The Wildcat Has Been Shot by Matt Lombardo

Eagles running back Ronnie Brown became the face of a movement on offense in Miami in 2008. On Sunday though, Brown very well may have closed the book on that same movement; The Wildcat Offense. 

In September 2008, an offensive movement was launched in Miami. With the ever statuesque Chad Henne under center, Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano and his offensive coordinator Dan Henning brought to the league a formation where a dynamic running back and not the quarterback took a direct snap and went off to the races. The formation came to be known as the “Wildcat” and it spread like wildfire throughout the league.

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Eagles Get Gutty Opening Win Over Rams by Matt Lombardo

The Eagles were tested early but ultimately emerged victorious with a season opening win against the Rams, upping Andy Reid’s record to 6-7 in season openers.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Eagles got the job done on Sunday.

Championship caliber teams survive when they are tested. While there is a lot of football still to be played over the next 16 weeks, the Eagles (1-0) passed an early test and gave glimpses of why some have penciled them in to play for the Lombardi Trophy in February, topping the Rams 31-13 in week one. Continue reading

Eagles Six for Sunday : Week 1 vs. Rams by Matt Lombardo

Each week as the Eagles game draws near, Taking It to The House will put the focus on six storylines to watch. This week, the Eagles offensive line and the Rams running game are put under the microscope. However, maybe the biggest question mark for the Eagles today is: Will Desean Jackson’s contract situation cloud his effort today? 

The Eagles have struggled in season openers under Andy Reid, going just 5-7 in those games. This season the Eagles enter as five point favorites against the Rams, but asking for a team that features four new starters on the offensive line, three linebackers with less than three years NFL experience between them and new philosophies and coaching staffs on both sides of the ball to come together in the span of the first 60 minutes of the season will be difficult.

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2011 Philadelphia Eagles Week 1 Preview: Rams Present First Test by Matt Lombardo

No team was more active or dynamic during the offseason than the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia added CB Nnamdi Asomugha, DT Cullen Jenkins, DE Jason Babin, backup QB Vince Young, RB Ronnie Brown and others in an offseason where the proverbial chips were pushed into the middle of the table. Beginning Sunday in St. Louis though, the talk will be finished and the dividends of those chips will begin to be seen.

The Eagles open the season in St. Louis against head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s up-and-coming Rams as a team that has garnered national attention.  But for allthe attention that the Birds have received, they are also a team that has seen some of their flaws brought to the forefront this preseason. Undoubtedly all eyes will be trained on the Eagles to see if this self proclaimed “Dream Team” — BTW Thanks Vince Young for the quote that won’t go away — is in fact built to be a juggernaut. However, after starting four new players in new positions along their offensive line and perhaps the youngest linebacking corps in the franchise’s history, this team may begin the season looking more like the little engine that could than a runaway freight train. Continue reading

A Glimpse At The 2011 NFL Season According To A So-Called Expert: Matt Lombardo

The temperatures have plummeted suddenly into the sixties, leaves are beginning to turn and there’s a certain crispness in the air that can only be broken by the perfect spiral of soaring pigskin. That’s right, the greatest time of the year, football season, is upon us again. Despite a 136-day lockout, the excitement around the NFL is at perhaps its highest levels ever.

As the opener draws closer by the minute, the time for me to sit idly by in hopes of avoiding making a Super Bowl prediction is rapidly drawing to a close. Preseason predictions are rarely worth the paper they’re printed on, but in this upside down world of teams sprinting through a nonexistent offseason, the Lombardi Trophy is truly anyone’s game this season.

Some teams have positioned themselves better than others with free agent acquisitions to finish their journey with confetti falling for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, some teams stood pat in an effort to draw on existing team chemistry to propel them to glory once again. All of these stories, subplots and themes for the upcoming season make for a wild ride for the next six months. Continue reading

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

2010 NFL Playoffs – Wildcard Round Preview

The 2010 NFL Playoffs are here and players, like Seattle RB/KR Leon Washington, will be chasing history as the Wildcard Round begin this weekend

A wide-open 2010 NFL Season will continue this weekend with start of the playoffs.  There are now 12 teams scratching to survive on the long road to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas and there are obstacles everywhere in the toughest single-elimination tournament around. Steelers former Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Tomlin said of the challenge, “Playoff football is single elimination football, I think that says it all.”

It doesn’t matter how any of the teams got into the playoffs – are you listening Seattle Seahawks (7-9) first losing record team in the postseason — as all that matters is that the remaining teams are in the mix for the biggest prized in pro football.  It has been one wacky NFL season — only 14 teams with winning records — with many exciting storylines and I am sure the excitement will continue in the 2010 “Super Season” NFL Playoffs.

Former 3-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady recently said of the challenge of the NFL playoffs, “Look, we’re playing the best teams in the NFL now, there’s very little margin for error. We’ve got to go out there and play, every lesson we’ve learned over the course of the season we’ve got to put it to good use.’’  Patriots head coach Bill Belichick added more at the start of his Week 17 post-game press conference by turning up the playoff heat some more.  The tough head coach said, “When the Patriots left Gillette Stadium (after Week 17), they were 14-2; but as the coaches returned to the building (preparing for the playoffs), the team was 0-0”.

Truly every team has a chance in the postseason as 11 of the 12 teams have double-digit wins in 2010 – except for the aforementioned Seahawks.  And for the 15th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year — 5 teams including: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago, and Seattle.  Yes, the 2010 AFC East Champion Patriots right now are 14-2, the No. 1 Seed, and home field throughout the AFC Playoffs.  But even they have their warts (young secondary, lack of a consistent “big playmaker” at RB or WR, and let’s not forget the Ravens crushed them in the 2009 NFL Playoffs.  If I have said it once, I have said it 1,000 times…there are no longer dynasty type teams in the parity laden league and especially in this year’s postseason mix.  Since the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format in 1990, only 20 of the 40 (50.0 percent) No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl, with nine No. 1 seeds being crowned champions (22.5 percent). 

So anything is possible and hope abounds in all twelve playoff cities – well maybe eleven as we all know the Seahawks are getting ready to be fried like the Colonel’s chicken. If the 2010 NFL Regular Season has taught us anything, it showed that “On Any Given Sunday” any team can step-up their level of play to beat any other team in the parity-filled National Football League — Six of the NFL’s eight divisions featured new division champions from last season.  Remember the lowly Cleveland Browns (5-11) knocking off eventual playoffs teams, the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints way back in Week 7 and the Patriots in Week 9. Nothing is pre-determined in the world’s best sports league as shown by teams attaining the No. 1 seed in each conference have not met in the Super Bowl for a surprising sixteen seasons (1993 season, Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).

For the most part, this year’s wildcard round features eight evenly matched teams, where no one really has any idea which team will advance.  Usually a good indicator of a potential winner in most playoff games is the “home” team.  But two home teams (Seahawks and Chiefs) are home “underdogs” and the other two are not huge favorites both Eagles and Colts are 3-point favorites by Vegas.  I guess everyone still has images of the road warrior 2007 New York Giants winning Super Bowl XLII as they went 4-0 on the road including the Super Bowl on their way to an unexpected title. 

My advice to everyone watching this weekend’s wildcard action is to pay very close attention to the winners as teams advancing from the Wildcard round have won the Super Bowl six times including the three of the last five champions.  In 2007, the NFC fifth-seeded New York Giants won three road games and then triumphed in Arizona over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  Four years ago, AFC third-seeded Indianapolis accomplished the feat.  And five years ago, Pittsburgh became the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl.

I usually like to look at the hottest teams going into playoff games as favorites, but every team in the wildcard round is entering the dance on a high note –  Patriots (8), Ravens (4), Colts (4), Packers (2), Steelers (2), NY Jets (1), Falcons (1) and Seahawks (1).  Conversely four teams entering the postseason carrying a losing streak are the Eagles (2L), Bears (1L), Chiefs (1L) and Saints (1L).  These teams will be looking to quickly pick-up the pieces going into the postseason though most teams with a losing streak are coming off a week of “rest” after sitting key veterans in Week 17 losses.

The word “rematch” fits perfectly when talking about this year’s Wildcard round as 2 out of 4 games are rematches from the regular season and it is not a stretch to say 3 rematches as the Colts and NY Jets met in the 2009 AFC Championship Game.  Of course having played and beaten a team in the regular season may cause some “familiarity” and a psychological edge in game planning along with dissecting tendencies. But playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the key factors as to which teams move on to the Divisional round on long treacherous road to the Super Bowl.

Other storylines for Wildcard Weekend include: 

  • New Overtime RulesNow a game cannot be won on the 1st drive of overtime by a field goal – remember the Saints winning over the Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship in this fashion.  In this scenario, the other team would now get a chance to match with a field goal — game would revert to sudden death — or score a touchdown for the win.  But as always, if a team wins the coin toss and scores a touchdown on the opening drive, then the game would be over.  The new system does not guarantee each team a possession.  What it does guarantee, is the “opportunity for possession” for the second team, if the first team scores a field goal. Also remember there are some other crazy factors – that you know will come into play this postseason – to consider.  If a team kicks an onside kick and recovers the ball or gets the ball on a muff that would be considered a “possession” and a field goal could win it.
  • Fabulous Flacco Since his 2008 rookie year, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.  This Sunday against the Chiefs, Flacco will become the 5th quarterback in history to start a playoff game in his first three NFL seasons and the first to do so since Bernie Kosar (1985-87).  Also accomplishing this feat are Hall of Famers Dan Marino (1983-85) and Otto Graham (1950-52) plus former LA Rams QB Pat Haden (1976-78). Also Flacco and his head coach John Harbaugh are the first quarterback-head coach duo to begin their NFL careers at the same time and lead a team to the postseason in each of their first three seasons.
  • Former Champs AboundFive of this season’s 12 playoff teams have won at least one Super Bowl in the past decade, capturing eight of the past 10 Vince Lombardi Trophies.  Those teams are Baltimore (XXXV), Indianapolis (XLI), New England (XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX), New Orleans (XLIV) and Pittsburgh (XL and XLIII).
  • Cool Brees — New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees in six career playoff games ranks as one of the top postseason quarterbacks in NFL history.  His 103.7 passer rating in the playoffs is the second-highest mark in NFL history (minimum 150 attempts), behind only Hall of Famer Bart Starr (104.8). 
  • Belichick trying to climb the postseason wins board — New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has compiled a 15-5 (.750) record in his postseason career.  Belichick ranks fifth all-time with 15 playoff victories, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, and Chuck Noll.

Defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said of the playoffs, “It’s a new season.  You start from square one.  The teams that are in are now 0-0.”

So let the games that matter begin!

Wildcard Round Playoff Schedule

Saturday, Jan. 8
4:30 p.m. ET — New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (NBC – Mayock/Hammond)
8:20 p.m. ET — New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts (NBC – Michaels/Collinsworth)

Sunday, Jan. 9
1 p.m. ET — Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs  (CBS – Nance/Simms)
4:30 p.m. ET — Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles (FOX – Buck/Aikman/Oliver)

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)