Previewing SF

Posted: September 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 229 Comments »

The Eagles play a late afternoon game in San Francisco on Sunday. This game is giving me fits as I try to figure out what to expect. We’re talking about the Niners, a team that was a Super Bowl contender just 6 weeks ago. But I can also make a strong argument that the Eagles could win this game…comfortably.

Color me confused.

I wrote a game preview for PE.com.

If the OL can give Nick Foles any kind of time, I expect the Eagles to move the ball and score points. Can the OL do that? With Aldon Smith out, the Niners pass rush isn’t all that fearsome. They have a total of 4 sacks this year. SF prefers to limit blitzing so they can cover and prevent big plays. They need a monster game from Justin Smith or Ahmad Brooks for that to work on Sunday. It is possible that those guys could do that.

I do think the Eagles OL has their best set-up (minus starters of course) going this weekend. Players are at positions where they have experience and are comfortable. Matt Tobin is making his first NFL start and that will be a challenge, but he is a good run blocker and could help the Eagles move the ball on the ground.

I can’t decide what to think of the Eagles defense against the SF offense. They lack a top passing game, which is what normally gives the Eagles fits. Can the Eagles shut down their run game and handle the running of Colin Kaepernick? You really wish you had Mychal Kendricks out there chasing him around.

There is also the question about SF and whether things could unravel.

That is Heath Evans, who leaves a lot to be desired as an NFL analyst, but he’s not the only person to hear things could fall apart out there. The Niners have lost 2 games in a row. If the Eagles get out to a quick lead (crazy concept, I know), you wonder how SF will react.

As I wrote in the preview, SF is a desperate team. That could also bring out the best in them.

Sunday will be a good test for both teams.

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If you need some lighter reading for the night, check out the Wulf’s Den. Bo Wulf got Zach Ertz to spill the beans on all the cheating that Jim Harbaugh did at Stanford.

You won’t see a detailed confession like this very often.

Kinda.

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Detailed Game Review – PHI 37 , WAS 34

Posted: September 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 80 Comments »

Football is a very situational game and that was certainly evident last Sunday when the Eagles came back to beat the Skins 37-34. The 1st half was awkward. Washington marched down the field and scored a TD. The Eagles returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD, which was good news/bad news. You love getting an impact play like that from STs, but it also meant the defense was right back on the field.

Staying on the field for most of the 1st quarter was physically taxing for the Eagles defense, but it also deprived them of a chance to sit on the sideline and make adjustments. It is still early in the NFL season. Defense are figuring out what offenses want to do. The more time coaches and players have to talk, the better off they will be.

The Eagles had one drive late in the 1st quarter and that spilled over to the early 2nd, but a fumble gave the ball right back to the Skins and their hot offense. That led to a FG and a 17-7 lead. When Kirk Cousins and the Skins offense were put in a favorable position, they played well. The Eagles then took over and went on a 30-10 run where they took control of the game. The Skins added a late score to make the final 37-34.

I told people that Cousins had not been tested by the Jags and that the Eagles game would tell more about him. Cousins was red hot in the 1st half, going 19-25. In the 2nd half, things were different. The Skins played from behind. There was suddenly pressure on their offense to go score.

The Skins converted 7 of 9 3rd down chances in the 1st half. They kept manageable distances (mostly 3rd/short) and that put the offense in a favorable situation. In the 2nd half, the Skins were only 1 of 6. They dealt with more 3rd and longs. The Eagles could mix in more Nickel and Dime looks. They could be aggressive and creative. That gave the Eagles the favorable situation and the Skins offense was erratic.

They still scored a pair of TDs due to a pair of long pass plays. Take those away and their offense was handled. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. While the Eagles defense got better after halftime, they still made critical mistakes which kept the Skins right in the game until the end.

This was an emotional, intense rivalry game. It brought out the best and worst in each team. The Eagles were better in crunch time, the Skins were not. The Eagles had to overcome some tough circumstances. Losing Jason Kelce and Jason Peters from an already banged up O-line could have been devastating, but the coaches and players managed to make the best of it.

And they did just enough to win.

COACHING

The Eagles never gave up on the run, despite the fact the Skins shut it down all game long. I think it was important for Kelly to keep mixing in Shady and making the Skins honor the run. That opened up the passing game in a big way.

I wasn’t as keen on the defense. My biggest gripe is failing to attack RT Tyler Polumbus, who is a terrible blocker. The Eagles focused on the A-gaps. That got some pressure, but I would rather have seen defenders given space and turned loose against Polumbus. I love Connor Barwin to death, but I’d rather have seen Brandon Graham attacking Polumbus, especially when the Eagles got the lead.

OFFENSE

MISC

* 4 of 11 on 3rd downs

* Only 2 of 4 in the Red Zone. Needs work.

* 5 more plays of 20 or more yards.

Players

QB 

FOLES - Good game. 27-42-325. 3 TDs. no picks. Took a licking and kept on ticking. Wasn’t sacked once, but he got hit over and over and over. There were a couple of times when I thought Foles might be seriously hurt. He toughed it out and didn’t miss a single play.

Made a really good throw in the mid-2nd. Rolled to his left and saw Ertz over the middle. Threw a strike to him. Hit Matthews for a TD in the mid-2nd. Jordan was wide open and Nick made a good throw. Easy TD. Had a nice play late in the half. Got some pressure and moved to his left. Hit Matthews on a crossing route. Made a good throw on the move. On the next play he sat in the pocket and waited until he found Maclin downfield. Hit him with a good throw for a gain of 26. Made a poor decision late in the half. Threw a short pass to Sproles, who was tackled quickly. That forced the Eagles to burn their final timeout and make the decision of whether to kick a FG or risk running one more play. Kelly let Foles and the offense have that play, which turned out great. Hit Matthews for a TD. Matthews was in the left slot. He was between 2 defenders in the end zone. Foles put the ball above/behind the LB in front of Matthews and gave his guy a chance to make the play. Matthews did just that can plucked the ball for the TD. Aggressive throw, but not dumb. That was a smart risk.

One of his best throws was to Matthews down the seam in the early 3rd. Ball was incomplete due to PI, but Foles put the ball right there. Threw an odd pass to Cooper a couple of plays later. Was either way off target or they weren’t on the same page. Made a dreadful decision in the late 3rd. Was trying to avoid a sack and saw Shady. Somehow failed to notice the NT right there between them. Threw the ball to him, but the NT thankfully dropped it. Had Mac wide open for a long TD in the early 4th. Saw him and threw the ball that way. Terrible pass that was way off target. Was a vertical route and Foles put it too wide. Very odd. Made a clutch throw to Mac on 3rd/8 on go-ahead drive. WAS ran stunt and DL looped around wide and came free at Foles. Hit him just as Nick let go of the pass. Didn’t make a perfect throw, but gave his guy a chance to make a play and Mac did just that. Real impressive play by Mac and Foles. TD to Mac was a good throw. Put the ball out in front of him. Good touch on it. Made a poor throw on the next-to-last drive. Had Celek open on a corner route inside the 10. Put the ball too far downfield and Brent couldn’t catch up to it. Should have been a big play, and an easy one. Great design. Pressure from Kerrigan kept Nick from setting his feet.

Had one final highlight play in him on the final drive. The Eagles weren’t running the ball at all so Kelly called a bootleg pass play and had Foles out of the pocket. He could dump the ball short, throw to a TE or run. Casey was open and Nick made a terrific throw, putting the ball where only Casey could get it. He did and that was the game.     Read the rest of this entry »


All the Right Moves

Posted: September 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 236 Comments »

Every now and then the Eagles have an offseason that draws universal praise. This was not one of those years. Fans and the media didn’t like the moves at Safety. The lack of a serious move at kicker bothered many. Mark Sanchez was seen as a terrible addition. And so on.

I wrote about the offseason moves for BGN. Simply put, without the new guys the Eagles would have no shot at 3-0. To this point, it sure looks like the Eagles made a lot of good moves. Obviously time is needed before knowing how the players will fit long term, but you can get an idea of how some guys look right away.

Beyond the players the team added, the Eagles made some smart choices in who they kept around. There was a lot of discussion as to whether the team should keep Chris Polk or not. They did, despite an injured summer, and Polk looked very good as the KOR last Sunday. There was some question about whether the Eagles should deal Brandon Graham. They kept him around and he’s playing well.

The big move that everyone would love to talk about is 1st round pick Marcus Smith. I need to cover him in a post where I can look at the whole situation and provide some context. It is absolutely fair to be disappointed in him so far, but that hardly means he is a bust or bad pick. He needs time to show what he can do.

* * * * *

Skins vs Giants. One argument says to pull for the Skins since we already beat them.

Another argument says to pull for the 1-2 Giants since they look like less of a threat.

Thoughts?

* * * * *

I’m behind schedule with my DGR. I’ll be posting that a bit later this evening. Sorry for the delays. I started a new job back in February and matching my work schedule with my writing schedule hasn’t been the easiest task. I’ll get better as the season goes along.

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The Unknown Side of Sports Science

Posted: September 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 194 Comments »

Today we’ve got a guest column from Mark Saltveit, the Chip Kelly guru from Oregon. Mark wrote about Sports Science and took a look at an interesting question…are there consequences to all the benefits the Eagles get from that program?

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By Mark Saltveit

There’s a guy in Atlanta who hotwired his kitchen stove so that he could make a proper pizza using the self-cleaning cycle, which gets you up to 800-900º instead of the usual 525º. He melted down a couple of ovens in the process, but today Jeff Varasano’s restaurant is rated as one of America’s “elite 8” pizzerias by Rachel Ray.

Chip Kelly is doing something similar with the Eagles, reinventing the entire training process with amazing results, and it’s hard not to be excited by what he’s getting out of his players. But as injuries pile up, it might be wise to ask whether he’s melting a few ovens himself.

Veteran cornerback Cary Williams got a lot of ridicule for complaining that practices are too hard, and he deserved it. (He apologized yesterday for going public, but didn’t disavow his comments.) Chip Kelly is not the first coach to push his players hard, and he’s not the first one to win by doing it.

Williams’ griping just sounds like excuses from a 29-year guy who seems to have lost a step, and wasn’t that great to begin with. (Nnamdi Asomugha was 30 when his skills quickly deteriorated.) Williams gave up the two longest receptions in Sunday’s game against Washington, and didn’t even practice much last week; he was limited with a hamstring injury. So why was he so tired?

Cary is almost guaranteed to be a free agent next spring. Besides his declining performance and what Chris Wesseling calls “jabbering,” his contract balloons to $8 million in 2015, and the Birds can definitely do better in the free agent market for that kind of money. It’s hard to understand what he thinks he’s accomplishing by announcing that he can’t handle rigorous workouts. It just makes him sound old.

So Cary Williams’ complaints seem pretty worthless. And yet, maybe we should take a breath and ask whether the Eagles’ cutting edge sports science program might be pushing players a bit too far.

Williams’ specific arguments don’t make any sense – not only are the Eagles 3-0, but they’ve outscored opponents 74-24 in the second half. Cary claims that the Birds “have no legs” at the start of the game. Where do they get new ones during halftime?

Against Washington, the defense faced 45 first half snaps, but at the end of the game safety Malcolm Jenkins (26) and slot CB Brandon Boykin (24) ran around like excited toddlers and shut Washington down.

But let’s face it. The whole point of sports science is getting more out of players, and it’s possible that the Eagles are taking too much out of them. The team was remarkably free of injuries in 2013 – according to Football Outsiders, they had the second lowest total of Adjusted Games Lost at 33.6, and nearly half of those were due to Jeremy Maclin’s ACL tear in training camp.

This year, however, has been a disaster. By the end of the Washington game, Philadelphia was missing three of its top four inside linebackers and four of seven offensive linemen to injuries.

Because the Eagles are venturing into unexplored territory with their heavy practice reps, year-round (voluntary) training and sports science, they should reconsider whether pushing players to the extremes of their ability is leading to injuries or shortening careers.

Chip Kelly had great success at the University of Oregon with his fast tempo and sports science approach – a combination of old-fashioned good nutrition and hydration with high-tech monitoring and workout machines. But college rosters are twice as big as those in the NFL, and the Ducks used extensive rotation (especially on the defensive line) to keep players fresh.

Just as importantly, college players are young. The Ducks didn’t have any 30-something veterans to keep healthy, but the Eagles have 12 (almost one-fourth of the roster). The average age of the injured offensive linemen (Kelce, Mathis, Barbre and Tobin) is 28, and it’s fair to wonder if Sports Science director Shaun Huls needs to dial down his program for the viejos. Then again, the injured ILBs are 23, 23 and 25. So perhaps age isn’t the issue.

At his press conference Monday, Chip Kelly noted that the Eagles monitor each player and individually tailor their training on a daily basis. In fact, this is the main point of the elaborate machinery used in the sports science program – not to build strength and quickness faster, but to gauge player’s recovery from traditional workouts. (They also fill out a daily questionnaire about how they feel and report any soreness or injuries.)

If you listen closely to players’ comments about sports science, the word “recovery” comes up again and again. Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll recently told Tim McManus of Birds 24/7 that

We have a whole staff dedicated just to getting us to recover. Every single day when we come in here in the morning, we have assessments that we do to monitor how our body is feeling from the day before and I think that’s something that no other team in the league is doing right now. It helps us as far as eliminating injuries that most other places you wouldn’t be able to recognize until it’s too late.

Last year, Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated’s MMQB described several of the machines that the Eagles have invested in, from the OmegaWave machine to Polar Systems’ heart monitors. She wrote that

The Polar system generates post-workout recovery reports, with a timestamp for when an athlete can next handle more training. … And the Omegawave system uses an electrocardiogram transmitter and a pair of electrodes that tap into the central nervous system to measure stress, fatigue and capacity for aerobic or anaerobic exercise.”

The Eagles are very tight-lipped about the program, but competitive runner Susan Legacki reviewed the OmegaWave system last year for Lava Magazine, and gave a great description of how it works.

Each morning the machine gives you scores in five categories: cardiac readiness, resting heart rate, stress, recovery pattern, and adaptation reserves. The last two scores in particular tell you whether you can handle a high-intensity workout, or should back off to prevent injury.

In Legacki’s case, the machine helped her train through (and heal) a foot injury coming off of one race and building up to another. Mostly, it tempered her burning desire to get back training with a caution that injury risk was higher than normal on two of the five days.

So, in theory, the sports science program is designed precisely to avoid workout injures and should help players, not hurt them. And yet, a source in Nike’s research department told me that the Omegawave – which has been available since the late 1990s — has never really caught on, in part because there is no solid evidence that it works as advertised.

I’m not saying that this is some kind of Flowers For Algernon-type deal, where the same technique that improves ability leads to quicker deterioration. But the Eagles may be putting too much stock in unproven technology, and the size of their injury report is some real-world data that should make them be cautious moving forward.

Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t Maybe it works for most players, but not for everyone. We just don’t know.

There is another, more subtle possibility. The sports science program may lead to injuries precisely because it works so well. I’ll explain.

Much has been written about how stretching before exercise does not actually prevent injuries, in part because the increased flexibility allows athletes to extend themselves further, and because stretching appears to mask muscle pain.

In a similar way, sports science may be the victim of its own success. Players can do more, and with the excitement of the game and the rewards for elite performance, they may be pushing their bodies further than is wise, into dangerous territory.

Consider the screen pass to Jeremy Maclin Sunday, an 80-yard touchdown brought back to Washington’s 40 due to an illegal block in the back by Eagles center Jason Kelce. The penalty obscured an incredible sprint by Kelce. At 6’3, 295 pounds, he was running neck and neck with speedy WR Maclin (6’0, 198) sixty yardsdownfield from the line of scrimmage.

That is phenomenal athleticism, and I have no doubt that sports science helped make it possible. But Kelce left the game just after halftime with a sports hernia that will likely keep him off the field until December. The exuberance of an emotional game and his ability to run faster and longer than anyone else his size may have led him to literally bust a gut in the pursuit of victory.

Is sports science leading to injuries, or simply allowing players to push themselves further, into the red zone? We simply don’t know. It’s way too early to say.  But as impressive as the results of Chip Kelly’s programs have been, the Eagles need to be cautious about how hard they push their players. They don’t have that many ovens left on the roster.

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Mark Saltveit is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (Diversion Books: 2013) and the upcoming “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books: Nov. 2014).  He writes regularly about health and science for the Oregon Bioscience Association, and about football for Philly.comBleedingGreenNation.comIgglesBlitz, and FishDuck.com.  His work has also appeared in Harvard Magazine and the Oregonian newspaper.

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Changes Up Front

Posted: September 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 162 Comments »

In the previous post I speculated about some different OL configurations. Nothing is official, but based on practice and some comments by David Molk, it sounds like there will be changes on the line.

It sounds like the OL will look like this:

LT Jason Peters
LG Matt Tobin
OC David Molk
RG Dennis Kelly
RT Todd Herremans

This is my favorite of the possibilities.

Tobin is a player the Eagles like He has yet to play on offense during the season, but had an outstanding spring and was great this summer. He was the best player on the #2 OL. His run blocking was especially impressive. He spent almost all of his time at LG so that is a spot where he is very comfortable.

You also have to remember that the OL will be getting  a boost next Monday when Lane Johnson returns. The key spot to solve is LG, since that isn’t a 1 or 2 game situation. That is 6 or so weeks. Tobin could take that spot and prove to be a good fit until Evan Mathis returns.

Jason Kelce is out for a while, but there isn’t much question about replacing him. David Molk has that spot.

As to the right side of the line, I think the key was getting Andrew Gardner off the field. He struggled on Sunday. You put Dennis Kelly at RG and that frees up Herremans to slide outside to RT. Kelly played RG this spring and summer. He played some there in 2012. While he doesn’t have a ton of experience, he’s more comfortable there than at LG. Herremans has played RT for a full season so moving out there isn’t a huge deal for him. There is some adjustment, but he should play better than Gardner did on Sunday.

One of the benefits to this group is that they should do a good job of run blocking. Tobin and Peters give the Eagles a good pair of run blockers on the left side. Herremans is athletic enough to make the reach blocks that the Eagles need out of an OT. Kelly has some good moments in the run game, but must get more consistent.

Hopefully Lane Johnson will return for Game #5 and Herremans can slide back into RG. That would be another boost to the OL and would help solidify the group until Mathis and Kelce are able to return in 6 or so weeks.

* * * * *

Why doesn’t Brandon Boykin start?

Many of you think the coaches are nuts for not starting him on the outside. Bill Davis and Chip Kelly talk about how the Nickel Corner is a starting position, but the bottom line is that the slot guy plays maybe half of the snaps. Call that what you want, but it isn’t the same.

Davis addressed the situation in his PC today. Reporters peppered him on the subject. They aren’t happy with a talented player like Bokin sits and Bradley Fletcher starts.

I totally get where they are coming from. But I also get the coaches. They don’t have Fletcher out there for the heck of it.

Playing the slot and outside are 2 different things. Just because you excel at one does not mean you will excel at the other. Remember how lost DRC was when he tried to play the slot? Boykin looks very good in the slot. So did Joselio “MmmBop” Hanson. Did you ever want him on the outside?

I know that Boykin is more athletic than Hanson so that isn’t a completely fair comparison. The point is that just because you’re good at one  spot doesn’t make it automatic that you’ll be good at a similar spot.

Let’s review for a minute. The slot or Nickel corner is an inside position. The player spends more time in traffic. He needs quickness and agility. Most routes are going to be 20 yards or less so long speed isn’t critical. He isn’t going to be part of Cover 3 or Cover 4 as much. The slot will play a lot of man-to-man. The slot corner is more of a playmaker position. You can blitz more and you get plenty of passes coming your way.

That is a perfect situation for Boykin.

Outside corner is very different. You play a mixture of man and zone. You play a mixture of press and off coverage. Sometimes you are responsible for half or a third of the deep field. Bigger corners have a longer stride and can eat up ground while on the move. You tend to face bigger receivers and that makes a difference. Covering Wes Welker is very different from Dez Bryant.

My guess is that the coaches feel Boykin excels in the slot, but that he would be more of an average player on the outside. Fletcher isn’t exactly lighting it up out there, but if you bench him then Bokin is splitting time between the outside and the slot. That can be done, but that doesn’t make it the right move.

I would be fine with the coaches putting Boykin outside. I really don’t have a strong preference. I just don’t see it as the slam dunk move that so many others do. I trust this coaching staff. If they don’t make a move, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. If this was the Castillo Gang, I’d be much more likely to disagree with the use of players.

The player I want to see more of at LCB is Nolan Carroll.

The Eagles do need corner help in the offseason.

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