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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki
It was easy to write off the Eagles. Michael Vick was ruled out with broken ribs. They were on the road against a Giants team that stacks among the best in the NFC. Philadelphia's defense has been in disarray. The offense has been turnover-crazy. And Vince Young, by his own admission, was entering the game with a light handle on the playbook.
The deck seemed heavily stacked in the Giants' favor.
Enter Andy Reid. Few coaches handle defeat and brush aside adversity as well as the NFL's longest-tenured coach. The main ingredients to his success have been hard work and humility. When he is stuck in a ditch, he has found a way to shimmy out. It's not about who is right — it's about getting it right. Riding the brink of playoff elimination, Reid edged a step closer toward climbing back into contention in the NFC East with a 17-10 victory over New York in which the Eagles were strategically managed.
The 18-play, 80-yard, clock-milking TD drive that capped the Eagles' victory was called to near-perfection, draining nearly nine minutes and exploiting the youth of the Giants' rookie linebackers, who were drawn by crossing routes and vacated their deep zones. Young made his share of mistakes, throwing a number of costly interceptions, including one in the endzone late in the third quarter that could have opened a 14-point lead. When the game was on the line, however, Young was at his best, consistently stepping up in the pocket to avoid the rush and making clutch throws under duress, including the game-winning TD toss in the back of the endzone to unsung hero Riley Cooper.
The most defining trademark of Reid's teams in Philadelphia has been the play of the lines, and when the offensive line needed it most in the fourth quarter, it came through. More distinguishable throughout the game was the intensity of Jim Washburn's defensive line, with Cullen Jenkins roaring in pursuit to level DJ Ware and Jason Babin spinning off blocks and stripping Eli Manning to prevent a game-tying score. As hard as the corners were consistently crashed, DTs Mike Patterson, Trevor Laws and Derek Landri were equally effortful in suffocating the Giants' run game.
The Giants and Cowboys still maintain a two-game lead in the NFC East, but the Eagles have shown they can handle divisional competition, having beaten both rivals the past four weeks and standing tall in the division. They catch the Patriots at home next week coming off a Monday-night contest in a Thanksgiving-shortened week, but have to travel all the way across the country for a Thursday-night contest against Seattle the following week. The schedule is not easy and the odds are still long, but if the Eagles continue playing hungry and can match the look of focus and determination on Reid's face throughout Sunday night's win, they have a chance to work their way back into contention.
• The Dolphins have shown they have enough talent to win convincingly, and clearly controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against Buffalo. However, the gaping number of empty seats in Sun Life Stadium speaks to the fan apathy in Miami and is a reason why the Dolphins need to fill the void in leadership that exited the building when Bill Parcells left.
• After spending his first five years in the league playing in a 3-4 front for Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini, Browns MLB D'Qwell Jackson has looked much more comfortable this season in a "40" look, better able to swarm to the ball and make plays the way he did at Maryland. Being stuck in a take-on role took a toll on his body in recent years, as he lacked the requisite bulk and length ideally desired. His play has ascended with the arrival of defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
• When it comes to making halftime adjustments and stacking points quickly, the Lions lead the league. They tend to start slow, but they have shown they know how to finish. The strength of the team is on the defensive line, and with the Packers' offensive line struggling through a recent lull in protection, some league evaluators suspect the Thanksgiving Day matchup could be too much for the Packers to preserve their undefeated record. A Green Bay loss could bring home-field NFC playoff implications to the "Harbaugh Bowl" in the evening.
• The 49ers and Ravens are built in similar fashion, with dominant defenses and strong running games that leave special teams as a determining factor. After KR David Reed fumbled three kickoffs over a two-game span, he was deactivated against Cincinnati, turning over return responsibilities to Tom Zbikowski, a more dependable catcher with little explosion. The presence of Ted Ginn and a strong kicking game could determine the outcome of what figures to be a low-scoring, smashmouth contest on Turkey Day.
• The Seahawks-Rams game was a battle of the two worst offensive lines in football. Sam Bradford looked demoralized by St. Louis' protection issues. The Seahawks have addressed the area heavily through free agency and the draft the past two years, but durability issues have compounded their problems.
• One of the single greatest improvements in the Vikings' offense since Christian Ponder entered the lineup has been the improved maneuverability of Adrian Peterson. With Brett Favre and even Donovan McNabb, Peterson did not receive the ball as deep in the backfield as he does with the more fleet-footed Ponder. By taking handoffs five yards deep instead of three, Peterson can see the initial wave slanting right and make sharp cuts in the backfield that help churn out chunks of yardage.