Scoring

Posted: October 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 255 Comments »

The Eagles lead the NFL in scoring.

Think about that for a second. Nick Foles and the offense have been inconsistent this year. They have turned the ball over too much. When they do hold on, the team has struggled in the Red Zone. The Eagles are kicking too many FGs. But the offense is doing enough to keep points on the board.

The defense has produced 3 TDs, but hasn’t been a takeaway machine. Malcolm Jenkins has all 3 INTs. He did run one back for a score. DEs Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox each have recovered fumbles and scored.

STs has produced 4 TDs. There is one KOR and one PR for a TD. Two blocked punts were recovered for TDs.

While it is frustrating to see the Eagles offense struggling, it is good that the entire team is making enough plays so that the Eagles can still lead the league in scoring. Football teams are at their best when getting contributions from all over. The Eagles now have weapons all over the team.

Last year you knew you could get big plays from LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Celek/Ertz and the offense. This year the offense is still delivering big plays. But that isn’t where the weapons stop. Darren Sproles is a legit threat to score on every punt return. There isn’t one player who stands out on KORs, but the blocking is improved and Chris Polk showed that he can deliver a big return with the right blocking.

Cody Parkey is a weapon as well. His range means the Eagles don’t have to go as far to be in scoring range. It isn’t just a strong leg, Parkey is an accurate kicker and has only missed 1 FG all year.

Malcolm Jenkins is a playmaker in the middle of the defense. He has 3 INTs, including a pick-6. That was lacking last year. Trent Cole already has 3 FFs this year. 2 of those came on strip-sacks. Cole has never had more than 4 FFs in an entire season. I don’t know if that is something he’s worked on or just happenstance, but the strip-sacks led to 2 TDs.

Last year the defense scored 1 TD and had a pair of safeties. The STs produced 1 TD. Both groups made some plays, but didn’t have the kind of impact the units are having this year. It was up to the offense to score big if the team was going to win.

The defense and STs won’t continue to score TDs at this rate. That would be beyond fluky. If Chip Kelly can get the offense playing to its potential, points from the other units would be more of a bonus than a necessity and would make the Eagles incredibly difficult to beat. For now, it is a good thing the Eagles have more ways to score than they did last year.

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Assessing the Defense

Posted: October 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 169 Comments »

The Eagles gave up 468 yards on Sunday. That’s not good. But look inside the numbers. In the first 43 minutes of the game, the Eagles played good defense and limited the Rams to 7 points and 276 yards. In the final 2 minutes of the 3rd quarter and the entire 4th quarter the Eagles gave up 192 yards and 21 points.

Bill Davis cut back on the blitzing and played a more conventional style. He rushed 4 and had the DBs try to keep everything in front of them. The goal is to make the offense move down the field in short chunks and burn the clock. You hope a sack or holding penalty will put the offense in 3rd and long and that you’ll then be able to get them off the field. This if defensive football 101.

The problem is that the Eagles did a lousy job of playing that way. I’d love to blame one person or position, but this was a group issue. There were mistakes on each level of the defense and from a variety of players. I do think the absence of Mychal Kendricks really hurt the defense in that situation. The one thing you really want when playing like that is speed in the middle of the field. You need defenders who can fly to the ball.

I do think we also need to put some context on the situation. The Titans blew a 25-point lead on Sunday. Detroit and Chicago blew 14-point leads. Atlanta blew a 10-point lead. So did Dallas, but they recovered to win. Tampa blew an 11-point lead. We’ve seen this kind of stuff all year long. The Eagles have 3 big time comeback wins. Dallas trailed the Rams 21-0 a few weeks back and won that game. The Seahawks juggernaut defense couldn’t protect a late lead over Denver and had to go to overtime to win the game. This season has been all about comebacks.

Teams throw the ball better than ever. Getting behind isn’t the scary proposition that it used to be. It also seems like WR play is better than ever. Brian Quick made a really tough catch for the TD against Bradley Fletcher. The week before, the Niners had a handful of incredibly impressive catches. Did you see the grab that Dez Bryant made on Sunday? He made a spectacular sideline grab on 3rd/long. There is no way that catch should have been made.

Defensive backs can be in good if not great position and still get burned. Receivers are just doing insane things this year. You wonder if this is a result of the emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding. We saw a ton of flags this summer. Players have adjusted since then so we aren’t seeing those penalties called over and over, but the lack of downfield contact might be a factor in why WRs are playing so well. They are running free down the field.

Bill Davis said he and the players went over the 4th quarter mistakes very carefully. They covered every detail. That will help with some of the mistakes, but will that make a substantial difference?

The Eagles will have another big lead at some point. It will be interesting to watch a couple of things. Do the Eagles execute better and play smarter? Also, does Davis use the same style or does he decide to keep blitzing and take his chances? I also hope Kendricks is back on the field for the next big lead.

* * * * *

Here is Bill Davis’ PC from Tuesday. Always great to listen to him.

He staunchly defends the CBs, which will upset some folks. I don’t think Davis is being delusional. He explains things in a logical way. And one of his key points is something I touched on above…the Eagles played good defense for most of the game. That final 17 minutes was a disaster and no one denies that. The point is to fix the 17 minutes and not the overall game.

This ties in to something Chip Kelly talked about. Kelly got defensive when discussing the CB situation because the pass defense was a huge problem late in the game…when the Eagles were almost exclusively in Nickel and Dime. You can’t put Boykin at LCB if he’s already on the field in the slot.

The Eagles need better CB play. There is no question about that. But let’s be fair in assessing the CBs. Bradley Fletcher was awful vs the Skins, but played better the next 2 weeks. Cary Williams was awful awful in the season opener. He’s been up and down since then. Theses guys have their good moments. They do make some plays. They were close to receivers on most of the catches on Sunday. They just couldn’t break up those passes. As Chip Kelly pointed out on Monday, the corners need to make those plays. Getting into position is only half the battle. You have to play the ball or the receiver at the moment of the catch. That’s when you can knock the ball away or get the hands/arms of the receiver and prevent him from making the grab. Williams and Fletcher need to start doing a better job of that if they want to have a chance to start anywhere in 2015.

* * * * *

The Eagles are 28th in yards allowed. They are 25th in points allowed.

There was a Twitter argument about whether or not the Eagles had the worst defense in the league. That led to this response.

Just a tad bit of sarcasm there at the end.

I don’t see how anyone can think there is a worse defense than the Jaguars this season. They have been just dreadful.

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Attack Mode

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 352 Comments »

Marty Schottenheimer was a very good, if not great, NFL coach. He developed outstanding teams in Cleveland, Kansas City and San Diego. But Marty never took a team to the Super Bowl. He had 11 teams that won 10 or more regular season games. His career playoff record….just 5-13. One of the biggest problems for Marty is that he played not to lose. Avoid turnovers like the plague. Run the ball. Limit penalties. Use play-action passes to get big plays. Work the clock. Play good defense.

That is a formula for winning. But not building great teams.

Great teams attack. They are bold. They take chances. They play to win.

When the Eagles were up 34-14 on the Rams on Sunday, many people wanted the Eagles to start running out the clock. Chip Kelly wanted more points. The 4th quarter was just beginning. In Kelly’s mind, this wasn’t the time to sit on the lead. This was time to keep attacking and grow the lead. The Eagles drove down into scoring territory, but a fumble by Nick Foles killed the drive and gave the Rams a chance to cut even more into the lead.

Some of you will think Kelly was being careless or dumb with his mindset. I don’t. The offense was working the clock a bit. They weren’t going at hyper-speed. Nick Foles snapped the ball with 12 seconds left on the clock. That was a middle ground between when the Eagles like to snap it and a team trying to maximize the clock.

The Eagles also kept the ball on the ground for the most part. That would keep the clock running. Kelly wanted the clock to run, but he didn’t want his team standing around and going into “don’t lose” mode. The Eagles offense is at its best when it is in rhythm. That means playing with some tempo.

Kelly will work the clock more conservatively in other situations. If the thinks the Eagles can run the 4-minute offense and essentially put the game away, he’ll have Foles really run the clock down before snapping the ball. Kelly is an aggressive coach, but he’s not reckless.

Kelly’s strategy is only going to work if properly executed. Foles fumbled the ball on the verge of FG territory. It would have been interesting to see what happened if he held onto the ball. Would the Eagles have scored a TD and eaten some more clock, leading to a convincing blowout? Maybe there would have been a FG. That would have helped the Eagles, but it wouldn’t necessarily have sealed the game. Or maybe there would still have been a punt and the final result would have been pretty similar.

The Eagles are still a work in progress. As Foles works through his issues and the OL gets better, the offense should do a better job at putting games away in the 4th quarter. There will be other chances. As long as Kelly has weapons, he’s going to keep attacking.

* * * * *

The Eagles made some practice squad moves on Monday.

This is an interesting move for a couple of reasons.

First, Earl Wolff did not play one snap on defense on Sunday. The Eagles had a huge lead and played a ton of pass defense. They didn’t use Wolff in any package. He did get 19 snaps on STs so he was healthy enough to suit up and go block/tackle. Maybe I’m making something out of nothing, but you wonder if the Eagles are souring on Wolff. He is a solid player, but nothing special. And he’s been brittle.

Kovacs, 5-11, 205, is just on the practice squad so this move may simply be about taking a look at a young DB.

Malcolm Jenkins is a good starting FS. Nate Allen is a functional starter who has some good moments and some bad ones. I think the Eagles really hoped Wolff would push him this year, but that’s not come close to happening. The Eagles have Ed Reynolds on the practice squad, but he’s probably still not ready to do anything. Kovacs played in 9 games last year for the Dolphins. He was just a role player, but at least has been on the field in a game and has a couple of Training Camps under his belt. The Eagles can watch Kovacs in practice for a couple of weeks and decide if he might be worth putting on the roster. Or, as I said, maybe he’s just a young guy to check out.

I’m still curious about Wolff and his situation.

The other reason the Kovacs move was interesting…I thought about him while watching Michigan play on Saturday. He was a likable overachiever at Michigan, even to a Penn State fan like me. While watching the Wolverines struggle vs Rutgers, I suddenly wondered whatever happened to Kovacs. I meant to look it up, but was so caught up in the great day of college football that I never got around to that.

Today the Eagles helped me find out what had become of Kovacs. Nice of them.

There is still one opening on the practice squad to be filled.

* * * * *

Good stuff from Chip here.

Talks about the defense.

Talks about the use of CBs in the 4th quarter.

Talks about Shady pulling himself out of the game (happens all the time…all RBs do it).

Always interesting.

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Monday Morning Thoughts on the Game

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 247 Comments »

Early this season I was frustrated with the Eagles because they would fall behind and then make an impressive comeback to win. Yesterday I was frustrated because the Eagles built a big lead and then let the Rams come storming back to make it a tight game. The Eagles still won, but the fun of the 34-7 lead lasted way too short a time for me.

We know this team can overcome a deficit and win.

We know this team can build a big lead.

I have no idea if this team can play a complete game. If you could combine the Jags and Rams games to form the best 4 quarters, the Eagles would look like the best team in football. But that’s not how life works. The Eagles are a talented team. They are playing well enough to be 4-1. But this team hasn’t come close to playing to their potential.

In some ways, that is a good thing. There is nothing good about peaking in September or October. You want to play your best football when it counts, which is later in the season. I believe this team will get better.

How much and how soon…who knows?

* * * * *

One of the positives from the game was the pass rush. They notched 4 sacks and just missed a couple of others. There were a few plays when pressure forced Austin Davis to scramble. The Eagles now have 11 sacks on the year. The Rams are stuck on 1.

Sack differential is a key stat to watch. Last year the Eagles were -9. So far this year they are +5.

* * * * *

Some of you want Darren Sproles to get more carries. You see him fly up the field and wonder why Chip Kelly isn’t feeding him the ball more. I’m fine with giving Sproles more work, but one thing you have to be careful about is understanding context. Defenses get into a rhythm. They know when LeSean McCoy is in the game that they will be chasing him laterally. They get used to that.

Then Sproles comes in and gets a quick hitter up the middle and those guys are caught flat-footed. Chasing Shady around helps to set up Sproles to be more effective with his style. If you start feeding Sproles the ball more, you can’t expect more 20 and 30-yard runs. The defense will adjust to him and there will be some good ones, but also plenty of minimal gains as well.

Any time a player is good in a limited role you have to be careful about projecting the results based on more touches and/or playing time. It is rarely as simple as “just get that guy on the field more”.

I do think Sproles deserves more carries.

* * * * *

Beau Allen has just missed a sack 2 weeks in a row. He is a solid role player who flashes good ability. Allen has heavy, powerful hands that can stun blockers. Bennie Logan has played well at NT, but Allen is going to push him for time in the years ahead.

* * * * *

The Eagles played more small ball on Sunday than they normally do. Foles only threw one deep ball that I remember, and that was picked off. The Eagles threw a lot of screens and quick passes. I thought that was smart. Move the chains and get the ball to your playmakers. Let them make some plays for you.

Unfortunately, no one could really get loose and deliver much in the way of RAC yards. Jeremy Maclin had one good WR screen.

It is amazing how teams have shut down the Eagles ability to throw to Sproles and McCoy. They are not effective at all on screen passes and are struggling on other short throws. I’m sure the patchwork O-line is part of that. You need timing to make those throws work. But defenses have also done a good job of diagnosing the plays and not giving them any chance of success at all.

I would guess that Kelly and the staff will spend some time during the bye week trying to see how/why teams are reading the screens so well right now.

* * * * *

My biggest beef with the 4th quarter defense? The Eagles played their CBs off. Both Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher struggle when playing off. They are much better when pressing. I could see if Bill Davis mixed things up. You never want to do the same thing on every play, but the CBs played off on almost every snap in the 4th quarter.

Why give WRs a free release? Throw off their timing and help the pass rush.

Williams and Fletcher lack the ball skills and athleticism to be really effective at playing off.

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Good LB Play

Posted: October 5th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 118 Comments »

The 3-4 defense needs good LB play for the scheme to work. The LB play last year was all over the place and one of the reasons the defense was so erratic. This year the LBs have played pretty well, which makes it so surprising that the defense has continued to struggle.

Connor Barwin is a natural LB and has played well since signing with the Eagles. He had 2 sacks and a PD today. Trent Cole got off to a slow start last year, not getting a sack until the 9th game. This season he’s got 2.5 sacks and 3 FFs. Cole isn’t a dominant pass rusher anymore, but he has his moments and remains a great effort player. Cole’s strip sack led to a Cedric Thornton TD today.

Brandon Graham has taken a major step forward. I thought the Eagles had to trade him this summer, but they didn’t. And that looks pretty smart. He only has 1 sack, but has played better than that. He’s been an effective pass rusher. He also has 3 TFLs and 2 FFs. Graham is a more well-rounded player than in the past.

The ILBs are also playing well. DeMeco Ryans is playing to his usual level. Mychal Kendricks was having a breakout year before he got hurt. Hopefully he’ll be back for Sunday night. Casey Matthews had the best game of his NFL career today. I know that isn’t saying much, but give the guy credit for having solid game. He was second on the team in total tackles (6) and solo tackles (5). Emmanuel Acho had 3 solo tackles today and has played okay in helping to fill in for Kendricks.

Ryans did get banged up and miss some time today. I’m curious to see if the Rams successful drives late in the game came with Ryans missing.

The Eagles really could have used Kendricks in today’s game. St. Louis threw a bunch of short passes and had players running around the middle of the field. Kendricks speed could have helped on some of those plays. While Matthews and Acho were solid, they aren’t athletic or playmakers. You need that speed when playing a lot of Nickel and Dime, which is what happened when the game got to 34-7.

The Eagles still need more speed in the middle and back of the defense. It will take time to fix that.

* * * * *

Need a good laugh? Enjoy this.

Classic.