Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Always More Joy

Above is an outstanding compilation of video highlights that I found on The 700 Level- a longtime denizen of the BlogRoll on the right. Crank it up and enjoy it while you can. I have a feeling unlicensed distribution of NFL property is simply not long for the internet.

And to keep the good feelings going, here is my account of the Eagles’ dismantling of the Vikings circa 2005 play-offs. And another from 2004.

Gosh, the blog is old!


Monday, December 29, 2008

A Christmas Miracle in Philadelphia

As a season ticket holder for a decade now, I’ve watched the Philadelphia Eagles play an awful lot of home games. I like to call the Eagles’ the most “professional team” in the NFC. Normally, Philadelphia doesn’t get the severe performance swings that characterized the Rhodes and Ryan terms- you get the solid B effort almost every afternoon.

But last night, the faithful were treated to an Eagles’ team that came out not with their typical clinical professionalism, but a wild effort that subsumed the Cowboys in destruction and pain. Given a miraculous lease on life, the Eagles went to the proverbial emotional well:
A crowd that seemed cheerfully resigned during tailgate time to rooting for an Eagles team playing out an unraveled string just to knock Dallas out of the wild-card berth was totally, insanely bonkers, high-fiving, chest-bumping, howling through all but the dregs of the epic humiliation.
That was Bill Conlin. Heavens, it was a miracle- to cash in this inside straight of an insane upset of Tampa Bay, the Bears’ loss and this rout of Dallas. Sunday morning, I remembered my probability math from high school- put Oakland over Tampa at 5:1, the Eagles as a stone toss-up, and a loss by either Chicago or Minnesota at two in three- and came up with 15 to 1 chance to get in as a Wild Card. In the Andy Reid era, only Fred-Ex’s miracle 4th and 27 grab in the play-offs was a bigger long shot in a bigger spot.

Now we get to read such wondrous material as this- "Quittin' time: Dallas Cowboys flop in finale":

PHILADELPHIA – Wade Phillips presides over the most gutless team in franchise history.

That's his legacy.

And this:
I saw a shameful performance Sunday here at Lincoln Financial Field.

The quarterback needs to answer for it.
Chuckle, it is reminescent of this "report card" from Christmas Day a few years back.

As with any miracle, it is hard to figure out what to say, how to quantify the inexplicable. I guess we can start with Frank Helps You Think It All Out was wrong. I was wrong to recommend the benching of McNabb- a move I thought justified by the remoteness of making the play-offs post-Ravens debacle. Now that the Eagles are in- no justification is needed. You absolutely postpone the future and experiments- the future is now in Minnesota for this club.

For all the trees killed and ink spilled over the “improving the offense”, the real key to the turnaround was “improving the defense” from good to real darn good, maybe even great. McNabb and Westbrook are still a pretty flawed group- but since the home loss to New York, the defense has been a very good unit. True, there was the Ravens debacle- and a generous helping of Cleveland and Washington and Cincinnati. But they are better over there.

I think you can find two reasons for that. First, the ‘backers- which were a real mess the first half- look so much more athletic now that the immobile Gaither is gone, Akeem Jordan is in his place, and Stewart Bradley knows what is going on. The thing about introducing first and second year players into the mix mid-season is that any talent fall off is compensated by “fresh” and “un-injured”.

I’m not sure Jordan is a plus over sixteen games- but as a fresh alternative he seems to bring new capacity out there to a group that was suffering. The Eagles did a similar thing with Gaither a few years ago- an okay player who moved up quite a bit simply by being a fresh reinforcement. Anyway, a real weakness was stabilized.

The other real defensive weakness- the safeties- was fixed also by Dawkins re-emergence as a good NFL player. His pro-bowl status is a reach of the first magnitude- but he is playing much better. This is more a matter of coaching- the Eagles were trying to limit and protect the veteran safety- giving him second tier coverage responsibilities. Now they are letting him be the old Dawkins- roaming where his instincts take him. With no real responsibility, Dawkins can’t be exploited in a match-up play after play with, say, the third wide-out or tailback. But the Eagles keep his savvy and hitting on the field. Basically Dawkins blitzes and tries not to get beat horribly deep providing help. Add some real good cover corners- and he’s back to contributing.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Thank you for your patronage of this site this year.

Now let's all pull for a Christmas miracle for the Eagles. Go Raiders!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Butcher’s Bill

Sigh. Thus the 2008 Eagles season comes to an end. Booooo!

The nature of the NFL season is that, in the end, mediocrity is surely recognized as well as merit. It is real easy to slip into that snarl of outfits ranked, say, somewhere between eighth and twentieth- bobbing around at different levels depending on where you catch your recent slate among your immediate peers.

You can probably put the Eagles toward the bottom of that second quartile of teams. They are narrowly better than average. After all, they are a winning team in a tough division- probably would have been in the play-offs in NFC North or West. But, equally, their body of work is well short of the top five, six outfits in the NFL.

Look, the offense has real problems. Since the Eagles aren’t a bad team, they can- week to week- overcome their problems to pitch a good effort here and there: a week where they are healthy (Pittsburgh), the quarterback has an up game (Arizona), they gamble burning up Westbrook again and again (Giants).

But in the end, the butcher’s bill always come due. After three wins in “save the season” games, facing a short week, those three "get-by" tricks did not work. They weren’t healthy at wide out, the quarterback turned the ball over at an inopportune time, and Westbrook had little left. The intelligentsia bleats “run the ball”- and the Eagles use Westbrook real heavy for three weeks- and the invoice showed up this week.

Mind you, nothing surprising about that. The Eagles are yoked to a franchise back that categorically cannot handle a franchise load.

That is why all this talk about the Eagles run/pass mix misses the point. Is it a problem on a week to week basis? I guess… but, to that end, forgive me if I’m doubtful Sunday’s morass on offense could be cured by another dozen Buckhalter carries?

The real problem is the Eagles are playing pro-Bowl money to two guys- Westbrook and McNabb- who simply aren’t pro-Bowlers. They are declining assets who simply don’t produce week-to-week at a high enough level to justify their cap hit. Worse, their cap presence cascades down the roster: the lack of depth at running back, the organizational paralysis at the quarterback position. And before you know it, you’re always managing Westbrook (if he’s even available), Buckhalter is a key player on your roster- but one you don’t trust, and the offense comes down to “who do you place confidence in, other than McNabb, to handle the ball a lot?”

Each Sunday, the Eagles have a lot of trouble allocating the last 15-20 touches- and a lot of the time the default answer becomes let McNabb sling it. Sometimes it works- maybe McNabb is good or Westbrook can be pressed to absorb extra workload.

But sometimes it does not.

You can’t begin the off-season yet- as the game next week still counts. Oakland’s performance yesterday gives a slimmer of hope- at least they are still trying and Tampa Bay is in week-to-week decline. And at six or seven losses, this simply isn’t the mess from three years ago. But this problematic dichotomy- a quarterback and franchise back that simply don’t produce at an elite level- needs to be addressed.

The defense is fine. No matter what you think of the Eagles, the defensive rebuilding job after 6-10 three years ago is a success: a front seven littered with talent at affordable first contract prices, the emergence of Quintin Mikell has added some stability to the safety position. But they have two first round picks, plus a second rounder- and one needs to be spent on a running back. They need an answer for those aforementioned last fifteen touches ,due to Westbrook's contract, at a first contract price- and the draft is the only place to get it.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Optimism for Tulane Football: Part One

I was at a Tulane function the other day here in New York- and one of the alumni in attendance asked my opinion of Tulane football going forward. Frankly, I was surprised by the optimistic nature of my answer. Not that I forecast any 1997-style resurgence- a genuinely good Tulane team. But I feel the train wreck that characterized 2008 might be solved of its own accord.

In this first part of two, I am describing some more longer term reasons for optimism centered on talent, attendence and the amount of lifting that needs doing. This is stuff past the immediate season- say one recruiting class out: 4-5 years- and centered on returning to relevance in C-USA, not nationally.

Talent Level: Increasingly, I get a sense that this is the nadir of the Tulane talent level.

This isn’t an endorsement of the Toledo recruitment effort exactly. I’m neutral on it- simply because I just don’t know much about the procurement of high school talent. But I am confident that Tulane’s natural level- its position in the talent universe- probably is higher than contemporary conditions.

Even in the darkest days of the Teevins regime, Tulane was able to bring in surprisingly high potential quarterbacks, two or three “three-star” recruits*, win a battle or two versus lower level ACC/SEC programs. And that sort of talent level continued through Bowden and the first half of Scelfo’s regime.

It was brought to a complete halt by the unholy trifecta of athletic review, Katrina and the always suspect class when you switch coaches- more so than malfeasance or incompetence. And as those three factors recede, I imagine Tulane will revert more to the "natural" talent procurement level typical of the ten years of Teevins, Bowden, early Scelfo. In fact, I think you could observe this minor renaissance in some of the guys who de-committed at the last minute last year. I project through these passive improvements in the atmosphere around Tulane, our classes will move from the bottom of C-USA to more in line with our peers.

Attendance: This is last year’s NCAA attendance report- and you can see that about half of I-A programs don’t draw 35K. And since everyone is lying- put me down for not believing that Indiana or Syracuse drew 35K in 2007- I bet it is more like half don’t draw 30K.

So if a bare goal for Tulane is drawing north of 25K… we seem to be there.

So let’s set a short term goal: six crowds of a minimum (NOT average) reported of 25K, meaning an actual 20K- a sort of floor of consistent support. Well, in spite of utter disastrous on-field product generated by Toledo, Tulane seems to have a floor of three good crowds that they can replicate every year: the home opener, Homecoming at Gormley, and the prototypical good draw game (LSU, Alabama). Get one, two more repeatable angles (say Southern Miss and their good traveling crowd, etc) and that six crowns of min 20K, average well north of 25K is within reach.

Don’t Need to improve much: Let’s look at the CBS Sportline Top 120

I mean, how far is Tulane really behind Marshall? Temple? New Mexico?

I honestly think the answer might be as simple as semi-adequate quarterback play and one plus C-USA skill position player.

Sure, catching Marshall or Louisiana-Lafayette merely puts the Wave into the 5-ish win bucket. But it also shows just how close they are to a passable rebuilding product- a key player or two. If Toledo can mange’em, two average C-USA recruiting classes probably puts the Wave on a six-seven win track: .500 in conference, plus an ooc win or two.

None of this puts Tulane on par with even Wake Forest. I’m not arguing generational fix here- just optimism for five years out. But a credible, sustainable, entertaining C-USA product- win 4-8 games, four/five crowds of 25K, a Memphis style program in terms of success and interest- something to build on other than woe- is hardly impossible. And I would argue, somewhat likely as problematic exterior drivers ease.

* not three-star so much, but guys who were above that generic two-star rating everyone gets.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Surprisingly Warm and Comforting Mist

I spent last night in the surprisingly warm and comforting mist at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. As a collective, we patiently watched the Eagles pound the representative of what passes for professional football in Cleveland these days. And, at the end, I sort of threw my hands up at it.

Sure, the 30-10 win moves the Eagles record in absolutely cannot lose games as two touchdown favorites to an increasingly encouraging 1-0-1. But, in your own building, just about everyone should carry the play against a packed it in, busted outfit like Cleveland. And yes, the Eagles did. But, as the Philadelphia Daily News alludes, just how much credit do you give a team for making the opponent’s third string quarterback look like, say, the fourth string quarterback?

Observation: The local media’s fetish with running the football is unreal right now in Philadelphia. Jeez’em crow people. Look, I have no problem with running the football well as opposed to be poorly. Still, last night was an absolute testament to the nature of winning when trying to commit to a rushing, plus passing style ball control, attack.

Despite being horrid, Cleveland was able to hang around into the second half due to inane Philadelphia turnovers and this commitment to possess the ball. Everything the Browns wanted to do in the first half was helped along by the Eagles’ approach: score kept down, clock kept moving, total possessions minimized- check, check, and check.

Even the turnovers were part and parcel of the running game. It can take 4-5 red zone snaps, executed properly, to score in the red zone when you run the ball a lot. I mean, it is an approach- but the more snaps and plays you gotta run to score, the more things that can go wrong. Part of playing smart pro football is minimizing the number of plays you take to do things. This isn’t college- the world of the ten-twelve play drive. This in the NFL- and it is so very darn hard to run ten plays in a row correctly. Even the Browns have good pros in places over there- and over a dozen snaps one of them is going to inopportunely blow something up.

Plus, it is just hard to score the multiple touchdowns required to generate separation from a bad team when you are running the ball well. You can definitely run the ball well for an entire game- and be rewarded with 17 or so points for your efforts. When you are 10-17 points better, you want to maximize your possessions, not milk the clock. It is in Cleveland’s interest to play the keep the score down, create a who makes the bad mistake? sort of outcome. Playing safe, conservative, helps the bad team, not the good one. Phil Sheridan gives Cleveland poor level of play too much credit. It was the Eagles purposely chose to play a tight, low scoring affair where a single counter big play could erase twenty-thirty minutes of good play. The Eagles need more slinging in this spot, more points, more tempo- not less.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Polemics About Tulane

I like correspondence- and two of my regular Wave e-mailers sent me links to an interesting post over at yogwf by an ex-player of the Scelfo regime rehashing long ago events.

Somehow my paraphrased observation that “Scelfo was an average coach doing an average job” has, over time, translated me into being the prior regime’s defender. I wear that hat uneasily- as again I never thought Scelfo did a good job, just okay, under increasingly difficult circumstances.

I have no comment per se on this ex-player’s recitation of events- seems cognizant and rational to me. It is certainly thoughtful. I applaud those unwilling to hide behind anonymity to make difficult points. This isn’t just throwing acid.

So my comments are offered in a similar spirit- not throwing acid, transparent. Plus, it isn’t right to pick a fight if I am responding here, rather than over there. Instead, I offer it in the spirit of Marshall Foch at the Ecole Superieure de la Guerre: De quoi s'agit-il?

I have an axiom that the whole picture can never be captured by either insiders or outsiders. Both play a role: outsiders bring perspective, insiders bring knowledge. As an example, I follow horse racing. One would never hesitate to ask a trainer’s opinion of his horse- he knows the animal and the game- but one would always distrust his forecast as to the horse’s capabilities. He’s close to the situation, perhaps too much invested in the outcome.

Which is why one can write a polemic and infer that the team never bought into Scelfo from the get go, that the team collective were willing to let a lifetime of work and effort, to cut back our effort, etc. go to waste over jejune issues such as: coach was really mean, he yelled, played favorites and wouldn’t let us cut the hair of freshmen.

Indeed, I’m not rolling my eyes at that- adolescent culture can turn on such things. But I will also say that had Scelfo won some more- and really, not much more- mean becomes “tough”, played favorites means “produce or else veterans” and the end of hazing means means “just one team” top to bottom.

Second point- insider versus outsider- is this sense that Scelfo is at fault. Surely, it is a richer tapestry than that: administration, monies, etc. I guarantee if you were to poll 100 hundred neutral sentient observers of Tulane football, not one would say Scelfo’s “unapproachable nature” was a bigger cause for Tulane’s football woes than, say, the BCS cartel absorbing 95+% of the available monies. C’mon, that is just uninformed.

But, insider observation tends toward scapegoating- an “I’m not the one at fault” mentality. Consequently, how about pointing that finger into that locker room as well? A certain responsibility comes with a commitment to play I-A athletics for free. And unlike above, I’m not going to except tardy adolescence as an excuse here: eighteen year olds enlist in the Marine Corps with a sense of the obligations entailed. If there was an effort shortage, then that finger needs to be pointed into the room as well. Maybe some people sulking over the coach’s horrid injustices- I really want to cut hair!- deserved some ire, needed to be told this isn’t high school so “grow up or get out”? To wit- “gotta be professional at both the on field and off field stuff.”

It is a good piece- and woven into the other observations and debate of the Scelfo regime- it is of value. Obviously, we need a post-mortem of the Scelfo regime. But this assessment is several years old now- and I stick by it now.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I came back from Rome to important news. The Eagles played their A-game on the road this weekend- and put an impressive win over the New York Giants into the books. This does serve to extend the season another week- and guarantees this old warrior will dig out the cold weather gear for next week’s Monday Night Linc adventure.

Past that, I’m not so sure. Obviously, the team has put themselves in position to exceed my 9-7ish projection. But only if they win out: chancy at best. Still, with a productive Westbrook, the Eagles are fairly rated as a weak divisional winner, wild card-ish team- certainly capable of a good win here and there against a Giants' team that probably didn’t bring the same similar emotional intensity to the tilt.

It is just Westbrook, due to health and general durability issues- isn’t a franchise back week-to-week. You simply can’t give him those thirty-plus touches to generate that marvelous game day experience every week. When Brian is good, they’re a play-off team. When he’s ineffective or limited, Philadelphia is usually bad. Put it all together with up and down quarterback play and a good defense, and you get something like 8-8.

So if we were not going to mark’em down from the average bucket after the horrendous tie with the Bengals, we’re not moving Philadelphia out of it due to this good win.

Still, while folks like to rail on Reid, this is why he is not going anywhere. His teams, even when everything doesn’t go according to plan, are north of decent. Certainly the Eagles caught the Giants at the right time- after a good long break late in the season. The match-up was favorable- the Giants are obviously trying to figure out their "new" offense without Burress. It was unfortuante for Manning this educational process came against an Eagles’ defense that can do one thing for certain the last decade- cover wide receivers.

All Eagles fans know the difficulty of recasting your offense in the absence of a dynamite, true number one, perimeter threat. Plus, the Eagles were prepared to put forth effort and play a professional game. Frankly, they always do. These guys play for Andy (see the last five-ish games last year in a total bust of a season). Those braying for his job may not remember Ray Rhodes and the associated routinely disheartening spectacle. They might also turn a blind eye to the seemingly never ending discombobulation in Washington and Dallas. But not a day goes by that Banner and Lurie don’t recall and observe these past and ongoing circuses. Andy might be wedded to some crazy ideas- but they are always, always playing hard and almost always in the hunt for relevance. And he can’t coach? Just dumb.

Nevertheless, this gamble of foregoing Kolb is working now- but I stand by my assertation. If they don’t make the play-offs, this approach is a mistake. You can play McNabb, but that means you’re playing for now. And theEagles still need three straight wins to make playing for now the correct choice.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CBS Sports

Frank Helps You Think It All Out is in Vatican City right now- but we took the time to get our ballot in for the poll. Accordingly, this week's BlogPoll is over on CBS Sports.

The great debate is over whether Oklahoma or Texas deserves the spot in the Big 12 Championship game as a stepping stone to the national title. I come down with Texas- just cause I'm part of the church that says head-to-head is the best tie-breaker. No doubt that is the best tie-breaker between a pair of teams- thus I am not shy to use it here. Plus, I used to work for Mack Brown at Tulane- so I'm partial to the old man.

However, the Big 12 morass is a three way tie, so their proposed solution seems as good as any other. I'm not confident Mizzou will bail them out either. I always thought Mizzou was the weakest of the big four- and thus a candidate for four-five losses. And I'm not backing off that now.

1Alabama --
2Florida --
3Texas --
4Oklahoma --
5Texas Tech --
6Southern Cal --
7Boise State 1
8Utah 1
9Penn State 2
10Ohio State 2
11Ball State 2
12Oklahoma State 2
13TCU 1
14Georgia 7
15Oregon 6
16Cincinnati 1
17Michigan State 1
18Brigham Young 1
19Boston College 1
20Oregon State 4
21Mississippi 2
22Missouri 7
23Northwestern 1
24Rice --
25Tulsa 1

Dropped Out: LSU (#25).


Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I have been a little remiss with Frank Helps You Think It All Out over the Thanksgiving Holiday- but as part of my travels I did get down to the Linc for the Eagles thorough thrashing over the Arizona Cardinals.

Obviously, the Eagles were better than the recent Baltimore debacle. The defense forced turnovers. The offensive line found a group it could block- and the running game revived.

The consensus is that “idiot” Reid did the right thing going back to McNabb. It is hard to argue that certainly, for this singular contest, Coach was right. McNabb was super.

But, you know, I’m doubtful as to the utility of all of this. First, you couldn’t design an easier game for McNabb to play. As alluded to above, the Eagles categorically could block these characters. Arizona doesn’t have a very good defensive front to begin with- then add in a cross-country trip on a short week. No pressure, the running game cranked up. Add in the endless turnovers proffered by Arizona, and the Eagles enjoyed playing from way ahead, with excellent field position, all game long.

McNabb is a veteran quarterback who isn’t completely shot. I am pretty confident that under ideal circumstances- and you cannot possibly argue #5 enjoyed anything less than perfect Thursday night- he is a competent pro. But, no offense, Sage Rosenfels would have been good against Arizona last week.

Second, the Eagles would have won that game had Kolb played- NFL teams very rarely lose when enjoying a four turnover advantage. The Eagles are still very, very likely not making the play-offs. In light of those two likely suppositions, what was gained? Worse, the minuses were obvious: a game of experience for Kolb was lost, another chance in live action to see what we have in the second year quarterback.

I guess that if I ran the Eagles I would have already moved past trying to exercise maximum effort to win each Sunday if it came at the expense of the Kevin Kolb Experiment. I enjoyed the win- but again, they’d have won the game with Kolb anyway and I’m just not sure it moved the franchise forward any. And if this franchise does not make the play-offs, and McNabb is not the starter next year- both of which I find exceedingly likely- then this is a genuine mistake regardless of the immediate gratification of winning.