Hammer Drops on LJ

Posted: October 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 191 Comments »

The news we feared finally came down today.

In a word, ugh.

The Eagles O-line has played very well this year. Johnson has been a big part of that. He’s been good in pass pro and very good as a run blocker. Losing him will hurt and there is no way around that.

The plan this summer was to shift Allen Barbre from LG to RT and put either Isaac Seumalo or Stefen Wisniewski at LG. Barbre has played so well at LG that the coaches have decided to scrap that plan. They want to leave Barbre where he is. That leaves RT open. For now, the job will go to rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

There is no easy solution here. In terms of individual play, the smart move would be to move Barbre and insert Wiz. But the OL is really a unit. Moving a couple of pieces around would throw off the continuity of the whole group. By putting Big V over at RT, the Eagles know the weak spot and it is then up to the players and coaches to help him out.

Reports on Vaitai were not good this spring. He really struggled. Things weren’t a whole lot better at Training Camp. Vaitai had a big adjustment to make. He played LT in 2015 at TCU and was almost exclusively in a 2-point stance. The Eagles played him at RT and had Vaitai in up and down stances. They had him firing off the ball on some run plays and then dropping back in pass pro. This wasn’t the simple offense that TCU ran.

While Vaitai was slow to adjust, he did get better. I recently re-watched part of the preseason finale. He looked a lot better in that game than he did just a few weeks before in the preseason. The more snaps he got and the more coaching he got helped Vaitai to make serious strides. He has gone up against the starting DL in practice since then and the coaches say he’s continued to improve.

You could dismiss that as coachspeak, but their actions do speak volumes. They wouldn’t go with him for the heck of it. The coaches have seen enough from Vaitai to make them think he can succeed. Doug Pederson had a rookie starting at C last year for the Chiefs so he’s dealt with young guys up front before. He isn’t afraid to take a chance on a talented rookie.

And Pederson is taking a chance here. Carson Wentz doesn’t play to this level if he’s behind the 2012 Eagles O-line. He’s running for his life and making risky throws. This year the OL has been a big part of Wentz’s success. The good news is that Pederson is the kind of coach who can adjust to a rookie OL. Pederson tries to run a balanced offense. He is willing to mix in different players and formations. He can use TEs and RBs to help Vaitai. Heck, he will line Matt Tobin up as a 3rd TE and have him play over there at times. There won’t be any Winston Justice vs the Giants in 2007 moments.

While this can work, it also might fail. If Vaitai really struggles, the team can consider trying Matt Tobin at RT or they can just make the double switch with Barbre going to RT and Wiz taking over at LG.

Experimenting with the RT spot while your prized rookie QB adjusts to the NFL is not ideal, to say the least. Wentz might help the situation. He does a lot of pre-snap reads and adjustments. That could help ease the pressure on Vaitai. Wentz also has excellent mobility. Just because Vaitai gets beat doesn’t mean the rusher will get a sack or even a hit on the QB.

What about Johnson?

Pederson has made the right call at just about every critical moment in his short tenure as Eagles coach. This is arguably his biggest test yet. If he can make this work, that will be huge for the team’s outlook on the rest of the season. The Eagles lack elite playmakers so all the parts of the offense have to work together for the group to have success. Vaitai doesn’t have to be as good as Johnson, but he does need to do his part.

Keep your fingers crossed that Jeff Stoutland and Pederson made the right call on this.


Now for some good OL news. Watch Jason Peters do his thing…

Not a great run by Mathews to be sure.


From The Top Down

Posted: October 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 124 Comments »

While there are plenty of the same players and even some of the same assistant coaches, the 2016 Eagles are very different from the 2015 Eagles.

There are 2 big reasons – Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz.

Things did not end well for Chip Kelly, but I still think he’s a better coach than many people give him credit for. That said, I think Kelly’s biggest fault is that he didn’t get the importance of the human element. Football players are people (even Matt Schobel). They need to be motivated. They need leadership. You have to push some buttons.

Pederson doesn’t have Kelly’s creative ideas on how to run a team, but Pederson very much understands the human element. He’s a former player. He knows what players want to hear, but also what they need to hear.

Wentz is doing special things on the field, but go beyond the numbers. He seems to get his role on this team. He’s a rookie and that means he has to be somewhat deferential to veteran players. At the same time, he’s the starting QB and that means he is the big dog. He has to be a leader, on and off the field. That requires a combination of butt-kissing and butt-kicking.

Sam Bradford tried to be a team leader. He gave some good pregame speeches. He worked hard on and off the field. The players respected him. The coaches liked him. Things are different with Wentz. He is a leader in the traditional sense, but he’s also a leader because of his special talent. That TD pass to Jordan Matthews in the season opener only went 19 yards, but it might as well have gone 200 yards, over a mountain and through a hurricane.

That TD gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the season. They didn’t have a 7-0 1st quarter lead in 2015 until almost Thanksgiving. The 2015 Eagles always seemed to be playing from behind. That’s just not how the Wentz Wagon rolls.

Wentz won a pair of national titles at North Dakota State as the starter. He was on 3 other teams that won as the backup. He knows how to win and how to be part of a winner. He’s not going to accept mediocrity from himself or his team. As odd as this sounds, Wentz isn’t afraid to succeed. Some young players play not to lose. They avoid taking chances for fear of making mistakes. Wentz is willing to take chances, because he believes in himself and his teammates.

Winning can be infections.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this story before, but it bears repeating. Duke went 37-2 in 1999 and had one of the great college teams ever. They lost the national title game in a close thriller with UConn. A bunch of guys from that team went to the NBA. The next winter Duke added some talented recruits, but they got off to an 0-2 start by losing both games in a holiday tournament. Star freshman Jason Williams got on the team bus and was laughing about something. Shane Battier, the key holdover from the great ’99 team, went nuts. He let Williams know he needed to get that F’ing smile off his face. This was Duke. Going 0-2 was unacceptable. There was nothing. to be happy about. Nothing. That team ended up with a good year. The next season they won the national title.

Chris McPherson brought up a great point on the postgame show on PE.com on Sunday. Wentz is now the key player and leader on the Eagles. Other players will look at him to see how he responds to the loss.

In his PC, you could tell Wentz was not a happy camper. He gave terse answers and wasn’t doing much smiling. He hates to lose. His background at NDSU can really serve him well this week. He was in an atmosphere where winning was expected, not a luxury. Part of knowing how to win is knowing how to deal with losses. You learn from them. You use them as motivation.

I’ll be excited to see how Wentz and the Eagles respond to the loss when they hit the field on Sunday. I know he’ll do everything he can this week to get himself and his teammates ready to get back on the winning track.


Not That Bad

Posted: October 10th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 186 Comments »

Eagles losses usually stick with me for days. I think about all the things that went wrong and how costly they were. I think about how short the NFL season is and how meaningful each game is. I don’t feel that bad today. The loss was certainly frustrating, but there is still too much about this team to be happy about.

The Eagles are 3-1, half a game out of 1st place.

The Eagles lead the NFL in point differential at +64.

The team is 12th in yards and 3rd in points scored. It is 2nd in both yards and points allowed.

The worst performance of the year resulted in a one-point loss on the road.

Think back to last year. Then drink a PBR or two. Lots of bad memories, right? The Eagles got off to a 1-3 start. They spent the whole year trying to get back to .500. That meant that the team couldn’t afford bad games over the last 12 weeks. Unfortunately, there were more than a few. The Eagles actually got back to 4-4 at one point. Then they took on the Dolphins. The Eagles jumped out to a 16-3 lead and were dominating the game, but then just fell apart and lost 20-19. The team never got back to .500 the rest of the year, let alone above it.

That was a mediocre team. They weren’t awful. You don’t go 7-9 if you’re awful. They just made too many mistakes to overcome.

The 2016 Eagles are different. They limit mistakes. They play complimentary football, where the offense and defense help each other. This team has a stud QB. He might be young, but he is the real deal. Carson Wentz is 6th in the NFL with a rating of 103.5. To put that in perspective, Donovan McNabb only had one time in his first 26 NFL games where he had a rating of 100 or above. Wentz is so far ahead of schedule that there is no way to honestly put it into proper perspective.

The Eagles needed to get off to a hot start because the next 4 weeks are tough.

at WAS
at DAL
at NYG

Bill Walsh used to tell his teams to think of wins as building a savings account. Build that thing up for when there is a rainy day. The Eagles went 3-1 and that sets the right tone for the season. It gives them a cushion for when things do get tough.

While that schedule looks tough, it is a good thing. We want to see this team tested. The Cowboys won 3 Super Bowls between 1992 and 1995. They had a ton of talent, but they also came along at a time when the Skins, Giants and Eagles were bullies. Those teams made Dallas better by being tough on them. The NFC East has been a mediocre division for a while, but it looks much improved. It is fun to watch the rivals struggle and lose, but honestly the best thing for the Eagles is to have those teams test them. The goal is to win a Super Bowl. One of the ways to do that is to have your rivals push you.

I don’t know if this team is going to win 12 or 10 or just 8 games. I see a lot of talent and can easily talk myself into big things, but we the next 4 games will give us a better idea of just how good this team really is and what the season holds.

I believe the Eagles can win each one of those games. Reality says they probably won’t, but it is a good feeling to not look at a schedule and think “How are we going to pull that off?”

Yesterday’s loss to the Lions was frustrating, but there were plenty of positives in the game and this is still a good football team. I’m guessing they will build off the loss and play much better next week.


Sloppy Day

Posted: October 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 265 Comments »

The Eagles are undefeated no more. The team made a variety of mistakes and lost to the Lions, 24-23.

There is no one person to blame for this loss. The defense was terrible in the first half, allowing 3 TD drives. The offense failed to convert a Lions fumble in scoring territory into a TD. Then they turned the ball over on the final 2 plays, sealing the loss.

The Eagles have won as a team all year. Today they lost as a team.

This was a very frustrating game. The officiating was terrible. That alone did not cost the Eagles the game, but it certainly had an impact on it. Bad calls or not, the Eagles had control of the game. The late turnovers gave it to the Lions and those had nothing to do with officiating. You can argue there was contact on the final pass play, but I didn’t see that as a blatant situation.

One of the issues in the 1st half was poor LB play. Nigel Bradham didn’t seem to be on the field as much as usual. I need to re-watch the game and see what was going on. Mychal Kendricks had a couple of mistakes that hurt the defense when trying to cover Riddick. Bradham played a lot in the 2nd half and the defense looked like it normally does. They flew around the field and made life tough on the Lions offense. Bradham had 3 TFLs and recovered a fumble so that shows you the kind of impact he can have on a game.

I wasn’t a big fan of the 3rd down play the Eagles ran where Ryan Mathews fumbled the ball away. He was having most of his success between the tackles. To suddenly toss him the ball and ask him to run outside felt weird. I would have preferred a rollout with Wentz where he had the run-pass option. That puts more pressure on the defense. Still, Mathews cannot fumble that ball away. He had it in his inside arm and that didn’t help matters. Getting the 1st down there is huge, but the one thing you can’t do is give them the ball with a turnover.

Carson Wentz played a very good game up until the end. He made a bad decision and compounded that with a bad throw. You can yell and gripe all you want about Nelson Agholor, but watch the play. That ball is to the outside. He’s looking over his shoulder and trying to get outside to the ball. He can’t because the CB is right there in perfect position. That ball needs to be away from the CB, which is to the inside. Agholor certainly didn’t help matters, but that is a bad throw.

It was also a bad decision. Wentz had a clean pocket and got greedy. Instead of finding an underneath receiver or even throwing the ball away, he decided to heave the ball downfield. Dumb. You just don’t do that in that situation. When you trail by a point, have a hot PK and 1:20 or so on the clock, you don’t have to force things. Play smart.

The good news here is that this is a rookie QB making that mistake. We’ve seen more than a few Eagles veterans do it. There are times to be aggressive and times to play situational football. That was a situational moment.

Wentz got his first real taste of adversity and handled it well right up to that point, which is what makes the decision/throw so frustrating. That’s what will get talked about and not the rest of the game, where he looked so good.

The Eagles are 3-1. The rookie QB continues to play well. The defense struggled for a half, but then dominated in the 2nd half. Things could be a lot worse. We knew the Eagles were going to lose at some point. We knew Wentz would throw an INT at some point. Now we get to see how the team responds to a bad day. Besides, better to have a day like this vs the Lions than next week against the Skins.


Gameday – at DET

Posted: October 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 981 Comments »

The Eagles are looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2004. You may recall that the Eagles went to the Super Bowl that year. They also won early season games against the Bears, Browns and Lions. How’s that for weird?

We’ve got a long way to go before we really start making those comparisons. It just occurred to me how similar the schedules were and how the teams both got off to such good starts. The 2004 team won in DET 30-13. It will be interesting to see how the team does today.

Here are the inactives.

The return of Zach Ertz means that someone else has to sit. Steven Means is that guy. The Eagles still have plenty of bodies at DE. Means was a luxury since he didn’t play a ton on STs. I’m guessing Ertz gets a TD today. The Lions struggle with TEs and you know Wentz sees Ertz as a key weapon.

I’d love to see Josh Huff catch a ball down the field. Doesn’t have to be a big play. Just get him something 10-20 yards downfield. He has caught nothing but screens so far. I want the ball in his hands against this leaky secondary.

One of the things I’m most interested in is seeing how the coaches use the RBs today. Everyone is healthy. Today we’ll see who they want to play. Ryan Mathews is still the lead dog, but Wendell Smallwood has been too good to not use him. Smallwood averages 4.8 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner is up at 6.1. Mathews is down at 3.2. He’s had some bad luck so don’t read that as all being on him. The blocking in the CLE game wasn’t great. We’ll see what the coaches do.


This is a game the Eagles should win. But that’s what makes the NFL so compelling. You never know what will happen on Sunday afternoon.

That said, I think Doug Pederson will have his guys ready to roll and the Eagles will win.