Vince Young, Part Two

Vince Young, Part Two

As you are likely aware by now, Vince Young will make his second start in an Eagles uniform today, the level of competition becoming significantly better in round two. We're talking Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots -- winners of three Super Bowls over a four-year span. As I heard on sports talk radio over the holiday weekend, Sunday's opponent is the true gold standard in the NFL over the past decade.

VY is up to the task though. The Birds' faithful largely remain skeptical about Young's ability to quarterback a pro football team, many of them specifically questioning his talent as a passer. However, he has an opportunity to put such notions to rest versus a Pats defense that ranks 32nd in the league when it comes to defending against aerial attacks.

All things being equal, New England faces more passing attempts than most clubs. They have one of the league's most prolific offenses, which means their opponents are frequently playing catch-up, or need to chuck it just to stay in the game. The Patriots have faced the fourth-highest total of attempts, but their opponents' passer efficiency rating ranks 14th, which is still better than the majority.

Still, they are by no means great, plus they're banged up. The Pats are without CB Devin McCourty, their first-round pick in 2010, and SS Patrick Chung. They released starting safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders from a year ago. Some of the names that will be on the field in the defensive backfield are CB Kyle Arrington -- who may have seven interceptions, but was little more than a camp body for the Eagles a few years ago -- and SS Josh Barrett, a seventh-round pick by the Broncos out of Arizona State in 2008.

It's a tad thin to say the least, but shifting the focus back to Young, he certainly stands to capitalize. The rush to conclude he isn't a stellar passer is strong, yet there is plenty of evidence that's not exactly the case. Initially it seemed VY got better as last Sunday night's game against the Giants went on, but the statistics actually confirm that was the case.

Young completed 83% of his passes in the second half at the Meadowlands, going for roughly two-thirds of his yards and the game-winning score. He shook off the rust and led the offense an 18-play, nearly nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter. Of course, it was only one game, but naturally I wasn't surprised. The idea Young isn't a decent passer was debunked pretty easily over the summer by some of our own research.

Young had greatly improved during his final two seasons in Tennessee. All his vital numbers were better -- completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns-to-interceptions, even winning. He was already taking the next step in a career marked with achievements such as a Rookie of the Year award and a trip to the Pro Bowl. Why the VY experiment ultimately failed there is complicated, but it wasn't necessarily performance based.

And when you compare the level of talent from there to Philadelphia, it's no contest. They didn't have an explosive down-field threat like DeSean Jackson, nor a tight end capable of posting a 1,000 yard season like Brent Celek. They didn't have quality depth like Jason Avant or (ugh) Steve Smith, or much emerging talent like Riley Cooper (that should be good for a laugh). The most Vince Young ever had was Chris Johnson when the runner was still blowing through opposing defenses.

Eagles fans need to forget the wonky delivery, the antics that caused him to lose his previous coaching staff and locker room, and understand that Young has never had an opportunity like the one he's getting here, in a huddle supposedly bursting at the seams with talent. Whether or not they can actually beat the Patriots is anybody's guess, but if they don't, it probably won't be for lack of Michael Vick. Young is an able passer, and he'll have an ample number of chances to showcase that this week.

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had dinner with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in Arizona around the start of spring training.

If Epstein had any doubt about a contract extension, it ended right there. And on Wednesday, it became official.

Chicago announced a five-year extension, rewarding Epstein for an overhaul that has the long-suffering franchise eyeing its first championship since 1908.

"He started it off by saying some really nice things about me that might have hurt his leverage a little bit, and then I returned the favor by telling him that even if we couldn't work out a contract it would get awkward because I would just keep showing up to work," Epstein said. "As an employee, I will. I kept ruining my leverage."

The deal comes with the Cubs wrapping up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and their fans believing this just might be the team to end the 108-year World Series title drought.

Chicago reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and was a major league-leading 101-56 heading into Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh. The Cubs clinched the best record in the majors with more than a week left in the regular season.

"In the five years under Theo's leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said. "Now, the results are on the field."

Terms were not disclosed.

It looks like Epstein isn't the only Cubs executive with a new deal. He said contract extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod will probably be announced in the next day or two.

Epstein, who was in the final season of a five-year deal when he left Boston in October 2011, had repeatedly said a new contract was a formality, that there were more immediate priorities. Ricketts had echoed that and indicated in the spring that he was prepared to make him one of the highest-paid executives in baseball.

"There was never any real drama throughout the summer," said Ricketts, adding the agreement was finalized a few days ago.

What took so long?

"We sat down at spring training, had a nice dinner, talked about getting an extension done," Ricketts said. "Basically, I told him I thought he was the best in the game at what he did. He told me no matter what I paid him he wasn't going to leave Chicago, so we were off to a good start. We checked back in on it a couple times during the summer. There was no real time pressure."

The new deal is a reward for a striking transformation that began with the arrivals of Epstein along with Hoyer and McLeod -- his friends from Boston -- following the 2011 season.

The Cubs tested some fans' patience by taking the long approach rather than going for a quick fix, but they have seen the benefits the past two years. Chicago is eyeing even bigger things after breaking out with 97 wins and reaching the NL Championship Series last season.

"When you have great leadership at the top, it usually filters through the rest of the group," manager Joe Maddon said. "A successful organization has that. We have that. I was very happy to hear the news. I'm very happy for Theo and his family and of course, us. It is great. It's a feel-good story. He deserves it. He's earned it. I'm very happy for him."

High draft picks such as 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant made big impacts, as did a number of trade acquisitions, including last season's NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and potential Gold Glove shortstop Addison Russell.

The hiring of NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and signing of starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season showed just how serious the Cubs were about jumping into contention. And the additions of three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher John Lackey and veteran infielder Ben Zobrist along with the re-signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler this past offseason added to an already deep roster.

Throw in the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young candidate, and the Cubs are widely considered a postseason favorite.

There were missteps along the way, but the Cubs are in a far different and far better place than they were five years ago. And if they win it all under Epstein, it won't be the first time he helped end a long championship drought.

Before he took aim at the Billy goat curse, he took down the Bambino.

Epstein oversaw two World Series winners in nine seasons as Boston's general manager.

In Chicago, Epstein parted with high-priced veterans and loaded up the minor league system while expanding the team's scouting and analytics operation as part of an overhaul that saw the organization get stripped to its studs.

The Ricketts family also invested heavily in infrastructure in recent years, including new training facilities in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic and the spring training home in Arizona. They are also overhauling Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood.

"There really wasn't anything important to me besides finding common ground, making sure that we could stay and see this thing through," Epstein said. "Our mission has not been accomplished yet."