On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dawkins discovers his inner Weapon X

Last week, after being torched by the Dallas Cowboys, much of the blame for the 41 points surrendered by the Eagles’ defense fell on the 34-year-old shoulders of Brian Dawkins. Eagles fans around the area were saying that the man nicknamed “Weapon X” was too old. The man who has been to six Pro Bowls in his career was washed up and ready for retirement.

Then, like his favorite superhero, Wolverine, Dawkins healed his wounds and led the Eagles defense to what probably will be their most impressive performance of the season. Dawkins contributed five tackles, several quarterback hurries, and one superhuman leap to force a Ben Roethlisberger fumble late in the game.

So does Dawkins actually have mutant healing powers like the X-Men comic book hero?

Not quite, but a defensive game plan that played to his strengths certainly made it seem that way.

Against the Cowboys, Dawkins had to cover Jason Witten, who is the premier tight end in the NFL. Witten is too big for a cornerback to cover, and too talented of a route runner for a safety or a linebacker to stick with him, so naturally, Dawkins looked a step too slow when covering Witten one-on-one.Most teams devote a linebacker and a safety to bracket Witten, but the Eagles focused on stopping Terrell Owens and Marion Barber, so Dawkins was left alone to shut down the Pro Bowl tight end.

Fast-forward six days to the Keystone Clash on Sunday, and Brian Dawkins looked like the five-time All Pro safety that we have grown to love. Against the Steelers, Brian Dawkins played much closer to the line of scrimmage, and was used more frequently in a blitzing role. It’s almost as if Dawkins, who could hit like a linebacker and cover like a cornerback in his younger days, is playing more of a strong safety role, which allows him to keep hitting, but limits the amount of time that he is alone in pass coverage.

No matter what you call his new role on defense, it certainly worked, as the Eagles’ defense recorded nine sacks, three turnovers and a safety against the high-powered Steelers offense.

I will freely admit that Brian Dawkins has been my favorite Eagle for many years, so I certainly hope that this new role allows him to continue being a key player on defense for a few more seasons.


Quick thoughts:

* I hate to say I told you so, but I hope all of the Donovan McNabb haters saw the first meaningful pass of Kevin Kolb’s career land in the hands of Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu. Let’s hope that McNabb’s chest injury doesn’t linger and that he hangs around Philadelphia for the rest of his career.

* Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson finally realized that he has three of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, which means that he can leave them alone in man coverage, freeing up his linebackers and safeties to get after the quarterback. If he sends seven guys on the blitz, more often than not, the quarterback is going to rush his throw and the outcome will be favorable for the Eagles.

* Why did the Eagles abandon the deep pass against the Steelers? With Brian Westbrook injured, the Eagles needed to stretch the field to open things up for their backup running backs. I can only remember one deep ball in the second half, and that was thrown to Reggie Brown. Maybe they should have tried deep passes to the speedy DeSean Jackson and not to the guy coming off of a hamstring injury.

* The most important stat of the game was not the nine sacks that the Eagles registered, but the 20 yards they allowed on the ground to running back Willie Parker. Parker had 243 rushing yards in his first two games, but the Eagles took away his running lanes, which forced the Steelers to go pass-heavy with an injured and battered quarterback.

* The wide receivers seem to have carved out their roles after three games. Hank Baskett is a first and second down player, while Jason Avant has taken over the role of the possession receiver, using his excellent hands to move the chains.

* Andy Reid has an entire section of plays for Brian Westbrook, but he abandoned them after Westbrook got hurt. Why didn’t he use Lorenzo Booker in place of Westbrook and run the same plays? All we have heard is that Booker can do many of the things that Westbrook can do, so why not let him try?


Like the “On the Edge” column? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show, where, this week, we will talk about the Eagles/Bears match up, and preview the Phillies’ final series of the regular season. Also, check out my “On the Edge” blog on www.BucksLocalNews.com for more of my thoughts throughout the week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ryan Howard vs. Albert Pujols for MVP

A lot of smart baseball minds are saying that Albert Pujols deserves the MVP over Ryan Howard because of the 100-point disparity in their batting averages. I disagree!

Here are their stat lines through Wednesday night's games:

Pujols: .354, 33 HR, 101 RBI, 91 runs, .458 OBP
Howard: .249, 45 HR, 137 RBI, 96 runs, .337 OBP

Clearly Pujols has the advantage in batting average and on-base percentage, while Howard is up in homers and RBIs. The strange fact is that despite the 121-point lead in on-base percentage, Pujols has crossed the plate five fewer times than Howard. Granted, Pujols has only played 137 games, which probably causes the difference, but the MVP award does not care if you hit the 15-day DL at some point this season or took a few Sundays off.

So here is where it gets interesting. Look at how many runs are specifically created by each player. To do that, combine the number of runs scored and the RBIs, but subtract the number homers because they count to each category, and we only want to count them once. Howard is ahead 188 to 159. This means that those 50 extra hits/walks that Pujols has accumulated actually has resulted in 29 fewer runs crossing the plate. This means that where Ryan Howard struck out, Pujols often got a base hit without driving anyone home or eventually crossing home plate.

Obviously I am taking a very simple approach to this (because I think Howard deserves the MVP if the Phillies make the playoffs), because Pujols' singles could have moved a runner into scoring position who eventually came home to score. However, basing it on pure numbers, Ryan Howard has directly caused 29 more runs to cross home plate this season than Albert Pujols, regardless of how much better he is hitting this season.

Also, the Cardinals are not going to make the playoffs, and if the Phillies do, it will be on the back of Ryan Howard, who is now hitting .393 this month, with 8 homers, 23 RBIs and 17 runs scored.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Phillies show that 'Fightins' spirt

With a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend, the Phillies jumped back into the playoff chase after falling four games behind both the Brew Crew in the wild card race and the Mets in the division race.

Last Thursday, moments before Jamie Moyer took the hill on short rest in the first game of the crucial series with the Brewers, I was talking with several die-hard Phillies fans, and each one agreed that the team just didn’t look like it cared as much as last year’s team did.

And up until Jamie Moyer stepped on the mound, they were right.

Last year, at any moment in any game, you felt as though the Phillies were primed to have a big inning from the offense, and a couple scoreless frames tossed by the bullpen. This year, the Phillies looked dead in the water as Cole Hamels whined himself into a loss against the Mets in a game that would have put them in a tie for first place, and the Phillies bullpen blew leads late in games, while the big stars struck out in clutch situations.

Suddenly, that all has seemed to change. With four great outings from their starters and timely hitting from their stars, the Phillies have that “Fightins” aura around them, which we all hope will carry over through the next two weeks and push them into the playoffs.

Players always try to say that one game doesn’t affect the next game, but after seeing 45-year-old Moyer’s gusty performance in the Phillies 6-3 win over the Brewers, the rest of the team followed his lead and Hamels, Joe Blanton, and then Brett Myers, who also pitched on short rest, turned in dominant outings to bring the Phillies back from the dead.

However, the pitchers weren’t the only ones showing their “Fightins” pride, as the hitters broke out of their listless slumps to back the solid pitching performances. Ryan Howard, who for much of the season looked like strikeouts were the goal, and contact was a mistake, has put the offense on his back in September, hitting .396 with 8 homers and 22 RBIs in 14 games. His clutch hitting has even elevated him into the National League MVP discussion, despite his .249 batting average.

I know it is crazy to think that Albert Pujols wouldn’t win the MVP with his .360 batting average, but he once said that the MVP shouldn’t go to a team that isn’t in the playoffs, so if Howard can slug the Phillies into October, he could come home with his second MVP award in three years. And he certainly is trying! With an RBI triple in the seventh inning, and a game-winning two-run homer in the eighth inning against the Braves last night, Howard is coming through at the most clutch times.

In addition to Howard, Jimmy Rollins has finally found his swing, hitting .368 for the month, while Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth have combined to score 20 runs in 14 September games.

While wins are certainly important, the key factor in all this has been the Brewers dropping 12 of their last 15, and the Mets’ bullpen coughing up two leads against the Atlanta Braves over the weekend. Their struggles have allowed the Phillies to make up for their lackluster August and get back in the race.

Needless to say, last Thursday morning, when the Phillies were four games out of the playoffs, it was nearly football season in Philadelphia, but just like last year, the Phillies are making a run for glory and will keep us tuned in until the very end.

Like the “On the Edge” column? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show, where, this week, we will talk about the Eagles/Steelers match up, and preview the Phillies’ series against the Marlins.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Eagles flex their muscle before Monday night showdown

With a 38-3 thumping of the St. Louis Rams, the Eagles immediately answered several of the questions floating around the team before the season.

The main question surrounding the Eagles every season it seems concerns the quality of their wide receivers. Every year, Head Coach Andy Reid tells anyone who will listen that his guys are good enough to win, as long as they do their job and catch the ball.

On Sunday, even without Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, the Eagles had three 100-yard receivers, including rookie DeSean Jackson, who showed that he is the real deal by hauling in 6 catches for 106 yards. Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett also topped the century mark in yards, while Jason Avant and L.J. Smith added 45 yards and 39 yards, respectively.

The fact that Brian Westbrook only had two catches, shows how smoothly the Eagles offense ran on Sunday afternoon, because when he’s catching eight or ten passes a game, that usually means the offense can’t get going and the receivers aren’t getting open.

The main difference between this performance and the receivers from previous years was their execution of plays. What impressed me most was how DeSean Jackson and the rest of the receivers went to the ball. It seems obvious, but I can’t even count how many times I had seen McNabb throw a pass and the receiver would wait for the ball to come to him, only to have it swatted away, instead of going after the ball and making the grab.

A great game by the wide receivers leads into the next question: How healthy is Donovan McNabb?

Short answer: very healthy. Long-term answer: Hopefully very healthy.

McNabb looked as sharp and decisive as I have ever seen him, and despite not having his top two wide receivers, he looked more confident than ever.

Not to take a shot at Giants fans, but the difference between Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb in week 1 was quite apparent. SuperFive was making crisp throws, and ended with 361 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to the second-string offense, while Manning looked like he reverted back to the 2007 regular season version of himself, throwing for 216 yards and an interception against the Redskins.

Now it is easy to say that the Rams are an awful team and McNabb should pick their defense apart, but without more than 1,800 yards worth of starting wide receivers, it was, without question, the best quarterback performance of the week. On the other hand, Manning should have pulled off a similar performance against the Skins, who were without their top two cornerbacks after Fred Smoot got injured.

The next question answered on Sunday was about the Eagles’ trio of Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks. When the Eagles failed to trade Lito Sheppard, many people openly questioned whether all three cornerbacks could work together on the field. By holding Torry Holt to just 1 catch for 9 yards, all while limiting Steven Jackson to less than three yards per carry, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson showed exactly what this defense is capable of doing each week.

The Birds were ball hawks all game, getting their hands on three St. Louis passes that should have been intercepted, and making quick hits to limit any running after the catch. Especially impressive was Sheldon Brown’s helmet-breaking hit on Steven Jackson in the open field, and overall, the Eagles’ defense simply dominated the Rams in all aspects of the game.

The final question going into the season was about the Eagles’ special teams play. Last year in the first game of the season, two muffed punts cost the Eagles a victory over the Green Bay Packers. This year, DeSean Jackson has claimed the job on punt returns and immediately showed his explosiveness, taking one 60 yards before being stopped inside the 20. I fully expect two or three touchdowns out of the special teams this season.

On the other side of the kicking, the coverage teams were flying around the ball, limiting Dante “the Human Joystick” Hall to just an 18-yard average on kickoff returns.

While the dominating victory over the Rams was fun to watch after eight long, football-less months, the real test comes next week when the Eagles travel to Dallas for a Monday night showdown in Big D. The Cowboys took care of the Cleveland Browns, 28-10, with impressive performances by Tony Romo, Marion Barber and Jason Witten. Dallas was able to shut down the Browns’ high-powered passing attack, while controlling the time of possession battle on offense, so we will all know soon enough where the Eagles really stand.
Prediction: Eagles win, 27-20, and Asante Samuel makes up for his two drops against the Rams.


Like the “On the Edge” column? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wave goodbye to Kyle Kendrick

After last night's horrendous outing by Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, one would have to assume that the 7 runs he surrendered to the Marlins, in just 1 1/3 innings, will be his last as a starter with the Phils.

Next year, the Phillies will have six guys competing for five spots in the rotation. With Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer set to take the top four spots, J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco will be vying for the final opening. That doesn't include Adam Eaton, who hopefully will be released, and Kendrick, who probably will be traded in the offseason, or sent to Lehigh Valley to waste away until some pitching coach thinks that he can bring Kendrick in and fix him up. It also doesn't include any starter that the Phillies might take a flyer on in the free agent market.

In his last six starts, Kendrick has given up 7, 6, 1, 2, 6, and 7 runs. If only Rich Dubee could harness the middle two starts, Kendrick would be an ace. However, the reality is that Kendrick is more of a smoke and mirrors type pitcher, so he'll probably be gone this offseason.

The 10-8 loss, in which Chase Utley stranded the tying run at second base in the sixth inning, dropped the Phils 2.5 games back of the Mets. The season isn't over, but they can't lose too many more of the final 17 games.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Listen live today at 3:30 on WBCB 1490 AM

Everyone should tune in today at 3:30 p.m. for On the Edge on your radio, on WBCB 1490 AM. I'll be talking about the Phillies/Mets series, as well as the weekend in the NFL.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

NFC East could provide rocky flight for the Birds

As the NFL season approaches, there is a lot of uncertainty hanging around the NFC East. The division, which many experts view as one of the strongest from top to bottom, could have four ten-win teams, or as very few people are willing to put in writing, a few teams that wind up in the top 10 of next year’s NFL draft.
And, in case you were wondering, either could be the Eagles’ fate this season.

Starting with the Birds, who Sports Illustrated picks to make it to the Super Bowl this February, the entire season hinges on the health of Donovan McNabb. During the last few weeks, I have written about the Eagles’ strength on defense and their ability to survive Kevin Curtis’ injury, but the Eagles will only go as far as SuperFive takes them. If he is healthy, the Eagles have the ability to challenge the Cowboys for NFC East supremacy, but if he goes down early, Eagles fans could be looking at a very frustrating 17 weeks.
Right now, I’m betting on a full and productive season from McNabb.
Expected finish: 11-5

Looking at the rest of the division, the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins all have the potential to win 12 games, but hopefully for us here in Eagles Country, their flaws will be greater than their strengths, and they all end up under .500 like in 2004.

According to all of the experts, the defending NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys are the best team in the division, and probably the best team in the conference. With guys like Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Jason Witten and Terrell Owens on offense, it is going to take a perfectly executed defensive game plan to shut down the Cowboys offense. At least that is how they draw it up. In reality, without other reliable options at wide receiver, teams can focus on limiting Owens and Witten, and force no-names like Isaiah Stanback and Patrick Crayton to make big plays. On defense, any time safety Roy Williams is on the field, the Cowboys are a mere pump fake away from giving up a long touchdown pass.
Expected finish: 12-4

The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants stumbled into the playoffs last season, but turned into a world-class team in the playoffs and shut down the high-powered New England Patriots. This season, the Giants could repeat as Super Bowl champs if Eli Manning really is the nearly flawless quarterback from January and February, but if he is quarterback who tossed 20 interceptions on his way to a 73.9 quarterback rating, the Giants are in trouble. In addition to the Eli Manning enigma, the Giants lost both of their starting defense ends - Michael Strahan to retirement, and Osi Umenyiora to a knee injury - and starting safety Gibril Wilson to free agency. While Justin Tuck can replace one of the ends on the top line of the depth chart, he is the only one left from the trio of ends that posted 32 sacks last season. I have praised this defense several times since the Super Bowl, but that is a lot of talent to lose in one offseason.
Expected finish: 8-8

In recent years, the Washington Redskins have been known more for their activity from March through August, than for their play from September through February. This offseason was no exception, as they continued their hording of average wide receivers by adding two in the draft. The only problem is that both draft picks, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, missed valuable time this offseason due to injury, so they can’t be counted on to provide much production this season. On defense, the Skins added to their impressive pass rush by grabbing defense end Jason Taylor in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. In the end, much like the Eagles and the Giants, their fate resides in the hands of their quarterback, Jason Campbell. He has struggled as pro because of the constant turnover on the Redskins coaching staff, but finally some stability could be coming to D.C. I think Campbell and the Skins are still a year or two away from fully clicking on offense, so this season might count as practice for serious playoff runs in the coming years.
Expected finish: 7-9.

Regardless of whether I am right or wrong on these predictions, the NFC East is going to be a dog fight. All four of these teams probably could win any other division in the conference, and McNabb may not have been right when he said that the NFC East comes through Philadelphia, but the NFC title certainly comes through the NFC East.


Like reading my thoughts? Get ready to hear my thoughts! Check me out on WBCB 1490 AM on Friday afternoons during Coffee with Kahuna as I preview the weekend’s local high school, college and NFL games. During my segment on the show, I’ll also give fantasy football advice and my picks for the weekend’s most important games. Make sure to tune in!
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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