27 January 2007

It was the best of times...

...it was (sometimes) the worst of times.

I was going to write up a season highlights/lowlights kind of deal, and as usual, goeagles99 not only beat me to it, but did a way better job than I could ever do. It's long, but go read it anyway.

I was also going to write a general overview of the season, but then philly.com interviewed Jaws, who, as usual, rocked the analysis. To summarize Inquirer columnist Marc Narducci's point: ESPN needs to pull its head out of its a**, fire that cracked-out tool Michael Irvin and/or that doofus Joe Theismann and put Jaws in the game! He speaks, and it's like the voice of angels. Football angels, that is.

Speaking of Jaws, the NFL Network has been playing half hour recap broadcasts of all the past Super Bowls. And Super Bowl XV came on during breakfast Sunday. It's amazing I could keep my omelette and bacon down. Why doesn't the NFL Network give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it while they're at it? Or replay Super Bowl XXXIX, which I was just starting to get over? Wanna kick some Philadelphian puppies too, NFL Network honchos?

Anyway, as football seasons tend to, this year held some major emotional swings.

Starting 4-1? High.

D-Mac and our receivers blowing up the secondaries of the Texans, the 49ers, the Packers, and the Cowboys for major yardage and points? High.

Blowing a huge lead and then losing to the Giants in OT? Low.

Losing Jevon Kearse for the season during that should-never-have-taken-place OT? Even lower.

Ronde Barber's TWO picks for TDs? Avert your eyes, kids.

D-Mac goes down for the year with a torn ACL on a completely innocuous-looking play? To quote Ray Charles: "If it wasn't for real bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."

Getting THRASHED by the Colts? Is that singing I hear? Who invited that fat lady, damn it!?

And then...they fell like dominoes, one by one. The Panthers. The Skins (again). The Giants (what should have been again). The Cowboys (AGAIN!) And finally, the Falcons (even though it didn't matter by that point). 10-6. NFC East Champions. Wild card game win. Playing well against the Saints and coming close in a tough road game in the divisional round.

Best part? Watching my guys pick themselves up, come together as a team, and turn their season around, while every other NFC East team was preoccupied with one major locker room controversy or another. You think the stable organization Andy Reid has built means nothing? Look around the rest of our division.

A few thoughts...

On Offense

QB controversy, my sweet round booty. Please. I do hope we're able to hang onto both Jeff Garcia and AJ Feeley in case Big 5 isn't 100% by the start of the 2007 season, because they both stepped in - and stepped up - when the chips were down. Think AJ can learn to hold to Akers' satisfaction?

Our O-line was the most consistently excellent component of the 2007 team. Shawn Andrews was the only one to make the Pro Bowl - and sadly, after sustaining an injury in the divisional round against the Saints, he will be unable to play - but arguments could probably be made for several additional members, if not all, of our starting O-line to have joined him.

Our receivers were consistently inconsistent: amazing catch one play, dropping an easy one the next. Some of it is inexperience, either with the pro game (for our young guys) or the system (for our new guys), but they need to work on that. "Dropped Passes" is not a category in which you want to be leading the league, fellas. Speaking of new guys, while I'm hoping we can hang on to Donte, too, it doesn't seem critical to me. Reggie Brown is coming along great, both Hank Baskett and Jason Avant showed promise this year, and Greg Lewis is a low-key, consistent performer. I really think we're OK at receiver.

Westy, as I and many have pointed out before, was COMPLETELY robbed of a Pro Bowl berth. Enough said. Once MM opened up the offense, he came into his own. The guy's money, and we're lucky to have him.

I don't know if Buck's the answer for our short-yardage back problems, but at least he stayed healthy this year. I still miss Dorsey Levens.

LJ had a good year that probably would have been a great year if Big D had stayed healthy. But did you see his blocking in the bottom half of the season? YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

On Defense

For a few series or sometimes even a whole game, our D could be brilliant: sacking the hell out of everyone, shutting down some good runners (like Tiki Barber), mounting thrilling goal-line stands, and takeaways, takeaways, takeaways.

And then there were the other times...guys couldn't tackle to save their lives. Many, many offenses ran all over us, most painfully the Saints in the divisional playoffs. Stupid 11 foot tall Plaxico Burress could only be covered by Lito...standing on Sheldon's shoulders. (Is being that tall legal in the NFL? Shouldn't he have to go play basketball with the rest of the giants?) Stupid brilliant rookie year for Vince Young. (Hear that sound? It's Texans' GM Rick Smith still crying over Charley Casserly's idiotic draft choice.) In almost all of our losses, we were still in the game until the final series, when our D just could not seem to stop anyone from doing anything. Were they all off getting a pretzel?

No doubt, the loss of Jevon Kearse really hurt us. And we had more dumb penalties on defense than I care to count. Sure, Trot's a team leader, but I think his knees are shot. I hear Hugh Douglas' old bad-assador spot is open. Omar Gaither and Tank Daniels had good rookie years. Broderick Bunkley, not so much. We need some serious preventative maintenance on our defensive line and among our linebackers in the off season.

Our defensive secondary, on the other hand, includes two Pro Bowlers, Lito and Dawk, both of whom richly deserved their selections. Lito missed 4 games (5 including the playoffs) and was still an INT machine. Dawk did his usual stellar job of leveling some truly punishing hits and coming up with big plays at big times.

On the other hand, Mike Lewis and Sheldon Brown played like a couple of punks way too often. AR's cagey about injuries, so maybe that contributed, but there was just a serious lack of...fire? Interest? Competence? Rod Hood had the same problem, but I think he's looking for a fat contract and a one-way ticket out of town. Yo, Rod - forgetting to show for about 1/2 the season is not the best way to go about that, homes.

Special teams was, to coin a phrase, nothing special, on either side of the ball. I really like Reno Mahe - I think most people do - but it would be nice to see him rip a big play from time to time. No, one per season is not sufficient. I'm also glad to see us giving a tryout to a new punter.

In the final analysis, I'm really looking forward to next year. I think this team is about 75% there. If we can get our starting QB back, get some sticky hands from our receivers, let Marty keep calling the offense, pick up a few guys to help us shut down the run, and get the occasional big play from special teams, I think another division title and run at The Big One is in the bag.

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