Friday, December 4, 2009
Final Word: NFC East
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13.
The Giants can't afford to have a breakdown against Miles Austin. The Saints and Eagles were able to go up top against the Giants' secondary, using double moves to get receivers wide open downfield.
Can the Giants' injury-riddled secondary keep Miles Austin in check?
Austin can beat you deep, but he can also turn a quick slant into a 60-yard touchdown because of his strength and speed. Whether it's Corey Webster or Aaron Ross matched up with Austin, they have to make sure to finish tackles. I'm sure Tom Coughlin has watched film of how the Packers and Redskins slowed down the Cowboys and he'll attempt to keep everything in front of the defense.
If the Eagles beat the Falcons on the road, I think it will be because of the defense. The Eagles aren't very familiar with Chris Redman, but I know they appreciate his inexperience. If Trent Cole and Juqua Parker can bring the heat from their defensive end positions, it will take some of the pressure off of a beat-up secondary. I smell a five- or six-sack game coming because I don't have faith in Redman.
I also think there will be an opportunity for Asante Samuel to pad his growing interception total. Linebacker Joe Mays will learn from his mistakes against the Bears and make some plays against the Falcons. Atlanta desperately needs this game because it plays the Saints next week. Lose to the Eagles and the Falcons will be 6-6.
Trap game alert. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the Saints have struggled to beat teams such as the Panthers (4-7) and Rams (1-10). Say what you will about the Skins, but they have refused to mail it in on Jim Zorn and his band of playcallers. With Albert Haynesworth's likely return, a defense that has played really well will become more formidable. Obviously, the Skins can't get in a shootout with the Saints. But if they can pressure Drew Brees into a couple of mistakes and then play well on offense, I don't think the upset is out of the question.
A win over the Saints won't save Zorn's job, but it would be a much-needed lift for the team. I like how Jason Campbell's looking for Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas quite a bit. The quarterback has sort of relaxed and he's making some big-time plays in the passing game. Now he just needs for Sherm Lewis & Co. to open it up a little more -- especially in the red zone.
Is Doug Free ready? I think we're about to find out in this game whether Cowboys right tackle Doug Free is ready for prime time. The Giants love to rotate their defensive ends, so Free could see Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. It will be important for Free to withstand what will be a furious attempt to pressure Tony Romo in the early going. The Cowboys can offer some help to Free with tight ends and running backs, but at some point, you'll see him in a one-on-one matchup with an elite pass-rusher. The Giants definitely want to exploit that situation if it occurs.
Can the Eagles' offense function without DeSean Jackson? Well, we're about to find out. Jackson (concussion) is the most dangerous offensive weapon for the Eagles, but Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin both made clutch plays in his absence in last Sunday's win over the Redskins.
I've seen the Falcons' secondary in person and it's not much to look at. Their cornerbacks aren't very physical and they're susceptible to the double moves that Marty Mornhinweg likes to use. I also think Brent Celek will have a big bounce-back game after some uncharacteristic drops against the Skins. If the Eagles want any chance at a home playoff game, they need to take care of this one.