Eye on the Enemy: NFC East Roundup

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA Today

Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA Today

Once a week, we’ll take a spin around the NFC East to check in on what’s going on with the Eagles’ division rivals.

The NFC East has been all the buzz in the national media this past week. The Eagles and Cowboys both sit at 4-1 and are tied with the San Diego Chargers for the league’s best record. The division has 12 wins between the four teams which is the most in the league.

Judy Battista of NFL.com declares that this Sunday Night’s showdown between the Eagles and Giants will mark the NFC East’s return to relevance:

This Sunday’s lineup — in addition to the Giants-Eagles showdown, the Cowboys play at Seattle — will provide the first real snapshot of whether the NFC East is in for a late-season free-for-all, or if it has the necessary depth to place more than one team in the postseason. Next Sunday, New York travels to Dallas.

The Giants lost their first two games of this season. But their recent turnaround — which allowed the Giants to avoid repeating the disastrously longer drought that befell them at the beginning of last season — is most responsible for fueling the hope that the NFC East has rebounded. Still, there remain significant questions about all three teams that underscore the fragility of their viability as playoff contenders. Can the Giants, who have averaged 35 points per game in the past three weeks, sustain their new offensive success? Is Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, who is averaging just 2.9 yards per rush, still a significant threat? Can the Cowboys’ D (which ranked a surprising eighth in scoring defense through Week 5) hold up, and will coaches finally remain committed to the second-ranked running attack?

However, unlike last season — when the NFC East had, at one point in mid-September, an 0-4 weekend and two 0-2 teams and two 1-1 teams — the division’s members are winning while sorting out their problems.

Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News beats a similar drum:

It’s been five years since the mighty and marquee NFC East sent more than one team to the NFL playoffs.

Bad news for the rest of the NFC: The division has three serious playoff contenders.

It’s not much of a surprise the reigning division champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, are 4-1 and sitting in first place after Week 5. But right there with them are the always maligned Dallas Cowboys (4-1), and right there behind them are the always inconsistent New York Giants (3-2).

The Cowboys kept up with the Eagles on Sunday by surviving against the rival Texans (3-2) at home in overtime, 20-17. The Giants kept pace by pulling away from Atlanta (2-3) at home, 30-20.

The Eagles remain the favorite in the East because they keep riding the momentum of last year’s title, but their half-to-half inconsistency showed again in their home escape against St. Louis, 34-28. In other words, the race is wide open again and will come down to the wire with plenty of East games being flexed into primetime.

Kevin Patra of NFL.com reports on Jason Pierre-Paul‘s comments about the Eagles’ record:

The Philadelphia Eagles have won some close games en route to a 4-1 record. In fact, one could argue the Eagles are one yard from 5-0.

New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul sees it a different way.

“They could have easily been 0-4,” he said, per Newsday. “The games were that close. You know it, too! I watch TV. You watch TV, too. The games were close. I feel like we shouldn’t go out there and make it a close game.”

We’re not sure if JPP moved the Eagles’ bye week in this fictional scenario or not.

Poor math aside, the fact is that the Giants sit at 3-2 coming off three impressive performances and could snatch control of the NFC East from the Eagles with a win.

Week 6 Opponent: @Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) (8:30 p.m.)
Line: Eagles (-3)

Bill Pennington of the New York Times writes about the Eagles-Giants rivalry:

Since 1933, Giants-Eagles games have produced all kinds of results, from 56-0 to 7-6. The teams have split four playoff games. There have been seven overtime games, 16 shutouts and two ties. From 1938 to 1942, the Giants won nine consecutive times. From 1975 to 1981, the Eagles won 12 successive games. But in all those matchups — the Giants hold an 84-76-2 edge — it is unlikely that the Giants and the Eagles have entered a game with each team sporting similar up-tempo offenses that race from play to play and feature spread-it-out, pass-happy formations.

The Giants and the Eagles, two pillars of the N.F.C. East and its famed, grind-it-out style of play, could play for two quarters with neither team pausing for even one huddle between plays.

What in the name of Sam Huff and Chuck Bednarik — or Phil Simms and Ron Jaworski — has happened to the Giants-Eagles rivalry?

George Willis of the New York Post believes that the Giants’ lack of big plays on offense is about to change with help from rookie Odell Beckham Jr.:

If head coach Tom Coughlin gets his wish, the addition of Beckham will lead to more big plays by the Giants’ offense. Beckham was in for 36 plays against the Falcons, but figures to see more action Sunday night when the Giants (3-2) face the rival Eagles (4-1) in Philadelphia.

Coughlin was asked on Thursday about the troubling number of big plays the Giants’ defense has allowed this year. Opponents have totaled 18 passing plays of 20 yards or more, including eight of 30 yards or more. The Giants, in contrast, have had 13 completions cover 20 yards or more, and just three have been for more than 30 yards. They had just one pass of more than 20 yards against the Falcons, a 42-yarder to wideout Preston Parker.

Coughlin seemed more concerned about his offense than his defense when it comes to big plays. “We need to make some big plays ourselves,” he said.

Week 6 Opponent: @Seattle Seahawks (3-1) (4:25 p.m.)
Line: Seahawks (-9)

Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News breaks down how the Cowboys can beat the Seahawks:

The best way to mitigate crowd noise on the road is to get an early lead and create a sense of doubt among the fans. The Cowboys didn’t do that the last time they played at Seattle in a 27-7 loss. The game turned ugly quickly when two special teams gaffes — a fumble on a kickoff return and a blocked punt — led to a 10-point deficit in the first quarter. With the Seahawks’ supporters energized, things only got worse. This time, the Cowboys can’t afford to fall behind at the outset. They need to get out front.

Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that DeMarco Murray insists he can handle the big workload he’s seen so far this season:

DeMarco Murray insists he’s fine with whatever. If they want to give him 37 touches every game, great. If they want to play Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar more, so be it.

“I think they know what’s best for the team,” Murray said Friday. “It’s hard during a game to come out, but those are two good guys that we trust, and we know what they can do. Whatever they feel is necessary to help us win.”

Murray has played 80.5 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, on the field for 280 of 348 plays. He has 130 carries, putting him on pace to tie Larry Johnson’s NFL single-season record of 416. Murray also has 15 receptions this season.

Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News talks with Murray about his relationship with Dez Bryant and how the wideout will matchup with Richard Sherman:

“We’re definitely opposites,” Murray said. “They say that opposites attract.”

Maybe that’s why the two are good friends.

“He’s definitely one of my best friends on the team, like a brother, someone who I love playing with on and off the field,” Murray said. “He’s a great guy. Great sense of humor. Very passionate. Just a good friend.

“He’s someone that I knew before I got here, when he was at Oklahoma State. So we kind of had a history together and a friendship together. He’s just an all-around good guy.”

So how does Murray think his buddy will match up against Seattle Pro Bowl corner Richard Sherman on Sunday?

“Dez is a phenomenal player,” Murray said. “He definitely matches up well with them, and one thing about Dez – he’s not afraid of anything or anyone. I’m sure he’s excited about the challenge and I’m sure it’ll be good.”

Week 6 Opponent: @Arizona Cardinals (3-1) (4:25 p.m.)
Line: Arizona (-3 1/2)

Jason Reid of the Washington Post talks about the loss of special teams player Lorenzo Alexander who now plays for this week’s opponent:

Without Alexander, the Redskins’ special teams were horrendous last season, and despite a coaching change, they’re still awaiting signs of improvement. Curious breakdowns have contributed to a disappointing 1-4 start. Coaches and players contend the problems are easily fixable, yet they’re having a hard time fixing them. Alexander will have a first-hand look Sunday when he faces his former team for the first time.

Time has healed the pain Alexander felt when the Redskins declined to re-sign him, partly a ramification of a salary cap penalty assessed by the league. He quickly emerged as a tone-setter in Arizona — Alexander was voted a two-time captain, which “speaks volumes,” Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians said — filling a role similar to the one he had with the Redskins. Although Alexander has moved on, he’s eager to face Washington.

“You’re playing against a bunch of your brothers, so it’ll be fun,” Alexander said during a phone interview this week. “But you definitely want to win and have those bragging rights.”

Todd Dybas of the Washington Timesd reports on Jay Gruden‘s thoughts about his team dropping 12 of their past 13 games:

Gruden’s team is 1-4 and staggering through one of the worst 13-game runs in franchise history with 12 losses in that stretch. The Redskins also lost 12 of 13 in 1994 and dropped 14 of 15 from the end of the 1963 season into the start of the 1964 season.

He’s lost his starting quarterback to injury after managing a pseudo-quarterback controversy in training camp. The Redskins have blown out a team and been blown out. They played with aplomb at Philadelphia, just to come up short. Their most recent loss was followed by Laughgate, immediately calling into question the locker room culture for a team that can’t get things right.

“Any time you’re 1-4, it doesn’t sit well,” Gruden said. “We had high hopes going into the season; the good thing is we still have 11 games left. We still feel like we have a lot we can accomplish.

Liz Clarke of the Washington Post writes about how Gruden has prepared his team for an Arizona offense missing starting quarterback Carson Palmer:

Incumbent starter Carson Palmer hasn’t fully rebounded from nerve damage suffered early in the season. Drew Stanton started the past three weeks but is ailing with a concussion suffered in last week’s loss at Denver. Rookie Logan Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, took over in that game but completed just one of his eight throws in the Cardinals’ only loss of the season, 41-20.

Heading into Sunday’s game, Thomas is the Cardinals’ lone healthy signal-caller, but he is also their least experienced.

With so much uncertainty, Redskins Coach Jay Gruden sees only one option: Preparing for the Cardinals’ offensive system in a broad sense, based on past performance, and studying their individual quarterbacks for individual tendencies.

Matt Cassidy is a journalism student at Temple and an intern at Birds 24/7.