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).

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.

In case things weren’t going perfectly enough for Eagles fans this week
Posted on January 15th, 2009 at 11:29 am by Cheesesteak Hoagie

What’s that?  The Cowboys have decided that a certain wide receiver might be more trouble than he’s worth?  You don’t say:

“I think we all know that chemistry is the problem with this team more than the schemes or anything else,” a Cowboys source said. “Are we going to continue to allow talent to outweigh everything else in the decisions we make with players and putting the roster together? We’re like the Redskins used to be when they signed every player they wanted. There’s more to it than talent. It has to be more about the team.

“The big one [Owens] didn’t get discussed yet, but I’m sure it will and real hard.”

If that isn’t enough, perhaps some discussion of Eli Manning becoming a member of the $100-million club, then?  And Giants fans aren’t universally thrilled?

“You see $120 million and it just seems like too much money,” said Nizam Abdul, 40, of Ozone Park, holding a copy of the Daily News with Manning on the front page.

“Besides, he lost the game,” said Abdul, still stinging from Sunday’s 23-11 loss to the Eagles. “Everyone is still upset about it.”

Yes yes, I’m serving heavy doses of Haterade.  It’s not very nice.  I know.

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.)

I’m going to Disneyworld. No, seriously, I am.
Posted on January 11th, 2009 at 7:34 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

So that was pretty much the most I could have asked from my favorite football team today.

They, as an accidental playoff entrant, who but for the good graces of a 13.5-point favorite losing at home would have not been in the playoffs, despite the accumulated damage of an intensely physical wild-card game, just beat up on the defending champs, top seeds in the NFC, in the champs’ stadium. That they did it by playing bruising and physical football only makes the victory even awesomer.

We are being treated to a post-season run based most?y on defense. As Eagles fans, we all know that this is right. That we’d really prefer it this way.

Today’s game will be remembered fondly for years, in a 4th-and-26 sort of way. I’m thrilled I got to enjoy it live — we had a blast, and the Giants fans were good sports throughout.

And now I’m headed to the airport. Work travel tonight and tomorrow , so posts will be limited. But exuberance will not. And some poor schlub will actually have to sit next to me on this flight!

Oddly enough, my night will end with a drive to EPCOT center.

GO BIRDS.

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.

1UP
Posted on January 9th, 2009 at 8:41 pm by Cheesesteak Hoagie

That’s weird.  I had no idea Mario followed pro football.  Very curious.

See here for a very Super Mario prediction for Sunday.

I actually would have expected more on the Birds offensive line.  But who am I to argue with Mario?

(H/T to BoingBoing.)

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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.



« Previous Entries