Monday, November 26, 2007

They Aren't What They Think They Are

You can come out of Sunday night's game and do what most people are doing, and continue to fellate the Patriots while slapping the Birds on the back for their moral victory, losing by only three to the Greatest Team In NFL History, Ever, quarterbacked by Tom He Just Plays Like a Champion (that's his Indian name). It's easy to do that, if it's the only Eagles game you've watched this year. It's easy to buy the idea that this is a good franchise that can sneak up on anybody, even the mighty, peerless Patriots.

Well, that's bullshit. I'll tell you what I take from the game: the Pats are not that good.

Let's get it out of the way now: how good is that good, exactly? They're the best team in the NFL this season. That's it. I'm sick of hearing all this other hype. I'm not convinced this year's Pats are the best team I've seen in the last three years, or in the salary cap era, or even that they're better than the '04 Pats. I've only followed the NFL for about 15 years, only really followed it for about ten, and they're not even close to the best team I've seen, much less the best ever. Who is? More on that later.

For now, let's discuss what happened last night. Not that you heard any of this from the announcers or studio analysts, but here's what happened. The Patriots went to the wire with a team that:

1. Was .500 going into the game, both this season and over the last three seasons combined. For those of you who remember the 2004 Eagles, know that this is not that team. This is not a good football team. This is a team that got embarrassed by the Cowboys and Giants this year. This is a last-place team.

2. Was playing on the road, in late November, in one of the hardest places to play in football.

3. Started A.J. Feeley at QB. Yeah, he played well, spectacularly except for a few bad throws -- even if those throws did cost them the game. But he's had enough NFL starts -- 20-ish -- to show exactly who he is and who he isn't. He isn't an NFL-caliber starting QB. Ask the Dolphins. And he spotted them 7 points right off the bat on a horrendous throw. A guy who's been starting all season doesn't come out and throw that ball on the third play. Now, I'm not saying Donovan McNabb would have won this game -- he wouldn't have, and there's no doubt in my mind, but that's a whole different post. Only that a pretty mediocre quarterback started in his place.

4. Started one third-string safety who was out of the NFL a few weeks ago (and got hurt during the game), and another who's 34 and banged up, against the best passing attack in the league. Both starting safeties dropped crucial interceptions that should have been caught pretty easily.

5. Was coached about as poorly as could be, offensively. The defensive game plan was great, and although I'm sick of Jim Johnson and his constant blitzing, the three-man front was brilliant. The no-huddle four-wide would have shredded a lot of defenses. But Reid and Morninwheg pulled all their usual bullshit, burning timeouts they'd need later, and -- in a move that would have given me a coronary if I weren't already expecting it, because I've seen the same thing so many times -- they called a deep pass pattern on the final drive, when the only reasonable gameplan in the world would have been to run the ball or throw short passes for two minutes and go for the tying field goal. Feeley made a bad throw -- LJ was open short -- but he never should have been put in that position.

6. Did not force a turnover, unless you count the turnover on downs when the Mastermind decided to go for it and the Second Coming threw a duck. Usually when a team loses to a lesser team, turnovers are the reason: a few freak fumbles, Eli Manning's three pick-sixes against Minnesota. The Pats dominated the turnover battle, including a pick-six two minutes in, and still barely won.

7. Got a grand total of 92 yards from its best player. That's 60 less than Westbrook has averaged on the year. It would be much more understandable if the Eagles were close because Westbrook blew up, but he was not much of a factor.

All that, and the Best Team Ever still needed a few breaks to win by three? Get the fuck out of here. A couple of things go the other way -- that inexplicable fourth-down offsides by the Eagles, which led to the Maroney TD; if one more safety was healthy, the Birds wouldn't have had linebackers on Welker all night; if they catch even one of those picks; if Feeley throws only one baffling interception to Samuel instead of two -- and the Eagles win.

(So right about now is when some of our faithful commenters accuse me of making excuses for the Eagles. But that's not what I'm doing here -- if I was going to do that, I'd mention how Brady false-started all game, stepping back and ducking his shoulders in an oft-successful attempt to draw offsides, but never got flagged for it, or how that Gaffney TD would have been reviewed if any other team in football scored it, or how, if you watch that fourth-down offsides again, it looks like a false start. But I'm not going to do that.)

What I'm saying is that there's a reason the spread was the biggest ever. The Eagles are a mediocre, banged-up team, and the Pats had looked like a great one all year. It was in Foxboro. The Pats had nobody injured going in. A historically great, healthy team at home against AJ Feeley? It should have been a massacre.

Except it wasn't, because the Pats aren't that great. Brady got rattled under pressure -- not that much pressure, either -- and started airmailing receivers or throwing what should have been interceptions. They dropped a ton of passes. Moss got jammed at the line and frustrated into irrelevance. Stallworth was invisible. They have no running game. Their linebackers can't cover for shit, so the middle was wide open all day. Their D-line couldn't get to Feeley. Their kicker missed an easy field goal.

So what? The Pats still won, right? Yeah, they did. And maybe winning -- even if it's close, even if it takes a little luck -- is the mark of a champion (barf). But I just don't want to hear it anymore about the fucking 2007 Patriots being the best team ever. The team I saw tonight wasn't even close to the early '90s Cowboys, as much as it pains me to use that hated franchise as a reference point. Or the Steve Young Niners. Those teams didn't need to play their best game -- no turnovers, a defensive TD, no key penalties -- to beat shitty teams at home.

The Pats' flaws were exposed today, and they are few but significant. They have no real running game. They have a bunch of geriatric linebackers who can play a mean fullback and tight end but can't cover anybody. Brady is human if you can ever get pressure on him (which rarely happens, because they have a great O-line, not that you'd ever hear it in all the Tom Brady fluffing). Outside of Asante Samuel, their secondary is pedestrian. Their D-line doesn't get much push. And if Brady sees pressure like he did tonight, you could be looking at Matt Cassell under center. He's been lucky so far, but look around the NFL and see how many starting QBs are hurt. One play could end all this history talk real quick. (Are you listening, Ray Lewis?)

If the Pats run the table this year, that says more about the sorry state of the NFL than it does about their greatness. I don't see it happening. If the Steelers or Giants don't get them, they'll still have to face a Colts team that ought to be healthier by then.

Either way, they're not the best team ever. Last night's game made that pretty clear.


Anonymous said...

great point einstein. look, every great team is going to have a few problems throughout a season. You can't generalize from one game to make a judgment on the entire season. That's called a hasy generalization, and it's taught in Philosophy 101.

Take the 1985 Bears, for example (and if you don't think they're one of the best ever, name the years of one of those cowboys and/or 69'ers teams and I'll go find at least one game they played where they didn't look too sharp). In week 3, they were trailing a Minnesota Vikings team (lead by Tommy Kramer) that went on to a 7-9 record. Yet the Bears needed great qb play from McMahon to come back from a deficit and win it. Even better, the 2-14 Tampa Bay Bucs had halftime leads against Chicago both times they played.

I do, however, agree with you that we shouldn't be congratulating the Eagles on a moral victory. After all, they lost. They're losers. They're in last place. They suck.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah, that was me, D. Suavecito with that last comment.

Jeff said...

I agree that the best team ever (or even in since in the time period you’re discussing) talk is really premature. Ultimately, unless they run the table, it’s really a claim that the Niners and Cowboys can make with just as much conviction in the post 1990 time period. The undefeated run that the Colts had just a few years ago yielded them, and the Patriots could be in the same boat in the end. But it’s still just one game, that the Patriots won, and that you’re giving an awful lot of weight to. Playing the “if” game, the Moss TD could have stood, which gets the margin back up to 10.

The ‘92 Cowboys lost to the 6-10 Rams, at home. The Rams had the second most points allowed in the NFL that year. The ’93 Cowboys lost by 13 to a 6-10 Falcons team that had the most points allowed in the NFL that year. The ’94 Niners lost 40-8 at home to a 7-9 Eagles team. I remember watching those Cowboys teams, with the awesome defense and that offensive line and Emmitt able to rack up yards at will and Irvin/Harper/Novacek just unstoppable with the ultra-efficient Aikman and wondering how they could lose. How could you stop them? You couldn’t really – but a few times a season, even the greatest teams were beatable by much lesser teams.

Now, maybe key players sat out those games or maybe there were injuries. But perhaps great teams just have off days. The ability to win on the off days, provided there aren’t many of them over the course of the year, can support their greatness, not diminish it. You just can’t win by 30 every week in the NFL.

Jeff said...

should say:

The undefeated run that the Colts had just a few years ago yielded them *nothing*.

Diesel said...

I think your take here is as hyperbolic as any of the Pats fellating you seem to be arguing with. It was one fucking game! And as Jeff pointed out, those teams that you mentioned as being better also struggled against non-elite teams. Lost, even. What's your point? That you, relying on a sample size of one and some sketchy memories of great teams from the past, have decided that the early-90s Cowboys were better? Because I have pretty vivid memories of those Cowboys teams, and I think that the Pats are better. Now let's arm-wrestle to see who's right.

This Eagles game tells us less about the Patriots than the next game will. Philly made a couple of strategic gambits that seemed to pay off and were largely responsible for the underdog having a shot to win. Every remaining opponent for the Pats will have the tape in hand and will likely utilize some, if not all, of the strategies that the Eagles used. If the Pats continue to struggle, then I would tend to agree that they've been exposed and perhaps aren't the greatest team in the history of sports as we know it, or whatever. But what if the Pats come out and start beating everyone by 20 again? Do you really think that the games against the Eagles and Colts are more telling than the other 14 games? I'll take the larger sample, thank you.

Diesel said...

It's me again. While I obviously disagree with the conclusion you drew about the Pats in general, I heartedly agree that the Eagles lost that game, as opposed to the Pats winning it. It is shameful that everyone in America was screaming "RUN THE FUCKING BALL!" at the TV while Reid called for a deep corner route. It is truly exasperating watching that man coach.

Big C said...

@ Diesel

"Every remaining opponent for the Pats will have the tape in hand and will likely utilize some, if not all, of the strategies that the Eagles used."

You mean, like a blueprint? Madden was right after all!

I agree with you at-large, although I feel that what is more useful to future Pats victims is what not to do; the post corner route in lieu of the obvious run being the prime example. Blitzing on 3rd and 6 being another.

I have a crazy theory about why the Eagles D performed so well versus the Pats. The Patriots have an almost entirely Reid-esque offense. The running game is non-existent, sadly, and the team relies completely on the pass. Philly's defense practices against a pass-happy offense every week, and is probably quite adept at stopping just about anything a pass-oriented O can muster. This, combined with a very effective pass rush (not a good day for Matt Light, it seemed), exposed the missing scale on the Patriots' offensive uber-dragon. Unless it is 3rd and plus-5, one should just blitz the shit out of Tom Brady. Until they develop a run game (prediction: they will), getting beat on Kevin Faulk screens and Wes Welker quick slants is the lesser evil to getting carved up by Randy Moss.

@ Pepe:

Dude, one game. I'm going to jump on the 'let's just wait and see' pile and politely suggest that there is no way, at this point, that any greatest-team-ever talk concerning New England can either be supported or denied with any gravitas. However great the perception of those Cowgirls and Niners teams were, they were never undefeated, and therefore had at least one game where they performed worse than the Pats did last night. And I admit that I don't feel that the Pats played well enough to win last night; the Eagles were poorly-coached enough to lose. I, like Diesel, can empathize with how utterly frustrating it must be to be an Eagles fan. It's a sad state of affairs when everyone in America knew what the right playcall was, yet was totally unsurprised when the exact opposite was executed.

Pepe said...

@Jeff and Seth: Good points (well, Jeff at least), but you're missing my point. The point was not that they almost lost a game -- which pretty much every great team has done -- but how it happened. The Pats played a mistake-free game, at home, against a mediocre team with key injuries. And still needed a couple of breaks to win. That doesn't seem like a historically good team to me.

@Diesel: Yeah, hazy memories like 3 consecutive Super Bowl rings, won at the expense of excellent teams the like of which do not exist in today's NFL, unless you honestly think the second-best team right now (the Colts?) are as good as those Bills squads. (Those rings are cumulative! It's a cumulative stat!)

What's my point? Well, the point is pretty obvious, since it's repeatedly stated in the post: I don't think the Pats are the greatest team ever. That's not hyperbole. Calling it hyperbole is hyperbole.

Pepe said...

@C: See above regarding losing/almost losing vs. under what circumstances. My point, which seems to be lost on pretty much everybody in their rush to press "comment," is not that they almost lost a game.

As for the Eagles, this isn't about some angst at the Eagles losing. Like everybody else in the world, I expected the Eagles to lose, and lose big. I said in the preseason they'd go 8-8, maybe 10-6 if they were lucky, maybe 6-10 if they weren't. I wish they'd lose more so they'd get a decent draft pick, and so Reid would be one season closer to getting fired. But that's another post ...