NFC EAST DIVISION PREVIEW 2014

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The NFC East was once considered the most physical division in all of the NFL. It is now considered one of the worst and weakest divisions in the NFL. Only one team, the Eagles, had a winning record and reached post season play in 2013.

The next best NFC East team was the Cowboys at 8-8, and the Giants came in 3rd place at 7-9. Washington came in last at 3-13. This once proud division has won a combined total of 12 Super Bowl titles. Philadelphia is the only team without a title. (Sorry had to say that). We all realize the NFC West has taken over as the power house division, but let’s not count out the NFC East just yet. The teams in the NFC east aren’t used to being at the bottom. All 4 teams really had solid drafts and some decent signings in free agency. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the NFC east.

NFC East FolesI believe it is only fair to start off with the NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles, who were 10-7 in 2013. The Eagles lost in the playoffs wild card round to the Saints, 26-24. Philadelphia entered the 2013 season in the midst of many changes. Coach Chip Kelly became their new head coach, replacing long time head coach Andy Reid. Kelly came in and brought his fast paced offense that he had so much success with at Oregon. There were not a lot of analysts or sports gurus thinking it would translate well to the NFL game. So much for the analysts because the Eagles we’re 2nd in the NFL in yards at 417 yards per game, and 4th in the NFL with 27.6 points per game. The Eagles were also 1st in the NFL with 160 yards rushing per game.

 

The Eagles entered the season minus the play-making ability of their #1 WR, Desean Jackson. They needed serious help on defense, being one of the worst in the league against the pass; allowing 298 yards a game and total  of 394 yards per game. The Eagles recognized their lack of defense and drafted Louisville OLB Marcus Smith: known as a speed rusher and utilized 5 of their 7 picks on defense. The lone offensive players, Matthews and Huff, are actually gifted athletes who were among a draft class deep with receivers.

Chip Kelly is a firm believer that the system is what makes the team and that made him comfortable with the decision to release Jackson. You can definitely expect more from the Eagles on the defensive side of the ball as well. The players gained a year of experience in the 3-4 system. Kelly’s defensive philosophy is the same in nature as his offensive philosophy: it has an aggressive nature. The Eagles also signed safety Malcom Jenkins to help Nate Allen shore up the back end.

The Eagles have a promising young team, and with Kelly at the helm, look for new wrinkles in the offense. Chip is aware that NFL teams have a year of film on his offense. The key for all Kelly teams is to play with a lead: it allows the defense to pin their ears back. The question for the Eagles is:  without Jackson and relying on Shady, do they still have the quick strike within them? Teams can focus on McCoy and make the younger receives like Maclin and Cooper try to beat them. Lastly, can Foles keep up his record setting 27 to 2 TD to interception ratio? The QB makes this offense go, and for the Eagles to repeat in the stiff competition of the NFC East, he needs to have another great year. I guess we will see if the 3rd year player can handle the pressure?

NFC East ROMOThe Cowboys were once again 8-8 with a defense that was ranked dead last and set records for its poor performance. It takes a lot for a team to have the 3rd worst defense in NFL history. The Cowboys have literally re-built the entire defensive line. They are basically starting all over again from scratch. There is one player left from the expected starters in 2013 and no one is even sure if Spencer will even step onto the field. Offensively, the running game was better, but even with Romo throwing 31 td’s to only 10 picks, the big play lacked.

The whole thing about the Cowboys and their dilemma is very simple: if the defense can step up and allow  no more than 20 points per game, Dallas will be in the playoffs.

The Cowboys again had a solid 1st round draft by selecting Zack Martin with the #16 pick: solidifying the OL and ensuring that the Cowboys can run the ball and be the dual threat offense they should be.

Demarcus Lawrence, the 34th overall pick, has been chosen to be the successor to the Cowboys all time sack leader, Demarcus Ware. The Cowboys can only hope the rookie who also cost them a 3rd round pick, can at the very least come up with a few more sacks than Ware. Fans should remember that the great Ware only had 6 sacks in 2013. Hatcher finally exploded playing the 3 technique and showed the ability that the Cowboys had been waiting to see from him. Jason led the team with 11 sacks. Hatcher also decided it was time to get paid and took a nice contract from rival Washington to once again play in the 3-4 where he never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season. The Cowboys went out and hired the services of Henry Melton who was coming off of a torn ACL.

The Cowboys front office is hoping that new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s familiarity with Melton is a plus, and just what Melton needs to return to his pro Bowl form of 2012. The Cowboys enter training camp with Carr and Scandrick holding down the top corner spots, and Claiborne is hoping to win his back. The safety position has been solidified on one side with Barry Church. Once again the front office crosses their fingers in hope that one of 3 younger players, (Wilcox being the hopeful one) can play the FS position. The lack of experience at this position remains to be the Achilles of the secondary, but apparently not enough of a concern for Jerry  to draft a true FS.

The Cowboys’ offense lost Miles Austin and is betting that Williams can fill in as the #2 receiver. The maturation of a young Dez Bryant leaves no doubt who the #1 receiver is on this team. There are talks of Escobar playing a bigger role in the offense and attempting to place his stamp as a dual threat along side of Jason Witten, the older yet reliable veteran. Romo, who is coming off of back surgery, seems to be ahead of schedule and ready to play football. The running game seems to be a three headed monster, and let’s not forget that Murray is yet to play a full 16 game season. Who will be his #2? Can Williams take the lead or is the young 2013 draft pick Randle ready to take the lead? Lastly, Scott Linehan came in to take over the play calling. The offense looks top 5 on paper. Will they be? We will find out when the pads come on. Won’t we?

The Cowboys entered camp this year with one goal and one goal only on their minds. Get into the playoffs. This is one of the most important training camps in recent history for the Cowboys. Stay tuned it should be exciting.

nfc east eli manningThe Giants are just 2 years removed from winning their 4th Super Bowl and find themselves old where they shouldn’t be and young where they shouldn’t be. They finished the 2013 season with a losing record of 7-9. Gone are the likes of  Hakeem Nicks, Eli’s once reliable receiver. New York comes in with an OL that is in shambles. Manning, although tough as nails, has to get some protection from his line or the fact that they drafted Beckham Jr won’t matter. The retirement of Chris Snee has thrown another wrench into their plans to rebuild the OL and the entire offense.

The Giants entered camp looking for some old magic from Eli because he is easily coming off of his worst season: throwing an unimaginable 27 interceptions. The offense only scored 18 pts. a game last year and Manning was sacked 39 times. The Giants do however still have Mr. Salsa dancer himself, Victor Cruz. The Giants have switched to the west coast offense with Gilbride gone. It’s going to be challenging for Manning to get the timing down with his receivers etc. The west coast offense is completely different than what Manning is used to running. I am sure there will be some time for him and the rest of the offense to get accustomed to the terminology and the different route tree this offense presents. Don’t count out Manning just yet. Remember; he has had periods when under pressure is when he played his best. The pressure is certainly on.

The New York defense was actually  pretty stout last year: ranking 8th in yards. The front office wasted no time in an attempt to ensure that the defense got even better in all areas. They signed CB Rodgers-Cromartie, S Demps, DT Patterson and CB Thurmond.  They were  very aggressive in free agency and signed some players with talent. The Giants still have the services of JPP and hope this will be his break out year. JPP himself recently stated the sack record could be had. The defense might be able to keep them in games early while the offense catches up learning the new west coast system.

The Giants have missed the post season 2 years in a row now. Some have said that Coach Coughlin is once again on the hot seat. Don’t forget this team has players that know how to win and the coach has been counted out before. Counting out the Giants is usually when they come on the strongest. Look for the Giants to be one of the top two teams in the division.

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Washington was 3-13 in 2013. Exit Shanahan and enter Jay Gruden. The team added Desean Jackson and combined with Pierre Garcone creates a serious WR tandem. The question for 2014 is: can RGIII return to rookie form?

Washington comes in with a rookie head coach and hopefully for their sake, RGIII won’t be having as many press conferences as the coach this year. Gruden has a tall order trying to dig this team out of the cellar in the NFC east. in my opinion, this team needs to win early in 2014 or things could spiral out of control. RGIII will have to make plays from the pocket and take that next step that is expected of him.

The club did go out and get some veteran help by signing veteran safety Ryan Clark and Tracy Porter in an attempt to shore up the 20th ranked pass defense. Washington also made sure to keep their sack specialist Brain Orakpo. The Redskins then turned around and drafted OLB Trent Murphy out of Stanford in an attempt to give Orakpo a partner on the opposite side. Shoring up the DL, Washington brought in former Cowboys’ DT, Jason Hatcher.

The offensive side of the ball saw Moses drafted to help keep RGIII upright. The biggest move other than Jackson of course, could be the drafting of U of W RB Lache SeaStrunk in the 6th round. A pick that could end up being a steal, and assuring that Alfred Morris will certainly have someone splitting some carries with him. Gruden likes to use more than one back and although he definitely believes in the ground attack, just like AJ Green in Cincinnati, he has outside weapons and will not be afraid to use them.

The key questions heading into camp for them are: can RGIII protect himself and become more of a pocket passer? Will the running game return to what it was 2 years ago when they won the east and hosted a playoff game? Most importantly is: will the players buy into Gruden as head coach? The debacle last year between Shannahan and RGIII is over. Simply put, do they have the where-with-all to bounce back from a 3-13 season?

The NFC east will probably come down to the last week again as it has the past 3 years. There is no clear cut prediction to make here. The Eagles are the early favorites to repeat their performance from last year. The Giants have never stayed down and even though they started 0-6, they still played for their coach and won 7 of their last 10 games. Washington needs to be consistent on both sides of the ball and the addition of Jackson provides them with one of the top receiving threats in the NFL. The Cowboys are trying to get over the 8-8 hump and still trying to win that week 17 game.

This season’s division champion will definitely earn it as I will end this article as I began it. The once proud NFC east will be going head to head with the dominant NFC west. We are about to find out if the east has anything to say about the west being the big dogs on the block.

What do you think Cowboy fans? Who will win the east? Let me know tweet me @robsportsguy and let the discussion begin.

Rob Wash

 

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