Game Review – PS #1 – PHI at GB – Defense

Posted: August 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 133 Comments »

After reading about the struggles of the Eagles CBs for a couple of weeks, I wondered how the defense would perform in the preseason opener. The Eagles have a good front seven and the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers, but they still have some talented weapons on offense.

The Eagles first and second units were outstanding.

At the end of the 3rd quarter, Green Bay had run 31 plays and gained just 96 yards. The Packers had a big showing in the 4th quarter, but the defense was mostly guys who won’t make the final cut by that point. That’s hardly a major concern.

The Eagles had 5 sacks. They came up with 3 takeaways. And this wasn’t offensive incompetence by the Packers, the defense looked good. Jim Schwartz mixed in some blitzes here and there, but mostly called basic stuff so the Eagles could evaluate players based on their performance and not the effectiveness of the scheme.

I’m not going to cover every starter at length. The preseason is mostly about player evaluation. We know what most of the key starters can do.

DL

Fletcher Cox looked good. Had a FF when he stripped RB. Brandon Graham played LDE and was explosive off the ball. Got pressure vs QB and had TFL of RB.

Tim Jernigan – Got doubled a couple of times. Quick off the ball. Used his hands well. Was in the backfield to blow up a 4th down play, but there was a penalty that blew it dead.

Vinny Curry – Played RDE. Used a good power rush to drive the LT back to the QB on the 2nd play of the game. Used hard inside move to beat the LT on run play and was in position to get TFL, but Graham got to the RB first. Solid showing.

Derek Barnett – Terrific game. Backup at RDE. Had 2 sacks. First came when he got into the LT and then cut inside. That was against the starting LT. Loved the way he used his hands to get free. Showed good closing speed on the play and then got the QB down. The ability to finish is underrated skill for pass rushers. 2nd sack wasn’t as impressive. GB tried to run screen. Barnett got back there too fast and tripped the QB.  Used good get-off to push TE back and blow up 3rd Qtr run, creating TFL for Brooks. Beat LT with speed/dip to hit QB on screen in mid-3rd. Dropped into coverage on 3rd down zone blitz play when Grymes got his sack. Barnett covered WR on crossing route.

Barnett showed physical ability and positional ability. He is going to contribute this season. He will push Curry for the starting role if he continues to play like this.

Chris Long – Backup LDE. I was curious to see if he had much burst left. He did. Long had a strong showing. He was quick off the ball and got pressure on multiple plays. Would have had a sack, but got held by the RT just as he was about to get his hands on the QB. Sometimes got down in 4-point track stance. Other times he stood up and rushed. Loved his burst off the ball and energy. Won’t be playing 60 snaps a game so he can go all out every second on the field. That should bring out the best in him.

Destiny Vaeao – Backup DT. Most effective when using a rip move and going with hard outside rush. Pushed the pocket a couple of times. Hustled to the ball when a pass was completed to the outside. Love to see that kind of pursuit from a DT. Shows awareness and effort. I was hoping to see more disruption from him. Vaeao played last year and showed some ability. Needs to build on that.

Justin Hamilton – Backup DT. Drove the LG back into QB’s face on Kendricks’ pick. Very good pressure up the middle on that play. Stuffed inside run play in early 3rd. Good leverage, strength on that play. Hamilton hasn’t generated much buzz in camp, but had a couple of good moments in the game. That’s how you get the coaches attention.

Gabe Wright – Backup DT. He has gotten mentions in practice notes and I thought he might look good against backup OL. Wright didn’t stand out. Had an offsides penalty. Showed good quickness off the ball, but wasn’t disruptive. Had a strip sack of QB. DE flushed QB and Wright hustled over to hit him. Didn’t get QB down, but knocked the ball loose. That’s an effort play, which is good, but you need more than that to really impress the coaches.

Elijah Qualls – Backup DT. Plays with good leverage, but at 6-1 with short arms, you almost can’t help but do that. Had some good moments. Credited with TFL. Showed the ability to penetrate and be disruptive. Other plays he got handled and was ineffective. Good motor. Headed in the right direction, but must continue to improve.  Read the rest of this entry »


Eagles Make a Big Trade

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 205 Comments »

The Eagles got better at CB on Friday. And we finally found out about Jordan Matthews’ future. It’s in Buffalo, at least for the next few months. Howie Roseman dealt Matthews and a 2018 3rd round pick to the Bills for CB Ronald Darby.

There are a lot of angles to this deal. Let’s break them down.

The most basic is that the Eagles are better at CB, which was the weakest position on the team. Darby instantly is the best CB on the Eagles. You might not love Darby. You might not love the compensation. But he does make the Eagles better.

Darby has started 29 games over the first two years of his career. He has 33 passes defensed, which tells you he can make plays. Darby ran 4.38 at the Combine. He has a 41.5-inch vertical jump. That shows you he is a fast, explosive athlete. That is something the Eagles lacked even in their young CBs. Watch the speed Darby shows in this clip.

And this play shows his recovery speed, after being caught off-guard at the snap.

Darby had a terrific rookie season and looked like a star in the making. Like so many Bills teammates, he had a disappointing season in 2016. The Eagles see a 23-year old CB with good ability and dynamic speed. He’s also still on his rookie deal so he is a great fit financially. This is a player the Eagles are happy to roll the dice on.

Giving up Matthews wasn’t easy. He was the best player from the 2014 draft class and was highly thought of by everyone in the organization. Carson Wentz loved Matthews, making it even tougher to deal him. This was all about money.

Jimmy Bama is the first person I heard talk about the difficulty of re-signing Matthews. We were at the Senior Bowl and the subject came up. Jimmy thought it could be a real tricky situation. Matthews was the only good WR on the roster at the time so I didn’t really buy his argument. The Eagles would figure something out. But Jimmy did make a compelling case.

He said that Matthews’ agent would push stats and look for a big payday. If you go by the numbers, Matthews does look incredibly good.

Anyone who has actually watched all those players would tell you Matthews is by far the weakest player listed. That doesn’t mean he’s bad. Clearly, Matthews is a good NFL receiver. The problem is that he’s not a playmaker. He’s not a weapon coaches have to gameplan for. He doesn’t require the best CB to cover him. He isn’t a WR that you build a passing game around.

If you had a star receiver and Matthews was your #2 or #3 guy, that would be a good set-up. But he would have to be paid like that. Matthews agent is going to look for big bucks. He’s not worth that. The Eagles weren’t going to pay big bucks to keep him in March so they were going to lose him after the season. By dealing him now, they get something in return.

The Eagles could only make this move because the young WRs stepped up and played so well this spring and summer. Nelson Agholor will be your primary slot receiver for now. Mack Hollins looked great in the opener. Bryce Treggs now has a real shot to make the team. Marcus Johnson wasn’t able to play vs the Packers, but he’s been really opening eyes in the offseason.

Greg Ward could be an ideal slot receiver. He was up and down vs the Packers, but has been a pleasant surprise this summer. Donnel Pumphrey also factors into this. The Eagles want to mix him into the offense. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, but can also play in the slot.

Not all of these players will work out as hoped, but there is a real chance the Eagles could build a young, talented receiving corps with these guys. There is risk, but a reasonable one because so many of the young players have impressed to this point.

As much as giving up Matthews hurt, losing the pick was almost as painful. The Eagles are already missing their 2nd round pick in 2018. You hate to be without a 2nd and 3rd rounder. But think of it this way. The Eagles just used a 3rd round pick on CB Rasul Douglas. Would you rather have him or Darby? I would take Darby, the young, talented CB with actual NFL experience and some production.

What does Darby mean for the future?

Sidney Jones
Ronald Darby
Jalen Mills
Rasul Douglas
C.J. Smith

That could be a pretty good quintet of corners. You can’t get by with one or two guys these days. You need options. The Eagles now have a young, talented group that could play together for a few years.

There are still plenty of question marks. Jones could have injury issues. Darby could struggle like he did last year. Mills could continue to be inconsistent. Douglas might never adjust to the NFL. Smith could prove he’s in over his head. None of these players is a slam dunk.

But that’s life in the NFL. There are no sure things. You take chances on players you believe in, guys that you think can succeed on your team.

Howie Roseman and the Eagles took a chance today, but if this move works as they expect, it could help this team to be better in 2017 and into the future.

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Good and Bad From the Opener

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 374 Comments »

Just looking at the scoreboard, the Eagles did not have a good preseason opener, falling 24-9 to the Packers. The scoreboard rarely tells the story in the preseason and that was very true on Thursday night.

Both teams were very sloppy, but the Eagles had a lot of key things go right and they stayed healthy for the most part. Let’s start with the positives.

Carson Wentz was tough and elusive in the pocket. He finished the game 4 for 4 for 56 yards, with a TD and no picks. Green Bay got good pressure on him, but Wentz handled it well. His TD to Mack Hollins was a terrific play by both guys.

The WR who stepped up was Bryce Treggs. He got open and caught the ball smoothly. He looked good. Treggs was 7-91 and had a deep ball for a 38-yard gain. He is trying to prove to the coaches and front office that he belongs on this team. Treggs was very impressive. Hollins also had a strong showing. He finished 4-64, with the 38-yard TD. His stiff-arm on that play was a thing of beauty. Hollins caught the ball well and just looked natural. That’s not always easy for a rookie receiver, especially one who didn’t catch a ton of passes in college.

The Eagles defense had a good game. Aaron Rodgers sat out, but the Packers still had plenty of firepower on the field. They didn’t get over the 200-yard mark until the middle of the 4th quarter. The Eagles finished with 5 sacks and 3 takeaways.

Derek Barnett was the star up front. He played backup RDE and got regular pressure on the Packers QBs. He finished the game with 2 sacks. Barnett used a power rush very effectively, driving back the LT on multiple plays. He even did this to their starting LT.

I was shocked that the CBs seemed to play fairly well. Jalen Mills had a good game. He was a strong tackler and broke to the ball very quickly on a couple of plays. Patrick Robinson did not look smooth or natural at all. He did tackle well, but he’s still got a long way to go. Ron Brooks was solid in the slot. C.J. Smith bit hard on a fake and was burned for a TD. He bounced back from that and played well in the 2nd half. Rasul Douglas made one good play. I didn’t see him get burned, but could have missed something.

There were some problems in the game.

The OL did not play well. To be fair, part of that was due to the Packers aggressive gameplan. Dom Capers blitzed a lot and ran creative pressures and fronts. The Eagles didn’t prepare for any of this (you never do in preseason) so that gave an advantage to GB. This is a catch-22 situation. If you are a 3-4, blitzing team, you need to practice that. Doing it in preseason makes sense. At the same time, you don’t always get an accurate evaluation of your players because there are times when your scheme wins and you don’t know if the player did.

Still, the Eagles need to do a lot better up front. There was no run game, whether starters or backups. The Eagles have a talented OL. Playing in the first extended live action did not bring out the best in them. They’ll study the tape and get ready for next week.

STs was a mess. The Eagles gave up a couple of long punt returns, one for a TD. The refs did miss a block in the back (or two), but you still don’t want to give up a TD. The Eagles had a long PR negated by penalty. Caleb Sturgis missed a FG. The Eagles only finished with 3 punt return yards. Dave Fipp will get this fixed, but it was an ugly start.

Turnovers were an issue. There were a pair of interceptions and a pair of lost fumbles. You must have better ball security.

Backup QB play wasn’t good. Matt McGloin is the number three QB, but played almost three full quarters. It wasn’t pretty. Dane Evans played late. He showed physical talent, but wasn’t accurate and looked nervous. Nick Foles needs to get healthy.

The rookies were a mixed bag. Donnel Pumphrey made several mistakes and took some big hits. I worried that he might get overwhelmed, but he kept on battling and never looked discouraged. That’s crucial for a rookie when his debut goes poorly. He’s got the physical skills to be a good role player, if not more. Greg Ward was up and down. He did show good potential. Nate Gerry had one outstanding sequence where he got in on three straight tackles. He also missed some tackles in space. Corey Clement had a couple of very impressive plays, but then dropped a pass in the Red Zone. TE Billy Brown caught the ball well, but failed to get out of bounds late in the half and then fumbled the ball away. Double whammy.

None of those guys looked completely in over their heads.

The only major injury concern is Halapoulivaati Vaitai suffering a leg injury. Keep your fingers crossed on that.

Ron Brooks did have a hamstring injury. We’ll have to wait and see what that means.

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The First Game of 2017 (Kinda)

Posted: August 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 319 Comments »

Football is finally here. Not the real thing, but close enough. Starters will play very little or not at all. The goal is to have them shake off some rust and get a feel for contact to get them ready for the next couple of weeks.

The second half will belong to players who might only have a few weeks left with the Eagles or in pursuit of their NFL dreams. There are going to be some ugly moments in tonight’s game. The opener always feature plenty of sloppy play.

What do you want out of the preseason? The 2015 Eagles looked great and got expectations sky high. That led to a frustrating regular season and the firing of Chip Kelly. Other preseasons have had plenty of mediocre play, which creates all kinds of doubts with fans and the media. Those regular seasons were a mixed bag. I guess the point is this. No matter what happens tonight, take it with a grain of salt.

Preseason football is all about individual player evaluation. The plays are simple. The point isn’t for Jim Schwartz to show he’s designed a great blitz. That doesn’t matter in August. The point is to find out if Derek Barnett can get to the QB or if C.J. Smith can cover a receiver down the field. You do that by keeping the scheme as simple as you can.

I’m excited to see the WRs tonight. Agholor and Marcus Johnson are a couple I’m real curious about. I want to see how Greg Ward does. Can he make a run at the roster? It will be interesting to see the rookies and where they are at.

Can TE Billy Brown actually block? We won’t get an answer tonight, but will get a hint.

It sounds like Chance Warmack will start at RG. I’m looking forward to seeing him in action. Good college player. Mediocre pro. Can Jeff Stoutland get him on the right track? I want to see where Dillon Gordon is right now. Can he be the backup LT?

The Eagles need a backup DT or two to step up. They will get a ton of reps tonight. Let’s hope at least one takes advantage. Keep an eye on Destiny Vaeao and Gabe Wright.

LB depth is another area of real curiosity. I can’t wait to see Joe Walker in action. I’m also excited to see Steven Daniels. Is he healthy enough to really show what he can do? Rookie Nate Gerry has been getting good pub recently. Should be interesting to see how he does going against blockers.

Terrence Brooks and Corey Graham are the Safeties I’m excited to watch. They should play a lot. Brooks can do himself a world of good if he has a strong preseason.

CB. Give me some hope. Is that setting the bar too high or too low?

Games are very different from practice. There will be some players who we’re all down on that play much better in this setting. There is something about going against a guy on another team in a live setting that just brings out the best in some players. Could be Patrick Robinson or Shelton Gibson or some backup DL.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the first game can be overwhelming for some players, especially young guys. They want to do so well that when something goes wrong it just snowballs and they struggle most of the night. Nothing that happens in the opener is definitive. There are players who will shine tonight and then fade the next few weeks. There are guys who will struggle, but might end up making the team.

Most important of all…just stay healthy.

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Details

Posted: August 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 77 Comments »

Carson Wentz is trying to go from talented rookie to good QB. Effort isn’t an issue. Wentz will do anything he can to get better. The question is what do you actually do?

Tim McManus wrote a good piece on Wentz and what he’s done to get better, on and off the field. We all know about Wentz working on his mechanics, but here are a couple of other areas I found interesting.

Corrective eye surgery

What’s more important for a quarterback than good vision? Wentz had PRK laser eye surgery earlier this offseason, which is a less invasive form of LASIK.

“Recovery was about a week long. I was borderline blind to some degree for a couple days,” Wentz said during a recent sitdown with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.

One of the benefits is Wentz no longer has to worry about a defender poking out one of his contacts, which has happened.

“I knew I wanted to get this surgery when I could,” he said. “It’s been pretty life-changing, honestly.”

And

New stretching techniques

Beyond the focus on mechanics, Wentz was schooled in the science of arm and shoulder stretching by House and Dedeaux, and Wentz is incorporating that into his pre-throwing routine. Many QBs seek this type of preventative care when they are older. Wentz hopes that getting ahead of the game will help him in his quest to have a long, healthy career.

“Just some different things to get the shoulder going, get the arm going,” he said. “Some rotational things that I’ve kind of implemented from them. And that’s a big part of the offseason: What I did learn is maintenance, arm care and different things like that. Because God-willing, I’m playing this game for a long time, and I want to make sure my arm is right there with me.”

I like the fact that Wentz is keeping an open mind about how to improve. He’s not just out there throwing footballs into trash cans to show his accuracy. He’s not just reading the playbook over and over, as if REALLY memorizing a play is going to change things. Wentz is taking specific actions in a variety of areas to improve as a QB and team leader.

The old saying is that the devil is in the details. Wentz seems to get that and he’s willing to work on anything he things can help him. That’s a great sign in a young QB.

*****

Zach Berman put up a piece on the situation with the slot receiver.

The speculation that Jordan Matthews will lose playing time at slot wide receiver to Nelson Agholor was not quieted by offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who said Monday that the plan at the position “is a little bit different than last year.”

 “Every spot’s up for competition,” Reich said. “The way we roll things, we’re always looking for guys who make plays. Nelson’s had a real strong spring and camp, so the way we do it is kind of by play. Sometimes we’ll switch guys up.”

The question was whether Matthews is still the team’s slot wide receiver or if he faces competition. Reich brought up Agholor’s name without prompting. Matthews has been the team’s top wide receiver the past two seasons and the slot receiver since 2014, when he first arrived in Philadelphia. When asked if Matthews will keep the same role he had last year, Reich suggested it could change.

“Right now, the whole receiver room is more competitive,” Reich said. “So yeah, I think it is a little bit different than last year.”

Is Agholor really a changed man? Will he actually be a good player?

Will the Eagles trade Matthews?

I haven’t written much about this in the last couple of days because I’m tired of just speculating and thought the smart thing to do would be to wait to see the preseason opener. That will let us see most of the receivers in action. We will have a better feel for where these players are and where the situation really stands.

Chip Kelly used to say that the players set the depth chart, meaning their performance dictated where they were slotted and not draft status or public perception. I think the players will also decide the receiver situation. If the young guys start to struggle at all, Jordan Matthews isn’t going anywhere. If they shine, anything is possible.

*****

Les Bowen had a good piece on C.J. Smith recently.

In Monday’s practice, Smith worked with the second team. He had one of the day’s flashier plays, breaking in front of rookie wideout Mack Hollins and flicking away a pass Matt McGloin fired on a rollout to the right.

“I saw Mack sit down, so I drove to him, the ball came, and I just knocked it down,” Smith said.

Hollins said the main thing he has noticed about the style Schwartz wants from his corners is that “they don’t give up the inside often. It’s hard to get in there.”

Smith said “just make plays and be consistent” is what he has to do to set himself apart.

“Being consistent I think is key, knowing the playbook and not having any mental errors,” Smith said. (This seems obvious, but, hey, for the Eagles’ corners, well …)

“And then, being comfortable and making plays.”

Smith has a huge opportunity. The CB position is wide open. If he continues to play well, Smith could win a starting job.

Interesting comment about Schwartz not wanting catches over the middle. I don’t know that Schwartz has ever talked about that. It does make some sense. Force passes to the outside and they should be more difficult to complete. That’s a longer distance, making accuracy more difficult and also meaning the ball is in the air more, which gives the DBs a chance to make a play on the ball.

*****

Jeff McLane has all the details in his article.

Graham deserves a chance to make more money. Incentives are fair for him and the team. If Graham lights it up, the team will be glad to pony up some extra cash and send it his way.

With Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan attacking up the middle, Graham could have a big season off the edge.

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