Detailed Game Review – DAL 38, PHI 27

Posted: December 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 20 Comments »

Preview for the Skins game will be up in a while. Had to get this out of the way.

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What an utterly frustrating game. Mistakes, mistakes and more mistakes. The Eagles had breakdowns on offense, defense, and STs. Heck, the Eagles couldn’t field the opening kickoff. That should have given us a clue of what was to come.

It is easy to think of this loss as being mostly on Mark Sanchez, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. They made THE mistakes that really hurt, but unfortunately there were others that contributed to the crapfest. This was the biggest game of the year. The Eagles needed to come out and play smart, tough football. They were tough, but smart? Forget that. There were mental mistakes all over the field. Missed blocks, missed coverages, poor choices on where to throw the ball, poor choices on where to run after getting/catching the ball. It was pretty miserable to see this live and even worse to study it a second time around.

There were some positives. I loved the run defense. They really bottled up DeMarco Murray. 31 carries, but only for 81 yards? That’s some good run defense. It was great to see Josh Huff make a big play on offense. You can really see his RAC potential. It was great to see Chris Polk run for 2 TDs. The Eagles were 3 for 3 in the Red Zone.

Coming back from down 21-0 was huge. In the past, it always seemed like the Eagles would cut into a lead, but never catch up. This time the Eagles got out to a 24-21 lead and had control of the game. Dallas finally responded at that point and took the lead back, 28-24. The Eagles had no answer from that point on. There were 3 turnovers and some big mistakes.

This game wasn’t a complete debacle, but it was a bad performance in a huge game. What has to infuriate Chip Kelly is how many unforced errors there were. It wasn’t like the other team overwhelmed the Eagles. Dallas didn’t play a flawless game. This wasn’t Green Bay, pt. 2. This game was there for the taking.

Instead of taking it, the Eagles gave it away.

Ugh.    Read the rest of this entry »


Does the System Work?

Posted: December 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 235 Comments »

Jeff McLane asked Chip Kelly and Bill Davis questions about the defensive scheme this week. I haven’t spoken to Jeff on his thinking, but he seemed to be getting at the notion that the Eagles might be too centered on run defense. He also seemed curious about whether Davis really wanted to run the 3-4 that the Eagles currently use.

The Eagles have had issues on defense over the last 2 years so I think these are fair questions. That said, I think they are flawed questions. Unless a team uses a highly unorthodox scheme (like what the Eagles used with Castillo/Washburn), things are really going to boil down to talent and execution.

The Steelers run the 3-4, just like the Eagles. The Steelers are 20th in yards allowed and near the bottom of the league in pass defense. Last year they were 13th in yards allowed and 9th in pass defense. You can have a great 3-4 defense. You can shut down the pass or the run, based on what you do, the personnel you have and how well they play in a given year.

I don’t have a problem with the Eagles scheme. I think Bill Davis and the coaches have put together a good playbook that allows them do mix basic things and creative defense.

One thing the Eagles don’t seem to do a lot of is coming up with a tailored gameplan. When the Pats played the Saints last year, Bill Belichick used a big CB to cover Jimmy Graham. This year he’s been creative with Darrelle Revis, moving him around to create favorable situations. Belichick gets creative each week. That puts pressure on his players to learn a new mini-scheme each time out, but that can help the Pats to shut players down.

If Belichick were coach of the Eagles D last week, he probably would have put Bradley Fletcher and Malcolm Jenkins on Dez Bryant. He would have had Nate Allen and Mychal Kendricks take turns on Jason Witten, who he would have jammed at the line over and over. Belichick would have had Cary Williams to go cover Terrance Williams with no help.This wouldn’t have shut down the Cowboys, but it would have altered what they did. And it would have challenged Eagles players.

Davis did some creative stuff, but he comes from a background where you tend to stick to the scheme rather than making changes from week to week. There are positives to each method. Monte Kiffin ran a simple scheme with the Bucs, but his players did a brilliant job of executing it. It wasn’t hard to teach or learn, but it was tough to master. Belichick is able to craft his gameplans in part because he’s a freak. He comes up with great ideas and knows how to teach them. Rob Ryan spent several years with BB and has also tried using complex gameplans. Ryan’s fail more than they work because he’s not the same level of teacher.

My concern with Bill Davis isn’t about the scheme. Rather, it is about the number of blown coverages over the last 2 years. Are the players not learning well? Are the coaching not doing a good job of teaching? We have seen some growth with the secondary’s ability to handle complex pass plays better, but there are still too many simple breakdowns. That must change in 2015 or it won’t matter what scheme the Eagles run up front. The guys in the back will continue to get burned.

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As to the question of what scheme Davis truly believes in…we have no idea. He coached for the Steelers, that’s a 2-gap 3-4. He spent time working for Wade Phillips, that’s the 1-gap 3-4. Davis was the DC in SF and ARZ. But it was Mike Nolan’s scheme in SF and Davis inherited Clancy Pendergast’s system in ARZ. Davis talked a lot about the 4-3 Under, but we don’t know for a fact that’s what he truly wanted to install. Davis talked about that in part because he was asked about it since he used it with the Cardinals. But again…that system was already in place when he was promoted to DC. Davis was smart enough to know that it was easier to keep the scheme and fix certain areas rather than putting in a whole new system.

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There will be changes coming to the secondary this offseason. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles go young or old with the DBs they bring in. This team doesn’t need Deion Sanders, but they need better CB/S play. Malcolm Jenkins is safe. Everyone else needs to be worried about their job. Not all will go, but no one should feel safe.

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Jimmy Bama and I recorded a new show last night. I’ll add the link as soon as I’ve got it. Check Twitter for the fastest link to the new show.

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Good and Bad at OLB

Posted: December 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 237 Comments »

Let’s start with the bad news. Trent Cole is having surgery on his hand. He won’t play against Washington on Saturday afternoon. Cole’s status for the regular season finale is undecided. If you read into the comments from Chip Kelly and Bill Davis, it seems like Cole should be back for that game, and the playoffs if the Eagles make it.

Cole’s absence means that Brandon Graham will be starting at ROLB, the Predator position. I’m sure “BG” (as Kelly likes to call him) is stoked and can’t wait to be on the field for 50 snaps. This will be a national telecast and against a team that gives up lots of sacks. BG will be looking to have a big day.

The good OLB news is that the Eagles and Graham are talking about a contract extension. Tim McManus wrote an excellent piece on the situation. There are a lot of factors to consider.

* How much money is Graham looking vs how much are the Eagles looking to pay?

* How does Graham fit in with Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, in terms of salary and playing time?

* Does Graham want to stay in the 3-4?

This won’t be a simple negotiation for either side, but it would be cool if they could get something done. Graham looked like failed pick after his injury and the move to the 3-4, but things are on the upswing now. It would be great if he could work out for the Eagles as a long term fit and good player.

Stay tuned on this situation.

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Fletcher Cox is drawing a ton of praise this year, and rightfully so. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling had him at #10 in the race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That’s pretty darn cool.

10. Fletcher Cox, Eagles defensive end: We noted on a recent edition of the Around The NFL Podcast that Cox has been one of the three or four most dominant defensive players in the league over the past month. He and Watt have been the NFL’s most complete defensive lineman in the second half of the season.

Some guy named Watt was up at the top of the list.

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PE.com had a cool article on ILB coach Rick Minter a couple of days ago. He offers serious praise for Mychal Kendricks, but I found these bits more interesting.

Q. Not sure many fans would’ve predicted that Casey Matthews would be on the team, and playing so well. Let’s talk about Casey and how far he’s come.

Minter: “I’ve known Casey since about 2005, 2006. He was a high school guy out in California, and we recruited him when I was a defensive coordinator for Notre Dame. I really liked him then. When I was at Marshall in 2008, I was working with Jerry Azzinaro. In 2009, Jerry leaves for Oregon and joins Chip, who becomes the head coach. Azzinaro and I maintain our friendship, which actually has a lot to do with me being here today. He says, ‘Oh, you won’t believe this guy we have out here at Oregon. He runs our whole show; we can do all kinds of check-with-mes and blitz-with-mes.’ And I said to him, ‘That wouldn’t be a guy by the name of Casey Matthews, would it?’ And he goes, ‘How did you know that?’ So I told him the story of how I had recruited him at Notre Dame. I love the guy. I love the family and he has a lot of things going for him. He’s a guy who’s an example of knowledge is strength, and knowledge is power, and confidence exudes into success.

“Casey’s always in the right place at the right time. He’s got great football instincts. He’s got pedigree. He’s got a sense of where to be. He’s got intelligence on how to set the fronts. We didn’t have any drop of at all, to be honest with you. When (Ryans) went down and Casey stepped in – and Emmanuel’s got very similar traits in the leadership and setting the points, giving the right things – we haven’t dropped off a beat right there. I’d like everybody to be a little faster than they are, but he ends up in the right place at the right time.”

Q. Marcus Smith II, what’s important for him from this season and heading into next season?

Minter: “I know people are dying to see Marcus a little bit because he just hasn’t exuded the qualities of a No. 1 pick’s instant impact. He’s really been a developmental player. Had he stayed at outside backer, he probably still wouldn’t be playing a lot. Because of the emergence of our Super 3 out there, who have played great – I mean BG (Brandon Graham), Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin), really all three have come on – so it would’ve been hard to play out there regardless. The opportunity came, when Mychal went down, to move him inside and just see, just use it as an experiment, because we weren’t going to hire anybody else.

“We weren’t going to expand the roster. We had a guy on the roster, so it was like picking up a guy off the street in my room. He’s a guy who knew a little bit about what we were doing. He’s got some abilities. It’s an entirely different world to go from outside to inside, and that’s where people have to be fair. We didn’t draft him as an inside linebacker. We’re just seeing if he can play inside backer, particularly during this emergency period of time.

“We think he has some attributes that involve some planning. He needs a good offseason weight training program, put on a few more pounds, get more assured of himself. But playing in my room really is going to expand his knowledge, vastly, of what we do, whether it be inside or outside. After another season of offseason training, OTAs, Training Camp, I’m sure his dust will settle where it does. Whether it’s inside or outside, depends on what happens with the roster. But I’ve been pleased with him. He’s a great young man. He’s eager to learn. I wish we could get him in there a little bit more, but it’s hard to take Mychal off the field now. We’re rolling in that linebacker room.”

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Big Game Blues

Posted: December 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 290 Comments »

The Eagles are 9-5. Let’s look at the losses…

at SF
at ARZ
at GB
SEA
DAL

Those are 5 tough games. The one good thing about this Eagles team is that they are beating the teams they are supposed to. No upsets this year.

The problem is that you can’t lose all those big games. The Eagles did win in Dallas and Indy so it isn’t as if the 9 wins all came against completely lesser teams. Still, the Eagles needed to beat 1 or 2 of the teams in the above list. That would put them atop the division and in contention for a bye. Instead, the Eagles are sitting around hoping for help.

I wrote about this and the Dallas loss for my PE.com column.

This isn’t a bad year by any stretch, but 9-5 never felt so hollow. Weird.

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Marcus Smith is moving back to OLB with Trent Cole’s hand injury. Bill Davis talked a bit about Smith at his PC and admitted that moving Smith around has hurt his development. That’s just Davis being honest. No real revelation there.

I don’t get why some fans and the media are so set on making pronounced judgments on Smith. His rookie season has been disappointing and I think even Smith would agree with that. That said, he hasn’t negatively affected the team at all. The Eagles have gotten great play from their 3 OLBs. Even if Smith had looked really good this summer, I’m not sure how much playing time he would have gotten at OLB. Barwin, Cole and Graham have been terrific.

There were injuries at ILB so Smith moved in there. But the Eagles got good play from DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks as the key guys. Casey Matthews has played the best football of his career and overall the ILB play has been fine. Smith hasn’t been needed on the field. The coaches did mix him into some Nickel looks to see how he would do. He had one busted play vs SF that led to a TD, but was mostly nondescript.

If the Eagles were getting poor LB play this year, then Smith would deserve to be a hot topic and point of criticism. That’s not been the case at all. His slow development hasn’t affected the team. Let’s give the guy some time and find out if he can play. If he turns out to be a bust, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about that and criticize him. I just think too many people confuse poor rookie season with bust. Those aren’t the same thing.

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DeSean Jackson is back in the news since the Eagles are playing the Skins this week. Jay Gruden had some awkward things to say.

Gruden was very complimentary of Jeremy Maclin, but not so much with Jackson. Is this a motivational ploy? Or is Gruden another coach who has gotten frustrated with DJax?

Gruden isn’t afraid to speak his mind on his own players so this isn’t typical coachspeak. I’m not really sure what to make of it.

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Playoff Talk

Posted: December 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 167 Comments »

The Eagles are 9-5 and in 7th place in the NFC. The top 6 spots go to playoff teams. With some help, the Eagles can get in the playoffs. Heck, if Dallas loses to Indy or the Skins, the Eagles can still win the division by winning their final 2 games. This isn’t like some crazy 2008 scenario where the Eagles needed multiple things to happen on the final day to squeeze in. I still remember my buddy Matt talking me off the ledge that day as some of the games were back and forth. When the dust settled, the Eagles were in the playoffs and they came close to making the Super Bowl.

Some people question whether the Eagles should even want to make the playoffs. This certainly doesn’t look like a Super Bowl team. Why not get a better draft pick?

Last year the Cardinals went 10-6 and missed the playoffs. They had the #20 pick (and traded it). The Eagles won the NFC East and had the #22 pick (and traded it). The Eagles aren’t going to have a high pick no matter what. The team is 9-5. They would have the #20 pick if the season ended today. Dallas is at #25. Even if the Eagles go 9-7, the pick is still going to be in the 18-20 range. There is no “Tank for Mariota” possibility.

I believe there is always value in making the playoffs. First, you never know when the matchups are going to break right for you and you can win a game or two. You don’t have to be 13-3 to have success in the postseason. I’ll always ask for a playoff berth and then hope for some playoff magic.

I think there is also value to getting players playoff experience. Rarely does a team win the Super Bowl in their first playoff trip in an extended period. Last year was Seattle’s third trip in 4 years. The 2012 Ravens won the SB in their 5th straight year in the playoffs. The 2010 Packers won in their third trip in 4 years. There is no guarantee that making the playoffs will lead to postseason success in the future, but it certainly doesn’t seem to hurt.

Playoff football is different that regular season football. I think it is important for coaches and players to experience as much of that as possible. Just because the Eagles don’t seem likely to win the SB this year doesn’t mean there’s no value to being in the playoffs.

I think playoff trips help with culture building. It gives the coaches beliefs more validity to people, both on the inside and outside. There are some critics once again talking about Chip Kelly’s ideas and how they fit in the NFL. He’s on the verge of going to the playoffs for the second time in 2 years. Let me put that in perspective. Jeff Fisher, Mr. NFL, has made the playoffs twice in the past 12 years. The more success Kelly has, the more people will buy into his ideas.

I also think the playoffs are just fun. Yeah, it sucked losing to the Saints last year, but would you rather feel that or be a Buffalo fan who hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. Detroit has only made it once since 1999. Skins fans have only watched their team in the playoffs 4 times in the last 22 years. The Eagles were in the playoffs 4 of the previous 6 seasons and might make it again this year.

Making the playoffs is no substitute for winning the Super Bowl, but those scenarios work hand-in-hand, not opposed to each other. This isn’t like I’m a college basketball fan bragging about NIT titles. The first step to getting to the Super Bowl is making the playoffs. I know some of you could argue that there is a benefit to bottoming out and getting a high pick. The Eagles did that in 2012 and got Lane Johnson for their troubles. This team has a lot of key pieces in place. The problems that do exist don’t have to be solved by high picks. I’d love for the Eagles to have a true, unquestioned franchise QB, but just because you draft high doesn’t mean you’ll get one. See Mark Sanchez for example 1.

This Eagles team is flawed, but I hope they still make the playoffs. You never know what will happen in January and that’s what makes it so fun.

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