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NFC East Spin cycle: Week Two

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By Eric Edholm

After successful Week One games, both the Redskins and Cowboys fell back to earth in Week Two. The Giants roared back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter behind You Know Who and avoided an 0-2 start before a quick turnaround this Thursday. And the heart-attack Eagles won yet another strange one-point game in the fourth quarter.

COWBOYS

What we learned: There’s still work to be done. The loss in Seattle had a same-old-Cowboys trap-game feel to it, coming off the giant victory in Week One. The most surprising development was how the defense got a little beat up. Sure, the special teams essentially staked the Seahawks to a 10-0 lead, but Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware were manhandled (Lee courtesy of a launching block from Golden Tate that could earn a fine), Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch ran for 100 yards on 16 second-half carries and rookie QB Russell Wilson operated mostly untrammeled in completing 15-of-20 passes. Why the Cowboys didn’t blitz more after watching Wilson struggle vs. five- and six-man pressures in the opener is a mystery. Ware was ordinary against backup OLT Frank Omiyale.

What’s in store next: A home date against the Buccaneers will tell a lot about this football team. So far, we have a bit of a split-personality thing going on with the team. The run game, hot in Week One, fizzled in Seattle. The solid special teams vs. the Giants were nowhere to be found in Week Two. Tony Romo seemed like two different quarterbacks. One unfortunate common theme has been the subpar play of TE Jason Witten. He refuses to blame it on his spleen injury, so we won’t either. Witten’s three drops on 10 targets and his less-than-dominant blocking have been worrisome. Did he rush back? Is he hurting his team? He’s hardly the only one who needs to improve, though. The Cowboys’ next game will give us a more well-rounded picture of what is in store this season.

What the heck? The Cowboys’ first-round talents on offense acquitted themselves like undrafted rookies on Sunday. RB Felix Jones (2008) fumbled the opening kickoff, setting the tone for the afternoon, and later ran back two kickoffs that were eight yards deep into the endzone. Head coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t address Jones’ spot on the team after the game. WR Dez Bryant (2010) had two drops Sunday and muffed a punt. Through two games, he has a pedestrian seven catches for 102 yards, only one for longer than 20 yards. OLT Tyron Smith (2011) continued his struggles with another false start, his fourth of the season, and couldn’t keep DE Chris Clemons’ hands down (two pass deflections, including one on a key third down in Seattle territory in a one-possession game). Not a good performance by the top offensive talents.

GIANTS

What we learned: No game is ever over when Eli Manning is on the field. The game’s most clutch fourth-quarter QB until proven otherwise, Manning led a furious, 14-point comeback by throwing for an insane 243 of his career-high 510 yards and producing 25 points in the final 15 minutes. He has two of the game’s best wideouts in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who combined for 378 of those yards and two TDs in a stirring comeback against a game Buccaneers team that controlled the action most of the first three quarters. It’s too soon to sound alarm bells about the Giants’ defense because starting slowly has been their modus operandi in several of the past few years, and they have two Super Bowl titles during that span. We’ll reserve judgment for now.

What’s in store next: The Giants have a quick, somewhat nasty turnaround at Carolina on Thursday and could be doing so without RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), ORT Dave Diehl (knee) and WR Domenik Hixon (concussion). Facing Cam Newton and the Panthers’ diverse run game, coming off a banner afternoon against the Saints, is no easy task. The Giants must prepare for the read-option series (with two days to practice against it), and the ends probably can’t fire off the line looking to make up for the fact they have one combined sack in two games. Offensively, it could be Andre Brown doing the running again; he provided a spark in Sunday’s win with several of his 71 rushing yards coming after contact.

What the heck? After a wild game that came down to the final minute, all anyone is talking about is the final play of the game and aftermath. With the Giants taking a final kneeldown to effectively end the game, the victory formation turned into a pushing match. The Buccaneers, believing the game was not over, tried to force a bad snap or fluky fumble by shoving the Giants’ front, which had given itself up at that point and Manning was knocked to the turf. Tom Coughlin did not like it at all, despite no one getting hurt from it, and he told Bucs head coach Greg Schiano as much during the postgame greeting. Nothing, it appears, is automatic in the NFL anymore. Schiano wasn’t apologizing afterward; he told the media this is how he coaches his teams to play. This story won’t go away.

EAGLES

What we learned: The Eagles don't care for pretty play. For the second consecutive game, they have pulled out a one-point victory in charged atmospheres under difficult circumstances. But in both cases, the Eagles helped put themselves in those situations with a combined nine turnovers. Michael Vick reached some highs Sunday, but he also has been incredibly sloppy with the ball at times through two games. TE Brent Celek was huge on offense, and MLB DeMeco Ryans had one of his best games in a few seasons. The clutch gene clearly is there, and the Eagles’ defense has been a terrific bright spot, but how long can this cardiac approach last?

What’s in store next: The Eagles will visit an old friend in a matchup of surprise 2-0 teams. It’s on to Arizona to face Kevin Kolb and the Eagles, fresh off a shocking 20-18 win over the Patriots in New England, at the site of one of the Eagles’ most haunting franchise losses in the 2008 NFC championship game. The Eagles almost certainly will have to play without C Jason Kelce (knee), which is a huge blow, and perhaps without WR Jeremy Maclin, who reaggravated his hip, and OLT King Dunlap, who left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. The Cardinals (led by John Skelton) handed the Eagles a stunning loss last season, as Larry Fitzgerald went bananas and Vick struggled mightily at the height of the Dream Team’s struggles, as they fell to 3-6.

What the heck? Why isn’t Juan Castillo getting more praise? The embattled first-time defensive coordinator was run through the fans' and media's wood-chipper for his unit’s performance last season, but he and the defense responded with a strong finish and have carried that over through two games. Despite CB Nnamdi Asomugha doing his best to blow coverages, Castillo’s “D” has been mostly sterling. Other than two first-half Ray Rice carries, the run defense was impeccable, especially down the stretch in Week Two. And the pressure and coverage were mostly outstanding against the Ravens’ no-huddle attack, limiting it to five yards per play and never letting it stay in rhythm. Castillo badly outschemed Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on Sunday.

REDSKINS

What we learned: It’s going to be a pretty wild season. Nothing will come easily for this group, and you can’t say it’s over until the clock hits 0:00. That’s both a good and bad thing. All the maturity shown in closing out Week One’s victory over the Saints in New Orleans was undermined in a very winnable game at St. Louis when WR Josh Morgan allowed his emotions to boil over. He threw the ball at Rams CB Cortland Finnegan late in the game, costing the Redskins a 15-yard penalty and turning a manageable fourth-down situation or long field-goal attempt into a now-win situation. Billy Cundiff’s 62-yard attempt had no chance of making it. The Redskins (certainly Morgan) came unglued in a game that was starting to get out of hand at the end, with a big assist from the replacement referees.

What’s in store next: The Redskins have to find a way to tighten the defense against the Bengals, who can move the ball. Over the past 13 games, the Redskins now have allowed 26.7 points per game. The "D" did a good job in Week One, relatively speaking, against the Saints in their building. Points were expected, and holding Drew Brees to under 50 percent completions is a rare feat. But there are too many blown assignments, as seen by Rams WR Danny Amendola getting loose for 15 catches and a seventh-round rookie, RB Daryl Richardson, breaking so many tackles in Week Two. They’ll have to get better with DE Adam Carriker and OLB Brian Orakpo out for the season. FS Brandon Meriweather remains iffy. That’s a lot to contend with against WR A.J. Green and company.

What the heck? The special teams are a worry. After the blocked-punt TD in Week One, coordinator Danny Smith’s units were put on notice. Sunday, alarms were set off. A second blocked punt in two weeks is just inexcusable. On top of that, the return, coverage and kicking units have been horrendous. We’re not talking about Cundiff missing a low-percentage kick. This is about the Redskins ranking in the bottom five in punt-return average, kickoff-return average, net and gross punting, kickoff coverage and opponents’ net and gross punting (dead last in the last two). That’s bad. The decision to keep a roster spot for RS Brandon Banks now is being highly questioned, and you wonder why more reserves (especially all those receivers) are not playing on the units. Smith has to turn this thing around. The Bengals’ special teams are off to a good start.

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