Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year End 2011, Bring on 2012

2011 was a season of high expectations  that ended that were not realized in three of the four major Philadelphia pro-sports (the Sixers may have actually exceed expectation in making the playoffs and extending the despised Heat to 5 games). The Phillies certainly built a team that appeared more than capable of winning the World Series, they just ran into the improbable, and very entertaining run of the St. Louis Cardinals (you have no idea how much it galls me to say that, for me, the Cardinals are the Dallas Cowboys of baseball), a run that highlighted why I believe baseball is the best of all sports, and why I believe that sports has so much to teach, that you never quit, no matter the odds, you play until it is over. In Baseball, you can never run out of time, you play until you win or lose. Are the Phillies still poised for success in 2012? Yes, but the window is rapidly closing for this talented but aging team.  The Flyers also lost to the eventual champions, but their shortcomings were exposed and they essentially blew up the team and started over with talented, and so far at least, hungry youth. Will it pan out?  We’ll see, but indications are they’ll be in the mix.  The Dream team, built like a fantasy football team, disappointed early before making a late run to respectability that was too little, too late. What about next year? Do we give Andy Reid and his plans one more chance?  I say yes, this team has holes, certainly, but a lot of talent. The window is still too far open to blow it up and start again. If they falter again next year, that may be the time for major change. Any way you look at it, 2012 has the chance to be very special, either for fulfilling promise or spectacularly dashing our hopes once again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis? Dontrelle that is!

The Phillies have taken their annual flyer on a former high draft pick (see Kris Benson, Matt Anderson) who has fallen on hard times in the hopes of capturing some of that bygone magic, this time in the person of Dontrelle Willis, former rookie of the year and second place finisher in the 2005 Cy Young race. Willis, still only 29 has not had any success in the major leagues since 2006, mostly due to control problems. However, he has held lefthanded hitters to a .200 average throughout his career, and an even better .127 average in 2011. The Phillies plan on using him as a situational lefthander, one brought in almost exclusively to face lefthanders, and this fact may result in a career resuscitation for  the D-train and  a big boon for the Phillies. Using him in a role in which he is well-suited should do much to restore his confidence. Plus, he can really hit, in 34 major-league plate appearances last year, he hit .387 with a homer, a triple and three doubles (1.032 OPS). With Willis, Lee, Hamels, and Joe Savery the Phillies will really be carrying some lumber on their pitching staff.   All in all, the D-train is a chance well worth taking for the Phillies.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Eagles should start Kafka if Vick can’t Go

Had enough of watching Vince Young quarterback the Eagles? I have. Vince was always a thrill ‘em or kill ‘em quarterback, one who could over come his poor mechanics and tendency to leave his receivers hung out to dry with his amazing scrambling and escape ability.  Seemingly no longer able to thrill ‘em , Vince has really showed none of the elusiveness and scrambling ability he displayed in his days at the university of Texas or his early years with Tennessee, we are left with the kill’em. His passes tend to be high floaters that even when completed lead his receivers into the dangerous territory patrolled by the headhunters in the defensive secondary.
Vince was brought in the rehabilitate his playing image similar to the way Michael Vick did, hopefully parlaying his retooling into a similarly large contract. Alas for both the Eagles and himself, he has been unable to do so. He will not be back next year, and as such, the Eagles owe it to themselves to see what Kafka can bring if Vick is still not healthy enough to play. Kafka could easily return as a backup quarterback next year, and now is the time, during this lost season, to see if he can fill in capably in the face of the seemingly inevitable Vick injury.  If he cannot, the Eagles can begin to plan on an alternative, either through free agency or the draft. Any way you look at it, Vince Young’s time with the team is over, and whether they admit it or not, the receivers will be thankful.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fire Andy? Maybe not yet

If last night’s 31-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks is any indication, the Eagles have packed it in for the season.  Very few players showed the kind of effort required to win in the National Football League as the equally playoff challenged Seahawks ran roughshod over the Eagles “defenders” (a term I use loosely).
DeSean Jackson, especially, appears to be mailing it in (way to make a case for that big contract, DeSean!).  I’ve been a Reid supporter for some time (Having watched the Eagles trot out too many inept coaches over the years to casually throw the winningest coach in their history out so quickly.) However, I do believe it is time for some massive changes. First, and foremost, relieve Andy of his position of personnel director. He has not shown himself to be the shrewdest talent evaluator as the lack of impact players from his recent drafts (the aforementioned DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy being exceptions).        
He has also not shown himself to be particularly adaptable during games, failing time and again to make adjustments when his meticulously thought out game plan goes awry.  He, and his thorough planning were thrown off by the lockout, his thorough building block plans and fondness for complexity in both his offense and defensive strategies undercut by lack of preparation time.  A more flexible coach would simplify and move forward. Flexible, Andy is not.
However, these qualities can be serious strengths when given time to prepare. Next year, with no threat of labor strife, he will be able to plan all offseason. That talent he has gathered can be molded into a cohesive unit. Juan Castillo should he be retained (and, unless a stellar coordinator becomes available I believe he should be)and he will be better with experience. He should be allowed to mold the defense in his own image, however. The current system predicated on a heavy pass rush generated by the wide nine alignment coupled with strong secondary coverage, requires at least decent linebacker play to defend the run(and make tackles) and cover the tight end, two areas where the Eagles are particularly deficient. Castillo, a former linebacker himself, must be allowed to upgrade the position either through the draft or fee-agency.
Reid should be made to get a game day coach, something new in the NFL, someone who specializes in in-game adjustments to compensate for Andy’s weaknesses. Players are substituted for when situations are occur in which they are unlikely to be successful, coaches can be too.  Unless Bill Belichick wants to come here, I believe Andy Reid should be allowed at least one more of the two years remaining on his contract to right the ship, but that doesn’t mean he needs to be given the same level of autonomy he currently employs. Force him to make some changes and both he and the Eagles should be better for it.