Friday, September 9, 2011
Final Word: NFC East
By Dan Graziano
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:
Tim Hightower should have more opportunities to run the ball in Washington.
All Along the Hightower. Over the past three seasons, the Arizona Cardinals were 6-1 in games in which Tim Hightower carried the ball at least 14 times. What jumps out, given that winning percentage, is that there were only seven such games in three years. The Cardinals were a passing team for the first two of those years under Kurt Warner and were using Beanie Wells in a lead-back role last year, so Hightower's chances were limited. It should not be thus in Washington, where I'd expect Mike Shanahan to feed Hightower the ball early and often in an attempt to help keep the Giants' pass rush off newly minted starting quarterback Rex Grossman. Hightower also has 10 fumbles over the past two years, so keep an eye out for that and don't be surprised to see Ryan Torain and/or Roy Helu factor into the run game if Washington gets enough chances to run it.
Giants love Washington. What did Justin Tuck mean Wednesday when he told Redskins beat writers he felt the Giants had the Redskins' number? Well, New York has won five straight games against the Redskins in Washington -- the Redskins' longest home losing streak to the Giants since they lost seven straight from 1957-63. In the five games of the current streak, the Giants have outscored the Redskins by a total of 157-71, or an average of about 31-14 per game.
The Eagles are coming for Sam Bradford. Philadelphia rushed five or more defenders on 41.2 percent of their defensive plays last year. That was the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL and it could go up this season, given the stated commitment of new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and new defensive line coach Jim Washburn to be more aggressive up the field. Opposing quarterbacks hit on 51.7 percent of their passes and gained 5.7 yards per attempt when the Eagles rushed five or more. Oddly, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford saw five or more rushers more than any other quarterback in the league last year. He completed 57 percent of his passes for 6.6 yards per attempt against five or more rushers.
DeMarcus Ware will make Rex Ryan jealous. As great as the Jets' defense has been under Ryan, he has not had a player remotely like the Cowboys' star outside linebacker. Ware has recorded at least 11 sacks in each of the past five seasons -- an NFL-best 72 over that span. During that same five-year stretch, the Jets have not had a single player record 11 sacks in a season. Their highest individual total in that stretch was Bryan Thomas' 8.5 sacks in 2006.
I expect the Giants to throw it early. I know, the Giants want to run in general, but if they're watching tape of their old buddy Barry Cofield and the Redskins' run defense from the preseason, they'll see Washington has toughened up in the middle. By contrast, with starting safety LaRon Landry out and cornerback Josh Wilson still finding his way, the secondary looks as though it could be the weak point of the Redskins' defense. If the Giants' line can keep Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan away from Eli Manning, I'm thinking Manning looks downfield early in an effort to establish the lead that eventually helps the Giants run.