Packers beat the Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship Game 37-0 in first championship game at Lambeau Field

Lambeau Legendary Days: Packers beat the Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship Game 37-0 in first championship game at Lambeau Field. <–CLICK LINK TO GAME BROADCAST

2011 Kansas City Chiefs Preview

What produces a good team?  Is it based upon the accumulation of top shelf talent or can you coach a lesser talented team with top shelf coaching?  Head Coach Todd Haley put together a staff with 3 former head coaches with multiple Super Bowl rings from the 00’s Patriots and 1980s New York Giants. Did you know that current defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has 5 Super Bowl rings?  Yet is overlooked when it comes to credit in formulating defensive gameplans and getting the most out of moderate talent.  The Chiefs lost Charlie Weiss, who went back to the college ranks with the Florida Gators.  Yet the offense he leaves behind was the sparkplug that powered this team to a 10-6 record and the AFC West Divisional Crown.  Haley, who was the former offensive coordinator for the 2008 NFC Champion Cardinals, should have more of a hand in the play calling.  Can the Chiefs improve on the rapid rise and improvement shown in 2010?  Has the talent on this team developed enough to take the next step?

Quarterback: Time to enter the confessional: How many of you were thinking Matt Cassel was the second coming of Scott Mitchell or Rob Johnson? Quarterbacks who filled in for an injured starter, played well, parlayed it into a big free agent contract, then faltered with his new team. Well after a lukewarm 2009 in which Cassel tossed 16 TDs and 16 interceptions, he improved dramatically in his single season under Weiss. Cassel tossed 27 TDs with only 7 interceptions while moving his passer rating to a respectable 8th in the NFL. His improvement from 69.9 in 2009, to 93 was the best turnaround in all of pro football.  These numbers even top his 2008 campaign when he filled in for Tom Brady and led the Patriots to a surprising 11-5 season, which included a 5 game winning streak to conclude the season. Going into his 7th season,, he is entering his prime as a signal caller. One way to get to Cassel is to rush him from his front side.  He seems to throw the ball away or pull it down prematurely at times when he has a split second to complete the throw.  Even though he’s intelligent enough to know when to throw it away, this contributed to his ranking of 18th in passing yards per attempt (6.9yd avg.) along with his dumpoffs. He’s a little quick to move his feet from a throwing position.  So time your front side overload blitzes and jump his short routes when you do.  The Ravens were affective with this in last year’s wildcard playoff loss. Otherwise he can play action pass the Chiefs to efficient drives and to narrow wins. Arrowhead stadium has its most effective quarterback since Len Dawson and quarterback is good in Kansas City.

Offensive Backfield:  This team is set at running back with the continued development of Jamaal Charles. Entering his 4th season he is averaging a whopping 6.0 yards per carry over 3 seasons. His 1,467 yards last year was 2nd in the NFL while snaring 45 receptions for another 468 yards, scoring 8 times overall. His yards per reception average of 10.4 shows you can’t discount Charles in the passing game.  You had better bring some healthy, in shape linebackers to  play Kansas City or you might be in for a long day. At 5’11 199 lbs., it was thought by some that Charles may not be tough enough between the tackles, coming into the NFL.  Last year showed his 1,100 yard season in 2009 was no fluke. He started only 5 games last year and the Chiefs are doing the right thing playing him with 2 backs sharing the workload otherwise Charles might break down.  This keeps Charles fresh and allows him to break big plays once the Chiefs opponents start to wear down. Many good years ahead for this talent from Texas.

One thing we can’t come to grips with at the Taylor Blitz Times is why teams have let Thomas Jones go when he has been so productive? The last two stops he was let go by teams fearing he’d get old on them and not perform which is nuts if you see this guy out of uniform.  In his last year with the Bears in 2006, he led the Bears to the Super Bowl rushing for 1,210 yards. He even ran for 112 yards in Super Bowl XLI, which was the first time since Thurman Thomas in Super Bowl XXV to do so. In his last year with the Jets in 2009, he rushed for 1,402  yards and 14 TDs, leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game.  Then released after those two years?? Are you kiddin’ me? Its no coincidence that Jones physical running style embodied the attitude of his team’s offense on a 3rd successive team that made the playoffs.  Last year was the first time in 6 years Jones didn’t cross the 1,000 yard threshold finishing with 896.

First glance at his 3.7 yard average per rush, you’d think he was slowing down when in reality he carried the ball in all obvious running situations.  The Chiefs may benefit themselves by not telegraphing that they are always going to run when Jones is on the field.  Make no mistake that Jones is in the twilight of his career. Yet this is an extreme physical specimen who keeps himself in great shape with a body weight lifters could be proud of. So even at the age of 32 we expect him to have at least two good years left in him with the current situation.  With teams focusing a little more on Cassel, WR Bowe, and first round draft pick in Pitt wideout Jonathon Baldwin, expect him to cross the 1,000 yard threshold yet again.  As a matter of fact the Chiefs may post the first 1,000 yard rushing tandem in AFC West history.  Rushing the football over 500 times last year, yikes. At running back, Kansas City is Super Bowl quality…better bring some linebackers with “big boy” pads on to play them too.

Receivers: The Chiefs wanted to ensure that teams couldn’t concentrate solely on Dewayne Bowe last year by running effectively, and this year by drafting him a running mate in Pitt’s Jonathon Baldwin.  As for Bowe, he had an explosive year pulling in 72 receptions for 1,162 yards and 15 TDs.  A physical specimen at 6’2 221lbs with good speed, is only going into his 5th season and should be there for the Chiefs for years to come.  With a strong running game to force more 8 man fronts Bowe had a field day against undersized DBs. With the addition of 6’4 228 lbs Baldwin, the Chiefs will field one of football’s largest set of receivers. They will be a team that can move the chains yet we have to see how Bowe comes back after this lockout.  If he’s worked out fiendishly so that his hamstrings hold up, he will be the deep threat with Baldwin the itermediate target. With wideouts this big Oakland had better think twice about Namedi getting out of town as a corner.

The Chiefs are serviceable at TE with Leonard Pope and Tony Moeaki combining for 57 receptions and 5 TDs. Its hard to think of that being productive after Tony Gonzalez manned this spot for so long but these guys are better blockers.  Also 3rd down back Dexter McCluster ate into some of this group’s production running the up and under routes that the tight end would usually run.  With some of the division’s defenses in flux, this should be a good receiving group in Kansas City.

Offensive Line: After leading the NFL in rushing attempts (556), rushing yards (2,627), and finishing tied for 4th in rushing attempts with a 4.7 yards per carry average, this team comes off the ball with consistency.  The seven man sled is alive and well in Kansas City practices.  This team had 72 runs of over 10 yards or more and pushed for first downs on 3rd or 4th and 2, 73% of the time up the gut. Coach Haley has to love that!  How they only had one Pro Bowl lineman in LG Brian Waters is embarrassing.  As always it takes the league 1 year after a performance to recognize emerging talent.  With a heavy dose of running the football, you have to say RG Ryan Lilja and RT Barry Richardson are getting the job done.  They are in their 7th and 3rd years respectively and should be able to maintain their level of play for the foreseeable future.

One of the ways to get after the Kansas City offensive line is to get on top of this team by 7 or more points.  Since they are a heavy run offense they aren’t conditioned to come back or protect the quarterback for extended drives consisting of a majority of passing.  This team ranked 12th in the NFL allowing 32 sacks, and 18th allowing 74 hits on the quarterback.  So they are better suited in pushing off the ball than they are at protecting the passer.  With this line I’d definitely overload blitz in the face of Matt Cassell who gets the ball out a tad early which couples with the tendency that he gets hit a lot on dropbacks.  All told this team has a lot of leads and stays committed to the run so they don’t fall too far behind.  Offensive line is superior in Kansas City and may be a shade better than New England.

Defensive Line: Surprisingly the Chiefs aren’t getting the return they had originally envisioned in DE Glenn Dorsey out of LSU.  This is partially the team’s fault for drafting a 3 technique 4-3 tackle then converting to a 3-4 defense the next season.  He got caught in the middle, just ask former Green Bay Packer DE Aaron Kampman.  Now that isn’t an excuse for an anemic showing with only 2 sacks in nickle situations when they employ 4 man fronts, but he isn’t effective as a DE.  The Chiefs should trade him to a team committed at a 4-3 defense like Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, or home to New Orleans and getting something in return.  His build is conducive to be a “rooter”, to shove the middle of a pass pocket and not come from the additional 3 yards away at DE. Since the Chiefs are 14th in rushing yards allowed and average with 1,764 and 4.3 respectively they could use more help on this line.

The combined 5.5 sacks amongst the front 3 needs to be higher, especially for a defense that should be that rested on a team that ran the most in the NFL. DT Ron Edwards and DE Shaun Smith are decent players yet could improve as pass rushers.  The issue is that in year’s 9 and 6 respectively, this is as good as they will be and play for the aging Edwards could slip. To that avail the Chiefs drafted specimen Allen Bailey from Miami to help with that interior push.  The question is where will they play him.  He seems suitable to rush from the inside on nickle and dime packages with his explosion and strength. He should be able to play special teams to keep him engaged in games but again his body type doesn’t lend to a DE, maybe part time DT. He could be disruptive if he learns to fight better with his hands.  The defensive line is slightly below average yet it could make a few strides this season if Bailey disrupts on 3rd down.

Linebackers: The Patriots flat out gave Scott Pioli and the Chiefs brass a gift when they traded Mike Vrabel to them.  A heady linebacker who’s veteran leadership and 3 Super Bowl rings give him the locker room clout to have the ear of his younger teammates. He has shown invaluable in helping the Chiefs grow up fast under Romeo Crennel’s watch.  He is showing signs of wear in not making any splash plays but he just made the right ones yet father time may be catching this 14th year vet. Star of this defense is Tamba Hali closing in at the right side OLB spot.  The Chiefs were hoping he’d improve on his 2009 and he didn’t disappoint charting 14.5 sacks (1st in AFC) and second in the league to DeMarcus Ware with 15. Hali forced 4 fumbles, recovered 2 and knocked down 3 passes and should have been to the Pro Bowl.  He’s only 27 years of age and has steadily improved with now 3 years with over 8 sacks.  Only going to get better.

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson #56 led the team with 120 combined tackles and returned his only interception for a TD.  He gets to the football and along with Jovan Belcher’s 84 tackles this may be the best younger set of inside ‘backers in all of football.  Combined they had 2 sacks and 4 forced fumbles bringing some thump with their tackles.  Belcher was a rookie and Johnson is only entering his 6th season.  Couple that with the ages of the Jets and Raven’s inside tandem and this could be the AFC’s best within a year or two.  Linebacker is really good in Kansas City.

Secondary: Of all the playoff teams out of the AFC last year, the Chiefs were fair larsonists with 11 interceptions between their starters. They had solid play out of free safeties John McGraw and Kendrick Lewis who combined for 5 interceptions and benefitted from teams throwing away from Pro Bowl SS Eric Berry.  In 2010 Berry had 4 interceptions while making 87 tackles.  Of his 4 interceptions he did take one back for a pick 6 from 54 yards out.  This guy is a playmaker.  At the corner position, high draft pick Javier Arenas could only make the field in obvious passing situations as a nickle back. Why?? Ask the Chiefs brass about the play of corners Brandon Flower with 14passes defensed, and Brandon Carr’s 23.  An active group.  Now throw in Arenas’ 7 passes defensed and 1 interception to go along with the 2 Brandon’s 3 picks and teams had better not throw into this secondary.  With their top three corners all being 24 years old or less, this is the best secondary fielded by the Chiefs since the million dollar secondary of Kevin Ross, Albert Lewis, Lloyd Burrus, and Deron Cherry of mid to late 80s fame.  Superior is the only grade to be given out here and if this team can get another pass rusher to force more errant throws….yikes!!

Overall: Still the best in the AFC West, and if they could take something from the intensity they faced in the wild card round against Baltimore, this team could be headed to the AFC Championship Game or beyond.  Last year early on the question was were they as good as their 3-0 record. They weren’t.  They were better as evidenced by their 5-2 stretch to win the division crown when the pressure was on at the end of the season.  As strong as they are in the phases of running the football and defending the pass, if they get a lead its curtains.  They are well coached and they could make a conference splash this year if age shows up in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  A team with no obvious weaknesses that has to see Head Coach Haley scout himself and not get pass happy with another big target opposite Bowe. He could get flashbacks to his offensive co ordinator days with the Arizona Cardinals and take to the air.

Careful Coach Haley, you have a good thing building in Kansas City and this team could make a Super Bowl run in these next two seasons.  One of the chances for this team to see growth is in week 10 with a Monday night matchup in New England.  Kansas City comes through with a win there in a championship building block game, this team could be the AFC’s sleeper.  I know that sounds crazy to say of a possible two time division champion, but they are not the sexy pick and most pundits would list them as the 5th or 6th best AFC team. They should finish with a record of 11-5 or 12-4 with another AFC West Title. Plenty of bar-b-que and handwarmers come playoff time in Kansas City.

1964 AFL Champion Buffalo Bills

1964 AFL Champion Buffalo Bills Ring

To the casual football fan, the legacy of the Buffalo Bills is that of a four time Super Bowl participant that lost them consecutively, or OJ Simpson and what later became of his life with a double murder trial.  Yet a further look into the legacy of MY beloved Buffalo Bills and you’ll find out about Robert Kalsu: The only professional football player to give his life serving his country in the Vietnam War.  You will also find that in the AFL, the Buffalo Bills came within a game of becoming a THREE-PEAT champion…and one of the most powerful champions in history.

Well when you think of the AFL you think of wide open offenses and high scoring football games.  It was the wild west up until this defensive mountain rose up to stop the onslaught of points.  It happened in Buffalo. Joe Collier developed a 4-3 defense that took advantage of cocking defensive end Tom Day #88 in the gap between the center and guard.  This was later made famous by Joe Greene and the Pittsburgh Steelers a decade later….yet I digress

A  solid front four that stopped the run with big Tom Sestak #70 that could get after the quarterback.  This team believed in roughing up the quarterback with safety blitzes the first to do so, George Saimes was the AFL pioneer with this tactic. Furthermore this was the first team to employ the bump and run tactics at cornerback, not the Oakland Raiders, in Booker Edgerson and Butch Byrd.

Byrd was arguably the best cornerback in Bills history and maybe the best in AFL history. He was 6-1 215 lbs, or 1 inch shorter and same weight as Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham a decade later. He punished receivers at the line of scrimmage yet could swoop in and pick off quarterbacks, leading the league with 7 interceptions.  Along with Mike Stratton, this defense sent 3 to the Pro Bowl and MLB Harry Jacobs should have gone.

On offense, the late Jack Kemp was quarterback yet the fuel to this team was Cookie Gilchrist.  Cookie ran for 948 yards and was the game closer when they needed to run the ball at the end of games.  He was the AFL version of Jim Brown with his power and speed.  Kemp had arrived a season before when he was placed on injured reserve by the San Diego Chargers.

There was some technicality that kept him from returning to the San Diego Chargers and the Bills were off and running.  Gilchrist and Daryle Lamonica (yes Oakland “The Mad Bomber”) each ran for 6 TDs in the regular season while Elbert “Wheels” Dubenion was the deep threat catching passes for 1,139 yards and 10TDs. Jack Kemp led a steady ball control offense and was a Pro Bowl performer in 1964 with Gilchrist, Dubenion, and TE Ernie Warlick.  They went 12-2 in the regular season and the two games they lost were by a combined 9 points.  Going into the 1964 AFL Championship they would have to take on the defending Champion Chargers.  How strong were they??

Buffalo AFL Championship Trophies

If you take a look back to 1963, the Chargers nearly became the first team in pro football to have two 1,000 yard rushers in Paul Lowe (1,010 yds) and Keith Lincoln (826 yds).  They teamed with Hall of Fame WR Lance Alworth and ancient Tobin Rote, who was Jack Kemp’s backup, to roar to the AFL Title with a 51-10 pasting of the Boston Patriots. The widest margin of victory during the 10 years of the AFL for a championship game.  The following year the team transitioned into John Hadl as the starting QB and with a bullseye on their back returned to the ’64 championship game. Only this time they had to travel to Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium.

The Bills were the only team that could defense the Chargers of that era and did so to win the title 20-7.  In fact the most famous play in AFL history took place in this game when early on when Keith Lincoln was leveled by Linebacker Mike Stratton on a swing pass breaking several ribs.  The Chargers fighting spirit dissipated as they watched their star running back writhe in the mud in obvious pain.  A rubber match took place in ’65 out in San Diego and the Chargers didn’t come close to scoring in a 23-0 defeat. Buffalo was back to back AFL Champions.

Yet a look back at the 1964 Buffalo Bills and our fans would tell you “we could have beaten the Packers”.  To the casual fan who only knows football through the lens of ESPN, they know Lombardi and the Packers as Gods when they were just men. A closer look at the statistical analysis and it was Buffalo who had the better offense and defense:

1964 Buffalo Bills: 400 pts for 242 against or a 158 point differential: All #1 rankings

1964 G.B. Packers: 342 pts for 245 against or a 97 point differential: Which rank 5th, 2nd, and 3rd

Coach Lou Saban, Pete Gogolak, and Jack Kemp

Alas this team doesn’t get its due yet many firsts started with this team.  Another issue that took place a year before was the fact that the Oakland Raiders had run out of money and were on the verge of folding.  Knowing the league couldn’t operate with only 7 teams, it was Ralph Wilson that stepped in lending the Raiders $425,000 for a stake in the team.  Which is illegal but it had to be done to save the league.

Each team lives on in the present NFL for having done so. Another full circle situation with Lou Saban’s defense is defensive co-ordinator Joe Collier who built the AFL’s first superior 4-3 defense.  He would move on to become the Denver Broncos defensive co-ordinator in the post merger NFL and was the second team to make it to the Super Bowl playing the 3-4 defense in Super Bowl XII.  Take a wild guess as to who was his assistant at that time he taught the 3-4 defense to?? Bill Belichick who would take it with him and Bill Parcells to New York and the Giants and Lawrence Taylor with Harry Carson was born.

Another notable is longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer was a linebacker on this team. Then you have Pete Gogolak who was the first soccer style kicker.  How important was he? It was the New York Giants signing him to a contract with the rival NFL that touched off the bidding war that forced the AFL / NFL merger.  Which goes to show that the legacy of the 1964 Buffalo Bills is a lasting one and they were one of the best teams ever.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

1956 NFL Championship Ring

You are looking at the first championship ring won in the NFL by both Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. Each would go on to become legendary head coaches but they were offensive and defensive coordinators for the New York Giants at the time.  The 1956 NFL Championship Game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears was won by New York 47-7.  In the fabled house of the New York Yankees, these two teams fought it out in the first ever nationally televised NFL championship game.  Its notoriety reduced because of the blowout and the famous game held in the same stadium 2 years later between the Colts and Giants…uh…you may have heard of it.

Furthermore this ushered in a new era that saw the Giants rise to prominence after copying Philadelphia Eagle coach Joe Kuharich’s defensive scheme, the 4-3, and cruising to the championship.  In the ensuing years Sam Huff became a household name along with DE Andy Robustelli, DTs Rosie Grier, and Jim Katcavage, LB Karl Karilivacz, S Jim Patton, and Hall of Fame CB Emlen Tunnell.

This team dominated the league for the next 7 years. They became household names and the first chants of “De-Fense- De-Fense” was first heard in Yankee Stadium.  This was the first time in the history of professional football where a defense was introduced before games. Although the team of the 1950’s was the Cleveland Browns, who had played in 6 championship games during the 1950s, it was this stalwart defensive unit that kept the Browns out of the championship game the rest of the decade.

This team had a few offensive players of mention in halfback Frank Gifford, QB Charlie Conerly, WR Kyle Rote, K Pat Summerall, and RB Alex Webster.  These men really did play their roles well.  Frank Gifford was a Hall of Fame RB who was as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield as he was a runner.  He was the Marshall Faulk of his day and later in his career was switched to receiver.

Now he did star on television and became a game analyst who saw further fame with his nearly 30 year run on Monday Night Football. Alex Webster was a steady fullback who later became the Giants head coach in the late 1960s once New York couldn’t lure back budding legends in Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry from championship situations in Green Bay and Dallas respectively.

Did you know the original Marlboro Man was Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly? LOL Go take a look at those first posters. Guess what?? He didn’t smoke!  Being a champion in New York allowed this team to break down barriers unheard of in other places.

Kyle Rote was a good receiver for this team yet needs to be remembered for his courageous stance in spearheading the movement that became the first players association (Union) fighting for equal opportunities for all players.  Not for money like today’s lockout!! For the equal treatment of all players of all races when the teams played on the road.  This WASN’T the radical 1960s, so be respectful of these movements in rememberance.

Now Pat Summerall?? You know his smooth voice as being one that helped lead the NFL to further prominence as a character and announcer with Tom Brookshier for one generation (60s-1980), then brough the game to another generation (1982-2000) while being teamed with Hall of Famer John Madden. Now lets throw in legendary coaches Vince Lombardi (team of the 60s) and Tom Landry (nearly team of the 70s) overall league contributions and you see why this team is to be held up reverently.  Talk about pillars of the league…

This group would go on to play in famous championship games later  in 1958, ’59, ’61, ’62, and ’63. They kept the once powerful Cleveland Browns out of the championship so much that all time RB Jim Brown had to wait until their run was over to win a championship in 1964.  Although they only won 1 championship, this team should never be forgotten.  These men helped reshape the league and are one of the reasons we love the game. What would the league have been like without ’em?

2011 Philadelphia Eagles Preview

That Andy Reid can come out smelling like a rose can’t he? First he exiled the franchise’s best ever quarterback for the heir apparent in Kevin Kolb.  Kolb proved ineffective during the preseason and was replaced after injury by a rejuvenated Michael Vick who played some of the most electrifying football seen in years.  Fast forward one year later and Vick wins the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in a landslide and Kevin Kolb is being dangled as trade bait after the 2010 season.  The Eagles fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the playoffs yet seemed poised to terrorize the NFC East with maybe the division’s most explosive offense ever.  With the Redskins and Cowboys foundering on rocky waters, all that remains is the enigmatic Giants to keep them from reclaiming their division crown.  The question for the Giants is: ” Have they sought help for the nightmares from DeSean Jackson’s punt return that flipped their season on it’s ear?”  So a little over a year removed from rumors that Reid may step down, followed by a press conference and possible wife induced decision to stay on, he comes into the 2011 season retooled and loaded for bear.

Quarterback: The “Michael Vick Experience” hit the City of Brotherly Love like a storm last year.  It was the perfect elixir for an underachieving Kevin Kolb who was outplayed by both Vick and rookie Mike Kafka from Northwestern in the preseason.  With the release of Donovan McNabb, the keys to the kingdom were turned over to Kolb.  So once conventional wisdom had Kolb start the season, with new contract in tow,  his play was marginal and then he went down with an injury.  Enter Michael Vick, who went on to have the best season of his career.  He ranked 4th with a passer rating (100.2), while throwing for 3,018 yards, and the best touchdown to interception ratio of his career 21 to 6.

His ability to supplement the running game with 676 yards and 9 touchdowns, made the Eagle offense the scourge of the league at the midseason point.  His feet have improved as a quarterback, he’s constantly on balance and ready to throw.  He showed a penchant to keep his head up and find receivers when he was evading the rush, and not always running it. Yet its this threat to do so that causes defenses to approach with a caution that is borderline fear.  As showcased when he danced through the New York Giants while leading the miraculous 4th quarter comeback that doomed the Giants season in game 14.  That 38-31 win kept Vick in the hunt for the NFL MVP Award, however it was his transcendent performance against Washington in a 58-29 blowout that started it.  That night was one of the greatest offensive performances ever and was exactly what Vick followers expected him to mature into.

Kevin Kolb came back and played well once Vick came off the field due to injury, yet his fate was sealed. He threw for 1,197  yards, 7 TDs, and 7 ints. which was not the best but he did respond once his job was threatened.  Andy Reid has a quarterback to trade and should get a number one and a second round for him.  He figured it would be Vick until the season began and now they have a quarterback in Kolb who could start for at least 10 other teams.  At quarterback the Eagles are Super Bowl quality at the moment…they have to keep Vick healthy.  Could use a draft pick here to prepare for the imminent departure of Kolb who should be traded by the regular season.

Offensive Backfield: Now statistics show you the Eagles have a strong rushing attack.  They ran 428 times for 2, 324 yards and 18 TDs which ranked 5th in the league for rushing totals. These numbers are skewed because of the Michael Vick factor.  Although he didn’t run as frequent as in year’s past he accounted for half of the teams rushing touchdowns with 9 and his 6.8 yards per attempt on 100 carries swelled the Eagles stat as a team to 5.4 per rush. In fact Vick was second on the team in rushing for 38 first downs to McCoy’s 48.  Yet they can run the ball effectively with LeSean McCoy who accounted for 1080 yds and 7 touchdowns.  Without Vick to contain teams honestly, bootlegs away from the flow of the play, McCoy doesn’t gain that type of  yardage.  Its like the Brian Westbrook saga all over again.  He can catch and run but can only do so in space without resorting to gimmicky plays like shovel passes, draws, and sprint draw plays out of 3 and 4 receiver sets.  Yet he was the Eagle’s leading receiver with 78 receptions for another 592 yards.  Many of which were plays where Vick began to scramble and found him on scat routes once the defense squared up to attack the QB.

This teams goal line offense is bootleg pass options with Vick. The Eagles would do themselves a service if they drafted another half back to provide some power between the tackles at times.  It would prove fruitful in the long run for both the Eagles ability to convert on short yardage and goal line, but also minimize the wear and tear on McCoy over a long season. At running back average at best yet superior totals adding Vick’s ad-libs.

Receiver: These guys are growing by leaps and bounds and should be better with a full pre-season to get accustomed to Vick as the starter.  This will be the Greatest Show on Turf East, with so many explosive weapons on the flank. DeSean Jackson, going into his 4th season, has emerged as one of the best deep threats in the league.  Once out in the open forget catching this lightning bolt from behind.  His 47 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns were enough to make the Pro Bowl despite missing a game and a half due to a concussion.  In fact he became the first player in NFL history to earn his way onto a Pro Bowl roster at two different positions in the same year.  He made it as a receiver,and punt returner, while causing 80,000 in the New Meadowlands anguish with a punt return touchdown with no time on the clock.  Over his 3 years in Philadelphia,  Jackson has averaged over 47 yards on 26 career touchdowns including 14 from over 50 yards.  If he gets on top of your safety forget it.  The Redskins found this out on a Monday Night when he scored on a 91 TD on the Eagles first offensive play.  Going to be a deep threat for many years to come.

On the other side is Jeremy Maclin, who provides a similar skill set yet has the bigger body (6’0 and 198 yards) to go over the middle for the intermediate catches. He had 70 receptions for 964 yards and led the Eagles with 10 TDs.  Brent Celek is an emerging tight end who chimed in with 47 receptions.  By the time we put in Jason Avant from Michigan and his 51 receptions, this gives the Eagles 5 receivers with 40 or more receptions.  Who do you game plan for in stopping this passing game?  We feel this is the year that teams over play Jackson’s deep ball and Maclin has his breakout season with a 1,200 yard season and his first Pro Bowl berth.  Receiver is pro bowl caliber in Philadelphia and they should terrorize the NFC East this year as well.  All are in their prime and getting better…just dangerous.

Offensive Line: Hmmm, kind of mixed reviews here and hard to gauge this line in terms of their affectiveness.  Although this team is running a west coast offense where the staple is to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly, Eagle quarterbacks were hammered all year.  You do remember they got Kevin Kolb knocked out of game 1 which got Vick on the field in the first place, right? Even with Vick’s elusiveness, only 3 teams gave up more sacks than the 49 this Eagle line gave up last year….yikes! Couple that with a twin ranking of 29th in Philly QBs being hit 95 times and you see why Vick missed time last year as well as Kevin Kolb.  No wonder this team called a lot of half rolls off play action fakes.  They needed to slow down the opposing defense.

The numbers are better for this unit in the running game but again this comes with an asterisk.  The final stats show the Eagles ranked fifth with 2,324 yards rushing and 18 TDs which is ranked 4th.  Terrific, until you dissect this a little further.  Take away the 676 yards and 9TDs that came from Vick scrambles and the output plummets to  1,648 yards and only 9 TDs which would have ranked 20th and 24th respectively.  The lone offensive lineman that performed with distinction in 2010 was LT Jason Peters who made the Pro Bowl.  It wouldn’t be surprising if the Eagles put a few draft picks here to light fires under several of their lineman.  Another season like this and they could get their quarterback hurt and derail their 2011 season.  With that…this team is below average and needs to have better push on running plays.  They play too upright and need to get their knuckles in the dirt and fire off the ball.  This comes back to the coaches spending 80% of their practice time in passive pass blocking stances.  It shows on 3rd and 2 when you can’t power off tackle with regularity and the Eagles just don’t pass the eyeball test when it comes to running the football traditionally.

Defensive Line: One of the most enigmatic groups among the elite teams in all of football.  You here every NFL coach start off every press conference with stopping the run.  This group can be pushed off the ball and ranked 15th against the run giving up 1,766 yards and over 4.2 yards per carry.  Yet this front finished with 23 of the team’s overall 31 sacks which included 19 from the defensive end position.  Trent Cole accounted for 81 tackles and 10 sacks from the weakside, but can be run on and is smallish at 6’3 , 270lbs by today’s NFL standards.  Lets be honest, these DTs, Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, and Broderick Bunkley have to play more stout and quit getting shoved in the face of their linebackers.  They need to come off those blocks better as well…

This team relies on the offense getting a lead and allowing this defensive line to tee off on the opposing quarterback.  If they have to “sit in” and play honest against both the run and the pass this team can be overpowered.  They rely on exotic blitzes to force turnovers and missed blocks to mask their line deficiencies.  The Eagles should grab a DT or two in the draft and free agency since they are below average in holding their ground.  Teams will run at them to keep them off the field.

Linebackers: The Eagles starters are Ernie Sims, Stewart Bradley, and Moise Fokou who are marginal at best. They accounted for 4 sacks and only 1 interception.  Sims is an athletic defender who sometimes lacks instinct and gets gobbled up by blockers once he’s diagnosed the play.  An original 1st round draft pick by the Detroit Lions finished with 68 tackles and 5 passes defensed.  His play has slipped since his 1st two seasons with Detroit where he had 82 and 96 tackles.   Stewart Bradley was second on the team with 88 tackles yet made too many 5 yards down field. The linebackers suffer from the D-Line not holding up.  However this linebacking group is functional and not really instinctive. The Eagles would serve themselves well with a free agent pickup and or a few draft picks here.  The fact that they were running blitzes similar to those of the late Jim Johnson, this crew should have made more splash plays.

Secondary: This is one of the better secondaries in football.  These guys take chances yet have to stay solid with the defense sending blitzes in many situations.  The signing of Asante Samuel at corner has paid off handsomely.   The all time playoff interception TD return leader in NFL history has made several plays since his arrival from New England.  In 2010, he went to his 4th straight Pro Bowl after leading the NFC with 7 interceptions with 8 passes defensed.  Some have been critical of his not being a solid tackler in the running game and he only had 28 tackles….eh there could be something to that.  Yet this guy is a ballhawk and leads the league in interceptions since 2006 with 36 interceptions, which is what the Eagles really signed him for.

The other star in this secondary is S Quentin Mikell from Boise St.  Yes Melinda and Ray that same Boise St.  One of the Eagles that should have made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season.  In fact he made the Pro Bowl in 2009, and last year still garnered 2nd team All Pro distinction with his play for a 3rd straight year.  Last year he led the Eagles with 111 tackles, defensed 14 passes while intercepting 3 passes.  This is the force member of the secondary on running plays along with the other cornerback in Dimitri Patterson who recorded 55 tackles and 4 interceptions.  Yet this is a solid tackling group.  Secondary is excellent however if we ran an opposing offense:  run sweeps and bubble screens on Samuel and force him to tackle more.  Try to get behind him with double moves afterward for he will gamble on intermediate (10-15 yard) routes where he jumps passes and gets most of his interceptions. The key is to get hits on his legs and make it easy to pass on him later.

Overall: In facing this team the first thing to remember is this team can definitely be run on and they will give up points.  Astoundingly this Eagle team isn’t as strong as defenses in recent years during the Andy Reid era.  Last year they gave up 377 points which ranked 21st in the league which was 3rd from the bottom of all playoff teams.  Although the Colts were missing Bob Sanders and linebacker Gary Brackett, their best players, and the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks who shouldn’t have been there.  This team  almost wins inspite of their statistics whether we look at the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers or defense as a whole which ranked 12th in yardage given up.  Stay to the ground as the Vikings did in defeating them in game 15; 24-14, feeding them Adrian Peterson for over 100 yards.

The key to playing them is to not become impatient and fast-break with them.  Run on this defense and keep Vick and that offense sitting on their hands and take them out of rhythm.  Even in the Giants game where they came from behind to win in the Meadowlands, they were cold for much of the game.  The Giants became deer in the headlights once Vick got going.  If the Eagles get into a rhythm on offense you could be dead in the water.  Keep your rushing attempts high and force a low scoring game and avoid the “Michael Vick Experience”.  How did he not get a single vote for league MVP?  Sigh…another subject for another day.  This team should repeat as NFC East division champion.

Next Up: Indiannapolis Colts