DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys rolled through the Saints. Can they win the NFC East? (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
It only took 20 minutes for the Dallas Cowboys to experience their first humiliation of the 2014 season. Soon after many called Dallas the worst team in the league. Then the Cowboys, led mostly by DeMarco Murray, reeled off three straight convincing wins. They erased a 21 point deficit against a solid Rams defense in Week 3 and then dominated the New Orleans Saints from kickoff to final knee. At 3-1, the Cowboys look like competitors in the NFC East.
Really? Yes, really. Look around. Who’s running away with the division? The Eagles can’t run the football, their quarterback is a mess, and the defense isn’t exactly a top tier unit. The Giants have looked good recently, but Eli Manning will boom and bust a few more times throughout the season and that secondary in New York is hardly intimidating. The Redskins, while impressive at times, are riding a backup quarterback and still lack a formidable defense for what feels like the 2nd consecutive decade. The Cowboys aren’t exactly the belle of the ball, either. They have significant defensive issues and, like the Eagles, can hardly afford an off week offensively.
However, the Cowboys have two things the Eagles do not. 1. A proven and (mostly) reliable quarterback. 2. A healthy, punishing offensive line. Dallas’ league-leading ground game is due to its offensive line. The Eagles know this better than anyone as they’ve seen their league leading ground game from 2013 plummet to 24th in 2014 without three of their starting offensive lineman. LeSean McCoy has suffered and the Eagle offense has too. Given the current atmosphere in the division (especially in Philadelphia), the Cowboys have to be considered NFC East contenders.
Speaking of the NFC East…There’s been some chatter through four weeks of the 2014 NFL season about the NFC East being better than expected. Yes, the division is tied for the most collective wins. Let’s pump the breaks on “the division is good” talk, though. Look at the nine wins spread throughout the division. Two victories were against the 1-3 Redskins. Two were against the 0-4 Jaguars. The Rams and Titans account for two more. Only victories over the Saints, Colts and Texans could qualify as impressive victories and even those are questionable. The Saints appear to be heavily overrated. The Texans have no offense. Only the Colts may actually be good. So yes, the NFC East is better than expected, but only barely.
I’m in the minority on this one, but I’m all for Buffalo bagging EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton. Orton isn’t special but he’s adequate. He’ll give receivers a chance to make plays, something Manuel failed to do with regularity. Furthermore, given the lousiness of the AFC East (as it appears right now), it makes sense for Doug Marrone to try to save his job now by pursing a playoff berth. Long-term it doesn’t make sense for Buffalo unless this is their declaration that EJ Manuel is no longer the future, which I find hard to believe. But Marrone’s butt is on the line right now and this decision gives him the best chance of saving his job. With a solid defense and playmakers on offense, Buffalo isn’t a long shot to win the division as long as New England’s offense continues to be a disaster.
Carolina is in a bad spot. The Saints and Falcons are weaker then expected, keeping the Panthers atop the division and likely in contention for a playoff berth for the long run. However, Cam Newton is not healthy. He can hardly run. He doesn’t get the corner on defenses. His throws have no torque due to bad ribs and a bum ankle. Newton likely won’t be fully healthy until next season, but it might make sense for the Panthers to sit him for an extended time in hopes he’ll get some of his strength and mobility back. However, resting your star player is hard to do when the division is as weak as the NFC South.
Three weeks ago the Panther defense was good enough to carry a sluggish offense. That’s no longer true with Greg Hardy banished to the exempt list. Carolina now has no pass rush and a secondary that was never the defense’s strength has been exposed in alarming fashion. Resting Newton and counting on the defense to win a few games is no longer an option. To win, Carolina will need its offense to pull its fair share of the weight and probably more.
LeSean McCoy doesn’t hit holes like Adrian Peterson. He never has. Stop pretending like the Eagles running problems are due to McCoy. More often than not McCoy is meeting defenders on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is generating no push. As a result, McCoy can’t read and react to the defense. McCoy is great in open space. He’s neutralized without it. Technically speaking, it’s the offensive line’s fault. When you subtract three starters it’s only natural for the line as a whole to struggle. I’ll wait to judge Shady until after he has more than 40% of his starting line back leading the charge out front.
Let’s get to this week’s Power Rankings. Here are the NFL’s:
ICYMI: Patriots plummet, @Lions leap up @HarrisonNFL's latest Power Rankings: http://t.co/vvpu0P63Vc pic.twitter.com/R7ufd4bVsW
— NFL (@nfl) October 1, 2014
I’m still not ok with Denver and Seattle outside of the top two spots. They’re the best teams in the NFL. Beatable? Clearly. But still the best. Other qualms: At first glance the Eagles at six is too high. Then you look at the teams below them and it’s hard to argue any are better. Carolina dropping 13 spots seems extreme, but unless they find a pass rush or a healthy Cam Newton they’re in real trouble. Likewise, I can’t argue with the Texans at 21. Three wins looks good but the Texans win in U-G-L-Y fashion. While Houston’s defense may look good, they have yet to face an offense in the top half of the offensive efficiency rankings. Obviously, I’m dubious. Here are my rankings for the week:
4. San Diego
9. Kansas City
10. Green Bay
Teddy Bridgewater was fun, at least until he got hurt. Hopefully he plays Thursday because the Vikings were legitimately exciting to watch. Of course, the Falcon defense makes every opposing offense legitimately exciting to watch.
The New Orleans Saints are in disarray. The beginning of the season was supposed to be the powder puff portion of their 2014 schedule. Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Dallas were supposed to pad the winning column. Instead, the Saints sit at 1-3 with the schedule taking a turn for the worst after their Week 6 bye; @DET, GB, @CAR, SF, CINC, BAL.
Prime time games have been anything but thrilling. Of the six prime time games in Weeks 3 and 4, only one ended with a single score difference. The margins of victory in the other five games were 42, 18, 31, 21, and 27. That’s an average point differential of 27.8. Obviously, there’s nothing the NFL can do here, but they could use a tight contest under the national spotlight to divert attention from all the chaos surrounding the league right now.
Week 4 MVP: Eli Manning. Runner Up: JJ Watt. Not on the ballot: Kirk Cousins.