Wednesday, January 6, 2010
NFC East Team Wrap-ups
By Matt Mosley
A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 4
Biggest surprise: It was obviously wide receiver Miles Austin becoming one of the top wide receivers in the league. When Roy Williams missed the Kansas City game with a rib injury, Austin burst onto the scene with a 250-yard day. His confidence just grew from there, and now he's Tony Romo's most-potent weapon. One of the most remarkable stories we've seen in the league this season.
Biggest disappointment: Has to be Williams. The Cowboys gave up valuable draft picks (round Nos. 1, 3 and 6) and gave him a $45 million contract. At this point, it's hard to say whether Williams is even the third-best receiver on the team. Patrick Crayton has certainly been more productive, and a lot of folks believe Kevin Ogletree could accomplish more than Williams. Despite what he says, there's no way Romo can trust Williams at this point. Williams doesn't get many passes thrown his way, but he's still managed to drop at least 10.
Biggest need: The Cowboys are surging into the playoffs, so there aren't a lot of needs right now. I suppose you could get picky and say the team needs an upgrade from Ken Hamlin at safety. He hasn't lived up to his lucrative extension and he's someone who's capable of giving up a big play at any minute. But it's not like this team has a ton of needs right now -- especially since Doug Free filled in so admirably for an injured Marc Colombo.
Team MVP: Romo's been outstanding down the stretch, but I have to give the MVP to Austin. In a lot of ways, he saved the season.
Mosley's crystal ball: I think the Cowboys will finally break through Saturday night and win their first playoff game since '96. I don't have a real good feel for how they would perform on the road, but a deep playoff run wouldn't shock me at this point.
Final Power Ranking: 7
Biggest surprise: DeSean Jackson has had an amazing season, but I don't think we're all that surprised after what he did as a rookie. You'd probably have to go with tight end Brent Celek, who belongs in the Pro Bowl with his eight touchdowns and 12-yard per catch average. He's brought a different dimension to the Eagles' offense, and could end up being for the Eagles what Jason Witten is for the Cowboys. That makes sense because Celek has patterned his game after Witten's since arriving in the league.
Biggest disappointment: Considering how much attention his signing received, I would list Michael Vick as a disappointment. I know he's receiving all sorts of courage awards, but let's not act like this experiment has been a huge success on the field. It was more of a sideshow that yielded a series of 3- and 4-yard carries and the occasional pass completion. Other than that, I think the injuries to Stewart Bradley and Shawn Andrews were certainly big disappointments. And you can throw Shawn's big brother Stacy into the disappointment file.
Biggest need: One of the reasons this team doesn't match up well with the Cowboys is that no one can cover Witten. Will Witherspoon and Jeremiah Trotter aren't the long-term solutions at linebacker. Getting back Bradley will help, but it's time to bring in more talent at the position, either via free agency or the draft.
Team MVP: It's obviously Jackson. He's emerged as one of the most-dangerous offensive players in the game. He's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and he's the most-exciting punt returner since Devin Hester was focusing on that area.
Mosley's crystal ball: I think this offense has become too reliant on the deep ball and the defense struggles against teams with potent weapons such as the Cowboys and Saints. The Eagles may come out with an inspired performance Saturday night, but I don't think it will be enough.
New York Giants
Final Power Ranking: 20
Biggest surprise: It's hard to find a lot of positives at this point, but Steve Smith emerging as a true No. 1 wide receiver has to rank near the top. He made big plays downfield and he continued to be a valuable third-down target for Eli Manning. Smith definitely deserved Pro Bowl consideration. When we look back at what went wrong, it will be difficult to point a finger at the wide receivers.
Biggest disappointment: It's obviously the defense. As Tom Coughlin said, this team lost its identity in the second half of the season. It couldn't stop the run, and the pass rush was almost non-existent. How can Pro Bowl players such as Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora suddenly go silent? It's a question this team has to answer in the offseason. Coughlin has already made one change by firing defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. That had to happen.
Biggest need: You better fix the situation at linebacker. Decide what you're going to do with veterans Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark, and then find a way to get younger and faster. Clint Sintim may be part of the equation, and young Jon Goff seemed to play well at times from the middle linebacker spot. Michael Boley had an up-and-down season because of injuries, but you have to figure out if he's the real deal. It's time to take a long look at this defense and then start making changes. You also need to find out why the running game regressed this season. If an injury to Brandon Jacobs slowed him down, bring in more reinforcements.
Team MVP: I'm having a difficult time with this pick. Let's allow Smith and Manning to share the trophy. I realize Manning had some less-than-stellar moments midway through the season, but he rallied and actually put up some pretty good numbers. You also have to admire that he never blamed any of his issues on what appeared to be a painful foot injury.
Mosley's crystal ball: General manager Jerry Reese and Coughlin need to solidify the offensive line. I think there are some tweaks that could allow the offensive line to become more effective. Take a long look at right tackle before you insert Kareem McKenzie back into the lineup. How did Will Beatty look at the position? I think the Giants will come back and be a factor in the NFC East race next season, but only time will tell.
Final Power Ranking: 29
Biggest surprise: I guess you'd have to say that Sherm Lewis going from calling bingo to calling plays for the Skins was a pretty major surprise. Dan Snyder didn't have the stomach to fire Jim Zorn when he stripped his play-calling duties in October because he didn't want to pay the man to sit around and do nothing. Thus began the slow march toward a 4-12 season.
Biggest disappointment: Based on the amount of guaranteed money he made ($41 million), I think Albert Haynesworth was a disappointment. He came across as a whiny brat as he took shots at defensive coordinator Greg Blache on Christmas. If you want to complain about a scheme, at least try to be on the field for the games. I'm not saying he was faking an ankle injury, but when you miss several games, I don't think it's wise to start going after the coaches. I know he has a lot of defenders out there, but the guy didn't impress me that much at all this season. I know what he's capable of doing because I watched him with the Titans. Haynesworth looked like a different guy to me. If you're an elite player, you should be able to flourish in any system.
Biggest need: Let's start with the offensive line. The Redskins tried 11 different linemen this season. Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan need to get to work on building a cohesive unit.
Team MVP: I think you can make a strong case for quarterback Jason Campbell, who decided at midseason to stop worrying about the offensive line and just focus on making plays. He had the best statistical season of his career, and I think Shanahan might be able to take him to a much higher level. I'd split the defensive MVP award between Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo. Some people want to give Haynesworth the credit for their success, but I saw them making plays when he was out of the lineup. Both of those guys are solid players.
Mosley's crystal ball: I think Allen and Shanahan will go down every path in order to improve the offensive line. It will be hard for Shanahan not to take a quarterback with that No. 4 overall draft pick, but he should take a long look at an offensive tackle at that spot. The Redskins have some premium picks in this draft, and it's the new regime's first chance to start putting its stamp on the organization. The free-agency crop should be pretty watered down because of the potential for an uncapped season. I wouldn't put too much stock in free agency.