Appreciating Jim Johnson

Posted: July 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 49 Comments »

Marion Campbell to Buddy Ryan to Wade Phillips to Jeff Fisher to Bud Carson to Ray Rhodes to Emmitt Thomas to Jim Johnson. Those men coached the Eagles defense from 1977-2008. What an amazing group of coaches.

I think Jim Johnson is the one who fans really cling to. Buddy certainly has his supporters, but the unit peaked the year after he was fired and the lack of postseason success does hurt his legacy in Philly. JJ wasn’t the flamboyant personality, but he put together outstanding defenses for 10 seasons in Philly. He helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl. He was a great coach.

I wrote about Jim for PE.com.

Here are a few things that didn’t go into that piece.

Maybe the most impressive thing happened from the end of 2000 through late in 2001. If you include the playoffs, the Eagles held opponents to 21 or fewer points in 21 straight games. That is an incredible streak that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. The streak would be even longer if not for some meaningless points in a blowout win over the Browns.

Nine of the teams in that streak scored 10 or fewer points. It wasn’t like the Eagles gave up 17 or 20 each week. They really shut people down. The Eagles finished 2nd in the league in scoring defense in 2001. Only the Bears were ahead of them, by 5 points.

*****

Johnson ran the defense for 17 playoff games. The Eagles gave up 17.4 points a game in those contests. In eight of the games, the Eagles held opponents to 14 or fewer points. JJ’s defense usually gave the Eagles a good chance to win.

*****

I previously wrote a piece on the best games he coached.

It really is mind-blowing that the 2005 team held LaDainian Tomlinson to 7 yards rushing on 17 carries. The Eagles had a brilliant gameplan of playing LT outside-in and they executed it really well. DEs set the edge on some runs. LBs and DBs sold out to come up field quickly on other plays. That funneled LT to the middle. Jeremiah Trotter played a great game. He picked off a pass, had a sack and was terrific against the run.

*****

It drove me crazy that JJ never got a shutout. The Eagles came close a few times, but it wasn’t until Bill Davis in 2014 that the Eagles got a shutout in the 21st century. That’s just crazy.

*****

JJ’s influence is still all over the NFL. Ron Rivera is the head coach in Carolina. Sean McDermott is the new coach in Buffalo. John Harbaugh spent a year under JJ and has won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Steve Spagnuolo got to be a head coach, but is now back running the Giants D. Leslie Frazier was a head coach in Minnesota and is now working with McDermott in Buffalo.

That’s a pretty impressive group of coaches.

We talk about the Andy Reid coaching tree, but JJ has to get some of the credit for that group as well.

_


Sack Saturday

Posted: July 15th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 60 Comments »

There are no hot topics to discuss so let’s talk about sacks. They became official stats in 1982 and the Eagles have had a ton of them in that time. There isn’t much that’s more fun than watching the opposing QB go down.

Unfortunately, sacks are on the decline. From PFT in a story on Julius Peppers:

The four players ahead of Peppers on the all-time sack list — Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman — all started their careers in 1985. That year, NFL teams averaged 2.92 sacks per game. By the time Peppers entered the NFL, in 2002, sacks were down to 2.29 per team per game. By last year, sacks were down to 2.18 per team per game.

As rules changes have favored passing offenses, and NFL teams have prioritized protecting their quarterbacks, it’s become more difficult to get a sack. Bruce Smith’s career record of 200 sacks is almost certainly out of reach for the 37-year-old Peppers. And when Peppers retires, he may have a sack total that’s out of reach for any active player. Getting to the quarterback has never been harder, and players like Julius Peppers don’t come along very often.

Keep that in mind when you rant against Brandon Graham being a PFF hero, but only having 5.5 sacks. It is getting harder and harder for defenders to get to the QB. Hurries and pressures aren’t ideal stats because they feel so subjective.

*****

PE.com posted a video of the Eagles 5 best sacks from 2016. Nothing great, but fun to watch.

*****

Since the unofficial end of Gang Green (1994), the Eagles have had 7 different players with 10 or more sacks in a season. Can you name them?  Read the rest of this entry »


More on the TEs

Posted: July 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 21 Comments »

Yesterday I wrote a scouting report on Zach Ertz. Readers had some comments and questions. I figured I would address those issues and offer some thoughts on the other TEs.

A few people pointed out that Ertz has been a breakout candidate for a couple of years now. Is he a permanent tease? That’s a fair question, but let’s remember that’s he’s just 26 years old. He could play at a high level for the next five years. Some young players peak quickly. Others take time to hone their games and to reach their potential.

What we are talking about with Ertz is him becoming one of the best TEs in the league. That’s not easy. We watched a player like L.J. Smith for years and he never got to the level where Ertz is today. Let’s not confuse Ertz’s situation with someone who is an underachiever or a flat out bad player. Ertz is good. The question is whether he can put it all together and become a star TE.

Other people talked about Ertz disappearing for parts of seasons or in big games. This is a more complicated point. Ertz played with a different starting QB in 2014, 2015 and 2016. There were different schemes in 2015 and 2016. Stability can really help a young player develop. Developing chemistry with a QB also helps quite a bit. With TEs, it isn’t so much about timing. You are dealing more with being on the same page. TEs play a lot in traffic. The TE and QB need to see the same thing and make the same read. You can’t work on that in Fargo. It takes game experience for this kind of chemistry to develop.

Ertz hasn’t played with a QB who had a passer rating of 90 or higher since his rookie year. That was when Nick Foles had his insane year and posted one of the highest ratings in league history. Ertz was a role player back then. As his playing time has increased, the level of QB play has decreased. This could be the year that changes. And make no mistake that having the right QB can make a big difference.

The level of QB play doesn’t affect his blocking, but Ertz was a high 2nd round pick because of his ability as a receiver, not as a blocker. Improved QB play should help to bring out the best in him.

Some people wondered if I was too generous in regard to RAC ability. Run after the catch is more than just breaking tackles. Ertz can use his speed to get yards after the catch. Not everyone has to be Celek and try to bull their way for yards.

The bottom line is that this year should tell us a lot about Ertz. If he takes his game to the next level, the question is simply how good he’ll be. If Ertz is inconsistent and just flashes the potential, we might be seeing that he’s going to be that player for ever. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it’s not what this team needs as the Eagles try to get back to the postseason.

*****

As I watched the games to study Ertz, I did check out the other TEs. Brent Celek still has moments where he is so good. Ertz uses athleticism to get open. Celek uses angles, experience and physicality. He knows how to push off to create just a bit of separation. Celek knows how to use his hands/arms to keep defenders off his body while he’s running the route.

Trey Burton is more of a mystery man. He is talented, but I’m not sure how good he is. Because of his size, I’m not sure if Burton can ever become a true #2 TE or if he’s stuck being a role player. He’s so good on STs that having him as the #3 TE isn’t a bad thing. You just see him flash good ability at times and wonder if he can be something more than the #3 guy.

*****

I have mixed feelings on Brown. Played WR in college and went against small school competition. Can he block and adjust to the physicality of life as an NFL TE?

Baldy likes him and so does Fran Duffy. The kid is talented, but I think he’s a major long shot. Hope I’m wrong.

_


Evaluating Ertz

Posted: July 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 48 Comments »

Zach Ertz makes for a tough discussion. He is one of the few players who is legitimately underrated and overrated at the same time. I referred to him in a previous post as a “complementary player”. Some readers nodded their head, while others said “huh?”

Ertz has the potential to be an outstanding player, possibly even a star TE. The problem is that Ertz doesn’t always play to his potential and he’s been prone to some big mistakes. There is no question of talent. He simply must become a more consistently physical player. The size, skill and athleticism are there. He is lacking in toughness and physicality, although there are times when he shows flashes in those areas.

Zach Ertz scouting report

Size: 6-5, 250
Birthdate: 11-10-1990
Experience: entering 5th season

RELEASE:  6

ROUTE RUNNING:  7

HANDS:  8

RECEIVE SHORT:  7

RECEIVE DEEP:  8

CATCH IN TRAFFIC:  7

RUN AFTER CATCH:  5

IN-LINE BLOCK:  4

BLOCK ON THE MOVE:  5

Positives:  Talented, athletic pass-catcher in the prime of his career. Can be a weapon in the passing game. Has the ability to line up all over the field. Dangerous in space. Linebackers and even some Safeties struggle to cover him due to his outstanding change-of-direction ability. Ertz is deadly when he runs the arrow route. His ability to make quick cuts makes it tough for some defenders to stick with him on underneath routes. Very good intermediate and deep receiver. Has the speed to get open and does a good job of tracking the ball. Has excellent hands. Catches the ball away from his body. Really concentrates on the ball. Made an impressive catch vs WAS on downfield play. Focused on the ball and made tough grab as his legs were cut out from under him. Athletic player who can make plays after the catch. Had a long TD vs SEA called back due to meaningless penalty. Showed excellent speed on that play as he outran a couple of DBs. Put in him in the slot and there are times he looks like a big WR. Excellent body control. Is able to adjust to off-target throws. Shows the potential to be an excellent receiver on 3rd/4th and short situations. When he gets a clean release, is able to make one hard cut and present a target to his QB. Sure-handed TE who will catch the ball if it gets to him.

Negatives:  Plays a physical position, but is not a physical player. That is true as a blocker, route-runner and after the catch. Poor in-line blocker. There is no lack of effort, though. Fires off the ball and engages his defender. The problem is that Ertz doesn’t follow the old football maxim of “run through the target, not to the target”. Makes contact and quits driving. His defender consistently either makes the tackle or is in on the tackle. That must change. Better blocker in space, but still not consistently good. Will beat up on some DBs. Can struggle at times to get open against physical defenders. Doesn’t know how to use his size and strength to create separation. Relies too much on athleticism. That works in space, but in traffic a TE must be able to fight through contact and get open. Terrible when it comes to breaking tackles after the catch. Went most of the 2016 season without breaking a single tackle. That is unacceptable for a player of his size and ability. Ertz should be better in the Red Zone. There are too many plays where he and the QB aren’t on the same page. Seems to be freelancing at times. The RZ is one place where that can’t happen. You must run the correct route and fight for the ball when it comes your way.

Overall:  I watched almost five complete games. I wanted to see Ertz early, middle and late in the season. His highs are really impressive. Ertz is outstanding at times. Put on the SEA game and you’ll be shocked at how good he looks on some plays and how awful he looks on others. The talent is there. The only person keeping Zach Ertz from being a Pro Bowl TE is Zach Ertz. He must get tougher and more physical. History is filled with athletic TEs who are marginal blockers, but Ertz has to improve to get to that level. Rarely wins on in-line situations. That has to change. Part of it is technique. He plays with poor pad level at times. Doesn’t always bring his legs with him when blocking. Doesn’t have the upper body strength to get away with that. The biggest thing is attitude. Ertz must be more aggressive and assertive. He doesn’t play to his size and strength. Playing with more of a sense of aggression would help his blocking, route-running and ability to break tackles after the catch.

If things ever fully click for Ertz, could become an outstanding player and huge asset for Carson Wentz. Ertz is already a good player, but still needs to take the next step if he’s going to reach his full potential.

******

 

Ertz’s 5 best catches from 2016

Career stats

_


Your Starting DL?

Posted: July 12th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 48 Comments »

This could be a pretty fun group.

LDE

DT

DT

RDE

That is one impressive set of players.

And keep in mind that Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Beau Allen, Elijah Qualls, Steven Means and others will be coming off the bench.

_