Friday, September 30, 2011
Final Word: NFC East
By Dan Graziano
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:
Dallas must stop the deep ball: According to ESPN's Stats & Information Group, without which Final Word would not be possible, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has yet to throw an interception this year on a ball thrown 11 or more yards downfield. He threw 14 of them over the past two seasons. SIG also reports that Stafford overthrew top receiver Calvin Johnson 18 times over the past two years on balls that went 11 or more yards downfield and has only done so once this year in 10 attempts. What's it mean? That Stafford is getting better at throwing deep, especially to Johnson, and that the Cowboys must find a way to defend him deep. Whether that means DeMarcus Ware and the pass rush need to get to Stafford quickly enough to take away deep throws or whether Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins have to make plays in the secondary or both, the Cowboys versus the Lions' deep passing game is a key matchup to watch Sunday.
Redskins running back Tim Hightower is averaging 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.
Who should run the ball for the Redskins?: Tim Hightower is clearly the starter and has done some good things. They particularly like him in the passing game, as a receiver and a blocker. But as a runner, he's been underwhelming so far this season, averaging just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt. Part of the issue is that the Redskins are determined to run the ball 30 times a game even if it's not always working, and so whoever's running it is going to find the going tough at times. But rookie Roy Helu, as Hightower's backup, is averaging 5.7 yards per carry on his 16 carries so far. If he gets into games and shows more burst and speed than Hightower, you'd have to think he's a real threat to start stealing carries, no?
McCoy's toughest test so far: The San Francisco 49ers have excelled so far this year in stopping the run with their defensive front. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Niners have held opponents to 2.97 yards per carry when using seven or fewer defenders in the box. Now, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has the second-most rush yards in the league against seven-or-fewer-man fronts, and is averaging 6.39 yards per carry when teams keep seven or fewer in the box. So, something's got to give there.
Eli owns October: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has a career record of 20-4 in the month of October. Among quarterbacks with at least 15 October starts since 1950, only Otto Graham (22-4) has a better record in the month. The key for Manning is always to limit turnovers, and last week's victory in Philadelphia broke a streak of seven straight games in which he'd thrown at least one interception. Over the past three seasons, the Giants are 8-1 in games in which Manning did not turn the ball over via interception or fumble. The last time they lost such a game was Nov. 8, 2009 -- a 21-20 loss to the Chargers in which Manning was sacked five times. When Manning plays a clean game, the Giants win.
Cowboys play 'em close: Each of the Cowboys' past nine games has been decided by three points or less. Dallas is 5-4 in those nine games, including a 2-1 record so far this season. The last game they played that was decided by more than three points? Their Week 11 victory on Nov. 21 of last year, at home against this week's opponent, the Detroit Lions. Shaun Hill and Jon Kitna were the starting quarterbacks in that game, which the Cowboys won 35-19 in spite of being outgained 338-265. If you remember that game, you probably remember it for Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return touchdown.