Good and Bad at OLB

Posted: December 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 23 Comments »

Let’s start with the bad news. Trent Cole is having surgery on his hand. He won’t play against Washington on Saturday afternoon. Cole’s status for the regular season finale is undecided. If you read into the comments from Chip Kelly and Bill Davis, it seems like Cole should be back for that game, and the playoffs if the Eagles make it.

Cole’s absence means that Brandon Graham will be starting at ROLB, the Predator position. I’m sure “BG” (as Kelly likes to call him) is stoked and can’t wait to be on the field for 50 snaps. This will be a national telecast and against a team that gives up lots of sacks. BG will be looking to have a big day.

The good OLB news is that the Eagles and Graham are talking about a contract extension. Tim McManus wrote an excellent piece on the situation. There are a lot of factors to consider.

* How much money is Graham looking vs how much are the Eagles looking to pay?

* How does Graham fit in with Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, in terms of salary and playing time?

* Does Graham want to stay in the 3-4?

This won’t be a simple negotiation for either side, but it would be cool if they could get something done. Graham looked like failed pick after his injury and the move to the 3-4, but things are on the upswing now. It would be great if he could work out for the Eagles as a long term fit and good player.

Stay tuned on this situation.

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Fletcher Cox is drawing a ton of praise this year, and rightfully so. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling had him at #10 in the race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That’s pretty darn cool.

10. Fletcher Cox, Eagles defensive end: We noted on a recent edition of the Around The NFL Podcast that Cox has been one of the three or four most dominant defensive players in the league over the past month. He and Watt have been the NFL’s most complete defensive lineman in the second half of the season.

Some guy named Watt was up at the top of the list.

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PE.com had a cool article on ILB coach Rick Minter a couple of days ago. He offers serious praise for Mychal Kendricks, but I found these bits more interesting.

Q. Not sure many fans would’ve predicted that Casey Matthews would be on the team, and playing so well. Let’s talk about Casey and how far he’s come.

Minter: “I’ve known Casey since about 2005, 2006. He was a high school guy out in California, and we recruited him when I was a defensive coordinator for Notre Dame. I really liked him then. When I was at Marshall in 2008, I was working with Jerry Azzinaro. In 2009, Jerry leaves for Oregon and joins Chip, who becomes the head coach. Azzinaro and I maintain our friendship, which actually has a lot to do with me being here today. He says, ‘Oh, you won’t believe this guy we have out here at Oregon. He runs our whole show; we can do all kinds of check-with-mes and blitz-with-mes.’ And I said to him, ‘That wouldn’t be a guy by the name of Casey Matthews, would it?’ And he goes, ‘How did you know that?’ So I told him the story of how I had recruited him at Notre Dame. I love the guy. I love the family and he has a lot of things going for him. He’s a guy who’s an example of knowledge is strength, and knowledge is power, and confidence exudes into success.

“Casey’s always in the right place at the right time. He’s got great football instincts. He’s got pedigree. He’s got a sense of where to be. He’s got intelligence on how to set the fronts. We didn’t have any drop of at all, to be honest with you. When (Ryans) went down and Casey stepped in – and Emmanuel’s got very similar traits in the leadership and setting the points, giving the right things – we haven’t dropped off a beat right there. I’d like everybody to be a little faster than they are, but he ends up in the right place at the right time.”

Q. Marcus Smith II, what’s important for him from this season and heading into next season?

Minter: “I know people are dying to see Marcus a little bit because he just hasn’t exuded the qualities of a No. 1 pick’s instant impact. He’s really been a developmental player. Had he stayed at outside backer, he probably still wouldn’t be playing a lot. Because of the emergence of our Super 3 out there, who have played great – I mean BG (Brandon Graham), Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin), really all three have come on – so it would’ve been hard to play out there regardless. The opportunity came, when Mychal went down, to move him inside and just see, just use it as an experiment, because we weren’t going to hire anybody else.

“We weren’t going to expand the roster. We had a guy on the roster, so it was like picking up a guy off the street in my room. He’s a guy who knew a little bit about what we were doing. He’s got some abilities. It’s an entirely different world to go from outside to inside, and that’s where people have to be fair. We didn’t draft him as an inside linebacker. We’re just seeing if he can play inside backer, particularly during this emergency period of time.

“We think he has some attributes that involve some planning. He needs a good offseason weight training program, put on a few more pounds, get more assured of himself. But playing in my room really is going to expand his knowledge, vastly, of what we do, whether it be inside or outside. After another season of offseason training, OTAs, Training Camp, I’m sure his dust will settle where it does. Whether it’s inside or outside, depends on what happens with the roster. But I’ve been pleased with him. He’s a great young man. He’s eager to learn. I wish we could get him in there a little bit more, but it’s hard to take Mychal off the field now. We’re rolling in that linebacker room.”

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Big Game Blues

Posted: December 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 277 Comments »

The Eagles are 9-5. Let’s look at the losses…

at SF
at ARZ
at GB
SEA
DAL

Those are 5 tough games. The one good thing about this Eagles team is that they are beating the teams they are supposed to. No upsets this year.

The problem is that you can’t lose all those big games. The Eagles did win in Dallas and Indy so it isn’t as if the 9 wins all came against completely lesser teams. Still, the Eagles needed to beat 1 or 2 of the teams in the above list. That would put them atop the division and in contention for a bye. Instead, the Eagles are sitting around hoping for help.

I wrote about this and the Dallas loss for my PE.com column.

This isn’t a bad year by any stretch, but 9-5 never felt so hollow. Weird.

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Marcus Smith is moving back to OLB with Trent Cole’s hand injury. Bill Davis talked a bit about Smith at his PC and admitted that moving Smith around has hurt his development. That’s just Davis being honest. No real revelation there.

I don’t get why some fans and the media are so set on making pronounced judgments on Smith. His rookie season has been disappointing and I think even Smith would agree with that. That said, he hasn’t negatively affected the team at all. The Eagles have gotten great play from their 3 OLBs. Even if Smith had looked really good this summer, I’m not sure how much playing time he would have gotten at OLB. Barwin, Cole and Graham have been terrific.

There were injuries at ILB so Smith moved in there. But the Eagles got good play from DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks as the key guys. Casey Matthews has played the best football of his career and overall the ILB play has been fine. Smith hasn’t been needed on the field. The coaches did mix him into some Nickel looks to see how he would do. He had one busted play vs SF that led to a TD, but was mostly nondescript.

If the Eagles were getting poor LB play this year, then Smith would deserve to be a hot topic and point of criticism. That’s not been the case at all. His slow development hasn’t affected the team. Let’s give the guy some time and find out if he can play. If he turns out to be a bust, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about that and criticize him. I just think too many people confuse poor rookie season with bust. Those aren’t the same thing.

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DeSean Jackson is back in the news since the Eagles are playing the Skins this week. Jay Gruden had some awkward things to say.

Gruden was very complimentary of Jeremy Maclin, but not so much with Jackson. Is this a motivational ploy? Or is Gruden another coach who has gotten frustrated with DJax?

Gruden isn’t afraid to speak his mind on his own players so this isn’t typical coachspeak. I’m not really sure what to make of it.

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Playoff Talk

Posted: December 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 166 Comments »

The Eagles are 9-5 and in 7th place in the NFC. The top 6 spots go to playoff teams. With some help, the Eagles can get in the playoffs. Heck, if Dallas loses to Indy or the Skins, the Eagles can still win the division by winning their final 2 games. This isn’t like some crazy 2008 scenario where the Eagles needed multiple things to happen on the final day to squeeze in. I still remember my buddy Matt talking me off the ledge that day as some of the games were back and forth. When the dust settled, the Eagles were in the playoffs and they came close to making the Super Bowl.

Some people question whether the Eagles should even want to make the playoffs. This certainly doesn’t look like a Super Bowl team. Why not get a better draft pick?

Last year the Cardinals went 10-6 and missed the playoffs. They had the #20 pick (and traded it). The Eagles won the NFC East and had the #22 pick (and traded it). The Eagles aren’t going to have a high pick no matter what. The team is 9-5. They would have the #20 pick if the season ended today. Dallas is at #25. Even if the Eagles go 9-7, the pick is still going to be in the 18-20 range. There is no “Tank for Mariota” possibility.

I believe there is always value in making the playoffs. First, you never know when the matchups are going to break right for you and you can win a game or two. You don’t have to be 13-3 to have success in the postseason. I’ll always ask for a playoff berth and then hope for some playoff magic.

I think there is also value to getting players playoff experience. Rarely does a team win the Super Bowl in their first playoff trip in an extended period. Last year was Seattle’s third trip in 4 years. The 2012 Ravens won the SB in their 5th straight year in the playoffs. The 2010 Packers won in their third trip in 4 years. There is no guarantee that making the playoffs will lead to postseason success in the future, but it certainly doesn’t seem to hurt.

Playoff football is different that regular season football. I think it is important for coaches and players to experience as much of that as possible. Just because the Eagles don’t seem likely to win the SB this year doesn’t mean there’s no value to being in the playoffs.

I think playoff trips help with culture building. It gives the coaches beliefs more validity to people, both on the inside and outside. There are some critics once again talking about Chip Kelly’s ideas and how they fit in the NFL. He’s on the verge of going to the playoffs for the second time in 2 years. Let me put that in perspective. Jeff Fisher, Mr. NFL, has made the playoffs twice in the past 12 years. The more success Kelly has, the more people will buy into his ideas.

I also think the playoffs are just fun. Yeah, it sucked losing to the Saints last year, but would you rather feel that or be a Buffalo fan who hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. Detroit has only made it once since 1999. Skins fans have only watched their team in the playoffs 4 times in the last 22 years. The Eagles were in the playoffs 4 of the previous 6 seasons and might make it again this year.

Making the playoffs is no substitute for winning the Super Bowl, but those scenarios work hand-in-hand, not opposed to each other. This isn’t like I’m a college basketball fan bragging about NIT titles. The first step to getting to the Super Bowl is making the playoffs. I know some of you could argue that there is a benefit to bottoming out and getting a high pick. The Eagles did that in 2012 and got Lane Johnson for their troubles. This team has a lot of key pieces in place. The problems that do exist don’t have to be solved by high picks. I’d love for the Eagles to have a true, unquestioned franchise QB, but just because you draft high doesn’t mean you’ll get one. See Mark Sanchez for example 1.

This Eagles team is flawed, but I hope they still make the playoffs. You never know what will happen in January and that’s what makes it so fun.

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Monday Night Misc

Posted: December 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 244 Comments »

Chip Kelly had a bit of a testy press conference today. You can watch the full thing over on PE.com. I try to watch all of his PCs. A lot of times, Chip says insightful things. Other times he’s just interesting. Today was, well, testy.

That is what happens when you lose to Dallas in a big game. The fans want answers and the media goes looking for them. Is Bradley Fletcher getting benched? Why not? How is Nick Foles? What happened on on Sunday night? And so on.

Fletcher stays at LCB. I don’t fully understand this. I get that Kelly and the staff are loyal to Fletcher. He isn’t an underachiever. Fletcher is a guy maxing out his ability. He’s just not that good. He competes every play and never gets down on himself. You love the intangibles, but I don’t understand how Nolan Carroll isn’t given a shot to win the job. Kelly says they view Carroll as a starter because of his role as a Dime LB and the fact he’s on the field a lot. Carroll could easily play some LCB and then come inside for LB in the Dime. The Eagles trust their LBs and DL to play all types of different roles, but really prefer their DBs to be specialists.

Foles is still hurt. He won’t be practicing this week. In my mind, that means he’s done. He could possibly practice next week, but I don’t think they’d let him play in the season finale after being out so long. And I find it hard to believe they’d put him out there in a playoff game for his first start in months, assuming the Eagles even make the playoffs.

The Mark Sanchez theme now becomes this.

Trent Cole suffered a hand injury and may be done for the year. That would be wild. He hasn’t missed a game since 2011. You don’t know a lot when it comes to the Eagles defense except that #58 will be out there busting his hump on every single snap. It would be interesting to see how Brandon Graham would respond to getting more playing time. Would he get even more productive or would the extra snaps wear him down and limit his effectiveness?

I’m also curious how this would affect Marcus Smith. Would them leave him inside, where the team lacks ideal depth? Bryan Braman can play OLB and would be the #3 guy if that happens. Or the coaches could decide to slide Smith outside and hope that Kendricks/Matthews/Acho is good enough inside. Stay tuned to see if the report on Cole is accurate and what happens if it is true.

Kelly tried to explain some of the defensive breakdowns. A lot of the problems boiled down to the Eagles having to pick their poison and Dallas then finding the player that gave them the biggest advantage. My only complaint with this is that the Eagles could have moved the FS over to help on Dez inside the 40. Or they could have flopped Williams and Fletcher, which is what they did eventually. Those are hardly foolproof strategies, but they would have been better than what the coaches chose instead.

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The Blame Game

Posted: December 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 467 Comments »

There are a lot of things to talk about this week. When you lose a key game and it’s to Dallas, there are going to be lots of issues that need discussing. What happened? Why did it happens? What does it mean? What’s next/ We can’t get to them all at once so try to be patient.

First, let’s talk about the game. The Eagles lost for a variety of reasons. You can blame Mark Sanchez or Bradley Fletcher or the coaches. There were Cary Williams penalties, Brent Celek’s fumble and the non-fielded kickoff. And on and on. This was another sloppy performance in a big game. You just can’t win like that.

A lot of you are fired up after this game and you want heads to roll. I completely understand that. I was emotional last night as well. I struggled to fall asleep because my mind was racing all over the place. But it is now Monday morning. You have to let the anger go. It is time to be rational. Benching players and firing coaches isn’t going to solve anything right now.

Mark Sanchez has shown what he is…a competent starter or a good backup. That’s it. He’s 3-3 as the Eagles starter, but those losses are to SEA, GB and DAL…3 pretty good teams. I would have no problem at all bringing him back as the backup in 2015. Sanchez wasn’t awful last night. The team did score 27 points and he made some good throws. The problem is that he makes too many mistakes: missed reads, errant throws, poor pocket presence, poor situational awareness, etc.

When facing good teams, Sanchez is going to struggle. The good team is either going to have a good defense which will make life hard for him or a good offense which means he’s got to lead his offense to a lot of points.

The Eagles still might make the playoffs, but obviously aren’t going far with Sanchez. The team needs Nick Foles back. I talked about this last night and some of you ripped me for that. I’m not promising you Foles is going to come back and be the savior. I don’t know what Foles is going to do. I do know Sanchez. Foles is the best hope for now. The ideal situation would be Sanchez starting this week and then Foles getting the season finale to knock off some rust before heading into the playoffs. We don’t know that Foles will heal in time, nor do we know the Eagles make the playoffs so that scenario may be totally off.

Let’s talk about Bradley Fletcher. He’d played better in recent weeks, but got lit up last night. In his defense, that was Dez Bryant, one of the better WRs in the league. Dez is capable of making plays when you’re at your best. Jeremy Maclin feasts on mistakes by the D. Dez can tell you the ball is coming to him and you still can’t stop it at times. He’s special.

Fletcher plays hard and is the kind of guy you want to succeed, but he’s just got limitations. I have been disappointed that the coaches haven’t given Nolan Carroll more of a shot at LCB. That’s not to say Carroll would definitely be better. He might turn out to be the same guy. But I’d like to see him get a shot. We know who/what Fletcher is.

Bill Davis didn’t have his best game. I don’t understand why he wasn’t giving Fletcher more Safety help in certain situations. That said, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You want to give a veteran QB like Romo a lot of different looks to keep him off balance. You also have to deal with the fact that Dallas has multiple weapons. You can’t shut down everyone. On Thanksgiving, the Eagles won more individual battles and that’s why the defense was so good that day. Last night, they didn’t win nearly as many battles. No matter what strategy a coach uses, he needs the players to win on the field.

Chip Kelly and the coaches will study the tape and look for solvable problems. They can’t make a franchise QB or stud CB magically appear. They can fix some little things that will help the Eagles out this week. And while we talk big picture, the focus in the NovaCare Complex will quickly shift to Washington. That is now a must-win game. The pressure will be all on the Eagles.

One of the reasons the Eagles have avoided losing streaks so well under Kelly is their ability to compartmentalize. They’ll file away the Dallas loss. That toothpaste is out of the tube and there’s no getting it back in. You have to move on and deal with what you can control. Losing to Dallas sucks, but life goes on. The team is 9-5 and still alive for the playoffs. Things could be a lot worse. I can link to some of my 2012 posts if you don’t believe me.

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