There’s no defending the NFC Least, uh, East, simply because there are no defenses in the division.
Once considered the powerhouse sector of pro football, the NFC East has hit such hard times that a losing record conceivably will win it. The main reason the Cowboys and Eagles are tied atop — yes atop — the division at 2-3, while the Redskins are 1-3 and the Giants an unfathomable 0-5, is that no one can stop anyone.
Sure, Dallas gave up 51 points to so far unstoppable Denver on Sunday, and that might be excusable. Except it’s not if you want to be considered a contender.
Besides, the Cowboys also allowed 31 to the Giants, whose offense is a turnover-riddled mess, and 30 to the Chargers, including more than 400 yards in the air to Philip Rivers. So wide-open receivers, missed tackles and no pass rush hardly was new for them on Sunday against Peyton Manning and company.
“The fact that we weren’t able to win when the offense scored 48 points is absolutely unacceptable. Right now, we’re not a good defense,” said linebacker Sean Lee, one of the few good players on the unit. “Two weeks in a row, we’ve given up way too many points and way too many yards. Until we get better, we’re not going to win.”
Ditto for the defenses in Philadelphia, New York and D.C.
The Eagles got their best performances on that side of the ball in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Giants, picking off three of Eli Manning’s passes. Don’t be too misled by it, this is a team with a weak secondary that has been damaged by injuries as well as long pass plays.
New York, 0-5 for the first time in a non-strike season since 1979, has built its recent defensive success, including two Super Bowl wins, on its pass rush. With Jason Pierre-Paul still not fully fit from offseason back surgery, Justin Tuck looking wounded and old, and no linebackers with the burst to get to the quarterback, the Giants are ripe for picking. Even Cam Newton and Nick Foles have done so.
“We’ve got a rule on defense: you give us a yard, you should stand,” Tuck said. “Regardless of where we get the ball at or what happens on (offense), that has nothing to do with us. We still have to play better on defense.
“What are you going to do, sulk? Cry about it? You have to go out there and play. You have to go out there and find a way to work your way out of this hole.”
The Giants won’t do that if they don’t stop giving away the ball, of course. Not only is their defense undermanned and overwhelmed, but with 20 turnovers already by the offense, the defense gets put in even more difficult situations.
A big division matchup, if there can be such a thing in the NFC Least, comes Sunday night with Washington at Dallas. The Redskins are coming off a bye, and a Washington win could put the defending East champions in first place if Philly falls at Tampa Bay.
Indeed, the Redskins might be the best bet to emerge from this morass, as they did with seven straight victories in 2012. Their defense has made few big plays, but can get after the quarterback. It’s too slow at linebacker and does too much gambling in the secondary, but that was pretty much true last year and Washington overcame it.
Also consider that Robert Griffin III and Albert Morris, the star rookies who led the offensive turnaround last season, have yet to get on track in their sophomore seasons. If they do, the Redskins probably have the most balance of any NFC East team.
“Real crazy,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “In this league, you don’t get those opportunities. For us to be blessed with that opportunity to not have played good football at all and still have a chance to be talking about winning our division, being a half-game or a game out of it — we have a lot to play for.”
Now they need to go play some defense. Just a little might be plenty good enough in the NFC Least.
AP Sports Writers Joseph White and Tom Canavan contributed to this story.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org