Monday, October 30, 2006

It Is What It Is

You know nothing about a baseball team after eight games, but a pro-football team can absolutely find its level. And four up, four down is the Eagles’ level.

Things always look darkest sitting on a three game losing streak- as this panicked missive from the PDN indicates. But just as I resolutely stood here at .500 after the Eagles’ big home win over Dallas, driving them to a 4-1 start, I resolutely stand here today athwart history cheerily saying “The Eagles aren’t bad, they’re merely okay.”

Put it this way: other than the quarterback, do you have any strong views about any position of the field?

Now, note the following use of the word “okay”. Offensively, the wideouts are okay- Brown and Stallworth would start and contribute many places- and many places they would not. The offensive line features somewhat declining veteran tackles and steadily improving youngsters inside- some good play and some bad play. Westbrook is a great back- but he’s hurt a lot and the secondary players at the position bring nothing despite getting to play a lot due to Westbrook unique nature- that identical brew of very good and sort of bad emerges as “okay” again.

On defense, the linebackers are okay-minus, and the secondary and defensive line okay-plus. Other than Akers, nothing on special teams helps or hurts. It too is a whole lot of okay. Honestly? Outside of McNabb, the Eagles have no glaring strengths or glaring weaknesses- they are the most okay team in terms of players and positions ever.

And that is just it. Mix okay with a great quarterback, you get a low level play-off team- a team that roars to a 4-1 start against jejune opposition. Mix it with bad quarterback play, and you get a six win team that can’t protect its home against an intermediate 4-3 team- or win on the road at all. Friends- that is the Eagles. They are good when McNabb is good, they are bad when he is bad- because they are the most neutral team going.

But, go back to first principals. Remember, the Eagles were bad last year- with real problems on both lines, linebacker and quarterback- and that is a lot to revamp in one campaign. The quarterback position fixed itself. But they’re starting three recent high drafts picks in the defensive line rotation, one on the linebacker corps, and one at safety. And three guys on their first contract are playing on the interior offensive line. That is eight “fixes” right there (editor's note: and all eight are better than their predecessors) so this a work in progress- a work that depended on some luck and a Pro-Bowl quarterback to get a rebuilding year to ten wins.

Well, luck deserted them against the Giants and the Bucs- and McNabb has been bad lately- so they are back to even. A pro team can’t throw in the towel until it reaches seven losses- so the play-offs are unlikely. But if the real goal, as I wrote pre-season, is to get respectable again, start rolling over the talent nucleus, and aviod being the NFC East's new Redskins- then there is still a lot to play for.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Can't Beat Rice? Then Watch Out For The Wave!

Well, if you got the holy hell kicked out you by Rice, then you officially stink. Mind you, Tulane ain’t that good either- but at least from a cursory view, Tulane -5 over the Black Knights looks pretty cheap to me.

Last week’s loss to a pretty okay TCU team was cosmetic, Army was down 31-3 at one point, and never threatened. Army’s offense does little consistently but turn the ball over- and David Pevoto is probably the worst passing quarterback in I-A (4 TDs versus 13 INTs- ouch). There is some hope that plebe Carson Williams might see some time, even start, after playing well mopping up last week. But you could also read that similarly to “Anthony Scelfo mopped well against LSU and could help us immediately!”- and derive the same level of proximate hope, if you get my drift. I don’t care what Army fans think: freshman quarterback, first start, on the road, facing pressure, needing to score points... Williams might be better than Pevoto, probably has to be, but it is still not a plus.

Frankly, five is almost disrespectful. Army has no hope of covering Tulane's skill position players. The Cadets don’t have one I-A level defensive back, let alone four. Tulane’s offensive line has quietly been the most improved unit on the team from the first game- and Forte should have a monster day against a defensive front featuring a couple of good I-AA prospects. And we know what Ricard does- protected, safe, unchallenged, in his precious Dome- he goes for five touchdowns and resembles Unitas.

Add in the requisite four turnovers from Army, and the fact that their kickers are worse than ours- and I sense Tulane cruises here. It is just a bad match-up for Army. In this spot, against this defense, Tulane goes for a big number that Army can’t hope to keep up with. If, say, Connecticut outplays Army badly while on offense, they get 30. If Ricard does it, he goes for 49.

I stumbled last week, when Auburn laid down on goal line late, rather than running the score up to the 32 point margin I needed, dropping the record to 5-2 ATS. But I feel good about his one. Tulane wins comfortably- so I’ll give Army five points- and hope Ricard tears ‘em up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Let’s Not Disgrace The Sweater

The Flyers pulled the plug on one of the longest running shows in Philadelphia this week: Bobby Clarke and Ken Hitchcock. I have diligently scribed on this blog for two years now- and have only called for one head- the hapless Ed Wade- to be delivered to me. Pretty good restraint from a Philadelphia partisan. But man, I was getting close to giving up on this Flyers’ brain trust. It was about time to start buying gold, paraffin and seed potatoes. Ed Snyder beat me to it by about one home loss to Atlanta this week.

Look, there is simply nothing- other than good feelings about Bobby Clarke- to justify this increasingly grotesque charade- particularly if Clarke no longer wanted to do this job. And Clarke’s confidence is the only reason Hitchcock was here in the first place. It isn’t like Hitch, like, won anything here.

A good measuring stick for whether things are amiss: is this hockey team playing on par with the Capitals? The Flyers are not passing that examination. And all the traditional metrics are present and accounted for: you cannot fire the players, change for change’s sake is not an altogether bad thing for a bad team, anything but the current 1-6-1 status quo almost has to be better.

I hate the NHL product. It is vapid- increasingly NBA regular season like- progressively more effeminate. I honestly haven’t watched but two periods since the Flyer’s elimination from the play-offs last spring. So I have no comments on the roster, or how they’re playing, other than the dismissal of Peter Nedved hasn’t ever hurt any hockey team I’m aware of, and his regulation to “checking line center” is proof positive that Hitchcock doesn’t have a clue how defensive play works in the new NHL.

But Clarke is probably not the man to lead the Flyers into this new game. Last season, a big part of his post-lockout retooling of the roster was to call the NHL’s bluff- that they would not dare turn a great game game into a Czech Beer League (editor's note: yes, but with less hitting!). Clarke was wrong- and if collecting faceless Euros and Russians and Simon Gagne types to skate, play devoid of passion, featuring penalties for touching people, and seen only by people with continuously more obscure premium pay sites on American cable (the “VS” channel?) is the new game… well, it is a small mercy to let Clarke opt out.

For generations, the NHL has been the world standard for professional hockey- all of sudden our product isn’t good enough- and instead the Swedish Elite League is imported. How did that happen? Did Clarke miss a meeting?

I just am glad that Fred Shero isn’t alive to see it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

David Ragan Knows What It Feels Like

Musing on the Eagles one cannot help but think of David Ragan. David, like the Eagles, had a rough day in some tight spots. At the Subway 500 yesterday, Ragan was involved in four separate incidents that brought out the yellow flag, and his inexperience drew the ire of many NASCASR veterans- including Tony Stewart, who described young Ragan after the race as being "a dart with no feathers."

I like that: a dart with no feathers. Accordingly: Sometimes they kick a record field goal to beat you. It happens. The other team is allowed to make plays. McNabb was terrible for 47 minutes- wonderful for 12 and sick for 1. That, and a miracle FG, is why they lost.

That is two losses in two weeks on game ending field goals. Those are hard- but the NFL is the ultimate example of “good teams find a way to win”- and the Eagles are re-learning those lessons in a particularly hard fashion right now. They clearly aren’t bad- like last year. But right now, they are not a team that can win the division either.

I stick my original prognostication. Philadelphia is nine win good. For one thing, they are not good enough to win on offense unless McNabb is amazing- which is a difficult game plan to count on and then execute every week. The quarterback can’t have two balls returned for TDs, run a boneheaded two minute drill that costs them sure points (why does he do that twice every single year? why?), fumble on a key 3rd and one.

Another thing- does anyone remember when the complimentary players around here- Chad Lewis, Freddie Mitchell- could be counted on to give them something in secondary roles other than drops and horrid turnovers? Last week I wondered on here how Dexter Wynn got to be so important to our winning and losing. Now, how did we get to the points where guys like Baskett, Avant, Tapeh, Schobel, Buckhalter and Smith get 20 touches on 63 snaps- not counting the drops and incompletions in their direction?

This cast of characters commits too many turnovers and drops to justify their workload around here. But they sort of have to- the number one wideout is out again and Westbrook is too soft to handle the ball 20 times every week. That is a problem- and forces those missing 15-20 plays into the hands of, oh, Buckhalter. Westbrook had a great game- but his roster presence has to be counted against the other, increasingly real bad stresses it puts on the rest of the roster. 20 touches this week, including 13 rushes, from the franchise back- and that is the most he’ll ever be able to do- even in a game, where they are struggling, on the road.

Makes you wonder how dumb or careless Ryan Moats must be that he can’t get on the field ahead of these characters.

Play-offs? Well, again, at heart Philadelphia is a nine win team- so it was always more likely the Eagles wouldn’t make it than they would. To their credit, their good start gave them a chance. But now that is gone. So it is hard. They have three losses, all conference, less than half way through the season. Since the Eagles probably can only afford to lose six total- and with three road dates out there with division teams, plus at Indianapolis- and Carolina, Jacksonville and Atlanta visiting the Linc still out there… no, I don’t think so.

It isn’t set in stone- still closer to 50-50 than definitely in or out. But these next two- Jacksonville and Washington at home- realistically are must wins.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lucy Ponders Auburn

The New York Post- the official line of Prediction Thursday- puts Auburn -31.5 over our Tulane Green Wave. Curiously, the otiose Tigers upstate were -35.5 a month ago- so maybe Tulane is improving? So far five up, one down picking the Wave ATS here on nola- pretty darn good. But we gotta keep up the pace, lest Bob Clarke can us too.

I hate picking these games featuring giant spreads. As I wrote before the LSU tilt: you can’t really apply football based rational to this one; it is a psychology experiment. Auburn can put up pretty much any score they want. Our job is sort of crawl inside Tuberville’s head, navigate thru his extensive knowledge of just how to commit marginal NCAA rule violations, and emerge with the end result coach desires. Seriously people, just what is Tommy's favorite number north of 40? We’ll know Saturday evening, ‘cause that is what Auburn is going for here.

So I am not going to waste time trying to determine what we can do or can stop. Bluntly, Auburn can do whatever they want and Tulane will be able to do nothing.

This is a mathematical exercise really. Against LSU, two Tulane touchdowns meant that those Tigers would have to score more than seven touchdowns to cover. Here the line is a little less munificent- so that is the kind of bet you are making here. If you think Tulane can score more than fourteen- you ought to take the 31.5, screw your courage to the sticking place, and root for the clock.

I doubt it myself. One fluke/garbage time touchdown is probable, two is whimsical. And even if you get seventeen Tulane points- Auburn is quite able to hang 49 up there and break you anyway.

This is not a guaranteed selection. A substantial number of snaps doubtlessly will be young Scelfo/Elliott versus the Tiger’s third defense- a match-up I know nothing about. But Auburn is playing for BCS-style points, they are simply not going to allow Tulane the two fourth quarter scores to make it look respectable on the AP wire. So, I’ll take Auburn -31.5 here to try and get to 6-1 ATS.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Sabres Go For It

The Flyers just got destroyed last night in Buffalo- and many Flyers were opining in the papers about whether they hit rock bottom. Gosh guys, I dunno. But it is pretty bad when the Buffalo crowd roars “we want ten” for a good part of the third period.

Some character named “gtownwave fan” made me laugh with this prediction of the Tulane-Auburn game this Saturday. An accurate and glib summation of the “adult” Tulane fan base many consternations:

Picking the score wasnt enough fun so I've decided to add a few things.

Auburn 38; Tulane 20 (14 fourth quarter points after the game is decided)

After the game, Scelfo gives postgame comments that are similar to the ones he gave after the LSU game. You basically get the impression that he knew we were beat before the game started and he let the team know this as well.

On Sunday morning the YOGWF will have a few posts talking about the 'positives' that came out of the Auburn game. The context of these posts will be something like 'We got more first downs than them in the last 6 minutes of the fourth quarter. I think this team is improving.' or 'Auburn really didn't dominate us. They only had 400 yards of total offense and we really limited their big plays.' And of course there will be a few posts that talk about how Auburn really didn't have more talent than Tulane, their players just had more confidence and believed in themselves more.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dexter and the Saints

Losing to New Orleans is not, in and of itself, a problem. Even a 12-win team- not to say the Eagles are a twelve win team- loses three road games, plays around .500 on the road against good teams. A ten win team loses four road games- and probably plays sub-.500 away from the home against even mediocre opposition. New Orleans is certainly improved- the quickest way to good from bad to good is to turn the quarterback position into a plus- definitely up from mediocre.

So I give the Eagles a pass yesterday. I can’t write last week that Philadelphia beating Dallas last week was indicative of nothing much- simply the aforementioned ten win team, in its building, beating another ten win team in a semi-even match. Same thing here: New Orleans should win this sort of affair too, but losing doesn’t mean much about Philadephia. Dallas or Philadelphia can lose that sort of game and still make solid claims to be pretty good.

But looking at the collective… ten NFC teams have two losses or fewer for six play-off spots. Actually, since the Eagles can’t quaify for three of the spots- it is really seven teams looking for three places. Two conference losses already don’t help. Still around 50-50 they make the play-offs.

Being honest? The Eagles are one up, two down playing teams that aren’t brutal. Winning the games you ought to, and playing something near .500 against better outfits, gets you in the post-season more often than not. But it doesn’t translate to “Philadelphia is real good” either.

I still believe nine wins, maybe ten, is about right for this group. As Rich Hofmann says today in the Philadelphia Daily News, if the passing game and McNabb aren’t “hyperproductive” then the Eagles have problems:
They need to sustain drives, yes, but they fear giving Brian Westbrook and his sore knee too big a workload at running back, and they're still waiting for Correll Buckhalter to shake off the last layer of rust, and they don't seem to trust Ryan Moats except in really isolated circumstances.
If the tailback position is such a plus for Philadelphia, then why are such things true? Who else in the NFL has eight figures in guaranteed monies tied up at tailback and has something close to a minus running game?

They have problems at safety- and a resulting “give up big plays down the field problem”; I’ve been screaming about Michael Lewis since the pre-season- and wow, the local press has finally caught up to me there. And the old roster depth at places, particularly returners and kickers (the punter stinks), seems lacking. In the “old” days, guys like Dexter Wynn were never in consistently in roles, on the field, where their erratic play, could beat you. How did the play of Dexter become important to the outcome of games- particularly close road games? Did I miss a meeting?

Sunday, October 15, 2006


From Don McKee's pen to the NHL's ears:

Maybe watching the Flyers has eroded my confidence in the future of the National Hockey League. Or maybe I just don't understand why any sport would want to imitate soccer.

But the shoot-out has irritated me on face value for a year. Now, after watching the Flyers and Rangers take point-blank shots into the goalie's breadbasket for 15 minutes, it has soured me completely. Deciding a game and (obviously) playoff pairings by using a gimmick that has nothing to do with hockey is annoying.

But at least it used to be exciting. Last Saturday, it was just lame.

I don't care for his further solution- but now there are at least two of us who can find satisfaction in a well played tie than a circus-like resolution. I like when he casually slurs soocer too.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


The New York Post puts UTEP -13 over Tulane. Off to a 4-1 start ATS, I feel more than a little reminiscent of the 9-1 mark of 2004. But this game flummoxes me a bit. What exactly are you going to get from UTEP here? They’ve been all over the place. Forget good games and bad games. UTEP can’t string together good quarters and bad quarters.

The quarterback Jordan Palmer is yet another absolutely wonderful specimen of the big number quarterback our League produces. How can a quarterback, in five games, complete over 70% of his passes- and still throw nine interceptions? Hey, this is C-USA, we don’t even blink. That sort of thing happens all the time here. But he’s banged up- and there looks to be a big drop off afterwards.

But he is supposed to go (if he doesn’t start, then there is no pick here). On paper, UTEP can’t run the ball at all- but that is not a relevant stat against our defense. You won’t go broke assuming that a team can rush for a goodly number against the Wave defense.

In order to cover a thirteen point spread, you realistically need to score more than 31- and even then, probably more. The Miners will get near 40-ish if Palmer goes.

Accordingly, you sort of have to pity the Scelfos here- having to game plan to score five touchdowns- just to sort of be in it. One could be heartened by Ricard’s performance against Mississippi State- a road game where he played well for decent stretches. And UTEP has slipped noticeably on defense. The number one bugaboo in C-USA play- the utter exiguousness of quality defensive backs- has come to haunt the Miners with a vengeance.

A Tulane fan put some hope in the Green Wave’s good offensive play centered on a higher tempo, no huddle offense. Certainly it has helped the last two weeks- but I bet that ends abruptly this week. This coaching staff really, really strives to simplify the offense, correctly in my opinion, for Lester in terms of on field execution. Anyone who has watched Lester for three years knows the guy just doesn’t deal well with external on-field demands on his attention. And running the no huddle, etc. gives a quarterback who doesn’t deal with multiple things well one more thing to deal with. The success of this gambit was more due to Rice and SMU’s inability to play I-A defense; I imagine the gimmick factor of no-huddle ends here.

Others would point to SMU hanging with UTEP as evidence that the Wave could too. But SMU, at home, is probably a solid TD fave over Tulane- and UTEP did beat them, so even a similar sort of solid effort leaves Tulane a TD plus in the hole against the Miners.

UTEP is better than Mississippi State, Rice and SMU- and like I wrote above, I imagine they can get the big number required to cover here. Tulane will score- but Ricard still hasn’t really played that circa 2004 UAB or Navy style game on the road against a team that will be in his face- so five Tulane TDs seems like a lot to assume. Paradoxically, since Tulane can be certainly competent on offense at times, UTEP is going to have to keep the pedal down: keep throwing, keep scoring, keep trying. A huge incentive to win by more than thirteen is being cognizant that a two touchdown lead is not safe.

So, I gingerly take the Miners here. The Green Wave won’t get beat like they did in Houston- but UTEP is a clear step better than them, ought to score a big number, and won’t stop trying to score even up fourteen. Take the Miners -13.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I Am Not Convinced

I worry.

I am not saying I was not heartened, not made joyous- watching Donovan McNabb extract a terrible and righteous justice on his foul enemies. The Linc was in a ribald mood- as scurrilous and ferocious as I have seen it for a regular season game. And certainly, whipping Dallas, particularly in what had to be gut-wrenching fashion, never gets old.

But I dunno. I picked the Eagles to win nine games- but that was with them getting to 6-2 at the turn. They are off to a good start- but not an unexpected one. I suppose you can move home games like Washington and Tennessee, and a road game like Tampa Bay to the “probably win column” from “toss up”- and move @ Washington from loss to the aforementioned “toss up” category.

Lost in the all the hoopla is that Dallas took a lot of big momentum hits- and still played a pretty tight, albeit far from perfect, road game. The Cowboys forced a pair of early turnovers- and turned one into a big “free score”. They ran the ball effectively for long stretches and committed no stupid or selfish penalties. They scored touchdowns in the red zone. Their defense came on the field, already down 7-0 five minutes, deep in their own end and made a huge stop. They made their kicks, played very solid special teams and punted marvelously.

In the second half, outside of two huge plays by McNabb, the Eagles could do nothing on offense. The fourteen points the Eagles scored were not part and parcel of a coherent offensive approach they can anticipate duplicating with some regularity. “McNabb, be amazing a few times” is not a “win a hard game on the road against a wild card caliber team” strategy.

Consequently, Dallas gave themselves a chance. They played long segments of the second half needing just one break, forcing the Eagles to make near zero mistakes to win. That is the proverbial tight road game, right? And, in the end, they almost got it. People are banging Bledsoe, rightfully so, for his turnovers. But you know what? He took a bad beating: seven sacks, another dozen or so hits. And each time, he rolled over on all fours, caught his breath, heaved himself to his feet and kept trying, kept firing. You want a quarterback to lead? That is what he did- and the whole Dallas outfit kept trying. And with thirty seconds left, he made a huge throw, on the money, in a big spot. He almost got it done. He almost stole it.

Accordingly, I was pretty impressed with Dallas. It is a team that, with a little better luck, could win a road play-off game in a wild, emotional environment.

As to Philadelphia… the Eagles offense is sort of better. I guess. Stipulated: McNabb is amazing. And their old bugaboo- the interior offensive line- is much, much better with Hank Fraley gone (anyone would be younger & more athletic) and Andrews continuing to emerge as a real great player.

But Philadelphia can't run it, their wide out situation is far from a week after week strength, and Westbrook is hurt and declining every week. Buckhalter is not a solution; he's a problem. He's always hurt and bad and fumbles- its not a good combination.

The defensive line has been a revelation- the three draft picks and the free agent from the Saints have added four guys in one fell swoop who can play. But the corners are banged up and Lewis has really, really declined. This injured and depleted secondary means he needs to contribute in a pass defender role- and Lewis is frankly not doing a good job.

The schedule will toughen up soon- and there are still at least four, maybe five more losses out there. For instance, @ Indianapolis is one. You just can’t pencil the Eagles in to win two out of three divisional road games- against what ought to be motivated opposition with something to play for. Atlanta, Carolina, Jacksonville- even at home they are going to slip up once. That is four “L’s” even if they play pretty well. That is- win the games they should win and play .500 against good teams- which, if you are honest, is all that they have shown so far.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

How Can Tulane Be A Home Underdog To Rice?

The New York Post, the official line of Prediction Thursday, presents Rice -2.5 over Tulane this morning. Seems fair. Last week’s miss was a bitter one: it is hard to accept the Green Wave scoring almost 30 points and still not covering. I could have used those seven points from the foolish fake punt Coach Scelfo.

Saturday, Tulane’s defense played pretty credibly, for a bad C-USA team (an important proviso). Sure, they allowed a ton of big plays- but you know our League- quality, daring, mobile quarterback play is hard to stop. And yes, one would like to see a response, to a killer turnover in their own end, along the lines of “stop & hold them to a field goal try” once in awhile.

But SMU couldn’t run it much from the tailback position- and the Wave generated a good pass rush- one that would have been troublesome had SMU not featured a quarterback with real elusiveness. Put it this way: Take away the awful kick return, the fake punt and Ricard’s fumble- and no way do the Mustangs get into the 30’s.

Of course, Tulane always, always, has a few terrible special teams plays and brutal Ricard turnovers- so there is no total pass to be given. But Rice is not coming in here and putting up an unmanageable number, say 40+, like they did last year.

We all know Ricard can put up devastating numbers the afternoons and evenings Tulane presents him with time to throw coupled with an opponent’s defensive secondary that has no hope of covering Tulane’s pretty decent collection of wide-outs. Last week, it took a half for Tulane to figure out a higher tempo offense was a way to keep SMU from freely substituting both a barrage of extra pass rushers from the secondary and fresh defensive linemen. With SMU robbed of those reinforcing bodies, Ricard was able to settle in to the “Yellow Submarine” and put up the sort of big numbers Tulane needs to win here.

And since Rice’s defense front is blockable, I can see Tulane scoring four touchdowns, thirty points.

So, it is back to being a wild C-USA toss-up- the second half of the SMU game writ larger. I simply can’t believe it is going to take us 2.5 quarters to get ramped up again.

Neither of these teams is demonstrably better than the other. It is a toss up- a toss up Tulane desperately needs to remain relevant through this 2006 campaign. Beats me who will win. But I like the desperation angle for Tulane. I also feel like you probably can get rich betting against Rice, on the road, as a favorite. And in a toss up, I like the free 2.5 points. I’ll opt for Tulane here- take the points.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bored, Stupid & Listless- But Only For A Half

The NFL’s traditionally rich palette of characters and emotion just didn’t really show up in South Philadephia Monday night. It is hard to imagine just how bored, stupid and listless the Eagles would have to be to lose to the Packers- but Reid and chums gave it the good old college try.

The consensus in the papers is that Philadelphia’s biggest concern is the defensive secondary. And while there are problems there, I am not so sure that is right. Look, with Hood and Sheppard out- the Eagles are starting the dime corner, using a deep reserve as the nickel corner, and a back-up safety as the dime defensive back. But Hood and Sheppard are due back, so this problem almost has to get better of its own accord.

The secondary is never going to be as good as its halcyon days, when they had three pro-Bowlers and a good young safety back there. Michael Lewis and Dawkins are entering the saavy, rather than the athletic, portion of their careers. They are still good players- Dawkins is still a pro-Bowler- but they are not a true elite pairing anymore. Sheppard & Brown haven’t lost a step exactly, but corner is not a position where saavy compensates for age. Corners tend to burn bright and fast in this league- they can be "older" at 27-particularly when the nagging leg injuries start. But I am far from convinced that running those four guys out there in Novemebr is a minus.

No, the problem is within the number one offense. A smaller problem right now- but unlike the secondary, unfixable. Brian Westbrook is aching. Again. And as I am the only person in Philadelphia not totally enamored with the guy, I’m rightfully nervous.

My problem with Brian is not the on field stuff. Clearly, he is an elite player who excels in producing those weird mis-matches offensive coordinators love in the pro ball. My problem is with the total roster pressures he inflicts.

First, because he misses so many games, then further handles the ball pretty infrequently for a franchise back and costs a fortune, your second and third running backs have to play, sometimes play a lot- and by the way be either cheap (how many millions can you devote to the back-up RB?) or recent draft picks. Plus, someone on the roster has to sort of mimic his capabilities or your whole game plan goes out the window in games when Westbrook has yet another “oowie”. Ryan Moats is the latest incarnation- yet another first day draft pick spent to “support” the Westbrook roster spot.

The Eagles have never squared this circle. Point to one year since Westbrook became the top guy around here, the Eagles have not spent a first day draft pick or were forced to proffer a semi-ridiculous free agent deal on a guy like Buckhalter or Levens to do nothing much good. It almost cost them Monday Night- when the current top back, forced to play a lot more than his capabilities wont, fumbled a bunch of times in clutch spots and brought zero on most of his other snaps. Do you know why Buckhalter is on this roster? Cause an oft-hurt, umpteenth second chance guy is all the team can afford with Westbrook’s giant contract hanging around. By the way, that is true of every team with a big dollar franchise back- but those teams don’t expect the guy to have to play constantly.

Second, the Eagles possession/slot passing game really declines when he is not in there. Guys like Baskett and Mahe need to contribute- and they can’t. I know Philadelphia loves to point to Greg Lewis and LJ Smith- and these guys belong in the League. But that is just it, right? Every decent TE and third wide out in the NFL can point to a few games each year where he has some big numbers and large contributions. These sort of nice games from these second teir offense-type guys aren’t unexpected in this League- and accordingly, those guys are not roster-pluses.

It is a tricky problem. But when you pay $20M+ to a guy who you know will miss a lot of games- and whose absence further hurts your passing attack, forces bad running backs to play a lot, forces you to spend numerous draft picks/free agent dollars to support his roster spot, etc.- it is a problem. Let's put it this way: if the Eagles don't make the play-offs, I bet it is because Westbrook didn't play twelve games- and that is not the sort of risk/reward ratio your $20M running back is supposed to provide.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Tulane has been away from the Dome for almost two years- and yet it was almost as if they had never left. The Dome is gorgeous, brand new- but Tulane still looked as if the clock had stopped circa 2002.

It wasn’t so much the game. It is just, well, when you go to a C-USA game, you know exactly what I mean. Everything was so C-USA. Example: walking along Canal Street pre-game, I saw a cluster of two dozen SMU cheerleaders, in full uniform, clutching a map trying to navigate themselves on foot the necessary 1.5 miles to the Dome. What happened when they got there? Just waved in? Did they need a ticket? It is so C-USA that they were expected to walk there unescorted. Hopefully they did not have to walk home, post-11PM, along Poydras.

Again, the game was a pretty simple one to decode. Their quarterback made plays the whole game- not just for a half. Tulane spotted them a 17 point lead through a rich tapestry of stupidity, poor play, curious coaching choices and endless selfish frustration penalties- which was too much to overcome considering neither team is all that much better, or different, than one another.

How about the absolute, unrelenting awfulness of that first half? What in heck was that mess? At halftime, nursing a stiff drink, I heard someone say this is “a joke”.

And it was a joke. How could you argue? It was absolutely soul-deadening. Shut out by SMU?- a team, like Tulane, with zero discernable talent on defense (other than that #11 coming off the end again and again and again). A fake punt on your six? Seriously, even if you get it, then what? What is the risk/reward on that decision? I mean, come on coach. You still needed another four, maybe five first downs, before one of our kickers can come on in and shank one.

The endless penalties that let SMU off the hook again and again. Selfish ones too- upperclassmen unable to discipline themselves to not hit guys late. The two best passes were thrown by kickers? The head coach’s nephew was playing quarterback? If I were Scott Elliot I would transfer tomorrow. Honestly.

And I was thinking, at the half, who would pay to see this? Who would find it entertaining? What student would take four/five hours out of his day and make the personal investment to see Tulane look and play so scared versus SMU? I am a proud Tulanian, I can handle losing- but worse, I was bored. I honestly couldn't wait for it to be over and to go to K-Paul's.

Fortunately I suppose, the second half was more to form- the pitch, catch and score bunches our beloved League’s horrible defensive secondaries and scattered special teams presents, each team alternating pretty great quarterbacking play with a subsequent brutal turnover from the position. Tulane figured out how to protect Ricard- keep up the pace, refuse to allow SMU liberal situational substitutions required to send wave after wave of guys at Ricard. It was almost enough- but down 17 points everything had to go right- and a Ricard fumble and a kick-off return was enough to do Tulane in.