In less than a week, the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings will face off in a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game. The NFL will probably give it some stupid name like the Kickoff Spectacular, and some shitty bands will probably play the pregame and halftime shows. But it'll be football, damn it, and you bet we'll all watch it.So in preparation for football’s wonderful return, I turned to my former college roommate, current fantasy baseball commissioner and all-around Bay Area sports fan, Mr. Peter True, to do a position-by-position comparison of his beloved San Francisco 49ers and my equally beloved Philadelphia Eagles.
Will either of us win the Super Bowl? Highly unlikely. But we’re both flawed teams, and Pete and I are both more than willing to build up preseason expectations beyond a reasonable level and then be horribly disappointed at our respective 8-8 or 9-7 finishes.
With that in mind, a brief introduction from Peter True:
True: Greetings, loyal subjects of kingmyno.com, and thank you to the King for the gracious invite. To celebrate the fact that our two franchises will be facing off this season (October 10th, get ready), Steve and I will be going position by position to break down the outlook for our respective squads. I hope you enjoy our back and forth, and please direct any Hatorade to @pwtrue, where I will address your insults with 140 characters of dismissive West Coast arrogance.
And now, part one of our masterpiece: defense, coaching and special teams.
True: The Niners’ defensive line is one of the most consistently frustrating units on the team. While quite good against the run (although having Patrick Willis to bail them out surely helped), this unit was utterly ineffective at applying pressure on opposing QBs with a four-man front. When we were smoked against the Texans and Falcons, I nearly tore all my hair out as the two Matts (Schaub and Ryan) sat back there for an eternity waiting for a wide receiver to break free.
I love Aubrayo "Bray-Bray" Franklin (holdout be damned!) but the rest of this unit is in dire need of improvement and needs to be addressed in the 2011 draft (with the last pick of the first round!). The Eagles d-line has been good in recent seasons, and that's a lot more than I can say for my Niners. So, with a heavy heart, I am going to have to concede this one.
King: So nice of you to concede one so early. Yes, our defensive line is probably better than yours, although I will also admit to knowing jack shit about your line. I’m not exactly watching game tape of NFC West teams in the trenches, and since this isn’t the Montana/Young/Garcia days, it’s not like you’re on TV ever. Nevertheless, I’ll take what I can get.
I was bitching to my roommate recently about the lack of pressure our front four gets on the quarterback, and he made the wise observation that it’s not like I’m watching all 30 teams and deciding that we're worse. We do have Trent Cole, who is an absolute stud at defensive end, and our defensive tackles are more run-stoppers than quarterback-tacklers. Sure, it would be great to have Warren Sapp in his prime, but that’s not usually how things work.
So I’ll appreciate what we have, for now, and hope that first-round pick Brandon Graham emerges as a legit pass-rusher in his own right. I wouldn’t say we have an excellent d-line (we could use a bit more size), but it’s not the first, second or third thing I’d upgrade right now.
True: Two words, Eagles fans: Patrick Willis. When you have the best inside linebacker in professional football, your linebackers as a unit tend to compare favorably to pretty much anyone. Willis led the NFL in tackles as a rookie and hasn't looked back. No one has his intensity when pursuing the quarterback on blitzes; just ask Brett Favre, who found out the hard way on his first play from scrimmage this preseason. Welcome back, Brett! The same goes for his speed in pursuing running backs, some of whom think they have an easy seven yards on a sweep until P-Willy comes tearing from behind and drags them to the turf.
The rest of the linebacking corps, however, is not nearly as impressive. Takeo Spikes just got his AARP card approved, and I am not really a huge Manny Lawson believer. But Parys Haralson is underrated and NaVarro Bowman has really been showing us something in the preseason (even drawing some Willis comparisons). I confess to not knowing much about the Eagles backers, but the unit seemed to be a weakness in 2009 so...
King: There wasn’t much to know about the Eagles’ LBs last year; Stewart Bradley went down and it was a revolving door of “whatever” after that.
But now, with Bradley back and Ernie Sims acquired for a song from the hapless Detroit Lions, linebacker should be a position of strength. Akeem Jordan showed some promise at the end of 2009, and Omar Gaither provides a meager amount of depth. The position is still very un-deep, though, so please don’t get injured, guys.
Nevertheless, the Eagles (and probably the rest of football) have nothing that compares to Patrick Willis. Although I can’t believe you have Takeo Spikes (you guys love our leftovers), 49ers get the win at LB, too.
True: You don't have the NFL's top fantasy defense without a solid secondary, and the 49ers have that and more. With the addition of Taylor Mays (who, despite plummeting draft stock that let us snag him in the second round, remains a top prospect), I expect Dashon Goldson and the boys to take another big step forward in 2010.
Nate Clements has been a disappointment, especially given the money we shelled out for him, but our depth in the secondary has more than made up for that questionable signing. Eagles fans in particular know the value of having a bone-crusher like Michael Lewis lurking at safety, making those skinny wideouts think twice about coming over the middle and plugging up running lanes where needed.
Also, a special mention goes to the forever-hated-on Shawntae Spencer, who does nothing but win starting spots and shut down opposing receivers. There was a lot of whining and griping after his injury-plagued 2008 about that deal, but those of us who reserved judgment until the man was healthy were vindicated after a strong 2009. I expect more of the same from Mr. Spencer.
The Eagles secondary seems to be a consensus middle-of-the-pack unit (if only Brian Dawkins could stay young forever, huh?) and that isn't going to be enough to get the nod over one of the best secondaries in the NFC.
King: Ugh. I forgot that you had Michael Lewis; that makes me want to disagree with you right off the bat. Is he even good anymore? I thought he was exposed as a fraud when we sent him packing, but maybe he was just one of those "needs a new city/situation" guys. Either way, he should have been on the field in the 2002 NFC Championship Game over lame-ass Blaine Bishop, and I’ll never forgive Andy Reid for that.
As for the Eagles’ defensive backfield, it’s a whole lotta meh. Count me among the unimpressed at how we’ve reanimated the Patriots' mid-00's corner duo. But hey, maybe Asante really has learned how to tackle! Either way, a lack of depth (and talent, too) at the cornerback spot will inevitably hurt us against the Miles Austins and, yes, the Michael Crabtrees of the world.
And fuck staying young forever; why the FUCK did we even let old Brian Dawkins go? He certainly didn’t look that aged in Denver last year. The Macho/Demps tag team can be vomit-inducing, and Nate Allen, for all his promise, is very much a rookie. B-Dawk sure would have looked good mentoring these guys for another year or two. Beyond idiotic. Super-duper advantage to you guys, partly out of rage.
King: The Eagles made a big move this offseason, and it wasn’t trading Donovan McNabb. They signed special teams guru Bobby April away from Buffalo, hoping he’d revamp a unit run into the ground last year by special teams un-guru Ted Daisher. Everyone remembers the Macho fumble and the penalties, and we all thought April would nip all that in the bud.
So far, the results have been…unimpressive. Preseason kick coverage, in particular, has been something of an embarrassment. April was hired to turn this unit into a cohesive group that doesn’t make mistakes, because the Eagles aren’t talented enough to overcome special teams blunders. I’m not yet convinced he’s done that, and I expect a game or two to turn on punt and kick mistakes.
But, of course, with DeSean doing what he do returning punts, April’s boys will probably win us a few games, too.
True: Though the Eagles do have one of the most electrifying weapons in sports returning punts, getting Teddy Ginn Jr. for peanuts upgraded what has been a huge weakness in recent years for us to a potential strength. If Ginn even breaks one or two long ones this year, it could change a couple of games for us in a way that shitty, shitty Arnaz Battle was never able to do.
We also return one of the league’s best punters in Andy Lee (he’s coming for you, Shane Lechler!) and a solid PK in Joe Nedney, so I don’t see the kicking game costing us anything substantial in 2010.
That being said, I don't know if either of our units stands out in any real way. Let’s call it a wash.
King: Finally, the big fish in the pond.
Andy Reid has been in Philadelphia for 11 years, compiling 118 wins (playoff and regular season combined) and six division championships. He’s taken the Eagles to one Super Bowl and five NFC Championship Games, heading what’s probably been the most successful stretch of football in Philadelphia history. But as several experts have pointed out this offseason, very few coaches go from one era (McNabb) to another (Kolb) and retain the same level of success. Most don’t even last that long in the first place.
Can Reid preside over 20 years of (mostly) victorious Eagles football, and more importantly, can he bring home a championship? I’d say the bulk of Eagles fans view this year as a transitional one, and no one will really be upset if they hover around mediocre. It’s a very young team, and Reid should be given a little while to shape them in his image. That being said, Philly fans are not a patient bunch, and I still don’t think Reid’s position as "king of Philadelphia football" is a life-time appointment. He can cement himself as a Hall of Fame coach over the next couple of seasons, or he can fade quietly into the background.
His assistants are equally as intriguing. Marty Mornhinweg had a borderline-embarrassing ESPN The Magazine story come out last year that christened him the "next great NFL coach" (good luck with that, whoever the fuck hires him), and Sean McDermott is still looking to be more than "the guy who came after the late, great Jim Johnson." Neither’s name is worth much in Philly right now, but both can cement their reputation by tutoring Kevin Kolb and turning a ho-hum defense into a monster, respectively.
I personally think bringing in Dick Jauron is meant to light a fire under the young McDermott's ass, but that's just speculation. Either way, none of our coaches inspire this kind of hilarity, so I’m already "giving" this category to Petey.
True: Thought I would have to endure some more Singletary shots here, but luckily the King kept it to our head honcho’s hilarious "turn" on Letterman.
Say what you will about Big Mike’s unorthodox methods, but he has gotten big results. After straightening out Vernon Davis’ career, which was threatening to turn into a total meltdown, Singletary took a chance on "character risk" Anthony Davis and it appears to be paying off in spades.
He is clearly a motivational "player’s coach" type, as opposed to Andy Reid's oft-lauded strategic prowess, but that is exactly what a young team like the Niners needs right now. I love the attitude Singletary has brought to the Niners (after previous coach Mike Nolan seemed to spend most of his time lobbying the NFL to let him wear suits on the sideline) and I expect him to lead us deep into the postseason in 2010.
ADVANTAGE: Eagles (even if Pete does not agree)
That’s it for today, but we’re not done yet. Come back early next week for part two, where Peter and I tackle the fun side of the ball, also known as "offense."