On The Edge Blog

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So close, yet so far (part 1)

(Part one of a three-part series)
It took me about a week, but I finally am able to watch sports again, and just my luck, I returned to the sports world just in time to see my alma mater get pounded by 41 against Duke in college basketball. But then I turned my attention to the Super Bowl and remembered that for the 24th time in my life, the Eagles aren’t taking part in this game, and I’m determined to figure out why.

Over the next three weeks (assuming nothing major happens in sports that I feel I should write about) I will break down what the Eagles need to do between now and September to make sure next year isn’t the 25th time in my life that they fall short of the Super Bowl, and maybe, just maybe, even win it.

For starters, if the Eagles could have stopped Larry Fitzgerald, they would be playing in the Super Bowl this year, but obviously that didn’t happen!

Let’s start this three-part series at the top, with the head coach. I am still angry at the disgraceful way Andy Reid handled Donovan McNabb’s benching earlier this season, but it certainly worked as a motivator, as the Eagles won four of their last five regular season games and added two more wins in the playoffs to make it to the conference title game. Right now, many people are saying that it is time for Reid’s time on the sidelines to end, and that owner Jeffrey Lurie should bring in a “winner,” like former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, to get the Eagles that elusive Super Bowl victory.

I am not one of those people.

Cowher has indeed won a Super Bowl, but he did it in his 14th season with the Steelers, but Reid has only been with the Eagles for 10 seasons, so to be fair, let’s compare each coach’s first 10 years.

Through 10 seasons the coaches have similar records, with Cowher winning two more games than Reid, but amazingly, an equal number of ties. Each coach led his team to seven playoff appearances in his first 10 seasons, but Reid has four more playoff wins than Cowher, and both coaches were quite unsuccessful at making the Super Bowl, as Reid is 1-4 in conference championship games, while Cowher went 1-3 in his first 10 seasons.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll give Andy four more seasons to win a Super Bowl before I go calling for Bill Cowher, especially considering Andy wasn’t the coach who thought Kordell Stewart and his 70.7 career quarterback rating was a franchise quarterback.

Another point of contention with Reid is his playcalling, and the team’s lack of running plays. We can all debate the effectiveness of Reid’s playcalling, but those plays have gotten us to the playoffs seven out of 10 seasons, and to the NFC Championship game five times, so I won’t sit here and say that I could call a better game on offense.

While Andy Reid the coach is fine for right now in my opinion, Andy Reid the general manager needs a little help. The general manager version of Big Red is excellent at letting go of aging veterans - Duce Staley, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Hugh Douglas, and Jeremiah Trotter - but he definitely needs help bringing in players, and he certainly needs help determining that proven stars are worth more than the potential of a future draft pick.

I’m a huge fan of Brent Celek, who was a steal in the fifth round two years ago, but trading a second round pick in the upcoming draft would have gotten us Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, and opened up the field for guys like Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson. I like that we signed Chris Clemons, but Jared Allen would have looked great on our defensive line, and it would have cost us two first round picks, which probably would have been wasted anyway, considering our first selections the last two drafts were Kevin Kolb and Trevor Laws.

In addition to his hoarding of draft picks, Reid always seems to have one positional blind spot on the roster each season. This year, he didn’t have a true fullback on the roster. Last year, the Eagles went into the season without a punt returner. In previous years, the Eagles have had awful wide receivers or lacked a run-stuffer on defense, but these are all things that the rest of the front office could help with, so I’m not willing to place the blame solely on Reid for these shortcomings.

Through ten seasons, I honestly believe that Andy Reid has gotten those most out of the players on the team, and deserves to keep coaching here until he’s ready to move on. When that time comes, I think Reid would be the first person to accurately say that he can no longer coach at a high level. Besides, name me an available coach who would do a better job, especially seeing how similar Reid and Cowher’s records are through 10 seasons.

Next week, I will break down what the Eagles should do on offense this offseason, and then I’ll break down the defense the following week to complete this three-part series.

Super Bowl prediction: Arizona pulls off the big upset, winning 27-24 over the Steelers.

Like the “On the Edge” Blog? 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 break down Super Bowl XLIII and possibly even talk about non-football sports!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Poor decisions doom Eagles

With only two more wins needed for a second championship parade in three months, I honestly believed that the Eagles were going to win their first Super Bowl.

However, I forgot that the Eagles, while full of talented players, have some of the worst execution I have ever seen from a sports team. And the blame doesn’t go to just one person or one group of players or one referee who doesn’t think that tackling a wide receiver while the ball is in the air constitutes pass interference; I’m placing it on every single one of them.

Perhaps that is what bothers me most about the Eagles’ 32-25 loss. They are a better team than the Arizona Cardinals, but they played poorly and made bad decisions.

In the other three NFC Championship game losses, you can point to one play that would have turned it in our favor, but we really weren’t the better team in any of those games. Against the St. Louis Rams, the Eagles were the young, inexperienced underdogs, but could have won if N.D. Kalu knew how to properly block a punt. Hey, N.D., hands forward, not hands up!

The following year against Tampa Bay, the Eagles were favored, but that Buccaneers team was better at every position except quarterback, and it showed. However, if Michael Lewis was playing safety instead of the aging and injured Blaine Bishop, Joe Jurevicius would have never been able to outrun the defense for 71 yards on a crossing route to set up a Buccaneer touchdown.

Against Carolina, the Eagles were playing without Brian Westbrook, but if Donovan McNabb and Duce Staley connected on that halfback wheel play, Staley goes in for a long touchdown and I believe the Eagles win that game.

And that brings us to Sunday. The Eagles, from head coach Andy Reid all the way down to terrible wide receiver Greg Lewis, made so many bad decisions and bad plays that I’m shocked the Eagles even had a chance at the end.

Three plays into the game, the Eagles made their first unbelievably bad decision. Arizona had a third-and-1 at the their own 29, and Eagles’ cornerback Asante Samuel stood eight yards away from all-world wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Guess what happened? Fitzgerald rolls across the middle, catches a wide open short pass for a first down and a few plays later, the Eagles are down 7 points.

Wouldn’t you think about playing press coverage on that play? I pointed it out before the play was snapped, but apparently if something is so obvious that I can see it on TV, it’s much too obvious for a guy with a $60 million contract to notice.

Then just before the end of the first half, rookie safety Quinton Demps laid out Kurt Warner for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, which led to a field goal at the end of the half by Neil Rackers, and put the Eagles in an 18-point hole heading into the locker room.Personally, I think Demps will be a solid safety in the NFL, but considering this play and the fact that he got burned for a 62-yard touchdown catch by Fitzgerald, wouldn’t it have been smarter to play a veteran like Lito Sheppard in his place? I know Lito has been buried way down on the depth chart, but after those two plays by Demps, Lito’s experience would have been a welcome sight on the field.

Switching over to offense, why does it seem like our receivers just rotate in and out randomly every play? Watching on TV, you would see a player make a catch and then see him on the sideline for the next play? I know football is a tough game, but these guys should be in good enough shape to be on the field for consecutive downs.

More importantly, why would Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett be on the field at the same time? That means the Eagles top three receivers were all on the sidelines during key plays in the NFC Championship game.

I don’t think I ever saw Larry Fitzgerald skip a play, but apparently all of our receivers are equally talented, so it doesn’t matter who is on the field. There were even third downs where Brian Westbrook was on the sideline! I thought the goal was to have as many of your top playmakers on the field at the same time, not throw whatever losers you can find out there.In fact, why did Greg Lewis get activated in place of Reggie Brown? All he did was drop a 60-yard bomb in the first quarter and do nothing else the rest of the game. I’m sure Brown could have done that!

Overall, the Eagles defense was outplayed, and the Eagles offense didn’t realize that the underneath crossing routes were wide open until the third quarter. The Eagles should have won this game, but as we all knew going into the playoffs, the Eagles have a lot of talent, but had never put it together four games in a row.

They still haven’t, but at least there are only three weeks until the World Champions of baseball report for Spring Training in Clearwater. And, as my Dad said after the game, it’s not like the city could have afforded another championship parade anyway. We all probably would have had to pay a fee to stand on the city’s sidewalks if the Eagles had won it all.


Like the “On the Edge” Blog? 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’ meltdown in the desert and disappointedly look ahead to the offseason for the 48th consecutive time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

NFC title game preview

24 hours!

The Eagles are 24 hours away from playing a game that none of us expected them to take part in two months ago.

Having already disposed of the Minnesota Vikings and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, tomorrow’s battle with the Arizona Cardinals should be a welcome site for the Eagles’ offense, especially the rushing attack.

We have to give credit to Andy Reid for opening up the passing attack by handing the ball off 46 times against two of the top defenses in the NFL, despite a lack of results. The Eagles picked up just 110 yards on those 46 designed runs, but now they will go up against a defense that has all of the national media singing their praises, but is not nearly as good as they have looked the last two weeks.

In the playoffs, Arizona held Michael Turner, who ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards this season, to just 42 yards, and then held the Panthers “Smash and Dash” combo to 75 yards. The Cardinals have also forced nine turnovers in their two playoff games. However, this is still the same defense that ranked 19th in the NFL, but has taken advantage of two very favorable matchups, and one big early lead against Carolina.

So what is the difference between the Eagles and the Falcons/Panthers that will suddenly turn the Cardinals’ defense back into the middle of the pack unit from the regular season?

For starters, each of the last two weeks, I picked the Cardinals because of my lack of faith in their opponent’s quarterback. This week, the Cardinals face one of the least turnover-prone quarterbacks in history, and that means their defense suddenly has a real challenge on its hands, instead of rookie quarterback and then a bad quarterback.

Sticking with the passing game, unlike the Panthers and the Falcons, the Eagles spread the ball around, which will force the Cardinals to cover every receiver, and not just game-plan around the top guy.

Against the Falcons, the Cardinals left Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie one-on-one with Roddy White, who accounted for 40.1 percent of Matt Ryan’s passing yards, and he got burned to the tune of 11 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals made sure that everyone else was covered, and hoped White wouldn’t beat them so badly that they couldn’t out-score the Falcons. Last week, the Cardinals took the opposite approach and consistently had two or three players watching Steve Smith. That forced Jake Delhomme to throw to receivers who he may or may not have even known were on his team. Smith accounted for 43 percent of Delhomme’s passing yards this year, and the Cardinals made Delhomme read progressions and throw to unknown players, which resulted in a five-interception performance.

The Eagles don’t have that situation. Finally not having a number one receiver might pay off! DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ leading receiver, accounted for just 22 percent of the Eagles’ passing attack, which means the Cardinals are going to have to cover every player on every play, because Donovan McNabb likes to spread the ball around. In the playoffs, Jackson leads the team in receiving yards, but Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Kevin Curtis all have more receptions than him, and McNabb has completed passes to ten different players in two games.

On the ground, the Panthers had no trouble running the ball on their first drive, but once the game got out of reach due to Delhomme’s turnovers, the Panthers stopped running. The Eagles should have no problem running the ball, as long as they keep the game close. The Cardinals are not the Vikings or the Giants, so I would expect to see Westbrook and Buckhalter (yes, he’ll get a few touches) racking up the yardage, if for nothing else than to keep the Cardinals’ offense off the field as much as possible.

On the other side of the ball, on early downs the Eagles should be able to stop the worst rushing attack in the league with six-man fronts, which would put an extra man in the secondary to help contain the Cardinals’ trio of 1,000-yard receivers.

On obvious passing downs the Eagles will have to walk a fine line on how to stop Kurt Warner from converting on third downs. Either they will put seven men in coverage and hope they get pressure from their front four, or they will leave Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Joselio Hanson in man-to-man coverage and blitz seven or eight guys to move Warner out of his comfort zone and force him to make a mistake with the ball. The key will be how those three cornerbacks will fare without help over the top from safeties. I think that Samuel, who has picked off passes in seven of his ten career postseason games, will do well, but I’m not nearly as confident about Brown and Hanson going against whoever lines up across the line of scrimmage.

Overall, I have no worries about the Eagles’ offense in this game, as they are going to score points, but I am concerned about the defensive side of the ball. I’m sure that Jim Johnson is going to have a solid game plan for slowing down the Cardinals’ high-powered offense, but it is going to be challenge to keep Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston from scoring at will. Luckily for us, the Eagles have a great pass rush and star-studded secondary, so if there is one team that can at least slow them down, the Eagles are that team.

I’m sticking with Eagles downing the little red birds 34-24. Unlike my further delving into Eli Manning’s statistics last week, I haven’t seen anything this week that would shift my prediction either way.

Pittsburgh 16-12 over Baltimore: I’ve picked Baltimore in both of their wins, but I think their luck runs out this week. These two teams are essentially the same, but Pittsburgh is just a little bit better at key spots. The defenses are one and two in the NFL, but with all else being equal you have to like Ben Roethlisberger and his wide receivers over Joe Flacco and his one wide receiver.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One Giant Victory

Ali-Frazier. Gatti-Ward. Back to the Future.

Those were great trilogies. However, this one was like Sugar Ray Leonard versus Roberto Duran. Fortunately for the Eagles, Eli Manning, like Duran, didn’t show up for the last two fights.

Last week, before doing much statistical analysis, I figured the game between the Eagles and the Giants would be a tight battle, but as the week went on, I saw less and less information that said these Giants would be able to keep up with the Eagles.

I saw that in the five games since Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, Manning had just one 200-yard passing day, and tossed a touchdown every six quarters during that span. By game time, I was more confident than ever, and predicted on WBCB 1490 AM that the Eagles would win by at least a touchdown.

Don’t get me wrong, if Burress was on the field, this game would have been a thrilling fight, one that I don’t think the Eagles would have won. If he was playing, I’m certain that at least a few of the Giants’ five field goal attempts would have been touchdowns instead. With Burress, Manning is a Pro Bowl quarterback with a Super Bowl ring, but without Burress, he is a turnover-prone quarterback being carried by a strong rushing attack and a solid defense, The problem for Big Blue was the best defense in the NFC made the G-Men pay for it.

The Eagles’ defense may not have done a consistent job against the run, giving up 138 yards, but they baffled Manning, and were brilliant when it counted most. They picked off two passes, forced a fumble, and held the Giants to just a 25 percent conversion rate on third and fourth down, including two amazing stands by the defensive line on fourth-and-short on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions.

On offense, the Eagles looked like two different units. For the first 28 minutes of the game, the Birds played not to lose and couldn’t move the ball at all, but after the G-Men took an 8-7 lead with 1:33 left in the half, the Eagles opened their playbook and challenged the Giants’ secondary to shut down the highest scoring offense in team history.

At that point, Donovan McNabb had thrown for just 18 yards, but the Eagles drove 68 yards on 11 plays to set up David Akers’ go-ahead field goal. In the third quarter, the offense really opened up, and McNabb used his legs to buy extra time and connect with Jason Avant and Correll Buckhalter for long third down conversions to help put the Eagles ahead for good.

And, for once, the Eagles’ wide receivers successfully executed the game plan, which they needed to because Brian Westbrook was held to just 46 yards on 20 touches. The Eagles’ top three guys—DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis and Avant—combined for 12 catches and 164 yards. In comparison, the Giants’ trio of wide receivers did half as well, hauling in just six passes for 80 yards.

Looking ahead to this Sunday, the Eagles will face an Arizona team that they walloped on Thanksgiving Day, 48-20. That game turned the Eagles’ season around after the embarrassing tie to the Cincinnati Bengals and the loss to the Baltimore Ravens. For the Cardinals, they clearly were not fully focused on the Eagles during that short week because they had their division nearly wrapped up, and were coming off a tough loss to the Giants.

Nearly two months later, the Cardinals look like an entirely different team, as they have rushed for 231 yards in two playoff games, which comes after ranking dead last in the NFL in rushing yards, having averaged just 73.6 yards per game in the regular season. On defense, the Cardinals have forced 9 turnovers in the playoffs, but that has more to do with facing careless quarterbacks than the 19th ranked defense in the regular season suddenly becoming a collection of superstars.

Against the Falcons, rookie quarterback Matt Ryan showed his inexperience, turning the ball over three times in key spots. And in their 34-13 win over the Carolina Panthers, Jake Delhomme looked so bad that this might be the last time you see him start a game in the NFL, let alone with the Panthers. Delhomme has always been careless with ball, but most of the time his top wide receiver, Steve Smith, would bail him out. This time, the Cardinals made sure that Smith never got open, forcing Delhomme to actually go through his progressions and find other receivers, which has always been his weakness.

However, against the Eagles, the Cardinals’ defense won’t be able to repeat their successful performances from the first two rounds as McNabb is one of the most careful quarterbacks with the football, having the second lowest interception rate in NFL history.

The key for the Eagles is to start fast, just like they did on Thanksgiving Day, so that they can force the Cardinals to return to their one-dimensional ways. Things tend to snowball on the Cardinals, and they do not play well from behind, as we saw in their games against the Jets, Vikings, Patriots and Eagles, which they lost by a combined score of 186-76.

If the Eagles can jump out early, that will allow their blitzers to pin their ears back, rattle Kurt Warner, and throw their offense out of sync. If the Eagles find themselves in a tight battle, the key will still be the pass rush, and making Warner throw the ball before he’s ready.

Just like on Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles don’t need to come up with sacks, but they do need to lay some hits on Warner and get him out of his comfort zone. If his receivers, which are the most talented group in the NFL, have time to run their full routes, not even the Eagles’ secondary will be able to stop them.

Overall, I think the Eagles’ offense will take care of the ball and put up plenty of points while the defense makes enough stops to keep the game from turning into a shootout. The Eagles’ defense will give up a lot of points in this game, but not enough to prevent the Birds from going to the Super Bowl.

The only way I see the Eagles losing is if Arizona is able to jump out to a big lead early in the game, like they did against the Panthers. At that point, the Eagles would return to their pass-only offense, and I don’t think they would be able to pull off a big comeback against a confident Cardinals team.

Prediction: Eagles win 34-24, and head to the Super Bowl to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will beat the Ravens for a third time this year, 16-12.


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’ big victory over the Giants, and what their chances are of winning a third straight road game in the playoffs and making the Super Bowl!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Playoff time: Round 2

It's finally the weekend, and that means we are just hours away from more playoff football!

Early in the week, I predicted that the Eagles would beat the Giants 23-20 (in a nice throwback to the playoffs of two years ago), but after some statistical analysis, I'm very confident about the Eagles chances this weekend, and adjusted my prediction to 23-16 yesterday on the Coffee With Kahuna show on WBCB 1490 AM

If you peruse the comments section of the previous post, you'll see that I mention that Eli Manning has been below average since Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, tossing just three touchdown passes in his last five games. That works out to just 1 TD pass for every six quarters of play, and luckily for the Eagles, that's the Eli Manning who will take the field on Sunday, not the guy who looked like a star for the first 11 games of the season.

The problem for the Giants is that nobody has really stepped up in Burress' absence, as Amani Toomer has just 9 catches in his last four games going against number 1 cornerbacks. Dominik Hixon has done well lately, but he's not anyone that will require double coverage. That means the Eagles' star-studded secondary will be trusted to shut down the receivers, while the rest of the defense will focus on stopping the run, just like in week 14, when they held the Giants to 88 yards on 24 carries.

On Sunday, I see the Eagles limiting the Giants' rushing attack and forcing Eli Manning, who has thrown for just 314 yards in two games against the Eagles this year, to make big plays and keep the Giants in the game. Based on his performance in the last 5 games, I don't think Eli has the ability to do that with his current group of receivers.

For the Eagles, they are going to need a healthy Brian Westbrook to score points on this Giants' defense. In the loss in November, Westbrook had just 26 yards rushing on 13 carries. In the win in week 14, Westbrook had 131 yards rushing, but the most important stat was his 6 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, as Giants' linebacker Antonio Pierce was unable to keep up with Westbrook in coverage. If Westbrook is healthy, the Giants know that they will need to put at least two guys on Westbrook when he leaves the backfield, which will open things up for Donovan McNabb and the rest of the passing game. If Westbrook looks hobbled, then Pierce will be able to cover him one-on-one, and the Eagles will need to get creative to score points.

Other predictions:
Last week I went 3-1 making predictions, but I should have been 4-0 if the refs didn't hand the Chargers the game in overtime, but that's not important right now. I'm shooting for 4-0 this week, but it's going to be a lot tougher as all four games are pretty even repeats from the regular season.

Baltimore 16-6 over Tennessee: The Titans beat the Ravens 13-10 in week 5, but this is a far more dangerous Ravens team. In that game, the Ravens lost despite holding the only good part of the Titans' offense, Chris Johnson and LenDale White, to 48 yards on 21 carries. At this point in the season, Joe Flacco and the rest of the Ravens' offense are slightly more prepared for NFL defenses, and should be able to put together at least a few scoring drives. More importantly, the Ravens' defense is firing on all cylinders and forcing game-changing turnovers, led by Ed Reed, who has 10 interceptions in his last seven games. I expect this game to look a lot like the Ravens/Dolphins game last week, as the Titans will struggle to move the ball, while the Ravens' offense capitalizes off of a few turnovers.

Arizona 27-24 over Carolina: This is the prediction that I am least confident about, but I went with the Cardinals last week because of my lack of faith in their opponent's quarterback, Matt Ryan, and I'm sticking with them this week because I have even less faith in Jake Delhomme. Arizona was dominating the regular season game against Carolina until they turned the ball over three times and allowed the Panthers to steal the game. I don't see lightning striking twice for the Panthers, and I certainly don't trust Delhomme to lead the Panthers to a comeback win after the Cardinals go up early. In addition, the Cardinals held the Falcons to just 60 yards on the ground, and while I don't expect as good of a performance against the Panthers, I don't expect their defense to be gashed for 150-200 yards by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Pittsburgh 20-13 over San Diego: Pittsburgh beat the Chargers 11-10 earlier this season, and in that game, Philip Rivers was terrible, tossing two picks, while throwing for just 164 yards. I expect more of the same from Rivers against the Steelers' top ranked defense. The keys to this game will be the weather, and LaDainian Tomlinson's health. LT probably won't play, and that means Darren Sproles (who I correctly predicted would have a big game last week) will get most of the work this week, but if the field is sloppy and covered with snow, then Sproles' speed and cut-back ability will be diminished, and he will be a sitting duck for the Steelers' defenders.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ready for the rubber match

One down, three to go.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles did what they had to do against the Minnesota Vikings to move one step closer to the Super Bowl. This was an ugly win, but it was the type of game that can be expected when playing the Vikings. Against Minnesota, you can’t run the ball, and on passing downs, your quarterback has to keep his head on a swivel to avoid their fierce pass rush. At the end, you just hope the offense has done enough to force their quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, to have to beat you.

On Sunday, that is exactly what happened. The Eagles offense struggled, as expected, to establish any kind of running game, but they kept trying, which gave the Eagles’ wide receivers the open space they needed to make key catches to keep some important drives alive. Donovan McNabb exploited a weak secondary, throwing for exactly 300 yards, and, in the process, found a reliable third-down receiver in Jason Avant, who caught 5 passes for 47 yards, and picked up four first downs on the day.

On defense, the Eagles shut down the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson. And by shut down, I mean they didn’t allow him to single-handedly win the game for the Vikings, because that was the only way the Eagles would have lost on Sunday.

In fact, if you take out his 40-yard touchdown run, Peterson had almost no room to run, as 14 of his 20 carries went for three yards or less. Through the air, the Eagles secondary preyed on an inexperienced quarterback and a sub-par group of wide receivers.

What the Eagles’ defense did on Sunday to the Vikings is the exact performance that they will need this week if they are going to beat the New York Giants.

Make no mistake, this is the matchup that the G-Men did not want to have as their first playoff game. The Giants and their fans were hoping that Minnesota would take care of the Eagles so that Arizona would have to come east to Meadowlands, because the birds have already won in New Jersey, but the Cardinals are 0-5 in the Eastern Time Zone, and that includes losses of 21, 28, and 40 points.

So this Sunday, what happens? I think the Eagles focus on stopping Big Blue’s rushing attack, and force Eli Manning and his depleted group of wide receivers to beat them.Like before the Eagles’ 20-14 victory over the G-Men in December, I’m predicting the Giants’ “Earth, Wind and Fire” trio will be held to less than 125 yards, and Eli Manning will struggle against the Eagles’ secondary, which is playing its best ball of the season at the right time.

In their Week 14 win, the Eagles held the Giants to just 88 yards on 24 carries, and Manning looked terrible, throwing for only 123 yards, a lot of which came during the last drive of the game when the Eagles’ backups were in a “prevent” defense.

If the defense plays like the group that showed up on that day in December, and finished third in the NFL this season, then I can’t see the offense not doing enough to give the Birds a win.However, if they get run over by Brandon Jacobs and company, like what happened in the 36-31 loss to the Giants in November, then the Eagles will have no chance.

Prediction: Eagles win 23-20, just like in the playoffs two years ago. If I were a betting man, I’d take the Eagles with the points.

Quick observations from around the NFL:

* After watching the first week of the playoffs, I noticed that we have nothing to complain about when it comes to wide receivers. I would take our top four (Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Hank Baskett) over the top four in Baltimore, Minnesota, Atlanta, Miami and San Diego, and going even further, I’d throw in Tennessee and what’s left of the Giants’ wide receiver corps. That means the Eagles have better wide receivers than seven of the 11 other teams in the playoffs this year.

* How could Steve Slaton not win the NFL Rookie of the Year Award for the Houston Texans? He had more than 1,650 total yards and 10 touchdowns this year, despite not taking over the starting role until midway through the season. Maybe I’m just a homer because he is from the area, but he deserved the award far more than Matt Ryan did.

* How good is Ed Reed? He has two interceptions in five of his last seven games, and when he gets the ball, he is as tough as anyone to catch. I don’t understand why the Ravens don’t turn him around to play wide receiver, because after Derrick Mason, they have nobody who can catch the ball.

Like the “On the Edge” Blog? 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’ chances in the divisional playoff game versus the New York football Giants.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fehr should join Selig...

Now that more information has come out about the J.C. Romero situation, I still fully believe that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig needs to step down, but MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr needs to join him.

Fehr, who took over as the executive director in 1986, is the same man who presided over the ENTIRE steroid era. Under his reign, guys like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, who actually admitted using steroids, are never punished, but a guy going to GNC in the mall loses a third of his season.

How can a guy lead more than a thousand players but not actually protect them from things like what happened to Romero? Romero now will sit for 50 games and lose $1.25 million, but the union won't admit it was wrong and take the blame, they just say that the problem needs to be adjusted for the future.

How about paying him back the $1.25 million that he is going to lose? How about using the same influence that forces players to take the highest dollar amount in free agency, no matter which team is offering, and force a reliever to go fill that 50-game void that the Phillies now have in the 7th inning? How about doing something drastic like threatening a strike if Romero's suspension isn't lifted? What happened to solidarity? I guess that's all just propaganda to Fehr.

You know what, maybe the players' union should just go away since all it does is drive free agents to Yankees and look the other way when home run hitters go through a second puberty and jump two hat sizes.

Selig must go!

After the tie in the All Star game a few years back, the moving of an Astros home game against the Cubs to Milwaukee, which was essentially a Cubs home game 90 miles from Wrigley Field, and waiting until the Tampa Bay Rays tied up game 5 of the World Series before suspending the game, we all knew that Bud Selig was a whiny, sniffling, spineless horse's rear-end, but this one goes too far.

Selig, in his endless quest to make up for the fact that everyone looked the other way about steroids when baseball was trying to revive itself from the strike that canceled the 1994 World Series, has suspended Phillies reliever J.C. Romero for "negligence" in using a substance that may have contained something on Major League Baseball's banned list. The substance, which was not a performance enhancing drug, was found in a supplement purchased at a vitamin store in Cherry Hill Mall.

Major League Baseball contends that Romero tested positive for the banned substance in August, but not in September when he was tested for a second time despite taking the substance the entire time. Then they forced him to go through arbitration during the World Series! This all came after Romero was told by the MLB Players Association, Major League Baseball, the FDA and a nutritionist that this product was acceptable to ingest.

If Selig thought Romero was cheating, and it was worthy of a 50-game suspension, why did Major League Baseball allow him to continue playing in the playoffs? Shouldn't the integrity of game have forced Selig to stop Romero from playing in the World Series and winning games 3 and 5? Apparently not.

Apparently, Bud Selig wants to prove that baseball is effectively policing itself, when in fact, it is only making itself look even more foolish by suspending a player after ruling he didn't do anything that was worthy of preventing him from competing on the game's biggest stage.

Thankfully, Romero is going to fight this suspension, and I hope he wins. Not just because I'm a Phillies fan, but because baseball needs to crack down on performance enhancing drugs with a common sense approach. They should be hunting down the guys who are sticking needles in each other's butts in a locker room bathroom stall, and not suspending a guy for going to the mall and purchasing the same product that any mall-rat teenie-bopper could purchase without their parent's permission.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It's time for playoff football!

The unimaginable is nearly here! The Eagles first (hopefully of four) playoff games this year is just over 24 hours away, and everything seems to be pointing to an Eagles victory in Minnesota.

The Eagles have a better defense and a better offense than the Vikings, and that's before accounting for the fact that Tavaris Jackson is starting at quarterback for the Vikings. Statistically, Jackson has been a better quarterback since returning to the starting lineup in December, however, he's still Tavaris Jackson, and without looking, can anybody name more than one of Minnesota's receivers? I'll wait...

Didn't think so. That's because Minnesota's receivers are worse than the Eagles' receivers! (What is it with the Andy Reid coaching tree and not bringing in top receivers?) The Vikings' third receiver, Sidney Rice, played 13 games this year and caught just 15 passes for 141 yards. For the record, the Eagles have 10 players with more receiving yards than Rice this year. As an Eagles fan, you have to feel good about our secondary going up against their aerial attack.

What do you get when you combine an inaccurate quarterback with a group of lousy receivers and throw them up against a team that loves to blitz? A long day for the men in purple. The only way I can see the Vikings even competing in this game is if Adrian Peterson breaks a few long runs, which could happen, but is unlikely, as the Eagles defense, which is ranked third in the NFL (fourth against the rush), gives up less than 100 yards per game on the ground, and hasn't been gashed since playing the Giants in November. More importantly, Peterson has come down with a case of fumble-itis this year, putting the ball the turf 9 times. Combine that with the Eagles forcing 22 fumbles this year, and there is bound to be a time or two where Peterson is shaking his head as he walks off the field.

For the Eagles, the weakness of the Vikings' defense is the Eagles' strength on offense. Donovan McNabb engineered a record-breaking passing attack this year, and the Vikings' defense is very susceptible through the air. The Vikings do have the best defense in the NFL against the run, but the Eagles cannot abandon their ground game. They also shouldn't just run into a brick wall 30 times, so they will need to be smart about running the ball. That means running a lot of draw plays. And not just regular draws, I'm talking about extreme delays and screen passes (I know they aren't runs, but they will serve the same purpose) to counter the Vikings' strong defensive line.

Prediction: Still 27-17.

Other predictions:

Arizona over Atlanta 38-27. I think that the Cards will jump out to an early lead, and Ryan, even though he hasn't played like a rookie most of the year, will crack under the pressure, and throw two or three interceptions while trying to make a comeback.

Indy over San Diego 34-27. The Colts have won 9 straight, while the Bolts have won 4 straight. One of those streaks has to end today, and I'm going with the team that doesn't have an injured LaDainian Tomlinson. However, I do expect the 5' 5" Darren Sproles to have a very good game if L.T. can't go.

Baltimore over Miami 20-7. Why are people so stuck on this game? Baltimore won 27-13 over Miami in week 7. The Dolphins can't win games without running the Wildcat offense, and if there is one team that these trick plays won't work against, it's the Ravens. They held the Dolphins to just 71 yards on 22 carries in that game, and I expect them to do the same on Sunday.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
Location: United States

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