Tag Archives: NFC East

‘Twas the Night Before Week 1

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No it’s not Christmas, it’s football season. Well if you switch egg nog, Christmas movies, and presents with Bud Light, NFL Redzone and your favorite team scoring touchdowns then it may as well be Christmas season. The night before week 1(yes I know, technically that was Wednesday night but Sunday is the one that matters ok) of the NFL football season is the closest we’ll get to the excitement that was Christmas Eve as a kid. The air is filled with so much excitement, curiosity, and happiness that it’s impossible to get any sleep. Well as a young adult that Christmas excitement is long gone. We lay awake at 3am for a different reason, yes because we just stumbled in from the bar and devoured 2 hot pockets and a plate of bagel bites, but also because 2016 football is upon us! Instead of running downstairs in my PJs to check the presents, I’ll be running downstairs in my NaVorro Bowman jersey to turn on Fox NFL Sunday and set my fantasy lineup. Now while this season doesn’t necessarily look too promising for my 49ers, there’s still a lot to look forward to with a new season. The NFL is so unpredictable that only a silly person would try and make predictions. With that being said, here are my predictions for the 2016-2017 NFL season.

AFC West

  1. Broncos
  2. Chiefs
  3. Raiders
  4. Chargers

One of the strongest divisions in the NFL, this was a tough one to pick. Lots of people are going away from Denver due to their quarterbacks. Well Peyton Manning was pretty awful last year and they won the Super Bowl. Defense wins games and Denver has the best defense in the league. However, I wouldn’t be surprised by any of the top three teams winning the division. The Raiders have a really strong young core on offense and defense and will be worth watching.

AFC EAST

  1. Patriots
  2. Jets
  3. Dolphins
  4. Bills

I think the Patriots can manage to go 2-2 without Tom Brady putting them in good position for the division. While the jets have built a much-improved roster, once Brady is back the Patriots will be the Patriots again.

AFC North

  1. Steelers
  2. Bengals
  3. Ravens
  4. Browns

The Steelers have the best running back and wide receiver in the NFL. Even without Bell for the first 3 games the Steelers will be in good hands with DeAngelo Williams who excelled in replace of Bell last year. And that Antonio Brown guy is pretty good too.

AFC South

  1. Jags
  2. Texans
  3. Colts
  4. Titans

I personally think the Jaguars have put together a really really nice young squad. A QB emerging into a stud, an elite receiver in Allen Robinson, a pair of high quality backs in Ivory and Yeldon and a young tenacious Defense, I think the Jags can win the division. They are probably 2 or 3 more years away from really competing for a Super Bowl but they are certainly on the right track. Keep an eye on the Texans this year too. They added a dynamic running back in Lamar Miller and a serviceable (anything is better than the guys they had last year) quarterback in Brock Osweiler. They also have a guy by the name of JJ Watt, you might’ve heard of him.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card Round: Chiefs over Broncos; Bengals over Jags

Divisional Round: Steelers over Bengals; Patriots over Chiefs

AFC Championship: Steelers over Patriots

NFC West

  1. Cardinals
  2. Seahawks
  3. Rams
  4. 49ers:(

It pains me to pick my 49ers to finish last in the division but that’s how the times are. Anytime I get sad about the 49ers I just remember the Warriors signed Kevin Durant and that distracts me and makes me happy. But anyway, you could go either way with the Cardinals and Seahawks but I like the Cardinals offense a little more than the Seahawks.

NFC East

  1. Redskins
  2. Giants
  3. Cowboys
  4. Eagles

Cowboys would’ve ran away with this division if Romo hadn’t got hurt. But with the way things are, I like the Redskins and their offense to take the division. I’m expecting a huge season from Odell Beckham Jr (I have him on my fantasy team)

NFC North

  1. Packers
  2. Vikings
  3. Lions
  4. Bears

The Packers have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. The Vikings losing Teddy Bridgewater for the season made this choice an easy one.

NFC South

  1. Panthers
  2. Saints
  3. Falcons
  4. Bucs

Returning with pretty much the same roster that went 15-1, I see no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t win the division. The Saints should also be much better this year. Along with emerging star WR Brandin Cooks and RB Mark Ingram, the Saints drafted a big receiver in Michael Thomas in the 2nd round and added Coby Fleener to improve the tight end position. Expect that offense to carry them to 9 or 10 wins.

NFC Playoffs

Wild card round: Seahawks over Panthers, Redskins over Saints

Divisional round: Cards over Seahawks, Packers over Redskins

NFC Championship: Cards over Packers

Super Bowl: Cards over Steelers

Defense wins championships. While I love this Steelers team and their top-notch offensive talent, this Cardinals team is just too lethal. They have a young star running back in David Johnson, they have an elite WR group with Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown and they have an already elite defense that traded for proven pass rusher Chandler Jones in the off season. Cardinals are my pick to win Super Bowl 51.

Individual Awards

NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive player of the year: Antonio Brown (Almost picked him to be MVP)

Defensive player of the year: Khalil Mack

Coach of the year: Gus Bradley

Offensive rookie of the year: Ezekiel Elliot (duh)

Defensive rookie of the year: Jalen Ramsey

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Who Is The Eagles Most Invisible New Addition?

The Eagles just suffered a 40-17 bashing from the Arizona Cardinals.  The game measured how well the Eagles can perform against playoff-level talent – just in case they can sneak into the playoffs – and they got rolled by the Cardinals.  Eagles fans just wanted was a good game against a top-ranked Cardinals team but did not receive anything close.

After watching the game, the hope of a deep playoff run has pretty much disappeared as the team has serious deficiencies in talent from the personnel moves made over the past two years.  The question now is not who is the best player on the team, but, rather, who among the 2015 additions has become the most invisible person on the field.

DeMarco Murray On The Sidelines

DeMarco Murray was on the sidelines for the majority of the game.  He finished the game with two carries, and, even though he is a perfect 12-for-12 on conversions this season, he was not given a carry on a crucial 4th and inches with 50 seconds left in the second quarter on a drive that would have tied the game at 17.

Since the Eagles barely used Murray in the game, the Cardinals would have seen Murray entering the game and knew he was getting the ball.  However, the pre-snap routine signaled exactly what the call was going to be anyway, like directions for assembling the defense to stop the play.  Riley Cooper’s motioning to the right before the snap clearly telegraphed that the Eagles were going to run it off the right tackle.

Any defensive player could clearly see how the play would develop pre-snap, yet, on the other hand, why were they using Cooper and not an offensive lineman as the lead blocker anyway?  In addition, the Eagles strength on the offensive line is the left side, where Pro Bowl lineman Jason Peters plays, but they decided to go off the right tackle.

When 94.1 WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi asked Kelly why he did not use Murray considering Murray’s record of short conversions, Chip said he wanted to “go with the bigger back.”

DeMarco Murray is 6-foot, 217 pounds while Ryan Mathews is 6-foot, 220 pounds.  Neither one is technically the “bigger back.”  Murray or Mathews would have both struggled to make the play considering the poor play calling, but, by not using Murray, it is fair to wonder if he fits anywhere in this team’s offense.

With Kelly’s questionable GM decisions added to the equation, the Eagles are likely stuck with Murray for the future. What team will take on his salary if the Eagles want to move on from him?  The team could cut him, but they would suffer a considerable salary-cap hit.  Still, is it worth paying Murray the way designated by his $40 million salary to sit on the bench and run the ball twice a game?

It is fair to question if Kelly is just signing people at whim and throwing them into the mix of the team without any rhyme or reason for how they fit into the overall scheme and the salary-cap situation if they don’t work out.

The Eagles Traded LeSean McCoy for What?

At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso has done little to nothing this season, and, what is worse is that Kelly exchanged the Eagles franchise-leading running back for him in the offseason.

Alonso had a good game against the Falcons in week 1 with a one-handed interception, but he has done little since then.  He has 26 tackles this season.  When compared to the 159 tackles he had in his rookie season, he would have to play five to six seasons at his current rate to come close to what he did in his rookie season in Buffalo.

Alonso played 57 percent of snaps against Buffalo and 53 percent of snaps against Arizona after playing a season-high 79 percent against the Patriots, but he played 100 percent of snaps in every game he played with Buffalo in 2013.  His production has disappeared.

When you trade away a running back who rushed for 2,926 yards combined in 2013-14, is it not fair to ask for something close to equal compensation?

This Eagles team was defined by hard hits years ago, but the team has now become a group of players who seem more interested in stripping the ball than making a tackle.

The Eagles First-Round Pick Doesn’t Work Out As Planned, Again

The outside receivers are the weakest part of the Eagles offense.  The team spent its first pick in this year’s draft on Nelson Agholor but are getting little to nothing in return.  Agholor played 89 percent of offensive snaps against the Cardinals, and, even with all those snaps, he finished the game with one target and zero catches.  Is that not the definition of disappearing from a game?

The only player who had more offensive snaps in the game – excluding offensive linemen – was Sam Bradford (98 percent).

When the Eagles lost to the Cardinals last season, 24-20, Jeremy Maclin had 12 receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns.  The Eagles could have really used production like that again Sunday night.  The Eagles outside receivers – Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, and Nelson Agholor – combined for six receptions for 74 yards.  Philadelphia had 334 yards and two touchdowns from wide receivers against the Cardinals last year and 233 yards and one touchdown this year.  That is what you would call subtraction by subtraction.

This lack of production is not a one-game occurrence, though.  The outside receivers have been severely underperforming all season.  If you combine the overall yards of the current outside receivers for the season, they have 856 yards – just 17 more yards than slot receiver Jordan Matthew’s 839 yards for the season.

Will any Eagles receiver go over 1,000 yards this season?

The wide receivers are the weakest link of the Eagles offense, and Agholor has the fewest yards among all starting wide receivers.  He was billed to be a key part filling in for Jeremy Maclin, but he would be lucky to end the season with anywhere between 400-500 yards.  He would also be lucky to finish the season with more than two touchdowns since he scored his first touchdown in week 14.

Agholor has been held to zero yards in two of the past three weeks – against the Patriots and Arizona – and he has not produced more than 64 yards in a game all season.  The moves Kelly made at the wide receiver position are clearly not panning out.

How are Kelly and the Eagles wide receivers going to look if DeSean Jackson and the Redskins knock the Eagles out of the playoffs for the second year in a row?

Who Is My Pick?

For all that, who among Agholor, Alonso, and Murray is the most invisible new addition on the team?  My pick is Alonso.  Agholor had a touchdown last week before vanishing on the field against the Cardinals, Murray has had good games in the middle of the season before becoming non-existant in recent weeks.  Alonso hasn’t done anything recently.  Who is your pick?

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

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

Philadelphia Eagles: Do Bold Coaching Moves Equal Permanent Changes?

DeMarco Murray had a clear-cut demotion against the Patriots, and Darren Sproles, along with ex-Oregon Duck Kenjon Barner, saw an increase in rushing attempts.  Sproles had 15 attempts, while Barner had 9, and Murray had 8.

Chip Kelly said the reason for Murray’s demotion was because the Patriots have a “big group of linebackers.”  The logic in that statement, according to Kelly, is that Sproles (5-9 190 pounds) and Barner (5-9 195 pounds) have an easier time evading “big linebackers” than Murray (6-foot 217 pounds) because they are smaller and more elusive.  Sproles and Barner combined for 105 yards rushing, so the strategy worked, but they will be playing smaller linebackers going forward.  Will the scheme change accordingly?  That Murray is not a great fit for the Eagles offense is becoming clear, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to see declining snaps going forward.

Murray finished the game with 24 yards, but, take away one 19-yard run, and he had five yards on his other seven carries.  He has not scored a touchdown in the last four games, has just 54 yards rushing over the past two weeks, and has just one 100+ yard rushing game this season.  Will Murray’s declining attempts become an ongoing trend?

The wide-receiver position was also in flux during the Patriots game.  Chip Kelly benched Miles Austin – and released him today – and rookie Jermaine Krause saw increased snaps in the game.  Krause had one catch for four yards, but he presents an interesting prospect for a team that needs improved performance from their wide receivers desperately right now.  The Eagles receivers underperformed as a whole against the Patriots – like most of the season: Riley Cooper (1 reception, 14 yards), Brent Celek (1 reception, 16 yards), Nelson Agholor (0 receptions, 0 yards), Josh Huff (0 receptions, 0 yards), Zach Ertz (2 receptions, 9 yards, 1 TD), Jordan Matthews (3 receptions, 36 yards, 1 TD).  Darren Sproles’ four receptions were the most on the team.

The Eagles need to start using Sproles, who had 100 all-purpose yards against the Patriots, to cover up for bad performances by the Eagles wide receivers more frequently.  Sitting Austin against the Patriots – and then releasing him today – was a small step towards fixing the problem, but the team needs to continue getting Sproles more involved in the passing game.

The defensive line and linebacker positions have continued to be an ever-revolving transition as the season goes along, yet the Eagles pressured Tom Brady frequently Sunday.  In relation, Vinny Curry saw an increase in snaps, playing 55 of 89 defensive snaps (62 percent).  He played 21 percent of snaps against the Lions and 19 percent against the Buccaneers (both 45-point losses), and he had not previously played more than 42 percent of defensive snaps all season before Sunday.

The change was based partly on scheme, with the Eagles playing dime and nickel to combat the three-receiver sets used frequently by the Patriots, and partly because Bennie Logan is nursing a knee injury.  Anyway, Curry has a knack for pressuring the quarterback, and, even though he did not get a sack Sunday, his performance helped the Eagles get four sacks against Tom Brady (two by Connor Barwin and two by Brandon Graham) and maintain constant pressure on the quarterback.  The team would be wise to use Curry more frequently in the future.

At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso played 79 percent of the defensive snaps, second-most among linebackers on the team.  He had more snaps than last year’s starting inside linebackers combined: Mychal Kendricks (54 percent) and DeMeco Ryans (24 percent).  Linebacker Brandon Graham (75 percent) also played more snaps than Ryans and Kendricks.  Alonso has seen wavering amounts of snaps recently (69 percent vs. Tampa Bay, 57 percent vs. Detroit), so it will be interesting to see if he gets on the field more often going forward.

The changes Kelly made worked well yesterday, but the question now is if he will stick with the positive changes going forward.  Will he make more?  Will he go back to what he has done before?  Who knows? Only time will tell, but, at least, he would be wise to use more of Sproles and Curry.

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

NFL Around The League: 10 Things Learned In Week 7

1.  The Dolphins are a whole new team with their new head coach, Dan Cambell, and it’s a change for the better.  The Dolphins took an amazing 41-0 lead into the halftime against the Houston Texans, who did not gain a yard on offense until they were trailing 35-0.  Ryan Tannehill had only one incompletion, going 18-for-19 for 282 yards and four touchdowns, and Lamar Miller had 236 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.  Next week, though, they play the Patriots, so that is when we will really know how good this team is now.

2.  The Colts are not going to contend for the AFC championship this year.  Their 21-27 loss only looks close because of a late-game, garbage-time rally.  Luck played well at the end of the game, throwing two touchdown passes of 86 and 46 yards to T.Y. Hilton and an 8-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief.  But, still, it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of a huge deficit for the win.  Amazingly, though, the Colts are still leading the AFC South despite a two-game losing streak.  Even if the Colts win the AFC South, however, they’re likely not going anywhere.  They look so out-of-sync.

3.  Odell Beckham Jr. has been struggling the past two weeks (hamstring issues?).  However, the Giants got a surprise performance from running back Orleans Darkwa.  With around 12 minutes left in the second quarter, Darkwa had a breakout drive of 4 carries for 41 yards rushing that ended with a 15-yard touchdown.  After the half, coach Tom Coughlin reportedly said that Darkwa’s run was the only thing that made him smile through the first two quarters.  Darkwa led the team in rushing with 8 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown.

4.  The Minnesota Vikings (4-2) seem to have found one of the best bargains in the draft this year with fifth-round draft pick Stephon Diggs.  In the Vikings 28-19 win over the Lions, he had 6 receptions for 108 yards and the first touchdown of his career.  Over the past three weeks, he has 19 receptions for 324 yards.  Next week, he plays a generous Chicago secondary, so he should be in line for another big day.  He is a rookie to watch closely.

5.  The AFC South is the worst division in the league.  As explained above, the Colts (3-4) are struggling.  But, the Texans (2-5) are still not out of the race after their embarrassing loss to Miami, even though they lost Arian Foster for the season to an Achilles injury.  The Titans (1-5) are only one game behind the Texans after their 10-7 loss to the Falcons.  The Jaguars (2-5), who finally won in London after losing the previous two years, had an emotional win and may be the best team in the division right now.  However, I think it’s safe to say that the next Superbowl champion isn’t coming from the AFC South.

6.  Devonta Freeman could be the best running back currently and at the end of the season.  Freeman got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season, but, since week 3, he has been almost unstoppable, rushing for 578 yards in that duration with 9 rushing touchdowns total in the season.  In addition, he is a dual-threat receiver with 34 receptions for 310 yards and a receiving touchdown this season.  He has an NFL-leading 621 total yards rushing, and Doug Martin, who ranks second in yards, has 541 yards.  That’s 80 yards less!  His NFL-leading nine rushing touchdowns are four more than Mark Ingram, who ranks second with five.  He is clearly one of the best players in the league right now.

7.  Tom Brady is like a fine wine: he just keeps getting better with time.  After a slow start in the first three quarters against the Jets, he played clutch football when it was needed most.  In the final quarter, Brady went 13-for-16 for 135 yards and two touchdowns.  On the last touchdown drive, he dared the Jets defenders to blitz him because he knew exactly where it was coming from, and a wide-open Rob Gronkowski walked untouched into the end zone.  He finished the day 34-for-54 for 355 yards despite 11 dropped balls by his wide receivers – six by Bradon LaFell.  However, what’s most surprising, though, is that he led the Patriots in rushing yards against the Jets, too.

8.  The Cowboys are going to be in serious trouble if Tony Romo does not return soon.  Since Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks injured Romo in Week 2, the Cowboys have been traveling a downward dive.  Brandon Weeden was not the answer as a backup, and Matt Cassel had a rough day against the Giants, throwing three interceptions.  Luckily, the Giants coundn’t capitalize on the giveaways, but the Cowboys will not be so lucky when they face more opportunistic teams.  Cassel had a great touchdown pass to tie the game at 20 with seven minutes, 14 seconds left in the third quarter and a good drive on the Cowboys’ last possession, but he could not create a clutch conversion on fourth down at the end of the game.

9.  Todd Gurley is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year.  He is at least looking like the best rookie running back at the current moment.  The Rams had trouble moving the ball through the air against the Browns, but Gurley compensated for their struggling passing game.  Nick Foles finished the game with 163 yards, but guess how many all-purpose yards Gurley had on Sunday: 163 yards (128 rushing yards, 35 receiving).  Guess who also led the team in receptions, with four: that’s right, Todd Gurley.  The Rams clearly made the right choice with their first pick this year.

10.  The NFC East is the least predictable division in the league.  The Redskins (3-4) rallied back from a 24-point deficit largely due to Kirk Cousins, who threw three second-half touchdown passes, for a 31-30 win over the Buccaneers.  The Giants (4-3) defeated the Cowboys, 27-20, after Dwayne Harris returned a 100-yard touchdown on a kick return, and Cole Beasley fumbled the ball on a return attempt of his own.  The Eagles (3-4) lost their matchup to the Carolina Panthers due to inopportune penalties, dropped balls, and an offense that is sorely lacking cohesion at the moment.  However, the NFC East can still be won by any of the four teams mentioned.

Key Injuries:

1.  Arian Foster: Arian Foster suffered an Achilles injury in the final minutes of the Texans 44-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  He is ruled out for the season.

2.  Josh McCown:  McCown suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 24-6 loss. That meant Johnny Manziel came in at the end of the game.

3. Matthew Stafford:  After getting sacked seven times in Detroit’s 28-19 loss to the Vikings, Stafford required x-rays on his hand.  However, Stafford reportedly said that it should not be an issue going forward.

Questions/Comments?  Follow me at: @sean__cumming

Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Things Learned Through 6 Weeks

1. The Eagles secondary is improving significantly as the Eagles effectively shut down Odell Beckham Jr. in their contest against the Giants.  Eli Manning targeted Beckham seven times in the first half, and he caught all seven throws for 61 yards and a touchdown.  However, in the second half, Beckham had one target, but Manning led him out of bounds, and he did not get the reception; he had no receptions in the second half.  Riley Cooper, with 76 yards and a touchdown, had more production than Beckham in the game.  The Eagles mixed zone and man coverages and played Beckham both at the line of scrimmage and off the line to throw him off.  Then, once the Eagles had the lead, all they had to do was double cover Beckham and keep him from getting a long reception.  It was a great scheme from defensive coordinator Bill Davis, but, for the first time in a long while, the secondary is really starting to become a strong point for the Eagles defense.

2.  2015 third-round draft pick Jordan Hicks is the Eagles best draft pick this season, and no other 2015 draft pick is comparable.  On Monday, he had a team-leading 10 tackles, and, in each of the three games prior to the Giants matchup, he had a fumble recovery.  His 31 tackles rank second on the team behind Malcolm Jenkins’ 32.  Hicks has a knack for reading the offense, diagnosing plays, and finding opposing players to tackle before they gain extra yards.  After DeMeco Ryans was injured, the Eagles were down to zero projected starters at the inside-linebacker position from the beginning of the season since Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso have have been out for weeks.  That left Najee Goode as the linebacker next to Hicks.  However, no egregious mistakes were made.  Hicks is a great find for a third-round pick, and it will be tough to sit him when Alonso and Kendricks come back.  He’s playing better than the Eagles first-round draft picks from the past two years and is exciting to watch.

3.  DeMarco Murray is starting to get more rushes, and, with added volume, his yards are starting to increase. Prior to the Saints game, Murray had 29 attempts in three games for a underwhelming 47 yards – with 13 of the 29 attempts coming against Dallas.  Then he received 20 rushes against the Saints, on which he ran for 83 yards and a touchdown, and 22 attempts for 109 yards and another touchdown against the Giants, totaling 42 rushes for 192 yards in the past two weeks.  What is more important, though, is that he averaged 5 yards-per-carry against a Giants defense that allowed 3.5 prior to the matchup.  After complaining about not getting enough touches two weeks ago, he’s getting them, and his production is increasing with them.  The Eagles look like they’re going back to having a featured back again as Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles, especially Sproles, are getting less attempts in comparison.

4.  The Eagles scored their first touchdown in the first quarter of a game all season against the Giants.  In fact, the Giants game was the first matchup of the season in which the offense looked like it was ready to go from the start of the game, and they took a 17-7 lead into the half.  The Eagles struggled in third-down efficiency, though, converting on just one of six third downs (17 percent) in the first half, but a 32-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper and a great interception by Nolan Carroll gave them 14 of the 17 points they earned to take a 10-point lead into the half.  The team is getting points from all around, and the defense is helping out a lot.  With Agholor out, tight end Zach Ertz played more snaps than any other receiver (86 percent), and Jordan Matthews (79 percent), Miles Austin (64 percent), and Josh Huff (56 percent) saw a drastic change in snap counts.  Riley Cooper, who played 49 percent of snaps, led all receivers in yards with 76 and had the only receiving touchdown.  Matthews saw less snaps than in earlier games, but all the other receivers had more snaps.  Is this the trend we should expect to see going forward, even when Nelson Agholor comes back?

5.  The Eagles defensive line is starting to become one most formidable lines in the NFL.  Fletcher Cox was the Defensive Player of the Week against the Saints last week, during which he sacked Drew Brees three times, had two forced fumbles – one of which he recovered himself – and six tackles.  Cox is turning into one of the best defensive linemen in the league, and, at the end of the season, if he keeps up this production, he could be a top-10 pass rusher.  Against the Giants, he had another sack and a forced fumble as offensive lineman are having an extremely difficult time keeping him from getting to quarterbacks.  In addition, Brandon Graham is starting to become a key piece of the defense as well.  His role on the Eagles defense has been questionable for years following the Eagles selecting him as the first pick in 2010, but, with Trent Cole gone, he is starting to become a crucial member of the defense.  The way Cox and Graham played on the third- and fourth-and-1 stops at the end of the first quarter against the Giants, holding Rashad Jennings from getting a first down twice from one yard away, was a gigantic boost for the team and a major momentum changer.  Connor Barwin, who had a team-leading 14.5 sacks last season and two through six games this season, and Vinny Curry, whose 9 sacks last season ranked second on the team, are two other players on the line who are cycled in and out and always seem to be in the right spot at the right time.  Offenses are going to have to change their whole game plan regarding how they block the Eagles defensive line.