Okay here it is: That Eagles posting I told the none of you that care I was going to write. Since I last wrote about my beloved Birds, they have played their final two preseason games and the final roster has shaken out. Therefore, fast-forwarding to the present, here is my final preseason analysis of the Eagles. Those of you who don't like sports, stand well clear of your computer.
Philadelphia Eagles 2002: We're Going to Stomp the Shit out of Your Team
Goals: The Eagles' need to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Had they had it last year, the NFC Championship Game against the Rams might have turned out differently. If you want to get to the bowl, secure home field and let the chips fall where they may. Additional motivation: This is the last year the Eagles will play at Veterans Stadium before the concrete rathole is torn down and the Birds move into Lincoln Financial Field. So the NFC title game would be the last ever game at the Vet. Talk about a home field advantage. The Vet will be shaking at the foundations. Let's look at the Eagles, position by position.
Quarterback: Donovan McNabb escaped from the pocket against the Baltimore Ravens in the Birds' third preseason game and headed straight up the middle into the Ravens' secondary. As he broke past the line of scrimmage, he found himself face-to-face with Ray Lewis, who was broken down and waiting ten yards away. Donovan threw a juke move that froze Lewis-- right then left and back to the right -- and blew past the best linebacker in football. When McNabb scampered out of bounds ten yards later, Lewis was nowhere near him.
During the same game Troy Aikman -- one of the color announcers in the booth, a Hall of Famer, three-time Super Bowl champion and one of the best and most accurate pure pocket passers of all time -- noted McNabb's errant short throws and declared him to be "one of the most erratic" short passers he's ever seen. This comment got blown out of proportion and Aikman ended up apologizing for the remark on the Eagles website with Dave Spadaro. If I'd have written about the game right away, I would have scooped everybody. Spadaro deluded himself into not seeing Aikman's point, but the point is valid. McNabb can be horribly inaccurate on short throws. He's got work to do. Still, I wouldn't trade him for anybody. He makes plays, he's charismatic, he enjoys the game and he's a fourth quarter QB. No matter how bad the Eagles look early, as long as their D keeps them in it, he'll give them a shot to win it.
Running Back: Sports Illustrated, in its NFL preview issue, quoted an opposing scout as saying Duce Staley as being an "average back" since his Lis Franc surgery. I hope Duce proves him wrong. I still like Duce and I think he's finally all-the-way back post-injury. He still makes people miss and he's tough. In the Ravens game backup RB Dorsey Levens bounced through the line, lowered his shoulder and levelled Ravens' cornerback Chris McAllister. Seemed to contradict the statement in the same article that Dorsey is finished. Brian Westbrook, the third-round pick from Villanova, brings home-run speed to the backfield. With Levens as a quality backup, our backfield is set. If the Pats can win with Antoine Smith, we can win with those three, no problem.
Wide Receiver: In the same Sports Illustrated "Opposing Scout's Take" the Eagles' receiving corps is described as "average," except for James Thrash. Again, disrespect. I think Todd Pinkston is going to surprise some people this year.
The last time I wrote about the Eagles here I bitched about Freddie Mitchell and he came through with a big preseason game. He displayed the skills and enthusiasm (celebrating after a five-yard reception that was called back by a penalty) that make him so exciting and tantalizing. Andy Reid responded by going out and getting Antonio Freeman. That's going to set Mitchell back but it makes us more dangerous right now. I like the idea of having Freeman and being able to go into three and four receiver sets. I think our receivers are fine and, when it comes to making plays, we have a playmaker at the most important position, quarterback.
Also, the next time Sports Illustrated pisses you off with some stupid prediction, just remember that last year they picked Oregon State to finish # 1 in their college football preview.
Tight End and Offensive Line: Chad Lewis. Solid. Two-time Pro Bowler. End of story (and lack of patience on my part). Our O-line is solid. Runyan gets manhandled by Strahan, who has made him his bitch, but overall he's good and nasty and you want someone like that protecting your franchise (#5). Though fewer dumb, drive-killing penalties would be nice. Tra Thomas has all the size and ability and Runyan's nastiness has rubbed off on him. He was finishing off blocks last year and punishing people. Good to see. Welbourn, Mayberry, Fraley, our backups, all solid. Room for improvement but solid.
Defensive Line: The area of concern. Losing Hollis Thomas, a big Whopper-scarfing run-stopper, hurts a lot. But our D-line was a weak point last year and we got away with it. Derrick Burgess is poised for a breakout year and Corey Simon is emerging as a Pro-Bowler. Our size and run-stopping ability along the D-line still comprise our biggest weakness and teams will try to exploit it. With good rotation and solid middle linebacker play, we'll be alright. We'll bend but not break and we'll put some quarterbacks in the hospital with our blitzing while we're at it.
Linebackers: Blah blah blah. We're fine. Kirkland: Big Fat Monster. Emmons, Gardner, Barber, Reese, Caver, Harrison, Ena = Depth. I like the way Barber interacts with free safety Brian Dawkins. They fire each other up with big hits.
Secondary: An image from last year's championship game that's burned in my brain is Brian Dawkins, the best safety in the league (though not fully recognized as such), screaming at his defensive teammates on the bench when the Eagles were down and seemingly out in the second half of last year's NFC Championship against the Rams, trying to rally them and convince them the battle wasn't lost. His mouth was mouth filled with blood and he was hollering with everything he had: "We have got to believe!" The Eagles were down by at least 10 at the time. We came back and lost in the final two minutes, 29-24. Earlier, in the first half, Dawkins sparked a lagging Eagles' defense with a couple of big, jarring hits. After the game he collapsed on a trainer's bench for more than an hour, completely drained, and took intraveneous fluids. He's so athletic it's not even funny and the soul of our D. Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor remain as the starting corners, with Al Harris as the third. Our rookies, including big-hitting safety Michael Lewis from Colorado, ought to bolster the one area you need to have stocked if you're going to tangle with the Rams. Also, with Troy Vincent questionable for the season opener at the Titans with a bone bruise to his knee, rookie corner Sheldon Brown is going to be the nickel corner. Big game for him.
Special Teams: Landeta and Akers are both great. No problems.
Intangibles:The big issue for me is chemistry. The Eagles have set the standard for managing the cap but in so doing we've incurred some bad blood. The contract spat with Trotter was ugly. We brought in Warrick Dunn over the offseason and disrespected Duce Staley, who for my money is a better all-around back anyway. Damon Moore -- without whose tackle on Ron Dixon against the Giants we wouldn't have gotten into the post-season -- was jettisoned after he tore his ACL in the championship game. His contract had expired, but I think we could have done something for him, given him some kind of security. Instead we left him out in the cold and now he's struggling to hold on with the Bears and considering retirement. Rashard Cook, Moore's replacement, who played very well towards the end of the season, wasn't allowed to graduate into Moore's spot. Instead we bring in Blaine Bishop, who may or may not regain the form he showed with the Titans. Last year Bubba Miller was the heir apparent at center. He got hurt and now I have no idea where he is. He certainly isn't with the team anymore. The NFL is a business, but if you go about it too cold-heartedly, players are going to question how loyal the team is going to be when their number comes up and the chips are down.
Alright, that's it. It's late. Down with the Titans on Sunday, baby!