Gameday – at GB

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 25 Comments »

A few gameday items.

INACTIVES

QB Nick Foles
OL J Vandervelde
OL D Kelly
WR Jeff Maehl

DL Taylor Hart
S Earl Wolff
CB Jaylen Watkins

Wolff is the only interesting name on the list. He has been disappointing on D and STs and is now watching games while newbie Chris Prosinski takes his place on Sundays.

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There was an interesting report today about a CFL receiver that could be in high demand. Duron Carter, son of Cris Carter, was a major prep star but could not get things worked out in several attempts at college. He eventually ended up in the CFL and has emerged as a star. The report says 10 teams are heavily interested, with the Colts being seen as the favorites. Carter can negotiate with NFL teams in December, but wouldn’t officially sign until February.

The Eagles are not mentioned in the report. But after trying to make a deal for Vincent Jackson a few weeks back, you wonder if the Eagles are interested in trying to add another talented player to the mix. Carter is approximately 6-2, 190 and very talented. At the same time, he isn’t the kind of off-field player that the Eagles have seemed to want in recent years. The reason they could be interested is that he won’t cost a draft pick or a mega-deal.

I tend to think Carter is the kind of player the Eagles would pass on, but you never know.

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The Eagles worked out a couple of QBs this week. Terrelle Pryor and Thad Lewis were in town for a look.

If Foles injury hasn’t healed much in a couple of weeks, the team may put him on IR and add a QB to the mix. Sanchez and Barkley are fine at 1-2, but the team may want a third option in case someone else gets hurt.

Both Lewis and Pryor have starting experience. Pryor is a dynamic athlete while Lewis is more of a pocket passer.

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To Lambeau We Go

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 123 Comments »

Big day. The 7-2 Eagles are at the 6-3 Packers. Everyone is excited by the Eagles success this year, but one concern has been the quality of the competition. The Eagles only have one win against a team with a winning record (the early season victory against the Colts). They came very close to beating SF and Arizona on the road, but lost heartbreakers.

Today the Eagles have a chance to show the world that the 7-2 record is real and they are a good team. A loss would mean more questions about whether the Eagles can beat good teams. This game would mean a lot because there is a real buzz around the Packers right now. I wrote about that in my game preview for PE.com.

I’m excited for this game. I want to see how the Eagles stack up. Going by the numbers, the Eagles actually look like the better team.

I’m optimistic about today. I know it will be a major challenge for Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to deal with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. We’ve seen lesser receivers light up the Eagles. That said, the CBs have played their best football in recent weeks. The timing of this match-up works well for the Eagles.

I’m looking forward to seeing if the Eagles can pressure Rodgers. That’s the key for me. If the CBs have to cover guys while Rodgers stands in a clean pocket, watch out. If the Eagles can continue their recent trend of getting to the QB, that evens things out for the DBs quite a bit.

One of the big angles is how Sanchez will do. I feel confident that he and McCoy and the offense will be fine.

Maybe the Eagles come away with a big win. Maybe Rodgers stays red hot and shreds the defense. Either way, it will be good to come away from this game with a better idea of just how good the Eagles are.

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Domo wrote a good column on the game. His focus was on LeSean McCoy going against the Green Bay Nickel defense.

But there is reason for hope. McCoy has had just two 100-yard rushing performances this season, including a 149-yard game in the Eagles’ 27-0, Week 6 win over the Giants.

Most of the defenses the Eagles have faced have made stopping McCoy their first, second and third priorities. They have stacked the box and stayed in their base defense, even when the Eagles have gone to three-wide receiver sets.

The one notable exception was the Giants, who played nickel almost the entire game, even against two-tight end sets. You saw what happened in that game.

Chip Kelly’s offense is all about creating favorable matchups. He’ll spread you out with three-wide receiver sets, get you to bring in your nickel personnel, then gash your lighter lineup with the run. Or he’ll trot out “12” personnel (two tight ends), get you to play base and then make safeties and linebackers try to cover Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz in space.

When he won the rushing title last season, three-quarters of McCoy’s rushing yards came out of three-wide receiver formations.

The Packers, like the Giants, don’t play much base defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has used his base package only about 20 percent of the time in the first nine games. The Packers have played nickel (five defensive backs) about 65 percent of the time and dime (six defensive backs) 15 percent.

They’ve only given up 13 touchdown passes and have 12 interceptions, but are 30th against the run. Capers stopped the bleeding with his run defense, at least temporarily, last week against Chicago by moving his Pro Bowl outside linebacker, Clay Matthews, inside.

The Packers, who had given up 193 rushing yards in a loss to the Saints the previous game, held the Bears to 55 yards on 24 carries.

Even with Matthews in the middle, the Packers still played very little base defense. They were in nickel or dime almost the entire game. Probably will be again against the Eagles.

“Then again,” McCoy said, “every team shows something on tape and then plays us differently. So we’ll have to see Sunday how that works out for us.”

Center Jason Kelce said it’s not quite as simple as getting a defense to play nickel.

“Nickel is just personnel,” he said. “They could stay in nickel and still get to some fronts and some alignments that would make it very difficult to run as well. Even though it’s less [big] people, they’re still packing the box and putting a lot of guys between the two tackles. That said, I still think, in general, nickel usually is easier to run against.”

A big game from McCoy and the O-line will go a huge way to winning this game. No snow is expected, but it will be a cold, windy day. That’s not always conducive to throwing the ball so the running game could be crucial. And the Eagles are at their best when McCoy is running wild.

Lots of other good nuggets in the column. Make sure to check it out.

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A couple of site notes.

No DGR for the Panthers game. My day job was a bit overwhelming this week. With the boss out of town, I was putting in 11-hour days all week long. I re-watched part of the game, but never had the time to study it the way I like, let alone write 4000-5000 words on the game. No more Monday night games this year so that helps in a huge way. Monday night games are the worst.

Many of you have asked about the H2H shows. Good news. Jimmy Bama is getting a new computer and we’re hoping that will help with the technical problems we had. We’re going to try recording again and see if we can get things working as they did in the past. Rejoice, America!

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Appreciating Connor Barwin

Posted: November 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 146 Comments »

From Chuck Bednarik to Bill Bergey. From Seth Joyner to William Thomas. From Jeremiah Trotter to…Connor Barwin? The Eagles have had a lot of great LBs over the years. I never expected to mention Barwin with those names, but the way he’s playing this year is something else.

I wrote a piece for BGN on Barwin’s season and compared him to Jason Babin. As I said in the piece, Barwin is the anti-Babin. He’s having great individual success, but within the framework of a good defense and in the middle of a winning season. Not to mention, people actually like Barwin. Babin isn’t exactly a beloved figure.

Barwin is on pace to have 19 sacks this year. Clearly, that is a long shot to actually happen. Barwin has had some great games, but he isn’t an explosive pass rusher. He’s not just going to take over many games. Barwin needs the right circumstances to succeed.  It is shocking to see him at 10.5 sacks in only 9 games, but that is a really tough pace to sustain.

While he’s not explosive, Barwin is a good athlete. He’s also smart and is a great effort rusher. One of the reasons that Barwin is thriving this year is that Bill Davis is using him creatively. Davis has Barwin and Trent Cole moving around a lot. They will play OLB, ILB, DE and DT. They rush from the right and left. Both will drop into coverage and Barwin was used as a spy vs Cam Newton on Monday night.

I don’t want to make Barwin out to be JJ Watt or something like that. He’s not. But I do hope people appreciate just how well Barwin is playing this year. And this isn’t a complete anomaly. Barwin hnad 11.5 sacks in 2011. That means that 2 of the last 4 years he has been in double digits. Barwin also is very good at batting passes.

And here is a little something for the ladies out there who can’t get enough of Barwin or rookie NT Beau Allen.

Sweet, huh?

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Chip Kelly’s Plan

Posted: November 13th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 212 Comments »

Fans of the 1980’s show The A-Team will remember Hannibal’s famous line.

Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia with a plan and it seems like it is starting to come together.

* Chip wanted to establish a certain culture. That meant that you had to buy in to his ideas and doing things his way. There wasn’t going to be much compromise on this. Veterans like Brent Celek and Trent Cole bought in completely and instantly. Outsiders like Connor Barwin and Brad Smith fit in right away. An established star like DeSean Jackson did not fit and was gone after one highly productive year. The Eagles offense remains as productive as ever and the team is off to a great start at 7-2.

* Chip wanted assistant coaches that were teachers. Andy Reid’s staff at the end was a bunch of big names that didn’t fit well together. Chip got guys who don’t have egos. They work very well together and more importantly, they work well with the players. The focus on fundamentals has really paid off. There haven’t been nearly as many missed tackles. The team does a better job of blocking and shedding blocks.

* We all cringed when Bill Davis was hired. His track record was a lot closer to awful than awesome. But Chip thought he was the right man for the job. Davis was a leader, communicator and teacher. He had a ton of NFL experience and could run a creative 3-4 attack. Davis also didn’t have a big ego so working closely with Jerry Azzinaro wasn’t going to be an issue with him. Davis is now someone we all love and really want to succeed. His press conferences are better than any assistant the Eagles have ever had. He’s honest and insightful.

* Chip wanted the 3-4…a 2-gap 3-4. Yikes. The Eagles were built for a 1-gap 4-3. All that talent was going to be wasted. Now the Eagles have the makings of a pretty good defense. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have made the conversion to being OLBs. Ced Thornton and Fletcher Cox are good 3-4 DEs. Vinny Curry is a backup in the base, but is a key role player in sub-packages. He’s got a career high 5 sacks and 2 FFs (in 9 games) and numbers don’t do him justice. He is incredibly disruptive.

* Chip wanted takeaways. All coaches do, but some hope and some have a plan. The Eagles have a takeaway in 22 straight games, the longest streak in the NFL. The Eagles lead the NFL in FFs with 15. I’ve always been disappointed with how few FFs the Eagles get. Brian Dawkins was great at stripping the ball, but not the pass rushers. Trent Cole had 13 FFs in 8 years. Under Kelly/Davis he has 6 in 1.5 years. That’s not an accident. The players are being aggressively taught how to strip the ball and it is paying off. The Eagles had a bunch of INTs last year. That total is way down this season. Sacks and incompletions are up so it would seem that QBs are eating the ball or throwing it away rather than taking chances.

* Chip wanted big players. Jordan Matthews is one big slot receiver. And he’s used his size to get the best of smaller DBs. That has really shown up in the Red Zone. Jason Avant had 13 TD catches in 8 years. Matthews has 5 in half of a rookie season. In 2011 and 2012 combined, DeSean had 6 TDs. Size does matter in the Red Zone. The big corners match up well with big receivers. Kelvin Benjamin didn’t come alive last week until his team was down 38 points. Andre Johnson was quiet the week before. There are some receivers who have posted big numbers, but the Eagles have done well against bigger guys. Kelly also likes big corners because he values long arms and the ability to break up passes. Bradley Fletcher just had 5 PDs on Monday night.

* Chip wanted a tough, physical team. Many people watched Oregon casually and came away talking about the shiny helmets, neon uniforms and long TDs. They saw a modern Run ‘n Shoot kind of team. Kelly has quickly changed that perception. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last year. They are 13th this season, but that ranking will improve with the OL being healthy. Brent Celek has become one of the better blocking TEs in the league. Riley Cooper had a devastating block on Sproles TD run the other night. Even Jeremy Maclin has become a good blocker. The defense is built more on size than speed. Connor Barwin tossed OL around like rag dolls on Monday night (and it was beautiful). Fletcher Cox overwhelms blockers at least a couple of times every game. And pity the TE who tries to block Trent Cole on a run play.

* Chip wanted the STs to be special. He spent a lot of time and effort on STs last year, but the results were far from ideal. Some saw this as failure. Chip saw the foundation of a great unit. You don’t fix something over night. The team added Donnie Jones, Brad Smith and James Casey in 2013. Brandon Boykin emerged as a great gunner. This year there was another wave of good STers. Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman were signed as free agents. The team traded for Darren Sproles and Cody Parkey. Undrafted rookie Trey Burton has been a key contributor. This year the Eagles have the best STs in the NFL. That’s not just my opinion. They are number one in DVOA per Football Outsiders. The Eagles have blocked or deflected several punts. They have a FG block. Darren Sproles leads the league in PRs and has 2 TDs. Chris Polk ran a KO back for a TD. Jones continues to be a good Punter and Parkey has been a revelation as the PK.

Chip’s plan isn’t complete. The offense still leaves too many points on the field. The defense needs to get better from an overall standpoint. There is work to be done. The Eagles are absolutely headed in the right direction and it is pretty exciting to imagine how good the team could be if Kelly ever does get his plan working just the way he wants it.

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LBs By the Numbers

Posted: November 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 48 Comments »

Kind of a crazy day for me so just a quick post for now.

The 3-4 can only succeed with good LB play. The Eagles got some of that last year, but not enough.

The LBs are stepping up in a big way this year. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

2013

Sacks – 25

TFLs – 21

INTs – 6

PDs – 28

FFs – 7

FRs – 7

2014

Sacks – 23

TFLs – 19

INTs – 1

PDs – 10

FFs – 10

FRs – 2

And remember…those 2013 numbers are based on a full season. The 2014 numbers are based on the 9 games the Eagles have played so far. Crazy.

The one area where numbers are way down is INTs. DeMeco Ryans has one and that’s it for the LBs corps. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, the only Eagle with an INT was Malcolm Jenkins. The back seven is getting hotter so some additional picks will come.

Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have all improved this year. That is a sign that the trio has talent, but also is well coached. They are learning the little things that it takes to succeed at a given position.

One key thing to remember is that Mychal Kendricks missed several games due to injury. He is a major playmaker. You can bet the LB numbers would be even better if he had played every game this year.

It really is amazing how far this group has come in such a short time. I was ready to jettison Brandon Graham back in August. The Eagles kept him and he’s playing the best football of his career. Barwin is having a career year. Trent Cole was a Wide-9 DE just a couple of years ago. Now he is a complete OLB. Mychal Kendricks has found a home at ILB and is playing the best football of his career. Heck, Casey Matthews is coming off the best game of his career.

I’m excited to see how this group plays over the rest of the year. Dealing with the Packers on Sunday will be a great test to see just how far the LBs have come.

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