Ladies and Gentlemen:
I can’t remember enjoying a regular season game as much as I enjoyed last Sunday’s statement making contest against the Cowboys. What an exciting mix of big plays and bigger egos. I really thought that they were going to lose this one. I’m not just saying that because of any divine knowledge that I have professed to have in the past when it comes to betting the Birds. I am saying that because I did not get to watch the game in real time and when I finally did sit down to watch it at midnight, pacific standard time, I was under the impression that they lost. Allow me to explain. My wife and I were in Jekyll Island Georgia celebrating the wedding of RTer and frequent contributor Eric O’Brien. By the way let me take this moment to congratulate him and his lovely wife, Susan. All of the best, my friend! Anyway, my wife and I were flying back to San Francisco through Jacksonville and Houston. I was enforcing a strict media blackout. Essentially, that meant no phone calls, no e-mails, no radio and no T.V. until I knew the outcome of the game which my TIVO was recording at that very moment. So, we’re walking through the Jacksonville airport and every time we pass a T.V. that was showing the game I would look down and start humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic. And, yes, I made my wife do the same thing. That’s the kind of maniacal idiot Eagles fan that I am but, hey, she knew what she was getting into. We made it to Houston and managed to avoid seeing any of the Sunday Night game that was being played, because they might show a score or a high light at that precise moment. So far, so good as we stood between gates and not in front of any televisions. We were just about to board and I went to use the rest room. As I was exiting I was quite sure I heard a man say to his son, “Hey the Cowboys won today…” So of course, I was depressed for the rest of the trip and watched the entire game that evening just waiting for them to blow it. And then I watched Michael Lewis make an amazingly stupid play giving the Cowboys life. I though to myself, this is how it happens…they let another one slip away. Two plays later, the entire stadium breaks into Boz Scagg’s biggest hit and I’m jumping up and down, screaming loud enough to wake our neighbors. But, enough about me.
The most exciting thing to emerge from this game, other than Donovan continuing his amazing comeback, was the defensive adjustments made at half time. Particularly in the secondary. When the Cowboys remarkably abandoned the run and forced and aging immobile Drew Bledsoe into a run and shoot field general, Jim Johnson dropped the line backers and safeties into coverage. The play of Lito Shepperd and Josello Hanson is then what enabled the Eagles to shut down Terry Glenn and T.O. thus allowing the defensive line to record 7 sacks. Brian Dawkins, who last year looked like he was losing a step, is playing inspired football and proved his versatility as the Eagles used him in coverage more so than in run support. Michael Lewis, for that bone head pass interference call late in the fourth quarter, owes Lito a lobster dinner at Bookbinders for bailing him out.
The pre-game hype was unbearable. The whole T.O. v. McNabb thing had nothing to do with winning a football game. It was clearly fomented by the media and Fox sports which used it to receive the highest rating for a non-playoff game in the history of their NFL broadcasts. But, not here in San Francisco where they cut to Stargate even though the Radiers and Niners were being broadcast on CBS. Stupid NFL competition rules. FOX continued to feed the hype machine by circling Owens location on the field and focusing in on him on the sidelines every time he so much as scratched himself. As I mentioned earlier it served them well, but football is the consummate team sport. As good as any receiver is, he needs a quarterback to throw him the ball, an offensive line to give the quarterback time to throw and a running game to take the safeties out of double coverage. Donovan McNabb is a better quarterback than Drew Bledsoe and his ability allows him to make plays when everything else breaks down. His 87 yard pass to Hank Baskett is a perfect example of this. How telling was it when Fox flashed the statistic showing that the Eagles have had a different leading receiver in each of their games? How satisfying is it to McNabb and Coach Reid to have the number one offense in the league (as of kick off before the Dallas game) without Owens? The truth is, T.O. is a detriment to any team he plays for. We are already aware of his off field antics but I believe that he is more trouble than he is worth on the field as well. When his team is losing he insists that he get the ball. If the offensive coordinator or quarterback capitulates, then they will try and force the ball to him whether he is covered or not. Dallas appeared to keep trying to get him the ball, even when he was rarely open and forced them out of a game plan that was working. The Cowboys were running the ball well in the first half and had some success throwing short passes in the middle. Why they abandoned this almost completely I don’t know. The Eagles did make their adjustments effectively but it appeared that these adjustments were in the secondary. If Bledsoe was indeed trying too hard to get the ball to T.O. because he feels Tony Romo breathing down his neck than we can thank number 81 for taking the Cowboys out of the picture more effectively than he ever did as an Eagle.
You can’t say enough good things about the play of Donovan McNabb this year. That being said, and I know that it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but, he needs to run the ball…occasionally. Third and inches…McNabb can fall over and pick that up but instead Reid calls a pass to L.J. Smith which he drops and the Eagles have to punt. They are winning games and the offense is looking impressive but they are still a better team when they can run the ball effectively. I love their quick strike offense and maybe this philosophy further explains why Reid kept 10 defensive lineman. He knew that his defense would be spending a lot of time on the field. Sooner or later, however, they will need to have a more balanced attack.
The Eagles are a 3.5 favorite over the New Orleans Saints. I am rooting for the Saints and the city of New Orleans as much as any fan of the game but I think that their great start is a bit inflated. They have beat the Browns, Packers, Buccaneers and Atlanta in an emotional return to the Super Dome. Their offense is clicking with the additions of Drew Brees and Reggie Brooks. They also have Joe Horn and Deuce McAllister, both off to good starts. Their defense, however does not match up well against the Eagles high powered offense so I am taking the Eagles and the over in what should be a fun to watch shoot out.