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NFC East: Division Defenses Struggling Against The Pass

Posted Oct 8, 2013


Playing against Peyton Manning isn’t going to help any defense’s rating against the pass – that much is fair to admit.

Stats are stats, however, and the unflinching numbers say the Cowboys just aren’t a very good defense when the ball is in the air. The pass-happy carnival of a game against Denver dropped Dallas all the way down to 31st in the league in pass defense – right above the Broncos themselves.

The Cowboys have allowed three separate 400-yard passers, 14 passing touchdowns and a combined completion percentage of 68.7 percent – fourth-worst in the league.

It’s fair to say the vast majority of that production came at the hands of both Peyton and Eli Manning, as well as Philip Rivers – all three of which are considered among the best quarterbacks in the league. That doesn’t come as much comfort when you consider the Cowboys’ remaining games against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford – not to mention a return date with Eli.

What is fortunate for Dallas? They aren’t alone – not in this nightmare of an NFC East. Through five weeks of football, not a single team in the division can claim to effectively stop the pass. The Cowboys rank No. 31, with Philadelphia sitting just behind them at No. 30 and the Giants, surprisingly, boast the best unit at No. 25.

Washington’s pass defense is ranked somewhat respectably at No. 19, but that’s because of their Week 5 bye week. After adjusting it accordingly, the Redskins sit 29th in the league.

So three of the four worst secondaries in the NFL play in the same division. And some of those problems are similar to each other. The Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles are all trying to get production out of rookie safeties in J.J. Wilcox, Bacarri Rambo and Earl Wolff, respectively. Maybe more importantly, they’ve all faced a good deal of top flight competition.

Washington has had to deal with Rodgers and Stafford, while Philadelphia has gone against both Mannings and Rivers.

This has come as good news for the Cowboys. It’s true that Dallas’ pass defense is the worst of the bunch, for a variety of reasons. What’s also true is the Cowboys throw the ball better than anyone in the NFC East. It’s asking too much to expect Tony Romo to drop 500 yards per week, but even if you factor in the Cowboys’ conservative gameplans from this year, he is still averaging more passing yards per game than any other division quarterback.

Romo has also only taken 13 sacks this season – second best in the division behind Robert Griffin III.

These are all positives in the face of an alarming negative. There’s no denying the shortcomings of the Cowboys’ secondary in the past few weeks. But given the way it’s going for the rest of the competition, I like the Cowboys’ odds of being able to outgun the opposition. – at least within the division.

Here are some more stats from around the NFC East:

  • Despite his late interception against the Broncos, Romo is still second in the league in quarterback passer rating at 114.3, behind only Peyton Manning’s 136.4. Vick sits 13th on the list, while Griffin is 16th. Eli Manning is No. 33.
  • Romo’s 82-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams is the second-longest pass by a quarterback this year, behind only Rodgers’ 83-yard bomb to James Jones on Sunday in Green Bay’s win against Detroit.
  • Dez Bryant’s six touchdowns on the season tie him for first in scoring in the NFC among non-kickers. He is tied with Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham at 36 points.
  • Philadelphia running back became the first runner in the NFL to reach 500 yards on Sunday. He leads the league with 514 yards on fewer than 100 carries. DeMarco Murray slipped to fourth in the league at 399 on the year.
  • Vick’s 307 rushing yards this year is good enough for 14th in the league overall – best among quarterbacks.
  • Bryant has the most points, but DeSean Jackson and Victor Cruz lead the division in receiving yards with 525 and 473, respectively.
  • Neither Ryan Kerrigan or DeMarcus Ware notched a sack Sunday, but they remain the only two NFC East players in the hunt for NFL sack leader with five and four, respectively. They’re well off the absurd pace set by Indianapolis linebacker Robert Mathis, who has 9.5.
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