More on the Defense and Numbers

Posted: June 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 35 Comments »

My last post talked about Jim Schwartz getting the defense to play better this season. He’s in Year 2 with the team and that has been good to him in the past. Readers had some interesting points to make.

ChoTime brought up the point that judging a defense based on points and yards allowed is somewhat flawed. The play of the Eagles offense affects how often the defense gets on the field and what positions their put in. This is absolutely true and a very relevant point. ChoTime then mentioned that Football Outsiders had the Eagles rated 4th in DVOA. That would tell you the team doesn’t have that much room to improve.

The Eagles defense was odd in 2016. It dominated the Steelers and Falcons, two dynamic offenses. The Eagles only gave up 30 or more points once all year. That’s tough to do in today’s NFL. As a point of comparison., Seattle gave up 30 or more twice in the regular season.

The flip side is that the Eagles lost five straight games and gave up 26 or more points in every one of those games. And that was with playoff hopes hanging in the balance. Cincy put up 46 points over a 3-game stretch and then scored 32 against the Eagles. There were times when the Eagles struggled against both the run and the pass. There were a couple of blown leads.

No matter how you slice it, the defense was good last year. They can (and need to) get better this year.

I am old school with my stats so I do appreciate readers reminding me of the analytics information that is out there. It really is good to see things from different perspectives.

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AC Viking raised the question of how Jim Schwartz did when after the second year jump he had in Detroit and Tennessee. The numbers aren’t good. However, context is needed. The Titans used to live and die with huge free agent deals. The reason Jevon Kearse left them is they couldn’t afford him after giving out bad contracts in previous years. The 2004 Titans dropped all the way to 27th in yards allowed. That will happen when you lose a player like Kearse. The flip side is that the Eagles jumped into the Top 10.

The Titans were an odd organization back then. They were good, then hit rock bottom in 2004 and 2005. They came out of that and got good again. There wasn’t the usual building a team plan. There was Jeff Fisher taking shortcuts, with them rarely working.

Detroit never got higher than 13th in yards allowed, but when you consider they started out dead last at 32nd, that’s pretty impressive. Schwartz couldn’t get that defense over the top, but he did get it to the middle of the pack.

Schwartz has an interesting situation in Philly. He inherited talent and had a good initial season. Getting the team to play better won’t be easy for him. Going from the mid-20’s or anywhere in the 30’s is easier because you can only go up. If you eliminate mistakes and get players to make a few more plays, you’ll jump in the rankings. Going from 13 is a different story. You need to get a good unit to become an excellent unit.

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Random note of the week.

I was cleaning up some old stuff and found a scrap sheet of paper from March/April of 2013. I had written three names down.

  • Chance Warmack
  • Jonathan Cooper
  • Dallas Thomas

Two of those guys are now Eagles. Back then, that seemed like a fantasy idea. The three of them looked like future starters, with Warmack and Cooper as potential Pro Bowl players. Now, Warmack and Thomas are here fighting for roster spots and hoping to keep their NFL careers going.

Cooper is in Dallas and has a chance to start. They are going to turn him into the dominant star that the Cardinals, Browns and Patriots couldn’t.


Better D

Posted: June 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 27 Comments »

Jim Schwartz isn’t a genius. Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense changed the game of football. Bill Belichick has come up with some voodoo defenses that no one has ever seen before. Rex Ryan overwhelmed offenses with his overload blitzes. Dick LeBeau has been terrorizing offenses with his zone blitz attacks for more than two decades.

Schwartz isn’t in the same class as those guys when it comes to X’s and O’s. But he is a darn good coach. Schwartz prefers to keep things more simple and let his players attack. One of the ways you can tell Schwartz is a good coach is to see the impact he has.

TENNESSEE

  • 2001 – 25th in Pts – 25th in Yds – 31st vs Pass – 5th vs Run
  • 2002 – 11th in Pits – 10th in Yds – 25th vs Pass – 2nd vs Run

DETROIT

  • 2009 – 32nd in Pts – 32nd in Yds – 32nd vs Pass – 25th vs Run
  • 2010 – 19th in Pts – 21st in Yds – 16th in vs Pass – 24th vs Run

In Year 2, Schwartz sees significant improvement. Granted, both places the defense struggled mightily in his first year so there was a lot of room for improvement. Still, the sign of a good coach is one who can identify problems and fix them.

There are two basic ways to improve a unit. First, you want the players you have to play better. Second, you want to add talent. When you make the kind of jumps that Schwartz did, you are pretty good in both areas.

Getting your returning players to improve involves several things. You must help them master the scheme. It is one thing to know the playbook, it is another to know it inside-out. Players will have to do the learning, but coaches can help them with the way they teach in film sessions and on the practice field.

In the second year, the coaches can start to focus on little things. The first season involves learning the basics of the scheme. After that, the coaches need to push the players to understand the subtleties of the scheme. The devil is in the details, as the saying goes. As players begin to really get a feel for how all the pieces work together, it will help them to be better as individuals and as a unit.

Good coaches do some learning in the first year. They get to know their players, as people and as pieces to move around on the field. Schwartz now has a better feel for how to use Fletcher Cox or Vinny Curry or Malcolm Jenkins. Schwartz should also know how to motivate them. Maybe that is showing Curry tough love while praising Jordan Hicks. You can’t treat everyone the same. You have to know which buttons to push.

As for new talent, coaches aren’t scouts, but they do offer their opinion on who they like and want brought in through free agency and the draft. The coach then has to find a way to mix in the new guys for optimal impact. That means teaching them the scheme from a basic standpoint and also trying to create instant chemistry with their new teammates.

Schwartz did this well in Tennessee and Detroit.

This season presents an interesting challenge. The 2016 defense was 13th in yards and 12th in points. That was a solid showing. There is a lot less room for improvement this year. If Schwartz can get the defense to jump 10 spots as he did in previous Year 2 scenarios, the Eagles will be in great shape.

More realistically, the defense would move into the Top 10 in points and yards allowed.

I don’t know what goals Schwartz will come up with. All of his talks with the media center on winning games. I’m sure he has some idea of the kind of jump he would like to see. He might have a goal for the number of sacks or interceptions. We aren’t going to find out those numbers any time soon, if ever.

Wins do trump stats, but this defense getting better would likely play a key role in getting the Eagles back to the postseason. Just get this defense into the Top 10 and lets see what happens.

And more of this please.

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Some DL Talk

Posted: June 24th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 53 Comments »

When you think of Eagles defense, you can’t help but think of great defensive linemen. From Reggie, Clyde and Jerome to Hugh Douglas to Jevon Kearse to Trent Cole and Fletcher Cox. The 2017 Eagles have a DL loaded with potential.

I watched this clip and got fired up for the season.

This group can be special.

Can is the key word, obviously. The talent is there. They are now in Year 2 under Chris Wilson and Jim Schwartz so they know the scheme and their roles. I also think it is important that Schwartz and Wilson are tough coaches who aren’t going to settle for “pretty good”. They aren’t going to be happy until the Eagles are winning a lot of games and the DL is doing their part.

PE.com has posted a 10-minute interview with Wilson. He says some really interesting things.

Wilson talked about Vinny Curry needing to work on body control so that he can stay off the ground and finish more plays. The Eagles studied him in the offseason and thought that was an area he could address to help him play better this year. Wilson seems pleased with what he’s seen so far.

Wilson made the point that watching cut-ups this year is better because they are from last season. The players are watching themselves play in the scheme. Last summer they watched clips from the Lions and Bills to learn the defense. You are going to learn more watching yourself and teammates than players from other teams in previous years.

Someone asked about Fletcher Cox. Wilson explained that the coaches have talked to him about what he needs to do better. Cox is the best player on the Eagles, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get better. The sky is the limit for him. He can still take his game to another level so I’m glad the coaches are pushing him. Wilson said one thing the coaches want to do this year is move him out to end more often. Cox is a gifted athlete so putting him in space is smart. When you have a player as talented as him, be creative and take advantage of his skills.

Cox in NFL’s Top 100

These guys are not just pass rushers. They can play the run as well.

There were times when things really clicked and the DL looked good in 2016.

Add in Derek Barnett, Tim Jernigan, Chris Long and Elijah Qualls and you have one deep, talented group. I’m really looking forward to seeing this group in action this season.
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Gang Green Ranked 1st, Again

Posted: June 23rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 80 Comments »

The 1991 Eagles defense, lovingly known as Gang Green, finished 1st against the run, the pass and in overall defense. To give you an idea how special that is, they are the only team to do that in the last 40 years.

Gang Green finished 1st in something else.

Here is the story I wrote on them for PE..com.

That was an amazing unit. And I don’t use that word lightly. Jim Johnson coached some really good defenses (2002, 2008), but the 1991 unit, which was built by Buddy Ryan and coached by Bud Carson, was on a special level. They were amazing.

The biggest thing for me is wondering what they could have done with a more consistent offense. Injuries to the QBs really hurt the 1991 Eagles. There were four different starters and five QBs who threw passes. That’s not good.

The Eagles had six games where they scored fewer than 14 points. They went 1-5 in those games, with the only win being the House of Pain Game. When the offense did anything, that team won.

The problem wasn’t just ineffective offense. There were turnovers. Eagles QBs threw 27 INTs. The defense was constantly being put in tough positions.

Gang Green didn’t even get to the playoffs that year, but Reggie, Seth, Jerome, Clyde, BE, Willie T. Eric, Wes and Andrew gave us a lifetime of memories. Those guys were truly special and watching them was so much fun.

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Flip

Posted: June 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 132 Comments »

The future of the Eagles franchise is young QB Carson Wentz. The man who is tasked with coaching Wentz, and who has a big say in the how things go for the Eagles, is QB coach John DeFilippo. DeFilippo recently met with the media. PE.com posted 15 minutes of the interview session and it’s worth watching. Flip doesn’t say anything groundbreaking, but he gives you an idea of what he and Wentz are working on and how things are going.

You may wonder exactly what a QB coach teaches his guys. They have a lot of ground to cover. If you read Chris Brown’s first book (The Essential Smart Football), he tells the story of how QB guru and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe starts out by teaching his pupils about defense. Cutcliffe teaches them about the pass rush, zone blitzes, coverages and anything else that will help them understand what the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage are doing.

Some coaches obsess on fundamentals. How do you grip the ball? What is your elbow level? Are your feet split far enough apart? Too much? All coaches teach this stuff, but to some those details are crucial.

Some coaches really focus on protection. There are so many different rush packages and blitz packages these days that a QB isn’t going to have success if he can’t adjust to what he sees by calling the right protection. That could be having the line slide right or left. Or maybe adjusting and having the RB stay in to pass protect. QBs and offenses have different ways of adjusting to the crazy looks defenses throw at them. The best QB in the world is no good if he doesn’t have time to get the ball to his weapons. Much of that is on the line to block well, but the QB must also be able to make pre-snap adjustments to give his players the best chance to protect him.

I know the first thing Jon Gruden did when he came to Philly was to watch all of Randall Cunningham’s sacks from the 1994 season. Gruden felt Cunningham took too many sacks. Those are drive killers, not to mention you don’t want the QB getting hit that much. Gruden felt there were plays where Cunningham could have run, dumped the ball off or just thrown it away. After all, 3rd and 10 is better than 3rd and 16. Cunningham was a terrible QB student and he and Gruden never hit it off.

DeFilippo and Wentz are lucky. DeFilippo has a player who wants to succeed and is willing to learn. Wentz is a hard worker who will embrace tough coaching. Wentz is lucky to have a coach who has had success with other young QBs. DeFilippo knows what he is doing. He understands football, but is also a good communicator and good motivator. That is critical.

Wentz has terrific physical ability. He needs DeFilippo to help him take advantage of that potential by developing his QB skills. The most important ability for a QB is being able to process information quickly and correctly. This starts with prep work before you even get to a game. The QB must know the play, inside-out. That means studying the play book over and over and over. He must be able to look at the defense and know what they are doing. That means being relentless with tape study.

If a QB has done all of this prep work, what happens after the snap will be “easier” to understand. Obviously the three to four seconds of the average play is incredibly complicated so there’s usually nothing easy about it, but you have an advantage if what you’re seeing is what you expected based on all the work you did before the game. That allows you to think less and react more naturally.

DeFilippo told Wentz one of his goals this year was to know “where the bones are buried on every play”. That’s a very odd phrase for the situation, but it works. Wentz is supposed to know who should be open on a play based on what the defense is doing. Different receivers will be open vs Cover 2 than Cover 3. Wentz has to know this for every play against every anticipated defensive coverage or look.

I think part of what makes DeFilippo so good with young QBs is that he gives them clear, tangible goals. He had Wentz work on specific issues with his mechanics. DeFilippo didn’t go into great detail about that with the media, but he had a clear plan for Wentz.

Coaching can make a real difference, even with veteran QBs. Rodney Peete was the backup QB to begin 1995. He ended up starting 12 games. He was a mediocre player, but a terrific leader and helped that team get to the divisional round of the playoffs. The next year Peete was the starter and got a ton of attention from Jon Gruden and the staff. Peete looked like a completely different player. I remember him throwing a quick slant in the opener at Washington and going “That was actually a good throw. Crazy.” Injuries limited him to just five starts, but you could see the impact of the coaching.

One of the focal points for DeFilippo is consistency. The Eagles want their QBs to be consistent in terms of emotion, work ethic, focus, and of course, performance. They don’t want highs and lows. Those will happen, but the goal is to try to avoid them.

DeFilippo and the staff teach the QBs to keep an even keel emotionally. Don’t get too high when things are good and don’t get too low when things go wrong. Emotions can affect your performance. They preach the importance of body language. QBs live under a microscope. Everything that is said or done is evaluated by fans, the media and even teammates. Don’t feed the beast. Stay cool, good or bad. You are the team leader. Act like it.

How do you develop consistency?

DeFilippo tells his QBs to “stack practices”. This means having a good performance one day and then following it up the next day with another good performance. Do that again. And again. Stack up good performances so that they become habit rather than special achievements. Wentz was up and down this spring, but stacked together a couple of good practices to close out the minicamp. That will make DeFilippo happy.

The upcoming challenge for Wentz will be to stack good Training Camp performances.

A lot of these ideas may seem simple. Remember the immortal words of Pat Shurmur. Football is a game made up of PE majors. That means that sometimes simple is exactly what the doctor ordered.

The key to success is for DeFilippo to get Wentz to buy into these ideas and work on them as if his life depends on it. In the football sense that is true. If Wentz does what the Eagles hope, the future is bright for him and the staff. The franchise will win a lot of games. If Wentz doesn’t develop into a star QB, the staff will be looking for jobs and the Eagles will be looking for the next franchise savior.

For now, optimism is high. Life is good for DeFilippo and Wentz. This fall will give us an idea of where things really are for the teacher and his student.

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