The Eastern Front: Eagles Ponder Options

Eagles ponder options at WR, Giants try to avoid a trap, Dallas looks forward to bye.

Philadelphia Eagles

From the Philadelphia Eagles:

Weekly Media Release

Hot Topic

Terrell Owens played in all of Sunday's 49-21 loss to the Denver Broncos. He caught three passes for 154 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown catch-and-run in which he made the Broncos' Pro Bowl cornerback, Champ Bailey, look like an overmatched schoolboy.

Owens walked off the field after the game without a limp. When Eagles coach Andy Reid went through his injury report after the game, Owens' name wasn't on it. But the next morning, Owens informed Reid that he sprained his right ankle in the game and didn't think he'd be able to play, not only this Sunday against Washington, but also probably next week against Dallas as well.

Considering the acrimony between the Eagles and their star wide receiver over the last several months, there is natural skepticism when Owens says he's injured. Is he really hurt, or is he sticking it to a struggling 4-3 team that won't give him a new contract and badly needs him as it gets ready to play three straight games against NFC East opponents?

"I never question that about him," Reid insisted Wednesday. "He loves to play the game and wants to be out there."

But he probably won't be Sunday. Owens is listed as doubtful on the club's injury report with an injury to the same ankle that he had surgically repaired last December.

"The injury is a day-to-day thing and that is the way he is approaching it," Reid said. "We will see how it goes. He is hurting and he is sore and it is going to be a fight to get him in there Sunday."

That's bad news for Reid's struggling offense. Owens leads the team in receptions (47), receiving yards (763) and touchdown catches (6). Without Owens in the game, the Redskins will be able to focus on stopping the Eagles' other two primary pass-catching weapons, running back Brian Westbrook and tight end L.J. Smith.

If Owens can't play, he'll be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Reggie Brown, who had the best day of his young career Sunday, catching a pair of passes for 44 yards. Brown is a talented player. So is the Eagles' other starting wideout, Greg Lewis. But neither of them is Owens.

"Reggie's coming along real well," quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "We've definitely worked on timing in practice and we've been able to run different routes and have good placement on balls. He's been doing a great job of catching the ball and getting upfield with it. If T.O. can't play, I have confidence in Reggie and Greg. We'll be OK."

With or without Owens, the Eagles are expected to run the ball more Sunday. The Redskins own the best pass defense in the NFL and have given up just five touchdown passes this season. But they have struggled to stop the run, particularly on the weak side.

Tiki Barber and the Giants gashed them for 200-plus rushing yards last week. The Redskins are allowing 4.5 yards per carry.

The Eagles have ignored the run most of this season, throwing the ball 75 percent of the time. But in the second half of last week's loss to Denver, that changed a bit. Westbrook had nine rushing attempts in the second half. The Eagles' 19 rushing attempts in the game were their second-most this season.

"We're going to concentrate on running our offense," McNabb said. "That is what we are going to do and that's whether it is throwing the ball or running the ball. We will see how it works out this week. I don't get too much into that other stuff."

SERIES HISTORY: 141st meeting. Redskins lead the series, 73-62-5. Eagles have won the last 7 meetings, including both games last year. They beat the 'Skins in Washington 17-10 and in Philly, 28-6.

Quotes and Notes

--Despite the presence of three Pro Bowlers in their secondary, the Eagles continue to have problems stopping the pass. In the last five games, they've given up 13 touchdown passes. That's just three fewer than they gave up all of last season. In those five games, opposing quarterbacks have averaged 8.05 yards per attempt against the Eagles.

"We're just giving up too many big plays," said free safety Brian Dawkins. "We've got to stop giving up so many big plays."

Why are they giving up so many, including six completions of 20-plus yards in last week's 49-21 loss to Denver?

"It's hard to say," Dawkins said. "Some of them are blown assignments. Mental mistakes. When that happens as a defense, we're all beaten. Not just that one person. We have to start running our defensive game plan to perfection. Right now, we're not doing that."

--Just when it looks like the Eagles will be getting kicker David Akers back this week, they lost punter Dirk Johnson. Johnson was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. He had surgery in June to repair a sports hernia, but has been bothered by groin problems all season. The pain has gradually worsened. At one point in Sunday's loss to Denver, he couldn't even run down the field after punting the ball. The Eagles have replaced him with Reggie Hodges, who was a sixth-round pick of the Rams in April. Hodges was the Rams' punter for the first 5 games, but averaged just 38 yards per punt before they released him. The Eagles apparently had no interest in their former punter, 44-year-old Sean Landeta.

--The Eagles continue to dig themselves early holes. They were outscored 14-0 in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the Broncos. In their seven games, they've been outscored 62-14 in the first quarter. They haven't scored a first-quarter point in their last five games. Last year, the Eagles had the best first-quarter point differential (+46) in the league. They've scored just once on their first two possessions this season. Quarterback Donovan McNabb is a pitiful 12-for-35 for 159 yards on the first two possessions.

"One of the things that's pretty obvious is you can't get down by four touchdowns against a good football team like we did Sunday," said coach Andy Reid, whose team fell behind the Broncos 28-0 before scoring late in the first half. "We have to start faster. We realize we haven't done a good job of that this year."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think we have lost confidence. We have to fix the problems and just move on from there." - Eagles SS Mike Lewis

BY THE NUMBERS: The Eagles have recorded just seven rushing first downs in the past four games.

Player Notes

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Rookie wide receiver Reggie Brown likely will get his first NFL start Sunday against Washington in place of injured Terrell Owens. Owens injured the same ankle last week that he had surgically repaired last December and isn't expected to play this week.

With Owens out and the Redskins coming off a game in which they were torched for 204 rushing yards by the Giants' Tiki Barber, the Eagles likely will run the ball more than they have this season. In Sunday's loss to the Broncos, they ran the ball 19 times, which, ironically, was their second highest number of rushes in a game this season.

Kicker David Akers is expected to return this week after missing four games with a torn hamstring. But that doesn't mean Jose Cortez will necessarily be going anywhere. At least not yet. The Eagles likely will keep Cortez around to handle kickoffs until they're sure Akers is out of the woods injury-wise. Kickoffs cause more strain on the hamstring than placekicks.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Terrell Owens likely will miss Sunday's game against Washington and possibly next week's game against Dallas as well. He injured his ankle Sunday against Denver. It's the same ankle he had surgically repaired last December.

--WR Reggie Brown, the club's second-round pick in the April draft, will get his first start Sunday in place of injured Terrell Owens. Brown has been the club's No. 3 receiver behind Owens and Greg Lewis. He had two catches for 44 yards in Sunday's loss to Denver.

--QB Donovan McNabb missed Wednesday's practice with a rib contusion. But he is listed as probable on the injury report and is expected to play Sunday.

--DE Jevon Kearse didn't practice Wednesday. He injured his shoulder Sunday against the Broncos. An MRI showed no damage, but he is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Redskins.

--PK David Akers may return this week after missing four games with a torn hamstring. He started kicking last week with a snapper and holder and participated in practice Wednesday. If he plays this week, he will only do the placekicking. Jose Cortez will handle the kickoffs.

GAME PLAN: With Terrell Owens not expected to play and the Redskins owning one of the NFL's worst run defenses, the pass-happy Eagles are expected to try and run the ball more than they have been. Teams have been successful running to the Redskins' right side, at right end Renaldo Wynn and weakside linebacker Warrick Holdman. But Holdman was benched in the second half last week and replaced by LaVar Arrington.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Eagles LDE Jevon Kearse vs. Redskins RT Jon Jansen. Kearse has an injured shoulder and is listed as questionable. He hasn't played up to expectations even when healthy. ... Eagles CBs Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss. Moss is averaging 18 yards per carry and is one of the league's best deep threats. The Eagles have given up 13 touchdown passes in the last five games.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Terrell Owens (ankle) isn't expected to play Sunday. His absence will be a big blow to the Eagles' offense. He'll be replaced by rookie Reggie Brown. ... DE Jevon Kearse and DE N.D. Kalu both are listed as questionable for Sunday's game with shoulder injuries. If they both can't play, the Eagles will have a major numbers problem up front.

Dallas Cowboys

Hot Topic

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent more than $52 million in signing bonuses and guaranteed money on offseason upgrades through the draft and free agency.

His goal was to make a quick turnaround from last season's 6-10 campaign and make a run at the playoffs in 2005.

Through eight games, Jones has proven to have made a wise investment.

The Cowboys (5-3) are second in the NFC East behind the Giants (5-2). They are tied for the conference lead in wins, giving them as good a shot as anyone to be a Super Bowl contender from the NFC.

"I think any time you have as many wins as anybody in the division you have certainly a chance," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "But it's not Thanksgiving yet. If we could put a couple more wins together here pretty quick, then you know you would at least be in it to the last month. That always gives you something to shoot for. But we're not really in that position yet."

Said Jones: "We have a feel for the other teams. We know how we stack up now. We feel we have a shot."

Jones credits the impact play from a strong rookie class led by linebacker Demarcus Ware and defensive end Marcus Spears. Free agent quarterback Drew Bledsoe and cornerback Anthony Henry have been huge hits on offense and defense, respectively.

"I have always believed in my ability to play this position, and with the way that this team is playing I expect to perform at a fairly consistent level," Bledsoe said. "Honestly, I expect to play better down the stretch."

The key to the Cowboys making a run in the second half is keeping Bledsoe protected and healthy.

The Cowboys are confident and believe they can compete with any team in the NFC right now.

"When we play well we can beat anyone," Bledsoe said. "The team has shown improvement through the first eight games. We are getting better from week to week and that's something you have to have. Those chances to really be a competitive team and be a championship team are fleeting, and you have to try to grab it every year."

Quotes and Notes

--LB Dat Nguyen returned to action last Sunday after missing three games with a stinger. The former starter returned as a role player, playing in the nickel defense and on special teams. It may be the extent of his play for the rest of the season. The defense has been superb in Nguyen's absence with Bradie James taking over the calls and Scott Shanle replacing him in the starting lineup. Nguyen is okay with the move because of the scare he received from the extended absence with the stinger. He is happy just to be playing football again.

--Coach Bill Parcells gave his team Tuesday and Wednesday off during the bye week. They will practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday and be off Sunday and Monday. They will work next Tuesday and be off Wednesday before returning to work for the Monday night game against the Eagles.

--Sheryl Crow is next in line to be the headline performer for the nationally televised 2005 Red Kettle Christmas campaign kickoff on Thanksgiving Day at Texas Stadium.

The Cowboys play the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving Day.

"Sheryl Crow is one of the most popular entertainment artists today, and we are excited about the opportunity to have her with us on Thanksgiving Day to kick off one of the most important fund-raising drives in America -- the Red Kettle Campaign," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The Red Kettle campaign has traditionally been The Salvation Army's most prominent fund-raiser. In 2004, the campaign raised over $100 million in communities nationwide, with the nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars all remaining in the towns where the money was deposited into the kettles.

Past performers for the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game at Texas Stadium include Destiny's Child, Toby Keith, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, Billy Gilman, Clint Black and Reba McEntire.

--QB Drew Bledsoe is on pace to set the Cowboys record for passing yards in a season. He already owns the single season record for New England and Buffalo. He would be the first player in NFL history to hold the record for three different teams.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is America now. You can go where you want. I try to caution my players about doing things. I would never give them three days off in a row, so they're not going to get three days in a row. So if they're going to go somewhere they're going to have to do it in a day and a half because they're going to have to be back." -- Cowboys coach Bill Parcells on his players leaving during the bye week.

Player Notes

--OT Marc Colombo was signed to a one-year deal worth $455,000 to bring depth at right tackle.

--DE Vontrell Jamison was signed to the practice squad because Jay Ratliff was placed on injured reserve. Guard Shannon Snell was released from the practice squad.

--CB Anthony Henry's availability for the Eagles game Nov. 14 may not be determined until next week. Henry has a slight tear in his groin. The injury is not considered serious, though the push off factor at cornerback will be a key part of the equation for Henry.

--RB Julius Jones is ready to return after missing the last three games with ankle injury. That and the emergence of rookie runners Marion Barber III and Tyson Thompson were the reason the Cowboys released veteran running back Anthony Thomas.

He had five carries in the first two games before being inactive for two games. After Jones went down with an ankle injury against the Eagles in Week 5, Thomas started the next two games against the Giants and Seahawks to minimal success, rushing 27 times for 66 yards. Barber, who rushed for 95 yards against the Seahawks, got the start against the Cardinals last Sunday and rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas was active but did not log a carry in the game.

He will still get his $1 million for 2005 as a vested veteran but would not have liked to be made inactive for the rest of the season.

This will give him a chance to latch on with another team.

--S Lynn Scott and S Tony Dixon were signed to alleviate season-long concerns Cowboys coach Bill Parcells has had about the safety position. Willie Pile's groin injury against the Cardinals certainly didn't help the situation. Pile might not be ready for Eagles game Nov. 14.

Dixon was not re-signed in the offseason after spending four years with the Cowboys (2001-04). He went to camp with Redskins and was released. Scott also played the last four years with the Cowboys. He was released in training camp.

--T Torrin Tucker's solid play at left tackle in place of the injured Flozell Adams can partially be credited to left guard Larry Allen, who has put a headlock on Tucker in taking him under his wing. Allen moved Tucker's seat next to his in the meeting room and has made a point to make sure Tucker knows what he's supposed to do.

New York Giants

Hot Topic

Around the NFL, you'll often hear the term "trap game," and while no one is quite sure how it got started or by whom, the meaning is crystal clear.

You have just soundly beaten a worthy opponent, and now you are going to play a weak team. You are lopsided favorites and the only logical expectation is that you'll dispatch this weak sister with even more efficiency than the victory you earned the week before.

The danger, as it has been explained hundreds of times, is that teams tend to look past the inferior opponent, feeling that they might only have to show up on the field to cause the other guys to quake in their expensive Nike shoes.

Then they lose. It was a "trap game," you see, except they did the trapping themselves.

This is the situation in which the Giants find themselves this week. They are fresh from a startling 36-0 punishing of the Washington Redskins, and they are flying off to San Francisco to take on the 49ers, who just beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to run their record to 2-5. The Giants, on the other hand, are 5-2.

Coach Tom Coughlin has tried all week to cast the 49ers as a stronger team in an effort to get his players to show respect and take the game seriously.

"The 49ers are 2-2 at home," Coughlin said. "They have played extremely well there. That is a very physical team and they run well. They have two excellent running backs (Kevan Barlow and rookie Frank Gore) and solid offensive and defensive lines."

He stopped short, however, of offering high praise for the quarterback. It isn't Alex Smith, the NFL's first overall draft pick this year, and it isn't Ken Dorsey, the backup. Both are injured.

The quarterback Sunday will be Cody Pickett, first of San Francisco's two seventh-round draft choices in 2004. He threw one pass last week, a 10-yard completion.

"Pickett is very mobile," Coughlin said. "He is big (6-3, 227) and he can run. Hey, he has even been on their special teams, and when he came in last week to hold on to the victory, it didn't look like the bright lights bothered him at all."

One final thing. Being the favorite in a "trap game" usually means you are favored by a double-digit point spread.

Not that the Giants are used to this - the last time it happened they were 101/2-point favorites over Atlanta on Nov. 9, 2003. The Falcons were without quarterback Michael Vick. Kurt Kittner was going to be playing.

Atlanta won 27-7.

SERIES HISTORY - This will be the 25th regular season meeting between the teams and the 49ers hold a 13-11 lead. However, there have been seven postseason meetings and the Giants have a 4-3 edge in those. Perhaps the two most memorable games in the series were both postseason affairs. The Giants beat the heavily favored 49ers on Jan. 20, 1990, on five Matt Bahr field goals to take a 15-13 decision and advance to Super Bowl XXV. Then the teams played on Jan. 5, 2003, and after the Giants built a 38-14 lead the 49ers came back to take a 39-38 victory when two officials missed a flagrant pass interference call when guard Rich Seubert, who had reported as an eligible receiver, was tackled near the goal line.

"We should never have allowed them to catch up," said then-coach Jim Fassel. "One play didn't lose that game for us and one missed call didn't, either."

Quotes and Notes

--So sure was the NFL that the 49ers were going to win the 1991 NFC Championship Game and move on to Super Bowl XXV that the team's share of Super Bowl tickets had been shipped out to San Francisco. When the Giants pulled off the upset, their ticket manager, John Gorman, flew home on a red-eye flight with the nearly priceless tickets in his possession.

--So sure were the 49ers of victory that owner Eddie DeBartolo had reserved the entire third floor of the NFC team hotel for offices and shipped equipment across the country; the Giants were pleased to use the supplies that were in place, courtesy of the 49ers.

--RB Tiki Barber was named NFL Offensive Player of the Week for his 24-carry, 206-yard performance against the Redskins last Sunday. He was within 13 yards of the team's all-time single game rushing record (1950, Choo Choo Roberts) but voluntarily took himself out for the entire fourth quarter. "I have to leave some of the record intact," he said, "or I won't want to keep playing if I get them all too soon."

--The Giants lead the NFL with their 29.9 points per game average and they are second in the league with a plus-12 turnover differential.

--The Giants scored 34 TDs last season and already have 23 this year; they had 12 TD passes last year and have already exceeded that with 13.

--LG David Diehl, who hasn't missed a game since he was drafted in 2003 (fifth round from Illinois), and who is at his third position - he was the RT in '03, the RG in '04 - says there is no way the Giants will look past the 49ers. "You have to focus on the precious present," he said. "The fact that we're in first place (in the NFC East) now doesn't mean a thing. After the 16th game, if we're still there, then we've got something."

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 - The 49ers have won 10 of the last 12 meetings with the Giants.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "People like fans and announcers don't realize the defensive concepts involved in pass coverage. They see me playing 8 yards off a guy on third-and-6 and they think it's a mistake. It all depends on the formation we're in. You never intentionally give up a first down." - Giants starting RCB Curtis Deloatch.

Player Notes

There is no additional information, according to Giants coach Tom Coughlin, on RCB Will Peterson.

"It's day to day, week to week, what have you," Coughlin said. "He has a bad back and we're just waiting to see some change."

Right now Curtis Deloatch is handling the job and doing surprisingly well, removing much of the pressure on the defense.

--Coach Tom Coughlin disclosed that rookie DE Eric Moore has been "mostly" switched to LB and will get more snaps there in practice from now on. Why? "Because you have a big man who is athletic and can run," he said of the 6-4, 268-pounder from Florida State. "We had a need at linebacker and he looks like he might help us."

--WR David Tyree, a special teams star, missed his first game in two-plus seasons last week with a bruised elbow. "It's feeling better now," he said, "and I really expect to play."

--SS Shaun Williams (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday but should do so Thursday and coach Tom Coughlin feels he is going to be available on Sunday. That is less likely for SLB Carlos Emmons (partially torn right pectoral muscle) and rookie DE Justin Tuck (medial ankle sprain).

--PK Jay Feely, who missed his first FG after 13 straight (a 51-yarder vs. the Redskins) said: "I didn't miss it, the wind missed it for me. I did all the mechanics just right and when the wind takes it, I can't do a thing about that." Feely has made 16 of 17 and had a five-FG day vs. the Redskins.

Game Plan

The Giants have little or no idea about the performance abilities of Cody Pickett, who will be the 49ers' starting QB because of injuries to rookie Alex Smith and backup Ken Dorsey. Pickett, whose father is a former rodeo rider, has exactly one pass and one completion for 10 yards and two rushes for 12 yards this season.

"The best thing you can do against any team," says defensive end Michael Strahan, "is put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and make him force his throws. Since we don't know much about Pickett, we have no idea how he's going to react. All we hear is that he's a good, tough player."

The Giants have always tried to shut down the running game, and with the 49ers that means putting a collar on veteran Kevan Barlow and rookie Frank Gore. Both have had a satisfying season so far - Barlow has 420 yards in 104 carries and two TDs; Gore has 44 carries for 238 yards, a 72-yard burst and one TD.

Matchups to Watch

Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora will use his quickness and flat-out speed in an attempt to get past 49ers OLT Jonas Jennings, who is nursing a shoulder injury. He is listed as doubtful and hasn't practiced yet this week. His backup is Anthony Clement (6-8, 320), but his quickness is virtually non-existent.

Giants WR Plaxico Burress, who has 40 receptions for 577 yards and five TDs, gets to show his skills to 49ers' RCB Shawntae Spencer, who has four passes defensed but no interceptions. Spencer is 6-1, 179 and Burress is 6-5 and 226.

The 49ers front seven will have to contend with RB Tiki Barber, who had 206 yards last week in 24 carries, and if the running game is effective and the secondary has to come up to support the run defense, QB Eli Manning will have an easier time throwing to Burress, WR Amani Toomer and TE Jeremy Shockey.

INJURY IMPACT: The Giants might be without SLB Carlos Emmons (pectoral), rookie DE Justin Tuck (ankle) and will definitely be without CB Will Peterson (back). WR David Tyree (elbow) is questionable while SS Shaun Williams (hamstring) is probable.

Neither Emmons, Tuck or Williams practiced Wednesday. If Emmons can't play, it will be Reggie Torbor at SLB. Tuck and Williams are backups.


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