Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Mystery of Andy Reid

Did you know the Eagles didn't commit a single penalty against the Cowboys? One turnover (a borderline fumble/incompletion that might have been overturned if it was challenged), one sack allowed, and zero penalties...for a team that has the pressure of a playoff berth on the line, against a hated rival with a better record...that is an amazing accomplishment. And quite frankly, it's the sign of good coaching.

The Eagles came out and played nearly flawless football, their best performance in years, when they needed it the most. You certainly couldn't say as much for the Bucs, Bears, Jets, and Cowboys. Again, that's the sign of a good coach.

Yet this historic victory comes just one week after the Eagles played miserably against an inferior team, seemingly with the playoffs on the line. The team that set the single-season team record for points scored puts up only three against a mediocre opponent. The play-calling was awful, mental mistakes were rampant, and big plays slipped through their fingertips time and time again. This is the hallmark of bad coaching.

So which is it? Why does every season have these moments where Andy Reid looks like an idiot, followed by moments where he looks like a genius? Is he learning from his mistakes? Or are we simply witnessing the vagaries of sports, the normal performance fluctuations of 53 individuals, and unfairly projecting the results on the coach?

I don't know. I don't understand. But the Eagles need to find some consistency next season. Even if they go on a magical playoff run this year, which is certainly possible given the competition, there's no reason to go through another season scoring three points one week and 44 the next. I may not be able to figure it out, but somebody in that organization needs to.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Miracle

Somehow, they got in.

Neither Oakland nor Houston should have won against better teams, teams that had something to play for, but they did. They gave the Eagles a chance to sneak into the playoffs, and the Eagles grabbed it with both hands.

A week after abandoning the running game (5 rushes in the second half), Andy Reid suddenly discovered it again, and piled up 137 rushing yards against the Cowboys. The defense was monstrous, keyed by huge plays from Brian Dawkins. DeMarcus Ware, leading the NFL with 20 sacks coming into the game, was never even close to tying the NFL record of 21. The Eagles dominated the 'Boys in every phase of the game, further driving home the choking image of the Cowboys. Consider these December records: 1-3 this season, 5-8 with Romo at QB, 0-3 against the Eagles. There won't be any chance for them to "improve" upon their recent 0-2 playoff record this season, thanks to a 44-6 blowout loss in a game they had to win. Jerry Jones should fire himself as GM immediately.

The Birds travel to Minnesota next week and have a very good chance of winning. The Vikings are an excellent running team, but they are one-dimensional on offense. And their defense...well, it's not so good against the pass (music to Andy's ears.) But let's be honest, this week is just a bonus. After that disastrous performance against the Redskins, just making it to the playoffs is a huge and undeserved surprise.

This game opens up some very interesting questions for next season. Dawkins was incredible, forcing two key fumbles that led to TDs, capping off a Pro Bowl season with his best performance when it mattered the most. He did look a step slow at times this season, but he embodies everything you want in a football player - he makes game-changing plays at the biggest moments of the biggest games. At 35 years old, what kind of contract do you offer him? His replacement (Q Demps) has already been drafted and has shown a lot of skill. But how can you afford to let go of Dawkins, after a performance like that?

Offensive tackles Runyan and Thomas have played at a very high level as well. The Eagles allowed only 23 sacks all year, one more than the team record of 22...in spite of passing 170 times more than the year they set the record. Thomas was single blocking Ware most of the game today, and didn't give up a single sack. Both their contracts are up, and they are both old, but they continue to play at a high level. The Eagles do not make a habit of re-signing players over 30, let alone 35, but all three of them made a strong statement that they deserve consideration for an extention after the season.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, the long months of the offseason will offer plenty of opportunities to ponder these roster moves...for now, it's all about winning that next game, and making the most of this unexpected gift.

I was wrong about a lot of things this football season, as I usually am, but I feel the need to own up to a couple of them I was especially adamant about. I'm too lazy to link back to the blog posts where I made the predictions, so just take my word that I was wrong:
  • The Patriots went 11-5 without Tom Brady, and I have to give credit to their coach, even if I despise him. They didn't beat a single good team all season, instead padding their record against the likes of Rams, Raiders, Chiefs and Seahawks. Versus teams that won the four AFC divisions, their record was a miserable 1-4, including three losses of 20+ points, with the lone win coming in a division contest against the Dolphins. (Note: In compiling that stat, I'm giving the West to the Chargers, although that game is far from over.) Yet winning 11 games in the NFL is no small feat, and I would not consider the Patriots to have above-average talent without Brady, especially when you take their injuries into account. So I reluctantly give credit to the coaching staff there, and admit that my prediction of a sub-.500 finish was way off base.
  • Brett Favre did not play better than Aaron Rodgers this season, and it does not look like the Packers would have fared any better with him at QB. He played like a buffoon in the last four games, throwing one TD and seven picks, finishing the season as the league leader in INTs. His horrible play, combined with Chad Pennington's resurgence in Miami, will probably lead to the firing of GM Mike Tannenbaum and coach Eric Mangini in New York. Favre needs to hang it up, right now, and just stay retired this time. It's one thing when a Pro-Bowl caliber QB wants to unretire...but when a stumbing, bumbling, turnover machine wants to give it another go, it's sad to watch. Take whatever shreds of dignity that remain to you and go home, Brett. It's over.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Had my post-op exam this morning: 20/15 in one eye, 20/20 in the other. Previously they were 20/40 and 20/600. Night vision is terrible, with halos around every light source, and focusing is a problem (especially when I change my field of depth quickly) but those things should improve with time. In the meantime, I'm completely functional, driving and working on the computer, although I haven't tried to drive at night yet.

Two tips for anyone getting the surgery: 1) Pay up for the blade-free (all-laser) option, and 2) take twice as much valium as they recommend, at least.

It is difficult to describe the sensation of a whirring saw blade cutting a flap in your eyeball, but I can say that it was everything I imagined it would be, only more horrifying. It was not painful, but there was enough sensation that I could feel the blade moving through my eye. The doctor kept telling me to "try not to squeeze." I'm not sure what he meant exactly, since I had Clockwork Orange-style metal clamps around my eyeballs holding my lids open, but I do know that my entire body tensed up during those moments. The 5mg of valium did absolutely nothing to calm me. I felt a bit drowsy, but I was not relaxed in any way.

Yesterday was painfully boring, and I broke just about every rule they gave me (don't watch TV, don't work on the computer, don't take off your goggles), but I seem to have survived.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Green Team

Here we go.

Obama announced his green team, a group of politicians dedicated to saving us from global warming. These appointments "should send a signal to all that my administration will value science," Obama added. "We will make decisions based on facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."

While I certainly applaud scientifically-based decisions over the anti-intellectual political climate of the past eight years, I am forced to ask: What science are you basing these decisions on?

I've already talked about the global cooling of 2007 that wiped out almost the entire 1C warming reported over the last century. That's a documented fact which is almost universally ignored by the AGW crowd. Obama's also clearly glossing over the recent group of 650 scientists who have joined together to dispute the scientific "consensus" that is claimed by Al Gore and the IPCC. (You should really read the quotes at the bottom of that article.)

He also couldn't pick a worse time for action, with tax revenues expected to plummet and deficit spending on the rise, the last thing we need is another pricey government program. And his proposed cap-and-trade system will make it more expensive to produce energy, which gets passed on to the consumer with higher bills. Obama thinks he can pay for his new green program by taxing corporations, but basic economic evaluation tells us this taxation will lead to higher prices in two ways: 1) Costs directly passed on to the consumer, and 2) A scarcity of goods as business production is deterred from higher production. Which of course means that Obama is taxing us to pay for his scientifically unsupported green agenda. But wait, didn't he promise to cut my middle-class taxes?

I've also discussed before how government subsidies create artificial demand, which leads to market inefficiencies (ie: higher prices.) This isn't just theoretical rambling, because this exact situation has created higher energy prices in Germany. Subsidies for solar panels have both increased taxes (to pay the subsidy) and increased energy prices, a lose-lose situation for the middle class. The country, which receives on average about as much sunlight as London, which is to say, not very much (about 1/3 less than the rest of Europe, or 1/2 less than San Diego), is now awash with solar panels and a business that would go belly-up if it wasn't supported by government payouts. Merkel wants to cut the program, which is supporting over 40,000 jobs...jobs that the marketplace has no demand for. To use the words of John Maynard Keynes, the government is "paying people to dig holes and fill them back up again."

With a global economy that is cooling faster than the climate, record deficits, and $40/barrel oil, the Green Team is exactly what we don't need.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ow, My Eyes!

Thursday I'm taking the plunge. Laser eye surgery.

I spent the weekend debating the merits of PRK vs. Lasik. With Lasik, they cut a flap in your cornea, fold it back, and correct the lens underneath. With PRK, they remove a thin layer on top of your cornea (epithelium) and then apply the corrections directly to your cornea.

So what's the difference to the patient? There's very little healing associated with Lasik...once the flap is back on top of your eye, it's pretty much 24 hours until you're able to see clearly. But that flap never heals 100%, for the rest of your life the flap could detach if there's direct trauma to your eye, or greater-than-hurricane-force-wind-shear. PRK has an affectionately named "48-hour agony period" during which you take extra painkillers, extra eyedrops, and wear an implanted contact lens to protect the eye while it heals. Vision generally takes weeks or months to gradually improve to the corrected level. But when you're done, your eye is whole again, perfectly healed.

So I'm naturally leaning toward PRK. I hate the idea of having a weakness like the flap, even though after 90 days the chance that it might detach is excessively remote. Plus I have this strange desire to test myself against the "agony period." But lots of internet research, and a useless conversation with my eye doctor, didn't produce any proof that PRK was better long-term. The odds of a flap detaching, epithelial regrowth, or other general "flap complications" are actually less than the chance you might develop corneal haze from scarring (only possible with PRK) although neither chance is high (1/500 vs. 1/100.)

So should I really risk being laid up a few weeks, possibly unable to drive, watch TV, or work on the computer, for only a psychological benefit? The potential boredom is absolutely terrifying, much more so than two days of searing pain. After all, what are the chances that I'll ever be ejected from a fighter jet or be hit in the eye with a crowbar while defending my family from a pack of thugs? As I approach 40 in my comfortable suburbia lifestyle, I'm struggling to see these as realistic possibilities.

So Lasik it is. I can't wait until Thursday, when I can stop wondering if I made the right choice and just start dealing with the consequences.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pondering the Pigskin

Eagles first:

The Eagles attempted to rush the ball a season-high 41 times yesterday (in spite of averaging only 3.5 yards), and they beat the best team in football.

Three weeks ago, the Eagles passed 78% of the time and tied one of the worst teams in football.


As the Birds look to be starting another December run, should we give kudos to the coach? Or can we wonder aloud why he ignored the running game for the first 2/3 of the season? This isn't new evidence, but the Eagles have been more successful when they attempt to run the ball for the past decade. Instead of 7-5-1, the Eagles could easily be 9-4 with just a handful of good decisions and slightly better play-calling.

But as it stands, they almost control their own playoff destiny. With three games left, if they win out they will be in second place in the division. They need Atlanta to lose one more game, or one of Tampa/Carolina to lose three (not as farfetched as it sounds, as they play each other tonight so one of them is guaranteed to lose.) And if they do sneak into the playoffs, the first round game will be at Arizona, so suddenly there is some reason for hope.

Speaking of playoffs, how about that BCS? Two one-loss teams will battle it out for the championship, while a half-dozen other one-loss teams and two undefeated teams play meaningless games. Beautiful. Imagine if after the NFL regular season last year the voters matched up the Patriots and the Cowboys. Here's how my eight-team playoff matchups of conference champions would look instead:

1) Oklahoma vs. 8) Boise State
2) Florida vs. 7) Virginia Tech
3) USC vs. 6) Connecticut
4) PSU vs. 5) Utah

This would set up semi-finals of Oklahoma-PSU and Florida-USC. Man, that would suck. And meaningless, money-making matchups of second-placers could still take place like OSU-Texas and Alabama-Texas Tech. Why is this bad? How does this system make less money for anyone? At least Obama and I agree on this issue. My ranting can't change the system, but maybe he can.

Meanwhile, hockey playoffs again tonight. The beard is coming in nicely.