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.

Sixers Injury Update: Simmons rolls ankle, taken for precautionary imaging

Sixers Injury Update: Simmons rolls ankle, taken for precautionary imaging

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Ben Simmons rolled his right ankle during scrimmage on the final day of training camp. He was taken for precautionary imaging. The results have not yet been completed.

Jerryd Bayless did not scrimmage because of a sore left wrist, which the team continues to monitor. He sat out of Thursday's scrimmage for the same reason.

Jahlil Okafor participated in Friday's scrimmage in accordance to his load management. The Sixers are being cautious with players as they return from injury. Okafor underwent right knee surgery last season. 

Temple vs. SMU: Get ready for offensive firepower in AAC opener

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Temple vs. SMU: Get ready for offensive firepower in AAC opener

Temple (2-2, 0-0 AAC) vs. SMU (2-2, 0-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, Noon, ESPNews

If recent history tells us anything, we should expect to see some crooked numbers on Lincoln Financial Field’s scoreboard Saturday afternoon when SMU visits Temple in the conference opener for each team.

The last two times these AAC programs have met, the final scores have wound up 59-49 (a SMU win in Dallas in 2013) and 60-40 (a Temple win in Dallas last season).

Temple is coming off a 48-20 homecoming demolition of Charlotte. The game was basically over early in the second quarter, a frame in which the Owls scored 28 points to blow away the 49ers. SMU is coming off a 33-3 home loss to in-state rival TCU. The Mustangs hung tough for the first half and the score was 6-3 at the break, but the Big 12 powerhouse Horned Frogs took over in the second half.

Weather could play a factor Saturday, though, as current forecasts call for a chance of scattered thunderstorms in the Philadelphia area all afternoon.

Let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s the matchup.

Scouting Temple
The Owls’ offense has been in a much-needed groove since the second half of the narrow loss at Penn State two weeks ago.

Last week, Walker went 15 of 26 for 268 yards and two touchdowns – a 51-yard bomb to Adonis Jennings and a 40-yard quick strike to Brodrick Yancy. On the season, Walker has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 846 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. His favorite target has been Keith Kirkwood, who has 14 grabs for 191 yards and two touchdowns through four games.

It should be no coincidence that Temple’s offensive revival has come with the return of star senior running back Jahad Thomas, who missed the first two games of the year with a dislocated left thumb. In the two games Thomas has played, he’s got 127 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. Sophomore Ryquell Armstead, who also has four rushing scores, leads the Owls with 166 yards on the ground. Last year against SMU, then-freshman Jager Gardner ripped off a school-record 94-yard touchdown run.

One other offensive note: Temple head coach Matt Rhule was finally pleased with his offensive line after the way it played against Charlotte. Earlier this week, he praised offensive line coach George DeLeone and the job he’s done recently trying to get work out the issues on the line. The Owls didn’t give up a sack last week. True freshman Matt Hennessy started at left guard last week while redshirt sophomore Jaelin Robinson saw time at right tackle. Don’t be surprised if they see significant playing time again.

Two things have concerned Rhule defensively – a lackluster pass rush and the tendency to give up big plays.

Through four games, the Owls have yet to establish any sort of consistent pass rush. They have just four sacks through four games. They had 10 in last year’s opener against Penn State alone. The good news for Temple’s pass rush is that SMU starts a freshman QB and his given up nine sacks through four games, so opportunities to disrupt the pocket should be there on Saturday.

Temple’s defense has allowed 10 plays of 20 yards or more from scrimmage this season, including a 66-yard touchdown run by Charlotte’s Kalif Phillips last week.

Injury-wise, the Owls are relatively healthy. Sophomore wideout Ventell Bryant, who was believed to be dealing with a shoulder injury, announced on his Instagram this week that he’d been cleared to play.

Scouting SMU
The Mustangs’ rebuilding efforts took a big hit during the first game of the season when senior quarterback Matt Davis, who played very well against Temple last season and hurt the Owls with both his arm and legs, was lost for the year with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Ben Hicks has stepped in and his tenure so far hasn’t been so hot. He’s completed just 50 percent of his passes this year and has thrown just two touchdowns compared to seven picks.

Despite the inexperience and lack of production at quarterback, SMU will still push the tempo with a fast-paced offense that can rip off chunks of yardage instantly and averages 448 yards per game. A big reason for that is the play of sophomore wideout Cortland Sutton, who has 449 receiving yards and four touchdowns already this season. Sutton, whom Rhule had very high praise for earlier this week, averages 24.9 yards per reception. Sophomore tailback Braeden West is no slouch, either. He’s averaged 93.8 yards per game on the ground this season and has two rushing touchdowns.

Defensively, SMU has a couple of ballhawks in its secondary. The Mustangs are tied for tops in the nation with 10 interceptions through four games. Sophomore corner Jordan Wyatt is tied for the team lead in picks with three and also leads the Mustangs with 25 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Walker will have to be wary of where Wyatt is at on the field. Senior Horace Richardson also has three picks already for the Mustangs.

While SMU’s takeaway numbers are pretty, the Mustangs’ total defense numbers are ugly. They give up an average of 449.8 yards per game, which ranks 98th out of 128 teams in the FBS. The 27 points the Mustangs allow per game are good 70th in the FBS.

History
Saturday will mark the third meeting between the schools in the last four years and fifth overall. As mentioned above, the two teams combined for 208 points the last two times they’ve met. Those last two meetings have been the only meetings between Temple and SMU that have had definitive finals. They tied in both 1942 (6-6) and 1947 (7-7). So feel free to call Saturday’s game a rubber match.

Storyline to watch: Second test for Temple's secondary
Thus far this season, Temple has faced a triple-option team in Army, an FCS team in Stony Brook, a weapon-filled offense in Penn State and a second-year FBS team in Charlotte. Needless to say, Penn State was the only true test Temple's defense, specifically the new-look secondary, has had to face and it didn't go so well, especially in the first half when the Nittany Lions tore the Owls apart with slant plays for huge chunks of yardage. While the Owls' defense calmed down, the Nittany Lions still finished with 287 passing yards and 403 total yards. Temple's secondary will have its next test on Saturday with Sutton and SMU's receivers. Corners Derrek Thomas, Artrel Foster and Nate Hairston and safety Delvon Randall have a prime opportunity to gain more confidence against a young quarterback with a tendency to make mistakes. Junior safety Sean Chandler is still the unquestioned leader of the group.

What’s at stake: Getting conference play started on the right foot
If the Owls want to be taken as a serious threat to repeat in the AAC East, this is a game they have to have against an inferior SMU team. This is the first of nine straight AAC games, and even though SMU is in the AAC West, this game is still a tonesetter for rest of conference play. The Owls don’t want to fall behind right off the bat. And they really don’t want to fall behind right of the bat this week, with a short week and travel to Memphis for a game on Thursday looming. Yes, that’s two games in five days coming up for Temple.

Prediction
Even if the weather doesn’t hold out, points will be scored at the Linc on Saturday. Just not as many as the past couple of years. At this point in time, Temple just has more talent and it looks like the Owls are finally getting things in sync. Temple 38, SMU 21