Deceptively Good?

Posted: October 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 22 Comments »

The Packers went 10-6 back in 2010. And they won the Super Bowl. That record wasn’t special, but the team was. They finished Top 10 in points and yards on both offense and defense. They also became the first team in NFL history to never trail in a game by more than 7 points. There was a toughness and consistency to that team that was amazing.

How did they lose 6 games? Well 2 of the losses came in OT. Later in the year, Aaron Rodgers got hurt and missed 1.5 games. The Pack lost both of those. The Eagles almost beat them in the season opener when Michael Vick played brilliantly in the 2nd half of the game. And the Eagles almost beat them in the Wild Card game. They were a Vick-to-Cooper completion away from winning. Green Bay was better than the average 10-6 team, but that’s what their record was.

I mention those Packers because the 2014 Eagles have somewhat of a similar feel. Obviously the Eagles don’t have a Top 10 defense and have trailed by more than 7, but my point is that the Eagles don’t have a bad loss. This occurred to me on Sunday night as the Saints were blowing the doors off the Packers, 44-23. That was a butt-kicking.

6-2 Dallas trailed in the season opener 28-3, before rallying and losing 28-17.

The 6-2 Lions lost to Carolina 24-7.

The one-loss Cardinals lost to Denver, 41-20.

The 5-3 Colts lost to the Steelers 51-34.

The Bengals currently lead the AFC North. They lost 43-17 to the Pats and 27-0 to the Colts.

New England leads the AFC North, but got its doors blown off in KC, 41-14.

The Eagles are 2 plays away from being undefeated. They lost 26-21 at SF when Riley Cooper let the winning TD go through his hands. The Eagles lost at Arizon on Sunday when they allowed the long TD late in the game and then couldn’t make a big play on the final drive to get a TD of their own.

Clearly the Eagles are a flawed team, but there is something about this group. They have gotten great STs play and that has impacted several games. The defense has scored a couple of TDs and set up another. The offense has been erratic, but excellent at times. The Eagles have enough overall firepower that they can make plays in a variety of ways. That has kept them in every game and helped them to win some.

Eagles fans talk about the bad loss at Arizona, but a little perspective changes that. Ask the other teams about a bad loss and they will tell you about an ass-kicking they got and how they lost by at least 10 points. Most of those teams were scraping and clawing to even get back into those games. The Eagles were right there ready to win, but just couldn’t make the final couple of plays that they needed.

There is no conclusion to take from all of this. We’re only 7 games in. If the Eagles finish the season not having lost by more than 7 points, that would be very impressive and a sign this could be a team  that will do well in the playoffs. If the Eagles lose a game or 2 by 10 to 14 points, they’ll look like your average 10-6 kind of team.

Because of the Eagles sloppy play t his year, I don’t think enough people appreciate the Eagles 5-2 start. Go check out some power polls or team rankings lists. I’ve seen the Eagles 3rd, 4th or 5th in several. The only team in the league that I think is clearly better than the Eagles is the Denver Broncos, who are playing great right now.

The more the season moves along, the better of a feel we’ll have for the Eagles and the rest of the league. Just where do the Birds stand? The Niners and Seahawks were the teams to beat, but that’s no longer the case. That could change over the second half of the season if both get on a roll, but both of those teams are highly flawed right now.

I look forward to seeing the Eagles play Dallas and Seattle and Green Bay. Let’s find out just how good the Eagles are. Prior to the season, I didn’t see the Eagles as a Super Bowl team. The NFC is such a mess right now that nothing would surprise me.

The Eagles are getting healthy at the right time of the year and that could help them down the stretch. There is still enough time for the players to get in a groove. The team has flashed big time potential, but has yet to play its best football. This is the right time of the year to start playing consistently good football.

As a point of reference, at this point last year the Eagles were 3-4 and coming off their worst performance of the season, a 17-3 loss to Dallas. Nick Foles looked awful in that game and the offense did nothing. Chip Kelly’s critics were on the rise. The next week the Eagles lost to the Giants, 15-7. The only points came on a bad snap to the punter late in the game. There were serious questions about Kelly and his offense.

Foles and the Eagles got red hot after that and the team went 7-1 in the second half of the season.

The Eagles are far from a finished product right now, but they are a good team, and maybe a better one than many people are giving them credit for.

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Ray Didinger wrote an excellent piece on the House of Pain Game.

Always fun to watch this…

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The New Mac

Posted: October 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 212 Comments »

I have not always been Jeremy Maclin’s biggest fan. Back in 2009 I had my heart set on drafting Hakeem Nicks. I saw him as an Anquan Boldin type player and he would be a great complement to DeSean Jackson. I didn’t think too much about Maclin as a target because the whole world knew he would go Top 15, if not Top 10.

I wasn’t mad when the Eagles drafted Maclin. He was too good not to like. But he wasn’t a compelling player in terms of physicality or athleticism. He’s good in every area, but not great anywhere.

Over time I grew to like Mac, for the most part. That changed in 2012. The Eagles were a mess that year and Mac was a part of the problem. He avoided contact like I avoid salads. He wouldn’t block in the run game. He wouldn’t go over the middle of the field. He took every quick screen and headed straight for the sideline. This wasn’t just something I noticed. His teammates weren’t thrilled either.

I wondered how Mac would take to Chip Kelly and his more physical style of football. We didn’t get a chance to find out last year due to the torn ACL. Mac was up and down earlier this year. There were some plays where Soft Jeremy looked like he wanted to come out. But in the last few weeks Mac has shown that he is a new man.

Maclin is blocking well. He is working the middle of the field. There was a play the other day when he actually ran toward a defender while running after the catch. Mac took a huge hit later in the game, but didn’t miss much time. This is not the same guy I watched with utter frustration back in 2012.

Maclin was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award Winner on Tuesday. Kudos to him for coming back from his ACL injury and kudos to him for adjusting his game and fitting in well with what Chip Kelly wants.

The only concern now is getting Mac re-signed, which is a good problem to have.

As for Hakeem Nicks, he looked so good for a while, but seems to be a complete mess these days. Maybe he’ll eventually end up in Philly trying to salvage his career.

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Good stuff here from Chip Wagon on Foles and some throws from Sunday.

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How can you not love Jason Kelce?

Kelce will have to help the guards when Watt lines up inside in pass rushing situations. They’ll need all the help they can get.

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The Eagles are going to work out Safety Chris Prosinski, but don’t get too excited. This is just a depth thing, in case they have problems between now and Sunday, or next week.

Bill Davis said he expects Nate Allen to play, but Allen is dealing with a hamstring issue. And Earl Wolff has been a mystery all year. One of the big disappointments this season has been Wolff’s failure to stay healthy or contribute at all on defense. I really thought he might steal Allen’s job and emerge as the other starter.

Ed Reynolds is waiting in the wings, but the team must feel he’s probably not quite ready.

Expect Safety to be a key spot to address in the offseason.

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Those Annoying Cardinals

Posted: October 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 167 Comments »

I hate the Dallas Cowboys. We all do. They’re America’s Team. They have Jerry Jones and Super Bowl wins and Thanksgiving games. They celebrate every accomplishment as though they’ve changed the world forever. To say they’re smug would be arguably the biggest understatement in history.

I do not hate the Arizona Cardinals. Nor the Phoenix Cardinals or St. Louis Cardinals. You can’t hate mediocrity.

But the Cardinals do annoy the heck out of me and I wrote about that in my PE.com column. Losing to them is incredibly frustrating. I went over a variety of games from over the years where the Eagles found different ways to lose. The Cardinals just seem to bring out the worst in the Eagles.

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Good and bad news on the injury front. First, the bad.

Andrew Gardner came into the game for a few snaps on Sunday to replace Herremans. Now comes the news that there is a serious injury. Herremans will try to play through it. This can be done. Back in 1993 LB Ken Norton played half a year for Dallas with a torn bicep. It was probably easier to get away with that at LB, but this isn’t a completely insane idea. We just have to see if Herremans can pull it off.

The good news…

It looks like Jason Kelce will be back this week. Adding him is huge. David Molk did some good things in Kelce’s absence, but Kelce is special due to his amazing athleticism and ability to block in space. He’s also a great leader and communicator.

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Did you watch Bill Davis today?

Davis stood by Nate Allen in about as definitive a way as you can. I give Davis a lot of credit for saying what he did and explaining the situation that way. Coaches have to support their players publicly. Ripping Nate Allen wouldn’t have accomplished anything, except to placate the fans who want an ounce of flesh. The Eagles are better off boosting his confidence and trying to get the best of him down the stretch. We’ll see what happens when the offseason rolls around.

Actions speak louder than words.

I hope Davis is able to build a good defense. I love listening to his thoughts and ideas. Really smart guy. Would help him to have a big more success on the field.

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Solving Problems

Posted: October 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 395 Comments »

Nick Foles throws too many INTs. He tells us week after week that he is working on it.

Chip Kelly talks about fixing trouble spots, like the Red Zone offense.

Bill Davis talks about the need to stop giving up big plays.

All 3 of these problems have plagued the Eagles this year, but aren’t getting solved. I realize “plagued” is a strong word for a 5-2 team, but without these issues the Eagles could be 7-0 or at least playing better football.

The Eagles have smart players. Chip Kelly focuses on adding intelligent, high character, coachable players. Kelly is a very smart coach. He hired a veteran staff of coaches that he describes as “teachers”. So why is there so little progress on the issues?

You can want to solve problems. You can try to solve problems. You can have the right situation to get problems solved. But sometimes problems are…well, problematic.

I think Foles issues are the most complex. You want him to eliminate the INTs, but you don’t want him to become hesitant about making aggressive throws. I’d rather have a QB be too aggressive than too hesitant. Now, understand there is a difference in aggressive and stupid. The INTs from the Giants game were just dumb. Low reward, high risk. No reason to make them. If Foles forces a ball to someone to try and give his guy a chance to make a play, I can deal with that pick a heck of a lot easier than one that was an obvious bad decision.

I do think the play of the O-line has had a big impact on Foles. First, his protection has been erratic. That causes Foles to rush things even on some plays where he does have time. Pressure can also cause bad mechanics. We’ve seen Foles throwing off his back foot at times. We’ve seen him look awkward even when he tries to step into his throws.

Poor OL play caused problems with the run game. That has led Kelly to call a lot of pass plays. In 10 starts last year, Foles had 3 games where he threw 30 or more passes. Foles has thrown at least 34 passes in all 7 games this year. He’s been over 40 on 4 different occasions. Foles was more than a game manager last year, but he certainly wasn’t carrying the offense on his back.

Foles can solve some of his own problems, but let’s not ignore circumstances and the effect they have. Better OL play and a consistent run game will help him as well.

I think the Red Zone issues are heavily influenced by the OL situation. When you get into a condensed space, scheme is less important than execution. Blocking needs to be precise. That’s not been the case for the Eagles this year. Things are improving as the OL gets healthy and builds continuity, but there is still a long way to go. I look forward to seeing how the line plays when the starting 5 are finally together. The Red Zone offense should look different.

As to Davis and the big plays…that is a mystery. There isn’t one common denominator that I see. Sometimes there are bad decisions (see Nate Allen yesterday). Sometimes there are guys taking bad angles. CBs have not played the ball well on several of them. There has been confusion on some plays. This is more of a true group problem.

I like Davis and think he will get this resolved, but we’ll have to wait and see. Many of these issues involve players that were here last year so it is hard to understand the breakdowns.

The good news is that these are solvable problems. The bad news is that we’re almost at midseason and the problems haven’t been solved yet.

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Too Many What If’s

Posted: October 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 646 Comments »

When you lose a game like the Eagles yesterday, the loss gets replayed in your mind over and over. What if Nate Allen stays deep? What if Chip Kelly challenges the spot? What if he goes for it on 4th/inches? What if Josh Huff doesn’t fumble in the Red Zone? What if Nick Foles isn’t picked off in the Red Zone? And so on.

There was not one moment that lost that game. There isn’t one person to blame. The Eagles were flawed all day and simply had too many What If moments against a good team. You can do that against the Rams or Skins and get away with it. Not against the Cardinals, especially on the road.

I went back and re-watched the goal line sequence. After review, I’m not sure Chip Kelly would have won a challenge. I think it was a terrible spot, but you need visual proof. Unfortunately, there is a Cardinal defender that blocks you from seeing when/where Chris Polk’s legs hit the ground. You can guess based on the way he’s moving that he’s still off the ground, but I didn’t see definitive visual proof. That took some of the sting out of not challenging. But again…what an awful spot. I don’t know how the on-field officials were so off.

The worst thing about the loss is that it ruined some things I’d love to be happy about.

* If you set aside the 2 long TDs, the Eagles defense played well. They allowed one long TD drive. They allowed one short FG drive (which came after an INT). The Eagles let the Cardinals get a few yards here and there, but controlled them for the most part. They played good, solid team defense.

Unfortunately, those 2 mistakes gave up 155 yards and 14 points. You can’t just ignore them. I need to study the Fitzgerald TD at length to see who was at fault. Nate Allen accepted the blame for the John Brown TD.

I don’t know what to say about Nate. That was an awful play. Just dreadful. Your gut reaction is to want to cut him and say “Enough!”, but that really doesn’t accomplish anything. Earl Wolff thinks he’s injured and Chris Maragos isn’t as good as Nate. Unless the team is ready to promote Ed Reynolds from practice squad to starter, you’re left with Nate. You just have to use this disastrous moment to teach the other players what not to do. They should already know that, but we’ve seen mistakes like this in the past with the Eagles and other teams. Players forget the situation and bite up. That’s just dumb football.

There is still the possibility of a trade, but don’t get your hopes up.

* The loss takes away from the great game Jeremy Maclin had. He was terrific. 12-187-2. Maclin had a beautiful long TD catch and also an impressive catch and run TD. He worked the middle of the field. He made a beautiful grab on the sideline late in the game to put the Eagles within reasonable reach of the end zone.

After 7 games…

Mac – 39-632-16.2…6 TDs…10 catches of 20 or more yards

DJax – 26-528-20.3…3 TDs…7 catches of 20 or more yards

I’m not saying Mac is better, but he has produced big results as the #1 WR this year, just as DJax did last year. Mac is doing a solid job as a blocker and there are no off-field issues at all. The big challenge now is getting him to sign a new deal, but that is a good problem to have.

* The Eagles had another good day of running the ball. We all agree they didn’t run enough, but Kelly obviously thought the best way to attack them was to throw. My guess is that he hoped to build a lead and then run a lot in the 4th quarter. The Cards have a terrific run defense, but if you make the rush the passer a ton early, you could wear them down and then run on them. The Eagles did that, except they didn’t have the lead so that limited how much they could run.

The Eagles ran well enough to knock Arizona from being the top run defense in the league.

And the Cardinals overall defensive ranking fell down big time. They gave up a ton of yards. The Eagles moved the ball really well at times. They just didn’t score the points they needed to and that cost them the game.

What if…

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