Game Review – PHI 29, CLE 10 – Defense

Posted: September 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 174 Comments »

Jim Schwartz had the Eagles defense playing at a high level in the preseason. The question was how much of that would carry over to the regular season. Would the defense be good? Could they be dominant? One game doesn’t provide any definitive answers, but things sure look good after the 29-10 win over the Browns.

Cleveland had 288 yards of offense and scored 10 points. The last time the Eagles played D like that in an opener was 2009 when the Panthers scored 10 points and gained just 189 yards. Carolina had 7 turnovers that day. Sean McDermott used all kinds of new tricks and it overwhelmed the Panthers. They were just awful on that day.

Schwartz didn’t do a whole lot of creative things. He basically just “unleashed the hounds” and the Eagles D executed well. Back in 2009 the Eagles went on to finish 12th in total defense. That was pretty impressive considering the disaster that the MLB position was. A preseason injury to Stewart Bradley wrecked the position all year. From Omar Gaither to Joe Mays to Will Witherspoon to even Chris Gocong, the Eagles tried just about everyone. They even re-signed Jeremiah Trotter. Good D, but poor MLB play. This Eagles defense looks to be more talented so looking for a Top 10 unit wouldn’t be unreasonable.

I wrote in my preview that I didn’t think the Browns would be able to sustain drives. I was worried about big plays, either through RG3’s legs or his explosive arm. Cleveland had a couple of drives go 7 plays. Only one drive covered more than 60 yards. It really was chunk plays or punts. The Eagles had 4 drives of at least 8 plays and 3 that covered 60 or more yards.

On Cleveland’s one TD drive, they got lucky. WR Terrell Pryor pushed off on Nolan Carroll as the ball came down, but didn’t get flagged. A few plays later, the Eagles thought they had a 3rd down stop, but there was a late flag on Malcolm Jenkins that gave CLE a 1st/Goal. Two officials were watching the play right in front of them. No call. A third official was further away and behind the play. He threw the flag. Making matters worse, Vinny Curry was tackled on the play. That’s an obvious holding call that didn’t get made.

The Browns were only 2 of 10 on 3rd downs. They did run for 120 yards, but 68 of those came on draw plays when the Eagles were playing soft. Most of those yards came at the end of the half of the end of the game when the Eagles were willing to trade yards for seconds going off the clock. Still, you can bet Schwartz won’t be happy about his team giving up 120 on the ground. That figure has to come down.

DL

The Eagles were getting mixed results with the rush early in the game. Cleveland threw the ball quickly and also mixed in 6 and 7-man protections. They were aware of how good the Eagles pass rush was this summer. The DL started to take the game over in the 2nd half. That was very encouraging. There is nothing more frustrating than a DL that dominates early and then disappears.  Read the rest of this entry »


Game Review – PHI 29, CLE 10 – Offense

Posted: September 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 188 Comments »

To borrow a line from Pete Townshend, sort of, the kid is alright. There was excitement in the air with Carson Wentz’s first start, but I don’t think anyone realistically expected him to throw for 278 yards and 2 TDs while leading the Eagles to a dominant win. But that’s just what happened. Maybe dominant is a bit too strong, but something very close to that.

There were a lot of unknowns heading into the game. How would Wentz play? How would Doug Pederson do in his first real game as a coach? Would the Eagles WRs make plays and, you know, catch the ball? Could the defense continue playing like they did this summer? Were the Cleveland Browns going to be as bad as they looked on paper?

All of those questions came up with favorable answers for the Eagles. It was kinda like reaching into the bottom of the fridge for your last PBR, only to find there are a few more that had gotten pushed back to the corner. Jackpot! In some ways, that’s how Sunday felt. Rookie QB looks like a stud. Rookie coach has a good game. OL blocks well. WRs make plays. Defense plays lights out. No major injuries. Quite a way to start the 2016 season.

The thing I liked best about the win is that it wasn’t fluky. Remember when Chip Kelly unleashed his offense on Monday night in 2013? The Skins didn’t know what hit them. It was awesome, but that moment couldn’t really be duplicated. The moment people saw the offense, they could start to get ideas on how to stop it. Remember 2009? Carolina turned the ball over 7 times. That made for a great day, but you couldn’t count on that happening again. Fun blowout, but not a blueprint you could follow. How about 2014? Darren Sproles ran for a 49-yard TD. He had an interstate up the middle of the field. Jeremy Maclin caught a 68-yard TD pass when the Jags forgot to cover him. Fletcher Cox ran a strip sack back for a TD. Great moments, but not stuff you can count on.

Now think about Sunday. Did anything happen in that game that the Eagles can’t replicate? There were no wide open, gimme TDs. There were no huge plays. Cleveland turned the ball over once. They turned it over on downs a couple of time, but those plays didn’t play a big role in the outcome. The Eagles were more talented than the Browns and they out-executed them. And it wasn’t as if the Eagles were perfect. They can play a lot better in the future.

Sunday was a great start to the season, but it wasn’t a fluke. That was just some good football.

OFFENSE

I enjoyed watching the Eagles on offense. Pederson took ideas from Andy Reid and Chip Kelly and built a hybrid attack. That’s smart. Both men are gifted offensive minds. Stubborn and somewhat flawed, but very gifted. Pederson is just getting started, but I liked what I saw.

He knows the Eagles don’t have dynamic playmakers. They have to be creative to maximize the talented personnel on the roster. Pederson used players creatively. He was down Trey Burton at TE so put OL Matt Tobin into 3-TE packages. They worked really well. DT Beau Allen became the FB on some goal line plays. Pederson had 4 different RBs get carries.  Read the rest of this entry »


Catching On

Posted: September 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 173 Comments »

Eagles WRs had a rough spring. We thought Chris Givens or Reuben Randle had a chance to start for the team, but both failed to impress. Nelson Agholor had issues on and off the field. Dorial Green-Beckham was still a Titan. Jordan Matthews played well, but was more steady than flashy. And Josh Huff…he was all over the place. He seemed to be the king of the drops.

Summer wasn’t much better. Givens and Randle eventually got the boot. Paul Turner won the hearts of Eagles fans, but his size/speed just wasn’t enough for the coaches to want him on the final roster. Huff made some plays in the preseason and made you understand why the coaches were so patient with him. Agholor started making news on the field, although drops were still an issue.

DGB came in late, but immediately became a fan favorite. He’s just so different than any receiver the Eagles have had in recent years. TO was thick, but not overly tall or long. Hank Baskett had some size, but never seemed to use it. DGB is 6-5, 237, can catch and is a gifted athlete. He has a rare combination of skills. He seemed to feel comfortable immediately and has been a different person than he was in Tennessee. On some level, you have to be wondering if he’ll turn out to be a star and this will be the Football Gods version of payback for Cris Carter.

On cutdown weekend, the Eagles added some guy named Bryce Treggs. Who? He ran 4.39 at Cal’s Pro Day, which the Eagles attended. They talked to Treggs on the visit so this is a player the team has had some interest in for a while. When the Niners cut him, the Eagles jumped at the chance to claim the speedster. As much as the Eagles liked the potential of their WRs, the one thing missing was someone with dynamic speed. Treggs has that.

I was curious how the WRs would play in the opener. I was thrilled when Matthews caught his TD early in the game. That wasn’t a special play, but you had to love the timing between Carson Wentz and him. Matthews isn’t a speedster. What he can do is run a good route and make a tough catch, as he did on that play. A WR doesn’t have to run by the CB to be a threat. He just has to be in a spot where the QB can get him the ball and the DB can’t get to it.

Matthews was 7-114-1 in the opener. I was surprised at how many times the ball came his way. I don’t think Wentz was forcing him the ball. I just think Matthews was open and Wentz trusted him. There were a couple of drops and a couple of plays where the timing was off, but that was an impressive start for two players who hadn’t been in a game together.

Agholor caught a 35-yard TD, beating Joe Haden down the right sideline. Agholor showed speed on the play, but also skill. He ran a good route and then made a smooth catch. Agholor didn’t get 3 yards behind the DB, but was open and Wentz put the ball right where it needed to be.

Huff had some passes thrown his way, but he and Wentz could not connect. He did draw a holding call on a 3rd down that extended a drive. DGB had 2 passes thrown his way. He caught both for 14 total yards. Neither was anything special, but I did like the physicality he showed. DGB is big and plays big. It used to drive me crazy to see Baskett try to pretend he Kevin Curtis or whatever small, speedy you choose from that era. Play to your size.

We didn’t get to see Treggs in action. He is practicing this week and might get on the field. It will be fun to see just how fast he is and what he can do for the offense. Wentz has a strong arm and likes to throw deep.

The WRs were 13-185-2 in the opener and I’m sure that is better than anyone realistically expected. No one is going to think this is the 1998 Vikings (Carter-Reed-Moss) or the 1999 Rams (Bruce-Holt-Hakim-Proehl), but the Eagles WR corps now looks a lot better than it did a couple of months ago. The WRs are all young so their best football is in front of them.

And if any of them don’t pan out, the Eagles will just unleash Paul Turner on the world.

_


Beware Fool’s Gold?

Posted: September 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 311 Comments »

Putting any NFL game into context can be difficult, but season openers are especially tricky. Remember how shocked we were last year when the Niners dominated the Vikings 20-3? SF was expected to struggle and the Vikings were a team on the rise. That game made a lot of people re-think their evaluations. In the end, that game meant nothing. It was lightning in a bottle. SF was terrible and the Vikings did emerge as a playoff team.

Another game from the 2015 opening weekend involved the Jets and Browns. The Jets were slight favorites, but they had a new coach in Todd Bowles and a new QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets won the game 31-10. They didn’t dominate in terms of yardage, but 5 Cleveland turnovers and 12 penalties gave NY a big edge and they took advantage of it. The Jets went on to finish 10-6, just missing the playoffs.

So compare that to the Eagles win over the Browns from yesterday. The Eagles dominated in terms of yardage, 403-288. Cleveland did drop several passes, but had only one turnover and 4 penalties. The Eagles had 7 penalties and also had some dropped passes. The Browns had a terrible shotgun snap that led to a safety, giving away 2 points. The Eagles missed a FG, giving away 3 points.

Both teams were a bit sloppy, as most are in openers. The Eagles simply played at a higher level. They were clearly the better team. The Browns look like they will be one of the worst teams in the league. That’s part of why putting the win into context is so tricky. How do you rate the Eagles after watching them manhandle an inferior opponent?

Let’s keep this simple. You can break the NFL into 3 tiers: top teams, middle group, the bottom of the league. I think most people had the Eagles in the bottom group heading into the season. After a game like yesterday, I think it is fair to say the Eagles looked more like a middle group type of team. The Browns didn’t have a bunch of fluky turnovers. The Eagles didn’t score TDs on blown coverages or weird plays. The Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and made more plays.

Go beyond that. The Eagles dominated on STs. Rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill made a big play on the Browns ridiculous fake punt. The Eagles were much better coached. Anyone arguing for Hue Jackson in the offseason must have been wondering what was going on yesterday. He did some strange things and some dumb things (that fake punt was incredibly dumb). And Jackson has been a head coach before. So has Pederson I guess, if you count high school. That was not a good opener for Jackson. He looked like the novice, taking questionable chances and doing gimmicky things. Pederson looked like the guy with experience. It will be interesting to see how the two of them compare a month or two down the line.

I think the Eagles can take a lot away from that game. You did see Connor Barwin beating star LT Joe Thomas for a sack. You did see Nelson Agholor beating Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden for a 35-yard TD. This wasn’t all “Let’s get a WR on Jordan Poyer in space” kind of stuff. The Browns do have some talented players.

Eagles fans should be optimistic about this team.

*****

The debut game for Carson Wentz has everyone’s attention.

 

That last tweet is is key. Plenty of QBs have a big arm. Plenty of QBs have good size. There are more than a few QBs who are good athletes that run well. You don’t find many that combine those attributes with intelligence and work ethic.

Wentz didn’t play like a typical rookie on Sunday because he doesn’t act like on the other 6 days a week. He works his butt off to be prepared off the field so that when he gets on it his brain will be as much a weapon has his arm or legs.

I think we also have to praise Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo on both running a creative offense and developing Wentz. I guarantee you that if you flip Jared Goff and Wentz around, Wentz would not be where he is now in terms of development. Goff would be ahead of where he is. Some people know how to coach QBs. Others, not so much.

The Eagles did a good job of hiring the right group of people and then spending a high pick on a QB for them to work with. Chase Daniel, and even Sam Bradford to a lesser extent, also deserve credit for helping Wentz to come along this quickly.

_


The Other Rookie

Posted: September 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 386 Comments »

Carson Wentz wasn’t the only rookie that came up big on Sunday. Coach Doug Pederson did an excellent job in his first NFL game. One game doesn’t give us any definitive answers for either Wentz or Pederson, but there is reason to feel good about both. We actually have a bit more to judge Pederson on since the offseason is such a critical part of a coach’s job. Still, today was the first chance to see him tested on the field and Pederson passed with flying colors.

Pederson runs the Eagles offense as well as the overall team. I thought he did an excellent job with the offense. He was creative, but not gimmicky. The Eagles used different formations and personnel packages. 4 different RBs got carries. Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews were the primary passing targets, but the ball was spread around as well. Pederson tried to get his young WRs going early. There was a good mixture of run and pass. The Eagles threw the ball 39 times and ran 34 times.

I thought Pederson did an excellent job of not holding back with Wentz. If you watched the Dallas game, you saw the Cowboys throw a lot of short passes. They also did a lot with rollouts. Those plays cut the field in half and make it easier for the QB to make reads. That was a drastically different gameplan than they would use for Tony Romo. I wondered if the Eagles might do some of that, but Pederson used Wentz like he would have any other QB.     Read the rest of this entry »