Wednesday, December 26, 2007

City Six

We’re two months into the college hoops season, and frankly, it’s probably been that long since my last update. Let’s take a look at City Six basketball and see how the season is going.

Villanova 9-1

W Penn 87-61

W Temple 101-93

They’re unbeaten in the city so far, and with two games left, they’ll probably maintain their dominance. They’re just so far and away better than the rest of Philadelphia. Their only loss on the season is against NC State, a mediocre ACC team whose best player is a big guy, who you would expect to be about to beat the Wildcats. Scottie Reynolds is leading the team in scoring again, but perhaps the biggest key to their season as they enter Big East play is how well their two other experienced players do: Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark. Both of these guys having taken larger roles in the offense this year, and they’ve improved their averages from a year ago. These two juniors are really the only big plays Jay Wright has to work with, so as Cunningham and Clark go, so do the Wildcats.

Temple 6-5

L Villanova 101-93

W Drexel 64-51

Temple is in its second year under Fran Dunphy, and once again, they’re playing a pretty tough schedule. With games against Tennessee, Florida and Duke, the Owls are pretty much asking for punishment. Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale are once again providing the scoring, but they’re not getting so much from anyone else. They’re still a pretty young team, so Temple is going to go through some growing pains in A10 play. Someone besides Christmas or Tyndale is going to have to step up before this Owls team breaks through and stops sputtering around .500.

St. Joe’s 5-4

The Hawks have had a couple tough losses to top 25 teams. Besides maybe Holy Cross, all of their losses are against tough teams, so they might be a little better than their record indicates. Like Temple, Phil Martelli is working with a pretty young team. Pat Calathes, Ahmad Nivins and Rob Ferguson are veteran players, but some of the younger players on this team could help get the Hawks back onto the national scene very soon.

La Salle 4-6

I hate to just keep saying “they’re a young team” for everyone that isn’t Villanova, but the Explorers are. Unfortunately, their best player will not be back for next season. Darnell Harris leads the team in scoring as a senior. They don’t get much scoring from anyone else, so other guys need to chip in for La Salle to start playing better. Two of their others players, Rodney Green and Ruben Guillandeaux, are sophomores, so when they continue to get better, the Explorers could start winning some games.

Drexel 6-5, 0-1

W Penn 67-59

L Temple 64-51

After a strong 06-07 campaign, Drexel looked to build on their success with a potential tournament berth. Unfortunately for the Dragons, it looks unlikely. They lost three key players, and they haven’t adequately replaced their ability. Frank Elegar is the best player on the team for the second consecutive season, but he doesn’t have any help. I know Bruiser Flint runs an aggressive defensive style of play, but someone else needs to score points. Tramayne Hawthorne has been turning the ball over more than last year, and the Dragons cannot afford to make many mistakes. If their huge loss to George Mason is any indication on how conference play will go, the CAA will not treat Drexel kindly this year.

Penn 4-7

L Drexel 67-69

L Villanova 87-61

It was expected to be a down year for the Quakers. They weren’t the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League for the first time since Herbert Hoover’s presidency, but they’ve had a rougher go of things than anyone expected. Mark Zoller and Ibrahim Jaaber were great players, and it’s tough to replace guys that completely carried the team. Two of Penn’s key players, Tyler Bernardini and Jack Eggleston are freshmen, so their experience now is going to help the Quakers in the future.

There’s my uninformed outlook on City Six basketball. Look for me to continue to be uninformed in later entries.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Feeley? You kidding me, Feeley? I just hope we can complete a pass!

For the first time all season, the Eagles have won two games in a row and sitting at .500. Of course, they figure to be below .500 after next week, but I’ll get to that later.

They only won by 10 points, but they outplayed the Dolphins by more than that. The defense was great. Although they didn’t sack John Beck or even force a turnover, they won the game today. With the exception of a few nice runs, Chatman was bottled up and a non-factor. Despite being kept clean most of the game, Beck looked uncomfortable in the pocket, but Rich Gannon might’ve been the most flustered QB in Philadelphia today.

Although it was late in the game, the incredible goal line stand by the defense was the backbreaker. The Dolphins had made some big plays on that drive, and it looked like the momentum was swinging back in their favor. After a Trent Cole tackle for loss, a lucky deflection by Takeo Spikes and another nice play by Spikes to stop Chatman short of the goal line, Cam Cameron made an explicitly poor play call, in which Juqua Thomas tackled Chatman 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a toss play. It was a dumb play to call with the game on the line, and the play design is so bad it should be tossed out of the playbook.

Brian Westbrook had one of his best games, and he was completely taken out of the passing game. He had career highs in carries and rushing yards, which we should’ve expected going into a game against one of the league’s worst run defenses. However, one might wonder if that would’ve happened if McNabb didn’t get hurt.

On a play before halftime, a DB hit McNabb hard on a blitz, and he limped off the field. After a collective groan from Eagles fans, the prevailing feeling of “here we go again,” and some x-rays, McNabb only has an ankle sprain, and he should be good to go pretty soon.

The fans calling for McNabb’s head and demanding Feeley or Kolb to play got their wish. However, A.J. only showed that McNabb is still the best option for this team. Don’t get me wrong; Feeley did enough to win, but this wasn’t a full game. I don’t trust him for a big chunk of games. He’s okay if he has to fill in, but the Eagles are looking to win games, and over the course of a month or two, he’d prove to be detrimental.

Almost immediately after he came into the game, Feeley did nothing to stop the Eagles’ turnover problems. He became part of the problem when he badly underthrew a receiver on top of making a bad decision to throw that way in the first place. It was another Dolphin red zone pick, taking more points off the scoreboard for the Eagles. He doesn’t have the arm strength to make difficult throws, and he has pretty spotty accuracy, but I have to give credit where credit is due. He made some nice plays, including a great touch pass in the seam to LJ Smith and a tough TD pass to Jason Avant, who was missing in action since the Green Bay game.

I’m not defending McNabb’s play today though. He played poorly in the poor weather conditions. His throws were off and he was taking some hard hits. The picks were bad passes and it just wasn’t one of his games. However, I’m not sure what McNabb was doing throwing so many times in the heavy wind and precipitation, which actually cleared up by the end of the game. They should’ve come out pounding the ball from the start. We shouldn’t need to wait for McNabb to get beat up and taken out of the game before we start using Westbrook. Notice how we finally used Buckhalter and Westbrook in the same formation and it worked?

That leads me into next week. The Patriots just destroyed another opponent, and the Eagles are in the crosshairs next. If the Eagles are going to do the impossible, and let me go on the record right now as saying it won’t happen, things have to be perfect, from the coaching staff all the way down to Reno Mahe.

They need to run the ball. They need to use Westbrook, Buckhalter, Stanley Pritchett, whoever. They need to throw the kitchen sink at the Patriots’ front seven. Don’t get me wrong; they can stop the run, but their best chance at beating the Patriots involves keeping their offense off the field. I’m not sure if this O-Line can hold up in pass protection long enough to give McNabb a chance to win this game himself.

Trent Cole is going to have to play the game of his life. This was his third straight game without a sack, so it’s time for him to break out again. The Eagles need to be able to generate pressure with their front four. If they have to bring the blitz, it’s going to leave too many holes in coverage, which the Patriots weapons will easily be able to exploit.

One final thing to ponder: If the Eagles were able to beat the Patriots, would this avenge the Super Bowl loss? I guess some could say that ending the perfect season is revenge for being beat in the big game, but I disagree. I never bought into the revenge game hype. I don’t think a championship loser feels any better about their loss if they emerge victorious in the regular season the next year.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Philadelphia Quick Hits

I’ll get back into the blogging game with this relatively cheap entry. If I like how it goes, maybe I’ll turn this into a regular feature- as regular as I can get, anyway.


They’ll take on the winless Dolphins on Sunday. However, they could be without Brian Westbrook, who hurt his knee lifting weights on Wednesday. Against the Dolphins, he could afford a week off, but it’s still something to keep an eye on. It’s going to be interesting to see if he does suit up but the Eagles aren’t confident in his health. Will they activate both Buckhalter and Hunt? I wouldn’t count on it.

Jim Johnson basically said this week that Juqua Thomas is the new starter at LDE, and Kearse is losing his snaps to Thomas and second rounder Victor Abiamiri. It’s about time. Kearse has lost his explosiveness, and he plays like he knows it. He doesn’t use his athleticism to rush the passer anymore, and he tries to use a bull rush to generate pressure. It’s not a very effective move for someone who lost a lot of weight.

The Eagles are struggling, but they could still have a number of Pro Bowlers. Donovan McNabb and Kevin Curtis are surprisingly close; Brian Westbrook is a lock if he remains healthy; Andrews or Runyan could get a spot; both of the starting Defensive Tackles, Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson, are playing great and have been the key to improving the defense.


They’re clearly committed to blocking shots, which is very admirable. However, at some point, they need to start playing more soundly in their own zone. They aren’t very aggressive on the back check and they make sloppy passes resulting in turnovers. Martin Biron has been playing great so far, but I’m not sure how long he can keep up with his team constantly being out shot.

Simon Gagne continues to be out of the lineup. Getting Scottie Upshall back was a nice boost because he’s an athletic skater who can score goals. If this team can manage to stay the least bit healthy for a little bit, it will be a first.

I wasn’t so sure that Steve Downie would join the Flyers when his suspension ended, but now I think it’s possible. Ben Eager isn’t showing any offensive ability at all, and the failed 3 on 1 breakaway attempt last night was a huge turning point. Riley Cote hasn’t added much himself. You want a tough guy on the team, but shouldn’t they contribute something else?


They just completed a great comeback against Portland, and not many people were in South Philadelphia to see it. After being outplayed for the entire first half and leaving Sixers fans groaning, they dominated the fourth quarter to pull out the win. They’ve struggled early this season, but like past years, I don’t think we’ll see them tank or stop playing hard.

Believe it or not, young players helped fuel the comeback against the Trailblazers. Thaddeus Young saw significant action for really the first time all season. Jason Smith continued to play a key role in a rotation down low, and Lou Williams provided a scoring spark. It’s time for these guys to start playing a lot of minutes. Their athleticism improves the entire team on the floor.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Andre Miller, but he’s not playing as well as we saw last year. He’s been a very good PG during his career, but this year, Miller has played a different game. He’s taking more shots and not being the distributor he has been his entire career. He’s hurting any trade value he had prior to the season.


Reports say that they have about 10-15 million dollars left in the budget to spend. At some point in the coming days, I’m going to take another look at the numbers and confirm the total.

Pat Gillick says the rest of the resources available will be spent on pitching, but as we’ve seen in his tenure, he doesn’t do what he says, and in fact, he often does the opposite. He names Brett Myers the closer, and trades for Brad Lidge the next day. Fans think the rotation is set when he signs Adam Eaton, and they trade for Freddy Garcia. Don’t take his word too seriously.

I like Shawn Green as a platoon player with Jayson Werth. He’s a very good option against righties, so a straight platoon would help both players. Green can no longer hit lefties, so that could create some matchup problems late, but they need another guy in RF.

City Six

I learned that “City Six” is the proper way to talk about Philly college hoops, and not “Big Five Plus One.” We’ll start with the one in the major conference in Villanova. They lost Curtis Sumpter, which means their front court is weaker than it usually is. Scottie Reynolds is a great player, but other guys are going to have to step up. Verdict: about the same as last year. They should get into the tournament and lose early again.

Drexel was the underdog story of the year in the city, but they lost a lot. Mejias, Mason and Crawford were some key losses, but they do get their best player back in Frank Elegar. Bruiser Flint is a great coach, and if he can get his guys to keep working hard, they could make some noise in the CAA again. Verdict: probably worse than last year. They’re inexperienced.

La Salle struggled last season after losing Stephen Smith, and I expect the same from them this year. I really don’t know that much about them, so I’m not going to pretend that I do.

St Joe’s played well in front of the nation earlier this week against Syracuse. They’re pretty young, but they could develop into one of the better teams in the A10. Pat Calathes has been around through the rebuilding since the Elite Eight run, and he could lead this otherwise inexperienced team. Verdict: they should improve on last year.

Temple is another young team looking to get better in the A10, but they’ve struggled early on this year. They’ve blown a couple of big leads and didn’t wrap up games when they should have. However, when push comes to shove, Fran Dunphy is a good coach and will get these guys ready to play more often than not. Dionte Christmas is just one player looking to continue to revive Temple basketball. Verdict: they should improve on last year.

Penn is another team I don’t know much about. I do know they lost their two best players from last year, and their dynasty of sorts in the Ivy League could be in danger.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why I'm afraid of the Chicago Bears

I return to blogging with this game day entry.

Around the internet this week, there are a lot of people calling this game in the Eagles’ favor. The Bears aren’t very good on the road, but this game is going to be a challenge. I don’t see a lopsided game like some are predicting.

The Bears defense hasn’t been very good so far, but it’s still going to present difficulties for the Eagles offense. They run a defense similar to the fabled Tampa 2 scheme. This means that, for most of the game, the Chicago corners are going to be playing physical with our receivers and jamming them at the line. The Eagles have struggled with this so far in 2007. Their record when the defense doesn’t employ press coverage: 2-0. Their record when they do? 0-3.

It throws off the timing of the passing game. If the receivers aren’t quick or strong enough to get off the line, McNabb is going to take his three or five step drops and not find anyone open. That will make McNabb hold onto the ball too long, and he ends up on his back like we’ve seen throughout the year. Chicago has a great pass rush, so the line is going to have to hold up today.

If the Cover 2 has one weakness in pass defense, it’s how the middle of the defense is open. When the safeties are splitting the field deep and the corners are staying around the flats, the linebackers are relied on to cover just about the entire field. Ask any Tight End at any level of football, and they will tell you they love the Cover 2. It leaves seams and windows open in the defense for them to roam around and make plays. Unfortunately, the Eagles can’t take advantage of this weakness. LJ Smith is out again, and Matt Schobel and Brent Celek haven’t come close to matching Smith’s production so far.

If the Eagles are going to score a lot of points, they need to run the ball. Everyone says that every week, but it’s especially true today. Chicago’s run defense has been awful, and they’re really banged up. The middle of the defense hasn’t been strong for a couple years now, mostly because Tommie Harris spends a lot of time on the sideline and they have little depth behind him. They need to find a way to get as many as 35 carries for Westbrook, Buckhalter and maybe even Tony Hunt.

The Bears have one weapon on offense and special teams. I’m not worried about Brian Griese. He’s going to make his throws, but he’ll always make his share of mistakes. Cedric Benson hasn’t played up to his draft status and contract so far in his career. Muhammad’s physical, but the Eagles can handle him. Berrian’s fast, but the Eagles can handle him. Tight Ends haven’t had success against the Eagles all year, so I think Gocong can handle Olsen. They need to find a way to stop Devin Hester.

He’s obviously a weapon in the return game. This doesn’t bode well for the Eagles, whose coverage units have been mediocre at best in recent years. Gone are the days of someone racing down the field and making a huge hit inside the 20. The kick cover unit just makes you hope the other team doesn’t run one back. They need to do whatever it takes to contain the return game, whether it be punting it out of bounds every time or popping a kickoff up to an up man.

However, last week, Hester showed that he can make plays on offense. He caught an 80+ yard TD to tie up the game against Minnesota. I’m sure the Bears know the Eagles’ corners play sides, so if Lito Sheppard isn’t completely healthy and isn’t playing every snap on defense, I’m sure they’ll try and get Hester lined up against William James. That could be bad news for the Eagles, so hopefully Sheppard can go the whole game.

After all that, I still think the Eagles will win. They’re back at home where they had a little offensive success against Detroit, so hopefully they can duplicate it, or at least score more than 16 points. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this will be an easy game because Chicago’s record is bad though.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A look to 08

After that quick end to the Phillies’ postseason chase, it’s time to look towards 2008. I’m not going to mention any specific potential free agent or trade targets, and I’m only going to look at what we have on the payroll for 2008, how much money there will be to spend and some areas the Phillies need to improve on. For players that are under team control, whether they be in arbitration or not, I’ll try and estimate what they’ll be paid, even though that’ll be pretty tough.

Players that will be under contract


Carlos Ruiz: $450,000 (second year of team control-) He emerged as a very good defensive catcher in his rookie season, and it didn’t take him long to dominate the catcher platoon. Although his hitting didn’t remain hot throughout the season, he’s not that bad of an 8 hole hitter.

Chris Coste: $450,000 (second year of team control-) He didn’t hit well down the stretch, but I still think he’s a decent backup catcher. His defense isn’t very good, but as a bench player, he has some value because he’s not a bad pinch hitter. However, I could see him getting lost in a numbers game, and he still has a couple of option years left.


1B Ryan Howard: $7.5 million (first year of arbitration-) It’s possible that he’s locked up long term and this number could be a little less in the first year of a new deal, but he’s going to get his dough this offseason. Although he set the strikeout record, he was still a huge power threat in the middle of the lineup. Miguel Cabrera got 7.4 in his first year of arbitration last offseason, and I think Howard’s 2006 season will carry a lot of weight.

2B Chase Utley: $7.5 million (second year of long-term contract-) Utley’s salary takes a big jump from 07 to 08, but he deserves every penny. I think he would be MVP if he didn’t break his hand. After 06, I didn’t think there was any way the guy could get better. He did. Hopefully he surprises me again.

SS Jimmy Rollins: $7 million (third year of long-term contract-) After predicting the Phillies would topple the Mets in spring, Jimmy was not only proven correct, he might be awarded with the MVP award after a career season. He does so much for this team, and his contract is really looking like a bargain now.

3B Greg Dobbs: $475,000 (third year of team control-) Dobbs was a nice surprise for the Phillies in 2007. He was a waiver claim from Seattle, killed the ball in spring and forced the Phillies to eventually add him to the starting lineup. He can’t hit lefties and he doesn’t play defense very well, but at the very least, he can be a part of a platoon at several different positions.

3B Wes Helms: $2.15 million (final year of FA contract-) Helms was a huge disappointment in 2007. He was expected to strengthen the bottom of the Phillies lineup and provide some much needed power from 3B. He did neither, and eventually lost just about all of his ABs. He’s a relatively cheap bench player, so I’m not going to complain about the 2 mil.


Pat Burrell: $14 million (final year of long-term contract-) After a miserable May and June which saw Pat lose a lot of starts, he became one of the best players in baseball in the second half. He ended up with 30 home runs and really did a good job picking up the slack when Utley got hurt. Some people want him traded now that he may have a bit of value after his hot finish, and I disagree. There’s only one year left on his deal and it’s tough to replace production like we got from him.

Michael Bourn: $450,000 (second year of team control-) He provided a nice spark off the bench with his game changing speed. For a few starts in June when Burrell was sat down, he collected a few hits and played good defense. You’d love to keep someone as fast as he is, but there are some teams that will be calling for him, and he could be used as trade bait to improve the pitching.

Shane Victorino: $475,000 (third year of team control-) Victorino really developed in 2007. This was his first full year of starting and he emerged as a great defender and a great base runner. He could end up having 20 home run power and if he becomes a bit more patient, he could be dangerous at the top of a lineup. As is the case with Michael Bourn, his tools could garner interest from several teams and could be used to improve pitching. However, with Aaron Rowand likely on the move, he could take over in CF for the Phillies.

Jayson Werth: $2.5 million (first year of arbitration-) Werth struggled early on in the season, but he got hot after returning from a wrist injury and did a great job of filling in after Victorino got hurt. He’s great against left handed pitchers so he could be valuable as either a platoon player or a good bat off the bench.


Cole Hamels: $500,000 (second year of team control, likely to become a super two after next year-) Cole has clearly became the ace of the staff, and had he not gotten hurt, he could’ve potentially won 20 games. He had a bit of a down period in the middle months of the season, but overall, he had a breakout year and is developing into one of the best starters in the league.

Brett Myers: $8.5 million (second year of long-term contract-) What’s Brett doing here, you might ask? I’m penciling him back into the rotation. I just think it makes sense. You’re paying him starter’s money; he’s had success as a starter; you have a huge hole at the top of the rotation. You have to do it. In this free agent market, it’s going to be easier and cheaper to find a good reliever than it will be to find a top of the line starter like Brett.

Kyle Kendrick: $400,000 (first year of team control-) The Phillies and their fans were pleasantly surprised with what they got from Kyle after a June call up. No one expected him to stick, and he made some good starts in big games down the stretch. His peripherals indicate that he might not be as good next year, but he always seemed to get out of jams.

Adam Eaton, or at the very least, his contract: 7.635 million (second year of FA contract-) I don’t know if he’s going to pitch here in 2008, but I’m going to lean towards “yes” because no one except Dave Littlefield would ever take his contract. Littlefield being out of a job, the Phillies will be stuck with him for the duration. There’s no way he can be this bad again next year, right?

Jamie Moyer: 5.5 million (final year of contract extension-) Jamie was pretty inconsistent in 2007, but he had two great starts to finish the year, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of him. He can generally throw enough innings to keep you in the game, and he’s durable, which is huge at the end of the rotation. His influence over younger guys is irreplaceable.


Tom Gordon: 5.5 million (final year of free agent contract-) He was hurt for much of the year and in April he might’ve cost the team some games, but he was big in late September. He cannot be the closer next year, but as a set up man, I’m fine with one more year of Gordon.

Ryan Madson: 2.5 million (second year of arbitration-) Losing Mad Dog to a shoulder injury really depleted the pen, and he could’ve made a world of difference. He was consistent in a 7th inning role and has been one of the team’s best relievers the past few years. Hopefully he can come back healthy and contribute again in 2008.

Geoff Geary: 1.1 million (second year of arbitration-) I’m not positive on whether or not this is Geary’s second year, but I’ll go ahead and say yes. He got hit hard in the early and middle parts of the year, but he came back to the majors and really gave them some key innings late in the year. He’ll probably come back in a middle relief role next year.

Julio Mateo: 1.5 million (team option-) At this price, I see no reason why they wouldn’t pick up the option. He was a mediocre pitcher in Seattle, but in a bullpen that prominently featured Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca, we could use mediocre in those middle innings. We didn’t see him in 2007, but he should get a shot to make the team out of camp in March.


C Rod Barajas: $500,000- It’s either this or pay him $5 million. I don’t think so.

3B Abraham Nunez: $175,000- I like his glove, but it doesn’t make up for how bad he is at the plate.

Jim Thome

DH Jim Thome: 5.5 million- I like the guy, but I’m sick of him being on the payroll.

That all totals up to $82,260,000. Of course, my team control and arbitration estimates could be and probably will be way off, but they’re just there to give us an idea on how much we’re spending. With that in mind, let’s look at some of our free agents and the contracts I think they’ll sign:

Free Agents

CF Aaron Rowand: 4 years, 48 million- This is a lot of cash for a guy who’s coming off a career year. I think I’m going to have to pass on him, as much as I like the guy. Money needs to be spent on pitching, and we just might not have that much cash to go around this offseason.

RP J.C. Romero: 4 years, 16 million- Game 3 aside, Romero was a shutdown reliever after joining the Phillies. He absolutely has to be re-signed. He’s effective against both right and left handed batters and despite the walks, most people were confident with him coming in the game every time.

2B Tadahito Iguchi: 2 years, 8 million- If he’s willing to come back and learn third, with no guarantee for at bats, you almost have to pull the trigger on this. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will be. He’s a good contact hitter who plays a solid all around game. He’s a great guy to have off the bench, but he’s going to want to play.

Freddy Garcia: 1 year, 9 million- Not all of that will be guaranteed, but a team’s going to be taking a chance on his health. I think he’ll end up in the AL again so he doesn’t have to hit. He wasn’t happy about being taken out because his AB was coming up, and he prefers the management style of the American League.

Jon Lieber: 2 years, 16 million- He was out of shape again, and it might’ve cost him a decent contract. However, with teams in dire need of pitching, someone’s going to spend this much on him. He probably wouldn’t be a bad guy to have at the back of the rotation, but at that price, I’m going to have to decline.

I’d like to bring back Iguchi and Romero, so we’ll add 8 million onto my payroll projection, putting the Phillies at $92,260,000. The owners like to stay around the $95 million mark, but with this year’s great attendance and additional playoff revenue, let’s say they’ll bump it up to $100 million.

I think the Phillies might look to do a few things in the offseason. Some questions can be answered internally, but some free agents or trades will have to be added or made.

They might choose to add a third catcher again. Carlos Ruiz has gotten to the point where he doesn’t need a veteran, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Jason Jaramillo gets the nod. He’s a good defensive catcher who wouldn’t be bad starting 20-30 games.

If they buy out Nunez and Iguchi doesn’t come back, they’ll probably want a defensive specialist infielder. I’m now high on Jason Donald, but he only played at High A Clearwater in 2007. He plays very good defense and could move all around the infield, but he might not be ready for the majors. Defensive infielders can be had through free agency.

If Rowand walks, they’ll want to add another OF. This guy could be a left handed bat to platoon with Werth in right, or maybe a righty to pinch hit off the bench against a left handed pitcher. That sentence did not answer any of your questions.

If they trade Bourn or Victorino, another new OF will be needed. In this case, I think the answer could come from the system in Javon Moran. Since they’d be trading one of their speedy guys, they’ll want another athlete to replace them. I don’t want to see Chris Roberson ever again.

Do they want to add another starter? Even if Myers goes back to the rotation, I think they’ll try. You obviously can’t count on Eaton, so if you can improve the back end, it would be nice. Unfortunately, cheap free agent solutions probably won’t be out there, so Gillick’s going to have to get something done with a trade.

If Myers does in fact go back to starting, you need a closer. I don’t have confidence in Gordon doing it. Otherwise, middle relief is fine. There are a couple closer options out there, both in free agency and trades. There are some teams with some pretty deep bullpens that could part with one of their relievers to upgrade elsewhere.

So after making the playoffs in 2007, there should be reason for optimism in 2008. Although we already have a lot of money committed, there aren’t that many holes to fill. With an increased payroll and hopefully smarter spending, this team could be right back in the thick of things next year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eagles' Passing Game

The passing game is absolutely killer right now. When healthy (read: William James being able to match up against guys he’s capable of covering,) this defense will be very good. They have a good interior pass rush, and Juqua Thomas provides a spark from the outside when he’s in the game. They’ve done a surprisingly good job of stopping the run, and even Considine has been playing better.

Offensively, the running game has been good. I said this last week, but I feel I have to reiterate it. They haven’t been the problem so far. Buckhalter needs some more carries. Westbrook has been as shifty and elusive as ever. The line has gelled a bit and Tapeh is making some good blocks. However, the Eagles aren’t utilizing the running game enough, and as I review what’s wrong with the Eagles’ passing attack, the first thing I talk about is related to that.

Playcalling: I know the Eagles were down for much of the Washington game, but the pass-run ratio is inexcusable. Not only is McNabb hurt and should be eased back into action, passing the ball 70% of the time never works with any QB. Defenses won’t bite on play action when there’s no reason to react to the play fake. The Eagles thrive off play action. It was absolutely huge last year. They need that part of their offense. The D-Line can pin their ears back and aggressive rush the QB. Once you get to this point, screens and draws can reel the defense back in, but the Eagles haven’t even been doing that. If Andy Reid is waiting to flip on some switch before calling more screen plays and mixing up personnel and packages to get mismatches, there’s no more time to wait.

Receiver play: It feels like I’m watching a replay of the Carolina NFC Championship, and I’m not a fan of how that one ended. Jaws mentioned this statistic ad nauseam on the broadcast, but the Packers pressed the Eagle receivers 90+% of the offensive plays in week one, and Washington probably had a pretty high number as well. They haven’t been getting off jams and they haven’t been getting separation. What’s McNabb supposed to do if no one gets open? The offense depends on getting off the line and timing, and everything is thrown off if they get bumped at the line. I don’t know what the Eagles can do except man up, get physical and make some plays so they have to back off. There are way too many drops, and I really wish that wouldn’t develop into a problem again.

Personnel decisions: It’s a bit too early to give up on Kevin Curtis, but I’ve been underwhelmed with what I’ve seen lately. He seems to have good chemistry with McNabb, but he just hasn’t played well. I thought he was going to be able to do what Stallworth did last year except in all 16 games, but I don’t think he’s going to live up to that: not that Stallworth is doing much in Mossland anyway. He was billed as a fast receiver who can make tough catches, and although he’s displayed pretty good deep speed when he’s not being mugged at the line, he dropped a key pass last night. We have good depth; Avant has been making tough catches this year, and Baskett is a big, athletic guy to have as your 4th receiver. Reggie Brown needs to get out of his funk and get back on track in his development.

Donovan McNabb: He’s not free from criticism. I know he’s getting back from a serious injury, and I’m sure that’s affecting him, but he hasn’t played well. His throws have been off the mark, both in the ground and too high. His accuracy is normally up and down, but he’s been all over the place so far. I’m not going off the deep end and saying his days as an elite QB are over, but he needs to settle in soon, and I’m confident he will.

Offensive Line: They played well against Washington, but protection was a bit of a problem against Green Bay, so I should mention it.

0-2 isn’t the end of the world. They finished 0-2 a few years ago, and they made it to the NFC Championship. However, I will say the offense needs to wake up fast. We’ve wasted a couple pretty good games from the defense, and the O needs to start playing up to their potential.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Big Sports Saturday

Since I want to record a cheap entry, let’s take a look at what’s on my TV today. There are several sporting events staggered throughout the day, so let’s see what I’ll be watching for most of Saturday.

12:00 Temple @ Connecticut- Late addition to the schedule, because this game is on and I didn't know it. Temple's not off to a good start, as per usual.

12:00 Eastern Michigan @ Northern Illinois- I got out of the shower ready to see Temple play, but I looked at the TV Guide and I was met with this. Why? No one here cares about either of those teams. I’m not sure how much I’ll actually watch this.

1:00 Phillies @ Mets- The Phils are riding a nice winning streak against the division leaders after another wild win last night. They may not make the playoffs, but it certainly won’t be because they didn’t beat the Mets. Last night’s win clinched the season series, but it would be nice to put up a couple more against them.

3:30 Tennessee @ Florida- This is CBS’ first college football game this year, and it’s a great SEC rivalry. The Gators should be able to win at home, but this would be a great time for Erik Ainge to step up and prove that he could be a dark horse Heisman candidate and that UT isn’t as bad as they showed against Cal.

3:30 Notre Dame @ Michigan- This game looked better a couple months ago. Everyone figured the Irish would struggle a bit this year, but Michigan? They’ve lost two ugly games in the Big House, and they need to win now. Demetrius Jones chose not to make the trip with Notre Dame, so I’m not sure if they have anyone worth watching now!

3:55 Yankees @ Red Sox- This is where I get into trouble, because the Flashback feature on my remote can only work with 3 stations. The Michigan game will probably be the one that gets the boot in this time slot. The Sox have struggled against the Yankees as of late, but I don’t see them losing the division. The pitching is too good.

6:00 Lehigh @ Princeton- It’s on, so I guess I should mention it.

8:00 USC @ Nebraska- A pretty big out of conference clash to close out the night. I expect USC to win. Nebraska has been pretty average this far, and USC is the most talented and deep team in the country.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Week One Wrap

We all know that committing turnovers and penalties are a recipe for losing football games. That’s a cliché, and I’m sure everyone who watches football has said that out loud at some point in their lives. We have anecdotal evidence to back it up; the Oakland Raiders, Brett Favre in the playoffs, and obviously, the Eagles on Sunday.

As most have seen by now, the Eagles lost to the Packers 16-13 on a late Mason Crosby FG. Just looking at the final score, you’d think the defense played great. After watching the game, you would agree that they were even better. They sacked Favre four times, stifled Green Bay’s running game and made clutch plays down the stretch to preserve the tie.

Unfortunately, the other two phases of the game let them down. Despite what Tony Siragusa was harping on all day, the Eagles had a good ground game. Westbrook and Buckhalter combined to chew up clock and move the ball. However, the Eagles got away from it a bit and put the game in the hands of a struggling passing attack. The Offensive Line had a tough time handling Green Bay’s front four at times, and it hurt the timing of the Eagles’ offense. McNabb also had an off day, which didn’t help matters.

Of course, there were the special teams. The two muffs that cost the Eagles the game. A couple other misplays. It was an awful debut. Some will say that a lot of times, special teams are overlooked. They stuck out like a sore thumb on Sunday.

If the Eagles didn’t commit those turnovers and Mike Carey didn’t throw the flag like Rod Barajas allows runners to score at home plate, the game probably would’ve been a bit different. Let’s put some numbers behind that.

In week 1, the team that committed fewer penalties was 12-4. The team the committed fewer turnovers was 13-3 (I used more penalties as a tiebreaker in the case of teams committing the same amount of turnovers.) It doesn’t get any more simple than that. If you’re more disciplined, you win games.

The Eagles were obviously not as focused or disciplined as the Packers on Sunday. With the offense struggling, there was no margin for error. If you score 45 points like Dallas did, then you can commit a few more penalties or a turnover or two because you figure an NFL defense can hold an opponent under 45.

Some of the calls were correctable things, such as the illegal formations. I don’t get how teams actually commit those. I also don’t get why officials are sticklers about them. Cut down on holding and now all of a sudden, the Eagles are playing a clean game and getting more chances.

I think they’ll cut down on the penalties and turnovers. Mahe should secure the special teams; who thought anyone would be saying this four months ago? McNabb will shake off the rust and get the offense going. There’s too much talent on this team to let muffed punts and jersey tugs hold them back, right?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Some final NFL Previews and predictions

Cleveland Browns:

Cheers: Of all things, they actually have a pretty good Offensive Line. Joe Thomas should settle in nicely and Kevin Schaffer is better suited as a RT. Steinbach isn’t a bad guard and if Bentley can return healthy sometime, he’ll help solidify the interior. They’ve got pretty good Linebackers, with Andra Davis and D’Qwell Jackson in the middle and Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest rushing off the edge.

Jeers: They’re very unsettled at the skill positions, minus K2. No one knows what they’re going to get out of QB for what seems like the umpteenth straight year, Braylon Edwards needs to break out now and who knows what Jamal Lewis has left in the tank? Their defense, besides the Linebackers, is a work in progress.

On second thought… I thought these guys would be further along with Crennel than they are, and I think he may be in danger of losing his job. They’re in a tough division, but it’s time to step up and build a roster capable of competing. Losing their 2008 first round pick won’t help, and I hate them for it because it’s going to be a great pick.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Jamal Lewis. Here’s another lateral move from a team that can’t seem to do anything but. He’s lost a step he never really had, and since he can’t run against his own team in meaningful action, he has no Cleveland to pad his stats against.

New guy who will meet expectations: Brady Quinn. It’s almost gotten to the point where he’s criminally underrated. I don’t want to hear he can’t win the big game or he’s overrated because of the system or whatever excuse Notre Dame haters want to come up with. He can throw the football, and he’s going to do it very well for a lot of years.

Baltimore Ravens:

Cheers: I think they may have a good defense this year, but that’s just a hunch. With Ray Lewis at the heart of the defense and a cast of star players around him, these guys will be forcing turnovers and delivering punishing hits for another season. There really isn’t a weak link anywhere in the unit. They should have a pretty good running game again, and the Ravens are hoping McGahee’s fresh legs spark the offense.

Jeers: Their Offensive Line isn’t what it used to be, and for that matter, neither is McNair. People say defense wins championships, but the offense has to be adequate too. They have to find a way to replace Adalius Thomas’ pass rushing ability, but the Ravens never have any problems replacing anyone, so they should be able to do it.

On second thought… this defense will carry them again, and they’ll go as far as they can go before the offense has to put up a point. They have a couple playmakers in Clayton and Heap, but they have to find the end zone more often than they did last year.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Willis McGahee. I never really liked the guy in Buffalo, and I’m not sure how much better he’s going to be with the Ravens. The line isn’t that much better and he’s still the same runner that doesn’t have much explosiveness.

New guy who will meet expectations: Ben Grubbs. He’s a big boy who’s going to be able to open holes for McGahee. They needed help and depth at guard, and at the end of the first round, they got the best guy on the board. He’s going to be able to step in and start immediately, so the Ravens will be getting an instant return on this pick.

Denver Broncos:

Cheers: They barely missed out on the playoffs last year, and they made some upgrades for 07. Even though the running game is never a problem, they picked up a back in Travis Henry that will really help. Cutler will only get better playing in a full season, so the offense is pretty set. They traded for Dre Bly to fill an unfortunate need across from Bailey, and they have some pretty athletic Linebackers.

Jeers: They could still use some help on the Defensive Line, and Jarvis Moss’ injury doesn’t help. One of these years, John Lynch is going to become a total liability, and I think it might be coming. Not many holes here, these guys have a rock solid team.

On second thought… these guys will give SD a run for their money. Like I said, they really don’t have one true weakness. They’re a pretty complete team on both sides of the ball, and they’re well coached to boot. As long as Cutler continues his development, the Broncos will be in good shape.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Dre Bly is a decent player, but he’s not as good as some people think. He’s sometimes too aggressive in playing the ball and he can get beat sometimes. He’s going to see a lot of action with Champ Bailey on the other side of him, so he needs to step up and meet the challenge.

New guy who will meet expectations: Travis Henry. He’s a good runner coming into a great system. It’s weird to see Denver pay a premium price for a RB, but that goes to show you how much they like the guy and how much they think he can succeed. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be great. In the past, Mike Shanahan has split RB duties when he might not have to, but I don’t see Mike Bell seeing that much action this year.

Buffalo Bills:

Cheers: They’re looking at an alright offense this year. Some of the elements are there, including a star receiver in Lee Evans, a developing QB in Losman, and the left side of their line is looking pretty good with Peters and the new G Dockery. They need Marshawn Lynch to step in right away and play well, which I think he can do. They got some nice performances out of their rookie DBs last year.

Jeers: Under Jauron, they’ve been moving laterally and they’re counting on a lot of unproven guys to play well. They’ve lost a lot on defense, and their Offensive Line is still incomplete. Peerless Price is literally 1/3 of the player he used to be, and Losman’s improvement could still be a fluke.

On second thought… they could achieve and be mediocre again. They’re a pretty unproven team and they really didn’t get much better in the offseason. Losman needs to continue to step up and lead the offense with a questionable running game, and a lot of young guys need to start on defense.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Darwin Walker. Wait.

New guy who will meet expectations: The Poz.

And that’s it. Because those four teams haven’t started the season yet, their previews still count. What a success. And now for some predictions:

NFC East: Eagles

NFC North: Bears

NFC West: Seahawks

NFC South: Saints

WC: Cowboys

WC: 49ers

Cowboys over Seahawks

Saints over 49ers

Bears over Cowboys

Eagles over Saints

Bears over Eagles

AFC East: Patriots

AFC North: Ravens

AFC West: Chargers

AFC South: Colts

WC: Broncos

WC: Steelers

Ravens over Steelers

Chargers over Broncos

Patriots over Ravens

Colts over Chargers

Patriots over Colts

Patriots over Bears

Real original.

No Eagles preview or picks this week, I'll try to start them next week. Power rankings will debut in the first week of October.

Friday, August 31, 2007

NFL Preview: Titans

Tennessee Titans:

Cheers: Vince Young won rookie of the year. The Offensive Line isn’t that bad, and Bo Scaife made that one nice catch last year. Kyle Vanden Bosch isn’t a bad end and Chris Hope was great in the secondary last year. Bironas made that one long kick.

Jeers: They overachieved to reach mediocrity last year and then they got worse in the offseason. They downgraded an already weak offense and their defense wasn’t that good in the first place. Vince Young might as well be Nelson Muntz in that one Simpsons episode where he played Quarterback.

On second thought… I’m not quite sure what direction Tennessee was planning on going in this offseason. It’s puzzling. It’s like they were targeting a couple specific free agents and then missed out on them. They didn’t have a backup plan and they end up with Eric Moulds. Vince Young showed he could carry an offense for a little bit, but he can only do so much.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Ryan Fowler. The Cowboys pulled a dick move here so I don’t like this guy.

New guy who will meet expectations: He’s not a bad corner, and he’ll help out an average secondary a little bit. As long as he’s not being tackled by his shoestrings by QBs in key spots in games, he’ll be an upgrade and provide help for the pass defense.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

NFL Preview: Dolphins and Redskins

Miami Dolphins:

Cheers: Jason Taylor had an awesome season last year, and he should still be a great player again this year. Ronnie Brown is a pretty complete back, even though he’s yet to really put it all together. They have some other solid contributors on defense as well, including veteran Zach Thomas.

Jeers: After a bad year in which they were almost preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl, Miami isn’t horrendously overrated heading into this year. Trent Green is running on empty and the price of oil is too high to refill his tank. Chambers is inconsistent and they don’t have much going for them in the passing game, O-Line included. The secondary still needs some work as well.

On second thought… the Dolphins haven’t been able to figure it out for a while now. They’ve wasted the careers of Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas and they’ve never been able to build a complete team around them. There’s no consistency; cutting Culpepper and trading for Green just screams quick fix, and it’s not going to work. Again.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Trent Green. He’s not the same player he was a few years ago. Even before he even stepped on the field the day he got the concussion, he was on the decline. The injury only sped things up a bit. I have no idea why Miami thought this was a solution.

New guy who will meet expectations: Cory Schlesinger. He’s only a FB, but he’s a pretty underrated player. He’ll help out their running game a bit and he’ll provide an outlet, which Trent Green will desperately need a lot this year. I know he’s just a FB, but I wasn’t exactly enamored with their draft.

Washington Redskins:

Cheers: They should actually have a pretty explosive offense. Maybe I shouldn’t call it explosive, but it’ll still be pretty good. Portis is an elite back when he’s healthy, and Betts is one of the best backups in the league, who could probably be a starter in a lot of places. Jason Campbell looks like he’s coming into his own, and he has a couple weapons to throw to in Santana Moss and Chris Cooley.

Jeers: It’s unlike Gregg Williams, but the defense isn’t very good. Their pass rush is abysmal, and the run defense and secondary don’t make up for it. London Fletcher leads a pretty good group of Linebackers and they have a couple good corners, if Shaun Springs is healthy. And that’s not likely.

On second thought… Sean Taylor might be the most overrated player in the league.

They might end up around .500 at the end of the year. The defense isn’t as good as it was a couple years ago, but if their offense can put up points, the defense should be adequate enough for them to play spoiler. Someone has to step up on the DL and generate some pressure this year. It’ll make the whole defense better.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: As far as I’m concerned, Tyler Ecker. He’s buried so low on the depth chart he won’t have the chance to make bad plays costing his team the game.

New guy who will meet expectations: LaRon Landry. He hasn’t taken the field yet and he’s already the best safety on the team. He’s going to be a good one.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

NFL Preview: Raiders

Oakland Raiders:

Cheers: Well, they have a good defense. One of the best ones in the league, in fact. Derrick Burgess and a resurgent Warren Sapp were nightmares for QBs last year, and that allowed the secondary, particularly Nmandi Asomugha, to break out. Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison are developing into very good Linebackers.

Jeers: If I had to choose a word to describe their offense, I would say incompetent. Lane Kiffin’s a good coach, but coaching can only do so much. Their Offensive Line is weak, they didn’t do much to improve it, and not only that, they’re not blocking for anyone. The running game is weak and the QB situation is unsettled.

On second thought… they stink again, that doesn’t require another thought. They had to make wholesale changes offensively, and they got a #1 overall pick who’s MIA.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: JaMarcus Russell. If you expect him to take the field, he’s not meeting expectations. He has to end the holdout now and get into practice.

New guy who will meet expectations: Mike Williams. Yeah, I went there. Maybe back in CA under a coach he knows he’ll wise up and improve. I loved the guy at USC, I hope he does.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

NFL Preview: Steelers and Patriots

Pittsburgh Steelers:

Cheers: Dick LeBeau is the youngest looking 70 year old ever. He’s also a great coordinator, who despite losing an (oft-injured) Joey Porter, will be able to put together a great defense. They have some good skill position players, including Willie Parker leading another great Pittsburgh running game, and Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller providing a lot of targets in the passing game.

Jeers: They need to cut down on the mistakes, especially Big Ben. He was a weak link for their team last season, and he has to make better choices and throw fewer picks. Some players on the Offensive Line will also have to step up. After Jeff Hartings retired, they’re making some changes along the Offensive Line, so the new guys will need to step in and do a good job right away.

On second thought… don’t sleep on this team because they finished strong last year and they still have a lot of talent. If Big Ben cuts down on the picks, there will be a good passing game to compliment the run. As long as the secondary can hold up, their defense should be pretty good again.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: William Gay. If you expect him to make plays, the only play you should expect is him to line up offsides on crucial field goal attempts.

New guy who will meet expectations: Lamarr Woodley. He’s a great fit for the OLB position in Pitsburgh’s 3-4 defense. He’s a big, athletic player who has the ability to get to the QB.

New England Patriots:

Cheers: With Bill Belichick, you know you’re going to have a well coached team. Tom Brady is one of the best QBs in the league, and he has a lot more weapons than last year, if everyone can stay healthy. They have one of the best D-lines in baseball and two dangerous pass rushing Linebackers in Thomas and Colvin. They came close to returning to the Super Bowl last year, and they really worked hard to improve the team in the offseason.

Jeers: I would’ve liked to see them bring in another guy to compliment Maroney. I think he could’ve used another year of having a bigger back spell him for a bit, like Dillon did last year. Drafting Brandon Merriweather will help the secondary, but they still could’ve used a little more depth, and I think they dodged a bullet with Samuel agreeing to end his hold out.

On second thought… these guys are probably Super Bowl favorites. They’ve got great talent on both sides of the ball, and after coming just short last year, they reloaded in the offseason. If the receivers can stay healthy, the passing game could be more explosive than ever.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Donte Stallworth. He’s already hurt, hasn’t even practiced much, and he’s going to lose his snaps with all the receivers New England has. He’s essentially working on a one year deal, so his start in New England doesn’t bode well for his future there.

New guy who will meet expectations: Adalius Thomas. This is so obvious because he was a marquee free agent going to a system that’s almost exactly like the one he came from, but he’s going to be good. Tully Banta-Cain was okay, but Thomas is going to generate enormous pressure on opposing QBs.

Monday, August 27, 2007

NFL Preview: Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs:

Cheers: They have a great running game with Larry Johnson. His YPC wasn’t great last year, but he was as reliable as they come. He’s a bruising RB with quick feet who can really finish runs. The Chiefs also feature a pretty good pass rush, with veteran Jared Allen and a young up and comer in Tamba Hali. If they can stave off aging for one more year, Ty Law and Patrick Surtain should manage to stop a lot of receivers.

Jeers: They’ve always had a bad defense, and they didn’t do much to get better. They’re porous against the run, and a bit less against the pass. All of a sudden, their offense isn’t complete either. Trent Green wasn’t good even when he was healthy last year, but they have no passing game to speak of with Brodie Croyle taking over at QB. Their line is falling apart and they haven’t been able to plug in guys for retiring hall of famers.

On second thought… it was pretty lucky that they were able to sneak into the playoffs last year. I don’t see it happening again. Their offense is on the decline and the defense is moving laterally. I expected Herm Edwards to be doing a better job with these guys, but I look at the Chiefs and see a team that’s falling apart and has no direction.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Dwayne Bowe. He was a pretty good player in college, but with as bad as the Chiefs’ receiver situation has been, he’s not going to provide an immediate answer. Besides Antonio Bryant, Kennison might be the worst 1000 yard receiver ever.

New guy who will meet expectations: Donnie Edwards. The Don will dominate again back in KC. He’s been underrated his entire career, and now he’ll have a chance to make plays alongside a rising star in Derrick Johnson. He’s changing systems, but Donnie’s ability will allow him to make a seamless transition.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

NFL Preview: Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals:

Cheers: Here’s another team with a powerful offense and weak defense. Even after suffering a major knee injury, Carson Palmer came back to prove he’s the same great player he was before. Throwing to another deep and talented group of receivers again this year, Palmer will continue to kill opposing defenses. Let’s not forget about their running game; Rudi Johnson puts up good numbers year after year, and he really completes the Bengals’ balanced offense.

Jeers: They’re one of the most incompetent defenses in the league. They have a pretty good pass rush, but that’s where the positives end. Their Linebackers have potential, but they need experience to get better. For someone who was a defensive coach before getting the head job in Cincy, you’d expect Marvin Lewis to do a better job with these guys.

On second thought… in an average division, the Bengals should be there right to the end. Their offense is good enough to score on anybody, and in some weeks, their defense might be able to make some plays. They have to have some young guys step up and play well defensively for the Bengals to get back into the playoffs after falling short last year. The offense is a lock to be there and lighting up the scoreboard every game.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Ed Hartwell. They brought him in to bring experience to the Linebackers, but I’m not sure how much he has left in the tank. He was a heralded free agent out of Baltimore, but he got banged up a bit and struggled after signing in Atlanta. He can stop the run, but he’s a liability in pass coverage.

New guy who will meet expectations: Leon Hall. He inexplicably fell into their laps on draft day, and the Bengals came away with a good corner. He had a great career at Michigan, and he’ll provide depth to a secondary that’s lacking it. He’ll eventually unseat veteran Deltha O’Neal and form one of the better younger corner duos in the league with Johnathan Joseph.

NFL Preview: Saints

New Orleans Saints

Cheers: After a rough 2005 season for obvious reasons, the Saints committed to bringing football back to New Orleans, and they did so in a big way. With Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush providing a great running game and Drew Brees leading the aerial attack, the Saints have one of the best offenses in football. Surprise performances from Marques Colston and Jahri Evans helped catapult the Saints from second to worst to almost first.

Jeers: Their defense, save a pretty good pass rush, stunk, and they sat on their hands a bit too much in the offseason. They got pretty fluky performances up the middle from Hollis Thomas and Mark Simoneau, and leaving those positions un-upgraded is asking for trouble. Their secondary got hurt by big plays last year, and they didn’t do enough to help them out either.

On second thought… they’re still one of the best teams in the NFC and a definite Super Bowl contender. The offense is so good, the defense only has to be marginal for the Saints to win games. They have a good coaching staff and they know how to get the most out of otherwise scrap heap players.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Jason David. This was their big splash or whatever to improve the secondary, and he’s an average player. He’s not going to repair a bad patchwork secondary. He’s a fresh face, and after last year, that might be something to be excited about, but I don’t see the Saints defensive backfield being any better next year.

New guy who will meet expectations: Eric Johnson. If he can stay healthy, he’s a really good, underrated player. If there was one weak spot on the Saints’ offense last year, it was their lack of production from the TE position. Johnson is a legitimate receiving threat and he occasionally showed that before being shown the door.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Eagles @ Steelers Preview

The Eagles will have their dress rehearsal preseason game, in which the starters get the most playing time. Next week against the Jets, you probably won’t see any starters, and the backups will get their last shot to prove they deserve to make the cut. After the game in which the starters play a whole half or even more, you want to come away confident that they’re ready for the regular season. If these three matchups turn out successful, I’m confident the Eagles are ready to go.

Donovan McNabb vs. Pittsburgh pass rush- He did a good job in the game against Carolina, and it would be great to see a similar effort from McNabb again. He was sharp throwing the ball, his mobility wasn’t limited and he took a couple hits and bounced right up. The 3-4 can bring some interesting blitzes, so McNabb has to be ready for anything. I don’t know how much Pittsburgh will bring pressure in a preseason game, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Jamaal Jackson vs. Casey Hampton- Jackson struggled a bit against Haloti Ngata in Baltimore’s sometimes 3-4 defense in the first game, and blocking the nose tackle is the key to success against the 3-4. This has been an Achilles heel of the Eagles of recent year, and Jackson has to be the guy to step up and help fix the problem.

Eagles’ front seven vs. Pittsburgh running game- Obviously it’s going to be interesting to see how the Eagles do without Trotter. Pittsburgh has, always has and always will have a great running game. Willie Parker is a complete back that can hurt you in a lot of ways, so the Eagles need to show that we’re watching the same movie from last year, and we didn’t like how that one ended. Omar Gaither is going to need to show the fans that he’s capable of doing the job because a lot of people are upset at letting go of Trotter.

Three more players to watch:

Nick Cole- In the replace Shawn Andrews roulette, everything’s coming up Cole this week. It’s his turn to start with the 1’s after a strong game against Carolina. He played RG very well, despite Pat McCoy making it look like he wasn’t doing a very good job. He blew guys off the ball and showed he’s a pretty good run blocker. He deserves the chance to show what he can do.

Ian Scott- If he plays, with the exception of Ramsey, who wasn’t going to be dressed on game day anyway, the Eagles will have all of the DTs for the first time in the preseason. We signed him with the intention of him playing pretty well against the run. He’s a bit bigger than our other tackles, and he’s going to have to show he can hang tough and improve the middle of the defense.

Brian Dawkins- He’s finally expected to play after dealing with a leg injury for much of camp. I don’t know how much he’ll play, but hopefully he shows he can move around and won’t be affected by the injury. Hopefully he was being held out for a while as a precaution and this won’t be something that lingers throughout the season.

NFL Preview: Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Cheers: If you believe in a strong running game and defense winning you championships, then the Jaguars are contenders to you. Maurice Drew and Fred Taylor provide one of the best running duos in the league, and they have a pretty good line to open holes for them. They have a great defense with Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams being one of the better corner pairs in the league. In addition to them, they can get a good pass rush from the outside and their tackles are huge run stuffers.

Jeers: They have to stay healthy and they have to get something out of their passing game. Between taking sacks and getting hurt, Byron Leftwich hasn’t developed into the player everyone thought he could be. His receivers haven’t helped much, but with Dennis Northcutt in the fold, the passing game has no excuse to not get better. It’s time for them to make the leap and become a good playoff team. They’ve been a fringe playoff team for a few years now, and they need to get over the hump.

On second thought… I sit here looking at the numbers from last year, and I can’t figure out why they weren’t a playoff team. They had one of the best defenses in the league and a pretty strong running game. I find it hard to believe that David Garrard was that detrimental, but I guess he had to have been. Although Dennis Northcutt obviously isn’t an upper echelon player, his speed compliments Leftwich’s ability more than the other, maybe more talented receivers do, and he’ll help out a lot.

New guy who won’t meet expectations: Tony Pashos. I am absolutely baffled that this guy is getting a starting job after he was nothing but mediocre in Baltimore. Baltimore thought so little of him that they got rid of him, and they don’t have a world beating line themselves. I don’t see them getting much of an upgrade at tackle here.

New guy who will meet expectations: Dennis Northcutt. I’ve already talked about him twice, and it’s getting to the point where I’m giving him too much credit. He’s a speedy receiver who will do well with the starting job and Leftwich’s strong arm. He could be the guy that helps the slumbering pass offense wake up.