- The Washington Times
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Here’s the reality that reflects the sad state of the NFC East: There have been more weeks in the NFL season so far (6) than the NFC East has wins (5).

The once-premier division is a train wreck. Its four teams are a combined 5-18-1 with a point differential of -184. There are six teams around the league — the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans — that have five wins on their own. The NFC East is so bad that Washington (1-5) fell to last place after Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants — and oddsmakers actually improved their odds to win the division on Tuesday. They’ve gone from 11/1 to 10/1.

The division’s ineptitude is — and will be — hard to ignore. The Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles will meet for this week’s “Thursday Night Football” — one of the five remaining prime-time games featuring at least one team from the division. That doesn’t even account for other nationally televised NFC East matchups in the afternoon, like the Thanksgiving Day matinee featuring the Cowboys and Washington.

There’s little reason to believe a turnaround is coming for any of these teams. All four have significant flaws — and stats that illustrate just how badly they’ve struggled.

And each one is putting its own unique spin on terrible.

Dallas Cowboys (2-4, first place in the NFC East): The defining stat: With 218 points allowed, the Cowboys’ defense is off to the worst start of any team since 1961.

Look, losing quarterback Dak Prescott, who was on pace to break Peyton Manning’s all-time passing record for yards in a season, for the year to a broken ankle hurts. But the real problem for Dallas is its defense. According to ESPN, only three teams have given up more points than the Cowboys have in six games: the 1950 Baltimore Colts (235), the 1961 Oakland Raiders (228) and the 1954 Washington Redskins (223). That’s pre-merger territory.

The Cowboys lost cornerback Byron Jones to free agency and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had been sidelined with an injury before returning Monday, but the unit should still be better than this. The heat is on new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1, second place): The defining stat: Carson Wentz’s QBR of 48.2 trails only Dwayne Haskins and Sam Darnold.

In 2017, before he tore his ACL, Wentz was the league’s leading MVP candidate. This season, he looks like a completely different quarterback. According to Pro Football Reference, Wentz leads the league in poor throws with 48 and only 72% of his passes are on target — the sixth-worst mark. He has also been sacked more than any other quarterback with 25.

Philadelphia’s supporting cast could be contributing to Wentz’s struggles. Wideouts Alshon Jeffrey (foot) and Jalen Reagor (elbow), running back Miles Sanders (knee) and tight ends Zach Ertz (ankle) and Dallas Goedert (ankle) are hurt. DeSean Jackson (hamstring) hasn’t played since Week 3. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries.

Still, Wentz has problems that extend beyond who is available. He holds the ball too long on occasion. His passes can be wide and off the mark. He has more interceptions this season (9) than touchdowns (8).

New York Giants (1-5, third place): The defining stat: The Giants rank dead last (32nd) in offensive DVOA, a stat that measures efficiency.

Before Daniel Jones connected with Darius Slayton for a 23-yard score in Sunday’s win over Washington, the second-year quarterback hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass in four straight games. The Giants’ offense this year has been brutal and there were still times on Sunday when they were forced to settle for field goals after their drives stalled out.

Jones’ biggest problem remains his turnovers. He threw another interception last week, bringing his total on the year to six. That, along with his four fumbles, have him behind just Kirk Cousins and Wentz in giveaways for his position.

The Giants hired former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to serve as their offensive coordinator, but so far, New York has taken a step back in its new scheme. The Giants are averaging fewer points (16.8 per game from 21.3) and yards (275.3 from 338.5) than last year.

Washington (1-5, fourth place): The defining stat: Washington has fallen behind by double digits in all six of its games.

There were a number of statistics here that were worthy of consideration. You could pinpoint the defense giving up explosive plays: The defense has had 17 plays that have surrendered 25 yards or more, fourth-most in the NFL. Or you could look at the offense’s failure to generate such plays: The team has only gained 25 yards or more seven plays in 2020, tied for the third-worst mark in the NFL.

But they all contribute to the same problem: Washington keeps falling behind early in games. And the team doesn’t have a roster well suited to climb out of such deficits.

Yes, Washington’s only victory this year involved the team erasing a 17-7 Philadelphia lead to win 27-17. Still, Washington has yet to lead at halftime this season — trailing by a least 10 in five of the six games. The team has only led after the first quarter twice.

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