Halftime – GB 14, PHI 10

Posted: November 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 561 Comments »

Carson Wentz and the offense have played well.

The D? Not so much.

To be fair, a lot of this is on Aaron Rodgers for playing his best game of the year. He is making quick reads. He is making quick throws. And he is putting the ball right on the money. The Eagles have to get more pressure and the DBs have to cover more aggressively.

Jordan Matthews hurt his ankle. Keep your fingers crossed that he’s coming back. DGB is having a great game, but the Eagles already lacked weapons. I don’t think you feel great in a shootout without your best WR.

The D has to make some plays.

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Game Preview – GB at PHI

Posted: November 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 416 Comments »

It took the Eagles years to finally beat Peyton Manning. They did that in 2010. It took the Eagles to finally beat Tom Brady. They did that in 2015. The next Hall of Fame QB on the target list is Aaron Rodgers.

The Eagles and Packers seem to play a lot, but this will only be Rodgers third regular season game against the Eagles. He beat them in 2010 in the season opener and then in a route late in 2014. Rodgers was on the sideline when the Eagles beat Green Bay in 2005 and 2006 and watched when the Packers won in the 2007 opener. He was injured in 2013 when the Eagles won at Lambeau.

The Packers might be just 4-6, but any team with Rodgers at QB is dangerous. They seem especially dangerous because they are desperate. One loss would hurt their playoff chances. Two losses would end the season. As I wrote for PE.com, expect the Packers to do anything and everything they can to win. Desperate teams are scary enough, but when they have a great QB…that makes you really nervous.

That said, the Packers defense has been awful in recent weeks. I went over the stats in the preview column linked above. This is a game where Carson Wentz and the offense will have a chance to make plays and they better do that. There will be some challenges.

Ryan Mathews is out.

Brandon Brooks is in the hospital and will miss the game. He’s just sick so don’t worry too much, but having that happen on gameday is slightly less than ideal.

Oh yeah, and Nelson Agholor gets the week off. That’s probably best for him and us.

The OL is going to be a mystery. Does Isaac Seumalo play RG? He practiced more at LG this summer and fall. Allen Barbre makes his first start at RT in a couple of years. This is going to be a challenge for the big guys up front. Thank goodness the coaches have gotten Seumalo some reps in recent games. That’s very different from starting, but at least gives him an idea of game speed.

I have no idea what to expect tonight.

Buckle up and let’s see what happens.

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Building a Winner

Posted: November 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 110 Comments »

The Packers have been the best team in the NFC over the past decade. The Seahawks have been the best team over the past 5 years. Dallas has the best record this season. One thing all of them have in common is homegrown rosters.

As the Eagles move forward under Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson, they hope to do the same thing. They want to draft and develop talent rather than leaning on trades and free agency. The Eagles had to be aggressive this past offseason because they were making a coaching change and using new schemes. Jim Schwartz needed a 4-3 OLB like Nigel Bradham. He needed CB help so the team signed Leodis McKelvin. The Eagles wanted Rodney McLeod because he was just a good, young player. That wasn’t as much about scheme, although he did play in a similar system so he was a good fit.

Pederson had the team add Chase McDaniel because of familiarity with the offense. He wanted Brandon Brooks because he wanted a big OG to add up front.

While the Eagles have their share of free agents in the lineup, they have been pretty smart about it. Some teams cycle players in and out too quickly. We started to see some of that with Chip Kelly. There is nothing wrong with adding key veterans if they play well and become a regular part of the team. The Eagles traded for Jason Peters prior to the 2009 season. He has now played in more games with the Eagles than he did with the Bills. Jason Peters is an Eagle through and through. He’s not homegrown, but he’s an Eagle.

Is anyone more of a Patriot than Mike Vrabel was? He was drafted by the Steelers and spent several years there before leaving in free agency. But he played in NE for years and was the perfect example of what that franchise wanted in a player. I think you have to be careful about over-focusing on draft picks and UDFAs. Ted Thompson has done that in Green Bay and it has cost them at times. He hates free agency and avoids it as much as he can. The Packers have a Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers, but they’ve only won 3 playoff games in the past 5 years. The Niners have 5 playoff wins in that period.

The thing you want to avoid is having too many mercenaries. DeMarco Murray proved to be a great example of this. He never wanted to leave Dallas. He only wanted the money. Once in Philly, he decided he hated it. Chip didn’t help matters with how he used Murray, but you’re never going to have a lot of success when the “star” RB doesn’t want to be there. When things weren’t going great last year, Murray showed his true colors.

The Eagles gave big money to Brooks and McLeod, but so far both have played well and look like guys that will be here for the next 4 or 5 years. We can’t ignore the fact they came for the money, but the fit was also good. The coaching staff and executives found players that wanted to be part of the Eagles. You don’t mind paying them big and then expecting them to be key parts of the team.

I think the Eagles will fill the roster with more picks in the coming years. Pederson and Schwartz seem to know what they want. That makes it a lot easier on the scouts than just saying “Go find me talent.” Coaches have to be able to explain what they are looking for. The assistant coaches have to be able to develop talent. I think the Eagles have a good staff.

I think a problem late in the Reid era and then in the Kelly era was player development. Everyone loves to blame Howie Roseman and the personnel staff, but selecting players is only part of the equation. You must develop talent. We can see good signs of that this year. Carson Wentz is the best rookie QB in Eagles history. Big V showed good signs at RT. Wendell Smallwood has played well. Jalen Mills has mastered the art of wagging his finger after dropped passes and overthrown balls. I kid. He’s not going to be confused with Eric Allen anytime soon, but he is a 7th round pick playing a lot of snaps on a Top 10 defense. Young role players like Beau Allen and Kenjon Barner are playing the best football of their careers.

It will take another couple of offseasons for the coaches and front office to get this roster where they want it, but it does really feel like this is headed in the right direction. Obviously Wentz is the key to all of this. Where is Green Bay without Rodgers? Where is Seattle without Russell Wilson? Wentz has had a good rookie year, but he’ll need to take a big step forward for the Eagles to do that as a team.

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Night and Day

Posted: November 24th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 367 Comments »

The Eagles are 4-0 at home, but only 1-5 on the road. How can a team be so different at home and on the road?

Your first thought is about opponents. Did the Eagles just beat a bunch of cupcakes at home, while losing to good teams on the road? That’s not the case. The Eagles have only played one true cupcake, the Browns. The Bears weren’t great to be sure, but they were better early on this season. The other 7 games have been against teams that are all .500 or better.

The only real difference has been slow starts. The Eagles fell behind 14-0 at Detroit, Washington and New York. They were down 10-3 in Dallas. The Eagles were only down 6-0 in Seattle so that showed some progress. You aren’t going to go on the road, fall in a hole and then win that game on a regular basis. Road games are hard enough. You can’t fall behind, especially two scores, and expect to win.

Why the slow starts? Each one is different. Detroit had been embarrassed the week before and came out with laser focus. They also made some changes on offense and caught the Eagles off-guard a bit. In Washington the big issue was Big V at RT. He got overwhelmed early in the game and the offense struggled. The Giants game was all about bad INTs by Carson Wentz.

One common denominator in those games was defensive issues. The Eagles had chances to get the Lions, Skins and Giants off the field, but there were key mistakes on 3rd downs that kept drives alive. Those drives ended in TDs. The Eagles either don’t make those mistakes at home or seem to overcome them. I know the home crowd helps them to play with better energy. Is that really that big of a difference?

Jim Schwartz’s defense is built around the D-line. If they don’t play at a high level, the defense is going to be vulnerable. Playing at home does give them an advantage with the crowd noise. Opposing QBs can’t do as much with hard counts and things like that. That allows the Eagles to get off the ball quicker and make more of an impact.

You can also note that 3 of the road losses came against teams where the OL is playing well. Dallas might have the best line in the league. The Skins OL is playing better than anyone would have guessed. The Lions have gotten better with rookie LT Taylor Decker helping to stabilize the line.

This is a sloppy Eagles team, whether at home or on the road. They just seem to get away with the mistakes when they happen at The Linc.

One note about the road record, let’s not act like this team is a disaster on the road. They are playing well for long stretches of those games. They start slowly and then haven’t been able to seal the deal late when they did have a lead. Still, they outplayed the Lions after falling behind early. They outscored the Skins after the initial deficit. The Eagles were the better team for much of the Dallas game. They really controlled a lot of that and just fell apart late. The Eagles felt like the better team in the Giants game. There is no question that Seattle was the better team on Sunday, but the Eagles did their best to make it interesting late in the game.

As I wrote for PE.com, there is a fine line between winning and losing. While the Seahawks are clearly better than the Eagles, there were a few moments in that game that really made the difference. Seattle made plays. The Eagles made mistakes. Change just a few plays and you have a different game.

But how do you change those them? How do you get a team to start making key plays?

There is no magic formula. Seattle does it with competition as much as anything. You can go on about how talented they are, but remember that Russell Wilson was a 3rd round pick. Richard Sherman a 5th. Doug Baldwin a UDFA. That team has missed on 1st round picks and free agents. Jimmy Graham is a freakishly good TE and he’s been disappointing up there. It isn’t just about raw talent.

Seattle has extremely competitive practices. They make players win their jobs, over and over. Tarvaris Jackson was the QB in 2011. Seattle went 7-9 and decided to upgrade on him. They signed Matt Flynn to a 3-year, $20.5M deal. Then they drafted Russell Wilson in the 3rd round. Flynn was supposed to be the QB of the present and Wilson of the future. Sounds like a good plan.

Keep in mind that in the 2010 offseason the Seahawks traded for Charlie Whitehurst and then gave him a 2-year deal to be their starting QB. They saw him as an up and coming player. When he didn’t pan out, the team signed Jackson in 2011 to be their starter. He didn’t pan out as expected so they went for Flynn and Wilson. Seattle kept looking for the answer. Unlike some teams, that worked for them. Wilson is clearly a franchise QB. Wilson was their fourth target in just over 2 years. He won the job and will keep it for a long time.

RB Marshawn Lynch had a great 2012 season. He was one of the best RBs in the league. His backup was Robert Turbin, who the team liked. So more than a few people were surprised when Seattle used its first pick in 2013 on RB Christine Michael. They added RB Spencer Ware in the 6th round. There were obviously holes on the roster, but Seattle was built on the running game and felt those players were too good to pass up. Michael proved to be talented, but highly erratic and he has been on and off the team. Ware is now a good player for KC.

You could say those moves failed. But Seattle kept pressure on Lynch to continue to play at a high level, which he did. Turbin remained an effective backup RB. Seattle wanted good RB play. They got that. Competition helped to make sure of that.

You can’t invest heavy resources at every spot on your team. That’s impossible. You have to identify the spots that are most important to you or need the most help. The Eagles invested a lot at QB this offseason. Based on Doug Pederson’s background, that is no surprise. He spent a couple of picks and lots of UDFA money on the OL. Again, no surprise.

Now that Pederson and Howie Roseman have seen the team in action for a season, it will be interesting to see what they do. WR will clearly be addressed. But we know there will be some surprises. They will “ignore” an area that catches everyone off guard. I say ignore like that because it won’t be from a belief that spot is fine, but rather that the resources were better spent elsewhere. Sometimes you have a need area and there just aren’t good options available. Rather than waste precious picks or dollars, go add good players to another area of the team.

It will be interesting to see if the Eagles follow the Seattle blueprint in terms of competition at critical areas. Pederson is obviously impressed with how Pete Carroll and John Schneider built that team and how they consistently play at a high level. Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple so that influence will always be a key factor in how he wants things, but Pederson also learned from Don Shula and Mike Holmgren so he won’t be a Reid clone.

No matter what moves he makes, the Eagles need to make the transition to a team that makes key plays if they want to get back to being a Super Bowl contender.

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Agholor, Turner and the Eagles Receivers

Posted: November 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 180 Comments »

Sunday was frustrating, to say the least.

It was heartbreaking to have the Zach Ertz TD called back. That was such a great play and it would have given the Eagles the lead. When replay clearly showed Nelson Agholor almost a yard too far back, it was like a gut punch. Why Aggie, why??? Can’t you even line up right?

A short time later he dropped the pass on the deep crossing route. I was immediately filled with rage and screamed at the TV “F You!!!!!!”. I was shaking with anger.

I’ve tried to be patient with Agholor. He seems like a pretty good guy. He’s a hard worker. Terrific player at USC. He’s got a good background story. This is a guy you want to succeed.

DGB is the guy with the troubled past. Jordan Matthews is the guy who went to Vanderbilt, hardly a football factory. Bryce Treggs wasn’t even the best receiver on his college team. Paul Turner is too small and too slow.

Agholor is the star from USC. He was a 5-star recruit that left the state of Florida to play for the Trojans. He caught 178 passes in college. 20 of them were TDs. He had 4 PR TDs. Agholor was a terrific playmaker. He has a good combination of size and speed. This is a guy you wanted in the draft.

But something isn’t right. I don’t care if it is mental, physical, emotional, spiritual or something else. Agholor is hurting the Eagles. He blocks well. He runs good routes and gets open. But he can’t be counted on to catch the ball. And his alignment brain fart was just unacceptable.

Keep him on the roster. I understand cutting him doesn’t make financial sense. Use him on gamedays if you want. But damn sure don’t have him on the field for the majority of the game. It just doesn’t make sense. Go with 3 TE sets. Or play Bryce Treggs more.

There is also the Paul Turner option.

The Eagles brought Turner up from the practice squad. Doug Pederson hasn’t said if Turner will be active this week, but you would sure think this would be the time to do it. Green Bay has an awful secondary right now and the game is on Monday night. That means extra practice time to get ready for the game.

Please don’t think of Turner as some magical answer. The Eagles like him a lot, but have brought him along slowly. Turner just doesn’t show the athleticism needed to be a starting WR in the NFL. I hope something has changed,  but I think he’ll struggle to get open or make plays after the catch. That said, the Eagles have to try something. They have to.

Turner will play all out. He was terrific in the preseason. Other guys might have been pacing themselves, but Turner played those games like his life depended on it. That’s part of the reason you have to be careful about getting too excited about him. He won’t be going up against starters who are less than thrilled about playing or backups who just aren’t that good (except for Monday night possibly).

I hope Turner proves me wrong and plays lights out. It won’t shock me for him to have a good game or two, but I don’t see him playing at a high level on a consistent basis.

Treggs is the player I’m more interested in. He has NFL speed, which the Eagles need more of. Treggs has been with the team long enough to have a feel for the playbook. The coaches need to give him more reps. He might also struggle, but at least it will be different. We’ve seen what Agholor can do. Maybe playing less will somehow get Agholor into the right frame of mind and bring out the best in him. I don’t think he is a completely lost cause.

I do think Agholor is a mess right now and he needs to play less. I’d be fine with giving him a week off. Try something. Keeping him on the field for 70 to 80 percent of the snaps each week is hurting him and the team. Something has to change.

*****

It was encouraging to see DGB have a good game after a couple of quiet weeks. He is a talented young player. You can see that he’s got some issues and that’s why the Titans were willing to give up on him so quickly. But you can also see NFL size, strength and talent. He needs to do a better job of competing on every play. This isn’t college where you are physically better than the guy across from you most of the time. You have to fight for everything in the NFL. I think he’s learning that.

*****

I’m getting questions about who the Eagles should sign or draft in the offseason. That raises an interesting question. What kind of receiver does this offense need? Do you throw big money at Alshon Jeffrey for his size and strength? I know some fans would love to have DeSean back. He certainly has big time speed. There are lots of interesting guys who will be in the draft.

I don’t know what kind of receiver I’d prefer the team to go for at this point. Ideally there will be someone with a good combination of size, speed, strength and skill.

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