The Eastern Front: Pierce Takes Charge

The Eastern Front 10.27.05--Pierce takes the lead for the Giants defense, the Cowboys try to put together a running game minus Julius Jones, and in Philly Andy Reid defends his pass-happy offense.

New York Giants

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It will be just the kind of game Wellington Mara would have loved.

His beloved Giants are hosting the team he wanted to beat more than any other, the Washington Redskins, for first place (or at least a share of it) in the NFC East division.

Mara, the patriarch of not only the Giants but the NFL, died Tuesday at the age of 89, and one of the last things he saw was young quarterback Eli Manning throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Amani Toomer with five seconds remaining in a 24-23 victory over Denver.

"His grandson (Connor) told me in the locker room that Mr. Mara opened his eyes when we got that touchdown, smiled a little smile and then went back to sleep," said Manning, the ever-improving wunderkind who cost the Giants so much but is proving that it will one day be considered a bargain.

"Now we just have to dedicate ourselves to his memory and everything he stood for and try to fulfill the expectations we knew he had for us."

It hardly seems fair to make the Redskins go to battle against such emotional odds, but the game will be difficult, and no one knows that better than Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

"The Redskins are a very good team," he said. "Their offense is working smoothly and their defense is solid. I think (quarterback Mark) Brunell is playing very well. He seems to be very accurate and he is in total control of the offense. He has a strong arm. He has been able to deliver the deep ball, the short ball, the crossing pattern pass."

It should be noted that Brunell played for Coughlin for several years when both were in Jacksonville, and that he probably knows him better than any other coach in the league.

"Not really," Coughlin demurred. "Mark and I were close. I think he is a great quarterback and a great person. But everybody knows what he can do; there are no secrets about it. We are going to have to stop him and we are going to have to find a way to get through that tough defense if we are to win."

Both the Giants and Redskins are 4-2, along with Philadelphia, the defending division and NFC champion. Dallas is 4-3.

"This division is very tight," Coughlin said, "and I expect it will stay that way all season. This is crucial for us; it's a home game and a division game."

SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 145th meeting between the two rivals in a series dating back to 1932 when the Redskins were known as first the Boston Braves and then the Boston Redskins before moving to Washington in 1937. The Giants lead the series, 81-59-4, and they hold a 2-0 lead in postseason meetings. In 1986 they swept the Redskins in a three-game series, the third being the NFC championship game, a 17-0 Giants victory.

Quotes and Notes

--QB Eli Manning, trying hard to keep a low profile and a likeable personality, shrugged off his near-miraculous comeback efforts against Denver last Sunday. "It was just two drives," he said, "and just because we got them to work doesn't mean I'm there yet. I have a lot to learn." He's definitely learning fast - he completed 14 of 17 passes in the fourth quarter for 114 yards.

--RB Tiki Barber had all the carries in the game except for one end-around by WR Tim Carter. He also carried the ball 19 times for 86 yards and scored a TD.

--WR Amani Toomer, who didn't have a single reception in the season opener to snip a 98-game streak of at least one catch, was the receiving hero vs. Denver. He caught eight passes for 63 yards and the winning 2-yard TD with five seconds remaining. "I am not about individual statistics," he says. "We are winning and scoring more points than this team has scored in a long time, so what is there for me to complain about?"

--MLB Antonio Pierce leads the Giants with 49 tackles after a season-high 13 against Denver. "We are coming together as a defense," he said. "There were a lot of new faces here this year, including mine." Pierce also has half a sack, seven defensed passes and one interception. He played with the Redskins last season as their fulltime MLB and leading tackler.

--LCB Will Allen, who is playing reasonably well, still hasn't managed to get an interception. He has five clear-cut drops in six games. It has been suggested that perhaps he should visit an eye doctor, since a similar situation was cleared up several years ago involving RB Joe Morris. Twice this season Allen has been in position and the ball sailed through his up-stretched arms.

BY THE NUMBERS: 31 - Times PK Jay Feely has approached the football with points on the line - and delivered. Feely has yet to miss this season, converting 11 field goals and 20 extra points for 53 points.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's kind of hard to put into words. He was a strong man. And he loved to be around the guys." - Giants' TE Jeremy Shockey on team co-owner Wellington Mara, who died Tuesday at the age of 89.


The Giants added DE-LB Alonzo Jackson from the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad. Jackson, 6-5 and 265, was a second-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers from Florida State in 2003. He will replace Barrett Green, who was placed on injured reserve with a combination of knee and ankle ailments. Green may require further surgery but is clearly lost for this season.

The more important consideration is the condition of SLB Carlos Emmons, who underwent an MRI and was found to have a partially torn pectoral muscle. "He has a chance to play but it's 50-50," said coach Tom Coughlin.

If he can't play, Reggie Torbor will start at SLB with Nick Greisen at WLB and Antonio Pierce at MLB.

Player Notes

--WR Amani Toomer, who has been with the Giants for nine seasons and came to know Wellington Mara as a friend, said that the next few weeks would be difficult. "The emotions during the game will be a challenge for us," he said. "We just have to work together and remember that he always expected the best from us, in every meeting and every practice and every game."

--WR Plaxico Burress, who wasn't absolutely sure he'd play against Denver because of back spasms, did play and had six receptions for 84 yards and a TD. He has 37 receptions in six games for 481 yards and five TDs. He suffered a sprained shoulder against Denver and is day-to-day. He did not practice Wednesday.

--TE Jeremy Shockey continues to fight his way out of last season's doldrums. He caught just three passes Sunday but one was a crucial 24-yard gain in the final winning drive on third-and-10. "I just don't know how a kid like Eli (Manning, who's 24) can be so calm and cool," said Shockey, who is an old man of 25.

--PK Jay Feely still hasn't missed this year. He now has 11 FGs in as many tries and has converted all 20 PAT attempts. "I guess I'm in a groove," he said, "and I hope I never get out of it."

--SLB Carlos Emmons was taken for an MRI exam Monday after perhaps tearing his right pectoral muscle in a diving attempt to tackle Denver's Mike Anderson. He missed, but both outstretched arms were wrenched when Anderson broke through. The MRI revealed a partial tear of the pectoral muscle and he listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

GAME PLAN: It has become redundant but the key for the Giants' defense, which is 31st overall in the NFL, is to stop the Redskins running game, which means Clinton Portis, and the Redskins are fourth in the NFL in rushing offense - Portis has 544 yards in 123 carries.


The Giants' CBs, at the moment LCB Will Allen and RCB Curtis Deloatch, will have to contend with the mercurial WR Santana Moss, who already has 38 catches for 743 yards and five TDs. Moss has had four games of 100-plus receiving yardage, while the Giants are abysmal in pass defense - 31st in the NFL.

Giants' TE Jeremy Shockey will give Redskins' SS Ryan Clark (a one-time Giant FA) all he can handle. Shockey has caught 25 passes for 424 yards and has broken more tackles than Clark has made this season.

Giants' WR Plaxico Burress vs. Washington CBs Shawn Springs and Walt Harris. Burress (36 for 535 and five TDs) is Eli Manning's money receiver and uses his 6-5, 225-pound body and exceptional leaping ability to provide an almost indefensible target for smaller defenders.

INJURY IMPACT: The continued absence of RCB Will Peterson is damaging, and if SLB Carlos Emmons (partially torn pectoral muscle) is unable to play the defense will become vulnerable to the strong Redskins' running game.


Dallas Cowboys

Hot Topic

The Cowboys got rid of kicker Jose Cortez because they couldn't trust him.

Having a reliable kicker is paramount in the NFL because of the number of close games mandated by the league's quest of parity.

It's of increasing importance for a Cowboys team that has played six of seven games decided by less than seven points.

Reliability is becoming a bigger part of the equation for the Cowboys. Not just at kicker but offensive tackle and running back where the Cowboys are trying to overcome key injuries.

With Flozell Adams out at left tackle, the Cowboys are concerned about the performance of fill-in Torrin Tucker. Considering they were already having problems at right tackle with rookie Rob Petitti, it is a concern that affects play-calling and the team approaches each game.

The same is true at running back where the Cowboys are trying to get along with Julius Jones, who has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle and is questionable for the Cardinals game.

Marion Barber, Tyson Thompson and Anthony Thomas have done a good job filling in by committee but they are not Jones. There are simply things they can't do and plays the Cowboys can't run because of it.

But, of course, the Cowboys are not the only team with problems and they aren't going to cancel the games because of them.

How the Cowboys overcome these obstacles will decide how they finish in 2005.

SERIES HISTORY: 83rd meeting. Dallas leads the series 53-28-1. Dallas has only faced three other teams - Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants and Washington - more than the 82 times they have faced the Cardinals in regular-season action. The Cowboys have won 20 of the last 30 meetings. Dallas had a 13-game win streak over Arizona (1990-96), the longest win streak against an opponent in club history. The Cowboys have faced the Cardinals just two times since Arizona moved from the NFC East to the NFC West.

Quotes and Notes

--After the season's first seven games, the Cowboys are sixth in the NFL (fourth in the NFC) in total offense with an average of 359.1 yards-per-game. Dallas is 14th in the NFL (seventh in the NFC) in rushing (119.0 yards per game). With an average of 240.1 passing yards per game, Dallas is ninth in the NFL in passing (sixth in the NFC).

--Dallas leads the NFL in time of possession, holding the ball for 34:14 per game. Dallas is followed by Tampa Bay (34:02), Washington (32:59) and Baltimore (32:10). Since the start of the 2003 season, Dallas is 9-0 when holding the ball for at least 35 minutes.

--The Cowboys are currently fifth in the NFL in third down conversion rate with a mark of 42.7 percent (44-of-103). Dallas is seventh in the NFL in first downs per-game (21.1).

--Dallas has recorded at least 300 yards in six of its seven games this year. The Cowboys have recorded more than 350 yards in four of the last six games.

  --Dallas has made more trips into the opponents' red zone (27) than any other NFC team. Only AFC clubs Cincinnati (29) and Indianapolis (27) have been inside the opposition 20-yard line as-much-or-more than Dallas. The Cowboys have scored touchdowns on 13 of their 27 trips inside the 20.

--The Dallas offense has turned the ball over 12 times in seven games. Seven NFC teams have committed fewer turnovers.

--Dallas is the only NFL team to have three running backs with at least 125 yards rushing on the year: Julius Jones (407), Tyson Thompson (161) and Marion Barber (126).

--The Cowboys are currently seventh in the NFL (fourth in the NFC) in total defense, allowing an average of 292.6 yards per game. In rushing defense, the Cowboys are seventh in the NFL (fourth in the NFC) with an average of 91.7 yards allowed on the ground.

Dallas is 14th in pass defense (seventh in the NFC) with an average of 200.9 yards through

the air.

--Dallas is fourth in the NFL in fewest first downs allowed per game (15.0).

--In the past four games, the Cowboys have allowed their opponents to be successful on third downs at a rate of 15.6 percent (eight-for-51). Dallas is currently fifth in the NFL in third-down conversion defense at 30.3 percent.

--Dallas is currently fourth in the NFL in total sacks with 21. The Cowboys trail Indianapolis (26), Seattle (23), and Tennessee (22). The Dallas defense is on pace to record 48 sacks for the season, which would be its best showing since 1987 (51).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he's a good kid who works hard. He trains hard. I think he's a good running back. But part of it is durability. That's the second critical factor for that position. Besides vision and instincts, that's the second critical factor. I'm not saying he's not durable. But I am concerned because next Sunday, if he misses that game, it'll be 111/2 games he's missed out of 24. You got to be a little concerned. Now, OK, he broke his shoulder - that's bad luck. Oh, it's an ankle, that's bad luck. You know it is. That's still the fact. I'm hopeful we'll get over this. I think that's why we're having a tendency to not really push it, because I don't want him to have a reoccurrence and be out for the rest of the year." -- Cowboys coach Bill Parcells on running back Julius Jones

Player Notes

--WR Keyshawn Johnson may or may not be a No. 1 receiver anymore. That's for him and Michael Irvin to decide. But he remains remarkably consistent. This season he has become the 23rd player in NFL history go over the 9,000 career receiving yard mark and the 22nd player in league history to record 700 career receptions. He has recorded at least one catch in each of the 142 games he has played. He is currently second on the team in receptions (31) and receiving yards (376).

--RB Tyson Thompson has seen his role as a running back diminish because of his liabilities as a pass blocker. But Coach Bill Parcells said he is doing well as a kickoff returner. "He's about third or fourth in the league," Parcells said. "He's averaging about 25 yards a return. I've told him if he would just break one, he'd go up to the league leaders."

--CB Anthony Henry has proved worth the investment in the off-season. He leads the team in tackles (35) and pass breakups (10) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two).

--WR Peerless Price caught only one pass against the Seahawks. But coach Bill Parcells said that was because they used a lot of two-tight end sets. He said Price's role will continue to grow the more he's on the field. So far Price has two catches on the season.

--LB Bradie James has been strong against the run as expected. But he really improved as a pass defender. He got his first sack against the Seahawks. He also had a key pass deflection. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said James is more aware of pass routes and coverages and able to break on the ball better.

GAME PLAN: The Cowboys must control the ball on offense as has been the plan all season. They need to establish the running game and make some big plays off play action pass. They must start finishing drives in the end zone. Defensively, they have to stop the run and put relentless pressure on the Cardinals quarterback.


Cowboys tackle Torrin Tucker vs. Arizona end Bertrand Berry. Tucker played well last week in place of the injured Flozell Adams. But the challenge is much tougher with Berry, who has become one of the league's top pass rushers. Getting Berry blocked is key to the Cowboys' passing game as Tucker is responsible for handling quarterback Drew Bledsoe's blind side.

Cardinals receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin vs. Cowboys secondary. Fitzgerald and Boldin are one of top receiver combos in the league. They are the keys to the Cardinals pass happy offense and stopping them is priority No. 1 for the Cowboys secondary, namely cornerbacks Anthony Henry and Terence Newman. Stop Boldin and Fitzgerald and you stop the Cardinals. The key will be getting good pressure up front from the pass rush.

INJURY IMPACT: RB Julius Jones (ankle) is listed as day to day after missing the last two games. He remains questionable on the injury report and the Cowboys, who have a bye next week, will not take any chance if he is not ready go.

LB Dat Nguyen (stinger) practiced on Wednesday without incident after missing the last three games. He is physically ready to go. He was held out of the Seattle game for precautionary reasons.

--WR Patrick Crayton (ankle) is out six to eight weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells thinks he might return in five or six weeks, which is why he is currently holding Crayton's roster spot open.

Philadelphia Eagles

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The Eagles have thrown the ball 254 times in their first six games and have run it a league-low 102. While coach Andy Reid has taken a lot of heat from the media and radio talk shows for his unbalanced offense, this isn't a case of Reid trying to prove you can win a Super Bowl with strictly a passing game.

The main reason the Eagles are throwing so much is because they've been playing catch-up a lot this season. In their first six games, the Eagles have been outscored in the first quarter, 48-14. All 14 of those points came in their Week 2 win over hapless San Francisco. In their other five games, they've been shut out in the first period.

This is in start contrast to last season when the Eagles finished first in the NFC in first-quarter scoring (100 points) and first in the league in first-quarter point differential (plus-46). In the last three seasons, the Eagles have outscored their opponents, 267-158 in the first quarter.

Reid's typical M.O. in past years has been to come out throwing and then rely more on the run in the second half once his team has a comfortable lead.

"You want to start fast," Reid said. "You want to put yourself in a position where you can score and put the other team back on its heels. That's an area we need to do better at."

Much better. In their first six games last year, the Eagles scored nine times on their first and/or second possession of the games. This year, they've scored just once on their first two possessions. Six of those 12 possessions have been three-and-outs. A seventh resulted in an interception.

There have been three main reasons for their slow starts: a) quarterback Donovan McNabb; b) poor execution and penalties by the rest of the offense; and c) unfavorable field position caused by an unproductive return game.

McNabb, who has been playing with a sports hernia since Week 1, has been erratic, particularly early in games. He's completed just 12 of 30 passes for 159 yards on the first two possessions of the game.

Last week against San Diego, wide receiver Greg Lewis sabotaged the Eagles' first possession when he was flagged for an illegal block in the back that negated a 6-yard run by Brian Westbrook. A week earlier against Dallas, McNabb was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the Eagles' first possession. In their Week 1 loss to Atlanta, left tackle Tra Thomas was flagged for an illegal formation penalty on the Eagles' first possession. On the second possession, left guard Artis Hicks was called for a false start and, two plays later, an illegal formation penalty.

The poor play of the Eagles' return teams, also have affected the Eagles' early lack of offensive productivity. In the first six games last year, 9 of 12 of their first two possessions started at the 27 or better. This year, that number has dropped to five.

"We need to do a better job of blocking on kick returns, and the returners have to hit it up in there, be a little more aggressive."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Eagles lead the series 6-3. The two teams haven't faced each other since October 4, 1998 in Denver. The Broncos won that game easily, 41-16.

Quotes and Notes

--The Eagles were awarded PK Jose Cortez on waivers Tuesday, a day after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys after missing a 29-yard field goal in their three-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Cortez will replace Todd France Sunday against Dallas. But he likely will remain on the roster after that even though David Akers is expected to return next week after missing 4 games with a torn hamstring. The Eagles acquired Cortez mainly because he's better on kickoffs than France. Fearful of Akers reinjuring his hamstring, the Eagles only will use him on field goals and PATs initially.

--Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb made two major mental mistakes Sunday that cost the Eagles two scoring chances and almost the game against the Chargers. In the first half, he took a 13-yard sack near the right sideline instead of throwing the ball away that took the Eagles out of field goal position. Then, with 12 seconds left in the first half and the Eagles out of timeouts, he threw the ball to tight end L.J. Smith at the 10-yard line instead of into the end zone. Time ran out before the Eagles were able to stop the clock and try a field goal. As he typically does, coach Andy Reid blamed himself for calling a play that didn't have every receiver run a route into the end zone, even though McNabb should have known better than to throw it to Smith.

--After giving up a combined 311 rushing yards to the Chiefs and Cowboys in their previous two games, the Eagles defense held Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson to a career-low 7 yards on 17 carries in Sunday's 20-17 Eagles win. "We went into the game with a chip on our shoulder," free safety Brian Dawkins said. "We were hearing how much we can't stop the run and how this game was going to be no different than any other as far as him running for 200-plus yards probably against us. You get tired of hearing that. You get tired of hearing what you can't do. We went out and showed what we could (do)."

--The Eagles had just one rushing first down against the Chargers and none in their previous game against the Cowboys. They've got a total of 20 rushing first downs in six games.

--WR Terrell Owens has 12 catches in the last two games, but averaged just 8.5 yards per catch on those 12 receptions.

--Donovan McNabb insists his sports hernia injury isn't preventing him from throwing the deep ball. "A lot of teams have been trying to eliminate the big play for us," he said. "If it's deeper passes, if it's me getting out of the pocket trying to throw a deeper pass, whatever it may be. So that's why you see some (shorter) routes that are 10 or 15 yards."

BY THE NUMBERS: The Eagles and Chargers combined for just 45 rushing yards Sunday. That's the third fewest in a game in NFL history and the fewest in 62 years.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to balance it up a little more. We are a little too heavy with the passing." - Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose team has thrown the ball 268 times this season and run it just 102.


The Eagles claimed PK Jose Cortez off waivers Tuesday from Dallas and released PK Todd France. France had made six of his seven field goal attempts while subbing for injured David Akers. But the Eagles feel Cortez has a stronger leg on kickoffs. The Eagles are hoping to get Akers back either this week or next week. When he does return, Cortez likely will remain on the roster and handle kickoffs to reduce the risk of re-injury to Akers. With the Cowboys, Cortez had five touchbacks and got eight of his last nine kickoffs with them inside the 5-yard line.


Player Notes

--PK David Akers is listed as out for Sunday's game with his torn hamstring. Andy Reid had indicated earlier in the week that there was a possibility he might return this week.

--PK Jose Cortez, who was claimed off waivers from Dallas on Tuesday, will handle all of the kicking Sunday against Dallas, and may remain on the roster to handle kickoffs even after David Akers returns.

--LB Jason Short probably will miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain. He's listed as doubtful.

--WR Terrell Owens injured his shoulder last week against San Diego, but practiced Wednesday and is listed as probable for Sunday.

--TE Stephen Spach, who saw his most extensive playing time Sunday as a blocking tight end, is nursing a sprained ankle, but practiced Wednesday and will play Sunday.

GAME PLAN: Even though Andy Reid said his team needs to run the ball a little more, don't look for a lot of running this week against the Broncos. The Eagles still will attack primarily through the air, with Donovan McNabb looking for his three main pass-catching weapons - wide receiver Terrell Owens, tight end L.J. Smith and running back Brian Westbrook. All three are on 90-catch paces.


Eagles WR Brian Westbrook vs. Broncos LBs. There are few safeties or linebackers in the league who can match up against Westbrook in the passing game. But all three of the Broncos LBs are fast and athletic.

Eagles LT Tra Thomas vs. Broncos RDE Trevor Pryce. Pryce is the one guy up front the Eagles must neutralize. While Denver will move him around, he'll spend most of the game opposite Pro Bowler Thomas.

INJURY IMPACT: PK David Akers may be back as early as next week. Even when he returns, the Eagles may keep Jose Cortez around to handle kickoffs. ... P Dirk Johnson continues to have soreness in his groin. He had surgery to repair a sports hernia this summer. Johnson has managed to kick with the discomfort. ... KR Ryan Moats, who suffered a concussion in Sunday's game, is listed as probable for this week. But it's uncertain whether he'll return kicks. He fumbled both of his attempts last week.

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