Monday, February 07, 2005

February 7, 2005

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, MY FRIENDS:

Ah, victory is sweet.

Yes, the Patriots were shaky on offense in the first half. Yes, the Eagles defense was able to stop the running game early and pressure Brady with blitzes galore. Yes, the Patriots were uncharacteristically flagged for penalties repeatedly and had a red zone turnover in the first half.

But then the Patriots adapted on offense and eventually began dictating the role of the Eagles defense, making them react, rather than acting aggressively. Charlie Weis adapted his offense to the 2003 version of the Patriots dink and dunk show. He countered the aggressive Eagles defense with screen passes, rushes up the gut rather than stretching it outside, and spreading the offense wide with four wide receivers and forcing the Eagles defense out of their base package where they are so dangerous and into their nickel and dime defenses. This opened the middle of the field for Deion Branch to run free underneath with the Eagles linebackers standing on the sidelines.

The defense, even with my nightmare scenario of Eugene Wilson breaking his arm and forcing special-team player Dexter Reid to fill in, was consistently stopping any attempt at a running game, including containing McNabb in the pocket and keeping him from breaking off any long rushes. The “bend but don’t break” defense was in effect, taking away the long pass, mixing in blitzes (although a few too many for my taste), and doing what the Patriots do best, creating pressure which led to turnovers.

It’s interesting how every team that loses to the Patriots complains about how their offense was out-of-sync and they uncharacteristically had numerous turnovers. What an amazing string of coincidences: it is shocking how every team has one of their worst games against the Patriots. My goodness, it wouldn’t have anything to do with their top-notch defense now would it?

My biggest surprise was that the Patriots left their cornerbacks matched up one-on-one with the Eagles wide receivers. Yes, I understand they needed to put pressure on McNabb with the blitz, but I also think they could have given McNabb all day in the pocket and he’d still have thrown three picks (and he should have had six by my count).


WHERE I WAS RIGHT & WHERE I WAS WRONG:

Let’s recap my previous blog entry since I am all about accountability:

“Brian Westbrook is not Marshall Faulk… (he) is Kevin Faulk…The Patriots have no fear of the Eagles running game...”

Did Westbrook even play? No, just kidding. The pride of Vanillanova (that’s somewhere in Western Mass., right Brigs?) was a decided non-factor in the game. Most of his rushing yards came on a draw against a three-man front ultra-max prevent defense on the last play of the first half. He did a good job catching passes out of the backfield, but the Patriots did a good job, save for one or two exceptions, of keeping him from making big plays.

Another myth making its way around the papers is that the Patriots aren't going to be able to run on the Eagles...the Eagles are not built to stop the run... If Dillon gets 4.3 yards per rush and into the end zone, it is going to be a long day for the Eagles...

I must say the Eagles did a great job against the run in the first half and most of the second quarter. Their blitzes not only pressured the quarterback, but they also got into the backfield and hit Dillon before he could get to the line of scrimmage and get a head of steam going. Linebackers were flying into the gaps and pressuring Dillon as much as they pressured Brady.

As the Patriots spread out the Eagles defense, it allowed them to use Philadelphia’s aggressive blitz packages against themselves by dropping screens into the areas vacated by hard-rushing defensive ends and space left empty by the blitzing linebackers. Once New England had the Eagles defense in nickel packages, Corey Dillon and, surprisingly, Kevin Faulk were able to rip though the middle of the line following blocks by Dan Koppen and Joe Andruzzi.

Tom Brady has to isolate mismatches on defense when the Eagles blitz.

See: Deion Branch, Most Valuable Player.

I'd be very surprised if the Patriots didn't come out prepared, confident, and composed and play an efficient, smart, and well-managed game on offense, defense, and special teams.

Let’s see, a huge penalty on a punt return nullifying a huge return by Troy Brown. Add a red zone fumble by Brady. There also was a defensive set that left back-up safety Dexter Reid matched-up one-on-one with speedster Greg Lewis. Oh yeah, those numerous false start, defensive holding, etc penalties giving the Eagles too many second chances. All in all, not the most efficient or smart game played by the Patriots this season. But this game resembled their regular season defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals. They gave up huge chunks of yards, way too many points, but still had enough to make the stops and create turnovers on defense.

Final score Patriots 31 Eagles 16.

Final score was Patriots 24 Eagles 21. Hmmm, if we say that rather than fumbling the exchange with Faulk and turning the ball over the Patriots would have scored a touchdown on that drive (a nice eight yard strike to David Patten is what I imagined), and that the Patriots didn’t give up that thirty yard touchdown pass to Lewis and instead held the Eagles to a field goal we’d be at Patriots 31 Eagles 17.

OK, I feel much better about my prediction now. :)

* * *

QUICK HITS:

God healed Terrell Owens, but apparently forgot to mention that Randall Gay was praying to Him to help keep T.O. out of the end zone.

I tried to stay awake for the Simpsons after the Super Bowl. I really tried. But the Fox25 postgame show just kept pushing it back.

Was it just me, or were the Boston newscasters upset that there were no riots, no cars burning, no drunk chuckleheads breaking out in brawls? They seemed so disappointed that there was no “news” involving the rioting in the streets.

Are we fans jaded already? Poor turnout for the parade (at least in Back Bay). Even the people that turned out, most of them were kids skipping school. Heck, even though I could only see half the players riding on the boats from one side of the street, there appeared to be a large contingent that didn’t show up for a ride on the duck-boats.

I had to go to the parade. I just kept thinking, “There may never be another world championship parade in Boston in my lifetime.” Think of all those Celtics fans with bottles of champagne left over from 1987.

I can’t say enough bad things about the Fox pre-game show. What a yawner. Thank god for the NFL Network is all I have to say. They replayed the Pats-Steelers game from 4:30 to 5:30 and the Eagles-Falcons from 5:30 to 6:30. THAT is how you get pumped up for the big game.

Great six-minute drill you ran there, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb. Granted, the Patriots were trying like hell to take away the deep pass, but huddling-up and walking to the line just doesn’t cut it. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe how the Eagles were moving in slow motion before the snap. That’s another example of something going wrong in a game where you think “if that was the Patriots coached by Bill Belichick that would NEVER EVER happen.”

It must be tough to be an Eagles fan. Can you imagine watching the end of the Super Bowl and having this thought run through your head: “I wish I’d they’d bring in Koy Detmer already!”?

I’m sure I’ll delve deeper into the Patriot’s off-season moves in the near future, but I can tell you, especially after reading Michael Holley’s fantastic insiders view of the Patriots “Patriot Reign” (think of it as the “Moneyball” of football), that I have no doubt that the Patriots will be able to reload and make another run next year and into the foreseeable future.

There was no better recruiting job done by any college coach than by Charlie Weis during the playoffs. What kid wouldn’t want to play for Notre Dame? It’s like the University of Miami Florida where one of the key reasons for the players attending the school is the pipeline to the professional game. Charlie Weis instantly gives Notre Dame that kind of respect.

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