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).

Monday Eagles Hangover: at least they found a new and innovative way to FAIL
Posted on January 19th, 2009 at 12:55 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

cardinalsloss.JPG

You know, I really thought they would win yesterday.  I thought they would win because their defense was good enough to best the Cardinals’ offense, and that the Eagles’ offense would be able to score against a Cardinals’ defense that wasn’t as tough as the Vikings or Giants.

Instead, the defense — the one I felt confident calling the best Eagles defense since 1991 — was exposed and fooled by a very clever Cardinals team.  We all sort of knew that the Birds would struggle to handle the Larry Fitzgerald superhero act, and he hurt them, but I didn’t expect the linebackers to look so confused and for the tackling to be so sloppy.  All credit to the Cardinals and their coaches for outcoaching and outscheming the Birds.

Even with all that, the Birds were leading this game with five minutes to play (!).  It was there.  But neither the offense nor the defense were good enough to win the game in the fourth quarter.  It was there.

It’s been there before, and we can only hope it will be there again.  Ouch.

Some day-after storylines:

I didn’t expect to be down on Jim Johnson this morning.  It’s just not what we expected, right?  That Jim Johnson, who was rightly praised for the efforts of the defense over the past seven games, would be a goat this Monday morning?  The Cardinals saw something on the right side of the Eagles defense, and certainly seemed to prey on Akeem Jordan a bit.  They got it a bit figured out at halftime, but, um, that was after they’d surrendered more points than they had since the Baltimore game.  Ouch.  Also, Stew Bradley looked like a first-year starter for the first time in a while.

Brian Westbrook was a non-factor.  Save for the great fingertip catch and sprint out of bounds on the Birds’ final drive, Westbrook didn’t really make a difference.  It actually looked like the Eagles’ offensive line was getting a good push on their running plays, but big plays did not result.  The Eagles got away with a win last week sans a big effort from Westbrook, and they almost repeated the feat this week.  It doesn’t matter if he was injured or just old and slow, but that was not a dangerous Brian Westbrook the past couple weeks.  And that hurts.

Speaking of, the dread run-pass ratio.  I’m sure the score had something to do with this — as well as the state of the Cardinals’ pass defense –but the Birds did end up throwing on 72 percent of their plays.  Luckily they were doing a fairly decent job of throwing it, but they didn’t look very committed to balance.

Speaking of, please, enough with the crying about the wideouts.  Sure, there were a couple drops and none of our guys look like Larry Fitzgerald, but the Birds’ wideouts made some huge plays yesterday.  I feel pretty good about Jackson, Curtis, Avant and Baskett (assuming they bring Baskett back).  This is not a position of concern heading into the offseason.

Positions of concern heading into the offseason.  Running back!  Running back!  It’s either a gimpy B-West or a free-agent Buckhalter.  Or Lorenzo Booker.  Or Kyle Eckel.  Yes.  It’s feeling very cold in here.  Also offensive tackle — both those guys looked their age yesterday.

Are we really talking about Donovan McNabb’s future?  McNabb missed a couple throws on that final drive, and the haters will focus on that, but he also had the cape on for the better part of the second half.  No running game, a lot of pressure from the edges, and the guy actually brought the team back from an 18-point halftime deficit.  Dude.  McNabb was not the problem for the Eagles yesterday.

Too much hitting, not enough tackling.  Whilst we like the idea of dropping a couple big hits on the opposing team to let them know it’s going to be a physical afternoon, it sure seemed like the Eagles’ defense was throwing shoulders and not wrapping up at all.  Shoulders aren’t enough against Larry Fitzgerald.

A guy we hate to admit didn’t make the big play.  Quintin Mikell almost — ALMOST — made a season-saving play on the fourth-down run in the fourth quarter.  Ugh.  That would have been nice for Mikell.

Asante Samuel.  Sigh.  After picks in two consecutive games, we can overlook a weak effort from Samuel yesterday.  Apparently he ducked reporters after the game?  Don’t know about that, Asante.  Philly doesn’t appreciate that sort of thing.  Even if you were hurt.

Guys who didn’t really duck reporters, but could’ve been forgiven for it.  Reggie Brown, L.J. Smith, it’s been a pleasure.  I guess the Birds thought Greg Lewis had some big-game magic in him?  Ummm, not so much.  Still, Brown didn’t even dress?  Yikes.  And Brent Celek’s big day yesterday really makes it that much easier to pretend there never was an L.J. Smith; I wonder what rookie will get #82 next summer?

Lucky breaks we’ve likely forgotten already.  How about that DeSean Jackson forcing a fumble for the Birds after the pick?  Pretty lucky break!  Though not as lucky as the Abiamiri call on the kickoff.  Whew.  Close one.  If you’re whinging about pass interference in the fourth quarter, you need to keep that kickoff call in mind.

Was Akers going to make a fourth-quarter field goal?  It sure seemed like he was Chuck Knoblauch unable to find first base by the third quarter.  A missed PAT?  The kickoff out of bounds?  Mercifully the Birds needed a touchdown and not a field goal for the go-ahead points.  Kind of a meltdown, no?

That’s it for now.  I’ve intentionally avoided the good season/ bad season ruling.  Plenty of time for that later this week.

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.

In further defense of Tavaris Jackson (and concern for the Giants’ soon-to-be-$100-million man)
Posted on January 16th, 2009 at 10:58 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

A week ago I made some snazzy charts to show that maybe everyone should be a bit nicer to young Tavaris Jackson, who, despite a very strong December, fizzled and failed in a playoff loss to the Eagles.

Well, I’ve now updated the chart to reflect this past weekend’s game.  Guess who actually had a worse passer rating than young Tavaris?  Why…it’s Elisha!

passdupdate.jpg

So while Tavaris is possibly going to lose his job, Manning is getting the benefit of the doubt and a $100-million contract (he was the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl, after all).  Still, I really don’t think that Tavaris should feel too terrible — at least he didn’t get stuffed on fourth down.

It’s also worth emphasizing that the Eagles haven’t surrendered a passing touchdown in more than a month.  Given the quality of the Cardinals’ passing game, it would be remarkable if the Eagles were able to continue that streak on Sunday.  Still, we certainly have no need to panic regarding the prospect of facing Fitzgerald and Boldin; if there’s any team whose pass defense is up to this task, it’s the Birds.

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.)

All Pros and Fourth Down (and Brodrick Bunkley)
Posted on January 12th, 2009 at 9:58 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

The day-after mega-post will likely not surface until later this afternoon, but I thought I’d check in with a quick thought on the two fourth-down plays from the fourth quarter of yesterday’s game. I just wanted to note that the Giants feature three All-Pros along their offensive line (one first-teamer, Chris Snee, and two second-teamers, David Diehl and Shaun O’Hara), and that said All-Pros were not able to convert a fourth-and-short with the season on the line.

I mention this not to speak ill of the Giants or the All-Pro voters (we’ll reserve that scorn for whomever picked John Carney, the Giants’ overmatched placekicker), but to suggest that maybe this Birds defensive line really is that good. They certainly were when it mattered yesterday — Bunkley even earned some individual accolades in the ESPN highlight package, that’s gotta be a first for him.

Again, we’ll be quiet most of the day, but before we split, we wanted to send a WTF to the guy who e-mailed me to ask if I had a video of McNabb puking in the Super Bowl.  Nope.  Nothing handy.  Thanks for asking.

Even in these fortunate times, the Haterade flows deep and fast.

(Best regards from the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.)

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.

So how bad was Tavaris Jackson? Bad, but not alone.
Posted on January 8th, 2009 at 3:16 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

The prevailing wisdom amongst the national blogerati is that the Vikings lost to the Eagles because of the poor quarterback play of Tavaris Jackson.  Since the “woefully inept” Jackson couldn’t get it done against the Birds, the Vikings will need to kick him to the curb and think about starting someone else next September.

The flip side of this argument is that the Eagles’ victory Sunday is somehow cheapened because they only beat Tavaris Jackson, who surely isn’t a competent NFL quarterback, and that things will change significantly against the Giants.

Things may change significantly against the Giants, and Jackson wasn’t very good against the Eagles.  But, how bad was he?  Was his performance all about his badness, or might it have something to do with the relative goodness of the Eagles’ pass defense?

Some quick stats on Tavaris reveals this was definitely a bad game for him, especially in the context of how well he’d been playing over the past month:

tavarisstats1.jpg

So yeah, it was pretty terrible out there for Tavaris on Sunday.  He’d faced playoff teams the three previous weeks (all “trying” at different levels, but still, this is the NFL, and Tampa can lose to Oakland as a 13.5-point favorite), and had played well against each.  But against the Birds he was awful: a passer rating that was nearly half his previous worst effort, and a horrifying 4.69 yards per attempt.

Still, as bad as Tavaris might have been against the Eagles, maybe the problem wasn’t Tavaris himself.  Maybe the problem was the opponent he was facing.  Check out the stats for Jackson versus the previous five QBs to play the Birds:

eaglespassdstats1.jpg

So yeah, it still doesn’t look pretty, especially if we discount the Ken Dorsey row.  But it’s not like anyone has played well against the Eagles’ pass defense in the past six weeks.  Eli managed the best rating of the bunch, at 73.5 — and most of that came against the clock-killing prevent defense from the Birds.  Also note that two of those guys (Eli and Kurt Warner) made the Pro Bowl.

The big takeaway is that Tavaris shouldn’t feel too too badly about his performance on Sunday, if only because he wasn’t alone in struggling against what is a very stout Eagles defense.  And for those who view the Eagles’ victory against the Vikings as somehow empty because of Jackson’s lousy play/ woeful ineptitude, well, turns out that the Birds probably had a lot to do with Jackson’s performance.  Both Tavaris and the Eagles defense are probably a bit better than what they’re getting credit for.

Monday Eagles Hangover: Wow, so that actually happened
Posted on December 29th, 2008 at 12:35 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

clemonsavant1.JPG

Yup.  Still here.  Just checked the Internet, and it appears that the Eagles did, in fact, make the playoffs.  Yesterday will be fondly remembered as pretty much the best day to be an Eagles fan since 2004.  Sure, there were some solid moments in 2006, but nothing so singularly glorious as what went down yesterday.

I dunno.  I’m still reeling.

What I’m chewing on this morning (besides bacon):

The last two minutes of the first half.  The end of the first half has been something of a bugaboo for the Birds over the course of this season.  I guess we should have known that this was truly a special day when — instead of having a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown, as has been their style — the Eagles scored 17 points in the final 2:09 of the first half.  Wow.

Guys we couldn’t be happier for, Part 1.  Correll Buckhalter, you’ve hung in there for years and years, and yesterday, you were the guy.  We’ve always enjoyed rooting for Buck, and this was a great Buckhalter game — made plays when he had his chance, made sure he ran north and south, and did it with a big smile.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Guys we couldn’t be happier for, Part 2.  I take back everything I ever said about Dawkins being done (though that was mostly in August/ September).  I liked GCobb’s comments about Dawk: essentially that Dawk’s game yesterday will be featured prominently in his Hall of Fame resume.  Yup.  Keep talking.

Guys we couldn’t be happier for, Part 3.  Sheldon Brown, good for you.  We thought you might have fallen into a pick by accident by this point, but hey, we’re glad you got one before the season was over.

Discussions we’ll no longer entertain.  Don’t want to hear it about Tony Romo.  Nope.  Not a word.  Until he wins any sort of game that matters, we’re not allowed to call him the best quarterback in the division.  He’s the third-best quarterback in the division.  At best.  Sure, the sample size is small, but it sure looks like Tony Romo has failed in every playoff situation he’s faced.  I’ll look forward to his skewering in the national media.

What you saw if you were at the bar with me.  So when Michael Bush broke the long run for the Raiders, the noises I was making might be best described as “uninterested porn star simulating orgasm.”  I was one of about three people watching the Tampa game at that point (in a packed bar); I think folks were a little taken aback.

Other things mentioned at said bar.  “Is that the same Ryan Moats who just scored for Houston?”  Why yes!  I suppose it is!

Better late than never.  I guess we can’t call Chris Clemons a bust signing if he shows up and delivers in the biggest game of the year.

Things we’ve already talked ourselves into.  A wild-card team with a hot defense can actually reach and/ or win the Super Bowl.  Seems to be how it goes down these days.  We get to think that for at least the next six days.  And that’s a glorious thing.

Dunavin talked about his feelings.   You know what, Big Five, you get to crow a little bit after yesterday.  You earned it.  In re: the constant criticism he faces, McNabb gave us the following in his post-game presser:

“We’re human beings, you get tired of it, but you never let them see you sweat. And you never show that it bothers you because you kill them with kindness, and when you kill them with kindness and you go out and you do your job, people understand that it never really affects you.”

Let it out, big fella.  Let it all out.

The return of Shawn Andrews?  So he’s not on IR (still).  Might the Big Kid actually get a look in a playoff game?  Huh.

I remain baffled and giddy regarding yesterday.  Go Birds.

Tuesday Eagles Hangover: Well, that was mellow
Posted on December 16th, 2008 at 11:30 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

SEXYTIME

The first sign that this was going to be a low-stress affair in South Philly was the complete absence of traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel at 5:45 on a weekday.  We actually thought something was wrong (a bomb?  the tunnel was closed?).  Nope.  Nothing wrong, and nothing but a smooth ride all the way down the turnpike.  Said smooth ride continued in the stadium, as the Birds cruised in a game that was completely lacking in any sort of anxiety and/ or drama.  About the most stressful moment of the whole affair was the part where we walked up the wrong stairs to get to our seats and had to watch the Curtis TD from behind a Miller Lite cart.

Other talking points and observations:

Dunavin was sharp sharp sharp.  It didn’t hurt that the Browns didn’t really manage to pressure him all that well, but he seemed to really enjoy playing against the Browns’ zone.  That was definitely a you-only-get-to-see-this-in-the-stadium sort of thing, but McNabb and the Eagles receivers were extremely methodical about gaining 10-15 yards in front of the Browns’ safeties and deep cover guys.  Of course, McNabb was also pretty sharp against the man defense that he saw (the extremely tight ball to Avant on the intermediate crossing route comes to mind).  Yeah, pretty solid stuff from the QB.

Slightly less solid stuff from Dorsey.  God bless that Ken Dorsey, but this looked really hard for him.  What balls he did complete were essentially bailouts from a very talented (and sure-handed, at least tonight) Braylon Edwards.  Both picks were pretty bad (balls thrown directly to Eagles), and Hanson should have had a third (which was slightly less bad).  We shouldn’t make fun, because this sort of thing can/ has happened to the Birds as well.  Somewhere, Mike McMahon was reliving 42-0 at home on Monday night in 2005.

Why were people booing Stallworth?  Lots of boos for Donte Stallworth.  What did Stallworth do to offend us?  I didn’t get that.  Hank Fraley was at least the guy who snitched on Dunavin puking in the Super Bowl (until the video tape also snitched on Dunavin puking in the Super Bowl).  As I remember it, Stallworth was a solid part of the 2006 team, which I believe we should all remember fondly.  Then the Eagles said thanks-but-no-thanks and he signed with another team.  Um, that’s chill.  I don’t get it.

Shaking head, staring at ground.  Big double-you-tee-eff in re: Asante Samuel “pulling a D-Jack.”  Who do you think has the least patience for that sort of thing in the Eagles’ locker room (after Andy Reid)?  I have to assume it’s Runyan, right?  As in, he goes over and picks up Samuel by the scruff of his neck and reminds him to “Never f*cking do that again”?  The only cool part of that play was that my buddy got a GREAT photo of it in realtime — we’ll post it as soon as he sends them out.  Very very solid work, and the folks sitting near us appreciated our own instant replay.

Speaking of DJack.  I know it worked in the Redskins game, and we all appreciate his boyish confidence out there.  But dude, enough with the “It’s just like college and I’m fast enough to loop around the back side of the punt coverage” sh*t.  Forward, young fella.  Forward.

Just in case you thought the Eagles were perfect and weren’t the same team from a month ago.  Can I roofie myself for the last two minutes of the first half of Eagles games from now on?  Is anyone keeping stats on this?  The Birds’ penchant for sniffing out and then embracing the most unlikely of calamities as the first half ends is uncanny.  And when you layer on the comical clock management and general level of disorganization, well, it’s just not very impressive.  The was covered thoroughly (and appropriately) in this morning’s papers.  A f*cking illegal formation penalty coming from a timeout?  Dude.

Speaking of the timeout.  The stadium announcer actually preemptively called timeout over the PA before Andy Reid got it in (and the Birds lost a few seconds as a result).  This prompted a discussion of having the “clock coach” just sit next to the PA guy and call Andy’s timeouts for him.  Just completely take it out of Reid’s hands and have the voice of God boom out the timeouts over the loudspeaker.  That way Andy can be pleasantly surprised by the appropriate use of the timeouts.

Three cheers.  To Jason Avant, for catching pretty much everything thrown his way, including some high-degree-of-difficulty snags.  To Trent Cole, for another dominant game on the left side of the line (I say this expecting him to get snubbed for the Pro Bowl).  And to B-Dawk, for breaking the team record for games played.  That’s just extremely classy.

Appropriate booing.  I mean, sure, it’s a small sample size, but, um, does Kevin Kolb look like the guy?  Maybe Dunavin has paid him off to throw picks in mop-up duty?  Dunavin’s owed like $9 million next season — you think it isn’t worth $20K to him to get Kolb to look terrible out there?  Or is Kolb just not very good?  One of those.   I’ve got a lengthy follow-up post coming on this topic.

The Birds defense (and the NFC East) warms my heart.  I really like what we’ve got going on in the NFC East right now in re: teams playing some nasty defense.  All four teams in the top 13 on Football Outsiders coming into this week, with Dallas the lowest-ranked team (the Cowboys D looked completely scary against the Giants last week).  Very old skool, very classy.

Go Birds.



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