Skins Preview

Posted: September 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 67 Comments »

The season opener is finally here.

The Eagles go to Washington on Sunday to take on the Skins, the team that has been a nemesis for two and a-half years. There are a lot of storylines in this game. Finally beating Washington is probably the biggest one for me. The last time that happened, Nick Foles was the starting QB and Chip Kelly still looked like a coach on the rise.

I wrote about the game for PE.com.

There were a lot of changes for both teams this offseason. It does feel like the Skins are more dysfunctional right now. I have no idea if that will follow them onto the field on Sunday. I don’t have a good feel for their team right now. They went 2-2 in the preseason and really struggled to move the ball and score points. That could be an anomaly or a sign of things to come. They have major changes at WR and a new offensive coordinator. There is not guarantee the offense will thrive as it did in the past couple of seasons.

The Eagle who should be most fired up for this game is Lane Johnson. He missed both meetings last year due to the suspension. Johnson talked a lot this summer, but honestly didn’t play consistently well. The whole O-line had their issues. I think they’ll play better now that the offense will be on the field for 50 to 70 plays and they can get into a rhythm. It also helps that the group is healthy.

As much as we want to see what Wentz does in Year 2 and how the improved skill group performs, none of that matters if the Eagles don’t do a better job of blocking that they did in last year’s two losses.

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You can watch the Eagles Game Plan show here. Lots of good stuff with Doug Pederson, Greg Cosell and Ike Reese.

Reese showed how Jim Schwartz blitzed more in the rematch game last season. That’s interesting. If the Eagles want to blitz more, that might mean that Mychal Kendricks plays a bigger role than expected. He was great this summer and is a good blitzer.

The Eagles played better defense in the rematch. Maybe Schwartz figured some things out and that will help the Eagles finally slow the Skins down. I’m sick of the Eagles making Kirk Cousins look like a combination of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

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Speaking of Schwartz, we have to talk about Jeff McLane’s report. His contention is that Jim Schwartz is trying to undermine Doug Pederson so that he can take over as the head coach.

At the very least, the optics aren’t favorable. One Eagles staffer said the only coach who probably doesn’t think Schwartz is trying to undercut Pederson is Pederson. Three players, who requested anonymity, said that it has become well-known in the locker room that Schwartz is waiting to usurp power.

“He walks around the building like he thinks he’s the head coach,” one player said.

“Eagles staffer” doesn’t necessarily mean someone from the coaching staff. I can easily see someone in the building having their doubts about Pederson and reading the situation this way. If it was someone on the coaching staff, I think that would be different. McLane is a smart guy and good writer. I think he chose that phrase for a reason.

As for the player comment, I can see that being completely legit. When you combine the two thoughts it does sound bad. I just don’t think there is a direct connection. This feels more created than legitimate.

The bottom line is this. If the team wins, Pederson keeps his job. The only question for Schwartz is whether he gets offers from other teams. If the Eagles don’t win enough, things could interesting.

Schwartz was out of a job in 2015 and didn’t have a ton of teams knocking on his door early in the 2016 hiring process. I’m sure he’s a cocky guy, but I can’t believe he’d be crazy enough to actively go after Pederson. If word of that got out, it would give him a toxic label. Is that worth the risk? The fast track for him is to put together the best defense possible and try to impress whoever might have an opening in five months.

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Lurie Goes Improv

Posted: September 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 193 Comments »

Jeffrey Lurie called a surprise press conference on Thursday. He spoke at the owners meetings about six months ago, but hadn’t met the media since then. It is easy to wonder if he had an agenda, but there was nothing in his 25-minute Q&A session with the media.

PE.com has the video and the highlights of the PC.

The subject right out of the gate was Howie Roseman.

“I think Howie has done a tremendous job. I have real, total confidence in Howie. The last couple years, (he has made) remarkable franchise-changing decisions. As I’ve said before, it is not easy to not tank and be able to accomplish the goals you want to make in the NFL. It’s so hard to get quarterbacks. The maneuvering, the use of assets the way we did, the identification of the one player that we had a lot of confidence in, Carson Wentz, at a time when other teams all needed quarterbacks, that’s just one of many, many key things that Howie, the player personnel department, analytics, everybody has participated in, and the coaches in a big way,” Lurie said.

“Ever since then, it’s been one domino after another in terms of smart moves. Really happy with the additions this offseason, as was last offseason.

“In today’s NFL, and I’ve said this before, it’s not simply having, ‘Okay, this is your scout or this is your GM, or whatever.’ Football operations requires enormous processing and identifying of key data. If you don’t a have great player personnel department, an excellent analytics department, really good sports science, top-notch player development, excellent teaching, you’re not going to be the team you want to be.

“Howie’s primary function is to organize that and to be the final decision-maker when it comes to the key moves we make, and also to structure contracts so that we can maximize our assets.

I know some people will hear that and throw out all kinds of angry responses. Howie is a tricky subject because he spans three different and distinct situations. He was there for the end of the Reid era, he was there for two years with Chip and is now working with Doug Pederson as his coaching career gets going.

The GM has to work with the coach to build something. The situation with Reid was weird because you had Joe Banner also involved and that created somewhat of a power struggle. The Eagles also tried to load up with veterans to take advantage of Michael Vick. And then there was the lockout of 2011. As for the Chip years, I think things kind of speak for themselves. Chip had some idea of what he wanted and kept trying to create that, but just couldn’t get it to work. Howie did what he could, but as you can see by the moves of 2015, Chip wanted to do some crazy things.

Howie is hardly just a victim of bad circumstances. He made some bad picks in that period. He made some poor signings. Howie rubbed some people the wrong way at times and that didn’t help matters.

He has been a different person since his banishment by Chip. He goes out of his way to take the blame for things. He hired a strong, independent person in Joe Douglas to be the head of the personnel department. Howie seems less interested in office politics and more focused on how to build the best possible roster.

If you really focus on the last two years, I think Howie has done a tremendous job. Getting Wentz is the key move by a mile, but the overall roster is better and there is a good mixture of youth and veteran talent.

You can absolutely argue that Lurie should have never brought Howie back. That was a risky move that is easy to question. I don’t see how anyone can look at the last two years and not give Howie credit for doing a good job. I don’t know that any other GM would be able to get the Eagles from where they started in the 2016 draft all the way up to #2, where they took Wentz. He paid a steep price, but that’s what it costs to get a QB when you’re not sitting there with a Top 5 pick.

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The other topic I found most interesting was Lurie talking about expectations for the upcoming season.

Lurie did not want to set a specific goal in terms of record or a specific achievement. That was smart by him. If he tells the media, “I think this is a 10-win team”, there are going to be questions to the coaches all year about that goal and how the team is doing at that specific point. Lurie didn’t even want to commit to this being a playoff team.

You can bet that he’s done some of this internally, but there really is no benefit to declaring your goals to the public.

The Eagles are better on paper than they were last year. They played better in the preseason than they did last year. But we don’t know how things will go in the regular season. The Eagles beat bad Cleveland and Chicago teams to open last year. This schedule starts off more difficult. The Eagles could be 0-2 instead of 2-0, but still be a better team.

Last year the Eagles had a 10-week stretch where they didn’t score more than 24 points in a game. Only twice in that stretch did they hold a team to less than 24 points. This team is more talented and should not have a streak anywhere close to those. You can look for things like that when trying to evaluate this team beyond just wins and losses.

Obviously the final record will tell us what kind of season the team had, but context is important, for better or worse. Who did you play? When did you play them? Where? Who was healthy? Was anyone suspended? Were bye weeks a factor? Weather? And on and on. Style points do matter.

Miami went 11-5 in 2008 because they won a bunch of close games. That team set the NFL record for fewest turnovers. You could say that they “didn’t lose games” as much as they won them. They got to the playoffs and Baltimore beat them 27-9, in part due to five turnovers. Green Bay had a terrific team in 2010, but only went 10-6 because they lost a few close games. That team was great in the postseason and won the Super Bowl.

Lurie will sit down with Howie and Pederson after the year. He’ll look at what the results were, but also how the team played. That’s when they’ll decide if 2017 was a successful season. It would certainly help if the Eagles made the playoffs and had some postseason success, but that isn’t an absolute requirement.

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Lurie was asked about Mike Lombardi ripping Pederson. Lurie had good things to say about his coach and ripped on Lombardi.

“I have a strong endorsement of Doug. First of all, those comments, you guys call it ‘Click Bait’ or ‘Hot Takes,’ that’s how I saw that,” Lurie said.

“But Doug, think about this, I mean, he took over a team that had some locker room issues with the previous head coach. He lost his starting quarterback (eight) days before the start of the season, and was asked to use our young third-string quarterback. He had to put together a coaching staff. My personal evaluation of the coaching staff that he put together, or inherited, but was open to inherit, is outstanding. I mean, really outstanding.

“That’s a huge credit because quarterback analysis, locker room chemistry, and the ability to put together a top-notch coaching staff, those are three real key ingredients. I think he aced them all.

“Yes, there’s going to be growing pains with any first-year head coach. We had that with Andy (Reid), we had it with Chip (Kelly), we’ve had it no matter who it is. I see him as someone who can keep improving. He’s a listener. He’s a collaborator. I think he has terrific relationships with the players. The future is in front of him, and it’s there for the taking.”

Well done, Mr. L.

As for Pederson, we still don’t know if he’s going to prove to be a good coach, but he has done a fine job to this point. The team feels like it is heading in the right direction. We’ll have to see if Pederson can get it there.

Someone asked about Lurie meeting with Howie and Pederson. He mentioned talking to Howie a couple of times a day and said they have all sorts of issues to discuss. That was a simple answer.

Lurie was a bit more confusing when talking about Pederson. He mentioned them talking about the gameplan and then later went back on that comment, but then explained the situation by they discussed the kind of things that make up a gameplan. It was kind of odd.

I didn’t read much into it. I took it as “I’m the owner and I want the coach to come brief me on what’s going on this week”. I guess you could wonder if this is Lurie’s way of being more hands on by making the coach explain what they’re going to do. This isn’t about Lurie trying to call plays or anything like that, but it is fair to question if Lurie would do this with a proven, successful coach.

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Overall, I didn’t come away feeling any better or worse about the team. I didn’t learn anything groundbreaking. Lurie is excited for the season. That’s what having a QB does for you. It gives you hope.

Lurie did refer to Matt Ryan as “Matty Ice” so I guess that did make the PC a success in my mind.

Style points matter.

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Good Reading

Posted: September 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 124 Comments »

I’ll post something tonight. For now. lots of good material to read.

Tim McManus rode to work with Carson Wentz and had a 30-minute Q&A with the QB. Some fluff, but lots of good info as well.

TM: You got the starting job eight days before the start of the regular season [last year] coming from North Dakota State, having to learn a brand-new system, so I can understand why you had to get the early jump. One person described you as, like, almost a ghost because you had to be in the film room all the time cramming for the final that was right in front of you. Are you able to kind of pick your head up a little more now and breathe and interact and do that whole thing?

CW: Yeah, a little bit. Last year, like you just said, eight days before the season it’s like, “Hey, you’re up, let’s go.” I loved it. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. You’re trying to learn. You’re still trying to master your own offense to some extent, and having a new coaching staff there’s different looks. The biggest thing for us last year is what’s our protection plan each week. When a coaching staff is for the first time together, they’re kind of learning how they want to do it together, as well. Between the coaches, me, [center Jason] Kelce and the other quarterbacks, it was definitely a process that we were all in together. That’s where you spend the most time. At least for me. Just blitz studies. You never want to be hot, you always want to be protected. So that was the big thing. Not just learning your own offensive schemes, but the calls you wanted to make and how you wanted to go about protecting different looks. You have to go watch the blitz tape like crazy. I do think I can breathe a little bit more this year. Plus, I know what to expect.

Really, the first five weeks we truly didn’t have a true normal in-season week. We had the Monday Night Football Week 2. We had a bye Week 4. It was just all over the place. I was always kind of just scrambling. Wasn’t sure what to expect, until later in the year, when I finally got in a routine. That’s where I could finally start to breathe because I kind of knew what to expect, I had a routine down, and now going forward this year it’s definitely a lot less stressful already. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I kind of know what to expect and I can breathe a little bit more, like you said. I’m thankful for that because there’s days where it would be stressful and exhausting. Not that it is not going to be this year at times, but just kind of knowing what to expect is a big difference.

Make sure you go read the whole interview.

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Jeff McLane wrote a lengthy piece on Wentz’s mechanics. He got good info from John DeFilippo and Mike Mayock.

The touchdown thrown to Torrey Smith may have seemed easy — the receiver was wide open when the ball landed in his arms 50 yards later – but Wentz had to first hop to his left when Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake nearly bull-rushed Lane Johndson into him.

“Most young quarterbacks would feel that pressure, their eyes would come down, and they would be looking to get out somehow,” Mayock said. “To me, that’s the most telling thing you can look at on film. Forget how [the ball] came out. That’s what separates quarterbacks with great arms that never make it in the NFL and quarterbacks that thrive.”

DeFilippo pointed to two other plays. In the first preseason game, at the Packers, Wentz had to shake off an unblocked Clay Matthews. And against the Bills, Wentz had to check to his third read after Jeffery ran a wrong route.

NFL quarterbacks rarely get to throw from what DeFilippo calls the “perfect position” – a clean pocket in which their arm angle is ideal. So the assistant likes to throw obstacles at his quarterbacks in practice to get them out of perfect position and see how they get back.

“That’s what I see more out of Carson right now,” DeFilippo said. “His movements are more subtle, even when he has to move to get out of perfect position, he gets back into it quick and sets his target line to the receiver.”

Wentz couldn’t get back to perfect position after he eluded Matthews. He threw across his body to receiver Mack Hollins, who would run for a touchdown. But that kind of athleticism and instinct can’t be taught. It’s why many analysts like to compare Wentz to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Another must-read piece. Very well done.

*****

Doug Pederson recently talked about re-watching Alshon Jeffery’s cut-up reel from 2016. Jimmy Bama can let you watch that as well.

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Packages

Posted: September 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 118 Comments »

Jim Schwartz made an interesting comment in his press conference on Tuesday. He said that the defense will have six packages they can use in the opener against the Skins. That’s hardly a huge deal, but it is interesting for a coach like Schwartz who has been so focused on keeping things simple for most of his career.

I think there are a couple of reasons for the packages. First, the opponent. Washington runs a multiple offense. They have five WRs on the roster and four TEs. They have a pair of RBs that are more than 230 pounds. The primary backup is 191 pounds and lightning fast. They can go big. They can go little. They can spread you out. They can go base. You have to be prepared for a lot of looks.

The other key reason for the packages is that the Eagles have some talented backups that the coaches want to mix in to the gameplan. This is Year 2 in the scheme and that has the coaches more familiar with what everyone can do. There were also personnel changes that brought talent and depth to the defense.

Let’s talk about the possible packages. There are four we know of.

Base – This is the Eagles base defense, a 4-3-4 look that they will use when the opponent has two RBs or two TEs on the field.

Nickel – This is the package that the team plays the most. 4-2-5. LB Mychal Kendricks is replaced by CB Patrick Robinson, who lines up in the slot.

Goal line – This is when the defense loads up on DL/LBs and goes down to only a couple of DBs.

Big Nickel – Schwartz has talked about this a bit. Malcolm Jenkins moves into the slot and Corey Graham takes over his S spot. They use this when teams put a TE or big WR in the slot.

As for the final two, we are less certain.

Dime – This would be a 4-1-6 look. You could go with three CBs and three Safeties or four corners and stick with just two safeties. Either way you’re flooding the field with DBs to play the pass.

95 Nickel – There was a special version of the Nickel defense last year that had Mychal Kendricks on the field at LB. The Eagles didn’t use it much at all. He’s had such a good preseason that the coaches may want to mix this in. I assume he would play alongside Jordan Hicks in the middle, but we’ll have to wait for Sunday to see what they do. Another possibility for Kendricks is running a 3-3-5. That would be three DL and then all three LBs stay on the field. This would be a good look for blitzing.

NASCAR – This is where you would have only pass rushers on the DL. Most likely it would be Graham – Cox – Curry – Barnett on the field together. Chris Long could obviously work in there as well. Since this is just a front, I don’t know if Schwartz would consider this a package. The back seven would be a standard Nickel look.

I’m curious to see how Schwartz uses his players this year. With better depth on the DL and in the secondary, and with the emergence of Kendricks, Schwartz has a lot of interesting options.

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We know the Eagles offense will use packages. They did that last year. There are much better options this season.

The big focus on offense is how the coaches will use the RBs. The coaches get a ton of questions on this and generally give bland answers. I think they are keeping an open mind and going to let the players dictate what happens.

Chip Kelly used to say that players set the depth chart. I think that will be the case here. The coaches have an idea of what they want to do, but LeGarrette Blount is new to the offense. They need to see how he fits in during regular season games. Wendell Smallwood looked terrific this summer. When he was healthy, that is. If he hits the field on Sunday and looks great, why would you play someone else over him? If Blount is running all over the Skins, you leave him in.

Darren Sproles is the one known commodity. He will play a lot on third downs, but will also get touches with the base offense. He is healthy and fresh after a summer of light work.

I am curious to see if the Eagles have a fourth RB active. With the top three healthy, the coaches may look to go heavy at some other position. If someone does play, it will likely be Corey Clement.

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The Mean Season

Posted: September 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 73 Comments »

Steven Means got one thing he wanted when he made the Eagles roster. He got something unexpected when the team gave him a 1-year contract extension. You know he wanted that kind of job security.

What he really wants is to play.

Means was great in the last two preseasons. I can post the numbers, but they won’t blow you away. You have to watch the tape to see just how disruptive this guy was over and over and over. I feel bad for the young OL and QBs the Eagles faced the past two summers. Those guys went up against the worst case scenario for the preseason…a talented player with experience who was desperate to impress the coaches. That meant you had a guy who knew how to make plays, was good enough to make plays and was hungry to make plays on every snap.

Will any of this translate to the regular season?

Paul Domowitch wrote a good piece on Means.

“I don’t think I ever played it before I came here,’’ said Means, who was a 3-4 edge rusher at the University of Buffalo and a traditional 4-3 end in his two years with the Bucs. “It’s real good being out there wide and just trying to wreck the edge.’’

With the jury still out on their corners, the Eagles need to be able to “wreck the edge’’ a lot this season. Their pass rush came out of the gate fast last season but petered out.

The Eagles had 20 sacks in their first six games but just 14 in their last 10. It’s why they drafted Barnett in the first round and signed the 32-year-old Long.

And it’s why Schwartz won’t hesitate to move Means ahead of Curry this season if Curry, who will make $7 million and has a $9 million salary-cap number, doesn’t stay on his feet more and step up his play.

Domo focuses on the play of Vinny Curry as to whether Means will get many snaps. I think the real key is STs. The Eagles had five DEs active on gamedays last year, if you count Bryan Braman at that spot. I’m not saying Means has to be as good at STs as Braman, but if he can find a niche on STs that will get him active, I’m sure the coaches will mix him in here and there.

Domo is right in a sense. The coaches are going to look for the best combination of rushers. They have the returning guys in Brandon Graham and Curry. They have the new veteran in Chris Long and the rookie in Derek Barnett. And there is Means. The best players will play.

I do think we have to be careful when talking about Means. He’s not going to be Trent Cole or Hugh Douglas. The Eagles just want him to be an effective part of the rotation. The quality of his snaps will be more important than the quantity.

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One interesting side note. Domo mentions that Means got a small signing bonus when he signed the extension. I was curious about the financial implications. The Eagles didn’t overpay him, but giving Means some money up front got him to pass on the chance at free agency.

His extension, like Chance Warmack’s, is somewhat about the future. Curry has a big contract. Unless he has a monster year, the Eagles could very well be shopping him or flat out cutting him. Means is a good insurance policy for 2018. Barnett would take the starting gig and Means would become the backup at RDE.

*****

Tre Sullivan and Alex McCalister both went to IR. They are done for 2017.

McCalister will continue to work in the weight room to help him get ready for next spring. He took a big step forward this summer, but needs to get bigger and better. He could be the #5 DE next year. He could take the #4 spot from Means if he makes a substantial leap.

As for Sullivan…it is really hard to judge Safeties without All-22 tape, which we didn’t have this summer. We still don’t know a lot about him. One thing we do know is that he will hit you.

https://twitter.com/_TreFIVE/status/904851956572807169

Wow. He destroyed the blocker and made the tackle. He has the physicality for the league. It seems like the big thing for him is working on his cover skills.

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