Monday, September 21, 2009

Saints and Sinners

"Was it business or personal?"
"A little bit of both."
--The Usual Suspects

When I started writing this blog, I made an unofficial promise to myself that I would uphold and maintain, to the best of my ability, a separation of church and state. In the context of this blog--as well as that of my religion--I understand that using that term is perhaps funny, perhaps inappropriate. Perhaps both. That even though there are several overlapping aspects and practices associated with both my religious and Philadelphia faiths, I made the choice for this space to focus on the latter, avoiding the ample opportunities to bridge the gap between my two worlds. (I know that I bent that rule in calling the delightful 44-6 drubbing of Dallas the Miracle of Chanukah. But come on. That was literally irresistible.)

But in the vein of the honesty and forthrightness that this time of year calls for from people of the Jewish faith, I must confess: in celebration of the traditional second day of Rosh HaShanah, I didn't see a snap of yesterday's game.

So all of my commentary on it comes from highlights, stats, and the perspectives of friends and family. Yet, as I learned that the final score of yesterday's beatdown was Saints 48, Eagles 22, I realized something not a little perverse: that missing yesterday's game, in its entirety, was God's new year's gift to me. Happy 5770 to Josh.

A lot of people shared with me that Kevin Kolb, in his first career start, was not so much to blame, and that the fault lies primarily with the defense. To these people, I pose the question: what did you expect? That Drew Brees wasn't going to find his receivers? The man threw for over 5,000 yards last year. 5,000. You had to know he'd score some points.

The truth is that this was all about expectations. Fans are less likely to point the finger at Kolb this week because everyone--absolutely including myself--came into yesterday with little to no hope of his doing well. In six games last season, he went 17 of 34, with four interceptions, and a pathetic quarterback rating of 21.8. Why Andy Reid chose this guy was, and probably still is, as inexplicable as why his name is pronounced "cobb." At least in part because the bar was so low, 391 yards was a pretty impressive number, even if he did have 51 pass attempts.

Yet the real story of the game seems to be Kolb's mistakes, crucial in both magnitude and timing. First and ten from your own 3 with 1:40 left in the first half of a game tied at 10. Knowing how potent the New Orleans offense is and that they have two timeouts, you gotta figure you have one job in that situation: get one first down. At the very least, take enough time off the clock and give your O a little more space so that, if you have to punt, you don't have to do it from your end zone. Give Brees a short field, and he'll kill you for a TD almost every time.

Added to the frustration of that costly three-and-out is the basic fact that the Saints are not exactly known for their defense, ranked 23rd in total defense last season. I did give Kolb credit for actually running a one-minute drill and getting a field goal back before the half. (Perhaps finally arriving into Andy Reid's vocabulary are the words "clock management.")

I know that the Ellis Hobbs fumble to start the second half is certainly not Kolb's fault, especially when he was carrying it like an idiot. But on the next possession--your first of the second half and immediately following a bad, quick touchdown the other way--you can't get picked so easily inside your own 25. That's twice in a row Brees is starting inside your 30. And on the next possession to go three and out again, against this defense, says you're not doing what you need to be doing, to establish a rhythm and get the momentum going back the other way. Only when Hobbs redeemed himself with a 63-yard return from the 2, and Kolb was the one with the short field, was he able to cash in, his only score of the second half.

I hope I don't sound too hard on Kolb. He's 25 and has limited experience. He may end up being whatever Andy saw that made him want him so badly. All I'm saying is that because our expectations of Kolb were as low as I think they were for most of us, it changes what we view as the things that went wrong in this loss.

While 48 points is a lot to give up, only ten of them came on lengthy scoring drives (two), where the Saints' starting field position was inside their own 35-yard-line. That means your special teams and your turnovers on offense (three of four being Kolb interceptions) are the real cause of your loss. Not your defense. Not against Drew Brees.

But it's all good. Sure, it's a bummer to lose your home opener, but McNabb should be fine (speaking of faith), the Saints are pretty good, and besides, it's the guy's first start. Obviously we all hoped for the best yesterday, but raise your hand if you really believed we were going to win.

That's what I thought.

But it's tough not to feel good about Kansas City and Tampa Bay after the bye week.

I'm just saying.
Other Musings:

The Phils' magic number is down to six over both the Marlins and Braves. A sweep of the three-game, two-day series with Florida eliminates them. It'd be nice if we were division champs by the weekend. Good news is they still have something important to play for. Obviously the best record in the NL would be ideal. But even if we can't catch the Dodgers, getting the 2-seed would be huge, both for home field advantage in the first round, as well as the elimination of either Los Angeles or St. Louis, should we make it that far. 3-seed would likely mean having to play both.

It seems that the art of the original slogan has all but died. "It's either Bridgestone, or nothing." I don't know if what's on my car is a Bridgestone. But if it isn't, I have a feeling it's still a tire, and it's probably better than just a hubcap.

Anyone see the Wendy's commercial clearly poking fun at Friday's, et al.? I have news for you: Friday's got rid of flair and that entire uniform eight years ago. I know. I worked there.

Pet peeve I've long intended to bring up: the playing of Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" at baseball games. Don't misunderstand, it's a great song, not to mention triggering recollections of that unforgettable scene in Beetlejuice. But they always play just the first one. They play it, everyone repeats, then a pause so that it's not even keeping a rhythm, followed by a repetition. Whose idea was this anyway? Either play the song, or put it away.

Everytime I think Chris Berman can't get any more obnoxious and ridiculous, I'm always proven wrong. You'd think I might have learned by now.

I'm really happy for Guinness celebrating its 250th anniversary. That's definitely cool, and I don't even mind this new sponsorship of my favorite show, Around the Horn. But the next person who yells out, "To Arthur!" is going to get punched in the face. I'm just saying.