Friday, November 6, 2009

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Over the past month-plus, Philadelphia's collective sports attention has been focused on the Phillies and their quest to repeat as World Fucking Champions. Sadly, that journey ended one game too early Wednesday night, with the Phils failing to defend their crown. Football, though it has been played and gone on as usual, was sort of put on the back burner. But no more, and there couldn't be a better weekend of games to take our minds off baseball. That's because this weekend features two heated rivalries, two games that make any football excited. Tomorrow, at 3:30 p.m. in University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State takes on Ohio State. Of course, I'll be there. And then on Sunday night, the Eagles host the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East.

Last season, the Penn State-Ohio State game was part of the GREATEST. WEEKEND. EVER., as the Nittany Lions went into the Horseshoe and upset the Buckeyes 13-6 en route to winning the Big Ten. This time around, the game is Beaver Stadium, and once again, these two teams clash with identical records. Sadly, this game has much more Big Ten title implications for Ohio State than Penn State, but the Lions can wipe away any hope of the Buckeyes capturing that crown with a victory.

I have a feeling this game will be quite similar to last year's, a low-scoring, sloppy game. The team that makes the least mistakes will win. These are two defenses loaded with talent and playing at a high level. Whichever offense can muster up the most points will have the edge. Looking at the season thus far, that would seem to favor Penn State. They have a fifth-year senior at quarterback, very talented running backs and a slew of no-name receivers that really have performed well. Add in a breakout season from the tight end and an offensive line that has improved week in and week out, and Penn State's chances are looking pretty good. This is a team that is balanced, they can beat you through the air and on the ground.

Ohio State cannot say the same. The savior Terrelle Pryor so far hasn't been quite what he was cracked up to be. This "dual-threat" sophomore quarterback, who spurned his home-state school for nuttier pastures, has been anything but. Terrelle Pryor is an awful passer, and he really hasn't gotten any better. Some say he's even gotten worse. And that bodes well for Penn State. The Buckeyes have to be successful running the football to score points, and the Nittany Lions don't give up many yards rushing, what with the likes of Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee clogging things up. And an improved Penn State secondary should shut down any threat of an Ohio State passing threat. One-dimensional teams typically don't do well against a Tom Bradley defense. I'm thinking Penn State matches up well with Ohio State this year. The only question is has this young offensive line matured and improved enough since that debacle at Iowa to handle a very talented, very good Ohio State defense? That will be bar-none the biggest matchup of the game tomorrow. I can't wait.

Then, to cap off a huge Big Ten battle, we get the Eagles taking on the Cowboys at the Linc Sunday night, first place on the line. Both teams come in at 5-2, and both are coming off some excellent performances. I wouldn't expect the same outcome that happened the last time these two teams met, the 44-6 beatdown that simultaneously knocked Dallas out of the playoffs and got Philadelphia in, thanks to a helping hand from Oakland. Yes, that Oakland. The same one the Eagles lost to this season. Maybe the Birds were just returning the favor the Raiders bestowed upon them last season.

I fully expect this game to be a shootout. Both offenses are clicking this season (for the most part), and both teams have plenty of weapons. The good news is the Eagles have an excellent secondary, so they should be able to handle the Dallas wide receivers, even the red hot Miles Austin. Of course, the big keys will be how the Eagles handled the three-headed monster rushing attack, and of course, how they deal with Jason Witten, a notorious Eagles killer, as are most tight ends in the league. And as always, the Eagles know the best way to beat Dallas is to hit Tony Romo over and over again. For a mobile guy, he really doesn't handle pressure and getting hit well, which is why he's had such little success against the Eagles and even less in the playoffs.

Offensively, the Eagles have to continue to work on the continuity on the offensive line. A repeat performance of the Giants game would go a long way. Against a very talented New York front four, the offensive line kept McNabb clean most of the game, and he was able to sit back there and take some big shots. If the offensive line can give McNabb time, I expect the Eagles to win. And I'm looking for Brent Celek, the new Jason Witten, to have a huge game. With the Cowboys' defensive scheme, I just can't imagine that Celek won't find plenty of holes and mismatches. That guy is becoming a premier tight end pretty quickly.

A win against Dallas would be a great way to cheer up the city mourning a tough to swallow World Series loss.

It was fun being distracted by the Phillies early in the football season for the second straight season, especially with Penn State putting forth a clunker against Iowa and the Eagles somehow losing to a dreadful Oakland team, but I have to admit, it's good to have football back in the forefront. I haven't been this excited for two games in one weekend for a little while now. And two victories would go a long way in helping to heal the wounds from Wednesday night.

BallHype: hype it up!

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