Dallas Cowboys: Will Montgomery

NFC East wrap: The year of RG III

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
10:00
AM ET
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Five things to know and my 2012 all-division team:

Division MVP: Interesting word, "value." The Washington Redskins decided that fixing their problem at quarterback by drafting Robert Griffin III was worth three first-round picks and a second-round pick. That's the "value" they assigned to Griffin as their short-term and long-term solution at the game's most critical position -- willingly not having another first-round pick until 2015. The first-year result is the current six-game winning streak that has delivered the Redskins' first winning season since 2007 and a shot Sunday night at their first division title since 1999.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jonathan Newton/Getty ImagesThe Redskins paid a steep price to acquire Robert Griffin III, but the move has paid off handsomely.
A number of things have gone right to help the Redskins to this point, but at the center of it all has been Griffin, who has delivered big plays with his arm and his legs, has thrown just five interceptions and piloted a Redskins offense that has the most rushing yards and the fewest turnovers in the league through 16 weeks. In their wildest dreams, the Redskins couldn't have imagined Griffin performing at this level in his first year, but the fact that he has is the biggest reason they're where they are at this point. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is having a big year, as are Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris. But the award is for the Most "Valuable" Player, and the upgrade Griffin has provided for the Redskins at the most important position on the field has a value that surpasses anything anyone else in the NFC East has provided this year.

Biggest disappointment: This one isn't hard. The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles were a disappointment. That word isn't strong enough to describe what the 2012 Eagles turned out to be. They went into training camp with Super Bowl expectations and a chip on their collective shoulder after last year's flop, and they out-flopped even themselves. There was promise in their 3-1 start, in spite of the turnovers and the fact that they were barely winning. The defense was playing well, Michael Vick was leading them from behind in the fourth quarter and it made some level of sense to believe that they would play better and start winning more comfortably.

Instead, it went the other way. The eight-game losing streak that followed that 3-1 start doomed the Eagles to a sub-.500 season, and the 11 losses they already have with one game to go ties the most Andy Reid has ever had as a head coach. (He lost 11 in his first season there.) Injuries were a huge part of this, as 10 of the Eagles' Week 1 starters on offense have had to miss at least one game and the offensive line hasn't been together all year. But the problems go much deeper, and center on a poorly constructed roster that failed to adequately address holes at positions such as safety and a dysfunctional coaching staff mismanaged by the man in charge. Reid appears certain to pay with his job for failing to make good on his mulligan, and big changes are around the corner in Philadelphia.

No defense: The NFC East hasn't had a repeat champion since the Eagles won it back-to-back in 2003-04, and it won't have one this year either. The New York Giants opened November with three more wins than any other team in the division, but their collapse following a 6-2 start has eliminated them from the division race with a week to go. The winner of Sunday night's game between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys will be division champs. If it's Dallas, it'll be the team's second title in four years and would be the second year in a row (and ever) that the division didn't produce at least one 10-win team. If it's Washington, it'll be its first division title in 13 years and would mean four different division champs in four years. This may not be the dominant, monster, "Beast" division it's been in some years past, but the intensity of the rivalries and the closeness of the quality of the four teams keep it the league's most competitive and entertaining year in and year out.

Each NFC East team had a turn in the spotlight this year. The Cowboys flashed greatness in their nationally televised victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in the season opener. The Eagles got out to that 3-1 start. The Giants at one point stood 6-2, and their victories over San Francisco and Green Bay had folks talking about them as the best team in the league. The Redskins are on a six-game winning streak right now and one of the hottest stories in sports. Say what you will about this division or any of its teams, but you can't say it's not fun.

Better "corner" the market: Looking ahead to the 2013 offseason, expect each of the NFC East's teams to make the secondary a high priority. The Cowboys like their corners, and they may be OK at safety if Barry Church comes back healthy, but they'll probably lose Mike Jenkins to free agency and could look to maintain their depth back there. The Giants need to figure out whether this is just a bad year for Corey Webster or if he's a player in decline, and at safety there are questions about Kenny Phillips' long-term status with the team after his injury-plagued season. The Redskins need all kinds of help in the secondary, where Josh Wilson has been fairly consistent but not great at corner, DeAngelo Hall is clearly in decline and they're getting by with backups at safety. And the Eagles have to figure out whether to keep one, both or neither of their veteran cornerbacks and whether it's time to cut bait with safety Nate Allen.

This division includes the No. 21, No. 28 and No. 30 pass defenses in the NFL, and the only NFC East team in the top half in the league in that category (Philadelphia, No. 11) has major question marks at cornerback and especially safety. Once known for its fearsome pass rushes, the NFC East learned this year that you can't always count on even that to be consistent, and it's time for this division's teams to prioritize their last lines of defense.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanJason Garrett's Cowboys, winners of five of their past seven, can win the NFC East with a victory over the archrival Redskins on Sunday.
The men in charge: You can expect wholesale coaching staff changes in Philadelphia, of course. But what of the division's other three teams, at least one and likely two of which won't make the playoffs? Head coaches Tom Coughlin and Mike Shanahan are clearly safe in New York and Washington, and Jason Garrett appears safe as well in Dallas after a year in which he's admirably led the Cowboys through injury and off-field tragedy into another Week 17 division title game. But that doesn't mean there can't or won't be changes at the coordinator level.

Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are both whispered about when head-coaching jobs come up, and the success of Griffin and the Redskins' offensive system could make Kyle Shanahan an especially hot candidate this offseason. Would he jump ship, or stay to see things through and possibly succeed his father down the road in D.C.? Redskins fans clamor for the head of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and I guess you never know, but I think Haslett's got this Washington defense overachieving, and I've heard nothing to indicate that the team is dissatisfied with the job he's doing. As for the Giants' Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell ... Fewell's no longer the head-coaching candidate he used to be for some reason, so it's likely a matter of whether they want to keep those guys around. The Giants tend to value organizational stability, and Gilbride and Fewell were coaching in and winning a Super Bowl less than 11 months ago, so it's hard to imagine they're in trouble. But I think the Giants are surprised at the way the last couple of weeks have gone, and I doubt they've seriously considered yet whether changes on the staff are warranted or necessary.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

We do this every week, so you're used to a lot of these names in a lot of these places. There are some close calls, including at quarterback, where the Cowboys' Romo is as hot as anyone in the league and has thrown just three interceptions in his past eight games after throwing 13 in his first seven. Romo is third in the league in passing yards, and his responsible play and leadership are central reasons for the Cowboys' second-half surge. And if he beats Griffin and Washington on Sunday night, you can make the argument that he deserves the spot. I think it's that close right now. But Griffin's had the more consistent season and, as detailed above, the more dramatic impact. So he holds the spot.

The only other very tough call is at fullback, where Darrel Young and the Giants' Henry Hynoski are both excellent and worthy. Hynoski, for me, has been the slightly better blocker, but the Giants' recent struggles have hurt his case and Young, who actually touches the ball every now and then, takes the spot away from him. ... Kicker is a good race, as all four have had good seasons. And yes, I know Kai Forbath hasn't missed, but he's kicked barely half as many as Dan Bailey has. ... Philadelphia's Brandon Graham has made a strong case at defensive end with his second-half play, but Jason Hatcher's been a rock all season as a 3-4 end for Dallas. ... Dez Bryant and Alfred Morris are no-brainers as the division's best wide receiver and running back. What kind of odds could you have got on that in early September?

All-NFC East Team: Week 16 update

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
1:23
PM ET
Washington's Robert Griffin III has had a stranglehold on the quarterback spot on the All-NFC East Team for months now, but after he sat out Sunday with an injury, his backup won in Cleveland and Dallas' Tony Romo beat the Steelers, this became a very tough call for the first time in a while. I really think it's a two-man race, and I think Romo's candidacy is legitimate.

Romo has 4,269 passing yards. Griffin has 2,902. Even if you add in their rushing yards, Romo still leads significantly in total yards, 4,318 to 3,650. He has 22 passing touchdowns and one rushing (23 total) while Griffin has 18 passing and six rushing (24). Griffin has a significant edge in the interception department, having thrown only four to Romo's 16. And while Romo's only thrown three in his past seven games, this isn't a last-seven-games team. It's a year-to-date team.

Which reminds me about the disclaimer no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Kirk Cousins isn't on it.

Griffin is, though, by a surprisingly tight margin over Romo. He still has the better overall numbers everywhere but in yardage, and he did win the head-to-head matchup on Thanksgiving, which I think is a worthy tiebreaker for now. But if Griffin has to miss another game and/or Romo stays hot, this could change next week. Last year, it was Romo vs. Eli Manning for this spot, back and forth all year, and the final game of the regular season decided it. Could that happen again?

Anyway, here's the team, with some more thoughts after.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; (Bryant, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Nate Livings, Cowboys (Mathis, Chris Chester)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Cowboys; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Carr, Prince Amukamara)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • That second guard spot is a three-way toss-up for me between Livings, Chester and Chris Snee, and I've been looking at Livings for several weeks now. The Cowboys' line has been a wreck for much of the season, but Livings has been a bright spot and has played well overall.
  • I honestly thought about Washington's Rob Jackson at outside linebacker, and I think the way Spencer's playing, it'd be Ware's spot he'd take. But I didn't want to deal with the wrath of Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com if I dared to take Ware off the team. And I don't think he deserves to be taken off the team. Let's just say it says a lot about the way Jackson's playing that it was worth thinking about.
  • I've explained Hynoski over Darrel Young plenty of times -- real, real, close, both excellent, Hynoski blocks a little bit more consistently. Both awesome. I wish one of them played cornerback, since I'm looking for good suggestions there.
  • Final story and then I'm out. In the Redskins' locker room after Sunday's game, I went over to talk to Cofield. He was talking to someone else but saw me out of the corner of his eye. "Graziano," he said, and shook his head. "Bout time I made that All-NFC East Team." Don't think we're not doing important work here, people. We're providing motivation.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 15 update

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
1:00
PM ET
For a while, the quarterback position on the All-NFC East team has looked like a boat race, with Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III the clear winner of the spot. But Griffin hurt his knee Sunday, and if he has to miss a few games, he could be caught. Both Tony Romo and Eli Manning are hot and have big numbers (though Griffin's remarkably small number in the interception category is a big part of his lead.)

The disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Nick Foles isn't on it.

Just a few changes this week -- one on the offensive line, a couple at kicker and punter and the rest in the secondary, where I admit I'm at a loss. More explanation after the list itself.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; (Bryant, Cruz)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Chris Chester, Redskins (Mathis, Chris Snee)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Brandon Carr, Cowboys (Amukamara, Morris Claiborne)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Kenny Phillips)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Lawrence Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Brian Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • Did you know this division doesn't have one single cornerback ranked in Pro Football Focus' top 50 for the season? This is what I'm working with, folks. Their highest-ranked NFC East corners are Orlando Scandrick (52), Brandon Boykin (54) and Cedric Griffin (63). So you tell me. I gave Claiborne's spot to Carr this week because I think they're pretty close and Carr's had a couple of game-changing plays the last couple of weeks. But these spots could belong to guys like Josh Wilson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just as easily. This is two years now, and no one in this division plays this position consistently well.
  • Safety's a problem, too, and with the best one in the division (Phillips) in and out due to injury, his spot goes to his real-life replacement, who has seven interceptions.
  • That second guard spot is a mishmash, with Chester, Snee, Nate Livings and Kevin Boothe all getting consideration. Snee has the track record, Chester's had the more consistent season. Slightly.
  • And no, Redskins fans, I'm not "ignoring" Darrel Young at fullback. For the millionth time, both Young and Hynoski are having excellent seasons. It's a tough call, every week. But Hynoski's on the field more, and while he doesn't catch or carry the ball once or twice a week like Young does, he's been the slightly better blocker. And that's the important part of their jobs. I'd love to see both guys go to the Pro Bowl. I can't put them both on this team, though. Maybe if one of them learned to play cornerback. There are spots open there.
  • Tynes is out at kicker. The only question was his replacement, and Bailey, Alex Henery and Kai Forbath all made good cases. I went with Bailey, who hasn't missed from inside 50 and has made more (2) from 50-plus than any of the others have. Forbath is perfect since joining the Redskins, and he's made some huge kicks, including this week and on Thanksgiving. But he's got 14 field goals to Bailey's 25 (and Tynes' 33 and Henery's 23). Didn't seem right. Henery is the best of the bunch on kickoffs, statistically. Good year for kickers in the NFC East.
  • Moorman's also out at punter after that debacle Sunday. Our old friend Rocca returns, though you know Steve Weatherford got a long look.
  • And yes, David Wilson's kick return for a touchdown would have won him the kick-returner spot for the rest of the season, but he already had it.

Your thoughts?

All-NFC East Team: Week 14 update

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
10:00
AM ET
Certain things creep up on you when you do an exercise like this one every week. You really have to look at it fresh, or else you might miss a trend.

Did you know, for instance, that Tony Romo leads this division in passing yards this year, and by quite a lot -- 490 more than Eli Manning and 1,000 more than All-Division Team QB Robert Griffin III? Romo has a higher passer rating than Manning and more touchdowns. He also leads the division with 15 interceptions, but he's only thrown two in his last five games.

That's not enough to give Romo the spot ahead of Griffin, who makes up yardage and touchdown differentials with his rushing numbers and who's only thrown four interceptions all year. But it was enough to make me stop and think about it, which I do each week at each of these positions. Just because there are few, if any, changes in a given week doesn't mean I'm copy/pasting this thing from the week before. There's a lot of jockeying for position underneath the starter line.

Anyway, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Pierre Garcon isn't on it.

This week's team includes only one change from last week, and it's at the very exciting position of defensive tackle. But I have some thoughts on a few of the positions that I'll share with you after you look at the team.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Bryant)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins; Will Beatty, Giants (Williams, Beatty)

Guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles; Chris Snee, Giants (Mathis, Snee)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Barry Cofield, Redskins; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Cofield, Linval Joseph)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Riley)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (Amukamara, Claiborne)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Giants (Rolle, Phillips)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)
  • After a year and three quarters of doing the team with a left and right tackle and a left and right guard, I have decided to just pick the best two tackles and guards in the division regardless of where they line up. For the past few weeks, we'd been putting Beatty at right tackle on this team even though he plays left for the Giants, since there weren't any good choices at right tackle and Beatty's been excellent. This new way makes it a lot easier. Beatty and Williams are the two best tackles in the division, so they get the spots.
  • One of the reasons I decided to do this was Cowboys left guard Nate Livings, who is playing very well while the Cowboys' line struggles through a rough season. For a while, I considered using Mathis and Livings as my guards this week, but in the end Snee kept his spot, though it's close between the two of them.
  • Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson, who's occupied that Claiborne spot for much of this season, played very well Monday night against the Giants and nearly go this spot back. But Claiborne also played well, and scored a touchdown, and you know how I struggle at cornerback. I'm like a coach here. Gonna leave Claiborne in there, be patient with him and see how he handles it.
  • The change at defensive tackle was the return of Cox to a starting spot ahead of Joseph, who's had one all year but has been slipping in recent weeks. That position's a tough one, at which almost everyone wears down. And Cox is banged up and didn't play as much Sunday as he normally does. But I think his overall body of work this year edges out Joseph's at this point. First half of the season, Joseph was the No. 1 at this position in the division. At this point, I think that honor goes to Cofield.
  • Redskins fans get mad about fullback, and trust me, I think Darrel Young is a great player. But while Hynoski doesn't touch the ball the couple or three times a game that Young does, he's a road-grader of a blocker in the run game, and Young only plays 3/4 as many snaps as Hynoski does. It's close, and they're both great, but overall I think Hynoski's been the better player in 2012. I like both players a lot. Wish one of them played cornerback or safety, so I could put them both on the team.
  • No one returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown in this division in 2011, but after Damaris Johnson took a punt back for Philly on Sunday, two players have done so this year. I said forever that the first player to run one back would get the spot, and Harris was the first. After Johnson scored, though, I had to think about it. Overall, Harris' stats on punt returns allow him to keep the job.
  • And I almost put Alex Henery in at kicker, but Tynes still has him 32-22 in field goals and I can't forget that I saw Henery miss an extra point.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

NFC East Pro Bowl voting update

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
3:17
PM ET
Updated Pro Bowl voting results are in (we get the top five current vote-getters at every position), and as you might expect in a down year for the division, NFC East representation is a little light.

These are the fan votes, remember, which count for one-third of the selection process. Players and coaches each get one-third as well, and their voting is done later in the season. If you want to vote, this is the link. I'd suggest blocking out some time.

Looking at the voting numbers so far, there are just a couple of places where I take issue on NFC East-related matters:

I don't think the New York Giants' David Baas is a top-five NFC center, though he's running second in the voting. I do think the Washington Redskins' Will Montgomery is, and he's not in the top five.

I would rank both the Giants' Will Beatty and the Redskins' Trent Williams among the conference's top five tackles to this point. Neither is in the top five in voting.

Evan Mathis is likely being hurt by the overall horrendous performance of the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line on which he plays, but I still don't think there's a better run-blocking guard in the league. Mathis is not in the top five of the voting.

Anthony Spencer deserves more love for the way he's playing outside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys this year. His teammate, DeMarcus Ware, is second in the OLB voting behind Clay Matthews. And it's a crowded field with Aldon Smith, Chad Greenway and Lance Briggs in the 3-5 spots. But Spencer is having a year worthy of this discussion.

Otherwise, hard to argue too much. The Giants are doing well in the voting, as you'd expect a Super Bowl champion to do, with top-five guys at quarterback, wide receiver, fullback, guard, center, defensive end and kicker. Both of our division's excellent fullbacks get recognition. The only position leaders in the NFC East are Ware, who has one of the two starting OLB spots, the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who ranks second at defensive end, and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's the leading vote-getter among wide receivers so far. And it's good to see the Redskins' Lorenzo Alexander represented for his special-teams work.

The list of current top-five Pro Bowl vote-getters from the NFC East:

QUARTERBACK

4. Robert Griffin III, Redskins

5. Eli Manning, Giants

RUNNING BACK

5. Alfred Morris, Redskins

WIDE RECEIVER

1. Victor Cruz, Giants

FULLBACK

3. Henry Hynoski, Giants

5. Darrel Young, Redskins

TIGHT END

4. Jason Witten, Cowboys

GUARD

4. Chris Snee, Giants

CENTER

2. David Baas, Giants

DEFENSIVE END

2. Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

2. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

KICKER

2. Lawrence Tynes, Giants

SPECIAL TEAMS

4. Lorenzo Alexander, Redskins

All-NFC East Team: Week 13 update

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
9:15
AM ET
At this point in the season, there aren't too many week-to-week changes on the All-NFC East roster. By the time most of these guys have put 11 games on tape, there's not a lot that can happen in one particular week to effect major swings. However, there are some races that have been close, some players who have been playing better at certain positions and closing in on spots, and so you do see some tweaks on this week's team.

Giants safety Kenny Phillips, for instance, gets his spot back even though he couldn't finish Sunday night's game after missing the previous six with a knee injury. Phillips seems fine to go Monday night in Washington, and while Stevie Brown did a nice job in his absence, Phillips showed Sunday that he's a game-changing kind of player who has a positive effect on all three levels of the defense. He's outplayed Brown this year when he's been on the field, and now that he's back Perry Fewell and Tom Coughlin had no qualms about giving him his spot back. Neither did I.

Anyway, the disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Bryce Brown isn't on it.

Here is this week's team, which includes four changes, all on defense. After the team, I'll offer a few more thoughts.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Bryant)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Beatty)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Barry Cofield, Redskins (Joseph, Fletcher Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Perry Riley, Redskins (Ryans, Bruce Carter)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (Amukamara, Josh Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Giants (Rolle, Stevie Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Moorman)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)

Cofield's development as a nose tackle since signing in Washington prior to 2011 has been impressive, and his increased comfort level at the position is starting to show up as he's dominating up front. The Redskins' defense has played much better since its Week 10 bye, and Cofield has emerged as one of its anchors. Cox has played very well as a rookie in Philadelphia, and the change at the DT spot is more about Cofield playing better than it is about any drop-off in Cox's performance. It also has nothing to do with the fact that Cox left Monday night's game with an injury.

You know I haven't been able to feel good about the cornerback position on this team for two years now, since no one in the division has played it very well. But Wilson's had too many out-and-out bad games, and while he's covered well for the most part his mistakes can get too egregious. So I'm giving the spot to Dallas' exciting rookie, Claiborne, for this week in the hope that he doesn't do something Sunday night to make me look bad. He's had his mistakes too, don't get me wrong. I was there the day he kept getting called offside in Philadelphia. But again, the level of competition at cornerback in the NFC East isn't top-notch, and Claiborne has shown enough flashes of the ability that made him the No. 1 defensive player in this year's draft.

At inside linebacker, Riley was never far behind Carter, and with Carter getting hurt on Thanksgiving, Riley ascends to Sean Lee's former spot. London Fletcher's protégé looks like a long-term keeper in Washington.

For those who aren't regular readers: Yes, I know Beatty plays left tackle for the Giants. But in the absence of a worthy right tackle candidate this year, I've moved him to that side to recognize excellent seasons he and Williams are having as the division's top tackles. Plus, he has played one game there, so technically I'm in the clear.

And one more thing: I spent a lot of time looking at kicker, trying to see if the excellent seasons Dan Bailey and Alex Henery are having in Dallas and Philadelphia merited a change there. And yeah, I looked at Kai Forbath after that huge clutch kick he made for the Redskins on Thanksgiving. But Tynes has done nothing to deserve losing the spot, and he's kicked more field goals than any of them. It's a banner year for kickers in the NFC East, but Tynes is still having the best year of any of them.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 12 update

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:17
AM ET
Not too many changes on this week's All-Division team. Just two, in fact. Dez Bryant has overtaken teammate Miles Austin for one of the wide receiver spots as his performance week over week has begun to exceed Austin's. And Brian Moorman is having a great year as the Cowboys' punter. Though he has eight fewer punts than the Giants' Steve Weatherford has, Moorman has four more inside the 20, one more inside the 10, four more fair catches and zero touchbacks to Weatherford's six. Moorman is your new All-NFC East punter.

The disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Aldrick Robinson isn't on it.

Here's the list, and a few thoughts afterwards, but again, not many, since there are only the two changes.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Miles Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Beatty)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Joseph, Cox)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Bruce Carter, Cowboys (Ryans, Carter)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Brian Moorman, Cowboys (Steve Weatherford)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Harris)

If you were reading last week, you remember I explained why Giants left tackle Beatty is our right tackle -- since he's playing lights-out and there are no good right tackle candidates in the division. Also why Harris gets the punt return spot -- because he actually ran one back for a touchdown, something no one else in the division has done in the past two seasons. All else feels pretty self-explanatory.

All-NFC East Team: Week 11 update

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
9:53
AM ET
Back to our regular format this week after last week's dalliance as part of a league-wide midseason report. Not a lot has changed, especially at quarterback, where no one seems to be challenging Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III for the lead spot. Perhaps young Nick Foles can make a run. Or maybe Eli Manning gets it together after his bye. And Tony Romo's schedule is soft the rest of the way, in case you hadn't heard, so you never know.

The disclaimer that no one ever reads: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a list of the players who performed the best in this past week. That's why Andre Brown is not on it.

Anyway, to the team, with my comments to follow -- especially on the tweak I felt necessary to make on the offensive line.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right* tackle: Will Beatty, Giants (Todd Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Linval Joseph, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles (Joseph, Jay Ratliff)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Spencer)

Inside linebacker: DeMeco Ryans, Eagles; Bruce Carter, Cowboys (Ryans, Sean Lee)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Steve Weatherford, Giants (Weatherford)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Dwayne Harris, Cowboys (Brandon Banks)
  • First, the offensive line. Plain fact is, I don't have a right tackle. Herremans, who's had the spot all year, is out for the season. Neither David Diehl nor Sean Locklear in New York deserve the spot, nor does Tyler Polumbus in Washington or obviously Doug Free in Dallas. What I do have is two left tackles playing as well as any in the league -- Williams in Washington and Beatty in New York. So, since this is my team and I make the rules, I'm making Beatty my starting right tackle even though he's played left in all but one game this year. It's a way of recognizing his stellar performance without elevating him past Williams, who I think is outperforming him. And with the right tackle spot basically vacant, it made sense to me.
  • And punt returner! Yes, I have said since the middle of last season that the first guy to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown during my time on this blog would win the spot by default, even if it were a big, burly lineman who caught a line drive and got lucky. Harris is not that, but on Sunday he did become the first NFC East player since DeSean Jackson in 2010 to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown. So, by the arbitrary rule I made up, he gets the spot.
  • Carter has played so well in Dallas that he's making up for the loss of Lee to injury, and he takes Lee's spot on the team since Lee hasn't played in weeks. Man, when the Cowboys pick an inside linebacker in the second round, they don't mess it up, huh?
  • Cox over Ratliff was a tough call, but the kid's been incredible, and he was a standout player for me in Sunday's game. Close call on who's having the better season.
  • Thought about Chris Chester at right guard over Snee, who had a rough game in Cincinnati.
  • Thought about Dez Bryant over Austin at wide receiver, but Austin still has more yards and touchdowns.
  • Wilson keeps his cornerback spot. He's been a fine cover corner this year with one or two spectacularly bad exceptions. I'm sorry, but when I watch those Dallas corners, I don't see what's so great about they way they're playing.

Not much else of real controversy, I don't think, but I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 8 update

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
10:29
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None of the NFC East's quarterbacks played especially well this weekend, so there's no change at the most scrutinized position on our All-Division Team. We did have some changes this week, including an interesting one at outside linebacker and the first in quite a while on the offensive line.

More on all of that later. First, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an All-Division Team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a rundown of the best individual performances from the past week. That's why Cedric Thornton isn't on it.

Here's this week's update to the team, and my explanations are at the bottom:

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (Cruz, DeSean Jackson)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Martellus Bennett)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Chester, Redskins (Chris Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Linval Joseph, Giants (Jenkins, Joseph)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Cowboys (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles (Lee, Ryans)

Cornerback: Prince Amukamara, Giants; Josh Wilson, Redskins (Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie)

Safety: Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Rueben Randle)
  • How good are the Cowboys' linebackers? They occupy three of the four linebacker spots on this week's team, and one of them didn't even play this week and is out for the season with a foot injury. Lee won't be on this list forever, and the guy who's pushing hardest for his spot is Washington's Perry Riley, but his overall body of work this season is still better than that of any inside linebacker in the division but Ryans, so in spite of his injury he keeps the spot.
  • As for outside linebacker, yeah. Kerrigan was one of the best defensive players in the league in September. He was not the same player in October, and Spencer has played at an extremely high level. He still doesn't get as much pressure on the quarterback as you'd like your 3-4 outside linebackers to get, but he's a wonder in the run game. And with Lee out, especially, that's invaluable.
  • Austin has kind of been threatening Jackson's spot at wide receiver for a while now, and with the Eagles' passing game going nowhere Jackson (who's having perhaps his finest season as a receiver) slips behind him. They have an identical number of catches (34), and Austin has 37 more yards and three more touchdowns.
  • Washington's Darrel Young was a fixture at the fullback spot last year and early this year, but what Hynoski is doing as a blocker in New York is on another level. He and Bennett have been huge in the run game, though Witten takes over Bennett's tight end spot this week due to the rapidly increasing gap in their relative productivity as receivers.
  • Been thinking for a while about Chester at right guard, and watching his performance against the Steelers on Sunday finally convinced me to pull the trigger. Almost pulled it at left tackle, too, where the Giants' Will Beatty has been excellent.
  • Josh Wilson got his cornerback spot after Rodgers-Cromartie's lousy game Sunday. Wilson overall has been much better this year than that one play at the end of the Giants' loss showed. He lost his spot last week to Amukamara, and now he's back at the expense of another September star whose October was less inspiring.
  • If I needed a big kick made and I had to pick someone in the division, I'd pick Dallas' Dan Bailey. He's also better than Tynes is on kickoffs. But Tynes has attempted 12 more field goals, made 11 more field goals and kicked 10 more extra points than Bailey has this year. He's almost doubled him in each category. Tynes is having an excellent season, and the sheer volume of opportunity he's received and cashed in puts him well ahead of the rest of the division's kickers.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 7 update

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
1:16
PM ET

Not a lot of changes this week to the All-Division Team. Only two, I think, and neither one is the quarterback. Both Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning are playing at an extremely high level right now, and yes, I thought about using the fact that Manning won the game against Griffin's team as the tiebreaker. But as I watched that game Sunday, for those three hours, the best player on that field was not the two-time Super Bowl MVP. He got the last laugh, sure. And everyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I feel about Manning. But as of this moment, he's a notch behind Griffin for the starting quarterback spot on the All-NFC East Team. I think this is the first week all year in which they haven't switched places, so it's that close.

Before we go on, the disclaimer that no one will read: This is an all-division team based on overall season performance to date. It is not -- repeat, NOT -- simply a position-by-position list of those who played the best this week. That's why Santana Moss isn't on it.

So as I said, only two changes this week. Not the most exciting week we've had with this. I'll explain those two changes, and offer some insight on which players nearly changed my mind, after I give you the team:

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (Last week: Griffin)

Running back: Alfred Morris, Redskins (Morris)

Wide receiver: Victor Cruz, New York Giants; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (Cruz, Jackson)

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, Giants (Brent Celek)

Fullback: Henry Hynoski, Giants (Hynoski)

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins (Williams)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Mathis)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (Montgomery)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles (Herremans)

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys (Pierre-Paul, Hatcher)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Linval Joseph, Giants (Jenkins, Joseph)

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys (Kerrigan, Ware)

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles (Lee, Ryans)

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles, Prince Amukamara, Giants (Rodgers-Cromartie, Josh Wilson)

Safety: Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown, Giants (Rolle, Brown)

Kicker: Lawrence Tynes, Giants (Tynes)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: David Wilson, Giants (Wilson)

Punt returner: Rueben Randle, Giants (Randle)
  • Bennett had the big game catching the ball, yes, and Celek was off, but Bennett was close behind to begin with. What he and Hynoski are doing as blockers, in the run game and the passing game, is absolutely invaluable to the way the Giants are playing right now.
  • And yes, Amukamara is the best cornerback in the division at this moment. Wilson is having a fine season, the final play of Sunday's game notwithstanding, but Amukamara has done absolutely nothing wrong since returning from his injuries. With Corey Webster having a down year and the Giants' secondary in need of a boost, he's performing like a first-round pick.
  • Williams holds down his spot at left tackle after holding off Pierre-Paul all day Sunday. He's playing left tackle as well as anyone in the league. His closest competition in this division is the Giants' Will Beatty.
  • Looked at Nate Livings for left guard and Chris Chester for right guard, but I still have each a notch below the guy listed at his spot. Herremans hasn't been great, but you don't have to be to beat out Doug Free, Sean Locklear and Tyler Polumbus. I did think Polumbus played a good game Sunday. But again, year-long list.
  • Thought about Miles Austin over Jackson at that receiver spot but didn't pull the trigger. Another big Ahmad Bradshaw game could have threatened Morris at running back, because of what Bradshaw brings as a blocker. But Morris is the clear running back leader in this division right now.
  • Kerrigan's had two kinda bad games in a row, and I thought about putting Dallas' Anthony Spencer there instead. (He got a sack!) Will monitor this in the coming weeks to see if Kerrigan returns to his dominant early season form.
  • I didn't think Rolle or Brown looked remarkably impressive Sunday (Brown's interception notwithstanding), but I really don't see who deserves to have taken the spots from them. Maybe Nate Allen? Meh.
  • And finally, Lee is obviously not long for this inside linebacker spot, as he's out for the year with a foot injury. The leading candidate to take the spot at this moment is Washington's Perry Riley, but we'll see how the potential replacements play in the coming weeks. It's not ridiculous to think that Lee could hold the spot for a week or two without playing. That's how good he's been.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.

All-NFC East Team: Week 1 Update

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
10:00
AM ET


One of the in-season features I really liked last year was our weekly, running All-Division Team, where we'd pick the best player at each starting position in the division and continue to update it as the weeks went along. Over the course of the year, some things changed from week to week (I could never seem to figure out cornerback, mainly because very few NFC East cornerbacks were having good years) and some players solidified their positions with consistent excellence (LeSean McCoy jumps to mind).

Anyway, it's back. We'll do this every Wednesday. And while it is meant to be an All-Star team based on cumulative season performance to date, each team has so far played only one game. So for this week only, yes, this All-Division Team is based only on the performances of the past week. This week's team includes nine Eagles (they did play very well on defense), seven Redskins, five Cowboys, five Giants, one DeMarco, one DeMarcus, one DeMeco and a Dominique.

I'll give you the team and then offer some comments at the end. Enjoy.

Quarterback: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Running back: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

Wide receiver: Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys; Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

Tight end: Martellus Bennett, New York Giants

Fullback: Darrel Young, Redskins

Left tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles

Center: Jason Kelce, Eagles

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants

Right tackle: Todd Herremans, Eagles

Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants; Jason Hatcher, Cowboys

Defensive tackle: Rocky Bernard, Giants; Fletcher Cox, Eagles

Outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins; DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles

Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eagles; Josh Wilson, Redskins

Safety: Kurt Coleman, Eagles; Antrel Rolle, Giants

Kicker: Billy Cundiff, Redskins

Punter: Chas Henry, Eagles

Kick returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins
  • Quarterback was obviously very close between Griffin and the Cowboys' Tony Romo, who both had excellent games in big road victories. Griffin edged out Romo because of his rushing yards and a little bit of added degree of difficulty for the venue in which he won. Both quarterbacks excelled at keeping plays alive and finding success downfield in difficult circumstances. Each handled the rush well. Could have flipped a coin.
  • Maclin was a close call over Washington's Pierre Garcon for that receiver spot, but Maclin played more and caught more passes, so he got the nod.
  • Bennett might or might not continue to catch passes for the Giants, but regardless of whether he does, he's going to merit a look here each week. That guy can seriously block.
  • Williams' and Kelce's were the only performances among the offensive linemen that I thought were particularly strong. The other three offensive linemen were kind of best-of-a-bad-bunch selections on a week in which none of the lines played very well. The Eagles' linemen do stand out at bit when you watch the games back, though. I wonder how much of that is the difference between Howard Mudd's blocking schemes, which require linemen to push upfield and establish new blocking points, and a more standard scheme. Washington's line played okay, and I thought about Will Montgomery at center over Kelce.
  • Defensive end was tricky. Pierre-Paul didn't get a sack, but he was clearly the most disruptive player among the 4-3 ends this week and required an overload of attention from the Cowboys. Hatcher gets the other spot over Jason Babin, which I admit is rare -- a 3-4 end beating out a 4-3 end on a team like this. But that word "disruptive" again is the best to describe Hatcher's night against the Giants.
  • Ditto Kerrigan at outside linebacker. What a game he had.
  • Rolle played the run very well, which is something the Dallas safeties didn't do in the same game. Now, maybe they weren't asked to. I understand that's possible. But Rolle's individual performance deserves the recognition.
  • Fine debut for Cundiff, who showed on kickoffs why they got him. Six of his nine kickoffs were touchbacks.

So that's the first one of these. I welcome your thoughts.

NFC East teams must look to the lines

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
12:30
PM ET
allas Cowboys Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLike its NFC East rivals, Dallas is shuffling and searching for ways to solidify its offensive line.
The NFC East leads the league in hype. The huge media markets in which the teams play, the history of success, the rivalries ... all of it combines to create a perception that the NFC East is the best, most competitive and toughest division in the NFL. That the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants play in it -- and are not the clear-cut favorites to win it again this season -- only adds to the perception, as does the growing excitement over an NFL regular-season opener between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys 16 nights from tonight.

But while Giants-Cowboys is fun, and each of those teams has something pretty intense going with the division's other two teams -- the Giants' recent struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys' longstanding rivalry with the Washington Redskins -- the stats don't back up the NFC East as the league's toughest division anymore. The division is, by many measures, coming off its worst season ever. Last season was the first regular season in NFC East history in which no team won at least 10 games. Only the Giants finished over .500, and they gave up more points than they scored. Their Super Bowl run might have saved the division's honor, but it also disguised the troubling fact that the NFC East is no longer the Beast it used to be.

A large part of the reason for this, I believe, is the state of the division's offensive lines. We all know offensive line play is important, but in the NFC East these days, concern about the lines affects too many things. Teams that are strong on the line can control games. Teams that aren't cannot. Eli Manning and the Giants have been talking for months about wanting to not have to come back in the fourth quarter as much as they did last season, and the best way to avoid that is to control games from the start. Given the issues with their offensive line, they could find that a challenge once again.

But they're not alone. As we look ahead to 2012 and start assessing everyone's biggest questions, offensive line stands out as an issue for each of the NFC East's four teams. To wit:

  • Giants left tackle Will Beatty is unproven and can't get healthy, and they're thin at tackle in general. Additionally, David Baas was a disappointment in his first season in New York, and they haven't seen Kevin Boothe as a full-season starter yet. The Giants finished 32nd in the league last season in rushing offense because of a line that couldn't get any push. Pro Football Focus graded them the 29th-best run-blocking team in the league, and the worst pass-blocking team in the league. Good for them for overcoming it all and winning the Super Bowl, but it remains an issue insufficiently addressed.
  • The Cowboys' offensive line has been the dominant story of their training camp -- specifically their struggles at center, where Phil Costa has been banged up and the potential backups and replacements for him have had trouble snapping the ball to the quarterback. The Cowboys also are trying to find guards who can protect Tony Romo against the interior pass rush better than they did last season. And starting tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had to switch sides because of Free's struggles on the left last season. PFF had Dallas as the 15th-best pass-blocking team in 2011 and the 11th-best run blocking one, so it could be worse. But they need everyone healthy and playing together to see if they have a chance.
  • The Redskins likely were planning to use some of the $18 million in salary cap money the league took from them on the eve of free agency to upgrade the offensive line. But they couldn't, obviously, so they're still dealing with Jammal Brown's hip injury, Kory Lichtensteiger's knee injury and Will Montgomery's limitations as a center in their zone-blocking run scheme. The Redskins ranked 26th in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking last season according to those PFF grades, and they also made no significant change or improvement.
  • After a rocky start, the Eagles had a good season on the line in 2011. They ranked second in the league in run-blocking and 14th in pass-blocking. But they also lost left tackle Jason Peters, their best lineman and one of the best in the league, to an Achilles injury in the offseason. As good as the other four starters on their line are, the Eagles could struggle to replace what Peters gave them last season, and so far they have not figured out whether Demetress Bell or King Dunlap replaces him as the starter.

The NFC has no shortage of star power. It has three great quarterbacks and one, Washington rookie Robert Griffin III, who's getting as much hype as any of the other three these days. It has some of the great wide receivers in the league in veterans such as Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and DeSean Jackson as well as rising stars such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles' LeSean McCoy ranks with the game's great running backs. And on defense, of course, the division is known for its great pass-rushers. Each team can rattle off names that give opposing quarterbacks heartburn. DeMarcus Ware. Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck. Trent Cole. Jason Babin. Brian Orakpo.

All of that makes the NFC East very exciting. But very often in the NFL, excitement and hype can conceal issues of quality. And if the NFC East really wants to be the best division in football again, it's not the quarterbacks or the wide receivers or even the pass-rushers that will bring it there. The NFC East's teams all need to start paying more attention to their offensive lines, because as those continue to erode, so will the division's annual claim to Beastliness.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins review

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
10:51
AM ET

Scout's Eye
When getting ready for this game, there was no doubt in my mind that the Washington Redskins would give the Cowboys their best shot. Defensively, the Redskins were still playing hard despite being put in terrible position by their offense. The Redskins' offense was as bad as any as I've studied this season, and the majority of their struggles had to do with the quarterback play of Rex Grossman and John Beck.

I really felt the Cowboys defense would be able to take advantage of how poorly Grossman had played since being put back into the lineup after Beck proved he couldn't handle the job. But when you struggle to get consistent pressure and you struggle with communication problems, even poorly playing quarterbacks can enjoy success.

Redskins' receivers had too much room to operate


For the previous two weeks, the Cowboys secondary had been outstanding. Against the Redskins, however, there were too many plays where receivers had room to operate. It all really started to fall apart when Orlando Scandrick was flagged for holding after he was beaten off the line because he wasn't in good position and had to grab his man. There was another time where the Redskins spread the Cowboys' defense across the field, forcing Terence Newman to play between two receivers on the outside because Gerald Sensabaugh failed to get over in coverage and replace Abe Elam, who had blitzed. It resulted in an easy pitch and catch for Grossman.

Scandrick also failed to get his hands on David Anderson during an out-and-up route, which resulted in a nice gain for the Redskins. If Scandrick gets his hands on Anderson in the 5-yard zone, he has no shot at getting that ball.

The Redskins drove into the Cowboys' red zone, and Grossman was able to deliver a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to Jabar Gaffney. On the play, Sensabaugh thought he had inside help from Frank Walker, who was lined up at the other safety. At the snap, Gaffney runs up, nods to the outside and then gets Sensabaugh to have to try and adjust to him. Sensabaugh got turned and was unable to get back inside, and Walker wound up jumping an across-the-middle route underneath when he should've been helping Sensabaugh with Gaffney.

Loose coverage proves costly for Newman


While Scandrick and Sensabaugh had their struggles, so did Newman. He didn’t play near as aggressively as he had against Buffalo or Seattle. Maybe it had something to do with the chopped-up condition of the field and he didn't have confidence in his footing. Nevertheless, he played way too cautious on routes.

There was only one time where he drove on a ball, and that was on a pass over the middle to Anderson. Newman read it well, avoiding Anderson and knocking the ball down. Newman's problems were a result of always being four to five yards off in coverage. On third-and-11, Newman allowed Gaffney to run up the field and turn inside with plenty of room to catch the ball. Newman was a good four yards off.

There was another time where Newman got bumped off coverage when covering Donte Stallworth and couldn't rally to make the play. In previous games, Newman had been played much more physical.

Hatcher, Ratliff stand out on defense


When teams were able to run the ball against the Cowboys, it was mainly because of the poor play of the defensive ends. When the defense had success stopping the run, it was because Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore did a nice job of holding blocks at the point of attack.

If I had to give a game ball to one of these ends, I would hand it over to Jason Hatcher, who clearly outplayed former teammate and Redskins DE Stephen Bowen. Hatcher was able to get pressure several different ways. Ryan used him on twist stunts and over the guards in the nickel. Hatcher was always working his way up the field in the passing game, but he also did a nice job of stacking blockers at the point of attack.

Jay Ratliff keeps putting outstanding games together as well. He is one of those players that you really don't appreciate until you go into the lab and break his work down. Ratliff was strong at the point in the running game, overpowering center Will Montgomery several times, causing problems inside for the Redskins' zone running scheme. Ratliff was able to draw a holding call that brought back a nice gain on a pass play to tight end Logan Paulsen in the flat. In this game, the numbers were there for Ratliff, who has played well the last several weeks.

Where was Ware on game-tying drive?


Nobody appreciates the fine work of DeMarcus Ware and what he means to this team on a weekly basis more than I do. There is no questioning his talent and passion, but it's my job to point out flaws that I see during my film study. In this game, the defense allowed the Redskins to drive the ball down the field and score the game-tying touchdown. The 12-play drive -- for another weekend -- showed the Cowboys' defense couldn't close the game out, much like they couldn't against the Jets, Lions, and Patriots. On that final drive in regulation, the Redskins only doubled Ware once. On four of the plays, he was matched up against Jammal Brown. On the other eight, he went against young LT Trent Williams. The result for Ware: Not one sack or even a pressure.

Romo makes most of second-chances

Tony Romo won this game for the Cowboys, plain and simple, through his abilities to buy a second chance with his feet, think on the move and deliver a play when his team needed it the most.

There was no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys were going to have difficulties running the ball against the Redskins' defensive front. As well as DeMarco Murray had been carrying the ball, this was a game where the blocking was less than perfect and he had to fight for every yard.

Romo's reads and execution were spot on. Where he was at his best was his ability to feel the pressure and move to avoid it. Two examples were on touchdown passes to Laurent Robinson and Jason Witten.

Romo on the run: Example No. 1


Robinson did an outstanding job of getting in position to catch the ball. When the play started, it looked like Robinson was going to be brought in motion to create a bunch formation, but Romo did not bring him inside. At the snap, Robinson had to work up to the goal line and then sprint across to get Romo's attention. On the other side, Dez Bryant was jammed at the line.

With the pocket closing around him, Romo moved to his left to buy more time, and Bryant was trying to work himself free in the corner of the end zone. At the same time, Robinson is in the clear but is quickly closing ground to the Redskins corner on the other side of the field.

Romo, moving to his left, pointed to the left corner of the end zone to try and freeze the defender to that side. Bryant tried to work back that way, but Romo really was trying to create space for Robinson along the goal line.

At the moment of truth, Romo, instead of leading Robinson with the ball into the defender, throws the ball behind Robinson so he can brace for the catch. Robinson is able to adjust, make the catch and secure the touchdown.

Romo on the run: Example No. 2


On the TD pass to Witten, it was really a heady play by two veteran players.

Once again, Romo has to deal with pressure, but he's able to spin to his left to avoid the rush. Witten, on the right side of the formation, runs a curl at about 12 yards. When he turns, Witten sees Romo spinning out of the pocket, so he starts across the field to mirror the direction that his quarterback is turning.

Romo doesn't see Witten at first, but Witten makes himself available up and across the field. The Redskins had no safety help in the middle of the field where Witten attacked. Moving to his left and with pressure in his face, Romo delivered a strike to Witten, who was able to finish the play by getting to the end zone.

Less is more for DeMarco Murray


I knew it wasn't going to be easy for Murray, but the way he carried the ball was more impressive than his 250-yard effort vs. the Rams. On fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, with the Cowboys trailing 17-10, Jason Garrett decides to go for it.

On the field, Garrett has three tight ends, one wide receiver and Murray in the backfield. John Phillips is lined up as a wing to the left and comes in motion across the formation. Martellus Bennett is lined up on the line right, with Witten slightly off the line to his right. WR Robinson is wide left.

At the snap, the Redskins defense pinches down inside on both sides in an effort to clog the middle. Montrae Holland pulls from his left guard to the right. On the front side, Witten, Bennett, Tyron Smith and Kyle Kosier all block down inside to cave the edge.

Holland managed to get around the corner with Phillips out on the support. Holland pulled to block London Fletcher, but missed. Murray is now heading for the edge as Phillips loses contact with DeAngelo Hall, who is able to grab Murray in space. Murray, however, is much too strong for the cornerback and is able to finish the run by carrying Hall an extra four yards for the first down. The drive later was capped with the game-tying touchdown pass to Robinson.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins preview

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
8:39
AM ET

Scout's Eye
The last time the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys met, some eight weeks ago, the Redskins were off to a 2-0 start with an impressive opening day win against the New York Giants while the Cowboys had just evened their record to 1-1 after Tony Romo managed to steal a game in San Francisco despite a broken rib.

Blame quarterbacks for Redskins' slide


Since that meeting, the Redskins have lost five of their last six. A large part of those losses are due to the poor play of the quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck. When you study the Redskins, the first thing that comes to mind is what we had to deal with during the Dave Campo years here in Dallas when it came to the quarterbacks. During that span we wasted a lot of time trying to get quarterbacks ready to play that gave us no opportunity to win games. I am seeing a lot of the same things in Washington.

Mike Shanahan’s inability to successfully identify a quarterback has done a lot of damage to the Redskins. Time, money and draft selections have been wasted on players like Donovan McNabb, Grossman and Beck.

Any pro personnel director could tell you without hesitation that McNabb was slipping badly and Andy Reid was more than ready to move on from McNabb with Michael Vick. As much as Shanahan wanted to believe that there was still gas left in McNabb’s tank, it wasn’t the case at all. Everyone knew that except Shanahan.

As the Redskins were going through training camp, Shanahan was still in search of a quarterback and placed a call to the Dolphins about Beck, who have had their quarterback issues as well. The Dolphins were more than happy to ship Beck to the Redskins. Shanahan made his biggest mistake of the off season by not addressing the quarterback situation through the draft when he had the opportunity to do so with a top-10 selection.

Shanahan could have selected Andy Dalton, Jake Locker or Christian Ponder but instead chose to trade down and select linebacker Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue. Kerrigan has been a nice player this season but doesn’t help his quarterback situation now or in the future.

Beck has made three starts this season and has yet to win a game. As a matter of fact, Beck has an 0-7 record as an NFL starter. He plays like a quarterback that is afraid to make a mistake. You never see him really push the ball down the field. Everything Beck does is short and underneath.

Beck really struggles because he isn’t that accurate when it comes to throwing the ball at any level. He will struggle to hit receivers on the move and he will also struggle to hit them when stationary. The ball doesn’t come off his hand with any zip at all; there is no power to his game.

This is also the case of Grossman, who is back after throwing four interceptions in a loss to the Eagles. I have never been a fan of Grossman’s game because he really lacks arm strength, but I can’t question his toughness. He will stand in there and take shots.

Grossman is not the tallest or most mobile quarterback in the league, but you will see him slide in the pocket to try to help him with throwing lanes. The lack of arm strength appears when the Redskins try to throw the ball down the field.

Cowboys catch a break: No Moss


There have been too many times where Anthony Armstrong or Santana Moss get a step on a corner but have to wait on the ball because neither Grossman or Beck can get it down the field.

The Cowboys catch a huge break in this game because Moss will miss it due to a hand injury. Moss has punished the Cowboys over the years with his playmaking ability, so the fact that he is out of the lineup is a huge plus for Rob Ryan and this defense.

The Redskins generate offense in two areas.

Tight end Fred Davis is the real deal and is someone that nickel back Frank Walker and safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam are going to have to deal with. Davis doesn’t play like a traditional in line tight end. Not to say that you won’t see him inline, but the majority of his work is in the slot or flexed. Davis likes to work the middle of the field and he will be the go-to guy on third downs. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to move him around the formation and create opportunities.

Redskins also will struggle to run the ball


Shanahan will also try to run the ball against the Cowboys’ front seven. Last week against the Bills, Dallas’ run defense was outstanding when the game was in the balance. That wasn’t the case the previous games against the Eagles and Seahawks.

The Cowboys will need to be ready for running backs Ryan Torain and Roy Helu in this zone blocking attack. Torain runs the ball hard but he is really straight line and doesn’t have many moves. He will attack the hole, then lower his head to finish the run.

The back that I think is the best fit for this offense is Helu. He just plays like he has a better feel for the offense when it comes to reading the blocks, then making the cut. Torain is more about attacking the hole; Helu is more about allowing the blocks to develop then making his cut.

Helu also does a nice job of catching the ball out of the backfield. Solid, dependable hands and does a nice job of getting up the field and gaining positive yards.

I mentioned the issues that the Redskins have at quarterback, which I feel are the most important, but their offensive line -- other than left tackle Trent Williams -- really struggle, run or pass.

Left guard Maurice Hurt is the weak link of this line. He plays overextended, doesn’t adjust to twist stunts and has poor sustain. He has been nursing a knee injury and might not be active for this game. Center Will Montgomery would slide over to his spot and Erik Cook would take over at center.

Right tackle Jammal Brown has had his shares of problems when it has come to pass protection. Have seen defenders get the edge on him without many problems.

Williams can make the cut-off block on the backside and reach the front. Williams had a little trouble in the 49ers game when he and Hurt had to sort out the twist game. Both of them did not adjust all that well. Look for Rob Ryan to throw some movement stunts against this line to see if they have corrected those problems or teams will continue to take advantage of them.

Redskins' defense will create pressure


If the Redskins can ever find a way to build any type of offense, they would have a shot in this division. No matter how bad the offense plays, the Redskins defense is always there to clean up the mess.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his staff have done a nice job in the games I studied. The pressure that they have able to generate with their front seven, particularly outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Kerrigan, has been impressive.

Orakpo was the first rusher that Doug Free faced after the 49ers game, when he struggled so bad with his technique. I was told that Free was really worried about the inside rush from Orakpo and it affected him in the game. Free has been rock solid the last two weeks and appears to once again be playing with confidence.

Both Orakpo and Kerrigan are relentless rushers when coming after the quarterback, but you will also have to deal with them on the backside when running down plays. If the Cowboys’ tackles and tight ends don’t finish blocks on the backside, then Orakpo and Kerrigan will be right there to make a play.

One of the major reasons for success in this Cowboys running game has been their ability to secure blocks and allow DeMarco Murray to use his vision to make cuts when he reads it. Without those backside blocks, this running game wouldn’t be as potent.

Watch for safety Landry to key on Cowboys' rushers


In the Buffalo game, safety LaRon Landry played more in the box, almost like a linebacker. I have a feeling that Haslett will probably try to do the same to see if he can have some success stopping Murray. Garrett can counter much like he did last week against the Bills -- throw the ball early in the game to get them out of that.

The Redskins have some run players in nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Adam Carriker. Cofield shows the ability to get up field quickly off the snap and be disruptive in the backfield. Will be interested to see if Cofield lines up over Montrae Holland, who has struggled with quickness in the past.

Carriker plays with more brute force and power than great technique. When Tyron Smith has had his troubles, it’s been against ends that play with power. But to Smith’s advantage, this will be the second time that he has faced Carriker, so he can go back and study how he needs to attack him.

Former Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen is not playing as well against the run as he did when he was here. There is something about Bowen that leads me to believe that he really was an outstanding nickel or backup player, and the more snaps that he has to play, the more he will struggle. Bowen can still generate some pass rush, but he isn’t nearly as affective as he was when here.

At inside linebacker, the ageless London Fletcher is still around the ball a great deal. When in position to make a tackle, he can get the job done.

I was not impressed with Rocky McIntosh at all. I saw too many times where he was beaten in coverage or he missed a tackle. In the 49ers and Bills games, he was really bad in both those areas. McIntosh struggled much more than Fletcher at getting off blocks.

Cowboys should target Barnes in Redskins' secondary


In the secondary, the Redskins will use three safeties when they are all healthy, which at this time they are not. Landry has missed the first two days of practice with an Achilles injury, but he should play. O.J. Atogwe has been dealing with knee and toe problems and Reed Doughty has a chest issue.

The best combination for the Redskins is when Atogwe and Landry are the starters. Doughty will try to be physical in the run but doesn’t cover all that well.

Of the two corners, Josh Wilson knows how to play the fade and doesn’t give you much room. He also runs very well. DeAngelo Hall likes to bait quarterbacks into throws and will drive on routes. Have been told that he hasn’t been playing well this year, but in the games I studied, I didn’t see that. The weak link in the group is nickel Kevin Barnes, who needs to be attacked.

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