After a quarter of the 2013 NFL season, the NFC East looks every bit like the NFC Least. Here is why:
AFC West makes mincemeat of NFC East. For 2013, the NFC East’s inter-conference opponents are the teams in the AFC West. So far the NFC East is 1-7 against the AFC West and many of the games have been blowouts, such as the 52-20 thrashing of the Philadelphia Eagles by the Denver Broncos. This is the opposite of when AFC West teams routinely fell at the hands of the NFC East, such as in Super Bowl XXI when the New York Giants crushed the Denver Broncos, 39-20, and Super Bowl XXII when the Washington Redskins manhandled the same Broncos, 42-10.
NFC East Teams Once Beast of the East. The Dallas Cowboys are one of only two teams (the Pittsburgh Steelers are the other) to play in as many as eight Super Bowls and the ‘Boys have won five. The Washington Redskins have been to five Super Bowls and won three. The New York Giants have won four Super Bowls out of five attempts, and the Philadelphia Eagles have at least managed to make it to two Super Bowls, although they have never won. Not all of these accomplishments were done under the present structure of eight four-team divisions, but it does show that these four teams collectively have the best track record of teams from any of today’s divisions.
Defense, defense, defense. One of the things that made the NFC East so successful was the excellent defenses they had. The reason the Redskins won two of their three Super Bowls with average quarterbacks, like Doug Williams and Mark Rypien, was that they featured a great defense. In team sports you win on defense, not offense. As they say, offense is for show and defense is for dough. The New York Giants, in the 1980s, had a linebacker trio of Carl Banks and Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. They have nothing like that now. The Eagles during the Buddy Ryan era had defensive stalwarts Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, William Thomas, Byron Evans, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters. All of these players were of All-Pro caliber. What do they have now on defense? The NFC East no longer has these great defenses that physically dominate their opponents.
Poor drafting. A primary reason for the NFC East’s decline is poor drafting. For example, Andy Reid, who during the offseason moved from head coach of the Eagles to the same post with the Kansas City Chiefs, ironically has benefited from having an All-Pro fueled defense already in place with the Chiefs. But he left the defense in Philadelphia in shambles. For the past three years the Eagles defense simply cannot get off the field, even in third-and-long situations. In 2011 Reid wasted a number one pick on undersized offensive lineman Danny Watkins, who turned out to be a flop. A review of recent drafts shows the NFC East is not drafting impact defensive players. Reid’s mindset about offense would never have allowed him to construct a defense as good as the one that has conveniently fallen into his lap in Kansas City. He will take credit for the success of the Chiefs, but he did not build this team.
Abandoning the run. The NFC East teams used to run the ball effectively. Bill Parcells emphasized running the ball and taking time off the clock with the 1980s Giants, even when he didn’t have great running backs. The Redskins ran the ball during their glory days, as did the Dallas Cowboys with Emmitt Smith. These teams are now leaving too much in the hands of their quarterbacks, with predictably poor results.
NFC East had the winning formula. Throughout NFL history the winning formula has been running the football and playing smash-mouth defense. NFC East teams, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the AFC North, were the greatest practitioners of this philosophy. But in recent years they have gotten away from this and spent their time focusing almost exclusively on the passing game and on drafting offensive lineman ahead of needed defensive help. To return to the success of the past, these teams need to get back to basics.
Related article: Should We Give Up on the Philadelphia Eagles?