Friday, January 30, 2009

Rice Owl Ejected

Our Tulane Green Wave played… well, I dunno… an interesting game with Rice Wednesday night? The Wave promptly fell down by 19 to an awful Rice outfit, the Rice Owl mascot was ejected for headbutting the referee, Rice doesn’t make a shot for the last ten minutes, Tulane doesn’t make a shot in the last six until rallying to win at the buzzer when, of course, an Owl player fell down. Afterwards, the coaches almost have a punch out. Anyway, this short video is the last few minutes of ESPN coverage showing the drama:

I tried hard to watch it. While a real little pathetic, Tulane has some history, a little juice with Rice. There is an old maxim that two bad football teams, with their random turnovers and inconsistent play, can generate an entertaining product. C-USA frequently serves up bizarre shoot outs and funky endings between their suspect football outfits. For example, who can forget this game?

But in basketball, that is just not true. Tulane was terrible falling down 30-11 (although Rice admittedly did shoot the lights out early). Their comeback was not due to dazzling Tulane play- but rather, well, let the pithy lead sentence in the game article describe the situation:
There are collapses, and then there are displays of such utter ineptitude that one’s mouth is left agape.
But it was fun to watch in spurts. I guess it ultimately only confirmed what we know: Tulane is a pretty bad team that will struggle to win five conference games. But, I guess we got out money's worth last night in Houston.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Things That Go Boom!

With football season drawing to close- and baseball and NASCAR yet to get up and running- one struggles to find material for Frank Helps You Think It All Out.

So I am presenting a hand grenade video! It is perhaps not work safe due to soldier language. While funny on many levels- including snippets of how real soldiers talk- I find it symbolic of the Eagles defense (hand grenade) versus the Giants offense (washing machine).

Enjoy you tax dollars at work people!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Legendary Blue Horizon

As one of the last dozen or so folks in America who like boxing, I was heartened by this article in today’s Philadelphia Daily News. The leading local promoter and leading venue in Philadelphia have agreed to bury the hatchet.
Fight fans, of course, need no introduction to the Blue Horizon, which The Ring magazine rates as the best place in the world to watch boxing.

"To stay [at the New Alhambra] and not own the building would have been foolish on my part," he said. "And, to be perfectly honest, there were problems. Every time we put on a fight card there, we had to go in early to help set up the chairs. There were always issues with setting up and breaking down the ring. We won't have some of those issues at the Blue Horizon."

Don Elbaum, who serves as Michael's matchmaker, said the two promotional companies not only won't step on each other's toes, they will serve to help one another.

"Running 12 shows a year at the Blue Horizon is not only a plus for the Blue Horizon, but for boxing and for Philadelphia," he said. "We're going to help Joe and Russell, and they're going to help us. No question."
Philadelphia is one of the last places that there is still a regular crowd for “local” boxing- and part of that is due to the awesome Legendary Blue Horizon. All boxing fans must make the pilgrimage once to see it. Here is a good video about the venue- are you worthy to be a Philadelphia fighter?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When Does The Daytona 500 Start?

The Philadelphia Eagles loss in the NFC Championship game is trying. I guess if you play enough games that Vegas puts up as one score or less either way, you are eventually going to draw the short straw. The one guy who doesn’t gets the Lombardi Trophy.

In its essence, it isn’t that bad a loss: traveling to the coast after two straight brutal road games, coming off a physical division game with a good team. Those are big angles in this League. The sting is more the consequences. In the capped NFL- outside of the quarterback position- you don’t really build for the future. More so than other pro-sports, each year is distinct from the last: who is healthy? who got old? You can’t ever assume you’ll get back. And the Eagles would have had a not insignificant chance to upset Pittsburgh.

I’m not going to write much today about the way forward. But three points:

1. You can’t penalize a coach for making the NFC Championship game- but this administrative dynamic of “all Andy” has to change. There needs to be another serious football authority brought in here. Most folks want a GM figure… I’m inclined to see them bring in a real offensive coordinator. The Eagles aren’t bad on offense exactly; they scored a ton of points this year. But they are stale. They have an unbelievable number of guys on the offensive roster who are just hanging out or underachieving: Lewis, Brown, Booker, Kolb, Smith. Their year after year predilictions- the need to run real hard passing plays in early downs to gain four yards, the tendency of marginal players to gain bigger roles in bigger spots- just seem to require a fresh, new set of evaluators and evaluations.

2. The McNabb/Westbrook dynamic needs radical adjustment. They are stuck with these contracts- two Pro Bowl level deals for guys who no longer perform at the Pro Bowl level. Fine, what is done is done- and both might get back next year. But this is a real problem in a capped League- your top two offense players underperforming their dollar allocation. They need an inexpensive skill position player to take consistently take away six-to-ten touches from both guys. That means “draft a running back with one of your two picks in the first round”- and select a guy with immediate polish rather than potential.

3. I’m not entirely sure McNabb is coming back. Most think it is a done deal. But I think all parties- McNabb, Andy, Banner and the fans- might itch for a change more than is publicly acknowledged. It hinges on how ready he Eagles feel Kolb is. I admit there is a total absence of any evidence Kolb is ready to play. But the whole thing feels creepy to me.

Even more interesting- I am convinced Reid thinks AJ can play in a pinch at an average NFL level- really, if you are honest, the level McNabb has been at most of the year. I mean, put your hand up if you think McNabb is an NFC Pro-Bowler? There is the potential for quiet drama here- he is line for a contract re-look and the Eagles can probably get something good for him in a trade.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Philadelphia Is Going To The Super Bowl

On the surface, it is a hard game.

The Cardinals- for all their faults- are very good in their own building. The Eagles are looking at their fourth road game in five- all played to the highest of stakes- and this is a long haul. While the defense is surprisingly healthy, the offense has real questions at tackle and Westbrook looks increasingly worn.

Yet Vegas puts the Eagles up as a road favorite: Philadelphia -4 over Arizona. That is a lot in the professional game considering Arizona is a winning team at home.

The answer is, of course, the Eagles are better. Not Florida over Tulane better- but for two play-off teams, the Eagles have some separation here. They have a much better defense. They have better special teams. They can block Arizona; I don’t know if Arizona can block them. Put it this way, move this game to Philadelphia, and the Eagles probably are close to minus nine-ish in this spot.

I don’t think Arizona is a bad team. This is simply a bad spot for them. In order to step up in class, play over their nine regular season win head, they need teams that don’t bring good pressure in the passing game- then make some mistakes on offense, artificially move the “okay-plus” Arizona defense up to “good”, getting themselves off the field a couple of extra times through no exact merit of their own. They won the last two games largely by forcing a zillion turnovers and passing for touchdowns. And that just isn’t what they are going to be able to Sunday.

To the first point, Kurt Warner is utterly immobile. Philadelphia may have to commit some extra guys- but they are going to get there consistently. The Eagles don’t respect the run much on the best days- even if you’re going for north of 100- and they aren’t going to respect it here either. Foremost, the Eagles are going to get after- and then get to- the old, slow man that directs this offense from under center. A related second point is that for two months now, no one throws on the Eagles in the red zone at all. This superior defensive secondary allows the Eagles to play real condensed fronts inside the red zone- and. I’m real doubtful the Cardinals “rejuvenated rushing attack” is going to succeed near the goal line.

Plus, Philadelphia is not going to be Atlanta or Carolina in this spot. The Eagles play the tightest road game in the NFC; there isn’t going to be that stream of endless turnovers and field position that allowed Arizona to open up the playbook.

I’ve chronicled the utter roll I’m on picking the Eagles: ten out the last thirteen ATS. I’m pretty confident here too. People talk about how balanced Arizona is- but the Giants were balanced too, with a much better defense, and the Eagles handled them twice in a row. Here, Philadelphia is going to handle an Arizona team that isn’t in the current champions class by two scores- so I’ll give Arizona the four.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Forget Boston?

This is in the New York Daily News today:
No matter where a New York fan turns these days, a vulgar scent of cheesesteak taints the atmosphere and distorts the schedule of sports events on our flat-screen televisions. Philadelphia is the new Boston, suddenly. Maybe not as prim and haughty, but every bit as dangerous and much, much sneakier.
I don’t really hate any of Philadelphia’s rival athletic cities- although I do dislike some of the individual actors: Jerry Jones, etc. But I do agree- other than the Mets- I don’t really generate real excess joy from defeating New York teams.

Maybe the Rangers? I don’t know- the Devils have been the Flyers local measuring stick for a long time now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lead Us Donovan

Monday, January 12, 2009

Glory & Vindication

One can overanalyze the Eagles satisfying smackdown of their division rivals. The New York Giants had been on a fine run. They achieved passing greatness. But their brief, very distressing, one year interregnum of the Eagles’ decade long dominance of NFC East is over.

Philadelphia has handled them twice in five weeks. A Giants’ garbage-time touchdown aside, Philadelphia kept the New York from scoring offensive touchdowns over eight quarters, won both games by multiple scores and won both on the road. Before one trashes Gilbride or Eli, it must be acknowledged the Eagles are simply better right now.

Right now, it isn’t any longer a question of a play here or a decision there. I came into the game thinking any game between these teams would be toss up. That was wrong. Given good offensive line play, an outstanding running attack and an all-pro wide out, Eli is a productive player. Otherwise, notsomuch. At the same time, I can see how the Eagles can enjoy consistent, albeit modest, success against the Giants quality defense.

The Giants offense has real issues with perimeter skill players. To that end, the game was a microcosm of my problem with rushing the football too much. The Giants ran it great, right? But unlike college, unless you can throw the ball effectively to skill people who can function on the perimeter, it is hard to turn rushing yards into touchdowns. That twelve play, heavy on the rushing offense, is a hard thing to work at the pro level. Running twelve good plays in a row against a quality defense is probably impossible. The Eagles or Ravens or Giants or Steelers figure to stop your team once in twelve plays on 3rd and three, or on 1st and 10- creating a tricky down and distance for a run-first team.

Further, the Eagles played really horrid on offense for 28 minutes- wasting snaps in a futile attempt to get the ground attack going. Fortunately for all denizens of Philadelphia, the two minute offense surfaced, forcing the Eagles to throw- and moving snaps wasted in the futile running game to a place where they could be somewhat productive: McNabb. Consequently, the Eagles scored 23 points, scored two TDs in the red zone, probably would have gotten a third if not for half time. McNabb flipped field position with the passing game (3rd and 20 conversion for one thing) and put them in position to kick a couple of field goals.

Frankly, the Eagles just didn’t need to do much right, run say three good plays in six, to getfield position, get themselves a chance for a field goal and play red zone football. Playing a very good defense in bad conditions, you want to minimize the requirements for success- and even the Eagles can run three in six plays correctly and to standard. Anecdotally, I bet the Eagles and Giants ran something like the same percentage of successful plays- plays that achieved what they were designed to do- but the Eagles had a higher number of plays, due to throwing the football with verve and design, that could gobble chunks of yardage.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hope From New York

Dave Blezow gives some hope in the NY Post:
The Giants have the hearts of champions, a healthy Brandon Jacobs and, for the first time since their early bye in Week 4, a rested and rejuvenated squad. What they don't have is the luck of the draw. While the No. 2 seeded Panthers welcome a glass-jawed flag football team for their divisional game, the top-seeded Giants are locked into a death struggle with a back-from-the-dead division rival who won on this very turf five weeks ago.

Since the early morning of Nov. 29 when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, the Giants are 2-3 and have scored an average of 19.6 ppg. In the first 11 games, they averaged 29.9. The tall wideout's absence was felt in the 20-14 loss to the Eagles on Dec. 7 when his replacement, Dominik Hixon, dropped a sure-TD bomb early and the Giants managed only a blocked-field-goal TD and a too-little-too-late score. Burress in man coverage was the Giants' No. 1 antidote to the Eagles' blitzes. The other red flag was the beating Eli Manning took in Dallas the following week. Manning will not be throwing from a hermetically-sealed pocket this Sunday.

Statistically, these teams are about as even as can be, which is stunning for a 1-vs.-6 matchup. The Eagles' average score is a 26.0-17.8 win; the GiantsNew York Giants average a 26.7-18.4 win. Both are ranked in the Top 10 in virtually every yardage category, and the Eagles have the edge in passing offense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

Last year, the Giants were the incredible story; this year, the Eagles are writing it. Their quarterback was benched; their top running back is hurt for 165 out of 168 hours every week; and they needed the Raiders to come back from 10 down in the fourth quarter at Tampa Bay just to have a chance at the playoffs.

The pick: Eagles +4
I like the Eagles too. Sort of. To be honest, the winner is going to be the team that gets the most bounces and breaks. I don't know which way they're gonna go- so I'll take the free points.


Friday, January 09, 2009

I Vote Utah

Frank Helps You Think It All Out casts one vote for Utah in the year’s final BlogPoll for CBS Sports.

To begin with, I understand all votes for Florida. I had Florida number one pre-season- and so it is painful to cast a vote that would undermine a small feat of prognostication. Trust me when I say this: I really, really like to be right. To give up that "right from the start"....

In the end, I kinda wondered just how bad was Utah’s slate of games. They did what people say a mid-major conference needs to do to be considered. They won at Michigan. They hosted Oregon State and beat them. The defeated BYU and TCU. They went to Air Force- a team that flirted with the Top 25- and won the game. And of course, they whipped Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

So that is four wins over Top 25 outfits, another win over an Air Force team that was around that level all season- and a trip to Michigan. That is better than a Big East slate- and no one would fuss at awarding a BCS Championship to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati had they run the table.

Plus, as any Tulane fan can relate from 1998: it is real hard to run the table. It isn't a question of getting the bounces- it is that you have to go and get the game even when all the bounces go against you anyway. Every team faces the game where someone gets hurt, two tipped balls of yours get intercepted rather than for incompletions, the referees miss the key call in a one score game. You gotta go and get it anyway, without fail, without exception.

Better BCS team schedules definitely have merit as a tie-breaker among undefeateds... notsomuch when one team has one or more losses than another. If Utah's schedule can pass a BCS League sniff test (i.e. at a minimum, this in conference plus out of conference slate is good as or better than some teams from the Big East)- and I think it does- well, they win.

I love the SEC as a League- and salute Florida's brillant season. But, that strong SEC sort of gives Utah’s Alabama win, a long way away from Utah, on Tulane’s home field even more heft. The SEC had their chance to kill the undefeated Utes- and the Crimson Tide was handled by multiple scores from the get go.

I vote Utah.

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

Dropped Out: Michigan State (#16), Northwestern (#21), Ball State (#22).

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Post tenebras spero lucem

The Tulane fan draws comfort from that title. Anyway, three weeks ago I posted some reasons for modest strategic improvement in the on-field football product. Today, I’d like to offer some hope for our tactical problem- namely the immediate three-win disaster Bob Toledo is currently inflicting on our program.

I was stuck from the get go last year on a 2-3 win campaign- but I’m feeling more bullish. A fair Vegas over/under for 2009 Tulane football would be 3.5 or 4. And I am inclined to take the over.

Mind you, I’m not arguing for any sort of Bowden-style renaissance. First of all, Coach Toledo ain’t Tommy Bowden- good or bad. But, as I’ve written before, if an average coach doing an average job can be expected to win 4-8 I-A games regularly at Tulane, then a diffident coach maybe can get them between 2-6?

Surely, Toledo’s got the “three I-A win season” down pat. And man, Coach is diffident. Except when the press is within earshot- then he is the Mr. Miyagi of three-win seasons. He is no Job in front of a microphone. Nevertheless, I am sort of feeling that Tulane is ticketed toward the upper end of that 2-6 win range next season.

Frankly, it simply does not take much to get to .500 with this schedule. Look at Rice. Is Rice really better than Tulane on defense? Since the Tulane game the Owls allowed 44 to UTEP, 31 to Army, 42 to Houston. There are big numbers littering their results every place you look. Frankly, there is no Rice renaissance- they just hit on the right quarterback in the most quarterback friendly League going since the 1980s WAC.

Point is, Rice won ten games with a Tulane-style defense. Tulane can get to six-ish with a bare modicum of improvement in the defense and any kind of mediocre offense.

And I’m a heartened abut the latter. I zapped Coach for his approach in 2007- the sacrifice of endless snaps to develop Scelfo, a quarterback with zero future here, and his inability to produce a plus skill position player outside of Forte.

Well, that wasn’t true in 2008. He did get two quarterbacks- guys seemingly with potential and definitely a future- looks at the elephant. Okay, maybe neither Moore nor Kemp project as good C-USA quarterbacks- but how about merely average? Plus, quarterbacks almost always move up after a full spring after some prolonged experience. With even a little luck, why can’t one of these guys improve from okay-minus to pretty okay?

Second, there exists a plus skill position player on the roster. Andre Anderson is an all conference player. And that is one more entering the season than last year.

They entered 2008 with zero experienced, rational answers at tailback and quarterback. Tulane had only hope- having to draw an inside straight to get even average play, let alone plus play, from skill players out there. Next year, that changes. Anderson CAN play and the story that an average C-USA quarterback emerges in September is not a pipe dream. Add a healthy Williams… they might be pretty okay over there- and able to survive a significant injury.

I still don’t think either unit projects average for C-USA. But again, even some improvement- the offense again almost has to be a whole level better- probably gets the Wave sniffing an “over 4 win” Vegas style line.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Philadelphia Manages A Win

Philadelphia managed to win a road play-off game by two scores yesterday evening.

Now, I choose the word manage deliberately. But before I complain and carp, I concede that winning a play-off road game by the aforementioned two scores is pretty darn good.

Now, that being acknowledged, that offensive effort will get the Eagles blown out of Giants Stadium this weekend by multiple scores: two turnovers from the quarterback, quarters of offensive ennui that only the Eagles can generate.

The defense played fine. Minnesota played the game predicted here. The Vikes rushed for a gaudy 150 yards- but as always happens against a quality defensive team, they were unable to turn that rushing total into points north of 17. he Vikings spent most of the day manfully struggling to score fourteen points and stay in contact with the Eagles.

Unfortunately, the Eagles spent most of the week listening to talk radio about establishing and staying with the run- despite the fact they don’t run the ball well and Minnesota, if nothing else, really clamps down on the run. So the Eagles wasted some two dozen snaps watching Westbrook get stuffed- and hobbling themsleves deliberately.

For three plus quarters the Eagles persisted with this nonsense- sentencing themselves to the same “17 points and under” day Minnesota sough to achieve. On offense, the Eagles scored 19 points- but really, six of those were the result of a giant punt return and the ball turned over on downs late. The Eagles kicked a lot of field goals because that was running the football is all about- needing to run a dozen plays successfully to score, failing once, having to kick.

There were some other issues too. In retrospect, Minnesota's good defensive line that was designed to exploit some problems the Eagles have there. In the absence of Shawn Andrews, you can bully their interior guys- and Minnesota DTs had good push all day. Also, the Eagles tackles are increasingly slow- and Minnesota’s edge ushers really tortured them- particularly with the tight end Celek being used frequently as a receiver rather than help.

Both teams exchanged this languor for fifty minutes- until the Eagles used a forward pass to Westbrook- the kind sportswriters hate- to clinch the game. The other two huge plays of the second half, where the Eagles gained first downs from inside their ten to flip field position, were also the result of the forward pass- poignantly after the run failed!

To their credit, Philadelphia showed that sort of professionalism they normally do on the road. Outside of McNabb’s turnovers- and only one was horrid and potentially harmful- they played an errorless game. Peterson had a big run- but the guy is great, he’s allowed to make plays.

People rant about Reid can’t coach… but how about, say, the Eagles special teams yesterday? They made all their kicks. They covered all returns. The only penalty was a sham. They got a giant return from Jackson. Or how about that screen pass to that ended the game- all those guys blocking 40 yards down field? They might run that play fifty times this year- and only once or twoce do we notice whether the guys downfield actually make blocks. Not surprisingly, there they were, not loafing, putting hats on guys. Add in zero turnovers from wideouts and running backs and returnees. All of this is coaching too.

That is why Philadelphia is a tough road out. Be it the Giants and Saints two years ago, or Minnesota yesterday, they put a tight, well coached product out there- and force the other team to make play after play after play without error too.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

The Pick

In Philadelphia Eagles’ terms, the time we’ve been away from the NFL play-offs has felt like forever: two entire seasons since the brave Jeff Garcia bruted this offense into the show. And I must admit I’ve forgotten the wrenching nature of play-off week: drifting in a haze until the next kick-off, the same bad sweaty dreams night after night where I am the RT in the Metrodome consistently getting beaten off the edge.

That being said, I am pretty confident giving the Vikings +3. The line isn’t crazy unfair- it implies the Eagles by a touchdown at a neutral site. That seems about right. And the Vikes are at home- that helps.

I just can’t help thinking this is a sort of a bad spot for Minnesota. The Eagles’ front seven has been unblockable in the passing game for about two months now. The entire defense is healthy- guys moving in and out of there right now, contributing. That is a huge intangible.

Consequently, I can see the Vikes falling into kind of trap here. Minnesota could have what passes for a good day on offense in this spot- Adrian Peterson rushes a little north of 110 yards, Tarvaris Jackson throws for something respectable, one TD, one pick- and still score only 17-ish points. Maybe a good example would be this home play-off game of recent vintage- where the Eagles ran it for 151 yards, Garcia played a nice game, and they only scored two TDs?

I can’t see how Minnesota manufactures three or more scores against a defense that no one can block two plays in a row, run against in the red zone, or ever gives up a giant pass play. This approach of 25 passes and 125 yards rushing almost sentences the Vikings to play a game in the teens, low 20s. To get to 24 or more points, Minnesota would have to take some chances- but instead I imagine they’ll be content to play ball control and safe throws.

And that approach just doesn’t add up to enough points to win in this spot. The Eagles quietly set a franchise scoring record this year. Now, I know that is deceptive- because there have been times when the Eagles have been absolutely horrid on offense. But that tends to be the result of one of two symptoms- either Westbrook is hurt/ineffective (Cincinnati) or the defense provides some high level base of competence (Baltimore).

Assuming Westbrook is healthy and not used up- he didn’t play that much versus Dallas- neither condition exists here.

If the Eagles play well, they can score four or more times versus Minnesota’s 17-ish. And frankly, that is just it- the Vikings playing well and still losing by more than a score. They need help- and the Eagles, for all their faults, tend to roll out that B+ effort every week. Without penalties and turnovers, the Vikes just don’t have enough firepower to hang with and Eagles outfit with a productive Westbrook.

I had been on a good roll picking the Eagles in the play-offs ATS: eight of the last eleven correct- but I've missed the last two: Saints and Giants. Here, I am confident too: Eagles -3 over Minnesota.

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