Here's a peek at where the Redskins and Cowboys, who both appear to have had excellent offseasons, and Eagles, who didn't, stand at the moment.
PLAYERS LOST: QB Patrick Ramsey; TE Robert Royal; LB LaVar Arrington; S Omar Stoutmire; S Ryan Clark.
PLAYERS ADDED: WR Antwaan Randle El; WR Brandon Lloyd; S Adam Archuleta; DE/LB Andre Carter; QB Todd Collins; TE Christian Fauria; C Mike Pucillo; OT Tyson Walter.
ANALYSIS: Last season, Redskins WR Santana Moss gained a franchise-record 1,483 receiving yards – accounting for an eye-opening 73 percent of all yards gained by the team's receivers. This year, the speedy Moss will be joined by two new downfield lightning bolts – former Pittsburgh Steeler Antwaan Randle El and ex-49er Brandon Lloyd – signed as free agents in the offseason, and poised to run free in opposing secondaries as targets for incumbent starting QB Mark Brunell or second-year signal-caller Jason Campbell. Washington's opponents cannot view this development as pleasant news.
The ability to vertically stretch a defense posed by Moss, Randle El and Lloyd should open up a lot of real estate in the middle of the field for talented H-Back Chris Cooley, who latched onto 71 receptions and seven touchdowns last season, and newly signed TE Christian Fauria. A former Patriot, Fauria is an upgrade as a receiver over the departed Robert Royal.
Washington, which made the playoffs last season in the second year of Joe Gibbs' second coming, boasted the NFL's ninth-ranked rushing attack behind Clinton Portis' 1,516 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 'Skins have a solid offensive line, led by tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels.
Washington's swarming, attack-style defense was among the league's best – ranked No. 6 against the run and No. 7 vs. the pass in 2005. Defensive end Phillip Daniels (8.0 sacks) has emerged as the pass-rush threat the 'Skins had hoped he would become – and he will have some help on the other side with the offseason signing of DE/LB Andre Carter, the former 49er, who possesses excellent quickness and speed and can also drop into coverage in a zone blitz.
The Redskins are solid at the corners with Shawn Springs, who was hampered by lingering injuries toward the end of last season, but played well despite them, and second-year CB Carlos Rogers. The signing of strong safety Adam Archuleta might not be that much of an upgrade over departed Ryan Clark regarding pass coverage – but the hard-hitting Archuleta is an outstanding run defender and blitzer. He and free safety Sean Taylor will comprise one of the league's most aggressive tandems.
MLB Lemar Marshall had a fine first season replacing current Giant Antonio Pierce, while SLB Marcus Washington proved to be a tough pass defender and effective blitzer (7.5 sacks). But with the acrimonious departure of LaVar Arrington, the 'Skins are searching for a weakside linebacker – an area that could possibly be addressed at the NFL Draft.
HOW THEY MATCH UP VS. THE GIANTS: Moss killed the Giants in the Christmas Eve game at FedEx Field (five receptions, 160 yards, three TDs) – and the addition of Randle El and Lloyd should make things even tougher for Big Blue. Carter's quickness and Archuleta's physical play near the line of scrimmage bring new challenges for the Giants' offensive line.
PLAYERS LOST: WR Keyshawn Johnson; TE Dan Campbell; LB Scott Fujita; DT La'Roi Glover; OT Torrin Tucker.
PLAYERS ADDED: WR Terrell Owens; K Mike Vanderjagt; LB Akin Ayodele; LB Rocky Boiman; TE Ryan Hannam; OT Jason Fabini; G Kyle Kosier.
ANALYSIS: Yes, it should be a very interesting season in Dallas, where, undoubtedly, many office pools have been set up to wager on when WR Terrell Owens finally implodes – and threatens to take down the Cowboys' season. In fairness, however, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells has a wealth of experience in dealing with this type of mercurial personality (see Keyshawn Johnson).
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe had a decent season in his first year in Big D, completing 300 of 499 passes for 3,639 yards, with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, and an 83.7 rating. The immobile Bledsoe, however, was sacked 49 times – fourth-worst total in the league – behind often-spotty protection.
In the offseason, the 'Boys signed former Jets RT Jason Fabini, who sat out a good part of 2005 with a chest injury, interior lineman Kyle Kosier and blocking tight end Ryan Hannam, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. Fabini replaces the disappointing Rob Petitti, while Kosier succeeds future Hall of Fame inductee G Larry Allen, recently released in a cost-cutting move.
Owens will line up opposite WR Terry Glenn, whose 62 catches last season netted 1,136 yards, seven TDs and an impressive 18.3 average per reception. Glenn, who became the first Dallas receiver to top 1,000 yards since Rocket Ismail in 1999, will definitely benefit from the attention Owens' presence will command from defenses, as will talented young tight end Jason Witten, who had 66 receptions for 757 yards and six TDs.
Behind the backfield duo of rookie Marion Barber III and Julius Jones, Dallas' rushing attack was ranked No. 13 in the league in 2005. Although both showed explosiveness at times, they often came up short in short-yardage situations. This dilemma could be addressed at the draft or with the signing of a veteran power back before training camp opens.
The 'Boys signing of kicker Mike Vanderjagt, the former Colt, once and for all might have stabilized the team's shakiest position, which was a virtual revolving door last season. Dallas finished 7-9, losing five of those games by a grand total of 20 points.
Defensively, Dallas lost vet DT La'Roi Glover to free agency – but added two new faces to their linebacking corps with the signings of Akin Ayodele and Rocky Boiman. They join a crew led by impressive second-year DE/LB DeMarcus Ware, whose 8.0 sacks tied veteran DE Greg Ellis for the team lead, and ever-improving LB Bradie James. An LSU product, James netted a team-best 93 tackles in '05, and is a prototypical Parcells linebacker with his size and mobility. James, DE/LB Chris Canty and safety Roy Williams each recorded 2.5 sacks last season.
HOW THEY MATCH UP VS. THE GIANTS: The Cowboys should be a much more daunting opponent with Owens now in the offensive mix. Big Blue's recent signings of veteran DBs Sam Madison, Will Demps, Quentin Harris and R.W. McQuarters couldn't be timelier.
PLAYERS LOST: DE N.D. Kalu; WR Terrell Owens.
PLAYERS ADDED: WR Jabar Gaffney; QB Jeff Garcia; DE Darren Howard; TE Matt Schobel.
ANALYSIS: After three straight trips to the NFC title tilt, the Philadelphia Eagles fell to 6-10 in 2005, crash-landing into last place in the NFC East. The team was decimated by injuries – and the locker room tumult created by wide receiver Terrell Owens.
But as a new season harkens, here's the good news for the Eagles in general, and quarterback Donovan McNabb in particular: they got rid of the mega-talented, mega-troublesome Owens.
Here's the bad news: they got rid of the mega-talented, mega-troublesome Owens.
As destructive as Owens was off the field, he was equally ruinous to opposing defenses while on it. And now, the huge gap left by his departure will be filled this season by free agent Jabar Gaffney (55 catches last year with the Houston Texans) and holdovers Greg Lewis, Todd Pinkston and Reggie Brown, who had a respectable rookie season with 43 receptions, while Pinkston sat out with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Tight end A.J. Smith, a dependable short-to-intermediate target for McNabb, will be backed up by free agent Matt Schobel.
Last season, the Eagles averaged 39 passing attempts per game. And while head coach Andy Reid recently admitted the scheme was a little over the top, the team will remain primarily air-oriented with McNabb at the helm and newly added Jeff Garcia behind him on the depth chart. Philadelphia dodged a bullet in the offseason by retaining the services of veteran OT Jon Runyan, who threatened to bolt.
The returning running backs – Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats – are a pair of 5-9, 200-pound slashers. In his rookie season last year, Moats showed flashes of brilliance – including a 114-yard performance against the Giants – and is sure to get more playing time in 2006. But the Eagles wouldn't mind adding a big, burly RB to the fold before training camp.
Philadelphia was not very active in the free-agent market, but did manage to sign defensive end Darren Howard, who is coming off a down season with the Saints, and oft-injured linebacker Shawn Barber, who returns to the Birds after a couple of seasons in Kansas City. Howard will play opposite Jevon Kearse, the once-brilliant DE who has been slowed by nagging injuries the past few seasons. Only 260 pounds, and entering his eighth NFL season, Kearse is a walking testimony to the wear-and-tear "undersized" defensive ends endure from constantly being blocked by 300-plus-pound offensive tackles.
Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and safety Brian Dawkins are the leaders for coordinator Jim Johnson's aggressive defense that boasts a pair of talented young cornerbacks in Sheldon Brown (four interceptions in 2005) and Roderick Hood (three).
HOW THEY MATCH UP VS. THE GIANTS: Big Blue beat Philly twice last season, but the Birds were without the services of the injured McNabb and suspended Owens. Giants QB Eli Manning almost tossed the Dec. 11 road game away, with three interceptions in the fourth quarter and overtime – and must avoid similar careless throws against their opportunistic secondary.
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