NFC East Week 5: Pennsylvania Bowl, Giants Served Hash Browns
By Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Jim Lehrer's Assertiveness Coach

“This may be the weirdest week of football ever.” – thousands of fans, every week.

Certainly, the NFC East provided little respite from the game’s many calamities in Week 4.

Robert Griffin III led a victory drive with a radio helmet-gone-kaput, which led to Billy Cundiff (0 for 3 on the day) saving his job with a game-winning field goal over Tampa Bay.

Three hours later, field goal accuracy reared its head again, as New York’s Lawrence Tynes missed back-to-back 54-yard field goals: one iced by Andy Reid, the other not. Philadelphia prevailed over the Giants to notch at least a share of first place in the East, depending on the events of 24 hours later.

Those events proved disastrous for the Dallas Cowboys, as Tony Romo threw 5 picks, 2 for touchdowns, in a loss to Chicago.

As for Week 5, the Giants get to take their frustrations out on a bargain-basement foe, the Eagles renew their quad-annual state rivalry, the Redskins are challenged by a powerful unbeaten, and the Cowboys lick their wounds.

1. Fe Fi Fo Fum, Gonna Beat the Browns Til They’re Numb
The Eagles offense facilitated 12 turnovers in their first 3 games, with half of them interceptions flung from Michael Vick’s left hand.

In game 4, the Giants couldn’t get themselves any cut of that action.

New York managed no interceptions, and only 2 sacks against the Eagles on Sunday. 1 of those sacks was Vick dropping down while centering the ball for Alex Henery to set up what would be the game-winning field goal.

Granted, the Giants have been wrought with injuries, and Antrel Rolle was playing at less than 100 percent on Sunday. Safety Kenny Phillips left the game with a serious knee injury, and is expected to miss several weeks.

New York also has been off to a slow start in QB kills, with just 8 total sacks. That puts them on pace for 32 on the year, down from their towering 48 a year ago.

But fans of the G-Men, fear not. Where there’s a will, there’s a Weeden.

In his first four games, Brandon Weeden (who is to rookies what Jamie Lee Curtis is to playing a high schooler in Halloween II) has thrown 7 interceptions. This includes 4 to Philadelphia (sixteenth in negative pass plays), 1 to Buffalo (thirteenth), and 2 to Baltimore (A shocking twenty-second place).

The Giants rank eighth in that category, so logic would dictate a Weeden-whacking is in order.

Factor in the Browns lack of third down success on offense (27.78 percent, fifth worst) against the Giants’ respectable average (34.1 percent, tenth best), and the superior Big Apple team should create an easy day for Eli Manning and the offense.

Provided he avoids turnovers himself, of course.

2. Eagles, Steelers Fight for Keystone Bragging Rights
It took a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks and one-point victories, but Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles hold 2 victories over AFC North opponents.

The Birds will get their third crack at AFC’s smashmouth division when they venture into the Steel City on Sunday.

Since realignment in 2002, the Penn squads have battled twice; a Pittsburgh beat-down in 2004 (27-3) and an Eagles defensive-fueled win in 2008 (15-6).

In the same ten year frame, they’ve each won five division titles. They’ve each also made the playoffs 7 times in that period, with Pittsburgh appearing in 3 Super Bowls, winning 2, while the Eagles lost the only one they appeared in.

But enough of the past. In the present, both the Eagles and Steelers look radically different than how you’d expect them to look.

For Philadelphia, there’s an offense with Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek that has produced exactly six touchdowns: one Vick rush, one McCoy run, three receptions for Jackson and Maclin combined, and one TD pass to backup tight end Clay Harbor.

On the other hand, their defense is much improved from a year ago. The run-stopping unit in 2011 allowed 112.6 YPG (4.4 YPA) has, with additions like DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, dropped those totals to 91.5 YPG and 3.8 YPA. Opponents last year averaged 35.5 percent on third down, compared to 26.92 percent this year.

As for the Steelers, injuries have gutted what was generally a throwback, win-in-the-trenches team. On defense, the absences of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison have contributed to an increase in rushing YPA given up (4.0 in 2011, 4.33 in 2012), and third down percentage (38.9 last year, 48.48 this year).

Speaking of injured, Rashard Mendenhall’s lengthy injury has contributed to significant drops in the running game. The Steelers have a league-worst 2.64 YPA rushing and 195 total yards on the ground. Their leading rusher is Isaac Redman, with 72 yards on 32 carries.

The biggest positive for Pittsburgh has been Ben Roethlisberger, whose 109.2 passer rating and 56.25 percent third down percentage are among the league’s best.

3. Falcons to Trade Offensive Onslaughts in DC with the Skins
With the over/under set at 50.5, you know the odds-makers are expecting nothing short of a shoot-out between two enigmatic offenses.

Even though the Redskins are 2-2, both defeats came in close games, where the offense was plentiful, but the defense was non-existent. As for Atlanta, excluding a thorough thrashing of San Diego in Week 3, they’ve given up 20+ points in every game as well.

Both Matt Ryan and Robert Griffin III have engineered dominant offenses this season. Ryan is first in the league in quarterback rating (112.1) on 11 touchdowns and 2 picks. RG3 ranks fourth, with 103.2 rating. That comes on just 4 touchdowns and an interception, but an equal completion percentage (69.4) to Ryan.

In addition to their successful passing games, each team has their own additional weapon. For the Falcons, it’s their third down percentage. At 46.94 percent, Atlanta ranks second in the entire NFL. That’s far superior to Washington’s 25.49 percent, second worst in the league, which was evident in their loss to the Rams in Week 2.

To compensate, the Skins run Griffin and Alfred Morris efficiently. As a team, Washington runs for 5.12 YPA, but the Griffin/Morris combo accounts for 5.19 YPA, with 8 total touchdowns. The Falcons average a considerably lighter 4.07 YPA.

Interestingly enough, despite their records, it’s the Redskins with the advantage on defense. Atlanta struggles to stop the run (5.22 YPA) compared to Washington (4.29), and the Redskins kill them on stopping third down conversions (34.09 percent to 48 percent).

Atlanta’s got em on sacks and picks (a combined 17 to 12), but Washington edges them on all around efficiency, even if the scores haven’t showed it.

Those people who think Matt Ryan’s gang will roll into FedEx Field and launch an unmatchable air strike may need to think twice. This could be one of the bigger upsets of the weekend.

4. Bye Week Blues: Dallas Edition
Here’s a look at the Dallas Cowboys on their bye week, and what the road ahead looks like.

Record: 2-2

Combined Record, Remaining 12 Opponents: 24-23 (Pittsburgh has only played 3 games)

Record Against Next 4 Opponents, 2008-Present: 6-7

Causes for Faith
-Jay Cutler is the only 200+ net-yard passer they’ve allowed in 4 games.
-Opponents are averaging only 3.82 yards rushing against them.

Causes for Concern
-Tony Romo has thrown 6 interceptions in Dallas’2 losses
-16.2 PPG is the second worst average in the league.

Team MVP: DeMarcus Ware (5.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Biggest Disappointment: Tony Romo (8 INTs in a year where he’s 32 years old with a competent back-up in Kyle Orton behind him)

Outlook: Dallas’ 2 losses were to Chicago and Seattle, who rank first and eighth respectively on CHFF’s Defensive Hog Index. Tampa Bay couldn’t beat em, but they did hold Dallas to 16 points (an anemic effort from Josh Freeman proved killer).

Using this logic, one can assume that Dallas’ offense is susceptible to defeat when matched up with an overall stout defense, provided that team’s offense doesn’t flunk out completely.

Of the remaining 12 opponents, four of them are in the top ten on the Hog Index: Baltimore (10), Philadelphia twice (6), and Cleveland (7).

Assuming they beat Cleveland (whose offense may be worse than Tampa’s), we’ll make an educated guess and say Dallas drops the other three games, even if they don’t want to envision defeat to the Iggles.

In terms of the Index’s Negative Pass Plays formula, Dallas has to play four teams in the top ten there: Giants again (7), Falcons (4), Browns (8), and Bengals (5).

Let’s say Romo struggles down the stretch, thanks to his shaky line and inconsistency from a different receiver each week, as seems to be the trend. Maybe they beat Cleveland, but do they sweep the Giants? Could they beat the Falcons? Cincinnati’s the best toss-up remaining.

Prediction: 9-7

5. Mini Power Rankings

1. Philadelphia (3-1)
Of their next four opponents, only Atlanta is above .500. In his last ten quarters of play, Michael Vick has only thrown 1 interception, against 2 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing. Progress, isn’t it?

2. New York (2-2)
0-2 in the NFC East, their next division game will be against the Redskins on October 21. Until then, they deal with a Browns team due for a win, and a 49ers team aching for their second New York kill.

3. Dallas (2-2)
This is the earliest in any season that Tony Romo has had 8 interceptions. In 2007, he had 8 after the fifth game, his Buffalo debacle, and ended up with 19 total on the season. Could 2012 top that?

4. Washington (2-2)
30.8 PPG for the year is good on offense, but isn’t as favorable on defense. The Redskins have both scored and allowed 123 points in 2012, and the offensive firepower on their schedule will only hurt.