We all know that the pre-season performance isn't any indicator of regular season performance. The 2008 Lions are the best example of that, going 4-0 in pre-season and ending up 0-16 in the regular season.
However, at the very least, the performance in the three games so far provides an indication of what the teams need to work on over the coming weeks until the regular season kicks off. In part, the pre-season is what it is because teams are knocking off the rust on their starters, play mostly vanilla schemes, and use the games to test out the 2nd and 3rd stringers.So looking at W-L columns and general stats is meaningless.
BUT: Teams do play their 1st teams for some parts of the pre-season. Over the course of three games, enough data accumulates to make looking at how the first teams performed worth it, and may provide some interesting food for thought. In the following, I'll look at the performance of only the starters/first teams over the past three games.
Quarterbacks: Let's start with the QBs. Statistically, the starting QBs are the easiest to assess. All starting QBs in the NFC East are known (and for now I'll assume its McNabb in Philly :-) and their performance is easily tracked:
STARTING QB Pre-Season Passer Rating, NFC East
While Romo's and McNabb's ratings are virtually identical to their 08 numbers, Manning and Campbell are lagging somewhat. Perhaps the WR situation in NY is already coming through in Manning's numbers, and completing 9 of 21 passes for 90 yards in his last and longest outing against the Jets (ranked 28th in pass defense last year) leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But then again he might just be preoccupied right now. After all, being the richest QB in the NFL, you have to give a lot of thought to making wise investment decisions. I know I would find it hard to focus on anything (like my job) if somebody gave me a contract for even 1% of his.
Campbell on the other hand, after stinking up the joint in his first two appearances (completing only 1 of 7 passes for 10 yards against the Steelers) turned in a nice performance against the Patriots over three quarters, going 13 of 22 for 209 yards.
Defense: Here I'll look at the team performance on drives when most or all of the first-team defense was on the field.
FIRST TEAM Defense Pre-Season performances by drive, NFC East
|Points allowed per drive
||Equivalent Points allowed per Game*
* Equivalent Points per Game: The average number of drives per game is about 12 in the NFL. Multiplying the points per drive with 12 gives an indication of how many points the teams would have given up with their pre-season performance over 4 quarters in one game.
Philly, NY and Washington were ranked 4,5 and 6 last year in points allowed, and widely and rightly touted as some of the toughest D's in the league. But in the pre-season they've been giving it up easier than the cheerleaders did at my high school. Add to that the FA acquisitions, and these numbers must be worrying for the Defensive Coordinators around the NFC East.
The coaching staff must be particularly worried in Philadelphia right now, and Stewart Bradley out for the season is not helping one bit. Right now, with all the recent changes there, no one in Philadelphia has any idea how their defense is going to perform in the regular season.
Now you could always argue that the pre-season opponents also played a role in these numbers, Philly did have to go up against Peyton, Brady and Jacksonville, Washington against Big Ben, Brady and Baltimore (NYG: CAR, CHI, NYJ), but these defenses should have been good enough to come through even against the big names who, by the way, were also playing pre-season games. Of note, the Redskins had an interception returned for a TD, strictly speaking this should not be put on the defense. Without that TD, the Redskins would rank second with 25.7 equiv. PA per game.
Dallas on the other hand did have a slightly softer schedule on paper, and the defense looked a lot more ready for the regular season than the other teams'. But then again, it's pre-season, it don't mean nothing.
Offense: Same exercise for the Offense.
FIRST TEAM Offense Pre-Season performances by drive, NFC East
|Points scored per drive
||Equivalent Points scored per Game*
For all those who have been worried about the long drives the Cowboys have had in the pre-season, rest at ease. If we continue to convert at the rate above, everything will be just hunky dory. Add to that the fact that Nick Folk missed 2 field goals and got a third negated by a stupid, stupid, stupid penalty, the picture would look even brighter.
We all know that the Philly O-Line has been hit hard in pre-season with injuries, and their projected starting line-up has yet to play a snap together this year. I'll assume that the Eagles are just not yet clicking on all cylinders and would be surprised if they wouldn't once again have a good offense, barring injuries.
The Redskins surprised me somewhat, but it looks like a second year under the same coach and system might just be what the doctor ordered for Campbell. And clearly, they are the sleeper in a division that is wide open, could end up exactly the opposite of all pre-season predictions, and will likely be decided on injuries. Laugh all you want, the Redskins will be in contention.
The Giants clearly have a lot of homework still to do, and I'm sure they're taking a long, hard look at how they can strengthen their offense (Matt Jones, anyone?)
Overall, the Cowboys first teams looked in good early shape against admittedly soft opposition. And I'm sure the other NFC East teams will turn up in good shape for their openers. Let's just hope for the Cowboys that this good early form translates into the season. And while the other teams are off working hard to improve, here's to the Cowboys not growing complacent and continuing to take it one practice, one play, one drive, one game at a time.