Tag Archives: Dallas Cowboys

So You’re Telling Me There’s Still A Chance ?

Believe it or not, there is… at least on paper.  At 2-4, the New York Giants are only 1 game out of first place in a fairly dismal NFC East.  This is where the optimism ends and reality set in.  Although the GMEN are very much in the race in the NFC East, anyone who has watched the NFL this season realizes that there is a great divide between elite teams and pretenders.  This Giants team falls into this latter category.

Early losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills were forgotten after the Giants inserted Daniel Jones into the role of starting quarterback. He proceeded to orchestrate an exciting tug-of-war win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a convincing win over the Washington Redskins.  The legend of “Danny Dimes” was alive and well.  Optimism ran rampant that they had found the steal of the draft; Giant fans began to think that perhaps anything was possible. That was until the Minnesota Vikings entered their building in East Rutherford.

The Vikings defense battered the GMEN, sacking Daniel Jones 4 times and hitting him countless other times.  Welcome to the NFL, lad!  The Vikings were far more physical than the Giants and won the game 28-10 (it could have been worse).  The Vikings had 490 yards on offense including 211 yards on the ground.  Whatever was accomplished in the Giants two previous victories appeared to be gone.

Next up was the New England Patriots who highlighted the Giants deficiencies even more in their 35-14 victory.  The Patriots forced 4 turnovers and dominated the GMEN as the game went on. The legend of “Danny Dimes” took a hit again with a 3 interception game. It didn’t help matters that they were playing against the best defense in the NFL.

Still, there were moments early in the game that reminded us of the magic that occurs when the Giants play the Patriots. When Lorenzo Carter (where has he been?) sacked and stripped the ball from Tom Brady only to be picked up and ran into the end zone by Marcus Golden for a Giants touchdown, flashback memories of Strahan, Tuck and Umenyoura came into the minds of Giants fans everywhere. At least for a little while.

Tom Brady did not have a good first half but did enough to keep the Patriots ahead at the half, 21-14. The second half was another story. Belichek’s defense made their necessary adjustments and dominated the GMEN exposing their injuries to their RB’s and WR’s.  When Jon Hilliman fumbled the ball late in the game which was recovered by Kyle Van Noy and returned for a touchdown, the Giants were down 28-14 and the game was officially over.

The Giants were severely outmatched in this game both on offense and defense; that much was clear. With injuries to several offensive players including running backs and wide receivers, and injuries to their defense at the linebacker position, the outcome of this game was a surprise to nobody.  Was it too much to count on David Mayo to have another 9 tackle performance as he did against the Minnesota Vikings?  (He actually had 13 tackles in this game).

Who, by the way, is David Mayo? David Mayo is the next man up or an undrafted free agent, the Giants answer to a depleted linebacking corps.  The Giants all but neglected the linebacker position relying on often injured Alec Ogletree and BJ Goodson who, by the way was beaten out of a starting job by rookie Ryan Connolly.  Connolly, after playing well the first few games of the season went down with a torn ACL in week 3.  Thus, the Giants had no choice but to turn to free agency using the likes of David Mayo.  Mayo actually had 13 tackles in the Patriots game and has to be credited for being around the ball often.

Linebacker was not the only position that the Giants failed to backup adequately going into the 2019 season.  Against the Patriots, the Giants suited up the feared duo of Jon Hilliman and Elijah Perry at Running Back.  The result of this decision; 16 carries for 52 yards. Hilliman’s late game fumble was likely the reason he was cut promptly after the game to be replaced by veteran running back Buck Allen, a castoff from the Baltimore Ravens.  The Giants better hope to have Saquon Barkley back in week 7 if they are to have any chance in a wide- open NFC East race.

So where do we stand at 2-4 after losing the last two games?  IN THE THICK OF IT IN THE NFC EAST!

Best case scenario:

Looking at the Giants remaining schedule, I believe they can defeat the following teams:   Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins

This would give the GMEN  6 wins. Throw in a few possible win games against inconsistent but talented teams such as the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and the GMEN are 8-8.  Not good enough to get into the playoffs. This, my friends is the best we can hope for I believe.

The Giants will not go further than this until they can beat the more physical teams including Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay and others.  Winning the game on both sides of the ball is what is required, even if the magic of Danny Dimes returns anytime soon.

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Were the ’85 Chicago Bears on the field in Dallas last week?

For anyone who watched last Sunday’s matchup between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, it would have appeared so.  The Cowboys defensive line played like the ’85 Bears registering 6 sacks and several pressures.  Eli Manning couldn’t throw deep to any of his receivers, rendering O’Dell Beckum Jr. (4-51), Sterling Shepard (3-24) and Evan Engram (7-67) largely ineffective… or so it felt.  His only option was short passes to Saquon Barkley, who set a Giants record for receptions by a running back (14-80).

Regarding all of the offseason talk of General Manager Dave Gettleman’s  offensive line building, the GMEN’s hog mollies looked a lot more like mollies than hogs. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).  At the end of the game, the final score was 20-13.  The O-line for the Giants was so dominated by the Dallas defense that the score might have just as well been 48-0.

Kudos to Dallas Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, who clearly deserved the game ball.  Marinelli out coached Giants coach Pat Shurmer and Offensive Line coach Hal Hunter.   Simple D-line stunts and cornerback blitzes wreaked havoc on the GMEN’s offense almost the entire game.  Eli took so many hits that he was probably rethinking his retirement with this current squad of protectors.  It appears that it will be a long season for the GMEN.

The running game was all but entirely negated as well.  Saquon Barkely had 11 carries for 28 yards.  Any gains he achieved was the result of him making multiple defenders miss tackles. There is no run blocking to be found.  Barkley is an exciting rookie with tremendous talent but can’t be expected to do everything himself.  The Giants are averaging 0.8 yards before the running back is touched, ranking last in the NFL in this statistic.  The NFL average is 2.4 yards before contact.  As much as we want Barkley to be the reincarnation of Barry Sanders, we can’t expect this to happen. At least not overnight.

Many are to blame for this monumental Giants collapse.  Let’s start with management who continues to back an aging, immobile pocket passer.   It is easy for Giants fans to drool when watching Pat Mahomes, Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold play the quarterback position.  These stars can evade defenders and still make plays downfield.  Eli’s days of finding David Tyree downfield are likely to be long gone. Fans and the analyst community are likely to believe there is cause to reevaluate the Giants decision to pass on a QB with the second pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.   While Eli Manning has several tools on his offense that other NFL teams would kill for, the question is whether he will have time to get the ball to them.  He also has difficulty beating linebackers who can cover.when he actually has time to find a receiver in the middle of the field.

As for the coaching, let’s not give up on Pat Shurmer and company yet.  It is clearly too soon for that. He has not lost the locker room as was the case with the Giants previous coaching mistake, Ben McAdoo. He has simply lost 2 games and looked awful in one of them against a team that many thought the Giants would beat.  Offensive line coach is another story. Simple stunts and cornerback blitzes can’t nullify your offense as was the case against the Cowboys.  Again, this was NOT the ’85 Chicago Bears defense that was on the field although at times, you wouldn’t have know it.  It is time for both Pat Shurmer and offensive line coach Hal Hunter to step-up their game!

Then there was fullback Shane Smith.  Or should I say ex-New York Giant full back, Shane Smith.  Smith was cut this week after missing 2 key blitz pickups against the Cowboys.  A notable statistic from the Giants game…Smith was solely responsible for 1/3 of the Giants 6 sacks.  Smith was released on Thursday following his horrendous performance which contributed largely to the Giants offensive collapse.

Still, you can’t blame a loss like this on one player. You have to site management for believing Eli could continue to thrive with this offensive line protecting him.  This is naïve or wishful thinking at best.

What Can Be Done Now?   

Any team that plays the New York Giants is going to follow Rod Marinelli’s game plan, bringing pressure early and often from several positions.  Why would you not?  The Giants must fill their holes as quickly as possible. The Giants are going to have to anticipate blitz-happy defenses and find a way to get the ball to their major weapons.

All hope is not lost at 0-2, but one can only hope that we have seen the worse of the New York Giants in 2018. It’s time for a coaches meeting that will not only identify team weaknesses but resolve or make wholesale changes.  Players that can be obtained are usually available for a reason.  Did I actually hear Will Beatty’s name being bandied about again as an offensive line addition?  Didn’t we already give him a second chance last season?

It will be interesting to see what changes are made to this team in Week 3!

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The New York Giants Need More than Odell

The New York Giants’ 2017 season debut against the Dallas Cowboys was less-than-stellar, thanks to an underwhelming offense. We all know the Giants’ O-line is Swiss cheese. Last season, the blame could mostly be placed on Ereck Flowers, who had been shaky by either forgetting how to block or getting flagged for holding. Sunday’s game was an improvement for Flowers who managed to not get flagged. But wouldn’t you know – now John Jerry doesn’t know how to block without holding.

So when Eli Manning actually managed to connect to his timid offense, the chains wouldn’t move. And I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t move the chains, you don’t score; hence the brutal 19-3 beat-down.

“No part of the offense was functional [Sunday],” coach Ben McAdoo said.

On top of that, the Giants’ $206 million defense still had trouble shutting down the third and long/third and short. I get it, the Cowboy’s O-line is the best in the league. But giving up critical third and longs is how teams beat themselves, which is exactly what happened.

“At the end of the day there’s not much to hang your hat on, scoring three points and getting beat like we got beat,’’ left guard Justin Pugh said.

Now, I know the prospect seems bleak and everyone wants to win their season debut. But let me explain how the Giants aren’t actually screwed…yet.

First of all, the Giants once again got caught on the wrong side of BS penalties. For example, Janoris Jenkins did not deserve that PI call that ultimately put the Cowboys in the red zone for their first touchdown. While this may seem minor, calls like this add up quickly and result in big points or renewed downs. The Giants were only trailing by two field goals before Jenkins was flagged, but once the Cowboys found the end zone, they also found their momentum.

Secondly, Eli did not play as badly as you all think. Shocking, I know. But here’s why Eli isn’t the problem.

Eli is not blessed with the gift of speed. He’s not a Russel Wilson/Aaron Rodgers type of guy, so when his pocket collapses, he’ll likely go down with it. With the Giants’ O-line being as shaky as it is, Manning has about two seconds to make a decision before he’s facedown on the carpet. Which make his mis-throws more understandable. On top of that, we had a rookie tight end playing in the big leagues for the first time, Brandon Marshall finding his stride with a new offense, and no Odell Beckham Jr.

And finally, Cowboys’ wide receiver Cole Beasley is a slippery son of a bitch and his neck-catch was a testament to his luck rather than skill. But it’s players like Beasley who manage to find the holes on third down that gas the Giants’ defense and make it tired by the fourth quarter.

Luckily, all of these factors can be fixed – except for the refs needing glasses. It is up to Ben McAdoo to bring out the best of his offense, and seal the deal on defense. Sure, the outcome of Sunday’s game could have been 100% better. But let’s give it a few more weeks before we count out Big Blue for good.

“Well, it’s one of 16 games,” McAdoo said. “We have to be careful getting too emotional about one football game. A lot of effort and energy goes into the first game. You’ve got to tip your hat to Dallas and move on to the next one.”

 

Reflecting On The Giants Week 13 Win Over The Cowboys- Round 2

That was an epic win on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys!  It was particularly great to see the GMEN return to their defensive roots; their defense shut down the only NFL team with an 11-1 record.  Let’s give props to several players who had outstanding games, namely:

Jackrabbit Jenkins:  He shut down Dez. Bryant…lights out!

Romeo Okwara:  Who?  This is the guy who replaced JPP.  How’s 8 tackles and 1 sack for his first NFL start?

Derek Kennard- 6 tackles, 1 sack

Jonathan Casillas- 5 tackles, 1 sack

and the rest of the Giants D. They were outstanding!

Now, for the offense.   Let me start with the most exciting offensive player the GMEN have had in 50 years. If you think I am referring to O’Dell Beckum Jr, you would be correct. After a slow start against Dallas (a slow start for Beckum is having a drop or two), he did what we have come to expect from him…change the outcome of the game.  Beckum took an Eli Manning slant pass to the house, and thanks to the Giants defense, it turned out to be all they needed. See the reaction of fans at Aces, SF, below.

(Video courtesy of huddleball.com).

 

As for the rest of the Giants offense…ugh!  (They own the 31st ranked running attack, 11th ranked passing attack). What remains most troubling to me (and Giants fans everywhere) is the Giants offensive line and their inability to pick up a rushing first down when they need to sustain a drive.  They are simply not opening holes for their running backs.

Left Tackle Erik Flowers appears to be a liability on every play.  His confidence is clearly shaken. He is repeatedly getting beaten by faster pass rushers causing Eli to throw the ball away early or even worse, throw interceptions.  We are seeing too many mistakes out of Eli and it would not be a coincidence if faulty offensive line play had anything to do with it.  The Giants should be welcoming Justin Pugh back to the O-line this week at Left Guard.  Having this quality addition can only help.

If there is no shuffling of players (Pugh to Left Tackle, Flowers to Left Guard?), the Giants should at the least insert a Tight End next to Flowers for extra protection on the blind side.  It can only help matters. Simple solutions like this could show some improved results in both the run blocking and pass blocking areas. Remember the days when we had quality diversity on the offensive line?  It really makes you appreciate what David Diehl was able to do for them over a long career.

With greater stability on the offensive line, perhaps Eli will reduce the number of plays in which he has happy feet and throws some boneheaded interceptions. To Eli’s credit, he has the mentality of a defensive back, or rather, the memory of one.  If he gets burned on one play, he is able to make a great play on the next.

The Giants are in a very fortunate position to be in at the moment at 9-4 and look to be heading to the playoffs as a Wild Card team.  A poor finish the final 3 games could easily derail that.  They must play the way they played this week on defense, and improve their offensive performance in both their running and passing attacks.

Imagine what this team can do if they solve their offensive line problems?  If they figure it out now, and continue to improve into the playoffs, I would expect nothing less than a deep run in the playoffs if not a third Lombardi Trophy for Eli!

So says the most ignorantly optimistic New York Giant fan out there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Week 14: The Storylines Drive The League

When you think about it, football teams play regular-season games 16 days out of 365 days in a year.  Sure, the games are important, but, admit it: the storylines drive the league.  The storylines behind the games bring the necessary drama to the field and enhance the overall enjoyment of the game.  So, with that being said, let’s look at the notable stats and storylines of week 14.

* The New England Patriots face the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football this week and will try to stop a three-game losing streak, a rare spot for the team to find themselves. The Patriots have gone 213 straight games without losing three consecutive games, and only the San Francisco 49ers, with 292 straight games between 1980-99 have more.

* The Kansas City Chiefs are riding strong on a miracle six-game winning streak after starting the season with a 1-5 record.  With their recent success, it is hard to remember how poor of a start they had at the beginning of the season.  However, they need the momentum to keep rolling against the San Diego Chargers if they want to be just the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-5 through their first six games.  The only other team to do that was the 1970 Bengals, who went 1-6 before going on a seven-game winning streak.

* When the Cincinatti Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they will have the opportunity to clinch the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.  As a result, Andy Dalton could become just the second starting quarterback to make the playoffs in all of his first five seasons in the league.  The only other quarterback to do that is Joe Flacco. (Bengals fans, however, are hoping that this will be the year when they finally get past the wild-card round, though).

* The Giants (5-7) face off against the Dolphins (5-7) on Monday Night Football, and, even though the two teams have identical records going into the game, they have completely different divisional standings.  The Dolphins are buried in the bottom of the AFC East, while the Giants are tied for the lead atop the NFC East with the Eagles and Redskins.  Does this give the Giants an advantage?  Well, figure this into the equation: the Giants have the most losses (4) when leading after three quarters and the most losses when leading with five minutes left in the fourth quarter (5).

* The Seattle Seahawks have had great success over the past two seasons with two Super Bowl appearances, so, when they had a losing record (4-5) after their Week 10 loss to the Cardinals, questions about them even making the playoffs surrounded the team.  However, they have rebounded over the past three weeks with Russell Wilson throwing at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games, becoming the second player in franchise history to do that feat.  Will Wilson keep the fireworks shooting against the Ravens?

* So, who is going to be the league MVP this year: Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, or Adrian Peterson? Whether or not your answer is Newton, think about this: Newton has 30 games with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.  If he does that again against the Atlanta Falcons, he will be tied with Steve Young for the most in NFL history.

* If you’re leaning towards Adrian Peterson as the MVP, consider this: when Mike Wallace scored the touchdown against the Cardinals that tied the game at 20-20 with five minutes left on the clock Thursday, he scored the Vikings’ first offensive touchdown not by Adrian Peterson in 15 quarters (almost four games)!  Peterson also scored his 100th touchdown Thursday.

* Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, they are proving to be shining stars in the spotlight.  They are 4-0 in primetime games this season and have another primetime game – Sunday Night Football – against the Eagles next week.  Is that bad luck for Eagles fans, who were supposed to play the Patriots last week in primetime but got flexed out of the spot, yet, after beating the Patriots, the league moved them into the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals?

* With the Heisman trophy set to be awarded soon, five straight awards have gone to quarterbacks in the past five years, and, of them, only Robert Griffin III made the playoffs in his first season.  Jameis Winston still has an outside chance to make the playoffs in his first year.  The Buccaneers (6-6) are tied with the Falcons and one game behind the Seahawks for the sixth playoff spot and two games away from the Vikings for the fifth playoff spot.  Will Tampa Bay start a playoff-worthy stretch of wins against the Saints Sunday?  Winning is now crucial for the Buccaneers.

* Is the NFC East the most mediocre, disinteresting, or most interesting division to watch right now?  The NFC East is the only division in the league in which every team has a losing record, and an argument why any of the four teams can win the division can be made.  Eagles play the Bills; Cowboys play the Packers; Giants play the Dolphins; Redskins play the Bears.  Who will come out victorious on Sunday and in the divisional race as a whole?

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

Around The NFC East: Looking Into Week 14 And Beyond

With three 5-7 teams and one 4-8 team, the NFC East is the worst division in football right now.  Even the AFC South, another symbol of mediocrity, has at least two teams with a .500 record right now.  That is not the case in the NFC East, though, where every team currently has a losing record, and no team is the decided favorite to win the division.

After the Redskins 16-19 loss to the Cowboys last night, the Redskins have failed again to win two consecutive games all season.  What is worse, though, is that, this time, they couldn’t break the trend against consecutive NFC East opponents after beating the Giants last week but losing to the Cowboys this week.  They are tied with a 2-2 divisional record with the Eagles, but they still sit atop the NFC East because they have head-to-head advantages over the Eagles and Giants at the moment.  However, they finish the season playing on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively.  Their remaining schedule goes as follows: @Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, @Philadelphia Eagles, @Dallas Cowboys.  With the Bears (5-7) and Bills (6-6) as their next two opponents, they have the easiest two-game stretch among NFC East teams coming up, but they still need to prove that they can win two consecutive games this season before the advantage is given to them.  In addition, with three away games left on the schedule, they could have a difficult time winning the division considering that they have not won an away game all season, currently standing 0-5 in away games and 5-2 at home.

The Giants (5-7) are in a difficult spot because Washington and Philadelphia currently hold the tiebreaker edge against them, and they have just one divisional game left in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Giants, who are currently 2-3 in the division compared to the Redskins and Eagles at 2-2, have had multiple opportunities to run away with the division throughout the season, but they have not been able to take advantage of the situation and have the worst record of the NFC East teams over their past three games (0-3).  Their next four contests go as follows: @Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, @Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles.  The Dolphins (5-7) are in the bottom of the AFC East, and they are a long shot to make playoffs this year.  The Carolina Panthers (12-0), the only undefeated team in the NFL, may have a first-round bye locked down by the time they face the Giants but are playing great football now regardless.  The Minnesota Vikings (8-4), currently tied atop the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers (8-4), are likely to be fighting for their playoff lives in the Week 16 game before the Giants face the Eagles.

The Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) are an erratic team in an inconsistent division over their past three games. They gave up 45 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions but then beat the Patriots, 35-28, at the Patriots stadium.  That outcome just doesn’t make sense.  Since the Eagles play the Redskins and Giants in Weeks 16 and 17, they would have the tiebreaker advantage against both teams if they win both games, and, since they are currently 2-2 in the division, they can go to 4-2 by the end of the season.  However, the Eagles schedule is not the easiest in the NFC East moving forward.  The Eagles schedule goes as follows: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, @New York Giants.  Playing at home over the next three games could be seen as an advantage from one perspective; however, the next two weeks should be especially difficult, and the Eagles are 2-3 at home.  When they face the Bills (6-6) this week, they will be playing against LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia for the first time since he was traded in the offseason.  The Cardinals (10-2) have one of the best defenses in the league and the highest scoring offense in the league.  The Eagles will need play exceptionally well to beat the Cardinals before finishing the season against two division rivals.

The Dallas Cowboys (4-8) are surprisingly still in the playoff race because the NFC East is just that bad this season. The 4-8 teams in other NFC divisions – Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, and St. Louis Rams – are at least four games behind the leaders in their respective divisions.  But that’s not the case with the NFC East, and the Dallas Cowboys, who have lost twice as many games as they have won and suffered through a seven-game losing streak, are only one game behind the leaders and still in contention in the division.  What makes the situation even more striking, though, is that three of their four wins have come against divisional opponents, giving them a 3-2 record in the division – the best divisional record among NFC East teams.  Their remaining schedule goes as follows: @Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, @Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins.  Dallas just won their first game without Tony Romo playing quarterback, but they could struggle to continue that streak.  The Packers (8-2) are fighting to win the NFC North over Minnesota, and the Jets (7-5) currently hold the last wildcard spot in the AFC and will be hungry to keep the momentum moving with five teams tied or at least one game away from them in AFC standings.

None of the NFC East teams have shown any trend towards running away with the lead in the division, and, over the past three games, the records show no clear-cut front runner: Giants (0-3), Eagles (1-2), Redskins (1-2), and Cowboys (2-1).  Sure, Dallas has the best record over their past three games, but they have a tough schedule remaining and have struggled without Tony Romo playing quarterback.  The NFC East is a division of mediocrity, but, form another viewpoint, it can also be seen as one of contention.  It is fair to wonder if any of these teams will be able to make a deep playoff run even if they win the division, but the hope of the underdog winning makes the issue compelling.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

10 Takeaways From The Eagles-Dallas Game

1. The Eagles win gave the Dallas Cowboys (2-6) their sixth consecutive loss and their longest losing streak in 26 years.  In 1989, they had a eight-game losing streak that ended with a win in the middle of the season, but then they followed that win with another seven consecutive losses.  They finished 1-15 that year, so, even though they can’t finish that bad this year, they’re likely out of the playoff race.

2.  Heading into the game, the Eagles heavily favored passing in their gameplan.  However, last night, they had 36 passes against 35 runs, and they produced 172 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the ground.  Ryan Matthews ran the ball 11 times, and DeMarco Murray ran 19, so the distribution was similar to how they’ve been used this season.  However, for a team that went into the game passing the ball 59% of the time, a more even distribution was good to see.  The Eagles have 639 yards rushing in their four wins and 334 in their four losses.

3.  The Eagles came into the game being outscored 33-10 in the first quarter of games all season, and that trend continued Sunday night.  The score after the first quarter was 7-0 with Dallas holding the lead, meaning that the Eagles now have been outscored 40-10 in the first quarters of games.  The Eagles did not cross the 50-yard line in the first quarter, and they ran the ball five times against ten passes, but the ground game didn’t get working until the second quarter. When will they get off to a good start again?

4.  Penalties, of which the Eagles had 10 for 70 yards, were a real momentum killer and a key component in Dallas’ game-tying drive that brought the game into overtime.  Defensive pass interference is a very subjective call to make – probably the most subjective penalty in the sport – and the referees were very giving in what they considered interference.  However, they missed a crucial illegal-formation penalty that would have given the Cowboys a longer kick to convert in order to bring the game into overtime.

5.  The Eagles defense allowed Darren McFadden to run for 117 yards, and that total was just the second time all season they’ve allowed a running back to total 100 yards or more.  The only other player to do it was Jonathan Stewart in Week 7.  That means the Eagles have given up more than 100 yards to a running back in two consecutive games after not doing it at all through the first six contests.  Is this a trend we should expect to continue?  Miami’s Lamar Miller is one of the better running backs in the league.

6.  Jordan Matthews is starting to develop a real knack for coming up big in games against the Cowboys, and he was great against the Cowboys Sunday, finishing with 9 receptions on 12 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown.  His 41-yard touchdown reception to end the game in overtime displayed the strength of his character, considering that he had just cost the Eagles five yards on a false-start penalty six plays prior to the touchdown.  What is most important, though, is that he caught 9 of the 12 passes thrown his way because he has dropped a lot of balls recently.  He now has a combined 213 yards and two touchdowns in two games against Dallas this season.

7.  Jordan Hicks’ 67-yard interception return for a touchdown that broke a 14-14 tie and pretty much saved the season, combined with the fact that the rookie is becoming the quarterback of the defense, has qualified him as the Eagles best defensive draft pick by Kelly.  In fact, Kelly’s best overall pick so far would be a three-way contest between Jordan Matthews, Hicks, and Lane Johnson.  Heading into the Week 9 contest, Hicks, the third-round rookie, ranked among the top players in the league in solo tackles (37), despite playing only six games against seven or eight for every other player ranked above him except one.  After last night, he is now tied for the ninth most in the league with 43.  Hopefully the injury he suffered to his pectoral muscle will not be too serious because Hicks is really talented and needs to be playing.  He will have a MRI today, and the results will tell how the team will handle him going forward.

8.  Speaking of rookies and draft picks, as of last night’s game, the Eagles are still getting little to nothing in return for their first-round draft picks from the past two years.  2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith still hasn’t figured a way to contribute in any way other than special teams, and the fact that he is a long-shot to become a part of the defense is becoming an ever-present reality.  When the Eagles coaches made the decision not to use Vinny Curry as an outside linebacker after the bye week, the general thinking was that Smith could have an opportunity to fill the role.  However, he played 17 special-teams snaps against the Cowboys and nothing more.  Connor Barwin (94% of defensive snaps) and Brandon Graham (78%) seem locked as the primary outside linebackers.  But, can Smith become a part of the defense at some point?

9.  Caleb Sturgis came up big for the Eagles when they needed him most and hopefully put his early-season struggles behind him.  The Eagles have had a lot of let downs from kickers over the past two seasons as kickers have failed to convert in tough situations, but Sturgis’ 53-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a 27-24 lead with one minute, 51 seconds on the clock was spectacular.  Sturgis has not missed an extra point after missing one in each of his first two starts with the Eagles.  He has converted 10 of 11 field goals in the past four games, including 2 of 3 field goals of 50 yards or more and 7 of 9 from 30 yards or greater.  Having a trustworthy kicker is invaluable, so hopefully his streak and clutch playing can continue.

10. The Eagles (4-4) are still in the playoff race in the NFC East and only half a game away from the Giants (5-4), whom they will play in the last game of the season. The Giants beat Tampa Bay yesterday, 32-18, but they now play the seemingly unstoppable Patriots, so a win is most definitely not a guarantee.  The Patriots just dismantled the Redskins yesterday, 27-10, so the Redskins (3-5) are currently third in the division and play the newly-rejuvenated passing offense of the New Orleans Saints.  The Eagles face the Dolphins, who lost 33-17 to the Bills on Sunday after suffering a 7-36 pummeling by the Patriots two weeks ago.  The NFC East is up for grabs; the Cowboys are pretty much out of the race, and the Giants and Eagles are the current frontrunners.  The division is sure to be to be a race to the finish line.

Questions/Comments? Follow me: @sean__cumming

Eagles-Cowboys Scouting Report: Previewing the NFC East Showdown

The Eagles and Cowboys meet for the second and last time in the regular season, and the game will impact who makes the playoffs in a division that is still up for grabs.  This contest is a chance for the Eagles to put the nail in the Cowboys’ coffin, while the Cowboys hope to halt a five-game losing streak that started after their Week 2 win against the Eagles.  The showdown between the Eagles and Cowboys is always one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, and, as such, this game should be a battle to the end.

Run/pass ratio:  Both teams favor passing over running, but the Eagles have a much greater tendency to pass the ball than run.  The Eagles currently pass the ball 59% of the time against 41% rushing while the Cowboys pass the ball 53% of the time against 47% rushing.

Pass Defense:  Both defenses are relatively similar in overall passing yards allowed, but Dallas has given up 116 less yards through seven games: Dallas (1,638) and Philadelphia (1,754).  The discrepancy, however, is in how many of those yards are allowed to wide receivers, and Dallas has the distinct advantage in that statistic.  The Eagles have given up the 12th most yards to wide receivers (1,338), while Dallas has given up the third fewest (971).  That gives the advantage to Dallas’ secondary; however, it also displays that the Cowboys have had difficulty covering receiving running backs as they have given up the 7th most receiving yards to running backs.  In addition, the Eagles have the more opportunistic defense, with a league-leading 19 takeaways against 4 for Dallas.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys Quarterback:  Matt Cassel is a severe downgrade from Tony Romo, who broke his clavicle in Week 2 against the Eagles when rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks sacked him.  Romo is expected to come back for the Cowboys Week 11 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, but that may be too late to save the season if they don’t win Sunday, considering that Cowboys quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have a combined 0-5 record in starts in his absence.  Brandon Weeden was subpar in replacing Romo in every game except against the Eagles, and Matt Cassel does not seem to be a noticeable improvement.  Last week, despite the defense giving him multiple opportunities to put up more than 12 points against Seattle, Cassel could not capitalize, and his final drive made him look like a rookie decision-maker.  In two starts with the Cowboys, Cassel has one touchdown against three interceptions, and, last week, Cassel completed 13 of 26 passes (52%) for 97 scoreless yards for a team that currently ranks 24th in the league in passing yards.  Against the Giants he threw for 227 yards, but his three interceptions took away what could have been a decent day.  Strangely enough, though, Matt Cassel has thrown for over 300 yards once in the past three years, and that was against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.  Regardless, Cassel should not be a major threat against the Eagles secondary as he appears to be severely struggling to pick up the Cowboys passing concepts currently.

Eagles Quarterback:  Sam Bradford has continued his early-season struggles, and he seems to be laboring to find his identity as the quarterback on the team.  Eagles receivers have been dropping a lot of his throws, sure, but Bradford has not really displayed the ability to overcome those obstacles, and his accuracy is rarely stunning.  A recent analysis on him stated that one of the main causes of dropped balls comes from the fact that Bradford is throwing into areas where Eagles wide receivers fear they’ll take a hard hit, and this fear of ending up in a hospital bed causes them to flinch and drop the ball at the last moment.  Even though the Eagles receivers have a league-high 25 dropped passes this season, Tom Brady dealt with 11 dropped passes in Week 7 alone and was still able to throw for 355 yards and two touchdowns.  To ensure Bradford’s future success, the Eagles need to find a way to even out their tendency to pass the ball so much, ideally moving closer to a 50/50 share of run/pass, and maybe that can limit the mistakes Sam Bradford makes.  Bradford has thrown nine touchdowns against ten interceptions and has more than one interception in four of seven games but multiple touchdowns in only two.  If he can get the offense going in a solid rhythm following the bye week, though, he is still viewed as the favorable quarterback over Matt Cassel.

Advantage: Eagles

Cowboys Wide Receivers:  Dez Bryant, despite starting last week for the first time since September 13th, played 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.  However, even though his volume was plentiful, his production (2 receptions off 6 targets for 12 scoreless yards) was underwhelming.  However, he will be more accustomed to playing with Matt Cassel and, as a result, presumably more of a threat to the Eagles.  Bryant did not play in the first matchup against the Eagles, but he has a history of posting big numbers against the team.  The last time he faced the Eagles, he had six receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns; and, in the past three years, he has posted 35 receptions for 581 yards and 7 touchdowns in 6 games, matchups in which the Cowboys have won 4-2. Terrance Williams led the Cowboys with 4 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown the last time the two teams met, but, even though he is a player whom the Eagles must watch, he does not play at the same talent level as Bryant.  Thus, how the Eagles deal with Bryant, if he is fully healed, will be extremely important in determining the outcome of the game.  The other factor to be considered, though, is that the Eagles secondary leads the league in takeaways, so, against a turnover-prone quarterback, they have an advantage.

Eagles Wide Receivers:  The Eagles are still waiting for Nelson Agholor to have his breakout game, and the general hope in Philadelphia is that it occurs sooner rather than later.  The 2015 first-round pick’s production this season (8 receptions, 108 yards, zero touchdowns) is at – or, even below – what an elite receiver produces in one game.  Jordan Matthews has had two weeks to work on fixing dropped passes, so the Eagles hope he can become the No. 1 receiver that everyone projects him to be.  Surprisingly, though, over the past two games, Miles Austin, the 31-year-old ex-Dallas Cowboy playing in his first year with the Eagles, leads the team in receiving yards (112) followed by tight end Zach Ertz (106).  Jordan Matthews, in comparison, has 73 yards in the past two matchups, while Josh Huff and Darren Sproles have 24 and 34 yards, respectively.  Riley Cooper did not play against the Panthers, but he had 76 yards against the Giants and the Eagles only touchdown in the past two games.  The Eagles sorely need more touchdowns from their wide receivers.  Deciding who will be the Eagles leading receiver in any game is a shot in the dark, but Ertz and Austin will be interesting players to watch going forward based on their success before the bye.

Advantage: Even (unless Dez Bryant looks healthier than last week)

Run Defense:  The Eagles have allowed only one running back to rush for at least 100 yards: Jonathan Stewart in Week 7 with 125.  Aside from that performance, the most yards produced by a running back against the Eagles was Atlanta Falcons’ now backup running back Tevin Coleman with 80 yards in Week 1.  The Cowboys, as well, have allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season, and it was Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman in Week 3.  The Cowboys defense, like the Eagles, has been stingy in every other game in between.  Therefore, running the ball should be difficult for both teams.

Advantage: Even

Cowboys Running Backs: The Cowboys are averaging 127.9 rushing yards per game this season, ranking sixth in the league.  They are now running the ball almost entirely with Darren McFadden over the past two weeks and just released Joseph Randle, who is second in the league in yards-per-rush (5.18) among running backs with at least 100 carries since 2014.  Randle suffered an oblique strain and lost his starting position two weeks ago in the Giants game, and, recently, the team released him after he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.  In his absence, they signed Trey Williams, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, off the Redskins practice squad.  However, it is hard to see him, Christine Michael, or Rod Smith taking too many snaps away from McFadden.  Regardless, Williams could be a surprise for the Eagles to keep an eye on in the backfield.  McFadden had ten rushes for 31 yards when he played the Eagles in Week 2, but his role has changed drastically since then.  He has had 49 attempts in the last two weeks compared to 37 in the first five games.  He had a good performance against the Giants two weeks ago, with 152 rushing yards and a touchdown, but, last week, he was held to 64 scoreless yards by the Seahawks.  Therefore, stopping the run will largely include stopping McFadden, and, if the Eagles can stop McFadden, it’s hard to imagine Cassel winning the game for the team.

Eagles Running Backs: The Eagles are averaging a 15th ranked 114.4 rushing yards per game this season, and their average run, 4.2 yards, is only slightly below Dallas’ 4.5.  The discrepancy, however, lies in how the Eagles’ average yards vary between Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray.  Matthews has 56 carries to Murray’s 88, but Matthews has 342 yards against Murray’s 307.  Moreover, Matthews is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt to Murray’s 3.5, and, to put that into an even larger context, Matthew’s 6.1 average led the league heading into Week 7, slightly edging Todd Gurley (6.0 before his Week 8 matchup), who is becoming one of the best running backs in the league.  Matthew’s production created a media storm following the Eagles into their bye week regarding whether Murray or Matthews should be the starter, and, in response, it’s difficult to tell who will be the lead back, but it will be one of the most interesting factors of the game to watch.  Murray has become somewhat predictable with the runs on which he gains the most yards and has had difficulty running the outside zone.  In fact, DeMarco Murray averages 2.7 yards per carry when running over tackles or around the edge but 4.5 yards running behind the guards or up the middle.

Advantage: Even

Final Analysis:  The Eagles cannot lose a game after a bye week – with two weeks to prepare – for a backup quarterback.  The Cowboys defense will keep the game close, but I believe Matt Cassel will not be able to bring his team to victory when the game becomes a shootout in the end.

Score Prediction: 20-14 Eagles win

Questions/Comments?  Follow me: @sean__cumming

Eagles Are Expected To Face Dez Bryant Next Week

The Dallas Cowboys will likely have their star wide receiver back before they face the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday, barring further injury.

Dez Bryant was on the practice field Wednesday for the first time since September 11th after breaking a bone in his right foot during the Cowboys season opener against the Giants on September 13th.  Bryant was limited in practice, and Coach Jason Garrett wants to see him in a full practice before declaring him ready to play against the Seahawks this Sunday.

However, regardless of whether or not he plays against the Seahawks, he is most likely going to play and be a full participant against the Eagles.  Bryant reportedly has been doing rehab and resistance training, along with getting a stem-cell injection in his foot to accelerate the recovery process.

The Cowboys (2-5) are at the bottom of the NFC East, and they desperately need a win against the Seahawks if they are going to stay in what is still a four-way race for the division.  So, they would benefit greatly from having Bryant playing.  If Bryant does come back this week, though, it is unlikely that he will be playing up to his full capabilities, and he still needs time to adjust to Matt Cassel at quarterback.

Nonetheless, the Pro-Bowl receiver will most likely be healthier and more accustomed to playing with Cassel by the time the Eagles and Cowboys prime-time game rolls around.

Bryant didn’t play in the Week 2 matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys, but the Cowboys still won convincingly, 20-10.  Nonetheless, Bryant has been a huge challenge for the Eagles.  The last time he faced the Eagles, he had six receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns.  The only time the Eagles have been able to manage him effectively was in his second year, 2011, when they held him to nine receptions for 90 scoreless yards in two Cowboys losses.  In the three years that followed, however, Bryant has been dominant against Philadelphia, posting a combined 35 receptions for 581 yards and seven touchdowns in six games.  In addition, the Cowboys are 4-2 in those six games.

The Eagles have been good against wide receivers for the most part this season, but they have also not had to face many receivers comparable to Bryant’s level of talent.  When they have gone up against comparable talent, however, the results have been mixed and not necessarily favorable for the Eagles.

In Week 1, Julio Jones burned the Eagles secondary for 141 yards and two touchdowns, and, in Week 3, Brandon Marshall posted 109 yards and a touchdown.  The Eagles did a good job of limiting Odell Beckham Jr. to 61 yards receiving, but they allowed him to score a touchdown, and he was still healing from a hamstring injury.

When the Eagles played the Cowboys without Bryant, the Eagles defense did a decent job of limiting their receiver’s production: Terrance Williams (4 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD), Devin Street, (1 rec., 18 yards), and Cole Beasley (4 rec., 14 yards).  However, it’s a whole different matchup with Dez Bryant in the game.