Sunday, October 9, 2022

Judgements V

By Clark Judge 
New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll
Believe it or don’t. The NFC East is legit.

In fact, it’s more than that. It’s the strongest division in its conference and may be the strongest in the entire league. I know, that sounds preposterous for a division that only two years ago had no team with a winning record.

But look what’s happening now.

The Eagles are the NFL’s only unbeaten team. The New York Giants just knocked off the NFC’s preseason favorite, Green Bay, and scored victories over last year’s two top playoff seeds (Green Bay and Tennessee). And Dallas just ran its winning streak to four by overwhelming the defending Super Bowl champion.

OK, so there’s Washington. Nearly every division has a bottom feeder. No one, however, has a front line like this: Philadelphia, the Giants and Dallas are a combined 13-2. So what’s going on?

n  In Philadelphia, quarterback Jalen Hurts won his last eight regular-season starts. Only Donovan McNabb and Hall-of-Famer Norm Van Brocklin have longer streaks in Eagles’ history. Hurts is also a potential MVP candidate.

n  In New York, running back Saquon Barkley has turned the clock back to 2018 when he was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Then there’s first-year coach Brian Daboll. He’s the early frontrunner for Coach of the Year -- winning as many games in five starts as it took his predecessor, Joe Judge, in 17 a year ago.

n   In Dallas, the Cowboys are 4-0 with backup Cooper Rush, mostly because they found a formula that works: Defense and running the ball. Their 72 points allowed are behind only San Francisco and Buffalo (61 each). Can you say, “Doomsday?”

According to ESPN Stats and Info, since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002, there have been only three instances where a division has three four-win teams through the first five weeks: The 2020 AFC North, the 2008 NFC East and the 2002 AFC West.

So who’s the favorite? We may get a clue next weekend when Dallas meets Philadelphia. All I know is that prior to this season, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and the Rams were trendy picks to win the NFC. Now, not so much. They’re a combined 8-7, including 1-2 vs. the NFC East.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on. The whole world is turned upside down. What was once the NFC East is now the NFC Beast, and, yes, it’s legit.


1.       Geno Smith has found a home. When the Seahawks turned over their offense over to him, they looked like a complete tear-down. After all, they’d gone from Russell Wilson to a journeyman who started five games the previous six seasons. But then Smith went to work, and, suddenly, the Seahawks aren’t so bad. In fact, Smith has been a revelation, completing a league-best 75.1 percent of his passes, with 1,305 yards and nearly five times as many TD passes (9) as interceptions (2). Compare that to Wilson’s 59.4 completion percentage, 1,254 yards, with four TDs and three picks, and you know why fans are no longer sleepless in Seattle.

2.       The league needs to define … or redefine … roughing the passer. Referee Jerome Boger called it on Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett when he sacked Tom Brady, effectively ending the Falcons’ chances for an upset, and let’s be honest: It was an egregious call. But so was that roughing-the-passer penalty on the Chargers’ Sebastian Joseph-Day for his hit (more like a push) on Cleveland’s Jacoby Brissett. Joseph-Day barely touched the guy. “That looked like a strong wind off Lake Erie,” said broadcaster Greg Gumbel. Precisely. So, then, what exactly is roughing the passer? The NFL should tell us … as well as its officials.

3.       Aaron Rodgers was right. After surviving New England and a third-string quarterback last week, he said: “This way of winning is, I don’t think, sustainable because it puts too much pressure on our defense.” Bingo. One week later, the Packers’ offense gets blanked in the second half while the Giants put up 17, and now Green Bay sits at 3-2 for the first time in Matt LaFleur’s career there.

4.       Injuries aren’t the Chargers biggest concern. Coach Brandon Staley is. The analytics mafia loves the guy because he’s an aggressive play caller. But there’s a difference between being aggressive and being reckless. And what Staley did Sunday was more than reckless. It was downright stupid. Ahead by one, with just over a minute left, he decided to convert a fourth-and-2 from his own 46. You heard me. Instead of punting the ball away, he rolled the dice … and lost. Luckily for him and the Bolts, he survived, with Cade York missing a 54-yard field goal at the gun. “Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana once said. Staley should pay more attention in class. Remember, this is the same guy who blew a playoff chance last year when he tried to convert a third-quarter fourth-and-1 from his own 18. You can’t make this stuff up.

5.       Mike Tomlin’s streak is in serious jeopardy. The Steelers’ coach never had a losing season in 15 years on the job, but that run may (will?) end this season. I know, it’s only five weeks, but the Steelers just got torched, are 1-4, turned their offense over to a rookie quarterback and have serious issues on defense – the one side of the ball you could usually trust in Steel Town. Not anymore.


1.       You make the call. Which stat line was more staggering: Buffalo’s Josh Allen throwing for 345 yards in the first half or Gabriel Davis’ three catches for 171 yards and two TDs, including one of 98 yards? Do the math: That’s an average of 57 yards per catch, and it’s one of many reasons Buffalo is the team to beat in the AFC.

2.       That does it. I don’t care if the Washington Commanders roll out Bill Kilmer or Sonny Jurgenson. They must sit down Carson Wentz. He takes too many sacks. He fumbles. He throws brutal interceptions, and he was 1 for 11 on third-down conversions Sunday.  Enough is enough. Taylor Heinicke, start warming up.

3.       It’s hard to blame Kyler Murray for Sunday’s loss, but the Cards might not have had to rely on a Matt Ammendola field goal had Murray known where the first-down marker was in the closing seconds. But instead of going for the first, he voluntarily slid to avoid a hit. Then he spiked the ball to kill the clock. Result: He came up a yard short, forcing the Cards to kick on fourth-and-1. Had he gained the extra yard, the Cards would have had 22 seconds to cover the remaining 25 yards. But he didn’t, and you know the rest.

4.       Tom Brady owns Atlanta. You know about Aaron Rodgers and the Bears. He’s 23-5 against them in his career. But Brady? Even better. He’s 11-0 vs. Atlanta.

5.       Not sure what concerns me more about the Bolts’ Staley: That mind-numbing fourth-down call or his explanation: “I just wanted to finish the game with the ball. I have a lot of confidence in our defense … because we knew they would have to throw the ball to beat us. And we knew we could cover them.” Huh? First of all, that defense allowed 29.4 points the last four games. Second, and more important, if Staley had so much “confidence” in his defense, then punt the ball to the Browns’ 10 and make them beat it. This isn’t exactly rocket science.

6.       Carolina’s Matt Rhule doesn’t need another quarterback. He needs a realtor. I don’t see how he survives the season.

7.       Defense still matters. Example A: The New York Jets. They have seven interceptions through five games. They had seven all year in 2021.

8.       Hard not to like what’s going on with the Patriots’ Bailey Zappe, but it’s Detroit. There’s no QB controversy in New England. At least not yet.

9.       Gotta feel for Seattle’s Rashaad Penny. Every time he seems ready for take-off he gets hurt. This time it’s a fractured tibia, with surgery likely.

10.   The thrill is gone in Jacksonville. Bad enough that the Jags lost their ninth consecutive game to previously winless Houston. What’s worse is that they couldn’t produce a touchdown.

11.   What’s with those Browns’ uniforms? They make players look like candy bars.

12.   Biggest difference with Minnesota: The Vikings are winning the close games this year that they lost a season ago.

13.   More proof that it’s never been easier to play quarterback: Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins completed his first 17 passes, a franchise first.

14.   Starring in “The Ugly American, Part II:” Packers’ cornerback Rasul Douglas. He passed the audition with last week’s interview in London (Packers defender drops f-bomb to describe London experience (

15.   How much does Baltimore miss defensive coordinator Wink Martindale? Tune in next weekend. The Ravens play Big Blue and are an early six-point favorite.

16.   Tampa Bay is living dangerously. The past two weeks 90.9 percent of its offensive yardage was produced by its 45-year-old quarterback. During that time, Brady threw 104 times, while the Bucs has only 29 carries. Amazingly, Brady was sacked only once.

17.   Well, say this about Pittsburgh. The Steelers went down fighting … and I mean that literally. Good for them. Teammates rushed to the defense of their rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, after he took two brutal hits by Buffalo defenders, and they should have. Both were cheap shots, and you can’t let that happen without reprisals.

18.   Daniel Jones may not be the Giants’ quarterback of the future (they refused to pick up his fifth-year option), but you have to admit the guy is tough. He not only played through a bad ankle Sunday but somehow led the club on 15-play, 91-yard game-winning drive despite a significant gash on his right hand.

19.   Big day for the Saints’ Taysom Hill, with three touchdown runs – and none more important than his game-winning 60-yarder. But the day’s most spectacular sprint wasn’t a touchdown, and it didn’t cover more than 20 yards. Rewind the videotape to Dameon Pierce’s 20-yard fourth-quarter dash through the entire Jacksonville defense, and you’ll see what I mean. “I think I counted at least six broken tackles after that run,” said Houston quarterback Davis Mills. I think I counted more. No matter. It energized the Texans, led to a game-winning TD by Pierce and got the Texans their first win.

20.   The Rams won’t defend their Super Bowl title if they can’t do a better job protecting Matt Stafford. He was sacked another five times again Sunday, with predictable results: One interception and two lost fumbles, including one returned for a TD. Stafford has been sacked 21 times, has more interceptions (7) than TDs (5) and has one touchdown pass the past three starts. Andrew Whitworth, stay in touch.


According to NFL Research, the Patriots are 5-0 under Bill Belichick with quarterbacks who were drafted outside the first round making their first starts. The rest of the league is 30-80.

Under Matt Rhule, Carolina is 1-27 when allowing 17 or more points, including a current 25-game losing streak – the longest of any NFL team in the past 30 seasons.

Dating back to last season, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is 10-for-10 on field-goal attempts from 50 yards and beyond. He also hit his last 61 field-goal tries in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Another from NFL Research: Tom Brady has 23 victories in games (including the playoffs) with 50 or more pass attempts. No other quarterback has more than five.


“What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground.” – Referee Jerome Boger on the controversial roughing-the-passer penalty on Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett.

“I don’t throw the flags.” – Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady on the same call.

“Satisfied with the effort? We got smashed.”-- Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin on Sunday’s loss, their most lopsided defeat since a 51-0 blowout by Cleveland in the 1989 season opener.

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