Early But Not Too Early

Posted: October 23rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 41 Comments »

We are not even at midseason so talking about the standings is premature, right? You can’t take a serious look at things, but there isn’t anything wrong with maybe taking a quick peek.

I bring this up because the WAS-PHI game gives the Eagles a key opportunity to help themselves.

PHI 5-1
WAS 3-2
DAL 3-3
NYG Irrelevant

If the Eagles can win this game, they’ll be up 2.5 games in the division. That doesn’t guarantee them anything, but every win is important. The NFL season only has 16 games so each W puts you closer to where you want to be.

There is also the added bonus that the Eagles would be 3-0 in the division and would have a sweep of the Skins. If things went horribly wrong down the stretch, the Eagles would have that advantage over the Skins should they need it.

A win would also keep the Eagles with the best record in the NFL and in the running for the top seed in the NFC.

These are all good things, but they require the Eagles to win. Can the Eagles do that?

That certainly sounds favorable, especially when you factor in that Josh Norman is out.

One of the simple keys to this game will be the Red Zone. The Eagles are 4th in RZ percentage while the Skins are just 25th. If you can score TDs while forcing them to kick FGs, you’re going to win. The Eagles only gave up 10 offensive points in the opener (other TD came on the Ryan Kerrigan INT). This defense shut down WAS once so they can do it again.

When it comes to situational football, the Eagles have been great. Beyond the impressive RZ figure, they are the top 3rd down offense in the league. Football games usually come down to key moments. The Eagles have thrived in those situations so far this year. If they keep that up, this is going to be a fun season.

Carson Wentz is a huge part of that. He has the physical skills to excel in those situations, but also has the aggressive mindset that you need. How often have we all groaned at Sam Bradford for dumping the ball right at the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 9? There are some situations when you have to do that, but there are others when you need to stand tall in the pocket and get the ball downfield.

It helps that Wentz has a key target like Zach Ertz for those situations. And WAS has struggled with TEs. That bodes well for Monday night. The Panthers held Ertz to just 2 catches (but both were TDs). You can bet the Eagles will want to get him the ball more than that.

Who knows…maybe Brent Celek will have a pass come his way. He’s only caught 2 passes this year. You know he’d love to have a big play in a key game like this.

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Injury Update

Posted: October 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 169 Comments »

For once, the injury situation actually might favor the Eagles.

That’s big news. Norman is the best CB for the Skins. Take him out and Alshon Jeffrey should have the upper hand on whoever tries to cover him.

The Skins have some depth at CB, but no one as good as Norman. Bashaud Breeland is the other usual starter and he’s banged up right now. It sounds like he’ll play, which could actually be a good thing. Breeland is more of a big guy than an athlete. If you put him on Torrey Smith, Smith can run by him. Jeffrey is just flat out better than Breeland.

Quinton Dunbar and Kendall Fuller have each started games this year so they do have some experience. Rookie Fabian Moreau is very talented, but hasn’t played as much.

DE Jonathan Allen went on IR this week. The rookie hasn’t had a huge year, but started all five games. Losing him will take a key body out of the front seven.

LT Trent Williams is hurting.

The knee injury that Trent Williams is dealing with ultimately will require surgery that’s typically followed by a five- to six-month recovery process, the left tackle told The Washington Post on Saturday.

But Williams’s hope is to continue playing despite the pain, as he did in last week’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and delay surgery until after the 2017 season.

“The ligament that holds my kneecap in the socket needs to be reconstructed at some point,” said Williams, a five-time Pro Bowl honoree. “It’s like a five-, six-month surgery, I think, in recovery time. I’m just trying to hold off on that as long as possible. Hopefully get through the season and revisit it in the offseason.”

He’s clearly tougher than I am.

Williams’ backup is out for this game so Trent basically has to play. It will be interesting to see if Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett can have some success against him.

As for the Eagles…

Sounds like Hicks will be back. And Lane Johnson will be at RT. That’s huge with Ryan Kerrigan coming after Carson Wentz.

Ronald Darby has begun practicing, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll play. The Eagles are getting pretty good corner play right now so there is no need to rush him back. Let Darby get completely healthy for the stretch run.

It will be good to get Wendell Smallwood back in the lineup. Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner aren’t at his level. Smallwood is a key 3rd down receiver and has the most athleticism of all the RBs.

One of the benefits to playing a Thursday night game was all the extra time off to let the players get healthy.

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One is the Loneliest Number

Posted: October 21st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 87 Comments »

The Eagles are 5-1.

The Eagles are the only team with one loss, giving them the best record in the NFL. If the season ended today, they would have the number one seed. And we’d have the Super Bowl over before Thanksgiving, letting us focus on shopping for the holidays and watching Lone Wolf McQuade while sipping on ice cold PBR.

For better or worse, the season doesn’t end any time soon. We’ll have to settle for watching the Eagles play another 10 games and hopefully then moving on to the postseason.

The way the Eagles have gotten off to a 5-1 start is by playing good football and staying focused on one game at a time. The team hasn’t gotten too high or too low. They’ve shown impressive maturity, handling success well despite some tough circumstances.

Having the best record in the league and facing a team they already beat will make it even tougher on the coaches to keep the players locked in and ready to go. Add in the fact this is a Monday night game and that makes things even worse. Jon Gruden and ESPN will be meeting with the players this weekend and throwing compliments their way. There is an extra day of hype and general media attention.

If the Eagles want to stay alone at the top of the standings, they’ll need to block out the noise and stay focused on the Skins. Doug Pederson has pushed almost all of the right buttons so far this year. Monday night will be another big test for him and the team.

*****

The Eagles won the opener in part because they made the Skins one-dimensional. Washington had no run game and that meant Kirk Cousins had to carry the offense.

Go back to last year. The Skins ran for 230 yards in the first meeting and 107 yards in the rematch. Washington only ran for 64 yards in the opener. That put a lot of pressure on Cousins and he didn’t handle things well. He was only 23 for 40 and there wasn’t much in the way of big plays.

The Skins come into this game with the 10th best rushing attack in the league. The Eagles have the #1 run defense. You can bet Washington will make more of an effort to run the ball this time around.

You can also bet that Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Vinny Curry look forward to shutting down that run game, just like they did in the opener. Good run defense goes beyond just the guys up front. The whole Eagles defense has been great at playing the run.

Stuff the run. Dare Kirk Cousins to beat you. If the Eagles can make the Skins one dimensional again, my money is on the guys in green.

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Game Review – PHI 28, CAR 23

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 89 Comments »

This just might be a different Eagles team.

The game against the Panthers sure felt like one the Eagles would have lost in recent years. Think of the Lions in 2016. The first Skins game in 2015. The Cardinals game in 2014. And so on. Close games where the Eagles had a chance to put someone away, didn’t and paid for it with a loss.

This time the Eagles made the clutch plays they needed to and won. They stayed in front of the Panthers and kept the pressure on them to play catch-up for almost all of the 2nd half. That can wear on a team and it seemed to affect Cam Newton and the Panthers on Thursday night.

There was every excuse available to the Eagles if they had lost. They were playing on the road on a short week against a tough team with a really good defense. The Panthers were hot and do a lot of creative stuff on offense and defense, making it even harder to prepare for them on a short week. The Eagles had injuries, with Lane Johnson and Wendell Smallwood missing the game. MLB Jordan Hicks got hurt during the game and missed more than half the game.

Then there was the officiating. The Eagles were 10-126 with penalties. The Panthers? 1-1. Seriously. To be fair, the Eagles did refuse a couple of penalties, but almost every close call went to Carolina. Even more infuriating, there seemed to be a double-standard. Jalen Mills made contact with a receiver and got the flag. The Panthers corner pinned Alshon Jeffrey’s arm to his body. No call. LeGarrette Blount blocked a player after the whistle and got a flag. A defender slammed Blount to the ground after the whistle, and it was out in the open for everyone to see. No call. All you ask for is consistency. This was one of those games where the officiating was so bad it actually gives credence to the normally insane conspiracy theories.

That’s a lot of of things for a team to deal with and to have to overcome.

But the Eagles did.

The game had a playoff vibe. Both teams were 4-1 and playing good football. Both really wanted to win this game. There were some big hits by both teams. Carolina was blitzing like crazy to try and get hits on Carson Wentz. The Eagles showed they could deal with tough circumstances and still win. That impressed the heck out of me and it gives me hope that this team might be better than we thought.

COACHING

Doug Pederson did a good job with handling the short week and having the players physically ready to play on Thursday night. Road teams traditionally struggle in Thursday night games. In terms of key decisions, Pederson had the offense go for it on 4th/1 near the goal line. That was somewhat of a no-brainer. There was another situation where the Eagles led 18-13 and faced 4th/1 at the CAR 30. Pederson kicked the FG to extend the lead to 21-13. As much as anything, that tells me just how confident he is in PK Jake Elliott. Pederson wanted the points.

The biggest decision Pederson made was going for 2 after the team scored a TD to go up 16-10. There was a penalty on the PAT and Pederson decided to move the ball to the 1 and to go for it. The Eagles converted and went up 18-10. That is a maximum one-possession lead. I think it messes with the trailing team psychologically because they know they need a TD and a 2-point conversion to just tie the game. Once the Eagles went up by 8, Carolina seemed somewhat desperate the rest of the game.

The offensive coaches had a nice gameplan early on. They moved the ball really well on the first two drives. Then Carolina started blitzing and the Eagles were inconsistent after that.

I love the confidence the coaches have in the full roster. Early 3rd down had the 3 TEs, Marcus Johnson and Corey Clement as the receivers on the field. Burton caught the pass and moved the chains. The Eagles used Johnson and Mack Hollins on some key drives in the 2nd half.

Jim Schwartz had a tough task. The Panthers do a lot of creative stuff, similar to the Chiefs. There were times when the Eagles were confused on option plays and QB runs. You could see veteran players like Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod arguing about who should have had the RB and who should have had the QB. That’s just not something you focus on every week.

The Eagles shut down the CAR run game and put everything on Cam Newton and the Panthers receivers. That allowed the DL to rush the passer aggressively and let the DBs focus on coverage. That worked well as the Eagles came up with 2 sacks and 3 INTs. Newton and his receivers were wildly inconsistent.

PLAYERS

Carson Wentz was up and down, but made the key plays needed to win. The Eagles got inside the CAR 25-yard line 3 times and scored TDs on each drive. And all 3 were TD passes by Wentz. He finished 16-30-222. One of the big keys to the game is that Wentz limited mistakes. He did fumble once, but wasn’t picked off. He took some sacks rather than trying to force the ball into tough coverage. Made a really smart play in the early 3rd. Tried to throw outside, but blitzer off the edge batted the ball. Wentz didn’t panic or try to catch the ball. He knocked it to the ground definitively.

Wentz used his legs to make plays. Kept the ball on zone read and ran for long gain on 2nd/17. Ran a QB sneak on 4th down set up 1st and goal. Had a great moment when he tried to run for TD. DB got in his way and Wentz tried to run him over. Big collision. That’s not a smart decision, but moments like that do fire up teammates. Those guys love seeing their leader sell out to score. Finished with 6 carries for 25 yards.

Wentz was affected by the blitz. He had multiple throws that were high or off target. He did make some good throws. I thought he showed good accuracy on a pair of downfield throws to Jeffrey. One was completed for 37 yards. The other was incomplete, but the ball was right on the money. Made a good read, throw on Agholor TD. Saw mismatch of WR and LB and got the ball to his guy quickly and let Agholor do the rest.

Best play came in the late 3rd. Vision, toughness, good throw.

Very impressive play that kept a scoring drive alive.  Read the rest of this entry »


They Call Me Mr. Fipp

Posted: October 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 113 Comments »

How amazing is Dave Fipp?

I was re-watching the Panthers game and it hit me what all he has had to deal with. Back in May, it looked like the Eagles would once again be a special teams juggernaut.

  • PR Darren Sproles was one of the best in NFL history.
  • P Donnie Jones was an outstanding veteran, good as a punter and holder.
  • K Caleb Sturgis was coming off a terrific season and had a bright future.
  • LS Jon Dorenbos was a proven veteran who was highly reliable.
  • KOR Wendell Smallwood was back for his 2nd year. He showed big potential as a returner in 2016.
  • ST’er Chris Maragos was back, to both be the key leader and key cover man.

That is a pretty good looking crew of STers.

And now?

Sproles is done for the year. Sturgis might be done for the year. Dorenbos got replaced (and is now recuperating from heart surgery). Smallwood has missed half the season. Maragos is probably out for the rest of the year.

Fipp hasn’t cried about any of this. Wait…can those eyes actually cry? That’s a scary thought. Instead, he’s gone about focusing on the next man up. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles STs have slipped all the way down to 3rd in the league.

That’s absurd.

How the heck does Fipp do this? He gets the team to sign Jake Elliott, a rookie kicker cut by the Bengals, and now Elliott looks like one of the best kickers we’ve ever seen. He hit a 61-yard FG to win a game. We would have all been very impressed if he hit a winning kick from 51 yards out. Heck no, he was 10 yards further back than that. The kid has an explosive leg. He has been an amazing find.

Rick Lovato beat out Dorenbos this summer. Lovato had a couple of poor snaps in the Carolina game, but has mostly been right on the money.

Kenjon Barner has averaged 18 yards per PR since replacing Sproles. He had a 76-yard return in the win over the Cardinals.

The Eagles are 11th in KOR average. They haven’t run one all the way back, but have had some good returns.

The next challenge for Fipp is trying to replace Maragos, who is very good at what he does. The Eagles could turn to Corey Graham to fill that role. Or maybe Jaylen Watkins. They could go with someone who isn’t a DB for the job. We’ll have to wait and see what they do.

For now, I trust Dave Fipp.

And you should too.

*****

Chris Long has been a good DE for the Eagles this year. He’s also been a good fit off the field. Long is one of the reasons this team has such good chemistry. He is a leader and gets along well with his teammates.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you have to respect someone who backs his words up with substantive actions, such as donating all 16 of his game checks from the 2017 season.

It always feels good when the Eagles have good players that are also good guys.

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