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.