NFC East Roundup: Cowboys’ Confidence Growing

Also: Which college coach was very close to joining the Giants?

Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott. (USA TODAY Sports)

Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott. (USA TODAY Sports)

After the Cowboys defeated the Eagles in overtime Sunday night, let’s take a spin around the NFC East to see what’s happening with the other three teams within the division.

We’ll begin with those same Cowboys, who were down by 10 entering the fourth quarter of that game. Dak Prescott didn’t have his best game, as he threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception in the endzone to Jordan HicksEzekiel Elliott rushed for 96 yards on 22 attempts, while Dez Bryant had four catches for 113 yards and the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

A big reason for the win was the decision making from head coach Jason Garrett. Charean Williams from the Fort Worth Star Telegram writes the head coach insists he hasn’t changed, but the team has.

Garrett’s trust and confidence in his team has grown with each victory, which is at six consecutive and counting.

In Sunday’s 29-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Garrett called for a fake punt in the third quarter and a fourth-down attempt in overtime.

“Those are just situations we’re trying to help our team win the game,” Garrett said. “We try to instill belief in our team in everything that we do each and every day.

“… Any decision you make about faking a punt or trying an onside kick or going for it on fourth-and-1, those are all meant to give our team the best chance to win. We certainly believe in our team; we believe those situations are going to work out for us. They’re well practiced; they’re well thought out before the game. When the circumstances arose, we thought those were the best things to do at those particular times, and they worked out. It’s one thing to make the call. The players are executing those things. They did a really nice job of taking the work in practice to the game and executing those in critical moments in the game.”

The Cowboys’ defense didn’t show up until the fourth quarter, and that’s when the team needed them the most, opines Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.

But the Cowboys allowed the Eagles and their rookie quarterback to nickel-and-dime them all night with slants, curls, square-ins, square-outs and flares. [Carson] Wentz completed 32 passes against the Cowboys for 202 yards. It was a controlled game of keepaway, and the Eagles were executing the game plan to perfection, keeping Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and the NFL’s third-best offense off the field.

Philadelphia’s success this season has been based on its ability to control the ball and not make mistakes. The same with Dallas. The Cowboys entered the game leading the NFL in time of possession at 33 minutes, nine seconds per game. The Eagles ranked second at 32 minutes, 16 seconds.

But it was the Eagles who dictated the tempo, controlling the ball for more than 33 minutes in regulation, with Wentz continually throwing in front of the defensive backs, making them become tacklers instead of covermen. The ball was coming out quick, and there was little pressure on the quarterback. Wentz was sacked just once by the Cowboys in the first 41 times he dropped back to pass.

But [Terrell] McClain, [Tyrone] Crawford, [Sean] Lee, [Orlando] Scandrick and [Cedric] Thornton delivered when the game was on the line.

“At the critical moments we were able to make the plays and get off the field,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s really important when you’re in a game down by two scores. The defense did a really good job in the latter part of the game.”

The Cowboys are on the road next to take on the Cleveland Browns. But Dallas won’t have Barry Church and maybe even Morris Claiborne for some time with injuries.

Next, let’s head across the pond to London where the Redskins tied the Bengals at 27. Kirk Cousins threw for a career-high 458 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Robert Kelley took over the starting job for an injured Matt Jones with 87 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Jamison Crowder led all Redskin receivers with 107 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Jordan Reed also recorded a score.

The Redskins were flagged 15 times during the game, including five on cornerback Josh Norman. Head coach Jay Gruden is frustrated by the inconsistency with the league’s officiating, according to Tommy Chalk of the Washington Times.

“Some of them were not very blatant, that’s for sure. Some of the glancing hits to the facemask on [Bengals wide receiver] A.J. Green, I don’t understand them. There was no intent there to injure. It was absolutely just a glancing blow that had nothing to do with anything. They called them. They thought it was a penalty and we just have to make sure as defensive backs that we have our hands down. [cornerback Quinton] Dunbar had two or three, I think, holding calls. One of them in the end zone, I don’t know what to teach him. He’s jamming his guy, [Cincinnati quarterback] Andy [Dalton] threw it over the guy’s head and threw it out of bounds, but they called holding again.”

Gruden’s comments come after Norman delivered a frustrated post-game rant Sunday about referee Brad Freeman. Freeman has been a ref in the NFL for three seasons.

“Who is 88 [Freeman’s number]?” Norman told USA Today’s Martin Rogers. “I just got to know. Who is official 88? He sucked. Just got to be honest with you. I’m going to be straightforward. He was terrible and I feel he like should be reprimanded. I feel like some of the plays that was going on out there … it was terrible.”

Gruden said Norman, widely regarded as one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, may be getting targeted a bit more by referees and by opponents because of his status.

“He’s such a high-profile player and he plays so hard,” Gruden said. “He’s always up there in bump-and-run. Playing physical with the receivers, I think they keep a close eye on him and his matchup. I think some of the great corners have had to go through that a little bit. I think [Darrelle] Revis probably has in his career. Just goes with the territory. When you’re a great player, people keep a closer on eye you.”

The defending NFC East champions have yet to turn a corner halfway through the season, opines Liz Clarke of the Washington Post.

Instead of fulfilling the promise they displayed during last year’s run to the division title, the Redskins have staged a maddening dance through the first half of the 2016 season, taking two steps forward and two steps back.

Sunday’s tie with the Bengals was a fitting metaphor.

The Redskins outgained the Bengals 546 yards to 415. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for a career-high 458 yards on 38-of-56 passing, with two touchdowns and one interception. And the team’s three most valuable starters — tight end Jordan Reed, cornerback Josh Norman and left tackle Trent Williams — all played despite lingering injuries, making meaningful contributions and demonstrating admirable toughness.

But as with so many games this season, mistakes and missed opportunities left the Redskins short. Among them: a fourth-and-one call in the first quarter that failed, leaving a potential field goal unscored. Poor tackling that allowed a 65-yard kickoff return and, in turn, set up the Bengals’ first touchdown. A rash of penalties — 15, to the Bengals’ seven — that could be fervently debated but cost the Redskins dearly. And two missed field goals by kicker Dustin Hopkins — a 55-yarder at the close of the half that was a stretch and the 34-yarder that would have won the game in overtime.

The Redskins are on the bye this week, but will host the Minnesota Vikings in two weeks.

And finally to the Giants, who were on the bye after defeating the Los Angeles Rams last week in London.

With the bye week past them, the Giants hope to fix their struggling offense starting this week, starting with the run game. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News has more,

“Offensively, we definitely need to pick up the pace in a lot of categories,” [Jerry] Reese said. “I believe we did some things over the break and self-scouted a little bit to look into what is going on with our offense. Obviously we need to run the ball better. We need to do better down in the red zone and score some points.”

Eli Manning‘s offense is dead-last out of the NFL’s 32 teams in time of possession per game (25:57) and rushing yards per game (70.3), two directly-related stats. They rank 26th in points per game (19) and 29th in yards per carry (3.3).

Manning, who has just eight touchdowns and six interceptions, also sees the Giants’ minus-7 turnover differential (28th in the league) as a critical area.

“Put the ball in the end zone,” the quarterback said of the offense’s greatest problem. “(But) I think we have to protect the ball, one — I think that has been a problem in certain games where we have moved the ball, had a lot of yards and different things, but the turnovers. So we have to protect the football better and put ourselves in a better position to be successful.”

According to comedian Tom Arnold, a good friend of Giants’ owner Steve Tisch, the team was very close to hiring Alabama head coach Nick Saban before naming Ben McAdoo for the job. The New York Post’s Hannah Withiam has more.

“They got his deal done with [Ben McAdoo] and they are ready to sign him, and, they get a call from [boxing promoter] Bob Arum [according to] who says Nick Saban wants the job,” Arnold told ESPN’s Paul Finebaum. “So they had to stop. This is a Saturday night. They said, ‘You have until Sunday morning at 8 a.m. to say a definite yes. Tell us what he needs for money.’ ‘Well, he needs $10 million to start with and this is the deal. He has to get it approved by his wife right.’ Well, he has to get it approved by his wife right this second because we have a coach on the string here. But if he wants to do it, it has to be right this second. So he had until Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and it didn’t work out. But it was close.”

Arum confirmed much of the story Saturday, saying he didn’t remember the $10 million figure, but said “it was a big, big contract.”

Although Saban’s one head-coaching stint in the NFL didn’t go as planned — a 15-17 record with the Dolphins from 2005-2006 — his extraordinary success at the college level has earned him respect from professional organizations, like the Giants, who may have been eager to give him a second chance.

“Cause if Nick Saban’s interested,” Arnold reasoned, “People are like, ‘Woah.’”