Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lack of Updates

I've gone longer without an update than I would've hoped. Regular posting will begin again tomorrow with a Falcons/Eagles review, Power Rankings on Tuesday and we'll go from there.

Go Eagles.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys Game Preview

From Texas Stadium in Irving Texas, the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) host the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6) in a game that essentially decided the NFC East. The game will be broadcast on NBC at 5:00 PM Christmas Day with Al Michaels, John Madden and Andrea Kremer making the call.

Three keys for the Eagles to pull the upset:

1) PROTECT JEFF GARCIA. Garcia has a great feel for when the rush is coming and knows how to evade defenders, but the Cowboy pass rush comes from all different angles. The 3-4 has always been this Offensive Line’s Achilles heel, particularly in pass protection, and it’ll be interesting to see if they studied more film to try and anticipate the blitz. In the first meeting, DeMarcus Ware ran circles around Runyan and Thomas, and once again he should be the focal point before every snap. The line has to identify where he is before every play begins, communicate, and make sure that he’s picked up. He’s a great athlete and pass rusher and can wreck havoc on any offense, like he showed in the first half of the last meeting. Despite employing the 3-4 defense, the Dallas Defensive Linemen are pretty athletic and can get after the QB on third down. Ware isn’t the only weapon, and the Offensive Line will have to be solid across the board if they want to put up points.

2) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF DALLAS’ SECONDARY. Although Terence Newman is very underrated and one of the premier corners in the league, the rest of the secondary is weak in coverage. At the safety position, Dallas still can’t find someone to play FS to compliment Roy Williams’ box ability. Keith Davis hasn’t been as bad as Patrick Watkins was, but he is still exploitable. Williams is a liability in coverage, and can easily be beaten by an athlete like L.J. Smith or someone on the outside like Stallworth when Roy is supposed to be playing a deep half. At corner opposite Newman, the Cowboys lack depth. Henry is a decent player that can make some plays, but sometimes he can be too aggressive and make mistakes. Aaron Glenn is old and broken down. The Eagles have to make the big plays against these guys. They did it in the first meeting, and they have to be able to do it again. The weakness in the Dallas defense is their coverage, and if Garcia has time to find open guys, he has to be able to hit them.

3) PRESSURE TONY ROMO. Let’s face it. He’s no Drew Bledsoe. Romo has enough mobility to matter, and as he showed in the most recent Giant game, he’s very good at moving around in the pocket to buy time for guys to get open downfield. He’s having a very good year in place of the veteran, and it’s mostly due to being a better athlete than Drew. Instead of being a sitting duck behind the mediocre Offensive Line, Romo can elude pass rushers and won’t take as many sacks. The Eagles have to apply the pressure like they did in the first game, despite the QB change. Their O-Line, particularly the interior, has never been known for pass protection. Darwin Walker did a great job against Kyle Kosier, and he can’t do anything less this time around. Darren Howard had his best game of the season, and he needs to step it up again when it really counts. Jim Johnson used some nice pressure packages in the first meeting, and he needs to be creative and do more of the same again.

Three key matchups to keep an eye on:

1) MARION BARBER VS. EAGLES’ FRONT SEVEN. Barber runs hard and has been very effective for the Cowboys this season. Although Julius Jones has rushed for 1000 yards and has been declared the starter for the Cowboys, Barber might be the true threat to worry about. He has a nose for the endzone and the Eagles have to hold Dallas to FGs if they get into the red zone. When Barber enters the game inside the 20, he’s going to score more often than not. The Eagles have to be prepared to stop the run not just in goal to go situations, but all over the field. As good as the Dallas passing game is, Parcells would love nothing more than to just run the ball all game long and keep the Eagle offense off the field. Although the run defense stepped up big last week against Tiki Barber, the weakness is still there, and Parcells will still try to exploit it. If the Cowboys can control the clock, they will win.

2) L.J. SMITH VS. ROY WILLIAMS. In the first game, we all remember the long reception Smith had on a play where it appeared that Williams blew coverage. It’ll be interesting to see if Smith can overcome his inconsistency and have a big game when he’s potentially being covered by a safety that’s known to struggle in coverage. L.J. is probably one of the more athletic Tight Ends in the league and is clearly very physically gifted, but sometimes he just disappears leaving everyone wondering what’s going on. His occasional drops also hurt, and he’s going to have to get past those problems and have a big game. He could be an important part of the Eagle offense if Dallas focuses on Westbrook and the Wide Receivers. If Garcia has to check down, Smith could be in for a lot of work. Not only should be frequently be checked down to, the Eagles need to take advantage of the mismatch that is him vs. Williams.

3) TERRELL OWENS VS. COMPOSURE. Last time, TO played poorly. It had nothing to do with his composure, but he clearly lost it a few times. Owens needs to stay focused and in the game, which has been a problem for him throughout his career. He can’t continue to drop passes and cost his team points, especially in a game where the Cowboys will need every point they can get. If TO gets frustrated again, he could take himself out of the game. He could develop alligator arms again, drop passes and stop giving effort and run sloppy routes. TO has to stay calm even if passes aren’t being thrown his way immediately or if the Eagles get a quick score. He can make plays, and he just needs to remember to keep his head in the game and let things happen.

Three players from each team that need to play well:


1) Darwin Walker

2) Tra Thomas

3) Lito Sheppard


1) Roy Williams

2) Flozell Adams

3) Terry Glenn

Key Injuries:

PHI- QB Donovan McNabb

PHI- DE Jevon Kearse

PHI- LS Mike Bartrum

DAL- OLB Greg Ellis

Number to remember:

  1. It’s the number of times Romo will try to throw to TO on Dallas’ opening possession.

Final score:

31-27 Dallas. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m just not feeling confident.

Garcia- 275 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT.

Westbrook- 125 total yards, 1 TD.

Brown- 60 receiving yards.

Romo- 250 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT.

Barber- 50 rushing yards, 2 TD.

Owens- 65 receiving yards, 1 TD.

And my NFL picks (I chose GB at -3.5 and KC at -7, I’m going to make an effort to get these in on time. My total record is 17-17.)

Buffalo (-4.5) over Tennessee- Vince Young won’t be able to get away with another game like that again.

New Orleans (+3) over New York Giants- The Saints looked bad last week, but I’d imagine they can bounce back.

Atlanta (-6.5) over Carolina- Atlanta isn’t a good team, but Carolina is playing Chris Weinke regularly. Never pick on his side again.

St. Louis (-1.5) over Washington- Linehan has these guys going in the right direction.

Indianapolis (-10) over Houston- This point spread is too big and I usually don’t take games like these, but Houston stinks.

Baltimore (+3) over Pittsburgh- Pittsburgh has to protect Big Ben at least three times better than they did last time.

Cleveland (-3) over Tampa Bay- I can’t imagine Tampa Bay putting together that kind of game offensively two times in a row.

Chicago (-6) over Detroit- Grossman could be peaking at the right time, but is their defense falling?

New England (+3) over Jacksonville- I like the Patriots outright in this game. Garrard has to step up and play better.

San Francisco (-4) over Arizona- The unlikeliest playoff candidate continues their mediocre surge to the postseason.

Cincinnati (+3) over Denver- Even though they trounced Arizona, I don’t think the Broncos are back yet.

Seattle (+4.5) over San Diego- This is a risky pick, but I think the Seahawks can finally take care of business at home.

Philadelphia (+7) over Dallas- This line is way too generous to Dallas. They’re not that good.

New York Jets (+2.5) over Miami- The Jets need this one to continue fighting for the playoffs.

Due to a brief vacation next week, my usual game recap and power rankings will be put off until later in the week. See you then, and go Eagles.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Philadelphia Review 12/22/06-1/6/07

Philadelphia Flyers (8-22-4, 20 points)

5th in the Atlantic

15th in the Eastern Conference

30th in the NHL

Past two weeks:

12/9 vs. WSH- L 5-3

12/12 vs. NYR- L 3-1

12/13 @ PIT- L 8-4

12/16 @ WSH L 4-1

12/19 vs. CAR L 2-1

12/21 vs. MON L- 4-2

Next two weeks:

12/23 vs. OTT

12/27 @ FLA

12/28 @ TB

12/31 @ CAR

1/2 @ NYI

1/4 @ NYR

Not much to say about these guys. 8 straight losses, seven of them coming in regulation. They just can’t play competitive hockey right now. They’re 4 points behind the next worst team in the league overall and 12 behind the next worst team in the East. Ouch.

During the week, the team made a couple of trades. They sent Freddy Meyer and a 3rd round pick to the Islanders for Alexi Zhitnik, and then called the Isles right back a day later and traded Randy Robitaille and a 5th round pick for Mike York. The first trade I thought was a pretty bad idea. Meyer could easily be a 2nd pair D-Man for us, and even though he was struggling a little, he’s one of our younger players and we could’ve used him. Zhitnik doesn’t have much left in the tank. The second trade was pretty good. Robitaille is an older player who wasn’t contributing much. York is only 28 and is a pretty good player. We could either trade him down the road at the deadline, or extend his contract and keep a decent forward. Maybe the Flyers just plan on spinning Zhitnik to someone else at the deadline, but that trade just didn’t make sense to me.

Peter Forsberg continues to miss time with a concussion he suffered a week ago. Robert Esche should be returning from his surgery soon to give Niittymaki some relief. Gauthier and especially Rathje have a while to go to come back, and both Mike Richards and Sanderson are missing a few weeks because of sports hernia injuries.

The Flyers are beginning a pretty long road trip. They can either step up their game and play some actual competitive hockey, or they can fall into an even bigger hole. This is almost the same team that won a lot of games last year, so it’s hard to see what’s wrong. These next couple weeks will say a lot about their season.

Philadelphia 76ers (5-19)

5th in the Atlantic

15th in the Eastern Conference

30th in the NBA

Last two weeks:

12/9 @ ORL- L 86-84

12/11 vs. POR L 81-79

12/13 vs. BOS L 101-81

12/15 @ DAL L 93-79

12/16 @ SA L 103-98

12/20 vs. IND L 101-93

Next two weeks:

12/22 @ BOS

12/23 vs. NY

12/26 @ GS

12/27 @ SAC

12/29 @ POR

12/31 @ LAL

1/2 @ DEN

1/3 @ UTA

1/5 @ MIN

Well, the Sixers finally officially screwed up. Iverson was finally traded this week. He’s headed to Denver and coming back are Andre Miller and Joe Smith plus picks. The trade wasn’t bad because it’ll go a long way to help rebuild the team. Whatever. I talked about AI in my article below this, check it out.

The Sixers are going on a west coast swing that they’re sure to struggle on. Nothing to do now but let the young guys get a lot of minutes, let Andre help develop Iggy and Carney and hope for Oden.

The Sixers aren’t as far off the pace as the Flyers are, but they’re still clearly the worst team in the league. I expect Charlotte to gel and play better soon, and Gasol coming back will do a lot for Memphis.

Philadelphia Phillies

- Signed OF Jayson Werth

- Signed C Rod Barajas

I understand the need for a third catcher. It’ll allow Coste to get more at bats as a pinch hitter and play around the field more. I hope the team upgrades the outfield even further besides getting Werth, who I’m not sure about. There’s upside there, but he can’t be relied on.

Big Five + One Basketball

Drexel Dragons (7-2, 0-0)

6th in Colonial Athletic Association

Last two weeks:

12/9 @ VILL- W 81-76

12/19 @ #21 CUSE- W 84-79

Next two weeks:

12/22 @ TEMP

12/28 vs. GMU

1/3 @ GSU

La Salle Explorers (6-2)

5th in Atlantic 10

Last two weeks:

12/16 @ CCSU- W 86-73

12/20 vs. MORG ST- W 102-76

Next two weeks:

12/23 vs. VILL

12/28 vs. HC

12/29 vs. DEL

12/30 vs. NIAG

1/3 @ RI

Pennsylvania Quakers (6-4)

3rd in Ivy League

Last two weeks:

12/9 vs. FORD- L 77-60

12/21 vs. ILL-CHI W 90-78

Next two weeks:

12/23 @ SHU

1/3 @ #2 UNC

St. Joseph’s Hawks (6-4)

8th in Atlantic 10

Last two weeks:

12/9 @ LOUIS- L 74-64

12/10 @ OHIO- L 79-72

12/19 vs. MARY’S- W 55-51

Next two weeks:

12/28 vs. HOF

1/3 vs. DUQ

Temple Owls (5-3)

7th in Atlantic 10

Last two weeks:

12/9 vs. CIN- L 80-71

12/16 @ TOW- W 75-70

12/19 @ BALL ST- W 75-70

Next two weeks:

12/22 vs. DREX

12/28 vs. LAF

12/30 @ VILL

½ @ #6 DUKE

Villanova Wildcats (8-2)

7th in Big East

Last two weeks:

12/9 vs. DREX- L 81-76

12/20 vs. RIDER- W 108-61

Next two weeks:

12/23 @ LAS

12/30 vs. TEMP

1/3 @ WVU

In the next couple weeks, there’s a handful of city games. Temple will take on Drexel and Villanova, and in addition to the Owl game, the Wildcats will play La Salle. There are also a couple of top 10 games to be played. Penn will challenge North Carolina and Temple will play Duke. The outlook doesn’t look good for either, but you never know.

Drexel is the talk of the town lately. With a win over Villanova and a top 25 team in Syracuse Bruiser Flint, in addition to having a badass name, is doing a great job with an experienced team. Villanova and Syracuse are both Big East teams that are very likely to be in the tournament, and it’s a good confidence booster heading into the CAA schedule, which is soon to follow. Hopefully the Dragons can use that positive momentum and get past a tough VCU team and other conference opponents. (in the Carrier Dome, no less,) the Dragons look poised to make a run this season.

Solid basketball continues to be played across the board. All six teams continue to be above .500, even though they struggled a bit the past couple weeks.

Look below for my AI article, and expect an Eagles/Boys preview tomorrow.

End of an AIra

Career Accomplishments:

- All Rookie Team (1997)

- Rookie of the Year (1997)

- Most Valuable Player (2001)

- All Star (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)

- All Star Game Most Valuable Player (2001, 2005)

- All NBA First Team (1999, 2001, 2005)

- All NBA Second Team (2000, 2002, 2003)

- All NBA Third Team (2005)

- Scoring Champion (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005)

- NBA Finals Appearance (2001)

- Hall of Fame (????)

Unfortunately, Allen Iverson’s decorated career in Philadelphia has come to an end. On Tuesday, AI was traded to the Denver Nuggets along with rookie Ivan Mcfarlin for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first round draft picks. Although Iverson is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and still a premier player in league, the Sixers were in a bad situation and couldn’t get very much in return. Considering what Billy King has done to this team in the past, the deal the Sixers got was pretty good. Miller, even with a pretty hefty contract will be able to contribute for the duration of it. He’s a “true” Point Guard who can help out the development of Iguodala, Carney and Green on the offensive end because he’s a great distributor. He can find teammates all around him and sees the court pretty well. Joe Smith will play here for the remainder of the season, not do much and he’ll be gone. The money coming off the books is what’s important about him.

The two first round draft picks are key. For one, this is a deep draft. The Sixers can sit on those two picks, which are almost sure to be in the late 20’s. They could add solid depth by going that route, but what I think would be better is use those picks and our early second rounder to trade back up into the lottery. It’s more important to get another better player in addition to our high lottery pick than to get a few decent players. The Sixers are building a decent core with Iggy and Carney, and if they continue to develop, they could lead the scoring. The Sixers need a serious low post presence and someone that can get the ball to our athletes. With additional cap room, the bench could be built through free agency and picks in future drafts, and all of a sudden, the Sixers have a basketball team again.

Unfortunately, Billy King is still in the fold, and none of those things will happen if he remains in a position of power. He has completely destroyed the team and ruined one of basketball’s greatest careers. His unfortunate ability to sign average players to mega contracts tied up the cap and prevented the team from getting any better. His complete mismanagement of the salary cap, trading away expiring contracts and contributing players combined with Larry Brown’s draft pick trading fetish prevented this team from ever retooling and making another run at the finals. Although King has a decent track record when it comes to the draft, he cannot be trusted with the task of rebuilding the team. If this upcoming draft is screwed up, it’ll set the team back ten more years.

But as bad as he is, my intention for this wasn’t to rip up Billy King. This is to talk about Allen Iverson and everything he’s done for this team and city. He’s had his share of controversies, sure. Off the court, Iverson always created a stir and gave his detractors something to complain about. From his never released rap album to a couple brief run ins with the law, AI was always in the news, whether he was playing basketball at the time or not. He had a tough life growing up and took advantage of a second chance given to him by Georgetown. For two seasons, Iverson proved he deserved that chance by not getting in trouble and turning in two great years on the court. When he broke into the league with Philadelphia he was often criticized for his selfishness, and the perception that he was a ball hog stuck with him the rest of his career, which is pretty unfortunate.

Iverson was always the best player on his team. From the second he was drafted to when he was traded, no one ever came close. The Sixers (with the obvious exception of the finals team) completely failed at building a team around their superstar. The numerous attempts to find a second scorer from Stackhouse to Hughes to Van Horn never worked. In 2001, the perfect team was built around him. There was a PG who could get the ball to AI (Snow,) three forwards that could play good defense and rebound (Lynch, Hill and eventually Mutumbo,) and a decent sixth man that could come off the bench and score points in McKie. Larry Brown lost a number of draft picks to get these players (and to acquire others in the future) and it was impossible for the team to bring in new players and get to the finals again. Since a lot of players that contributed to the finals run were aging, the Sixers couldn’t hang onto them and expect anything positive from them, so a revolving door of players began. Five years after the trip to the finals and it took a trade to Denver for AI to play with another All Star.

If someone were to make a tape to show young athletes how to play the game, it could easily substitute as an Allen Iverson highlight reel. Even though he was always the smallest player on the court, he played like he was the biggest. He showed incredible heart and passion for basketball, and always left it all out on the floor, every game. No exceptions. Winning games was important to him, and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to get the W. His reckless style of play led to a number of bumps and bruises along the way, but that was his game. If there was something he could do to improve the team, he would do it. He doesn’t mind throwing his body around against huge players or hitting the floor if it means getting the bucket and taking a foul shot.

Iverson gave everything to the city and team. He brought everyone together for one of the best seasons Philadelphia has had in a while, and led a team of average players to the playoffs numerous other times. He personified Philadelphia. There wasn’t anyone who worked harder than him, and he really brought that blue collar effort to the floor every night. Combine that with his great playing ability, and you get a special basketball player that we won’t see again for a while. The Sixers blew it. They had one of the greatest of all time, and they couldn’t build a team around him and make things work. So all I have to say is this: Good luck AI. We’re always going to have 2001, “practice,” the crossover and Jordan, and every shot you’ve made. Win a championship or two. Come back in a few years when things are better and the team can support you and win another. Retire as a 76er, just like you always wanted to do. Until then, I’ll gladly put on my Nuggets jersey and support you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NFL Power Rankings- Week 16

Look below for my Eagles-Giants recap. I’ll have something up about AI in the near future. Someone needs to let me know when Nugget jerseys go on sale.

  1. San Diego Chargers- Not even Charger fans expected a Rivers-led Charger team to be on the cusp of homefield.
  2. Baltimore Ravens- Cleveland gave them a bit of a scare, but Boller improbably came through again.
  3. Chicago Bears- All of a sudden, this great defense looks just a little bit beatable.
  4. New England Patriots- Wins like that against Houston make people forget about Miami.
  5. Indianapolis Colts- When Peyton plays they way he did against the Bengals, he can almost hide the poor defense.
  6. Dallas Cowboys- TO avoids a suspension, and everyone gets exactly what they want on Christmas.
  7. New Orleans Saints- The entire team looked out of sync against Washington, and these guys have to get back on track fast.
  8. Cincinnati Bengals- Their offense has to play better than they did against the Colts if they want to do anything.
  9. Philadelphia Eagles- Could the Eagles get a Christmas gift in the form of a division title?
  10. Denver Broncos- Cutler is showing more promise, and these guys are hanging onto playoff chances.
  11. New York Jets- One of the most unlikely AFC contenders won’t go away.
  12. Jacksonville Jaguars- I wonder where this team would be if Leftwich had been able to stay healthy for once.
  13. Tennessee Titans- What a game by the defense. They just made big plays all game long, and didn’t let Vince Young mistakes cost them.
  14. Kansas City Chiefs- These guys are fading fast, and LJ is not happy.
  15. Pittsburgh Steelers- On the contrary, these guys can’t be stopped.
  16. Seattle Seahawks- Losing to the 49ers isn’t pretty. Not having this division clinched yet is even worse.
  17. Buffalo Bills- These guys are quietly a solid team. If they retool the O-Line they could be talking about playoffs soon.
  18. Atlanta Falcons- With their postseason chances teetering, they still have an important game against Philadelphia soon.
  19. New York Giants- Tiki sure looked ready to retire when Trent Cole intercepted that pass late.
  20. San Francisco 49ers- Who would’ve imagined these guys contending for the division in Week 16?
  21. Miami Dolphins- They were on the wrong end of 21-0 this time.
  22. Carolina Panthers- They’ll have a long offseason to evaluate everyone and what on earth went wrong.
  23. Green Bay Packers- Is Brett Favre’s career finally ending this time around? Probably not.
  24. St. Louis Rams- That was a complete win last week, but it’s only Oakland.
  25. Minnesota Vikings- They’ll get a chance to see their future QB for a couple games.
  26. Washington Redskins- A nice win like the one over the Saints will keep the guys motivated.
  27. Cleveland Browns- It’s too bad their prize FA acquisition is already missing next season too.
  28. Arizona Cardinals- It doesn’t matter how many playmakers they have on offense, that defense is an abortion.
  29. Houston Texans- You have to wonder when these guys will come close to being competitive.
  30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- I like Gradkowski, but Rattay really moved the offense well last week.
  31. Detroit Lions- It’s completely ridiculous that Matt Millen has a job.
  32. Oakland Raiders- Maybe next year. Or 2008. Or 2009.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants Game Recap

On the way home from Christmas shopping, I was listening to the post game on 94.1 (I watched the whole game, mind you.) One word kept coming up: resilience. The Eagles showed heart to hang with a good football team, fought adversity, came back and won a road, division rival game. The Eagles snatched a win from the Giants and Gerry Austin’s crew.

More on that later, but here are my keys from the game preview:

1) STOP TIKI BARBER AND BRANDON JACOBS. Huge success. Tiki’s YPC was a touch under 4, and Jacobs was a little over 4 on three carries. They only had 88 rushing yards total. How about this defense stopping Tiki Barber two games in a row? Both backs got off to a fast start (Jacobs had his longest run of the day before the fumble, and Tiki’s runs began to get shorter and shorter as the game wore on.) The injuries to the Giant Offensive Line probably didn’t help (Whitfield and Seubert starting, along with McKenzie being banged up.) The Eagles got a great game out of the tackles. Walker and Patterson got some great penetration on some plays (against guys I think are pretty good Guards,) and disrupted a lot of plays. For the most part, missed tackles were down and guys wrapped up well. It also helps that the Giants got away from the run a little bit in the second half (again, more on that later,) but no matter the circumstances, the Giants did not run all over the Eagles, and Barber and Jacobs were almost a non-factor.

2) PRESSURE ELI MANNING. Success. Although Omar Gaither tallied the only sack, Eli was under fire all game long. The first interception was a result of the pocket being collapsed, and the second was a result of Eli being hit as he threw. He took hits all game, and was forced to move around in the pocket more than he or the Giants would’ve liked. After being disappointed with him the past two weeks, I have to give credit to Jim Johnson. He had the defense ready to play. Instead of sitting seven guys back in coverage which had become all too common as of late, he brought back the Jim Johnson defense we’ve gotten used to over the years. Linebackers were blitzing, DBs were blitzing, the front four was getting pressure. It was probably the best game the defense has played in a couple months. The Eagles defense set up camp in the Giants’ backfield and didn’t pack up until 7:30.

3) NO WASTED OPPORTUNITIES. Success. The Eagles scored touchdowns on all three times they were in the red zone. The Giants did 2/5 trips inside the 20. The Eagles scored 14 points off of the Eli picks. The Eagles had the chance to win a division game on the road against a team that embarrassed them in September. They had the chance to improve their playoff position and make the division championship a realistic goal. They seized the opportunity. They held the Giants to 2/9 on 3rd down, made plays on Tiki in the backfield, took advantage of Mahe’s big return, and possibly the most important play of the game, scored on 4th and goal early in the game. Buckhalter’s touchdown run set the tone. The Eagles came to win Sunday afternoon, and they did everything they had to do to come away with it. All three phases of the game were opportunistic, and it helped the Eagles beat what is probably a superior football team.

What about those matchups? Not much to say for two of them since they really didn’t happen, unfortunately.

1) BOB WHITFIELD VS. DARREN HOWARD. Didn’t happen. Oh well. The Eagles decided they wanted to take full advantage of Whitfield’s pass protection deficiency, so they lined up Trent Cole against him. Cole was able to run circles around Whitfield and generate a decent pass rush despite not having any sacks.

2) LITO SHEPPARD VS. PLAXICO BURRESS. Again, Sheppard wasn’t on him at all. Sheldon Brown and Rod Hood split duties against Plax, after William Peterson hurt himself in warm-ups. At any rate, Plaxico had his way in more ways than one. He had 120 yards on only 6 catches, and probably got at least 20 more yards in whining for penalties against the Eagles. Again, more on the officiating later.

3) TOM COUGHLIN VS. COMPETENCE. Here we go. In the preview, I identified 40 as a magic number for Eli’s passing attempts. Of course, he ended up with 40 on the nose. He didn’t necessarily do poorly with those 40 attempts, but it was a sign that the Giants didn’t have a good play calling balance. Tiki Barber only had 19 carries, and the Giants only ran 22 times total. That simply is not enough for the Giants, especially against a defense like the Eagles. The Giants very clearly got away from the run way too early in this game, and Eli was passing almost regularly in the second half. The Giants, with the exception of the final minutes, were never so far out of this game that they had to abandon the run. They could’ve stuck with it, controlled the clock and played better offensively. One positive for Coughlin is the use of Shockey. He was used frequently in the passing game, and had a bunch of catches. It wasn’t a bad game for him. Overall, Tiki simply should have been involved much more, and he wasn’t anywhere to be found at times.

The key players:


1) Jeremiah Trotter- Pretty invisible, but spent a lot of time on the sideline because the Giants were passing so much.

2) Mike Patterson- He got great penetration at some times, and accidentally tipped a pass that led to the first INT.

3) Tra Thomas- Besides the penalties, he did a great job in pass protection and opened up running lanes.


1) Osi Umenyiora- Didn’t have a very good game. More on him later.

2) Tim Carter- Had a few catches that amounted to hardly anything.

3) Antonio Pierce- For someone who loves to talk trash against the Eagles, he certainly didn’t do much against the Eagles, again. He can play big against other teams, but he’s all talk against the birds. Better luck next time, Antonio.

Apologies for not doing a “Key Injuries” segment this week. It completely slipped my mind. It’ll be back in next week’s edition.

Number to remember:

  1. It’s the number of times FOX will show the Plaxico OT TD catch from week two during the broadcast.

Didn’t actually see it that much. I saw it a couple times over the course of the day on FOX though.

Final score:

31-27 Eagles.

Pretty close. Fortunately, the margin was a bit bigger.

Garcia- 250 yards passing, 3 TD, 1 INT.

Westbrook- 150 total yards, 2 TD.

Stallworth- 100 receiving yards, 1 TD.

Besides Westbrook, I was way off here. Garcia only threw for 1 TD, and Stallworth only had one catch very early on. Reggie Brown came closest to producing the predicted stats.

Manning- 250 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INT.

Barber- 200 total yards, 2 TD.

Burress- 90 receiving yards, 1 TD.

Eli got a ton of yards, but didn’t score. Barber didn’t see the ball as much as I thought he would, and Burress got more yards than predicted.

Some final notes before we get ready for Dallas:

- Garcia did a nice job of bouncing back after his first pick and leading the team down the field. He kept us in the game again by showing mobility in the pocket and making nice throws.

- It’s too bad we didn’t see more of Buckhalter. He had a great first half, and I don’t get why he wasn’t used in the second. Good to see him on the field and playing more frequently.

- I hate saying this, but I see a little of TO in Reggie Brown, except he’s a nicer guy. His hands are about the same (unfortunately,) and although he’s a lot smaller, he turns upfield quick and has a natural ability to get yards after catching the ball. On another receiver note, the Eagles need to invest a lot of money in a tall crybaby that can throw his arms up and scream whenever someone tries to cover him to draw penalties like the Giants did with Burress.

- For as physically gifted as L.J. Smith is, I would like to see him make some more plays. He had a couple nice catches and showed great concentration on that one grab, but instead of bobbling the ball and pulling it in, it would be better to catch it the first attempt and run to get some more yards.

- Is it just me, or did Jamaal Jackson have a tough time snapping the ball? Maybe Garcia’s hand injury led to Jeff pulling out a bit too soon or something.

- I don’t know why, but playing the Giants motivates Darwin Walker like nothing else for some reason. He had a great game today, and I even saw him line up at end at some points. As for some other D-Linemen, I continue to be disappointed by Howard’s play. Hopefully he’ll destroy Adams like he did last time we met the Cowboys. Juqua Thomas is a good pass rusher. He’s pretty good with both his hand down and up. PLAY BUNKLEY.

- Gaither is going to be good. I think this is the third week I’ve said it, but this guy can play. He shows something new every week, and he was a steal in the 5th round. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have anyone better than Dhani Jones.

- Brian Dawkins is a player. Big time players make big time plays in big time games. Dawkins is a big time player, he made several big time plays in this big time game. We need to see Michael Lewis on the field instead of Considine. The dude just can’t play. However with Lewis’ injury, it remains to be seen how much he can play. Maybe Mikell gets a chance.

- Special teams- need to be more consistent. The kick return was great and Dirk’s overall play was great, but obviously kick and punt coverage needs to be better. Did anyone else see Dorenbos get laid out on Ward’s big return?

- Now for some Giants stuff… I like what they’re doing with Kiwanuka. Except for his obvious blunder against the Titans, he’s having a very good rookie year. What’s even better is how the Giants are using him. Of course he filled in for Osi and Strahan when they got hurt, but Kiwanuka does everything. They’ll line him up at tackle and run stunts, they’ll have him rush from the middle or outside with his hand up, almost like what the Eagles do with Kearse. For someone whose stock was highest after his junior season and had it just get lower with every snap during a forgettable senior campaign, he’s turning out to be pretty good.

- There’s no doubt in my mind that Osi Umenyiora is a heck of a pass rusher, but he’s out of control. He just comes straight upfield every play, and tries to turn back to get the QB from behind. It’s easy to block because the tackle can just keep riding him upfield. He needs to develop some moves to get back to the inside because all he does is create a great pocket for Garcia to step up in.

- Antonio Pierce talks too much. For all of the talk he did this game and for all of the talk he did last game, he just didn’t play as well as he should. He’s a good player, but he should come to play instead of talk next time the Giants play the Eagles.

- It really doesn’t matter and I don’t think it reflects on the Eagles poorly in any way, but opposing kickers are 25/27 against us this season. I believe that would be good for tops in the league if “opposing kickers” were one player.

- Jimmy Johnson deserved every asshole chant he got. His bias against the Eagles is pathetic, and it really showed when he predicted the Giants to win easily. Good one, Jimmy.

- The real Jim Johnson had a good game. It was good to see blitzes again.

- Now for the officiating. I wanted to hold back on this the Eagles won, but I can’t help myself. Here are all of our penalties and my thoughts on them.

o M.Patterson, Illegal Block Above the Waist, 10 yards, enforced at PHI 22.- Didn’t see it, probably a good call. Won’t complain.

o PENALTY on PHI-D.Walker, Encroachment, 5 yards, enforced at PHI 16 - No Play.- Again, good call. He was caught listening to Eli and not watching the ball.

o PENALTY on PHI-W.Thomas, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at PHI 38 - No Play.- No brainer here.

o PENALTY on PHI-R.Hood, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at NYG 23 - No Play.- Come on. It’s third down and the Eagles just made a stop and were going to get good field position. Let it go. Burress was initiating contact himself.

o PENALTY on PHI-H.Baskett, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at PHI 27 - No Play.- Good call, Hank took down his guy.

o PENALTY on PHI-W.Thomas, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at NYG 44 - No Play.- You’ve got to let this go. Thomas was engaged with his guy, Kiwanuka wasn’t going to make the play, and it was simply a good block.

o PENALTY on PHI-B.Westbrook, Chop Block, 7 yards, enforced at PHI 14. Play Challenged by PHI and Upheld.- Didn’t see it clearly, but from what I saw of it it wasn’t a bad call. While we’re here, this was a completely stupid challenge by the Eagles.

o PENALTY on PHI-B.Westbrook, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at NYG 2 - No Play. This might’ve been the stupidest one. It was after Brown caught the ball, away from the play and didn’t have anything to do with Reggie being wide open.

o PENALTY on PHI-S.Brown, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at NYG 30 - No Play. Oh please. This flag came out so late it was ridiculous. Tyree complained and got the call. There was hardly anything there. Again, this was on third down.

o PENALTY on PHI-J.Garcia, Taunting, 15 yards, enforced between downs. First of all, I will say that spiking the ball was probably pretty stupid, but get real. He just ran for a first down after a blatant missed call (getting to those in a sec,) and it’s not like he hit a Giant with the ball. Players spike the ball or celebrate all the time, why it was penalized here I don’t know.

o PENALTY on PHI-S.Brown, Defensive Pass Interference, 20 yards, enforced at PHI 22 - No Play. Burress was making as much contact with Sheldon. Nothing went on here that doesn’t go on here that doesn’t happen on every other pass play. Both receivers were fighting for position.

o PENALTY on PHI-S.Considine, Defensive Holding, 1 yard, enforced at PHI 2 - No Play. It was within five yards, he barely touched Shockey, and they just called PI on the last play. Completely ridiculous.

That’s all of them, I think. Gerry Austin, Carl Johnson, Scott Edwards, Roy Ellison, Tom Hill, Jerry Bergman and Robert Lawing were simply too eager to intervene and help out the Giants, especially Burress. He gets more calls in his favor than any other player in the league. It was an embarrassing display of officiating, and this crew shouldn’t even be allowed to watch the playoffs. As for the missed calls:

- Clear roughing the passer against Wilson the play before Garcia got called for taunting. He did not slow up at all, ran full speed into Garcia and took him down after he threw the ball.

- Bob Whitfield wrestling Trent Cole to the ground after a play. For someone who has had these penalties before, and for a ref looking right at it, I’m absolutely baffled as to how this wasn’t called.

- Some will complain about Demps leading with his helmet to force the fumble from Garcia, but I won’t. It wasn’t as bad as the two no calls previously mentioned.

After assuring a record above .500 against the gauntlet and against the division this year, the Eagles get ready to open presents and take on Dallas on Christmas. Should be a fun one.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Philadelphia Phillies Offseason Thoughts

After a second straight season of starting slow in spring, hanging around in early summer and catching fire in the dog days of August just to fall short of a playoff berth, Pat Gillick looked towards the offseason to improve the team, and finally get them over the hump that has haunted the team the past 13 years. In his first full offseason as GM of the Phillies, Gillick would have more options to improve the team and get them headed in the right direction. He wanted to continue to add flexibility to the payroll, and get rid of the bad contracts that former General Manager Ed Wade signed. He traded Jim Thome last offseason and dealt Abreu during the summer, and Pat Burrell was next on his list. With a huge contract, a no trade clause and a mediocre year, it would be a tall task to trade him. It has not happened yet, and probably won’t happen until at the earliest, the trading deadline.

To compensate for a potential loss in Burrell and to protect MVP Ryan Howard better, Gillick wanted top free agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano defied all expectations in his only season in Washington, and set career highs in Home Runs, On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage, as well as joining the exclusive 40-40 club. He would be the perfect 5 hole hitter to protect Howard: Right handed, lots of power and a reputation. However, things didn’t work out, and Soriano signed a mega deal to play for the Cubs. He was completely out of the Phillies’ price range, and no way that Gillick would sign him to a deal like the Cubs did.

Gillick wanted to upgrade 3B and C, after yet another season of getting little to no production from the bottom of his lineup. With David Bell, Abraham Nunez, Mike Lieberthal, Sal Fasano and Carlos Ruiz all playing significant time over the past couple years, it was time to bring in some better players and get something from the 7 and 8 hitters. Enter Wes Helms, who is a career .778 OPS hitter. It’s not outstanding, but it’s better than all but one of David Bell’s seasons in the red pinstripes, and certainly better than what Nunez offered last year. He’s nothing spectacular, but it’s an upgrade that needed to be made. As of yet, no extra catcher has been added. The team is apparently looking at Toby Hall, which would be a pretty bad move. He’s always been a bad hitter, he’s not good behind the plate, and he’s a grade A idiot. There are better options out there, both through free agency and from within. Say no to Toby, please.

Before the 2006 season, Gillick came right out and said “this team will not make the playoffs because the pitching isn’t strong enough.” He was right on both accounts, and in a league where pitching is always a premium, he had to find ways to improve it. His strategy for building bullpens is get a ton of arms and stick with who’s hot and who’s working. So far, the bullpen isn’t shaping up to be very good again. Tom Gordon should have another solid season as closer, although his struggles at the end of last year are a bit worrisome. The Phillies hope that Geoff Geary can replicate his performance from last year, and that Ryan Madson will pitch better in a consistent role out of the bullpen. After that, Matt Smith looks like a good option against lefties and could develop into a major league setup man, but does anyone trust any of those last three if they have to step in for Flash in the 9th? The answer should be no. The Phillies needed to acquire a veteran arm or someone for the pen and they haven’t done it yet. There are still some trading opportunities out there (to be discussed in a bit,) and it remains to be seen what role the Rule V draftees can play.

The rotation has improved tenfold from Opening Day 06, and Gillick gets an A+ for improving it. We’ve gone from Lieber, Myers, Lidle, Madson and Floyd to Myers, Hamels, Garcia, Eaton and Moyer. Myers and Hamels will continue to progress and particularly Hamels will become an elite starter. Garcia has proven to be an innings eater and reliable starter, Eaton has some nice stuff when healthy, and Moyer can give a team some nice innings every five days still. The team didn’t have to give up too much for Garcia, and hopefully they can sign him to an extension. Dealing Myers would be a bad move at this point. He’s one of our best pitchers, and there’s no reason to get rid of him to improve the most powerful lineup in the NL. Hamels finished the season hot, and he’ll continue to grow and become the player everyone expected him to. If Eaton can stay healthy, which is the biggest if in the history of oversized conditionals, he could have a pretty good year. The rotation went from being hilariously awful to one of the most formidable in the National League.

One trade that should be explored, and I think will be in the coming days and weeks, is dealing starter Jon Lieber for some bullpen pieces. He appears to be the odd man out of the rotation, and with his conditioning problems and fairly high salary for 2007, he becomes expendable. It never hurts to have a sixth starter, but you can bet that someone like Lieber wouldn’t be happy in a long relief role waiting for someone to go down. Expect him to be traded before pitchers and catchers report.

So with the most exciting parts of the offseason complete, it’s time for teams to fill out their rosters and start preparing for 2007. It just seems like weeks ago that the Cardinals recorded that final out against Detroit, doesn’t it? With the Phillies making a few good moves to improve the ballclub without breaking the bank or mortgaging the future, they’re putting themselves in a good position for next season. I give the offseason a B so far. The bullpen should’ve been an area of focus heading into free agency, and nothing has been done about it so far. Help should be on the way through a trade very soon, and that would make the winter shopping complete.

It’s time for a prediction. It’s the first time anyone has been able to say it for a few years, but if these guys don’t make the playoffs, it’ll be a disappointment. They have what it takes to win the Wild Card. I think they have what it takes to make a run at the Mets. They just need to add another outfielder (Aubrey Huff?) and make a move for the bullpen to get this team in a better position. It’s almost time to play ball.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants Game Preview

From Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the New York Giants (7-6) host the Philadelphia Eagles (7-6). This battle for the playoffs will be broadcast on FOX at 4:00 PM, with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver making the call.

Three keys for the Eagles to upend the Giants and continue the fight for playoff position:

1) STOP TIKI BARBER AND BRANDON JACOBS. I don’t mean to state the obvious here, but come on. The Eagles run stopping problems have been well documented here and everywhere else, and it’s pretty clear what the Giants’ offensive focus should be this week. Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs need to get at least 40 carries this game. There’s no reason for the Giants to do anything but run, and the Eagles have to be ready to stop it. With the exception of the week two meeting of these teams, Barber has always been a guy that kills the Eagles. No matter the offense around Tiki, the players on defense, the weather, stadium, importance of game, whatever, this guy just runs, and catches, all over the Eagles every time. If the Eagles are prepared to stop him (either through run blitzes or innovative personnel packages,) then they lose this game, plain and simple. Tiki is a better back than Ladell Betts. He’s better than Travis Henry. He’s better than Fred Taylor. He’s better than Joseph Addai. If the Eagles allow him to run over them like they did with those guys, this game will be over before the team bus arrives at the stadium.

2) PRESSURE ELI MANNING. Although he’s played better the last two games, it remains true that Eli crumbles under pressure. He’s easily rattled, with or without pressure. He’s prone to making mistakes. The Eagles need to do everything they can to disrupt his timing, make him uncomfortable in the pocket and make him throw the ball inaccurately. It’s become pretty clear that the Eagles can’t create pressure with just four guys now, even though the Giants’ pass protection is less than outstanding. Why Jim Johnson got away from blitzing I don’t know, but he has to dial up the pressure packages some more this week. Eli needs to be hit, Eli needs to be on the ground, and we have to make him lose his composure. If he has all day to stand in the pocket, he can find Plaxico, Shockey, Tiki out the backfield, anyone, just as easily as any other QB in the league. He can’t have an easy time finding his other playmakers, or its going to be a long day for the secondary.

3) NO WASTED OPPORTUNITIES. This starts with simple things on play to play basis, like having a chance to knock Barry Cofield down, tackle Tiki in the backfield, hit Eli, catch a pass downfield, etc. to big things like not wasting offensive drives and settling for field goals and not blowing a 21 point lead in the 4th quarter. The Giants are a better team than the Eagles, and a team can’t pull off an upset by squandering chances to make big plays. The Eagles need to take advantage of every chance they get, and that includes scoring points off of turnovers, making stops on third and fourth downs, etc. Maybe use Westbrook on punt returns. All the stops have to be pulled out to get a win and remain in great position for the playoffs.

Three key matchups that could determine the outcome:

1) BOB WHITFIELD VS. DARREN HOWARD. The Eagles pass rush has been invisible as of late, particularly Howard, but against Bob Whitfield, anything can happen. In just five starts, he’s given up three sacks, had countless penalties, and has allowed Eli to be pressured consistently. Howard has to have a big game here. He’s going against a guy that can’t pass block at a position where protection is a premium ability. We paid him the big bucks, now it’s time for him to finally make the big plays for us. He has a favorable matchup, and he needs to step up and take advantage of that.

2) LITO SHEPPARD VS. PLAXICO BURRESS. Last meeting, Sheppard was out with his ankle injury, and we were left with Joselio Hanson playing a lot of minutes. Now with Sheppard back in the lineup and William Peterson in the fold, I expect better coverage across the board. I expect our best corner on their best receiver. Burress absolutely torched the Eagles’ secondary in week two, and Sheppard can’t let him and the passing game going again. With Toomer out, Burress will be relied on even more to make plays and help out Eli. Sheppard has to make sure to play a fundamentally sound game. Don’t let him beat you over the top, and time leaps well. Burress has an enormous size advantage, and Lito has to use his leaping ability and athleticism to compensate.

3) TOM COUGHLIN VS. COMPETENCE. The Giants are clearly one of the best teams in the league on paper, particularly at the skill positions. However, for whatever reason, their entire offense is misused. I don’t get it. I’m not going to research the Giants and figure out who does playcalling and what not, but there’s serious issues with the way the Giants are handled. Besides the stupid and frequent penalties, which come down from the coaching, the Giants never gameplan well. If the Giants want to win, Coughlin has to coach a good game. Tiki and Jacobs need to touch the ball and touch it often. Shockey needs to be used in the receiving game against the poor Eagle LBs. Eli can’t come out throwing 40 times. The players have to be used in ways best suited to their abilities. Eli can’t handle a game like that with that many passes. Shockey is a much better receiver than blocker. The skill players’ strengths need to be showcased, not hidden.

Three players for each team that need to play well:


1) Jeremiah Trotter

2) Mike Patterson

3) Tra Thomas


1) Osi Umenyiora

2) Tim Carter

3) Antonio Pierce

Number to remember:

  1. It’s the number of times FOX will show the Plaxico OT TD catch from week two during the broadcast.

Final score:

31-27 Eagles.

Garcia- 250 yards passing, 3 TD, 1 INT.

Westbrook- 150 total yards, 2 TD.

Stallworth- 100 receiving yards, 1 TD.

Manning- 250 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INT.

Barber- 200 total yards, 2 TD.

Burress- 90 receiving yards, 1 TD.

And my NFL picks. Let’s forget the bad week I had last week, okay (6-11)?

Dallas (-4) over Atlanta- Parcells will get his team to bounce back after an ugly loss against the up and down Falcons.

New York Jets (+3.5) over Minnesota- Minnesota can’t string two good games in a row, and the Jets are fighting for their lives right now.

Cleveland (+11) over Baltimore- Neither team really has an explosive offense, and the rivals will play it close.

Houston (+11) over New England- The Patriots only do enough to win, they don’t blow teams out. Sometimes they don’t do enough to win either.

Buffalo (-1) over Miami- I still don’t trust Joey Harrington, and I guess I never will again.

Carolina over Pittsburgh- Thank God for flex scheduling. Otherwise this would’ve probably been a primetime game.

New Orleans (-10) over Washington- Brees will eat their struggling secondary alive. And those McAllister and Bush guys aren’t bad either.

Jacksonville (-3.5) over Tennessee- The Jaguars have the most disciplined, tough defense Vince Young has faced so far.

Tampa Bay (+14) over Chicago- I shouldn’t take the Bucs ever again, but I hate spreads this big.

Green Bay (-5.5) over Detroit- Kitna will be able to put up big numbers, but without a running game or defense, they’re toast.

Denver (-3) over Arizona- The Broncos are struggling, but not this much.

Philadelphia (+6) over New York Giants- Even if I didn’t think they were going to win, 6 points is a lot.

St. Louis (+2.5) over Oakland- How is it possible for these guys to be favored?

Kansas City (+9) over San Diego- The Chiefs have the offense to run step for step with the Chargers, but can they slow down LT at all?

Indianapolis (-3.5) over Cincinnati- It’s suicide to pick these guys after the last two weeks, but whatever. This will be an exciting game probably ruined by a lame celebrity guest.