By Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' NFC East Beat Man
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants find themselves alone at the bottom of the NFC East.
The 1-0 Dallas Cowboys are joined on the spectrum of bare minimum perfection by the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, winners of their respective games on Kickoff Sunday.
The Eagles were heavy favorites against the Cleveland Browns, and were expected to hem in 2012 first round picks Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson.
The defense did their end, but penalties and turnovers by the offense (including four interceptions from Michael Vick’s shaky left hand) nearly doomed Gang Green. In the end, Philadelphia eked out a victory, thanks to a 91 yard touchdown drive, and four interceptions via their own defense.
Washington, meanwhile, unveiled their own debuting superstar in Robert Griffin III, who was given the daunting task of trying to lead the Redskins to victory over Drew Brees and the controversy-clouded New Orleans Saints.
Griffin not only out-dueled Brees convincingly, but the Baylor superstar obliterated New Orleans’ defense with a masterful touch in a 40-32 victory. RGIII completed over 73 percent of his passes for 320 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a hearty 139.9 rating.
1. Grand Premiere for RGIII
Where were you on October 23, 2005?
The last time the Braves on the Warpath put up more than 40 points in any game was on that date, in a 52-17 shellacking of San Francisco. Mark Brunell’s three touchdown passes and Clinton Portis’ three scores on the ground were the leading charges of that evisceration at FedEx Field.
Opening day 2012 provided the latest forty-spot in Washington franchise history; appropriately enough, the fortieth time the Redskins have met or topped that number.
The amount of 40+ point games for the Skins’ in the eighties was ten, and they tacked on eleven more in the nineties, but only three (counting Griffin’s debut) since the new millennium.
Griffin, the first quarterback born in the 1990s to start an NFL game, threw the Redskins’ first touchdown pass of more than eighty yards since 2001, when Tony Banks found Rod Gardner for an 85 yard strike.
The 88 yard completion was Garcon’s longest touchdown of his young career, barely surpassing an 87 yarder from October 3, 2011, thrown by Curtis Painter for the Colts.
Griffin also had, by far, the best performance of any rookie quarterback who debuted on September 9. His 2 touchdowns, zero picks, and 139.9 rating outshine showings from Andrew Luck (1 TD/3 INT, 52.9 rating), Ryan Tannehill (0 TD/3 INT, 39.0), Brandon Weeden (0 TD/4 INT, 5.1), and Russell Wilson (1 TD/1 INT, 62.5)
2. Redskins D Bullies Brees and Company
For only the second time in his career as a New Orleans Saint, Drew Brees completed less than 50 percent of his passes.
Brees was stymied by the New York Giants on Christmas Eve 2006 on 13 of 32 passing (40.6), but the Saints still claimed victory 30-7. No such luck this time around, as the former MVP was duressed into a 24-of-52 performance for 3 touchdowns, but 2 picks and a 46.2 completion rate.
The Saints’ third down success rate was even more ghastly, going just 2 for 11 (18.18 percent), down drastically from their league-best 56.73 percentage in 2011. This is also an improvement for the Redskins defense, which were beaten on third downs 37.38 percent of the time.
Washington also forced the Saints to completely abandon the running game after 10 attempts (for 32 yards, split between Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram). The last time New Orleans ran for ten times or less in a single game was November 11, 2007, when they ran for ten times (43 yards) in a loss to St. Louis. This is the only other instance in the Brees era that the Saints churned out this few rushing attempts.
3. Vick Channels the Ghost of Elway
It wasn’t the Miracle at the New Meadowlands of 2010, but it’ll do.
Michael Vick led four fourth quarter comebacks for the Eagles in their whirlwind 2010 season, but none in their nightmarish “Dream Team” season a year ago.
After throwing four interceptions in a game for only the second time in his career (first time was against Buffalo in October last year), Vick was daunted with leading the Eagles back from a 16-10 deficit after a Browns punt stranded the Birds on their own nine yard line.
Five minutes and seven seconds later, with 1:18 left on the clock, Vick completed the Eagles best drive of the day with a four yard touchdown strike to Clay Harbor that would decide the game.
Despite a 51.0 quarterback rating for the game on two touchdowns and those 4 hurtful interceptions, Vick’s rating on the winning drive was a much healthier 98.7. This came on 6 of 11 passing for 55 yards and the touchdown, with passes completed to five different receivers.
The winning drive also included going 3-for-3 on third down, after going 8 for 19 on the day (which is on par with the team’s 41.46 success rate in 2011). One of those conversions was the Harbor touchdown on goal to go.
4. Birds Lack on Offense, Improve on Defense
Despite the Superman comeback from a seemingly down-and-out Vick, whose interceptions have already been documented, many worrisome points were highlighted in a game that, given the state of the Browns, should have been a blowout.
In the Andy Reid era, the running game has often been abandoned by Philadelphia, to mixed results and much criticism from opponents of his constant pass-first mentality. Vick threw 56 passes while the team itself ran the ball just 30 times (7 of which were Vick non-design scrambles).
Contrast that to the team’s 25 first downs, which included 14 via pass and 10 on runs (1 from a penalty), and you can see why so many Iggles fans have cried out for more balance.
In addition to the expected offensive disparity, Philadelphia also committed 12 penalties for 110 yards (vs. Cleveland’s 3/35). Granted, a number of them were holding penalties by every offensive lineman except Todd Herremans, who were likely trying to keep Vick from suffering yet another needless rib injury.
There is, however, good news for the defense: third overall pick Trent Richardson was held to 39 yards on 19 carries. Not once in 2011 did the Eagles have one game where an opposing rusher with 15+ carries was held to under 50 yards.
The last time the Eagles held a running back to under 50 yards on 15+ carries was Michael Turner on October 17, 2010 (15 carries, 45 yards). Besides Richardson and Turner, the Eagles have only achieved this feat two other times since defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s passing in the summer of 2009 (Larry Johnson (19 car/38 yd) and Rock Cartwright (15 car/38 yd), both in 2009).
Looks like DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks might be worth every cent, especially if this run stopping trend (the Eagles allowed 4.35 yards a carry last season) continues.
5. Looking Ahead
Both the Eagles and Redskins won their opening games a year ago (Redskins over the Giants 28-14, Eagles over the Rams 31-13), but the thrill didn’t last.
Philadelphia lost their next 4 to pretty much sabotage their Dream Team moniker (giving up 29.8 PPG in that stretch), whereas the Redskins would end up sitting pretty at 3-2, before descending their way toward losing 9 of their remaining 11 games.
Philadelphia will face Baltimore, to whom they lost a laugher in 2008, 36-7. That was the game where Donovan McNabb was benched at halftime, and Kevin Kolb’s futile efforts only pissed on the team’s already burning wreckage.
Washington continues their two-part road odyssey to St. Louis, who gave Detroit a fight before losing 27-23 at Ford Field, via Matthew Stafford’s own fourth quarter comeback. The two teams met on October 2 last year in the Edward Jones Dome, with Washington winning 17-10 after a solid outing from current free agent running back Ryan Torain.