2011 NFC Preview By Matt Lombardo

Last season the Green Bay Packers besieged by injuries mounted a late charge in the regular season to enter the playoffs as the NFC Wild Card and later marched to Dallas where they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. The Packers toppled NFC favorites Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago, who all figure to be contenders in this year’s race, en route to their first Super Bowl Championship since 1996.

The NFC can best be described as a whole, as a conference on the rise. Each division boasts teams that on paper will be much improved from a year ago, and the stalwart favorites all improved in the offseason, be it by making bold additions or simply by taking advantage of the continuity necessary to build on early this season after a lockout wiped away all offseason activities.

Here is a division by division look at the NFC entering the 2011 season. Continue reading

Advertisements

2011 NFL Cut Day Brings Some Surprises by Lloyd Vance

 

The Miami Dolphins’ Turk had to tell running back Larry Johnson, “Coach needs to see you and bring your playbook”

Every team has that member of their coaching staff that no one wants to see on Cut Down Day.  The Turk came around the NFL at 6:00 PM on Saturday September 3rd reducing rosters to the regular season limit of 53 players – Approximately 700 players were given their walking papers. The last cuts are always the toughest for NFL teams as many had to let go as many as 22 players getting to the regular season limit from the earlier  limit of seventy-five.

Some of the bigger players getting their walking papers were Patriots RB Sammy Morris, Dolphins RB Larry Johnson, Eagles TE Donald Lee, Raiders CB Lito Sheppard, Patriots former first-rounder safety Brandon Meriweather, Bears RB Chester Taylor, NY Giants QB Ryan Perrilloux, Giants punter Matt Dodge, Steelers DB Victor “Macho” Harris, Niners QB Josh McCown, and Eagles DB Joselio Hanson.  Also promising Jacksonville Jaguars RB Rashard Jennings and Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki were placed on injured reserve for the year after injuring their knees near the end of preseason.

Some younger players that were cut still could be added to NFL practice squads as teams can name up to 8 players after12 PM EST (after waivers) on Sunday September 4.  By the way a practice squad is not that bad of a gig.  Players can be paid a minimum of $5700 dollars a week while learning in meetings and practices.

However for other cut players their next steps could be limited.  The Arena Football League (AFL) is over for another year and the Canadian Football League (CFL) is well underway, so the United Football League (UFL) — will starting its 3rd season this fall — maybe their only option left.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

NFL’s best feel good story from Cut-Down Day – With all the players whose NFL dreams were shattered on Saturday, there was one great story to talk about in league circles.  As former Boston College LB Mark Herzlich, a former cancer survivor made the New York Giants regular season linebacker.  The 23-year-old fromWayne,Pa., had played inspired the entire preseason and made it very tough for the G-Men’s coaches to cut him.  He six tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble during the preseason, plus played very well on special teams.  “Well it is6:03pm an I am still a Giant God Is Good,” Herzlich tweeted Saturday.

Trades?? – Usually the NFL only has trades around the draft, but cutdown day there was one noteworthy move.

  • Jets ship-off veteran – Head Coach Rex Ryan sent veteran defensive back Dwight Lowery to the Jacksonville Jaguars for an undisclosed conditional draft pick. Lowery was a versatile DB, who spent three seasons with the J-E-T-S, after being drafted in the fourth round out ofSan JoseState.  Ryan said of the trade “It was an opportunity for Dwight to go to a place where he’s really going to be used and compete for that starting nickel job. I think it was kind of good for Dwight to go toJacksonville and get more playing time, and for us, we just felt we had the depth we needed in the back end.”  The New York Jets now have 10 defensive backs on its roster for the regular season — five cornerbacks and five safeties.

 You can also view the full list of transactions from NFL Cut Day here.

 

Lloyd Vance is an  NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Is Michael Vick On Track For Having A Better Career Than HOF QB Steve Young? by Barry Barnes

Since being successfully tutored by Eagles head coach Andy Reid on the nuances of the West Coast Offense over the last couple years, some are comparing Michael Vick to Hall of Famer Steve Young

When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick celebrated his 31st birthday on June 26, his offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gave him a surprising, but realistic compliment. 

The former NFL head coach told the Philadelphia Daily News: “Mike’s got a long way to go, but, you know what? I think he can be better than Steve.”  The perception of this comment appears to be a joke in the eyes of many football fans. Continue reading

Eagles Finish Preseason With Win Over Jets By Matt Lombardo

The dress rehearsal is over, and now the Eagles look ahead to final roster cut downs and the season opener against the Rams on September 11th.

Just as the calendar has turned to September and the temperatures have given a glimpse of the coming autumn, the Philadelphia Eagles preseason has mercifully come to an end. Following Thursday night’s 24-14 Eagles win over the Jets at Met Life Stadium, the Birds now turn their focus to the season opener on September 11th in St. Louis against the Rams. Philadelphia finished the pre-season with a 3-1 record, but also with enough questions to ponder as the regular season approaches.

Before game plans can be devised though, rosters need to be finalized and the Eagles must now get their roster down to 53 players from its current 80 by Saturday afternoon.

Those final roster spots are what fourth and final preseason games are all about. Evaluations are finished by and large. Position battles nearly decided, which makes for an easy night for first teamers who don baseball caps and visors rather than pads and helmets. However, for backups and fringe roster players, the fourth preseason game may as well be a Super Bowl.

It’s difficult to offer any true evaluations from a game in which the opponents played a game just three days prior. Yet there were some standouts.

Vince Young drove the Eagles down the field moving the offense well all through the first half. Young finished with 15 of 23 for 193 yards and a touchdown. Young strained his hamstring on his final drive in the second quarter, and although the Eagles are optimistic that the injury is nothing serious, he will undergo an MRI today.

The only starter to see any action in the preseason finale was rookie right guard Danny Watkins, after the first round choice went to Head Coach Andy Reid and Offensive Line Coach Howard Mudd to request some extra reps. Watkins looked improved from his dreadful performance against the Browns last week, but the obvious caveat here is that Watkins looked stronger in both run and pass protection against third string Jets fighting for a roster spot.

“It was another game, just more experience getting ready for the regular season,” Watkins said. “It was good. I was looking forward to it and the more playing time I can get, the better.”

One beneficiary to the patchwork offensive line’s performance was rookie running back Dion Lewis. Lewis, likely to be the team’s third running back and kick returner, impressed with 15 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 38 yards. The 5-8 195 pound shifty back had the look of a playmaker and adds another versatile piece of the Eagles backfield puzzle who can be utilized in the Eagles screen game as well as, as a runner.

Defensively the Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage and did a nice job of getting in the Jets backfield which was highlighted by Chris Wilson’s fourth quarter sack of Jets backup Greg McElroy when the free agent linebacker stormed into the backfield, made solid contract with McElroy and forced a fumble.

It was just that kind of night for the Eagles defense. Philadelphia allowed just 117 total yards.

However, there are still nagging questions surrounding a crucial component of this football team: The kicking game. Alex Henery finished the night 1-2 on field goals, missing a first quarter 43 yarder that wasn’t even close. The Eagles placed a lot of faith in the rookie out of Nebraska when they allowed veteran David Akers to walk following last year’s playoff meltdown against the Packers. Henery’s foot after all has the ability to prolong the Eagles season, or as Akers contributed to a year ago, end it prematurely. That’s a lot of pressure on a rookie.

The Eagles roster will be finalized on Saturday at 6pm, and then with the monotony of the preseason dress rehearsal in the rearview, attention can be turned to the season opener against the Rams on September 11th.

Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

Play of New Look Offensive Line Will Define Eagles Season by Matt Lombardo

Through three preseason games the question marks that the Eagles face have been brought to the forefront, but most glaring is the offensive line.

Last season the Eagles offensive line gave up 49 sacks, 22 of which came on crucial third down plays which stopped drives dead in their tracks. Granted, some of those sacks can be attributed to a quarterback known for holding onto the ball and trying to extend the play with his legs.

However, When numbers like those stare a franchise between the eyes, one would assume that the line would become priority number one the following offseason.

So, during the lockout shortened offseason the Eagles persuaded Hall of Fame caliber offensive line coach Howard Mudd out of retirement to oversee a wholesale makeover of one of the most critical units on a football team. Later, the team chose 27 year old Danny Watkins out of Baylor in the first round of the draft. Five rounds later Cincinnati center Jason Kelce was donning midnight green.

But was it enough?

Early returns after a month long training camp and three preseason games are at best worrisome and at worst disastrous. Veteran center Jamaal Jackson is entrenched in a battle with Kelce for his job. Meanwhile, former starting right tackle Winston Justice appears destined to open the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List.

With two weeks remaining before the regular season kicks off in St. Louis, the Eagles offensive line looks more like a flimsy house of cards, than a unit prepared to set the tone for a juggernaut high powered offense. The Eagles have already awarded Kelce the starting center’s job, and he is a prototypical Mudd player, standing at 6-3 282 and is nimble on his feet. However he has yet to start a game in this league and will be doing so after five weeks of preparation as a member of an NFL roster.

Then there’s the issue of right tackle. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Andy Reid and Co. offer an injury settlement to Justice and wash their hands of him forever, but even if he does return it’s unknown if and how long he would remain the starter. During camp the most important position on the team, the guardian of Vick’s blindside, was left open to a battle between free agent signee Ryan Harris, King Dunlap and others. Harris fell to a herniated disc in his back and Dunlap had his moments but appeared overmatched.

In steps left guard Todd Herremans who returns to the right tackle spot for the first time since his rookie season. He was a Pro Bowl alternate at left guard a year ago and a major cog on the left side of the line where the Eagles ran behind on a vast majority of their rushing plays. Unheralded veteran Evan Mathis steps into the starting left guard spot, at least for now, as both Kelce and Jackson took reps at that spot in practice this week.

So for those keeping score at home, the Eagles intend to start the season with a rookie center, rookie right guard and a right tackle who hasn’t played the position in seven years. A quick inspection of Webster’s dictionary shows the Eagles offensive line depth chart alongside the definition of patchwork.

Some say that this team has the luxury of time on its side to find the chemistry necessary to succeed, but there is a flaw to that logic. Because of the lockout and lack of offseason OTA’s, minicamps and a shortened training camp, roughly 1,500 practice reps and countless hours of film study were lost. For a unit with so much turnover and so much value in chemistry, that lost time will certainly be an issue.

Then there’s the question of if these guys actually, you know, can play. Watkins showed mountains of potential at Baylor but at age 27, and only three years of football experience, one has to wonder about his learning curve. The rookie guard looked like he was playing the game for the first time in the preseason game against the Brown. Watkins struggled to find who to block and even more troubling, to pick up the scheme. Kelce looked decent in pass protection but missed some run blocking assignments against Cleveland as well.

As much as the Eagles offensive line struggled a year ago, one has to wonder if it was wise to hire Mudd to implement a vastly different scheme and philosophy from the one that has been in place on this team for the last 13 years, in a season without a true offseason. If this line can gel, then Philadelphia has the potential to once again post one of the highest rated offenses in the NFL. However, if Mudd can’t strike gold in time, opposing defensive coordinators are going to feast on the line, using the middle as the quickest route to quarterback Michael Vick. Especially if Kelce and Watkins follow their current learning curve.

A fast start it seems is out of the question for the Eagles. Even if Reid, Mudd and company find the magic formula to form a strong and dependable offensive line, this team will still be navigating through a season starting two rookies alongside one another. All of this happening  in a year without any offseason film study, significantly fewer practice reps and even less time to grasp life as a pro football player and the tendencies of the player alongside.

It’s an unenviable position that the Eagles have put their offensive line in entering this season, but fair or not it’s a position that will define this team’s success or failure this season.

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

Indianapolis Colts Fail to Secure Franchise, Enter The Pros And Cons Of Kerry Collins. By Barry Barnes

 

What a wake up call for the Indianapolis Colts

After years of not preparing for this day, a day when their prized possession in quarterback Peyton Manning would be hampered by an injury or defeated by father time, causing his dynamic NFL career to take a turn. The Colts may be revisited by losing days earlier than expected.  Continue reading

Eagles Overcome Offensive Line Woes to Beat Browns By Matt Lombardo

The Eagles offensive line was porous. Michael Vick looked frustrated. And yet there were enough bright spots from Thursday night’s 24-14 Eagles win over the Cleveland Browns to leave Eagles fans hopeful.

Throughout the first quarter of Thursday night’s pre-season game against Cleveland, the Eagles offensive line looked lost in translation. Danny Watkins appeared equally confused in both pass and run protection. Meanwhile when Watkins looked to his left, Rookie Jason Kelce was at times a revolving door to oncoming Browns defensive tackles, and on one particular play forgot to snap the ball which led to a false start.

“I hate to make mistakes like that,” Kelce explained after the game. “And I really hate to see No. 7 knocked to the ground as often as he was.”   Continue reading