Because someone has to read all the news coming out of the Eagles training camp.
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Confirmed: DeSean Jackson let frustration over his contract hurt his performance:
“Human nature-wise, yes it affected him,’’ Culley said. “It did. He tried not to let it affect him. Sometimes he didn’t do a very good job of that. It affected him in meetings. It affected him on the field. There were days when it didn’t. But it made him inconsistent. And that’s where the human nature part of it comes in.”
“I saw a couple of times last year where I saw him maybe trying to maybe save himself because (he was thinking), ‘I’m not under contract and I don’t want to get hurt,’’’ Culley said. “I don’t think there was a fear factor involved. I think it was more, ‘I don’t want to get hurt because I don’t have a contract.’ The first two-and-a-half years he was here, that wasn’t an issue. A couple of times last year, that came up. And I believe it came up simply because of that.”
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Punters, ahoy. The Eagles brought in not one, not two, not three, but four veteran punters for tryouts yesterday. It’s not that surprising once you understand how bad Chas Henry was last year. Reuben Frank says the most likely candidate to sign is former Pro Bowl Cowboy Mat McBriar. I honestly didn’t realize he had fallen off last year and was cut. Turns out, he couldn’t lift his foot.
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The Felony That Wasn’t. I love how the charges were dropped against Dion Lewis because the DA concluded there was “no evidence a fire alarm was ever pulled.”
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Backup Running Backs Will Push… Who? I absolutely don’t understand where this headline comes from. Sheil’s replacement isn’t looking so hot.
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Speaking of Mr. Kapadia, he brings us a great quote from Howard Mudd on where Danny Watkins is in his second year. Sounds like the mental side of the game is the real roadblock for our friendly neighborhood fireman:
“Comfort in the position, eliminating doubt about himself,” Mudd said. “That just happens to players. That just happens. That’s part of the growing process. I call that the valley of darkness. You get somewhere and then you start doubting yourself, doubting, doubting… and then the ball is snapped and you don’t have a clue where you are. You can be very amateurish, if you will. All of a sudden, it starts to click again and you quit doubting yourself. Do well, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you get there. So Danny, that’s what I think the offseason’s done for him.”
Jimmy Kempski tells us that Mudd also alluded to the Vandervelde-Reynolds backup center competition as the position battle he’s most looking forward too. I’m not sure if that’s positive or depressing. Final Mudd note: I discount every positive thing he says about Demetress Bell by half. There’s only one Jason Peters, and unfortunately he couldn’t keep his balance on a Roll-A-Bout.
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In other meta-reportage, Jimmy needs to stop wasting his time talking to guys like Keenan Clayton after practice. Clayton’s competing with Moise Fokou for the coveted “last linebacker cut” trophy. Then again, at least our favorite NFC bEast blogger didn’t get stiffed like ol’ timer Paul Domowitch.
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Rampant Tight End Speculation! The Eagles have now been linked to Visanthe Shiancoe and (gag) Jeremy Shockey. Raise your hand if you’re shocked that the Brett Brackett hype was purely media-driven. No one? Good.
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Andy Reid Weight Loss Watch. He totally walked home from practice, guys.
Jimmy Kemspki provides us with a great master list of offensive line ages around the NFL:
Philly has the 13th oldest OL in the league, but their situation is a little odd, in that 4/5 of their line has very low mileage. Todd Herremans has 92 career regular season starts. The next highest total? Evan Mathis, with 37, or a little more than two full seasons worth of games.
This is one of those moments when you remember that even though the Eagles will start two sophomores in the interior line, Danny Watkins is only six months younger than 28-year-old tackle Demetress Bell.
What the Eagles did: In Howard Mudd we trust.
That sentence basically sums up where the Eagles stand in relation to their offensive line right now, in the post-Jason Peters 2012 continuity. (I like to think that somewhere out there is an alternate timeline where Julian Vandervelde, not Peters, tore his Achillies. Asante Samuel fetched a first round draft pick, too.)
Peters had one of the best seasons for an offensive lineman that I’ve ever seen. He was dominant in every phase of the game. It will not be possible to replicate his performance, and the Eagles offense will undoubtedly suffer significantly from his absence. Either King Dunlap or Demetress Bell, most likely the latter, will try to step into Peters’s shoes, but we shouldn’t hope for anything more than average play.
On top of that 6’4”, 340 lb. hole, Mudd also has to turn Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins into good offensive linemen. I’m not sure that any topic inspired more argument among fans last year than the Eagles rookie linemen. There are lots of people who insist that Kelce and Watkins were above average, even worthy of Pro Bowl considerations. That’s just not true, as far as my eyes and stats could tell.
Finally, there are the two starters I’m not worried about: Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. Neither player is particularly dominant, but continued solid performance will be of paramount necessity with the rest of the line questionable.
What I would have done: Despite my reservations about the Eagles line, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. After Peters’ injury, Howie Roseman pounced on Bell and made sure to retain Dunlap. Neither is a sure thing, but at least there are two reasonable options in the wake of that shocking development. Long term, assuming Peters recovers, the line is locked up, so a high draft pick wasn’t strictly necessary.
Way-too-early prediction: Do I trust Howard Mudd? At the end of the day, the answer is yes, so I’m willing to be optimistic about Kelce, Watkins, and even Bell. I wouldn’t be surpised, however, if Mathis falls back to earth a little bit without a dominant tackle at his side.
Photo from Getty.
I can’t remember the last time the Eagles picked somebody in the first round that both draftniks and fans loved. Look at Bleeding Green Nation’s fan poll on the pick: Cox’s approval rating sits at 94 percent. A year ago, Danny Watkins eked out majority approval by a margin of just 21 votes out of about 1,600.
The fact that Cox is popular doesn’t, on it’s own, make the selection a good one. But it fits in so many ways. Let’s break down what we learned last night:
The Eagles have become remarkably clumsy at deploying smokescreens for their first round pick. Was anyone other than a few reactionary mock drafters buying a Dontari Poe selection? The way the Eagles led him on a pointless parade past reporters a few weeks back on raised major red flags. What Reid said last night about Kansas City and Poe confirmed that they never had any real interest.
Scheme matters. On a related note, it is important to keep in mind the scheme prospects look most suited for. There were plenty of DT options in the middle of the first round, but the Eagles made sure to grab the one who fit best with Jm Washburn’s penetrating style.
Despite the trades, the first eight picks played out almost exactly as planned. The elite eight ended up being a game of musical chairs (propelled by more reasonable contracts), but that didn’t matter much to the Eagles. Other than Mark Barron, who reportedly was never a NovaCare target, all the players you expected to go early did. That allowed the Eagles to sit back and wait for either Luke Kuechly or Fletcher Cox to drop. Note: I would wager that had the Panthers taken Cox instead, we would probably be having the same conversations we’re having now, except it would be Kuechly coming to Philly today.
Don’t draft an immediate starter. The Cox selection continues a general trend in which the Eagles rarely draft anyone with the expectation that they will start right away. The defensive line is aging and Cox can step right in a contribute, without having to be a starter until year two, when the writing is on the wall for Cullen Jenkins.
Valuing the second round picks more? Andy Reid talked about having a limit on what they were willing to pay for a trade up. He said they didn’t want to give up a second round pick, as Dallas did, to jump up into the top 10. I wonder if this is actually a change in policy dating back to the disastrous trade up for Jerome McDougle in 2003. Since then, the most the team has paid in a trade was a third round pick to move up for Brandon Graham. That hasn’t been a resounding success either. The fourth and sixth round picks the Eagles gave up this time amounted to an exceedingly reasonable price. (The draft value chart says the difference between pick 12 and pick 15 is properly a late third round selection.)
What to watch for tonight: If the Eagles make all three of their next selections, I would guess they’re looking to come away with a linebacker, defensive end, and some sort of offensive weapon at either wide receiver or tight end. But given their recent history, a trade back to accrue more picks (and starting linebackers) is likely in the cards.
Photo from Getty.
Howie Roseman talked with reporters on Thursday, and reiterated his pledge that the Eagles will draft the best player available, rather than the best player at a position of need. Here’s what Roseman said a month ago on the same topic, as reported by Paul Domowitch:
“At some point, you get entrenched into what your team needs,” he said. “And because we’re so determined to win a championship as quickly as possible, we wanted to address those [needs] as quickly as possible.
“When you look back at the moves, particularly in the draft, that we’ve made successfully, it was situations where we took the best players [rather than the best player at the position of greatest need]. It’s something I believe in.”
I think it’s great that Roseman can look at his track record without sugarcoating it and is open and honest about changes that need to be made. The Danny Watkins/Jaiquawn Jarrett 1-2 combination is not one the Eagles front office will be looking to replicate.
But other than not reaching for the one-eyed prospects among blind ones (Mark Barron?), I’m not sure how much we can really read into Roseman’s comments, especially in the first round. In later rounds, teams should never reach for anybody, since no late-round draft pick is likely to contribute right away — or ever, realistically.
In the first round, though, it’s not enough to hide behind “best player available.” Best player available isn’t a suitable rationale for selecting a running back, for example, or in my opinion, a quarterback. Offense in general just isn’t a good value proposition for the Eagles this year, especially compared to the long-term holes on defense. The first round pick needs to be on defense, and there multiple good options should be available either at pick 15 or within striking distance of it.
Still, it will be interesting to see if we can detect any substantial shift in the Eagles drafting philosophy this year, given Roseman’s continued assertions that the same mistakes won’t be made.
Photo from Getty.
Jimmy Kempski does an amazing job in this post, culling the video for all sacks Michael Vick took in 2011. More than anything, the Eagles quarterback doesn’t come out looking too good. Many of the sacks are poor decisions by Vick, and a number of the others look suspiciously like poor blitz recognition and protection adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
The one thing that is worth keeping in mind is these are only 24 plays, and by definition are likely to show the worst mistakes. There isn’t a companion video that shows how many times Vick escaped pressure in his face and turned it into a positive gain.
I’m also not sure I follow Jimmy’s logic at the end, where he notes poor right tackle play from Winston Justice in 2010 as a reason to keep Todd Herremans on that side. But all in all, really informative and interesting.
Losing Jason Peters for the year, as the Eagles did when he ruptured his achilles last week, is a devastating blow to the team’s hopes in 2012. Peters, if not the best offensive tackle in the league, is certainly in the top five. He’s a nimble mountain on the field, protecting Michael Vick and steamrolling defenders for LeSean McCoy. No matter when it happened, this injury would cause a big step back on offense.
However, despite some reporters’ unconvincing headlines, the Eagles are especially unprepared to deal with Peters’s injury. The team is lucky that there are still free agent options available and that they have a variety of early round picks if they want to go that route. But compared to past years, the Eagles have few players on the roster who can step into Peters’s shoes.
Because Juan Castillo (remember him?) built his lines from the outside-in, the most important tackle spots often had multiple potential replacements. Back in 2006, 2007 the Eagles had three players other than starters Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan prepping to step into their shoes. Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews, both tackles in college, were starters at guard, and Winston Justice was learning as a backup tackle.
There was nothing guaranteed about their success, and indeed Andrews flamed out spectacularly after that. But there was no question as to what options were available if and when Thomas/Runyan couldn’t go. Even before Peters’s injury though, the depth at offensive tackle had worn thin. King Dunlap has shown flashes of potential in limited action, but has a meager pedigree and limited expectations. Justice, an adequate starter for two seasons, was shipped off for pennies to Indianapolis.
Moreover, Howard Mudd’s offensive line seems to be assembled in the opposite direction from Castillo’s. Whereas Jamaal Jackson was a huge linemen who would have shifted out to guard at least, Jason Kelce’s sub-300 lb. frame couldn’t play anywhere but center. Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins both played tackle in college, but projected to guards in the NFL (not that you would trust Watkins out there anyway). The team may try one or both on the outside, but neither has the potential to star as a tackle, like Herremans, Andrews, and Justice did.
Building and maintaining a NFL roster is tremendously difficult. At any moment, even in the offseason, an injury can take a position from strength to weakness. That’s why depth is so important, and unfortunately, the Eagles have burned through their tackle depth over the last few years and failed to replace it. In the last three drafts, Howie Roseman drafted just one tackle — Fenuki Tupou, who never took a single regular season snap.
Likely that will change this year, and the Eagles will take at least one early draft pick to compete for Peters’s spot. But depth isn’t necessarily something you can manufacture in a few weeks. With that in mind, it may already be too late to avoid disaster.
Photo from Getty.
Considering how much fun we had the last time we talked about offensive line play, we might as well go back to it.
Pro Football Focus calculates “Pass Blocking Efficiency” as a percentage of plays in which offensive linemen prevent quarterback pressure. Sacks are weighted more heavily than hits and hurries, but they all count.
Here are the numbers for the Eagles starting linemen last season:
I listed the players in order of their Pass Blocking Efficiency, but truthfully that doesn’t quite give you the right context. 95 percent might sound good, but you have to prevent the quarterback from pressure the vast majority of the time if you even want to see playing time as an offensive lineman.
For a more accurate picture, look at the ranks on the left side. Those numbers are where the player stands among all those at his position (tackle, guard, or center) who played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps. Therefore, even though Evan Mathis has the highest raw score, Jason Peters was ranked higher among his peers. He scored 5th-best among tackles, where Mathis was 11th among guards. Presumably that means that Peters’ job is more difficult.
Todd Herremans ranked 35th with 94 percent PBE, but that’s not as bad as it might sound. 58 tackles qualified with more than half of their team’s snaps, so he is below average among all of them. On the other hand, he still scored better than the majority of “second” tackles, so I suppose there’s a positive way to look at his performance. Danny Watkins, at 43rd out of 55, looks worse than Herremans on this measurement.
It was Jason Kelce that really stood out to me, though. At 30th overall, he was the single worst center measured. I was critical of Brian Baldinger’s comments that Kelce was having a Pro Bowl year, but that was based solely on my own impressions. These numbers certainly back me up though. In fact, Kelce’s 33 total pressures allowed was 10 more than the next highest center.
Assuming Mathis returns to Philly, it looks like the left side of the line will be more than fine. But everyone from Kelce on down the right side definitely has room for improvement in 2012.
Photo from Getty.
Due to his Twitter and Reddit participation, Evan Mathis has become something of a unifying force for fan goodwill on the Internet. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s anything Eagles fans online agree about more than that Mathis must be retained.
At the risk of setting off a mini-revolt from those legions of supporters, I wonder if the enthusiasm has gotten a bit out of control. Is Mathis really as valuable as everyone says? There’s at least circumstantial evidence that points in the opposite direction.
First, we should remember that only a year ago, Mathis was completely unknown. With the Panthers and Bengals from 2007 to 2010, he started only seven games. He wasn’t a highly-valued free agent, just a veteran journeyman, and the Eagles signed him at the end of August last season largely because of Danny Watkins’s surprising holdout. If a bunch of options at right tackle, like Ryan Harris and Winston Justice, hadn’t failed so miserably, Mathis might not even have been promoted to the starting lineup.
Now, none of that on its own is damning. Players rise and fall over the course of their careers. Mathis is a good fit for Howard Mudd’s system, and his rapid offseason body change may have contributed to his revitalized prospects. Still, we must wonder whether a career year at age 30 is really indicative of future top performance.
The other question, for which I don’t have any conclusive answer, remains: was Mathis as good last year as many people thought? I’m not trying to take anything away from what was clearly a solid season. Mathis provided stability to an offensive line that desperately needed it and had good results despite sharing the middle with two rookies.
But at the same time, former NFL linemen have said that left guard is one of the easier line positions. Mathis manned that side with Jason Peters, a truly dominant force, and yet runs to the left tackle netted the third-worst mark in the league, according to Football Outsiders. When Todd Herremans lined up in that spot, directional rushing to the left was alwasy a major strength. In 2011 it became a mixed bag.
Furthermore, Mathis just never passed the eye test that a supposedly top-five-type guard might. He gave up few negative plays, but I also never found myself saying “wow” after one of his highlights. With Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews in recent years, the Eagles have had guys on the interior that could lay claim to the “dominant” descriptor. As solid as Mathis was, to my eyes he was never that.
All of this is not to say the team absolutely shouldn’t resign Mathis. I’m actually in favor of that move in theory. But if he has other offers for significant money, would the Eagles really be wise to get into a bidding war for his services? I think not.
Photo from Getty.
"I think those are things that you have to look at and kind of evaluate and see if maybe you’re putting too much weight on one area and not another. Those are the things that you got to learn from and figure out."
It was a vague statement, but one I’m glad to see. The last two drafts have been poor overall, and it’s vitally important that Roseman reevaluate his decision-making process going forward.
Regarding that process, Roseman had a few more quotes that shed light on some of the areas we had only assumed from his draft results. For example, Howie admitted that drafting the best player on the board is difficult when “human nature” gets involved and “you are pushing things up because there are things you want and whether that’s a specific position or a specific quality in a player — whether that’s toughness, intelligence, leadership.”
I’ve noted in the past that Roseman has almost exclusively drafted high character players with proven track records from big schools. Perhaps that’s a winning philosophy in general, but it has caused some notable misses (including everyone’s favorite bugaboo Jason Pierre-Paul).
Roseman expanded those thoughts regarding Brandon Graham:
"We’re talking about a guy that played four years at Michigan, was a two-time captain, averaged ten sacks a year. There was a great track record of success. I think for us, it wasn’t so much about the other players as it was the consistency he showed in college. A lot of times when you’re into the draft you have these decisions about making kind of what we talk about — doubles vs. Dave Kingman trying to go for the long ball. I’m not talking about a particularly player here, but those are some of the tough decisions that you have because you have other factors involved."
Kingman, the 6’6” slugger/strike out artist from the ’70s and ’80s, sounds like an oblique reference to Pierre-Paul, but the point applies generally as well. With picks like Graham, Nate Allen, Danny Watkins, and Jaiquawn Jarrett, Roseman has tended toward safe, “doubles” players with leadership and steady performance — if not tremendous upside.
Maybe that’s reassuring, since all but Jarrett have at least shown the ability to be solid NFL starters. But we’re also not looking at any of these guys saying, “Wow,” like we are with DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy — players who had big questions marks coming out of college but also amazing star potential.
The final comment I want to highlight stems from a rewriting of history that Roseman supporters have often used:
“We feel like we’re having success, and if you get five or six players in every draft who make the team and three of them are starting, you’re drafting pretty well. Do we want impact guys in the first round? Of course we do. We want to draft those Pro Bowl guys and hit on every guy in the first round, but we’re going to look under every rock for impact guys, and if we get them in the sixth round or from the CFL or in free agency, the main thing is getting good players who can help us win.”
Roseman has done well at finding contributors in the later rounds, guys like Jamar Chaney, Kurt Coleman, Brian Rolle, and Jason Kelce. But other than Kelce (whose rookie season was overrated), none of these guys look like starters on a playoff team. They were starters for the Eagles in 2011 because of failures in the earlier rounds, and performed at about replacement level. More “successful” results like that won’t help the team get back to the Super Bowl any time soon.
At least Howie seems to realize that.
Photo from Getty.
Chris McPherson, for the Eagles website:
The Eagles’ prolific run in free agency last offseason overshadowed the fact that the foundation for the team’s long-term success has been built in the past two NFL drafts.
Through aggressive maneuvering and clever moves, the Eagles have acquired eight starters in the past two drafts. None of the 2011 playoff teams in the NFC and only one playoff team in the entire league, the Denver Broncos, has drafted more starters in that timeframe…
Among the playoff teams this year, seven of them have first-round picks from the past two seasons that have yet to crack the starting lineup. The Eagles, overall, have drafted two starters on offense, five on defense and another on special teams in the past two years.
Those eight “starters” would be:
- Brandon Graham — Not a starter, not healthy, not Jason Pierre-Paul.
- Danny Watkins — Below average 27-year-old starter at right guard.
- Jamar Chaney — Chaney is closer to the CFL than the Pro Bowl.
- Brian Rolle — Better than Chaney, but shouldn’t be more than a 4th LB right now.
- Kurt Coleman — Good backup, bad starter.
- Jason Kelce — Promising young player, best rookie season of the bunch.
- Nate Allen — Inconsistent, needs improvement to really own starting spot.
- Alex Henery — He’s fine, but he’s also a kicker.
And yet, surprisingly, the Eagles are not in the playoffs. There’s a disconnect somewhere, I just can’t find it.
Jeff McLane, for the Inquirer:
"I don’t know what [Mudd’s] going to do, to tell you the truth," center Jason Kelce said Thursday. "Talked to him a little bit earlier, and I don’t think he even knows. I think a lot of it is going to depend on what happens with the entire coaching situation."
Indirect confirmation that there is or was uncertainty within the organization about whether or not Andy Reid would return in 2012.
"There’s no way I would be where I’m at in my rookie year without Howard," said Kelce, who was a sixth-round draft pick. "He saw something in me and then right away he started working with me on techniques and different things that would suit a guy that’s my size in the NFL."
With a quote like that, the elephant in the room looms ever larger: why isn’t the Mudd magic also wearing off on a first round pick with better physical skills?
One of the unheralded stories of 2011 is the regression of Michael Vick. After borrowing Superman’s cape last season, Vick returned to mere mortal status once again. Just as a simple measurement, in 2010 he had quarterback passer rating above 90 in 10 out of his 12 games. This year, he’s only had 5 out of 12.
However, things seem to be picking back up for Vick as he and the coaches are potentially finding some answers for him. He’s had back-to-back 100+ QB rating games for the first time this season over the last two weeks.
I charted all of Vick’s passes this week and noticed that he’s hardly ever doing three step drops from under center anymore. In fact, I counted only two of those, and both went for incompletions.
The majority of pass calls (20 of 36) involved Vick in shotgun, and half of those added five step drops on top of the pre-snap depth. Whether his height factors in to this I can’t say, but he’s clearly more comfortable and effective in shotgun, and generally as far back from the line of scrimmage as possible. The added depth gives him more time to find deep receivers and also more space to scramble if necessary.
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Danny Watkins is awful. I want to really emphasize this point. After watching him fairly closely the whole game, it’s clear that he didn’t deserve to be on the field.
At least half a dozen times, Watkins single-handedly let his defender get by him (often instantaneously) to get pressure on Vick or a backfield tackle on LeSean McCoy. It was Kyle DeVan, Stacey Andrews, Winston Justice-against-the-Giants bad.
Tommy Lawlor wrote of Watkins, “Solid game. Got driven back in pass pro a time or two, but did stick with the blocks.”
I wish that were the case. In reality, Watkins needs to make a big leap in the offseason to be even an average NFL starter.
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Speaking of below replacement level starters, Jamar Chaney was almost as bad.
If you run straight up the middle and fail to block the middle linebacker against 31 teams in the NFL, it must be a tackle for a loss more often than not. Against the Eagles, it’s a nine yard gain. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the run defense frequently looks like it only has 10 players out there.
Chaney demonstrates no ability to get off blocks. But more importantly, even when unblocked he’s indecisive and slow. You can tell that he’s athletic enough to run with most tight ends, but in run defense he never charges the line. At best he’s a speed bump 3 yards into the run, but most of the time he doesn’t even provide that.
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Just to prove I’m not always negative, let me say some good things about Casey Matthews. He looked, frankly, great this week. Speedy, instinctive, good in space, and quick to take on tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. I’d actually like to see him get some of Chaney’s snaps in the base defense next week.
Clay Harbor was instrumental as a blocker on the back-to-back end-arounds to DeSean Jackson. Set the edge with a hard block on Sean Lee the first time, then faked a block on Ware, shouldered Lee, and got up to the third level on Jackson’s second try. That said, there’s no reason Harbor should be one-on-one with DeMarcus Ware in pass protection. That led to a sack.
Brent Celek, on the other hand, continues to show me nothing but poor run blocking. But every week they add another brilliant tight end screen to the playbook, and he’s great at that.
Brandon Hughes got some significant looks as the dime corner, especially when Nnamdi Asomugha came inside to cover Jason Witten. Hughes was beaten once each by Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, two good receivers, both times he was targeted.
Photo from Getty.