Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giants -- Preseason Game 1

I have to say I was pretty happy with how the first game went. I thought our first team offense and defense looked much better than Carolina I also felt that our backup defenders did a relatively decent job against Carolina's backup. The Giants got the win, but that is really not important. It was awesome, however, to see the Giants win their first preseason victory on such a dramatic play.

I just thought I would share my observations on the Giants game. If you want to see a professional's take on the Giants game, you can go to Matt Mosley's blog on ESPN.com.

First Quarter (1st team defense) -- Giants Defense

Like Mosley, I thought Osi Umenyiora looked great, especially on the play where he was able to beat his man for a sack and force a fumble. I also liked the tackle made by Kevin Dockery and Terrell Thomas to stop the Panther's running game on third down. Although, the Giants secondary did have problems making tackles throughout the game. There is definitely room for improvement in the tackling in our secondary (although Aaron Ross and Corey Webster, the starting cornerbacks were not playing). Thomas also made a nice play on the Panther's third drive, managing to perfectly time a pass to Dwayne Jarrett and deflect it, however he failed to get in position on time to make the interception.

First Quarter (1st team offense) -- Giants Offense

Eli Manning and Mario Manningham did hook up for a nice timing play on the first drive, but unfortunately it was called back due to an illegal motion penalty, and the Giants went three and out on their first drive. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

The next drive showed what the Giants offense is capable of, especially on the ground. Brandon Jacobs was his usual self. Jacobs ran hard through the line with power and made just enough cuts to run effectively. His best run on the day was a 22 yard run on the second drive. Jacobs also showed nice hands on a softly thrown, but high, pass from Manning for 13 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw also looked great on his 22 yard touchdown run on the second drive, making a very nice cut to freeze one defender and then powering his way through the last defender to score a touchdown. Bradshaw continued to look good on the third drive, running for 11 yards in traffic, by continually keeping his legs moving and showing remarkable power.

What was also reassuring on the drive was the effective screen pass to Domenik Hixon for 19 yards. It is refreshing to see the Giants run some effective screens, as I felt it was something we often failed to execute consistently last year.

Eli looked effective, but he only threw 4 passes (if you count the one to Manningham that was called back), although he did complete 3 of the 4 passes. I definitely look forward to the future preseason games where Manning gets more reps.

Second Quarter - Carr led offense

David Carr and the Giants offense began the quarter against the first team offense. Carr made two passes in a row, a short pass to Hixon and a nice slant by Sinorice Moss for 9 yards and the first down. After the pass to Moss, the Carolina first string defense came out and was replaced by the second team defense. Almost immediately Bradshaw made a nice catch and run, making the Carolina second-team defense look bad.

I love Ahmad Bradshaw. As much as I liked Derrick Ward last year and his dynamism in the passing game; I think Bradshaw is and will be a better back. I remember what Bradshaw did for us when Ward and Jacobs were injured in the 2007-08 season. Bradshaw was also the most effective runner in the Super Bowl. Bradshaw brings "home run" potential every time he is in there, and that is something Ward did not bring. Bradshaw is incredibly explosive and has surprising power. His only problems have been his fumble tendency (although if there is anything Coughlin excels at, it is teaching running backs not to fumble, i.e. Tiki Barber), and his blocking ability. I think this will be a great year for Bradshaw and I think he will beat Danny Ware for the backup running back slot.

Although I do like Ware, just not as much as Bradshaw. Ware showed what he was capable of on the Giants last drive of the half. Ware caught a screen pass and showed the right combination of speed and agility to score a 36 yard touchdown. Ware had some decent runs beside this, but nothing over 10 yards.

After watching this game, I do not know if Derek Hagan will make the team. In the second quarter he dropped the first of a few passes that were difficult, but definitely catchable. On the play, Carr threw the ball low on a comeback route (I think he had to in order to prevent an interception) and Hagan couldn't hang on as he went to the ground. While I do not believe Hagan dropped easy passes, it does not bode well for a guy trying to make a team stacked with wide receivers of similar or better ability (and younger).

The worst play of the day for the Giants came on special teams. When Jeff Feagles went to go punt the ball, one of the Giants missed his assignment and the Carolina player came untouched and easily blocked Feagles's kick. Feagles made a nice play to prevent a touchdown, but that play should not have happened, and it cost the Giants 2 points.

On another note, offensive tackle William Beatty, one of the Giants' second round picks, looked very good against Carolina's second-team defense. He was holding his own, and even the Monday Night announcers took notice. While the announcers said he looked a little high on his blocks, they spoke highly of him saying that he seemed to be doing a good job holding the defenders back.

Second Quarter -- Defense (2nd team)

The defense, particularly the defensive line, continued to look good in the second quarter. On one play, Anthony Bryant pushed the offensive line back and got his hands up to deflect the pass, and Stoney Woodson, the Giants 7th round draft pick, was right there and alertly grabbed the interception.

Later in the quarter, Maurice Evans, an unsigned draft pick out of Penn State, made a nice move (albeit against weaker competition) and got around the edge to get the sack and forced fumble. De'Andre Wright, the Giants 6th round draft pick, then managed to get the fumble recovery. It appears that the strategy employed by Giants Safeties coach, Dave Meritt, has been working. Merritt has been making the safeties treat incomplete passes as live balls, and this strategy appeared to work, as the Giants recovered 4 out of the 5 fumbles put on the ground. Well done Merritt!

Jerry Reese seems to have done it again. Clint Sintim, Beatty, Barden, Wright, Andre Woodson, and Evans all have been strong in camp and delivered a stgrong perfromance in the first preseason game. And I still expect big things from Hakeem Nicks, but his injury has slowed him down. Reese definitely seems to have done a good job making his picks this year.

Third Quarter and Fourth Quarter Notes

The third quarter began very badly for the Giants. After one first down, Woodson threw an ill-advised pass to Barden as he rolled out of the pocket. The pass was wobbly and was easily intercepted by the defense. Then the Giants defense looked poor, giving up runs of 16 yards and then 14 yards for the touchdown. The Giants secondary missed multiple tackles, Dave Tollefson got schooled by the running back Goodson, and Bruce Johnson was unable to escape his block at the goal line allowing Goodson to score untouched.

Woodson looked bad all game, even on the passes he completed. In addition to the interception, his passes, even the short ones (including a check-down pass to Ware), were poorly thrown. Woodson's passes were often wobbly, overthrown, or were just plain off-target. However, to be fair, it did not appear that the Giants offensive line line was giving him very good protection, as a few times Woodson had no chance to get rid of the ball. Woodson did complete a 20 yard pass to Barden, but even that was not well thrown. But Barden did run a good route to come back to the ball.

Nicks did finally make an appearance in the third quarter. However, he did not look good on the first ball thrown to him. Woodson threw the ball deep along the sideline. Nicks was unable to get any seperation on the play, and then as Nicks turned for the ball, he mistimed his jump and was unable to hold onto the pass. While it was not an easy play, Nicks's timing was definitely off. Nicks did manage to make a nice play in the fourth quarter on a slant from Rhett Bomar. Nicks showed his concentration by being able to bring in a catch that he juggled at first.

After Carolina's first drive of the third quarter, the defense looked good again (at least until Carolina's scoring drive at the end of the fourth quarter). Wright made a good open field tackle on Goodson. Gerris Wilkinson made a great play on a blitz to get to the quarterback and got his hands up to the deflect the pass, the only negative on the play is that he was unable to make the catch. Clint Sintim looked awesome, getting to the quarterback twice. Sintim managed to force a bad pass (even when he was held twice) and was able to force a fumble that the Giants were able to recover. Sintim looks like he will be a solid contributor to the Giants this year. Second year player Jonathan Goff also made a nice play and was able to deflect a pass down at the line.

One not so great play made by the Giants, was on a bad pass by Hunter Cantwell, the Carolina third-string quarterback. Sha'reff Rashad dropped an easy interception that Cantwell threw right at him.

The defense did look bad again when in prevent defense, they gave up a touchdown and 2 point conversion. The Giants failed to get pressure, the secondary missed tackles, and the secondary blew coverage assignments. However, the defense stepped up again on Carolina's last drive, where Leger Douzable managed to knock the ball from Hunter Cantwell's hand, and Tommy Hill was able to catch the fumble and return it for a touchdown.

Overall it was a good game by the Giants. However, I thought the Giants were too conservative on offense when Woodson and Bomar in. The Giants leaned heavily on their running game, making their offense predictable and easily defended. I also think that both Woodson and Bomar need to get their reps and the young
Publish Post
receivers need to be given the chance to show how they are progressing. I think this is especially important considering the Giants need all the evidence they can get, in order to decide which 5-6 wide receivers they are going to keep.

I plan on posting about Eli Manning's contract in a later post.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Giants --Training Camp Notes

On Wednesday August 12, I got to make my first trip ever to training camp. However, because the Giants were not running full contact practice and there was no tackling, it was hard to really evaluate the defense and the running game. So in making my observations, I mainly focused on the quarterbacks and receivers. Overall, I believe the defense looked better in the live drills, but there were several great plays made by the offense.

The Quarterbacks
In my opinion, Andre Woodson did not look very good. Many of Woodson's passes were off target, including one where he threw the ball with very little velocity right into the hands of a linebacker, who jumped up and easily intercepted the ball. It was a great play for the defense who read Woodson perfectly, but was a very poor decision by Woodson.

Both Eli Manning and David Carr looked very solid. Most of their throws were on target, although there were a few that were deflected by the defense or dropped by the receivers. Rhett Bomar also looked solid, but not particularly memorable.

The Receivers
One of the best catches of the day was made by Ramses Barden. Barden looked very good during the throw and catch drills, catching everything that came his way. He continued his solid play during the live combined offensive and defensive practice. Barden's best play was on a deep ball thrown by Manning. While Barden did not outrun his defender, Manning threw the ball up high and towards the sideline, and Barden turned on the ball perfectly, jumped up to go get the ball and reached over the cornerback's head to make a great catch. The whole crowd gathered at the practice went wild. It was a great looking play. If Barden can make plays like that, I definitely could see him making a strong contribution to the Giants this year.

The next best play of the day was made by Mario Manningham. Manningham made his defender, I believe it was Travonti Johnson (although I could be wrong), look really bad when he made a juke move to the inside and made the defender bite on an inside route. Manningham then sprinted down the sideline for a wide open catch and touchdown. On this play, Manningham showed a glimpse of what a dynamic player he can be.

David Tyree also stood out during the Wednesday morning practice. Tyree made several catches across the middle and ran a few nice comeback routes. He was probably one of the most active receivers of the day. Tyree looked really good at making catches in traffic and looks to have regained his form. Derek Hagan also made a very good catch beating his defender, Terrell Thomas, by sprinting along the sidelines and then running a comeback route, fooling Thomas and making the catch for a large gain.

From everything I have read about the performances of Manningham, Barden and even Tyree during the practice sessions, they have been looking great. My observations of them at this practice supports these reports. I am sure the performances of these receivers this will make Coach Tom Coughlin's decision over which receivers to keep, very difficult. With Smith, Domenik Hixon, Manningham, Barden, Tyree, Hakeem Nicks and maybe even Derek Hagan. Nicks will definitely have a spot on the roster even if he doesn't get much playing time.

All of these developing receivers mean the Giants have significant depth and this will definitely lead to some difficult decisions for Coughlin and his coaching staff. While the Giants do not have a clear #1 or #2 receiver, I think the Giants have several guys who could fill that role. And when you have so many players that could step up into those roles, the odds are that one or more of them will come through. I am incredibly optimistic about the Giants' wide receiver core this year.

On another note, Taye Biddle and Shaun Bodiford were not looking very good in practice. Both of them dropped several balls during both the throw and catch drills and during the live action drills. This is not a good sign for guys who are long shots to make the team.

Plans to Post
I plan to post an entry about Manning's contract and about tonight's pre-season game. But things are definitely looking good for the Giants. We will see tonight if that holds true. This has to be the most excited I have ever been about a pre-season game. I am really looking forward to watching both the first team and the backups play and see how they perform. I will definitely be focusing on the cornerback and wide receiver positions.

(as an aside - Kudos to Manning, Chris Snee, Taye Biddle, Osi Umeniyora, William Beatty, Steve Smith, Michael Matthews, Travis Beckum, among others for stopping to sign several autographs for the many eager fans. (Thanks to Manning, Snee, and Beatty for giving me their autographs)).

EAGLES- The Vick Situation

Posted by Alli

Well, it's been a longass time hasn't it? But I think the jaw-droppingly humongous news that the Eagles signed Michael Vick fresh out of his stay in Leavenworth Prison is reason enough to blog. Now that I've had a few days to reflect on the past and on the events of the last few days, I've formed a more decisive opinion on the issue.

Michael Vick's actions were flat-out despicable. It literally brings tears to my eyes to think about the things he and his dogfighting cohorts did to those poor animals. While I wouldn't put him up there with the likes of child molesters and rapists, I have a unique sympathy for animals and an accompanying disgust for people who mistreat them. Dogs are completely dependent, to the point of unconditional loyalty, on the people who take care of them; they have no defenses or alternative options if those same caretakers abuse them. I have no respect for someone who beats his wife, but at least she is physically capable of leaving the situation. Thus, any person who mercilessly beats, tortures or murders a defenseless animal is a special kind of disgusting.

Vick served 18 months of a 2 year sentence in Leavenworth for those actions. We can sit here all day and debate the finepoints of the judicial system in this country, but for all intents and purposes Michael Vick has satisfied his punishment for crimes committed in the eyes of the law. It remains to be seen whether he has been rehabilitated, and we may never know whether he is truly sorry beyond mere regret for the death of his career. Nevertheless, given precedent in the NFL to allow other felonious athletes to be reinstated after serving their punishment, my personal repulsion at his crimes does not justify his situation being treated any differently.

Maybe it's just the underlying defense attorney in me, but I believe that once you've paid your debts and served your time, you shouldn't be continually punished by the rest of the universe. Either keep them in jail or let them be truly released from punishment. "But," you might argue, "my job wouldn't hire me back if I committed a violent felony, so why should his?" I understand this argument, as the state bars to whom I must report would certainly not be so forgiving of its lawyers. However, being a professional football player is not a job that inherently requires honesty and morality as does the practice of law or medicine. Whether or not you believe these well-paid athletes should be better role models, their job description is essentially to show up and play ball. Vick is not the first nor the last in an absurdly long line of wifebeaters, sexual deviants, drug abusers, animal abusers, drunk drivers, and general douchebags that play professional sports in this country. As shocking as his crimes were, even more shocking to me has been the uniquely harsh reaction that his return has received compared to these other criminals.

I never in a million years expected Philadelphia to be the city in which Vick would land. However, football is a business like any other, and Andy Reid and Joe Banner are businessmen trying to improve their product. From a football perspective, this may prove to be genius or it may blow up in their faces, but irregardless it is their job to try to craft that football product in whatever way they can. I'm highly disturbed that many fans are treating the Eagles front office as if they themselves were in Virginia partaking in these crimes. Vick may be a horrible person, but he was absolutely going to be signed by some team- it's not like the Eagles plucked him off the streets to give him a second chance that he wouldn't have otherwise had. 99% of the Eagles detractors hadn't said a word about his reinstatement until he came here, which seems a tad hypocritical. I'm hardly saying these former-fans should run out and get #7 jerseys, but it seems rather extreme to abandon a team that they've been following for decades over what essentially boils down to a personnel decision.

I suspect that if Vick pans out on the football field, the complaints will die down- we're Eagles fans for god's sake, we're as faithful as they come. My initial reluctance over this signing was that he can't possibly be worth the $1.6 million pricetag (and the PR nightmare that this decision has proven to be). But frankly, my skepticism is slowly fading as I deliriously think of all of the offensive weapons that will adorn the field this season. Anytime Vick is on the field, he'll be a threat in some way, shape or form, and even used as a decoy that constant looming threat has to at least have some advantage. I'll put my concerns aside and let his performance speak for itself in the coming weeks. After all, the legal system has concluded its judgment, so why shouldn't we?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

EAGLES - Fine Like Wine, Baby

Posted by Alli

"Fine like wine, baby." McNabb is apparently feeling increasingly confident as the Birds plow further into the playoffs, jokingly referring to his improved play as he gets older during a press conference. Oh that Donny Mac, always the media darling, lover of all things Philly.

Just 3 days now til the Eagles' glorious return to the NFC Championship, and to be honest, I've seen a few too many "experts" predicting a Cardinals victory. It's not that I'm overly confident that this is an easy-win, but if I had any inkling a few weeks ago that the Eagles would not only be playing for a slot in the Super Bowl, but that it'd be against.... the Arizona Cardinals!... I'd be feeling pretty good. So while I don't want to take this game lightly, as I'm sure the team isn't, I know that it's one these guys are more than capable of winning, and winning soundly. Anything can happen of course, but I just can't quite figure out why so many people seem to be laying their money on the red-birds.

No matter. The Eagles have now played 1 playoff game as the favorite and 1 as the underdog, so they can handle it either way. It looks like Anquan Boldin will be playing on Sunday, though I suspect that he won't be close to 100%. Nevertheless, like Westbrook for the Eagles, if he's out on the field he'll command some attention. Without Boldin, Jim Johnson would certainly put double coverage on Larry Fitzgerald, especially after watching the gashing he put on the Carolina secondary last week. However, even with a banged-up Boldin out there, I think it's still worth putting an extra man on Fitzgerald. A WR with a bad hammy is just not going to be running his routes and dodging defenders as effectively, and the Birds' D-backs are very good from top to bottom, so I trust that Boldin will not be free to rip them for any huge plays. Interesting note: the last WR to score a TD against the Eagles was Fitzgerald back in week 13.

Here are some keys to watch for, that I think will be crucial in determining the outcome of this game:
  • Minimize offensive mistakes: I think this goes without saying every week, but as long as the Eagles can keep the TOs to under 2, they should win this game. 2-even? Maybe still OK, but let's not take any chances. The offense should be able to have their best game of the playoffs against a better-but-still-mediocre Cardinal D, and so as long as they don't make any (many?) huge mistakes they shouldn't have a problem scoring the points necessary to trump Arizona- which may need to be 20 or more, as this Cardinals O is going to find the end zone at least twice themselves. The Eagles offense has been slow to get going the past 2 weeks, but unlike in the regular season, McNabb has been able to get past rickety starts to eventually get into a rhythm. That last drive in the 1st half of the Giants game, and the 3rd and 20 drive in the 2nd half, and the 2nd TD drive, were sheer beauties, vintage McNabb style. Not to take away from the Cards' improved defensive play last week, but Delhomme literally threw as many balls to Cardinals players as he did to his top receiver in that game, so I can really only credit so much of that to the D. Anyway, point being: McNabb needs to take care of the ball and keep errant throws at a minimum... no need to give their defense any help, or give Warner and co. a head start down the field.
  • Pressure Warner: This is obviously on the list of musts of any semi-competent analyst, writer, blogger or fan, but it still needs to be reiterated. Kurt Warner with lots of time in the pocket is lethal. Kurt Warner with persistant pressure on him is a turnover timebomb; the guy is about as mobile as a quadriplegic, so if he's got someone chasing him, he's goin' down and he's goin down fast, often squirting the ball loose in the process. Even if he protects the football, his accuracy plummets significantly when he has to hurry his throws. If there is any anecdote to the force that is the Cardinals passing game, this is it. But, easier said than done of course. The Birds have a good pass rush, but it has been pretty dormant in the sack department so far in the playoffs. However, even though they were never actually credited with a sack in the Giants game, there was heavy pressure on Eli before both of his picks. This is what they need to do again, against an o-line that isn't as big or strong as the Giants' was. I smell at least 1 Asante Samuel INT.
  • Red Zone efficiency: As their Achilles heel the last 2 seasons, the Eagles seem to hit a brick wall when they get to the 20. FGs were OK against the Giants because that was more of a defensive battle, but it's going to take TDs to beat the Cardinals. This was not a problem last meeting between the two when the Green-Birds scored 6 of 'em; they (hopefully!) won't need that many in this game, but I think at least 3 trips into the endzone will help ensure victory. If they get inside the 20 (which they need to, often) and especially if DeSean Jackson giftwraps them a trip or 2 there on a return, they've gotta capitalize. I don't want to see Akers until the extra point.

These keys are no short order, but they're things that this team is clearly capable of doing. For the first time in the playoffs, I'm no longer really that concerned about the run-pass ratio- whatever works on Sunday is fine with me. Injured or not, I think B-West has a big day and I think Andy & Marty find success with the screen pass again. The offense needs to get rolling more quickly than the last 2 games - once they do they're unstoppable, but they'll need to put up more against the best offense they've seen in the postseason - so early and often please, boys.

All week we've been blitzed with stats and records and facts and numbers, reasons why teams in Philly's situation can and can't win: the Cardinals are the lowest seed to ever host a conference championship, the Eagles were 4-5-1 on the road this regular season, teams that knock off the reigning Super Bowl champs are 0-11 the following week... aside from wondering who really has time to figure this crap out, I just don't care about any of that. At the end of the day, the Eagles have just beaten 2 teams on the road and they can do it again, period.

Wish I could be in Glendale on Sunday, but I suspect that the Eagles will make me proud again. I'm trying to block the first 3 McNabb era NFC championships out of my head- McNabb has matured since then, and I believe he's become calmer, wiser, more introspective... no longer feeling the need to carry the fate of the entire team on his shoulders. Fine like wine, baby.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

EAGLES - Back to the NFC Championship!

Posted by Alli

Wow. Seriously, wow... can we all just take a moment to appreciate what has unfolded for the Eagles in the last 3 weeks? The sheer unbelievableness of the path they took to make their 5th trip to the NFC championship game in the last 8 years is, well... unbelievable. While you'd think the luster of this game would be lost after having been there so many times, there is something special this time around. Where in previous years, a trip to the NFC championship was nothing short of expected, this season finished with an against-all-odds, Rocky Balboa flight into the playoffs, where I don't take a single game for granted.

Don't get me wrong... this team is good. They were good going into week 17, when they needed a handful of miracles and an act of god to make the playoffs, because you just knew that if they could somehow get into the postseason, they'd make some noise. It's saying a lot when a 6-seed is a favorite on the road in the conference championship game. This team is not the '07 Giants, because they've already earned respect despite their Wild Card status, and because they've already beaten 2 of the last 3 teams remaining in the playoffs, and because they've essentially been playing for their playoff lives since week 13... and of course, they're not the '07 Giants because the vast majority of those guys will be watching the remainder of this year's playoffs from their couches.

It's so interesting now that the Eagles will face the Arizona Cardinals as the last roadblock between them and the Super Bowl, in a rematch of that Thanksgiving night thrashing when the Birds pummeled the other birds 48-20. The very game that righted the sinking ship that was the then-5-5-1, nearly playoff-eliminated cesspool of a team that had just tied the Bengals and got beat up by the Ravens. A fitting rematch, no? Make no mistake about it though, the Eagles are not taking this squad lightly, as the Cards seem to have no found new life since they entered the postseason.

Nevertheless, I think Arizona will find that this team aint no Falcons and they aint no Panthers. Frankly, that brutality that took place in Carolina a few days ago showed me more of how bad the Panthers were rather than totally convinced me of how good the Cardinals are. The Cards' newly-improved D will have its toughest test of the playoffs against McNabb, Westbrook & co., and their hot passing game will have to find a way to get past Asante, Dawk, Sheldon & Mikell, no easy task. I think it'll be a tough, much closer game than last time, but I think that it's one that the Eagles can and should win. I'm not discounting how hot Arizona is right now, but we're even hotter. This defense is playing lights-out, and honestly, I think the Cards' D will be a bit of a breather for the Eagles O after facing the Vikes and G-men the last 2 weeks.

Word on the street is that Eagles fans are flying out to Glendale in droves, so hopefully we can look forward to hearing some E-A-G-L-E-S chants on TV this Sunday. I'm hardly counting this game as a cakewalk, but I'm optimistic that Philly has a very good shot at making it back to the Super Bowl. The playoff experience on this team is aplenty, and I think if they can make it to Tampa (same place the Phils started their World Series thumping... just sayin..) they can make something happen there.

Later in the week, I'll take a look back at what went right in the Giants game, and more importantly, look ahead to some factors to watch for in the upcoming game at Arizona. Fly Eagles fly!!

Monday, January 5, 2009

EAGLES - ...and on to the Giants

Posted by Alli

Well, it looks like I'm the only one posting lately, but then again the Eagles have merited a lot of conversation of late (Unlike, say, the Cowboys? Scratch that, they've merited plenty of attention, just not the kind that Taz is eager to post about). Yesterday in Minnesota, Andy Reid won his 7th straight opening playoff game as the Eagles knocked off the Vikings 26-14. To be honest though, the game wasn't nearly as stress-free as the score might suggest, as the Eagles clung to a miniscule 2 point lead until the last 6 minutes of the game. And the Birds failed to capitalize on a few of the bullet-points that I predicted they would need to do in order to win. Nevertheless, McNabb remained cool and in control throughout the game and made some key passes and 3rd down conversions to keep the Vikings defense on the field and control the time of possession. And in the playoffs, a win is a win is a win, so bring on the G-men!

If Philly plays the way they did in the first half yesterday, they lose to the Giants, in my opinion. It wasn't terrible, but the offense got off to a slow start, settling for field goals for their first 9 points. The surprising thing was that the offense, which has had a tendency to snowball early mistakes into later catastrophes, continued to persevere, and eventually began to pick apart a stingy Vikings D in the 2nd half. They now need to build on that strong second half if they want to take down the Giants at the Meadowlands next Sunday.

Here are a few things that will be key to continuing their playoff run, and how they did on each in yesterday's game:
  • Stick with the run... at least a little: I give Andy credit here, because the run game went pretty much nowhere all day yesterday, but he continued to stick with it, if for no other reason than to keep the Vikes' D honest and to run down some clock time. That's really all I ask for against the best run D in the league. I would have liked to see Buckhalter used more, especially considering he had the only effective run all day, for 27 yards. They NEED to run the ball against the G-men if they want to stay in the game and keep the offense on the field. In their week 14 victory over the Giants, the Eagles had more runs than pass plays, and Westbrook carried 33 times for 131 yards. The issue now is that Westbrook appears to be very banged up, and struggled yesterday until the huge screen play TD in the 4th. This is where Buck must come in: he NEEDS to get some carries on Sunday, especially with an ailing Westbrook. In case Andy hasn't noticed, Buckhalter has been extremely effective when he has the ball, and is among the league leaders in yards per touch. He also had a great block on that B-West TD, but let's see if he can be the one getting some screen passes this week.
  • Protect McNabb: This goes without saying every week, but the O-line finished the season strong and had the best sack-to-pass attempt ratio in franchise history. Unfortunately, the line was a little off its game yesterday, allowing 3 sacks and a lot more pressure on McNabb than I would have liked to see. Granted, blocking Jared Allen is no easy task, but neither is the Giants pass rush, so this is hugely crucial in the coming week. The last thing we want to see is McNabb on the ground a lot, or having defenders in his face on every other play. Hopefully the O-line can step it up this week- containing Justin Tuck is a must.
  • Keep Celek involved in the offense: Brent Celek has done a superb job filling in for the injured L.J. Smith (I'm one of the many fans who has no problem seeing L.J. remain sidelined) and the Eagles O is a lot more effective when McNabb can spread the ball around to a lot of receivers, especially the tight ends. Celek had 6 catches for 56 yards yesterday (Matt Schobel had another for 7) and this was huge in helping the Birds extend their offensive drives. In the 3 consecutive weeks against all 3 NFC East foes (weeks 13-15) in November and December, the Giants allowed a total of 22 catches by tight ends. This is a weakness that the Eagles must exploit this week on offense.
  • Stop the run: The Giants have the best running game in the league, so Adrian Peterson was just a warm-up for the 3-headed monster of Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw that the Birds will face on Sunday. The run D actually did a phenomenal job on Peterson on 19 of his 20 carries, in which he only ran for 43 yards or just over 2 yards/carry. Unfortunately, on that other rush he gained 40 yards and a touchdown, galloping nearly untouched (except by the ref) to the endzone. The D MUST shut down the run, or at least slow it down, if they want to get off the field and keep the Giants from the endzone. This means no 7 or 8 yard runs on 1st down, as was too often the case in both Redskins games, and in the first Giants game when Jacobs averaged nearly 6 yards/carry. Fortunately, without Plaxico, teams have learned that they can take the Giants passing game a bit less seriously and stack the box if necessary. If the Giants win, it will be on the shoulders of the RBs, not Eli, so the focus must be on plugging their run game.

This isn't rocket science, obviously, it's the same stuff we've been looking to see for the past month and a half. The Giants game will be no easy feat, and to be perfectly honest, if the Eagles show up and play a tough, hard-fought game (i.e. not the Skins performance) but ultimately lose by a field goal or so, I would consider this season pretty damn successful. Not that I'm OK with a loss, and I think they are more than capable of advancing to the NFC championship and beyond, but I still can't help but be a little in awe of the fact that they've gotten as far as they have, given the inconsistency and disappointing performances that were sprinkled throughout the season. Still, let's see if they can silence the rowdy Meadowlands crowd this weekend and terminate the postseason for the defending champs, and make a return to the NFC championship that used to be so familiar to us Eagles fans.

Finally... here's a little bit of Chris Clemons' latest awesomeness for your viewing enjoyment. Glad to see the offseason acquisitions of him and Asante Samuel are paying off nicely.