Surprising Starts in the NFC East

The NFL season is well underway, and there are already some surprising shifts happening across the league. The NFC East, both the NFL’s most valuable and recently its most inept division, is no exception. Here’s a look at the most surprising part of the new season for each team.

DALLAS COWBOYS: The defense is adept at forcing turnovers. 

The Cowboys defense last year was a sieve, and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was tasked with turning this talented, but undisciplined defense around. Despite a crucial injury to edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys defense has played aggressively and found success. While they did allow tons of yards to quarterbacks Tom Brady and Justin Herbert, picking off 2 passes each game gave Dak Prescott and the offense a chance to win every shootout. The turnover battle was preached in the offseason by the Cowboys, and this emphasis has shown results so far this season. Tackling issues have also improved, but the secondary, especially cornerback Anthony Brown, has struggled apart from its interceptions. If the Cowboys want to give their offense a chance to win games, they will have to improve before their rate of takeaways regresses to the mean.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Sterling Shepard is WR1 … for now.

With the big contract signed by prized free agent addition Kenny Golladay, most predicted he would waltz into the job as Daniel Jones’ preferred target to start the season. Instead, it has been long-tenured Giant Sterling Shepard who has led the team so far this year. While the Giants have heavily invested in both their defense and offensive line, these changes so far have not yielded an uptick in results on the field. Although the Giants look mostly competitive, Jones still seems like he has not yet taken the next step. Shepard, however, is a great security blanket for Jones and is one of the better signs for the Giants as this season progresses. With Saquon Barkley getting healthier, Golladay and Jones getting more chemistry, and certain players, like tight end Evan Engram, coming back, the offense seems likely to get things on track, as the Giants look to at least be competitive in what is commonly thought of as the weakest division in football. On the defensive side, pass defense really has been a struggle to start the season. Allowing Bridgewater and Heinecke to light up the secondary is not a good sign for this team, and the lack of depth on the back end makes it likely that this will remain an issue. Still, with Shepard and Jones in sync and other areas of the offense looking ready to improve, the Giants might show signs of life sooner rather than later. 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: The defense has been one of the best in the league.  

The Eagles were one of the harder teams in the league to predict this season. Quarterback Jalen Hurts was a relative unknown, new coach Nick Sirianni made some uninspiring comments in an introductory news conference, and the team remained largely unchanged from an unsuccessful unit last season. However, it did seem like the Eagles underperformed last year, and maybe the veterans could come back rejuvenated with a new coach. While the Eagles have struggled with injury early on, the effort from the veterans on defense has been crucial to the success of the unit, keeping the Eagles offense in the game until Hurts creates an inevitable explosive play. 

Specifically, the run defense has been stout after not being an area of strength at all in recent years. The push from the front seven, likely buoyed by bolstering the depth for these position groups, has been a positive change for the defense, especially as injuries are starting to pile up. On the offensive side, there have been some growing pains. The young receivers have not been all that consistent to start the season off, and the dual tight end attack of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert has been mostly ineffective. In the mold of Lamar Jackson’s Ravens, the running attack with the threat of Hurts has found success. As long as the banged-up offensive line holds up, running the football and a solid defense should keep the Eagles competitive. 

WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM: The unimpressive pass rush. 

Washington’s pass rush was highly regarded coming into this season; with both star power outside and depth inside the defensive line, the team looked ready to wreak havoc on opposing backfields. So far, however, the team hasn’t been able to get to the quarterback as well as was thought. The defense letting up 29 points to the Giants certainly was not an expected outcome, especially after showing a better overall effort Week 1 against the Chargers. Now, Washington has dealt with an injury to starter Matt Ioannidis, so some underperforming is to be expected. Though it was expected that the team would depend on their defense for most of the year, the lack of dominance on the front end has to be concerning. There is too much talent on this defense, particularly on the defensive line, for this trend to continue, so look for Chase Young and company to start disrupting games and lighting up backfields in the weeks to come. Hopefully for the team, new starter Taylor Heinecke can keep the Football Team in games until the defense regains its success.

Image courtesy of KA Sports Photos

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