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

Advertisements

AFC Championship Preview

Don’t you just love this time of year? The conference final has a home team with passionate fans which is antithetical to Super Bowl corporate yahoo crowds.  They’re so staid…I love the noise that is generated as the teams are introduced and hope the networks let us hear and feel that intensity and not talk over what the cameras and microphones are picking up. Yet its time for the two most magical games to take place.

As I look at this game the first thing you have to realize is the league’s number 2 & 3 ranked defense in the Steelers and Jets respectively.  Each team runs a tough 3-4 defense that are stout against the run yet the Steelers offense comes in with a glaring weakness with 2 backup tackles.  We know the son of Buddy Ryan will send blitzes at different times against Ben Roethlisberger.  We know Big Ben is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the league, yet can get sacked going after the big play.  He’s a big body and feels like that he can shake free from a blitzer and often does.  Last week the Ravens were getting to him in the first half and that offensive line hasn’t improved on the health front.  Furthermore Darrelle Revis has returned to “Revis Island” form while Antonio Cromartie, and nickleback Drew Coleman are jelling as a secondary and can stay with the Steelers recievers when Ben extends the play. Evidenced by one play last week where Tom Brady couldn’t find a reciever when he had 8.5 seconds to do so. Don’t forget that Revis is from Pittsburgh.  Revis on Mike Wallace will throw the Steelers for a loop. Advantage Jets.

The key to a Steelers victory quite simply are the legs of Rashard Mendenhall.  Is it me or is he not the perfect back for the Pittsburgh Steelers?  He just fits the image in your mind of the Steelers running the football.  He has to have a 120 yard game and wear down the Jets defense.  Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor are older outside linebackers who don’t have rocks in their pockets and can be moved run blocking wise.  He has to keep the Steelers out of obvious passing situations where their line can be exposed.  Hard nosed, nearly rushed for 1,300 yards, he has a legitimate chance to do that.

Countering that the Jets are going with a two headed monster of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene (what kind of spelling is that) …anyway  They are averaging over 120 yards in the playoffs and can easily switch to a runner with livelier legs in a particular half.  We saw this when the Jets switched to Tomlinson to start the second half against the Colts in the wildcard round.  Greene last week was the hotter hand in the divisional round when he ran for 76 yards agains the Patriots last week.  They as a group are averaging over 120 yards themselves. Advantage push…until you read next paragraph..

When it comes to defense lets face it…The Jets play great defense, the Steelers are defense. Each team stops the run well.  The Steelers are #1 against the run, giving up only 62.8 yards a game.  The Jets are giving up 90.9 yards a game.  The Steelers win that matchup.  Could see Mendenhall pushing over 100 yards grudgingly.  The Jets will have to over-reach to make it to their goal of 120 yards.  The Steelers have great pass rushers in Harrison (10.5 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (10 sacks) and are clearly the Steelers wildcard.  Their secondary at one point late in the season were ranked 22nd against the pass who have to contend against former teammate Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.  Slight advantage Steelers.

Mark Sanchez doesn’t have great stats but he did last week throwing for 3 TDs last week and outperformed Tom Brady. He’s progressing and has done so all year.  All year.  After throwing Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning out of the playoffs it is time to wake up to the fact that he’s won 4 playoff games.  He is a legitimate quarterback and has played all five of his game on the road.  Don’t look now but I think he’s going to win his 6th if he gets the running game going or completing passes on rollouts. 

Those things said…I’m going with the Jets in this game, 27-24.  There is something that will come to pass with those tackles of the Steelers.  I’m afraid there will be a turnover that will quiet Heinz Field.  The Jets are a mirror image of what the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were.  Hungry, veteran laden, young quarterback and a tough running game. I have the Jets in a tough game where they won a few weeks  ago.  Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith will provide a few spark plays as well… Based on emotion and defensive Xs and Os…

2010 AFC Champion: New York Jets

Steelers best Ravens again

Steelers 31-24

Steelers beat the Ravens in the playoffs again, this time a 31-24 defeat in the divisional round.  The Steelers solidified they are the better of the two by winning a second time against their rival in the playoffs in three years.  What became evident as the game moved into the second half was the difference in the quarterbacks.  Ben Roethlisberger’s stature grew at the critical juncture of the game where Flacco seemed to wilt as though the game was too big for him.   Even when the Ravens were leading his throws were short and were quick dump offs to Ray Rice.  He challenged downfield a few times each throw was late and the defender was right there.  Once Ike Taylor was right in Derrick Mason’s hip pocket and the other Mason had to stop to break up what would have been an interception by William Gay.  Where was Anquan Boldin? 

The real issue was the stature of Ben Roethlisberger and how the magnitude of the event doesn’t phase him, in fact he thrives in it.  Anymore late game heroics its time to talk about him in the John Elway mold.  He’s won late games in the regular season, playoffs, and the Super Bowl XLIII pass to Santonio Holmes with seconds left is one of the greatest throws in history.  Yesterday as the Steelers got the ball back, I joked on my facebook page; “If you want to know why I voted Ben Roethlisberger #2 behind Tom Brady, watch this”.  Its become that common place. You saw the confidence in his eyes as he walked onto the field.  The epitome of swagger, and in his body english, spirit, and words engenders confidence in his teammates.  As Coach Tomlin said ‘he doesn’t blink and his teammates follow him’. Enough said…

So where does Baltimore go from here? They need a quarterback exchange.  A trade for Kevin Kolb would be the ideal situation.  The Steelers aren’t about to go anywhere.  They are one of the oldest teams in football but look at this young , speedy recieving corp they are putting together. Ben is still young and most of the defensive stars are in the middle of their career.  Flacco’s confidence hasn’t improved and in a league with Aaron Rodgers coming of age yesterday, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez and all these young quarterbacks coming on, he needed to have shown more improvement. Yet his confidence even hampered the way the Ravens coaches with the play calling.  Ray Lewis is near retirement and new leaders have to emerge and Flacco struggles there as well.  You have to get another quarterback, Ravens I hate to say.

A friend of mine told me that I might be over reacting and then I had to remind him of David Woodley.  A young quarterback for the Miami Dolphins who took his team to Super Bowl XVII. Even though he had his issues that had coach Shula replace him on occasion, he had a lead at halftime yet could only complete 1 pass in the second half in a 27-17 loss.  Now he could have stayed with Woodley, instead he drafted Dan Marino 3 months later.  Know when you have seen enough.  When it comes to Joe Flacco I have.

Historic Folder

SUPER BOWL XXX CHAMPION 1995 DLLAS COWBOYS.docx

Ahhh…Yes The NFL Playoffs

This is the most wonderful time of they year!! Spare me that Christmas talk…lol We were taught old lessons and had some performances remind us that the league is ever evolving and new stars will emerge.

How many of us really had Matt Hasselbeck outperforming Drew Brees and leading the  Seahawks to an upset win?  I didn’t for sure.  I thought the negative talk of reseeding the playoffs or the legitimacy of their being there would galvanize them, but not pull off an upset.  Like many of the scrappy teams that refused to go quietly in playoffs past, the Seahawks were on a respirator when Marshawn Lynch took us on that electrifying run.  Qwest Field was quiet as a tomb when that play first developed.  The Seahawks momentum had crested, the Saints had just roared downfield for a touchdown to narrow the lead to 34-30.  Mike Williams and the Seahawk receivers had dropped passes to short circuit two previous drives and a hushed nervousness hit the Pacific Northwest.  Can you say tenuous grasp?  Enter Marshawn Lynch…

Simply put, Lynch’s jaunt was the greatest postseason run in NFL History. It had significance, determination, and came at the most critical point of the game. It mirrored the Garrison Hearst 96 yd overtime run to lift the 49ers over the Jets in the 1998 season opener with 7 broken tackles. Yet Marshawn’s was in the playoffs.  Now John Riggins run in Super Bowl XVII (as ESPN showed) did give the Redskins the lead in the 4th quarter, but Riggo only broke 1 tackle.  On top of that, go back and view the footage; Riggins broke the tackle of Don McNeal, who was a cornerback he outweighed by some 40 lbs.  Furthermore Don McNeal couldn’t grab him because he had a cast over a broken wrist.  That run may be the spark to propel the Seahawks on a spirited run through these playoffs.  Food for thought; Weren’t we laughing at another NFC West Champion a few years ago? We woke up with 3 minutes left to go in the Super Bowl and Arizona had just taken the lead.  Remember that??  Yet we’ll have to wait and see…

As for the Jets and the Colts?  We knew this is who the Jets had retooled to beat and they won.  Peyton Manning needs more options.  I had said all along that their pedestrian receiving corp would come back to haunt them and they did.  Eventually those receivers would see better corner back play and teams were clamping down on them starting in last year’s playoffs.  The Jets came back with one more corner in Antonio Cromartie.  Who would have thought that his biggest contribution would be from forced kick return duty.  Lets face it, had that been a kick return to the 20, Sanchez would have had to complete 4-5 passes when there was already less than a minute to play.  With the way he’d been off with his passes up to that point???  Ehhhh… luckily he only had to complete a few.

From Ladanian Tomlinson’s 2nd half rebirth, to the offensive line taking control of the game, and Sanchez finding his rhythm late. What did they win? Respect? Yes they did achieve that avenging their championship loss to the Colts.  Their reward?? An all expenses paid trip to the worst battle for first place ass whoopin’s of all time. The 45-3 loss to New England.  However these are the playoffs where strange things can happen.  For the Jets to win there they need to do two things.  Burn the video from when they played New England and watch the game where Green Bay nearly beat them. They each run the same 3-4 defense and the players will hear enough from the media about the last trip.  Good luck with that Rex…

Which brings us to day two…and I’m already out of breath. So that will be another entry later today…

Thanks for reading