Monday, November 26, 2007

Whither AJ

Under Andy Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles have had their faults. For one thing, they utterly define hubris. But they’ve won a lot of games too- and they’ve played this kind of quality entertaining road game against better teams through most of the era.

The Eagles show up and play pretty smart. The back-ups pressed into service are almost always credible and seem to know where to stand. They don’t turn it over. They make their kicks. On defense, the quality defensive secondary clamps down on your team's fave downfield threat. On offense, they understand that, in the pro game, to score 24+ on good defenses you have to throw the ball and throw it a lot- which they do- giving themselves at least a chance to score enough to win. They make you play well to beat them- execute your own football plays a dozen times without error, protect the ball, make your own kicks.

As a result, they get into a lot of games with teams, particularly on the road, that don’t necessarily come down to who is a better team, but rather who is more stupid or unlucky in the last ten minutes. Which, when Philadelphia is not the better outfit, is a better success scenario by definition. Unfortunately, last night, while the Eagles got into their “don’t be stupid” one-score game late, their quarterback was not up to the task.

That game, in a microcosm, is why AJ Feeley can’t stick in this League. He can make most of the throws, he can mange a game- but his risk-reward ratio just isn’t good (for one thing, more career picks than TDs). Frankly, I am not going crazy for AJ. Turnovers are the biggest non-talent factor in the NFL- and he generated and just dodged a bushel. He has skills to allow you to survive with him for a month or two- but a football season is ultimately about the numbers- and with Feeley mistakes add up.

Consequently, I’m really not into this talk about starting AJ Feeley this week. The quarterback situation is pretty clear. There are three quarterback roles in football: franchise starter, credible back-up, heir apparent. They've drafted Kolb. He's the heir. Feeley played a nice game- but you can't say great with all the turnovers. He fills the "credible" back-up role. But this season is not about 2007; it is about 2008 now. Philadelphia gas got to find out if McNabb can play the franchise role. So he's got to play- they can’t let this question hang- even if it costs games now.

As to the Patriots, Madden kept saying the Eagles threw a “blueprint” out there. I dunno- it is hard to write this when Philadelphia has just been torched for 400 yards of offense and thirty-something points- but I sort of think the Eagles matched up well defensively with the Patriots. Like the Eagles, New England is sort of impatient on offense- particularly vis-à-vis rushing the football. The Pats know that very frequent success throwing is the key to scoring in this League- and can get to very frequent throwing real quick.

And the Eagles can defend that elite receiver better than most. They can put a pro-bowl corner (Sheppard) on Randy Moss- and roll that Hall of Fame safety to provide help- and still have another quality corner on the other side. Of course, that means your nickel corner and other defensive backs sans help are going to get torched all night- but it is sort of survivable in the absence of Randy Moss going bezerk and a lack of fear that a quality tailback will gouge your team all night.

So I’m not sure how many other teams can duplicate that sort of scheme- for the Eagles’ faults. they present you with depth and quality in the defensive backfield. Maybe Pittsburgh?

Bigger picture: After starting 1-3, the Eagles held a gauntlet of three more losses over their head: Dallas twice- and this game. Making the play-offs was always largely a function of having to steal one of those games- or to concoct a further scenario where Philadelphia could get in at 9-7, maybe 8-8. Well, they’re about out of opportunities to steal games. The next two games are tough (Seattle and the Giants)- but they’re at home and they matter- which at 1-3 was not a certainty. That is hard stuff. I'd be a lot more into the moral victory angle yesterday if the Eagles weren't tied with, say, Washington.

Two of next three is the fair goal- get square at 7-7- and try to back in with wins at New Orleans and home for Buffalo.

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