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Super Bowl Predictions: Five Stat-Free Reasons Why the Eagles Will Reach The Super Bowl

Published: January 9, 2010

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Sometimes in sports, you just gotta believe.

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough to maintain journalistic integrity. Nor is voodoo magic—unless you’re a Saints fan, in which case you can take the bag off.

But while as a fan I want to believe the Eagles can make the Super Bowl, the fact is that as a journalist, I truly CAN believe the Eagles can get there.

Sure, you can throw out numbers and stats and visual facts to disclaim that. I could do the same for any other team.

But it’s always the intangibles that make a good situation great, and the Eagles have five on their side that could be an unwitting boon to their preparation and game planning in their quest to fly south for the winter.

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Fourth Quarter Report Card: Defense and Special Teams

Published: January 7, 2010

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To put it mildly, the fourth quarter wasn’t a banner one for the Eagles defense.

There was the Giants game, where they gave up 38 points and over 500 yards of offense—including two 60-yard-plus passing touchdowns.

There was the Broncos game, where they gave up 20 second-half points and needed a ridiculous interception by Asante Samuel to keep that total from growing. Sure, they were in a couple tight spots in the second half, but after dominating the first, they looked terrible.

And then there was the Dallas debacle.

At least they had one good one—a three-sack, three-pick effort against San Francisco that, outside of an apparently sleepwalked-through third quarter, was quite a show…yet still, it was the only time this year the Birds allowed a 100-yard rusher.

See what I mean? Even in victory, there were issues.

Let’s see how those issues grade out in our final defensive report card.

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Fourth Quarter Report Card: Offense

Published: January 6, 2010

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Although it wasn’t as strong as they had hoped, the Philadelphia Eagles did finish the 2009 season strong.

For the second straight quarter the Birds went 3-1, but the only loss was a heartbreaking shutout in Dallas that earned the Cowboys the division title and the Birds the title of “road warriors.”

As the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs, they’ll have to win three games away from The Linc to make it to Miami.

But can they get there?

Let’s see how the Birds’ offense grades out for the final marking period of the 2009 campaign.

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Denver’s Josh McDaniels Is The Poster Boy For “Too Much, Too Soon”

Published: January 5, 2010

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It’s been a trying season for Josh McDaniels for various reasons. At the tender age of 33, he was thrust into the role of NFL head coach last winter—and at least as far as his team’s fan base is concerned, has failed miserably so far.

So it begs the question—is there such a thing as being too young or inexperienced to be an NFL head coach?

I think so, and thanks to his latest brilliant idea of benching Brandon Marshall—which may have ostensibly cost Denver any shot they had of making the playoffs—McDaniels is the poster boy for proving the point.

See, with age and experience come a certain maturity and panache for handling players, team personnel, and opponents. But when you’re younger than a quarter of your roster, it’s almost impossible to possess those qualities.

McDaniels has now exhibited that lack of knowledge three times this season.

The first came almost immediately after he was hired, when a tiff between him and Jay Cutler got so heated that the “franchise passer” the Broncos had previously alienated the adequately capable Jake Plummer for was jettisoned to Chicago for…a few draft picks and the adequately capable Kyle Orton.

Then, there was the alleged incident with the San Diego Chargers, where McDaniels allegedly claimed “we own you.” Even if it went as McDaniels claimed—that the “owned” comment referred to his past with the Patriots—it was out of line. Outside of Ty Law and Jabar Gaffney, how many guys on the Broncos’ roster even ever played for the Pats? Exactly.

And now, finally, with the season on the brink of collapse, McDaniels benched his best offensive player. Sure, Gaffney had a big day in his absence, and the defense resembled little more than an obstacle course for Jamaal Charles, but there’s no way you can’t tell me having a two-time Pro Bowl receiver who is barely in his prime wasn’t a huge loss.

All because Marshall was late to an injury treatment session?

Please. There’s more to it, and both McDaniels and Marshall know it, and Marshall also knows that he’ll most likely be suiting up somewhere other than Denver next year. Which means unless they draft Jerry Rice or Joe Montana next year, this “new era” of mediocre football will continue for at least another couple years.

After all, the sum total of McDaniels’ efforts was an 8-8 season where the team started strong, collapsed and missed the playoffs. Sort of like 2008 with alleged fossil Mike Shanahan at the helm.

But hey, when you’re young and don’t know what you’re doing, bad decisions and immaturity seem acceptable—unless you’re Mike Tomlin, but he’s a special case of a young guy succeeding.

If I were an NFL GM, I wouldn’t even look at a guy who hasn’t been in the game for more than 10 years—especially one with so little experience above assistant to an assistant—to be the savior of my franchise.

To wit, I offer you two resumes, and urge you to pick the one lesser qualified to be an NFL head coach.

No. 1: Played HS ball for his daddy. Went to a Division III school where he had to switch positions to get playing time. Got graduate assistantship in college based on a connection from his daddy. Moved onto a defensive assistant job elsewhere based on another connection and spent eight years there (two as a coordinator) before being hired as a head coach.

No. 3: Played high school ball for a local legend and was a three-year starter for a two-time state champion. Three-year starter at Division I-AA school and then became a grad assistant there. Moved on to take lower assistantship at another level based on a previous connection, spending four years there (two as a coordinator) before being hired as a head coach.

Take away names and levels, and those resumes look very similar, don’t they? Clearly, the latter was a better player (and probably a few years younger) yet the former is very privileged.

I suppose I shouldn’t have to tell you that behind door number one is, in fact, McDaniels.

For those who are counting, the second one is Tom Lennon—the current head coach at Seymour (CT) High School and a guy I graduated high school with 12 years ago.

But hey, clearly, as long as you know the right people, you’ll be fine regardless of how much you know.

Unless you’re black, in which case you’ll get a token interview before they hire the guy they really want…but that’s another story I’ve already written.

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The 2009 Philadelphia Eagles Are What We Thought They Were After All

Published: January 4, 2010

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To borrow an infamous phrase from Dennis Green, the Philadelphia Eagles “are who we thought they were.”

What is that? A team that can’t run the ball, struggles on defense against well-balanced teams, and exhibits some horrible play-calling and clock management in key situations.

And that, at least for this week, is a good thing.

Gone is the six-game winning streak that brought the Birds to the brink of the NFC East title. In the blink of an eye, they went from looking at a first-round bye to a second straight No.6 seed; from a week off to having to face the Cowboys in Dallas twice in six days.

But let’s not be fooled.

After all, that six-game winning streak was full of last-second comebacks, thrilling offensive plays, and, well, victories over mediocre teams. Not a single team in that stretch made the playoffs, and only Atlanta finished better than 8-8.

In short, it wasn’t all skill, and it had to come to an end sometime…and it’s better that it was sooner rather than later.

See, by losing now, what do the Eagles actually lose? Okay, yes, home-field advantage, the division title, and a bye. All big things, sure, but their season lives on.

And while Birds fans are upset, disappointed, disgusted—name your adjective, really—about what happened in Big D on Sunday, the reality is this: Maybe now the team will learn from it.

For everything the Birds did right over the last month-and-change, all the bad habits thought to be gone resurfaced.

The deep threat passing game was all but missing; DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin had one big 30-yard play each, and that was it outside of Brent Celek exploiting a busted coverage.

That’s due at least in part to Donovan McNabb, who looked like the bumbling Donovan whose head is always on the chopping block. He consistently overthrew or underthrew receivers all night, including a early bomb to Jackson that would’ve given the Pro Bowler his record ninth 60-yard touchdown catch.

He also put a ton of balls in places where his receivers would have to be Stretch Armstrong to make a successful catch, sots where the only outcomes were drops or big hits. The most egregious was late bomb to Maclin, who simply put his head down to avoid an onrushing defender instead of trying to make a catch—and getting hung out to dry like yesterday’s laundry in the process.

Oh yeah, and then there was that first-half fumble in the red zone.

Beyond that, the rushing game (which has been improved if still bad as of late) went from disappointing to non-existent. Even with the return of Brian Westbrook, the Eagles only rushed the ball 10 times for 27 yards. That’s not even bad, that’s pathetic.

Then there was the defense.

While the Eagles gained only 228 offensive yards all day, the Cowboys shredded their top 10 defense for 291 before the half, 474 overall. The usually stout run defense allowed 182 yards on 29 carries—that’s more than six per, if you’re counting—and the ballhawking secondary got burned going for the pick on numerous occasions instead of, you know, actually trying to defend.

And to top it off, David Akers—who had statistically the best season of his career in 2009—missed a 52-yard field goal, something that has long been the bane of his existence.

They are what we thought they were: a team that will beat those they’re better than and lose to those those they aren’t. 11-5…with an 11-1 record against teams 10-6 or worse and an 0-4 mark against this 11-5 or better.

So how is this all good?

Well, for one, the Birds won’t have to worry about needing a 10-game win streak to win the Super Bowl. There have already been three in the NFL this year, and while the Colts and Saints semi-intentionally choked theirs away, the Chargers will need to make it 14 straight if they want to leave Miami as NFL Champions. That’s not easy.

Secondly, they can adjust.

In the midst of that barrage, they saw Dallas’ hand. Maybe Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel won’t go for the pick so often next Saturday, and maybe Quintin Mikell will actually do his job at safety.

And maybe, just maybe, they might actually try to run the ball to set up that big play offense. If they think you’re passing all the time, there should be an opening for Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy somewhere.

So while the Dallas Cowboys may have “crowned their asses”—and crowned themselves division champs in the process—the Eagles lost the one thing they needed to: the air of invincibility.

They’re mortal. They know they can lose.

That makes them scrappy. Just like last year, when they were the NFC East runners-up and No. 6 seed in the playoffs—where Arizona was the No. 4 seed and the No. 1 seed was a team that dominated early and faded late.

You remember what happened then, right?

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 17 Playoff Scenarios

Published: January 3, 2010

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I believe they will end up with the No. 2 seed. They control their own destiny, and with the division title at stake, they will come out firing on Sunday.

Remember, last year the Birds snuck into the sixth spot with a 44-6 thrashing of Dallas.

Will it happen again?

If it does, the Birds will have a week off.

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Why The Eagles Got Effed When The Jets and Bengals Got Flexed

Published: December 30, 2009

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The answer to the titular query is quite simple: Eagles versus Cowboys is—and at 8:20 pm Sunday still will be—the most important game of the week.

Oh, so you want reasons?


I’ve heard the arguments. And I will concede that Jets versus Bengals very well could be a huge game.

It might also not be as big as you think.

First of all, look at what you have in Eagles-Cowboys: A game that at worst will determine the NFC East Champion and at best could also be for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

The Eagles control their own destiny for the No. 2 seed, and hold the tiebreaker against Minnesota. Should Minnesota lose, a Dallas victory could also earn them the first-round bye, as it would come down to a strength of victory tiebreaker (or lower).

Does it get any bigger than that? I think not.

But as for arguments against it, there are many.

You can say that in most weeks, FOX and CBS can choose games to protect from flexing…but not in Week 17.

You can say that there’s a contractual provision requiring NBC to flex an equal number of FOX and CBS games by the end of their contract, and they’re a few up on the FOX side. But that contract runs out in 2013, giving them four more seasons to “balance.” Plus, they could’ve picked a lot better matchup (one out of the AFC, perhaps), than that Dallas-Washington snoozer.

You can also say that Dallas was on last week and Eagles-Cowboys was already a SNF game in Week Nine. Both true, but I again refer to the previous poor choice of Dallas versus Washington, and also say that the flex option was inserted to give fans the best possible games, not assuage feelings.

To that point, you can also say that the Jets and Bengals haven’t had a SNF game yet, while both Philly and Dallas have had three. True…but the Saints haven’t been on SNF at all, and the Packers, Patriots, and Chargers all have one appearance apiece.

That’s all moot.

What you can’t say, however, is that Jets versus Bengals will even have meaning for both teams come Sunday night.

The Jets, of course, can earn a playoff berth if they win regardless of what happens around them.

However, while the Bengals have clinched the AFC North, they’re fighting for either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. If they tie the Patriots, the tiebreaker will come down to strength of victory.

If the Patriots defeat Houston, the Bengals will have to win to tie them at 11-5. Then, it will all depend on how the remaining games of the week work out to see how that goes.

As of now, the Patriots have a (four or five)-game edge; counting next week’s games as wins (thus giving the Jets an 8-8 record), the current marks are 73-89 for the teams the Pats have defeated versus (68-98 or 69-97) for teams the Bengals have beaten.

So, if even half of seven non-common teams the Patriots have beaten (those being Buffalo, Miami, Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa, Carolina, or Jacksonville) somehow win, the Pats will have that tiebreaker in the bag, meaning Cincinnati will be playing for nothing.

That means that what you have is a lame-duck team playing one that just beat one last week.

Instead of a game that will be for the division and could be for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

At least I’ll be able to watch the big game in the New York metro area, as it was flexed to 4:15 so it will be opposite the Giants.

Too bad the entire country won’t get to share in my joy; I’m sure those fans who get to watch Chicago vs. Detroit will have a blast.

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The Six Philadelphia Eagles Most Deserving of a Flight To the Pro Bowl

Published: December 28, 2009

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Anyway, Pro Bowl voting came to a close last week, and the participants in the Jan. 31 game will be announced on Tuesday.

It’s a new era for the game, which for the first time will be played on the Sunday before the Super Bowl this season. However, one thing won’t change: the teams announced tomorrow will most likely look a lot different from the ones that take the field.

This season, however, that caveat will have an added twist—players from teams who make the Super Bowl will not play in the all-star exhibition, meaning more spots than usual could be up for grabs.

If these rules were in place last season, eight players—including half of the NFC’s starting skill players—would have had to miss the game. Five Cardinals and three Steelers were voted into the game, with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald winning the MVP.

Good thing, right? Pittsburgh may have won the Lombardi Trophy, but the Cards at least got something.

Whatever. The fans seem to care even less about the Pro Bowl than the players, but ultimately, every Eagles fan would like to have that problem and see the Birds miss the Pro Bowl completely.

But as they say, it’s an honor just to be nominated, and for a lot of guys, it could trigger contract bonuses.

So with six weeks to go before the NFL’s “best” earn a trip to Miami, I bring to you the six Eagles most deserving of said vacation.

And as a side note, all stats listed are through Week 14 and DO NOT COUNT Sunday’s win over the Broncos. The voting didn’t, so I didn’t either.

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Home for the Holidays: Looking at Brian Dawkins’ Return to Philadelphia

Published: December 26, 2009

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They say you can’t go home again. They also say there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Both are true in the case of Brian Dawkins, who, on Sunday, will once again walk out onto the field that he patrolled for 13 years.  

Only this time, he will do so wearing colors other than Eagle green—Bronco blue, to be exact. And given his age and the whims of the NFL schedulers, it may just be the last time B-Dawk digs his cleats into the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.

Yet in a stadium where even the home team gets booed lustily at times, odds are better than excellent he’ll receive the biggest ovation of all.

And why shouldn’t he? For a baker’s dozen worth of seasons, Dawkins’ presence out in “center field” was the heart and soul of an Eagles defense that consistently ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL. He made seven Pro Bowls, nearly won a Super Bowl and became one of only four defensive backs in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career.

But he’s hardly the NFL’s version of the Prodigal Son; in fact, he never wanted to leave.

When asked about his departure in a Wednesday conference call, Dawkins told reporters that “It was an emotional thing” that took time to get over, but he understands that “it is what it is … I’m a Denver Bronco now.”

Certainly, that’s understandable. Again, he’s one of the all-time greats and will most likely be enshrined in Canton by the end of the next decade.

But as current (and twice former) Eagle Jeremiah Trotter can attest to, all the success and loyalty in the world means nothing if Andy Reid and the Birds’ brass don’t think you can produce at a high enough level.

And so, on Mar. 1, B-Dawk found himself somewhere he had never been: A roster other than Philadelphia’s.

The Eagles were willing to offer him a one-year deal to retire as an Eagle, but Dawkins felt he could still play in this league. So when he hit the market and Denver offered him a five-year, $17 million deal, he had no choice but to take his game 2500 miles west.

Usually, the Eagles are right in this scenario. Bobby Taylor, for instance, was jettisoned at the ripe age of 30 after the 2003 season. He played one lackluster year in Seattle and retired while his replacement, Lito Sheppard, became a two-time Pro Bowler.

Jevon Kearse, who had 22 sacks in four years, was allowed to walk after an injury plagued final two seasons. He’s been a decent backup for the Titans, but his Eagles replacement (Juqua Thomas) has notched 16.5 sacks since taking over as the starting right defensive end in November 2007.

Even Troy Vincent, who had a decent couple seasons as Buffalo’s free safety after his release, had to change positions and leagues to stay afloat.

But in Dawkins case, he has so far proven to be the exception to this rule.

So far in 2009, Dawkins has two picks, 11 passes defensed and 100 total tackles, which is a career high. Perhaps more importantly, though, his addition (along with a few others) has helped turn the Broncos’ defense around.

Last year, the Horses were No. 29 in yards allowed and gave up the third-most points in the NFL. However, they will come into Philly this Sunday in the Top Six in both categories for 2009.

So could B-Dawk see a return to Philly a la Trotter, who came back after two seasons with the Redskins and then re-signed once again this fall?

Unlikely. While the Broncos can terminate his deal after next season, the situation is a catch-22. Dawkins will turn 37 next October, and if he is available, it means he’s declined enough for Denver not to want to give him the little money he’d be owed in 2011.

Even if he does stay, if the NFL’s current scheduling rules stay put, Denver won’t return to the Linc again until 2017. By then, Dawkins could have a permanent residence in Canton depending on when he retires.

That doesn’t mean he won’t forget where he came from, though.

“Just because you move on does not mean you leave all your family behind. I’m constantly talking with Quintin Mikell and [Brian] Westbrook and Sheldon [Brown] from time to time.”

In an Eagles’ season that has already seen several homecoming moments, the return of No. 20 might not leave a dry eye in the stadium—something that is uncharacteristic in the City of Brotherly Love.

As Mikell said to reporters this week, Dawkins’ return is “a chance for him to see what I’ve been able to do and what he’s helped build here with me. It’s almost like when your big brother goes away to college and he comes back.”

It will be emotional…until kickoff, when those same misty fans will witness something else they never thought they’d lay eyes on: An Eagle offense trying to dismantle “Weapon X.”

Hey, eventually the big brother has to be beaten, right?

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Is LeSean McCoy’s Eagles Rookie Rushing Record A Milestone Or A Curse?

Published: December 22, 2009

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It’s easy for rushing milestones to get lost in the offensive blitz that it the Philadelphia Eagles. After all, through 15 weeks they’re ranked 21st in the NFL in rushing and were, at one point not too long ago, as low as No. 30.

But in the midst of their 116-yard performance Sunday against the 49ers, an important one was set. LeSean McCoy’s 48 yards gave him 606 for the season and giving him the new franchise record for rushing yards in a season by a rookie.

Oddly enough, of all the good to great running backs that the Eagles have had that they drafted—from Steve Van Buren and Wilbert Montgomery to Duce Staley and Brian Westbrook—the record was held by the man McCoy ostensibly replaced: Correll Buckhalter. Now a Denver Bronco, Buckhalter had 586 yards in 2001 while splitting time with Duce Staley.

In fact, McCoy was actually fifth on the list before the game, passing three other luminaries as well as Buckhalter to become the new standard bearer.

The question is this, though: Will this be a blessing or a curse?

After all, McCoy fits the mold of recent Eagles running back draftees: Decent college back selected a year or two before the previous incumbent outlives his usefulness, so to speak.

The problem, however, is that he could very easily fall into the mold of the four guys he surpassed on Sunday to take the rookie record.

Of all the highly-selected backs in the recent past, none of them have had the baptism by fire that McCoy has experienced this year.

Duce Staley, who was the Birds’ featured back for five seasons, was selected in 1997—the last of Ricky Watters’ three great years in green. Duce only got seven carries as a rookie, but then had three 1000-yard seasons in the next five.

Next came Brian Westbrook, who was drafted in 2002—which ended up being the last of Staley’s big seasons. He had 193 yards that year, and while B-West wasn’t a blow away runner until four years later, his incredible versatility made him one of the Top 10 Overall Backs of the decade.

Going back slightly further, you’ll find that franchise rushing leader Wilbert Montgomery—who was drafted in 1977 and had three 1200-plus yard seasons between 1978 and 1981—only had 183 yards as a rookie while backing up Mike Hogan.  

Now look at the other side of the coin.

Buckhalter had a good rookie season splitting time with Staley, and was part of a three-headed attack with Duce and Westbrook that gained over 1600 yards in 2003. But he missed three full seasons, became a backup and, until this year, never eclipsed the yardage total he had in his first year.

The guy in third place on the rookie rushing list, Keith Byars, was good for about 500 yards a year throughout his Eagle career. But he became better known for being a prototypical H-Back, acting as more of a weapon in the passing game—he actually led the team in receiving yards in 1989 and 1990 and his total of 819 yards in 1990.

The other two guys in the Top Five, Po James and the aforementioned Hogan, had a combined 1126 yards as rookies—and then less than 2000 total for the rest of their careers. Both were out of the league by age 27, and if McCoy even equals whatever his 2009 total ends up being next year, he’ll pass Po’s career total.

The Eagles, as well as their fans, hope McCoy falls in the former category as the exception, not in the latter as a rule.  

After all, Westbrook is 30 and coming off a pair of concussions that cost him 10 games this season, and a triggered clause in his thought-to-be-lengthy contract means he will be a free agent after 2010. Even then, his $7.25-million non-guaranteed base for next year makes him a prime target to be cut.

While you’d like to think that the Birds would give him a chance to become the franchise’s all-time rushing leader—he’s about 600 yards shy of the mark right now—last year’s Brian Dawkins debacle proves that Andy Reid isn’t one to make emotional decisions.

But the way the Eagles have become a vertical passing team as of late, you wonder if they won’t just stick with a multi-back system. Leonard Weaver has emerged this year, Westbrook should still have another season, and Eldra Buckley could end up being very useful in the future.

You’d like to think McCoy will be at least the co-feature back next year and grow into the No. 1 role beyond that—which will hopefully make his rookie rushing record look all that much better when he’s done.

Let’s just hope it’s not because he ends up becoming the Charlie Garner or Buckhalter to someone else’s Staley or Westbrook.

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