Joseph, Fiedorowicz practice fully

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
HOUSTON -- Two Houston Texans moved from the limited participation list to the Texans' lengthy full participation list on today's injury report -- cornerback Johnathan Joseph (foot) and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (foot).

Fiedorowicz missed last week's game in Oakland. Earlier this week, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said it looked like Fiedorowicz would probably be ok to play, but they haven't made any final determinations yet.

Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), guard Ben Jones (ankle/knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger (elbow) were limited today, as they were yesterday.

Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (illness) and safety Shiloh Keo (calf) did not practice. Clowney actually made a brief appearance in the locker room during the open period today. He had a sleeve on his surgically repaired knee, but no brace, and didn't appear to have a limp. Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago. Hopkins caught a bug, but is expected to play Sunday.

For the New York Giants, punter Steve Weatherford, who didn't practice yesterday, returned to practice on a limited basis. Linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle), receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring) and linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) did not practice. In addition to Weatherford, offensive tackles James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) were limited.
PHILADELPHIA -- It might be cynical to see Marcus Smith's move to inside linebacker and think, Oh, good, now that’s three positions he won’t play in Sunday’s game against Washington.

The Philadelphia Eagles' first-round draft choice from Louisville has practiced at the two outside linebacker positions all through organized team activities and training camp. With injuries to inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Najee Goode, the coaches had Smith taking reps on the inside this week.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smith
AP Photo/Matt RourkePhiladelphia's first-round pick Marcus Smith might find playing time as an inside linebacker.
"It's a numbers thing," coach Chip Kelly said. "I don't know where it will play out, but when you only have four inside linebackers in your 53 and one of them is hurt, we have to bring someone over. So we brought Marcus over from outside linebacker and see how he fits and what he can do. Obviously, you've got to be prepared if you lose a guy or two at inside linebacker."

Smith dressed but did not play in the Eagles’ opener against Jacksonville. On Monday night, he was inactive for the Eagles’ game in Indianapolis.

"It was kind of hard on me," Smith said. "I [have] never really not played in a game before. I definitely wanted to be out there with my teammates. Also, at the same time, you have to be on the sideline and cheer on your teammates. They had a great victory."

Around the NFL, a handful of first-round picks haven’t played a game yet. But one of them, Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants, is injured. The other two are quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater.

The Eagles took Smith because they believed he could develop into a good edge pass-rusher. And maybe he will. But the Eagles have gotten exactly one sack from their outside linebackers in two games. That was by Trent Cole.

Meanwhile, safety Deone Bucannon, taken one pck after Smith, has 10 tackles in two games. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, selected a pick later, has eight catches for 138 yards for Carolina.

There is a long way to go to judge any of their careers. But it’s hard to get a read on Smith when he hasn’t played. It’s also tough for Smith to get better from the sideline.

"It's always a challenge to grow when you're not getting game reps," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It's harder to do that. But in practice, that's part of the NFL. That's the hard part of taking somebody's job that already has one. You have to be great in practice, and you have to show that you really are making progress. Then you're fighting for game-day reps. When you get game-day reps, you have to make the most of them."

The move inside could get Smith some playing time, at least. He said he felt pretty comfortable there after just a couple days of practice.

"I’ve been through it before, changing positions," Smith said. "It’s really nothing new to me. I’ll do anything for the team. I look at it as an opportunity. They want to throw me in there, want me to cover bigger tight ends and cover backs. I look at it as an opportunity to get on the field."

Notes: McAdoo sees progress on offense

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants only scored 14 points again in Week 2, but offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo likes the direction his unit is headed.

Eli Manning in particular looked much better against the Cardinals, completing 26 of 39 passes for 277 yards -- and he could have had a few more completions, if his receivers had held onto the ball.

"I thought he had some comfort in his feet," McAdoo said Thursday. "He felt good about where he was going with the ball. That is encouraging to see."

The Giants only rushed for 81 yards on 27 carries -- just 3.0 yards per run. But the offensive line did appear to give Manning more time in the pocket.

"[The O-line] are making progress like everyone else," McAdoo said. "Today was probably our best Thursday practice of the year. We completed the ball well. We didn’t have pads on, but we had a good day running it."

McAdoo has featured a three-wide receiver set quite frequently in his first two games as offensive coordinator, but that third wide receiver will be someone else, now that Jerrel Jernigan has been lost for the rest of the season with a foot injury.

Preston Parker will get the first crack, and McAdoo spoke positively about him.

"Preston is on the roster for a reason," McAdoo said. "We trust him. He can create separation out there. He is aggressive to the ball. We know he is a competitor."

As for rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who continues to be sidelined with a hamstring injury, McAdoo says Beckham doesn't even enter into his mind right now.

"He has a special skill set. He is gifted. He is talented. He is smart. He is conscientious. I am excited for the chance for him to come out here," McAdoo said. "When he comes out here, it will be a good bonus for all of us."

NOT SO SPECIAL: The Giants made two costly mistakes on special teams last week, on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter -- giving up a punt return touchdown by Ted Ginn Jr., followed by Quintin Demps' kickoff-return fumble.

Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said there were multiple issues on the Ginn return. "Number one thing is you want to make the tackle," he said. "Second thing we want is more hang time and the location. We expect the ball to go to the right, and it didn’t go to the right. [But] whatever comes off his foot, we have to cover."

Demps lost the ball after spinning, trying to gain extra yardage. "We have worked on ball security," Quinn said. "We don’t want to spin. That is probably trying to do too much. Just let the game come to you. If you try to hit a home run, you are not going to hit a home run. Hit some singles and they’ll go out."

Demps returned several kickoffs from deep in the Giants' end zone, but Quinn said those were good decisions. "We want to be aggressive," Quinn said. "We felt like it was close. You look at the tape and one or two blocks each time and he could come spitting out of there and give us some good field position."

INJURY REPORT: Beckham, linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle) and linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) did not practice for the second day in a row Thursday, although Beason might be back very soon.

Punter Steve Weatherford (ankle) practiced on a limited basis, after sitting out on Wednesday. Offensive linemen James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) were limited for the second day in a row.

Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (ankle) practiced fully for the second day in a row.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Houston Texans are 2-0 and the New York Giants are 0-2, but Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is sleeping comfortably this week.

When asked Thursday what concerns him most about the Texans, Pierre-Paul answered, "Nothing."

"I feel like we should be able to handle their offense, and nothing concerns me," he added.

The Texans are third-to-last in passing yards per game (172.5), but eighth in rushing yards (151.5), and lead the NFL in rushing attempts through two games (80).

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul puts pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford on Sept. 8.
Arian Foster is second in the league in rushing individually (241 yards), behind only the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray (285).

"Foster is one of the best in our league," Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "Great vision -- it's unbelievable his vision, how he can see the small creases, his acceleration into those small creases, and then his ability to get yards in a small crease and move the chains."

The Giants have been pretty good against the run through two weeks -- 12th in the league, giving up 100 yards per game. Pierre-Paul, while known as a pass rusher, has been the second-best 4-3 defensive end against the run in the entire NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

"JPP, I thought he played really well last week in the ballgame -- not only in the run game, but also in the pass game," Fewell said. "He's had a great week of practice. So we just keep patting him on the butt and saying, 'Come on JPP!'"

Pierre-Paul did look like the JPP of old last Sunday -- the player who posted 16.5 sacks in 2011. He had 1.5 sacks against the Cardinals and was also credited with two passes defensed -- including one of his patented bat-downs at the line of scrimmage.

But he doesn't sound satisfied. "I am trying to get better," Pierre-Paul said. "I need to stop the run a little more. I need to get to the quarterback quicker. That is basically it. Chase the ball."

Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has yet to throw an interception this season. In fact, he hasn't even been sacked.

The Giants, on the other hand, have failed to force a single turnover in their first two games.

"We need turnovers," Pierre-Paul said. "Turnovers win games, especially if you’re on defense, and I’m a big part of that."

Fewell said forcing turnovers has been a big point of emphasis in practice this week.

"We had our hands on two balls last week, and we didn't come up with it," Fewell said. "Stevie Brown had his hands on a deep ball, and you expect him to come down with that one. [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] had his hands on a ball; you expect him to come down with it. We just haven't made our own breaks."

The Giants are hoping to change that come Sunday, and if they do, Pierre-Paul will likely be a big reason why.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has minimal concern about the sore right shoulder that caused him to be a limited participant in Thursday’s practice.

“It’s a little bit sore, but nothing that’s going to keep me out,” Bryant said. “I’m going to be ready to roll on Sunday.”

Bryant injured the shoulder during the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. He missed the next series but had eight of his team-high 10 receptions after returning.

Bryant did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He took almost all of the first-team reps Thursday, but the Cowboys exercised caution in keeping him out of contact situations.

Asked if he had full range of motion, Bryant extended both arms above his head.

Bryant will get treatment throughout the week, but he said the shoulder will not impact his performance or his style of play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

“I’m not going to adjust the way that I play,” Bryant said, referring to his tendency to be physical with defensive backs and attempt to break tackles. “That’s how I play. I’m going to go out there and have fun.”

Linebacker Rolando McClain (groin), linebacker Justin Durant (groin), running back Joseph Randle (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) did not practice Thursday. Randle said Thursday afternoon that he has passed the league’s concussion protocol tests and expects to practice Friday.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) and tight end Gavin Escobar (knee) were limited Thursday. Spencer just did individual drills for a second consecutive day and will not be ready for game action until next week at the earliest.

Quarterback Tony Romo fully participated Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s practice due to tightness in his surgically repaired back.

Acho among competitors for LB spot

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PHILADELPHIA -- Emmanuel Acho was released by the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of training camp last year. He wound up returning to the Eagles when they needed a linebacker late in the 2013 regular season, and he went to training camp with them again this summer.

Again, Acho was released. He was added to the practice squad, then elevated to the 53-man roster due to linebacker Najee Goode's injury. This week, Acho is competing with Casey Matthews and first-round draft choice Marcus Smith to start Sunday against the Washington Redskins. One of those three would replace starting inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

"You have to be psychologically tough," Acho said Thursday. "When you're on the practice squad, it's in your nature to hang your head, to be a little depressed, especially when you think you should be on some type of 53-man roster. But ultimately, it's day to day and week to week. That's what Chip [Kelly] told me. Four weeks ago, I was on the practice squad, two weeks ago, I was on the roster, now this week I could be starting."

Acho played linebacker on two plays against the Indianapolis Colts. It was late in the game, when Andrew Luck took the field after the Eagles had tied the game at 27.

"If you hang your head for one second, then suddenly I'm going into the Colts game on the last drive," Acho said. "If I bust a coverage or I 'misfit,' it's out of the gate and they win -- all because I wasn't mature enough or mentally strong enough to prepare for that situation."

Acho was on the field for first and second down, then came off when the nickel package came on for third down. The defense forced the Colts to punt, which set up the Eagles' game-winning drive.

Sunday against Washington, Acho is likely to play whether he starts or not. The Eagles plan to rotate Acho, Matthews and DeMeco Ryans. If Smith had a good week of practice, he could be in the mix, too.

"Today, I took primary reps with the ones," Acho said. "Yesterday, Casey took primary reps with the ones. Today, we flip-flopped. Just trying to get equal reps throughout the week so we'll both be ready."

Being psychologically tough ought to help. It certainly can't hurt.

Gruden says DeSean Jackson improving

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson did not practice for a second consecutive day, but coach Jay Gruden remained cautiously optimistic about his chances for playing Sunday. Still, Gruden said, it could come down to a game-day decision.

 Jackson, nursing a sprained left shoulder, did catch a couple passes from a short distance during individual drills. But that was about all he did. Gruden said there’s still a chance Jackson could get some work Friday.

“He’s still sore, but he’s getting better, and his range of motion is better,” Gruden said. “It’s an injury where a couple more days will do him a lot of good.

“A lot of it is pain tolerance. … I think he’ll be OK.”

Gruden said they will test Jackson the morning of Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Jackson said Wednesday that he plans on playing, and he texted good friend LeSean McCoy and told the Eagles running back he would play against his former team.

“There’s no guarantee, that even if he does dress, that he has to play the whole game,” Gruden said. “There’s a chance he plays 20 to 30 plays. Maybe 60. I don’t know yet. He’ll be honest about it. I know he wants to play and compete against the Eagles, but he also knows we have other guys who can do a better job than him if he’s injured. He still has a few good days left to get this right.”

If he can’t play, then rookie Ryan Grant will get more opportunities in Washington’s three-receiver sets. He lacks Jackson’s speed, but he’s a talented route-runner.

Also on the injury report for Washington: Tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), defensive lineman Kedric Golston (groin), corner Tracy Porter (hamstring) and linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee) did not practice. Center Kory Lichtensteiger (groin) and kicker Kai Forbath (groin) was limited.

PHILADELPHIA – Size matters. It does in football and it certainly does to Chip Kelly.

That’s the main reason Kelly has cited when asked why he decided to release DeSean Jackson, his leading receiver in 2013. Jackson is listed at 5-foot-10, 178 pounds. Both of those numbers may be inflated. Both are certainly important.

The Eagles also decided to re-sign Jeremy Maclin, a former first-round draft pick who is 6-foot and weighs 198 pounds. Maclin isn’t the prototypical 6-5, 215-pound speedster that NFL teams covet, but he is still bigger and more solidly built than the wiry Jackson.

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsEagles coach Chip Kelly says running back Darren Sproles is "probably the most fit guy on our team."
“You can't get everybody to be 6-5,” Kelly said Thursday. “Everybody ideally would like a Megatron-type guy, but you can’t get all of those guys. You have to make a decision on the direction you're going and that’s the decision we made. ... The weight part is the biggest thing for a lot of us in terms of what we are looking at, too.”

That explains why the Eagles traded for Darren Sproles even as they were parting ways with Jackson. Sproles is the shortest player on the roster at 5-6, but he is built solidly.

“There may be a little misconception there,” Kelly said. “He’s 200 pounds; he's short but he's not small and I think there's a difference. Sometimes you worry if someone is a smaller guy -- Damaris Johnson, you obviously could not put Damaris in there. Damaris did a great job spelling us at running back in the preseason but I was really nervous in the one game where we had a couple guys down. How many times can we really run Damaris, because it's a different type of body?”

Johnson, who was released by the Eagles earlier this month, is listed at 5-8, 170 pounds. Again, both numbers are, if anything, a little generous. He lined up at running back in a couple of preseason games, but was used primarily as a receiver and a return man.

Since Sproles arrived, Kelly has consistently said he sees him primarily as a versatile running back.

“When you look at Darren, he's really, really put together and he's probably the most fit guy on our team,” Kelly said. “There's a special quality to him from that standpoint, and I don't know that we knew that when we got him. When we first looked at him, obviously the dynamic ability as a returner jumps out at you, his ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield and as I said after a couple days dealing with him, really impressed with him as a running back. That wasn't something that was a preconceived notion but after me watching him the first couple days, I'm like, this kid has pretty good ability as a running back. And when you see his size, he's a little different than your prototypical small guy.”

Jackson, by contrast, is the “prototypical small guy,” and that’s why Sproles is here and Jackson is not.

Tight ends an issue for Cowboys' D

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- In the first two games of this season, St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook has eight catches for 102 yards.

He might like seeing the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

In the first two games, the Cowboys have seen tight ends Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers and Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans score three touchdowns total. Davis caught four passes for 44 yards, while Walker caught 10 passes for 142 yards.

Barry Church believes he has the reason why tight ends have hurt the Cowboys: zone coverage.

“In man-to-man coverage I feel like they’re not affecting us like that,” Church said. “In zone, they get lost in the zones and are able to find holes and make big plays.”

This is not a new problem. Last year tight ends caught 91 passes for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns against the Cowboys. Antonio Gates caught 10 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Julius Thomas caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Cook caught five passes for 44 yards against the Cowboys last season.

“Play with better eyes,” Church said of a solution. “When a play does break down, that guy next to you you’ve got to plaster. That means take him man to man. We’ve got to start playing things high to low. If there’s a seven route behind us and a little fullback in the flat, we can’t go jump the fullback. We call that taking the cheese because they want to throw the deep one. We’ve got to play things high to low and I think we’ll be able to get that problem solved.”

Rolando McClain misses practice again

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to practice Thursday, but middle linebacker Rolando McClain missed his second straight practice with a groin injury and will have to improve quickly to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

“We certainly have confidence in his ability to play, but we believe in practice,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He has to practice this week in some way, shape or form for us to believe that he can play in the game, so hopefully as the week goes on, he’s able to do get out there and get some snaps.”

Later Garrett said the Cowboys do not have hard-and-fast rules about a player having to practice, but McClain has played two regular-season games since 2012. He leads the Cowboys in tackles (22) and tied for the team lead in sacks and interceptions.

If he can’t play, then rookie Anthony Hitchens would move to middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber would take one of the outside linebacker spots. Justin Durant is expected to miss two more games with a groin injury.

Romo (back) and Bryant (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. Romo had tightness in his back and spent time in the weight room during practice. Bryant ran sprints and caught passes on the side. Garrett said Bryant could be limited in Thursday’s practice in order to avoid contact.

Running back Joseph Randle (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) missed their second straight days of practice. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop, who was limited Wednesday because of an illness, was on the practice field Thursday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants middle linebacker Jon Beason was not on the field again Thursday during the portion of practice open to the media.

Beason, who aggravated a previous foot injury in last Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals, was also absent Wednesday, but coach Tom Coughlin did not rule him out for this coming Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

Fellow linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring), who did not practice Wednesday, either, did make an appearance on the field Thursday, but was just doing some light work on the side.

The same goes for rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who is also dealing with a hamstring injury.

Punter Steve Weatherford (ankle) was back in action after sitting out practice Wednesday.

We'll have more later after post-practice interviews with Coughlin and the players.

Cousins must adjust to Jackson's speed

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
ASHBURN, Va. -- The transition to the backup took a little while; the big plays went down and the short catches increased. And then it returned to normal and DeSean Jackson once more became a downfield weapon.

Some of that could be the result of the way defenses played Jackson and the Eagles last year. Some of it, though, was a case of Nick Foles getting used to throwing to Jackson downfield. It’s an adjustment Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins must start to make as well. In his one downfield throw to Jackson last week, the ball was underthrown.

During the summer, quarterback Robert Griffin III talked about adjusting to Jackson’s speed and that it was different than most. He’s not only fast; he also accelerates at the top of routes. And if a quarterback doesn’t account for that, it results in an underthrow.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be a completed pass, but the chance for turning a 25-yard gain into a longer one could be lost.

“What’s friendly about DeSean for the quarterback is that he has the ability, if you feel you put too much air underneath the ball, to go track it,” Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “DeSean does a really good job stacking a defender and holding his ground so he gives the quarterback a chance to throw him open – or save some room for the quarterback to throw away from the middle safety.”

Foles, based on the stats, took some time to adjust to Jackson’s deep speed when he took over for Michael Vick last season. Of Jackson’s first 16 catches from Foles, nine were for 10 yards or less and only two were for 25 yards or more. But of his next 16 receptions, six were for 25 yards or more and only three were for less than 10.

It’s not like they can’t click without the deep ball. But it is a strength of Jackson’s game. Cousins did not get much work with Jackson this summer and the receiver could not practice Wednesday because of a sprained shoulder. There’s a chance he’ll do more Thursday and Friday. This summer, when it was Griffin throwing to Jackson, McVay said there was one thing that duo needed: repetitions. That’s one thing Cousins and Jackson haven’t had.

“That will be an emphasis in practice this week to make sure I get a good feel for ‘How fast is this guy really?’ But, in watching and seeing all the reps and the work I have done with him in individual, it is hard to overthrow him,” Cousins said. “And as a result, you want to make sure you get the ball up and down and let him go get it. Guys like that, you just want to give them a chance to make plays and go do what they’re paid to do. You don’t want to be a deterrent or slow them down from being able to make our offenses as explosive as I think it’s capable of being.”

Jackson also said it takes practice. But he’s not about to worry if they don’t have their timing down just yet.

“[The quarterback] has to see it,” Jackson said. “I feel comfortable Kirk Cousins will come in and do a great job. As long as the quarterback is in control and making good reads and getting the ball out of his hands, it makes it that much harder on the defense. We all feel Kirk can get the job done.”

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
The St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys put together two of the league's most dubious Week 1 performances, but both teams rebounded with road victories last week.

This week, the teams meet for the second consecutive season in search of their second win. The Cowboys thrashed the Rams 31-7 in Dallas in 2013.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner preview Sunday's matchup.

Wagoner: Todd, if DeMarco Murray ever goes into the Hall of Fame, he should probably say thank you to the Rams in his speech. He has shredded them in the past and it looks like he's off to a good start in 2014.

Does he look better now than he has in the past? And what is it that has made Dallas' running game so effective so far?

Archer: He really turned a corner late last season well after he ran for 175 yards on 26 carries against the Rams. He ran with more conviction and had a better feel for the scheme and what the linemen were doing in front of him. But it's more than that. It's understanding where the defensive fronts can give him some trouble before the snap. He has run with power but he's shown the ability to bounce plays and get more positive yards so far. The offensive line helps. The Cowboys have three first-rounders up front in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. After years of talking about wanting to be a physical team but not actually doing it, the Cowboys are actually doing it and it's because they believe more in the line than they have since making the playoffs in 2009.

Not to get too carried away here, but did Austin Davis work at a grocery store after toiling in the Arena Football League? I thought the Rams were in trouble when they had to go to Shaun Hill after Sam Bradford's injury, but how is Davis getting it done?

Wagoner: Does serving a few weeks as a quarterbacks coach at the Westminster Christian Academy here come close enough to stocking shelves at the grocery store? A year ago at this time, that's exactly what Davis was doing. Seriously, though, Davis took most of us by surprise with his performance last week against Tampa Bay. He didn't put up any jaw-dropping numbers, and a rash of injuries limited Tampa's defense, but the most impressive thing about his performance was how cool he was under pressure. Time and again he faced pressure, stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball.

For Davis, that has been the biggest change. When the Rams released him in 2013, it was in no small part because he struggled to recognize coverage and was too quick to take off running without keeping his eyes downfield. He was much improved in that area against the Bucs. Whether he starts remains to be seen because coach Jeff Fisher says Hill is the starter so long as he's healthy. But Hill hasn't proved he's back to 100 percent and the Rams have a bye next week, which would allow Davis another go.

The Cowboys' defense took a lot of heat before the season started but seemed like it found some answers against the Titans last week. What do you make of that group so far? And what are some areas of weakness we should be watching for?

Archer: I still have my doubts. It has been better than I or many thought. But I need more visual evidence. Maybe it's just not wanting to be fooled so much. In Week 1, I believe San Francisco really shut it down in the second half and just wanted to avoid the big mistakes with a 28-3 lead. Last week at Tennessee, Jake Locker was terrible. Now some of that was the Cowboys' making. They got a good rush on him at times and the coverage was solid, but he also missed some throws. If they have another good game this week against Davis (or Hill), I'm still not sure I would get carried away. But it would give the Cowboys confidence and that's more important than anything I would say.

One of the matchups I want to see this weekend is Robert Quinn vs. Tyron Smith. Both guys received giant contracts recently. What kind of start is Quinn off to, and how is Chris Long's absence affecting him?

Wagoner: Quinn doesn't have any sacks yet but that single stat is really a disservice to the work he has done. Tampa Bay and Minnesota made it a point to get rid of the ball quick and both teams used screens, slants and other short routes as a way to help negate Quinn and the Rams' pass rush as a whole. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in the league in Week 1 and the Rams had no sacks.

But Quinn is still wrecking offensive lines and creating pressure despite the lack of sacks. Teams are throwing multiple blockers at him on every play and linemen are desperately clutching and grabbing him to keep him from getting to quarterbacks. He's not always getting the calls but the attention going to him should open things up for others. Of course, he also hasn't seen a tackle as good as Smith in the first two weeks, either.

Tony Romo has also had some big games against the Rams in the past. What have you seen from him, coming off his injury? And do you expect him to return to his usual levels of production?

Archer: Romo has not looked the same, despite what he, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett say. I think he's working his way back into game speed after being limited so much in the offseason and in four preseason games because of back surgery last December. He has not had the same zip on passes. He has not moved around as well as he has in the past. It's all intermittent right now. The back can be a tricky thing and it takes some time to heal. Romo has been sacked seven times and had only 73 pass attempts, so clearly the line isn't protecting him as well. He needs to play better. I think he will get there eventually this season -- maybe even this week -- but it's a good thing the Cowboys look to have a ground game they can rely on.

Michael Sam spent the summer with the Rams and had a productive preseason. Cowboys fans have asked me about how Sam has done since joining the practice squad, but it's hard to judge development there. You saw him in the preseason. What kind of player can he be?

Wagoner: Sam really just kind of is what he is -- a high-energy, all-out effort player who has a motor that constantly runs. He's never going to wow anyone with an array of pass-rush moves or overwhelming power to win with a bull rush. He has to win by getting to the edge with his speed and/or by chasing down quarterbacks or ball carriers, because he simply never quits on a play. Because of that, his upside is limited but it's also a quality that should eventually earn him a chance to play in the league.

Dallas once added a former highly touted college performer who was a seventh-round pick of the Rams in George Selvie, and he turned into a pretty decent NFL player. I see no reason Sam couldn't eventually follow a similar but slightly lessened trajectory.


Redskins vs. Eagles preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Last season, Chip Kelly made his NFL debut in a nationally televised game against Washington. Kelly and his Philadelphia Eagles went on to win the NFC East title with a 10-6 record.

This year, Jay Gruden is the new coach in the division. He brings a 1-1 Washington team to Philadelphia on Sunday for his first game against a division rival. The Eagles are 2-0 after two come-from-behind victories, and they're hoping to continue their strong start.

John Keim, who covers Washington, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, talked about the matchup.

Sheridan: This game pits the NFL’s No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense. I know it’s early, but do you see Washington’s defense really dominating other teams this season, or is this a product of playing Houston and Jacksonville? Getting 10 sacks is pretty impressive no matter who is on the receiving end.

Keim: Agree; it was very impressive. The Redskins benefited from some third-and-longs and having a big lead. But they also created numerous one-on-one matchups that they won. So while Jacksonville’s line is horrible, the Redskins deserve credit for an unreal performance. Yes, their defense has benefited from playing offenses led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne, but they have looked better for a few reasons. Linebacker Keenan Robinson makes a big difference taking over for London Fletcher, who was not productive last season. Robinson is bigger and faster, allowing the defense more creativity. Jason Hatcher has given them a huge boost inside. They’ll line him up all over in their base package and then in the nickel. He’s big, but his quick hands give him an edge. And in the secondary safety, Ryan Clark is better than what they’ve had, just because of his physicality and his communication skills. Add it up and, as a group, they’re playing better and faster. Now, they still have a penchant for allowing big plays, and that has to be an area of concern for Sunday.

Have the Eagles missed DeSean Jackson (and would Kelly ever admit it if they did)?

Sheridan: It’s a more complicated question and answer than it should be. The Eagles’ wide receivers have 17 catches through two games. They have dropped a few balls and had trouble getting open at times. That suggests the team misses Jackson’s presence, especially his game-changing speed. On the other hand, the Eagles lead the NFL in total yards and points scored. That suggests they are getting along just fine without Jackson. It was always going to be a group effort to replace Jackson’s production. Running back Darren Sproles has 263 yards from scrimmage and has replaced Jackson as the undersized home run hitter. Second-year tight end Zach Ertz has seven catches for 163 yards in his first two games. As for admitting he misses Jackson, I wouldn’t expect that from Kelly.

From the replay, it looked as if Robert Griffin III might never walk again, let alone return to the football field this season. Is it his job no matter what Kirk Cousins does in his absence, or is there a chance for Cousins to earn the job the way Nick Foles did while Michael Vick was hurt last season?

Keim: There’s absolutely a way for Cousins to earn the job with Griffin sidelined. If he’s playing well and the Redskins are winning, it’s hard to imagine the Redskins changing -– especially if he can’t return until, say, December (we don’t know the timetable yet). Griffin was the player they wanted to develop, which is why he was starting. He had made progress, but there was frustration at times with his growing pains. But he was not a finished product. If the Redskins are rolling with Cousins, there’s really no reason to change and go back to a player who was still proving himself as a pocket-passer (though they used more of his game the other day). But there’s a sense that Cousins is more comfortable operating in this system because it’s more in line with what he’s always done.

It looks as though Foles is being criticized, probably because he’s missed a lot of targets downfield. Is it justified, and if he’s not playing that well, then how are they producing?

Sheridan: It’s justified to a point. Foles has not started games looking particularly sharp. Some of that is on him, and some is on Kelly and the coaches. Teams have generated some pressure, moving Foles off his spot and disrupting his timing. That has led to him missing some open receivers. In the second half of each game, Foles looked more like the guy who led the league in passer rating in 2013. He made the plays he needed to make to lead the Eagles to two comeback victories. Everyone involved is trying to figure out how to get off to a strong start this time out, which will be a challenge against Washington’s pass rush.

I seem to remember Washington signing some wide receiver who used to play for the Eagles. OK, we know Jackson is injured and listed as questionable for Sunday. How has he looked in Gruden’s offense so far? Is he still a big play waiting to happen?

Keim: Yes. He should have had a long catch the other day, but the officials (incorrectly, according to Mike Pereira) ruled an incompletion. In the opener, Houston played sometimes 8 and 9 yards off him. That, plus its pass rush, made it tough to go downfield. In the summer, Jackson routinely got behind the defense, and then it was just a matter of whether Griffin’s pass connected. But he’s also been in and out of the lineup with various injuries: a hamstring in the spring, an ankle in the summer and now the shoulder. The question I have now is how will he be with Cousins? They won’t have a lot of time to work together and haven’t done so much in the past. Quarterbacks need to get used to throwing to him deep and realize how much he can separate downfield. I remember watching Eagles tape from when Foles first entered last season and how he struggled to do this early on.

The Eagles tried to improve their defense in the offseason. Do they look like a better unit, and if so, why?

Sheridan: The defense does look better in some ways. Last year at this point, they looked very much like a group of players trying to play a new 3-4 scheme. This year, they look like a 3-4 team that makes some good plays and is still vulnerable at times. The Colts had 169 rushing yards Monday night, 65 more yards than opponents averaged against them last year. But Andrew Luck threw for only 172 yards, which helped keep the scoring down. The Eagles gave up two ridiculously easy touchdowns in the red zone, but they created two big turnovers to make that second-half comeback possible. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who intercepted Luck in the fourth quarter, has helped the back end of the defense get set and understand its assignments. That has helped a lot. Players such as Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks look like they are playing at full speed, which took them awhile to reach last year.

Texans vs. Giants preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
The Houston Texans are 2-0, just like they were at this time last season when they lost in Week 3 and didn't win again all season en route to the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

The New York Giants are 0-2, just like they were at this time last season when they lost in Week 3 and didn't win until Week 7 en route to a 7-9 season and an offseason overhaul.

Well, someone should win in Week 3 this season because the Texans and Giants play each other at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Here are ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano with your preview of the game:

Graziano: Tania, what's going on down there? One thing we thought we knew about Ryan Fitzpatrick was that he would throw interceptions. But so far he hasn't. What's been the key for the Texans' offense in terms of taking care of the ball?

Ganguli: I had an inkling this might happen but was already taking so much heat for predicting eight wins for the formerly 2-14 Texans that I opted to wait and see. What we've seen is a quarterback making good decisions and doing exactly what the Texans have asked of him. He's had a lot of time from an offensive line that hasn't given up a sack, and he's had help from receivers who are keen to make life easy on him with their athletic ability and intelligence. He also hasn't faced very opportunistic defenses, which helps.

I had this game penciled in as a loss for the Texans before the season began, but having seen the Giants these first two weeks, I'm not so sure about that anymore. I guess I have the same question for you. What's going on up there? What do you make of this 0-2 start?

Graziano: Seems like more of the same to me, honestly. I think people in this market are starting to recalibrate their expectations of the Giants, and I don't think it will be long before the perception around the league catches up.

They are a rebuilding team in a league and market that don't allow anyone to say that out loud. Last year's team was one of the worst in the league, and its 7-9 record was deceptively good -- built on a run of backup opposing quarterbacks and some December wins against teams that had shut it down. To the Giants' credit, they didn't get fooled, and they went out in the offseason and rebuilt the roster. They signed more free agents than any other team, which isn't the way they like to operate, but they had no choice given all their holes.

The result is a work in progress. The offense was incompetent in the preseason and the opener in Detroit. It showed improvement (and some competence) in Sunday's loss to Arizona, but it's clear it takes a lot for the Giants to score and they lack any true dynamic threats in the offense. They are also weak in pass protection, especially in the middle of the line, where retirements and injuries have left them a bit short.

As I write that, I'm thinking about J.J. Watt (maybe because he's on every other commercial that comes on my TV). Should a Giants offense that's not very exciting and can't protect its quarterback reliably be panicked about that Houston defensive front, even without Jadeveon Clowney?

Ganguli: They could learn something from the way the Raiders played the Texans. Oakland planned well for Watt and kept him without a tackle Sunday, doubling him constantly. Of course, that was a week after he had one of the best games of his career (blocked extra point, fumble recovery, sack, batted pass, two tackles for loss). I would say, yes, they should panic a little. Beyond Watt, a guy to watch is outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who got a game ball after their Week 1 win, along with Watt.

The Giants should be equally concerned about what's been an opportunistic secondary in the first two weeks. Last weekend, the Texans' secondary forced two fumbles and intercepted Raiders quarterback Derek Carr once. Safety D.J. Swearinger has been part of three of the Texans' six forced turnovers. He is a character, and it's been working great for the Texans this year.

I know the Giants made a lot of changes on their defense. Do you see them ending Fitzpatrick's streak of clean games?

Graziano: Well, they're due, I'll tell you that. But it's hard to imagine they're the team to do it. The Giants are one of three teams in the league -- along with Pittsburgh and Kansas City -- that doesn't yet have a takeaway. Combine that with their five giveaways and the 0-2 record doesn't need a lot more explanation. Tom Coughlin and Antrel Rolle talked Monday about the need to force some turnovers and get some free field position. But especially considering they spent so much on the secondary so it would be the strength of their team, the inability of their defensive backs to get interceptions is one of the more puzzling aspects of their slow start.

The Giants gave up 124 rushing yards to the Cardinals on Sunday, which annoyed Coughlin as well. And they haven't been able to run the ball very well themselves. Do you imagine Houston will be able to control the game on the ground with Arian Foster?

Ganguli: Boy, that description of the Giants and turnovers sounds a lot like the Texans last season. They were never able to break out of it, and the 2-14 record reflected that.

Foster and the Texans' offensive line were dominant against the Raiders' run defense last week. Foster had 28 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown. The Texans ran the ball 46 times, a lot of it during garbage time, and threw only 19 passes. Foster already has 55 carries in the Texans' first two games, a number no running back has reached in the first two games of the season since Chester Taylor in 2006. The Texans aren't afraid to work him, and if they're facing another bad run defense, they'll be able to exploit it.

The Texans had growing pains offensively in their season opener, as it was the first time the entire starting unit played together in a game in Bill O'Brien's system. The Giants also learned a new offensive system during the offseason. Can you attribute any of the slow start to the learning curve there, and have you seen signs of improvement?

Graziano: I think that's part of it, and you definitely saw in the "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit that there were some issues with Eli Manning's footwork and his timing with his receivers. You see a zone run play every now and then where Rashad Jennings doesn't make the right cut. There's some learning still going on.

But I think the main problem, unfortunately for the Giants, is one they can't solve in-season. I don't think they have enough high-quality players at the key positions to run any offense and make it high-scoring. Victor Cruz is their best receiver, and he's a slot guy who's dropping too many balls. The interior of the offensive line is still a patchwork mess. Larry Donnell is catching passes at tight end, but he's still a liability as a blocker, which is hurting the run game. Will Beatty's performance at left tackle is inconsistent from week to week. They're just not very good, and it's hard to imagine that this 14 points per game trend is an aberration -- especially with another tough defense coming to town.

But we'll see. That's why they play the games and all that. Enjoyed the chat, Tania. Travel safe, and I'll see you Sunday.