Defense Looks Legit

Posted: August 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 22 Comments »

The Eagles defense was good last year. It was very good according to analytics and pretty good according to traditional stats. No matter how you slice it, the group played well. The goal in the offseason was to make changes that would help this group get to the next level.

After a couple of preseason games, it looks like the defense could be outstanding this year.

All the talk after Thursday was about Ronald Darby, Mychal Kendricks and Derek Barnett. Those guys were noteworthy. But put on the game tape and you’ll see Fletcher Cox destroying the pocket on multiple plays. You’ll see Rodney McLeod flying around the field and making things happen. You’ll see Brandon Graham exploding into the backfield to blow up a run and then dropping back to cover a TE on a zone blitz. It seemed like everyone made a play or did their part to help a teammate make a play.

The addition of Darby gives this defense to really go up a notch. The defense now has playmakers at each position. Darby doesn’t have to turn into Troy Vincent, but he needs to give the Eagles someone they can have confidence in when facing top flight receivers. Darby showed against the Bills that he has big time speed and very good feet, key traits for a CB.

As with the addition of Alshon Jeffery, there is a ripple effect with the presence of Darby. Jalen Mills remains a starter, but is now the #2 CB. Patrick Robinson can slide inside and play the slot, where he’s had success in the past. Players are now in roles that fit them better. That helps players to play with more confidence and gives them a better chance at doing a good job.

The Eagles look better at each part of the defense.

Derek Barnett, Tim Jernigan and Chris Long make the DL look like it could be a dominant group this year. The returning players know their roles better and the new guys are ideal fits for the scheme.

Mychal Kendricks looks like Year 2 in the scheme is going to bring out the best in him. He’s still not going to play a lot, but he’ll build up confidence based on what he’s done this summer. After seeing his success, the coaches might decide they want to use the base package more than last year or that they mix him into the nickel. Joe Walker looks like he is past his torn ACL. He’s still young and learning, but I’ve been impressed by him. Nate Gerry shows promise. You want backup LBs that can run and hit.

The addition of Corey Graham gives the team better depth at Safety. The coaches can now use Malcolm Jenkins creatively if they want to. Last year they were forced to after Ron Brooks injury and it hurt the whole defense. Terrence Brooks has had a good summer and looks like the #4 Safety. He’s better against the run than in coverage, but has played well.

I already covered the key CBs earlier. Beyond them, you see Rasul Douglas playing better in games. Aaron Grymes just had his best game according to DB coach Cory Undlin. C.J. Smith has been up and down, but that’s okay if you’re the #5/#6 CB.

Jim Schwartz has to be excited by the depth and versatility of the defense. He can feel comfortable with backups on the field. He can get creative with different packages. Schwartz can mix up his coverages more than last year. He can go Cover 2 or single-high Safety or use some zone looks.

The team that has really given the Eagles fits in recent years is the Skins, who the Eagles face in the opener. The defense gets a chance right off the bat to show just what they can do. For now we’ll have to see how they play on Thursday night, when the starters will play more than half the game. I’m expecting another strong performance from the D.

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Ugly But Effective

Posted: August 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 240 Comments »

Forget the final score. The big story on Thursday night was the debut of CB Ronald Darby. He was fast and athletic and made multiple plays in coverage. Darby broke up one pass and picked off another. The Bills don’t have a great QB or dynamic receivers, but Darby more than passed the eye test. He looked the part of a stud corner, something the Eagles haven’t had in a long time.

One game does not a trade make, but it is hard not to get excited about a talented defense now having a speedy corner who can cover top flight receivers. Jalen Mills has had a good summer (and he played well vs the Bills), but he still has his athletic limitations. You’ll never want him on Dez Bryant or Odell Beckham for a whole game.

Jim Schwartz turned his guys loose against Buffalo and let them attack over and over. The Eagles finished the game with 6 sacks and 4 takeaways. Mychal Kendricks had a terrific game and came up with an INT. Derek Barnett had a sack and played well. Steven Means had a pair of sacks and was regularly disruptive. There were a lot of positive takeaways for the Eagles defense.

The offense was up and down, and that’s putting it mildly. Jason Peters missed the game so Lane Johnson shifted to LT and Matt Tobin played RT. The results were bad. The OL couldn’t open holes in the run game and LeGarrette Blount had 5 carries for just 8 yards. The Eagles only ran for 66 yards as a team. Once again, the OL had another poor showing.

Is it time to get worried?

Not yet. The Eagles haven’t had their starting five OL on the field yet. The backup line was missing Big V at RT and they didn’t play well as a group. The OL was supposed to be a major strength of this team so you should be concerned with the poor play, but let’s wait until the starting unit is together before we hit the panic button. The Eagles have talented players. Something just hasn’t clicked in the last couple of weeks.

Carson Wentz didn’t start off well, but settled in and was solid overall. The Eagles struggled in the first couple of possessions. They finally got moving and mixed in some no-huddle. That brought everyone to life before a LeGarrette Blount fumble ended the drive.

Alshon Jeffery caught 2 passes for 23 yards and looked good. Nelson Agholor was the primary slot guy and showed his ability. He caught 2 passes for 28 yards. I liked his route-running and the quickness he showed once he had the ball in his hands.

It was hard to judge the backup offense because Matt McGloin was so awful. I knew coming into this he didn’t have a big arm and wasn’t special in any way. What I’m shocked by is what a poor decision-maker he is and his accuracy issues. His throws are all over the place. It is pretty challenging to evaluate young WRs when the ball bounces to them or flies 5 feet over their head. Ugh.

It was exciting to see Dane Evans come into the game. Even if he had sucked, it would have been better than seeing more of McGloin. As it turned out, Evans played pretty well. He has a good arm, he’s athletic and he can create something when there isn’t much there.

Corey Clement had another good game. With Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood out, Clement got plenty of snaps at RB and was the team’s leading rusher with 8 carries for 34 yards. Dave Spadaro said after the game he thinks Clement could be ahead of Donnel Pumphrey for a roster spot. I have serious doubts about that. Pumphrey has been quiet in the first couple of games, but the players are being used in different ways. I’ll write more about this.

A couple of offensive players who did stand out were TE Billy Brown and WR Marcus Johnson. Brown is big, athletic and catches the ball well. He had 4 catches for 34 yards. I think the Eagles could have a hard time cutting him and getting Brown onto the practice squad, which is what I’m sure they would love to do. They may have to start thinking of ways to keep four TEs. Johnson missed last week, but showed good speed and ability in this game. He was 2-45, including one catch and run that covered 38 yards. The Eagles would love to keep him around.

Joe Walker was the backup MLB and he had 5 solo tackles. I thought he looked athletic and confident. He might just be the backup MLB this season. The Eagles were real high on him last summer, but coming off a torn ACL meant the Eagles had to keep a close eye on him. Walker played a lot of snaps against the Bills and looked good.

Caleb Sturgis missed a FG. He was a machine last summer, but has been more erratic this time around. We’ll see if the team brings in any competition for him or just let’s him work his way through things. Sturgis had a really good season in 2016.

The biggest takeaway from this game is the fact the Eagles remain pretty darn healthy. Buffalo had a lot of players going down, hopefully with minor injuries. The Eagles haven’t had many guys get hurt to this point. That’s always an X-factor for regular season success.

The Eagles are not in midseason form. This is a team still trying to find itself. That’s okay for a team with a young coach and young QB and only half the preseason in the books. Think big picture. Healthy. Wentz has looked pretty good. There are receivers this year who can run and catch. The defense is playing well and the Eagles might actually have a #1 CB.

Life could be a lot worse.

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PS #2 – BUF at PHI

Posted: August 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 186 Comments »

Please stay healthy.

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Game Review – PS #1 – PHI at GB – Offense

Posted: August 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 169 Comments »

There was a lot to like about the way the defense played in Green Bay. The offense, not so much. That was an ugly showing. Dom Capers used a very aggressive gameplan against the Eagles and his blitzing was very effective. The Eagles did not prepare for it because teams do very limited game prep in the preseason. Beyond that, the Eagles did not block well for most of the game. Matt McGloin played almost three quarters and did not have a good game. And then there were the turnovers.

Other than that…

There were good individual performances. Most importantly, there weren’t any significant injuries. A sloppy performance in the preseason opener is a lot easier to stomach than someone tearing an ACL.

QB

Carson Wentz – Good showing. Only in the game for one drive, but delivered a TD. First play was play-action pass with quick throw to Matthews. Hit hot receiver on 3rd/2 and moved the chains. Packers were blitzing and Wentz got the ball out quickly. Took a sack on 1st/10. You would rather he throw the ball away, but was swarmed by defenders and eating the ball was the right decision. Last year he might have tried to make a play. Did a great job on 4th/7. Kept his eyes downfield and shrugged off low hit from DL. Moved right and hit JM with a good throw. Showed poise, but also incredible strength. Didn’t go down. Wasn’t really even thrown off balance. You’ve all seen the TD play. Showed great poise and strength on that. Didn’t panic. Shrugged off Matthews and then found his receiver over the middle. Threw high to Agholor on the 2-pt try.

Matt McGloin – He’s had a rough summer. McGloin is the kind of guy I think of as a gamer. I thought playing in a game would bring out the best in him. It didn’t. He stunk up the joint. Poor blocking and lots of blitzing didn’t help matters, but that was still an ugly performance. Wasn’t compelling in any way. Must get a lot better to have any shot of making the roster.

Dane Evans – Showed a live arm. Good athlete. Finished 3-8-22. Pressed a bit. This was his first NFL game action and he wanted to impress.

RB

LeGarrette Blount – Only a couple of things to really note. He runs hard. And man, is he hard to tackle. Wow. Took real effort by multiple defenders to get him down on every run. Very good block of blitzer on 4th/7. Had no room to run on 2-pt try and still almost got in. It is going to be a lot of fun to watch him in action this year.

Corey Clement – Played starting on 2nd drive. Ran hard. Did a great job on 4th/1 of getting past initial defender in the backfield to almost getting the first. Great effort. Tough. Was only 7-13 for the game, but had no room. 2-31 as a receiver. Neither was tough, but still made the catches and turned them into nice gains. Did have one drop in the RZ. Good effort as a pass blocker, but needs work.

Donnel Pumphrey – First offensive play was run up the middle. Fumbled, but Eagles recovered. Got 5 yards and it was a good run, but must hold onto the ball. Caught quick pass on 3rd/4. Good route and smooth catch, but only got 3 yds. Give DB credit for flying up and making the play. Only complaint with Pumphrey is that he could have extended the ball forward and tried to get the 1st that way. Looked smooth catching the ball and finished with 5 catches. Only gained 12 yards because defenders were on top of him almost instantly. Took some big hits, but got right up each time. Tough. Showed a willingness to block.

WR

Nelson Agholor – With Jeffery sitting, Agholor started on the outside. Got ball on end around, but had to get by Green Bay’s best LB (Matthews) and DB (Ha-Ha Clinton Dix) and couldn’t do it. Lost 1 yard. Wasn’t able to haul in 2-pt try. Ball was high, but catchable. Kind of play you wanted to see him make. Moved to the slot with the #2 offense. Didn’t see any passes go his way.

Mack Hollins – Great game. Highlight play came on opening drive. Lined up outside to the right. Good release at the line and ran a good route. Came free over the middle and plucked the pass from Wentz on the move. Used the stiff arm to get free of a chaser and then to bury a would-be tackler. Did a balancing act down the sideline for the score. You can see why Howie Roseman was gushing over this kid right after the draft. Size. Skill. Athleticism. Physicality. 4-64 for the game. Showed the ability to deal with press coverage. Good hands. Looked comfortable and natural out there. Lots of potential.  Read the rest of this entry »


Slot Mania

Posted: August 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 146 Comments »

How will the Eagles ever replace Jordan Matthews, the greatest slot receiver of all time?

I’m being over the top of course, but there seems to be a bit of an obsession on just how the Eagles will replace Matthews. Let’s start by talking about what they have to replace. If you go by the numbers, it seems pretty daunting. Matthews averaged 75-891-6 per season as an Eagle. That’s pretty good.

You do have to understand that he played for Chip Kelly for two of those years. The up tempo style meant a lot of plays. The more you’re on the field, the better your numbers will look. And you have to look at who he played with. Jeremy Maclin was the key to the passing game in 2014. The last two years, Matthews as the key. No other WR caught even 45 passes the last two years.

Matthews was good, but his numbers were inflated by who he played with. That was going to change this year with the addition of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Matthews just wasn’t going to catch 75 passes. Maybe 60. Maybe 50. Trying to predict numbers with so many new factors is nearly impossible, but Matthews wasn’t going to be the primary option.

The Eagles made it clear through the offseason that they were interested in mixing other guys into the slot. They drafted Donnel Pumphrey in the 4th round and have lined him up in the slot since spring. The Eagles signed Greg Ward to try to develop as a slot receiver. The Eagles drafted Mack Hollins, who can give them a big body on the inside. They started playing Nelson Agholor in the slot a lot back in the spring. These guys are faster, quicker or simply more dynamic than Matthews.

Matthews was 31st in the NFL in catches last year. He was 72nd in yards after the catch. Matthews is going to move the chains, but he’s limited as a playmaker. Jason Avant did a great job of that for the Eagles, but he was reasonably priced. Matthews isn’t the Eagles ideal slot guy so they weren’t going to pay him big money.

There won’t be one replacement for Matthews. Agholor will get most of the snaps inside, but several other guys will share that role this year.

There is risk in dealing a sure-thing like Matthews, but he’s not what Doug Pederson wants for this offense. Pederson wants players outside who can stretch the defense and get down the field. On the inside, Pederson wants players who can catch the ball and make something happen.

This was a risk worth taking.

*****

So far, so good for Ronald Darby.

https://twitter.com/BenFennell_NFL/status/897101772233347073

*****

Gotta see him do this in a game, but still very encouraging that he’s continuing to practice well. The pressure hasn’t affected him so far.

Thursday night will be huge for him.

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