Bottoms Up

Posted: February 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 477 Comments »

Tom Landry began his coaching career with five straight losing seasons before he could even get his first .500 record. After that, success was a constant companion.

Bill Walsh was 8-24 after his first two years. He broke through and won the Super Bowl the next year.

Bill Parcells was almost fired after going 3-12-1 in his initial campaign as coach of the Giants. Management decided to keep him around and the rest is history.

Joe Gibbs started off 0-5 in his first year. He won three Super Bowls in his legendary career.

Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 as a rookie head coach and the whole world, me included, thought Joe College was in way over his head. Things ended up working out okay for him.

Even the great Bill Belichick had early struggles. Four of his first five seasons resulted in a losing record. That was in Cleveland. Then he went to the Patriots and was 5-11 in his first year there.

Chip Kelly and Ray Rhodes each went 10-6 in their first season. Josh McDaniels was 6-0 as coach of the Broncos back in 2009 before the wheels came off. Rex Ryan went to a pair of AFC title games when he took over the Jets. Miami went 1-15 in 2007. Tony Sparano took over the team in 2008 and got them to 11-5, an amazing turnaround. He never won more than seven games in a year after that.

Struggle can be a good thing. Instant success sometimes is built on short term solutions. I think it can also affect the mindset of players and coaches. They think they are closer to where they need to be than they truly are.

Doug Pederson is considered a god in Philadelphia right now. That wasn’t the case on December 5, 2016. That was the Monday after the Eagles lost 32-14 to a bad Bengals team. The game wasn’t even that close, which is scary. There were questions about the effort of multiple Eagles players. The 3-0 start of September was long gone and there were serious concerns about whether Pederson was going to be a successful coach.

The Eagles had fallen from 5-4 to 5-7 and there were a ton of questions.

Did Pederson know how to motivate players? Was he too much of a nice guy? Could he put together a creative or aggressive gameplan? To some, game management was an issue. He made some questionable decisions in losses to the Giants and Cowboys.

Hitting rock bottom in December of 2016 turned out to be a blessing for Pederson and the Eagles. It got everyone out of any comfort zone they were in. Jeff McLane wrote a piece on Pederson questioning the effort of players publicly and how the players confronted him about that.

Doug Pederson meets with the Eagles’ leadership council every Tuesday, but this week was more contentious than others after the coach questioned the effort of his team, according to several players who were in the meeting.

A day earlier, Pederson said that “not everybody” on the team had played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals. If he had intended to send a message, it wasn’t consistent with how he handled two earlier questions concerning effort when Pederson said that he had not seen any quit in his players despite a 29-0 deficit.

But a third attempt elicited the above response. Whether Pederson decided to finally take the opportunity to call out his team – he didn’t name individuals – or whether it was a slip of the tongue remains unclear. Either way, he took a narrative and gave it life.

“I think it puts us in a little bit of a tough position as players,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said Wednesday, “because now everybody wants to know who you’re talking about.”

The leadership council consists of at least one player from each position as voted on by their peers. The 13 players are quarterback Carson Wentz, running back Darren Sproles, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, tight end Brent Celek, offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Jason Peters, defensive linemen Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, linebacker Jordan Hicks, special teams representatives Chris Maragos and Jon Dorenbos and Jenkins.

Various topics were discussed during Tuesday’s gathering, but Pederson’s questioning of the effort was the primary focus. “Testy” was how one player described parts of the conversation. The issue for some players, specifically on the defensive side, was that Pederson implicated the entire team when it was believed he was referring to examples, particularly tight end Zach Ertz’s non-block, on offense.

Pederson addressed the entire team Wednesday and said that player response to his comments was “great” and “positive.”

“They’re players and they understand,” Pederson said. “I’ve been in that chair before, and so I get it. I think that’s the great thing about having played the game, is you can relate to those guys and you know exactly what they’re going through.”

Two Eagles players said they felt that if there was any lingering resentment over Pederson’s remarks it was resolved after Wednesday’s practice, which many described as spirited.

Pederson never panicked. He just kept coaching. The players responded to his message and played better in a couple of close losses. There was come controversy when Pederson went for two at the end of the Ravens game, with the Eagles trailing 27-26. “Kick the extra point and go to overtime!” the masses screamed. Pederson wanted to win. He wanted to be aggressive.

The Eagles closed out the season with wins over the Giants and Cowboys to finish the year 7-9.

Pederson learned a lot about his players, coaches and even himself in that initial season. He knew the team needed more talent. He also knew he wanted to remain an aggressive coach. Don’t worry about failure. Chase success.

Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl took care of adding the talent. They went and got players that fit the schemes. They also got players who could help the team right away.

Pederson and his staff did a lot of self-scouting. They figured out where they were good, but also where they needed to get better. They were able to learn from the mistakes of 2016. Good coaches are smart enough to see what worked and what didn’t.

The Eagles were a handful of plays from making the playoffs in 2016. It was easy to play the What If game and get frustrated. As it turns out, going 7-9 is the best thing that could have happened. Pederson and the front office knew they had a solid foundation, but they still needed to make key changes to significantly improve. Had the Eagles gone 10-6, Pederson might have been more patient with fixing the roster and pushing his players.

Pederson was greedy. He wanted to win. He told the team “7-9 sucks” over the summer. He had loftier goals and was going to push the team to meet those goals.

I think the biggest thing people don’t get is just how competitive he is. Pederson isn’t fiery when meeting with the media. He looks like a typical suburban dad. Somewhere on the inside, his competitive streak burns red hot. He wants to win.

Now that Pederson has his Super Bowl, it will be interesting to see how he responds. Something tells me that it won’t be too long before he starts thinking about 2018. Pederson did a brilliant job this year of always keeping the Eagles looking forward. Super Bowl LII is in the rear view mirror.

Winning that was great, but for a competitor like Pederson, it will soon be time to start chasing the next thing.

 

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The Goat Slayer

Posted: February 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 436 Comments »

Nick Foles played the game of his life against the Vikings. I just didn’t see how he could play better than that.

But he did.

The numbers were great, 28-43-373 with 3 TDs and an INT. You really need context to appreciate how good those numbers are.

The NFC Championship was a blowout. Foles played at a high level, but there wasn’t a lot of pressure on him after the first few minutes. The Eagles fell behind 7-0, but Patrick Robinson tied the game at 7-7 with his pick-six. From then on, Foles played even or with the lead. Once the 2nd half rolled around, Foles had a big lead to work with.

Playing with a lead allows the QB to relax. Every play isn’t life and death.

The Super Bowl was anything but relaxing. The Eagles did get out to a 15-3 lead, but the Patriots kept punching. Eventually the Eagles trailed, 33-32. Foles looked the same late that he did early in the game. He was playing out of his mind. He looked like he was having a blast out there.

The Eagles defense, so good in the last month, struggled mightily, playing its worst game of the year. Foles and the offense had to match scores with Tom Brady, arguably the greatest QB of all time. Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach of all time, was on the other sideline. Rob Gronkowski, arguably the greatest TE of all time, came up big after halftime and looked unstoppable.

Think about that for a second. Foles was up against a great offense with some all-time great pieces. He didn’t flinch. Foles led the Eagles to 538 yards and 41 points. In the freaking Super Bowl.

Every time Brady and the Pats punched, Foles punched right back. Harder.

This is the equivalent of getting in a cheeseburger eating contest with Andy Reid or a stick-figure drawing contest with Jimmy Bama. You just aren’t going to win. But Foles did.

Watch the way he played. There was a terrific throw to Alshon Jeffery 34 yards downfield for a TD. There was a great throw to Nelson Agholor over the middle on a 4th quarter drive. Foles made an incredible throw when he hit Corey Clement for a 22-yard TD. These passes were into tight windows. They were accurate and they had good touch. The winning TD to Zach Ertz was right on the money, so Ertz could catch it on the run and get additional yards.

Foles threw well on the move. He made plays to the left and right while out of the pocket. There was a throw in the 4th quarter where he dropped his arm level and went side-arm to get around a defender. The degree of difficulty on these plays was high. Foles wasn’t Checkdown Charlie, with some fluke big plays. He put on a QB clinic.

That performance has led to a lot of discussion about his future and that is a tricky subject.

Carson Wentz is the best QB on the Eagles roster. He is the heart and soul of this franchise. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking Foles performance shows that this is all due to a great scheme and supporting players. Trust your eyes. Wentz did some amazing things this year. He is a special QB, the kind of guy you build a franchise around.

Foles was a backup QB this year, but that description is far too generic. He started in 2013 and posted amazing numbers. He finished that year with a rating of 119.2. For some perspective, let’s compare that to A.J. Feeley, another good Eagles backup QB. Feeley had one single game in his career with a rating above what Foles did for the 2013 season. Foles just isn’t a normal backup. Honestly, he’s one of the more confusing QBs I’ve ever watched.

Good Foles can play with anyone. Bad Foles can lose to anyone.

He just led the Eagles to a Super Bowl title, but think about what you saw. The Eagles O-line was dominant. Foles had plenty of time to find receivers. Alshon Jeffery and Corey Clement each made big-time catches. Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz were clutch and kept the chains moving all game. The gameplan was brilliant and there were open receivers all game long. The Eagles ran 27 times for 164 yards. Foles had a lot of help.

Think back to 2013. The Eagles had arguably the best OL in the league, with all five starters playing all 16 games. Brent Celek and Ertz were good TEs. DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper each had the best year of their careers. Jason Avant was a dependable slot receiver. Shady McCoy led the NFL in rushing. Foles was playing in a scheme and style the NFL wasn’t used to. Foles took advantage of those circumstances and played at a high level.

In 2014, things were different. Lane Johnson was suspended for four games and the OL had injuries to deal with. DeSean was gone. Cooper was erratic. Shady wasn’t as dynamic. Foles came down to Earth. He led the Eagles to a 6-2 record and was solid, but you could see his flaws.

Foles isn’t a player you build a franchise around. He’s the guy you want if you have the right circumstances. If you put Foles on the Browns this year, they win three or four games. He’s a good leader, will protect the ball and can make some plays. But if he’s surrounded by mediocre pieces, you aren’t getting Super Bowl Nick. You’re getting the guy from 2014-2015. We saw his struggles in the Oakland game this year. Weather was a factor, but he still didn’t play well.

I could see a team talking themselves into trading for Foles. The Super Bowl has a dangerous effect on coaches and GMs. If some team did offer a 2nd round pick for Foles, the Eagles would have to listen. Before the Super Bowl, I thought there was no chance of that. Now, I think it is possible. Buffalo, the Jets, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Denver, Minnesota and Arizona could all make some sense for him. Minnesota might be the best fit, as crazy as that would be.

I wonder if Foles would want to be traded. Remember that he contemplated walking away from the game a few years ago. He was miserable as a Ram. Foles won’t want to go through an experience like that again. There are no guarantees about Wentz’s health for 2018. There is some real logic in keeping him around.

The Eagles should be Super Bowl contenders again in 2018. I only deal Foles if some team makes a great offer and if Foles is completely on board with it. He just delivered a Super Bowl to this franchise. You don’t banish him to the highest bidder for the heck of it.

*****

One of the things that makes Foles valuable to the Eagles and potential suitors is his clutch play.

He has started four playoff games. He is 3-1 and has a rating of more than 100 in each game. He’s only thrown one pick and that wasn’t really his fault. Jeffery tipped the ball to the inside and it went right to a DB.

Foles came into the Rams game in December with the Eagles trailing. He led them on a FG drive to cut into the lead. They got the go-ahead points after a turnover and helped to bleed the clock with a crucial 3rd-down conversion late in the game.

The next week the Eagles fell behind 20-7. Foles rallied the team and led them to a 34-29 win.

He made clutch throws late in the Raiders game to help the Eagles get into scoring position. They won that game.

Foles could be really attractive to a contender. He can handle pressure situations. He’s got the right demeanor and it seems to bring out the best in his play. That’s what makes the Vikings such an interesting fit, along with their scheme and players. That team is built to win now.

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A Night I’ll Never Forget

Posted: February 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 584 Comments »

The Eagles are Super Bowl champions!!!

I was confident going into this game, but also realistic. You don’t beat Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots by accident. You must make big plays and limit your mistakes.

My confidence grew when the Eagles had double-digit leads in the 1st half. The Eagles had been good all year. They were beating the friggin’ Pats. Life seemed good. I knew the Patriots would come out swinging in the 2nd half, but I didn’t expect them to surgically dissect the Eagles defense quite the way they did. Yikes.

Amazingly, I remained calm when the Eagles fell behind 33-32. This team has been clutch all year long.

The Eagles marched down the field and took a 38-33 lead. That’s when Brandon Graham got loose inside and knocked the ball away from Tom Brady. Derek Barnett recovered it.

That was one of the strangest moments of my life. The best way I can put it is that it felt like an out of body experience. It was as if I was watching myself see that play. I know that sounds weird, maybe even insane. It freaked me out.

That was the moment when it really hit me…they’re going to do this.

I was shaking.

The logical part of me started looking at the clock and thinking about the situation. The fan in me was ready to go nuts.

My phone was going nuts. Texts were flying in, as everyone started to get the feeling the Eagles were going to actually win this game.

Brady had one final drive and made it closer than I would have preferred. I actually was silent on that final play, desperate to make sure there wasn’t going to be some crazy penalty or whatever. When the official said the game was over, I just smiled and tried to soak in the moment.

I teared up as the emotions started to set in.

The 2017 Eagles won the Super Bowl. But that win was for all the Eagles…Harold, Jaws, Reggie, Westy, Dawk, Trent and even Big Red. Vermeil’s guys. Gang Green. The fun 1995 team. The 2002 Eagles, who won with 3 different starting QBs. The 2004 team. The 2008 team. The Michael Vick Experience of 2010. All of those players were like ghosts, sitting on the Eagles sideline and doing anything they could to help the Eagles pull that game out.

David Alexander hasn’t played for the Eagles since the end of the 1994 season. His reaction to the game?

This organization is special. It means something to be an Eagle.

Tonight it means you’re a champion.

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Champs!!!

Posted: February 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 415 Comments »

Nick Foles is god.

Doug Pederson too.

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Gameday – PHI vs NE

Posted: February 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1,249 Comments »

Not too much time left. Waiting for this game has been crazy.

One surprise in the inactives.

The Eagles go light at DT and heavy at LB. Vaeao sits out while both Dannell Ellerbe and Najee Goode will play.

I’m sure part of the thinking is that Vaeao wasn’t going to play much on defense. The team is well-rested and there is no game next week. You play your key guys as much as possible. Ellerbe and Goode can both play on defense and STs. That gives them added value.

I think Goode has played better at MLB than Ellerbe, but we’ll see what the coaches do tonight. I expect them mostly to play Nickel and Dime, but they’ll use base looks at times.

Ellerbe is better vs inside runs so maybe he has value in the Red Zone defense, when the Pats might try to run the ball.

*****

Neutral site? You be the judge.

*****

I re-watched a bunch of Eagles games on Friday night (condensed version on Gamepass). I wanted to see them vs different teams and QBs and situations. Seeing those games gave me a lot of confidence. This team didn’t get hot late in the year. They’ve been outstanding since the spring. This team is consistently good.

New England will be the toughest challenge of the season, but didn’t we just say that about the Vikings two weeks ago?

The Eagles can win this game.

The Eagles will win this game.

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