Know Your Enemy – PIT

Posted: September 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 193 Comments »

We all know the Steelers pretty well. They have a terrific coach in Mike Tomlin. QB Ben Roethlisberger has won a couple of Super Bowls and might be headed to Canton, OH when he retires. Antonio Brown might be the best WR in the league. The Steelers 3-4 defense is tough to run on and they are a very physical, hard-hitting group. Not a lot of mystery in this matchup.

Season recap:

PIT 38, WAS 16

PIT 24, CIN 16

The Steelers gained 374 yards or more in each game. They allowed 384 yards or more in each game. Some of the yards allowed came while protecting leads and the opponents being in desperation/comeback mode. PIT has the #1 Red Zone defense in the league. Driving on them is one thing, but scoring TDs is a serious challenge.

– Misc Player Notes –

RB DeAngelo Williams – Leading rusher in the NFL. Patient. Has excellent vision and body control. Deceptively good. Hard to bring down.

WR Sammie Coates – Young player with excellent size/speed. Has drops issues. Has made some big plays so far this year. Only 4 catches, but averages 38.3 yds per reception.

DL – DE Cam Heyward, NT Javon Hargrave and DE Stephon Tuitt are all athletic players who can make plays. These aren’t simply big guys who are supposed to eat up blockers.

ILB Ryan Shazier – Put on some Steelers tape and #50 will jump out at you. He is a fast, athletic LB that can make plays all over the field. He’s not a 250-pound thumper, but Shazier can fly and he can hit. He’s the key to the defense.

S Mike Mitchell – Slow. Can’t cover. The Steelers still get the best out of him. Mitchell is a very physical player. He hits like a ton of bricks and isn’t afraid of pushing the rules. You can catch the ball in front of him, but you will pay the price.

Greg Cosell did a video for PE.com showing how the Steelers mix “trap” coverages into their looks. This will  be a challenge for a young player like Carson Wentz. Cosell shows on the video plays where veterans Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton got fooled by the Steelers. They face the Steelers twice a year, every year. If they’re getting fooled, you can bet this will be a tough challenge for Wentz.

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Jeff McLane wrote a good piece on Doug Pederson and how he is similar to Andy Reid, but also different.

Pederson has heard the Andy Lite comments since the Eagles hired him in January. Owner Jeffrey Lurie made it clear that his association with Reid was one of the characteristics that made him an attractive candidate. And much of Pederson’s offense, training, and schedule have come from the former Eagles coach.

But Pederson has picked his spots to tweak. He may be a newer version of Reid, but he is also very much his own man.

“I don’t try to fight it as much as try to be who I am,” Pederson said of the Reid comparisons. “Listen, a lot of my background has been learning from Andy Reid, so that’s kind of all I’ve known. But at the same time, I’ve watched and observed and took my notes over the years and have now tried to do things differently.”

Pederson is 160 wins, 11 playoff appearances, six NFC East crowns, and an NFC championship game victory from being mentioned in Reid’s class. But of the changes he has made to his mentor’s blueprint, each would seem to address a weakness or seem logical.

Spring workouts and training camp were a carbon copy of Reid’s. But the regular-season schedule has been different, in particular the time between the morning walk-through and practice. Reid’s plan has lunch and media availability in between the two sessions, while Pederson moved practice from early afternoon to late morning.

“There was such a big break between the walk-through and practice and I just wanted to flow right into practice,” Pederson said. “Give the players the back-end times for meetings, media, lift.”

The morning time line is now breakfast, installation meetings, walk-through, and a practice that runs into the early afternoon. Fletcher Cox, who played a season under Reid, said that the players are given about three minutes to put their pads and helmets on in between walk-through and practice.

“It carries over into the practice so it’s fresh in our mind,” Cox said. “And you don’t have to get dressed again.”

I have had some serious concerns about Pederson, but he has been a pleasant surprise. The man we see at PCs talking to the media stumbles over his words and says some strange, if not dumb, things.

The guy who is in meeting rooms and the locker room is very different. Very different. He is well-prepared. There is logic behind his decisions, which generally seem to be good decisions. He is aggressive, but not reckless. He’s able to motivate his players. Pederson’s assistants and his players all seem to be on the same page and everyone is getting along right now.

Success cures a lot of problems. Pederson went 4-0 in the preseason and the team is 2-0 in the regular season. The big decisions made by Pederson have worked to this point. Trade Sam Bradford and start the rookie QB, no problem. Trade Eric Rowe and play 7th round rookie Jalen Mills, no problem. Trade for DGB and get rid of veteran free agent receivers, no problem.

There will be some serious adversity at some point and we’ll see how Pederson handles it. He dealt with the Nelson Agholor situation effectively. He had to navigate the tricky waters of Bradford demanding a trade and did that well. Pederson left Wentz in the preseason opener too long and that resulted in an injury. That didn’t hurt Wentz or the team.

There will be a losing streak. Or a dumb play-call. Or a wasted timeout. Or some bizarro locker room controversy. Something will happen that truly challenges Pederson and we’ll see how he deals with it.

For now, I’m very impressed. It feels like he learned from both Andy Reid and Chip Kelly and the Eagles are getting the best of both worlds.

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Game Review – PHI 29, CHI 14 – Defense

Posted: September 24th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 188 Comments »

Another week, another good defensive showing. The Bears aren’t explosive, but Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffrey have been to the Pro Bowl, as have OL Kyle Long and Josh Sitton. That offense isn’t completely without talent. The Eagles limited them to 284 yards and one offensive TD. To be fair, there was also a drive that resulted in a missed field goal. The Eagles came up with 3 takeaways and knocked Cutler out of the game.

Good defense.

This wasn’t some X’s and O’s showcase. The Eagles simply executed better. They won the line of scrimmage. They covered well. They tackled well. They made key plays.

The defense did get some help. The Eagles offense won the TOP battle, holding the ball 36:05. Field position also played a role in the game. Give credit to the offense and STs for not giving the Bears favorable position. Only one drive started outside the 35-yard line (and that was at midfield). There were a pair of drives that started inside the 15-yard line. That means even if the Bears strung together 5 or 6 good plays, they still weren’t necessarily in scoring position.

The Eagles only played 50 snaps on defense and 10 of those came in the 4th quarter when the Eagles had a commanding 29-7 lead and were rotating players and working the clock.

DE

Brandon Graham is playing at a high level right now. He had a sack, TFL and 4 overall tackles. He was good against the run and pass. He opened the game by chasing a run away from him and getting the RB down for no gain. Graham beat the RT for a sack. He showed great hustle on a 2nd half pass play when he rushed from one side and then chased the ball outside the far numbers. The QB had thrown the pass right at the LOS and Graham just kept running when he saw the ball released. He didn’t make the tackle, but did hit the receiver. Coaches love to see that kind of hustle. The TFL came when he got under the blockers pads, drove him back, shed him and then got the runner, who was headed to that side. Can’t run at BG….can’t run away from him.

Vinny Curry played well. Stat sheet only shows a couple of tackles, but he was disruptive. So fast on a screen pass that Cutler had to throw the ball away. Couldn’t wait for the RB to get clear. Curry drove the RT back into Cutler’s face on one pass play. Came off the edge and got a big hit on Cutler in the 1st half. Connor Barwin was a bit up and down. Beat the LT to get a hit on Cutler early. Got some pressure on late 4th down play. Got burned on a reverse that came his way. Went inside and let runner get wide. Has to contain that. Bears ran bootleg at him and threw to TE. Barwin could have made that tougher by staying wide as well.

Marcus Smith had some nice snaps. Set the edge on a GL run and helped bottle that play up.  Used hard inside move to beat the LT and get pressure on Cutler. Unfortunately Jay slid away and got the pass off (deep ball to Jeffrey). Smith lined up at LDE and drove the RT right back to Cutler’s face on another series. Tried more power rushes after that and they weren’t as good. Needs to work on mixing his moves up. Steven Means played some DE and even DT. Was inside in the 4th Qtr when the Eagles wanted as many pass rushers out there as possible. Got pressure on a snap at DE. Great effort on the inside, but not much success.    Read the rest of this entry »


Game Review – PHI 29, CHI 14 – Offense

Posted: September 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 188 Comments »

Short week because of MNF so this will be a shorter review as well. There is plenty to talk about, of course. The Eagles improved to 2-0 with a convincing win over the Bears. The Eagles weren’t perfect, but they were clearly the better team, despite starting a rookie QB and being guided by a rookie coach.

A few fans got worried when the offense came out in a spread look and Carson Wentz was throwing the ball on every down. Did Pederson turn into Andy Reid? No. Actually, it reminded me of a SNF game between the Raiders and Steelers from 2002. PIT had a dominant defense so the Raiders came out and Rich Gannon threw short pass after short pass. The Steelers had no answer. Gannon threw 64 passes for 403 yards and they beat PIT 30-17.

Pederson said after the game that he came out with that attack to get Wentz loose. Throwing the ball from an empty set gave him easier reads because the D was so spread out. Wentz got into a rhythm quickly and the crowd wasn’t a factor as the Eagles went right down the field for a FG. Smart move by Pederson. Wentz has been incredibly mature and level-headed so far, but playing on the road on MNF was a lot to put on the young guy. That initial drive worked like a charm and Wentz played another outstanding game.

The offense wasn’t great. The Eagles only gained 280 yards. They were just 3-15 on 3rd downs. They were just 3-6 in the Red Zone. None of those issues was a problem in this game because the defense shutdown the Bears so thoroughly. There were missed connections on some big plays that also cost the team.

Still, I love the fact the Eagles put the hammer down in the 2nd half, scoring 3 TDs and working the clock really well. They got the ball at the 5:09 mark in the 4th quarter and never gave it back. That’s the way you close out games. The offense has a long way to go, but they seem to come through in key situations. For 2 weeks in a row, they opened with points. They also scored going into halftime. Those are important possessions. The offense got the ball deep in CHI territory after an INT and scored a TD. That grew the lead, but also had emotional impact. The Bears never quit in this game, but they did get discouraged as the Eagles made critical plays in the 2nd half.

I thought the coaches did a very good job with this gameplan. They didn’t have Zach Ertz, who played 60 snaps in the opener. They didn’t want to overwork Ryan Mathews because he had a banged up ankle. That meant using Darren Sproles more at RB and Trey Burton more at TE. The coaches used the backups and used them aggressively. That shows the players you have confidence in them and helps their performance. I think it also sends a good message to the team. This isn’t about a few stars. This is about the Eagles, 1-53. Teams play better when they really buy into that mentality.

Pederson didn’t completely open up the playbook, but there were a couple of Red Zone plays I loved. The first was a play where Nelson Agholor came in motion and then turned and went right back where he started after the snap. Wentz flared the ball out to him and the DBs had vacated the area. Agholor got upfield quickly for a solid gain. Nothing too fancy, but it put a playmaker in space. That’s hard to to in the RZ.  Read the rest of this entry »


How Good?

Posted: September 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 225 Comments »

The Eagles are 2-0. That’s great, but it doesn’t tell us how good this team is. Last year the Falcons got out to a 5-0 start and looked really good. They completely fell apart and finished 8-8.

Football Outsiders has released DVOA rankings and the Eagles are…#1. Like all stats/numbers, that does need some context.

Things are looking very good for the Philadelphia Eagles, who sit atop our DVOA ratings after two weeks of the 2016 season. That’s a lot better than we expected before the season, when we projected that the Eagles would be one of the worst teams in the league. On the other hand, while we don’t have enough information on the current season to incorporate opponent adjustments into our numbers, Philadelphia’s two victories have come over two other teams we projected to be among the worst teams in the league. So, how much do we take from the Eagles’ strong start?

In recent history, getting out to a strong start in DVOA has generally identified a team as one of the best in the league for that season. This wasn’t always the case. For example, from 1998 through 2002, only one team that was No. 1 in DVOA after two weeks went on to make the playoffs. However, since the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs, every team ranked No. 1 in DVOA after Week 2 has made the playoffs and finished at least 10-6. These teams have averaged 12.5 wins and finished with an average DVOA rank of 3.6. Only the 2012 Houston Texans didn’t finish in the DVOA top six; they were 11th.

On the other hand, Philadelphia isn’t your typical team to rank No. 1 at this point. The ratings have never been more condensed at this point in the season, which makes sense when you consider how many close games there have been. Before we even consider the quality of the opposition so far, Philadelphia has the lowest DVOA ever for a team ranked No. 1 after Week 2. In most years, there are five or six teams at 30% or higher after two games. This year, Philadelphia is the only one.

No matter how you slice it, that is very encouraging.

No one thinks the Eagles are actually the best team in the league right now. There are some holes on the roster. But I think the notion that the Eagles are one of the weakest teams in the league is also way off. How often do we see teams get praised for playing good defense and being sound on STs? We knew the Eagles defense would be at least pretty good after seeing them play this summer. And the STs unit has been outstanding for the past 3 years. The key players all return, as does Dave “Mr. Eyes” Fipp, so there was no reason to expect a major letdown.

Obviously most people had doubts about the offense and coach Doug Pederson. That is fair on both counts. However, the offense and Pederson are both performing much better than anyone could have anticipated. At the very least, this is a middle of the pack team right now. That could change in a month or two, but we can only go on what we’ve seen to this point.

Inside the Pylon did something interesting before the season. They came up a way to rate all 32 rosters.

CIN – 82
DEN – 82

GB – 84
CAR – 88

Those were the top 4 teams. The Eagles had a rating of 79, tops in the NFC East. Here’s what they had to say about the Eagles.

The Eagles on the other hand appear to be on the rise. One huge caveat is that rookie Carson Wentz will be the starter at quarterback, perhaps signaling a need for a positional adjustment to my ratings given the difficult transition to the NFL for rookie quarterbacks. They have high talent levels on both sides of the ball, a crop of good veterans, and a coach they might be able to get along with in Doug Pederson replacing Chip Kelly.

And

What It Means for 2016: Despite all the turmoil in Philadelphia last season, the Eagles did go 7-9 and their talent seems to point to them as the division favorite. With the other teams looking like middling contenders at best, there’s a large weight on the shoulders of Wentz to lead a talented team to the playoffs.

ITP projected the Skins to take a dive this year. Right now these predictions seem pretty darn interesting and on target. I thought people overlooked the talent on the Eagles roster and focused too much on this as a rebuilding year. The Eagles had plenty of talent in place and were strong on the line of scrimmage. Remember that Chip Kelly got fired after going 7-9. It wasn’t as if the Eagles were some dumpster fire last year that struggled to compete. The Eagles were a few plays away from winning the NFC East. Instead of making those critical plays, the team made critical mistakes and that is part of why Kelly was fired.

Jimmy Bama compiled numbers that show how well the Eagles are playing right now. How about focusing on this simple one…point differential. The Eagles lead the NFL at +34. That tells you they are scoring points and not allowing them.

Jimmy also did a roundup of power rankings. The Eagles still have plenty of doubters out there. That is probably a good thing. Better to have doubters out there than a hype train getting out of control and leading to some swollen heads and bloated egos. I’d rather have a hungry team than a happy one.

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Hot Topics – Week 2

Posted: September 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 248 Comments »

I get a lot of questions during and just after games. I can’t answer all of them as they come in so let me address the hottest topics of interest.

Jason Kelce – Once a fan favorite, Kelce has become a target for serious criticism. Some of it is very deserved. Kelce struggled in the 1st half of the Bears game and didn’t play well in the season opener. I did think he improved quite a bit in the 2nd half against the Bears. Things were so troublesome in the 1st half that some people were asking me if Kelce could be replaced at halftime. Wiz was active and could have taken over for him.

You don’t make a move like that with Kelce. He has started for this team since 2011 and is still a team leader. You only bench a guy like that in a game if he is so bad that the offense is struggling because of him. The Eagles were up 9-7 and had gained 159 yards. Kelce was struggling, but he still had value. C is unlike other OL positions. The C has to make calls and adjustments. He needs to communicate well with the QB. Kelce does a good job in these areas and you don’t replace that guy casually.

Now let’s talk about Kelce moving forward. If he continues to struggle and play up and down, it is possible the coaches will consider benching him at some point. I doubt that happens this year, though.

As for long term…

This could easily be Kelce’s final season in Philly. Doug Pederson was in KC last year and they went with a rookie at C. He’s not afraid to make a change at that spot and go with a young guy. The Eagles love Seumalo and one of his big strengths is his football IQ. That’s critical for playing C.

The Eagles also signed Aaron Neary to the practice squad a few weeks back. He could be someone to keep an eye on in the future. I wrote about him a bit here.

This isn’t a case of the Eagles looking to get rid of Kelce. If he picks up his level of play, he’ll be just fine. But he also had some issues last year so this isn’t a minor concern over a few bad plays. I do want to make sure you keep things in context. He did have some good blocks in the game on Monday night and I thought he was much better in the 2nd half.

If you want to see a C who was really awful, go watch Dallas Reynolds in the ARZ game from 2012. That’s the benchmark that I know of for bad games from an Eagles C.

Going for it on 4th down – I like Doug Pederson being aggressive. I did think he was dumb to go for the TD vs the Bears. The Eagles were up 22-7 and at the goal line. That is a 15-point lead. Kicking the FG gives you a 3-possession lead. In the 4th quarter, you don’t think about points. You think about possessions. The smart move would have been to kick the FG and go up 25-7. If you fail, which the Eagles kinda almost did, you leave the other team with hope and time to catch up. Down 18, the clock becomes a huge factor and helps you win.

All that said, I do like Pederson rolling the dice. This isn’t a great team. Don’t be afraid to take some chances. It shows confidence in the offense and the defense. It also builds attitude and character in the team. That can be very valuable down the road as well as this year.

Optimism – How should we feel about this team?

The Eagles have played 2 bad teams. They beat 2 bad teams. Don’t apologize for that. Remember, the Eagles have a rookie QB and head coach. Learning on the job in the NFL can be treacherous.

The Eagles opened the 2012 season against the Browns and rookie QB Brandon Weeden. Remember that game? Weeden was dreadful, throwing 4 picks. Michael Vick was just as bad, throwing 4 picks of his own. The Eagles won that game with a late TD, 17-16. Compare that with last week. The Eagles won 29-10. They beat a veteran QB. The Eagles rookie didn’t throw picks and the Eagles controlled the LOS.

This team is playing well. Not great, to be sure. There are plenty of mistakes that must be corrected. But think big picture. The Eagles aren’t giving up TDs (just 2 on defense in 2 weeks). The Eagles are coming up with takeaways. They aren’t turning the ball over. They score early in games and just before halftime. These are the traits of a winning team.

I think you should be excited now and for the future.

Darren Sproles – We love Sproles as a returner. He has been less impressive as a runner/receiver in the last couple of years. It looks like age is starting to catch up with him a bit. We’ve seen him drop passes. He doesn’t have the burst to get around defenders on a consistent basis. Pederson used him a lot on Monday night. We found out on Tuesday that part of that was due to wanting to take it easy on Ryan Mathews and his ankle.

The coaches still love Sproles so don’t expect him to disappear anytime soon. He could be a weapon on screen passes, but the screen game hasn’t clicked so far. Something tells me it will in time.

Some of you weren’t so keen on running Sproles at the goal line. Isn’t he too small? That’s the idea. Defenders won’t get to him and he’ll find a crevice to push through into the end zone, which he almost did. And Sproles is thick/strong. He’s not purely a space player. Mathews is a better goal line back, but I don’t think using Sproles down there at times is a bad move. You want the RB top stay low and really hit the hole. Sproles can do both. He just didn’t have much of a hole to work with.

Plays run / TOP – The Eagles lead the NFL in time of possession this year. That is crazy and ironic. And not a huge deal. I completely agree with Chip Kelly that TOP is an overrated stat. Here’s where things get interesting. The Eagles are 4th in the league in plays run, with 141. They are tied for that spot. One of the teams with them is…Kelly’s Niners. SF has about 10 fewer minutes of TOP.

The Eagles defense has faced the fewest plays in the league. SF’s defense is 24th. I don’t think the big deal there is players wearing down physically. Kelly’s Sports Science program worked wonders with some players, especially veterans. I do think the mental and emotional pressure of having to play a lot of snaps starts to wear on a defense. Defenders have the mantra of “Get off the field”. They want to hold someone to a 3 & out so they can go sit, make adjustments and get ready for the next series. Constantly going right back out there has to wear on them mentally.

Kelly wants to run as many plays as possible and does so by running a no-huddle, up-tempo attack. The Eagles want to run plays, but focus on execution, situational packages and matchups to help them sustain drives.

It will be really wild if the Eagles run more offensive plays than the Niners and face fewer plays on defense.

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