2016 Week #8: Eagles at Cowboys

Last Sunday’s Eagles game could best be described as one of the strangest, most bizarre games in the team’s history.  Perhaps it was due to the fact that Halloween was only a week away, with both teams handing out turnovers in the 1st half the way that one hands out candy on Halloween night.

First, it was Carson Wentz throwing out some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for the Vikings to snatch up, which put them in perfect position to score the game’s first touchdown at the Eagles two-yard line.  But Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, wanting to show how much he appreciated his former Eagles teammates, admirably played the role of “Mr. Goodbar”, giving the ball right back to the Birds by throwing his first interception of the year.

The follies continued with a muffed handoff between Wentz and running back Darren Sproles, leading to another turnover, which was immediately followed by Sam Bradford being stripped of the ball and the Eagles recovering, which was followed, a few plays earlier, with another Wentz interception.

If you were keeping track at home (and possibly pulling your hair out all at the same time) that was a total of five (count ’em, FIVE) turnovers within the first ten minutes of the game.  Eventually both teams realized that the “season of giving” is not upon us quite yet and settled down somewhat, registering only three more turnovers (I use the phrase “only three” very loosely) in total the rest of the game in what eventually resulted in a 21-10 Eagles victory.

Amid all the sloppy play, the Eagles returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown courtesy of Josh Huff, resulting in the first time in their history that they’ve accomplished the feat in consecutive games. Now, if only Huff would stop acting like he’s leading the Penn State Blue Band and not end his touchdown runs with a somersault.

Both lines, which struggled mightily against the Redskins the week prior, also redeemed themselves well on Sunday.  The defense was putting constant pressure on Sam Bradford, and the offensive line, including rookie tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, did a very good job against a formidable Vikings defense.  Vaitai, or “Big V”, as he is known, was called for a false start on the Eagles second offensive play of the game, but his name was never heard again, which is actually a good sign when you’re an offensive lineman.

Lost somewhat in all the turnovers was the fact that the Eagles defeated a very good team.  The Vikings were not only the last remaining undefeated team in the league…they are a team that has a Super bowl caliber defense.

It’s hard to decipher what the Birds are at this point.  They’ve beaten two quality teams at home thus far in the Steelers and the Vikings, but their two other wins have come against bad competition in the Browns & the Bears.

The tough schedule they face the next few weeks will be very foretelling about how good this team really is, and this week’s Sunday night contest against the Dallas Cowboys will be HUGE.

Lose, and the Eagles are in a two game hole for the division lead with the Cowboys  having a game in hand.  Win, and they’ll share the same record with the Birds holding the tiebreaker.  An Eagles-Cowboys game is always big no matter the record, but with so much at stake so early in the season, it doesn’t get much better than that.

With Halloween the following night, this game should be a “Thriller”, unlike last Sunday’s turnover fest, which had many quoting John Lennon, “Nobody told me there’d be days like these…strange days indeed”.

As for the outcome, I went out on a limb last week and picked the Eagles to win 23-9, which wasn’t too far off from the final score of 21-10.  But this week seems much harder to predict.

Unlike the Vikings, the Cowboys strength is not their defense, but their offense, and their offensive line is stacked and will be much harder to deal with then the Vikings were.

The Cowboys have not lost since Week 1 against the Giants so perhaps they are due?  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is what I’m banking on – Birds win 28-21.  Buckle your seat belts for Sunday night…’cause no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike…

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

Patriots at Bills 1:00 PM CBS – Game of the Week

Lions at Texans 1:00 PM FOX

Packers at Falcons 4:25 PM FOX

EAGLES at Cowboys 8:30 PM NBC

The Last Word  – It’s good to see that this year’s World Series winner will be one who’s fans have been starving for a championship for quite some time (The Cubs haven’t won since 1908 & the Indians since 1948).

But while the Cubs seem to be everyone’s darlings this year, I hope that the Indians can pull it out.  They are a small market team with a small market payroll, yet they built a team basically with platoon players who seem to be put in the right situations to succeed.

While there are no guarantees, the Cubs should be in the mix for the next few years.  The Indians – not so certain of that.  After years of futility, I’d like to see Cleveland experience it’s 2nd championship of 2016.

 

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2016 Week #7: Eagles vs. Vikings

For the first three weeks of the season, the  Eagles and their fans were on a honeymoon of sorts.

Jetting off to a tropical destination together (Aruba, Puerta Vallarta, Hawaii, name your favorite spot here), their days were spent enjoying the heat of the sun, cool ocean breezes, and sipping margaritas poolside, while their nights were filled with scrumptious dinners, dancing all night, and “other” activities which I cannot mention in a PG rated blog.

But unfortunately the honeymoon is now over, and the credit card bill has come due.

On top of that, the wife is not happy that her new hubby snores at night, and the hubby is not pleased that his wife expects him to go shopping with her on Sunday afternoons while the NFL games are on.

Such is the new “reality” of the Eagles and their fans after the last two weeks have both resulted in losses, leading to the thought that maybe this love fest isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The Birds, to their credit, were still in a position to win, both against the Lions and the Redskins with 2:00 minutes left in the 4th quarter.  But consecutive weeks of the offense and defense (minus a Malcolm Jenkins touchdown for an interception) sleep walking through the first half made their 2nd half all the more laborious.

The glass half-empty crowd would say that the 3-0 start was based on teams not knowing rookie coach Doug Pederson’s and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz’s tendencies.  But with enough film out there for teams to “hack” into the Eagles schemes (sorry Wikileaks – no credit for you or Vladimir Putin on this one), their “trade secrets” are now out on the open market for other teams to exploit.

But while that may be the case, the glass half full crowd recognizes that all is not lost.  Football is a chess game of sorts, and the ability to change your tendencies after your opponent has changed theirs is what makes the good teams successful for so long.  Even someone like Bill Belichick, who’s major success has come from having Tom Brady as his starting quarterback (and playing unfair to some extent), is a master at putting the right people in the right places to succeed.

But before I turn my blog into a leadership management course, their is still the matter of the football game being played on the field, and most notably, in the trenches. The Eagles failed in both respects last week, as their offensive & defensive lines seemed to be outmatched or simply out-muscled all day.

The suspension of Lane Johnson, who wins the NFL’s “Stupid Man of the Year” award for 2016, led to rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai having to fill in at right tackle.  And while Vaitai struggled mightily in the 1st half against  a veteran defensive lineman like Ryan Kerrigan, I thought he settled down somewhat in the 2nd half.  In this game, there was enough blame to go around all over the line.

The defense, which had been a strength of the Eagles during their 3-0 start, also seemed to look lost and just physically over matched at the line of scrimmage.  The upside is that after giving up three touchdowns in consecutive weeks in the first half, the defense seemed to adjust and gave up a total of only nine points during the 2nd half.  The downside is that putting their offense in a hole by halftime isn’t a trend that winning teams seem to want to replicate.

Some of the blame for last Sunday must also fall on Golden Boy Wentz, who had his worst game of the year in my opinion.  Initially, I thought his tendency to hold onto the ball for too long (especially during his last drive) was his only negative, but upon further review, there were many instances when Wentz had tight end Zach Ertz open for a first down, but instead seemed to be looking downfield and not noticing that one of his best pass catching options were open.  If a few of those throws are made to Wentz, the Eagles would have extended drives at various phases of the game, possibly leading to more points and eventually, a win.

So where do we go from here?  The Eagles are at a crossroads of sorts, and face what is certainly a murderous schedule coming up, with none of their next six opponents holding a losing record currently.

The first of those is the Vikings, who come into the Linc on Sunday at 5-0 and are the only undefeated team left in the league.  Minnesota’s defense has been carrying them so far, but their offense leaves much to be desired, ranked 30th in yards gained and 32nd in rushing yards.

Sam Bradford has been the best “game manager” that the Vikings could have asked for, but even he can be rattled when pressured, in which case you’ll get a goofy “Keanu Reeves/deer in headlights” look from him.

The Eagles offense may struggle to put up points, but there is no reason the Birds defense can’t stop Minnesota’s offense as well. Then again, we said that about the Redskins, and look what happened.

This is a game that the Birds need more than the Vikings do, or the wolves will certainly be howling before Halloween.  The Birds settle down,  Halapoulivaati Vaitai & Carson Wentz settle down, and the Eagles win a tough fought defensive contest, 23-9.

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

Vikings at EAGLES 1:00 PM FOX – Game of the Week

Patriots at Steelers 4:25 PM CBS

Texans at Broncos 4:25 PM CBS

 

 

2016 Week #6: Eagles at Redskins

Surely, the fairy tale couldn’t last forever?

Surely, the folklore going around that Carson Wentz could 1) Save the country’s burgeoning debt crisis, 2) Cure every form of cancer, 3) Be the perfect husband for your sister/daughter AND 4) Never throw an interception could not all be true?

The last theory was debunked last Sunday in Motown when Wentz, with enough time to lead his team down the field for a winning field goal, threw an ill-advised pass downfield to Nelson Agholor who, when in tight coverage with a defender for a pass, looks more like he’s doing the “limbo dance” than actually fighting for the ball.

As the Lions celebrated and their fans, who seemed comatose and disinterested for most of the game, actually came to life, Wentz walked off the field presumably humming the Human League’s 1986 hit song “Human” playing in his head (cause frankly, he’s only human…of flesh and blood he’s made).  The throw was young Carson’s first interception of the year and negated what had been an Eagles comeback from two scores down in the 2nd half to take the lead, before Ryan Mathews fumble on 3rd &2 eventually led to Detroit kicking what was the eventual winning field goal.

No one expected the Birds to go 16-0, and it’s not necessarily a surprise that they lost a close game to the Lions.  But it was more HOW they lost it that hurt the most.

If the Eagles were not coming off a bye, the Lions contest could have easily been labeled a “trap” game, considering that they were coming off a big win against the Steelers and facing a division foe in the Redskins this week.  But I thought the bye would work to negate any kind of letdown against a Lions team that has not won anything of significance since the 1950’s.  I was wrong.

Perhaps this kind of wakeup call is exactly what the Birds needed.  The expectations for this season have changed significantly after four games, and a 8-8 season will no longer be considered a success as it was before the Eagles took the field against the Cleveland Browns on opening day.

The Birds face a tough test on the road this week.  The Redskins have rebounded from an 0-2 start to win three straight and are in the thick of the NFC East race at 3-2.  Don’t look now, but the NFC “Least” is currently the best division in football, with three of the four teams (Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins) with winning records, and the Giants not far behind at 2-3.

The Eagles would do well to run the ball against the ‘Skins, who possess the league’s 30th ranked run defense.  Last week, both Wendell Smallwood & Kenjon Barner looked like they had been placed in the witness protection program by coach Doug Pederson, as both seemed to be conspicuously absent from the running game. Mixing in both Smallwood & Barner into the running back rotation would help to keep Darron Sproles & Ryan Mathews fresh as well, especially as the game wears on.

Any division game the Eagles play always seems to be a tough game no matter the record of either team.  But I don’t think the Redskins are as good as their 3-2 record suggests.  And coming off a tough loss to the Lions, the Eagles will not take Washington lightly.  Birds win 27-17 and the “ying and yang” is in balance once again in “Eagleville”.

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

Eagles at Redskins 1:00 PM FOX

Cowboys at Packers 4:25 PM FOX – Game of the Week

Falcons at Seahawks 4:25 PM FOX