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The Boys are Back in Town: Dallas Is Hot, But Can They Keep it Going?

17 Oct

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing.

PHILADELPHIA—Like it or not, love them or hate them, the Dallas Cowboys (5-1) are among the league’s best teams and no doubt one of the NFL’s biggest surprises so far in the 2014 season. Much to the chagrin of Eagles fans, the Cowboys are tied with the Birds for first place in the NFC East and for the league’s best record.

Last Sunday, the Cowboys raised more than a few eyebrows with a stunning road upset of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Not only did Dallas escape with a 30-23 win, they did it by rolling 401 yards of offense against one of the league’s most physical defenses.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo likes the balance on offense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo likes the balance on offense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The reason for the Cowboys success so far this season was best exemplified in the win over Seattle when they ran the ball more than they passed it. Dallas has shown a tremendous amount of balance on offense so far this season and that’s taken some of the workload off quarterback Tony Romo.

“The best thing that we’ve done as an organization is we’ve very purposely tried to take the burden off our quarterback,” said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett during his Monday after-game press conference. “At different times in his career in Tony’s career, he’s had a lot of burden on him—we haven’t played good defense, we haven’t been great on the offensive line, we haven’t run the ball well.”

The Cowboys rushing attack gained 162 yards against the Seahawks with 115 coming from running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher. As a team, the Cowboys are averaging 160 yards per game, which also leads the league.

That’s thanks to the outstanding performance by the Dallas offensive line which was so good against the Seahawks that left tackle Tryon Smith garnered NFL Offensive Player of the Week honors. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound tackle helped to open holes for Dallas runners and allowed just one sack of Romo.

Murray, who has 785 yards rushing, is the Cowboys closer late in the game. He scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the game through a tough Seattle defense.

With the Cowboys running game chewing up yardage, Romo has been more efficient in the passing game. Since tossing three interceptions in the season-opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Romo has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,229 yard, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

When they do pass the ball, Romo has been effectively getting the ball out to Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams, who leads the team in touchdown receptions, and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. He also has better protection because teams have to respect the run.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the performance of a Cowboys defense that all the experts said would be the worst in the league. Granted, they’re not the second-coming of those great Cowboys defenses of the 1970s or the 1985 Chicago Bears, but they’re getting the job done.

They are 21st in total defense (12th against the pass and 18th against run) and eighth in scoring defense, a vast improvement from last season.

“We really emphasized the importance of team defense,” Garrett said. “I just think everybody does—gap discipline, tackling, coverage responsibility, doing your job, playing with the right spirit and mentality. I think we’ve done a lot of those things. We’re a work in progress on defense and offense throughout our football team.”

In their latest NFL power rankings, ESPN elevated the Cowboys to No.3 behind the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The challenge for the Cowboys is not to get ahead of themselves or get caught up in the hype of their own headlines.

“It’s such a long season,” Romo said. “When you win you enjoy it that night and move on to the next game. When you lose, you’re disappointed that night, you move on to the next game. You find that if you keep doing that over and over again, you give yourself the best chance to succeed. That approach has been there all season.”

The Cowboys have a home game against a New York Giants squad smarting from an embarrassing shutout loss to the Eagles. The G-men will no doubt be fired up to redeem themselves.

“I know they’re coming to play,” Bryant said. “We know it’s going to be a battle and we’re going to come out there and put it on the line.”

Contrary to owner Jerry Jones belief that the team should smell the roses and enjoy the win over Seattle, Bryant said his teammates are doing no such thing, especially considering the team’s failures in December over the last couple of years.

“Aw, man nobody’s smelling the roses,” Bryant said. “Man we all know in this locker room that we haven’t done nothing, we haven’t achieved nothing. It’s just a 5-1 record. We have to continue to play that we playing the way we’ve been playing …Hoping that we come out on top on Sunday.”

An Unlikely ALCS Matchup: Baltimore and Kansas City

10 Oct
The Orioles and Royals will have plenty of run-ins like this during the 2014 ALCS.

The Orioles and Royals will have plenty of run-ins like this during the 2014 ALCS.

By Barry Fedorovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

 

Exhaust all your metaphors about Freud, melatonin and the 13 movies that go by the same name. But make no bones about it.

The 2014 American League Championship Series is the Dreamers’ Series, an unlikely clash of two teams that have gone a combined 60 years since their last World Series appearances and yet have swept their way to within four victories of ending that drought.

The wild-card Kansas City Royals travel to Camden Yards to take on the A.L. East champion Baltimore Orioles Friday night to begin a best-of-seven series that is incredibly the first time the two have met in a postseason matchup. Note the long list of near-misses between the teams in the 1970’s and 80’s:

1973: O’s win A.L. East; Royals are second in A.L. West.
1975: Both teams finish second.
1976: Royals win A.L. West; O’s are second in A.L. East.
1977: A repeat of 1976 with the O’s finishing even closer (only 2.5 games behind the first-place Yankees).
1979: O’s win A.L. East; Royals finish second in A.L. West.
1980: Royals reclaim A.L. West title, but this time the O’s fall back, finishing second in the A.L. East (behind the Yankees) despite winning 100 games.
1982: Both teams finish second by narrow margins (the O’s by one game and Royals by three games, respectively).
1983: O’s win the A.L. East; Royals finish second in A.L. West.

That’s eight times in 11 seasons where both teams were either in or on the cusp of the postseason and yet somehow didn’t meet. In all eight cases, both teams entered the season considered a good team (with the most unlikely finish probably being the Royals’ second place in 1973 when the White Sox and A’s were considered co-favorites), ironic in that few pundits would have predicted this year’s clash.

Fueled by their league-leading 153 stolen bases (the same number they pilfered in 2013), the Royals won 89 games, three more than in 2013. Even more surprisingly was the emergence of the Orioles, who actually hit one fewer homer in 2014 (211), but improved by 11 games to run away with the East.

On the surface, that means a clash of opposites: the Royals’ speed versus the Orioles’ power.

The similarities between the teams? Underrated pitching and air-tight defense, the latter which could be a deciding factor in what figures to be a very tight series.
Just look at the respective outfields and you can understand why these teams are playing for the right to play in the World Series.

In Nick Markakis, the Orioles have the only regular right fielder in the American League who didn’t make an error this season. Markakis also led the league in putouts at the position and is flanked by Adam Jones, a Gold Glove centerfielder.
And yet has any recent outfield looked any more impressive in the field than the Royals did in the ALDS against the stunned Angels? In Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon, Kansas City offered a defense that would have made Seattle’s Legion of Boom proud, stealing would-be bloop hits by the bushel and denying extra-base hits at every turn to the point of completely dominating the team with baseball’s best record.

During the regular season, the Royals won four of seven, but it’s almost as if they didn’t meet at all since it’s been so long; their last matchup was May 18. Four of those seven games were decided by one or two runs, which could hint at the tense nature of the series that lies ahead.

It’s not the marquee big-market series television may have wanted, but it could be exciting and at the very least will be the end of a long drought for one city that dares to dream of a championship.

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NFC East More Competitive Than Anticipated

10 Oct

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Both LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles have struggled so far in 2014. Photo By Webster Riddick.

Both LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles have struggled so far in 2014. Photo By Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When we looked at the NFC East before the 2014 season, all the sports pundits (myself included) and experts said it would be among the NFL’s weakest divisions and it was given that the Eagles were going to win the division easily.

Five games into the season, it’s starting to look like the NFC East race is going to be a lot more competitive than what we thought and it’s definitely not the worst division in the NFL.

On Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles (4-1) will take on a resurgent New York Giants (3-2) squad that’s won three straight after losing their first two games.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys are the hottest team in the division with four straight wins after losing their season-opener to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Eagles are at the top of the division despite a struggling offense that’s missing center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis. The Birds are winning despite the fact that quarterback Nick Foles hasn’t played as well this year as he did last year.

So far, Foles is having an up and down year. He has eight touchdown passes and he’s averaging 276 yards per game. But he has nine turnovers-five interceptions and four fumbles. Foles has also had some bad starts in games and he has missed open receivers.

“There’s been times when he’s had to get the ball in a little quicker manner than we’d like,” said Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “There are times where he’s had some bad footing. I’d go to one area of the game (against the Rams) where we missed what appeared to be an easy throw to Jordan Matthews, then he followed it up by ripping a seam ball to Mac (Jeremy Maclin) on the next play.”

The Birds running game has not been the explosive force that it was last season. McCoy has yet to rush/ for over 100 yards in five games this season. He’s averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and just one touchdown. He had his best game of the season in

Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Rams when he gained 81 yards rushing on 24 carries
Running back Darren Sproles has provided a spark for the Eagles—both catching the football, running the ball and on special teams. Two of the Eagles wins have been sparked big plays by Sproles.

The Eagles special teams have been a big factor in the team’s wins. The Birds have produced four special teams touchdowns—a kickoff return by Chris Polk and a punt return by Sproles. They’ve also had two blocked punts for touchdown. Rookie placekicker Cody Parkey is 10-for-11 in field goals including two from beyond 50 yards.

While the Eagles defense rank 29th in the NFL in total defense, they have forced turnovers-two have turned into scores. But they are missing linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has a sore calf and DeMeco Ryans who has a groin injury, but had limited participation in practice on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the New York Giants will come into Sunday’s game against the Birds on a roll. Thanks to the performance of Eli Manning, who’s starting to get the hang of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense.

After struggling in losses to the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals, Manning has tossed eight touchdown passes against one interception in wins over the Houston Texans, Washington and the Atlanta Falcons. His quarterback rating has been above 100 in each of the last three games. He completed 70 percent of his passes against the Falcons.

Eli Manning has had a passer rating 100 or better in three straight Giants wins.

Eli Manning has had a passer rating 100 or better in three straight Giants wins.

Manning also has a variety of receivers including Victor Cruz, who leads the team in receiving yards. Grambling State alum Larry Donnell is having a breakout year at the tight end position and leads the team in receptions (25) and receiving touchdowns with four.

The Giants can also run the football as well. Rashad Jennings leads the team in rushing with 396 yards on the ground and is averaging 4.4. yards per game. Those numbers make him fourth in the NFL in rushing. Jennings will probably miss Sunday’s games against the Eagles because of an MCL sprain.

Rookie Andre Williams will start in his place against the Eagles. The former Boston College star and Heisman Trophy finalist has 131 yards rushing and two touchdowns so far this season.

Defensively, New York ranks 11th in the NFL against the run, but 27th against the pass. Despite that stat, the Giants secondary leads the league in interceptions.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has 670 yards rushing.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has 670 yards rushing.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys are even on a bigger roll than the Giants, with four straight wins thanks to a powerful rushing attack led by DeMarco Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing with 670 yards.

With the exception of last Sunday’s overtime win over the Houston Texans when the Cowboys have run the ball more than they pass, they’ve won games including a big 38-17 a New Orleans Saints squad that blew them out last year.

Because Murray is chewing up yards on the ground, Romo can get the ball out to players Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The Cowboys are going to make plays in the passing game, but they don’t have to do it on every down and put all the burden of winning on Romo.

The success of the running game has also made it easier for the Cowboys’s 24th ranked defense that everyone said would be the worse in the NFL. It’s still not the best in the world, but it’s not as bad as we thought.

While we still have a long way to go, the NFC East is going to be a dogfight again and there’s always a strong possibility that Washington (1-4) could run off a few wins before it’s said and done.

It’s not going to be a cakewalk for anybody and it’s going to be a dogfight that could go down to the wire.

Phillies Need to Face the Reality of Rebuilding

1 Oct

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—During the early part of the 2014 season, the Phillies left you with the impression that they could just have timely hitting, good defense and good pitching on a consistent basis, they were close to being a contender in the National League East.

It was something General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed and it was something manager Ryne Sandberg talked about even after nights when the Phillies offense came up short or the starting pitching put them in a deep hole from which they could not recover.

That was not only wishful thinking on part of Amaro and Sandberg, it was downright delusional.

Instead, the Phillies did what bad teams usually do, play well in one aspect of their game and suck in some other part. That was the most consistent aspect of the Phillies in 2014 and it resulted in the team’s last place finish (73-89) in the NL East.

To be honest, this season was doomed from the start, going back to the off-season when the most significant free agents signings were aging, over 30-something veterans like pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

While the latter actually had a decent season, the former pitched like the 37-year-old man he was during the season.

Burnett won just two games after the All-Star break and finished the season 8-18 with a 4.59 earned run average. The team also didn’t have left-handed starter Cliff Lee, who finished his season on the disabled list, for most of the season.

Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (now a free agent) was hot and cold, often struggling to get out of the first inning.

The only bright spots for the Phillies in 2014 were Cole Hamels, who got little help from his offense, and the young bullpen. Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but finished 9-9 and often lacked run support. He also had a no-hitter he shared with two other pitchers.

The Phils offense was a constant problem all year outside of Byrd, who led the team in home runs and lead-off hitter Ben Revere, who batted .307 and tied for the National League lead in hits.

Unfortunately, Amaro’s resurgence of the “Wheez Kids” was a monumental failure and it’s painfully obvious that change has to come, especially on offense.

That means that it’s time for the Phillies to come to the realization that Amaro has been avoiding for a long time—it’s time to say a fond farewell to the now 30-something guys who won the 2008 World Series whose best days are collectively behind them.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Of course, the hardest player for the Phillies to move will be first baseman Ryan Howard, who will be 35 in 2015, because the team still owes him $60 million. No one around baseball wants to take on that salary.

Howard is coming off a season where he batted just .223 with 23 homeruns and 95 runs batted in with a league-leading 190 strikeouts. It was the first time since 2011 that Howard has played more than 150 games in a season.

After struggling through a myriad of leg injuries over the last couple of years, it was an accomplishment for Howard to finish the season. While those injuries are fully healed, I don’t think Howard was ever 100 percent back to himself from a baseball perspective.

That said, I think a change of scenery to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter might do him some good and even bring about resurgence in his career.

Meanwhile, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley have no-trade clauses in their contract. Rollins, the Phillies all-time leader in hits, told reporters back in June that he would be open to a trade if the team goes into complete rebuilding mode.

Guess what? That time is here.

Utley, who struggled in the second half of the season, should consider waiving his no-trade clause as well because it’s going to be a long time before this team is a contender again. I don’t know if Utley will like playing for a young, rebuilding team.

Out of the Phillies younger players that have come out of their system in the last year or so, third baseman Cody Asche was the only one who solidified a starting spot next year in the Phils starting lineup. There’s also talk that prospect Maikel Franco could be on the roster next year.

The Phillies will likely part ways with Domonic Brown, who had an awful season and regressed as a hitter. He batted .235 with just 10 home runs, 63 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .285. In 2013, Brown had a .272 average with 27 homers, 83 RBI, and a .324 on-base percentage.

The Phillies will have a solid bullpen next year with a solid corps of young arms led by hard-throwing righthander Ken Giles, who will be the team’s next closer if they can’t find a suitor for Jonathan Papelbon, who served a seven-game suspension near the end of the season for an obscene gesture. He saved 39 of 43 games in 2014.

Giles, whose fast ball was clocked at 100 miles per hour, had a 1.18 earned run average in 44 games and had a 3-1 record with one save.

Amaro himself is on the clock in 2015—the final year of his contract. He has to figure out a way to get this ship going in the right direction for next year and beyond.

If he doesn’t, Amaro will be given his walking papers the same way former assistant general manager for amateur scouting Marti Worlever got his near the end of the 2014 season.

Social Issues in Sports: How PEDS are Becoming Rampant in Mixed Martial Arts

18 Sep

By Jay Hill

Chris Murray Report Correspondent

Use of PEDs has apparently become a problem in mixed martial arts.

Use of PEDs has apparently become a problem in mixed martial arts.

LONDON, England–Social issues in sport are a well-publicized topic throughout the media, today. And with how the media in many different forms is so accessible now via modern day gizmos and reading platform that surface, what feels like every other quarter, society now has a voice that wasn’t afforded to us in the past.

Whether it is racism, ageism, gender discrimination or another social implication that is often discussed regarding sport, the matters seem to be discussed most on the many forums and media platforms that inhabit the Internet’s vast landscape.

Internet World Stats recently published an infographic showing that there are currently an estimated 2.8 billion people with Internet access globally –a figure that is only set to continue to increase.

Gaming Realm, an illustrious gaming developer behind online portal and PocketFruity documented that the world’s smartphone use is now at a reported 16%.

All this points to the fact that society has never had such a potent voice or ability to change circumstances they feel are incorrect or implemented in a haphazard manner.

One frequently discussed matter of late is the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in the mixed martial arts promotion, UFC. There has been a raft of high-profile fighters failing drug tests, most notably American wrestler, Chael Sonnen.

Sonnen, a supposed “company man” and one of the biggest pay per view draws in the sport failed a recent drug test and has been subsequently banned from the sport for two years. But the sanctions don’t end there: apart from losing any possible revenue from fighting for the next two years, he’s also lost his presenting job with Fox Sports.

So what are the social implications for viewers?

Sonnen was viewed by many as the UFC’s blue-eyed boy. He was someone who could do no wrong in the eyes of UFC President Dana White and a man who was essentially being groomed for bigger things.

However, all this went up in smoke when he failed the aforementioned test. For the fans of Sonnen and the UFC to see one of the poster boys of the sport fail such a test can only have a negative affect on the image of professional mixed martial arts. The damage cuts deep, very deep.

Unfortunately, it sends out so many bad messages to the MMA community. If someone of Sonnen’s profile was taking PEDs, does this mean you can only get to that level of the sport if you take PEDs? Does it mean that everyone in the sport is engaging in illegal substances to reach the elite level of the sport? The questions are boundless and the implications are extremely damaging.

The most worrisome message that it has sent out is that the use of PEDs is both needed and accepted if you can hide it. This is not a message that should be out there for the next generation of MMA nor for the fans to be reading about on the many MMA websites and social sharing platforms.

It’s an uncertain time for MMA, in general, and the only way this problem can be eradicated or at least controlled is by the organization cutting fighters from their rosters and taking a stand against PED users with  more frequent drug tests.

How?

Utilize the many social platforms to voice your opinion and instigate change. The next generation of athletes should know that you can succeed in this world by hard work, not by purchasing PEDs.

Champs Again: Eagles Should Win a Weak NFC East

5 Sep

Order of predicted finish: 1. Eagles 2. Washington 3. New York Giants 4. Dallas Cowboys.

Note: Because the nickname of the Washington NFL franchise is considered to be an offensive racial slur to Native Americans, The Chris Murray Report will no longer use that name in its editorial content.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—After all the OTAs, off-season acquisitions and sitting through preseason games, we are finally into the regular season. The Eagles will open the 2014 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m. CBS).

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds will come into the 2014 season as the defending NFC East champions and there’s no reason to think they will not be in that same position when the regular-season ends in January even with a tougher schedule and the loss of speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

I don’t know if Nick Foles (27 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and LeSean McCoy (314 carries, 1607 yards) will put up the numbers they did last season, but they have a year under head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle read-option offense and they are expecting to be even better.

With additions like speedy veteran running back Darren Sproles on the team, McCoy said he’s expecting the Eagles offense to be even better in 2014 whether he touches the ball more than 300 times or not.

“I think with the mix of Sproles doing different things, sometimes a 65-yard carry can be the same as a 65-yard (pass) route with Sproles,” McCoy said. “I’m learning that it doesn’t take a lot of reps or a lot of touches to be more productive and get what you want done. You could do it with less.

“I know I’m going to be the key guy they’re watching … but the guys up front with the way they’re blocking and the guys around me, especially with Sproles in there mixing it up with screens and runs and passes. With Maclin getting back and healthy, we have a guy that can stretch the field and do things across the middle. We definitely have weapons.”

Eagles’ fans are no doubt wondering if Jeremy Maclin, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since the end of the 2012 season, can be the deep receiver that can stretch the defense in the way that Jackson did last season.

The question for the Eagles is whether or not the defense can improve upon their performance late last season in 2014? The Birds ranked fourth in the NFL in the takeaway-giveaway category last season, but was 32nd against the pass.

But the big concern for the Eagles is whether they can generate a pass-rush, something that hurt them in the loss to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season. During the preseason, the first team didn’t get a sack.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s confident in his defense because his players are more familiar with the team’s 3-4 scheme. He won’t know how better his defense is until the lights come on against Jacksonville.

“Every year is a new year, so you don’t know until the final whistle goes off in the Jacksonville game, really what our starting point is,” Davis said. “But we are more confident because we know them better.”

Both Davis and Kelly said they are expecting big things from backup defense end Vinny Curry and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The Birds added a pair of free agents in veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll to bolster the secondary.

The Eagles will win the NFC East because quite frankly the rest of the division isn’t that good. Look for them to finish 10-6. Actually, 9-7 might be enough to put the Birds over the top.

Washington (Predicted finish: 8-8)

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden's offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Among the teams other than the Eagles that could win the NFC East, the Washington squad could be that team.

With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett running the defense and veterans like linebacker Brian Orakbo, defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Trent Murphy, along with newcomer defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys last season, Washington will be decent on defense.

The Redskins will have a veteran secondary with players like safety Ryan Clark and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The question is whether Washington’s offense with Robert Griffin III at quarterback can be consistent. The team has the weapons on offense with running back Alfred Morris and wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon.

RGIII struggled in preseason so badly that former Washington quarterback and TV analyst Joe Theismann said the team should start Kirk Cousins instead of Griffin. The former Michigan State star did a better job of moving the team during the exhibition season—albeit against second and third string competition.

In Griffin’s defense, Washington’s first team offensive line didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback during the preseason. The same could be said for last season as Washington quarterbacks were sacked 43 times.

One of the things Washington did to get better for 2014 was cut center Will Montgomery, who reportedly made incorrect line calls that probably caused some of the sacks of Griffin and Cousins. This season, Kory Lichtensteiger was moved from guard to center and they also signed six-foot-3, 315-pound guard Shawn Lauvao, who played with the Cleveland Browns.

The offensive line will be the key to protecting Griffin and making holes for Morris.
New head coach Jay Gruden is sticking with RGIII as Washington’s starter for now. If Griffin struggles in the early going will Gruden pull the plug and go with Cousins?

Under Gruden’s system, Griffin won’t be running the read option. He has to make plays from the pocket and not take off and run when his first option is not open. That may be an adjustment for Griffin, but he’s also smart enough to discipline his game to do it.

If RGIII can get off to a good start and can be consistent with the weapons he has on offense, Washington can make this a competitive race and perhaps win it if a few things break their way.

New York Giants (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had the worst season of his career in 2013. He threw 27 interceptions. Coming into this season, New York hired former Green Bay Packers quarterback Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator who will install a West Coast-style offense.

With the sudden retirement of running back David Wilson due to a neck injury, the Giants running game will feature former Oakland Raiders ball carrier Rashad Jennings and former Boston College star Andre Williams, who gained 2,177 yards as a senior and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

At the wideout position, Victor Cruz should be the beneficiary of the Giants new West Coast system. New York also has rookie wide receiver and former LSU star Odell Beckham, who has been slowed down by a hamstring injury. The G-men will also return Reuben Randle who has shown flashes of brilliance at times.

The key to Giants on offense will be their offensive line, which was the main culprit of the Giants woes last season. New York will have a revamped offensive line with left tackle Will Beatty (6-6, 319 pounds) as its most experienced player.

The Giants will need to develop some chemistry along that offensive line to make sure McAdoo’s schemes can work.

On defense, the Giants are hoping that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can have the kind of season he had in 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks. The Giants also have veterans Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins. Key free-agent acquisitions include corner back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain.

The Giants are average at best and don’t necessarily scare anybody on defense. But then again no one in the NFC East does.

Dallas Cowboys (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Speaking of defenses that don’t scare anybody, the Cowboys were awful on defense last season even with DeMarcus Ware and they will be awful without him this season. They lost former Penn State star Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury during OTAs.

The Boys will be without injured cornerback Orlando Scandrick and cornerback Morris Claiborne didn’t play during the preseason. Throughout the preseason, the Cowboys got pushed up and down the field.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to figure out a way to make chicken soup out of chicken bleep or lemonade out of lemons. However you want to look at it, Marinelli has to make something out of a defense that is destined to give up a whole bunch of points and a lot of yards this season.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they are stacked offensively.

Everybody’s favorite whippin’ boy, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is not only coming off of back surgery, he’s also coming off a season in which he threw 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

In week 16, his last game before his surgery, Romo rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point deficit in the last five minutes to beat Washington to keep their playoffs hopes alive to that point in the season.
With receivers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys are going to put points on the board.

They also have a solid running game with DeMarco Murray, who gained 1,121 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season. If you have Bryant, Witten and Murray on your fantasy team, you will no doubt score points.

It is also no doubt in my mind that Dallas’s defense will also give up just as many points as Romo and the Cowboys will score. Dallas will win games by scores like 38-31 or 51-48 and they will lose games like that as well. When you’re playing from behind or having to score on every possession, mistakes are going to be made.

Romo will throw a few “Hell-no’s” along the way which means you’ll be hearing a lot from his critics.

A Heroes’ Welcome Home for Taney Dragons by the City of Brotherly Love

29 Aug

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons  and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park before Wednesday's game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA –A lot of people who would normally be hard at work in their Center City offices were instead gathered on the streets of Philadelphia in support of the Taney Dragons Little League team as part of a parade honoring the Mid-Atlantic Little League champions Wednesday.

Waving signs that said, “We Love Taney,” “We’re on the Dragon Wagon,” and “Let’s Go Taney,” a crowd of thousands took part in the parade, which also featured performances by the Philly POPS orchestra in front of the Kimmel Center and the Mummers at Broad and Washington.

In the midst of a tumultuous summer on the streets of Philly and around the world, the Dragons, a multi-ethnic team of 12 and 13-year-olds, gave everyone something to smile about during their Little League World Series run in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said Mayor Michael Nutter.

“We’ve had a number of tragedies this summer just in Philadelphia involving children, very tragic situations, so we mourn all of those losses and it really hurts our heart when bad things have happened to our children,” said Nutter said. “To have a few weeks, a month or so of this kind of incredible joy around children just playing a game, just having a good time, I think it was really exciting for the whole city and people responded.”

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo'ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen's Bank Park.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo’ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Taney Dragons were one of two inner city teams to play in the LLWS, and the first from Philadelphia. They, and the U.S. Champion Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, became favorites of fans around the country and garnered a lot of media attention in the process.
Taney manager Alex Rice applauded his kids for how they’ve handled it.

“It was an honor to be associated with this team for the past two months,” Rice said. “They’re talented, wonderful, high character, smart, funny wonderful kids. They played terrific baseball.”

Though the Taney Dragons finished third, they received a heroes’ welcome from a grateful hometown on Wednesday in a parade that went from downtown to Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia.

“The parade was awesome,” said Taney Dragons slugging outfielder Zion Spearman. “I wish we had another one, but this was awesome. I think it was nice seeing all the people. It was fun. It was pretty good because it was, I don’t know, exciting.”

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

After marching down Broad Street, Mayor Nutter and Second District City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson honored the team with a proclamation and announced plans provide more resources to recreation programs in the city and repair the city’s baseball fields.

Later in the day, the team went to Citizens Bank Park where the Philadelphia Phillies honored them and let entire team threw the ceremonial first pitch. They also got some encouragement from Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who spent time with them in Williamsport.

“This is the epitome of Philadelphia right here,” Howard said during the ceremony. “I felt like a little kid when I was hanging out with these guys. They were full of life and full of energy and just plain fun.”

For the kids, it has been a whirlwind last couple of weeks with games and celebrations. This is especially true for 13-year-old pitcher Mo’ne Davis, who thrilled fans and dazzled with her 70-mile per hour fast ball and became the darling of the Little League World Series.

Davis was the toast of the morning TV talk shows including ABC’s Good Morning and became the first Little Leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. By the time the parade ended, a visibly-tired Davis talked to reporters about the run through the Little World Series.

“It’s been half and half. I like it sometimes, but most of the time I don’t. I’m looking forward to school,” Davis said. “What sticks out to me is being on (the cover) of Sports Illustrated, throwing my shutout and making it to Williamsport. … It was very cool.”

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

The solid of performance of both the Taney Dragons and the all-Black U.S. champion Chicago Jackie Robinson West squad marked the comeback of urban baseball. The Taney Dragons squad was a multi-ethnic squad that looked more like America.

“I ran with my kids from Philadelphia, they were a perfect cross section of Philadelphia and I was thrilled with ther talent that made the team and I loved them,”  Rice said.

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