Eagles Have What It Takes in NFC East

Friday, May 29, 2009

When the Philadelphia Eagles take the field this season they will be viewed as a contender for not only the NFC East Division title, but as a possible NFC champion.

So much should be expected after coming off a late season push for the playoffs that included a dismantling of the Dallas Cowboys at home in the season finale, a hard-fought victory on the road against the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional round and fighting tooth and nail in the NFC Championship game.

Did the Eagles take advantage of some misfortunes in other NFL cities to get that far? Absolutely, but coming off of this offseason, with some quality free agent acquisitions and roster moves, and a well-received draft, there is reason for heightened optimism in Philadelphia for the boys in green.

Head coach Andy Reid still has control of the team and has some new weapons to account for in his creative schemes. Fans in Philadelphia have been clamoring for a return to the run game for years, and they might get their way in 2009. The addition of Leonard Weaver at fullback would be the first indication of that.

Don't expect Brian Westbrook to rush for 2,000 yards or any thing like that, but when the Eagles get in to third-and-short situations, the offense should be more likely to try and pound out the extra yard or two. In the past, the Eagles would have been very likely to run a play action pass in similar situations, but when the team rarely ran the ball up the middle, it proved difficult to catch the defense off guard.

Donovan McNabb will remain the biggest factor on offense. There still is no Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver in the deck of cards for McNabb to connect with, but Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson, and the emerging Jason Avant are collectively better than most wide receiver units in the league.

Diversity will be the key to the offense. Jackson can go deep or run a quick slant. Curtis can do the same. Avant has shown the ability to hold on to the ball over the middle. The growth of Brent Celek as a full-time starter at tight end will be important for McNabb. When receivers are not open McNabb, will need to rely on a steady tight end.

Brian Westbrook will be as dangerous as ever. Utilizing Westbrook in a variety of ways makes the Eagles offense one of the most dangerous in the league. Not only can Westbrook make moves out of the backfield, but he can also be a threat on the screen and will line up in a wide receiver's typical spot from time to time.

Naturally, the offense will only be as effective as the offensive line. Seeing two new faces on the line would make some fans weary, but the Eagles are replacing Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, who both anchored the offensive line for as long as many fans can remember, with Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews. With these two added to the mix, McNabb should have solid protection, and Westbrook should have room to cut through the pile more often than not.

It would seem that strength of the team would be the offense, but if the offensive line does not gel together the way Reid has envisioned the team could be in trouble. McNabb can still make something out of nothing but he is another year older so his mobility may drop slightly in 2009. The offense can lead the Eagles to success though.

In 2008 the Eagles had a top-10 offense, ranking sixth in points, and ninth in total yards. Combined with the defense, the Eagles were the top team in the league in the category of plus-minus yards. The defense was also very good last year.

And the defense should be good once again, although there are some question marks to address. First and foremost how will the Eagles respond to the loss of Brian Dawkins? Quintin Mikell and Quintin Demps both have something to prove in the secondary, but the leadership that Dawkins provided will be near-impossible to replace.

Look for Stewart Bradley to take on more of a role of team leader on the field and to develop in to one of the top linebackers in the NFL. Bradley will lead a defense that was ranked third in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed in 2008.

The success of the defense starts with the defensive line. Darren Howard and Trent Cole combined for 19 sacks in 2008 and Juqua Parker added five. Those numbers indicate that the Eagles will be able to muscle some pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. That could help Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown make some easier plays against opposing receivers.

Samuel lead the team with four interceptions in 2008. Sheldon Brown is chirping about his contract status so it will be interesting to see if it affects him on the field As the Eagles are not likely to render Brown a new deal before the season starts, a close eye should be kept on the cornerback.

Will he twiddle away like Lito Sheppard did a year ago in a similar situation or will he take his performance up a notch, and prove why he is worthy of a new deal? I anticipate Brown to be a tough competitor this season.

Showing the talent on paper is one thing—performing on the field is another. Too many times in 2008 did the Eagles fail to capitalize on some key plays to win a game, or prevent the opponent from winning the game. Realistically, the Eagles may only have been a couple plays away from clinching their first NFC East title since 2006.

The schedule this year seems to favor the Eagles for the most part, although the bye week comes in Week Four. Two west coast trips (Oakland first, San Diego last) sandwich a three game stretch of NFC East play. Playing in Oakland should be penciled in with a "W" right now, and you would be wise to pencil in an "L" for the San Diego game, as it comes after the three division games and it is on the road.

Following the San Diego game is a road trip to Chicago to play a Bears team that has stolen two games form the Eagles in the previous two years. Revenge should be on the mind. Overall, though, there is no real tough stretch on the schedule and the way the home and road games are set up the Eagles should be able to win 10 games at a minimum.

It will probably take 12 wins to clinch the NFC East outright. The Giants won the division last year with 12 wins, and the Cowboys did it with 13 the previous season. The Eagles actually took the division crown with 10 wins in the 2006 season.

The Giants should be about the same as they were last season without Plaxico Burress, which leaves their passing game with few threats. The Cowboys have parted ways with Terrell Owens, so it would seem Tony Romo's regular season performance will take a dip. The Washington Redskins? Well, they'll still be tough to beat, but they don't seem to have the makeup of a division contender right now.

NFC East bragging rights will likely come down to the Giants and Eagles in 2009. From the looks of where the teams stand right now it would seem that the Eagles may have the slight edge, although the Giants had a pretty good draft, and have a history of young players making a quick impact. Expect the December 13 meeting at Giants Stadium to give one of these teams the edge down the stretch.


The Sean McDermott File

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Just how long Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator extraordinaire Jim Johnson remains out of action as he takes on his greatest battle, cancer, remains uncertain. Until Johnson feels up to making his return to coaching the reins of the defense have been placed in the grips of Sean McDermott, the Eagles' secondary coach.

Already receiving the solid show of support from the rest of the coaching staff and the players, McDermott has assured all that nothing will change drastically from the expected defensive schematics.

While McDermott will be carrying out the orders that would generally be expected from Johnson, it should be without question that if Johnson's leave of absence extends further into the season then McDermott will have the ability to tweak the defense slightly to his liking.

Will that hurt or help the defense of the usually stingy Eagles? Only time will tell, but what can you expect out of McDermott?

Focused largely on the secondary the defense figures to excel against the pass. Having Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown as the top corner backs on the squad surely helps, but many fans are most concerned with the safety position.

After losing Brian Dawkins to free agency concerns grew fast about the abilities of players like Quintin Mikell and Quintin Demps. These players made some progress last year but images of Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald dancing his way to touchdowns still leave a sting in the battered and bruised memory banks of Eagles fans.

Clearly McDermott has a lot on his plate whether Johnson returns to the sideline, or coaches box, or not. McDermott has worked his way to this chance to showcase his abilities, although this is not he would have liked to receive the opportunity.

A former safety at William & Mary McDermott is always thinking about the pass defense. After graduating from William & Mary McDermott stuck around and served as a graduate assistant with his alma mater in 1998.

Reid welcomed McDermott to the coaching staff in the 2000 season, after McDermott had spent two seasons as a scouting coordinator. After one year as an assistant to Reid McDermott was given more specific responsibilities as a defensive assistant.

In 2002 McDermott was promoted to assistant defensive backs coach where he would help players like Brown and Lito Sheppard to develop in to Pro Bowl caliber players. His success was rewarded with a promotion to Secondary/Safeties coach in 2004.

During that Super Bowl season McDermott's top two projects, Dawkins and Michael Lewis, both earned starting spots on the NFC Pro Bowl team. This was the first time this happened in franchise history.

In 2007, McDermott moved to coaching the linebackers, and last year was given control of coaching the secondary once again under Johnson. Which brings us to the upcoming 2009 season.

Obviously Eagles fans everywhere, as well as the team, hope for a speedy return from Johnson. Until that time comes though all eyes will be on McDermott. There are reasons to be optimistic.

Reid has a history of grooming successful coaches under his watch. Take for example Steve Spagnuolo, currently the coach of the St. Louis Rams. Spagnuolo started his NFL coaching career with the Eagles as a linebackers coach.

From there he ascended up the ranks, serving the New York Giants as a defensive coordinator and now the head coach in St. Louis.

Making a successful head coaching debut last season was Baltimore Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh also grew from under Reid, making his own path to a head coaching job after focusing on special teams and defensive backs while in Philadelphia.

Johnson has been inserted into head coaching discussions in the past, although never as a front runner, so it should be no surprise that McDermott can prosper form this unique situation.

With a successful campaign in 2009, should he serve as acting defensive coordinator for the entire or majority of the season, McDermott could very well be finding himself in the hot list of young up and coming coaches.


Memorial Day Baseball

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To cap off the Memorial Day weekend, Stef and I took advantage of a buy one get one ticket deal from the Phillies. As luck would have it Monday night's game was also dollar dog night, so a cheap night was definitely on hand with the defending World Series champions.

The Valley Forge Military Military Academy and College Regimental Band was on tap for pre game festivities honoring our nation's soldiers of past and present. The Phillie Phanatic made an appearance with his hot dog launcher. Both teams wore special red caps with an American flag pattern inside the lettering. From our seats though you could not tell the difference in the Phillies hats. The Marlins looked kind of funny with them on. The red was to honor the blood of our soldiers.

Raul Ibanez was honored before the game for his recent National League Player of the Week honors as well. It was supposed to be a memorable night for Phillies starter Jamie Moyer, who has been stuck on career victory 249 for a while now. Against a team he has dominated in his career, the Florida Marlins got the best of Moyer and tagged him with a loss rather than a milestone win. Wes Helms, of all Marlins players, hit a critical three run home run to give the Marlins the lead. Ryan Howard hit two home runs on the night, but that was about all the Phillies had to cheer about.

Below is a slide show of our photos from the Memorial Day game.

You can view the photo album here.


Day Trip to Baltimore

Monday, May 25, 2009

Stef and I took a day trip down to Baltimore yesterday on the holiday weekend. We went to the National Aquarium at Baltimore and the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, and to the top of the Baltimore World Trade Center.

At the aquarium we took in the new 4-D show and the new dolphin show. Stef's favorite part though may have been the puffin who was hamming it up for visitors and seemed to want to have his picture taken.

Below is a slide show from the day, including when I tried on a Navy football jersey, pads and helmet.

To browse the photo album yourself, click here.


Mario Monday Is On Vacation

Mario Monday returns next week with a look at one more NES classic before we move on to the next generation of Mario platforming adventures.

Meanwhile I will be attending a Phillies game and eating hot dogs on this Memorial Day, the perfect way to spend the holiday.


Eagles Depth Chart Predictions: Defense

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Entering the 2009 football season the Philadelphia Eagles are faced with replacing a number of long time players in the starting line up. Gone are offensive strongholds Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas. No longer will Correll Buckhalter make a needed play in relief of Brian Westbrook. LJ Smith will try to find his potential in Baltimore. But nobody will be more missed on this edition of the Philadelphia Eagles like future Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins.

Dawkins did a lot more than pour every ounce of strength on the field. He provided a leadership quality few possess. However the Eagles faithful in the stands were feeling, Dawkins was feeling twice as much, good or bad. To say that Dawkins was the soul of the Eagles is a gross understatement.

Still though Dawkins has flown the coop and saddled up with the Denver Broncos, leaving Eagles fans wondering who can fill his spot. What about the loss of Lito Sheppard, who is now wearing a different shade of green and white up north in the Meadowlands? Are the linebackers up to par for this season?

When projecting the Eagles depth chart on the defensive side of the ball it is important to remember the way the team handles their defensive line. The Eagles rotate their defensive lineman on a routine basis that few teams in the NFL can. The apparent depth at the position allows the Jim Johnson lead defense to rotate players of similar skill levels to keep them fresh longer than their opponents on the offensive line. With the recent news that Johnson was going to take a leave of absence to treat his cancer, secondary coach Sean McDermott has taken over the reigns and will carry out the same defensive philosophy established by Johnson.

It is unclear when Johnson will make his return to the team, but regardless of when that is and whether or not he gets a chance to give his significant input, here is my prediction of what the depth chart will look like, going two deep, when training camp closes. My locks for spots are in bold.


Juqua Parker/Victor Abiamiri: Parker recorded five sacks in 2008, a season in which he really came into his own. Parker presents adequate speed off the snap although he is a little smaller than his likely backup. Parker is entering his ninth season in the league and has just now started to become a force to be reckoned with on the line.

I anticipate good things in the future for Abiamiri and should Parker go down to injury at any point the Eagles have a player waiting to fill in in the former Notre Dame player. This year you can expect to see more of Abiamiri, who missed a bit of time with an injury last season. Abiamiri should be seeing about half of the snaps on defense in 2009 and is being groomed to take over the position after Parker's contract runs out in 2011.


Mike Patterson/Trevor Laws: Patterson, entering his fifth season with the Eagles, has his spot locked up on the defensive line. Although his numbers went down from 2007 to 2008, Patterson still gives the Eagles 80+ tackles, about half of which will be solo tackles.

Laws is a nice player and is entering just his second season. If needed to fill in on defense the Eagles should be somewhat concerned as he still has some developing to do. Given that though he is still a solid lock to be the team's back up left defensive tackle. Given his slightly larger size than Patterson it will still be tough for the offense to get by Laws.


Broderick Bunkley/Amon Gordon: Not a terrible threat to pick up a sack (he had two last season), Bunkley gives the Eagles a 6'-2" 306 pound plug in the middle. Bunkley picked up 82 tackles in the 2008 season and helped the Eagles rush defense form the sixth ranked rush defense over the past two seasons, allowing under 100 yards per game.

There could be a good roster battle in training camp between Dan Klecko and Amon Gordon. I give Gordon the edge at the moment based on his size. Gordon has battled some knee problems, which could hinder him in training camp, but Klecko has yet to really prove anything with the Eagles. Anticipate the motivated Gordon to make a run for the second spot behind Bunkley.


Trent Cole/Darren Howard: Cole is going to be the starter over Howard. Cole has outplayed Howard, a free agent acquisition in 2006, and gives the Eagles much more energy off the right side than Howard can give them. Cole already ranks eighth on the franchise list for sacks with 34.5 and has the ability to pick up 100 tackles.

Howard on the other hand has a career high of 54 tackles in a season, in 2001 with the Saints. Howard is also entering his tenth season in the league, where Cole is entering his fifth. Howard will still see some playing time of course with the rotation on the defensive line, but when the game is on the line you can count on seeing more of Cole.


Chris Gocong/Tank Daniels: If there is one area on the Eagles defense that could use an upgrade, this might be a good start. Gocong figures to be the starter, and he is adequate, but after Gocong there is not much to get excited about. Entering his fourth season, Gocong's numbers actually dropped from a year ago, but that could be attributed to using him primarily in the linebackers unit as opposed to seeing time on the defensive line. Gocong is versatile but I feel he could improve a little more at the position.

Daniels is a likely winner for the back up spot but will see some competition from Tracy White, primarily a special teams player, in training camp.


Stewart Bradley/Charleston Hughes: Similar to the SAM linebacker position, after Bradley there are question marks for the back up. Bradley really matured last year in the role of middle linebacker and figures to have another solid season in 2009. Bradley will develop into more of a leader on the defense with the loss of Dawkins and can really start to make a name for himself with hard nosed, on top of the ball play.

But if Stewart is out of the line up what happens then? Look for Hughes, a free agent pick up from the Canadian Football League, to make a push for the back up spot. Hughes actually played defensive end for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, but at 6'1" and 244 pounds he might be a good fit for linebacker. The Eagles are taking a gamble with Hughes, with the other option being Joe Mays, the team's late round draft pick in 2008.


Omar Gaither/Akeem Jordan: This will be the best position battle when training camp opens, at least on defense. Jordan ascended to the starting position in the last half of the 2008 season, replacing Gaithier in the process. But can he duplicate his success?

Jordan started out as a special tams player but started the final six games of the regular season in 2008 at the weak side linebacker. In that time, less than half of the regular season, Jordan accumulated better numbers than Gaithier. So why do I anticipate Gaither to be the starter right now?

If you noticed I did not highlight this poison in bold, indicating my wavering on metaphorically jotting down Gaither in ink. Size is almost a non issue when comparing the players (Gaither is one inch taller and five pounds heavier). I am curious to see if Gaither comes in to Lehigh with a new energy and shows a determination to regain the starting job. When it comes to training camp I place a lot of value on hunger of a player, and Gaither is in a situation that calls for it. If he reports to camp and starts off with a lack of intensity, this could easily switch back in Jordan's favor.


Asante Samuel/Joselio Hanson: I can't imagine that the play making Pro Bowl caliber corner back Samuel will lose this spot. There is practically no reason to discuss this much further.

However Hanson made some improvements to his game last season and has shown why he will be a back up for Samuel. Hanson also will see significant time on special teams.


Sheldon Brown/Ellis Hobbs: Again, there is no reason to suspect that Brown will lose his starting job. If anything the only reason Brown loses his starting job in Philadelphia will have to do with his recent statements regarding his contract. Brown may be playing his final season in Philadelphia if this goes the same way that Lito Sheppard's contract squabble progressed.

Look for Hobbs to see some playing time if Brown shows some frustrations and misses a play or two in a critical situation.


Quintin Mikell/Sean Jones: Mikell is stepping in to uncharted waters, and a spot that few excel in, when he will replace fan favorite and perennial Pro Bowl caliber player, Brian Dawkins. Mikell already enters the season with concerns but the coaches understand that he is not Dawkins, and he probably never will be. What the coaching staff will have to focus on is ensuring that Mikell learns from his mistakes and recovers well when the ball is in the air.

If Mikell is not a question mark, Jones can offer some veteran experience to draw on. Jones is entering his sixth season and has been a full time starter the past three seasons with the Cleveland Browns.


Quintin Demps/Rashad Baker: Demps has some critics to answer after his performance in the NFC Championship game, but one can only hope that he learns from his mistakes. Regardless of what he did in the post season with the season on the line, Demps will be the starting free safety.

When determining the back up though it could be a battle between Baker and Macho Harris. Baker gets the edge though as he is entering his second season, and Harris is a rookie.

The Eagles have some youth that will play a big role on the defense. Look for Bradley to develop into the leader of the defense, resembling some of the traits carried by Jeremiah Trotter in his time here. He may not have the same edge that Trotter, or Dawkins, possessed but all eyes will look to him when on the field for guidance and support.

The defensive line should be solid and a number of the young players on the roster should develop more this year, giving this defense potential to be something special. They may lack the big names, but they should be solid as a defensive unit. Jim Johnson will be proud of them.


Following Up on Mario Monday

DISCLAIMER: The Angry Video Game Nerd, while hilarious in his own style, may not be suited for everyone. If you are easily offended by strong language then I urge you NOT to watch the below video. This video is rated R. I usually try to avoid strong language on the site, but I couldn't keep from including this video.

I mentioned in this week's edition of Mario Monday that the movie The Wizard was used as a marketing tool for the release of the third Mario adventure. As you might expect, it was not great. The Angry Video Game Nerd put together a review of the game and the movie last year and I felt that sharing his video here was appropriate this week. It is about 17 minutes long but if you have the time and can appreciate the nerd factor focusing on old school Nintendo, you will enjoy this.


Eagles Depth Chart Predictions: Offense

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Training camp at Lehigh University is still a little more than two months away, but for Eagles fans it is never too late to contemplate the position battles that will be had in the hot summer days ahead. To whet your appetite for why not take a look at my predictions for the depth chart when the team makes their finals cuts?

The following depth chart is very unofficial of course and I will provide the defensive side of the ball later in the week. This depth chart will go two deep, providing you my guess for the starter as well as the primary back up. When discussing the offensive side of the ball with the Eagles there is a lot less rotating in and out so more of these predictions will be locks, highlighted in bold.


Donovan McNabb/Kevin Kolb: There is no doubt that McNabb will be the full time starter for the Eagles in 2009. Despite his benching incident and coming up short in the NFC Championship game in Arizona McNabb had a decent 2008 season. There is no reason to not have McNabb as the starter.

As for Kolb, that is a different story. Kolb received some mildly unfair criticism last year in regards to his brief time taking snaps. Thrown in to replace McNabb in a close game in Baltimore the Ravens, who possess some of the best defensive players in the league, Kolb could do little to inspire the offense. Was that his fault? Not totally.

Yes, Kolb needs to be smart with the football. The second year quarterback threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in his parts of six games. Andy Reid though is a quarterback coach at heart and I believe he will make some significant strides forward to be a formidable backup.


Brian Westbrook/LeSean McCoy: Westbrook may be the bets running back in the history of the Eagles franchise. If he is not the best then he is certainly the most versatile. Westbrook will take hand-offs and catch passes out of the back field all season, as well as line up in a slot receiver's position from time to time. Whenever Westbrook is on the field, good things are about to happen.

Drafted in the second round McCoy, out of Pittsburgh, could wind up seeing some play time with Westbrook. McCoy is similar in size to Westbrook and can make some of the same plays as the eight year veteran.

With some hard work in training camp McCoy should be able to beat out Lorenzo Booker, who failed to live up to some expectations last season.


Leonard Weaver/Kyle Eckel: Having Eckel in the back field helped the Eagles offense in the final stretch of the 2008 season, but having Davis as a starter this year figures to add more to the running game. When Weaver was signed by the Eagles this off-season he was automatically mentioned as the starter at fullback.

While not a threat to score a lot Weaver does bring some blocking abilities that hurt the Eagles with guys like Tony Hunt, who was cut from the team last year. Last year Weaver also averaged 4.3 yards per rush.


Kevin Curtis/Reggie Brown: Wide receiver is a tricky position to call for the Eagles. By most opinions they lack a true number one receiver for McNabb to target. What they do have though is a talented group of receivers that can help them move the ball.

Curtis has been one of the more reliable receivers for McNabb since he was acquired. He is not the deep threat that will cause defensive coordinators to have nightmares leading up to a game with the Eagles, but Curtis can be very effective on the slant.

Brown is entering his fifth season with the Eagles. It would appear that Brown has not lived up to expectations and may be an Eagle on the watch list when it comes to cutting players. Brown has regressed each of the past couple seasons to the point where he only totaled 252 receiving yards and one touchdown. I am looking for him to make some improvements this training camp.

DeSean Jackson/Jason Avant: Jackson has quickly become the most attractive receiver on the roster. Though small in size he has proven that he is not one who will be intimidated. Jackson goes over the middle, goes up in the air, and goes down low to catch the football. What he does best is spread the field, providing the Eagles their best down field threat with his speed. He can be a hot shot at times, which anybody who watched the Monday Night game in Dallas can attest to, but he backs it up with his play.

Avant made some strides last season and developed in to a reliable receivers on third down situations. The six foot receiver out of Michigan had a career high in receiving yards and recorded two touchdowns. I predict those numbers will rise in 2009.

Top draft pick Jeremy Maclin may see some time at wide receiver at some point this season but he has a lot of players to compete with for playing time at the position. In addition to those already mentioned the Eagles will also try to find some playing time for Hank Baskett, who could challenge Brown for a roster spot.


Brent Celek/Matt Schobel: With the departure of L.J. Smith to Baltimore the spot is clearly Celek's to lose. Celek put together some nice games last season, giving Eagles fans many reasons to wonder aloud why Smith would be starting in Celek's place. The tight end is entering his third professional season. In 2008 he almost doubled his production from his rookie campaign with 318 yards in seven games. Now Celek will be a top target in Reid's offense as McNabb can be helped with a reliable tight end at the position.

Although the Eagles drafted a nice tight end in Cornelius Ingram out of Florida, the back up spot for now still seems to be a lock for Schobel. Schobel's production was almost non-existent last season with two receptions for 10 yards.

Ingram will be given time to refine his skills and could make the back up spot his next season if all goes well.


Jason Peters/Chris Patrick: There is no question that Peters will be the starter at left tackle, where he will replace long time Eagles Tra Thomas. Peters was signed by the Eagles and it was clear that they were set on replacing Thomas with the best available option. Peters is a Po Bowl caliber player at a spot with weak depth.

I think Patrick will be in a heated battle with King Dunlap for the back up spot. I like Patrick's size a little less but I also like offensive linemen out of Nebraska. For those who enjoy watching the offensive line battles, this one will be one to watch with some interest.


Max Jean-Gilles/Todd Herremans: Not ready to call this one a lock by any stretch of the imagination. This may in fact be the best position battle available for a starting job on the offense. Herremans has more experience at the position but I think Jean-Gilles is going to have a breakthrough camp, forcing Reid and offensive line coach Juan Castillo to consider the switch.

Jean-Gilles would provide more weight on the line, though he is a couple inches shorter than Herremans.


Jamaal Jackson/Nick Cole: Jackson appears to be a lock for the role of center. The big offensive lineman is signed through 2013 and should be the solid rock in the middle for that time.

Cole is a versatile offensive lineman and can cover the guard, tackle and center positions effectively.


Stacy Andrews/Nick Cole: When the Eagles signed Andrews it was announced that he would anchor the right side of the line along his brother's side. Stacy, the elder Andrews brother, will move to the guard position instead of the original idea of having him at tackle. The 6'-7" 342 pound lineman should improve under the guidance of offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

Cole could likely be listed as the first back up at this position but the Eagles may hope for some competition from younger experiments like Mike Gibson and Dallas Reynolds, who is primarily a center.


Shawn Andrews/Winston Justice: The younger Andrews brother should be back to his old self this season, after battling some personal issues a year ago. Andrews will move to the right tackle position, a spot anchored by Jon Runyan for a long time. Andrews will be helped by having his brother by his side, but his 6'4" 335 pound body speaks for itself. Andrews will look to regain his two time Pro Bowl form as he replaces the fan favorite Runyan.

Justice has had some ups and many more downs in his time with the Eagles. This could be his make or break season. Justice is entering his critical fourth season and has received more criticism than positive feed back so far. The former USC offensive lineman should have something to prove this season.

The Eagles offense looks to be improved, despite losing one staple of the offensive line on each side of the quarterback. With mini camps and training camp up ahead there should be some improvement from some of the younger players as well. Next time we'll take a look at the Eagles defense, where there appear to be a lot more position battles to focus on in regards to starting jobs.


Following Up on Mario Monday

When we took a look at Super Mario Brothers 2 a couple weeks ago one of the follow up posts highlighted this percussionist, Andrea Vadrucci, who compiled a mix to the music from the game. Lucky for us he also had put together a mix of drum beats to the music from Super Mario Brothers 3, which was the feature of this week's edition of Mario Monday.



Following Up on Mario Monday

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Brentalfloss is a musical mastermind with a passion for Nintendo games who built his reputation on YouTube and now has joined the gang of ScrewAttack. He is most famous for his musical tributes to the 8-bit classics such as Mega Man 2, Mega Man 3, Super Mario Brothers 2, and Tetris. In fact you may remember him from one of the follow up posts to last week's Mario Monday when I shared a video of Brentalfloss played the Super Mario Brothers 2 character select screen on piano.

Luckily for me last week he released his latest edition of "What if...had lyrics?" series and it focuses on none other Super Mario Brothers 3, our featured game this week in Mario Monday. Like I said before, this week's Mario Monday will have a bunch of follow ups as the week progresses, so be prepared.



Top Ten Eagles This Decade

It would be hard to argue that this has been the most successful decade in Philadelphia Eagles history. Lombardi Trophies may still elude the franchise but from 2000 leading into the 2009 NFL season the Eagles have only missed the playoffs twice. In that same span Andy Reid took the team to the NFC Championship game five times, although only advanced to the Super Bowl once.

Despite the lack of ultimate success the Eagles have been fortunate to be one of the top teams over the past decade. History will label them below the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers when football experts look back at this decade to name the trendy "Team of the 2000's". While they are not the San Francisco 49ers Team of the 80's, or the Dallas Cowboys Team of the 90's, the Eagles will largely be looked upon as the Buffalo Bills of the 90's or the Minnesota Vikings of the 70's or the Denver Broncos of the 80's.

Regardless of team results, the Eagles have possessed some of the top players in the game over the past decade, and today we take a look at the ten best Eagles over the course of the last decade.

10. David Akers, Kicker

Often the kickers are over looked when discussing the best players of all time, or in this case the decade. Not the case here. Some may argue that Akers belongs a little higher on this list, but rest assured Akers is in very good company here.

Akers at one point was thought of as one of the best kickers in the league, and if not for Adam Vinatieri, Akers might have been pegged the best. Akers was selected to the Pro Bowl three times (2001, 2002, 2004) and was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in October of 2007.

In 2002 Akers connected on 30 of 34 field goals and scored a team record 133 points. He also kicked the longest field goal in franchise history, with a 57 yard field goal against the New England Patriots in the new Lincoln Financial Field.

Last season Akers went over 1,000 career points with the Eagles, firmly putting him in the lead on the franchise all time list.

9. Lito Sheppard, Cornerback

Though not with the team any more it would be hard to suggest that Sheppard was not one of the ten best players in the franchise over the last ten years. Drafted in 2002 Sheppard, along with Sheldon Brown would be the heir apparent to Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent.

Sheppard was selected to two Pro Bowls (2004, 2006) after he made an impact as a full time player and helped to shut down many of the top wide receivers in the game. Sheppard totaled 18 interceptions for the Eagles since 2003. Of those interceptions, three had been returned for touchdowns.

The highlights of Sheppard's time with the Eagles both come against the Dallas Cowboys in the form of 100+ yard interception returns for touchdowns. He returned an interception 101 yards against the Cowboys in 2004 for a touchdown and returned an interception in 2006 102 yards for another.

8. Chad Lewis, Tight end

Under Reid's play calling a tight end can be Donovan McNabb's most useful tool. Nobody came off more reliable at the position than Chad Lewis, who scored the most memorable touchdown in the NFC Championship game in 2005.

Though his receiving yards dipped each year he was with the Eagles, he always seemed to be a key go to guy in clutch situations and always played smart football. Take for instance in 2004 in a game at the Carolina Panthers. As the game was nearing a close Lewis caught a ball near the sideline. At the time the Panthers defenders were trying to push Lewis out of bounds to stop the clock. Lewis made every effort to drop to his knees in bounds before being shoved out.

Can you picture a guy like L.J. Smith being that football savvy in that situation?

Lewis was selected to three straight Pro Bowls in 2000, 2001, and 2002 for his steady work.

7. Duce Staley, Running back

Staley will forever live in Eagles lore for one game; the pickle juice game. Though his time in Eagles green ended prior to the Eagles making their ultimate Super Bowl run, Staley should be credited with being a key part of the rebuilding process of the franchise.

With McNabb as the quarterback and thus the central figure of the offense both passing and rushing, Staley's numbers may not look impressive, but they should be respected. Staley's averaged 3.6 yards per carry in 2001, 3.8 yards in 2002, and 4.8 yards in 2003. Staley eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark in 2002 as well. His best years came in the late 1990's though as he paved the path for Brian Westbrook to take over the position.

Staley was also a factor in the passing game with McNabb, totaling 626 receiving yards in 2001 and 541 receiving yards in 2002.

6. Tra Thomas, Offensive Tackle

The successes of the offensive players on this list, and the many who did make it, must be given significant credit to the work of the offensive line. Tra Thomas had been a staple at offensive tackle since 1998.

Thomas was handed the task of protecting Donovan McNabb's blind side, and usually came through. It seemed at times that Thomas was being called for a holding penalty at the worst possible times (is there ever a good time for a holding call) but over all Thomas was outstanding.

Thomas was selected to three Pro Bowls (2001, 2002, 2004) and was an All-Pro selection in 2002. Thomas also played in 165 of 166 games while with the team. Thomas signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this off season.

5. Jon Runyan, Offensive Tackle

Just as Tra Thomas did on the left side of the offensive line, Runyan did on the right side. Though Runyan was not selected to as many Pro Bowls as his counterpart (he was selected to one Pro Bowl in 2002), it is undeniable the impact Runyan had on the offensive line with the Eagles.

Runyan was one of the first premiere free agents under the Reid era, signing with the Eagles before the 2000 season. Runyan was the focus of one of most anticipated line battles in the division, against Michael Strahan of the New York Giants. Strahan got more glory but Runyan held his own against the future Hall of Famer.

Runyan ended last season with a streak of 190 straight games as a starter and had played in every playoff game for the Eagles since joining the team. He was always rock solid and played hurt on occasion.

4. Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver

Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he did for the Eagles when he put on a uniform. In his very brief time with the franchise Owens left an impact on the stat sheets and helped raise the level of play on the team to the next level, which fueled the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

Owens lead the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2004 and 2005, which is more remarkable because Owens did not play the final two games in 2004 due to injury and the final nine games in 2005 due to...well...never mind.

The only reason Owens does not make it higher on this list is because of his shorter playing time with the Eagles. There is no doubt that he is by far the best receiver the Eagles had in the last decade, and some might say ever, but unfortunately the top three players had more impact over a longer course of time.

3. Brian Westbrook, Running back

What ranks Westbrook third is not just his tremendous play out of the back field but the way he started his Eagles career returning kicks as well.

The gem of the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft was initially groomed to take over the kick returning job that veteran Brian Mitchell had been handling on the team. After Mitchell was gone from the picture all eyes were quickly on Villanova alum Westbrook and he did not disappoint.

On October 19, 2003 Westbrook caught the attention of the NFC East and the rest of the NFL when he returned a punt against the New York Giants all the way for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles held on to win 14-10. That moment is largely credited with turning the season around as well as the Eagles went on to the NFC Championship game later that year.

Westbrook has lead the Eagles in rushing each of the past six seasons and has eclipsed 1,200 yards rushing twice. In addition to dazzling with his feet Westbrook has been even more dangerous catching passes. To date Westbrook has recorded over 3,000 receiving yards and is a threat to pick up about 50 receiving yards every game.

Westbrook has been selected to two Pro Bowls (2004, 2007) and has usually been a victim of the running scheme under Reid, as his rushing totals tend to pale in comparison to more traditional running backs in the NFC through the years.

2. Brian Dawkins, Safety

Some might argue that Dawkins is in fact the greatest Eagle over the past decade. I hear your argument. No player has been as symbolic of the success and the failure of the Eagles defense like Dawkins. No player has epitomized the passion of the rabid Eagles fan base like Dawkins. The guy is a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Among his successes with the Eagles includes a franchise best six Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro selections. Need a big play in the clutch, whether it be a tackle or a forced fumble or fumble recovery? Dawkins is the player to watch.

In his time in Eagles green Dawkins recorded 21.0 sacks, 34 interceptions, and forced 32 fumbles. Who could forget Dawkins' performance against the Cowboys last December when he single handily turned the game from a close contest to a blow out en route to the playoffs?

Dawkins' legacey with the Eagles will always be one in which players smile and share their favorite Dawkins plays. Let's be honest, everybody probably has a different favorite Dawkins play, right? The flying tackle against the Giants? The Alge Crumpler tackle in the chest? The over the back wrestling inspired tackle against the Redskins?

Surely just these memories alone leave a lasting image in your mind.

At this point it should be obvious who the number one Eagle this decade is...

1. Donovan McNabb, Quarterback

You had to believe that the top player on this list would come down to McNabb or Dawkins, right? As great as Dawkins had been, nobody could be more of a factor in the resurgence of Eagles football like the quarterback, McNabb.

McNabb use to dazzle fans with his running ability but has lost some of that spark in recent years. Today it seems many fans fall in to two categories; Those Who Love, and Those Who Detest.

Those Who Detest will point to the many failures McNabb has had in his pro career; heaving on the line, killing worms in the turf, and throwing interceptions in pressure spots.

Those Who Love will back McNabb up, and rightfully so, saying that there are only a handful of quarterbacks who have achieved more than he has. Maybe McNabb has not won a Super Bowl yet but he has done much more to improve the Eagles' chances than he has done to hurt them.

McNabb has been selected to five Pro Bowls, coming from 2000 to 2005 and has had just two losing seasons including his first season as a starter in 1999. His only other losing season came in 2005 when he went 4-5 in an injury shortened season. In 2004 McNabb was also named the NFC Offensive Player of the Year.

McNabb, though criticized for his failures in the post season, has thrown 23 touchdowns and run for four touchdowns in the playoffs. He is also creeping up on some significant milestones in the upcoming NFL season. McNabb will start the 2009 season with 194 career touchdowns and 29,320 passing yards. How many quarterbacks have 200 touchdowns and 30,000 passes?

So there you have it, the top ten Eagles this decade. Who would you insert on this list and who you take off to make room? Is somebody too high? Too low? Or is this list just right? Feel free to submit your thoughts in the comments.


Star Wars vs. Star Trek

Monday, May 18, 2009

There is a part of me that can't get enough of these Star Wars and Star Trek videos.


Mario Monday - Super Mario Bros. 3

This is the one I have been waiting for. This is the one that inspired me to create this little weekly feature. This is the one that will probably have five or six follow ups. You see, today we discuss what I consider to be the greatest video game of all time.

Wait, that was not enough build up. Let me try that again...

Super Mario Brothers 3 arrived in the United States a year and a half after its debut in Japan in October of 1988. After the bizarre Super Mario Brothers 2 was rushed to the US because the third game was already in production, Nintendo fans were thirsty to see what the big fuss was about.

Never before had a game practically driven the production and sales for a movie like Super Mario Brothers 3. The only reason kids begged their parents to go see The Wizard was so they could get a glimpse of Super Mario Brothers 3!

Super Mario Brothers 3 was Mario's biggest adventure to date. Bowser was back and not only had he taken Princess Peach captive, but he also got his kids in the act. Each Koopa Kid stole the magic wands possessed by the kings of each world and transformed them into different creatures. It was up to Mario and Luigi to save each kingdom's king and pick up clues to find where the Peach was being held by Bowser.

The familiar cast of Mario characters returned, including Goomba, Koopa Troopas, Cheap-Cheaps and more. The Koopa kids, known as the Koopalings, made their first appearance in the Mario series. Each Koopaling had their own character traits, and they were fought in order from youngest to oldest. The concept being that the oldest Koopa heir would be the most difficult, and he was.

Larry Koopa is the most basic of enemies and presents little to no problem. Morton Koopa Jr. can make the ground shake when he jumps in the air. Wendy throws giant candy cane rings around the room. Lemmy would bounce balls off the walls. Ludwig von Koopa could make the ground shake and he was the quickest of the bunch, providing Mario one last test before advancing to the final level of the game.

Anybody who has played Super Mario Brothers 3 will agree that this game is all about the power ups and the warp whistles.

In addition to the normal Super Mario, Fire Mario and star man power for invincibility, Mario was given a new ability to fly. The most common way to fly was to become Raccoon Mario by grabbing a leaf. Mario would grow a tail and ears and could now attack enemies by whipping his tail. He could also fly when running fast enough. The Raccoon form was planned for the Super NES debut of Mario in Super Mario World, but it was replaced with the feather and cape combination. Raccoon Mario, to this day, is still my favorite form of the plumber.

In order to maneuver throw the water levels with greater ease Mario could put on the first of his new suits, the frog suit. Putting the frog suit on limited Mario's effectiveness when above water, but when under water Mario could move as fast as a fish and avoid enemies easier. Of course if he wasn't careful he could just as easily swim right into an onslaught of baddies too. The frog suit came in handy in level three, the water world.

Perhaps the most hyped suit in the game was the Tanookie Suit. Donning the teddy bear-esque outfit gave Mario the same abilities as Raccoon Mario, but also added an ability to become a statue for a brief moment. When in statue form enemies would walk right by Mario without causing damage. Personally I never really used the statue feature but it was a cool trick to do.

Finally there was the rare Hammer Brothers Suit. Putting on this suit gave Mario the same abilities of the pesky Hammer Brothers, allowing Mario to throw hammers at his enemies at different ranges. The shell on his back, when ducking, could also shield Mario from incoming fireballs.

The most requested item to return to the Mario franchise though must be Kuribo's Shoe. This green shoe was worn by Goombas in Level 5-3 and if knocked out of the shoe from below, Mario could take over and bounce around in it for the remainder of the stage. With the shoe Mario could stomp on enemies he could not before, such as Spinies and Pirahna Plants. Unfortunately the item could not travel from stage to stage and had to stay in 5-3.

Then there were the Warp Whistles. Hidden in three secret spots the Warp Whistles would call a tornado to carry Mario from wherever he was to the Warp Zone. From there Mario could cut his adventure short and jump ahead a couple levels. Using a warp whistle in the Warp Zone at any point could take Mario straight to level eight, where Bowser was holding the princess captive.

Super Mario Brothers 3 had so many great elements to it that made it such a success. There is too much to review in one post so be sure to check back through the week for the appropriate follow ups on this game.


Five Questions for Donovan McNabb

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has been around for a long time now. Nobody on the roster has seen the highs and lows of football in Philadelphia like he has.

Sometimes McNabb opens up and tells you how he feels and other times it seems as though he responds to questions with the company line. He is funny—at least he tries to be—and usually very genuine in his responses.

If I could lock McNabb in a room and assure him his privacy when responding, these are the five questions I would ask the star quarterback.

Do you feel that you have reached your potential with Andy Reid as your head coach?

This questions is not designed as an attack on the all time winning-est coach in Eagles franchise history but is intended to gauge McNabb's thoughts on whether or not he can achieve more under a new, or modified, offensive system.

I would expect that McNabb would express gratitude for everything Reid has done for McNabb's career because, face it, Reid has done much to develop McNabb to what he is.

Under Reid McNabb has appeared in five NFC Championship games, more than any other quarterback in their time together besides Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick. Once in those five trips to the conference finals did they advance to the Super Bowl. They have also engineered five NFC East championships, and McNabb has been sent to five Pro Bowls.

It would be difficult to say Reid had nothing to do with those accomplishments, but it is equally difficult to imagine "What if...". What if McNabb was playing under a different style of offense? Would he be better? Worse? About the same?

The day you were drafted there were a bunch of Philadelphia fans heard booing. The common misconception is that they were booing you. What is your official take on that instance?

Look, I hate to bring this area of conversation up but as a Philadelphia area native I know that the fans were not specifically booing McNabb. What could 30 Eagles fans have against a player coming out of college? McNabb had not said anything negative about the Eagles to give fans the reason to greet him with boos.

The reason the fans came off the way they did is because they were organized to go up to New York on draft day and welcome their most prized possession in draft history with a raucous greeting in his support.

The idea was to show just how good Eagles fans can be. The player they thought they were going to greet was Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams from Texas. Instead the selection was made for a quarterback out of Syracuse and the fans were thrown off guard.

Anybody would tell you that it was a huge misunderstanding however the perception given off my the McNabb supporters, and critics alike, is that he has never let that moment go. Sure it stings, but does he really care about that incident on draft day?

I am giving you a chance to play with any team in the history of football (professional or college) as the starting quarterback for one game. What team would you want to play on and why?

Growing up in Chicago I would think that McNabb would lean towards the great Bears teams of the 1980's. Imagine the Super Bowl Shuffle squad with McNabb replacing Jim McMahon.

Or would the Syracuse alum want to go back deeper in history and play alongside Ernie Davis on the Syracuse teams of 1959-1961? I am guessing he would not surprise me by saying he would want to play on the Tennessee-Chattanooga team between 1993 and 1995.

Who are your biggest football influences?

I would like to know what players McNabb watched and aspired to be like as he grew up playing football. What players does he mold his career after? Was he a home town guy and worshipping Walter Payton? Chicago does not have a great history of quarterbacks so perhaps he studied other passers in the league.

I would be curious if Randall Cunningham would be on his list because for a long time McNabb made some plays that would have Eagles fans questioning who was better?

What do you want your legacy to be when you retire from playing the game?

Every player must think about their legacy at some point. I would expect that the answer would be that McNabb was the quarterback to bring a Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia, but I would want more information.

Does he want to be remembered as a play making quarterback? Does he want to be remembered for the division titles or appearances in the NFC Championship games? Surely he does not want to be remembered for the bad losses in those games, but there will come a time when he is respected for the achievements he has received.

Perhaps McNabb will want to be remembered as a fun loving teammate who would always crack jokes. That is the beauty of this question to McNabb. You have no idea what he will say.

There are many more questions I would ask McNabb if I knew he would answer them honestly. What would you ask him if given the opportunity?


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