The Dallas Cowboys mercifully have a bye this week, giving Jason Garrett & Co. a chance to regroup in time for a Week 6 game at Baltimore.
The other three teams in the NFC East all play at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with two of them playing at home and one on the road.
Here are 5 THINGS TO WATCH FOR as the NFC East heads into Week 5 of the 2012 season.
- Can Vick continue to torment Pittsburgh?
Another trip in the Way-Back Machine:
In just his 10th pro start, back on Nov. 10, 2002, the electrifying Michael Vick took his show to Heinz Field and did something rarely accomplished against a Pittsburgh defense – make a fourth-quarter comeback from a double-digit deficit.
Trailing 34-17 with under 13 minutes left, Vick and the Falcons scored the next 17 points – with Vick scoring the equalizing TD himself on an 11-yard run with 42 seconds remaining. The game ended in a tie. Vick passed for 294 yards (including a 43-yard TD pass) and ran for 52 more.
Vick is 2-0 vs. the Steelers in his career, with both wins coming in OT. He started the 2002 game, plus another one in 2006, while with the Atlanta Falcons. His combined numbers in those 10 quarters:
- 42-for-76 (.553), 526 passing yards, 5 TD/2 INT
- 15 rushing attempts, 78 yards, 1 TD
- Team total: 75 points scored
Philadelphia (3-1) travels to Pittsburgh (1-2) on Sunday in an intriguing interconference matchup. After turning the ball over 9 times in the first three games, Vick held onto the ball against the Giants last week, producing 290 yards of offense (passing and rushing yards) – and a comeback win.
Vick faces a Pittsburgh defense that has not played up to its high standard so far in 2012.
Here is where the Steelers rank in some key defensive categories:
- 30th in 3rd-downs conversions allowed (an alarming 48%)
- 21st in the league in PPG (25.0)
- 14th in yards allowed per play (5.4)
- 14th in rushing YPG (101.0)
Pittsburgh will get a boost from the return of defensive stalwarts James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. The question to be answered is whether the Steelers will be able to stop Vick, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek & Co.
- Who wins the Battle of Pennsylvania?
Too bad (from the Eagles’ perspective) this game isn’t in Philadelphia, considering the Steelers have never won in the City of Brotherly Love (0-8). Playing in Pittsburgh, the Eagles are 3-4 all-time, with their most recent win coming in 2000.
It’s also interesting to note the level of success over the past two decades these teams (at least one, if not both) have had in the seasons they play each other:
1994 – Steelers reach AFC Championship Game
1997 – Steelers reach AFC Championship Game
2000 – Eagles reach the Divisional playoff round
2004 – Eagles reach the Super Bowl; Steelers reach AFC Championship Game
2008 – Steelers win Super Bowl; Eagles reach NFC Championship Game
More than anything, this shows the level of success both franchises have achieved over the past 20 years. In ’04 and ’08, these in-state rivals were one win away from matching up in the Super Bowl; in ’04, a 15-1 Steelers team with rookie Ben Roethlisberger lost to New England in the AFC title game, while the ’08 Eagles stormed back from a huge deficit in the NFC title game against Arizona, only to lose in the final minutes.
Stunning Stat of the Week: Pittsburgh has never defeated Philadelphia when allowing more than 3 points in a game; in their four wins dating back to 1968, the Steelers have recorded a shutout plus a single FG three times.
- Can the Giants TCB?
New York (2-2) is playing a “Taking Care of Business” game on Sunday, and the Giants cannot afford to lose to an 0-4 team. After a tough loss to division-rival Philadelphia last week, Tom Coughlin’s team must beat Cleveland at home.
Cleveland has had moderate success in the running game (rookie Trent Richardson has rushed for 222 yards and 3 TDs) – and the Giants have been only average against the run. New York ranks 21st in the league in that department, allowing an average of 118.2 rushing YPG. The Giants are 22nd in the league in total yards allowed per game (372.2).
Eli Manning and the offense should thrive, though, against the Browns' defense, as long as the Giants protect the ball. Aside from the Week 1 encounter against a Philadelphia team that turned the ball over five times, the Browns have given up 34, 24 and 23 points the past three weeks.
With games looming at San Francisco and at home against division rival Washington, New York cannot afford to let a game like this slip away.
Victor Cruz has picked up right where he left off last year. The Giants wideout leads the league in receptions (32) and receiving yards (388). He is on pace for a 128-catch, 1,552-yard season – which would certainly go down as the single greatest receiving season in franchise history.
With the health of fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks in doubt, the importance of Cruz to Manning, and the entire offense, will increase. Nicks’ absence will also mean opposing teams may be able to focus more attention on Cruz.
Despite starting just seven games last season, Cruz finished third in the league in receiving yards (1,536), third in YPG (96.0), tied for sixth in TD catches (9) and ninth in receptions (82).
- Redskins face tough test
Nothing on Washington’s schedule to date can compare with a matchup against arguably the best team in the league. Washington (2-2) hosts Atlanta (4-0) on Sunday, in what should be a good measuring stick for Mike Shanahan’s team.
The Falcons are second in the league in point-differential, having won their four games by an average of 12 points. They are tops in the league in turnover margin, at +10. Atlanta has scored the third-most points (124) – behind a quarterback, Matt Ryan, who looks like he’s about to make a leap into “elite” status – and has already won two road games out of its time zone.
However, Cam Newton was able to make some plays against the Falcons defense last week (passing for 2 TDs and running for another), nearly pulling off the upset. Robert Griffin III, who has run Washington’s offense so well thus far, will have to have that kind of production to give the Redskins a shot at winning.
The key to the game may very well be Washington’s top-ranked rushing attack vs. an Atlanta defense that is 29th in the league in stopping the run.
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