2016 Week #3: Eagles vs. Steelers

Repeat after me – A 2-0 start does not a season make.

A 2-0 start does not guarantee a winning season.

A 2-0 start does not guarantee a playoff berth.

It is still possible for the Eagles, after beating up on two bad teams, to lose the rest of their games against better competition and end up 2-14.  And while that is highly unlikely, the Birds did start out 3-1 in 2012, only to end up 4-12 at the end of Andy Reid’s last season.

I say that not to dampen the spirits of those who are yearning for winning in this town, as this team, and the situation that they find themselves in, is quite different than the one in 2012.  Only that while we are downright “giddy” after two weeks of football, there is still a long season that remains ahead with much tougher competition on the horizon.

With five minutes left in the 3rd quarter, on what was a beautiful and practically balmy Monday night with kickoff temps still in the 80’s (unheard of for a September Chicago night), I sat in my seat in the “spaceship” known as Soldier field with teeth clenched, watching the Birds precariously hold on to a  9-7 lead and wondering if that would be enough to hold off the Bears in their home opener.

And while nine points did not prove to be enough, the Eagles scored three touchdowns to effectively put the game away and send the Bears fans home early with ten minutes still left in the game.  No matter how nice the weather, the play of Jay Cutler, coupled with a worknight/schoolnight for most Bears fans, was not enough to keep them in their seats when their hometown team was down by 22 points.

As for the Birds, they couldn’t have asked for a better start after two games in Doug Pederson’s inaugural coaching season.  But this season will not continue to be all “roses and rainbows” for young quarterback Carson Wentz, and their undoubtedly will be a game or two where he looks up at the home crowd to hear nothing but the bellowing of the famous Philadelphia “BOOOOOOO” and thinks to himself “Toto, I don’t think we’re in North Dakota anymore”.

Let’s hope that happens later than sooner, but the first real test for this team will come this Sunday in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While not quite cross state rivals due to playing in different conferences, the Steelers present a huge challenge for the Birds, as many have them slated to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Pittsburgh still has “Big Ben” Roethlisberger  at quarterback, and with receiver Antonio Bryant as his top wide receiver, the Eagles secondary will have their hands full.

The defensive line would do well to pressure Big Ben, but even then, Roethlisberger has the ability to sidestep the rush and throw the ball downfield.

The Eagles will play a very competitive game and keep it close, in what should be a raucous crowd at the Linc.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the outcome either way, but while my head tells me the Steelers are definitely the better team, my heart tells me that the Birds will find a way to pull it out.

Birds win 23-20 in a nail biter where the fans make all the difference….

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Texans at Patriots 8:25 PM CBS/NFL Network (Thurs)

Broncos at Bengals 1:00 PM CBS (Game of the Week)

Vikings at Panthers 1:00 PM FOX

Steelers at Eagles 4:25 PM CBS

Jets at Chiefs 4:25 PM CBS

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2016 Week #1: Eagles vs. Browns

Last week at this time, the plan was for Carson Wentz to practice riding his bike, complete with training wheels, in the school parking lot, while all the other kids would be riding over the river and through the woods to the playground to hang out with the “big boys”.

Fast forward to the present and much has changed since then.  The trade that sent last year’s starting quarteback, Sam Bradford, to the Vikings, elevated Wentz’s status from “watch and learn” to “learn under fire”.  But how did he get to this point so quickly?

My initial reaction after the Bradford trade was that the Eagles were recreating their own Broadway play titled “1999”, with the following cast of characters:

1) Coach Doug Pederson starring as first-year head coach Andy Reid.  “Big Red”, as you may recall, was not really anyone else’s first choice to become a head coach (sound familiar Doug Pederson?).

2) Quarterback Chase Daniel starring as Eagles starting quarterback Doug Pederson (yes, the same guy who is now our head coach), who was the Eagles quarterback to start the 1999 season, and was expected to be the ‘placeholder’ for the position till Donovan McNabb was deemed ready for primetime.

3) Rookie Carson Wentz starring as first-round draft pick (and #2 overall pick) Donovan McNabb, which is exactly where Wentz was drafted as well.

If you didn’t think things could get even more weird, Prince, who sang the hit song “1999”, was a Minnesota native, which is where Sam Bradford was traded to.      .

Eagles fans, while voicing mixed reviews (since no one really knows how the ending will turn out) expressed disappointment that the play did not bring back 1) $30 seats in the 700-level, 2) “Sign-man” and 3) Judge Seamus McCaffery and his famous “Eagles court”.

The trade of Bradford to Minnesota explains Wentz moving up at least one spot in the pecking order from a third-string QB to the backup.  But one week ago, Wentz was a rookie who had two quarters of NFL preseason playing experience and three games of being injured.  All the talk was about the rookie sitting, learning, and healing.  How did Wentz go from #3 to #1 in such a short span of time?

In the Eagles ideal world, they would have probably preferred to have Chase Daniel start the season and Wentz be the backup, so that they would be “quarterbacking like it’s 1999”. The problem in all of this was that Daniel did nothing to inspire confidence among the brass that he could actually run the offense with any consistency, struggling in the preseason against backups and third-stringers.

The Eagles will try to word this as if to heap praise on rookie Wentz for his football acumen, since the alternative is to admit that signing Daniel as the backup (for $7 million no less) might just have been a really BAD idea.

While no one is saying so publicly, if Carson Wentz gets hurt again and Daniel (the former Chiefs backup) has to play for any extended period of time, Chase may end up getting “chased” out of town and Eagles fans may take up sewing and basket weaving as hobbies to kill time on what could become a series of dismal Sunday fall afternoons.

The best hope for Eagles fans is that the rookie gets brought along slowly while the running game, defense, and special teams keep them in games, especially at the start of the season.

The schedule makers made things easy on the Birds for the opener, giving them the Cleveland Browns at home.  The Browns have been the “mistake by the lake” since their return to the NFL in 1999, compiling only two winning seasons, one playoff appearance, and zero playoff wins in that span.

In continuing the ironies from above, it was the Browns who had the rights to the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft and could have drafted Carson Wentz.  Instead, they traded his rights to the Eagles for a plethora of draft picks.

It was also the Browns who had the 1st overall draft pick in 1999 and could have spent it on Donovan McNabb. Instead, they chose to draft Tim Couch, who ended up spending more time watching football on the couch than on the field.

The moral of the story?  Always do the opposite of what the Cleveland Browns will do.

The Eagles have a great opportunity to start the season on the right foot.  They would do well to get off to an early lead, as a first half deficit against a bad team will surely have the natives restless and howling, which would not bode well for young Carson’s confidence.

Birds win the opener and Carson does okay, which is all we can ask at this point.

The Last Word:

What I’m looking forward to, more than anything else, while sitting at my seat at the Linc this upcoming Sunday, is the standing ovation that young Carson Wentz will receive the first time he heads onto the field to lead the offense.

Unlike Kevin Kolb, Nick Foles, and Sam Bradford before him, let’s hope his name is one we hear for years to come in an Eagles uniform.   If not, the period from 201o to 2019 could well be remembered as a “lost decade” for Eagles fans…and another decade without a championship.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week (all times in EST and on Sunday unless noted otherwise):

Panthers at Broncos 8:30 PM NBC (Thurs) – Game of the Week

Bengals at Jets 1:00 PM CBS

Patriots at Cardinals 8:30 PM NBC

Steelers at Redskins 7:10 PM ESPN (Mon)

The 2016 Eagles: 1st Down & Wentz

In 1989, the Minnesota Vikings, feeling that a legitimate running back threat was the only thing preventing them from making a serious Super Bowl run, traded for then Cowboys running back Hershel Walker, in what was considered a blockbuster deal at that time.

That trade eventually netted the Cowboys three first round and three second-round picks (including first-round pick Emmitt Smith) who, along with quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin, ended up being the catalyst for their turnaround from doormat of the NFL to Super Bowl champion three times in a four year-span.

Meanwhile, the Vikings never saw the desired result they expected from acquiring an all-pro running back.  While they won the division that season, they were thumped by the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional playoff round and never made it back to the playoffs the following two years with Hershel Walker on their roster.

Hershel was eventually released and ended up signing with the Eagles in 1992, and the Minnesota trade was largely seen by many as a fleecing of the Vikings organization.

If all goes exactly as the Eagles hope, yesterday’s trade of quarterback Sam Bradford could end up being the “Fleecing of the Vikings #2”.

In a unprecedented move that saw a NFL team trade away their starting quarterback with only a week to go till the start of the regular season, the Bradford trade was the finality to a culmination of events that started with the devastating season ending injury suffered by Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at practice last Tuesday.

The Vikings, once again hoping to go deep in the playoffs much like in 1989, were left with backup Shaun Hill at quarterback to lead them there.  Add to that the fact that they are opening a brand new stadium and starting the season at quarterback with the journeyman Hill would have been the equivalent of having your wedding at the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton and serving 1) Peanut butter and jelly and 2) Grilled cheese sandwiches as the main course.

It was pure luck that the Eagles were able to trade Sam Bradford to Minnesota because of the injury.  But it was skill on General Manager Howie Roseman’s part to not only receive a 1st round pick back as compensation, but an additional 2018 pick as well that will be no worse than a 4th rounder.

With the Bradford trade, Howie has, in true “Back to the Future” style, undone all of the bad moves that former coach Chip Kelly initiated last year (perhaps we should just refer to Howie as “Marty McFly”?).  Gone are DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and now Bradford…all Chip Kelly moves that didn’t turn out to achieve the desired results.

Normally, the trading of your starting quarterback this late in the year would mean that a team is  “punting” away the season and looking to the future.  But upon further review, I don’t think this reduces the expectations for your 2016 Eagles at all.

For starters, the expectations were not that high to began with even with Bradford at quarterback.  The guy is essentially a glorified game manager and not the second coming of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, which is what one would expect out of a former number one overall draft pick.  The Eagles would have been fortunate to get  eight or nine wins even if they kept him.

The question is, how much does playing an inexperienced Carson Wentz at quarterback, who has a huge upside, versus an experienced, veteran quarterback who is slightly above average at best with no upside, really hurt you?  We already knew that the defense and the special teams of the 2016 Eagles were much stronger than the offense, and nothing about the Bradford trade changes that.

Wentz will naturally make some rookie mistakes early on that Bradford would not, but by the 2nd half of the season, he may be making the plays that Bradford will never make (this is assuming, of course, that he is healthy enough to play).

There are a few other reasons that I am glad to see Sam Bradford go as well:

  1. He never really wanted to be here this season anyway.
  2. I’ll stop thinking that Keanu Reeves is playing for the Eagles.
  3. That “deer in the headlights” look that he has at his postgame news conference be it win, lose, or draw.
  4. His inability to throw the ball down the field.

On the long-term, getting the ball rolling with rookie Carson Wentz at the helm sooner than later is the best thing this team could do.  And in a weak division, it would not surprise me if they won the division anyway.

Broad & Pattison turned on its heels once this trade was announced.  Hopefully, the 2016 season will turn for the better with it as well.