Monday, December 31, 2007


The Mediocrity Party continued this weekend as Philadelphia cruised to a 17-9 win to close out their eight-win campaign. The outcome never felt in doubt all afternoon. Buffalo managed to hang around- but always outside the one score window. McNabb proffered two turnovers- but one got the feeling they could have played all afternoon and Buffalo wasn’t scoring a touchdown on offense. Westbrook only had six or so touches after the first quarter- part and parcel of the liberal benchings of key personnel from the second quarter on.

The season was ultimately a pretty formful result. I had the Eagles at nine wins- but I think they are actually better, here at the end, even with fewer wins, than I anticipated. Clearly, the coach and quarterback just weren’t ready to go from game one. Even with the first place schedule, I did not anticipate a whopping nine games versus play-off teams. And starting 1-3 made the whole season an up-hill climb. More years than not, this squad would have finished better. Last year they were lucky; this year notsomuch.

But to their credit, the climb was pretty upward from September on - albeit haltingly, that stretch of Patriots, Seahawks and Giants was not helpful. Trends are up. They won their last three games and seven of McNabb’s last ten starts. In the second half, they beat two play-off teams on the road: Washington and Dallas- and almost added New England to that number. Objectively, I think they are- just right now, not the whole body of work- one of the six best teams in the NFC. Further, they would be narrowly favored over all NFC teams but Dallas in a one game play-off at a neutral site.

Teams enter the off-season in the NFL in one of three modes: tear it down, rebuilding or take a shot. For the first time since the Super Bowl, the Eagles are in the latter mode. Fuse the healthy McNabb of the second half onto this defense and Westbrook- add the last place schedule, a zillion draft picks and a key skill position free agent- and the Eagles have a good feeling about them going into the off-season for the first time in three years.

I have never been an off-season pollyanna. The 6-10 debacle of 2005 was not happy here- and I never for a moment thought last year’s formula of Garcia’s miracle run was reproducible: offense and defense. Hence this season’s nine win forecast. But this feels sustainable with the one important caveat: if McNabb is back to good, the Eagles are back too. Their biggest off-season needs are guard and a kick returner (I’m 100% sold on young Celek)- which is a whole lot different than this 2005 list.


Friday, December 28, 2007

8-8 Is Simply Not Honest

Is it me- or does Rich Hoffman need to lighten up about a thousand degrees?

I don’t know anyone who is happy with the “mediocrity party” the Eagles are throwing- maybe this smiling Eagles' cheerleader is? They are a thoroughly .500 team- slice any part of the season up post-September they are a game or so over .500, parcel any September slice and they are under .500. Trust me Rich, we totally get it out here. They were a good defensive team, with a super skill position player, sunk by soul-sucking ennui at the quarterback position more Sundays than not.

But folks- and apparently the team- are marginally excited that when not afflicted by soul-sucking ennui at the quarterback position, or aside from that woe- they really aren’t bad. Reid's formulation: We are playing good football, probably as good as anybody in the NFC right now- admittedly misses the point, is also largely correct.

The Saints had won seven of ten- not bad for battered. Spare me talk of Dallas being bored; the Eagles played great on defense. Football isn’t a study in passivity; Philly is allowed to pitch its best game on defense too. They were very credible against the Pats- or was New England bored too?

Point is- a healthy, productive McNabb, fused on this group, is bad trouble in the NFC. That is what people are semi-excited about. But no one is excited about 8-8.

Winning always helps; cynical protestations about said winning do not. At 8-8, a legit earned 8-8, the woes are a lot easier to fix that than 5-11 train wreck Hoffman feels is more honest I guess. And if Philadephia would rather continue to play hard, beat Buffalo- and commence on off-season around here of optimism rather than the drudgery of the past few years, I for one can’t vote for that approach fast enough.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

No Play-Offs For the Saints Either

Recently, I read a pithy formulation of the NFL season- particularly vis-à-vis the Philadelphia Eagles.

To paraphrase- the first part of the season teams are yet to be fully evolved, tested under game conditions. Early season games are thus accordingly about mistakes and turnovers. Obviously, for the Eagles, this was very true- and they flunked. The second part of the season is about football itself- how good is your team really? And the Eagles are probably right around okay: good defense, quarterback follies, unremarkable special teams, etc.

The third part of the season is about your organizational strength- and by that I mean do you both play a lot of young players (to avoid injuries) and hoard them (to provide inexpensive depth that can actually play at the NFL level).

Now this theory is postulated by Jim Fassel- so take it or leave it. But it does give outline to an answer of why the Eagles can meander for ten games- and then pull out this pretty impressive road game hat trick: give New England a near brilliant game, stifle Dallas completely, and badly whip a New Orleans outfit that had won seven of their last ten.

Other than McNabb’s very good game, the Eagles haven’t gotten better exactly- although they are improved from the wretched start. Their depth and roster have regressed less “fast” due to the season's rigors than their competitors. For example, the Eagles lose two ‘backers yesterday- and three guys who don’t play much: Gocong (15 NFL games), Jordan (8 games) and Bradley (0 games at LB)- step in. Are they better than Spikes and Gaither? Nope, but don’t tell me that they don’t look like they belong out there either. Similar examples litter the field: the defensive line, the interior offensive line, tight end (Celek!- so long LJ!) etc.

The Eagles have organizational faults. But they do this part well: manage the cap, painfully releasing expensive vets, but then accumulating the resultant draft picks that become an inexpensive reserve corps (they have like fourteen picks in this next draft).

I thought this same phenomenon- along with the competent Jeff Garcia- fueled the Eagles late season surge last year- see the last three paragraphs. They were not better- just younger and consequently, healthier.

That aside- it is all too late of course.

Still, winning solves problems- one feels a whole heck of lot better about this team’s young collection players now than a month ago. It is monumentally frustrating to realize that, if the Eagles were in the play-offs right now, they’d be a neutral site favorite over everyone in the NFC except maybe Dallas. And with McNabb playing well, maybe not Dallas either.

But utilizing the segmenting analysis above, the Eagles utterly failed the first segment of the season- and were no better than average in the second. In the third segment, the schedule worked against them a bit- but they are in the top six NFC teams for that particular season slice. But you need to be top six for the year- not for the better part of a month. The Giants are the wild card standard. Now I am sure the Eagles would both be favored (despite two losses straight up) and would, in fact, win that game with yesterday’s McNabb performance by something like fourteen points- the Eagles body of work as a whole is simply not near as good.

Any sort of consistent, merely barely adequate quarterback play probably get this team to eleven wins. But they simply didn’t get “okay” from McNabb- so they deserve to stay home on any sort of standard based on sixteen games.

But his performance yesterday was why he had to, and has to, play out the year at the expense of Kolb. They have to find out what they have in the veteran- this lost season has to be used to resolve the most pressing roster question in sports: who is the quarterback? Yesterday, McNabb was darn good; it was encouraging. At the end of the season, the 2007 Eagles are a very good team when the quarterback position is absolutely any kind of plus- and average when not- hence 8-8. Seems fair- disappointing though.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hi yogwf!

8/28/08: 2008 Tulane football pick is up! Click here.

I understand I have been linked to from the yogwf board. Welcome!

Two points: I am not anti-yogwf. And I never make comments or projections on recruits ability to play- because I have no clue.

As to why Tulane has a good chance to be 2-10- read here!

Why I support the chat board: here.

Merry Christmas and Roll Wave!

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Big East Massacre

Overnight, mighty C-USA flexes its muscles- teaching some unforgetable lessons:

Tulane 79 St Johns 71
Memphis 85 Georgetown 71

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Friday, December 21, 2007

“Toledo is a Genius”

The “Toledo is a Genius” chatter has died down substantially. Some of that, I feel, is due to a dawning realization: if you were forced to make a prediction right now about Tulane for 2008, 2-10 seems real, real likely.

Last season, they went into the season expecting Matt Forte to be a “plus” player- something like making any all C-USA squad. As the season progressed serendipity added the defensive front to that positional plus list. But really, that was it. And two “plus” League positions equaled three I-A wins.

Well, Tulane surrenders those two pluses. And I do not know where serendipity might give them even one back: the offensive line was a nice surprise last year- maybe that group?- the wide outs underachieved- could they move up? Still, if the quarterback play is still weak, why would they?

It is a problem.

Obviously, if they fix the quarterback situation, you can cover a whole lot of problems in a hurry in this League. But if they go with any of the inexperienced options, I can’t imagine they are plus from the word “go”- particularly given ou recent experience with Toledo and crew coaching up that position. Even if you like Moore, Kemp, etc.- are they really contributing at a high level before October 15 or so?

Reflecting on 2007, yet another problem I have with the season is that- assuming Scelfo simply is not a credible choice as an option going forward- Toledo did not vigorously attempt to resolve the quarterback situation. We STILL don’t know if Elliott can play. No one was really extensively seasoned; Moore is still a green player.

I can’t see them being “better” with more passing game follies, losing the quality d-line and Matt Forte. Four wins, minus a little, becomes three. Replace the I-AA game with Alabama, now you are at two. And today, I’m somewhere there.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can Anyone Play Quarterback?

I understand the Philadelphia Eagles went on the road this week and won a nice game over Dallas. In Paris for a four day weekend, I didn’t see the game. Consequently, I will refrain from specific commentary. But increasingly, this season simply isn’t like the 2005 six-win mess. That Eagles team was in shambles at the end of the season. Since their 0-2 start, they’ve been .500 for three months now- which feels about right.

Frankly, Philadelphia officially has a good defense- not top five, but top quartile. Plus, like last year, the defense moves up some late season because they are both pretty young (outside of Dawkins and Spikes) and their institutional success managing the cap manifests itself first and foremost in depth on defense. Mikell and Reed are emblematic of the Eagles second string NFL players- multi-year vets with some League level ability, not raw rookies and “hope”.

And well, they can run the ball; Westbrook is a superior player. The team always, always tries- and since the coach is definitely coming back- many marginal vets can’t coast. They’re playing for playing time, jobs- next year. In a capped league, where does a Todd Herremans go if he gets waived? Plus, when the ball went up, 8-8 might have got them in.

So yes, if you hand a .500 team three turnovers in the passing game- negating Dallas’ biggest advantages over the Eagles: quarterback and wide outs- the Eagles are in that game to win it. It was a nice win- proof the defense is moving forward with these young guys in the front seven anyway. Frankly winning always helps- that much less you gotta fix. For example, the Eagles playing .500 ball for three months means the defense is credible- not something you’d associate with a total, five-win style, tank job.

They’re actually a nice team outside of McNabb- put Garcia back there and they are in the play-offs at ten, maybe even eleven wins. But Jeff isn’t back there- and it is hard to be a good football team if you can’t pass. And the Eagles can’t. McNabb stinks.

Which means, although the team is better now than in 2005, an immediate rebound to “pretty good” feels less imaginable. No matter how bad 2005 was, there was a coherent quarterback story forthcoming: McNabb plus different, better, veteran insurance (and yes, it was the capable veteran back-up who prospered). This year- well, as I wrote last week, I am unconfident in McNabb, Feeley is an exercise in “surviving” for sixteen games and don’t think Kolb is credible yet. The last season-and-a-half have proven that the pieces assembled in Philadelphia are something like ten-win good- but the existing quarterback regime, minus Garcia, can’t elevate that sort of team to conference power status.

And that cast of characters ain’t likely to change. If they get this same, shambling quarterback play next year, why would they be any better? The last place schedule? Frankly, that schedule edge is all I can come up with.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Good Bye Aaron

Look, the Phillies can’t guarantee sixty million dollars to Aaron Rowand- a huge payday that is really off one really admittedly superior year in a hitter’s park- to an increasingly thirty-something player who gets hurt a lot. Read your Bill James and Moneyball people. The surest road to ruin in pro-sports is huge contracts to players in their thirties- and ultimately the Phillies will be glad they did not pay this bill. I’m not saying this will make them better- but a lot of choices in pro-sports are between getting worse (losing Rowand) or making a bad contract mistake (see the Phillies’ veteran starting pitching).

Frankly, the Phillies have a infinitely cheaper and accomplished outfield option: Shane Victorino. They don’t lose much defensively with the Flyin' Hawaiian out there. The offense the Phillies lose over the next five years might be mitigated by the fact that a fair over/under on “how many games more does Victorino actually play than Rowand between now and 2012 might be 150?

$60M bills Rowand as a "can't miss" middle-of-the-order hitter- pretty big talk about a 30 year old player with 90 career home runs and 300 or so RBIs. Think Rowand will have 150 dingers when he retires? I don't. You wanna pay David Wright money to find out?

Being honest, and I am sure Jennifer Whittington would agree, once Rowand walked away from three years at crazy money from the Phillies, I thought it was a no-brainer to let him walk. They simply will not lose much vis-à-vis Victorino over the total five years (although what they do lose will be front-loaded- and will hurt). Frankly, the marginal improivement of Victorino versus Rowand isn’t worth ten million annually: fairly projected .280 hitting outfielders with decent-to-good power and good defensive skills are not deserving of that sort of premium.

More Rowand blogging here!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Miss Food City

This blog is an unabashed supporter of the greatest venue in sports: Bristol Motor Speedway. And to that end, there is an obligation to report the elevation of this year’s Miss Food City- destined to reign over this year’s race activities and ride in the giant grocery cart. Miss Food City is:
When the moment arrived, it was Jennifer Whittington of Pounding Mill, VA who was crowned 2008 Miss Food City. Jennifer is a 23 year-old student at the Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, TN. “I was completely shocked when the announcer called my name, but it has been an incredible honor and a blessing to be crowned Miss Food City 500. I would like to personally congratulate all of the other contestants on a job well done and thank them for the friendship and memories that we have all made,” Whittington commented.

Jennifer will represent Food City during the Food City 500 and the Food City 250 NASCAR events at Bristol Motor Speedway during 2008. In addition to those responsibilities, Jennifer will represent Food City at various other company events.

Jennifer enjoys relaxing with family and friends, going to church, volunteering in her community, hiking, running, playing with her dog, and is a NASCAR enthusiast. She is looking forward to the opportunity to use her medical experience to care for her patients and at the same time make them feel valued and comfortable. She plans to graduate from medical school and complete a residency in General Surgery/Trauma Surgery.

Can't wait for August!

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Standing Athwart History, Yelling Stop

So I’m leaving the Linc yesterday, with a spring in my step, cheerful in the knowledge that the Eagles’ performance has secured two more years, at a minimum, for Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning in New York.

Okay, that is not true. It was the third absolutely brutal loss in a row. The papers in Philadelphia are agog with deconstruction of simple questions: how do you lose a home game where the defense allows one touchdown, the offense rushes the football effectively, and you win the turnover battle? There is a flurry of analysis- but as always with difficult questions, I rely on Ockham’s Razor. And here, the simplest explanation is the quarterback, Donovan McNabb stinks.

Yesterday featured all the terrible ennui in a mere sixty minutes that McNabb has offered for the past three years. There was a fifty-five minute stretch where he threw for maybe ninety yards- and with Reid calling the plays, it wasn’t exactly through a lack of opportunities. People want to rip the receiving corps.... well, there always seems to be twenty-four catches to go around when AJ or Jeff Garcia are back there pitching- in short, anyone playing other than McNabb. Why is that?

For three years, I have weathered the storm here- backing the franchsie quarterback to the hilt. But now, I have had enough. I'm tired inside. I am not sure McNabb is done as a viable player in this League. But he is done here in Philadelphia. As long as Reid’s vision for this offense, and for this second (post-injury, increasingly semi-immobile) version of McNabb, involve this rhythm passing offense, this quarterback is going to fail.

Candidly, Philadelphia has not waited three years for him to get it either. We’ve waited for the last decade. This west coast offense- possess the ball via the pass- simply isn’t Donovan. Even at his best, he’s never been accurate and routine. The Eagles prospered regardless because that missing ten-fifteen percent completion percentage was more than made up during an incandescent six year period where Donovan’s risk-reward ratio- call it something like “passing TDs plus 25+ yard plays divided by interceptions”- was off the charts good. But he isn’t a big play machine anymore- and his spraying the ball around trying to complete passes in bunches isn’t going to work as a second act. Donovan is not a failure per se, but he is unequivocally a failure at this style of play. Reid isn’t changing the offense- so the quarterback has got to go.

Honestly, despite Banner’s protestations this week, I think Donovan is gone. This isn’t like the six win disaster of 2005. That team was old and bad. Here, you simply can’t ignore the fact the offense is darn good for two years, a dozen or so games now, when McNabb isn’t in there. The defense is pretty good too (one TD yesterday). The Eagles can run the ball, the o-line is a very solid group. They played solid, winnable, well-coached games- outside of the quarterback position- against New England and Seattle. If Garcia was the quarterback, they’d win ten games, be in the play-offs, again.

Instead, we have this terrible, no-fun, tedium. Admittedly, with Garcia and AJ the play-offs are the ceiling; there is no credible championship run around those guys. But looking squarely at six wins this year, facing a further season of consternation next year whether it is either McNabb or Kolb spraying the ball aimlessly, well, I’d rather see the Feeley-Kolb developmental mix.

With Feeley, there is some sort of credible play-off story (like 2002) if the defense continues to play well and Westbrook doesn’t hit the wall. If it doesn’t work, at least 2008 gets the Kolb internship out of the way. Point is- it almost can’t then be a lost year franchise-wise.

With McNabb around, we now know for a fact they can’t make the play-offs even with a good defense/Westbrook mix. Kolb won’t play because the Eagles, like this year, could never pull the plug until it was too late. It almost guarantees a year where the franchise again stays on this treadmill it has been trapped on for the past three years. Enough. I’ve seen the status quo for three years. It doesn’t work. It can’t work. Blow the quarterback situation up. I don’t know if the new status quo will work- but at least it isn’t an almost guaranteed disappointment.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Jeez 'Em Crow- Back to the Bench AJ

Sitting in the hail and gloom yesterday at the Linc, a Redskins game broke out. The faithful were greeted by a brief ceremony recogninzing Sean Taylor’s career- followed by a huge roar. Then the home quarterback came out and looked like he was introduced to the game plan five minutes before kick-off.

Four interceptions AJ? And yet, the Eagles were in it to the end. Outside of AJ, they've played darn well two weeks in a row, with zero to show for it. Perhaps proof of their play is that they are a surprisingly decent Vegas favorite over the eight-win Giants this week? The defense allowed two big plays- but the track was a tricky one and the game had a punch/counter-punch feel to it. And Seattle is competent on offense; they are allowed to make plays. And the Eagles’ offense managed to score 24- despite the umpteen turnovers.

But therein lies the story. Like last year, there is a wild card team out there for the Eagles. This outfit is not all that dissimilar to the one from last year: they try, the defense is young and pretty healthy, they have some quality depth mitigating injuries, Westbrook carries the load for a non-descript skill position cast. The only thing missing vis-avis last year is a modicum of decent, quality quarterback play. They’re just not getting it. And the NFL is a hard league if your quarterback situation is problematic

It is in vogue to kill AJ this morning- maybe I’m a little more charitable because I never blinked from the core tenet. To wit, McNabb should start the minute he is able. These sort of games are what excitable fans forget about a productive Donovan: not only does he win games- but he doesn't lose them either.

I’m not giving AJ a pass- his interception rate is inexcusable. But I still think he is a credible back-up. Playing say, the Jets and Redskins, the game and effort he put out there probably wins those games. But in these two games, the Eagles absolutely did not spoon feed him, cut him any slack at any point. He was out there- chucking at a savvy New England defense from the get-go, throwing from behind (albeit due to his own exertions) against the Seahawks in terrible conditions- these weren’t easy games where the Eagles sought via the game plan to protect him. They asked AJ to contribute, to help win both games- he failed.

The results speak for themselves; that go-for-it decisionwas either a mistake or simply impossible. But it is hard to argue, in the pro game, a passive quarterback performance was going to beat the Seahawks or Patriots. The Eagles try; passive isn't what they do.

In normal circumstances- against mediocre teams, not playing against poor odds, or constantly playing from behind forcing things to happen, I bet Feeley does (and has done) okay. Look, I don’t want him to start- but the pendulum is swinging too far here. He can do things- and he has picked himself and his team off the canvas like a dozen times the past three weeks. Lay off, he’s a flawed player trying to execute a tricky job; I’m not sure many back-ups would have done better. It is a hard position; I’m not sure these tests were fair or representative.

I guess the Eagles can’t call it quits. And I’m sort of eager to play the Giants and Dallas- see if this late season surge of general competence can continue with the man, McNabb, back at the controls. I know I’d feel a lot better about the off-season if they Eagles can continue to play at this level for another three-four weeks.