Four Downs: NFC East

Four Downs: NFC East
Four Downs: NFC East
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Brian McIntyre

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Defensive Back

Dallas' pass-rush remained effective in 2010, ranking 11th in adjusted sack rate, up from a 12th-place ranking in 2009. Despite getting similar production up front, the Cowboys dropped from 15th in pass defense DVOA in 2009, when starting cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins both made the Pro Bowl, to 28th in 2010. Newman and Jenkins both struggled in 2010, as did free safety Alan Ball, who is expected to be moved back to his natural cornerback position in 2011.

Jenkins returns in a starting role, but Newman turns 33 in September and is due an $8 million base salary, making him no lock to return in 2011. Dallas may look for a replacement for Newman through free agency, as Orlando Scandrick and 2010 undrafted free agent Bryan McCann are better suited for nickelback and dime back roles. The Cowboys used a fifth-round pick on University of Buffalo cornerback Josh Thomas.

In addition to Ball moving to cornerback, strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, leaving the Cowboys with a considerable hole in the back-end of the secondary. Second-year players Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (a fourth-round pick in 2010), Barry Church, Danny McCray, and Andrew Sendejo are the only safeties signed for 2011. Less than a year after showing interest in O.J. Atogwe, the Cowboys passed on signing the street free agent when he was available in February. Re-signing Sensabaugh is an option, and the Cowboys have been linked to former University of Texas standout Michael Huff, a 2006 first-round pick by the Oakland Raiders who will hit the free agent market this offseason.

New York Giants

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Linebacker, Interior Offensive Line

General manager Jerry Reese had a terrific draft, adding cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round, defensive tackle Marvin Austin in the second round, and slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan in the third. There were two areas Reese didn't address early: linebacker and the interior of the offensive line.

Injuries in the middle forced the Giants to start three players at center last season. Even with the injuries, the Giants ranked seventh in adjusted line yards and second in adjusted sack rate last season. Still, all three players who started at center are recovering from offseason surgeries.

Starting center Shaun O'Hara turns 34 next month and underwent surgery on his right foot and left ankle and Achilles, while Rich Seubert and Adam Koets are both coming off knee surgeries. Right guard Chris Snee is a perennial Pro Bowler, but aside from 2010 fifth-round pick Mitch Petrus, who appeared in 11 games as a rookie, the Giants lack depth on the inside of their line.

Clint Sintim , a 2009 second-round linebacker, was expected to win the starting strongside linebacker job last summer but lost out to veteran middle linebacker Keith Bulluck, who was moved outside in the second half of training camp. Sintim would total 13 tackles, mainly on special teams, before landing on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL.

Bulluck is an unrestricted free agent, so Sintim again sits atop the depth chart, with only 2010 sixth-round pick Adrian Tracy, who missed his rookie season with an elbow injury, to challenge him. The Giants used a pair of sixth-round picks on linebackers Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams, but until Sintim shows that he is healthy and ready to seize the opportunity, the Giants appear to have a hole at outside linebacker.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Pass Rush, Cornerback

Trent Cole posted 10 sacks and the Eagles ranked 5th in adjusted sack rate, but the pass rush fell off in the second half of the season, generating just 15 sacks in the second half of 2010. Defensive end Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, who finished the season on injured reserve with a torn ACL, combined for just four sacks after the midpoint of the season. Philadelphia also got very little pass-rush production from their tackles.

The Eagles fired defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and defensive line coach Rory Segrest after the season, promoting Juan Castillo to coordinator and hiring highly respected defensive line coach Jim Washburn from the Titans.

The Eagles did not address the front four in the draft, hoping that Graham will return from his knee injury and that Washburn will wring production out of Parker, Tapp, and tackles Trevor Laws, Mike Patterson, and Brodrick Bunkley. An improved pass rush could help the secondary, which is looking for a starting cornerback opposite Asante Samuel.

Samuel remains an elite-level cornerback, intercepting seven passes in just 11 games and earning a third Pro Bowl nod since signing with the Eagles in 2008. Free-agent Ellis Hobbs started at right cornerback last season, but a neck injury ended his season, and possibly his career. Dimitri Patterson and Joselio Hanson are more effective in reserve roles in nickel and dime packages. Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick, and 2010 fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley are potential starters down the road but not in 2011.

Washington Redskins

Biggest Post-Draft Hole: Cornerback, Quarterback

In a quarterback-driven league, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan needs to figure out who will be under center in 2011. With the expected release of Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman headed for unrestricted free agency, John Beck is the only certainty on the team heading into training camp.

A former second-round pick out of Brigham Young by the Dolphins in 2007, Beck was acquired from the Ravens last August and spent 2010 backing up McNabb and Grossman. Beck has not attempted a regular season NFL pass since December 30, 2007, so head coach Mike Shanahan will want to bring in an experienced quarterback to compete with Beck for the Redskins' starting job.

Washington ranked 27th in pass defense DVOA in 2010 and, thanks largely to a four-interception game against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, DeAngelo Hall made his first Pro Bowl since the 2006 season. Starter Carlos Rogers is an unrestricted free agent, as is Phillip Buchanon, who started a handful of games and led the team with 18 passes defensed last season. Kevin Barnes, a 2009 third-round pick, may move into the starting lineup, but the only other cornerbacks on the roster are Byron Westbrook, Reggie Jones, and seventh-round pick Brandyn Thompson. Teams need three good cornerbacks to compete in the NFL, and right now the Redskins are at least one short.

A version of this article previously appeared on ESPN Insider.


37 comments, Last at 25 May 2011, 2:42pm

#1 by MilkmanDanimal // May 20, 2011 - 2:12pm

Is John Beck going to legally change his name to "Brian St. Pierre", or is it just implied?

Points: 0

#9 by Theo // May 20, 2011 - 10:56pm

St. Pierre signed more contracts (6) than number of passes he threw (5) in his first 7 seasons in the league. Read that again.

He then went to the high sucktitude of league quarterbacking at Carolina and went for a whopping 28 passes in the one game he started because of a Jim Clausen injury.
That is still 7 contracts and 3 games played for his career.
If you look up 'career third string QB' at the dictionary, I don't know whos picture is more deserving that of Brian St. Pierre. Even Wee Brooks Bollinger played 21 games in 6 years.

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#2 by Jimmy // May 20, 2011 - 2:41pm

I prefer the girl on the right before she cartoonises herself. Catholic Match girl has some competition, albeit less demure.

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#8 by skeptic1 (not verified) // May 20, 2011 - 5:09pm

I see no girl on the right, just an ever-changing set of unpleasant advertisements on the right (e.g. for penny stocks) and the mutant on the left. I fear the days when the FO family could bond in honor of CMG are gone, due to "improvements" in advertising techniques.

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#10 by MatMan // May 21, 2011 - 12:17am

Surely someone out there has a picture of Catholic Match Girl. I've been reading FO for years, so I'm familiar with the concept of CMG, but I have never seen her.

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#11 by Shattenjager // May 21, 2011 - 12:50am

I think she's better as an unseen legend (she honestly just doesn't strike me as anything special), but fellow commenter tuluse provided the link when I asked in the past:

Someone else (though I don't remember who to give them credit) said that her legend was more a result of there being relatively few advertisers in the early days of FO than anything about Catholic Match Girl herself.

Points: 0

#14 by Theo // May 21, 2011 - 3:10am

Sorry what? I was distracted.
Googling Catholic Match Girl gives an answer from this website.
And it was not her looks so much, it was her gaze.

Points: 0

#19 by Thomas_beardown // May 23, 2011 - 12:42pm

As Theo said, she is rather average looking in general, but that stare is surreal. It's like she's looking right into your soul.

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#21 by Shattenjager // May 23, 2011 - 1:26pm

I don't see that either, really, but perhaps it's because I don't believe in "souls."

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#22 by Independent George // May 23, 2011 - 2:41pm

Damn. She got to you already!

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#27 by Theo // May 23, 2011 - 6:52pm

Soul... read: "brain" or "thoughts".
Learn some mysticism 101.

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#28 by Shattenjager // May 23, 2011 - 7:04pm


Don't argue with me about what I believe in.

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#29 by Theo // May 23, 2011 - 7:18pm

I know, it's code talk. Kayfabe.
If someone says soul. He means mind/thoughts.
But they don't know that. Just like 1990 Wrestling fans, it's still real to them!

Points: 0

#30 by Shattenjager // May 23, 2011 - 8:10pm

Okay. I misunderstood what you were saying.

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#33 by Theo // May 23, 2011 - 10:25pm

It's kayfabe... but unlike the wrestlers, they don't know it is not real.

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#31 by Thomas_beardown // May 23, 2011 - 9:16pm

It was just some artistic license. Soul reads much nicer than "brain."

Points: 0

#32 by Shattenjager // May 23, 2011 - 10:12pm

Though it's true that I do not believe in souls, I really meant that to be a joke--I just don't see the piercing gaze that others do.

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#34 by Theo // May 23, 2011 - 10:31pm

just look at it...

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#36 by Mr Shush // May 25, 2011 - 2:32pm

I'm not sure I can agree with you there. It may be that the true statements which most closely correspond to positive statements about souls are statements about brains or thoughts, but that doesn't make "soul" a synonym for "brain" or "thoughts". Proof of the non-existence of souls would not make talk about souls meaningless; it would simply make positive statements about souls false. False statements are not void of meaning. For your position to be tenable, I think you would have to establish that souls were logically impossible, not just non-existent. Prima facie, that doesn't seem very likely to me.

Points: 0

#24 by bravehoptoad // May 23, 2011 - 5:26pm

Catholic Match Girl's name is Shawna Lenee.

And those serious, soulful eyes? That deep gaze? Well, she does porno for a living. Not that doing porno and have a deep, serious soul are mutually exclusive, but it does jar the imagination.

Points: 0

#25 by Shattenjager // May 23, 2011 - 5:36pm

Are you sure about that? Shawna Lenee was in the Tori Black ads they were using here for a while, and doesn't look much to me like CMG.

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#26 by Theo // May 23, 2011 - 6:50pm

You're wrong.
The porn stars where last year, CMG was in 2006.

Points: 0

#3 by BAL (not verified) // May 20, 2011 - 2:44pm

I remember one of Beck's last passes was an auto-fumble when the ball slipped from his hand in the middle of a throw while spinning over his feet. Most hilarious play I ever saw in my life.

Am I the only one hearing "with the No. 1 pick of the draft, the Washington Redskins select Andrew Luck"?

Points: 0

#4 by Shattenjager // May 20, 2011 - 3:07pm

It's the Redskins. They will surely trade their pick.

Note: This is a joke.

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#5 by MilkmanDanimal // May 20, 2011 - 3:10pm


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#12 by Shattenjager // May 21, 2011 - 12:56am

I originally said something here that I have since decided against saying, so now I provide a message as useful as Matt Millen's commentary.

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#35 by Kevin from Philly // May 24, 2011 - 1:51pm

But mercifully shorter. Thanks.

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#6 by DrunkenOne // May 20, 2011 - 3:56pm

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#13 by Mike Elseroad (not verified) // May 21, 2011 - 2:49am

Actually, I'm what I'm hearing is "With the 1st pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals select Andrew Luck, quarterback Stanford."

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#37 by Mr Shush // May 25, 2011 - 2:42pm

Given that the NFC North and South play each other, I will be a little surprised if the first overall pick does not initially belong to either the Vikings or (more likely) the Panthers again. In the latter case we will presumably see a trade. I don't think the Cardinals or Bills are likely to make such a move. My money would be on the Seahawks.

Points: 0

#15 by Theo // May 21, 2011 - 3:24am

From the start it's clear he just wanted to dump it to the split end on the left. No idea why the TE wouldn't block anything then...

Points: 0

#23 by rk (not verified) // May 23, 2011 - 2:56pm

Or maybe, there won't be a 2012 draft, and Andrew Luck will be the most sought after undrafted free agent in history.

Points: 0

#7 by chemical burn // May 20, 2011 - 4:00pm

Understatement of the year: "Dimitri Patterson and Joselio Hanson are more effective in reserve roles in nickel and dime packages." Also, why talk about the defensive line and not mention Antonio Dixon, who is probably their best DT at this point? Sure, he doesn't rush the passer, but neither do Patterson or Bunkley, nor were they expected to do so.

At any rate, it's a little weird to say that a team that finished 5th in Sack Rate is having sack production issues and put that on the line play. Don't you think their sack drop-off in the 2nd half of the season has to do as much with secondary injuries (e.g. Patterson seeing the field in any circumstance and Kurt Coleman seeing it far too much for a rookie 7th round pick) as it did with line play? The Eagles defensive issues were mainly pass coverage related... which also ties into McD getting fired.

Points: 0

#16 by Joe Blow (not verified) // May 21, 2011 - 11:36am

Did you watch the Eagles last season? As seems to be normal for them during the past several years, their pass rush, which nearly always starts off the first half of the year like gangbusters, dwindled to next to nothing in the second half. While the defensive backfield sucked more and more as time went on, it wasn't like opposing teams were completing 5 yard hitches against the Eagles. They were often throwing deep, and, yet, the pass rush couldn't get there in time to disrupt the pattern.
As noted earlier, this has become standard practice for the Eagles by now. I'm not certain why.

Points: 0

#18 by chemical burn // May 22, 2011 - 1:41pm

Unfortunately, I didn't watch the Eagles last season, so I'm going to have to make everything up here, but my point was this: early in the season, the Eagles were getting a significant portion sacks as a result of their coverage. Not that they were shutting everyone down through the air, but that their schemes were complex and well-executed enough to give their line another second or 2 to get to the QB. As the season progressed, they lost their starting CB, S and MLB and were forced to play very raw/inexperienced/over-matched players in these complex coverage schemes that McD favors. Once, Chaney, Coleman and Patterson started seeing significant playing time and couldn't execute the complex coverage schemes, the Eagles lost the coverage edge that was getting them that extra second or 2 that is all the difference in somebody like Juqua Parker or Darryl Tapp or Trevor Laws making it to the QB.

Another factor, the Eagles bring the CB and S on the blitz very frequently - lesser/more inexperienced players coming on these blitzes (or even staying back in coverage while the other S/CB blitzes) means that they probably lost sack production there as well. Secondary blitzes are all about timing and disguising your intentions - it's probably fair to say that raw, low-round pick rookies are more likely to telegraph their intentions and not have the nuances down pat.

The consensus among the players was that McD's insistence on employing these complex coverage schemes (even after it was clear the replacement players couldn't handle them) was costing them games - or at least making the defense look terrible. It might be too much to say that's what cost McD his job, but there was clearly some real internal strife when Andy Reid comes out and says McD will be back next year, he's Reid's man, etc. and then he gets fired about a week later.

Would it be nice to get more sack production out of the other starting DE and the DT's? Of course, but Parker has been one of the best running-stopping end in the league for several years running (according to FO's numbers) and the DT position for Eagles doesn't intend for them to generate sacks, so I'm not sure anything short of bringing in a player like Suh will change that. Graham being a bit of disappointment and then getting injured worries me, of course - but they addressed their line needs last year with that pick and there's nothing that really needs to be upgraded along the line, short of importing a superstar. A first round pick should theoretically develop into that superstar. Their CB, S and MLB all need an ugrade/improvement - that's clear as day. I have confidence in Allen and Chaney, or at least think they deserve more time to develop, so I'm not super worried about a team that finished 5th in sack rate will suddenly become unable to pressure opposing QB's.

But its the Eagles who aren't shy in free agency, so they could very well be planning on going after the biggest name at DE...

Points: 0

#17 by Tim Wilson // May 21, 2011 - 12:32pm

Reading the tea leaves on management comments coming out of Valley Ranch, it seems like the Cowboys believe Jenkins will have a rebound season in 2011. Which is probably reasonable, he was one of KC Joyner's top 10 CBs in 2009 and the talent doesn't just disappear. Newman could rebound as well if healthy, and Scandrick and Ball are decent nickel dime it's possible CB could be in decent shape for 2011 (although Newman is obviously aging and will need to be replaced eventually). Of course, if Newman gets cut, that changes things a bit.

The bigger issues, though, seem to be safety and defensive line. As mentioned, the Cowboys have NO starting caliber safeties on the roster right now-- even if you sign Weddle or Huff, you've still got to sign someone to pair with them. Maybe that's Sensabaugh. But Weddle and Huff are RFAs if the league reverts to 2010 rules, not UFAs, so that's a significant problem for Jerry.

DL is very sparse as well right now, in terms of guys currently signed. I believe the only DE under contact is Igor Olshansky. Bowen, Hatcher, and Spears are all UFAs or RFAs. Soooo...that's a problem. Maybe they'll chase Cullen Jenkins or some of the other 3-4 DEs out there on the UFA market, but Jenkins is 30. There aren't many promising young guys who are going to be available. Re-signing Spears and Bowen may be the best option at DE, even if Spears has underwhelmed the last couple years.

Points: 0

#20 by Thomas_beardown // May 23, 2011 - 12:47pm

After watching the Cowboys play at the end of the Phillip's era, I don't think I've ever seen a better example of a team quitting on it's coach. It was disgraceful really, and extremely noticeable in the secondary. The cornerbacks looked like they were going at 3/4 speed and the concept of tackling or playing physical was completely foreign to them.

As for the elephant in the room, wasn't Ball's problem that he is simply too slow to play safety in the NFL? If this is the case how will moving him to corner do anything but make this worse?

Points: 0

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