The Eastern Front: Jones Not Happy

The Eastern Front 12.09.05--Jerry Jones expected a bit more for his $53 million offseason investment that a team struggling for a Wild Card spot.

Dallas Cowboys

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Jerry Jones spent more than $52 million in signing bonuses and guaranteed money on offseason upgrades to make the Cowboys a playoff team in 2005.

At 7-5, the Cowboys are in the thick of the playoff chase.

But it would be wrong to say that Jones is satisfied with his investment at this point.

The Cowboys are riding a two-game losing streak heading into the final month of the season. They understand they must win three of the last four games to make the playoffs, which is not an easy proposition considering they face the Chiefs (8-4) at home before consecutive road games at Washington (6-6) and at Carolina (9-3).

They end the season at home against the Rams (5-7).

"I'm not ecstatic," said Jones, the Cowboys owner. "But I am not disappointed. We have a shot. That's what you want."

For the Cowboys to make the most of their shot, they need to play better on offense. The defense is playing at a championship level. In fact, Jones said the team played its best defensive game of the season in Sunday's loss to the Giants.

But the game also featured another disappointing performance by a Cowboys offense that once ranked in the NFL's top 10.

The Cowboys now stand 17th in the league and are in full freefall.

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was the NFC's top-rated passer at the halfway point of the season, but Bledsoe has averaged a passer rating of 67.3 over past four games as the Cowboys have gone 2-2. Once on pace to set the team record for passing yards in a season, Bledsoe has passed for less than 200 yards in three of the past four games. His numbers have included five interceptions and three lost fumbles.

The Cowboys are not running the ball with any consistency either. Blame can be rooted in the offensive line, where the team has struggled since left tackle Flozell Adams suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 16. Torrin Tucker has filled in surprisingly well. But the game plan has been compromised because the Cowboys have had to compensate for Tucker and rookie right tackle Rob Petitti.

Jones said the team must figure out how to block for the run and protect Bledsoe if it is to make a push for the postseason.

SERIES HISTORY: Eighth meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 4-3. They are 3-1 against the Chiefs at Texas Stadium.

Quotes and Notes

--Through 12 games, the Cowboys are the only team in the league with three players over the 550-yard receiving mark (Terry Glenn, 804; Keyshawn Johnson, 582; and Jason Witten, 559). Philadelphia is the only other club to have three players over 500 receiving yards. With three running backs contributing to Dallas's ground attack, the Cowboys are one of five teams to have three running backs over 180 rushing yards. The others are Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Washington.

Defensively, Dallas has had 14 players record a sack this season. Only San Diego (16) and Pittsburgh (15) have had more people involved in getting to the quarterback.

--Quarterback Drew Bledsoe and guard Larry Allen are the top NFC vote-getters at their positions in the latest Pro Bowl fan balloting released by the NFL. Bledsoe has 496,912 votes, and Allen has 188,344. Allen is looking to make his 10th trip to the Pro Bowl.

The teams will be announced Dec. 21. The Pro Bowl will be in Hawaii on Feb. 12.

--The Cowboys have had one of the most dramatic seasons in team history. Nine of their 12 games have been decided by seven points or less, and eight of those nine have been decided by six points or less.

Dallas' record in games decided by six or fewer points is 4-4. In franchise history, the Cowboys have played in 227 games that have been decided by six points or less and hold a 109-112-6 record in those games. If Dallas has one more game decided by six or fewer points, they would tie the 2002 team's club record of nine such games. The 2002 squad posted a 3-6 record in close games.

--This week's game against the Kansas City Chiefs closes out the Cowboys' 2005 schedule against AFC teams. So far this season, Dallas has a 1-2 record against the AFC and holds a 72-55 all-time record.

Since inter-conference play began following the AFL and NFL merger in 1970, the Cowboys have the highest winning percentage -- .567 -- in the NFC. They have won the third-most games (72) behind San Francisco's 75 and St. Louis's 73 wins.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he came in here with our knowledge of what we needed to do to make him an effective quarterback. Drew doesn't have the ability to buy extra time or create extra time. But we know that. We knew coming in with him that's the way we were going to design our offense. So it shouldn't be a surprise, it shouldn't be something you point your finger at." -- Owner Jerry Jones on the need to protect quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Player Notes

--QB Drew Bledsoe's woes have not been his own doing. After being sacked 10 times in the first five games, he has been sacked 18 times in the past seven, including four sacks against the Giants last Sunday.

--NT La'Roi Glover has not recorded a tackle in each of the past two games as he has played primarily as a pass rusher. He has no sacks and only two pressures in those outings.

--DE Greg Ellis played just 20 snaps against the Giants as the Cowboys started rookie Chris Canty because they expected a heavy dose of runs. Ellis played only on pass downs and saw his four-game streak of at least one sack end.

--CB Terence Newman will be used as a punt returner for the rest of the season. The Cowboys want to get more firepower on the returns and have decided there's nothing to save Newman for now that the season is drawing to a close. Newman had a season-high 26-yard return against the Giants.

--RB Julius Jones refuses to get frustrated with the Cowboys' running game. Jones came into the season looking to top 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game this year. Poor blocking is the main culprit. But Jones said his time is going to come and hopefully during this four-game playoff push. He said he is real close to breaking one and it's just a matter of time.

GAME PLAN: The Cowboys must find a way to protect Drew Bledsoe and they must take care of the football. They will continue to try to run the ball and control the clock. Defensively, they must stop running back Larry Johnson and contain Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Chiefs RB Larry Johnson vs. Cowboys run defense. Johnson is the focal point of the Chiefs attack. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past five games. The Cowboys are 10th in the NFL in rushing defense and have only allowed Lamont Jordan and Tiki Barber to top the 100-yard barrier. Linebacker Bradie James will have to be at his best.

--Cowboys LT Torrin Tucker vs. Chiefs DE Jared Allen. Allen has eight sacks, a team-high 48 quarterback pressures and six forced fumbles this season. He will look to take advantage of Tucker or RT Rob Petitti. Both are weak links on the line and have been victimized for sacks. For QB Drew Bledsoe to have any success passing, the Cowboys must get Allen blocked.

INJURY IMPACT

--CB Anthony Henry will start Sunday against the Chiefs after missing three of the last four games with a groin injury.

--CB Aaron Glenn remains questionable for Sunday's game with a sprained ankle. Glenn has started the last four games in place of the injured Anthony Henry. He would likely return to his role of nickel cornerback against the Chiefs because Henry is healthy again.  But Glenn has not practiced and it could be a game-time decision.


New York Giants

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He played cornerback in the third game of the season, Sept. 25 at San Diego, and he hasn't played since.

Now the Giants' Will Peterson won't play anymore this season, after the team placed him on injured reserve Wednesday. He tried to practice one day last week and the next morning was sore.

"He was in great pain," coach Tom Coughlin said.

So the season-ending lower back injury (stress fracture of the transverse process) has put Peterson on the shelf until next year, and in his place the Giants signed street free agent cornerback Terrell Buckley, a 14-year veteran who has played for several teams, but most recently the New York Jets.

He was with the Patriots when they won the Super Bowl after the 2001 season.

Buckley also had stops with Green Bay (the Packers made the Florida State product the fifth overall pick in the 1992 draft), Miami, Denver, New England, returned to Miami, returned to New England and then went to the Jets. He last played 11 months ago, in the Jets' playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Peterson, a third-round draft pick in 2001, played at Western Illinois after spending his first two collegiate seasons at the University of Michigan. The 6-foot, 200-pounder started five games for the Giants as a rookie, and to date has five interceptions while starting 37 of the 49 games for which he was eligible.

"Buckley is a veteran with vast experience," Coughlin said. "He can learn the system quickly, and it is possible that he might even see some action this week (Sunday in Philadelphia). In a very specific role, he can help us right away. We are going to practice him and see where we are."

The move is not exactly one of desperation but was long overdue in terms of timing. Peterson was retained on the active roster from Games 4 through 11, reducing the available number of defensive backs by one.

"Two weeks ago," Coughlin said, "we were faced with the potential of playing a game with six defensive backs. That was not a very good situation for our team to be in."

The question is this: What took so long? The severity of Peterson's injury, even had it miraculously healed, would have taken him the rest of the season to work back into shape. He was not going to be of any use to the Giants from the midway point of the season, yet he stayed active and, in effect, the team carried one fewer player than is allowed.

SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 142nd meeting of the teams, with the Eagles holding a comfortable 73-66-2 advantage. But the Giants won the first matchup of the season, 27-17 on Nov. 20, their first victory over the Eagles in the last five games. Historically, the most points the Giants ever scored came in a 62-10 victory over Philadelphia in 1972.

Quotes and Notes

--Veteran offensive tackle Bob Whitfield was asked to compare young Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, currently tied for the NFL sack lead with 11, to other outstanding defensive ends he has faced over his 14 years in the league.

"Osi reminds me of Chuck Smith (who used to play in Atlanta) and Chris Doleman (a Minnesota great)," he said. "He has that power rush that Smith had, and he has good handwork like Doleman. Besides, he goes against me in practice, so I assume he's learning a lot by doing that."

--Fullback Jim Finn has the distinction of having played with both Manning brothers, Peyton in Indianapolis and Eli with the Giants. Comparisons? "I think Peyton is more laid-back, more comfortable with what he does, but I think Eli is more volatile and more outgoing. I think he's going to be great."

--Umenyiora was asked if he thinks the Eagles, this week's opponents, are significantly weakened because of the loss of such veterans as quarterback Donovan McNabb, wide receiver Terrell Owens, running back Brian Westbrook and center Hank Fraley. "No, I don't," he said. "The Eagles will have players who can hurt you. We need to keep producing turnovers to help our team win."

--Jay Feely has made one of his last five field-goal attempts and has converted 24 of 30 attempts this season. He has scored 105 points, the second-highest figure in the NFL behind the injured Neil Rackers of Arizona, who has 110. It is entirely possible that Feely will emerge as the NFL kick-scoring leader. Also, he needs 23 points in four games to surpass the team's single-season scoring record, set by kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh in 1983.

--The Giants are third in the NFL and first in the NFC in turnover margin at plus-13. They have 15 interceptions (one more than all of last season) and 17 fumble recoveries. Free safety Brent Alexander has four interceptions to lead the team, and with one more he will achieve a personal season high for his 13 years in the league.

--The Giants rank ninth in total offense in the NFL, third in the NFC. They are 19th in total defense in the NFL and 11th in the NFC. But they are second in defense against the run in the conference (sixth in the NFL).

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 - Interceptions by cornerbacks among the Giants' total of 15. Right cornerback Curtis Deloatch and nickel back Frank Walker each have one. The starter at left cornerback Will Allen, has played well, has seven passes defensed and 57 tackles, but not a single pick. He has dropped three sure interceptions.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Tiki (Barber) reminds me of Marcus Allen. He has that same style. Smooth and silky, you know, doesn't make too many herky-jerky moves. He just takes off and has about two moves, and that's usually enough." - Left tackle Bob Whitfield on teammate Tiki Barber, who is third in the NFL with 1,233 rushing yards.

Player Notes

The Giants announced that starting RDT William Joseph, who has missed the past three games because of a dislocated elbow, might play Sunday against the Eagles. He practiced Wednesday but is listed as doubtful.

If he does return, he'll rotate with Fred Robbins, who took over the job, and Kenderick Allen, who backs up Kendrick Clancy at left defensive tackle.

The Giants still list Curtis Deloatch as the starter at right cornerback, although last week rookie Corey Webster started. Both have been erratic (Deloatch is in his second year) and the signing of Terrell Buckley might be an attempt to stabilize the secondary, since LCB Will Allen and the safeties, FS Brent Alexander and SS Gibril Wilson, are playing well.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--MLB Antonio Pierce (bruised leg) appears ready to play Sunday. He is absolutely sure of that. "No way I'm going to miss this game against the Eagles," he said. "I have always liked beating them." Pierce, in his first year with the Giants, spent his first four NFL seasons with Washington, another team in the NFC East.

--CB Terrell Buckley, signed as a free agent on Wednesday, practiced with the team and feels he might be ready for Sunday. "I start reading the playbook at 6:30 in the morning and after I leave the stadium I read again and again until I fall asleep," he said. "This is a great challenge and I don't want to pass up the opportunity."

--RDE Osi Umenyiora, the NFL co-leader with 11 sacks, feels the front four plus the linebackers have controlled the line of scrimmage in most games. "I think we have come up with some key turnovers," he said. "We have forced a lot of them this year, and our unit is getting closer and closer and able to read each other's moves."

--LT Luke Petitgout, who had five false-start penalties two weeks ago in Seattle and has eight for the season, had just one against Dallas last Sunday. "It isn't anything to do with technique," he said. "It's just me, my concentration."

--WR Plaxico Burress discounts the notion that the Eagles, with so many missing veterans, might be an easy mark. "It's a division game, and they just love to beat us," he said. "You don't look past anybody, especially these guys. They didn't play the way they wanted to last Monday night (a 42-0 whipping by Seattle), but they're a lot better than that."

GAME PLAN: The Giants defense, ranked second in the NFL vs. the rush, figures to have an easy time against the Eagles. The latest Philadelphia injury is the one that has sent superstar RB Brian Westbrook out for the rest of the season. This will put rookie Ryan Moats in the backfield, along with Lamar Gordon and Reno Mahe. The three of them have gained a total of 230 yards - Westbrook had 617. Then, when the running game proves not to work well, the Eagles will turn to seldom-used Mike McMahon at quarterback, and his primary target will be TE L.J. Smith.

The Giants offense should fare far better. RB Tiki Barber is on a mission to lead the league, and currently he is third with 1,233 yards. He needs just 71 per game to eclipse his single-season high (1,518) set last year. The passing of Eli Manning should find targets like WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jeremy Shockey, Barber and WR Amani Toomer. With the offensive line blocking well, this might be an easier-than-expected outing.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora, a combination of speed and strength that has netted him the co-lead in the NFL with 11 sacks, gets to test rookie LT Todd Herremans, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound rookie from Saginaw Valley State College, the second of two fourth-round picks. Herremans replaced Pro Bowl T Tra Thomas, lost for the season with lumbar disc surgery after being injured Nov. 20 in a game against the Giants.

--Giants LT Luke Petitgout will try to hold off impressive rookie RDE Trent Cole, who had 28 tackles and five sacks and has started the past three games after replacing N.D. Kalu. Cole is 6-3 and just 260 with great speed.

--The Eagles' running game, virtually crippled with the loss of RB Brian Westbrook for the season, will start rookie Ryan Moats against a front seven that has allowed 92.7 yards per game and ranks second in the league in defense against the rush.

INJURY IMPACT: The Giants report no new injuries except for a bruised leg suffered by MLB Antonio Pierce last week vs. Dallas, but he is expected to play. They may get RDT William Joseph (dislocated elbow) back after a three-week absence, but most likely they'll wait until next week to play him. Joseph practiced Wednesday, Pierce did not.

Philadelphia Eagles

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Brian Westbrook has spent much of his first four NFL seasons answering questions about his durability. After suffering a season-ending foot injury in Sunday's 42-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the questions aren't going to go away.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot in the first quarter of the game. As of late Wednesday, it still hadn't been determined whether the injury would require surgery.

Five years ago, then Eagles running back Duce Staley suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his foot in an early-October game. He had surgery and missed the rest of the season. He returned the next year and had 229 touches, but averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

Tight end Chad Lewis suffered the same injury in last January's NFC Championship Game. He also required surgery. A free agent, he re-signed with the Eagles in early November and has three catches in four games.

Free safety Brian Dawkins also suffered a Lisfranc sprain early in the 2003 season, but his injury didn't require surgery. He missed nine games and returned to play that season.

Westbrook's injury came just when it looked as if he were starting to prove that he could handle a heavy workload. He had 95 touches in the previous four games, which was far and away the biggest four-game workload of his young career.

Westbrook was averaging 4.0 yards per carry and also led the Eagles in receptions with 61. His 10.1-yards-per-catch average was the highest of any running back in the league with at least 25 catches.

The long-term effect of Westbrook's injury won't be known until next season. The short-term effect is a little clearer. The Eagles, who already have lost quarterback Donovan McNabb to injury and wide receiver Terrell Owens to suspension, now are without their most important offensive weapon.

Coach Andy Reid said he will use all three of his backs -- Lamar Gordon, Reno Mahe and rookie Ryan Moats -- Sunday against the Giants.

"There are no (number) ones and twos," he said. "It depends on the (personnel) groupings we have in there."

Moats, the club's third-round pick last April, is the most talented of the three. But he has spent most of the season as a game-day deactivation because of difficulty picking up the Eagles' complex offense. He rushed for 24 yards on six carries in the Eagles' win over Green Bay two weeks ago, but he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry last week against Seattle. He also had the ball stripped from him and returned for a touchdown.

Quarterback Mike McMahon, who will make his third straight start despite throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns last week, acknowledged how big a loss Westbrook is.

"Brian is one of our best weapons," he said. "It's going to be tough not having him out there. But at the same time, it's a great opportunity for some of the young guys. Ryan Moats can be explosive at times. Reno is very smart. He has a feel for finding holes in the defenses. Then you have Lamar who can pound the ball up in there."

SERIES HISTORY: 144th meeting. Giants lead the series 76-65-2. The Eagles had beaten the Giants four straight times before losing three weeks ago up in the Meadowlands, 27-17.

Quotes and Notes

--The Eagles honored late defensive end Reggie White at halftime of Monday night's loss to Seattle. The club retired his No. 92 jersey. Several of White's former Eagles teammates returned for the tribute, including linebackers Seth Joyner and Byron Evans, defensive end Clyde Simmons, cornerback Eric Allen, safeties Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters, tight end Keith Jackson and running back Keith Byars. Former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan also was on hand. Ryan's Eagles went to the playoffs in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Despite owning the league's best defense, they never were able to win a playoff game. Ryan was fired after the '90 season. White left for Green Bay when true free agency was born in '93. "A great football team," Ryan said of those Eagles teams. "We were tough. We were feared. People didn't just respect our ability. We played tough. We took no prisoners."

--Owner Jeffrey Lurie, who orchestrated the tribute even though White had left for Green Bay before Lurie bought the team from Norman Braman in 1994, was viciously booed by the crowd when he spoke during the tribute. The Eagles were trailing 35-0 at the time.

--Eagles running backs have lost fumbles in each of the past two games after going 799 carries over 41 games without losing a fumble on a rushing attempt. Lamar Gordon fumbled against Green Bay two weeks ago, and rookie Ryan Moats fumbled Monday night against Seattle. Moats' fumble was returned for a touchdown.

--Despite the fact that they held the Seahawks to 14 first downs and 194 total yards in Monday night's 42-0 loss, coach Andy Reid ripped his defense this week for allowing a 16-play, 65-yard, eight-minute scoring drive to open the game. "It's unacceptable to have the first drive run down to the seven-minute mark on you and have that many plays run on you," Reid said.

--Reid said the main reason he has decided to stick with Mike McMahon as his starting quarterback this week over Koy Detmer is McMahon's mobility. McMahon completed just four of 10 passes against Seattle and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns before being replaced by Detmer late in the second quarter.

Detmer didn't do much better. He completed just 13 of 29 passes and also threw two picks.

"Quarterback gets the bulk of the finger-pointing, but everyone had a piece of the (blame) pie there," Reid said. "We will let Mike get in there, and he will get a step better, and the guys around him will get a step better."

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Number of kickoff returns of 30 or more yards by the Eagles this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not looking at any projects. We get these cats who are out back healthy and the front office does what it feels it needs to do to help us in the offseason, and we'll be back in the driver's seat again next year." -- Free safety Brian Dawkins.

Player Notes

Andy Reid has named Mike McMahon his starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Giants. McMahon completed just four of 10 passes and was intercepted twice in Monday night's loss to Seattle before being replaced last in the second quarter. But McMahon's mobility gave him the edge over Koy Detmer.

With Brian Westbrook gone, Reid intends to rotate Lamar Gordon, Reno Mahe and Ryan Moats at running back.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Jeremiah Trotter is nursing a sore knee, but he has practiced all week and is listed as probable for Sunday's game.

--WR Billy McMullen was added to the injury list Thursday (knee). He is listed as probable for Sunday.

--LG Artis Hicks, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, will start Sunday against the Giants.

--RB Brian Westbrook will miss the rest of the season after suffering a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot Monday against Seattle.

--QB Mike McMahon will make his third straight start Sunday against the Giants, despite a poor performance last week that included throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

--LG Adrien Clarke will go back to the bench now that Artis Hicks is healthy again, despite the fact that Clarke played very well in Hicks' absence.

--PK David Akers, who missed four games earlier this season with a torn hamstring, is on the injury report with a hamstring injury. But he is listed as probable and practiced Wednesday.

GAME PLAN: Even though their wideouts have caught just eight passes in the past two games, the Eagles think they can attack the Giants' corners Sunday. While they respect Will Allen, they feel their other three corners -- Curtis Deloatch, Frank Walker and rookie Corey Webster -- all are exploitable.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Eagles LT Todd Herremans vs. Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora leads the NFC in sacks. Herremans will be making just his third NFL start.

--Eagles WR Reggie Brown vs. Giants CB Curtis Deloatch. Brown caught three passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against Deloatch three weeks ago.

--Eagles RT Jon Runyan vs. Giants LDE Michael Strahan. These two old warhorses do battle again. Runyan held Strahan sackless three weeks ago.

INJURY IMPACT: The loss of RB Brian Westbrook (out for the season with a Lisfranc sprain) is a killer to an offense that already is without its starting quarterback and top wide receiver.


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