Bucs Preview

Posted: September 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment »

The Eagles play a Sunday 1pm game for the first time in a long time. I’m excited.

Opening on Thursday night was interesting. Playoff games tend to be later or at night. That’s great, but Sunday games at 1pm are fun. There is a rhythm to the day. To the week. I’m happy to be back.

As to the game itself, I wrote my preview for PE.com.

Jim Schwartz and the defense face a major challenge. Tampa’s offense was brilliant in the opener. They had big plays from a variety of players. You can’t just shut one guy down. We talked all offseason about how good the Eagles secondary could be. Sunday will give us an idea if the hype is legit.

One thing stood out to me when I watched the Bucs game. Almost all of the big plays came to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s right side. It is possible that’s an anomaly, but it could also be a pattern the Eagles noticed and will try to exploit. It will be interesting to watch the Eagles defense and see if they attack from that side to force Fitzpatrick to run to his left and/or throw to his left.

Who knew Eskin could provide good info?

One reason I’m curious about Tampa’s performance is that NFC South games tend to be wild affairs. That is the most entertaining division in the league. Crazy things tend to happen when those teams play each other. I’m not discounting what the Bucs did, but it is easier to doubt something that happened in a division game. The Giants played their best football against the Eagles last year and then would look horrid against weaker teams. Rivalries can produce weird results.

There are a lot of people that are down on Nick Foles and the Eagles offense right now. That’s fair, to a certain extent. The offense did struggle in the opener. At the same time, you saw last year that Foles can struggle one week and then get hot in a hurry.

Foles must play better and he needs his receivers to help him out. With Alshon Jeffery out again, there is pressure on Mike Wallace to make some plays. He did nothing in the opener. Doug Pederson knows this and I think he will scheme to get his receivers the ball down the field.

The Eagles must score more than 18 to win on Sunday. Pederson knows that and he will gameplan accordingly.

*****

Speaking of receivers…

Why did the Browns cut him? They got tired of incidents and finally realized they no longer trusted Gordon. They bent over backwards to try and make it work, but finally gave up. He is so talented that they felt they had to try.

That reminds me of the coach who walked up to a player during warm-ups and told him “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.”

So…should the Eagles have interest?

WR is a need area right now so this move would absolutely make sense. My big concern is that the Eagles team is filled with guys who love the game and who compete every day and in every way. Do you want to bring an underachiever with all kinds of baggage into that locker room?

As an outsider, I can’t give a great answer. NFL teams that know what’s going on behind the scenes can make a more informed decision.

The Eagles need to do their research and figure out if this makes sense. They are an aggressive organization and willing to take chances, but they take smart chances. If the worst team in the league (give or take) gives up on a player, it has to make you wonder if he’s worth it.

It is possible that Cleveland will decide not to cut Gordon and will in fact trade him. That would change things, since you would be giving up something for him. We’re only talking about a late round pick, but those do have value (Jalen Mills, Jordan Mailata, etc.).

Stay tuned…

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A Beautiful Mind

Posted: September 15th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments »

Sean McVay is the hottest offensive mind in the NFL. Doug Pederson just won the Super Bowl, but I think he’s seen more as a collaborator than a singular offensive guru. McVay did amazing things with the Rams last year and deserves to be praised.

In case you didn’t see this, it is amazing.

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/1040042380186009605

We don’t know if Pederson has that kind of a memory. We do know that he has a good memory. Just look at some recent play-calls.

https://twitter.com/NFLFilms/status/1039944548800192518

In the Super Bowl, the Eagles ran Philly Special. There’s no way they’ll ever run that again, right? Sort of. In the season opener, they ran Philly Philly, a similar trick play and one they stole from the Patriots, who ran it unsuccessfully in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles used a brilliant running play to Nelson Agholor in the playoff win over the Falcons. Pederson knew the Falcons studied that play for the past six months so he ran a variation of it in the opener, once again catching them off guard.

That is exactly what you want in a play-caller. You need someone who can come up with a great idea and get his players to execute it in a big game. They you need to be able to add a wrinkle to it for the next time you play. You can’t repeat a special play. You need to build off it.

The Eagles haven’t played Tampa in several years so there’s no history involved in this gameplan. Still, Pederson knows the Bucs have studied the past few Eagles games. He knows they will have certain expectations. It is up to Pederson to decide what plays to put in for this week.

Pederson normally has a special play or two for each game. He doesn’t always use them. Philly Special was put in for the NFC Championship game against the Vikings. That game turned into a blowout so quickly that the Eagles never needed it. They kept the play for the Super Bowl and things worked out pretty good.

You can bet Pederson has had his staff looking for a play or two that could help jump start the offense if things are stagnant once again this week. Let’s hope Foles and the offense move the ball well enough in the base offense that they can save the tricks for a later game. We do know they’ll be in the gameplan in case they are needed.

*****

One thing that will help the Eagles offense is that the Bucs are a beat up defense. Jimmy Bama has the details here.

Their top two corners are out.

JPP might play, but…

I was not impressed with him in the opener. He looked slow. We’ll see what he can do on Sunday.

If the Bucs can’t cover and they struggle to rush, Foles and the passing game have no excuse for not moving the ball consistently. Don’t expect the Eagles to go score 48 points, but they sure as heck better put up more than 132 passing yards. Ugh.

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Up Front

Posted: September 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments »

The Skins won three Super Bowls for Joe Gibbs between 1982-1991. The Boys won three Super Bowls from 1992-1995. One thing that both of those groups had in common…dominant offensive lines.

The Eagles just won their first Super Bowl back in February and one of the keys to that game (and the whole season) was the play of the O-line. Nick Foles had time to throw. LeGarrette Blount had room to run. If the guys up front don’t control the line of scrimmage, all the highlight throws, great catches and incredible runs don’t happen.

Sheil Kapadia wrote a fantastic piece for The Athletic on OL coach Jeff Stoutland. You get plenty of football stories, but also find about the man. Stoutland is a great coach for plenty of technical reasons, but part of the secret is that he also really connects with his players.

The Eagles bring back all their starting O-linemen from last year and the key reserves. This is a deep, talented group that can dominate up front. They got off to a slow start against Atlanta, but took over the game in the 4th quarter, when things really mattered.

Stop and think about the linemen for a second.

Lane Johnson has developed into arguably the best OT in the entire league. Stoutland is the only OL coach he’s played for in the NFL.

Brandon Brooks had the best season of his career in 2017.

Jason Kelce arguably had the best season of his career in 2017.

Stefen Wisniewski had the best season of his career in 2017.

Jason Peters has been a dominant stud for multiple OL coaches, but the fact he’s playing at that level at age 237 (give or take) tells you he’s getting good coaching from Stoutland.

Big V played his butt off last year, especially in the playoffs.

Isaac Seumalo started slow this summer, but Stoutland kept working with him and Seumalo played really well in the final couple of preseason games.

Jordan Mailata took huge strides from Game 1 to Game 4. I’ve never seen a player come that far in one month.

Put simply, Jeff Stoutland can coach.

Dallas lost LT Tyron Smith last year and the line fell apart. The Eagles lost JP and the line continued to play at a high level. It isn’t just a matter of throwing a bunch of first round picks out on the field and letting them do their thing. Stoutland knows how to find the right five guys and he develops them.

The Eagles do a lot of creative things with their blockers. They use unbalanced lines, to the right and left. They use an extra OL as a TE in some jumbo sets. The Eagles do a lot of pulling to take advantage of Kelce’s freakish athleticism. The Eagles can also use double-teams to just overwhelm defenders and move them off the ball. Usually you see physical blockers or athletic ones, but not both.

The RPOs can be tough on linemen. They have to be disciplined not to go flying upfield. They have to be aggressive to sell run, but have to be prepared to pass block as well. After the initial second or two, they have to find the ball and then go block downfield.

The Eagles have a chance to be really good for the next several years. Doug Pederson looks like a great head coach. Carson Wentz is a great young QB. The defensive line is filled with special talent. Don’t overlook the importance of the O-line. Those guys are crucial to a team’s success.

Buddy Ryan built rosters full of freakishly good players. The one thing he struggled with was building a strong offensive line. They peaked in 1992, after Ryan’s firing, but even that group was hardly special. They were terrific run blockers and solid pass protectors, but they were not physically dominant.

Andy Reid loved having a strong O-line. He passed that onto Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman. They spend plenty of resources to build a strong group up front. They give Jeff Stoutland the resources he needs to build a special group. And Stoutland delivers.

Jeff Stoutland isn’t perfect. His continuing love for Chance Warmack proves that. But he is the best OL coach the Eagles have had in a long time, if not ever. He’s built a special line, one that can help this team win a lot of games in the coming years.

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Foles vs Fitz

Posted: September 13th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments »

I watched a decent part of the Bucs game on Sunday. I had fully expected the Saints to wipe the field with them. The Saints defense played well last year and was supposed to be even better this season. And the offense…yeah, they have that Drew Brees guy.

Tampa has some good pieces, but playing on the road against the Saints, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB? Forget about it. Saints in a cakewalk.

Oops.

Fitzpatrick lit the Saints up, throwing for 417 yards and 4 TDs. Wow. It hit me at some point that watching that performance was a lot like watching Nick Foles in the Super Bowl. No one thought Foles could get the best of Tom Brady in a shootout, but that’s exactly what happened. The same was true for Fitzpatrick going against Brees.

The key for Foles and Fitzpatrick is that the players around them did their jobs so well. Fitzpatrick dropped back to pass more than 30 times and he wasn’t sacked once. His receivers made big plays for him. DeSean Jackson used his explosive speed to get open deep for several big gains. Mike Evans hauled in a 50-yard TD. The Bucs had 8 pass plays of 20 yards or more. They have 5 that went for at least 35 yards. That sounds like the 1999 Rams!

This is proof that you don’t need a great QB if all the other pieces perform at a high level. Obviously that’s not sustainable for a long period of time so people go after great QBs. But you can have guys like Fitz and Foles who do amazing things here and there.

The Eagles better be prepared on Sunday. Just because Jameis Winston is out doesn’t mean the Bucs will be an easy win. The Eagles are going to have to play their butts off to win this game.

One of the real secret weapons for Fitzpatrick is his mobility. If you take away the kneel-downs at the end of the game, Fitz ran 9 times for 38 yards. Some of those were crucial plays when the Saints were desperate for a stop. Fitzpatrick isn’t the most elusive guy, but he’s decisive, runs hard and he’s smart (did you know he went to Harvard?). I guarantee you Fitz will run a few times on Sunday and it will have me pulling my hair out. You don’t mind an athletic QB like Alex Smith or Dak Prescott running for a key gain, but it’s infuriating when someone like Fitzpatrick does it.

It will be interesting to see which of the two journeymen veteran QBs will win this game. Foles is keeping the seat warm for Carson Wentz. Fitzpatrick is probably doing the same thing for Winston, but there is more mystery there. If Fitzpatrick beats the Eagles on Sunday, he might just keep his job even when Winston comes off suspension. While Fitz is trying to make his case to keep the job this year, Foles is trying to create a market for himself next offseason. There is a lot on the line for each of the QBs.

*****

The Bucs have been a nuisance to the Eagles for a long time.

  • Back in 1979, Tampa beat the Eagles in a playoff game, 24-17.
  • The 0-5 Bucs upset Gang Green, 14-13, in 1991. That loss helped keep the Eagles out of the playoffs.
  • Ray Rhodes first ever game came against Tampa. That was the 1995 season opener. The Eagles lost 21-6 in the “For who, for what?” game. Ugh.
  • Doug Pederson was the QB in Week 2 of 1999 when the Eagles lost 19-5. That game was uglier than it sounds. I was miserable for several days after that.
  • I don’t think I need to cover 2002.
  • Matt Bryant kicked a 62-yd FG to beat the Eagles early on in 2006. And that was with rookie Bruce Gradkowski at QB. Ugh.
  • There was the 2015 debacle where rookie Jameis Winston led the Bucs to a 45-17 win. That really was the beginning of the end for Chip Kelly.

Don’t get too depressed. Nick Foles got his first ever win at Tampa in 2012. The 3-9 Eagles broke a 6-game losing streak and celebrated like they won the Super Bowl. It was pathetic and somehow glorious at the same time. Foles led the Eagles to a win in Tampa in 2013 as well. Both games were at Raymond James Stadium. I guess that makes Nick the landlord down there.

And Sunday…rent is due.

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Wondering About Wentz

Posted: September 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | No Comments »

I was driving home tonight and listening to ESPN Radio. The Spain and Fitz show, which wasn’t bad at all, was talking about young QBs. They were wondering what to make of Sam Darnold after such a strong debut, while also trying to figure out Derek Carr, who looked like a mess after one time being such a good QB.

That got me to thinking about the mystery of young QBs. Andrew Luck looked great for a while, but injuries have slowed him down quite a bit. Robert Griffin III was a revelation as a rookie, but a terrible injury and all sorts of issues derailed his career. A couple of years ago Dak Prescott looked really good. Now he is all over the place. Marcus Mariota looked like a stud at one point, but he seems to have flat-lined. On the flip side, Jared Goff was awful as a rookie, but now looks pretty darn good. He made some terrific throws on Monday night.

Developing a talented young QB is hard. Keeping the player at a high level is even harder.

We’re all excited about Carson Wentz. He had an amazing season in 2017 and looked like the NFL’s MVP. Wentz didn’t just post big numbers, he made some spectacular plays. Almost as important, he totally bought into being the face of the franchise and the leader of the team. Some young players struggle with that and drift toward stardom. Wentz was happy to be the leader, but remained team-first and totally focused on winning. As much as anything, that attitude and focus is what gives me such high hopes for him.

We have two questions at this point. When will he play? Will he be the same player?

Doug Pederson will announce his starting QB this week. It feels like Nick Foles, but nothing is set in stone. Wentz will be back soon enough, whether this week or the next or whenever. No one is worried about his timeline. That’s more of a story than anything else.

The more intimidating question is what kind of a player he will be.

Watching Wentz go through his pre-game workouts gets your hopes up in a big way. He looks great. Not good, but great. He’s out there bouncing around, cutting and moving. His arm is stronger than ever (per Doug). Wentz doesn’t look like a rehabbing player. He looks like a star at the top of his game.

The fact the medical staff and coaches aren’t playing him tells you that he’s still mending. Football is a unique sport. It requires you to be conditioned in a way that working out can’t fully cover. How do you replicate the physical beating your body takes in a game? The only way to do that is by playing and taking those hits. That’s why you hear coaches talk about being in shape and being in “football shape”.

I think Wentz will have a successful comeback and play at a high level. He plays for a smart coaching staff. You can see that they aren’t rushing him back. The coaches are trying to be smart. Remember RGIII and what happened with him late in 2012 and the playoff game? Mike Shanahan made some highly questionable decisions and they hurt Griffin’s career.

Wentz has a strong O-line. Luck would have killed to play behind a line like this for his career. Instead, he’s had to deal with constant chaos in the backfield. You must protect the QB for him to be able to play well and to sustain that success.

The stability of the coaching staff is also a big help. There were some changes, but the QB coach and OC were promoted from within. The scheme stayed the same and Pederson is still the play-caller. Wentz isn’t learning a new offense or adjusting his game to suit the ideas of a new staff. Derek Carr has not had the same kind of stability. He is currently on his third head coach. And look at his list of offensive coordinators.

2014  Greg Olson
2015  Bill Musgrave
2016  Bill Musgrave
2017  Todd Downing
2018  Greg Olson

Carr has only had the same OC for consecutive years once in his career. That’s not healthy. And his play has suffered from all that change.

The organization as a whole has built around Wentz and put him in a position to succeed. They have given him good blockers. They have given him good runners. They have given him good pass catchers (not great, obviously). Now look at how Dallas is treating Dak this year.

This is a crucial season for Dak and his development. Dallas has thrown a bunch of young guys and castoffs to him. Nelson Agholor or Zach Ertz would instantly be the #1 target for Dallas. The Eagles still have Alshon Jeffery, Darren Sproles and Dallas Goedert. We’re hoping Mike Wallace pans out, but he’s off to a slow start.

You must help your star players. Dallas isn’t doing that.

I also think the coaches help by being aggressive. Don’t teach a QB to manage a game. Don’t team him “not to lose”. Teach the QB to attack, make plays and win games. The Eagles do that with Wentz and it has worked brilliantly so far. That helps him to have a strong mentality, on and off the field.

There are no guarantees that Wentz will be the same player, but I feel optimistic that he will. 2017 wasn’t a fluky breakout season where a bunch of close plays went his way. Wentz was nothing short of amazing at times. He’s come back from injuries before. Wentz is a grinder. He’s ultra-competitive. He has worked his butt off in rehab to get back here. He’s going to do whatever it takes to succeed.

*****

Aiken has value as a ST’er and a WR. We’ll have to wait and see who gets cut.

Jeffery
Wallace
Agholor
Gibson
Wheaton
Carter
Aiken

That’s a lot of WRs, especially when they aren’t compelling beyond the top couple. We’ll see soon enough.

*****

Makes total sense. Bausby is a talented player, but the Eagles need depth at S. Sullivan showed promise and can be developed. The Eagles are deep at CB.

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