03 Aug “Stromme a Better Way,” Facts, Points and Takes: NFC East
- Washington Redskins (9-7)
- New York Giants (8-8)
- Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
- Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)
This whole division will be a dog-fight all season, I firmly believe that this division will come down to Week 17. Personally, you could make a strong case for each and every one of these teams winning the division. They will all beat up on each other all season long, every one of these divisional matchups will be must-see television. Their respective records reflected in my predictions are more-or-less preseason rankings, I really don’t have much of a clue who will come out of this division, but my gut tells me the Redskins will repeat. And, here’s why.
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Almost everything came together for the Washington Redskins in 2015. Tony Romo and Dez Bryant couldn’t stay healthy in Dallas, the Chip Kelly era in Philly came to a fiery end with a giant blaze of dysfunction and incompetence and the Giants just could not seem to put things together. All the Redskins had to do was not screw up and the division was theirs.
Not only did they do that, they gave multiple reasons for me to believe that their ascension was legitimate.
The Redskins kicked off training camp in 2015 essentially handing Kirk Cousins the starting QB reins with little-to-no resistance from Robert Griffin III. Essentially red-shirting RGIII allowed the team to focus on getting Kirk Cousins ready for a 16 game season; no controversy, no games.
It more than paid off, not only did Cousins lead his team to a division title, he lead the league in completion percentage (69.5%), finished 10th in passing yards (4,166) and had less interceptions than Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers.
In Week 7, the Redskins trailed the Buccaneers 24-7 at halftime. As we all know, Cousins and his Redskins rallied in the second half, won the game 31-30 on a late TD pass to Jordan Reed with 28 seconds left and well… it gave birth to one of the most viral Vines in NFL history.
From that point on, the ‘Skins went 6-3 and inevitably won the division. You can say that this team was fortunate to play in this division, you can say that the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants all had down years, you can also say the Redskins won the NFC East by default. However, I won’t. Not only were they the best team in the division in 2015, I believe that they will repeat in 2016.
While I don’t think Cousins is the most talented pound-for-pound QB in this division, I believe he is the most accurate and has the best overall pieces around him. No, he doesn’t have an OBJ or a Dez to throw to. However, the core he gets to throw to, from top-to-bottom might be one of the deepest in the league.
DeSean Jackson is a reliable deep threat, and one of the better nine-route runners in the NFL. I personally believe that Josh Doctson has the highest upside among this year’s crop of rookie wideouts. Pierre Garcon is still a reliable target in the slot and Jordan Reed proved last season, especially in the second half, that he can be just as dominant as any TE in the NFL outside of Gronk when healthy. I challenge you to find a better pass-catching unit in the NFL from top-to-bottom.
In the running game, Matt Jones showed flashes of brilliance in 2015. He also had a tendency to fumble the ball. The job could be his, or rookie Keith Marshall could steal some carries. Either way, I believe the run game will hold it’s own and should improve now that Alfred “3.7 YPC” Morris is no longer with the team.
On the defensive side of the ball, they aren’t dominant, but do a lot of things well. Adding veterans Ziggy Hood and Kendall Reyes will add some depth on the defensive line. Linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith combined for 17.5 sacks between the two of them and the addition of Josh Norman changes the complexion of this secondary dramatically. In 2015, him and new teammate Brashaud Breeland combined for 34 passes defensed and 6 interceptions. Last season, the Redskins were 13th in completion percentage against but gave up a ton of yards in the passing game (4,128, 25th in the league). The addition of Norman should normalise those numbers a little.
Do I think the ‘Skins are a elite team? No. Are they a good team? Yes. They’re the most balanced team on both sides of the ball in this division, in the sense that they do everything well. Not great, but well. And, I believe that will be enough in the NFC East.
In a division that will be a dog-fight until Week 17, I’ll take my chances with a team that projects to be the least volatile.
New York Giants:
There’s a lot to love about this Giants’ team, there’s also some room for improvement and growth.
Think what you wanna think about Eli Manning in regards to his ELIte status (personally, I think he’s going to end up in Canton), he put up another solid season in 2015 (387/619-4,436-35-14). In addition to throwing to an athletic freak in Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants went out, and drafted Sterling Shepard in the second round of the draft. They also may or may not have Victor Cruz at their disposal. A couple of interesting complimentary targets, especially if
Cruz bounces back.
Rashad Jennings has always shown some flashes of talent. However, he’s never put forth a consistent 16-game season worth of production; he’s never surpassed 900 yards or 5 rushing touchdowns in a season. At 29-years-old, I don’t really ever expect it come. Maybe rookie Paul Perkins will show us something this training camp.
On paper, this revamped defense looks pretty fierce. The Giants broke the bank during free agency, signing Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Keenan Robinson and Janoris Jenkins. The spending spree came off a season where the Giants finished LAST in pass yards against, 24th in rush yards allowed, 29th in opponent scoring percentage, 30th in sack percentage and 27th in completion percentage against. Yikes.
The Giants also spent three of their first four picks in the draft on defense.
While this is all well and good, and something that was absolutely essential, I don’t personally think the renovated Giant defense will show its true self until well into the second half for one reason, and one reason only: unit cohesion.
Vernon, Harrison, Robinson, Jenkins and rookies Eli Apple and Darion Thompson are all expected to play significant roles in this defense. None of these players have played together, none have played under DC Steve Spagnuolo and I could see an adjustment period early in the season for this unit.
If the 2016 Arizona Diamondbacks, 2013 Blue Jays, the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers and 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles have taught us anything, winning the offseason doesn’t always translate to a championship, or even a playoff spot in year one. This shiny-new defense may need to be worked in before things get comfortable.
This team can easily go 11-5, they could finish 5-11. There’s no in between.
The Cowboys are the biggest wildcard in the NFC. Their success is completely dependant on their offense, more specifically, the health of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
Tony Romo only played 4 games last season. He has also missed a game in each of the last two seasons. He will be 37 by seasons’ end, and is coming off a season where he threw more INT than TD when he was healthy. Excuse me for the scepticism.
Tony Romo is a mature, experienced quarterback that, in his last full season, threw 304/435-3,705-34-9 with a QBR of 83.62. Him, paired with a healthy Dez Bryant and Jason Witten make magic together with a consistent aerial attack which, when healthy and clicking, can hold its own with the NFL’s best. And, if it weren’t for clarity of what defines a god damn catch, he would have lead his team to the NFC Championship game when he was last healthy.
Dez Bryant is coming off a season where he was hurt for just over half the duration. However, even when healthy, his production on a game-to-game basis would have been the lowest since 2011, his sophomore season. He’s shown immaturity earlier in his career, and constantly seems to rub his teammates the wrong way on the sidelines.
Dez Bryant is an all-world wideout that has impeccable chemistry with his teammate, his quarterback, Tony Romo. The last time those two were together for a full season, Dez caught a line of 88/1,320/16 on 136 targets. He’s a leader
on and off the field, a fiery competitor on the sidelines and his past indiscretions are just that; past indiscretions. Pair him with Tony Romo for a full 16 games, and expect a lethal pass-catch combo that can compete with anyone in the NFL.
Ezekiel Elliot was the perfect pick for this team. Any running back behind this offensive line can produce (just look at Darren McFadden last season). Put a young, 21-year-old running back that NFL Draft expert Mike Mayock called “better than DeMarco Murray,” behind clearly the best offensive line in football and this team is in prime shape to compete in 2016.
Supporting this rushing attack is a 21-year-old rookie who has already has whispers of domestic violence surrounding him. Sure, he looked good at THE Ohio State, but that’s still the NCAA. Can he block? Can how is he in pass protection? Can he pick up blitzes? How will he adjust to the pro game? He is, after all, a rookie. Can he handle 300+ carries over the course of 16 games?
The secondary is the strength of this defense. While it might not be in the same class as the Legion of Boom or No Fly Zone, it has some talent. Orlando Scandrick comes back after tearing his ACL in training camp last season and fellow nine-year vet Brandon Carr is no slouch either. Morris Claibourne, the 6th pick overall in 2012, has pure athletic ability but hasn’t put things together from a statistical standpoint, just three career interceptions. Sophomore safety Byron Jones is a 6′-1″, 196 lb safety that plays quick and physical, much like a young Kam Chancellor. Strong safety Barry Church had 72 solo tackles last season.
What worries me (and what should worry Cowboy fans/backers) is the front-seven. More specifically, the pass rush.
DE Demarcus Lawrence: Suspended four games.
DE Randy Gregory: Suspended (at least) four games. Word on the street is that it could be much longer.
MLB Rolando McClain: Suspended ten games. He also wasn’t on the team charter to Oxnard, CA for training camp. The team is confused as to why and has yet to receive an explanation. He also reportedly has a “purple drank” addiction. We may have seen the last of him.
OLB Sean Lee: Has played a total of 60 games in six seasons and has offseason knee surgery. He’s a difference maker when he’s healthy, but can he stay out of triage?
The DL/LBs on the current roster (including the suspended ones), had a grand total of 22.0 sacks. 8.0 of them came from Lawrence, who’s suspended for the first four games of the season. Even with the controversial Greg Hardy, the Cowboys only sacked the QB on 5.8 % of drop backs. Suspensions or not, this is a glaring weakness on this team.
Like I said, the Cowboys could be 11-5 or 5-11. There really isn’t any in between.
This team is interesting.
Out goes Chip Kelly, and in comes Doug Pederson. Out goes the spread offense, in comes a West Coast offense. In with the 4-3, out with the 3-4.
I believe the changes in personnel in The City of Brotherly Love will be for the better. Sam Bradford came up in the NFL with the then-St. Louis Rams under Pat Shurmer’s West Coast offense in
2010, the year he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. He also played under Brian Schottenheimer in 2013, another West Coast offense. 2013 was going to be his best season to date until he tore his ACL in Week 7 of that season. Just some food for thought.
There might not have been a better hire to run this defense than DC Jim Schwartz. Schwartz’s defenses do one thing
very well, attack the QB. In his last season as a DC, his Bills sacked the QB 54 times on 8.8% of drop backs. That was the best pass rush in the NFL. That same team went out last season and finished with 21 sacks with a miniscule 3.4 % sack percentage, only the Falcons were worse.
The Eagles have three DEs in Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin that can all get after the QB. A rotation of the three can keep them fresh, and can put opposing QBs on their backs. Not to mention, there’s a big guy up the middle in Fletcher Cox that put up a monster year with 9.0 sacks. This defense has plenty of pass rush, and Jim Schwartz is the right man to run things.
For more NFC East talk, tune into the latest episode of Football Talk with the SportsCrew. Where, myself and co-hosts Zak Sauer and Lou Landers break down the division in its entirety.
For more football talk, follow me on Twitter @stromme_93