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16 Jan 2009

2009 NFC Championship Preview

by Aaron Schatz

So, here we are again. We were here in 2003, the first year of Football Outsiders, trying to figure out if the postseason surge of the Carolina Panthers (17th in DVOA) was for real. We were here a year ago, trying to figure out if the postseason surge of the New York Giants (15th in DVOA) was for real. Now we're trying to figure out if the postseason surge of the Arizona Cardinals (20th in DVOA) is for real.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. This year, we're going back to the old school for our in-game discussions. You can use these preview threads to discuss things before and then during each game. Just remember to switch over from NFC to AFC when the NFC game is over.

If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all DVOA splits for this matchup.

THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME IS IN GLENDALE, ARIZONA? SERIOUSLY?

There are a few different hypotheses that attempt to explain why Arizona is hosting the NFC Championship game.

  • 1) This is nothing but normal variation. Teams have good weeks and bad weeks; that's the point behind the phrase "Any Given Sunday." In fact, only one of Arizona's two playoff wins was that spectacular, and they beat Atlanta by less than a touchdown. The Tennessee Titans were the number one seed in the AFC, but they lost to the teams ranked 19th (Jets) and 21st (Texans) in DVOA. On the whole, the Cardinals are who we thought they were two weeks ago.
  • 2) Maybe it is coaching, maybe it is emotion, or maybe a number of players improved all at the same time, but for some reason the Cardinals suddenly improved significantly around the final week of the regular season. With 20-20 hindsight, this really does seem to be what happened with the New York Giants last year. The Giants' postseason performance actually makes complete sense when viewed next to their performance in 2008, when they were one of the league's best teams with very few additions (and, surprisingly, two major departures on the defensive line). Unfortunately, there's no real evidence this is the case with Arizona, and there won't be evidence unless they go and start the 2009 season 8-0 or something.
  • 3) The Cardinals aren't actually playing different now. What we are seeing is the effect of the Cardinals having an extreme home-field advantage. During the regular season, the Cardinals at home ranked eighth in offensive DVOA and 17th in defensive DVOA. On the road, they were 17th in offensive DVOA and 24th in defensive DVOA. Their three worst losses came on the road, to the Jets, Eagles, and Patriots. However, this theory would make a lot more sense if the Cardinals had crushed Carolina in Phoenix instead of Charlotte. Otherwise, it's just a statistical oddity, especially since the Cardinals' DVOA at home this season was still lower than Philadelphia's DVOA on the road.
  • 4) The Cardinals' poor DVOA is mostly explained by their trouble waking up for early games on the East Coast. They played four of these games, and lost all four. The problem here is that two of those losses were actually very close -- Week 3, when they lost to Washington 24-17, and Week 8, when they lost to Carolina 27-23. It's hard to say they had trouble waking up when they took a 17-point lead in the Carolina game and then kicked it away. Arizona's second-biggest loss of the season was played Thanksgiving night, not in the early afternoon.
  • 5) The Cardinals took their collective foot off the gas once they realized they had clinched a playoff spot by winning the weak NFC West. Although they did not clinch until Week 14, they basically knew by Thanksgiving that the division was theirs. That's when the Cardinals' performance really collapsed, and they lost three of the next four games -- and lost them big. They went back to trying in the final week of the season to build momentum for the playoffs, and since then have been the same Cardinals that peaked at fourth in the DVOA ratings after Week 9.

Among the readers of this website, the most popular theory is probably the first one. In the general media, the most popular theory may be the last. There's no doubt that the Cardinals were one of the top teams in the NFL through their Week 7 bye. They didn't play quite as well after the bye, but beat their division rivals in three straight games from Week 9 to Week 11 before their performance started to dip.

The problem is that there's no real empirical evidence that can explain away Arizona's second-half collapse as "they didn't care as much." Sure, they might say some stuff to the press, but they certainly didn't look like they stopped trying. The Cardinals did not sit their starters in any way. They did not have any major injuries except for placing linebacker Clark Haggans on IR, and that doesn't matter because he hasn't been able to play in the postseason either.

Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I created a new version of DVOA that removed the games Arizona played from Week 13 to Week 16. This removes three big losses, as well as one big victory (over St. Louis). This exercise is even more interesting when you realize that it removes Philadelphia's largest win of the season. In this imaginary world where Arizona didn't play for four weeks, the final DVOA ratings look a lot different. The best team in the NFL is the New York Giants, not the Philadelphia Eagles, who are now third. Instead of being below average, the Arizona Cardinals are seventh overall in DVOA. They are a top ten team in both offense and defense, dragged down slightly by poor special teams. These numbers appear in red italics in the tables at the start of each section, except for special teams (where nothing really changed for the Cardinals in Weeks 13-16).

There's one other change this year: In the championship game previews, I've split those weekly DVOA graphs in two, separating offense and defense. Once you do this for Arizona and Philadelphia, you realize where this game will really be won or lost. Larry Fitzgerald may be the best player on the field this week, but he's less of a difference-maker than you might think.

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL

  Full Season Without ARI 13-16
ARI OFF PHI DEF ARI OFF PHI DEF
DVOA 11.9% (10) -20.7% (3) 20.1% (6) -19.5% (3)
WEI DVOA 8.8% (13) -24.8% (2) 17.0% (10) -23.6% (2)
PASS 24.8% (7) -22.1% (3) 37.6% (3) -20.7% (4)
RUSH -11.7% (28) -19.1% (3) -9.2% (29) -18.2% (3)
RED ZONE 14.1% (12) -19.8% (6) 10.2% (12) -25.5% (5)

Even during their late-season collapse, Arizona's offense was actually extremely consistent this year -- with one colossal exception, the week they had to play in the snow against New England. Otherwise, Arizona's only other below-average game on offense was the game against Philadelphia, and it really isn't that far below 0%.. In our imaginary world where Arizona didn't play in Weeks 13-16, the Arizona has the league's most consistent offense according to VARIANCE. In the real world, the Arizona offense ranked 21st in VARIANCE.

The Philadelphia defense has been even more consistent than the Arizona offense, particularly over the second half of the season. Philadelphia has not had a defensive DVOA over -10% in any game since their Week 7 bye. The stats for the Philadelphia defense barely change, even if we remove the Thanksgiving blowout of Arizona.

After watching Larry Fitzgerald run free in the zones between Carolina defenders, every football fan is asking the same question: "How can the Eagles can possibly stop him?" The answer is: They won't have to. All the Eagles need to do is limit Fitzgerald's production somewhat. If the Eagles can hold back the rest of the Arizona offense, a 100-yard day from Larry Fitzgerald won't kill them.

In the first meeting of these teams, the Eagles limited Fitzgerald to five catches on eight passes for 65 yards. More important, from an Eagles perspective, is that Fitzgerald made his plays against their worst cornerback, Lito Sheppard. Sheppard started the year as the nickelback but gradually lost that job to Joselio Hanson. On Thanksgiving, however, Sheppard spent most of the game on the field because the Cardinals' base offense is three-wide and starter Asante Samuel was injured. According to our game charter, Fitzgerald caught both his touchdowns as well as a 40-yard bomb while Sheppard was covering him. If Lito Sheppard is anywhere near Fitzgerald this Sunday, it will mean one of three things:

1) Double coverage with one of the better cornerbacks;

2) the Eagles have been decimated by injury; or

3) the Eagles are winning by three touchdowns.

Over the course of the season, Arizona threw 25 percent of passes to third and fourth receivers, more than any team other than the New York Giants. Arizona's "other receivers" ranked fifth among all teams in DVOA. However, Philadelphia's defense was the best in the NFC against "other receivers." In the first game between these teams, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban combined to catch 7 of 15 passes for just 48 yards. Breaston scored a touchdown late in the game, when he was covered by... yes, you guessed it, Lito Sheppard. Otherwise they were targeted on more interceptions (two) than first downs (one).

(Remember when Sheppard went to the Pro Bowl? Man, he has fallen REALLY far.)

When the Eagles defense tries to get to Kurt Warner, that's a battle of strength against strength. Philadelphia's defense ranked third in Adjusted Sack Rate, while Arizona's offense was seventh, and as we've noted in earlier weeks, offensive ASR was the only place where Arizona improved over the second half of the season. During the Thanksgiving blowout, Philadelphia didn't actually have a sack on Warner, one of only three games where the Eagles defense went without a sack.

Even if Philadelphia's pass rush can't take down Kurt Warner, though, it will annoy the hell out of him. Philadelphia led the league in usage of zone blitzes, the only team to zone blitz more than 10 percent of the time. Arizona's offense had a problem with zone blitzes, gaining two fewer yards per play when the defense zone-blitzed. (Note that the phrase "zone blitz" does not necessarily imply complete zone coverage behind the blitz. Philadelphia would be better off going with a "double-cover Larry Fitzgerald and zone everywhere else" blitz.)

With all that blitzing, the Cardinals would be wise to call a few screen passes. It was a play they found surprising success with all season. 57 percent of Arizona's running back screens met our definition of success (based on down and distance), better than any offense except New Orleans. Philadelphia's defense, meanwhile, was slightly below average against running back screens.

Arizona's offense will look to dictate play on first down, where they ranked fifth in the NFL (and first before their late-season swoon). During the regular season, Arizona got their yardage on first down by throwing the ball. The Cardinals passed on 58 percent of first downs; only Denver and New Orleans passed more frequently on first down. That's why it has been so weird to watch the Cardinals run on two-thirds of their first downs over the past two weeks. There has been a lot of talk about Arizona getting the running game going over the last couple weeks, but that might have less to do with the Cardinals and more to do with their opponents. Atlanta ranked 25th in run defense DVOA this year. Carolina was 24th. Philadelphia, on the other hand, ranked third against the run overall and second against the run on first down. There's a pretty good chance that Edgerrin James is going to get un-rejuvenated on Sunday (or would that be re-unjuvenated?). Honestly, the Arizona running game wasn't even as good as you might think during the last two weeks. Both James and Tim Hightower combined for 25 rushing DYAR against Atlanta, but after factoring in the quality of the Carolina run defense, they earned -2 rushing DYAR against the Panthers.

One other thing to watch when the Cardinals have the ball: the officiating. Arizona ranked seventh in the NFL in penalties (including declined and offsetting), and earned 2.3 flags per game more than the Eagles, who ranked 29th. The difference is almost entirely in offensive penalties. Perhaps the most remarkable number: Arizona led the league with 10 Delay of Game penalties, all on offense (as opposed to special teams). No other team had more than seven Delay of Game flags on offense.

WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL

  Full Season Without ARI 13-16
PHI OFF ARI DEF PHI OFF ARI DEF
DVOA 9.3% (12) 9.3% (21) 5.4% (17) -1.8% (9)
WEI DVOA 4.9% (17) 2.3% (12) 1.0% (21) -8.8% (6)
PASS 12.2% (13) 19.7% (23) 9.5% (15) 8.1% (16)
RUSH 5.4% (11) -1.7% (15) -0.3% (18) -13.4% (6)
RED ZONE 1.8% (19) 9.8% (21) -10.4% (26) 3.9% (19)

Discussions of the Philadelphia offense generally start with Donovan McNabb, but given the events of Thanksgiving night, it may be better to start by talking about Brian Westbrook. Our imaginary world without Arizona Weeks 13-16 has its biggest effect on the numbers for the Eagles running game and the Cardinals run defense, because Westbrook had his best rushing game of the season against the Cardinals. He carried the ball 22 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He was also very consistent -- 19 carries earned at least two yards and one of the other three carries was a touchdown plunge. Overall, the Eagles gained 188 yards on 37 carries (not counting Kevin Kolb's kneeldowns).

Westbrook's knee injury is chronic at this point, something that has to be managed from week-to-week. At some point in mid-December, he had some sort of setback and he hasn't been the same since.

Brian Westbrook vs. His Own Knees
  DVOA Runs Yards Yd/Run Suc Rate
Weeks 1-14 10.5% 192 788 4.10 50%
Weeks 15-19 -24.6% 79 222 2.81 34%

A gimpy Westbrook needs a lot of rest, and the best thing the Eagles can do is use more Correll Buckhalter. Because of Westbrook's late-season struggles, Buckhalter actually ended the regular season with a better DVOA and Success Rate -- and significantly better numbers as a receiver. Buckhalter missed the Thanksgiving night game with a knee injury but at this point he's definitely healthier than Westbrook (although it should be noted that Buckhalter hasn't been so good in the playoffs so far, outside of his 27-yard carry in the first quarter of the Minnesota game).

Either way, the best way for Philadelphia to run is up the middle. Sometimes that means regular runs, other times draws, but the Eagles were fifth in Adjusted Line Yards up the middle, while the Cardinals were 29th on defense.

The Eagles were well known early in the season for their troubles running in short-yardage situations, but things improved around midyear. The addition of fullback Kyle Eckel in Week 13 was a big part of that, although the turnaround actually began before Eckel was activated.

Philadelphia on Third/Fourth Down
Run DVOA Yd/Carry Success Rate
Weeks 1-10 -55.2% 1.52 50%
Weeks 11-17 22.7% 3.64 63%

Oddly enough, the Eagles' passing DVOA on third down declined after Week 10, but it doesn't seem to be connected to the improvement on the ground. It's mostly related to McNabb's Week 11-12 slump and a couple of late-season receiver fumbles. For the entire season, Philadelphia's offense was sixth in the league when throwing on third and fourth down, and the Arizona defense was 31st against the pass on third and fourth down. (In our pretend world where Arizona didn't play Weeks 13-16, their rank improves to 21st.)

Part of the problem on third down was the unit that has looked so good these last two weeks: the pass rush. The Cardinals sacked Matt Ryan twice on third down in their first playoff game, but back during the regular season they had major problems getting to the quarterback on third down. On first and second down combined, the Cardinals ranked 11th in Adjusted Sack Rate. On third and fourth down, they were 31st, worse than every team except Kansas City.

Looking at the week-to-week graphs, you will notice that Arizona's defensive performance was all over the map this season. McNabb's inconsistency, on the other hand, consists almost entirely of a two-game slump against Cincinnati and Baltimore two months ago. If Arizona really isn't the team that they seemed to be in December, isn't it also true that McNabb is not the quarterback that he was in Weeks 11 and 12? In that case, we're talking about one of the five best quarterbacks in the league this year, facing a league-average pass defense.

Remember how I said that the Cardinals fielded the same lineup all year, even during their late-season collapse? That's not entirely true, at least when it comes to the game against the Eagles. Just as Asante Samuel's injury absence affected the Philadelphia defense on Thanksgiving night, so too did Roderick Hood's injury absence affect the Arizona defense. Mike Sando pointed out at the time that Hood's absence may have been the reason the Cardinals switched from their usual Cover-3 defense to playing more Cover-2 and Cover-4 against the Eagles. Clearly, the Cover-2 and Cover-4 did not work very well. It also forced Adrian Wilson off the line of scrimmage, which probably contributed to Brian Westbrook's big day on the ground.

Even with Hood back, McNabb will find weaknesses to exploit in the Arizona secondary. Hood is the best corner on the Cardinals but can be burned deep. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has tons of natural talent but makes rookie mistakes. Eric Green is, well, Eric Green. Just like Arizona, Philadelphia used "other wide receivers" on more than 20 percent of passes. Unlike the Philadelphia defense, the Arizona defense is not good against these receivers, ranking 27th in DVOA. In the first game between these teams, Jason Avant and Hank Baskett combined to catch nine of 11 passes, moving the chains five times and scoring a touchdown.

The defense against "other wide receivers" is just one of the many statistical weaknesses of the Arizona pass defense. If we re-run the numbers without Weeks 13-16, the weeks Arizona may not have been trying their hardest, do these stats improve significantly? Not really.

  • Arizona was 28th against number-one receivers and 27th against "other receivers." Without Weeks 13-16, they still rank 27th in both categories. (Removing Weeks 13-16 does significantly improve Arizona's pass defense stats against tight ends and running backs.)
  • Philadelphia's offense used shotgun on more than 40 percent of all plays this year, and they did it successfully -- the Eagles offense gained 6.3 yards per play from shotgun and 4.8 yards per play with McNabb under center. Arizona's defense was terrible against the shotgun, 31st in DVOA while giving up 6.6 yards per play. (Against plays with the quarterback under center, the Arizona defense was 11th in DVOA and allowed just 4.9 yards per play.) Eliminate the weeks where the Cardinals may have let up on the gas pedal, and they actually come out worse against the shotgun, allowing 6.9 yards per play and still ranking 31st in DVOA.
  • Arizona had a huge left-right discrepancy, giving up 8.6 yards on the average pass to the left but 5.6 yards on the average pass to the right. Remove Weeks 13-16, and nothing changes against passes to the left side of the field -- the Cardinals still give up an average of 8.6 yards on passes to the left, although they improve to 5.3 yards against passes to the right.
  • The Cardinals allowed an average of 5.9 yards after the catch, more than any defense except the Lions. Without Weeks 13-16, this would improve slightly -- they would rank 29th, allowing 5.5 yards after catch.
  • Arizona ranked only 23rd with an Adjusted Sack Rate of 5.4 percent. Without Weeks 13-16, they improve... all the way to 22nd, with an Adjusted Sack Rate of 5.5 percent.

So if the Arizona pass defense had all these weaknesses during the regular season, what the heck changed in the playoffs? There seem to be two clear answers. First, significant improvement on third down, where Matt Ryan and Jake Delhomme completed just 45 percent of passes. Second, oodles and oodles of turnovers, especially by Delhomme. Repeating that is going to be a bit of a problem. From 1995-2007, there were 27 different playoff games where a team caused five or more turnovers on defense (including fumbles recovered by the offense). The next week, these teams averaged just two turnovers. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were the only team to manage five turnovers in two straight weeks. Donovan McNabb is simply not going to throw five interceptions to the Arizona Cardinals.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special Teams
PHI ARI
DVOA 1.6% (13) -3.1% (28)
PHI kickoff 3.5 (13) -1.8 (18)
ARI kickoff 4.3 (10) -7.7 (28)
PHI punts 3.4 (15) -6.5 (28)
ARI punts 0.1 (15) -6.6 (26)
FG/XP -1.8 (21) 4.2 (11)

Philadelphia clearly has the advantage over Arizona in special teams. It really doesn't have to do with the Eagles, who were a little above average in most areas of special teams. It has to do with the Arizona coverage units. Based on gross value (i.e. assuming average returns), kicker Neil Rackers and punter Ben Graham were both above-average. However, the Cardinals gave up more value on kickoff returns than any team except Kansas City, and more value on punt returns than any teams except Minnesota and Washington. Combined, the Arizona coverage teams gave up an estimated 22 points worth of field position compared to the NFL average. That opens things up for Quintin Demps or DeSean Jackson to make a big play.

The Philadelphia coverage units were fairly average over the course of the season but the numbers show a huge improvement in kickoff coverage after the Eagles picked up ex-Green Bay linebacker Tracy White, who's known for his special teams play. Over the first six weeks, opposing kickoff returns were worth 4.6 points worth of field position over average. Since Week 7, opposing kickoff returns have been worth -3.4 points worth of field position compared to average. The Eagles allowed six kickoff returns over 30 yards in the first six weeks, then didn't allow another kickoff return over 30 yards until the final game against Dallas. (White had no effect on the statistics for punt coverage.)

The other issue that might come into play is David Akers' struggles on long field goals. Over the last three regular seasons, David Akers has been slightly above-average on field goals of less than 45 yards. He is just 6-for-17 on field goal attempts of 45+ yards over the same time period.

OUTLOOK

There's very little chance that the Cardinals offense will overwhelm the Eagles defense or vice versa. Both units are fairly consistent, and both units should play well. That means this game will mostly be decided when the Eagles have the ball. The Westbrook injury makes their offense even more one-dimensional than usual. The Cardinals have home-field advantage and probably emotion on their side. However, nearly all the on-field matchups favor the Eagles passing game over the Cardinals pass defense -- even if we assume that Arizona's poor play from Week 13 to Week 16 "doesn't really count."

Lots of things can happen in a football game. A couple of bounces of the ball can throw the game one way or the other. Donovan McNabb could revisit his Week 11-12 slump and go all Delhomme on us, especially if a gimpy Westbrook means he's always facing third-and-long. Larry Fitzgerald could go beyond even his usual outstanding level of play and win the game on his own -- especially if Anquan Boldin is on the field to draw some of the secondary's attention. All these things are possible, but while we often say that probability is not a guarantee, but it is also true that possibility is not probability. Philadelphia is the better team and more likely to advance to Super Bowl XLIII.


STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list red zone DVOA and WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). These numbers are all regular season only, except for WEIGHTED DVOA which includes the playoffs.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice."

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 16 Jan 2009

160 comments, Last at 19 Jan 2009, 11:54am by Spielman

Comments

1
by Jay Gloab :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 3:17pm

I think it's just the labels are bad, and not the underlying numbers, but the DVOA trend graphs for Philly show their week 18 & 19 opponents as ATL and CAR (rather than MIN and NYG).

Great breakdown otherwise.

2
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 3:37pm

Thanks for noting that. It was just the labels. Refresh, it will be fixed.

3
by Wanker79 :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:09pm

This is a call for help to all my Eagles' fan bretheren. I really think I need to be talked down a bit, but I can't help but think that there is no way in hell that Arizona can win Sunday afternoon. They've played two mediocre defenses and two offenses with limited (albeit explosive) weapons. In both games all they had to do was focus on taking out a single dominant receiver and have everyone else focus on the run. The Eagles' defense is ridiculous, and the passing game (besides Westbrook) is a whole buncha guys that can't take over a game individually but any one of them can make a play at any time. Avant, Jackson, Celek, hell even cinderblock-hands got into the action against the Giants.

I'm not sure if I've ever been more confident going into a big game before. If they lose this one it's going to make the 2002 TB game feel like a parade down Broad. I haven't even really thought too much about the game, and instead I've spent the past few days trying to decide who I want to root for in the AFC. I've come to the conclusion that I'd definitely rather see Baltimore in Tampa. Jimmy Johnson must wake up at night with crusty sheets dreaming about going after a rookie QB in the Super Bowl. Plus there the whole revenge factor for McNabb (going back against the team that got him benched) and the fact that Baltimore is beat up and haven't had a week off since week 2. I really don't think they're going to pull off the upset, but that's not going to stop me from pulling for them.

I need help!

10
by Joe :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:25pm

Here is my sobering thought for your critique/digestion:

Their offense can go *poof* at any time, and has done so about one game per month this season. McNabb can and will lose his touch for entire quarters at anytime. Remember the first half against New York last week?

I am confident the Eagles are the better team, but I've seen enough inconsistency from the QB this season that every game is an adventure. If McNabb has that thing where it takes him like the first quarter to settle down I'm punching something, maybe a throw pillow or stuffed animal.

28
by Rick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 10:53am

As an Eagles fan who live outside of Philly, your post reads like a true Philly "fan".
Virtually every QB, even the best ones, have quarters where their consistency flies out the window. Favre, the "great one" was absolutely brilliant at the end of the season, wasn't he?

Laying it all on the offense's feet, and specifically McNabb's, is ridiculous and ill-informed. Many of McNabb's so-called failures were the failure of playcalling on the part of the coaches. The goal line at Chicago? McNabb's fault? Either it was the line's fault or playcalling, but hardly him. The final 2 minutes in the first Giant's game? All playcalling. 500 passes in a row in Cincinnati and Washington?

If you ask your QB to pass 25 times in a row, you set up the defense AND increase added risk to the failure of your QB to get the completions as a result.

Toss in ridiculous dropped passes (Curtis last week, Jackson in Washington, etc.) and you have a more balanced view of McNabb's so-called inconsistency.

The offense does stall at times. But once it's in gear, it usually stays in gear and is hard to stop. For an inconsistent offense to set a team record points scored seems a bit incongruous, doesn't it?

31
by Joe :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 12:18pm

Thanks for reading way too far into the post AND speculating as to my "true Philly fan" level, whatever that is. Of course it's not all McNabb's fault if the offense stalls, but his performance IS the one that impacts the offense the most.

My point was this: there have been several games this year where McNabb and the Eagles offense have stalled for entire quarters or halves of games. Therefore, the NFC championship game is no sure thing even though the Eagles are clearly the better team (based on performance over the season.)

The offense does stall at times. But once it's in gear, it usually stays in gear and is hard to stop. For an inconsistent offense to set a team record points scored seems a bit incongruous, doesn't it?

Total points scored has nothing to do with consistency. If the Eagles score 60 points a game 8 times and 0 points a game 8 times, they'll set the franchise record with 480 points on the season. Would you call that offense consistent?

Lucky for us, FO calculated how consistent the Eagles offense has been this year, and the Eagles are 22nd most consistent offense in the league in 2008. In other words pretty inconsistent compared with the rest of the NFL.

38
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 3:14pm

That's almost entirely due to Week 11 and Week 12, though, and human biology kindof dictates that the circumstances surrounding those weeks won't happen for another year or so.

43
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:10pm

LOL...interesting. But I'm not sure what that means.

42
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:08pm

To begin with - a true Philly "fan" is one who supports his team, but is remarkably critical of minute details to the point of absurdity. In this case, it seems to be the "anti-McNabb" syndrome that infects most Philadelphia fans. I can speak to this because I am from Philly originally, and spend alot of time there visiting family, all of whom suffer the "anti-McNabb" syndrome, which pretty much goes along the lines of exactly what you described. Every offensive problem emanates from him, and nowhere else.

Whereas, when you live outside Philly, the coverage is pretty consistent in that McNabb's moments of "inconsistency" result from a few items which he has little control over. These would be playcalling (such as calling 26 consecutive pass plays), and dropped easy passes by receivers (from which he suffers mightily).

The example you cited of how Philly could set a record and be inconsistent is correct, but absurd, of course. I can't think of many teams that score 60 points, let alone in multiple games in one season. But to score 25 points a game in 16 games would get a team to 400 points. More likely, scoring 22 in 13, 44 in 2 and 7 in 1 would get you there too...and would be viewed as "inconsistent" in a sense, but clearly productive. And that is MUCH closer to the kind of performance this offense had in 2008.

Either way, it's hard to say this offense is any less inconsistent than, say, the Giants offense. It's even harder to say it is specifically McNabb's fault, particularly when you consider he's had almost NO running game to speak of supporting him. It's true that he's the focal point, but when he is the ONLY focal point based on his arm - isn't that a bit much to ask, even for the best QB?

I'd rather twist this and say if the coaching staff would continue to run the ball, even at the risk of the occasional (or frequent) short yardage runs and losses of yardage - they maintain the threat and make McNabb more vital and consistent.

11
by qed :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:37pm

Wait, you seriously think the Eagles are a lock to win an NFC Championship game, on the road, against a team with an explosive passing offense? Did you by any chance move to Philly from San Diego, or maybe Key West? Nobody who grew up in the Philly area would EVER doubt the Birds ability to lose this game.

That said, I think it looks good. The usual Eagles Playoff Disaster Blueprint involves the Birds offense being completely suffocated by a good defense, then the opposing offense making one or two big plays and winning a close game. Also, Joe Jurevicius is usually involved. I don't think the Cardinals defense is up to it, although I do expect a couple long completions from Warner.

12
by Wanker79 :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:44pm

That bastard Ronde Barber is also usually involved.

27
by Rick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 10:46am

I felt, with almost absolute certainty, that the Eagles would win last week. Emotion and momentum were on their side going in.

This week, I'm less optimistic. I FEEL like they will win - it LOOKS like they will win. HOWEVER....this isn't the Cardinals team that we thought they were (Thanks, DG).

This is a totally different team. And it's the kind of team that always worried me. Back in the day when the Cardinals were part of the NFC East and played the Eagles twice a year, you could almost COUNT on them to mess things up when they played. Either the Eagles would walk in cocky, or the Cardinals (lacking a real rival) would pin a "rival" tag on the Eagles. I don't know what it was...but it was something.

The only reason I am holding out hope that they can win this are based on the DVOA analysis, which indicates they should win, and emotion. BDawk does NOT want to go out again in the NFC Championship game, nor does McNabb. I think both are playing on an emotional high, and have the experience tag backing them. In fact, almost the entire team has experience on this stage. In some ways, it's similar to the Eagles visit to St. Louis in reverse...with the Eagles having the playoff experience and the Cardinals not having it. There is an edge there that favors the Eagles. Not huge, but it's worth having.

I think it will be a close game. I think the Eagles can win. I wouldn't put it down as an absolute mortal lock. Warner is old, and age and treachery trump youth and vigor. Then again, BDawk is old, too...so maybe he can teach Warner a few tricks.

32
by Joe :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 12:28pm

There's always my favorite Merrill Reese call:

"MarrrTaaay Jenkins! I cannot believe my eyes!"

4
by Yuri (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:16pm

Win over Arizona was not the largest of the season for the Eagles--48-20 was nice but the 44-6 over the 'Boys was a bigger margin, no? (not sure if bigger DVOA though)

8
by Jay Gloab :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:44pm

Based on the offense and defense DVOA charts, the Thanksgiving game was by far Philly's best offensive game and its second best defensive game (after the Pittsburgh game).

5
by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:21pm

From your mouth to Gods ear.

6
by phillyeagle32 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:22pm

The Eagles charts have ATL and CAR as the week 18 and 19 opponents. It should be MIN and NYG.

7
by Wanker79 :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:41pm

Lies! *points to the first two posts*

9
by Philly fan in CT (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:22pm

Have you looked at how isolating the games since the division-clinching win would affect the Cardinals' pass rush DVOA performance?

Because a refrain I'm starting to hear from the talking heads is that the Cards rested their pass rushers down the stretch. And Berry does seem to have come on a bit here lately

13
by c_f (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:08pm

Eagles added Kyle Eckel, but it seemed that former Colt Dan Klecko was getting the start and snaps last week at FB, to the extent that the Eagles made use of a FB.

On a different note, are the Eagles running more shotgun max protect with Westbrook and Buckhalter than they have in past years? Or am I just noticing it now?

15
by MJK :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:19pm

Hypothesis on this. I'm familiar with both players because both came out of the Patriots (funny how the Patriots, who rarely if ever actually use a FB, keep producing FB's that other teams like to use).

Eckel is more of a pure fullback and, to my eye, is probably a much better blocker than Kelcko. However, he's younger and much more inexperienced (I think this is only his second, or at most his third year, in the league) and, at least witht he Patriots, wasn't much of a pass blocker or a receiver. Klecko is probably a better athlete (he was originally a hybrid DE/LB, I think, until the Patriots converted him into a FB because he kind of sucked on defense), and is almost certainly better at catching the ball, blocking in pass protection, and maybe even running with the ball. I don't know as much about the offensive scheme that the Eagles run, but I my impression is that they rarely line up in the I, and when they do, they expect their FB to be able to stay back and pass protect or run patterns into the flat just as much as lead block for the RB. If this is right, then I could totally buy that adding Eckel has helped their success in short yardage situations (because he's a good lead blocker), but in general practice, Klecko gets more snaps (because he's more athletic and probably a better reciever and pass protector).

35
by qed :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 2:51pm

I thought they intended to use Eckel as a short-yardage tailback, although he is listed as FB on the depth chart. I don't know if Eckel has been active since both Westbrook and Buckhalter got healthy.

It definitely seems to me like Westbrook has been kept in on pass protection more this year. It seems like 6-man protection is their standard look out of shotgun, although Westbrook will sometimes leak out late if the front 5 holds things down. It looks to me like the line, especially the tackles, aren't holding up as well in pass protection this year. I think that's why Westbrook has been assigned protection duty more often, and he's very good at it.

14
by MJK :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:13pm

I'm a New England fan, so the only Arizona Cardinals game I saw was the blowout loss (by ARI) in the snow. And you can say the weather killed offense that day as much as you like, but Matt Cassel still managed to throw for 400+ yards and the Patriots RB's managed to run for well over 100 yards, against a Cardinals defense that is supposedly league average, while their offense did exactly nothing against a Patriots defense that was injury riddled and, at that point, one of the last in the league. The loss was so bad that my wife, who hadn't been following football this season, thought the Patriots were playing one of the league bottom feeders, and was absolutely amazed when I told her that the Cardinals had already clinched their division and were going to the playoffs. I still can't wrap my head around the idea that the team I saw take the field at Foxboro that day managed to beat the Falcons, and is seriously contending to beat the Eagles and go to the SB (I'm willing to accept the Jake Delhomme is totally capable of self destructing, so that win doesn't surprise me).

Question to Cardinals fans--what do you think of the team? Obviously they're not as bad as they looked in Foxboro...but I have a hard time believing that a team that is actually "good" could look that bad even once on a fluky day. What do you think? What Cardinals team will show up this weekend?

I'm pretty much in the camp of mostly hypothesis 1, with a little bit of 3 and 5 thrown in.

16
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:53pm

The NYG lost to the CLE, NE got blown out by Buffalo in week 1 that one year. If I had a better memory for scores I am sure I could come up with a few examples each year of a good team getting stomped on by someone.

Hey at least Arizona got stomped on by another good team on the road in the snow after they had clinched, many other teams have had less plausible explanations for their stink bombs if any can be found at all. Stuff like this happens constantly. There is a lot of random variation in football AND a lot of luck, AND generally things are decided by a ton of small but highly variable causes.

If you look at ARI number the offense is super consistent outside that one game, so I think that indicates you should just mostly ignore it. The thing I would be concerned about if I were ARI is the fact that the DEF two best games of the year were the last two, that seems like it is begging for a correction back towards the mean. Then again if PHI plays poorly it might not even matter.

PHI by 3 seems like a good line to me.

19
by AlanSP (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 8:41pm

One or maybe two blowout losses by a very good team isn't terribly unusual, but 4? Even aside from the New England game, they lost by at least 21 to the Vikings, Jets, and Eagles. It seems like a bit of a stretch to say that 25% of the team's games were flukes.

20
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 9:51pm

I don't think the team needs to be "very good" to be able to get to the super bowl, just "good", and ARI has proven to be imo.

41
by Scott P. (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 12:13pm

Or it could be that by the end of the season, New England was pretty damn good. That game is one reason I think the Patriots could have made some noise in the AFC if they had made the playoffs.

17
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 7:02pm

Just a general thing I wouldn't mind having explained. I understand the general point that the numbers are set such that they have the best fit found so far for the data.

Yet it always strikes me as odd that when I look at these week by week graphs the DEF always seem to have their generally good days against bad offenses and bad days against good offenses and vise versa for the OFF.

That says to me the opponent adjustments are not strong enough, as presumably if you were controlling correctly for the strength of the opposing unit your ADJUSTED rating against them should be completely independent of how good they are. My superficial non-scientific estimate is that this is not even close to remotely true with DVOA.

So A) am I right or wrong about that last point, and B) If I m right am I still wrong about the broader point for some obvious reason I am not thinking of?

18
by mattman7 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 7:59pm

Kyle Eckel has been used as a short-yardage running back, but hasn't really played any true fullback. He also hasn't played much in the playoffs at all, other than on special teams units. Klecko is the fullback, and when he was injured in the Minnesota game, it was Buckhalter who took his place at fullback for most of the second half.

21
by ron (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 10:45pm

Can Football outsiders change some things. They never can get it right.
They never saw the Giants coming. They never saw the Cardinals.
The have the ravens /steelers a dead heat depite the Steelers have a
Quarterback who has been winning for 5 years. Fools.

22
by Wait, what? (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 11:09pm

Uh... how 'bout them Eagles?

Seriously, what the hell.

29
by Rick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 11:07am

It's reasonable to assume that any statistical model will have outliers that cannot be adjusted for, particularly in sports which are sometimes driven by emotional waves.

Recent history DOES seem to have some unusual "upsets", with the Chargers, Cardinals, Eagles, etc. Toss in the Giants last year and it seems to be a trend. But the one thing about outliers is that they also sometimes tend to "clump", or appear all at the same time. In sports, it's primarily about emotion. The Eagles can carry an emotional high based on the experience of the Giants last season. The Cardinals, while not playing on the road, have a similar record and can do the same.

If the game was statistically perfect, then we wouldn't have to play the games, would we?
Over time, I think it's likely the DVOA models have a fairly accurate record of choosing winners and losers. An 11 game span, particularly the playoffs, is hardly the time frame you want to choose to base a "problem" on.

In fact, outliers winning from time to time makes the game all that more interesting (if painful for the fans of particular teams, and I'm hoping not MINE). But as a fan of the game, and through DVOA, I've learned to appreciate the finer points of the game. So while I continue to root for my Eagles, and hate seeing them lose, I've learned to enjoy the success they've had.

I have been roundly criticized by friends for saying this, but I really do think that it's more fun to have a team that makes the playoffs consistently than one that wins it all but doesn't make the playoffs that often. My theory is that if you make the playoffs consistently, you increase your odds of winning it all (Indianapolis is a case in point, but I really "proved" this with my college team - Syracuse). For 10 years, I've had alot to cheer for......as frustrating as it has been at times.

23
by DWR (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 11:24pm

A fascinating article and I certainly can't dispute the numbers, however I think the 3 most important variables are totally left out here.

1) Impact of DRC, this is a potential hall of fame CB. He literally is evolving into a true shut down corner. By far the single biggest reason for both Cardinals wins.

2) Coaching Staff, Both the Falcons and Panthers were badly out coached. In effect both games were over before they began. While Andy Reid is a first rate GM and overall leader his game day decisions are often questionable.

3) Overall evolution of the roster. This is a team that is still learning to win. While the concept of them easing off is reasonable the reality is that as they got successful a lot more free lancing and a loss of scheme discipline occurred. The real benefit of the pads on practice was the message U don't play tight you don't play.

24
by Aerogopher (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 11:30pm

It's an interesting study, and certainly will become even more so if the Cardinals can go on to win this Sunday and the Superbowl.

Being mathematically oriented, the whole football outsiders concepts are quite appealing. Certainly the Giants and Cardinals change in performance levels question assumptions about the necessity of having one of the top season long DVOAs at the end of the season in order to have success in the playoffs. It's one thing to win one game against a "superior team" but it's another to raise the DVOA significantly at playoff time. I for one would be interested in an analysis in which every team is examined when excluding a their worst four consecutive weeks as has been done here for Arizona.

25
by CathyW :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 12:21am

Wanker79, seriously, please don't look past this game, and don't book your flight to Tampa just yet. You are vastly underestimating the Eagles' ability to lose any game at any time to any opponent. Not to be pessimistic or anything....

44
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:14pm

Because other teams, like the Giants, never falter.

Seriously, as a Philly fan, I've lived through my fair of letdowns. But is this really an accurate statement to make? Sure the Eagles have lost games they were supposed to win, but they've won games they were supposed to lose, too. Memories being what they are, and letdowns being far more memorable for some reason in Philly, I think it's time we start thinking positively.

26
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 1:54am

The Eagles are inversely as good as their expectations.

34
by Independent George :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 1:22pm

Vizzini: The Eagles finished #1 in DVOA. They are a lock to win this game.

Man In Black: So pick the Eagles.

Vizzini: You'd like me to, wouldn't you? But you see, picking the Eagles assuredly means they will lose.

Man In Black: So pick Arizona.

Vizzini: But by picking the Cardinals, the Eagles by definition become the underdogs, which means they will win. So if picking the Cardinals guarantees an Eagles victory, then they cannot win because they will lose any game in which they are favored. But you already knew this, and have no doubt assumed I would pick the Cardinals knowing it would cause the Eagles to win, but you also knew that I knew this would make the Eagles favored, and therefore lose. But since they will lose upon being favored, they stop being favored.

Man In Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

45
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:15pm

Great movie.

75
by Eddo :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:23pm

Independent George, I can always count on you for my Princess Bride fix.

30
by ebajek85 :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 11:30am

"the Cardinals are who we thought they were two weeks ago."

Props on this one.

33
by justin (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 1:13pm

I think there should be a factor that accounts for how a team responds to the ability of its competition. In other words, is it me or do the Eagles tend to "play down" or "play up" to the level of their opponent? Moreover, I think this phenomenon affects the Eagles' offense more so than its defense.

And, if there is any merit to that above, how would one balance this factor against the adjustments normally made for the quality of their opponents? Wouldn't one need to account for how much an offense or defense plays up/down to the level of its opponent? For example, maybe Team X beats who it is supposed to beat and its performance conforms to expectations in that it crushes weak teams and struggles against good ones, whereas Team Y (i.e., our Eagles) do just the opposite. . . .

37
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 3:10pm

Based on the DVOA trends, no. The offense, and team in general, has been pretty consistent all year.

I don't know why more hasn't been mentioned about the obvious reason for McNabb's 2-game slump. It was right around when his wife gave birth.

46
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:16pm

NOW I get it. Hadn't realized this....

36
by mrh :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 2:56pm

Just before reading this article, I had gone back to the Week 12 DVOA article to see if there was any indication of TB's pending collapse that led to Gruden's firing. I also looked at other teams with late season turnarounds to see if DVOA signalled them. Most all posters know about DVOA getting the Eagles "right" despite a great deal of criticism and even Aaron showing signs of throwing his hands up.

I didn't see any signs in week 12 of TB's fall (18.2% DVOA, 16.8% wtd DVOA) except maybe a somewhat difficult future schedule of 5.6% (11th). SD's charge (sorry) could be heavily attributed to an easy future schedule (-7.9%, 24th) not their mediocre DVOA/wtd DVOA (2.2%/0.4%). MIA capitalized on the easiest future schedule (-24.9%). I'm not sure what the playoff odds for these teams were at that time.

But interestingly to me, ARI in week 12 had not just an 18.9% (6th) DVOA but a 20.6% Wtd DVOA (4th). If the season had ended there, it wouldn't be surprising that htey made it this far.

Re the East Coast travel woes of the Cards, granted the Thanksgiving game was a night not early game, but the difficulties of long travel combined with a very short week may have had some affect.

39
by skippyx (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 2:47am

Philly has struggled to run the ball the last two weeks vs Min and NYG.
Arizona ran for 23 and 43 yards vs those same teams.

Arizona ran for 86 vs Atlanta
Philly ran for 192 against the Falcons.

I think most people who like Arizona have their own statistical models.
-Pretend Atlanta and Carolina are exactly like Minnesota and New York.
-Ignore the entire regular season because Jake Delhomme wet the bed.
--The highest priority here is ignoring Philly's D as a whole, Atlanta and Carolina's run D and Arizona's run offense.

40
by skippyx (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 3:05am

Philly vastly outperformed Arizona vs the NFC playoff field.

Atlanta: 27-14 Philly vs 30-26 Arizona

Minnesota: 26-14 Philly vs a 35-14 beating

New York: 2 dominating wins* and a shootout vs another beating
* a blocked punt and a late score made the final score close

Head to Head: Yet a 3rd beating

No game is a 100% lock.
This one is 99.95%.

Arizona was a -78 in point differential outside of their division.
Beating a rookie QB at home and watching Sean Salisbury show up wearing delhomme's uniform does not make them the '85 Bears.

47
by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 1:25pm

Those are interesting comparisons, but I think it's fair to say the difference in the alterations in the Cardinal fortunes have little to do with scores - which are, in fact functions of other variables - and more with the type of performance.

The Cardinals won their last 2 games primarily with defense, which is NOT something they've done much of during the regular season. Everyone has known Arizona can put points on the board with their offense...and they've scored pretty well in almost all their games (save New England). But winning with defense is a new and unusual thing for Arizona...which means SOMETHING ELSE is going on. What that is, I haven't a clue.

Could, of course, be that they defensed a rookie very well, then Delhomme had a classic QB meltdown (which he is known to have occasionally). To have that kind of good fortune is wonderful. But luck TENDS to clump, too. So as an Eagles fan, I hope the Cardinals' luck has expired...if that's what they are having.

If it is enhanced performance they are having (which I think it is) I hope they have peaked and suffer a crash after outperforming themselves. But I thought Eli outperformed himself last year...and he kept it up for 4 games....then 11 of 12 more this year. Of course, here in NY, people have jumped on the anti-Eli bandwagon after last week's stunning meltdown....so maybe he wasn't all that good and had a good 16 game stretch?

Who knows? But that's why they play the games.

Go Eagles.

48
by Yeshua (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 3:55pm

You revealed, through your terror, the horror that those Arizona redbirds will dominate the Philadelphia baldbirds. Yawhaw haw. I do not sense anything like such trembling and fear among the Steeler fan gladiators that those Baltimore blackbirds will dismount the Roth-less-bergers.

Okay.

$!.5million in grants. Do a study on this. Google up ScienceDaily next year and see my actual name.

49
by Tom Gower :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:14pm

Be sure to join a cast of your (least?) favorite FO posters for IRC football chat! We're on the new server, in an attempt to placatee the power-hungry Fnor. The new server is bendenweyr.dyndns.org, channel still #fo

Brief tutorial for the IRC-shy:

- Download mIRC from mIRC.com
- type /server bendenweyr.dyndns.org into the status window
- type /join #fo

50
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:16pm

Is it time to hide under the bed yet?

51
by t.d. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:33pm

not yet

52
by Balaji (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:37pm

Well, *that* was bizarre.

53
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:37pm

WTF just happened there?

54
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:38pm

AAAAIIIIEEEE! How do you drop that, Greg Lewis?????

57
by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:41pm

Because he's Greg Lewis?

55
by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:39pm

Stuff like that has me convinced this is Philly's year.

56
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:40pm

McNabb looks erratic today.

58
by t.d. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:44pm

its early

59
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:45pm

Hurdling, Brent Celek? Really?

60
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:49pm

Mother of God!

61
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:49pm

Philly looks like they had something with the 2-back run game on that drive and then got away from it a bit.

Cards seem to be having trouble getting pressure on McNabb who does look off today.

62
by Balaji (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:50pm

Ah, Ken Whisenhunt brought some of his old tricks with him, I see.

63
by montanapanthersfan :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:50pm

That was insane, Larry Fitzgerald. But I still hate you.

64
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:57pm

Don't throw to Greg Lewis anymore.

65
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 4:58pm

Avant should have gotten that DPI.

66
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:05pm

Cards making Eagles D look silly today. Ugh.

67
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:09pm

Arizona looks very well prepared on both sides of the ball.

68
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:11pm

Okay, NOW it's time to hide under the bed. Jumpin Jehosaphat.

69
by montanapanthersfan :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:12pm

Fitzgerald is officially Steve Smithing the Eagles.

79
by t.d. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:28pm

....

70
by Crus :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:13pm

That whole single covering Fitz thing.. might need some adjustment at halftime.

71
by compucrazy :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:13pm

Ok who has Fitzgerald in playoff fantasy football? This is just ridiculous.

72
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:18pm

Is the kickoff OOB?

No interpretation of the rules should say OOB.

Another "unreviewable play."!!!!!!!!!

Jacks RULE!

76
by Dave :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:23pm

If it's anything like that one kick that the guy deliberately stepped out of bounds to field, triggering a flag and the ball at the 40, then that should be the call - kickoff out of bounds, because it hit him after his foot touched out. If it had been reviewable, my feeling is that the Cards would've lost 14 yards as a result of throwing the challenge flag. As it was, it looks like the refs just made the wrong call, since the ball hit just inside the paint.

83
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:32pm

Don't get your comment. If they made the wrong call, it was wrong.

If he touched it with his hands and it fell inbounds (as it did), the call was wrong.

The correct call would have been 'recovered by AZ.'

Jacks RULE!

86
by Dave :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:42pm

I don't think it hit his hand, but once it touched him while he was out of bounds, the ruling should've been out of bounds, just like when a returner standing out of bounds can touch a ball that is in bounds and still get the ball at the 40 (as has been done deliberately in the past two seasons). I think the refs got the call wrong, but the right call would've been worse for the Cards, not better.

Unless it DID hit his hand, and that changes the rules for what constitutes OOB. I have no idea. It's a weird rule to begin with (that a guy can be out on purpose and touch it and it's ruled out as well).

73
by Tarrant :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:21pm

Wow.

Terrible call. So let me get this straight - had the ball been ruled in-bounds, and it was actually out, that would have been reviewable.

But because it was ruled - horribly incorrectly - that it was out of bounds, the play is dead and the fact that the Cardinals recovered is meaningless.

This NFL season has showcased numerous flaws in the general replay system, from the Hochuli rules oddity in the San Diego/Denver game, all the way forward to this one.

87
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:43pm

The NFL has never understood why the replay rules exist.

They exist because technology advanced to the point that the video replay could show convincingly that a mistake had been made. I think the Houston Oilers' playoff game was the deciding event.

Being football people and not psychologists, the NFL rules were written to cover "game" situations, not to cover "obvious error" situations. Until they allow OBVIOUS ERRORS to be corrected, no matter whether the whistle blew or not, we aren't going to be happy with the replay system.

In this case, the whistle blew, but play continued anyway. Had the whistle not blown, nothing would have changed. The play should have been reversed.

It was the same with the Hochuli play.

Jacks RULE!

74
by Mello :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:22pm

I'm not quite sure why that couldn't be reviewed but I think the refs got the call spot on. The ball grazed his gloves on the way down. Then when it bounced up and hit his arm while he was standing OOB, that made the ball OOB stopping the play right there.

78
by Dave :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:27pm

If it did graze his glove (I didn't see it on a big HD screen), then you are right, it is in the right spot, but something tells me that wasn't their intent. From what he said, it seems pretty clear that they just got it wrong and thought the ball hit out of bounds.

81
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:28pm

Problem with that is they ref's didn't claim it hit his arm (which the reply didn't actually show, anyway). They claimed it landed OOB. BTW, if it hit his hands on the way down,
It then would be an "in bounds" ball, since he was in bounds at the time, and the ball fell in bounds.

Jacks RULE!

77
by Stabs :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:25pm

the AZ defense is responding quite well

80
by Wide Right (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:28pm

Is that McNabb's vomit on the field?

118
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:03pm

Can't be. The throat needs to be open to vomit. (Just kidding.)

Edit: And McNabb has proved I couldn't have been more wrong.

Jacks RULE!

82
by compucrazy :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:30pm

Is Demps really that stupid to think he might get away with that?

84
by ebajek85 :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:37pm

Philadelphia blitzes on 3rd and 15, and it costs them at least 3.

85
by ron (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:40pm

Ouch, Another Bad Prediction for Foootballoutsiders.

102
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:31pm

Yeah if they had only predicted a Cardinals win as the evidence and everyone else was indicating...oh wait...

88
by Telamon :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:48pm

So, will a Super Bowl ring help Matt Leinart pick up chicks?

89
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:52pm

When did Troy Aikman become a complete moron?

I mean, he was never my favorite announcer, but seriously, he's approaching Phil Simms level stupidity today. First, arguing that the bizarre no-call against Avant wasn't pass interference (he hit him way before the ball got there, and had continued contact all the way through the ball arriving), then arguing that the Cardinals did a good job limiting Philly after "giving up good field position due to the choice of kickoff." Hello! Eagles got the ball at the 26! That's pretty much the definition of average starting field position.

90
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:57pm

Okay, put a fork in this Bird, it's done.

91
by B :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 5:58pm

McNabb sure vomited up the football there.

92
by Joel (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:00pm

Aaron Schatz just committed suicide.

93
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:04pm

Maybe the Eagles'/Cards' balance of luck is changing.

Jacks RULE!

94
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:11pm

Finally, McNabb actually connected with someone.

95
by hilarious (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:12pm

From the team that brought you the prediction of the Giants picking picking first in the draft last season......

The Eagles will win and Fitzgerald won't be the deciding factor

96
by Stabs :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:17pm

way to go, Akers

97
by Stabs :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:21pm

hey, it's the Eagles D! where have they been hiding?

98
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:23pm

Apparently they were late arriving, so the Panther's donated their D for the first half.

99
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:27pm

The Cardinals are perfectly capable of morphing back into the "same old Cards." We'll see if it happens.

Was Jackson in bounds when he caught that ball?

Jacks RULE!

100
by Stabs :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:29pm

they certainly look like the 'same ol' Cards' at the moment. my stomach hurts

150
by Lord K :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:35am

luckily they were playing the "same ol' iggles"

101
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:30pm

AAAIIIIEEEE! Why would you not go for two there? The football gods, outraged, pushed the PAT attempt wide.

105
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:35pm

Andy Reid put through his Lifeline Call to Herm Edwards for advice on scoring strategy.

Jacks RULE!

135
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:29pm

No. No, no, no, no. Down 18, you do not go for two on the first TD. That's an obvious, obvious strategic mistake.

Down 12, you need a PAT, a TD, a 2-point conversion, and a field goal. At a minimum. You need a PAT, you take a PAT. You go for 2 on the next TD, not the first. This way, if you score a third TD rather than a FG, you have more points on average. You always take the highest-percentage plays first - this is why you don't go for it if you're in field goal range and it's fourth down, and a FG reduces the number of scores (or even makes it more likely - i.e. down 24).

The fact that Akers missed the PAT doesn't change the fact that the decision was right. In fact, it validates it: the PAT would've actually been just as valuable as the 2-point conversion, as Arizona couldnt've gone up by a touchdown.

157
by Spielman :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:58am

What on earth are you talking about? Nobody's suggested them going for 2 after their first TD when they were down 12. They didn't. They went for 1 and Akers converted.

The issue was the next TD when they were down 5, and a 2 point conversion would have made them down 3. THAT'S when Akers missed and people thought they should have gone for 2 anyway.

103
by Mike Y :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:32pm

LACES OUT!

104
by Pat F. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:34pm

Perhaps the Eagles are who we thought they were!

Also, has there been any indication of the Eagles getting a new kicker one of these years? I knew Akers had declined quite a bit from his early-aughts heyday, but MAN does he seem washed up.

109
by Fly Eagles Fly (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:47pm

He has declined these past few seasons but around mid season he really turned it around and has been very solid until today.

106
by montanapanthersfan :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:46pm

It's nice to see secondary play of this brilliance...good lord.

107
by Telamon :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:46pm

"Man, nobody believed in us"
-The Eagles

108
by Stabs :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:47pm

why must the Cardinals insist on ripping my guts out?

114
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:55pm

I'm a Chiefs fan, so I feel your pain. Imagine what it's like if you're EXPECTED to win. (Previous years)

Jacks RULE!

110
by Duff Soviet Union :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:48pm

What are Philly fans going to do to Akers if they lose by a point or two?

112
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:53pm

Oh, we have something special planned...

116
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:59pm

OTOH, Rackers has never had a really important kick in the NFL.

Jacks RULE!

111
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:51pm

Wow, I can't believe the Eagles have clawed their way back! Very exciting game.

113
by Mervin (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:53pm

Call for Kevin Kolb to start at QB.

115
by Mervin (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:57pm

"Call for Kevin Kolb to start at QB" was in response to "what will Eagles fans do if they lose by a point or two?"

117
by compucrazy :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 6:59pm

Regardless of who wins, can we all agree that this has been one of the best football games all year? Pretty much everything you would want in football game happened today.

Big plays on offensive end, a great coaching chess match between Haley and Johnson, a huge rally in the second half capped by a juggling touchdown catch, a missed extra point, a ballsy fourth and one conversion by the Cardinals. Even Kurt Warner caught a pass, I mean how much better could this game get?

120
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:05pm

Good second half, sucky first half (at least for Eagles fans).

123
by t.d. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:09pm

agreed

141
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:40pm

One of the best ever.

Jacks RULE!

119
by Stabs :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:05pm

pucker factor for this game: 11

121
by Duff Soviet Union :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:07pm

So the Eagles season comes down to a McNabb two minute drill. I'd love to see him pull this off.

124
by Dave :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:11pm

If he does, it'll be a miracle. He has looked horrible on this drive.

122
by Duff Soviet Union :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:08pm

Followed by Akers missing another extra point.

125
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:12pm

4th aand 10.

Go for it, or hope to get it back?

GO FOR IT!

Jacks RULE!

126
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:14pm

Well, at least the Eagles made the 2nd half interesting.

130
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:19pm

More than interesting. It's still a game, and still within reach.

Anything can happen in 9 seconds.

Jacks RULE!

127
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:16pm

Well shit.

128
by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:19pm

Very smart by the Cards to punt it out of bounds and not give Jackson a chance to run it back.

129
by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:19pm

Very smart by the Cards to punt it out of bounds and not give Jackson a chance to run it back.

131
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:21pm

I guess they were working on that earlier.

Jacks RULE!

132
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:21pm

Great game. Looking forward to see ARI against one of the AFC defensive powerhouses. They handled PHI very good DEF pretty well this game.

137
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:31pm

I thought it was interesting that the blitzes weren't working in the first half, worked in the third quarter, then had spotty results in the 4th.

The Cards' OLine was overwhelmed for a while, and their defense got a bit porous.

Jacks RULE!

133
by MainerRaider (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:26pm

The Cardinals are going to the Bowl? Can someone explain this to me?

134
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:29pm

All you have to do is play well enough to make the playoffs and then play 2 or three good games in a row. Was bound to happen for them eventually.

140
by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:37pm

Ken Whisenhunt and Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and Clancy Pendergast and the entire defense just played better.

Jacks RULE!

142
by MainerRaider (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:55pm

So this has been preceded by the Rays in the Series and will be followed by the Clippers in the Finals and then Senators in the World Series and finally...look out for the Lions!

136
by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:30pm

OK, I've worked it all out.

This isn't possible, not the cruds. Therefore I must be in a coma, it's the only explanation, Ockham's razor etc.

That means there are no real consequences for my actions and tomorrow morning I'm marching straight up to the first hot girl I see and hitting on her, and nothing bad can happen can it? Thank you Arizona for making me realize this, my coma just got a lot more fun!

138
by t.d. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:32pm

so bill bidwell's team is in the super bowl. i forget, was that the sixth or the seventh sign?

139
by Crus :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:33pm

Argh. Shame for the season to end on what is to my green-blinkered eyes a dodgy non-call of PI, but that was a historic game from Fitzgerald. He basically won that on his own, mostly in the first half.

Kudos also to the Az O-Line, great job in the first half both in protection and run blocking.

Anyone want to guess how many Philly newspapers/websites have positive stories about McNabb and Reid tomorrow morning? I'm going with maybe 1, despite the actual game.

144
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:01pm

The officiating was downright abysmal. I mean, really, really bad: the questionable call on the kickoff going out of bounds, and pass interference non-calls, one of which (the first, on Avant) that was as close to textbook as you can get.

but that was a historic game from Fitzgerald. He basically won that on his own, mostly in the first half.

I give more credit to the offensive playcalling, which was spectacular. Fitz is basically Superman, but it seemed like every time the Eagles blitzed, they had a hot read or a screen in a place where the Eagles didn't have coverage.

No clue how they'll fare against Pittsburgh/Baltimore, which are much more fundamentally sound defenses, but that game was just near a work of art for Arizona offensively. Defensively, not so much - against Pittsburgh they'll be in a lot of trouble. Not sure about Baltimore.

143
by Wide Right (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:43pm

At what point does a team's performance cease to be an anomaly? I understand the sample-size argument, but if you kick ass in four consecutive games (including Week 17), does that qualify as a legitimate sample?

145
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:06pm

"Kick ass" is a relative term. The Cardinals had home-field advantage, which would cut their margin against the Eagles in DVOA in half. The game was pretty close (strong first half advantage for the Cardinals, strong second half advantage for Philly) and Philly just botched half of their opportunities. They had plenty of chances and open receivers - the Cardinals defense is just not an elite unit.

The Cardinals played well, but they still should be underdogs to Baltimore and Pittsburgh - probably a touchdown or so.

146
by Thok :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:12pm

Fun facts:

In the last 15 years, the NFC West is the only division to have all four of it's teams make the Super Bowl. (And a team from that division has made 5 of the 15 Superbowls)

The NFC West teams that has the longest gap in time from it's last Super Bowl is the Forty-Niners.

154
by NoraDaddy :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:10am

Well, not to take the fun out of your stat, but when the Rams and 49ers were in their superbowls, the NFC West had the Saints and Falcons in the division. But if you want to just look at the current alignment I give you the NFC East and superbowls 15 through 28. 9 out of 14 years the NFC East represented the NFC and won 7 of those. Every team was represented at least once. Also superbowls 10 through 30. The NFC East represented the NFC in 13 of 21 superbowls and won 9 of those. If you want to go back to the old 5 team divisions then the NFC East had the Cardinals and they put every team in the superbowl the last 18 years. 8 out of 18 years winning 5 (or possibly 6?) times. Regardless, with realignment it's hard to talk about the records of divisions.

159
by Sancho (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:32am

Since the realingment:
2002: OAK(AW)-TB(NS)
2003: NE(AE)-CAR(NS)
2004: NE(AE)-PHI(NE)
2005: PIT(AN)-SEA(NW)
2006: IND(AS)-CHI(NN)
2007: NE(AE)-NYG(NE)
2008: PIT(AN)-ARI(NW)

That makes:
a) all conferences have been represented (and took only 5 years to achieve that) in SuperBowls;
b) NFC West has the same numbers of appearence then NFC East and South;
b2) and more then the NFC North;
c) seven different teams represented the NFC in the SuperBowl;
c2) and no NFC team has two conference titles;
d) but in AFC, PIT has two, and NE, THREE.

147
by jake s. (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:08pm

Another awful prediction by FO. When will all of the numbers mean something?

148
by Joel (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:34pm

Their numbers certainly have value in assessing performance, but perhaps they should cut down on all the predictive measuring. It was kind of silly in the first place since, AFAIK, these statistics were never meant to be predictive anyway.

151
by Britomart (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:36am

I kind of figured that FO's numbers ranking the Eagles highly all year--when nobody else was--followed by the Eagles making the NFC championship game, was a pretty good argument for those numbers, regardless of how this game turned out.

153
by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:25am

I think if this site was smart it would just summarily delete comments like this. They add nothing to the conversation and generally decrease its value. Honest questions and criticisms sure, but pure idiocy is worthless. It is clear the poster is not even trying to understand what is going on here, in fact why do they even post here? I never understand the internet's ability to draw idiots onto sites they hate so they can spend large amounts of time trashing them.

160
by Spielman :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 11:54am

No.

An awful prediction would have been "The Cardinals have no chance. The Eagles are so vastly superior that the game will be a blowout win for the Eagles even if they play terribly and the Cardinals play as well as they possibly could."

They know better than that here. And you should know better than to expect any system to be 100% at predicting outcomes. Nothing's perfect. That doesn't mean that nothing is legit.

149
by morganja :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:05am

Did anyone else notice the idiotic call made at a critical juncture in this game? The Cardinals were called for defensive holding on a 3rd and 1 that turned a potential 4th down into a first down, followed by a long pass and a FG.

Only thing is, the holding was called on the Cardinal DE who tackled Westbrook as he carried out a play-action fake. The rules specifically state that you can tackle a player faking having the ball, for completely obvious reasons. Terrible call.

156
by NoraDaddy :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:36am

I'm not sure how the rule is written, but by the time the "tackle" was made, it was obvious Westbrook didn't have the ball as he engaged the DE in a block. I don't think the penalty call was "idiodic." It was kinda funny to see Westbrook get up and try to get in the face of the DE. The size difference was huge.

158
by Spielman :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:26am

Yup. By the time Smith grabbed him and hauled him down he'd abandoned all pretense of carrying the ball and was blocking. Entirely obvious call.

152
by spacab :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:15am

sigh. the NFC West is really representing the NFC in the Super Bowl?

155
by Jeff Helop (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:34am

Well, of course. The NFC West is 7-3 in the playoffs since 2005-2006. What'd you expect?