Dissecting the Eagles’ 1-2 Start: Week 4 NFL Picks
As the two people who have read these picks columns know, I have an intense burning hatred for the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s why these past few weeks of hand-wringing over the Eagles’ 1-2 start have been delicious for me. I wish I could find a bottle of the woe-is-me, crybaby tears that Michael Vick shed after last week’s beating at the hands of my beloved NY Giants (I don’t know if he actually cried, I just like to imagine that he did). I could use those as my whole sustenance for the rest of the football season.
In all seriousness, the Eagles are actually, probably, I hope not, a pretty good team. They’re stocked with talent and look better on paper than the team that won the NFC East last season. However, since I’m a bitter little man, whose distaste for the rest of humanity has been compounded by the collapse of my Red Sox, let’s dissect Philadelphia’s weaknesses one-by-one shall we?
1. The Eagles defensive scheme has a major design flaw: In the offseason, the Eagles promoted their offensive line coach, Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator (you read that correctly, he was the O-line coach) and Castillo installed what is known as a wide-nine alignment on the defensive line. For those unfamiliar with football X’s and O’s, a wide-nine entails the defensive ends being split out very wide, outside the tight end, getting into a deep sprinter’s stance and looking at the ball for the snap. Once the ball is snapped the ends make an end rush towards the quarterback. The wide nine allows defensive ends to take advantage of their superior athleticism compared to offensive tackles and create havok for quarterbacks as we’ve seen Trent Cole do these first few weeks.
However, the wide-nine has a major design flaw. It is very vulnerable to runs behind the tackles. Because the defensive ends are so far wide, and completely focused on getting to the QB, the offensive tackles don’t have to worry about blocking them on rushing plays (note: this also leave the defense open to screen passes and quick passes to the sideline, which the Giants used to great effect in Week 3). Offensive tackles can get to the next level immediately and clear out the linebackers, clearing easy paths for running backs. This makes it essential that the linebackers in a wide nine perform at a high level, bring us to our next point…
2. The Eagles linebacking corps is dogsh*t: The Eagles linebackers have been a weakness going on three years now, but management hasn’t done anything to fix the problem. They even let designated run stuffer (although he sucked at it) Stewart Bradley flee to Arizona before the season started. Which members of the Dream Team are Brian Rolle, Moses Fokou and Jamar Chaney supposed to be? Christian Laetnner (all three of them)? And don’t try to sell me on Casey Matthews, maybe in two or three years, but for a supposed Super Bowl favorite, I ain’t buying.
3. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are one of the worst playcalling combos in football: The fat walrus and his doofus assistant get off way to easy with the media. They’re poor clock managers and have no idea what they’re doing in terms of playcalling. Evidence: the Eagles getting stonewalled on the 1 yard line in the 2nd quarter. LeSean McCoy tore the Giants defense apart on Sunday to the tune of 128 rushing yards, and it was evident that he was going to have a big day from the first quarter on. So what did the Eagles do when faced with 1st and goal from the 1? A couple QB dives and a hand-off to the full back, who lost two yards. They didn’t even try to give the ball to McCoy or for that matter Ronnie Brown, who was brought in for exactly those types of situations. For a Giants fan it was a delight to watch, and it also gave the boys in blue more free hits on Michael Vick. Speaking of which…
4. The Eagles O-Line is awful: Philadelphia plays in a division that features Justin Tuck, Brian Orakpo, and DeMarcus Ware as headline pass rushers. You think they might invest in a halfway decent offensive line to protect their fragile QB, who holds the ball a long time trying to make plays. Left Tackle Jason Peters is the most overrated lineman in football, but line play is about the whole performing better than the sum of its parts. The Eagles haven’t done nearly enough to build the type of line necessary to sustain a championship run. But hey, at least they have lots of good cornerbacks. How’s that working out? *looks at Eli Manning’s passing stats from Week 3* HAHAHAHAHA
Picks follow after the jump, I’m much better at these than Ryan:
Last Week: 8-8
Last Week: 9-7
Detroit @ Dallas (-1)
Ryan: The Lions’ defensive line, led by Donkey Kong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch, will be bringing a lot of pressure and the Cowboys’ offensive line will need to hold up for long enough for Tony Romo to exploit the weak Lions secondary.
With all the gushing that Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden did over Tony Romo last week, you might have thought that the Cowboys scored a touchdown at some point. Nope. With Miles Austin likely out and Dez Bryant and Felix Jones banged up, I see this as a statement game for the Lions. Lions cover.
Asif: The knob-slobbing that Tony Romo got from the MNF crew against the Redskins made me want to throw up. You know who’s better in every way than Tony Romo? Matthew Stafford, who has made the leap into elite status in my mind. Of all the starting quarterbacks under the age of 26 (arbitrary cutoff, I know, but it lets me exclude Aaron Rodgers while I make my point), the only one I would take over Stafford is Matt Ryan. Right now, he’s 5th in passing yards with 977 with an elite 67% completion rate and a 110 passer rating on the season.
The Lions defensive line is beastly and the Cowboys O-line is terrible. I’d give serious thought to sitting Romo if I were the Cowboys, because House of Spears (best name meaning EVER) might tear off one of his appendages. Lions Cover.
New Orleans (-7) @ Jacksonville
Ryan: Last week, as the Jaguars were playing the Panthers in the 1995 expansion team bowl, the tweets about the game (as opposed to the monsoon it was played in) were consistently along the lines of “It doesn’t look like Blaine Gabbert has ever played football.” New Orleans has a poor pass defense but it isn’t bad enough for this game to even be close. This line seems at least three points too low. Saints cover.
Asif: How are the Saints favored by only 7 points? I know that their pass defense is suspect, but it’s not like the Jaguars have anything resembling a coherent offense. Saints cover.
San Fransisco @ Philadelphia (-8.5)
Ryan: Must. Resist. Urge. To. Take. Alex. Smith. On. The. Road. This line seems a little bit too high, though, given that we don’t know how effective Vick can be with his bruised non-throwing hand. It also stands to reason that the coaching staff has instructed him to get rid of the ball quicker and avoid the types of hits that have knocked him out of the game the last two weeks. As I wrote on Tuesday, it is not necessarily going to be beneficial for the Eagles if they are expecting Michael Vick to think AND play quarterback. It is unclear if he can do both at the same time and, if so, what the effects will be.
The 49ers are 2-1 but their wins are against the Seahawks and Bengals so it’s not like those wins are legitimate by any means. Since I wrote the first sentence, though, I have convinced myself of the distinct possibility of the backdoor cover. Considering how the Eagles have played so far, this line seems just a bit too high. I think the 49ers cover but there is a distinct chance that I am banging my head against the wall for thinking this at the end of the first quarter.
Asif: F*ck it, I’m taking Alex Smith. Last week exposed the Eagles’ most glaring weaknesses: their defense is vulnerable to end runs, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are terrible play callers, and their offensive line is going to get Vick murdered. I’d feel better about the 49ers chances to win if Frank Gore was likely to play, but I think their defense is strong enough to keep this close.
Anyone who thinks that the value of coaching is overrated should take a good look at San Fransisco. Last year, they were an embarrassment of a team and now they look like NFC West front-runners with pretty much the exact same personnel. I know that being NFC West favorites isn’t a great accomplishment, but the Niners look disciplined, confident, and dare I say competent for the first time in a decade. San Fransisco and the points please.
Washington (-1) @ St. Louis
Ryan: Picked by many to be one of those teams that makes a leap, the Rams have had the most disappointing start in the NFL this season. There is not necessarily shame in going 0-3 against the Eagles, Giants, and Ravens but the Rams have been hapless in doing so, having been outscored 96-36. Sam Bradford has regressed this season and the defense, now in its third season under head coach Steve Spagnuolo, should be performing significantly better than it has thus far.
“Mike Shanahan doesn’t want the best 53 guys, he wants the right 53 guys,” Jon Gruden said last week, meaning it as a compliment. While I agree that in building a football team, or any team for that matter, you have to account for fit, effective leaders are also able to obtain buy-in from talented but mercurial performers and don’t resort to authoritarian measures. It is therefore stunning that Washington has been somewhat decent despite my expectations that they would have already quit on Kim Jong Shanahan at this point. Redskins cover but I still think there will be a reckoning later on down the road.
Asif: I’m torn here. On one hand, the Redskins suck. On the other hand, the Rams suck. I’ll go with the home team and say the Rams cover, then forget that this game exists entirely.
Tennessee @ Cleveland (-1)
Ryan: I will not take wins over the Dolphins and Manning-less Colts (Manning-less Colts should just be their team name for the rest of this season) as a sign that the Browns should be favored over anybody.
Not that passing yardage statistics should be given TOO much credence in the 2011 NFL, but Matt Hasselbeck has shocked and awed by throwing for 932 yards in three games as the Titans have gone 2-1. Kenny Britt’s being out for the season notwithdstanding, the Titans are in decent shape as long as the rejuvenated Hasselbeck can stay healthy. This can and will expire at any time and pave the way for the Jake Locker era but for now, Titans cover.
Asif: The Cleveland Browns have been favored in every game they’ve played so far this season. Go ahead and look back at the lines from the first three weeks, I’ll wait… okay. HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT? I realize that the Browns haven’t played any good teams, but I’m 3-0 when applying my rule that when the Browns are favored, take the points (unless Indy is the opponent). I’m going to let it ride and take the Titans to cover.
Buffalo (-3) @ Cincinnati
Ryan: Bills good. Bengals frisky but ultimately bad. Letdown game potential acknowledged, this line still seems 1.5 points too low as I don’t think the Bills of all teams would let a 3-0 start go to their heads. Buffalo covers.
Asif: Definitely trap game potential here, but the Bengals are terrible and the Bills have a legitimately good offense. I give this matchup 4 out of 5 dismissive wanks and I’ll go with the Bills to cover.
Minnesota (-1.5) @ Kansas City
Ryan: This game is going to be heavily featured on the Black Zone Channel, the NFL’s brand new antithesis to the Red Zone Channel that will be narrated by Ben Stein and heavily feature punts and passes thrown at receivers’ feet.
Very few things give me as much pleasure as a Packers fan as seeing headlines like Vikings are Breaking Down Donovan McNabb’s Mechanics. McNabb has been in the league since 1999. He is what he is which is to say that he is what people who have eyes thought he would be this season. He cannot and will not be fixed. Still, the Chiefs are dreadful and the Vikings cover.
Asif: Just looking at this matchup causes me to make a reflex wanking motion Vikings cover.
Carolina @ Chicago (-6.5)
Ryan: Somehow, I was negligent in my responsibility to listen to Chicago sports talk radio on Monday after the Bears lost convincingly to the Packers. Glaring oversight and shouldn’t happen again. I can imagine what was said though and creating fake dialogue in my head is at least 75% as entertaining as the real thing. I still think the Bears are pretty good but this line is a little bit too high. Bears win but Panthers cover.
Asif: I overlooked this game when doing my first draft of this column. It’s probably because I don’t care much about mediocre football (unless it involves the Giants). Panthers cover.
Pittsburgh @ Houston (-4)
Ryan: It is starting to look like this could be one of those seasons for the Steelers where everything goes wrong. There are only so many of these massive hits that Ben Roethlisberger (is it resume-worthy that I can spell Roethlisberger correctly without looking it up?) can take before his body just can’t take it anymore. Something about the Steelers has looked off this season.
This is a game that the Texans need to win in their quest for legitimacy. Sure, they will probably win their putrid division without winning this game but I think that they need to take this one for overall confidence and sense of self-worth. Texans cover and I roll in the money from my $10 bet with Asif.
Asif: The Texans aren’t really that good, but they’ll win the AFC South by default. The Steelers didn’t look terribly impressive against Indy last Sunday, but I think that they’re a legitimately good team. Pittsburgh covers.
Atlanta (-4.5) @ Seattle
Ryan: Seattle has a pretty sizable home field advantage and the Falcons are a much worse team on the road than at home. It KILLS me to do this but I am taking Tarvaris Jackson and the points. Seahawks cover but I would never put real money on this game and wouldn’t watch any of it unless it was close in the fourth quarter.
Asif: Atlanta has been one of the harder teams to figure out this season. All signs say that the Falcons should be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFC, but they only put up 13 points in Tampa last Sunday. A lot of people are blaming Julio Jones for the discombobulated offense, but Jones had 115 receiving yards against the Bucs. Roddy White had 140 yards as well. Last week, Michael Turner had 20 rushing yards on 11 carries. Turner was pretty good in the first two weeks (100 and 114 yards), but he’s had a ton of carries the last three years and may be showing some signs of wear. It shouldn’t matter this week because Seattle is worse than ball cancer. Falcons cover.
NY Giants (-1.5) @ Arizona
Ryan: The Giants looked pretty impressive last week in beating the Eagles 29-16 but I have no idea what to expect from them the rest of the season. Their injuries have been well-documented and may ultimately be too much to recover from. I don’t think the Cardinals are good but this line seems weird enough that I think Vegas knows something. Cardinals cover.
Asif: This line is practically begging people to pick the Giants. I know the Giants have injuries, but Eli Manning looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now and may have found a new target in Victor Cruz. Even without Osi Umenyiora, the Giants defensive line is a pass rushing beast. They abused the Philly O-line last week and should do the same in Arizona. I’m a little scared that I might be getting too optimistic on the Giants, but I’ll go with NY to cover. I’ve picked the Giants in each of the first four weeks. I swear this has nothing to do with my homerism.
Miami @ San Diego (-7)
Ryan: The Chargers are 2-1 despite the fact that they would love nothing more than to be 0-3. Unfortunately, they have played the Vikings and Chiefs this season and so far it has been impossible for opposing teams to lose when doing so. They run into another cupcake this week in the Dolphins but I just don’t trust the Chargers to cover a line this high. As is their wont, San Diego will find some way to make this game closer than it has any business being. Dolphins cover.
Asif: Do you think that Bill Cowher just shows up at the Dolphins facilities uninvited and starts measuring Tony Sparano’s office for new drapes? Do you think Sparano would even notice if he did? My guesses are yes and no…
Norv Turner has now been the Chargers coach for four years. I just thought I’d point that out, because no one in San Diego seems to have noticed. Anywho… Chargers pretty good + Dolphins clueless = San Diego covers.
Denver @ Green Bay (-12.5)
Ryan: Despite being 3-0, the Packers have not yet put together a complete game where they play up to their potential. They let the Saints and Bears stick around instead of putting them away and came out flat in the first half against the Panthers. It is hard to imagine the Packers losing this week but they might be unfocused enough to allow the Broncos to cover.
Asif: Bra-dy Quinn, Bra-dy Quinn, Bra-dy Quinn. The Broncos aren’t winning anything, but John Fox has the opportunity to commit the ultimate act of trolling ever by starting Quinn and I really don’t understand why hasn’t done anything about it yet. The again, I’m a bitter little man with nothing to look forward to. Packers cover.
New England (-4.5) @ Oakland
Ryan: Did anyone happen to catch the biggest story in Boston sports this week? I am talking, of course, about Tom Brady cutting his hair. Were his beautiful golden locks the cause of his four interceptions last week? TIME SHALL TELL.
Oakland is a strong performance in this game away from needing to be taken seriously. Could it be that Al Davis made sound decisions in assembling this roster? I don’t know if I am ready to live in a post-2003 world where that is the case because I have rather enjoyed making jokes at his expense the better part of the last decade.
The Patriots had some bad luck last week in their loss to the Bills. I think they come hard, real hard, this week. Patriots cover.
Asif: Do you really believe that Tom Brady is going to throw four picks two weeks in a row? Me neither… that and the Pats going into full revenge mode tells me that Oakland is going to get annihilated. Darren McFadden is beastly, but stopping the run isn’t the Patriots’ problem. Pats cover.
NY Jets @ Baltimore (-3.5)
Ryan: Because DirecTV was negligent in Week 1, they were playing in a game Week 2 versus the Titans that everyone–including the Schoolyard Tavern bar manager/remote control God–thought would be a blowout, and I was at Bears-Packers while they played last week, I haven’t actually seen the Ravens play yet this season. Having also missed Jets-Raiders last week, I have no basis for forming an admittedly subjective opinion about what will happen in this game. The winner of this match-up is in great shape at 3-1. With no conviction, Jets cover.
Asif: As much as I love Rex Ryan, at some point the sh*t talking is going to get old. The Jets haven’t done a ton to back up their talk so far this season on defense and with the sudden ineffectiveness of their running game has forced them to lean more on Mark Sanchez, who isn’t that good.
The Ravens answered any doubts I had from Week 2 by trouncing the Rams last Sunday. Baltimore covers easily.
Indianapolis @ Tampa Bay (-10)
Ryan: Indy played hard, real hard, last week in a valiant loss to the Steelers. Jim Caldwell says that no decision has been made about whether Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter will start but this feels like the South Park debate between the giant douche and the turd sandwich or Bush vs. Gore.
I still maintain that the Bucs are good but they haven’t shown me that they are capable of covering a 10-point spread. Whether it be by backdoor cover or another surprisingly close, hard fought loss, Colts cover.
Asif: Congrats Tampa, you’ve replaced Philadelphia and Dallas as my new favorite place to hate. You might have a baseball playoff spot, but you still live in Florida which means no matter what, my life is better than yours.
Colts fans, how does it feel to know that your Jesus is a baby murderer? Personally, I don’t care, but it’s fun watching you over earnest fatsos wring your hands over it. Oh and your team still sucks, how the sh*t do you end up on prime time two weeks in a row? I wish I could flex you out of existence. Tampa covers.