Draft Talk Begins

Posted: January 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 239 Comments »

We know the coaching staff. That means it is time to turn our attention to the team.

We don’t exactly know what the team needs are for now since we haven’t seen the Eagles make cuts and free agent moves. I think it would be fair to say that QB, OL and WR are key areas. And with the Eagles moving to the 4-3, there will be a need for DL depth.

All star games are getting underway today. The Shrine Game is at 4pm on the NFL Network. I wrote about the Shrine Game and some interesting players here. That was a generic piece and not Eagles-centric.

The NFLPA Game is on ESPN2 at 6pm. Here are the rosters for that.

The Shrine Game is a mixture of a few mid-rounders, some late rounders and plenty of UDFAs. The NFLPA game is a few late rounders, mostly UDFAs and some guys who will be playing the final football game of their lives. To put things in Eagles terms, Earl Wolff was at the Shrine Game and Matt Tobin was at the NFLPA game.

As much as you want to focus on positions, in games like these, focus on the best players.

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The Senior Bowl practices start on Tuesday. That’s the big game and the one where you can look for talent and positions. I’ll be heading down on Monday.  I will write about some players to watch in the next day or two. ESPN will televise the practices and the NFL Network will have nightly practice recaps.

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I posted some random draft notes the other day. I can’t recall if I linked to them so here they are.

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One thing I am excited about is now finding 1-gap defenders for the Eagles.

Penn State star Carl Nassib could be an excellent fit at DE in Schwartz’s 4-3. He loves high-motor guys with great length. That’s Nassib.

Someone like DT Sheldon Day of Notre Dame (6-2, 285) could make sense. He would have been a tweener for the 3-4, too light for NT, too short for DE. Now, Day could be an excellent fit for a DL that needs some depth.

In recent years, there just weren’t as many DL who fit what the Eagles wanted to do. Now that is completely different. Every guy who can shoot a gap and blow up a play in the backfield becomes a potential target.

That excites me.

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All kinds of oddball rumors going around Twitter today. Be careful who you trust at this time of the year. And make sure you aren’t getting fooled by a fake Twitter account.

The best piece of advice…if the news doesn’t pass the smell test, it probably isn’t true.

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Free Agency Talk

Posted: January 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 261 Comments »

As we head into the offseason, we’ll talk a lot more about the coaching staff and their new ideas. We also have the draft to discuss at great length. There is also free agency, which is today’s topic.

Eliot Shorr-Parks is reporting that the Eagles are focused on working out contract extensions for OT Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz and DL Vinny Curry. This seems pretty obvious, but it is good to hear

Johnson has started at RT for 3 years. He is a good player that we keep hoping will take that next step and become a great player. He does have great moments. There will be some plays where he gets excellent movement and creates a big area for the RB to hit.

Ertz is similar to Johnson. He is a good player, but still needs to take that next step to be great. Ertz has flashes where he looks like he could be a special player. He was incredibly productive in the last 4 games in 2015.

vs BUF – 5-98
vs ARZ – 8-78-1
vs WAS – 13-122
at NYG – 9-152

Without even doing the research, I’m willing to bet eleventy billion dollars that L.J. Smith never had a 4-game stretch anything like that.

Vinny Curry is the most interesting name. He wasn’t in the top 15 tacklers on defense. He only had 3.5 sacks and 4.5 TFLs. But he had 21 hurries, which ranked him second only to Fletcher Cox. The one stat that isn’t kept is disruption. Curry is a very disruptive player. He explodes off the ball and can occupy blockers, which frees up another rusher. He draws holding calls. His penetration can force the QB to throw early or move in the pocket, possibly closer to another rusher.

Curry was a backup DL and valuable role player for Bill Davis. He could become a key starter for Jim Schwartz. Whether the Eagles are in the 4-3 or a 1-gap 3-4 system, Curry is a guy you can play a lot. Let him attack gaps and he is going to be very disruptive. He is not meant to play in a 2-gap system, which asks DL to strike, read, find the ball and then attack. That single second where he’s looking for the ball neutralizes his burst, which is what makes him special.

All 3 of these players are homegrown and are the kind of guys you want to make part of the long term core of your team.

It is also interesting to note that the Eagles retained the position coaches for Ertz and Johnson. I think one of the reasons they did that is because Jeff Stoutland and Justin Peelle did such a good job with their young pupils. Developing young talent is crucial to winning in the NFL.

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Jimmy Bama wrote a piece on 5 free agents who fit the Eagles. The names all make sense.

His piece got me to thinking about whether the Eagles should go after big free agents this offseason. You could bring in a couple of key FAs to help plug holes. Or you could focus on just adding second tier players. The thought would be to let this become Doug Pederson’s team by letting him build it up.

The question really becomes how Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman and Pederson view the 2016 season. Are they trying to win as many games as possible or are they trying to build for the future.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer to that question. Really the key is how they execute the plan they decide to go with. Can they find the right guys to make that plan work?

The best team isn’t the biggest names. Sometimes it isn’t even the most talented players. You need the right set of players for the schemes being used. Chemistry and fit are crucial. The last thing you want to do is pay someone big money and have them end up eating lunch in their car. Right?

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The Eagles hired John DeFilippo to be the QBs coach. This seems like a very good move. He was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2015 and previously was the QBs coach for the Raiders. He got rookie Derek Carr to play well in Oakland. I’m blown away by the fact he got Matt McGloin to perform effectively for the Raiders prior to that.

DeFilippo did coach Mark Sanchez back in 2009. It will be interesting to see if Sanchez sticks around or the Eagles cut him. I hope they let him go. There was no growth from 2014 to 2015.

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There are reports that Rory Segrest is going to be the DL coach. He held that role with the Eagles back in 2009 and 2010, before being fired. He went back to being a college coach and worked at Samford from 2011-2013. The past couple of years he was at Arkansas as their DL coach.

I was never a fan of Segrest. I didn’t think he had a strong enough background to be coaching in the NFL. Having him come back to the league after successful stints at a small college and then SEC school makes me feel better about him.

When Segrest was here before, he was teaching the DTs how to 2-gap on base plays and then having the DL attack from Nickel and Dime looks. This time around he would be teaching 1-gap principles the whole way through. That makes me more comfortable as well. It also helps that he would be working under Jim Schwartz, who has a strong history with successful DL.

If Segrest is the guy, I can live with it. Who knows…maybe he’ll prove to be a better coach this time around. I certainly hope that’s the case.

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Staff Almost Set

Posted: January 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 462 Comments »

Doug Pederson announced Jim Schwartz as his DC on Tuesday. Today the Eagles announced most of the rest of the staff.

If you want bios on the staff, here are the PE.com notes.

I’ll offer my thoughts on the different groups. First up, the offense. Frank Reich is a solid choice to be the OC. Reich has played in and worked in multiple offenses. He has a lot of experience with QBs who audible. That sounds like it will be a key element for Pederson and the Eagles offense.

Reich is probably also a good fit in the sense that he’s not new to the NFL, but also isn’t so old that he’s very set in his ways. He will work with Pederson to do whatever works with the Eagles personnel. I think bringing back Stoutland, Peelle and Staley is smart. Stoutland developed Lane Johnson into a good RT. He did good things with Andrew Gardner prior to the injury last year. Even Dennis Kelly showed some flashes. Peelle had Zach Ertz playing at a high level last year. Staley is a coach the Eagles are very high on. They just didn’t think he was quite ready to make the leap to being a head coach.

Greg Lewis is an interesting choice to coach the WRs. He was a backup in college and carved out a role for himself in the NFL. Lewis is the kind of overachiever that often makes a good coach. He coached in college and just started working in the NFL this year. That might be an issue, but his 8-season playing career wipes out the need to grind away for years. He could turn out to be an excellent coach.

There were reports that John DeFilippo would  become the Eagles QB coach. He was the Browns OC this year. He has coached in college and the NFL and has a pretty good reputation.

I like the defensive staff quite a bit. I love Schwartz as the DC. He runs an attacking defense and is a veteran coach who can run the defense all on his own. Ken Flajole is a good LBs coach. He has been a DC in the league before. Tim Hauck played in the NFL for more than a decade and has coached in both college and the NFL. I think it was smart to bring back Undlin. Eric Rowe played pretty well this year. Ed Reynolds and Jaylen Watkins showed promise.

There is no DL coach yet.

I like the staff because it is an interesting mixture of coaches. You have someone like Phillip Daniels who is trying to start his coaching career working alongside veterans like Schwartz and Flajole. You have Eugene Chung as an up and coming coach learning from Stoutland. Chung worked in Philly under Howard Mudd and one of these days will be an OL coach himself.

These coaches have some familiarity with the players. Chung coached Kelce, Peters and Kelly when he was here before. Schwartz coached Ced Thornton and Brandon Graham in the Senior Bowl. Flajole coached Malcolm Jenkins for a season in New Orleans.

The biggest thing that sticks out to me is how many of these coaches are former NFL players.

Daniels – 15 years
Pederson – 14 years
Reich – 14 years
Hauck – 13 years
Staley – 10 years
Peelle – 10 years
Lewis – 8 years
Chung – 5 years

Compare that with Kelly’s staff. You had Duce and Peelle, That’s it. I’m not saying one is right and one is wrong. I just think it is interesting to see such a stark difference in the 2 groups.

Pederson might be new to being a head coach, but his staff has a ton of experience as players and/or coaches. These guys know the NFL.

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Did you watch Dave Spadaro’s interview with Schwartz? Good stuff. This got me excited.

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The Eagles officially released Bill Davis today. I think he is an good guy and has ability as a coach. He’s had some really tough circumstances in his NFL career. In SF, he helped head coach Mike Nolan rebuild the defense. They were awful, but Nolan really ran the defense. Davis had limited power.

He then ran the Cardinals defense in 2009 and 2010. They stuck with the scheme that Clancy Pendergast had put in place.

Davis came to Philly and finally got 3 years to run a defense. The problem is that he was running the scheme that Chip Kelly wanted (3-4, 2-gap). He also had to deal with the up-tempo attack and the effects that had on his defense.

Davis is not nearly as bad as some of his detractors would make him out to be. That said, his results aren’t good.

I have to imagine Davis will lay in bed thinking about 3 things from this year. His defense was ranked pretty high before a few things happened. First, Jordan Hicks got hurt. That had a huge impact on the defense. Sam Bradford got hurt. The worst games came with Sanchez at QB. When the offense struggled, the defense had no chance. Finally, Davis made the decision to move Malcolm Jenkins out of the slot in the TB/DET games. If those 3 things were different, who knows what kind of season this defense might have had.

I’ll always be grateful to Davis for giving me the 2014 shutout of the Giants.

27-0

Heaven.

Good luck, Bill. I hope things turn out better in your next stop.

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New Guys

Posted: January 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 399 Comments »

Say hello to Coach P and his new pal Jimmy. They’re here to save the Eagles.

Okay, that might be overstating things a bit, but Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz are here to return the Eagles, who went 7-9 in the weakest division in the NFC, to being a legitimate playoff team and title contender. This team was talented enough that “rock bottom” for them meant consecutive blowout losses. Rock bottom for most teams is a 2 or 3-win season. That said, this team was flawed enough that they had chance after chance to save their season and seemed to find different ways to blow games just about every time.

Doug Pederson had his introductory press conference on Tuesday (you can watch the whole thing here) and it was up and down. You could tell he was a bit nervous. Pederson stumbled over some of his words and offered strange answers to a few questions. Most notably, he talked about how the Chiefs moved the ball slowly in their playoff loss to NE because they wanted to score, but not leave time on the clock for Tom Brady. That doesn’t make much sense at all. The losing team always wants the game to last as long as possible. That gives you more chances to score and make up ground.

Pederson wasn’t the head coach so we don’t know just how much he agreed with the strategy, if that is really what they were thinking. Remember that he is an Andy Reid disciple. They protect the players and take the blame. KC was missing Jeremy Maclin and Alex Smith wasn’t exactly slinging darts around the field. If you can only move 4 yards at a time, you do that. Let’s move on from that.

Pederson gave some generic answers. He wants his team to be tough, to work hard every day and to be aggressive. I’ve heard debate team coaches use the same description for their squad.

I hated the answer Pederson gave when he talked about not having specific schemes, but rather shaping things around his players. No, no, no. You absolutely need base schemes that you believe in. You tailor and adjust components of those schemes to fit the current players, but you must have schemes that guide your personnel decisions and are based on your philosophy. Trying to adjust every season to the players you have is not the way to go unless your name is Bill Belichick and you are a coaching freak. Mortal coaches need schemes. I hope Pederson simply meant that he’ll adjust his playbook to the personnel at hand. He better have some core beliefs and plays that he will build around.

I did like Pederson talking about creatively using the players on offense. He talked about lining up guys in different roles and different spots. He talked about not being static, as in RCB vs LCB or Riley Cooper almost always being on the left side and Jordan Matthews mostly being in the slot. Move players around. Mix things up so you don’t become static and predictable. Chip was very disappointing in this aspect.

I liked it when Pederson talked about giving the QB freedom at the line of scrimmage. Pederson is a former NFL QB and I’m sure he would have loved to call his own plays. KC gave Alex Smith a lot of freedom at the line and he helped the team get red hot and make the postseason.

Pederson will improve with the media as he gets more practice and grows into the role. I watched press conferences for other candidates during the hiring process and none of them were polished in front of the TV camera. As long as he’s comfortable with the players and commands their attention, he’s good to go.

We got introduced to new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Les Bowen covered that.

JIM SCHWARTZ, introduced Tuesday as the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, said he doesn’t want to be typecast as someone who requires a 4-3 setup or a Wide 9 alignment of his defensive ends, though he has used those elements to great success in Tennessee, Detroit and Buffalo.

 Schwartz said the biggest constant in his career has been that he has coached teams that were strong up front, and it all flows from that.

“If you can generate rush without blitzing, it really gives you an advantage as a playcaller,” said Schwartz, who turns 50 in June. “There’s nothing worse, as a defensive playcaller, than knowing you have to blitz to get pressure on the quarterback . . . I’ve never labeled myself a Wide 9 guy . . . There’s 32 teams in the league that line up in a Wide 9 at some time or another.

“I’d say if you want to label a defensive style or front there, it would be ‘attack.’ It’s not a read-and-react system. It’s not a lateral, line of scrimmage – we want to attack, we want to knock back, we want to put pressure on the quarterback, we want to create negative plays.

“I like this group (for that). Again, that’s very attractive. Fletcher Cox. (And) I know he’s a free agent, but Cedric Thornton. Vinny Curry, (also a) free agent. Connor Barwin. Those are guys that can do that. Brandon Graham, I had him at the Senior Bowl, man; he was my MVP. I think we helped him get drafted (13th overall) in the first round. He might owe me a little bit of that signing bonus. I think he had three or four sacks in that game.

“Those guys all fit that style. They’re ‘attack’ players. If we can get after the quarterback without having to blitz, we’ll be in a great position.”

I wish Schwartz had come right out and said he would run the 4-3. It makes me nervous that he wouldn’t commit to that.

That said, I can live with the 3-4 if it is a 1-gap, attacking style. Wade Phillips does a great job with a 1-gap 3-4. Some coaches love the 3-4 because it gives you more creative options for who to rush. You can send any 4 guys from the front seven and you aren’t blitzing. The offense doesn’t know who to block. I still prefer the 4-3, but as long as the players are flying off the ball, I can live with a slightly different style.

Schwartz was my top choice for DC. Not only does he want to attack, he’s good at it. He had outstanding defenses in Tennessee and Buffalo and dramatically improved the D in Detroit. Having a scheme is good. Being able to teach it is just as critical. Football isn’t just a sheet of paper with X’s and O’s on it. You have to be able to teach the nuances of how to make the scheme work. Schwartz has done that.

The key for me in all of this is finding someone to build a defense around Fletcher Cox, who looks like a special player. Schwartz has had stud DL thrive under his watch. Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Kevin Carter, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Antwan Odom, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Kyle Willams all thrived under Schwartz. There are DTs and DEs in that group. There are big guys and small guys. Suh had his only 10-sack season while playing for Schwartz.

I think Cox, Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan can all thrive in his scheme. Vinny Curry is a free agent, who hopefully the Eagles will now find a way to keep. He is perfect for an attacking defense. I’ll get into specific roles for players in a later post. The point is that I think Schwartz can get the most out of these players. Bill Davis got good production, but he was handcuffed by Chip Kelly wanting a 2-gap scheme. That limited how much you could attack.

For the first time in a long time, I’m genuinely excited by the man running the Eagles defense.

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Schwartz in Town

Posted: January 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 875 Comments »

Jim Schwartz is the man I want to be the Eagles new defensive coordinator. For a couple of days it seemed like that might be a long shot, but things have changed and he is now in Philly to interview for the position. That’s great news.

Doug Pederson wanted Steve Spagnuolo for the job. He is still under contract to the Giants and they denied the Eagles permission to talk to him. My reaction: thank you Giants.

Spags learned under Jim Johnson. He then ran the Giants defense when they won a Super Bowl. That’s the good stuff. Go read Jimmy Bama’s piece for the bad stuff (pretty much everything since 2008). When Spags had a dominant D-line, he ran a good defense. In every other instance, the results were not good. There are ways to argue for Spags, but they involve putting a positive slant on multiple situations.

Back to Schwartz. This isn’t a done deal. There are some reports that make it seem like a done deal.

No offense to Jamie Apody, but it would help if this was a report coming from someone with a strong track record of breaking stories like Les Bowen, Jeff McLane or Reuben Frank. I certainly hope Jamie is right.

Schwartz didn’t work for a team in 2015. He was hoping to get a head coaching job this year or to possibly become the DC of the Titans again. His family lives in Nashville and he’d love to get back there. Tennessee has a DC under contract in Ray Horton, but he is now being allowed to talk to the Browns about a job. He is reportedly upset because the Titans didn’t give him the HC job. If they let him leave, you wonder if Schwartz will try one last time to talk to the Titans.

The fact Schwartz is in Philly to interview tells you he is open to taking the job and wants to find out more about the situation. Jeff Lurie will pay big money to assistants so that side of things could help sway Schwartz. He would also likely have autonomy over the defense. Doug Pederson would run the offense and oversee the team, but Schwartz would be left alone to do things his way. Pederson saw Andy Reid treat Jim Johnson that way and it worked great for everyone.

Some people are worried about the Wide-9. Don’t worry about that. I’ll write plenty about it if/when Schwartz officially gets the job. The key thing you need to realize is that Schwartz is a veteran DC who has run Top 5 units for multiple teams.

Doug Farrar of SI wrote a piece on the Bills defense from December of 2014. They had just dominated Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. And that defense finished 11th in the league against the run so it isn’t like they were weak there. Overally they finished 4th in yards and points. Think how fun it would be for the Eagles to have a defense that could finish Top 10 in points and/or yards.

Schwartz would not magically come to Philly and make the defense great. He would still need more talent. He would have a good DL to work with, which is the key to success with the 4-3.

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Doug Pederson was officially hired today. There will be a press conference on Tuesday at 2pm.

This PE.com story has a cool video in it that breaks down Pederson’s career as a player and coach. I have to admit enjoying some of those old Eagles highlights. If they ever do a video like this for Tim Hauck, I might have to seek medical attention. That might be too much fun.

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