Last weekend, all four NFC East teams set out for a quest that each squad believes could culminate in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV. The Giants spent the afternoon exorcising last year’s demons by beating up on the Carolina Panthers, team that put the cherry on top of the Giants’ worst defensive season in decades, all while successfully opening up their new stadium.
The Eagles had a much more difficult time against a team many consider to be Super Bowl caliber, Green Bay. Both teams struggled offensively out of the gate, but the Packers' myriad of offensive weapons eventually meshed and began to attack an Eagles defense that came off a porous finish in 2009. Bad luck then quickly infiltrated the Eagles sideline—at one point the Eagles were missing their starting quarterback, left tackle, and middle linebacker.
Michael Vick instilled life into the Eagles when he replaced Kevin Kolb, who had suffered a concussion towards the end of the first half. But his performance wasn’t enough to bring the Eagles all the way back, as he and the offense were stymied at the Packers 40-yard line on a 4th-and-1.
The Cowboys and Redskins played a game that was decided more by a comedy of errors than anything else. The Redskins' only touchdown of the game came on a horrific mental lapse by Tony Romo, followed by an even worse physical error by Tashard Choice, who fumbled the ball with no time left remaining in the half, granting DeAngelo Hall a free trip to the end zone.
The Cowboys moved the ball relatively well, considering they were without 40 percent of their offensive line and their No. 2 starting receiver was playing his first game action in the NFL. But every time the momentum appeared to go their way, a sack or penalty set them back and forced them to punt. Donovan McNabb was efficient, but hardly a difference maker in his first game as a Redskin.
The game ultimately came down to a 4th-and-13 for the Cowboys, trailing by six. After throwing a pair of passes that could have been intercepted, Tony Romo showed how far he has progressed as a quarterback by calmly stepping up in the pocket and finding a wide open Roy Williams in the end zone for what would be the game-winning touchdown, except for a monumentally terrible holding penalty from right tackle Alex Barron.
Although there are no divisional games this weekend, each team takes with them a unique storyline heading into Sunday’s slate of affairs.
Bears at Cowboys, Cowboys Stadium: 1:05 p.m. EST
Both these teams are coming off unprecedented Week 1 finishes, but surprisingly it is the Bears that come in with the 1-0 record, and Dallas 0-1. However, that is not very indicative of how this game will go.
Although Jay Cutler compiled very impressive numbers in his first start as a Mike Martz disciple, he did so against a Lions team that is still in transition on defense. And although the Bears ultimately won, the 19 points at home doesn’t exactly open any eyes.
On Sunday Cutler’s Bears will face off against an entirely new animal. There is a realistic chance that the Cowboys will tee off on Cutler all game because of Mike Martz’s penchant to spread his receivers out rather than keep extra blockers for his quarterback.
The Cowboys possess arguably the league’s most athletic front seven. The size and speed of that group strikes fear into the hearts of every opposing offensive coordinator. Even the reserved DeMarcus Ware has openly expressed excitement at the prospects of not facing double teams on a regular basis. If he and Anthony Spencer come off the side with only the tackles to beat, and shaky ones at that, Mike Martz will have to design some nifty plays to get the ball out of Cutler’s hands as quick as possible.
Offensively, the Cowboys are more than capable of breaking out of their offensive funk that has plagued them since preseason (actually, since the Divisional round of the playoffs when they only mustered three points against Minnesota). They will receive a boost from the returns of the most beloved right tackle Dallas has ever had, Marc Colombo, and left guard Kyle Kosier.
With their starting five back in the lineup, Jason Garrett will be able to expand his playbook, which was clearly limited the week before against Washington. However, it will be crucial to contain Julius Peppers. He injured Matt Stafford last Sunday, and is receiving rave reports from everyone around the Bears. He appears to be refreshed by a change of scenery. Watch out Tony Romo.
It will be interesting to see if Romo and Garrett are keen on throwing to Dez Bryant as frequently as last Sunday night. Despite not playing in one preseason game, Romo threw the ball in Bryant’s direction one more time than Miles Austin (12), despite Austin clearly being the more productive of the two on Sunday.
It is no secret the Cowboys are enamored with Bryant’s ability, but trying to put the ball in his hands so relentlessly to open the season may prove to be a mistake. I say they should let him become acquainted with the speed of the game, especially given the fact he missed most of his final collegiate season.
Regardless, I would be surprised if the Cowboys don’t win their home opener by more than 20 points.
Eagles @ Lions: Ford Field: 1:05 p.m. EST
Only in Philadelphia can there be a serious quarterback controversy one week into the season. Of course, Andy Reid will tell you that Kevin Kolb will be his guy down the road and Michael Vick will be utilized in a specialty role. Nonetheless, Vick’s inspiring performance on Sunday reinvigorated a somber Eagles fanbase that had watched their team be drubbed by the Packers to the likes of a 17-point deficit in the third quarter.
Vick couldn’t level the score, but he raised questions as to what would have happened if he had an extra quarter. The Packers couldn’t keep up with him when he scrambled outside the pocket, and when he threw the ball he was surprisingly accurate. Many will reference these flashes as a typical Michael Vick performance. But if he returns to form, he has an extremely talented set of receivers at his disposal, a luxury he was not blessed with in Atlanta.
This Sunday, Vick will get another chance to make another positive impression against a shaky defense. The Lions lost in heartbreaking fashion against Chicago, but still bring with them much more confidence and talent than their two-win team of 2009 offered. They aren’t necessarily a pushover, but following a hard-fought loss on opening day, they certainly are a team one wouldn’t mind facing.
Defensively, the Eagles will be missing middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who continues to face adversity en route to a career that many with the Eagles feel is filled with promise. Of course, the Eagles certainly know how to adapt to Bradley’s absence; he missed the entire 2009 season with a torn ACL. The Eagles hope Bradley comes back quickly, but concussions are tricky and could end up taking much longer to heal then previously expected.
DeSean Jackson will be a player to watch on Sunday. Dating back to the last two games against Dallas, Jackson has one touchdown in his last three games, and only 130 yards receiving. He attributes that to the extra attention he’s receiving because of his breakout 2009 campaign, where it felt as if he had a long touchdown on a weekly basis.
Now, Jackson is facing double and triple teams and is noticeably becoming frustrated on the field. He didn’t accumulate a single catch with Kevin Kolb in the game, but had four for 30 yards with Michael Vick under center. Once Kolb returns from his head injury, it will be interesting to see how the Kolb-Jackson dynamic will play out.
However, this Sunday I expect him to have a huge game for a much-needed Eagles win.
Texans @ Redskins: Fed Ex Field, 4:15 p.m. EST
This game possesses a very interesting dynamic. When Mike Shanahan took control over the Redskins as head coach, he left his offensive coordinator job vacant for his son Kyle Shanahan. Before his father was hired, Shanahan worked for the Texans in the same role that he now serves with the Redskins.
It will be interesting to see how much information—more importantly, how much relevant information—little Shanahan divulges to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Given that he worked so extensively with Houston’s offense, he certainly had an inside perspective to Matt Schaub’s tendencies that the Redskins could use to their advantage on Sunday.
But right now, Kyle Shanahan has his own offense to worry about. The group struggled to get in sync this preseason and failed to score an offensive touchdown in a 13-7 win against Dallas. There were streaks where they moved the ball fairly well, and there were times that Clinton Portis hit the hole that made Mike Shanahan think back to Portis’s Broncos days. But the consistency wasn’t there, nor was the ability to finish off drives in the end zone.
For the Redskins to jump out of the gate to a surprising 2-0 start, they will have to move the ball with consistency and not settle for field goals, regardless of the dirty details he can send Jim Haslett’s way. The Texans offense was a passing juggernaut in 2009, but could not run the ball, which was a key factor in why they could not get into the playoffs.
But if Arian Foster is the real deal, the Texans offense will be a force. Very few defenses around the NFL can match up against that personnel, and we don’t know if the Redskins are one of those teams yet, despite an impressive season debut against an offense that is regarded as elite.
Therefore, it is up to the offense to pick up the slack. The questionable Redskins receivers will have to attack down the field against a suspect Texans secondary, then allowing Chris Cooley the ability to navigate the middle of the field and provide McNabb a reliable target for intermediate passes.
I still think the Texans win this one. I believe that by finally climbing over the Colts hump, the Texans are ready to take off into the upper-echelon of AFC teams. If they lose, then they squander some serious momentum.
Giants @ Colts: Lucas Oil Stadium: 8:15
Four years ago when Eli Manning faced off against big brother Peyton for the first time, there was little talk about anything else. This week, the discussion has been just as persistent. However, unlike 2006, this isn’t Game 1. It’s Game 2. It’s not all about Archie’s two boys.
The defending AFC champs are coming off an ugly opening day loss to the Houston Texans and the Giants are coming off an ugly 2009 season. The sense of urgency is there for both teams right now, and although both respective quarterbacks are calling this game “fun,” ultimately the game will be far from it.
Plenty of talk this week from both sides has been towards the Giants' rushing game, and the Colts' run defense, which made Arian Foster looked like Houston’s second coming of Earl Campbell.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it has become a league-wide assumption from the media that the Giants will be able to run the ball all over the Colts with ease. This is not the case. In fact, it is far from it.
Will the Giants be more committed to establish the run against the Colts than they were against the Panthers? You bet. Do the Colts know that? Absolutely.
They will come out fired up for their home opener and eager to put their opening day debacle in the rearview mirror. And the only way to do that is to stop the run and make their quarterback’s baby brother beat them.
The Giants are capable of doing just that, but they aren’t going to want to. Establishing the run will wear out the Colts defense, and keep Peyton Manning off the field. Eli could get off to a torrid start and carve through the Colts secondary, but if drives are ending in three minutes then Peyton Manning will most likely match his little brother. That’s just what he does.
Of course, there is a chance that the Giants defense rises to the occasion. They did play very well against Carolina, but they and the Colts are polar opposites. Perry Fewell’s read and react scheme works on a quarterback that is still trying to grasp the nuances of the game, but how will it work on a quarterback who practically knows where all 11 defenders on the field are going before the ball is snapped?
It’s a great litmus test for this defense. They go up against arguably the league’s best catching tight end after routinely being shredded by tight ends last season. They are going to be spread out by three talented receivers with the best quarterback in the NFL throwing to them. All of this on the road, on national television.
If the defense steps up, they can take confidence from this game throughout the season. If not, then it’s clear they still have a ways to go if they want to get to where they want to be.
Ultimately, I think they will play relatively well, but Peyton Manning will prove to be too much and little brother won’t be able to keep up with him. It should be a good one though.
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