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18 Dec 2007

Any Given Sunday: Eagles over Cowboys

by Ned Macey

One maxim of football strategy is to get your playmakers the ball. One week after Terrell Owens was limited to three catches for 21 yards, the Cowboys were intent on putting the ball in his hands. The fact that Owens had torched his former team six weeks ago in Philadelphia made this seem like a sound strategy. A changed Philadelphia game plan and an erratic quarterback, however, led to a disastrous offensive performance and the Cowboys' second loss of the season.

For the game, Owens caught only two of the 12 passes Romo threw in his direction. In fact, Romo threw more interceptions than completions on passes intended for Owens. Owens is an easy target for media scrutiny due to his questionable past, but he only dropped one pass intended for him. The bigger problem was that the Eagles were unwilling to let Owens beat them as had in November. A safety was ever-present when the Cowboys went down the field, and it was no surprise that the two completions to Owens were underneath routes in the middle of the field.

Even with the defensive focus, Owens was open several times, but Romo threw wildly. His new squeeze Jessica Simpson was on hand to watch the performance, and she could not have been impressed. Romo was battling a thumb injury for most of the game, and was clearly erratic. Even when he had open receivers, he would miss them. He completed only 36 percent of his passes. With the pass game struggling, the natural response would be to turn to the running game.

The natural response never occurred. The Cowboys only called 14 running plays, compared with 40 passing plays. This massive discrepancy appears explicable from the stats: The running backs only totaled 37 yards on 14 carries, an average of just 2.6 yards per rush. Clearly the running game was not effective, right?

The running game in Dallas still consists of nearly equal carries for the excellent Marion Barber III and the thoroughly mediocre Julius Jones. Barber totaled 32 yards on seven carries, only one of which failed to pick up at least three yards. Jones, meanwhile, totaled 5 yards on seven carries, and only twice gained three or more yards.

The difference between these two backs, running behind the same line, is extraordinary. Barber averages 4.9 yards per carry while Jones only averages 3.8. At Football Outsiders, we have a stat called success rate that measures how consistently a running back gains productive yardage. Barber ranks 11th, while Jones ranks 51st. The only running back with at least 75 carries and a lower success rate than Jones is the tattered remnants of Shaun Alexander. Barber's superiority is not exactly news. A season ago, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry to Jones' 4.1.

Give the new coaching staff credit that at least Barber leads the team in carries, whereas Jones had a two-to-one advantage a season ago. Still, the near 50-50 split is a severe disservice to the Cowboys offense. For whatever reason, the Cowboys feel Barber is most effective if he rests early in the game, but a playmaker of his ability should be receiving a substantial bulk of the carries. Any game where he does not get 75 percent of the rushing attempts is a misuse of resources, plain and simple.

With Barber relegated to bystander, Romo sprayed the ball all over the field. He has clearly emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in football, but Sunday's game showed Romo is far from a perfect passer. He tends to be too aggressive down the field, and that leads to interceptions. The three picks on Sunday give him 17 for the season. He also has trouble securing the football. He has fumbled nine times already this year despite rarely being sacked. Fortunately for him, his own team has recovered six of those fumbles, but he is playing with fire by allowing so many loose balls.

The other troubling development from Sunday's game was the Cowboys' continued inability to play well in the first quarter. The Cowboys are the second best offense in football starting in the second quarter. In the first quarter, they are 20th. (It should not go without notice that Julius Jones is the starter, but the problems extend to slow starts in the passing game.)

A quick start on Sunday could have buried a downtrodden Eagles team coming off just the latest in a succession of heart-wrenching losses. At 5-8, the Eagles were more or less eliminated from playoff contention. A quick 10-point lead could have put the long-time NFC East contenders out of their misery.

The Cowboys defense has had first-quarter struggles as well this season, but they managed to hold the Eagles off the scoreboard. Philadelphia got four first-quarter possessions and finished with zero points to show for it. That's still better than the Cowboys, who took their three offensive possessions and did not record a single first down.

As is their wont, the Cowboys got it going in the second quarter with two long drives. The first drive ended when Romo threw an interception into the end zone on the first one, but he was bailed out when Quintin Mikell ran the ball out and fumbled it right back. The Cowboys converted the second chance into a field goal. Their second long drive marched into Eagles territory, but it also ended with an interception.

Somehow still in the game after stalling repeatedly near midfield, the Eagles faced a second-and-13 at the Dallas 40-yard line. Donovan McNabb dropped back to pass, saw the pass rush come from both sides, and busted out the front for a 28-yard gain. The run was the longest of the year for the once-mobile quarterback.

McNabb has fought the "mobile quarterback" label throughout his career. He has proved that he can be a very effective pocket passer, but he has always been helped by the threat of the run. This year, recovering from an ACL injury, McNabb has been far less mobile. He has been sacked 37 times this season (nearing the highest total of his career; he was sacked 45 times in 2000) in only 12 games. This is due in part to his lack of mobility.

The decreased threat he poses to break the pocket radically affects the way opposing defenses can defend the Eagles. The Eagles receivers are a rather pedestrian group, so teams are best served by playing man-to-man defense, a tactic that is vulnerable to long runs by quarterbacks who can escape the pocket. In the old days, teams playing man-to-man on the Eagles would leave a linebacker or safety to "spy" on McNabb. Now, the spy is unnecessary, which adds an additional defender to either cover receivers or blitz the quarterback.

The other way to beat man-to-man coverage is with big plays down the field. The Eagles have had success with that for several seasons. This year, however, the offensive line is unable to provide McNabb sufficient time to let receivers get down the field. Opposing teams can also bring pressure from the outside because they do not fear McNabb's ability to break the pocket. In past years, opposing pass rushers had to be more disciplined or McNabb would beat them with a run.

A look at McNabb's numbers shows that opponents are almost daring him to run. In recent years, he had seemed almost reluctant to scramble. This year, with a still-rehabbing knee, he has run 35 times (kneeldowns not included). In 2005 and 2006 combined, he had 38 runs. He has not run more than 35 times in a year since 2003.

The good news is that McNabb's knee is clearly feeling better. Through Week 9, McNabb had carried 18 times for only 69 yards. Since Week 10, he has carried 17 times for 134 yards. If he is able to make a few more plays with his feet, opposing defenses will have to adjust, which will allow him to make more plays with his arm.

As always, the focus in Philadelphia is on McNabb, while their best player is undoubtedly Brian Westbrook. The sensational running back is finally getting some publicity for his heads-up decision to take a knee at the goal-line in the final minutes, but that decision, while smart, was the least of his contributions to the Eagles. He is quite simply the most productive running back in football. He was seemingly held in check by the Cowboys and still totaled 144 yards of offense.

Westbrook has missed just one game due to injury this season, and the result was one of the Eagles' only two disastrous outings, a 16-3 loss to the Giants. The rest of the Eagles' season has featured an inordinate number of creative ways to lose a game. For the year, the Eagles are 0-4 in games decided by three points or less. Not only have they lost close games, but they have lost them against the second most difficult schedule in football. The Eagles' talent is obvious. In four games against the NFL's elite -- New England, Dallas, and Green Bay -- they have played three nail-biters and only been outclassed once.

A rehabbing quarterback, inconsistent secondary, and poor red zone offense have spelled the difference between a 9-5 team heading to the playoffs and a 6-8 team questioning the direction of the franchise. If they stay the course, odds are they would be right back in the thick of a playoff chase next season. If they panic and dump one of the best quarterbacks in football because the team around him has regressed and the local talk radio shows are calling for his head, the Eagles will get the sustained mediocrity they deserve.

Dallas is not only headed to the playoffs but has a first-round bye and inside track to the first overall seed. Romo's thumb injury presents a potential problem as they strive to win against sub-.500 teams the next two weeks. The thumb injury will be a convenient excuse, but this team is actually regressing as the season progresses. Since Week 10, the Cowboys have played four of their five worst games of the season, according to DVOA. The Cowboys hit the ground running with their new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but it is possible opponents are starting to adjust. Defensively, the new regime found its footing after a bad first two weeks, but they have been exposed at times in recent weeks.

The time is now for the Cowboys to start making counter-moves to their opponents. The defense used creative ways to apply pressure up the middle and clearly confounded the Eagles. The offense must devise similar schemes to get Terrell Owens the ball in single coverage. The team may have to start working Owens more horizontally than vertically, with the hopes of pulling safeties up to allow other receivers to go deep. Owens bristles at both being a decoy and a possession receiver, but unless the Cowboys adjust, their offense will no longer be dominant. If these tweaks do not work, the Cowboys could resort to Plan B: Ban Jessica Simpson's access to the stadium.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 18 Dec 2007

58 comments, Last at 20 Dec 2007, 7:24pm by MdM

Comments

1
by podpeople (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:02pm

Any given sunday eagles over cowboys is becoming a bit of a december tradition. Hopefully the trend continues.

2
by Jesus (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:15pm

My father's an Eagles fan !

(1st !)

3
by Brooklyn Bengal (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:16pm

This line makes me crack up:

"[Romo] has clearly emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in football, but Sunday’s game showed Romo is far from a perfect passer."

Is that really intended to be a sound criticism?

Great stuff on Marion Barber, though. Anybody have any insight as to why the Cowboys keep chopping wood with Julius Jones? Executive decision?

4
by ArchimedesOwl (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:21pm

#1 I'd rather never see an Any Given Sunday with the Eagles over the Cowboys. Any Given Sunday articles are about upset wins.

I'd rather see Any Given Sunday articles in which the Cowboys are the victor. Because, well, I don't like the Cowboys and would rather it be a surprise when they win, not when they lose.

5
by David (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:28pm

4: Honestly, I'm torn. I like it when the Cowboys suck, but I also like it when they get overconfident and the Eagles get to shove a particularly sweet loss in their faces. I guess I can find something to be happy about either way.

6
by Eagirls (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:30pm

losing or winning close games against good teams doesn't make you a good team. see football prospectus 2006.

and it certainly won't get you into the playoffs! enjoy the victory and have a lovely offseason!

7
by Cowgirls (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:38pm

Hey, check out my screen name. Aren't I just so witty?

8
by podpeople (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:47pm

re 6
please leave this site. The reason I love this website is because it is mostly devoid of the pointless name calling and taunting that ruins sports talk for me. Foxsports.com has lovely banter for your kind, but we like to keep it alittle clasier here.

9
by Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:52pm

Aww, no comment about how Romo's two worst games are versus the Eagles when he brings his latest girlfriend to the game?

10
by Sam (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 12:56pm

6:

Losing a series of very close games to good opponents DOES generally mean you are "better than your record" though.

11
by joe skolnik (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:00pm

the cowboys are going to get stomped by the vikings in the first round of the playoffs if they play like this

Green Bay is by far playing the best football in the NFC right now

ALSO, AS AN EAGLES FAN, I HAVE TO LOVE THEIR CHANCES FOR NEXT YEAR. So long as both our tackles stay, and we get a good nickel back, theres no way anyone can say we arent the team to beat in the NFC once more

12
by MdM (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:11pm

Nice article, and nice to see some Eagles chatter. It seems like all the Eagles' fans have been in hibernation. My wife bought me an Eagles' sweatshirt. She said she was afraid to buy me a "5" because he might not be here next year. That would suck...

13
by Lance (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:12pm

#6, people like you give actual Dallas fans a bad name (and have since the early 90's). And #11, ANY team would get stomped by any other team if they played like Dallas did on Sunday. If you're only hitting on 36% of 40 passes thrown, you just aren't going to score points. Here's hoping Romo's thumb heals up, and that Jason Garrett gets a second wind as OC

14
by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:15pm

"Romo was battling a thumb injury for most of the game"

Excuses, excuses.

Romo injured his thumb after the 41 yard completion to Crayton, which was early in the 3rd quarter. If over half the game had already gone by, he couldn't battle this injury "most" of the game.

15
by Boesy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:19pm

ah, Joe...unfortunately, the Cowboys have a guaranteed first round bye. The Vikings (if they stave off the charging Saints) will have to travel to Seattle or Tampa before earning the right to go to Texas.

16
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:20pm

Romo wasn't any better than Tavaris Jackson this week, although it should be noted that the Bears really weren't trying to defend the pass. Hopefully, the Vikings winning streak hasn't fooled their management into thinking that they don't need to make an effort to acquire McNabb, if the Eagles and their fans are so silly as to run him out of town.

17
by Hank (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:23pm

Haven't the cowboys had losing records in december for quite a few seasons in a row now?

18
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:23pm

Any word on Gurode's health? If he is out or greatly hindered, the Cowboys really are looking at a much tougher road, both in holding the #1 seed, and getting to the Super Bowl.

19
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:28pm

Will, please don't mischaracterize the local Philadelphia mouth-breathers as Eagles' fans. Them's fightin' words and I take exception to being lumped in with them as.

20
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:35pm

Every fan base has 'em, Wanker. Hell, Tarkenton got booed in Minnesota by that contingent at least once.

21
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:41pm

True, but I am a Philadelphia sports fan, so it doesn't take much for me to classify something as fightin' words. You've been warned.

22
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:53pm

Will - Jackson sure showed some of the warts last night. I'm not hoping they sign McNabb though. I think he looks very much less mobile than he was in the past. He just looks broken down to me. I would hate to see top draft picks leave for him.

Switching topics - I thought Peterson looked very tentative the last two games. He's kind of tippy toeing into the hole. I was actually wanting to see more of Taylor last night, because he was running harder and more effectively in the last two games, not to mention he can pick up the blitz.

Also the loss of Winfield and Rice would be a huge hit. NFL football sure is a game of attrition.

23
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 1:56pm

A pretty fair summary of the game. One thing I did notice was how completely Dallas stopped the screen. In fact, I think I noticed it before Andy Reid, as the were trying to run it on the last drive of the game. I guess that when you get as much pressure as Dallas did, you don't get time to set it up properly.

Oh, DeMarcus Ware is a beast, and you might want to know where he's lined up. Just so you can, you know, block him.

And I have an Ad for "Girls of the Ukraine" staring at me. Awesome. Not Catholic Match Girl, but still awesome.

24
by C.V. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:03pm

Romo was off from the jump - he missed a wide-open Owens for an 80-yard TD the 2nd play of the game. He couldn't hit his checkdown receivers even before his thumb injury. He was just badly, badly off.

So too was 1st year wunderkind coordinator Jason Garrett. Completely abandoning the run when your QB is having a terrible day and then bungs up his thumb is baffling and is a rookie coordinator mistake. However, Garrett has proven himself to be one smart guy and he will correct this.

The Cowboys should be fine - if Romo dumps that talentless hack and her pimp/ father. If not, then his career is over.

25
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:05pm

Re 2: He wasn't first, he was second, surely he would have known that. If he could be wrong about that then . . . .

26
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:16pm

#22. jimm

As a Bears fan let me tell you I wanted to see more of Taylor as well. OK not so much more of Taylor, just less of AP. Always less of AP.

#19, wanker

'mouth breathers' a classic, I love it.

27
by Independent George (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:29pm

#23 - awesome enough to make it worth disabling adblock?

28
by ammek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:35pm

I rarely respond to unsupported idiocy, but I think there are a couple of myths that need to be squashed here:

"the cowboys are going to get stomped by the vikings in the first round of the playoffs if they play like this"

Well, yes. Unless the Vikings play like they did against the Packers. In which case the game will probably finish 14-14 with all four tds coming on recoveries of muffed snaps.

"Green Bay is by far playing the best football in the NFC right now"

Did you watch the Rams game? The Cowboys game? Green Bay is playing very good special teams, and can finish off garbage opponents like St Louis and Oakland once it gets ahead. But weighted dvoa puts the Packers well behind Dallas, and weighted dvoa analyzes games more rationally than commenter #11 does.

"ALSO, AS AN EAGLES FAN, I HAVE TO LOVE THEIR CHANCES FOR NEXT YEAR. So long as both our tackles stay, and we get a good nickel back, theres no way anyone can say we arent the team to beat in the NFC once more"

Oh yes there is a way. Old defense, no receivers, bad special teams, inconsistent pass rush, injury-prone quarterback, coach struggling to stay on top of things, impatient fan base.

I'd go a step further. I think the Eagles are a couple of important injuries away from being the Miami Dolphins.

And please lose the caps.

29
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:37pm

#27

For comedy value yes. Any ad for "Ladys of Ukraine" (sic), is worth viewing once.

She's not as hot as CMG though. Not close.

30
by Marko (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 2:37pm

25: Very funny. Maybe he'll make an excuse for being wrong by claiming he was distracted since he was busy making plans for his birthday next week.

31
by Flounder (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:16pm

Re: 28 I certainly agree GB was far less than impressive against the rams. However, weighted DVOA actually slightly reduces the gap between the two teams.

32
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:23pm

#11: the Cowboys won't get stomped in the first round of the playoffs because they won't be playing until the second round - they have a bye locked up.

#18: Gurode's injury is supposedly just a knee sprain, though I don't think there has yet been confirmation of what the MRI showed. He's not practicing today. He's not expected to miss more than a week or two.

The important things for the Cowboys on Sunday: the defense played very well after a poor showing against the Lions; the injuries to Romo, Gurode, Canty, Fasano, and Watkins aren't going to keep any of them from being available in the playoffs; there were WRs open, but either Romo didn't look to them or he made a poor throw, but that can be chalked up to Romo (and Garrett) having a bad day.

33
by Rick (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:24pm

#28:
I'm an Eagles fan, and I have to agree with your assessment. The Eagles have an excellent chance to be special again next year if they avoid listening to the brain-dead bottom feeders on the radio and in the papers.
But they do have some glaring holes to address. For a team that is 5 plays away from being 11-3, you have to wonder why those 5 plays occurred. Almost all are the result of one or two positions that are remarkably mediocre.
In addition, injuries have decimated the Eagles the last 3 years. In games without either Westbrook or McNabb (more notably Westbrook, though the McMahon and Feeley experiments have proven McNabb is better than locals believe) are missing, the Eagles are nothing short of miserable. So a few well placed injuries (and Westbrook is always aching) will definitely push this team down 10 pegs on the ladder.

Still, they have an amazingly good shot at making it all work in their favor next year IF they get healthy, make a few key moves (probably not more than 2 to pick up a receiver and another decent CB), and have at least one drafted player start.

Of course, lots of teams can say the same thing...but the Eagles' chance to "win it all" is becoming less and less as the team ages. I'd give them 2-3 years to make it happen.

It could happen without McNabb, but it's a long shot. While I'd hate to see him go, if they can get some decent trades for him they would shore up some positions that are ailing AND free up some salary cap room to make additional moves. It leaves the QB question unsettled, of course, so it's not the OPTIMAL move. It is a move that I'm sure a bunch of the idiot commentators in Philly are trying to scope out, though.

34
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:28pm

jimm, McNabb is mobile enough, and will probably be more so next year. I wouldn't give up a first for him, but he has a lot of value, especially to a team which defenses just crowd the line on, because they have so little fear of the current qb. Steve Young was absolutely right last night when he said that an experienced qb with some talent should have had an extremely easy time throwing for huge numbers against the Bears, given the way the Bears were selling out completely to defend the run. McNabb probably would have thrown for a minimum of 3 touchdowns against such a scheme, and Peterson would likely have ended up with 150 yards. If the Vikings want to get the most out of Peterson, they need more from their qb, and they shouldn't wait a couple years for Jackson to get better.

35
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:41pm

Will - you may well be right, but I think the state of the Vikings receivers would make it difficult for any QB to throw very effectively - particularly with Rice out of the mix

36
by Tom (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:44pm

Of course, if McNabb was back there, there is no way the Bear play that scheme.

I really thought the Vikings should have went after Plummer, although who knows if he would have played for them. It seemed like a perfect fit to me. With Peterson and Taylor, you can operate the run, run, play action offense. Plus, Plummer would have been able to impart a lot of knowledge on Jackson who seems to have very similar physical abilities.

37
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:49pm

Things could get very interesting if Carolina and Washington devote the same attention to TO as the Lions and Eagles did. Two more games like the last two will go a long way toward demonstrating how much of a 'team leader' Owens really is this year.

38
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:52pm

Re: 36

That may have been the clearest example I've ever seen of "damning [Jackson] with faint praise".

39
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 3:57pm

Regarding the Eagles, the big question to me is whether Reid decides to take some time off (as has been widely speculated) or decides to stay in coaching after this year. If he's still the coach, I think the Eagles will be fine and will likely return to the playoffs next year. If he decides to get out of coaching temporarily (and who could blame him), I think they'll likely take a step back.

40
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 4:28pm

Oh yes there is a way. Old defense,

Old defense? There are two starters on defense older than 30 - Takeo Spikes and Brian Dawkins. If anything, they need a little more age on defense, as they're still prone to make rookie mistakes.

Why even make a comment if you're going to say something so flagrantly wrong?

no receivers,

They have receivers. They unfortunately all excel at the same thing. This leads to them shredding teams who don't play them well (Detroit, New England) but most haven't been that stupid.

bad special teams,

Special teams are completely inconsistent year-to-year, and prior to 2005, the Eagles were one of the few teams in the NFL who were consistently strong on special teams. This isn't like the Steelers, who have struggled on special teams for years.

inconsistent pass rush,

You don't blitz if you don't think your secondary can handle it. They were injured early, so they didn't blitz. Now they aren't, so they do.

Same thing doomed the Eagles this year as dooms every good-but-not-great team - injuries combined with less-than-stellar depth. The poor depth came from spotty drafting the past few years.

I’d go a step further. I think the Eagles are a couple of important injuries away from being the Miami Dolphins.

Me too. If those injuries were "the entire offensive and defensive lines."

41
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 4:36pm

The conumdrum is that attracting decent free agent receivers is difficult when the qb is not established. I keep hearing that Fitzgerald desperately wants out of Phoenix, and I'd gladly give up a first for such a youthful star, but you probably need to have some credibility at qb to have a receiver like Fitzgerald want to come to Minnesota, even with the hometown factor.

Yeah, Tom, the Bears won't run that scheme against an above-average qb, which is what would allow the Vikings to get the most out of Peterson. Good gravy, I'd love to see Peterson operate against a defense which also had to defend the deep throw! Every Sunday would be like watching the Vikings play a Ted Cottrell-coached defense! Paradise!

42
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 4:41pm

Yep, if Gurode is out for two weeks, and Romo's thumb doesn't heal every quickly, I could easily see the Cowboys losing home field advantage to the Packers, and that is no small thing.

43
by zenbitz (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 5:03pm

How was this a bigger upset than SF (with 3rd string QB) over CIN? Or does AGS only count NFL teams?

44
by Roscoe (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 5:33pm

#9

Mickey had it right in the first Rocky movie. "Women Weaken Legs!"

45
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 6:08pm

Will - in my best Bill Lumbergh voice - I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there.

I think sticking with Jackson is the right move because I think the mistakes he's making are fixable, whereas the skills he brings to the table are hard to find.

I think some additional experience an another weapon at WR and this will be a kick ass offence as Childress would say.

46
by vesini (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 6:18pm

since the vikings knocked da birds out of the post-season ... let's take this in a different direction ... Based on DVOA, what should the Eagles do to improve themselves? The area that needs the least change is the running game (B-Web), but if you're the DVOA GM, what do you do?

47
by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 8:09pm

WHAAAAT?!?! The 0-13 Fins actually manage to WIN a game and they can't even get the Any Given Sunday for the week?!

I'm insulted, I really am. (Storms off in a huff.)

48
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 9:00pm

Sure, Jimm, the problems are fixable, but what are the odds of it happening, or happening in the next 18 games? No, I'm not saying that they need to acquire a qb with a good track record, no matter the cost, because cost is always part of the assessment. However, if they can get a qb like McNabb at a reasonable price, and of course what is "reasonable" is a another hard to assess issue, then they should do so. McNabb probably will miss some time anyways, so Jackson would likely still be greatly needed. They cannot go into next season with Bollinger as anything but a number three.

49
by JA (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 9:07pm

As I remember, Football Prospectus predicted that the Eagles would win 11+ games with probability of 80% or greater. Instead they've floundered at 6-8.

A lot has been said about McNabb's recovery from the ACL injury, but there were a lot more injury issues. Brian Dawkins was out for a bunch of games in the beginning of the season, as was LJ Smith. (Smith is not a great blocker, but he was a good receiver. Since he's been back, he's been playing remarkably poorly. Sucks for him that this is a contract year.)

Plus the lines are aging (and anyone who reads this site should know that the line s are where games are won and lost): Runyan has lost a step and Thomas missed a couple weeks with injuries. (Remember the Winston Justice game? He was only starting because Thomas was injured in the previous week.) Jevon Kearse looked freakishly lame this year.

I do believe that the Eagles are a better team than they've played this year, and were just a couple of injuries (and a competent special teams coach) away from a 12-2 record at this point. However, there is some truth in what Bill Parcells used to say, "you are what your record says you are."

50
by DPGC (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 10:51pm

#28... there is a 1.4% differential between the weighted VOA of the boys and the packers in the current rankings; and to the point raised by #11 (and i quote “Green Bay is by far playing the best football in the NFC right [b]NOW[b]”) the , DVOA over the last 4 weeks would probably favor the packers even despite their recent loss to the cowboys as the rating of the packers have been on the rise while the cowboys have seen a minor decline. Nonetheless, the cowboys are an excellent team and probably still the class of the NFC; and contrary to what #11 has stated (and i quote “the cowboys are going to get stomped by the vikings"), as a packer fan I would much rather play the vikings again than play the boys.

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by Len (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 11:29pm

#28 and 40: the Eagles remind me of every great but fading team run such as the late 90s Cowboys and Niners, etc. It's always something or another keeping them back. I don't see a quick turnaround with incremental offseason change.

#42 on home field for the Cowboys: Dallas has actually played better on the road than at home this year, so home field isn't as important as team health and confidence. Related but different goals.

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by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 11:42pm

As I remember, Football Prospectus predicted that the Eagles would win 11+ games with probability of 80% or greater. Instead they’ve floundered at 6-8.

Unless the Prospectus prediction was a ton different than the DVOA predictions, you remember wrong. The Eagles were predicted to be the best team in a very good division. They ended up being the second-best team in a very good division, and a few bad breaks put them below 0.500. The DVOA predictions had mean wins at 10.9, with a standard deviation of 1.26. They'll probably end up at 8-8, which is only a little over 2 standard deviations. Not a big deal.

Plus the lines are aging

Why do people say stuff like this without actually knowing the team? I don't get it.

There are 9 starting linemen on the Eagles - 5 OL, 4 DL. Of those nine starting linemen, two are 30 or over. The remaining seven are all ridiculously young.

Those two are, in fact, the tackles, so yeah, there's a bit of concern there, but Thomas/Runyan will last another year or two fine. ("Lost a step?" Good thing tackles really only typically move about 9 or 10 steps, then. Runyan's certainly not the problem - not for the number of times he's been seen charging downfield to level someone) Certainly Justice and Jean-Gilles haven't inspired confidence, but hey, that's what the draft is for.

The center and two guards are all young (4, 4, and 3 years experience), the two defensive tackles are young (3 and 2 years experience), and the DEs are young.

Jevon Kearse looked freakishly lame this year.

Good thing he hasn't been starting since, like, week 5 or something.

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by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/18/2007 - 11:59pm

#28 and 40: the Eagles remind me of every great but fading team run such as the late 90s Cowboys and Niners, etc. It’s always something or another keeping them back. I don’t see a quick turnaround with incremental offseason change.

Too bad we're not in the late 90s anymore.

Seriously, here are the players still on the Eagles from 2001: Akers, Dawkins, Runyan, Thomas, McNabb. That's it. The team isn't fading. It's almost completely rebuilt from the ground up. How can you fade when you're not even the same team anymore? From 2000-2003, the defense and McNabb were the engine that ran the team. From 2004-2007, McNabb and Westbrook've been the engines that run the team. Westbrook still should have a few years left (the guy's only 28) especially considering how sparingly he's been used.

Jeez, if people want to criticize them, I'll give you a hand. Look at the spot that their own DC (and me, before the damned season!!) said he was worried about - the secondary. Not the freaking lines, which are almost all players who could still be on their rookie contracts if they hadn't been extended.

The Eagles need another CB and probably two safeties (with my complete distrust of Sean Considine). This year they ended up starting a safety who wasn't even on the opening day roster. That's the one big problem, and the other problem is tight end/receiver.

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if they wouldn't have to play in one of the best freaking divisions in football. But, hey, we can't all get to beat up on the Jets, Dolphins and Bills six times a year.

Seriously, the biggest thing that kept the Eagles from winning 10+ games this year was the fact that the Cowboys didn't slip from last year, as you would normally expect from a new head coach and the downward spiral they were in at the end of last year.

But this is why predictions of wins are retarded - because you can't get the Eagles right without getting every one of their opponents right, and there's just a good chance you're gonna get one of them wrong.

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by Len (not verified) :: Wed, 12/19/2007 - 2:59am

Hey Pat, you're the guy that kept trying to convince me back in August that the Phillips hire was a "sucking effect" when I said that Turner and Phillips didn't belong in the same sentence. Remember that? Maybe you'll do better on this argument.

The fact is, great teams fade not only because they keep the same aging stars, such as McNabb, but they replace quality players with mediocre ones. So the Eagles can have an all new team, as you say, but that is no guarantee of future success.

Your turn.

55
by mattman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/19/2007 - 4:37am

The Eagles have sputtered the last three years for a couple reasons: 1) injuries, in particular to McNabb, and 2) poor drafts in 2003 and 2004 depleted the defense. Backup safety Quentin Mikell is the only homegrown defensive player from those years currently on the team. Fortunately, the defensive talent from the '05-'06 drafts is coming along nicely. Trent Cole, Mike Patterson, Broderick Bunkley, Omar Gaither, and Chris Gocong all took big steps forward this season, especially in the second half. If that development continues, the Eagles' front seven could start to look scary, especially after they sign Jared Allen or Terrell Suggs this offseason.

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by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 12/19/2007 - 5:08am

Hey Pat, you’re the guy that kept trying to convince me back in August that the Phillips hire was a “sucking effect” when I said that Turner and Phillips didn’t belong in the same sentence.

Maybe you'll listen this time, then. What I said then, and what I'll repeat now, is that in general, hiring a new coach is on average a setback for a year or two. Since you have no way a priori to evaluate coaches in an unbiased manner, you have to downgrade them.

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by Len (not verified) :: Wed, 12/19/2007 - 11:50am

You didn't make that argument at all Pat. Poor attempt at revisionist history.

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by MdM (not verified) :: Thu, 12/20/2007 - 7:24pm

Pretty good attempt I would say. I don't recall ever seeing Pat going after anyone or saying anything he couldn't back up with stats.