Friday, August 31, 2007

What I learned about the Eagles this pre-season

  • McNabb is healthy and ready to go.
  • Shawn Andrews is not, which leads me to:
  • The widely-assumed OL depth is not living up to the hype. Neither Scott Young, Max Jean-Gilles, or Nick Cole looked impressive while filling in for Andrews, and the last two looked plain bad at times.
  • The Sav Rocca story was fun while it lasted.
  • The Eagles have adequately replaced Dhani Jones, Darwin Walker, and Jeremiah Trotter on defense. There will be some frustrating mental mistakes, but this group is stronger, faster, and more athletic.
  • They have not adequately replaced Rod Hood. Both William James and Joselio Hanson were reportedly having great camps, but I didn't see that success carry over into the pre-season games. Nickel and dime defense could be questionable at times.
  • Takeo Spikes is fully recovered from the Achilles injury and ready to make an impact.
  • This group of RBs is the most talented since the three-headed monster of Staley, a healthy Buckhalter, and a young Westbrook. And yes, we do have a goalline back. Maybe Andy will actually call the occasional run on 3rd-and-1 now.
  • The WRs are much-improved. They aren't household names, but it's the most talented bunch, 1-5, since Mike Quick played in Philly. Greg Lewis, a starter just two years ago, is now fifth of the depth chart. It should be fun when the Eagles line up in 3- and 4-WR want to cover Jason Avant with your 3rd CB? Hank Baskett with your 4th? Good luck to you...
  • Kevin Kolb is a NFL QB. The Eagles had him rated higher than Brady Quinn, and I thought they were nuts, but he's been the better of the two so far.
  • As much as I killed the draft this year, I think it's going to end up being a very good one. I really like Stewart Bradley...another year or two and I don't see how the Eagles will be able to keep him off the field. He's already the primary backup at two LB spots. Kolb looks like the real deal, Tony Hunt will fill a glaring need for this team, and Victor Abiamiri looks like a part of the DE rotation for years.

I'm ready for some football.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

NFC Preview, Part I

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles 11-5, first place
Best OL, best QB, and best RB in the division. DL should be vastly improved with Kearse back from injury and Bunkley stepping up. Monte Reaghor and Ian Scott (if he even makes the team) are solid veteran additions. On defense, the Eagles have some athletic but inexperienced LBs, and an inadequate SS. But an explosive offense, combined with a strong pass rush and playmaking DBs, will be more than enough to win the division.

Washington Redskins 9-7, second place
The Redskins made much smarter acquisitions this offseason. London Fletcher will be a true captain and tackling machine in the middle of the defense, Fred Smoot will provide depth to the secondary, and Pete Kendall will adequately replace Derrick Dockery. They still lack a pass rush, and don't have enough playmakers on defense. Jason Campbell will take a step forward, but isn't ready to carry this team into the playoffs...yet.

Dallas Cowboys 8-8, third place
Every year, the Cowboys look talented on paper. Every year, they get a ton of pre-season hype as division winners or even Super Bowl champs. And every year, they play mediocre football. As Parcells often says: "You are what you are." Cowboys fans are buying into the myth that Hall-of-Fame coach Parcells was somehow holding this team back, and career .500 coach Wade Phillips is exactly the savior this team needs to get over the hump. Color me skeptical. The Cowboys have major questions on the OL, at QB, and in the secondary. They will continue to struggle stopping the run, and will continue to struggle covering anyone with their safeties. Expect another season of ups-and-downs, T.O. drama, and Tony Romo celeb appearances. And expect another medicore result.

New York Giants 6-10, fourth place
The loss of Tiki Barber is huge. Brandon Jacobs will do an adequate job running the ball, but the Giants will miss him terribly on passing downs, both as an outlet receiver and blocker. Letting Luke Petitgout walk will prove to be a mistake. Eli should be better this season, but without the protection he needs and the threat of the swing pass to an elusive back, the passing game will struggle at times. On defense, the Giants lack talent at DT, have a guy playing LB for the first time in his career, and have only one player (a rookie) who can cover an NFL wide receiver.

Rest of the NFC later (maybe)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

AFC Preview

An exercise in futility, I know, but here goes...

AFC East

New England Patriots 12-4, first place
This one's easy. Best QB in football, best DL, and one of the top 3 OLs as well. Additions like Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss are just a bonus. Additional depth at LB, WR, and DB will help when the usual rash of injuries hits this team. Weaknesses would be safety and RB depth, but those are easily overcome with strength at the three key positions. Only way this team doesn't win the division is if Brady gets hurt.

Buffalo Bills 7-9, second place
The Bills didn't do themselves any favors in the offseason by letting good players like London Fletcher, Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, and Willis McGahee walk away without any immediate compensation. The young talent on defense is very good, but they'll need time to develop. Weaknesses include the second WR, TE, and nickel CB. Expect this team to have a streaky offense combined with a defense that makes mental mistakes and has trouble getting off the field on third down. Not a recipe for a great 07/08 season, although the future is bright.

New York Jets 6-10, third place
Last year's 10-6 record was a mirage, bolstered by weak competition and an inexplicable resurgence by Chad Pennington. The Jets come back to earth this season, and are exposed as a team that is weak on both lines and at QB. Thomas Jones is a great upgrade, but he'll miss Pete Kendall tremendously. The Kellen Clemens era begins by Week 11.

Miami Dolphins 4-12, fourth place
A 37-year-old immobile QB behind a makeshift OL, along with an aging defense. Weaknesses are everywhere, including the secondary, DT, and the entire OL. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas can only do so much.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5, first place
I don't really want to make this pick, but my initial projections included the same 8 division winners as last season, and the odds against that happening are astronomical. This seems like a reasonable spot to take a chance. Pittsburgh isn't the most talented team in the division, but the more I watch Mike Tomlin, the more I'm convinced that the Steelers caught lightning in a bottle with their new head coach...again. Bill Cowher was the best in the NFL, so they will definitely miss him, but they are a lot close to the team that finished 6-2 than the one that started 2-6.

Baltimore Ravens 10-6, second place
Easily the best team on paper in the division. But the Ravens have a way of underperforming when the lights shine brightest (their Super Bowl year excepted, of course.) Haloti Ngata will be a beast, Willis McGahee will be an upgrade, and Demetrius Williams could give this offense an explosive threat that they've lacked for years. With all that said, they've lost 2/5 of their OL, their starting FB, and an impact LB in Adalius Thomas. Important players like Steve McNair, Ray Lewis, and Samari Rolle are aging fast and could be injury concerns. Expect a strong start followed by a fade as the season wears on.

Cincinnati Bengals 9-7, third place
Not much has changed here - explosive offense coupled with a bad defense.

Cleveland Browns 5-11, fourth place
They just aren't talented enough. Key areas like the DL and QB remain weak. Secondary is close to awful. LBs D'Qwell Jackson and Kameiron Wembley (I know I spelled that wrong, but too lazy to look it up) will develop into studs, and RB Jamal Lewis will be better than expected. What really kills them is the division they play in - they could be 0-6 in division again, and 5-5 vs. the rest of the league.

AFC South
Jacksonville Jaguars 11-5, first place
Just about everyone has given up on the Jaguars, which means it's about time for them to put it all together. Jack Del Rio is too good a coach, and there's too much talent on this team, to allow them to be down forever. Both lines are very strong, with Tony Pashos added via Baltimore, and the QB play of Byron Leftwich (in a contract year) should be good enough. They are extremely physical on both sides of the ball, and will pound opponents mercilessly. I expect them to finally break through, with a little help from the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 10-6, second place
Bill Polian really does an excellent job of replacing talent with talent through the draft. Keep in mind what the Colts were last year - a 10-6 team that played over their heads on defense for three games to win the Super Bowl. Losing Nick Harper, Jason David, Mike Doss, Cato June, Dominic Rhodes, Booger McFarland and Tarik Glenn will be simply too much to handle. The young talent replacing these studs has a chance to be really good, but they are also raw, and I don't expect their defense to hold up against the run over the course of a season.

Houston Texans 8-8, third place
This team has more talent than they've had in a while. The OL and DL will play inconsistently, but overall much better than last year. Matt Schaub isn't anything special, but he's an NFL QB who will make quick reads and release the ball. DeMeco Ryans is an emerging superstar, and Jacoby Jones will have a Devin Hester-like impact on special teams.

Tennessee Titans 5-11, fourth place
How good would the Titans have been last year without their leading RB, WR, CB, and TD-scoring KR? This team is so good that Eric Moulds, who couldn't produce with Andre Johnson on the opposite side last year, walked in off the street and became the starting WR within a couple weeks. They amazingly drafted a safety in the first round and turned him into their starting CB. Problems abound on the OL, at RB, and in the secondary. Vince Young will have trouble developing with no help around him. A young and developing front seven on defense will be the lone bright spot.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers 12-4, first place
The offseason was a joke, and the coaching staff's a mess because of it. Still, it will take Norv Turner more than a year to screw up this amount of talent. Young offensive stars like Marcus McNeil, Phillip Rivers, and Vincent Jackson will continue to develop, adding a very dangerous complement to the All-Pro defense. The secondary and MLB are the only potential weaknesses.

Denver Broncos 9-7, second place
The preseason hasn't done much to dissuade me of the opinion that the Broncos' offseason acquisitions were overrated. Travis Henry has been injured for most of his career, Daniel Graham doesn't frighten defenses, and Dre Bly is no better than Darrent Williams was. Cutler should continue to develop, and the connection with Javon Walker will be deadly. He'll remain inconsistent, however, and make a few awful turnovers in big spots. The run defense is questionable, which is a scary thing given that they face LT and LJ twice each.

Oakland Raiders 7-9, third place
The Raiders' improvement this season will emphasize just how awful the previous coaching staff was. QB and OL will both play better, but remain question marks. The defense should continue to improve, although Michael Huff seems to be regressing (the same Michael Huff they passed on Matt Leinart to take.)

Kansas City Chiefs 4-12, fourth place
Weak OL, no DTs, and two choices at QB: mediocre or bad. Other than an aging Tony Gonzalez, and an overworked Larry Johnson, I just don't see any playmakers on this team. They have a couple decent DEs in Allen (who is suspended for the first two games) and Hali, but they lack speed in the secondary. Will be competitive most weeks but unable to close out games.

1st - Patriots
2nd - Chargers
3rd - Steelers
4th - Jaguars
5th - Ravens
6th - Colts

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ah crap, not Trot

Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was released by the Eagles today in a surprise move. I understand the decision to axe him, but I can't bring myself to agree with it.

Trot didn't have a great season in 2006-07, and he'll be the first one to tell you that. The DTs in front of him were not effective absorbing blockers (one was traded away and replaced as a result) and the two LBs that played with him were ineffective (one was released, the other demoted.) Yet he never pointed the finger at anyone but himself. He personally shouldered the blame for every poor performance by the defense, and he rededicated himself in the offseason. He lost 20 pounds and accepted lesser playing time, both to preserve his ailing knees as long as possible.

Although his production has slipped, and he's no longer able to run like he once could, there's still a place for Trot on this team. He's a warrior and a true pro. He knows how to practice hard, how to study film, and how to prepare himself for a game. He's a fiery, emotional leader who never backs down from a big moment and is always accountable for his play. I know he was scheduled to make $3 million this season, which is too much to pay a part-time LB, but the Eagles are well under the cap and as far as I know, did not even approach Trot about a pay cut.

But I understand what the Eagles are thinking. Gaither has played very well and they want to get him on the field. But even more importantly, the other young guys on the team are playing well enough that even a backup roster spot for Trotter was becoming difficult to find. Tank Daniels, Stewart Bradley, and Matt McCoy are all playing well enough to make the team, along with starters Spikes, Gocong, and Gaither. So rather than cut a young guy with promise, who is already playing well, the Eagles decided to cut 54 now rather than keep him around for another year or two as his knees continued to decline.

While I understand that logic, the big problem I have with it is that the Eagles are a Superbowl contender. Teams that are looking to win a championship need strong veteran leadership. Trot's been there before and come up big when the Eagles needed him. Removing his presence from the heart of the defense, from the locker room, and from the practice field, is a real short-term loss that will need to be overcome. And for a team struggling to get back to the Superbowl, I'd rather have Trot on my side, than try to overcome his loss.

Thanks, Axeman. I'll miss cheering for you, as much or more than the team will miss playing beside you. You've been a great player, a class guy, and a true warrior on the field. You've been an example of personal strength and accountability in an era of athletes who rarely embody either. You've represented Philadelphia well with your pride, emotional fire, and blue-collar work ethic. Best of luck catching on with another team and finding the success you've earned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


That sound you might have heard was the Eagles collectively falling on their faces during their preseason debut on Monday night, as they lost 29-3 to the Baltimore Ravens.

The starters - playing without 5 Pro Bowlers - were mostly ineffective during their two series, and the backups were worse. I'm not going to panic; it was only two series, and it's the preseason, but I'm not going to make excuses, either.

The disappointing part was the play of both lines. Offensively and defensively, the lines are the strength of the team, and they are both 10 deep with real NFL talent, but you couldn't tell that on Monday. Both the first- and second-team OL was ineffective at running the ball (13 carries for 18 yards), and they missed several blocking assignments on the Baltimore blitz (4 sacks in the first half). RBs Westbrook and Tony Hunt missed blocks that led to sacks as well. The defensive line did slightly better, although the 16-yard run by McGahee was cause for concern, as well as their inability to wrap up the ever-elusive Kyle Boller on his 20-yard scramble for a first down.

The inability to get off the field on third down, three times during the opening drive against the Ravens' starters, was scary. McNair was clearly picking on William James, and James is being counted on in a big role as nickel corner this season. Perhaps he was just pressing - it was his first time starting a game in two seasons - but he needs to do a better job of staying with receivers. The DL and the LBs generated some pressure, but it was routinely of the 'almost' variety, which is almost good enough to win games.

There were a couple bright spots - Jeremy Bloom really does look as quick and fast as advertised, and he will bring an element that the Eagles have been missing for a long time - the ability to score on special teams. Brent Celek showed that he can use his body to screen defenders, catch balls in traffic, and rumble after the catch. While he's not a speedy downfield threat like LJ Smith, he certainly looked capable of working the middle of the field and getting first downs.

All the QBs played well, when they had time to throw, even though the Eagles never had the threat of a running game. Kevin Kolb, surprisingly, looks like an NFL QB. And it's a shame we'll have to cut/trade Holcomb, because he would have made me feel very secure with the backup QB situation.

The real good news is that the injuries were relatively benign - Ryan Moats had a 50/50 shot of being cut anyway, and wasn't going to play a prominent role as 4th HB/backup KR even if he made the team. It will be interesting to see if Nate Ilaoa steps up (he's been rather unimpressive in camp so far) or if the Eagles reach out to Reno Mahe as the preseason winds down.

Andy Reid and Juan Castillo are really good coaches, and they'll use the mistakes in this game as a focus this week in practice. Although the Eagles are not a team that have been overly concerned with preseason in the past, I do expect a much more enthusiastic and sound performance on Friday night against the Panthers. Carolina has talent as well, and should offer a good test for both lines. If they don't play better won't be time to panic, of course, but I will start to be concerned.

If you like reading about the Eagles, I'd suggest checking out On the Inside by Dave Spadaro, an almost-daily Eagles blog by a guy who pretty much lives at Eagles HQ.

Monday, August 13, 2007

If I were 25 and single again...

I have a new crush.

I didn't realize that anyone dislikes Coldplay as much as I do...but it turns out that a 21-year-old girl in Seattle hates Coldplay with such vehemence that she was willing to get violent about it.

Shortly after an unsuspecting loser got up on stage at a Seattle nightclub to karaoke Coldplay's Yellow, my heroine reportedly told her friend, "Oh, no, not that song. I can't stand that song!"

She went after the falsetto crooner, saying that his "singing sucked" and that the song "fucking sucked". It took more than one club employee to drag her out onto the street, where the melee continued. An off-duty officer on the scene attempted to subdue her, and she headbutted him twice before he got the cuffs on.


If she's 250 and ugly, I don't want to know. In my mind, she's a knockout (sorry.)

Also, somehow I didn't hear about this Cramer video for 10 days. I don't always agree with what Cramer says - hell, I don't even know what he's talking about all the time - but I really admire his passion. Even if he's playing to the camera to some extent, you don't see a lot of other financial hosts on CNBC who take this kind of fiery stance. Rock on, Jim.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Don't read this

I've had a rather mediocre run with books lately. The Afghan Campaign was decent, but not memorable enough in either direction to merit a blog entry of its own. But my next reading experience, Darwin's Children, has certainly moved me enough to type in a few words while I'm at work.

I like Greg Bear. He's a smart science fiction writer that is heavy on the science. He documents his sources in the appendices of his books, and he's careful to explain exactly where the science ends and where his fiction begins. He is straightforward about his sources, explaining when the theories are considered radical, and even gives a little background about competing ideas. He'll often submit his novels to leading researchers for a fact-check and scientific review before release. In addition to this passion for accuracy, he has a talent for his craft - he develops characters and plots convincingly, even if it does feel somewhat mechanical at times.

I enjoyed the classic space travel in Eon, the hive-mind of bacteria in Vitals, and the sudden change evolution in Darwin's Radio. Thanks to these books, I know much more about viruses, bacteria, phages, DNA, RNA, and evolutionary history than before (ok - "know" might be a bit of a stretch..."have been exposed to a lot of information that I didn't completely understand" is probably more precise.)

So it was natural for me to pick up the sequel to Darwin's Radio. Bear includes a nice review in the beginning so I could catch up without re-reading the first installment. And the story picks up where it left off, with the usual dire warnings about the consequences of fear-mongering and a government that oversteps its bounds. Solid stuff.

But then guess who makes an appearance about halfway through the book?


Yes, God.

It's not a plot device - God doesn't appear to two of the characters in the book for a transparent reason to bring them together - no, it's pretty much a throw-in. In the middle of a book about evolution, with fucking Darwin in the title, God appears for no discernible reason, full of love and understanding and forgiveness and marshmallow streams of smarmy goodness. I felt like I paid $7.99 to be witnessed to.

Listen, Greg, I can get that shit for free if I'd just answer the door when the two clean-cut kids wearing white shirts and ties ring the bell. But I don't. And I'm not going to start. And I'm sure as hell not going to hand them $8 so I can bathe in the sewage that vomits forth from their mouths.

In the appendix to this book, Bear explains that his personal beliefs lie somewhere between Darwin and creationism. Uh-huh. He justifies his insertion of God as another facet of his research - he's relating firsthand accounts of people who were touched and the similarities of their stories. Uh-huh. How this relates to the story of his book goes unexplained.

I understand the temptation, I really do. No one wants to believe that self-consciousness is an accident of nature, and that when our life ends we'll revert to the same state of consciousness we had before we were born, ie: none at all. No one wants to accept that a lifetime of stresses and struggles and dreams and love and achievement ends irrevocably, sometimes randomly, when our existence winks out. But just because you don't want to believe in something, doesn't make it any less true. An undesirable reality shouldn't be trumped by the draw of a desirable fairy tale.

To lose an analytical, scientific mind to the ranks of gawking mystics is always a tragedy. And now I've lost a source of entertainment and information as well. Goodbye, Greg Bear...the rational world will miss your contributions.