Gridiron Gab Breakdown: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys:

Offense:  The organization got rid of what they thought was a locker room cancer in TO in the hope that it will allow Tony Romo to flourish.  If Romo can play well into December and January, when the games really count, the Cowboys could surprise some teams this season.  If Romo was smart, though, which I assume he is, he will just hand the ball off his three great running backs, and let them do all the work.  Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice could be the best trio in the entire NFL.  Barber is the workhorse who will get the tough yards in between the tackles, while Jones is the most dynamic of the three, having the capability of breaking off huge gains.  The receiving corps is thin, with Roy Williams being counted on to be the number one guy after disappointing last season when he came over from the Lions in a mid season deal.  In reality, tight end Jason Witten is the go-to receiver in the offense.  He really does everything well, including blocking, and is incredibly sure handed, as well as quick for a big man.  The offensive line is big and physical, but it might be time to start bringing in some young bodies as a few of the veterans are starting to wear down slowly.

Defense: The talent is there on the defensive side of the ball, they just need to avoid embarrassing performances such as the one late last season against the Eagles.  DeMarcus Ware could be the best defensive player in all of football, and it will be interesting to see if he can make a run at breaking the single season sack record after racking up 20 last year.  Their defensive line is very good, led by nose tackle Jay Ratliff, and Igor Olshansky comes over from the Chargers to start at one of the end spots.  The rest of the linebackers are very good as well, with Keith Brooking bringing leadership and experience in the middle, and third year player Anthony Spencer finally getting the starting nod opposite Ware.  Terence Newman is a shutdown corner, while second year corners Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick will benefit from having a season under their belts.  At safety they finally got rid of the incumbent Roy Williams, who was a liability in coverage and vastly overrated.  Things could get confusing for commentators as there could potentially be two Hamlins starting at safety.  Ken Hamlin is penciled in as the starter, while rookie Michael Hamlin will have to beat out veteran Gerald Sensabaugh to win the starting strong safety job.

New York Giants:

Offense: The Giants’ season imploded after the infamous Plaxico Burress incident, in which he shot himself in a nightclub.  Burress will not be back, but the team insists that it will not be a problem, and that their playoff performance was an aberration.  The expectations are enormous coming into this season, and Eli Manning will have to handle the pressure after putting pen to paper on a huge contract.  I was surprised he got so much, because personally, I find him to be overrated because of how well they run the ball.  Brandon Jacobs joined Manning in signing a new deal, and will be sharing carries with Ahmad Bradshaw this year after Derrick Ward moved on to the Buccaneers.  Jacobs is a load, and usually it takes more than one tackler to bring him down.  Bradshaw is very quick, and will be counted on third down, as well as passing situations to go along with spelling Jacobs.  There is a ton of depth at wide receiver, but not really a standout player.  The Giants are hoping that first round pick Hakeem Nicks can become a star, and he has shown flashes in the preseason.  The starters will most likely be Domenick Hixon and Steve Smith, with Nicks possibly supplanting one of them at some point in the season.  Their offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, especially in the run game.

Defense: The strength of the defense is the line, which is the deepest and best in the league.  The pass rush should be explosive this year, with Osi Umenyiora returning from injury to join Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Barry Cofield.  Not to mention that Tuck and Canty are versatile enough to play end or tackle, depending on the situation.  At linebacker, Antonio Pierce is the leader and should return to form after struggling last season due to the distraction caused by his role in the Burress incident.  The secondary is strong with corners Aaron Ross and Corey Webster, while Kenny Phillips could have a breakout year at safety.  The Giants roster is loaded and deep at almost every position, and anything less than a Super Bowl would be a disappointment to their fan base.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Offense:  The Eagles did a good job this offseason of bringing in players that create tough match ups for opposing defenses.  Draft picks Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were explosive players in college, and don’t forget Michael Vick who is starting to round into form.  Donovan McNabb returns as starter after a season in which he overcame early season woes only to finish strong and take the Eagles to the NFC Championship game.  The Eagles finally have some insurance for the oft-injured Brian Westbrook in McCoy, but it would be huge for the offense if Westbrook could stay healthy all season.  At wide receiver, Maclin isn’t ready to step into the number one role, but the Eagles have always preferred a wide receiver by committee approach.  DeSean Jackson was very impressive in his rookie year after he was scrutinized during the draft for being too small.  He is another playmaker, and has the ability to turn a short crossing route or screen into a huge play.  Jason Avant is another player that I really like, and is the most dependable receiver on the roster.  McNabb loves to go to him on third down or when he needs a positive play.  The offensive line has been rebuilt, and has the potential to be really good if former Pro Bowlers Jason Peters and Shawn Andrews can regain their form.

Defense: The Eagles lost their emotional leader in Brian Dawkins after they failed to match the money offered by the Broncos.  I believe his presence will be missed more than people think.  It also doesn’t help that Stewart Bradley, their starting middle linebacker, is out for the season with a knee injury.  This defense is still very good, especially up front along the defensive line.  Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson are two excellent starting tackles, while Trent Cole and Darren Howard can put a lot of pressure on opposing QBs coming off the edge.  The Eagles fielded a number of different player combinations at linebacker before settling on Stewart Bradley, Akeem Jordan, and Chris Gocong.  Bradley’s injury was devastating, but there is enough depth on the roster to soften the blow.  Their starting corners Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown are very good, and it is to be seen whether Quentin Demps can adequately replace Dawkins at free safety.  The other starting safety, Quentin Mikell, is an absolutely devastating hitter.

Washington Redskins:

Offense:  I’m starting to feel sorry for Jason Campbell, and I can’t even imagine having to go to battle for a coach and team who tried everything in their power to replace him in the offseason.  It really shows what kind of man Campbell is in that you didn’t hear him complain once the whole time, or demand a trade like a certain other premadonna did.  I’m rooting for Campbell, but unfortunately he plays in a tough division and on a team appears to be the worst in it.  I believe the critical element on the offensive side of the ball, besides Campbell, is the offensive line.  The line must stay healthy and gel as a unit, because the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys have some of the fiercest pass rushers in the whole league.  Clinton Portis is one of the best running backs in the league, but you could tell he was overworked by the end of the season as his production slipped a bit.  If the passing game can get going it should really help take some of the weight off Portis’ shoulders, and he will be fresher down the stretch.  Chris Cooley is one of the best pass catching tight ends in the league, while Fred Davis needs to start showing why he was a second round pick.  At receiver, Santana Moss and Antwan Randle-El will produce, but the Redskins are hoping second year players Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly can step up and show why they were high draft picks.

Defense: The Redskins picked up the cream of the free agent crop in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.  Haynesworth is such a disruptive force, and just his presence alone improves what was already a very good unit last year.  The Redskins were statistically one of the better defenses in the league despite being near the bottom in sacks.  Haynesworth will help improve that stat, as well as first round pick, Brian Orakpo, who is penciled in at linebacker, but will also play some defensive end.  Middle linebacker London Fletcher remains one of the most underrated players in the league, and weak side linebacker Rocky McIntosh is no slouch either.  Their secondary is excellent with ballhawk LaRon Landry at one safety spot, and uncovered gem, Chris Horton, manning the other.  Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall make an excellent corner tandem, while savvy veteran Fred Smoot plays the nickel role.

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One Response to “Gridiron Gab Breakdown: NFC East”

  1. Joe Leonardi says:

    I think your observation on the NFC East is right on the mark. There will sure be some battles in that division in 2009.