What’s Next for the Defense?

Posted: October 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments »

The Eagles have not allowed a single point over the last 2 weeks. Some of you will point out that one of those weeks was the bye, but I still think Bradley Fletcher gave up 4 catches for 62 yards. I kid, I kid. We can do that when the defense is coming off a shutout. Life is good and everyone is confident.

The question is whether the shutout was an anomaly or the sign that the defense finally put it all together. Clearly I don’t expect another shutout. I’m talking about the outstanding play of the defense. I wrote a piece for BGN on whether the Eagles can build off the Giants game.

I’m certainly hoping the defense can get into a groove and play well. The Eagles have traditionally been a defensive team. 34-28 shootouts are fun from time to time, but it would be good to see some outstanding defense on a regular basis.

One oddball note…I was surprised to look back at 2011 and see the team finishing 10th in points allowed and 8th in yards allowed. Then I remembered that Derek Landri was here. I wonder if he’ll go into the Hall of Fame as an Eagle…

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Fran Duffy has his Eagle Eye preview up. This is All-22 must read material every week.

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Here is a good article on the Cardinals and their focus on stopping the run.

As LeSean McCoy began watching tape of the Cardinals earlier this week, he was baffled.

In Week 12 last year, the Eagles’ star running back was held 21 yards under his season average by Arizona’s tough run defense, which led the NFL in that category at the end of the year. To him, that made sense.

The Cardinals had standout defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett up front, with athletic linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby on the second level.

This year, though, has been much different. Washington, Dansby and Dockett haven’t taken a snap for the Cardinals – and won’t – while Campbell has missed the past two games with a knee injury.

For 36 defensive plays against Oakland on Sunday, defensive tackle Dan Williams was the only member of last year’s starting front seven to see the field. On the other 15, it was an entirely new group made up of low-cost veterans and inexperienced youngsters.

Yet despite the heavy turnover and decrease in star-power, the Cardinals held the Raiders to 56 rushing yards, and have again moved atop the rush defense chart, giving up a paltry 72.5 yards per game.

“That’s the crazy thing I’ve been wondering,” said McCoy, when asked how the Cardinals are keeping this up. “I think every player on that defense plays together, whereas sometimes where guys want to make the plays and get all the attention. They play as a team.”

It is shocking the amount of turnover that defense has had due to moves, suspensions and injuries. Yet, they continue to play well. Todd Bowles sure seems like one terrific defensive coordinator. Kudos to him for coming out of the messy 2012 Eagles situation and finding a good landing spot for himself.

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I was on the EaglesFanCast with Chuck, Todd and Steve Brown from the UK. About an hour of football talk. Good stuff.

I know many of you want more shows from me and Jimmy. I will talk to him about that. Our schedules got complicated and we had some weird technical issues, but we need to get back to doing shows. I promise I’ll talk to him and we’ll see what we can work out.


Detailed Game Review – PHI 27, NYG 0

Posted: October 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 84 Comments »

(Sorry for the delay in getting this full DGR posted. Crazy stuff with the day job last week and this week cut into my night time writing schedule.)

The Eagles shut out the Giants 27-0. Connor Barwin is the player who got a ton of praise for his 3 sacks and overall good showing. Others talked about LeSean McCoy and his season high 149 yards. Some pointed to the Eagles O-line and the great game they played.

I think the MVP of the game was Brent Celek. He was flat out fantastic. Celek has been up and down as a blocker this year. He came alive against the Giants and played a terrific game. Jason Pierre-Paul, once the most dominant DE in the league, was limited to 4 tackles. He had no sacks or QB hits. Jason Peters blocked him most of the time, but Celek blocked JPP more than you would expect. And Celek did an outstanding job on him. Whey your TE can neutralize the other team’s best defensive linemen over and over, you are going to win.

Giants players complained about the Eagles tempo getting the best of them. If you watched the mic’d up piece on Chip Kelly and Nick Foles, they kept pushing tempo. They talked about it on the sidelines. They talked about it on the field. Faster, faster, faster. This wore on the Giants physically and mentally. The Giants knew it was coming, but it is hard to simulate what the Eagles do when their offense is clicking.

The shutout wasn’t just on the defense. That was a team accomplishment. The Eagles controlled the ball for 32:26, which is rare. You just don’t see the Eagles winning the time of possession battle very much. The STs play was good, which meant the Giants had to deal with a long field most of the time. Only one drive started outside their 24-yard line and that came on Foles INT. There were 3 drives that started inside the Giants 10.

What a glorious night.

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Q & A

Posted: October 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 323 Comments »

There isn’t one overwhelming storyline for this morning so let me answer some questions I’ve been getting.

Should the Eagles trade for Vincent Jackson? Ian Rappoport tweeted out on Sunday that the Bucs have been getting a lot of calls about veteran WR Vincent Jackson. The team isn’t looking to dump him, but they are having an awful season and might be open to moving him for a pick or two.

The Eagles WR play has been solid. There have been some impressive games and some below-average showings as well. I would certainly have no problem with adding a player like Jackson. He is a big, physical WR that would almost certainly help the struggling Red Zone offense. That said, Jackson is 31. I’d be careful about acquiring an older WR. If the price was right, he might be of definite interest. I just don’t see the Bucs as having a fire sale. I’m not looking for the Eagles to deal a high pick for an older WR.

Is Nick Foles right for Chip Kelly’s football culture? He is darn near perfect. That’s the frustrating thing with Foles. As a person, he is exactly what you want for this team and city. He’s got kind of a boring personality. He’s not going to say the wrong thing and get the fans or media riled up. Foles is a gym rat type of player. He enjoys practice and loves working. He’s not obsessed on money or stardom. He’s not looking to develop a “brand”, like Cam Newton or RG3. Foles just wants to play football.

As perfect as he is off the field, Foles remains inconsistent on it. A lot of non-Eagles people see him on a Sunday or Monday night game and get on Twitter and talk about how unimpressed they are. I think Foles is an acquired taste. He looks odd. You have to get used to watching him to get over the fact he’s not Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. Think of him as a poor man’s Philip Rivers. His style is odd, but he’s able to get the job done.

I get the feeling Kelly would really like Foles to show that he’s “the guy” on the field because he values him so much off it.

Is Arizona a must-win game, to avoid falling behind the Cowboys? I don’t think of any October game as must-win. The Eagles still have 2 games left with Dallas. Sweep those and you will likely win the division. The Dallas defense is still very vulnerable. This isn’t a juggernaut team, but I do give them credit for playing better than I ever expected.

Is there any chance Nolan Carroll gets a shot to start over Bradley Fletcher? We thought that might be the case earlier this year, but Kelly and the coaches seem content with Fletcher for now. Carroll is doing a good job of playing a LB in the Dime defense. The Eagles also talked about having Carroll rotate in at both corner spots to help keep Cary and Brad fresh. I don’t think they’ve done much of that recently. I’m not sure what is going on there.

What’s up with Marcus Smith?  Should we compare him to Lawrence Timmons, who failed at OLB, but became a stud ILB. Can he be like Bjorn Werner, who struggled as a rookie, but is emerging as a good pass rusher in his 2nd season? I still think Smith can be an outstanding OLB. He was disappointing this summer, but that’s where you have to be careful about mistaking results and ability. A rookie can struggle without getting you too concerned. The big thing is to see if he showed potential. I think Smith absolutely showed potential. He showed the ability to be quick off the ball. He covered well and was athletic in space. He played hard and didn’t show any issues of being overwhelmed.

It seemed to me that Smith was just having problems with the mental side of things. It looked as if he was thinking too much, and that caused him to play slow. Playing OLB in the 3-4 isn’t easy. Smith got to play that position as a Senior at Louisville, but that’s not the same thing as playing in an NFL defense. Brandon Graham was slow to adjust to the 3-4 and he had a full offseason and NFL experience. Graham looks light years better now than last year. Hopefully Smith will make a similar leap next year.

It is disappointing that Smith is such a limited contributor this year, but let’s give the guy a chance to develop before we even start to write him off. Remember, Smith is big and athletic. That’s usually a good combination for a pass rusher.

Taking Stock

Posted: October 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 178 Comments »

For my weekend PE.com column, I took a look at some things we know about the Eagles at this point. We are only 6 games into the season, but I think you can make some accurate judgments at this point. I still think it is too early to know what the Eagles are from an overall standpoint. The OL injuries have made it tough to evaluate the offense. I’m not exactly sure why the defense has been inconsistent. Was the Giants game a turning point? Or just an anomaly?

We’ll see.

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Here is an extended SFX feature from NFL Films with Chip Kelly and Nick Foles mic’d up. Great stuff.

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An odd thought popped in my head. Kirk Cousins has lost his job in Washington to Colt McCoy. Would you trade Matt Barkley for Cousins?

Cousins has proven that he can have success in the NFL, but he has also shown that he can be an INT machine. Barkley remains a complete mystery since he’s never started a game and has only played in less than favorable situations.

I doubt the Skins are looking to deal Cousins right now. The thought about him vs Barkley just occurred to me while thinking about teams and their QB situations.

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Good news on the injury front.

Is that some good news or what?


The Right Kind of Culture

Posted: October 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 149 Comments »

I remember being very impressed with Andy Reid when he mentioned building a program back in 1999. The Eagles had just come off the Ray Rhodes era where long term vision meant knowing the plan for next month. Reid was the first NFL coach I ever heard mention the word program. That’s a word we normally associate with college football. In college, you have to build a program. Kids can only stay for 4 years and the great ones are often gone in 3. You can only sustain success if you build depth and think long term. Rhodes focused on stars and thought very short term. Reid’s ideas worked well and he did build one heck of a program.

Now Chip Kelly is taking that one step further. Beyond just building a program, Kelly wants the right culture.

Dynasties get built around great players. Tom Brady in New England. The Triplets in Dallas. Joe Montana and then Steve Young in SF. But what if you don’t get the elite QB or Hall of Fame talent? Can you still have something special?

It feels like Kelly is trying to build a program that can thrive with or without great talent. One of the keys is finding selfless players that will do whatever it takes to win. I’m sure James Casey is frustrated with his lack of touches on offense. He didn’t come here to be Antonio Gates, but probably expected to be more than just a role player. Casey still blocks his butt off when he gets on the field. He plays hard on STs. Casey does what is asked of him and he does it well.

Casey is a perfect fit for Kelly’s culture. DeSean Jackson wasn’t.

You got a big glimpse into Jackson’s personality and mindset back in 2011. He wasn’t getting paid like he wanted and that affected his play and behavior in the locker room. Jackson was better under Kelly, but obviously showed enough of himself that Kelly didn’t want to keep him around. Some people saw the move as insanity. You can’t get rid of your best WR. Kelly likely saw just the opposite. You can’t keep that guy around. You’d be sending a terrible message to the other players. If you’re talented enough, you can do what you want.

Jimmy Johnson built the Cowboys into a dynasty by letting his star players do what they wanted. That team won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. As amazing as that feat is, it is almost as amazing how quickly that dynasty fell apart. Injuries forced TE Jay Novacek to retire after the 1995 season, the final SB win. Without him, the team won just one playoff game. That dynasty was so fragile that taking out one key player (and not even one of the Triplets) ripped it apart.

Kelly is fascinated by the military and how they operate. There is a culture of sacrifice. You do what is best for the group. You think about others. If you can get a talented football team to buy into that mindset, you could have something special. Soldiers are individually tough and skilled, but when they work together, they can do amazing things. This isn’t a case where being part of a group takes away the individual desire for excellence. There is a pressure to keep up with the rest of the group so that you don’t let them down. Being a good part of the group makes you better as an individual.

You can bet that Matt Tobin feels pressure playing next to Jason Peters. Tobin knows the guy to his left is an elite player that will get the job done. That makes Tobin want to play well so that the coaches can count on the left side of the line. If Tobin was playing beside Demetress Bell, Tobin would probably have a different mindset. “Don’t suck as much as that guy.”

Think about what Kelly wants on defense. He asks his defensive linemen to 2-gap. That has them reading plays and eating up blocks. You know Fletcher Cox would rather be firing off the ball and blowing up plays in the backfield. That’s so much more fun. But Kelly wants his DL to sacrifice themselves by 2-gapping. That sets up the LBs to make plays. It also puts pressure on the offense. They would rather have players going to designated gaps. It makes blocking easier. When one defender can cover 2 gaps, it is trickier to get him blocked. The DL do get a reward. If they force the offense into 3rd/long, the DL can pin their ears back and go get after the QB. It isn’t all 2-gap.

Kelly isn’t some Utopian nut-job. He understands football players aren’t perfect. He also understands that some talented players are going to be difficult to deal with at times. You can tell that Kelly and LeSean McCoy don’t always see eye to eye, but McCoy must do enough of what Kelly wants that they make it work. Cary Williams is a handful to deal with. He and Kelly are able to make it work. Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham had a real hard time adjusting to the 3-4 and new roles last year. Kelly knew they were talented so he kept them around and gave them a chance to adjust to the situation. Curry became a key role player last year and Graham has become one this year. I don’t know if those players will choose to stay here in the future, but they have each found a way to be effective in the base defense and very good in roles as designated pass rushers.

Bill Belichick established a culture in New England. It was funny last year to hear WesWelker admit that he still sometimes found himself not doing or saying certain things for fear of having to answer to Bill despite the fact he was no longer in New England. Once a Patriot, always a Patriot I guess. Kelly is obviously a different kind of coach than Belichick, but I do think Kelly admires the way things are done in NE. That organization is lucky enough to have a great QB, but they haven’t always surrounded him with great talent. The team continually wins. I think one big difference in Kelly and Belichick is that Bill covets raw talent more than Kelly does. He has drafted some players with questionable backgrounds. Call that the LT effect. Belichick had a love-hate relationship with Lawrence Taylor, but in the end he saw the impact that an elite talent could have.

Chip also has much better press conferences.

Kelly is trying to build something in Philadelphia. Time will tell just how successful he is. He’s off to a good start, having gone 15-7 so far. The big questions remain. Can these ideas win a Super Bowl? Can these ideas sustain success?