NFL Notes: Goodell says '15 draft down to L.A., Chicago


NFL Notes: Goodell says '15 draft down to L.A., Chicago

For the first time since 1964, New York will not host the NFL draft in 2015.

According to Sam Farmar of the Los Angeles Times, Roger Goodell told reporters on Thursday that New York was considered but ultimately was ruled out. The prospective location has been narrowed down to either Chicago or Los Angeles for next year's draft.

“We’re focusing solely on Los Angeles and Chicago now,” Goodell said.

The decision to drop New York from consideration was made when Radio City Music Hall, the event’s usual venue, couldn’t offer available dates in April or May. The draft is expected to take place either April 22-25 or April 29-May 2.

Goodell did not give a timeframe on when the league will choose between the two cities.

“We had 12 cities that were interested,” Goodell said. “We felt the best thing to do was to focus on the three cities, because they had such a tremendous interest. There are very attractive aspects to each of those cities. Because we don’t have the appropriate dates in May our focus is completely on Los Angeles and Chicago. They both have tremendous bids.”

Though the draft has recently been a three-day event, the NFL has given thought to expanding it to four days starting next year.

49ers: Staley signs two-year extension 
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers showed off their new home in style Thursday while quietly making a move to protect quarterback Colin Kaepernick's blindside.

After an extravagant ribbon-cutting ceremony to open Levi's Stadium, the 49ers announced left tackle Joe Staley has signed a two-year contract extension that will run through the 2019 season.

The 29-year-old Staley, who had wanted a new deal this offseason, was among the players at the event.

"We both felt it was time to get something done, and what I'm most excited about is the opportunity to play my whole entire career as a San Francisco 49er," Staley said later on a conference call with reporters. "That was one of my goals that I set out to do as a rookie coming into the NFL -- make an NFL roster, become a starter, win a Super Bowl and play my whole entire career with one team.

"So very excited for the opportunity to do that and really grateful for the 49ers allowing me that opportunity. Now it's really just time to go work on that Super Bowl."

Staley's extension is the latest move in a busy offseason that has seen some of San Francisco's biggest offensive contributors get new deals -- and others take strong measures in hopes of getting one.

Last month, the 49ers rewarded Kaepernick with a six-year extension worth up to $126 million. Tight end Vernon Davis and right guard Alex Boone, though, have held out of the team's voluntary offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp despite two years left on their current contracts (see full story).

-The Associated Press

Titans: Taylor Lewan to go to trial in fan-punching case
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Tennessee Titans rookie Taylor Lewan will go to trial in October on charges he punched an Ohio State fan.

The former Michigan offensive tackle is accused of hitting the fan after the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines last season. He is charged with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery.

He was told during a pretrial hearing Thursday to return to Ann Arbor District Court on Oct. 27 for jury selection. The trial could begin the next morning.

The Titans will not be preparing that week for a game, minimizing the possible impact of Lewan being back near his college campus. Lewan, drafted No. 11 overall, is one of three players drafted this year without a contract.

Lewan and the Titans declined to comment after the pretrial hearing. When asked about the possibility of a plea bargain, Lewan's attorney, John Shea, said: "Who knows what the future holds?" He is "assuming" the case will be decided by jurors. (see full story)

-The Associated Press

Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Birds just do not match up well

Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Birds just do not match up well

Eagles (4-2) at Cowboys (5-1)
8:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC
Cowboys favored by 4; over/under 43

Sizing up the Eagles' highly anticipated Sunday night showdown with the Cowboys:

When the Eagles have the ball
Here we go. Biggest game of the season so far for the Eagles, who have already beaten two of the NFL's best in the Steelers and Vikings.

The Cowboys are surprisingly playing like the class of the NFC, making this an enormous game. If the Eagles win, they'll be in first place in the division at the beginning of November, and they'll have three high-quality wins under their belt. Winning a tough road game like this would do wonders for the confidence of Carson Wentz and whoever else plays a key role.

But a victory is far from certain. The Cowboys have exceeded expectations on both sides of the ball this year. We all know about the offensive attack led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott (more on that below), but Dallas' defense has also done its job well.

The Cowboys' secondary had been a mess for several years, but the unit has gotten better since the arrival of last year's first-round safety, athletic freak Byron Jones. 

In one of the most important developments for Dallas, Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012 who was a straight-up bust in his first four seasons, is playing the best football of his career. He's been targeted 40 times and allowed just 21 catches for 191 yards (9.1 average) and no TDs. Over the last two games, Claiborne has faced A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson and given up just three catches for 37 yards, breaking up two passes.

Claiborne signed a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal to stay with the Cowboys, and he's earning himself some money before heading into unrestricted free agency.

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr plays opposite Claiborne and is also having a decent year after a few disappointing ones. Carr has two inches and 20 pounds on Claiborne, so one would think the Cowboys would try to match Carr up with the Eagles' biggest receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham.

Last season, Sam Bradford targeted Jordan Matthews five times when he was being covered by Carr and all five were completions, for 24 yards and a TD. In this one, Matthews will likely line up opposite Jones or Tyler Patmon in the slot.

Coverage has been the best aspect of Dallas' defense this season. Getting to the quarterback has been the worst. Lacking an explosive pass rusher, the Cowboys have just 11 sacks on the year and four came against the Bengals. Per Pro Football Focus, the only team in the NFL that has rushed the passer less effectively than the Cowboys is the Lions, who did sack the Eagles three times in Week 4.

If the Eagles can protect Wentz against this mediocre pass rush, they have a real chance to win. Wentz has been accurate and decisive when he's had a clean pocket, and while the Cowboys have made those aforementioned improvements in the secondary, this is still a defense you can move the ball against.

When Wentz has been kept clean — i.e. not faced pressure — he's 100 for 146 (73 percent) for 1,097 yards with seven TDs and two INTs. When under pressure, he's 18 for 39 (46 percent).

The Cowboys have been much better this season at stopping the run, thanks in large part to the health of linebacker Sean Lee. The former Penn Stater is instinctive and fast, a sure tackler and a sound coverage LB. He really does everything ... except stay healthy. In the four seasons prior to 2016, he missed 33 of 64 games to various injuries. Annually, the Cowboys' defense has fallen off a cliff without him.

Dallas is allowing just 92.2 rush yards per game, 10th-fewest in the NFL, and no RB has exceeded 75 rushing yards against them. The Eagles have not been a particularly effective running team so far, ranking 20th with 4.1 yards per carry and 17th with 111.5 rush yards per game. For reference, that's 50 fewer rushing yards per game than Dallas, which leads the NFL.

Look for the Eagles to try to get that ground game going quickly in the first quarter. If they can, it will open up the play-action game in which Wentz has thrived. It would also further mitigate the Cowboys' pass rush by making them a step slower reaction-wise.

The best formula for success would seem to be involving Ryan Mathews early, letting Wentz complete some short passes to Darren Sproles, Matthews and the tight ends, and then opening up the deeper stuff once an amped-up Dallas defense has been forced to adjust.

When the Cowboys have the ball
The Eagles have a very good defense and the Cowboys have a very good offense. Based on how the Cowboys move the ball, this is the worst possible game to be without defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who's missing his second straight week with a groin injury.

The Dak Prescott-Ezekiel Elliott tandem has worked wonders. 

Elliott has averaged 142 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry in his last four games. 

Prescott, like Wentz, has quickly become more than just a game manager. Over his last four contests, Prescott has completed 73 percent of his passes, averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and totaled nine touchdowns with one interception. He hasn't been much of a threat running himself, except on the goal line, where he has rushing TDs of one, five and six yards.

But before getting to the Cowboys' passing game, it's obvious that this defensive game plan will begin with stopping Elliott. That's no easy task. Elliott is a world-class running back behind the best offensive line in football. And stopping Zeke only becomes tougher with the expected return of All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.

The Eagles know they must rally to the ball when Elliott has it. Gang tackles are a necessity. Of Elliott's 703 rushing yards this season, 383 have come after contact.

The return of wide receiver Dez Bryant should also benefit Elliott. Bryant simply cannot be covered one-on-one in crucial third-down or red-zone situations. He excels at making tough catches when being well-defended. 

Bryant torched Nolan Carroll last season, catching a 51-yard pass and an 18-yard TD against him. And that was with Matt Cassel at the helm.

Cole Beasley and Jason Witten are factors over the middle. Malcolm Jenkins was great last year as the Eagles' slot corner but not against Beasley. In the first meeting, Beasley caught nine passes for 112 yards and two TDs and both scores were against Jenkins.

It seems that all small, white wide receivers get compared to Wes Welker, but that really is the type of player Beasley is. He's the go-to option on third down because of his shiftiness and ability to get that one foot of separation with a quick move. Prescott has targeted Beasley often, and without Bryant, Beasley has caught three TDs in his last three games. Prior to that he had never really been a red-zone threat.

The slow-footed, ageless Witten still somehow gets open, though it would seem the Eagles are equipped to defend him with Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks and the safeties.

As it always is, the key here is pressure. The Eagles made Bradford uncomfortable all day last Sunday and that was the main reason the Vikings got nothing going offensively. But Minnesota was playing with two backup tackles. The Cowboys are playing with an O-line filled with first-round picks who've lived up to the hype. 

Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox have played well this season, but this needs to be their best game if the Eagles are to have a chance. 

Special teams
The Eagles are the only team in the NFL with a kick return TD this season and they have two, courtesy of Wendell Smallwood and Josh Huff. Both are good runners, but that has just as much to do with the other special teamers' preparation, scheme and blocking ability. 

Since ST coordinator Dave Fipp arrived, the Eagles have 21 return TDs — that includes kick returns, punt returns, interceptions, fumbles and blocked kicks. No other team in the NFL has more than 15 over that span.

Speedy second-year receiver Lucky Whitehead returns the kicks and punts for Dallas. He's yet to score in that role, but did return a kick 79 yards last year.

Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is the most accurate in NFL history. In his six seasons, he's converted 90.1 percent of his field goals. He's also 222 for 222 in extra points. And at home, in Dallas' dome, he just does not miss (82 for 88, 93.2 percent).

I think this is going to be a great game decided by fewer than seven points that comes down to the final two minutes.

But, while the Eagles have played up to the level of competition in their two toughest games, I just don't see them going into Dallas after a Cowboys bye week and beating a balanced offense. This just is not a great matchup for a pressure-oriented defense against a gargantuan offensive line.

For the Eagles to win, they'll need surprising performances from a few players, whether it's Nelson Agholor or Josh Huff catching a deep ball, or Connor Barwin or Vinny Curry having a standout game. 

My score predictions have been wrong four weeks in a row, so let's hope this makes five.

Cowboys 27, Eagles 24

Eagles Injury Update: DT Bennie Logan out vs. Cowboys

Eagles Injury Update: DT Bennie Logan out vs. Cowboys

Eagles starting defensive tackle Bennie Logan has been ruled out for Sunday night's game against the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.

Logan (left groin) will miss his second straight game.

How big of a loss is Logan, especially considering the Eagles are about to face the top rushing offense in the NFL?

“It’s huge,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Friday morning. “It’s big anytime you lose a great player like Bennie for a couple of weeks. But I’ve always been under the ‘next man up’ mentality and that’s where we’re at.

“Did a nice job filling in last week, even with just three (defensive) tackles last week. Now, with the addition of Taylor (Hart), gives us a little bit more depth at that. But anytime you lose a player like Bennie in the middle, it can definitely hurt you a little bit.”

With Logan out, Beau Allen will make his second straight start next to Fletcher Cox in the middle of the Eagles’ defensive line.

“Beau played good (against the Vikings),” Pederson said. “He’s a guy that gives you great effort every time he’s in there. Obviously, the fumble recovery was big for us there. But Beau’s consistent, he’s solid. And just fortunate to have him be one of our tackles.”

The Eagles have more depth at defensive tackle this week against the Cowboys after claiming Hart off waivers from the Cowboys. Hart, of course, was originally an Eagle until he was released at final cuts after training camp.

Hart hurt his right ankle during practice on Thursday and won’t practice Friday, but should be able to play in the game on Sunday night, Pederson said.

“[Hart has] been playing,” Pederson said. “He’s been on a roster and practicing and all that. It’s just a matter of getting familiar again with all the terminology but he will be able to give us some good work.”

The only other player who has been ruled out for Sunday’s game is special teams linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who is considered “week to week” with a hamstring injury he suffered against the Vikings.

Pederson said every other player should be ready to go, which would include Jordan Matthews (knee), Mychal Kendricks (ribs) and Jason Peters (bicep), as expected.

Pederson also said cornerback Ron Brooks had his surgery to repair that ruptured right quad tendon. Dr. Peter DeLuca, the team physician, performed the surgery. Pederson said he spoke to Brooks this morning and said the defensive back was in “great spirits, doing well.”