SMASHMOUTH…FOOTBALL…two words that were once synonymous with the NFC East. Records and standings be damned! Whenever any combination of the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles faced each other, everyone knew that a physical battle was about to ensue. That was then…this is now.
Today, the Cowboys and Giants both jumped out to commanding leads against the Redskins and Eagles respectively.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Cowboys lead the Redskins by 16 points. The Redskin offense had been so anemic recently, that Mike Shanahan decided to bench Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman (a quarterback who hadn’t started a game since 2008). In the old NFC East, the Cowboys would have imposed their will upon the Redskins, run the ball, chewed up the clock, and walked away with the victory.
The Giants took a commanding 21-point lead as they scored with 8:17 remaining in a game that very likely will determine who wins the NFC East. In the old NFC East, the Giants would have imposed their will upon the Eagles, run the ball, chewed up the clock, and walked away with the victory.
Today was a sad day for traditionalists who love the old NFC East.
The Cowboys finished the game with a nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession, forced three turnovers, never turned the ball over, and outrushed the Redskins 134 – 55. Statistically speaking, this game should have been so lopsided that a comeback was outside the realm of possibility. However, while the Cowboys held the Redskins running game in check, they allowed a rusty, unpracticed Rex Grossman to shred them through the air for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns.
As poorly as the Cowboys defense played, the fact that the Cowboy offense was unable to muster first downs in the fourth quarter speaks volumes about how different today’s NFC East is from the smashmouth days of yesteryear. Despite the fact that the Cowboys ran up 434 yards of offense, it took a last-minute field goal to salvage the victory that seemed to be well within their grasp as they entered the fourth quarter.
The Giants finished the game with a nearly 7-minute edge in time of possession and won the turnover battle, and yet, they somehow managed to allow the Eagles to score four touchdowns in the final 7:28 of the game. A 21-point lead in their home stadium, amazingly turned into a 7-point loss, as the Giants helplessly watched the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson muff a punt, and then run past the entire coverage unit to score on the final play of the game.
In the smashmouth days of yesteryear, the Giants would have easily emerged with the victory in their game against the Eagles. Instead, they suffered a loss that may very well keep them out of the playoffs all together this year.
The NFL is much different than it used to be. For many teams, the running game is simply used to set up the passing game…undoubtedly a by-product of the NFL’s rules designed to protect quarterbacks and make covering wide receivers more difficult. Unfortunately, for NFC East traditionalists, these rule changes have seemingly robbed the division of the smashmouth style of play that once separated it from all others.