NFC East Spin cycle: Week One

Posted Sept. 10, 2012 @ 2:21 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Giants are 0-1, the Eagles barely survived Cleveland and the Redskins and Cowboys appear to be top dogs in the division. Just as we expected, right? Here's an unbiased look at what went right and wrong in the NFC East in Week One and whether it will keep up.

COWBOYS

What we learned: The Cowboys have some things to iron out up front, and their Week One performance won’t win a lot of beauty contests, but they were extremely game and tough in a statement victory over the Giants. They have a running back who appears to get stronger by game’s end in DeMarco Murray, a gutsy quarterback in Tony Romo, a third target emerging in Kevin Ogletree and a defense that has some real teeth at several spots. The offensive line was tested against one of the best fronts in the NFL, and the results were somewhat predictable. But it held together as best it could considering the circumstances.

What’s in store next: The Cowboys have had extra time to prepare for the legs and arm of rookie QB Russell Wilson and the crowd noise of Seattle. They also have had time to get healthy and work on the cohesion of the offensive line. Thirteen penalties do not a successful game make, and more often than not the Cowboys are not going to get away with that. Many of the mistakes were of the procedural variety, and Seattle’s 12th man can cause problems with communication up front. The chemistry on the offensive line is still developing with the players having had only a few weeks to jell. That comes with practice time, repetitions and more game action.

What the heck? Romo’s second-quarter interception was a bad one, and you could tell right away when Romo immediately started sprinting to attempt to make the tackle on Giants LB Michael Boley. Romo could not, however, leaving it to OLT Tyron Smith to chase Boley down. He did, incurring a 15-yard penalty on the play (it was half the distance because the tackle occurred inside the 5-yard line), but it was a brilliant play. Had Smith not made the hit, Boley likely would have scored. Instead, Smith's stop galvanized the defense, which stoned the Giants’ offense three times and held New York to a field goal. And Romo rallied as well, turning in a vintage performance that ranked as one of his career best.

GIANTS

What we learned: It’s not a time to panic, but the Giants, who notoriously started slowly a year ago, have some Tom Coughlin-izing to do. He can’t stomach mistakes — such as the David Wilson fumble — and sloppy execution. On defense, that was most evident in the secondary, which was down to spare parts because of injuries. A few uncharacteristic things happened, too, such has Victor Cruz dropping three passes, the pass rush looking relatively tepid and the offensive line looking mediocre at best. Those problems likely will be ironed out, just as they have been in past seasons the further along we have gone.

What’s in store next: The Giants have more of a battle than many probably realize when they face the revamped Buccaneers, fresh off their upset of Cam Newton and the Panthers. The Bucs' defense might be a little tougher than advertised, and you know that Greg Schiano will want to come back up to the area (he previously coached at Rutgers) and flash some Jersey pride at MetLife Stadium. The Giants hope to be healthier in the secondary, and signs point to CB Prince Amukamara perhaps being ready to help. That gives the team some options where it had few in Week One.

What the heck? Was Wilson crying after his fumble? He says he wasn't. The Giants don’t care as much about that as they do Wilson keying in on his ball security. It was an issue for him at Virginia Tech, and the Giants have to prevent it from mushrooming in the pros. Coughlin helped Tiki Barber kick his fumbling issues (well into his career), so it can be fixed. But the Giants also have to make sure Wilson is mentally tuned, too. They need the first-round pick to be involved and to spell Ahmad Bradshaw, who carries an injury history with him.

EAGLES

What we learned: The defense looks to be in midseason form. The offense needs major work. Wasn’t that (mostly) backward from Week One a year ago? Michael Vick had a fairly disastrous debut and was fortunate he wasn’t picked off six times instead of the four he was. The offensive line struggled, which was part of the problem. But the coaches clearly believe in Vick, which is why they did not bench him or go to the run earlier in the game. The defense clearly can get after it based on its dissection of the Browns on nearly every level, but the offense must clean up the mistakes, which were plentiful.

What’s in store next: Their next opponent, the Ravens, typically don’t kill themselves with mistakes. So, a focus on cleaning up the silly, dirty stuff (penalties, mental mistakes, drops, poor decision making) this week in practice is imperative. The timing and precision of the passing game was out of sync in Week One, so that is a primary directive, too. The Ravens’ weaknesses on defense appear to be against the pass, so finding quality, go-to plays that work will be key. Defensively, they’ll have to prepare for a faster Ravens team that will push the tempo with a no-huddle attack, something the Browns were not equipped to do with a rookie QB.

What the heck? LeSean McCoy had 20 carries against the Browns. He got 18.2 per game last season. Therefore, he had a heavier-than-typical workload Sunday. But no one watching the game would feel he was used to that degree. McCoy largely was ignored in the middle part of the game. He had seven very effective carries for 50 yards in the first half but had only five carries in 10 Eagles possessions between 1:50 left in the first quarter and 13:59 left in the game. When the Eagles finally went back to McCoy — who gained 55 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter — they had to; Vick had just been intercepted, with the TD runback nearly deep-sixing them. The Eagles could have stood to balance their attack better in the middle part of the game.

REDSKINS

What we learned: This Robert Griffin III kid is pretty good. It was a banner debut for the rookie, and he did everything asked of him in his first start. The Redskins called for high-percentage passes early, Griffin executed them, and then they slackened the leash even more. Griffin responded again with strong throws downfield, smart decisions and composure when Drew Brees and the Saints started heating up and closed the gap. There were few visible mistakes in his first go of it, and Redskins Nation has to be tickled. The defense, although a work in progress, made enough plays to give the team a chance.

What’s in store next: Now it gets tough. The offense has been displayed after having kept much of it under wraps in the preseason. The Rams, the next opponent (also on the road), did a good job of dissecting Matthew Stafford and could pose problems with their two good cover corners. The Redskins also need to do a better job of covering downfield. The safeties appeared a little jumbled up at times, and the Saints dropped some catchable passes (three by Marques Colston) that might have changed the outcome.

What the heck? We question NFL players’ toughness when they don’t play with injuries and their intelligence (sometimes) when they do. This is one of the latter cases. Redskins LS Nick Sundberg played the majority of Sunday’s victory with a broken forearm. Allow that to sink in: A long-snapper played with a broken arm. Blocked, snapped, ran downfield, the whole deal. Sundberg said he felt the ulnar bone — the same one that broke in high school in a slightly different spot — snap on a first-quarter punt. From that point on, he snapped it nine more times. Flawlessly, too. That’s either dumb or extremely brave, depending on your perspective.