It's only been three weeks in the 2019 NFL season but the Dallas Cowboys already have a two-game lead in the NFC East. Let's take a look around the division and see what's going on with Dallas' longtime rivals.
Following Washington's loss last night to the Chicago Bears, here are the current NFC East standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 3-0 (2-0 vs division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 1-2 (1-0 vs division)
- New York Giants 1-2 (0-1 vs division)
- Washington Redskins 0-3 (0-2 vs division)
The big story of the week, with long-term ramifications, may have been Daniel Jones' debut performance as the Giants' starting quarterback. But before we get to that, let's talk about this two-game losing streak for the Eagles.
After letting last week's game against the Falcons slip out of their grasp, Philly returned home and got upset by the visiting Lions. Neither Atlanta or Detroit was considered a contender going into the season, but the Eagles certainly were.
Granted, both losses had a combined point margin of just seven points. A few things may have swung things Philadelphia's way, but that won't matter when we're looking at the standings in December.
It certainly doesn't help that the Eagles are missing key passing targets in DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. Their return could go a long way to helping matters, especially for struggling QB Carson Wentz.
Wentz has not been able to get back to the MVP form he showed prior to his 2017 injury. The missing receivers and pass protection issues certainly don't help, but Carson's passer rating and completion percentage are near the bottom of the league right now.
The Eagles gave Wentz $32 million per year in his recent contract extension; money that suggests a QB should be able to overcome adversity and make teammates better. You can't make many excuses at that salary.
With a quick turnaround this week and a road game in Green Bay on Thursday night, there's more adversity on the way for the Eagles. Will they drop to 1-3, and will that hole prove too deep to get out of?
Daniel Jones Starts With Style
With 336 passing yards, two touchdowns through the air, and another two running, Giants Quarterback Daniel Jones put in one of the better rookie debuts we've ever seen. It becomes even more impressive when you consider all of the factors around his week.
For one, Jones wasn't named the starter until Tuesday of last week. With Eli Manning's stranglehold on the job finally gone, he only got a few days to settle into being "the man" and working exclusively with the first-team offense.
The fact that this big game occurred on the road, with the pirate ship cannons firing and the Buccaneers providing decent competition, was also impressive. Jameis Winston had his own big numbers and the Bucs put 31 points on the scoreboard.
Did I mention that the Giants had to overcome an 18-point halftime deficit to get the win? Or how about that they lost Saquon Barkley midway through the game?
Did you know that Daniel Jones was sacked five times and, even still, had that kind of game and led the comeback victory?
It's only one game, and I know Tampa isn't among the NFL elite this year, but Jones showed a lot of positive things in that win. Perhaps the defining trait of the great quarterbacks is how they perform in adverse situations, and the rookie did it in style on Sunday.
The real tests are coming. New York gets a likely cupcake this week in the visiting Redskins, but then they host the Vikings and travel to pay the Patriots. A few weeks later, the Cowboys will be coming to town.
We may have a very different feeling about Daniel Jones after these next few weeks, or at least by the end of the year. But for now, with one dazzling debut, it looks the Giants have their QB of the future.
Football Focus: The San Francisco 49ers Might Be NFC’s Finest
I doubt many of us expected the San Francisco 49ers to be undefeated through six weeks. But they are. And it's not like they've only beaten bad teams. Last weekend, they defeated the defending NFC champions, the Los Angeles Rams, playing without their starting offensive tackles. At 5-0, they're the official favorites to win the NFC West.
It's fair to put them in the discussion of being the best team in the National Football Conference. The Rams are not what they were and other teams like the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears haven't been as dominant as many expected them to.
The only team that I'd think of ranking over the 49ers is the New Orleans Saints. Even without Drew Brees, they find themselves as one of the best teams in the league and are full of talent on offense and defense.
But the 49ers have played better football than any other team in the NFC.
Right now, they're the second best team in DVOA in the NFL by a wide margin. In fact, they're defense is among the best of all time through five games in this category. They rank second since 1986 in defensive DVOA, only behind the 2019 New England Patriots.
Jimmy Garoppolo has played well. Although he hasn't been a passing yards machine, he's completed 69.9% of his attempts. They've found a rushing attack with a strong running back committee, becoming the second best rushing attack in the NFL while averaging 179 yards per game on the ground. Their offensive front is solid and will be even better when they get tackles Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley back.
Not to mention, on the other side of the ball, they have one of the best defensive lines in football with a top edge rusher who's only getting started in Nick Bosa. He's only a rookie, but he's playing like a top pass rusher already.
This team is truly special and 100% real. Don't expect them to go away, because they won't.
Three-And-Out: 3 Quick Thoughts
- The Los Angeles Rams traded for CB Jalen Ramsey. They sent two first round selections to the Jacksonville Jaguars. As good as Ramsey is, that's a lot. The Rams are betting on getting things right after a 3-3 start. The San Francisco 49ers lead the division and might keep the title for themselves. Can the Rams bounce back? Will their trade be worth it? It's hard to know, but right now, they might be aiming for a wildcard spot.
- The Los Angeles Chargers might be the least healthy team in the NFL. They're missing a ton of starters on both sides of the ball and are off to a bad start. They've lost back-to-back games to the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers (led by a third-string QB). I get that they're injured, but that can't be their only problem. Something is wrong with Anthony Lynn's team. They were supposed to be a contender but they've got a lot more to do than just "get healthy."
- Jameis Winston, man. Just when I thought there was something different to him this season. He got off to a hot start and some (myself included) thought Bruce Arians might've pressed the right buttons to help him turn his career around. But last Sunday, Winston threw FIVE interceptions. He was also sacked seven times and fumbled the ball twice. Time to move on from the once #1 overall pick.
Player of the Week: WR Stefon Diggs, MIN Vikings
The Vikings took advantage of an unhealthy defense from the Philadelphia Eagles as Kirk Cousins threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns. His main weapon was WR Stefon Diggs, who had seven catches, 167 yards and three touchdowns, including a clutch 62-yard catch. Recently, Diggs was reportedly asking for a trade. Now he might be happy in a 4-2 Vikings team that sits at second in the NFC North.
Underdog of the Week: Pittsburgh Steelers
It was a rough game for Pittsburgh but they walked away with their second win of the season. They did so led by none other than Devlin Hodges, third-string quarterback. His game wasn't great but team effort pushed this team to to a big-time upset on Sunday Night Football. James Conner racked up two total touchdowns, but it was rookie Benny Snell Jr. who led the team rushing with 75 yards.
Fun fact: The Steelers won with only one player with over 15 receiving yards, RB James Conner, who had 78.
College Football Corner: Should LSU Be #1?
The LSU Tigers are putting on a show. They already have two Top-10 wins as Joe Burrow continues to position himself as a candidate for the Heisman trophy. What Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady has done for the Tigers has been remarkable. Ironically, offense is the Tigers' strong suit now. There's a big-time argument for them to be ranked above both Alabama and Clemson.
According to the AP Poll, they are the #2 team in the country but I wouldn't be surprised if by the time the College Football Playoff Selection Committee's rankings come out, they're #1. Alabama and LSU play in November, by the way. I can't wait.
It’s Time for DeMarcus Lawrence to Return to his All-Pro Level of Play
When you produce at a high level you get paid the big bucks in the NFL, it's just that simple. That's exactly what All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence did over the previous two seasons racking up 25 sacks. His dominance was rewarded back in April as the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a five-year 105 million dollar extension with 65 million in guarantees. With that kind of payday comes enormous expectations, especially playing under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium. However, if you want to be the elite of the elite this is what comes with the territory, and rightfully so.
The first order of business after inking his new deal was to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. The procedure was successful and put Lawrence on the shelf with an estimated recovery time of 3-4 months. During the healing process, Lawrence would miss all of OTAs, minicamp, and most of training camp before his return in limited action just prior to the start of the season.
The Cowboys kicked off the 2019 season against the rival New York Giants. Lawrence is no stranger to this team as his 3.5 career sacks against them were his second-most against any opponent coming into Week 1. The Cowboys dominated the Giants from the outset and won easily 35-17. Lawrence had a pretty decent day by his standards with two tackles, two quarterback hits, and a half-sack.
In Week 2 the Cowboys went on the road to face another NFC East rival the Washington Redskins. Once again, they were impressive going up as much as 17 points en route to a 31-21 victory. Lawrence, however, had one of if not the worst statistically game of his career. He was completely blanked from the stat sheet besides one quarterback hit. Even in a game where there wasn't any question of who was going to win you still don't want to see your All-Pro pass rusher virtually shutout for 60 minutes.
Week 3 saw the Cowboys steamroll the Miami Dolphins in Arlington. Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both ran for over 100 yards and the defense held the Dolphins to two field goals. Lawrence had two tackles, two quarterbacks and a sack for his efforts. Just like the season opener, his performance didn't jump off the screen but if you can get a sack and some hits on the opposing team's quarterback you're doing your job as a rush rusher.
In Week 4 the Cowboys were in a defensive battle with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. Lawrence had another two tackle performance and registered a sack for the second consecutive week even in a tough 12-10 loss. You would hope that would spark some sort of rhythm for him getting to the quarterback but that didn't exactly happen.
The previous two games have been ones I'm sure Lawrence would like to forget. When the Green Bay Packers came to town Lawrence and company had the tough task of getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but they failed, especially their leader. Lawrence would only register a single tackle for the entire game as Aaron Jones had a career-high four rushing touchdowns and the Cowboys lost their second consecutive game. On the road against the Jets last Sunday, it wasn't much better as Lawrence only got credit for two tackles. In addition to this, he didn't get a sack, pressure or quarterback hit for the second straight game.
Granted, Lawrence has seen as many double teams as any edge rusher this season but at some point, big-time players find a way to make plays. Take All-Pro Defensive Tackle Aaron Darnold for example, he saw double teams on most of his snaps in 2018 and still managed to record 20.5 sacks. Simply put, you have to earn the paycheck you receive weekly.
Nine total tackles and 2.5 sacks in six games is what Lawrence has produced so far, that's simply not good enough. If he wants to pick a time to have his first breakout game of 2019, this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles is the perfect opportunity to do so with the Cowboys currently on a three-game losing streak. With first place in the NFC East on the line, a big performance from Lawrence would be just what the doctor ordered, especially facing a quarterback as talented as Carson Wentz. We have all been patiently waiting to see the guy that terrorized NFL the previous two seasons. Will it happen this Sunday? Only time will tell.
Ezekiel Elliott led Near Comeback vs Jets, Needs to be Focal Point Going Forward
The Dallas Cowboys have developed a not so pleasant trend during the early part of the 2019 season, slow starts. In the previous three games before this past Sunday's matchup with the New York Jets, the Cowboys scored a total of 13 points in the first half. Unfortunately, it was more of the same at Metlife stadium as six points were all the Cowboys could muster before halftime. In the second half, however, Ezekiel Elliott became the focal point as the Cowboys nearly stormed all the way back to tie the game in the final seconds.
The Cowboys found themselves down 21-6 to start the third quarter and were in desperate need of a spark. They would find it in their All-Pro ball carrier as Elliott rushed the ball nine times on a 14 play drive that took over seven minutes off the clock and cut the deficit to 21-9. This drive not only got the Cowboys back to what they do best which is run the football but it created some easy throws for Dak Prescott.
On the next drive Elliott would carry the ball four more times on a 10 play drive that ended on a missed field goal by Kicker Brett Maher. In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had their most productive drive of the entire game going 84 yards in 11 plays in just under five minutes. Elliott had another four carries and capped off the drive with a touchdown bringing the Cowboys within five at 21-16. The comeback attempt would fall short 24-22 after a failed two-point conversion in the final minute. Elliott finished with 152 all-purpose yards (105 rushing, 47 receiving) and a touchdown.
One of the bad things about the hot start to the season for Prescott was it created an illusion that the Cowboys are now a passing football team. Granted, Prescott has shown improvement throwing the ball down the field but this offense still goes through Elliott first and foremost. He had 18 of his 28 carries in the second half this past Sunday and it was clear to see that the offense moved the chains more fluently with him as the spearhead. This isn't to take anything away from Prescott or the Cowboys wide receivers by any means but they all benefit from Elliott slowly but surely wearing down defenses which sets up the play-action passing game. This formula has not only won Elliott two rushing titles in the previous three years but it has brought the Cowboys two NFC East crowns over that span, and there's a good reason for that, it works.
Currently, the Cowboys are searching for answers to solve the puzzle of this three-game losing streak. A showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles awaits them this Sunday at home with outright control of the NFC East on the line. If the Cowboys want to get back on track they need to ride the coattails of Elliott. Prescott has had 40 or more pass attempts in each of the last two games, that's far too many. Put the ball in Elliott's hands, control the clock and take advantage of your one-on-one matchups on the outside. That's the Cowboys recipe for success and they need to get back to it fast.
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