Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Well, the list of the NFL's Pro Bowlers are in, and the Eagles did quite well for themselves. Six Eagles in all were named to the team. Yesterday, before the teams were announced, I told Adam EatShit that four would definitely make it and potentially six could. True story. That doesn't mean I got all the guys right. Let's take a look.
Defense: Asante Samuel, Trent Cole
Asante was one of my four locks to make the team. He's tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine (along with Jarius Byrd and Darren Sharper), and he has a reputation of being a big-play corner, which he is. No surprise in him making it. However, truth be told, I don't think Asante Samuel necessarily deserves to be on the team. Don't get me wrong, he's a fine player and just about every one of his 9 interceptions have been huge, but you watch the guy play week in and week out and he's certainly no shutdown guy. Very good, yes. Great, great playmaker. But he offsets that with the worst tackling in the NFL. As good as he's been taking the ball away, he's been just as bad giving up big plays by horribly missing tackles. Still, the guy has 9 interceptions, leading the league, so of course he was going to make it. Hard to argue.
As far as Cole goes, he was on my could make it list. Not a lock, but a guy I thought had a good shot. The reason I didn't have him as a lock? I had no idea that he was third in the NFC in sacks and fifth in the entire NFL. Had I known that, I would have definitely called him a lock. His 12.5 sacks are even more impressive if you get to watch this team every week. This is not exactly the Eagles defense we've grown accustomed to over the years, the one that punishes opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles struggle at times to get any pass rush from anyone not named Trent Cole, and the blitzes seem to have lost their luster with the passing of Jim Johnson. That leaves opposing offenses with one guy and one guy only to key on in passing situations, yet every week, Trent Cole has wreaked havoc on quarterbacks, running backs and every single offensive lineman he's lined up against. I used to be a guy who knocked Cole a bit early in his career, saying he was a bit overrated and nothing more than rush specialist. Over the past few years, he's proven that sentiment wrong, becoming one of the most dominant ends in the NFC. He's been a master this season both against the pass and the run, snuffing out screens, running down plays … basically, Trent Cole has been a beast. He most definitely earned this bid.
Offense: DeSean Jackson, Jason Peters, Leonard Weaver
DeSean and Weaver were two more of my locks. Let's face the facts, DeSean Jackson is the best wide receiver in the NFC East, and frankly, he's every bit as dangerous as any player in the entire league. His 8 touchdown plays of 50 yards or more this year are tied for the NFL record, and he still has the game against Dallas to make that record all his own. He more than any other player has made this offense impossible to stop, because his speed and big-play threat demand attention, opening up the rest of the field. And sometimes, DeSean simply can't be stopped. He's just too damn good. His selection was a no-brainer.
As was Leonard Weaver's, which I'm sure no one would have ever guessed heading into the season. Now, the Eagles' fullback woes from a season ago were well-documented, so it was no surprise when they went out and got themselves a true fullback this offseason. And by all accounts, Leonard Weaver was the best available one out there. When the Birds signed him, everyone was happy, but everyone also sort of questioned how big of a deal it would be. After all, the Eagles run a ton of empty or one-back sets, meaning a fullback can only have a minimal impact. Yes, as last season showed, that minimal impact is still very important, but chances were Weaver wouldn't be a key cog on most downs. Boy did that change in a hurry. Of course Weaver is an excellent blocker who has created holes for Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy all season long, not to mention done a great job helping keep Donovan McNabb clean. That alone doesn't get you to the Pro Bowl though, unless you're the lead blocking back for a 1,500-yard rusher. Weaver was not. No, what he became was the most versatile fullback in the entire NFL. The former college tight end showcased his sick hands throughout the season, making clutch catches and huge plays. When Westbrook went down, he displayed his deceptive speed and running skills, lightening the load of the passing game. He has arguably been one of the most valuable players on this explosive offense, and he certainly has been the most dynamic, most versatile fullback in the entire NFL. Again, no-brainer.
Jason Peters on the other hand was a bit of a shocker to me. In the first few games, Peters was less than stellar, committing a slew of false start and holding penalties. He looked a bit slow and a bit out of shape. He's certainly progressed as the season has gone on, and frankly, he's been damn good. Well worth the big contract, and making everyone forget about Tra Thomas. But Pro Bowl good? I don't think so. He wasn't especially good on Sunday, and he's had more moments where he's gotten beat than you'd expect from one of the best tackles in the game. In the run game, he's a complete mauler, a truly dominant force, and he's good as a pass blocker, but honestly, he didn't completely wow me. Again, he's very good, and he's been great in a good number of games as well, but I was a bit surprised at his inclusion.
Special teams: David Akers, DeSean Jackson
Akers was my fourth and final lock. The guy is leading the NFL in scoring with 139 points, has made an NFL-best 32 field goals and has missed just four kicks all season, going 32 of 36. He's shown he still has it from long distance, making a 52-yarder and having no trouble getting the ball there, he's a perfect 11-11 from 20-29 yards, 8-9 from 30-39 and 11-13 from 40-49. Basically, David Akers has been brilliant this year. Rumors of his demise the past few seasons were grossly exaggerated, including by yours truly. Most points and field goals gets you to the Pro Bowl every time. And rightfully so.
DeSean was also named as the punt returner, which was another lock. He leads the NFL in punt return average at 16 yards per return, has the longest punt return in the league at 85 yards, and is tied with Patrick Crayton with two returns for scores. Basically, he's the best punt returner in the league.
Who should have made it: Sheldon Brown and Brent Celek
In the words of Matt Mosley:
For the Eagles, I think cornerback Sheldon Brown and tight end Brent Celek should have been on the team. They're both alternates, but that doesn't cut it. Brown has played through injuries and been excellent this season. Celek simply had to overcome too many big names. Vernon Davis had an excellent season for the 49ers and Witten finished strong for the Cowboys. I could make an argument that Celek should've made it in front of Witten. Just look at the huge discrepancy in touchdowns.
In my humble opinion, Sheldon has been the best player on the entire Eagles defense. Better than Asante. Better than Cole. Better than anyone. As Mosley pointed out, he's played through injury, and it hasn't slowed him down one bit. The guy has five interceptions, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and two touchdowns — one an interception return and one a fumble return. He's third in the NFL in interception return yards with 152, and more importantly, he's one of the few Eagles who rarely misses a tackle. He's a big hitter, sure tackler and excellent player. He's been so good that Asante has been able to get his 9 picks because a lot of teams have been throwing Asante's way more than Sheldon's. It's not the first time Brown should have made the Pro Bowl. For years, he was the better corner while Lito Sheppard was getting the picks and return touchdowns, thus going to Pro Bowls. But this may have been Sheldon's finest season. I thought he had a shot to make it, and I really thought he should have. With the loss of Jim Johnson and Brian Dawkins, not to mention the injuries in the secondary and the poor play at the safety position, Sheldon has been the guy back there that has held everything together. He really deserved a trip to the Pro Bowl this year. He really did. It's a shame that he doesn't seem to get the acknowledgment he deserves across the league.
As far as Brent Celek is concerned, he was the other Eagle I though had a chance but probably wouldn't make it. Vernon Davis scored a league-high 12 touchdowns from the tight end spot, more than anyone, so he was a lock. Then you had to assume Jason Witten would be named on name recognition alone. Plus, he is a damn good player. But as Mosely pointed out, Celek probably deserved it over Witten. Just look at the TDs. Celek has 8, Witten just one. Yes, Witten is a better blocker, but Celek vastly improved on that this season, turning it from a weakness to becoming more than adequate. And yes, Witten caught 88 balls to Celek's 69, but even with 19 fewer catches, Celek has just 79 less yards. Celek's 12.7 yards per catch is nearly two full yards more than Witten's. And those eight touchdowns to just one are hard to ignore. Throw in the fact that I had Jason Witten on one of my fantasy teams and Brent Celek on the other, and I can attest to the fact that Celek has been far more valuable this season than Witten. By all accounts, Celek has had a more productive year than Jason Witten. But Witten has the rep. Those are the breaks. I'm just glad Tony Gonzalez didn't make it over him, because Celek definitely had a better year than him.