>You’ve got the MLB playoffs, the NFL in full-swing, and the beginning of the NBA and NHL seasons all at the same time—this is just the best time of the year for professional sports.
Last night, sitting in our local bar, Krupa’s Tavern, surrounded by Philly fans, I found my swivel chair to be especially helpful in switching back and forth between two TVs showing Cole Hamels’ dismantling of the Reds— and the Eagles unfortunately close win over the 49ers. There’s a lot I want to say about the upcoming Flyers and 76ers seasons, but there will be plenty of time for commentary on those sports. For now, I want to talk about the Phillies playoff run and the Eagles current mid-season conundrum.
The Phillies just completed their first ever postseason sweep. The three wins can best be summed up through two masterful complete game pitching performances (Hamels and Halladay’s no-no) and one game that was certainly gifted in part as a result of the Reds’ four errors and three hit batsmen, but was also a result of the Phillies capitalizing on those mistakes, showing their postseason experience and finding a way to win the game. The Reds are very familiar with Roy Oswalt and have hit off him well throughout his years with the Astros. I don’t think anyone expected Oswalt to come out there and dominate them, but not many could have expected Oswalt to also be lacking his best stuff for the first time since he debuted with the Phillies in July. If the Phillies can get two out of three dominant pitching performances from either Oswalt, Hamels, or Halladay in the upcoming NLCS and World Series matchups, like I said in my earlier posts, you can expect the Phillies to win those series. Even when one of the three aces is lacking his best stuff, there’s always a chance that the bats will come alive in some uproarious fashion, so basically what I’m saying about this Phillies team is that there’s a hell of a lot of routes they can go about finding a way to win a playoff game. They’re so deep and talented, so experienced and well-coached, and have so much confidence in each other and chemistry on the field that it’s going to be very hard to take them down.
As dangerous as the San Francisco Giants may be with a bonafide ace in Tim Lincecum and two pitchers capable of dominance in any given night in Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, the Phillies still have the edge. On offense, the Giants have two or three dangerous hitters who have the ability to change a game with one swing–those being rookie phenom Buster Posey, last year’s breakout stud Pablo Sandoval, and the suddenly resurgent Pat Burrell, a former Phillie who played on the team that won it all in 2008. Other than those six players, with the addition of all-star closer Brian Wilson, the Giants don’t scare me all that much. They’re clearly better than the Braves and I fully expect to see them in the NLCS, the Phillies will just have to go out and execute the way they’ve been executing thus far, and this series shouldn’t go more than four or five, or maybe six games.
As a side note I want to share my pre-playoff predictions–I know the playoffs already started and there’s no way of confirming I haven’t cheated, but I wrote them down for an online contest before the playoffs started so you’ll just have to take my word for it–here they are:
Phillies over Reds in 3 (correct)
Yankees over Twins in 4 (not quite–3 game sweep)
Rangers over Rays in 5 (TBD)
Giants over Braves in 4 (correct)
Phillies over Giants in 5
Rangers over Yankees in 6
Phillies over Rangers in 5
Now, onto the Eagles. It was amazing to overhear all the worthless and unintelligent things people had to say about Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick last night. After Kolb failed to rally the Eagles over the Redskins last week, no one talked about how well he played in a step-in situation, despite not preparing to play in that game. Most of the focus remained on his near-interceptions, of which there were two or three scary ones, and his “unwillingness” to throw down the field. Troy Aikman seemed convinced Kolb was missing open receivers further down the field, and yet anyone who didn’t go back and look at the tape has no idea how valid or accurate those comments really were. The Redskins sat back and played Cover-2 all night, it’s very well possible there just wasn’t anyone open–and is it so wrong for Kolb to play cautiously and take what the defense gives him? After dumping and dinking his way up the field, Kolb put the game winning pass into the hands of Jason Avant–what more could people really want? Imagine if Avant had caught that ball–would Kolb still be taking criticism, or would be be hailed as the superior quarterback to Vick and reinstalled in the collective imagination of the fans as the quarterback of the future?
I’m not going to imagine what might have happened in that game if the Eagles didn’t come out so soft against the run, overly excited to suffocate McNabb’s passing attack, or if they didn’t get repeatedly screwed by the refs, or if Vick didn’t get injured and completely alter the offensive plan in the middle of the game. What I want to focus on is where the Eagles head from here, after narrowly escaping with a win in San Francisco last night.
First off, Kolb played incredibly well. He completed his first nine passes, never threw an interception, and even scrambled for a first down, Michael Vick style, on 3rd and 18. He did take four sacks and only throw for one touchdown, but against a 49ers defense that is clearly more physical and tight than the Jacksonville and Detroit defense’s that Vick dispatched, Kolb proved himself (once again) worthy of starting for the Eagles.
I was going into this game worrying that the 49ers would upset the Eagles. Last week, the Redskins were desperate to avoid a 1-3 start, and this week the 49ers were desperate to avoid starting the season 0-5. Fortunately, the Eagles capitalized on both sides of the ball and played an all-around solid game. The 49ers owner still thinks his team can win their division, which sounds crazy at 0-5, but if you look at the players they’ve got and the other teams in the division, its not unthinkable to see them come back and win a bunch of games down the stretch against a pretty easy schedule of opponents. So what I’m saying is, you’ve got to feel good about this win, but worried that things don’t get a whole lot easier from here on out.
Next week the Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons and you’ve got to imagine Vick wants to come in there and stick it to them like he did in a support-role last year. The Eagles are still tied for 1st place in the NFC East and still looking like a borderline playoff team. I think the goal at this point in the season is to make the playoffs–I know that seems obvious, but that goal has the capacity to change as the season goes on. Coming in to the season, the Eagles were too stacked with talent and winning experience to admit it was a rebuilding year, but with a first year starter at the helm and the youngest team in the league, people were certainly tempering expectations about what this team could do so early in its development. The fact that they’re 3-2 and playing decently well is a good sign but I’m still skeptical as to how well they’ll hold up against the league’s best teams. Kolb proved himself worthy against a solid defense, yet you get the feeling Vick will be given another shot at keeping these winning ways alive. Like I said before, if Vick is responsible for one or two losses, we should expect to see Kolb start for the rest of the season, but my understanding of Andy Reid’s plan right now is to wait and see if Vick can keep up his incredible level of play against the league’s most elite defenses. It’s actually a pretty good outlook, I think—if Vick can’t put up W’s, Kolb will start and gain important experience for next year’s playoff run. And then there’s always the outside magical chance that Kolb replaces a struggling Vick, puts in great performances and leads the Eagles to a playoff berth–that’s the ideal situation. This season is all about getting as many wins as possible (as always) while also getting this team as much experience as possible so that they can come back even better next year (with a healthy Leonard Weaver and Jamaal Jackson, and hopefully solid additions at CB and O-Line through the draft) and make an even stronger push at the Super Bowl.
As is, the Eagles have two very capable starters, one that’s 25 and the other that’s 30. Vick has captured the hearts of fans because of his exciting style of play, but its unlikely that we’ll see him in an Eagles uniform next year. I expect we’ll give him a chance, or two, to keep putting up MVP-like performances—if he falls short of this type of production, Kolb will get the starting position back so that he can finish off the season on a high note, maybe squeak into the playoffs, but more likely be a consistent, smart, accurate quarterback and a good leader like we expected, and get better for next year, when this young, inexperienced team will undoubtedly also be better.