2016 Week #15: Eagles at Ravens

If you happened to be living in a cave over the last few months and had no clue how the Eagles were doing, last Sunday’s game was the perfect microcosm of what had taken place this season.

There were flashes of greatness by their rookie quarterback, coupled with shoddy tackling by their defense and plenty of missed opportunities.  It was another game where the Eagles played well enough to win, but bad enough to lose it as well, which is precisely what they did.

Much like the cold, harsh reality of winter has arrived complete with snow, sleet, and freezing rain, the cold, harsh reality that this is nothing more than a rebuilding year has also set in for your beloved Birds, and their  3-0 start now seems like it took place in some parallel universe that only exists in one of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies.

Sure, the Eagles can still mathematically make the playoffs, but it would take a calculus professor from MIT to figure out exactly how, and a major miracle for it to actually come to fruition.  No, the last three games will be all about showing improvement and ending the season on a good note, while at the same time, possibly giving playing time to some of the younger players to see how they respond in live game action.

The only certainty at this point is that sometime in January, coach Doug Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman will sit down with the 53-man roster in hand, with Howie asking the all-important question:

“Well Doug-E you’ve got to let me know, should he stay or should he go”?

If Howie’s singing ability is on par with his draft picks, then a mediocre voice is to be expected, but that’s another issue entirely.  The bigger issue is, who does really stay and who does go?

The one positive for Eagles fans (if you can call it that), is that all three of the Birds remaining games are meaningful ones…at least for their opponents.  Both the Ravens and the Giants the next two weeks, and possibly the Cowboys as well in the last game of the season, are vying for a playoff spot or playoff positioning, so they will be trying to win at all costs.  Even though the Eagles reaching the playoffs is as likely as the Easter Bunny leading Santa’s reindeer, they will end the season with a chance to knock some of their fellow NFL brethen out of the playoffs, in the never coveted “spoiler” role.

That task begins this Sunday, when the Eagles face the Ravens down at M&T Bank Stadium.

It would have been nice if Baltimore had actually beaten the Patriots last week and maybe, just maybe, would have had a letdown against us before they face the Steelers on the road next week on Christmas Day.  But of course, the Patriots made our lives harder once again (just like they did by cheating in the Super Bowl in 2004… but who’s counting?)  by winning and keeping the Ravens in desperation mode.

Baltimore sits at 7-6, which is one game behind Denver & Miami for the last wild-card spot and also one game behind the Steelers for the lead in the  AFC North.

For the Eagles, going into Baltimore may be the equivalent of trying to remove a hornet’s nest without having any of the prior spray or equipment…this game could get ugly.

I think the Birds will stay with the Ravens for the first half, but by the time the 3rd quarter ends, you may be focused on that Christmas shopping you’ve been procrastinating about.

Ravens win 30-16, and for Eagles fans, ’tis not quite the season to be jolly…

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

Patriots at Broncos 4:25 PM CBS – Game of the Week

Titans at Chiefs 1:00 PM CBS

Lions at Giants 1:00 PM FOX

Buccaneers at Cowboys 8:30 PM NBC

 

Advertisements

2016 Week #13: Eagles at Bengals

Last offseason, when Eagles fans were lamenting the winter and looking forward to Phillies spring training and summer days spent down the shore, the NFL schedule makers were hard at work putting together the 2016 NFL schedule.

The “who” and “where” of the schedule had already been decided as soon as the last regular season game of the 2015 season had ended.  But it was the “when” that was yet to be determined.

With the availability of facilities, team requests, and travel dates all needing to be taken into account, there were many permutation combinations that could have taken place to configure the schedule.  And ultimately, the one that was created for your 2016 Philadelphia Eagles seems to be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because a team that not many had high hopes for started out the season 3-0.

A blessing because a team that traded its starting quarterback a week before the season commenced ended up starting a rookie at the position who looked poised and beyond his years as he stood in the pocket, giving fans reason to believe that he may replicate the success that rookie quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco before him had experienced (a visit to the conference championship in their rookie season).

A blessing because the Eagles saw an oasis of riches that were possible before them as they stood alone in first place in the NFC East after three weeks.  Perhaps this team, the one that most expected to go 7-9 or 8-8, would surprise everyone and go deep in the playoffs.

But then there were losses to the Lions, Redskins, and Giants…all games where the Eagles fell behind early 14-0 but still had chances to win in the end.

An overtime loss to the Cowboys as well as a Monday night loss to the Packers also followed.  And a Seattle loss in which they were simply overmatched in the 2nd half.

And while there were quality wins over the Falcons and Vikings sprinkled between the losses, suddenly a 3-0 start had turned into 5-6.

Suddenly, the Eagles schedule had become a curse.  A curse, because a 3-0 start was the equivalent of “Fool’s Gold”.  A curse because the oasis of riches that the Eagles and their fans had seen after that Pittsburgh win was nothing more than a mirage.  Whether that mirage was just a longer path to the promise land or a toxic wasteland remains to be seen.

Looking back, the Eagles started off 2-0 by beating two teams (the Browns and Bears) that have won a total of two games between them.  Their third win, a thorough beating of the Pittsburgh Steelers, looked to be a victory against a  possible Super Bowl contender, but the Steelers have shown since then that they are slightly above average at best.

If you told Birds fans back on Labor Day that they would be 5-6 after eleven games, no one would have been surprised.  It’s just how they got there that’s disconcerting.

Turn the order of the Eagles season around and it paints a much different picture.  If the Eagles had started out the season at 2-6 and then reeled off three straight victories to get to where they are now, many would have seen it is a sign that the Eagles are progressing under first year head coach Doug Pederson after an initial “probation” period, involving getting to know him, his system, how he operates, etc.

The positive spin is that the Eagles had chances to win in all of their losses (including Seattle in the first half) .  The negative to all this is that a few of their losses can be pointed directly to their head coach.

If Doug Pederson chooses to kick a field goal against Dallas, that could have been a victory. If he decides to stick with a game plan that is working against a Packers defense that was allowing 37 points a game in its last four contests, the Eagles win that game.  Instead, they only managed to score 13 points.

Perhaps the scary thing about Pederson isn’t that he is another Andy Reid.  Perhaps the scary thing is that he is nowhere close and is overmatched.  That would set the Eagles back even further than all the bad receivers Chip Kelly drafted and good skill players he let go.

Let’s hope for Pederson’s sake and ours, that Doug is simply experiencing growing pains as a first year head coach and will only get better with time.  Let’s hope that his “growing” into his job (along with his quarterback), coupled with good drafts in the next few years means this team can do much better than 7-9 or 8-8 for years to come.

As for this season, there is still time to right the ship.  The good news is that the Birds are only 1.5 games behind the last playoff spot currently held by the Washington Redskins, whom they will play at home next Sunday.  The bad news is that there are four other teams between them and Washington all vying for that wildcard spot, whom the Eagles will have to overtake as well.

The Birds will face, what should be, their easiest opponent out of their five remaining games this Sunday.  Cincinnati is one of eight teams, in my estimation, that is out of the playoff race (if not mathematically, then for all intents and purposes).  The Eagles will face a wounded Bengals team that needs to simply be put out of their misery.  Whether they are good enough to insert the final dagger remains to be seen.

I’m picking the Eagles simply because I’m an Eagles fan.  Well that, and because I’m heading to Cincinnati for the game.

In the best case scenario, the Birds win at 1 PM, and the Redskins and Buccaneers both lose in their late afternoon games, resulting in a HUGE Eagles – Redskins matchup at the Linc next Sunday.

In the worst case scenario, the Eagles lose to the lowly Bengals, the Redskins win at Arizona, and we are better off spending next Sunday being tortured at the mall than tortured watching our Birds.

Let’s hope for the former…Birds win 30-17.  Just don’t ask me why.

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

Cowboys at Vikings 8:25 PM NBC (Thurs) – Game of the Week

Chiefs at Falcons 1:00 PM CBS

Dolphins at Ravens 1:00 PM CBS

Bills at Raiders 4:05 PM CBS

Giants at Steelers 4:25 PM FOX

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.

 

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