Only two NFC East teams played on Sunday, but both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys went head-to-head in a game that had huge ramifications on the division crown. Due to the overall mediocrity of the NFC East this season, anyone can win the division, and it’s easily one of the most hotly contested division races in the NFL. There is no realistic shot of a Wild Card for the second-place finisher, so it’s all-or-nothing. And in this winner-take-all race for the top spot, the Dallas Cowboys have pulled ahead as the favorites over the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants after defeating the Giants head-to-head yesterday 24-21.
The game didn’t disappoint at all, as it was rightfully billed as one of the most important games of the week. With the narrow win, the Cowboys are now 6-5 and look like the best team in the division despite major concerns on defense (well, every team in the NFC East has major concerns on defense). They’ll get better once ILBs Sean Lee and Justin Durant come back. Below are more thoughts on this game and the rest of the NFC East in this week’s feature.
1. Tony Romo constantly gets build as being “not clutch”, and I hope this season has caused that narrative to go dry. I mean, it’s one of the dumbest and most baseless tags I’ve seen, and it’s frustrating to watch it continue to stick on a quarterback who has consistently been a top ten QB. If you want to blame anyone, then blame the Cowboys defense, which allowed 4.9 yards per carry and 7.0 net yards per attempt coming into this week’s game. Those are horrendous numbers, and it’s a true testament to Romo’s 98+ QB Rating and (surprise, surprise) relatively low interception total that the Cowboys are even above .500.
Romo is simply a great quarterback, and he was solid yesterday. The clutcher-than-you-think QB (seriously, there are boundless statistics available that affirm that Romo’s narrative is false) lead the Cowboys to a game-winning field goal that Dan Bailey knocked down as time expired. It was a clutch drive by Romo that was crucial to the Cowboys season, because they would have went into overtime with the Giants. And overtime is pretty much anybody’s game and is not a preferred method of winning when facing a division rival with a lot on the line. Romo received a horrible game from Miles Austin and only Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray produced in the passing game. He had help, but Romo basically did much of the work. He didn’t have a great game, but he was solid and came through in the end.
2. Tonight’s game against the San Francisco 49ers is a chance for the Washington Redskins to have a massive upset victory in front of a national audience, and it would also do wonders for this team mentally. A win over the Niners could help salvage the Redskins season from a mental perspective, and it could also greatly boost the confidence of Robert Griffin III and others in the organization. To me, no player is more important to this offense than Pierre Garcon. The Redskins and RG3 already rely on Garcon as much as any other team relies on their top wide receiver, but Garcon’s importance to this team will be even more pronounced tonight. I mean, ace, rookie TE Jordan Reed has been ruled out, and Garcon’s ability to stretch the field deep will be crucial against a tough 49ers secondary. Rookie FS Eric Reid has been a massive upgrade over Dashon Goldson in deep coverage, but at least Garcon won’t have to face Tarell Brown (still, Tramaine Brock and the other 49ers CBs are very good in their own rights). If the Redskins are to complete the upset, then they will need a big game out of their top wideout.
3. The Giants had an easy time running the ball on the Dallas Cowboys, and that doesn’t come as a surprise at all. I mean, the Cowboys run defense is one of the worst units in the league, and it’s even worse now that Lee and Durant are out. Seriously, the Cowboys run defense was an absolutely embarrassment, and it wasn’t just Andre Brown who was running it all over the Cowboys defense. Aging RB Brandon Jacobs had a whopping 75 yards on nine carries, which is an average of 8.3 yards per carry.
But the story of the night for the Giants was Brown, who has locked himself up as a true feature back in this league with a string of excellent performances ever since being activated from the short-term I.R. The Giants winning streak may be over at four games and their playoff hopes curtailed, but Brown has been a huge bright spot. He had 127 rushing yards yesterday, and it’s fair to criticize oft-criticized OC Kevin Gilbride, who is one of the league’s worst, for not running the ball as much. I mean, the Giants were running the ball down an under-manned Cowboys defense almost at will. So why did Gilbride ask Eli Manning to throw the ball 30 times instead of run 30 times? It’s not a major complaint, but Eli did complete just 16 of his passes and average 5.8 yards per attempt.
So when you boil it down, the Giants actually averaged 1.6 more yards per play on the ground than they did through the air, since Manning was also sacked twice for a loss of 20. Losing Hakeem Nicks hurt, but the fact that Manning couldn’t even average six yards per throw against a Cowboys pass defense that, oh by the way, lost disappointing CB Morris Claiborne to an injury (yeah, he got injured on his return to the lineup from a multi-week injury) is of concern. On the bright side, he didn’t throw a pick. I mean, that has to count for at least something at this point, right?
4. Michael Vick‘s comments earlier this week on why the Philadelphia Eagles would be crazy to bench Nick Foles are 100% true and were also extremely kind comments from the Eagles veteran QB. Even though everything he said was true, his conviction and honesty were refreshing and deserving of praise. I mean, Vick has obviously been through a lot of bad moments in his career, but it’s times like these that make me feel more steadfast in my belief that Vick has changed as a person. Even if people have done horrible things in their lives, they deserve redemption, second chances, and forgiveness. And honestly, our society could use a lot more forgiveness. Vick didn’t have to say what he did about Foles, who has essentially caused him to lose his job. I mean, if Foles keeps playing well, then the Eagles will likely just toss their veteran, injury-prone QB to the curb, regardless of his fit in Chip Kelly’s scheme. If that happens, I hope Vick finds another job and success in the future, because, well, there’s no point in ill-wishing anyone either.
5. DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, and Jason Hatcher all get shout-outs in this fifth and final “blurb” (I believe these five points are longer than your average blurb) for excellent performances in Sunday’s big win over the Giants. These guys stepped up in a crucial game, as Bryant did an amazing job moving the chains with nine receptions for 102 yards. Bryant is one of the game’s finest possession receivers, and Romo looked in his direction as often as possible. Jason Hatcher continues to be an underrated commodity at DT outside of the state of Texas, and he’s becoming a top-flight interior pass rusher. He added two sacks to his resume on Sunday.
As for DeMarco Murray, he caught three passes for 40 yards and gave the Cowboys some much-needed balance on offense with a hefty 86 rushing yards on 14 carries. Murray is one of the better backs in the league, and he does a great job of moving the football and giving the Cowboys balance on offense. He’s also quietly turned into one of the better pass-catching backs in this league, and 40 yards through the air is nothing to sneeze at. Murray has 229 receiving yards this season and has statistically been one of the best running backs in the NFL this season with an average of a little over 95 yards of total offense per game.
Topics: Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs, Dallas Cowboys, Dan Bailey, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Eli Manning, Jason Hatcher, Jordan Reed, Michael Vick, Morris Claiborne, New York Giants, Nick Foles, Notes And Analysis, Philadelphia Eagles, Pierre Garcon, Robert Griffin Iii, Sean Lee, Tony Romo, Washington Redskins