Sunday, December 31, 2006

Regrets, I've Had A Few

Like Trotter, Ike now knows:

Ike Reese left Philadelphia two years ago, for money but not necessarily for love. While Atlanta has been a fine place to live, and the Falcons a fine organization for which to play, Reese wants to come back to Philly. To the fanatics. To the fun.

"It's still home to me in my heart," said Reese, who will step inside Lincoln Financial Field today for the first time as a visitor, and for the first time since playing for the Eagles team that beat the Falcons in the 2004 NFC title game.

Reese is a native of Cincinnati and a resident of Atlanta, but soon he will return to the Philadelphia area for good. During a telephone interview last week, Reese said he and his wife are looking for a house in the area. That makes this game a little strange for Reese. He's playing against friends and former teammates, against a coach he reveres, and in front of fans he adores.

"Even though I don't live there now, I still have a lot of friends there," Reese said. "To live in a historical sports town with rich tradition, especially with the Eagles and Sixers, I fell in love with that, and my wife loved the city. I've always said I want to make Philadelphia my hometown.

"Then I look at Coach Reid. I've always admired Coach Reid by the way he can look into the eye of adversity and not blink. He doesn't panic when adversity arises on the ball club. Players can see that and realize the captain of the ship is going in the same direction. So I haven't been all that surprised."

Ike Reese is coming back to Philadelphia today. Soon, he'll be back for good.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Befuddling Hall of Fame Coaches

What a joyous Christmas! Add Bill Parcells to Joe Gibbs- Hall of Fame coaches utterly befuddled by Jeff Garcia. The Eagles’ glorious win over the sorry Dallas Cowboys (see the Dallas Morning News Report Card left) puts them solidly in control of the NFC East. Gosh, it feels just like old times around here. NFC East teams come in, get their butt kicked, and go home wondering just how the Eagles got so much better than them. I’m so glad I never allowed pessimism to keep me from sending in my play-off ticket deposit. Yo! Section 204! I hope you did not make plans for the weekend of January 6th. Apparently, you’ll be needed at the Linc.

I recently got a note crediting me for “never losing faith”. Now, I’m not sure if that is true. First of all, I never thought Philadelphia would be in a position in to win NFC East. Pre-season, I predicted this was a nine-win team that, if lucky or some things went right, could make the wild card. Maybe I never lost faith in that; that Philadelphia was not terrible, that they could salvage a decent .500 plus campaign in this year of rebuilding from a disappointing 2005.

But here the Eagles are- a chance to put a darn fine season together, win a play-off game, win a couple. Some of the causation of said resurgence is pretty obvious: after swinging and missing badly at the back-up quarterback in 2005, they connected with Jeff Garcia, the NFC is not very good (perhaps not as bad as advertised though), and the NFC East came back more than a little (the Giants in particular).

Some people point to the “damn it, run the ball Andy” argument. As usual, I’m dubious. Clearly, Philadelphia is running the ball more. And, if my first argument for lots of passing is that every running play takes the ball out of Donovan McNabb’s, the best player, hands- then the important corollary is now every pass potentially takes the ball out of Brian Westbrook’s hands. But come on. The run-pass mix is exactly 50-50 over the past three games. Factor in Garcia’s dozen scrambles, a handful of kneel downs to run the clock out, and Garcia is leaving the huddle with a lot closer to 60% passes than 50% for the plays that count. The Eagles have moved the clock running the ball, shortened some games, squeezed some late minutes off the clock. And successful rushing does that. But the Eagles are also not scoring more points now than before.

I would actually use the recent success running the football to point out another reason for the Eagles’ recent success. The offensive line is so much better than last year. In the line’s interior, Jackson and Herremans might not be better than the guys they replaced- but they are younger- and probably consequently healthier. Add that to the miraculously healthy year the rest of the line has had- Runyan and Thomas were immobile or out most of last year, now they are playing darn well. Healthy tackles playing well, plus healthy interior playing competently, with a Pro-Bowl bound Andrews, means an offensive line improving as the guys across from them are being grinded down by the NFL season.

That extends to the defense too. When you introduce a plethora of first contract guys into your front seven, you trade experience for health. And the Eagles have a healthy front seven. The Eagles defensive tackles aren’t better now than they were in, say, week six. But they are healthy, they are out there playing, as the ravages of the NFL season deplete the guys across from them too. Or, for another example, Omar Gaither isn’t a good outside LB- but he’s fresh and healthy- and that moves him up a notch.

In fact, the Eagles are collecting the dividend of playing a lot of young guys last year. They moved a lot of banged up veterans who weren’t out there at 100%, or at all, for less established talent that actually get out there. The Eagles have entered December a lot fresher and healthier than the teams that elected to not play lots of young guys (again, see the Giants in particular). Other than Kearse and McNabb, two big subtractions, the Eagles are totally whole on both sides of the ball. And in December, a big part of who wins, who improves off October/November, is a function of who you can and can’t dress.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Despite his brief tenure here, Jim McMahon was one my favorite Eagles. This blurb in the PDN reminds us all why he defined leadership. Leadership by example:
To former Bears and Eagles quarterback Jim McMahon. McMahon recently established a Web site through a friend and got so many responses from soldiers who requested autographs that he has planned a trip to Iraq after Christmas. McMahon is arranging the trip with Stars for Stripes, a Nashville-based non-profit organization that arranges trips for celebrities to visit military personnel.

Said McMahon: "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have what we have. I wouldn't be able to be jobless for 10 years, just like I planned after I quit the NFL. I tell our kids they wouldn't have their cell phones and their trips to the mall. None of us would be sitting on our fat behinds on the coach every Sunday watching games. And what do our soldiers get in return? They hear us whine about the price of gas."
Lately, I feel as if I have little bolts of electricity going through my body- as I mentally for the war with Dallas Christmas Day. Obviously, Philadelphia holds two distinct advantages heading into this match-up: we have Jeff Garcia and Joe Gibbs isn’t coaching anything.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Now this from the New York Post about a Giant fan's pain, suffering and subsequent lashing out is mother’s milk to this Eagles’ fan:

The son of the legendary late Giants owner Wellington Mara tackled and choked a fellow broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange yesterday after the man mocked the team, sources said.

Veteran floor trader Bob Tomasulo, a 57-year-old grandfather, was assaulted and barraged with obscenities in front of stunned co-workers after kidding with Stephen Mara about the Giants' embarrassing 36-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, witnesses and Tomasulo told The Post.
Hey tough guy- why don’t you come over to the Linc and try and beat up an old man? For one thing, you might mess up and find out you are tangling with Rocky- a long time season ticket holder in Section 210.

I also like the fact the NY Post calls the loss what it is: embarrassing!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dallas! Come On Down!

How happy am I? This happy!

Dallas Cowboys! Come on down, you’re the next contestant on “Divisional Rivals: Try to Beat the Eagles in Your Building”. So far contestants: not so good boys, frankly not so good.

Here in New York, the true value of the Eagles 36-22 win wasn’t driven home until I climbed aboard the “6” subway last night. On the train were scattered Giants’ fans on their way home from the Meadowlands. How crushed, how downcast they looked. They would pick up their heads slowly, as if to say something to their companions to ease the disappointment, and again and again seemingly just think better of it and say nothing. What was there to say? Brian Dawkins, Jeff Garcia and Andy Reid took their souls.

I am not going to go too crazy over this win concerning a .500 New York team- that can wait until next week!- other than whipping divisional rivals in front of their dumbfounded partisans really never gets old. But a victory over a .500 team on the road is evidence, real concrete evidence, the Eagles are in fact, well, better than .500. Better than .500 smells like play-offs people!

Now, “Frank Helps You Think It All Out” tries to stay away from the obvious: the heroic Dawkins (ed. - for your consideration people, Brain Dawkins for the Pro-Football Hall of Fame?), the resurrected Garcia, etc. So how about that offensive line? An aging, broken down mess last season, the line has been the most consistent unit on this team.

Sure, they caught a break in that everyone is healthy- particularly the veteran tackles. But give Reid some credit. Good health also happens when you plug three guys, all on their first contracts into the lines’ interior, guys who you groomed in fine fashion obviously together for two-three years in back-up and increasingly starter roles. Five healthy offensive linemen, competent (and Andrews is going to the Pro-Bowl) who have played together for three years now at a minimum, is a reconstruction job.

And hey, the coaches have picked up their game, no? I never thought Reid and the boys weren’t running it enough- they had a top five offense prior to McNabb’s injury- and candidly they still are scoring plenty of points when they play well. But Marty has brought some freshness to their approach- and the New York Daily News pointed to some “tendencies” the Eagles broke yesterday.

Mind you, it helps that the Giants are a true catastrophe in the defensive secondary- almost helpless against the pass if they aren’t getting that big rush off the ends. Living in New York, you read snippets in various publications about the Giants defensive backfield woes- but until you see it for yourself... It is a numbers problems. New York lacks enough defensive backs to cover even two wide-outs consistently- so the Eagles just kept running multiple extra wide outs out there- and letting Garcia just find the guy the Giants couldn’t cover.

The funny thing is that the Eagles didn’t improve their wild card position per se. They came in to the game having to beat the Falcons in their last game to get a wild card- and exited it probably still having to do so. But they did improve their chance for a division title- as this game Christmas Dallas is suddenly huge. A home play-off game with Jeff Garcia! Heck, why not, I got no plans that weekend.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Most Excellent Christmas Thought

At Our Lady of the Scapular, they have one of those trees were you select a sort of tag off it- and you get a "needy urchin" along with a gift suggestion under $15. Now, I always take the blue tags- as the pink ones invariably mean a trip to "American Girl Place".

Okay, so I'm in the sporting goods store this morning- as the tag read "soccer ball". I follow the rules; I pick this ball for $14.99. Then at the last minute, I think "to heck with that"- and I go back and get the nice, expensive one with "official" and "World Cup" on it.

You know why? I'm not saying the kid who gets this ball is going to grow into the elite striker who, one bright afternoon a decade from now, rifles a rocket in a World Cup Final past some hapless keeper from Gelsenkirchen named "Helmut" or "Juergen".

But you never know.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hello Bob!

Bob Toledo has been named head coach of our Tulane Green Wave. On this sanguine day, the Times-Picayune still took pains to slur the program in its lead sentence. Of course, Fred Robinson has seen the Green Wave 2007 quarterback situation up close- so I imagine he has good reason to temper the aforementioned optimism. Here, Fred further details the new coach:
Toledo, 60, was serving as New Mexico's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, but his most notable coaching stop was at UCLA, where he spent eight seasons, six as the Bruins' head coach. During that six-year span, UCLA won two Pacific-10 Conference titles and had a 20-game winning streak over two seasons.
I’m pretty okay with this choice. Barring a miracle, Tulane was not going to do any better paper credential wise; I mean, two Pac-10 Championships suggests he knows more than just where the players ought to stand. And after the utter poverty of the original list- which I railed on here- Bob is a not insignificant step up in class.

Of course, the problems at Tulane extend far past "coach". But it isn’t the week to rehash that chestnut. Simply, I think Bob I a credible choice cause:

1. At the very least, he has I-A credentials past coaching up the DBs. Seriously, that original list was simply not serious.

2. Part of me likes a guy getting his second bite of the apple. I would think very few life experiences don't improve given a do-over.

3. I know zero about the guy- but he must have done something right somewhere to get the UCLA job in the first place. Rumor is he was a strong recruiter- which is one of the problems past “actual coaching” Tulane has.

This feels like a better hire that most of the other candidate ran up the flagpole. And Bob is family now!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Win Out- And We Get a Home Play-Off Game!

**** Bob Toledo, formerly of UCLA (head coach) and New Mexico (offensive coordinator), named Tulane head coach. ****

Today's Profound Thought: How on earth can the Eagles and Andy Reid be a game out of the NFC East lead- holding the tie-breaker over the Cowboys?

The AP says:
The Philadelphia Eagles were outgained, outmuscled and nearly blew an 18-point lead.

They were able to win- and keep pace in the playoff race- because the Washington Redskins also led in two other vital categories: turnovers and bonehead plays.
Well, that is just it, right? Since Joe Gibbs arrived in Washington, a heckuva a lot of teams have implicitly acknowledged that it is always a safe plan to stay in a shell and sort let the ‘skins self-destruct via endless penalties (a 4th quarter!! too many men in the huddle?), brutal turnovers and a defense that for a generation now simply can’t get off the field in a big spot in the fourth quarter. Ever.

So, I concur this game was more about Washington simply being bad, poorly coached and absurd. But you know, for two games in a row the Eagles beat a team that they probably could have lost to. They fought, never hung their heads, and didn’t turn it over- forcing Washington to do positive things, make good football plays to win- and that categorically is not the Redskins. Philadephia got big plays from Michael Lewis and Omar Gaither- who at fresh and kinda mediocre is still a huge upgrade over Matt McCoy. And let’s hear it for Jeff Garcia. He’s not turning it over- making many plays. After missing badly last year with that Mike McMahon guy, Reid has conncected with The Gay Blade.

And yo people! Let's take this trash down!

What else? As usual, the Redskins ran the ball too much- another gaudy day on the ground- with no touchdowns to show for it (the one TD was a drive almost entirely via the pass). The Eagles can’t stop anyone- and the game plan is too shorten the game? cost your offense possessions? take the ball repeatedly out of the hands of the one guy (Campbell) who just might get lucky and make a 40 yard play? It was just nonsensical- but coaching, particularly “offensive coaching”, is not exactly a Washington strength right now.

The PDN ran this chart today- along with the fact the Reid has won eighteen games (ed. that is a lot!) when opponents have rushed for 100 yards:
Date RB Att.-Yds-TD's Result
11-10-2003 Ahman Green 29-192-1 Eagles 17, Packers 14
11-23-2003 Deuce McAllister 19-184-2 Eagles 33, Saints 20
12-10-2006 Ladell Betts 33-171-0 Eagles 21, Redskins 19
1-11-2004 Ahman Green 25-156-0 Eagles 20, Packers 17
11-12-2000 Jerome Bettis 30-134-1 Eagles 26, Steelers 23
11-5-2000 Emmitt Smith 26-134-1 Eagles 16, Cowboys 13
Draw your own conclusions about that- but one more point about rushing the football. The Eagles did perform one absolute positive act- crisply running the last 4:58 off the clock. You might have noticed they did it throwing the football.

Several defenders said they expected Eagles running back Brian Westbrook to pound the ball on the final possession. Instead, Philadelphia came out throwing. Jeff Garcia threw short to Brown, and after a Westbrook run, Garcia found fullback Thomas Tapeh for a first down.

"We were playing nine- and 10-man fronts, and give Coach [Andy] Reid some very, very good kudos, they did a very good job on their approach," Williams said. "Garcia got it out of his hands very, very fast, which was good on his part, because if he'd delayed it a little bit longer we probably would have been able to close the cushion enough to prevent that play."
Ever since the ball was kicked to begin the Indianapolis game, the Eagles have steadfastly improved their play-off position. They’re back from “no way” to “50-50”. The Giants (or Cowboys) probably will get the first spot. But Philadelphia now holds a two-game lead over Carolina- due to the head-to-head tie-breaker.

Someone is getting in at 8-8- and its probably the winner of Atlanta–Philly. Attention NFL: Do the right thing- and flex this last game to 8:30PM New Year’s Eve. Bring your gloves and helmet Mr. Vick!

Friday, December 08, 2006

April, West and Harbaugh- Oh My!

Sigh: Bobby April, Ron West and Jim Harbaugh.

I wonder: Readers, do you think the people wanting Chris Scelfo canned had those sort of guys in mind when they dreamed of his replacement? Some college position coaches and a guy from Division II or something? Excuse me, I meant mid-major Division I-AA.
I will cheerily admit I was wrong about one thing. With only 117 I-A jobs in the whole country, I thought someone with "real" I-A credentials would make this consideration list: a BCS league coordinator, a former head coach looking to rehab.

I was wrong about that. Pre-firing, if you told people the list would be anonymous position coaches we never heard of, I wonder what they'd have said. Forget A-list, this isn't even a B-list.

While I would not have done it, I was pretty okay with firing Scelfo. But not to replace him with a guy who can't get an offensive/defensive coordinator job at an ACC school. Can't Tulane get at least consider one guy who has a proven ability to coach something bigger than just linebackers at the I-A level?

The problem with a guy like, say, Harbaugh is not that he can't coach. It is that with his resume he gets no slack- things have to improve right away- or people will be all over him. If they could find a guy with a rep, he has the veracity and rectitude to survive a misstep or two. Patience won't be easy with Harbaugh. He hasn't earned it at the I-A level.

The insinuation that you could get a solid I-A man in here, instead of Chris Scelfo, was a key part of many arguments to remove the guy. That prop is completely gone from that argument. And I don't think you are being honest if the confidence in an opinion of "Scelfo must go" isn't a little jaded by the probables list.

If they hire one of those three- or someone with similar credentials- I'll be the first to say that decision was an official error. There would be no upside except utter complete vague hope- and you had that already with Scelfo (or any coach frankly).

Maybe that guy- the credible I-A coaching candidate- ain't available to Tulane. Increasingly that appears to be the case.

So yes, I'm starting to think this was a mistake. I don't know how you can look at the list of candidates and not be nervous. "Hope" honestly is every single candidates’ chief attribute- and that worries me. It isn't a mistake yet- but it feels real close.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Garcia! The Gay Blade!

In a remarkable display of guts and staminia, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Carolina Panthers 27-24 in a game of football. No doubt, it was sweet! And I drank it down like nectar. Sure, the Eagles were very lucky. But it has been a hard road this year in Philadelphia- and so just maybe the team and the faithful were owed one for the earlier debacles.

It was hard to exit the Linc thinking Philadelphia was better than Carolina. But Philadelphia played a heady game. Jeff Garcia kept firing, the defense plugged away the best they could. It sort of reminded me of last year's San Diego game- where the outmanned Eagles refused to turn the ball over, kept trying- and forced San Diego to execute again and again. Same thing here- the Eagles forced Carolina to keep scoring, keep making kicks, keep getting their defense off the field, etc. again and again- until Delhomme snapped on the very last important play.

Now, this season has provided moments of reason for all members of the Eagles’ community: the Eagles are great (first five games), the Eagles are terrible (lately) and for the Eagles are .500 (me!). Clearly, the latter is in the ascendancy again.

Coming off a disaster in 2005, we can now put to rest any doubt that the Eagles are improved this year. Of course, there is much to be done. The defense has issues at like seven positions. Trotter is only an elite player in stretches, as far as I can see Dhani Jones is the worst linebacker playing regularly in the NFL (yet again defensive coaches!), and having to plug a rookie, a second day draft pick in Week 13 is not exactly a sign of strength.

The DT rotation is problematic. Strong safety is a question mark- but while Lewis is gone, I sense they’ll leave Sean Considine out there. The corners and Dawkins are good- they'll survive with Consodine’s learning curve and accept gratefully the cheap salary requirement. Two of the four young linemen, McDougle and Bunkley, are the biggest disappointment on the team. Philadelphia could use a pass rushing specialist on the edge in the worst way. Its funny- but they kinda miss ND Kalu; he was a pretty effective pass rusher, when asked only to do that for 25 snaps.

But you know, the offense is pretty good. Sure, they need the quarterback healthy, but add a guard (Herremans should be on the roster as a prime back-up- but he hurts playing every snap, every week), another competent running back option- and this is a play-off unit. The skill positions and offensive line are much, much better this season.

Bottom line: Carolina played pretty well last night. This was not a game the 2005 Eagles would have even been in. The difference between eight wins and eleven wins next year will be winning games like this, stealing a pair of games you don't deserve.

So where are we now? Well, the Eagles were alive. Yes, mainly because the standard for competence has been marked down by the Panthers and Giants lately. And, as I wrote last week that the Eagles sort of perversely picked up ground simply by getting the Indianapolis game behind them. They lost badly, but everyone else did lost too, so that one game hole never materialized.

There are four teams at 6-6. Two will make the play-offs. All have tricky schedules- perhaps the measure of a .500 team is that every game you play is tricky. But that is a fair assessment- four to make two- so I’ll call it 50-50. Not great, but better than when McNabb went down. They are tied for the Wild Card lead now; they weren’t when #5 went down. Maybe even better- because they’re still trying, the Giants, Falcons and Panthers are declining every week, and the Eagles have the Redskins on tap.

Now, I don't know anyone carrying the ‘skins as a lay-up. (ed. Would the Redskins have made the play-offs with Garcia playing quarterback? Or Feeley?) Clearly, if the Eagles play well- they win by more than a score. But they don't do that too often. Short week. Road division game. Back-up quarterback. I suppose the Eagles are better and have more motivation- and the things that win close division games: making kicks, punting and kicking off, turnovers, penalites- the Eagles have a distinct advantage.

Sometimes you forget what four win bad looks like until the Redskins show up. Gosh, Washington is having a nice week- even by their standards. The kicking follies- how can you dress two kickers and announce one of them ain't playing? I guess Gibbs can provide reasons- but to normal people, it is just stupid. And Lloyd (ed. 6 yrs- $30 M, $10M guaranteed! Nice.) appears to be on his way to being de-activated rather than dealt with. I don’t understand how they can afford to antagonize him- cause I can’t see how you afford to cut him.