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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bird Brains

Okay, so kids today don't use that expression to say that something is stupid.

I once heard a good coach say that while it's good to learn from your own mistakes (hopefully relatively small ones), it's better to learn from the other team's mistakes. Which is precisely what Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles did not do this past off-season. And, worse, they didn't learn from the big mistakes of the baseball team that dwells right across the street from them.

Flash back to the past baseball off-season, where everyone in Philadelphia knew that the Phillies needed to upgrade their bullpen. They failed to do so, signing only an overweight Antonio Alfonseca and hoping that a bunch of guys who couldn't make the Last-Chance Hotel's team would have a puncher's chance to form a good 'pen and lead the Phillies to a playoff berth (as the hometown nine just missed making the post-season in each of the past two seasons). So what happened this season? Pat Gillick's failure to act led to a bullpen that blundered more than the Larry and Curly in "The Three Stooges," and the Phillies might "just miss" making the playoffs for a third year running.

Even if you're holed up as a grad student in Penn's physics lab you've got to know that the Phillies have bullpen problems and had them going into the season.

Which means that the jocks at the NovaCare Complex and Lincoln Financial Field had to know about this too. I mean, they're sports fans, and some of them actually have some free time to watch baseball. So, analogously. . .

Going into the season, the Eagles' return game was sub-par. So, you would have figured that they would have done something to buttress it, and they did. First, they signed Bethel Johnson, and, second, they hoped that their fifth-round pick from two years ago, Jeremy Bloom, could do the trick. These hopes, by the way, turned out to be as good as the Phillies' signing Antonio Alfonseca (who, by the way, had some good moments this season before they tired him out, which is more than you can so for Johnson and Bloom combined). Johnson was cut after the spring mini-camp, and Bloom did nothing to distinguish himself in training camp, thereby taking the bloom off the punt return game.

Which meant that the Eagles were caught flat-footed. They cut bloom too, and they asked a couple of guys who hadn't returned punts before to return them at the season's outset -- Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed. It would be one thing if you asked your best athlete on your HS team to add this job description to his already full load of RB, FS and kickoff returner, but this is the best football league in the world where specialization is everything. I mean, the Bears have Devin Hester, and while we don't expect to have our returners be that good, at least they should know when to call a fair catch and when not to dive for a ball during a fair catch.

But Lewis didn't do the former, Reed didn't do the latter, and their muffs cost the Eagles 10 points and the game. Okay, so the offense looked sluggish, but the D looked good and the Birds should have won the game.

I mean, losing a game on 2 muffed punts in the NFL? Even the lowest-ranked DI teams probably catch the ball on punts. Yes, we're talking Temple, Rice, Stanford. . .

All because the front office failed to act in the off-season and failed to learn from the failures of the baseball team across the street, to wit: if you have a gaping problem, acting decisively to fill it, or other market forces will fill it for you -- with bad results.

It's one thing to make a play call that doesn't work, call a blitz, or miss a 53-yard field goal.

It's another thing to show up for your opening game unprepared.


Blogger the said...

Reid clearly didn't prepare the Birds for the opener, that's painfully obvious. Reid has also won only 33% of his opening games, so it's not totally unexpected that his team was unprepared to play a road game against a team that is ostensibly on the defensive rise. It was more than foolhardy that Reid put his punting game in the hands of Todd Pinkston-lite (and being a lighter version of Pinkston is not an easy task!), but let's examine the other major problems experienced in the game:

1) The O-line gave McNabb absolutely no time to throw. He is on a reconstructed knee and he clearly could not scramble and make the throws under extreme duress.

2) The penalties (see: your comments about lack of preparedness). The team is lacking discipline, with even mostly even-keeled players like Jason Avant being hit with simply stupid penalties. While these penalties are ultimately the result of poor player conduct, they are commonly attributed to poor coaching.

3) LJ Smith, Reggie Brown, and Brian Westbrook. The Eagles "weapons" all performed poorly. Brown, while double covered for much of the game, was essentially invisible. Smith tumbled like a house of cards a yard before the first down marker on his only significant catch of the game. Westbrook needed to take his diazepam to steady those hands and reduce his case of the dropsies.

Ultimately, the punt muffs were the easiest areas to identify since they led to game-winning points for Green Bay. They are also likely fixed with the one-year signing of Reno "No Muffs But No Yards" Mahe. Those other areas are not as easily fixed and will spell trouble for the Birds going forward.


11:07 AM  

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