the decision it’s going to be Colt,” Gruden said. “I said that Robert would be the wild card possibly, if he is ready to go, and that still hasn’t been decided yet.”

Gruden said Griffin didn’t show him a whole lot more than last week – or, at least, there wasn’t a big jump. Gruden also said his chance for playing Monday hasn’t changed from what he said earlier in the week.

“He’s progressing along,” Gruden said. “It’s not so much watching him run; I think he feels OK running right now. It’s just a matter of how he feels [Thursday]. There’s certain movements, rolling out to the right, rolling out to the left and cutting back – we’ve just got to see how he handles that. But the big thing is getting him back comfortable into the pocket and throwing the ball to the receivers, getting his timing down.

“There’s a lot of that that has to take place also, so he’s coming along at a good clip, like we thought he would.”

Gruden made it clear Monday that he’ll abide first by what the trainers and doctors tell him. But he also said it’s not just about Griffin’s health. Griffin threw to receivers and tight ends during practice Wednesday, with some on target and others high and wide or short. The quarterbacks alternated reps with each of the three groups.

But it goes deeper.

“It’s not so much how his leg feels,” Gruden said. “It is, but it’s about taking plays with the pass rush coming at him and the live reps that he hasn’t had since Houston or since Jacksonville, which is a long time ago, it seems like. So the big part of it is, ‘How do we progress him along and get him the reps in practice.’ There’s only so many you can have. That’s the biggest issue – that and getting the timing with the receivers and just playing the game.

“There are a lot of variances to whether or not we think he will be ready for Monday night. Health-wise, No. 1, then obviously is he ready physically getting back in the flow with the wide receivers with the timing, the accuracy and all that.”

Gruden said Griffin likely would either be the starter or inactive Monday: all-in or nothing. He also said Griffin’s past injuries won’t be an issue in this decision.

“I take this injury itself into its own entity,” Gruden said. “If the doctors say that he has no risk of that thing getting re-injured. If it’s stable, they feel he can go through a game and get tackled and one little turn is not going to do a lot of damage, if they feel it’s stable, then we will go from there.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you feel like the New York Giants have been running the ball a lot, you're not crazy. So far this season, the Giants are running the ball more than almost any other team in the NFL.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants' rush percentage (the percentage of offensive plays on which the quarterback does not drop back to pass) is 45.1 percent. That's the fourth-highest percentage in the league, behind only Dallas, Cleveland and Houston.

They run the ball on first down 52.2 percent of the time, which is the ninth-highest figure in the league.

They run the ball on second down 48.3 percent of the time, which is the second-highest figure in the league.

They run the ball on third down 24.5 percent of the time, which is the third-highest figure in the league.

The Giants run and run and run and run. They run when they're ahead in the game and they run when they're behind. They run whether it's working or not.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Brandon WadeEli Manning and the Giants are committed to balance in their offense this season.
And they're not going to stop anytime soon.

"You've got to have balance," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the Giants ran the ball 42.4 percent of the time in Sunday's 31-21 loss in Dallas. "We're not just going to turn the ball over because we refuse to run. That's not what we're about."

There you have it. This reliance on the run is not the result of sloppy or haphazard play calling. This is a deep-rooted philosophy to which Coughlin and the Giants have committed in the wake of a 2013 season in which they committed 44 turnovers -- a stomach-turning figure that led the league by 10. The Giants are scared straight, which is why they're not throwing the ball downfield as much, why their quarterback is throwing it away more often, and why they're leaning so hard on the run.

The Giants have given the ball away 13 times so far this year, which isn't great. It's tied for the fourth-highest total in the league, and only two off the league-leading total of 15 shared by Jacksonville and Washington. But of those 13, only five have been interceptions, and four of those five came in the first two weeks of the season. Eli Manning hasn't thrown an interception in any of his last three games.

"We haven't had an interception in a couple of weeks, and that has been a very important part, I think, of our ability to control our game," Coughlin said Monday. "If we can get it under control, we will do it that way. Now, what to do about guys who can't catch the ball, put it away, cover it up without getting it stripped? That's another issue. We have had our issues with that."

The Giants do lead the league with eight lost fumbles, three of which have come on special teams. But those can't be controlled by game-planning or strategy. Those are either the result of luck, which corrects itself, or poor technique, which the coaches can correct on the practice field.

Running the ball more and taking fewer risks in the passing game is a way for the Giants to try to get control of their turnover situation. And remember to keep this year's numbers in perspective. Tied for fourth in the league in turnovers is a heck of a lot better than leading the league by 10.

"It's tough in this league if you sit back there and throw it 50 times a game," Manning said. "That puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line and me and the receivers, because you're going to get a lot of coverages. When you're running it and you have a commitment to run like we were Sunday, it's going to bring a safety in the box, it's going to give you some better throwing situations.

"We're going to be committed to doing it. We just have to get back to where we're getting successful runs. It's not like we've got to run for 150 yards, but on first and second down, when they're giving you the run looks, we've got to get those four and five yards just to keep the down and distance in shape. We're just having too many runs where we're losing yards, we're getting negative-two yards. We can't be going backwards. That's what hurts you."

For more on how they fix that, check back in Thursday.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s a fascinating suggestion from ESPN.com’s Greg Garber: the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Oakland Raiders for what may be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

The biggest problem with the idea is the timing. The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday. That means the Eagles would have to pull the trigger on such a deal with nine games left in the 2014 season. With Chris Polk, Darren Sproles and Matthew Tucker in-house at the running back position, that would look an awful lot like tanking. And 5-1 teams in the process of defending a division title aren’t typically inclined to tank.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsWidely considered one of the NFL's top running backs, would the Eagles consider dealing LeSean McCoy?
Of course, the Eagles and Raiders would be free to make a similar trade after the season. That may be a little more palatable to Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who really does focus all of his energies on the game that’s next on the schedule. Most of what Kelly has preached to his players over the past two seasons would sound pretty hollow if the coach jettisoned McCoy in the middle of the season.

Plus a deadline deal would give the Raiders nine games with McCoy carrying the ball, nine chances to improve their record and hurt their draft position.

But the idea is provocative for a couple of reasons -- and not just that illustration with McCoy in silver and black. Garber lays out the key elements: While Kelly has done quite well with Nick Foles as his quarterback, it’s ever more clear that the Eagles’ offense is radically limited by the absence of a true read-option threat at that position. When Foles was throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, that was a compromise Kelly could accept. With Foles throwing seven interceptions in his first six games of 2014, his lack of mobility may be a little tougher to accept.

If Kelly really believes it will take a quarterback like Oregon's Marcus Mariota to maximize his offense, then there will be few chances to get such a player. Mariota, whom Kelly recruited and coached, will be among the first players taken in the 2015 draft. For the Eagles to get him, they will have to be bold. Trading McCoy would certainly qualify.

As for replacing McCoy, it helps to bear in mind that he was a second-round draft pick. Running backs are easier to find than franchise quarterbacks. It's also possible, with a solid offensive line and a good scheme, to get more out of any back. As Garber writes, “Like Bill Belichick, Kelly passionately believes in the system, which is to say, himself.”

There is good reason for that. McCoy has been exceptional in Kelly’s offense. But other backs -- Bryce Brown, Polk, Sproles -- have stepped in and put up big rushing numbers. If Kelly was willing to jettison DeSean Jackson for nothing, he’d probably be willing to part with McCoy for a chance to acquire a quarterback custom-built to run his offense.

Will it happen? It’s unlikely, as Garber says right upfront. But it certainly makes a lot of sense, for both the Eagles and the Raiders.
IRVING, Texas - Although Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray have played together since 2011, the Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants marked only the third time each surpassed the 100-yard mark in the same game.

Two of the three have occurred this season -- and it’s going to occur considerably more often as long as Scott Linehan calls the plays.

That’s because Linehan believes in getting the ball to his best players.

[+] EnlargeBryant/Murray
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDez Bryant and DeMarco Murray are the most prolific offensive duo in the NFL this season.
Murray carried 28 times for 128 yards, and Bryant had nine catches for 151 yards against the Giants. Against Tennessee, Murray had 29 carries fro 167 yards and Bryant caught 10 for 103 yards.

Bryant (79 targets) and Murray (187 carries and 26 targets) have been the designed recipient of the ball on a ridiculous 63.3 percent of the Cowboys' 461 plays this season. Pittsburgh is the only other team whose top running back and receiver have accounted for even 50 percent of a team’s plays.

Le'Veon Bell (117 carries and 43 targets) and Antonio Brown (74 targets) have had the ball directed their way on 50 percent of the Steelers' 468 plays.

Murray seems to have really found a rhythm with the zone-blocking scheme the Cowboys often employ. He has at least three runs of 10 yards or more in each of the Cowboys’ seven games.

As Murray will tell you, it’s not just about him and the offensive line. The tight ends have done a consistently good job of sealing the edge so he can get to the perimeter, and the receivers have done a good job holding their blocks.

“DeMarco is doing a fantastic job for us,” Garrett said. “He’s seeing softness in the defense, he’s feeling things, he’s getting north and south and he’s finishing runs.

“Sometimes when it’s 2 and 1 and 2 and 1 and 3[-yard-runs], a back can get frustrated. But he’s still believing in the runs and making sure he’s giving every one of them a chance, and as the games go on, you see him have more and more success.”

Bryant had only two catches for 15 yards in the first half, but he didn’t frustrated. Instead, he remained patient and waited until the Giants went to a coverage he could successfully attack.

“He has a real mature approach, a real calm approach, and he’s a really fiery guy. He’s a great competitor and for him to balance those things throughout the game and wait for his opportunities is really impressive.”
IRVING, Texas -- Tight end James Hanna has played 135 snaps, starting six of seven games this season.

He has yet to catch a pass.

Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.

Hanna
Hanna spends much of his playing time as a blocking tight end, which should probably be considered impressive considering he’s just 249 pounds. By contrast, Jason Witten is 265 pounds.

“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.

“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”

One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.

But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.

“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.

“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has adjusted his practice schedule. Whether that was a result of cornerback Cary Williams' comments earlier this season or something Kelly already had planned, however, remains unclear.

Williams
Practices are closed to the media, so there’s no way to gauge the exact changes.

Williams revealed the schedule change while talking to reporters at his locker Tuesday afternoon. Last month, after the Eagles’ home win against Washington, Williams said Kelly’s uptempo practices were like playing a couple games during the week. Players were fatigued by Sunday, Williams said. Kelly called Williams in for a meeting the next day.

“We shortened a couple days,” Williams said, according to Birds 24/7. “We've taken a couple portions out of practice on both days. We've got a different schedule. We practice three days a week really, and everything else is a walk-through, tempo type thing. He's shortened some of those down.”

According to Kelly’s coordinators, the head coach constantly evaluates where the players are in terms of fitness and preparation and adjusts his practice schedule accordingly.

“As you get toward the middle of the season, we make slight adjustments,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “What we do is very dynamic. Certainly, we listen to what the players are saying. What they’re saying is important to us. But we have a plan, as we go forward, how much work we’re going to get done each week.”

“I haven’t seen a problem since Day 1, Week 1," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Chip is doing what Chip always does. He reads the information. He gets the feedback from every player, from all the data he gets from all the sports-science things we do. And he adjusts daily, weekly. We’re always moving the target to make sure that the players are at the optimal spot on Sunday. I don’t think he’s missed the mark yet this year.”

Whether it was Williams’ words or the fourth-quarter collapse that almost cost the Eagles against the Rams, Kelly’s adjustments helped the team maintain its focus through the 27-0 shutout of the Giants.

"Physically, I definitely feel a change,” Williams said. “I think a lot of guys feel the same way. Chip is definitely understanding that, he understood that, and he came out and said that is probably the reason why we came out and did what we did and played at a high level (against the Giants).”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- "Where did Larry Donnell come from?" is one of the big early questions of this New York Giants season, and the answer defies simple explanation.

Donnell was on the team last year in a reserve role -- a special-teams player who was working to develop as an offensive asset at tight end. He was a basketball player early in life and a quarterback when he arrived at Grambling for college, so tight end was new to him and he had to learn it. He's still learning it.

"One of the big things is his confidence level," Giants tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride said Tuesday. "He didn't play with a level of confidence last year that he's now playing with in the passing game, certainly, and that he's starting to develop in the run game, as well."

[+] EnlargeLarry Donnell
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsLarry Donnell made three receptions as a Giants rookie. This season, he already has 33 catches for 332 yards and four red zone touchdowns.
That's a word -- "develop" -- that gets tossed around and often ignored in today's hyper-impatient NFL. We hear so much about how precious those 53-man roster spots are that we forget that some of them are occupied by players who aren't ready yet to make major contributions. Every roster has at least a handful of developmental players -- guys who aren't yet ready to start or even be active on Sundays but who've shown at least some inkling of promise that makes it worth the team's time to keep working with them throughout the week.

Donnell was such a player last year. Heck, he was such a player as recently as August. In many ways, he's still such a player. But he's better, for example, at getting open now than he was a year ago or even a few months ago, and the Giants' coaching staff can get really specific if you want to know how.

"One specific is a release off the line of scrimmage where a linebacker has inside leverage and he's going to try to collision you," Gilbride said. "In the past, what Larry would do is just try to bow around the defender, and that's not a good thing. What the defender does at that point is, he collisions you and widens you outside of where we want you to be. It muddies the picture, the whole picture for the quarterback.

"And what [Donnell] has done is, he's taken the coaching point of, if the defender takes that approach, attack to his inside leverage and then be violent with that defender. Don't try to bow around him. And you'll see, as you see him running routes, he'll take his single hand and swipe down and he slips right by defenders. And that puts defenders in an adverse situation and gets him an opportunity to get down the field."

That's one example. "One of many," Gilbride said. But it didn't happen overnight. Donnell's improvement is an example of slow, persistent work and development -- a player who understands the value of learning and practicing things with which he's not automatically comfortable.

"It doesn't necessarily just 'click.' You have to do it," Gilbride said. "And that's what he's done. Instead of continuing to take his bad habits and bang his head against the wall because it's not working ... he tries to put it into practice. And when you attempt to put it into practice and then you have some success with it, then moving forward, you like to keep that approach."

Donnell is still just 25 years old, and in spite of the obvious gains he's made as a player, he remains obviously inconsistent. Three touchdown catches one week, no catches at all the next. Two fumbles this past week in a close game in Dallas. Some weeks he's a good run-blocker, other weeks he gets overrun in the run game. That's his next frontier, and it's an important one.

"Finishing blocks with effort and strength in his hands," Gilbride said, "that's another area that still does need to continue to improve. But when he does play that way with confidence, he does well."

Donnell is still developing, so the gains are interspersed with setbacks and struggles. The encouraging thing for the Giants is that Donnell is an eager and willing student, and the successes this year are proof that his hard work and open-mindedness to teaching can pay off. That makes them believe the development will continue, and that he'll continue to get better. And as the Giants work this year to incorporate all of their new, young faces into their new offense, they need as many guys like that as possible.
IRVING, Texas – After the first seven games of Barry Church’s rookie year, the Dallas Cowboys were 1-6 and on their way to 1-7.

Wade Phillips was fired at the midway point of that season, replaced by Jason Garrett, and the Cowboys finished 6-10.

Seven games into Church’s fifth season, the Cowboys are 6-1 and hold the best record in the NFL. Before this stretch, the best Church experienced was 7-4 in 2011.

[+] EnlargeTerrell McClain
AP Photo/David SeeligTerrell McClain lost 14 consecutive games with the Texans last season. He sees a lot of passion among the Cowboys in 2014.
“I’ve never been 6-1, so I would say it feels amazing to me,” Church said in the locker room after the Cowboys beat the New York Giants. “We’ve just got to keep it going one at a time and hopefully make ti 10-1, 11-1. But just keep it one at a time.”

The Cowboys are enjoying this ride even if they are not smelling the roses, as owner and general manager Jerry Jones said last week. They are enjoying it but not reveling in it. Garrett’s “process” has won out. Bu the players also know how quickly things can change.

Last year, Terrell McClain was with the Houston Texans. They started out 2-0 and lost their final 14 games. They changed coaches, firing Gary Kubiak and hiring Phillips as the interim.

“In Houston what happened with us was we started blaming the wrong people,” McClain said. “We wasn’t staying together trying to overcome things. What I see with this team is there’s something magical. We get down but we come in at halftime, go over the corrections, put it behind us and move on and go to the next snap and find a way to come back. Everybody’s got the fight in them. It’s passionate. Everybody is passionate about winning and we’ve got a good thing going right now.”

The Cowboys are not looking at their recent play as a six-game winning streak. It’s more like six separate wins. They'll go for a seventh on Monday against the Washington Redskins.

“We have some guys who’ve been here when Dallas has been winning and I’ve been on winning teams,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said, “and you go to understand you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t look too far. We’ve got to focus on doing our job, always staying the same. It’s hard to stay the same in this league, but you’ve got to stay the same, got to be mentally tough and be ready for games and have no letdown.”

As much as Church is enjoying 6-1, he remembers what 1-6 felt like.

“We’re going to put our hearts into the game,” Church said, “and hopefully our fans will trust that and come out and support us each and every week.”

Five questions facing the Redskins

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
11:30
AM ET
video
Here are five questions facing the Washington Redskins entering Week 8 at Dallas:
  1. Who will play quarterback? It still appears as if Colt McCoy will be the guy, barring Robert Griffin III looking more ready than anticipated. So we're going to assume it's McCoy. Now the question becomes, what does that mean for the offense? A lot of short passes: 71.2 percent of his career throws have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But if Dallas crowds the line too much, then McCoy showed last week he can throw accurate downfield to DeSean Jackson.
  2. How will the defense fare minus Brian Orakpo? We all know he wasn't having a Pro Bowl season rushing the passer, but he was still a solid player in other areas and he still applied some pressure; he just didn't get home, which is what he needed to do. So replacing him is more than just from a pass-rush standpoint. Rookie Trent Murphy has a ways to go before he can be considered a solid all-around linebacker; most of his job has been rushing the passer in a nickel set. I do wonder, though, how he'll fare in this area when he has a chance to play a lot. Murphy is not going to wow anyone with explosion. This will provide him that opportunity. But Murphy also has to prove he can play the run and do well in coverage. Dallas will test him.
  3. Can they build on last week's win? The problem is, it's not as if the Redskins played well. They made mistakes that, against a better team, would have cost them the game -- offside on fourth and 5; turnovers, etc. Sunday looked like two struggling teams playing a game someone had to win. But a win certainly eases tension for a week and sometimes, to use a baseball analogy, you just need a bloop single to emerge from a slump. But they appeared like a team that still had a ways to go.
  4. Can the run game get going this week? To think the run game is the fault of Griffin's absence is just wrong. It's going to take more than a running threat at quarterback to change this area -- and it's not like he was a threat when they were in I-formation in the past, yet they ran well. Griffin's return will at times hold the backside end from pursuit, but the blocking has to improve. His return won't change interior pressure in the run game. At times I wonder if the run game is more predictable; if that happens, then you better have dominant blockers. Washington does not. I'm surprised, and disappointed, by what has transpired in this area. It's on many, including the running back. Also, the Redskins have faced three teams ranked in the top 10 in yards per carry (Seattle, Arizona and Jacksonville). In the next nine games, Washington plays six games against teams that currently rank 23rd or worse in yards per carry -- and none in the top 10.
  5. Can they slow the Dallas offense? The Cowboys have scored 30 or more points in four of the past five games. They have a top-10 quarterback (Tony Romo), the NFL's leading rusher (DeMarco Murray) -- by nearly 300 yards -- and one of the best receivers (Dez Bryant). And they're playing behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines; it's not a group that succeeds by scheme, it's a group that makes a scheme look good. There's a difference. Finally, in the past four games Dallas has averaged 6.39 yards per play (No. 4 in the NFL during that time, one spot ahead of Washington) and 431.2 yards (also fourth, 14 spots ahead of Washington). The Redskins' defense has actually played better than given credit for, though it gets obscured by big plays allowed thanks to breakdowns and no game-changing plays. The hard part will be a secondary with weak safety play and young corners will be tested quite often. Also, the Redskins' offense must do better: This is where the talent supposedly is, yet the Redskins have failed to score more than 20 points in five of their seven games. Again, it's not just about Griffin's absence.
IRVING, Texas -- After the first training camp practice, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sat on the back side of a television set and said something that was eyebrow-raising just for the timing of it.

"I feel personally like I've just started to come into the player that I wanted to be six, seven years ago," Romo said then. "I think -- and I've said it before -- but I think over the course of the next four or five years, you'll see the best version of me that I've had throughout my career.”

He had just one full practice after December back surgery. He turned 34 in April. He already had started 108 games for the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo has benefited from a more balanced offensive attack.
In his seven-plus seasons as the Cowboys' starter, Romo put up staggering numbers. He became the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdowns, 3,000-yard seasons, 300-yard games and quarterback rating. He played in three Pro Bowls. He won more than he lost, although since 2010 his record was 25-28 entering this season.

The narrative was set in stone: He could compile stats, but he would make too many mistakes to keep a team from winning big.

But here he was in Oxnard, California, on July 25 saying the best version of himself will come out in the next four or five years at an age when quarterbacks -- at least those not named Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- start to slow at least a little.

After so much time, he was who he was.

Or so everybody thought.

After Romo completed 17 of 23 passes for 279 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against the New York Giants, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that could have been Romo’s best game.

An ESPN Dallas Hot Button question last week asked if this was the best season Romo has had. Fifty-eight percent of those who responded said yes.

Coach Jason Garrett has seen all but 10 of Romo’s starts for the Cowboys. He would never list Romo’s best games in order, but the quarterback’s performance against the Giants was impressive.

“His pocket presence was outstanding, his efficiency and his playmaking ability in the red zone, cashing in on drives was really something else, got everybody involved,” Garrett said. “I thought he did a really good job of seeing the defense and seeing what they were trying to do and throwing to the right guy. Dez [Bryant] got a lot of attention throughout the game. [Jason] Witten got a lot of attention throughout the game. So some of the complementary players had some opportunities and he gave them chances to make plays and they certainly took advantage of them.”

Romo leads the NFL in completion percentage (69.2). He is fourth in quarterback rating (104.7). He is fourth in yards per attempt (8.4). He is fifth in touchdowns (14). He is 10th in yards (1,789).

For years the Cowboys' offense has been solely about Romo. Now it’s about the running game and balance -- and Romo. Garrett said there is less of a burden on Romo this year than in the past. Romo did not like that word, nor did he like it when he was asked if his job is easier this year.

“It’s never easy,” Romo said. “I think playing quarterback in the National Football League is always a fun grind that you continually know when you let up, you can be exposed. I don’t think that’s the term I would use, but I do think anytime you have a running game, it’s going to benefit everybody.”

But the change in offensive style has been good for Romo and has allowed him to play the best football of his career.

So maybe his statement last July will prove to be correct.
New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason was in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday to once again see foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson about his persistent toe injury. In a radio interview Tuesday, Beason said a determination would be made Wednesday about whether to finally have season-ending surgery to repair the injury, which cost him all of training camp, three full games already this season and the second half of Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Beason
"It's gotten progressively worse over the last couple of games," Beason said on WFAN radio in New York. "Right now I'd say it's 50-50. I'm still deciding if the smart thing is to go ahead and get it fixed and get ready for next season."

Beason injured his toe in the spring and sat out all of training camp with the injury. He aggravated it in Week 2 and missed three games in a row (all of which, he jokingly pointed out last week, the Giants won) before returning in Week 6 in Philadelphia. He aggravated it again Sunday, prompting the latest doctor visit.

When Beason has not been on the field, Jameel McClain has moved to middle linebacker to replace him and either Devon Kennard or Mark Herzlich has replaced McClain as the strongside linebacker. The Giants have at least five defensive backs on the field enough, however, that they usually only need two linebackers on the field.

Still, they made re-signing Beason a priority in the offseason due to the effect his play and leadership at middle linebacker had on them after they acquired him in a trade in 2013. So their strong preference would be to have him healthy and available for the rest of the season. They may find out Wednesday that they don't.
IRVING, Texas -- Rolando McClain has received a lot of deserved praise for what he has meant to the vast improvement of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, but it is the work of a holdover from last year's defense that has made similar significant contributions to the success.

Durant
According to the coaches' breakdowns, Justin Durant leads the Cowboys with 51 tackles, one more than McClain. He has one tackle for loss, two quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

The only defensive category he hasn't filled yet is a sack.

"I think he's playing and he's playing pretty darn well," coach Jason Garrett said. "One of the evaluations we made in the offseason you go back and look at guys and you have kind of a reel for each player. And if you look at his reel, it's pretty darn good. He was dealing with some injuries at different times last year, so I don't know if he ever got in a great rhythm in the defense. But when you go play by play and see how he played last year, he did a really nice job for us. We were certainly hopeful about his progress in this defense and I think he's done a really good job emerging as a defensive leader in Sean Lee's absence."

Durant was originally pegged to replace Lee as the middle linebacker, but then McClain was too good to keep off the field. He played strong-side linebacker mostly last year, subbing for Lee in the middle at New Orleans once, but the Cowboys moved him to the weak-side late in the preseason and he has flourished.

"I think it's definitely up there," Durant said when asked if this is the best start to a season he has had. "But it's always room for improvement. I've definitely been around the ball more than I've been in the past as far as getting difference-making plays (like) turnovers. Definitely more than in the past. I've got to give credit to the coaches for allowing me to play the way I play. We depend on each other to be successful on our own. We've got to be thankful for everybody."

Durant played in only 10 games (six starts) last year before injuries cut short his season. He was credited with 30 tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. He has 21 more tackles in five games this season, having missed two contests with a groin injury.

Durant's play in the offseason and training camp earned him a vote by his teammates as defensive captain, which also raised his level of play.

"When the guys voted me as captain on the team, I just still can't believe to this day that they believed in me that much," Durant said. "I think it's part of my job to go out there and show them why they voted me captain. I try to play every play like it's my last. I'm not really a big talker, so I try to lead by example as much as I can."

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