Four Questions: NFC East
As we do at this time each season, we’ve cornered a group of our analysts and handed them a set of questions designed to pick their brains about what they expect for the upcoming year.
Giving you a glimpse into what they’re thinking as we head into the 2014 season, Ben Stockwell, Sam Monson, Steve Palazzolo and Gordon McGuinness have been good enough to share their answers.
Four analysts, four questions, division by division, next up…
Who wins the division and why?
Sam – Eagles. This division has been up for grabs for a few seasons now with all four teams struggling to separate themselves over any length of time. I think the Eagles might be about to break loose in the division and emerge as real contenders. Their roster is getting better and Chip Kelly appears to be a quality coach. I don’t see the quality elsewhere in the division to really stop them and they could make noise in the postseason.
Ben – Year 2 under Chip Kelly and I believe it will be two division crowns in as many attempts for him as the Eagles‘ head coach. I’m still not sold by the defense which may hold them back from being a true threat in the playoffs, but that offense, centered around a dominant ground attack, will be enough to see them to the top of a division where the other three teams all look deeply flawed in at least one key area.
Steve – Coming into the season, the Eagles look to be the class of the division, especially with their high-powered offense. The defense has some holes, but they have playmakers at every level and they should take advantage of a division that appears to be on the downswing.
Gordon – In the past we’ve seen the power shift pretty quickly in the NFC East, but I just don’t see another team who can best the Eagles to the divisional crown this season. It wasn’t all plain sailing a year ago, but when Chip Kelly had things clicking it was really tough to stop them from scoring. Fast forward to this season and with a year under their belts I think Kelly, Nick Foles and the rest of the Eagles are simply going to score too many points for their divisional foes to keep up with in the six games they play the rest of the NFC East.
Which position unit most intrigues you in the division?
Sam – The Giants’ offensive line. The unit has struggled in the past few seasons but adding players like Geoff Schwartz and installing a new offensive scheme should help a lot. The only issue is that Schwartz injured himself in the preseason and is gone until at least Week 9, forcing them back down the depth chart for questionable replacements. I think for the Giants to be at their best the OL needs to be as well.
Ben – Questions abound with regards to what Robert Griffin III will produce in 2014 but the Washington receiving corps looks like a deep and exciting group. From the new downfield threat of DeSean Jackson, to arguably the league’s best YAC receiver in the shape of Pierre Garcon, and Andre Roberts looking to prove himself in a new setting, this group should be a really fun one to watch this season.
Steve – After a disastrous 2013, the Cowboys’ defensive line will be under the microscope this season and they may have another rough go of it. They lose their most productive players in DE Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher and DEs George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey are probably better fit for part-time duty rather than every-down work. Multiple players will have to exceed expectations in order for this to be a successful season up front for the Cowboys.
Gordon – Washington’s quarterbacks. Now, I’m in no way suggesting that Kirk Cousins should be starting in Washington, far from it, but my real interest here is which RGIII we see this season. As a rookie he was electrifying and it looked like we were seeing the beginning of a very impressive career indeed. The knee injury definitely hampered him last year but I want to see if he’s all the way back, and if he can regain that spark we saw in his rookie year.
Who is your pick for breakout player?
Sam – There aren’t many players that have the kind of athleticism at the tight end position that Jordan Reed has for Washington. He showed last year in limited snaps he could be a huge receiving weapon and I’m expecting him to show it again over a full season this year. He’s nursing a thumb injury heading into the season but is expected to be a full go from Game 1. It could be fun to watch.
Ben – This breakout may have started in the second half of last season but if Mychal Kendricks can keep his missed tackles a little more under control, I think he could emerge as one of the league’s better downhill linebackers. His coverage doesn’t show much sign of improvement, but his work against the run and attacking on blitzes was very good in the second half of last season and his work this preseason would suggest he can carry that forward.
Steve – Eagles tight end Zach Ertz flashed his ability at times last season and he looks poised to emerge here in his second season. He has the size to do damage in the red zone and the Eagles will have plenty of opportunities to feed him the ball.
Gordon – Cole Beasley. With Dez Bryant as the main man amongst the Dallas wide receivers, it’s easy to see how Beasley, a former undrafted free agent can be forgotten. But, in limited duty, he was a very reliable target for Tony Romo with just one drop from the 40 catchable passes thrown his way. A solid slot option, he could make some important plays for Dallas if they get him on the field more.
Which rookie has the biggest impact, for good or bad?
Sam – He’s been injured with a hamstring since what seems like forever, but Odell Beckham Jr. is still going to be a major piece of the Giants’ offense this season, especially with less of the mental load for receivers in terms of option routes than existed in New York in the past. He might start slow, but I think he’ll be making noise down the stretch.
Ben – He was hit by a bout of the dropsies in his preseason debut, but Jordan Matthews figures to be a productive receiver for the Eagles this season as they seek to redistribute their catches after the departure of DeSean Jackson. Matthews did a lot of work on short passes during the preseason and he should have ample opportunity to make plays during the regular season.
Steve – The Cowboys continue to go the unexciting path of drafting offensive linemen in the first round, but it looks like they hit on center Travis Frederick last season, as long as he shores up some issues in pass protection. It will be interesting to see if they hit again with Zack Martin to provide some key stability to at least one position group on the team.
Gordon – Andre Williams. I’m not overly sold on anyone in the Giants’ backfield, and I really liked some of the flashes we saw from Williams this preseason. He forced 12 missed tackles from just 38 carries through five games in August and I think he’ll have a big role in the Giants’ offense going forward.
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