Any Interest in Andre Johnson?

Posted: July 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 34 Comments »

There is a strange situation going on in Houston. Star WR Andre Johnson wasn’t thrilled when the team made a coaching change. He read this as a rebuilding phase and since he’ll be 33 this season didn’t want any part of that. After meeting with coach Bill O’Brien, Johnson changed his mind. He wanted to mend fences with the team. That’s when things went strange. Per PFT:

If the Texans could have brought receiverAndre Johnson back into the fold by simply giving him a way to earn back the $1 million roster bonus he had forfeited by skipping the early phases of the offseason program, why didn’t they?

Before delving into the question, consider this.  It’s true and accurate, as first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, that Johnson offered to show up for OTAs and minicamp in exchange for a way to earn back the $1 million roster bonus — and that the Texans said thanks and no.  Johnson’s olive branch came after he took some time to get to know the knew coaching staff, and after he concluded that the franchise hasn’t plunged into a full-blown rebuilding process.  Johnson was ready to show up and get to work, with his only request being that the organization give him a way to earn the money that hinged on his full participation in the offseason program.

That was it.  That’s all he wanted.  And the Texans said no.

For now, the fracture has become a full-blown schism.  After the team refused to give him a way to earn back the money, Johnson became committed to the idea of playing elsewhere.

So why didn’t the Texans simply let Johnson save a little face and in turn a lot of money?  If there’s a rational explanation, the explanation has yet to make its way into the eyes and ears of the media.  While it shows the other players on the team that contracts will be honored as written, it undermines, and potentially poisons, the relationship with Johnson.

Sure sounds like things will probably be over between Houston and Johnson. It isn’t like he’s a high-maintenance prima donna. Johnson is a classy veteran and probably the best player in Texans history. Weird.

If the Texans put Johnson on the market, should the Eagles have interest?

No.

If the question was simply about Johnson, the answer would be yes. But he’s not a free agent. Compensation is a factor. Johnson is a band-aid. I would not give up a pick for him. He’s older and expensive. Is he a good player? Yes. But the Eagles don’t need a workhorse WR, which is what Johnson is best at.

Let’s talk about age for a minute. The Eagles gave up a 5th round pick for Darren Sproles. What about that? Sproles is 31. He also impacts STs as well as offense. Sproles cost a cheap pick and has a reasonable salary. Johnson is a starting player. He would cost a higher pick and bigger salary. Do you want to add a 33-year old WR when the current group is young and has potential?

If this were mid-August and someone had gotten hurt, then you make a deal. Right now the Eagles are healthy and WR isn’t a position of “need”. I’m sure several of you will point out that Jeremy Maclin is coming off an ACL tear and that the Eagles have a couple of rookies in key roles. That’s true. But Maclin has looked good so far and the goal is to build up a young corps of WRs. The Eagles need to get Matthews, Huff, Benn and the others on the field.

Johnson is a bit of an awkward fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. He certainly has the size and physicality that Kelly loves. But I’m not so sure that Johnson is what Kelly wants. Johnson is a guy you feed the ball to. In 5 of the last 8 years, Johnson has caught 100 or more passes. I think Kelly prefers to spread the ball and use multiple guys. I’m also curious whether Johnson is all that much of a threat after the catch anymore. He averaged just 3.8 RAC yards per reception. Johnson was 2nd in the NFL in RAC yards in 2012. Did age start to catch up or was he merely struggling due to an overall offensive letdown?

I see Johnson as the kind of player you add if you are desperate for WR help or a veteran team that is looking for that push to get them over the top. The Eagles don’t fit either category so I think they pass on him.

Then again, I didn’t expect them to go for Sproles so never say never. Just seems unlikely to me.

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Red Hot in the Red Zone

Posted: July 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 32 Comments »

One of the things that Nick Foles did so well in 2013 was executing in the Red Zone. Any Eagles fan can tell you that was a frustrating place in recent years. Many a drive stalled in scoring territory, leading to short field goals for David Akers and Alex Henery.

That changed last year. Foles played brilliantly in the Red Zone. Check out these stats:

26 – 37 – 197 … with 16 TDs and no INTs … completed 70 percent of his throws…rating of 122.4

That is truly outstanding. Michael Vick wasn’t nearly as good. He was 5 for 19 with 1 TD. Even his magical season of 2010 wasn’t as good in the Red Zone as Foles last year.

38 – 68 – 190…with 13 TDs and 1 INT … completed 55.9 percent of his throws…rating of 94.6

I think Kelly’s offense helped. He ran a lot of crossing routes, which are very difficult to defend because there are so many bodies in such a tight space. The congestion makes it difficult to play tight man coverage. Reid tended to spread things out and try to get the ball to a playmaker quickly. I always thought he made the mistake of using the flats instead of getting the ball into the end zone itself.

But let’s not ignore Foles here. He made a huge difference for a few reasons. First, accuracy. Foles can be a precise passer. He throws the ball with good touch, but also some velocity. Foles is mechanically sound and that means he is able to repeat throws over and over. He’s not improvising in the Red Zone. Foles can put the ball where he wants. We’ve seen him throw fades. We’ve seen him throw an arcing pass over a defender to a receiver. We’ve seen him hit receivers running crossing routes along the back line. And he also gets the ball to his guys when they are wide open on play-action passes where the fakes work.

Foles also doesn’t need players to be open. He is willing to throw the ball to a covered receiver. Too often Donovan McNabb and Vick needed someone to be wide open. That doesn’t happen on a regular basis in the Red Zone. There are a lot of contested passes there because of the congestion. The key here is that Foles isn’t forcing the ball to a covered player. He sees someone that is covered, but where there is an angle to work with. Foles will then put the ball into a safe spot and give his receiver a chance to make the play. This is especially important when throwing to big WRs and TEs. You want to take advantage of their size. Give them a chance to make plays for you.

The final point to make about Foles in the Red Zone is that he anticipates throws. This ties in to the last point about not needing players to be open. Foles watches a play unfold and knows where to put the ball before the receiver comes open. You cannot react in the Red Zone. There isn’t enough space and time to play like that. You must be proactive. You must anticipate which receiver will come open and be ready to pull the trigger instantly.

There were some plays where Foles moved around and bought time for his receivers to get open. Vick and McNabb were very good at this as well. If you don’t have anything initially, move around and keep the play alive. Someone should come open if you can give them a couple of extra seconds to shake free. Foles also proved adept at throwing on the move. He has been good at this since his first Eagles practices under Reid.

I don’t think Foles play in the Red Zone was a fluke. His numbers might not be quite as good this year, but I still think he will be a very good Red Zone QB. That situation fits his skill set well.

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Chip Wagon took a look at one particular Red Zone play that they liked and broke it down. Terrific throw by Foles on a play that was ignored for far too long.

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More Reason to Love Matthews

Posted: July 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 22 Comments »

Rookie WR Jordan Matthews has yet to catch a pass in the NFL or even play a down of football, but he is already a popular player and someone the fans have high hopes for. Matthews stood out in the OTAs and minicamp. And then you read stories like this.

Pro Bowl is the mandate. We’re not here just to play football. We’re here to dominate.

That’s the motto that floated off the lips of Tom Bender when speaking of his Atlanta-based program, which trains anywhere from 25-35 NFL players at a time during the offseason. It sounds a bit bold until you consider that his clientele includes the likes of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Demaryius Thomas, arguably the top three receivers in the game.

This is the environment Jordan Matthews has nestled into for the past week, and where he’ll remain until the Eagles open training camp. 

“He’s learning a lot, he’s integrating well and we’re cleaning up some of his college issues,” said Bender with a laugh.

Issues? Like?

“That’s for us to discuss. It’s just a matter of getting him to move better, clean up his routes, just clean up all aspects of his game.”

We don’t know if Matthews will be good, let alone great. But we do know that Matthews is willing to do what it takes to maximize his potential. He made himself into a star at Vanderbilt. He then worked hard to stand out at the Senior Bowl. Matthews got drafted in the 2nd round, but isn’t resting on his laurels. He is still pushing to show everyone just how good he can be.

I think too often rookies don’t have the right attitude about the NFL. They work hard in college and the pre-draft process to get drafted as high as possible. That’s when they relax. Instead, they should realize that getting drafted is just the first step in a long journey. It is the beginning of your pro career, not just the culmination of your college career.

Matthews is willing to work. He’s also willing to listen.

Similarly, a connection recommended that Bender work with Matthews, and after a phone call with the Vanderbilt product, Bender agreed.

“He’s a humble kid. He said, ‘Coach, you’ll be happy with me.’”

For Matthews, it’s a chance to learn from some of the best wideouts on the planet during the lead-up to training camp.

“They’re having fun. Jordan’s a humble guy and he’s been in work mode. He approached A.J. probably the second day he was here and started asking key questions. One of the biggest things A.J. translated is that you really have to take care of your body during the season. Your production is going to relate to how you maintain your body. And as far as with Calvin, he is not a man of many words but he’s helping [Matthews] correct some of his route running.

“They’ve enjoyed him, they’ve enjoyed his work ethic. He’s come  out as far as conditioning…Some of the vets are like, ‘Slow down, young buck! Slow the pace down.’”

Chip Kelly is trying to build the Eagles with his kind of guys. Matthews could be a key piece for Kelly, on and off the field.

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LeSean Perspective

Posted: July 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 88 Comments »

LeSean McCoy is a great RB, but an interesting question is whether he will end up being one of the all-time greats. There is no doubting the fact he has unique ability and does special things. Can he produce at a high level for an extended period of time?

This is where the Andy Reid factor comes in. Did he hurt McCoy or help him with the limited carries?

McCoy is about to turn 26. He has 1,149 career carries. Emmitt Smith is one of the biggest workhorse RBs of all time. When he turned 26, Smith already had 1,630 carries, which is almost 500 more than McCoy. Both players had 5 seasons under their belt at this age. It really is amazing to see how they were used.

Smith had his biggest year in 1995, when he was 26.  He ran for 1,773 yards and 25 TDs. But that was the final season when he did anything special. There were a couple of 1,300 yard seasons after that, but Smith only averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored a total of 24 TDs. Those are certainly good numbers, but nothing like the special ones he put up earlier in his career. The Cowboy offense was in decline. The O-line wasn’t dominant. And Smith had taken a beating early in his career that caught up to him.

There is still plenty of tread on the tire with McCoy. But you can argue that Reid wasted his best years by not feeding him the ball more. We can’t accurately judge the situation until we see how the next few seasons goes. Does McCoy keep his dynamic cutting ability for the next couple of years or the next 5 years? Once that goes, he’s going to have to change the way he runs.

It is good that Chip Kelly arrived when he did. McCoy is at his peak now, in terms of health and experience. Kelly will feed him the ball and McCoy can put up big numbers if he can stay healthy. McCoy in 2013:

314 – 1,607 – 9 – 5.1

McCoy led the NFL with the 1,607 yards. The yards per carry was outstanding. Any time a workhorse runner is above 5 ypc, that is very impressive. It is a bit curious that McCoy “only” scored the 9 TDs. I’m sure he wants that number to go up in 2014.

One interesting difference with Emmitt and McCoy is the offense they played in. Dallas was a running team. Emmitt finished his career with 11 TD catches. He only had 4 TD receptions when he turned 26. McCoy has 10 TD catches already. The number of receptions is similar, but not the way the players were used. Emmitt was strictly there for screens and checkdowns. McCoy is part of the passing game. One of his best highlights in 2013 was beating Ryan Kerrigan down the right sideline for a long catch and run. That was a beautiful pass play.

McCoy has gotten better each year. He works at his game. He is more disciplined in short yardage situations. As a young RB, he would too often look for the big play. He is now disciplined enough to focus on moving the chains with 1 or 2 tough yards. McCoy runs more N-S than he did earlier in his career. He still takes some crazy chances and does unusual things, but that’s part of his game. You can’t expect him to be like every other RB. He’s got a bit of Barry Sanders to him. In order to enjoy the long runs and dynamic plays, you must live with the ones that don’t work out so well.

His non-traditional running style will help McCoy as he gets older. He doesn’t live between the tackles, where a RB can take a real beating. McCoy is a player that is at his best in space. He’s getting hit by 1 or 2 tacklers and often they are glancing blows instead of head-on collisions. That will save some wear and tear.

I’m excited to see how McCoy does in 2014. This could be another big year for him. If he’s able to string together several big years, McCoy could find himself headed to Canton. He’s got the highlights. Now he needs the stats. McCoy has 5,473 career rushing yards. My guess is that he needs something like 12,000 to feel comfortable about a shot at Canton.

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Eagles fans obviously love LeSean McCoy, but do you think he is appreciated across the league as an elite player? I think every person on Earth sees Adrian Peterson as a dominant player and freak of nature. Does the average fan see McCoy as a great RB or just a guy who has some cool highlights?

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Really Big

Posted: July 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 39 Comments »

Chip Kelly loves big players so it should come as no surprise that the Eagles were one of the teams checking out DL LaKendrick Ross for the upcoming NFL Supplemental Draft. Ross is massive at 6-4, 366.

Unfortunately, the most compelling thing about Ross is his size. He played at a school I’d never heard of, Virginia University of Lynchburg. And remember that I’m a guy with VHS game tapes of the Colorado School of Mines. When I haven’t heard of a school…it is small.

I watched a bit of tape on Ross and came away mostly unimpressed. Scouts will tell you that when you study small school games, good prospects should really stick out. Ross was the best player on the field, but not in an overwhelming way. He does fit what the Eagles are looking for. Ross looks most comfortable when reading plays and shedding blocks. He is not an attacking DL.

Ross needs a ton of coaching. He plays with poor pad level and uses sloppy technique. He was able to overwhelm smaller guys in college, but that won’t work at the NFL level. Think of him as a lesser version of Michael Bamiro, if that puts things in perspective. Ross would be a NT candidate for the Eagles on a long term basis, but he needs work.

The Eagles should not spend a pick on Ross. I have no problem with them adding him as a free agent after the Supplemental Draft, but he’s not worth a pick. One interesting question would be who got cut to make room for Ross. DL Frances Mays?

PFT has a couple of details.

BGN as well.

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Pretty crazy to think how much has changed since then.

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Blogging the Boys put together an interesting post that used Bill James ideas for making some predictions on the NFC East. Most of the data favors the other 3 teams and not the Eagles, but that is largely due to the theory that good teams come back to the middle and losing teams move up.

The writer made sure to point out a few times that this was a less than ideal system for evaluating NFL teams. But this is the offseason. You have to be creative to keep the content going. I thought it was an interesting read. Kudos for the idea.

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