Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC East

by Bill Barnwell

This second round of Four Downs will recap free agency and examine the biggest hole remaining on each team.

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest hole: Strong Safety

With the recent release of the much-maligned Roy Williams, the Cowboys are left with a huge gap in their defensive backfield. There was talk that Anthony Henry would move into the slot, but Henry was dealt to Detroit in the Jon Kitna trade. Williams' backups are Patrick Watkins -- who, like Williams, missed virtually the entire season with an injury -- and Keith Davis, who did an adequate job in Williams' place while serving as one of Dallas' best players on special teams.

Davis is an unrestricted free agent, and his role seems to have been filled by former Jaguars safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who has a similar sort of skillset to Davis. Both players would be a borderline starter at safety, so if the Cowboys want to save some money this year, Sensabaugh came relatively cheap and has more upside than Davis.

The Cowboys don't have a first-round pick, but there are a number of safeties they could target with the 51st pick. Oregon's Patrick Chung is a natural leader and solid run defender, but has many of the same issues in pursuit and coverage that Williams did; if they want to confuse the media, they could place Clemson safety Michael Hamlin next to holdover Ken Hamlin (unrelated). The safety class is relatively unimpressive this year, so the Cowboys may very well choose to go with Sensabaugh and wait for a more talented crop of safeties to arrive in 2010.

Free Agency Recap

After all the talk of Ray Lewis heading to Dallas, the Cowboys ended up adding Keith Brooking to play middle linebacker, losing Kevin Burnett to San Diego in the process. Brooking was seriously limited in coverage a year ago, and has not played in a 3-4 scheme as an inside linebacker in several years.

The Cowboys also released Terrell Owens, as you might have heard. Owens is unlikely to return to being an elite receiver, so it wasn't an awful move for a team that desperately needed a change in the locker room. Owens' departure moves Patrick Crayton back into a starting role, with Miles Austin likely to return and serve as the slot man. If Roy Williams can approximate Owens' performance as the No. 1 guy, the Cowboys' offense should be just fine.

The final swap saw defensive end Chris Canty move out and Igor Olshansky take his place with a four-year, $18 million deal. Olshansky had a mediocre season in 2008, but probably would have been regarded as the better end before the season. The difference in price between the two players does not match the difference in quality, so the Cowboys got a bargain on this one, especially considering that Olshansky was the only 3-4 end of that caliber left on the marketplace.

New York Giants

Biggest hole: No. 1 receiver

If Domenik Hixon catches that bomb from Eli Manning against the Eagles in Week 14, chances are that this discussion isn't happening.

Hixon dropped the pass, though, that came to signify the struggles of the Giants' offense without mercurial wideout Plaxico Burress in the lineup. With the threat of Burress going over or past defensive backs nullified, teams were able to disguise their coverage, push a safety into the box, and stifle the Giants offensively.

The only problem? The Giants were actually better with Hixon as the primary "X" receiver than they were with Burress. Hixon's statistics are more impressive than Burress', both over the season as a whole and in the games where he was specifically in Burress' role (Week 5 and then Weeks 12 through 17).


Player DVOA Catch Rate Yards In Air YAC
Domenik Hixon (overall) 11.5% 59% 13.9 3.3
Domenik Hixon (w/o Burress) 6.5% 55% 14.4 3.0
Plaxico Burress 4.9% 53% 13.0 1.9

New York's offense was also better with Hixon as the primary receiver than it was with Burress. In the weeks where Hixon was in charge, the team had a pass DVOA of 8.9% and a run DVOA of 20.2%; with Burress as the "X" receiver, those figures were 3.4% and 20.0%, respectively.

The Giants are unlikely to commit another draft pick to the receiver spot after spending picks on Sinorice Moss, Steve Smith, and Mario Manningham in recent years. They could choose to package several of their early picks in a deal for Anquan Boldin, but as the 2008 season showed, Hixon's got the talent to be the Giants' "X" if they give him the opportunity.

Free Agency Recap

A very good front seven got downright devastating. On the line, the Giants added two tackles: Chris Canty comes over from Dallas, where he'll go from being a 3-4 end to a 4-3 tackle, while Rocky Bernard leaves Seattle. The pair will rotate with Fred Robbins and Jay Alford. Canty, in particular, is a good pass rusher who could easily post seven to ten sacks against overmatched guards this year. They also added Michael Boley at linebacker; Boley was an FO Favorite in 2007, but fell out of favor with the new coaching staff in Atlanta this year. Boley's presence allows the Giants to keep Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end if so inclined.

The only prominent loss was that of Derrick Ward, who left for Tampa Bay. The Giants will likely increase Ahmad Bradshaw's playing time while attempting to find a second back in the draft. Safety James Butler also departed for St. Louis.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest hole: Left Tackle

With the departure of Tra Thomas to Jacksonville and the uncertain status of Jon Runyan, it's extremely likely that the Eagles will be counting on two new offensive tackles come September. That's a frightening thought for a team that ran Runyan and Thomas out there for nine consecutive seasons.

The team filled their gap at right tackle by signing Stacy Andrews (brother of Eagles right guard Shaun) away from the Bengals; Andrews can play on the left side in a pinch, but he's a much better fit at right tackle. The team's depth chart lists Winston Justice as the starting left tackle, a gambit which resulted in six sacks for Osi Umenyiora the last time it was attempted. Starting him at left tackle would result in the entire Eagles organization getting fired for illicit comments on social networking sites. The team could also choose to move Shaun Andrews to left tackle, but that just opens up a hole at guard in the process.

The likeliest solution is in the draft, where the Eagles have the 21st and 28th picks in the first round. They could choose to move up and try and grab either Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe, or take a chance on Michael Oher or the rapidly-falling Andre Smith. Of the four, Monroe is the best pass protector and projects as the best fit for what the Eagles do offensively; if the Eagles are ever going to trade up to a high pick, they'd do it for an elite pass blocker.

Free Agency Recap

The Eagles showed little interest in retaining either Brian Dawkins or Tra Thomas, who left for Denver and Jacksonville, respectively. Dawkins had little left in the tank and won't be missed, with Quintin Demps competing with new acquisitions Sean Jones and Rashad Baker as the likely replacement. Sean Considine followed Thomas to Jacksonville, while Correll Buckhalter departed to Denver, where he could play the Sammy Morris role in Josh McDaniels' offense.

Washington Redskins

Biggest hole: Defensive End

The arrival of Albert Haynesworth in Washington helped hasten the end of Jason Taylor's Redskins career; for a second-round pick, the Redskins got 3.5 sacks, helping them to a total of 24, fourth-worst in the NFL. Then again, that's more than they got out of Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, or Fred Davis.

Taylor's departure leaves the Redskins with a huge hole across from Andre Carter and next to Haynesworth; while Haynesworth will improve the pass rush by occupying blockers, the Redskins have only roster filler in Chris Wilson and Rob Jackson to offer. They need to improve their situation on the edge before training camp.

They could go about that task in one of two ways. With the 13th overall pick, the Redskins will be in the range of Penn State's Aaron Maybin and Florida State's Everette Brown. They could draft one of those two players and hope they emerge as a impact pass rusher in their rookie campaigns, but that's a bad bet; no defensive end selected in the first round has mustered double-digit sacks since Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney in 2002, and that was 17 players ago.

The wiser idea: Attack the idea on the cheap, and trade down for more picks. The Redskins need depth, and compiling a platoon of Kevin Carter, Bertrand Berry, and Vonnie Holliday would allow them to rotate players in and out depending on the down and situation, all the while feeding the team's veteran fetish.

Free Agency Recap

The Redskins were the first team to make a peep in free agency, securing DeAngelo Hall's services with a six-year, $55 million contract that suggests that the Redskins have never actually heard of the Oakland Raiders or are performing an exemplary, expensive parody of their existence. They released Shawn Springs in the process, costing them the better player.

The Redskins also added Derrick Dockery following his release by the Bills; he'll fill the left guard slot that Pete Kendall occupied. Kendall remains unsigned.

Comments

131 comments, Last at 21 Mar 2009, 4:32pm

2 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Interesting stuff on Burress/Hixon, Bill. However, I think it is not quite that straightforward. To wit, there was a lot of commentary by people who, unlike me, had looked at a lot of game film about how Burress was occupying safties more than Hixon was (Jaws comes to mind as one who made such a point on NFL Matchup). With this in mind, I think it would be instructive to look not only at Hixon, Burress, and Hixon w/o Burress but also at Toomer and Smith with and without Burress. Further, if Hixon steps into Burress' role, who steps into Hixon's role? Hixon obviously was being very productive when Burress was in the lineup; I don't think Manningham filled the void very well (although this is a guess).

I think Hixon has a lot of potential, but unless he gets the same sort of respect from defenses that Burress has, then even a marginal 1 1/2 point improvement in DVOA over Burress is likely to be a net loss.

22 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

"In the weeks where Hixon was in charge, the team had a pass DVOA of 8.9% and a run DVOA of 20.2%; with Burress as the "X" receiver, those figures were 3.4% and 20.0%, respectively."

This was a team stat not a Hixon stat. Bill already answered your question

93 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

two questions stem off of this in my mind. all things the same isnt this more a comparison from burress to the new starting receiver/receivers? Hixon is the only constant in both scenarios. wouldnt this show that the giants are better off with steve smith/toomer than they were with burress instead of being better off with hixon instead of burress?

and either way how does the production of giants receivers fare next year. At an eyes glance doesnt this bode well for hixon in fantasy football next season? If hixon > burress wouldnt hixons numbers likely be > than burress's production over the last couple years?

1 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Nice work. It's amazing how many of the smaller FA moves have passed me by this year, I had no idea that the Cowboys had signed Sensabaugh, or that the Jags had signed Tra Thomas.

Starting him at left tackle would result in the entire Eagles organization getting fired for illicit comments on social networking sites.

I've thought about this one for a few minutes and I have to admit that I really don't get the joke.

4 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Some goofball who works as a gate chief at the stadium got his fool self fired after calling team management "retarted" on Facebook. It's been a big deal in Philadelphia because . . . well, because a significant percentage of Philadelphians are idiots.

Hail Hydra!

12 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Oh, you mean they're NOT "retarted"?

Times to stay away from Facebook:
1. you work for the Eagles and disagree with their management style;
2. You are serving as a juror for the corruption trial of a well-known local politician

Formerly known as PhillyCWC

36 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

it means that the eagles owner would find an excuse to abruptly fire the management and coaching staff with little notice. you know, like, give a petty reason for firing someone to hide the true reason.

3 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I'm not convinced the Eagles must draft a tackle in the first round. Herremens looked good playing there in the preseason, when he stoned Julius Peppers, and Dunlap has freakish size and ability if they can keep his head on straight. They have bigger issues at TE and RB. Celek is a decent receiver but he can't block and Schobel . . . well, he doesn't do anything except hold down the bench in case of gusting winds. With the criminally underused Buckhalter gone, there is no experience backing up the oft-injured Westbrook except a practice squad guy and Lorenzo Booker, who looks to be another in a long line of failed Andy Reid projects at the position. Given my druthers, I'd have them take Pettigrew, Alex Mack and Donald Brown in the first two rounds, and I wouldn't complain if you wanted swap out Mack for Brian Robiskie.

Hail Hydra!

87 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Why would the Eagles draft Alex Mack? He is a center and the Eagles needs along the OL is at guard and tackle. Especially if they are moving either Herremans or Shawn Andrews to tackle, leaving a hole at guard. Most outside observers assume that if the season started now the Eagles OL would look like this (from Left to Right):

Todd Herremans - Nick Cole - Jamaal Jackson - Shawn Andrews - Stacey Andrews

I my opinion if the Eagles don't trade up in the first round to draft a tackle, they will sit and wait and see if any of the top five OTs slip to them (those five being Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith, Michael Oher, Andre Smith, and William Beatty). And since that is not likely to happen, they would then be likely to drafting a OG like Duke Robinson or the mass-of-humanity that is Herman Johnson. This would be a smart move since guards have good value at the end of the first/beginning of the second round, this is where players like Chris Snee and Logan Mankins were drafted.

129 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

They'd draft Alex Mack because Jamaal Jackson was pretty underwhelming this year, and because Mack would be a great value at that point in the draft (better than Herman Johnson, and arguably better than Robinson depending on who you ask). If they really want to keep Jackson in the lineup for some reason, they could slide him over to guard to fill the spot vacated by Shawn Andrews or Herremans if one of them moves to tackle.

There's a pretty good chance that Beatty will be around at 21, but he's not in the same class as the other 4 in terms of what he did in college. He's in the second tier with Eben Britton

5 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

For those interested; "X" receiver is the split end - the receiver on the other side of the tight end.

6 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Minor point, but wasn't Danny Ware the reason the Giants did not make more of an effort to re-sign Ward?

Also, it would be nice to see them address their depth on the offensive line. As you pointed out elsewhere, the Giants were quite blessed with the health of their line last year, and the young backups have not shown a lot of potential.

7 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I think any Giants fans out there who are panicking over the Pexiglass situation need to calm down and realize that this is a scary-good freaking team. As a Redskins fan, my only hope is that they suffer a Cowboys-like failure to live up to expectations. I may have to try and engineer a secret, no wide-receivers Manning-Boss play designing session...

8 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Canty, in particular, is a good pass rusher who could easily post seven to ten sacks against overmatched guards this year.

I don't have access to an advanced statistical database, so I may be wrong but very few DTs post half a dozen sacks during the course of a season. Did Canty ever manage it from 3-4 end? Yet he 'could easily' get seven to ten sacks next year?

I call nonsense on this one. I have never been particularly impressed by Canty, he passes the eyeball test for an NFL lineman, but I have never seen him make anything like enough plays to justify the salary they have given him in NY. I would rather have Olshansky.

9 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

You have to consider his role in the defense. He plays on the side that Ware plays on most of the time, so obviously he never saw a lot of double teams or anything like that. But he was also asked to guard against the run so that Ware could cheat more towards the pass on a lot of downs. When he did rush the passer, he did better than most 3-4 ends do, which is why the Giants paid him.

IIRC, opponents run success to Canty/Ware's side was worse than their success to Ellis/Spear's side the last two seasons. However, it remains to be seen how much of that was because Ware's an absolute beast while Ellis has been a complete stiff against the run ever since his Achilles injury.

"Then again, I'm a Bobby Carpenter believer." -- Barnwell

14 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Not when one of them is is owned by Dan Snyder. He always seems to get his free agent scouting reports from ESPN Insider instead of his scouting department.

I could be wrong about Canty. It might turn out that it was Canty's dominant play that opened everything up for Ware. I'd be seriously suprised though.

17 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Under Bill Parcells, the Cowboys played the two gap version of the 3-4. This means Canty's job was simply to occupy two offensive lineman, therefore he would not post high sack numbers.

The same may be true for Wade Phillips 3-4 defense but I am unsure if Wade employ's the one gap or two gap version. The point about being on Ware's side of the defense is definitely solid.

I tend to agree that if two teams in the division set out to acquire him, there must be talent there.

18 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I can't say I have ever coached under the man but I thought Phillips' defense was a one gap system. Canty might have been a bit better in the 1 gap under Phillips than he was in the two gap under Parcells, but that could well be because he is a veteran. One of my problems with the move (and the near-universal aclaim it seems to have generated) is that I can't think of another 3-4 end who moved to a 4-3 team to play tackle who turned out to be worth much at their new position. Canty was a big end who could control his gap (or gaps) when on the end of the line. He hasn't demonstrated that he has the power to do the same in the middle of the line. Also he doesn't seem to have the elite burst or agility to be a great pass rusher from DT. I am not sure why he is expected to produce at a much higher level than he has over the start of his career.

Canty's best asset as an NFL player (IMHO) is that he is the right size and shape to be a 5 technique in a 3-4 defense. I am not trying to diminish the guy, there simply aren't that many people on the face of the planet who are that big, strong and quick (isn't that a Parcells theory?). I recall that there was something in PFP about defensive tackles being either 'elite players' (rare) or 'bodies'. I guess I reckon that the Giants have just given an elite player's contract to a 'body'.

72 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I guess I reckon that the Giants have just given an elite player's contract to a 'body.

And that's exactly the Cowboys position as well. Basically, they think Igor Olshanksy can do the same job for a heck of a lot less money.

They liked Canty, but felt that the role Canty played in THEIR defense was worth far less than what the Giants paid him. Perhaps the Giants/Redskins felt they would get more bang for their buck in their vision of Canty's role. A run-stuffing 3-4 DE is just not worth that kind of money.

"Then again, I'm a Bobby Carpenter believer." -- Barnwell

74 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Speaking of Parcells, he also loved Canty. And I think at this point we can trust that the Giants' D-line scouts know what their about.

84 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Yes, that is exactly what I said!

But I assume you're referring to Spags...who was DC for a grand total of 2 years and inherited the defensive line built by the scouting dept/front office/line coaches that are pretty still in place

118 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Actually, the defense in Spags' first year performed pretty much exactly the same as it did the year previous - they ranked 14th in the league in 2006, and 13th in 2007. This year they performed better, despite the fatc that the pass rush slowed down a lot from 2007, and was largely due to a much improved performance in the secondary. And aside from that, I don't think it was Spags who was out there scouting and developing the D-linemen.

37 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

canty is pretty athletic, which is why he was drafted fairly high even though he'd been injured a lot his senior year. the giants have kiwanuka, umenyiora, and tuck, along with all the blitzing linebackers and safeties. with all those distractions, it's reasonable to predict that canty could face a lot of 1-on-1 situations while shooting gaps instead of soaking up double teams head-on against offensive tackles like he did in the 3-4.

73 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

This theory that Canty faced a lot of double teams is absolutely not the case. Ware took on all the LTs the Cowboys faced last season on almost all the plays (as well as most RBs and FBs), and in no way did Canty help in that regard.

The difference is that Canty won't have to hold the line against the run in his new role, which can help open him up against the pass. There were a lot of 1st-and-10s and 2nd-and-6 type downs where he'll now be able to rush the passer rather than guard against the run like he did last year.

"Then again, I'm a Bobby Carpenter believer." -- Barnwell

10 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I'm not sure about Kevin Carter, Bertrand Berry, and Vonnie Holliday, but the Skins have already added Reynaldo Wynn and are trying to bring back Philip Daniels as well to form a cheap veteran platoon opposite Andre Carter. I suppose that if Daniels turns them down they will probably pursue one of those guys because they also have a huge need for an OT to replace Jansen in the short term and possibly Samuels in the long term. That is most likely where their first draft pick is going. (I suspect that if Andre Smith lasts to #13 they will take him, if not they will trade down and take the next OT.)

There is no doubt Springs is better than Hall. However, Springs cannot stay healthy and he's a lot older than Hall, so I don't see it as a terrible move.

Also, minor point in regards to the Giants, you forgot to mention that their D-line becomes even more devastating because of the return of Osi.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

13 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Harris, it's ironic that you used criminally and Buckhalter in the same sentence.

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/20090318_Alleged_drug_dealer_names_ex-Eagle_Buckhalter_as_client__prosecutor_says.html

16 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Hey, the guy had to do something to pass all that time he spent on the bench. Really, I'd much rather know that pro athletes in my community are getting high at home rather than out driving drunk.

Hail Hydra!

20 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I am not completely pleased with the way this division is looking. The Cowboys and Giants are making some smart roster moves and I don’t like it. The Giants especially. The Eagles seem to be moving backwards though, which is nice. Their OL needs some help and I don’t see them getting it, unless somebody like Winston Justice somehow steps up.

Albert Haynesworth is going to be huge for the Redskins. He is great player who should actually fit the scheme, unlike Jason Taylor. I am not sold on DeAngelo Hall yet, but it might be nice to have a corner who can catch. Pete Kendall played amazingly last year, and I think he is one of the biggest reasons Portis tore it up. Derrick Dockery has been a solid player but is probably a big step down.

26 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

"Their OL needs some help and I don’t see them getting it, unless somebody like Winston Justice somehow steps up."

Philly had so many offensive linemen that they wanted to keep last year they had to put one of them (Dunlap) on injured reserve for a minor foot injury.

They've got ridiculous flexibility in the guys left: the two they lost were pure LT/RT. All the remaining starting OL (from 2007 - Andrews was missing last year) are multi-position players: an LG/LT, a C/RG/LG, and an RG/RT. In addition, they've got another C/RG/LG backup who's played both C and RG in NFL games (and done well), and an RG/LG backup who's played both in NFL games. Those are just the guys who have actually started, and played well. In addition, they've got a G and LT from last year's draft, and Justice (a T/G), as well as the just-acquired Stacy Andrews (a RT).

As I said in a different post, the Eagles could easily start an offensive line next year consisting solely of experienced players, none of whom would be playing a new position - Herremans/Jean-Gilles/Jackson/Andrews/Andrews. That's not "needing help." It's a transition, sure, but it's not a big one. Reid's been drafting guys who can play multiple positions on OL for years now, and it's paying off.

If I had to guess, the only reason Justice is listed at LT on the depth chart is because the team won't move Herremans to LT until they know what their other options are, because moving Herremans to LT triggers a huge bonus in his contract.

23 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

the redskins biggest need is a receiver who can get off jam coverage. if i have to watch one more game of repeated 3rd down pass attempts to santana moss go incomplete because he's still getting jammed on the line i'm going to go apeshit.

24 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

"The team could also choose to move Shaun Andrews to left tackle, but that just opens up a hole at guard in the process."

The thing is, they've got a crazy number of guards. Andrews (it's Shawn, incidentally), Jean-Gilles, and Cole all started at RG. Jean-Gilles looked really good, and Cole looked passable, so Andrews could be moved to tackle if needed.

But I think the most likely solution is Herremans moving out to LT. He has been an NFL left tackle and not given up eight billion sacks like Winston Justice, although I think that, too, is overblown. Herremans started at LT in 2005 when Thomas went down, and did well. They played him at LT for the last game in 2006, as well, when they sat starters against the Falcons.

I really, really would hope that they'd go with the player on the roster who actually has played at LT, and done well, rather than mythical hopes that Shawn Andrews can switch sides and move out, or that a rookie can step in and perform.

The most likely starting OL for the Eagles, in my mind, is Herremans, Jean-Gilles, Jackson, Sh. Andrews, St. Andrews, presuming that Stacy Andrews's recovery goes well. If not, then Herremans, Jean-Gilles, Jackson, Cole, Sh. Andrews.

I really wouldn't be surprised to see Justice at LT with the ones during training camp, though. Burying a guy for giving up six sacks against a team that eventually would win the Super Bowl due to a superlative pass rush seems a little silly.

35 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Not the first or the last time I will get Shaun/Shawn mixed up.

Herremans moving to LT is wholly plausible, too, and I should've given it more credence than I did.

I think burying Justice for giving up six sacks to one guy isn't silly when it's the only game he started in his entire career. Plenty of teams have great pass rushes; they don't have their right end pick up six sacks when they face a rookie left tackle.

41 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Herremans moving to LT is wholly plausible, too, and I should've given it more credence than I did.

It's really not surprising: the Eagles hate mentioning moving Herremans to LT because of the contract escalator, so it gets forgotten about in the media as well.

I think burying Justice for giving up six sacks to one guy isn't silly when it's the only game he started in his entire career.

It's the only game he started. It's not the only game he played in. He played nearly the entire game at RT vs. Buffalo in 2007, and did fine. The fact that he "started" the NYG game and not the Buffalo game comes from the fact that Tra Thomas had back problems before the game and Runyan got injured early in the game.

Plenty of teams have great pass rushes; they don't have their right end pick up six sacks when they face a rookie left tackle.

I never thought I'd be saying that a Giants fan isn't giving their team enough credit! The 2007 Giants didn't have a great pass rush. They had probably the best front 4 of the past decade. The Giants put up 5 sacks against a team that gave up 21 sacks in the regular season!

If you go back and look at the Audibles after that game, most of you guys were commenting that it was strange or inexplicable that Reid wouldn't give his rookie LT any help against Osi, and it was true - Justice was left one-on-one a ton. Why? Because the rest of the offensive line was having just as many problems.

I'm not trying to say that Justice wasn't bad that day. Of course he was. It's also telling that Justice was inactive a ton last year, and that they picked up Stacy Andrews and drafted King Dunlap last year. But I don't think Justice was hopelessly awful that day, and I think it's also crazy to believe that Justice hasn't improved to "average" from "below-average" in two years. Granted, "average" is a step down for the Eagles, and that's the issue.

It may even be possible for Justice to improve to "above average," and I'm sure that's what the Eagles are hoping. But if not, they've already got an above-average LT in Herremans, so they're covered.

45 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I understand, and I don't have the snap totals, but I'm willing to bet it's his only significant experience at left tackle. It's also from a prominent game. I don't think by any means, it's silly to bring that game up as an indicator of his ability at the position. I'm not saying that his true level of performance is that he'd give up six sacks a game, but at this point, all we really know about his true level of performance is that he's had one really bad game at the position he's currently listed as the starter on the depth chart for.

I don't know about best front four of the decade. That same front four led the league in sacks almost assuredly because of that one game. Had Thomas been in there and allowed, say, one sack as opposed to six, they still lead the league in sacks, but it's by one whole sack. I covered the issue of the elite pass rush in PFP 08; their greatness is overstated.

You're right that Justice could be average (or above average). I don't know if I could call Herremans an above-average LT based on such a small sample, just like I can't say (for sure) that Justice is any one thing. I'm not sure what the inverse of Justice's performance would be -- maybe Herremans pancaking Jared Allen all day -- but the reason why I can at least feel more confident about my pegging of Justice than your thoughts on Herremans is that I can't imagine that it would be remotely possible for someone who was an above-average left tackle -- or had it in them to be an above-average left tackle -- to give up six sacks. I just can't, regardless of how good the end across from him was or how little help he got. I was just doing some research, and the average left tackle who started 16 games last year was credited with something like 4.38 blown blocks in a season. Justice probably wasn't credited with six blown blocks in that game, but I'm willing to bet he had four.

63 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

I can't imagine that it would be remotely possible for someone who was an above-average left tackle -- or had it in them to be an above-average left tackle -- to give up six sacks. I just can't, regardless of how good the end across from him was or how little help he got. I was just doing some research, and the average left tackle who started 16 games last year was credited with something like 4.38 blown blocks in a season. Justice probably wasn't credited with six blown blocks in that game, but I'm willing to bet he had four.

Justice gave up 4 of Osi's 6 sacks (not exactly sure what constitutes a "blown block"). Not that that isn't still a horrible outing, but I think you're reading too much into it. Jon Runyan had a game where he gave up 3.5 sacks to Strahan and he was well above average as an NFL tackle for many years (albeit on the right side rather than the left). I have no idea whether or not Justice will ever be a useful starter, but I think it's premature to say that he doesn't have it in him.

40 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Jean-Gilles looked really good? I couldn't disagree more. I thought he was the weakest link on the line last year, and the RG spot improved when he was injured and Cole took over. I figured MJG might struggle in pass protection and he's not good at moving on screens, but I thought he'd at least be able to plow ahead in the run game. Nothing. Remember how the Eagles couldn't score a goal-line touchdown to save their lives last year?

I think the Eagles are set up pretty nicely on OL, considering the necessity of transitioning at both OT spots (for the first time in the Reid era.) I think they plan on taking a stud LT in the first round, but they don't have to if things don't shake out that way.

The Eagles' biggest holes, by far, are OT, RB, and TE. All could be addressed in the draft.

44 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Jean-Gilles looked really good? I couldn't disagree more. I thought he was the weakest link on the line last year

Jean-Gilles played games prior to that, too. I don't think he played particularly well in 2008, but I don't think he looked that bad. The entire Eagles line seemed fairly out of sync early on.

Remember how the Eagles couldn't score a goal-line touchdown to save their lives last year?

I never saw a case where Jean-Gilles was the problem in those cases. Most of them were FB/TE problems - Schobel's "whiff" block in the "multiple goal-to-go" game last year, for instance. MJG had quite a few good short-yardage plays that game in goal-line situations: the 1st and 4 during the 4th quarter against Chicago, for instance, MJG cleaned a highway to the right side - if Hunt would've been able to block Briggs at all, that would've been a TD. (MJG also had a mediocre block that same game in the red zone, but it was mediocre, not bad - the play was still a success, just not a TD).

120 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

First Giants game, the deciding 4 and one play. Chase Blackburn shoots though Jean-Gilles' gap to tackle Westbrook before the can even get up field. Max on that play was slow out of his stance, so he could not block his gap responsiblity on that play. He was also consistantly slow out of his stance though out the season. Jean-Gilles is a good blocker when he can establish contact first, and then use leverage created by his 358 pounds (that he is listed at) to drive defenders off the ball. However, it is the same bulk that he needs to create this leverage that seemingly makes him too slow out of his stance to establish contact with a defender. And with Jean-Gilles in the line up the Eagles had to scale back the screen passing game because he could not gain the edge fast enough. Jean-Gilles would be better if he played on a team that emphsised straight ahead blocking, on having a strong running game, and clock management. You know a team like the University of Georgia.

125 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

He was also consistantly slow out of his stance though out the season.

A little, yes, but poor timing on the line blocking was a serious problem early in the year - it wasn't just Jean-Gilles.

I find it really hard to vilify MJG for his performance in 2008: the Eagles run game was just disoriented and full of stupid mistakes all around early in the season. Whether it was problems at FB, comically bad tight end blocking, or bad timing on the offensive line, everyone looked pretty bad early in the season.

Early in the season I had charted every single running play (for the first few games) mainly because I wanted to see how Hunt was doing as a FB. At first I was thinking "well, this doesn't look too bad" and then I realized he was blocking well on something like 1 out of every 10 plays.

And with Jean-Gilles in the line up the Eagles had to scale back the screen passing game

Huh? The screen passing game was missing all season. It certainly didn't come back with much success after Cole came in (with a few notable exceptions, although in some of those cases Jean-Gilles would've done just as well given the play).

When asked about it during the season, the coaches said that it was due to other teams keying on the screen a bit too much.

25 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

"Dawkins had little left in the tank and won't be missed..."

Maybe as far as making plays, but it's really unfair to say he won't be missed. I know leadership isn't a real statistic, but it will be missed.

28 Re: Four Downs 2009: NFC East

Anyone who said Dawkins had nothing left in the tank didn't watch him play very closely. His range had definitely decreased, but he still has an amazing ability to strip balls and cause fumbles.

Dawkins had 3 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and a pick last year. That's not "nothing left in the tank." I can understand the Eagles not wanting to keep him as a starting safety, but the idea that you won't miss that production is crazy.

The forced fumbles are really telling - Dawkins has more forced fumbles than any safety in history, and he had 6 last year, which is basically the same rate he's had most of his career. If you read any stories about Dawkins from opposing players, the most common thing they say is that when Dawkins comes at you, he's not just trying to tackle you - he's trying to get the ball.