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NFC East, Week 4: Eagles take commanding 1-game lead over losers

NFC East, Week 4: Eagles take commanding 1-game lead over losers

Each week, we'll take a look at how the Eagles' division rivals fared the previous weekend (spoiler alert: the NFC East barely exceeded Brett Brown's .229 winning percentage) and what they have upcoming. This week, Jay Gruden did a great Andy Reid impression, Dallas let Greg the Leg dominate your fantasy league, and the Giants experienced a glitch in the Matrix.

New York Giants (0-4)

What Happened: Deja vu! The New York Giants, who many predicted would win the NFC East solely because they added 33-year-old Brandon Marshall, dropped to a dismal Oh-and-Four for the year, and for the second consecutive week, it was on a game-ending field goal. This week, it was Nick Folk's 34-yarder that ended it; not as impressive as Señor Elliott's 61-yarder, but still pretty amazing. It's like comparing Star Wars: A New Hope to The Force Awakens — the first is inarguably a classic, but that doesn't make the latter any less enjoyable.

Despite coming back from a 13-0 first-quarter deficit, getting seven receptions from Odell Beckham Jr., and witnessing a Wentz-esque touchdown run by Eli Manning, the Giants fell in Tampa, 25-23. On the plus side, Eli is now the Giants' rushing leader on the year, which I'm sure is exactly what the Maras were hoping for when they pushed out two-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Coughlin to promote Ben McAdoo and his innovative offense. 

The game was announced by Ronde and Tiki Barber, which had about as much charm as a bucket of snakes. Remember that time Tiki retired suddenly, then slammed the Giants' coaches and locker room on his way out, so Michael Strahan decided to go ahead and steal his dream life? HAHAHA ... good times.

Positive Spin: So if you think back all the way to 2013, you'll remember that this same Giants squad actually started 0-6, yet they never gave up, they never quit, they kept fighting, and they ended up winning seven out of their final 10. It can happen!

Not that it would matter. The G-Men missed the playoffs in 2013 and the season was a waste.

The Giants should win some games this year (no promises), and will likely spoil someone's season down the road. For some Giants fans not ready to watch the Post-Melo/Post-Phil Knickerbockers, that should bring some joy. When you lose your first four games on the year, that's about as positive as things get.

Negative Spin: What's the future here? At least in 2013, they were just a couple years removed from a Super Bowl. Eli is old, the genius coach doesn't seem so genius, the running game hasn't been relevant since Brandon Jacobs retired, and the team's most interesting young player, while only in his fourth year, has been healthy for all 16 games only once and doesn't feel like a safe bet to have a Jerry Rice-like 20-year career. The characters on The Walking Dead have a better five-year plan than these guys. The outlook's about as bleak as Donald Trump's chances of being elected as Puerto Rico's Man of the Year.

The Giants are like a new Tim Burton movie — fans tend to get a little over-excited based off of some fantastic release from childhood. At a certain point, the busts start to outweigh the booms, and we're all gonna be left wondering if there was ever anything special there to begin with.

What's Next: A home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, who after last week, are already pretty familiar with having to play on the road. 

• • •

Dallas Cowboys (2-2)

What Happened: Despite leading 17-6 and 24-13, Dem Boys fell to Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein's seven field goals and the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 35-30. Let's call this one "The Wade Phillips Revenge Game." Jason Garrett, who once sabotaged his own offense in order to get Phillips fired and steal his job, watched Todd Gurley rack up over 200 all-purpose yards on the way to the NFC East's biggest upset of the season.

Dallas looked in control early, scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter, but the game flipped and reversed faster than Zeke's legal playing status. Garrett's squad fell behind when Gurley snuck through on a 53-yard slant pass from Jared "Still Not Carson" Goff, which was part of a 19-point L.A. run that the Cowboys couldn't overcome. 

Oh, and Jerry Jones, who gave $1 million to Donald Trump during the campaign, is getting cold-called by the guy about kneeling during the anthem. Take that however you want it.

Positive Spin: Zeke looked fine, Dak looked fine, and Dez made some highlight-reel catches for a change. The offensive playmakers are still there and being effective, even if they weren't effective enough to get the W this week. Like having a CD player in your car, this offense still works.

Besides, it's still hard to say just how good the Los Angeles Rams actually are. Goff has certainly resembled a competent quarterback these first four weeks, and Gurley's having a bounce-back season shouldn't shock anyone. It's possible this upset doesn't look quite so upsetting a few months from now. If Dak & Zeke steamroll over Green Bay next Sunday, this fart-in-the-bathtub will quickly be forgotten.

Plus, the fact that Zuerlein had seven field goals (not a typo) could be a testament to a defense that will bend but not break, but I dunno. SEVEN field goals? If your backbone had that much bend, you'd be a human right angle.

Negative Spin: THE SKY IS FALLING IN JERRY WORLD! The Cowboys are just one defeat away from tying their total from all of last season, while Dak is just one interception away from tying his total from all of last season. Oh, and did we mention Zeke hasn't had 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games!? The regression is real. How does Garrett still have a job?!

In all seriousness, the Cowboys just lost a game at home to a conference opponent they were favored to beat. That's not good. The defense clearly missed the oft-injured Sean Lee in this one, and the offense appears to be missing the under-appreciated Doug Free overall. The Cowboys, who weren't good enough to win a playoff game last season, so far appear to be a less-competent team this season. At least their fans have Lavar Ball to look forward to.

What's Next: The Green Bay Packers travel to Dallas a lot healthier than they were when they knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs seven months ago. At 3-1 and with a Canton-bound quarterback, the Packers are probably the toughest challenge Jones' squad has faced all season. In the immortal words of whats-his-face, "Get yo' popcorn ready!" 

• • •

Washington (2-2)

What Happened: Despite going up 10-0 early, the Washington football team fell to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs by a final score of 29-20, and it was a lot more dramatic than that score leads on. Wide receiver Josh Doctson, who's getting serious snaps only because Dan Snyder refused to pay Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson, 2016-Agholor'd a Kirk Cousins pass in the end zone with 50 seconds remaining that would have given DC a four-point lead. 

Andy Reid watching another head coach mismanage the clock is like Donald Trump calling someone else out for poor leadership, or me complaining that someone's sports blog is too political. But that's exactly what happened. Jay Gruden took a timeout on third down with a minute remaining, single-handedly ensuring Kansas City would get the ball back with time to make a move, no matter what the Washington offense did.

Turns out, Washington would end up tying it with a field goal. But with 47 seconds still on the clock, Alex Smith was able to put his team into field-goal range for the game-winner. Presumably, that's why Reid always burns his timeouts in the third quarter; to ensure he can't use them to self-sabotage deep in the fourth. It's like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer before you get on your motorcycle.

In the end, a broken lateral play resulted in a defensive touchdown for the Chiefs, because somebody somewhere needed to learn that gambling was bad. Josh Norman busted his ribs and could be out a while. Oh, and we learned Jason's brother Travis is a champion dancer. Here's hoping the Eagles' center finds a way to score next week, just so we can see if he can answer.

Positive Spin: This was about as "good" a loss as teams get in the NFL. Washington went up against the only undefeated team remaining and nearly stole one on the road. Cousins' stats don't blow you away, but he looked pretty darn good on that final drive (sans the Doctson drop), and he and Pryor seem to be getting on the same page. A week after crushing the Oakland Raiders on national TV, Gruden's squad was one dropped pass or one boneheaded timeout away from being 3-1. For a franchise that makes Equifax look competent, that's a pretty good streak.

Again, let's keep in mind what franchise we're talking about here. Dan Snyder's squad going 2-2, and nearly beating two top AFC teams in the process, is like BoJack Horseman being nominated for the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
 
Negative Spin: Brian Dawkins used to say "there's no such thing as a good loss." Washington is 2-2 and couldn't carry its momentum over from last week. Gruden, meanwhile, who has been coaching this team for three years now, should know better than to pull an Andy Reid with the game on the line. So while plenty of people will want to "like that" they almost got the dubya, it's important to remember that "almosts" still count as losses.

There's been a lot of talk this week about how the Eagles have been learning to win the close ones. Well on Monday night, Washington lost a close one. So for anyone out there who believes one or two plays actually confirms whether a team has learned how to be a winner vs. just got lucky on a handful of crucial plays, Washington technically lost a close game for the second time when a handful of better plays would have made the difference. I guess they just don't know how to be winners yet. Maybe they should bring in Tebow.

What's Next: A bye week?! That feels lame. And that's how this article ends? Even David Chase thinks that's a cruddy way to wrap something up.

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