Rushing the Passer

Posted: October 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 111 Comments »

The Eagles racked up 49 sacks last year. This year they have only gotten to the QB 6 times, putting them on pace for a paltry 24 sacks. So what is up with the pass rush?

There isn’t an easy answer, but we do have to look back at last year. The Eagles had an 8-sack game vs the Giants and a 9-sack game vs the Panthers. That means the team had 32 sacks in the other 14 games. When the Eagles faced QBs who held the ball, they got home. When they faced other QBs, the rush got pressure, but didn’t always deliver sacks.

As Bill Davis has explained many times, you also have to factor coverage into the equation. Last year the Eagles allowed opposing QBs a rating of 91.6. This year that is down at 84.4. The Eagles have 5 INTs so far, putting them on pace for 20. Last year they only picked off 12 passes. If QBs are willing to get the ball out quickly and/or take chances, you aren’t going to get as many sacks.

I think overall the rush has been better than most people see it. Davis wants to affect the QB. That means moving him off his spot, hitting him or making him change his motion/delivery so the pass is off-target. The Eagles have done those things.

Where I do agree the pass rush has come up short is in some known passing situations. The end of the Skins game was less than ideal. Part of that is Washington mixing so many runs on that drive, but Kirk Cousins mostly had time to throw when he did throw passes. There was one key 3rd/5 play where Vinny Curry was being held. If not for that. he’s all over Cousins (there is bound to be a West Virginia joke in that comment).

Brandon Graham has come under a lot of scrutiny. He only has 1 sack and 1 TFL so people are down on him. I can see that criticism. Graham hasn’t been a playmaker. I do think he’s been good overall. He’s covering better than ever. He’s playing the run well. Graham used to fire off the edge and attack the ball, That was fun to watch, but the Eagles defense calls for OLBs to set the edge nd contain the run. That means a LB can do his job perfectly, but might not actually make the play. Graham has been effective on stunts and loops. He executes those games well. It would be good to see Graham fire off the edge and be more disruptive on known passing situations. His goal was 32. He’s on pace for 4. Ouch.

Bill Davis builds gameplans around opponents. Where Buddy Ryan wanted to dictate to offenses, Davis tries to react to what they do. I’m not arguing that either one is right, just pointing out the difference. The Eagles have faced 2 QBs who get the ball out very quickly. Rather than blitz and focus on rushing the QB, Davis built his schemes more around coverage. Have rushers get their hands up. Have the back 7 or 8 fly to the ball and limit yards after the catch. Bull rush to collapse the pocket and affect the QB even if you can’t cleanly get to him.

There is no question that the Eagles need to rush the QB better. It would also help if they had some favorable circumstances.

  • Get Taylor Hart and Cedric Thornton back. DL need to be rotated. Hart has good length and athleticism. He could be a help to the pass rush. Plus, those guys getting more DL reps would allow Vinny Curry to play some OLB and help spell Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.
  • Play with a lead. The Eagles had 4th quarter leads in a couple of losses, but spent most of the game coming from behind. Playing with a lead gives the players and coaches more freedom to do what they want and to try to dictate to the offense.
  • Have the offense sustain some drives. It helps the defense when they aren’t running back to the field every four plays.
  • Play some QBs that will hold the ball longer than 1.9 seconds.

While all of that is true, the bottom line is that pass rush needs to be better. Graham, Barwin, Curry and Fletcher Cox are outstanding talents that can get into the backfield and make plays. They’ve done some good things this year, but need to be better. Regular pressure on the QB has a huge impact on the game.

It sounds like the DL will be healthier this week, but facing Drew Brees isn’t the way you’re going to improve your sack numbers. He is as smart as any QB in the league and does a great job of getting the ball out when it needs to be gone. Brees has been sacked 9 times in 3 games, mostly due to a struggling OL. That sounds promising, but I wouldn’t count on getting to him much. I’m sure Bill Davis will plan to try and “affect” him. If the Eagles can actually get home and land some sacks, that’s even better.


Saints Talk

Posted: October 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 377 Comments »

When it has the right combination of coach and QB, a franchise can special, maybe even for a long time. Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been that duo for the Saints for a decade now. The Eagles had that combination in Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb. Chip Kelly is still trying to find his soulmate, so to speak.

I have enjoyed the Saints from afar. Payton is a good coach and I’ve always admired his offense. I don’t see how you can dislike Brees. He’s a great player, great leader and just seems like a good guy. Wins and offensive records have been commonplace for the past 10 seasons.

The one thing Payton and Brees can’t battle is time, and that is catching up with them. While the Saints led the NFL in yards last year, they only finished 7-9 and that was playing in the very weak NFC South. This year the Saints are 1-3. They even needed overtime to get that win against a depleted Dallas team.

Brees has a shoulder injury and that has affected his arm strength. He missed one game, but then played really well last week in the win over Dallas. Brees couldn’t throw the ball deep, but completed 80 percent of his passes and ran a terrific ball-control attack.

I don’t know what to make of the Saints right now. Take away the OT score from Sunday and they have 2 more points than the Eagles this year. Sam Bradford has more TD passes than Brees. I know Brees missed a game, but Bradford has struggled mightily and still has more. The Saints run game is only slightly better than the Eagles. And they’ve given up more sacks.

The Saints have made changes in recent years. Gone are guys like Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Lance Moore. Brandin Cooks has been disappointing to this point. Marques Colston remains, but age has caught up with him. C.J. Spiller made a huge play Sunday and that might be the thing that gets him going.

The O-line isn’t what it used to be. LT Terron Armstead is banged up right now. RG Jahri Evans isn’t the dominant blocker he once was.

As for the defense, I still firmly believe the one huge mistake Sean Payton made was hiring Rob Ryan. He got the defense to play really well in 2013, but it was awful last year and isn’t much better this season.

As Chip Kelly explained, Ryan runs a very complex defense and loves to mix things up. He designs exotic blitzes and mixes in conservative coverages as well. The blitzes will work from time to time, but also will get burned. Right now the Saints don’t have a great secondary. It doesn’t seem like they’ve been the same since losing Malcolm Jenkins.

To be fair, they did have some players coming off injury last week. Maybe this group will settle down and start playing at a high level. I just don’t anticipate that happening.

CB Brandon Browner is a penalty machine. CB Delvin Breaux rarely looks back to play the ball and could be called for a penalty on a regular basis. Jairus Byrd has struggled with injuries since coming to New Orleans. Right now the Saints have a pair of rookies at LB. Hau’oli Kikaha is a good pass rusher, but is raw. MLB Stephone Anthony is big and athletic. Both guys can make plays, but also have rookie moments. Cameron Jordan is a very talented DE. Two other DEs are undrafted rookies. The Saints traded a player recently to create salary cap room. You just don’t hear stuff like that during the season.

The kicking game is less than ideal. Their punter is hurt. The kicker missed a chip shot to win last week. Returner Marcus Murphy has a KOR for a TD and a long punt return.

In some ways, the Saints feel like a slightly different version of the Eagles.

One of these teams is going to come up with a big win on Sunday. The winner is 2-3 and right back in the mix. The loser falls to 1-4 and sees the season slipping away. In the past, I would have favored the Saints without a whole lot of doubt. Both of these teams are struggling.

It won’t shock me to see either team pull this out.


As for the Eagles and injuries…too early to tell. Chip wouldn’t commit to anything at his PC today. Lane Johnson is determined to play. If Jason Peters can’t go, Johnson may slide over to LT. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. The OL has enough issues. Having multiple guys move around doesn’t sound good.


Style Points

Posted: October 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 227 Comments »

Results matter.

But they can also be deceiving. That’s how some teams with a great record lose early in the playoffs, while a team with a lesser record can go win the Super bowl.

The Chiefs got off to a great start in 2013, going 9-0. They were thought of as the best team in the league for a while. They lost in the first round of the playoffs. What happened?

KC played a brutally soft schedule for the early part of the year. That 9-0 looked nice, but was Charmin soft. The Chiefs went 2-5 down the stretch, losing to the Broncos (twice), Chargers (twice) and Colts. Those teams all made the playoffs that year. The Chiefs beat bad teams, but couldn’t handle better competition.

Chip Kelly made the point on Monday that the Eagles were two kicks (actually three) away from being 3-1 and everyone being happy. I do agree that if the Eagles had made those kicks, the vibe around this team would be very different.

We don’t know for sure the Eagles would have won those games. Making those kicks would have had a ripple affect in those games and you just don’t know how things would have played out. But for now, let’s assume the Eagles did win and were 3-1. That would be nice.

But style points would still matter. The Eagles have not played a soft schedule to this point. It looked that way on paper in the offseason, but things turned out differently. The issue with style points is how the Eagles played.

Last year the Eagles won ugly. It helped them to get out to a 9-3 start. When the Eagles played tough competition late in the year, winning ugly didn’t work. The sloppy football caught up with them and the team went 1-3 down the stretch and missed the playoffs.

The 2015 Eagles beat the Jets in an ugly game. They built a 24-0 lead and then hung on for dear life. The Eagles fell behind in the opener 20-3 and then came back to lead 24-23, only to lose 26-24. Sunday the team fell behind 13-0. They came back and led 20-16, but ended up losing 23-20.

Even if the Eagles won those games…that is still bad football.

The Eagles played a good half in three of four games this year. They haven’t come close to playing a good game. Being 3-1 would help buy time for the team to figure things out. Instead, the Eagles are 1-3 and there is basically no margin for error. That isn’t to say the team has to go undefeated, but they need to play with a real sense of desperation and urgency.

If there is anything really positive from Sunday, it was the way Sam Bradford came alive in the 2nd half. As I wrote in my column on the game:

Bradford looked different in this game than any time the rest of the year. He was aggressive with his passes. You want a quarterback to take what the defense gives him, but he does have to take some chances. The throw to Matthews down the seam was a great example. Matthews was kind of open, but it was a very tight window. Bradford put the ball up over the defender and give his receiver a chance to make a play. Matthews did just that, going up for the ball and then taking a big hit as he came down. Bradford had a 14-yard scramble. That was good to see. He also played with emotion. This is the Sam Bradford we’ve wanted to see all year.

Sam threw for 195 yards and 3 scores after halftime. He was fired up.

I loved the scramble. If there is room to run, go do it. And he then executed the best slide by an Eagles QB that I think we’ve ever seen. Be smart, but also be aggressive.

The Saints run an aggressive defense. They will take chances with their corners. Bradford will have chances to attack them vertically. We’ll see if he does that. If he can carry some of the edge from last Sunday over to this upcoming week, maybe the Eagles can get off to a good start.

And just as important, maybe they can actually play a complete game. At this point, I think we’d all be excited for three good quarters.

Joking aside, as important as actually winning a game is, it is just as important to see the team play well. There isn’t much point to the Eagles putting together some ugly wins and then backing into the playoffs. That team is going to lose.

What about 2008? The Eagles didn’t make the playoffs until 7pm on the final day of the year!!!

While that team did back in with some luck (thank you Houston and Oakland), the 2008 Eagles did have some impressive games on their resume. They blew out the Rams in the opener. They won a terrific game vs the Steelers. They beat the Falcons, who were a playoff team. They crushed the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night. There was a dramatic late season win over the Giants, on the road. And the 44-6 demolition of Dallas sealed the deal.

Those Eagles had some impressive losses. They lost a wild shootout at Dallas early in the year. There was a tough loss to the Giants on Sunday night at midseason. Those games came down to the final possession. Most people remember the ugly games, the tie with Cincy and the loss to the Ravens, but the 2008 season featured more good football than people realize.

By the end of the year, that team was tested and showed they could play with just about anybody, and even beat some of the best teams in the league.

The 2015 Eagles haven’t come close to playing their best level of football. They can get better. They can become a much better team. But this thing could also fall apart and we could be looking at a 5-11 season. I don’t think that will  happen, but after this start, I can’t deny that possibility exists.

A 1-3 start is just that, a 1-3 start. The 2015 season is still wide open. That said, the clock is ticking. The Eagles better start winning soon, and just as importantly, they better start playing good football.


One quick note about the previous discussion on execution. Some of you responded by saying “That’s still on Chip Kelly.” And then you went on to cite a bunch of different reasons.

Of course Chip Kelly is ultimately responsible for this team. No one denies that. Chip has said plenty of times over the past few years that coaches win or they get fired. And almost every coach is eventually fired.

The difference here is that I’m trying to understand the errors during a game vs trying to find a single scapegoat. If I thought Chip Kelly was holding this team and this franchise back, I’d be screaming for him to get fired. I don’t think that is anywhere close to being the case.

Kelly is part of the problem. The players are the ones making the mistakes, but Kelly and his staff are not fixing the mistakes, which is their job. I tend to think Kelly and the staff will get them fixed over time. Some of you feel different and that is fine.

I just tend to think coach-ripping is too prevalent in sports. I get the need to rant. I do it myself, but I usually come to my senses in a few minutes and then become analytical.

I’ll stop there for now. I need to do a full post on the subject of coaches.


Quick personal note. Thank you to all of you who offered a kind word in regard to my mom’s health. She is home now and doing well. She went to the doctor today and got some good news so things are headed in the right direction for now.

I really appreciate all the support from all of you. Now get back to booing Santa Claus. We wouldn’t want to ruin the national media’s narrative of Eagles fans would we?



Posted: October 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 328 Comments »

Chip Kelly says there is one key thing wrong with the Eagles: execution.

I think he’s right.

To many people, this comes across as some kind of excuse. That is not the case. Poor execution is the answer. There is no excuse.

Think about three critical errors from Sunday. Darren Sproles dropped a pass on 3rd down that would have put the Eagles at the WAS 40 in the 4th quarter. Jordan Matthews dropped a 3rd down pass late in the game that would have kept a drive going. Nelson Agholor lined up incorrectly and that cost the Eagles a TD late in the 1st half.

Sproles is a terrific receiver with 433 career catches. He normally snatches that ball. Matthews is coming off a very good rookie year and has played well this season. Normally he makes that catch. Agholor might be a rookie, but not lining up on the line of scrimmage with a TE to your side is basic football that goes back to his days as a kid. Agholor is a smart player. He should have paid attention and moved back.

Those three simple errors might have been the difference in winning and losing. Basic execution. You aren’t asking players to do something they can’t. You aren’t asking them to go above and beyond.

The situation would be very different if Trey Burton had a key drop. He doesn’t have an extended history as a pass catcher in college or the NFL. It would be different if DeMarco Murray was split out wide and lined up incorrectly. He’s not a guy that does that very often.

Think back to 2012, painful as that might be. Andy Reid got too cute in some key situations. The Eagles threw a goal line pass to OL Matt Tennant, who dropped it. The game was close at the time, but Cincy went on to take control of that game. In a late season game against Washington, Reid designed a pass play to go to TE Evan Moore, who had been with the team less than a week. Certainly the defense wouldn’t expect him to be the target on 1st and goal with 11 seconds left. Moore was open, but couldn’t make the catch.

Those were technically execution errors because the design of the play worked, but the design was flawed because it didn’t take into account who the players were and what was asked of them.

Kelly isn’t asking players to do something they can’t. For some reason, players are simply making mistakes.

Identifying the problem is fine, but solving it is the tricky part. I honestly don’t know how you do that.

How do you get a baseball player out of a slump? You go over the fundamentals, but at a certain point it is up to the hitter to see the pitch and make a good swing. Kelly trusts his players. He will keep throwing to Sproles and Matthews. He expects them to deliver most of the time.

The frightening thought is what if the team keeps screwing up. We could be looking at 2007 all over again. The 2006 Eagles were good. The 2008 Eagles were good. The 2007 team was not good. They were the masters of losing close games.

GB – Torturous loss. RZ issues. Takeo Spikes dropped an easy INT. Greg Lewis failed to field a punt late in the game and the Eagles lost 16-13.

WAS – The Skins got a TD late in the half (weird circumstances). The Eagles drove deep late in the game, but Kevin Curtis couldn’t hold on to a pass from McNabb and they lost 20-12.

CHI – Torturous loss. Eagles were 1 for 4 in the Red Zone and led 16-12 with 1:57 left. Bears started at their 3-yard line. They drove down for the winning TD and won 19-16. Incredibly weird play in the game. From ESPN:

The Bears caught a break in the fourth on a bad snap that seemed disastrous, but instead turned out to be only a 5-yard penalty. On an apparent bit of miscommunication, the snap sailed through Griese’s legs and was recovered by safety Sean Considine, who took off running.

Because the ball was snapped beyond a quarterback under center, the play was whistled dead and Chicago was hit with a false start. The Bears settled for Robbie Gould‘s 45-yard field goal that ticked off an upright for a 12-9 lead.

NE – Banged up Eagles at great Pats. No Dawk. No McNabb. Eagles played terrific, but AJ Feeley threw 3 INTs, including a pick-six to Asante Samuel. Lost 31-28. Led in the 4th quarter.

SEA – Torturous loss. Feeley was 19 of 42 and threw 4 INTs. Eagles trailed 28-24 late. Brian Westbrook ran a punt back to the SEA 10 with 1:16 left. Feeley was picked off to seal the game.

NYG – Eagles led ugly game 10-6 in mid-3rd. Giants scored 10 straight points to go up 16-10. Eagles got inside the 10-yard line, but had to settle for a FG. David Akers had 57-yarder to tie with seconds left, but just missed.

The Eagles finished that year 8-8. They were 5-8 before winning the final three games of the year. The team started 0-2 and didn’t get back to .500 until they were 5-5. That team was only blown out once all year (DAL 38-17), but they made crucial mistakes that kept them from winning.

Sound familiar?

Kelly has to figure out which buttons to push to get the current Eagles to snap out of their funk. At a certain point, people will quit caring why the Eagles are struggling. All they will talk about is the struggling.

There is a ton of time left in the 2015 season, but the Eagles can’t afford to keep digging this hole deeper. Things are tough enough at 1-3.


Big Picture Talk

Posted: October 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 480 Comments »

The Eagles are 1-3. They are dead last in the NFC East, which looks like a weak division. Things are not….good. What does this mean in terms of the big picture?

The first question is whether Chip Kelly is on the hot seat. No. Modern society tends to live in the moment. Sometimes perspective can be valuable. Kelly went 10-6 each of his first two years. He’s off to a slow start this year, but that doesn’t dismiss what he’s done up to this point.

Kelly has a lot of critics right now. Some are people that have hated him since day one, while others are just jumping on the bandwagon. They will put him on hot seat lists, but that is media talk and not reality. Jeff Lurie isn’t the type of owner to make rash decisions. He will let the season play out.

Lurie believes in Chip. He hired him back in 2013 and this past offseason gave Chip total control of football operations. Lurie would have to believe that Chip isn’t the man to run the Eagles and that there is another coach out there who needs to be brought in. I just don’t think that is likely when you’re in Year 3 under a coach and most of the tenure has been successful.

Could Lurie strip him of his GM powers? That’s possible. Not to be boring, but we need to see how things play out. Lurie is a patient man who tends to trust the people working for him. I think things would have to be disastrously bad for a change to be made. We’re all very frustrated right now, but some of Kelly’s moves have worked.

Walter Thurmond has been very good at FS. Heck, you can argue the Eagles have one of the best Safety tandems in the league right now. Jordan Hicks has been terrific at ILB, rookie or otherwise. Ryan Mathews has played well. Nelson Agholor just had his best game of the year.

Obviously the Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell moves have not panned out as hoped yet. Bradford just had his best game of the year, but he has been disappointing overall. Murray is still waiting for his breakout game. Maxwell was bad in the opener, but has been better since. He’s still way too up and down, though. He’s getting paid to be a good corner and that just hasn’t happened so far.

Kelly might have made mistakes in acquiring these players. We need to let more of the season play out before we know anything for sure. We have not seen these guys at their best. The question is if we will, and if so…will that be a game or an extended period.

I honestly don’t know what to make of Bradford. He was awfully passive for 3 weeks, but came out and played aggressively today. He showed some real signs of life. If not for a couple of drops, he might have ended up having a great game and leading the team to a win.

Murray needs to get healthy. He got 8 carries today, which isn’t nearly enough. Kelly would love to feed him the ball, but the circumstances have to be right. The Eagles can’t be down big. The O-line has to be winning some battles. And Murray has to be healthy. That just hasn’t happened so far this year.

Maxwell got overpaid. There is no question about that. The Eagles were desperate for corner help and he was the best available that didn’t cost an outrageous amount. I do expect him to play better than he has. Maxwell is dealing with different circumstances than ever before. Suddenly, he’s the best corner on the team. That was never the case in Seattle. He used to play for a ball-control offense. That’s changed, to put it mildly. He also used to play on a great defense. That’s not the case in Philly.

One of the reasons I keep talking about the need to wait is that we need to see what the long term problems are with this team. We can all talk about what we think the problems are now, but we don’t know for a fact.

This time last year all the questions were about what was wrong with LeSean McCoy. Through 4 games last year he had 69 carries for 192 yards, less than 3 yards per carry. The OL got healthy and then McCoy started to play like his old self. Remember that Trent Cole got off to a very slow start in 2013, but then got hot red hot down the stretch and made plenty of big plays. Conversely, Malcolm Jenkins had an INT in games 2-4 last year and looked like an elite playmaker, but hasn’t picked off a pass since.

You need more than a few games before you can make certain judgments on players.

I still believe Chip Kelly is a good coach and will get this situation fixed. I hope that happens this year, but after a 1-3 start there are no guarantees. This team has to get right in a hurry and that just might not happen. The team has shown flashes to this point, but has yet to play a good game. That shouldn’t be the case after a month.

Kelly is eating up some of the goodwill he built up in 2013 and 2014 and there isn’t an infinite supply of that. He needs the Eagles to start winning and some of his key decisions to start looking better. If not, he could find himself legitimately on the hot seat in 2016.


A quick note about Kelly and the future. A lot of people love to talk about him going back to college to save Texas or some other big program like that. Not likely.

Kelly hated dealing with boosters at Oregon. They tolerated the cold shoulder he gave them because he kept winning big. Oregon has one huge booster in Phil Knight. Beyond that, the group is nothing like most football factories. Texas has the most demanding boosters in the nation. Kelly would never go there.

He wants to stay in the NFL. You deal with one owner, not a group of boosters.