Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rebuilding The Nest: Long Offseason Ahead In Philadelphia

So it seems the third time is not the charm for the Philadelphia Eagles. Their 2009 season ended at approximately 11:35 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010, after a second straight embarrassment on national television at the hands of the rival Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles were out-coached, exposed, and out-played for consecutive weeks following a six-game winning streak.

So Eagles fans will once again be subjected to Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid claiming responsibility for the team's failure in the playoffs.

Many Eagles fans will call for McNabb to be traded, Reid to be fired, or both. However before fans light their torches, grab their pitchforks and march on down to the Linc, they need to consider something.

Yes, Donovan McNabb did not make the big plays, and yes Andy Reid and his staff were out-coached, but most importantly the Eagles were exposed as a team in multiple places.

Yes, the injury bug played a role in the exploitation of the Birds, but the team's lack of depth in multiple positions was on full display against the Cowboys.

The Eagles' offensive line and defense were the victims of the Cowboys' attacks. These two units used to be the Eagles' strongest components earlier in this decade.

So what happened to the once league-best Eagles defense and All-Pro offensive line? Well, as is the case with all NFL teams: it all goes back to the draft.

Donovan McNabb was drafted second overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Over the following ten drafts, the Eagles utilized their first round picks on offensive players a total of three times, twice on offensive skill position players.

They selected WR Freddie Mitchell out of UCLA 25th overall in 2001, Guard Shawn Andrews out of Arkansas 16th overall in 2004, and WR Jeremy Maclin out of Missouri in 2009.

Mitchell turned into a large bust, Andrews had a few great years but has fallen prey to a constantly ailing back, and the jury is still out on Maclin. The Eagles utilized first round picks every year except for 2007 and 2008.

The other Philadelphia first round picks after 1999 were as follows: DT Corey Simon, DB Lito Sheppard, DE Jerome McDougle, DT Mike Patterson, and DT Broderick Bunkley.

The emphasis on defensive players, especially linemen, in the Eagles' picks this decade is evident and lead to the building of the dominant Eagle defense that was revered for the majority of the decade.

However, while the Birds' defense dominated, their offense struggled. With the lack of skill infusion into the offense after 1999 (with the exception of the 2009 draft), it shows that the Eagles' ownership had the belief that Donovan McNabb was enough to take the team to and win a Super Bowl.

For the better part of the decade, McNabb threw to receivers like Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, and James Thrash. McNabb stood behind a wall of an offensive line composed of the likes of Hank Fraley, Jermaine Mayberry, Tra Thomas, and Jon Runyan.

Against the Cowboys, the once dominant defense was torn to shreds. The former great wall of an offensive line looked more porous than the average sponge.

The receiving corps is much improved, with DeSean Jackson, Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek. So what happened in between?

The fact that it took Philadelphia eight years to use a first round pick on a skill position player after they chose Freddie Mitchell is telling. McNabb's weapons on offense were non-existent until the addition of Brian Westbrook in 2002.

But during those years between 2002 and 2009, those dominant defenses and that offensive line aged along with McNabb.

When the ownership recognized that McNabb needed more offensive weapons, as evidenced by the 2009 draft, the defense was a shadow of its former self, the offensive line was rapidly aging and experiencing widespread health problems.

Now, the Cowboys exploited the Eagles' offensive line, and took advantage of a weak defense. These things are not the fault of Donovan McNabb, and Andy Reid does not possess a fountain of youth to keep these players in their prime.

What went wrong was that while the organization waited for McNabb to play Superman, the once strong components deteriorated and now they need fixing. The Eagles have several holes in their team, the most major ones are listed below.

Offensive Line

Fantasies of "The Great Wall" with the acquisitions of Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews, and the presence of Todd Herremans, Jamaal Jackson, and Shawn Andrews ran rampant in the preseason.

However, only Herremans and Peters played in the games against the Cowboys and did not play well. They saw Winston Justice mature and gave him a contract extension, with him in mind as the right tackle of the future.

With Jamaal Jackson tearing his ACL in week 16, this offensive line heads into the offseason as a large to do on the long list of Andy Reid and the front office.

Defensive End

Trent Cole is an absolute animal on the pass rush. However, with Juqua Parker and Victor Abiamiri opposite him on the line, he does not get much help from the rest of the pass rush and can frequently receive a double team.

The Cowboys took advantage of the Eagles' need to blitz to create pressure and took advantage of the man-to-man match-ups with their wide receivers. The dominant defenses of the past utilized excellent four-man pass rushes.


Yes, the loss of Stewart Bradley killed the Eagles early. But the Eagles have had a revolving door at the middle linebacker spot all season, and experienced a large amount of uncertainty at the other two slots.

Now with Bradley recovering from knee surgery, the Eagles could stand to upgrade all three slots in case Bradley cannot return to form.


The loss of Brian Dawkins resonated with the defense throughout the season. One safety spot belongs to Quentin Mikell, and the other one needs a large upgrade over the trio of Macho Harris, Sean Jones, and Quintin Demps.

After the duo of Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, Ellis Hobbs will most likely explore free agency, and they could stand to upgrade depth-wise over Joselio Hansen and Dmitri Patterson.


Michael Vick will likely not be back next season. There are rumors that Kevin Kolb is disgruntled and not happy that he has been given an adequate chance to prove he is worthy of being a starter and that he wants to go somewhere that he can start.

Finally, McNabb's contract and Kolb's expire the same year. Depth will be a concern for the Eagles, and if they do not feel Kolb is the future then they need to invest in another quarterback in the draft to fill that slot.

There is quite the laundry list of improvements to be made by this Philadelphia Eagles football team, especially if the team wishes to continue its dominance over the NFC and return to the NFC Championship game, let alone the Super Bowl.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March Madness Tidbits

With the field for the Elite Eight almost set, I look at some of the teams that have made it this far and realized how...predictable this year's tournament has been. In the Sweet Sixteen alone, all four regions saw their top three seeds advance, and of those four three of them saw their fifth seed or higher advance as the final member of each region's Final Four.
  • Arizona: Ill admit it, I was one of the few people who believed that you would be able to make it past day one of the tournament this year. However, when I saw Wake Forest lose on day one, I realized that 'Zona had a great chance to make a run in the tournament. Unfortunately, you had to play Louisville at some point, but I commend Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Russ Purnell for the job they did getting the 'Cats this far.
  • Purdue: Another team that people were not that high on for some reason, yet they ran to the Sweet Sixteen and played a tough game against UConn only to come away a loser.
  • Missouri: Ah, Mizzou. I'll admit that I was excited about the possibility of a Mizzou run, and a date with Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen from the first time I filled out a bracket this year. This run will be remembered as, possibly, the best stretch of Missouri Basketball in school history.
  • Pittsburgh: Once again, Pitt, you tried to lose and failed. That makes three straight rounds where you have tried to lose and failed. If you really want to lose that badly, then REALLY lose. Otherwise, play the whole fricken game amd actually look like you are trying to succeed.
  • Duke: You went a round longer than I expected, though I still am convinced you should have lost to Texas. Villanova completely dismantled you with hustle and execution, both on offense and defense. The thing is: had 'Nova stayed focused the whole time, Coach K would forget about the 30 point loss to Clemson earlier this year.
  • Syracuse: The Orangemen proved me wrong. I believed that their fatiguing run through the Big East tournament would finally catch up with them after a first round victory, but they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. I give credit not only to Jim Boeheim, but his players as well. They played hard throughout the postseason, and showed the definition of Big East Basketball.

The Solution to NCAA Recruiting Troubles

In light of the most recent batch of recruiting mishaps, this time involving the pristine Connecticut Huskies and Jim Calhoun, we are once again reminded of how recruiting violations are not just rarely committed deeds. I am positive that if the NCAA examined every single Division-I school, they would find all sorts of recruiting violations at big schools and small schools. The thing is, it seems almost commonplace for coaches to allege that the "had no idea it was going on", and that there is seemingly no way to police these schools to keep everyone in-line with the rules of recruiting.

So I got to thinking about this issue, and thought of something. What if the NCAA created/immensely improved on a division of people whose only jobs were to monitor each school's recruiting progresses? They would do this by tapping the coaches' phone lines, and handing out registered cell phones to the coaches explicitly for recruiting, with pre-set limits on minutes and text-messages, and with the ability for the all-powerful NCAA to monitor the call history and text history of each phone.

Now, I know that this seems like a complete invasion of privacy but it would completely eliminate any possible excuse that a coach could use to get around this system, particularly why they made x many more phone calls to a recruit than the NCAA limit. Then, if a coach went outside of these guidelines, it is not a matter of whether he knew these 'evil recruiting deeds' were being done or not, seeing that he had to know if he took the steps to avoid using the NCAA registered and tapped phones.

Personally, I think that UConn will receive a minor punishment. I do not think that they will receive Indiana-esque sanctions, since Nate Miles was already expelled from the University but also never played a single basketball game while he was there, so no wins or tournament titles could really be taken away from Connecticut. I think that they will have a restricted number of scholarships, which hampers a coaches recruiting efforts since the overall size of he recruiting pool has not changed yet the key draws to his program are more limited than they were before, so he must be more selective in his recruiting process and possibly miss out on a few big-time recruits.

The NCAA needs to take some sort of measure to try and combat the ease with which schools get away with these 'recruiting atrocities', or they need to just get rid of the rules alltogether since we will never be able to fully tell who is really abiding by the rules and who is not.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet 16 Match-ups Part Two: The Refs Hold the Key

Another match-up that could be entertaining to watch will be the Villanova Wildcats taking on the Duke Blue Devils. In the second round, Villanova came out and destroyed UCLA by roughly 20 points, while Duke barely survived Texas. The key to Duke's survival was the officiating by the referees of that game.

With all due respect to Coach K, for what he has done over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, the true reason that his team beat Texas was because of his constant complaining to the officials. I realize that, as a coach, you want your players to be protected. There is nothing wrong with that. But there is point where constantly harassing the officials just takes it too far. Personally, I believe that Duke players are given a good amount of calls because they are Duke players, Coach K is their coach, they have to be good and they have to be right. I have seen moments where officials have made horrible traveling calls in favor of Duke, then on the next trip down the floor I see Kyle Singler pick up his dribble, and it looks like he will play some DDR before then taking a shot. (This is not meant as a knock on Singler, he is one of the two kids on Duke's current roster that I respect). But, had the Texas game been called fairly, I do not believe that Texas big man Dexter Pittman would have picked up some of those cheap fouls, and instead of riding the bench and seeing his Longhorns lose by five, Pittman would have been in the game and led his team to a victory.

Now, entering the Villanova game, I am positive that Coach K will have Villanova's tough play in mind, as he will probably begin harassing the officials before tip-off about calling any form of contact between his players and 'Nova players as a foul. Whether the refs actually listen to Coach K or not will have the greatest influence on the outcome of this basketball game. If Villanova is allowed to play the style of tough, aggressive, Big East basketball that they played against UCLA, then they should have a 10+ point victory. If Coach K gets his way again, and by doing so any 'Nova player diving for a steal is called for a foul, then Duke will win.

You can look at their tempos, their styles of play, their offenses, it all does not matter if the officials call the game Duke's way. Personally, I believe Duke is vastly, and I mean VASTLY overrated this year, and that Villanova is actually the much better team. Duke has a lot of players who can hit an open jumper (Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer for starters), but no real big man. Singler is a small forward who Coach K has playing power forward. Gerald Henderson is an athletic freak, there is no way around that, but I do not believe that he is the superstar that Dick Vitale makes him out to be. As much as I would like to make a prediction for this game, I truly cannot until about five minutes in, when I will have a chance to see how the game is being called.

Sweet 16 Match-ups Part One: The Battle of the Tigers

So as I sit and twiddle my thumbs in the doldrums that make up the days that pass by between each round of March Madness, I can't help but think about some of the match-ups on display in this year's Sweet Sixteen. We will see a match-up of run-and-gun teams, a display of recent and historical powerhouses, legendary coaches, and special players.

By far the most exciting match-up to watch should be the game between Memphis and Missouri. When the seedings came out, and I saw that the Mizzou Tigers were a three seed, I was stunned. I had been keeping an eye on them all year. I saw them beat Kansas and Oklahoma at home, but I also saw them get flattened by the very same Jayhawks a month later. Nonetheless, they have come out of the gate ready to play and have not disappointed. As for Memphis, I was surprised that they were not given a number one seed, though my guess is that the commitee decided UConn's strength of schedule gave them a better argument than Memphis' in-conference wins. This game will feature two teams that utilize the "40 minutes of hell" tempo on both sides of the ball, so we should see scores in at least the high 70's. Ultimately the keys will be these to determine the winner:
  1. Can Missouri keep up with Memphis in the first half?
  2. Can either team's full-court trap defense be succesful?
  3. Can Memphis hold off Missouri's strong second-half surges?
If Missouri can keep up with Memphis in terms of first-half scoring, you have to like Missouri's chances. Mizzou's main trouble has been their first-half of basketball games, and it is usually where they dig themselves into a hole. Key number two is important because both teams have full-court defenses that thrive off of traps and forcing turnovers, and if one team's defense is more succesful than the other team's, look out. The third key is important assuming Memphis does not go into halftime up by 20 points. Missouri on the season has averaged close to 60 points in the second-half of their games. Coach John Calipari will make sure his Memphis team is aware of that heading into the game, and will surely remind them of it at halftime. If Memphis gets a little too lackadaisical in the second-half, thinking that their lead is secure, then they will blink and will not make the Elite Eight.

Ultimately, I think Memphis will win this game. This is no knock on the lovable Missouri Tigers, but I do not think that they have a defensive answer for freshman phenom Tyreke Evans, or for Memphis' staggering depth in the front-court. Missouri has two main scoring outlets in Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, both of whom have played very well all year, but unless they get help from everyone else, I don't think Mizzou will pull out a win. I think Missouri will make it more of an entertaining game than most people think it will be, but barring any Memphis meltdowns, Missouri will be heading home after Thursday's game.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What If...

As we wind down the final weeks of the NFL season, and teams are lopped off each week, we get closer and closer to the Super Bowl.

With the final four set with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, and Arizona Cardinals, every fan starts to envision a perfect Super Sunday match up.

My question is: Should there be an All-Pennsylvania Super Bowl, what if the Big Game was moved from the sunny shores of Tampa, Florida to the snowy domain of Beaver Stadium, the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, in State College, Pennsylvania ?

Personally, I am sick of the fact that we will probably never see any Super Bowl in the snow or the cold ever again. I understand that hosting the Super Bowl in these warm climates is a nice break for the players who play in the cold week after week, but you have to break up the monotony of sunshine state Super Bowls and at least break them up with occasional games in the cold or snow.

As a coach, this type of move would mean your team would have fewer distractions in State College than they would in, say, Tampa, or Miami (the site of next year's Bowl) and more overall focus on hitting the weights and blocks, and less on hitting the beach. Besides, if your players want to hit the beach, they can wait it out until the Pro Bowl, which might as well be beach flag football.

Not only would this break the monotony, but it would also draw more attention from the fans. There would be more interest in seeing the Steelers and Eagles play in their home state, in the snow, in what would probably go down as an epic, defensive, struggle. There is also the fact that you could put more people in the stadium as well. The current site, Raymond James Stadium, holds just over 66,000 people, while Beaver Stadium holds just over 107,000 and can reach 110,000 on big game days.

Think about that: Beaver Stadium can hold almost two full Raymond James Stadiums' worth of people. Plus, at the rate that Super Bowl tickets usually go for, there is a fortune of money to be made just by selling the 110,000 seats, before any sort of parking payment, concessions, or advertisements are even factored in. Not to mention, it would also do wonders for the State College economy.

Beaver stadium would also be able to be a neutral field, positioned 3 hours away from both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, droves of both loyal fan bases would much rather make that trip than one that would require a lot of flying. You could sell 35% of the tickets in Philadelphia, 35% in Pittsburgh, and distribute the rest which ever way you wanted. That way, you would have a good number of loyal fans from each fanbase there, while still not excluding the rest of the country.

As for what Penn State gets out of this, they can receive a cut of the money made from the event, and will see the town around the university be booming economically by the large amount of people there for the biggest game in all of American sports.

While it is probably too late to be able to change anything now, plus the fact that if the locale was changed now the people of Tampa would probably not be too happy about it, this idea will go to waste. However, it is still a possibility for future Super Sundays, just change up the college stadium or pro stadium that would replace Beaver Stadium in my scenario. All-PA Super Bowl at Beaver Stadium would be really nice...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Braves Bolster Rotation: Agree to Terms With Derek Lowe

I've seen this story all over the place today, and when I found out that the Atlanta Braves gave Derek Lowe 4 years, $60M to pitch for them, I was shocked. Firstly, I was surprised that it took this long for a team to sign Lowe, but the fact that he will be getting 4/$60 is a figure that I did not believe possible for him to achieve, even with Scott Boras as his agent.

He is getting the same framework in terms of years as he did with the Dodgers, but he is getting a $24M raise overall from $36M to the new $60M. Personally, I love Lowe as a pitcher. He competes, will give you 200 innings, and keep your team in the ball game. But at the ripe age of 36, a 4/$60 deal is absurd. Then again, it shows how much teams value pitching. I wonder how much of this deal was paranoia on the part of Atlanta's front office in that they didn't want either the Mets or Phillies to pick up Lowe, and were willing to give him the type of money they gave him because of that.

Financial issues aside, the signing gives their rotation an infusion that will allow them to nurture top pitching prospect Tommy Hanson along in the Minors until they deem him ready to unleash upon the rest of the baseball world. The Braves had to make this move, having already lost icon John Smoltz to the Red Sox, and with Tom Glavine's future uncertain and Tim Hudson not expected back until August, they needed an ace to fill the void.

Lowe and his sinker should fit nicely in the spacious confines of Turner Field, and he will be backed by an offense that, while not as potent as those of the rival Phillies or Mets, should give him some solid run support.

With the Lowe addition, the rotation will look something like this for 2009:
  1. Derek Lowe
  2. Javier Vazquez
  3. Kenshin Kawakami
  4. Jair Jurrjens
  5. Jorge Campillo
Lowe and Vazquez will be a potent one-two punch in the NL East, with Kawakami, Jurrjens, and Campillo looked upon to provide solid starts to help get this franchise back up to speed in the competitive NL East.