Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FOURTH & FOREVER: PREVIEWING THE NFC EAST

Johnny J

The NFC East use to be a dominant division in the 90's and early 2000's, with the Dallas Cowboys being "America's Team" and the Philadelphia Eagles actually played well under former head coach, Andy Reid. Since then, the Cowboys haven't been in many playoff appearances under quarterback Tony Romo. The funny thing is, they just gave him a fat contract, ($108 million) for someone who has only one playoff win under his cleats and hasn't been to a Pro Bowl since 2009. This brings us to the New York Giants who have been the more aggressive team in this division. The Giants don't catch people's eyes, but they sneak into the playoffs and even have two Super Bowls--XL11 and XVl. The Washington Redskins are the team to keep your third eye on. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and won the division for the first time since 1999. The Redskins have young talent with a veterans' coach presence in Mike Shanahan.

With training camp approaching, the NFC East will finally get to answer questions that's been looming all off-season:

  • Will quarterback Robert Griffin lll be healthy enough to participate in camp and be ready for the season after coming off of a LCL and ACL injury? 
  • Who will be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles? Michael Vick or Nick Foles, or long-shot rookie Matt Barkley? 
  • With receiver Victor Cruz finally happy with his $45 million contract, will receiver Hakeem Nicks make a statement for his big payday? 
  • Is second year running back David Wilson going to be the man in the back-field now that Ahmad Bradshaw is gone? 
  • Will Romo live up to that contract? 
  • Is this it for head coach Jason Garrett if the team doesn't make it deep into the playoffs? 
Owner Jerry Jones has a short leash when it comes to losing.


Griffin III was the most exciting, mobile quarterback to watch in football last year. Winning NFL offensive rookie for the month of September in 2012. In week six, he scrambled for a 76 yard touchdown run. The first quarterback to play that was born in the 90's.  The Redskins go as Griffin goes.  The team was 10-6 last season and I believe they can win 11 this year with a healthy Griffin. He is the future, he shouldn't be rushed back if hes not ready. Besides second year quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to show he can be more than a back-up on another team. He threw a 77 yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss in his first appearence in a loss. He brought the Redskins back in week 14 win against the Baltimore Ravens, scoring a touch-down in 29 seconds and converting on a quarterback sneak for the two-point conversion.  He's good under pressure. They also have a young reliable back in Doug Martin. He rushed for almost 1,400 yards in his rookie year. I expect more from the Boise State back. Even without a first round pick in this past draft, the Redskins should be playoff bound. The defense was solid, ranked ninth in stopping the run. They should be better with linebacker Brian Orakpo.

The Eagle hasn't landed because it hasn't taken off yet. I expect the Eagles to be much better on offense. They drafted a reliable left tackle in Oklahoma's Lane Johnson. That should help the sack and scrambling problem. They gave up a total of 118 sacks to oppossing teams. No quarterback is going to survive that. New head coach, Chip Kelly, hasn't decided on who the quarterback will be, but we all know its going to be Michael Vick. In Kelly's run happy scheme offense at Oregon, the Eagles will run the ball and that benefits Vick. He is a decent passer, but is more lethal in the open-field with the ball tucked in. Especially when you have a running back in LeSean McCoy, who is also a great runner in the open-field. Now include the option and the play-option...shaking my head. They will be a dangerous offensive team. Now on the other side of the ball. The Eagles released overpaid cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who didn't look like he knew his defensive assignments. Defensive end Jason Babin was another overpaid pick-up. He was released after 11 games as he only produced 5.5 sacks. The defense is now starting over, changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. They ranked 30th last season in stopping the run, so they brought in Isaac Soporga from the 49ers. He stands at 6-2 330 pounds. That should help plug the middle of the line.

Romo has to live up to his contract, simply by staying healthy and winning playoff games. I would say he is under pressure to win, but he has a $50 million gurantee contract. He is tied to the Cowboys for years to come. LOL! Sorry, I was just imaging him as the face of the Cowboys for the next several years. Romo has the weapons around him. He has good receivers in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin as well. Romo has 10 team records including nine games with 300 passing yards and the most touchdowns in a season at 36. It makes me think, what the heck did Troy Aikman do? Oh wait, he had Emmitt Smith. He has no pressure, but maybe the Cowboys should have waited on that contract so he can improve his game and prove himself. Running back DeMarco Murray, is a fanstay owner's dream--when healthy. That's his problem right there. He is injury prone and they won't win without a balanced offense. He has the record for a 10.1 average yard per carry, with more than 20 attempts for the Cowboys. This guy is so good finding holes. The key is how head coach Jason Garrett will manage this team in 2013 as he might be the only coach on the hot seat in this division before the season even starts. Once the highest paid offensive coordinator in football, he is now on the verge of losing his job. Nice promotion right? Oh, but wait: the Cowboys have come in third place in the NFC East three years straight under him.  I think this fourth year has to tell Jerry Jones if this is the right guy or not. The Cowboys are switching to a 4-3 defense. Did I mention they brought in Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator? The "Tampa 2," man! He uses speed over size and strength and he focuses on creating turnovers. I'm looking forward to see how he uses linebacker Sean Lee and pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. Will he still be the same dynamic player? Only time will tell.

The Giants are not a team that have heavy hitters, but they have good players that like to throw haymakers. The name Eli Manning doesn't blow you away, simply because hes not a top tier quarterback, but he somehow finds away to get the job done. His two Super-Bowl MVPs can vouch for him. Manning is the key to the Giants' offense, with an unknown running back in David Wilson, he will have to make this offense turn the corner. The Giants have a solid offensive line as Manning was only sacked 3.58 percent of the time. It ranked number one last season. With a good line comes good blocking and good running. Wilson looked good behind Bradshaw, but now he is the main carrier. He just needs to hold on to the ball because he does put the ball on the ground. Happy receivers are happy pass-catchers. It means when a receiver is happy, it shows in his production. Nicks didn't look happy last season. In 13 games, he had three touchdowns on 53 receptions. That is terrible numbers for a starter. Maybe he needs a bigger contract or a new team, but this year we will find out. I say the injury-prone receiver needs a change of scenery. On the other side of the ball, the defense will struggle simply because they will miss Jason Pierre-Paul who just had back surgery and will miss majority of the season. Also the line lost Osi Umenyiora to the Falcons. The defense starts up-front and without pressure, the opposing quarterback has time in the pocket. The defense will take a step back this season. The G-Men can't just rely on Subway Justin Tuck.

Who will win the NFC East? My gut says the Philadelphia Eagles, even though my gut isn't as big as it use to be. I just think Chip Kelly and that offense are going to be over-powering for teams. It's going to be hard to stop the run with McCoy and Vick. The defense is going to be better as well. They got rid of some under-performing players and are trying a new defensive scheme. The defense may be in a rebuilding state, but that offense is going to be really good.

The Redskins are going to be right there with the Eagles. A healthy dynamic duo in RGIII and Doug Martin are going to make defenses tired. If the defense can hold up, the Redskins are going to win a lot of close games. RGlll just has to find away to avoid a lot of big hits. If the quarterback goes down, so does moving the offense.

The Cowboys are going to come in third place, again. They spent too much on a quarterback who I believe has reached his peak. A good regular season quarterback, but under the bright lights hes trying to cover the lights with his hands instead of reaching for shades. I also don't know if I like DeMarcus Ware as a defensive end. It may take time to adjust in a stance with a great jump.

The Giants defense is missing key players and I have not seen suitable replacements. Unless someone steps up, they will be vulnerable and that will add to the list of Eli Manning having more fourth quarter comebacks. The Giants will be in shootouts the whole season. If you're not first you're last. Last sounds about right.

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