Into week 11 and you can start to see the playoff scenarios unfolding. By the end of the Monday night game, a couple of teams virtually locked up a playoff spot (Packers, 49ers), a couple of teams saw huge damage to their hopes (Jets, Bills) and a few teams solidified their positioning for the final 6 game push (Ravens, Pats, Cowboys, Lions). Week 11 is the last week with byes in the schedule, so starting next week, everyone’s playing every week.
Snacks: For the early game, I made an Indian-themed dip to go with tortilla chips. The recipe was from Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cooking” book (an exceptional resource). The dip is a mix of corn, potatoes and tomatoes with mustard seeds, cumin, cilantro, mint, garlic, green chili, cayenne pepper and coconut milk. I first had this at a wine tasting at Bishop’s Cellar a couple of years ago and since then it makes an appearance 1-2 times a season:
With the spice, sweet and sour flavours in the dip (and about 3/4 of a bunch of mint left over in the fridge), I took a week off of beer and made mojitos to accompany the afternoon of football.
With the 17-10 win over the Giants, the Eagles keep their post season dreams alive for at least another week (they’re still on life support, but the patient didn’t get read his last rites on Sunday). It was a typical Eagles-Giants game – some controversy, a few crazy plays, mistakes and a lot of physical play made it a real treat to watch. Here’s what I saw in the win:
1. Offensive line – Although they struggled to open holes for the running game, that was more a function of the Giants committing an extra defender to stop the run to challenge the Eagles to put the game in Vince Young’s hands. The O-line kept Young clean most of the night and gave him time to pick out his targets. In particular, Jason Peters was a monster. No one got around the left side last night on the Giants pass rush. He’s been underwhelming in his time with the Eagles until this year. You can really see the effect of new coaching on his technique. He’s made the Pro Bowl during his tenure with the Eagles (not deservedly in my opinion) and will again this year. Good to see Canadian Danny Watkins doing a solid job at RG. They’re not running a lot to his slot, but he was excellent in pass protection last night.
2. Defence – Games are won in the trenches, and this one was a great example. Although the Giants OL is pretty bad, give the Eagles DL credit for completely dominating them. They, along with solid efforts from the LBs, plugged every hole in the running game and chased Eli all night, creating the fumble on the last drive which helped the Eagles hang on for the win. The defence overall gave the Giants fits. Samuel and Asomugha played tighter press coverage and covered well most of the game (with the exception of Asomugha giving up the TD to Cruz in the 4th – that was poor coverage and a misread of a route). Hanson (subbing in for Rogers-Cromartie) looked like an upgrade with his coverage and tacking abilities. I think he earned some more playing time. Jenkins was probably the team’s best player last night and hustles all over the field for a big guy.
3. Vince Young – He looked really shaky (3 interceptions, 2 his fault) until the 4th quarter. On the final drive, there was some magic as he kept making plays. He’s an inaccurate passer, but the team rallied around him for a game winning TD. He got the win, and at this point in the season, that’s all you ask your backup QB to do. His receivers made a few outstanding catches, including one by Avant on a 2nd and long where he caught the top of the ball with his finger tips.
4. The drive – Tied at 10 with a bit more than 11:00 left in the game, the Eagles went on an 18 play almost 9:00 drive for the go-ahead score. They converted 6 3rd downs on a variety of play calls (misdirection trap run for Brown, passes to Jackson, Harbor and Cooper, a QB sneak by Young and the game winning TD pass to Cooper). The entire offence was clutch on that drive that really saved the season (for now).
5. Holding a 4th quarter lead – The Eagles have led in the 4th quarter of 9 of their 10 games. After a bad string of blowing leads, good work by the offence and defence allowed them to win this one after entering the 4th up 10-3.
6. DJax – DeSean Jackson is a frustrating and exhilarating player to watch. He got off to a lousy start. On a punt where the Giants punter out-kicked his coverage, Jackson ran around and let the coverage come to him (for a 5 yard loss) rather than heading straight up field for at least a 10 yard gain. Later in the 1st quarter, he was wide open behind coverage but Young under threw him. He made no attempt to come back to the ball to break up an interception. Later still in the 1st, after a wonderful reception for a 50 yard gain, he flipped the ball at a coach on the Giants sideline and taunted their bench. The penalty for that boneheaded infraction nullified the play. In the last 3 quarters, he got his act straightened out and made a number of big plays receiving and one on the punt return to setup the Eagles first TD. I’m not sure the Eagles are going to keep him around next year. Although he’ll make huge plays, he’s not consistent and is quite the diva when things aren’t going his way.
7. Prognosis going forward – I have absolutely no idea. I’ve given up thinking I have any clue what this group will do week to week. They would have to win out to get to 10-6 and I’m not sure if they can play consistently enough to do that.
Other things I noticed this week:
Tebow – Feeling very wrong about my preseason prediction that he wouldn’t see the field this year. Hard to believe the Broncos are in the running for the playoffs. The magic has to end soon, right?
Bears: For the first 3 quarters their offence was electric. Great play calling and excellent execution kept the Chargers defence off-balance. I don’t understand their fake punt call late in the 4th quarter, but the failed attempt didn’t come back to cost them. The news after the game that they’ve possibly lost Cutler for the rest of the regular season is very troubling. Most of what they achieve in their passing game is because of throws Cutler is uniquely able to make. I expect to see teams take away Forte the rest of the year and challenge the Bears (and Caleb Hanie) beat them with the pass. They don’t have a very tough schedule, but it will be a slog to win enough games to get a wild card playoff spot.
Time management head-scratchers (part 1): Although there are a finite number of permutations for end of game clock management (when to use timeout, when to use challenges, when to get out of bounds to stop the clock or stay in bounds to keep it running), there is always at least one team to screw up the fundamentals every week. This week the prize goes to Norv Turner and the Chargers. With 2 timeouts and 2 replay challenges left late in the 4th quarter, it appeared the Bears may have fumbled (contrary to the call on the field). Turner in his wisdom did something very stupid – he called timeout – and then he challenged the call. Why is that stupid? If you’re going to call timeout there, you may as well just go ahead and challenge the call. It’s unlikely at that point in the game you’re going to need both of your challenges. An incorrect challenge costs you a timeout, but at least you took a chance on a close call. Instead, Turner called timeout to get a closer look at the play and then decided (against overwhelming video evidence shown during the timeout) to challenge the play. When the video replay upheld the call on the field, Turner was now out of timeouts (the first one he called + the one charged to him for an unsuccessful challenge) and out of challenges (you can’t challenge if you don’t have any timeouts left). A complete moron move that shortened a close game by 40 seconds for the Chargers via the loss of the timeout. This behaviour permeates that team – they have a significantly lower than normal team football IQ and it costs them a game or two every year.
Time management head-scratchers (part 2): Much less idiotic and obvious, but demonstrating the importance of high situational football IQ – In the Browns-Jags game (I’m embarrassed to admit I actually watched the last few minutes of this), with just under 5 minutes remaining, a Browns player ran for a long gain then casually sauntered out of bounds stopping the clock. With the Browns up 4 points and driving for a potential clinching TD or to extend their lead with a FG, it was important for them to keep the clock moving with the lead. Stepping out of bounds stopped the clock; in essence, it lengthened the game by 40 seconds for the Jags. Fast forward to the end-game scenario and the Jags had a number of chances to score a game winning TD (and that was an entire lesson itself in horrible game management by Jacksonville) with less than 30 seconds on the clock. When you’re ahead in the game, don’t make dumb decisions that add time for your opponent to mount a comeback.