Scouting Report: Enter Kyle Orton

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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.

Eagles' plethora of wide receivers sets up 'great' competition to make roster

Eagles' plethora of wide receivers sets up 'great' competition to make roster

The math is pretty interesting.

Five wide receivers who played last year are still on the roster. Two veteran free agents added. Two draft picks added. Four others acquired as street free agents.

Thirteen wide receivers on the roster. Five will survive. Maybe six.

The Eagles promised they would upgrade the wide receiver position, and it sure seems like they have.

"We're trying to build competition," executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "That's going to make everyone better."

The bar is not very high.

The Eagles last year had perhaps the worst group of wide receivers in franchise history and arguably one of the worst in NFL history.

All the wideouts combined finished with just seven catches for 30 or more yards, only two of them for touchdowns.

The Eagles were the only team in the NFL without a single wide receiver over 12.5 yards per catch.

Enter free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and draft picks Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.

A lot of bodies. Increased competition. More talent. It'll be fascinating to see how it all shakes out.

"We're not looking at numbers," Roseman said. "We're not worried about what's going to happen in August. A lot is going to happen between now and August. The best situation we could have is have a lot of good players at a particular position."

Out of the whole group, Jeffery is the only lock. Jordan Matthews has been unspectacular but steady but is due to become a free agent after the 2017 season, so it's not inconceivable the Eagles could trade him.

Nelson Agholor, the 2015 first-round pick, could be expendable, although he would count about $2 million more against the cap if the Eagles release him ($4.684 million) as opposed to keeping him ($2.557 million).

Dorial Green-Beckham, a second-round pick of the Titans just two years ago, failed to produce last year, and it's hard to imagine the Eagles finding him a roster spot.

Even without DGB, the once-thin wideout depth chart now includes Matthews, Jeffery, Agholor, Smith, Hollins and Gibson.

That's six. And most teams don't keep six.

Pederson said it will all sort itself out at training camp.

"Really the most important thing for me is I want guys that love football, No. 1," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Guys who want to come in here and compete and earn a spot and earn that jersey on Sundays.

"You know, when these two guys (Hollins and Gibson) were sitting right there for us, we all kind of got excited and just looking forward to working with them, getting them here in the building here in a couple weeks, get them in that first rookie camp and expose them to our offense and then see what they can do from there.

"This is going to be a different set of challenges for each one of them, competing now against NFL-caliber corners and safeties, so getting them in here and getting them to work is something that we're looking forward to here in a couple days."

This is only the fourth time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that the Eagles have taken two wide receivers in the first five rounds of a draft.

In 1990, they took three — Mike Bellamy, Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. In 2000, they selected Todd Pinkston and Gari Scott. And just three years ago they took Matthews and Josh Huff.

In Hollins, the Eagles got a receiver who led all of Division I with 24.8 yards per catch as a junior and averaged over 20 yards per catch for his career.

He was considered one of the finest special teamers available in the draft, but Roseman said Hollins is here to be a wide receiver first.

"He's 6-foot-4, he can run, a physical receiver, can go up and get the football," Roseman said. "For us, it was the receiving ability first. You're talking about a guy who's got tremendous size and tremendous speed. We feel like if he didn't have the collarbone (injury), he goes two rounds before that.

"Tremendous upside as a receiver, and he's got the intelligence and work ethic to work on whatever his deficiencies are. In the meantime, he has a role to fill (on special teams) and you can get him on the field on the 46-man roster.

"But we're not looking to draft special teams players in the fourth round. We're looking at a guy like that who's got the ability to be an eventual starter."

Gibson is another speedy wideout and averaged 22.1 yards per catch at West Virginia, with 17 touchdowns.

In fact, Gibson and Hollins ranked No. 2 and No. 5 in Division I over the past three years in yards-per-catch:

23.1 … Jalen Robinette (Air Force)
22.6 … Shelton Gibson (West Virginia)
22.0 … Chris Moore (Cincinnati)
20.9 … Breshard Perriman (Central Florida)
20.6 … Mack Hollins (North Carolina)

"Shelton Gibson is a guy who … can take the top off," Roseman said. "You can see he gets separation. He can get vertical, and for us, he was the best player on the board."

Matthews (67-872), Jeremy Maclin (56-773) and DeSean Jackson (62-912) all put up solid numbers as rookies, but Hollins and Gibson are Day 2 picks, and Pederson said the transition to the NFL for them could be a challenging one.

"You know, most receivers coming out of college don't have an extensive route tree like we will have, and so there's a learning curve there," he said.

"But both these guys are sharp guys. You see it on tape when you get a chance to visit with them. They understand offense. They understand coverage. They are going to be a little bit of a work in progress."

Last year, the Eagles finished the season with Matthews, Agholor, Bryce Treggs, Green-Beckham and Paul Turner on the roster.

The lack of talent at wideout really hampered rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who nonetheless enjoyed a promising season.

With an upgraded group of wide receivers, Wentz should have more opportunities to shine. 

"I think it's great," Pederson said. "I stood up here last year and said 'competition at every position.'

"I'm excited to see these guys work. I'm excited to see who's going to rise to the top and who's going to be there at the end. It's just going to make us better."

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Whether it was sitting together in a golf cart watching training camp or sharing dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant, Bills owner Terry Pegula and general manager Doug Whaley were nearly inseparable last summer.

Some nine months later, their professional relationship soured to such an extent that Pegula fired Whaley and his entire scouting staff on Sunday.

The decision was reached shortly after the two met at 8 a.m., a day following the NFL draft, and it completed a front-office purge that began with coach Rex Ryan being fired in the final week of last season.

Pegula's voice cracked briefly with emotion when discussing the latest move, saying: "There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He's a good guy."

But not good enough to keep his job, with Pegula saying he reached the conclusion following a lengthy offseason review.

It's a shake-up that further solidifies the influence rookie coach Sean McDermott has gained in the three months since being hired. The 42-year-old detail-oriented defensive specialist has become the voice of the franchise in discussing all team-related topics, including free agency and the draft.

Pegula said the timing coincided with the end of the draft, but he declined to detail the reasons why the overhaul was necessary. Nor would Pegula explain his reasoning for showing Whaley the door while praising the collaborative approach that took place between the GM and McDermott in the draft room.

"We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in," Pegula said. "(Whaley's) a smart man, but we made the decision. And the reasons remain private to us."

Pegula said "things change," when asked why he signed Whaley to a four-year contract extension in January 2016, and then backed him this January after Ryan was fired.

Pegula also took the emphasis off McDermott's authority by saying the decision to fire Whaley was made by him and his wife, Kim.

The Bills also dismissed player-personnel director Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher, the team's former amateur scouting director who had previously been demoted to an advisory role.

Pegula will immediately begin a GM search and said it was too early to speculate on candidates. He said McDermott would have some input.

One possible candidate is Carolina Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane because of his ties to McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the team's defensive coordinator.

McDermott on Saturday praised Whaley's role in the draft process but sidestepped questions regarding the GM's job security.

The Bills made six picks and swung several trades in addressing immediate and long-term needs.

Buffalo opened by acquiring two selections, including a first-rounder next year, in a trade with Kansas City to move back 17 spots and select LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White at 27th.

The Bills have now gone through six general managers during their 17-year playoff drought -- the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports. It's the first GM search for the Pegulas, who retained Whaley when they purchased the team in October 2014.

Whaley worked up the scouting ranks with the Pittsburgh Steelers, before the Bills hired him as an assistant general manager in 2010. He was groomed to become the GM and took over the job in May 2013 when Buddy Nix stepped down.

The Bills' drafting history had been spotty this decade.

Of the 35 players Buffalo drafted from 2010-13, only defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and left tackle Cordy Glenn remain on the roster.

Whaley has been second-guessed on a number of selections, including the decision to trade two draft picks -- including Buffalo's 2015 first-round selection -- to Cleveland to move up five spots and pick receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth selection in the 2014 draft.

It was considered a high price to pay in a draft that produced a bounty of top-flight receivers.

Whaley acknowledged he took a gamble and suggested his tenure in Buffalo might well be judged on that one move.

Both of Pegula's Buffalo-based sports franchises are hitting the reset button. Pegula fired Sabers GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma 10 days after the NHL season ended two weeks ago.

Without going into detail, Pegula said he is close to hiring a general manager.

Between the two teams, the Pegulas have now employed a combined seven coaches and three GMs since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011.

Pegula chalked up the rate of change as being common in sports, and disputed the notion it reflects poorly on him.

"We're going to try to make the best decision we can in the future," Pegula said. "We've made big decisions all our lives."