NFL Postseason: Where NFC East teams need to strengthen

Richard Moore looks at the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins' free agency and draft needs.

Needs Must... Part 5

Dallas Cowboys

‘Big D’ = Big Disappointment, again. If Jason Garrett can’t transform this team from perennial tease into legitimate play off contender, 2013 could well spell the end for the man some dub ‘The ginger Jesus’. 

At one stage ‘America’s Team’ looked like taking the division title after another customary Giants collapse, only for the team’s propensity for self - destruction to rear it’s ugly head in spectacular fashion, none more so than at Fed Ex Field in week 17 with the division title and the last play off berth on the line.

Contractual concerns: Tony Romo’s season ended with another signature meltdown, this time at the hands of Jim Haslett and his blitz heavy Skins defense, and as a result now stands at a woeful 1 - 6 in elimination games, raising yet more questions about his capacity to deliver the ‘Holy Grail’.

That being said, there are a few that feel Romo deserves another chance, but how many more? From the outside looking in, it appears Romo and the Cowboys are beginning to bare symptoms not all that dissimilar to those of the Arsenal football team (what is with me and teams that display an alarming tendency to enthral and frustrate in equal measure you ask?), especially where it concerns mental fragility.

All we need now, after (potentially) yet another inauspicious start, is for Jason Garrett to stand before the assembled media and declare how much ‘spirit’, ‘quality’, and ‘tremendous mental strength’ the team has, and how any slow start can be attributed to the team ‘playing with the handbrake on’…

Draft selection: Many viewed the dismissal of Rob Ryan as another example of injudicious decision making on the part of owner Jerry Jones, especially when factoring injuries to Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Kenyon Coleman, Jay Ratliff and Orlando Scandrick into the equation, and the subsequent impact their collective absence had on the team ranking 19th in the NFL on defense, (230.3 yards per game), 22nd against the run (125.2), and conceding a franchise-record high 5,687 yards and forced a franchise-record low 16 turnovers.

That being said, with the 2012 season revealing a painful reflection of the 2011 campaign, with Dallas ranking 14th in yards allowed per game, and 23rd in points per game, perhaps Jones’ decision to fire the a man who’s never lead a defensive unit to the post - season isn’t as foolhardy as it first appears, although one wonders what sort of difference the hiring of 73 year old Monte Kiffin will make.

One thing for certain, Kiffin’s acquisition will mark a departure from the 3 - 4 model that Dallas have used since 2005, and usher in the era of the 4 - 3 ‘Tampa-2 system’ which Kiffin used to great effect during his tenure with the buccaneers, as in his 13 years, the Buccaneers finished in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense in 11, and was a major factor in securing Tampa’s Super Bowl triumph in 2002.

With new schemes, come new needs, and with this in mind a penetrating defensive tackle is of paramount importance. With nose tackle Jay Ratliff on the downside and coming off an injury plagued season, the answer might have to come from the outside, and potentially not until the 2013 draft.

New York Giants

Tom Coughlin and the ‘Big Blue’ faithful must be wondering when an earth his team will play at a consistent level throughout the entirety of a season, because it certainly hasn’t happened yet, as even the triumphant 2007 and 11 Super Bowl season’s have often brought their fair share of travails that have required late season surges. 

Though Giants 3 - 5 record over the last 8 games meant another 9 - 7 finish, this time it was not good enough to ignite another post season run ala 2012, and such complacency will not be tolerated again in 2013, and you can be sure drastic roster changes are in the air.

Contractual concerns: Receiver Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent, which means the Giants have a significant say over his next move. But, any talks to extend his time in ‘The Big Apple’ have reached an impasse because Cruz is holding out for more than a one - year tender (equating to $10 million per year). This is a particularly delicate situation, made all the more potentially tenuous by fellow receiver Hakeem Nicks entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Draft selection: Left tackle Will Beatty and left guard Kevin Boothe are free agents, and with the prospect of pro bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiura also departing via the free agency route, a defensive unit that ranked second worst in the league may have some significant holes to fill. Although at the time of writing, part of that potential hole has been filed by the signing of former Eagles Cullen Jenkins on a 3 - year deal reportedly worth 8 million, according to Ralph Vacciano of the ‘New York Daily News’. The 32 - year old brings a wealth of experience and a proven track record, as illustrated by his 9.5 sacks in 2011.

Although despite registering only 2 sacks in 2012 he’s expected to provide an effective foil for Linval Joseph.

Philadelphia Eagles

Chip Kelly has a decision to make on whether Nick Foles of Michael Vick will be his starter going into 2013. Despite Kelly lauding Foles toughness and a willing to base his offense around him, he may lack the mobility to run Kelly’s ‘tempo spread offense’, via the zone read, which brings the more athletic Vick into the equation.

Although for Vick to thrive in any system, he requires an offensive line that protects him far better than the porous one that allowed the former Virginia Tech star to be pounded to the tune of 139 hits, prior to his re - instatement for Philly’s season concluding fixture in New York, and Philly need to strike an effective balance between the run and the pass, as prior to his concussion in week 9, the ball had been in Vick’s hand’s for 70% of his 34 starts under Andy Reid, and as a result LeSean McCoy’s productivity and the effectiveness of the Eagles offense diminished significantly, especially though 2012. When McCoy had 20 carries or more Philadelphia were 3 - 0… 

Contractual concerns: Cornerback Dominique Rogers - Cromartie is the team’s only big free agent, but with fellow cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha expected to be cut, it should leave the Eagles with significant breathing space where it concerns the salary cap, all the more so when taking into consideration Michael Vick’s restructured contract.

Draft selection: With The Eagles hiring former Cleveland Browns linebacker’s coach Billy Davis as defensive coordinator, there will be a requirement for playmaking linebackers; especially since Philly has been somewhat lacking in recent times. Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore would go some way to addressing this particular problem with the 4th pick.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins offseason concerns mainly centre around the recovery of quarterbacking sensation Robert Griffin the 3rd from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He’ll battle to be ready for the start of the season, although he’ll begin the new campaign on the physically unable to perform list, a sensible decision for not only the long term health of the Heisman Trophy winner, but for the state of the franchise. After all, with they highly capable Kirk Cousins ready and waiting, why risk it? 

Contractual concerns: Tight end Fred Davis, coming off an Achilles injury, will be an interesting case, as far as free agency is concerned. Mike Shanahan didn’t get the level of productivity he’d hoped for from his back up Niles Paul, so Washington may not be able to get Davis on the injury discount.

However, there is some more encouraging news as far as the tight end situation goes, as Joel Corry of National Football Post confirmed that the Redskins and Logan Paulsen had reached an agreement over a new 3 - year contract, Paulsen, 26, appeared in all 16 games (10 starts) for Washington in 2012 and set career-highs in catches (25) and yards (308). He caught one touchdown in the regular season and scored one of the Redskins’ two TDs in their playoff loss to Seattle. Paulson may not represent breakneck speed, but he represents continuity not only as a downfield target, but as an effective blocker in the stretch play.

Draft selection: The secondary requires considerable upgrades, so look for Washington to lean heavily towards the cornerback position, especially if there is any weight behind suggestions of pro bowler DeAngelo Hall's impeding exit.


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