As the playoff stretch begins to hit crunch time, I have a few thoughts I dare gage as almost points to certain subjects:
Did anyone watch the Baltimore Ravens demolish the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday? There was actually a fairly critical junction early in the game that may have done the Eagles in more than some may think. Baltimore's Ed Reed was taking a ball towards the end zone when the Eagles were converging on him. He decided to think about a lateral. As he began to handle the ball for consideration, his arm bumped into an Eagle. The ball came loose, and it appeared the ball was recovered by Philadelphia within their own 10 yard line. The referees decided that Reed had committed a forward lateral, which somehow nullified the fumble. Now, I do understand the forward lateral constitutes a passing attempt for the offense. The problem here is that is almost seems to imply it does on defense too. Sure, the Ravens had the ball and that defines possession, thus making them the team on the offensive, but I am not sure if this rule is correct. I think that, if the defense gains possession and commits this infraction, that it should be called a fumble and live ball that the defense cannot advance past the point of where the said offense occurred. Then there is the fact that Reed's arm was bumped by the Eagle as he was beginning the motion. This implies that the loose ball is also a fumble. If the Eagles actually did fall on it, then it would've been their ball and a first down. With the way the Ravens defense was playing, it may not have made much of a difference for Philadelphia, but there is always that unknown gray area that no one can truly assume what that would have meant to the Eagles if the play was called the way I think it should have been.
Speaking on the Eagles, it appears the Donovan McNabb Era is in its last run. With 5 games left, McNabb can certainly turn that idea around. It would take a deep playoff run to set doubt on the theory he will be wearing a new jersey in a few months. I was a bit surprised Andy Reid didn't go back to McNabb mid-way in the 3rd quarter when it was obvious Kevin Kolb was not inspiring the team. The news is that McNabb will start Thursday, so we will see if this veteran team turns things around. I am one who hopes that it will. McNabb, as some of you may recall, was booed for his being drafted in the first place. He really hasn't been given the fairest of shakes. After all, he did take the Eagles to the Super Bowl. I understand Eagles fans want the win to go with it, but think of how many great Eagles QB's haven't even taken Philadelphia that far. Donovan certainly ranks as one of the best to have ever suited up for this illustrious organization. Philly fans are loyal and tough. If they think you aren't giving it your best each moment, they let you know. Ask Mike Schmidt, one of the best 3rd base to have ever played the game of baseball. The other question in Philadelphia is the future of Reid himself, though I am not so certain that is as much in the air. Reid drafted with an eye to the future, as far as the offensive line goes, and seems to have the Eagles in decent position to remain competitive if Kolb is indeed handed the starting job next year. Some think the Eagles rely too much on the pass. If the Eagles are able to draft one power type of running back before next year, then this issue can be resolved. There was hope that Tony Hunt was that, but he is no longer with the team. There is a chance Reid leaves with McNabb, but there also is the question in which direction the franchise is headed if all of this happens in one off season. I see Reid hanging on for one more year, at least. But, who really knows?
I realize many people like to say Jim Zorn was influenced by Mike Holmgren, but I tend to think his main influence right now may be Chuck Knox. For you too young to recall this great coach, he has a style best described as "Ground Chuck" It was a style that would pound an opponent into the fourth quarter by running the ball 25-30 + times per game. It was a successful formula in Knox's days in Seattle with Zorn behind center. Some may like to think of the Zorn to Largent connection first, but this was made possible by guys like Curt Warner. Now we see Zorn pounding Clinton Portis often behind the "Dirt Bags". It actually is the best blue print for victory, given the current player personnel. Whether Zorn, or this style, lasts for a few years remains to be seen. Maybe, by then, Zorn will have drafted guys he feels best fit his offensive scheme. Then we will truly see all of his influences.
After watching the Houston Texans control the Cleveland Browns, it should water down some QB happy Browns fans as to what the teams problems truly are. Whether you have Anderson or Quinn, it doesn't matter if no one is blocking or catching. Both QB's are young, so there is no question about going with "the future" at the quarterback position. Anderson will probably be on another team next year, and that is honestly the best case scenario for him personally. I admit, after watching the Browns block last year, I overrated the line somewhat. I'd like to call it "an off year", but the fact is that this group has been dominated week to week pretty much. Jamaal Lewis isn't getting any younger, and we know about the Browns bad luck in procuring young backs. Green and Suggs are a few guys who couldn't get the job done for this new Browns franchise. Factor in the overwhelming under achievements of Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth, and Kellen Winslow, as well as injuries to Joe Jurevicius, and Martin Rucker. There is hope for '09, but it only will happen with improved play in the trenches. Romeo Crennel knows he won't see it from the Browns sideline, but you can assume other teams will be trying to hire him as a defensive coach the day he gets fired. I think the Browns also need to hire a better GM also. But it could be worse for Browns fans...and has been in the past.
I admit I was wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy off on Matt Ryan AND the Atlanta Falcons. Sure, their strength of schedule isn't that impressive, but their record is. I had them winning 3 all year, and they have already doubled that. Though I am equally impressed with the under appreciated Joe Flacco of Baltimore, Ryan has been everything and more that Atlanta expected. The real MVP for the Falcons is probably John Abrahams and the rest of the defensive line. The Falcons have been pretty stout, and are doing it with quite a few youngsters on both sides of the ball. Factor in the fact that first round draft pick Sam Baker was lost early in the season as well, and you have to be more impressed with the Falcons. I know I may be one of the few to say this, but Mike Smith HAS to be the NFL Coach Of The Year right now. I don't even think the staunchest of Falcons fanatics would have predicted playoff possibilities for this squad before opening kickoff this year. My R.O.Y. pick was Felix Jones, but Jason Garrett and injuries killed that possibility. Matt Ryan has to be considered the front runner for that award now. Even leaving the Mike Vick saga out of the equation.
FAVORITE FRONT RUNNERS
Some of the teams that are fighting for the playoffs probably surprise few. New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and the New York Giants are amongst the first teams mentioned by many. Then you have a few teams that may surprise some, like Tennessee and Atlanta. Then you have the disappointing teams like San Diego and Jacksonville. The Wildcard spots are tenuous, as are the division battles. Still, you have to wonder if the light has finally gone on for the Dallas Cowboys. With their backs against the wall, they are swing for the fences. Their schedule ahead is hard, but they are a team no one wants to face right now. Then there are teams like Baltimore, Houston, Chicago, and the New York Jets. Teams who have solid defenses, and will crush a few playoff dreams for others, while keeping theirs alive. Though you can roll the dice on your favorites, the uncertainty of these next few weeks may make for more exciting football than the playoffs themselves.