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NFC East: First Impressions From The East’s Week 1 Thrillers
At the very least, you’ve got to admit that the NFC East was one of the league’s most entertaining divisions on the opening weekend of the season.
It was the only of the NFL’s eight divisions to play two interdivision games in Week 1 – both of those games coming in primetime on national television. They might not have been all-time classics, but each game delivered the goods with big plays that built big leads, followed by furious comeback bids that fell just short.
This story is going to change up a bit as the season settles into more of a routine, but with two division rivalry matchups to start the year, I want to take a look at a few things that jumped out to me as we got our first look at this season’s NFC East.
Starting with the obvious one…
Turnovers: I get that it’s Week 1 – teams are still ironing out the kinks. But somebody tell these guys that the object of the game is to hold on to the ball. Largely thanks to New York’s six-turnover fiasco here in Dallas, the NFC East finished with a whopping 12 turnovers for an average of six per game. It was sloppy all across the NFL, with 47 combined turnovers in the other 14 games. But that’s still only an average of three per game.
The good news for Cowboys fans is, Dallas by far looked the cleanest in that regard. Tony Romo threw one pick thanks to a miscommunication with Terrance Williams, and Phillip Tanner fumbled before Gavin Escobar eventually recovered for the Cowboys.
That’s a good night, though, compared to the Giants’ problems with both fumbles and interceptions. Not only that, but Monday night marked the first multi-interception game of Robert Griffin III’s career.
Simple logic says that’s all bound to get cleaned up as teams get their timing together, and as Griffin gets more reps now that he’s back from injury. But it was a sloppy start.
Not so fast: You’re going to hear a lot about the debut of Chip Kelly’s high speed offense with Philadelphia, and rightfully so.
The Eagles looked incredibly impressive zipping around the field against Washington on Monday night – particularly in the first half, where they racked up 323 yards on a mind-boggling 53 plays.
That stat is getting thrown around a lot, and deservedly so – it’s impressive. But it’s only fair to look at the game as a whole. The Eagles ran 77 plays on the night, which, using my very poor math skills, I can gather that they ran a mere 24 plays after halftime. That’s 12 plays fewer than the Patriots’ 89 plays against Buffalo.
Philadelphia scored on its opening possession of the third quarter (and, to be fair, my goodness what a run from LeSean McCoy). But after that, the Eagles didn’t put together a drive longer than six plays the rest of the night.
Was that because the Eagles got tired? Or because they let their foot off the gas with a 33-7 lead in the second half? Or maybe it was that the Redskins made adjustments to stop Kelly’s new offense. We’re going to need more than one game to tell.
The Eagles’ scheme might be effective this season, but I’m not so sure it’s going to revolutionize the league the way some have predicted.
Grinding it out: Thank goodness for the Eagles this week, otherwise I might not have seen anyone pick up some honest to goodness rushing yards.
Philadelphia threw the ball 25 times for a mere 180 yards, compared to 49 rushing attempts for a staggering 263 yards. McCoy was the main beneficiary of that, as he outran the passing attack for 184 yards. But Michael Vick got in on the action with 54 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The effectiveness of that ground game is undoubtedly going to take a step or two back as NFL defensive coordinators get their hands on the Eagles’ game tape. But for the time being, Philadelphia is leading the NFL in rushing yards by a healthy 98 yards – basically a full game’s worth, for most teams.
In a pass-happy NFL, it’s nice to see an effective, exciting ground game. Faced with a 26-point deficit, the Redskins couldn’t really get their read-option attack going. Alfred Morris ran for just 45 yards and Washington, who led the league on the ground in 2012, managed just 74 rushing yards – good enough for 20th on the week.
Based on David Wilson’s performance in Arlington the other night, not to mention the loss of Andre Brown, it’s hard to imagine the Giants as a rushing powerhouse. Looking at the stats, you have to tip your cap to DeMarco Murray, who never grabbed anyone’s attention but put in a workmanlike performance for 87 yards.
The problem is, with quarterbacks as effective as Tony Romo and Eli Manning, the passing game is always going to be the more appealing option. Jason Garrett, and plenty of other coaches, talk all the time about striving for balance. But there’s no denying this is a passing league.
It will be interesting to see how the Eagles, along with the rest of the division, adapt their ground games to the defenses they face.