Tuesday, September 27, 2011
NFC East Stock Watch
By Dan Graziano
1. Michael Vick. That's two games in a row the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has failed to finish because of injury, and he's now 1-4 since the big Week 15 comeback against the Giants last year. He may have all kinds of good points about how late guys are hitting him, and his protection is obviously an issue the Eagles need to resolve if he's going to give them anything resembling what he gave them last year. But the facts are these: While Vick is missing fourth quarters and complaining about officials, Eli Manning and Tony Romo are out there winning games in far more difficult circumstances. Vick and the Eagles are going to have to find a way to overcome their challenges, because so far the other teams in the division are doing a better job of it.
2. Redskins offense. The fundamental problem with Washington's offense showed up in a loss to Dallas on Monday night. It's all well and good to lean on the run and work the clock and focus your play calling on avoiding mistakes. And with mistake-prone Rex Grossman as quarterback, it's even wise to do that. For the most part this season, it has worked, and in many games to come it should continue to work. But when the Redskins need somebody to make a big play on offense, they're short on options. The Cowboys severely limited the run game -- Tim Hightower and Roy Helu combined for 56 yards on 19 carries -- and the Redskins couldn't make a play to extend a fourth-quarter drive that could have put the game away. This is what it's going to be this year for this offense -- steady and reliable but nothing special. Their defense is good enough that, most weeks, it should be enough. But the lack of truly explosive talent on offense will show up and cost them at big times.
3. Patience in Philadelphia. Big things were expected of these Eagles, and in the wake of Sunday's loss to the Giants there were calls for the heads of Andy Reid, Juan Castillo, Casey Matthews ... you name him, they're down on him right now in Philadelphia. The Eagles could use one of these feel-good wins like the Giants and Cowboys had this week to make their fans feel good about the team while they work out their issues. The 49ers are no pushovers, but if the Eagles can toughen up against the run and keep Vick (or whoever plays quarterback) clean, they could earn some much-needed good vibes in the City of Brotherly Love.
Eli Manning on Sunday was the steady quarterback Giants fans have been waiting to see.
1. Eli Manning. He gets ripped for his mistakes, so he deserves praise for a game in which he didn't make any -- especially considering he was throwing mainly to backup receivers, still doesn't have a tight end to speak of and was going up against the Eagles' multimillion-dollar secondary. Manning was cool and calm and patient, waiting for his chances and hitting the big pass when he got it. For the first time since Nov. 28, 2010, he didn't throw an interception. You wanted Manning to be more steady and reliable, and on Sunday, you got it. We'll see if it's the springboard into a steadier season.
2. Cowboys defense. My expectation was, with their starting cornerbacks banged-up and only a month's worth of practices under new coordinator Rob Ryan, the Dallas defense would start the season slowly and improve as it got more comfortable with the new scheme. Instead, the Cowboys have come out firing on defense. Players such as Sean Lee, Anthony Spencer, Kenyon Coleman and of course DeMarcus Ware are thriving in a system that trusts them and allows them the freedom to make the kinds of plays they like to make. They're enjoying themselves, playing like a cohesive unit and were instrumental in making sure the Redskins weren't able to put Monday's game away. A defense that gave up the second-most points in the league last year may just be turning back into the Cowboys' strength.
3. Parity. After three weeks, three NFC East teams are 2-1 and the Eagles are 1-2. With the Redskins a real factor and the out-of-division schedules looking soft, it appears the division has a real chance at a four-way race for the top. Both division games were decided in the fourth quarter this week, and that's the kind of tough, hard-fought football I expect to see from the NFC East as the season rolls along. The Cowboys and Giants are feeling good right now, the Eagles and Redskins less so, but I think those temperatures are going to change week-to-week, and all year long.