“Warming the Bench” Blog: What’s the deal with the NFC East?

In this Sept. 20, 2015, photo, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) points towards the fans as he walks off the field after running back Matt Jones' touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in Landover, Md. Successful on third downs, efficient as can be and, most importantly, avoiding turnovers, Cousins is coming off a terrific performance for the Washington Redskins as he heads into Week 3 against the New York Giants (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Photo credit: Associated Press

By Trey Gregory

I would have thought the Kansas City Chiefs dominance in the headlines would last after a week when Thursday Night Football ended in a way that couldn’t have been more incompetent if it was scripted. True to form, however, the NFC East refused to be upstaged.

Before the season started I predicted that the Cowboys would repeat as NFC East champions followed by the Eagles, Giants then Redskins. I also thought the Eagles had a very good shot to challenge the Cowboys for the top spot. I don’t mean to get too carried away, as it’s only been two weeks, but judging off just the first two weeks alone the Redskins look like the best and most functional team in the division; and nobody thought that would ever be the case.

It started for the Cowboys in week one with the loss of Dez Bryant to a foot fracture and then Tony Romo fractured his left collarbone in week two. Bryant is expected to be out anywhere from either eight to 12 weeks and Romo is expected back as soon as their Thanksgiving day game against Carolina. Dallas’ season is currently in the hands of Brandon Weeden.

Multiple reports say Giants became the first team in NFL history to blow double digit leads in two consecutive games to start the season. I have, however, also seen reports that say this happened as recent as 1925. Either way, it’s bad. Especially since the loss of these games can greatly be attributed to Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin’s bad clock management, and not their terrible defense.

The Redskins may only be 1-1, but they had a great win against a tough Rams team and mostly dominated their week one game against Miami. The Redskins are now statistically in the top of the NFL in total defense and rushing. The offensive line is getting rookie running back Matt Jones 4.8 yards before contact while Jones, Chris Thompson and Alfred Morris boast 343 combined rushing yards in two games.

The biggest story here should be how the team that finished last in the division seven of the past 10 years looks like the best team in the division. The real story, however, is just how putrid Chip Kelly and the Eagles have been their first two games.

Kelly wanted control of personnel decisions after his disappointing 2014 campaign and the team granted him GM duties. Kelly then made a number of risky and bold moves to shape the roster in his image. Some called these moves genius, I personally said that these moves were too risky and that Kelly may think too highly of himself.

My number one reason for saying this was that he took established and proven player off the roster and replaced them with injury prone, inexperienced or unproven players in his system. Sam Bradford, Demarco Murray, Kiko Alonzo and Ryan Mathews headline the slew of injury prone players he acquired. Bradford’s significant injury history includes two ACL tears, a high ankle sprain, two shoulder injuries, one which require surgery, and hasn’t played a regular season game since week seven in 2013. Murray had one, and only one, great year behind a vaunted Dallas offensive line and has also missed quite a bit of time due to injury. Mathews was released from San Diego after having all the talent a team could ask for, but while also being hurt more than healthy. Alonso is starting his third year in the league and has already missed as much time as he has played due to a torn ACL. In the process of acquiring these new brittle assets Kelly released Pro Bowl RB Lesean McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin, two starting guards including Pro Bowler Evan Mathis and elite deep threat WR Desean Jackson the year before, and those are just the headliners. That’s a lot of talent to ship off. Enough to say with confidence, Kelly better be right.

Instead, Kelly’s custom-built team has a total of 70 rushing yards in two games. Last year’s leading rusher acquired two rushing yards on 13 attempts against the Cowboys and has an average of .5 yards per carry. The Eagles offense was ineffective and stagnate. Still, Kelly seemed committed to his system. He didn’t try to slow the game down for his struggling offense or even to give his defense a break. He continued to run his quick paced offense, which left his defense on the first for 40 min in the game. Kelly’s also employed a lot of shotgun formation runs where he asked Murray to run to the outside instead of north and south, where he excels. Kelly continued to call play action passes even though their run game was inept, and nobody was threatened by the run. He also continued to call option plays with Bradford in the shotgun, where a QB must at least have the threat of running, and Bradford is probably the least scary QB on the ground in the entire league. Nobody was biting yet Kelly continued to fish.

The Eagles’ defense looks good on paper but couldn’t quite get it together either. Newly acquired Byron Maxwell looked out of his depth and the player Kelly traded McCoy for, Alonzo, is already out with an injury to the same knee that kept him out of the entire 2014 season. The rest of the defense appeared to just wear down as the game went on and simply couldn’t keep up with the Cowboy’s offense, even without Romo and Bryant. Who can blame them though? They spent 40 min on the field and their coach didn’t even care enough to slow the offensive plays down.

I believe Chip Kelly is a good coach at the beginning of his NFL career. He could potentially even be a great coach someday and he has some very innovative ideas that some teams may even copy. I am not, however, sold on Chip the GM. He seemed to make roster moves more out of spite and pique than wisdom and he comes off, to me, as an egotistical megalomaniac. Chip can cut whomever he wants and run his team however he wants because he’s smarter than everyone else in the league. He has found a magic formula to keep injury prone players healthy, can bring college concepts to the NFL where other’s have failed, can replace talented but outspoken players with anyone whose only interaction with him is “yes sir” and he can ignore antiquated ideas like controlling time of possession and allowing players to lead and have a voice in the locker room because, well, he’s Chip Kelly and he’s smarter than everyone else.

The problem is, now that Chip has his own team and isn’t playing with Andy Reed’s team, it looks like a dumpster fire. If he doesn’t get this team turned around, and fast, he could very well be the next promising college coach who went to the NFL only to get chewed up and spit out right back into college.

The good news for all these teams is it’s only week two. The fist four weeks of the season always seems a little off to me and teams don’t really settle down until around the fifth game. This rant against Chip Kelly could seem premature and petty by years end, and I hope that’s the case for Eagles fans.

The Cowboys sit atop the division two games over the only teams anyone truly expects to compete with them and only have to win half of their games until Romo returns to stay in contention for the division. Dallas is simply too talented to fall out of the conversation even with Romo and Bryant out. In my opinion, they’re still the most talented team in the division and still my pick to win the division.

The Giants should get Victor Cruz back soon and there’s just no way they can play this dysfunctional for much longer, they’re bound to improve.

As far as Washington goes, they had a great week, but my message to fellow Redskins fans would be to relax and brace for the fall. This team, while obviously improved, just isn’t quite there yet. The good news? We will probably have a high draft pick in 2016 and it might just be high enough to swipe Jared Goff in the draft.

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