2017 NFC East Previews & Predictions

Last year was unprecedented in NFL annals. Never before had we witnessed a team with a rookie QB (Dak Prescott) and a rookie RB (Ezekiel Elliot) lead a team to their division title. Elliot became the 1st rookie rushing champion (1,631 yds) since Edgerrin James in 1999. The Cowboys surprised many with a 13-3 record and a 1st round bye. The question is can the Cowboys repeat that performance now they have lost 2 members off The Great Wall II??

Keep in mind last year was the second time this line paved the way for the NFL’s rushing champion in the last 3 years. The last time The Chancellor can remember that happening dates back to the late 80’s with the LA Rams with Eric Dickerson and Charles White. That was so long ago the Rams left Anaheim, spent a generation in St Louis, and now returned to LA. RT Doug Free retired and LG Ron Leary signed with Denver.

With All Pro LT Tyron Smith an immovable object teams may flip their speed rushers against the Cowboys to go against La’el Collins. He’s taking over for Doug Free and is learning on the fly how to be an NFL tackle. Look for combo blitzes to the right probing for weakness in Collins. Also to see if a strong rush in Prescott’s face will cause him to pull the ball down disrupting the rhythm of their passing game.

Unlike any other unit in football, the offensive line has to learn to play together. Hence every unit practices their timing and explosion off the ball blocking on a 7 man sled. This could be a significant blow to Dallas offensive timing.

2017 NFC East Predictions

New York Giants 12-4**

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 7-9

Washington Redskins 4-12

Do you realize the Giants are returning with last year’s 10th ranked defense, which held Dallas to 26 combined points, sweeping them in 2016?? Even though the Giants were 29th in offensive time of possession they were the NFL’s #3 defense against the run. Then they nabbed DT Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round out of Alabama. This was a Giants strength not a statistic manipulated by scheme.

Casillas should be even better in his 2nd year in New York.

If they can get a stronger push inside, Olivier Vernon (8.5 sacks) and Jason Pierre Paul (7 sacks) should thrive crashing the pass pocket. This plays hand in hand with the Giants ability to cover with CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. New York could field a lethal defense in 2017.

Did you know the Illadelphia Iggles were in every game last year?? Of their 9 losses, 7 of those were decided by a touchdown or less.. including two 1 point losses. What about their 6-2 home record and 1-7 record on the road?? With so much attention on the Cowboys and Giants last year, this is a team waiting to surprise with a little improvement.

The Eagles gambled in letting go of DE Conner Barwin and selecting Derek Barnett out of Tennessee in the 1st round. They needed to make a move to add pop to the defense instead of just a steady unspectacular roster.What they lose in experience they gain in explosion. In fact the Iggles spent the 1st 3 draft picks to improve a defense that ranked 13th last year. Although they have to hold their breath that both rookie CBs Sidney Jones (2nd / Washington) and Rasul Douglas (3rd / West Virginia) have to fill the void of last year’s starters being let go.

Wentz looks like the real deal and will have a breakout 2017.

If Carson Wentz can develop into the QB this pundit believes he can, he will take a step up here in year 2. The signing of wideout Alshon Jeffrey gives him the big intermediate target to move the chains. Lagarrette Blount was supposed to come in and lend power between the tackles. However he may lose out to Wendell Smallwood as the starting RB and Darren Sproles is still a weapon on 3rd downs. The Eagles are steady and will win very boring grind it out games this season… TBT thinks 10 boring games at the most.

Which brings us back to Dallas where the unfair suspension of Elliott still stands at 6 games. What many Cowboy fans are forgetting is if this suspension stands he cannot be at practice or attend any meetings for over a month and a half. That is a bad combination when you’re missing 40% of last year’s line and your touches are limited in the preseason. He may not get in synch with the OLine until the last few games of the season.

Dallas is still rebuilding a defense which ranked in the middle of the pack at 14th and rookie DE Taco Charlton has flashed brilliantly this preseason. LB Jaylon Smith looks like he has fully healed from his gruesome knee injury. We’ve only seen Smith sparingly but he looks as explosive as he was with the Fighting Irish.

Right now Dallas just needs progress out of a completely revamped secondary. Too many questions to bank on this year. Coupled with the Elliot suspension and the additional pressure on being “the hunted” the Cowboys will lose more than double the games they did last year. It will be interesting to see how Dak Prescott fares now that defensive coordinators have a year of game film on him. What happens if he doesn’t have the NFL’s best running game to lean on this year?? It’s 2018 where this Super Bowl plan will have to manifest itself.

Right now the Washington Redskins are in disarray. How do you have Kirk Cousins complete 68% of his passes for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns in the last 2 seasons and let all his receivers go?? Not signing him to a long term deal then allowing 2 – 1,000 yd receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon go. By setting him up to prove himself again after jettisoning off his weapons, you set yourself up to fail and i cant see where Washington is going.

Which brings us back to the Giants from Gotham City. They are easily the most intact and proven defense in the division and Eli Manning is due for a bounce back year. The acquisition of veteran wideout Brandon Marshall, a veteran starving for a title in the twilight of his career, could be the grounding that diva Odell Beckham needs as the playoffs near. With 101 receptions 1367 yards and 10 TDs, Beckham is still the dynamic playmaker for this team, he needs to grow up and make the game the focus come January and not his antics.

Aside from veterans in Beckham’s ear  what is forgotten is Eli Manning is now the grizzled veteran QB in the NFC East. He has weapons and a defense that will keep him in close games all year where Eli can win them in the end. Keep in mind Manning has thrown for the most yards (4,933 yards) and the lowest ranked defense (27th) when he won his last Super Bowl. This year he might have the NFL’s best defense and if he improves on his 4,027 yards 26Tds and 16 interceptions of a year ago, a Super Bowl trip to Minnesota could be in the making. Now many writers and pundits have come to this blog for years and we have told you several times about Eli. Just remember…The Chancellor kept telling you he would get a 3rd Super Bowl and this looks like the year.

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Jason Pierre Paul’s Hand

While Jason Pierre Paul was resting in the hospital, news of his right hand damaged in the fireworks explosion were slow to leak. There was mixed information up until Adam Schefter was able to illegally get a hold of JPP’s medical record stating his index finger had been amputated. Once that news went viral a ton of questions entered The Chancellor’s mind…

This is the right hand of JPP.

This is the right hand of JPP.

How can a defensive end lift weights with a damaged thumb and missing index finger to maintain his strength and heft?? How can a defender who needs his fingers to grab and pull on an offensive linemans jersey, arms, or hands be effective?? When the Giants sent him home without signing his franchise contract, The Chancellor thought his days as an NFL’er were over.  Now looking at the damage that was done to his right hand, this is definitely going to be an uphill battle.

 

The first true test is to see how sensitive the nerve endings are in his hand and if his pain threshold will be high enough.When in a pile will other players go after that hand in an attempt to slow him down??  Many questions remain and for a pass rusher coming off the right side… we will have to see how this goes. From the looks of it, The Chancellor doesn’t see a player returning close to form. He will have to club crack back blockers instead of a full hand to grab and swim. What happens if a running back is breaking to the outside where he has containment?? Will a swing with a club bring down a power runner?? He is going to have to put that hand in harm’s way and this won’t be an easy task.  Jason Pierre Paul….sigh….we’ll be watching.

2012 New York Giants Preview

When we last saw the New York Giants, they were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis. Lingering questions remained about the impending personnel decisions on RB Brandon Jacobs and DE Osi Yumeniora.  Which obscured the real reality: Eli Manning is on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback. One who will win more championships than his celebrated brother Peyton when it’s all said and done. He is also surrounded by several playmaking receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

The Giants rely on a stout pass rush, and tactically sound defense and with the emergence of DE Pierre Paul on a relatively young team, it would appear that they’re not done competing for championships.  Tom Coughlin’s group won it all with the worst record ever at 9-7, yet proved an axiom that is becoming the NFL’s most prevalent theme: Just get hot going into the playoffs. It worked for the Giants last year just as it had with Green Bay the season before. Will the Giants repeat as champions or further frustrate their fans with spotty inconsistent play??

Quarterback: After another mind numbing last second drive to upend the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl setting, Eli Manning’s legend is growing and he has half of his career to build upon it. However Giant fans have to realize that Manning may never turn in a Joe Montana-like season where he just completes pass after pass for a 70% completion rating. Get used to it Giant fans, Manning is like a great “B” student. He will stumble on some assignments but he’s a great test taker and comes through in the end. Do you realize Manning is now 7-1 in postseason games away from the Meadowlands? He now has postseason wins over an 18-0 Patriot team in Super Bowl XLII, and an upset over a 15-1 Packers team in last year’s playoff.  He is the only quarterback in NFL history to defeat 5 postseason foes with records of 13-3 or better.  No one even comes close to that.

We here at the Taylor Blitz Times tried to prepare you of his ascendant potential before the NFC Championship last year. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/01/18/2011-nfc-championship-preview-eli-manning-the-silent-killer/  He just missed becoming the fifth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season with 4,933. That is the highest for a Super Bowl champion quarterback by the way.  For the season, he was 359 of 589 while throwing for 29 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions. You look at 61% completion rating and think “that’s not that high”, yet a closer look reveals he lowered his interception total from 25 the year before. Credit that to a more mature Manning throwing the ball away more.

His maturation as a quarterback was evident in last year’s playoffs.  He was in total command in both the NFC Championship Game as well as the Super Bowl.  When the season was on the line, he led his team to a 17-14 4th quarter lead gunning a 17 yard touchdown to Mario Manningham. Then the winning drive in overtime. If that weren’t enough.. in the fading minutes of Super Bowl XLVI, Manning got his team out of the shadow of their goal line with a 38 yard strike to Manningham.  Eli looked down the middle to hold the Patriot safety, subtly took two steps to his left (shortened the trajectory of the throw) and fired the best pass seen in a Super Bowl.  Complete command in that situation and again he was flawless in the 4th quarter. Remember last year before the season Manning was asked; “Are you an elite quarterback??” Everyone scoffed when he responded “yes” well he shut up a lot of critics. Even though he’s a great “B” student the Giants at quarterback get an A and is Super Bowl quality.

Offensive Backfield: Although they weren’t necessarily thunder and lightning, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw were an effective tandem running the football. Yet this partnership has ended with Jacobs signing with the 49ers and let’s face it, at times he just didn’t run with the thunder a 264 lb running back should. Part of that was the fault of the coaches trying to run him wide. Other times he “beat his feet” before hitting a hole and could be stood up by a scraping linebacker.   Bradshaw had a good year and was the most versatile RB the Giants had. He ran for 659 yards and 9 touchdowns in spot duty, and also caught 34 passes out of the backfield for another 2 TDs. He’s a good space runner out of 3 and 4 receivers sets yet may have to handle pushing the pile at the goal line this year. Not sure he’s suited for that. In the Super Bowl he scored from a multiple receiver set in the final seconds. Who is going to be this team’s goal line runner??

The Giants brought in a potential playmaker in draft pick David Wilson out of Virginia Tech who was ACC Player of the Year. When you look at how he plays…he’s a quicker, shiftier version of Bradshaw with more of a burst. If he can pick up the blitzes he may be the starter by the time we get to September. During the draft just about every play showcasing his ability came from spread and multiple receiver sets. Think of him as a quicker, thicker Dave Meggett who can also return kicks. Running back is average  in New York and we have to find out who will be the 3rd & 1, 4th & 1 guy.

Receivers: This is one of the quiet strengths of this team. Last year’s emergence of Victor Cruz illustrates how well this position is taught in New York. Everyone forgets offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride used to coach the run and shoot in Houston. Along with Tom Coughlin being a former wide receiver coach we now understand how Hakeem Nicks caught 76 for 1,192 yards and 7 touchdowns in a supporting role. The star was Cruz who gathered in 82 asses for a whopping 1,536 yards and 9 scores. His average was over 3 yards greater than Nicks last season who was thought of as the team’s deep threat. At 23 and 25 years respectively, these two should terrorize NFC East foes for several years. No wonder Dallas drafted a CB #1.

Definitely this team is Super Bowl quality at receiver and that is before we get to draft pick Reuben Randle out of LSU. He will have to learn the routes just as an undrafted Cruz picked them up. You can clearly see Gilbride’s teachings when the Giants face zone. You will see their receivers hook in open spaces and then slide behind adjusting linebackers on intermediate routes. A complete run and shoot principle. These guys may go for over 1,300 yards each this season.

Offensive Line: This is an area of concern for this team. What came first the chicken or the egg?? What we mean by that is has this team become a passing team out of necessity or can they run the football?? According to NFL accounting it was out of necessity. The Giants were last in rushing with 1,427 yards and last in average with 3.5 yards per carry. That’s terrible and the worst ever for a Super Bowl champion. These guys just aren’t driving anyone off the ball…period. Otherwise the Giants wouldn’t have gone after two OT in this year’s draft.

Passing the football they fared pretty well ranking 7th with 28 sacks yet were middle of the pack getting Eli hit with 72 hits. This could be attributed to Manning’s quick decision making more than the line’s total performance because he took a lot of hits. We have to see what type of camp draftees Brandon Mosely (Auburn) and Matt McCants (UAB) have to see if one goes after Kareem McKenzie’s job. This line is in a state of flux and may need to meld the early part of the season. Right now the line is well below average.

Pierre Paul emerging from a sack of Alex Smith in the NFC Championship Game

Defensive Line: Clearly a strength and possibly the heart and soul of this team. The story of the 2011 campaign was the emergence of 2010 1st round pick Jason Pierre Paul, who impersonated Michael Strahan to the tune of 16.5 sacks. Incredibly he was third on the team in tackles with 93 total. That is a high tackle number for a DE. His combination of size and athleticism could be the finest ever seen in a defensive end. Remember the footage of him doing back flips before the Super Bowl?? Yikes! He’s just tapping into his potential and could have won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors last year.

However it’s the total rotation package with fellow DE’s Justin Tuck and Osi Yumeniora that has opponents struggling with whom to focus the most attention on. Tuck has to bounce back from a season where his sack total fell from 11.5 in 2010 to 5 last year. Of course he missed four games with injury but going into this year he should see far fewer double teams with Pierre Paul on the other side. It’s still unclear if Yumeniora will return yet the Giants also signed 350 lbs Shaun Rogers to help plug the middle. Last year this team was 3rd in the NFL with 48 sacks. This year if they can return healthy they could hit 60. Defensive line is Super Bowl quality in Gotham.

Linebackers: Surprisingly this team didn’t go after a linebacker in free agency or the draft. Michael Boley seems to be the only complete linebacker of the bunch. He made plays all over the field and was 2nd on the team in solo tackles with 74. Mathias Kiwanuka did have a solid year but gets lost out there at times if his hand isn’t on the ground rushing the passer. Super Bowl hero Chase Blackburn was re-signed after a short trip through free agency. Aside from Boley, Kiwanuka, Blackburn, Greg Jones, and company are pedestrian linebackers each with clear shortcomings. Kiwanuka struggles in space where Jones, Blackburn can’t disengage if linemen get their hands on them. Hence the Giants can be run on…hence their 19th ranking against the run. They don’t have a true middle linebacker and until they do this is the only weakness of this defense. Linebacker is below average.

Corey Webster should become a Pro Bowl at corner in 2012

Secondary: The most versatile secondary in the NFL yet the loss of CB Aaron Ross would have been a greater impact had the Giants not drafted CB Jayron Hosely out of Virginia Tech. Truth be told the Giants run a lot of zone behind that pass rush. So this team should be good with current corners Corey Webster and Hosely if he can get into camp and develop quickly. One of the personnel packages that worked out well was when the Giants could use S Antrel Rolle, a converted corner, to drop down and cover a TE or 3rd WR as well as most corners. If Hosely isn’t ready and the G-men have to go with a veteran on corner opposite Webster. Speaking of Webster, he’s coming off his best season as a pro where he picked off 6 passes, returning them for 71 yards. Webster should make his first Pro Bowl this year. With a 3rd safety in Deon Grant seeing playing time the Giants were able to play with 3 safeties and gave extreme flexibility to their exotic coverages.

Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell utilized his backfield in a varitey of ways. They played a cat and mouse game in obvious passing situations as in Super Bowl XLVI. In the second half they lined up safeties Kenny Phillips and Rolle just 15 yards off the ball in what looked like a cover two. At the snap Brady read cover two yet the safeties DIDNT go deep, they stayed in the 15-20 yard zone right off the line of scrimmage and dared the slow Patriots to throw deep. Which they couldn’t and the Giants shut them down in the last two drives. They need rookie CB Hosely to develop or they’ll have to go more vanilla with personnel and play call manipulation. Early on there will be some defensive breakdowns and it’s imperative the pass rush shows up as the 2012 season begins to cover these shortcomings. The last line of defense is a “B” right now but can improve to Super Bowl quality if they can get the corner situation handled.

Overall: Again Giants fans will be frustrated by the Giants inability to roll up their fists and hit their opponent with a haymaker and win the game big. They will always play close to the vest affairs and should finish this season with a 10-6 record. Manning will have a great season and is unquestionably a leader on this team. In defensing their title, we believe they’ll make the playoffs yet lose in the divisional round after a typical late season push to gain the playoffs.

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Next up: San Francisco 49ers