I’ve gotta say, I’m still a bit shell shocked. Sure, this game had potential disaster written all over it; after all, it seemed as though this team was destined for a title. Got a little bit ahead of ourselves, didn’t we? Tomorrow morning, I’ll put out a post arguing that we had misinterpreted this team for much of the season, and yesterday was just the cherry on the top of a slew of strange Sundays. For now, I’ll quickly list the top five reasons our Birds tasted defeat yesterday.
1. Jim Johnson
Listen – I love me some home-cooked, Jim Johnson schemin’. Love it. He always seems to find a way to pressure the other team’s QB without getting killed in the passing game.
But yesterday, it didn’t work out that way.
Plain and simple, Jim Johnson got out-coached in this one. Doesn’t happen often, but yesterday, it definitely did. The Cardinals knew the blitz was coming, they orchestrated their hot routes perfectly, they ran a lot of well-designed screens early that kept the Eagles off-balance, and they found a way to run effectively in the first half. And really, Johnson didn’t seem to adjust his defense until halftime, which left the Birds in a 24-6 hole.
Certainly, credit goes to the Cardinals for a well-designed game plan, and to Warner and the offense for executing it brilliantly. But there are two things that I think you have to blame Johnson for: not adjusting earlier, and for allowing Larry Fitzgerald to absolutely kill them.
I mean, if there is one guy coming into this week that you didn’t want to beat you, wouldn’t it have been Fitzgerald? Honestly, how do you let this guy catch nine balls for 152 yards and three TD’s? I get that Larry Fitzgerald is, hands down, the best receiver in football right now. I get it. But that’s just out of hand. (Editor’s note: Not Fitzgerald’s, apparently).
2. The Defense
Again, I was really proud of the way this unit played for most of the season, specifically down the stretch. But against the Cards, they laid an absolute egg in the first half, and again during the Cardinals game-winning, fourth quarter drive.
They didn’t tackle particularly well, the defensive line struggled to get a push, and the secondary had a pretty disappointing game. Hell, I was surprised at Sheldon Brown’s effort and technique on the short fade to Fitzgerald for a touchdown in the second quarter. Namely, the lack of both he exhibited.
A tough route to cover, especially against Mr. Fitzgerald. But still – he just looked bush league on that play.
It seemed like they had awoken in the second half, but the Cardinals really stuck the knife in their belly on that fourth quarter drive. Killer. You had to expect the Cardinals would put points on the board; what was troubling was the ease in which they did it early, and how, with all of the momentum on the side of the Eagles, the D couldn’t get them off the field late.
3. Offensive Execution in Key Moments
Two main things here. Number one, the inability to convert third downs in the first half, leading to three field goal attempts and six points. I mean, doesn’t 24-21 sound a lot better than 24-6? Hell, I would have taken 24-13. It was one of my major concerns with this team throughout the playoffs, and it reared it’s head again on Sunday: their inability to finish drives with touchdowns. Sure, you never expect that your D will give up 24 points in a half…But settling for three field goal attempts isn’t good enough, either.
Number two, the final drive. Sorry, Mr. McNabb, but four straight incompletions just isn’t good enough at the end of the game. It just isn’t. Maybe Curtis was interfered with, maybe he wasn’t – if McNabb hits a wide open Baskett earlier in the drive over the middle, we’re never talking about fourth and ten. I’m not going to pin this loss on a guy who threw for 375 yards, three TD’s, and looked great while leading his team back from an 18-point deficit. But he has to shoulder some of the blame for this loss when the Eagles had a chance to at least tie the game late, and he couldn’t engineer a drive to do so.
That’s only fair.
4. Mental Blunders and Lapses in Judgment, Focus, etc.
A couple come to mind. For one, Tra Thomas not recognizing that Adrian Wilson, creeping toward the line of scrimmage, might be blitzing around the edge. For some reason, Thomas blocks down on a lineman already attended to, Wilson runs in untouched and levels McNabb, and Donovan fumbles the ball. What in the hell happened there?
Another one – Mr. Demps, what in God’s green earth was the deal with your cheap shot on Kurt Warner? Honestly, man, was that really necessary? I love me some hard nosed, aggressive football, but that was a tad dirty. Loved the way you played this year as a rookie; don’t do shit like that, man.
Oh, and Greg Lewis: for whatever reason, the Eagles have found it in their hearts to keep you employed. The reason for which is beyond me, but hey, I’m just a fan, what do I know? But could you do me a solid? If you’re going to be out on the field, and Donovan looks your way, maybe even deep down the field when you’ve got the opportunity to make a big play, could you just do one little favor for me?
CATCH THE DAMN BALL!
5. The Special Teams
Did David Akers cost the Eagles the game with his missed field goal, extra point and inexplicable kickoff out-of-bounds? No. Did it stymie momentum and force the Eagles to play the two-point conversion game? Yup, sure did. Don’t get yourself noticed, David. I won’t blame the whole thing on you, but you certainly didn’t help.
Surely, for the most part, special teams wasn’t a deciding factor in this game, and, besides Akers, was barely even notable. Which was a win for the Cardinals, at least in my book. The Eagles could have seriously benefited from a big special teams play, and they didn’t get one. The Cardinals have, by no means, a great special teams, and our return teams didn’t take advantage of that fact. It’s number five on this list for a reason, but I would have liked to see more from that unit.
My playoff beard has already been washed down the drain. It was sad to see it go. Hell, I was just starting to get used to thing. I should have known that, as soon as I did, I would have to say goodbye.