NFC East Roundup: Beckham’s Temper Returns

Also: Has a move to the coaches booth helped Washington's offense?

Odell Beckham Jr. (USA TODAY Sports)

Odell Beckham Jr. (USA TODAY Sports)

With the Eagles having an early bye this week, let’s take a spin around the NFC East to see what’s going on with the rest of the division.

Let’s begin with the Giants, who traveled to Minnesota last night and lost to Sam Bradford and the 4-0 Vikings, 24-10. Eli Manning threw for 261 yards and a pick, and Odell Beckham Jr. had three catches for a career-low 23 yards.

Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News has more on Beckham’s unusually bad night, which included another meltdown during the game and one player trying to calm him down.

[Jerry] Reese was just the latest in a growing list of Giants staffers, coaches and players trying to get through to Beckham, whose head coach specifically had called his Week 3 outburst against Washington “a distraction,” and yet Beckham insisted on flipping his lid again Monday at the first sign of resistance.

He even claimed that “I don’t think many teammates knew about what happened last week,” blaming the TV cameras for making an issue out of his kicking-net fiasco at MetLife Stadium that he believes happened in a vacuum.

“When you’re at the top of your game, they’re gonna try to knock you off,” Beckham said.

Beckham is not at the top of his game, though. This is a career low. He has no touchdowns through four games. The Giants (2-2) are reeling. This is not all about him. A lot of the Giants’ issues aren’t about him at all. But he’s not helping. He continues to make himself the issue. Now he claims he had nothing to do with it.

The Giants are lucky to be 2-2 after their loss to the Vikings, opines George Willis of the New York Post.

The Giants are 2-2, but in truth they are lucky to be .500 given those wins were by a total of four points. They certainly looked worse than mediocre Monday night, losing to a team that is 4-0 despite playing without its starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson.

Sam Bradford looked like Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings’ offensive line bullied the Giants’ expensive defensive line, making it an easy evening for the home team. But as well as the Vikings played when it mattered, the Giants were their own worst enemy.

The offense that was supposed to be the strength of the team this season killed itself with penalties and Beckham let [Xavier] Rhodes get into his head to the point where Beckham committed an unsportsmanlike penalty that ruined an early potential scoring drive.

The Giants’ schedule doesn’t get easier, as they travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.

From a team on a losing streak to one on a winning streak. The Cowboys earned their third straight win on Sunday as they defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 24-17, without star wide receiver Dez BryantDak Prescott threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns, while Ezekiel Elliott rank for 138 yards for his second consecutive 100-yard game on the ground.

In the fourth quarter, cornerback Morris Claiborne recorded his first interception in two years and made a big fourth-down tackle on Torrey Smith to seal the win. Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star Telegram writes that Claiborne is finally starting to play to his potential.

It’s hard to imagine Claiborne still being with the Cowboys given what transpired. He lost his starting job in 2014 after that interception, storming out of the practice facility one day, and continued to be bothered by injuries.

But the Cowboys have stuck with him, and Claiborne is finally flashing the potential he showed coming out of LSU when Dallas made him the sixth overall pick in 2012.

“Talk about hanging in there with a guy, allowing him to get his confidence,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I just think going back to camp, the way he played, the way he approached it, the confidence he has, that swagger he brought, that’s big-time plays he’s made. You don’t see corners come up and make tackles like that [on fourth down].”

Added defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli: “He’s playing at a high, high level. That interception was a game-turner and then that tackle at the end of the game was big. That’s a hitting corner.”

Even with the Cowboys planning a Week 8 return for Tony Romo, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News opines that each game Prescott plays in, it makes the team’s decision to bring back Romo harder to make.

It’s difficult to play mistake-free football on Sundays — but that’s what Prescott has given the Cowboys. No interceptions, no fumbles and few sacks. You’d have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a stretch of four consecutive starts by Tony Romo without a turnover.

Prescott has not thrown an interception in his first 131 passes, a record for NFL rookies. That’s as important from a team standpoint as it is an individual standpoint because the Cowboys lack a shutdown defense. Sacks and takeaways are few, so the Dallas offense can’t afford to stick its defense on short fields with turnovers.

And Prescott hasn’t.

With their quarterback playing mistake-free football, the Cowboys have been able to extend their possessions and wind down the clock to protect this defense.

This is still Romo’s team. Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and even Prescott will tell you that. But Prescott has quickly materialized as the future of this franchise. Now, is that future October? November? 2017? 2018?

The Cowboys take on the Bengals at home on Sunday, and will do so with the return of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

Finally, Washington edged out the Cleveland Browns, 31-20, which included a 14-0 fourth quarter after being down 20-17 in the third. Kirk Cousins went 21-of-27 for 183 yards and three touchdown passes, while Matt Jones ran for 117 yards and a score. Tight end Jordan Reed caught two of Cousins’ three touchdown tosses.

One of the reasons for Washington’s success is moving offensive coordinator Sean McVay up to the coaches booth. The explanation for the move is for comfortability, according to JP Finlay of CSN Mid-Atlantic.

McVay’s move upstairs has also corresponded with Washington committing more to the run game, as they ran the ball nearly twice as much in wins over New York and Cleveland than in losses to Dallas and Pittsburgh. For head coach Jay Gruden, the move is not a big deal, but he wants his OC calling plays wherever he feels most comfortable.

“I think the big thing being up in the box, you can have all of your notes out in front of you,” Gruden said. “You’re not scrambling, walking around. He can make notes and be a little bit more organized up there and he can see better.”

An NFL rule change last offseason allowed communication from the coaches booth to the quarterbacks’ helmet. Previously that communication could only come from the sideline. That change gave McVay the flexibility to be upstairs calling the plays – with a wider view of the field and without the chaos of an NFL sideline – and still able to talk directly to Kirk Cousins through his helmet.

In the preseason, McVay tried the booth, but said he probably would not leave the sideline for regular season games. That feeling changed, obviously.

“He can stay calm up there and really preview the next series and get his thoughts together and get ready to go,” Gruden said. “He was quick to call in the plays and did a nice job.”

Washington’s defense are last in third-down defense, and are also struggling in the red zone. The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke pens the team needs to do better in many departments, including tackling, in order to win the NFC East.

The Redskins’ red-zone defense is more lax than its third-down stands. Once inside the team’s 20, opponents are coming away with touchdowns 62.5 percent of the time.

Sadly for the Redskins offense, it’ll play two games against the NFL’s top-ranked red-zone defense: NFC East rival Philadelphia, which is allowing touchdowns in the red zone just 29 percent of the time.

While the Redskins are 2-2 (1-0 in the NFC East), they’re paying dearly for their refusal to upgrade the defensive line in the offseason, whether through the NFL draft or free agency. The defensive line is struggling to get off blocks. From front to back, few have shown they can win on solo tackles. And as a group, the defense has been slow to converge on the ball and help one another.

Redskins coaches know this, and players conceded the same after their three-turnover performance in the second half sealed a victory over Cleveland that was in serious doubt. But identifying the problem and fixing it are two different things.

“We’re gonna keep playing good running backs each and every week,” noted defensive end Ricky Jean Francois. “We’ve got to learn how to gang tackle. If we gang tackle, we can wear and tear down that running back. Right now we’re two-and-two. The next quarter of the season ain’t gonna get easier.”

Washington stays in Maryland as they take on the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday.