Change in the East (2013 NFC East Preview)

nfc_east

The NFC East has been a weaker division in the last few years but changes are coming and superstars are rising to make this a division to watch. With Robert Griffin III entering the division last year everyone was watching. RGIII would electrify the league and lead the Redskins to the division title with his arm and his legs. Meanwhile the rest of the division began to fall apart with the Cowboys continuing to underwhelm, the Eagles trying to squeeze more out of the “Dream Team,” and the Giants playing mediocre football. Now in the new season there will be more changes in the division while some teams are staying pat. The Eagles are adding a new coach while the Redskins continue to develop a Read-Option offence. Then there are the Giants and the Cowboys who essentially did nothing to improve their teams in the offseason. The NFC East will be interesting as more people will watch but the fight might not be that great with two teams looking to dominate while other teams look for new results with the same parts. With two teams doing essentially nothing this offseason they may find themselves out of the hunt but they may be on to something. Change is not always a good thing in sports as teams who make too many changes, see the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team.” The cowboys and Giants may be fine with what they have and are hoping that a new coach in Philadelphia means a long adjustment while a sophomore season for an injured RGIII may not be up to his standard. If this is true the two teams that stayed the same in the offseason might come out on top. Two strategies will dominate this division as two teams have made changes while two teams stayed the same and only one of these strategies will work. These four teams seem to always bring it down to the wire and although the teams may not be the best in the league, history tells us that the battle for the East division title will not be a boring one.

 

Dallas Cowboys

dallas_cowboys

The Cowboys have made a habit of making it seem like they will make the playoffs but never following through. Last year they would do the same with plenty of hope before the season only to finish 8-8 on the season. Now the Cowboys are back with only a few changes to their team while the key pieces to both sides of the ball remained in place. The biggest piece of the puzzle in the offseason was Tony Romo who would receive a 6-year $108 million contract extension. The QB who has been under fire for not being able to put a consistent season together and lead the Cowboys to a playoff win would get the backing of his team with a contract that essentially makes him a Cowboy for life. It was a questionable decision by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as he signed a QB that has not proven that he can win yet. Flashes of brilliance are not enough to prove that Romo is the man for the job in Dallas. He will have a little less behind him as well with Felix Jones gone leaving DeMarco Murray alone in the backfield. As good as Murray is the two-back system is becoming more important and without Felix Jones there is not much left. The defence will be going through the most change as Rob Ryan is out as defensive Coordinator and Lane Kiffin is in. The new Tampa 2 system that Kiffin will bring in means DeMarcus Ware will move from linebacker to rush end where he will only have to worry about rushing the QB and forget about covering. That could mean great things for Ware as his sacks and tackles may go up in this system. Changing a system is never an easy thing though as players need to get used to playing new coverages and must learn new assignments. There will be some growing pains for this defence meaning the offence will need to pick it up and play like they can to help the Cowboys to wins. The Cowboys offence has all of the weapons to do this but they have shown over the last few years that they cannot seem to put everything together. The Cowboys are a team with potential to win the division but with not a lot of changes from an 8-8 team in 2012 they may find themselves outside of the playoffs once again.

 

Strengths:
Team Talent
– The Talent on the Cowboys is good with a mix of very good young players and savvy veterans that have all of the ability to be one of the best teams in the league with players like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and DeMarco Murray have the potential to dominate

Weakness:
Execution
– The talent is there but the execution is far from where it needs to be as the best players on the team continue to falter at key times making the Cowboys a real question mark as the talent is there but they cannot seem to put everything together

Biggest Addition:
Lane Kiffin, DC
– The Cowboys did not make a lot of moves in the offseason but their biggest one was the change of their coaching staff getting rid of Rob Ryan and replacing him with Lane Kiffin who has a different attitude and a different system to bring to the Cowboys

Biggest Loss:
Felix Jones, RB (Free Agent, Phi)
– DeMarco Murray has emerged as a great back for the Cowboys but Felix Jones has been a big part of that playing a relief role for Murray’s tough style and without Jones there to back him up the Cowboys are left with a potential injury risk to Murray

 

New York Giants

new_york_giants

In 2011-12 the New York Giants would win the Super Bowl for the second time in four years and went into the 2012 season as the defending champions. Last year the Giants would not live up to that title as they would finish second in the division with a 9-7 record but missed the playoffs. It was a good season but it was not good enough and in 2013 the Giants are hoping for a return to the playoffs to try to establish the Giants as the team of the 2010s. As always the Giants will be looking to the most important part of every successful Giants team. The defensive line has always been the biggest part to their Super Bowl runs and this year the Giants are looking for the same production. Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul will be patrolling the ends while the Giants will have a new look in the middle. Chris Canty and Osi Umenyiora are gone with Cullen Jenkins and Linval Joseph taking over as the defensive tackles this year. These two new linemen will need to be strong as the players behind them are not going to win games by themselves. The linebacking corps is very much a mishmash of young and veteran players while the Giants’ defensive backfield has been exposed by great passing teams. The defence will be looking to the line while the offence looks to their leader and the man of constant debate, Eli Manning. Manning has helped the Giants to two Super Bowls but continues to be that QB that many have just on the outside of their top QBs in the league. He will try to prove he is one of the elite this year as he does every year but will not have a lot around him to do so. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are the two big weapons for manning and after that there is not much else in the passing game while the running game will come down to a sophomore with fumble issues in David Wilson. The Giants are not considered one of the best in the league this year but they are those underdogs that love to surprise everyone. A battle for first place or at least a wild card berth is in the cards but making the playoffs will mean that everything goes right for them.

 

Strengths:
They Love the Underdog
– Every year that the Giants seem to be overlooked and Tom Coughlin is fired by the media throughout the season the Giants have won the Super Bowl and with no focus on them in the division this year they may just surprise everyone

Weakness:
Team Depth
– The starters are good and sometimes very good in certain positions but after the top guys there is not a lot else and with injuries sure to happen in the NFL the Giants may be in trouble if one of these top guys is gone for a good chunk of the season

Biggest Addition:
Cullen Jenkins, DT (Free Agent, Phi)
– With the loss of Umenyiora the Giants went to a veteran who made the Green Bay Packers a very good pressure team as he will need to step into the starting role and get a lot of pressure to help lead the Giants defensive line

Biggest Loss:
Osi Umenyiora, DE (Free Agent, Atl)
– They did replace him but Umenyiora would team up with Chris Canty to account for 25% of the sacks of this defensive line and that will be missed big time with a team that relies on their defensive line to provide most of the defence

 

Philadelphia Eagles

philadelphia_eagles

A 4-12 season would see the Philadelphia Eagles finish fourth in the East, would mean a lot of change for 2013 as the Eagles enter a new era for their franchise. It was time for a change and they would do that in a big way firing head coach Andy Reid and bringing in one of the hottest College coaches in Chip Kelly. The Eagles are looking to really change things up this year as Chip Kelly will be a very big change from former head coach Andy Reid. Kelly brings in his offence from Oregon that under Kelly became known as “Track-U” thanks to the speed and relentless attack they employed on offence. Kelly will try to translate this to the NFL as he will try to bring the speed of the offence from the college ranks to the pro ranks. The pieces are in Philly to make this system a success with the Eagles having some very fast players. Michael Vick will be the leader of this offence as he won the QB battle with Nick Foles for the simple fact that he fits this system better than Foles. Along with Vick, Kelly will have LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson in the offence to provide more speed to this offence. The biggest question though will be the offensive line that needs to be a lot better than the last two years if they want Vick or McCoy to stay on the field. On defence Kelly will not have as big an influence but the hiring of Billy Davis to run the defence will cause changes. The Eagles will bring in a 3-4 defence putting a lot more pressure on Trent Cole and new addition Connor Barwin to make sure they get pressure. The defence will need this pressure as they will be without Nnamdi Asomugha and Antonio Rogers-Cromartie leaving Bradley Fletcher and Carey Williams to carry the load. No pressure up front will expose the Eagles’ weakness but a lot of pressure will make the defensive backfield look good. The Eagles are moving into a new era for the franchise and there are still a lot of questions to be answered. There is a lot of potential in Philadelphia but adjusting to a new system on defence and offence will be too much for this season leaving them out of the playoffs and at the bottom of the division.

 

Strengths:
Offensive Pieces
– The Eagles seem to be the perfect team to work with Chip Kelly’s new system as they will have Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson representing some of the fastest players in the league that could up the tempo in the East

Weakness:
Changes Galore
– The changes for the Eagles might end up paying off in the long run but for a team to change offensive and defensive systems and be successful right away may be too much to ask as the team will need to adjust and may take time

Biggest Addition:
Connor Barwin, LB (Free Agent, Hou)
– With the Eagles switching to a 3-4 system Barwin’s addition is invaluable as he will be one of the only players to come in having already played a 3-4 system the season before meaning Billy Davis will lean on him for leadership

Biggest Loss:
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Free Agent, SF)
– He may have not performed up to the hype that was assigned to him when he signed in Philly but he was still a very good shut down corner and his loss will be seen when they face the better passing teams this year

 

Washington Redskins

washington_redskins

The Washington Redskins would start the 2012 season with a massive trade that may go down as a franchise changer. They would trade two first round picks to move up into the second spot in the draft and would take Robert Griffin III. RGIII would become one of the best young QBs in the game in his first year changing the sport and establishing the Read-Option offence. Griffin was great for the Redskins last year as he was a big reason for the team finishing in first place and winning the division. At the end of the season though, Griffin would begin to show wear from the Read-Option hurting his knee and having to wear a knee brace. It would turn out to be bad news for the Redskins as they would go into the playoffs with a limping Griffin under centre and would lose to the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin would end up needing surgery to repair his knee that he reinjured in the playoff game and now is the biggest questions for the Redskins in 2013. RGIII is the beginning and the end to this offence even though Kirk Cousins did perform well in a backup role last year. The ‘Skins need RGIII to be healthy but after surgery on his knee in his first season questions of his durability in the Read-Option are concerning to the team. If RGII is healthy and can perform like last year they can be one of the most potent offences in the league. If he cannot stay healthy the Redskins will be scrambling on offence to try to make sure that they can still produce. On defence the return of Brian Orakpo will be very welcomed as his injury last year left a massive gap in the defence. If Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan can get things going the holes on the defence will be overlooked but if they cannot the holes will be exposed and more pressure will fall on the offence. The Redskins have the potential to be a great team but a lot of that rests on Robert Griffin III as he is the future of the team and if he cannot return to last year’s form Washington could be in trouble. Griffin could be back and better though and with a lot of teams in the East having the potential to struggle they could be back at the top and in the playoffs again.

 

Strengths:
Rushing Game
– Between Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris the Redskins had one of the best rushing attacks last year and although it will not be as potent in 2013 it will still be the best part of Washington’s offence

Weakness:
Sophomore Slumps
– Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III will enter their second season and will have to try to avoid the sophomore slump as they will be looked on to lead this offence and if they struggle the team struggles

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Redskins decided that they had a team that could win in 2013 and so they would not go out and find someone instead concentrating on getting RGIII healthy and developing a Read-Option offence

Biggest Loss:
Chris Cooley, TE (Retirement)
– Coming in to help the team in 2012 Cooley served well for the Redskins but his time is done and that will have less of an effect on the field as it will off the field as a veteran leader on offence is gone from the locker room

 

Prediction:
1. Washington Redskins
2. New York Giants
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Philadelphia Eagles

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