Ladies and Gentlemen:
There’s a lot to be said about being there.
That can mean a lot of things but I’m talking about going to an NFL game and seeing it live. Where you sit gives you a different perspective, too. I’ve been to games with the Markowitz family and their seats are in the first row in the end zone. It’s so much fun getting there early and watching the Eagles players warm up. When the action is on your side you can hear Jason Kelce call out the offensive line adjustments.
I’ve sat with Smitty at about the ten-yard line at around the 300 level. Every punt towards you looks like it’s traveling 200 yards.
Well, this past weekend, we had the pleasure of going to the game with our good friend Richard “Rit” Regueiro and his lovely daughter Isabel for the Eagles/Broncos game at Empower Field in Denver. We sat at the 50-yard line about 15 rows from the top of the stadium.
Here’s the view:
And here’s Rit and Isabel:
We could see all of the plays develop as they were happening. We could see that for most of the day all of the Eagles wide receivers not named Devonta Smith could not break coverage. We could see the Cover-2 Defense and lack of any motion from the Eagles defensive players (until late in the second quarter). We could see how open Quez Watkins was on that beautiful Jalen Hurts pass that he dropped in the end zone. And, we could see how often Darius Slay was out of position or took the wrong angle when one of the Broncos running backs broke into the secondary.
I was riding Slay something fierce. Like I said, he was out of position or took the wrong angle on a running play at least three times. He was playing soft coverage (until late in the second quarter) and allowing those 8-10 yard outs.
And then, he picked up that fumble and made that brilliant run that essentially put the game out of reach.
That run was a thing of beauty.
It actually reminded me of the Patrick Robinson pick six in the NFC Championship game against the Vikings in 2017.
So, while screaming his name in disgust as the Broncos came back from ten down to tie the game and then were within 18 yards of tying the game again, after that “Defensive Player of the Week” play I have but one thing to say:
My apologies, Mr. Slay
After the Eagles put the game away we watched the players leave the field and head for the tunnel. Most of them acknowledged the fans, some of them tossed their disgusting soaked sweatbands or other equipment into the crowd but Darius Slay stopped and fired up the mass of Eagles green. He raised his arms, pumped his fists and showed his appreciation. The guy is a mensch.
What I’m trying to express to Darius is:
Finally, after going through some of the “feel good” post game articles and interviews I came across this story about Devonta Smith and Darius Slay covering each other in practice and trash talking about who could cover who if their roles were reversed.
It’s pretty cool seeing a seasoned vet bond with a rookie. It looks like this is a team that is having fun, staying loose and growing close. It looks like a team that may be coming together at the right time. And it’s clear that Darius Slay is one of the leaders.
So, if I were face to face with the guy who wears number 2 for the Eagles I would implore…
If I may expound on a previous thought, I mentioned that some of the players threw their equipment to the crowd of Eagles fans cheering for them as they ran into the tunnel after the game. I’m curious if anybody on the RT has some of that paraphernalia.
I could see some fans really getting into that:
“Honey, the game is almost over let’s get down to the tunnel so I can get T.J. Edwards’ wrist band”
After a few years of that he is proudly pointing out the “trophies” that he has on his shelf in his man cave.
“So, Here is the headband that I got from Jason Babin, the shin guard I got from Max Jean-Giles, the glove from Hank Baskett, the mouth guard from Nigel Bradham, etc.
It is so gratifying to see this team continue the run the ball and impose their will on opposing defenses. We have discussed the practicality of having an effective running game. Ball control, setting up the pass, keeping defenses honest, taking some of the pressure off of the quarterback, allowing the offensive line to deliver the hits instead of absorbing them are just some of the reasons.
But I think for Philadelphia fans a powerful running game fits with the identity that we want for our team. It’s interesting that certain reputations follow teams even as coaches and players change. Teams like the Eagles, Bears, Giants and Steelers always seem to have a reputation as hard nose running teams with tough defenses. On the other hand teams like the Rams, Niners, Seahawks and the Chargers are often known for having high flying passing offenses. Obviously this is not always true.
Whether the team fits the description or not the identity seems to follow them. Geography plays a big part in that as the cold weather teams are more apt to run. Also, as I mentioned earlier, cities that are typically more blue collar relate better to the image of Old School football. You know, three yards and a cloud of dust, battling it out in the trenches, Chuck Bednarik “clotheslining” Frank Gifford and standing over him triumphantly.
The running game has not only fueled the Eagles resurgence but that of the San Francisco Forty Niners as well. Perhaps this is a trend. The NFL is always adapting and play calling and personnel decisions reflect this.
For years the NFL has has been trending towards more sophisticated passing attacks. So, over the course of the last couple of decades we have seen defenses change accordingly. There is more of an emphasis on smaller and quicker defensive linemen who can get to the quarterback faster. Also, linebackers are chosen not so much for the way they fill the gaps but for their ability to cover tight ends and running backs. Defenses rarely stay in a typical 4-3 or 3-4 and instead employ defensive sets with multiple defensive backs (nickel, dime and quarter packages) even on first and second down.
Perhaps that is why when the Eagles offensive line pushes forward with over 1,600 lbs. of mass, they can easily overpower the faster and smaller defensive linemen who are in there to get to the quarterback as quick as possible. Or, why it sometimes takes two or two or three linebackers/defensive backs to take down a running back like Jordan Howard who fits the mold of the more traditional ball carrier.
The Niners actually still have a fullback. Kyle Shanahan, the coach, seems to understand the value of a potent running attack as well.
And, of course, the other reason for the Eagles getting better running the ball is the fact that they have found some consistency on the offensive line. Here is another great statistic from Reuben Frank:
“The Eagles have been unsettled for so long on the offensive line it’s hard to believe. The last time they started the same five offensive linemen in more than six straight games was the last seven games of 2015 – Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Kelce, Matt Tobin and Johnson. The last time the same group started at least eight straight games was 2013, when Peters, Evan Mathis, Kelce, Todd Herremans and Johnson started all 17 games.”
The Eagles are a 1.5 favorite at home against the Saints at the Linc this Sunday. This is a must win game for both teams. If the Eagles win their remaining schedule is set up for a serious run at the playoffs. If the Saints lose then their remaining schedule is set up to make their playoff run very difficult.
The development of Jalen Hurts continues and one cannot forget that his first career start came against the Saints last year and the young quarterback was able to catch the Saints defense off guard and on a week that New Orleans did not have Drew Brees. I love that Sirianni has designed runs for Hurts but I’m troubled by the fact that he keeps going back to the same play even when the defense has it figured out. He kept calling for Jalen to run the naked bootleg off left tackle. The first time it went for a big gain but after that he never got more than three yards on the carry.
Hurts as a pocket passer is a new wrinkle that defenses have to account for. I was afraid that he would crumble when his favorite target Dallas Goeddert went down but he stayed the course and found the open receivers while absorbing the hits. This is important because the Saints have a the number one defense against the run so Hurts may be asked to do a little more this time.
The Saints are banged up and are starting Trevor Sieman at quarterback. Alvin Kamara is questionable and the Eagles have momentum. But, if there has been one thing that has been consistent this year in the NFL it’s that nothing is consistent. Anything that happens one week does not seem to have any influence on what happens the following week. Throw this in with the fact that the Saints were bit by the bad officiating bug again last week and are pissed, Sean Payton is 7-3 against the Birds and I still don’t trust Jonathan Gannon. Therefore, I am laying off of the Birds this Sunday.
I enjoyed a powwow with…The All Knowing, The All Wise, The Omnipotent One, The Master of Disaster, The King of Sting, The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla, The Doctah….Michael Howard Smith. We spoke on the phone as I was pacing back and forth in front of my gate at the Oakland Airport. The good thing about me getting these essays out mid-week is that I have given him time to opine in the comments section. So, I urge you to go back and check out what the gentlemen has to say. K-Webmasterfunk will appreciate the clicks as well. Of course, this particular meandering won’t post until three hours before game time so I’m guessing he won’t have enough time this week.
One last point that I have spoken of in these pages many times. The loyalty of the Philadelphia fans never ceases to amaze me. That stadium had to be filled with at least one-third Eagles fans. This is a team that was 3-6 and coming off of a loss yet the Bleeding Green Nation still showed up in force and, if I may borrow a phrase from the RT’s own Matt ‘brAnx” Branca, were walking around like they owned the joint!
When the Eagles went up 10-0 fans in our section were passionately singing “Fly Eagles Fly.” A Broncos fan in a Jerry Jeudy jersey stood up and started to scream, “Shut the f—k up! Stop singing that stupid song!” Then when Denver tied it up he stood up again and screamed “I don’t hear you a-holes singing that song now!” After the Slay touchdown I looked over in his direction but I saw that his seat was empty.
As the Broncos fans left midway through the fourth quarter the Eagles fan behind me was shouting at them, “Bye! We’ll see you back her in eight years.” And, as we walked through the concourse after the game you could pretty much only see people in Midnight Green. There were not a lot of Broncos fans left in the building. I felt like I could have been at the Linc.
Throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. The jail at the Vet. Greasing the light poles. Blah, blah, blah…
I will say it now and will be saying it again…
Best fans in the world.