By Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Common Denominator
For the first time in NFL history, a team is 2-0 after winning each of their first two games by exactly one point.
The Philadelphia Eagles came back to defeat both the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens by the slimmest of margins, sitting vaguely pretty as the only undefeated team in the NFC East. They’ll do battle with an even more unlikely 2-0 team quarterbacked by a familiar face.
Fans of The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins saw any 16-0 dreams dashed after their teams lost in vastly different fashions on Sunday.
The Cowboys were overpowered, outplayed, and downright smothered by a Jekyll-and-Hyde Seahawks team, whereas the Redskins let second half inadequacies (plus a “C’mon MAN!” penalty) doom them in St. Louis. Dallas will try their luck at home vs. Tampa Bay, whereas the Redskins will host a defensively-challenged upstart.
The New York Giants come off a landmark victory over Tampa Bay, which saw Eli Manning throw for 510 yards (243 in the fourth quarter), and coach Tom Coughlin confront Buccaneers face-man Greg Schiano over the ethical nature of a kneel-down scrum. They’ll face one of Tampa Bay’s division rivals on Thursday; a team who put up 219 yards on the ground this past Sunday.
Here are five things to look for:
1. Giants Daunted by Carolina Running Machine
The New York Giants coughed up 143 yards on opening night to the Cowboys, which included 7 runs of 8 yards or more (2 long scrambles from Tony Romo and a 48 yard boulder-roll from DeMarco Murray).
After that 5.5 YPA given up by the G-Men’s defense, things cooled down a bit vs. Tampa Bay, when they only allowed 3.59 YPA, including holding Doug Martin to 66 yards on 20 carries. Only 2 of those runs were more than 8 yards, and none more than 12 yards.
But as any fantasy football player can tell you, Tampa’s not exactly the ground attack that the Carolina Panthers are known as.
After rushing for only 10 yards against Tampa Bay opening day, Cam Newton and company rolled for 219 yards on their other division foe, the New Orleans Saints. This batch of rolling thunder was aided by 71 yards and a touchdown for Newton (5.46 YPA), 69 yards and a score for DeAngelo Williams (4.93 YPA), 51 yards for Jonathan Stewart (4.64 YPA), a 25 yard run by receiver Brandon LaFell, and a goalline touchdown for wrecking ball Mike Tolbert.
The Giants defense is still suffering from a wave of injuries, particularly to cornerback Prince Amukamara, as well as linebacker Keith Rivers. Newton is just as adept at passing (69.8 percent completions, 100.8 rating), but only has 2 passing scores so far this season. The Giants defense, for their part, have only 3 interceptions, 2 from linebacker Michael Boley.
As an additional note, if running back Ahmad Bradshaw misses Thursday’s game with a neck injury, this will be the first game since December 24, 2006 that no members of Earth, Wind, and Fire (Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, and Derrick Ward) play for the Giants.
New York will have to rely on rookie David Wilson, and the emerging Andre Brown (who had 71 yards and a touchdown in his third career game since 2010).
2. Philadelphia, Arizona Wage War in Unlikely Defensive Battle (AKA the Kevin Kolb Bowl)
There are two battles of 2-0 teams in Week 3. One of them, the Falcons and the Chargers, isn’t so surprising. Who’s the other: New England at Baltimore? The Giants and the Panthers? Houston at Denver?
Try Philadelphia and Arizona.
Despite winning their four games by a combined total of 8 points, the Eagles and Cardinals have defeated the two teams from last year’s AFC Championship (Baltimore and New England), and survived close calls with Cleveland and Seattle.
Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb were teammates for two seasons in Philadelphia, providing a scenario where Vick’s personal resurrection usurped Kolb’s starting job, and led to the former second round pick being traded to Arizona in 2011 for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick in 2012 (which would eventually become Vinny Curry).
Vick and Kolb had better be on their toes, because the defenses of the Eagles and Cardinals have been deadly forces so far this season.
According to CHFF’s Defensive Hog Index, Arizona has the stronger run-stopping unit, allowing just 3.36 YPA against Seattle and New England. This was especially impressive when they held Marshawn Lynch to 85 yards on 21 carries (just over 4 yards a carry) on opening day, and no run longer than 11 yards.
The Eagles aren’t as impressive in run-stopping, thanks to some long Ray Rice dashes on Sunday, but there are two areas where Jim Washburn’s Wide 9 is most effective: forcing turnovers and minimizing the opposing offense in general.
Following the same DHI, Cleveland and Baltimore mustered a mere 22.22 percent on third downs against Philly (6 for 27). This was also evident in Joe Flacco going 8 for 25 (32 percent) passing in the second half on Sunday.
Both teams are equally stout when it comes to negative pass plays (sacking the QB + interceptions). Arizona has 7 sacks and 2 interceptions, whereas the Eagles have 4 sacks and 5 picks.
3. Dallas May Not Run It on Schiano, but they can Damn Sure Throw It
DeMarco Murray was very much enjoying his first game back after his 2011 injury; rolling over the Giants for 131 yards on 20 carries.
Eleven days later, he’s posting 44 yards on 12 carries, as his Dallas Cowboys were manhandled by Seattle.
To be fair, Dallas DID abandon the run much of the second half as they fell behind to the Seahawks. Seattle also controlled the ball for roughly 14 minutes of the fourth quarter (really), so there was no way in hell Murray was going to get a chance to make his fantasy owners happy.
Even then, Seattle has only allowed 2.56 YPA to Arizona and Dallas this season, third in the league. Tampa Bay is fifth with 2.74 YPA, largely aided by stifling Carolina opening day. Let’s take a look at how Tampa Bay has fared against players with five rushing attempts on them in Greg Schiano’s two games (minimum five carries).
Brown's runs came after Bradshaw was sidelined with a neck injury, and second banana David Wilson himself proved ineffective (3 carries for 6 yards).
While Murray may find himself gasping for air, Tony Romo should fare considerably better. Tampa Bay’s pass defense has allowed for 3 100-yard receivers in just 2 games: Steve Smith (7 catches, 106 yards), Hakeem Nicks (10 catches, 199 yards, 1 TD), and Victor Cruz (11 catches, 179 yards, 1 TD).
Combine Eli Manning’s career day with Cam Newton’s above-average passing day, and Tampa’s given up 813 yards through the air after 2 games.
4. Bengals Sitting Ducks for an RG3 Assault
With the mass media’s watchful eye cast upon quarterback/Subway spokesman Robert Griffin III, here’s a story they’ll cover for the first time this season: how does RG3 respond from his first professional loss?
After the sour loss in St. Louis, one marred by penalties, second-half inefficiency, and the loss of two defensive stalwarts (Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo), Washington can begin anew at FedEx Field when they host the Cincinnati Bengals.
There’s been much discussion in the other NFC East games about how running games and opposing run defenses stack up, but there’s an obvious mismatch that stands out for this contest.
The Redskins have the ninth best average in yards-per-run attempt right now (4.51), as rookies Griffin and Alfred Morris have combined for 309 yards (4.83 YPA themselves) and 4 touchdowns.
The Bengals have given up 5.48 yards per carry so far in 2012, after Ray Rice and Trent Richardson racked up a combined 177 yards and 3 touchdowns (Rice had only 68 yards, but on just 10 carries).
Griffin also appears to be in for a favorable passing day if the numbers hold up. Joe Flacco and rookie Brandon Weeden, in their two games against Cincinnati, have combined for 47 completions on 66 attempts (71.2 percent), 621 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no picks; a 120.8 rating.
If the Redskins can’t bounce back in this home opener, Griffin should have to wear a dunce cap for any remaining Subway ads he’s contractually obligated for.
5. Mini Power Rankings
1. Philadelphia (2-0)
The Eagles haven’t been 2-0 since their Super Bowl year in 2004, in which no player from that team remains. Jamaal Jackson, a center who spent that season on IR, was just released this past off-season by Philly, breaking that link forever.
2. New York (1-1)
Eli Manning’s 510 yard performance was only the fourth game of his career in which he threw for over 400 yards. The other three all took place in 2011. Who says it’s not becoming more of a passing league?
3. Washington (1-1)
Just how important were Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker to the defense? Last season, the duo combined for 14.5 sacks, 53 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles. Orakpo already had a sack and 3 defensed passes before his injury.
4. Dallas (1-1)
They get the basement space for being the only team to have lost via blowout so far. The 182 yards given up on the ground at Seattle are Rob Ryan’s second worst since coming to Dallas (239 last October vs. the Eagles).