Monday, November 30, 2009

The Best Game I Never Saw

On an extended Thanksgiving Day weekend packed with heated rivalries and great games, the one I missed may have been the best of them all. The Pennridge Rams hosted the neighboring Quakertown Panthers in the traditional "Turkey Day Bowl" Thursday morning, and by all accounts it was a game for the ages. Fittingly, Pennridge kicker Dan Caya booted a 31-yard field goal as time expired to give his team a dramatic 31-28 victory over a very good Quakertown team.

Unfortunately for me, I was not amongst the large number of spectators in attendance. Days earlier, Brooks Peters, a friend who knew that I would be in the area for the holiday, extended an invitation to join their group at the game. The details aren't important except to say that I was someplace other than Poppy Yoder field on Thursday morning.

Quakertown came into the game already having had a very successful season. By virtue of an 8-3 record, the Panthers had earned the 12th seed in the PIAA District One Class AAAA playoffs. Pennridge entered the contest having had an up and down season with a 5-6 mark, but also with an abundance of young talent that matured throughout the season.

When it comes to traditional rivalries such as this one, previous records are often not a great predictor of what to expect. With adrenaline flowing and extra time to prepare, it was certainly reasonable to expect a highly competitive game, but few would have envisioned one of the most dramatic games in the 80 year history of the series.

The game featured 7 lead changes, seesawing back and forth until Caya's kick went through the uprights at the final buzzer. As you might expect in such a great game, too many players to mention made important contributions, but a handful on each side really stood out.

Rams junior Caya both started and finished the scoring, kicking a total of 3 field goals and two extra points on the day. He also barely missed another field goal when his 47-yard attempt sailed just right at the end of the first half. And, he had to endure three timeouts to ice him, along with a false start, before banging his fateful game winner through the goal posts.

Panthers QB Ryan Tincknell threw 2 touchdown passes. He hit teammate Joe Able for a 25-yard strike in the first quarter to grab a 7-3 lead. And, with his team trailing by seven, he connected with tight end Mike Olimpo from 37 yards out with just 1:54 remaining in the game. After kicker Rachel Dolly tacked on the extra point, the score was suddenly knotted at 28-28. Another large contributor on the day for the Panthers was running back Tony Latronica, who rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries. He also scored a second quarter touchdown that had given Quakertown a 14-10 lead. And, besides catching a couple passes for 29 yards, senior Kurtis Roberts returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 21-20 lead in the 3rd quarter.

For the Rams, junior QB Kyle Peters provided the steadying influence and made some big contributions along the way. Kyle, following in the accomplished foot steps of his father Brooks as Pennridge Rams QB, connected on 5 of 8 passes for 101 yards. He also ran for a score in the second quarter and sparked the Rams fourth quarter touchdown by hitting Dylan Moore on a 64-yard pass to the 6-yard line.

Junior running back Jesse Knepp ran it in from there for his second touchdown of the game. Knepp also scored from a yard out in the second quarter and amassed 177 yards rushing for the game. When Knepp wasn't getting the ball, Kyle Peters was handing off to his younger brother Carter Peters. The sophomore racked up 96 yards on 16 carries, including some big runs on the winning drive.

To recap, here is the dizzying second half. After Caya gave Pennridge a 20-14 with a 3rd quarter field goal, Roberts returned a punt to put Quakertown back in the lead at 21-20. Knepp put the Rams on top with a 6-yard run after the Peters to Moore 64-yard connection. Peters then completed a 2-yard pass to get the two point conversion to make it 28-21. The Panthers fought back, completing a drive with a 37-yard Tincknell to Olimpo scoring strike to tie the game. With almost 2 minutes left on the clock, the Rams countered with a series of runs to get in position for the Caya game winner. Wow!

It was a great day to be a Ram or one of their fans. It was a great day to be a Peters. Although the Panthers and their fans went home disappointed, all that played in or watched the game will take with them the memory of being part of one of the greatest games ever played by the schools. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to see it.

Eagles Use Late Rally to Win Again

Philadelphia Eldra Buckley winning touchdown

Donovan McNabb engineered another late game rally to lead the Eagles to a second consecutive comeback win against an inferior team. And, once again, the team overcame adversity, some of which was their own doing and other simply being sometimes how things go in the NFL. The victory allowed the Eagles to keep pace with both the Cowboys in the NFC East and the Packers in the Wildcard race, who both won on Thanksgiving Day.

Yesterday's game followed a similar script to the previous game, as the Eagles rallied from a 24-16 fourth quarter deficit to prevail 27-24. Seemingly shaking off growing criticism about his inability to lead the team back late in games, McNabb showed poise and precision on two scoring drives in the games final minutes. First he led the team on a 90-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown with 7:24 remaining and then took them 66 yards to a game winning field goal at the 1:48 mark.

Although the Redskins fell to 3-8, they came into the game with the 4th rated defense in the NFL, so these long drives were not easy and are clearly a good sign. McNabb had the added challenge of being without DeSean Jackson (who left earlier with a concussion) and having an ineffective Brent Celek (who later divulged that he may have torn thumb ligaments.) No matter- he simply leaned on Jason Avant, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy and they came through in a big way.

The big plays on the touchdown drive were consecutive tremendous catches by Avant for 46 and 20 yards, respectively, who is emerging as yet another weapon on the Eagles offense. Over the past two seasons, he has demonstrated a growing ability as a sure handed possession receiver, but now is displaying the ability to get separation and make catches down the field. The drive almost stalled at the one yard line, but Eldra Buckley finally was able to punch it in on the fourth play. McCoy then showed great determination and balance on a shuttle pass to get a two point conversion, tying the score.

After the Eagles defense held the Redskins, the offense took possession again on their own 20. This time McNabb used a pair of passes to Maclin (including a 35-yard connection) and a heavy dose of McCoy's running to move to the Redskins 14. David Akers came on to kick his fourth field goal of the game to make it 27-24. The defense then stepped up again, forcing the Redskins to the turn the ball over on downs.

One thing that was different from last week, though, was that the Eagles fell behind early. For some inexplicable reason the Eagles chose to open the game with an on sides kick that back fired into a quick 7-0 Redskins lead. Considering that the Redskins have one of the least effective offensive units and one of the better defensive units in the NFL, and were further hindered by injuries, electing to gamble at the outset seemed totally nonsensical. The last thing that the Eagles would want is to give them a short field or easy points.

Nevertheless, the Eagles did work back from the many adversities they faced, such as the absence of players and injury limitations, as well as the self inflicted variety such as penalties, ill advised gambles and the Mildcat. Once again, McNabb maintained composure and his young teammates around him responded well. The depleted defense was uneven throughout the contest as expected, but they came up big when needed in the end. Surprisingly, they struggled to get pressure on Jason Campbell, but forced the Redskins to work underneath all day.

Although favoring a sore neck, Asante Samuel jumped a couple routes to pick off two Campbell passes in the second quarter. The Eagles turned both of those into Akers field goals and grab a slim 16-14 lead at half.

McNabb finished the day 21-35-1 for 260 yards. Before Jackson got injured, McNabb connected with him on yet another long scoring strike. Late in the first quarter, Jackson slipped behind coverage and McNabb found him in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. McCoy and Weaver both ran the ball well all day, combining for 120 yards on only 23 carries. For the second time in three weeks, Avant led the team in receiving, accumulating 94 yards on 5 receptions.

Redskins vs. Eagles

This was another game that the Eagles both should have and needed to win. They now find themselves at 7-4, one game behind the Cowboys and in the top Wildcat spot. They found ways to win each of the past two games which is good, but their challenge may have increased further with the injuries to their leading receivers, Jackson and Celek.

Fortunately, the Eagles are showing some excellent depth and quickly growing maturity on offense. It appears they are still a few weeks away from shoring up the defense, so if they hope to win next week's big game in Atlanta, it appears that it is going to require McNabb to rally his young mates again. The Falcons pulled out a comeback win themselves yesterday and lurk just one game behind the Eagles.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eagles Need Another Professional Win

IL: Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears

With the Cowboys already having secured a Thanksgiving Day win, an Eagles team that is still less than full strength find themselves once again needing to beat an inferior opponent to keep pace. And, as he did last week, Donovan McNabb will need to provide the same steadying influence for his young teammates.

On paper, this would appear to be a relatively easy game for the Eagles. The Redskins lug a 3-7 record to Philadelphia as well as an array of baggage. The team's front office has stripped Coach Jim Zorn's play calling responsibilities and handed them to a consultant in an apparent attempt to get him to quit. This has failed on both counts as Zorn remains on the sidelines and the offense has not looked a whole lot better. Also, the Eagles defeated the Redskins 27-17 last month in Washington.

Appearances can sometimes be deceiving, though. Washington has historically played its best football against the Eagles, including a sweep of their season series a year ago. They also possess one of the better defensive units in the NFL, which just last week in Dallas held the division leading Cowboys scoreless until the games final minutes.

Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott has already needed to patch some holes and will be closely watching his starting cornerbacks, who come into the game nursing injuries. Last week the defense overcame several blown assignments and players in unfamiliar positions to contain the Bears enough to win. Their cause will be aided by the Redskins own injury woes as they are missing three of their top playmakers. Running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts along with Chris Cooley will all be out of the line-up, so the team will look to Rock Cartwright and Fred Davis to replace them.

Besides the confusion created by the dysfunctional coaching situation, QB Jason Campbell is playing with little confidence. The Eagles will try to capitalize on that by getting in his face and forcing him to make bad throws. Injuries have forced the Redskins into using a patchwork line that has had difficulty protecting Campbell, so the Eagles ability to capitalize and take pressure off the inexperienced linebackers and defensive backs will be key.

On offense, the Eagles will be without Brian Westbrook again, but rookie LeSean McCoy has done a nice job and continues to look more comfortable. Considering the Redskins strong pass rush, Leonard Weaver figures to take a fair amount of snaps to help protect McNabb, but both players will be used to attack a vulnerable run defense. If McCoy has early success, his first 100-yard rushing day could be in the offing.

Although the Redskins have a stingy pass defense, the Eagles offense revolves around the pass, so do not expect them to back off. McNabb will move the ball around, with a heavy concentration to DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant. The Redskins have been very effective keeping opposing tight ends in check, but that does not mean the Eagles will ignore Brent Celek altogether.

The Redskins will try to control the clock and look to the defense to give them a chance to win. Although the Skins are stout against the pass, they create very few turnovers. If the Eagles take care of the ball, McNabb and cast should be able to score points, while the defense will have enough to hold down the Redskins struggling offense.

Expect the Birds to grab an early lead and win the turnover battle. Also expect Rock Cartwright to have success on the ground, bouncing outside the tackles to daylight and for the Eagles to be periodically stalled by the Redskins defense. Both may frustrate Eagles fans, but they will ultimately prevail.

With tougher games are on the schedule ahead and the Cowboys 1 1/2 games up, securing a win against a last place team at home is paramount. Clearly the Eagles are not at full strength, so a professional workmanlike effort guided by the veteran leaders like last week in Chicago is what the team needs to stay within striking distance until missing players get back on the field.

Redskins 13

Eagles 24

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm just saying.....

Philadelphia Eagles v San Diego Chargers

I'm Just Saying......

A weekly collection of random thoughts and observations for you to consider.

  • The Eagles would be wise to break from normal practice and reward Sheldon Brown with a new contract. Brown has proven again that he is a very valuable player who is willing to play through injury. Besides securing a good player, this would send a very positive message that the team is willing to make a rare exception when someone clearly outplays their contract.
  • Speaking of Eagles contracts, Winston Justice deserves a great deal of credit for transforming himself into a solid right tackle. Very few fans or experts would have predicted that Justice would become the offensive line's most consistently strong performer when he had to step into the starting role.
  • With all the injuries on their offensive line and the poor play of Stacy Andrews, my gut says that the Eagles will be sorry that they let Jon Runyan get away to the Chargers.
  • With public sentiment and Roger Goodell cracking down on the handling of concussions, teams are now being careful in using the term. For instance, four time concussion victim Ben Roethlisberger left Sunday's game when he was disoriented by a blow to the head, but his injury was described as being "concussion-like symptoms."
  • What exactly is NBC thinking by including Kobe Bryant and Octomom in their "2009 People of the Year?"
  • Although exceeding Eric Bruntlett's 2009 performance will be very easy, I am finding it hard to get too excited about the signing of Juan Castro.
  • It is hard to argue with Albert Pujols being the unanimous MVP winner, but Hanley Ramirez finishing 2nd ahead of Ryan Howard is very questionable. Ramirez is an excellent hitter, but I don't even get the sense his own teammates would vote for him. And, without Howard's great season, the Phillies probably would not have been the National League Champions.
  • Donovan McNabb is the best quarterback in franchise history and a future Hall of Famer. A Super Bowl win would be awesome, but an inordinate amount of emphasis is placed on that as a measure of his performance and not enough recognition that he has played mostly with a substandard cast of receivers. And, how does Freddy Mitchell have any credibility in trashing McNabb?
  • Despite the 34-yard run against the Bears, the Eagles should refrain from getting too enamored with the Mike Vick Mildcat.
  • Considering their 5-10 start, perhaps the Sixers need to add the "Princeton Weave" to their Ivy League offense to keep opponents off the board? Or, consider an NBA offense?
  • I still believe the Phillies should resign Chan Ho Park, even if it means promising that the 5th starting pitcher slot is his to lose. He has the experience and stuff to be good in either a starting or relief role.
  • Dodge has joined Levitra, Avodart, Cialis, Bud Light and Miller Lite as the most frequently run commercials during sporting events. I'm not sure that commercials featuring poems about pick-up trucks will appeal a whole lot to the target market and jack up their sales. I'm just saying...and my tank is full.

NFL Power Rankings-Top 15....Week 12

Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings

The Saints and Colts continued their winning ways in very different fashion. After a series of less convincing wins, New Orleans pummeled the Bucs. Meanwhile, the Colts eked out a win against a Ravens team that was feeling an urgency to win. Like the Saints, the Vikings had another dominating performance to stay just one game back. Minnesota has no discernible weakness and will provide a stiff challenge to the Saints title hopes.

Although they seemingly gave a game away to the Colts a week earlier, the Patriots bounced back nicely against the division rival Jets. After a slow start, their offense is once again putting fears in the hearts of opponents around the league. Their young defense is the only thing that separates them from the top three. The Chargers continue their upward ascension and moved ahead of the Broncos in the AFC West with a large exclamation point.

The Bengals offset a big win against the Steelers a week earlier with a lackluster loss to the Raiders. Cincinnati just does not seem ready to fully assert itself as a top team as they disappoint after stoking their fans enthusiasm. The Cardinals barely got by the lowly Rams, but they can look very good when they put it all together.

The Eagles lead a pack of 6-4 teams primarily because they have shown the ability to dominate when they clicking on all cylinders. Injuries, mediocre play by their 3 big free agent signings, a suspension and their youth have gone a long way towards keeping their play uneven and below expectations. The Cowboys have also underperformed expectations, but have managed a 7-3 start to sit atop the NFC East. Meanwhile, their vaunted rivals, the Giants, simply have not looked very good over the past 5 games.

The Packers and Jaguars have edged into the top 15 by virtue of their 6-4 records. Both teams show a lot of promise and could make some noise over the course of the season. Taking away their losses to the Vikings and Bengals, Green Bay is 6-1 and has the ingredients to be a legitimate playoff contender.

  1. Saints (10-0)-Dominating win validates top spot
  2. Colts (10-0)- Continuing to find ways to win to stay unbeaten
  3. Vikings (9-1)-Is this Favre's best season? Vikes best team?
  4. Patriots (7-3)-Bounced back very well from Colts loss
  5. Chargers (7-3)- Crushing win over Broncos has them in first
  6. Bengals (7-3)- Lose every time you get excited about them
  7. Cardinals (7-3)-Not impressive against Rams, but open 3 game lead
  8. Cowboys(7-3)-With offense slumping, barely beat Skins
  9. Eagles (6-4)-McNabb lead Eagles to professional win
  10. Steelers (6-4)-Loss to KC has many questioning prospects
  11. Broncos (6-4)-Dropping like a rock, maybe played over heads
  12. Giants (6-4)-OT win ends 4 game slide
  13. Packers (6-4)-Strong offense, good pass defense have them in hunt
  14. Jaguars (6-4)-Making playoff push
  15. Ravens (5-5)-Defense looking better, just fall short vs Colts

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eagles Pull Out Windy City Win

Eagles' McCoy runs for a touchdown against the Bears in Chicago

The game was not a work of art or a thing of beauty, but the Eagles found a way to shake the Sunday Night NBC jinx and pull out a victory In Chicago against a struggling Bears team. The game was labeled as a "must win" on each side as both teams knew that a loss sent their playoff probabilities plummeting. Each team took control of two quarters, but in the end, the Eagles won the first and fourth quarters to register a 24-20 win.

The Eagles came into the game having dropped its last two games to fall out of first place in the NFC East, after having crushed the New York Giants to seize the division lead. Meanwhile, the Bears had lost four of their last five after a promising 3-1 start. Although coaches hate putting too much emphasis on any game that would not actually mathematically eliminate their team, players on both squads knew that the loser would face a very difficult road to make the playoffs.

Last evening, neither team played that much like a playoff team, as each repeatedly committed penalties and made errors along the way. For the Eagles, the errors were primarily three turnovers and a shanked punt that was effectively a fourth turnover. For the Bears, although their last ditch attempt to pull the game out ended with an interception, the miscues were foregone opportunities in the form of missed open receivers.

The difference in the game ultimately came down to the poise shown by McNabb to guide his young team while his counterpart Jay Cutler was misfiring all night out of fear of failure. McNabb kept his inexperienced team calm as errors and penalties let a 10-0 lead turn into a 3rd quarter deficit, while Cutler frustrated his teammates by missing wide open receivers, some of which should have been touchdowns. Trailing 20-17, McNabb engineered a methodical 11-play drive that culminated with a LeSean McCoy 10-yard touchdown run with 5:31 left in the game.

For the most of the evening, scarred by the memories of the previous week's 5 interceptions, Cutler made safe throws to avoid completing more passes to the opposing team. As a result, he over shot Greg Olsen and Devin Hester for easy scores. He appeared to get his confidence for a brief period late in the 3rd quarter when he rallied the Bears for a touchdown to regain the lead, 20-17. That quickly disappeared in the 4th quarter, and the Eagles sealed the victory by picking off a pass in the final minute.

Outside of a 48-yard scoring strike to DeSean Jackson in the 3rd quarter, the Eagles offense was effective only in the 1st and 4th quarters. A key element of that success was the run, with McCoy accumulating most of his 99 rushing yards. And, Michael Vick surprised the world by running a play in the Eagles opening drive that actually worked, as he rambled through the middle of the line on a draw for 34 yards. The drive eventually stalled out at the 7 and the Eagles settled for chip shot field goal.

McNabb had an efficient game, hitting on almost 72% of his passes, primarily in the 5-15 yard range. He eventually nailed Jackson on the bomb and racked up 244 yards for the game. He seemed destined to put up a lot of points if not for penalties and sacks creating many long yardage situations. Jackson was a force on both special teams and the base offense, racking up 56 yards on two punt returns and 107 yards on 8 catches.

The depleted Eagles defense was up and down all game. The secondary struggled in coverage with Asante Samuel leaving in the first half with an injury, Sheldon Brown limited by a hamstring injury and a myriad of inexperienced players on the field. They were aided by Cutler's lack of accuracy, but overall played hard and determined.

This was a good win for the Eagles despite their uneven performance to keep their playoff and division aspirations in tact until they can get their regulars back on the field. A less than stellar defensive performance could certainly be expected with so many players out of the line-up. Even the Eagles two fumbles by Jackson and McCoy were more a product of stellar defensive play by Bears CB Charles Tillman, who is possibly the best in the league at stripping the ball, than carelessness.

The victory allowed the Eagles to keep pace with the Cowboys and Giants, who both eked out wins yesterday afternoon. More of the burden will continue to fall onto the offense until the defense can get more of its regulars back on the field, so although some may dwell on the imperfections, there was a good deal of positive to take away. The young players continued to show more consistency, the Eagles exhibited a running game to go along with their passing game, and the team reversed trend by engineering a late game scoring drive to win.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eagles Head to Chicago for "Must Win" Game

nfl footballeagles@chargers

The Eagles head to Chicago to play their second "Football Night in America" game in 3 weeks. They find themselves with some extra pressure to win due to their disappointing record thus far and some difficult games ahead, prompting Donovan McNabb to label it a "must win" game. The Eagles have the added burden of knowing that they have never won in the NBC Sunday night game of the week, compiling an 0-7 record.

McNabb appears be attempting to step up as a more vocal leader as he surveys a young team with key veteran leaders now departed. He has effectively issued a challenge to his teammates to find a way to come home from Chicago with a victory despite being somewhat decimated by injuries and a suspension. Brian Westbrook is officially out for at least the next 3 games as a result of his second concussion this season, so McNabb and his young offensive unit will have to come of age. Rookie LeSean McCoy and newcomer Leonard Weaver will split duties in an attempt to gain some semblance of a running game, protect McNabb and execute on the Eagles signature screen game.

Jason Peters has been hurt all season, and after sitting out last week, is listed as "probable", but does not possess a great track record of playing through injury. Big free agent acquisition Stacy Andrews has been a bust so far as he struggles to overcome off-season knee surgery. If the Eagles hope to make the post season and advance, both of them are going to have to play much closer to expectations.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will be playing again with a patchwork defense. The linebackers and secondary feature considerably different players than appeared on the depth chart at the start of the season. CB Sheldon Brown left last week's game with a hamstring injury, but vows to play. If he can, he surely provides a boost to an unit that will be without Joselio Hanson, Ellis Hobbs and Quintin Demps, but the team still needs to be prepared for limited effectiveness or an early exit.

The Bears come into the game having lost 4 of the last 5 games, with the only win coming against the lowly Browns. New QB Jay Cutler has struggled with interceptions all season, throwing 5 last week alone to give him 17 for the season. Sophomore Matt Forte has been less effective in the running game and has actually been more dangerous catching balls out of the backfield.

The Eagles defense would normally provide a tough match-up for this offense, but with several players out or playing in unfamiliar roles, it is reasonable to expect the Bears will move the ball and put up points. It is also reasonable to assume that they will be able to force a couple turnovers from the pressing Cutler.

This means that like last week, McNabb is likely to put the ball in the air in an attempt to outscore their opponent. Avoiding poor field position and drive killing penalties will be key. And, the Eagles hope to improve on their ability to convert on short yardage and in the red zone.

The NBC Sunday night drought and Bears home success notwithstanding, expect the Eagles to play with some urgency and score enough points to win. McNabb and Eagles should be able to move the ball freely through the air and could hit on a couple long passes. With McCoy and Weaver providing a threat on swing passes and screens, and Brent Celek and Jason Avant working the middle of the field, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin should be able to break free a few times.

Cutler will look for Forte and TE Greg Olsen to move the chains, and will likely find success. Devin Hester or Johnny Knox may provide a long touchdown, but Cutler will almost surely fire a couple ill advised passes as the Eagles keep pressure on him throughout the game. In particular, expect Asante Samuel to bait him and jump a route or two.

Eagles 27

Bears 24

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NFL Power Rankings Top 15 Week 11

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts

Although they have failed to dominate and have had luck on their side over the past few weeks, the Saints and Colts remain undefeated. The Saints struggled against an awful Rams team, but squeaked out a win. The Colts were outplayed by the visiting Patriots, but quickly seized opportunity when Bill Belichick pulled a Barry Switzer gamble by going for a first down on 4th and 2 at their own 28. The referees probably got the spot wrong again, but the Colts quickly scored the winning touchdown to rally from 17 points down in the last quarter.

The Vikings continue to look like a clear Super Bowl contender. The have augmented their previously strong defense with a potent offense and dynamic special teams performer in Percy Harvin. As long as Brett Favre stays healthy, they will be a threat to win it all. The Vikings could very well have the best talent in the NFL as they have filled voids with Favre playing like he is 30 and Sydney Rice emerging as a star receiver.

With their second win this season against the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers, the Bengals have made a loud statement that they are a legitimate contender that is not going to fade away. Their defense is playing superbly and continues to keep opponents off the board. With Carson Palmer returning to form after injury, along with Cedric Benson playing like the high draft choice he once was, Cincinnati should win 11 or 12 games.

It was not a good week to be 6-2 as all four teams lost. Below the top four, the next eleven teams are now just a game apart. All have the potential to get hot, but have also shown inconsistency over the course of the season. The Broncos have come crashing back to earth, similar to the Giants, and now find themselves trying to regain their confidence. The Eagles are banged up and will need to have inexperienced players step up if they hope to make the playoffs.

  1. Saints (9-0)-Might have taken Rams too lightly, but prevailed in end
  2. Colts (9-0)- Manning refuses to look a gift horse in the mouth
  3. Vikings (8-1)-Favre, Rice, Peterson rack up the yards
  4. Bengals (7-2)- Sweep vs Steelers shows they are the real deal
  5. Patriots (6-3)-Belichick rolls dice and loses game to Colts
  6. Steelers (6-3)-Drop second to Bengals, fall behind in AFC North
  7. Chargers (6-3)- Moved ball with ease against Eagles
  8. Cardinals (6-3)-Rally in 4th Qtr to overcome Seahawks
  9. Broncos (6-3)-Luster quickly fading with 3rd straight loss
  10. Cowboys(6-3)-Dominated by Packers, still many questions
  11. Eagles (5-4)-Chargers too much for depleted team
  12. Falcons (5-4)-Ryan and defense struggling, Turner hurt
  13. Giants (5-4)-A week off to think about 4 game losing streak
  14. Texans (5-4)- Monday night victory will be big for playoff hopes
  15. Ravens (5-4)-Didn't learn much against minor league Browns team

Thursday, November 19, 2009

McNabb's Leadership Critical to Season

Philadelphia Eagles v San Diego Chargers

After last week's loss, the Eagles find themselves in a precarious situation. The team's record has dropped to 5-4 with a more challenging schedule over the balance of the season. A loss in San Diego to the AFC West co-leaders was certainly understandable considering that the Eagles were playing at far less than full strength, but they find themselves in this predicament because they let a couple other games get away.

Over the past couple days, Donovan McNabb has called Sunday night's game in Chicago a "must win." Some have questioned this logic and others have wondered whether placing so much emphasis on this game will ultimately back fire? McNabb has also highlighted the overall youth of this particular team and expressed his opinion that the team is lacking in veteran leadership.

It is good to see that McNabb recognizes this void and can see what outsiders looking in can observe about the 2009 edition of the Eagles. Some of the key veteran leaders such as Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are no longer with the team, and injuries to Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis and Stewart Bradley have taken a few leader-by-example type players off the field.

McNabb has long been a de facto leader by virtue of his position, contract and tenure, but he has never been a fiery, vocal presence like some other high profile, veteran quarterbacks. His personality is easy going and fun loving, rather than demanding and intense. He is prone to be supportive, offering positive reinforcement with a pat on the back rather than get into someone's face for blowing an assignment or not executing.

The merits of each style can be debated, and might work better or worse depending on the personalities and the psyches of those around him. Some players are motivated by a demanding leader, while others become paralyzed or resentful. In general, the mentality of the Philadelphia fan base would definitely skew towards favoring a forceful, spirited leader.

Although its not his make-up, lets give McNabb credit for recognizing that he needs to break from past protocol and move towards being more outspoken, more overt. By declaring this a "must game", he has clearly challenged his teammates and ramped up the urgency. The latter has seemed to be absent throughout much of the season, painfully so in the Raiders game, but also against the Cowboys, Chiefs and Saints.

Part of this traces to youth and the loss of the aforementioned leaders. Some of it also comes from previous history whereby the Eagles have been able to overcome early season inconsistency by turning up the intensity in November and December to land in the playoffs. Coming off that exact scenario last season, and then coming within a play or two of making it to the Super Bowl, human nature can lead players to think that the same thing is repeatable.

McNabb knows, though, that this team is very different than past editions of the team that have been able to pull that off. He realizes that this team does not have the same veteran presence to rally teammates and maintain its poise when the stakes get higher. So, it makes great sense that he recognizes that the time is now for him to step up and be a different type of leader if the team wants to realize its promise.

The Eagles clearly have talent and the athletic capabilities to be a contender. But, they also clearly lack the guidance and motivation that needs to be ignited from within by players who have been around the block. It is a great move forward for McNabb to express the importance of the occasion and verbally challenge the team. It will be equally important for him to massage his demeanor and raise the bar of expectations of those around him.

This is not to suggest that McNabb should be something or someone that he is not by suddenly trying to be a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino or Jeff Garcia type of personality. But, he can surely bring a more serious, demanding approach while remaining authentic. His teammates need to know that he expects them to execute and anything less than full focus and intense effort does not pass muster.

Lets give McNabb a great deal of credit for stepping out of his comfort zone and stepping up as a vocal leader. This is obviously a thoughtful action on his behalf and one that is critically important to the direction the team heads over the balance of the year. A 5-4 record is not where the Eagles hoped to be at this point, and there is still hope, but it is quickly approaching the eleventh hour to light the fire and set the team on a path to success.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Depleted Eagles Don't Have Enough to Overcome Chargers

Philadelphia Eagles v San Diego Chargers

Using a make shift line-up due to the unavailability of many players, the Eagles did not have quite enough to get by the San Diego Chargers, losing 31-23. They wasted opportunities on offense and could muster very little resistance on defense, letting what seemed to be yet another winnable game get away. Despite fielding a team with many key players missing parts or all of the game, the Eagles could have come away with a victory, but the same continuing weaknesses ultimately proved to be their undoing.

The Eagles made the trip to the west coast knowing that they would be less than full strength, especially on defense. This past week, Ellis Hobbs was lost for the season to a neck injury, Joselio Hanson was suspended for four games, and Akeem Jordan joined Omar Gaither and Stewart Bradley as injured linebackers. This situation was compounded further when tackle Jason Peters and Quintin Demps were unable to suit up, and then Brian Westbrook and Sheldon Brown came out after the first half due to injury. Westbrook suffered another concussion, making for a very serious situation that could be potentially season or career threatening. DeSean Jackson also sprained an ankle, but continued to play after being heavily taped.

Despite having to move players into unaccustomed positions as well as plug holes with reserves, waiver wire pick-ups and practice squad players, the Eagles made a gallant effort against a surging Chargers team that is now tied for first place in the AFC West. At the end of the day, they didn't have quite enough to pull the game out and fell victim to the same trouble spots that have plagued them throughout the year.

Clock management cost them all their timeouts in the second half and allowed the Chargers to run the clock down to preclude an Eagles comeback. A large number of penalties, including several ones wiping out big gains and undoing defensive stops, proved very costly. Once again, the defense was unable to make a stand late in the game when the Eagles needed to get the ball back and preserve time. Although used less, the Mildcat was its usual hindrance. And, the long-time tandem nemeses struck again as the Eagles could not convert on short yardage or in the red zone.

It was particularly painful when the Eagles had to settle for a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter after having first and goal at the 1. Two other trips to the red zone also resulted in short field goals, so the Eagles came away with only 9 of a possible 21 points on those opportunities, which they could not afford considering the state of the defense. One last nemesis also popped up when officials ruled that Eldra Buckley did not cross the plane of the goal line on a 3rd and 1 attempt that resulted in Akers first field goal, although it appeared that he had. Unfortunately, the Fox Sports crew was asleep along with the referees and failed to show a replay from a different angle. Also, after last week's experience with the officials not changing a spot despite visual evidence to the contrary, Andy Reid apparently figured it was a lost cause and elected not to challenge the play.

The Lighting Bolts moved the ball with relative ease the entire game against the Eagles patchwork defense. Philip Rivers completed 80% of his 25 passes, hitting a pretty much wide open Antonio Gates 7 times. With Ladainian Tomlinson struggling all year, the Chargers have been one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, but he had his best game of the year, accumulating 96 yards and 2 TD's.

Philadelphia Eagles v San Diego Chargers

Falling behind early by a score of 14-0 and knowing that the defense was compromised, the Eagles elected to air it out in an attempt to match scores with the Chargers. It worked very well with Donovan McNabb posting his most productive game ever, throwing for 450 yards on 55 attempts. He spread the ball around to all his receivers, but Jason Avant had an extraordinary game. He went inside and out, high and low to grab 8 passes for 156 yards, looking a lot like Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin.

Unfortunately, the prolific passing game got derailed by the Eagles inability to put the ball in the end zone, both via the air and especially on the ground. McNabb did manage touchdown passes to Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek in the 4th quarter, but earlier red zone failures had helped put them in a big hole. The game ended with McNabb making a last ditch "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone that was picked off.

Yesterday, the Eagles were undermanned, so departing without a victory can be understood. Surely, some of the failures relate to players being out of position, back-ups being called into duty or even new players altogether. Fo many Eagles fans, though, the loss stung more as they witnessed some of the same key failings that let a couple other games slip away this season. Besides the passing game, the only other bright was on the scoreboard where it read "Dallas 7, Green Bay 17."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'm just saying....

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

A weekly collection of random thoughts and observations for you to consider.

  • Once again, the NFL seems to have its priorities mixed up and do not appear to be Eagles fans. While they forego suspensions on players testing positive for steroids, they decide to clamp down hard on the Eagles Joselio Hanson for taking a weight loss pill. And, last week they penalized the Eagles for a 1 second Captain Morgan pose after a touchdown. Perhaps the NFL front office are scotch drinkers and like players with a little bit of meat on them?
  • Considering that the TV networks are continually looking to find new sources of revenue, Jorge Posada presented an excellent new opportunity in the World Series. In Game 2 of the World Series, Posada called 28 timeouts to visit the mound. Could the "Avodart or Directv Pitching Conference Moment" be in the not too distant future?
  • Since things haven't seemed to take a turn for the better in Washington, maybe Sherman Lewis will become available for a consulting gig with Philadelphia? Last week's game against Dallas suggested that a "Time Management" consultant might be in order for the Eagles.
  • Rumor has it that the Patriots are looking to add the Wildcat formation to their offense. If only they could have made that decision before the trade deadline....
  • "LeBron" has spoken. He is calling for the league to retire #23 in honor of "Michael" rationalizing that if he is not going to wear the number, then surely nobody else should. Lets hope the NBA does not further inflate these two third person, first name-only egos by complying with LeBron's decree.
  • Wade Phillips seems to over celebrate a little as if he knows he is on borrowed time. I was waiting for him to dump Gatorade on his players after the Eagles failed to convert a 4th and inches.
  • And, speaking of 4th and inches, it sure would help if NFL referees actually spotted the ball in the appropriate place and then used the same video that was shown to all television viewers to get the call right after a challenge.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Eagles California Dreaming

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Although the state has not been a good destination so far this season, the Eagles return to California dreaming of a win despite having a depleted defense. A few weeks ago the Eagles suffered an unlikely defeat at the hands of the Oakland Raiders, and now head to the more inviting San Diego area to face a much tougher Chargers team.

Both team's have identical 5-3 records at the season's mid-point. Both team's have also somewhat underperformed expectations and look to develop some momentum for the second half of the season. The Chargers feature a high powered passing game and have the good fortune of facing an Eagles team that is suddenly depleted in its secondary and linebacker corps. On the positive side of the injury ledger, the Eagles should see Brian Westbrook return to the line-up.

This is an important game for the Eagles now that they have dropped a game out of first place, especially after letting last week's game get away with uninspired play and some poor decision making. The national media was looking in on the Sunday Football Night in America game and directed a great deal of criticism towards the Eagles for wasting time outs and kicking a field goal rather than going for a first down late in the game. The latter pretty much gift wrapped the contest for a Dallas team that did not seem all that impressive.

In the Cowboys game, Ellis Hobbs and Akeem Jordan went down with injuries. On Tuesday, they learned that Hobbs will be out the rest of the season with a serious neck injury and Joradn does not appear ready to return. Adding insult to injury, the team also learned that cornerback Joselio Hanson was being suspended 4 weeks for taking a weight loss pill last January. Apparently the NFL allows steroids to slide, but is taking a very firm stance on players worried about their waist lines. As a result, Sean McDermott is finding it necessary to patch a team together with practice squad players and waiver wire additions.

Andy Reid and staff will need to make a strategic decision whether they try to control the ball and keep it out of the hands of the Chargers offense, or whether they tee it up and try to outscore them. Based on the Eagles dreadful ability to consistently execute and sustain drives thus far this year, a shoot out seems to be the far better option. They would also be wise to leave the Mildcat formation and Mike Vick on the sidelines.

Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles are likely to eat up yardage through the air and put points on the scoreboard. Running back Ladainian Tomlinson appears to be a shadow of his former self, but Sproles will likely make some big gains on draw plays and screen plays. The Chargers should also keep very busy hitting Gates in the seams and Jackson up high and down the field.

The Eagles will need Donovan McNabb to come out sharp and make good use of the weapons around him. Last week his throwing accuracy was a little off and the team could not get their speed receivers open for some quick strikes. They were forced to work underneath, where their lack of consistency proved to be their undoing. It will be critical for them to get DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin down the field for some big plays if they want any hope of keeping pace with the Lightning Bolts. McNabb will likely lean heavily on Brent Celek since the Chargers have not been particularly adept at covering tight ends and could very well find him a couple times in the end zone. If so, lets hope the Eagles lose the Captain Morgan routine that gives the opponent great field position afterwards.

Westbrook and LeSean McCoy should help to keep the Chargers defense respecting the run, but it remains to be seen whether the former will be at full strength or whether he can stay healthy for an entire game. The Bolts' defense continues to be vulnerable, so the Birds should be able put up points themselves if they execute.

Although the same was said last week, expect to see a high scoring contest that will go down to the wire. Unfortunately, the Chargers have been far more successful than the Eagles in these situations, which does not bode well for the Birds.

Chargers 34

Eagles 31

NFL Power Rankings Top 15 Week 10

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts

The NFL's two remaining unbeaten teams both had to come from behind to win in Week 9. While the Colts will be severely tested this week as the Patriots roll into town, the Saints will need to find ways to limit themselves from rolling up a Barry Switzer coached Oklahoma style blowout. Based on the Colts most recent performances, it is likely that the Saints will stand alone after Week 10. The NFL is shaping up as a league of "have's" and "have not's" with the Saints/Rams game serving as a prime example.

The Vikings had a week off and face a "have not." After being out of the spot light, the Vikings QB will surely want to throw up some big numbers. Besides the Patriots/Colts game, the most interesting game of the weekend may be the Bengals visiting Pittsburgh with first place in the AFC North at stake. The Steelers are on a roll, but the Bengals could very well surprise them.

Another game that may demonstrate how much a factor each team will be over the course of the season will be in San Diego. The Eagles visit the Chargers with both teams sitting at 5-3, but each having underplayed expectations. Poor decision making and an uninspired performance cost the Eagles a win last week, and they now have to face the Chargers potent passing game with a depleted secondary.

The Cowboys have been winning, but still do not appear to be overly impressive. An upset loss against the rebounding Packers in Green Bay is not out of the question. The Giants continue to fall and will have an extra week to figure out what to do. Similar to last season, it is hard to tell which Cardinals team will show up any given week. The high powered offense, dominating team dressed for last week's game. They might show up again facing a Seahawks team with trouble defending the pass.

  1. Saints (8-0)-May have to use third string to keep from 60 point win
  2. Colts (8-0)-Could Pats leave the Saints as last undefeated team?
  3. Vikings (7-1)-Ditto. Have all the ingredients to go to Super Bowl
  4. Patriots (6-2)-Back on track, huge test this week
  5. Steelers (6-2)-Big win in Denver has them thinking repeat
  6. Broncos (6-2)- Coming back to earth after great start
  7. Bengals (6-2)- Look like bona fide playoff team with sweep over Ravens
  8. Cowboys(6-2)-Keep winning, but still not overly impressive
  9. Eagles (5-3)-Never seemed to kick it in gear against Cowboys
  10. Falcons (5-3)- Took care of business vs Redskins
  11. Cardinals (5-3)-Up and down team that lacks motivation to excel
  12. Chargers (5-3)- Boosted in rankings by Giants win after so so season
  13. Giants (5-4)-Four losses and counting, bye gives time to regroup
  14. Texans (5-4)- Played Colts tough, seem on the verge
  15. Ravens (4-4)-Defense playing better, but offense disappears

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where Do the Eagles Go From Here?

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

At the 2009 season's mid-point, the Eagles find themselves sitting at 5-3 and one game out of first in the tough NFC East by virtue of their loss to the Cowboys Sunday night. For the casual observer, this seems like a good record that gives the team reason for hope over the balance of the year. A pragmatist, though, sees that the team probably underperformed, should likely have 1 or 2 more wins and has a more difficult schedule in the second half of the season.

To be fair, the Eagles had to weather the storm of some key injuries, but this is an aspect that most every team has to overcome in the NFL, where the overall size, speed and strength of players creates a figurative train wreck each week. The loss of Donovan McNabb to a broken rib may have cost the team a chance to be competitive against the Saints, but the biggest blows have been on the offensive line, at middle linebacker and the absence of Brian Westbrook. With Shawn Andrews never seeing the field, his brother Stacy playing in a limited back-up role, Todd Herremans just now seeing action and Jason Peters being banged up, the line play has been commendable, but erratic. The loss of Stewart Bradley in pre-season created a weakness until recently. And, losing a weapon the caliber of Westbook is always impactful.

Thus far, the Eagles have been a bi-polar bunch, with the high's very high and the low's very low. The highlight of the first half was the 40-17 demolition of the Giants a couple weeks ago. The low point was the dismal loss in Oakland against a Raiders team that has been inept and is in disarray. Sunday's loss to a 6-2 Cowboys team does not fall into the same category, but it surely was disappointing coming off the Giants game and because it appeared that a win was only a little bit of execution away.

The Eagles roster definitely has talent and the potential to do much better over the course of the season. The team has flashed its capabilities with big plays in all phases of the game. The offense has evolved into an explosive, quick strike unit, but in between big plays demonstrates very little consistency or ability to grind out drives. The defensive personality over the past decade has almost always been aggressive, and now has a knack for interceptions. And, the Eagles possess explosive returners on special teams, but have a difficult time avoiding penalties to make it worthwhile.

In order for the team to improve and make a successful post season run, here are some thoughts on what needs to happen:

Leadership must emerge.

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins

Many of the Eagles better players are young or have never played a substantial leadership role. With the departure of key veterans such as Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, the team seems to be a little lacking in terms of leadership. There appears to be a particular void on the defense as Dawkins was such a strong presence and the team sadly lost one of the most influential coordinators in the league with the passing of Jim Johnson.

Some of the schizophrenic play of the team most likely can be attributed to the gap in leadership. McNabb needs to recognize that he must assert himself as the unquestioned leader on offense, demonstrating a high level of intensity and control while demanding more from his players. On defense, someone needs to emerge as the motivational leader who keeps the pressure on to perform at a high level. Could recently acquired Will Witherspoon be that person?

Attain stability on the offensive line.

It will be difficult for the Eagles to have any real success this season as long as their offensive line is in a constant state of flux. To a certain degree, changing this will require some good fortune, but it will also require Herremans and Andrews to round into shape in order to perform to their potential. Until this happens, breakdowns in protection and the inability to create running lanes will continue to stall the Eagles offense, which is a segue to the next two needs.

Develop ability to execute on methodical drives.

The Eagles need to cultivate their base offense, and develop the ability to grind out methodical drives to complement their big play capabilities. So far this season it has mostly been all or nothing, which typically leads to unfulfilled promise when the playoffs roll around.

Clearly DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin give the team a new found explosiveness, but the Eagles also have the tools to move the chains. Brent Celek is emerging as an excellent tight end, who gets open, makes tough catches and is hard to bring down. Jason Avant continues to impress with his ability to catch the ball in traffic and serve as a complementary possession receiver. Even if Brian Westbrook is out of the line-up, both LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver have demonstrated that they can run and catch very effectively.

Make Vick the emergency QB.

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles

The team needs to bite the bullet and admit that the Michael Vick experiment is a bust. They need to make a clean break by taking him out of the offense altogether and slide him into the emergency back-up role. Vick not only does not add anything to the offense, he clearly detracts from it. Wasting a valuable timeout to shuffle him in and out for yet another nothing play on Sunday night added insult to injury. Although it surely is not the sole reason, it is not sheer coincidence that the offense still has not been able to find any level of continuity this season. Heck, you can even see the frustration and lack of confidence on the face of players every time Vick shuffles onto the field to run some exotic dive or sandlot formation.

Hire a "Time Management" coach

A long-time nemesis of the team has been its inability to manage the clock and make "in game" snap decisions. Squandering all three second half timeouts the other night, although one can be attributed to poor vision or pure stubbornness of the officials, was further compounded by an almost nonsensical late game decision to kick a field goal. The Eagles needed a touchdown to avoid defeat, with or without the field goal, so they essentially doubled their chances of losing simply by attempting a field goal. By not trying to get a first down, the entire game now rode on them being able to get a quick 3 and out, plus they would have to drive much further to score.

Is it out of the realm of possibility to have an assistant who's job it is to study probabilities, and most importantly, who possesses stellar skills in logical reasoning? This coach could help prepare thinking in order to make the right decisions in the moment, and be standing ready for quick consult. It sounds crazy, but is at least worth consideration as time management surely has not been a forte.

In the NFC, the Saints and Vikings are both playing with a level of consistency and skill at a higher level than the Eagles. In the AFC, the Colts, Patriots and Steelers all appear to be a cut above. But, as the Eagles stand at the mid-point looking back at their first half body of work and peer ahead to what might lie ahead, there is a great deal of reason for optimism. As the many previous flashes of brilliance have signaled, the potential is there; however, it is going to require adjustments and an evolution. The next five games, four of which are against winning teams on the road, will likely reveal whether the Eagles are a true contender.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Few Thoughts for the Phillies Suggestion Box


With New York City celebrating the Yankee's World Series Championship, the runners-up have already begun to address the mission to re-capture the trophy. The sting of tantalizingly just falling short of achieving the Phillies year long quest has not even begun to fade, but Ruben Amaro and his aids have already moved forward on setting their course of strategy for next year and beyond. Overall, the team is in great position to realize ongoing success, but organizational philosophy and some key decisions will certainly influence the course of events.

Some have been surprised by Amaro's ability to step in and quickly make a big impact, displaying decisiveness and a well thought out plan. He has exhibited a bias towards action, but at the same time maintained an important balance. The mid-season decisions to decline meeting the Blue Jay's trade demands and then completing a better deal for Cliff Lee serve as perfect examples.

Amaro's presence alone is an important factor in projecting a bright future for the team. Additionally, he has other solid baseball people around him and ownership that allows them to be the experts. Early indications are that the Amaro regime advocates maintaining an organization that fields a perennial contender, but within bounds, will make the moves necessary to win it all. In other words, they are both sound business tacticians and fans who long for a champion.

A World Series ring and a couple National League Championship trophies over the past couple years make a compelling case that the Phillies are doing just fine on their own; however, I have a few thoughts that I would like to put into the franchise suggestion box. These fall far short of the total body of work necessary to run and sustain a highly successful major league baseball team, but surely will have import in 2010 and beyond.

Extend Cliff Lee's contract.

Cliff Lee is the type of pitching ace and personality that is ideal for this team. After displaying his capabilities throughout the post season, he clearly will not come cheap, but he is perfect for this team and worth the money. It is reasonable to assume that the team's talent, a taste of the post season, the personality of the players, the chemistry of the team and the Citizen's Bank Park environment all currently serve as a strong enticement for Lee to extend his commitment to the Phillies.

The team has long shied away from inking pitchers to long-term deals, but if ever there was a situation that called for a variance, it is this one. Lee is in his prime at 31, has an intense competitive demeanor, provides a tremendous role model for other young pitchers (Hamels, Happ, Blanton, Drabek, etc), has been injury free, possesses a live arm with strong mechanics and simply knows how to pitch. Last year's 22-3 Cy Young season and this year's post season are a harbinger of what to expect over the next 4-5 seasons.

Lee is the perfect anchor for the pitching staff for years to come. And, importantly, he adds to the marvelous team chemistry. Sign him to a long-term deal now while many factors are favorable and before the Evil Empire has a chance to overwhelm him with a financial package in a different stratosphere from the rest of baseball.

Stick to your guns and don't mortgage the future.

The mid-year decision to hold onto J.A. Happ and the team's top prospects by trading for Lee at a much more reasonable price will prove to be a terrific move. Public sentiment at the time leaned heavily towards giving up whatever was necessary to land Roy Halladay. This pot has been stirred up by a Philadelphia sports writer once again advocating this move.

The Phillies surely have a great nucleus that could be intact for easily another 4-6 years, but resist the temptation to go all in without regard for the future. In the moment it seems good to fans who thirst for another taste of a championship, but those same fans would loathe a future team that is an "also ran." Many criticize the Eagles model for running a franchise that has maintained them as a consistent contender because they have been unable to secure the Lombardi Trophy. Perhaps they have failed to make a bold move or two to put them over the top, but your actions this year show that you are willing to strike a balance.

Every Phillies fan and organizational member would agree that another World Series Championship next season would be awesome, but the after glow would fade quickly if it meant mortgaging the future of the team's ongoing competitiveness. Stick to your guns to maintain an exciting, contending team for years to come. This era is too much fun and this team is too much a part of the Philadelphia cortex to relapse into a mediocre team.

Lock up Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth with a multi-year deals.

Shane Victorino is a catalyst on offense and a superb anchor in center field.

He has led the team in hitting over the past two seasons, registering remarkably consistent numbers. He provides disruptive speed, gets on base and has surprising power. Besides possessing great range, his arm often limits opposing teams to station to station base running and stops rallies with outfield assists. His best years are ahead of him and he is a competitor with a personality that is a perfect fit for the team.

Jayson Werth is a rare five tool player who is just now blossoming in his career. Over the past two seasons, his development continues to occur before our eyes, so there is every reason to believe he will only get better. Like Victorino, he is a gamer, covers a great deal of ground in the outfield and possesses an even stronger, more accurate arm. Werth also is smart on the base paths and has the speed to steal bases. And, very importantly, he provides prodigious power from the right side to provide some balance amongst the left-handed sluggers. Lastly, he shows plate discipline making pitchers throw and working walks, and with the visible adjustments that he has made, should continue to hit for a higher average.

Signing these players now before the price goes up would ensure that they are fixtures for years to come and create a great deal of goodwill. Both possess an inner drive to play hard and contribute to the winning chemistry.

The Phillies defeat the Yankees to take game 5 of the world series in Philadelphia

Overspend to keep the nucleus of everyday players.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Werth, Victorino and, now, possibly Carlos Ruiz are worth spending to make them career Phillies. They are all in the 28-31 age range, and contrary to some opinion, there is every reason to believe that they will continue to be top players for at least another 5, 6 or 7 years. The competitive spirit that burns within each of them, along with the training regimen of modern players, will allow them to maintain their skills into their mid or late 30's.

The Yankees return to glory this season was built around the core players that led them to success 10-13 years earlier, so folding in young talent around the Phillies core could also lead to an unprecedented run of prosperity. And, lets not lose sight of the fact that the Phillies great chemistry did not happen by accident, but rather because of these influential players.

Build around your current pitching staff.

Lee, Cole Hamels, Happ and Joe Blanton form a solid rotation that probably has its best work ahead of it. If the price is right and he would be committed to prepare himself for a long season, I would like to see the team bring Pedro Martinez back for next season. He appeared to be a positive influence and seemed to enjoy the players and setting, but most importantly, with greater endurance, he proved that he can still be very effective. He is Jamie Moyer, but with more movement and 6-8 mph greater velocity on his fastball.

Hamels experienced what many others have after realizing a great deal of success at a young age. After being the toast of the town and the media darling following his shining 2008 post season performance, a ripple effect turned into a downward spiral from which he could not escape. A short off season was further disrupted by public appearances, media requests and other demands on his time. This disturbed recovery and preparation for 2009 after the most grueling season he had ever experienced, which led to diminished conditioning, reduced arm strength and physical breakdown. All of it took its psychic toll on a 25 year old player, bubbling up as shaken confidence and visible frustration.

Although many were troubled by his comments during the World Series about needing to get a fresh start, that will go a long way towards getting him back on track. Absence the full context, the sound bite made it seem like Hamels was quitting in the middle of the series. That is unfortunate, but the bottom line is that decompressing and recharging after a frustrating season is the right medicine. The organization's belief in his return to prominence is well founded.

The Phillies should make it a priority to re-sign Chan Ho Park, who pitched very well in a relief role. Although he was never mentioned as a possibility, Park possesses closer stuff with his 95 mph velocity, hard breaking curve and tailing fastball that allows him to jam righties and paint the outside corner. He throws strikes and gets strikeouts, and importantly, demonstrates poise under pressure.

It was good to hear Charlie Manuel acknowledge that Brad Lidge needs to work in the offseason to improve his ability to hold runners. This was a major factor in his struggles this year as most every bloop hit, infield single or walk turned into a double or triple and a run waiting to happen. Lidge also needs to get healthy and a fresh start, and as he has proven in the past, he can rebound from an off year. Lidge's knee and elbow may also have contributed to "over throwing", which in turn, led to lack of command. Repeatable, fluid mechanics would also seem to be an area of concentration before next season's opener.

Assuming Lidge can regain his previous form, a bullpen of Ryan Madson, JC Romero, Scott Eyre, Park and Lidge is a strong foundation. Of course, that may seem to be a big "if", so the team needs to have a back-up plan. I would have preferred to see Brett Myers back in 2010 as a contingency plan for a 5th starter, middle reliever or closer, but Amaro acted decisively and opted to sever the cord. Myers has a great competitive spirit and good stuff when healthy, but has yet to realize his projected potential, so a change of scenery can sometimes be best for both sides.

If Martinez does not return, Park would seem to be a viable option as a fifth starter. He looked great in spring training in that role, but then hit a rough patch when the regular season began. If offering a starting spot is the only means to retain him, I would do it rather than lose him all together. It is hard to envision obtaining someone better without committing substantial dollars. If an impressive rookie named Happ was not waiting in the wings, Park probably would have gotten himself righted and been effective over the balance of 2009.

Keep Feliz and sign a top middle infielder.

The clock is ticking to make a decision on whether to pick up the option on Pedro Feliz or go another direction. Feliz played excellent defense, and although he lacked plate discipline and has not posted the expected power numbers, he drove in runs. Since he could come relatively cheap, rather than replace him, why not spend the money for a "super utility player" who could split time with him, but also spell Utley and Rollins more frequently? This would keep them fresher throughout the season and eliminate the huge drop off in offensive and defensive capability when they are out of the line-up. Free agents Marco Scutaro and Mark DeRosa come to mind as ideal additions who could get 400 AB playing a variety of positions along with third base.

Fireworks burst over Citizens Bank Park after win

The Phillies have done a marvelous job getting the organization into its current position. Although the Yankees won this year's championship, I believe the Phillies have the best overall talent, especially when you consider future potential. The organization also has some future impact players in the farm system pipeline who can be folded into the major league team over the next few years. With the recent body of work along with continuing to preserve some organizational tenets, the Phillies are on the cusp of being recognized as role model for the rest of baseball. It has been a great run, and the potential is there for it to continue for the foreseeable future.