The Hand

Posted: July 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 40 Comments »

I am not referring to the 1981 thriller with Michael Caine, although I loved that movie as a kid.

I’m talking about the story that Ian Rappoport Jimmy Kempski broke a couple of days ago. According to a source of his, Jordan Hicks broke his hand while getting out of a pool on his vacatin in Greece.

The exact severity of Hicks’ injury is not yet known, as he has not yet gone for X-rays in Greece, where he remains for now. However, he did send video of his hand, performing an array of motions for team doctors to view. The Eagles do not believe the injury to be overly significant. A source with the Eagles explained that even if it is broken, the likelihood is that it would only be about a four-week injury.

Big sigh of relief.

Hicks is one player the Eagles can’t afford to lose. He knows how to run the defense and he is a playmaker, making him doubly valuable.

The Eagles liked what they saw from Joe Walker last year, but he got hurt and missed the season. Walker is reportedly on schedule to be ready for Training Camp and the preseason, but we’ll have to wait and see if that is true.

There is also the question of how coming off a torn ACL will affect him. Some guys are never the same. Stewart Bradley tore his ACL in the summer of 2009 and never got back to where he was. There were times in 2008 when Bradley looked like a stud MLB. He wasn’t even functional after the injury.

Other guys come back as if nothing happened. Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in 2013 and then had the best season of his career in 2014.

It would be great if Walker is healthy by late July and can regain his form. There is no good backup MLB candidate on the roster beyond him.

Najee Goode has started for the Eagles and is an effective role player, but he’s better suited for OLB than the middle. He could play there, but I don’t think he has the physicality you ideally want to play inside runs.

Mychal Kendricks could easily play MLB, but he’s not the smartest or most instinctive player. He wants to attack. Kendricks isn’t someone you want running the defense.

Nigel Bradham might be able to play inside, but I’m not sure if he’s got the instincts. He’s good on the outside, but playing the middle where you are in heavy traffic and have to do so much reading, I don’t see that as the best fit for him. Bradham has a lot of experience in the scheme so he might be worth trying if the situation ever came up.

Don Cherry has MLB experience from his days at Villanova. I just question if he has the athleticism to play in the NFL. He’s stuck around longer than I expected so the Eagles seem to like him, at the very least as a practice player.

Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill are too small to play MLB right now. Both are S/LB types who are better suited to playing outside.

For now, be glad Jordan Hicks is okay. We got lucky that this situation was an Aegean accident and not a full blown Greek tragedy.

*****

PE.com has a Rasul Douglas highlight video.

I know Douglas doesn’t have ideal experience. I know his long speed is an issue. But man, his size, length and crazy ball skills are really impressive. Turnovers make such a difference in football. He has the potential to make impact plays.

_


DGB Done

Posted: July 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 33 Comments »

What a difference a year makes.

Last spring and summer the Eagles were desperate for WRs. They brought in underachieving free agents. They had underachieving players returning from 2015. In August they traded for Dorial Green-Beckham, who had underachieved for the Titans. The Eagles hoped receivers coach Greg Lewis, a former NFL player who was an overachiever, would be able to bring out the best in them.

That didn’t happen.

Lewis failed to connect with his players as hoped. He proved to be the wrong fit for the group of receivers and the Eagles let him go this offseason. Underachieving vets Reuben Randle, T.J. Graham and Chris Givens were cut last summer. The Eagles stuck with their own young players and kept DGB as well, hoping the light would go on for the players as they had time to develop.

That didn’t happen.

The time for patience is over. The team signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson were drafted to add speed to the offense. Mike Groh, a veteran receivers coach, was brought in to run a tighter ship and to really push the players. He did just that and the players responded in different ways.

Nelson Agholor had the best spring of his young career. Bryce Treggs played well. Marcus Johnson did some good things. Hollins caught the eye of everyone who watched practice.

Two players struggled, DGB and Gibson. Since Gibson is a rookie, the team is willing to be patient. DGB is entering his third NFL season. The pressure was on him to really step his game up. That didn’t happen and he got cut.

DGB wasn’t going to play on STs so he really had to stand out as a receiver. Instead of learning from Jeffery and Smith and feeding off the improved competition in the receiving corps, DGB regressed. The Eagles saw no reason to be patient with him. They want competition, but that doesn’t mean having players with raw talent. They want players who will really compete. If you aren’t willing to battle for a roster spot, are you going to do whatever it takes to win in games? Not likely.

The Eagles still have good depth at WR.

Alshon Jeffery
Torrey Smith
Jordan Matthews
Nelson Agholor
Mack Hollins

Shelton Gibson
Bryce Treggs
Marcus Johnson
Paul Turner
Greg Ward
David Watford

The first five guys are likely to make the roster. The next group is battling to see who makes the practice squad or could push for the Eagles to keep six receivers.

Cutting DGB now was a smart move. The only reason to keep him is if you believe he truly had a chance play up to his potential. Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, Doug Pederson and Groh must have felt that just wasn’t going to happen. Certainly there weren’t any hints that DGB was going to play well this summer.

The message here isn’t that a player can’t struggle. Not every player is going to be at his best all year long. The Eagles want to see players who are going to handle things the right way. That means competing hard in every practice. That means playing on STs. That means working to get through your struggles. DGB wasn’t doing those things and it cost him his job.

Marcus Smith is so jealous right now.

*****

The Eagles added QB Dane Evans to fill DGB’s roster spot.

Evans, 6-1, 210, posted gaudy numbers as a 4-year starter at Tulsa. He threw for 11,860 yards and 84 TDs (that’s his career…not just one game). He is in Philly as a camp body, but the Eagles saw something they liked. We’ll see what he does in Training Camp.

For now, enjoy his Tulsa highlights.

_


Disaster Scenarios

Posted: June 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 98 Comments »

Every summer Jimmy Bama does his dumpster fire series. He writes out 10 reasons that each of the NFC East teams could be a dumpster fire in the upcoming season. Jimmy put out his pieces this week.

Cowboys

Giants

Skins

Eagles

Jimmy is at his best when he can rip players and teams so, to steal a line from him, that is some first class journalizin’.

Let’s talk about some potential concerns with the Eagles. For me, there are three areas that stand out.

  • CB play
  • Doug Pederson
  • Carson Wentz

***

The Eagles don’t need the current crew of corners to turn into Troy/Bobby/Al, but they do need them to at least be functional starters. There is no guarantee that will happen. Patrick Robinson has been a solid starter in the past, but he also has had injuries issues and has struggled at times. Jalen Mills showed promise last year, but is being expected to start and play much better this year. Rasul Douglas was a backup for West Virginia in 2015 and now is challenging for a starting role in the NFL.

There are other players, notably Aaron Grymes, who could step up and play well, but there aren’t any foundational pieces to build around. That makes things challenging for the coaches and the Safeties.

You don’t need shutdown corners to win in the NFL, but this is a passing league. You need players who can get the job done on a somewhat consistent basis. The Eagles hope they have those players.

***

You need good coaching to win in the NFL. And finding good coaches is hard. You can be a great NFL assistant like Gus Bradley and fail. You can be a great college coach and offensive genius like Chip Kelly and still fail.

Doug Pederson has an odd track record. He’s been around a lot of good players and coaches, but just hasn’t done enough on his own to make you feel confident that he is definitely the man for the job. He might be.

Or he might not be.

The pressure will be tremendous this year as Pederson tries to turn the Eagles into a winning team. How will he respond? How will the team respond? Last year was about laying the foundation. You could live with mistakes because of the rookie QB and coach. There was a lot of learning to be done.

That won’t fly this year. The Eagles need to show improvement. That means winning at least 8 games and probably needing to finish with a winning record. That could bring out the best in Pederson, but could also make him desperate if the team gets off to a slow start or has a midseason losing streak. Pederson is still very much a mystery. The way he handles the 2017 season will tell us a lot about his future.

Pederson brought the emotional intelligence to the job that owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted. Pederson has gotten the team back on track and seemed to push the right buttons last year. This season is going to be challenging. The team is more talented, but we have no clue if Pederson is a good coach and is the right man to get this team to win games on a consistent basis.

***

Wentz has big time potential. Watch this breakdown by Pederson and you see the raw skills to be a really good NFL QB.

The problem is that history is full of talented QBs who struggled. Nick Foles posted all-time great numbers in 2013 and then looked like a different guy less than a calendar year later. Everything came together for him in 2013 and he made a ton of big plays. Foles looked more like the real Nick Foles in 2014. He’s still talented and has his moments, but isn’t a guy you want at the center of your franchise.

Bobby Hoying showed promise in his second year and then completely fell apart after that. A.J. Feeley showed promise as a young QB, but over time proved he wasn’t meant to be a starter.

Vince Young went 31-19 as a starting QB for the Titans, but that wasn’t enough to keep his job. RGIII had one of the great rookie seasons in league history, but injuries and organizational chaos ruined his career. There was a time when Colin Kapernick looked like he might change the game of football, but things have gone completely sideways for him. Blake Bortles threw for 35 TDs and 4,400 yards in 2015, but looked awful at times in 2016. A good, or even great, season doesn’t ensure long term success.

Wentz must build on what he showed last year. He has to learn from his mistakes. The team will expect him to make more plays and fewer mistakes this year. That kind of pressure can get to some young QBs.

I believe in Carson Wentz. But I also believed in Bobby Hoying. There are no guarantees in the NFL.

***

I didn’t mention injuries because that is such an obvious choice.

***

One thing Jimmy didn’t mention is…well it’s hard to wrap up in one phrase. Chemistry/confidence. Call that intangibles, maybe?

The Eagles added talent this year. But Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Tim Jernigan, Chris Long, Patrick Robinson and some others are here on one-year deals. These are high character players and I don’t expect any issues, but there is the possibility. They want to win, but also would like good contracts next year. That means they need good game tape and good stats.

Brent Celek, Jason Peters, Jon Dorenbos, Darren Sproles and Donnie Jones have played a combined 237 seasons between them (loose estimate). They want to win games. They want to get to the playoffs and have success. They aren’t interested in building for the future. They want to win now. Will they have the patience to deal with young players?

Sidney Jones is the team’s most talented corner. He’s coming off an injury. Jones might push to play, ASAP. The team sees him as a 5-year asset. They want him on the field, but will also think big picture. They aren’t going to rush Jones, which could bug Jones and other players who think he could help right away, especially at such a vulnerable position.

Players like Jordan Matthews, Mychal Kendricks, and Vinny Curry have odd situations. Matthews wants to stay. Kendricks wants to play. Curry wants to make plays so he can keep his job. Will their situations affect their teammates?

The Eagles are confident right now. They won 7 games with a rookie QB, rookie coach, tough schedule and five different guys playing RT. That’s not easy. The roster is more talented this year. The players know the schemes. The coaches know the players. Confidence is high.

What happens if the Eagles stumble out of the gate? That would happen, with 4 of 6 games on the road to open the season. All the changes from last year brought out energy and excitement, plus kept expectations somewhat down. This year there will be tougher expectations and the newness is gone. It is time to make plays and come up big in winning moments. Playing tough or coming up just short won’t be accepted this year.

Chemistry problems and confidence issues could be factors this year. What happens if the team loses confidence in Pederson, Wentz or itself? Part of winning is expecting to win. If you constantly expect something bad to happen, it usually will.

I like this Eagles team and expect them to be good, but you do have to acknowledge that things could go wrong.

It will be interesting (and hopefully fun) to see which of the NFC East teams does become a dumpster fire this year.

_


Identity

Posted: June 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 53 Comments »

We know what Jim Schwartz wants to do on defense. He has a strong track record and his philosophy is well known. The 2016 Eagles had some games where you could see what he’s looking to build here. There isn’t much mystery.

Dave Fipp has a strong track record with his STs units. We know he’s going to get his guys to play at a high level and there will be big plays.

As funny as it sounds, Doug Pederson is still the mystery man. We really don’t know what he wants to do on offense. Any time you have a rookie QB, bad WRs and five different starting RTs, you are not going to be running the offense the coach truly wants to see. The Eagles learned the playbook in 2016. There were some good flashes, but I can’t make any conclusions based on what we saw.

I think Pederson wants to throw more deep balls. He drafted a QB with a strong arm, and one who likes to go deep. The Eagles claimed Bryce Treggs last year. He was a downfield threat. When they needed a roster spot, they cut Paul Turner and kept Treggs. They wanted speed. This year the Eagles added vertical threats in Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. They want to be able to throw the ball down the field.

Is Pederson going to be Andy Jr with his thoughts on the run game?

I don’t think so. The team seriously considered taking Ezekiel Elliot last year. When they got all the way up to the second pick, that idea went away. They were definitely going QB at that point. The Eagles might have drafted Dalvin Cook in the 1st round this year if there weren’t so many questions surrounding him. There are rumors they wanted him in the 2nd round.

This year they signed LeGarrette Blount in free agency. He’s not a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Blount is a runner. Between him, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and possibly Byron Marshall or Corey Clement, the Eagles have a good group of backs.

The Eagles were 10th in rushing attempts last year and 11th in yards. We can argue whether that should have been even higher with a rookie QB, but the point is that Pederson did run the ball more than people give him credit for. And remember that he didn’t have Shady McCoy or Brian Westbrook to feed it to. In the season finale, Byron Marshall, Terrell Watson and Sproles combined for 28 carries.

I think the game that made me see him as different from Reid was when the Eagles ran for 169 yards against the Ravens. Baltimore had the best run D in the league at that time. The Eagles didn’t have their best OL, but Pederson committed to the run and the Eagles OL was fantastic. That was also a terrific performance by Ryan Matthews. He ran hard and was really physical. That gave me hope. I don’t think Pederson is going to be another Andy Reid when it comes to the run game.

Can Pederson gameplan well?

Will he feed a hot hand?

Will he stop calling quick screens now that he has WRs who can actually run routes and catch the ball?

How creative will Pederson be?

There were good signs last year. Remember that you can’t go strictly off results. Did the design of the plays work consistently? You had DGB dropping a long TD pass against the Steelers. You had Zach Ertz dropping a Red Zone TD against the Skins in a close game. You had Nelson Agholor not even lining up correctly and wiping out a long TD play by Ertz. There were plays where Wentz failed to see an open receiver or failed to make a good throw to an open receiver. There were a lot of yards and points left on the field last year due to sloppy execution. That’s on the players, not Pederson.

2017 will be different. The players know the scheme. Pederson knows the players. There were talent upgrades. Lane Johnson isn’t facing a suspension. And his backup is experienced if something like that does happen.

It will take another year or two for us to really get a feel for Pederson’s offense, but we should start to understand what he really wants to do this season.

***

Here is Pederson mic’d up from the season opener.

_


More on the Defense and Numbers

Posted: June 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 85 Comments »

My last post talked about Jim Schwartz getting the defense to play better this season. He’s in Year 2 with the team and that has been good to him in the past. Readers had some interesting points to make.

ChoTime brought up the point that judging a defense based on points and yards allowed is somewhat flawed. The play of the Eagles offense affects how often the defense gets on the field and what positions their put in. This is absolutely true and a very relevant point. ChoTime then mentioned that Football Outsiders had the Eagles rated 4th in DVOA. That would tell you the team doesn’t have that much room to improve.

The Eagles defense was odd in 2016. It dominated the Steelers and Falcons, two dynamic offenses. The Eagles only gave up 30 or more points once all year. That’s tough to do in today’s NFL. As a point of comparison., Seattle gave up 30 or more twice in the regular season.

The flip side is that the Eagles lost five straight games and gave up 26 or more points in every one of those games. And that was with playoff hopes hanging in the balance. Cincy put up 46 points over a 3-game stretch and then scored 32 against the Eagles. There were times when the Eagles struggled against both the run and the pass. There were a couple of blown leads.

No matter how you slice it, the defense was good last year. They can (and need to) get better this year.

I am old school with my stats so I do appreciate readers reminding me of the analytics information that is out there. It really is good to see things from different perspectives.

*****

AC Viking raised the question of how Jim Schwartz did when after the second year jump he had in Detroit and Tennessee. The numbers aren’t good. However, context is needed. The Titans used to live and die with huge free agent deals. The reason Jevon Kearse left them is they couldn’t afford him after giving out bad contracts in previous years. The 2004 Titans dropped all the way to 27th in yards allowed. That will happen when you lose a player like Kearse. The flip side is that the Eagles jumped into the Top 10.

The Titans were an odd organization back then. They were good, then hit rock bottom in 2004 and 2005. They came out of that and got good again. There wasn’t the usual building a team plan. There was Jeff Fisher taking shortcuts, with them rarely working.

Detroit never got higher than 13th in yards allowed, but when you consider they started out dead last at 32nd, that’s pretty impressive. Schwartz couldn’t get that defense over the top, but he did get it to the middle of the pack.

Schwartz has an interesting situation in Philly. He inherited talent and had a good initial season. Getting the team to play better won’t be easy for him. Going from the mid-20’s or anywhere in the 30’s is easier because you can only go up. If you eliminate mistakes and get players to make a few more plays, you’ll jump in the rankings. Going from 13 is a different story. You need to get a good unit to become an excellent unit.

*****

Random note of the week.

I was cleaning up some old stuff and found a scrap sheet of paper from March/April of 2013. I had written three names down.

  • Chance Warmack
  • Jonathan Cooper
  • Dallas Thomas

Two of those guys are now Eagles. Back then, that seemed like a fantasy idea. The three of them looked like future starters, with Warmack and Cooper as potential Pro Bowl players. Now, Warmack and Thomas are here fighting for roster spots and hoping to keep their NFL careers going.

Cooper is in Dallas and has a chance to start. They are going to turn him into the dominant star that the Cardinals, Browns and Patriots couldn’t.