For Eagles, DeMarco Murray is Dallas' top threat

uspresswire-demarco-murray-dallas-cowboys-122813.jpg

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 pre-2017 draft depth chart: How it stands and what it means

Eagles pre-2017 draft depth chart: How it stands and what it means

We're still a little over a month away from the NFL draft in Philly and the Eagles have some pretty notable holes, while some positions seem good to go. 

The Eagles added three players through free agency -- Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Chance Warmack -- and re-signed several of their own players, while several others walked as free agents. 

Right now, there are 72 players on the roster -- 40 on offense, 28 on defense and four special teamers. (If you're wondering, they have $9,751,328 in cap space, according to the NFLPA.) The Eagles will be able to bring 90 guys to training camp.

We're still months and months away from the season, but here's an updated look at the team's depth chart before the draft:

QB: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles
Chase Daniel and his ridiculous backup salary are gone and replaced by Nick Foles and a still-pricey, but not-as-crazy salary. Foles was once the starter in Philly, but there's no QB controversy here; Wentz is the franchise quarterback and it's just Foles' job to help him out over at least the next two seasons. 

Last year, the Eagles didn't carry a third quarterback on the active roster, instead keeping Aaron Murray on the practice squad. Murray is now with the Rams and the Eagles don't have a third. There's a chance they could look for a QB late in the draft or bring in some kind of developmental QB to stash on the practice squad this year. 

RB: Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Byron Marshall, Terrell Watson, Ryan Mathews
You'll notice Ryan Mathews at the tail end of this list. That's because it still seems likely the Eagles will cut him and save $4 million in cap space once he heals from that nasty neck injury he suffered late in the 2016 season. That doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon, though. There's, perhaps, a slight chance Mathews returns, but it still seems unlikely. 

That would leave an aging Sproles, a second-year guy in Smallwood and two undrafted rookies from a year ago left. So the Eagles will need some help. It would be surprising if they didn't draft a running back, although that doesn't mean they'll use a first-round pick on one. Remember, the franchise has had success drafting running backs in later rounds and just last year vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas, while with the Bears, took Pro Bowler Jordan Howard in the fifth round. 

FB: Andrew Bonnet
In his first season as head coach, Doug Pederson elected to not use a roster spot on a fullback. He had Ryan Mueller in camp briefly in the spring and then Bonnet was on the practice squad for a little during the season. Pederson elected to use Beau Allen and Isaac Seumalo as lead blockers. It will be interesting to see if that continues or if he'll put more stock into keeping a fullback around. 

TE: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Anthony Denham
The top three guys are back after the Eagles slapped a second-round tender on Burton, who was a restricted free agent. Basically, the second-round value on his tender means that he'll be back in 2017 and the team will likely continue trying to sign him to a long-term contract like it did during the 2016 season. Denham was on the practice squad, which is his best bet again. 

LT: Jason Peters, Matt Tobin, Dillon Gordon
LG: Chance Warmack, Allen Barbre, Darrell Greene, Josh LeRibeus
C: Jason Kelce, Stefen Wisniewski, Josh Andrews, Aaron Neary
RG: Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, Dallas Thomas
RT: Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Taylor Hart

The Eagles list 10 players who can play guard on their roster. To put that in perspective, they kept just 11 total offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster last season. Something has to give, right? Maybe Jason Kelce will eventually be traded or maybe the team will change it's mind and decide to move on from Allen Barbre. But for now, the Birds are extremely deep on the interior of their line. 

The tackle spots are a little different. After Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, the depth isn't great. Big V had an OK rookie season and Matt Tobin kind of is what he is. Barbre and Seumalo offer the flexibility to play tackle, but it's not their strength. The team lists Dillon Gordon as a guard, but his best fit is probably tackle. Though, Gordon is a converted tight end and is still raw. The wild card right now is Taylor Hart, who is converting from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. No one really knows if he can play there yet. 

WR1: Alshon Jeffery, Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Johnson, Rasheed Bailey
WR2: Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs, David Watford, Dom Williams
WR3: Jordan Matthews, Paul Turner

This looks a lot different than it did a month ago. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith come in and immediately get penciled in as starters, while Jordan Matthews continues to hold down the slot. That means DGB and Nelson Agholor become role players instead of starters. Because of his salary, Agholor will be on the team in 2017; DGB isn't guaranteed. With extra outside receiver, it might also make some sense to see Agholor play some in the slot this season. Also, this depth chart includes training camp All-Stars Paul Turner and Rasheed Bailey -- everyone rejoice! 

DE: Vinny Curry, Marcus Smith, Alex McCalister
DT: Fletcher Cox, Aziz Shittu, Justin Hamilton
DT: Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao
DE: Brandon Graham, Steven Means

This defensive line lost two starters from last year's team. Connor Barwin was cut and Bennie Logan walked in free agency. Replacing them, respectively, are Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. Curry signed a big deal last offseason, so he'll get a chance to prove he's worth it. And unless the Eagles use a high pick to take a DT, Allen gets thrown into the starting lineup. Marcus Smith and Steven Means are the top backups at end and we'll see what Alex McCalister offers after a redshirt 2016 season. Undrafted rookies from a year ago, Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittue, provide the depth at interior tackle. 

The Eagles clearly need to draft defensive linemen in April. 

OLB: Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode
MLB: Jordan Hicks, Joe Walker, Don Cherry
OLB: Mychal Kendricks, Kamu Grugier-Hill

As of March 23, Mychal Kendricks is still an Eagle. That could change, though, if the Eagles find a trade partner for him. Kendricks has struggled in recent years, but he's still young and athletic and might bring back some kind of return. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham both return after working well together in 2016. Bradham enters the final year of his two-year contract. 

There's not much depth after the starters. Joe Walker returns after an ACL tear and a couple of special teamers are the top backups. The Eagles might look to bring in a draft pick to throw into the mix. 

CB: Jalen Mills, C.J. Smith, Mitchell White
S: Malcolm Jenkins, Jaylen Watkins
S: Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Terrence Brooks
CB: Ron Brooks, Aaron Grymes, Dwayne Gratz

The Eagles' biggest need is cornerback and it's not close. Not even close to being close. They can't go into the season without some changes to this part of the depth chart. It would be pretty shocking if they don't add a couple corners in this very deep draft class. Don't be surprised if they add a safety or a corner/safety either. While the starters are set, Chris Maragos is viewed by the Eagles as a special teamer (a great one, by the way) and Jaylen Watkins is a huge drop off from Jenkins or McLeod. 

K: Caleb Sturgis
P: Donnie Jones
LS: Jon Dorenbos, Rick Lovato

The top three guys are set. Sorry, Rick Lovato, you did well filling in last year, but this long-snapper job still belongs to the Magic Man. 

NFL Notes: NFL looking to speed up games via officiating and breaks

NFL Notes: NFL looking to speed up games via officiating and breaks

NEW YORK -- The NFL is making plans to speed up the pace of games, including changing how video replays are handled and using a time clock for extra points.

The league also is discussing with the TV networks how to make commercial breaks less intrusive.

For officiating replays, the referee no longer would go under a hood to watch a play. Instead, a tablet will be brought to him on the field and he will consult with league headquarters in New York. The final call will be made in New York.

Support by 75 percent of the 32 team owners would be needed at next week's annual meetings for passage of the proposal.

In addition to a time clock for PATs when there is no TV break, the league is considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown.

Also, to improve the flow of games on the field and for television audiences, commercial breaks would be reduced from 21 per game to 16, although each would last 30 seconds longer.

Giants: RB Shaun Draughn signs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have signed veteran running back Shaun Draughn.

The Giants announced the signing Wednesday, a little more than a month after releasing veteran Rashad Jennings in a salary cap move.

Draughn has played for six teams in six years, most recently the San Francisco 49ers. He has played in 57 games with seven starts. His career totals include 225 carries for 723 yards and seven touchdowns, plus 80 receptions for 597 yards and two scores. He also has 17 special teams tackles.

Draughn says the Giants were interested in his versatility. He says: "I don't know exactly how they'll use me. I'm sure they'll use me to the strengths that I have."

Draughn played in all 16 games last season with one start for the 49ers. He scored a career-high four touchdowns while rushing for 194 yards on 74 carries. Draughn also had career-best totals of 29 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

He joins a backfield that includes second-year pro Paul Perkins, the team's top returning rusher, Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen.

Bengals: 'Pacman' Jones faces misdemeanor charges
CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones faces three misdemeanor charges, including assault, but no longer is charged with a felony.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters (DEE'-turs) announced Wednesday that a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance was dismissed at the prosecuting attorney's request.

Deters said the misdemeanors also include disorderly conduct and obstructing official business.

The 33-year-old veteran whose career has been marked by off-the-field legal issues was jailed Jan. 3 after a confrontation with a hotel security employee was followed by a struggle with Cincinnati police and a sheriff's office report Jones spit on a nurse's hand.

Deters says the criminal charge won't be pursued, given that the nurse has been pursuing a possible civil remedy.

A Bengals spokesman said the team has no comment.