(Ed. Note – Welcome new BtB writer Matt Chandik)
It’s impossible for a division to thrive as much as the NFC East has over the past few years without strong quarterback play, and it doesn’t look like 2011 will be the year where that trend stops. Well, except in Washington. You might as well throw in the towel now, Redskins. Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200 and DEFINITELY do start weeping at the thought of starting Rex Beck. (Yes, I combined the two craptastic QBs into one uber-crappy QB.)
Either way, the trio of Michael Vick, Eli Manning and Tony Romo is arguably the best trifecta of signal-callers of any division in the league. Vick is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who rejuvenated his career after having to play the role of Paul Crewe at Leavenworth Prison for two years. Manning also has a Pro Bowl to his name and, most importantly, a Super Bowl ring. Romo is a three-time Pro Bowl pick who is the engine of the Dallas offense. There’s an argument for all three as the No. 1 quarterback in the Beast, but there can really only be one guy at the top. Therefore, my predictions for how the 2011 NFC East quarterback rankings turn out are as follows.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Sure, part of it is because I’m a Philly fan. If you don’t like it, well, that’s too bad. Vick enjoyed his finest year as a pro, especially as a passer, despite being relegated to only 12 starts a season ago. After taking over for Kevin “Happy Feet” Kolb, who probably still has nightmares of Clay Matthews coming off the edge, Vick was marvelous for the Eagles. He tossed a career-high in touchdowns, a career-low in interceptions for a season where he played at least 10 games and accounted for 30 total touchdowns. He’ll be even better this year. A year of familiarity with what is arguably one of the best receiving corps in the league will do wonders for Vick. He’s got the best deep-threat in the game in DeSean Jackson, who averaged 22.5 yards per catch a year ago, and a blossoming No. 2 option in Jeremy Maclin. Maclin isn’t quite the field-stretcher that Jackson is, but he’s better at short and intermediate routes. Rounding out the group of receivers is Jason Avant, who is one of the most reliable slot guys in the league. Sure, your grandmother could probably beat Avant in a 40-yard dash, but she doesn’t have his great hands, good route-running ability and blocking ability. Running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek are both strong receiving options as well.
Not much is going to change in the offensive system, either. Vick is still the best scrambling quarterback in the league, so he’ll get his yards and touchdowns on the ground to keep the defenses honest. However, if one thing is going to slow Vick down, it’s going to be his offensive line. With Vick a lefty, the right side of the line takes on that much more significance. Unfortunately, that situation is rather muddled right now. Neither Ryan Harris or Winston Justice seems to be able to stay healthy through training camp and King Dunlap plays more like a court jester than his namesake. If Dunlap is forced to start at right tackle, Vick will be running for his life pretty frequently. Additionally, first-round pick Danny Watkins looks like he’s the man at right guard. Adding an unproven to a guy who’s proven to suck (Justice, Dunlap) or a guy who can’t stay healthy (Harris) isn’t a recipe for success.
If there’s one thing that Vick needs to improve on, though, it’s his intermediate accuracy. His deep ball is as good as it gets, which I’m sure LaRon Landry would agree with.
His short game is pretty good, though it could be a little bit better. Vick just concerns me with his crossing routes, deep outs and routes like that. He can be a bit wild and tends to overthrow at times. His struggles against the blitz from a year ago are well-documented and he tends to struggle against teams that run the Cover-2 well (see Vikings, Minnesota) because those teams are always facing him and thus can control his running ability. A big part of whether or not Vick does end up improving will be how he adjusts to blitzes and the Cover-2 defense.
Michael Vick’s predicted stats: 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 60 percent completion, 600 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, two lost fumbles.
Tony Romo, Dallas
Romo is almost like a poor man’s Michael Vick. He runs very well for a quarterback, though obviously not as well as Vick does, and displays many similar characteristics to Vick. He even has a collection of weapons that rivals Vick’s with options like Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Felix Jones. I think Romo and Eli Manning are neck-and-neck, but I like Romo this year because of those weapons.
Romo has a bit of a problem when things don’t go as smoothly as possible. He tries to get his Brett Favre on and like it did for Favre, it can backfire at times. He’s never going to be the model of efficiency and he’s always going to throw a fair amount of interceptions. With that being said, he might be the highest-risk, highest-reward type in the division. I don’t think he’s Vick’s equal on deep passes, though he’s no slouch. However, Romo excels in the short stuff and does well on the intermediate passes. He’s excellent at buying time with his feet – the play is never over with him – and he does a phenomenal job of always keeping his eyes downfield.
Miles Austin is a prototypical outside receiver who, like Romo, blossomed from an undrafted free agent to a top player in the NFL today. At 6-2, 215 pounds, Austin does a great job of catching quick hitters and turning them into big gains. He boasts a 16.2 yards per catch average for his career, which is good for anyone. For a guy his size, it’s phenomenal.
Dez Bryant is 6-2, 225 and an even better athlete than Austin. I think he and Romo can do wonders for each other if Bryant can stop being such an idiot. I think he’ll eventually develop into a top-10 wideout, though he might be a year away from claiming that status, and he’ll show some flashes this year. His first 1,000-yard season might have to wait, but Bryant will be able to take some ridiculous catches that might keep Romo from turning the ball over.
If Romo’s to take that next step and lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, he does have to learn to stop being so carefree with the ball at times. He threw seven interceptions in six games last year before being blasted to smithereens by Giants linebacker Michael Boley. That’s his biggest problem, because quite frankly, there aren’t a ton of flaws with his game. He could stand to get a bit better on the deep ball, but it’s not a major concern.
Tony Romo’s predicted stats: 34 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 64 percet completion, four lost fumbles, 120 rushing yards, one touchdown.
Eli Manning, New York
There are few more polarizing players in the league than Eli Manning. His fans will say that he’s the lone guy on this list with a ring, but his detractors will say that the ring had more to do with the Giants’ defense shutting down Tom Brady (though that last drive was pretty impressive) and that he was a bus driver for that team. His fans will say that many interceptions were due to a young, inexperienced receiving corps last year, but his detractors will counter with the fact that 30 turnovers (25 picks, five lost fumbles) is ridiculous either way. And no, you can’t be an elite quarterback when you turn the ball over 52 times in the past two seasons, Eli, but nice try.
I’d have Manning higher on this list if the Giants had done him a favor and acquired a big, physically imposing wideout this offseason. Manning is at his best when he has a guy who can jump over everyone because his passes tend to sail high. Part of that is because the guy gets rattled when blitzed and often forgets his mechanics, leaving him susceptible to what’s known as the “Eli Special”, a ball thrown with Manning on his back foot that sails five yards over the target’s head and nestles itself into the arms of an opposing player. Plaxico Burress eliminated a lot of those problems when he was with the Giants, but now he’s busy trying to clean up Mark Sanchez’s mess. I really, really like both Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, but Steve Smith’s signing with the Eagles (HALOL) took away some from Manning. I know that Smith wasn’t/isn’t going to be ready for the opener, but he was Manning’s favorite targets, especially on third downs, and that rapport with another receiver doesn’t build itself overnight. Nicks plays like the big, beastly guy that he is, but he’s still only 6-1. Manningham can stretch a defense deep and is very good with the ball in his hands, but he’s 5-11 and with how dumb I hear he is, I’m amazed that he was able to stay eligible in college at Michigan. So, where’s that 6-4 guy who can go up and get the ball when the Eli Special is unleashed? There isn’t one, and the departure of tight end Kevin Boss will hurt more than New York fans will admit.
Manning is not a good runner and never will be, but I’d like to see him develop better footwork in the pocket. His brother is amazing at doing this, and it’s saved him from getting killed by a suspect offensive line in Indianapolis. Eli doesn’t feel pressure particularly well and that’s a big reason why his fumbles are so high (38 fumbles over the past four years, 22 of which were lost).
Additionally, his deep ball accuracy could improve. He’s hit or miss on the deep shots, and when he misses, he misses badly.
Eli Manning’s predicted stats: 29 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 61 percent completion, 60 rushing yards, one touchdown, seven lost fumbles.
Rex Beck, Washington
OK, both of these guys suck. It’s going to be a long, painful year in Washington, though I hear Andrew Luck might be available where the ‘Skins are picking next year.