Changing of the Guard

Posted: June 20th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment »

Part of being a sports fan is loving sports coverage. When I was a kid, you wanted Dick Stockton and Tommy Heinsohn calling your NBA game. They were a terrific duo. Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola were the stars of baseball coverage. The greatest broadcasting duo was Pat Summerall and John Madden, the kings of NFL coverage. They were truly special and a key part of why I became such a big NFL fan.

Those guys no longer call games. Some of them have passed away. They will always be special to me.

I mention all of this because of the news we got on Saturday.

Les Bowen is retiring.

Even Les isn’t old enough to be part of my childhood, but he’s been a regular part of my Eagles fandom for almost two decades.

I wasn’t very happy when Les started writing about the Eagles in 2002. Why are they forcing the hockey guy on us? How is a guy who has covered Eric Lindros going to suddenly do a good job with Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb and the Eagles quest for a Super Bowl? Ugh.

Clearly I was wrong. Good writers are good writers. You could have Les go cover the Lumberjack World Championship and he would find a way to make it interesting. That’s what good writers do.

Les has been a terrific Eagles beat writer. One of the reasons I enjoy his work so much is that Les is more interested in telling stories than breaking stories. Some writers obsess on trying to be the first to report a deal. In trying to do that, those guys end up reporting some rumors that don’t pan out and they speculate more than they report.

When Les breaks a story, you can trust it. He is careful about what he writes. A writer’s reputation is part of their credibility.

He’s also an old school writer that is looking to do more than just report the score and key highlights. Sports are played by people. They are coached by people. What is the human angle? What story is there to be told? The best writers can find that angle and turn a game recap into a real story.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Les down at the Senior Bowl. The first year we met he playfully chided me for not wearing a hat, which led to a sun-burned bald spot. I’ve worn a hat ever since.

Les is a genuinely good guy. He can tell a story and will listen to yours. He has a fantastic sense of humor. I will miss swapping stories as we watched practice or enjoyed a barbecue lunch together.

Make sure you go read Les’s farewell piece.

Eagles fans are lucky that losing a writer the quality of Les Bowen doesn’t significantly lower the coverage of the team. You still have Jeff McLane, Domo, Jimmy Bama, Sheil Kapadia, Zach Berman, Bo Wulf, Dave Zangaro, Roob, Brandon Lee Gowton, Geoff Mosher and plenty of others. It really is amazing that one team has so much good coverage. I don’t know if the average Eagles fan knows how lucky they are. Also, several of those guys are young and will be covering the Eagles for a while.

Les says will stay active on Twitter. He will write occasional pieces. We’re not completely getting rid of him.

*****

Les and I are from the same neighborhood in Charlotte, NC. We grew up about 2 blocks apart. He’s got a few years on me, but it still seems crazy that a couple of Charlotte boys would become so focused on Philly sports. He did it for a job, I did it by choice (I’m a glutton for punishment).

*****

It will be interesting to see if the coaching change has an impact on Cox. He’s not getting any younger. You would think he’d be desperate to get back to winning. Hopefully he will be all in on what the new guys are selling.

When he’s healthy, Fletcher Cox is still one of the best DTs in the league.

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First Year Success

Posted: June 17th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 4 Comments »

Nick Sirianni is the Eagles fourth new coach in the last 22 years. The previous three had varying degrees of success. Their results were a mixture of what they inherited and their coaching skills. It will be interesting to see how Sirianni does.

Andy Reid took over the Eagles in 1999. They were coming off a 3-13 season and one of the worst offenses in modern NFL history. Reid had a rookie QB, mediocre skill players and a mess of an OL in his first year. The defense made plays, but the team went 5-11. There were some close games that year. With a couple of lucky breaks, the Eagles might have gotten 7 or 8 wins. It was clear the team was headed in the right direction, but they needed more talent.

After going 5-11 initially, Reid went on a pretty amazing run. The Eagles played in five NFC Championship games under Reid. Division titles became so regular no one got excited about them any more. He never did win the big game, but Reid had a great run in Philly. His presence can still be felt today. Three of the best players on the 2021 Eagles were drafted and coached by Reid…Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce. That’s pretty amazing.

Chip Kelly came to Philly with tremendous fanfare back in 2013. He took over for Reid after the team had a miserable 4-12 showing in 2012. That team suffered through a lot of injuries and also had some real dysfunction. They started 3-3 before just completely falling apart.

Kelly brought in his college offense and revolutionary ideas. He inherited quite a bit of talent with players like Shady McCoy, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, DeSean Jackson, Evan Mathis, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Peters, Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans and Brent Celek. Kelly had a pair of talented QBs in Michael Vick and Nick Foles. The Eagles landed a pair of impact players in the draft in Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz. That’s not a group of players you rebuild with.

The team looked great in the season opener, but then lost three in a row. Foles took over at QB and the Eagles went 9-3 the rest of the way, winning the NFC East. We thought that might be the foundation of a great run. Instead it was the peak of a bizarre era. Kelly’s lack of people skills caught up to him and he was fired before even completing his third season.

Kelly’s dismissal ushered in the Doug Pederson era. Pederson inherited a team with real talent. Some of the key guys mentioned above were gone (part of Kelly’s problem was making terrible personnel decisions), but the Eagles had also made some good additions. And the team drafted QB Carson Wentz second overall. Pederson had the horses to win right away.

That’s exactly what they did, getting off to a 3-0 start. The Eagles won those games by 19, 15 and 31 points. There was a real buzz about that team going into the Week 4 bye. Talk about terrible timing. You don’t want an early bye when you’re red hot. Sure enough, the Eagles were sloppy coming out of the bye and lost in Detroit, 24-23. Still, a 3-1 start was pretty darn impressive.

Lane Johnson was suspended by the NFL for 10 games and that kicked in after the fourth game. The hot start turned into a 2-8 stretch of mostly frustrating losses. So much for any hope of making the playoffs that year. The team did go 2-0 when Johnson returned at the end of the year. With Johnson in the lineup, the Eagles were 5-1. You have to wonder what might have been if he hadn’t been suspended.

The Eagles built on that success and won the Super Bowl the next season. We again thought that might be the foundation of a great run only to see it prove to be the peak of another bizarre era. Pederson went 4-11-1 last season and lost his job.

Enter Nick Sirianni.

So what might he do in his first year?

This group reminds me a bit of the 2000 Eagles, Reid’s second team. With the signing of Jon Runyan and John Welbourn getting healthy, they suddenly had a good OL. Donovan McNabb had started six games as a rookie and shown talent, but it was still a mystery as to whether he would be a consistently good passer.

The return of Johnson and Brandon Brooks could mean Sirianni will have a good OL to work with. McNabb had a much higher upside than Hurts, but both entered their second season with questions. Both could make plays with their legs when the passing game wasn’t working.

The 2000 Eagles had a good defense and great STs. This team has question marks in both areas.

The current team has better skills players than the 2000 team did.

I do not see this bunch going 11-5 like the 2000 team did.

You can also get some 2012/2013 vibes. The 2012 team had some really key injuries that devastated that season. The team on September 1 was worlds better than the one on December 1. There was also a lot of dysfunction. Coaches didn’t get along. Reid made a panic move and fired Juan Castillo at midseason. The roster had a mercenary feel and the locker room suffered because of that.

Kelly was able to come in and build a cohesive coaching staff and get all the players on the same page. Then he mixed in his new ideas on how to run an offense and an overall program. We all learned about Sports Science.

The 2020 Eagles were the second most injured team in the league. There was major dysfunction on and of the field. There were issues with the coaching staff. It did feel a lot like 2012.

Sirianni isn’t looking to revolutionize anything, but I do think the team will benefit from a cohesive staff and new leadership. Things had just gotten out of hand.

I’m not sure the Eagles have the talent to go 10-6 like the 2013 team did. Figuring out the ceiling for the 2021 team is worth a post of its own.

I expect Sirianni to outdo Reid’s 5-11 performance in 1999, but it is hard to get a feel for what this team is likely to do because there are so many unknowns, especially with Hurts. Probably the best comparison will be Pederson’s first year. When things were good and the team was healthy, the Eagles showed real potential. But they simply weren’t good enough to overcome problems.

And football history tells us there will be problems.

Then I go watch some DeVonta Smith highlights and start thinking…Super Bowl!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDKGBfThEik&t=109s

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Always Looking

Posted: June 15th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

Roster building is a constant process. NFL teams are always looking to get better. This could mean adding a starter, but it could also be something as simple as improving the third stringers on the roster.

The Eagles signed QB Jamie Newman when he went undrafted. They hoped he could be a #3 QB worth developing. That plan didn’t work out, to put it mildly. Newman got cut recently, apparently showing the Eagles nothing. The team had to go find a new #3 QB.

This is actually a good move.

Mullens is the kind of developmental backup you want. He is 26 years old and has started 16 games over three seasons. He has enough natural talent to be an effective QB. Mullens isn’t someone you want as a long term starter, but he’s fine for a few games if needed.

Ideally, he is just a good practice player. And there is value in that. The backup skill players can benefit from having a quality #3 QB during Training Camp.

It might be fair to ask if Mullens is better than Joe Flacco, the #2 QB. Flacco clearly has the better arm, is bigger and more experienced. Mullens is more mobile and throws better on the run. I prefer backup QBs who can move around. If things break down, they can make plays with their legs. And things do tend to break down when backups are in the game. Still, Flacco had teams competing for his services. Mullens sat on the market for a while. That tells you the league prefers Flacco, whether that is right or wrong.

Mullens has flashed good potential.

Obviously things didn’t work out for him in SF. He couldn’t play well with any consistency. We’ll see if things turn out better in Philly. He certainly has to be an upgrade over Newman.

Mullens is old enough to have experience, but still young enough to learn and develop.

The team also signed a pass catcher. You might have heard of this guy.

We kind of new this was coming. The Eagles needed veteran help at TE. And Rodgers likes playing for the Eagles. Or maybe he is simply addicted to signing contracts with Howie Roseman. Either way, he’s back.

Rodgers is a solid receiver and adequate blocker. He’s 29 years old and coming off the second best season of his career (24-345-2). He’s nothing special, but can step right in and be a solid backup TE.

The Eagles have some young guys I’m sure they are hoping to develop. Tyree Jackson is a huge former QB who is trying to see if he can follow in the footsteps of Logan Thomas, the WFT player who went from college QB to starting NFL TE. Hakeem Butler is a former college WR who has moved to TE. There is also Caleb Wilson, Jason Croom and Jack Stoll.

TE is a position where you can develop players. We’ve seen guys go from different sports and different positions to become elite TEs. It is a unique position because you are a mixture of receiver and blocker. There is also the question of how to cover a TE. Do you want an athletic LB or a big DB?

I don’t know if any of the young players will develop, but this is the season to try and see what can be done. This is the year to experiment. And this looks like the right coaching staff. When Nick Sirianni was in San Diego, he got to work with Antonio Gates, who went from basketball player to Hall of Fame TE. Colts TE Mo Alie-Cox had a breakout season in 2020. He didn’t play college football, but was a basketball star at VCU. It took him several years to develop, but the Colts now have a big, athletic TE. Eagles TE coach Jason Michael held the same position with the Colts and had a big hand in the development of Alie-Cox.

None of the young TEs is ready now so you sign Rodgers to be the backup. We’ll see if any of the young guys can show enough to earn a roster spot and secure the #3 TE spot.

*****

Still nothing at CB. What should we make of that?

There isn’t a great market right now. Richard Sherman is looking to sign with a contender. I don’t think he’d have interest in Philly and he’s much older than what they should be looking for. Stephon Gilmore is letting the Pats know he’s not happy about his contract. We’ll have to see what happens there.

Steven Nelson remains unsigned. He seems to want more money than what teams think he’s worth. You wonder if there are any other issues. Rarely does a solid CB who is 28 years old sit on the market this long. Weird.

The team knows CB is a weakness. I’m sure they would love to upgrade, but they are trying to make the right move rather than just making a move.

*****

No real updates on Zach Ertz.

That doesn’t tell us a whole lot. The Bills know TE is a weak spot. They are trying to decide what to do about it. Let’s hope something can be worked out.

*****

Les at his snarky best.

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A Lot Went Wrong

Posted: June 11th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 4 Comments »

I looked back at a post from last June and I said the Eagles could go anywhere from 12-4 to 6-10, depending on health and player development. Oops. I didn’t see 4-11-1 as an option. The problem is that I’m not good at predicting disasters. Put simply, a lot went wrong last year. It really is crazy to think about.

INJURIES

There is no reason to say a lot about this, but the Eagles were second (I think) in games lost to injury. The OL set an NFL record for different starting lineups in a season. Teams can overcome injuries, but last year was an extreme situation and just overwhelmed a team that was already struggling.

REGRESSION

We love to talk about players getting better. We rarely anticipate players getting worse, but that is what happened last year. Sure, seeing Jason Peters struggle could be expected due to his age. That I get. Carson Wentz going from one of the better QBs in the league to the worst wasn’t something I could have ever imagined. It takes years for a player to decline. It takes something crazy for a player to fall apart. I just didn’t see anything that led me to believe that would happen to him. It sure did, though.

I was hopeful that Nate Gerry would have his best season. Instead, he was awful, especially in coverage.

Zach Ertz was one of the best TEs heading into the season. He was a mediocre player last year. And that might be generous. His contract situation brought out the worst in him and Ertz looked nothing like the guy we’d loved since 2013.

Matt Pryor had a huge opportunity. All the OL injuries gave him plenty of chances to play. Instead of building on what he did in 2019, Pryor proved he’s not meant to be a starter or key backup.

Miles Sanders had a strong year as a runner, but he was a mess in the passing game. He struggled as a blocker and receiver. That’s a major problem in this era where the passing game rules.

Jake Elliott was fantastic a couple of years back. He missed some key kicks in 2020, when the team needed every point it could get. Ugh.

TREADING WATER

Avonte Maddox has looked really good at times. 2020 wasn’t one of them. I think he was out of position at outside corner, but the bottom line is that his team needed him to make some plays and he didn’t. Maddox broke up 3 passes and had one TFL in 10 games.

The Eagles could have used a breakout season from Derek Barnett. Instead, they got 5.5 sacks. Barnett wasn’t bad by any stretch. But he didn’t have any FFs or FRs. He wasn’t an impact player. When you take a guy 14th overall, you hope for more than solid.

NOTHING

LB Jatavis Brown quit before the season got here. How many people even remember him?

Will Parks did nothing and got cut.

JJAW was just as bad in Year 2 as he was as a rookie.

Marquise Goodwin opted out due to Covid. He had legit reasons to do that so I’m not judging him at all. From a purely football perspective, the Eagles got nothing out of him.

Did you know Corey Clement played in 15 games last year? He did almost nothing on offense. I don’t remember him as a standout on STs.

3rd round pick Davion Taylor barely played. We knew he was a project, but I figured the coaches would find some role for him. That assumes the coaches wanted him, which is a fair question.

DE Shareef Miller was a 4th round pick in 2019 and did so little that he didn’t even make the team last year.

None of these guys was going to be an impact player, but the 2020 Eagles were so weak that anything could have helped. Depth. Good on STs. Anything. These guys did very little.

STRUGGLING

We hoped Jalen Reagor would be an impact rookie. He wasn’t. He showed explosive ability, but he got hurt and struggled to play consistently well.

Javon Hargrave was hurt early and slow to do much when he returned. Hargrave played much better in the second half of the season. That gives us hope for 2021.

Nickell Robey-Coleman struggled early and got better down the stretch. He wasn’t hurt. Just didn’t play well. It was nice of him to show up when the season was already lost.

*****

It really is amazing that so little when right last year. Beyond all the player issuses, there were other problems. The team was poorly run (Alshon not going on PUP, Casey Toohill getting cut). The team was poorly coached. I hope we can all agree on that point without a lot of discussion.

What a disaster.

The 2021 Eagles can be better simply by having better health and truly working together and being on the same page.

Having some players actually play well wouldn’t hurt either.

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The New Guys

Posted: June 10th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

The Eagles have an almost entirely new coaching staff. Over the past couple of days, we got to hear from the positional coaches. This is always an interesting group because they are the hands-on teachers who do the dirty work and have significant impact on the performance of their players.

There weren’t any crazy revelations. There was no breaking news. No one spilled the beans on the scheme and gave us the secrets to the playbook. Still, it was interesting to get an idea of who they were and to get their thoughts on the team.

Jeff Stoutland isn’t new and that was part of the reason that hearing from him was so good.

Stout got asked about why things went wrong last year. He refused to answer (which was obviously the smart thing to do). He did have a lot to say about the LT competition and the overall line. Stout seems fired up about his group.

He expects a legit competition between Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard. Stout talked at length about how Dillard handled last year really well. Dillard didn’t miss an OL meeting. He took notes. Stout treated him like he was healthy and going to play. Dillard got quizzed on what needed to be done that week. This doesn’t sound like much, but injured players often talk about how they feel like outsiders and how that puts a strain on them. Dillard stayed part of the group and was an active participant. Mentally, he’s in great shape. Stout said he is also bigger and stronger. Thicker. I’m genuinely excited to see what Dillard does.

Stout had good things to say about Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson. If those guys can stay healthy, this line can be outstanding. Stout offered praise for Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig. He seems excited about the addition of Landon Dickerson. The interview is 23 minutes long, but you should watch the whole thing. Just terrific.

***

I liked what DB coach Dennard Wilson had to say. He talked about how he is coaching the DBs up and talked about some of the details he’s focusing on. Part of being a good coach is having a clear message and communicating it effectively. If he can be a good teacher, that would be a huge help to the DBs. It won’t suddenly turn Avonte Maddox or Zech McPhearson into Eric Allen, but it can help them to maximize their talent and play better.

Wilson wouldn’t commit to anyone playing specific spots. He’s going to see how the guys look in Training Camp and then figure out where they should go.

***

WRs coach Aaron Moorehead had plenty of interesting topics to discuss.

Moorehead also said good things about some rookie named DeVonta Smith.

This is a big year for Moorehead. He’s got talent to work with and a more normal offseason than last year. He needs to get this group to play well if he wants to keep his job. I think keeping him was smart, but let’s not be naive and act like he’s got this job locked up for life. He needs the receivers to show something.

***

Kevin Patullo offered some good thoughts on how his background with WRs and QBs helps him to work with both groups. He can explain to them what the other side is looking for. That puts context on what they are doing and can really help them. He was an interesting guy.

I was disappointed with QBs coach Brian Johnson. He didn’t say anything bad or dumb. I was just hoping he would be more compelling with his comments.

TE coach Jason Michael did say he’s talked to Zach Ertz, but wouldn’t go into much beyond that.

***

Overall, I was impressed with the group. Les Bowen put it well.

***

We got some unexpected moves on Wednesday.

Yikes. That doesn’t bode well for Jamie Newman’s future. The Eagles only have 2 QBs now. They needed a third for camp. Getting rid of Newman tells you they were not impressed with him as a player or possibly as a person. Or both. Not good for his future at all.

Tate was an experiment that didn’t work. He was going from college QB to NFL receiver. That’s tough.

I was surprised when Grimes went undrafted. Now we know why. He wasn’t healthy.

The team needed a camp body to help at receiver after letting go of 2 guys.

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