NFCE status report.
Anyone ready to look at the 2014 NFL with a view beyond Berea? I know I am.
Today kicks off a series of divisional analyses by some of the friends of the site. I asked some of our contributors to adopt a division and within the division to review/grade each team’s off-season and then give us a prediction on division ranking.12 The roster and (soft) schedule looks like this:
5/28 (Wednesday) NFCE – MGBode
5/29 NFCN – ClevTA
5/30 NFCS – Tom Moore
6/2 (Monday) NFCW – Jeff Rich
6/3 AFCE – Kolonich
6/4 AFCS – Acto
6/5 AFCW – Bluedog
6/6 AFCN – Zarathustra
I’m really excited to present this. I was very happy with the Kanick Reader Mock; the different perspectives gave us all a richer understanding than if I had simply done my own mock. I’m sure the same will true here.
No need for a lengthy prologue. Here’s Bode’s look at the NFC East.
The NFC East is a proud division that dominated the 1980s and 1990s when the Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys were each winning multiple Super Bowls and the Eagles were often a dangerous team and each of these teams has a rich history that extends back decades further. In this century, the Eagles have been a consistent contender and the Giants have been able to run some incredible streaks into two championships with the Cowboys and Redskins presenting some dangerous teams at times. Presently, each team is settled on the QB position, which is the hardest position to find in the NFL. However, despite the history, despite the QB position, this division is potentially the worst division in football and likely to be the worst division in the NFC.
The Cowboys have been a mediocre team for a decade and now have a terrible defense and an offense relying on an aging QB coming off back surgery. The Redskins continue to pay the price for an overbearing owner who meddles in personnel affairs. They have continued to shift towards offensive weaponry bereft of an OL or defense. The Giants have been an organizational mess since their Superbowl championship season. Their OL was surprisingly terrible last year, they lack weapons for Eli, and their defense relies on sitting back and limiting opponents instead of the attacking mentality that has defined most of their history. The Eagles are the one team that seems to be trending upwards as Chip Kelly did great in his first season blending his system into the NFL without being gimmicky. There is a risk that NFL defenses figure out what he is doing, but it didn’t seem to be focused on any one thing and he seemed to adjust during the season last year just fine.
So, while I am going to list them in reverse expected order of finish (worst to first), please realize that I expect the bottom three teams to all be closer to competing for a top 10 pick than a playoff spot.
Re-signed: DE Anthony Spencer.
Veteran additions: DT Terrell McClain, DT Henry Melton, DE Jeremy Mincey, QB Brandon Weeden, QB Caleb Hanie.
Veteran subtractions: WR Miles Austin, DE Everette Brown, OT Ryan Cook, C Phil Costa, DT Jason Hatcher, DT Corvey Irvin, LB Edgar Jones, QB Jon Kitna, SS Danny McCray, LB Ernie Sims, RB Phillip Tanner, OLB DeMarcus Ware, G Brian Waters, DE Jarius Wynn, DT Marvin Austin, DT Frank Kearse.
Draft picks: 1-Zack Martin (OT), 2-Demarcus Lawrence (OLB), 4-Anthony Hitchens (OLB), 5-Devin Street (WR), 7a-Ben Gardner (DE), 7b-Will Smith (ILB), 7c-Ahmad Dixon (S), 7d-Ken Bishop (DT), 7e-Terrance Mitchell (CB).
Bode’s analysis: The 2013 Dallas Cowboys offense over-achieved a bit, but they were a good offense. The Cowboys scored the 5th most points, but were 11th in offensive efficiency, 13th in yards per attempt passing, and 7th in yards per rush. Their offense revolved around Tony Romo and having weapons for him to utilize (Dez, Witten, Murray, Terrance Williams). Their OL is also extremely important to their offense as Romo does not like to move around much and can get extreme happy feet against teams that put good pressure on him. Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, and Travis Frederick really upped their game last year to help stabilize that OL, which made them a top10 unit despite some issues (RG being a black hole and RT Doug Free being inconsistent chief among them).
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys offense is going to depend on the health of Tony Romo’s back. They insist it is nothing major and yet are completely freaking out at the possibility of Orton not coming back to be their second QB (other options: Weeden and Hanie). They drafted Zach Martin in the first round and most thought he would push Free inside, but the team is already noting that it is Martin that will be the one to make the move to RG (and I personally think Martin was over-hyped). Outside of Martin, they are really just relying on their increasingly aging and fragile corps to continue to produce. Perhaps they can for another season, but it would seem foolish to completely rely on it.
The 2013 Dallas Cowboys defense was remarkably terrible (27th in points against, 32nd in yards against). They were terrible on 3rd downs (29th), terrible against the pass (26th in yards per attempt), and terrible against the run (30th in yards per carry).
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys defense is in trouble. Obviously, the best way to fix such a terrible defense is to jettison their best player (though overpaid), so DeMarcus Ware is now gone as well (truly due to cap ramifications of Jerry Jones horrible spending in the past). Henry Melton is a decent player, but they needed much more to have any hope of not being a horrid defense again this upcoming season. Demarcus Lawrence was a nice value add in the second round of the draft, but he is likely their only starting defensive player from the draft. So, if new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can get this defense out of the bottom quartile, then he deserves a hefty raise.
Overall, it really appears that this is finally the season that the bottom falls out on the Cowboys and Jerry Jones will be forced to do a severe housecleaning. Unfortunately, this GM duties (or Stephen’s depending on who you ask) will remain. We’ll see how well Jerry markets a 3 to 5 win team.
Re-signed: WR Santana Moss, S Brandon Meriweather, OLB Rob Jackson, S E.J. Biggers.
Veteran additions: FS Ryan Clark, DT Clifton Geathers, DT Jason Hatcher, LB Adam Hayward, LB Akeem Jordan, G Shawn Lauvao, QB Colt McCoy, C Mike McGlynn, CB Tracy Porter, WR Andre Roberts, LB Darryl Sharpton, WR DeSean Jackson.
Veteran subtractions: LB Nick Barnett, WR Dezmon Briscoe, TE Fred Davis, FS Reed Doughty, LB London Fletcher, QB Rex Grossman, LB Bryan Kehl, WR Josh Morgan, P Sav Rocca, LB Darryl Tapp, C J.D. Walton, CB Josh Wilson, C Will Montgomery, WR Josh Bellamy, LB Josh Hull.
Draft picks: 2-Trent Murphy (OLB), 3a-Morgan Moses (OT), 3b-Spencer Long (G), 4-Bashaud Breeland (CB), 5-Ryan Grant (WR), 6-Lache Seastrunk (RB), 7a-Ted Bolser (TE), 7b-Zach Hocker (K).
Bode’s analysis: The 2013 Washington Redskins offense struggled to score (23rd) and struggled to pass (24th in yards per attempt) and yet were still able to run (4th in yards per carry). Their struggles were pinned on RGIII and rightfully so. Teams took away his primary option and he tended to force the ball there anyway much to the chagrin of Shanahan (Pierre Garçon with 113 receptions was more than 2x any other target), which led to his benching late in the year. The main questions with RGIII from last year are if his knee recover sapped some of his explosive qualities that balanced out defenses and if he can learn to make continual reads as plays develop.
The 2014 Washington Redskins offense should be better regardless, but will not make a giant leap forward without the necessary steps from RGIII. He will have Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson as playmakers this season, so it is crucial that he can make the correct choice on each play (and should be easier to set it up). The Redskins OL was not good last year, but it is hard to see it being much better this year when the key additions are Shaun Lauvao and Morgan Moses. In fact, they very well may have pulled a Banner in the draft (potentially zero starters for a team that was terrible last year). And, it is not like Jay Gruden is a mastermind on offense that I feel confident putting everything together for them.
The 2013 Washington Redskins defense was non-existent. They allowed teams to score at will (31st in points against) through the air (31st in yards per attempt) but did provide some minimal resistance on the ground (12th in yards per carry).
The 2014 Washington Redskins defense should be improved even if just marginally. Clark, Jordan, Hatcher, and Geathers could all be considered improvements on their predecessors and were a needed infusion of veteran talent. However, none of these players is a difference maker on their own and their big defensive add in the draft was Trent Murphy in the second round (yes, second round. Really). So, a bunch of guys who can be nice complements in the right system and they are relying on their younger players to take the next step forward (especially Orakpo with whom they are playing games on his contract and are intimating they will not sign him long-term).
Overall, I think that RGIII will settle in closer to his rookie year than second year, but that even the additions of DeSean to the offense are not enough to offset how terrible the defense will be. They will be capable of beating many teams in a given week, but even more capable of blowing leads and giving up points to even mediocre offenses.
New York Giants
Re-signed: G Chris Snee, RB Peyton Hillis, S Stevie Brown, K Josh Brown, LB Jon Beason, QB Curtis Painter, CB Trumaine McBride, DT Mike Patterson.
Veteran additions: DE Robert Ayers, CB Zack Bowman, OT Charles Brown, TE Kellen Davis, FS Quintin Demps, QB Josh Freeman, WR Trindon Holliday, RB Rashad Jennings, G John Jerry, WR Mario Manningham, LB Jameel McClain, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, G Geoff Schwartz, CB Walter Thurmond, C J.D. Walton.
Veteran subtractions: C David Baas, C Kevin Boothe, RB Andre Brown, C Jim Cordle, G David Diehl, LB Marcus Dowtin, RB Brandon Jacobs, DT Linval Joseph, FS Ryan Mundy, WR Louis Murphy, TE Brandon Myers, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Bear Pascoe, LB Keith Rivers, DT Shaun Rogers, CB Aaron Ross, RB Da’Rel Scott, CB Terrell Thomas, DE Justin Tuck, CB Corey Webster, LB Allen Bradford.
Draft picks: 1-Odell Beckham Jr. (WR), 2-Weston Richburg (C), 3-Jay Bromley (DT), 4-Andre Williams (RB), 5a-Nat Berhe (S), 5b-Devon Kennard (OLB), 6-Bennett Jackson (CB).
Bode’s analysis: The 2013 New York Giants offense was a mess (28th in points scored and 31st in offensive efficiency). Their OL was the main culprit as Beatty was bad and Pugh was promising as a rookie RT but inconsistent. With Snee’s hip issue sidelining him, it really exposed the middle of their OL and it was obvious that they needed to fix it. Cruz and Nicks played hurt much of the year with Hakeem Nicks leaving in FA. And, David Wilson was pretty much a bust at RB who could not even stay healthy with his replacement, Andre Brown, merely mediocre (and also gone). So, with the offense falling apart around him, Bad Eli made a near full season appearance with the worst non-rookie season of his career.
The 2014 New York Giants offense should be markedly better. First, while they re-signed Snee, they are not completely banking on him recovering from extensive hip and elbow surgeries that caused him to lose 40lbs last year and included nerve damage. No, they signed Geoff Schwartz to handle RG and John Jerry is capable (not great) at manning LG if Snee is not able to continue. That leaves Beatty to rebound at LT and a bit of a scrum at OC where they hope that Richburg takes hold (they seemingly over-drafted him in the 2nd round). Their WR situation is better too with Beckham being a redundancy with Cruz, but it could work. I do wish their projected starting TE (Adrien Robinson) had a better health history and was more of a passing target, but they could not fix everything at once. Add in Manningham’s return to be Eli’s deep threat and Rashad Jennings to take some pressure off the run game (and who knows, maybe rookie Andre Williams) and they can be a middle of the pack offense in 2014 if they can quickly learn new offensive co-ordinator’s (Ben McAdoo from Packers), west coast system.
The 2013 New York Giants defense struggled to create a pass rush (25th in sacks). While they were only just below average in points allowed, it was more due to a system of sitting back and limiting opposing teams rather than enforcing their will on opponents. They were a disciplined bunch at it as they were ranked 4th in the NFL in both rushing (runs per carry) and passing (yards per attempt) defense though they struggled to not allow points as Eli gave their opponents great field position many times.
The 2014 New York Giants defense will be without Justin Tuck, who led (by far) their defense in sacks, QB pressures, and was formidable in run defense as well. DeMarcus Ware leaving Dallas got more headlines, but this is likely a bigger loss. In addition, they let Linval Joseph walk who was one of their anchors against the run. Despite adding Rodgers-Cromartie at CB and DE Robert Ayers (finally looked decent last year for Denver), it is definitively a net loss for the Giants on the defensive side of the ball. The Giants front office obviously made the decision to fix the offense even if it hurt their defense. The main worry is that they might not be able to get to opposing QBs at all this year.
Overall, I think their offense should improve enough to take advantage of the worse off teams in their division and that their defense will provide enough support to stay within the realms of competent but not actually be able to grab a wild card slot.
Re-signed: WR Jeremy Maclin, P Donnie Jones, S Nate Allen, WR Riley Cooper.
Veteran additions: LB Bryan Braman, CB Nolan Carroll, OT Andrew Gardner, FS Malcolm Jenkins, FS Chris Maragos, RB Darren Sproles, QB Mark Sanchez.
Veteran subtractions: FS Colt Anderson, WR Jason Avant, FS Patrick Chung, FS Kurt Coleman, DT Clifton Geathers, DE Phillip Hunt, QB Michael Vick, WR DeSean Jackson, CB Brandon Hughes, RB Bryce Brown.
Draft picks: 1-Marcus Smith (DE), 2-Jordan Matthews (WR), 3-Josh Huff (WR), 4-Jaylen Watkins (CB), 5a-Taylor Hart (DE), 5b-Ed Reynolds (S), 7-Beau Allen (DT).
Bode’s analysis: The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles offense had DeSean Jackson, who had 82 receptions, 1332 yards, and 9 touchdowns. He definitely helped them be the 4th highest scoring offense with the best yards per attempt on passes. Of course, LeSean McCoy was also a big piece of this offense as they led the NFL in yards per carry as well. And, Nick Foles had an amazing year with a ridiculous 27 touchdown to just two interceptions. Chip Kelly truly had his offensive humming despite an offensive line ranked in the bottom quartile by football outsiders.
The 2014 Philadelphia Eagles offense will not have DeSean Jackson. They also did very little to address their OL issues. However, they will still have LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles, and, most importantly, Chip Kelly. In addition, they are adding in Jeremy Maclin (missed last year to injury) and Jordan Matthews (among my favorite WRs from the draft). I believe they over-drafted Josh Huff, but Chip apparently wanted his ex-Duck as many coaches do value former players. The most interesting addition to the offens though is to see if Chip can get Darren Sproles to replace much of the offense they are losing from DeSean. The good news is that they get to face Dallas and Washington twice each this year to fine tune things on this side of the ball.
The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles defense was average. With their elite offense, it was all that they needed to be. However, if the Eagles want to make the jump from the best team in the NFC East to a true championship contender, then they will need their defense to be at least above average. The Eagles main struggles came via the pass where they struggled to get a consistent pass rush and their LBers struggled to cover TEs and RBs in space and their struggles at safety led them to be the 4th most victimized team in 20yd+ plays.
The 2014 Philadelphia Eagles defense is going to have to improve mostly from within. Jenkins is a nice pickup at FS and should provide a nice boost at the backend of their defense. First round draft pick Marcus Smith is really the only other significant addition to their defense. I don’t think he’s going to be a huge force as a pass rusher and that they drafted him too early, but he could complement Connor Barwin and will get to rush from the RT side, which helps.
Overall, I believe that another year of adjusting to the pace will actually help their defense and they can become a more legit contender, but they will continue to rely on their offense and they are not quite ready to represent the NFC in the Superbowl.
1. Eagles, 10-6
2. Giants, 7-9
3. Redskins, 6-10
4. Cowboys, 4-12.
(No wild card.)
- This series was inspired by an excellent piece ESPN did which reviewed all 32 teams. You read that right: good job ESPN. The piece is found here. [back]
- It was also inspired by Zara’s comment in the post where he offered his divisional predictions. The lesson as always: be careful when providing excellent takes here lest you get a homework assignment. [back]