Is This Really As Good As It Gets?

Is This Really As Good As It Gets?

As we go about analyzing what went so wrong so fast, we will almost certainly reach the same conclusion we have following every finish over the past decade: the Birds are still close. They won 11 games, came within one more of a post-season bye, and they managed to do so with a number of debilitating injuries and inexperienced players in key roles.

It all gets a little tiring though, and the manner in which this campaign ended was especially deflating. There are no positives to take away from their last two games, only questions about where they go from here, and we all know the giant elephant that needs to be addressed is quarterback. Then again, maybe that issue resolved itself. As the offense feebly attempted to move the ball on Saturday night, I couldn't help thinking we've seen enough.

It's time to explore a trade for Donovan McNabb.

This is the part of the post where I emphasize that I am not a hater. By now I've written enough words to the contrary, but somebody will invariably take this that way. Whatever. You'll never find me say an unfair word about him.

I just wonder sometimes...

McNabb played poorly on Saturday. He plays poorly for long stretches at a time, like the last ten quarters for instance. It's probably not a coincidence this most recent funk coincides with the loss of Jamaal Jackson. That may very well be the source of their most recent offensive woes, but the inconsistent nature of play from the quarterback position in Philadelphia has finally reached the point where it's safe to question whether this really is as good as it gets.

I just wonder sometimes what the offense would look like with Kevin Kolb instead.

Kolb doesn't have the same physical gifts as McNabb, such as the enormous stature that makes a man seemingly impossible to tackle, the speed and footwork to buy time in the pocket and outrun defenders, or the cannon arm that can throw a football over them mountains. Those things are proving to be overrated anyway. Give me accuracy, poise, and quick decision making, qualities Donovan showed none of against Dallas.

The fact that the offensive line crumbled does not completely excuse the quarterback's performance either. He had some throws that were there to be made, and he missed them. And where were the checkdowns? McNabb took a number of sacks the past two weeks where he simply held onto the ball for too long. There is no doubt about it, some of this falls on him.

Is Kolb really the solution though? Only a fool would blame McNabb for every opportunity the Eagles have come up short in the playoffs. They ran into better opponents on several occasions, like their first conference championship bid in '01 against Rams. He watched helplessly in '03 as his "receivers" dropped 10 passes, three of which inconveniently found the hands of Panthers defensive backs. The defense wasn't much of a help in Arizona last year.

Except even when it hasn't been entirely the quarterback's fault, never has he risen above the other 21 players on the field and carried any one of those teams across the finish line. Quite remarkably, it's the total opposite. It's not necessarily that he costs them the game, it's the inability to seize victory in a tight spot, while facing an equal or stronger opponent, regardless what the odds are. Find one example where Donovan was the difference maker in an elimination game.

Please spare us the list making. Yes, there was a dark period for Birds fans. Can we at least admit the group of quarterbacks between Cunningham and McNabb didn't have the same pedigree as Kolb? You're mostly talking about a bunch of career journeymen. The exception is Hoying, the starter in Ray Rhodes' final season, and when the team finishes 3-13, maybe quarterback isn't the only problem.

Kolb was a high second round pick. He's had three years to learn the system. The offense is loaded with all star talent. He played pretty well in his two starts. Obviously none of this guarantees he'll be successful in the NFL, but comparing Kolb and his situation to what went on here in the nineties is a leap. They're actually prepared to make a transition.

It's also not as if other quarterbacks haven't succeeded in McNabb's stead. Koy Detmer, for one night only, and A.J. Feeley in his rookie year held the ship together in '02. Jeff Garcia, previously banished from Cleveland, then Detroit, led the amazing turnaround in '06. Kolb clearly did fine early on this season. Mike McMahon is the lone failure at backup quarterback, but he was wildly awful in any situation he's ever been. The results otherwise suggest the Eagles will not miss a beat.

Enough about John Elway too. Besides not winning in his prime, know what else he has in common with McNabb? The Broncos drafted his replacement. Had they not fired Dan Reeves, or Elway didn't have a career year in 1993, we might be discussing how he needed to leave Denver to finally win a championship.

You don't know. Nobody does. Just as sick as I am of hearing Donovan will never win a championship, the counter punch that it took so-and-so this long is equally distressful. We're supposed to continue believing his career will follow the same path as one of the all time greats, a sports legend, even in the face of mounting evidence that indicates he isn't on that level? These past two weeks, he wasn't even on Tony Romo's level.

If McNabb is at the helm once again next season, along with a comfortable five-year extension, I honestly will not be disappointed. We're still talking about a very accomplished quarterback, not great, but easily better than roughly 75% of the rest of the league's starters. Regardless of what the goons out there say, he's capable enough to win with. The defense needs to be improved foremost for the Eagles to conceivably compete for a championship no matter who is running the offense in the first place.

Plus, looking at the big picture, the Dallas Cowboys are the better team this year. They're a bastion of health right now, with a huge offensive line, dominant pass rush, and emerging playmakers at the running back, wide receiver, and cornerback positions. We admittedly might be placing too much stock on one man's play when the Eagles were thoroughly outplayed from top to bottom.

And yet when do we finally run out of excuses? We've blamed coaching, particularly the play calling, but there was an honest commitment to running the football in the latter half of the season. We've blamed the weapons, so they assembled a roster full of Pro Bowlers, especially young, talented skill players. Next we're on to the defense, but unless the gameplan was to hold the Cowboys under seven points, the Eagles weren't winning either of these rounds.

Meanwhile, a young player wastes away on the bench, and nobody has the slightest clue what his true potential is. The Eagles could trade a franchise quarterback for something in the neighborhood of first and third round picks. One theory in the Twitter-verse sends McNabb in a virtually straight up deal for Julius Peppers, thereby eliminating their biggest need in the process. If Kolb does in fact have the ability to win games, his promotion combined with McNabb's departure would only serve to bolster an already impressive core.

If you were looking for somebody to stay the course today, you came to the wrong place. The Eagles can do better than Donovan McNabb. Maybe Kolb isn't the answer, but when has 5 ever been? They've won a lot of games, and it's been an enjoyable ride for anybody who can accept how difficult it is to become Super Bowl champions, but the time is now to figure out how they get over that hurdle.

Give me Kevin Kolb.

Penn State president 'pleased' to see Penn State thriving again

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Associated Press

Penn State president 'pleased' to see Penn State thriving again

NEW YORK -- NCAA President Mark Emmert says he is pleased to see how well Penn State's football team has bounced back from the sanctions the program received in 2012 after the Sandusky scandal.

No. 5 Penn State (11-2) is having its best season since Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant of late Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno, was arrested in 2011 for sexually abusing boys. The Nittany Lions won their last nine games and the Big Ten title.

"I think it's terrific," said Emmert, who spoke at an intercollegiate athletics forum sponsored by Learfield Communications on Wednesday in Manhattan.

"I think what Penn State went through is an awful situation and it's still playing out sadly. But the football program is still Penn State and they showed it and they did really well. The university has done an amazing job to put in place all of the things their board wanted and our board wanted."

The NCAA went outside its usual process to sanction Penn State in 2012. The school was hit with massive scholarship limitations and a four-year bowl ban, along with fines. The school also agreed to enact dozens of reforms recommended in a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh on the scandal.

The original scholarship and postseason penalties were eventually rolled back. Emmert said he was pleased the roll back helped Penn State recover more quickly, and that NCAA sanctions are not meant to cripple an athletic program.

"I've always said and always believed that Penn State first and foremost is a great university ... and secondly it's got wonderful sports traditions. How could you not be pleased that they're playing good football again? That's very good stuff," he said.

Emmert covered numerous topics in a 30-minute question-and-answer session, and after he spoke with group of reporters for 15 more minutes.

-- He declined to weigh in on whether the College Football Playoff selection committee made the right decision with the four teams it chose to compete for the national championship, but he did say he would prefer an eight-team playoff that would include automatic bids for the Power Five conference champions.

"I think a conference championship ought to count for something. I think how you determine your champion is up to somebody else," Emmert said. "I'd like to see all five of the conference champions get in the playoff."

The NCAA has no authority over the College Football Playoff.

"That's why we live in America. Everybody can have an opinion," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany joked, when asked about Emmert's comments. "He doesn't have a vote, though."

-- Emmert said he would like to see the new NCAA football oversight committee better define the purpose of bowl games. There are 40 and some spots are given to teams with sub.-500 records. The NCAA does not run bowl games. It does have a sanctioning process, but mostly it lets conferences decide whether they want to put on games.

"What do we, the membership of intercollegiate athletics, want bowl games to be?" Emmert said. "Are they a 13th game that's an exhibition game? Are they a reward for having won something? We have teams in now that can get into a bowl game having won two or three of their conferences games."

-- The NCAA pulled its championship events out of North Carolina in September because of a state law that limits anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. The decision was later criticized by Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins in an Wall Street Journal op-ed. Jenkins said the NCAA should not be a moral arbiter.

"He and I have chatted a lot about that issue, and obviously I disagree and obviously, more importantly the board of governors disagreed," Emmert said.
The NCAA will choose sites for future championship events in April and part of that is a "fairly complex process," Emmert said, of looking at the local and state laws of potential host locations.

"One of the considerations we have now as we make those decisions, as the sport committees make decisions about where they go, is going to be LGBT rights," he said. "I think and hope and believe, maybe wishfully, that North Carolina will modify their position because citizens want that."

-- Emmert said the Big 12 deciding not to expand was a "good thing for college sports."

"I think the last round was very disruptive. It had a negative impact on so many schools, even personal relationships. It was hard and I'm glad we didn't have to go through that again. Even on a smaller scale," Emmert said.

Trade front quiet, but Phillies could lose a player or 2 in Rule 5 draft

Trade front quiet, but Phillies could lose a player or 2 in Rule 5 draft

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have a history of adding players in the Rule 5 draft. The annual event, designed to prevent teams from stockpiling minor-league talent without giving it a shot in the majors, has netted the Phillies players such as Dave Hollins, Shane Victorino and Odubel Herrera over the years.

The year’s Rule 5 draft will be held Thursday morning at the conclusion of the winter meetings, but it’s highly unlikely that the Phillies will be active. After adding 11 prospects to their 40-man roster two weeks ago, the Phillies are simply out of room. Selecting a player in the Rule 5 draft would first require the Phils to cut a player loose and that did not seem to be the plan as the sun set Wednesday.

While an addition is unlikely, there’s a strong possibility that the Phils will lose a player or two in the draft. Outfielder Andrew Pullin, a 2012 draft pick, is the likeliest to go. He hit .322 with a .885 OPS between Single A and Double A in 2016 and a number of teams are buzzing about him. A late-season elbow injury prevented Pullin from playing in the Arizona Fall League and factored into the Phillies’ decision to leave him unprotected.

If a team rolls the dice on Pullin, it must keep him in the majors all season or offer him back to the Phillies.

Other players who could go include first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi, outfielder Carlos Tocci and pitchers Miguel Nunez and Hoby Milner.

All quiet for now
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak spent Wednesday meeting with agents and representatives from other clubs.

“Nothing is hot at the moment,” he said late in the day.

Klentak has brought back starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, added relievers Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek and traded for outfielder Howie Kendrick this offseason. The biggest remaining issue/question on his plate is whether to add a veteran hitter in a corner outfield spot or keep the pathway open for young players such as Roman Quinn and eventually Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams. 

“Successfully balancing the present and the future is the single greatest challenge that a baseball operations department faces,” Klentak said. “We’ve talked about it all offseason. The decisions that we are making right now about giving playing time to a young player that has cut his teeth in Triple A and needs that opportunity to take the next step as opposed to a shorter-term solution from the outside — that’s one of the main challenges that we’ve run into this offseason.”

While it’s uncertain whether the Phils will add a hitter, they most surely will make other roster tweaks as the winter moves on. They are likely to fill their backup catcher’s spot in-house (see story), but could add a utility infielder and more bullpen depth on minor-league contracts.

“I think there will probably be another move or two before we get to Clearwater,” Klentak said. “Who and when remains to be seen.”