Game Review – PHI 26, LAC 24

Posted: October 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 23 Comments »

There was a movie back in the 80’s called Seven Minutes in Heaven. That’s the way the end of the Chargers game felt.

The Eagles defense had just surrendered a long TD drive to cut the score to 26-24. The thought of a quick drive for a field goal made me nervous. I wanted the Eagles to go work the clock, but they couldn’t just run the ball three times and punt. They needed to move the chains.

The coaches mixed short throws with run plays and the players executed them brilliantly, allowing the offense to move the ball and eat up every second of the 6:44 on the clock. The Chargers never got to touch the ball again. That was a great finish to a tough game.

The Eagles were in control throughout the affair, leading 13-0, 16-7 and 19-10. The problem is that the Eagles could not put the Chargers away. They couldn’t get that TD on offense to really stretch the lead and the defense wasn’t making critical stops. Give both teams credit. The Eagles were clearly the better team, but the Chargers season was on the line and they played with a sense of desperation. That’s why the game stayed as close as it did.

COACHING

I don’t like to talk about coaches having their guys “ready to play”, but there are times when that phrase does make sense and Sunday was such a day. The Eagles were coming off a huge, emotional win. It would have been easy for a young team to stay distracted by that. The Eagles were on the west coast and were playing in a soccer stadium. It would have been easy to be distracted by that.

Doug Pederson had his guys focused and they took control of the game right away. He and the staff deserve a lot of credit for that. In terms of game decisions, there was only one questionable moment. The Eagles punted on 4th/1 late in the 1st half from near midfield. Was this Doug listening to the media? He said the situation was different this week. He had a 9-point lead (instead of 7) and he felt punting was the right thing to do.

The offensive gameplan was good. The Chargers sucked at run D so the Eagles did the obvious and ran a lot. Simple. Smart. The way the coaches mixed up the RBs throughout the game also seemed to work well. That’s a good rotation. LG? Not so much. They should just give that to Wiz.

The defense played pretty well for most of the game, but big plays killed them. There were different problems on each of the plays so you can’t say “the Eagles should have done X or Y to solve that”. I was hoping there would be a common theme (easier to fix), but the mistakes were all over the place and involved different players.

PLAYERS

Carson Wentz had a strong game. 17-31-242 with a TD. Did a good job protecting the ball. Didn’t throw an INT. Bobbled a shotgun snap on a 1st Qtr play and wisely dove on the ball rather than forcing anything. Took sacks on a couple of plays rather than taking a chance with the ball. Isn’t overly cautious, but is smart about not taking dumb chances. That’s critical for a young QB. Jameis Winston drives his coaches crazy with some of the plays where he forces things and turns the ball over. That’s a good way to lose a game.

Wentz had some great moments. He hit Agholor on the opening drive down the seam with a terrific throw. Right on the money. Great touch. Easy for his guy to catch. Big gain that set up at TD. That score came on a simple play. Wentz made the correct read and a good throw to Jeffery for the TD. Made a huge play late in the 1st Qtr. Chargers blew up a play-action pass. Wentz moved to his right and then threw back to the other side of the field and hit a wide open Blount for a gain of 20 yards. Not many QBs could pull that off. Showed escapability, arm strength and vision.

Threw a great pass to Torrey Smith down the seam for potentially huge gain. Dropped. Ugh.

The Eagles did an outstanding job on RPOs in the game. Wentz read the defense and when the LBs bit hard, he threw over the middle for easy gains. Hit Ertz and Agholor on a couple of plays to move the chains. Did a great job of throwing the ball over the middle throughout the game. Put passes right on his targets.

The Eagles were backed up near the goal line in the 2nd half. Wentz hit Ertz down the seam for a gain of 38. That might have been his best throw of the whole season. Perfect accuracy and touch. That flipped the field and was a key play.

Still feels like he forces some throws to Jeffery. Had Trey Burton running open over the middle in the late 1st, but threw the ball to Jeffery, who was covered. Pass was broken up. Forced a pass to Jeffery late in the half when Agholor was in the same area and more open. Forced the ball to Jeffery in the 2nd half. Burton was running open down the sideline. There was pressure, but Wentz locked in on AJ too quickly.

Wentz ran 4 times for 16 yards in the game. Got 1st downs on three of those, including a sneak. He is doing a great job of using his legs as a weapon, but not relying on them instead of passing the ball.   Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday Notebook

Posted: October 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 127 Comments »

After reviewing the game, there is no question that Stefen Wisniewski should be the starting LG. He should not have to share the job with Chance Warmack. So why do the coaches keep the rotation?

My guess is that the coaches still love Warmack’s potential. At his best, he is a powerful mauler who can move guys off the ball. Warmack moves pretty well for such a big guy. He’ll never be mistaken for Jason Kelce, but he seems more athletic than someone like Max-Jean Gilles ever did (another massive OG).

The more the coaches play him, the more likely he is to work through some of his issues and show improvement. Practice can only do so much for an O-lineman, who needs live sessions to show what he can and can’t do. Giving him reps each game keeps him focused during the week and it gives him a chance to really work on his game.

Warmack isn’t awful when he’s on the field. He’s inconsistent and he’s not as good as Wiz, but he’s functional. I think the team is better with Wiz on the field, but I can see where the coaches are coming from if this truly is their strategy. If the light really goes on for Warmack, you’ve got a guy with serious potential.

If the coaches think Warmack is playing well and deserves to split reps, then I don’t know what they’re watching or thinking. This staff hasn’t made any awful decisions like that so I tend to think there is some kind of angle here.

*****

Zach Ertz is having his best season, as a receiver and a blocker. He is showing what a weapon he can be in the passing game, but also significant improvement as a blocker. He’s still highly erratic, but he had some legitimately solid blocks against the Chargers. That’s very encouraging.

You don’t need Ertz to ever become a 6th OL. You just need him to be functional as a blocker. He is a gifted receiver and he’s on the field to make big plays.

You wonder if playing so well as a receiver is making him more confident and aggressive as a blocker.

Or is he just scared of disappointing Jason Peters?

*****

Does Jaylen Watkins play over Rasul Douglas this weekend?

I’ll be interested to see how the coaches use the DBs. They’ll have a good group of players to choose from. The coaches can focus on matchups, trying to figure out who is best on who.

Getting Corey Graham back will give them the flexibility to play Malcolm Jenkins against Larry Fitzgerald if they want. It would certainly be nice to have that option.

*****

The Cardinals have given up the most sacks in the NFL. This is a week where the pass rush must make an impact.

Will Derek Barnett finally get his first sack? You know it has to be driving him crazy to be getting pressure, but not finishing. One of Barnett’s big strengths at Tennessee was his ability to finish. He’ll break through one of these weeks and get that sack.

*****

I wrote a piece for PE.com about where the team sits at the quarter pole.

I think you have to be really happy so far. The team is winning. They’re dealing with some adversity. And they haven’t come close to playing their best football. You want to win games, but you don’t want to play too well too early. The best teams are hot late in the season.

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Big Red

Posted: October 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 242 Comments »

Sean McVay is the hottest young offensive mind in the NFL. The oldest? That’s Andy Reid and it isn’t close.

Big Red has his Chiefs playing at a high level. They’re undefeated, they’re explosive and they’re also fun to watch. Why the heck did the Eagles ever let this genius go?

According to radio host Colin Blowhard, Reid was run out of Philly because it is the dumbest sports town in America. Blowhard made a very compelling case, if you omit the facts and focus on half-truths.

  • Reid is a proven winner with a great track record. The Eagles were fools to let him leave.
  • Reid won with average to below-average QBs. The Eagles were fools to let him leave.
  • Reid is a QB whisperer, having single-handedly saved the careers of Michael Vick and Alex Smith. The Eagles were fools to let him leave.

Discussing Reid’s departure is an incredibly nuanced discussion and not for mid-season, but let’s focus on the key points. Bill Walsh believed coaches needed to move on after a decade with one team. He felt players started to tune out the messages and the coaches got stale. A change of scenery was needed for both sides. There are rare exceptions like Tom Landry, Don Shula and Bill Belichick. For most coaches, change was needed.

Think about what Andy has done differently in KC. He went back to calling the plays, something he gave up years ago in Philly. Reid had a strong GM to run the personnel side of things so he could focus on coaching. He changed his playbook, on offense and defense. The 4-3 was out and the 3-4 was in. The offense embraced college ideas and became the most creative in the league.

Reid went 8-8 in 2011, with a team that was heavily influenced by mercenaries. Injuries destroyed the 2012 team, along with all kinds of internal issues, and the Eagles went 4-12. Reid and owner Jeffrey Lurie agreed it was time for a change. That was a mutual decision.

The greatness Reid brought to the Eagles early in his tenure was gone. The 2008 and 2010 teams were a lot of fun, but still very flawed. As Reid tried different things to get back to the old days, he got further away from them.

The change of scenery has been a fountain of youth for Big Red. He’s been able to start fresh and build something, just as he did when he got to Philadelphia. I think most Eagles fans would tell you that if the guys in green can’t capture the Lombardi, they want Big Red hoisting it.

As to the notion of Reid winning with average QBs, that would be news to Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia and Mike Vick, each of who guided the team to the playoffs. McNabb isn’t Hall of Fame material, but at his best, he was pretty damn good. Early in his career, he showed special potential and had some truly great moments. Garcia was terrific down the stretch in 2006 and helped the Eagles win the NFC East and then beat the Giants in the wild card game. Vick was magical at times in 2010 (I think we’ll all remember the MNF “Starship 7” game for a long time).

Reid did win games in 2002 with Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley. Those were average QBs. Give Big Red credit for that.

There is no question that Reid should get a ton of credit for the work he did with Vick. Reid turned him from a runner who could throw into a true dual-threat QB. The only shame is that they got together so late. At the same time, Vick was a transcendent talent. He is the most dynamic QB I’ve ever seen. It isn’t as if Reid got the most out of Josh Freeman, a former 1st round pick who had some talent and one terrific season.

The man who saved Alex Smith’s career is Jim Harbaugh. Blowhard says the Niners got rid of him and Reid saved his career. Not true. Smith played well for the Niners and got hurt. Colin Kaepernick took over and did freakishly amazing things. SF traded him for the 34th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Does that sound like he was a bum that no one wanted?

Reid does need to get credit for having Smith play the best football of his career. Harbaugh saved him, but Reid has taken  him to the next level. Let’s just not act like Smith was some castoff that no one wanted. Reid actually expressed interest in Smith while he was the coach of the Eagles. This is a player he has liked for a while.

I’m not going to link to the video ripping Philly because Blowhard is one of those guys who thinks all attention is good attention. I just wanted to set the record straight on some of the dumber points in his segment.

*****

If you watch the KC offense, you can see some old elements of the Eagles offense in it.

2002 – Using WRs to help the run game. First up was having them run the ball. James Thrash had 18 carries for 126 yards. That’s a tremendous amount of reverses and end arounds. That helped to keep the run game creative and also led to another benefit. The Ghost Reverse. This is when the WR would fake an end around. It caused the backside DE to freeze  so you could leave him unblocked. Essentially, the WR blocked the DE and he didn’t have to touch him. This allowed the OL to go pound on LBs and helped the run game. The Eagles finished 7th in the league in rushing.

2003 – WRs James Thrash and Todd Pinkston decided to struggle at the same time. McNabb had to deal with an injury. Reid had to build his offense around the RB trio of Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook. They combined for 339-1218-20 on the ground. They also were lethal in the passing game, going 83-847-7. Think about that. The trio of RBs produced 27 TDs. That’s crazy. Reid used all kinds of screens, swings and every other pass route he could think of to get the RBs to boost the passing game. The final 10 games of the year were a lot of fun to watch. I loved that offense.

2010 – Vick took over as QB and the offense embraced QB runs on a regular basis for the first time in a while. Vick ran the ball 100 times and scored 9 TDs. DeSean Jackson ran the ball 16 times. Reid wanted to get the ball to his playmakers. He also started to love gadget players. Chad Hall ran the ball 9 times and caught 11 passes. Chad Hall.

Reid had some great ideas all along. The shovel pass is something he’s run for years. He’s found the right players to execute his offense and continued to bring in new ideas to bring out the best in his playmakers. The real key is Smith. He is extremely smart, very experienced and an outstanding athlete. Reid has never had that combination before.

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Pump the Brakes A Bit

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 141 Comments »

After Sunday’s win, there is a lot of excitement in regard to the Eagles offensive line and the 3-headed monster at RB. The Eagles ran out the final 6:44 of the game and were physically dominant at times so it is easy to understand the praise for the run game.

There is also a need for some context.

The Giants defense is currently 28th against the run. The Chargers are 31st. The bigger story would have been if the Eagles didn’t run well.

Both teams were strong against the run last season so this could be an early season anomaly, but it sure didn’t look like it the last two weeks as the Eagles piled up 193 and 214 yards on those teams. The Eagles ran methodically in gaining all those yards. There was one 68-yard gain. This wasn’t a bunch of crazy runs or long plays that inflated the stats.

There are upcoming games against the Cardinals and Panthers. They are both ranked in the top 11 in run defense so these games will give us a better idea of just how good the Eagles ground game is.

There actually is evidence going back to last year that the Eagles ground game will be fine. The team finished 10th in attempts and 11th in yards. They averaged 134 yards a game in the final three weeks, with all of those games being against Top 5 run defenses.

Things got off to a slow start this year. A very slow start, in fact. There are four main factors in the improvement.

Playcalling – The first requirement for a good run game is for the coaches to stick with it. That requires patience and discipline. Coaches want to run going into a game, but once things get going it is easy for them to get away from their intentions. Maybe the coach is trying to jump start his QB by throwing. Maybe he’s trying to exploit a rookie DB. Or maybe he just gets impatient with his offense.

The coaching staff embraced the run game the last two weeks and really stuck with it.

Beyond simply calling enough runs, the coaches have to know which runs to call and when to call them. Jeff Stoutland puts together a run gameplan during the week and Pederson takes it from there on gameday. Stoutland and offensive coordinator Frank Reich make in-game adjustments based on what is working and what isn’t.

The coaches have done a masterful job of getting the most out of their personnel the last two weeks. You’ve seen Corey Clement in the game in crucial situations in the 4th quarter. The coaches trust him and think he’ll work on those plays. He scored the tying TD against the Giants. He ran 3 times for 12 yards on the final drive against the Chargers and converted a pair of crucial 3rd downs. How’s that for clutch?

Blount had a 68-yard run to put the Eagles down inside the 5-yard line. They pounded away with him, but the Chargers defense kept him out of the end zone. On 3rd and goal, Wendell Smallwood came in and scored the TD. The Chargers went from stuffing a 250-pound sledgehammer to trying to close the gaps quickly enough to stop the more explosive Smallwood. They couldn’t and the Eagles got the TD. If you don’t have one great runner, you have to use your resources wisely. The coaches have done just that.

The OL – No RB is going to gain a yard if the Biggies up front don’t win their battles. The OL had no chemistry early on, but benching Isaac Seumalo at LG and sticking more with the run has gotten the group into a good rhythm and they are getting good movement. Jason Peters and Stefen Wisniewski have absolutely demolished some DTs with double teams. When you move that guy off the ball or collapse him to the inside, you give the RB room to run, even if just 2 to 3 yards.

Watch the play below and look at the “communication” between Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks. Kelce lets BB know he’s there and Brooks passes the DL to Kelce, allowing Brooks to go get a LB. That’s a subtle moment in one of 74 offensive plays, but it shows you how important it is for an OL to play as one.

The Eagles have two huge blockers in Peters and Brooks, but the whole line is athletic. Wiz and Kelce are incredibly quick off the ball and that lets them execute reach blocks really well.

For whatever reason, the line didn’t play well this summer or the first two weeks. The run blocking was a mess. Thankfully they have worked through it and now things seem to be clicking. As I mentioned earlier, there are some big tests in the weeks ahead.

Other blocking – It takes a whole team to run well. Brent Celek has had some really good blocks in the last couple of games. It is important for him to thrive in that role since he’s a limited pass catcher at this point. Zach Ertz still isn’t a good run blocker on the front side of plays, but he has improved. He’s now effective on the backside of runs, sealing a defender or cutting him. Check out this clip.

The receivers are doing their part. Nelson Agholor has stood out on multiple plays. Torrey Smith has had some good blocks. When you see runs going longer than 10 yards, that means the WRs are usually doing a good job.

Big V deserves some mention here as well. He is the extra TE in jumbo sets. Vaitai is getting better at this role, but is still too inconsistent. Matt Tobin did a good job as the jumbo TE last year. Vaitai should keep getting better as the season goes along.

Running – LeGarrette Blount ran angry the last two weeks. Whether the coaches meant to or not, it seems like they got his attention with how little he played in KC. Blount was a man on a mission and broke tackle after tackle. This is the guy the Eagles had in mind when they signed him this offseason. Smallwood suffered from poor blocking early on. He’s gotten better blocking the last two weeks and has really taken advantage of it. He’s also done a better job as a pass blocker, which lets the coaches keep him on the field more.

Clement has had only one rookie moment that I can remember, when he bobbled the hand-off and lost yards against the Giants. Other than that, he’s run hard. There is no hesitation. I think that is one reason the coaches use him late. Clement won’t look for big plays. He’ll attack the hole and run hard.

The RBs all want the ball more, but so far they are making this RB by committee approach work. They have to embrace the system for it to really work.

The Eagles are 3rd in the NFL in rushing right now. I don’t know if they can keep up that pace because there are no great elements to the run game, but I think this team can have a good ground game for the long haul. The coaches have to show they will embrace it each week. The OL has to stay healthy. And the RBs have to keep running with a chip on their shoulder.

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Monday Morning Notebook

Posted: October 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 222 Comments »

The Eagles did something pretty special on Sunday. I’m not talking about winning on the west coast or rushing for more than 200 yards. I’m referring to them running a screen pass that actually worked.

There was a time when the Eagles were the best screen team in the NFL. This year the screen game has been a mess. It was very encouraging to see Carson Wentz fake one way and then dump the ball to Wendell Smallwood, who got behind a convoy and went up the field for 24 yards. Good design, good execution. Big gain.

Screen passes are simple in theory. You let the defense get into the backfield and then you throw around/over them and get the runner/receiver into space. OL release and go downfield to block. If the runner/receiver can read blocks and make some moves, you can get a big gain on somewhat of a safe play.

The problem is that screen passes must be executed by a whole group of people. Timing is crucial. If rushers get upfield too quickly, the QB doesn’t have time to get the throw off. The back must release and get to the right spot. The QB needs a good throwing angle. A lot can go wrong and all of this has to happen in less than two seconds.

The Eagles executed well on Sunday and that offers hope for the future. Smallwood is a player you want to get the ball to in space. He’s perfect for screen passes. Let’s hope the Eagles can execute those well in the coming weeks.

*****

Beau Allen is no Fletcher Cox, but Allen had a sack and TFL against the Chargers. He showed some quickness and always plays hard. Cox impacts plays just by being on the field. Allen won’t ever get to that level, but he can be a solid player if he can make plays like he did on Sunday.

*****

Nelson Agholor is on pace for 48-692-8. That would be a good season for him. He’s probably never going to catch 70 passes for 1,000 yards, but if he can become a playmaker from the slot, like he’s done this year, that makes him a valuable weapon in the passing game. Right now he’s 12-173-2.

For the 2016 season, he was 36-365-2. He’s already matched the TD total and is almost halfway there on receiving yards.

Beyond the numbers, Agholor is making plays consistently. He’s not perfect by any stretch, but you don’t have the regular drops and mental errors that he made regularly last year.

*****

Lots of praise for Jake Elliott, and rightfully so. He was 4 for 4 a week after hitting a 61-yard FG to be the Giants. This guy is becoming a weapon. Any time the Eagles get inside the opponents 40, I feel like the team is in field goal range.

Elliott is also a weapon on kickoffs. He had 7 of them against the Chargers and all of those were touchbacks. That saves wear and tear on the coverage units and it eliminates the possibility of a long return. He’s kinda decent.

More than a few people have brought up the question of what happens when Caleb Sturgis is healthy. We’ll have to wait and see. If Elliott is still killing it at that point, he might just keep the job. If he’s more up and down, Sturgis might get the nod.

The Eagles liked Cody Parkey, but then Caleb Sturgis beat him out. They loved Sturgis, but he got hurt and now Elliott is the guy. The Eagles are going to be loyal to whoever does the best job.

*****

This was cool.

*****

What an amazing run. Having a RB who can physically destroy tacklers adds to the fun of big plays. Speed is great. Elusive is too. But physicality and power is primal and makes those runs even more satisfying.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/914619947707330560

Feels like plays like that give an emotional lift to the whole team.

*****

We knew Torrey Smith didn’t have great hands. The stats showed that. His game tape showed that. But some of his drops this year have been brutal. He had a TD in the KC game, but dropped it. He had a big gain on Sunday and possible TD, but dropped it. Wentz continues to throw him the ball, which he should. Smith can be a playmaker so he’s worth some risk.

Smith needs to get better if he wants to stick around for more than just this year.

*****

The Eagles were 9 of 16 on 3rd downs and 1 for 1 on 4th downs. That’s how keep the chains moving and dominate time of possession. While that stat is still overrated by many, there are times when it does have meaning.

At the start of the final drive, the Eagles had already run 61 plays, compared to the Chargers 53. The Eagles had run the ball a lot and you have to wonder if being on the field that much on a hot, sunny afternoon and having to tackle Eagles RBs so much wore down their defense.

The Eagles ate up the final 6:44 and it didn’t require any magic. There were no sensational moves. Just good blocking and physical running.

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