Week by week, the NFC East further cements its identity.
In Week 1, The Washington Football Team somehow led the division. In Week 2, the Dallas Cowboys made headlines because of their historic comeback but it is important to remember just how close they were to losing to the Atlanta Falcons and dropping to 0-2. Following Week 3, the most successful game around the division was the Philadelphia Eagles’ tie with the Cincinnati Bengals. Consider the other options. The New York Giants’ pathetic loss to the San Francisco 49ers’ second and third string team?
The division is consistent, but not for the right reasons. The NFC East continues to worsen over time and shows no signs of improving. Here are the standings heading into Week 4:
1) Washington Football Team: 1-2
2) Dallas Cowboys: 1-2
3) Philadelphia Eagles: 0-2-1
4) New York Giants: 0-3
The NFC East teams have a combined score differential of -97 (all teams negative)— George Chahrouri (@PFF_George) September 28, 2020
The NFC West teams are all positive and combined are +100
Let’s remember that last season the Eagles, who were 5-7 before stringing together four straight division wins to end the seasons, won the NFC East title.
This season, the Washington Football Team still ranks first in the division because of their division record tiebreaker from defeating the Eagles in Week 1. No matter that Washington has since lost to the Arizona Cardinals by 15 points and the Cleveland Browns by another 14.
Washington faces the Baltimore Ravens this week and will in all likelihood drop to 1-3. Dallas might be able to string together its first real win together against the Cleveland Browns, who have not played anyone notable yet and the Eagles have the 49ers. After the way San Francisco handled the Giants last week and considering how poorly Carson Wentz has played, I’m not counting on the Eagles.
For right now, it appears the only fact fans of NFC East teams can count on is more losing and the only thing the division has going for it is that it has not turned in any positive coronavirus tests.
Now let’s dive into news around the division this week.
Our colleagues at Bleeding Green Nation proposed some theories about why the Eagles, specifically their offense, have been so unproductive thus far in 2020.
After three weeks of play, the defending NFC East champs are 24th in yards per game (336.3), 25th in passing yards (218.7), 17th in rushing yards (117.7), and have scored the sixth-fewest points per game (19.7).
Wentz’s passer rating of 63.9 is the worst in the NFL behind the likes of Sam Darnold (70.7), Dwayne Haskins Jr. (75.7) and Daniel Jones (69.2).
So what appears to be the problem for this offense that didn’t have the strongest 2019 campaign, but did manage to string together a strong end to the season that many believed they could carry into 2020?
One compelling theory is that this offense lacks an identity because there are too many people calling the shots. Head coach Doug Pederson is still calling the plays, but the team brought in a new offensive coordinator last season and has since hired a range of new people to help kickstart the offense.
Rich Scangarello has taken up the new position of Senior Offensive Assistant after serving as Denver’s offensive coordinator for just one season. Press Taylor was promoted to the position of Passing Game coordinator and Matt Burke was hired to be the team’s Run Game Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach. Andrew Breiner is the team’s new Pass Game Analyst after serving as the passing game coordinator/QB coach at Mississippi State and Marty Mornhinweg is an Offensive Consultant.
If that seems like a lot of names to remember, it’s because it is. Pederson said to the media this week that they plan to “declutter” the gameplan moving forward. This begs the questions: are there too many voices involved in the structuring of the Eagles offense? Do players know who to consult in practice or a game with questions when something goes wrong?
Injuries to key players like Jalen Reagor, Alshon Jeffrey and Dallas Goedert could also be to blame for the poor production. Or maybe, simply Wentz is at fault. Or, it’s a combination of many factors. Either way, this offense needs to try to identify the problem so that it can have a chance at a successful 2020 season.
It was no secret heading into the 2020 season that the Cowboys had a strong offensive front, buoyed by CeeDee Lamb and 1,000-plus yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Add those three to the combination of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott and they are a formidable group.
Despite only being 1-2 on the season, the offense has largely lived up to the high expectations that were set for it over the offseason. The defense however, particularly the secondary, has emerged as a glaring weakness as the Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett finished Sunday’s game with 100 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions.
Jerry Jones seems to think this lapse in the secondary is more a result of adapting to a new defensive scheme than a lack of talent as the Cowboys are adjusting to a first-year defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan.
“Let’s say that you interpreted some of the receivers running wide open as mental,” Jones said. “Let’s say that we did that, not necessarily physical, but the design of the defense just didn’t let the player physically get there in time to make a play. Let’s say it’s more mental. Then what you’re hearing is you can assume you can correct those mental mistakes.”
The Cowboys are currently ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in total passing yards with 831 and fall at fourth-worst in passing yards allowed per game with 277. Last week, the group of Trevon Diggs, Jourdan Lewis and Daryl Worley occupied the cornerback spots while Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson were the safeties.
But the secondary appeared confused at times and blew many assignments on the field. The offense was able to score 31 points but it wasn’t enough to top the Seahawks’ 38. It appears unlikely that they will be able to add free agent help, so the Cowboys need to figure out how to turn this weakness into a strength heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
Washington Football Team
Perhaps everyone around the league held a collective breath when former No. 2 overall pick Chase Young left Sunday’s game against the Browns early. While that injury already looked bad for Washington, things have only gotten worse for the Burgundy and Gold.
On Friday, the team announced that Young has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Ravens with a groin injury. Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, one of the team’s top receivers, Terry McLaurin did not practice Friday after injuring his thigh in practice Thursday. He has been listed as questionable for Sunday.
Young did not practice at all this past week, instead riding an exercise bike and working with trainers on the side. Head coach Ron Rivera said that they will re-evaluate Young next week.
Washington’s pass rush has been the strongest part of its team in the starting weeks of the 2020 season as they are second in the league in sacks with 13. Young’s absence will provide insight into the depth of the defensive line as a whole. But his athleticism will be missed against a speedy Lamar Jackson. Ryan Kerrigan will take Young’s place Sunday opposite Montez Sweat, who had a very strong Week 3 performance against the Browns.
As far as the receiving corps, Washington is already down a receiver because Steven Sims was ruled out due to a toe injury. McLaurin is currently ranked seventh in the league with 269 yards receiving on 16 catches and eighth in average yards after the catch. He will also be missed by Haskins if he is unable to play Sunday.