Biggest concerns for NFC East teams

By Joshua Edwards

Holdouts, injuries, QB controversies and a lack of depth - NFC Least or NFC Beast in 2019?

As the preseason draws to a close and rosters are cut from 90 to 53 players, there are noteworthy concerns for each NFC East team. Josh Edwards takes a look at the biggest worries heading into the season for the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles.

Dallas centrepiece Elliott still holding out

Rookie running back Tony Pollard has played well this preseason. He has carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards (5.6ypc) and a score. At times he has looked elusive and strong, and has made good, patient decisions. There is, however, no comparison whatsoever to Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott led the league in touches last season, averaging over 20 per game, and is exceptionally durable. If his off-field troubles don’t limit his playing time, a strong case can be made that he is the best back in the game. 

It’s a difficult situation for Dallas, who are reluctant to, as they see it, overpay Elliott. But they would be mindful to remember that during Zeke’s suspension in 2017 the Cowboys were 3-3. More worryingly, Dak Prescott was particularly lacklustre in that stretch. Without the threat of Zeke, and without his exemplary pass-protection, Prescott is not as productive.

There are, however, some reasons for optimism for Dallas in spite of Elliott’s holdout. Dak has more weapons than ever before. These include the rejuvenated Amari Cooper, and an exciting young OC in Kellen Moore, who was himself playing QB in the league just three seasons ago. Many writers have been harsh on Dallas for what they perceive to be a reliance on Elliott, however, with such a transcendent, durable talent on the roster, why wouldn’t they build their offense around him? 

The organisation has taken a lot of flak but, ultimately, it will come down to a dollar value on the running back. Will Dallas splash the cash, or will Zeke compromise? If an agreement can’t be made, can Dallas use their collection of running backs to plug a Zeke shaped hole?

NFC East

Lack of depth at DE Philly’s Achilles’ heel?

Okay, I’m going to side with the Philly front office and assume that Carson Wentz is healthy and durable for 2019. It’s an almighty assumption given the signal caller’s history. However, I’m looking elsewhere for a biggest worry in the city of brotherly love. Relative to the other NFC East teams, it feels like splitting hairs, but depth at defensive end could be a cause for concern for the Eagles.

Last season Philly had, at edge rusher: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett and Chris Long. This year their best four guys are, probably: Graham, Barnett, Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat. That could be a problem. Though improved inside (Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan are a strong DT duo), pressure on opposing quarterbacks is, as we know, absolutely crucial, especially if the secondary regresses to the mean.

A team strength for years, New York's D Line looking lacklustre

In what looks to be a rebuild season in Jersey, the Giants have plenty of questions to answer, not least whether or not Daniel Jones, their 5th overall pick out of Duke, is yet ready to supplant Eli Manning as signal caller. 

Perhaps the biggest concern for Big Blue however is the perceived lack of a premier pass rush. The Giants were tied 30th in the league last season in sacks with just 30, and there are serious question marks over their offseason attempts to rectify the situation. Olivier Vernon, who accounted for 7 of those 30 sacks, moved to Cleveland as part of the OBJ mega trade. 

BJ Hill broke the team’s rookie record for sacks last season with 5.5 but he benefited from the players around him and will need to step up markedly in his second year. The Giants took Clemson NT Dexter Lawrence with the 17th overall pick but in college Lawrence was primarily a vaunted run stuffer rather than pass rusher. It remains to be seen how New York will use him in his rookie campaign.

Washington offensive line in flux

Now that the Redskins have named Case Keenum their starting quarterback, it’s another holdout which is filling the column inches in Washington. First reported by Jason La Canfora back in May, pro-bowl left tackle Trent Williams has, supposedly, vowed never to play for the team again after the alleged mishandling of medical issues. Williams has stuck to his guns, not appearing at the facility and not speaking publicly on the issue and, at this stage, the situation appears irreconcilable. With trade rumours percolating (the Patriots are said to have offered a first round pick, which the Redskins are said to have declined), Jay Gruden and co. are being forced into building a makeshift left side of the offensive line.

The Redskins first reacted to Williams’s absence by signing veteran tackle Donald Penn. Penn, a pro-bowler in 2016 and 2017 with the Raiders, missed the majority of last season and was released by Oakland. Now the 36 year old seems set to be the Redskins starting left tackle, 2018 3rd round pick Geron Christian having failed to develop as quickly as previously hoped. 

To further compound the situation for the Redskins, the left guard spot is also up for grabs. At this point it remains to be seen whether 4th round pick Wes Martin will beat out the much maligned Ereck Flowers, who has put in some less than stellar preseason performances at the position. Flowers, a free agent signing in March, was a 1st round bust at tackle for the Giants, and the Redskins are trying him out at guard in what can only be considered a very optimistic experiment. In a season where most people expect rookie QB Dwayne Haskins to take the reins at some point, such a situation is a pressing concern.

Josh Edwards




Image credit: USA Today