Darian ThompsonEd Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants have been targeting Week 9 for rookie safety Darian Thompson's return.

Take care of your bodies, fellas. That is part of coach Ben McAdoo’s bye-week motto for his New York Giants players.

The first seven weeks of the NFL season yielded a fair share or nagging injuries, including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this past week. They were also hit especially hard in the secondary where, among others, Eli Apple and Darian Thompson had their rookie seasons put on pause.

They can all still make up for lost time. Nine games remain when the Giants (4-3) return from their bye.

The week of rest came at the right time. The Giants should recoup and be in relatively good shape when they return.

“I'm looking forward to getting everybody back,” McAdoo said. “I'd love to hit the practice field and have the full team practicing. I think that's certainly a possibility.”

When the Giants return to practice on Monday, it could happen. Here’s where everybody stands:

WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hip/abdomen): He almost didn’t play Sunday against the Rams because of pain in his abdominal area and spent Monday in treatment. He was “pretty sore,” McAdoo said. The week of rest was ideal for Beckham. He's a gamer, so he’ll be back on the field significantly closer to 100 percent when the Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6.

S Darian Thompson (foot): The rookie safety hasn’t played since injuring his foot late in Week 2 against the Saints. He shed the boot several weeks ago and has done some running recently. The Giants have been especially cautious with Thompson, targeting the post-bye matchup with the Eagles for quite some time. He’s expected to be on the practice field Monday with the hope of being ready for next Sunday.

S Nat Berhe (concussion): The third-year safety appeared set to return last week but wasn’t completely cleared from the protocol to practice. That was somewhat concerning, as he suffered the injury in Week 3. But Berhe was close. He traveled with the team to London and the hope is that he’s cleared for practice on Monday, when the Giants secondary should be in much better shape.

CBs Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin): They both played Sunday against the Rams, even if they weren’t quite 100 percent. But they’re getting close. The nagging groin injuries that limited both for weeks should benefit greatly from the week of rest. Apple and Rodgers-Cromartie should return at close to 100 percent and ready for the stretch run. With both healthy (along with Thompson), the secondary can be the strength of this team.

RT Marshall Newhouse (calf): He did some light work last week on a calf injury that must be handled carefully. Newhouse popped his calf in Week 2, and hasn’t played since. They’re making sure when he returns there is no setback, because this can sometimes turn into a lingering problem. Newhouse is expected to be brought along slowly. Second-year lineman Bobby Hart is likely to remain the starting right tackle even when he returns.

RB Shane Vereen (triceps): He’s in good spirits after surgery last month and has been around the team in recent weeks. But Vereen is still not close after tearing his triceps in Week 3 against the Redskins. He’s the most likely to return from injured reserve this season (safety Mykkele Thompson is the only other option) but it wouldn’t be until very late in the season.

Dak PrescottTom Pennington/Getty ImagesStaying ahead of defenses that are getting more and more data on him is a priority, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said.

FRISCO, Texas -- Each week the book on Dak Prescott grows by a page or two. There is more evidence of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback's tendencies, his likes and dislikes, what he does best, what he doesn’t do quite as well.

It's like a baseball pitcher going through the lineup once; true success, however, is measured in how you play when teams know what you are going to do.

Prescott’s start with the Cowboys has been phenomenal. Dallas is 5-1 and in first place in the NFC East. A year ago, the Cowboys won one game without an injured Tony Romo. Through six games they have eclipsed last season's win total.

Prescott has seven touchdown passes and just one interception. The rookie set an NFL record for most passes to start a career without an interception (176). He leads the NFL in Total QBR at 82.9. He has the fifth-best passer rating.

After six starts, the surprise is over.

“I’ve got to stay ahead [of the defense] regardless, no matter what number of games this is in my season or in my career,” Prescott said. “That’s what’s gotten me to this level: It’s preparing, watching the defenses, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

In 2006, Romo went 5-1 in his first six starts, propelling the Cowboys to a playoff spot. He threw 10 touchdown passes and was intercepted just four times. In his next four starts, the Cowboys went 1-3 and Romo had six touchdowns with six interceptions.

In Romo’s first six starts, he faced one defense that finished the season in the top 10 in yards and points -- the Carolina Panthers, in his first start. In his final four, he faced two defenses that finished in the top half of the league in yards and three in the top half in points allowed.

So far this season, Prescott has faced one top-10 defense in yards (the Green Bay Packers) and one top-10 defense in points (the New York Giants). The Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday’s foe, have the fifth-ranked defense in yards and have allowed the third-fewest points.

In their final 10 games, the Cowboys have four games against defenses in the top 10 in yards and five in the top 10 in points allowed.

As the level of competition grows, the more Prescott will have to handle. He said there have been only a couple of looks that have surprised him during the first six games.

“Every team kind of has their one play or their one blitz they’re going to bring on third down that they haven’t done at all this year,” Prescott said. “But just because it’s their first time I have seen them do it, [that] another team has done it kind of gives me answers.”

The Cowboys’ best answers have involved their running game. Ezekiel Elliott's success has kept pressure off Prescott. He has not had to pass Dallas to a victory. But in his past two games, he has three turnovers: two fumbles, one interception.

Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz also is seeing the book on him grow. He is coming off his first two-interception game, against the Minnesota Vikings. He has three interceptions in his past three games. He has fumbled six times but lost just one.

Staying power matters as a quarterback. In 2012, Robert Griffin III so petrified Jerry Jones that the Cowboys owner and general manager thought the Washington Redskins were about to run the NFC East for years to come. In 2013, Nick Foles had 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions for the Eagles, but he was traded two years later and is now on his third team in three seasons as a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Romo proved to have staying power. In 2007, he led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and threw a career-high 36 touchdown passes.

Prescott now has to show he has staying power. Same with Wentz.

“If you’re winning games, you’re doing it for a reason, and I don’t think you have to change the formula to winning,” Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson said. “I think, No. 1, you’ve got to stay healthy. Your offensive line has got to be healthy. The ability to run the football obviously is a great formula to the success of these quarterbacks. I think one, especially in Dak’s case, is just not turning the ball over. Even Carson, not really forcing or turning the ball over as much. Playing smart.

"Sure, teams are going to have more information. They’re going to have a bigger picture here after a few more games on these quarterbacks, but the formula doesn’t have to change. ... Are they going to go win a game somewhere? Sure. That’s without saying. But at the same time, you don’t have to put everything on their shoulders, especially early in their careers.”

FRISCO, Texas -- You could spend hours scouring all types of statistical data and not find a single reason to support why the Dallas Cowboys' defense is holding opponents to 17.8 points per game.

The Cowboys give up 4.35 yards per carry, 21st in the NFL. And 5.86 yards per play, 23rd in the NFL. They have forced only 29 negative plays, tied for 27th in the NFL.

The Cowboys have allowed a 45.1 percent conversion rate on third down, 29th in the league. Their nine forced turnovers is tied for 12th and their 11 sacks rank 24th.


Morris Claiborne and Matt JonesPhotograph by Mark Goldman/Icon SportswireSure tackling by the Cowboys has consistently helped them set up long-yardage situations on third down for their opponents.

The easy answer is to say the Cowboys' defense isn't on the field that much since their offense leads the league in time of possession at 33 minutes, 9 seconds per game. That limits the number of possessions for the opponent and protects the Cowboys' defense.

Too easy.

Perhaps the reason why the Cowboys' defense is having strong results is as simple as they’re tackling better. When you tackle well, drives end when they’re supposed to end because a runner didn’t break free and pick up a first down.

A runner didn’t escape the grasp of a defender and was tackled for a loss, setting up second- or third-and-long. A quarterback didn’t escape a sack, wrecking a drive.

Good tackling doesn’t necessarily show up in stats, but the cumulative effect is noticeable.

“Every team is going to have missed tackles and you want to keep missed tackles to a minimum,” coach Jason Garrett said. “At times this year, we’ve done a good job of that.

“Sometimes, we’ve tackled well in games and still had missed tackles. Our goal is never to have missed tackles. Minimize any kind of run and maximize the opportunity to take a guy to the ground.”

League rules permit a total of 14 padded practices during the season, with 11 of those conducted during the first 11 weeks of the season. Teams don’t use full-contact drills during the season, making it more difficult to simulate tackling during practice.

“We’re tackling more physically than we have,” Garrett said. “There are a lot of different ways you can work on tackling. It's one of the hardest things to work on in practice.

“We do a lot of drills at all levels of our defense. We want to be a disciplined team. Tackling has a lot to do with angles, having the pursuit and then the actual physical part of tackling is critical. The best defenses I’ve ever been around, the defenses I’ve ever seen are great tackling teams.”

The Cowboys are playing hard on defense and follow defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s mantra of sprinting to the ball on every play. He charts loafs, snaps when defensive players fail to play with maximum effort.

The Cowboys have a rotation they like on the defensive line and linebacker, so players stay fresh. Linebacker Sean Lee is the only member of the front seven averaging more than 50 plays per game.

“It’s not one guy making the tackle, it's the whole team making the tackle. Everybody has a role in that,” Garrett said. “The more hats to the ball, the better opportunity you have to tackle the guy, the better opportunity you have to punch the ball out and then create turnovers and takeaways as a result of that.

“That’s always something we emphasize and we can always do it better and better.”

Cedric ThorntonJerome Miron/USA Today SportsCedric Thornton has been looking forward to playing the Eagles ever since he joined the Cowboys.

FRISCO, Texas -- Cedric Thornton signed with the Dallas Cowboys in March before the NFL schedule came out. But when it did about a month later, he quickly scanned it for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Thornton spent the first five years of his career with the Eagles before joining the Cowboys on a four-year, $17 million deal.

“It was the first thing I wanted to know,” Thornton said. “I know we play them twice a year anyways, but, yeah, I wanted to know. Plus my son’s (Cedric Jr.) birthday is the day after we play them, so everything is lining up to be perfect.”

Thornton does not have any bitterness. He still talks to and texts with his former teammates regularly. That won’t stop this week.

“We’ll probably text til Saturday night,” Thornton said.

The winner will be in first place in NFC East. For the Cowboys, they have late-season road games at the New York Giants (Dec. 11) and at Philadelphia (Jan. 1), so holding serve at home is a must.

“In between the lines they’re the same way I am -- great competitors, game means a lot,” Thornton said. “I wish I could say it doesn’t, but it means a lot to send them home with an L and for us to get the victory just because we put in all the hard work. We want to be the better team, and I want to be the better team than them this year. They want to be the better team than us this year. We’re a better team right now, and to keep it going they’re the next team to hold us back from being 6-1.”

Because of his time in Philadelphia, Thornton has an interesting take on the rivalry.

“It’s the same perspective we got here -- we hate 'em," Thornton said. "Just like we hate everybody else in the division. We hate them.”

Hate is such a strong word, especially considering Thornton’s friendship with so many Eagles.

“I mean, it’s more we want to beat you, you know? They want to beat us, and it’s like big brother, little brother," Thornton said. "You ain’t figuring to beat me. It’s more like a competition. It’s a good game for the Cowboys-Eagles rivalry. You’ll see. It’s going to be a great game. I expect them to come out with their best.”

Thornton wants to come out with his best Sunday. He has not started a game this season. The coaches have credited him with 10 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and four quarterback pressures.

“Am I where I need to be? Not yet,” Thornton said. “When it comes, I’ll tell you. Right now I feel like I’m more comfortable than I was early on in the year, and that’s just because (passing game coordinator Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli) and everybody on the defense, they’ve been sticking with me. They know I’m going through a transition and they tell me every week, ‘It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better.’”

He hopes it gets even better this week.

videoAlmost nine weeks after New York Giants co-owner John Mara stood at the team facility and confidently stated he was comfortable with the decision to re-sign kicker Josh Brown, Brown was released by the team on Tuesday.

New information emerged last week after documents were released that contained admissions by Brown that he had physically, verbally and emotionally abused his wife. He was placed on the commissioner's exempt list Friday and cut by the Giants four days later.

An unnecessary distraction to the team that began this summer when Brown was suspended one game for violating the league's conduct policy is gone before the midway point of the season.

In retrospect, the Giants conceded, they were "misguided" in their handling of the Brown situation. Now they're trying to move on -- from Brown, from the ugliness of the situation and from the cloud that hovers over the franchise as they struggle to return to the postseason.

It might not be so easy. To start, Brown remains on the payroll. He's owed another $649K for this season. The Giants will also have to deal with the situation off the field, in the locker room and team facility and on the field.

Off the field

The Giants' reputation took a major hit in recent weeks, as it should have. They employed an admitted domestic abuser for three-plus years. They re-signed him this offseason despite a domestic-violence arrest (though he was not charged), an incident at the Pro Bowl and many more red flags than game-winning kicks. When Brown stood at the podium after his suspension was announced, they watched him call the incident that sparked the arrest "just a moment."

Brown's situation, which included Mara and coach Ben McAdoo supporting him as a man on multiple occasions, joins the team's handling of Odell Beckham Jr.'s sideline outbursts as ugly Giants moments that occurred early this season. And the season is only seven weeks old.

They'll look to regroup at the bye week, but it might take some time to rebuild that once pristine reputation.

In the locker room and facility

The Giants did their best to keep the domestic-violence accusations out of their locker room. Players barely touched on the subject, often falling back on their admitted ignorance of Brown's situation. Even though he's now gone, the topic and questions about what they knew and when won't simply disappear.

Players, executives and coaches will be inundated with questions in coming weeks. It's inevitable. They had a teammate or employee admit to abusing his wife.

General manager Jerry Reese still hasn't addressed the subject publicly. When he speaks, probably some time next week, he'll have to answer about what he knew and when, and why he felt comfortable re-signing Brown. It won't be pretty.

McAdoo also is likely to be skewered. He said Friday the Giants weren't going to "turn our back on Josh." Four days later, Brown is no longer on the roster.

And then there are players such as linebacker Mark Herzlich and quarterback Eli Manning, who have been vocal against domestic violence, until the topic entered their locker room. They, along with many of their teammates, will be asked questions about Brown when they return from their bye week.

The Brown situation is not going away so quickly.

On the field

This might be the easiest transition. The Giants signed kicker Robbie Gould late last week. He made his only field goal attempt in Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Rams and converted both extra points. Gould is a veteran, and there isn't expected to be much of a drop-off. He made a healthy 85 percent of his kicks last season; Brown made 94 percent. Neither were dominant on kickoffs.

If this trend holds, the difference in the second half of the season with Gould rather than Brown would be one missed field goal. They Giants had just better hope that miss isn't for a game-winner.

FRISCO, Texas -- It took coach Jason Garrett four seasons to change the Dallas Cowboys' identity and provide his players with a formula for winning football games.

In 2014, DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards on 393 carries -- both single-season franchise records -- Tony Romo averaged a career-low 29 passes per game and the Cowboys went 12-4 to win the NFC East.

These Cowboys are using the exact same formula, with a different quarterback and running back. The results, however, remain the same.

Dak Prescott and Jason GarrettMatt Ludtke, AP PhotoAfter Dak Prescott's 45 pass attempts in a Week 1 loss, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has helped take pressure off the rookie quarterback by limiting his throws to an average of 27 per game.

Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL with 703 yards rushing, and quarterback Dak Prescott is averaging 30 passes per game for the 5-1 Cowboys, who are tied for the best record in the NFC. Subtract the 45 passes that Prescott threw in the opener against the New York Giants and he's averaging 27 throws per game.

For Dallas, this is all about being the most powerful team on the field.

"I feel like the most physical team wins the game, you know?" Elliott said recently. "When you can set that physical tone early in the game and carry it throughout the game, you find [opponents] not wanting to play in the fourth quarter."

The Cowboys play this style because Garrett saw the Cowboys win championships with it in the 1990s when he was the third-string quarterback. And it protects the Cowboys' defense, which is always going to be inferior to the offense because of how the Cowboys have chosen to build their team.

This season, they're spending $79.7 million of their salary cap on offensive players and $45.2 million on defensive players. Owner Jerry Jones loves offensive stars, which means he is always going to lean toward paying the big bucks to offensive players.

To win, the Cowboys must play complementary football that protects their defense.

Their winning formula involves grabbing an early lead, which puts pressure on the opposing offense. The Cowboys run the ball, controlling the line of scrimmage and limiting the number of possessions.

Once the Cowboys have the lead in the second half, their opponents tend to become one-dimensional: Because foes have been unable to stop Dallas, they must throw the ball.

Even average NFL pass-rushers can mount a quality pass rush when they don't have to worry about stopping the run.

The Cowboys lead the NFL in time of possession at 33 minutes, 9 seconds per game, which means their defense is only on the field for 26:51 per game. Fatigue is rarely an issue.

The Cowboys' run defense gives up 4.48 yards per carry, which is in the bottom third of the league, but teams can't exploit it because they're always playing from behind. Teams have rushed only 127 times against the Cowboys, the lowest total in the league.

Out of the possible 180 regulation minutes in their past three games, the Cowboys have led for 140 minutes, 49 seconds. They haven't trailed since taking a 21-17 lead over San Francisco with 5:49 left in the third quarter of Week 4.

The Cowboys have outscored their opponents 37-10 in the first quarter and 98-46 in the first half. They also have scored on their first possession in five of six games -- and on nearly 50 percent of their drives overall this season.

"You want to set the tone for the game," Garrett told reporters after beating the Packers at Green Bay on Oct. 16. "If your offense can drive the football and go get points, score a touchdown, it certainly gives you some momentum early on. And I think it helps the defense. They say, 'Now it's our turn. We have to start fast.'"

It's all part of the formula.

(Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)Odell Beckham Jr. has just seven catches for 51 yards in the first quarter, by far his least productive period this season.

It is going to be a difficult week for the New York Giants offensive coaches at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. The team may be entering the bye with a winning record, but it has a sputtering unit that hasn’t come anywhere close to reaching its potential.

The Giants are 20th in total offense (through seven games) and are tied for 25th in points per game (19.0). The first seven weeks of the season have unequivocally been a disappointment.

It will be up to Ben McAdoo and his staff this week to diagnose the problems and brainstorm solutions. They will spend much of the week self-scouting and "everything is on the table," according to McAdoo.

What they should find is a predictable unit with no running game and a quarterback getting the ball out so quickly in order to avoid turnovers and hits that it has limited their big-play ability. It’s not a lost cause though. There are nine weeks (and possibly more) remaining to get it right.

Here are some possible solutions:

Get Odell Beckham Jr. the ball early
The star wide receiver's targets aren’t down much. He averaged 10.6 balls last season and is having 10.0 thrown his way this year. The slight dip was expected. He’s now playing alongside Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard rather than Preston Parker and Rueben Randle.

The problem is that that Giants aren’t getting the ball to Beckham early enough. He has just seven catches for 51 yards in the first quarter, by far his least productive period this season. He has zero first-half touchdowns. No wonder the Giants are 31st in the NFL with just 14 points scored in the first quarter this season. Beckham has totaled at least 145 yards receiving in every quarter except the first.

McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning need to find ways to get their top playmaker involved earlier, in order to have him and the offense in rhythm before they're trailing 10-0.

Personnel changes
These are more tweaks than anything else. The Giants aren’t exactly loaded with talent from top to bottom.

But rookie running back Paul Perkins and tight end Jerell Adams could provide some spark at stagnant positions. Perkins has shown some good signs and is averaging 1.2 yards per carry more than starter Rashad Jennings. Orleans Darkwa, who started several games in Jennings’ absence, is averaging a full yard more. They could benefit from increased opportunities.

Adams, a seventh-round pick out of South Carolina, isn't likely to be the answer at tight end at this point of his career, but given a chance, he could be a slight upgrade over Larry Donnell and Will Tye, who have struggled with their blocking. It’s at least worth a look coming out of the bye, and it seems likely to happen.

The answer needs to come from in-house.

“We are confident in the players [who] we have at that spot,” McAdoo said. We are going roll Jerell and Tye in there some more with Larry and let those guys compete and whoever is playing the best is who we will go with.”

The Giants will most certainly explore trades, including for Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas. But the likelihood is that nothing will happen. General manager Jerry Reese has never made a move in nine years at the trade deadline.

Scheme Nobody runs more three-wide-receiver sets than the Giants. They’ve gone with this personnel grouping more than 90 percent of their offensive plays this season, in part because they believe it allows them to get their best players on the field.

“Well, we felt that it put us in the best position to be successful,” McAdoo said. “But again, we are going to go back to the drawing board, take a look at it and see if we can change things up heading into Philadelphia.”

Even though they don’t have a natural fullback and their tight ends’ blocking is questionable, at best, the Giants would benefit from other groupings. It would make them less predictable and potentially more successful in the running game.

It’s hard to pound the ball with eight or nine defenders in the box and three smallish wide receivers on the field, especially in the red zone. But they've tried, albeit unsuccessfully.

The Giants aren’t changing personnel groups often. They're keeping their wide receivers in the same spots more than previous years, and they’re running the same two run plays (inside zone and power) over and over again.

It has made them way too predictable an offense. Opposing defenses can also tilt their pass coverages to the left side of the Giants offense. An eye-opening 231 of Manning’s 270 pass attempts (86 percent) have gone to the middle or left side of the field. Only 14 percent of his passes have been thrown to the right.

It is also all but guaranteed the Giants come out of the locker room in the third quarter and are intent on jumpstarting the running game. They have handed the ball off on the first offensive play of the second half in six of seven games. You know it's coming; opposing defenses know it’s coming. The Giants have gained six yards on those six carries.

The offense needs to become less predictable in order to be more efficient and effective.

Improved performance
This is obvious. Everyone from the offensive line to the quarterback to the tight ends to the running backs to the wide receivers to the coaches needs to perform better. There have been too many mental mistakes, penalties and poor performances offensively throughout the first seven weeks. There is potential for improvement at every position on offense over the final nine games.

Carson WentzGlenn Andrews/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys coaches and staff got an up-close look at Carson Wentz during the Senior Bowl last January and came away impressed.

FRISCO, Texas -- For a week last January, Carson Wentz was essentially a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

With the Cowboys coaches working with the North team at the Senior Bowl, Wentz was able to go through what a Cowboys' practice was like. He got to run a scaled-back version of the Cowboys' offense. He got to connect with the coaches and support staff. He even got to shake hands with owner and general manager Jerry Jones after one practice.

This was a couple months before the Philadelphia Eagles would move up to the second overall pick in the draft in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. You didn't need to be a draftnik to know the Cowboys would be looking at any and all quarterbacks with Tony Romo turning 36 in the offseason.

With the Cowboys holding the fourth overall pick in the first round, there was a natural connection between them and Wentz.

"He's got the prototype size, he's an athlete," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said after one practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium last January. "He's got some sneaky quick, fast body mechanics and movement to go along with a really nice arm."

Wentz started for the North team and completed 6 of 10 passes for 50 yards. He did not have a touchdown pass. He did not have a pass intercepted. But he answered any questions any team might have had about him coming out of North Dakota State.

"He clearly loves football," coach Jason Garrett said. "He's very passionate about it. He's a smart football player. He's a talented football player. I thought he grew over the course of the week, a real tribute to the approach that he took. He had a real command with his teammates. I thought he played well in practice, played well in the game. Very impressed by him."

Now the Cowboys have to try and beat Wentz when he visits AT&T Stadium for the first time as the Eagles' starter on Sunday.

"I'm not so sure he had ever lost a game, maybe one or two," Linehan said, recalling the background work the Cowboys did on Wentz. "The thing that blew me away was he never made anything lower than like an A in school. I said, 'Well, you broke my record. I didn't make it through kindergarten without getting a B.' But he was really sharp. And he's a really talented kid. I'm not surprised he's doing well at all."

Because of the time together in Mobile, Alabama, the Cowboys did not need to conduct a private workout with Wentz. He did, however, visit the Cowboys' Valley Ranch facility before the draft for a formal interview.

Despite playing at North Dakota State, the Cowboys weren't scared off by the small-school stigma. While the production was there, he only started 23 games in college, including seven as a fifth-year senior because of a broken wrist.

"We grilled him for hours and had a chance to be around him, saw his work habits, his work ethic," quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. "He's a very impressive guy."

The Cowboys liked Wentz so much that he was the highest-rated quarterback on their draft board.

But it was another quarterback at the Senior Bowl that intrigued the Cowboys, too. While they did not have the hands-on meetings they had with Wentz, an hour-long meeting with the quarterbacks from the South team the day before the Senior Bowl started the Cowboys' investigation into Dak Prescott in earnest.

He completed 7 of 10 passes for 61 yards and had a touchdown pass in the Senior Bowl.

"He reminds me that they beat us, by the way," Linehan said.

Wentz was the second pick of the draft and shared an on-stage hug from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The Cowboys chose Prescott 133 selections later, in the fourth round. His selection was announced by Telemundo president and general manager John Trevino and Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright at AT&T Stadium.

Despite the disparity in draft experiences, Prescott has the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East, a game up on Wentz's Eagles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time since the 1970 merger where the combined rookie winning percentage was .750 or better with a minimum of three starts each, entering the matchup.

Prescott is 5-1 with seven touchdown passes and one interception, while completing 125 of 182 passes for 1,486 yards. Wentz is 4-2 with eight touchdown passes and three interceptions, while completing 118 of 185 passes for 1,324 yards.

"I'm really happy with our guy," Wilson said. "That's the main thing."

Just as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was beginning his first sharp ascent, his quarterbacks coach, John DeFilippo, cautioned that there are two sides to this mountain.

"There's going to be peaks and valleys with him. There is," he told ESPN. "It's just a matter of when it happens."

That was back in mid-September, a few days after Wentz burst on to the scene with a two-touchdown performance in the opener against the Cleveland Browns. He followed that up with impressive outings against the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. After three weeks, Wentz was 66-of-102 (65 percent) for 769 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Eagles were 3-0, and Wentz was the next Brett Favre or Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger, depending on which coach or pundit you asked.

Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesEagles coach Doug Pederson said that he is going to work with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz on a mechanical flaw that has affected his throwing accuracy.

Then came a downward turn, starting at the tail end of the Detroit Lions game when Wentz forced a downfield throw to Nelson Agholor late that was snared by cornerback Darius Slay for his first career interception. In his two outings since, Wentz has completed just 54 percent of his throws with one touchdown to three turnovers.

There are some factors to consider when analyzing those numbers: He has been without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson for both of those games, and was hit 12 times and absorbed five sacks against the Washington Redskins as rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled in his first NFL action. And though Vaitai settled in some this past week, Wentz was facing the best defense in the league Sunday in the Minnesota Vikings.

You can point to receiver drops (5.4 percent of Wentz's passes have been dropped, the fifth-highest mark in the league, per ESPN Stats & Info) or general lack of standout play from his skill position players, but there's no denying that Wentz's own play has fallen off.

His dip in accuracy has been noticeable. Per Stats & Info, Wentz was 0-of-7 on passes that traveled more than 10 yards downfield against Minnesota, and his 16 completions had an average target distance of 1.6 yards downfield.

Head coach Doug Pederson has picked up on a mechanical issue. He noted Monday that Wentz's lower body and feet are not pointing in a direct line toward the intended receiver at times.

"Sometimes when your feet are not on the target line, you tend to throw high and you tend to throw inside of a receiver, which is what we saw a little bit yesterday," he said. "We just have to continue to drill it and drill it down to where you get in the game and it does become second nature."

A big part of getting Wentz back to form will be to help him rediscover the comfort zone that he operated so effectively from early on. Pederson said he's charged with the task of "keeping things very familiar for him" as the rookie grinds through his first season so that he can just go out and execute, while keeping him out of situations where he's forced to throw it 35 to 40 times a game. For the latter to happen, his support system -- the O-line, the ground game, the defense -- will need to do their part to help limit the weight that falls on the young quarterback.

"Right now, we’re trying to build his confidence each and every week," said Pederson, "and I thought our guys [Sunday] did an outstanding job of [not allowing a sack] against a team that had 19 coming in. They protected him, kept him clean, and it just gives him confidence now and gives our whole unit confidence moving forward."

The coaching staff anticipated these kinds of ebbs and flows and, judging off DeFilippo's comments from back in mid-September, there is little concern that this will devolve into a season-long funk.

"There's two things that I know about him," he said of Wentz. "There's going to be many more peaks than valleys, and No. 2, this guy has the mental makeup and the mental toughness and the character to pull himself out of a tough game or a tough series of plays or a tough half."

The NFL trade deadline is a little more than a week away, and talks are starting to heat up.

Sources tell ESPN's Adam Schefter that the San Francisco 49ers are open to trading wide receiver Torrey Smith, and multiple teams have shown interest.

Per Pro Football Talk, the Eagles are one of those teams, and the sides currently are discussing a deal.

Smith certainly would address a need from Philadelphia's perspective. The Eagles have been getting little production from their outside receivers, as the combination of Nelson Agholor (18 catches, 191 yards), Dorial Green-Beckham (13 catches, 139 yards) and Josh Huff (12 catches, 63 yards) has been unable to produce consistently for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.

Coach Doug Pederson could use a wideout to help stretch the field. In search of that type of player, the Eagles brought in Chris Givens and Rueben Randle this offseason, but neither panned out.

Smith ran a sub-4.4 40 coming out of the University of Maryland and has averaged 17.2 yards per reception for the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

The six-year veteran has 13 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns for the 1-6 49ers this season.

Smith is making a base salary of $4.5 million this year. His 2017 base salary of $6.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on April 1 of '17.

The trade deadline is Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. ET.

The New York Giants returned from London late Sunday night. Their front office spent Monday talking over the Josh Brown situation.

Brown was not in the building, even though rules allow a player on the commissioner’s exempt list at the team’s facility on a reasonable basis for meetings, individual workouts, therapy, rehabilitation and other permitted nonfootball activities with the team’s permission. Coach Ben McAdoo also said that the kicker will not be at the facility on Tuesday when the Giants meet before heading off on their bye week.

“He has not been around, no,” McAdoo said.

With meetings on Monday -- and possibly Tuesday morning -- a decision on Brown’s future with the Giants could be coming in the next few days.

“The front office is in discussions [Monday],” McAdoo said. “I haven’t been a part of them. Either [Monday night] or [Tuesday] morning, I’ll be a part of those discussions.”

Brown practiced with the team on Thursday before they left for London. He did not make the trip. He was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after it was revealed last week that he admitted to being abusive to his then-wife in emails, letters and journal entries.

Giants co-owner John Mara later said in a radio interview that Brown “admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What's a little unclear is the extent of that."

The Giants said they were intent on doing their due diligence before making a fair and reasonable decision on his future. The league also wanted to investigate the newly released documents.

Brown is not expected to appeal the NFL’s decision to place him on the commissioner’s exempt list, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Brown is still able to collect his remaining base salary of $648,529.

The Giants signed veteran kicker Robbie Gould prior to Sunday’s game. Gould made his only field goal attempt, from 29 yards, and converted both of his extra points in New York's 17-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in London.

On Friday, Giants coach Ben McAdoo said the team wasn't going to abandon Brown, but multiple sources have expressed doubt that Brown will ever kick again in the NFL.

Brown was suspended for one game -- this season's opener against the Dallas Cowboys -- by the NFL for a violation of the league’s conduct policy following a domestic violence arrest in May 2015, for which he was not charged.

Brown appeared in five games this season before being placed on the exempt list.

FRISCO, Texas – After not catching passes during the Dallas Cowboys one practice of the bye week after injuring his right ring and middle fingers while cutting carrots to make soup, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was able to catch passes on Monday.

Bryant said his fingers are fine and more importantly the tibial plateau fracture he suffered Sept. 25 against the Chicago Bears is fine. Bryant went through Monday’s practice without any issue and will return Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles after missing three games.

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesCowboys WR Dez Bryant is expected to make his return on Sunday against the Eagles.

After the Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 16, Bryant pronounced himself ready for game action.

"Check me out at 7:30, man," Bryant said after the game, alluding to the Central time kickoff against the Eagles. "I already told [team physician Dr. Dan Cooper] what the deal was."

Bryant looked smooth as he went through early part of practice open to the media and did not show any laboring with his running. He took part in three limited practices leading up to the Packers’ game but was held out more as a precautionary move.

On Oct. 14, Bryant had a CT scan that showed the fracture was healing. At the time of the diagnosis, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the team has had players miss no action or up to three games with a similar injury.

Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick also pronounced himself fit to return after missing a month with hamstring strains to both legs. Scandrick said he is 100 percent and the time off has served him well. Cornerback Morris Claiborne was on the practice field Monday as he works back from a concussion suffered against the Packers.

“I don’t feel anything relayed to my hamstring injury when I’m running,” Scandrick said.

Left tackle Tyron Smith did not take part in Monday’s practice as he continues to deal with a bulging disc issue. He did not practice last week either, but the Cowboys believe he will be able to play Sunday against the Eagles.

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second straight week, the Philadelphia Eagles took a little poke at the NFL for its new social media policy.

Teams are no longer permitted to post highlights from television directly to social media or turn highlights into GIFs. Last week, the Eagles and Browns responded by posting videos of electronic football figures to simulate highlights.

This week, the Eagles’ Twitter account opted for flipbooks.

Under the revised policy, teams are also not allowed to shoot video inside the stadium during the game and post it on social media and cannot use Facebook Live, Periscope or any other app to stream anything live within the stadium. Per ESPN’s Darren Rovell, league executives want to make sure that content generated within the stadiums is hosted by team websites so that the league maintains control of what is disseminated.

First-time violators of the policy can be hit with a fine of up to $25,000, and the penalty jumps to as much as $50,000 the second time around.

RomoRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys have gotten off to a NFC East-leading 5-1 start without Tony Romo.

FRISCO, Texas -- Soon, if not today, Tony Romo will be able to practice for the first time since suffering a compression fracture in his back on Aug. 25.

The CT scans and other testing continue to show nothing but positives for the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback. He has increased his rehab work in the past two weeks, including resistance training, and he has been throwing with more velocity.

“We’re getting closer,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I don’t know the exact time, but we’re getting closer with him. I know that.”

Eventually, the Cowboys will have to decide whether they make Romo the starter or continue with rookie Dak Prescott, who has helped them to a 5-1 start.

What started as almost a humorous what-if at the start of the season -- based on how well Prescott played in the preseason -- has become the most important issue Jason Garrett must sort through in his tenure as Cowboys coach.

Garrett has given the subject a stiff-arm when pressed about it during the past few weeks. Until Romo is healthy and cleared, they don’t need to have an answer.

The Cowboys have faced such quandaries before.

In 1972, Roger Staubach suffered a separated shoulder in the preseason that forced Craig Morton into the starting lineup. Coach Tom Landry stuck with Morton, even when Staubach became healthy. Staubach had led the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl win the previous season.

In 1991, Troy Aikman suffered a sprained MCL during the game in which the Cowboys ended the Washington Redskins’ run at a perfect season. Steve Beuerlein went 4-0 as Aikman’s replacement, and coach Jimmy Johnson went with Beuerlein in the playoffs, even though Aikman was healthy enough to play in the postseason.

“You’ve got to make the decision based on what you believe,” Aikman said. “When you say, ‘We’re going to do what’s best for the team,’ then you’ve got to do what’s best for the team. If you as a coach believe somebody else gives you a better opportunity, then I think you make that move.”

Aikman was upset with Johnson in 1991. Aikman was told he would be the starter once healthy and was held out of the regular-season finale because the Cowboys’ seeding was solidified. But Aikman was especially upset when Johnson told the media before telling him that Beuerlein would start the playoff game.

In Beuerlein's four-game run as the starter, he completed 65 of 132 passes for 883 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Good, not great, numbers. What really changed for the Cowboys: the emphasis on Emmitt Smith. In their first 11 games in 1991, he had only one game with at least 25 carries. In the final five, he carried it at least 25 times in every game.

“When it’s you, when it’s happening to you, your perspective on it is really different, and I wouldn’t expect Tony or anyone else to feel different than I felt as far as wanting to be out there playing and feeling like you were the best option,” Aikman said. “But it didn’t take [until] now to realize Jimmy probably did the right thing for the team.”

Forty-four years later, Landry’s decision to roll with Morton seems curious at best. Morton threw at least one interception in 12 of 14 games. He finished with 21 on the season with 15 touchdown passes.

But what mattered most was the Cowboys' record. They finished 10-4.

“Craig was winning,” said Staubach, who saw limited action in four of the final five regular-season games. “We were winning as a team and I understood it. The momentum was there, you don’t want to mess around with the quarterback position, and Craig was playing very well. So I didn’t really play very much until the playoff game against the 49ers that year, and I understood it. I understood I was still a good player, and they’re still hopefully going to need me at some time. Tony’s going to heal, he’s going to be ready to play when they need him, if something happens to Dak, so I think Tony wants to win and he’ll do what it takes to win. If they keep Dak in there, if they keep the momentum going, I think [Romo] will understand that. He hasn’t told me that, by the way.”

In the divisional round of the 1972 playoffs, the Cowboys needed Staubach. With Dallas trailing in the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, Staubach threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes for one of the most improbable comebacks in his career.

Today, the quarterback debate rages outside the Cowboys' locker room, but there is no sign of friction within the team. Friends and family might ask the players about the situation, but there is little to no talk that could lead to a schism.

“We’re not really worried about that honestly,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “We just focus on now. We focus on going out there and winning every week and getting better as a team. To this team, it really doesn’t matter who is at quarterback. We have faith in our guys. Honestly, that’s not our decision anyway, so there’s no reason to worry about it.”

The decision falls on Garrett, Linehan, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and executive vice president Stephen Jones.

Only the success of the season is on the line.

“You never know unless you go on and win the Super Bowl,” Aikman said. “You never quite know what the outcome otherwise would’ve been, but I certainly understand why Jimmy did what he did. The team had won five straight, and he wasn’t going to mess with that. So that’s kind of where I am. In this league, it’s hard to get that kind of momentum going within any club, and when you have it going, I think you better take a hard look before you start doing things that may jeopardize that.”

LONDON -- Shaky is one way to describe the first seven weeks of the New York Giants' season. Uneven and inconsistent are others.

So is alive. That’s what the Giants are as they head into their bye week. They’re winners of two straight after a 17-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams here at Twickenham Stadium and right in the thick of the NFC playoff picture.

Gritty is the way coach Ben McAdoo described his team after Sunday's win. That is one way to put it. Fortunate might be another. In the end, nobody cares how or when you produce those victories. The Giants are suddenly in healthy shape heading into the second half of the NFL season.

The drama hovering over the organization with the Josh Brown situation has hurt the reputation of the franchise, but it will have minimal impact on the on-field product. However that situation plays out -- likely with the release of Brown this week -- it’s unlikely to affect the outcome of this season.

Dan Istitene/Getty ImagesRashad Jennings and Bobby Rainey helped the Giants to an uneven 17-10 victory against the Rams. The Giants are in decent shape at 4-3 heading into the bye week.

The Giants didn’t play particularly well on Sunday. They haven’t for the better part of seven weeks, but they’ve somehow managed -- despite a turnover margin of minus-7 and a difficult schedule -- to emerge with a winning record. They rank 19th in total defense, have the 20th-ranked offense, are 25th in points per game and are tied for 29th in turnover margin. They should be ecstatic they're 4-3. It provides hope that at some point they can put it together and string together victories.

“That’s where we’re supposed to be,” star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said after playing through pain and finishing with five catches for 49 yards. “Could be a little better, be we’re where we’re supposed to be. We’re headed in the right direction. We have a bye week and everybody gets to recover now. That’s the biggest thing -- you take advantage of the time you have off, heal your body, and get right for Philly.”

The Philadelphia Eagles are next on Nov. 6 at MetLife Stadium.

Beckham is right in several ways. The Giants could be better. They’ve turned the ball over too often early this season and haven’t come anywhere close to hitting their stride offensively. Given these shortcomings, they’re fortunate to be a winning team. That's usually the formula for losing.

But the Giants are right where they’re supposed to be. They’re not bad enough to tank and not good enough to beat many quality teams (Minnesota and Green Bay) on the road.

In other words, the Giants are what we thought they were: a fringe playoff contender, although with a better defense and worse offense than expected. They’re an improved team -- mostly because of a defense bolstered by key free-agent additions -- and the playoffs are realistically in sight, despite playing in a difficult division where all four teams have a winning record.

“You know, hey, I think you could always say you'd like to be better -- that's obvious. But we've won some tight games; nothing's been easy. Every game, every win that we've had so far has been down to the wire, and it was another one [on Sunday],” quarterback Eli Manning said. “We're finding ways to win the close games. Hopefully, we can continue to do that and win some close games, but we definitely know we've got to make some strides and get better and find ways on the offense to score more points and be more consistent.

“Again, we'll take 4-3 and use this week to get some rest and get back and know we've got a couple home games. I think we have three home games in a row when we get back but start in the division with Philly, and that will be a big one.”

That’s what it’s going to come down to -- winning in the division. Four of the Giants’ final nine are against NFC East rivals.

They’ll have to play better to reach the 10 wins likely necessary to qualify for the postseason. And at some point, the Giants will have to put together a complete game. They haven’t done that yet, in large part because they’ve struggled to score points. The Giants have topped 20 points just twice in seven games. They’ve yet to score 30 points in a game this season.

What they have done is make strides in other areas.

“I think we built a tough, physical football team,” McAdoo said.

If he’s referring to mentality of his players, then he has a point. After crumbling late in games last season, the Giants have already won three games by four points or less and four by seven points or less this season.

They’re 4-3, just like they were last season heading into their bye week, but this time it has a different feel. This team seems more legit.

“We’re excited about it,” wide receiver Victor Cruz said.

These Giants haven’t played particularly well but have still found ways to win. In previous seasons, they found ways to lose. That might be the difference.video