Thursday, February 24, 2005

Our Savior: Andy Kennedy

After Finney's richly deserved termination in a week, the Tulane community needs to select a replacement. Frankly, Tulane has some problems. This job is not as attractive as when we hired Finney. The building had been full rather ecently then- it is increasingly empty now. Perry had success- there is only a sort of increasingly tendacious mediocrity now. Probably the only thing in common in the talent cupboard is bare.

So the Wave needs to over-achieve making this selection. Tulane needs to find a guy who might not normally consider the Green Wave- but due to circumstances fits right in.

I nominate this guy, Andy Kennedy- the number one assistant in Cincinnati. I am convinced that Kennedy, as opposed to other fantastic suggestions on chat boards and such, is a guy who could arguably come in here right now and fix things.

First, Kennedy is a fantastic recruiter. Fantastic. Look at the Bearcats incoming classes the past three years: Holy Smokes! Yes, they could be mistaken for "speed bumps" intellectually. Yes, no one cares at Cincinnati if the players are dimwits who don't go to school. And yes, that is a problem at Tulane. But the fact that Tulane sort of does a great job in insisting kids go to school will mitigate that potential unpleasantness. And even if he loses a few kids- the talent upgrade for the Wave would be enormous.

Kennedy is an assistant- so he is somewhat affordable- important at Tulane.

He has lots of southern roots. He has already coached at two nearby southern stops- and he played ball at UAB. Seriously considered a USM job. He might just want to come to Tulane- a key part of a good basketball marriage.

Plus, this scandal, where he calls out Perry Clark, makes me cheer. You have to read down a bit. It is embarassing- but ultimately harmless.

Kennedy recruits nationally- and Tulane is still in a semi-power league- we need to learn how.

This is a guy Tulane probably never would get normally: the top assistant to a Top 15 program. But that is what makes me crazy to get him. A lot of signs point to him potentially wanting to come back to this area: he has interviewed here, worked here, has family here, his interest in the USM thing, etc. And you can win here at Tulane; we're not a disaster. Perry did- and while I admire the job he did here, he's not a genius.

I just cannot find anything about Kennedy that does not make me want to personally drive him to New Orleans to interview.

His bio is here:

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Frank Decides Who To Sign

This should be a “fun” off-season for Philadelphia- as they have a ton of extra draft picks (four I think- and three in the first five rounds) and they are a solid eight figures under the cap. Thus the campaign begins to maintain the Eagles' apparent astonishing nine game edge in NFC East. Philadelphia can even afford Coles and Gardner- young wideouts who are oh so weary of Gibbs 1960s passing attack. But they will have to accept Banner’s cap friendly number and recognize TO’s leadership. Psst.... watch the ‘skins offer Reese three years, six million.

A lot of the Eagles moves are semi-automatic. There is no long term deal out there for Westbrook- so you merely tender him for a year. Try real hard to bring Trotter in for a fair number.

They need to try and keep Adams. I hate spending on ‘backers, but he’s so young. Plus, I think he might be sort of affordable as teams are increasingly wary of spending on linebackers- and particularly spending on Eagles’ linebackers. But we all know how Banner loves paying linebackers. I'd hate to see a guy with six good years of solid productive play ahead of him walk. But I'd rather make mistakes with guys who are 25 than 30.

The one guy with leverage is Burgess- who was arguably the MVP of the defense in the play-offs. He brings every thing you want in an edge player- size, quickness, nastiness- so if the Eagles overspend, it’ll probably have to be here. With Burgess, the Freak, Kalu coming back, etc. defensive end joins the defensive backfield as the Eagles’ deepest position.

Blake showed nothing in numerous auditions; he’s out of here. Neither did Detmer by the way. I always sort of liked Detmer as a back-up. Until this year, the Eagles could probably squeeze some competent starts out of him- albeit with turnovers- in a pinch. But Detmer looks a little shot, a little arm-weary, and accordingly Philadelphia needs to get another quarterback in here real quick.

DT Corey Simon is an odd player. He is an okay-plus run stuffer, he’s sort of durable, he can kind of get after the passer. As they say, you have to block him. It is hard to point to a game and say “the Eagles lost because Simon was a negative.” And of course, in today’s NFL, guys who can contribute steadily in the trenches, are semi-young, and can stay on the field are hard to find. In fact, teams need to stockpile DTs in today’s professional game- to have a solid defensive front you need at least three who can contribute. Had Simon played the way he did the last half of the season all the time; he’d have hit the lottery in free agency. But in the past, Simon has gotten hurt, he’s maybe got two years of real prime left and he isn’t a truly great player. He’s the sort of guy you simply do not want to commit $20 million too. In short, he’s the sort of guy you franchise- make play a year at $5 million. Yes, that is probably too much for Simon- but it is only one year- which makes it bearable.

Now, I must be out of the loop on the wide out thing. I can't see the Eagles making any changes there. First, doesn't Greg Lewis looks real, real ready to contribute as a number two? Finally, it appears the Eagles have developed a solid NFL wide out. Second, this consensus that either Mitchell (probable) or Pinkston has to go; I am not so sure. Both Pink and FredEx are cheap. Like a lot of extensions given to draft picks, their contracts are so front-loaded. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but let's say their on some sort of four year, seven million deal. Figure a little less than three million of that was probably up front- so now they're at a million or so per annum.

So what do you gain by replacing them? You’re not saving that much money. Anybody you bring in here to be a third/fourth receiver- or really fourth and fifth with Westbrook around- is going to have similar holes and cost similar dollars- albeit a little less. Maybe the fifth wideout is cheap if you're developing a guy- but are the Eagles' really going to draft a WR?

I am convinced Mitchell is a pretty good slot guy. He frankly contributes. Pink, as a fifth receiver- behind Westbrook, probably actually is a plus. I just cannot see them releasing either of these guys to save a few hundred thousand- unless Mitchell does not come to camp or something, there is another real cheap wideout available who can play special teams at a high level, or they unlikely draft a wideout.

I have a sentimental spot for Ike. One good thing about the rash of defensive injuries last year was that Ike got to play some, and play effectively, as a sort of “nickel linebacker”- an unorthodox but ultimately very successful strategy. Wouldn’t he look good for a team that struggles with getting off the field on third down, featuring terrible special teams, and desperately needs a classy locker room presence: Dallas, Washington, Giants? Might they not overpay a little for such a player.

Mayberry is gone. Hurt too much- and our interior offensive line is a problem and he is a part of it. Parry gets on the field so much because Reid doesn’t trust the interior to pass protect consistently. Plus the rookie guard was honestly the best Eagles offensive linemen when the season started. He was a monster against the Giants. I am not saying that’ll continue- but I more confident in him and Hicks making sixteen quality starts than I am in Mayberry. Plus, it is offensive guard! The Eagles will be able to sign quality back-ups merely by flexing their cap muscle by a couple hundred thousand dollars. This isn't the brutally capped out 'skins, you know.

I have no use for Buckhalter or Hugh Douglas. I am sure they are going to draft a running back, and I never thought Buckhalter was that good in the first place. Ritchie better come in real cheap, and accept a special teams role- as one thing 2005 taught us was that Parry is a ferocious and effective NFL blocker/hitter.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Spring Practice

Spring practice: Hard to believe it is right around the corner.

I prefer spring practice to the fall.
In the fall, you learn a lot about the 45 guys who are going to play the second Saturday in September. In the spring, all those odd, mysterious characters you have been hearing about get to strap it on and hit people: your freshmen, sophomores, red-shirts, etc.

To me, this spring is more interesting than the last few. Last year, Tulane had the quarterback situation- but not much else. Team expectations were low, plus quarterbacking issues tend to suck the oxygen right out of the room.

This year is different- I think you could make a rational case that the Wave ought to be better. The Green Wave managed five wins last year and the schedule ought to be comparable- so a minor bowl game is not out of the question. After the end of the 2004 season, I thought Tulane could get to seven or eight in 2005. Now I am not so sure- the off-season defections really hurt this team depth wise at two positions Tulane absolutely cannot afford to be hurting: defensive line and quarterback.

Because this is Tulane, fans spend most springs hoping both to go to Omaha and to identify guys who can help a normally horrid defense. Clearly the defense wasn’t horrid last year; in fact they played with verve in spots last year. The Navy game was arguably the best effort in years. The Wave played nasty and hit big upsetting a pretty talented offensive squad.

However, I think Scelfo knows what Tulane has here. Sure, no matter what he does, the defensive front is going to get blocked and stay blocked at times. The loss of Ryan Johnson hurts. In the fall, when Ryan was labeled “out of shape”, everyone watching was thinking “if this out of shape, we need more out of shape players”. Ryan started the second game of the season. It hurts to lose guys like that- and we are still going to have issues with size, depth, and talent up front at times.

The ‘backers ought to be at least okay- any defensive unit with Cannon on it is not a negative. Injuries aside, there is not much upside or downside here- so again, not too many questions. Of course, the secondary is horrible. Those of you who think Route can play are going to have a long year.

So the questions are largely on the offense. This is the side of the ball you can argue as being much worse or better:

First: Lester Ricard is obviously the man now. No one believes anymore that Nick Cannon is the answer to anything and Elliott, while he has looked real quarterback-ish to me, is not going to get any kind of look except in an emergency.

Ricard is fascinating- a real poster child for you play like you practice- probably the singularly easiest quarterback in the recent history of Tulane to deconstruct. Under perfect conditions: not pressured, friendly crowd, guys open- he is lethal. He can and will throw for cartoon-like numbers. Take that away even modestly, force him to be a real “read it and throw it” player- and Ricard ranges for mediocre to real bad. Let’s not forget his penchant for utterly crippling turnovers.

He is clearly not gutless. Anyone watching the USM game, where the Golden Eagles came at him with a vengeance and delivered some ferocious blows, knows that. So Ricard is arguably fixable- and accordingly, he needs to get fixed real good this spring. Ricard simply needs to get better- if just because he doesn’t have the wide-outs that are guaranteed to get open and catch it anymore.

Second, no likes to hear it, but our tailback position is a problem. I used to get endless flack about this, until eight tailbacks got votes for “All C-USA” last year, six were named to the team- and Jovon & Forte didn’t have a single vote. Facts are facts- and when you don’t have a single back who no serious observer of C-USA thinks is top-eight tailback in a weak league that relies on offense… well, that is a problem, right? So this has got to be looked at to. I suppose we might have to wait until the fall. More than any player we recruited, I want to see Ducre.

Anyone who put up big numbers, plus thirty catches, in a pretty good high school league, is a potential plus in our league. And he got offered from USM! I believe USM knows they are doing in the offensive backfield because everyone they bring to New Orleans absolutely destroys Tulane.

Third, I trust our offensive line more than any other unit on the field. But last spring, the guys “behind” the starters looked like guys who could play in this league. We lose the entire offensive line after this campaign and the next- and Scelfo has been stock-piling and red-shirting at this position more than any other. I am interested to get a look at these guys. There is a big scholarship and time investment here- I want to see it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Honor Intact


Clearly, this Super Bowl loss was a tough one. The Eagles undoubtedly gave the Patriots a spirited, if sloppy, tussle. The game suggested that, in a big spot, Philadelphia is the only team on the Patriots' level in the NFL. Those suggesting Pittsburgh and Indianapolis are still the second-best team in the NFL have to weigh the utter, total un-competitiveness of those two squads against New England in these play-offs- particularly in light of the Eagles’ dogged determination to hang around and steal this thing.

The problem with any close loss, or any tie after three quarters, is it enables never-ending navel gazing at the expense of the big picture. In each one-score game, you can forever point to a singular play- or a singular player- and say “if this had happened” or “if he had done this”- the outcome would have been different. It makes it effortless to assign causality to a larger outcome- and a comfortable crutch to those who don’t understand the nature of pro-football.

An example: Freddie Mitchell. Freddie was a great pre-game story: big mouth, funny, quotable. A nice story too- the one game all season where Fred-Ex was asked to step up and contribute, the Vikings play-off game, he did in big, splashy fashion. In the Super Bowl, he caught one ball- and a lot of people who don’t understand the NFL have labeled him as coming up small.

But you know, with TO back in the line up, with Westbrook, Smith and Greg Lewis the primary slot guys, and Pinkston simply having a good day- just how many balls were available to Freddie Mitchell? From which of those five guys are you willing to sacrifice touches? Freddie was on the field for what, fifteen snaps? Twenty snaps? And was he ever the first or second option?

Sure, it is fun and undemanding to trash Mitchell- even though he caught the one possession route he was asked to all day- and set a beautiful subtle pick- a real pro football play- resulting in a big play- as if he mattered. It might even be therapuetic. But it is also ignorant. Mitchell is gone from Philadelphia. The emergence of Greg Lewis at a third of his salary has made him expendable. Freddie will be a free agent for about five minutes- get his half a million up front- and will play in the NFL for eight years.

You might lay off McNabb a little too. Yes, he sprayed the ball around- and was awful ragged early. But you cannot tell me a guy who, until the last possession, went 30-for-48 for 357 yards and three scores- threw sixteen balls on third down and completed nine for first downs- all against a defense that knew he had to throw every single freaking play, was awful.

Seriously, did anyone besides me watch the game? Who picked Philadelphia up off the deck at 14-7 in the third quarter? Down ten points with five minutes to go, with America getting ready to flip the channel, Donovan again did what he does best. #5 turned a sure loss into a chance to win- again, against the best defense in the NFL. Or weren’t you paying attention? Donovan scored 21 points and rallied his team again and again. Peyton Manning couldn’t; and he’s the MVP of the league by the way. Ten less net yards on that final punt… fifty yards in fifty seconds is a very do-able exercise in the NFL- particularly for a quarterback who wins.

Perhaps a more serious student of pro-football might instead point to the real problems the Eagles had. For example, what Eagles’ unit struggled more than any other Sunday? It was pretty obvious- the interior of the Eagles’ offensive line. They couldn’t block the run or pick up the blitz the Patriots sent again and again through the middle. After a really nice campaign, back-up OG Artis Hicks probably played himself out of a solid-money starting contract somewhere. For two years now, the center Fraley has been essentially an inexpensive back-up the Eagles never got around to replacing- and boy, he looked it Sunday. What offensive problems Philadelphia experienced stemmed from these three interior offensive linemen- and their frequent inability to compete with the Patriots inside guys.

Seriously, Reid is not an idiot. He did not want to game plan 50 passes versus 17 rushes. But the Pats are allowed to be good at things too. As I pointed out pre-game on this very blog, it would be suicide to run right at these guys. Remember: Throw! Throw! Throw! Accordingly, Reid’s offensive game plan was first-rate- ignoring all that crap about "establishing the run" and such. Outside of Gibbs’ disciples, who seriously thinks Levens trying to manage thirty yards on ten carries Sunday would have been productive use of snaps?

Philadelphia not only had to throw it a lot- but generate the ball control offense from the passing game as well. Mission accomplished there too. The coaches got a solid 104 ball-control style yards from “the guy the Pats were sure to shut down” Westbrook- the almighty Dillon had 106 by the way- despite the fact Philadelphia could not traditionally rush the football. They scored 21 points and hung 370 yards on the best defense in football- so don’t tell me Reid is brainless. He almost overcame the Patriots' greatest strength- and probably could have scored 31 without the turnovers.

The game was decided by two crucial points. First, the Patriots had an edge at the quarterback position- evidenced by the fourth quarter turnovers at that position - that translated to a field goal advantage. Second, the Patriots used a superior red zone performance to compensate for their lackluster 220 yard net passing and 75 rushing yards from Dillon.

The Pats had barely 220 yards net passing- plus a turnover. Yes, their top back rushed 18 for 75 yards. If you take out one 25-yard carry on a drive in which they did not score, he rushed for 17 for 50- which candidly is more indicative of the Patriot's day rushing the football. If I told you those two facts that before the game, coupled with the Eagles scoring three touchdowns, you would have taken your chances.

However, the Patriots turned those mediocre offensive numbers into 24 points- which is frankly a lot for 325 or so yards of offense. So to me, the central game story is the Pats played their best offense in the red zone: five trips- three Touchdowns, one FG, one turnover.

In the end, games between two relatively even teams come down to four things: home field (not applicable here clearly), turnovers, quarterback play and execution in the scoring area. The Patriots have better players- and won those three significant areas of competition. The Eagles were able to hang around due to scoring first, the defense keeping the Patriots to an almost manageable offensive total, and a quarterback who would not let his team lie on the deck.

Disappointing perhaps, as a play or two here and there, the Eagles upset this team. But that is what it would have been- an upset. In 2005, the Patriots were clearly the best team in the NFL.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Mighty, Mighty Smug Patriots

We will not go quietly into the night.
We will not vanish without a fight.
We're going to live on.
We're going to survive.

As an Eagles’ season ticket holder, it has been an admittedly rough two weeks. From the very instant the Eagles crushed the Falcons, the nation’s press and airwaves have been filled with hagiographic stories- every one of them weeping as they describe the lustrous virtues of the Patriots- while admitting Andy Reid seems like a nice person.

But here and there you find us. We’re hunted, laughed at. Darryl Johnston on Fox. Mike Vaccaro in the NY Post. A small, select few that are willing to say publicly- hey, wait a minute...

It seems so long ago the Eagles’ were rolling along- crushing teams week after week- by two or three scores. Now all we hear is kvetching about the inferiority of the Vikings and the incompetence of the thirteen-win Falcons.

As always, Las Vegas is happy to serve the population of this wondrous fantasyland
- giving the 15-1 Eagles seven points. Not even the respect of the reverse hook, that 6.5 points, huh guys?

Did you know, the week before the championship games, you could have bet the Patriots- and given just four- anticipating a potential match up with Philadelphia? And that was with TO probably not playing!

Four. Four? Four!

The line has not even budged on news of TO not only playing Sunday, but also moving surprisingly well. Why?

The Super Bowl spread is different than the regular season. The line, in October say, is an honest attempt to attract money on both sides of the number- balancing the opinions of a fairly sophisticated clientele with access to a lot of information and outlooks. The -4 spread of two weeks ago was a similar exercise.

The current -7 line simply reflects the more unsophisticated money- of which there is a ton Super Bowl Sunday- running where it always does- to the glamorous favorite (see the Rams ridiculous -12 over the Patriots a few years ago). I assure you, Vegas is in the business of making them pay for their terrible optimism and ignorance.

Honestly, I think you have to be an idiot to take the Patriots and the points here. Either play Eagles or sit it out. You are giving three “bonus points” just to get action- and that is just dumb. Yes, the Patriots are super. But this is not like the spreads the Eagles faced against the Vikings and Falcons- where if you were confident the Eagles would play well- there was no way Philadelpia could not cover.

As I wrote in my two previews below (A Prescription For Victory: Part One & Part TO), I am confident the Eagles defense will keep the Patriots to a number within striking distance. The Eagles can absolutely cover these Patriot wide outs; Trotter and gang will not get pushed around down low like Pittsburgh. Philadelphia got pressure on Vick and Culpepper, they can get pressure here. Tom Brady’s one defined weakness is that his quarterback rating falls 25 points when blitzed (to somewhere around 80!)- probably due to his immobility and his mediocre wide outs. Well Tom, heads up, here they come. Freak’s gonna eat you all up.

I am not sure the offense can do much. But Westbrook will be a huge problem for them on first down, McNabb will punish them for every screw up, and the Eagles will not turn it over. As wild cards go, TO situation is the best possible one you could have. Even for thirty plays at 75%, TO adds a top-notch receiver the Patriots probably have to double cover- leaving Westbrook in some awful match up or McNabb unattended. Greg Lewis is blossoming right in fornt of our eyes. Since I imagine the Eagles will have zero or one turnovers at the end, the Patriots probably cannot get the required seven, so I am taking Philadelphia and the points.

Now, I write this last part with some trepidation. To add some credibility to it, I would remind folks I am 8-1 ATS over the past four years. I have picked against the Eagles in some big spots. But, as the week goes on, I feel increasingly confident. This is a winnable game- or at least a toss up.

First, forget the -7; it ought to be the line from two weeks ago- somewhere around a field goal. The Eagles are designed to upset a team in this spot- no turnovers, no dumb penalties, and a sixty minute war on defense. All the physicality of Pittsburgh up front on offense with none of the quarterback blunders and gaffes. The Eagles are going to bring intelligence and discipline and physicality- I am not sure if the Pats have seen that lately. At least they did not against either Pittsburgh or Indianapolis.

Reid is 9-0 with the extra week to prepare- and he will prepare the quarterback pressure and coherent passing attack the Patriots are vulnerable to at times. Listen: in his entire career, Brady has not seen the pressure, discipline and coverage excellence he’s going to see Sunday. Donovan almost enjoys the pocket breaking down; Brady does not. That 25-point decline in quarterback rating suggests he is a different quarterback with people with bad attitudes in his face. We will see for real if he’s a Hall of Fame passer when getting smacked. I am confident the Eagles will get beat it will be at the hands of their strengths.

I picked against Philadelphia against St. Louis and Carolina in two of the last three championship games. Frank sends this message to the people of Philadelphia- wearied by the relentless negative tone of the liberal mainstream media: Stout Hearts! We are going to win Sunday.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

National Signing Day

I love national signing day. Simply love it.

This year’s class clearly is not as good "immediately" as the one Scelfo pulled in last year. First, last year’s class had five guys who simply looked to be able to play quickly- and then contribute at a high level over their career in a C-USA style league. Second, it featured a solid quarterbacking prospect who would have been welcome at just about any BCS school- plus, in a way, another (Ricard) sort of on the sly. I agree with the Skull of Mike IV here; I don’t think any incoming class, without a solid qb prospect, can get higher than a “C+” at Tulane.

Anyway, an amalgamation of what I know, think and hear:

Right now, the position I am most excited about is the offensive line- where Olexa and Landa are apparently guys who attracted interest from a lot of places. On orders from the Skull, Scelfo has seemed to put a premium lately on the lines; I guess five years of being bludgeoned senselessly has made an impression. For whatever reason, a secret success story of Tulane the past three years is the steady talent acquisition on the OLine. Tulane has increasingly good players and startling good depth here. It was, and projects to be again, the best unit on the team. Last spring, there are so many guys wearing numbers in the 60s and 70s it makes you warm just looking at them. So you have to be bullish on these guys.

I will go out on the proverbial limb- and say when this is all said and done, Ducre will be the best of the lot. I've seen him play- and I assure you- he's destined to be a real C-USA player. One look and you'll like the kid Ducre- if just for his size and position. Eight backs got votes for “All C-USA” last year, six were named to the team- and Tulane didn’t have a single one. Okay, this position is a sore spot for me. But you can cry and moan, but facts are facts- and when you don’t have a top-eight tailback in a weak league that features cartoonish numbers on offense… well, it still is a problem position for Tulane. Anyone who put up big numbers, and look at those catches (almost thirty), in a pretty good high school league, is a plus in our league. And he got offered from USM!! Put it this way, I believe USM knows they are doing in the offensive backfield because everyone they bring to New Orleans absolutely kills the Green Wave.

I’ve seen Brian King play twice. I suppose the knock on him is he’s a step slow. But in C-USA, with all the terrible corners- and the spread offense- which rewards route running over speed- a guy can contribute here. Scelfo has done great work with kids in this exact body type (tall) and high school career (lots of catches). I like high school players with lots of catches; high school quarterbacks normally aren’t carrying mediocre wide-outs with great throws. High school receivers have to go and catch it. So big catch totals almost always equal good hands- and good hands transfers to the next level.

Matt Slocum comes with some buzz- and you know the story of Tulane, every DL with any sort of ability is treasured here. He’s small- but that is why he is here rather than Texas. Let's put thirty pounds on him this summer and see what we have then. Apparently he can run- as with that size- he has to bring something in that department in order to even be here. And again, C-USA is a league where a slightly undersized DL who can run can be real successful- particularly since there is such a premium on getting pressure on all these mobile quarterbacks from the edge.

None of the linebackers seem interesting; in fact five is a lot of scholarships to “spend” on a position and not get one guy you are sure can play I-A.

The DB Harding excelled in a great league- Class 5A in Texas is rock’em-sock’em- and South Garland sends good players to I-A. I’d love to get more players from that league and area. So his paper credentials are superb. If I had to pick one guy from the class who could start next year, it is this kid. Our defensive backfield lost some guys, the ones left are not very good- and this guy brings a pedigree- arguably the best in the class.

Everyone else I know nothing about.

Lastly, this whole quarterback disaster with Frank’s kid is proof that the Scelfos have a little too much sway over there.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Prescription For Victory- Part TO

As alluded to in Part One, the blog is confident the Eagles’ defense will not only play with the Patriots, but also they will give an expert account in this fight- and accordingly keep the Patriots to a very manageable number.

The other half of the equation- the Eagles offense versus the Patriots defense- is not so simple. New England's front seven are outstanding- in particular, their linebackers are probably the best in professional football. Clearly there are some questions in the secondary, principally at corner, where health issues have forced them to go deep into their reserve pool. Nevertheless, neither the Steelers nor the Colts (shockingly!) could construct a game plan that significantly hurt the Patriots via the air. Lastly, much like the Eagles, the Patriots excel in the single most important thing defense does: point prevention. No one has consistently thrown or run on the Patriots in the red zone. And along with Philadelphia, New England featured the lowest “points against” in the league.

This half of the match-up results in the touchdown difference in Vegas. Candidly, doubts on just how Philadelphia can score 21 points drive the story in this game. It is a cruel question- and I will endeavor to explain how to approach the assignment.

Leaving TO aside for now, I believe in three things:

First: I believe the Philadelphia Eagles can dependably protect Donovan McNabb. Atlanta had perhaps the best pass rush in the NFL. They led the league in quarterback sacks. Nevertheless, the Falcons did not get a whiff of McNabb. Minnesota, due to its terrible problems covering people, went all out to get to the quarterback. They could not get to McNabb either. At times, you can pick at the Eagles’ offense line for its run blocking. Remember though: it is a professional outfit designed to protect the franchise passer first and foremost- and at this, it simply excels.

Second: The Eagles are used to, every Sunday, opening up the paper and confidently seeing that little check-mark indicating “advantage” squarely next to the Eagles’ helmet on the quarterback match-up line. So yes, it is disconcerting to discover that all right-minded people this week have to put that same check next to the Patriots’ helmet.

But it is unfair, almost insane, to think that the Eagles’ quarterback is now some sort of minus.
In fact, Donovan McNabb becomes more of a plus than ever. The Eagles are never going to be able to score 24 points against New England by executing four gorgeous, competent, run-and-pass drives. No one can against New England. If the Eagles were, Reid would game plan ball control: handing the football to Westbrook and, in doses, Levens- throwing short routes to the tight ends- and so forth.

That is not happening here. Reid needs to produce conditions conducive to big plays- change 15 of their 65 snaps into something other than customary “football plays”- rather generate something wild again and again. Make the Patriots uncomfortable- be difficult to play against. Fortunately, McNabb provides discomfort and difficult like crazy. He is the best player in football in making stuff happen on the perimeter- whether he gets there by design or accident. McNabb produces big yardage and flips in field position- and just as importantly, without the resultant turnovers. The Eagles need a guy on the field to make stuff happen, stuff other than routine, regular football plays, stuff where the Patriots defense projected strengths (like pursuit or disguised coverages) no longer helps them.

Third: Turnovers are simply not allowed. The Eagles dominated the Falcons and Vikes. Dominated them in every facet. However, both teams were in the game- until the point where they turned the ball over. Conversely, Pittsburgh turned it over four times and got buried. In the NFL, you cannot normally get whipped unless you lose the turnover battle. If the Eagles do not turn it over, they are probably in this until the end.

So, if Reid believes, as I do, that the Eagles can protect McNabb, that keeping the ball in McNabb’s hands is the best way to generate big changes in field position, and further the most efficient, turnover-free machine in the league is #5, then what is the answer?

Keep the ball in McNabb’s hands. Throw the ball. Throw it a lot. Throw it early in the down count. Throw it down the field. Throw. Throw. Throw. Throw like Philadelphia did obliterating Green Bay. Throw it like they did against Dallas. The quality of New England’s corners is a bit of a mystery? Do not let it be 10PM Sunday night. Make sure the world knows. Bring your track shoes boys. Donovan is coming.

Obviously without TO, this is difficult. The Eagles wide receivers stink. But on first down, with the Patriots base personnel in there- Westbrook gives them an automatic match-up advantage. It allows Philadelphia to have an ipso de facto three wide out set against only four DBs- and the Patriots cannot effectively switch out of it. Most teams would consider, even on first down, bringing in an extra DB, if they saw three wideouts enter the game. You simply cannot do that against Philadelphia. Play two linebackers against us- then the Eagles simply check into a run and re-establish Westbrook back into the backfield- then run it down your throat. Accordingly, on Sunday, first down is our down. Philadelphia must attack.

With TO, this all becomes easier. Basically, Owens extends the Patriots extra DB problem into every down and distance situation except third and long- where New England can just dump the dime out there- and say to hell with it if the Eagles rush the football.

If the Eagles can generate three 25-30 yard plays on either first down out of these match-up or Donovan punishing them, via his arm or legs, for pass rusing indiscipline, they can get 10-14 points right there- and bring 21-24 within reach. If TO goes just twenty snaps, they push these match-up difficulties into second and third downs- and give the offense that many more tries at success. The key is throwing on first down. First down is, must be, our down.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Shame on the Deadskins

This blog follows the NFC East with a lot of interest- and there is an poignant article in the WashPost today about the Washington Redskins.

On these pages I have often argued that the Redskins' problems stem not from the on field product. They've never had bad players here- or perhaps it is more correct to say- the on field record is always worse than the talent provided.

The problem is that an NFL franchise is composed of four things: players, owner, coaches and fans. In Washington, the owner is ineffectual, the last three head coaches have been overwhelmed and the fans are tired. Can anyone honestly be surprised that the on-field product is ineffectual, overwhelmed and tired?

The Redskins' team is probably fixable- but the organization, coach and fans are the worst in the division. As long as that is true, the 'skins will not be a serious factor- other than catch lightening in a bottle strategies.

This article is unimportant in and of itself- but it is indicative of the Redskins and their organization. As Tony says:
People who buy season tickets are real fans -- particularly people who buy season tickets for a team that hasn't won squat in the last decade or so. And now it seems that being a real fan isn't enough. Now they don't just want your loyalty and your money -- now they want a specific kind of your money. In return, you won't necessarily get a good team, but you may be able to get enough points to get a seat upgrade. Maybe from obstructed to clear.

Now back to the Super Bowl.