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Race Tightens In NFC East

Posted Nov 4, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Pardon us if most in the Eagles' travel party spent Sunday night not on Bourbon Street enjoying the French Quarter, but instead watching the NFC East race tighen considerably ...

A clean sweep of the NFC East on Sunday -- Washington lost to Carolina, New York fell to Pittsburgh and Dallas went down at Atlanta -- provides an entirely new perspective for the Eagles as they prepare for this Monday night tester against the Saints.

The math says that at midseason the division is anybody's ballgame. The Eagles need to beat New Orleans, of course, to reach 4-4 and really put some pressure on the 6-3 Giants. Dallas is 3-5 and will be at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. Washington has declared that it will use the rest of the season to "evaluate players," according to head coach Mike Shanahan.

It's never over, till it's, uh, you know the rest ...

So, the only game remaining this week in the NFL is Eagles-Saints, and the many variables involved. If you want the nickel-tour evaluation of the rest of the division before I get deeper into Eagles-Saints, here you go ...

  • Washington is feeling the impact of losing some standout defensive players, and quarterback Robert Griffin III is taking way too many hits and his body is paying for it. He had X-rays on his aching ribs after losing to Carolina on Sunday. Washington has a terrific rookie running back in Alfred Morris, but the Redskins are challenged elsewhere offensively. Sounds to me, based on what Shanahan said, that the Redskins are in survival mode now.
  • The Giants received a couple of gifts from the officials to take a 10-point lead and carry it into the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh but saw it fall away as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense mixed the run and pass and staged a furious comeback. Eli Manning is missing something in the passing game and New York's defense just hasn't been as effective this season. Dallas nearly pulled off a miracle comeback a week earlier and Pittsburgh did it despite some travel challenges on Sunday. Huge loss for the Giants, are who going to have a very tough game at 3-5 Cincinnati ahead.
  • Dallas played a defensive game in Atlanta and did not generate enough offense early and couldn't get enough stops late to lose to the unbeaten Falcons. I saw a lot of success for the Falcons throwing the football in the middle of the field, and the release passes to running back Jacquizz Rodgers hurt Dallas late in the game after the no-huddle offense put seven points on the board quickly to bring the Cowboys to within 16-13. If I'm Todd Bowles, I get back to the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday and expect Dallas to run some no-huddle offense. Quarterback Tony Romo completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards -- and Dallas scored only 13 points. Something is wrong there.

Anyway, back to the Eagles. They have to take care of their business on Monday in a really tough spot. Even without Darren Sproles, New Orleans has a dynamic offense. The scheme is great. Drew Brees is a brilliant quarterback. Jimmy Graham is a game-breaking tight end and Marcus Colston is a big-time receiver and I would expect Nnamdi Asomugha to see a lot of Colston in this game..

On offense, there a couple of things. Quarterback Michael Vick is going to call the protection for the first time this season, something he did last year. Line coach Howard Mudd changed it up for 2012, giving center Jason Kelce that responsibility. But with Dallas Reynolds in there now, the Eagles are changing it back to the way it was last year. Reynolds can focus on blocking, rather than also accepting the mental duties. Vick is in charge of changing protections.

As for the scheme, the Eagles need to be more explosive. They need to move the ball down the field in gulps. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Eagles look to take some shots down the field early on Monday game.

All I know is that I feel a whole lot better about the Eagles in the NFC East after Sunday. I felt lousy after the loss to Atlanta last Sunday and having a three-game losing streak is hard to take, but the fact is that the Eagles control their destiny this year. We are reminded once again that a 16-game regular season is a marathon and not a sprint, and if the Eagles can win this one and then get hot as the NFC East schedule heats up -- five of the final eight games of the year come within the division -- hey, who knows?

First things first, though. Beat the Saints. Reward the thousands of Eagles fans who made the trip to New Orleans to see a win, and to see a season turn around in the right direction.

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