Battle for the NFC East: Cowboys and Eagles

The NFC East has developed into a two team race between the 3-3 Cowboys and 3-3 Eagles as the Redskins and Giants are struggling, to say the least. When they meet Sunday, both the Cowboys and Eagles will come into the game at 2-0 in the division with first place in the East on the line.

It’s my view that the only way either of these two teams will make the playoffs, will be winning the East. And that means the game Sunday matters a lot for both teams.

Eagles Offense versus Dallas Defense:
Chip Kelly brought his fast paced spread offense to the Eagles from Oregon and he has had some success so far. Dallas brought in Monte Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” 4-3 defense from USC and it has had mixed reviews so far. Dallas ranks low in pass defense while the Eagles come in with the top rushing offense in the NFL.

It appears at this point, that Vick will be out with an injury Sunday so most likely Dallas will face Foles at QB. That’s probably some good news for Dallas since Vick offers more of a run threat but make no mistake, Foles has been quite effective at passing in this offense. Last week in a win against the Bucs, Foles was 22 of 31 for 296 yards and 3 TDs which led to him being named NFC offensive player of the week.

Dallas is playing without Ware their starting DE. The Eagles hurry up offense has the potential to wear down a depleted Cowboys defensive line Sunday. The Cowboys will be relying on a lot of inexperienced players to come through for them. Hatcher played a great game against the Redskins and will need to be a leader on the field against the Eagles. How that defensive line holds up will be important.

LeSean McCoy is the KEY:
“Shady” McCoy has been an ideal fit for the spread offense of Chip Kelly’s and he can hurt you as much receiving as running. He has rushed for 5.1 yards a carry and has 241 receiving yards including an eye popping 16.1 yards per catch. The spread formations allow McCoy to get the ball in open space where he can do his thing which is make would be tacklers look silly. Tackling in the open field will be tested in a big way Sunday for the Dallas defense.

The Dallas defense has struggled this season with backs catching the ball out of the backfield. In the Broncos game, Moreno consistently caught passes all alone out of the backfield when Manning needed a first down. And in the Chargers game, Rivers enjoyed tossing the ball to Woodhead out of the backfield for a couple TDs and 54 yards receiving. McCoy is far more dangerous in the open field than either of those two RBs. Just sayin’.

LB Bruce Carter has been disappointing in pass coverage this year in the new 4-3 defense. He was even benched during the Chargers game. I think Dallas should play their rookie LB DeVonte Holloman more in passing situations as the former college safety demonstrated in preseason (2 INTs), that he is a better option in pass coverage. He also is a solid open field tackler which he consistently has shown on special team coverage this season. It’s time to see what the rookie can do covering a RB since what they have been doing, clearly hasn’t been working.

Dallas will need to make containing McCoy priority number one because if he gets going, that whole Eagles offense can get going and lead to a long day for the defense.

Dallas Offense versus Eagles Defense:
When it comes to pass defense, the Eagles are one of the very few teams worse at pass coverage than Dallas. This match up would appear to favor Romo and his capable corp of WRs. Dez Bryant is a solid target and perhaps due for a big game. The rookie Terrance Williams has been playing better each game catching his first TD pass last week in defeating the Redskins. Also Beasley led all receivers last week and is gaining Romo’s trust.

The Cowboys will be without their starting RB Murray who is out with a knee injury. Last week the rookie Joseph Randle came in and scored his first rushing TD assisted by a good push from his center Frederick, aka “the beard”.

Both Randle and Tanner will try to replace the running of Murray. However, other than the Rams game, the Dallas run game has been nothing much to speak about. With Murray out, and given the rather weak Eagle secondary, I look for Romo to pass often in this game. But I do think that could play into the hands of Chip Kelly’s shootout style of play in the end.

Dallas would probably be wise to stick with their run game and allow their defense to rest some by increasing their TOP. But I’m not at all convinced that is how it will play out. It’s much more likely they will engage in a shootout with the Eagles, and hope Romo can come out on top this time.

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WEEK 7 NFL Power Rankings: Saints Stumble for First Loss

NFLTeams
A power ranking of all 32 NFL teams after week 6 play.

The Twist: Each week my top 12 ranked teams will consist of 6 NFC teams and 6 AFC teams since 6 from each conference will qualify for the post season. I reflect the top 12 teams most likely to make the playoffs each week.

TOP 12:
After losing in the last seconds at N.E. the Saints drop from 2 to number 5.
With a Bengals win and a Ravens loss to the Packers, the Bengals (10) move just ahead of the Ravens (11).

Next WEEK Games to Keep an Eye on:
Dallas @ Philadelphia- For now Dallas is holding the 12th spot but when these two teams play Sunday, first place in the NFC East is up for grabs. Which team wins, will be in the 12th spot with an inside track to win the East and make the playoffs.
The loser will move into what I refer to as the “wildcard pool” where I don’t like their chances at all. To make the playoffs, Dallas must win their division and it’s actually quite obtainable.

Denver @ Indianopolis– One of most intriguing games is this one on Sunday night when Manning faces his old team, led by Luck. Both teams are currently ranked in the top 10 teams. Could Colts give the Broncos their first loss?

WEEK 7 Change 0= no change
1. Broncos (6-0) 0
2. Seahawks (5-1) ↑1
3. Chiefs (6-0) ↑1
4. Patriots (5-1) ↑3
5. Saints (5-1) ↓3
6. 49ers (4-2) 0
7. Packers (3-2) ↑2
8. Colts (4-2) ↓3
9. Lions (4-2) ↑1
10. Bengals (4-2) ↑1
11. Ravens (3-3) ↓3
12. Cowboys (3-3) 0
13. Bears (4-2) ↑1
14. Dolphins (3-2) ↓1
15. Titans (3-3) 0
16. Chargers (3-3) ↑7
17. Eagles (3-3) ↑3
18. Browns (3-3) ↓2
19. Rams (3-3) ↑5
20. Cardinals (3-3) ↓2
21. Texans (2-4) ↓2
22. Jets (2-4) ↓1
23. Falcons (1-4) ↓6
24. Panthers (2-3) ↑4
25. Raiders (2-4) ↓3
26. Bills (2-4) ↓1
27. Steelers (1-4) ↑2
28. Redskins (1-4) ↓1
29. Vikings (1-4) ↓3
30. Giants (0-6) 0
31. Bucs (0-5) 0
32. Jaguars (0-6) 0

Dwayne Harris a Beast Against NFC East. And Latest on the Rat.

Dwayne Harris NFC East Slayer

Dwayne Harris NFC East Slayer


Dwayne Harris has a knack for showing up in a big way in the NFC East games. Sunday night he almost single handedly defeated the Redskins as he pretty much provided the margin of victory with 222 return yards that included a punt return TD and a kickoff return that led to a Romo TD pass to Williams. Harris also covered punts well in the game and may be recognized again by the NFL for his outstanding performance.

After the win against the Giants opening day, he was recognized as Special Teams Player of the Week. I blogged then that Dallas coaches need to show Harris some respect HERE.

And last year it was his punt return TD that separated Dallas from the Eagles. Dallas could use some more returns like that when they go to Philadelphia next week with first place in the NFC East on the line. Without the heroics of Harris against the Redskins, that score would have been pretty tight at the end. The Cowboys won the game 31-16.

What’s up with Ratliff? The saga continues…
During the Sunday Night game, NBC reported that Jerry Jones sounded like Dallas was moving on from Ratliff. Monday morning Jones denies saying they decided to move on from Ratliff. STORY

Ratliff was put on the PUP list in August which means he is eligible to play after 6 weeks which would be about right now. But don’t count on it.

MY Take: While Jerry is reluctant to admit Dallas is moving on, I blogged back in August that it was nonsense to expect Ratliff to be ready to contribute in 6 weeks. BLOG “Ratliff story keeps groin”

Jerry doesn’t deny that they are moving on just that he didn’t say it. Before the Redskin game on Wednesday last week Jerry just commented,

“I don’t know, and I don’t know that he knows,” Jones said Tuesday on KRLD-FM. “I don’t know that anybody knows. He is beginning to work through on what we all hope is a secure injury area that has hopefully healed. I don’t know that. I can’t speak to that, and I don’t know that anybody does.

“We will painstakingly go slow here in trying to work him back in.”

Easy to see how one could get the impression Ratliff isn’t playing any time soon. I can’t explain why Jerry appears to hold on to hope that Ratliff is going to run on the field this year and help their depleted defensive line but I am telling you to not count on it.

The young defensive linemen playing Sunday night were refreshing to watch play. No, they weren’t perfect but they moved well and gave a very good effort each play. Eventually Jerry must realize that they have got to get younger on that defensive line and will have to move on from Ratliff, Spencer and yes, even Ware, who went out of the game and watched on the sideline.

Ware has been a great player for Dallas in the past, but his best days are behind him, and playing defensive end in the 4-3 is much more demanding on his body. He recently admitted as much.

In the past Jerry has held on to these guys too long but with the salary cap issues, he can’t afford to do that in the future.

Thoughts From The Broncos Game

Romo did what he does

Romo did what he does

If you are a Dallas Cowboys fan, the good news is the Cowboys scored 48 points against a pretty good Broncos defense. But the bad news is, it wasn’t enough after the defense allowed 51 points. I felt I was watching NFL Madden on XBox as these two teams went back and forth, scoring at will. A game that would make the arena football league teams envious.

Kiffin to Blame?
Monte Kiffin says put the blame on him for this loss. STORY
Careful Monte, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was always quick to assume responsibility when his Dallas defense allowed a lot of points. Eventually Jerry Jones believed him and that’s why he is no longer in Dallas.

I found Kiffin’s game plan flawed from the stand point that they couldn’t get to Manning upfront as Manning always had RB Moreno available to dump it to out of the backfield finishing with 5 catches for 57 yards. Moreno also rushed for 93 yards. It was that success that kept the chains moving allowing Manning opportunities to take shots down the field. Failing to account for Moreno and shutting him down, allowed Manning to use all his weapons.

In a blog back in January, I took a look at Kiffin’s struggles in allowing points and yards while coaching at the college level, at USC last year. HERE

Jerry perceives the cup half full:
The master of spin, Jerry Jones, put a positive spin on things choosing to focus on their quest to win the soft NFC East. HERE

I agree that the loss to the Broncos is not devastating to the Cowboys in their goal to make the playoffs. Losing to an AFC team, and a very good one at that, will have little impact on their NFC East battle. They still can go on to a good season and even make the playoffs.

However their game against the Redskins Sunday will play a huge role in their effort to win the East. In my view, a loss to the Redskins could be devastating.

Romo did what he does:
Many Cowboy fans will point to the record breaking day Romo had against the Broncos. The final numbers were amazing. Passing for over 500 yards and 5 TDs was an outstanding performance.

And it isn’t so much that Romo threw one interception. Afterall, Manning threw a pick to Claiborne which resulted in a Dallas score, but Manning’s mistake didn’t cost them the game.

It’s the timing of Romo’s blunders that seem to get him in trouble. Romo has developed a reputation for blowing the game when it’s all on the line, late in the game. This is an ending that has become all too familiar.

Many fans will defend Romo in this area but at some point, it has to become more about winning the close games instead of impressive passing stats. A record of 2-3 is more important than 5oo yards passing.

While it wasn’t all his fault, Romo did what he does in slinging the ball over the place for the entire game only to use bad judgement at a critical time of the game. We should come to expect this from Romo. It’s what he does. He isn’t going to change.

Shootout Fatigue:
Their formula for winning games is a simple one. The Cowboys almost never win when they throw the ball far more than run the ball. It may not be as “sexy” as throwing 5 TDs, but having an effective run game has proven to be successful for them in the past.

In this game, Romo passed 36 times with Murray only carrying the ball 12 times and half of that was in the first quarter. They passed 3 times more than they ran the ball and that is a ratio to be concerned about.

Early in the game, when Dallas clearly was engaged in a shootout with Manning and the Broncos, I just never felt comfortable about their chances of winning. It felt like Manning was going to get the last score one way or another. They were trying to beat Manning at his own game but of course like so many before, they failed.

Enough of the shootouts. These Cowboys just don’t seem to come out on the upper end of this type of game.

Week 6 NFL Team Power Rankings: Broncos Score Top Spot

NFLTeams

A power ranking of all 32 NFL teams after week 5 play.

The Twist: Each week my top 12 ranked teams will consist of 6 NFC teams and 6 AFC teams since 6 from each conference will qualify for the post season. I reflect the top 12 teams most likely to make the playoffs each week.

TOP 12:
By putting up 51 points in a thriller with Dallas, the Broncos remain unbeaten and move into the top spot. After losing to the Colts, I move the Seahawks down to number 3. If the season ended today, I like a Broncos versus Saints super bowl.

OUT: After losing at home to the Ravens, the Dolphins fall out of the top 12 teams.
IN: The Bengals move into the top 12 after an impressive win handing the Patriots their first loss.

Cowboys holding at 12: After allowing 51 points to Denver, the Cowboys cling to the 12th spot because they are still in a good position to win the soft NFC East which would mean, they are in the playoffs. A Sunday night game with the Redskins will tell us if they can stay on top of the East.

WEEK 6 0 = no change
1. Broncos (5-0) ↑1
2. Saints (5-0) ↑1
3. Seahawks (4-1) ↓2
4. Chiefs (5-0) ↑2
5. Colts (4-1) ↑2
6. 49ers (3-2) ↓1
7. Patriots (4-1) ↓3
8. Ravens (3-2) 0
9. Packers (2-2) 0
10. Lions (3-2) 0
11. Bengals (3-2) ↑8
12. Cowboys (2-3) 0
13. Dolphins (3-2) ↓2
14. Bears (3-2) ↓1
15. Titans (3-2) ↓1
16. Browns (3-2) ↑2
17. Jets (3-2) ↑4
18. Cardinals (3-2) ↑2
19. Texans (2-3) ↓4
20. Eagles (2-3) ↑3
21. Falcons (1-4) ↓4
22. Raiders (2-3) ↑8
23. Chargers (2-3) ↓7
24. Rams (2-3) ↑3
25. Bills (2-3) ↓3
26. Vikings (1-3) ↓1
27. Redskins (1-3) ↓1
28. Panthers (1-3) ↓4
29. Steelers (0-4) 0
30. Giants (0-5) ↓2
31. Bucs (0-4) 0
32. Jaguars (0-5) 0

WEEK 5: Can 5 NFL Teams Make it to 5-0?

NFLTeamsGoing into week 5 , five NFL teams (Saints, Broncos, Patriots, Chiefs, and Seahawks) are 4-0 and looking to go 5-0.

Week 5, 5 teams, 5-0. That’s a lot of number fives huh?

Reminds me of the joke where this guy dreamed of the number five for five nights in a row. Convinced it was a good sign of a lucky number, at 5 o’clock he took bus number five to the horse races and then bet five dollars on horse number five……..the horse came in 5th.

Will any of these five perfect teams be lucky enough to make it to 5-0? The last time the NFL had five teams 5-0 was 2009. Interesting that all five teams will be on the road this week which decreases their chances to win automatically. And 3 0f 5 are playing a team with a winning record. The Broncos are playing at 2-2 Dallas and the Patriots are at 2-2 Cincinnati.

Most Likely to go 5-0.
Broncos @ Cowboys– Of all 5 teams, I like the Broncos chances best to remain unbeaten. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Broncos be the only remaining undefeated team after week 5. The Cowboys have struggled in pass defense while Manning has led the Broncos to more points than any other offense in the NFL.

I look for Manning to have another big game and for the Broncos to reach 5-0.

May Go 5-0.
Patriots @ Bengals– This will not be an easy game by any means for the Patriots. The Bengals are good on the defensive line and play well at home. I’m not convinced that the Patriots will win this one but I’m convinced they are capable of winning a tough road game.

Seahawks @ Colts– A good match up of the Seahawks NFL leading defense (fewest points allowed) and the Colts offense led by QB Andrew Luck. If the Seahawks are going to lose it is most likely going to come on the road where they have a large distance to travel. I think the Colts will win this game but I think the Seahawks are certainly capable of winning a tough road game.

5-0? Don’t think so.
Chiefs @ Titans– So far this year the surprising Chiefs have enjoyed playing against the weak NFC East teams with wins over Dallas, Philly, and Giants. However the Titans are playing pretty good ball and are at home.

I think the Chiefs drop their first game.

Saints @ Bears– The Saints are pretty much unbeatable at home so if they are going to lose a game, it will come on the road. Last week the Bears lost their first game, so I look for them to be determined to not lose two in a row. And with the Bears playing at home, I think the Saints lose their first game.

Cowboys Defense to Bench Carter and Claiborne. What’s up with these guys?

The Honeymoon is over

The Honeymoon is over

Conerback Morris Claiborne and Linebacker Bruce Carter will not be starting Sunday when Dallas plays the Broncos who have the highest scoring offense in the NFL. Sims will replace Carter at LB and Scandrick will move into Claiborne’s spot at corner.

Both of these guys were high draft picks and came into this season with high expectations.
To get Claiborne, Jerry traded away a 2nd round pick to draft him number 6 in the 2012 draft. Sure could have used a guard or something with that 2nd rd. pick.

Carter was a 2nd round pick in 2011 who was coming off a serious knee injury late in his college career at UNC. Drafting Carter was a known risk since there was no guarantee he would fully recover from that ACL injury but last season he seem to have a bright future with Dallas. Dan Connor was brought in to compete with Carter but Carter was the better LB, no contest.

Recently Jerry Jones expressed disappointment in their play. HERE.

So what’s up with these two? Is it the 4-3 Tampa defense just implemented this season? Or is it related to injuries?

Carter- Must be the injury
Last week Carter was struggling against the Chargers and found himself watching from the sideline after coaches saw enough. Carter looked more than a step too slow when asked to cover RB Danny Woodhead out of the backfield on a wheel route that Rivers connected for a touchdown.

Carter is a guy who would appear to be an ideal fit for this 4-3 defense (which he played in college) because of his outstanding speed and athletic ability. I’ve watched Carter play since his career began in college at UNC and he just doesn’t seem like the same guy.

Last season Carter suffered a season ending elbow injury on Thanksgiving Day against the Redskins. It required surgery in the offseason but Carter still finished the season as the Cowboys 2nd leading tackler. How an elbow injury could impact his movement isn’t clear to me but he isn’t moving like he once did. Could it be that the ACL injured knee isn’t holding up to the demands of playing every down in the NFL?

I don’t believe the new defense has anything to do with Carter’s poor play. So I conclude it could be the same old injury which made his pre draft stock drop. This pick was a gamble and it may not be paying off now.

Claiborne- Must be the new defense
Mo Claiborne sprained his left MCL in preseason camp and played very little in the preseason games. In the opening game with the Giants, he dislocated his shoulder making a tackle. So he isn’t 100 percent and that could be a factor in his slow start this season.

Claiborne was drafted to play in Rob Ryan’s defense where he was asked to play man to man with WRs. Monte Kiffin’s defense now ask Mo to play in zone coverage. Claiborne explains,

“It’s still a transition. When we were in press, just faced up man to man, they only hit one ball on me. But overall, I think all my big plays come within the zone.”

Claiborne has struggled and been picked on by QBs as the defense has allowed two 400 plus yards passing performances for the first time. It has been ugly with Coach Garrett calling out Claiborne as not playing with confidence. And Mo admitted as much by saying,

“When you’re playing zone, you have to know where your help is, you have to know where you can push a guy to, to your help, you’ve got to know when you can man up and play it, all just man-to-man. You have to think about so much before the snap. You have to think of, ‘We’re in bail. I should be bailing. I should be off 5 yards here.’ That’s something I have to get used to.”

It appears his time to “get used to it” is coming to an end with the benching. Jerry Jones made a big commitment to Claiborne by investing a 1st and 2nd round pick in him. So far it’s not paying off.

Injuries could be playing a role in his poor performance but based on Claiborne’s talk of his struggles with the new defense, I believe he isn’t a great fit for this new defense and that’s a big problem.

Final Take: It’s too early to write Carter and Claiborne off as bust picks but drafting guys in the first two rounds that don’t pan out, will often lead to the firing of GMs in other NFL organizations. But with Jerry, Cowboy fans know that isn’t happening because he is the owner/GM. And that may be the biggest problem of all…