2015 Division Preview Series: NFC East
This is part five of our eight-part division preview series. We will pose two questions per team, one about offense and one about defense, and then predict each team’s 2015 record and final standing within the division. Tune in each Sunday for a new part of the series!
Dallas Cowboys (12-4 in 2014, 1st in NFC East)
How much production will the backfield contribute considering the loss of DeMarco Murray?
The now Philadelphia Eagle DeMarco Murray was an integral part of the Cowboys' offense in 2014. Running for 1,845 yards and 13 TD's, he took pressure off of Tony Romo, which opened up the passing game, helping Dez Bryant have an extremely successful season.
In place of Murray, the Cowboys will look to take a "running back by committee" approach with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar splitting carries. Randle was second fiddle to Murray in the 2014 season, not given the opportunity to show if he had the abilities to be a capable lead back. He has only 507 total yards in his first two seasons in the NFL, but has shown flashes of potential, which makes him an intriguing option in the backfield.
Dallas also brought in veteran Darren McFadden, giving them a sense of security in the event Randle does not perform. He has had success as a starter in the past, but struggled last season as he rushed for only 534 yards.
The loss of Murray will also have an impact on the passing game, as opposing defenses will not have to put as much attention on the backfield. Last season, the Cowboys had a successful passing game with Bryant and Jason Witten, among others because of the spotlight other teams put on stuffing the run. This will not be the case in 2015, so Tony Romo and his weapons will have a more challenging time and the running backs will be forced to produce if the offense is going to sustain its production.
Can the secondary hold up and allow the front line time to pressure the quarterback?
The secondary of the Dallas Cowboys has been below average in recent memory and this year does not look to be much different. Ranked 26th against the pass last season, defensive backs such as Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr struggled along with safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church who collectively were unable to contain high-flying offenses.
These below-par defensive backs will make it difficult for new additions such as Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy to get after the quarterback. If opposing offenses can make quick passes and progress up the field, it will be challenging for the front seven to gain any consistency in the rush and pressure the QB.
However, the positive aspect of the situation is that Claiborne is still a young player and has the potential to grow from his experience and become a solid corner. Also, second year man Tyler Patmon had patches of great play in his rookie year, as well as promising rookie Byron Jones giving Dallas some optimism at the CB position.
Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in NFC East
The Cowboys made some impact additions in players like Hardy and La'el Collins and have a solid chance for success this season. If the running back unit can produce and the secondary is close to solid, Dallas can look to have a strong season in 2015. They will not win the division, but will earn a Wild Card spot.
New York Giants (6-10 in 2014, 3rd in NFC East)
Will Eli Manning's weapons remain healthy enough for the offense to improve?
Shadowed by the spectacular athleticism of Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning had a career year in 2014, posting career highs in categories such as touchdowns and completion percentage, all while missing some of his best weapons for parts of the season in Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings.
Considering his performance without those weapons, Manning will only improve if they can all stay healthy, but that is a huge if. While Odell Beckham Jr. only missed th ree games, Cruz missed ten and Jennings missed five, making it difficult for Manning to gain a sense of consistency.
To add some security to this situation, the Giants added Shane Vereen, a back who can provide solid production along with Jennings, as well as being able to step in as starter if Jennings goes down. The potential of this offense gives the team a chance to have a great scoring season if they remain relatively healthy.
How will the front seven fare considering the lack of production in the 2014 season and the Jason Pierre-Paul situation?
The front line is a massive concern for the Giants, especially after the JPP fireworks incident. His finger was amputated and it is unclear when or if he will return. This is devastating news to an already weak defensive line, as Cullen Jenkins is aging, and there is not much proven talent across the line. The team brought in two players in George Selvie and Kenrick Ellis who will look to improve the D-line, but it is unclear if the unit will jell and produce.
When it comes to the linebackers, it does not get much better. Outside of Jon Beason, there are no other proven commodities that can lead the front seven, making it that much more challenging for Beason. The Giants were ranked 30th in rush defense in 2014 and it does not look like they will improve much, as the unit has not gained any significant talent.
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in NFC East
If the Giants stay healthy, they can have a phenomenal offensive season, but the defense does not seem strong enough to beat teams with high-powered offenses, along with the Eagles and Cowboys having better overall teams. The New York Giants will have a solid season, but it will not be enough to make the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 in 2014, 2nd in NFC East)
Can Sam Bradford stay healthy and become the franchise quarterback despite a history of injuries?
The Eagles endured an overhaul in the 2014 offseason, but no move was more impactful than trading for Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly decided to deal a solid signal-caller in Nick Foles for one with more potential that has been unable to stay on the field. An extremely risky move, but one that could pay off.
In his most recent season in which he played 16 games, Bradford threw for 3,702 yards with the Rams, showing that he has the ability to be great at the NFL level. Even more encouraging to Philadelphia is the fact that he now has newly added DeMarco Murray in the backfield, along with Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, who will take pressure off of him and open up the passing game.
Chip Kelly's system is known to be QB friendly, and with young weapons such as Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, Bradford looks to have a great bounce-back season, as long as he can stay on the field with consistency.
Can the new-and-improved secondary find success with the help of an elite front seven?
In the aforementioned overhaul, Chip Kelly set out to improve the secondary by bringing in DB's Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, along with drafting Eric Rowe. Maxwell looks to be an improvement over both Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, while Walter Thurmond has, according to reports, shined at safety throughout training camp. This is a hole the Eagles desperately needed to fill, putting someone alongside Malcolm Jenkins.
The Eagles' secondary struggled heavily last season, ranking 31st in pass defense. The additions look to provide immediate help, with Nolan Carroll and Jaylen Watkins improving after a season in the system. The question now remains of how they will play as a unit and if they can develop success against the pass.
Prediction: 12-4, 1st in NFC East
Chip Kelly runs the team his way and with the role of player personnel director, he has shaped the roster to his liking. If Bradford can st ay healthy and the secondary plays well, the Eagles can have a great season.
Washington Redskins (4-12 in 2014, 4th in NFC East)
Can Robert Griffin III rebound from a difficult year and show improvement upon the visible potential of his rookie season?
Having played in only nine games in the 2014 season, health is a major concern for RG3. His stats have mainly went downhill from his first season, forcing many to question his sustainability in the NFL. However, there has been turmoil with the coaching situation in Washington when it comes to Mike Shanahan, as well as Griffin having health problems, making it challenging for him to find momentum.
The organization moved on to Jay Gruden and the young QB has now had a year of experience with him, as well as time to connect with his new weapon in DeSean Jackson. With a now stable coaching situation and the opportunity to start the season healthy, RG3 will have the chance to show that he deserved to be a starter and has adapted to his situation, learning from a disappointing past two years in the NFL.
Will Washington have enough to be solid in pass coverage and complement the talent up front?
Washington has made many changes in the secondary, bringing in safeties Dashon Goldson and Duke Ihenacho, along with corner Chris Culliver. This gives them much more security as the young DB's such as Bashaud Breeland continue to progress, as well as the long-time veteran presence in DeAngelo Hall.
These additions should allow the unit to improve upon the 24th ranked pass defense of last season, giving the players up front a chance to pressure the quarterback and have even more success against the run.
Prediction: 4-12, 4th in NFC East
With an improved secondary and an already consistent front seven, the success of the Washington football team lies on the shoulders of the offense, with pressure on Robert Griffin III. Although he will improve and have a decent season considering his weapons and familiarity with the system, the schedule is difficult, resulting in no more than four wins.