Every year the NFC East is so race is so close that making a call on the division winner before the season starts doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This season could be the closest race yet because Washington looks like they are finally ready to join the party with their new quarterback. The reality is all four teams can take the division this year and the ultimate division winner will come down to a few bounces, injuries, luck and head-to-head play. Because we can’t predict most of those things we have to rely on what we do know. When we examine each team closely we can pick out who we trust and who we don’t trust and this should lead us to our division winner.
Don’t Trust – Michael Vick – Vick has won 10 games only once in his entire playing career. He had managed this even though he has only played one season where he had a sub .500 win-loss record. It is the fact that he consistently gets hurt that has kept him from achieving 10 wins, and realistically that is the number of victories it takes to make the playoffs. Vick has already had trouble avoiding injuries this preseason. Andy Reid has refused to change his offense to a more balanced approach going on 10 years now, so don’t expect a shift in strategy even if Vick needs protection and Reid’s best player is a running back. Don’t overlook the fact that Vick was a turnover machine last year either. It could very well be that his rejuvenated 2010 season was somewhat of a fluke, if that is the case then the Eagles don’t stand a chance.
Don’t Trust – Jason Garrett – You could argue that Dallas had the best team in the division last year. Their failure to make the postseason came down only to a few late game melt downs, including one against the Giants in December. Then when the Cowboys needed a win to make it to the playoffs, it was the Giants who again defeated them. It looked as if the Cowboys barely bothered to show up. I don’t necessarily blame Garrett for these failures, it’s more of a ‘Cowboys thing’. Blowing games you have led all the way into the 4th quarter and turning certain victories into losses has become the Cowboy way as of late. They are like the San Diego of the NFC; all the talent in the world but it never comes together into a complete team.
Trust – Jason Pierre-Paul – 4.5 Sacks in his rookie season, 16.5 Sacks last season, 28.5 sacks this season. Well, maybe not, but the pattern says otherwise. But the guy is scary good; he is 23, and he is only in his 3rd year. If he continues to get better I don’t know what teams are going to do – extra insurance, perhaps?
Don’t Trust – Juan Castillo – The Eagles defense, which was loaded up with talent prior to last season, completely underperformed for most of 2011 and were a big reason Philly was unable to make the playoffs. The popular scapegoat was defensive co-ordinator Juan Castillo, who had previously held the title of offensive line coach and had no experience coaching defense at the NFL level. When the season ended it was only a matter of time until Castillo got the axe. But something funny happened. Andy Reid stood by his coach and he will return this season. The move is curious to say the least. Are we to expect that now with a season under his belt Castillo has a firm grasp of all the defensive concepts Philly will need to employ to slow down their opponents? There are co-ordinators in the league like Dick Lebeau who have been doing their thing for decades, while Philly has a guy who has failed miserably for one year, yet they’ve decided to stick by him. This reminds me…
Don’t Trust – Andy Reid – The master of the botched 2-minute situation is spreading his questionable decision-making to all areas of the organization now. Castillo returns and no one can tell how that will play out. Micheal Vick is the only viable option at QB with no decent replacement on the team (yes, Nick Foles has looked good in preseason, but does anyone really believe he can match up against Dallas or the Giants when the games count?). Only the fact that Philly wisely chooses to invest high draft picks in both of their lines consistently has kept this team strong. But Reid is still the guy that manages to gag away atleast one game a year. Philly is a popular pick this season because you can point to several individual stars they have, but I don’t think they are talented enough to give away a game or even two and still take down the division.
(With Eagles Owner Jeffery Laurie’s recent comments that Reid has to perform this season or else does that mean you could say Reid is in the 2 minute drill of his career? This might not end well.)
Don’t Trust – Demarco Murray – I trust his skills. I don’t trust his body. He was not a top pick in the draft because of injuries in college. He was only able to play a handful of NFL games before suffering a season ending injury. I have to see him play one full season first because I can trust him. The Cowboys desperately need that season from him, too. Felix Jones is barely a back-up at this point, he still has his speed but unless the blocking is great Jones might as well be 2011 Marion Barber. The Cowboys with a deadly running back like Murray are nearly impossible to defend. It could be fun, and I hope he makes it, but I just can’t trust that he can.
Trust – LeSean McCoy – No explanation needed. Outside of the quarterbacks McCoy could be the best player in the division. Now he just needs to convince Andy Reid to give him the ball more often – I don’t like his chances.
Don’t Trust – Washington Safeties – Tanard Jackson is now suspended for the season. That leaves Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams as the likely starting pair. They have name value but that is about it. Both players will be playing for their third team in three seasons and really that says it all. These players built a reputation early in their careers but that is the only thing they have going for them now. They are replacement level players that will be a poor system fit in Washington where their blitzing scheme is taxing on the safety position.
Don’t Trust – Rob Ryan – The Ryan brother with the inferior name and the far inferior resume. Here is the places his defenses have finished in terms of yards allowed in eight seasons as a coordinator: 30, 25, 18, 26, 24, 21, 13, 16. If this guy’s name wasn’t Ryan, but something more generic like Juan Castillo, do you really think he would still have such a high-profile job? Rhetorical. Don’t answer that.
Trust – Giants Wide Receivers – There always seems to be some sort of injury scare surrounding Hakeem Nicks but he always manages to play. In three seasons has never missed more than three games – not perfect, but what he does when he is in the lineup makes up for the lost time. Opposite Nicks is the Giants new sensation, Victor Cruz. Cruz was downright dominant last season and I don’t think there is any doubt he will be able to keep it up. Cruz was given the ultimate respect in the Super Bowl when Patriots coach Bill Belichick game planned to take the ball out of Cruz’s hands – because he is just that good. These two players, aged 24 and 25, playing with Manning will make the Giants one of the hardest offenses to face in the league.
Don’t Trust – Dallas Secondary – I know all about the additions. Additions don’t equal improvements though, and you can ask the Eagles about that. After Nnamdi Asomugha’s massive failure last season shouldn’t teams be more cautious when signing cornerbacks out of the QB depleted AFC West? Dallas doesn’t think so, and they grabbed the #2 cornerback on a bad team for big money (Brandon Carr – KC). Then they teamed him with a high draft pick who has had trouble getting on the field (Morris Claiborne). This is supposed to be an upgrade? It’s a good thing they have Rob Ryan coaching the defense or this could turn into a disaster.
Don’t Trust – Nnamdi Asomugha – Everyone is giving him a free pass just because the Eagles used him in a way other than his preferred coverage? So that was totally it? He didn’t slip at all at age 30? The difference wasn’t because he was now facing Eli Manning and Tony Romo instead of Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton? Asomugha dominated for many years in Oakland but part of his dominance was getting opposing quarterbacks to throw away from him creating the perception that he was shutting down top wideouts. Certainly in some respects he was. It’s not that I don’t think he’s good, because he is, I just think he’s a big overrated as a result of where he played. During his time there the Oakland pass defense was comically bad, couldn’t it have been just as likely that teams ignored throwing at Nnamdi because he was the one good player on an otherwise terrible secondary that could be picked apart with ease by any good offense? I always like Nnamdi in Oakland but I am not willing to give him a free pass just because he had to play a little zone coverage last year. I have no idea what to expect from him this season, but I know that he has to prove it on the field before he gets my trust back. (He is also 31 going on this 10th season. What if he is just a good player, not a great player like we thought, and he experiences the regular post 30 declines that greatly erode the skills of all but the best?)
Don’t Trust – Austin’s Hamstrings – Hamstring injuries tend to linger. Anyone who has had one knows. You think it’s all better and then in an instant you are right back where you started. Miles Austin dealt with hamstring injuries all of last season and it limited his playing time and effectiveness. He hasn’t been able to get better this year and has been held out of recent practices and games. Very unfortunate for Austin, but don’t be surprised if his hamstring injuries linger all season.
Trust – Eagles Defensive Ends – Trent Cole and Jason Babin are true playmakers, and even as the defense fell apart around them, last season these players continued to produce, leading the Eagles to a share of the league lead in sack with 50. If the Eagles can get more consistency from Vick and the offense and give the defense early leads to play with than these players have what it takes to secure that lead and send the Eagles to the post season.
Don’t Trust – Ahmad Bradshaw – Bradshaw is a player with lingering injuries that has seen his effectiveness decline every season of his career culminating with a 3.9 yards per carry average last season. He is no longer the player he used to be and is a big injury risk.
Trust – David Wilson – Players taken in the first round are not drafted to sit on the bench. Wilson is an explosive player who has shown the ability to run between the tackles in the preseason. He will eat into Bradshaw’s carries and there is no reason he cannot assume the starting job full-time. Wilson’s all-pro level speed give the Giants another dynamic option to their offense and force a “pick your poison” situation between their deadly wideouts or their talented rookie running back.
Don’t Trust – Jim Haslett – I really like the Washington defense. In fact I like it so much that it almost led me to pick the Redskins to take down the division last season. Overall, Haslett seems like a fine co-ordinator. There is just one thing he does that really gets to me. In crucial situations he has a strong tendency to send the house at the quarterback. To me the strategy makes little sense. It may work against poor teams, but when facing the best of the best they are prepared for this situation (especially when you defense is putting it on tape week after week) and you end up getting burned. Picture Greg Williams consistently big-blitzing Alex Smith in last year’s Saints-49’ers playoff contest. The coach probably feels the move is bold with a high upside, but in reality it is just reckless.
Trust – Tony Romo – I know this must be shocking, in the midst of a massive list of players and coaches I don’t trust, some of which are people that are very successful, I put Tony Romo in the circle of trust. This doesn’t mean I don’t think that Romo shouldn’t share the blame for all the Cowboys clutch failures over the years. What it does mean is that I recognize that Romo is the best player on the Cowboys and that without him they would never be in these crucial situations to begin with. This fact often gets overlooked when everyone is bashing on Romo, but he is extremely talented and I think the Cowboys would be lost without him. Through all the dysfunction over the last several years the Cowboys have always remained competitive, and it is because of Romo.
Don’t Trust – Robert Griffin III – It’s not so much that I don’t trust him, it’s that I can’t trust him. None of us can. Not yet, anyways. He is a rookie playing in a division against Jason Pierre-Paul, Demarcus Ware and the aforementioned Eagles’ sack machine. I fully expect Griffin to perform like a 2nd overall pick and should have many flashes of brilliance. But it is difficult for me to imagine Griffin keeping it together for all 16 games and besting all the defenses in this division. Do we know if this guy can take the punishment yet? If Vick isn’t built to take the punishment in the NFL how can we be so sure this guy is? Just too many question marks on this guy considering he hasn’t been tested, and given the division he is in, he will be tested early, and very, very often.
Trust – Tom Coughlin – It is tough to argue with results. The Giants play a tough brand of football and they don’t make it easy on anyone. Coughlin has remained dedicated to a balanced offense even as the Giants dominant run game has disappeared. This dedication has helped the Giants is the post season though where Coughlin has led his team to two title runs. After the Giants last Super Bowl his team appeared to fully realize their talent and enjoyed their best regular season yet, why can’t it happen again?
This turned out to be a giant list of people I don’t trust, and Giants I do. I swear I didn’t intend it to be that way. I guess in the end what I am trying to say though is that the Giants should be given the benefit of the doubt heading into 2012. They have the most important player in the division, a coach who proves himself year after year, a duo of unstoppable receivers, and Jason Pierre-Paul who is ready to unleash himself on the rest of the division in his 3rd NFL season. It is every other team’s job to catch up to the Giants. Washington took a step in the right direction with selecting a quarterback, but they were the team with the furthest to go to catch the Giants. The rest of the division seemed to stand pat and hope that things would turn out different this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same issue’s from last season show up all over again.
I like the Giants to take down the NFC East.
Bonus: Don’t Trust – Trent Edwards – Hey, can you believe that Captain Checkdown is on the Eagles? Hopefully he doesn’t make the 53 man roster, that would be a bad sign.