2014 Ranks - Pass: 20th; Run: 24th
DT Henry Melton (+10.5)
LB Justin Durant (+1.0)
LB Bruce Carter (-10.2)
CB Sterling Moore (+3.7)
LB Andrew Gachkar (-0.3)
LB Jasper Brinkley (+2.5)
LB Keith Rivers (-4.5)
DE Greg Hardy (+25.4 in 2013)
CB Byron Jones (Round 1, Pick 27)
DE Randy Gregory (Round 2, Pick 28)
- After a disastrous 2013, the Cowboys D surprised everybody by being surprisingly competent last season. Due to the controversial Hardy signing and a strong draft, they’ve managed to improve.
- Signing DE Greg Hardy was controversial but no one is questioning his ability. With a PFF grade of +17.0 in 2012 and +25.4 in 2013, Hardy can play. Well, actually he can’t; at least, not until he’s served his 4 game suspension (reduced from 10 games). Still, the Cowboys front office determined that his talents were worth the PR backlash and, come October 8th, they’ll be reaping the benefits.
- LB Rolando McClain (+10.5) who had a breakout year in 2014, has also been suspended for 4 games.
- The Cowboys double dipped on controversy by drafting OLB Randy Gregory who slid out of the first round due to concerns about character. On paper, he’s the steal of the draft.
- LBs Gachkar, Brinkley, and Rivers were brought in as short-term solutions to plug the holes left by departing LBs Justin Durant and Bruce Carter. In addition, LB Sean Lee returns from injury and, while healthy, will do much to improve the run defense.
- On August 25th, CB Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL. He will miss the entire 2015 season. The Cowboys must now rely on 1st round pick CB Byron Jones to take his place.
2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Favorable
If Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy pay off, the Cowboys defense should have enough teeth to bring them back to the playoffs and beyond. The suspensions to DE Greg Hardy and MLB Rolando McClain, the inexperience of rookies DE Randy Gregory and CB Byron Jones, and the rustiness of LB Sean Lee indicate that the defense will take a little time to get going but, once they do, they will be solid. However, the loss of CB Orlando Scandrick sets them back a bit.
New York Giants
2014 Ranks - Pass: 22th; Run: 29th
CB Walter Thurmond (Injured for most of 2014)
S Antrel Rolle (-13.9)
LB J.T. Thomas (-14.8)
LB Jonathan Casillas (-4.5)
S Landon Collins (Round 2, Pick 1)
- CB Prince Amukamara returns from a season-ending torn bicep. Combined with CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (+7.8) the Giants have one of the better cornerback duos in the league.
- The Giants are ridiculously thin at safety, with 7 different players at the position suffering injuries of various severity in the preseason.
- The Giants moved up in the second round to select S Landon Collins, an absolutely necessary move to fill the hole they had at the position.
- DE Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a serious accident in the off-season and may not return to the team by the beginning of the season. It is uncertain when he will be able to play and how much he will be able to contribute once he returns. With 13 sacks in 2014, JPP was arguably the best pass rusher on the Giants.
2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Favorable
The return of Prince Amukamura helps a lot but the Giants are woefully thin at safety.
2014 Ranks - Pass: 29th; Run: 8th
S Nate Allen (+3.9)
OLB Trent Cole (+6.5)
CB Cary Williams (-1.0)
CB Bradley Fletcher (-8.4)
CB Brandon Boykin (++6.5)
CB Byron Maxwell (-3.0)
LB Kiko Alonso (+10.3 in 2013)
CB Walter Thurmond (+2.6 in 2013)
CB Eric Rowe (Round 2, Pick 15)
- With Chip Kelly at the reigns, the Eagles’ off-season has been more active than any other.
- The weakest links of last year’s embarrassing secondary (CB Bradley Fletcher, CB Cary Williams, and S Nate Allen) have been cut off and replaced by CB Byron Maxwell, CB Walter Thurmond, and CB Eric Rowe. The only remaining member of the secondary, S Malcolm Jenkins was quite good last year, earning a PFF grades of +8.3.
- CB Brandon Boykin (+6.5) has been consistently graded highly by PFF. However, he has been deemed unfit to play on the outside and relegated to playing nickel corner in Philadelphia. On August 2, Boykin was traded the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 5th round pick.
- Opinions on former Seahawk Byron Maxwell are mixed. Some say that he only looked good in Seattle because of the outstanding play by S Earl Thomas III, S Kam Chancellor, and CB Richard Sherman which covered up his mistakes and weaknesses. Personally, I think he is tested, tried, and true and will have a huge impact for the Eagles in 2015.
- CB Walter Thurmond has potential but has had a lot of trouble staying healthy throughout his career. The Eagles will try him out at free safety where he'll compete with S Earl Wolff for the starting spot.
- The departure of aging OLB Trent Cole isn’t at all concerning as the Eagles have fantastic depth in the front 7, finishing 2014 placed second in sacks with 49.
- LB Kiko Alonso fortifies the front even further.
2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Neutral; Run: Unfavorable
If Chip Kelly’s smoothies can keep this team healthy, the completely retooled secondary could shine while the front 7 remains elite.
2014 Ranks - Pass: 32nd; Run: 12th
OLB Brian Orakpo (+5.2)
S Ryan Clark (-20.7)
DE Stephen Paea (+14.4)
NT Terrance Knighton (+12.7)
DE Ricky Jean Francois (+0.4)
CB Chris Culliver (+8.0)
S Jeron Johnson (less than 100 snaps in 2014)
DE Preston Smith (Round 2, Pick 6)
S Dashon Goldson (-20.0)
DE Junior Galette (+20.3)
- The losses aren’t bad. To say that S Ryan Clark was a liability in 2014 is putting it lightly and OLB Brian Orakpo had trouble staying healthy in his time in Washington.
- NT Terrance Knighton improves the run defense that was already quite formidable.
- DE Stephen Paea is known for getting after the quarterback. Combined with the pass rush of OLB Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins should be able to improve on their mediocre 36 sacks in 2014.
- On July 31, the Redskins signed former Saints DE Junior Galette to a 1 year deal at the veteran minimum. Galette was cut from the Saints due to off-field conflict with the team. Galette has immense talent, finishing 2014 as the Saints' highest graded defensive player, and is an incredible bargain for the Redskins. Update: On August 31, Galette was placed on IR after tearing his Achilles.
- CB DeAngelo Hall returns from injury. For years he had been overrated as a #1 CB but with CB Chris Culliver taking over that role, I can see him doing a great job as the #2.
- Sophomore CB Bashaud Breeland performed adequately when thrust into the #1 CB role after Hall was lost for the season. He’ll prove competent as the nickel corner and he may even surpass the veteran Hall at some point.
- S Duke Ihenacho returns from a season-ending left foot fracture sustained in week 3 of last year. In 2013, Ihenacho graded at -10.1.
- S Jeron Johnson is a mystery. He’s currently penciled in as the backup to Ihenacho at strong safety. His lack of playing time is understandable considering that he’s been the backup to Kam Chancellor for the last 3 years. If Ihenacho gets hurt again or struggles, it's possible he'll get his chance to assume a starting role.
- S Dashon Goldson is just as bad as the man he replaced, Ryan Clark. Clark and Goldson finished graded last and second to last out of 87 qualifying safeties in 2014.
2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Unfavorable
The Redskins were dead last against the pass in 2014. Even though the safeties are still subpar, the return of DeAngelo Hall, the development of Bashaud Breeland, and the addition of Chris Culliver, indicate significant improvement in the secondary. Meanwhile, DE Stephen Paea will help the Washington generate more pressure than they did last year. All in all, the Redskins may have quietly put together one of the most improved defenses in 2015.