By Lucas Lanciana
The Eagles had perhaps the most effective offseason in the NFL. Entering the 2022 NFL Season, Philadelphia fans have high expectations for their Birds. The division enters into chaos, as the balance of power is not established.
The New York Giants had a vastly successful draft, as the Cowboys lost players due to contract clauses and poor cap management. Alternatively, the Commanders seemed to take a lateral step, with most of their projected improvement coming from the return of their injury ravaged defensive line.
Three teams have plausible routes to the division title, with the omission of the New York Football Giants. We will explore the key things the Eagles will need to do to defeat each of their three rivals.
The Cowboys are viewed as the ultimate hurdle for the Eagles in the NFC East. Overall, Dallas had a rough offseason.
In an offseason that saw Tyreek Hill be traded for five draft picks and AJ Brown go to their division rival for a first and third, the Cowboys shipped Amari Cooper to the Browns for essentially just a fifth round selection. They lost Randy Gregory due to a contract disagreement and released starting right tackle La’el Collins, who was snatched up by the Cincinatti Bengals. Gregory was instrumental in the pass rush, racking up 43 total pressures in just 12 contests. Similarly, Collins was extremely valuable, posting an impressive 89.8 run blocking PFF grade, as well as allowing only 17 pressures all season.
That being said, the Cowboys clearly have the best quarterback in the division. Dak Prescott amassed an impressive 4,499 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his 16 appearances last season. He did fumble 14 times yet had a plus 100 passer rating for the first time since his rookie season.
The Eagles must generate pressure and force Prescott into hurried throws in the hope of forcing turnovers. With Darius “Big Play” Slay and James Bradberry in the secondary, Philadelphia must take advantage of any turnover worth plays that Dak gives them. Pro-Football Reference had him making a bad throw on 14.7% of his attempts. The Eagles must capitalize on this and give their offence extra possessions.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles must attack Trevon Diggs. This may sound strange, as the second-year player led the NFL with 11 interceptions on route to an All-Pro selection. Contrastingly, he allowed 907 yards when targeted, according to Pro-Football Reference, as well as 16.8 yards per completion. Furthermore, he missed a poultry 16.1% of his tackle attempts and had a flat-out abysmal 32.3 PFF run defense grade. His coverage was disappointing in totality also, as he achieved just a 66.7 pass covering rating by PFF.
The Eagles can scheme to attack Diggs early, with outside run concepts and bubble screens to force him to make tackles against big physical receivers such as AJ Brown and shifty speedster Quez Watkins. Moreover, if he plays press and becomes aggressive, they can use route running savant Devonta Smith to shake him for a deep shot.
It is rather rare for a blocker to be an offensive weapon.
Zack Martin is one of those very unique forces. Simply put, he is able to put a dominant stamp on any game. He is the most dominant offensive guard in the NFC. The only reason we require conference distinction is the existence of the equally dominant Quenton Nelson of the Indianapolis Colts. Otherwise, he would be clearly the best in the business.
There are plenty of games that the opposing defenses have hopelessly attempted to neutralize the downhill effectiveness of Martin’s run blocking. The 6’4″, 315-pound veteran ended another sensational campaign in 2021 with an absurd PFF run blocking grade of 92.8 on route to his seventh All-Pro nod. His dominance was on full display in Week Three against the Eagles. He ended the game with a PFF run blocking grade of 93.7 as well as an 100% pass blocking efficiency.
Even more impressively in that contest, there were countless times that the two headed monster of Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard were able to just run right behind him. They essentially located him and followed his bulldozing, hole creating angles to the tune of 155 combined yards.
To combat this, the Eagles should consider deploying Jordan Davis as a one and three technique throughout the game to disrupt Martin. His stout, immovable frame should provide enough trouble for the Cowboys guard to not be able to move into the second level as easily, allowing Nakobe Dean and TJ Edwards the opportunity to flow down more freely to limit yardage through the middle.
The Commanders enter the 2022 NFL Season with a new name and a new quarterback.
The former Philadelphia Eagle was traded from the Indianapolis Colts to the Washington Commanders after an awful late season collapse. The 6’5″, 237-pound quarterback has all the physical attributes of a franchise quarterback and has flashed it in the past. Unfortunately, his struggles with forcing plays and playing recklessly has led to him landing on his third team in as many seasons. Behind a fantastic offensive line, Wentz still had a 18.8% bad throw rate last season. He is seemingly on his final chance in the NFL as a perceptive starting quality quarterback.
The Eagles must use their knowledge of Wentz to their advantage. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon enjoys playing passive, zone heavy concepts. This forces opposing offences to be patient and take only what is given to them. This strategy should be effective in provoking Wentz to force the issue and make turnover worthy throws. With Darius Slay and James Bradberry in the secondary, this will likely lead to takeaways that can be turned into points.
Dominant Defensive Line
Washington has a commanding defensive front capable of wreaking havoc on a game.
See what I did there?
In 2021, the Washington Commanders defensive front were ravaged by injury. Chase Young played just nine games, as opposite edge Montez Sweat suited up just ten times. Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne played all 17 contests and were extremely solid. They just couldn’t overcome their lack of consistent edge rush, and it showed.
If healthy this season, this group has the ability to be the best in the NFL. They are strong at each of their four defensive line positions, possessing a group that can both stuff the run and rush the passer without help from their linebackers. This group is led by superstar defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who had an absolutely incredible 2021 season in the absence of a healthy line. He ended the season with 67 total quarterback pressures and 10 sacks. This led to an impressive 90.9 PFF pass rushing grade, which will likely improve even further when he is unable to be focused on.
As a result, the Eagles offensive line facing off against the defensive trenches of the Commanders may be one of the best matchups all season. Philadelphia’s trenches bullied their way to the league leading rushing attack, whilst a healthy Commanders front can completely take over a game.
It is quite clear. Whoever wins this clash of the trench titans, will win this game.
New York Giants
The New York Giants seem to be on track.
The G-Men had a solid offseason. They struck gold in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, using their two selections on OT Evan Neal (Alabama) and EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon). At points within the pre-draft process, both looked like the best prospect available. To get both at pick five and seven is an absolute success.
That being said, they are still developing. The Eagles need to ensure that they do not fall trap to a weaker Giants team. This is the formula to ensure that does not happen.
Rookies In The Trenches
Whilst supreme talents, the Eagles must take advantage of the fact that the Giants have two rookie prospects that are integral to their trench play. Using traps, doubles and misdirection should enable the Birds to make life harder on Thibodeaux to rush Jalen Hurts off the edge. Furthermore, the solid play of both Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson should enable them to mostly neutralize his effectiveness in the run game, as both are elite people movers.
As for Evan Neal, the Eagles will benefit from showing him multiple different looks and rushers. They can use multiple edge defenders such as Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat to force the huge behemoth to adjust his bulldozing style. Furthermore, Philadelphia should incorporate stunts and games to ensure that he is not engaging early and easily, as he proves to be mostly immovable when he locks on.
Thus, the Giants seem to have finally found two tackles in Evan Neal and Andrew Thomas that are going to be franchise cornerstones to a desperately depleted offensive line. In fact, they both appear to be 10-year starters at their respective positions. The Eagles must show them that they can hang with them and not enable them to dictate games in their division for the years to come.
When I heard that Daniel Jones would be the quarterback of the New York Giants in 2022, I practically rejoiced.
Let me give some statistical validity to my insult. The numbers look even worse than my scorn towards Danny Dimes. We can begin with his passing.
After a relatively successful rookie season, Jones has been hapless as a passer. Not only has he thrown for only 21 touchdowns in the 25 games he suited up in over the last two campaigns, but he has also thrown 17 interceptions. Over that stretch he has led the Giants to a 9-16 record, which has earned him a pretty clear final chance entering his fourth season.
As if it can get worse, Daniel Jones has fumbled the ball an absolutely abhorrent 36 times in his three-year career. If he is not coughing up the rock, he is falling down on his own accord. Okay, okay, that’s probably enough now.
The puzzling thing is that Jones clearly has desirable attributes as a quarterback. He is a solid athlete, who has rushed for 1,000 yards on the dot in his three seasons, as well as five touchdowns. At 6’5″, 221 pounds, he has prototypical size for an elite quarterback. He now has Brian Daboll, former offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. He unlocked the inaccurate, yet physically gifted, Josh Allen in an offence that was explosive and pass heavy.
Eagles’ fans hope Jones keeps being Jones. If that is the case, they can sit back in zone and wait for him to turn the ball over. Giants’ fans are hoping for a different outcome entirely.
What do you think of these strategies? Is there anything you are keeping an eye on that we did not mention?
Let us know in the comments below.