By Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC Far East Movement
Change is in the air in the NFC East
The New York Giants, who became the first champion since 1999 to lose their opening match-up, have shaken off any doubts of a hangover by not only coming back strong to beat Tampa Bay, but annihilating Carolina four nights later. In the process, the G-Men gutted a certain Rookie of the Year with their most cohesive showing on defense to date.
The Dallas Cowboys continue their life along the bi-polar sliding scale, lifting themselves from the ashes of a beatdown in Seattle to wreak havoc of their own upon a young quarterback.
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t even get a chance to dole out their brand of fourth quarter magic, finding themselves in a colossal hole against Arizona early, with nothing to show for it but a lot of punishment for Michael Vick.
The Washington Redskins also had a rough Sunday, although more heartbreaking than the Eagles’ whipping. Despite Robert Griffin III’s all-around good game, the Cincinnati Bengals were just much better against Washington’s diminished defense.
Here are five things we learned about the NFC East.
1. The New Atomic Symbol for Kryptonite: “Ny”
One of two things was apparent on Thursday night. Either Cam Newton is the biggest one-hit-wonder of a second year quarterback since Vince Young, or the Giants defense has finally returned to prominence.
For the first time since September 12, 2010, oddly enough against Carolina as well, the New York Giants had five takeaways, including three interceptions of “Super Cam”.
Before the loss to the Giants, Cam Newton’s quarterback rating for the season was 100.8. After tossing three picks, and posting a dismal 53.3 percent completion percentage (16 for 30), Newton’s plummeted to a rating of 78.3.
In 19 career games, the 40.6 rating that Newton had on Thursday is his single-game worst, topping a 44.6 rating posted in a loss to Atlanta in October 2011.
If that wasn’t enough, New York stifled Carolina’s running attack in the 36-7 drubbing. Newton, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert combined for 60 yards on 20 carries, a mere 3 yards a run. Williams fared solidly with 50 yards on 11 carries (4.55 YPA), but Newton only had 6 yards on 6 carries to show for his takeoffs.
In Carolina’s two losses this season, Newton has only run for 10 yards on 11 carries.
This game is only the fifth of Tom Coughlin’s tenure as Giants coach that New York forced five or more turnovers, and only the second since winning Super Bowl XLII in 2008. The last one prior to that was in a win over the St. Louis Rams in October 2005.
2. Andre Brown? Ramses Barden? Who the Hell?
One is a running back who played just his fourth game in a sporadic 2+ year career, rushing for 43 more yards against the Panthers than he had in his entire NFL tenure.
The other is a backup wide receiver who caught as many passes on Thursday night as he did in the entire 2011 season.
Andre Brown, with 20 carries for 113 yards (5.65 YPA) and 2 touchdowns, became the 10th different Giants running back (in 29 instances) since 1960 to run for 100 yards and score 2 rushing touchdowns in a game.
After the successes of Tiki Barber, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Brandon Jacobs, Brown is the first running back aside from that trio to achieve this feat since September 1995 (Rodney Hampton).
For Ramses Barden, the 6’6” receiver never had more than 3 catches in any of his previous 19 games (none of which he started), nor more than 38 yards.
But Barden, a rarely seen third round pick in 2009, hauled in 9 catches for 138 yards in place of the injured Hakeem Nicks. Barden is the first Giants receiver in the merger era to have 125 or more receiving yards in his first career start (Mark Bavaro had 176 in his sixth career start in 1985).
3. Dallas Rules the Air at Home
Craig Erickson’s name doesn’t get mentioned much these days, but the 1990’s relic resurfaces for an ignominious Buccaneers fact.
Josh Freeman is the first Buccaneers quarterback since Erickson, on November 28, 1993, to complete less than 36 percent of his passes on 25 or more pass attempts.
Freeman was a mere 10 of 28 (35.7 percent) for 110 yards, a touchdown, and a pick, in a 16-10 loss to the up-and-down Cowboys on Sunday.
New York and Seattle completed 69.2 percent of their passes on Dallas this season (36 for 52), but have only allowed 364 yards through the air in those games. Factor in Freeman’s anemic performance, and quarterbacks are only throwing for 158 yards a game against Dallas this season.
To make matters worse, Freeman’s completion percentage was a pitiful 27.8 percent in the second half, going 5 for 18 for 82 yards. Four of those completions were on Tampa’s final drive, when the sense of urgency spurred Freeman to be more cavalier with his throws.
Prior to that drive, which began with 2:43 left in the fourth quarter, Freeman was 1 for 10 passing, for 11 yards, in the second half.
For what it’s worth, the last time Dallas held a quarterback below 36 percent passing on 25 or more attempts was September 19, 2004, when Jeff Garcia of Cleveland went 8 for 27 (29.6 percent) for 71 yards and 3 picks.
4. Meet the New Eagles, Same as the Old Eagles
The pass/run disparity that has come to define Andy Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles bit the team hard in their 27-6 loss to Arizona on Sunday.
Despite having LeSean McCoy, one of the most gifted and productive running backs in the NFL over the last several seasons, at their disposal, the Eagles helped doom their chances of going 3-0 by passing too much too early.
By the time Larry Fitzgerald caught a touchdown pass to put Arizona ahead 17-0, with 7:30 remaining in the first half, the Eagles had called 12 passing plays and just 3 running plays.
Of those 12 called passes, Vick was 3 for 8 for 60 yards (longest being a 34-yarder to Brent Celek). On the other four attempts, Vick was sacked twice, and ran the ball twice (once losing a fumble).
Of those 3 called runs, 2 were for Pro Bowler McCoy (for 8 yards), and one for seventh round pick Bryce Brown (3 yards).
Vick was under enormous pressure all day from the Cardinals’ underrated defense. He was sacked 5 times, threw 20 incompletions (to 17 completions), and only mustered 4.3 YPA.
LeSean McCoy ran for 70 yards on 13 carries (5.4 YPA).
The Eagles only called 17 design runs against 46 design passes (37 throws, 5 sacks, 4 Vick runs).
That means Philadelphia only called for runs 27 percent of the time, despite Vick being under heavy pressure, backups filling in for 40 percent of their depleted offensive line, and one of their starting wideouts, Jeremy Maclin, out with a hip injury.
At the post-game presser, Andy Reid issued his one jillionth apology for the play-calling disparity. I guess to owner Jeffrey Lurie, as long as ‘Big Red’ apologizes, that’s good enough for him.
5. Defense, Blocking Fail RG3
FOX commentator Chris Myers last week pontificated about Robert Griffin III during his game against the Rams, wondering what RG3 would do in that game to “add to his legacy.”
You know, Griffin’s second career game.
If this Tebowification of Washington’s signal-caller is to continue, he’s going to need victories to lay the groundwork of his living legend.
While the second-half ineptitude against the Rams last week did Griffin no favors, his better efforts this week against Cincinnati were in vain, as the Redskins lost 38-31.
Griffin, for his part, kept Washington in the game with 21 of 34 passing (61.8 percent), 221 yards, a passing touchdown, 85 rushing yards on 12 carries (7.1 YPA), and a touchdown on the ground.
Problem 1: Andy Dalton eviscerated Washington’s defense to a much worse tune.
Problem 2: Washington’s offensive line allowed Griffin to be sacked 6 times, after the Bengals garnered only 5 in their previous 2 games combined.
In the first scenario, four different receivers caught a touchdown pass for Cincinnati:
-AJ Green (9 catches, 183 yards; his 73 yard TD was thrown by receiver Mohamed Sanu)
-Andrew Hawkins (2 catches, 66 yards, 59 yard TD)
-Armon Binns (3 catches, 63 yards, 48 yard TD)
-Jermaine Gresham (5 catches, 64 yards, 8 yard TD)
While Washington adequately stopped Cincy’s run (3.3 YPA), they allowed 12.8 yards per pass play, and only sacked Dalton twice.
As for the sacks, Griffin took four of those six in the first half. After the fourth one, in which Griffin fumbled the ball to Carlos Dunlap, BenJarvus Green-Ellis would score a touchdown to make it 24-7 Bengals.
The fact that Washington was able to adjust and get back into the game does speak wonders, and they even tied the game at 24 by the end of the third quarter. But the Bengals would score twice more (including Hawkins’ 59 yarder) in the fourth, after which the Redskins almost came back from 14 down yet again.
There’s no middle ground in Washington; the Redskins are either spectacular (Griffin, Alfred Morris’ success, ability to score points) or terrible (overall defense, pass blocking, third down percentage).