A winning feeling surrounds Donovan McNabb and Philadelphia as they prepare to make a title run
THIS IS A DIVISION WITH TWO classes: The upper class includes the defending NFC champion New York Giants and the rapidly rising Philadelphia Eagles, while the lower one is inhabited by the Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, and Dallas Cowboys. There appears to be little chance of either class mixing this season.
The Giants were at the crossroads last year: They had a 7-4 record and were coming off their second straight defeat, a 31-21 home loss to the Detroit Lions. With the wolves howling, Giants coach Jim Fassel issued his now-famous guarantee that his team would make the playoffs. Fassel obviously knew what he was doing because the Giants didn’t lose again until they encountered the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl 35.
Despite their talent, the Giants will have a tough time duplicating last season’s theatrics. They have a worthy rival in the Eagles, and Andy Reid’s squad is bound and determined to end Philly’s nine-game losing streak to the Giants. In addition to the hunger that comes from getting beaten regularly by a rival, the Eagles also have Donovan McNabb on their side. McNabb is coming off an excellent second season and has an opportunity to become the league’s next superstar at quarterback.
Bringing back memories of their great rivalry in the 1970s and ’80s, the New York-Philadelphia battle should be a thrilling odyssey in 2001. Here’s a look at the division:
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Where they left off: The Eagles were one of last year’s most inspiring success stories. After. going 5-11 in 1999 and finishing last in the East, they improved to 11-5 last season and reached the second round of the playoffs.
New faces: There’s nothing like raiding a team from your own division, and the Eagles did just that, picking up two Redskins. Wideout James Thrash has good size and knows how to get open; he caught 50 passes last year for Washington and made significant contributions on third-down plays. On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles targeted speed pass-rusher Ndukwe Kalu, who is extremely quick and could be the perfect complement to all-around stud Hugh Douglas. If opposing blockers double-team Douglas, Kalu can use his quickness to get to the outside and close on the quarterback. The draft delivered wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who has great size and speed and a Keyshawn Johnson-sized ego. Quarterback Donovan McNabb is in dire need of a receiver with game-breaking potential. If Mitchell turns out to be that man, watch out for the Eagles.
2000 Results NFC EAST
Team W L T Pct. PF PA Home Road
N.Y. Giants 12 4 0 .750 328 246 5-3 7-1
Philadelphia(*) 11 5 0 .688 351 245 5-3 6-2
Washington 8 8 0 .500 281 269 4-4 4-4
Dallas 5 11 0 .312 294 361 3-5 2-6
Arizona 3 13 0 .188 210 443 3-5 0-8
Team AFC NFC Div. Streak
N.Y. Giants 3-1 9-3 7-1 W5
Philadelphia(*) 3-1 8-4 5-3 W2
Washington 2-2 6-6 3-5 W1
Dallas 1-3 4-8 3-5 L2
Arizona 1-3 2-10 2-6 L7
(*) Playoff team.
X’s and O’s: The Eagles offense revolves around the arm, legs, and brains of McNabb. Coach Andy Reid knows that McNabb can do it all and gives his quarterback ample opportunity to make plays, but the QB still needs some help around him. That’s why it’s imperative that running back Duce Staley rebounds from a foot injury that cost him most of last season. Staley is a tough, deceptively quick runner when healthy.
Coaching/management: Reid is the man when it comes to the game plan, personnel, and team discipline. His first two years in Philadelphia indicate he has a chance to be one of the profession’s brightest stars. He is one of the rare coaches who can inspire his players to be creative yet also keep them in line with a single look or word.
Why they’ll finish first: The dynamic duo of Reid and McNabb is just part of the equation here. Douglas has become a tremendous leader and a fine all-around player who is capable of taking over a game. And Douglas has plenty of help around him, including tackle Corey Simon, middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, safety Brian Dawkins, and cornerback Troy Vincent. Insiders suggest that Reid has created tremendous chemistry within the organization, which could translate into a big-time 2001 season.
2. NEW YORK GIANTS
Where they left off: The Giants went on a major roll, which didn’t end until they had to face Baltimore’s awe-inspiring defense in the Super Bowl.
New faces: The Giants attempted to upgrade an already-stout defense by signing free-agent end Kenny Holmes away from the Tennessee Titans. Holmes has a quick first step and is a nasty fighter in the trenches; last year he had eight sacks. New York also added cornerback Will Allen through the draft. If Allen can make a quick adjustment to the NFL, he could turn out to be a top corner and a great return man.
X’s and O’s: Kerry Collins was a big reason why the Giants went to the Super Bowl. The former Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints QB rose above his previous inconsistencies and personal problems and played with courage and intelligence. He has a strong arm and is an accurate passer when he gets adequate protection. Coach Jim Fassel is trying to develop a high-powered offense centered on Collins. Wide receivers Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, and Joe Jurevicius are an underrated trio, and Tiki Barber is a multifaceted running back. The same can’t be said for Barber’s backfield mate, Ron Dayne, who has to show greater determination than he did as a rookie last year. The defense will continue to be anchored by the gifted trio of end Michael Strahan, linebacker Jessie Armstead, and cornerback Jason Sehorn.
Coaching/management: Fassel entered last season on the hot seat, but his guarantee and the team’s subsequent run to the Super Bowl saved his job and raised his profile dramatically. Previously thought of as a bookish wimp, Fassel is now seen as a dynamic leader who has demonstrated that he can lay it on the line and inspire his team.
Why they’ll finish second: The Giants captured lightning in a bottle last season. While they have enough talent on their roster to be formidable again in 2001, they’re going to have trouble holding off the hard-charging Eagles.
3. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Where they left off: After spending a zillion dollars in free agency, the Redskins entered the 2000 season as Super Bowl front-runners. Instead, they fizzled, finishing 8-8 and proving that you can’t buy the Lombardi Trophy.
New faces: Owner Dan Snyder and new head coach Marty Schottenheimer have cleaned house following last year’s debacle. Among those no longer with the team are quarterback Brad Johnson, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, wide receiver Albert Connell, linebacker Derek Smith, and fullback Larry Centers. The new parts include running back Donnell Bennett, kicker Brett Conway, cornerback Donovan Greer, and punter Bryan Barker. Conway and Barker are significant additions because Washington’s special teams were disastrous last year. The draft also yielded a couple of potentially key players. Rod Gardner is a big, physical wide receiver who has great hands and the ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes. Second-rounder Fred Smoot, meanwhile, is a first-rate cover corner. With Champ Bailey, ageless Darrell Green, (perhaps) Deion Sanders, and Smoot, Washington’s secondary will be a decided strength.
X’s and O’s: Look for the Redskins to be more of a running team now that Schotten heimer is calling the shots. Running back Stephen Davis is not a superstar, but he can be dominant when he’s healthy. Quarterback Jeff George has one of the strongest arms and quickest releases in the game, but few football people trust him in the clutch. The marriage of George and Schottenheimer appears to have very shaky prospects.
Coaching/management: Speaking of shaky marriages, Schottenheimer must also find a way to coexist with the petulant Snyder if the Redskins hope to succeed. Snyder is a tiny terror when the Redskins fail on Sundays, but Schottenheimer needs to be able to focus on his game plans without being distracted by the owner. Schottenheimer wants the Redskins to play smart and disciplined football, but that may be a difficult goal to achieve with an owner who is known to scream and stomp his feet when things don’t go well.
Why they’ll finish third: Schottenheimer will likely go through some growing pains with this team. The Skins may have a hard time reaching the .500 mark, but they still should be able to fend off the listless Cardinals and Cowboys.
4. ARIZONA CARDINALS
Where they left off: The same place they usually do: at 3-13 and in last place.
New faces: The Cardinals knew they had major holes to fill on the offensive and defensive line, and that’s where they concentrated their efforts. First-round draft pick Leonard Davis, an offensive tackle who checks in at a muscular 368 pounds, should help fill the holes on the line, both literally and figuratively. The Cards also signed free-agent guard Pete Kendall, who was a standout on the Seattle Seahawks. Defensively, second-rounder Kyle Vanden Bosch, an end from Nebraska, brings speed, intelligence, and intensity to the roster. He may not be as gifted as the departed Simeon Rice, but coach Dave McGinnis believes he will be more consistent.
X’s and O’s: McGinnis would like to have a balanced attack that takes some of the pressure off beleaguered quarterback Jake Plummer. To do that, Arizona will have to run the ball well, which is entirely possible if Michael Pittman is able to build on his promising 2000 season (719 yards). Another key to the running game is Thomas Jones, who must make significant improvement after a miserable rookie year in which he averaged 3.3 yards per carry. David Boston, Frank Sanders, Rob Moore (returning from knee surgery), and MarTay Jenkins give Plummer a solid receiving corps–but, again, those players will be neutralized if the running attack doesn’t come through.
Coaching/management: This is the first full season of the McGinnis regime, and he’ll get full credit–or blame–for the results. New quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst will have the responsibility of sharpening and refining Plummer’s execution. Chryst will report directly to new offensive coordinator Rich Olson and McGinnis. New defensive backs coach Kevin Ramsey will try to improve a secondary that ranked 27th last year in interception percentage and passing yards allowed per play. That could prove difficult without standout cornerback Aeneas Williams, who was traded to the St. Louis Rams prior to the draft.
Why they’ll finish fourth: There is some semblance of talent at the skill positions, and the offensive line could be much better with Davis and Kendall. If Plummer can harness his talent and play with consistency, the Cardinals should have some good days. However, they don’t have enough strength on defense to compete with the division’s big boys.
5. DALLAS COWBOYS
Where they left off: The glory days of the ’90s seem like a distant memory. Last season, quarterback Troy Aikman’s last before retiring, the Cowboys slipped to 5-11.
New faces: The Cowboys have a lot of work to do, especially on offense. With Aikman having “decided” to retire, the Cowboys picked up former Ravens signalcaller Tony Banks, who has some talent but lacks consistency. Banks is strong, runs well, and can throw the ball with great velocity all over the field, but he needs to make better decisions The Cowboys also picked up ex-XFL XFL star John Avery to take some of the burden off 32-year-old Emmitt Smith in the backfield. The most noteworthy rookie is quarterback Quincy Carter, who is a fine athlete but is extremely raw.
X’s and O’s: Owner Jerry Jones and head coach Dave Campo know that they can no longer dominate football games simply by giving the ball to Smith from start to finish. To succeed, the Cowboys also need a potent passing attack. They have a chance to establish one if speedy Joey Galloway comes back strong from a blown-out knee he suffered last season and Banks can shed his underachiever tag, but those are big ifs.
Coaching/management: Jones surprised some observers by bringing back Campo and his entire staff for another season. Campo brings plenty of enthusiasm to the job, but the results simply weren’t there in 2000. Jones has done a good job of repairing the Cowboys’ salary cap woes, which should enable them to land some topflight talent next year. Of course, that won’t help things this year. The coaching staff will have to work miracles to get a winning season out of this bunch.
Why they’ll finish fifth: There isn’t much to count on from an offensive point of view. Unless Banks takes a major step up the ladder, the offense will lack consistency. The Cowboys have some strength on defense with ends Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Elmban and outside linebacker Dexter Coakley, but that D isn’t strong enough to carry the team. The bottom line? The Cowboys look frighteningly like an expansion team.
Arizona: Cornerback Aeneas Williams, who was traded to the Rams this offseason, will be missed: In his 10 seasons in Arizona, he led the Cardinals in interceptions six times and tied for the team lead another time.
Dallas: The Cowboys had one head coach in the first 29 years of their existence (Tom Landry). Since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, Dallas has had four head coaches (Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chart Gailey, and Dave Campo).
N.Y. Giants: Tiki Barber rustled for more yards in 2000 (1,006) than he did in his first three NFL seasons combined (935).
Philadelphia: The Eagles haven’t won an NFC East title since 1988, the longest drought of any team in the division except for perennial doormat Arizona.
Washington: In the 12 seasons Joe Gibbs coached the Redskins (1981-92), they won at least 10 games eight times. In the eight seasons since then, they’ve reached the 10-win plateau just once.
Players to Watch
Tony Banks, Dallas. From Aikman to Banks. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Ron Dayne, N,Y. Giants. The highly touted Dayne experienced some rookie growing pains in 2000–this year he must prove he’s a gamer.
Jeff George, Washington. Which George will show up in 2001: the good soldier who played for the Vikings in 1999 or the problem child from the Colts and Falcons?
Duce Staley, Philadelphia. If Philly wants to have a second straight stellar season, Staley must rebound from last year’s foot injury.
Kyle Vanden Bosch, Arizona, A second-round steal in the 2001 draft, Vanden Bosch eventually will make Cardinals fans forget about departed defensive end Simeon Rice.
HERE ARE THE NFC EAST INDIVIDUAL LEADERS FROM 2000 in the major statistical categories:
Passer rating: 83.1, Kerry Collins (Giants)
Touchdown passes: 22, Kerry Collins (Giants)
Rushing yards: 1,318, Stephen Davis (Redskins)
Receptions: 81, Larry Centers (Redskins)
Receiving yards: 1,156, David Boston (Cardinals)
Total yards: 1,725 yards, Tiki Barber (Giants)
Touchdowns: 11, Stephen Davis (Redskins)
Kicking (points): 121, David Akers (Eagles)
Punting average: 44.2, Scott Player (Cardinals)
Kick return average: 26.7, MarTay Jenkins (Cardinals)
Punt return average: 11.8, Wayne McGarity (Cowboys)
Interceptions: 6, Emmanuel McDaniel (Giants)
Sacks: 15, Hugh Douglas (Eagles)
Tackles: 155, Ronald McKinnon (Cardinals)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group