Learning to Fly

Posted: November 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 268 Comments »

I have struggled with trying to figure out this Eagles team. In the summer, I compared them to Andy Reid’s 2000 team that went 11-5 and won a playoff game. The 1999 Eagles went 5-11. Reid and the front office improved the roster in the offseason and the returning players took a big step forward. That helped turn that team into a winning group in a hurry.

While they went 11-5, that team was highly erratic. They scored 41 points in the opener and then 42 points over the next three weeks combined. That team scored 34 offensive TDs for the season. They were tough, but just not that talented. They won a lot of games because they avoided mistakes and played good defense.

I thought the Eagles would be a 9 or 10-win team this year. I expected Carson Wentz to be better, but was anticipating a player who would still have some growing pains. I was hoping he would throw 25 TDs and would deliver more big plays than last year. I had concerns about the CBs and thought the defense would be vulnerable to teams that could throw the ball. There were also some questions about depth. I wasn’t sure this team would be able to overcome key injuries.

The Eagles have a chance to be a 10-win team…on Thanksgiving weekend. Wentz should have 25 TD passes, possibly as soon as next Sunday night. The CBs have overachieved in a big way. And this team has overcome some incredibly tough injuries.

This team is ahead of schedule.

Heck, I don’t even know if the schedule exists anymore. It used to be that you built a team over time. Bill Walsh did that with the Niners. Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys. Andy Reid did that here.

The Eagles went from a team that had a 2-9 stretch last year to a group that is 8-1 and arguably the best in the league. So what are our expectations for the rest of the year? What is realistic?

That’s the problem. I don’t know what realistic is with this team. The 1998 Rams went 4-12. They traded for Marshall Faulk, drafted Torry Holt and Kurt Warner took over as the QB in 1999 and that team was instantly great. They went 13-3, dominated on a regular basis and won the Super Bowl. That’s not a perfect comparison, but it is the best one I can come up with.

Six of the Eagles eight wins this year are by 10 or more points. They just won consecutive games by 23 and 28 points. They weren’t playing juggernaut opponents, but never take blowouts for granted. The Steelers and Lions should have had blowout wins against bad teams on Sunday, but both had to come from behind to win.

This team shows real signs of dominance. They can score points in a hurry. They completely shut down the running game of every team they play. The offensive line just had their best game of the year and can be outstanding at times. The Eagles run game got a boost from Jay Ajayi and he could make a big difference going forward. The defense could get even better if Ronald Darby can stay healthy and play to his potential.

One of the reasons that it often took a few years to build a team is that they had to learn how to win. The Eagles seem to already have that ability. Last year they lost close games due to sloppy play and mistakes. This team looks very different. They convert the key 3rd down late in the game. They don’t turn the ball over. They make the key play on defense to stop an opponent who is trying to score.

This team doesn’t play “not to lose”. Doug Pederson has been aggressive all year. He takes chances and the team has embraced that mentality. It helps them to play with an edge. They aren’t reckless. They just aren’t afraid to fail. That can make a huge difference in key moments.

The Eagles had talent last year, but this group is even better. I’m not going to run through all the offseason additions. You know the names. Beyond that, the returning players have taken a big step forward, especially Carson Wentz

Wentz is the X-factor with this team. He is having an MVP type of season. Doing that in September and October is impressive, but we’re now into November and games become more important. The pressure is on. Wentz won plenty of big games at North Dakota State, leading the team to a pair of national titles. There is every reason to think he’ll continue playing at a high level, but it is fair to point out that he’s never had to play in pressure games at the NFL level.

If Wentz can continue playing at the same level, this can be a Super Bowl team.

Just typing that sentence sounds crazy in my head, but I don’t want to put limitations on this team just because they’re ahead of schedule. This is unlike any Eagles team I’ve ever seen. The great 2004 team was built over several years. This is like the microwave version of the 2004 Eagles. Why use the oven and wait 45 minutes when you can microwave your turkey pot pie and have it in five minutes?

I’m excited to see what this team does over the final seven weeks of the regular season. I know everyone thinks Dallas will be an easy win on Sunday night, but I’m not so sure. Then there are trips to play the Rams and Seahawks on the west coast. We still have a lot to learn about this team and the final seven games will show us where this team really is.

I think you’re going to like the answer.

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Ouch.

The Eagles will likely run the ball a lot if Lee really is out.

*****

With Ronald Darby coming back (he practiced on Monday), McDougle became expendable.

It will be interesting to see if Ellerbe or Joe Walker is the MLB on Sunday night. This isn’t a starting role right now, but can be important. Ellerbe has the experience, but Walker knows the system better.

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A Good Day

Posted: November 12th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 194 Comments »

The Eagles had Sunday off, but it was still a good day.

Dallas was missing LT Tyron Smith and RB Ezekiel Elliott going into the game. LB Sean Lee got hurt in the game and missed most of it. The injuries made Dallas look like a pedestrian team.

To be fair, they also attempted a FG (hit the upright and bounced off). As bad as Dallas looked, don’t expect next week to be easy. Smith will probably play. He’s been banged up all year and a week of rest might be enough to get him back on the field. Even at less than 100 percent, he would be a major upgrade over the players they had at LT on Sunday.

Washington lost to Minnesota. The game was closer than I expected, 38-30, but the Skins made too many mistakes for them to overcome.

The Giants started Sunday at 1-7 and found a way to make things even worse. They lost to the winless Niners, 31-21. Yikes. The Giants entered the season with a defense that was expected to dominate. They gave up 474 yards to C.J. Beathard and the Niners. Once again, effort was a problem.

That’s not…good.

There was talk of Ben McAdoo’s job being on the line before this game. You have to think he’s in boiling hot water right now. That’s not good for the Eagles. You want McAdoo keeping his job as long as possible. The Giants are also in serious contention for the number one overall pick. The Browns are winless right now, but they are playing hard each week and could end up winning a game or two. The Giants lack talent and heart, a deadly combination.

The NFC East looks like this.

PHI  8-1
DAL  5-4
WAS  4-5
NYG  1-8

If the Eagles can win at Dallas on Sunday night, they will have the division virtually clinched. That would give them a 4-game lead with six weeks left in the season. Needless to say, that game is going to be big for the Eagles, but even bigger for the Cowboys. They are going to sell out to win. It will be interesting to see if that is enough to beat the Birds.

*****

I put this up on Twitter during the Dallas game. More than a few Cowboys fans let me know that Sean Lee, Dan Bailey, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott were great players and the comparison with the Eagles was ridiculous. I mean, Jordan Hicks, Caleb Sturgis, Jason Peters and Darren Sproles are all mediocre players and the Eagles don’t miss them at all. Right?

*****

After watching Joe Walker for two weeks, I can understand this move. Walker shows potential, but needs experience. With the Eagles headed for the playoffs, you don’t want a player on the field who isn’t ready for key situations.

So who is going to get cut?

The three players that make the most sense are LB Nate Gerry, DB Dexter McDougle and RB Wendell Smallwood. Let’s start at the end. I think Smallwood is a talented player and he’s had some good moments this year,  but something has happened for him to get in the coaches doghouse. This isn’t game related. This has to do with practice, classroom meetings or off-field stuff.

McDougle has been a solid role player, but would get caught in a numbers crunch. Ronald Darby has a good chance to play on Sunday night so some DB will need to sit.

Gerry makes the most sense of all. The Eagles are adding a LB so letting someone from that spot go would even things out. Gerry hasn’t played on defense, but is a STer. Ellerbe could take his reps on STs.

As for Ellerbe, he is a veteran LB. He played WLB for the Saints the past couple of years. He started at MLB for Miami back in 2013. He began his career with the Ravens, so there is a connection to Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl.

Ellerbe lists at 6-1, 236 and has 42 career starts. He has 10.5 sacks, a pretty high number for a LB.

The Eagles play two LBs most of the time. Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham are both having good years so this move won’t affect the Nickel defense that the Eagles use so much. This will give them a veteran presence when they are in a base 4-3 look or also in short yardage packages.

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Game Review – PHI 51, DEN 23

Posted: November 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 435 Comments »

2017 has been a season of tests for the Eagles. Could they win on the road? Could they win close games? Would Carson Wentz take a big step forward? Could they overcome injuries?

So far, the Eagles have passed every test. Last Sunday they had a new one, facing the #1 defense in the league. This was our chance to see Pederson, Wentz and company show what they could do against a legitimately dominant unit. Denver had not allowed any team to score more than 29 points or gain more than 276 yards all year.

So how did the Eagles do? They piled up 51 points and 419 yards.

Denver is no longer the #1 defense.

The Eagles just dominated the Broncos, on offense and defense. It was one of those games where the Eagles put everything together and they played at a high level. They did this last year against Pittsburgh, also a home game right before the bye. The 2013 team had a game like this against Chicago.

This game wasn’t about fluke plays or turnovers or things like that. The Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage and simply out-executed Denver. To be fair, the Eagles caught the Broncos at the right time. Denver had lost three games in a row coming into the contest and their offense struggled so much they benched their QB and gave Brock Osweiler a chance. They also got the Broncos in the right venue. They are tough at Mile High, but less so on the road.

The thing that made this performance so encouraging is that the Eagles played so aggressively and with such confidence. You would think they won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and were the team with the top ranked defense. The Eagles played like the team with the best record in the league. They looked like Super Bowl contenders. I know that they beat Brock Osweiler and that’s hardly a big deal, but they didn’t just win. The Eagles dominated.

The Eagles faced a desperate team, but it was the Eagles who played with more energy and emotion. They flew around the field. They attacked. They looked like the hungrier team.

One interesting note concerns the officiating. The Eagles have gotten the short end of the stick in a few games, but not this one. Almost every close call went the Eagles way. It felt weird to see that happen. Denver had 14 penalties and the Eagles only 5.  There was one moment that kind of summed up the game. Wentz threw an incompletion and got slammed to the ground. The officials threw a flag for the hit. They also threw a flag on the DB downfield for something I’d never seen. The DB picked up the ball at the end of the play and threw it toward Wentz. It wasn’t a hard throw, but it clearly was intentionally thrown at Wentz. I have no idea what the DB was thinking right there. Dumb, just dumb.

The Broncos didn’t play smart all game and they almost seemed distracted. The Eagles had a laser focus and that helped them clobber the Donkeys.

COACHING

Doug Pederson did a great job of having the team focused and ready to play. Andy Reid was famous for his teams struggling going into the bye. This team wasn’t looking ahead or resting on their laurels. They were locked in and ready to roll. There were no strategic decisions for Pederson in the game because the score went so crazy so fast. I did think he handled the blowout well. He stayed aggressive all game long. I was ready to run the ball and work the clock for the whole 2nd half. Pederson dialed things back, but still kept his foot on the gas.

The Eagles were up 31-9 in the 3rd Qtr and had the ball inside the 10. It was 4th and 1. Conventional wisdom says to kick the FG and make it a four possession game. Pederson went for it, even calling a pass play. The Eagles converted and scored the TD. Blowouts can lead to sloppy play in the 2nd half and that can carry over into the following games. My guess is that Pederson wanted to keep his guys sharp. Pederson even let Nick Foles throw the ball on 4th down in the 4th Qtr.

The offensive gameplan was brilliant. This was the best plan Pederson and Frank Reich have put together. They had focused on getting the ball to Zach Ertz, but he was inactive. They adjusted on the fly and used those plays for Brent Celek and Trey Burton. The coaches also wanted to attack the Denver CBs, the best trio in the league. They had a plan for how to do that. The coaches also wanted to slow the pass rush down and they had a plan for Von Miller. They even stole some ideas from what KC did to him the week before.

Coming up with good ideas is only half the battle. You have to know when and how to use them. Pederson called a great game, seemingly knowing exactly what would work at that moment. The coaches also had the players ready to execute the plan.

The defense didn’t have to put together an elaborate gameplan. They just had to stuff the run and pressure Osweiler. Denver ran 19 times for 35 yards. That is great run defense.

There were a few interesting things. Denver used a set that only had one WR. Used 2 TEs and a FB. The Eagles countered that with 4 LBs, with Najee Goode coming into the game. Jim Schwartz got creative in some passing situations. He had LBs line up in the A-gaps at times. This an old Jim Johnson look. There was one play where the Eagles showed this and just before the snap Vinny Curry moved from DE and came and stood with them. He then rushed up the middle and forced a quick throw.   Read the rest of this entry »


He Said Yes!!!

Posted: November 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 244 Comments »

The Eagles are on their bye week, but still found a way to come up with a big win. How?

Great news. This defense has been dominant against the run. One of the big keys is having Jernigan playing alongside Fletcher Cox. You can’t consistently double-team both guys. The one who is free can be disruptive. And that happens a lot.

Those guys don’t make every play, but they affect an awful lot of them and that lets the players around them make plays.

The thing I love about Jernigan is that he’s an athlete who can shoot gaps, but is also powerful and willing to do the dirty work. Good interior DL have to be violent, and Jernigan sure is.

Having a pair of stud DTs to anchor your defense gives you a chance to be good every year. Those guys set the tone by clogging the middle against the run and getting pressure up the middle on pass plays. The Eagles have a great situation because they have talent on the outside as well. And this is a group that could play together for a while.

Some have pointed out that Curry could be cut in the offseason. That certainly is possible, but he is having a good year. Curry only has 3 sacks, but he has been a force against the run and is getting good pressure from RDE. I think the Eagles could talk to him about restructuring his deal. Jim Schwartz loves having a deep DL. Finding a way to keep Curry around would be ideal.

Jernigan feels like a sign of how things are going right for the organization. They swapped draft spots with the Ravens to get him. Now, they have signed him to a deal to keep Jernigan around for the next four years. Joe Douglas scouted Jernigan when he was with the Ravens and helped to draft him. Douglas obviously sold Howie on the idea that the Eagles should deal for him. Howie was able to engineer the deal so that the Eagles got a good player, but at a reasonable price. Then Howie worked with Drew Rosenhaus to get an extension done. The scout, the trader and the dealmaker.

If there is one potential negative angle, the Eagles do have a lot of money invested in their DTs. Will that hurt them at any other spots? We’ll have to wait and see how things go in the offseason. There are going to be a handful of free agents to deal with and some other players who might need new contracts. The Eagles will have to make some tough decisions. I do trust Howie when it comes to the cap and contracts.

I think the Eagles made a good move by re-signing a talented, young DT. Those are the players you absolutely want to keep around.

*****

Speaking of players you want to stay…watch this Chris Long video.

How can you not love that guy? I hope the Eagles are able to keep him for another season. Long has been good on the field and even better off it. I also love the chemistry that he and Beau Allen have. They hare the DL version of the Odd Couple.

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Second to None

Posted: November 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 104 Comments »

Last year the Cowboys and Giants combined to win 24 games. They had the best secondaries in the NFC East and that played a key part in their success. Dallas lost some key players in free agency and replaced them with younger, cheaper players. The results haven’t been great. The Giants returned their key players, but those guys just aren’t playing as well this season, not to mention there are all kinds of character issues.

The Eagles secondary was all over the place last year, but is playing good football this season. They are a key reason this team is 8-1.

The leader is Malcolm Jenkins. His stats aren’t compelling at all. Jenkins is 2nd on the team in tackles. He has a sack, a TFL and 5 PDs. He doesn’t have any INTs or FFs. Those are not the numbers of a star player. However, put on the game tape and you see just how good he is.

Jenkins best attribute is his versatility. He can play in the slot. He can line up out wide and cover a TE. He can cover a RB out of the backfield. Jenkins is a good blitzer. He’s also comfortable playing in the box and helping to stuff the run. He can do it all and he can do it well.

Rodney McLeod sits back deep. His job is to keep things in front of him and not let receivers get deep. It isn’t the sexiest job in the world, but don’t underestimate his value. By staying deep and covering a lot of ground, the CBs can be aggressive. They know McLeod can help them over the top.

The biggest surprise is Patrick Robinson. He looked terrible this spring and was still struggling in Training Camp. Robinson is a veteran player and he eventually got comfortable with his role in the scheme and he began to play better. Robinson was outstanding in the slot during the preseason. When Ronald Darby got hurt in the opener, I was worried that playing Robinson some on the outside might hurt his game.

That hasn’t been the case at all. Robinson has been good in the slot and outside. I’ve been very impressed with his run defense. Robinson is willing to take on blockers or make tough, physical tackles. He is having arguably the best season of his career. Robinson has 3 INTs, 11 PDs and 3 TFLs and there is still almost half a season to be played.

Jalen Mills took a huge step forward from his rookie season to this year. Last year he was a spirited rookie. This year he’s a good CB. Mills is covering better and he’s more of a playmaker. He didn’t have any picks last year and this season he’s got 3, including the pick-six against SF that blew the game open. Mills has been great against the run. He is tied for 2nd on the team with 34 solo tackles.

Rasul Douglas has been a promising rookie. You can see his ball skills and the value of his size. He can really extend to break up passes on downfield throws. He already has 7 PDs and 2 INTs this season. Douglas is a willing tackler. He will be sloppy at times, but there is no lack of effort or toughness.

Jaylen Watkins has also seen some time on the outside. I’m shocked at how he has become a physical player and hard hitter. I had serious concerns about him coming out of Florida because I didn’t think he tackled well enough for the NFL. Now he’s out there laying the lumber and making runners/receivers pay when they come to his side.

Corey Graham has done a bit of everything, playing CB, S and in the slot. He has become a valuable chess piece for Jim Schwartz to mix into the lineup.

The secondary has had several players take a big step forward this year and play at a higher level. The crazy thing is that the secondary can get even better. Ronald Darby has a good chance to play against Dallas. He is a gifted athlete and very confident player. Putting him on the field would give the Eagles their best combination of size, speed, skill and overall athleticism.

It will be interesting to see what Schwartz does. He could have P-Rob play in the slot and stick with Mills and Darby on the outside.

Sidney Jones…remember him? He could play anytime this season. Or the Eagles could hold him and be cautious. They think he can be a star CB in the future. You don’t rush a guy like that back when the other DBs are playing so well.

Darby will be on the field soon. Jones is more of a 50-50 proposition, at best.

I don’t know what the future holds for all these guys. The Eagles will have some tough decisions to make as to who sticks around and who plays where. These are good problems for a team that had a porous secondary last year. Things have gotten incredibly better in just a few months.

Right now the Eagles have the best secondary in the division and that helps them to sit atop the standings.

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