2010 season-in-review team reports
Fifth of an eight-part series
Overview: Jerry Jones had it all figured out when they broke ground on the new Cowboys way back in 2005: After landing a Super Bowl, build a team that will play in the first "home" Bowl of all time. But while he bagged the Bowl, the Cowboys' season went in the bag. Even before Tony Romo broke his collarbone, the Cowboys were 1-4 and were not winning anything with their defensive performance. All in all, it was a lost season, although the team did rally around Jason Garrett, earning him the permanent head-coaching job.
Team MVP: Despite everything caving around him, OLB DeMarcus Ware turned in an excellent season again. He plays hurt, faces double-teams (especially with fellow OLB Anthony Spencer having taken a big step backward) and yet still produces at an exceptional level. And it's not just as a pass rusher, either — Ware has well-rounded his game and given opponents more to think about when trying to account for him.
Biggest surprise: The only major question that faced the offensive line entering the season appeared to be OLT Doug Free. Yet, the only position that was not a concern after the season was Free's. He was very strong in his first season as a starter and now stands as the best lineman among a broken group. The team might have major needs at both guard spots and right tackle (and center, some say), but Free, a free agent, should be the team's left tackle for the next five years.
Biggest disappointment: Where to start? With all the places you could go with this, we'll say it was the lack of improvement by Spencer and CB Mike Jenkins. Both appeared to be on the verge of being stars at their respective positions, but each fell off precipitously — Jenkins more so than Spencer. In a season of awful secondary play, Jenkins was responsible for a number of poor efforts, blown coverages and weak mechanics just when it looked like he was turning the corner.
Offseason outlook: Jones won't stand for the Cowboys being down long, and Romo should return at full health with no setbacks. The offense is potentially stout again with playmakers galore — starting with WRs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten — but the offensive line needs help at several spots. The defense also is in need of repair, with defensive end (or nose tackle, permitting Dallas to move Jay Ratliff outside), cornerback and safety topping the list.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Overview: The season turned on a dime with just over eight minutes remaining in a home game against the Eagles in Week 15. You know the story: 28 points later, capped by DeSean Jackson's walk-off punt-return touchdown, the Eagles stole the game — and the division. The Giants won 10 games but failed to make the postseason. Yet, Tom Coughlin was kept because Giants officials believe he's the man to run the team.
Team MVP: Justin Tuck might have been surrounded by some terrific DL talent last season, but that doesn't mean he didn't have a great season. He tied for the team lead in sacks (11.5) and led the NFL in fumble recoveries (five). Coordinator Perry Fewell unleashed Tuck in a number of techniques, and he consistently found ways to get to the quarterback and disrupt the opposition. Tuck also served as a mentor for rookie Jason Pierre-Paul, who broke out near midseason.
Biggest surprise: Despite seemingly new injuries on a weekly basis along the offensive line, the unit had a relatively strong season. OLG-C Rich Seubert turned back the clock and was excellent. It was no surprise that Chris Snee, one of the best in the game, dominated. But David Diehl was solid, moving from left tackle to left guard; Shawn Andrews had some nice moments; Kevin Boothe came back strong from injury; and Kareem McKenzie run-blocked well. The group went five games without allowing a sack and consistently opened rushing holes. The line had been in slight decline, so the improvement — despite the injuries — was a major plus.
Biggest disappointment: Turnovers, plain and simple. Eli Manning's 25 interceptions were not all his fault, as many were tipped or dropped by receivers. But that number is way too high for Coughlin's liking. So were the team's 17 fumbles lost, including six by Ahmad Bradshaw, preventing him from seizing the starting job full time. In the Giants' 10 wins, the team had a plus-11 turnover ratio; in the six losses, that number was minus-14. That's why they missed the playoffs, more than probably any other reason.
Offseason outlook: Don't expect major additions, but the team does have some tough and interesting decisions to make regarding free agents, including Bradshaw, WR Steve Smith, DT Barry Cofield, TE Kevin Boss, DE Mathias Kiwanuka and others. One or two of those players might not be back. In the draft, Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese likely will target positions they value higher than others — such as the offensive and defensive lines and cornerback — over specific needs. That philosophy has served them well the past five years or so.
Overview: What was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding season turned out to be a wild ride on the back of Michael Vick. After entering the lineup in Week One, he was the league's most electric player, entering the MVP discussion despite playing in only 12 games and before tailing off. A young team probably went about as far as it could have, losing its first playoff game, but there's no guarantee that the magic will return next season.
Team MVP: The obvious answer is Vick, and he was spectacular. But for the sake of digging deeper — and perhaps being a bit contrarian in the process — we'll nominate RB LeSean McCoy. He was outstanding all season, making big leaps as a runner, receiver and pass blocker. McCoy not only gained more than five yards per carry, but he also caught 78 passes, which was a team high. Look for the Eagles to design more dump-off plays to McCoy after watching Vick struggle to handle the blitz down the stretch.
Biggest surprise: Again, other than Vick shocking everyone with his career season, it would have to be his development as a leader. In Atlanta, Vick was said to be an egomaniac and a selfish player. None of that was evident this season in Philadelphia, when he not only discussed his past indiscretions openly but also served as a mentor to young playmakers such as McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and others. Leadership and maturity might be the two areas in which Vick really has come the furthest, amazingly.
Biggest disappointment: The play in the trenches was a sore spot all season, despite Andy Reid's penchant for building his teams from the line out. Injuries affected the play of the offensive line greatly, but there also was too much inconsistency in blocking, particularly down the stretch. And the defensive line was a disappointment across the board, save for Trent Cole in the first half of the season and the surprising breakout of DT Antonio Dixon. Other than that, there were few positives on the defensive line.
Offseason outlook: The drama about Vick's contract and whether the Eagles will consider trading QB Kevin Kolb will linger until a new CBA is ratified. Until that point, let the speculation begin. Our best guess? The Eagles will sign Vick long-term and at least entertain trade offers for Kolb to see how much they might get. They'll look to upgrade the defensive line — though new DL coach Jim Washburn will have a big effect — as well as the offensive line and cornerback.
Overview: Although turmoil reigned throughout most of Mike Shanahan's first season — from the Albert Haynesworth mess to the benching of Donovan McNabb — the thinking is that the culture has changed around Redskins Park. They won't be contenders until they find a franchise quarterback and continue to fill holes on defense, but Shanahan has proven over time that he can coach and will work diligently to get back to that point.
Team MVP: Tough call. On the one hand, LaRon Landry was the team's best player, but he played in only nine games. We'll go with co-MVPs: WR Santana Moss and ILB London Fletcher. Moss had perhaps his finest season despite the coaches being unhappy with McNabb's play. Kyle Shanahan was credited with moving Moss to the slot more, where his skills are more dangerous. Fletcher was one of the few front-seven defenders who didn't see his play dip with the move to a 3-4 scheme. He was as steady as he always is, leading the team in tackles and forced fumbles.
Biggest surprise: Moss' sidekick, Anthony Armstrong, was a terrific story, starting on the practice squad in '09 and becoming a starter by Week Five in '10. And he produced, too — 44 catches for 871 yards — becoming the deep threat in this offense. Whether or not Armstrong can ever reach this level again, his production proved that this offense can work, even with less-than-desirable QB play.
Biggest disappointment: Some have said that Mike Shanahan did what he could with the Haynesworth situation, but there's little question that he and Kyle Shanahan handled McNabb's ouster poorly. It reflected on their leadership and fit in with some of the classic Redskins blunders of previous regimes, which were supposed to be things of the past. Not only that, but the Redskins will now have to deal him while his value is low, having given up multiple picks for McNabb in the first place.
Offseason outlook: The Redskins have tried not to go the big-name-free-agent route at times, but the itch always is there with a Daniel Snyder-owned team — especially with the club again not having a full cache of draft picks to work with. Settling on a quarterback — be it by trade, free agency or through the draft — is the highest order of business. Then adding parts to the 3-4 defense, parts defensive coordinator Jim Haslett badly lacked last season, will come next on the priority list.
Wednesday: AFC South team reports