Archive for October, 2010

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NLCS Game 4: A Strange, Yet Familiar Script

October 21, 2010

Last night’s NLCS game followed a script very familiar to Phillies fans.

The team scratched out a first inning run, helped along by the miscues of their opponent.  They got key contributions from throughout the lineup.  The unexpected hitting star continued to shine.  They were patient and did some damage against an opposing reliever.  The relief ace was lights out.  And they won the game thanks to some late game heroics.

Since 2008, the Phillies have seemed to follow that script several times en route to six series wins, two pennants, and one World Series championship.  Except last night, it was the Giants who managed to follow the winning formula, and the Phillies who came up short.

It was the Giants who took advantage of two wild pitches to score an first inning run.  It was the Giants who got big hits from all throughout their lineup.  It wasn’t Carlos Ruiz who continued to emerge as a postseason star – but rather Cody Ross.  Instead of the Phillies beating up on Jonathan Broxton, it was the Giants taking the lead against Chad Durbin.  It wasn’t Brad Lidge shutting down his opponents, but rather Brian Wilson who left the Phillies’ hitters looking helpless.  And finally, it was the Giants who scored the winning run in the 9th inning.

And now it is the Giants who looked poised to go on to capture the National League pennant that most people had pretty much handed to the Phillies before the postseason began.

The Giants look very similar to the 2008 Phillies right now.  Their lineup might not be nearly as dangerous – but as we’ve seen in the postseason, that doesn’t necessarily matter.  What does matter is that they’re receiving strong pitching performances, making all the necessary plays, and coming up with key hits.

On the other hand, the Phillies look lost.  This series is starting to look an awful lot like the August series against the Astros where everything just seemed to go against the Phillies.  Their hitters are struggling.  The pitchers perform decently, but not quite well enough. The manager’s moves don’t work.  Umpires calls go against them.  (I’m certainly not blaming the umps for the loss, but that was one of the worst performances by a home plate umpire in awhile.  The strike zone had absolutely no consistency.)

Even when they appear to get a break, it doesn’t end up helping them.  Pablo Sandoval hit a ball that was ruled foul, but replays showed that it was probably fair.  (To be honest, that was about as close as a ball can come, and I don’t know if they could have overturned it even with replay)  Sandoval just came back and hit a double.

Or when a pitch seemed to hit Juan Uribe on the hand, but it was ruled a foul.  That didn’t stop Uribe from hitting the game winning sacrifice fly.

So now the Phillies are trailing the series 3-1, and have to win three games against the Giants’ starting trio of Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain.  Considering the way they’ve struggled at the plate, it doesn’t seem like a promising scenario.

There was a lot of debate over Charlie Manuel’s decision to start Joe Blanton last night instead of Roy Halladay on short rest.  I agreed with the move, even though it didn’t work out.

First, Blanton is a much better pitcher than people think.  He’s not as good as the “big three” but he’s proven to be a solid major league starter.  He’s won postseason games for this team before, and pitched well in the second half.  A start by Blanton was far from an automatic loss.

More importantly, if they had gone with Halladay on short rest, then they would have also had to go with Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and then possibly Halladay again on short rest.  It seems like a bad idea to have the final four games of a series started by pitchers on short rest.

For those who suggested that they could just use Blanton for game 5 or 6 instead, I don’t understand the logic behind that move.  If you don’t trust him in game 4 matched against Madison Bumgarner, then why would you trust him in a potentially more important game against Lincecum, Cain, or Sanchez?

If there was a move by Manuel that should be questioned, it would be the use of Oswalt in relief.  While it isn’t unusual for a starter to be used in the bullpen between starts, the manager typically prepares the starter ahead of time, and tells him not to take his usual throwing session that day.  Supposedly, Oswalt had already thrown earlier in the day. 

I could understand using him if the game had gone into extra innings and they were left with no other options.  But Manuel still had three relievers available.  Obviously, using the inconsistent Kyle Kendrick isn’t the preferred option (and they’d want to save him in case the game went long anyway), and I can understand saving Brad Lidge until they got a lead, otherwise he’d have to pitch multiple innings or be replaced. 

But why didn’t Manuel use JC Romero in the ninth?  I’d think that using an experienced relief pitcher would be a much better option than using one of his starters who had already thrown earlier in the day.  Was Romero unavailable for some reason?

Regardless, the game is over, and the Phillies are now faced with the task of winning three games in a row.  It is a difficult situation, but far from impossible.  The upside of going with Blanton last night is that they now have Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels lined up to start on full rest. 

The Giants’ starters may be imposing, but expecting the Phillies to win three straight games (two at home) started by their aces is far from unrealistic.

Hopefully starting tonight, the Phillies can remember how to get back to their winning ways.  Otherwise, they’re going to be faced with a script that has become very unfamiliar to them: Someone else celebrating a National League pennant.

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NLCS Preview: Should We Fear the Giants?

October 14, 2010

After dismissing the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, the Phillies will face off against the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS. 

Will the Giants be a minor speed bump on the road to another National League pennant, or do they have a legitimate shot at sending the Phillies home early?

Here are some arguments for both cases:

Fear the Giants

In theory, the teams in the NLCS are the two best the league has to offer.  Not only does a team have to survive the regular season gauntlet to earn a playoff berth, but they must also defeat another playoff worthy team just to advance. 

The Giants won a competitive NL West division, and then dismissed the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.  That alone marks them as a good team.  And the main reason for their success is their pitching staff.

The staff is led by Tim Lincecum who is one of the best starters in the majors, having won the 2008 and 2009 Cy Young awards.  By his standards, 2010 was a slightly off year, as he struggled in August leading to some “What’s wrong with Lincecum?  Is he injured?” talk.

He quickly dismissed that speculation with an outstanding stretch run, and a sterling effort in his start in the NLDS.  If he is on his game, he can be near unhittable.

The rest of the staff is impressive as well: Jonathan Sanchez is a tough lefthander who has given the Phillies trouble in the past.  Matt Cain had an excellent year and features a good fastball.  It isn’t clear if the Giants will use a fourth starter, but if they do, it will be rookie lefthander Madison Bumgarner.  (Now that’s a great name!)  Bumgarner had a strong rookie season and excelled in his NLDS start, so he is far from a weak link.

The Giants bullpen has also performed well this year, led by closer Brian Wilson who led the NL in saves.

Considering that the Phillies had trouble scoring runs (or at least earned runs) off of the Reds’ good but not great pitchers, what kind of success can they expect to have against the Giants pitchers?  They can’t depend on a complete breakdown by the Giants’ fielders similar to what happened to the Reds.

The long layoff between playoff series isn’t going to help the Phillies’ chances either.  Ryan Howard (one of the few Phillies who has had past success against Lincecum) didn’t have a strong NLDS, and tends to suffer after extended time off.  They’ll need him to start hitting like he did in last year’s NLCS in which he was named MVP.  The extra rest probably won’t help guys like Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez find their stroke either.

There’s a good chance that these games are going to be low scoring affairs.  Games will likely come down to one or two plays, and in that type of situation, one fluke play can make a huge difference.  The Phillies are the better team on paper, but in close games, that doesn’t mean anything.

Start Planning for the World Series

While the Giants spot in the final four may prove that they are a good team, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a great team.  They won a West division in which their two closest competitors (Padres and Rockies) both collapsed badly down the stretch.  In the NLDS, they were matched against a beaten up Braves team that seemed to find ways to lose. 

So while it is nice that they have gotten this far, at some point they’ll have to prove themselves to be more than just opportunistic.

They’ll also have to find a way to hit better than they have.  If the Reds – the highest scoring team in the NL – couldn’t hit against the Phillies’ starters, what chance do the weak-hitting Giants have?

While the Giants were the only team in the majors to have beaten the Phillies starting trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels this season, there’s no indication that they’ll be able to do so again.  Even they don’t seem to like their chances, as I’ve heard quotes from Giants players about “needing to scrape out some runs,” and “wanting to keep things low scoring.”

If we give the Giants the edge in the potential game four matchup of Fat Joe Blanton vs. Bumgarner (By the way, people need to give Blanton more credit.  He didn’t have the the greatest year, but he was solid down the stretch and has had postseason success in the past), will the Giants be able to score enough runs in three out of six starts by Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels? 

I can’t see the Giants scoring enough runs to win the series.  Who in the Giants lineup seems like a real threat?  Buster Posey had a great rookie season, but is he capable of carrying their entire offense?  Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres are solid hitters, but once again, not exactly the type to make a pitcher worry too much.

Former Phillie Pat Burrell has played well for them, and could provide some power, but as any Phillies fan can tell you, Burrell can be pitched to.

Maybe in a close game the Giants will be able to score some runs against the Phillies relievers.  But the way that the Phillies starters have pitched, their relief pitching doesn’t often even come into play.  And unlike the Braves, the Phillies late game relief combo of Ryan Madson (MADSON!!!!) and Brad Lidge are healthy and have been extremely effective in the second half of the season.

The Giants are also far weaker than the Phillies defensively.  Sure, their numbers might look OK because they don’t commit a lot of errors.  But that is partially due to the horrendous fielding range showed by many of their fielders.  Are the Giants capable of making the game saving defensive plays that would be necessary to win a close game?  It seems doubtful.

As for the Phillies hitters, I think they’ll do just enough damage to get the job done.  Unlike most lineups that the Giants face, the Phillies have strength all the way through.  Which means that even if Rollins and Howard are slumping, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are capable of carrying the team.  And while the layoff might hurt the Phillies’ hitting timing, it can only help with Rollins’ sore hamstring.  If he can run at near full speed, that adds yet another element that the Giants will have to deal with.

My Prediction

The Giants seem like a tougher opponent than the Dodgers of 2008 and 2009.  And I don’t think that the Giants will play scared like the Reds seemed to.

But in the end, the result will be the same.  The Giants’ starters are too good for them not to win a couple games, but in the end, the Phillies will capture their third consecutive pennant.

Phillies in six.

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Eagles Week 5: Escape From Alcatraz

October 11, 2010

Much like the prisoners in old Alcatraz movies, the Eagles narrowly escaped from the Bay Area last night.  Matched against an 0-4 49ers team that made plenty of mistakes, the Eagles had to withstand a late, furious comeback attempt. 

After kicking a late field goal to give themselves a ten point lead, the Eagles appeared to have the game well in hand in the fourth quarter. But much like the Lions game, their defense gave up some late points to make things much closer than it should have been.  With the 49ers driving for a potentially game tying field goal, the Eagles finally intercepted the ball and emerged with a 27-24victory.

The Eagles’ defense managed to look both dominating and inept in the same game.  On one drive they might stimy RB Frank Gore or force a turnover.  On the next drive, they’d let Vernon Davis or Michael Crabtree run free for big gains.  Smith went from getting lustily booed by his home fans to almost leading his team to a huge comeback win.

Kevin Kolb looked improved from his play in previous games, but still missed several opportunities, and when he had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter, he could not get it done.  He also can’t seem to get the ball to DeSean Jackson.

Still, there’s no such thing as a bad win (especially on the road) in the NFL.  Wins over teams that haven’t won a game count the same as beating a previously undefeated team. 

The highlights

– The defense forced four turnovers, including a fumble they returned for a touchdown.  They also did a good job in limiting RB Frank Gore.

– Kevin Kolb hit some receivers downfield and made some plays.  His touchdown pass to Brent Celek was an excellent play as he escaped from a good deal of pressure.  He also had a gutsy play where he scrambled and dove for a first down.  He may not have looked great, but he at least looked like a capable NFL quarterback.

– LeSean McCoy continues to be a powerful and elusive runner (although there are still some things he needs to work on).

The lowlights

– The Eagles simply couldn’t cover TE Vernon Davis or WR Michael Crabtree.  I don’t know if it’s because he’s still recovering from his injury, but MLB Stewart Bradley looked incapable of dealing with an elite tight end.

– More long kick returns against the Eagles. The first return set up a 49ers touchdown, and the second gave the 49ers good field position late in the game.  This needs to stop happening immediately.

– More costly penalties.  It is ridiculous how much this team has been penalized, especially on the offensive line.

– Despite having a mostly excellent game, LeSean McCoy had two plays which almost really cost the team.  First, he had another fumble that was fortunately recovered by the Eagles.  And with an opportunity to power his way to a game clinching first down, McCoy just kind of slid to the ground.

I’ll cut him some slack since he was playing with a rib injury, but those are things that he just can not continue to do.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

When LT Jason Peters went out with an injury (what else is new?), King Dunlap went in to replace him.  Dunlap appears to be a marginal NFL player, and yet the Eagles had him trying to block a defender one-on-one for much of his time on the field.  I was starting to get Winston Justice vs. the Giants flashbacks.

For whatever reason, when an Eagles offensive lineman is struggling, Reid never seems to want to give him help.  How many times did we see Michael Strahan get past Jon Runyan before Reid finally used a double team?  Reid has to realize sooner that Dunlap is just not capable of getting the job done by himself.

The McNabb Report

One week after the Redskins relied on their running game to earn a win against the Eagles, they employed a pass heavy offensive attack to upset the Green Bay Packers.

With the Redskins rushing game not having the same success at the week before, McNabb had a rough first half.  He was constantly getting knocked around by the Packers defense, and almost every drive ended in a punt.  McNabb looked somewhat gimpy late in the second half as he was sacked five times in the game, and took several other hard hits as well.

But despite being slightly hobbled, McNabb put up some big numbers throwing for 357 yards.  He showed he can still throw a great deep ball as he completed a 48 yard touchdown pass to WR Anthony Armstrong.

In the fourth quarter, trailing by three points, McNabb led the Redskins into position for a game tying field goal.  Then in overtime, he drove the offense down the field again, resulting in an easy game-winning field goal.

Elsewhere in the NFL

– There are no more undefeated teams, as the previously unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs fell to the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 19-9.  This was far from a masterpiece from the Colts as Peyton Manning had a subpar game, but backup running back Mike Hart scored a touchddown to lead the team to victory.

– One of the preseason favorites in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys fell to 1-3 as they lost to the Tennessee Titans at home by a score of 34-27.  Tony Romo threw three interceptions, including one on the last drive when the Cowboys were attempting to make a comeback.

– So who in the NFL is actually good?  No team seems able to distinguish themselves in the early going.  The Bears currently have the best record at 4-1 but does anyone really believe they’re the best team in the NFL?

– On the other hand, it’s easy to see who the worst teams are.  Buffalo, Carolina, and San Francisco are all 0-5, and don’t appear to have much hope.  I think Carolina and the 49ers are both capable of winning some games this year, but it does seem possible for the Bills to go 0-16.

Eagles Next Opponent

The Atlanta Falcons improved to 4-1 as they used a late defensive touchdown to seal a 20-10 win over the Cleveland Browns.  Despite a big day from RB Michael Turner, the Falcons allowed the underdog Browns to hang around, mostly due to an inability to convert red zone opportunities.

Final Analysis

It wasn’t pretty, but coming into the game, I didn’t have high hopes for the Eagles here.  I figured that having to play a desperate team on the West Coast in a night game would not go well for them.

The 49ers may be a bad team, but as I said earlier, it is difficult to complain about a win, no matter how you get it.  In this season of parity in the NFL, I think that as long as a team can hang around in contention, they’ll have a good chance to make the playoffs.

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Phillies vs. Reds – NLDS Preview

October 6, 2010

On Wednesday, the Phillies begin their quest for their third straight National League championship, and more importantly, their third ever World Series championship.

While making the playoffs has now become a familiar experience for the Phillies, this year they find themselves in a position in which they have been unfamiliar with throughout their history: Favorites.

Their 97 regular season wins were the most in the major leagues, marking the first time ever the Phillies have had the best record in the majors.  On paper, this is probably a better team than the previous two years, and might be the most talented team in Phillies history.

And yet…

For much of the season, they didn’t play like the best team in baseball.  In fact, they looked so pathetic in late July that I actually gave up on them.  Of course since the day I wrote that, the Phillies went on an absolute tear, erasing a seven-game deficit in the standings, and cruising to another division title.

(Truth be told, I kind of expected the team to take off after I gave up on them.  For whatever reason, the Phillies never hit their stride until I write off their chances.  I’ve tried to pretend that I’ve given up on them, but the magic doesn’t seem to happen until I truly lose hope)

For a team that is supposed to have one of the better – if not best – lineups in the league, the Phillies have had trouble scoring runs for much of the season.  They have been shut out in 11 games, and the offense has been held to three or less runs more times than I can remember.  There was a stretch from mid-May to July when they couldn’t seem to score at all.  This stretch was lowlighted by a three-game series in New York when they failed to score a single run.

Injuries played a part in the struggles as they barely had their projected starting eight on the field all season.  Jimmy Rollins fought various injuries all year, and as a result, couldn’t find any hitting consistency.  Chase Utley spent a couple of months on the disabled list.  After Ryan Howard sprained his ankle in August, he never seemed to regain his stroke.

But even when healthy, Phillies hitters had their troubles.  It felt like just about every player went through a bad slump at one point of the season or another: Utley’s hitting was well below his normal levels even before the injury.  Raul Ibanez had a horrendous first half.  Howard’s power numbers were down.  Jayson Werth couldn’t seem to get a hit with runners on base.

As the playoffs begin, it’s hard to know what to expect from the Phillies hitters.  Utley, Ibanez, Werth, and Shane Victorino seem to be hitting well recently, but Howard and Placido Polanco are not.  And it’s impossible to say what they’ll get out of Jimmy Rollins.  He has already said that he won’t be able to run like he usually does.

So with a lineup that is a question mark, why are the Phillies considered to be the favorites? 

The optimism is due to having the best starting pitching in the playoffs.  The trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels should give the Phillies the pitching advantage in just about every game.  While other teams may have one ace who can match up well enough against Halladay, I’m thinking that Oswalt is better than every other #2 starter out there, and Hamels is assuredly the best #3.  (And although they won’t need him in the NLDS, Joe Blanton is certainly a good option as a #4)

(For whatever reason, I felt like Halladay’s season was slightly disappointing.  He was hyped up so much before the season, that I guess I either expected him to never lose or to give us a Stephen Strasburg-like wow factor.  Halladay may not have jaw dropping stuff like Strasburg, but he just doggedly gets the job done.  But considering he’s had the best season by a Phillies pitcher in almost 30 years and will probably win the Cy Young Award, I guess I’m just really hard to please)

Assuming they can get at least seven innings from their starters, the Phillies have to like their chances, because the backend of their bullpen has been strong lately as well.  Ryan MADSON!!! continues to excel as a setup man, and despite Phillies fans’ lack of faith in him, Brad Lidge has been solid throughout the second half of the season.

Adding to the Phillies strength is their bench.  They have several players who could contribute if needed, such as Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, and Wilson Valdez.

So what could go wrong?

No matter how good the Phillies look, their opponents are not going to simply roll over for them.  Their NLDS opponents will be the Cincinnati Reds, who are certainly not a lightweight.  In order to make the playoffs, a team has to be pretty good, and the Reds have one of the best lineups in baseball.  Led by probable league MVP Joey Votto, the Reds led the league in runs scored.  This team is certainly capable of scoring on the Phillies’ pitchers.

And while the Reds’ starters may not be as dominant as the Phillies’ trio, they are still pretty good.  Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and Bronson Arroyo are all capable of pitching a strong game and shutting down the Phillies offense.

If the Reds’ starters can keep the game close, the Reds may have an advantage due to their bullpen.  One key to defeating the Phillies is having strong relievers – particularly from the left side – who can be brought in for important late game situations.

The Reds have two such relievers in Aroldis Chapman and Arthur Rhodes.  Chapman is the rookie sensation from Cuba who throws the fastest ball in the majors.  Rhodes is a veteran who had a solid year – although the Phillies did pretty well against him when they faced off.  It wouldn’t surprise me if at least one game hinges on a matchup between one of these pitchers and the Phillies’ left handed sluggers.

So what’s my prediction?

Despite the Reds being a solid team, I can’t see them overcoming the Phillies.  The Phillies have playoff experience, they’re entering the playoffs on a hot streak, and they fared well against the Reds in the regular season, going 5-2.

I could see the Reds beating one of the Phillies three starters in a game.  But can they beat Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels three times?  I don’t see it happening.

Phillies in a sweep.

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Eagles Week 4: Kolb and the Defense Come Up Short in McNabb’s Return

October 4, 2010

Donovan McNabb’s Redskins defeated the Eagles yesterday, and amazingly, McNabb wasn’t even the big story of the game.

First off, as I predicted, McNabb received a positive reaction from the crowd when he was introduced.  Many gave him a standing ovation.  I hope that will shut up the national media types who were sure that the crowd would be hostile to him. 

Of course when the Redskins offense took the field, there were boos.  But I think that was to say “We gave you your props, but now you’re the enemy and we’re rooting against you.”  Nothing wrong with that.

As for the game itself, the Eagles did not play well.  Special teams mistakes, poor tackling, and countless penalties – many on key plays – pretty much handed the game to the Redskins. 

Despite all that, the biggest news was probably the injury suffered by Michael Vick, and the lackluster performance by Kevin Kolb in relief.  Against a defense that had been torched the past couple of weeks, Kolb looked either unwilling or unable to complete a pass downfield. 

What went right?

– Not too much in this section.  RB LeSean McCoy had a very busy day.  Reid actually ran the ball a decent amount, and since Kolb only likes to throw screen passes or dump offs, he had a busy receiving day.  For the most part, he ran well, but he did have an extremely costly fumble which probably cost them points.

– Sav Rocca had a good day punting.  (No, it isn’t good when the punter is one of the highlights)

What went wrong?

– The Eagles continue to commit costly penalties.  On two different occasions, the Eagles had the Redskins stopped on third down, but committed penalties which kept the drive alive.  Especially galling was a roughing the passer penalty on McNabb, since the refs almost never called that on McNabb when he was a member of the Eagles.

– While the offensive line did seem to give Kolb adequate time, I think that may have been due to a heavy protection scheme and the Redskins not employing a heavy pass rush.  The line also committed a few key penalties, most notably on the play where Vick got injured.

– Another special teams breakdown came on the Eagles first punt.  They allowed a long return setting up the Redskins’ first touchdown.

– The defense did not have a good showing.  They couldn’t seem to tackle well at all, and because of it, Redskins backup RB Ryan Torain had a big game.  Normally reliable guys like Quintin Mikell and Stewart Bradley both had some missed tackles. 

– There were also some breakdowns in coverage, and the Eagles were lucky that McNabb was inaccurate.  On the first play, he missed the receiver.  On the second, he hit WR Anthony Armstrong for a long completion, but he stumbled out of bounds after the catch.  Both plays could have been touchdowns with better passes.

– Kolb looked slow and indecisive, as every play seemed to take forever to develop.  And the belief that Kolb is an accurate passer might be a myth.  It’s not that hard to be accurate when you’re throwing nothing but screen passes and outlet passes to the backs.

Later in the game, when the Eagles desperately needed to stretch the field, Kolb simply wasn’t able to get it done.  This wasn’t a strong secondary the Eagles were facing, and if Kolb is unable to succeed against them, it’s a bit scary to think what will happen when he faces a good defense.

While the announcers seemed to want to use Kolb’s youth and inexperience as an excuse, you have to keep in mind that this is his fourth year in the league, and the Eagles pretty much handed him the keys for the season.  If he isn’t ready to play now, then he might never be.

The McNabb Report

It may have been a one game aberration, but Redskins coach Mike Shanahan may have realized what Andy Reid never seemed to: Donovan McNabb is not an elite quarterback, and the onus of winning football games shouldn’t be put solely on his shoulders.

McNabb didn’t have a great game.  He was actually kind of lousy.  There was an interception, inaccurate deep balls, and some classic McNabb grounders.

But, he wasn’t forced to be the whole offense, and he made a couple of big plays to win the game.  The touchdown to Chris Cooley was a perfect pass.  And his scramble for a first down helped seal the deal.  (Although you can question why he ran out of bounds)

If the Redskins running game can perform the way it did yesterday, and McNabb can keep making a few big plays a game, then the Redskins might have a winning formula.  If the Redskins were smart, they’d use Torain as the feature back.  It might have been a fluke performance yesterday, but if the alternative is Clinton Portis, then they should at least give him a chance.  Portis looks slow and seems to get injured on every play.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

I’m still not sure what happened when the Eagles had the ball on the goal line late in the second quarter.  The announcers didn’t seem to know either.  After a booth review to see if the Eagles had scored a touchdown, the Eagles called timeout to set up the next play.  Bafflingly, after the timeout, as the play clock wound down, the offense wasn’t ready, and they were charged with a delay of game penalty.

While I’m sure the officials may have done something wrong (the announcers said as much), I have to question why after a lengthy review and a timeout, the Eagles offense wasn’t ready to go regardless.  Why did they wait so long to come onto the field in the first place? 

This is not the type of thing that should happen to a coach who has been in the league for over eleven years.

Elsewhere in the NFL

– After looking horrendous last week against the Eagles, the Jaguars manage to upset the Colts on a last minute field goal.  Does anyone know who in the NFL is actually good right now?  The league says it wants parity, and that certainly seems to be what we have right now.

– The Bears are no longer undefeated, as the Giants (a team who many were writing off after last week) crushed them on defense.  QB Jay Cutler was sacked nine times and was eventually knocked out of the game.

Eagles Next Opponent

As I predicted, the San Francisco 49ers appear to be this year’s team that was overhyped without actually achieving anything and then disappoints.  It was a close contest against the Atlanta Falcons, but a last minute Falcons field goal dropped the 49ers to 0-4. 

 If there was ever a bad time to play on 0-4 team, this is it.  The 49ers will be desperate, and the Eagles have to play a cross-country night game, which is always tough.   The Eagles also often underperform in prime time games as well.  And considering how bad the Eagles run defense has been, RB Frank Gore might be due for a monumental effort.

Final Analysis

Vick’s status is still uncertain, but considering he’s going in for an MRI today, I’m guessing he’ll miss at least a couple of weeks.  This may be Kolb’s big chance to reclaim the starting job.  Considering how he was the designated heir to McNabb, you have to figure that if he looks good, he’ll remain the starter even after Vick returns.  On the other hand, if he continues to falter, then you have to wonder how many more opportunities he’ll receive.

He’s definitely going to have to look better than he has thus far.  While it is good that he can complete short passes, he has to remember that he’s got some dynamic wide receivers on the team.  If he can’t get the ball to them, then the Eagles offense is not going to succeed.

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Donovan McNabb and Eagles Fans: A Love-Hate Relationship

October 1, 2010

It’s Donovan McNabb week in the NFL!  McNabb and the Redskins are coming to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles!  And that can only mean one thing: Members of the national media will take this opportunity to criticize Philadelphia sports fans.

According to some of the media pundits, Philly fans are evil, horrible creatures.  We hate everyone and everything.  If you don’t believe it, the proof can be found with one story:  The Santa Claus Incident.

Every time somebody wants to point out how bad Philly fans are, they always mention the Santa Claus incident.  “Philly fans are so horrible!  They booed and threw snowballs at Santa!”

Is it possible that people can stop referencing this story?  First, this incident happened in 1968, so many of the fans involved aren’t even around anymore.  And when you look at what actually happened, it wasn’t as horrible as some people would have you believe.

Supposedly (I can’t speak in certainties because this happened 42 years ago!) this incident came at halftime of a December game where the Eagles – a very bad team at the time – were playing horribly.  There was supposed to be a Christmas show, but the guy playing Santa Claus didn’t show up. 

At the last minute, they pulled some guy out of the stands who happened to come to the game wearing a Santa suit.  He was skinny and wearing a cheap looking fake beard.  He was supposed to be pulled around the stadium in a sleigh, but because of snowy conditions, the sleigh couldn’t make it around the field.  Instead, he had to get out and kind of stumble around.  From all accounts, it was a sorry spectacle.

Already annoyed by the team and the game, the fans didn’t react well to this.  Was it a shining moment in the city’s history?  No, but it isn’t the same as fans just maliciously throwing snowballs at Santa Claus.  We also shouldn’t act like this wouldn’t have happened in many NFL cities.

Assuming we can move past that incident, in recent times most of the criticism of Philly fans has centered around our treatment of McNabb.  Apparently, Philly fans never appreciated McNabb properly, and we supposedly didn’t give him the respect that he deserved.

For evidence of this, the clip of McNabb beeing booed at draft day is always shown as if this is somehow representative of how Eagles fans treated McNabb. 

I understand that this may be a bit confusing for some people, but I want to explain: Eagles fans were not booing McNabb.  They were booing the Eagles selection of McNabb.  There is a difference.

Once the fans got over their disappointment of the selection, they were generally supportive of McNabb.  Sure, there were some who didn’t like him, but just about every quarterback in the league has some detractors.

Side rant:

It’s amazing that Indianapolis and Green Bay fans have the nerve to criticize Philly fans about their mistreatment of McNabb.  Colts fans say: “We never criticize Peyton Manning!”  Well, Manning has multiple MVP awards, a Super Bowl ring, and will easily get mentioned among the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  Why would they criticize him?

And as for Green Bay’s treatment of Brett Favre, it shows what winning a Super Bowl early in your career can do for you.  Despite countless subsequent playoff flameouts, Packers fans continued to worship Favre.  And how did that work out for them in the end?

Anyway, if I had to sum up the Philadelphia/McNabb relationship it would be that Eagles fans liked McNabb but felt disappointed by him.  We REALLY wanted him to lead the team to a Super Bowl win, and when the team fell short every year, it led to some bitterness.

Up until February 2005, most Eagles fans believed that McNabb would eventually lead the team to a title.  Then came the Super Bowl loss, the T.O. controversy, and a couple of season ending injuries.  After he came back from another season ending injury in 2007, McNabb didn’t seem to be the same QB that he once had been.  He was still one of the better QBs in the league, but he didn’t seem to be quite at the elite level.

With McNabb as the QB, the Eagles seemed destined to be good enough to make the playoffs every year, but not quite good enough to win the Super Bowl.

I’m not saying that the playoff failures were all McNabb’s fault.  In most of the losses, the rest of the team played poorly.  But McNabb certainly didn’t carry the team to victory either. 

For whatever reason, Andy Reid decided that his offense would require McNabb to be great in order to succeed.  I realize that this may sound a bit stupid.  Don’t most offenses require their quarterbacks to play well in order to succeed?  Yes, but other teams at least give their quarterbacks some help. 

Other teams often surround their QB with good receivers who can be depended on to make a big play when necessary.   As any Eagles fan could tell you, aside from Terrell Owens, the Eagles never had a receiver who could be relied on to make a big play.  Other teams will also occassionally rely on the run game to win games.  But that wasn’t Andy Reid’s style.

Basically, the Eagles needed McNabb to have a big day in order to win, and sadly, in most of those playoff losses, he was not up to the task.

That essentially is the reason that many Eagles fans were fine with McNabb leaving town.  After ten years of the Reid-McNabb combo falling short, we figured that something had to change.  It is unlikely that Andy Reid was going to change his ways, and therefore, McNabb had to go.

Was it so wrong that the Eagles got rid of McNabb?  He was a good – not great – quarterback, who by all reports is a good guy.  Does that somehow make the Eagles obligated to keep him?  Isn’t the ultimate goal of an NFL team to win the Super Bowl?  If the team decides that they aren’t going to win the Super Bowl with McNabb, then why are they obligated to keep him?

It might be nice to think that loyalty means something in the NFL, but as we’ve seen countless times, loyalty comes second to winning.  (And possibly third behind making money).  That’s why Brian Dawkins is in Denver and Brett Favre is in Minnesota.

For their part, the Eagles have been nothing but complimentary towards McNabb and they tried their best to send him to a suitable destination.  Supposedly, they had good offers from teams like the Bills and Raiders, but McNabb had no interest in going there.  He wanted to play for Mike Shanahan, so despite being a division rival, the Eagles traded him to the Redskins.

I’ve heard some say that it is disgraceful that Eagles fans wouldn’t give McNabb the respect he deserved, and yet are cheering for Michael Vick.  This is absolutely ridiculous.

There are still Eagles fans who won’t cheer for Michael Vick.  My mother has completely turned on the team because of him, and I’m sure there are others like her.

As for those who do cheer for him, what else would you expect?  He’s the quarterback of the Eagles.  Fans want to see the Eagles win, so when Vick plays as well as he has, they will get behind him.  When it comes down to it, fans are generally loyal to the team first, and the players second.

Besides, Vick has only been the starting QB for two games.  Let’s wait to see how his tenure plays out before we judge how he was ultimately received by the fans.

As for how McNabb will be received this week, I know that many media members are sure that Philly fans will show their “vicious, nasty side,” and boo him without restraint.  I’m sure that some in the crowd will boo him.  Some people never liked him, and now he is a former Eagle now playing for a divisional rival.

But I believe that a majority of the fans will cheer him.  In past instances of former stars returning (Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley), the stars were given a warm welcome.  Like with those former stars, I believe that the fans will appreciate that McNabb didn’t necessarily want to leave Philadelphia, but circumstances forced him out. 

I believe that most fans will remember the good McNabb moments and will applaud him on behalf of the great games he had for the Eagles. 

Hopefully, the image of Eagles fans cheering their former star quarterback will then become a symbol of the classiness of Philly fans.  From here on out, people will see that Philly fans can be very good to their players both past and present.

And then maybe we won’t have to hear any more tired stories about booing Santa Claus.  But somehow, I doubt it.