I love to watch "Morning Joe" on MSNBC every day, not because I am a political junkie, or belong to any political party, but rather because I love to hear different viewpoints on the same subject. I believe that Jack Nicholson is right when he once said, "I love discourse. I'm dying to have my mind changed. I'm probably the only liberal who read Treason, by Ann Coulter. I want to know, you understand? I like listening to everybody. This to me is the elixir of life."
Since I grew up on the East Coast, my whole football life has centered around which teams can win the NFC East and how they were built. I learned from watching Bill Parcells, rooted for the Joe Gibbs-led Redskins, and developed respect and admiration for the Eagles and Cowboys. Studying the winner of that division was always important and insightful to me.
When I was working for the Cleveland Browns, we struggled to beat John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Every time we got close to the Super Bowl, Elway got in the way. When it came time to hire a new coach, I relied on my knowledge of the NFC East. Instead of being obsessed with beating Elway, I believed if we constructed a team to win the NFC East, we would easily defeat Elway, as all the teams in that division could handle Denver, home or away. We then hired Giants assistant Bill Belichick to be our head coach. From working with Belichick, I learned the Giants' philosophy of team-building along with his understanding of every other team in the NFC East.
Alternate philosophies of achieving the same goal always fascinate me, which is why the Eagles-Giants game -- featuring teams constructed very differently, both successfully -- heightens my interest. Both do have some similarities, however. They believe the defensive and offensive lines win games and focus on controlling the line of scrimmage. Their differences lie in how they select those players and what kind of players they want on their team.
The Giants are a "size/speed team," which means they want players that perfectly fit their requirements for each position. The Eagles are not obsessed with size, but rather quickness and speed. Both teams love to draft defensive lineman, but while the Giants avoid short players along the line, that is not a consideration for the Eagles. Likewise, the Giants' wideouts all have good size and can run, while the Eagles' receivers are different sizes and have varying levels of speed.
Both teams are talented, both win games and both are potential Super Bowl contenders every year, yet only the Giants have a Lombardi Trophy. Is this because of the Giants' insistence on being a "size/speed team" and the Eagles' focus on speed and quickness? Not really. The Eagles have been to more conference championship games in the last 10 years than the Giants, but for whatever reason (Eagles fans will cite Donovan McNabb's inability to make plays, but that debate is for an entirely different column), the Eagles have only gotten to the big game one time.
Their differences in approach to team-building make each game fascinating. Each time one team loses, it causes the other to re-examine its approach. The Eagles beat the Giants earlier this year as they were able to use their speed and quickness to force five turnovers and limit the Giants' offense to just over 200 yards. The Giants slowed down Michael Vick, but they still allowed almost 392 yards and 27 points. They did not allow the big play, however, which the Eagles' offense needs to be an explosive scoring machine. When receiver DeSean Jackson is limited in making big plays, the Eagles have to be precise with each play and grind it out, which is not easy for them. They did it in the first meeting, though, and made the critical plays at the right time.
In the rematch, the Giants must use their size and power to win the game. We have learned that throwing the ball can be easier in the elements, and that power does not always prevail -- speed and quickness can still dominate. For the Giants to prove they have the right team-building philosophy, they must be able to run the ball and keep the Eagles' defense off balance.
What is essential for the Giants, however, is for them to play with the lead, and force the Eagles' offensive line to handle their strength and play catch-up. The last time the Giants beat the Eagles, in 2008, they were leading at the half, 20-17. In the last four losses, they have been behind at the half by a combined score of 110-62. The team that is leading at the half will most likely win this game. The Giants need to have a good play-script to start the game, and must think fast-break football in their approach and tempo.
There is a rule in team-building as it relates to a divisional opponent: One loss is not a reason for concern, but if you lose more than three in a row, there must be some adjustments made to the overall philosophy. Clearly the Eagles have gotten the better of the G-Men as of late. Therefore, if the Giants lose to the Eagles for the fifth consecutive time, they might want to re-think how they build their team as it relates to the speed of the Eagles.
The script... My first 15
1. I am so tired of hearing about how talented the 49ers are as a team when everyone knows they don't have a sophisticated offense, or a good enough quarterback. No matter how tough coach Mike Singletary wants the team to become, the coaching staff's lack of adjustments during the game, as well as their inability to create matchups for their skill players, makes the offense boring and ill-prepared. A coaching change is looming in San Francisco now that they are going to be under .500 for another year.
3. Speaking of McDaniels, I really think Kyle Orton will not be able to duplicate his success in Denver without McDaniels running the offense. McDaniels got the most out of Orton and based on last week, he has regressed to the Orton of Chicago.
4. Is Jets head coach Rex Ryan really serious about benching Mark Sanchez? Can he really believe the offense will run better with Mark Brunell? Brunell at age 40 has only thrown 31 passes in the last three years and clearly is not the player he once was. It has been five years since he started and had a winning record, and putting him behind a Jets' offensive line that now has two significant holes (left guard and right tackle) will not produce better offensive results.
5. I used to think the Baltimore Ravens were a tough team, but on offense they do not have an identity and seemingly have lost their toughness. If you were to ask me what their signature running play is I can't give you a good answer. Ray Rice looks sluggish and slow as do all of the Ravens' skill players. They are still tough, but right now seem misguided and lack the ability to handle simple blitzes. Their offense has taken a huge step backward at the wrong time of the year.
7. New Orleans' Chris Ivory leads all rookies with 683 rushing yards. Not bad for an undrafted free agent. This reinforces the point that not all top running backs come from the first round and that trying to land those harder-to-find quality offensive or defensive linemen is often the best course of action in the first round.
8. If the Redskins make the move and go with Rex Grossman instead of Donovan McNabb at quarterback at some point this Sunday, they might be costing themselves a draft pick. Once they bench McNabb, his trade value (if he has any) will plummet, and the 'Skins will have spent $3.5 million this year for no reason, because he is clearly not in their future plans.
9. The league has to make certain the field in Minnesota is not frozen, or else the players will suffer greatly when they hit the ground. Playing on a frozen field is like playing on concrete and can be extremely dangerous. One of the best things about the Vince Lombardi documentary on HBO, done by NFL Films, was the detail about Lombardi's obsession with the new heating coils under the Lambeau Field turf before the Ice Bowl against the Cowboys. Lombardi knew that a frozen field was not safe for the players.
10. For the Jags to beat the Colts, they must play well in the red zone on offense and defense. The Colts' red zone TD scoring efficiency ranks second in the NFL, while their overall red-zone scoring efficiency ranks first. The Colts have scored on 33 consecutive red-zone attempts. But more than anything, the success of the Colts in the red zone lies in their ability to convert on third down. The Colts have converted 58.6 percent (17 of 29) of third-down attempts in the red zone, best in the NFL.
11. From talking to many coaches in the NFL, I get the sense that no one wants to see the Colts in the playoffs and hopes Jacksonville can eliminate them from contention. The most dangerous teams in the playoffs are usually the ones that start to understand how to play with a sense of desperation -- which the Colts have done the last two weeks.
12. Kansas City fans need to be worried this week against the Rams. They can't win with Brodie Croyle at quarterback, but even if Matt Cassel comes back, there is no guarantee he can play well coming off the appendectomy. If Cassel does not play well, the Chiefs who usually struggle on the road, will not win the battle for bragging rights in the state of Missouri.
13. When you closely examine all the pure zone running teams (Houston, Washington and Seattle), their lack of a pure drop-back passing game hurts them -- especially when they get behind and the defense knows they have to throw the ball. This might have worked in the late 1990s, but it is not working now. These teams need to find a way to throw drop-back passes and get bigger in their offensive lines.
14. The Broncos might put Tim Tebow in the game this week, and the Raiders are the perfect team for him to begin his NFL career against. The Raiders run a simple scheme on defense and they won't make the game complicated for Tebow. It might be hard for him to execute, but it won't be hard for him to know what they are doing.
15. The Packers might not have quarterback Aaron Rodgers this week for their big game against the Patriots. Without Rodgers and no running game, or even the willingness to run the ball, the Packers' offense will struggle to score points. Can Green Bay hold the Patriots to under 20 points? I really doubt they can, even though it has the No. 1 scoring defense in the league. The Patriots have outscored their three opponents by a margin of 109-3 since the middle of the third quarter of their Thanksgiving game against the Lions.
See you at the games…
I am excited to be at New Meadowlands Stadium this weekend for the Eagles-Giants game. It should have a playoff-like atmosphere and the winner will have a one-game lead in the NFC East with two games to play. There is bad weather looming, which could greatly impact the contest. The remaining schedules have Philadelphia hosting the Vikings and Cowboys, while the Giants have two road games (at Green Bay, at Washington). Whichever team wins on Sunday will have the lead, but will still need to play well and finish strong. Both teams will have to play hard until the end of the season -- which makes for a great final two weeks.