NFC East Roundup: Dak Prescott Is Human, After All
Let’s take a spin around the NFC East and check in with the other three teams in the division.
We’ll begin in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. The Redskins fell on the road to the Arizona Cardinals, 31-23. Kirk Cousins threw for 271 yards with a touchdown and an interception, as well as diving in for a score of his own, while Robert Kelley ran for 63 yards on 14 carries. Pierre Garcon led Washington receivers with seven catches for 78 yards, while Jamison Crowder caught Cousins’ lone touchdown pass.
For the last two games, the team appears to have shifted away from giving Kelley the ball. Head coach Jay Gruden wants to get back to having “Fat Rob” more involved, as JP Finlay of CSN Mid-Atlantic writes.
The Redskins never trailed by more than a TD against the Cardinals like they did against the Cowboys. Washington even held two different second half leads in Arizona, and still, Kelley did not get the ball enough.
Further, Kelley was running the ball well in the desert. Where he struggled against Dallas – 14 rushes for 37 yards, good for just 2.64 YPC – Kelley gained more than 60 yards on 14 carries against the Cards, good for a 4.5 YPC average.
“We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more – more touches for Robert because he’s been very good as far as running the football,” Gruden said. “We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced.”
Beyond a balanced offense, Cousins often throws his best passes off play action. Without a commitment to the run game, the play action passing looks struggle. Usually one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, Cousins did not play his best against the Cardinals. Some of that was missing throws, and some of it was heavy pressure from the Arizona defensive line.
Even though the team is a playoff contender, Rick Snider of the Washington Post thinks their defense is holding them back from being a Super Bowl contender.
By giving up 31 points in back-to-back losses, the team has proven that opposing offenses have nothing to fear. The Cowboys and Cardinals showed once more that the Redskins can’t stop the run in crucial situations and are susceptible to explosive passing plays. Third-down defense is the real zinger. Washington allowed Arizona to convert 10 of 16 tries.
How fearless are opponents against the Redskins’ defensive line? The Cardinals ran on fourth-and-1 from their own 34 leading just 24-23. Nobody does that, because a stop would have given Washington prime field goal position with four minutes left. Naturally, Arizona ran 14 yards for a first down. Less than a minute later, the Cardinals scored on a 42-yard pass to seal the victory.
Coach Jay Gruden may have suffered a postgame locker room meltdown, yelling at the team so loudly that reporters could hear him through a wall, because he knows nothing will change in the final weeks.
It’s not about effort. It’s about talented players and coaches. The Redskins don’t have enough of either on defense.
The Redskins travel to take on the Eagles on Sunday. Offensive tackle Trent Williams returns from a four-game suspension, while tight end Jordan Reed‘s status is still unknown.
Moving on to the Giants, who lost this week to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-14, to snap a six-game winning streak. Eli Manning threw for only 195 yards with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions, while Paul Perkins led a lackluster run game with just 38 yards on seven carries. Odell Beckham, Jr. led Giant receivers with 10 catches for 100 yards, while running back Rashad Jennings and rookie Sterling Shepard caught both of Manning’s touchdown passes. Eli Apple recorded an interception.
But the Giants suffered a huge loss to their defense, as Jason Pierre-Paul is out for the remainder of the regular season.
#Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul is out 6 weeks following surgery for a core muscle injury, source said. At least, his regular season is over.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 7, 2016
Victor Cruz had no targets in the loss to the Steelers and was frustrated postgame. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News believes the team has wasted a healthy season from the veteran receiver.
Manning, in fairness, is forced to make chicken salad behind a poor offensive line with no running game and no top-tier tight end on the roster — all comments on [Jerry] Reese’s personnel work. Still, how has Cruz fallen so far off his and [Ben] McAdoo’s radar?
Cruz caught the Giants’ game-winning touchdown pass in Dallas in Week 1. Cruz snagged a difficult 50-50 ball in the red zone to bail out Odell Beckham Jr. for a huge drop in Week 2 win to beat the Saints.
Manning is making too many mistakes, and this offense is too predictable and inconsistent. Shepard had no targets in Cleveland. Cruz saw no passes against the Steelers. Manning’s second-quarter interception to Lawrence Timmons in the red zone basically decided Sunday’s game.
Cruz’s base salary rises from a renegotiated $2.4 million in 2016 to $6.4 million and $7.4 million, respectively, in the final two years of his current deal, per spotrac.com. So it was already likely this could be his final go-around with Big Blue. It’s just shocking how marginalized he has been in the game plan.
Manning doesn’t want a repeat of the losing feeling he got this past week, pens Kevin Kernan of the New York Post.
“You get humbled and come back to work and have a great attitude and have your mind set on what we have to do this week to beat Dallas,’’ Manning said Tuesday after practice.
“Football is a humbling game, you’re riding a six-game win streak, you’re feeling good, you get beat and you kind of get brought back down and you get that sick feeling that comes with losses.
“You can’t start moping around,’’ Manning said. “We can’t let one tough game lead to another at this point in the season. We have to bounce back quickly and understand the importance of this next game. We have to get on another win streak.’’
The goal is to get right again in Sunday night’s showdown with the 11-1 Cowboys at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants host the division leading Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
And speaking of those Cowboys, they defeated the Minnesota Vikings last Thursday night, 17-15. Dak Prescott threw for only 139 yards and a touchdown, but took three sacks, while Ezekiel Elliott ran for 86 yards and a touchdown. Dez Bryant caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, but the team fumbled the ball four times and lost it twice in the game.
For the first time, the team has found out that Prescott is human, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.
Dallas held an eight-point lead with 2:24 left. On third-and-1, which has been close to automatic for the Cowboys this season, Prescott was unable to hold onto the snap from center Travis Frederick. Elliott recovered, but the Cowboys were forced to punt, leading to Minnesota’s only touchdown drive of the evening.
That aborted play meant the normally efficient Cowboys’ offense was 1 of 9 on third-down conversions.
In fairness, Prescott did come up with some key plays to keep the Cowboys on the winning side of the ledger. His only third-down conversion came on third-and-13 in the second quarter when he ran for 14 yards. Four plays later, he hit Bryant over the top for a 56-yard gain to set up Elliott’s 1-yard touchdown plunge on the next play.
After reserve linebacker Kyle Wilber forced and recovered a fumble on a punt to give the Cowboys the ball on the 8-yard line, Prescott wasted no time in hitting Bryant for an 8-yard touchdown and a 14-9 lead.
Prescott was far from spectacular, but he did enough.
With the season winding down and the Cowboys already clinching a spot in the playoffs, Jerry Jones wants Tony Romo to be ready, from Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
“I want to do what gives us the best chance to have Tony contribute to a championship,” Jones said on his weekly 105.3 The Fan radio show Tuesday. “I do want Tony to be ready to go in case that Dak should have an issue, health wise. That gives us strength going into the playoffs.
“Not from the standpoint of necessarily protecting Dak … but from the standpoint of having Tony the readiest to come in and play would be my quick assessment.”
Romo, 36, has not taken a regular-season snap since fracturing his collarbone a second time in the 2015 Thanksgiving Day game against Carolina. He only had 16 snaps this preseason, leaving after the third snap in the third preseason game at Seattle with a compression fracture in his lower back.
Coaches and teammates have raved about how he’s looked in practice since being cleared to return, but the lingering question is how Romo will hold up when he takes a hit.
The Cowboys travel to the Meadowlands to take on the Giants on Sunday night.