Nfc East

September 05, 2002|By Team previews by Ken Murray

Dallas Cowboys

Last season: 5-11, fifth place.

Coach: Dave Campo (10-22), third year with Cowboys.

Story line: After consecutive 5-11 seasons, are the Cowboys ready for a return to the playoffs?

Power game: The Cowboys were the only team with a defense ranked in the league's top seven that didn't make the playoffs last year. They made upgrades at defensive line (La'Roi Glover), linebacker (Kevin Hardy) and the secondary (first-round pick Roy Williams).

Achilles' heel: Quarterback is still an iffy proposition. Quincy Carter went 3-5 as a starter last year, but the Cowboys' passing game was the least productive in the NFL. Behind him is a rookie, Chad Hutchinson, who spent the past four years in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system. The one-time Stanford QB could be the starter by season's end.

Pressure's on: Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet. It's his job to tutor Carter and Hutchinson and come out with an NFL passing game. Coslet will have a running game with Emmitt Smith, soon to be the league's all-time rusher, and Troy Hambrick.

Ticket to San Diego: The Cowboys' defense turned a big corner last year. If the offense can come along as quickly, they have a chance to make the playoffs.

New York Giants

Last season: 7-9, third place.

Coach: Jim Fassel (44-35-1), sixth year with Giants.

Story line: Do the Giants need a major overhaul, or just some fine-tuning on the roster, to get back to the playoffs?

Power game: Even though the Giants gave up a lot of points in the second half of the season, the defense still led the league in third-down efficiency and was second in red-zone defense. That unit should remain formidable, and it helps that DE Michael Strahan's contract situation was resolved before the season.

Achilles' heel: The Giants likely will have three undrafted starters on the offensive line, on a team that likes to run the ball. How soon, and how well, the new guys adjust will determine the success of the offense. QB Kerry Collins is easily rattled and fumbles often.

Pressure's on: Defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn. He takes over for John Fox, now head coach at Carolina. Fox was one of the league's best game-day tacticians.

Ticket to San Diego: Without Arizona in the division, the Giants could easily fall to the basement. They will rely heavily on their defense.

Philadelphia Eagles

Last season: 11-5, first place. Lost NFC championship game to St. Louis, 29-24.

Coach: Andy Reid (27-21), fourth year with Eagles.

Story line: Have the Eagles given QB Donovan McNabb enough help to reach the Super Bowl?

Power game: In Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, the Eagles have one of the league's top cornerback tandems. They acknowledged the Rams' prolific passing game when they took three defensive backs (Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown) in the first two rounds of the draft.

Achilles' heel: RB Duce Staley has been hampered the past two years with injuries. Now, with Correll Buckhalter likely out for the season, Staley is the man again. Playing with a bad shoulder, he averaged just 3.6 yards a carry last year.

Pressure's on: Reid. His job is not in jeopardy, but he makes all the important decisions in the franchise, whether in personnel or on the field. He gave MLB Jeremiah Trotter away and didn't bring in any reinforcements for the defensive line or at running back. He stood pat. It's all on him.

Ticket to San Diego: McNabb had a chance to take the lead in the final minutes of the NFC championship game last season. It's not a stretch to think he completes that pass this season, instead of throwing an interception.

Washington Redskins

Last season: 8-8, second place.

Coach: Steve Spurrier (0-0), first year with Redskins.

Story line: Can Spurrier's offensive system win big in the NFL -- with journeyman quarterbacks? Power game: Spurrier's passing game produced some gaudy numbers in the preseason, but much of it came against second- and third-stringers. When it comes to the games that count, he'll need to utilize RB Stephen Davis, who punched out 1,432 yards last season when the passing game was anemic. Davis will be used as a receiver, too.

Achilles' heel: Who's the quarterback? And for how long? Spurrier was quick to bench his quarterbacks at Florida and he figures to have a revolving door this season between Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. Their mediocrity could be his downfall.

Pressure's on: Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. The architect of the Ravens' record-setting defense, Lewis will be asked to do it again. Luckily for him, he's got similar talent, starting with impact LB LaVar Arrington.

Ticket to San Diego: The defense looks good enough; if the Redskins take to Spurrier's system quickly, they could be the surprise team in the league.

MVP candidate

QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles

Impact rookie

TE Jeremy Shockey, Giants

Best Pickup

DT La'Roi Glover, Cowboys

Biggest loss

LB Jeremiah Trotter, Eagles

Most vulnerable

QB Kerry Collins, Giants

Best Comeback

QB Chad Hutchinson, Cowboys


Jamison Hensley





Ed Lee

EAGLES -- Super Bowl winner




Brent Jones





Ken Murray





Mike Preston





* -- wild-card team, ALL CAPS -- NFC champ, GRAY -- Super Bowl winner

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