Scouting Report: Enter Kyle Orton

usa-kyle-orton-cowboys.jpg

Scouting Report: Enter Kyle Orton

After allowing an unthinkable 48 points to a Vikings team that lacked Adrian Peterson and started Matt Cassel, the Eagles' defense issued its strongest response this season.

In holding Chicago’s No. 2-ranked scoring offense to 11 points, the Eagles reaffirmed faith that their nine-game streak of holding opponents under 22 points wasn’t done by smoke and mirrors.

Now come the Cowboys and another backup quarterback. With the NFC East title on the line, Dallas turns to Kyle Orton to lead the offense against the Eagles with Tony Romo sidelined until next season after undergoing back surgery Friday morning (see story).

Orton is a more-than-capable backup for any NFL team. He has 69 career starts and a 35-34 record. Jerry Jones is paying him $3 million to back up Romo, a handsome salary for a reserve. This is Orton’s second season with the Cowboys, so he has a firm grasp of the playbook.

Orton is good enough to get the ball to Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, mainly because Witten and Bryant are excellent at getting open and Orton can hit open receivers. Romo’s presence will mostly be missed in the third-down and big-play department.

The rapport Romo has developed over the years with Witten, his best friend, and more recently with slot receiver Cole Beasley can’t be duplicated by Orton with just one week of practice reps. Romo knows their routes and tendencies inside-out and had a great feel for how much time he had before he needed to get rid of the ball, especially against pressure. Romo also had tremendous pocket presence and an innate ability to dodge the pass rush with simple sidesteps.

Orton, at times in his career, has been a sack waiting to happen. In his first four years as a starter, he was sacked 120 times in 58 games, almost three times per game. In his best year, he rushed for 98 yards. Nick Foles this season has run for 226 yards.

Orton, a former Purdue standout, is tough and gritty. He has a good arm and won’t be overwhelmed by the moment. He’s beaten the Eagles once in two attempts. But he’s more suited for a prominent backup role than being a starter in today’s pass-first game. His career completion percentage (58.4) is well below today’s starting quarterback standard, as is his career passer rating (79.7).

Some telling stats: Orton has passed for 300 yards or more 11 times in his career. His teams are 4-7 in those games. He had a passer rating below 100 in seven of them. In his 12 games when he’s attempted 40 or more passes, his teams are 3-9.

If you’re relying on Orton to win a game through the air, the odds aren’t in your favor.

And don’t forget that Dallas’ offensive line isn’t exactly the “Great Wall” unit from the 90s. Left tackle Tyron Smith is long and as athletic as they come, but rookie center Travis Frederick is the second-best guy up front and he’s more of a scrappy, lunch-pail type than an athletic specimen. Right tackle Doug Free gets exposed in pass protection. Brian Waters had been a nice upgrade for Dallas at guard, but he’s on injured reserve. Left guard Ron Leary is just a guy.

The Cowboys need to run to win this game. Expect offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to throw heavy doses of DeMarco Murray at the Eagles in hopes of fielding a clock-control offense that keeps the ball out of the hands of Chip Kelly’s offense.

Murray, a strong runner with above-average speed, is finally showing his potential when healthy. Injuries have held him back throughout his career, but he’s missed just two games this season, including the Oct. 20 meeting against the Eagles at the Linc.

Murray is the NFL’s 10th-leading rusher and has the highest yards-per-carry average (5.4) among NFL running backs with at least 110 carries. His strongest points are an upfield burst and his corner-turning ability. Callahan likes to use stretch runs to get Murray getting to the edges, where he’s especially dangerous. The Cowboys are 11-0 when Murray carries the ball at least 20 times and 12-2 when Murray has at least 18 carries.

In the past three weeks, only LeSean McCoy (386) has more rushing yards than Murray (376), and that’s saying something given McCoy’s 217-yard game against Detroit and his 133-yarder against the Bears.

Murray has also become a significant piece of the passing game. His 48 receptions are seventh-most among starting NFL running backs. Last Sunday, his 10-yard touchdown catch on 4th-and-6 in the waning moments of the fourth quarter enabled Dallas' comeback win over the Redskins that set up this clash against the Eagles for the division title.

They made it here because of Murray. They’ll need a big game from him again to stand any chance of winning this game.

For more on how the Eagles' offense matches up against the Cowboys' defense, click here.

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

The Eagles are down to one final preseason game before they’ll have to figure out their final 53-man roster. 

But no need to wait, I have it right here. Or at least what I think it will look like after watching all of OTAs, training camp and the most important preseason games. The team made it a little easier with several key cuts on Sunday (see story)

Let’s jump right in: 

Quarterback (3): Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz 
With apologies to the law firm of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, this was pretty easy. 

Running back (4): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
I toyed with the idea of taking Smallwood off the roster. I thought perhaps the team will try to stash him on IR — that quad could always act up again — and instead take Byron Marshall on the 53. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. For now, the team will have to hope Mathews and Barner can carry the load while Smallwood gets caught up. 

Wide receiver (5): Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner
I’m taking only five because the unit hasn’t been very strong. The team’s decision to cut Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday wasn’t very surprising to me. They were on prove-it deals and had only proven what the Eagles probably feared. Instead, the rookie Turner is on the roster, which is an important message for the team: Effort matters. Still, expect the Eagles to keep a watchful eye on the waiver wire here.  

Tight end (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Chris Pantale
Pantale isn’t nearly as good a tight end as the other three, but Doug Pederson seems determined to have him on the roster as a fullback and special teamer. Four tight ends and four running backs is tough to swallow in terms of roster spots available, but I think that’s the way it’s going. Look for Burton to have an increased role in the offense this year too. 

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Allen Barbre, Stefen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Halapoulavaati Vaitai, Josh Andrews
I left Lane Johnson off this list because he’ll probably be suspended by the season opener and won’t count against the 53-man roster. Wisniewski will be the backup at all three interior line positions. After cutting Andrew Gardner on Sunday, the Eagles will keep Tobin and Andrews as reserve linemen. Andrews played guard on Saturday — likely a chance for him to prove he’s not just a center. Keep an eye on tight end-turned-tackle Dillon Gordon too. He has an outside chance to make the roster and a very good shot to stick on the practice squad; very athletic and versatile player. 

Defensive end (6): Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Steven Means, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
Six defensive ends is a lot, but at this point, Braman isn’t really a defensive end. He’s just a special teams ace. And with the rotation at DE, I think it’s more important to have ends than it is to have extra players in the secondary. If the team is able to trade either Means or Smith, then this number could be down to five. 

Defensive tackle (4): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart
During training camp, Jim Schwartz said to not count out Allen and Hart just because they didn’t seem to be scheme fits. Both have proven him right this preseason. Sure, undrafted rookies Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu have looked good, but they won’t be able to contribute as much this season as the veterans. At least one of those rookies should hold down a practice squad spot. Mike Martin was the third defensive tackle for a long time but was released on Sunday, after a few weeks of a knee injury. 

Linebacker (6): Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Stephen Tulloch, Najee Goode, Quintin Gause
Tulloch will be the primary backup at the MIKE, while Goode and Gause, the undrafted rookie from Rutgers, get the nods at the backup outside 'backer positions for now. But expect the Eagles to take a good look at the waiver wire for linebackers. 

Cornerback (5): Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe
If the Eagles keep five, I think these will be the five. Rookie C.J. Smith has been impressive but could use a year on the practice squad. I thought Denzel Rice, thanks to his special teams contributions, had an outside shot, but he was cut on Sunday. 

Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins
A little light at safety, but Mills or Rowe could probably move back there if needed. Really, Jenkins and McLeod aren’t going to come off the field much as long as they’re healthy; there won’t be a rotation. If five safeties were to make the team, sixth-rounder Blake Countess would be the next one up. I think Ed Reynolds is a longer shot at this point.  

Specialists (3): Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos, Caleb Sturgis
After an impressive training camp, Sturgis takes down Cody Parkey for the kicker job. 

Practice squad: DT Destiney Vaeao, CB C.J. Smith, G Dillon Gordon, WR David Watford, WR Marcus Johnson, G Darrell Greene, LB Myke Tavarres, S Blake Countess, CB Aaron Grymes, RB Byron Marshall

Best of NFL: Vikings open new stadium with victory over Chargers

Best of NFL: Vikings open new stadium with victory over Chargers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater was sharp in his return from a sore shoulder, completing 12 of 16 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in the first half for the Minnesota Vikings in a 23-10 exhibition victory Sunday over the San Diego Chargers in the official unveiling their new stadium.

After sitting out last week at Seattle, Bridgewater found Kyle Rudolph for a 27-yard score and led the Vikings to points on three of five possessions. Bridgewater even put a slick juke on strong safety Adrian Phillips to further a 22-yard run that set up one of three short field goals by Blair Walsh.

Melvin Gordon, aiming to rebound from a rough rookie season, cruised through the middle of Minnesota's starting defense for a 39-yard touchdown run. San Diego lost running back Branden Oliver, though, to an Achilles tendon injury on his right leg that required a cart to take him off. Oliver is the primary kickoff returner and a contributing backup behind Gordon and Danny Woodhead.

With sunlight streaming in from the floor-to-ceiling glass on the west side and through the translucent, space-age roof, the Vikings enjoyed a gleaming debut for U.S. Bank Stadium. The sold-out crowd of 66,143 was the largest at home in franchise history.

The Chargers undoubtedly felt some envy, with their decade-and-a-half quest to replace 49-year-old Qualcomm Stadium still unfulfilled and a move to Los Angeles still a possibility. This game was conveniently scheduled for national broadcast on Fox, in case folks in San Diego were still on the fence about public funding.

Philip Rivers went 5 for 9 for 54 yards and an interception, one of three by the Vikings. Rookies Jayron Kearse and Mackensie Alexander picked off Chargers third-stringer Mike Bercovici, who's competing with Zach Mettenberger for a roster spot.

Bercovici threw three straight passes into the end zone in the fourth quarter that the Vikings had their hands on, the last one finally intercepted by second-round draft pick Alexander.

With Adrian Peterson resting on the sideline, backup Jerick McKinnon rushed eight times for 56 yards. Stefon Diggs caught five passes for 71 yards, all in the first half. Cordarrelle Patterson recovered Mycole Pruitt's fumble, one of two lost by the Vikings, in the end zone for a touchdown (see full recap).

Osweiler sharp in Texans' win over Cardinals
HOUSTON -- Brock Osweiler threw for 146 yards and a touchdown and Houston intercepted two of Carson Palmer's passes in the Texans' 34-24 exhibition victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Osweiler led the Texans to scores on three of his four drives. He connected with first-round pick Will Fuller on a 26-yard touchdown pass that extended Houston's lead to 24-10 before sitting down with about three minutes left in the first half.

It was Osweiler's second successful outing after he and Houston's starting offense struggled in the team's first preseason game. The expectations for Osweiler are high after the Texans signed Peyton Manning's former backup to a $72 million contract this offseason.

While Osweiler was solid, Houston's starting defense starred. Andre Hal intercepted Palmer's second pass of the day to set up Houston's first score, a 1-yard touchdown run by new running back Lamar Miller.

Palmer's second drive was his only clean one, and it ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by David Johnson.

On Arizona's next possession, linebacker John Simon tipped a pass by Palmer, intercepted it and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. It was the second straight game in which Palmer had an interception returned for a touchdown after Brandon Flowers did it in last week in a 9-3 loss at San Diego.

Palmer attempted to tackle Simon after the interception and was tackled by 305-pound defensive end Devon Still, a hit that knocked the quarterback's helmet off. Coach Bruce Arians had seen enough after that hit, and Palmer was replaced by Drew Stanton.

Fuller finished with 67 yards receiving and fellow rookie Braxton Miller, the former Ohio State star quarterback, added three receptions for 29 yards. The Texans chose Fuller in the first round this year to take pressure off Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins, who was third in the NFL with 1,521 yards receiving last season despite facing near constant double teams (see full recap).

Bengals' 1st-team offense impresses in win over Jags
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Cincinnati Bengals were so sharp against Jacksonville that Andy Dalton and several teammates were done long before halftime.

Dalton led the Bengals to two touchdowns in three possessions, earning him a little extra rest in a 26-21 loss to the Jaguars in the preseason Sunday night.

"It was a good outing for us," Dalton said. "Two touchdowns in the first half of a preseason game is pretty good, and we got them both ways. ... It's a good feeling to do it both ways."

The Bengals (2-1) felt good on both sides of the ball, too. Dalton found Giovani Bernard for a 19-yard score on a third-down play, and then Jeremy Hill capped a 9-minute drive with a 1-yard scramble to the pylon. Defensively, the Bengals held Jacksonville to just 90 yards in the first half. Jacksonville's first three drives: turnover, three-and-out and three-and-out.

Cincy's only concern in the regular-season dress rehearsal was the health of three Pro Bowlers.

Receiver A.J. Green left in the first quarter with a bruised right knee, but the team said it was nothing serious and he should be fine for the opener. Cornerback Adam Jones strained a calf in preseason warmups and did not play. And special teams ace Cedric Peerman broke his left forearm and could be sidelined for the season.

Safety Tashaun Gipson (bruised knee) was Jacksonville's only injured starter.

The Jaguars (0-3) had bigger problems -- the offense and defense both failed to show -- that raised questions about what's supposed to the franchise's most talented team in nearly a decade (see full recap).

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.