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PFT’s Week Four picks

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have complained about the Monday night debacle.

After all, I picked the Seahawks to win by a point and, thanks to the replacement officials, Seattle won by two.  Since MDS picked the Pack, it allowed me to win the weekly contest with MDS by two, 9-7 versus 7-9.

Given the crazy, upside-down games from Week Three, I’ll take a winning record and run with it — as quickly as the Seahawks ran with their unwarranted win.

For the season, I’m now 27-21, and MDS is 26-22.

This week, we disagree on three games.  All 15 of our picks appear below.

Browns at Ravens

MDS’s take: Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has actually looked decent the last two weeks, after a disastrous Week One. But the Ravens’ defense will bring far too much heat for Weeden to handle. I look for Haloti Ngata to pound Weeden into the turf a few times on Thursday night.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 27, Browns 6.

Florio’s take:  The Browns are another close loss or two away from imploding completely.  They won’t have to worry about another close loss on Thursday night.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Browns 13.

Panthers at Falcons

MDS’s take: I still don’t believe the Panthers are as bad as they’ve looked this season, and that by the end of the year they could be fighting for a playoff spot. But Atlanta is the wrong place for the Panthers to try to get back on track.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 23, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons have beaten the Panthers four straight times, scoring 31 points exactly in each game.  Atlanta could be on track to clinching the division by Thanksgiving.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Panthers 14.

Patriots at Bills

MDS’s take: This is a fascinating game in the AFC East race, one that could establish the Bills as the favorites to win the division. I’ve been saying all year that the Bills have made the right moves to become playoff contenders this season, but I just think the Patriots, with their backs against the wall, are going to come out focused and ready to play their best game of the season.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 24, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bills have beaten the Pats only once since the last time the Pats had a losing record.  Buffalo is moving in the right direction, but New England needs this one badly.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bills 23.

Vikings at Lions

MDS’s take: Another fascinating divisional game, as the Vikings have a real opportunity here to establish themselves as surprising contenders in the NFC North. However, I see far too many matchup advantages for the Lions’ receivers against the Vikings’ secondary.  Not just Calvin Johnson (who has a matchup advantage over every defensive back in the league) but also receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young and tight end Brandon Pettigrew should be able to get open and get points on the board in Detroit.

MDS’s pick: Lions 28, Vikings 24.

Florio’s take:  The Lions have won three straight in the series, but the Vikings are gaining confidence,  The Lions continue to be more flawed than anyone realized.  Receiver Jerome Simpson returns from suspension in time to help the Vikings take advantage of Detroit’s biggest weakness.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Lions 16.

Titans at Texans

MDS’s take: The Texans are the best team in the AFC South by such a large margin that the question for me isn’t whether they’ll win the division but how quickly they’ll clinch. My guess is some time around Week 11. This win will be another step toward that.

MDS’s pick: Texans 34, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  Yeah, I picked the Titans to win the division.  And if they upset the Texans on Sunday, the Titans will thrust themselves into the conversation.  And if they upset the Texans, it will mean that I picked this specific game incorrectly.  Despite last weekend’s epic in Nashville, the Titans aren’t nearly as good as I thought they’d be.  The Texans are much better than I thought they’d be.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 24, Titans 13.

Chargers at Chiefs

MDS’s take: The Chiefs looked pretty good against the Saints on Sunday, and the Chargers looked pretty bad against the Falcons on Sunday. But I’m expecting the Chargers to win, in a game that I have a hunch will come down to special teams, where the Chargers will make plays and the Chiefs will make mistakes.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Chiefs 21.

Florio’s take:  One week often changes everything.  Last Sunday, the Chargers went from elite to “meh” status, and the Chiefs showed they’ve got some fight.  Home team gets the edge in this one, especially if Jamaal Charles saved some yards for Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 24, Chargers 22.

49ers at Jets

MDS’s take: If not for the injury to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, I’d be very tempted to pick the 49ers to lose their second straight road game. But that Revis injury is devastating to the Jets not only because it radically changes what they can do on defense, but also because while seeing players and coaches on the Jets talking this week, you could practically feel the entire locker room deflating at the loss of their best player. I think the Jets are going to come out looking very bad on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 27, Jets 14.

Florio’s take:  The difference between the 49ers defense and the Jets defense is that the 49ers didn’t put all their eggs in one island.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Jets 13.

Seahawks at Rams

MDS’s take: The Seahawks don’t have any time to send thank-you notes to the league office for their gift on Monday night, because they’ve got a road trip to St. Louis on a short work week. I like the way Jeff Fisher’s defense is playing, and I think Russell Wilson will feel a lot of pressure, but Seattle’s defensive line will have Sam Bradford under pressure, and the Seahawks will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 10, Rams 9.

Florio’s take:  Short week, significant travel, improving opponent, and guilty conscience add up to trouble for the Seahawks in St. Louis.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 14, Seahawks 12.

Dolphins at Cardinals

MDS’s take: It’s taken me a while to learn to believe in the Cardinals, but I’m there now. Which probably means they’re going to lose. But I’m picking them anyway.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Dolphins 7.

Florio’s take:  This has the potential to be one of those early-season “correction” games.  But how can the Dolphins win if they can’t score any offensive touchdowns against once of the best defenses in the league?

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 17, Dolphins 6.

Bengals at Jaguars

MDS’s take: I loved the game Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden called on Sunday against the Redskins. Look for Bengals receiver A.J. Green to have another big day against the Jaguars.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 28, Jaguars 24.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Bengals, a week after finally winning a game they were supposed to lose, to lose a game they’re supposed to win.  But the Bengals are better than the Jaguars on both sides of the ball — and the Jaguars will have a hard time keeping up with a suddenly dynamic and diverse offense.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Jaguars 14.

Raiders at Broncos

MDS’s take: It says something about what we’ve come to expect from Peyton Manning that he had 330 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers on Sunday against a very good Texans defense, and yet everyone is talking about how he’s just not the same. Playing a weak Raiders defense will result in Manning looking a lot better, and the Broncos improving to 2-2.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning won’t need much arm strength to move the ball against a defense that can’t do much to stop him.  Or anyone.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Raiders 17.

Saints at Packers

MDS’s take: Raise your hand if you predicted these two teams would be a combined 1-5 heading into this game. I see the Packers’ problems as much more correctable than the Saints’ problems, and I see Aaron Rodgers having a big day against a shaky Saints defense.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints can thank the Seahawks and the replacement officials for what they’re about to endure.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 45, Saints 17.

Redskins at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs have a bad offense and a good defense; the Redskins have a good offense and a bad defense. I like Tampa Bay’s defense to keep it close and the Redskins’ defense to give up a big play at the wrong time.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 14, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  That win over the Saints in New Orleans is looking less impressive by the week.  And the Bucs are better than their record would suggest.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 20, Redskins 16.

Giants at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles need to bounce back in a big way after laying an egg against the Cardinals. I think they’re going to, with Michael Vick finally making it through a game without a turnover.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Giants 21.

Florio’s take:  Eagles coach Andy Reid does his best work when his back is against the wall.  And his back is already against the wall.  And he said just enough this week to put his quarterback’s back against the wall, too.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Giants 24.

Bears at Cowboys

MDS’s take: As impressive as the Bears’ defense has been, I think they’ll struggle with the explosiveness of Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who should have a huge game in a Dallas win.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Bears 20.

Florio’s take:  If the Cowboys can keep Tony Romo in two or fewer pieces (factoring in the possibility of the partial loss of an ear), the Cowboys should win this one.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 26, Bears 17.

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Seahawks hurting at center as Stephen Schilling misses practice Thursday

Max Unger, J.R. Sweezy AP

The Seattle Seahawks could be short-handed at center this week for their game against the Oakland Raiders.

Stephen Schilling has started the last three games at center in relief of an injured Max Unger. However, Schilling did not practice on Thursday due to a knee injury.

Unger has missed the last three games for Seattle after suffering a sprained foot against Washington earlier this month. While Unger has been limited in practice the last two days, his availability for Sunday’s game  also remains in doubt.

With Schilling sitting and Unger limited, Patrick Lewis picked up the additional workload for Seattle on Thursday. However, Lewis has only appeared in one game in his career, which was in brief relief of Schilling in St. Louis two weeks ago.

It remains to be seen whether Schilling’s knee injury is anything of concern or more just a day off to manage soreness. If it is an issue, it could lead to Unger having to suit up even if he’s not at 100 percent or Lewis getting the first extended playing opportunity of his career.

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Saints pick up first road victory of year 28-10 over Panthers

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

After a sloppy first half that featured multiple turnovers by both teams, the New Orleans Saints kicked the offense into gear and cruised to a 28-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers for their first road win of the season.

Mark Ingram rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Drew Brees added two touchdowns of his own – one passing and one rushing – to lead the Saints into the lead into the NFC south. Ingram is the first New Orleans running back to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games since Deuce McAllister in 2006.

The Saints had lost their first four games away from the Superdome this season and won all three games played at home prior to Thursday night. Now the Saints get four of their five games at home and appear primed to take control of the division after a slow start to the season.

Brees was intercepted by Dwan Edwards on the Saints opening possession and fumbled away the ball on their second drive of the game. However, the Panthers Offense could not capitalize on the turnovers. After a Cam Newton fumble, New Orleans responded with touchdowns on four of five possessions to put the game out of reach.

Newton was sacked and fumbled to give the Saints the ball at the Panthers 5-yard line. Ingram punched in the ball from three yards out to give the Saints the lead.

The Saints followed with a lightning quick 10-play, 85-yard drive before halftime that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham to take a 14-0 lead into the locker room.

Newton scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown run cap a 10-play, 81-yard drive for the Panthers first points of the night.

Newton dumped a pass to DeAngelo Williams that Wiliams turned into a 30-yard gain to open the drive. After a potential touchdown pass was dropped by Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone, Newton pirouetted away from pressure and escaped the pocket to his left. Newton dived for the goal line and managed to get the ball to cross over the line for the touchdown.

Newton had a poor night passing. He completed just 10 of 28 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown/

New Orleans answered right back with Brees quickly sneaking the ball over the goal line to extend the Saints lead to 21-7. After a Graham Gano field goal for Carolina, Ingram added his second 3-yard scoring effort of the night to put the game away.

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Rams sign QB Case Keenum to practice squad

Case Keenum AP

The Rams have brought back Case Keenum.

St. Louis signed Keenum, the ex-Texans quarterback, to its practice squad on Thursday, according to the NFL’s transaction log.

The Rams waived Keenum on Tuesday. When he cleared waivers Wednesday, he was eligible to be added to the practice squad.

The 26-year-old Keenum started eight games for Houston in 2013. However, the Texans overhauled their QB depth chart entering this season, and Keenum lost his spot. The Rams claimed him on waivers from the Texans on Sept. 1.

The Rams are one of 19 teams carrying just two quarterbacks on the active roster. However, 14 of those clubs, including St. Louis, have at least one practice squad passer as insurance.

Overall, there are 78 quarterbacks on 53-player rosters, with 16 passers on practice squads, which were expanded to 10 players this season.

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Dick LeBeau gives Cortez Allen a vote of confidence

Andre Johnson, Cortez Allen AP

It was a tough first half of the regular season for Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen.

While Allen did sign a contract extension before the start of the campaign, he’s had a rough go of it on the field. Though he’s still listed as the Steelers’ starter at left cornerback, he didn’t get the start in the Week Eight win vs. Indianapolis. And through eight games, no qualifying cornerback has a lower grade from Pro Football Focus than the 26-year-old Allen.

On Thursday, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was asked about Allen’s confidence.

“Well, having been an old corner myself, a corner learns to live alone, and he’s got to believe in himself, just go out there and play, work on everything he’s doing,” said LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback. “You got to believe in yourself to play corner, and I think Cortez does.

“I have a lot of confidence in him. He just got to produce and get out there and make some plays.”

LeBeau’s remarks on Allen start around the 1:15 mark of this clip. They are worth a listen, if only to hear LeBeau describe the solitary life of a cornerback.

When the 77-year-old LeBeau gives up coaching, here’s to hoping he writes a book. He certainly has an ear for dialogue. But in the meantime, there are players to be helped. And as Allen tries to regain his best form, he’s got a defensive coordinator with 14 NFL seasons as a player to his credit in his corner.

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Cam Newton touchdown run gets Panthers on the board

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

After watching the New Orleans Saints march 85 yards for a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead in the half, the Carolina Panthers needed to get their offense jump started after the break.

Cam Newton answered the call.

Newton scrambled for a 10-yard touchdown run cap a 10-play, 81-yard drive for the Panthers first points of the night.

Newton dumped a pass to DeAngelo Williams that Wiliams turned into a 30-yard gain to open the drive, The Panthers faced two third downs on the drive and Newton used his legs to convert both opportunities. Newton ran for nine yards on 3rd and 1 from the Saints 31-yard line to keep the chains moving.

After a potential touchdown pass was dropped by Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone, Newton pirouetted away from pressure and escaped the pocket to his left. Newton dived for the goal line and managed to get the ball to cross over the line for the touchdown.

Newton has not been great from a passing standpoint – he’s completed just six of 19 passes for 77 yards and an interception – but he managed to get the Panthers in the end zone on what could ultimately be a critical drive to keep Carolina within reach of the Saints.

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Saints take 14-0 lead into halftime

saintspanthers AP

It’s fitting that tonight’s Saints-Panthers game is for first place in the worst division in the NFL, because this game has been mostly a stinker.

But the Saints came alive late in the second quarter and took a 14-0 lead into halftime.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton each have two turnovers, with an interception apiece and a lost fumble apiece. But the difference has been that the Saints have been able to capitalize on the Panthers’ mistakes: Newton’s fumble deep in Saints territory turned into the first New Orleans score, and just before halftime the Saints benefited from a pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up a one-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Jimmy Graham.

Now the Panthers will need to play a lot better in the second half, or else the Saints are going to make a strong statement that they’re the best team in the NFC South. Not that that’s saying much.

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Judge denies Hernandez change of venue request

Hernandez AP

Plagiarism apparently isn’t grounds for moving the location of a murder trial.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Susan Garsh has rejected a request by former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to move the Odin Lloyd murder case out of Bristol County, Massachusetts.

Specifically, Judge Garsh ruled that Hernandez’s lawyers had not shown that local prejudgment of the case would make it impossible to pick an impartial jury.

Lawyer Michael Fee had argued that “sensational and inflammatory” media coverage “has poisoned the jury pool in Bristol County.”  Of course, the media coverage — sensational or inflammatory or otherwise — has extended far beyond the borders of Bristol County.  It will be a challenge anywhere in the state to find 12 jurors who haven’t formed an opinion about the case based on the media coverage.

The trial currently is set for January 2015.  Hernandez also faces trial on two separate murder charges from July 2012, eleventh months before Lloyd was shot in an area not far from Hernandez’s home.

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Emmitt Smith stresses ball security

emmitt-smith Getty Images

On Thursday, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith made the media rounds on behalf of Keurig, the company that makes the one-cup-at-time coffee machines.  The former Cowboy had some pointed advice to the player who is jeopardizing a special season, one fumble at a time.

DeMarco Murray has blamed his five lost fumbles on bad luck and on trying to get every last yard while running the ball.  Emmitt, while supportive of his successor, said something Murray needs to heed.

“Ball security is the most important thing and I learned this at a very young age,” Smith said on Thursday’s PFT Live.  “The football is the most important thing on the football field.  No matter if you get a hundred yards, no matter if you lead the league in rushing, if you turn the football over and you’re costing your team games or opportunities to win games, then it becomes a problem.

“I only want to bring it up because his performance has been stellar this entire season thus far, but you cannot help but bring it up when you’re laying the ball down, turning the ball over, and you’re taking away opportunities to either score points, whether it’s through field goals or touchdowns, or you’re taking away opportunities for your team to maintain control of the football, it’s tough to ignore.”

When it comes to fighting for that extra yard, Smith says it’s wiser to understand when to call it a play, and to move on to the next one.

“Knowing when the journey is over is one of the things I had to learn myself as a young running back and I had great coaches to try to emphasize those things when I started to have fumbling issues,” Smith said.

Murray will need even better coaching, because now he’ll be even more of a target.

“In the National Football League, once you starting laying it down on the ground, every team from this point forward is coming to tackle the football, not necessarily tackle you, so therefore you must have some ball security,” Smith said.  “Ball security must be an important thing in a running back’s mind.”

For more from Emmitt, well, you know what to do by now, don’t you?

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Brees has two early turnovers in Carolina

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

After playing a nearly flawless game on Sunday night, Drew Brees is off to a rough start on Thursday night.

Brees had two turnovers in just over 10 minutes to start the game, although both were flukes as much as they were anything Brees did wrong.

On the first, the Saints had marched deep into Panthers territory only to have Brees throw a pass that was deflected, took a high bounce into the air and ended up in the hands of Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. The second turnover happened when Saints fullback Erik Lorig got pushed backward in pass protection and knocked the ball out of Brees’s hand.

The Saints have moved the ball well, gaining 67 yards before the interception on their first drive and 43 yards before the fumble on their second drive. Now the Saints need to hold onto the ball.

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Jonathan Goodwin, Thomas DeCoud among inactives for Thursday night

Thomas DeCoud AP

Two Saints who were questionable for Thursday night’s game at Carolina are among the team’s inactives.

However, tight end Jimmy Graham is not among them.

Graham (shoulder) is on the Saints’ active roster, as is inside linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle), who was questionable with an ankle ailment.

However, while Graham and Knox will play, the Saints (3-4) will be without center Jonathan Goodwin (knee/ankle) and reserve tailback Khiry Robinson (forearm), who were each questionable for Thursday night.

Tim Lelito is the top backup to Goodwin on the Saints’ depth chart.

The Panthers (3-4-1) also are also down a starter who was questionable, as safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring) is inactive. According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Tre Boston will get the call in his place.

The Panthers’ other inactives had previously been ruled out with injuries: left tackle Byron Bell (knee), cornerback Bene Benwikere (ankle), wideout Philly Brown (concussion), left guard Amini Silatolu (calf), right guard Trai Turner (knee) and tailback Fozzy Whittaker (thigh).

The Saints’ other inactives are inside linebacker David Hawthorne (hand), cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, fullback Austin Johnson (knee), tailback Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder) and wide receiver Nick Toon. Hawthorne, Johnson and Thomas had already been declared out for tonight’s game in Charlotte.

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Greg Hardy’s trial is continued until after season

Hardy Getty Images

As the Panthers continue to play without defensive end Greg Hardy, they may be playing without him even longer than they had thought.

Per a league source, Hardy’s jury trial on domestic violence charges has been postponed.  It had been set for November 17.

A judge previously found Hardy guilty via a preliminary trial so informal that the court doesn’t even create a transcript of the proceedings.  Hardy has agreed to, as a practical matter, a suspension with pay pending the resolution of his case.  He’s continuing to receive weekly installments of his $13.1 million franchise-tag salary.

According to the source, Hardy resisted the postponement.  He wants to get the case behind him, so that he can return to football.  Due to be a free agent after the season, Hardy will have a hard time making the case for a big contract on the open market if he hasn’t played since September.

The delay necessarily puts pressure on Hardy to strike a plea deal.  But without a clear idea of the punishment the NFL would impose under the personal conduct policy, a plea bargain carries with it a high degree of uncertainty in the Court of Goodell.

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Jake Locker says he won’t pout about being benched

Jake Locker AP

Titans quarterback Jake Locker isn’t happy about getting benched. But he’s going to try to keep his chin up.

It’s frustrating. It’s not the way you draw it up obviously,” Locker said, via 24/7 Sports. “But I don’t think you can dwell on it either. It doesn’t do anybody any good to pout about it, so I’m just gonna go forward as is now and do my part to be a productive member of this football team.”

Locker said he’ll do his best to help the man who has taken his job, rookie Zach Mettenberger.

“You want to be on the field and you want to play, but I understand that’s my role as a part of this team now. Zach was that teammate to me and I plan to do the same thing for him, help him to be as prepared as possible, as ready as possible every Sunday when he steps on the field,” Locker said.

That’s all Locker can do now. That, and wait until March, when he’ll be a free agent and can put his disappointing tenure in Tennessee behind him.

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Ronnie Hillman limited again on Thursday with shoulder injury

Hillman Getty Images

Ronnie Hillman has 283 yards rushing in Denver’s last three games.  Whether he gets a chance to build on that remains in doubt, to some degree.

Via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Hillman was limited again in practice with a shoulder injury that he suffered on Wednesday.  Hillman has said that he’ll play on Sunday in New England.

If Hillman can’t carry the load on Sunday, that likely will mean more opportunities for rookie Juwan ThompsonMontee Ball remains out of practice with a groin injury.

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Eli Manning: You can’t just throw it deep and think it’s a solution

Eli Manning AP

Giants General Manager Jerry Reese said this week that the team needs to be more aggressive on offense than they’ve been while compiling a 3-4 record.

Reese’s comments come at a time when Eli Manning is completing 64.9 percent of his passes and on a pace to throw 11 interceptions, which is exactly the kind of play that the Giants spent all offseason saying they wanted to see from the offense installed by offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. It’s come with a drop in his yards per attempt and the team hasn’t made many big plays at all, but, again, that’s the offense they seemed to want during the offseason.

Reese said that Manning is playing “pretty well,” but also suggested that the quarterback is too cautious because you have to throw the ball down the field to win. Manning has a different take on the situation.

“You can’t just start throwing it deep and [think] that’s the solution,” Manning said, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

Setting aside the issue of the tenets of the offensive scheme that McAdoo installed, Manning spent a lot of time trying to throw it deep behind an offensive line that couldn’t block last season and paid the price for it. The line’s had some better moments this season, but they’ve been less effective the last two weeks and the loss of Victor Cruz has taken away one of the players Manning liked to look for down the field. Rookie Odell Beckham appears able to pick up some of the slack in that department, but the line will need to be more consistent and the offense will have to be crisper across the board if those plays are going to open up for the Giants in the second half.

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Bruce Carter breaks finger in practice, expects to play Sunday

NFL Football-Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter can’t seem to stay healthy this season.

Carter just returned after missing three games with a groin injury and now he’s dealing with a broken left ring finger. Carter broke the finger when it got caught in the pads of running back Lance Dunbar at practice on Thursday, but expects to play against the Cardinals this weekend after having a splint put on by a doctor on Friday.

That should work out well for the Cowboys as they’ll already have to replace at least one starting linebacker on Sunday. Justin Durant was lost for the season with a torn biceps muscle and losing Carter as well would force Dallas reach deeper into their reserves as they try to avoid their first losing streak of the season. They also have some cause for concern about middle linebacker Rolando McClain because of a sore shoulder, although McClain was able to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday’s session.

“I think for everybody, all the linebackers, everybody has to step up,” Carter said, via ESPNDallas.com. “Everybody’s role gets a lot better so we got to really prepare well. Me, Rolando, all the younger guys we really got to step up because Justin was a huge part of our defense and we’re really going to miss him. But everybody has to step up.”

On the other side of the ball, left guard Ron Leary and right tackle Doug Free both missed practice. So did quarterback Tony Romo, although his ability to practice doesn’t appear to have much bearing on whether or not he’ll play this week.

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