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Catching Up In So-So NFC East

Posted Nov 22, 2012

We speak of the NFC East in reverent tones as history suggests we should, and we bow to the rivalries within. The current state of the division says otherwise, though ...

After watching Washington hold off Dallas on Thanksgiving, it's clear that anything can happen in the division. The NFC East is a four-team race in which nobody has stepped forward with authority to take command.

These last couple of years have been as mediocre as it gets in the once-mighty NFC East, and while the Giants got hot at the right time and won the Super Bowl, they were anything but a dominating team in 2011. They were a 9-7 team that reached the playoffs and they followed the adage that every team follows: You've got to be in it to win it. The Giants were in the playoffs and they won the Super Bowl.

And the Giants lead the East with a 6-4 record as they prepare for Sunday night's game against  the visiting Packers. It's a huge game for so many reasons for so many teams.  A New York loss would push the Giants down to 6-5 and the Eagles are 3-7 and ...

OK, I'll stop. The Eagles have lost six straight games, and some of those losses have been among the ugliest in recent time. The goal is to have a one-game winning streak, rather than entertain any talk of closing the game in the NFC East.

But in the big picture of this franchise, and in this very critical period in team history, the Eagles know they must first rule the NFC East before they can again become a Super Bowl-contending team. And the feeling here, late on a night when I've had so much turkey and watched too much football, is that the Eagles don't have to chase the Mount Everest of the NFL.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is no excuse for being 3-7 and losing six straight games. The Eagles are a flawed team and they have a lot of very difficult decisions to make in the coming months should the football team not reel off a bravo finish in the final six weeks of the 2012 regular season.

The focus for the Eagles is to end the losing streak with a win on Monday night against Carolina, and that is not going to be easy to accomplish giving the performances these last six games.

I tell you this, though: The Eagles are going to turn this around and they are going to rule the NFC East once again. Whether that cycle starts on Monday night, or the following Sunday at Dallas or in 2013, I don't know. The great NFL franchises emerge from their down periods very quickly. That's the challenge ahead for the entire Eagles organization.

The point here is that the entire NFC East is pocked with problems. Washington is the hottest team in the division after walloping the Eagles and then stunning the Cowboys. The Redskins are all of 5-6 and are now being discussed as "contenders" in a division that nobody wants to win.

Washington is riding behind its rookie backfield of quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, and it's working. Griffin has been terrific for much of the season, with his best football in the wins over the Eagles and Cowboys. The Redskins are playing much better defensively than most anticipated with all of the injuries they've had, notably to Pro Bowl pass rusher Brian Orakpo, defensive end Adam Carriker and safety Brandon Merriweather.

What's impressive to me is that the offensive coaches have schemed to give RGIII a lot of safe throws, have X'd and O'd their receivers to wide-open spots and keep churning with the running game, some of it borrowed from the college game (Pistol formation, options, etc) and some of it just straight old Redskins running game.

In Dallas, there is the usual inconsistency. The Cowboys escaped on Sunday to beat  Cleveland in overtime and then blew a chance to put pressure on the Giants by losing to Washington. I saw an injury that should concern the Cowboys: Outstanding linebacker Bruce Carter left the game and did not return with an elbow injury, and if the Cowboys lose him they will miss a big-time player in their scheme.

The Cowboys have been unable to run the football with any reliability, and while quarterback Tony Romo has put up big numbers, the offense just hasn't scored a lot of points. Rob Ryan's defense gave up too many big plays against Washington, and the Cowboys are stewing with a 5-6 record as they prepare for the Eagles next Sunday.

New York was awful in November, and the Giants face a critical game on Sunday night against the red-hot Packers. The Giants are very much the team to beat in the NFC East and they deserve all the respect in the world for winning two Super Bowls in the last five seasons. They are an example of a franchise that knows how to dig out of a tough season and bounce back strong. When they Giants are down, they aren't down for long.

Winding back to the Eagles, well, you know the story of this season. You know where the Eagles sit. There are some major concerns and we have discussed them repeatedly over the course of the last several weeks of this painful campaign.

The view from the bottom of the NFC East is not a pretty one, but it is not an insurmountable one, either. The NFC East just isn't very good, top to bottom. Maybe that's going to change in the weeks ahead, but so far no team has separated itself from the rest.

And so as I go to sleep and dream of a win on Monday night and better days ahead for the Eagles, I know that the distance to the top of the division, which is the first step in re-establishing the Eagles as a playoff team and more, isn't as great as the reputation of the NFC East would suggest.

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