Ladies and Gentlemen:
At the beginning of every season I look at the Eagles schedule and by comparing the opponent, I would predict a win or a loss. This was one that, before the season started, looked like a win for the Birds. Of course, things change throughout the season. The Saints are much better than anyone ever expected. On the other hand, the Eagles will also be playing two playoff teams (Washington and Tampa Bay) from last year. What appeared to be tough games now look very winnable. But, let’ s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Eagles lost this one against the Saints. You can blame coach Reid and McNabb for using their time outs early in the game and, therefore, did not have them in the final few minutes. You can also blame Omar Gaithers for being on the field when he wasn’t supposed to be and thus nullified Trent Cole’s fourth quarter sack of Drew Brees. A sack that, had it stood, would have forced the Saints out of field goal range and into a punting situation. You could even say that the post Katrina Super Dome crowd creates enough emotion that it simply carries their team to victory. Or you can just accept the fact that Sean Payton called a good game and the Saints just straight up beat the Birds. They beat them by exploiting a well known weakness in the Eagles pass defense and by utilizing a ball control offense that kept the Eagles number one offense off the field. You can accept this, because this is precisely what happened.
You can’t take timeouts into the locker room. You don’t know if you will be in a position where you will even need them at the end of the game. So, to say that it is better to accept a five yard delay of game penalty just to save what might end up being an insignificant time out is a notion that I flatly reject. It is more accurate to suggest that the Eagles offense should not be experiencing this much confusion. The time out issue, however, is insignificant compared to what the Saints revealed to the rest of the NFL. The Eagles defense can be beat if you don’t allow their defensive line the time to get to the quarterback. Favre and the Packers did it a couple of weeks ago in the form of quick drops and short routes. The Packers eventually lost because of the limitations of that strategy (harder to score on the shorter filed of play red zones) and because they do not have as much talent as the Saints. The other weakness they exposed, and this is something we have known in Philadelphia for a long time, is that the starting linebackers are not good in coverage. Because of this the Eagles have always been susceptible to the mid-range passing game. This is the area where the tight ends and running backs of the opposing team are typically covered by the linebackers and the safeties. Which leads me to another point. For the second week in a row, Michael Lewis committed a catastrophic blunder in the secondary. The Honorable, Omnipotent Michael Howard (Smitty) Smith opined to me his thoughts on Michael Lewis. He essentially said Lewis’s play has inexplicably deteriorated since he made the pro bowl after the 2004 season. Our newest RT member Pete Dawson had some choice words for Michael Lewis in last week’s blog response as well. If we notice it, then the coaches have to notice it as well. Apparently they did as Reid announced on Thursday that Sean Consindine will be seeing more playing time in passing situations.
Football is like a chess match. Jim Johnson will now have to come up with ways to prevent another opponent from exploiting the middle of the field. Maybe he drops a lineman into coverage. Juqua Walker’s tip allowed for Darwin Walker’s unlikely interception. That will of course leave a deficiency somewhere else on the field. Then he’ll find a way to plug up that hole until another team exposes that weakness and the whole process begins again.
In the end, you can complain all you want about time management issues, a let down after the big win over Dallas, the twelfth man, special teams gaffes or whatever you want. But, ultimately the only conclusion you can come to is that if your defense allows a team to execute a 16 play drive, converts three first downs, and chews up the remaining 8 minutes of a football game, you really don’t deserve to win.
As I mentioned earlier, this week’s game in Tampa Bay looked a lot more formidable than it does now. And, for good reason. The Bucs defense is a shadow of what it used to be. McNabb will pick apart their young secondary as the Eagles hopefully welcome Donte Stallworth back into the line up. The defense should be able to get back on track against a rookie quarterback in Bruce Gradkowski who has not experienced the pressure and the blitz packages that will soon be coming his way. I’m taking the Birds as 5 point favorites and strongly recommend that play to the RT’s small but loyal gambling community.