Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Back Where We Belong

Sigh.... it was so nice to walk back into the Linc this Sunday and feel the electricity, revel in the hate, wallow in the winning. Sadly, a whole generation of children in our nation’s capitol is growing up without experiencing the exhilaration of winning divisional play-off games. There ought to be a telethon- or something.

Sunday afternoon dawned brutal and mean at Broad and Pattison. Many of our “visitors” did not enjoy our hospitality. The Philadelphia Daily News yesterday has a riotous piece about the famous “Viking Guy”- a semi-well-known Minnesota fan who dresses as a Viking. They flew him to Philly for the game- and upon arriving at the Linc and experiencing the crowd, refused to wear his costume. Fink! I long to pour a beverage on him.

This is a nice article from the Star Tribune.


The few fans that came to the game wearing Vikings purple were greeted by a boisterous and hostile crowd that began sharpening their fangs in parking lots near the stadium at 6 a.m., presumably stirring their alcoholic beverages with rusty nails.

All the mother of Vikings lineman Chris Liwienski could talk about was how she and her family were physically abused by fans in the upper deck of Lincoln Financial Field. Wearing one of her son's purple Vikings jerseys, Marie Hoppe said she was pushed repeatedly by hostile Philadelphia fans. Her daughter-in-law, Christina Liwienski, said she was hit in the head by a plastic beer bottle.

"We were warned that Philadelphia fans would be rough, the worst in the league, and my son begged me not to wear this jersey," said Hoppe. "Fans are supposed to come to games, not thugs. But these people had their hands on me constantly. What are these people doing at sporting events like this?"
They better shut their mouths before Runyan and Section 204 shuts it for them.

Prior to kick-off, it was hard to imagine Minnesota being in this thing late unless both Culpepper could get his team three touchdowns and the Eagles helped out with a bunch of turnovers. The Vikes got neither- and as a result got blown out handily by three scores- until garbage time. At the end, Minnesota was exposed for what they are: a pretty average .500 team that parlayed some dumb play last week by Favre into a seventeen point lead and then managed to hang onto for dear life. I am not sure Minnesota could go to, say, Washington and win- which, of course, they failed to do a few weeks ago. And losing this year to Joe Gibbs says a lot about the ability of your football team's players- as teams weren’t exactly “out-coached” in DC this year.

Not that the Vikes played all that badly- but other than one big pass from Culpepper to Robinson in the first half, the Vikings were pretty uncompetitive on offense. Like everyone else in the NFC other than Atlanta, the Vikings as a collective are simply not in Philadelphia’s league right now: offense, defense, or special teams. The Eagles won all three of these phases handily.

McNabb and the offense exploded out of the gate- scoring touchdowns on their second, third and fourth possessions. In the first half, with the notable exception of a dumb throw to end it, McNabb was effective and efficient. He threw for two scores- and did not turn the ball over once. He got a big day, as predicted here, from FredEx- two scores and a slew of nice, big catches. The Vikings could not cover Westbrook- or anyone really- and took a slew of crucial penalties in the defensive secondary. The Eagles, I felt, could have gone for forty had they needed too.

Forty was out of the question, as almost immediately after seizing this two score lead, Reid largely shut the offense down, playing conservatively and eschewing all shots downfield. Playing most of the entire second half up 17 or 20 points, turnovers were the only thing that could beat the Eagles- so Reid was content to just let the clock run, particularly since the Vikes never steadily brought an offense that could hurt Philadelphia’s stellar outfit.

The Eagles explosive start certainly intensified pressure on the Vikes to score early and often. But since the insertion of Trotter after the Pittsburgh debacle, the Eagles have been the best defense in the NFC. You never could throw on Philadelphia all year, but now it is awful hard to run too. Everyone played great on defense. The defensive line got pressure- yet contained Culpepper. I cannot remember the linebackers playing a better effort since Trotter was here the first time. And arguably the four best defensive backs in the whole conference play in Philadelphia- the three pro-Bowlers- and Sheldon Brown really ought to go too. Minnesota may have problems, but they can normally play pitch and catch. They managed to score seven Sunday- barely- and probably considered themselves lucky to have that much.

Trotter’s emergence has altered how Philadelphia plays defense- moving them from a solid unit to a great one. As my brother points out, in the first half of the season, the Eagles were forced to allow teams to run on them until they fell back to the red zone. Once opponents got inside the twenty, the Eagles superior corners, coupled with the lack of a deep zone to defend, freed the safeties up to solely perform run support. In their base set, the corners took care of the two guys on the outside without help- and Eagles stuffed nine guys in the box- and stopped the run near the goal line that way. In the season’s first half, for example, Dawkins never made a stop on a running play in the middle of the field, but he made every single tackle in the red zone- because he was playing linebacker for all intents and purposes.

Now with Trotter, the Eagles start playing defense from your first snap. I know it is sort of curious Trotter is going to the Pro-Bowl- and you can question fairly the merits of a guy participating who has been great- but only for half a season. Nevertheless, if you are being fair, and you watched him yesterday, it is pretty obvious that Trotter is back completely to being an elite NFL linebacker.

Most importantly, the thirteen point win raises my Philadelphia play-off ATS to a superior 6-1 since 2001. You also got another winner on my bonus pick of “under”. I have not finished my in-depth analysis on the Falcons yet, but I sense that -4.5 might be light- making Philadelphia my early lean this morning.