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NFC East: The Puzzle With Missing Pieces part 1

Only the AFC South have lost more combined games than the NFC East, and that is arguably, entirely due to an early season week off for Washington. No team in the division has more than three wins, and two of the four teams are 3-3. Only the Redskins escape that potential fate with their aforementioned Week 4 BYE. Each team in the division is performing at a lower rate than than their fans, coaches and owners expect, with one leading the pack from the back in terms of underachievement. But with the exception of the Giants, it is not all bad news for the other members of the NFC “Least”. Let’s look at why, and what they might need to do in order to meet their supporters’ expectations.

‘Boys To Men

Before Week 6 there had been calls by Cowboys fans for Jason Garrett’s head, served atop a platter of Dak Prescott’s head. But, despite the arguments that could have been made for better results by Dallas’ offense, their defense had been doing quietly well. The Cowboys defense has given up only 106 points to opposing offenses through the first 6 games, averaging just 17.2 per game. You know which other team’s defense boasts the same stats? The Jacksonville Jaguars; who coming into the season were one of the most highly touted and ‘keen to let you know it’ defensive units in the NFL. As well as that, they were the team that Dallas resoundingly beat this week 40-7.

In a recent interview with GQ, the Jags’ All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsay spouted off against various NFL quarterbacks. One of those who got a mention was none other than Dak Prescott. “He’s all right. He’s OK. I’ll put it that way.” Well, despite being on the field for practically every defensive snap against the “OK” Prescott’s Cowboys, Ramsay finished the night with four tackles, one pass defended and zero impact plays.

Meanwhile Dak threw for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns, whilst rushing for another score and 82 yards. Those stats look all right to me. In fact, if you’d like to know who, if not Ramsay was the most effective cornerback on the field that night, you need look no further than the Cowboys’ own Byron Jones, who was not only the best corner on the field, but garnered the highest rating for any cornerback in the NFL during Week 6.

But let’s calm down for a second. The Cowboys still have issues and one good win won’t change that. Since the departure of Dez Bryant, Dallas have been missing a true #1 receiving threat. “But what about Cole Beasley?” I hear you cry. “He went over 100 yards and caught 2 touchdowns!” Yes he did. But do you remember the last time he did that? No? That’s because it was in November 2015.

Rookie Michael Gallup could still be good, but his production hasn’t been what you would want or expect from a 2018 1st Round draft pick. Look at the Falcons’ Calvin Ridley for an example of that. The bottom line is Dallas need to help Prescott if they want to help themselves. Ezekiel Elliot can only get you so far, even if that is further than you deserve to go without keeping defenses honest with a big play receiver. If Jerry really wants another ring, he’s going to have to do what every cowboy does, and pony up.

From Wentz They Came

One could argue that Philadelphia don’t deserve to be 3-3. Yes, before Week 6, each win the Eagles had this season was close. They beat the Falcons 18-12 and the Colts 20-16. But every loss they had was close also – they were beaten by some Fitzmagic against the Buccaneers 27-21, lost in overtime to the Titans 26-23, and were barely conquered by the Vikings 23-21. But this week, against division rivals the Giants on Thursday Night football, they were emphatic, beating the G-Men 34-13.

Yes, okay it’s the Giants. But still, the reason things are going to change in a positive way for Philly is because of one man and one man only. Carson Wentz. In his four starts since returning from last season’s knee injury, Wentz has completed at least 65% of his passes, averaged just under 300 yards and thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception. To put that into perspective, the only other Eagles quarterback to have ever had a four game stretch like that was Donovan McNabb during the first four games of 2004.

Alshon Jeffrey is back. Jordan Matthews has returned. Nelson Agholor is finally looking like the receiver they thought they were drafting in the 1st Round of the 2015 draft. And Zach Ertz is, well, Zach Ertz – one of, if not the best pass catching tight ends currently playing in the NFL. And yes, that includes Kelce, Gronk and Ebron.

Wentz is not the problem in Philly. His receiving corps is not the problem in Philly. There are two glaring pitfalls on the Eagles’ road to success this season and they are in both the offensive, and defensive backfields. With Jay Ajayi out for the season with an ACL tear, there is no acceptable option at running back. Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles simply won’t be able to do what a between the tackles bruiser like Ajayi could. The Eagles need to trade for a running back, and they need to do it now.

Their secondary is the other glaring shortcoming. After losing Rodney McCloud for the season the have been playing musical chairs at safety and cornerback. First they moved over Avonte Maddox to cover the injured McCloud, asking the cornerback to cover a position that he had never played before. Now after Sidney Jones’ hamstring injury during the Thursday night game they have moved Maddox back to slot corner and are using Rasul Douglas, an outside corner as deep safety.

Following? I though not. But the upshot is that the Eagles keep giving up big plays due to this patchwork defensive backfield. They have allowed seven plays of at least 45 yards so far this season resulting in 420 yards lost through the air. If they can find a way to solve these two conundrums, Philadelphia could be very dangerous throughout the rest of the season.

Above image courtesy @Eagles.

The second part when @chrismilner puts the spotlight on the Redskins and the Giants can be found here>>>

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