NFC East Week 11: Fools Fighting For Gold
by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Descendant of Original Thanksgiving Turkey

One has to go back to the NFC East of 1998 to find a year in which the division of much media affection was so dismal.

In that year, the Dallas Cowboys captured the East crown at 10-6, but barely resembled the Jimmy Johnson-coached commandos that obliterated the competition. In fact, these Cowboys would get bounced in round one by the division's runner-up, the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals.

The same Cardinals who gave up 23.6 points a game were, in essence, the best of the bunch.

The New York Giants and Washington Redskins were so-so, at 8-8 and 6-10 respectively, although Washington would soon be jinxed with the impending ownership of businessman/mobile stain Daniel Snyder.

The Philadelphia Eagles were 3-13 and would fire head coach Ray Rhodes in favor of Green Bay's hefty wunderkind Andy Reid. Reid would lead Philly out of the cellar and to a reasonable standard of excellence, using a number of defenders that Rhodes had brought in.

Some 14 years later, with the Cardinals gone West, the division is being fought over by four squads: a sinking 6-4, a schizo 5-5, an inconsistent 4-6, and a flatlined 3-7.

Ahhh, nostalgia.

1. RG3 has Best Game of Young Career
Only twice in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles has an opponent completed better than 90 percent of their passes, while throwing at least 5 passes.

In both cases, they barely completed the minimum. One was Colts garbage-time QB Kerwin Bell in 1996 (5 for 5), and the other was Dallas' Eddie LeBaron in 1962 (7 for 7).

Robert Griffin III went far beyond those parameters, going 14 for 15 (93.3 percent) and 200 yards, with 4 touchdown passes, adding up to a perfect 158.3 rating, as the Washington Redskins routed the Eagles 31-6 at FedEx Field.

Only 67 of those yards came on standard, in-the-field-of-play completions (10 of 11 in that instance), while the other 133 yards comprised the 4 touchdown passes; 2 of which were laughable plays that exposed the already-maligned Eagles defense.

Already up 7-3, Griffin unleashed a missile to Aldrick Robinson for a 49-yard score early in the second quarter. A miscommunication in the secondary led to the comical image of Nnamdi Asomugha lagging behind Robinson by what seemed like a country mile.

The other humiliating score came late in the third. Up 17-6, RG3 let air another bomb, this time hauled in by Santana Moss for 61 yards and the touchdown. Making matters worse was that Moss was flanked by 2 defenders, Kurt Coleman and Brandon Boykin, and the veteran receiver simply outmaneuvered both of them.

It should be noted that RG3's only incompletion was knocked down by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a lunging tip that would've otherwise been a completion.

2. Eagles Defense Proves Laughable
They've allowed 18 touchdown passes, while garnering just 7 interceptions, in 10 games.

They've allowed 32 pass plays of 20+ yards, 6 of them for touchdowns. 7 of those 32 plays went for 40+ yards.

The defense that had 50 sacks a season ago has only 16 in 10 games this year, putting them on pace to have 26 for the season. Jason Babin, who had a stellar 18 sacks in 2011, leads the Eagles with just 4.5 so far.

Veterans like DeMeco Ryans and Cullen Jenkins appear to be the only competent forces of nature on a decaying defense, and even they can't lead the team out of this funk.

Rookie Fletcher Cox is another physical oasis in this arid desert, but even his explosive physicality can't make up for the predictability of the outside rush, or the secondary's miscommunications.

In the game in Washington, the above statistical facts were echoed accordingly.

The Eagles haven't had an interception since October 14, and that didn't change on November 18, as RG3 didn't throw a single pick. He did throw 4 touchdown passes, however, as we've already gone over.

Before Sunday, the overall opposing QB rating against the Eagles D was 85.44.

After Sunday, it ballooned to 91.89.

But at least the Eagles managed 2 sacks, one for Babin and one for Cox. Lot of good that'll do a team that hasn't played this poorly since their 1998 Hindenburg season.

3. Lack of Runs Continue to Hurt Philadelphia
LeSean McCoy's head injury late in the fourth quarter probably shouldn't weight too heavily on Andy Reid's mind. He seems to forget that a player of "Shady's" dynamics was even on his roster in the first place.

Someone made the case that the Eagles win more win LeSean McCoy runs the ball 20 or more times. Sure enough, since 2010, Philadelphia is 8-1 when McCoy tops 20 total rushes.

When McCoy doesn't break that plateau, the Eagles are 13-20.

Those numbers accurately reflect the 2012 season: when McCoy runs the ball 20+ times, they're 3-0. When he doesn't, they're 0-7.

In other words, McCoy hasn't had 20+ carries in a game since September 30, when they upended the Giants.

Granted, the offensive line is in shambles. 4 of their projected starters going into 2012 are injured, with 3 of them on IR (including perennial Pro Bowler Jason Peters). The line today included their lone anchor Evan Mathis, along with rusty veteran Jake Scott (just signed days ago), wet-behind-the-ears Dennis Kelly and Dallas Reynolds, and the heavily-maligned King Dunlap.

But that didn't stop Reid from using McCoy on the play in which he was injured, already down 25, just ticks away from calling it a day.

Reid's explanation for running McCoy on said play was, according to veteran Philly writer Les Bowen, the Eagles were trying to catch up and win.

For a team that de-commits to the run with extreme regularity, soon-to-be-ousted Reid picked a hell of a time to throw his best offensive weapon to the wolves.

4. Dallas Needs Overtime, But Finds Themselves In Hunt
The Dallas Cowboys found themselves down 13-0 at the half to the Cleveland Browns, needing a win to park themselves one spot behind the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East.

The scoreboard difference was 10-pointer headed into the fourth, with Dallas still behind 13-3 against a Browns team that plays better than its record generally indicates.

Tony Romo would have an average first half, completing 10 of 17 passes, but for a pedestrian 74 yards.

In the second half, however, Romo would come alive, posting one of his most impressive performances of an up-and-down season.

In the third and fourth quarters, Romo threw for 163 yards on 17 of 21 passing (including going 8 for 8 in the third), twice leading key comebacks. The first one involved taking a 17-13 lead halfway through the fourth on a 28-yard strike to Dez Bryant, and the other was leading the way to a tying field goal to knot it up at 20, necessitating halftime.

In overtime, Romo would complete the comeback for good, completing 7 of 10 passes for 66 yards, and setting the table for Dan Bailey to kick the winning field goal, icing Dallas' victory 23-20.

Romo didn't have it easy, finding himself under heavy attack all afternoon. Cleveland notched 7 sacks on the quarterback, bringing Romo to 24 on the year. It also took much of the game for Romo to even find that rhythm.

But he did, and now Dallas is challenging the Giants for a division title that looked decided weeks ago.

5. They've All Played 10
After Chicago and San Francisco wrap up their Monday night battle, all 32 NFL teams will have played ten games.

Excluding the 49ers, who could get their seventh win tomorrow night, the Giants are the only division leader with 6 or less wins at this threshold.

The NFC East is also one of 3 divisions in which the second place team is at .500 or worse (AFC East has 3 teams at 4-6; the West has San Diego at 4-6).

There are 8 teams with a better record than the Giants, and 5 that share New York's 6-4 mark. Someone with a love of charts and graphs and stats could make a reasonable case that the defending Super Bowl Champions are merely the fourteenth best team in the NFL.

Even then, that's better than the 3-7 Eagles who, with a loss to Carolina next Monday night, would be, literally, the worst team in the NFC.

This, after a 3-1 start.

The 5-5 Cowboys and 4-6 Redskins have faint hope, but there are only 3 teams worse than Washington record-wise (Eagles, Panthers, and Rams).

If Dallas can't leapfrog the Giants and wrest the division lead from their frailing hands, then they need to secure a wild card spot. Good luck getting past New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Seattle for that.

And if Dallas DOES get the division lead, then it's the Giants fighting amongst the fray for survival in an attempt to defend their Super Bowl crown.

Glamour Division, indeed.