NFC East: 2011 Week 3 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 18, Redskins 16

September, 26, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A couple of thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 18-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football."

What it means: Something very similar for the Cowboys to what the Giants' victory meant to them Sunday in Philadelphia. The Cowboys are shredded on offense right now, with a jumpy, mistake-prone offensive line and very limited options at receiver. And yet, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo found a way to move the offense down the field and into field goal range six times -- enough to deliver a win the Cowboys had no business picking up. Banking a division win like this at a time when their team is not whole is pure gold for a team like the Cowboys or the Giants, each of whom find themselves a gritty, gutsy 2-1. For the Redskins, this game is a missed opportunity. They had the Cowboys where they wanted them but were unable to generate enough offense in the fourth quarter to put it away. Credit the Cowboys' defense, but Washington's offense doesn't have big-time playmakers, and it cost them a win they should have had.

Romo needs help: I don't know whether Romo played a bad game or whether he was up against impossible circumstances. He didn't have top receiver Miles Austin, out with a hamstring injury. He really didn't have much of his other star receiver, Dez Bryant, who's clearly far less than 100 percent due to his thigh injury and was in and out all night before catching a big third-down pass in the final minutes. The Redskins knew Romo wanted to throw to tight end Jason Witten, so they covered up Witten all night. Left tackle Doug Free had a bad game. Center Phil Costa had an awful game, botching several quarterback/center exchanges and getting an earful from a clearly frustrated Romo. If the Cowboys can't support Romo better than they did Monday night, he's going to have to keep pulling miracles out of his bag, as he basically has done the past two weeks.

Washington's offense is boring, but basically works: The Redskins' offensive game plan for this season appears to be simple: Run the ball, run out the clock and stay away from mistakes. It's not a lot of fun, but it doesn't have to be. They rely on running back Tim Hightower, who's an asset as a runner, a receiver and a pass-blocker. When he needs to come off the field, they bring in spry rookie Roy Helu. Rex Grossman throws downfield some, but it's clear they want to limit his ability to hurt them with a bad decision and/or throw. They protected him well for most of the night, with second-year left tackle Trent Williams holding his own against DeMarcus Ware until Ware broke through for a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter. The Redskins built up the defense this offseason and likely will target some offensive pieces next year. But for now, this ball-control plan is what they're comfortable with, and it's doing what they need it to do, even if it did come up just short Monday night.

Run on the Redskins?: The Cowboys couldn't do anything in the run game in the first half, but in the second, holes started opening up and Felix Jones started hitting them and doing major damage. It felt similar to last week's Redskins game, in which the Arizona Cardinals couldn't run the ball against them in the first half but then got Beanie Wells going in the second. The Redskins are thin on the defensive line with rookie Jarvis Jenkins out for the year with a knee injury, and I wonder if their linemen are playing more snaps than the coaching staff would like them to play and maybe wearing down in the second half. Just a theory, and something to watch.

Sound in the kicking game: Other than the field goal the Redskins had blocked as a result of a bad snap, the kickers and punters put on an absolute show. Redskins punter Sav Rocca and Cowboys punter Mat McBriar are both having stellar years, and their skills were on display all night as they helped determine field position. And Washington's Graham Gano and Dallas' Dan Bailey combined for nine field goals as neither offense was able to muster much of anything in the red zone.

What's next: The Cowboys are likely going to need to generate more offense Sunday when they host Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the high-flying, 3-0 Detroit Lions. That's a tougher team to outscore than the Redskins are. Washington heads to St. Louis, where the Rams have yet to get their season off the ground and are 0-3 including losses to the Eagles and the Giants during their early-season tour of the NFC East. The Redskins should be able to get to 3-1 and put this tough loss behind them.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 29, Eagles 16

September, 25, 2011

PHILADELPHIA -- Some thoughts from the New York Giants' victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon:

What it means: Everything to the Giants, who'd lost their past six games to the Eagles and were still smarting from the Week 15 collapse that cost them the playoffs last year. Badly outmanned in the game and outplayed for much of it, the Giants stuck to their game plan and found a way to pick up a critical win that no one (myself included) imagined they could get. What it means for the Eagles is huge trouble, as quarterback Michael Vick left the game with a broken right (non-throwing) hand, Jeremy Maclin injured his hamstring and the defense gave up three huge plays that cost them the game and dropped them to 1-2.

T-O-U-G-H: You absolutely have to hand it to the Giants (no pun intended, seriously). There was no reason for them to even be in this game, and they managed to win it. This was their best game of the year so far, and for much of it they were undisciplined and ugly. But they are 2-1, plain and simple, and if they're going to ultimately be healthier than they are right now, you have to believe banking these wins while they were outmanned and playing poorly is going to be a huge benefit.

Same old, really bad problem: The Eagles will say the play on which Vick broke his hand wasn't a symptom of their inability to protect him, as he was trying to stuff the ball into the end zone on a sneak. And they'll be right. But that will camouflage the fact that, for the bulk of the game, the Giants were able to deliver hit after hit on Vick as per their ideal game plan. The best way the Eagles found to protect Vick was to run the ball with LeSean McCoy, which they did with great success even after getting behind 14-0. But for some reason, when Mike Kafka came into the game and it was still within reach with eight minutes to go, they called a long pass that was intercepted. It remains to be seen whether Vick will miss next week's game or many more, but don't be surprised if Vince Young is the starter instead of Kafka in Vick's absence. The Eagles' offense relies on its ability to make big plays, and they don't appear to trust Kafka to make them.

Tables turned: The Giants' defensive coaches preached all week that the most important thing they could do was limit big plays. They did it, and the Eagles didn't. They got beaten on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs when overmatched rookie linebacker Casey Matthews bit on a great Eli Manning play fake, and Victor Cruz beat them with a pair of long touchdown catches, the second against marquee free-agent signing Nnamdi Asomugha. The inability of the Giants' receivers to get open with Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon on the shelf hurt the Giants for much of the middle part of the game, but they got open just enough to take advantage of the Eagles' inability to generate anything in their passing game.

Short-yardage woes: The Eagles were stuffed at the goal line twice after long drives, settling instead for field goals in a game they had several chances to put away. Credit the Giants' defensive line for the big stops, but Andy Reid's play calling at the goal line left a lot to be desired and resulted in a very odd development -- Eagles fans actually booing after the field goal that gave their team a 16-14 lead!

What's next: The Giants travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals on Sunday and will hope to have wide receiver Mario Manningham back from his concussion so things come a little easier for them in the passing game. The Eagles are home Sunday to face the San Francisco 49ers, who pose yet another tough test for their shaky pass protection.