NFC East Week 4: Eagles Win Wild, Defensive Struggle Over Giants
By Justin Henry

Although Dallas vs. Chicago won’t take place until Monday night, all the NFC East action thus far has included frenzied fourth-quarters and games coming down to field goals.

First, Washington had to fend off a late charge by Tampa Bay in order to preserve their victory at the big pirate ship. Despite Robert Griffin III’s best efforts, second half woes continued, but a spurned player came through in the end for the Warpath Braves.

In Sunday’s main event, Philadelphia and New York continued their eight-decade rivalry with one for the ages in Lovetown. What began as a slow defensive battle of wills exploded into an orgy of offensive dominance, one befitting of the nail-biting finish tacked onto it.

1. After a Slow Build, the Offenses Explode in Philly
It wasn’t easy.

Secondary stars Nnamdi Asomugha and Kenny Phillips were lost to injuries. The running games were non-existent in the first half. Michael Vick and Eli Manning couldn’t jump-start anything until late in the first half.

In the end, it took Lawrence Tynes to miss two field goals (one nullified by an Andy Reid “freeze”) for the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the New York Giants 19-17 at Lincoln Financial Field.

For his part, Michael Vick put forth his best overall effort of the season thus far, going 19 for 30 for 241 yards, a touchdown, and no picks. On the night, Vick posted a 99.4 QB rating, far better than the 66.2 rating he had on the season going in. Stats compiled, Vick comes out with a rating of 72.7 on the year.

It was a good night to buy stock in the Eagles’ offensive stars on the fantasy side of things. Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy contributed 123 yards on 23 carries (5.3 YPA) along with Vick’s 6 scrambles for 49 yards (8.2 YPA).

On the receiving front, DeSean Jackson contributed 99 yards on 6 catches, plus the Eagles’ lone touchdown, his first of the year. Tight end Brent Celek came up big himself, with 4 catches for 57 yards.

As for the Giants, they did everything but win.

Eli Manning led a pair of hot-knife touchdown drives in the second half, ending up with 309 yards passing on 57.1 percent completions. Manning did throw 2 touchdowns, but also a costly interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles secondary, thanks to misreads, and the absence of Nnamdi Asomugha with an eye injury for an extended period, were torched by a couple 100-yard receivers: Dominik Hixon (6 catches, 114 yards) and Victor Cruz (9 catches, 109 yards, and one of the touchdowns).

2. Yes, Philly, You Can Run, So Do It!
5.31 yards per rushing attempt. Remember that number.

Coming into Sunday night’s divisional battle, two things were known for sure:

1) The Giants hadn’t given up more than 125 rushing yards per game to a single opponent so far this season.

2) Despite having the most dangerous scrambling quarterback, and one of the game’s 3 best running backs, at their disposal, Philadelphia would rather slam their genitals in a sliding glass door than establish a running game over a passing game.

Now, we know nothing for sure.

Philadelphia ran for 191 yards on 36 carries (the aforementioned 5.31 YPA), up from their 4.40 average on the year. McCoy and Vick combined for 172 yards themselves (5.93 YPA), while young fullback Stanley Havili added 15 yards on a pair of carries later in the game.

Last week, in their lopsided loss to Arizona, the Eagles only called for design run plays 27 percent of the time (17 run, 46 pass), with only 5 design runs coming before they were down 17-0.

This time around, if you count one of Vick’s scrambles as a design run (the setup of the play, plus the oncoming rush, made it ambiguous), the Eagles called 67 offensive plays.

31 of them were run, against 36 design passes. That makes for a much healthier and palatable 46.3 percent called runs, many of them on a weakened Giants defense in the second half. Had Philadelphia not stalled a few times in the red zone, it wouldn’t have been that close of a game.

Going into the game, the Giants allowed 4.15 yards a carry, about average. That total inflates to 4.55 yards after Philadelphia cut streaks through them.

3. The Champs Revert to Their Worst Form
Heading into a showdown with the 0-4 Cleveland Browns may do wonders for the Giants, who can use the opportunity to fine tune where their offense went awry on Sunday.

Make no mistake: a little more leg from Tynes’ final kick, and New York would be the ones that are 3-1. But there were plenty of blotches and blemishes in New York’s offense, particularly before those long touchdown drives in the second half, that New York played a part in beating themselves.

Using Cold Hard Football Facts’ Offensive Hog Index as a frame of reference, the Giants boasted the sixth best combined rating of efficiency in three categories: rushing yards per attempt (Eleventh best, 4.12 YPA), negative passing plays (Tenth best, 6.40 percent), and third down percentage (Twelfth best, 41.03 percent).

Regarding rushing YPA, that number took a serious hit. No Giants rusher had a run of more than 9 yards (Ahmad Bradshaw), and Eli Manning never had occasion to scramble into open field for a 10 or 15 yard gain.

The Giants ran for 57 yards on 19 carries, exactly 3.0 YPA. Ahmad Bradshaw led the team with 39 yards on 13 carries for exactly 3.0 YPA on his own. The Giants YPA dips to 3.89 on the year, whereas the Eagles defensive YPA improves from 4.40 to 3.81.

Negative passing plays (passing plays that end in a sack or pick) didn’t come into play as much as expected. The Eagles didn’t sack Manning one time, and only forced one pick; the end zone interception by Rodgers-Cromartie.

But third down percentage, oh did this take a dive. That 41.03 percent average (16 of 39), when combined with their anemic 2 for 10 outing on Sunday, drops to 36.73 percent.

The Eagles defensively came into the game allowing only 28.57 percent of third downs to be converted, and those odds improve to 26.92 percent (14 of 52).

4. Washington Escapes Second Half Meltdown to Beat Tampa Bay
Redskins opponents in 2012: 123 points (30.75 PPG)

Redskins opponents in the fourth quarter, 2012: 46 points (11.5 points per fourth)

Percentage of opposing teams’ points scored in the fourth quarter: 37.39 percent

Perhaps it’s not surprise that Tampa Bay mounted an offensive in the second half against the Redskins on Sunday, after scoring just a pair of field goals in the first half.

Coming out of the midway point down 21-6, Josh Freeman shook off his horrid first half stats (13/22, 107 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT for a 52.7 QB rating) to do all but engineer the victory in the second half (11/17, 192 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, for a rating of 122.6).

In that second half, Tampa receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams scored huge gains against a depleted Redskins secondary (a 65-yarder for Williams; 83 yards and a touchdown for Jackson with DeAngelo Hall lagging behind him)

Despite winning 24-22, thanks to a late Billy Cundiff field goal (Cundiff went 1 for 4 on the day), the Redskins are having trouble in the second halves of games this season. Next to Tennessee, the Redskins were the only team, through week 3, to have given up 14+ points in 2 different fourth quarters.

That’s not to mention the offense, which has only posted 20 combined points in 4 fourth quarters this year, with 10 points (vs. New Orleans) being the maximum, and were shut out by the Rams a week later.

Washington’s next 2 opponents are Atlanta (31 PPG) and Minnesota (22.5 PPG). Minnesota has scored 30 fourth quarter points (7.5 PP4TH), whereas Atlanta has tallied only 19 (4.75 PP4TH), but led going into the fourth quarter in each of their games.

5: Tied For First or Last? Cowboys Latest Fate Comes Monday Night
Sitting at 2-1, Dallas can roll into their bye after Monday night, with either a share of first place with Philadelphia, or sharing the .500 cellar with the Redskins and Giants.

To get a share of the division lead with the Eagles, Dallas has to defeat the Chicago Bears (2-1), who are as dangerous in pass rushing and run stopping as they are giving up sacks and turnovers.

The Cowboys, with 8 sacks in their first 3 games, match up favorably with the hastily-assembled offensive line, which has allowed Jay Cutler to get plastered 11 times. When Cutler hasn’t been dropped by hungry defenders, he’s thrown 6 interceptions, 4 of them to an especially aggressive Packers defense.

But for as much as Cutler can be rattled, his Chicago defense can rattle a few bars themselves. Chicago has racked up 14 sacks of their own, with five players owning 1.5 or more sacks. They’re also capable of creating turnovers, as evidenced by their 6 interceptions, 4 from Tim Jennings alone, as well as 3 defensive fumble recoveries.

Tony Romo, for his part, has been sacked 7 times, and thrown only 3 interceptions, but the trouble could lie with the running game. The Bears have allowed only 76 YPG rushing, and no more than 81 yards for any one player (Cedric Benson).

In a matchup between Romo and Cutler, the team that makes less mistakes is virtually guaranteed victory. Whoever makes fewer on Monday Night Football will share the lead in their respective division.