Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tulane All C-USA Football

The small part of me- the part that wants to be right versus seeing Tulane win- is truly ascendent today. I promise it is a small part of me though. I'd rather have been totally wrong about Forte's inability to play I-A and my assessment that Ricard as an NFL prospect was a joke. But, the voters have spoken- or voted I suppose. You can find it here.

I don’t think any of Tulane’s selections were a surprise. Anthony Cannon was a superior college player- unyielding and dependable- who would have been an asset at just about any program in the country.

Sometimes you can look at linebackers and get myopic. You know: this ‘backer runs real well, or this one has great one-on-one cover skills. But Cannon always possessed the most significant linebacker skill: flat out tackle people. Anthony got off blocks- and don’t waste your time coming at him with a fullback. Not a big hitter- but he plays big and he plays violent. He gets to you; you go down.

Look at his numbers this year. 114 tackles in ten games. This is particularly impressive in light of the fact that no one runs a running play versus Tulane without making sure someone is assigned to block him. They’ll miss him. Some team that plays on Sunday will love him on special teams- and I imagine he'll get every chance to play for real.

The offensive line got roasted by a lot of folks this year- unfairly I thought. Yes, they were brutal to start the season– but by the third/fourth game they played pretty darn well most quarters. So it was good to see three of five get some sort of all-league recognition. The line- again outside of the first few games- really was pretty okay- and sometimes good. Tulane ran the ball against a lot of teams- particularly considering the tailbacks were "awful" (Forte) to "okay-minus" (Jackson),no one had to respect our pass attack, and Tulane played a lot of games fom behind.

Seven tailbacks made the three teams. Not one played at Tulane. Forte has appeared in 20 or so games for Tulane- and has looked like a I-A player in two, maybe three. He is, since I began following Tulane in 1987, the singularly worst RB to see significant playing time. And Ricard is the wrong quarterback in the wrong system. This year’s C-USA balloting conclusively proves this. There were a plethora of All-League players on the o-line- and you can add another at WR. The problem is Forte and Ricard. The less we see of these guys in the future, the better.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Relevance Sunday

Don’t come here looking for a wild celebration or crazed what if scenarios. Yes, the Eagles 19-14 win was surprisingly satisfying. They worked hard- overcame multiple low points. Some young players made important contributions- which now are the hallmark of this season’s success or failure. But the Packers are 2-9 for a reason- and although I think Green Bay played pretty credibly for a team with nothing to play for on the road- I am grounded about it.

But I am not grousing about it either. Winning always helps. There were a ton of chances to quit on the season Sunday. No team looked in more trouble than when the Eagles came out for the second half, losing 14-10 after two unanswered touchdowns, and promptly when three-and-out. But they kept trying. They kept chipping away, getting the Pack both off the field again and again without points and providing every opportunity to make the mistakes a 2-9 team does- and then making their kicks despite late-November weather- to take advantage.

Better, the Eagles have four major projects underway right now: getting cheaper, younger and healthier on the offensive line; evaluating the two rookies- Cole and Patterson- on the defensive line; finding a back-up quarterback and trying to figure out what they have in this wide-out corps. It is hard to argue the first two experiments are off to anything but a solid start- and the qb question isn't that bad.

Okay, I get it. Green Bay has got problems. But they have some people who can play on their defensive front- and the Eagles new o-line kinda dominated them some. No sacks, picked up the blitzes and ran the ball very effectively. The Eagles probably can’t block, oh say the Giants yet, but you have to walk before you can run. It may have been a suspicious test- but again the Packers have guys upfront who belong in the League- so it wasn’t an easy one either. Without a doubt, the line looked fresher, more determined, stronger- just more athletic- than at any point this season. Candidly, I don’t think the Eagles lose much not playing the laboring Hicks, Thomas and Fraley either. So let the kids play.

As to the defensive front, I am not sold on Cole as an every down player- but I am sold on his ability to bring consistent pressure from the end better and cheaper than Kalu- who is good as gone. It is no accident that Kearse has had his best month of the season since Cole as emerged as a legit threat to smack the quarterback- and the Freak was outstanding again yesterday. He’s finally got some NFL-quality help rushing the passer. Patterson is okay- but he’s shown enough as a first year player that I imagine he’ll be in the rotation next year. The interior of the line isn’t very good frankly- okay against the run and zero push on the pass- so this is going to take more than a rookie playing competently inside to fix.

The quarterback clearly did not complete enough balls to be effective- but he won the turnover battle with Favre- and that was probably a big difference. He clearly looks uncomfortable with the pitch-and-catch, dump it off, possess the ball style of offense the Eagles want from him. But a lot of young quarterbacks struggle at the outset with this very professional offense. The Eagles accordingly asked nothing from him except no brutal mistakes. He delivered. He’s got to get better- but again, there was enough here to keep rolling him out there.

The wide outs are still a mystery. We know Westbrook acts as a superior slot receiver- and will torture people. But with this sort of quarterback play, it is hard to get a real read on this cast of characters. But there is no burgeoning number one here- so this problem too will be unsolved going into the off-season. I wish a solid #2 would emerge at least- but I doubt the quarterback will be effective enough to allow Lewis or Brown to catch the 25 balls needed to prove something over the last five games.

But a win is a win- it always beats losing. Some other young players looked like they belonged: Moats looked fast, determined and made a huge special teams play- Hood looked like he is a real potential answer at nickel for next year. Ultimately, the Eagles gained another Sunday (or Monday) of relevance- the right to treat the Seattle game like it matters. They have five games left- and there should be enough here to beat Arizona out there, the increasingly bad Redskins here, and steal one from Seattle (only a field goal fave- curious?), New York or St. Louis. If they could get three, get to 8-8, winning four of their last six- they might just find some good stuff to build on when #5 gets back.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Prediction Thursday- Last One

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the last Prediction Thursday of the year- but it comes on the heels of two sources of a little optimism and joy. First, two more city programs picked themselves up off the deck last night- as by all accounts Tulane and UNO played a spirited game. The Wave rallied from double-digits down in the second half and won handily 77-66- perhaps evidence they might be sorta okay for once?

Alas, I can offer little hope for Wave fans against the Golden Eagles Saturday. They outclass the Wave in every way. As a result, Prediction Thursday will be a little thin. You get 21.5 points for taking the Wave. Jeez, the hook too guys?

Still, I see no reason the Wave just doesn't get pounded here. They can't hope to stop USM; they haven't stopped anyone lately frankly. Scelfo's shrewd endless switching of quarterbacks has managed to create a situation where neither can build confidence or momentum. The Wave gets spanked- take Southern Mississippi and give the points.

The second source of good news is that the Tulane football team has been awarded the 2005 Courage Award by the Football Writers Association of America. I'm sure the kids would trade it for one more win this weekend- but the join a nice group of past winners: the San Jose punt returner who played on one leg, etc. And let's be honest, it is no surprise that Tulane is the first "team" to ever win it. The nice thing about our program- for all its faults, you can laud it for class without ever having to worry about it coming to bite you.

In light of this award- and the pathetic attempt of Ole Miss to poach athletes from Tulane’s programs, detailed in the Times-Picayune, I encourage you to visit here.

It appears increasingly doubtful that athletics will survive at Tulane- but we are not whipped yet. It would be a damn shame if there were not room for scholarship football at a place like Tulane in Division I. The money doesn’t matter- but the level of support does. So get one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fixing the Eagles

Can I address, for a moment, the utter stupidity of the usually reliable Richard Hoffman’s article in the paper yesterday?

It always helps to win. The idea that the Eagles' winning some games here rears them in some way for next season is crazy. Now, this Eagles’ football team is by no means a good one. The offense is sporadic and lacks things, other than Westbrook, to hang its hat on Sunday after Sunday. The kicking is a mess. The kick returners are a mixture of brutal or guys you don’t want handling this chore. The defense has troubles upfront and increasing in the secondary.

But you can’t tell me the tenor of the clean-up doesn’t change based on how the Eagles do the next five weeks. The next three are at home. They should beat Green Bay coming off a short week. They can steal a game at the Linc- and I imagine they probably will- against the "okay-plus to good" Giants and Seahawks squads. I think they’ll beat Arizona on the road; they’re certainly better than that mess. The Rams and Redskins games- I dunno- what is the focus like, what are those teams playing for?

I honestly don’t know if there are four wins out there for them. But if they can beat either the Giants or Seahawks- and get the most of the Packers, Cardinals, Redskins slate- it makes things better. Better in that they probably find out they have a quality back-up quarterback. Better in that to win three-four games probably requires that Cole and Patterson, the two young guys being increasingly asked to play a lot upfront, continue to turn in quality performances again and again. Better in that the two young interior linemen continue to play well. Better in that a wide out or even two catch some balls- solidifying the #2 & #3 spot- and getting Pinkston out of here.

Seriously, I’ll trade three of the four developments above for six spots in the draft.

Plus, the team needs to evaluate what they’ve got. For example, in the midst of the problems the Eagles have dealt with this year, there has been one solidly redeeming area. The key lesson of last season was the interior of the o-line was pretty bad and the tackles were declining. But the franchise, in its one success this year, is off to a good start fixing it.

First, Shane Andrews has developed nicely. The Eagles now are faced with a tough decision whether he’s ready to move outside- but it the good kind of tough decision- the kind where you have options with upside. The current tackles are still okay- if anything they’ve actually been pretty good since their disasterous start. Thomas seems healthier- and Runyon is not yet a minus. So, the Eagles can decide to play Andrews inside for another year and be all right- or they can move him outside and replace one of the tackles. Jackson seems competent and he's real cheap- which is all you need from the center position. They can finally get the bad Hank Fraley out of here. They are clearly going to draft another tackle- so before you know it, they are a free agent guard signing away from re-infusing the line with lots of young cheap guys who can play- added to a plethora of vets outside who can probably give them one year more of good effort.

This evaluation can continue to the defensive front. Cole is off to an amazing start- the first guy they’ve home-developed that looks like he can bring speed and outside pressure since like forever. And Patterson seems better each week.

Look, they can't fix it all this season. They need a very good wideout- which I imagine is the big free agent signing of the off-season they'll pursue. The kick return game needs a huge infusion of talent. The defensive line needs two new faces no matter what they do now.

But the point is these last six games point to the sort of reconstruction the Eagles face. Lose four or five and they’ve got to tear down a lot of things. But win three or four- and you can probably add two cheap young players to both lines, settle on a back-up quarterback, and feel comfortable with Brown and Lewis as #2 and #3 wideouts- and have faith they are not far behind the Giants and Cowboys.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Not Another Hurricane!

I really have looked hard for reasons to pick Tulane this week. Why? For one thing, you are getting 14 big points. So get your pith helmet- and let’s search together!

Tulsa is obviously pretty darn good- probably one loss away from sniffing the Top 25. Clearly they are one of the nice surprises of the League this year. Good balance on offense- the Golden Hurricane seems to be a lock to go for 35-plus in this spot. They travel well. Tulane will certainly be hard pressed to come up with three touchdowns. And any serious observer of Tulane's kicking follies this year knows the Golden Hurricane probably wins the special teams’ battle by a lot.

I started the season proclaiming Tulane was bad- so I am okay with that. But I am not convinced Tulane is horrible yet. Brightly, they might be the best two-win team in the country! I also think Tulane suffered a little match-up wise the past two weeks. Okay, it was Rice and Navy. I’m not insane. But despite Tulane’s minor improvement upfront, the Green Wave is still vulnerable to teams with a polished rushing attack- and the offense can’t possess the ball enough to protect the defense at all. Again, I can’t imagine Tulane stopping these guys one bit- so closing that big spread isn’t coming from this side of the ball.

So, we are left with: can Elliott score enough points to keep this close? Can he put up three scores?

You know, I kind of think he can. I can’t believe the Tulsa defense is capable of the emotional effort they displayed last week during their final home game. And I can't imagine they ain't looking past this game a bit. Rice and SMU garnered some points; we arguably could get a few more. And Elliott will try. The quarterback has got something to play for- either taking Ricard’s job or finding a new spot next year elsewhere. Same with the young wide outs.

I don’t believe the kids have quit or are totally overwhelmed. Tulane will come to play- score a little- and cover this spread.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Let's Go Flyers!

So I am riding on the train, back to Manhattan this morning, when I noticed my seatmate was some sort of science teacher- methodically grading papers. Curious, I snuck a quick look- the papers were an exercise in a familiar math fraction formula involving curvature. I remember learning in high school that by constructing a simple fraction concerning the characteristics of a particular lens, you could in turn determine the lens’ magnification. Gosh, even for high school, was that not a waste of three or so hours? That is sort of how it felt leaving the Linc last night.

As usual, the rhetoric in the papers is mostly ill-informed nonsense. Well, perhaps not ill-informed, but maybe “painting trees and missing the forest” sort of thinking. The Eagles don't lose because of a play here and a penalty there. All NFL games turn on that stuff. But the full picture- do you win or do you lose- is different.

To continue the school motif: Remember, first principals. The first and overarching principal in the National Football League is get quality play from the quarterback position. You are looking for it, cultivating it or reveling in it. If you have it, a franchise can win in spite of itself. If your team doesn’t have it- they can still win- but just about every single other thing has to go right in all three phases.

The Eagles have a franchise quarterback. He’s not Brady or Manning. But he is a very good player- who is a shell of himself right now. Physically he’s banged up. Mentally, he and the coach haven’t figured out how to get a quality offensive game plan together. The play from the quarterback position, for the first time in six years, isn’t very good. And accordingly, nearly everything else has to go right in the other parts for this team to win.

And frankly, stuff isn’t going real right- at least on offense and special teams. For example, the Eagles are not a disaster per se on specials. But they’ve lost both kickers- and a result they consistently lose field position battles. Their chief kick returner is out- and they don’t get much from the return game. Philadelphia routinely used to get big plays, momentum and field position from the kicking game- or at least win this match-up. Now it is just a blah area.

The defense is fine- put the first Dallas game and Denver disaster in the same pile as last year’s Pittsburgh debacle. They still will hold teams to 14-20 points much more often than not. If anything, they frankly are better against the run this year than last. But the offense is an outright mess at wide out, the tight ends are nice players but not pluses in this division, and the line is shaky at two inside positions- and the tackles are merely okay now.

Put a very good defense with a problematic offense, below average quarterback play and okay-minus special teams- and you get .500

Dallas was pretty thoroughly outplayed most of last night. But, as the Eagles did against San Diego, they provided a text book example of how to steal an NFL game: keep it close- and force the better team to again and again and again execute a football agenda with no mistakes. Make them punt the ball, make the right reads, handle kicks, pick up blitzes, cover guys one-on-one downfield again and again. Dallas gave themselves a shot- and McNabb blew it.

I also think a lot of the Eagles’ offensive "success" was a mirage. Barring a horrendous Bledsoe turnover, the Eagles probably would have only scored thirteen. How do you get only thirteen points from 350 yards of offense? Uh… how about running it too much?

Rushing the football in the NFL is singularly unimportant. It is a chimera- proved yet again last night. The Eagles ran it great all night- and Parcells was totally content to let them willingly sacrifice plays down the field in advantageous down-and-distance situations all night long.

Okay yeah, the Eagles had one nice twelve play drive for a score featuring lots of rushing. Couldn’t do it again though. Know why? Because no one can consistently mix in seven or so successful run plays in succession, in a 12-play drive, in the NFL. It is stupid. You throw to score in this league- and the Eagles left a dozen or more snaps, many in pass friendly 1st-and-10, 2nd-and 5 situations, and the subsequent chances for big plays down the field, on the table to get Gordon another 40 useless yards. And that is how you turn 350+ yards of offense into just 13 points.

That is probably it for 2005. It appears McNabb will not play Sunday. Couple that with a short week- and a road game against a focused, seemingly quality division team looking sorely for revenge for half-a-decade of bad whippings- and McMahon better bring his chin strap.

So the season probably comes down to either winning that game (miracle) or sweeping the subsequent three-game homestand (hard). Can’t see either happening frankly. Welcome to life without TO people. You wanted him gone- and not calling the coach nasty names. This is it. Now they have a happy, losing locker room.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Make It Stop

I guess I ought not write publicly "Make It Stop"- or Scott Cowen will take me up on it. Wasn't that terrible? First time in a long time that even I've been ready to call it a season. Thank Heaven we own the Owls in play-off baseball.

I hate to pick on one guy- the blame is rich and has many fathers here. But- yo Scelfo!- Matt Forte is brutal terrible. Honestly, just what does he have to do to justify not getting his fifteen touches a game? Tell me- what has to happen before everyone realizes this guy is not even a bad I-A player? He has done NOTHING since last year's Army game to justify so much involvement in the offense.

Seriously, I have been watching Tulane since 1987, and Forte is the worst skill position player to get regular touches that I can remember. Honestly, who else since 1987 reliably got 15-20 "carries plus catches" a game-and subsequently was this terrible game after game after game after game after game after game? No one. One of you Slidell people, tell me, what has to happen before even you realize he must be chained to the bench next to Ricard? Would another game-costing turnover do?

Oh- and nice to see Ray Boudreaux become the most important person our offense has produced since Shaun King. Honestly, the last five minutes- did he have to get the ball every play?

Inexcusable to have Rice hang 42 on you when the "o" plays pretty darn well- protecting the defense and its lack of depth upfront for once. Outside of Forte, who gets yet another "F", everyone played well on offense. Isn't it amazing how the o-line and wide outs and Jovon look like they belong in I-A when the qb completes 60% of his throws and refuses to commit brutal turnovers? Maybe those guys don't stink, you think? Maybe it is the quarterback and Forte getting first call on everything around here?

I'm venting of course. This team was never going to be good. But I honestly think they now have left up to 5-6 potential on the table over two campaigns by going with Lester's potential and skills last year- versus Irvin's and Elliot's actual competence. Almost every time (except Louisville) those two guys have played in sustained action, the other offensive players have spark and snap.

Friday, November 11, 2005

We Can't Lose To Rice! Can we?

Sigh, before we get to the official prediction for today...

I touched on this point last week on week. I find myself increasingly annoyed by any and all talk that suggests the kids are losing because they are mentally tired or distracted or stopped trying. Worse, it seems to come largely from people who firmly thought this club would win eight, nine, ten games. (photo credit)

So let me get this straight- because I think I missed another memo. Given the choice between either "admitting your eight-win prediction was wrong and a little crazy as this is a bad team"- or "suggesting the Tulane football team is mentally unable to cope with the demands of the Katrina season", you glibly chose the former? Am I alone in thinking that is kind of disgusting? The kids are getting whipped because, like last year, they aren’t as good as UTEP, Houston, Mississippi State- and probably Navy too- despite last year's rocking upset, etc.

Seriously, this isn’t the first Tulane team to go on the road to play a mediocre outfit that can run the ball a bit- and get smoked. Haven't you been watching for the past three decades or so? They ain't overwhelmed or quitters. They're just not good. And while it stinks on the “football-level”, it is okay in the greater scheme of things. It happens. It is entirely possible, particularly at Tulane, that the Wave can play six games against teams better than them, and another three that could go either way.

Accordingly, the kids could lose eight because they’re just not very good. I mean, seriously, seen the quarterback play lately? Keep the word “quit”- or euphemisms like “not try” to cover for “not focused”- out of your damn mouth. That is a heck of a more damning slur than saying they are merely not a good collection of I-A football players. Keep the kids’ character out of it.

Therefor, if you are in my camp, that the kids lose because they ain’t good- as opposed to they “can’t hack it”- you have to LOVE Tulane Saturday.

Rice is horrible. Tulane merely played horrible last week- and therein lays the difference.

The Post says you can get the Wave and 1.5 points for the trouble- and I am all over that. Rice got blown out by SMU just last week- and Tulane might be a kind of a mess- but they’re not that bad.

I like the fact the Elliott gets the start. Lately, Ricard was giving them next to nothing at the quarterback position except gut-busting turnovers. I doubt Elliott can complete a high enough percentage of passes to keep the “ball possession” offense moving. But it is still a potential short-term improvement, and also might give the team a lift. It also appears that Scelfo has come to the same conclusion I reached about Forte a year ago- and finally chained him to the bench. Twenty carries from Jovon, spelled occasionally by Forte catching a ball or two, and there almost has to be some improvement there also.

Don't underestimate those changes. They might not have the right people playing the two most important positions on offense- but at least its the right people for right now. Jovon & Elliott may not be exactly good- but they’re at least a chance to improve on the level of play the Wave has been getting from the incumbents. And you don’t need much to whip the Owls. So, Tulane gets a handful of positive plays from the quarterback position- instead of a handful of crushing ones. The line will look competent again blocking for a running back who can actually run inside, break a tackle, force Rice to keeps it’s nickel off the field on 2nd-and-7, and plays with that senior savvy. The defense can handle these guys. Gosh, I really, really, really like Tulane here- and the Wave rolls, pretty comfortably I imagine.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Quit Crying

Look, I like TO. I just do.

For whatever reason, I am able to put his antics in a bucket labeled “antics”- and walk away from it. I don’t believe for a minute he is why the team is 4-4. In fact, he might be the big reason they ain’t 2-6. Now, of course, he isn’t challenging my manhood and competence in the newspapers- I might feel different then.

For the first time, I totally do not approve or really understand of the Eagles’ approach to this guy. I never had a problem with the “TO Gamble” from Day One. And I still don’t. If the gamble lays the regular season groundwork for a franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance in like forever, if the gamble plays the biggest game of his life while risking his entire career on a leg everyone, and I mean everyone, said shouldn’t be played on, if the gamble right now is arguably- even disgruntled- the teams’ best player, if the gamble was achieved with a well below market contract, if the gamble was a player acquired with no real costwell, it might not be a success- but it is worth trying.

If I were the owner Lurie, I would sit the key players in the Eagles’ power structure. I would back them up on the initial suspension- but then coldly remind them of a few things:

1. First and foremost, it is hard to win. Get that- hard to win. Bore it into your skulls- Banner and Reid and McNabb. Every single snap, they are a Donovan McNabb injury away from having to start all over again. You gotta strike while it is there. Can the Eagles realistically win a Super Bowl right now? No. But they can win the NFC. They can win two games in a row against anyone in the NFC. Atlanta is not Indianapolis. The Eagles beat San Diego- a pretty classy AFC outfit. So they gotta try- give themselves a puncher’s chance in January just by showing up with #5 in the biggest games in sports. You don’t get this close often. Look at the division- three teams mired for years and years in awfulness. Just how far do you think you guys are from that wilderness?

2. The guy risked his career in the Super Bowl. Maybe they don’t owe TO. But they could.

3. The guy is great. Seriously, Hall of Fame good.

4. It isn’t like he killed anyone. Hurt anyone. Took drugs. I hate Drew Rosenhaus- but he’s dead right here. There are guys in the NFL who do things a lot worse to the community and teammates. Calling people names is boorish behavior- but it is ultimately no big deal. Seriously, just how bad do you really want to win guys? Bad enough to take some barbs from a guy no one believes has a clue.

5. Maybe guys you ought to consider six words of advice: Shut up & deal with it. The team, the fans, the organization- we all accepted this calculus. Now you want to beg out because your feelings are hurt. I thought the reason we invested all this time, effort and money in building a class organization was to deal with adversity? Did that change? Did I miss a memo? The key victims all make millions of dollars. Some make $5 million per year. Cope.

6. It is only eight more weeks.

7. Whatever problems TO has, they ain’t on-field ones- insofar as his actual playing goes. Even at his sulking worst, the guy is still an elite player. He tries even when they're getting hammered- he’s made big plays to spark rallies in games when the Eagles were getting smashed. Without him, the Eagles can’t score thirteen against the .500-level Redskins.

Accordingly, the Eagles ought to be looking for ways to put the guy on the field, rather than making excuses why they can't. Ultimately, it is in TO’s best interest to play- and the Eagles to let him play. C’mon, the guy is nuts, we all knew going in that extreme stickiness was the price of his services. But this is not a crisis- it is dealing with a jerk. It is only a crisis if you let it be.

So put your helmets and headsets on, use your millions of dollars to soothe your egos, and let’s get after Dallas. I promise, bring TO back, beat Dallas and the Giants- and 90% of this flack goes away. Again. Lose to Dallas & the Giants- then do whatever you want with TO. But the Eagles are still in this. They have an obligation to people like me, who pay hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars to watch the games, to put the team with the best chance of winning out there- not the team that feels the most jolly together.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sweet Serenity

As I wrote last week, I am “oddly serene” about the Eagles this season- and I remain so despite last night’s 17-10 loss to the Washington Redskins. Again, I think that, once you make the same leap I did after the Atlanta game, after watching McNabb play hurt, that this Eagles team and their semi-broken quarterback are right now at best a ten/eleven win team, the ups and downs of the season become easier to bear.

Rarely does a team cruise to a conference title like the Eagles did last year. This team is like the previous editions under Reid- they have to work and get lucky and stay healthy to get to 11. And even 11-win teams lose five.

Accordingly, we have all seen enough NFL games to put this game squarely in the proper bucket: a .500 team bouncing, back at home from a loss, wins this game against a solid division foe a lot more often than they lose it. Consequently, it was a typical division game- a few plays here, a few plays there.

For example, both Philadelphia kickers are huge road pluses, both are hurt, both replacements were big factors- as the Eagles lost the special team’s battle to Washington for the first time in recent memory. The Redskins fumbled only like a thousand times- but lost only one . They got one score on a pass interference penalty on a ball overthrown so badly that it could never have been caught by a guy who wasn’t even open to begin with- but hey, it happens. I don’t know if Lewis caught the ball at the goal line- but to heck with the replay- catch the ball dummy. #5 missed the tying score late by three inches. Philadelphia left a field goal on the field. But you know, what are you going to do? Division games, particularly on the road, are like that.

I still don’t think Washington is very good. With five wins now, they’ll be a border line play-off team until Christmas- but probably can’t make it as second in NFC East is probably beyond them. Nevertheless, the “up from horrible” Redskins should still win five or six home games- so again, they are going to hold serve against a good team more often than not.

Conversely, the Eagles are still on at least a ten-win pace until they lose two home games- and they haven’t lost even one yet. They play four of their next five at home. Before anyone throws in the towel- let’s see how they do in these four home games. Would you honestly be shocked if they were 8-5 in a month? I refuse to believe they aren’t good until they lose two at the Linc. Last night wasn’t a total wash either: the quarterback looked a little more spunky, the defense competed again- particularly against the run, the draft pick Reggie Brown had a big pulse, the interior offensive line played pretty well.

That is not to say there aren’t problems. To win the division, Philadelphia probably needs to sweep the Giants- and this conglomeration cannot do that right now. The Giants’ 6-2 start really puts the bar at 11 wins to get this division- and looking at the schedule the only way the Giants don’t get eleven or the Eagles have even a shot is the aforementioned sweep.

Friday, November 04, 2005

A Navy? Without Boats?

I imagine as long as the Republicans hold power in Washington, the USA will feature some sort of Navy. Consequently, the USNA is next up for Tulane.

The New York Post puts Navy football -12.5 over Tulane today- which feels like a pretty fair line. Navy is clearly no great shakes- and it is a ton of points to give- but Tulane is more than a little lost on offense and utterly horrendous on special teams. The Tulane defense usually does come to play and competes- but let’s face it- the Wave ain’t likely to stop anyone cold right now.

I utterly loved Tulane in this spot last year. Loved them. Tulane was at home, they seemed likely to protect Ricard (put him in the Yellow Submarine) and Navy had no hope of covering our collection of outstanding wide outs. I thought Tulane would easily score enough to cover the big spread. And of course, Tulane scored an absolute ton, the defense played its best game of the year- and Tulane produced their most complete win of the 2004 campaign.

That being said, even in the beginning of the year, to hoots of derision on here, I had this game squarely in the “loss” bucket. And in light of Tulane’s recent struggles, I see little reason to move it out. I certainly see no clue they are about to pitch "their most complete effort of the season". Plus, everything I liked about last year’s game- the familiar surroundings, the comfortable quarterback, the oodles of talented experienced skill people outside- they are all gone.

But 12.5 is a whole lotta points. I hate giving that many- which has led me to foolishly take the Wave and the points the last two weeks- because we all know Ricard is very capable of throwing for four touchdowns against this secondary.

Yes, Navy’s recent home performance against Kent State at home doesn’t look that good. However, it is Homecoming at Navy- and they got blown out by Tulane last year- so I can’t imagine Navy will be flat or unready or unemotional. So we are forced to look for excuses or reasons why the Wave might keep it close. There is the aforementioned Ricard explosion. The Wave defense ought to keep navy south of 35 points at the very least- and if you can’t count on scoring 30+, well, it is hard to guarantee you’ll cover 12.5

Tulane is probably better than their 2-5 mark. And they've played okay in spots. But this is going to be a hard place to get well. I imagine Navy will dialed in and ramped up- and the Wave will still be lost for long stretches on offense. Throw in the typical brutal special teams play(s)- and I can’t see Tulane even being in this in the fourth quarter. So I’ll take Navy and give the 12.5— just not a good spot for a team searching more than a little bit for good things to happen

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Steady Boys!

Starting in November, every game in the National Football League is critical. And there is no doubt about it- the Eagles probably face the make-or-break portion of their schedule over the next three weeks: three straight division games, against resurgent to semi-resurgent divisional foes, with two on the road. And for the first time in a long time, these games have a little juice to them- some real downside for losing. The Eagles probably need two here.

I know the panic meter is off the charts in some places- but I have been oddly serene. I get my rest. I chew my cud. Okay now, last year’s 12-0 record in the NFC, the key factor in the 13-1 start, had a lot to do with a very solid Eagles football club. But it also had a lot to do with the pitiful state of the NFC- where the Eagles were literally two scores or more better than all their immediate NFC rivals (Carolina, Atlanta, Green Bay), three scores better than their divisional challengers (New York & Dallas) and four scores better than Washington.

So even standing in place, the Eagles were probably never going to win 13-14 games in 2005. The "NFC gap" just isn’t as big- if it even exists. The franchise quarterback is perceptibly hurt. So the Eagles are like everyone else that is play-off capable again- and regular season success is consequently 11-12 wins.

And 11-12 win teams lose games on the coast. They lose road games to divisional rivals. They struggle to play consistent & well week after week when playing five hard road games in eight outings. None of their losses- @ Atlanta, @ Dallas and @ Denver- are unexpected or even terrible. Even if you had the Eagles 12-4 on paper- those are three you probably penciled in a potential “L”.

Anyway, I know I did pre-season. I thought it would be hard for the Eagles to better a 5-3 mark at the turn. So they are on track.

But those three Philadelphia losses make these next three important games. Their schedule really softens the last six- they really ought to win five there if the quarterback is still standing. But now, they probably need two of the next three

The Eagles are clearly an uneven football team right now. To Frank, the NFL is all about finding a formula- a game plan- that you can reproduce more often than not. And the new Eagles have yet to square that circle. For years, the Eagles ultimately have been able to rely on a mobile, heady McNabb to punish defenses at a high level for mistakes in coverage or containment- with little corresponding downside: incompletions, turnovers. But with McNabb limited, the Eagles have not yet found the right mix for offensive efficiency.

For example, pleading with the Eagles to run the ball more than fifteen times a game in 2004 was dumb. Outside of Westbrook’s big-play ability, nothing Westbrook or Levens could provide justified steadily taking ten snaps out of McNabb’s hands to hand the football more to either one more. Yes, the Eagles were 31st in rushing. And yes, if it meant taking the ball out of McNabb’s hands ten times a game to get to 25th- well, I pass.

But this year, the mix needs to change. And the Eagles haven’t figured it out yet.

The defense- well, I still think they’re more like the crew the stifled the Chiefs and Chargers and Falcons- than the group that got hammered by Dallas and Denver. The defensive line has slipped- but that is the salary cap. Good teams lose good players. I never care about the run- if you feature a back that goes 30-for-120- then you’re messing up- and ought to be throwing more. But the Eagles have been bad against the pass? They have good defensive secondary players though- I’m confident that group will return to form. But the pressure is a problem.

So- keep your eyes on the prize. Get to 6-4- stay a game back of the NFC leaders- and use that soft late schedule to get the bye and home game.