Saturday, September 01, 2007

NFC East Preview

Here is an NFC East’s guys picks

Philly (12-4)*
New York (10-6) *
Dallas ( 8-8)
Washington (7-9)

Philly was better than they were given credit for last year. They were 10-6 despite losing a game by a 62 yard field goal, an improbable loss from a 24-7 4th quarter lead, and they lost their MVP Quarterback for over a third of the season. The core of this team was still strong enough to nearly make it to yet another NFC Championship game.

Here are the Eagles records since 02’
02’ 12-4
03’ 12-4
04’ 13-3
05’ 6-10
06’ 10-6
07 they will be 12-4

This organization has been run remarkable. They demonstrate fiscal responsibility, they would rather get rid of aging players a year early as opposed to a year late, they draft well, they are light on free agency, they have coaching stability.

One of the main reasons why I predict the Eagles will be better is because they will be better at running the ball. Last year a lot was made of the fact that the once Jeff Garcia took over at Quarterback, the Eagles ran the ball a much higher percentage of the time. I believe running the ball more, kept the defense fresher, and took some pressure of Jeff Garcia.

I believe the Eagles will keep up the trend, and run the ball more. Donovan Mcnabb might not put up the silly passing numbers, but more runs will equal less pressure on Mcnabb and a fresher defense. Mcnabb might not have his best career numbers, but he will be very efficient. I have Mcnabb ranked as tied for the 3rd best quarterback in the league, and not because of his feet, but because he understands his west coast offense and makes good decisions.

Bryan Westbrook is an outstanding player, but the strength of this running back isn’t carrying the ball. I know that sounds counter productive, but he is such an outstanding pass threat that it makes him worthwhile. I guess what I am trying to say, is that he isn’t at his strength running between the tackles, but getting the ball in the open field.

The Eagles might pass for a higher percentage of their plays, but a lot of these “passes” are really runs. If Donovan drops backs and immediately throws to his back in the flats, these plays are really long handoffs. The reason for doing this is because you would rather have a shifty/agile Westbrook in the open field playing 1 on 1 on the outside, instead of 6 on 7 with blockers in the trenches.

Correll Buckhalter is not as good of a player, but I would like to see the Eagles continue to use him later in games as that North/South runner in the trenches. I do believe the Eagles have a good offensive line. Thomas and Runyan are big prototypical tackles and Shane Andrews is a real road grader at guard. The Eagles have the horses to run block, so I would like to see them as able to attack the edges and pass/ run screens with Westbrook, but also pound the ball with Buckhalter and wear down defenses and protect leads late in games.

Besides more efficiency/running on offense, I see the Eagles defense improving. Defense is about pressure, and a good way to create pressure is by the defensive line. Pressure causes sacks, fumbles, interceptions, and these turnovers give your offense the ball in very favorable field position. The Eagles should create pressure with their stacked defensive line. The starting defensive Ends are quality, and they have good depth. They have the ability to rotate in Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas as a second unit much like a Hockey team. Sometimes as early as the second quarter last year, they would just substitute in a whole new defensive line. Darren Howard is strong against the run, and the Freak is a natural pass rusher with a quick first step. He has long arms, and his athleticism is rarely matched by the right tackles that are asked to block him. The Eagles also have some young high round picks and some other guys mixed in there at tackle. The Ends haven’t been great thus far, but the young guys should improve, and by rotating everybody around, the depth should inflate the results a little bit as well. I expect the Eagles to get back to dialing up that blitz, and pressuring opponents. Takeo Spikes is that big play linebacker that they lacked, that can cause turnovers, and strike fear into opponents.

This team has the coaching stability, the great CEO Quarterback, the defense, the ability to win on the road, and the history. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team started off 4-1 before their week 7 trip to Chicago and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were 8-2 for their week 12 trip to Foxboro. It would be tough, but it is do-able. In any event this team will have a first round bye in the NFC playoffs.

New York Giants.
May people are extremely low on the New York Giants. You will hear how the players don’t like their coach, how Coughlin scolds his players for being 15 minutes late, how Tiki was the whole team, how Strahan is unhappy, and the guys on the radio picked them to be 6-10. The New York Giants are like the plague right now. Vegas has them down for about 8 wins, but I see the Giants going over that.

People tend to remember what happened last, the most. People will see the Colts win the super bowl, and talk about how “I know it is cheesy to pick a repeat, but I can’t see them losing”. Well when you’re picking games or forecasting a season, you need a good imagination because anything can happen. People see a team dominate one week, and can’t “see” how it won’t happen each and every week thereafter. Two years ago, the Giants were picked to finish last in the NFC East, because the Eagles owned the division, and the Giants were breaking in a new Quarterback. The team stunk the previous year, Eli stunk his first year, and the players “hated” the coach. The team went 11-5, won the division, and then got embarrassed in their playoff game. That was the game they started calling up guys off the street to come play linebacker for them because all three starting linebackers were injured. Then last years predictions came out, and people put too much emphasis on the embarrassing Carolina playoff loss.

Last year the Giants had the hardest schedule in the NFL going into the year, and they had half their games against playoff teams, they played 3 of the final 4, and both super bowl teams. The Giants were a tale of two teams last year… they were good the first half of the year, and bad the second half of the year. The correlation wasn’t due to the coach, or any individual player, but by the fact that they had massive injuries, and they lost some close, well fought battles (Dallas, Philly playoff game etc.) This year, people still remember the stink from that second half downturn.

The Giants might not necessarily be a better team next year, but their schedule will be easier so their record could be better. I don’t think the loss of Tiki Barber will be as bad as other people think it will be. With that being said, I don’t see Brandon Jacobs matching his 1665 rushing yards, but I could see him getting a solid 1250 yards. Not that the Giants need to match their offensive yardage, but I could easily see Eli bumping up 400 yards to his 06’ 3200 passing yards.

Last year when the sure and dependable Amani Toomer was hurt, Eli basically had 3 choices… throw to Plax, throw to shockey, or throw to Tiki. Tim Carter was ineffective, Sinorce Moss was hurt, David Tyree was more of a special teams guy.

I do expect Toomer to take leadership of the receiving corps., I’d rather have Plax as an option ( filling the deep ball niche) rather than being a go-to guy. Shockey will be shockey, but I do expect a little more from the 3rd and 4th guys on the depth chart. I expect something out of the speedy Sinorice Moss, or the rookie Steve Smith. Eli Manning isn’t a game manager, he can run the muddle huddle, 4 WR sets, he can make reads and attack the field. He hasn’t shown the most accuracy, but Donovan Mcnabb was throwing ground balls early in his career and he turned out ok.

Eli has had some bumps and bruises along his development, but I expect him to get better. People want to give up on this guy too early, but
- he made the playoffs both of his years as the starter.
- He has thrown 48 touchdown passes in 2 years as a starter.

People want to bash the Giants for losing Tiki, but they didn’t lose much at all last year when Jacobs was in the game. He isn’t as good as Barber in absolute terms, but he offers a different product. He is a cloud of dust back, that can pound yards when they aren’t there, while Tiki can take advantage of good opportunities when they are there better. I think Jacobs could turn some of those 1 yard Tiki Runs into 3 yards, and put Eli in more manage-able situations on 3rd downs.

Two years ago the Giants had the highest scoring offense for much of the year. This was because the defense created turnovers, and gave the offense the ball in good field position. The Giants also had a good return game.

Last year, Michael Strahan, Osi, and Fred Robbins were all hurt on the defensive line and both starting corners were hurt. The defensive coordinator Tim Lewis had a defense that was designed to create pressure from their all-pro defensive ends, while they dropped mainly 7 men into pass coverage. That plan may have worked and all, but when the ends were hurt it wasn’t a good idea. They also started the year off with an unbearable first 3 games. How would you like to be the DC when your first 3 games are Indy, @ Philly and @ Seattle against the best quarterbacks in the league?

I expect the Giants to bliz more on defense, and start creating more turnovers again. Your pass rush should have problems when both ends and both corners are hurt, and you don’t blitz. I think Mathias Kiwi was very underrated at the D-End spot last year. He was tall, long, fast, and had a motor. I see him as a little bit smaller end ( a good natural pass rusher), but when I do believe he could make it as a SAM linebacker as well. He sort of reminds me of a skinnier version of Demarcus Ware down in Dallas on a physical level. I believe more pressure on D will equal better field position and easier points for that offense.

The secondary is shaky at best, but if the pass rush does it’s job, I don’t think they are that bad that they can’t be masked. McQuarters impressed me as the 3rd corner, but I’d like to see Ross and Webster develop. Webster has all of the physical tools, and I’d like to see what he can do healthy. Remember, when he was a junior at LSU, he was the #1 touted corner in the nation, before getting hurt.

The Giants start the year out with a modest schedule of @ Dallas, GB, @ Wash, Phi. Now if they could start this first 4 game stretch out at least 2-2 (optimistically 3-1), they will be in very good position, because the middle of their schedule is soft until week 13. After the first 4 games they get Jets, @ Atl, @ Miami, Bye, DAL, @ Det, Min. They could go 5-1, but If they went 4-2 on that stretch they would be 6-4 with 2 tough games @ Chicago and @ Philly. I do see the Giants finishing over .500 and I do see them making the playoffs.

I very clearly see the Eagles winning the East, I see the Giants strong at #2, but 3 and 4 are closer in my opinion. I am going with Dallas at 3 and here is why…

In general I think coaching change is a bad thing. You have to get used to a new voice, new schemes, and a general shake up of the organization. Sometimes it works ( Naw Awlans last year), but usually it doesn’t ( Oakland Last year).

I really think Bill Parcells is/was one of the top 3 coaches on any list… current… all-time etc. The guy can win with a passing offense, a ball control offense, a defensive team, he can plan, motivate, be funny, be fair and be stern at the same time. He has taken crap teams and built them up, and he has maximized the value of his teams. Not every stint was perfect, but nobody is perfect.

I believe the Cowboys were two distinct teams last year, one led by Bledsoe and one led by Romo. The Bledsoe cowboys were not as good as the Romo Cowboys, but Parcells got the most he could out of Bledsoe. For instance, if Romo was the QB the whole season, they might have been a 6-10 team, but if Romo were the QB the entire season, they might have been an 11-5 team. I actually picked Dallas (as a sleeper) to represent the NFC in the super bowl last year, and if a botched XP type kick had been made, they would have at least come closer with a 2nd round playoff appearance.

I think the Loss of Parcells hurts, but remember that he is leaving the ROMO team and not the Bledsoe team. Don’t have the illusion that Wade Phillips is anywhere near as good as of a head coach as Parcells. When Parcells inherited this team, they were in shambles. Now, Wade Phillips inherits a playoff team to build upon.

- I know they signed Lenard Davis, but I don’t like the Pass blocking of this team ( Bledsoe illustrates that), Romo is surprisingly good in the pocket which helps mask that.
- I don’t like the Kicking game
- They get a coaching downgrade, AND they have a new coach

I do think they have something at linebacker though. Phillips will run the 3-4, and he has some players to work with. Demarcus Ware is a beast, Anthony Spencer is a highly touted DE/OLB hybrid, Bobby Carpenter looked good at the end of last year, and I like Bradie James in the middle. They have a talented LB corps for that 3-4 defense.

The interesting thing about the Cowboys schedule, is that they have some of their easier opponents on the road, with the harder guys at home. Instead of having clearly defined predicted Ws and Ls, they have sort of a feast or famine schedule.

Miami, Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit and Carolina are road games, but they are all win-able,
St. Louis, New England, Minnesota, Jets, GB looks harder, but they are at home.

Chicago is obviously the hardest road game, but the rest look win-able.
Minnesota is the easiest home game, but the other opponents should at or around .500

I think the Cowboys could, be a playoff team, but losing a Hall of Fame coach hurts more than you think. I think there is the possibility that they won’t be worse record wise, because Phillips will be playing with the Romo Cowboys, instead of wasting time with Bledsoe.

Washington was a joke last year. I loved laughing at the coaches fighting, the QB situation, and watching the lack of pass rush. The Redskins were high on the ESPN preseason power rankings, but I clearly had them as finishing last in their division ( check my link) In fact, I had all 3 NFC East playoff teams correct, and I had 5/6 of the NFC correct ( minus New Orleans).

Everybody in Washington wanted to see Mark Brunell and his horizontal offense benched, but Jason Campbell didn’t do any better. It seems to me, like Joe Gibbs is at the end of his coaching road, and he would rather have a consistent, but unspectacular Mark Brunell manage games, and try and win on defense, than bring up Jason Campbell and play that whole game.

My prediction about the Redskins, is that Joe Gibbs will NOT be coaching the team next year. He still has one foot in his Nascar life, the coaches are fighting ( more than usual), and his grandson has some health problems. He hasn’t had as much success in this second go-around, I expect the pain to end.

I think the Media made too much of the 700 page playbook, much in the same way they laughed at Tom Couglin and his 15 mintues late tirade. The Redskins playbook might be 700 pages, but what if I told you that the other teams average playbook was 550 pages? What if I told you that only 100 pages were important etc. Taking the number of pages in their playbook out of context is riddulous. I understand that their offense could be hard to learn, but this is pro football. Do you think Al Saunders offense is more difficult to learn than the West Coast offense that Philly runs? They said it takes “ 1 year” to learn his offense, well what about learning the offense that Matt Hassellback runs in Seattle?

I think the Redskins best chance of being a winner next year, would be to use those big boys on the offensive line, and run the ball with Portis/Betts, and play good defense. Be like the Steelers, have a power run game, play good D, and let your quarterback manage the game. If Jason Campbell is asked to be Drew Brees, they will lose. If you ask him to play Ben Hamburger and not make mistakes, they could be decent.

I actually like a bigger Laddell Betts running the ball over the speedier Clinton Portis. Betts is a big back that can follow the lineman on those pull outs and then click it into the next gear and gain yards. Ports is a threat for the long run, but won’t get as many yards on the consistent basis. Fans love speedy backs, but I like my 3 yard and a cloud of dust back.

I think the back 7 on defense are actually pretty good, the only problem is that defense starts up front. Griffin is good, and Samoa is underrated, but the Ends don’t cut it. I would honestly rather have the backup defensive ends from Philly than the starters in Washington. Cole over Carter, and Thomas over Daniels. I think Phillip Daniels is a joke and there is no way this guy should see the field. The pass defense as bad last year, because opposing quarterbacks had forever to throw. People had film study on Greg Williams blitzes, and the Ends weren’t good enough to create pass rush on their own. I believe the back 7 would LOOK better, if the pass rush were even average.

The Redskins Defense was historically bad at creating turnovers, and sacking opponents. That was a function of the poor pass rush, and I see no reason why it will improve. Maybe it will get a little better, but they will need to get creative to create a pass rush. Wasn’t Shawn Springs the leading sack artist on the team from the CB position 2 years ago? Carter led the team with 6 sacks? That doesn’t cut it. I actually think Andre Carter is ok, but he can’t do it by himself, and Phillip Daniels is an absolute joke.

With the Redskins schedule, I think they could be that run the ball, play defense kind of team, but I’d peg them at 7-9.

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