NFC East Notebook: Every team’s outlook at the three-quarter mark
After Week 13 last season, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys were separated by a game atop the NFC East, at 9-3 and 8-4, respectively — the New York Giants and Washington Redskins were removed from the division picture several weeks before this. In 2015, the Eagles and Cowboys are once again in first and second place, respectively, separated by just a game, but this time they are joined by the Giants and Redskins.
The Eagles, Giants and Redskins stand in a three-way tie for first place at 5-7 with the Cowboys just behind them at 4-8. We’ll take a look at what’s ahead for each team over the final quarter of the 2015 regular season.
Murray needs to adopt the team-first approach
After allowing 90 points in the past two games, the Eagles got contributions from all three individual teams in their Week 13 upset win over the New England Patriots. The special teams scored twice, the defense scored once and delivered constant pressure and the offense finally managed to remain mistake free.
Speculation that the team had stopped playing for head coach Chip Kelly turned out to be premature. However, not every player has remained fully committed to Kelly. Running back DeMarco Murray decided it was best to meet with Philadelphia’s owners to discuss his frustrations with his role in the offense. Murray saw a season low 14 offensive snaps in Week 13. Kenjon Barner also saw 14 snaps, and despite seeing just one more carry than Murray, he ran for 19 more yards.
Kelly pointed to the matchup as one reason why Murray’s snap count was low, but he also mentioned that both Sproles and Barner have earned more work. With Ryan Mathews back at practice Tuesday for the first time in several weeks, the backfield is about to get more crowded. Murray needs to accept whatever his new role might be going forward — it’s what’s best for the team.
UP NEXT: vs. Bills (L), vs. Cardinals (L), vs. Redskins (W), at Giants (W)
FINAL PREDICTION: 7-9, first place in the NFC East
It’s time to lean on DeSean Jackson
For over 58 minutes in the team’s Week 13 loss to the Cowboys, the Redskins had produced three field goals and zero touchdowns. After a late Cowboys touchdown with under two minutes to go, it took the Redskins just 30 seconds to score a game-tying touchdown. They did it with a 28-yard touchdown on a go route to DeSean Jackson.
Jackson is the team’s biggest threat as a wide receiver. In 2014, he led the team in yards (1,169) and the NFL in yards per catch (20.9). After an injury slowed his start to this season, Jackson has racked up 243 yards on just 13 receptions and scored a touchdown in three straight games. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson has only seen 17 targets in this same span.
In Week 13, after a deep shot early in the first quarter, the Redskins did not target Jackson on a pass of 20 yards or more until the touchdown. Jackson is not a one-trick pony either. In 2013, with the Eagles, he compiled 82 receptions for 1,332 yards on crossing routes, comebacks and several other routes in addition to the go route.
With Washington’s defense hitting its stride under first year defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the Redskins need to find an offensive weapon they can lean on over the next four games — Jackson is their guy.
UP NEXT: at Bears (L), vs. Bills (W), at Eagles (L), at Cowboys (L)
FINAL PREDICTION: 6-10, second place in the NFC East
Someone needs to step up other than Odell Beckham Jr.
In the past two weeks, Beckham has 291 yards receiving and two touchdowns on 15 receptions. He has been targeted a whopping 27 times during that span, per Pro Football Focus. Outside of Beckham, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has totaled just 327 yards passing with one touchdown and four interceptions thrown over the past two games.
In the final year of his rookie contract, Rueben Randle has regressed. Presented with a golden opportunity to emerge as Manning’s No. 2 option, Randle has totaled just 533 yards receiving and four touchdowns on 42 receptions this season. Manning has thrown two interceptions while targeting Randle in the past two games, and after the team’s Week 13 loss, Manning made note of Randle’s decision to cut off his route on the play that led to an interception. If Randle can’t turn it on soon, he will continue to lose snaps to Hakeem Nicks over the final four games.
Injuries along the offensive line have also played a role in the recent offensive failures. In Week 12, the Giants were without starters at both guard positions and at center. In Week 13, the Giants played without their starting left and right tackles. The Giants have since returned starters Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, but Ereck Flowers is on crutches after spraining his ankle and Marshall Newhouse could end up missing another game in Week 14. If they are both ruled out, the Giants will be forced to once again shuffle their remaining healthy linemen to different positions.
UP NEXT: at Dolphins (W), vs. Panthers (L), at Vikings (L), vs. Eagles (L)
FINAL PREDICTION: 6-10, third place in the NFC East
Don’t count the Cowboys out
At 4-8, the Cowboys are back in the NFC East race after a road win against the Redskins. The Cowboys need to flip the turnover narrative upside down if they want to make a run for the division. With 14 more turnovers committed than turnovers forced, the Cowboys own the NFL’s worst turnover ratio.
One way to start forcing more turnovers is by getting after the quarterback, and the Cowboys generated a lot more pressure in Week 13 by deciding to send extra blitzers. The defense finished with four quarterback hits in addition to four sacks, per Pro Football Focus. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence finished with 2 sacks, safety Barry Church added another and linebacker Sean Lee tallied the last one. The next step is for the Cowboys to turn some of these sacks into forced fumbles and recoveries.
The Cowboys don’t need to win out to take the division, and there’s even a scenario where they can go 2-2 and still win the NFC East:
We fact-checked this scenario with the NFL Playoff Machine, and it checked out.
Here's how the NFC East finishes in four-way 6-10 tie, with Cowboys winning division (its scarily realistic) pic.twitter.com/eJTpmDy9Cw
— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) December 8, 2015
UP NEXT: at Packers (L), vs. Jets (L), at Bills (L), vs. Redskins (W)
FINAL PREDICTION: 5-11, fourth place in the NFC East