What Would Buddy Do?
Season in Review: Top Five Eagles games of the 2008 season (now with extra hindsight bias)
Posted on February 7th, 2009 at 5:30 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

As part of the post-season post-mortem, I’m treating myself to a review of the happy moments from this past season.  I offer you my five favorite games, which I will argue were the “best” Eagles games of the season.  “Best” is pretty loosely defined here, but the criteria in play are (a) quality of opponent/ victory, (b) potential for persisting in our memory beyond the next couple months, including signature plays or moments, and (c) how I enjoyed that particular game.  Essentially, I’m trying to figure out which five games I’ll remember a few years from now.  Note that I’ve left myself some wiggle room with criterion (c) — where and how I watched the game will actually matter here.

For those of you still convinced this wasn’t a cool season, rest assured that this was actually a challenging list to assemble.  I seriously sweated some of these calls.  Yeah.  No kidding.  Note also that the playoff games don’t automatically earn a spot on the list (though it’s hard to exclude them).

And now, in descending order…

(5) Eagles 26, Vikings 14 @Minnesota, January 4, 2009.  This edges out the honorable mentions by virtue of being a playoff game and having two signature plays: (a) the Brian Westbrook screen-pass TD and (b) the Asante Samuel pick-six, which included Chris Clemons flattening Tavaris Jackson.  The Westbrook TD will livve in my memory as a companion piece to the long screen-pass TD against the Redskins last season.  It’s also worth noting that, um, well, maybe there won’t be a ton of awesome Brian Westbrook plays in the future.  What I’ll remember about watching this game is that it felt like the Eagles were losing throughout most of the first half (even though they were winning).  What I’ll probably forget is how a bad snap made the ending of this game a lot less stressful than it could have been.

(4) Eagles 20, Giants 14 @ The Meadowlands, December 7, 2008.  I would argue that this was the game that turned the season for the Eagles — more so than the win against the Cardinals.  Sure, the Giants were reeling a bit from the Plax news, and the Birds had a couple extra days of rest, but this was the game that showed us how they’d make their run: tough defense and an efficient offense led by a pissed-off Donovan McNabb.  It didn’t hurt that Antonio Pierce was personally responsible for the Eagles’ two touchdowns, the second of which will be remembered as signature play (the dump-off pass where Westbrook just ran away from Pierce).  It also didn’t hurt that I had great seats and ended up on TV.  At the time, I expected that this would be the highlight of the season.

(3) Eagles 23, Giants 11 @ The Meadowlands, January 11, 2009.  An abusive effort from the Eagles’ defense that included two (2) fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter.  We knew the Giants weren’t the same team they were in early November, but they still had a week off and home-field advantage: and the Birds still roughed them up.  In addition to the fourth-down plays, we’ll also remember the Asante Samuel pick and Donovan McNabb’s phone call (though we didn’t actually see that).  We had great seats (at the goal line, nine rows up) and the Birds scored both their TDs right in front of us.  And we’ll fondly remember joining the crowd of Birds’ fans above the tunnel after the game.  And then we went to Disney World (!).

(2) Eagles 44, Cowboys 6 @ Lincoln Financial Field, December 28, 2008.  Eagles porn!  Not since the playoff win against the Lions in the mid-nineties had a game just completely gone this improbably well for the Birds.  That it happened against the Cowboys with a playoff spot on the line in the final game of the season, in a game that wouldn’t have mattered had a 13.5-point favorite lost at home in the one-o’clock slot…well, I mean, I guess that’s why we call it Eagles porn.  Things you probably don’t remember about this game include the fact that McNabb only threw for 175 yards (though he accounted for 3 TDs).  Things you’ll remember for a long time include Chris Clemons dropping the stiff arm on Tashard choice, Brian Dawkins ripping the ball out of Marion Barber’s hands, and the part where Tony Romo apparently collapsed in the locker room.  Note that as of today (February 7, 2009), it appears that the Cowboys have yet to recover from this loss.

(1) Eagles 15, Steelers 6 @Lincoln Financial Field, September 21, 2008.  Would this — a September game against an AFC opponent — have been number 1 if the Steelers hadn’t won the Super Bowl?  No.  But it would have been no lower than number 3.  This game was the sneak preview of the Eagles defense that would emerge in December.  Watching the game again is as Eagles porn-y as the Cowboys game, and maybe even more so: the Eagles’ pass rush looked like something out of the early 90s.  From the NFL.com game report:

The Eagles recorded nine sacks and a safety and had at least twice that many knock-downs. And those numbers don’t count the four times Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger barely escaped sacks and was credited with 6 total rushing yards. If Roethlisberger was less elusive, the Eagles very easily could have tallied 15 sacks or more.

Remember also that the Eagles didn’t have much on offense that day: Westbrook got hurt early, Kevin Curtis wasn’t back yet, and the Steelers can also play some defense.  But the Birds got it done, most because Pittsburgh could not keep their quarterback upright.  The signature play of the game — and maybe the season — is undoubtedly the Brian Dawkins superhero strip-and-recovery with 3:39 left in the game in which Dawkins appears to violate the laws of Newtonian physics (feel free to treat yourself to another viewing).  If this game gets mysteriously erased from my DVR, couples therapy will be in my future.

Honorable mentions: Eagles 48, Cardinals 20, Dallas 41, Eagles 37 (the only loss that had a chance).

Eagles - Cardinals Game Preview: If it’s the NFC Championship, shouldn’t it be fraught with anxiety?
Posted on January 18th, 2009 at 11:59 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

There were a couple years there where “NFC Championship Game” was a phrase that had a certain “High Ankle Sprain” set of connotations for me (and I suspect many other Eagles fans).  By the time the Birds actually won one, we’d already suffered enough through enough disappointments — none more cruel than the loss to Tampa, that was the effing worst — in those games that the resulting emotions were more about relief than elation.

Well, well, well — doesn’t that feel like a long time ago!

Am I going to feel relieved if things go the Birds’ way this afternoon?  No way!  I’m going to be giddy.  Am I nervous as the game approaches?  Sure, but there’s no sense of dread or fear.  I actually couldn’t be more excited about seeing what happens.  For the first time in a long time (well, at least since the Phils won, but still…), I will approach a big Eagles game with nothing but cheerful anticipation.

(I know, I know.  Crazy.  But I really do almost feel like a normal, rational human being about this game.)

I imagine that a lot of the good vibes here have to do with the part where I don’t think the Eagles will lose.  Certainly we’ve been shocked before, but this time my heart and my head are agreeing on things.

What I’ll be shouting about:

It’s the defense, stupid.  The Eagles certainly can’t win without playing well on offense, and casual fans tend to focus on the skill position guys (dudes they might know from their fantasy team or the highlight reel), but if you’re paying attention to the team at all, you get that the Birds are rolling because of their defense.  Right?  Everyone gets that?  Points allowed over the past seven games (most recent game first) = 11, 14, 6, 10, 10, 14, 20.  As noted yesterday, passer ratings allowed over the past seven games (most recent game first) = 40.7, 45.4, 55.8, 65.7, 28.3, 73.5, 65.7.  This is the best Eagles defense since 1991.  That’s not a bad asset to have heading into the NFC Championship game.

Further along with the defense-matters line of reasoning.  The charming folks at Cold, Hard, Football Facts (CHFF) have a statistic called Defensive Hog Index that has correctly predicted the outcome of 18 of the past 19 NFL playoff games (the only one it missed was the AFC Championship from last year, when the #7 Pats beat the #5 Chargers).  The Defensive Hog Index:

The top defensive front is that which posts the highest average rating across the board. The Defensive Hog Index is based upon these criteria: YPA – Yards Per Attempt. So simple, even you can understand it. This rates a defense’s ability to stuff an opposing ground game.NPP% Negative Pass Plays, expressed as a percentage. This is how often an opponent’s pass plays end in either a sack or interception. Defenses that get after the quarterback and overwhelm the opposing offensive line naturally force sacks and INTs. These negative pass plays are calculated as a percentage of attempts. So if a team forces two sacks and two INTs in 40 pass plays, their NPP% will be 10 percent (4/40).3down% - Opposition success rate on third down. The lower the percentage, the higher the defensive success.

As an FYI, the Birds are ranked 2nd and the Cardinals are ranked 17th.  The Steelers are actually #1 and the Ravens #3 (the Vikings were #4 and the Giants #9).

Speaking of, for those who are overly concerned about the Eagles’ offense.  Note the rankings of the Vikings and the Giants above.  While the Cardinals’ defense has played well in recent weeks, it will be the worst-rated defense that the Eagles have faced in the playoffs.  Certainly that must bode well for the Birds.

I hope being three-point favorites hasn’t ruined the “Nobody Respects Us” thing.  In a moment of extreme weakness, I attempted to watch the Donovan McNabb Show on PE.com.  It’s definitely worth a quick look, if only for the intro sequence, which includes on-field footage from just before the start of the Giants’ game last Sunday.  They have this bit where Dawkins goes around the horn with the other guys in the secondary and explains to each of them why the Giants don’t respect them (”Hanson, you’re too small to play football — THEY DON’T RESPECT YOU!” and so on).  It’s very worth it.  (Bonus sideline audio: I really liked hearing A.J. Feeley making the case against the intentional grounding call in the footage on Inside The NFL.  Very solid.)

Looks like there will be chances for the kids to shine.  Like the Vikings, the Cardinals are crap in the return game (good details at the FO NFC Championship Preview).  DeSean Jackson scored TDs in the state of Arizona the past two years in college…that has to count for something, no?  And Quintin Demps might feel at home in the Southwest?  I’m reaching here, but the bigger point is that the indicators point to a big play in the return game.

This counts as a home game for McNabb.  Finally, a chance for Dunavin to play in front of his neighbors and friends: people who love him, not like those jerks back in Philly who are always complaining and criticizing.  The important thing is that McNabb remain focused on how much everyone in Philly hates him and how the only way to really stick it to those losers is to play really really well and win again.

Also, let’s not pretend that we don’t like that sly smile from B-West.  I dunno, if Brian Westbrook is saying things like the following,

On how he feels right now: “I feel great.”

On whether today was the most he’s practiced all week: “Yes.”

On how the knee feels after practice: “It feels good.”

On whether it feels better than last week: “Yes, I would say better.”

On what has changed that his knee feels better: “It just feels good. I don’t know what it is.”

On whether it’s something about playing the Cardinals that makes his knee feel better: “I don’t know if it’s the Cardinals, I just feel good right now.”

Then we can’t feel too too terrible about how he might play in this game?  Sure, he seems gimpy, but, well, maybe he has one more big game in him?

The only letdown is for the fans.  In the early part of the week, I was concerned that this had the potential to be a letdown game for the Birds.  GCobb was chasing this as well.  But after listening to the team all week, I don’t think this’ll be the case.  I think the Birds will be appropriately focused.  For me, well, yeah.  This is a letdown game — the Giants game was the biggest one I could imagine.  But luckily I don’t actually play.

Actual game prediction.  I think the Eagles will win because their offense is better than the Cardinals’ defense, because their defense is better than the Cardinals’ offense, and because they’re better than the Cardinals on special teams.  Puh-retty straightforward.  Crazy things can happen, McNabb could turn into a turnover machine, the wideouts could drop the ball like the Washington game, a kickoff could be fumbled and returned for a TD, etc etc.  But even if some crazy things go down, I think the Birds will still get it done, and I’ll be making travel plans for Tampa by the end of the afternoon.  Eagles 27, Cardinals 17.

Wow. It’s getting pretty meta in here. We’d better embrace soon!
Posted on January 17th, 2009 at 2:11 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Full slate of pressers on Friday, with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Brian Dawkins joining Friday regular Andy Reid at the podium.  With, ahem, a lack of fresh material for another full round of interviews, the topic of conversation kept to turning to the players and coaches’ relationship with the media and the fans, specifically what it will take for the city of Philadelphia to finally hug Andy Reid’s fat belly.

Showing the form that’s made them the scourge of the local press detachment, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb had little to offer on the topic of Reid “being embraced” by the media and fans.  From Reid,

On what it takes to be completely embraced by this town and how he and Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel are “text” buddies: “Honestly, I don’t think about all that.  That’s for you guys to take care of.  Charlie’s (Manuel) a heck of a guy and a great manager and I just think he did a tremendous job.  We were supporting him 110 percent, our football team, and their baseball team has been great.  Our players are close and Charlie and I communicate and he did a great job.  I’m not going to get into all the comparisons and embrace myself.”

And then McNabb:

On what it will take for head coach Andy Reid to be fully embraced by Philadelphia: “That’s a question that I need to ask you. If we had the answer, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But, you know what? The thing about it is winning cures everything. When you’re winning, nobody digs deeper into finding much of what’s going on. I can personally tell you that we don’t get affected by what people may say on the outside too much. You use whatever you want as motivation and you move on. You can’t impress everyone. Not everyone is going to like you, but you just go out and you do your job and you enjoy doing it. That’s something that I can definitely say that hasn’t wavered by any means from Andy and it trickles down to the rest of us. You can’t let what people may say on the outside become a distraction of what you do here at your job.”

Right right.  These guys pay attention to their media training, so you can’t expect much more than that.  But maybe we’ll get something more interesting from Brian Dawkins, right?

On what he thinks it will take for head coach Andy Reid to be completely embraced by the city of Philadelphia: “You have to understand where we are. Here in Philadelphia they love you to death but they are still going to criticize you. They are still going to get on you. They are still going to ask questions. You have to have thick skin to play here, to coach here. Everybody can’t coach, everybody can’t play here. So obviously Andy is doing something that a lot of coaches could not succeed in by having thick skin, holding fast to what he believes in, and continue to move on. They are still going to question you regardless of success. As soon as you have a string of failure they are still going to question you, so you understand that. You just go out and do what you do and that’s what Andy has done; he has stayed the course in what he believes.”

Nope.  Maybe Brian Westbrook?:

On what it will take for head coach Andy Reid to be completely embraced by the city of Philadelphia: “I think everybody knows that Coach is a good coach. He’s done a great job here and in his ten years I want to say he’s one of the top two or three winningest coaches in that tenure. He’s done a great job for this team, and I also feel that he’s been great to the players here as well. Different people are always going to have something negative to say, but I think his players respect him and the people that know football respect him around the NFL and as a coach. I think that’s all you really can ask for. I think the fans are going to go up and down sometimes with the wins and losses. But, the true mark is how do you follow up those losses, and he’s done a great job of bringing this team back this year and now we’re playing for the NFC Championship and a lot has to do because of him.”

Though, in Westbrook’s defense, he did let down the guard a bit when they asked him the meta-question about how it feels to answer questions about his knee every week:

On whether he gets tired of answering the same questions every week: “It gets a little repetitive. I appreciate you bringing that up. It definitely gets a little repetitive, but my knee’s fine. I think, it hasn’t been said, but a lot of times, throughout games when you have injuries, you’re going to tweak your injury no matter what injury it is. This wasn’t the only game that I tweaked my knee, but it happens throughout football games.”

To summarize, no one can really say why the public doesn’t “embrace” Andy Reid (perhaps it’s because we all know that our arms would never make it all the way around his generous mid-section?), but Brian Westbrook is just as sick of answering the same questions as the press are of asking them.

Monday Eagles Hangover: the cure for hangovers is obviously EAGLES AWESOMENESS
Posted on January 12th, 2009 at 8:42 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

thatza touchdown

Been quite an interesting 36 hours for your humble author. From a windswept and cold tailgate at the Meadowlands to the best Eagles game in recent memory to the Happiest Place On Earth ™ and back, I can’t certainly complain of a lack of variety in my stimuli. And as I return home this evening in my big-boy pants and assorted standard-issue Banana Republic work clothes (with my cold-weather Eagles costume furtively stuffed into my carry-on baggage like some sort of smuggled sports-feelings WMDs), I’ve still got a glow about me.

Surely that’s the only way I made it through this little trip, which should have left me pretty worn out and haggard.  (Certainly my decision to “celebrate” throughout the day alone should have left me a little slow.)  Nope. I’m feeling great. Been feeling great all day. Such is the impact of this level of Eagles Awesomeness: it might have the power to cure hangovers and remove the need for sleep. We’re having scientists, trained scientists, look into it right now.

My day-after storylines and bulletpoints (written mostly without my usual embarrassingly exhaustive review of the mainstream post-game content, but we’ll take what we can get):

All hail the defense. Um, so at what point can we suggest that this is the best Eagles defense since 1991? What will it take? That defense, you might remember, didn’t shine like this one has in the post-season, and were more consistently dominant. They also had a bit of mean-spirited swagger that doesn’t seem evident in this team. For all the ferocity that this Eagles defense brings on the field, they’re not bullies. They’re not the Ravens. They just succeed, but without seeming to engender many bad vibes from opponents.

All that said, the worst thing I’ve ever heard uttered about Brian Dawkins. I actually heard someone a few rows back say, “I hope Brian Dawkins breaks his leg.” Out loud! Doesn’t he know that God might be listening and will surely punish him dearly for such a remark?

One of these weeks someone will figure it out. Westbrook doesn’t have it. He doesn’t. He’d love to prove us all wrong (like he did on the screen pass against the Vikings), but the jump isn’t there. We probably won’t get a straight answer on how hurt he is for a long time — some knee thing, the dread high ankle sprain, the ribs — hopefully at least three weeks. But he isn’t the weapon that we imagine him to be. Part of that probably has to do with the defenses he’s faced in the last month, but he just doesn’t look quite as quick. Still, as long as he’s willing to step on the field, folks will have to ignore him at their peril — especially in a warm-weather game on grass.

So if B-West isn’t carrying the offense, who is? Well duh. It’s the quarterback and a suddenly consistent group of receivers. Is it fair to say that McNabb has entered a new stage in his career over the past two months? This might be worth it’s own post, but it sure feels like he’s bringing the polished passing skills he’s acquired in the past couple years together with a determination and desperation (especially on third down) that he seemed to have last had in 2002. And I’m probably imaginging things here, but he actually seems more confident than he has in a while. Even when things haven’t gone well the past couple weeks, he’s been fairly unflappable. Makes me smile.

The things we carried.  I took a commemorative white towel with Giants’ logos all over it from a marketing/ promotions drone when I entered the stadium. The attendant looked at my Trent Cole jersey and Eagles hat and gave me a “Really?” “I want a souvenir to remember this by.” Pretty happy with that decision. I’ll put it on the shelf with my Phils towel from the NLCS and my plastic coffee mug from Fourth-and-26.

Stoppable (!).  I couldn’t tell who turned on Eli first: the fans or Tom Coughlin. Folks in section 108 were not happy with young Mr. Manning yesterday. The pick to Samuel prompted a chorus of anti-Eli haterade from the assembled Giants’ fans. I cannot explain how happy this made me.  To see them turn so quickly: it meant they were very much on edge heading into the game, and suggested that they were rightly terrified of the Eagles.  And with so much time to play!  It was truly glorious.  Though I guess Coughlin wasn’t far behind the fans, in that he essentially gave up on throwing the ball in the second half.

Speaking of, you know who loves to say, “I told you so?”  Everyone.  But mostly Derek gets to say it today.  When he wrote this, I was just psyched that he was telling us the Giants wouldn’t win the Super Bowl (I was happy with “anyone but the Giants” at that point).  But to have the Birds be the ones to beat them, TWICE?  Heh heh heh. Take a bow.

And one more shot at the Giants’ fans.  Dude, y’all certainly left that stadium puh-retty early — certainly a lot earlier than I was personally convinced that the game was over.  I guess my pessimism about games not being over until they are actually over — which is what happens when your team surrenders two blocked-kick TDs at the end of the first half in a single season — is stronger than your willingness to cheer your team, THE DEFENDING SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS, until the final whistle of the season.  I mean, really, why bother?

Yeah, I’m still soaring with this one.  Go Birds.

(Correction: I unforgivably misspelled Brodrick Bunkley’s first name in an earlier post.  No excuses.  Bad form from me.  Sloppy.)

Eagles - Giants Game Preview: It’s cold outside, and we wouldn’t have it any other way
Posted on January 11th, 2009 at 9:48 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Of course the Birds would have to play the Giants.  Of course.  As if it wasn’t offensive enough that the Giants won the Super Bowl last year, now they have a chance (a four-point chance at home with a bye week in the mix) to end the Eagles’ season.  It’s been a glorious and serendipitous couple weeks for the Eagles and their fans, but now we’ve to deal with the defending champs.  And I’ve signed up to watch it in person.

Certainly I can feel emboldened by our previous trip to the Meadowlands.  Sure, the intensity on the field and in the stands was different that day, and the Giants’ fans in our section were very polite (even before it was obvious that the Birds were beating them down), but that was definitely my best-ever Eagles experience in that stadium.

I do not expect a repeat of that experience today, either from the Eagles or the locals.    This is going to be as tough as it gets on the field and in the stands (I swear I’m not going to lose my temper if I absorb a snowball in the head — I will bend like the reed in the wind!).

But here’s the thing — can we ask for much more than this?  Even if the Eagles win, any matchup the following week will be a letdown.  The defending champs in rough conditions in their own soon-to-be-retired stadium?  With two of the best defensive teams in the league?  If the NFC East has its own set of Gods, surely they must be pleased by this offering.  As a fan, even if it doesn’t go our way, I consider myself lucky to have a seat for this one.

(At least that’s how I’m rationalizing it.  I’ll be a complete lunatic by kickoff I’m sure.  At least I can say I made a commercially reasonable effort to be an adult.)

What I’ll be shouting about:

I’m looking for someone to convince me that the Eagles will succeed on offense.  The weather is going to make it difficult to throw the ball effectively.  The offensive line didn’t get much of a push last week against the Vikings (though admittedly the Vikings are pretty tough against the run), the starting fullback (Buckhalter) weighs as much as I do (yikes!), and the starting running back continues to limp.  Can McNabb and the wideouts be strong enough — again — to move the chains?  That might be asking a lot.  I dunno.  It’s a bit disheartening.

Speaking of, Jon Runyan doesn’t look good.  And I don’t just mean because of his hirsute appearance or cretinous manner of discourse.  He didn’t move well against the Vikings last week, and I can’t imagine he’ll move any better in 28-degree weather.  But hey, he’s only facing Justin Tuck, that shouldn’t be a problem.  We can only assume that Runyan will have an ungodly cocktail of painkillers pumped into his bloodstream before the game and that he’ll hobble through it again.  Don’t worry, Jon.  Walking in your forties is completely overrated.

And then, the apocalypse scenario.  Runyan or one of the guards gets hurt.  Mike McGlynn is on IR.  Thus would Winston Justice enter the game.  That will be the point where my wife has permission to roofie me for the remainder of the game.

First tackle.  First foul.  First shot.  First goal (1).  So last week it was Brian Dawkins who established the appropriate level of violence with his brutal shot on Adrian Peterson.  Who’s going to step up with a big hit early this week?  Feels like it’s Sheldon Brown’s turn.

First tackle.  First foul.  First shot.  First goal (2).  Given my general level of concern about the offense’s ability to succeed against the Giants, it’s extremely important that the Eagles survive the inevitable rush of enthusiasm from New York in the first few minutes of the game.  Going down by more than 10 points in the first half could be deadly.

I wish I could be more excited about the special teams.  After the Minnesota game, I assumed that special teams would be an advantage for the Birds.  Then I remembered how David Akers is completely spooked by the Meadowlands and how multiple field goals were blocked.  Still, this will be the rookies’ place to shine today.  We’ve come to expect it from DeSean Jackson; wouldn’t it be lovely if we got something special from Demps?  The Giants struggle in their kickoff coverage — it could happen.

Things that do not worry me.  The Giants’ passing offense.  I imagine that the Eagles’ secondary thinks they can handle the Giants’ wideouts, and I imagine that they’d be correct.  And I’d also say I’m especially emboldened in this prediction after pulling my little stats in defense of Tavaris Jackson the other day.

Things that might worry us.  As well as the Eagles have defended the run over the past two months (really since the first Giants game), I still think they’ll have a tough time of it versus the G-Men today.  The Birds didn’t get a week off, and it’s cold outside — you can imagine them wearing down a bit.

Do we have bandwidth for one more superhero performance from 36?  It is unlikely that the Eagles will be able to win without a superhuman effort from the gimpy 36 Chambers of Brian Westbrook.  Westbrook had enough for the Eagles to win last week, but he didn’t look consistently strong throughout the game.  I can’t imagine that the Eagles win without Westbrook making at least one big play.  The nice thing about Westbrook is that he completely terrifies Giants fans.  In the parking lot a month ago, more than one person was still haunted by his punt return in 2003 — and then he goes and scores twice that afternoon.  Seriously, he has them spooked.  Also, if the wideouts don’t catch the ball, the Birds are cooked.

Hopefully they’ll score before they get to the 20.  Things haven’t looked so good in the red zone of late.  Huh.  Guess they’ll have to score from 21+ yards out!

Actual prediction.  Rational brain, you go away now, and stop reminding me how healthy the Giants are and how the Eagles have a pretty limited ceiling on offense, and how the conditions favor the rested, ball-control offense.  Instead, suggest that the Eagles’ defense really might be that good, and that Andy Reid and Jim Johnson are up to the challenge today.  I can’t imagine either team making it much past 20 points; let’s hope the Eagles are on the friendly side of that number.  Luckily, we can all rest assured that churches throughout the Delaware valley are filled with young men and boys ignoring a series of horrific wars around the globe and are silently praying for an Eagles victory.  And really, who are we to argue with the power of prayer?  Eagles 17, Giants 16.

GO BIRDS.

Noted trash-talker Brian Westbrook? Seriously?
Posted on January 9th, 2009 at 11:53 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

There was an especially whingy piece in the NY Post this morning in which Giants’ rookie safety Kenny Phillips discussed Brian Westbrook’s tendency to run his mouth on the field:

“When you watch him, (when) we’re swarming to the ball he’s quiet, he’s not jumping in anybody’s face, he’s not talking trash,” Phillips said. “As soon as he gets going he goes to running his mouth a little bit. We deny the big play, he breaks one and he’s back to his old self.”

And,

“I see it, when we played him the first time, we were shutting him down basically the whole game, he got one big run and he just started, he’s celebrating, he’s talking trash on the field,” Phillips said. “We just got to deny the big play and I think we’ll be OK.”

So some dumb-ass rookie is claiming that Brian Westbrook acts like a jerk?  Past the part where this is the first time I’ve ever heard an opposing player say an unkind thing about Westbrook (if someone out there can correct me, please do — but most players seem to respect Westbrook a ton), is Phillips also implying that Westbrook doesn’t deserve to puff his chest a bit against the Giants?  That he got “one big run” and then acted like, say, he’d been killing the Giants for years?

We’ll forgive the rookie a bit if he doesn’t recall when Westbrook singlehandedly stole a game from the Giants with his punt return in 2003, or when he abused them in the playoffs two years ago.  As big a jerk as Antonio Pierce might be, even he doesn’t speak ill of B-West.

Sorry, kid.  Not sure you’ve got a lot of credibility here.  Looks like we have a new addition to the “Giants I can’t stand” list.  Welcome!

Make that extra gravy on mine: Eagles beat Vikings, advance to Divisional Playoffs
Posted on January 4th, 2009 at 9:45 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Suh-weet.

Absent a complete meltdown next week against the Giants (something along the lines of what happened to Dallas last week), the 2008 Eagles season has brought me considerable happiness and I shall remember it fondly.  Sure, they snuck into the playoffs, but they won a post-season game.  Remember how hard it was to do that 20 years ago?  Now we’ve done it 7 of the last 9 years.  Can’t complain too much about that.  If making the playoffs was all gravy, then we all just got a second helping.  Yum.

In the short term, I’m just psyched to get another week of thick Eagles media coverage.  Lay it on thick, national media — there’s no end to the amount of Eagles content I can consume.

My quickie post-game thoughts (minimally ordered):

What a difference a year makes — Birds’ special teams play well.  Take a bow, Rory Segrest, because the Eagles were great on special teams.  David Akers was very sharp, the kickoff coverage was solid, and DeSean Jackson had a big day returning punts.  If I had any complaint about the special teams, it was a that a hyped-up Quintin Demps abandoned his typical just-go-straight return style on the opening kickoff and tried to run around the corner of the coverage.  Come on Quintin, only the other guy gets to do that.

Speaking of young Master DeSean.  Really nice game from the rookie in his playoff debut — he even blocked on the Westbrook TD.  Still, I wonder if he gets a special talking-to from Andy Reid about yapping in Brad Childress’ face after his second long punt return?  Maybe he was telling Childress to quit hassling Big Red about his figure?  Or to go easy on the vodka tonight?

The Vikings DEs came to play.  We’ll avoid the angle that notes that the Eagles’ aging tackles had a long day out there and instead focus on the excellent play of the Vikings’ two defensive ends, who consistently got pressure on McNabb and played the run well.  Those guys were impressive.

The jokes about Brad Childress being as clumsy with the clock management as Andy Reid.  Yeah, I guess that stuff is all true.  Huh.  Very comforting to see someone else screw up.

Our favorite camera angle.  Due to some tough field position for the Birds, we were treated to the back-of-the-end-zone punter cam for a couple Donovan McNabb throws.  Very very cool.  Also, unlike the Washington game, McNabb was great inside his ten.

Speaking of Donovan.  He was sharp today.  The turnovers were tough, especially the misguided/ I-think-I’m-tricky-like-Peyton-Manning pick, but he made some extremely tough throws on third down.

A new candidate for the single-best play of the season (which looks a lot like the single-best play of the 2007 season).  That screen pass was glorious.  Ten guys blocking, Westbrook making a huge play (after a pretty tough day to date), random offensive linemen being heroes (how about that Nick Cole with two big blocks AND a little hop over a defender), and even the wideouts helping him home.  Looked a lot like that play against Washington last year.

All Chris Clemons does is make internet video highlights.  Clemons was very good again this week, and managed to make the Youtube highlight reel by body-slamming Tavaris Jackson.  Already been posted.

Things that went as well as we could have hoped and with which we cannot argue.  Dawk dropping a signature welcome-to-the-playoffs hit on Peterson; Asante Samuel pulling the quick six; and the Eagles holding the Vikings under 17 points; the Eagles advancing to a game at the Meadowlands (which means I get to go).

Things that worry us.  The red-zone offense.  The inability to solve the Vikings defense in the first half.  The continued struggles running the ball (but at least they tried!).

Man, that was cool.

(Early line is Giants favored by 4.)

Brian Westbrook pimps Buckhalter for a new contract, starting job
Posted on December 30th, 2008 at 5:14 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Checked out the Brian Westbrook show on the podcast (file under “there is no Eagles-related content I won’t consume this week”) on ESPN 950.

Fun chat, everyone was obviously in a good mood.  The only thing that stuck out for me was when Westbrook talked about how Correll Buckhalter was going to get paid as a starter next season, and that it might be somewhere else.

I’m sure part of that is just B-West trying to promote his friend and teammate (one who’s never uttered a word of complaint regarding his role on the Birds), but part of it has to be a reflection of Westbrook’s ongoing conversations with Buck.

While I certainly wish Buckhalter the best, I have to imagine that it’ll be tough for a guy with his injury history to pull in too too much cash.  As a selfish Eagles fan, I hope he doesn’t get any offers that are too tempting.  Either way, look for at least one back to be part of the Eagles’ draft strategy.

(Did I just mention “draft strategy”?  What am I thinking?  PLAYOFFS PLAYOFFS PLAYOFFS!)

Monday Eagles Hangover: time for the airing of grievances and the shaving of beards?
Posted on December 22nd, 2008 at 1:15 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

almostreggiebrown.jpg

Okay, so football season ended a week earlier than it probably should have.

We got to live the dream a bit over the past month — a dream that definitely didn’t exist after the gloomy Cincy-and-Bal’more fortnight — and now it’s 98 percent over.  Sure, crazy things happen in the NFL, and they’re not out of it yet, but they’re pretty much out of it.  Certainly we as fans have it better than the players and coaches: at least we can mentally move on at this point and maybe even enjoy unwrapping a Phillies DVD on Christmas morning.  Those poor bastards still have to pretend they’re in it for another week and get ready to be pushed around by the Cowboys.  Consider yourself blessed!

Day-after storylines to help you nurse your hangover.

For the avoidance of doubt.  Andy Reid’s Monday presser was a predictably grim affair.  When pressed to explain who might have been at fault on the game’s final play — the one that ended six inches short — Reid actually answered the question (obliquely, at least).  He observed that he thought the quarterback did a good job getting the football into a tight spot, but that the route needed to be run into the end zone.  Hmmm.  I hope Reggie Brown doesn’t have too much trouble selling his house in these wintry economic times!

Run-the-ball-Andy meme.  That old chestnut?  It was tough to find an article/ game report that didn’t highlight the run-pass ratio.  It predictably came up again in the Monday presser, in the context of “Does it feel like you’re answering the same questions every week?”  Reid’s answer was that the reporters weren’t very creative, but, well, I’m not sure that they’re the ones lacking for imagination in this one particular case.

Westbrook isn’t well.  A theory on Brian Westbrook’s health — this is the first game in a month for which he didn’t have an extended period of rest (and in fact lost a day).  He had two full days of rest from Thanksgiving to the Giants’ game, and then an extra day ahead of the Monday Night Game.  At this point, it probably all matters to a guy like Westbrook.  Oh well.  That’s what happens when the offense depends so heavily on one guy (and that one guy, while awesome and deserving of my man-crush, sturggles to be healthy every week).  Depth in the backfield needs to be addressed in the offseason.

Peter King update.  No mention of the Eagles play-calling this week.  Funny, that.

Playoff Beard update.  It looked like Andy Reid hadn’t shaved yet, but it’s unclear if the rest of the locker room is still on board with the beards.  If you shave, does that mean the team has given up entirely?  Perhaps there’s a hybrid solution that would appropriately reflect the Birds’ post-season prospects: little Hitler mustaches?  Slightly longer-than-average sideburns?

Reflections on a losing record in the NFC East.  I mean, do you really think a team — which has won one (1) of its five division games so far — that can only win 2 out of 6 division games should be in the playoffs?  That sounds pretty mediocre to me.  Stranger things have happened, but it’s not like we can complain about unfulfilled potential or tough breaks or whatever.  You are your record, and the Eagles’ division record is 1-4.  Yuck.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve got for you today.  Yuck.

Brian Westbrook explains the best play of the season (to date)
Posted on December 9th, 2008 at 2:24 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Definitely worth checking out Brian Westbrook’s post-game presser if you’re interested in hearing his explanation of how his 40-yard touchdown catch came together.  While the folks at PE.com have been a little bit lax in posting the full transcript (they’re usually pretty good, so this was a little bit of a bummer), I dutifully took notes (below).

Here’s B-West’s description of the play:

it was one of those plays I was actually supposed to go right up the middle.  But at that point DeSean had cleared the safety out and cleared the cornerback out, and I saw a big hole there so I just kind of ad-libbed a little bit and Don found me.  And I had told him before that if he could find me I could have an opportunity to score.

A couple things here:

1.  Extremely cool that this wasn’t actually designed for the back to run to the presumably empty side of the field.  And that Westbrook (and then McNabb) figured out where the space was and pounced.  File under the part where Andy Reid is always talking about how bright Westbrook is about football.  Umm, yup.

2.  Young DeSean didn’t have a catch Sunday, but that apparently wasn’t because he wasn’t on the field or a target.  From Westbrook’s description, it sounds like the Giants were paying plenty of attention to the CamelCased One.  Huh.

3.  Without naming names in the presser, we can only assume that “find me” = “when I’m covered by that jerk Antonio Pierce, we should definitely give me the ball because I shouldn’t have trouble scoring a touchdown.”

4.  And to have this be the play that enabled Westbrook to become the Eagles’ all-time leader in yards from scrimmage?  Puh-retty sweet.



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