Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More Evidence that I'm Not Alone

Most people tend to rush to the defense of Andy Reid, calling him a "great coach" because of our many trips to the playoffs (Buddy Ryan went to the playoffs a lot too). Anyway, as I've cited previously, Andy's play calling and on field leadership is suspect, at best; that's why he is always outcoached in big games (big games tend to feature the best coaches, so his deficiencies become more obvious). Saturday was no exception - a great example was his terrible play calling on that critical short yardage play down on the Saints' goal line early in the 4th Q.

This analysis is from Tuesday Morning Quarterback (written by Gregg Easterbrook) and is exactly what I've been saying:

"Lowlight of the game: Trailing 27-21, Philadelphia faced third-and-1 on the New Orleans 4 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Eagles rushed for 6.2 yards per carry in this game: just run the ball and the first down is likely. Instead, the Eagles pass, loss of yardage, field goal and the visitors never penetrated New Orleans territory again. Just run the ball! Especially since in this situation, any result except a loss of yardage and a fourth-down run is a high percentage play, too. TMQ has done numerous items on how the pass-wacky Andy Reid seems to think that only passing yardage counts. Down at the goal line in a game in which the Eagles rushed well, Reid didn't want a rushing touchdown, he wanted a passing touchdown -- the sports press treats passing success as evidence of coaching genius, while viewing rushing success as just bump-and-grind. Reid's tragic flaw, his desire for passing numbers, may have cost the Eagles a postseason win. This isn't important enough to call Greek tragedy. Maybe it rises to the level of Albanian tragedy."

Not only is this analysis hilarious, but it seems to be written with the same frustration as I feel, not only about that play but also about Reid's decisions in general. Reid has been completely obsessed with passing, and we've lost many games because of it. He always, always wants to pass on 3rd and short. He's so intent on being tricky and cute about short yardage situations rather than just jamming down the opponent's throat. True, the Saints' defense was stopping the run up the middle for most of the game, but not the run outside, and passing that close to the goal is always tough.

How long are we going to ignore this stupidity? I need to do some research on Andy's 3rd down success rate compared to the League average. More to come...

Predictable End to an Unpredictable Season

Since Saturday night, I have been so disgusted that I have been trying to avoid even thinking about football. I haven't watched any football since, and I AM NOT WATCHING THE SUPER BOWL. I woke up Sunday morning in a fog, actually trying to think of ways that the Birds could still make it to the Super Bowl this year. They lured me once again into thinking that this could be the year we do it, a magical alignment of the stars that seems to bless every other franchise from time to time. This year, that franchise at least in the NFC, appears to be the Saints.

Will it ever be the Birds time? As I've been saying for years, not under Andy Reid it won't. Andy is quickly becoming Marty Schottenheimer. Although his coaching wasn't nearly as weak as it has been in his other playoff loses, he certainly didn't do anything to help the cause. I believe that we have a better, or at least as good of a team, as the Saints this season. The Birds had played hard over the last 6 weeks and were likely very tired. They played like it at least. So, it really came down to coaching, and it's obvious which coach is a winner and which one is not - Sean Payton takes the prize.

Even though I've already done it in my head, it's not worth going through all the plays that brought the Birds to those final disappointing (but oh so typical!) minutes of the game, but overall the teams were pretty evenly-matched. The biggest problem we had was the same problem we had against the Giants - we got handily beaten on the lines. The O-line couldn't stop the Saints bum rush and the D-line couldn't get any penetration - the sacks we did have were coverage sacks. I do think our secondary did a nice job considering no one was open. The Saints were just bigger, stronger men than the Birds were and shoved it down our throats.

Despite the Saints controlling the tempo of the game for the most part, we still had some key opportunities late in the game. So, the most crucial point in the game? 2nd and 1 on the Saints 4 YL with 12 minutes left in the 4th Quarter...and what happened? ANDY REID FOOTBALL BABY! The same BS that occurred the previous week (and really throughout Reid's tenure in Philly - "tricky plays" in short yardage situations). Here's how it played out:

2nd and 1 at NO 4 (12:38) - B.Westbrook right end to NO 4 for no gain (W.Smith).
3rd and 1 at NO 4 (11:57) J.Garcia pass short right to T.Tapeh to NO 6 for -2 yards (S.Fujita).
4th and 3 at NO 6 (11:12) D.Akers 24 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-J.Dorenbos, Holder-K.Detmer.

So, we settled for another FG goal just like we did in the Giants game , and it turned out to be (as I thought it would be at the time), the decisive point in the game. WE NEEDED THAT TOUCHDOWN and a great coach should have known that. A pass to Tapeh? Who...what? Why pass at all? Why not use the biggest O-line in football to jam it down their throats? Or what not bootleg Garcia? Or try Brook again outside? Reid loves to pass on 3rd and short, but it never seems to work, especially when the field is so tight on the goalline. Put Nick Cole and plow someone over if necessary. The Saints are not THAT great on the line. Let your team have a shot at being the bigger man.

Then of course, things went from bad to worse. We were fortunate enough to get the ball back after the Reggie Bush fumble with a great opportunity to march down to tie the game. So, our wonderful play selection was as follows:

1st and 10 at PHI 44 (3:18) (Shotgun) J.Garcia pass short left to B.Westbrook to PHI 43 for -1 yards (F.Thomas).
2nd and 11 at PHI 43 (2:37) B.Westbrook right end to PHI 44 for 1 yard (S.Fujita).
3rd and 10 at PHI 44 (2:02) (Shotgun) J.Garcia pass incomplete short right to B.Westbrook [S.Fujita].

3 plays to Westbrook. Andy, listen up: The Saints heard about Westbrook before this game, and they were obviously keying on him and shutting him down for the most part in the second half. Give it to someone else. Our passing game was working. Stallworth and Reggie were open most of the game, and what about LJ? LJ was completely underutilized. Then, 4th and long after the false start penalty, we all know what happened next: we punt...WE PUNT?? Well, that was the game. We went out with a whimper. I'm sorry, you can argue for Andy's decision all you want.. Dave Spadaro was on WIP this morning defending Andy and hailing this season as a success, but there is no way you punt in that situation. Our Defense was exhausted and couldn't stop the Saints' running game the entire second half. Basically, we had one last shot to get 15 yards. Andy blew it.

The bottom line is that the Saints played an overall better game, controlling the clock and seem to be a tighter organization at this moment. Yes, we were tired and yes, losing Andrews in the second half was huge, but we still could have won that game despite all of that. A few key coaching decisions and you have a 28-27 victory.

I still need to go on one more anti-Reid tirade before next season so more later...

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Birds Didn't Bring their A-Game, but...

...we didn't have to, what, with Koy Detmer back holding the ball during kicks and all. Was anyone a little worried when Akers set up to kick that ball? Remember the days when a 38-yarder was automatic? whoa. Akers cried again after making the kick, which was heartwarming and all...for people in Arizona maybe. Come on, David, this is Philly! But congrats to Green Akers for having nerves of steel in the pouring rain. He must be more comfortable with Detmer there. Good move by management bringing him back.

The Giants did bring their A-game however. They came ready to play yesterday, you have to give them that. The stats match up nearly perfectly across the board - Garcia and Manning had about 160 yards passing each, the Brook and Tiki had about 140 yards rushing each, time of possession about 30 min each. Amazing. I have the overall impression however that we're just a better team despite the stats...coaching may be the difference, although I sort of hate to say that.


The Birds O-line was getting shredded most of the day. Come on, can we give Garcia a little time to throw please? Garcia's numbers would have been a lot stronger had he been afforded more than 1.5 seconds to make a decision before scrambling for his life. The pocket was collasping around him all day, and the WRs weren't getting great separation to help the situation either (Reggie and Donte played well when they were open however so I'm not knocking them). Not sure what went wrong there - it didn't appear that the Giants were blitzing a lot. Their front four were just pushing harder, it seems.

Also, I'm not sure what the play-calling duties were but I loved the heaping load of Brook. Can't say enough about this game-changing, hard-running, ass-kicking RB we have. Brook loves running to the right: 8 runs to the right for 117 yards. I need to study the break-down over the course of the season, but he's much stronger on the right side than left. I wonder if that's because Runyan and Andrews are just better run blockers? Speaking of Runyan, what a beast, but yikes, anyone think we dodged a bullet not having him ejected? Back to play calling - my guess is that Andy and Marty shared play calling duties. Why? Because we had good success with our running game - biggest line in the league after all - so what did we do in the 2nd quarter when it was First and Goal on the Giants 4? We did this:

1st and 4 at NYG 4 J.Garcia pass incomplete short middle to L.Smith.
2nd and 4 at NYG 4 J.Garcia scrambles right tackle to NYG 1 for 3 yards.
3rd and 1 at NYG 1 J.Garcia pass incomplete short right to H.Baskett.

THREE PASSING PLAYS! That choice assortment of tricky pass plays had Andy Reid written all over it. Why pass 3 times when (1) it's the most difficult place to pass on the field (no space, no lanes to throw), (2) you have the biggest line in football, and (3) the running game is already working? That's signature Andy Reid football everybody. Whatever. If he's not abundantly aware of how wrong he's been all of these years about WRs and Running backs, then he's dumber than he is fat.


The same problem as on offense: we got owned on the line. Eli's uniform was basically clean at the end of the game. We were obviously concerned about Tiki running wild, but he did that anyway. Why we didn't blitz the snot out of Eli and rattle him is beyond me. Remember when we made Eli a human pinball a few years ago when Eli made his debut? Well, Eli remembers that too. He already looks scared out there, all we needed to do was hit him a couple times early and it was over. The secondary did a nice job overall covering their talented WRs, but at the same time we didn't seem to be double covering Plaxico which made no sense to me. Anyway, I won't question Jim Johnson very much, as he's the master of all he surveys IMO. The front 4 need to play much better next week or we're done.

More later....

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Giant-Eagles Last Minute Prediction (i.e. Guess)

All bets are off now that the playoffs are here. I think that both of these NFC East rivals have major weaknesses, but the Birds have less problems than the Giants at this point. The G-men are riddled with injuries for one thing - in particular Strahan is out, and their record is terrible when he's not playing.

Defensively, Jim Johnson seems to have Eli's number, and considering Eli's lack of progress as a technical QB over the last few years, a good blitz scheme like we used against Dallas should confuse him enough to throw his rhythm off. So, the key will likely be how much muscle we have in stopping Tiki. Our run D has improved so much since the early part of the year, that I feel pretty confident about it right now.

Offensively, I see the same issue as always: Brook, Brook and more Brook. I hope he gets many carries today. If Garcia can dink and dunk our way down the field on passing downs, we can distract the Giants D enough to let Brook run wild at key times. Reggie Brown and Stallworth need to work hard today to make things easier on Garcia too.

So, bottom line is that I see the Birds winning 27-20 in a game that's not as close as that may sound.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Garcia v. McNabb

WIP is buzzing with talk of a QB controversy in Philly now that Garcia has shown us how this West Coast offense is supposed to be run and has inspired many players to step up and compete. I'm not saying that there is a controversy - I don't know, but it's interesting to think about. So, I want to re-post what I wrote about McNabb's leadership back in October when McNabb was playing like a god...what do you think most people would say now that the Birds are playing so well (and maybe better?) without him?

Careful, one thing may sway your opinion: did anyone see McNabb doing the robot on national TV when the camera panned to him during the Falcons game?

One more thing: Does anyone think that we wouldn't be in the playoffs if McNabb played out the whole season?

Post from October 14:
No doubt that Donovan is having a career season so far; his MVP-like play has been well-covered by the media. His play this season has made me think a lot about him - how he's matured over the years, how he endured the stress of playing in this city, and whether he is our team's leader or just a very good player. Journalists and announcers routinely, especially this season, refer to McNabb as the Birds' "undeniable leader". Is it undeniable that he's our leader?

Before answering that question, I'll put aside his play on the field and the duties that come with the QB position: McNabb is for sure one of the most electric and talented players on the team and in the NFL, and may end up being considered a great QB one day (let's all hope). And QBs are forced to be leaders of the offense because they touch the ball on every offensive play. So, beyond his role on the field and the offensive leadership that has been thrust upon him, does McNabb voluntarily take on the role of team leader?

Well, if he does, he's certainly not vocal about it - like Andy Reid, he's very measured in his interviews and on the sidelines. I like that trait personally because he conducts himself with class and doesn't appear to overeact to any situation. It's easy to have the expectation that your team leader should be boisterous and more showy, which is what you get from players like Ray Lewis. For sure, it's certainly easier for players and fans to be attracted to that type of leadership - there is little doubt as to who is in charge. Trotter and Dawkins seem to share a role like that on defense (and probably for the entire team).

McNabb's more measured approach would seem to translate to poise on the field in high pressure situations - that hasn't necessarily been the case however. His performance in his biggest games has been covered thoroughly so I won't get into that in detail here, but merely reference it as evidence that he may be a reluctant leader. I think the pressure does get to him, but how could it not? For the most part, he has deflected it or bottled it up for the last 7 seasons, but it comes to the surface from time to time. Take the Super Bowl for instance. Let's face it, in the Super Bowl, McNabb looked flat-out scared. It may have been fatigue and the aches from the pounding he took (which is what I like to believe), but his face showed signs of fear...and while his performance was great in some respects (he had 350 yards passing and 3 TDs in that game), it was horrible in other respects (3 INTs and basically a shutdown at the end of the game). He wasn't able to rally the troups when it counted the most - which to me is a key sign of a leader. As an aside, the general failure to show a sense of urgency when the game is on the line exists among both Reid and McNabb and is one of the reasons why our 2-minute drills are horrible.

As everyone knows, McNabb is playing best when he's loose and smiling, joking with his teammates on the sidelines. To me, this indicates he views himself as one of the boys rather than their leader. I think the Birds' leadership resides for the most part in its defensive players, who play like crazed dogs; but to be honest, it's hard to tell sometimes.

Of course, none of this is intended to be criticism of McNabb, but just a thought about what his role is on this team. The city is really fortunate to have a franchise QB of his caliber, especially when you see teams like the Skins, Cowboys and Ravens suffer for years with journeymen signal callers. In any case, I don't know yet whether he'll be the one to lead this team to a Super Bowl trophy, but I really hope so.

Anyone Nervous about Next Weekend?

Ah yes, a new year, a new opportunity for disappointment! I don't know about anyone else, but if I wasn't completely burnt out from the emotional rollercoaster I've been on which has been fueled by Andy Reid's inability to win the big games over the last 5 years, I'd be very nervous about facing an NFC East rival in the first round of the playoffs. Although the Giants are not a good team, many bad teams seem to channel the '85 Bears as soon as the playoffs begin.

Theismann said: "As for the Giants, they have to rely on another big day from Tiki Barber to have any shot. It's obvious that Eli Manning is simply too young and inexperienced to give them what they need at this point in his career." What? Why is Eli given so much slack all of the time? Brady and Roethlisberger won Super Bowls already at his age, and a lot of other young QBs are showing vast improvement as rookies while Eli seems to be stagnating; and it's not like Eli doesn't have enough weapons at his disposal. He seems to lack the killer instinct above all and that may be the ultimate issue. He's had enough time to make strides and hasn't really stepped up yet. That could be changed starting this Sunday.

It'll be interesting to look at the match up as the weekend gets closer, but this game could go either way. I don't like all of these statements by analysts about how favored the Birds are for this game and how we're "soaring into the playoffs" and such. It's true, a 5 game winning streak is money, but it means nothing now that the playoffs are beginning. Overall, I'll be mildly disappointed if the Birds lose, but the playoffs seem like gravy to me anyway after all we've been through this season. Clinching the NFC East was pretty sweet and that's more than enough for me at this point.

As a side note: Great win vs. the Falcons yesterday! Our second stringers schooled Vick and the Dirty Birds. AJ had a really nice day - 321 yards, 3 TDs - which makes me think that he would have filled in nicely for McNabb as well, although obviously not as well as Garcia has. Baskett had a monster day, receiving for almost 200 yards. He's big, he's strong and he has good hands. I like it. Defensively, Considine played his balls off, literally. His balls were lying on the field after the game...He was hitting huge and could have had multiple INTs had he been a little more sure-handed.