Fixing the D

Posted: October 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 96 Comments »

Jim Schwartz met the media on Thursday, offering his thoughts on the issues from the Skins game and a preview of the Vikings game. Schwartz did not sugarcoat things. He said there were breakdowns by the DL, LBs and secondary. He also said he didn’t do a good enough job as coach.

Schwartz’s PC

Schwartz didn’t question talent. Or effort. Or scheme.

He talked about mistakes. One of the biggest issues in the game was missed tackles. It doesn’t matter whether you run the 4-3 or 3-4, prefer speed or size, load the box or focus on coverage. When your guys miss tackles, the defense is going to struggle.

Schwartz was asked about how you fix that. He said the key was angles. For those who might wonder about that, he’s right. I used to love watching college football games with Chris Spielman doing the analysis because he would talk about tackling all game long. It drove him nuts to see talented young athletes who didn’t take good angles, didn’t wrap up or didn’t put their head on the correct side of the runner/receiver. He preached fundamentals. Spielman was a tackling machine in his playing days so he knows the absolute importance of what goes into making a tackle.

Defenders aren’t running to the ball. They are running to where the ball will be in 1 or 1.5 seconds. You have to take the correct angle of pursuit. Eagles players are not getting to the right spot. They are compounding that by not being in good tackling position. You see them reaching and grabbing. You would rather have them wrapping up, using the whole upper body to take down targets. It is harder to miss when you wrap and it is much harder for the offensive player to break the tackle.

It felt like the defense was trying to do too much the last couple of weeks. Defense requires the right combination of discipline and aggression. The aggression is there, but the discipline is not. Schwartz talked about the importance of the 2 penalties on Fletcher Cox the last 2 weeks. They cost the team 8 points (maybe more…never know if those teams miss the FG). The Eagles might have won the Lions game without that penalty.

Schwartz talked about he motto we’ve heard a lot in the NFL in recent years – Do Your Job! That’s defense at its best, 11 guys doing what they are supposed to. That helps them to function as one and makes life tough on offenses. Defenses get into trouble when players either freelance or try to do too much. Suddenly there is a gap open or a receiver isn’t covered. Just do your job. Don’t overcompensate for the guys around you.

Schwartz needs his guys to slow down and just play fast. Huh? Right now they are too fast. Don’t go 75 mph when the road calls for 55 mph. Be smart. Be disciplined. Do your job.


Don’t expect major personnel changes. Schwartz believes in his guys. That said…

Jimmy Bama points out that Barwin has played the most snaps of anyone on the DL, but is the least productive player among the starters. Schwartz talked about using him less to see if that would help him be more productive.

“Like a lot of other guys, he didn’t play his best game this last game,” said Schwartz. “He’s a guy who can probably benefit from lesser reps and maybe have more production with lesser reps. We’ve been talking about that. It’s just tough in game situations when you’re not doing well and everybody starts pressing, starts trying to do too much. Maybe that includes playing too many reps. Connor’s a good player when he’s fresh and going, and he’s no different than the rest of our guys that way, but we’re not disappointed in him.”

Jimmy astutely points out (someone make sure he knows that is a compliment) that Barwin used to rush and cover. Now he’s battling OL on every single snap. That can take a toll on you. Playing less might just help him to be more productive. It certainly can’t hurt to try. And more snaps for Vinny Curry is always a good thing.


A lot goes into this so be careful to make any sweeping conclusions.

The first half is going to be crucial on Sunday. You don’t want the Vikings playing with the lead if you can help it.



Posted: October 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 74 Comments »

Carson Wentz is the real deal.

I’ve said that a few times. Fans certainly believe it. Most of the Philly media believes it. Many in the national media believe. It sure seems like Eagles players believe it. The Eagles have found their franchise QB for the foreseeable future. No matter what happens this year, that is great news.

But what about RG3?

Back in 2012 Robert Griffin III was the NFL Rookie of the Year and led the Skins to a 9-6 record. He ran for 815 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and finished with a passer rating of 102.4. RG3 was nothing short of sensational and it looked like he would be the centerpiece of the Skins franchise for a decade.

That’s not what happened. He only started 20 more games in Washington, going 5-15 and being more of a distraction and mediocre player than anything else. What’s to stop something like this happening to Carson Wentz?

First, the situations are very different. The Skins were coming off 3 straight seasons of 6 or fewer wins. They were more of a desperate franchise. Mike Shanahan was a veteran coach with a pair of Super Bowl rings. He had just gone through 2 of those losing seasons and found himself willing to make changes to get back to winning games. The Skins paid a massive price to move up in the draft and picked RG3.

Shanahan had run a certain type of offense for about 15 years. He wanted RG3 to play right away so he adapted the offense to be more the one his rookie QB knew from his days at Baylor. That’s smart coaching. Shanny and RG3 were on the same page early in the marriage.

But alas, like too many marriages, things did not stay so rosy. RG3 became a favorite of owner Daniel Snyder and they developed a cozy relationship. Shanny was a very demanding coach. RG3 was a star in college and not used to hard coaching. Shanahan and his son Kyle, the OC, worked on RG3’s mechanics and tried to develop him as a passer, while also relying heavily on the QB run plays that worked so well that year. RG3 did not care for the Shanahans over-bearing coaching. He preferred talking to Snyder and getting praised for what went right.

The Shanahans saw RG3 as being more interested in being a social media star and pitch-man for every product he could than developing into a top flight NFL passer. Sure, he was a great athlete and instinctive playmaker, but NFL history shows you those guys only go so far. You must be a consistent passer. Things really got contentions in the 2013 offseason when RG3, inspired by Snyder, demanded that the Shanahans remove the QB runs and focus on him as a passer. They knew he hadn’t worked hard enough in this area to succeed as a passer at that point.

Mike Shanahan wasn’t a fan of paying the steep price for RG3 to begin with. He did then embrace him, but the relationship didn’t go well because Shanny didn’t see the focus on football that he wanted. He also knew that RG3 and the owner were now pals, meaning Shanny’s boss was going to side with the star QB in any dispute. You can see where this became a toxic relationship very quickly.

There is also the injury factor. RG3 got hurt as a rookie during the season. He missed a game and Kirk Cousins played well in his absence, running more of the conventional Shanahan offense. That didn’t help the situation for either side.

Then in the playoffs there is the well-documented situation with RG3 playing hurt and whether he should have been on the field or not. He did tear his ACL and that proved to complicate matters. Instead of developing as a passer, RG3 was rehabbing. And he turned his rehab into a PR campaign, which you know drove the Shanahans nuts. More distractions for a young QB are just not a good thing.

Eventually the Shanahans and RG3 all lost their jobs in Washington. Mike is unemployed. Kyle is the OC for the Falcons. RG3 was benched, cut and is now in CLE (and hurt again).

Yes, Carson Wentz and RG3 were both the #2 overall pick. Both played well as rookies. That is about where things stop being similar.

The Eagles were all-in on Wentz as an organization. He wasn’t a Lurie pick or a Howie pick or a Pederson pick. The whole organization fell in love with Wentz. There won’t be a splintered situation here with Wentz playing the coach off the owner or vise-versa to try and get the upper hand in a situation. Everybody is on the same page.

Shanahan had to change his offense to fit RG3. One of the reasons the Eagles were so high on Wentz is that he fit what Pederson wanted to do. The Eagles are using a lot of the same concepts that Wentz did at NDSU. There won’t be a battle of wills for control of the offense.

Wentz was not a mega-star until he hit the NFL. RG3 was rated the #3 dual-threat QB in the country as a senior in high school. Every school had some interest in him, whether as a QB, WR or DB. He was a great athlete and very coveted. Wentz would have loved to have gone to a big school, but ended up at I-AA NDSU. And he sat there for 3 years. RG3 has a bigger ego and is used to being a star. Wentz is new to fame so he just doesn’t have the same issues.

Both players were guilty of being athletically arrogant when they hit the NFL. Both guys were so much better than the competition in college that they played with a sense of reckless abandon. RG3 was so fast and elusive, defenders couldn’t punish him. Wentz was big, strong and fast, able to get the best of the guys he faced. RG3 didn’t adjust when he got to the NFL. He took some huge hits. This happened several times in his rookie year and into the future. He didn’t want to slide and just didn’t appreciate how valuable his health was.

Wentz had the same issue earlier this year. He got hurt playing in the preseason opener and then took some dumb chances in the first couple of games. The good news is that Wentz seems to have learned. He has run out of bounds or gotten down quickly in the last few games. You have to shut off your college instincts and realize this is the NFL, where a NT can chase you 20 yards downfield and destroy your leg.

The other huge difference is that Wentz is all-in on football. He isn’t doing a ton of commercials. He isn’t on Twitter trying to develop a brand. Wentz is at the NovaCare Complex early and watching tape with Chase Daniel. He knows talent got him here, but it isn’t enough to get him where he wants to go. You must work incredibly hard during the week to be ready for Sunday.

I think Wentz is a better fit for the organization, I think he’s a better fit for the scheme and he seems to get the big picture. He’s taking care of himself on the field and working hard off it to be ready for when gameday rolls around. There are no guarantees that he will pan out exactly as hoped (4 MVP awards and 8 to 10 Super Bowl titles), but he is not headed down the same path as RG3.


Interesting piece here from Zach Berman on Sam Bradford from over the summer.

“I just feel probably more comfortable than I have in the past several years,” Bradford told the Inquirer that day. “And so I just think going into Year 7, I feel like I’ve seen a lot football. I’ve been a part of a lot of football. I feel my overall comfort level in the huddle, on the field, is probably at an all-time high compared to where it’s been in the past.”

Bradford overflowed with optimism that afternoon. He explained that he could finally enjoy good health, how he fit into the scheme that Doug Pederson introduced, why the last seven games of 2015 should have offered encouragement, and how stability away from football would help him in on the field.

He felt at ease in the Philadelphia area, mastering the route from his South Jersey home to the team’s facility. He developed meaningful relationships with teammates. And he was a newlywed who looked forward to returning to a wife and two dogs each evening.

After injury and upheaval during the previous three years, Bradford sounded blissful. It was pointed out that the Eagles disrupted the harmony by drafting Carson Wentz and leaving his future uncertain.

“If that’s the worst that happens to me,” Bradford said, “I think I’ll be all right.”

The Eagles traded Bradford three days later.

I do believe Bradford was a different guy this summer. The demand for a trade was a dumb moment for him, but neither he nor the Eagles let that situation get out of hand so the relationship was repaired. Smart on both sides. We’ll never know how he would have played for the Eagles, but I’m guessing he would be having a good year.

Having Wentz and the 1st round pick is better, though.

This is one of those situations that really did seem to benefit everyone involved.


Anomaly or Issue?

Posted: October 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 83 Comments »

Jim Johnson was a great defensive coordinator. He shut down all kinds of offenses and great players in his storied career. There was one exception – the Colts. Johnson’s defenses got shredded by the Colts multiple times over the years and never shut them down.

You might blow this off by talking about Peyton Manning being one of the best QBs of all time, but that’s only part of the story. In 2002 the Colts had a series of injuries at RB and faced the Eagles with James Mungro as their starter. It was his second game ever. He ran for 114 yards and 2 TDs. Over the final 41 games of his career, Mungro ran for 8 TDs and 326 yards. The score of that game was 35-13. I don’t think I have to tell you who won.

In 2006 the Colts ran for 237 yards in a 45-21 win. Peyton threw 20 passes for 183 yards. They just ran the ball over and over and dominated the game. Indy’s stretch play just gave JJ and the Eagles fits. Struggling with the Colts didn’t make JJ any less of a coach. The NFL is all about matchups and there are times when another team just seems to have your number.

In 2004 Johnson had an outstanding defense, but the team went to Pittsburgh and got dominated. The Steelers ran for 252 yards that day and won the game 27-3 (wasn’t even that close). In 2008 Johnson had one of his best defenses and they limited the Steelers to 34 yards of rushing. The Colts were JJ’s kryptonite. With the Steelers, it was one really bad game and one really good game.

There is suddenly a lot of panic in regard to the Eagles defense.

Talk to me in a month. This group was lights out for the first 4 games of the year. They looked like one of the best units in the league. They had a bad day on Sunday. An awful day, really. The next month will tell us whether Sunday was an anomaly or an issue.

I have confidence in the defense. Jim Schwartz is a terrific coach. He has some really talented players to work with. You can also just go with the eye test. The sloppy play from Sunday wasn’t what we’ve seen from the defense over the course of the rest of the year. Nigel Bradham played great football in the first 4 games, but struggled on Sunday. Fletcher Cox didn’t seem to be as much of a force as he usually is. WAS ran the ball 33 times and Jordan Hicks only had 3 solo tackles.

You also have the fact that Bennie Logan missed part of the 1st half and all of the 2nd half. He has played his best football in the past 3 games. The Skins had moved the ball with him in the lineup, but 145 of their rushing yards came after his injury. His absence hurt the defense.

I don’t think this is the time to panic in regard to Schwartz, the scheme or the players. Let’s see how this group responds to a bad showing. I think Schwartz will get his guys to settle down and play better defense. Missed tackles, poor gap integrity and penalties were the biggest issues. Those can be fixed. I think Schwartz, Cox and the rest of the guys in green will get the job done. I’m not guaranteeing wins, but I do think the defense will bounce back in a major way.


Won’t Be Easy

Posted: October 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 189 Comments »

The Eagles have now lost 2 games in a row. They just need to bounce back.

Uh, okay. That looks tough.

But wait a minute. The Eagles were clearly superior on paper to both the Lions and Skins. That’s the beauty of the NFL. You never know what is going to happen on a given Sunday. Is a team hungry? Or complacent? Aggressive or nervous? Healthy? There are a lot of factors that go into a game.

Matchups are huge. It’s clear right now that Kirk Cousins has the Eagles number. The Eagles have had the Giants number in recent years. Sometimes that’s just how things go.

It would be convenient for the Eagles to have a soft schedule so they could pile up some wins, but in a way the tough schedule is the best thing possible. The worst thing that can happen this season is for the Eagles to win a bunch of games and get a false sense of security with this roster. Clearly there are positions that need an upgrade. If the team got on some crazy roll and went 12-4, Howie and Doug might get too comfortable with their own players. This isn’t a 12-win roster.

I still want this team to win and even overachieve, but it needs to be tested. We need to know what this team really is.

The Jets went 10-6 last year, surprising everyone. They decided they were close to being a serious contender so they signed a pair of starters over 30 (LT Ryan Clady and RB Matt Forte). They kept another pair of older stars in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall. The Jets tried to go cheap at QB and waited until August to finally bring back Ryan Fitzpatrick, also 30+.

Things have not gone well this year. The weight of expectations has brought out the worst in the team and they are 1-5. They are also old and now have a lot of serious questions. Todd Bowles looked like a coaching star last year, but now you wonder about his job security, although I think the GM is even more at fault.

I want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. That means building a Super Bowl roster. You don’t do that by beating up on crappy teams. You want to face tough competition so you can see which of your players are good and which guys are still getting by on the “he’s got potential” label.

The Eagles know Carson Wentz is the real deal ( I need to do a full post on that) and that is the key to this whole puzzle. Get the right QB and everything else can be worked out.

I look forward to the challenging schedule. Let’s find out who can play and who can’t. I hope guys like Nelson Agholor and Marcus Smith stand up. I hope rookies like Jalen Mills and Big V get better. But at the end of the day, we need answers. The goal isn’t to be “good enough”. The goal is to build a championship team and if that means losing some games to weed out the guys who don’t belong, so be it.


Doug’s Message

Posted: October 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 132 Comments »

I’ve shared this bit of coaching wisdom many times over the years, but it is appropriate for the Eagles current situation so here it comes again. John Madden said the time to be tough on players was after a win, not a loss. It was the coach’s job to keep the guys humble and focused. After a win, players could easily get complacent so they needed to be pushed. If you have the right kind of guys on your team (and I’m betting the Eagles do), they will be hard on themselves after a loss. They’ll pick apart their own play, wondering what they could have done differently. They hold themselves accountable. The coach then has to keep his guys confident by doing and saying the right things. There is no need to beat them down because they are doing that already and they will also catch hell from fans and the media.

“You guys suck.”

If Doug takes this approach, what will he say? Here’s my guess.

“You guys won 3 games, all by 14 or more points. You played good football. The two losses were filled with lots of self-inflicted wounds and dumb mistakes, but we were right there at the end in each game, just a play away from tying or winning it. Cut out the mistakes and this is a 5-0 team. You are beating yourselves. Stop doing that and you’ll beat the other team.”

“Yes, Lane Johnson is gone for the next 9 weeks. So what? We won without Leodis McKelvin. We won without Zach Ertz. We won with Ryan Mathews barely playing. We won those games because you played as a team. You raised your game to fill the void where the injured player should have been. We have enough talent in this room to win a lot of games, but we are only going to do that if we get back to playing as a team and playing smart football.”

“I believe in you. Believe in yourselves. Learn from the last 2 weeks and then let’s move on. I want us focused on the future. We can’t do anything about what just happened. We do control what happens next Sunday. That’s up to us. Let’s go to work and let’s get this thing right.”

Doug has his PC at noon. We’ll see what he says publicly and then I’m sure the players will give us a hint or two as to what his message was. I just don’t expect a gloom and doom message from him. That would make fans happy, because they see visible anger and rage as positives. That’s rarely an effective message. There are times when it is called for, but I don’t think this is the right time for this team. Certainly the coaches will be critical during film study, but I just don’t see the need for a fire and brimstone speech to this group.

If you listened to Carson Wentz after the game yesterday, he accepted the blame for a lot of the offense’s mistakes. He said that the pass to Ertz was too high and that is on him. Needs to get that ball lower to help his guy out. Clearly Ertz should have caught the ball, but you love the fact that the rookie QB is taking the blame. That’s the kind of ownership you see from a leader on a good team.

Buddy Ryan said he knew his Bears defense had gone from good to great when they took ownership of their mistakes. He didn’t have to ask who screwed up. The player spoke up and told the room what he did wrong. They held themselves accountable.

No matter what Doug says or what the players say, or what happens this week, the real test will be next Sunday. The team needs to get back to playing good football. Accountability is a good thing, but we need to see the right results, not just hearing the right words.