Know Your Enemy – SEA

Posted: November 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 85 Comments »

The Eagles go to Seattle on Sunday afternoon for what might be the toughest game of the year. The Seahawks are 6-2-1, which is the second best record in the NFC. Seattle remains one of the toughest places to play and the Seahawks are 4-0 at home this year.

At the same time, Seattle isn’t the juggernaut that they’ve been in previous years. They only have one blowout win, a 37-18 victory over Chip Kelly’s 49ers, who are the worst team in the conference. Seven games have been decided by seven points or less. Seattle was a play away from losing 3 of their home games. And they benefited from officiating in close wins over Atlanta and Buffalo.

I do have to point out that Seattle is trending upward. Russell Wilson is healthier than he’s been all year. The young OL is coming together. Kam Chancellor missed 4 games, but he’s back. Seattle has come a long way since the first 2 weeks of the year when they looked like a mess against Miami and the Rams.

When you think Seahawks, you think defense. Even that unit has been inconsistent. From last week during the game:

Before you go thinking their D has lost it, they are still 2nd in points allowed and 9th in yards allowed. Stud DL Michael Bennett is out and Chancellor missed some time. Those are impact players. You can’t lose them and not feel it. Even with Bennet missing time, Seattle is tied for 3rd in sacks. Speed rushers like Cliff Avril and Frank Clark are highly disruptive off the edge.

The LBs are still outstanding, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The secondary remains loaded with Chancellor, some guy named Earl Thomas and arguably the best corner in the league in Richard Sherman.

Right now it is Russell Wilson and the offense you should be scared of. They have put up 31 points in 2 straight games and they did that against Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick, a pair of the best defensive gurus in the league. Wilson is out of his mind right now.

That is kinda decent.

It used to be that stopping Seattle meant good run defense and building a gameplan to force Wilson to throw. Now you’re scared of him as a passer and would prefer they try to run the ball.

Doug Baldwin feels like the NFC version of Antonio Brown, the stud WR who doesn’t look like a stud WR.

(Feel free to insert the joke about Nelson Agholor’s career stats here.)

As good as Wilson and his weapons are (TE Jimmy Graham is great at times), none of that matters if the O-line can’t block well enough to give them time. The line is getting better each week, but still is vulnerable. LT George Fant was a basketball player last year at Western Kentucky. Now he’s protecting the blind side of arguably the most valuable player in the entire league. You can bet the Eagles will test Fant early and often.

RT Garry Gilliam will have his hands full with Brandon Graham all day long. Rookie Germain Ifedi has to try and block Fletcher Cox. Second year OG Mark Glowinski will try to slow down Bennie Logan. The Eagles should have an advantage up front. They need to make it pay off.

No one is sure what to make of Seattle’s run game. Leading rusher Christine Michael was cut on Monday. Clearly the team didn’t think highly of him. That was partly done because Thomas Rawls is on the way back from injury. Seattle is also very excited about a rookie RB.

Great, Wilson now has another weapon. Ugh.

Prosise played RB and WR at Notre Dame. Seattle uses him creatively and he is a matchup nightmare. Jim Schwartz will have to come up with some interesting ways to get Prosise covered when he lines up out wide.

Seattle started slow last year (4-5) before getting red hot and getting back to the playoffs. This team has a better record than that group did, but it does feel like they are coming together and could be getting ready to go on a hot streak.

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Identity

Posted: November 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 182 Comments »

The Eagles defense loves to attack. They use the Wide-9 front and then attack gaps with LBs. Jim Schwartz wants aggressive DBs who will take some chances. He has developed this system over years and has definitive ideas on what he is looking for.

There isn’t necessarily a style that the STs units follow, but Dave Fipp has shown the ability to find the kind of players he wants and then use them successfully.

Those are two veteran coaches who know what they want and how to get the best out of their players.

Doug Pederson is a rookie coach. He was the offensive coordinator in KC the past two years, but he was running Andy Reid’s system. Pederson got to call some plays and had a hand in gameplans. He helped to evaluate draft prospects and offered his opinion on free agents. Still, at the end of the day, it was Big Red who ran the offense and made the key decisions.

Any time a new coach takes over a team he has to figure out the players. This goes beyond simple evaluations. Tape shows you part of the equation, but you need to be around players every day to get the whole picture. You need to see which guys practice well. Who is great in the classroom? Who can play through pain/injury? Which guys are selfish and which ones are great teammates? Coaches need to know all of this (and more) as they try to figure out their new players.

Pederson is dealing with the double whammy of learning his new players and trying to figure out what he wants to do. You can really see that at times.

In the first 6 games of the year, Pederson kept Carson Wentz to 34 passes or fewer in all but one game. The Eagles ran the ball well (112 yards per game) and that kept the pressure off the OL and Wentz. Then Pederson had Wentz throw 43 and 47 passes in road games against NFC East opponents. The Eagles only had 44 carries by RBs in those games and lost both.

On Sunday Pederson got back to the run game and the Eagles ran for 208 yards. Wentz threw 36 passes, but the emphasis in the game was running the ball. That helped the Eagles to keep the Falcons offense off the field and they had their worst game of the year by far. Pederson had a terrific gameplan and it worked very well. Why he ever got away from that formula is crazy to me. I understand Ryan Mathews wasn’t 100 percent in Dallas, but the beauty of the Eagles RBBC situation is that no one player is so good that he can’t be replaced. Wendell Smallwood was great against the Steelers and Falcons. I have no idea why he was used so little in the 2 losses.

I’m not trying to get into the old “Andy Reid hates the run game” argument. This is different. Pederson has shown that he will run the ball. I think he generally does a good job of having balanced gameplans. The overall situation points to more running. The Eagles had a backup LG and RT on the field. They have a rookie QB. They have a group of WRs that is really struggling. The best pass catchers are the TEs, and they benefit as receivers when there are lots of running plays so that play-action passes get them really open. So why throw the ball so much in the 2 losses?

Pederson is trying to figure out what he wants to do. He’s also trying to figure out his team. As much as we’d like Pederson to stick to simple logic, he does have to take some chances and try some things to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Back in 2002 the Eagles passing attack really took off, despite Donovan McNabb’s injury and absence. James Thrash and Todd Pinkston combined to go 112-1433-13. Slot receiver Antonio Freeman was terrific as well. Veteran TE Chad Lewis started to show his age, but still was effective. Reid was very excited for 2003. He had his key WRs back and both were seen as players on the rise. Freddie Mitchell was finally ready to take over in the slot. Rookie TE L.J. Smith would add athletic ability to the middle of the field. The RBs were less impressive. Duce Staley was slowing down. Correll Buckhalter was coming off injury. Brian Westbrook was completely unproven after a nearly silent rookie season.

So how did 2003 go? Thrash and Pinkston regressed, for no apparent reason. They combined for 85 catches and 3 TDs. Lewis was effective, but older. Smith was athletic, but highly inconsistent. Mitchell actually did a good job in the slot, but wasn’t anything special. The RBs were great. They scored 26 TDs, with more than 1600 yards on the ground and more than 800 yards through the air. Reid was able to change on the fly and turn the Eagles into a RB team. And he was a proven coach with a veteran team. Things didn’t go as planned, but he found a way to still get the best out of his team.

We don’t know what Pederson’s vision is for the Eagles. He talks about big, nasty OL. He talks about throwing the ball downfield. He seems to prefer size to speed when it comes to skill players. We just don’t have enough of a track record to know what he ideally wants this offense to look like.

For the most part, I like how he’s handled the players. I know some people get frustrated with his patience, but I think that’s a good thing in the NFL. Pederson took a chance on starting Halapoulivaati Vaitai at RT. The first game did not go well, to put it mildly. Pederson saw enough ability that he left the rookie in the lineup and that move has worked well. Vaitai isn’t headed to Canton anytime soon, but he’s been effective. Wendell Smallwood fumbled in the 4th quarter of the Dallas loss. Pederson gave him 13 carries on Sunday, including some with the game on the line in the 4th quarter. Smallwood was terrific, running for 70 yards and helping the run game to control the clock.

Let’s talk about Nelson Agholor, a far more complicated subject. He didn’t impress in the spring or summer. He’s been more down than up this year. It would be easy to make him inactive and just close the book on a bad pick. But that’s not real possible. Jimmy Bama explained that due to the cap, Agholor will be here this year and almost certainly next year as well.

If Agholor has to be on the roster, then you need to get something out of him. Pederson seems to be of the thought that Agholor can still be saved. I say that because Agholor continues to play a lot and the Eagles throw him the ball in some key situations. Late in the Falcons game, the Eagles faced 3rd and 1. They lined up with Agholor out to the right. Darren Sproles left the backfield and went outside of Agholor. The CB widened to cover Sproles and a LB came out over Agholor. This is exactly the pre-snap look the Eagles wanted. Agholor ran a slant and was wide open. Wentz put the ball behind him, but still catchable. The ball was dropped. This happened with the Eagles up 21-15 and the game in doubt.

Dumb.

I have no problem with Pederson playing Agholor. You keep hoping the light will go on and he’ll make some plays. If he’s got to be on the roster, you need to try and build his confidence. But you don’t do that with the game on the line. Why on earth would you design a play to go to Agholor on the most critical 3rd down of the game? That’s very Andy Reid. Do something the opponent will never expect (because it defies logic).

I think Pederson is smart to still try to get the ball to Agholor, but I wouldn’t have him there on critical plays. Throw the ball to him in the 1st half. Heck, hand him the ball on an end around. Get him opportunities, but not with the game on the line. That’s just asking for trouble.

One of my favorite football sayings is “think players not plays”. Pederson needs to do a better job of this. The Eagles had 3rd and 4 at the 2-minute warning in Dallas with the game tied at 23. If you go kick a FG, you likely win the game. Pederson has the break to decide what he wants to do on that critical 3rd down. He has Trey Burton line up out left and Wentz tries to hit him with a slant. Say what???? Burton had 13 career catches at that point. He had caught a pass in the 1st quarter, but hadn’t been targeted since then. So you decide to feed him the ball at the most critical moment in the game? Dumb.

Burton is a good young role player. I’d like to see him get more touches on offense because he is athletic and has an interesting skill set. The Eagles did have a favorable size matchup on that play, but you have to seriously question the wisdom of having the rookie QB throwing the ball to the young TE with the game on the line while Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz were available. We’ve seen those guys make big plays. We’ve also seen them make mistakes, this is about the odds. I trust them more than Burton.

No one is saying Pederson has to play it safe on every 3rd down or Red Zone play. You have to take some chances in the NFL. At the same time, when the game is on the line, you need to get the ball to your reliable playmakers. If they fail, so be it. You want to get your best guys the ball in key moments. If the other players start to make more plays during the rest of the game, they earn a chance to get the ball. Or if a guy is just red hot some day, feed him the ball.

Pederson is doing a good job with this team. The Eagles have put up 20 or more points in every game. The Eagles did that 13 times in 1999 and 2000 combined. The Eagles are scoring more than teams led by Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Big Ben and the great Kirk Cousins. Doug Pederson is doing this with a rookie QB, poor WRs, rookie RT and no elite RB. Pederson can coach.

We just need him to find an identity for his offense and to develop a better sense of how and when to use his players.

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RBBC

Posted: November 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 183 Comments »

A lot was made of the fact that Eagles WRs not named Jordan Matthews were basically invisible on Sunday. Bryce Treggs, DGB and Nelson Agholor combined for 2 catches for 7 yards. That’s…not good. But the Eagles still piled up 429 yards and 24 points.

In my game preview I wrote that the Eagles needed to feed the RBs.

Darren Sproles has been the featured runner in recent weeks. The Eagles need to get the ball more to the other backs. There is nothing wrong with going “running back by committee,” as it is known. The Eagles need to give more touches to the entire group. Last week, there were 25 touches. In the team’s 3-0 start, running backs averaged 32 touches per game. You want to feed the ball to your backs. It can be run or pass. It can be a workhorse or spread among a group of players. You just need to make sure you feed the backs.

That’s exactly what Doug Pederson did.

Eagles RBs combined for 44 touches, 34 runs and 10 receptions. I loved what I saw on Sunday. Throwing the ball to WRs generates bigger plays, but feeding your RBs can work as well. You are going to be more physical and you can wear down an opposing defense with that style of football. You can’t solely feed the backs. Carson Wentz got the ball to his TEs, 7 catches for 64 yards. That is a total of 51 touches for RBs and TEs. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the WRs because of that.

This isn’t a case for defending the WRs. Clearly they are the weak spot of this team. Rather, I’m just trying to point out that Doug Pederson built a smart gameplan on Sunday and it worked. His WRs are struggling. How do you deal with that? Feed the other guys. Sounds obvious. Simple. But sometimes coaches are their own worst enemy and they keep trying to make something work.

I’m interested to see if Pederson continues to feed the RBs. It can work. Back in 2003 James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell were really struggling. None of them finished the season with more than 575 yards and they combined for 5 TDs for the whole season. Yikes. Andy Reid decided to feed his backs (feel free to insert fat guy joke here). Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter and Jon Ritchie averaged 27 touches per game for the year. It actually was lower early in the year, but over the final 10 games the offense went through the RBs and thrived, averaging 28 points a game.

I would love to see Pederson continue to run the offense like he did on Sunday. No one thinks Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood are great players who can carry a team to the Super Bowl, but they are a talented trio that complements each other well. I would much rather see those guys getting hand-offs, screens, swings and other short passes than watching DGB look lost and Nelson Agholor dropping passes.

One of the benefits of feeding the RBs is that it lets the OL do more attacking. They aren’t always retreating in pass protection. The Eagles have a big OL. Let those guys attack the D and wear them down.

As a bonus, one thing the Eagles receivers do pretty well is block. By feeding the backs, you give the WRs a chance to help move the ball as well.

We’ll have to wait and see what Pederson does with the offense in the coming weeks. I loved the gameplan he had on Sunday and hope to see more of that.

*****

I wrote about the win for PE.com. You hope that finally winning the close game will give the team confidence in future close games. There is no more hoping they can win. They know they can. Sometimes believing is a key part of making plays in tight situations.

*****

Sometimes I think we forget Carson Wentz is a rookie.

As with any stat, you can argue what that really means and you need context to really understand it, but it still is pretty crazy to see that.

*****

Seattle waived RB Christine Michael on Tuesday. Should the Eagles have interest?

I don’t think so. Michael is talented, but Seattle letting him go at midseason isn’t a good sign. I don’t think he would be an upgrade. I’m fine with the Eagles RBs for now. It is a position to address in the offseason, but the group is good enough for now, especially coming off their best game of the year. I want to bottle what they did on Sunday and see more of it.

Adding an outsider would be awkward at best. I’d only do that if the player was too good to pass up. I don’t think Michael fits that description.

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Sunday Night Thoughts

Posted: November 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 369 Comments »

Huge win by the Eagles today. It keeps them in the playoff discussion, with the NFC being wide open. Take out division leaders and the only teams with better records than the Eagles are the Giants and Skins. The Eagles host them and will have the chance to take care of business themselves. It is kinda crazy to think that Carson Wentz has more wins this year than Drew Brees, Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers.

Other thoughts…

  • Malcolm Jenkins had a terrific game. He led the team with 7 tackles. He had a TFL on a series where Atlanta had driven into scoring territory. That play put them behind schedule and the Eagles held them to a FG. Jenkins also covered well. He had tight coverage on Julio in the slot a few times.
  • Leodis McKelvin is an interesting guy. Why did he give up the long TD you might ask?

I don’t like him taking that chance in that situation, but he redeemed himself with the INT that sealed the game. Jim Schwartz wants his DBs to take some chances. I’m not sure he wanted that one, though.

  • Game analyst John Lynch wondered why Doug Pederson went for 2 with the Eagles up 19-15. I was shocked that he was so confused. If you kick the PAT, you’re up 20-15. That’s really no different than 19-15. If you get the 2-point conversion, it helps in a few ways. You are up 21-15 and that means Atlanta needs 2 FGs to tie you. The 6-point lead also means if the Falcons score a TD, they have to hit the extra point to take the lead. They had already missed one earlier in the game. And finally, if you’re up 21-15 and you kick a FG, you have a 2-possession lead and the game is all but over. Seems pretty obvious to me.
  • I had a dream about Kenjon Barner the other night. I was explaining to someone about how Barner had the speed to hit the hole harder than Ryan Mathews and that might help the Eagles run game. Clearly I need therapy. Back to Barner. He didn’t get any offensive snaps, but impacted the game as a KOR. He averaged 38 yards per KOR, with a long of 52. Give Barner credit, but also his blockers.

Dave Fipp does a great job with STs. Say what you want about Chip Kelly, but he made one great hire and then made sure to give him good resources.

  • Someone needs to take the page in the playbook that has bubble screens and tear it in half. Then do that again. Then burn the shreds and flush them down the toilet. The Eagles just don’t run that play well. It takes good timing, good blocking and WRs that are elusive. Eagles receivers block well on run plays, but don’t seem to be great on the quick screens. There is no WR who is dangerous after the catch in that scenario. I hate that play.
  • Mychal Kendricks played more today than in recent games. Atlanta uses a FB and some 2 TE sets. That meant the Eagles played in their base look more than usual. In most games, they go Nickel a lot and Kendricks is stuck watching. He played well on Sunday. Kendricks had 3 tackles, broke up a pass and hit Ryan once on a blitz. He still has good talent. He just took a while to adjust to the new system.
  • Finally, a couple of OL topics.

Too early to tell. I see a lot of promise, but Vaitai has not played so well that he’s locked up the position. There is no question that Vaitai struggled in his debut against the Skins. Since then we don’t hear his name called that much (a good sign), but he hasn’t done anything to wow us. OT is a premium position. You prefer really good players there. Vaitai isn’t at that level yet.

The tricky part of this is player development. Go watch Todd Herremans in 2005. Go watch Jamaal Jackson early in his career. Look at the way Brent Celek developed in his career. Same for Jeremiah Trotter. The Vaitai we see now vs what he might look like in a year could be very, very different. We need to revisit this topic at the end of the season when we’ve got lots of game film on Vaitai and we’ll have a better feel for where he is.

There was a time when Kelce was one of the better C’s in the league. That’s no longer the case. That said, he is absolutely still an effective starter. We see the plays where he is called for holding or makes a mistake, but Kelce still does a good job most of the time. He remains a very good athlete. He is very smart and does a good job of adjusting protections. Kelce does drive me nuts when he holds on run plays. Just let the guy go and if he hits the RB, so be it. Better that than a holding call.

I do think there are long term concerns. Kelce is 29. Athletic guys at some point start to lose a bit of their athleticism. When that happens to Kelce, he will start to struggle more than he does now. That might happen next year or 2018 or beyond that, but it will happen. The Eagles might decide to go with a bigger, stronger player at C. Isaac Seumalo could be in the mix for that job. They also have a guy named Aaron Neary on the practice squad that they like as a C prospect. We’ll see what happens.

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Finally

Posted: November 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 147 Comments »

The Eagles trailed in the 4th quarter…and won.

The Eagles held a tight lead in the 4th quarter…and won.

The team was 0 for the season in those categories prior to today. This was not the prettiest win, but the Eagles made a few clutch plays and finally came out on top in a tight contest. There were times it felt like they tried to give it away. There were times it felt like the officials were trying to give it away. But in the end the Eagles got the job done and it was the Falcons who made some crucial mistakes.

The final score of 24-15 makes it look like great defense. This was a combination of ball control offense and very good defense. The Eagles were on the field for 38 minutes. That meant Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were on the sideline discussing last night’s episode of SNL or who the hottest chicks in the stands were. Last week Atlanta scored 43 points. Today they had 48 snaps.

When the Falcons were on the field, the Eagles did a fantastic job of making life miserable for them. They could not run the ball very well. Ryan was only sacked twice, but he had enough pressure that he wasn’t as deadly accurate as he usually is. The Eagles did a really good job in coverage. There was one breakdown. Leodis McKelvin bit on a double move and that resulted in a 76-yard TD pass to Taylor Gabriel. Ryan only had 191 yards outside of that play. He completed less than 55 percent of his throws today. For the year, he’s up at 70 percent.

Beyond covering well, the Eagles did a great job of tackling. There were very few RAC yards. When the Falcons had 3rd/long situations, Ryan threw underneath quite a bit. The Eagles rallied to the ball and got the receiver down short of the chains.

The real star of the game was…Ryan Mathews. That may sound crazy, but if you read my preview (posted late), I said this:

Who is the RB – Darren Sproles has been the key RB in recent weeks. The Falcons have speedy LBs. I don’t know if Sproles is the ideal matchup against LBs that can run. This might be a week to give more touches to Ryan Mathews.

Seems like Doug Pederson and I were on the same page in this regard. Mathews was outstanding, going 19-109-2. He ran hard. He showed patience on some plays and let the hole develop. He covered the football in traffic. He ran through initial contact and made the Falcons work hard to get him to the ground.

The Eagles have been too quick to abandon the running game in recent weeks. It was good to see Pederson stick to it and let the Eagles pound on the smaller Falcons. The Eagles ran for 208 yards, easily a season high.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The Eagles had some amazingly dumb moments. Carson Wentz threw the ball away late in the 1st half on 4th down. He needed to throw the ball 50 yards downfield and out of bounds to eat up the final few seconds on the clock. That mistake didn’t hurt the Eagles, but it was just flat out dumb. Najee Goode hit a Falcon out of bounds on a punt that went out of bounds. That was the dumbest moment of the whole year. It made zero sense. The Falcons weren’t returning the punt. The ball was dead. Hitting the guy handed Atlanta 15 yards at a time when they were down 6 points late in the game. Ugh. I was ready to cut Goode on the spot. I’ve calmed down now, but Dave Fipp should dream up some high quality punishment for him this week. Can’t let role players do stupid things like that.

Getting to 5-4 is huge. That gives the team some fudge room as they navigate a tough schedule. Once you fall below .500, getting back above it feels like an overwhelming task. The Eagles still have 4 games left at home, where they are undefeated. Still plenty of optimism for this season.

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