Sunday, January 9, 2011

Packers at Eagles today!!! ...predictions, analysis, babble

"YEEE-HAHH!!!" Any day the Philadelphia Eagles are playing in the post-season is a great day! Here's what else I'm thinking...

In one respect, the Philadelphia Eagles dug their own grave by flat-out choking against the Vikings two weeks ago. Instead of resting this weekend w/ a BYE, hosting the Bears next weekend, then needing just one more win to punch their ticket to the SBowl, they now have to win this weekend's very tough game at home vs. Green Bay, travel to Chicago and beat the Bears, then beat Atlanta to make the SBowl; their current scenario made at least two to three times more difficult by getting run over by the Vikings.

But here is the other view: well before the season started, the entire city was collectively resigned to an 8 or 9-win season, and a "let Kolb take his lumps year." Look what actually happened: Kolb goes out w/ a concussion in week #1, and Michael Vick, now the every week starting QB for the first time out of prison, undeniably kicks ass the entire season. Just kills it. I like Kolb; both as a person and as a QB (although I still can't tell how good he's going to be), but he's no Mike Vick, and it's safe to say we wouldn't have a post-season game if Kolb was our starting QB all year. Mike Vick was on fire this season, and has carried this team all year. So in a way, we’re playing with “house money.” This team exceeded every expectation this year ALREADY; will it even hurt if we lose today?

Oh, side note: spare me the "Tom Brady is the MVP" assertions. While Tom Brady - and Brian Bellicheck for that matter - is again (sigh), having a phenomenal and a "just another day at the office" year, Michael Vick is the MVP of this league. The only thing that might stop the various writers/judges/voters of the multiple MVP awards given out each year from awarding Vick those accolades, is the fact he's a recent convicted felon, guilty of extremely despicable and depraved acts. But on the field, he truly has done more for his team than any one person in the NFL has, including Tom Brady.

But I digress...

Let it be said, I do find this weekend's game against Green Bay the Bird's biggest obstacle to the Superbowl. For various reasons - that I can hopefully think about more on Monday - I don't see any other matchups on their path to the Big Game being as difficult as this one. At absolute best, I see this game as a coin flip, with the most realistic, best-case scenario for the Eagles, being a last minute field goal or game-winning TD, perhaps on an interception return to seal the deal as time runs out. Andy Reid, Vick, McDermott, and the rest of the Eagles need to do everything right to win this game. If they don't do everything right, they need to get one or two big breaks that go their way, similar to the ones they got vs. the Giants a couple weeks ago (Giants punting to D. Jax, getting the onsides kick, an INT at the right time, a Special Teams TD, etc). Conversely, I don't think Green Bay needs to do 'everything right' or 'catch a break or two' to win. They just need to keep playing the way they've been playing. If Eagles do that, they'll lose. Let's not forget, for 52 minutes of that last Giants game, the Eagles were outplayed on every side of the ball, and our coaches were taken to school. It wasn't even close. Green Bay are definitely better than the Giants (they beat them soundly, 45-17, the day after Christmas). But I don't see a Green Bay blowout by any stretch; In No-Limit Hold 'em terms, I'd say Birds have about "9-outs, twice," or a 36% chance of winning.

Why not more of a chance? well, let's see...

Green Bay has been playing better than us, plain and simple. They've won 7 of their last 10 games, and the last two they lost were because Aaron Rodgers was on the sidelines w/ a concussion. If he was in, they’d have won 9 of their last 10 (and finished the season w/ a record of 12 -4). Even w/ their back up in, a few weeks ago, they gave the Pats a run for their money in New England, losing to them just 31-27 (that’s a win if Rodgers played). The Eagles have won 6 of their last 10 (though I’m sure they would’ve beaten the cowpatties last week if their starters played), but have given up 24 points and more in 7 of them. They beat Dallas by only 3 in week #14; with the exception of the ‘almost-miracle’ 8 minutes of play at the meadowlands, they looked terrible; and against the Vikings (a bad Dome team) at home 2 weeks ago, they played their worst game of the season (perhaps the last couple of seasons). This is to say nothing of Andy Reid/Morningwheig forgetting how to coach/adjust/call plays the entire game.

I looked at team stats, rankings, etc; generally speaking, the teams are evenly matched. Birds are 2nd & 3rd in yards per game and points per game, respectively. Green Bay’s defense is 5th in points against per game, and 2nd in points against per game. Something obviously will give there… However, the Eagles defense has been inconsistent all season, and after 16 games is 21st in the league in giving up points. Packers are 9th in scoring, averaging 24 points a game (Birds are averaging 27). Packers defense is 5th against the pass, Eagles are 14th against the pass. Both of these teams pass all the time. But the Eagles defense, and especially their secondary has looked downright abysmal the last several games: Sean McDermott (defensive coordinator) has not been able to call a good game, and the secondary players have looked slow and out of position at every turn.

The key question for our defense is whether or not the Eagles can get to Aaron Rodgers. And they need to do it w/ their front 4, or maybe a 5th rusher. All-out blitzes are out of the question, because Rodgers is one of the best QB’s in football (I’d put him 4th, in a tie w/ Phillip Rivers, after Manning, Brady & Brees), and combined with their super-deep & talented WR/TE corps, our secondary is nowhere near good enough to handle them on their own (man to man). If we can rush, put pressure on Rodgers, and at the same time cover all their pass-catchers effectively, we can win (we need to double-team Greg Jennings most of the time). The good thing is, we don’t need to be that concerned w/ their run game; it’s not that good. They can run, they just don’t usually need to.

There are two concerns I have with our offense (versus their defense). The first, is the same issue I’ve had w/ Reid since I’ve first heard of him: will we run the ball enough? For all intents and purposes, the answer is always ‘no.’ Somehow we’re 5th in the league in yards rushing per game, which is awesome, but we still don’t run enough. That ranking is due primarily to LeSean McCoy’s talent, and rushing attempts when we’ve already had a lead, I’m sure of it (I can’t remember if we’re even in the top half of the league, in rushing attempts).

Now look, Green Bay’s defense is 5th in the NFL against the pass. They’re 19th against the run. We’re 5th in the league in rushing, and for the first time in Andy’s career, his dream of passing to set up the run is actually running! What would YOU do, pass or run against them? Exactly. We need to RUN against them in this game; early and often, even if it’s not working right away! Run, run, and run some more. THEN, try killing them w/ the pass. But Andy Reid TRULY does hate running the football. He doesn’t see the value in it, and he doesn’t commit to it. I’d say he’s actually committed to running the football somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 6 games, in his 12-years here. Anyone remember a time when the Eagles ran three running plays in a row? Me neither. Running makes Andy Reid sick to his stomach. But he needs to be comfortable with being sick in this game.

The second concern I have is whether our coaching staff can do it’s job and find out a good enough way to a) keep Vick from getting pummeled like he has been as of late and b) give him enough time to throw. The aforementioned running will help out a lot. How about having a bunch of screens ready to go, like they did not do during the Vikings matchup? How about two-tight end sets, or an extra blocker?

I am confident the Eagles will pass with some degree of proficiency/success, perhaps with a lot of success. I am confident Vick will have a very good day running/scrambling/passing; I expect him to have a great game. I expect the crowd to be insane. But that won’t be enough to win.

In closing, we need to score a lot of points, somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 to 30, to win. If our defense can keep the Packers to 25 points, I think we’ll win. The way to do it, against this Green Bay Packers team, is to get pressure on Rodgers rushing only 4 or 5 players; run the football with some consistency EARLY in the game, and protect Vick, giving him enough time to throw and work his magic.

Then the road to the Superbowl begins in earnest.

If you want it this way…
Pack O vs Birds D: edge to Pack.
Birds O vs Pack D: even
Coaching: even.
Special Teams: even.
Home field, crowd noise & “Mojo”: edge to Birds

Final score prediction:
Packers 34
Eagles 26

...oh, and the over/under on Morningwheig/Reid passing on 2nd and short (1 or 2 yds to go) or 3rd and short, when they should be running, is 4.5; a hair lower than usual.

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