Restoring the Beast

Posted: January 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 178 Comments »

The Giants hired Steve Spagnuolo to run their defense. The Skins hired Bill Callahan to be their OL coach. They are still looking for help on the defensive side of the ball. It is possible that Vic Fangio will get that job. Dallas kept all of their coaches, except Callahan. Some Eagles fans will be disappointed by the fact that the competition is making good moves.

Not me.

The Eagles need the NFC East to be better. Playing in a soft division doesn’t help you. Think about the 1980-1991. The Skins and Giants won 5 Super Bowls in that stretch. Dallas played in 3 NFC title games and made the playoffs a few other times. The Eagles played in one Super Bowl and had a historically good defense at the end of the period. Those teams pushed each other to be great. If you could have a great season playing against that kind of competition, you were going to be ready for the playoffs.

The Eagles won a soft NFC East last year and then finished 2nd this season. I never thought the Eagles looked anything like a championship team.

Think about the NFC West. The Seahawks, Niners, Rams and Cardinals have been pushing each other for the past 5 or so years. The Cardinals were a playoff team in 2008 and 2009. The Niners went to NFC title games from 2011-2013, and the Super Bowl in 2012. Seattle won the Super Bowl last year and might repeat as champs. The Rams have remained on the bottom of the division, but have had their moments. They had back-to-back shutouts this year. That hadn’t happened in the NFL in years. The Skins were the worst team in the NFC East. They didn’t do anything historic this year. Their biggest highlight was knocking the Eagles out of the playoffs.

Eagles fans should be happy to see the other teams making smart decisions. The goal is for the Eagles to win a championship.Teams that win titles generally have to pass tests along the way. Green Bay went 10-6 in 2010 and won the Super Bowl. They lost 2 overtime games and played in several tight ones. The team went 15-1 in 2011 and looked like a juggernaut. That squad lost in the divisional round. If you look at final scores, you’ll see that 9 of their games were decided by 10 points or less. But look at the box scores and you’ll find several games where opponents scored late to cut into a big lead and make a game look closer than it was. That Packers team was dominant, but they just weren’t challenged very much and I think that caught up to them in the postseason.

Playing in a tough, competitive division doesn’t guarantee you anything. You do have to win those games or else you become the Rams all over again. The point is to build a good team that can really battle during the season and then be ready for postseason play.

This doesn’t mean every division game will be close. You want the teams around you to push you. Think about our 2 favorite 2014 games…wins over Dallas and the Giants. Tony Romo wasn’t healthy in the Thanksgiving blowout. The Giants didn’t have Odell Beckham at his peak and were banged up the night of the shutout. Those were still fun games, but it was different than the Eagles beating a team at their best.

Do you remember the last Eagles team to win in the playoffs?

That was 2008. The Giants went 12-4 and won the division. The Eagles beat the Cowboys on the final day to secure a wild card berth. That was the 44-6 game. Still, Dallas was 9-7. The Skins were 8-8 that year. Not one losing team in the division. That Eagles team had some good wins (DAL, NYG, PIT) and some tough losses (DAL, NYG, WAS). That team was ready for the pressure of the playoffs. They won at the Vikings and then at the Giants, only to fall short in the title game at Arizona.

Playing tougher competition might mean an extra loss or two a season, but it if helps the team to be better overall, then it is a good thing. The key is to win enough games to still get into the postseason.

The NFC East has been mediocre in recent years, but it looks like that might be changing. And that is good news for the Eagles.

* * * * *

New podcast is up. Jimmy Bama and I were going to talk about all of the team’s needs, but got into a long QB discussion and then talked a lot about DBs. We quickly went over other areas.

As a reminder, if you have any technical questions about the show or where to find it, John Barchard is the man to ask.

_


The Future at ILB

Posted: January 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 356 Comments »

One position of uncertainty for the Eagles is ILB. Mychal Kendricks is on the verge of becoming a great player. He is a good playmaker and has gotten better each year at being a run defender. DeMeco Ryans future is up in the air. He’s an older player with a high price tag and he’s coming off a serious injury. Those guys rarely stick around, but Ryans is a great leader and Chip Kelly might value that enough to keep him around for one more year.

Beyond those two, the Eagles have Najee Goode, who is also coming off an injury, and Emmanuel Acho. Casey Matthews is a free agent. Matthews and Acho were effective while filling in for Ryans this year, but neither stood out in a way that made you think they should be starting in the future. That said, there wasn’t such a drop-off that you missed Ryans as much as I expected.

The presence of Kendricks gives the team options. You need one star ILB in the 3-4. You can build around him. My preference is for the team to find another really good athlete to put in the middle. They could bring back Ryans and spend a high pick on an ILB. Chip Kelly isn’t a believer in drafting a player and just plugging them into the lineup. He’s fine with letting rookies win jobs, but he’s not going to count on the kid to start.

I used to think the Eagles needed a big run stuffer beside Kendricks, but I’ve changed my mind on that. I’d prefer someone that can cover a lot of ground. Kendricks has become a good inside run defender. He doesn’t need a thumper beside him. A speedy ILB would help with pass coverage. While the Eagles will try to fix the secondary this offseason, it can’t hurt to help out the situation by adding another athlete to the middle of the field.

Safeties might feel less pressure to fly up if they knew there were LBs that could fly to the ball. Big CBs are vulnerable to in-breaking routes. Bigger guys just don’t cut well. This year we saw WRs open on dig routes all the time. Speedy ILBs can help with that issue. At the least, they can fly to the ball and make the tackle to cut down on RAC yards allowed.

The draft has several ILB prospects who could be of interest. One such guy is Paul Dawson from TCU. Tyler Alston wrote a scouting report on him for ScoutsNotebook.

Here is his take on how Dawson matches up to the Eagles.

FIT WITH THE EAGLES: The Eagles aren’t looking for another Demeco Ryans. In the modern NFL you need two ILB’s who can be playmakers and roam sideline to sideline. Both should be able to come up and stuff a fullback on one play, and then tackle the running back in the flat on the next. Bowman and Willis, KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner. Dawson would be an excellent fit for the Eagles 34. He would provide the perfect complement to Kendricks. Dawson would be able to immediately start in the nickel (TCU runs 4-2-5 base). As he fills out his frame (he should be able to get to 245 easily) he becomes a playmaking ILB who possesses strength, speed, and instincts.

Dawson would be an excellent LB to pair with Kendricks. That would give the Eagles a lot of speed in the middle of the field. TCU plays a 4-2-5 as their base defense, which is very demanding for LBs. Their LBs are forced to play the run and cover a lot of ground vs the pass. Daryl Washington was a star for them and is one in the NFL. Jason Phillips was very good in college, but injuries killed his NFL career. Dawson is used to having a lot of pressure on him. That would help him adjust to the NFL.

Check out this highlight play from the Oklahoma game to see the kind of playmaker Dawson can be.

There are several other good options for the Eagles to consider. I hope they add a gifted athlete. Having a pair of athletic ILBs can really help a defense. Just look at what Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly did for the Panthers down the stretch. Those guys made plays all over the field and really helped the players around them.

_


A Big Lesson, But No Lesson At All

Posted: January 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 348 Comments »

We now know the final 4 teams: Seattle, New England, Green Bay, Indianapolis. What’s a lesson the Eagles can learn from them? One that we already know…it’s all about the QB. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will be Hall of Fame players. Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck are too young for that talk, but they’re off to the kind of start that very well could land them in Canton. But these QBs weren’t always so special.

Tom Brady was a good player at Michigan. He won games and led a strong offense, but they had a “phenom” in Drew Henson that they kept trying to give the job to. Brady was 20-5 at UM and then lasted until pick 199 in the 2000 draft. He sat for a year and then only got on the field when Drew Bledsoe got hurt early in 2001. The rest is history.

Russell Wilson went to NC State for 4 years. He played for 3 and showed flashes of brilliance. But the coach grew tired of Wilson playing baseball as well and wanted a commitment to football. Wilson refused and they parted ways. He went to Wisconsin, where he started for one year and led them to a Rose Bowl. Wilson had a highly inconsistent showing at the Senior Bowl and then lasted until the 3rd round of the draft. Wilson won a QB competition in Seattle and has been the starter for all 48 games of his career.

Aaron Rodgers couldn’t get a good college offer so he went to junior college. He then transferred to Cal, where he played very well. Rodgers was the 24th pick of the 2005 draft. He sat behind Brett Favre from 2005-2007. He played pretty well in 2008, but the team went 6-10. The next year he was lights out and the team went to the playoffs. Rodgers has been considered an elite QB ever since.

Andrew Luck…he pretty much has been a great player all along. He’s the anomaly. He is considered overrated by some, but even they will tell you that he’s gifted and productive. They just see too many INTs and missed plays.

Either you have a stud QB or you need one.

But the question of whether you have one is far more complicated than some would have you believe. As you can see, only one of these guys was a Top 5 pick. Only 2 of them were 1st rounders. Brady and Rodgers each sat and learned from the bench early on. The other 2 started right away. 3 of them are mobile and good athletes. 2 of them left school early, while the other 2 stayed as long as possible.

There isn’t a simple pattern of what to look for. There isn’t a certain timeline that tells you “he’s the guy”. Each case is very different than the others because the circumstances are different.

Is Nick Foles the answer?

Could Matt Barkley be the answer?

Is there a player in the draft to target?

Is there an NFL guy to go after?

The biggest thing for me is that Chip Kelly needs to figure out what he wants to do at QB and then he needs to make that happen, as best as possible. I’m sure he’d love to trade for Rodgers, but I doubt Green Bay would accommodate him. Kelly has to make his plans based on available players using available resources. That begins with looking at what you’ve already got.

Kelly likes Foles, but he didn’t draft or trade for him. And Foles only got the job after Michael Vick got hurt. Kelly went with Foles this year because Foles put up such amazing numbers in 2013. You had to play him. The results from 2014 didn’t show Foles to be The Guy, but they also weren’t bad enough to count him out. That’s the biggest frustration. You didn’t get an answer one way or the other.

Foles could still be the answer. You can’t ignore the success he had in 2013. But he also doesn’t jump out as a guy that you just know is going to be a special player.

Barkley remains a complete mystery. We heard the right things at the end of the year. Barkley got extra practice reps when Foles got hurt and Barkley says that helped him a lot. He said he felt more accepted by his teammates since they were seeing more of him in action. He’s totally healthy now and is throwing the ball better than ever. But you can’t even project him as the primary backup without some questions.

Mark Sanchez is the top free agent QB in the NFL right now. That tells you all you need to know about that situation.

Trades? Speculate away but there aren’t any obvious moves. If a QB is good, why would his current team let him leave? The most interesting idea is RG3, but I get the feeling he’ll stick in DC this season.

So…the draft. What about Marcus Mariota? I know that some now think he could slide low enough where the Eagles could move up and get him. Maybe. I still think it is unlikely.

1 – Tampa
2 – Tennessee
5 – Washington
6 – NY Jets
7 – Chicago
10 – St. Louis
16 – Houston
18 – Kansas City

Those are the obvious teams that could have interest in Mariota. You also wonder if the Giants or Saints will take him since Eli and Brees aren’t getting any younger. The Niners could try to deal Colin Kaepernick and draft Mariota. What if Cleveland wants him as Manziel insurance?

Mariota isn’t a perfect player. He’s not an elite QB prospect. But he does have tremendous potential and he feels like the safest bet of the QBs in this class. I’d love it if he did slide a bit and the Eagles were able to pull off a move for him. Mariota is a good fit for Kelly’s offense. He can run and throw. He’s aggressive, but not careless. Someone on Twitter recently compared him to Ryan Tannehill.. I thought that was a fair comparison. Mariota is a more experienced QB, but they are similar in size and physical gifts.

I just find it hard to believe the Jets and Rams would both pass on Mariota. He seems like a player that Jeff Fisher would really covet.

The good news is that the Eagles don’t have to spend a Top 10 pick to find their guy. Look above and you’ll see that those players came from a variety of places. In a fantasy world you have the No. 1 pick and get Luck or Cam Newton. But most teams have to look elsewhere. And you can still find Drew Brees or Tony Romo or Joe Flacco.

I’m curious to see if Kelly sticks with Foles or makes a move. This is a crucial year for Kelly. The team needs to take a step forward in Year 3. They need to show serious progress. Who will be his guy?

* * * * *

Another good scouting report from Tyler Alston. Today he covers LB Dante Fowler. And here is Tyler’s take on Fowler for the Eagles.

FIT WITH THE EAGLES: Fowler is a high pedigree pass rusher. He has a lot of raw ability, and had he gone back to school and focused on his pass rush moves would likely be a top 10 pick in next year’s draft. The workout part of the draft process will be critical for Fowler, as teams try to determine how comfortable they are with him sticking as an OLB or if he is best suited for a 4-3 DE. If I had to sum up Fowler it would be: Violent, Sudden, High Energy. If the Eagles take him, he would be best used as a sub package player in his first year. Nickel DT, A-gap blitzer, rotational DE, as he refines his pass rush and improves his drops.

I also like Fowler quite a bit and see similarities to Trent Cole. Neither are pure speed rushers. They use effort and physicality to beat blockers.

Make sure to check out the scouting report. Tyler is writing some really good stuff. Next up will be an ILB who could be of real interest for the Eagles.

_


Faking It

Posted: January 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 347 Comments »

I was talking to my sister about a friend of ours that we’ve known for years. I mainly keep up with our friend through Facebook, and her life seems pretty ideal. Good husband. Great kids. Great job. Tons of family activities (trips to Disney, perfect Christmas, skiing trips, etc.). Anyone following the family on Facebook thinks this group makes the Cleavers look like the Mansons. We’re talking about the All American family.

My sister tells me that things are nowhere close to what they seem.

I share this story because it can be true in the NFL. We didn’t know there were issues between Chip Kelly-Howie Roseman-Tom Gamble, but that marriage broke up pretty quickly. Today we find out Denver had some issues.

Like 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke and former head coach Jim Harbaugh, Broncos G.M. John Elway and coach John Fox weren’t getting along.  Unlike Baalke and Harbaugh, Elway and Fox kept the dysfunction under wraps until very recently.

“This is not just something that happened because they lost in the playoffs,” Jay Glazer said Monday night on FOX Sports One regarding the divorce in Denver.  “This is actually a situation that has been going on for quite some time and I said yesterday on FOX NFL Sunday, ‘There are teams that are looking at the Denver Broncos, because if they lose, John Fox might become available.’  The reason I said that is because I already knew that there was a chance that John Fox was going to come available, just because the working relationship there between he and John Elway, it wasn’t the greatest working relationship.  With John Elway and John Fox, it started off great, but then it started not working out.

“John Elway looked at this season as, ‘This is all or nothing, with what we spent, you’ve got to go win us a Super Bowl.’  And the relationship between Elway, not just with Fox, but with the entire coaching staff, they both needed a split from each other.”

NFL teams are run by powerful men who have egos. Sometimes the men will clash. The Broncos managed to keep their situation under control during the year, just like the Eagles did.

More than a few people want to label the Eagles as dysfunctional. To me, that’s more a team like the Niners, where the problems festered for a long time and went unresolved for quite a while.

There are a handful of teams where everything is truly hunky-dory, but there are plenty of teams where things might look okay from the outside, but there are more issues than you know. This is true of most workplaces, not just the NFL.

Let’s put this John Fox news into perspective.

That’s pretty amazing. John Elway is turning is back on a winner in hopes of finding someone who can put the team over the top and deliver a title. That’s dumb or bold, depending on your perspective.

* * * * *

Ready for some draft talk?

I’ve been posting some nuggets over at ScoutsNotebook and I’m pleased to announce Tyler Alston, aka D3FB from the Comments section, will be sharing some  of his scouting reports this year.

First up is Kentucky OLB/DE Bud Dupree.

The full scouting report is up at SNB. Here is Tyler’s take on how he fits in with the Eagles.

FIT WITH THE EAGLES: I grade out Dupree pretty equally to last year’s number 5 pick Khalil Mack. Mack was a bit more polished; Dupree is bigger and has more experience against top flight competition. Short of coming in much smaller than measured and running poorly while failing drug tests like an extra from “Half Baked” I don’t foresee him being available for the Eagles. He will however make some fan base very happy as a consistent playmaker off the edge.

I’ll be posting more reports from Tyler in the next couple of days and throughout the pre-draft period.

Really good stuff. Make sure to read his reports.

_


Go Ducks

Posted: January 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 477 Comments »

Apologies to Ohio State fans, but I think most Eagles fans will be pulling for the Ducks. The Chip Kelly connection has made many fans start pulling for Oregon, when their favorite team isn’t directly involved. Oregon is fun to watch and they do a lot of similar things to the Eagles so it is easy to enjoy watching them.

I’m not overly fired up for this game. I’ll pull for Oregon, but really want a good game more than anything.

* * * * *

Jeff McLane is reporting that the Eagles did interview Brian Gaine from the Texans for the open personnel position.

Gaine interviewed for the Bears’ general manager opening earlier this month. He met with the New Jets for their GM vacancy two years ago and was mentioned as a candidate for the same post this year, but he never interviewed. The Saints’ Ryan Pace got the Bears job and Texans director of college scouting Mike Maccagnan is reportedly set to take the Jets job.

Gaine has been in Houston for one year and has apparently become a close ally of coach Bill O’Brien. He was previously the Dolphins assistant GM under Jeff Ireland. He followed Ireland from Dallas where he worked as a Cowboys scout for several years and had the opportunity to work with coach Bill Parcells.

He spent his first six years in the NFL in the Jets’ scouting department.

My preferences for the job are Scott Fitterer (SEA) and Gaine. I think I prefer Fitterer by a hair, but both look like they would be excellent fits for the Eagles.

_