CHFF-style health care reform: NFC East

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 28, 2010



We stepped out of the cardboard-box world headquarters for a few minutes last week. What a bad idea. It's not pretty out there, folks. Apparently, people are obsessing over something as stupid as health care at a time that Tim Tebow's draft position is at stake.
 
What's wrong with these people? Best we stay hidden in the dark recesses of our cardboard comfort zone.
 
All we know is this: the government can have our Cheez Doodles and Buffalo wings when they pry them from our chubby, greasy and motionless paws.

But before we meet our destiny with the great big deep-fry cook in the sky, the debate did prompt us to conduct our own yearly check-up of teams from around the NFL, looking at each club's vital signs and symptoms from last season as we had into the draft. It's an annual exercise for the Trolls ... which is about once more per year than we actually physically exercise.
We continue here with the NFC East. Check out our first diagnosis of the AFC East here.
 
Dallas
The Vital Signs
2009 record: 11-5 (22.6 PPG – 15.6 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 4-2 (21.5 – 15.2)
Last five seasons: 51-29 (.638)
Best Quality Stat in 2009: Bendability (1st)
Worst Quality Stat in 2009: Scoreability (25th)
 
Best game of 2009: 24-17 win at New Orleans (Week 15).  The Saints were 13-0 and chasing the second 16-0 season in NFL history. The quest for history ended thanks to a tremendous all-around road effort by the Cowboys. The Cowboys ran well with 120 yards on the ground from Marion Barber and Felix Jones; Tony Romo outdueled Drew Brees (9.2 YPA vs. 6.6 YPA); and the defense held the mighty Saints offense to what was its lowest output of the season to that point. The Cowboys actually dominated for much of the game, taking a shocking 24-3 lead into the fourth quarter.
 
Worst game of 2009: 34-3 loss at Minnesota (divisional playoffs). The Cowboys closed out the regular season and opened the playoffs with a pair of dominating wins over the Eagles. They looked like a major threat to win the Super Bowl and headed to Minnesota for what seemed destined to be an NFC divisional playoff classic.
 
Instead, it was a colossal playoff meltdown the likes of which the Cowboys seem to have perfected in recent years. BrettFavre torched the Dallas D for four TDs on just 24 pass attempts, while Tony Romo pulled his annual postseason disappearing act. Under heavy pressure all day, Romo led the Dallas offense to just a single field goal, while producing a meager 198 yards on 35 attempts (5.7 YPA) and committing three turnovers. The Cowboys have appeared in a record 58 postseason games (33-25). The 31-point loss to Minnesota was the second biggest playoff beating the organization has ever suffered.
 
Strength: Defensive efficiency. Running game. The Cowboys were not particularly impressive in any single defensive indicator, except the most important one: points allowed.
  • Dallas ranked 8th on our Defensive Hog Index
  • 20 teams were better at forcing negative pass plays
  • 25 teams hauled in more INTs.
  • The Cowboys surrenderd a rather pedestrian 5.2 yards per play – an entire yard more than the league-leading Jets.
Yet the vast difference did not show up on the scoreboard: the top-ranked Jets surrendered 236 points; the second-ranked Cowboys surrendered 250 points. When push came to shove, Dallas kept opponents out of the end zone.
 
The running game remains a powerful force, too.  Dallas averaged a tremendous 4.82 YPA on the ground in 2009, second only to the historic 5.18 YPA turned out by Tennessee and second-year phenom Chris Johnson. Marion Barber has been the workhorse, but Felix Jones has quietly been one of the great homerun hitters we've ever seen. In two interrupted seasons (a total of 20 games) he's produced 951 yards on just 146 carries (6.5 YPA). The talk is that he might become the featured back in 2010. It would be the right move, as long as Dallas doesn't overwork him.
 
Weakness: Leadership. Jerry Jones remains one of the most powerful owners in sports and one not afraid to put his imprint on the team. His lifelong partnership with Jimmy Johnson produced a dynasty early in his reign.
 
But few below him today seem to exhibit the leadership usually needed to achieve postseason success: Wade Phillips in January finally earned the first postseason victory of his 10-year coaching career – but before that he suffered the distinction of being the winningest regular-season coach who had never won a postseason game. And, of course, the single playoff win was followed by a spectacular playoff disaster against the Vikings.
 
Great teams almost always have quarterbacks identified as leaders – but Tony Romo continues to be the master of big, empty numbers that end in devastating playoff losses. He's Peyton Manning Lite. DeMarcus Ware is the team's best defender – four straight Pro Bowls and a tremendous 45 sacks in the last three years. But until last year, he had yet to lead a defense that came even close to elite. And, in the four playoff games since Ware's been the face of the defense, the Dallas D has yet to produce a signature postseason effort while surrendering an average of 22.5 PPG.
 
Somebody's gotta step up for this team and help it live up to the wave of hype and misplaced promise that always follows America's Team. 
 
General off-season strategy/overview: The Cowboys are in a curious position. They seem to have most of the major pieces in place to produce a Super Bowl contender. But this alleged bounty of talent has yet to produce anything of note.
 
Statistically speaking, though, the needs are on offense. Dallas ranked second in scoring defense, but just 14th in scoring offense. Even worse: the Cowboys were 25th in Scoreability. In other words, they churned up a lot of empty yards that failed to produce points. So clearly the team needs to do something to improve its mediocre output of 2009.
 
However, we harbor institutional doubts about the ability of the Dallas offense to carry the team to a Super Bowl – at least as presently constructed. Romo has absolutely everything around him a quarterback can ask for: his offense line was No. 3 in our Offensive Hog Index last year; his running game was the second best in football; he has great weapons at tight end and at wide receiver. Yet he still failed to produce points and the offense collapsed in the biggest game of the year.
 
So we say Dallas doubles down on defense and hopes it can create one of those rare elite defenses good enough to carry an offense through the offense's rough patches and to a Super Bowl title.
  
Totally premature 2010 diagnosis: The Cowboys needed a Week 17 win over the Eagles to earn the division title and a chance to host the Eagles the very next week in the wildcard playoffs. Both teams ended the year 11-5. There's no reason at this point to believe that the 2010 season will be any easier. But it appears Dallas has what it takes to, at the very least, battle for the division crown right to the every end.
 
N.Y. Giants
The Vital Signs
2009 record: 8-8 (25.1 – 26.7 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 3-6 (24.9 – 34.2)
Last five seasons: 49-31 (.613)
Best Quality Stat in 2009: Passing Yards Per Attempt, Scoreability (9th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2009: Bendability (32nd)
 
Best game of 2009: 44-7 win vs. Oakland (Week 5).  The Raiders were a bad team last year, but the manner in which the Giants dispatched them early in the season marked one of the most impressive efforts by any team in all of 2009. The Giants raced out to a 28-0 lead in the second quarter, behind a brutally effective day by Eli Manning (8 of 10, 173 yards, 2 TD 0 INT), and ended the day with 483 yards of offense to just 124 for the Raiders.
 
New York improved to 5-0 and was everybody analyst's favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Even we had the G-Men No. 1 in our Power Rankings. The Giants, however, spent too much time reading their rave reviews that week and not enough time preparing for future opponents: they were destroyed by the Saints, 48-27, the following week, the start of a four-game losing streak.
 
Worst game of 2009: 41-9 loss vs. Carolina (Week 16). The Giants sported an 8-6 record and faced a must-win home game in late December when the Panthers rolled into town. The Giants simply rolled over. Jonathan Stewart gashed the New York defense for 206 rushing yards, while Matt Moore looked like the second coming of Bart Starr (15 of 20, 171 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) as Carolina eliminated the Giants from the playoffs. It was one of the worst no-show efforts by a team in need of a win – at home no less – in recent memory.
 
Strength: Eli Manning. Yes, that's right, Eli Manning. Oh, sure, he'll never be an elite quarterback in a statistical sense. But he's proven that he can be a winner when put in the right situation and he doesn't appear to possess the postseason jitters that have plagued the otherwise historic career of his big brother.
 
Eli's emerged as a competent leader and a more than competent quarterback. The 2009 regular season was easily the best of his career. Manning posted career bests in completion percentage (62.3), yards (4,021), touchdowns (27), touchdown percentage (5.3%), yards per attempt (7.9) and passer rating (93.1). He led the Giants to 402 points (8th) and did it in a year in which the ground game was merely average.
 
Weakness: A gutless defense. No team made it easier for opponents to score points, as evidenced by New York's dead last ranking in Bendability. The Giants were a respectable 13th in total defense, but a dreadful 30th in scoring defense. Opponents turned 5,179 yards of offense into a tremendous 427 points. The Big Blue wilted on defense in critical situations all year. To put that into perspective, the dreadful Browns surrendered 6,227 yards last year, but allowed only 375 points in the process.
 
Even New York's once-proud Defensive Hogs were a shadow of their 2007 championship selves: the Giants ranked just 17th on our Defensive Hog Index, and no better than 14th in any individual indicator on the DHI. The Giants gotta grow a set on defense if they're going to be competitive in 2010.
   
General off-season strategy/overview: Dishing out $37 million for former Arizona safety Antrel Rolle indicates that management is fully aware of its defensive needs. Whether he proves worth the money is a different debate all together. But at least management has the appearance of a clue.
  
Totally premature 2010 diagnosis: The Giants will be a contender again if Rolle lives up to the money and if another playmaker or two emerges on defense. We like the ability of Eli & Co. to keep the offense a contender for the years to come.
 
Philadelphia
Vital Signs
2009 record: 11-5 (26.8 PPG – 21.1 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-4 (19.0 – 26.0)
Last five seasons: 44-35-1 (.556)
Best Quality Stat in 2009: Defensive Hog Index (2nd)
Worst Quality Stat in 2009: Bendability (20th)
 
Best game of 2009: 34-7 win at Atlanta (Week 13). The Eagles went on an impressive six-game win streak in November and December, highlighted by the almost effortless annihiliation of the Falcons in Atlanta. Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick each threw touchdown passes, while Vick added another on the ground. Sheldon Brown picked off a Chris Redman pass and returned it 83 yards for another score. The Eagles held a 34-0 lead in the fourth quarter before the Falcons scored a garbage time TD.
 
Worst game of 2009: 24-0 loss at Dallas (Week 17)/34-14 loss at Dallas (wildcard). The Eagles had ripped through six straight wins and had all the earmarks of a Super Bowl contender. With a win over Dallas in the regular-season finale, they'd win the division. Instead, the Eagles were destroyed by their division foes in back-to-back weeks. Philly was outgained 900 yards to 568 and outscored 58-14. It was probably the the worst two consecutive weeks in modern franchise history.
 
Strength: Defensive playmaking. The Eagles were third in the NFL last year in forcing negative pass plays (11.06%). When it came to picking off passes, only the Packers (30), Bills (28) and Super Bowl-champ Saints (26) forced more than the Eagles (25). Cornerback Asante Samuel shared the league lead in individual interceptions (9), with representatives of each of those three teams. And only two teams, the Vikings and Steelers, forced more sacks in 2009 than the Eagles (44). Those gamebreaking defensive plays generally lead to victories – provided the gamebreaking defense is paired with a consistent offense.
 
Weakness: Instability/inconsistency at quarterback. You don't win in the NFL without a premier quarterback, and the Eagles right now do not have one. The Donovan McNabb Era seems to be dwindling to a very good but ultimately unsuccessful end, with the perennial Pro Bowl quarterback the subject of countless trade rumors.
 
The numbers McNabb has put up in his career make him a legit consideration for the Hall of Fame. He's passed for more yards than any quarterback in Eagles history. Only one quarterback in NFL history protected the ball better than McNabb (2.107% INT rate) – Neil O'Donnell, of all people, and just barely (2.106%).
 
But the inconsistency has been startling, and the 2009 season was no exception: the Eagles dropped 33 on a lousy Tampa team in Week 5, then followed it with 9 points against a lousy Oakland team a week later. The Eagles dropped 40 on the Giants in Week 8, then followed it with 16 points against the Cowboys a week later.
 
Then, of course, the Eagles looked like an unstoppable offensive juggernaut from Weeks 12 to 16, scoring 163 points in five games (32.6 PPG). Then they were blanked in Week 17 by the Cowboys, in what was a de facto NFC East title game. It's been infuriating offense for years, despite McNabb's great numbers, and never more infuriating than the way it was at the end of the 2009 season.
   
General off-season strategy: Straighten out the quarterback season, and do it now. We all know you don't win in the NFL without stability at QB and strong play at the position. Either McNabb is your man or he's not and you start anew with the next guy: whether Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick or somebody coming out of college. But don't let the situation sit and stew like a gameday chili.
 
Look what indecision did for the Packers: it left them saddled with an aging big-game disaster of a quarterback with a No. 1 draft pick holding a clip board, and put the young guy with the big contract years behind in his gametime maturation process.
 
And, in a true bit of irony, the rumor is that McNabb would like to play for the Vikings. But BrettFavre is currently in the process of f*cking up Minnesota's off season, much like he did Green Bay's so many times. BrettFavre reportedly will not decide if he's returning unitl after the draft next month. Talk about douchebaggery of the highest order. If the Vikings had any sense of dignity, they'd send him packing and get on with the future. But apparently BrettFavre holds some sort of voodoo like powers over NFL management teams. But more on that whole situation later. 
  
Totally premature 2010 diagnosis: The Eagles were easily the NFC's best team of the 2000s – eight winning seasons, eight playoff appearances, five title-game appearances, one conference title. We think the management structure is in place – good owner, good coach with a good system – to keep the team a contender provided they get some consistency at QB. McNabb may still be the guy. The Eagles will probably be better in 2010 with him than they would be without him. But being almost-good enough for 10 years has worn thin. And if management decides it's time to pull the trigger on a new centerpiece of the offense, it will probably be 2011 or beyond before it starts to yield results.
 
Washington
The Vital Signs
2009 record: 4-12 (16.6 PPG – 21.0 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 0-7 (16.3 – 23.6)
Last five seasons: 36-44 (.450)
Best Quality Stat in 2009: Defensive Hog Index (14th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2009: Scoreability (29th)
 
Best game of 2009: 33-30 loss vs. New Orleans (Week 13).  It's hard to find highlights in a four-win season in which the victories came over the 2-14 Rams, 3-13 Buccaneers, 5-11 Raiders and free-falling 8-8 Broncos. So nearly beating the eventual Super Bowl champs when they were red-hot and 11-0 was as good a performance as we saw out of the Redskins in 2009.
 
Washington outplayed the Saints for much of the day and held a 30-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter. But a field goal and a 53-yard Drew Brees touchdown pass to Robert Meachem tied the game, and Garrett Hartley booted the game-winner in overtime. The game is best remembered today for launching a cultural phenomenon in the Big Easy: the Unknown Who Dat.
 
Worst game of 2009: 19-14 loss at Detroit (Week 3).  The Lions had lost 19 straight games, including all 16 contests in 2008, but were still good enough to beat a pathetic Redskins team giving a pathetic effort at pathetic Ford Field in front of pathetically frustrated fans, both of them. The Lions held a 13-0 lead in the third quarter before the Redskins finally scored a point. It pays to remember that this very same Lions defense had surrendered 72 points in the first two games of 2009 and 517 points throughout 2008. It was one of the worst defenses in history, yet Washington could do little against it.
 
Strength: Not much. The Redskins were fairly stout on run defense, allowing opponents just 4.02 YPA (10th). But the No. 10 rated run defense and all the high-priced, do-nothing government hacks in D.C. won't get you much in the NFL.  
 
Weakness: Institutional instability. Dan Snyder obviously knows how to build a business. But he doesn't know shit about building a football team. The Redskins right now are a disaster. They do virtually nothing well. All the high-priced free agents over the years have yet to produce anything. The Jim Zorn Era was a disaster.
 
And now it all lands on the shoulders of Mike Shanahan. Shanahan had great success in Denver, winning two Super Bowls, while consistently contending for AFC titles. But as his critics like to point out, Shanahan never won a Super Bowl after John Elway rode off into the sunset. We're not so critical of that fact. We'd be more worried about meddling from ownership. Left to his own devices in terms of personnel and onfield strategy, Shanahan has a better chance of building a winner. 
   
General off-season strategy: Get out of Shanahan's way. Find a franchise quarterback. Begin the rebuilding process. Jason Campbell has been given four years to make his case, and the team has not improved in any way, and he's yet to prove anything more than milquetoast. Reports say that the team is eyeing the young QB studs in the draft, including Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford. Once that decision is made, the Redskins can begin installing the mighty Shanahan Offense that infuriated so many Denver opponents for so many years.
  
Totally premature 2010 diagnosis: Take two Oxys and call us in 2012. We'd be shocked if the Redskins won more than six games in 2010. In a best-case scenario, a Washington team led by a second-year quarterback might compete in 2011. But, given all the changes needed, we'll bank on 2012 before Shanahan and his third-year quarterback makes the Redskins a true threat.  

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