Monday, May 11, 2009

Is It September Yet?

As I've gotten older and my family has grown, the time I have for sports in general has decreased dramatically. All that's left now, for the most part, is the Eagles. And let me be clear--no matter how old I get, this will never change. My interest could ebb and flow if the team goes into the crapper, but in general, I plan to bleed green for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, the Eagles offseason has been interesting, and I'm excited for the 2009 season.

Philly's famous boo birds are unhappy (aren't they always?) that the team didn't trade for a Pro Bowl WR, but anyone with half a brain should be able to look at the Eagles offseason thus far and see how amazing it's been.

Where to start? Trading for Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters, and then signing him to a long-term extension, is a good place. We know Peters has the talent to dominate, and if he can consistently show the work ethic required, he will be protecting the blind side of Eagles QBs for a long time to come. Shawn Andrews, who missed the entire 2008 campaign, has been moved to RT to replace the injured free-agent John Runyan (who still may end up an Eagle if he's well enough to play). Replacing Shawn and RG is his brother Stacey, who the team signed from Cincinnati. The Birds also signed Seattle FB Leonard Weaver, who is a true FB who can block, run and catch passes out of the backfield.

In other pre-draft moves, Brian Dawkins, Sean Consodine, Tra Thomas, Correll Buckhalter and LJ Smith all signed with new teams, and the team picked up Safety's Sean Jones and Rashad Baker.

Where things got interesting was on draft day. The Eagles came away with one of the top WRs in the draft (Jeremy Maclin), a potential franchise-type back in LeSean McCoy, an athletic pass catching TE in Cornelius Ingram, starting CB Ellis Hobbs via a trade with the Patriots, among other miscellaneous parts.

Put all this together, and I think (along with every expert I've read) that the Eagles had a stupendous offseason. If everyone is and stays healthy, they should be the favorites to win the NFC. Doesn't mean they will, but they should definitely be in the hunt.

And that brings me to my opening question. Is it September yet?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A-Rod: Just A Dopey Guy Who Can Play Baseball. Nothing More, Nothing Less.

It's February in the sports world, and with no blockbuster trades brewing in the NBA, the media (ESPN, really) needs something to talk about. SportsCenter is doing a cool piece on each state's Mt. Rushmore of Sports, which is kinda cool. I just saw Alabama--Hank Aaron, Bear Bryant, Bo Jackson, Willie Mays (played 3 yrs for Negro League team in the state).

In terms of purported "news", the story of the day is obviously A-Rod's admission that he did steroids, and his press conference yesterday from the Yanks Spring Training facility in Tampa, FL. There's a fair amount of outrage at the idiocy of some of Rodriguez's comments/responses yesterday (my cousin did it, I didn't know what I was injecting, etc.), but this story is being blown way out of proportion. Not because steroids in baseball isn't news, but because people just don't like A-Rod. So my advice to Alex is this: Shut the f up. Work on getting the Yankees back to the post season, and when you do, try hard to play well. That's it. If you succeed with this, everyone will love you, and all past sins will be forgotten. Every time you open your mouth (kinda like TO), you say something stupid and perpetuate everyone's belief that you're just a douchey guy who can play baseball really well.

All of us (led by the media) place unreasonable expectations on pro athletes just because they're in the public eye and make a lot of money. We expect them to all be great human beings with well developed emotional intelligence and intellect, a deep motivation to be honest and forthright, interesting, likeable and soulful, and also able to express their opinions and feelings in an articulate manner.

Despite their physical and athletic attributes, all these guys are flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. And the truth is, most of them are just not that likeable--at least the ones who get face time on TV. Shaq, Charles Barkley, and others are the exception, not the rule. It's just that some guys are better than others at shutting the F up and not saying anything that isn't plain vanilla. A-Rod really should stick to the Michael Jordan script and only talk about the game and the effort he's putting in to get better. That's it. If he does those things, Yanks fans will love him.

And btw Yankees fans, to quote the great Artie Lange "waaaaaaaaah." Rodriguez is arguably the best player of the modern era, and he's in his prime, so stop complaining. Who cares if he's a douche. If he fixes his post season woes and brings some titles to the Bronx, y'all will love him. I guarantee it. People forget that Joe Dimaggio wasn't the most likeable fellow in the room, but everyone remembers him as a hero, and maybe the best Yankee ever.

My last point: to the extent you care, or want an asterisk next to people's names, etc, as far as I'm concerned, the entire era of baseball--going back to the late 80s with folks like Bo Jackson, Pete Incaviglia, Cory Snyder, McGwire, Clemens, etc--should be identified with steroids. It didn't start in the late 90s. It started 10 years earlier. Does anyone remember how many home runs were hit in 1987? A zillion. Unless it's obvious (Manny Trillo, for example), presume everyone who played during this era guilty, and stop asking folks like Albert Pujols, who very well might've "supplemented", what they think. That's like asking OJ to opine on murder. It just doesn't matter. What matters is championships :)

So please, for the sake of our enjoyment of sports during these shitty economic times, let's stop talking about this. I'm sick of it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bye Bye 2008 Season

I know it's been more than 3 weeks since the Eagles lost the NFC Championship game to the Cardinals, but it took me a while to feel like talking about it. I was also busy setting up the new home for my Eagles

In my first-ever blog post on the Eagles, I noted that I would track the highs and lows of the 2008 campaign. Little did I know that the 2008 season would epitomize so well what it means to be an Eagles fan. The season started with some promise, then they ripped my heart out, then they won a couple games in a row, then they ripped by heart out again with the Ravens and Bengals game, they they won a couple more in a row and got themselves back into contention, then they ripped my heart out yet again by losing to the Redskins in Week 16. And then, the NFL Gods sprinkled some pixy dust on the Eagles in Week 17 and they made the playoffs. It was a season of ups and downs, with the team breaking the franchise scoring record, but at times seeming so inept that the Lions could've beaten them.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, people were back on the wagon. Reid and McNabb were back in the playoffs, the Defense was dominating, and people were talking about the Eagles being this years version of the NY Giants. After a Wild Card win in Minnesota, and then a win at the Meadowlands against the defending Super Bowl champs, I honestly believed they had a chance.

Which brings me to the NFC Championship game, against the Cardinals. Yes, the Cardinals, who beat the favored Falcons in Phoenix, and then travelled to North Carolina and whooped the Panthers. While they were playing well, so were we, and so I liked our chances. I shouldn't have been so quick to forget the heartburn that this team caused me, as this game was the perfect microcosm of the entire 2008 season. All three units were miserable in the first half, and the Cardinals took a double digit lead into the second half. My heart was ripped out, and I was already planning for 2009. The team woke up during the short halftime break, however, and came out fired up. The defense started shutting down Kurt Warner and his offense, and McNabb lit the place up and pulled the Eagles back on top.

Late in the 4th quarter, the Cards got the ball back, trailing 25-24, and scored a TD and the 2pt conversion. 32-25 Cardinals. Heart palpitations on hold, as the Eagles got the ball back with plenty of time on the clock. Unfortunately, on par with the entire season, the offense couldn't get the job done, and the Cardinals advanced to their first Super Bowl in team history. Heart ripped out, again.

After watching the Cards play a solid game against the Steelers, I feel a little better about losing to them. But still, we were the better team, and we blew it with our crappy first half on all sides of the ball, and we blew it late in the 4th quarter with our shitty WRs and a QB who buckled with the entire offense on his shoulders.

Anyway, the team did have a good run this year. Afterall, we knocked both the Cowboys and the Giants out of the playoffs, and that feels good. But another year goes by with another team that's not the Eagles winning the Super Bowl. That sucks.

I am looking forward to next year, as I think the team did make some great progress this year. Reid and McNabb will be back, we found a star in Desean Jackson, Westbrook should be healthy, and the Defense had a great year. In terms of personnel changes, I would bet that we see some new blood on the O-line, at TE, an RB that Reid trusts and can take some of the load off Westbrook, and likely a pass rushing D-lineman. And of course, if the opportunity comes to land a #1 WR who is not a sociopath, we should take it. The team still lacks a #1. I can guarantee you that either of the Cardinals starting WRs would've made the catch that Kevin Curtis didn't on the Eagles final drive of this season. I guarantee it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Veterans Keeping Eagles Grounded

As Rich Hoffman pointed out on this morning, there are 6 Eagles for whom Sunday will be their 5th NFC Championship with the team. Those 6 are McNabb, Dawkins, Tra Thomas, John Runyan, Correll Buckhalter (injured during two, but still on the team) and David Akers.

None of these men can be considered young any more by NFL standards, but they are hungry, I guarantee it. They've gotten close before, only to have the window slammed shut before either getting to the Super Bowl, or in 2005, after winning the Championship game only to lose a close game in the Super Bowl.

All these guys, with the exception of Buckhalter (not his fault), play important roles on the field and are respected veterans off it. Other guys will have to step up and make plays no doubt, but the experience and leadership of this group could be the difference on Sunday. Or at least it's an assurance that the team will show up and not lay an egg.

We'll see.

Birds in the Super Bowl? Here's How.

As Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and others prepare for their 5th NFC Championship game, here's my take on what they need to do to win.

1. Protect the QB. Arizona is coming in to the game confident. They won their first game on the East Coast last weekend, their D picked off Jake Delhomme 5 times, and they finally found a running game. Because their playing at home, the only aspect of this that the Eagles need to be especially prepared for is their Defense. They're feeling emboldened and will no doubt attempt a variety of things to get to McNabb. Reid has to gameplan for this, and the O-line has to play well. In all likelihood, that means keeping them off balance with a mix of running and pass plays, and also beating the blitz and converting 3rd downs. Besides TDs, home crowds love sacks and turnovers, so we need to stay cool and balanced, and pick them apart.

2. Defensive status quo. With just a couple exceptions, the D has been playing well all season long. This is especially true since Thankgiving, since which the team has surrendered only 8 TDs and held opponents to 12 points on average in the 6 games. If they play as well as they have been, they should have no problem stopping Arizona's running game, forcing them to pass, and opening up Warner for pressure that he can't handle. If this happens, the rest will take care of itself, no matter how well Boldin and Fitzgerald play.

3. Limit dropped passes. The Eagles offense has not been playing great, but they've been getting the job done by playing better than their opponents--particularly since the Playoffs started. Arizona will likely score some points--their QB is after all a HOF'er who has had an exceptional year--so we're going to need to play better than we did last week to win the game. Conditions should allow for that given the weather in Arizona. Our WRs need to make some of the catches they dropped last week, and as I said above, the team needs to be able to convert 3rd downs like we did last week against the Giants. I think there's the possibility of the offense breaking out and having a big game, but I'm not counting on it.

If these three things happen, the Eagles win the game. The Cards will not fall easily--they only lost 2 games at home all season, and didn't lose at home until Week 12 when the Giants came to town. The Eagles are an experienced group, so I have no doubt they're doing the right amount of prep and aren't taking the Cards lightly. We just need to execute on Sunday and we just might make it back to the Super Bowl. How about that?!?!?!?!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How the Eagles Turned It Around

Aside from the pixie dust the NFL Gods blew the Eagles way in Week 17, it's interesting to look at how the Eagles have managed to turn their season around.

First off, when s**t goes bad, the QB, especially our QB, takes the lion share of the blame. Therefore, when things go well, he deserves the lion share of the credit as well, hence the media onslaught of "McNabb is back" stories over the last few weeks. Yes, McNabb has elevated his game since Thanksgiving, but people are overreacting. He's actually been pretty consistent this year. He's part of the reason they're playing so well, but by no means the only one.

First, let's take a quick look at McNabb's season. His 2008 regular season stats are telling, but don't reveal the entire story. 3900+ yards, 23 TDs to 11 INTs, 60.4% completion rate with an 86.4 QB Rating. He had more pass attempts and more yards than he's ever had in his career, and his completion percentage was his 3rd best. All solid numbers, but nothing spectacular.

The low points of the season were Week 4 against the Bears, Week 5 against the Redskins, Week 12 against Baltimore, and Week 16 against the Redskins.

In Week 4, McNabb threw 41 passes in a relatively tight game against the Bears in Chicago. This was the game in which the Eagles could not convert a 1st and 4 from the Bears 4 yard line in the 4th quarter. Earlier in the game, they had to settle for a FG after 2nd and 4 from the Chicago 6. And don't forget, Kyle Orton looked like Tom Brady in this game. A week later against the Redskins, the Eagles jumped out to a 14 point lead in the 1st quarter, but the team attempted only 18 rushes throughout the game, and the Redskins rushed for 189 yards.

The team then went on a run and won 3 of 4, losing only to the Giants in a game where we gave up 200+ rushing yards and 36 points.

Then came the next series of low points. First, the now infamous tie in Cincinnati. McNabb threw 58 passes in that game and even with 5 full quarters of play, the team only attempted 16 rushes. 16. When any NFL defense knows exactly what you're going to do on offense (run v. pass), it's very hard to win. The following week in Baltimore, McNabb was benched after an 8/18 half in which he threw 2 INTs, yet the team was losing only 10-7 at halftime. Baltimore is arguably the team that screws up opposing QBs more than anyone, so only being down 3 points at halftime on the road was not a crises. McNabb was benched though, and the Eagles went on to lose 36-7. They attempted a whopping total of 16 rushing attempts in this game.

Beginning on Thanksgiving, the Birds started yet another run beating the Cardinals, the Browns, and the Giants. The resurgence was no doubt led by the Defense, as they had 4 TOs against the Cardinals and held them to 25 rushing yards. The next week, they held the Plaxico-less Giants to barely more than 200 yards offense and 14 points. The following week, they held the Browns to 10 points.

They were back in the Playoff hunt, ready for a Week 16 game against the out-of-it Redskins. The results? A 10-3 loss in which the only TD came on an 18 yard drive by the Skins after a McNabb fumble. Rushing attempts by the Eagles this game? 16. Seemingly, they were out of the Playoffs.

And then we all remember what happened in week 17. We destroyed the Cowboys, led by 2 defensive touchdowns and 5 turnovers.

Through it all, and even into the playoffs, McNabb hasn't been perfect, but he's been consistent, especially given that he generally does not have the chance to run a balanced offense. When he does--like he has more or less since Thanksgiving--the results are clear. The Eagles are 6-1 since that game. And they are 9-3 since their Week 6 win in San Francisco.

The team, however, has not been as consistent, hence them being out of the playoffs going into Week 17. The won games against good teams, and lost some games they should've won. The D periodically hasn't been able to stop the run. We've gotten almost no production from the TE position. And our WRs have far too many dropped passes. In the games we lost, all these factors came into play. And in the games we won, they didn't.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Offensive Line--the group that is typically the most unsung in the NFL. Without Pro Bowler Shawn Andrews all season, the O-line managed to only give up 23 sacks. By way of comparison, in 10 games in 2006, they gave up 21 sacks, and in 9 games in 2005, they gave up 19. The OL is protecting their QB, and McNabb has learned how to take advantage of that protection..

So there you go. Donovan's is back--he's healthy and confident and playing the way he did before TO and injuries killed a couple years there. But football is a team sport in every sense of the word, and all units of the team (all aspects of the organization, actually) are doing their jobs very well.

Kickoff of the NFC Championship game is just about 72 hours from now. My expectations are low, but I'm excited as heck. No one expected the Eagles to make it back after the year they've had, and they've pulled it off. I love it!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eagles Play Like Contenders and Upset Giants

After upsetting the #1 seed Giants, the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles.....the 2008 Eagles... are one win away from the Super Bowl. Who woulda thunk it?

My 3 keys to the game were: 1)stopping the run, 2)not giving away points with big mistakes, and 3)keeping time of possession in balance. The Eagles didn't do all that well in any of these areas, especially during the first half, but they showed up, played like champs, and won every facet of the game.

The Eagles didn't stop the run, but they contained it. They gave up points on the Safety and the Fred Robbins interception, but only 5. And while the 1st half time of possession was way imbalanced in favor of the Giants, it was even at the end of the game.

The Eagles Defense probably deserves the most credit after yesterday's win, as they kept the New York Giants and their high powered offense out of the end-zone. In New Jersey. In bad conditions. They bent a few times during the game, but they didn't break. There's no doubt that if the D wasn't playing the way they are, we would not be in the Championship game.

Offensively, the first half was miserable, at least statistically speaking. They held the ball for a total of 12 minutes, McNabb threw a pick, was tackled in the end zone for a safety and was generally ineffective. But you know what? The Giants were worse, and the Eagles went into the half leading 10-8.

The second half didn't start well, with Fred Robbins catching a batted-down McNabb pass and returning it to the Eagles 33 yard line. The Giants kicked a field goal and took an 11-10 lead. This is when the game turned around. The scoreboard only shows 3 points by the Eagles during this quarter, but they chewed up 10 minutes of the clock with 2 drives, the first was for a FG, the second of which was for a TD shortly after the 4th quarter started. In between, Giants kicker John Carney missed a 47 yard field goal.

The game was still close when the 4th quarter started, even with the 7 points the Eagles put up early in the quarter. The score was 20-11. The D really stepped it up at this point, stopping the Giants on two key 4th down attempts, picking off Manning, and recovering a fumble. Kicker David Akers, who is typically bad in the Meadowlands, came through with another FG--his third of the game. Game over. Eagles 21, Giants 11.

NFC East games, especially those in January, are rarely pretty, and that held true yesterday with the lack of offense, turnovers, missed FGs, and dropped passes. But the Eagles came in cool and confident, the D was awesome, and the team made some big plays on both sides of the ball. We outplayed the defending Super Bowl champions on offense, defense, and special teams. For a change, Andy Reid also out-coached the other guy. So all-told, I'm a happy camper. After-all, it's the 2008 Eagles that are one win away from the Bowl. Woohoo!