More Questions Than Answers

Posted: July 19th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 3 Comments »

Eagles fans haven’t had to go through many disastrous seasons. The 1998 team went 3-13. The 1999 team went 5-11, but showed they were on the rise. The 2012 team went 4-12. Those were tough seasons. There was one bit of good news. We got to see young, talented players show their stuff.

That wasn’t exactly the case in 2020.

Young players got on the field, but their performances were highly inconsistent. You can’t point to many players and say “That guy is our ______ of the future”. Losing is never fun, but you at least want to find out about the young talent on your team when things go horribly wrong.

I think Nick Sirianni and his staff will do a much better job than last year’s staff. That group was worried about job titles, power, money and their careers. Not everyone, but too many. I’m obviously painting with a broad brush. The staff had a lot of agendas and too many of them were about the coach and not the players.

Beyond the staff, there were issues with some veteran players and the front office.

That atmosphere isn’t conducive to winning and it sure doesn’t help young players to develop.

Jalen Reagor was supposed to add an explosive element to the offense. Instead he walked into a soap opera. Carson Wentz had a head full of issues. Zach Ertz wanted a new deal. Alshon Jeffery was Alshon Jeffrey. The gameplan was being put together by 37 coaches, who all had different ideas. Ugh.

I’m not trying to excuse Reagor’s struggles. He struggled in a big way. But playing in that environment is tough on a rookie. You expect veteran players to help you. Instead, they are bringing a lot of baggage onto the field each week and you’ve got to deal with that.

Reagor wasn’t alone. We hoped J.J. Arcega-Whiteside would show some improvement in Year 2. Instead, we got more of the same. We hoped Quez Watkins and John Hightower could contribute as role players. Both showed speed and potential, but also lots of issues.

Travis Fulgham looked like a Pro Bowl player for a month and then disappeared. The coaches seemed more interested in playing Jeffery than fixing Fulgham. Great thinking, fellas.

Miles Sanders was explosive as a runner and had some great moments. He was awful as a receiver, an area that had been a strength in his rookie year. It was surprising to see him forget how to catch the ball. He and Wentz just couldn’t connect. It was torturous at times.

Davion Taylor might as well have been in the witness protection program. It sure didn’t seem like the coaches wanted anything to do with him.

K’Von Wallace barely played. It would have been nice to get a better feel for what he can do.

Genard Avey got to watch a lot of Vinny Curry in action. Casey Toohill didn’t even get that. He was cut early on. The team hoped to put him on the practice squad, but the WFT claimed him.

When  you go 4-11-1, you at least hope to come away having a good feel with the young talent on your team. Who can play? Who can’t?

We did see promising things from Jordan Mailata, Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll on the OL. Josh Sweat played his best football. Alex Singleton had his breakthrough season. You hope for more from your young/new talent than that in such a bad season.

I think the new staff will do a better job at developing young talent, but not all of the guys will work out. That’s just reality. JJAW’s struggles have a lot more to do with him than his surroundings.

It will be interesting to see how different this group looks a year from now.

And of course we have a rookie class to add to the mix. DeVonta Smith, Milton Williams and Zech McPhearson all have a chance to play a lot as rookies. A strong showing from a couple of them would go a long way to helping the team and making everyone feel better about the future.

*****

How did Ike Reese already look 29 when in college?

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Buying In

Posted: July 12th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

The Eagles have new schemes. They have new coaches. And there are quite a few new Eagles. Change is all over the place. These changes only work if the players truly buy in. It is up to the coaches to sell their ideas and get the players on board.

https://twitter.com/JeffSkversky/status/1413845460624707587

Of course Lane Johnson is going to say good things about his new coach in an interview. Can you imagine “Who the heck is Nick Sirianni? All this guy does is talk ball and act like he knows what he’s doing. He better keep a copy of his resume ready because he won’t be here long”? That would be wild.

Johsnon said all the right things, as he should. But Lane isn’t a good BS’er. If he had doubts, I think you would have had more generic comments. I also loved the last bit where he said “We have a lot to prove.” That is exactly right.

It drives me nuts when players and coaches say “We’ve got a great team” or something like that and they are coming off a bad season. The Eagles have potential, but they absolutely have a lot to prove. That’s the right mindset, the right attitude. You want players to have some confidence and to believe, but you don’t want them delusional.

When you’re at rock bottom, acknowledge it and move forward.

I don’t know if Johnson got the “a lot to prove” from Sirianni. I’d love to think that’s where he heard it.

You can see the difference in Pederson and Sirianni in that clip. Sirianni is all over the place. He’s very hands on. He coached multiple positions over the years and spent a lot of time as a positional coach. Those guys have to be hands on. Pederson coached QBs. That’s it. QBs are in their own world, even on the practice field.

Sirianni is focused on details in that clip. He’s trying to do little things to make sure they will help the players in Training Camp and in games. I liked when he talked about the importance of habits. He’s exactly right on that.

The Eagles have had good luck with coaching changes over the years. I don’t know if Jeff Lurie does this intentionally, but there is a trend. Ray Rhodes was a short term thinker who focused on motivation. He was replaced by Andy Reid, who was a long term thinker who focused on teaching.

Things got stale under Reid so the team brought in Chip Kelly, someone who had a lot of new ideas and would really shake things up. When they replaced Kelly due to his lack of people skills, the Eagles hired Doug Pederson, who had “emotional intelligence”.

When things fell apart under Pederson, the team went and hired a young coach who climbed the coaching ladder over 15 years. He worked for two colleges and three NFL teams. Sirianni is a lifer. He’s a grinder. He’ll understand all the little things it takes to succeed. Can he teach them, lead a team and do a good job at making key decisions? We have to wait and see on that.

The more time goes by, the more I like the Sirianni hire.

*****

Smith has to be the most decorated Eagles draft pick of all time. What an amazing college career.

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Wishing They Won

Posted: July 8th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

There isn’t much going on with the current Eagles so I thought this might be a good time to do some retrospective pieces. It is always a lot of fun to look back at previous players and teams.

When the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, I was happy for myself and the rest of Eagles fandom. We had followed this team a long time and suffered through plenty of heartbreak. Winning made all of that worth it. I was also happy for the players who had worn midnight green, but not been able to win. Ike Reese talked about what a great feeling it was to see his former team as champs. He got to the Super Bowl as an Eagles player, but couldn’t win. Seeing the guys hoist the Lombardi Trophy was special to him, and plenty of other former Eagles.

With that in mind, I put together a team of former players from the last 35 years that I wish had been able to win a Super Bowl. I left off Reggie White and Seth Joyner because they won Super Bowls with other teams. This list is guys who never got to experience the joy of winning it all.

OFFENSE

QB Donovan McNabb
RB Brian Westbrook
FB Kevin Turner
WR Irving Fryar
WR Fred Barnett
TE Keith Byars
LT Tra Thomas
LG Evan Mathis
C David Alexander
RG Jermane Mayberry
RT Jon Runyan

Some of you might have chosen Randall Cunningham as your QB, but McNabb was huge for this organization. He brought stability and success to Philly. We sometimes forget just how good he was and that he had some bad luck in the playoffs. He was able to get the team to the big game, but couldn’t deliver a win. I wish he had gotten to know that feeling.

There wasn’t much of a question at RB. Shady McCoy was terrific, but I liked Westbrook better. The team won big games with him and he had some amazing moments in his career.

I went with a FB because that’s the kind of football I grew up watching and still love. Turner is one of my all-time favorite Eagles. He could run, catch, block and play STs. Such an overlooked player. Sadly, he is no longer with us.

Fryar is another player I loved. He might be the toughest, most physical receiver I’ve ever seen for the Eagles. He lived over the middle of the field and wasn’t scared of anyone or anything. Fryar was great in 1996 and 1997.

Arkansas Fred was the opposite. He wanted to go vertical. He used his speed to get open down the field. He then used his athleticism to make some crazy catches. Barnett came up big in the playoff win over the Saints in 1992, but he never got close to a SB.

I cheated a little here. Byars played TE in 1992. He was mainly a RB or FB prior to that. He did line up as a wing or flexed enough that I’m going with him for my list. Besides, Byars was a terrific Eagle. He had great hands as a receiver and I don’t think anyone will forget his legendary block of Pepper Johnson.

Now to the OL. Tra brought stability to the LT position. It was a revolving door for the 80’s and 90’s. That changed when he arrived in 1998. Tra was also an outstanding player. One of the reasons McNabb thrived is that he had a stud protecting his blind side.

You can’t have Tra without also adding his partner in crime. Runyan manned the RT spot from 2000-2008. He brought an aggressive, nasty mentality to the Eagles OL and helped the group become what it was.

Mathis was an afterthought when the team signed him in 2011, but he started 56 games for the Eagles and is the best LG I’ve seen in Philly. He was a perfect fit for Howard Mudd’s system and that brought out the best in Mathis. Beyond that, he was a fun guy to cheer for.

Mayberry never lived up to being the 1st round pick in 1996, but he had a good career with the Eagles. Just as importantly, he helped the team get going off the field. He was the reason the Eagles Eye Mobile got started, delivering glasses to kids who needed them.

Alexander wasn’t the biggest, strongest or most athletic player, but he was the key to the Eagles OL at a time when it was highly inconsistent. Alexander didn’t miss a game from 1989 to 1994. He had a lot of different guys playing around him as the team searched for answers. Alexander managed to keep things together and got the line to help the team win a lot of games in that time.

DEFENSE

DE Trent Cole
DT Jerome Brown
DT Andy Harmon
DE William Fuller
LB William Thomas
MLB Byron Evans
LB Takeo Spikes
SS Andre Waters
FS Brian Dawkins
CB Troy Vincent
CB Eric Allen

I fell in love with Cole when he was still in college. I was thrilled when the Eagles drafted him and he turned out to be a terrific player. Cole never had ideal size and he wasn’t special athletically, but he was tough and had a great motor. God, he was fun to watch. I would have loved seeing him win a title.

Jerome is a special part of Eagles history. So good. So special. And gone in his prime. SB aside, I just wish we got to see more of him in action.

Andy Harmon is one of my all-time favorite players. He was drafted as a DE, but moved to DT despite being 6-4, 275. Harmon was up and down as a run defender, but he stood out as a pass rusher. He racked up 38.5 sacks in four seasons (1992-1995). Harmon had 11 sacks twice in that span. Fletcher Cox has never had more than 10.5 in a season. Sadly, a knee injury in the summer of 1996 ruined his career.

Replacing Reggie White at LDE was an impossible task. Fuller did everything he could to pull that off. He had 35.5 sacks from 1994-1996. Fuller was also a good run defender. He had some epic battles with Dallas RT Erik Williams. It killed me when Fuller left in free agency, but it turned out Joe Banner made the right call. Age caught up with him in his final two seasons and he totaled just 6 sacks.

Willie T was a terrific LB. He was only about 220 pounds, but he was skilled. Thomas could rush the passer or cover. He could knife into the backfield to blow up a run. He had 7 INTs in 1995, showing just what a playmaker he could be. Thomas finished his career with 37 sacks and 27 INTs. Those are great numbers for a LB.

Evans was affectionately known as BE. Opponents weren’t so fond of him. BE could knock your lights out. He gave the Eagles a playmaker and big hitter in the middle of the defense. A severe leg injury in mid-1994 ruined his career. I really wish we had seen more of him. BE was peaking when he got hurt. He still had plenty of good football left in him.

Spikes played in the NFL for 15 years. He never made the playoffs. Think about that for a minute. He came to the Eagles in 2007 and I was ecstatic. He was one of my favorite non-Eagles and the team desperately needed LB help. He would make the team better and the Eagles would get him to the playoffs, a marriage made in heaven. Oops. Spikes wasn’t great and the team just missed the postseason. Ugh.

I loved Andre Waters. He was so fierce and so tough that he intimidated many opponents. Emmitt Smith was scared of him. Waters started 100 games for the Eagles and brought a real edge to the defense. Unfortunately his brutal style of play took a toll on his body and Waters killed himself in 2006. It is thought to be CTE related.

Dawk. That’s really all you have to say. He is one of the all-time great Eagles. A fierce hitter, but also skilled as a coverage safety. Dawk could do it all. The only way he came up short was not winning a Super Bowl. It would have been special to see him do that in midnight green.

Vincent is one of the best free agent signings in team history. He was worth every penny and helped the Eagles to win a lot of games in his time here. It killed me when he left in FA, but that proved to be smart as well. Age had caught up with Troy at that point.

Eric Allen had 4 pick-sixes in one season, 1993. Think how crazy that is. I don’t know if the Eagles have 4 pick-sixes in the past four years. Allen had great hands and instincts. He knew when to take chances. Allen made QBs pay a lot in his career, with 54 INTs. His pass breakup vs WAS in 1992 sealed a win and put the Eagles into the playoffs.

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Excitement?

Posted: July 6th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 4 Comments »

Over the weekend I had a chance to hang out with some buddies. Naturally, the subject of football came up. These guys are Buffalo Bills fans and they are excited for the upcoming season. And why not? They have a franchise quarterback, star receiver, playmaking defense and a coach and GM who work well together. Life is good. They want to see if this group can breakthrough and get to the Super Bowl.

I mentioned that I was also excited for the upcoming season, but that was more about just getting to see the team play. Football is a great game. Even when things don’t look great for an upcoming season, part of you gets excited.

I admitted that I was more curious than excited. We’ve got a lot to learn about the 2021 Eagles. There are a ton of questions. Not all will be fun answers, but the mystery is part of the fun.

There are some things I am excited about for the upcoming season.

I cannot wait to see DeVonta Smith in action. I’m not sure the last time I was this excited about an Eagles rookie. Carson Wentz was the #3 QB up until Sam Bradford got traded in August so I didn’t think I’d get to see Wentz play that year. Maybe Mike Patterson in 2005. Or Corey Simon in 2000. Possibly McNabb in 1999. I think you get the point. It has been a while since I was this excited about a rookie.

Smith was my favorite college football player last year. I’m not an Alabama fan, but they’re on TV every week and in so many big games you can’t help but get to know that team. Smith was a dominant receiver. But he wasn’t huge or some freak athlete. He was a polished player who played with a level of precision that you don’t see that much in college these days.

Each week Smith would dominate. He would be on a field littered with future NFL players, plenty of them bigger and faster than him. Still, Smith found a way to take over games. The coaches schemed him open at times, but Smith made those plays. He caught the ball and usually made good things happen after the catch. When he was covered tightly, he still made some of those plays. Tough. Smart. Skilled. Ultra-competitive. He was just like me on the kickball field in fourth grade.

I think Smith’s game will translate well to the NFL so I’m excited to see him in action. And this team has desperately needed a young receiver to play at a high level for a while. Way too many disappointments in the last decade.

From the young to the old, I’m excited to see Ryan Kerrigan in midnight green. Kerrigan has always been one of my favorite non-Eagles. I love his combination of talent, athleticism and a non-stop motor. I know Kerrigan is nearing the end of his career. I know he is here to be a backup. But he’s an Eagle! I finally get to see a player I genuinely love watching come over to the good guys.

The Eagles are hoping that Kerrigan can be Chris Long 2.0. They want him to be an effective situational rusher and to help in the locker room. Kerrigan is a good guy on and off the field. He’s got the kind of mentality that Nick Sirianni wants in his team. Even if Kerrigan only plays for a year, he can have some impact.

I am excited to see Alex Singleton in Year 2. He proved last year that he can start in the NFL and get the job done. He led the Eagles with 120 total tackles. Heck, his 75 solo tackles were more than anyone else’s combined tackles. That’s crazy.

This coaching staff had success with LBs in both Indy and Minnesota. I’m hoping the new staff will get even more out of Singleton. I don’t think he’s going to be some star, but I’m excited to see what he can do in the new system and with a year of experience under his belt. He talked this spring about needing to prove himself all over again. I don’t see Singleton as a one-year wonder. He still seems very hungry and wants to prove last year was no fluke.

I’m excited to see what Jordan Mailata does this year. I anticipate him winning the LT job, but even if he doesn’t do that, chances are that he’s getting on the field somewhere when somebody gets hurt. Mailata had moments of brilliance last year, but he was very much learning on the job. That was his first real football. Now he’s got a chance to practice this summer and to be even better.

I’m also excited to see the new coaching staff in action. Last year’s staff was incredibly dysfunctional. The stories you hear behind the scenes are not good. The new staff is unproven of course, but this is Nick Sirianni’s staff. He hired them. Doug Pederson had coaches forced on him and the results weren’t…good. Sirianni hired the guys he wanted. Many of them worked with him. Some worked with new DC Jonathan Gannon. This is Sirianni’s staff.

Having a cohesive staff can make a huge difference. They should work well together and the players can feed off their chemistry. Football is tough on a good day, but it is darn near impossible when the coaches are going in different directions and there isn’t a unified message.

The staff had a lot of success with WRs and DBs in the past. Both have been trouble spots for the Eagles for a while. I am excited to see if the new coaches can find and develop talent in those areas so the team isn’t throwing money at free agents every year, trying to solve those problems.

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Stuck in the Middle With You

Posted: July 1st, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Comments Off on Stuck in the Middle With You

Last time out we talked about Jalen Hurts and his potential. He is talented and hard working. That’s usually a good combination. The question is if he can be good enough to be the starting QB on a long term basis. No one doubts him as a quality backup. Starter? That is a very different question.

As a starter last year, Hurts went 1-3. That’s not good. He lost to Arizona by seven points. The defense gave up 33 points and 526 yards. Hurts lost to Dallas in a blowout, but the defense was the biggest issue in that game as well. In the season finale, Hurts was pulled at halftime. The Eagles lost 20-14. It sure felt like he would have won that game if allowed to finish.

He did go 1-3, but he wasn’t that far off from 3-1.

Some of you will think of this as me trying to prop him up. That’s actually not what I’m trying to do with that. His numbers and overall play last year weren’t anything to write home about.

Hurts is dangerous right now because of his ability to make plays with his legs. That is an X-factor that could win the Eagles a few games this season. Think back to 2000. Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to an 11-5 record. He threw for 3365 yards. He had 21 TDs and 13 INTs. Those are pedestrian numbers, but that’s what happens when Charles Johnson and Torrance Small are your best receivers. Duce Staley got hurt and only played five games that year. Someone named Darnell Autry was the RB for most of the year. There is a reason many of you don’t remember or don’t know who Darnell Autry is.

The Eagles finished 17th in yards that year. They were 12th in scoring points. McNabb’s legs were the star of the show. He ran for 629 yards and 6 TDs. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry. His legs brought some life to the passing game as well.

The team won 11 games that year by being #4 in the league in scoring defense, having very good STs and coming up with 4 return TDs (2 on STs and 2 on D).

Defense…good.

STs…good.

Offense…good enough.

That was a fun season because we could see McNabb developing into a star. He had special talent. That season told us the future was going to be very bright and the team was going to win a lot of games.

The 2021 Eagles are not nearly as good on defense or STs. And Hurts is not nearly as gifted as McNabb. The flip side is that he’s got much better weapons to work with. The offense could be solid if he develops as expected. And his legs will keep things interesting.

I don’t think the Eagles are going to win 11 games (shocker, right?). This team still feels a year away from being close to that stage. But they could be around .500. And Hurts could prove to be a solid playmaker. There is danger in both of those.

While you want to see the team win more games and show improvement, every win hurts their draft position. Having a Top 10 pick again could help to re-stock the roster. If they are down in the 15 to 18 range, it can be more challenging to find top talent. You need some luck or a great scouting staff.

Hurts might show enough for you to talk yourself into the idea that he is good enough to be the long term starter. You see him make plays and do some crazy things. He pulls off an upset or two and makes you believe. That leads to rationalization.

  • “Next season he’ll be better because he’ll have a full year of starting experience.”
  • “The coaches will fine tune the offense to really bring out the best in Hurts.”
  • “Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz both made big strides in their second full season as starters.”
  • “X, Y and/or Z will be healthy and that will make a big difference.”

The front office passed on Justin Fields last April. Part of that was wanting to see what Hurts could do, especially with a better supporting cast. There will be a lot of pressure on him and the Eagles this year. If Hurts stinks, the team will look bad for having drafted him at all. If Fields lights it up, the Eagles will look bad for passing on him.

Ideally you either want Hurts to show enough where you can say “He’s not the guy” or “We found our QB”. History tells us Hurts is likely to be somewhere in the middle of that. And his ability to run and improvise could easily have us leaning the wrong way.

The worst case scenario for the Eagles would be to finish the 2021 season with a so-so record and a so-so QB. And a lot of questions heading into 2022.

The 2021 team needs answers as much as they need wins.

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