Football

The Beat of the East: Week 3 NFC East Review

Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages … my name is Ray Hagan and I’m here to broaden your horizons, expand your mind and take you outside of the little Eagles bubble that we often find ourselves in here in Philadelphia. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to work with PhillyInfluencer.com for a long time now and I’m excited for this brand new column here at the site that I’ve affectionately dubbed The Beat of the East.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”  ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I know you might be asking what that quote has to do with anything and why the hell it’s in a football column. It’s pretty simple; if you want to be the best Eagles fan you can be, then you need to know what this team is up against. That starts in the NFC East, and that’s what this column is all about. I’m going to dive into the hated enemies: the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins in-depth so you don’t have to. Let’s get to it.

REWIND

The Cowboys walloped the Bears on Sunday Night Football, bringing their record to 2-1. After a season opening loss to the Giants, the Cowboys have rattled off two wins in a row and find themselves tied for second in the division. The Redskins met the Giants Sunday and left with a surprising win over the previously undefeated G-Men. The Eagles now hold a one-game lead over their two biggest rivals by virtue of their bludgeoning of the visiting Steelers as they head into the bye week.

The most intriguing aspect of the NFC East heading into this past weekend was what fireworks (sorry JPP) we might see between Odell Beckham and Josh Norman. Beckham vs. Norman taking place within the confines of the NFC East for the first time was less a “Rumble in the Jungle” or “Thrilla in Manila” and more a “Walk in the Park”. They had only one personal foul between them (on Norman) and the confrontation was fairly tame. The odd moments came when Norman randomly carried Beckham for a few steps in the end zone before dropping him and when Beckham had an altercation with a kicking net. OBJ can claim bragging rights as he was able to gain over 100 yards against Norman, but Norman can also claim bragging rights as he kept Beckham out of the end zone with the Redskins coming away with the win. Here’s to seeing what happens in the rematch!

FAST FORWARD

The 2-1 Cowboys face off in Week 4 against Chip Kelly’s reeling San Francisco 49ers. Yes, we’re only four weeks into the regular season, but we’re already forced to cheer for the hated Chipper. A surprise win by Kelly’s squad would push the Cowboys to 2-2 and put the Eagles in a sensational position coming out of the bye week. So here’s to hoping the 49ers find holes in the Dallas defense and do Kelly’s former team a favor.

Speaking of those departed former key team members to root for in Week 4, Sam Bradford and his 3-0 Minnesota Vikings take on the Giants in a huge Sunday Night Football matchup. After a sensational debut for the Vikes in Week 2, Bradford struggled in the first half against the Carolina Panthers this past weekend before helping his new team get a big road win against the defending NFC champions. The Redskins get a reprieve against the ever-struggling Cleveland Browns. The Browns were already kind enough to give us Carson Wentz, so it’s hard to ask them for a win over the Redskins. But damn if that wouldn’t be pretty swell of them.

PRESS COVERAGE

With this section, I’m going to pick up some quotes from some of the post-game pressers from the coaches and deliver some thoughts. It’s really interesting getting some insight into the minds of the opposing head coaches.

Jason Garrett:

“We always talk about starting fast, start fast in the first half, start fast in the second half, set the tone for the game.”

I often treat Garrett like an idiot, or a puppet of Jerry Jones, but this is always going to be the crux of an NFL game. Just look at what the Eagles did yesterday. They got up early, and it seemed like as the game wore on Pittsburgh lost its heart. That’s so important. Garrett seems to have a good grip on that.

Jason Garrett on Dak Prescott:

“It’s challenging to be a great decision maker and take care of the ball at the quarterback position for any quarterback every week in the NFL. He’s just done a really good job understanding what we want to do against the defenses he sees and he throws the ball to the right guy.”

Garrett’s description of Prescott could easily be applied to our own Carson Wentz, and likely at a higher level. It’s pretty incredible what both quarterbacks have been able to do. Both guys seem prepared, talented, and play within themselves and the game plan. It’s great that we have Wentz, but it’s bothersome to me that the Cowboys have landed someone who might be a gem in Prescott.

Jay Gruden on Kirk Cousins’ failure at the end of the first half:

“It’s not the way we drew it up, that’s for sure.”

I think it’s pretty safe to say that a fumble and letting the clock run out rather than getting a shot to the end zone and a field goal was probably not the way it was drawn up. I wanted more from Gruden here. I think that he did a nice job of not totally throwing Cousins under the bus, but definitely caught his attention with those comments. Gruden has got to own the decision and the failure to walk away with any points closing the half from that position on the field. This was a bit of a cop out, and I wish the reporter would have pressed him more.

Ben McAdoo on just about everything:

“I want to see it on film…”

McAdoo seemed reluctant in the early part of the presser to really commit to any answers. I found his evasiveness off-putting. I’m a big fan of him as a coordinator, and I was hoping he’d win the Eagles’ job but in the end I’d like to see him be a bit more direct in his answers.

Ben McAdoo on the Giants’ loss:

“It’s one game, it’s one of sixteen, we gotta watch the film, we gotta learn from it, we gotta move on.”

For me, this was the best answer of his brief presser. It’s somewhat cookie-cutter but at the end of the day it’s entirely accurate. One of sixteen is pretty meaningful when the margin of error is so small in an NFL season. One of sixteen can be the difference between making the playoffs and watching the playoffs. That said, McAdoo said what he had to say. He can’t put too much stock in one loss with a 2-1 football team. But as you’ll see in the next section there’s plenty for the Giants to be worried about.

LONG BOMB

If you haven’t been paying full attention, you likely know that the Eagles are good; but you probably don’t realize how good they are. After three weeks of football, our beloved Eagles currently score the most points in the NFL per game (30.7), while allowing the fewest (9.0). That’s an ideal combination for success. It’s hard to lose that way. But which team in the division best stacks up against the Birds? It’s a question I wanted to explore. There’s only so much data to go by after three weeks and records don’t tell the whole story regarding contenders and pretenders. Let’s take a look at what the members of the NFC East are doing on both sides of the ball:

 

Team Points Allowed Per Game NFL Rank
Dallas Cowboys 20.0 10th
New York Giants 20.3 11th
Washington Redskins 30.7 30th

 

At this point in terms of points allowed the Cowboys are ever so slightly better than the Giants. Washington is a distant third, ranking as the third worst team in the league in terms of points allowed.

 

Team Points Scored Per Game NFL Rank
Dallas Cowboys 25.7 10th
Washington Redskins 21.7 18th
New York Giants 21.0 22nd

 

It’s a bit of a surprise that Dallas, with rookie starters at quarterback and running back, would be the second highest scoring team in the division, yet here they are. They’re head and shoulders above the remaining teams in the NFC East. By the same token, I can’t deny that it’s a surprise the Eagles have achieved what they have despite a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach. The Cowboys seem to me to be the top threat in the division after three games despite their loss to the Giants. The Cowboys have a positive turnover differential (+2), allow the fewest points, and score the most aside from the Eagles and look like they could be for real deep into this season. They’re in the top 10 in both scoring categories. They’re exceptionally talented on offense and they are well-coached on defense despite some personnel deficiencies. I know that they opened the season suffering a loss to the Giants, but I don’t believe that New York is a better football team than Dallas right now. Both the Cowboys and Eagles are riding the hot hand of rookie quarterbacks exceeding expectations. It’s going to be the Eagles’ division to lose at this point, but Dallas should provide the toughest competition.

What’s interesting is the Giants are being viewed as legitimate contenders in this division, but their 2-1 record doesn’t tell the whole story. This team has won and lost nail-biters in every single game this year. Their point differential for the season is +2. They are squeaking by and being squeaked by. Now it’s hard to really label them a non-contender after only three weeks, but looking at the way they’ve played shouldn’t put fear into anyone. Let’s dive a little bit deeper.

The Giants have somehow cobbled together a winning record despite having a MINUS SIX turnover rate. They are giving the ball away twice more per game than they’re taking it away. The Cowboys were the worst in that category in 2015, giving it away with a minus 22 turnover rate for the season.

Their record in 2015 was 4-12.

But what about 2014, you ask? Oakland was the worst team in the league in turnovers that year at -15. Their record? 3-13. Look at the full chart below for the turnover difference and team record of the top turnover team in the league each year this decade.

 

Year Team Differential Record
2015 Dallas Cowboys -22 4-12
2014 Oakland Raiders -15 3-13
2013 Houston Texans -20 2-14
2012 Philadelphia Eagles -24 4-12
2011 Tampa Bay Bucs -16 4-12
2010 Buffalo Bills -17 4-12

 

So what the Giants have done over three games with that turnover rate is stunning. If they continue to give the ball away at this clip, they cannot have sustained success. It’s impossible. To lose the turnover battle in a given game is one thing, but to lose it every game and over the course of the season is living on a razor’s edge. Taking care of the football is too important in the NFL and, to me, that makes the Giants pretenders right now. All of those teams had a much lower rate than the Giants are currently surviving. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know as a football fan – a team can’t survive turnovers long-term. The Giants are living on borrowed time.

I’m not sold on the Redskins’ coach or their quarterback and their defense has allowed too many points in the early going to take them seriously right now. Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden saved themselves from another week of intense scrutiny with a huge division win. They can further help themselves by taking care of the hapless Browns this Sunday. Still, I just can’t view this team as a contender unless Cousins returns to the form he displayed at the end of last year.

Actually, let’s dig into that a bit more, shall we? Below you’ll find the games outside of the 10 last year where Cousins was on fire. I’ve  labeled those “Bad Kirk.” I’ve included his number of games, attempts, completions, completion percentage as well as his per game totals for yards, touchdowns and turnovers. Then I’ve included the numbers for that 10-game stretch labeled “Good Kirk”.

 

G Comp Att PCT YPG TDPG TOPG
Bad Kirk 23 470 759 61.92% 236.48 1.17 1.48
Good Kirk 10 228 315 72.38% 274.60 2.30 0.60

 

Thank goodness we’ve never experienced anything like that in this town. It’d be terrible to have a mid-round pick who was a possible “quarterback of the future” supplant a quarterback with tantalizing athletic ability then have an amazing but all too brief stretch that made you think they were something they are not. Oh wait…

 

G Comp Att PCT YPG TDPG TOPG
Bad Nick 26 537 913 58.82% 227.46 1.00 1.27
Good Nick 10 203 315 64.04% 222.38 2.08 0.31

 

Uh oh…

Congratulations, Washington. You might just have Nick Foles on your hands! Now that’s probably not fair, because I do believe Cousins is better than Foles. Even looking at the above stats, while both saw a large spike during their “good” period; Cousins numbers in each set of circumstances are better than Foles’. I don’t believe he’s as good as his 10 games last year showed, and due to that I think Washington is in for a rude awakening as this season plays out.

BEAST OF THE BEAT

I’m going to close this week’s column with some recognition for a non-Eagles player who shined in the division this week. This week’s winner is the outstanding rookie runner from Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott gashed the Bears early and often en route to the third-highest single game total of any rusher in this young season. Only DeAngelo Williams’ 143 yards in Week 1 and Devonta Freeman’s 152 on Monday night are higher totals than Elliott’s 140 here in Week 3. Congrats ‘Zeke on being the inaugural Beast of the Beat.

 

We’ll be back later in the week with a preview of this week’s NFC East matchups. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out all of the great content here at PhillyInfluencer.com.

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