Cowboys LB Sean Lee tore his ACL on Tuesday. This is terrible news. First, I’m a lifelong Penn State fan and Lee is one of my favorite PSU players of all time. Dan Connor was the bigger name back then, but Lee was far and away the better player. Watching him on tape was so much fun. Lee had great instincts. He was a good athlete, but his feel for the game made him look even faster. He was all over the field. Lee was just as comfortable covering a slot receiver as he was stuffing a RB up the middle.
Lee’s injury is also bad in the sense that it weakens the NFC East.
Let’s talk about this for a minute. Think back to 1985. The NFC East was run by Tom Landry, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells. Jim Hanifan was in his final season of running the Cardinals. Marion Campbell was wrapping up his time as coach of the Eagles.
In 1986, the Cards hired Gene Stallings, a Landry assistant and former player of Bear Bryant’s. The Eagles hired Buddy Ryan. Stallings never had a winning season. Ryan rebuilt the Eagles and turned them into winners. A big part of the challenge for new coaches like Stallings and Ryan was that they knew that getting to the top of the division would be incredibly hard. Being part of a great division set the bar really high.
And that was a good thing.
Teams pushed each other. Dallas won the NFC East in 1985. The Giants won the Super Bowl in 1986. The Skins won it in 1987. There was no dominance. Each year the teams battled and one would emerge as the best. There was no fluke. There were no easy titles. Life was hard in the NFC East back then.
Andy Reid’s Eagles weren’t consistently pushed in the NFC East. The Giants had to be dealt with early on and then late in his tenure, but they fell off for several years in the middle. This was nothing like the 1980s. And I think that hurt the Eagles in the postseason.
Look at the NFC West right now. That division is loaded with great coaches and players. SF lost the Super Bowl in 2012 and Seattle won it this past year. Those teams push each other and it helps them in the playoffs.
The current NFC East is mediocre, and that might be an optimistic evaluation. The Eagles are a legitimately good team. The Skins are ascending and the Giants descending, but both still mysteries. Dallas…they suffered a major blow when Lee tore his ACL.
If indeed Sean Lee is out for a while, the worst defense in the NFL lost its 3 best defenders in the last 76 days.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) May 27, 2014
Yikes. Go look at the Dallas depth chart. The 2 best DL, Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer, are coming off major injuries. Bruce Carter is now the only stud LB (and consistency is a major issue for him). Safety remains a huge hole. And Morris Claiborne hasn’t played like the top CB he was drafted to be. But other than that…
Dallas wasn’t going to be a juggernaut with Lee, but he was a major impact player for that defense. They really need him. Seeing them get weaker is fun in a simplistic sense, but it doesn’t help the Eagles goal of becoming a championship caliber team. You need your rivals to push you, not to lay down.
I have no idea what to expect from the Giants this year. They’re coming off a 7-9 season and have a new Offensive Coordinator in Ben McAdoo (formerly with the Packers). Justin Tuck and Hakeem Nicks are gone. I don’t like what I see on paper, but the Giants could be a good team. They need Eli to bounce back in a major way. I still don’t trust that O-line, but there are some new faces.
NY needs their recent picks to play well. JPP was a force in the past. Last year he slumped in a big way. Can he bounce back? DE Damontre Moore needs to show he was worth the 2nd round pick they spent on him. Johnathan Hankins has the tough task of replacing Linval Joseph at DT. How will that pan out?
It feels like the Giants are a hodge-podge team. They aren’t young. They didn’t load up on star additions. They added talent, but just some odd pieces.
The most intriguing team in the whole division is the Skins. RG3 no longer has to deal with Mike Shanahan. We’ll find out if that is a good or bad thing. It was clear that RG3 didn’t like him, but Shanny did know how to coach. Jay Gruden is completely unproven as an NFL head coach.
I like Gruden, but I don’t think he’s in a good situation. Coaches need the right environment. Dan Snyder is not a good owner and RG3 sure looks a bit like a prima donna QB. And one who is friends with the owner. That can be a recipe for disaster. I’m sure all 3 guys will get along fine initially, but can they stand up to tough circumstances?
I am curious to see how the schematic change will affect the skill players. RG3 thrived in Shanny’s attack. Will playing in the West Coast offense hurt him at all? Alfred Morris was great in Shanny’s zone running scheme. Will he be as effective in another offense?
Adding DeSean Jackson makes the team that much more explosive. RG3 has a big arm so those 2 will be a handful for secondaries to deal with. But they’ll need time to connect. Can the OL give them time? RT Tyler Polumbus needs to be replaced ASAP. Can rookie Morgan Moses do that?
The Skins defense has been a problem for years. Naturally, it was largely ignored in the offseason. Oh, they did add an aging Safety that can’t run (Ryan Clark) and a couple of veteran ILBs (Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan), but I don’t see those guys making much of an impact. They made a strange choice when they took Trent Murphy in the 2nd round.
If things go well, the Skins are going to have to win a lot of shootouts.
I see the Eagles as the best team in the division, but due to the competition…that’s not saying all that much. The Eagles might take a step back or they might take a step forward, but it really would help their long term goals to have another NFCE team emerge and push them. Being atop a mediocre division isn’t Chip Kelly’s primary goal.