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How Competitive Will NFC East be in 2018?

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Eagles

Since 2005, no team has won back-to-back division titles in the NFC East. More often than not, the race comes down to the last week or two of the season. Odds are that in 2018, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins will produce another dogfight on the way to the playoffs.

Over the last 13 seasons, the Cowboys and Eagles have each won four NFC East titles. The Giants have won three, and Washington is unsurprisingly last with two.

2018 comes with the additional intrigue of the Eagles being the defending Super Bowl Champions. If the NFC East's history wasn't scary enough, the history of how teams fare in the season after winning the big one isn't pretty.

All this points to the usual reality that the NFC East is wide open. 2017 was an unusually down year; Philadelphia won the division by four games. But Dallas, New York, and Washington are all poised to improve and hopefully make things much more interesting.

With the Eagles kicking off the season later tonight, let's examine the Cowboys' division rivals and how they're looking heading into the season.

Saquon Barkley, Giants

New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley

New York Giants

Last year was a disaster for the G-Men. Losing Odell Beckham Jr. and general disarray under the misguidance of Ben McAdoo sent them into a 3-13 spiral.

For their suffering, the Giants got the second pick in this year's draft and used it on Running Back Saquon Barkley. Since the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in 2016, a new trend of top RB prospects going high in the draft has begun. New York is hoping that Barkley can have the same impact on their offense that Zeke brought to Dallas.

The decision to stick with 37-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback wasn't a slam dunk, and the Barkley pick had a lot to do with trying to take pressure off their aged passer. New York has been diligent in adding offensive weapons with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, but it's been a while since they had a running game which could carry the offensive load.

To that end, the Giants did a lot this offseason to work on their offensive line. They signed free agents Patrick Omameh and Nate Solder, then spent a second-round pick on Will Hernandez. But even with that work, they still have their own Chaz Green at right tackle in Ereck Flowers.

Defense is a question mark as well. There are still some great pieces like Safety Landon Collins and DT Damon Harrison, but DE Jason Pierre-Paul is gone and Oliver Vernon enters the season injured. Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins are a solid but beatable tandem at cornerback.

Last year the Giants were dysfunctional, but they booted McAdoo and are hoping Pat Shurmur will provide both an offensive spark and better overall leadership. This is definitely not a 3-13 team given their talent, but did last year's woes do lasting damage? If they struggle early, will New York fall apart again?

3 Things Cowboys Should Learn From the Super Bowl Champs

Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles

There is no doubt that the Eagles are still Carson Wentz' team, but when will he return to duty? Until then, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will try to continue last year's run.

Philly has done a good job of avoiding a true QB controversy. No matter what Foles does to start the year, it is clear that Wentz will get his job back when he's healthy. If anything, the Eagles have an incredible luxury of allowing Carson to heal fully and not feeling much pressure to rush him back.

What could change that is if an offseason of praise and raised expectations have an adverse effect on Foles. Throughout his career, Nick has performed well as the underdog but not when teams counted on him to carry over his success.

Unlike some defending champions, though, the Eagles have been able to bring back nearly all of their talent from last year. Philly remains a young, dangerous team with both established stars and emerging talent. They are well-equipped to keep competing at a high level.

You could say this about any NFL team, but it really will come down to quarterback. Can Foles keep producing? If not, how quickly can they get Wentz back out there?

Last year, Philadelphia had an unusually easy road in the NFC East. The Cowboys were held back by injuries and the Ezekiel Elliott situation. The Giants plummeted from the issues we've already discussed. And Washington was their typical middling selves.

2018 won't be so easy. The Cowboys and Giants should definitely be better, and we'll discuss Washington more in a moment. Along with that, Philly now faces the huge challenge of trying repeat as Super Bowl Champions. The underdog status is over.

Alex Smith, Redskins

Washington Redskins QB Alex Smith

Washington Redskins

The financial war with Kirk Cousins finally ended, and Washington decided to try to keep things afloat with veteran Alex Smith instead of going into a full rebuild. How will that decision pan out in 2018?

Smith is one of the underappreciated quarterbacks in the NFL. He is efficient and provides a dual threat with mobility, even at age 34. But he's not an electric passer in an increasingly high-scoring, pass-focused league.

Alex has flourished with Andy Reid in Kansas City, but now he joins a much less proven coach in Jay Gruden. Will Gruden's system work for Smith the same way it did for Cousins, or will we find out that the QB was carrying the coach?

Hurting the chance for success is a lack of offensive weaponry. Their best one, Tight End Jordan Reed, can't stay healthy. Failed experiments at receiver and a lack of investment at running back has left them without much firepower. Things were bad enough that they're now kicking the tires on Adrian Peterson.

Like the Giants, Washington has some great players on defense but also several holes. Ryan Kerrigan and Zach Brown are studs at linebacker. Josh Norman has a big reputation and mouth, but is he still an elite corner at age 30?

Washington went 7-9 last year, so even minor improvement could put them into contention. But the change at quarterback just might be a downgrade, and improvement from the Giants could drive Washington back down into the NFC East basement.

~ ~ ~

In the end, the unexpected and unpredictable will likely decide the NFC East. September's favorites can easily wind up with next April's high draft picks if a few things go wrong. The difference between 10-6 and 6-10 is much slimmer than most people realize.

After going 9-7 last year despite their own roster issues, the Dallas Cowboys are poised to return to contention. They have questions marks, just like most teams, but the potential is there for big things.

Coming out of the NFC East is its own challenge. It's tough, competitive standard is why only two of the last 22 Super Bowl winners have come from our division. NFC East teams don't get to waltz into the playoffs every year like the Patriots, Steelers, and some others do.

But that said, I wouldn't have it any other way. Part of what makes every season so exciting is knowing how much every game counts, and that's truer in our division than others.

2018 is looking like another tough, competitive year in the NFC East. All of our rivals have a case to be contenders this year.

Did we expect anything less?



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.

Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.

Cambios de Coach

A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.

A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.

Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?

El Draft

A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.

A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.

En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.

Decisiones difíciles

La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.

Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.

Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.

No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.

Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.

Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.

Here's why those people are wrong.

Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.

Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).

Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.

There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.

Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.

Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.

Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.

Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.

And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.



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Star Blog

Can QB Dak Prescott Steal Back His Mojo From Atlanta?

Brian Martin

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Can Dak Prescott Regain His Mojo Against Atlanta?
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys last traveled to Mercedes-Benz Stadium they were completely throttled by the Atlanta Falcons. It's a game a lot of Cowboys Nation would like to forget, but no one more so than Quarterback Dak Prescott. That game could very well be where his struggles really began.

It's almost exactly a year later and the Dallas Cowboys still find themselves haunted by that brutal beating the Atlanta Falcons handed them in Week 10 of the 2017 season. The Cowboys seemed to lose all confidence in themselves after that game, but it was almost as if it was the exact point in time where Dak Prescott lost all of his mojo as well.

Before that match up against the Falcons, Prescott was still playing at a pretty high level. But since then, he has been in a slump and there have been very few signs of recapturing any of that magic he once had. Heading back to Atlanta maybe the key for him finding and stealing back his mojo.

Things could definitely go a little differently this time around. The Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith in the lineup this week. Zeke missed the game last year due to the league mandated six-game suspension, and Tyron missed due to an injury. Having those two back in the lineup could pay huge dividends, especially for Prescott.

Without his starting left tackle and running back, Dak was pretty much beaten to a pulp by the Falcons defense a year ago. They applied relentless pressure, hitting and sacking him on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, I think that's where he started seeing ghost in the pocket and its haunted him ever since.

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The beating he took at the hands of the Falcons has really thrown off his entire game. His mechanics, accuracy, and effectiveness as a scrambler can all be traced back to that one matchup. He just hasn't been the same QB he was prior to that game.

Prescott's stats prior to the Falcons game:

24 starts
66.7 completion percentage
102.4 passer rating

Prescott's stats since the Falcons game:

17 starts
63.3 completion percentage
83.1 passer rating

As you can see, that's a notable difference. His passer rating has shockingly dropped nearly 20 points since last playing the Falcons and it's really hurt the entire offensive production. It's time for that to change.

Prescott has no choice this week. He has to get back up on the horse that bucked him off and hopefully regain that mojo he left in Atlanta a year ago. Fortunately for him, his confidence might be is as high as it's been since that last meeting after pulling off the upset against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

Now, he just has to go out and prove it!

Do you think Dak Prescott can regain his mojo against the Atlanta Falcons?



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