Less Predictable

Posted: October 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 39 Comments »

Todd Bowles is now running the Eagles defense.  The players have had meetings with him and a couple of practices.  Bowles isn’t making drastic changes.  The basic scheme and concepts stay, which I think is a good thing.

What changes?  Bowles told the players he wanted to be less predictable.  That is good to hear.

You can run a simple scheme if you have great players that execute it at a very high level.  Tampa ran a simple scheme under Monte Kiffin and put out some of the best defenses in the last 30 years.  He had a Hall of Fame DT in Warren Sapp.  He had a Hall of Fame LB in Derrick Brooks.  He had a very good SS in John Lynch and a very good CB in Ronde Barber.  That defense didn’t miss assignments or tackles.  They made plays.  Kiffin got creative every now and then, but really focused on execution.  Kiffin had worked on elements of that scheme since his time as an assistant at Nebraska in the 1970s.  He had 20 years to learn things and how to teach players exactly what he wanted.  Castillo tried for a similar approach (not the scheme), but he simply didn’t have the ability to coach players to perform at an elite level.

The basics of the Eagles defense are very good.  The front does get pressure or eats up blocks.  The LBs are much improved from 2011.  The secondary has done a very good job this year.  The pass defense has some great numbers.  They are #1 in opposing QB completion percentage.  They are #3 in opposing QB passer rating.

So what’s wrong?  2 things.  The defense hasn’t made enough plays.  We are last in the NFC in sacks, with just 7.  That isn’t good, even if teams are scheming to negate the pass rush.  You still need more sacks than that.  Takeaways have disappeared since the opening couple of games.  The Eagles had 6 takeaways after their 2-0 start.  Since then, there have been just a pair of interceptions and a 1-3 record.  Those 2 stats are not unrelated.  You must come up with turnovers.  Those are game-changing plays.

The 4th quarter is another area of weakness.  This is when veteran coaching comes in to play.  You see teams trying something new, sometimes out of desperation.  I’m not saying you automatically change what you do on defense.  If it has worked well, stick with it.  However, there will be some critical plays in the game.  You need to have something special saved for those moments.  I mentioned Monte Kiffin and Tampa earlier.  I think we all remember the wrinkle he had saved up for the Eagles in the 2002 NFC title game.  Ronde Barber faked a blitz and then dropped into a passing lane and picked off Donovan McNabb.  Pick-6 and the end of The Vet in one horrific moment.

Veteran coaches know whether to blitz or not blitz.  Who to bring.  Who to drop.  Do we go with a 3-man line?  Do we play zone or man?  Juan simply didn’t have the experience to know how to handle moments like this.  You must be able to read your opponent and have an idea of what they will do.

I think Bowles will be a better 4th quarter coach than Castillo.  And that can make a huge difference.  The biggest single problem of the Castillo era is blown leads.  Bowles won’t be perfect.  No coach is.  He’s got a good foundation to work with.  The defense has plenty of talent.  Bowles just needs to push them over the top.

The players were very aggressive in praising him.  I think these guys are dying to be coached.  Sean McDermott was a new DC when he took the job in 2009.  Sean was very bright, but didn’t always communicate well and at times could rub people the wrong way.  Then Castillo came in.  The players loved him as a person, but he was completely new to defense and there were lots of communication issues.

Finally the defensive players get Bowles.  He is a former NFL player.  He can tell you stories about shutting down Randall Cunningham or Troy Aikman.  He has coached on a variety of teams and for a variety of coaches.  Bowles doesn’t know just one way to do things.  He’s been exposed to a multitude of systems and styles.  Bowles knows football, knows defense, knows how to communicate, knows how to coach, and he knows how to lead.  He should be exactly what this defense needs.

What are realistic expectations?

I demand shutouts in the first 4 games.  Or fire him.  Okay, maybe that is asking a bit much.  There aren’t specific numbers I’ve got in mind.  I want 3 things:  sacks, takeaways, and wins.  If he can do those 3 things, I’ll be a happy camper.  I do think we should be closer to the Top 5 in most defensive categories than we are now.  Bowles is taking over midseason and we do face some good offenses so I don’t think it is real fair to set specific yards/points goals.

If he can deliver a shutout, I’ll worship him for a decade.  He’ll become Saint Bowles.

* * * * *

Our good friend Jimmy Bama is now doing some writing for the Allentown Morning Call.  He writes blog articles 3 times a week.  For his first, he took a look at how much the Eagles miss some guy named Jason Peters.  Name rings a bell, but I don’t remember him.  Probably a practice squad guy or something.

Make sure to read Jimmy’s stuff there.  Maybe they’ll eventually give him a full-time job.

* * * * *

Mr. Bama and I did a podcast last night.  We covered the OL and a variety of things.

One of the subjects we talked about was Sean Lee, the Dallas ILB.  He is out for the year with a toe injury.  This is a huge blow to Dallas.  Lee was the key to the middle of their defense.  DeMarcus Ware is their best player and a dynamic rusher, but Lee was a run stuffer and good coverage LB.

Former PSU teammate Dan Connor will probably take his starting spot.  Connor is a solid player, but is a big drop-off from Lee.

To replace Lee on the roster, the Cowboys signed…Ernie Sims.  It is hard to quantify the difference in those 2 players.  Sean is one of the most instinctive LBs I’ve ever seen.  Ernie has ZERO instincts.  Or less.  He runs fast.  He hits hard.  He usually has no idea where the ball is.

* * * * *

For PE.com, I wrote about the state of the team.  Some of the material is stuff I’ve already covered here, but there may be a couple of new nuggets worth checking out.

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  • ACViking

    T-Law:

    This morning, Mark Schlereth — on ESPN’s Mike & Mike — was discussing whether the Bears are a “Top 5″ team. He noted the great defense the Bears have but the inconsistent offense.

    Then he said something that seems apropos of the 2012 Eagles to this point.

    Schlereth said the Bears were winning games because the defense was generating turnovers.

    But, he continued, that : “Turnovers are like bananas . . . they come in bunches.” When the turnovers disappear, that’s when you need your offense to score points.

    In the first 2 games this year, the Eagles generated 6 turnovers. And two wins.

    Since then, the team has stuggled offensively while the defense stopped generating turnovers. And the Birds have gone 1-3.

    My point is that a Bowles defense that generates turnovers would be wonderful . . . even more so than sacks (50 sacks last year for the Eagles and an 8-8 record; the Vikes had a couple more and went 3-13).

    If Schlereth’s view of the NFL world is correct, the Eagles need their offense to come around . . . and in a big way. The problem is not the defense.

    At least I think that’s what Schlereth would say.

    • TommyLawlor

      Agreed that the offense must get in gear. Would have been a huge help to them while struggling to get to start a drive in opposing territory. That’s were you need takeaways.

      30th in points scored is a huge issue. That’s on Marty/Andy/Mike to fix.

    • Ark87

      So true ACV. A sack at the right time or place can be devastating but many sacks have minimal effect on a game compared to a turnover. How many times last year did we seem to get sacks on first or second down and then give up a firstdown on 3rd and long. Poor Merrill Reese was so up and down all season long. “2nd and 3, Joe Quarterback lines up behind center, back in the I…ball is snapped, play action- THEY GOT HIM!!!! Jason Babin…..” —next play—”3rd and long, Joe Quarterback drops back, guns it out to Timmy Tightend for 17. Mike, they made that look easy.”

      Turnovers end drives, change games, regardless of the situation.

      • aerochrome2

        By this logic we all should have been screaming to keep Asante (assuming his lower turnovers last year were a fluke).

        That said, I would love to hire Dawk or someone from the Ravens to teach people how to punch the ball out. Seems like that should be basic.

        • A_T_G

          The day Tillman retires, offer him a coaching gig. Those clips of him punching the ball as the tight end was bearing down on him was impressive.

        • Ark87

          Asante generated takeaways at a cost. He was an extreme risk taker. He was going to end the drive one way or another, either make the pick, or let them go streaking into the end-zone untouched. Busted coverages change games too ( see redskins). To Asante’s credit he has reaped rewards from his risks.

          We don’t need that per se. There is a difference between taking risks and being opportunistic. If a quarterback is off-target or makes an ill-advised pass, and opportunistic unit finds a way to make a play on the ball. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have someone jumping a route. In the ideal world pressure and turnovers should go hand in hand. We actually have been generating pressure, but the turnovers aren’t following.

          I agree with you about finding a way to force more fumbles. The technique I’ve seen from our unit most frequently is the come from behind strip. It hasn’t worked too often, but you can make a pretty sure tackle while executing it. I saw our defense running the drill at TC. I’ve seen a few of our guys put their helmets on the football when approaching from the front/ball-side, which can be devastatingly effective. But I really haven’t seen the punch from our D.

  • phillyfan1978

    “I want 3 things: sacks, takeaways, and wins. If he can do those 3 things, I’ll be a happy camper.”

    I just want that last thing.

    • P_P_K

      You want a happy camper?!

      • A_T_G

        Ha! Well played.

  • nopain23

    Hey T
    A bit off topic but a very good question I think. A few other die hard Iggles fans and I were discussing this and wanted your opinion. The Giants are talented but so are the Birds. Some think we have more talent overall. I tend to agree. The giants have won two Superbowls under TC with Eli at QB. So the question is why have the Gmen been more successful than the Eagles??. Better coach ? Better QB? Both? or More talent?? It’s weird because AR has a good track record against TC.

    • TommyLawlor

      This might be a good subject for Jimmy and I on the podcasts. Do you listen?

      • nopain23

        I do…I do….
        i’m interested in what others on here think as well

    • Julescat

      Home town fans tend to over rate the talent on their team. Who are the elite players on the Eagles?

  • Yuri

    Derek Sarley put up an amazing post on the change in coverage from giving different look on every play to predictable/vanilla shortly after we had to put Colt in as safety

    2 secondary play questions that Derek notes:
    - “They had a game plan, it was working, then one guy got hurt and they threw it out the window”
    - “When we started blitzing a safety, we used Coleman. Why not blitz the guy who’s lost in coverage and keep Coleman back?”

    So… question for all of us is: how much of it was Bowles and how much Castillo?

    • TommyLawlor

      Bowles contributed to gameplans and helped on gameday, but I’m sure he was walking on eggshells a bit, not wanting to make Juan look bad. Now we get a chance to find out what Todd can do. Listen, he could turn out to be terrible. I’m not promising success. I think he’ll do a good job, but there certainly aren’t any guarantees in the NFL.

      • http://twitter.com/sjampendk Patrick

        Its a win-win situation. You’re either good or you’re not. This move means that 1. We get good now, or 2. We lose the bad(I.E. Andy Reid). That wont guarantee success either.

  • bdbd20

    Tommy,

    Is it considered a “blitz” if the defense is using a 3-man line and brings a 4th guy? I was just curious as to how this stat is calculated. It seems that some 3-4 teams (Pitt, Dal) have a LB coming as part of their normal defense.

    • TommyLawlor

      A blitz is any time a 5th rusher goes after the QB. It is normal in football to rush 4, whether a 4-3 or 3-4. The 5th guy is what makes it a blitz.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kanin-Faan/100000790557328 Kanin Faan

    “He has coached on a variety of teams and for a variety of coaches. Bowles doesn’t know just one way to do things. He’s been exposed to a multitude of systems and styles. ”

    If he’s such a keeper how come he’s bounced around?

    • TommyLawlor

      He left CLE when Butch Davis was fired and the whole staff replaced.
      Todd then went to Dallas to coach under Parcells.
      Left Dallas when Tuna took the job in Miami.
      Left there when the staff was fired and Joe Philbin hired.

      It isn’t like Todd is getting run out of places. He leaves when there is a change in the overall staff. Prior to CLE, he was a young coach and climbed the ladder at a few stops.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kanin-Faan/100000790557328 Kanin Faan

        I sure hope he will work out. Juan is, in my mind, a great coach, maybe/probably/almostcertainly a bad playcaller, but a great coach.

        Im genuinely disappointed that I havent seen a breakdown of our Offensive playcalling anywhere.
        It’s like everyone, bloggers and journalists alike, steers clear of the subject in the hopes that it wont be a problem.

        Lots of fans, me included, think that Offensive Playcalling is THE problem.
        It would have been nice if someone like you or Jimmy Kempski did a breakdown on the subject explaining why it’s not.
        Maybe that would help me sleep… ;)

        • TommyLawlor

          The playcalling has been a point of frustration with Eagles fans since at least 2005. It has been talked about over and over and over. I don’t cover it a lot because I’m just used to it. I don’t like the playcalling, but I’ve gotten tired of writing about it a lot.

  • eagles2zc

    Great stuff Tommy. A good coach knows how to plan around his players’ strengths and weaknesses. McDermott could think up all the exotic blitz packages he wanted, but when that involved dropping his best pass rusher into coverage more than a few times, he was just setting himself up for failure. I’m excited to see what Bowles can do with all the talents on D, maybe finally some Kendrick blitzes off the edge

  • TommyLawlor

    Roob has a good article on the 4th Qtr stuff.

    http://www.csnphilly.com/football-philadelphia-eagles/eagles-talk/Graham-Castillo-to-blame-for-Eagles-coll?blockID=792873&feedID=704

    Under JJ/McD we were 88-11 in games where we had the 4th Qtr lead.

    10-6 under Castillo.

    Ouch.

    Also, most points allowed…4th Qtr. Not good.

  • ACViking

    Re: Eagles v. Giants Talent

    The QB position in the NFL is like Ohio in the electoral college.

    Both have a disproportionate impact on the outcome.

    Hence, the G-men have Eli, the Birds have Vick . . . and the Giants have won two SBs. Because Eli Manning is a difference maker in the 4th Q. No matter who is receivers are.

    Yes, Vick has won some games late this year. But I’d take Manning in a heartbeat. His track record is better than Vick’s.

    • Anders

      I wouldnt call Eli a difference maker in the first SB.

      • TommyLawlor

        Didn’t make mistakes. Did make clutch plays, no matter how much incredible luck was involved.

        • Anders

          David Tyree also had velcro on his helmet and Samuel dropped a game ending interception in the end zone

        • http://twitter.com/tst69 Thomas

          2 years ago you didn’t think he was one of the top 10 QBs in the NFL. I think you grouped him with McNabb around the 15ish range.

  • nicolajNN

    How come Bowles has never been a coordinator before? And how did he go around being the assistant head coach but only secondary coach? It strikes me as a bit odd, but might be more normal than I think.

    I think we all hope Bowles will do a better job with the play-calling but does it worry a little than he hasn’t done that before? Unless he took over play-calling in Miami?

    • TommyLawlor

      Assistant HC is something given to position coaches for a few reasons. Might be way to entice them to join a team. Might be reward for doing a good job when they can’t be promoted when a coordinator is in front of them. Might be title given to them as way to keep them from leaving for lateral move.

      Todd worked under some really good DCs. I don’t mind him not being a DC himself if he’s got the right track record…and I think he does.

      • http://twitter.com/tst69 Thomas

        You also have to remember that there are only 32 DC positions available. Sometimes you have to be in the right situation at the right time to get these jobs. For Bunny Colvin it took 12 years.

    • iskar36

      I think this second point is an important one. We all are excited about Bowles because he is something new. On top of that, unlike Castillo, he has been on the defensive side of the ball for a long time and should have picked up some experience through that. Not only does that experience hopefully help him understand the nuances on defense, but it also translates to the players having significantly more confidence in their DC (Castillo may have been a nice guy that players were happy to play for, but I think it was obvious from day 1 that players were skeptical of his ability to coordinate the defense).

      Still, despite those positive factors and considering the last two failures at DC, I don’t think it is unreasonable to have reservations about a midseason replacement. When Castillo came in, he preached that sound fundamentals would be the identity of his defense. That is something we never saw. So now with Bowles, it is great to hear that he is making a statement that his defense will be unpredictable, but he has to prove that. Considering he hasn’t called the defensive plays throughout the game before as a coach, it is certainly reasonable to worry about him actually being able to succeed at doing that until he proves otherwise.

  • ACViking

    Re: Brandon Graham

    T-Law:

    What are your thoughts at this point — including your projection — regarding BG?

    He seems like he’s fully healed from the knee injury 22 months ago.

    Also — if you wouldn’t mind revisiting this issue — does BG have the kind of raw speed/quickness off the edge to make him a consistent pass-rushing threat?

    It seems like he just bull-rushes on every passing down (as I’ve said several times in every game . . . because I’m waiting for him to show some burst around the edge). No swim moves. No clubbing. No bending around the OT. Just under-the-pads bull-rushing.

    So frustrating.

    • SteveH

      I honestly feel like Graham has looked really good in limited opportunities, and I can recall one instance in the Giants game where he clubbed the RT and put him right on his ass. The guard came over to help out on the block so it didn’t result in a sack, but it was a very impressive move either way.

  • Neil

    I enjoyed the replies to my comment about Watkins, so I wanted to continue that here because I’m not sure if people are still reading the last thread. Quoting my original post

    “I think avoiding the media is telling. Whereas some guys use criticism
    from strangers to give them an edge, add to their intensity, Danny
    doesn’t seem to know how to do that. Instead he just takes it
    personally and shuts down.”

    I’m going to try to reformulate this. I was just trying to imagine his situation.
    What would make me avoid the media? What I wrote is my best guess, certainly not something I take for fact. You
    guys are right that there are other possible reasons.

    I also want to note that I’m not disturbed by what Watkins did. I’m not trying to judge him but just get some inkling of what he’s going through. He’s an interesting case because he’s teetering between OK draft pick and bust, and, of course, he’s an Eagle.

    I don’t think you can just say Danny’s too nice. Dawkins is a nice guy too. A ton of players get criticism from the media, but how many refuse to do interviews? It’s possible it happens and I just don’t know about it, but refusing to do interviews because you don’t like the things being said about you seems a lot worse to me than anything a reporter could say to slam you, using a quote the reporter got from an interview. Really, why does it bother him what people have to say? The essence of mental toughness is just deciding to be the kind of person who either does not care or gets fired up by what other people have to say.

    Tommy
    talks about asking, does Danny want to succeed enough? I think a better
    way to ask that is, does Danny want to succeed enough to put up with all
    of the (often purposeless) challenges along the way? Dealing with the media is one of
    those. Mental toughness, does Danny have it? This media situation makes me believe the answer is no; though I wouldn’t be surprised if something changes in the future and Watkins improves to be a good player. You never know.

  • SteveH

    Is it safe to say theres a shark in the water in Dallas?

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