NFC East: Redskins Running for Daylight
by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Aired Many Grievances This Festivus
Lots of Holiday cheer to go around in the Beltway this festive season.
Not only did the Baltimore Ravens win the AFC North (more on that later on), but the Washington Redskins firmly placed themselves in the NFC East driver's seat as the penultimate week comes to a close.
Their lone competition for the division title, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, each lost on Sunday, but still each have a chance to get into the playoffs, provided certain breaks go their way.
For the Giants to get in, they need to win, and the Vikings and Bears each need to lose. Tall order, considering Chicago gets Detroit.
As for Dallas and Washington, the winner of their Week 17 battle gets the East, while the loser has to hope the other scenarios have deteriorated to the point where they can still get in via the wild card.
As for the Philadelphia Eagles, well, Chip Kelly's a trending name around town these days.
1. Redskins Efficient in Close Win Over Eagles
Now 9-6, the Redskins are night and day from their status as a 3-6 team, then written off as the Giants appeared to have taken firm control of the NFC East.
Six wins later, 3 over teams with winning records, and 4 over division rivals, and the Redskins control their own destiny as far as playoff entry goes.
The latest victory was a 27-20 tug-and-pull with the Eagles, whom they walloped 31-6 back in November to begin this streak.
Robert Griffin III didn't put up his stellar 158.3 passer rating like in that first meeting, but he did enough to get the job done, completing two-thirds of his passes (16/24) for 198 yards and 2 scores, while throwing one pick on a deflection. His rating for the day still topped 100, clocking in at 102.4.
The running game also showed up to play, averaging 4.57 yards a carry. Alfred Morris led the charge with 91 yards on 22 carries (4.1 YPA), and a touchdown.
Morris now has 1413 rushing yards for the season, putting him twelfth place on the rookie rushing yards list, one spot behind Jerome Bettis' 1993 campaign (1429). With his performance Sunday, Morris passes the likes of Jamal Lewis (1364) and Adrian Peterson (1341).
The defense did a number on Nick Foles, racking up 5 sacks on the way to a win. Ryan Kerrigan in particular netted 2 sacks and a forced fumble, spending much of the afternoon tormenting rookie lineman Dennis Kelly.
2. Dallas Loses Wild Shootout to Saints
What is it with the New Orleans Saints and putting up big numbers against the Cowboys?
On December 10, 2006, the Saints torched a rising Cowboys team 42-17, in Sean Payton's first game against former protege Tony Romo. The Saints produced 536 yards of offense in that thrashing.
Fast forward six years, and the Saints topped that high mark, totaling 562 yards in a 34-31 overtime victory at Cowboys Stadium.
That 562 yards is the most allowed by Dallas since November 10, 1991, when the Houston Oilers had 583 yards against the Cowboys. The 562 from Sunday marks the second-highest total allowed by "America's Team".
Dallas proved to be no slouches either, amassing 446 yards, their third highest total of the season.
Dez Bryant himself had 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, becoming only the tenth player in Cowboys history with over 200 receiving yards. Miles Austin was the last Cowboy to do it, with 250 in 2009.
Despite forcing overtime with an Austin touchdown, the Saints would win on a rather lucky break. Marques Colston fumbled a pass over the middle, one propelled all the way to Dallas' 2-yard line, which Jimmy Graham slid upon. Garrett Hartley kicked the deciding field goal seconds later.
The Saints playoff hopes were shattered thanks to a Minnesota victory at the same time, and they were unable to play spoiler for Dallas, but a win's a win regardless.
3. Giants Can't Stop the Slide
Over the past 3 games, the Giants have been outscored 94-66.
What makes it worse is that, for New York, 52 of their points came in one game.
After getting humbled 34-0 by the home-field-wielding Falcons a week ago, the Giants turn around and get splattered 33-14 by the Baltimore Ravens.
This marks the first time the Giants have given up 30+ points in back to back games since December last year, when Green Bay and Dallas went for 38 and 34 respectively.
The Ravens dominated time of possession, owning the ball for 39:21, and running up 533 yards of offense to New York's 186. This is the third time Tom Coughlin's team has given up 500 yards of offense, once a year since the 2010 season (515 to Green Bay in 2010, 577 to New Orleans last year).
The Giants falling behind early led to an abandonment of their effective running game, which gained 67 yards on 14 carries (4.79 YPA). Ahmad Bradshaw led the team in carries with 9, good for 39 yards (4.33 YPA).
The Ravens only had to punt the ball twice, and the Giants made little use of their limited possession time, going 1 for 9 on third down. A surprise, given their 40.8 percent success rate on thirds, the eleventh best average in the league.
But Baltimore stepped up to win the AFC North and end their 3-game skid. The Giants, on the other hand, find their championship in very real jeopardy.
4. Eagles Lose in Reid's Likely Final Game
From his first loss as head coach in Philadelphia on September 12, 1999, to today, Andy Reid's received many a jeer and catcall from the Philly Phaithful after losses.
With his 14-year tenure as the Eagles' leader likely coming to an end, the reaction on Sunday was mixed. Some applauded Reid for the heights he was able to take the team in the first half of his run, while many booed, looking forward to Chip Kelly or Jon Gruden or whomever else pops up on the hiring queue.
As the Eagles take stock of their 2012 season, with a new boss overseeing sweeping changes like an eager foreman, the following is to be considered:
Nick Foles is capable player, but his ceiling will never be known until his offensive line is in place. With Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans healthy, plus the possibility of drafting Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M, the chances of Foles having more time to make better reads is very real.
But whoever takes the reins had better fix the playcalling disparity. With 75 called plays on Sunday, the Eagles called 57 of them as passes, or 76 percent. Despite having a healthy LeSean McCoy joining Bryce Brown, the duo combined for 17 carries.
The defense didn't play all that poorly, holding Washington to 313 yards of offense and 185 net passing, both numbers considerably better than they've played most of the year, so the improvement is there.
But with Reid likely out the door in one week, none of this will be his concern much longer.
5. The Grand Finale
The four teams will meet in 2 games to close the 2012 season, both with playoff implications.
Washington and Dallas is the big one, and has already been flexed out to NBC Sunday Night Football. Real simple: the winner wins the division. A Dallas lost knocks them out of the playoffs altogether, while a Redskins loss can vary for them, depending on how Chicago, Minnesota, and New York do earlier in the day.
Speaking of New York, they draw Philadelphia in the finale up at MetLife, and need a win to keep even the faintest of faint hope alive. If the Cowboys, Vikings, and Bears all lose, and the Giants beat the Eagles, then New York claims the sixth seed. If any of those fail to happen, the defending champions don't get to defend their championship.
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