Practice Makes Perfect

Posted: January 3rd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 89 Comments »

Doug Pederson took it easy on his players the last two weeks. The results were not good, to put it mildly. Even though the team isn’t playing a game this week, Pederson has flipped the script. The Eagles had a tough, physical practice on Wednesday.

“That was a very intense practice,” Jason Kelce said. “We haven’t had one like that since training camp. On the verge of too intense.

“No fights, but whenever you go really, really hard, guys fall down, and you never want guys on the ground because you can get guys hurt, but I think we got a lot of really, really good work in.”

This wasn’t some exercise in fake toughness.

“It was intense, for sure,” Zach Ertz said. “Most intense practice we’ve had probably in a long time. Full pads, 1’s against the 1’s. Since the season started, we’d only have a couple plays here and there during Wednesday and Thursday practices, 1’s against the 1’s whereas today the whole practice was.

“We did a lot of situation work, trying to get those situations with Nick (Foles), give him the opportunity to go through them with us. I thought it was a great practice. It was really intense. A lot of trash talking, as you would expect when the guys are heated like that.”

If the Eagles are going to get back to playing good football, things have to change. The offense must play better. Nick Foles must play better.

You aren’t going to accomplish that by hoping it happens. I’ve hoped for years that Megan Fox would realize that she was in love with me. Or that Jimmy Bama would be brought up on charges of crimes against journalism. Neither has happened so far.

Pederson decided to be pro active and put his players through tough, competitive practices. Iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes. He wants his players to push each other and to get this team back on track.

You might wonder about having a tough practice during the bye week. What’s the point in having the week off if you’re going to go hard in practice? Games are a whole other level of intensity and wear and tear. A tough practice can help you improve, but isn’t going to exhaust you to the point where you need several days to recover. There is a huge difference.

The players are on board with the tough practices and that’s important. They know things have to change. They’re embracing the challenge of the postseason and doing whatever they can to get back to playing good football.

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The media asked Pederson whether Foles was his starter at the press conference on Tuesday. That was a fair question considering how poorly Foles played the last two weeks.

Of course, Pederson laughed the question off. Coaches don’t replace QBs lightly. And while Nate Sudfeld did some good things against Dallas, he’s never started an NFL game. He’s never thrown a TD pass. Heck, he’s never led a scoring drive.

Foles has played well, even in some big games. You have to stick with him, hoping the good Foles shows up.

Pederson did acknowledge that this is the playoffs and that changes things. You lose, you’re out. If a player really struggles, you’d have to consider your options.

*****

Zaruba is the name that got my attention. He is the rugby player who joined the team late in the offseason and then showed some potential. He’s big, physical and athletic. With a full offseason, he could be a player to watch.

Wilson is a big, talented receiver who has gone 56-777-3 in his short NFL career. He had multiple foot injuries and didn’t play at all in 2017. Wilson is just 25 so he’s definitely worth taking a look at.

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The Eagles

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 190 Comments »

The Eagles had the best record in the NFL at 13-3.

The Eagles gained the 7th most yards and scored the 3rd most points.

The Eagles allowed the 4th fewest yards and the 4th fewest points.

The Eagles had the #3 rushing offense in the league.

The Eagles had the #1 run defense in the league.

Carson Wentz was a big part of that, but football is the ultimate team game. You don’t have that kind of a season and post those numbers unless you have a good team.

The Packers were 4-3 with Aaron Rodgers and 3-6 without him. He took them from competitive to winning, but that was a flawed team all year long. Green Bay was 22nd in yards allowed and 26th in scoring defense.

You don’t go 13-3 because of one player. It takes a team.

The Vikings went 13-3 and backup QB Case Keenum played in 15 of those games. He played the best football of his career. But go back and look at the first six weeks. He had two games with a rating over 100 and a rating of 79 or less in the other four. It took him a little while to get going. The Vikings won because they had the #1 defense, played well on STs and limited turnovers. When Keenum started to play well, the team was even better.

Doug Pederson met with the media today and talked about how the whole offense needed to play better. The focus is on Nick Foles, but he’s right. This is a group problem, not just one guy.

If Torrey Smith catches that pass on the opening drive, he might have gone all the way for a TD. Think how different that would feel. Brandon Brooks, a Pro Bowl selection this year, misses a block and his rusher hits Foles as he tries to throw. Mack Hollins was coming open for a gain of 12 to 15 yards. Instead, incomplete. On a 3rd and 7 play, Trey Burton slips and falls. The ball is heading his way. Incomplete.

Carson Wentz was special. He could overcome teammates making mistakes. Nick Foles is not special. He needs help. He needs his teammates to do their part. That wasn’t happening the last couple of weeks.

There is no guarantee the rest of the team will get it going in the playoffs, but I expect to see a better performance. The gameplan will be very specific and the players will know it inside-out. Playoff football brings a sense of urgency. There is no tomorrow. Foles has started a playoff game. LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long won the Super Bowl last year. Torrey Smith won the Super Bowl in 2012. Malcolm Jenkins won it in 2009. You can bet these veterans will talk to the other players about playoff football. I fully expect the Eagles to play with a lot more energy and emotion.

*****

Pederson has talked about the need to run the ball and play strong defense in the playoffs. The Eagles are going to throw some passes, of course, but I’m happy to hear him talk so much about the run game. When the weather is crappy, you just don’t want to be throwing 40 passes. You must run the ball. You must be able to win ugly.

*****

Good news.

Both players deserve to make it in. TO was a great receiver for a long time. He’s got some major character questions, but you can’t ignore what a special player he was.

Dawk is one of the best Safeties to ever play football. He absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame. And he was a great guy and team leader off the field. I hope the voters do the right thing and put Dawk in this year.

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A Weak One

Posted: January 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 285 Comments »

The Eagles play over the last two weeks has not gone unnoticed. They are the #1 seed in the NFC, but that hardly makes them the favorite right now.

With Carson Wentz, the Eagles were an elite team. Without him, they have looked worlds different. It is fair for the team to be doubted based on what we have seen the past few weeks.

At the same time, context is always important. Let’s think about the last two weeks. There was a game on Christmas night. There was a season finale where multiple defensive starters sat out and offensive starters were only on the field for a quarter or so. Both were played in cold, nasty weather. Doug Pederson went with light practice schedules in both weeks. He was more focused on getting his team healthy and rested than fine-tuned for regular season games.

You can argue whether Pederson made the right move or not. Clearly based on what we saw on the field, it was the wrong move for those games. We aren’t going to be able to truly evaluate the situation until we see how the team plays in the postseason. After all, that’s what really matters.

Pederson could have played all his starters for the full Dallas game. He could have run normal practices and put in a full gameplan. Say the Eagles win 17-7 or something like that. It certainly would have made everyone feel better on Sunday/Monday, but what really matters is what the Eagles do in two weeks. This is all about the playoffs.

What you saw the last two weeks isn’t what you’ll see in the playoffs. I’m not saying the Eagles will come out and play great and look like the #1 seed for sure, but they will be a different team. You will have all the starters on the field. They will be rested. Fresh legs can make a difference in January. The gameplans will be geared toward helping Foles and doing what it takes to win. In recent weeks, Pederson was trying to throw passes and work on the passing game.

Things weren’t good on Sunday and it is easy to be discouraged by that. The Eagles have started slowly before. Remember the SF game? The Eagles led the lowly Niners 3-0 late in the 1st half. Wentz was 8-12-73 at that point. In the game at Dallas, Wentz struggled in the 1st half. He was 7-18-80 and the Eagles trailed 9-7. The Eagles got rolling in the 2nd half of both games.

There is going to be major pressure on the Eagles in two weeks. Pressure has brought out the best in Pederson and the players all year. I can’t promise you the Eagles will win or play great, but you will see a different team than the last two weeks.

*****

There is no question that Nick Foles isn’t carrying this team to the Super Bowl. If the Eagles do have postseason success, it will be a team effort. The defense will have to come through in a big way.

The Eagles were #1 against the run. They pressured the passer on a regular basis. They were tied for 4th in interceptions. They were 9th in opposing QB rating.

The defense is especially tough at The Linc. No matter who the Eagles have at QB, the defense will give them a chance to win.

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Eagles Come Up Short in Wild Shootout

Posted: December 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 319 Comments »

How’s that for my final smart-ass headline of 2017?

At its best, football is a combination of chess, a track meet and hand-to-hand combat. At its worst, football is 22 guys running around on frozen dirt and wasting three hours of your life that you’ll never get back. Today was the latter.

The Eagles lost 6-0 to Dallas. It was an ugly performance for both offenses. The Eagles only played their starters about a quarter. The Cowboys might have won the game, but they can’t feel good heading into the offseason. Dak Prescott struggled to move his offense against an Eagles defense that played a lot of backups.

The Eagles can’t feel good about their offense heading into the playoffs. Cold weather has really brought out the worst in Nick Foles and his teammates haven’t helped. A bad drop from Torrey Smith killed a promising drive to open the game. If Smith catches that, the Eagles are in FG range at the worst. Smith had room to run and might have gotten deep into Dallas territory. That drop just seemed to kill the offense.

Nate Sudfeld came in in the 2nd quarter and brought a spark to the Eagles, but he couldn’t put together a sustained drive that led to points. There were some reasons to be encouraged by Sudfeld. He never seemed panicked. He was confident and aggressive. He showed a good arm on a couple of throws. Sudfeld ran 22 yards for a 1st down. He looked like a QB worth developing.

There will be some talk of Sudfeld starting over Foles in a couple of weeks. As poorly as Foles has played, I think it is fair to raise that question. I wouldn’t do it and I think there is zero chance Pederson does it. Pederson sees problems all over the offense. He’s not going to blame Foles when he thinks the struggles are on the whole unit.

One thing you can feel good about is the Eagles defense. They have allowed 575 yards and 16 points over the last 2 weeks combined. Today you saw Steven Means, Beau Allen, Nate Gerry and Sidney Jones shutting down Dak and Zeke, the cornerstones of Dallas team. That was pretty cool to see. The defense played with a lot of energy and toughness. The starters set the tone for the game and the backups played their butts off.

Jones had a couple of mistakes, biting on a double-move and then letting Zeke get outside of him on a run play. Still, it was great to see him moving around and playing in a real game. I’m looking forward to studying his snaps.

Gerry played well when he was out there. He blew up a run play and almost picked off a pass.

You know things weren’t good when the player of the game is the punter. Donnie Jones averaged 43 yards per punt and pinned the Cowboys inside the 20 on 3 of his 7 punts. He had one punt go out at the 1-yard line.

There are serious reasons for concern. Foles struggled. The OL was up and down. The run game wasn’t good enough.

You can be happy that the team came out of this game healthy and feeling good about the defense. You aren’t going to win in January if you can’t play good defense. Pederson has two weeks to get his offense fixed. One of the real keys is going to be for the O-line to play better and for the running game to take a big step forward. Foles isn’t going to win without a running game to help him out.

The Eagles finish the regular season at 13-3. Today was an ugly game, but 2017 has been a really fun season. The next time we see this team in action will be the divisional round of the playoffs. Let’s hope Pederson can work his magic between now and then.

Happy New Year.

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Gameday – DAL at PHI

Posted: December 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 538 Comments »

The Eagles won’t be playing all of their starters.

Wow. That’s a lot of talent on the sideline. I’m fine with that. The defense is a veteran group that knows what they’re doing. Why rest those guys and play Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins and other starters? My guess is the players sitting out have some nagging injuries that could use a bit of extra rest.

Guys like Beau Allen and Steven Means are going to get a lot of reps. It will be interesting to see who plays at LB. I think they’ll mix and match players there. Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones will likely split time at CB.

Wendell Smallwood is back from Siberia. He could get plenty of work today. Will Shelton Gibson have a pass thrown his way?

I wrote a preview of the game for PE.com. This is an unusual situation, but Doug Pederson will have his usual message. The team has played well for him this year no matter who was on the field. It will be interesting to see how things play out today.

Nick Foles and the offense need to have some success.

If Foles is sharp, he could play as little as a quarter. If things are mixed, he will stay out there. Pederson wants Foles and the offense ready for the bad weather games of January.

This might be a meaningless game, but it would be great to see the Eagles win and get to 14-2. That would be the franchise record for wins. The Eagles currently have the #1 run defense in the league. I’d love to see them keep that ranking. It would be the first time since Gang Green in 1991.

The most important thing for today…stay healthy.

*****

The problem with winning is that people come and steal your coaches and players.

We’ll talk more about these rumors in the next week.

It will be critical that Pederson hire good replacements. Andy Reid built a great staff in 1999. It was poached over the next five years and he didn’t hire the best replacements. That had a lot to do with the inconsistent play after the success of the early years.

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