Tuesday, November 8, 2011
NFC East Stock Watch
By Dan Graziano
1. Eagles' playoff hopes. Not only are the Eagles 3-5, but three of their five losses are to the Giants, Bears and Falcons. The Giants are one of the teams they have to catch if they want to win their division, and the Bears and Falcons are the two teams currently tied for the last NFC wild-card spot. That means the Eagles lose on all of the tiebreakers as of now and will have to jump over teams, not just catch them, if they want to get in. The Giants could come back to the pack, of course, and those other teams could falter as well. But they aren't the only teams they have to jump over, and the Eagles have put themselves in a position where they really can't lose more than one more game, if that. With eight games left on the schedule, that's a pretty weak margin for error.
2. Ryan Torain, Redskins running back. He looked like the starting running back in Washington once Tim Hightower went down for the season, but he now appears to have been jumped in the rotation by rookie Roy Helu, who got the start Sunday and was a huge factor in the passing game. That's no coincidence. One of the reasons the Redskins like Hightower better than Torain was because they thought Hightower was a better pass-blocker and receiver, and they appear to feel the same way about Helu. Interesting to see how Tashard Choice factors into this mix once healthy, and it's certainly not beyond Mike Shanahan to change his mind more than once again before the season ends. But right now it appears Helu is the lead back in D.C.
3. Miles Austin, Cowboys wide receiver. Out again with a bad hamstring, this time it looks like for two to four weeks. This season surely has not gone the way Austin had hoped it would go, and the Cowboys are going to have to get by for a while with Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson at wide receiver. They're fortunate that they have Jason Witten as a reliable option in the passing game, and once Felix Jones gets back they'll have two strong options at running back with him and DeMarco Murray. So they're not short on weapons. But Austin looked early on as though he was in for a big year, and it's not working out that way.
Jake Ballard came up big for the Giants in their win over New England.
1. Jake Ballard, Giants tight end. The tight end no one saw coming was the star of the show Sunday as Eli Manning found him in key spots during the Giants' comeback victory in New England. I personally think Manning deserves a great deal of the credit for what has become of Ballard and Victor Cruz (and Ramses Barden, who was a factor late in that game as well). I'm not buying that Jerry Reese saw Ballard coming. They were all talking up Travis Beckum. But Reese did have faith in his coaching staff and his quarterback to make it work with whatever personnel they had, and that faith is being rewarded.
2. Laurent Robinson. Cowboys wide receiver. His opportunity to show something is here. With Austin out, Robinson looks like a starting wide receiver for the Cowboys, and to this point he has played better than anyone could have expected. All of the hand-wringing in the preseason about the No. 3 receiver, and it turns out he wasn't even on the roster yet. Now, he's the No. 2, and Tony Romo seems to like to throw to him.
3. Leonard Hankerson, Redskins wide receiver. Like Helu, Hankerson got his first NFL start Sunday, and Washington's rookie wide receiver looked pretty good. I expect to see him and many of the Redskins' other young players continue to get long looks the rest of the way as the Redskins work to find out what they have and what they still need on offense heading into next offseason. Hankerson has size, speed and athleticism and could be a very good NFL receiver. His biggest problem has been actually catching and holding onto the ball, but that problem was not in evidence Sunday, so maybe it's something that's getting better.