NFC East teams need to prepare for the worst

BY foxsports • July 29, 2013

The Cowboys had one of the most baffling offseason battle cries we've heard in some time. It involved the notion that the 2012 campaign included an inordinate amount of injuries, and that it would never happen again.

But before the first week of training camp came to a close, versatile defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff had already tweaked his hamstring during the conditioning test, and defensive end Anthony Spencer is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. It seems the rally cry should've been more about creating enough depth to be able to endure an unusual amount of injuries.

The Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl while losing starters on nearly a week-to-week basis. This is why some of us rolled our eyes when Cowboys owner/naming rights specialist Jerry Jones cited excellent depth along the defensive line as a reason for not selecting Sharrif Floyd when he went into a free-fall in the first round of the draft. The Cowboys seem to only be able to operate under best-case scenarios. I'm sure it has something to do with Jones being the eternal optimist, but his mindset is currently undermining the organization.

When you hire a scouting department to pour thousands of hours into a setting a draft board, you might want to occasionally use it as a resource.

The Cowboys aren't alone in losing key players early in training camp. The Eagles lost starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to a right knee injury that will require ACL surgery. With Maclin and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles had one of the most explosive duos in the league. Now, the team will have to ask more from Jason Avant and Riley Cooper. New head coach Chip Kelley may have to shift his focus to the tight end position where the Eagles have four talented players. Maclin has already had one ACL surgery and has been plagued by other injuries throughout his time with the Eagles. That the injury occurred in the final year of his contract made it especially cruel.

Like the Cowboys, the Redskins are probably thinking they'll never suffer as many losses on defense as the team did in 2012. The difference is that Washington somehow found a way to rally after losing some of the best players on defense. Brian Orakpo is an absolute force at defensive end, but the fact that he's torn the same pectoral muscle twice makes him more susceptible to a season-ending injury than other players. The Redskins have already lost starting defensive end Adam Carriker for four to five months because of a third surgery on his right knee. The only silver lining is that it happened so early in camp that Washington will have more time to look at potential replacements.

The Giants may have to start the season without one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the league, Jason Pierre-Paul. The defensive end told reporters that he was at "75 percent" after undergoing lower back surgery in early June. Pierre-Paul admitted that he was playing through a lot of pain last season, but he refused to use it as an excuse for his relative lack of production (6.5 sacks). He and defensive end Justin Tuck have both shown a willingness to play through a lot of pain. But at this point, it seems Pierre-Paul is still a long way from returning. Starting right guard Chris Snee (hip) and cornerback Terrell Thomas (knee) also began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, although both players are expected to be activated soon.

You always hear coaches talk about how injuries create opportunities for other players to elevate their games. But in the Cowboys' current situation, it's not like they have a bevy of talented backups along the defensive line. End Ben Bass has been impressive, but he's barely at the point where he could be used as a rotational player. The Cowboys will look to fill their holes internally, but they may have to make a move once teams start cutting players.

Any team that heads into a season counting on good health is incredibly foolish. It's one of the reasons Giants general manager Jerry Reese keeps selecting pass-rushers early in the draft. His philosophy is that you can never have enough of those players.

The Cowboys decided to focus on surrounding quarterback Tony Romo with more talent early in the draft. They felt like they'd have more luck with injuries on defense. But as they sprint toward their first preseason game this weekend, that's looking like a flawed strategy.

The winner of the NFC East will likely be the team that can fill the most holes. The Redskins were able to do that last season, with the help of an explosive rookie quarterback and almost no injuries along the offensive line.

The team that does the best job preparing for the worst will likely emerge as the division winner. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, Jones only seems interested in preparing for the best.

And we know how often that happens.