Monday, January 29, 2007

You Can't Improve and Finish Last

I’ve never understood the column Sam Donnellon’s writes today:
You've heard of do-or-die? Well, for the Sixers the next 3 weeks are more like do-and-die. Friday is Groundhog Day, which rather appropriately begins a seven-game homestand that has every Greg Oden-lusting-fan on edge.

There's no way around it. The Sixers are playing better basketball now than at any point since that 3-0 start this season. They have won four of their last six to slice their pingpong percentages by more than half, and it might have been even worse had they not blown that 17-point lead to the LeBron-less Cavs the other night.

They are now just eight games behind leader Toronto in the pitiful Atlantic Division. And that leads to this unnerving thought: Which is more likely to happen in the coming weeks - the Sixers challenge for the Atlantic lead and, egads, a playoff spot, or the Sixers outlose the likes of Memphis, Boston, Charlotte to secure the best chance at that No. 1 draft pick?

Not since fans were compelled to throw snowballs at Santa has success felt more like failure.
Okay, yeah, it is cheeky and subversive to root for your team to lose. You get to look like a knowledgable fan. But I categorically don’t believe it. Sam continues:
Or are you dying with every win, with every baby step Samuel Dalembert makes, with every big-point game Andre Iguodala records, with every three-pointer Kyle Korver so effortlessly drains? Imagine Oden and Dalembert together next year, with Iguodala and Korver? And yet each time one of the current Sixers does something of promise, the chance of that becomes less.
Well, isn’t that just it? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have both Dalembert continue to improve, Iguodala evolving into a true 18-point scorer and plus defender and Korver into an instant offense perimeter player- and the team still stink. The choice is either losing six draft positions and finding out those three guys on the roster can play with Miller and be decent- or getting some more ping pong balls by going 5-25 and finding out that this mix catagroically can’t. The choice Donnellon wants- the guys step up but still go twenty games under .500 isn't possible- particularly in the Atlantic Division, with so many home games.

I’d much rather the Sixers be one/two guys a way from a sort of relevance, with a decent collection of young players and three first round draft picks- than be a disaster without any short term hope like the Flyers.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.

Lots of troublesome Tulane news in the papers lately. I mean, it isn’t bad news, or good news- it is just news that is so Tulane. For example, this is from the Times-Picayune yesterday- just the kinda recruit the yogwf loves:
Nierman started and lettered for four years at Curtis. He visited Dartmouth and Louisiana-Monroe, and he had interest from Memphis, VMI and Southern Illinois. He could play offensive guard or center.
Now Nierman clearly has made a positive life choice- attending Tulane. And this would all be great if, in fact, Tulane played Dartmouth and VMI. But we don’t. I have long advocated in this space a thesis that in the absence of all other information (which totally describes me concerning these recruits) a decent barometer of ability is what other sort of program is interested.

And here are two more for that collection. Again, I have zero clue if they can play- so I have no opinion on that- but it appears ONLY Tulane in all of I-A thinks they can. And that worries me.

Sigh, the wideout had 19 receptions. Nice. Lester is getting out at the right time. I guess one way to fill a recruiting class for sure is “offer” kids who don't have visits (i.e interest from) lined up anywhere else.

I don’t know Peter Berg- but I sort of agree with his feeling on Tulane’s exciting decision to play Division I in, wait for it, women’s bowling. Let her rip Peter:

Oh yeah women's bowling-there's asnoozefest if there ever was one. Can't wait for the big bowloff against Fairleigh Ridiculous U. Title IX was supposed to bring equity but instead it has decimated all non-revenue producing men's sports and given us women's bowling scholarships.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Soon Donovan Will Be Back

I tend to think there is some truth to this- which, of course, as an Eagles’ fan fills me with great joy.

Rich Hoffman’s point about “consistency” is a good one. The Eagles have placed a premium on consistency- frequently choosing to take their cap chances via duration risk via long term contracts to solid young players rather than bringing in pricy, yet talented, free agents. This approach has not been validated in Super Bowl victories- but it has been enough to put them far ahead of the NFC East at the very least.

Last year, my post-season treatise went on for pages- particularly concerning the offense. I identified multiple fixes: the offensive line, the running back mix, quarterback, and #1 wide out. Clearly, they fixed the line. They found one, maybe two, back-up quarterbacks who could play, the running back mix is still a concern and the wide-out situation, wile pretty good this year, still smells of a short term solution. But all in all, there was great progress here in 2006- and most issues this year will be addressed with an eye toward maintaining that consistency in approach.

But we’re addressing offense today on “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”. The offensive line reconstruction was a total success- particularly in the interior- where the guys the Eagles were grooming all turned out to be players. Shawn Andrews will be going to a thousand Pro-Bowls, Jamaal Jackson arguably could have gone too and Todd Herremans is giving solid play at a cheap cap number while being groomed to move outside to right tackle. It was a little bit of miracle that the current veteran tackles made it through the season injury free for once- but the Eagles are grooming their replacements from the Winston Justice, Herremans and Andrews trifecta. Their problems here are the ones from a position of strength- a.k.a. do you want still to move Andrews outside to LT (his original destiny), give up a perennial all-Pro Guard for some sort of no doubt very competent tackle?

The position(s) really needing addressing is the aforementioned running back mix. Westbrook is a great player- but his relative fragility, the fact that he simply cannot handle the 25 carries week after week a feature back demands, and his big cap number means the Eagles still need a cheap player to actually contribute weekly on a dozen or so touches in the secondary role here. The only way you get cheap guys who contribute is through the draft. I guess Moats is a bust- but it isn’t like we ever see him play. Buckhalter is simply not too good and way too hurt and there are no other serious options on the roster.

Other decisions are free agent ones- which are sort of out of Banner’s hands. If someone dumps ridiculous contracts with good roles in front of Stallworth or Garcia- what can you do? Despite his brave play, I don’t think the Eagles sweat a Garcia departure all that much. AJ Feeley enjoys the complete and utter confidence of the Reid regime.

Donte Stallworth is more problematic. He’s not a great number one, he gets hurt, doesn’t play hurt and has more than a little clubhouse lawyer in him- but he and Brown gave the team a plus combo for once outside. While the Eagles always have trouble at this position- Donte goes against a lot of what they believe organizationally- in particular, paying up for a guy who isn’t a competent, relatively low cost pro. To be honest, if they re-sign one free agent, I tend to think it’ll be Stallworth- just because I think they can replace Garcia with a guy on the roster already.

It is hard to cut a punter who is not a minus- but Dirk Johnson is certainly not a plus either. The Eagles are trying to strike it lucky with a veteran Aussie rules player. I dunno; I can see “practice squad” and “NFL Europe” or something other than “active roster” written all over that guy even if it works out. And I’ve seen enough of Mahe as a punt returner- open audition please.

So it merely tweaks here- as behooves the top offense in the NFC, one guided by the back-up quarterback. The defense is the more radical overhaul- filled with guys to cut. Dhani Jones, I’m talkin’ to you!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ask Mr. B!

Starting today, I am starting a new feature- an opportunity to ask the wise Mr. B (the sage plush toy pictured just right) any question concerning the future. Today's question: will the heroic Jeff Garcia return to Philadelphia?

Mr. B answers: Look, it is not that I don’t love the heroic Jeff Garcia. He was great fun, played very well in the regular season, pretty good in the play-offs. He won. His weepy press conference where he declared his love for Philadelphia was great, great stuff.

But, you know what? This rabbit can’t square the circle on his return- and consequently, I don’t think he’s coming back.

I know the popular view in the hutch is that Garcia learned his lesson from the dreadful Detroit and Cleveland situations- that he isn’t the kind of quarterback who can elevate a mess. And that the Eagles learned their lesson with McMahon about trying to get back-up quarterbacks on the cheap. Okay, fine. But Garcia also proved, infinitely more importantly I might add, that he can play! I mean, someone other than Andy Reid and this Buck had to notice that, right?

And this nonsense about “going to a good team”? Please. Right now, how many teams in the NFL- if given as fact that with Garcia their quarterback position is now a plus situation- can’t concoct a rational story that they can now make the play-offs? It only takes one match, one semi-decent team with a story about being a quality quarterback away, a starting job and a checkbook doubling the Eagles’ back-up offer- and he is probably gone.

Plus, everyone kinda dismissed the Eagles’ final game as playing out the string- and drew no conclusions. But AJ Feeley sure looked like he knew what he was doing out there. Again.

You can’t argue certain facts. He seems to manage the distribution job back there. He clearly enjoys Reid’s confidence. He, even better, possesses one of the Eagles favorite traits in a veteran player- a cap friendly contract. AJ has now started more than a half-dozen games as a back-up in Philly- and he’s lost only one. He isn’t great- but he’s competent, fits the system, and he’s damn ready to go every time they point to him. I guarantee you, the Eagles think Feeley is a capable NFL back-up. So they aren’t going to kill themselves, overpay, trying to keep Garcia here.

This might change if Donovan progresses slowly- and is not ready to play this September. The Eagles then need a starting quarterback- and Garcia is clearly the guy they’d want. But I put Garcia’s return to Philadelphia as less than 50%- and almost solely dependent on what other teams do and offer.

Now I want a carrot.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

When Does Training Camp Start?

Well, that was disappointing. Pick the correct winning team twice in a row- and still get beat by not covering? Oh- and the Eagles lost the game too. Don’t be sad Philadelphia! Think of the good things! Maybe Reno Mahe has returned his last kick, even played his last game here. Dhani Jones too. Almost for sure! Hopefully Sean Considine is done as a regular too. If you are a strong safety looking for work, no matter how bad you are against the pass, be sure to send your resume to Andy Reid. Unless you’re Michael Lewis of course.

Well, what can you do? After this weekend, only four teams will still be playing- and, with this defense, the Eagles are categorically not one of the four best teams in the League. I’m not exactly sure the Saints are an elite outfit either- but they’ve beaten the Eagles twice now, so they’re better than Philadelphia. Sure, I’d have liked to have a gotten one of those two shots in our building- but that is not the League.

As all one score losses are, this one is frustrating. But the Eagles have played a lot of close, desperate games over the past seven weeks, one was due to go against them. At least they got beat, as opposed to losing. Philadelphia did all the things they could do. Trying to get the 30 points needed to win the game, they removed the “run-first” shackles from the offense and were rewarded with 400 yards of offense, several huge plays, and three touchdowns. They committed no turnovers, made their kicks. They played smart, hung around- turned the game into “who makes a bad mistake in the fourth quarter first?” affair- a game where they had a 50-50 chance. The Saints finally gave them that mistake with three minutes to go. Unfortunately, the Eagles had four snaps, didn’t really run a good football play in any of them, took a penalty, had to punt. Play too many 50-50 games, and I suppose eventually one will go against you.

I’ll fix the team next week some time- but obviously, unlike last year, this season leaves a good residual feeling. They overachieved a little. They certainly fought. They won the division and a play-off game. It feels a little like the 2001 NFC Championship game. The Eagles went to St. Louis a decided underdog, scrapped like crazy, blooded the young guys in a real big environment, let them get real close- close enough to taste it.

Clearly, 2007 was about re-confirming the team was going in the right direction again after that huge post-Super Bowl set-back. The Eagles introduced what, ten new starters? I was hoping for, predicting something around .500, maybe slip into the play-offs with a break or two.

Sure, there was some karma here. Jeff Garcia was a stroke of big luck (ed note- and Donovan getting hurt is what sort of karma exactly?); I shudder to think if this had been the year we found out about Mike McMahon’s response to the elephant. The offensive line had no right to expect the two offensive tackles would have such solid, healthy years.

But the foundation to play-off success is getting that first round bye, and that edifice is built on ruling your division like a god. To me, that is the singular most encouraging thing about the season- that Daddy is back atop NFC East. If you want to be churlish today, you can subtract style points from parts of the Eagles’ season and indubitably, last night. But this series of facts is exciting and chock full of said style points: 6-1 in the division, six straight division wins over bitter rivals, sweep the hated Cowboys, sweep the fink Redskins, sweep a December slate of three straight division road games in front of dumbfounded crowds left seething with resentment- plus get and win a home play-off game in the division.

All play-off losses are brutal. Hey, I’m still up at 4AM. But now, it is over. The Eagles weren’t going to win the Super Bowl in 2007, the Saints are real easy to root for and things feel good around here for a good run in 2008.

The end of 2005 was about getting young again- which they did. This campaign was about getting good again- which they did. Next year will be about bombing division opponents, winning multiple playoff games and wreaking havoc for sixty minutes- just like old times. And just like 2004, the Eagles will be the next Vegas favorite to win the NFC Championship.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Let's Take This Show On The Road

My real good roll picking the Eagles ATS in the play-offs came to an end last week. I had the Eagles winning the game, but the Giants managed a backdoor cover- which I suppose evens me up for the Eagles similar cover against New England two years back.

This just feels like a hard game for the Eagles to win. At a gut level, Saints -5 seems a little cheap.

Now, of course, neither outfit is a juggernaut. Simply, to me, the Eagles are a “pretty good” team playing particularly well- and the Saints are an “actual good” team playing well too. That is a pretty bare difference, but all intangibles go New Orleans’ way. Home game. This is the fourth game out of the last six where the Eagles have had either an “official” short week, play a team with a bye, or play a team with an extra day off- plus their fourth road effort. This particular short week comes after a tough divisional play-off game- and features a Saints team coming off a bye. That is a grueling stretch- and that short week angle is a big one in the NFL.

Give the Eagles a week off, play at a neutral site, and this is a toss up, Saints -2, something like that. But really, the Saints have zero excuses here. They should win.

Candidly, this game is all about New Orleans- if they play well, the Eagles probably can’t score enough points to stay close enough to steal it. But that is just it, right?

For all their faults, since Reid has arrived the Eagles are almost always a damn professional outfit that plays the right way. They are going to do their things. Philly will show up. They should run the ball against a pretty soft front seven. They won’t turn it over. They’ll cover kicks, make kicks. They won’t commit a zillion penalties. In the NFL, if you don’t beat yourself, don’t turn it over, you are normally in it- even on the road against a better team. Heck, see the Giants last week. The Saints cannot come out and, like the Eagles did last week, screw around for two quarters- or they’ll be facing a one score, who makes a mistake first, sort of fourth quarter. And I like the Eagles in that mini-game a lot more than a whole football game.

But removing Lito Sheppard from the line-up really hurts. The Eagles don’t stop the run and can’t rush the passer consistently, but sort of compensate for that by being very good in the defensive secondary: a Hall of Fame safety, all-pro corner, a competent second corner, outstanding nickel back. Now they are at best okay at corner, suspect at nickel, and Sean Considine is an ongoing near disaster. Worse, the Saints, while on offense, are designed to hurt he Eagles: they can run it, the Eagles probably can’t stop them, Brees is a top notch distributor to skill people out on the perimeter and the Philadelphia outside LBs and strong safety can’t cover anyone. Get you helmet Michael Lewis and report to the 1st down nickel. The Saints could score 4 TDs, 30+ points- that is a lot of points for Philly to match on the road.

The Eagles have a chance, but it is a passive one. The Saints have to make some mistakes with the ball and on special teams. Again, since the Saints are a better football team with a lot of intangibles moving their way- it would behoove the Eagles to try and turn this into something more than a contest involving football plays. It really wouldn’t hurt to see them stick Brees a little late, that sort of thing. Make it hard game for New Orleans to play, see how bad they want it.

But if the Saints play well and smart, they win- probably by more than a score. I’ll take New Orleans as the official pick and give the points.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Final BlogPoll is out- you can find it here. The folks over there do a good job with this- so give'em a look. My ballot is below:

1Florida 1
2LSU 2
3Ohio State 2
4Boise State 5
5Southern Cal--
6Auburn 5
7Wisconsin 1
8Louisville 8
9Michigan 6
11West Virginia 6
12Arkansas 4
13Texas 1
14Notre Dame 7
15Brigham Young 3
16Rutgers 4
17Virginia Tech 4
18California 5
19Wake Forest 4
20Georgia 5
21Tennessee 9
22Boston College 1
23TCU 3
24Oregon State 2
25Central Michigan 1

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#19), Georgia Tech (#22), Houston (#24).

My first ballot is here. Correct guesses: Florida in the Top 5 and the all powerful SEC. Errors: Michigan, Boise and Louisville. I guess. I am still not sure any of those three teams would win six SEC games.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Go Bobby! Go!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Bobby Hamilton. I think most NASCAR fans have a favorite driver- say, the great Tony Stewart- but we always semi-root for the nice guys of the sport, or as McClure says of Bobby: a racer’s racer.

Bobby only won four races in the big show. I was at the last: Talladega in 1991, right after the crash that killed Earnhardt at Daytona. It was the first superspeedway event for the Cup series after the accident- and amid the hype and worry Bobby got up and got it done. I’m sure the only two people among the 160,000 present wearing “Square D” colors were in our section. There weren’t two happier guys in Alabama that afternoon- as they received their congratulations from the exiting fans.

For a racer, there is a victory in not laying your life down in the car- but at 49, well, I liked Bobby and NASCAR will miss him.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Style Points = 0

Honestly, there is no assigning of style points for play-off wins, particularly in professional football. No one in Section 204 was disappointed as they filed out the exits. I too am glad to be alive another day.

Sigh... sometimes you forget the Eagles are doing this all with the back-up quarterback. And the drawbacks of this approach- run the ball, don’t make mistakes at the quarterback position- were on display last night at the Linc.

I mean, the Eagles ran the ball great, right? Got a bunch of yards, stayed committed to it, got a big, dazzling run from it. Really couldn’t have had a better day running the ball.

And it got them, what, two touchdowns? One was a stupendous run from Brian Westbrook- which at a shade over 50 yards, was the biggest post-season run in Eagles’ history- because you see, it is oh so very hard to generate big plays in your running game in pro ball. The other score came in the hurry-up drill before the end of the half, featuring a near thirty yard strike from Garcia- a TD drive categorically about the pass.

Tell you what: do you think if the Eagles had a great day passing the ball, including the longest pass play in their play-off history, they’d have been stuck on two touchdowns? But that is what a commitment to rushing the football does for you in the NFL- rewards excellent execution for 25-30 snaps with a one touchdown afternoon.

Obviously, the Eagles were unfortunate enough to sort of run into a Giants team that played its best football of the season the first fifteen minutes- scoring early, forcing the Eagles to start their first three drives inside their 20 yard line. With such poor field position, the Giants were able to sort of get after Garcia with some extra rushers, disrupted the early passing game, took away Garcia's ability to hang in the pocket to throw deeper routes- and the Eagles never got the confidence, the mojo, to try to throw the ball downfield again.

I think that was a mistake- as it sentenced the team to play a game in the teens, low 20s- and Philadelphia’s defense is not the sort of unit that is going to play an entire football game allowing only two TDs. Further, it was not so much Garcia had an indifferent game- but more they never gave Jeff a chance to have a good one. Garcia is not an all-pro quarterback- he needs help- a chance to throw in favorable down and distance situations, particularly first down- to get to semi-gaudy passing numbers. Certainly the consistent "run first" approach allowed the Giants to hang around- and that, coupled with only one takeaway and a good day by Barber, made it a sixty minute affair.

Of course, the Giants also ran the ball too much- more through necessity perhaps- thus also condemning themselves to a day where they would have to work oh so very hard to get the two requisite scores to be in the game.

People are already saying the Eagles have to run the ball to beat the Saints. But you know what, they better take some time, particularly on first down (the big play down) to chuck it around some. The quarterback is not a turnover machine, they need to score the ball- and in this League, to score the ball, you gotta throw it often. The defense is not holding the Saints to 20 like the Giants- and scoring four touchdowns is hard to do without 280+ yards passing.

Friday, January 05, 2007

This Kid Has Had Too Much Jim Beam

I like to think of my fellow season ticket holders today going through their mental checklist for Sunday: new “NFC East Division Champions” ball cap (check!), foot warmers (check!), enough Jim Beam to kill a moderately sized horse (check!).

I am on a real lucky or hot roll picking the Eagles against the spread in play-off games- eight out of nine (some examples from 2004: Minnesota, Atlanta, New England). The New York Post gives us the Eagles -7 over the Giants. That seems big, particularly for a division game- but early round play-off games usually have bigger than normal numbers attached.

I admit it; I hold the not exactly unique view that the Giants really stink. Last week, New York played about as well as they can play, spotted themselves an enormous lead- and it still was a life and death struggle against an absolutely horrid, on defense anyway, Redskins’ outfit. They’ve won two of their last eight- and honestly, over the second half of the season the Giants really are closer to a six-win team than a break even sort of club.

I don’t know what exactly New York can expect to do positive Sunday? They probably can’t stop the run, rush the passer or cover Philadelphia’s sufficing collection of wideouts. On offense, their quarterback is in a terrible slump, the wide out corps diminished and Shockey is obviously hurt. Barber should rush for 100+ yards, certainly he’ll be given every chance by Kevin Gilbride- but you know I just don’t believe that 28-for-113 on the ground translates into touchdowns and points in the pro game unless you can throw the ball as a result.

Philadelphia is not a great team- but they are a satisfactory outfit playing darn well, to potential. If I were the Giants I’d almost rather play a good team playing a little loose than the Eagles. Frankly, the Giants need help. They aren’t going to beat, on the road, anybody- good, bad or indifferent- without said help. I can’t see the Eagles helping them- committing a thousand penalties, turning it over three times- playing sharp as they are now.

But I can see the Giants doing that: penalties and turnovers, added to general badness. I suppose they have a puncher’s chance- it is Eagles-Giants after all. Coming into the game, I was nervous that the Eagles’ recent schedule- three straight division road games, two short weeks- might catch up with them. But a de facto bye week had to help there.

I can’t imagine the Giants, upon falling behind, can play well enough to keep it close (eliminating a back door cover). Manning can’t throw the ball effectively in order to play form behind- and it isn’t exactly a team that will rally around Coughlin.

Bottom line: the Eagles would have to play pretty badly and stupid for this to be a game going in to the fourth quarter. They are better, fresher, even, more disciplined, probably more engaged. I imagine they breeze here- so I’ll give seven, take Philadelphia- and see you in New Orleans next Sunday night.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Cinderella Eagles!

Now people, this is what I am talking about. The "Cinderella Eagles"- America's Team!

Back on top, back on the cover, back to kicking the NFC East around.

I mean, you didn't expect to see Mark Brunell on there?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Daddy is Back!

Just like old times!