Entering the 2009 NFL season, many expected the NFC East to be the league’s most dominant division. The Giants were coming off a 12-win season, the 9-7 Cowboys would have their new No. 1 receiver for a full season, the 8-8 Redskins added one of the game’s most dominant defensive players, and the Eagles, coming off an NFC Championship game, are always a trendy pick.
And though the division did have two playoff teams, neither made much of an impact (the Cowboys beat the Eagles, but were throttled by the Vikings). The Cowboys won their first playoff game this millennium, but the overall theme of the division was disappointment.
So here are the top ten NFC East disappointments among players, units, and story-lines.
It’s clear that the Eagles’ defense missed their leader, Brian Dawkins, in more than one aspect of the game. With Dawkins in 2008, the Eagles were fourth against the pass, allowing only 187 passing yards per game; without him they were 17th, allowing 216 pass yards. But they also missed Dawkins in run support (they allowed over 12 yards per game more without him), and in covering tight ends. The combination of Sean Jones, Quintin Demps, and Macho Harris did not plug the hole left by Dawkins.
It’s hard to blame the secondary when the defensive line produced no pressure, and when injuries played such a big factor. Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross missed most of the season, and Corey Webster and Kevin Dockery both missed time. C.C. Brown was exposed and Aaron Rouse was only slightly better. The unit did not play a single game with all their starters healthy, but I guess that’s part of what made them so disappointing.
One of the best kickers in the game a couple of years ago, Folk went 18 for 28 on field goals this year. The 2007 Pro Bowler was eventually released by the Cowboys. Enough said.
Was the offensive line to blame for the Giants’ ugly running game, or was it Brandon Jacobs‘ fault? Yes.
After dominating the NFL on the ground in 2008, the Giants couldn’t muster up much of a rush attack in 2009. It’s easy to place the blame on the aging line, because they did indeed take a step back in their run blocking, but when 27-year-old Brandon Jacobs’ yards per carry drops from 5.0 in 2007 and 2008 down to 3.7 in 2009, something is very wrong.
It’s possible that a knee injury is what caused Jacobs to run so tentatively. It wouldn’t be the first time Jacobs was injured; he hasn’t played 16 games since his rookie year in 2005.
Haynesworth had an OK season. OK is not good enough when you’re making $100 million.
He missed four games due to injuries, and totaled a meager four sacks. It’s tough to put up monster numbers when you are constantly being double and triple teamed, but he’ll have to do a lot better to earn his contract.
Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard were defensive busts. Osi Umenyiora came back from a major injury and was not 100%. Justin Tuck played hard, but he wasn’t right either.
What was supposed to be the strength of the Giants’ defense let the team down in a big way, leaving the secondary to be picked apart, which it was. All day long.
Concussions are serious, more so than most sports fans believe. The fact that the Eagles allowed Brian Westbrook to play less than three weeks after he suffered a concussion borders on irresponsible.
In his first game back, Westbrook suffered another concussion. It is reminiscent of the Mets’ handling of Ryan Church’s concussions in 2008. He was not the same the entire year, and frankly has not been the same since.
The Eagles did not need to rush Westbrook back, and now his future is in doubt. But it’s okay; the Eagles cut him, so they don’t have to worry about his health anymore.
It’s not Adams’ declining play that is disappointing; at age 34, it’s no surprise that his skills are eroding. Many say he was overrated to begin with. What was so disappointing about Flozell “The Hotel” Adams this year was the fact that Roger Goodell and the NFL, for some reason I cannot understand, decided not to take a hard stance on his continued dirty and dangerous play.
One of the most penalized players in the NFL over the past few years, Adams took it to a new level this year. One week after drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty against Tampa Bay, Adams caused more trouble by tripping Justin Tuck after Tuck had beaten him to the quarterback. The illegal and hazardous play resulted in Tuck injuring his shoulder. Clearly showing no remorse for his actions, Adams later kicked Osi Umenyiora in that same game.
Later that year, again against the Giants, Adams cowardly shoved Justin Tuck in the back after the first half had ended. Although he was flagged, the Giants could not accept the penalty because it occurred after the half had ended (a rule that has to be changed). Like a child, Adams refused to apologize for his actions.
So for all of his dangerous “bush league” moves, Adams was fined an amount that equates to pocket change for this millionaire. Fines such as this will not stop a dirty player from doing whatever he can to give his team the advantage. The NFL should have suspended him for one or two games to finally send him a message he could understand.
All he had to do was follow the blueprint left by previous defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The fact that Sheridan worked directly below Spagnuolo for two years as linebackers coach makes it even more disappointing that he couldn’t come close to reproducing Spags’ success.
Most of the 2008 defense returned for 2009, yet Sheridan was not able to get nearly as much out of his talent as was expected. Yes, there were injuries, but injuries aren’t what forced Sheridan to constantly drop pass rushers back into pass coverage, leaving them in no man’s land.
The outcome was just appalling, arguably the most embarrassing defensive performance in franchise history. After their 5-0 start, the Giants gave up 40 points seemingly every other week (five times in their last eleven games). In Sheridan’s one year as coordinator, the Giants went from fifth in points allowed (18.4) to 30th (26.7).
A line of 38 receptions, 596 yards, and seven touchdowns doesn’t look so bad. But this is before you add in all the drops, wrong routes, miscommunications with the quarterback, and the fact that the Cowboys spent much of the season trying, unsuccessfully, to force him the ball.
The fact that fellow Cowboys receiver, undrafted Miles Austin came out of nowhere to put up a Pro Bowl season only makes Williams’ line less impressive. And then you can add in the fact that the Cowboys gave up a first- and third-round pick for him and signed him to a five-year, $45 million extension with $20 million guaranteed.
In 2006, he was an elite receiver, topping the 1,300 yard mark. Last year, he was essentially a goal-line specialist, worth maybe the third-round pick they gave up and a fraction of the contract they are paying. If he doesn’t get his act together next year, this will go down as one of the worst trades of all time.
This one could still go either way.
It’s not that Vick was bad. On the rare occasion that he was called upon, Vick was pretty good, rushing 24 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw for a touchdown, although he only completed six of his 13 pass attempts. But what's disappointing about the situation is that, after all the hubbub was made about his signing with the Eagles, he only touched the ball 37 times. We have no idea how he will perform over a full season, or how his body will hold up.
Perhaps that is why the Eagles are reportedly having a hard time finding a trade partner for Vick. He makes over $5 million next season, so keeping him on the roster is unlikely. But the chatter is that teams are only willing to give up a sixth or seventh rounder for Vick.
Of course, this saga is not yet over. If they are able to get a fourth or fifth rounder for him, the experiment was a success.