The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the NFC East from Week 13
December 5, 2013 in NFC East
By Nick Clarke
The Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo continued their Thanksgiving day success with a win over the Oakland Raiders, and with the win the Cowboys lead the division with only four games left to play. The Cowboys spotted the Raiders seven points by fumbling the opening kickoff and allowing the Raiders to scoop it up and run it back for a touchdown and with the early careless play the Cowboys found themselves down 21-7 at the two minute warning before the half. The Cowboys drove down the field with less than two minutes to play to score a momentum shifting touchdown and never looked back, even with all the early struggles, the Cowboys were able to stay focused and move two games above .500 for the first time all year. The rushing attack, led by Lance Dunbar’s 82 rushing yards, played a crucial role in the win; DeMarco Murray was able to add three touchdowns on the ground as well as racking up 63 rushing yards. If the Cowboys can continue to run the ball effectively, they could be a dominant force by season’s end.
The Eagles narrowly escaped the Arizona Cardinals with a little help from the officiating crew last week. Nick Foles looked masterful once again and is turning the Eagles into the team to beat in the NFC East. Foles threw three touchdowns for 237 yards and added 22 more yards on the ground. The most important aspect of Foles’ game is his ability to not turn the ball over and still create big plays. Earlier in the season the Eagles were under the impression the mistake prone Michael Vick was their only quarterback with big play potential who fit Chip Kelly’s system, but little did they know Nick Foles would emerge as an MVP candidate under Kelly’s up tempo offense. If Foles can continue to play even close to the level he is playing at right now, the Eagles will be in great shape for the remaining four games of their schedule.
The Redskins were up by two scores at the beginning of the second quarter and at the half Robert Griffin III had only thrown one incompletion. RGIII started the game looking confident in the no-huddle offense and the offense looked like a well oiled machine. RGIII threw for 149 passing yards in the first half and a touchdown, the offense was gaining yards right and left, whether it was RGIII’s arm or his legs, RGIII rushed for a team high 88 yards. If the Redskins can take anything from their fourth straight loss, it should be that the Redskins offense and RGIII still have the potential to be dangerously good, especially when executing a fast paced read option style option, similar to Chip Kelly’s.
The Giants were able to limit the damage of the Redskins strong offensive first half to keep the score within reach. The Giants’ final drive of the half was the turning point of the game, up until that drive the offense had been non existent, other than two brilliant runs. The Giants drove 82 yards in two minutes and fifty nine seconds to even things up and carry momentum into the second half, which they used to shut down the Redskins’ offense in the third quarter and grab the lead early in the fourth quarter. Andre Brown’s two touchdown runs are encouraging for an offense that is fairly predictable in the red zone, where they look to throw the majority of the time.
Although the Cowboys found a way to comeback and dominate the Raiders in the second half, the first half cannot be ignored. The Cowboys only found themselves down 7 at the half, yet they recorded zero total yards in the second quarter before the two minute warning of the half, allowed rookie quarterback Matt McGloin to throw for 146 passing yards in the first half, and only held the ball for 12 minutes for the entire first half. The Cowboys cannot rely on strong second half efforts, even against the Raiders, they need to start strong right out of the gate. The ability to run the ball will help the offense become more two dimensional as well as increase the time of possession and will ease the second half pressure off Romo. The penultimate factor in starting early is getting Dez Bryant involved early, not waiting until the game is close or almost out of hand, Bryant should be seeing at least five targets in the first quarter from here on out, anything else is inexcusable by the coaching staff as well as Romo.
The Eagles held a twenty four to seven lead in the middle of the third quarter, yet they allowed the Cardinals to get all the way back into game up until the last drive. This is second straight week the Eagles have rushed out to a big lead, which they then proceed to let slip away. The idea that the Eagles can hold the ball for so little time when leading by so much is just not smart. Chip Kelly’s offense is suppose to go fast, but in certain situations scoring points is not always the only thing that matters on offense. I’m not suggesting Kelly should coach not to lose, but just to tone down the aggressive play that has almost cost the Eagles two wins.
The Redskins played a much better first half than the Giants did, yet the teams were tied at the end of the half. The Redskins Defense gave up huge chucks of yardage on the ground throughout the game, but particularly in the second quarter. On the first Giants scoring drive the Redskins allowed a 27 yard carry and a 23 yard touchdown run. The Redskins needed to go into halftime with a bigger lead, seeing as the Giants offense only totaled 83 yards, including only 4 yards in the first quarter, before their final drive of the half which resulted in a touchdown. The Redskins could not afford to allow the Giants to play such a poor half and carry momentum into the locker room; the Redskins’ defense just couldn’t make stops when it needed to, especially with respect to momentum.
The Giants still need a miracle, but they are not out of the division race just yet. The problem with thinking the Giants are capable of getting back into the division race is that they just haven’t been playing awfully good football and haven’t beaten a fairly good team all year, the “Foles-less” Eagles included. Even with Eli Manning protecting the ball better he still isn’t making big plays or leading the offense into any kind of groove. If the Giants want to remain relevant for the next couple of weeks, they need to get Victor Cruz more involved, in Cruz’s last six games he has surpassed 100 yards just once. The Giants picked up a much needed divisional win, but they still don’t look remotely like a playoff team.
If you watched the Thanksgiving day broadcast of the Cowboys’ game, you might have noticed that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, the CBS announcers, pointed out a number of former Cowboys who are now members of the Raiders, and most of these former Cowboys punished America’s team on Thanksgiving. Mike Jenkins and Andre Holmes certainly played with revenge on their mind, Jenkins contained Dez Bryant for most of the game and Holmes had a career day with 136 yards on 7 catches. The Cowboys might want to reconsider the talent they let walk out of their doors.
The Eagles had a few too many calls go their way at the end of the game, also some horrible decisions were by the Eagles were negated by these questionable penalties. Nick Foles made about the worst decision he could on second down with seven yards to go as the Eagles led by three with less than five minutes to play and were at their own 34; The Cardinals immediately initiated pressure on Foles and instead of taking the sack and running down the clock, Foles lobbed the ball up in the air while he was getting sacked and it was intercepted by Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals would have had the ball at the Eagles 43 with over four minutes to play and only needing a field goal to send the game to overtime, but an irreverent and undeserving holding call was called on Tyrann Mathieu and the play did not count. Foles and the Eagles got off lucky, and with a tough four game stretch in a tight division race, luck will not always be there to catch them.
The Redskins scored three second half points after scoring seven points within the first seven minutes of the game. Whether it was the refs making embarrassing errors late in the game, receivers dropping passes, or RGIII looking to run rather than throwing down field the Redskins resorted back to their old ways just when you thought there may be a glimpse of hope. Robert Griffin III passed for 149 first half yards, yet only managed to throw for 58 yards in the second half, with 31 of those coming on the last possession of the game. The Redskins season will be mathematically over if the Cowboys or Eagles when next week, but if you’ve watched the Redskins this year, their season never really started.
Hakeem Nicks has yet to score a touchdown all season. Nicks is the Giants’ biggest receiver and best red zone target, he is designed for the red zone, yet Eli and Nicks just can’t get on the same page. Nicks has been underwhelming all season long, which will hurt his stock, as he is to become a free agent after this season, but the fact that a receiver of his prowess doesn’t have a TD grab is puzzling. Nicks needs to use these final four weeks to impress future suitors, and that starts with getting into the end zone a couple of times before season’s end.