This past summer, we "enjoyed" the lively debate over whether or not Michael Vick could be an effective NFL player after being released from prison and then reinstated by the NFL.
Then there was that "fascinating" speculation about where he would land and the subsequent "insightful" analysis of how he would mesh with the Philadelphia Eagles when he finally inked a contract.
It became nauseating, but I was still excited about the prospect of him visiting the place where he began his career on Dec. 6 for a matchup with my club. Even gave him a shout-out in an early DDDB.
Much respect to Mike, but I couldn't care less about his homecoming now.
An NFC Wild Card—and more importantly, the Falcons' best shot at stringing two winning seasons back-to-back—is on the line, and Vick, his one pass attempt, and 1.6 rush attempts per game aren't going to have any impact on the outcome.
Instead, my eyes are focused on some small names that will have a big impact on Sunday: LeSean McCoy, Chris Redman, and Jason Snelling. All three are to be forced into extensive action because of injuries to starters, and whoever can step up to the proverbial plate and deliver a pro performance has the potential to decide the game.
Maybe someday I'll be able to enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but with a Philly win all but dooming us and a Falcons win pulling us into a three-way tie for the final NFC playoff spot, this game isn't really one to nap through.
Philadelphia Rush Offense vs. Atlanta Rush Defense
First, I should just wish Brian Westbrook the best as concussions are nasty sons-of-guns that can come back to haunt a player. I've always loved the guy's style and penchant for production, and whether or not it was time to start fazing him out, dude shouldn't have to end it this way.
Of course, it works out OK for the Dirty Birds, because his injury means we can take it easy against the run, right? Besides, we held those mighty Buccaneers of Tampa Bay to just 73 rushing yards last week, we're stout enough...
Unless we're talking reality, in which case McCoy must be accounted for (and the fact that the Bucs suck must be recognized). We may have faced some great ground games, but we haven't seen someone with this elusiveness and breakaway speed.
I remember at one point I made the assertion in a preview that Atlanta performs better against a single-back attack, but I doubt my own wisdom in a special way these days. The numbers say we're No. 23 in the league in rush defense, but watching a game will tell you what you need to know: Guys are taking plays off, whether intentionally or not.
The fact that LeSean has yet to have a 100-yard rushing game this season doesn't really make me any more comfortable, either. That's just asking for a guy to go off, and McCoy is the type who is entirely capable.
And to boot, he protects the rock like few others: The Eagles as a whole have just four fumbles on the season, good for fourth fewest.
What will help me sleep at night?
For once, I'm not going to say "active play from the linebackers." Instead, I'm going to request a stacking of the box, and bringing either Erik Coleman or Thomas DeCoud on any and all obvious running situations. Coleman in particularly will make plays on runners, as his best-on-the-defense field vision allows him to get in nigh-perfect positioning.
It's a concession I'm willing to take because I've kind of already conceded that other part of the defensive backfield. But you now my style, wait for that subheader...
Atlanta Rush Offense vs. Philadelphia Rush Defense
Maybe we learned something last week when we put Michael Turner in and got a re-injured ankle in return. Was it worth the risk and is it again? And just how much do we expect to get from him in the stretch?
It's imperative to continue giving Snelling and Jerious Norwood the majority of the carries, not just to preserve Burner for the remaining games against the Saints and Bucs, but also to massage our second- and third-stringers into the real offense a little bit more.
The packages seem too simplified when Michael's out, and there's really no reason for that. I for one think the blocking schemes should be the same for Jason and Turner, and 'Wood ought to see more variety in his lines of attack as well. I swear, one more of those sideline squirts, and I'll go crazy—that's just not utilizing the man!
(As an aside: I know some would argue Jerious proved he couldn't be a multi-purpose runner in '07, but that doesn't mean he can run reverses and only reverses. The one time this season I can remember him getting a traditional middle run, he picked up at least eight.)
Some creativity will be necessary against a Philly ground defense that has silently crept up to eighth in the league in yards allowed. Considering end Trent Cole (that's right, a lineman) has the third-most tackles on the team, I'd say they’re pretty decent at stopping things at the point of origin.
Besides that, Akeem Jordan has come out of relatively nowhere to look like a total beast; what is this "James Madison," a type of beer?
To me, all the more reason to keep the complexity of our offense at its normal level and to mix things the hell up. One can't expect 70 from either of our fellas, but 100 combined would be a starting point.
Philadelphia Pass Offense vs. Atlanta Pass Defense
The phrase "Atlanta Pass Defense" makes me laugh so hard. Josh Freeman given 250 yards, two TD, and a 118.5 passer rating?
There's just no way we can keep a guy on both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin; throw Brent Celek into the mix (possibly; he's rated questionable at the moment), and we've got a recipe for disaster. That's why I was speaking of "concessions" earlier; we ought to just realize we can't deal with their combination of speed and sure hands.
Instead, how about we try something new: generating a pass rush. Like I said, put Coleman in the box to either rush or be better prepared for a run, and just run like there's no tomorrow to try to make a play on the ball if it goes deep. Who knows, maybe we can actually put some pressure on Donovan McNabb.
Why all the optimism? It's not a glaring stat, but the Eagles have allowed the 10th-most sacks in the league. Also, and this is admittedly just a hunch/feeling/burning desire, but after so many weeks of ineffectiveness in getting after the quarterback, don't our guys have some pent-up aggression?
Or maybe Philly's line won't be expecting the rush, because we've been so bad to this point. Or maybe the luxury of not having to deal with a bruiser like Westbrook will have us looking for more satisfying contact. Or maybe John Abraham will find a time machine.
The bald truth is that allowing Tampa's offense to outplay ours for the majority of the ballgame was inexcusable, and we might as well make a big change.
Anyways, I'd rather see some of the offensive fireworks that this shift would leave us vulnerable to than the slow, inexorable march towards failure that quite nearly was Week 12.
Atlanta Pass Offense vs. Philadelphia Pass Defense
When I first laid out my now-all-too-familiar preview article format, this section came fourth because it was kind of like dessert. Save the best for last, you know?
It's lost the large part of its sweetness with Matt Ryan having to take the week off and Philly's pass defense having some gaudy numbers (wait for 'em...), but I've never been a cookies-and-cake-and-ice cream man, anyway.
As I was saying earlier this week, the differences in Chris Redman's mechanics can be beneficial to a team struggling with interceptions, and that combined with the show of concentration and hand strength of Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White late against the Bucs has me feeling...well, uneasy.
I mean, the Eagles are tied for the third-most interceptions in the league with 18. Still, it could be worse.
Honestly, considering two factors, Redman getting a chance to let it fly will likely be our bigger problem. First, there's the number 31 staring us down, Iladelph's sack total, good for sixth in the league. Then there are the nebulous injuries on our offensive line, to Harvey Dahl and (worse) Sam Baker.
Cole is a monster in this regard, and Juqua Parker isn't too bad opposite him. The bookends have 14.5 sacks alone.
Ice isn't too mobile, but Redman might be slower, so don't count on him to evade much. The bread and butter needs to be quick, low lasers to Gonzo; the same dinks that worked so well on our final drive against TB. This is our best chance at avoiding the two things the Eagles unfortunately do so well (picking the ball off and knocking the quarterback down).
Asante Samuel is the big name in the Eagles' defensive backfield, but his 'mates Sheldon Brown, Sean Jones, and Quintin Mikell are all great tacklers. Mikell leads the team, for goodness' sake, despite being just 5'10", 205.
But there it is again: The indicator to go to Gonzo. He'll see your 5'10" and raise you six inches.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Falcons 17
It would be in our interest to keep this one a low-scoring affair, as that's how we pulled off last week's squeaker. The Bucs are a totally different team than the Eagles though, of course, and keep in mind it's probably Philly who will be dictating the tempo in this one.
Therefore, converting on the scoring opportunities we get would really be nice. Getting the ball in enemy territory, as I believe we did three times in the fourth last Sunday, means you should score at least some points. Which brings me to a request...
I would ask even Eagles fans to cross their fingers for us in the kicking game. Please, football gods, let us have solved our field goal problem with the replacement of Jason Elam with Matt Bryant!