What Would Buddy Do?
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.

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.

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.)

Eagles - Vikings Game Preview: don’t pretend you know what we’re getting today
Posted on January 4th, 2009 at 11:38 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Well none of us are going to pretend we expected this.  Sure, we could envision this, but to expect this would have been a bit strong after the Washington game.  The Eagles are actually in the playoffs.

So, are they any damn good?

That’s the thing about the Eagles game today.  We don’t actually know what the narrative of this season is yet.  Is is the “Eagles go on a run like 2006 (Washington game is ‘just a blip’)” or is it “Eagles stumble into playoffs, but are who we thought they were”?  If they win today, many many sins will be forgiven — even if they lose the following week.  Then they’re good but not good enough, and that’s a lot better than we thought we’d get in mid-November.  If they lose today, especially if they do so in one of the ways to which we’ve become accustomed, well, then they were essentially last year’s team with a better punt returner: good on paper, but bad when it matters.

I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the Eagles didn’t show up at all today, but I don’t think it’ll happen.  Rather, I think that there’s a compelling reason why it might not happen: the Eagles defense.  But more about that in a bit.

What I’ll be shouting about in re: today’s big Wild Card Game:

Your storylines.  It’s a little overwhelming (and by overwhelming, I mean that it makes writing a preview really challenging) when your team makes the playoffs in re: the clear national storylines.  As in, (1) Jim Johnson versus Tavaris Jackson (must include reference to total available quantity of blitzes), (2) Can the suddenly elite Eagles’ defense contain Adrian Peterson, (3) Teacher-versus-Pupil.  What’s sweet is that I feel good about each of those.  And the thing that worries me most is just that they go out and throw it 48 times.  Andy Reid, you haunt me!

Storylines we refuse to consider.  You’re not allowed to say, “This is an extremely close game in simulations with the Eagles winning just under 51 percent of the simulations. The key to the game is turnovers,” in an article entitled “Intel Report” on ESPN.  Generally speaking, I think blathermonkeys should be fired on the spot for uttering the phrase, “The key to the game is turnovers.”  The key to scoring is touchdowns and field goals.  The key to defense is tackling.  Yes.  It’s all true!

Fan storyline that’s a bit odd.  I assume most of you are like me in that you feel good about defense and special teams, and have no idea what we’re getting from the offense.  It’s worth noting that said offense set the franchise record for points scored…and I still don’t think we’re remotely irrational for not trusting them.

The last time these guys played in January.  The future Mrs. BountyBowl got us tickets for the game as a Christmas gift, circa December 2004.  This was a very clever strategy of hers for currying my affections.  Seemed to have worked out for everyone.  F***ing cold that day, though!

Hip, whatever.  The Birds paid a lot of money for Asante Samuel.  Mr. Samuel has traditionally been very successful in elimination games (save for an awkward moment along the sideline last February).  It’d be lovely if he felt compelled to demonstrate his penchant for the big moment against the Vikings.  Also, I’m pretending that the injury thing is an illusion.

Speaking of, he doesn’t need to play.  L.J. Smith has his impending free agency to worry about.  Let’s cut the guy some slack and let him get healthy.  It’s for the best.

The CamelCased One.  What a wonderful opportunity for young Master DeSean to go out and demonstrate he has a feel for the big moment (and redeem himself for the Washington game) than to make a play against the absolute worst punt coverage team in the league?  Very tempting, no?  We’d hate to think the kid had issues with the spotlight.

Speaking of wideouts.  Both Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown made circus catches against the Vikings when the Eagles played there last year.  A similar effort this afternoon would augur well for the Birds’ chances.

Jared Allen is scary, though not as scary as Demarcus Ware.  I think Allen will be slightly more dangerous than Ware was last week if only because Ware’s team completely quit.  But if the Birds can handle Ware, why not Allen?  (That said, I think Allen is excellent.)

Adrian Peterson is scary, though not as scary as Brian Westbrook.  Sure, AP (”Purple Jesus”) is a megastar guy who has a chance to be the best back of his generation.  But in a game that matters I feel extremely good about a Brian Westbrook, and not just because he might be the single smartest guy on the field.  He’s also good at not getting tackled!

Eagles thoughts from during the Cards - Falcons game.  While I know it’s not for everyone, it sure looks like you can run your offense through a couple dominant wideouts.  Those guys are good.

Eagles thoughts from during the Bolts - Colts game.  This was actually painful to watch for me, if only because there were so many little plays that almost but didn’t quite go the Chargers’ way (at least until the coin toss!).  Lots of dropped picks, bad bounces, that sort of thing.  It’s rare that I can feel like an Eagles fan watching another team.  Thanks, Chargers!

Things I’m glad I haven’t thought about in weeks.  How about that David Akers!  Doesn’t seem to be struggling any more.  And he’s got to feel good about a dome.

No one believes in you, Donovan.  I hope Mr. McNabb is on his laptop this morning reading the InterWebs just so he knows that NO ONE BELIEVES IN HIM.  Nope.  Not a one.  And the ONLY WAY HE CAN STICK IT TO THE FICKLE DOUBTERS is to play the game of his life.  That’s the only way you can really get us, Donovan.  Seriously.  It’ll totally piss us all off, because we don’t really like you and don’t want you to succeed.

Cardboard Box.  One of the things that makes me feel confident about the game today is that I think the Eagles actually will get the speed of the playoff game.  That is, there are a few guys on the field for the Eagles who won’t be intimidated by the moment and will come out playing fast.  Mostly I’m thinking that Brian Dawkins and/ or Sheldon Brown isn’t going to be afraid to endanger themselves in order to announce their presence with authority in the first few minutes of the game.  And now, because I can’t help it, is the link.  Treat yourself.

Game prediction. I think that the defense is going to show up this week for the Eagles, and that if the Birds can get it to 20 points they should be chill.  The problem is that I can’t really speak for the offense.  I think they could be awful.  I think it’s important that the Eagles wide receivers play well.  That means getting open and it means catching the ball.  Eagles 20, Vikings 13.

Eagles - Cowboys Game Preview: immanetize the eschaton
Posted on December 28th, 2008 at 11:32 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Much like Andy Reid and the Eagles, we’re playing this game preview straight.  Now is not the time to fret about playoff scenarios and the likely end of some very very very impressive Eagles’ careers.  Now is the time to focus on the Cowboys game and the last couple days of coverage in the papers.  We’ll have time later (and by “later” we mean “in thirty minutes”) for a lengthy discussion of our sports feelings and the end-of-days scenarios for our favorite players.

What we’re talking about today:

The new kid might also be a choke artist (!).  In what might be a hint of blathermonkey/ fan angst for years to come, we had a volley of DeSean Jackson coverage rounding out the end of the holiday week.  The CamelCased One is certainly primed to be the next star for this team, and as such will need to shoulder a fair amount of heavy scrutiny for the next couple years.  While it’s great to hear that he’s the team’s playmaker (which we’d been pushing for a while) and that Andy Reid expects him to make plays, catch the ball, all that, the thing that’s nagging me about DeSean is that maybe he gets nervous too.  That is, he dropped the ball with the game/ season on the line.  For the franchise whose quarterback famously puked in the Super Bowl, it’s not exactly sweet that the alleged best player on our team for the next few years appears to get nervous at the end of the game.  Not to panic, but I think it’s fair to be be VERY VERY disturbed by this.

Everyone’s favorite Eagle.  Fittingly, L.J. Smith won’t play today (listed as doubtful), in what has to be his final game as an Eagle.  How appropriate!  Topics that merit revisiting after the season: how terrible a decision was it to bring back L.J. Smith?  The cynics amongst us can pin at least two-and-a-half Eagles’ losses indirectly to him (Chicago, both Washington games).  What if a Terminator came back through time and prevented the Eagles from franchising him last year?  Would the Birds have won one more of those games?  Sort of like a retroactive roster abortion?

End of days, Part 1.  So now it looks like conventional wisdom has Dunavin coming back for the Eagles next year.  Sweet.  There.  I said it.  Also, that was about the only thing I got right in this set of mid-season predictions. By the way.  Though I was close on B-West not breaking 900 yards rushing (he’s at 886 right now) and Shawn Andrews not playing another down.

End of Days, Part 2.  So Dawk has to be back next year, no?  He made the Pro Bowl, which is probably partially a lifetime achievement/ he’s a popular guy around the league thing, but still.  He’s at least going to be in camp.    And those bitter, bitter comments from Tra Thomas.  Wow.  I hope he isn’t pissed on his way out.  GREAT Eagle.  Runyan too.  Big sigh.  We’ll have more time for this in the next few weeks.

Speaking of, an offseason of villainy.  Remember the guys who cut Duce Staley and Jeremiah Trotter?  Yeah.  They’re back.  Get ready to turn your hatred on the front office.

This week’s blathertariat non-story.  So the quarterback is telling people he’s played well.  Uh huh.  So maybe his delivery wasn’t perfect, but, um, doesn’t everybody do that?  That is, when you hand in your performance review at work, do you tell everyone you think you sucked?  Didn’t get the kerfuffle here.  What I thought was interesting was how Andy Reid addressed the non-story on Friday:

“He has done very well. I think, statistically, when you look at it, he has done a nice job. The only stat I really care about, however, is that the team plays well. That’s the most important thing right now. I think when and if you take that statement he made out of context, and you really know what Donovan is all about, he’s about the football team. If you finish reading the whole quote, I think he finishes up where I don’t see that as a negative statement.”

So no one asked Andy Reid if he thought Dunavin’s self-assessment was negative.  But Reid’s answer indicates that he realizes how the comment was chewed up and digested by the media, to the point that he suggests that it may have been taken out of context (”If you finish reading he whole quote…”).  So Andy Reid realizes that the press are trying to make a story out of this, but he won’t say that outright, though he still will give the politically correct answer.  Eerie.  The Birds’ media team definitely prep him for these things.  Or (most disturbingly), he reads it himself.  Reason number 467 that the Philly media is a lot of work to deal with (also why we love said media).

Speaking of, it’s been a long year for the press too.  Went through the game previews this morning.  That’s just some cold shit from Les Bowen right there:

Let’s say everything the Eagles need to happen earlier in the day happens. Are they then going to beat a divisional foe to close the deal? What’s their record in the division again (1-4)? Their coach thinks he could have run it “a few more times” after abandoning the balance that brought him a three-game win streak, calling pass plays, disastrously, 16 times in a row in the second half last week. The quarterback who can’t quite produce a game-winning drive when the chips are down thinks he’s had a “great” year and would just like to mention, with the season on the line, that he could use a new contract.

Bah, humbug.

Yikes.  These people all need a vacation from each other.

My own prediction.  Since it’s my blog and this might be the last Eagles game for a while, I’m treating myself to the twin fantasies of (a) the game actually mattering and (b) the Eagles playing well.  We’ll pretend that the Cowboys aren’t the Eagles’ superiors on both sides of the line and that the Birds haven’t been atrocious within the division this year.  Instead we’ll focus on Tony Romo struggling this time of year and imagine that the Eagles will make a couple big plays on special teams (hey, why not).  Birds prove that they aren’t just last year’s 8-8 team (or even 8-7-1) with a better punt returner: Eagles 27, Cowboys 23.

(Immanetize the eschaton definition link, in case you were wondering.)

For the avoidance of doubt
Posted on December 23rd, 2008 at 4:27 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

I was actually going to do a post where I just listed and linked all the articles in the local papers about how many times the Eagles threw the ball on Sunday, and how each and every one of those sportswriters is bored of the Run-The-Ball-Andy meme.

Then I realized that not only was I sick of reading those same stories, but I’m also sick of my meta-critiques of the abundance of said stories.  (Also, it would have actually taken too many alt-tab-ctrl-c-ctrl-v keystrokes to actually link them all, and I’m feeling lazy.  Seriously, I counted and we got to double digits very quickly.)

Instead, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the profound cruelty of last night’s Chicago - Green Bay game.  My takeaways/ reflections:

1. How do I allow myself to get so agitated about a game where the exact placement of the ball between downs is both (a) absolutely essential to deciding the outcome of the game and (b) maddeningly imprecise.  Did the Bears really get that first down?  Did they?  They need to get lasers in that shiznit stat.  How has Vegas not gotten this done yet?  Don’t they have a vote?

2.  I know, I know, DeSean Jackson is a rookie.  But so is Matt Forte, and Matt Forte made all the plays he needed to at the end of that game to give his team a great chance to win.  He did not wilt under pressure; he embraced it.  I’m just saying.

3.  Whilst craizer things have certainly happened in the NFL, there was something especially mean-spirited about the ending of the Bears game last night.  Not that it really actually mattered for the Birds, but I had convinced myself that it did, and the way it all went down (the blocked FG?  the penalty on the first drive of overtime?) just felt all too appropriate.  OF COURSE the Bears were going to win in the most improbable fashion possible!  Of course!

Posts are going to be a bit slow over the next couple days.  Duty calls.  Just remember — Phillies World Series DVDs make GREAT gifts.

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.

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.

Eagles - Giants (Extended) Game Preview: Birds Salvation?
Posted on December 7th, 2008 at 10:06 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

Well, it was kind of a disaster the last time I went to Giants stadium, both on the field and off.  The Eagles got clobbered, and my night may have included some unnecessary heroics.  Both the Eagles and I survived the evening, but only barely.  Thankfully, my then-fiancee was there to witness it, and she still married me.

(Winston Justice, never doubt the potential for forgiveness and redemption!  There’s hope for you yet!)

I wasn’t kidding when I dropped the Terminator jokes about the Giants this week.  That they played so well in the middle of all the nonsense last weekend was actually pretty unnerving.  Shouldn’t they have been at least a little bit distracted?  And to go on the road against a tough divisional team on Sean Taylor day, I mean, yikes.  THEY CANNOT BE REASONED WITH.  THEY DON’T FEEL PAIN.

(Speaking of Terminator, I hope everyone caught the new teaser trailer.  And that you’re enjoying The Sarah Connor Chronicles as much as I am, which is a lot.  If I have any complaint with the Terminator TV show, it’s that they’ve trivialized the act of killing a Terminator.  It used to take two full hours of feature film to kill a Terminator and entire city blocks were routinely destroyed in the process; now they kill one every other week on TV.  Anyhoo, no more killer-robot talk for now.)

If they actually show up and play well again this week, well then I think we can consider Tom Coughlin for Hank Paulson’s job.  It’s just very difficult to argue that Tom Coughlin isn’t doing the best coaching job in the NFL right now.  It’s impressive and commendable as a management exercise, and it’s not like I’m eager to say nice things about the Giants.  These guys are good.

Some talking points ahead of this afternoon’s game:

The 36 Chambers of B-West’s relative assessment of his health.  So early in the week Brian Westbrook was telling folks that this was the “best [he’d] felt” since the beginning of the year, but then he didn’t practice Thursday or Friday and was listed as questionable in the final injury report.  These two seem like contradictory conditions, unless you consider that “best [he’d] felt” means that Westbrook has been feeling “terrible” for most of the season and that the extra rest over Thanksgiving has given him the opportunity to feel “marginally better than he will for the next month of his life.”

The rest of the RBs.  No Buck, so the Birds will be one gimpy #36 ankle tweak away from Lorenzo Booker and Kyle Eckel gamely attempting to pick up Steve Spagnuolo’s blitzes.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Obligatory Plax impact.  Yup, Igglesblog had it right, it’s silly to pretend that the Giants won’t miss Plax.  Against some other teams, it’ll matter.  Against the Eagles, it shouldn’t, unless the Giants’ offensive line doesn’t play well.  That is, it makes sense that the Birds sell out against the run and hope their secondary can hang and Eli doesn’t have a big day in the cold and wind.  But I actually think that the Giants will still run well against a stacked Birds line.

That which I envy most about the Giants.  Having a dominant offensive line really does make a difference, doesn’t it.  Things that the Giants aren’t afraid to do include, but are not limited to, “running on third-and-1.”

That which I envy second most about the Giants.  It’s not that the Eagles are afraid to spend expensive draft picks on defensive linemen.  They just didn’t manage to pick Justin Tuck.  He’ll only be killing the Birds for the next five to six seasons.  While similarly branded, Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws aren’t quite the same thing (though both went higher in their respective drafts).

As dominant as the Giants’ defense is.  Huh, the Eagles actually have three more sacks than the Giants this year (the teams are 3 and 4 in the NFL rankings, respectively).  We’d all be very surprised if the Birds weren’t at least minorly successful against the Giants’ passing game.  I’m having happy flashbacks to the 2006 game at the Meadowlands that ended with Trent Cole returning a pick for a TD.  If nothing else, I expect we’ll be able to say nice things about the 2008 Eagles defense.

Do they show these ads everywhere?  The Eli Manning “Unstoppable” ones?  Please tell me I see these just because I live in New York.

Yup, I’m calling it the Meadowlands.  Doesn’t it seem like everyone’s a little slower on the Meadowlands’ turf?  Or do I just imagine too many late-season games when I think of the Meadowlands and everyone looks slower in the cold?

Guys I hope seem fast.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if young Master DeSean or Quintin Demps made a big play on special teams?  (I’m actually assuming that DeSean will be the Birds’ leading receiver tomorrow.  It’s his first time in New York — I think he appreciates the big stage.)

No one can say the Eagles aren’t getting their shot.  The season could end today at the Meadowlands.  Given that there are 3 games remaining, that would be, um, disappointing (though not entirely surprising).  Yet the Eagles probably won’t be the last team to have their season end on the road against the Giants.  Even if the Eagles explore the edges of quantum possibility and sneak into the playoffs, any significant success will involve a trip to the Meadowlands (yup, going to keep calling it that).  So today is as good a day as any to see if the Eagles are really anything more than last year’s 8-8 team (but with a better punt returner).

What I’m wearing.  20-30 mph winds at the stadium and temperatures in the 30s?  We’re going to need to layer.  Also, we’re going to hope that the Eagles don’t try to throw it 55 times.

End of the turnpike/ road.  We have to acknowledge that this is likely the last game that Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, and Tra Thomas will play as Eagles at the Meadowlands.  It might be the last game that some of them play as an Eagle.  I’m happy to absorb some abuse in the stadium to see it live.

My predicted final score.  So I definitely like the Eagles to cover 7 points (if you’re interested in such things).  They got a couple extra days off, and this week’s events have to have some impact on the Giants, right?  But can the Eagles actually win?  I’m not convinced.  And I really really really wanted to be convinced.  There’s a best-case scenario where the Eagles bring everyone to the line of scrimmage and dare Eli to throw the ball against them in the wind and it somehow works.  The flip side of that scenario is that I don’t know how the Eagles are going to score in windy conditions either.  I just can’t believe that anything but the totally predictable will happen today.  That is, I can’t believe that the Eagles will stop the Giants from running and somehow manage to score a bunch of points on the Giants’ defense.  Final score: Giants 27, Eagles 21.

Off to Jersey and the ancestral homeland.  Go Birds.



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