Several topics to discuss today.
Some notes are about the Eagles' defensive coordinator search. Others are about the six-plus hours spent on the couch yesterday watching the championship games. So here are my 10 thoughts.
And if you don't typically check MTC on the weekends (shame on you!), some posts you might have missed:
Brandon Graham's production as a rookie
A look at some mock drafts
What they're saying about the Eagles
1. Let's start with the hottest topic around the league today. It has nothing to do with the Steelers or the Packers - the two teams that will battle for the Lombardi Trophy. It's about Jay Cutler, the Bears' quarterback, who left the NFC championship game with a knee injury. Cutler did not watch the second half from the locker room. He was not standing on crutches. And according to reports, the official announcement from the Bears was that his return was questionable. Those factors led players (current and former), fans and reporters to question his toughness and insinuate that Cutler was quitting, that he didn't want to go back in the game
It's a completely unfair accusation, especially from the media and fans. We have no idea what kind of pain Cutler was in or how badly his injury was limiting him. It's easy to talk tough, but it really serves no purpose.
The other question that I haven't heard answered is this: Why would Cutler rather be on the sidelines than in the game? Some argue that he was playing poorly (6 of 14, 80 yards and an interception) so he didn't want to go back in. That's doing a complete disservice to the arrogance of professional football players.
And I mean that in a good way.
Almost every NFL athlete I've met thinks he's the best (or among the best) at what he does. Take Michael Vick for example. When the Eagles brought him in before the '09 season, and he hadn't played a down in the NFL for over two years, he still appeared as confident as he is now. I bet that if you got Vick hooked up to a lie detector machine before the '09 season and asked him which Eagles quarterback gave the team the best chance to win, he would have given himself the nod over Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb.
That's not a jab at Vick. That's just how most of these guys are wired. Before this season, Cutler hadn't played in a playoff game since high school. According to Pro Football Talk, he's been sacked 138 times in his career and has missed a total of one game before Sunday. In other words, I think if Cutler felt he could have been out there, he would have been playing.
When the great Phil Jasner passed away recently, I remember many pointing out a rule he had of never questioning players' injuries. I think it's a good one that we probably all should adopt.
2. That was a long No. 1 huh? Let's stick with Packers-Bears. Did anyone else notice some similarities between that game and the Eagles-Packers matchup in the wild-card round?
* In both games, Green Bay got off to a good start offensively, but slowed down in the second half. Against the Eagles, the Packers were up 14-3 at halftime; against Chicago, 14-0. And in both games, Green Bay managed just one touchdown in the second half.
* In each instance, the Packers' opponent somehow had a chance to steal a win even thought it got severely outplayed. The Eagles took over at their own 34 with 1:45 left, needing a touchdown to take the lead. And Vick was intercepted by Tramon Williams. The Bears took over at their own 29 with 2:53 left, needing a touchdown to tie. But Caleb Hanie was intercepted by Sam Shields.
3. What became clear in the Packers' three wins was that they're able to compete in different types of games. They have the firepower on offense to win in a shootout. And they have enough playmakers on defense to make stops when they need to and win low-scoring games. Green Bay even showed it could run the ball a little bit with James Starks when the situation called for it.
Think about the Eagles in 2010. Can we really say the same thing about them? No way. I don't think their defense was going to lead them to any wins in the playoffs. The Birds, for the most part, needed to hit on big plays and score a lot of points to win. Keep that in mind when we see what moves they make this offseason (draft and eventual free agency). They need to get more diverse in their strengths.
4. The Packers' cornerbacks - Williams and Shields - have impressed this postseason with their play. But what's even more impressive is that both were undrafted free agents. I think Green Bay's personnel department deserves a pretty big pat on the back for that.
5. Let's shift gears to the Eagles' search for a defensive coordinator. As you're probably aware of by now, if they want to speak to an assistant from Green Bay or Pittsburgh, the Birds have to wait until after the Super Bowl. But we should find out shortly if they want to talk to anyone from the Jets or Chicago.
According to Bleeding Green Nation, NFL analyst Brian Baldinger mentioned Jets secondary coach Dennis Thurman as a potential candidate. He's spent the past two seasons with New York and was the Ravens' secondary coach for six years from 2002-2007. Prior to coaching in Baltimore, Thurman was the DBs coach at USC for eight seasons.
6. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column, SI.com's Peter King said that a source told him the Eagles would have taken a look at Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano, but Baltimore promoted him to defensive coordinator. And by the way, Dick LeBeau told the Inquirer's Jonathan Tamari he's not coming to Philly.
7. If you're a frequent MTC reader, you know I usually base opinions on specific things I see/observe, numbers, historical facts, etc. But I have one opinion that is based on none of that: The Eagles need a bully on defense.
That's what I was thinking when watching those games yesterday. Pretty much everyone on the Steelers' defense qualifies - James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and so on. Clay Matthews fits the bill for the Packers.
Who's that guy on the Eagles? Is there anyone that opposing offenses fear? Anyone that quarterbacks have to account for at the line of scrimmage? Asante Samuel had an outstanding season, but he's not that guy. Trent Cole is very good, but he's not that guy either. When Brian Dawkins was in his prime, he was that guy.
I think Andy Reid and Howie Roseman would agree with me too. I think it was part of the reason they looked the other way when Ernie Sims was constantly hitting his teammates after the whistle for three weeks at Lehigh. But when the regular season came around, Sims was rarely even close enough to a ballcarrier to deliver a big hit. More likely, he was being taken out by an offensive lineman.
I can't think of a guy on the current roster that could emerge as that bully, but it's another thing to keep in mind when the Eagles make defensive personnel changes.
8. Let's move on to the AFC. It's time to start mentioning Mike Tomlin as one of the most impressive coaches in the NFL. In four years, he's led the Steelers to two Super Bowl berths. Pittsburgh has finished no worse than 9-7 in any of those seasons, and Tomlin has a regular-season record of 43-21. In the playoffs, he's 5-1. And keep in mind, his teams have accomplished these things while dealing with the offseason nonsense of Ben Roethlisberger. By the way, he's only 38 years old. Is there any reason the Steelers shouldn't sign Tomlin to a 20-year contract? Talk about producing results.
9. It pays to have a quarterback who can move. Eagles fans know that after having watched Vick last season and Donovan McNabb for the previous decade. But Aaron Rodgers' athleticism has stood out this postseason. He ran seven times for 39 yards yesterday, including gains of 25 and 12.
And Roethlisberger is probably the most difficult QB in the league to bring down. He picked up a first down with his legs on 3rd-and-12 during Pittsburgh's first scoring drive. And he ran for a touchdown in the second quarter. In the third, he picked up first downs on 3rd-and-3 and 3rd-and-4.
10. I thought the Steelers just pushed around the Jets in the first half, and that was the difference in the game. In the regular season, New York allowed 90.9 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry; both were third-best in the NFL. Rashard Mendenhall gashed them for 121 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. As a team, Pittsburgh totaled 166 yards on the ground.
Extra point: On a lighter note, what are the executives at Dr. Pepper thinking? Why is that McNabb/Michael Strahan commercial still airing? They do realize they're featuring a defensive end-turned-broadcaster, who hasn't played in the league since 2007, and a quarterback who was demoted to third string, right? Why is this ad still being shown? Is it causing anyone to actually buy more Dr. Pepper? Maybe it's more complicated than I'm aware of, but with millions of people watching, the commercial just looks silly.
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