Cowboys first in NFC East, but face tough schedule

Nov 5, 2013 3:10 AM

Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches games all day on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps don’t necessarily have. This week: NFC thoughts and opinions from Week 9.

Dallas Cowboys: Dallas had faced four top notch QB’s this year – Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford. All four threw for more than 400 yards against Monte Kiffin’s defense. Here, Christian Ponder had consistent success throwing downfield. This defense just can’t stop the pass, especially with DeMarcus Ware out again, negating any semblance of a pass rush. And there were no shortage of defensive breakdowns either – missed tackles, missed assignments and blown coverages.

Not impressed with the offensive line play against the Vikings, who pressured Tony Romo all afternoon. The Cowboys signed former Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters out of retirement a few weeks ago as a desperation move, but he couldn’t stay healthy; already on IR. Back-to-back sacks killed a red zone chance here, forcing Dan Bailey’s legs to get points, not Romo’s arm.

The Cowboys completely gave up on the run, giving DeMarco Murray only four carries; with only eight rushing attempts on their 63 snaps. Dez Bryant had another on-field meltdown on a day where he had multiple drops. Terrence Williams poor route running was the key factor in a fourth quarter interception from Romo. Yes, the Cowboys currently have a tenuous hold on first place in the NFC East, but they’ve yet to beat an opponent with a winning record and their schedule toughens considerably down the stretch.

St. Louis Rams: In the words of Charles Dickens. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” There were so many positives for Jeff Fisher’s squad against Tennessee. St. Louis ran the football effectively for the second straight week against a solid stop unit with Zac Stacy bulling his way to another 100+ yard game on the ground. The much maligned offensive line blew open holes for Stacy, and gave Kellen Clemens solid protection.

Clemens was accurate and played mostly mistake free football; all you can ask from a backup QB. They scored touchdowns, not settling for field goals. Their pass rush was tremendous, forcing Jake Locker into numerous poor throws while notching four sacks. And coming off a disheartening loss on Monday Night, the Rams bounced back positively from adversity on several occasions, immediately responding to Tennessee touchdowns with TD drives of their own.

But for all the positives, there were nearly as many negatives. As good as the Rams were against the pass, they were awful against the run. Chris Johnson matched his season total of six 10+ yard rushes in one game. They didn’t get a red zone stop all afternoon: four tries on defense, four touchdowns. Kicker Greg Zuerlein missed his first attempt from inside 50 yards all year; something that’s not supposed to happen in the home dome.

Clemens lone big mistake came at the absolute worst time, fumbling the ball away deep in Rams territory with less than three minutes left. For the second straight week, with a chance to score a late TD, the Rams crapped out after a promising drive got them in position to score. With the Colts, Bears, 49ers, Seahawks and Saints still ahead on their schedule, if the Rams can’t win on a day where they had so many positives, imagine what could happen on a day when they don’t play as well as they did here.

Washington Redskins: Has any team in the NFL had worse special teams? First year special teams coach Keith Burns has seen everything go wrong, with his units allowing punt return touchdowns, kickoff return TDs, getting called for penalties every week – the works. Against San Diego, they allowed a pair of field goal blocks from a team that hadn’t blocked one in 11 years; another shoddy showing.

RG3 didn’t throw or run for a touchdown, but it was his best effort of the year including that Bears game three weeks ago where he put up gaudy stats despite a bevy of mistakes. Griffin was accurate with his downfield throws. He was savvy when scrambling out of the pocket. He was gutsy, making huge plays on Washington’s game winning drive in overtime and at his best on third down – converting a dozen third down tries. Griffin produced TDs on each of his last four red zone tries. It certainly helped that Alfred Morris looked great running the football, his best game of the year too!

Washington’s defense has talent, but has been getting gashed all year. They didn’t force a ‘three-and-out’ all afternoon. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t get a stop. The mainstream media will be sure to highlight the ‘Skins goal line stand to save the game in the final seconds, but frankly, that was more about poor play calling and execution from the Chargers than about anything Washington’s defense did right.

New Orleans Saints: This offense is clearly built for domes, not for outdoor venues. They were completely out of sync early, using all three timeouts and getting a pair of delay of game penalties in the first quarter alone. And this high octane ‘can’t stop ‘em’ offense was held to just two field goals and one third down conversion after halftime, reminiscent of their road showing at Tampa Bay (only one offensive TD) and Chicago (also only two field goals in the second half).

Jimmy Graham is pretty much an unstoppable receiving threat, with a Calvin Johnson type performance again here – get the ball near him and he’ll find a way to catch it. But he’s the only elite receiver on the team with Marques Colston unable to suit up and Darren Sproles knocked out of the game early with a concussion.

The Saints came into the game with the worst yards per carry differential in the NFL; -1.4 yards per rush between what they gain and what they allow. Today it was even worse, with Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram combining for on 43 yards between them, while the Jets had three 25+ yard gainers on the ground as part of a 198 yard rushing afternoon. After their hot start in September, Rob Ryan’s defense seems to be getting worse by the week.

Minnesota Vikings: The biggest difference between last year’s playoff squad and this year’s 1-7 bottom feeder has nothing to do with the offense. Yes, their quarterback play has generally been lousy, but guess what – Christian Ponder didn’t exactly light up opposing defenses in 2012. And yes, Adrian Peterson hasn’t come close to matching last year’s record setting season, but it’s not like AP has morphed into a second tier back in 2013. Both Ponder and Peterson enjoyed great games against Dallas.

Minnesota had a quality stop unit last year, holding foes under 20 points per game. This year, their D has allowed more than 30 points and 400 yards per game. Quite simply, they can’t stop anybody. And that was on full display against Dallas. The Vikings struggled to get off the field on third downs. And with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, they dropped into a ridiculous three pass rusher ‘prevent’ type defense, allowing Tony Romo to pick them apart; a disheartening loss for a struggling team.

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]

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