Monday, September 27, 2010

Chalk one up for Big Red

I was nonplussed when the Eagles first signed Michael Vick. I thought they were crazy to rely on him as a back-up this season. I doubted Andy's decision to bench Kolb and name Vick the starter for Jacksonville.

But it sure looks like I was wrong, and Andy was right.

Vick's 2-0 as a starter now, and has put up a passer rating of 100 in three straight games. He's shown an ability to both sustain drives and hit big plays down the field. In spite of the continued struggles of the offensive line, no defense wants to play the Eagles, because Vick can hurt an opponent in so many ways.

I saw some discouraging signs yesterday, with inaccuracy on crossing routes and at least two throws off his back foot. He got the job done, and hopefully these signs were not the start of a long-term trend. It's something to keep an eye on, though.

Meanwhile, the Redskins stumbled against the lowly Rams yesterday, a week before they come to Philly. Interestingly, the Skins struggled mightily in the red zone, kicking three chip shot field goals. Additionally, they were 1-for-10 on third downs. Compare that to the Eagles: they scored two TDs on two trips into the red zone, and converted 38% of their third downs.

In a small sample size like this, coincidence is a strong possibility. But it's something else I'll be watching as the season progresses. At the end of the year, if the Skins are still talking about missed third-down conversions and red zone struggles, perhaps McNabb was the culprit all along.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If only...

My dad was a Steelers fan. It would have been easy to follow in his footsteps. I could be following a team that plays smart, disciplined football and brutally physical defense. A team with six Super Bowl victories and a young coach who will only improve.

Instead, I'm an Eagles fan. My team has a stubborn coach, a turnstile offensive line, and a defense giving up 30 points a game. The Eagles couldn't contain Jahvid Best, playing in his second NFL game, while the Steelers shut down Chris Johnson, who's coming off a 2000-yd season.

But true fandom doesn't work that way, unfortunately. My best football memories involve guys like Herman Edwards, Mike Quick, Reggie White, Andre Waters, and Randall Cunningham. The green-and-silver is in my instead of six championships, I have sit-ups in T.O.'s driveway, and a puking QB.

Yesterday was sickening. I DVRed the game so I could watch it again and really break it down, but I'm not sure I can stand to see it a second time.

The good news, and you have to look hard for it, is that the rest of the NFC East lost yesterday. So my Eagles are in first place. And while it may seem foolish to point that out after only two weeks, I know this may be my last chance.

Kolb comes back next week, and I don't know how he'll survive behind that line. A good coach would pound the ball, throw a lot of screen passes, and roll him out of the pocket to try and keep him alive. But we're talking about Andy Reid, so get ready for more chuck-and-duck.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eagles Week 1 Review

I know it's Wednesday, but I wanted to review the game again before I wrote about it. I re-watched every Kevin Kolb snap, and I'll break down each one.

I'm not going to analyze Vick's plays, because Michael Vick isn't the future. The Eagles didn't dump McNabb and pay Kolb $12 million so that Vick could be the starter. There's no QB controversy among the Eagles decision-makers, so I won't contribute to the fabrication of one.

1-10-PHI32: 5yd penalty, illegal formation. This was a designed TE screen. Here's a quote from a TMQ article three weeks ago: Andy Reid's play calling has long been predictable -- the whole league knows, for instance, that on the first snap of a possession, he likes to call a weakside screen. Way to mix things up, Andy.
1-15-PHI27: 5yd completion to Maclin on a short hitch. He appeared to be the first read on the play, and was open. Accurate throw.
2-10-PHI32: Incomplete to Celek. Celek correctly read zone coverage so stopped his crossing route in a soft spot. KK read man coverage, so he led Celek. Looked more like a mental mistake than inaccuracy. Great protection on the play.
3-10-PHI32: Packers only rush four, but Matthews comes on a delayed blitz. The OL and RB do not recognize the delayed blitz so Matthews is unblocked. All the routes were deep, and there was no outlet receiver. I didn't see anything KK could do here except get sacked.

1-10-PHI46: 1yd rush by McCoy. Jamaal Jackson tried to get to Nick Barnett, but he couldn't make the block.
2-9-PHI47: 11yd rush by Maclin. Good blocking all around, but it's a big gain because Packers LB Jones dives inside, anticipating another run by McCoy. He's unblocked on the play, but his false step allows Maclin to get around him.
1-10-GB41: 6yd rush by Vick.
2-4-GB35: 8yd rush by McCoy,
1-10-GB29: -1yd rush by Vick.
2-11-GB30: 10yd penalty, offensive pass interference, Celek. Although the outcome of this play is irrelevant, a couple things worth noting here. First, Jamaal Jackson incorrectly calls out the Mike on the play, which sets the OL to the wrong side, and leaves a rusher unblocked to the left. Kolb rushes a throw, off his back foot, although the decision to throw the seam to Celek, covered by a LB, against what looks like a cover 2 shell, is perfect.
2-21-GB40: Incomplete pass, could have been intercepted. Looks like horrible play design, more than a bad decision. First, it's play action...on second-and-21, does anyone believe the Eagles are going to run? Second, it's man coverage, and somehow Maclin finishes his route close enough to Jackson that Maclin's defender nearly makes the pick. KK threw to Jackson, who had beaten his man. The throw was a little high, but the fact that another defender was close enough to break on the ball means that either Maclin ran the wrong route, or the play was designed badly.
3-21-GB40: More Vick running.

1-10-PHI28: 3yd rush by McCoy. Could have been much more, but Matthews makes a nice open-field tackle.
2-7-PHI31: 6yd completion to Maclin, another short hitch.
3-1-PHI37: 1yd rush by Vick.
1-10-PHI38: 1yd rush by Weaver (this is the play he's hurt.) Jackson again misses a second-level block on Barnett.
2-9-PHI39: Another delayed blitz, another sack. This time it's combined with a twist stunt up front. Jackson, Cole, and Herremans all missed blocks on this play.
3-19-PHI30: Deep incompletion to Jackson on the outside - another near interception. This one's all on Kolb. There was no pressure on him, and he should have thrown to Avant over the middle. Bear in mind that many coaches might protect a young QB here by running a draw or a screen, because 3rd-and-19 is nearly impossible to convert. The Eagles didn't protect Kolb, but put him squarely into a tough situation, and he made a bad decision that nearly cost the team.

1-10-PHI22: 10yd holding penalty against Peters. 9yd rush by Mike Bell is nullified.
1-20-PHI12: Incompletion on a slant to Jackson. Good read, good protection, KK steps into the throw but it's slightly behind the receiver. The defender, who was beaten, is able to dive and knock it down. If KK makes a better throw, this is a big gain.
2-20-PHI12: 6yd completion to McCoy. It's impossible to tell from the camera angle if there were any receivers open downfield, but Kolb didn't see anyone, so he rolled right and bought a little time before dumping it off.
3-14-PHI18: The Packers only rush three, but all three defeat blocks. McGlynn whiffs completely on Raji, Matthews gets around Justice, and Peters forces his man inside so that Kolb cannot step up into the pocket. The big mistake Kolb makes on this play is either failing to recognize Matthews behind him, or thinking he can outrun him. There is time for him to throw a short pass to Celek or simply throw the ball away, but instead he is caught from behind and gets a concussion on the play.

Kolb does play three more snaps, but the Eagles admit after the game that his confusion about packages and plays led them to believe he might have a concussion, so I'm giving him a free pass on those three.

So what I saw from Kolb is this: in his first half of work as the Eagles starting QB, against the #2 defense from last year, with Vick subbing in and out, and his offense consistently getting penalties while failing to block for him...he screwed up three throws. I didn't see a guy who lacked confidence, or failed to set his feet, or wasn't up to the task. He should have completed the slant to Jackson and the crossing route to Celek. He shouldn't have thrown to Jackson on 3rd-and-19.

Is it hard to remember a first half where McNabb screwed up three throws and tried to run away from someone he couldn't?

I'm not saying Kolb did a great job, he clearly didn't. But let's not give up on him either.

Full kudos to Vick for coming in and leading the Eagles back into the game. I have enough faith in him after that performance to believe the Eagles can beat Detroit this week. But I'm not ready to give up on Kolb yet.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weenie Coach Alert, More Red Dead

It drives me crazy to watch coaches mismanage games, and Brad Childress is one of the top offenders (Marvin Lewis and Andy Reid are right up there, too.)

Trailing by five points, with 5:40 remaining in the game, the Vikings face fourth-and-eleven from the Saints 44 yard line. Conventional wisdom, based on years of practice, is to punt the ball. But why? Conventional wisdom is absolutely wrong here, and I first-guessed this during the game, screaming at the tv to go for it.

There's about a 25% chance to convert 4th-and-11, so 75% of the time, the Saints will take over between their own 34 and 44 (depending on how many yards, if any, are gained on fourth down.) By punting, you give the Saints the ball 100% of the time between their 1 and their 20. (There's a small chance they could return the punt for a TD, or block it for a TD, but I'm ignoring this because it's basically offset by the small chance you could throw a INT for a TD if you went for it.) So the tradeoff here is: 25% chance of extending your possession, vs. 30 yds of field position.

The Vikings punted, of course. The Saints got the ball on their own 12, ran for three first downs, and the game was over without the Vikings ever taking another snap. So in the case where your defense gives up three first downs, you're basically throwing away your 25% chance to extend the drive for nothing.

But what if the Saints get only two first downs? Well, if you went for it and failed, then they'd have a chance at a field goal and extending the lead to eight. But so what? You could still tie with a TD. And even if you punted to preserve the 30 yards, you'd be getting the ball back with about a minute left and no timeouts. You will score much less than 25% of the time in this situation...Is that worth throwing away your 25% chance to make it on fourth down in Saints territory? Hell no.

Now, if you stop the Saints with zero or one first down, then you get the full benefit of those 30 yards. But still...are you going to score often enough to offset the 25% chance you gave away by punting? Is your increased scoring potential, combined with your chances of holding the Saints to one first down or less, greater than 25%? I don't have enough data to do the math, but I seriously doubt it. And even if it did, what happens when, like Thursday, your defense doesn't do the job?

The bottom line, forgetting all the math that coaches can't do in the time it takes to make a quick decision anyway, is this: When trailing in the fourth quarter, you should never punt on fourth down in the other team's territory. Sure, if you're down by one with 11 minutes to go and you have fourth-and-25 from the 49, you can make an exception. But this general rule is pretty easy to remember, and should only be broken in strange circumstances.

What happens is that Weenie Coaches, like Childress, who want to stay in the NFL (who wouldn't?), will do anything to avoid responsibility for losing. It's much better to lose, and blame it on the players ("I punted because I had faith in my defense to stop them"), than risk accepting personal blame for the loss...even if that risk provides a greater chance to win. Bill Belichik's fourth-and-two call is a running joke in the NFL now, in spite of it being statistically correct! If he'd simply punted and lost, the media and fans would blame the defense, not the coach, since the coach obeyed conventional wisdom.

I'm going to call out Weenie Coaches whenever I can, because the game of football will be a better one if we can chip away at the conventional "wisdom". Brad Childress is only the first of 2010.

Meanwhile, I checked out the Zero Punctuation review of Red Dead Redemption, and found that it's strikingly similar to my own (though considerably more humorous.)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

NFL Preview

Another NFL season starts tonight, and that can only mean a whole batch of wrong predictions.

Every year, the NFL turns over 50% of its playoff teams. This isn't a well-kept secret at all, but still NFL prognosticators mostly pick the same teams to win as the year before, with a couple groupthink 'sleepers' sprinkled in. They aren't trying to be accurate, they are trying to avoid instead of insight, you get a minor edit to the previous year's standings.

Don Banks only picks the division winners - 5/8 of his picks won last year, and two others were in the playoffs - for a turnover ratio of 12.5%.

ESPN has a whole host of experts making their predictions. Matthew Berry and Jeff Chadiha have 3 new teams out of 12 (25%), while John Clayton and KC Joyner have only one new team (8%), and Tim Graham has two out of 12 (17%). I stopped counting after that. And even though all three of the last Super Bowl champions had 20/1 or worse odds at the start of the season, most pick favorites like the Colts. The darkhorse candidate is the Ravens, who are 18/1, and a full 33% of the expert panel picked them - hello, groupthink. has another panel of experts, and while it's more of the same (no one predicted as much as 50% turnover, the average of the past dozen years), groupthink is even more evident as the Packers were unanimously chosen to make the Super Bowl.

Well, one thing you never have to worry about with me is a fear of embarrassment. I will fearlessly (and wrongly) predict the finish for each team, with a careful eye on that 50% turnover threshold. Teams with WC after their names are my picks for the wildcard.

AFC East

  • Miami Dolphins - The first of my new playoff teams is the Dolphins. Brandon Marshall is a huge addition who will benefit from the improved play of Chad Henne.
  • New England Patriots - WC - A series of bad drafts are starting to catch up to them. The Patriots are the oldest team in the league, and their age will show on defense and the offensive line. [Edit: Not even close on this claim, the Patriots are old on offense, but spring chickens on defense. And after injuries to projected starters Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden, their defense is one of the youngest in the Belichik era. That's what I get for not fact-checking.] Brady to Moss is still deadly, but they can't win enough games on their own to take the division.
  • New York Jets - Don't forget this team was 9-7 last season, with two gift-wrapped wins from teams resting their starters. And by dumping Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca, they've actually regressed in their biggest area of strength.
  • Buffalo Bills - I like the Bills to be better than most people think, but that's still terrible.

AFC North

  • Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens defense will regress toward mediocre, but their offense could be scary good.
  • Cincinnati Bengals - Undefeated against their own division last season, that means they were only 4-6 against the rest of the NFL. If you don't expect them to sweep the Ravens and Steelers again, and I don't, it'll be tough for them to reach the playoffs.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers - The best player on their OL is a rookie, which doesn't say much for the other guys. Missing their QB for four games won't help, either.
  • Cleveland Browns - The last year of the Mangenius reign won't be a good one.

AFC West

  • San Diego Chargers - They aren't as good without their left tackle and #1 WR, but this division is still weak.
  • Oakland Raiders - The whole attitude of this team should change without JaAwful hanging around their neck. Campbell isn't a top-15 QB, but he's a pro who will show up and work, and that will rub off on the rest of the roster.
  • Kansas City Chiefs - I like the additions of Thomas Jones and McCluster, but I still don't see much talent in the trenches.
  • Denver Broncos - John McDaniels is creating the playbook for destroying a talented team. Trading away great players and blowing high draft choices is a recipe for a last-place team.

AFC South

  • Indianapolis Colts - At some point, the Colts will falter. I will not be in front of that trend. I'll ride this horse until they lose.
  • Tennessee Titans - WC - The best RB in the league, one of the better OLs, and a developing QB. If the defense can just be mediocre, the Titans are a playoff team.
  • Houston Texans - Experts have been predicting the Texans to break through into the playoffs for the last three years. Like the Colts, I'm tired of trying to get in front of that trend. I'll bet on them to continue underachieving until they prove otherwise.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars - I'm trying to find something I like about this team. Oh yeah, MJD. MJD and...well, nothing. They're bad on offense and worse on defense.

AFC Playoff teams (recap):
Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Titans. 4/6 made the playoffs last season, so we'll need better-than-average turnover from the NFC to hit 50%.

NFC East

  • New York Giants - The Giants underperformed in a lot of areas last season...OL, RB, DL, DB...and I think they'll regress toward the mean in all of them. Antrel Rolle was a solid addition, and if they get anything from Kenny Phillips it will be another huge improvement. I also like Hakeem Nicks to take a leap forward. The Giants have also performed better as an under-the-radar team than a preseason favorite. It all adds up to a division championship.
  • Dallas Cowboys - Can the Cowboys handle success and the weight of preseason expectations? Will their injured OL and first-year LT hold up all year? Can they really have only three CBs on their roster? I think they'll be good, but narrowly miss the playoffs.
  • Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles are extremely young, averaging 25.5 years (I'm excluding the P/K in that number.) Their OL had some injury issues this preseason, but the group that will start the first game was 8-1 last year. They have playmakers on both side of the ball, enough that they'll have a shot to win any game they play. But their youth also means inconsistency, and a chance to lose any game. 7-9 or 8-8 is realistic, with a real chance to contend again next season.
  • Washington Redskins - I thought McNabb would thrive in Shanahan's offense, but instead he's just looked like McNabb in the preseason. Along with the Haynesworth disaster, I wonder if this team has enough playmakers, on either side of the ball, to be very dangerous.

NFC North

  • Green Bay Packers - Like most prognosticators, I struggle to see how anyone can stop this offense. They gave up 50 sacks last season, and still were one of the most productive in the league. I don't like the defense, but they'll do just enough to complement the offense.
  • Chicago Bears - WC - As terrible as the Bears looked at time last season, and as badly as they were ravaged by injuries, they still managed to win seven games. With just a little regression toward the mean on the injury front, and the addition of Julius Peppers, they'd have to win nine or ten.
  • Minnesota Vikings - Brett Favre and the Williams Wall are another year older...injury problems are a real possibility for all three. With Sidney Rice already down for half the year, at least, they are missing one of their deadliest offensive weapons. The loss of Chester Taylor is also underrated, especially if AP is dinged for a few games here and there, like usual. A disappointing 8-8 season seems a lot more likely than a repeat of last year.
  • Detroit Lions - I like the Lions to be much improved this season, but I liked every other team in the division better.

NFC West

  • San Francisco 49ers - I'd love to pick someone else in this division, because everyone is picking the Niners...but who? This division is so bad, that Alex Smith has a legit chance to lead a team to the title. The defense will continue to improve, and the OL will get better as the season progresses.
  • Seattle Seahawks - There's not much to like about the Seahawks, which says a lot about the two teams below them. I don't see much talent on the OL, and I don't see anyone who can rush the passer. Other than that, well, they're not good at other positions either. There is no one on this roster, on either side of the ball, that is a real playmaker.
  • Arizona Cardinals - The Cards have grossly mismanaged their QB situation, and have given away quality players like Antrel Rolle, Anquan Boldin, and Karlos Dansby. They'll be lucky to win five games.
  • St. Louis Rams - I like Bradford, but the defensive cupboard is bare, and the OL is shaky. And wide receivers? Not on this roster, bro. Better luck next year.

NFC South

  • Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan will continue to improve and Michael Turner will have a monster year. The big questions are on they have enough pass rush, and enough talent in the secondary? I'll guess 'yes', because I need another new team in the playoffs.
  • New Orleans Saints - WC - I expect the offense to be dominating again, although there isn't as much depth on the OL this year, so an average amount of injuries could cause major problems. Also, it's highly unlikely their defense will lead the league in turnovers and defensive scores again, especially without a healthy Darren Sharper. This points to a regression on both sides of the ball.
  • Carolina Panthers - Matt Moore is fine, and the running game is excellent. The defense, though, is not good at all.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Still a couple years away from being competitive.

NFC Playoff teams (recap):
Giants, Packers, Falcons, Niners, Bears, Saints - only 2/6 repeats from last year, so we slip under the 50% wire.

Now let's watch some football.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Farewell, Sisters Andrews

Finally, they're gone.

The Eagles can now see the end to the shameless whining and excuse-making of Stacy Andrews, who likes hard work and football about as much as his goofy brother. Traded for a 7th-round pick to the Seahawks, and replaced in the starting lineup by the hard-working but barely mediocre Nick Cole, his expensive tenure in Philly will soon be forgotten. And yet, the gulf of talent between the two is reassuring instead of daunting. When Nick Cole screws up this season, and he'll screw up often, at least we'll know that he cares, and he'll try hard to improve. And if he's incompetent, there's a couple more journeymen behind him who will work their asses off to take his spot. There won't be excuses or youtube videos, just football.

With the signing of DT Jeff Owens to the practice squad, that means the Eagles have all 13 draft picks on their roster*. That's an awful lot of turnover for an 11-5 team. But it's comforting, especially when you consider the Redskins cut four of their first six draft picks from April. And I would not say the Eagles kept the rookies around simply out of arrogance or pride. They drafted talent, and each one of these guys earned their spot.

*Two exceptions, sort of: Ricky Sapp was placed on IR, and Chad Scott was traded for rookie Jorrick Calvin. Since Calvin made the active roster, I'm ok with counting him.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cut down day

The Eagles must trim their roster to 53 today. Unlike last year when I struggled to find players good enough to make the 53, the Eagles will be faced with several tough cuts today. Rookies like Jeff Owens, Jamar Chaney, Kennan Clayton, and Kurt Coleman have played too well in the preseason to survive on the practice squad, so the Eagles may be forced to make room for them on the active roster.

An interesting trade with the Cardinals last night brought in guard/tackle Reggie Wells. This spells the end for either the underperforming King Dunlap, or the undermotivated and whining Stacy Andrews. While I couldn't agree more with his contention that the Eagles are misusing him (few teams would sign an All-Pro tackle to a huge contract and then move him to guard), this Andrews sister never displayed the physicality or smarts required to play consistently for the Eagles - and that's no one's fault but his own. Now would be a perfect opportunity to cut ties with this disturbing family completely. Especially if Adam Schefter is correct about interest from other teams and the Birds can recover a draft pick from this fiasco.

Finally, PSU opens their season today with an embarrassing exhibition against DivI-AA Youngstown St. I'm sure this will thoroughly prepare them for a road trip to Alabama next week.