Looking Deep

Posted: August 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 497 Comments »

Coaches need time when they take over a team. They need to install their schemes. They need to change the roster. That can involve looking for scheme fit, youth or simple talent upgrades. Building a football team isn’t something you do overnight. A baseball team can be built very quickly. A basketball team can be built instantly. One or two players change everything in that sport. Football is worlds apart. You need time.

Chip Kelly is now in Year 3 of running the Eagles. One of the ways this team is improved is the depth of the roster.

Kelly prefers the 3-4 defense. The key to the 3-4 is good linebacker play. Kelly had a good pair of starting outside ‘backers in 2013, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. The backups were Brandon Graham and Casey Matthews. And remember that was not the current version of Graham. Back then he was really struggling with the move to OLB. He was awful in coverage and not exactly dominant as a pass rusher.

The coaches didn’t want Graham on the field due to his limitations as an overall player. He finished with 3 sacks, 1 FF and 1 TFL. Those are hardly compelling numbers. Matthews was only on the field because he was basically the only option. He was not meant to be a 3-4 OLB. The coaches trusted the fact that he knew the playbook, could cover (a little), could rush (a little) and could be an effective run defender. That made Matthews good enough.

Think about where the situation stands two years later. Cole was cut. Graham played well enough as a backup in 2014 to earn a new contract. He will now be the starting ROLB. Former first round pick Marcus Smith has the inside track to being the number three OLB. Bryan Braman, who has good size, athleticism and some experience, is on track to be the fourth guy. And consider that this is after the team lost Travis Long to an injury.

Kelly doesn’t have OLB exactly where he wants it, but the overall position is better off than it was in 2013.

Think about some other spots and how the depth has improved in two years. You have Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Riley Cooper starting. Matthews had a terrific year in 2014. Cooper had a career year in 2013. Huff is a former third round pick and has looked terrific this summer. On the bench, you have first round pick Nelson Agholor, productive veteran Miles Austin and special teams standout Seyi Ajirotutu. Kelly has talked about wanting to play receivers in waves. He can do that when he has this kind of depth.

The Eagles are deeper at CB than they have been in recent years. That sounds crazy because of all the new faces, but it is absolutely true. Byron Maxwell has one starting spot locked up. Nolan Carroll is on pace to start opposite of him. Second round pick Eric Rowe is competing to play the Nickel spot. If he doesn’t get that job, he can be a backup on the outside. Jaylen Watkins, who was a fourth round pick a year ago, is battling with Rowe to cover the slot. Veteran E.J. Biggers provides depth inside and outside. The team is very high on rookie Denzel Rice, who they feel was a steal as an undrafted free agent.

The Eagles don’t have a proven set of players in that group, but they have a collection of bodies and skill sets that fit the scheme. And those players are performing well this summer. Even more impressive, the team already lost JaCorey Shepherd to injury and traded away Brandon Boykin.

The Eagles 2014 draft class was mixed. Jordan Matthews had a great year. Huff flashed ability, but was highly inconsistent. Beau Allen became a solid backup NT. The rest of the guys struggled to get on the field. More than a few people were throwing bust labels around.

This summer those players have taken a step forward. They are competing for jobs. Smith could be the top OLB off the bench. Huff might start. Watkins could be the Nickelback. Taylor Hart is bigger, stronger and in the mix for playing time. Ed Reynolds is coming off his best NFL game. He had a pair of INTs in the preseason opener and played well.

Nobody is going to mistake the 2014 Eagles draft for the Steelers 1974 class, but the group has real value. They are providing depth and competition. Think about Seattle in recent years. They have had some roster holes that hurt them, but also had really good competition at some spots. Their defense was loaded. They had a great set of RBs. Those just happened to be the areas that drove them to a Super Bowl win in 2013 and a narrow loss in 2014. You want player pushing each other. You want highly competitive practices. That generally is how you bring out the best in players.

It took Pete Carroll and John Schneider several years to build that group. Kelly has been building the Eagles and seems to have the team firmly pointed in the right direction. The regular season will be the real test of just how talented and deep the Eagles really are, but right now they look pretty good. And deep.

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Day After Thoughts

Posted: August 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 678 Comments »

I am not close to being done with re-watching the game. I did get through the offense in the 1st half and there are some interesting things to mention.

* Nelson Agholor really does flash. With him, the fun doesn’t really begin until the ball is in his hands. His RAC ability is going to be a huge boost to the offense. Neither Maclin nor DeSean was at good at getting RAC yards as I felt they should have been. Agholor is fast and physical. He’s not afraid to work the middle and play in traffic. He could become quite a weapon.

* John Moffitt was rusty. Very rusty. He got better as the game went along, but he started out rough. As Jeff Stoutland recently mentioned, it is tough to get back timing when you’re away that long. Right now it looks to me that Andrew Gardner has a sizable lead in the RG battle, but we still have several games to go.

* Matt Barkley’s arm strength remains an issue. He made good decisions on Sunday. He was mostly accurate. There were some short throws that had good velocity. But when he had Miles Austin and Agholor open for long TDs, he underthrew both players. Austin caught his. Agholor drew a pass interference call on his. Barkley tends to loft the ball when throwing downfield. I don’t know if he can try throwing a flatter ball (think Warren Moon) to see if that helps or if this is a situation that will never get better.

* Eric Tomlinson is making his case to be the #4 TE. He had five catches for 61 yards, including a 19-yard play late in the half. He doesn’t have ideal athletic ability, but he is a big, strong guy that can catch the ball.

* Trey Burton is showing that he deserves to be part of the offense in 2015. He will now take on the James Casey role. Burton isn’t a guy you feed the ball to, but he’s so athletic that you want to mix him in when you can. He did an excellent job of getting open on Sunday. Those play-action passes are well-designed, but they still require the receiver to do his part. Burton was open several times, but QBs struggled to get him the ball. He could have had a huge day.

Burton’s blocking still needs work, especially as an in-line TE. Effort is fine, but he doesn’t sustain well and gets little movement. He is better at getting upfield and taking on DBs.

* Matt Tobin did a solid job at LT. He doesn’t have great size and he won’t wow you with his athleticism, but he is technically sound and effort is never a question. Tobin played LG and LT in the previous two years. He played LG and LT in college. I never thought he looked as good on the right side as he did on the left. Jeff Stoutland talked about getting him reps on the left side. I didn’t think that would mean playing more than half the game at LT, but that’s what happened. Maybe playing more on the left side will get Tobin back to the level he played at the last two summers.

* Raheem Mostert really surprised me. Most speedy RBs tend to be finesse runners. They avoid traffic and don’t like getting hit. Remember Lorenzo Booker? Mostert opened some eyes in the spring and even in Training Camp, but I had my doubts about him as a runner. He looked pretty comfortable running between the tackles. I didn’t see a player that was afraid of contact at all. He’s not Earl Campbell or Walter Payton, but Mostert could develop into a good role player. He’s got the speed you want. He can catch. He can play on STs. Mostert might be an ideal practice squad player that could push for a spot in 2016. If he gets even better this summer, he could push for a spot this year.

* * * * *

Since Matt Barkley played pretty well, some asked if he could be trade material.

I doubt it. Barkley didn’t play so well that you suddenly want him on he field. He looked good, but has a long way to go before a team sees him as a starter or primary backup. He’s headed in the right direction, but his physical limitations aren’t going away. If some team was desperate for a backup QB, they could look into dealing for him, but I just don’t think we’re at that point right now.

If Barkley plays even better next week, maybe that changes things. Then again…if he plays well…the Eagles might not be so anxious to deal him.

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Good Start to 2015 Preseason

Posted: August 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 343 Comments »

The Eagles beat the Colts 36-10. The Eagles were far and away the better team, but they still were sloppy at times and made their share of mistakes. There is plenty to be happy about, most especially the fact that there were no major injuries.

Let’s go over some of the hot topics.

QB – Mark Sanchez did not play well. I think his adrenaline got the best of him and he missed a couple of throws that should have been easy TDs. The one TD pass he did throw was high and only a great effort by Nelson Agholor kept that from being an incompletion or a short gain.

Matt Barkley took a major step forward. I think part of that is the fact he got to play with the backups. He had good blocking and receivers that got open. Barkley got the ball out quickly and seemed to make good reads. I don’t want to oversell this as some great showing, but that’s the best I can recall Barkley playing in the NFL. His arm strength remains an issue, which you saw on a couple of plays, but he did make some good throws.

Tim Tebow did not play well. Part of that was due to his teammates. The blocking was sloppy. Chip Kelly also said receivers ran wrong routes a couple of times. This was Tebow’s first game in a while and his first time running the Eagles offense vs a live defense. All that said, Tebow is a guy who has started in the NFL and won a playoff game. You would have expected a better showing from him.  I’m interested to see how he looks when I re-watch the game.

RG – I’m not sure anyone beside Andrew Gardner and John Moffitt played RG until late in the game. Gardner was in there for a few drives and had a solid showing. He and Jason Kelce had a really good combo block, giving Ryan Mathews an easy path to a 13-yard gain. Gardner seemed solid in pass pro.

Moffitt seemed up and down. I was surprised that he didn’t get much movement in the run game. That may be a case of him still being rusty.

Matt Tobin played only LT that I could see. Dave Spadaro said on the telecast that he thinks this is down to a two-man competition between Gardner and Moffitt. Kelly said after the game that things were still wide open, but he wouldn’t even acknowledge that Gardner had earned the right to start in this game. I don’t know why he’s being so awkward on this issue.

Nelson Agholor – The rookie dropped a couple of passes, but finished 3-57-1. He showed outstanding RAC ability on all three catches. You can see how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands. The drops must be cleaned up. One of them came on 3rd-and-long and would have extended the drive. Those are like turnovers.

RBs – Kenjon Barner was 6-29-1 as a runner. He made a diving catch as well. He really stood out with his 92-yard punt return for a TD. You want role players to stand out in as many phases of the game as possible. I was actually more impressed with his backup, Raheem Mostert. He had 11 carries for 33 yards. Mostert is known as a speed guy, but looked solid as an inside runner. He caught one short pass and turned that into a 40-yard gain. Maybe his most impressive moment came on Barner’s long PR. Mostert flew up the field and got just enough of the punter to take him out of the play. Both Barner and Mostert made their case to be the number four RB.

The New Secondary – For the most part, good. I need to check the tape to see exactly what was going on. I love the fact they didn’t give up any big plays. They kept the ball in front of them and then attacked it. Eric Rowe had a nice FF.

Bennie Logan – If you had never seen the Eagles play, you would think #96 was the best player on defense. He controlled the middle of the line and made it darn near impossible for the Colts to run the ball. Logan was credited with three tackles, but that doesn’t come close to telling the story of how well he played.

Marcus Smith – Smith did more in one game than he did all of last summer. At least it feels that way. He did a solid job of setting the edge on run plays to him. He jumped to the inside a couple of times to get involved with making the tackle. Smith had a good day in coverage. He still needs work as a pass rusher. There were a couple of good moments, but he needs a lot of work.

Emmanuel Acho – I was surprised when Acho started ahead of Najee Goode. That decision made complete sense by the end of the game. Acho was only credited with two tackles, but he seemed to be all over the field. Goode was badly burned by a RB on a pass route.

Bryan Braman – I feel like the Eagles don’t take him seriously enough as a pass rusher. Braman came in the game and was instantly disruptive. Yes, he was going against third stringers. But he was still consistently disruptive. Why not give him a chance to play with the backups? He almost came up with a safety on one play and did have an impressive FF on another play.

EJ Biggers – Good game. Biggers broke up one pass and kept another from even having a chance because he rode the rookie WR out of bounds. Looked like a veteran out there.

Ed Reynolds – On a day when the Eagles scored 36 points and Tim Tebow ran for a TD, who would have guessed that Ed Reynolds would be the talk of the game? Really good showing. Reynolds picked off two passes. He broke up another one. He made an impressive tackle on a kickoff. Reynolds is at his best playing back and attacking the ball. He was really good at that while at Stanford. We didn’t see much of that at all last summer. Reynolds made plays today and they weren’t just luck. He made them the way he did at Stanford. Reynolds needs to build on this game to really make it matter.

Cody Parkey – Going against his former team brought out the worst in Parkey. He missed an extra point and a field goal. Yikes. Kelly says not to hit the panic button yet. And he’s exactly right. Parkey was too good in 2014 to worry about a sloppy game and even a sloppy practice or two. While you shouldn’t worry, you could maybe pay a bit more attention to Parkey. Kickers can be erratic, even when coming off a great season.

* * * * *

Any major concerns?

The pass rush wasn’t as good as I hoped for.

There were some errant snaps. I’m just not sure who they were from.

Tackling was a bit sloppy at times, especially on Indy’s TD run.

GAMEBOOK

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Eagles vs Colts – PS Opener

Posted: August 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1,027 Comments »

Excited?

The first preseason game can often be a sloppy affair. Still, I’m ready for some Eagles football. I’m ready to see third and fourth stringers battle for their football lives.

We won’t get any definitive answers today, but we’ll start to get a feel for who can play and who can’t. Every year there are at least a few guys who really struggle in the opener and then look much better the next week, but for the most part you see guys for who they are.

I wrote my preview for PE.com.

Simple goals.

#1 goal – stay healthy

#2 goal – good OL play

#3 goal – have some DBs emerge

It isn’t important that the Eagles win. The preseason is about player evaluation. Sure, it is good to win, but that’s not the focus. Summer football is about individuals and units more than whole teams.

We can also hope for a bit of fun. Does Bryan Braman have a sack dance? How will Raheem Mostert celebrate after his long TD? And so on…

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Updating the RG Battle

Posted: August 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 96 Comments »

We don’t know for sure, but it sure seems like Andrew Gardner will be the starting RG in the preseason opener. He has been working with the starters more than anyone else in Training Camp, especially in recent days. I think he has a good chance to win the job for the season.

Has Gardner stood out or is he simply the lesser of four evils, so to speak?

We don’t know what the answer is, but there is a case to be made for him. He started at RG six times last year so he knows the position and he knows the Eagles scheme. Gardner has the size the Eagles like at 6-6, 308. He is a good athlete, which helps with the outside running the team likes to do.

I have no problem with Gardner potentially winning the RG job. He was an effective starter last year, despite being new to the team and being shuffled around. He could easily be an improved player this year.

Not everyone agrees with me.

The sentiment seems to be that Gardner is a 29-year old journeyman with limited upside. He’s not that good in the short term and doesn’t offer much in the long term. I understand that thinking and there is logic to it. Why not give the job to Matt Tobin and see if he can grow into the role and hold it for 5 years? Or give it to Moffitt to see if he can regain the form that made him a mid-round pick and promising starter in the past?

The big issue is that it doesn’t sound like those guys are playing as well as Gardner. This isn’t like sitting Doug Pederson to get Donovan McNabb on the field. Pederson had the knowledge and experience, but at a certain point you simply had to play McNabb because of his potential. Gardner, Tobin, Moffitt and Julian Vandervelde are similar in talent. Each guy has strengths and weaknesses.

We all agree that Gardner is not the long term answer at RG. That’s okay. In the immortal words of Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want, but (paraphrasing) you just might find you get what you need. The Eagles want a long term answer. What they need is a starter for 2015. Gardner could prove to be that guy.

The preseason games will be huge in evaluating these players. Matt Tobin stood out in the past two summers so playing in games could bring out the best in him. Moffitt is shaking off rust every day. He needs to show enough to make the team, let alone challenge for a starting gig. The more Moffitt practices and plays, the more he should get back to where he was as a player. The light could go on for him next week, next month or in November. You just don’t know.

Chip Kelly and Jeff Stoutland will go with the player that wins the job. They won’t give it to anyone.

The future at RG could be some young guy on this team. He could be on another NFL team. Or he could be getting ready for the upcoming college season. Focus on the present for now. Sunday is going to be a huge opportunity for four guys to show what they can do. Hope at least one of them steps up.

* * * * *

One other part of this equation is that young players sometimes develop slowly and other times they just don’t pan out at all.

The Eagles had some interest in OL Jeremiah Poutasi. He was at LT in college, but would have projected to RG with the Eagles. The Titans took him 66th overall, which surprised me. He has shown talent for them, but struggled in the preseason opener.

Donovan Smith is a player the Eagles had interest in. He’s the backup LT in Tampa. He is struggling in pass protection.

Jake Fisher is dealing with a minor injury and didn’t play in the Bengals preseason opener.

Had the Eagles drafted one of these guys, it is still possible Gardner (or some other veteran) could be winning the battle at RG. You want the young guys to pan out, but there aren’t any guarantees.

The Eagles will have to be aggressive next offseason in going after some youth for the OL. Whether this comes via trades, free agent signings or draft picks, there is no disputing the fact that young talent is needed.

Unless, of course, Tobin, Moffitt, Malcolm Bunche and Brett Boyko all somehow turn into terrific players this season.

* * * * *

Do you think Jeff Stoutland likes Jason Peters? Wow. Fast forward to the 6:30 mark to see Stoutland get all kinds of excited about Peters.

The entire interview is interesting. Stoutland doesn’t exactly offer a glowing endorsement of Tobin, but I’m not sure if there was a meaning to his words or he simply didn’t express himself well. The problem with assistant coaches not speaking to the press very often is that they can be awkward when they do get interviewed.

If you prefer to read rather than to listen, Les Bowen has the details here.

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