NFC East: Midseason 09 NFC East

Video: Midseason NFC East Report Card

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
2:20
PM ET
video

ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton gives you his midseason grades for each team in the NFC East.

Midseason Report: Giants

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Despite starting the season strong, New York quarterback Eli Manning has struggled in recent games.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 3. This week: 15.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: After losing four consecutive games, the Giants have fallen two games behind the Cowboys in the division. They were 5-0 before the losing streak began. Fortunately for the Giants, a lot of teams we thought would be in the running for a wild-card spot are struggling. The Falcons lost two straight before beating the Redskins. The Packers can't protect Aaron Rodgers and they now stand at 4-4. So the Giants still have time to turn things around. I think 10-6 is what it will take to make the playoffs. And despite what we've seen from them in recent weeks, I think the Giants are capable of finishing 5-2.

Disappointments: It's hard to know where to start, but I think quarterback Eli Manning has to be near the top. He was solid in the loss to the Chargers, but he played poorly in the three previous games. He had thrown 10 touchdowns and two interceptions through five games. There were folks touting him for MVP consideration. Then the bottom fell out and he's thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions in his team's four losses. The Giants lost talented safety Kenny Phillips and it turns out they didn't have an adequate replacement on the roster. C.C. Brown struggled mightily and now he's been replaced by Packers castoff Aaron Rouse. The Giants needed cornerback Corey Webster to take control of the secondary -- and he hasn't gotten it done. I think you also have to pin some of the blame on new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. This doesn't look like the same defense that Steve Spagnuolo put out there for two seasons.

Surprises: Steve Smith has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. He's made some fantastic catches and he's helped fill the void left by Plaxico Burress. Mario Manningham got off to a fast start, but he's had way too many drops. Some people might be surprised with how much progress Hakeem Nicks is making in his rookie season. I think he's ready to be the Giants' No. 2 option. He has better hands than Manningham and he's good at running after the catch. I've been a little surprised by how quickly he's caught on. Former University of Miami cornerback Bruce Johnson has also been a surprise. He's been really good at times -- especially when he was playing nickel in place of the injured Kevin Dockery earlier in the season.

Outlook: Both the Eagles and Cowboys have to travel to the Meadowlands, so there's a chance for the Giants to hop right back in the division race. They'll travel to FedEx to play the Redskins and that shouldn't be a problem. I'm still somewhat optimistic about this team's chances of getting in the playoffs. If Sheridan can ignite this pass rush, the Giants could become a threat in the second half of the season. But right now, the new defensive coordinator is really struggling at times. You have to pressure Philip Rivers on that last drive. The Giants didn't do a good job and Rivers made them pay. As I've already stated, 10-6 is very doable.

Midseason Report: Eagles

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson is one of the offensive weapons putting the Eagles into contention in the NFC East.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 4. This week: 11.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The Eagles (5-3) only trail the Cowboys by a game but it's impossible to know where this team is headed. The Eagles have some great offensive weapons, but they're capable of flopping at any minute. The Oakland loss was inexcusable, but they bounced back with convincing wins over the Redskins and Giants. The offense didn't play well against the Cowboys. Quarterback Donovan McNabb made some shaky throws, including two interceptions. This is still a dangerous team, but it's hard to go out on a limb and say Philadelphia is a definite playoff team. Questions abound at running back and on the offensive line. They're also thin at linebacker, where they've had to bring reinforcements such as Will Witherspoon and Jeremiah Trotter.

Disappointments: There have certainly been several disappointing injuries, but the healthy player who has to frustrate Andy Reid the most is Stacy Andrews. He was signed in free agency to help solidify the right guard spot. And that's not what's happened. He was beaten routinely by the Cowboys' defensive linemen in Week 9. And it took him several games to even crack the starting lineup. I think left tackle Jason Peters would also have to be considered a disappointment based on our lofty expectations for him. This was supposed to be an elite left tackle but he's looked uncomfortable in Reid's blocking schemes.

Surprises: We knew wide receiver DeSean Jackson was capable of putting up big numbers, but tight end Brent Celek has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber player. He's studied tape of Jason Witten ever since he entered the league -- and right now he's putting up Witten-type numbers. Celek's averaging over 12 yards per catch and that's pretty impressive for a tight end. He's learned how to set up defenders at the top of his routes -- and he's getting plenty of separation. He's become a trusted target for quarterback McNabb.

Outlook: The Eagles still have to make trips to Arlington and the Meadowlands. It's not going to be an easy December. And that's why this Sunday's game in San Diego is huge for the Eagles. The Chargers are riding high after a last-minute win over the Giants. The Eagles can't afford to drop into a tie with the Giants at 5-4. They'd like to stay within striking distance of the Cowboys. In order to get on a run, the Eagles desperately need McNabb to be more consistent. He was under a lot of pressure from the Cowboys' defense, but he still needs to be better than 16-of-30 with two interceptions. The interception to Mike Jenkins changed the game. The Eagles need to figure out what's going on with Brian Westbrook at some point. I think he could certainly help them, but right now he's impossible to count on because of the injuries. Anyone know what Michael Vick is on this team? Just asking...

Midseason Report: Redskins

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Geoff Burke/US Presswire
Washington coach Jim Zorn has seemed over his head this year as coach of the Redskins and is not likely to continue after this season.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 20. This week: 26.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: The Redskins have no standing in the division. Jim Zorn and his team have a lot of pride and they'll be as professional as possible over the last eight games. That's about the best thing I can say. At 2-6, I don't see them running off eight straight to slip into the playoffs. After years of neglect via the draft and free agency, the Redskins allowed themselves to enter the season with a highly questionable offensive line. And now that Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas are out for the season, this is possibly the worst unit in the league. How's Jason Campbell supposed to prove anything playing behind this offensive line?

Disappointments: This was supposed to be the season that either Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly did some damage, but it hasn't happened. There's no time for anything to develop downfield, so Campbell's been forced to drop the ball off to running backs and tight ends. It's a waste that the Redskins have Santana Moss because the speedster doesn't have time to make one of his famous double moves. Many of you disagree with me, but I actually think Albert Haynesworth has been somewhat of a disappointment. For $41 million guaranteed, I'd like to see a man who takes over games from nose tackle spot. When Michael Turner gashes you for a big day, you're not taking over games. And why are there so many Haynesworth apologists out there? It's rare to see such a wealthy man engender so much sympathy.

Surprises: I'm surprised that Clinton Portis has been so ineffective, but I guess that should've gone in the "disappointments" category. Let's give Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher their due. Not huge surprises, but they've been solid at linebacker. The interception McIntosh made against Matt Ryan in Week 9 was pretty impressive. I think Brian Orakpo could put himself in the rookie of the year competition with a big second half of the season. He has 5.5 sacks, which is pretty impressive for a guy playing out of position.

Outlook: The biggest storyline in the second half of the season will be figuring out who the new head coach will be. Dan Snyder needs to be proactive on this decision. He made Zorn the head coach two years ago because everyone else was taken. I think Zorn could've been a decent offensive coordinator, but he wasn't ready to be a head coach. Especially when you factor in the talent level of this team. It's simply not where it needs to be. I'm sure executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato will try to land Mike Shanahan as head coach. The two worked together with the 49ers, so that's the best chance of Cerrato keeping his current gig.

Midseason Report: Cowboys

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Al Bello/Getty Images
Dallas receiver Miles Austin has been a huge surprise for Dallas so far this season, garnering 421 yards and four touchdowns in a two-game stretch.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 17. This week: 8.

2009 Schedule/Results

Where they stand: After a 2-2 start, the Cowboys have won four straight games to get to 6-2 and take sole possession of first place in the NFC East. It started with a wild overtime win over the Chiefs. Since then, the Cowboys have beaten two quality opponents in the Falcons and Eagles. Of course, December still looms. But if the Cowboys can keep stacking wins in November, they could survive a loss or two in December. This looks like a playoff team. Can they win a playoff game? That's a different story.

Disappointments: Obviously, the Cowboys expected more out of Roy Williams. For much of the season, he hasn't had good chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo and he leads the team in drops. But he came out against the Eagles and caught five passes for 75 yards. He probably would've added a touchdown but Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel grabbed his jersey on what should've been a pass interference call late in the first half. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Williams has had a good attitude even while being widely criticized. He may be on the verge of breaking out of his slump.

Surprises: Miles Austin is the huge surprise. He's cooled off just a bit after his two-game stretch of 421 yards and four touchdowns, but he's certainly a viable threat. The Eagles used double coverage against Austin at least 11 times in Week 9. That tells you about the amount of respect Austin has gained in a very short period of time. He was nearly shut out against the Eagles, but then he broke free for the game-winning 49-yard touchdown. He's a very dangerous player right now.

Outlook: There's no reason the Cowboys can't win at least 11 games. After a trip to Green Bay, they come home to play the Redskins and Raiders. The worst they'll do in that stretch is 2-1, and I think they have a great chance to come out of this stretch 9-2. I think 11 wins will seal the division race -- and the Cowboys are headed in that direction. Will they win a playoff game? Yes, I think they'll finally break through and get a win. I'm very interested in that game in the Meadowlands in early December. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Giants will have turned it around by then.

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