Previewing the NFC East

Can quarterback Michael Vick lead the loaded Eagles to the Super Bowl?

Can quarterback Michael Vick lead the loaded Eagles to the Super Bowl?

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:07 PM ET

TORONTO - In past seasons the NFC East was considered one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. This season, at least on paper, it looks as if the Philadelphia Eagles have separated themselves from the rest. They won the division last year and in the off-season have made significant upgrades. The Dallas Cowboys tanked under Wade Phillips before cutting him after a 1-7 start. In Jason Garrett they have a disciplinarian in charge but also have a big hole out of which they must climb. If things break their way, they could make the Eagles sweat. The Giants, meanwhile, seem to be a team that has flat lined while the Redskins and carrot face Mike Shanahan are a team that features an untested quarterback and a firm grip on fourth place.

Top 10 questions

1. Can the Philadelphia Eagles live up to their ‘Dream Team’ billing?

Backup quarterback Vince Young is trying to walk away from the ‘Dream Team’ label he attached to the Eagles after they went on a free agent signing binge in the off-season acquiring cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins as well as Young. Add those players to the talent the Eagles held on to and it’s no wonder they are everybody’s pick to win the division. Anything shy of a Super Bowl appearance will be a major disappointment for a team that has gone “all in.”

2. Which Michael Vick will show up in 2011?

It will be near to impossible for Vick to put up numbers like he did in his first six starts when he led the Eagles to a 5-1 record while tossing 10 TDs against no interceptions. The rest of the year Vick and the Eagles went 3-2 with him throwing 10 TDs against six picks. When Vick is on he’s spectacular but he’s also not very big and at 31, every time he takes off the Eagles are holding their breath.

3. Is Eli Manning among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks?

Well, according to Eli he is. While Manning was either just showing self confidence or being delusional with his answer, the fact is that he has to show more consistency in 2011 than last season when he threw 31 touchdown passes but also had a league high 31 interceptions. Manning is no longer a kid and as he’s entering his eighth season with the Giants. To be successful he has to try and rein himself in under pressure and not try to force the ball in to receivers in coverage. In third-down situations, Manning ranked 29th, completing just 44.3 percent of his passes. That’s not being elite.

4. Is Juan Castillo the man for the job?

Who? Exactly. The weak link for the Eagles last season was their defence which allowed a franchise record 31 touchdown passes and was porous in the red zone. As a result, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott got the axe. The surprise though, came when they named Castillo as his replacement. Nothing against Castillo, but he has no defensive coaching experience. For the past 13 seasons, he has been the Eagles offensive line coach. If the Eagles defence doesn’t tighten up, all fingers will be pointing Castillo’s way.

5. Can Rob Ryan perform miracles with the Dallas Cowboys defence?

After ditching head coach Wade Phillips after their dreadful 1-7 start last season, the ‘Boys went 5-3 under head coach Jason Garrett. To complete the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new approach, the Cowboys hired Rex Reed’s twin brother Rob away from the Cleveland Browns to become their defensive coordinator. It will require a Herculean effort from Ryan to rebuild a defence that was one of the worst in the league. Last year’s defensive unit lacked leadership and character and quit on Phillips, especially in their embarrassing 45-7 loss to Green Bay. Especially worrisome is the Cowboys secondary that last year was a complete mess.

6. Is this season a turning point for Tony Romo?

Okay, we’ve been down this road before. But that’s what you get from the enigmatic play of Romo who can look so good one game and so mediocre the next. Last year was a non-factor for Romo as he missed the final 10 games of the season after suffering a fractured left clavicle. Leadership has always been a bit of a question mark for Romo, though, and following the disaster that Dallas went through last year when it went 6-10, the heat will be on Romo to put the shine back on the Cowboys tarnished reputation.

7. Is John Beck the Messiah in Washington?

My initial thought to the Redskins putting all their chips on unheralded backup John Beck as their starting quarterback was, has head coach Mike Shanahan lost his marbles? Shanahan has yet to come out and declare who his No. 1 quarterback is — Beck or Rex Grossman — but unless Beck gets hit by a bus the job will fall to him. Both head coach Mike and son Kyle, the ‘Skins offensive coordinator, have been singing his praises since they acquired him and although he hasn’t played a down since 2007, they believe he will be a steady, though unspectacular performer. Still, any quarterback that was listed back of Cleo Lemon on the QB charts, as Beck was at one time in Miami, is suspect. It’s a big roll of the dice.

8. Is Dez Bryant a big-play receiver or an off-field train wreck in the making?

The Cowboys got to select Bryant as the 24th overall pick last year due to the fact that other teams were scared off because of questions surrounding his commitment and the many off-the-field concerns. On the plus side, Bryant hauled in 45 passes and scored six touchdowns before being injured but was also raising eyebrows due to the fact that he would show up late for team meetings and didn’t bother learning the team’s playbook. If Bryant matures and gets his act together he could be a prime time receiver.

9. Will Tom Coughlin make it through the season as the Giants head coach?

Following the coaching purge that occurred both during and after the 2010 season, Coughlin probably sits atop everybody’s head coach most likely to get fired list. The Giants are currently having all kinds of health issues, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, and that won’t help either the team’s or Coughlin’s chances. The Giants usually fall apart at the end of the season and under Coughlin have gone 24-32 in the second half. If they miss the playoffs this year, look for Coughlin to get the shaft, if not sooner.

10. Can Tim Hightower carry the load for the Redskins?

The Redskins believe they have found a prime time running back in Hightower, who was acquired from the Arizona Cardinals. Last year with Arizona, Hightower gained 736 yards on 153 carries for a 4.8 yard average and five touchdowns. Hightower, at 25, is just coming into his own. A good running game is a must for the Redskins — they ranked 30th last year — who are going with the unproven Beck as their quarterback.


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