The NFC East, famously referred to as the NFC Least, has been a pretty sad division over the last couple seasons and for good reason. It was only two years ago this division was won by a 7-9 Washington Football Team. Have the four teams within the division done enough to bring them out of the pits of the NFL?
One thing is for certain in this division. There is a theme that has emerged for the teams to answer in 2022. Do any of these teams have their franchise quarterback?
Let’s dive into the NFC East and how these teams did this offseason.
The Dallas Cowboys last won the Super Bowl in 1995. This is also the last time the Cowboys were able to get beyond the Divisional Round. That’s a long, frustrating journey for America’s Team. The real question now, after an offseason of more lost players versus gained, can the Cowboys take the next step?
Last season, the Dallas Cowboys, and their 530 points scored, were the highest scoring offense in the NFL. With Kellen Moore still calling plays, we should expect nothing less again!
Despite losing G Connor Williams and T La’el Collins to free agency, there is reason for hope. The emergence of their younger talent across their offensive line last season is a reason to hold on to that hope. They remain top 10 in the majority of preseason offensive line rankings. These rankers are likely hoping the Cowboys young core of linemen can grow and develop further in 2022. Most importantly, first round pick offensive tackle Tyler Smith, who is highly regarded as a reach.
As I write this, wide receiver James Washington has torn his ACL and will miss the season. This is a big loss for an offense who lost receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson. Plus, the Cowboys will either start the season without Michael Gallup or have a still healing Gallup playing early-on.
Other Skill Positions
TE Dalton Schultz is back on the franchise tag, and they brought in WR Jalen Tolbert in the third round of the draft who they are high on. There is also growing belief that RB Tony Pollard will work the slot more this season. Then, of course, there is running back Ezekiel Elliot who has delivered 1,000 yard seasons, or has been on pace to break 1,000 yards, the last six seasons. So it isn’t all doom and gloom despite the losses and injury.
This offense is high flying behind the arm of Dak Prescott. The Cowboys ranked top five in passing attempts and yards per game during the 2021 NFL season. This is an offense that shouldn’t regress much from the mean with Prescott under center and Kellen Moore on the mic.
Trevon Diggs had a huge season from a splash stats perspective. Diggs had an outstanding 12 interceptions on the year, leading the league. He also ranked No. 5 in pass break-ups with 16. Sadly, he also led the league in yards allowed by a significant margin. The biggest question mark remains to be answered is can he turn those ball skills into becoming a shutdown corner that offensive coordinators need to avoid?
The Cowboys passing defense may have forced turnovers. They ranked No. 1 in turnovers forced per game, but they also ranked No. 20 in passing yards allowed per game. However, they took a big step forward. The Cowboys jumped from allowing the most points in franchise history in 2020 to allowing the No. 7 most points amongst NFL teams in 2021. They will largely roll out the same secondary in 2022 and look to continue to improve.
The Pass Rush
In his rookie season, Micah Parsons proved he was worth every bit of that first round investment. He delivered as a versatile linebacker and edge rusher ranking No. 4 in quarterback hits (30), No. 3 in tackles for loss (20), and No. 6 in sacks (13). Despite the loss of Randy Gregory on the edge (3 forced fumbles, 6 sacks and 17 quarterback hits in 12 games in 2021), the Cowboys did bring in Dante Fowler to replace him. Fowler was average on a bad Atlanta Falcons defense. However, he should produce on the level of, or better then, Gregory with superior defensive line mates that also include defensive tackles Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, and veteran edge Demarcus Lawrence.
If there is one thing this defense can do, it is force turnovers. Will they be able to continue their ascension and relieve some pressure from this offense?
New York Giants:
HC Brian Daboll, OL Max Garcia, WR Richie James, DT Justin Ellis, DE Jihad Ward, RB Matt Breida, OG Jamil Douglas, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Matt Gono, WR Robert Foster, OL Mark Glowinski, OL Jon Feliciano
DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, OT Evan Neal, WR Wan’Dale Robinson, G Joshua Ezeudu, CB Cordale Flott, TE Daniel Bellinger, S Dane Belton, LB Micah McFadden, DT D.J. Davidson, G Marcus McKethan, LB Darrian Beavers
OG Will Hernandez, LB Lorenzo Carter, OT Nate Solder, P Riley Dixon, RB Devontae Booker, TE Kaden Smith, TE Kyle Rudolph, TE Evan Engram, DT Austin Johnson, DB Keion Crossen, S J.R Reed, QB Jake Fromm, G Kyle Murphy, CB James Bradberry
A new Era has begun in New York. Finally, Dave Gettlemen is out as general manager, and the highly tumultuous and unsuccessful tenure of head coach Joe Judge ends as well. In comes a duo from North New York who were part of building and coaching the power house that has become the Buffalo Bills. General manager Joe Schoen, former assistant general manager of the Bills, and head coach Brian Daboll, former offensive coordinator of the Bills, have entered the front office. The Giants have finished last in the NFC East three out of the last five season. Every Giants fan is probably wondering, can this duo help turn the page for another New York team?
There is no sugar coating it. This offense was one of the worst in nearly every statistical category last season. Saquon Barkley missed five games last season with an ankle sprain after stepping on a teammate’s foot. This is a big deal because we know the offense is a lot better with Barkley in it as he helps open the field up. He ranked No. 8 amongst running backs for Defenders Faced in the Box (6.8), plus No. 3 amongst running backs in Stacked Front Carry Percentage (24.7-percent).
The offensive line also saw a large overhaul in the offseason. This starts with first round tackle Evan Neal. After a season where Barkley’s Run Block Rating was No. 61 amongst running backs, the addition of Neal is a sight for sore eyes. This is not to mention that Daniel Jones‘ Protection Rating ranked No. 25 among quarterbacks. This was needed!
Need for Improvement
The offense ranked No. 31 in points per game, No. 25 in plays per game, No. 31 in first downs per game, and No. 31 in yards per game. Shall I go on? There is really no reason to point the finger at one specific position or player on this.
Daniel Jones has to take a big step forward this year. While you can argue he has had to learn three different offenses in three years, he’s been below average in all of them. Last season, Jones ranked No. 20 or worse across all advanced accuracy categories. It is time to put up or shut up for the former first round quarterback.
He will need a lot more help to take this step from his wide receiver group. The group is very similar except for the addition of Wan’Dale Robinson. Last season, the Giants group of wide receivers ranked No. 28 in receiving yards last season. They also produced a putrid five total touchdowns which was last among all wide receiving corps.
The Giants defense lost a couple key pieces early to injury in 2021. They lost linebacker Blake Martinez who led the 2020 Giants in tackles. The Giants also lost safety Jabrill Peppers who broke up 11 passes and accounted for 91 tackles in 2020. As a result, the Giants defense ended up ranking No. 23 in points per game allowed and No. 21 in yards per game allowed.
Those rankings don’t sound great. However, due to an offense that struggled to stay on the field, this defense spent the No. 6 most minutes per game on the field at 31 minutes and 35 seconds per game.
The Giants failed to find a willing trade partner for cornerback James Bradberry. As a result, they were forced to released him which will be their biggest loss defensively. Bradberry was second on the Giants in interceptions last season with four. He also accounted for 17 pass breakups, which led the team, and ranked him No. 5 in the NFL. They also will not have S Jabrill Peppers or Logan Ryan back as Joe Schoen cleaned house of some pricey veteran contracts.
The drafting of DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, and the signing of DT Justin Ellis should help up front. While some returning injured players are definitely a bonus, this defense shouldn’t be expected to improve much, unfortunately for Giants fans. We must remember this is a new regime taking over quite the mess. They had a good draft and are taking steps in a better direction.
Howie Roseman had himself a draft night. He also had a fairly strong offseason. Despite early rumors of probing in the quarterback trade market, Roseman stuck to his initial comments. He built around former second round pick Jalen Hurts. The Eagles are coming off a season where they had the top rushing attack and made the playoffs on the backs of a very easy back half of the schedule. They ended up embarrassed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on wild card weekend. Can Hurts answer the call?
Howie Roseman took Eagles fans on a wild ride on the first night of the draft. After taking DT Jordan Davis with the first pick of the night. Roseman, who had been one foot in the door on the wide receiver market all offseason, traded for Tennessee Titan WR A.J. Brown to pair with Devonta Smith. Smith and Quez Watkins did their best in 2021 at the receiver position, but there wasn’t enough there. They ranked No. 30 in receiving yards at the position and No. 23 in touchdowns. Roseman also addressed the red zone situation and blocking wide receiver role with the addition of former Indianapolis Colt, Zach Pascal.
The New Passing Attack
The Eagles passing offense was one of their biggest weaknesses last season. It especially showed wild card weekend when Jalen Hurts and the receivers had no answer while the rushing attack struggled. The addition of Brown and Pascal is a clear sign of where Howie Roseman wants this offense to go. After ranking No. 29 in pass attempts per game, No. 21 in passing yards per game and No. 31 in pass completions per game, there is no doubt the general manager wants to Eagles to fair better in the passing game. Clearly, Jalen Hurts has some questions to answer this season with his new weapons.
The Eagles lost right guard Brandon Brooks to retirement. While this is a significant loss in regards to on field performance, he missed all of 2020 and only played two games last season. The Eagles offensive line has still managed to be the best unit in the league despite this. Isaac Seumalo takes over in 2022 who has been an above average offensive linemen playing all five positions in his tenure. The addition of center Cam Jurgens means we might be witnessing the final season for Jason Kelce.
In the backfield, the Eagles return the same running back room minus Jordan Howard. This group of running backs ultimately became the number one rushing attack in the NFL after finding their groove from Week 8 onward. They ended up No. 2 in rushing attempts with 31.5 and No. 1 in rush yards per game with 156.1. Injuries have already began to rear their ugly head for Miles Sanders in the preseason. However, a top three offensive line paired with a stable of running backs who know this offense should mean another effective season from a rushing perspective.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon came over with Nick Sirianni having received a lot of praise for his defensive prowess. However, he and his defense often looked lost in 2021. While the defense wasn’t terrible, it was average to below average. The Eagles ranked No. 19 in points per game allowed at 23.1. They also ranked a respectable No. 10 in yards per game allowed at 329.9.
Where the frustration lied was in the defenses ineptitude to force turnovers. Last season, the Eagles ranked No. 28 in takeaways per game. There also struggled to get after the quarterback. The Eagles ranked No. 29 in sack percentage at 5.01-percent. Many in the local media blamed personnel. Gannon will have to turn this ship around in 2022.
The Eagles added DE Haason Reddick, LB Kyzir White and CB James Bradberry. They also added two pieces in the NFL draft from Georgia in DT Jordan Davis and LB Nakobe Dean. The additions more than counter the losses of veteran S Rodney McLeod and CB Steven Nelson plus 2021’s leader in missed tackles Alex Singleton.
The personnel looks much better for Jonathan Gannon to work with. Now the question is, will it equate to defensive success?
Case Keenum wasn’t the answer. The Alex Smith return made for a great comeback story. Taylor Heinicke didn’t cut it. Fourth times the charm? The Washington Commanders traded for quarterback Carson Wentz in the offseason and continue their volatile trend of bridge quarterbacks. In fact, they haven’t had the same starting quarterback in back to back seasons since 2016-17 Kirk Cousins. Also, the last time the Commanders were above .500 was 2016, when they finished 8-7-1. I, for one, felt they were underrated last year. Could 2022 be the year Ron Rivera starts to turn this ship around?
So Carson Wentz didn’t work in Philadelphia and didn’t work in Indianapolis for similar reasons. The Commanders are prepared to take a chance and do anything to turn this offense around. The offense ranked No. 21 in yards per game last season including No. 22 in passing yards. They also finished No. 23 in points per game with 19.7.
The wide receiving room, pretty much Terry McLaurin, may have gotten a lift with Penn State WR Jahan Dotson who they drafted in the first round. Since McLaurin joined the team in 2019, he is the only wide receiver to eclipse 500 yards in Washington. While the Dotson pick has come with some scrutiny, with the media feeling it was too early to take him, he ended up having a standout camp and built a great connection with Carson Wentz. There is also the hope that 2021 free agent Curtis Samuel can be healthy enough to contribute as he missed the majority of his first season in Washington with varying strains.
The once hyped up running back, Antonio Gibson seems to be losing grip on his starting role as running back. The team snatched J.D. McKissic back from the clutches of the Buffalo Bills to be the change of pace back. They also drafted the big bodied Alabama product Brian Robinson. He could take early down work and goal-line work away from Gibson if his troubles persist.
Editor’s note: This article was written before the Brian Robinson injury.
The offensive line lost Ereck Flowers and Brandon Scherff. However, the Commanders were able to sign the former Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno Jr. They also signed Andrew Norwell to play left guard. If Norwell cleans up his penalties, nine total last season, he could end up a solid left side offensive lineman. They also got a solid season from right tackle Samuel Cosmi last season which they hope to build on. While this is not a high end top 10 offensive line, it is definitely middle of the pack with upside that Carson Wentz can work with.
The Commanders will be without star DE Chase Young for the first weeks as he landed on PUP recovering from a torn ACL. This isn’t great for a defense that ranked No. 22 in yards allowed per game and No. 25 in points allowed per game.
The positive for this defense you ask? They return a large chunk of this defense with expectations of improving and building on their young core. Cole Holcomb was No. 10 in the league in total tackles with 142 and will anchor the linebackers room. This is a room that includes 2021 first round pick Jamin Davis who is returning with high expectations of taking the sophomore leap.
Landon Collins may be out of the picture in the secondary, but they are in good hands. The move from Miami to Washington for free safety Bobby McCain was a good one for his career. He led the team in interceptions with a career high four. He also posted a career high nine pass breakups. 22 year old safety Kamren Curl continued to develop and look the part of the team’s franchise safety.
The cornerback room will need to improve in 2022. They were one of the driving forces behind allowing the No. 4 most passing yards per game last season. Early depth charts have Kendall Fuller and William Jackson returning on the outside. Benjamin St. Juste, who lost pieces of last season due to concussion, will man the nickelback.
This is a defense that has a good mix of youth and veterans. It should see improvements in 2022 if their young players can continue to improve and step up. Starting the season without Chase Young is certainly not a step in the direction they expected.