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Best and Worst Scenarios: 2016 NFC East Outlook

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Cowboys Headlines - Best & Worst Scenarios for NFC East Teams: 2016 Outlook

In the Tony Romo era, the NFC East has been called many things, but certainly not predictable. Over the past ten seasons, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles have won 3 division titles each, while the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins have won two, respectively.

Over that period of time, no team has won back to back division crowns.

Playoff appearances have been anything but consistent for these clubs over the past ten seasons. No team has made it to the postseason more than half the time since 2006.

But if there is one constant here, it is that the unexpected can be expected.

New York won two Super Bowls (2007 and 2011) after being written off by many, based on unimpressive regular season records in their championship years (10-6 and 9-7). Washington managed to win a division title in 2012 with a rookie quarterback, and then another last year despite being picked as the consensus division losers in the preseason. Philadelphia featured some unpredictability under Chip Kelly the past two seasons.

Dallas is no different. The health of Tony Romo has always made them difficult to forecast. It also seems like when expectations are high, they are never met, but when they are low, they are exceeded. The last two seasons are a perfect example of this trend.

Overall, the unpredictability of the NFC East makes for an interesting best versus worst case analysis for each team in 2016.

2016 Dallas Cowboys

Ceiling: 12-4 scenario

Dallas takes advantage of one of their lightest schedules in recent memory, picking up right where they left off in 2014. Ezekiel Elliott is Offensive Rookie of the Year and then some, while Dez Bryant dominates in the red zone for another year. The offense reigns supreme in time of possession behind an All-Pro offensive line, keeping their defense fresh. The team is a top-five finisher in total offense.

The defense stays off the field -- as it did in 2014 -- and wins the turnover battle often. A healthy Sean Lee anchors the front-seven at a Pro Bowl level. The secondary carries the thin defensive front-four as the team boasts a nice one-two punch with Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones.

Morris Claiborne finally flashes that top-ten potential in his contract year. DeMarcus Lawrence posts double-digit sacks despite missing the first four games as the pass rush exceeds expectations.

Oh yeah, and Romo stays healthy for a full 16.

Floor: 4-12 scenario

Plain and simple, Romo goes down again and the team implodes.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is thrown into the mix too soon, and the offense struggles. Dez Bryant becomes frustrated as the ball is not coming his way enough, and Elliott can't establish himself as a premier rusher as he starts to see too many loaded boxes.

The lack of talent on the defensive line haunts the team all year, and the secondary suffers as a result. The team picks in the top-five again in the 2017 NFL Draft.

2016 New York Giants

Ceiling: 11-5 scenario

The phrase, "the best ability is availability" was surely invented for Eli Manning. He plays yet another full season as he posts statistically his best year yet through the air. Odell Beckham Jr. continues tearing apart opposing secondaries as rookie Sterling Shepard steps nicely into the wide receiver two role.

The team's three big free agency signings of Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Damon Harrison live up to their contracts as the team's defense begins to have shades of their recent title years.

Floor: 6-10 scenario

The belief that winners in March are hardly ever winners in January proves true here, as their free agent moves fail to live up to the hype. The offense keeps them in many games, as it did last year, but once again they fail to close them out.

What the team produces in the passing game, it lacks severely on the ground as the offense becomes too one-dimensional.

2016 Washington Redskins

Ceiling: 10-6 scenario

Kirk Cousins continues to develop and improve, and Washington wins back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1984. Cousins leads a talented passing arsenal of Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, and DeSean Jackson, complimented by an underrated Matt Jones running the ball. Their offense carries the team.

Defensively, Josh Norman backs up his talk and contract figures and has another All-Pro year. The 28th ranked defense from a year ago gets a much-needed boost.

Floor: 6-10 scenario

Never beating a team with a winning record continues to hang over Cousins' head, as Washington digresses.

The team has the toughest schedule in the division, and playing teams like Carolina and Arizona prove too much for Washington's shaky defense. Josh Norman falls into the long list of bad Dan Snyder contracts as the surrounding lack of defensive talent dooms him.

2016 Philadelphia Eagles

Ceiling: 9-7 scenario

Change is good in Philly as Doug Pederson and a brand new defensive coordinator take the Eagles to a winning season.

The 30th ranked defense from a season ago becomes more formidable as the offense causes matchup problems on the other end. Carson Wentz takes over as the starter, exceeds expectations and makes the most out of Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and Ryan Mathews. Nelson Agholor has the second year breakout that many thought would come a year ago.

Floor: 4-12 scenario

The Eagles suffer the aftermath of the post-Chip Kelly overhaul in the worst way. The lack of offensive talent gets thinner as injuries continue to linger into the season for Matthews and Mathews. Philly falls victim to a QB carousel, and the 30th ranked defense from a year ago doesn't improve nearly enough to win games.



Die hard Dallas Cowboys fan behind enemy lines here in New Jersey. CBS Sports employee and contributor for InsideTheStar.com.

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into their week two match up against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys knew they could control the game with -- for the first time in years against Eli Manning -- their pass rush and strong secondary. Exposing a weak Giants offensive line went well beyond the Cowboys front four in this win though.

The Cowboys put Manning on the turf six times, with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard relentlessly dialing up pressure. With the depth at linebacker to match up with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, along with Byron Jones' efforts on Odell Beckham Jr., it's no secret how the Cowboys defense forced Manning to dump the ball to his running back for 14 receptions.

Barkley's longest catch going for ten yards, this was a nearly flawless game for Rod Marinelli's defense to even the Cowboys record at 1-1. Expecting much of the same from their front seven against a poor Seahawks OL, now is a good time to look back at some of the pressure packages the Cowboys used in week two.

With a core of versatile linebackers they can trust, the Cowboys deployed Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, and Leighton Vander Esch all over the field to present the Giants with different looks. What made the Cowboys defensive play calling so successful was their LBs ability to cover ground quickly and create depth in coverage.

By doing so, the Giants could not take any chances down the field, their longest passing play going for 37 yards.

Blitz1

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On this play, even with the Giants looking to get the ball out quickly, the pressure from Smith and Wilson disrupt the timing. Sean Lee, the only Cowboys linebacker not sent after Manning on the play, ends up rallying from his starting WILL position to get in on the tackle. The Giants did not have the numbers up front to block Damien Wilson attacking from SAM, although more impressively, Smith was able to rip through a partial block from the right guard and get ahead of Wilson on their rush.

Blitz2

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This next blitz shows off the Cowboys strong coverage downfield against the Giants. Cornerback Anthony Brown had his fingerprints all over this game in the back end for Dallas, but on this play comes out of the slot after Manning. Sensing the pressure at his feet, Manning steps up and actually puts himself in position to deliver a good ball, but is forced into yet another check down.

While linebacker blitzes are part of the "Richard effect" on the Cowboys defense, a well-timed slot blitz is a staple of Rod Marinelli's scheme. Using Brown a number of times in this role off the strong side, the Giants had no answers for the different pressures Dallas sent their way against Ereck Flowers at right tackle.

Blitz3

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Even when Smith was picked up, as he was in the above play, the Cowboys capitalized on missed blocking assignments to get home with their front four. Taco Charlton the benefactor at RDE here, watch as Barkley rushes to keep Lee from having a straight run at his QB - allowing Charlton to do the same off the edge. Running untouched on the play, Charlton does a nice job taking a sharp angle to Manning and chasing him to the ground.

Blitz4

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As much as the Cowboys cornerbacks were a huge part of the team's confidence in sending pressure, their safeties also performed well in coverage. I wrote about the above play on Monday morning in my Sean's Scout that immediately follows every Cowboys game:

"That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench."

Heath picking up Engram is just one example of a Cowboys defender exceeding expectations in coverage. Smith was able to run with Beckham Jr., as was Charlton on separate plays later in the game.

Blitz6

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

The only fitting way to conclude this film study is with a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. The Cowboys best individual defender, Lawrence had his way with Flowers as we all expected. Playing to another one of Tank's strengths here though, Lawrence rushes to the inside off a well-executed T/E stunt with Tyrone Crawford.

Also sending Brown at Manning again, the Giants pass pro leaves Lawrence unabated to the quarterback. Unlikely to escape the grasp of Lawrence on such a free rush, Manning does try to abort the pocket, but had Brown crashing down on him to collapse things.

Lawrence might not earn many easier sacks this season. None of the Cowboys starters on defense are more capable of using their own ability to get to the QB than Lawrence still, who is getting all the help he needs from Richard as his play caller.

Through just two games, the Cowboys commitment to forcing the issue on defense has potential to keep this team atop the NFC East as the offense comes into its own.

Depending on the development of their own passing game, this may have to be a defense that can win Dallas games. The only way to do so is with sacks and turnovers.

The latter is something Marinelli's defenses have always excelled at when at full strength (the Cowboys are expecting Randy Gregory back as early as this week and DT David Irving comes off suspension in week five). The former is something the Cowboys are creating with a deeply talented front seven, orchestrated by one of the best in the business.

The Cowboys will look to build on their nine sacks this season against the Seahawks on Sunday, a team that's allowed the most in the league at 12. Their timing to go after Russell Wilson will be tested more than it was against the Giants, with Richard also better positioned to aid the Cowboys against his former team.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Player News

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Facing Multi-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Terrance Williams
Ric Tapia via AP

An arrest last May for public intoxication may finally result in a suspension for Dallas Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, who reported the pending suspension, outlined the details of Williams' case. Charges were ultimately dropped once Terrance completed an alcohol education course and paid damages to the city.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/3RmwQOllim via @sportsdaydfw

However, as Cowboys fans know too well, the NFL reserves the right to suspend players under the Personal Conduct Policy regardless of legal outcomes. The 2017 season was marred by the league's persecution of Ezekiel Elliott for domestic violence despite no arrests or charges coming from any legal or police entity.

In Williams' case, there's no dispute of his guilt. It is unlikely he will appeal any decision the NFL makes.

The potential that Terrance will be missing for 2-4 games helps explain the Cowboys' move earlier this week to bring back WR Brice Butler. With both currently active, Dallas has an unusually high seven receivers on their 53-man roster.

It's already Friday, so the suspension is doubtful to come for this week's game in Seattle. But Terrance could easily be one of the seven inactive players on game day, having received the fewest snaps of any Cowboys WR last week against the Giants.

We'll see soon enough, likely as soon as next week, just what the league has in store for Terrance Williams.



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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys’ Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys' Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks

In every game, whether it's a sporting event or a board game there is a path -- and sometimes more than one -- to victory. For the Dallas Cowboys, it's no different. As they get set to face a Seattle Seahawks team that is 0-2 for the first time since 2015, they'll have to win in several areas to bring home the W.

After starting out 0-2 in 2015, the Seahawks finished the season with a 10-6 record and won their wild card game over the Minnesota Vikings before falling in the divisional round to the Carolina Panthers.

The Seahawks are one of those teams that you can get down, but can never count out. If the Dallas Cowboys want to come out on top in their trip to the Pacific Northwest, they are going to have to come ready to play.

In particular, these are the things that the Dallas Cowboys have to achieve to be the victors on Sunday.

Limit Big Plays

The Seattle Seahawks are a very interesting offensive case study. They have one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but have invested very little in trying to protect their most important asset.

They rely on Russell Wilson's improvisational ability and penchant for big plays.

In 2017, Wilson had a quarterback rating of 100.9 on attempts greater than 20 yards down the field, per Pro Football Focus. He threw the ball "deep" 91 times, completing 31 passes for 1,134 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had the most deep attempts in the league last season and tied with Alex Smith with the most touchdowns on deep attempts. Wilson's yardage was nearly 200 yards more than the next best in the NFL on deep passing.

Wilson's going to take some deep shots. If you watched the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears, you noticed that even though Wilson was getting battered, it didn't deter him from taking shots deep down the field. Sometimes into unfavorable coverages.

The secondary has an advantage over the Seattle Seahawks group of wide receivers, but they'll have to stay disciplined and not allow the big pass plays to beat them.

In a game where they were being dominated for more than three quarters, the Seahawks were able to hang around and had a chance at the end because of their penchant for big plays.

Don't get beat deep.

Wrangling Russell Wilson

The Seattle Seahawks have allowed the most sacks in the league through two weeks. They've allowed six in each of their first two games this season. The Dallas Cowboys are going to have opportunities to sack Russell Wilson this week.

They have to take advantage.

Like Cam Newton in week one, Russell Wilson is a very elusive quarterback. Not only is he really good at making plays with his legs, he can be difficult to bring down. The Dallas Cowboys will have to work to keep Wilson in the pocket and finish when they get an opportunity to bring him down. He's not a physical presence like Newton is, but he's slippery and has some of that Tony Romo elusiveness to him.

If the potential tackler doesn't get Wilson down on first contact, it could lead to big plays both through the air and on the ground. Wilson averages 33.6 yards per game on the ground in his career and 5.7 yards per attempt. In order to get off the field on third down, they're going to have to prevent Wilson from using his legs to pick up third downs.

Establishing the Pass to Set Up the Run

At this point in the Dallas Cowboys offensive approach, everyone in the world knows what the Dallas Cowboys want to do on offense. They want to run the ball.

The Dallas Cowboys did a great job using this knowledge to their advantage on the first series of the game against the New York Giants.

On the first play of the game, they used a Run-Pass Option, with a clear out to the flat by Tight End Geoff Swaim, and found Allen Hurns on a slant to set up a second and short. Then after picking up that second and short with a run by Ezekiel Elliott, they used a straight play action out of a two running back, one tight end set, and hit Tavon Austin for the 64 yard touchdown.

Dak's willingness to throw the ball deep on a couple other occasions helped open up the run. The deep ball has to be a threat in order to back defenses off the line of scrimmage and do what you do best: Run the Ball. If they aren't going to back off, then you have to keep throwing it until you hit the deep ball enough that it forces them to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys were able to run the ball pretty effectively for the rest of the game, even if they didn't hit a lot of big plays. With the New York Giants interior defensive line, it was going to be tough sledding anyway. Getting things going through the air, helped out immensely.

The Seattle Seahawks are going to try to do what everyone does; put the ball in Dak Prescott's hands. If they're going to win on Sunday, it's going to be because Prescott had another efficient game throwing the ball.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

This game sets up really well for the Dallas Cowboys to improve their record to 2-1 and keep pace with the upper tier teams in the NFC. Every win matters, but these NFC games matter even a bit more. No game in the NFL is a cakewalk and this game is no different. If the Dallas Cowboys aren't able to do the above, it could be a long day for America's Team. 



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