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.

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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