NFC East: Each Team’s Greatest Weakness
The NFC East may actually be the most interesting division in football this year. I say actually because this is the division that is often talked about for the sake of talking. Having the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants in one division means the spotlight always shines here, but more often than not it shines on the positives opposed to the negatives.
Unless of course those negatives belong to Tony Romo or swarm the franchise to the point they pick in the top five of the draft. In the division of undying optimism and borderline delusion, it’s actually not that hard to find flaws in every team’s structure for success.
It’s boring because it’s the same issue seemingly every single year, but the reality is that the Dallas Cowboys don’t have the offensive line to protect Tony Romo again this year. Despite drafting another offensive lineman in the first round, center Travis Frederick, the Cowboys can’t continue to start Doug Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings if they are to help Romo reach his potential.
The weapons are there. Even if DeMarco Murray isn’t healthy, Joseph Randle gives them a second back who can look to carry the load in his absence. Jason Witten turned 31 this off-season, even though you would think he should be over 35 at this stage. Miles Austin survived the off-season despite his contract situation, while Dez Bryant is looking to build on what could have been his breakout season last year. Dwayne Harris and Terrence Williams will be hoping to add that dynamism deep down the depth chart, while Gavin Escobar’s role will depend on how quickly he translates to the second tight end position.
None of that will matter if Romo is being forced to sidestep more than one free pass-rusher on every second play again this season. Despite his reputation, Romo’s positives outweigh his negatives dramatically. However, so long as he has to compensate for such bad protection, the narrative of a failing quarterback should continue to prosper.
New York Giants
Although the offensive line has improved on paper, the Giants’ biggest issue appears to be that they are going to be reliant on the abilities of Eli Manning to carry their offense once again. That’s not a major issue, because Manning is a star quarterback, but there is no question that they could have made the playoffs last year with a better supporting cast around their franchise quarterback.
David Wilson coming into the backfield should provide a spark that has been missing in the past, but his ball security must still be proven over the long-term. If Will Beatty can stay healthy and Justin Pugh translates to a starter, be it at guard or tackle, as a rookie, then both the running and passing game should be improved slightly.
However, the loss of Martellus Bennett will be felt at tight end, because Brandon Myers is an inferior option, while Victor Cruz holdout and precarious contract situation could impact his play on the field. The Giants can’t afford for Cruz to take the same approach that Mike Wallace took with the Pittsburgh Steelers this past year. If Cruz isn’t fully engaged, then their offense will stall consistently.
Louis Murphy was a good addition during the off-season, but in the sense that he could prove greater value than his reputation states. Murphy can’t replicate the impact or production of Cruz and it would be unrealistic to expect any of Jerrel Jernigan, Reuben Randle or Kris Adams to either. Cruz came out of nowhere, but that is very rare for any player at any position.
If the Giants believe that they are a Super Bowl caliber franchise right now, they need to be putting a better supporting cast around their aging quarterback.
As I wrote in detail previously, I don’t understand what the Eagles are trying to do on defense this off-season. The construction of their secondary. Philosophically, they could be looking to create a dominant pass-rush that will cover their deficiencies in coverage, but that is a very dangerous game to play when you are expecting to have one of the most explosive, up-tempo offenses in the NFL.
The Eagles needed four new starters on their defense this year, that is unless they were expecting Brandon Boykin or Curtis Marsh to step up their development. Yet, the only real high-quality starter they brought in was Kenny Philips, an oft-injured safety from the New York Giants. Philips can’t be relied upon to be on the field and even if he is healthy, he doesn’t project to create the kind of safety pairing that the Eagles should want with Kurt Coleman or Patrick Chung.
Unless Earl Wolff proves to be a capable starter from day one as a fifth round rookie, the Eagles are going to have major issues over the middle of the field and on the back-end of their defense this season. Considering teams will be looking to push the ball down the field with regularity if all goes to plan, that is very problematic. It’s possible to play with two safeties who aren’t necessarily prototype free safeties if you have one elite cornerback or two very good cornerbacks to play outside of them.
The Eagles aren’t in that position.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were brought in this off-season and project to be the team’s starters. In an ideal world, both would be third choice options. Williams was part of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl winning starting lineup last year, but he wasn’t overly impressive in his role as teams repeatedly targeted him for gain after gain. Fletcher on the other hand played well last year for the St. Louis Rams after tearing his ACL during the 2011 season, however Fletcher was the third cornerback on a defense that started rookie Janoris Jenkins and free agent addition Cortland Finnegan.
If the Eagles are to rebound from last year’s disappointing season and compete for the division, they will likely need to rely on their talented front seven to cover all of their issues on the back-end.
Let’s presume that Robert Griffin III is fully healthy by the start of the season and starts 16 games. In this scenario, the Redskins’ greatest weakness entering the eyar will be their secondary. DeAngelo Hall remains with Josh Wilson at the other cornerback spot. Neither of their starting jobs are safe with rookie David Amerson potentially pushing his way past them on the depth chart. If Amerson starts, then he could be joined by two rookies at safety with Philip Thomas and Baccari Rambo in contention to take over for Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty.
The Redskins’ secondary is so sensitive that it’s hard to even be certain about who will be playing what role by the time the season comes around.
Now let’s presume that Robert Griffin III is unable to go in Week 1 and doesn’t come back until Week 4, 5 or 6. This scenario can go in two ways. Either his replacement, Kirk Couins, plays brilliantly and allows the Redskins to stay on course for a playoff spot in 2013, or Cousins fails to live up to the potential he showed in limited time last year. If Cousins plays brilliantly, then inevitably a quarterback controversy will develop if Griffin comes back to assume his starting role. If Cousins falters, then Griffin is coming back to a team that is in a hole and already playing catch-up with the rest of the league.
Griffin is the franchise quarterback, but Cousins showed enough last year to hint that he could potentially be one too. It may seem ridiculous to think that there could be a quarterback controversy after the trade for Griffin last year, but it’s also foolish to rule out a player who has proven he has professional level talent at the very least. There are no guarantees that Griffin will be the same player following his knee injury.
Not everyone can be Adrian Peterson.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf