Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011
NFC East Stock Watch

By Dan Graziano

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The Philadelphia Eagles' playoff chances. Three straight weeks, three straight blown fourth-quarter leads, and none worse than Sunday's giveaway to the 49ers that dropped the Eagles to 1-3. Now come the major injuries, specifically to Trent Cole and Jason Peters. Playing without their best defensive lineman and their best offensive lineman for the next couple of weeks could be the thing that does in the Eagles for good. I don't see how their run defense can hope to stop Buffalo's Fred Jackson this week, and without Cole, defenses can key on Jason Babin and keep the pressure off Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Eagles will have to hope to win a shootout in Buffalo, and the following week in Washington, I don't see how they keep Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan off of Michael Vick. Philadelphia is looking at the very strong possibility of being 1-5 at the bye, and that would mean its season is over.

2. Tony Romo, again. He's apparently got to be on one half of this list or the other every week, and after he threw three second-half interceptions to cost the Dallas Cowboys their game against the Lions, he's back on the fans' bad side. People have asked me if the Cowboys should get a new quarterback, and I say, "Yeah. They should get the guy who played for them in Weeks 2 and 3." The "Romo Coaster" hit a dip this week, but it's sure to be back up (and back down) again several times before the end of this season.

3. Rex Grossman. As the Washington Redskins embark on their bye week, there is understandable concern about their quarterback situation. Grossman seems determined to throw interceptions that keep games closer than they should be -- even when he's given very limited opportunity to do so. The Redskins are a run-first team that looks as though it would be a run-only team if it could be. Grossman is likely to cost them a game at some point, and when he does, don't be surprised to see John Beck get some time at the position.

RISING

Victor Cruz
Victor Cruz followed up his breakout performance against the Eagles with six catches for 98 yards against the Cardinals.
1. Victor Cruz. He was an official's rule interpretation away from serious goat status Sunday in Arizona, but the call went his way. And while his two-touchdown effort the week before in Philadelphia was his coming-out party, Sunday may have been even more significant. Eli Manning looked his way more, and he caught six passes for 98 yards. Manning has been looking for a receiver he can trust other than Hakeem Nicks, and he seems to like what he sees in Cruz. If that continues, and Cruz develops as a reliable threat, the New York Giants may have found their answer to Manning's preseason concern about the changes to the receiving corps.

2. Ryan Torain. Kept stuck to the bench for the season's first three weeks while Tim Hightower and Roy Helu carried the ball for the Redskins, Torain broke out for 135 rush yards on 19 carries in relief of an injured Hightower on Sunday. Torain's injury history and Mike Shanahan's well-known preference for shuffling running backs keeps you from projecting Torain as a breakout star the rest of the way. But after the way he ran Sunday, it's going to be hard to send him back to the bench.

3. Tyron Smith. Usually the risers come from winning teams, and Smith did up the sack to Willie Young that killed the Cowboys' final drive. But he'd played a brilliant game to that point, and the way the Cowboys' rookie right tackle has played so far this year deserves a mention. A question mark coming into the season, Smith has handled every one of his assignments with a veteran's skill. He kept the Redskins' pass rush in check in Week 3, and until the very end, he performed admirably Sunday against Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' fearsome defensive line. Don't be surprised if Smith and left tackle Doug Free end up trading places on that line before long. Smith clearly has all the ability he needs to be a top tackle in the league.