Tag:Miles Austin
Posted on: December 29, 2011 11:06 am
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Cowboys preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


An NFC East championship game in primetime – no further introduction needed. Here’s the breakdown.

1. Reviewing Week 14
These teams gave us a classic Sunday night showdown just a few weeks ago. That contest was defined by mistakes more than anything. Tony Romo posted good numbers but missed a few throws that would have changed the outcome. His only completion to Dez Bryant was a 50-yard touchdown against a blown coverage.

The Cowboys defense blew several coverages of its own, leading to a 400-yard night for Eli Manning and prompting Rob Ryan later to scale back the complexity of his scheme in 2:00 type situations. Big-time throws against poor pass defense was why a game that was 34-22 Cowboys with under 6:00 to play wound up being 37-34 Giants.

2. The star quarterbacks in big games
The common perception is that Eli Manning is a big game riser and Tony Romo is a big game faller. The Week 14 battle only reaffirmed this; Manning was absolutely magnificent on the final two touchdown drives, fitting balls into tight windows and, as he’d been doing all night, quickly diagnosing and dissecting the Cowboys’ Byzantine blitzes. Romo, on the other hand, missed a third-and-five throw to Miles Austin with 2:25 remaining that would have sealed the win.

That throw came against an all-out, Cover 0 blitz. In the past, Romo’s inability to recognize blitzes before and after the snap often led to his blunders. Those issues, however, have been largely corrected this season. And yet, because of what happened against the Jets in Week 1, and because of the interception-riddled second half meltdown against the Lions in Week 4, Romo’s reputation remains that of a choker.

That’s mostly an unfair and overly simplistic characterization of a quality veteran. If not for the botched field goal hold at Seattle in the ’06 wild card loss – a play that had nothing to do with quarterbacking skills – Romo almost certainly wouldn’t be thought of as a late-game anything.
 
That said, Romo has indeed made some mistakes in critical moments. Most of those have been due to defenses confounding him with false looks. The broadcast viewers might tie this to Romo feeling stressed in crunch time; the film viewers tie it back to Romo’s mediocrity at reading defenses before the snap. When you’re a sandlot player, you’re reactionary. A reactionary player is much easier to trick – especially late in games after he’s gotten comfortable reacting to certain looks the same way.

This same concept applies in the other direction with Manning. He’s a splendid field general, audibling at the line of scrimmage, running the no-huddle offense and trusting his eyes and underrated arm strength in the face of pressure. While reactive quarterbacking is prone to defensive manipulation late in games, proactive quarterbacking is apt for defensive manipulation. You change your defensive looks and play aggressively to bait a reactionary quarterback into a mistake. Against a proactive quarterback, you change your looks and play aggressively so that he doesn’t bait you into a mistake.

The relevance of this sexy “big moment quarterbacking” storyline is debatable. As stated before, Romo has improved his mental approach to the game. And just because Manning has been great in crunch time doesn’t mean he’s unstoppable (especially given how up-and-down his receivers have been).

Dez needs to work on his disappearing act. (Getty Images)

3. Pass games
It’s been far too easy for defenses to take away Dez Bryant this season. The Giants had no trouble doing this with Corey Webster a few weeks ago. They also took away Jason Witten by smacking him with a defensive end or linebacker as he came off the line. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys split Witten to the slot to prevent this from happening again.

Also, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys line up in three receiver sets to force the Giants into their nickel D. That nickel D has been poor in coverage the past few weeks, mainly because of Prince Amukamara. The first-round rookie has since been benched, with safety Antrel Rolle moving back to slot corner. The Cowboys should eagerly test Rolle with either Miles Austin or Laurent Robinson, both excellent route runners.

4. Run games
The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray for the season in their last meeting with the Giants. Felix Jones showed his uncanny burst and acceleration in the lone game of consequence since then (Week 15 at Tampa Bay), but that was against the worst run defense in football.

It remains to be seen whether the Cowboys can sustain on the ground against a quality opponent. Expect them to try to establish the run, especially if the Giants play their three-safety nickel defense against base offensive personnel (something they did a bit against the Jets). Jones’ might also run out of three-receiver sets against that nickel D, as that’s a good way to take advantage of his proficiency on draws.

New York’s run game remains unimpressive, though there were a few signs of life last week. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw both ran with power after averaging barely one yard per carry after contact against the Redskins in Week 15. David Baas is back at center after missing several weeks with migraines. Baas has been below average overall this season but at least offers a tad more short-area mobility than backup Kevin Boothe.

5. Up tempo?
The Meadowlands crowd will be in full throat – especially early. The Cowboys may want to go no-huddle to quell the crowd and dictate the flow.

A quick tempo can also be a good way to calm a pass-rush, which is critical when facing Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and, perhaps, Osi Umenyiora. And the less time the Giants defense has between snaps, the harder it will be for them to change their coverages, which coordinator Perry Fewell likes to do.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 17 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 7, 2011 10:43 am
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:05 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


A hallmark rivalry renews Sunday night with the first of a two-game series between the Cowboys and Giants that will likely decide the NFC East. We’ve recently grown familiar with the Giants as they’ve spent the past few weeks on football’s center stage (Patriots-Eagles-Saints-Packers!).

In examining whether they can break their slump and get back above .500, we take an in-depth look at how they match up with this week’s familiar foe.


1. Stopping DeMarco Murray
New York’s most valuable contributor Sunday night might just be Jason Garrett. The Cowboys’ play-caller unwisely drifted away from Murray in the second half against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving, and he all but abandoned Murray against the Cardinals last week (12 carries, just seven after the first quarter).

Garrett’s pass-first decision at Arizona was likely in response to the aggression of the Cardinals linebackers. They recklessly attacked downhill much of the game, often as part of designed blitzes. Garrett may have felt that passing against an iffy and over-leveraged Cardinals secondary was the best response.

That said, Garrett can’t simply let Murray become an afterthought. The rookie running back has been the stabilizing force of the Cowboys’ offense. In recent weeks, the Cowboys’ front line has played with enough power in the ground game that, with the help of fluid H-back John Phillips, it’s realistic to think they could push the pile against aggressive linebacking. Even if they couldn’t, Garrett could still feature his young back in the passing game. Murray has soft hands and is smart in protection. Screen passes are a great way to punish fast downhill linebackers.
 
Expect the Giants to attack with their second level defenders much in the same way the Cardinals did. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell knows that this might make Garrett one-dimensional in his play-calling. What’s more, the way to contain Murray is to make him go east and west early in the run. He has decent lateral agility and change-of-direction but only if he’s already built momentum.

By shooting the gaps, the Giants will push Murray to the perimeter, where he’s less dangerous. If the Giants continue to operate out of their big nickel package (two linebackers, three safeties), they’ll have enough speed on the field to chase the outside runs.

2. Cowboys passing game
Shooting the gaps against Murray will leave New York more susceptible to play-action passing and one-on-one matchups downfield. That’s a risk the Giants should be willing to take. They have a quasi-shutdown corner in Corey Webster.

They likely believe they can cover Jason Witten with one of their three safeties, or even with athletic linebacker Jacquian Williams. Williams was matched one-on-one against Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley the past two weeks. He was defeated in both matchups, but the Giants may be inclined to trust him again this week. Witten is elite, but he’s a prototypical tight end, not an insanely athletic hybrid wideout like Graham or Finley.

The Cowboys’ passing attack is interesting. Early in the season, it flowed through Witten. A few weeks ago, most noticeably on Thanksgiving, it was flowing through Laurent Robinson (a graceful, long-striding, deceptively fast street free agent who has blossomed now that he’s finally stayed healthy). Last week, it flowed through Dez Bryant, even though Bryant was defended by rising star Patrick Peterson. And keep in mind, last season, the passing attack flowed through Miles Austin, who may return this week from his hamstring injury.

In Dallas’ system, the go-to target is often determined by whom Tony Romo feels most comfortable with. Romo’s comfort may be influenced by the rhythm of the game. When things are grinding, Witten’s the guy. When everything flows, it’s Robinson. When it’s a sporadic, sandlot type game, he likes Bryant. The Giants will have studied the Cowboys’ offense all week. Whom they decide to put No. 1 corner Webster on will tell you who THEY think Romo likes most.

3. Tyron Smith
The first-round rookie right tackle from USC has been better than advertised, showing improvement with every start. Smith, the youngest player in the NFL, has uncommonly light feet for 310-pounder. He’s dripping with athleticism, which is evident when he lands blocks off short-area movement in the run game. His technique continues to be a work in progress – he was exploited by wily defenders early in the season and had a tough time against Cameron Wake two games ago – but it’s much better at this point than most expected.

That said, there may not be a worse player to face in a war of fundamentals than Justin Tuck. The seventh-year veteran has had a down season, but he’s still one of the craftiest – if not THE craftiest – ends in football.

If the Giants cared about our viewing entertainment, they’d move Tuck to the defensive right side and let Jason Pierre-Paul, the most dynamic young athlete playing defensive end today, go mano-a-mano against Smith.

4. Rob Ryan’s pass-rush tactics
Rob Ryan’s primary focus is on creating one-on-one situations for DeMarcus Ware. The league’s most prolific sack artist over the last five years almost always aligns on the open side of the offensive formation (i.e. away from the tight end).

To help ensure more one-on-ones for Ware – and to simply generate as much pressure as possible – Ryan walks safeties down into the box (Abe Elam’s physical strength is a plus for this), uses fire-X blitzes with his inside linebackers (where the left linebacker attacks the right A-gap and the right linebacker attacks the left A-gap) and often brings cornerback Orlando Scandrick off the edge from the slot (Scandrick is an excellent blitzer).

Ryan may want to be a bit cautious this week. Eli Manning is superb at identifying blitzes and audibling. Plus, it was on a double A-gap blitz that Ryan got outsmarted by Ken Whisenhunt with a screen pass for LaRod Stephens-Howling on the overtime touchdown last week. Ahmad Bradshaw is very good in the screen game.



5. Defending Cruz
Over the years, the Giants have had a field day going after Orlando Scandrick with slot receiver Steve Smith. Scandrick has drastically improved all-around in his third season. But the Giants also have a more dynamic slot weapon in surprising 1,000-yard receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz has big, ball-plucking hands and sinewy body control that allow him to make late adjustments to the ball. His powerful elusiveness after the catch makes him a threat to score on any play.

If Scandrick is blitzing or outside, the Cowboys are more likely to play a zone or some sort of off-coverage in the slot. The Cardinals had their outside and slot receivers align tight to one another last week, which the Cowboys defended by playing off-coverage inside. That left easy eight-yard completions on the table. Manning will gladly take those if given the opportunity.

The Cowboys may defend the seam with safety help – which could keep Cruz, as well as surprising downfield producer Jake Ballard, in-check. In that case, Scandrick would be an underneath defender, where he’s most comfortable. The cost here is that this safety help would either water down some of the blitz designs or leave one-on-one coverage against Hakeem Nicks outside.

Rob Ryan’s best bet might be to mix and match with disguise, in hopes of setting up a Manning turnover.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 12:24 pm
 

Report: Austin out 2-4 weeks, Dez done on punts?

Posted by Will Brinson

Dallas rolled over Seattle 23-13 on Sunday, but everything wasn't all roses for the Cowboys, as wide receiver Miles Austin suffered a(nother) hamstring injury. Austin injured his left hamstring in Week 2 and hurt the right one during the third quarter on Sunday.

According to a report from Fox Sports Southwest's Matt Mosely, Austin will miss two to four weeks with the hamstring injury, which sounds about right given Austin's not-quite-optimistic comments on Sunday.

"I don’t know which [injury] is worse," Austin said via our Cowboys Rapid Reporter Nick Eatman. "This one hurts pretty bad, but it’s higher on my leg. Hopefully it’s just a strain and I can get back soon."

Austin's struggled with the injury this year, and has just 28 catches and 403 receiving yards in six games, though he does have four touchdowns. On the heels of two-straight years playing all 16 games and topping 1,000 yards in each season, that has to be considered a disappointment for Dallas and Austin.

Week 9 Review

More disappointing will be if Austin misses the high end of the reported timeline; it'll mean Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant have to step up in a big way.

Which may mean that Bryant stops returning kicks for Dallas -- Jerry Jones expressed concern that Bryant, who's also dealt with injuries this year, expressed concern with Dez returning punts for Dallas while the depth chart was so thinned out.

"I'm still concerned when we had him back there about his injury, especially now that Miles may be, or may not be, out a couple of games," Jones said, via FSS. "I don't know."

Just like the last time Jones spoke up about in-game Cowboys decision-making, Jason Garrett would be wise to heed the words of his boss. Of course, if Austin misses multiple games with the hamstring injury, it probably shouldn't require to make a common-sense point like that anyway.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 14, 2011 11:50 pm
 

Rob Ryan has no comment on Wes Welker's skill

Posted by Will Brinson

In the week before Dallas played Detroit, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan famously ordered up a plate full of crow when he decided to declare that Dez Bryant and Miles Austin were better than Lions wideout Calvin Johnson. This crow was mainly served when Megatron caught a game-winning touchdown in single coverage.

So, naturally, Ryan was asked about the NFL's leading receiver Wes Welker, whom he's charged with stopping when Dallas heads to New England this weekend. And, surprisingly, Ryan had nothing to say.

"I’m afraid to comment on wideouts," Ryan joked Friday according to Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Apparently, I don’t know anything."

That's not entirely accurate. After all, Ryan's done a pretty damn good job with the Cowboys defense this year. Dallas ranks fourth overall in yards allowed, first in rushing yards allowed, 14th in passing yards allowed, although the Cowboys are giving up 25.2 points per game, 23rd in the league.

And I suppose the Welker matchup is a different animal than the Megatron matchup. That's not to denigrate Welker's ability, because he's certainly shown this year that he's not just a between-the-hashmarks wideout. He's been fantastic, and his leading the NFL in receiving yards isn't a fluke.

Still, it's smart of Ryan to keep quiet on this one, even if it's in a joking manner.

And it means he's learned a pretty good lesson here: don't give opposing wide receivers free motivation to try and torch your defense. Especially when they're better than the guys on your roster.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 12:43 am
Edited on: October 3, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 4


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter.Make sure and listen to our Week 4 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.



1. The bandwagon rolls on
On Sunday, the mojo disappeared for the Lions and they fell 24 points behind the Cowboys in Dallas, until Tony Romo decided to drag Detroit back from a lockjob of a defeat with a pair of pick-sixes that sparked a rally in which Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for two touchdowns and the Lions stunned Dallas 34-30 at Jerry Jones' palatial estate.

There are two ways to look at this. One, Romo is a choker again (more on that in a second) and Dallas stinks. Or, two, the Lions are very much for real. I'm inclined to believe the second narrative. So is Cowboys fan LeBron James.


I'm including this mainly because I find it absolutely hysterical that Ohio native James is a Cowboys fan. I'm sure it has nothing to do with bandwagons. But I'm also including it because James is right -- the Lions do "got swag right now."

This was mentioned after Week 2, when the Lions slammed a beatdown on the Chiefs, and it makes sense to mention now.

That's primarily because the Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980 and became the fourth team to start a season 4-0 a year after starting the season 0-4 since 1990. (The impressive nature of that turnaround aside, what a statement on the NFL's parity, huh?)

Take it back even further, and count preseason games and the Lions are on a 12-game winning streak, and once, again, appear to develop some of this attitude from their head coach.

"I'm glad the third best wide receiver on the Cowboys is on our team," Jim Schwartz said after the game.

Naturally you'll recall that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had some comments about the skills of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin versus Calvin Johnson before the game.

Schwartz' comments are a straight burn, of course, but it warrants mentioning that Dez did look otherworldly earlier in the game. But Megatron did some dirty things on his two touchdowns to the Dallas defensive backs. On the first catch, he went up in triple coverage and grabbed a ball that probably never should have been a score.

And on the second -- and most important -- score, Johnson scored when he was isolated in single coverage against Terrence Newman. Based on Ryan's theory, Newman's practice against Bryant and Austin should have prepared him for a one-on-one matchup at the goalline.

Unfortunately, Megatron's the biggest freak of nature in the NFL, arguably the best wideout in the league and slicing up some well-deserved humble pie for Ryan after the Lebowski look-a-like tried to put him in man coverage.

2. Hands on Necks
Obviously the Cowboys loss is going to be classified as a chokejob. And it should -- there's no way to classify it as anything other than that, especially when Romo packaged a pair of touchdowns and mailed it the Lions way.

"The games turn, obviously, on turnovers," Romo said. "It's the most important stat in the game. That's why you protect the ball. That's my No. 1 job and I didn't do a well enough job of that today."

The weird thing about the loss is that Dallas is now 2-0 in games where they were "gritty and tough and found a way to win" and 0-2 in games where "Romo peed his pants and threw terrible picks." Or something like that.

The point is that, yes, the Cowboys choked, but it wasn't even the worst choke on Sunday. And perhaps only the third worst -- Dallas was at least playing a very dangerous team in the Lions and even if the game was at home, we've seen Detroit do this before.

There's no real excuse for Buffalo, who was leading 21-3 against the Bengals on Sunday, to lose on a last-second field goal by Mike Nugent. Sure, it was in Cincy and, sure, it was the Bills and we should have seen something coming after buying in so heavily. But losing like that to a Bengals team with a rookie quarterback is just bad news Bears.

And yet it wasn't even the most embarrassing choke of the day. The Eagles deserve some, um, credit for their inability to hold off the 49ers in a home game where they led 23-3 as late as midway through the third quarter.

The Bills and Cowboys can at least hang their respective hats on records that aren't below .500. The Eagles have no such excuse and it's becoming increasingly clear why "offseason winners" isn't always such a nice thing to say about teams in the NFL.



3. Super Bowl champs remain under the radar

Thus far, the Packers have beaten the Saints, the Panthers, the Bears and the Broncos. It's not exactly a murderer's row of great NFL teams, but it's not the four-worst teams in the league either.

And they've looked outstanding on offense, compiling a league-high 148 points en route to a 4-0 record, and giving plenty of folks justification for selecting the Packers to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2011.

Yet ... no one wants to talk about the success they've had this year.

This is partially because of the other storylines that are permeating the NFL this season, and partially because after last season's late run, we've come to expect this out of Aaron Rodgers and his outstanding teammates.

"Trust me, we don't have it all figured out as a football team," Mike McCarthy said Sunday. "We're 4-0, but we're very in tune with what we need to improve as a team."

The biggest issue is defense, clearly. While the Packers have arguably improved their running game from last year (James Starks looks like a legit back for their system, especially when it comes to melting the clock with a lead), the defense isn't the championship-winning caliber that showed up in the playoffs last year.

Both Kyle Orton and Cam Newton posted big numbers against Green Bay, and though there were some fantastic moments from the defenses in those games, it's difficult to justify any claim that the Packers defense is better this year than it was last year.

Having said all that, this team did a pretty good job of gelling at the right time last year, and they're off to a much better start in 2011. We should all take notice.

4. Hope you sick people are happy now
2011 has been a tough go for anyone who supports Arian Foster, whether it be Texans fans, fantasy owners or just, you now, nice people who care about other humans.

Fortunately, those people got some good karmic returns for their Foster love on Sunday, as he and the Texans took some punches from the Steelers and punched right back, eventually beating Pittsburgh 17-10 on Sunday afternoon. As my man Mike Freeman points out, everything about the win at Reliant Stadium on Sunday goes against the typical stereotype of Texans football.

More on that in a second, but first, Foster. When Gary Kubiak said he was going to bring Foster back against the Steelers, I thought he was insane. After all, the Steelers are (well, were) a top-10 rushing defense.

But Foster looked fantastic. He broke long runs, he showed tremendous burst through holes, when he got around the corner he was able to cut back upfield and pick up big yards and in general he looked like the 2010 version of himself.

"I go into every contest thinking that I'm the go-to guy," Foster said. "When the flow of the game starts going, we need certain things, and you've got to be there for your team."

Hamstrings are tricky, of course, and there's no guarantee that Foster's going to roll to another rushing title or anything. Plus, the Texans offense sputtered a bit (OK, a lot) after Andre Johnson left with a hamstring injury that really looked like a knee injury in the second quarter and that could be problematic going forward.

But at least for now, there's reason to think that the Texans offense can hop back up on Foster's back and ride him to a division title.



5. Sunday night monstrosity
The Ravens opened up on fire to begin the Sunday night game against the Jets, jumping out to a 27-7 lead before eventually winning handily. But, um, well, you see ... that was ugly.

Real ugly -- Joe Flacco limped his way to a 10 for 31 performance that generated 163 passing yards and an interception.

It would have been the ugliest performance on the field, but Mark Sanchez took full advantage of Nick Mangold's absence, and fumbled four times, three of which were lost, two of which were taken to the house by Ravens defenders and also threw a pick-six.

Things got so bad that, at one point, Rex Ryan called a timeout just to scream at the officials. It actually seemed to work, or it at least confused the Ravens and Cam Cameron, who took a 20-point lead with just a few minutes remaining in the second quarter and desperately tried to let the Jets back in the game.

That didn't matter, but it didn't make the performance of Sanchez, Flacco and their respective teams any worse or weirder. There were five defensive and special teams touchdowns in total during the game, most in NFL history and Sanchez' final pass (he finished 11 of 35, ugh) went off the heel of a defender.

What perplexes me isn't the Jets struggling, because, frankly, they were kind of due to regress a bit. I'm sure they'll start getting better, and they might start stopping the run (although I'm sure Cameron won't figure that out!) and running the ball better. They almost always do, just in time to claw their way into the playoffs.

The bigger concern is how the Ravens came out in Week 4, continuing the metronome-like performance for Flacco through a few weeks. At times (against the Steelers and the Rams) he's looked like an elite-level quarterback. And at others (Sunday and against the Titans), he's looked absolutely lost.

If he wants to truly "make the jump," he's going to need to find some consistency.

6. Goin' out east
There was no shortage of different predictions for the team that would win the NFC West. Well, except for the Seahawks. No one predicted that. The typical favorites were the Rams and Cardinals, mainly because of their quarterback play.

The 49ers should have gotten more love, but Alex Smith held them back, and Jim Harbaugh, in his first stop as an NFL head coach, is showing exactly why. His team managed to storm back against the Eagles on Sunday and move into first place in their division, with a firm command of the typically crappy NFC West.

San Francisco's 3-1, the Rams are 0-4 and the Seahawks and Cardinals are 1-3.

None of the teams out there have, unsurprisingly, looked very good. And the 49ers are the only squad with a positive point differential, which should tell you just how bad this division is. Again. But maybe Harbaugh is the difference -- look no further than his decision to house his team in Ohio for half a week in between their Week 3 game against the Bengals and Sunday's win in Philadelphia.

"Thanks Youngstown, you've been good to us," Harbaugh said in deference to Ohio. "That's as good a win as I can ever remember being a part of. I'm really proud of our players. They never flinched in a tough environment here, and there was no moment or circumstance that made them nervous in this ballgame. We kept fighting, made adjustments -- a great team victory for us."

Frank Gore gashed the Eagles for 127 yards, and Alex Smith played pretty inspired football, going 13 of 17 for 201 yards and two touchdowns in just the second half.

It's a surprising turnaround for a surprising team that stunk the joint out last year. Given the dearth of talent for Seattle, Arizona's inability to close out, and St. Louis' rough schedule ahead, Harbaugh might have this team -- surprisingly -- poised to take over their division.

7. Remember the Titans

Unless Tennessee has something to say about that anyway -- Mike Munchak picked up his third-career win on Sunday afternoon as the Titans vaulted themselves into a first-place tie with Houston in the AFC South

On The NFL Today, Charley Casserly mentioned that Matt Hasselbeck was drawn to Tennessee because of two things: Munchak's commitment to protecting the quarterback with strong line play, and Munchak's commitment to protecting the quarterback's ability to throw deep by leaving in more blockers.

This has paid tremendous dividends for Hasselbeck, who's eighth in the NFL in passing yards, sixth in passing touchdowns, third in yards per pass and first in pass plays of 40-plus yards.

"We thought he had a lot left in the tank from watching him in the playoffs last year," Munchak said. "We didn't bring him here to retire quietly. We brought him here to do exactly what he's been doing."

And he's casually doing all of this while playing for a team that doesn't have a viable No. 1 wide receiver because of Kenny Britt's season-ending injury last week.

Chris Johnson finally managed to get going a little bit in the Week 4 win over Cleveland, and provided the Hasselbeck can stay healthy (which is somewhat of a stretch, but possible), the Titans might be the surprise playoff team that no one's talking about.



8. Pay the man!
Just like 2010, Mike Martz refused to run the ball until the Bears met up with the Panthers early in the season. And just like 2010, Martz got enough criticism for his playcalling that he ran the ball a ton against Carolina. And just like 2010, Matt Forte went HAM.

Last year it was 166 rushing yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. This year it was a career-high 205 rushing yards on 25 carries and a touchdown in the Bears 34-29 win.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, the Bears are 9-0 when Forte rushes for 100 yards or more. Yet ... they don't like to run. Two, the Panthers defense is absolutely terrible. I could put up a hundo on them, and it shouldn't be too huge of a shock to see him go key largo against Carolina's beat-up defense.

That being said ... three, Forte wants a new contract, has wanted a new contract but can't get the Bears to even talk to him about getting more money.

The result, predictably, is a running back who appears to be playing with a great deal of intensity and a desire to be highly productive. Of course, for all of Forte's success against the Panthers, there wasn't that much to love about the way Chicago played. Just don't tell Lovie Smith that.

"We’re not apologizing at all about this win," Smith said. "We feel really good about it."

They shouldn't, even if this year suddenly looks like last year in terms of figuring out to run the ball and not get Jay Cutler killed. Cam Newton did a lot of damage to the Bears defense, though he made some rookie mistakes, and the Panthers were able to run pretty easily on Chicago.

Anyone can score on the Panthers, and do it at will, given the lack of depth they have on the defensive side of the ball right now. That being said, it sure does seem like the Bears might have saved themselves some money if they'd gotten Forte some cash before the season rather than waiting.

As my college football colleague Tom Fornelli likes to say, "Pay the man, Chicago."

9. Review Controversy
Could the NFL's current replay system be any less controversial? As you likely know, all scoring plays are reviewed by a booth official. That sounds simple, but it's not at all -- we've already had plenty of problems with plays that seemed like obvious needs for reviews that weren't scrutinized further by the officials.

Sunday, we saw two more examples. First, there an issue in the Chiefs and Vikings game.

With 5:01 remaining, Michael Jenkins caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb. It appeared, pretty clearly, that he only got one foot inbounds. Fox didn't show any replays of the catch, and the officials at the game never reviewed it. Ultimately, it didn't matter, because the Vikings lost.

But it could have mattered and there wasn't anything Todd Haley or the Chiefs could do to get the play looked at. If Haley had thrown a challenge flag, he'd have been flagged for a delay of game penalty.

Another less controversial instance occurred during the Packers-Broncos game when Aaron Rodgers rushed for his second touchdown of the day on a third down. Rodgers was ruled down at the one-yard line, though replays showed he broke the plane of the goal line.

Mike McCarthy challenged and the Packers were given a touchdown that locked in their win against Denver. Here's the problem: "a scoring play" is only defined as a play in which the officials subjectively rule that a touchdown has happened. If that subjective ruling occurs, then the play is automatically reviewed.

If it doesn't happen, coaches are required to use a challenge.

I realize that the league can't challenge every single play that gets close to the end zone, but it seems to me that these two plays aren't that different. Something was botched by the refs and the booth wasn't available to make sure the right call was locked in. Ironically, in the non touchdown scenario, the coach has more freedom to help out his team with a red flag.

Even if the booth doesn't believe that a call should be looked at by the ref -- and in a close game like that, who's hurt by double-checking? -- there should be an option for a coach to take a stab at having a call overturned as well, if he's really adamant about what happened.

And, of course, there's the whole mess that went down in Arizona with Victor Cruz giving himself up and/or pulling the old stumble-->fumble disaster combo.

That actually seems like it was interpreted correctly, as it relates to the rule book.

"Official shall declare ball dead when a runner declares himself down by falling to ground or kneeling and making no effort to advance," reads Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(e) of the NFL Rule Book.

In other words, it's a subjective call by the guys who look like zebras. If they believe Cruz gave himself up, then he gave himself up and that's the end of it.

10. Maybe they ARE the NFL's Heat

Whenever something good or bad happens in sports, reporters inevitably ask athletes how they feel. No, I don't know why it happens all the time either, but it rarely produces a good result.

It got a decent reaction out of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday, though, as he expressed a high level of frustration at the fact that the Eagles just choked away a huge lead against the 49ers -- at home, no less -- that eventually led to a 24-23 loss to San Francisco.

"Do I really have to explain how I feel right now sitting here at 1-3?" Vick asked. "It's frustrating. It's tough. I can't put that in words. I take sole responsibility. Maybe it's a lot of things I can do better. And I gotta figure it out.

"It's frustrating. I'm not going to continue to use that word, but, yeah, it's tough."


That's the thing with the Eagles, though. It's not all Vick's fault.

Is some of it? Sure, of course. But he was 30 of 46 for 416 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. A bigger problem is that he led the team in rushing, with 75 yards on eight carries. When you have a weapon like LeSean McCoy, it seems silly not to utilize him more.

Then again, the lack of a good push from the offensive line causes that too.

And when you can't stop other teams from running the ball, none of it really matters. Frank Gore gashed the Eagles for 127 yards on just 15 carries and Kendall Hunter picked up 38 on nine.

The Eagles might have some really, really talented players at a couple positions, but they're also really, really weak at other positions, and their depth just isn't that impressive at all.

So, come to think of it, maybe they're more like the Miami Heat than any of us could have ever known.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... What the hell was Ronnie Brown thinking? He's not even a quarterback, so trying to throw the ball while being tackled at the goal line doesn't even work as a random logical excuse.
... Johnathan Joseph had two -- TWO! -- touchdowns nullified by stupid penalties by the Texans. First there was the ridiculous block in the back by Danieal Manning when Joseph took a blocked punt to the house to end the half. And then there was the pick six he grabbed to close out the game that was negated by a J.J. Watt penalty. Welcome to Houston!
... Speaking of picks, Vince Wilfork now has two on the season after his second career INT against the Raiders.
... Just for trolling purposes: Nnamdi Asomugha only has one interception on the year.
... In one of the more insane things ever, Rex Ryan used a first-half timeout on Sunday night just to yell at the officials.

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"I woke up in a So Ho doorway ... a policeman knew my name."

"Who Are You" is actually a pretty good thing to ask the Colts quarterback, no?

GIF O' THE WEEK



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Tony Sparano: It would almost be an upset if he made it past the bye at this point.
  • Jack Del Rio: Very impressive that JDR figured out a way to make Maurice Jones-Drew completely ineffective during the first half of a game that was pretty closer during the first half.
  • Leslie Frazier: It might only be his first year, but looking terrible against a terrible Chiefs team ain't helping his cause. 
  • Todd Haley: Can Minnesota visit every weekend?
  • Juan Castillo: New guy for the Eagles, their defense is a leaky ship and someone needs to take the fall.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
We have a new entrant in the usual suspects who are searching for the answer to their franchise woes -- the St. Louis Rams! Heretofore unlisted in this space, the Rams are 0-4 and now squarely in the hunt for Luck, even though they could get to 0-7 and somehow still win their division, based on how easy their schedule is.

What I find fascinating about this is that the Rams and Vikings, my two current faves for Luck, both drafted a "franchise quarterback" in the past two years. Would the Rams consider acquiring Luck if they got the No. 1 overall pick again? Or is Sam Bradford just that much better? Would both they and the Vikings just absolutely trade the pick to whoever was desperate enough for Luck? Because I'm not so sure.

Vikings (2:1) -- Can't imagine they actually feel like Christian Ponder's better than Luck. Right?
Dolphins (2:1) -- As AJB points out below, Miami definitely deserves inclusion here. My bust. Was too worried about Sparano's job.
Rams (3:1) -- So spicy if they get it.
Colts (3:1) -- They'd be the favorites if/when they lose to Tampa on Monday.
Broncos (4:1) -- Stanford, everyone!
Panthers (5:1) -- Fairly confident that the Panthers would acquire some assets for that pick.
Eagles (10:1) -- Andy Reid does love quarterbacks ...

MVP Watch
Stafford, my leader up to this point, did some nice things Sunday. But after Rodgers did the dirty things -- six touchdowns! -- that he did to Denver and helped propel the Packers to 4-0, it's hard not to sit up and take notice and admit that right now he's the best quarterback in the NFL.
Posted on: September 28, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 2:30 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Lions preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

For the first time seemingly since their Portsmouth days, the Detroit Lions will enter a nationally-followed non-Thanksgiving game with high expectations to live up to. They’re taking their 3-0 record to Dallas to face Tony Romo’s Ribs and a Cowboy defense that is getting more potent by the week in Rob Ryan’s scheme.

You’ll hear plenty this week about how the Lions can bring some much needed joy to the struggling Motor City, and about how they have crawled out of a miserable past decade, and about the wonders of NFL parity and turnaround stories.

These human interest stories are nice, but they’re only relevant because of what the Lions do on the field. Here’s a look at that.



1. Open formations
The Lions have lined up in shotgun 67 percent of the time this season, mostly in a 2 x 1 single-back set (two receivers to one side, one to the other). Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has taken this approach because it plays to the strength of his two young backfield stars: Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best.

The semi-spread formations clarify the reads for Stafford and propagate a lot of quick-strike throws (which he has the arm strength and compact release to execute). Because defenses are compelled to roll coverage to Calvin Johnson (by far the most athletically gifted wideout in the NFL), Stafford has opportunities to exploit the seams.

This is a big reason why Detroit drafted Titus Young in the second round. Young is an unrefined route runner at this point, but route running precision is not the end-all, be-all when you’re attacking zone coverages from the slot.

Also helping spread the field is the way Detroit crafts sideline routes for Johnson. When a receiver runs a downfield pattern outside the numbers, safety help over the top often becomes irrelevant due to the nature of the limited spacing. Thus, you get a one-on-one matchup by default. Johnson has never been great at beating double teams.

That’s partly why the Lions specifically send him on isolation patterns outside. They’ll do this at least five or six times Sunday because the Cowboys, like most teams, don’t have a corner who can handle Megatron alone.

Detroit’s running game also benefits from the three-receiver shotgun sets. The very nature of the formation creates extra spacing, which is what a finesse runner like Jahvid Best needs. It also aids Detroit’s blocking. Receiving tight end Tony Scheffler often aligns in the slot as the third receiver. Scheffler has never been a great run-blocker, but as a slot receiver he doesn’t have to rely on strength and technique as much.

When it’s a wideout in the slot, it means the Lions get to run against a nickel defense, something they’ve done with alacrity thus far. Best’s rushing numbers aren’t great, but the Lions’ run game overall is not the weakness it was a season ago.

2. Receiving X factors
Detroit’s second and third best receiving weapons are not wideouts. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught 11 balls for 116 yards against Minnesota. He’s a plodding runner with softer hands and more effective agility than you’d guess. Stafford loves when Pettigrew is matched up on a linebacker. It will be interesting if that’s still the case after he watches outstanding Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee on film this week.

Pettigrew ranks third on the team in receiving. Ranking second is Best, who has 15 catches for 182 yards. Best, who has great elusiveness and acceleration, hurts opponents as a true receiver out of the slot, and he kills them as a screen receiver out of the backfield. One of the unheralded reasons Best thrives on screens is Calvin Johnson is a superb downfield blocker.

3. The much-ballyhooed defensive line
The Lions front four is as good as advertised. And it may only get better this week if Nick Fairley debuts as a pass-rushing defensive tackle (the first-round rookie has been out since undergoing foot surgery in August). Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch plays with great leverage and tenacity. Opposite him, Cliff Avril is a vastly underrated athlete who has recently gotten faster and stronger. Inside, underrated Corey Williams can play both a one-and two-gap style.
 
Of course, Ndamukong Suh is the driving force of Detroit’s front four. Suh’s greatest asset is his ability to quickly exert power off of movement. Elite defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork, B.J. Raji or Haloti Ngata often overpower opponents with their sheer size and force.

But those guys all weigh 330-plus and are wide enough to play the nose. Suh, at 307 pounds, is a beast, but he doesn’t quite have that exceptional raw power to dominate every down in a phone booth. However, he compensates by having the initial quickness and agility of a Pro Bowl caliber defensive end (that’s end, not tackle).

Suh is off to an incredible start this season because he’s now learned to consistently use that quickness to create favorable positioning immediately off the snap. Moves that take most players two seconds to execute, he executes in less than one. Thus, he’s always facing blockers who are caught just a little bit off-guard. That’s all Suh needs to take their manhood.

For the most part this season, the Lions have relied on straight four-man pass-rushes. But last season, against upper-tier offensive lines, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would have a few of his linemen roam around before the snap in order to create confusion. Given Dallas’ inexperience, it would not be surprising to see Cunningham move Suh around on Sunday.

But Cunningham won’t dig too far into that bag of tricks if he doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary. He knows there are also plenty of ways to create matchup problems with his traditional fronts. For one example, see the illustration below:


From this alignment, Suh creates a mismatch either for himself or the defensive end next to him – it depends on how the Cowboys choose to block it.

In this formation, the Cowboys have three players to block two. But personnel is still a problem. By splitting the defensive end out wide (in what’s called a nine-technique) and putting Suh in the B-gap (between the offensive guard and tackle) the Cowboys have three options here, all of which put them in an unfavorable position.

Option A: They double-team Suh with guard Kyle Kosier and tackle Tyron Smith, which leaves their tight end (either Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett) overmatched one-on-one against Cliff Avril.

Option B: They let OT Smith block Avril, which leaves a terrifying one-on-one matchup for G Kosier against Suh.

Option C: They send the tight end on a passing route, but it will have to be a short one because they’re still dealing with a one-on-one matchup between G Kosier and Suh.

Option D: The Cowboys slide protection to the right side, which is unlikely because it makes life too easy for Detroit’s other two defensive linemen and could also compromise the left side of the field for passing route options.

4. Lions pass defense
The secondary has been the Lions’ Achilles heel the past two years. But this season, the Lions are allowing only 188 yards per game through the air, fourth best in the NFL. That could just be a function of weak opponents, though. In Week 1, the Lions faced a Bucs receiving group that lacks speed. In Week 2, the Lions faced a Chiefs offense that was without dynamic tight end Tony Moeaki and thin behind the seemingly detached Dwayne Bowe.

In Week 3, the Lions faced a Vikings team that humorously believes Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian form an adequate one-two punch outside. A true test for the Lions secondary may have to wait another week, as the Cowboys without Miles Austin have a fairly feeble receiving corps.

Quality of opponent aside, give this secondary credit for its improvements. The Lions play a lot of Cover 2, but their corners have performed well in man coverage on third downs. Plus safety Louis Delmas has sharpened his ball-man prowess against tight ends.

5. What to expect
The Lions have not seen a defense as conceptually difficult as Dallas’. Against the Bucs and Vikings, Stafford had to only read zone coverages behind basic four-man pass-rushes. This Sunday, he and his offensive line will have to decipher more blitzes and sub-package personnel.

They have an ultimate resource in Calvin Johnson, though. The Cowboys simply can’t cover him.

If the Lions can exploit that mismatch early and play from ahead, they’ll make the Cowboys offense one-dimensional and vulnerable in long-yardage situations. That should be enough to get to 4-0.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 1 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 24, 2011 4:26 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2011 6:36 pm
 

Romo, Bryant questionable, should play vs. 'Skins

Romo, Bryant and Jones are all questionable ... and all should play Monday night. (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson


Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who was limited in practice Saturday, has been listed as questionable on the injury report two days before Dallas hosts Washington on Monday night. In general, "questionable" means there's a 50 percent chance a player participates in the game, although it appears like Romo's chances of taking the field against the Redskins are much higher than that.

Whatever the exact probabilities, it's welcome news given that he suffered a punctured lung six days ago against the 49ers. That has since healed, although Romo still has a broken rib which will necessitate him wearing a protective vest against the Redskins.

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who suffered a quadriceps injury in the Week 1 loss to the Jets and missed last week's 49ers game, is listed as questionable, too. Bryant was limited in practice Saturday but, like Romo, it looks like he'll play Monday, even if he's not completely healthy.

Romo's other go-to wide receiver, Miles Austin, has been ruled out after suffering a hamstring injury during overtime of the San Francisco game. (Other Cowboys ruled out: guard Derrick Dockery, cornerback Orlando Scandrick.)

Running back Felix Jones (separated shoulder) is also questionable, but like Romo and Bryant, also expected to play.

In other injury-related news: cornerback Terence Newman (groin) is listed as probable and should see his first action of the 2011 season. Other Cowboys with a 75 percent chance to play: cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Anthony Spencer (shoulder), center Phil Costa (knee) and guard Bill Nagy (neck).

For completeness, the Redskins injury report:

Questionable: S LaRon Landry, FB Mike Sellers, S DeJon Gomes and FB Darrel Young. All were limited in practice.

Probable: CB Josh Wlson, KR/PR Brandon Banks, TE Chris Cooley, LB Keyaron Fox, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Josh Wilson and TE Logan Paulsen. All participated in the full practice.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:56 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:31 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Redskins preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



One of the most storied rivalries in pro football is renewed Monday night when the Cowboys welcome the Redskins to Big D for their home opener. Mike Shanahan’s team is a surprising 2-0. The Cowboys, after two close games, are 1-1, ensuring their performance on Monday’s national stage will spark an overreaction from Football America (at 2-1, people will ask if the Cowboys are legit Super Bowl contenders; at 1-2 they’ll ask if Jason Garrett is right for the job).

1. Perpetually Maligned Quarterbacks
Are any other two quarterbacks, fair or unfair, viewed as blunder-prone as Tony Romo and Rex Grossman? If Grossman were a star, he’d be Romo. If Romo were a bum, he’d be Grossman. Their performances this season have been overanalyzed in contrasting extremes.

Everyone took part in National Dump on Romo Week (Sept. 12-18) and pilloried the sixth-year starter for being a “choke artist”. While Romo has made his share of mistakes in crunch time, in reality, prior to the interception he gifted Darrelle Revis in Week 1, the only late-game mistake that 90 percent of fans could instantly identify with Romo was his botched field goal hold in the January ’07 playoff loss at Seattle (a play that had nothing to do with his quarterbacking ability).

Reputations rarely form by accident, though. The truth is, Romo is mistake prone.

He’s mistake prone because he has trouble deciphering defenses before the snap, and he tends to take aggressive action on faulty hunches. This is problematic, especially if Dallas has Super Bowl aspirations. That said, at the end of the day, Romo still has respectable playmaking talent. Hence his 345-yard performance with a fractured rib and punctured lung at San Francisco.

Grossman is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s not a naturally talented playmaker. But he can be functional when properly used. His two performances this season have received mostly positive reviews. He threw for 305 yards against the Giants and 291 against the Cardinals. But he was somewhat inaccurate in Week 1 and benefited from several terrific catches by Redskins receivers.

He also struggled in the face of pocket pressure (fortunately he had just one turnover from it, which didn’t prove to be costly). Grossman came back to earth a bit against Arizona and, given his track record and limited role in Washington’s offense (his reads are defined, his audible powers are minimal), he’ll likely level off over the coming months.


2. Washington’s ground game
The Redskins have shown a commitment to running the ball these first two weeks. After posting lackluster numbers against New York, Tim Hightower was sharp versus Arizona, registering 96 yards on 20 attempts. Hightower is a much better fit for Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme than he was in Ken Whisenhunt’s pounding approach.

Reason being, Hightower does not have great burst when coming from a standstill, but he has proven to be an effective momentum runner.

A zone-blocking scheme allows for a one-cut downhill run, but as the illustration below shows, the nature of the sliding blocks allows a runner to take a few extra steps in the backfield, which a runner like Hightower needs in order to build momentum before breaking through the line of scrimmage.



Hightower – as well as his backup, fourth-round rookie Roy Helu, who runs with good tempo and changes direction fairly well – benefitted from stellar offensive line play last week. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and left tackle Trent Williams were particularly impressive landing blocks on the move and taking angles that created natural running lanes.

3. Tight ends significant
Washington’s offense makes great use of the tight end, in large part because a tight end crossing pattern is a natural outlet off the rollouts and bootlegs that Shanahan’s scheme uses frequently.

While Chris Cooley has had a modicum impact coming off a knee injury, fourth-year pro Fred Davis has emerged as a fluid target in an elevated role. Davis makes good adjustments to the ball and has the athleticism to be effective in space.
 
For the Cowboys, Jason Witten becomes all the more significant with Miles Austin (hamstring) out and Dez Bryant’s (quad) status in question. Witten is the ultimate safety valve. Generally the beneficiary of mismatches created by others outside, he should be able to create a few of his own mismatches inside, as Redskins linebacker London Fletcher tends to struggle covering elite tight ends.
Week 3 NFL Preview

4. The outside ‘backers
DeMarcus Ware has registered more sacks than anyone in pro football over the past five years, and he appears to be even more potent in Rob Ryan’s scheme (Ryan, like Wade Phillips, has aligned Ware primarily on the weak side of the formation, where one-on-one matchups are easier to come by). Opposite Ware, Anthony Spencer (in a contract year) is a stout playside run defender.

But the Cowboys may soon have the second best outside linebacking corps in the NFC East. Brian Orakpo has made two Pro Bowls his first two seasons and has superb strength to compliment his edge speed.

Opposite him, first-round rookie Ryan Kerrigan has flashed monstrous potential through two games. Kerrigan, a high-motored Big Ten player who drew predictable comparisons to Aaron Kampman coming out, has the swiftness to chase plays as a backside run defender and the body control to outmaneuver blockers in the phone booth. He’s a much, much better athlete than many had guessed.

5. Something to keep an eye on ...
The Redskins are a fairly blitz-heavy team, but those blitzes have usually involved safeties. They caught the Cardinals off-guard last week by blitzing their inside linebackers aggressively. Fletcher in particular blitzed with great timing and downhill speed.

His blitzes were done not necessarily in an effort to get sacks, but to make Kevin Kolb move before throwing. Romo is better throwing off movement than Kolb, so perhaps Jim Haslett won’t use this tactic as much in Week 3.

But with the Cowboys having a young offensive line and depleted receiving corps, the reward could be greater than the risk.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 1 games


Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com