Archive for December, 2010

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Eagles Week 16: Vikings Dominate on Tuesday Night

December 29, 2010

As expected, the Minnesota Vikings simply rolled over for the Eagles on their way to a possible first round playoff bye.

No, wait, that didn’t actually happen.

Instead, the Eagles looked completely disinterested, and were dominated by the out-of-contention Vikings, making rookie QB Joe Webb look like a star in the making.

What Went Right

– Very little.  The Eagles failed on offense, defense, and special teams. 

– Clay Harbor did catch his first career touchdown.

What Went Wrong

-Pretty much everything.  Michael Vick’s MVP candidacy essentially ended, as he was harassed by blitzes all night, and was especially sloppy with the ball.  Two promising drives were ended by his fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

– DeSean Jackson looked as if he had spent the week watching highlights of his punt return against the Giants.  He didn’t seem to be trying especially hard out there.

– Cornerback Dmitri Patterson had another disastrous game, resulting in him being benched.

– The defense couldn’t bring down Webb.  Juqua Parker was the worst offender, seemingly missing him on four different occasions.

– This game will not quiet the detractors of defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.  When the defense needed to make a big stop in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t do it.  Especially galling was the 3rd and 11 play where after calling a defensive timeout, they allowed a rookie linebacker to cover the Vikings’ best receiver.  The result was a first down that led to a touchdown.

– Late in the game, they allowed Vikings’ RB Adrian Peterson to gain large chunks of yardage.  Rookie safety Kurt Coleman made a few plays, but a youthful mistake hurt them on one big Peterson run.

– David Akers came up short on a 54 yard field goal, but more costly, after the Eagles scored their second touchdown, he sent the kick off out of bounds, sparking another touchdown drive by the Vikings.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

I realize that 4th and 18 isn’t a great situation.  But it seemed better to go for it there rather than punt the ball when you’re trailing by two scores midway through the 4th quarter.

The Eagles have made a ton of big plays all year.  Picking up 18 yards certainly isn’t impossible for their offense.  Yet Reid incorrectly thought his defense – showing definite signs of tiring at that point – was going to be able to get the ball right back.

The McNabb Report

Donovan McNabb’s agent and Redskins’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spent the week attacking each other through the press.

Shanahan claimed that McNabb’s poor play was holding back the Redskins’ offense.  And since McNabb was replaced by Rex Grossman, the Redskins’ offense has looked considerably better. 

McNabb supposedly offered suggestions as to how to get the offense working better when he was still the starter, but Shanahan wouldn’t listen.  This does seem likely to me, as Shanahan is supposedly an “offensive genius.”  The problem with “offensive geniuses” is that they are convinced that their system will work, and they aren’t usually big on adjustments.

McNabb was clearly a bad fit for the Shanahan offense.  But that once again raises the question of why they traded for him in the first place.  McNabb was a pretty well known commodity after ten years in the league, so his style shouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone.

Was this just another case of owner Dan Snyder looking to bring in the biggest name available?  It certainly looks like it.

Elsewhere in the NFL

– The AFC playoff picture is mostly settled heading into week 17.  The Patriots have earned the conference’s top seed.

– After falling to the Saints, the Falcons need to beat the Panthers to earn the NFC’s top seed.  If they can’t beat the lowly Panthers, they don’t deserve the top seed.

– The NFC West title will come down to the winner of Sunday night’s Rams vs. Seahawks game.  I’m guessing the NFL is hoping the 7-8 Rams win, so they avoid the embarrassment of having a team with a losing record make the playoffs.

Eagles Next Opponent

Continuing the Cowboys’ laughable season, they lost to the Cardinals by one point, shortly after their kicker missed an extra point.  Making matters worse, they also lost another quarterback, as backup Jon Kitna suffered an abdominal strain.  They will now be using rookie Stephen McGee as the QB for the finale.

On the bright side, the Eagles now have nothing to play for since they are locked into the #3 seed.  With the Cowboys supposedly playing for their coach’s job, look for them to be the much more motivated team on Sunday.

Final Analysis

I don’t know if this game “exposed” the Eagles (Their flaws were pretty obvious beforehand) as much as it showed their youth and inexperience. 

Maybe it was the two day delay.  Maybe it was the lack of Brett Favre.  Whatever the reason, the Eagles looked as if they thought they could simply show up and a win was guaranteed.  Obviously that was not the case.

Of course, the loss isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Aside from a potential wake-up call for the team, it also makes next week’s game into essentially a preseason contest. 

I doubt that we’ll see much of their hobbled players, if they play at all.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Kevin Kolb play the entire game at QB, and for DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuel to sit out as well.

Let’s just hope that the Eagles learn from this, use the pseudo-bye week to get healthy, and come out strong for the playoffs.

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Eagles Week 15: DeSean Jackson Pulls Off Another Miracle

December 20, 2010

“There’s no way they punt the ball to DeSean Jackson.”

“Why?”

“Because he could return it for a touchdown, and they wouldn’t take that chance.  They’ll just punt it out of bounds.  I’m sure the coach is telling the punter that if he punts the ball to Jackson he will kill him.

“I can’t believe they punted to him.  Oh crap, he fumbled.  OK, he’s got it back.  Go! Go! Go!  YES! YESSSS!  What are you doing?  Get in the damn end zone!  YES!  YESSSSSS!!!!!  YESSSSSSSS!!!!!”

And so went “The Miracle at the Meadowlands Part Four.”

For those unfamiliar with the other Miracles (and due to all the media coverage of them today, you shouldn’t be):

1978 – The Giants were leading by 5 with less than a minute remaining and the Eagles were out of timeouts.  Instead of a game ending kneel down, the Giants QB Joe Pisarcik attempted to hand the ball off, but fumbled the handoff.  The ball was scooped up by Eagles defensive back Herm Edwards who ran it in for the game winning touchdown.

1988 – With the game in overtime, the Eagles were attempting a game winning field goal.  The kick was blocked, but bounced right into the arms of Eagles lineman Clyde Simmons who ran it in for a 23-17 victory.

2003 – The Eagles had gotten very little out of their offense all day and were trailing 10-7.  But with less than two minutes remaining, Brian Westbrook returned a punt 84 yards for the game winning touchdown.

And now, DeSean Jackson has officially christened the new Meadowlands stadium with a Miracle of his own.  This was the first time a team has ever won a game on a punt return with no time remaining.

Midway through the fourth quarter, nobody would have thought that Jackson would even have a chance to win the game.  He had just fumbled (although replays showed that it shouldn’t have been a fumble) and the Giants used the turnover to score another touchdown and go ahead 31-10.

It should have been over.  I thought it was over.  But Michael Vick had other ideas. 

When the Eagles got the ball back, the Giants unwisely tried to cover TE Brent Celek (having an awful game up to that point) with a lineman, and the result was a long touchdown strike that gave the Eagles a small bit of hope.

For some reason, the Giants seemed unaware that the Eagles might try an onside kick.  Without much opposition, the Eagles executed it perfectly.  Vick quickly led the team down the field and ran in another touchdown to bring the Eagles within a touchdown.

The Giants gained a couple of first downs on their next possession, and forced the Eagles to use their timeouts.  But finally, the Giants drive stalled, and they punted the ball away.  The Eagles had the ball deep in their own territory, but with about three minutes remaining, they had plenty of time to go down the field.

It turned out, they didn’t even need that much time.  Using both his arm and legs, Vick quickly drove down the field, tying the game with a pass to WR Jeremy Maclin.

At this point, I was worried that they had scored too quickly, as the Giants would have time for a potential game winning score.  But partially thanks to a Giants false start, as well as a huge sack by Trevor Laws, the Giants had to punt the ball away with 14 seconds remaining.

And the rest is history. 

With the improbable victory, the Eagles merely need to win one of their remaining two games to clinch the NFC East.

What Went Right

– Battered and frustrated by the Giants defense all day, midway through the fourth quarter, Michael Vick seemed to say “Screw this, I’m taking over.” 

People can rightfully talk about how he has improved as a passer, but the real reason he is so dangerous is because he can also run the ball like no other QB in the league. 

That was my biggest complaint about Donovan McNabb.  On days when the passing game wasn’t working, he could still make it work by using his legs.  But McNabb either didn’t realize this, or was so determined to not be a “running quarterback” that he wouldn’t use his running ability to take over when the Eagles were struggling.

– The defense had some issues, but in the fourth quarter, they made some big stops and forced the Giants to keep giving the ball back to the Eagles. 

The Giants rushing attack had been tearing opponents up recently, but yet the Giants did little damage on the ground, and couldn’t put the game away when they needed to.

– The special teams carried the team to victory.  The punt return and onside kick were both huge plays.

What Went Wrong

– All of the Eagles’ weaknesses were on full display.  The offensive line had all sorts of problems with the Giants pass rush.  Once again, I could complain that these problems might be alleviated by running the ball more, but that’s kind of like complaining that it is cold outside.  Complain all you want, but it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

– The Eagles was especially shaky.  Asante Samuel doesn’t appear to be at full strength, and Dmitri Patterson has been showing why he’s never had a starting job before.  He had an especially bad game. 

Adding to their problems, it looks like free safety Nate Allen is going to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

Quite a lot to choose from in this game. 

You could start with the Eagles looking unprepared for the Giants pass rush for most of the game, and a lack of adjustments.

I also want to call attention to a situation which is sure to be overlooked considering everything else that happened.  Late in the third quarter, the Eagles were at midfield facing a third and long.  With the Eagles trailing, I felt they would have been best served running the ball on third down, and hopefully setting up a manageable fourth down.  Instead, they threw long, missed, and punted.

Seemed like a huge opportunity wasted.

Of course, that doesn’t compare to Reid’s inexplicable non-challenge of the DeSean Jackson fumble.  Even knowing Reid’s horrible track record in challenges, looking at the replays, Jackson had obviously been touched, and the play should not have been ruled a fumble.

The McNabb Report

Apparently, since the Redskins have been eliminated from the playoffs, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has seen enough of McNabb and wants to evaluate what backup QB Rex Grossman can do. 

It’s not like Grossman is a young QB with star potential.  He’s a six-year veteran who had a chance with the Bears, and he largely failed.  It’s never good when a team makes the Super Bowl, and everyone says that they made it in spite of their QB.

To his credit, Grossman played pretty well.  Although he did throw a bad interception at the end of the game with the Redskins attempting a comeback.

Before the season, I thought that Shanahan would be able to tailor the Redskins offense around McNabb and they would have some success.  But it seems more and more apparent that Shanahan never really wanted McNabb, and the move was probably owner Dan Snyder’s idea.

Did any Redskins fan think it was likely that in week 16, former starter Patrick Ramsey might have a starting NFL job, and McNabb would not?

It looks like McNabb will be elsewhere next year.  I’m guessing he’ll head to Arizona where he will be near his home, and where the team is desperate for a quarterback.

Elsewhere in the NFL

– The Jets halted their collapse by holding off the Steelers’ attempt at a last minute comeback.  The Jets maintained their hold on the last AFC Wild Card spot, while the Steelers failed to clinch the AFC North.

– The Ravens are currently the conference’s other wild card team as they emerged victorious against the Saints.  Despite the loss, the Saints are still in control of a wild card spot.

Eagles Next Opponent

The Vikings take on the Bears in a game that has been shifted to the University of Minnesota’s field due to the now well-publicized damage to the Metrodome roof.

It would help the Eagles greatly if the Vikings could beat the Bears, but considering they’ll be led by untested QB Joe Webb, that doesn’t seem likely. 

It is still unknown who the Vikings QB will be for the game next week.  It seems doubtful that Brett Favre will come back, but the game is in prime time, and we all know that Favre would probably love another farewell showcase.

Regardless of the QB, stopping RB Adrian Peterson will be the Eagles’ biggest concern.

Final Analysis

The Eagles had no business winning this game.  They were outplayed, outcoached, and made some huge mistakes.  And yet, thanks to Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, they won.

While it worries me that the team has several huge weakness, it is also reassuring that they are able to compensate for them.

I also think that a dramatic win can sometimes boost a team’s fortunes.  Often times in the NFL, a team will pull off a miraculous win, and it will be a springboard to future success.  The team starts to believe that they are great, and as a result, they play great. 

At the very least, this team can never be counted out.  They have pulled off three straight wins where they were trailing in the second half.  You have to think that the Eagles now believe that no matter the score, they still have a chance to win.

Now, the Eagles just need to take care of business at home against a couple of non-contenders.  If they do so, a playoff home game – and possibly a bye – await them.

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Cliff Lee? Cliff Lee!

December 14, 2010

I certainly didn’t see this coming.

There was no way that the Phillies could sign Cliff Lee.  While a lot of Phillies fans may have had it in the back of their minds as a wonderful fantasy scenario, most of us were sure that it wasn’t going to happen. 

As I’ve said before, the only team that would make a move like this is the Yankees, and the Phillies are not the Yankees.  Sure, they’ve spent a lot of money in recent years, but you kept hearing their front office talk about payroll limits, and financial flexibility, which are terms you never hear  in the Bronx.

But then you wake up one morning, turn on SportsCenter to see that the Phillies have signed Cliff Lee, and you joyously realize that your team will not let money stand in the way of obtaining a player that they want.

To be fair, they did sign Lee for below market value.  He is passing up higher offers from the Yankees and the Rangers.  One rumored offer from the Yankees is said to be worth $30 million more than what the Phillies offered him.  So it isn’t like they simply outpriced the competition as the Yankees were attempting to do.

This does re-raise the question as to why the Phillies traded him in the first place.

The main reason the Phillies gave for trading him was a desire to re-stock their farm system.  On recent years, they had traded away several top prospects in various deals.  Due to this, their system was a bit depleted, and they saw trading Lee as an easy way to remedy that.

Most people didn’t fully believe this explanation, mostly because the prospects they received in exchange for Lee were underwhelming. 

The Mariners gave up pitchers Philippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, along with outfielder Tyson Gillies.  None of them appeared to be a “can’t miss” prospect, and they all had disappointing 2010 seasons.

Since the prospect haul wasn’t overwhelming, most people figured that the deal had to be about money.  Lee would be a free agent after the 2010 season, and reports were that he was looking to get the biggest deal that he could.

The Phillies – who up until yesterday had an informal policy of never giving a pitcher a contract longer than four years – didn’t think that they’d be able to match what Lee would get on the open market.  Supposedly, they had offered Lee a hefty extension last year (although reportedly less than what he eventually received) and they were rejected.

They were then faced with the prospect of both Lee and outfielder Jayson Werth hitting freee agency after the 2010 season.  Both would be among the most coveted free agents, and both would be sure to receive large new contracts.  (And as we’ve seen, this did indeed happen) 

The Phillies would then have holes in both their pitching rotation and lineup.  So they decided to pre-emptively address one of the issues by trading for Roy Halladay and dealing away Lee.  Halladay had expressed a desire to come to Philadelphia, and to prove it, he signed a contract extension for significantly less than he would have been expected to get in free agency.

After the trade, Lee expressed disappointment.  He had hoped to remain in Philadelphia and thought that there was significant progress being made towards a contract extension.  Most people believed that he did want to stay in Philadelphia, but not to the point where he’d take a below market deal similar to Halladay’s. 

As it turns out, Lee was telling the truth.  He really did want to stay in Philadelphia. 

While I’m happy about the signing, there are a few concerns with the deal.

While Lee isn’t seen as an injury risk, they are paying him a lot of money into his thirties.  Even the best conditioned pitchers can have injury problems as they get older. 

Look at the contract the Mets gave Johan Santana a few years ago.  Like Lee, he was considered one of the best pitchers in baseball, and seemed like a good risk.  But he has suffered from injuries the past couple of seasons, and his contract now seems like a tremendous burden on the Mets’ payroll.

Of course, the fact that the Phillies have four ace level pitchers on their staff mitigates the injury risk of each one somewhat.  Even if Lee gets hurt, they can still rely on Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

Signing Lee also doesn’t help the fact that the Phillies are an aging team.  Their core is all in their thirties, and some of their players are showing signs of decline.  Most people thought that the Phillies would look to get younger, not older.

On the other hand, since the team is aging, and the window for contention is supposedly closing, it makes sense to sign Lee and try to win a championship now.  As the Phillies well know, championship caliber talent doesn’t come around that often, so you’d better try to win when you have the chance.

I’m also slightly worried that Phillies fans have mythologized Lee a bit.  His 2009 postseason was excellent, but he also was a bit shaky in September of that season.  And as the Yankees showed in the most recent World Series, he can be beaten in the postseason.  His presence alone does not guarantee a title.

So now that Lee is once again a Phillie, what have we learned?

1. When it comes to baseball rumors, don’t believe anything until it is official. 

Often times, rumors are started by agents or team officials just to put pressure on the other party in negotiations.  Until you hear an official announcement, it’s almost impossible to know just what to believe.

Up until yesterday, everyone thought that Lee would sign with either the Yankees or Rangers.  The Phillies weren’t even thought of as a possibility.  And remember that nobody seemed to have any clue that Werth would sign with the Nationals either.

2. Sometimes it really isn’t all about the money. 

Obviously Lee is not being underpaid.  He’s still going to be one of the highest paid players in baseball.  But he didn’t take the highest contract available either.  Lee wanted to play for the Phillies, so that’s where he signed.

As the phrase goes, money talks and bulls*** walks.  Many times players say they want to stay somewhere, but end up following the money.  It’s nice to see that Lee actually stuck by what he said.

He certainly didn’t seem to want to go to the Yankees, despite the money they were willing to pay him.  I’m sure the fact that Yankees fans spit on his wife during a playoff game didn’t exactly endear the New York fan base to him.

And for whatever reason, he didn’t seem to want to stay with the Rangers either, despite making it to the World Series with them. 

I’m sure his agent isn’t as happy as he could be.  There are rumors that his agent was the one pushing the idea that Lee wanted to be the highest paid pitcher in baseball.  But maybe if the agent hadn’t pushed that idea, then Lee never would have left Philadelphia to begin with.

3. It’s good to be a fan of a big market team. 

You can’t simply buy a World Series title, but having a lot of money to spend is a huge help.

Baseball teams are divided into several financial classes.  There are some small market teams with very limited financial resources.  These teams can’t afford to pay for expensive free agents, and they expect to lose their stars once they hit free agency. 

Teams like this can only hope to contend by developing good young players and hope that they all mature around the same time.  Unfortunately for them, this is rare and the small market teams will often go long stretches between playoff seasons. 

Even when it happens, the window for contention is limited for the poor teams.  Those young players eventually become free agents and go looking for a large contract which their team can not match.  The team must either trade them for prospects before that happens, or risk losing them for nothing.

For an example, see the recent Tampa Bay Rays teams.  Their young core matured to the point where they were contenders for a few seasons, but now they are starting to lose players.  OF Carl Crawford recently signed with the Red Sox, and they may have to trade pitcher Matt Garza as well.  Will the Rays still be contenders without them?  It is possible, but their chances are diminished.

On the other end of the spectrum are the rich teams.  These teams typically play in the country’s biggest markets, have stadiums that make a lot of money, and have expensive television contracts.  Money is usually not an obstacle for these teams when acquiring players.

A common misconception is that the rich teams go out and simply outspend everyone else for the best free agents.  But, that is not always the case.  Often times, the biggest contracts are given out by middle-class teams looking to make an impact, similar to what the Nationals did with Jayson Werth.

The biggest difference is that the rich teams can afford multiple stars as well as expensive complimentary players.  A small market team like the Twins can sign star catcher Joe Maurer to a big deal.  But as a result, they can’t really afford other expensive players to go with him.  They have to surround him with either young players or fringe free agents and hope that they overperform.

On the other hand, even though the Phillies are paying a lot of money to stars like Halladay, Lee, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley (and most teams couldn’t afford those four players alone), they can still afford higher priced supporting players like Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco.

Another advantage held by rich teams is that they can afford to make mistakes.  The Red Sox spent a fortune to acquire Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, and he has been a disappointment.  But that didn’t stop them from signing Crawford to a huge deal. 

If a smaller market team made that kind of mistake, their payroll would be crippled, and they’d probably be forced to trade some people away.  They certainly wouldn’t be able to sign yet another high priced free agent.

Ten years ago, this economic disparity bothered me greatly.  The Phillies were part of the lower middle class, and the Yankees were coming off another championship, thanks in part to their large payroll.  It felt like the Phillies would never be serious contenders simply because they couldn’t match the financial resources of the rich teams. 

Much has changed in ten years.  The Phillies built a new stadium, which has been a huge source of revenue for the team.  They are also experiencing an unprecedented surge in popularity.  As a result, ticket sales are maxing out, they sell a ton of merchandise, and television ratings are up – meaning they receive even more money from the broadcast rights.

Now, the Phillies are clearly part of baseball’s upper class.  They spend a lot of money, and are seen as a desired destination for free agents.

Baseball’s financial system clearly has some problems.  But when dealing with an imperfect system, it’s always better to be on the good side.  I’ve seen it from both sides, and this is much better.

I’m sure fans of other teams will complain about the Phillies trying to buy a championship.  I’ve already heard a lot of “Yankees of the National League” talk.  I can understand people’s anger.  If I was a fan of the Rays or Pittsburgh Pirates, I would probably feel the same way.  If it’s any consolation, Phillies fans had to endure many years of suffering before we got to this point.

4. The Phillies could have re-signed Jayson Werth if they wanted to. 

Obviously, despite their earlier claims of maxing out their payroll, there was still money available.  And they did in fact offer Werth a sizable deal.  But they weren’t going to give him the money – and perhaps more importantly, the number of years – that the Nationals did.

Unlike Lee, Werth didn’t want to stay in Philadelphia enough to take a below market deal, and I don’t really blame him.  Werth’s early career was derailed by injuries, and he never received a big contract.  He had already won a World Series as a complimentary player, so why not take the money and see if he can help another team win as one of the main stars?

It seems that the Phillies felt that if they were going to pay someone that much money, they’d be better off spending it on a top pitcher like Lee.  Werth has been a very good player for the Phillies, but they seem to feel the same way that I do.  The lineup is based around Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley.  Werth is a very good compliment to them, but ultimately he can be replaced.

5. The Phillies will be good in 2011. 

As I said earlier, you can’t buy a World Series title.  But you can certainly put yourself in good position to win one, and that’s what the Phillies have done.

The Phillies lineup does have some questions considering how they underperformed last year.  But despite all their problems, they still managed to score the second most runs in the National League and win 97 games.

Barring a severe decline in performance by their stars (doubtful based on everyone’s track record) or injury problems (much more likely due to past injury history and advancing age)  the Phillies should make the playoffs. 

Predicting a playoff winner is much more difficult, as playoff victories seem to be more due to matchups and which team gets hot at the right time.  Still, being able to send out an ace-caliber pitcher every game will give the Phillies a huge advantage in the postseason as well.

So for Phillies fans, everything should seem great this morning.  Cliff Lee is back, and the Phillies once again look like favorites for the World Series.

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Eagles Week 13: Jackson and McCoy Take Out the Cowboys

December 13, 2010

The last time the Eagles played in Cowboys Stadium (aka the JerryDome) they were embarrassed, and the Donovan McNabb era effectively came to an end.  The 34-14 playoff loss (combined with the 24-0 loss the week before) showed that major changes needed to be made, and so McNabb was traded away.

Last night’s game was a different story.  By defeating the Cowboys, the Eagles kept hope alive that they will play a game in Dallas once again this season – in the Super Bowl.

For some reason, it feels like every time the Eagles play on Sunday night, the game tends to unfold in a similar manner: The Eagles take an early lead, but are unable to pull away.  The Eagles then make a key mistake in the second half allowing their opponent to go in front.  And finally, the game comes down to whichever team makes a few big plays down the stretch.

Here are some examples from recent years:

Eagles vs. Giants – 2010

Eagles vs. Giants – 2009

Eagles vs. Bears – 2009

Eagles vs. Cowboys – 2009

Eagles vs. Bears – 2008

Eagles vs. Patriots – 2007

Fortunately, this season the Eagles have been the team making the big plays down the stretch and winning the games.

Most of the Eagles success on offense this season has come thanks to big plays made by Michael Vick.  But on a night when Vick wasn’t at his best, two other Eagles stepped up their performances to lead the team to victory. 

DeSean Jackson had over 200 yards receiving, and the biggest play of the game was his 91 yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles the lead.  Vick fired a pass to Jackson which the defender unsuccessfully attempted to pick off, leaving Jackson with a lot of open space.  He then raced down the field before stylishly splashing into the end zone.

Side note: Should that have been a taunting penalty on Jackson?  I thought the penalty was for excessive celebration after the score.  But Jackson’s flop was part of the scoring process and should have been exempt.

LeSean McCoy also had a huge game.  He had a 36 yard run to set up the tying score, and late in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles trying to kill the clock, he picked up several first downs to seal the victory.

What Went Right

– Jackson and McCoy were terrific.  I don’t think it is a stretch to say that McCoy is one of the ten best backs in the NFL right now.

– David Akers continues to be consistently outstanding.

– Despite missing some key players due to injury, the defense did a great job in limiting the Cowboys rushing game.  Once they realized that Jon Kitna either couldn’t or wouldn’t throw downfield, they did a good job of containing damage.

– Guard Todd Herremans reported in as an eligible receiver and scored a touchdown.

What Went Wrong

– Michael Vick continues to take abuse.  While I think some of the concerns are overblown (just about every QB takes some big hits) he does seem to take quite a few direct hits, and it may be decreasing his effectiveness.

– Aside from Jackson and McCoy, the rest of the offensive skill players didn’t really show up.  Jason Avant had two nice catches for first downs, but that was about it.  Jeremy Maclin had a particularly bad receiving game as he had a pass go right through his hands resulting in an interception.

– The defensive front four couldn’t seem to get much pressure on Cowboys QB Jon Kitna.  And as we’ve seen before this season, when opponents are in catch up mode in the fourth quarter, they seem to be scoring way too easily.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

The Eagles had been having a lot of success using max protection on offense.  For whatever reason, they got away from that this week, and as a result, the Cowboys got some good pressure on Vick.

And while I realize that the Eagles’ offense is pass-based, but considering how good McCoy has looked running the ball, it might be a good idea to work in some more running plays early on.

The McNabb Report

The Redskins showed that bad teams will find ways to lose games.  In their previous game, the Redskins didn’t seem to show up, and got blown off the field by the Giants.

Against the Buccaneers, the Redskins gave a much better effort and outplayed their opponents, but still found a way to lose the game.

Good teams take things like extra points for granted.  Bad teams drive down the field for what looked like a last-minute game-tying touchdown only to fumble the snap on the extra point.

The Redskins had problems long before that fumbled snap though.  They once again had problems in the red zone, and were unable to score touchdowns when they got near the goal line.  Those problems were made worse by the fact that their kicker was unable to convert on two short field goal attempts.

Due partially to those missed opportunities, the Redskins found themselves down by seven points late in the 4th quarter.  Fourth quarter drives have not been Donovan McNabb’s specialty, as the coaches famously replaced him with backup Rex Grossman in the game against the Lions.

But this time, McNabb – having another poor game up to this point – steadily drove the team down the field and threw a touchdown pass to Santana Moss on 4th down.  (This was somewhat controversial to viewers at home, as Fox had the down wrong)  But due to the fumbled extra point, what should have been an encouraging day for McNabb ended up as just another disappointment.

Elsewhere in the NFL

– The New England Patriots once again showed why they should be considered the best team in the NFL.  They had a short week after an emotional Monday night victory over a division rival.  They had to travel to face a good Bears team.  Many people expected them to suffer a letdown.

And yet, they had no trouble with the Bears, easily defeating them in a snow-covered 36-7 romp.  The Pats look like they have the AFC’s top seed well under control.

-In the NFC, Atlanta keeps marching towards the conference’s top seed as they defeated the Panthers 31-10.

Eagles Next Opponent

Everyone has probably seen the footage of the Metrodome’s roof collapsing.  As a result, the Giants has to quickly fly to Detroit to play their game against the Vikings.

In a way, the move helps the Giants, as they no longer have to deal with Minnesota’s home field advantage.  In fact, there will probably be quite a few Lions fans on hand to cheer for them (or at least against the Vikings)

On the other hand, they’ll now have a short week before next week’s big showdown against the Eagles.

Final Analysis

The Eagles seemed like they struggled on offense, yet still scored 30 points.  This offense has so many big play weapons, that it seems very difficult to shut them down.

On the other hand, the mounting number of injuries on defense are making that unit more of a concern.  They’ll be without MLB Stewart Bradley and DE Brandon Graham for at least the rest of the regular season if not longer.

But every team in the NFL is dealing with injuries at this time of year.  The good ones tend to have enough quality depth to overcome them. 

Next week’s game against the Giants may very well decide who wins the NFC East.  The Eagles may be on a five game winning streak against the Giants, but even the best Eagles teams have had trouble at the Meadowlands, and the first game between the teams was very close.

If the Eagles want to win the NFC East, they will certainly have their work cut out for them.

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Eagles Week 13: Eagles Pull it Together in the 4th Quarter and Top the Texans

December 3, 2010

All was not well in Eagle-land heading into last night’s game.

Despite their first place standing in the NFC East, they were coming off a loss to the Chicago Bears, and the team was facing some turmoil. 

Andy Reid was unhappy with his team’s focus and preparation.  DeSean Jackson was unhappy with his contract and it appeared that he was becoming a bit of a distraction.

The team’s performance had also slipped.  The defense had been picked apart by Chicago, and the offense was struggling in the red zone. 

Making things worse, they only had a short week to prepare for the Houston Texans and their high powered offense.

But in the NFL, there is one surefire way to make everything better: win.

It certainly was not their best performance of the season, but the Eagles indeed found a way to win last night.  And because of that, things are looking up.  They are now guaranteed at least a share of first place for another week, and more importantly, they have nine days to rest before their next game against the Cowboys.

What Went Right

– Despite taking some hard hits, Michael Vick led the team back after they fell behind in the 3rd quarter.  Similar to what I said after the Giants game, this seemed like the type of game the Eagles had been losing in recent seasons.  Instead, Vick is finding ways to win.

– LeSean McCoy was the Eagles’ best offensive player last night.  He had some big gains both on the ground and with the screen pass, and scored two touchdowns.

– After dropping a would-be touchdown pass in the second quarter, Brent Celek came back to make the biggest play of the game when he stretched out to make a first down. (Once the spot was adjusted thanks to a challenge)  The Eagles went on to score a touchdown and essentially put the game away.

– While the defense had some rough moments, especially trying to stop Andre Johnson, they did make a few big plays – like Trevor Laws’ interception – and stopped the Texans in the fourth quarter.

– David Akers became the Eagles’ all time leader in games played, and kicked two field goals to mark the occasion.

What Went Wrong

– The defense struggled in the middle of the game.  They couldn’t seem to generate much pressure on Texans QB Matt Schaub, and the secondary was clearly overmatched against Johnson.

– The offensive line allowed too many hits on Vick.  It seemed like he was getting knocked to the ground on every pass.

– They continue to have some red zone issues on both sides of the ball.  Jason Avant and Brent Celek both dropped touchdown passes. (Although Avant’s ball might have been slightly tipped)  The defense can’t seem to keep anyone out of the end zone once they’re within the 20 yard line.

– Penalties were a problem last night right from the start.  Jorrick Calvin’s touchdown on the opening kickoff was called back due to a holding penalty.  (Although the hold probably did directly lead to the long return)  In a way, that might have helped the Eagles as they went on to score anyway, and kept the Texans offense off the field.

Other penalties did hurt them though.  Multiple Texans drives were assisted by offsides calls, and the secondary had a few interference/illegal contact calls.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

I was going to give Reid a pass this week since he actually won when challenging the spot on the Celek catch.  While replays showed that it should have been a first down, I am so used to Reid losing these things that I expected the ruling on the field to stand.

Regardless, I have to criticize the Eagles for using two timeouts early in the second quarter.  It certainly seems like the plays aren’t getting sent to the huddle fast enough.

The McNabb Report

Not much news out of Washington since their defeat at the hands of the Vikings on Sunday.  The Redskins will be facing the Giants this week, so Eagles fans should be pulling for the burgundy and gold. 

Donovan McNabb has had a lot of success against the Giants over the past two seasons, and hopefully that can continue this week.    Of course, when he played well against the Giants he also had DeSean Jackson and Brian Westbrook, so it is hard to say if he can duplicate that success.

Elsewhere in the NFL

The big game this week is the battle between the New England Patriots and New York Jets.  The two teams are tied atop the AFC East, and the winner of this game has a good shot at getting the conference’s #1 seed, while the loser will likely end up as a wild card.

Eagles Next Opponent

The Dallas Cowboys have had ten days to think about their heartbreaking Thanksgiving Day loss to the New Orleans Saints.  The Cowboys had undergone somewhat of a renaissance under interim coach Jason Garrett, and looked to have pulled off an improbable comeback against the defending champs.  But then WR Miles Austin had the ball stripped from him, and the Saints went on to win the game.

You have to wonder if that loss ended the Garrett-fueled resurgence.  For a team that was already suffering a disappointing season, a tough loss like that can often lead to players packing things in for the season.

Since the Eagles still have to face them twice, I can only hope that is the case. 

The Cowboys face the Indianapolis Colts this week.  Normally at this point in the season the Colts are cruising towards a playoff bye, but this year, they will struggle just to make the playoffs.

Final Analysis

This would have been a very tough loss.  They would have fallen out of first place and then had to wait ten days to play again. 

But coming off a win, those ten days can now be spent recovering and preparing for the Cowboys next Sunday night.

The win certainly wasn’t pretty, but it is rare for every win in the NFL to be pretty.  Teams have to win ugly games too, and that’s exactly what the Eagles did.