Sixth of an eight-part series
In PFW's midseason team reports, we focus on each team's biggest surprise and biggest disappointment, a fantasy football MVP, an assistant coach on the rise, and a fearless prediction for the second half of the season.
Biggest surprise: There were high expectations placed on WR Dez Bryant the minute he joined the team, but those were quelled when he suffered a high ankle sprain that essentially wiped out his training camp. But Bryant has come back healthy and looks to be a star. He's growing as a receiver, expanding his route tree and learning the tricks of the pro trade, but his work as a returner (two TDs) has been surprisingly excellent also.
Biggest disappointment: The defensive meltdown in Weeks Seven through Nine has been stunning. Despite possessing All-Pro talent, the Cowboys allowed 121 combined points to the Giants, Jaguars and Packers. Over the past six games, the Cowboys have allowed four 100-yard rushers.
Fantasy MVP: WR Miles Austin has put up good numbers, solidifying his status as a No. 1 receiver. But his drops have been a problem, and his TDs (two) have been lower than expected.
Assistant coach on the rise: On a staff that has taken a lot of heat, Paul Pasqualoni has earned a lot of respect and has a lot of fans in the locker room. He might be a future defensive coordinator or a head coach, although it would be surprising to see it happen in Dallas the way things have fallen apart.
Fearless prediction: The Cowboys showed in the losses to the Giants and Jaguars that self-motivation is not their strong suit. If you look at the schedule, there are not four easy wins left. Expect the Cowboys to finish with five wins and be in line for a top draft pick — though that's not the result they hoped for, clearly.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Biggest surprise: The pass defense has been a godsend. Part of that is due to the pass rush and the performance of the defensive line, led by former malcontent DE Osi Umenyiora, who is playing at his former Pro Bowl level. But a significant amount of credit belongs to the reborn secondary, led by newcomers Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. The return to health of Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross also has helped significantly.
Biggest disappointment: The turnovers (22) have been un-Giant-like. RB Ahmad Bradshaw is running well, but he has lost four fumbles; Manning has lost four, as well, to go along with those 11 interceptions. Making nearly three turnovers per game won't get it done down the stretch.
Fantasy MVP: Hakeem Nicks has supplanted Steve Smith as the No. 1 receiver, at least in fantasy terms. His nine TDs give him a slight edge over Bradshaw, who no doubt has given his fantasy owners some good bang for their buck.
Assistant coach on the rise: Perry Fewell has been a godsend. A year after the defense fell apart, Fewell has Humpy Dumptied things quite well with the help of a few offseason pickups. But there's no question Fewell's reclamation work up front and his willingness to adapt his schemes to the personnel, coming from a Tampa-2 background in Buffalo, have been huge keys.
Fearless prediction: The Giants have an excellent chance to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs if they can clean up the special teams and turnovers. It says here they will.
Biggest surprise: Few knew much about DT Antonio Dixon heading into this season, but he has become a key figure up front. Dixon really didn't get a chance to play until Week Five, but he has helped the Eagles curb the running attacks of the 49ers, Falcons and Titans and has flashed more power and quickness than anyone knew he had. Dixon has replaced Brodrick Bunkley as a starter for now, even with Bunkley back with from injury.
Biggest disappointment: TE Brent Celek has yet to get on track after leading the team in receptions last season. Of course, it hasn't helped that there have been four QB changes this season, back and forth between Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick. But Celek has had too many dropped passes and was to blame for a missed block against the Redskins that prevented a fourth-down conversion.
Fantasy MVP: LeSean McCoy has been better than anyone could have imagined as both a runner and a receiver. His work in both areas give him the edge over WRs Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, plus the quarterbacks, who have split time.
Assistant coach on the rise: This is a split vote between Marty Mornhinweg, for the job he has done working with Vick and Kolb, and RB coach Ted Williams, who has raised McCoy's game. The Eagles don't have a lot of depth in the backfield, but it hasn't stopped them.
Fearless prediction: The Eagles will settle on Vick and make the playoffs as a very dangerous wild card.
Biggest surprise: The league's smallest player at 5-7 and 155 pounds, RS Brandon Banks has added some serious juice to the Redskins' return units. He was cut Sept. 24 but found his way back onto the roster. The Redskins are thankful they kept him, as Banks is averaging 27.3 yards on kickoff returns (with one TD) and 13.8 yards on punt returns.
Biggest disappointment: The lack of offensive development has been a bit curious. Sure, the roster wasn't replete with big-play weapons. But the thought was that adding QB Donovan McNabb and head coach Mike Shanahan would be enough to compensate. So far, they have been on different pages, and the offense has had a decidedly all-or-nothing feel to it all season long.
Fantasy MVP: Weird to say, but it's probably Santana Moss. He quietly has produced in this offense — at least in terms of yards and receptions — as one of the few dependable targets at wideout. He probably slipped in fantasy drafts but has rewarded his owners nicely.
Assistant coach on the rise: On a prominent staff with a lot of big names, WR coach Keenan McCardell — despite a solid NFL career as a player — often gets overlooked. But he has done a great job with Anthony Armstrong and a shorthanded cast, and McCardell helped make the decision to move on from Devin Thomas. He has a future in this league.
Fearless prediction: The Redskins will be in the playoff race until the final week or two before bowing out. Their lack of prowess stopping opponents' passing games and their inconsistencies on offense will be their undoing.
You can read more midseason team analyses in the current print edition of PFW (cover date: Nov. 14, 2010) — including categories such as team MVP, player to watch and keys to the second half — on sale now at retail outlets. You can also purchase a print or electronic (PDF) copy of the issue at PFWstore.com.