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Mid-Season Report Cards and Awards: NFC East


Usually when it comes to the NFC East, it is four teams that hover around the .500 mark and the division winner ends up with a 9-7 record. This season, two teams have broken away from the other two, and injuries have surrounded one of the NFL’s most exciting divisions.

Philadelphia Eagles (7-2)

Overall Grade: A-

Breakdown:

Offense: Nick Foles wasn’t having quite the year he had in 2013 when he only threw two interceptions. Thus far in 2014, Foles had thrown ten interceptions to go along with 13 touchdowns before suffering a broken collarbone in a win over the Houston Texans, ending his season. Replacing Foles was Mark Sanchez, who hadn’t played a regular season game since December of 2012. Sanchez came in for the injured Foles to throw a pair of touchdowns and win the game.

Mark Sanchez (3) replaced Nick Foles and has won back-to-back games for the Eagles.

Mark Sanchez (3) replaced Nick Foles and has won back-to-back games for the Eagles.

In his first start last week on primetime against the Carolina Panthers, Sanchez threw for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 45-21 victory.

Running back LeSean McCoy hasn’t been the beast he was a year ago so far in 2014. He’s had three separate games where he has rushed for less than 23 yards. But McCoy has rebounded, rushing for over 80 yards in four of the last five games. The Eagles got McCoy a new teammate in the off-season, signing running back Darren Sproles. Sproles has been the perfect duo to McCoy, rushing for 236 yards this season and catching 21 passes for 257 yards.

Through the air, Jeremy Maclin is the Eagles leading receiver. Maclin has 48 catches for 828 yards and eight touchdowns, and has been complemented by fellow receiver Jordan Matthews. The rookie from Vanderbilt only had three receptions in the first two games, but since then has had three or more receptions in seven consecutive games while scoring five touchdowns.

On defense, the Eagles rankings make them look average. They are 22nd against the pass and 19th against the rush, but have constantly been able to pressure the opposing quarterback. Connor Barwin leads the team with 10.5 sacks, and Brandon Graham and Trent Cole have each tallied 4.5 sacks this season.

The rest of the year is where the Eagles will have to earn their second straight division title. Four of their next five games will be against teams with winning records, and they have yet to face division rival Dallas, who they will play twice in the span of just three weeks.

Dallas Cowboys (7-3)

Overall Grade: B+

Breakdown:

Offense: Tony Romo has been one of the most talked about, ridiculed and tested quarterbacks in the entire NFL. This season, the Cowboys have turned into a run-first offense, limiting Romo’s drop backs and overall, costly mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games in the past. Sine throwing three interceptions in the first game of the season in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Romo has only thrown three interceptions on 232 total pass attempts. Romo was injured in a Monday Night loss to the Washington Redskins, and couldn’t return until late. His injury gave backup quarterback Brandon Weeden his first chance as a Cowboy to get the job done. Weeden couldn’t bring the Cowboys back against the Skins, and then threw two interceptions in his first start with the team the following week in a 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Rushing wise, DeMarco Murray has gotten MVP talks from a lot of people, calling him the saving grace to this seven win Cowboys team. He started the season with eight consecutive 100 yard performances, before totaling 79 in the loss to the Cardinals. Murray leads the NFL with 1233 rushing yards, and could be on his way to breaking the single season rushing record of  2,105, set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

DeMarco Murray (29) leads the NFL with 1233 rushing yards so far in 2014.

DeMarco Murray (29) leads the NFL with 1233 rushing yards so far in 2014.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant has been the usual beast we’ve all seen from him. Bryant has scored in seven out of 10 games this season and is the Cowboys leading receiver with 793 yards and 56 receptions. Bryant’s eight receiving touchdowns is tied for second most in the NFL among wide receivers.

In 2013, the Cowboys defense set records of how statistically bad they were. Going into this season, the Cowboys lost linebacker Sean Lee in training camp, and lost long-time defensive end DeMarcus Ware to the Denver Broncos, leading many to believe this defense would be the worst in the NFL once again. But so far, the defense has stood strong, They may only be ranked 25th in the league, but the defense has been a middle of the road unit, ranking 13th against the run and 16th against the pass; which has been enough to get the job done.

The Cowboys still have four division games to be played, two of them against the first place Eagles. They will also have a tough matchup in week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts.

This division should go down to the wire between the Eagles and Cowboys just like it did in 2013, and this year will be a fun race as we enter the second half of the season.

New York Giants (3-6)

Overall Grade: C

Breakdown:

Offense: Coming off his worst season of his career, Eli Manning has been better, throwing 17 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Manning has missed a run game that was highlighted early in the year by first-year Giant Rashard Jennings, who went out with an injuried knee in Week five against the Atlanta Falcons and is finally going to return after missing the last four games. Jennings is still the leading rusher on the team despite his absence, as backup running back Andre Williams hasn’t been too productive, averaging less than three yards per carry in his 114 attempts.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) has 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2014.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) has 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2014.

The Giants haven’t won a game since Jennings went down with his injury.

Lately, the receiving corps has been highlighted by rookie Odell Beckham Jr. The LSU grad has caught 15 passes in the last two games, and had over 100 yards in both of those games. Rueben Randle is the teams leading receiver with only 409 yards. Salsa dancing receiver Victor Cruz suffered a knee injury in a loss to the Eagles in week six and is out for the season. Tight end Larry Donell has been a big part of the passing game as well, including a three touchdown performance in a 45-14 win over the Redskins.

Robert Ayers has been the sole of a defensive line that lost Justin Tuck in the off-season, leading the team in sacks with four. Cornerback Prince Amukamara leads the team with 11 passes defended and is tied with Antrel Rolle for the team lead in interceptions with three on the year. The problem with the defense is against the run, where they rank dead last in the NFL, surrendering 144 yards per game on the ground. Just last week, they allowed five rushing touchdowns in a 38-17 loss on the road against Seattle.

If the Giants want to make a run at some type of playoff spot, they will have to be near flawless. They have two tough games right away when they host the San Francisco 49ers this week and then turn around the next week to welcome in the Dallas Cowboys. They will however, have a four game span from weeks 13-16 against four straight sub. 500 teams.

Washington Redskins (3-6)

Overall Grade: D+

Breakdown:

Offense: The Robert Griffin roller coaster continues to surround the Redskins franchise, as the quarterback was injured in week two against the Jacksonville Jaguars and returned after missing five games, last week in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Griffin has only thrown one touchdown and one interception, but he is clearly a long way away from his highlight tape esc rookie season. His replacements have been okay to say the least. Kirk Cousins looked like the answer when he replaced Griffin in week two, throwing a pair of touchdowns to lead the Skins to their first win. But turnovers hurt Cousins as he threw nine of them in his five game reign as the starter.

Colt McCoy replaced Cousins and led the Redskins to a Monday Night win, on the road against the Dallas Cowboys. But McCoy’s time was short lived when Griffin returned after the week 10 bye.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (above) has missed six games this season before returning last week against the Vikings.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (above) has missed six games this season before returning last week against the Vikings.

Running back Alfred Morris is on pace for another 1,000 yard season. So far in 2014, he has 605 yards and six touchdowns.

The receiving game has been improved dramatically for the Redskins with the signing of DeSean Jackson. Jackson leads the team with 784 yard and four touchdowns, while also leading the entire NFL with a 21.8 yards per catch average.

The Washington defense ranks as the no. 7 defense in the NFL, but has struggled to get takeaways, only tallying eight all year. They have been able to get after the quarterback, they sacked Blake Bortles 10 times in week two, and sacked Tony Romo five times in their week nine matchup.

The Redskins, like the Giants above them, are going to have to play outstanding football from here on out. They lost a 29-26 game to the Minnesota Vikings last week which hurt them a lot. They have four games remaining against winning teams, and playoff chances in a tough NFC look bleak.

AWARDS

Offensive MVP of the First Half: DAL, RB DeMarco Murray

Murray is, without question, the division’s MVP, he is getting MVP talks for the entire NFL. He is putting up video game like numbers and could break the NFL record for rushing yards in a season if his hot streak continues.

Defensive MVP of the First Half: PHI, DE Connor Barwin

Barwin has anchored the Eagles defensive front all year and his 10.5 sacks ranks second in the NFL.

Comeback Player of the First Half: NYG, QB Eli Manning

After Manning’s awful 27 interception season a year ago, he has kept the ball clean, for the most part; throwing just six interceptions to 17 touchdowns with not a lot of help from his running game since Jennings went down with an injury.

Letdown of the First Half: WASH, QB Robert Griffin III

I know you can’t blame Griffin for getting injured, but as a starter, he hasn’t won a game since November 3rd of last year and is getting questioned form inside his own locker room. Griffin really just needs to get a win to earn the trust back from his fellow teammates.

 

Cover Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Shelby Dermer

Shelby Dermer

Editor-in-Chief at Sports Grumble
Shelby is a junior studying Journalism at Ohio University. A graduate of Waynesville High School, Shelby did football and baseball play-by-play for Waynesville and had his own sports column in the WHS Spartacus Newspaper while also playing basketball for the Spartans. Now at Ohio, Shelby covers Ohio University Volleyball, Basketball, Baseball, and softball for Speakeasy Magazine where he is the sports' editor. He is an enormous fan of the NFL and MLB and writes Cincinnati Bengals/Reds articles as editor-in-chief of RiverfrontGrumble.com. Find Shelby on SportsGrumble.com, as well, where he also serves as editor-in-chief. Shelby is a frequent commentator on wellroundedpodcast.com discussing sports-related news. Follow Shelby on Twitter @scdermer4
Shelby Dermer

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