On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The good, bad and undecided about the Eagles

I usually do not put a lot of time or effort into watching or analyzing preseason football games, however, this year is a little different. Because of injuries, the Eagles have been sending large waves of backups and rookies onto the field early in the first two exhibitions.
As a result, I have found myself very interested in these meaningless games, and I can say that I have seen some very encouraging things, but also a few terrible things.
The good:
The backfield: With Brian Westbrook slowly making his way back from knee surgery, I have been pleasantly surprised with how well the backfield has performed in his absence. Second round draft pick LeSean McCoy has led the way for the Birds, gaining 59 yards on 15 carries, despite running behind a group of injury replacements. More importantly, he has hauled in five passes, and showed some nifty moves on a 19-yard screen pass.
Free agent acquisition Leonard Weaver looks like he could make a real difference for the Eagles this season, especially in short-yardage situations. He picked up a nice first down on a 3rd-and-1 against the Patriots, and also flashed some of the pass-catching ability that he became known for in Seattle, where he caught 59 passes over the last two seasons.
Assuming Westbrook is healthy, and throwing in the fact that Eldra Buckley may have knocked Lorenzo Booker off the team, this group is talented enough to force the Eagles to run the football this year.
The defensive tackles: I know that if you look at the stat sheet, it will say that Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson have combined for only four solo tackles and two assists, but they have dominated the line of scrimmage. If you go back through the last two games, there have been quite a few times when either player was in the backfield forcing a running play outside or flushing a quarterback out of the pocket. If they keep finding their way into the backfield, it would make things far easier for our untalented linebackers.

The bad:
Linebackers: A lot of people have been concerned about this group since Stewart Bradley blew out his knee during a fundraiser a few weeks ago, but I have been concerned about the weakest part of the defense since February. Bradley does have the potential to be a good player, but as a group, these guys are terrible. Last year, Bradley, Chris Gocong, Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither came up with just 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 1 interception. This year, all I have seen from the linebackers is wide open tight ends, and I expect more of the same as we approach the regular season.
The offensive line: I know this group has been more decimated by injuries than any other part of the team, but the backups are professional football players fighting for jobs. There is no reason for eight penalties from the offensive line in two preseason games.
In the first game, they did an excellent job opening holes for McCoy and Buckley, but against the Colts, they were constantly being pushed around. The running backs gained just 22 yards on 16 carries against the Colts because the offensive line looked like they were still running non-contact drills.
Jeremy Maclin: I didn’t expect Maclin to perform as well as DeSean Jackson did during his rookie season, but Maclin has shown more reasons for why he slipped in the first round than reasons why he was taken in the first round.The 19th pick in the draft has muffed two punts and shown none of the explosiveness that I was looking for, even against backups and guys who won’t be in the NFL in two weeks. He needs to focus on what he does best and show why the Eagles can finally cut Hank Baskett or Reggie Brown.
The undecided:
Michael Vick: I would not expect to see anything fancy out of the Eagles when Vick is on the field for these last two preseason games. I am guessing that Andy Reid will have him run the offense as a pocket quarterback, but not do anything special. If Reid is smart, he will not allow teams to get any film on Vick that they couldn’t get from his time in Atlanta. He shouldn’t show his hand on any non-quarterback formations or plays that Vick will run during the regular season.
Overall, if these are the Eagles that show up on Sept. 13 against Carolina, it is going to be a long season. Luckily, Westbrook, Trent Cole, and most of the offensive line should be on the field that day, and the Panthers will see why the Eagles are going to be a dangerous team this year.
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. This week, we’ll talk about the Eagles’ third preseason game, along with the red-hot Phillies bats and another blown save by Brad Lidge.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vick may be despicable, but he deserves to play football

Let me start off this column by saying that I think Michael Vick is complete scum for the heinous crimes that he committed. Dogfighting and the brutal killing of dogs are disgusting and despicable acts.

However, let's put this in perspective. Right now, there are men in the NFL who directly were involved in the death of human beings. Actual people died as a result of the acts committed by current NFL players.

In 1998, Leonard Little failed several sobriety tests after running a red light and slamming his Lincoln Navigator into a 47-year-old woman's car. The woman died the next day, and Little was sentenced to 90 days in jail after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Little still can be found rushing the quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.

Donte Stallworth struck and killed a man with his car a few months ago, and he was sentenced to just 30 days in jail for his crime. Stallworth is still under contract with the Cleveland Browns, and will only miss one year of football.
Ray Lewis spent time in jail after being charged with double murder in 2000, but wound up pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. Despite that, Lewis has been to 10 Pro Bowls in his career, was on the cover of Madden 2005, and just signed a $44.5 million contract extension.

So if two people can die from the direct actions of NFL players, and Ray Lewis played some role surrounding the death of two more, why is there so much outrage over the Eagles signing Michael Vick?

In total, Vick served 19 months in jail and lost out on more than $100 million. That is far more time in jail and money lost than Lewis, Little and Stallworth combined, yet his actions didn't hurt a single person.

Heck, there are people in Philadelphia who want to let convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal roam free on our streets, and our president wants us to worry about the treatment of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, but Vick shouldn't be allowed to play football?

I think it is time to let him show us that he has been rehabilitated, and begin to rebuild his life, which includes playing football.

Thankfully he will be playing for us, and not against us.

Now, I don't actually know how good of a player Vick will be after missing more than two years of NFL games and practices, and I never thought he was a great quarterback to begin with, but he was always a threat to break a few tackles and come up with a big play. If he is close to his former self, he could be a complete menace on the field for a few plays each week.

Opposing defensive coordinators now have to plan for the Eagles' potent offense, and then devote practice time to stopping whatever trick plays Vick will run. Could you imagine the confusion it would cause for a defense if Vick, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson were all on the field at the same time? Defenses will have no idea whether the play will be a pass or a run, and then once they have figured that part out, they still will have no idea who is getting the carry or throwing the pass.

I will never like Vick as a person, but regardless of what I think about his crimes or his sentence, he has paid his debt to society, and I will root for him to succeed because he is wearing the jersey of my favorite team.

And, if you don't like that Vick is free to make $1.6 million this year to play football, then campaign against the people in Virginia who didn't make sure that he received a longer sentence.

And, if you don't like that Vick will be a person that children look up to, then be a good parent and make sure your child knows the difference between a football player and a role model.

Michael Vick is certainly not a role model, but regardless of whether we think it is right, our legal system allows him to be a football player, and in some games, he won’t be the biggest offender on the field.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pedro is starting now, closing later?

The Phillies’ lead in the National League East was trimmed nearly in half as the team spent a nice August weekend melting down on both sides of the ball. Against the pesky Florida Marlins, the hitters couldn’t make contact, and the pitchers (sans Joe Blanton) showed why reinforcements like Pedro Martinez and Brett Myers are necessary additions for the stretch run.

We all know that Martinez was signed to be a starting pitcher, but that was before the Phillies essentially stole reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians.

If I had to bet on it, I think Pedro will make several starts for the Phillies, but his ultimate spot on this team will be in the bullpen. In addition, I have a funny feeling that Pedro and Myers will be a devastating 1-2 punch in the late innings in September and October, similar to Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge last season, but more on that later.

Starting with Pedro, I don’t think he will be a huge upgrade over Jamie Moyer. This season, Moyer has been the definition of inconsistent, alternating between good start and bad start for the last two months, on his way to a 5.47 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP, all while averaging less than six innings per start.

A lot of people are expecting Pedro to put up much better numbers than the 46-year-old Moyer, but in reality, I don’t expect him to be a dominant starter.

In 2008, Pedro made 20 starts, and threw longer than six innings just three times, posting a 5.61 ERA, with a 1.57 WHIP, while averaging 5.5 innings per start. Those numbers are eerily similar to Moyer’s 2009 campaign.

Delving deeper into Pedro’s numbers last season, compared to the first three innings, his stats plummeted in the fourth through sixth innings. In the middle trio of innings, his strikeouts-per-inning were way down, while his walks, batting average against, and slugging percentage against were much worse compared to early in the game.

In fact, his strikeouts-to-walk ratio was 2.88 in the first three innings of his starts, but just 1.44 in the next three innings, and all of the numbers were even worse in the seventh inning.

This statistical trend is the complete opposite of the work Pedro did with the Mets in 2005 and 2006 (I left out 2007 because he only made five starts that season), when he actually improved as the game went on.

Now, imagine if Pedro could come out firing all his bullets for just one inning. If he isn’t going to represent a huge upgrade over Moyer because of his durability, and the four spots in the playoff rotation are already decided, why not turn him into a relief pitcher?

So what has to happen for Pedro to make the switch to the bullpen?

First, Pedro needs to have trouble going deep in games as a starter, posting similar numbers to Moyer. Second, Brad Lidge’s struggles in the ninth innings continue. Finally, the Marlins or Braves start winning some games, which will force Charlie Manuel to think that playoff baseball isn’t a guarantee.

At that point, I could see Charlie going back to 2007-mode, when he relied solely on his most trusted relievers to help complete the most amazing comeback in baseball history. That season, Manuel used J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers for a staggering 38 appearances in the final 16 games, because they were the only guys he trusted with a lead.

This season, if Lidge, who has now given up runs in seven out of his last 14 appearances, continues to struggle, I don’t think Charlie would be hesitant to give him the hook, because as we have seen numerous times, he isn’t the type of coach to worry about salary or ego when making on-field decisions.

If Lidge isn’t getting the job done, Charlie will find someone else who can, which brings us to Myers and Pedro.

After being sidelined for more than two months with a hip injury, Myers is close to returning to the Phillies, and because of conditioning and arm-strength, he is heading straight to the bullpen. Myers loved the closer role in 2007, and last year struggled as a starter because of his desire to pitch out of the bullpen. Throw in the fact that Pedro is about as competitive as a person can be, and you have the makings of a phenomenal back-end of the bullpen.

By no means am I saying this is what will happen in the final seven weeks of the season, but don’t be surprised if Charlie goes with his gut, and Pedro and Myers are closing out games in September and October.

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. This week, we’ll talk about the Eagles’ first preseason game, along with the Phillies’ new pitching staff, and how long Jamie Moyer has left with the Phillies.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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