31 October 2016

"Some Things Never Change...And Some Things Do"

Philadelphia Eagles 23, Dallas Cowboys 29, Sunday, October 30, 2016

You know, even with turning over the entire coaching staff (other than Dave "All I Do Is Be Awesome" Fipp), getting a shiny new QB, and replacing a bunch of the skill players, it is still the case that, when the chips are down and the game is on the line, and we need a big offensive series or a major defensive stand, Bleeding Green Nation can count on the Birds to fail to deliver, crushing our hopes and dreams in the process.

Well, at least it wasn't a tie.

Stud of the week: I'm picking Ryan Mathews, because he scored and he managed not put the ball on the turf once this week. Yes, the bar has been lowered. Substantially. I can't pick Darren Sproles every week, folks! (or can I?)

If you recall, my three keys to an Eagles victory were:
I think Jim Schwartz will figure out a way to rattle Dak and pressure him into making some mistakes, and we've seen that the D can be real ball hogs. Count on Dave Fipp to bring some special teams magic, too.
Well, they managed all three. Fipp and special teams brought the magic (a 55 yard field goal? that is, to quote my friend Reggie, "stoopid good," as was Josh Huff's 53 yard kick off return at the end of the third quarter), Dak was clearly rattled and did not actually play very well, Jordan Hicks had an end zone pick that led to an Eagles field goal (a 10 point swing) and the Birds even scored 23 points in regulation, five higher than what the Cowboys have been allowing. But it still wasn't enough to get 'er done. Why?

Tackling, or lack thereof. It's a basic football skill, right? So why can't the Birds do it? I can't even count how many times I saw Ezekiel Elliott run by the entire defense, offense, special teams, practice squad, IR list, coaching staff, equipment manager, and the intern who dispenses the Gatorade. Man, did the Birds miss Bennie Logan Sunday night. Get well soon, big man.

Secondly, the Birds are so thin on the O-line that at one point, I'm almost positive I saw Jason Peters drag a tackling sled onto the field to line up next to him at guard.

Also, NO ONE CAN CATCH THE DAMN BALL other than Darren Sproles, and, intermittently, Jordan Matthews. Oh wait, Zach Ertz can usually catch a two yard pass, but that's all you're getting from him. Could someone please sit him down and explain YAC? He seems to be utterly unfamiliar with the concept. Use a diagram or puppets if you have to. Here's the thing: he's 6'5" so statistically, he'd do better if they just handed him the ball at the line of scrimmage and he fell forward.

Too many WR screens? Hell yes (we'll get to that in a minute), but what other options does Doug Pederson have, if NONE of the receivers can get any separation downfield?

As Reuben Frank put it:
The Eagles’ desperate need for a playmaker has never been so glaring as it was Sunday night in Dallas. Wentz can throw the ball down the field, he just has nobody who can get open. And when they do get open, they drop the ball.
Yep. The Eagles need to put a priority on drafting O-line in the next few years, but they need a decent receiver, like, YESTERDAY.

Meanwhile, none of the running backs can hang onto the ball, either, other than Darren Sproles, and sometimes (only you can never tell when) Ryan Mathews. When Wendell Smallwood fumbled at the beginning of the fourth quarter, leading to the Cowboys field goal that cut the Eagles lead  to 7, I knew we were in trouble.

Pederson proceeded to follow that debacle up with an idiotic trick play that was followed by an even more idiotic screen pass (when they were NOT working) when they COULD NOT afford to lose yards, because it knocked them out of field goal range, or at least Pederson apparently thought so, which is dumb because Sturgis had already nailed one from 55 (twice, actually), but, continuing on the brain fart train, Pederson decided to punt, when letting Sturgis attempt the 53 yarder could've kept it a two-score game, and that was the final nail. The game would continue for nearly another 14 minutes (including OT), but raise your hand if you knew, right then, it had slipped away. [watches while EVERYONE raises their hands]

Bad play calling, as the private Eagles fan group I belong to universally agreed. The problem is, when the only offensive skill player you can rely on other than the QB is Darren Sproles, your options get pretty limited pretty fast. Dude's multi-talented, but he's 33, and he can only do so much.

MUST. GET. DECENT. RECEIVER. ASAP.

(Does this feel familiar, or what? Shades of Donovan McNabb and three-headed "monster" that was James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell, and Todd Pinkston. Hopefully, Doug will figure out faster than Andy did that he has to get his QB some targets.)

How much trouble would one get in, really, if she up and kidnapped AJ Green? Asking for a friend....





27 October 2016

2016 Week 8 Picks

DALLAS WEEK!

Time to get your hate on.

And at the beginning of the season who would've guessed that, with two rookie starting QBs, these two teams would be playing IN PRIME TIME for the mid-season lead of the NFC East?

(Not me.)

Dak Prescott is playing, as we all know, extremely well. Meanwhile, the Dallas D, although not top-ranked and not terribly successful causing turnovers or pressuring QBs, is holding opposing teams under 18 points. If you can do that, you'll win a lot of games.

Meanwhile, the Birds are hot and cold.  Sometimes the D looks like world-beaters - and sometimes they *get* beat like a redheaded stepchild. Carson Wentz, turns out, does throw picks. PENALTIES PENALTIES PENALTIES.

What's going to happen Sunday night? This season, it does seem like the Eagles play up - or down - to the competition, and the 2016 Cowboys are no joke, so I hope we'll see the GOOD Eagles this week.

Pretty much everybody has the Cowboys, but I have a good feeling about this one, so I'm going Eagles. I think Jim Schwartz will figure out a way to rattle Dak and pressure him into making some mistakes, and we've seen that the D can be real ball hogs. Count on Dave Fipp to bring some special teams magic, too. (And F Dallas.)

In the other matchups:

Jaguars at Titans: Titans

DC "at" Bengals: DC

Chiefs at Colts: Colts (upset pick, well upset pick aside from the Birds, that is)

Raiders at Buccaneers: Bucs

Seahawks at Saints: Seahawks

Lions at Texans: Lions

Jets at Browns: Jets (hey, Cleveland, you can't win them all, unless you're Boston and willing to make an actual pact with the devil)

Patriots at Bills: Bills (another upset pick)

Cardinals at Panthers: Cards

Chargers at Broncos: Broncos

Packers at Falcons:  Packers

Vikings at Bears: Vikings

On bye: 49ers, Dolphins, Giants, Rams, Ravens, Steelers












24 October 2016

Are We *Sure* These Are Both Professional Football Teams?

Philadelphia Eagles 21, Minnesota Vikings 10, Sunday, October 23, 2016

But the real winners are the research assistants for ESPN's Monday Night Countdown "C'mon Man!" segment, who just have to play the not even 3 minutes of game time in the first quarter that saw a total of FOUR turnovers and a recovered fumble, and they're done for the day. It's Miller Time! Fellow Eagles Maniac and I were pretty much watching the game through our fingers at that point.

Stud of the Week: Making his first appearance of the year, Josh Huff. After a mess of a first quarterin which both teams were scoreless, the Vikings had finally managed to get in range to kick a field goal. On the ensuing kick-off, Huff fielded the ball at the Philly 2 yard line (generally a very bad idea), and streaked 98 yards for a touchdown (assisted by excellent blocks from tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, which BGN breaks down very nicely). The Eagles never again surrendered the lead to what had been the only remaining undefeated team, and in fact gave up no more points aside from a garbage-time TD. (Also, Dave Fipp's work with special teams continues to be quietly excellent. Caleb Sturgis made all his attempts and Donnie Long Ball Jones had another solid punting day.)

After last week, I was worried about the O-line. The Vikings have a VERY good defense, and the o-line (Halapoulivaati Vaitai in particular), was not brilliant last week. Stefan Wisniewski even took the uncharacteristic (at least in the Birds' locker room) step of calling Vaitai and the coaching staff out publicly after his dreadful performance against the Washington Football Team (admittedly, Wisniewski is not exactly a disinterested party here). Mercifully,Vaitai was better this week. The whole line was better this week.

Another encouraging sign: Carson Wentz threw two picks that were 100% his fault. They didn't get tipped, or bounce out of a receiver's hands, and nobody zigged when he should've zagged. Nope. Wentz just threw it to a Vikings defender. Twice. So why is that encouraging? Because he didn't lose his shit over it. One of the key things rookies, particularly rookie QBs, need to learn is how to let bad plays go and move on to the next snap. And he did. And when the Birds' got the penalty on the extra point and decided "what the hell, let's go for 2!" he executed an excellent QB keeper for the score.

The real story of the game, though, was the defense. Great moments included:

The entire defense escorting Malcolm Jenkins down the field after his pick, even if the TD was called back because he was touched down.

Connor Barwin stripping the ball from Sam Bradford and Beau Allen picking it up. A fat boy defensive TD would've been great, but on a day when his breast cancer survivor mom was there and he was wearing a pink ribbon in his increasingly long ponytail (that he's growing out to donate to Locks of Love), it was still pretty sweet.

FOUR FORCED FUMBLES. FOUR.

SIX SACKS. SIX.

Jordan Hicks had EIGHT SOLO TACKLES. EIGHT (plus three assists). Good to see him worthy of his #58 again. Proud tradition to uphold there, sophomore.

Stopping the Vikings on 3-1 and 4-1 from the Birds' 6 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. NO POINTS FOR YOU.

The Birds' have a top-ranked defense. The last two weeks, they haven't played like that. This week, they did. And hey! Look at the score!

A not-so-great moment? Ryan Matthews can't hold on to the damn ball. I don't care how his ankle is feeling if he keeps putting the ball on the turf in critical situations.

This now sets up a HUGE contest in prime time against the Cowboys next Sunday night about which I'm sure the NFL schedulers are giggling with glee. Eagles/Cowboys pretty much always merits one prime time slot - both teams have passionate nation-wide fan bases - but the NFL has to be particularly pleased with their luck this year, with a matchup of two hot rookie quarterbacks in Wentz and Prescott and two well-ranked defenses (the Eagles currently coming in at #5, and the Cowboys in the mid-teens). So we all enjoy the win for, like, 10 more minutes and then start freaking out, right?



20 October 2016

2016 Week 7 Picks

This week, the Eagles host the undefeated Vikings, aka The Revenge of The Bradford.

I still think trading Sam Bradford was the right thing to do, particularly given what Howie got for him and how well Carson Wentz is doing (let's put it this way: Wentz is NOT the reason the Eagles have dropped the last two). Still, it stings, at least a little. He's playing great for them WITHOUT Adrian Peterson, and their defense has been solid so far, too.

Meanwhile, while the Birds have a potentially terrific rookie QB, there are too many holes - and not enough depth - all over the place. The o-line. The wideouts. The secondary. This could be a great team someday, but that day is not this day.

Anyone think the Birds are going to win?

Yeah, me neither.

Vikings.

In the rest of the matchups:

Bears at Packers: Packers

Giants "at" Rams (in reality, in London): The Giants are a better team, but I think the Josh Brown mess is going to blow back on them. Rams, for my upset pick

Saints at Chiefs: Chiefs

Colts at Titans: Titans

Browns at Bengals: Bengals

DC at Lions: DC

Raiders at Jaguars: Raiders

Bills at Dolphins: Bills

Ravens at Jets: Ravens

Buccaneers at 49ers: 49ers

Chargers at Falcons: Falcons

Patriots at Steelers: Pats

Seahawks at Cardinals: Seahawks

Texans at Broncos: Broncos

On bye: Cowboys, Panthers




17 October 2016

It May Be Time to Revise Expectations

Eagles 20, Washington Football Team 27, Sunday, October 16, 2016

Who knew Lane Johnson was the key to everything?

Stud of the week: Making his first appearance, Wendell Smallwood. Way to go, rookie! He did not
have a great day on the ground (4 attempts to 6 yards, and no that's not a typo) or through the air (1 reception for 14 yards), but he did run back a kickoff 86 yards for a TD to give the Birds their first points of the game, which was quickly followed by a Malcolm Jenkins pick-6 that gave us all a (false) sense of hope.

The rest of the game? If you look up "hot mess" in the dictionary, there's a link to video of Ryan Kerrigan sacking Carson Wentz (almost completely removing his jersey in the process) on the Eagles first possession, and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the game.

The offensive line couldn't block. The receivers couldn't catch. The backs couldn't find holes. Wentz had a down game, overthrowing a lot of guys (it's early to panic, but he may be regressing to the rookie norm). The defensive line couldn't pressure Kirk Cousins. The secondary couldn't cover. At least special teams did a good job, but I don't want to see Donnie Jones 4,546,235 times in a quarter.

If you'll recall, when I picked this game as a Birds' close win so optimistically only four days ago, I was worried about the offensive line. So that was prescient, because Halapoulivaati Vaitai did not have a good day (in case you were lucky enough to be in a coma or attending your mother's funeral yesterday afternoon). He did OK when they gave him help, but when they didn't, Ryan Kerrigan was up in Wentz's face in a nanosecond every snap.

All of a sudden, WFT remembered how to stop the run and tackle. Just our luck. And the Birds' D, as I mentioned, suddenly forgot how to get to the QB. If you can pressure Kirk Cousins, he makes mistakes, like the pick-6 to Malcolm Jenkins. If not, he looks like freakin' John Elway back there. Meanwhile, the WFT receivers were running wild all over the damn field, with no one in midnight green anywhere near them. DeSean Jackson is going to get his catches, sure, but so did Pierre Garcon AND Jamison Crowder AND Vernon Davis AND some guy named Chris Thompson who might've just been a fan who happened to wander onto the field.

And penalties. OK, sure, the officiating last week in Detroit was, like, historically bad. They really should be able to keep track of which team is on offense and which is on defense. That seems like a minimum standard to be a professional referee, right? But this week, the zebras were within a normal range of deviation bad. Yes, there was one DREADFUL block in the back penalty called on Wendell Smallwood that really didn't happen and killed a big gain on 3rd down after which the Eagles ended up punting...again (4,546,236 and counting). And there was plenty of holding called where there was obvious offsetting holding from the WFT. But this is now THREE games in a row with a ridiculous amount of penalties. You can't win that way, guys, not consistently.

I guess one bright spot is that the game was a lot more lopsided watching it than the score reflects. The Eagles were able to keep battling even though it seemed pretty obvious after the first half that they were going to lose. The defense woke up and only allowed two field goals after the half (of course,  they had already given up 21 points and were down by 10, so it was too little too late). Despite being nearly decapitated a number of times, Carson Wentz didn't panic or make a ton of mistakes (although taking those sacks at the end....ouch), and it is only his fifth start (although if you want to scare the shit out of him, show up at his house in two weeks dressed as #91 in the burgundy and gold).

Just as a reminder, here are the current NFC East standings:


Read it and weep, Birdgang.

Also, the road doesn't get easier. The Eagles face the undefeated Vikings next week (and you KNOW Sam Bradford wants to burn his old team), and the current combined record of their next six opponents is 24-9. Yikes.

13 October 2016

2016 Week 6 Picks

This week, the Eagles are coming to town to take on the Washington Football Team (aka WFT, aka DC).

Did you hear the rumor that DeSean Jackson might be interested in coming back to Philly? On the one hand, terrible idea. On the other hand, since none of the Birds' other receivers can seem to get any separation at all and Carson Wentz seems to have quite the arm, maybe not. Regardless, I don't expect him to show up at the NovaCare Center for practice tomorrow, so at least for this week, the point is moot. Chef Spouse still has your jersey, though, Peanut!

I have to admit, I was both surprised and disappointed at last week's loss to the Lions. Damn it! I have expectations now.

I gotta tell you, I'm worried about Josh Norman, particularly given the aforementioned inability of the wideouts to get separation. At least Jordan Matthews is bigger than Norman, and has shown a willingness to go up and get the ball. Speaking of size, I'm also hoping Zach Ertz gets some touches.

The other big concern is that Lane Johnson's suspension is on, and it's started. Can the line hold up without him?

If it can, and Wentz can hit some of his bigger receivers, and we see some Darren Sproles and some more of Kenjon Berner and Wendell Smallwood (so far, the WFT can't tackle for shit), and the Birds' defense can harry or even knock down Kirk Cousins, Sunday should be fun (well, for me anyway, if not for my neighbors). If the line falls apart and Josh Norman can take some passes away from Nelson Agholor, it could be a long day.

I like the Eagles, but I suspect it's going to be a nail-biter either way.

In the rest of the matchups...

Do you really want my picks? So far this year, they've pretty much been shite.

Really?

OK, but don't say I didn't warn you....

Broncos at Chargers: I know they're down at the moment, but I think the Broncos are going to pull this out, not least of which because the Chargers are EPICLY bad in the second half.

49ers at Bills: Bills

Browns at Titans: Titans

Giants at Ravens: Giants

Panthers at Saints: Saints (see I TOLD you something was wrong with Cam)

Jaguars at Bears: Jags

Rams at Lions: Lions

Steelers at Dolphins: Steelers

Bengals at Patriots: Pats

Chiefs at Raiders: Raiders

Falcons at Seahawks: Seahawks

Cowboys at Packers: Packers

Colts at Texans: Texans

Jets at Cardinals: Cards

On bye: Buccaneers, Vikings

10 October 2016

Into Every Football Season A Little Rain Must Fall

Eagles 23, Lions 24, Sunday, October 9, 2016 

Doug Pederson may have learned many things under Andy Reid's tutelage, but he clearly didn't pick up Andy's "always win after the bye" thing. Maybe he was absent that day?

Stud of the week: Making his billionth appearance in this spot, Darren Sproles. He remains, at 33
years old, one of the best all-round utility players in the game. He only had a total of about 70 yards all together (rushing, catching, punt return), but they were important yards, particularly on the ground, where he made the most of his trademark "quick cut and hit the hole." I don't know how much longer he can play at this level - I hope a long time - but I do know that Philly is going to miss the hell out of him when he's done.

OK, no one thought the Eagles were going to go 16-0 this year, even after their hot start, so we all knew this was coming. Likewise with Carson Wentz and interceptions. Still, this was a frustrating game to watch.

The defense was completely MIA in the first half. Now this is just a theory, but I think it might be because Mychal Kendricks appeared to be playing in place of Nigel Bradham who I'm guessing was being disciplined because of the "gun in carryon" mess? Maybe? But Kendricks was not good, and when Bradham came back in the second half, all of a sudden the defense was playing lights out, like we've come to know and love in the past month. Remember when we all thought Mychal Kendricks was going to be the shit? Yeah, so that doesn't seem to be working out. Thing is, you can't really be getting down 14-0 by the end of the first quarter (and then 21-7 midway through the second) and expect good things to happen.

I feel like Keystone Kops ending to the first half summarized a lot of what went wrong with the game, including the bad officiating. First, the Sproles "chop block" call, which was some serious BS.  Dude's just short. What's he supposed to do, whip out a step ladder? Then there was the deep pass to Jordan Matthews that almost wasn't because "number 98 was illegally downfield." It's literally not possible for DEFENSIVE LINEMAN Connor Barwin to be illegally downfield ON OFFENSE. WTF, zebras? Then 1-10 turns into 1-20 due to O-line holding, then Wentz get sacked, then Zach Ertz, in his first game back, gets called for offensive PI, leading to 3-36. Fortunately, Ertz redeemed himself on the next play, and got Caleb Sturgis (who is playing LIKE A BOSS) set up for a 50 yard field goal to send the Birds into the locker room down by 11, but still, that was a hot mess of a series.

And speaking of: where were the tight ends all day? Aren't the Lions supposed to be really bad at defending tight ends?

Things, and by "things" I mean the defense, improved significantly in the second half, even causing a turnover deep in Lions' territory, and then the Birds had to settle for a short field goal. Not good on the road in a loud stadium against a team that desperately needed the win.

Even with all that mess, the Birds managed to go ahead with 6 and change left in the game, and the defense forced a fairly quick 3-and-out with just under 5 to go. Hope! Just don't screw it up, Birds - keep it on the ground, get some yards, put up another field goal, get up by 5, defense has really tightened up, we're good here!

Or not.

Ryan Matthews fumbled (credit the Lions' Darius Slay for a well-placed helmet). And the zebras blew another call, and this one was a killer. The Birds still would've had to punt, but Jason Kelce clearly touched the ball when he was clearly on the paint. What should've been a dead ball was called a turnover. About a minute of game time later, it's the Lions putting up 3 to go ahead by 1.

And then Carson Wentz finally made a rookie mistake. He *had* time to methodically get the ball downfield, and the Birds' hot kicker would have been good from 50+, and yet I guess he thought he saw something, bombed it to Nelson Agholor, and that was all Big Slay needed. Pick. Game over. (PS, Nelson, when you realized you weren't going to be able to come down with that ball, you had ONE JOB: make sure Darius Slay doesn't. And you failed, man.)

That being said, Wentz is still playing OUTSTANDING overall (even, other than the pick, yesterday, when it seemed like NO receiver could get ANY separation EVER), and it was good to see him have to battle back from being down and do it mostly successfully and without getting rattled.  To quote Reuben Frank:
His numbers through four games: 91 for 135 (67.4 percent) for 1,007 yards with seven touchowns and one interception for a 103.5 passer rating. Insane.
Insane, indeed. I'm still nervous to say it out loud, but it's possible the Birds have FINALLY found Donovan McNabb's successor.

This loss could turn out to be a good thing. The last thing the Birds need at this stage is to get swelled heads about how awesome they are, and, if they can rebound against DC next week, this week will go down in the Tale of 2016 as a critical reality check at just the right time.


06 October 2016

2016 Week 5 Picks

GRUDGE MATCH!

OK, not really, but the Eagles are taking on Jim Johnson heir apparent Jim Schwartz's old team - you know, the one that fired him - the Lions.

The big concern is that the Eagles will now have swelled heads after their hot start and not be ready to play after a week off. (Well, that and that Lane Johnson's status is, as of Thursday, still in question.)

Thing is, I don't see either Jim "Don't Get Labeled a Dumb Ass" Schwartz and Doug Pederson are going to let the guys get slack. I don't think Carson Wentz is going to lose focus. I think Zach Ertz is going to feel Trey Burton breathing down his neck.

Trap game? I don't think so - but we could be seeing what Halapoulivaati Vaitai's got more than we all anticipated.

Eagles

In the other matchups:

Cardinals at 49ers: I know, I know - once again, the game has already started. I was flying back from celebrating a milestone birthday with You-Two-Calm-Down-Or-I'm-Turning-Off-The-TV Dad and the rest of the fam (including Dorkman, The Lovely Ms. Dorkman, and their three kiddos) in Tennessee and then had dance classes, so cut me some slack. Also, Cardinals

Patriots at Browns: So I pick the Pats, and they get SHUT OUT by the DAMN BILLS. That's not going to happen again this week. Pats

Bears at Colts: Colts

Titans at Dolphins: Dolphins. Oh, Marcus Mariota, when will you live up to your potential?

DC at Ravens: Ravens

Texans at Vikings: Vikings

Jets at Steelers: Steelers

Falcons at Broncos: Broncos

Bengal at Cowboys: Bengals

Bills at Rams: Rams

Chargers at Raiders: Raiders

Giants at Packers: Packers

Buccaneers at Panthers: Bucs (upset pick, also I think there's something really wrong with Cam Newton)

On bye: Chiefs, Jaguars, Saints, Seahawks