Defensive end Greg Ellis saw it coming in the offseason.
At 280 pounds, he knew he wasn't a good fit for the 3-4 defense. He was too small to take the pounding on an every-down basis. He knew the Cowboys eventually would be looking in another direction.
He said as much, causing a controversy in the preseason.
Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said it was much ado about nothing and that Ellis would continue to have a big role with the Cowboys.
Well, 13 games into the season, Ellis is pretty much a backup to rookie defensive end Chris Canty.
Canty has started the past two games, primarily, Parcells said, because the Cowboys were facing run-oriented offenses and Canty gave them a better chance of stopping the run because of his size.
But while Ellis had started the previous 11 games, his role has been the same as it was the last two weeks. He has averaged about 25 plays a game, playing mostly as a nickel pass-rusher.
Ellis, who led the team in sacks in each of the past four years and leads in 2005 with eight, understands what's happening but refuses to make a big deal out of it.
"This is not a disappointing thing to me," Ellis said. "The main objective is to win football games. If the Dallas Cowboys feel like this gives us our best chance to win, then that is what we are going to do. I have no problem with that."
Due a $500,000 roster bonus in March and a $3 million salary next year, Ellis also understands that what is good for the Cowboys this year might not be acceptable in 2006. He said he is very well aware of the future implications but can only worry about this year.
"We are just trying to hold it together, win as many as we can this year and move on from there," Ellis said.
--DE Chris Canty did not practice Thursday but remains probable with a sprained ankle. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells hopes Canty will be able to practice on Friday, but he said Canty will have to demonstrate he can function at some point before he can play against the Redskins on Sunday.
--WR Patrick Crayton hasn't caught a pass in two games since returning from ankle surgery. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said Crayton has been rusty.
"I think this is a guy -- I'm pretty sure I'm not misjudging this, now -- I think this is a guy that has to practice," Parcells said. "He grooved himself a certain way. I think some guys can just get back and be right on it. I don't think he did that very well, so I don't think it has anything to do with the physical. It's just getting in tune with the game now."
--CB Anthony Henry did not look like the same player against the Chiefs last Sunday as he did earlier in the season, when he was considered the most valuable player on defense. It was Henry's first game after missing three of the previous four with a strained groin. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells has told Henry he is waiting on the guy who played for the Cowboys before he got hurt, not the one wearing No. 42 now.
--QB Drew Bledsoe said he came to Dallas in the offseason to play meaningful games in December as a part of a playoff contender. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells is counting on Bledsoe's experience in big games and his motivation to win to serve as an example for the younger players on the team.
"That is the fun part of this game, really," Parcells said. "And I think the older you get or the more you've been in it or the more you've done it, the more you appreciate that. He's been in a couple of Super Bowl chases and in the playoffs several times, and I think that's the thing that's probably driving him. ... This game is a test all the time for all of us, but just because you've failed the test every once in a while doesn't mean you don't enjoy that part of it, because you do. You don't enjoy not succeeding in some respects, but you do enjoy the process of playing to do it. That's what he's really saying."
New York Giants
Perhaps this should be structured as a question for Giants coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, who are busily preparing the team for its crucial Saturday game against Kansas City.
The situation is that middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and right defensive tackle William Joseph are definitely out, which significantly alters, if not weakens, the middle of the defense. The other aspect is that strong-side linebacker Carlos Emmons isn't playing particularly well.
So now the question: What are you going to do when the Chiefs run bruising Larry Johnson off tackle or around end to the weak side of their line? That means running behind Pro Bowl tackle Willie Roaf and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters. Who stops them? Emmons must take a giant step up. It is possible that after 10 years in the NFL, Emmons just doesn't have it anymore.
Also, what are you going to do when the new middle linebacker, Nick Greisen (moved over from the weak side), shows that he doesn't have the quickness or speed to make up for Emmons' failings?
And that, precisely, is where the Giants' problem lies. Johnson is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound battering ram with speed to the outside, and he's going to aim for the Giants' linebackers with Roaf, one of the best blockers in the league, leading interference.
It really is there that the game will be decided -- unless, of course, the Giants take a large early lead through the air and force the Chiefs to throw. But if the game is close, Kansas City seems equipped to play ball control, even on the road.
The Giants might be able to kill some time on the ground under normal circumstances, but with the availability of both starting tackles -- Luke Petitgout and Kareem McKenzie -- in doubt, that might not be a valid option. So it's young Eli Manning and his receivers against the Chiefs' running game.
--RB Tiki Barber has run for 1,357 yards, 81 percent of the Giants' rushing yardage this season. The team has 1,676 yards. He is also riding a four-game streak of 100-plus yard performances, which ties a team record previously shared by Joe Morris and Gary Brown. Barber is just 162 yards shy of establishing a personal season high, set last year at 1,518 yards, and a franchise single-season record.
--The Giants are 5-2 after the death of their 89-year-old co-owner, Wellington Mara, who passed away on Oct. 25. Mara spent virtually his entire life with the team in some capacity. He started when he was 9 years old in 1925, when his father, Tim Mara, purchased an NFL franchise for New York.
--C Shaun O'Hara, commenting on veteran T Bob Whitfield, who might have to start for Luke Petitgout (back) against Kansas City: "Bob is 34 in human years, but he's a lot older in dog years."
--PK Jay Feely leads the NFL in scoring with 119 points, two more than Neil Rackers of Arizona. He has made 28 of 34 field goals and all 35 PAT attempts. The last Giant to lead the NFL in kick-scoring was Don Chandler (106 points) in 1963.
--WR Plaxico Burress, who signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh, is far more familiar with the AFC than most of the Giants. "AFC football is always a physical game," he says. "Everybody has to stop up. We all have to help each other in December football."
In a desperate attempt to find a defensive tackle combination capable of getting inside pressure on the quarterback, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will give rookie Mike Patterson his second straight start this week and move Darwin Walker back in as a starter.
Last week, Johnson benched the struggling Walker and started Patterson and Sam Rayburn. The Eagles opened the season with Walker and Hollis Thomas as their starting tackles.
The Eagles have gotten just six quarterback sacks from the defensive tackle position this season. Patterson, the club's first-round pick in last April's draft, has 3.5 of those six.
"We gave Mike a lot of reps last week," Johnson said. "We felt he deserved a chance to start. We wanted to mix it up a little and went with that (Patterson-Rayburn) combination. This week, we're going to switch it up again. I'm trying to find a rotation I am happy with."
Walker has not played nearly as well this season as he has in the past. He missed three games earlier this season with a thigh injury and hasn't been the same since returning.
"He's not played as well the last three to four weeks," Johnson said. "One of the reasons I didn't start him last week was to light a fire a little bit, and he came through and showed a little more dominance in terms of getting a push on the quarterback."
--CB Donald Strickland, who made his first appearance as the club's nickel corner last week, will handle the same duties this week against the Rams.
--RDT Darwin Walker, who was benched last week because of his poor play, will return to the starting lineup this week against the Rams.
--DT Mike Patterson will make his second straight start. He'll start on the left side, next to Darwin Walker.
--QB Mike McMahon practiced again Thursday and is expected to play Sunday against the Rams despite knee and hip injuries.
--T Jon Runyan did not practice Thursday and continues to be listed as questionable on the injury report with a knee injury. But offensive coordinator Brad Childress said he expects Runyan to be able to play this week.