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Billy Vargus' take on an eventful night for the Phillies and Eagles

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V FOR VICTORY WITH BILLY VARGUSBilly Vargus

Ping-ponging back and forth between the Eagles and the Phillies games on Sunday was such intense fun that I’ve decided to do the same thing in expressing a few thoughts here:

PHILLIES: Hopefully, the many fans who’ve been down on Cole Hamels will never question his heart again after his shutout put the Phils into the NLCS and continued a string of brilliant performances. Some fans tell me they questioned his head, not his heart, because they felt he didn’t handle adversity well last year. And that’s fine. But there’s also a tendency in this town to look at Cole and other West Coast guys as “laid-back Californians”, who’d rather surf than work on their game. The San Diego native has proven his ability to handle adversity in a season where the Phillies bats have repeatedly failed to give him any room for comfort.

EAGLES: Many fans gave up on Kevin Kolb after he played just one half of one game this season. To their credit, virtually all members of the media, including the radio talk show hosts, said it was too early to draw conclusions. But after Kolb’s second start last week, some of those same media folks started jumping off the bandwagon, declaring that Kolb wasn’t good enough to be an NFL starter. So one and a half games are enough to get a fix on a player’s skills? Ridiculous.

What I saw after the second game was a QB who had gone from being terrible to being average. While no one jumps up and down over an average performance, it represented a quantifiable improvement. Then, last night, he took an equally big step up and played very well, completing 67.7 % of his passes. He had also completed a good percentage, 62% , the previous week but was rightly criticized for not throwing downfield enough. This week, his average yards per pass was 8.2, way up from 5.7 the week before. And that number is on par with Michael Vick; prior to his injury. Vick was averaging 8.3 yards per attempt.

PHILLIES: Speaking of the lack of offensive support for Hamels, the Phillies bats are going to have to heat up if they are to win the NLCS and make it to the World Series. They scored 13 runs in 3 games against Cincinnati, which isn’t bad, until you realize that only 7 of the runs were earned. During the regular season, the Reds tied San Diego for the fewest errors in the league, and then allowed 6 unearned runs, an average of two per game, during this series. No way can you expect that to happen again.

EAGLES: Another thing about Kolb: TV analysts keep saying there’s a big drop off from Vick to Kolb when it comes to being able to scramble and run. Sure, Kevin Kolb doesn’t have Vick’s speed, but Kolb has shown very good mobility, constantly moving away from pressure Sunday, sometimes by scrambling and other times on designed rollouts and bootlegs. And Kolb is actually averaging more yards per carry than Vick, 7.6 to 7.2.

PHILLIES: Going back a few days, it sure was nice for Roy Halladay to repeat the feat for those of us who missed his first no-hitter this year - a perfect game against Florida. I was at a Center City sports bar that night (May 29th), where the TV’s were tuned to the Flyers opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals. The pay-per-view MMA showdown between Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans was coming on pay-per-view that night, and they had the preliminaries up on some of the screens as well. So all of us who were sardined into the standing room only crowd never saw Halladay’s first no-hitter. Who would’ve thought he’d top it a few months later with the second no-hitter ever pitched in a postseason game?

EAGLES: Serious props to LeSean McCoy, who played despite broken ribs, and rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries. And serious props to the Eagles run defense. It’s been a concern of mine since the offseason, when they unloaded 260 pound Chris Gocong and brought in 230 pound Ernie Sims, with 230 pound Akeem Jordan moving to the strong side, where he is way too small. This represented a throwback to the days when the Eagles didn’t care about having the size to stop the run, as long as they had the quickness to handle the pass.

After being eliminated from the 2006 playoffs when the Saints rushed for 208 yards against them, Andy Reid seemed to realize that he needed to get a bigger defense. This year, though, they’re back to the old philosophy, with tiny defensive ends and linebackers, not only in the starting unit but also on the bench. My concern about their inability to stop the run became stronger when they gave up 168 yards and 175 yards on the ground in the final two preseason games. And then, they got run over in the first four regular season games as well. Jordan was benched in favor of Moise Fokou, who’s not much bigger, but did play well Sunday, with 10 tackles. They got gashed early with a few good runs and actually seemed to do better once Broderick Bunkley went out with an injury. The absence of non-tackler Asante Samuel may have helped, too. In fairness, though, I doubt Alex Smith would’ve thrown for 309 yards against the Eagles if Samuel was playing.

PHILLIES: I’m pretty old, but not quite enough to have seen Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But my father, who saw that game, says Roy Halladay’s Don Larsen Perfect Gameno-hitter was actually more impressive. He says Larsen basically threw two types of pitches, compared to Halladay’s amazing arsenal of four. And, he says, Larsen got some lucky breaks on well hit balls, whereas Halladay never allowed the Reds to get good wood on anything. Actually, Wood got some wood, i.e., pitcher Travis Wood managed a decent line drive, but it was handled by Jason Werth in right field without much problem.

EAGLES: Watching Donovan McNabb the last two weeks, you still see him completing 5 yards passes on 3rd and 10. But you also see Kevin Kolb doing the same thing. The conclusion, to me, is that it’s neither of the quarterbacks’ fault so much as it is playing in Andy Reid’s system, which is ingrained in McNabb now. Speaking of the Eagles coach, will he ever learn to try to run the ball on 3rd and short? He went to the Wildcat on a 3rd and 3 early in the game, and used it again in the 3rd quarter on 3rd and 1.

 In the first instance, DeSean Jackson took a direct snap and gained the first down, but the next time, the snap wasn’t good and Eldra Buckley was stopped for no gain. Late in the 4th quarter, on 3rd and two with 1:41 to play, the Eagles tried to pass and it was incomplete. They not only didn’t get the first down, but also stopped the clock, giving Frisco plenty of time to tie or possibly win. Thank goodness that after the Niners moved into Eagles territory, Trevard Lindley came up with the game-saving interception. But, really, it isn’t that complicated; give it to McCoy, who’s averaging over 5 yards a carry, and let him get a couple of yards and keep the chains moving.

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Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

Billy V can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com