2011 Division Previews: NFC East

Jenkins Teaming Up With Cole In Philly: Scary

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – Problems arise on the offensive line.  Inexperience makes for an unsettling crew of linebackers.  Yet, it’s quite certain the Eagles possess an abundance of talent; especially at the skilled positions.  Michael Vick’s ability to improvise makes his shaky front five less of a concern, that is, unless he gets hurt.  Then, it’s off to Vince Young, who’s still an above-average NFL quarterback.  With Vick’s dynamic ways creating opportunities, a guy like LeSean McCoy is able to slide under the radar.  Last season, McCoy went for over five yards a pop on the ground and hauled in 78 passes.  Electrifying wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are among the elite at their respective positions due to tantalizing speed.  Both are deep threats and hold the privilege to turn a quick five-yard slant into a 75-yard touchdown.  To compliment the big-play athletes, the Eagles have stellar specialty players; tight end Brent Celek, wideout Steve Smith (former Giant; recovering from knee surgery), and running back Ronnie Brown.  Brown is the most intriguing of the trio because he could cure the team’s longtime short-yardage/goal-line woes.  Two words: about time.  The former Dolphin runner is in a perfect situation, not having to carry the load, called upon to do what he does best – fight for tough, inside yards.  Nothing more, nothing less, which is ideal for the injury-prone Auburn product.

On defense, the Birds will fly high thanks to a vicious duo of Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins on the line.  Both get to the quarterback in a hurry, and are strong in run support.  Prized free-agent acquisition Nnamdi Asomugha headlines an impressive secondary which also features Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  The stability at cornerback will allow the Eagles to call a more aggressive game plan on D.  Lots of different looks, blitzes, and disguises will be used.  The issues at linebacker and safety should not be too much of a factor once the youth at those areas pick up experience as the season progresses.  Projected strong safety Nate Allen’s recovery from a torn patella tendon tear (December) could hinder the process, but that’s why six-year veteran Jarrad Page was signed.  Nonetheless, too much firepower for this club not to win the NFC East, especially when you consider the inconsistencies of their rivals within the division.

2. New York Giants (8-8) – From Super Bowl contenders to challenging for a .500 record.  The rise back to prominence was thought to have been accomplished via draft, however, injuries have derailed those plans.  Top picks Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska) and Marvin Austin (DT, North Carolina) both have gotten hit by the injury bug, with Austin out for the season.  To make matters worse, standout corner Terrell Thomas is gone for 2011.  Reliable targets Kevin Boss and Steve Smith departed Eli Manning during free agency, which leaves untested replacements (Travis Beckum, Victor Cruz) to fill their voids in the offense.  Eli still has the explosive Hakeem Nicks and swift Mario Manningham to sling the rock to, and the Ahmad Bradshaw-Brandon Jacobs tandem behind him.  Overall, the offense still has this “hit or miss” feeling to them.  So, can the defensive line save the season?  Not exactly.  With Osi Umenyiora (sidelined at least 3-4 weeks) out of action, it will be difficult to expect the pass rush to mask the deficiencies of Perry Fewell’s unit.  At linebacker, Jonathan Goff is nowhere near former Giant Antonio Pierce’s level.  Michael Boley leaves much to be desired, as he looks the part, but doesn’t play it as often as you’d desire.  Although, it’s hard to fall in love with the defense minus Osi and absent of quality linebackers, there’s still Justin Tuck, who’s possibly the most complete defensive end in all of football.  Teaming up with Tuck, is the sensational Jason Pierre-Paul, who is nearly unstoppable at times.  If Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka produce as consistently as Tuck does, maybe the loss/saga of Umenyiora can be forgotten.  It also helps that safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips can cover mad ground and generate turnovers.  In the end, this year’s Giants feel a lot like last year’s Giants, which means: no Playoffs.  Who knows, maybe Eli has a “Tom Brady-esque” campaign and completes only four throws to the other team.

3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) – Tony Romo is back.  And so is the offense.  With the return of Romo hope abounds for “America’s Team.”  Surrounding Tony are two potent after-the-catch wideouts (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin), a rock-solid reliable tight end (Jason Witten), and a pair of potential difference-makers at running back (DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones).  The line got rid of some weight, well, lots of it.  Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem thanks to a recharged offense led by a healthy Romo.  Though it’s a nice to see a fine-tuned scoring machine in place, in order for a true sense of revitalization in Big D to happen, execution has to transfer over to the other side of the ball.  Success can be talked about, and it will be, with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.  He talks a big game similar to his twin brother Rex in New York.  Yet, besides DeMarcus Ware, who can Ryan count on?  Maybe Jay Ratliff?  For his unit to match the productivity of the offense, it has to go beyond hype and motivation.  In the end, I don’t have enough faith to trust a resurgence on defense like I do on offense, hence, an 8-8 result in 2011.  Reasonable expectations for a team that has a defense which lacks the playmakers to compliment the offense.

4. Washington Redskins (5-11) – Rex Grossman or John Beck?  Is the football team in the Nation’s Capital aiming at running a quarterback campaign or a winning squad?  More concerned should ‘Skins coach Mike Shanahan be towards running a clear-cut program, starting, by naming his lead signal caller as soon as possible.  Trash the ballots.  No more controversies.  It hurts more than it helps.  Either way, who’s Shanny fooling with Grossman or Beck under center?  Already at a major disadvantage at the most important position in sports, there’s no reason to believe, despite how much of an impact a change of scenery for Tim Hightower or difference Santana Moss will make, fortunes immensely spin around for the Redskins in ’11.  It’s unfortunate, because the offensive line actually looks set for the first time in ages.  Even more, the defense is as steady as it gets.  Topped by a menacing Brian Orakpo, Jim Haslett’s ensemble mimics a playoff-caliber unit.  London Fletcher and new addition Barry Cofield make the run stopping efforts promising, while ball hawks DeAngelo Hall and ex-Ram Oshiomogho Atogwe keep the air control sharp.  A fully recovered LaRon Landry (Achilles’, hamstring) and quickly developed rookie Ryan Kerrigan could easily catapult the D to top-ten status.  In conclusion, is it all enough to propel the unit to such staggering heights that it overshadows a weak, lackluster QB situation?  Highly unlikely, especially when you consider it’s impossible to combine Grossman’s arm strength and Beck’s accuracy into the molding of one quarterback.  Too bad Tim Tebow’s rapid decline makes Kyle Orton unavailable in Denver.


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