NFC East Spin cycle: What's wrong with Eli?

Posted Nov. 05, 2012 @ 11:56 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Updated 11:56 p.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 5

It wasn’t the division’s finest hour in Week Nine, with all four teams losing, capped by the Eagles’ stinker at New Orleans on Monday night. The last time all four lost was Week 13 last season. The Giants’ home loss wasn’t shocking, and being a non-conference game, it had less impact than the Cowboys’ and Redskins’ losses in games they could have won with crisper execution. A few of the division's coaches, Dallas' Jason Garrett and Washington's Mike Shanahan, might have been put on notice as the second half of the season is before them.

COWBOYS

What we learned: The difference between winning and losing in the NFL is small, and for once in recent games, you can’t really blame the coaching, which seemed strong, or Tony Romo, who was steady, for the loss at Atlanta. The Cowboys played toe to toe with the unbeaten Falcons but fell short 19-13 thanks to a few late gaffes. If you want to pick on one guy, CB Orlando Scandrick had a fourth quarter to forget. He whiffed on a 31-yard catch-and-run by Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers and was flagged for holding against WR Roddy White — two third-down errors that extended a late Falcons drive and ultimately bled all but 17 seconds off the clock before a Falcons field goal. A stop on that drive might have given the Cowboys a real shot at victory, down just three in the final minutes.

What’s in store next: The Cowboys are limping through their roughest patch of the schedule, losers of four of five and falling to 3-5 overall, and they’ll finish off this recent road plunge (four of five games away from Dallas) against the Eagles next Sunday afternoon. If they can manage a victory, the Cowboys will be just a game below .500 with some winnable games in front of them, not to mention three in a row at home. The running game does little without DeMarco Murray, who could return against the Eagles. It’s clear the Cowboys miss him dearly. The Cowboys have been willing to try anything in his absence. Sunday night, Felix Jones started and played 34 of the team’s 57 offensive snaps but gave way to Lance Dunbar (12 plays, eight carries) far more than perceived backup Phillip Tanner (two reps, one rush, zero yards).

What the heck? Owner Jerry Jones knows the Cowboys are not out of it. That’s why, before the loss to the Falcons, he gave a strong endorsement for head coach Jason Garrett, whom he said he envisioned coaching the team “for a long time.” On the same day that noted Jones ally (and former Cowboys assistant) Sean Payton’s contract extension was voided by the NFL, it was an important bouquet for Jones to extend. Of course, Jones also said he would have fired himself as general manager if he could have (what?) and after the game said he was “very disappointed” in the offense. So, really, who knows other than Jones? Is Garrett on notice? He certainly has felt more secure than he does now.

GIANTS

What we learned: It’s no time to panic. Losing 24-20 to the Steelers is hardly a scar on their record, but it was a game where the number of concerns that were raised — all phases on offense, plus select elements (especially vs. the run) on “D” — was surprising. Eli Manning and Victor Cruz were off again, the offensive line had trouble blocking, the run game was muted, and those patented relief appearances did not come up big, as usual. MLB Mark Herzlich, making his first start in place of injured Chase Blackburn, seemed to struggle. The Steelers’ run game was far from fancy, attacking the Giants right up the gut, and Herzlich appeared to have trouble disengaging from blocks.

What’s in store next: The Bengals were 3-1 at one time but have dropped four in a row and have allowed 106 points on defense during that slide. Perhaps it’s the perfect landing spot for the Giants, who travel to Cincinnati next Sunday. Prior to the loss to the Steelers, the Giants had won 4-of-5 vs. AFC North teams. Manning also will get a pretty good scouting report, if he so chooses, from brother Peyton, who was picked twice against the Bengals in Week Nine but otherwise was sharp in a 31-23 Broncos road victory.

What the heck? What’s going on with Eli? That’s three games now where the passing game has been in a funk. Yes, Manning hit Cruz for 77 yards in the win over the Redskins. But that was an outlier — the effectiveness has slowly waned since the win over the Browns and has landed in full slump mode after Sunday. The Steelers’ defense came in ranked No. 1 against the pass, but that was a clear example of Manning and the Giants struggling and inflicting some of their own wounds. A late decision to start Dave Diehl at right tackle proved to be a poor one; he struggled, especially in the second half. Manning did not look like his usually steady self, often showing happy feet amid pressure or throwing wobbling passes. The Giants converted only 2-of-10 third downs.

EAGLES

What we learned: The Eagles have gotten worse — amazingly — on defense since coordinator Juan Castillo was made the scapegoat and fired. The Eagles took terrible angles to the ball, couldn’t disengage from blocks and missed a host of tackles in the 28-13 loss to the Saints. On top of that, the offense took another step backward with seven sacks allowed, two lost turnovers and only one touchdown.

What’s in store next: Andy Reid, looking defeated and deflated after the loss to the Saints, said Michael Vick will remain his quarterback when the Cowboys come to town Sunday afternoon. It’s clearly a flashpoint game for both teams; the loser drops to 3-6. It doesn’t help with the news that suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton’s contract was not approved by the league, and it just so happens that both head coaches in this game find themselves on hot seats.

What the heck? Five times the Eagles drove inside the red zone, and yet they came away only with two field goals. The first red-zone possession was a killer: a dropped pass to TE Brent Celek that tipped into the hands of Saints CB Patrick Robinson, who ran it back 99 yards. The Eagles never really recovered, but they at least had a shot to cut it to a one-score game when Celek was the goat again, fumbling at the Saints’ 8-yard line with a little more than three minutes remaining.

REDSKINS

What we learned: Mike Shanahan said the team is entering a stage where the coaches are evaluating for next season. Although the word “rebuilding” never was uttered in the postgame media chat following the 21-13 loss to the Panthers, the fact that Shanahan admitted that he has at least one eye on next season is fairly shocking. Should Shanahan be worried about his own evaluation from owner Daniel Snyder, who is in a tough spot with his team? Perhaps. Sunday was a failure on many levels. The Panthers’ four-down goal-line stand sent an early message that they were the more prepared and inspired team. The Redskins’ late-game execution errors signaled that they are not close to being playoff-worthy at 3-6. People will be fired from this. Will it be coordinators Jim Haslett (defense) and Danny Smith (special teams) who take the fall? Or is Shanahan and the rest of his staff in jeopardy, too?

What’s in store next: It’s bye week, and like it has been for many teams this season, it either comes at the best or worst time, depending on how you look at it. Shanahan’s admission that this season has already or soon will slip away from the team is a strange development for a coach who has a record of 14-27 — worse even than Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn — in two-plus seasons in Washington. Robert Griffin III hasn’t given up yet, and perhaps the ignorance-is-bliss factor will allow RG3 to rally the troops when the Redskins return to action in Week 11 against the Eagles. But the Panthers did a pretty good job of containing him in the pocket (lots of zone defense, good gap responsibility), and defenses appear to be figuring him out a bit.

What the heck? Officiating errors happen all the time. They are an unfortunate element of the game, as complex as it is, and shouldn’t be used as excuses. Let it be said: The Redskins did not lose Sunday because of an inadvertent whistle on DeAngelo Williams’ 30-yard TD. But there appears to be smoke where there’s fire when it comes to the official’s reasoning for why the second-quarter play was allowed to remaining standing, even though it appeared that Williams was not sure to score when the whistle was sounded. It probably should have been blown dead. Would that have made a difference? Hard to say, but the Redskins barely showed life prior to the final few minutes of the game.