by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Collector of Vintage Eviction Notices
After six weeks, the NFL boasts 9 teams with winning records, 11 teams at .500, and 12 teams with losing records.
Teams above .500 headed into Week 6 went 4-9. The Giants, Falcons, Ravens, and Seahawks won, while the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Bengals, Vikings, Eagles, Texans, Chargers, and Patriots all went down in defeat.
Conversely, teams below .500 went 10-2 on the week. The Bills, Titans, Lions, Browns, Redskins, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Jets, Broncos, and Packers all won, while only the Raiders and Chiefs lost.
The 3 teams at .500 that played went winless: Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Indianapolis.
Point being, for the tenth or twelfth year in a row (or something), it’s safe to assume that the era of the year-to-year dominant dynasty is dead.
Wait, didn’t countless other writers write endless paragraphs about this sort of phenomenon?
Bah, there’s no time for recollection. The point is, it’s a week-to-week, what have you done for me lately league now, and predicting winners and losers is as much a crapshoot as guessing when the next fault-line shift is going to take place.
In other words, just covering myself in advance for if and when my analysis looks shoddy in hindsight!
But enough of my prattling on about parity; let’s talk NFC East. We’ve got an important battle between New York and Washington, Dallas struggling to stay relevant against one of the NFC’s great disappointments, and analysis of the Eagles on their not-so-quiet bye week.
1. Point: Giants Defense Provides Considerable Wall for RG3 and Morris
In six games, only 2 men have gone over the 100-yard mark against the Giants defense: DeMarco Murray (131) and LeSean McCoy (123).
In both cases, the Giants lost.
In New York’s four victories, the G-Men were much less generous with giving up terrain.
Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams ran for 50 yards on 11 carries, while sophomore enigma Cam Newton mustered 6 yards on 6 carries. A week earlier, rookie Doug Martin was held to 66 yards on 20 carries.
Fellow newcomer Trent Richardson had 81 yards on New York, but it took 17 carries. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter fared well in limited carries for San Francisco, going 8 for 36 and 4 for 26 respectively.
All of them but Newton and Martin had decent averages, so why were their carries so limited?
Simple: running was no longer a prudent option for their offenses to employ.
Of the Giants 14 takeaways this season, only 1 of them occurred in the games they lost: an interception by Michael Boley against the Cowboys. Philadelphia walked the turnover razor’s edge without fail in their matchup, avoiding mistakes other than red zone futility.
Alex Smith got pillaged for 3 interceptions, as did Newton. Josh Freeman and Brandon Weeden were each accosted for a pair of picks as well.
In other words, no matter how good Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris are at tiring defenses out with their wind-sprints and slalom-cuts, if they turn the ball over and wind up in a deficit early, their team’s 5.21 YPA rushing average won’t be relevant.
Griffin’s led one fourth quarter comeback, and it was against Tampa Bay, who currently ranks fourth in overall Defensive Hog Index. The team’s three losses, however, came against three teams in the top ten in Negative Pass Plays: Atlanta (second), St. Louis (sixth), and Cincinnati (tenth).
The Giants, for the record, are third.
2. Counterpoint: RG3’s Dynamic Defiance Can Beat Any Team
Then again, Griffin himself is The Great Intangible. Thus far in his short NFL career, he’s defied patterns with his athletic, yet very disciplined, playing style.
Fact: The Minnesota Vikings had not allowed a 100 yard rusher this season, holding Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, and Frank Gore all below 80 yards.
Fact: RG3 ran for 138 yards against the Vikes, including a 76 yard knockout punch. That single run was one yard shy of MJD’s 77 yard total output on opening day; the previous high allowed by Minnesota.
Fact: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team whose run defense has been the building block of their would-be turnaround. The Panthers, Giants, Cowboys, and Chiefs, a group that consists of Cam Newton, Ahmad Bradshaw, DeAngelo Williams, DeMarco Murray, and Jamaal Charles, were stonewalled by the Bucs. None of the teams ran for more than 94 yards collectively on them.
Fact: The Redskins ran for 153 yards on Tampa Bay; 113 yards and a touchdown for Alfred Morris, and 36 yards and a score for Griffin. This was also the game where Griffin led the game-winning drive with a malfunctioned radio helmet.
Fact: In 8 out of 10 years (2002-2011), the Redskins averaged less than 20 points a game. Their highest average came in 2005, at 22.4 PPG.
Fact: After 6 games in 2012, the Redskins are averaging 29.7 PPG, and are 3-3 due to a horrid, injury-wrought pass defense.
Bottom Line: Robert Griffin III doesn’t fit trends or convention. He may just be adaptable enough to where he’s never figured out, and any team that plays him isn’t guaranteed victory, Giants included.
3. Dallas Will Poke More Holes in Carolina’s Game
It hasn’t been an easy road for two teams deified by the “swag” crowd. Whether it’s Dez Bryant’s faux-outlaw exploits, or Cam Newton’s Gatorade-and-gear commercials filling the airwaves, fans of the Cowboys and Panthers haven’t gotten their fill this season.
Dallas managed to beat the Giants out of the chute, but have since been dropped by 3 teams currently with winning records. 2 of them were pastings at the hands of Seattle and Chicago, while they lost narrowly via dysfunction to Baltimore.
Carolina hasn’t had it easy either, losing to 3 winners themselves. First, a humiliating loss to the Giants was scrutinized for Newton’s behavior. Then it was 2 close losses to Atlanta and Seattle before getting a week to soothe their crooked nerves.
Point being, either Dallas will drop to 2-4, which will only tighten the noose around Jason Garrett’s neck, or Carolina drops to 1-5, and those Newton/Vince Young comparisons grow in volume.
Looking at the numbers, Dallas has a slight advantage over Carolina in several key categories, particularly in the battle of the trenches.
On offense, Dallas vastly outclasses the Panthers in third down percentage (42.86 percent to 33.96 percent) and sack/turnover percentage (8.74 percent to 11.76 percent), while conceding rushing YPA, 4.12 to Carolina’s 4.45.
Defensively, Dallas is far superior at stopping the run (3.84 YPA to 4.36 YPA), and they have a stouter third down wall (39.68 percent to 45.59 percent). Carolina has a better percentage of sacks and picks, however (10.05 percent to 7.86 percent).
In a trench war, go with Dallas.
4. Bye Week Blues: Philadelphia Edition
Here’s a look at the Philadelphia Eagles on their bye week, and what the road ahead looks like.
Combined Record, Remaining 10 Opponents: 27-28
Record Against Next 4 Opponents, 2008-Present: 12-10 (including a playoff loss to Dallas in 2009)
Causes for Faith
-Post-bye week, the Eagles are 11-6 when Michael Vick starts (plus one loss to Green Bay in the playoffs)
-The firing of Juan Castillo in favor of Todd Bowles could lead to tightened-up defense
Causes for Concern
-Scoring just 17.2 PPG, the second lowest average in the league
-After intercepting Brandon Weeden 4 times on opening day, have 4 takeaways in 5 games since
Team MVP: DeMeco Ryans (35 tackles, sack, INT, most consistent and instinctive defender on team)
Biggest Disappointment: Michael Vick (13 turnovers, including 8 interceptions against 8 touchdowns)
Outlook: It wasn’t Juan Castillo’s fault that Michael Vick and the Eagles offense have been struggling with turnovers, as well as finding touchdowns in the red zone. Granted, a more intuitive defensive coordinator may have held those leads against Pittsburgh and Detroit, and the Eagles would theoretically be 5-1 right now as a result.
But let’s assume Todd Bowles ratchets up the defense and makes smarter, more logical play-calling decisions. What about the offense? The line is a mess from injuries and inexperience, and Michael Vick is paying for it by taking hits and making erratic throws.
A player like Vick, even at 32 years old, is still capable and durable enough to make plays with his feet, despite his head-first dives and loose affixing on the ball. LeSean McCoy is still averaging 4.1 YPA rushing, despite barely getting 18 carries a game.
Assuming Andy Reid is making these “changes” that he promised, and not just firing one scapegoat that he’s responsible for transplanting, it’s going to require making the playcalls fit the players, and not the other way around. Under him and offensive coordinator Marty Morninhweg, this has been an issue for years. Vick isn’t Donovan McNabb, and he doesn’t have his pocket presence. The coaches need to adapt, not the player.
If the offense changes to make Vick more comfortable, and if they add proper tight end/fullback blocking techniques to aid a shaky line, then this offense is capable of hitting that 30 point plateau several times this season. Better fourth quarter playcalling on the defense would reward the offense, instead of putting undue pressure back on them.
Of the remaining ten opponents, 5 are below .500, 3 are at, and 2 have winning records. The Eagles have proven, when they’re desperate, that they can win games nobody expects them to win. Even if they don’t win the Super Bowl, they’ll finish 2012 pretty damn strong.
5. Mini Power Rankings
1. New York (4-2)
Eli Manning is on pace to be sacked less than 11 times this season, which would be a career low (16 sacks in 2010). Amazing, considering his offensive line features newcomer Sean Locklear covering his blindside, and standard right tackle David Diehl missing 4 games with a knee injury.
2. Washington (3-3)
The only team to have collectively run for 100 yards in every game they’ve played this season; Baltimore and Kansas City are runners-up with one game each under 100. 6 games into the year and the Skins have 2 players with 5+ rushing TDs for the first time since 1990 (Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs).
3. Philadelphia (3-3)
LeSean McCoy in 2011: 17 rushing TD, 3 receiving. 2012: 1 rushing TD, 2 receiving. Oddly enough, his attempts-per-game average is slightly higher this year (18.5, compared to 18.2 in 2011), but lacking Jason Peters’ presence at left tackle is a factor in his regression to the mean.
4. Dallas (2-3)
In the 2010 season, Dallas had 10 rushing touchdowns. In the 22 games since the start of the 2011 season, they’ve had just 7 on the ground. DeMarco Murray’s had exactly 3 of them, while the others are split among Felix Jones, who has 2, Phillip Tanner, and Tony Romo.