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Be thankful Philadelphia Eagles aren't turkeys



My preseason prediction for the Eagles: 8-8

Given that they are 7-3 as of Thanksgiving Day, it looks like I was way off. And I’m pretty happy about it. The same can be said for most Eagles fans, given that almost no one expected such a strong showing this year.

Of course, the fact that Michael Vick finally decided to focus on football has changed the equation entirely. Vick is simply the most talented athlete to play quarterback since Randall Cunningham. In fact, I’d say Vick is the most physically talented QB ever. But like Randall, he spent much of his career depending entirely on those skills instead of studying film and preparing mentally.

By the time Randall figured it out, he was no longer an Eagle, but won an MVP award with Minnesota. It appears as though Vick is about to follow the same path, except this time the Eagles are the beneficiary. (I still don’t forgive Vick for what he did to those dogs, but that doesn’t stop me from giving an honest analysis of his play.)

But while everyone has focused on Vick, there are a lot of other key contributions to the Eagles’ season that are being overlooked. My biggest concern entering the season was that the smallish Eagles defense would not be able to stop the run. And they did get run over in the first four games of the season. Then, early in game five against San Francisco, DT Brodrick Bunkley got hurt, Antonio Dixon stepped in, and those gaping holes in the middle of the line disappeared. Dixon is definitely the unsung hero of this team, along with Trevor Laws, who comes off the bench to provide both solid run defense and pass rush pressure. Since recovering from his injury, Bunkley has been unable to take back the job, despite the fact that Andy Reid  says he played “a tremendous game” last week.

LB Moise Fokou has also been a big factor in the improved run defense. Taking over for Akeem Jordan, who weighs 230 pounds, Fokou is a little bigger at 236, and a lot stronger. In the first four games of the season, the Eagles allowed an average of 139 yards rushing per game. In the four following games, with Fokou and Dixon taking over, they gave up less than half as many, 62 YPG.

In the last couple of weeks, the Eagles pass defense has also received a big boost from the surprisingly strong play of CB Dimitri Patterson in place of Ellis Hobbs. These changes, and the overall improved play of the defense, are a real credit to defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Throughout last year and into this one, McDermott has been blamed for the drop off of the defense after the unfortunate death of Jim Johnson. But a coordinator is only as good as the players who carry out his schemes, and the Eagles didn’t have the horses. Suddenly, no one is taking shots at McDermott anymore.

Speaking of which, as a long time critic of Reid, I have to admit that he’s doing an excellent job right now. He even had a couple of timeouts left at the end of last week’s game. Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are showing great creativity, including a shovel pass a couple of weeks ago that reminded me of the days when the Cowboys used to shovel it to Robert Newhouse for big gains back in the mid-70’s. (Given the reputation of the NFL as a copycat league, it’s hard to figure why that play has almost completely disappeared.)

I love it when the Eagles put DeSean Jackson in the backfield, fake the pitch to him going outside to the right, then hand off to the running back going left. I’m sure Donovan McNabb must wonder why they didn’t use that type of creativity when he was here. And it wasn’t Donovan’s fault, because the same was true when they used Vick in the wildcat: we all remember how they’d just run Vick straight up the middle every time. No deception, no creativity, no success. By season’s end they had pretty much abandoned the wildcat.

This year is different, though I still wish they would try to run the ball sometimes on 3rd and 1. Or, as Cris Collinsworth pointed out while announcing last week’s game, at least line up in a formation where the defense thinks they might run the ball, instead of coming out in a shotgun.

But there has been definite improvement in the coaching and most especially, in the special teams. Coordinator Bobby April has engineered an amazing turnaround from the group that couldn’t cover a kickoff to save their lives in the early part of the season.

And to add to the joy, the Cowboys suck. Watching them lose on Thanksgiving was a thing of beauty. After all, the only thing better than watching Dallas lose every week is watching them start to win and hear them talk about running the table and making the playoffs, only to get slapped back into place. And all those local frontrunners who root for the Cowboys just for the fun of being contrary and taking shots at the Philly folks who support their native team, have scattered back into their holes and will not be heard from again this year.

Now that’s something to be thankful for.

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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