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NFC East Report, Week 8: Washington loses, Dallas loses Zeke, Giants are just losers

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NFC East Report, Week 8: Washington loses, Dallas loses Zeke, Giants are just losers

Each week, we'll take a look at how the Eagles' division rivals fared the previous weekend (spoiler alert: even the team that won, lost) and what they have upcoming. This week Dallas lost their best weapon for a month-and-a-half, Washington got stuck on repeat, and New York got embarrassed without even playing a game.

Here’s what happened this week in the NFC East:

New York Giants (1-6)

What Happened: Let’s start with the Giants, who were on their bye week, making it the most successful handful of days this franchise has had all season. Unless we’re counting the offseason, when General Manager Jerry Reese (who is 31-40 as GM over the past five years) signed 33-year old Brandon Marshall and expected that to turn them into a Super Bowl contender. Yeah, that was arguably a better set of days. This team gets more hype than the upcoming Justice League movie, which would make Odell Beckham this roster's Wonder Woman … the best part that we’re probably not going to get enough of.

Eli Manning spent his bye week declaring that in order for the Giants to play better, he’ll have to play better. That’s some John Madden level of analysis, right there. WHAM!! In other news, the sun will need to rise in order for night to become day, cars will need to start moving in order for traffic to dissipate, and I’ll need to buy more febreze if I want to continue incorporating 7-bean dip into my balanced breakfast.

Also this week, the Giants suspended Janoris Jenkins for “violating team rules,” and you get the feeling it wasn’t something like “failure to properly recycle.” The Giants' prized cornerback, who was famously a part of the Rams RG3-bounty that produced zero playoff wins, becomes the second Giants defender to defect against Ben McAdoo. Not a great look for the second year coach, and that’s the first time someone has used that phrase about McAdoo without referencing his hair.

Positive Spin: They’re only two games behind the Jets!

Seriously, the best thing that happened to the Giants this week was San Fran trading for Jimmy Garoppolo (former underling of Bill Belichick, not to be confused with George Papadopoulos, former underling of Donald Trump). This presumably takes the 49ers out of the 2018 NFL Draft QB Watch, which increases New York’s chances of finding the Eli Heir Apparent. Friendly reminder — the guy they drafted this year, Davis Webb, is currently sitting behind former Jets savior Geno Smith, which has got to feel like an IK Enemkpali fist to the face.

If the guy who will replace Jerry Reese next season is planning on taking a quarterback, then he got some good news at the trade deadline via New England.

Negative Spin: The Jenkins suspension is some seriously bad juju. DRC getting suspended was one thing; the return in the Kevin Kolb trade has quit on losing teams before, and his actions shouldn’t have been a huge shock or any sort of referendum against the coaching staff.

Jenkins' suspension feels different, and it seems to be a lot of smoke from a locker room on fire. Maybe McAdoo is fine and this falls on former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnuolo, who’s suppose to be in charge of the defense but hasn’t really had any continual success since 2007. It’s absolutely remarkable that the New York Giants, who love to stick out their chests and huff and puff about how PROUD and GLORIOUS and PROFESSIONALLY RUN the Mara House is, somehow have a more dysfunctional locker room than the Houston Texans, whose owner literally compared his players to prisoners. 

Seriously, the Giants are three losses away from their fourth losing season in five years. Calling them a well-run franchise is like Miller High Life being dubbed the Champagne of Beers. It’s an artificial slogan, not some statement about quality.

What’s Next: A game at home against the 5-2 Rams, so it looks like our playoff preparation has Iggles fans rooting for Eli this weekend. GO ELI! THROW IT TO THE WIDE RECEIVER WE’VE NEVER HEARD OF!

 

Washington (3-4)

What Happened: It was AMERICA’S GAME OF THE WEEK on FOX, which was essentially one long Samsung commercial (because apparently, drawing photos on my phone is the deal-breaker in choosing a mobile device. Cool!). For the second week in a row, Washington held the lead over a division rival and let is slip away, losing to the Cowboys 33-19.

The game turned like bad milk for Washington fans in the 2nd quarter, when a blocked field goal that would have given them a two-possession lead instead resulted in an 86-yard return and an eventual Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run. The game just seemed to slip away from the overmatched Washington crew from that point on, finally ending when Kirk Cousins couldn’t muster a final touchdown drive and instead threw an interception to Byron Jones like this was 2014 or something.

This franchise can’t do anything right. All we ask is one tiny little victory at home against their most hated rivals, and they can’t even do that. You’ve got a better chance of having a Sixers first-round pick playing a full season. Coincidentally or not, Markelle Fultz grew up in Maryland, so therefore, we’re blaming Jay Gruden for destroying his shooting form.

Oh, and Terrelle Pryor, the front office’s biggest signing this offseason, played just 16 snaps and caught as many passes as I did. And yet, I can’t get Dan Snyder to pay me $8 million. Maybe I need to switch agents. 

Positive Spin: Well … if Cousins continues to be good-not-great all year, maybe they can sign him to a reasonable contract? Like the Giants, the best thing that happened for Washington this week was the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, which (presumably) takes San Fran (coached by former Washington OC Kyle Shanahan) out of the market for overpaying Cousins. That’s one less team this front office will have to bid against.

Negative Spin: When the most positive take you can muster is about the quarterback situation for next season, you’re probably in a bad spot. And make no mistake, this team is in a bad spot; they’ve lost consecutive games to the front-runners of their division, their top free agency pick-up has disappeared, Jordan Reed is injured again, Trent Williams is playing on half a leg, and their upcoming schedule is as horrifying as being chased by a pack of hungry-looking clowns. This is a bad situation for even the more functional of franchises; expecting Washington to bounce back is like asking your puppy to guard your steak supply.

What’s Next: THINGS GET WORSE! After two humiliating defeats, the Washington Football Team has to travel to Seattle, THEN face the NFC North-leading Vikings, THEN face the NFC South-leading Saints. Oddsmakers in Vegas are expected to peg Snyder’s squad at 3-7 come Thanksgiving. You like that?

 

Dallas Cowboys (4-3)

What Happened: Yes yes yes, the Cowboys won, going on the road against a desperate divisional rival and finding a way to get a much-needed victory. They won with a strong running game, solid defense, and some special teams timely plays that turned the tables. Washington was on a short week, though, so don’t color me impressed. Also, they stink.

Dak Prescott lived up to his reputation as an Alex-Smith-like game-manager, going 14-for-22 and not turning the ball over. Just typing that sentence brought a yawn to my grill. Somewhere, Trent Dilfer is offering a slow-clap. 

The big story was Zeke, who (despite fumbling on his first play) ended the day with three touchdowns and 150 yards rushing. Of course, the bigger story was also Zeke, whose suspension was reinstated by a federal judge on Monday. An emergency appeal was denied on Tuesday, which means the Cowboys star running back will be out for the next six weeks, pending some Law & Order style twist that I can’t foresee because my understanding of the legal system is limited to what I’ve been taught by Dick Wolf. Dun-DUN!

Oh, and the most popular Halloween costume in Big D this year is a midnight green Jay Ajayi jersey, because for Cowboys fans and their 15th-ranked defense, that ish is downright terrifying. 

Positive Spin: With two games still to go against the Philadelphia Eagles (who have the best record on the planet), the Cowboys are just two-and-a-half behind the division leaders. The victory over Washington felt more like a statement come the second half, and the more experience and playing time this O-line and Dak get together, the better the results will presumably be. Sure, they’re not the team every news outlet is talking about (unless we’re discussing the social justice protests players are conducting, since Jerry Jones feels required to stick his beak into everything), but media attention in October doesn’t necessarily translate to postseason success. For proof of that, see the 2016 Cowboys. Or any other Cowboys team from the last twenty years.

Also, while he’s no Zeke, there are worse back-ups to be reliant on than Alfred Morris. The former Pro-Bowler (wait, really?) isn’t exactly Darnell Autry, and should be capable enough to catch fire on your fantasy football waiver wire.

Negative Spin: Prescott has never had to play a game without Zeke. Now, he has to go two-thirds of the remainder of the season without the guy. It’s pretty hard for anyone not named “Skip Bayless” to provide an explanation for how Prescott will somehow be better without his star running back. Just a friendly reminder that the most accomplished running back Wentz has ever played with is Ryan Mathews, who presumably got injured just from reading this sentence. 

What’s Next: A game at home against Big Andy and the Chiefs, a trip to Atlanta against a suddenly-desperate Falcons squad, and then the big one when the Wentz Wagon rolls into Jerry World. 

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles