For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

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For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

They don’t have Tony Romo to worry about, but the Eagles have spent the entire week preparing for another weapon in the Dallas offense whose status was never in doubt.

Not only is Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray healthy, but he’s also the single biggest threat to the Eagles’ pursuit of an NFC East title.

If you haven’t noticed, Murray has emerged as one of the NFL’s more impactful ball carriers. In his third season, the former Oklahoma record-setting running back has cracked the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time.

His 1,073 yards rank 10th in the league, but his average of 82.5 rushing yards per game ranks fourth. His 1,384 total offensive yards are eighth-most among NFL running backs.

Murray isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, but over the past few weeks, only McCoy has more rushing yards than Murray, an impressive feather in Murray’s cap given McCoy’s 217-yard effort a few weeks ago against the Lions in the snow and his 133-yard performance against Chicago.

McCoy’s 388 rushing yards in that span lead the NFL, but just 12 more than Murray.

“He’s a powerful back,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. “He can break tackles. Once he gets to the edge on stretch plays, he can take it to the house. The main thing is, we have to make sure we set the edge and don’t allow him to get started. Once he gets started it’s pretty hard to stop him.”

An MCL injury kept Murray from playing against the Eagles earlier this year, a 17-3 Dallas win at the Linc, but the Eagles figure on seeing heavy doses of him Sunday as the two teams battle to decide the NFC East title at AT&T Stadium.

Without the services Romo and with an NFL-worst defense that has to figure out how to stop Chip Kelly’s offense, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett might elect to put the ball in Murray's hands frequently in an attempt to execute a clock-control game plan.

If that’s the plan, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s ready for it.

“We were anticipating them to do that anyway,” Davis said. “But they might do more. Only they can answer that question. We've got to prepare equally for the run game and the pass game. Each game takes on its own life. Whether they gave him the ball more or not, we'll be prepared to it.”

A third-round pick in 2011, Murray has always been a game-breaking halfback with plus speed and breakaway ability. He ran a 4.41 at the Scouting Combine. Injuries were always his Achilles heel. He suffered various injuries in college, but still set the school’s record for touchdowns and all-purpose yards.

He played 13 games his rookie season in Dallas, sharing carries with Felix Jones, but fractured his ankle in late December. The Cowboys made him their No.1 halfback last year, but he missed six games.

This year, after a brief MCL scare that ended up being just a two-game absence, Murray has finally shown his potential. He busted loose for 175 yards in Week 3 against the Rams. Since Nov. 10, he’s had just one game under 65 rushing yards. Murray’s 5.4 yards-per-carry average is the league’s highest among running backs with at least 110 carries.

The Cowboys are 11-0 when Murray carries the ball at least 20 times, 12-2 when he gets at least 18 carries. When he rushes for just one touchdown, Dallas is hard to beat. The Cowboys are 10-3 in games when Murray finds the end zone.

“We’ve got to stop the run. That’s the No. 1 thing,” outside linebacker Brandon Graham said. “We didn’t see him in the first meeting. He’s very good. He’s somebody we’ve got to attack early. We can’t get him going at all, because he can beat us.

“He’s patient, somebody who waits on the hole to open up. He’s s a 4.4 (speed) guy and you know you don’t want to get him out there in space. He’s somebody you don’t wanna play with.”

Murray has brought some stability to Dallas' offense down the stretch, with 136 yards against Chicago and 134 more against the Packers in consecutive December games, both Cowboys losses in which the play calling drew criticism for ignoring Murray down the stretch.

Last Sunday, Murray rescued Dallas’ season in the final moments of the fourth when he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Romo on 4th-and-goal that propelled Dallas to the 24-23 comeback win that set the stage for Sunday’s winner-take-all showdown against the Eagles.

Murray’s 48 receptions yards are seventh-most among starting running backs, giving the Eagles another dimension to guard against.

“We just have to make sure we get all 11 hats to the ball,” Logan said, “and just just slow him down from the beginning of the game. We don’t want to give him any momentum going into the second half.”

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Safety

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Safety

We went through the cornerbacks Thursday and that position is clearly much more of a mess than safety (see story).
 
In fact, the Eagles have a really good starting safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
 
But over the last couple of years, the Eagles have used Jenkins as their slot cornerback in the nickel package. It's a position that Jenkins really enjoys playing — he loves being closer to the action. Except whenever Jenkins plays up as the slot corner, the team is forced to bring an extra safety off the bench.
 
Last season, that extra safety was Jaylen Watkins. When Jenkins moved up, Watkins would take the field. A former fourth-rounder from Florida, Watkins ended up playing 38 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2016. That's a heckuva lot, especially considering that Jenkins and McLeod, the two guys ahead of him, missed a combined seven snaps.
 
Watkins beat out Chris Maragos for that third safety spot in 2016. The Eagles seem happy letting Maragos focus on being the all-time great special teams force he's been since coming to Philadelphia.
 
So Watkins is the incumbent fighting for that third safety job, but the other guy was with the Eagles last year, too.
 
The Eagles claimed Terrence Brooks off waivers from the Ravens just before the opener in 2016. Brooks played in 11 games but was primarily a special teams player. He played just three defensive snaps (but he did pull in his first career interception on that late bomb against the Giants in Week 16). The only reason Brooks got on the field in that game was because Watkins suffered a concussion.
 
While Brooks never really made it with Baltimore, the Ravens did draft him in the third round out of Florida State in 2014. That rookie year, he played 234 snaps before tearing his ACL. He played minimally in 2015 and was cut before last season began.
 
With a full offseason, Brooks ought to have a much better grasp of the Eagles' defense, and Watkins certainly didn't play well enough to be handed that third safety job again.
 
So while safety might seem like a secure position, it'll be one to watch this summer.

NFL Notes: Dez Bryant throws huge BBQ, then reportedly late for camp

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NFL Notes: Dez Bryant throws huge BBQ, then reportedly late for camp

LUFKIN, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to his East Texas hometown to thank supporters with free barbecue that drew several thousand fans to a park.

Bryant was in Lufkin on Thursday afternoon for the outdoor event that included games and a chance to meet the NFL star as temperatures reached the 90s. Lufkin police spokeswoman Jessica Pebsworth on Friday estimated the crowd at about 3,000 and said two people were treated for heat exhaustion.

Pebsworth says everyone was excited to see Bryant and he was a great host.

Bryant says he decided a couple of days earlier to throw the catered event in Lufkin, a city of about 36,000 located 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

The Cowboys open camp next week in Oxnard, California.

However, it appears that generosity caused Bryant to be a bit tardy. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, Bryant was late on Friday to report for camp with the Cowboys’ other veterans.

Bengals: Jones suspended 1 game for altercation
CINCINNATI -- Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones has been suspended for the regular-season opener against Baltimore for his role in an altercation at a downtown hotel earlier this year.

Jones had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from the January incident, the latest in a history of off-the-field legal issues for the NFL veteran. The NFL said Friday that the suspension was for a violation of its personal conduct policy.

Police said Jones kicked and used head-butting as he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a hotel employee. He was arrested outside the hotel, and police video showed him protesting that he hadn't done anything to deserve it, loudly demanding, "Let me go!" and at times struggling with officers while yelling obscene insults. Video of Jones in the back of a police cruiser at one point showed him telling an officer: "I hope you die tomorrow."

Jones apologized in court for his behavior and specifically to Cincinnati police Sgt. Jarrod Cotton. His attorneys said he had been receiving treatment, including for anger management (see full story).

Chiefs: QB Mahomes inks rookie deal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chiefs have signed quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a four-year rookie contract.

Kansas City traded its first- and third-round picks this year and its first-round pick next year to the Buffalo Bills to grab the Texas Tech quarterback with the 10th overall selection.

It was the first time Kansas City had taken a quarterback in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983.

The Chiefs sent the No. 27 and No. 91 overall picks in this year's draft to Buffalo in order to acquire a successor to Alex Smith. The veteran starter has two years remaining on his contract, though Smith becomes inexpensive to release after next season.

Jets: Top pick Adams signs 4-year contract
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets on Friday signed safety Jamal Adams of LSU, the sixth overall pick in the draft.

Adams gets a four-year deal worth about $22 million. As with all first-round contracts under the current labor agreement, the Jets have a fifth-year option.

All nine of the Jets' selections in April's draft have signed.

A versatile defender, Adams had one interception and four passes defensed as a junior last season, committing zero penalties as he rarely was thrown at. For his three seasons at the school, he played in 37 games (26 starts) with five interceptions, 14 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one recovery, 209 tackles and 17 1-2 tackles for loss.

Adams is expected to be a starter this season for the rebuilding Jets.