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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