Appreciating Connor Barwin

Posted: November 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 146 Comments »

From Chuck Bednarik to Bill Bergey. From Seth Joyner to William Thomas. From Jeremiah Trotter to…Connor Barwin? The Eagles have had a lot of great LBs over the years. I never expected to mention Barwin with those names, but the way he’s playing this year is something else.

I wrote a piece for BGN on Barwin’s season and compared him to Jason Babin. As I said in the piece, Barwin is the anti-Babin. He’s having great individual success, but within the framework of a good defense and in the middle of a winning season. Not to mention, people actually like Barwin. Babin isn’t exactly a beloved figure.

Barwin is on pace to have 19 sacks this year. Clearly, that is a long shot to actually happen. Barwin has had some great games, but he isn’t an explosive pass rusher. He’s not just going to take over many games. Barwin needs the right circumstances to succeed.  It is shocking to see him at 10.5 sacks in only 9 games, but that is a really tough pace to sustain.

While he’s not explosive, Barwin is a good athlete. He’s also smart and is a great effort rusher. One of the reasons that Barwin is thriving this year is that Bill Davis is using him creatively. Davis has Barwin and Trent Cole moving around a lot. They will play OLB, ILB, DE and DT. They rush from the right and left. Both will drop into coverage and Barwin was used as a spy vs Cam Newton on Monday night.

I don’t want to make Barwin out to be JJ Watt or something like that. He’s not. But I do hope people appreciate just how well Barwin is playing this year. And this isn’t a complete anomaly. Barwin hnad 11.5 sacks in 2011. That means that 2 of the last 4 years he has been in double digits. Barwin also is very good at batting passes.

And here is a little something for the ladies out there who can’t get enough of Barwin or rookie NT Beau Allen.

Sweet, huh?

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Chip Kelly’s Plan

Posted: November 13th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 212 Comments »

Fans of the 1980’s show The A-Team will remember Hannibal’s famous line.

Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia with a plan and it seems like it is starting to come together.

* Chip wanted to establish a certain culture. That meant that you had to buy in to his ideas and doing things his way. There wasn’t going to be much compromise on this. Veterans like Brent Celek and Trent Cole bought in completely and instantly. Outsiders like Connor Barwin and Brad Smith fit in right away. An established star like DeSean Jackson did not fit and was gone after one highly productive year. The Eagles offense remains as productive as ever and the team is off to a great start at 7-2.

* Chip wanted assistant coaches that were teachers. Andy Reid’s staff at the end was a bunch of big names that didn’t fit well together. Chip got guys who don’t have egos. They work very well together and more importantly, they work well with the players. The focus on fundamentals has really paid off. There haven’t been nearly as many missed tackles. The team does a better job of blocking and shedding blocks.

* We all cringed when Bill Davis was hired. His track record was a lot closer to awful than awesome. But Chip thought he was the right man for the job. Davis was a leader, communicator and teacher. He had a ton of NFL experience and could run a creative 3-4 attack. Davis also didn’t have a big ego so working closely with Jerry Azzinaro wasn’t going to be an issue with him. Davis is now someone we all love and really want to succeed. His press conferences are better than any assistant the Eagles have ever had. He’s honest and insightful.

* Chip wanted the 3-4…a 2-gap 3-4. Yikes. The Eagles were built for a 1-gap 4-3. All that talent was going to be wasted. Now the Eagles have the makings of a pretty good defense. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have made the conversion to being OLBs. Ced Thornton and Fletcher Cox are good 3-4 DEs. Vinny Curry is a backup in the base, but is a key role player in sub-packages. He’s got a career high 5 sacks and 2 FFs (in 9 games) and numbers don’t do him justice. He is incredibly disruptive.

* Chip wanted takeaways. All coaches do, but some hope and some have a plan. The Eagles have a takeaway in 22 straight games, the longest streak in the NFL. The Eagles lead the NFL in FFs with 15. I’ve always been disappointed with how few FFs the Eagles get. Brian Dawkins was great at stripping the ball, but not the pass rushers. Trent Cole had 13 FFs in 8 years. Under Kelly/Davis he has 6 in 1.5 years. That’s not an accident. The players are being aggressively taught how to strip the ball and it is paying off. The Eagles had a bunch of INTs last year. That total is way down this season. Sacks and incompletions are up so it would seem that QBs are eating the ball or throwing it away rather than taking chances.

* Chip wanted big players. Jordan Matthews is one big slot receiver. And he’s used his size to get the best of smaller DBs. That has really shown up in the Red Zone. Jason Avant had 13 TD catches in 8 years. Matthews has 5 in half of a rookie season. In 2011 and 2012 combined, DeSean had 6 TDs. Size does matter in the Red Zone. The big corners match up well with big receivers. Kelvin Benjamin didn’t come alive last week until his team was down 38 points. Andre Johnson was quiet the week before. There are some receivers who have posted big numbers, but the Eagles have done well against bigger guys. Kelly also likes big corners because he values long arms and the ability to break up passes. Bradley Fletcher just had 5 PDs on Monday night.

* Chip wanted a tough, physical team. Many people watched Oregon casually and came away talking about the shiny helmets, neon uniforms and long TDs. They saw a modern Run ‘n Shoot kind of team. Kelly has quickly changed that perception. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last year. They are 13th this season, but that ranking will improve with the OL being healthy. Brent Celek has become one of the better blocking TEs in the league. Riley Cooper had a devastating block on Sproles TD run the other night. Even Jeremy Maclin has become a good blocker. The defense is built more on size than speed. Connor Barwin tossed OL around like rag dolls on Monday night (and it was beautiful). Fletcher Cox overwhelms blockers at least a couple of times every game. And pity the TE who tries to block Trent Cole on a run play.

* Chip wanted the STs to be special. He spent a lot of time and effort on STs last year, but the results were far from ideal. Some saw this as failure. Chip saw the foundation of a great unit. You don’t fix something over night. The team added Donnie Jones, Brad Smith and James Casey in 2013. Brandon Boykin emerged as a great gunner. This year there was another wave of good STers. Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman were signed as free agents. The team traded for Darren Sproles and Cody Parkey. Undrafted rookie Trey Burton has been a key contributor. This year the Eagles have the best STs in the NFL. That’s not just my opinion. They are number one in DVOA per Football Outsiders. The Eagles have blocked or deflected several punts. They have a FG block. Darren Sproles leads the league in PRs and has 2 TDs. Chris Polk ran a KO back for a TD. Jones continues to be a good Punter and Parkey has been a revelation as the PK.

Chip’s plan isn’t complete. The offense still leaves too many points on the field. The defense needs to get better from an overall standpoint. There is work to be done. The Eagles are absolutely headed in the right direction and it is pretty exciting to imagine how good the team could be if Kelly ever does get his plan working just the way he wants it.

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LBs By the Numbers

Posted: November 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 47 Comments »

Kind of a crazy day for me so just a quick post for now.

The 3-4 can only succeed with good LB play. The Eagles got some of that last year, but not enough.

The LBs are stepping up in a big way this year. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

2013

Sacks – 25

TFLs – 21

INTs – 6

PDs – 28

FFs – 7

FRs – 7

2014

Sacks – 23

TFLs – 19

INTs – 1

PDs – 10

FFs – 10

FRs – 2

And remember…those 2013 numbers are based on a full season. The 2014 numbers are based on the 9 games the Eagles have played so far. Crazy.

The one area where numbers are way down is INTs. DeMeco Ryans has one and that’s it for the LBs corps. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, the only Eagle with an INT was Malcolm Jenkins. The back seven is getting hotter so some additional picks will come.

Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have all improved this year. That is a sign that the trio has talent, but also is well coached. They are learning the little things that it takes to succeed at a given position.

One key thing to remember is that Mychal Kendricks missed several games due to injury. He is a major playmaker. You can bet the LB numbers would be even better if he had played every game this year.

It really is amazing how far this group has come in such a short time. I was ready to jettison Brandon Graham back in August. The Eagles kept him and he’s playing the best football of his career. Barwin is having a career year. Trent Cole was a Wide-9 DE just a couple of years ago. Now he is a complete OLB. Mychal Kendricks has found a home at ILB and is playing the best football of his career. Heck, Casey Matthews is coming off the best game of his career.

I’m excited to see how this group plays over the rest of the year. Dealing with the Packers on Sunday will be a great test to see just how far the LBs have come.

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Sizing Up Sanchez

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 350 Comments »

Let’s talk about Mark Sanchez and how he played in his first start since 2012. How long ago is that? Chip Kelly was the Oregon coach, Ray Rice was a model citizen and that was a time when Miley Cyrus used to keep her clothes on.  Clearly a lot has changed since then.

I haven’t re-watched the game yet so this is just me going off what I saw last night. Sanchez showed big time potential. He made some terrific throws. His pass to Brent Celek for the near-TD was Manning-esque. Sanchez put excellent velocity on the ball. I also thought his ball placement was excellent. There were some replay shots from behind him where you could see Sanchez putting the ball low and away from a defender. He’s intentionally placing that ball in a specific spot. Love that from a QB.

Sanchez had very good pocket presence most of the night. He would stand tall in the pocket when it was clean. There were no happy feet. When he had a single rusher coming at him, Sanchez would side-step the guy or climb up in the pocket and re-set his feet. The Eagles mixed in some movement passes where Sanchez rolled out. He looked good on those. You can see his mobility and again…he re-set his feet before throwing. That helped with his touch and accuracy.

I liked his decision-making. There were some plays that didn’t work and Sanchez didn’t force the issue. He ate the ball or threw it away. There were some erratic snaps. Sanchez didn’t panic. He got on the ball and played it safe. Bad things are going to happen in a game. Good QBs will minimize those mistakes and move on to the next play or the next drive.

While there was a lot to praise, Sanchez was far from perfect.

There were several confused players early on. Sanchez was directing players left and right. Was he calling the plays correctly? We’re not used to seeing that many guys get moved around. Quick screens were an adventure throughout the game. Sanchez moved Darren Sproles from left to right on one play, then threw left, where Riley Cooper was blocking for no one. That’s serious confusion. Sanchez fired a quick screen to Cooper that looked off target. There was no rhythm to those plays, for the most part. Screens to Maclin and Sproles worked, but what is normally a safe, efficient play was highly erratic last night.

Sanchez did force one ball to Maclin that was almost picked off. That looked to be a case of Sanchez being greedy and trying to make a play where one wasn’t available. There was a pass to Celek on 3rd/short that I didn’t like. Celek was short of the sticks and had Luke Kuechly all over him. Throw the ball elsewhere or run it.

I just knew the gameplan would be to run the ball and ease Sanchez into action. WRONG. Chip Kelly saw Carolina focus on the run so he decided to attack their secondary, over and over. Sanchez was 20-37-332. I never would have expected 37 passes in a game where the Eagles had a good lead for much of the contest. Sanchez threw 2 TDs and didn’t have an INT or fumble.

Not all games will be this easy, but that was a very encouraging start for Sanchez. You could see his physical skills as well as his QB skills. He ran the offense with good tempo. He looked in command on the field and seemed comfortable.

One huge plus with Sanchez is Red Zone offense. Since he took over, the team is 7 for 7. The Eagles were 32nd in the league when he became the starter. They are now 26th overall. That’s pretty impressive. He makes quick decisions and good throws. He also can use his feet to move around and make good throws from outside the pocket.

The Packers now have almost 2 games of tape to study on Sanchez. You can bet they’ll find something they think they can exploit or attack. The test for Sanchez is to continue to play well. He can’t catch people by surprise anymore. They know what’s coming and how he looks in the Chip Kelly offense.

* * * * *

I’ll write about the defense for tonight. For now, enjoy this.

It is so much fun to see the Eagles pound on opposing QBs. Cam Newton took a beating last night.

Is Connor Barwin the anti-Jason Babin? He’s having a career year (like Babin did in 2011), but Barwin is doing it the right way and remains loved and respected by the guys he plays with and against.

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Monday Night Massacre

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 77 Comments »

The Eagles led 45-7 before giving up a couple of garbage time TDs. The final score was 45-21.

What a night.

The Eagles finally played a complete game. They didn’t turn the ball over. The offense was good in the Red Zone. The defense played well and came up with 9 sacks, as well as 5 takeaways. The only complaint I have is with the garbage TD that Cary Williams gave up late. Take that away and the Eagles played a nearly flawless game.

Mark Sanchez impressed the heck out of me.He was 20-37-332 with a pair of TDs. Sanchez threw the ball well and looked like the real deal for most of the night. I’ll discuss him more at length on Tuesday.

The player I enjoyed the most was Connor Barwin. He had 3.5 sacks. Beyond that, he passed the eye test in a big way. On one play he just threw the RT to the ground.

There was another play where Barwin ran over the LG. At the same time, he showed his athletic ability on a couple of plays. He spied Cam Newton and chased him down for a sack on one play. There was a 4th down pass play where Barwin shadowed a WR down the sideline and force a bad throw. Barwin better get some serious Pro Bowl talk this year.

Fletcher Cox got his first sack of the season. It was great to see that. Mychal Kendricks had 8 solo stops and was all over the field. His sack of Newton was impressive. Kendricks slung Newton down aggressively. It is easy to forget that Newton is about 260 pounds.

Darren Sproles added a PR for a score. He is the team’s MVP to this point in the season and continues to blow me away with everything he does.

The Eagles now improve to 7-2. They remain atop the NFC East and and in contention for the #1 playoff seed. It was great to see the team play a clean game…no turnovers. This team is a force to be reckoned with when they make the opponent beat them . Too often this year, the Eagles have beaten themselves with sloppy play. No more, well at least for tonight. Not a perfect game to be sure, but pretty darn impressive.

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