The Giants stand alone atop the division ahead of the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles, all of whom lost in Week Eight. Check out all the goings-on in the division from a tide-shifting week in the NFC East:
What we learned: Despite a fairly valiant effort on defense, the Cowboys dropped a heartbreaker that was a tale of three games: one in which the Giants took a 23-0 lead, another in which the Cowboys climbed back for a 24-23 lead and a third that saw the Giants slip ahead (and stay ahead) in the final quarter. Tony Romo’s split personalities never were more divided, too. He threw three picks and was fairly miserable in allowing the Giants to take a three-score lead but put up career-best numbers in the remainder of the game. Many of those numbers were cosmetic, however, as Romo’s fourth-quarter pick — buoyed by poor protection — was a big blow as the Cowboys potentially drove for the game-winning score. Romo almost hit Dez Bryant for the game-winning score in the back of the endzone, but Bryant’s fingertips hit the out-of-bounds chalk and it was ruled no catch.
What’s in store next: It’s a difficult loss to swallow, spoiling a great day by the “D” and a record-setting performance by TE Jason Witten and his 18 catches, but the Cowboys have to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get ready for the Falcons in Atlanta next Sunday. Oh by the way, they’re unbeaten (7-0) after beating the Eagles, and the Cowboys — like every NFC East team not named the Giants — are below .500, sitting at 3-4. The Cowboys lost LB Dan Connor to an injury Sunday, and he was replacing stalwart Sean Lee, so they might have to do some more juggling when they combat Matt Ryan and Co.
What the heck? Once more, situational football and play calling were major questions. Faced with a second-and-one (and then third, then fourth-and-one) at the Giants’ 40-yard line with 1:23 left and three timeouts in their satchels, the Cowboys called for three passes. All three attempts failed. On second down, Romo went for Witten but was slightly overthrown. No argument there; Witten had been huge all game. But on third, Jason Garrett called for a deep pass to Kevin Ogletree, who hadn’t scored since the opener against the Giants. It was out of reach. On fourth down, with four wideouts and Felix Jones in the backfield, Romo was flushed and picked off on a desperation throw. Even if they did convert, ORT Doug Free was called for holding. They got the ball back after a defensive stop but couldn’t convert. It’s another example of Garrett making a few puzzling calls in crunch time. The end of the game continues to give him and his team fits.
What we learned: This team is flawed but resilient, similar to previous Giants teams that won it all. They stand at 6-2, two-plus games ahead of the rest of the division. Another key element of winning was to even their mark in the NFC East at 2-2. Driver’s seat? Maybe, maybe not, but Tom Coughlin will point out the litany of mistakes in the Giants’ 29-24 win in Dallas that nearly saw the Cowboys overcome a 23-0 hole to win. The Giants were inconsistent at best on offense and cold late on “D” (despite the furious start in picking off Tony Romo three times and recovering a fumble in the first half alone), and Coughlin has plenty of chalkboard material to review from this game.
What’s in store next: After hustling out of town to avoid Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, the Giants will scurry to get ready for the Steelers at home. The Giants have won four straight, but the Steelers have won back-to-back games for the first time since last season and have established a run game in the past two with Jonathan Dwyer, which has made their diverse passing game that much more explosive. The Giants came up with some opportunistic plays Sunday, including another banner performance by S Stevie Brown. He had six tackles, two interceptions (the first of the game, and the last, which came in the final minutes) as well as a fumble recovery. He and the Giants’ secondary, which lost Antrel Rolle late vs. the Cowboys, should be busy Sunday against those Pittsburgh wideouts.
What the heck? The Giants nearly blew it. If Dez Bryant had gotten a manicure before the game, perhaps his fingernails might not have scratched out of bounds, ruling his acrobatic catch a reception and not incomplete in the endzone. Up 23-0, the Giants got conservative defensively, sitting back in soft zones, and offensively, not attacking deep. The Giants actually were off with the passing game most of the afternoon. Victor Cruz was erased from the game, and Eli Manning was off rhythm. Cruz was also blasted on a play where Manning threw a pick and looked shook up. The Cowboys’ corners got the best of the Giants, and that’s two games in a row where the passing game was spotty at times, even with Cruz’s game-winner against the Redskins.
What we learned: A storm is coming. Yes, Hurricane Sandy is in Philadelphia’s path and caused the Eagles to shut down business operations on Monday. But more is brewing with the Eagles, who might be on the verge of another shakeup following the 30-17 loss to the Falcons. Coming off the bye, which traditionally has been a major edge for Andy Reid-coached teams, the Eagles looked lethargic defensively (despite switching coordinators last week) and bad enough offensively to where Michael Vick said after the game that Reid is considering benching him for rookie Nick Foles. It hasn’t happened yet, and truthfully, Vick (no turnovers Sunday) was hardly the problem in Week Eight. Though despondent, Reid said after the game he believes they can fix the problem. The Eagles are 3-4.
What’s in store next: What irony: The Eagles will flee from a hurricane by traveling to New Orleans next week. With three straight losses and four in five games, the Eagles badly need a cauterizing victory against a Saints team that has lost twice at home and was blown out badly by the Broncos on Sunday night. But getting healthy defensively against these Saints, even if they were slowed considerably in Denver, seems a bit unlikely. Todd Bowles’ disastrous debut as coordinator was actually worse than any performance the “D” put up under Juan Castillo this season. Against two of the better offenses in the NFL, the Eagles have allowed 26 and 30 points, respectively. And statistically, at least, the Saints are superior to both the Lions and Falcons on offense.
What the heck? There are about a dozen “what the hecks” but let’s start with that defense, the subject of much conjecture. Scheme-wise, there were some head-scratching elements. The Eagles crowded the line a lot, concerned about the Falcons’ run and short passing game. The Falcons manipulated that by throwing to the targets who were left uncovered by the single matchups elsewhere. Besides, they are not the power-run team of yore. When the Eagles pressured, they did so in confusing ways. DE Jason Babin (whose playing time was cut, incidentally) dropped in a zone pressure and found himself matched up with TE Tony Gonzalez, who was thrown the ball. He dropped it, but Babin was called for interference; clearly, that’s not a favorable matchup. The Eagles had several examples of these square-peg, round-hole calls that clearly added up to a tough debut for Bowles and his unit.
What we learned: The run game can be stopped. The Steelers scored on their first four possessions, got the Redskins out of balanced-attack mode and disrupted them in a 27-12 road loss. QB Robert Griffin III had his statistically worst game, but 10 drops really did them in. That hurt, but the defense was perhaps the bigger concern. For two years, we’ve heard that the Redskins wanted to construct a 3-4 defense in the mold of the Steelers. Well, no better comparison than to see it in action in Pittsburgh, then. Consider the job, to date anyway, as a failure. They have neither the pieces, the depth nor the approach to run this type of scheme yet, prone to breakdowns in the secondary and not nearly enough pass rush to compensate.
What’s in store next: The Redskins mustn’t panic, not with the 1-6 Panthers coming to town Sunday prior to the bye, but they also have to adjust for yet another style of offense, one that put up a slew of yards against one of the best defenses in the NFL, in Chicago. Griffin faces off against Cam Newton in what could be a battle of the 2011 and 2012 Offensive Rookies of the Year.
What the heck? DeAngelo Hall punctuated the ugly loss in Pittsburgh with an ugly, selfish act that underscores the lack of poise on this team. Hall blew up at an official in the final minutes, tossing obscenities and actually making contact with him, which could draw a suspension. After the game, Hall said his agent was proactively calling Roger Goodell to set up a meeting, but even that might not be enough to avoid a suspension. It has been a recurring theme with Hall throughout his career. And by anointing himself a team leader, the rest of the Redskins have no choice but to follow in suit. That’s now the third blowup of a Redskins player at game’s end, and no matter what issues must be solved defensively, offensively or with terrible special-teams units, Hall’s actions are inexcusable.
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