PFT TEN-PACK: EAGLES-FALCONS
So much for all those rules changes over the past three decades aimed at generating more points. But for that pre-game pushy-shovy thing, we would have lost interest in this one at some point in the third quarter.
Instead, we stuck it out, and were mildly entertained late in the fourth quarter, all for the sake of dredging up five observations about the game and five more not about it.
Here are the five football-related observations:
1. The Falcons know that Michael Vick has a long way to go -- and that he might not ever get there.
We haven't, won't, and never will join the throng of excuse-makers and crotch-nuzzlers (maybe that's not the best term for describing those who might cozy up to Mr. Mexico) who overlook flaws in Vick's game simply because he displays some God-given skills that no other quarterback ever has possessed.
But if there was any doubt as to whether the team realizes Vick's shortcomings (they claim, of course, that he has none), the euphoria that erupted when (drum roll, please) Vick threw a long pass from the pocket that actually landed in the hands of a wide receiver was all anyone needed to see to realize that the organization has been wishing/hoping/praying that Vick finally would do something that virtually every other starting quarterback can do -- throw deep with accuracy when given the time to set up and deliver.
Think about it. Did the Falcons players mob Michael Jenkins and proclaim, "Finally, we have a real wide receiver!"? Or was the mood after the play more like, "Finally, Vick has shown that he can throw deep with accuracy when given the time to set up and deliver!"?
And how many other passes did Vick complete from the pocket after the bomb to Jenkins? Not many. Perhaps, not any. Was it because the two receivers drafted by G.M. Rich McKay in round one over the past two years can't run fifteen yards in a straight line and then turn around? Or is it because Vick vamooses from the pocket at the first hint of pressure and looks either to run it or to throw to his tight end, Alge Crumpler?
Consider this. Of 23 passes thrown by Vick on Monday night, more than half of them -- more than half -- went Crumpler's way. Meanwhile, Jenkins saw four his way, Roddy White had two, Brian Finneran got two, and Dez White got one.
We're sick of hearing in one breath that Vick will improve as a pocket passer when he gets better pass-catchers and then in another breath that Vick is what he is and we should all praise the Lord for that. Vick is a great quarterback because of what he can do outside of the pocket. He isn't, and most likely never will be, a confident, consistent, and effective pocket passer.
He is, quite simply, Kordell Stewart with blazing speed and uncanny elusiveness. That's it. And when his legs start to go, Vick will be just another guy.
Apart from that first-quarter heave-ho that helped the Falcons take a 14-0 lead, Vick did little or nothing to show that he has expanded his game to include the ability to throw deep with accuracy from the pocket when given the time to set up and deliver. Through the final three quarters, the Falcons scored not a single point.
And over the final 45 minutes, Vick passed for a total of 44 yards.
2. You can't cover Brian Westbrook with a linebacker.
We don't understand why defenses don't use an extra defensive back for every play on which Eagles running back Brian Westbrook is on the field.
Two receivers and Westbrook? Nickel coverage. Three and Brian? Dime.
Sure, it's nice to have linebackers for support in the run game, and maybe the extra d-back should be a safety if the defense thinks it'll be a run and a corner in passing situations. But given the damage that Westbrook can do when covered one-on-one by a 'backer on a pass route, who cares about having enough linebackers to stuff the run?
The Falcons got burned a couple of times Monday night by their use of linebackers against Westbrook. On one play, Westbrook lined up as the "X" receiver, nudging T.O. into the slot -- where he was covered by the linebacker who otherwise would have been assigned to Westbrook.
Sure, the Falcons won through an impressive overall effort on defense. But if Westbrook busts one of those mismatches for six, the outcome of last night's game could have been different.
3. Was Trotter set up?
When NFL officials made their tour of training camps last month, they reminded players that the rules against pre-game taunting will be strictly enforced. To prove their point, the zebras showed video of a Browns-Steelers match-up from a year ago, prior to which Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter and Cleveland running back William Green were ejected after they got into a fist-swinger.
Though we really don't think that Falcons coach Jim Mora (or anyone else with the team) encouraged backup cornerback Kevin Mathis to bait Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter into a mutual ejection prior to the kickoff, we are certain that, at some point down the road, a coach or two will figure out that this could be an effective way to get rid of a guy on the other team who, like Trotter, poses some serious game-planning challenges.
Of course, any player who is put up to something like that would have to be a guy the coach can trust implicitly. Or a guy whom the coach can reward covertly. Either way, the pressure to win in the post-salary cap NFL is great enough, in our view, to persuade one or two (or more) of the head coaches out there to ruminate on the possible strategic benefits of this tweak in the rules.
4. Why aren't these guys in shape?
In several games this weekend, we noticed that guys were suffering from cramps and/or dehydration. As several of the sock puppets astutely explained, starters don't get much in the way of live reps during the preseason, making it a bit harder for them to be ready to go for four quarters as of the first regular season game.
We don't buy it.
Surely, folks, there are ways to get a guy ready to play one side of the ball for four quarters short of exposing them to injuries in preseason games. Run them. Push them. Do whatever is necessary to get them ready.
Throughout the nation, there are thousands of folks who can run continuously for three hours or longer. A football game last three hours, but very little of that time entails actual game action.
And it's not just the big fat guys who are struggling. Monday night, Brian Dawkins and Warrick Dunn both were dehydrated.
The sock puppets said it was hot in the Georgia Dome. The official Game Book says it was a sweltering 72 degrees.
5. Weiner sits on the Freak.
A night after speed-rusher Dwight Freeney of the Colts made Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden look like Jonathan Winters, Eagles speed-rusher Jevon Kearse was fully neutralized by Falcons right tackle Todd Weiner.
The only attention Kearse got came when he tried in vain to scoop up a Michael Vick fumble and sprint to the end zone. Instead, the Freak fumbled and bumbled until teammate Darwin Walker finally made the recovery.
Kearse put to rest in 2004 questions regarding his health, helping to pump up an already effective Philly defense. Though he had his lowest sack total in any season in which he played more than four games, Kearse was a disruptive presence along the line. He'll need a big game on Sunday against the Niners to fend off questions as to whether he's losing some of his effectiveness.