No Magic

Posted: January 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 147 Comments »

We love to analyze draft picks and free agent signings, trying to figure out who to give credit to for the good ones and who to blame for the busts. The truth is that rarely is one person to blame, or credit. NFL teams are just that…teams. Scouts do the grunt work. Personnel executives make the picks. The head coach and coordinators build gameplans. Positional assistants hone specific skills and teach players how to perform in their specific roles.

It is easy to blame Howie Roseman for some of the problems of recent years. It would be so convenient if all that had to be done was getting rid of him and the Eagles could magically go back to being a 12-4 team and title contender. That’s not reality.

The Eagles have failed as an organization.

Howie Roseman has been a key part of the personnel department since 2008. He has worked with the following defensive coordinators:

Jim Johnson
Sean McDermott
Juan Castillo
Bill Davis
Jim Schwartz

You went from a 4-3 zone blitz scheme under JJ and McDermott to Castillo’s version of the Wide-9 to a 2-gap version of the 3-4 under Davis and now to Schwartz’s version of the Wide-9. That’s a lot of change. Roseman and the scouting staff have had to find different players for all of those systems. That’s very difficult. You really need stability so players can develop.

Beyond schemes, you have personal preferences. Castillo put Mychal Kendricks at SAM and wanted him to be the key to the LB corps. Davis moved him to ILB. Schwartz moved him to WLB and didn’t play him much at all. Chip Kelly wanted tall, long CBs. Schwartz needs CBs who are supremely confident and aren’t scared to make mistakes.

There is a union between coaching and personnel where both sides help each other. The personnel department brings in the best possible players. The coaches then do their part to get the most out of the players they have to work with. The Eagles failed with Jerome McDougle, but succeeded with Trent Cole. Who do you blame for McDougle being a bust? Who do you credit for Cole becoming a star? Same scouts. Same coaches.

When we talk about how good the Eagles were from 2000-2004, there was scheme stability and Andy Reid had a great coaching staff. The Eagles could draft and develop players.

Recent years have been anything but stable. The Eagles had 3 head coaches in a 5-year span. I already noted all the different defensive coordinators and defensive systems earlier. The Eagles have had a lot of player changes. Key players like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Evan Mathis were let go while the Eagles brought in outsiders like DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso, Sam Bradford and Byron Maxwell.

The best thing for the Eagles right now is stability. Stick with the same systems. Keep most, if not all, of your assistants. You can tweak the staff, but not in a hugely impactful way. You want to let Joe Douglas, Andy Weidl and the scouts find the players to fit this team. The coaches then need to develop those players so that you have a strong core of young talent to build around.

Don’t run off every player who isn’t a star. You never know if another year could bring out more from guys like Marcus Smith, Jaylen Watkins and Nelson Agholor. You don’t want to keep underachievers too long, but there is something to be said for keeping players around to make sure one of them isn’t a late bloomer. As long as the player fits the system and you think there is potential for the guy to contribute, see what happens. Obviously money plays into this. If cutting a player will save you enough money and he’s replaceable, that changes things.

The point of all this is that the Eagles need to have organizational vision.

I thought they had that with Chip Kelly, but that proved to be false. I’m not sure who is more to blame, Kelly the coach or Kelly the GM, but he had too much of a Larry Brown thing going on. It seemed like he wanted to tinker because he had this idea in his head that made sense at the moment. The problem is that he either didn’t have good long term vision or didn’t have good discipline.

You need to come up with a plan and you need the whole organization on board. That way the scouts, coaches and personnel department can all work together to build up the roster and put together an outstanding team.

There is a notion with some people that a personnel guru can make a few picks or sign a couple of players and turn a team around. That’s just not the case. There needs to be the whole organization for things to really work. When Ron Wolf put together the great Green Bay teams, he had Mike Holmgren running the offense and Fritz Shurmur running the defense. There were great assistants all over the place.

Jimmy Johnson used the same philosophy when running the Dolphins that he did in Dallas. The results were very different because he didn’t have the same set of assistant coaches. He also had changed as a head coach. He couldn’t drive players the way he did earlier in his career. He got tired of being the relentless taskmaster who got the best from his players.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll do a great job in Seattle because they are on the same page. Schneider knows how to find the right players for Carroll. And Carroll knows how to use those guys. Both of them are also willing to take chances and fail. They have missed badly with draft picks, trades and free agent signings. They have also hit some home runs. They continue to swing for the fences and it works for them.

Howie Roseman is not the best GM in the league. Doug Pederson is not the best coach. But right now the best thing for the Eagles is to have those two men work together to build the core of this team. They worked well over the past year. They focused on the OL and getting a QB. Both areas are better now than they were a year ago.

Now we’ll get to see how Joe Douglas affects things. He and his scouts will be identifying the right players for the Eagles. It will be up to Howie and Doug Pederson to make the right choices and get this team back to being a contender.

Some of you will moan and groan about a 5-year plan and how this is all just an excuse so Howie can’t be held accountable. Look at Dallas. Look at Jason Garrett’s coaching record.

5-3
8-8
8-8
8-8
12-4
4-12
13-3

Old Jerry Jones would have fired Garrett and gone after the hot name in the football world. New Jerry is patient. He let his coach build something. He didn’t force Johnny Manziel on his team and let the personnel guys build up a great O-line. That wasn’t sexy or fun, but it has worked really well.

Dallas has used coaching and personnel stability to develop a good roster. They were smart and patient. They didn’t panic when a pick went wrong, a signing went wrong or even a whole season went wrong. And that drives me nuts. I miss the old Jerry Jones who flew off the handle on a regular basis and who drove his coaches/personnel guys crazy with his tinkering and splashy moves.

There are no quick fixes. There are no magic answers. The best way to succeed in the NFL is to build a team. That takes time and smart moves. It sounds like the Eagles are committed to taking their time and doing this the right way.

I don’t know if Joe Douglas and Howie can make the right moves, but I do know that roster, schematic and coaching stability is needed for them to have the best chance to succeed.

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Howie Speaks

Posted: January 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 223 Comments »

The offseason is officially here. Howie Roseman came out of the shadows to meet with the media and share his thoughts on the 2016 season, the state of the team and the future. He spoke for about 30 minutes. While Howie didn’t say anything mind-blowing, he did offer some interesting comments and gave us some hints about what to expect.

PE.com has the video here.

My biggest takeaway is that Howie is trying to build something. He admitted that in recent years the Eagles got too much into trying to find “band-aids” to help get the team back to the playoffs. As he said, “10-6 isn’t good enough.”

Howie made it a priority last year for the Eagles to find a long term answer at QB. He didn’t get into specifics, but you can look at recent years and see where the Eagles had the wrong thinking. Michael Vick had a good stretch in 2010, but that proved to be lightning in a bottle. Nick Foles just wasn’t talented enough to be a guy you build a franchise around. Sam Bradford was more talented than Foles, but still not good enough. There was more hope than proof when it came to those players.

That isn’t to say Carson Wentz is guaranteed to pan out, but he fits the bill when you think about everything you want in a QB. If you are going to take a chance on a player (which all picks/signings are), you want it to be someone you believe in on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom and at home. Wentz was that guy so the Eagles moved up to get him and now plan to build the team around him.

Howie brought up the position of CB as a spot where the team had tried to find too many stop-gap solutions. I won’t get into discussing the position at length (that’s a post of its own), but the Eagles haven’t had good long term vision there for a while. It sounds like CB is going to be a position that will be addressed this offseason in a way to try and solidify it for multiple years and not just 2017.

I liked the fact Howie had some moments of honesty. It is one thing for a coach or GM to admit mistakes in a general way, but it feels a lot better when they offer a specific example. That helps you to understand they aren’t just saying things for the sake of good PR.

Reporters did try to get Howie to talk about positions that need to be improved. He wouldn’t say anything. Howie didn’t want to broadcast his intentions to the rest of the league. The other 31 teams can look at the Eagles and see some of what needs to be done. So can you and I. Still, I don’t blame Howie. When you say something, you can try to make a bland, general statement and still say more than you want. Better to say nothing at all and just assume everyone with a pulse knows WRs and CBs are needed.

Obviously any discussion of CB brings up the question of why Eric Rowe was dealt so early in his career. Howie said that after talking to the coaches and evaluating the situation, the Eagles didn’t see him as a long term answer. They didn’t anticipate giving him a contract extension. Rather than just keeping him around, they decided to get something for him so they could use that resource to try and find a player who could be a long term fit.

I liked Rowe a lot as a prospect. I thought he showed good promise in 2015. Rowe did not handle the coaching/scheme change well. He really struggled to fit into the scheme and had a bad spring and summer. Rowe was drafted for one system. He didn’t fit into the new system. You can question how the coaches and personnel people could see that. Good football people can sometimes see things very quickly.

I remember a scout once telling me that a really gifted prospect (DL Jeremy Staat) was going to be a bust. I asked the guy to explain. Staat was terrific at Arizona State and I thought he was a stud. The scout said he could just see Staat was going to fail. He couldn’t put it into words. Size, strength, speed and all the physical tools appeared to be there, but something was missing. I thought the scout was nuts and told him I still thought highly of Staat. The scout was right. Staat, taken 41st overall,  played 29 games and had 20 tackles in his career. He was a major bust.

Patience is a virtue, but there are times when you can just see something isn’t going to work. Rather than wasting time, you move on. The point here isn’t that Rowe can’t play at all. He wasn’t going to play well for Jim Schwartz and in the Eagles current system. Trust me when I tell you this wasn’t a casual decision. Schwartz doesn’t get rid of players he thinks can help him. He would not have told the Eagles to move on if he didn’t believe very strongly that the situation couldn’t work.

Disagree with the move all you want, but history is filled with good coaches who got rid of guys who didn’t fit their system. Buddy Ryan cut Mike Zordich, who then came to the Eagles and started for 3 years. Bill Parcells rebuilt the Dallas defense from undersized and speedy to big and physical because that’s what he wanted. They were #1 in the league in 2003 and he overhauled the group in 2005. Jon Gruden got rid of Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams because he wanted physical WRs. The Eagles signed Irving Fryar and he was great for a couple of years. Coaches must have players they believe in and they must have the right kind of guys to make their systems work well.

Howie talked about Joe Douglas. Paul Domowitch wrote a good piece on that.

“The first thing he did was bring in Andy to have someone who spoke the same (scouting) language,” Roseman said. “They’ve both got tremendous presence.

“Joe’s got a way of looking and evaluating players that is different than what we’ve done in the past. And quite frankly, we needed that. He has full rein to set the draft board. He’s involved in every discussion we have about building this team. And I think we’ll start seeing dividends.”

I asked Roseman to be a little bit more specific about the difference in the way the Eagles have evaluated players in the past and the way Douglas evaluates them. His answer, though, didn’t really address the question.

“I think when we look at the success the Ravens had – and certainly they’ve won two world championships (in 2000 and 2012) since the start of the century – what they’re looking for and the trades they’re looking for in particular positions fits the way that this city is built, too,” he said.

Douglas is worthy of a post of his own, but I think the kind of players he will bring in to Philly are going to be big, strong, physical guys that are ultra-competitive. The Ravens aren’t always the most talented team, but there is a mental, physical and emotional toughness to that group. They play hard, often with an edge. They want to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Douglas is here to evaluate players. He will grade them and work with the scouts to set the Eagles draft board. Actual picks will be more of a collective decision, with Howie, Douglas and coaches/scouts involved. Howie has final say, but he will lean on Douglas in a big way.

Some critics will think this is all a bunch of bull. “Here’s another new guy to save the day. Blah, blah, blah.” I get that. It is easy to read the situation that way. I think this is different. Howie has to work well with Douglas. They have to get along. Howie has his share of critics in/around the league, but no team has made a move to hire Louis Riddick since he was pushed out. Jason Licht is now the GM in Tampa, but he’s had some issues with other teams. Chip Kelly’s credibility isn’t sky high right now.

Douglas is someone that is universally liked and respected. He worked with Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta for years. If Douglas gets the shaft in Philly, that could do huge damage to Howie’s reputation. The Eagles would struggle to hire good scouts and/or personnel guys. I also think Jeffrey Lurie is sincere when he says Howie is going to be held accountable for what happens. Lurie has been very patient with Howie, but this feels different. You can hear that in some of Howie’s comments.

“It will be a collaborative effort when we talk about who we are picking,” Roseman said Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, the responsibility is mine.”

The guessing game of who to blame is over. This is on Howie, whether good, bad or in the middle.

I liked the fact that Howie was generally positive, but also realistic. Doug Pederson over-praised his team and players during the season and I think that sent a bad message, whether intended or not. Howie talked about some of the good aspects of the team, but wouldn’t buy into the mantra that the Eagles are close. He wouldn’t talk about when this team will be ready to be a Super Bowl contender.

Howie is trying to build the Eagles. He wants this team to be a perennial contender. That’s the right mindset. He admitted there could be some short term deals if they make sense, but the offseason is going to be about the future as much as the present. The Eagles are going to look for ascending players. This team isn’t one acquisition away from the Super Bowl. They need talented guys that are young or in their prime.

Whether you love, hate or just tolerate Howie, I think you should come away from his press conference feeling the team is headed in the right direction and they have the right outlook.

Now they just have to go find the right players.

We’ll find out how good Douglas is at player evaluation and how much Howie has truly learned from past mistakes.

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Mr. Right?

Posted: January 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 177 Comments »

The Eagles found their QB.

Carson Wentz is the future.

The Eagles found the biggest piece of the puzzle, now they just have to build around him.

Some people hear statements like these and wonder how true they are. Wentz went 7-9 this year. He finished with a rating under 80. He only threw 16 TDs and turned the ball over more than 20 times. He threw a ton of short passes and failed to come through late in games for most of the year. How the heck is that guy your franchise QB?

I think many people get confused with what we’re talking about. Wentz has the potential to be a franchise QB. He has the tangible qualities and the intangibles to develop into a star. He isn’t anywhere close to that level right now. When you think of Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre and the other classic examples of franchise QBs, you think of the finished product. Those players, like most QBs, were very different early on.

Dak Prescott is having an amazing rookie season. He’s set more than a few records and looks like the real deal. Why can’t Wentz be like him? As with any QB, circumstances are a huge factor. RB Ezekiel Elliott has a legit chance to be the league MVP. Think about that for a second. Prescott is having a great year and he’s not even the best rookie in the offensive huddle. Elliott is the foundation of that whole team. Prescott just has to get the ball to his playmakers. That takes a tremendous amount of pressure off him.

Wentz has no such star RB to lean on. The Eagles lack playmakers. Who is the MVP of the Eagles offense? Jason Peters started all 16 games, but wasn’t dominant. Darren Sproles was terrific at times, but finished with 865 yards from scrimmage and 4 TDs, hardly great numbers. Jordan Matthews was the key to the passing game, but failed to make some key plays and missed a couple of games. Wentz should be the offensive MVP.

Some of you read this and say “You’re just making excuses for Wentz. Stop it!”. Nothing could be further from the case.

I can’t tell you that Wentz would be great if he had Julio Jones to throw to or David Johsnon to hand the ball to or whichever skill players you want to bring up. I don’t know how Wentz would perform. He hasn’t had the chance to do that. And that’s the point. We need to see how he does play when surrounded by really good talent.

No young QB is going to thrive when he has to carry most of the load on his own. It always bothered me when Peyton Manning got praised over and over and no one brought up the point that he always had HOF talent around him. The moment he stepped onto an NFL field, he had Marvin Harrison and Marshall Faulk as his weapons. Faulk was then traded and replaced with Edgerrin James. Manning was great, but those are some seriously potent weapons to work with.

Late in his time with the Colts, things fell apart. Manning didn’t have his star players. He still found a way to pile up yards and points. That’s when I truly gained an appreciation for him. But Manning had more than a decade of experience by then and could carry a team on his back.

How many people remember Steve Young in Tampa? He left BYU and went to the USFL, where he was a star. Then he came to the NFL, but had the misfortune of going to the worst franchise in the league, the Bucs. Young played there in 1985 and 1986. He went 3-16 as a starter. He threw 11 TDs and 21 INTs. Bill Walsh traded for him and Young sat behind Joe Montana for a few years before he got a chance to play. Young then had an amazing run from 1991 until he retired. Even a special talent like Young needed the right situation to make him a star.

Wentz might become a star if the Eagles can find the right supporting cast. It is also possible that we’ll find out he’s not that guy. I can tell you that I see all the right signs. I can tell you that he looked better to me as a rookie than Donovan McNabb did. If Wentz turns out to be a better version of McNabb, he’ll be a terrific pick and the team should be in for a good run.

It is also possible that Wentz will prove to be a mediocre QB like Sam Bradford or a flat out bust like Matt Leinart or Jake Locker. I don’t think he is likely to be a complete bust because of what we’ve seen so far this year and the fact that Wentz is hard working and driven. Locker just wasn’t that good. Leinart was focused more on hot chicks than hot reads (understandable, but not good for a QB).

We need a couple of things to find out if Wentz is the real deal. The first is time. It took Matt Stafford a few years to really blossom as a QB., The Lions were patient and it paid off. Time works the other way as well. Mark Sanchez looked like a terrific young QB early on, beating Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in playoff games. He didn’t handle success well off the field and his game regressed on the field. He could be out of the league in a month or so.

We also need the Eagles to get Wentz some key pieces. That could mean an elite RB. It could mean a great receiver. It could be a couple of good receivers. Whatever. We need to see how Wentz plays when he has good players around him.

Then we’ll find out if he is in fact Mr. Right.

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Down Goes Dallas

Posted: January 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 464 Comments »

The Eagles wrapped up the 2016 season with a 27-13 win over the Cowboys. The Eagles wrapped up the game with a late TD run by rookie Terrell Watson and that put a smile on my face.

This has been a frustrating season. Finishing with a 2-game winning streak and a win over Dallas is a good way to end on a high note. The Watson TD was sweet because this was his first NFL game, his family was in attendance and he’s got such a compelling background story. That TD will mean something to Watson, his friends and his family.

People will point out that Dallas was missing some starters and used 3 QBs. That’s absolutely true. But don’t overlook the fact the Eagles had UDFA skill players all over the place. Beyond that, there were 12 first or second year players getting regular snaps in the game. I don’t think the Eagles need to apologize at all for winning that game.

Jordan Hicks was terrific, coming up with a pair of INTs (courtesy of Mark Sanchez). He also had 5 solo tackles. Brandon Graham did not have a sack, but he was disruptive all game long. He did have 2 TFLs. Nolan Carroll is the one defender who struggled. He was hit with a couple of PI’s and gave up the lone TD of the game. Not a great way to close out a season where you are looking for a new contract.

It was fun to watch Byron Marshall (10-42) and Watson (9-28-1) run the ball. Marshall has come a long way since the first couple of carries in the Ravens game. He looked so lost on those. Now he runs with confidence. He’s proven to be stronger and more physical than I anticipated. Marshall also has a good burst. Watson showed his physicality as he ran over tacklers a couple of times. He has good speed for a big man. Marshall could be part of long range plans. Watson is more of a developmental player.

The biggest takeaway from the game is that Carson Wentz played pretty well and came away healthy. He started the game well, went into a lull and then finished pretty strong. He was 27-43-245 with a pair of TDs and no turnovers. Wentz didn’t have Jordan Matthews to throw to and then Nelson Agholor got hurt early on. That meant a ton of work for Zach Ertz, who had a huge day. Ertz was 13-139 with 2 TDs. He actually did a good job of adding RAC yards as well. It will be interesting to see how Wentz plays when he has skill players he can rely on every week.

There is a lot more to the 2-8 stretch than just Johnson’s absence, but you cannot ignore the fact he makes this team better.

We’ll quickly shift the conversation from this game to the offseason.

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Halftime – PHI 10, DAL 10

Posted: January 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 157 Comments »

Weird game because Dallas is has already used all 3 of their QBs. And because the 2016 Eagles are just a very weird team.

What have we learned?

  • Jordan Hicks is good.
  • Carson Wentz is talented, but very inconsistent.
  • Mark Sanchez is awful.
  • The Eagles need WRs in a big way.
  • Nolan Carroll is not an elite shutdown corner.

That’s about it.

Can’t wait for the 2nd half.

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