The Man in the Middle

Posted: June 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 64 Comments »

Can Allen Barbre replace Evan Mathis? Who will play RG? Is Jason Peters worthy of the Hall of Fame? How good can Lane Johnson be?

These are questions being asked about the Eagles O-line heading into 2015. Notice one player missing? Jason Kelce.

This will be his 5th year in the NFL, all as a starter. I sometimes think we take him for granted. Let’s appreciate some of what the Bearded Wonder can do.

Kelce is outstanding in this offense. Not every team would love his combination of size, strength and athleticism. Some teams prefer a big, powerful C who can anchor well and get straight ahead push in the run game.

Kelce is special because of his movement skills. You see this on run plays where he moves laterally. Kelce has great feet and is able to move laterally very quickly. He can then engage the DT to that side and free up the OG to go get a LB or DE. Kelce isn’t going to physically dominate the guy he’s blocking, but he will keep that defender from affecting the play.

The area where Kelce’s mobility really shines is when he blocks on the second level or out in space. Getting to the second level isn’t easy, but the real challenge is getting your hands on the defender and being able to successfully block him. We see plenty of guys get off the ball quickly and then struggle to come under control and block someone in space. Kelce is able to block on the move.

Few Centers can pull and be a good blocker on outside run plays. Kelce can. He throws his hips open and goes flying to the outside, left or right. He then picks out the target and goes and hits him. It sounds so much easier than it is.

One of the reasons that the Eagles had so many long runs in the past few years is that Kelce could get up the field or out in space and take out a player. If the runner could get to that spot, there would be one less defender and that turned a 5-yard run into a 15-yard run.

Kelce isn’t perfect. He’s had some erratic snaps at times. He can get pushed back in pass protection on some plays. For the most part, though, he’s been outstanding for the Eagles. Last year he fought his way through an injury and that affected his play. If he can stay healthy in 2015, Kelce will be a huge help to the new starting OGs on both sides of him. And Sam Bradford. And DeMarco Murray. And Ryan Mathews. And Nelson Agholor.

The starting C doesn’t generally get a lot of attention, but Kelce is a key player for the Eagles on and off the field. He is as Chip Kelly a guy as you can get. He loves football. He is a natural leader. Kelce is an overachiever, but a talented overachiever. Some guys overachieve their way into just being in the league. Kelce is talented enough to work his way into being a terrific player.

The good news is that he won’t turn 28 until November. Kelce should be a key part of the Eagles offense for several years to come.

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Eagles to Sign John Moffitt

Posted: June 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 106 Comments »

The Eagles are set to sign free agent OG John Moffitt, the top interior OL on the market. Great. But why did the move take so long? He’s available and the Eagles need OG help.

Moffitt isn’t your normal free agent. Seattle drafted him in the 3rd round back in 2011. Moffitt started 9 games at RG as a rookie. He started 6 games in 2012. Then things got weird. He was traded to Denver in the summer of 2013. Moffitt played in a couple of games for Denver and then announced his retirement in November.

Moffitt said he wanted to stay healthy and was also focused on trying to be happy. That sounded good in the press, but might not have told the whole story. Moffitt had some off-field issues prior to retiring. Then a few months after retiring, Moffitt was arrested for assault and found to have multiple drugs in his possession. You have to wonder if there weren’t some issues that affected him while he was playing.

If we stop here, this sure doesn’t sound like a Chip Kelly kind of guy. Kelly is very big on culture and character. Kelly would not have been interested in the old Moffitt, but luckily he changed. You may wonder how I can say this. I’m trusting a good source.

 

Glazer is best known as an NFL insider. But he also runs an MMA gym in Los Angeles that helps football players and other athletes that are looking for a training edge. Lane Johnson spent time there in the offseason. Glazer works his guys brutally hard. He has developed a reputation for being good at what he does. He’s not going to vouch for someone casually. That would only make Glazer and his partners look bad.

Let’s not turn Moffitt into a saint, but if he has cleaned up his act and eliminated the problems, he could be a good addition for the Eagles.

In terms of football…Moffitt isn’t an ideal fit. He lacks the athletic ability that Kelly prefers. Moffitt is a tough, physical run blocker. He has played G and C. Here are some old college notes I have on him.

MOFFITT – Quick off the ball. Smart. Tough. Not athletic, but gets the job done. Phone booth guy. Defenders can get under his pads. Scrapper. Will do everything he can to sustain block. Very good pass blocker when he’s able to cleanly get his hands on the defender.

And here is my review of his Senior Bowl performance.

MOFFITT — Started at C. Got tossed aside by Jenkins on early pass play and that led to QB getting hit. Played some LG as well. Moved back to C in the 3rd Qtr. Made a terrific block of Neild on GL run. Got both hands on him cleanly and turned him inside, giving the RB a clear lane to the endzone. Smart block on WR screen. Started out wide. Sensed a defender just off his inside shoulder. Stopped and blocked that guy, a LB. Smart. Too many OL run out wide hoping for a target. Take one when you get the chance. That LB would have gotten to the WR if not for Moffitt’s block.

I have not had a chance to go back and review his NFL tape.

Allen Barbre is going to be the Eagles LG. Moffitt comes in to compete for the RG job. He’s got 15 career starts. Moffitt will turn 29 in October so he’s no spring chicken. It would be a great story if Moffitt were to win the job and get his career back on track.

The first order of business is for him to show he can beat out Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly and Kevin Graf. Those guys aren’t just going to lay down. If Moffitt ends up starting, he will have earned the job. For now, he’s probably just thrilled to be back in the league and getting a chance to show what he can do.

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Chip Talk

Posted: June 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 195 Comments »

Love him or hate him, Chip Kelly continues to be a compelling figure.

Robert Huber wrote a lengthy piece for Philly Mag titled The Secret Life of Chip Kelly. I would love to tell you that it is a fantastic piece that offered a lot of insight, but that would be stretching things. There were a couple of interesting points of information, but nothing all that compelling.

I’m not sure what the author was hoping for. It almost felt like he was looking for the Chip Kelly version of “Rosebud” (go watch Citizen Kane if you don’t get that reference…classic film). There is bound to be some long lost secret that helped shape this amazing coach. Right?

I don’t know why people always want that kind of story. Chip is fascinating as-is. He’s a philosophical guy and a thinker, but in the world of football. This isn’t Albert Einstein (or Norman Einstein as Joe Theismann famously called him) in search of the answers to how the universe works. Chip is just looking for the best way to score points and win football games.

Chip is interesting because he takes ideas from all over the place and uses them to shape his coaching methods and football strategies. Football generally shuns outside ideas. Chip embraces them. Younger coaches are doing this more and more so Chip might not seem that unique in a decade.

NFL analyst Ross Tucker wrote about his appreciation for Chip and the fact he is different. At the very least, that helps to make the league more interesting. There are times when the NFL is very cookie-cutter-ish.

All this talk about Chip made me re-visit the first piece I ever wrote on him. This is from Dec 29, 2012. I had hesitated to speculate much about Andy Reid getting fired, but by that point it was time to start looking around for the new coach. This was my introduction to Chip Kelly.

I think the piece holds up pretty well. I was wrong on a couple of points. I thought he would have to adjust his practices to the NFL. That hasn’t been the case at all. I also noted that unlike college, Kelly couldn’t just get rid of the players he didn’t like. Oops. Way off on that one. You can argue the merits of whether it hurts or helps the team, but Chip most certainly has gotten rid of those players he doesn’t want around.

I remain a firm believer in Chip and his ideas. I’m ecstatic that he is the coach that Jeff Lurie hired. Some of the other coaches from that year have had success, but I think hiring Chip was the way to go. A risk, yes. But a smart one so far.

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Better Be Better

Posted: June 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 162 Comments »

The Eagles defense was erratic in 2013, but they showed real potential at times. They had a 9-game stretch of holding teams to 21 points or less. With players adjusting to a new scheme, new positions and new coaches, that was pretty impressive. That unit did finish 29th in yards allowed, but was 17th in scoring defense. That looked like a good foundation with hope for the future.

Instead of taking a big step forward, the 2014 defense went the other direction. They only held 5 teams all year to 21 points or less. There was the great Sunday night shutout of the Giants. There was a dominant Monday night win over the Panthers. Too many other games weren’t so fun. The Eagles finished 28th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed.

The defense would look great for parts of games, but they just couldn’t sustain that level of play. The big issue was X-plays, the Chip Kelly term for passes of 20 or more yards. The Eagles were burned by all kinds of players and plays. Allen Hurns, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant, Frank Gore, Kenny Britt, Arian Foster, Jordy Nelson and Doug Baldwin all burned the Eagles for big plays, most of them long TDs. Rookies. Veterans. Stars. RBs. WRs. Anyone and everyone. Ugh.

As much as we talk about Sam Bradford and the OL, the Eagles also need good defense in order to win big in 2015. I wrote about that for my PE.com column.

The good news…this is the most talent that Bill Davis has had to work with. There are still some holes and some question marks, but this group has a good combination of size, skill, athleticism and experience. This will be the third season in the 3-4 for many of the players. They should be in a real comfort zone when it comes to this scheme.

I think there is better depth this year. There looks to be real competition at ILB and CB. That wasn’t the case in the past. The DL could turn out to be plenty deep if the young guys develop as expected.

When you think about the defense, Malcolm Jenkins might be the most important player. He is the only proven starter at S. He is the only returning starter in the secondary. If he goes down, things get very interesting in a hurry.

I don’t know if the defense will be better. They need to be better, that’s for sure. And I think they can be better. There is hope.

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Whether Bill Davis can run a top flight defense is a whole other subject.  I’ll do that as a full and separate post in the near future.

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Some Praise for the OL

Posted: June 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 134 Comments »

We don’t know what to expect from the OL in 2015. We do know the OL played pretty well last year. They struggled for the first month due to injuries and the suspension of Lane Johnson. Once LJ returned and there was a bit of stability, the line settled down and was very good at times.

Per Matthew Berry, ESPN’s fantasy guru:

38. In the past two years, the Eagles averaged 3.28 yards before contact per rush, most in the league during that span.

39. Last season, the Bills averaged 1.97 yards before contact per rush, 28th in the league.

53. Last season, the Dallas offensive line averaged 2.8 yards before contact per rush. That was 10th best in the league.

54. Last season, the Eagles, with a constantly changing offensive line, averaged 2.9 yards before contact per rush. That was seventh-best in the NFL.

And this from PFF.

The obvious point to bring up is “Yeah, but Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are gone now.” While that is true, they only combined to play in 17 games last year. The line had some success with guys like Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner and David Molk on the field.

As for Peters, no surprise there. He can be physically dominant due to his combination of size, power and athleticism. And he’s got the nasty streak that you love to see in a big, strong O-lineman.

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More from Berry:

21. Since Chip Kelly took over in 2013, Eagles quarterbacks have combined to score 594 fantasy points (18.6 per game).

22. During that span, the only quarterbacks with more fantasy points than “Eagles QB” are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

23. Sam Bradford is also going outside the top 15 at quarterback. Mark Sanchez isn’t being drafted.

I’m not into fantasy football, but that’s pretty interesting.

(h/t to reader Gary for the Berry link)

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