From The Top Down

Posted: October 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 124 Comments »

While there are plenty of the same players and even some of the same assistant coaches, the 2016 Eagles are very different from the 2015 Eagles.

There are 2 big reasons – Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz.

Things did not end well for Chip Kelly, but I still think he’s a better coach than many people give him credit for. That said, I think Kelly’s biggest fault is that he didn’t get the importance of the human element. Football players are people (even Matt Schobel). They need to be motivated. They need leadership. You have to push some buttons.

Pederson doesn’t have Kelly’s creative ideas on how to run a team, but Pederson very much understands the human element. He’s a former player. He knows what players want to hear, but also what they need to hear.

Wentz is doing special things on the field, but go beyond the numbers. He seems to get his role on this team. He’s a rookie and that means he has to be somewhat deferential to veteran players. At the same time, he’s the starting QB and that means he is the big dog. He has to be a leader, on and off the field. That requires a combination of butt-kissing and butt-kicking.

Sam Bradford tried to be a team leader. He gave some good pregame speeches. He worked hard on and off the field. The players respected him. The coaches liked him. Things are different with Wentz. He is a leader in the traditional sense, but he’s also a leader because of his special talent. That TD pass to Jordan Matthews in the season opener only went 19 yards, but it might as well have gone 200 yards, over a mountain and through a hurricane.

That TD gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the season. They didn’t have a 7-0 1st quarter lead in 2015 until almost Thanksgiving. The 2015 Eagles always seemed to be playing from behind. That’s just not how the Wentz Wagon rolls.

Wentz won a pair of national titles at North Dakota State as the starter. He was on 3 other teams that won as the backup. He knows how to win and how to be part of a winner. He’s not going to accept mediocrity from himself or his team. As odd as this sounds, Wentz isn’t afraid to succeed. Some young players play not to lose. They avoid taking chances for fear of making mistakes. Wentz is willing to take chances, because he believes in himself and his teammates.

Winning can be infections.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this story before, but it bears repeating. Duke went 37-2 in 1999 and had one of the great college teams ever. They lost the national title game in a close thriller with UConn. A bunch of guys from that team went to the NBA. The next winter Duke added some talented recruits, but they got off to an 0-2 start by losing both games in a holiday tournament. Star freshman Jason Williams got on the team bus and was laughing about something. Shane Battier, the key holdover from the great ’99 team, went nuts. He let Williams know he needed to get that F’ing smile off his face. This was Duke. Going 0-2 was unacceptable. There was nothing. to be happy about. Nothing. That team ended up with a good year. The next season they won the national title.

Chris McPherson brought up a great point on the postgame show on on Sunday. Wentz is now the key player and leader on the Eagles. Other players will look at him to see how he responds to the loss.

In his PC, you could tell Wentz was not a happy camper. He gave terse answers and wasn’t doing much smiling. He hates to lose. His background at NDSU can really serve him well this week. He was in an atmosphere where winning was expected, not a luxury. Part of knowing how to win is knowing how to deal with losses. You learn from them. You use them as motivation.

I’ll be excited to see how Wentz and the Eagles respond to the loss when they hit the field on Sunday. I know he’ll do everything he can this week to get himself and his teammates ready to get back on the winning track.


Not That Bad

Posted: October 10th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 186 Comments »

Eagles losses usually stick with me for days. I think about all the things that went wrong and how costly they were. I think about how short the NFL season is and how meaningful each game is. I don’t feel that bad today. The loss was certainly frustrating, but there is still too much about this team to be happy about.

The Eagles are 3-1, half a game out of 1st place.

The Eagles lead the NFL in point differential at +64.

The team is 12th in yards and 3rd in points scored. It is 2nd in both yards and points allowed.

The worst performance of the year resulted in a one-point loss on the road.

Think back to last year. Then drink a PBR or two. Lots of bad memories, right? The Eagles got off to a 1-3 start. They spent the whole year trying to get back to .500. That meant that the team couldn’t afford bad games over the last 12 weeks. Unfortunately, there were more than a few. The Eagles actually got back to 4-4 at one point. Then they took on the Dolphins. The Eagles jumped out to a 16-3 lead and were dominating the game, but then just fell apart and lost 20-19. The team never got back to .500 the rest of the year, let alone above it.

That was a mediocre team. They weren’t awful. You don’t go 7-9 if you’re awful. They just made too many mistakes to overcome.

The 2016 Eagles are different. They limit mistakes. They play complimentary football, where the offense and defense help each other. This team has a stud QB. He might be young, but he is the real deal. Carson Wentz is 6th in the NFL with a rating of 103.5. To put that in perspective, Donovan McNabb only had one time in his first 26 NFL games where he had a rating of 100 or above. Wentz is so far ahead of schedule that there is no way to honestly put it into proper perspective.

The Eagles needed to get off to a hot start because the next 4 weeks are tough.

at WAS
at DAL
at NYG

Bill Walsh used to tell his teams to think of wins as building a savings account. Build that thing up for when there is a rainy day. The Eagles went 3-1 and that sets the right tone for the season. It gives them a cushion for when things do get tough.

While that schedule looks tough, it is a good thing. We want to see this team tested. The Cowboys won 3 Super Bowls between 1992 and 1995. They had a ton of talent, but they also came along at a time when the Skins, Giants and Eagles were bullies. Those teams made Dallas better by being tough on them. The NFC East has been a mediocre division for a while, but it looks much improved. It is fun to watch the rivals struggle and lose, but honestly the best thing for the Eagles is to have those teams test them. The goal is to win a Super Bowl. One of the ways to do that is to have your rivals push you.

I don’t know if this team is going to win 12 or 10 or just 8 games. I see a lot of talent and can easily talk myself into big things, but we the next 4 games will give us a better idea of just how good this team really is and what the season holds.

I believe the Eagles can win each one of those games. Reality says they probably won’t, but it is a good feeling to not look at a schedule and think “How are we going to pull that off?”

Yesterday’s loss to the Lions was frustrating, but there were plenty of positives in the game and this is still a good football team. I’m guessing they will build off the loss and play much better next week.


Sloppy Day

Posted: October 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 265 Comments »

The Eagles are undefeated no more. The team made a variety of mistakes and lost to the Lions, 24-23.

There is no one person to blame for this loss. The defense was terrible in the first half, allowing 3 TD drives. The offense failed to convert a Lions fumble in scoring territory into a TD. Then they turned the ball over on the final 2 plays, sealing the loss.

The Eagles have won as a team all year. Today they lost as a team.

This was a very frustrating game. The officiating was terrible. That alone did not cost the Eagles the game, but it certainly had an impact on it. Bad calls or not, the Eagles had control of the game. The late turnovers gave it to the Lions and those had nothing to do with officiating. You can argue there was contact on the final pass play, but I didn’t see that as a blatant situation.

One of the issues in the 1st half was poor LB play. Nigel Bradham didn’t seem to be on the field as much as usual. I need to re-watch the game and see what was going on. Mychal Kendricks had a couple of mistakes that hurt the defense when trying to cover Riddick. Bradham played a lot in the 2nd half and the defense looked like it normally does. They flew around the field and made life tough on the Lions offense. Bradham had 3 TFLs and recovered a fumble so that shows you the kind of impact he can have on a game.

I wasn’t a big fan of the 3rd down play the Eagles ran where Ryan Mathews fumbled the ball away. He was having most of his success between the tackles. To suddenly toss him the ball and ask him to run outside felt weird. I would have preferred a rollout with Wentz where he had the run-pass option. That puts more pressure on the defense. Still, Mathews cannot fumble that ball away. He had it in his inside arm and that didn’t help matters. Getting the 1st down there is huge, but the one thing you can’t do is give them the ball with a turnover.

Carson Wentz played a very good game up until the end. He made a bad decision and compounded that with a bad throw. You can yell and gripe all you want about Nelson Agholor, but watch the play. That ball is to the outside. He’s looking over his shoulder and trying to get outside to the ball. He can’t because the CB is right there in perfect position. That ball needs to be away from the CB, which is to the inside. Agholor certainly didn’t help matters, but that is a bad throw.

It was also a bad decision. Wentz had a clean pocket and got greedy. Instead of finding an underneath receiver or even throwing the ball away, he decided to heave the ball downfield. Dumb. You just don’t do that in that situation. When you trail by a point, have a hot PK and 1:20 or so on the clock, you don’t have to force things. Play smart.

The good news here is that this is a rookie QB making that mistake. We’ve seen more than a few Eagles veterans do it. There are times to be aggressive and times to play situational football. That was a situational moment.

Wentz got his first real taste of adversity and handled it well right up to that point, which is what makes the decision/throw so frustrating. That’s what will get talked about and not the rest of the game, where he looked so good.

The Eagles are 3-1. The rookie QB continues to play well. The defense struggled for a half, but then dominated in the 2nd half. Things could be a lot worse. We knew the Eagles were going to lose at some point. We knew Wentz would throw an INT at some point. Now we get to see how the team responds to a bad day. Besides, better to have a day like this vs the Lions than next week against the Skins.


Gameday – at DET

Posted: October 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 981 Comments »

The Eagles are looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2004. You may recall that the Eagles went to the Super Bowl that year. They also won early season games against the Bears, Browns and Lions. How’s that for weird?

We’ve got a long way to go before we really start making those comparisons. It just occurred to me how similar the schedules were and how the teams both got off to such good starts. The 2004 team won in DET 30-13. It will be interesting to see how the team does today.

Here are the inactives.

The return of Zach Ertz means that someone else has to sit. Steven Means is that guy. The Eagles still have plenty of bodies at DE. Means was a luxury since he didn’t play a ton on STs. I’m guessing Ertz gets a TD today. The Lions struggle with TEs and you know Wentz sees Ertz as a key weapon.

I’d love to see Josh Huff catch a ball down the field. Doesn’t have to be a big play. Just get him something 10-20 yards downfield. He has caught nothing but screens so far. I want the ball in his hands against this leaky secondary.

One of the things I’m most interested in is seeing how the coaches use the RBs today. Everyone is healthy. Today we’ll see who they want to play. Ryan Mathews is still the lead dog, but Wendell Smallwood has been too good to not use him. Smallwood averages 4.8 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner is up at 6.1. Mathews is down at 3.2. He’s had some bad luck so don’t read that as all being on him. The blocking in the CLE game wasn’t great. We’ll see what the coaches do.

This is a game the Eagles should win. But that’s what makes the NFL so compelling. You never know what will happen on Sunday afternoon.

That said, I think Doug Pederson will have his guys ready to roll and the Eagles will win.


Game Preview – At Detroit

Posted: October 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 59 Comments »

I talked about how facing the Steelers was a test for the Eagles. That was the best team the Eagles had faced to that point. They had an elite QB and it just felt like a big game. Obviously the Eagles passed that test with flying colors.

Now it’s onto the Lions, and in some ways this is just as much of a test. How you handle success can be just as important as how you handle adversity. The Eagles are now 3-0. They are getting lots of media attention and being looked at as one of the better teams in the league.

I wrote my preview on the challenge Doug Pederson faces in getting the Eagles to stay hungry and stay focused. The good news is that the Eagles have the kind of players that I think will stay hungry. 2015 wasn’t successful or fun. These players are winning and the team vibe is great. No one is griping about lack of reps or touches. There is no offense vs defense dynamic going on. The coaching staff seems to be on the same page and doing a great job.

Doug Pederson was tasked with changing the atmosphere in the locker room and the whole NovaCare building. He’s done just that, getting his players to feel like a family again and to play like one as well. So far, Pederson has pushed the right buttons. He’s had the right message each week. And the players keep buying in.

We’ll see what happens on Sunday.


Tackling — Theo Riddick is a dangerous runner and receiver. Put him in space and he can make defenders miss, as he did to the Eagles last year. Marvin Jones can also be dangerous when he’s got the ball. Golden Tate was really quiet last week and he could have a major chip on his shoulder in this game. The Eagles need to rally to the ball and tackle well. Take away RAC yards. Make Matt Stafford hold the ball longer to find targets down the field.

Pressure — Stafford has been sacked 10 times this year. The Lions offense is 16th in sack percentage. The Eagles defense is 3rd in sack percentage. On paper that’s a big advantage for the Eagles. That needs to show up on the field. Fletcher Cox should have a big advantage vs their interior blockers. On the flip side, the Eagles protect the passer really well and the Lions are only so-so at getting after the QB. If the Eagles OL plays well, Carson Wentz can have a huge day.

Depth Charge — As a companion point to the one above, the Lions average more than 40 dropbacks per game. That means a lot of chances for the defense to rush the QB. I have confidence in the Eagles starters. This could be a week when the backups will play more and will need to be productive. That doesn’t mean they need sacks per se, but they do have to pressure Stafford and be disruptive. Maybe Beau Allen gets a sack. Or Marcus Smith.

Choice of Weapons — The Lions have the worst pass defense in the league. They can’t cover and they don’t make plays, the worst of both worlds. They have been lit up by TEs and WRs. I’m curious to see how Pederson plays this. Does he use the TEs to attack? Does he spread the Lions out and go WR heavy? Does Wentz start throwing the ball more downfield? If the OL wins up front, Wentz and Pederson can move the ball in a variety of ways. It will be interesting to see how they decide to do that.

Catch the Ball — This is true for the offense and defense. DGB could have had a long TD in the Steelers game. Nelson Agholor failed to catch a deep ball against the Bears. Jordan Matthews just missed a big play in the Steelers game. The WRs need to find a way to make these plays. Big plays have a huge impact in the NFL. When they are there, you must execute and take advantage of them. The defense dropped one INT for sure last week and was close a few other times. Stafford will take some chances. When he does, the Eagles need to catch those balls and make him pay.

Be Smart — Wentz hasn’t taken many chances so far this year. That’s helped him to avoid turnovers. If he thinks receivers are going to get open in this game, that could cause him to hold the ball longer, looking for bigger gains. That’s fine, but there are times to get the ball out quickly. Be aggressive, but be smart. The Eagles are the better team. I think the Lions need help in the form of Eagles mistakes to win the game. Wentz needs to continue his smart play.