New Guys

Posted: January 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 399 Comments »

Say hello to Coach P and his new pal Jimmy. They’re here to save the Eagles.

Okay, that might be overstating things a bit, but Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz are here to return the Eagles, who went 7-9 in the weakest division in the NFC, to being a legitimate playoff team and title contender. This team was talented enough that “rock bottom” for them meant consecutive blowout losses. Rock bottom for most teams is a 2 or 3-win season. That said, this team was flawed enough that they had chance after chance to save their season and seemed to find different ways to blow games just about every time.

Doug Pederson had his introductory press conference on Tuesday (you can watch the whole thing here) and it was up and down. You could tell he was a bit nervous. Pederson stumbled over some of his words and offered strange answers to a few questions. Most notably, he talked about how the Chiefs moved the ball slowly in their playoff loss to NE because they wanted to score, but not leave time on the clock for Tom Brady. That doesn’t make much sense at all. The losing team always wants the game to last as long as possible. That gives you more chances to score and make up ground.

Pederson wasn’t the head coach so we don’t know just how much he agreed with the strategy, if that is really what they were thinking. Remember that he is an Andy Reid disciple. They protect the players and take the blame. KC was missing Jeremy Maclin and Alex Smith wasn’t exactly slinging darts around the field. If you can only move 4 yards at a time, you do that. Let’s move on from that.

Pederson gave some generic answers. He wants his team to be tough, to work hard every day and to be aggressive. I’ve heard debate team coaches use the same description for their squad.

I hated the answer Pederson gave when he talked about not having specific schemes, but rather shaping things around his players. No, no, no. You absolutely need base schemes that you believe in. You tailor and adjust components of those schemes to fit the current players, but you must have schemes that guide your personnel decisions and are based on your philosophy. Trying to adjust every season to the players you have is not the way to go unless your name is Bill Belichick and you are a coaching freak. Mortal coaches need schemes. I hope Pederson simply meant that he’ll adjust his playbook to the personnel at hand. He better have some core beliefs and plays that he will build around.

I did like Pederson talking about creatively using the players on offense. He talked about lining up guys in different roles and different spots. He talked about not being static, as in RCB vs LCB or Riley Cooper almost always being on the left side and Jordan Matthews mostly being in the slot. Move players around. Mix things up so you don’t become static and predictable. Chip was very disappointing in this aspect.

I liked it when Pederson talked about giving the QB freedom at the line of scrimmage. Pederson is a former NFL QB and I’m sure he would have loved to call his own plays. KC gave Alex Smith a lot of freedom at the line and he helped the team get red hot and make the postseason.

Pederson will improve with the media as he gets more practice and grows into the role. I watched press conferences for other candidates during the hiring process and none of them were polished in front of the TV camera. As long as he’s comfortable with the players and commands their attention, he’s good to go.

We got introduced to new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Les Bowen covered that.

JIM SCHWARTZ, introduced Tuesday as the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, said he doesn’t want to be typecast as someone who requires a 4-3 setup or a Wide 9 alignment of his defensive ends, though he has used those elements to great success in Tennessee, Detroit and Buffalo.

 Schwartz said the biggest constant in his career has been that he has coached teams that were strong up front, and it all flows from that.

“If you can generate rush without blitzing, it really gives you an advantage as a playcaller,” said Schwartz, who turns 50 in June. “There’s nothing worse, as a defensive playcaller, than knowing you have to blitz to get pressure on the quarterback . . . I’ve never labeled myself a Wide 9 guy . . . There’s 32 teams in the league that line up in a Wide 9 at some time or another.

“I’d say if you want to label a defensive style or front there, it would be ‘attack.’ It’s not a read-and-react system. It’s not a lateral, line of scrimmage – we want to attack, we want to knock back, we want to put pressure on the quarterback, we want to create negative plays.

“I like this group (for that). Again, that’s very attractive. Fletcher Cox. (And) I know he’s a free agent, but Cedric Thornton. Vinny Curry, (also a) free agent. Connor Barwin. Those are guys that can do that. Brandon Graham, I had him at the Senior Bowl, man; he was my MVP. I think we helped him get drafted (13th overall) in the first round. He might owe me a little bit of that signing bonus. I think he had three or four sacks in that game.

“Those guys all fit that style. They’re ‘attack’ players. If we can get after the quarterback without having to blitz, we’ll be in a great position.”

I wish Schwartz had come right out and said he would run the 4-3. It makes me nervous that he wouldn’t commit to that.

That said, I can live with the 3-4 if it is a 1-gap, attacking style. Wade Phillips does a great job with a 1-gap 3-4. Some coaches love the 3-4 because it gives you more creative options for who to rush. You can send any 4 guys from the front seven and you aren’t blitzing. The offense doesn’t know who to block. I still prefer the 4-3, but as long as the players are flying off the ball, I can live with a slightly different style.

Schwartz was my top choice for DC. Not only does he want to attack, he’s good at it. He had outstanding defenses in Tennessee and Buffalo and dramatically improved the D in Detroit. Having a scheme is good. Being able to teach it is just as critical. Football isn’t just a sheet of paper with X’s and O’s on it. You have to be able to teach the nuances of how to make the scheme work. Schwartz has done that.

The key for me in all of this is finding someone to build a defense around Fletcher Cox, who looks like a special player. Schwartz has had stud DL thrive under his watch. Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Kevin Carter, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Antwan Odom, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Kyle Willams all thrived under Schwartz. There are DTs and DEs in that group. There are big guys and small guys. Suh had his only 10-sack season while playing for Schwartz.

I think Cox, Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan can all thrive in his scheme. Vinny Curry is a free agent, who hopefully the Eagles will now find a way to keep. He is perfect for an attacking defense. I’ll get into specific roles for players in a later post. The point is that I think Schwartz can get the most out of these players. Bill Davis got good production, but he was handcuffed by Chip Kelly wanting a 2-gap scheme. That limited how much you could attack.

For the first time in a long time, I’m genuinely excited by the man running the Eagles defense.

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Schwartz in Town

Posted: January 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 875 Comments »

Jim Schwartz is the man I want to be the Eagles new defensive coordinator. For a couple of days it seemed like that might be a long shot, but things have changed and he is now in Philly to interview for the position. That’s great news.

Doug Pederson wanted Steve Spagnuolo for the job. He is still under contract to the Giants and they denied the Eagles permission to talk to him. My reaction: thank you Giants.

Spags learned under Jim Johnson. He then ran the Giants defense when they won a Super Bowl. That’s the good stuff. Go read Jimmy Bama’s piece for the bad stuff (pretty much everything since 2008). When Spags had a dominant D-line, he ran a good defense. In every other instance, the results were not good. There are ways to argue for Spags, but they involve putting a positive slant on multiple situations.

Back to Schwartz. This isn’t a done deal. There are some reports that make it seem like a done deal.

No offense to Jamie Apody, but it would help if this was a report coming from someone with a strong track record of breaking stories like Les Bowen, Jeff McLane or Reuben Frank. I certainly hope Jamie is right.

Schwartz didn’t work for a team in 2015. He was hoping to get a head coaching job this year or to possibly become the DC of the Titans again. His family lives in Nashville and he’d love to get back there. Tennessee has a DC under contract in Ray Horton, but he is now being allowed to talk to the Browns about a job. He is reportedly upset because the Titans didn’t give him the HC job. If they let him leave, you wonder if Schwartz will try one last time to talk to the Titans.

The fact Schwartz is in Philly to interview tells you he is open to taking the job and wants to find out more about the situation. Jeff Lurie will pay big money to assistants so that side of things could help sway Schwartz. He would also likely have autonomy over the defense. Doug Pederson would run the offense and oversee the team, but Schwartz would be left alone to do things his way. Pederson saw Andy Reid treat Jim Johnson that way and it worked great for everyone.

Some people are worried about the Wide-9. Don’t worry about that. I’ll write plenty about it if/when Schwartz officially gets the job. The key thing you need to realize is that Schwartz is a veteran DC who has run Top 5 units for multiple teams.

Doug Farrar of SI wrote a piece on the Bills defense from December of 2014. They had just dominated Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. And that defense finished 11th in the league against the run so it isn’t like they were weak there. Overally they finished 4th in yards and points. Think how fun it would be for the Eagles to have a defense that could finish Top 10 in points and/or yards.

Schwartz would not magically come to Philly and make the defense great. He would still need more talent. He would have a good DL to work with, which is the key to success with the 4-3.

*****

Doug Pederson was officially hired today. There will be a press conference on Tuesday at 2pm.

This PE.com story has a cool video in it that breaks down Pederson’s career as a player and coach. I have to admit enjoying some of those old Eagles highlights. If they ever do a video like this for Tim Hauck, I might have to seek medical attention. That might be too much fun.

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Some Coaching News

Posted: January 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 762 Comments »

Now that Doug Pederson is free to focus on being the new coach of the Eagles, we’re starting to get some good rumors.

Okay.

Bringing in Tim Hauck to help with DBs is a good thing. I’m sure he would focus on Safeties, a position he knows pretty well. Hauck played in the league so he has that background, but he also has coached in college. He knows how to teach young players

As for Reich, I have no problems with him being the offensive coordinator. He played in a great offense with Buffalo in the 1980’s and 1990’s. That hurry-up attack produced great results. Reich has coached in Indianapolis, Arizona and San Diego. He’s been part of the Tom Moore offense and the West Coast offense. Pederson will want to run some version of the WCO.

Reich also worked with veteran QBs who like to audible and do a lot at the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs did a lot of that with Alex Smith this year so I could see Pederson wanting to continue with that. Reich makes a good fit in that sense.

I honestly don’t know what to say about Spags. I love the guy because he’s an old school Eagle that learned firsthand from Jim Johnson. He helped the Giants to win the 2007 Super Bowl and ran their to shelf defense in 2008. But since then, things have not gone so well.

Spags struggled as the head coach in St. Louis. He ran the Saints defense in 2012 and that is one of the worst units in the history of football. Spags went to the Ravens and was an assistant in 2013 and 2014. He went back to the Giants to be the DC this season. They finished dead last in yards allowed.

To be fair, the Saints didn’t have a lot of talent in 2012 and this Giants team had a terrible combination – lack of talent and tons of injuries.

When Spags had a deep, talented DL in 2007 and 2008, he posted terrific results. If he came to Philly, Spags would have a talented DL to work with. That’s the big argument for bringing him in. And it does make sense. I just don’t see this as a brilliant move because Spags defenses have struggled in recent years.

Obviously there is the challenge of getting him to leave New York. I’m sure Doug Pederson can make a compelling argument. And Spags did love being part of the Eagles. We’ll see how that goes.

I do think there is some value in Pederson having a person like Brad Childress or Pat Shurmur on the staff. It doesn’t matter what the title is. Those guys are veteran WCO assistants who have also been head coaches. They can be a great source of info on what to do in certain situations (or what not to do). Learn from their mistakes, so to speak.

I like the fact that the Eagles are being linked with veteran DCs. Since Pederson is going to be a head coach for the first time, he needs someone that can run the defense on his own. That isn’t to say Pederson will ignore that side of the ball, but he needs a veteran coach who can run the defense with limited supervision. Andy Reid did this when he hired Jim Johnson.

One note on the defensive staff. I think it is smart to mix up the coaches. Chip Kelly had Bill Davis with an NFL background, but Jerry Azzinaro, Bill McGovern, Rick Minter and John Lovett were college guys trying to teach an NFL system. Those guys were great college coaches, but only delivered mixed results in the NFL.

So far we know we’ll have a veteran DC, Cory Undlin, Ken Flajole and Tim Hauck as part of the staff. Flajole has been an NFL DC. Hauck played in the NFL. Undlin is an NFL coach. These guys won’t have to adjust to the league the way that Chip’s coaches did. Reid’s initial staff had former players like Leslie Frazier and Ron Rivera as coaches. Jim Johnson was an NFL guy (started off in college). Spags was a football guy, having coached in college and NFL Europe.

There is no magic formula for building a staff. You need good coaches. It does help to have a mixture of backgrounds so that your staff doesn’t have tunnel vision on how to do things.

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Free Man

Posted: January 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 358 Comments »

Free at last, free at last. Thank god almighty, Doug Pederson is free at last.

That’s a fancy way of saying the Chiefs lost and the Eagles can now officially name Doug Pederson as their new head coach. Excited?

Even if you don’t love the hire, it is always interesting when the new guy comes in. You aren’t used to his press conferences so they seem more interesting and informative. There are new coordinators and the hiring of a full staff. None of us had heard of Jerry Azzinaro 3 years ago. He came to be a fun guy to learn about and follow.

The announcement could come as early as Sunday. I wouldn’t imagine there will be a press conference until Tuesday (Monday is Martin Luther King Day).

There is no real news today.

You don’t really expect those guys to say anything else, but it is still nice to hear.

Mostly quiet on the assistant coach front. Les Bowen had this a couple of days ago and I missed it.

Les nailed the Pederson hire so he’s one to definitely listen to right now. As for new guys…

We’ve heard Schwartz’s name mentioned as a possible DC target, but it is hard to tell if those are quality rumors or simply speculation. Schwartz is my choice so I hope they are true.

Tennessee hired Mike Mularkey today as their head coach so there are no more openings. That means veteran coaches like Schwartz, Mike Smith and Lovie Smith will have to decide if they want to be a DC or sit for a year and hope for the best. Expect rumors to pick up in regard to those guys and their futures.

I’ll write more about the DC spot in the next couple of days.

*****

The end of the KC game was painful to watch. It did lead to one tweet that absolutely killed me.

Brilliant.

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Eagles Pick Pederson

Posted: January 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 808 Comments »

The Eagles will hire Doug Pederson to be their new head coach when the Chiefs are eliminated from the playoffs. A few months ago, that statement would have seemed ludicrous. The Chiefs started 1-5 and there was some thought that those coaches would be on the hot seat. Chip Kelly didn’t have the Eagles riding high, but there was no things were good enough that job security didn’t seem like an issue.

How things change.

The Chiefs haven’t lost since October and are in the divisional round of the playoffs. Chip Kelly just got named the head coach of the Niners. And Doug Pederson is coming “home”…to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Is this a good move?

No one knows the answer to that question. People can talk about their feelings in regard to the move, but only history will really tell us if Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski made the right move. Just 3 years ago I thought the Eagles made a great hire when they lured Chip Kelly away from Oregon. Now he’s gone and there isn’t even a playoff win to reminisce about.

Pederson is not a sexy hire. He wasn’t interviewed by any other teams. To some outsiders, it appears the Eagles panicked and settled on a guy that no one else wanted. The problem is that we don’t know how high Pederson was on the list to begin with. He might have been close to the top. There were a few in the media who thought he would be a top target from the beginning.

You can still argue that they made a bad choice, but that’s different from panicking and settling for someone.

I don’t know if Pederson is the right guy. I know he can be. He needs the right people around him and he needs the right people playing for him.

One of the interesting aspects to the job search this year is that there was no elite candidate to pursue. Adam Gase is the guy I wanted most and he had his flaws. Ben McAdoo, who the Eagles strongly considered, had his flaws. I’m glad the Eagles didn’t hire Tom Coughlin, whether that was his choice or theirs. The search is coming under a lot of scrutiny right now and I’ll address that later on in a separate piece. For now, let’s get back to Pederson.

Lurie saw the Eagles getting away from being the kind of organization he wanted. There was a bit of a cold, corporate culture that started to take place under Chip. Things were very different under Andy Reid. Can you ever in a million years picture Chip Kelly giving this speech?

That was Big Red addressing the NovaCare staff after he was fired. Amazing.

Doug Pederson isn’t here to be Andy Reid 2.0, but he is here to move things back in that direction. Pederson played for Reid in Green Bay and Philly. He coached here for 4 seasons and followed Reid to Kansas City. Pederson has seen Reid when things are good and bad. He was part of the 4-12 disaster that led to Reid’s dismissal. He’s also been part of an amazing 11-game winning streak this season.

Critics see this as Lurie hiring a “Yes Man” type of coach who will fit in and not rock the boat. I certainly get that perception, but I think it missing a big part of the equation. Roseman’s future and reputation will be greatly affected by this hire. Lurie’s legacy will be affected. I don’t think the average person understands how much Lurie wants to win. It kills him to be the lone NFC East team with no rings.

Lurie would not make this move if he didn’t believe it could work. He isn’t an owner just out to make some money. Lurie has built the Eagles into a first class organization. He does everything he can to help the team out. He is more interested in winning games than making money. He wouldn’t just choose someone for the hell of it. Lurie believes in Pederson, whether you do or not.

Back in 2013, the Eagles went after the big names. They sold themselves to Chip Kelly, trying to convince him to leave college and come to the NFL. That process set the tone for the relationship. “Come save our team…” Lurie gave Chip every resource he wanted. He eventually gave him all the power. Lurie went all-in with Chip and it just wasn’t working.

This time out, Lurie decided he wanted a coach that would be part of the solution. Doug Pederson is not here to save the Eagles. He is here to be the coach. He’ll work with his staff, the personnel department and ownership to build the Eagles into a championship caliber football team. That’s the goal, anyway. Clearly, as we learned with Chip, there are no guarantees.

There is no doubt that Lurie’s relationship with Pederson played a big factor in the hire. You can argue whether that is a good or bad thing. Mike Shanahan was an assistant with Denver and later came back to win a pair of Super Bowls as their head coach. Tom Coughlin was an assistant for the Giants before coming back later to win a pair of titles as the head coach. Bill Belichick was an assistant for the Pats for one season before later coming back to establish himself as one of the greatest coaches of all time. Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones were teammates at Arkansas and they built the Cowboys into a short term dynasty.

There are other examples where past relationships did not work out so well.

Lurie obviously felt there was value in bringing someone back to the organization that knew how things should look and feel off the field. Lurie must believe that establishing the right environment off the field will lead to more success on the field. This isn’t to say things will all be unicorns and rainbows between the players and management. There will be issues here and there. But there will also be improved relationships between players and coaches. And that does have value.

Let’s talk about the staff for a minute. The Eagles have already hired Ken Flajole as a defensive assistant. It sounds like he will be the linebackers coach. The good news here is that almost all of his experience is in the 4-3. He was the Rams defensive coordinator from 2009-2011.

Flajole will not be the DC, but there are some rumors out there about candidates.

I would love Schwartz as the DC.

Some people talk about him running the Wide-9. That’s not the case. Schwartz runs the 4-3 defense. They use the Wide-9 front at times, but there is much more to his scheme than just that. Schwartz ran Top 5 defenses in both Tennessee and Buffalo. He knows how to coach, teach and run a game.

To me, the key is to find someone who can build the defense around Fletcher Cox. In 2007 and 2008, Schwartz had Albert Haynesworth and used him creatively. The Titans were 5th and 8th in yards allowed and Haynesworth was dominant.

Pettine is a good defensive coach and I would be fine with him as well, but I don’t think he is as good as Schwartz.

As to offense, it sounds like Pederson will go with Pat Shurmur or Brad Childress as his OC. Both guys are former head coaches and solid assistants. I’m sure Pederson will be bringing his version of the WCO to Philly.

Doug Pederson started his first NFL game for the Eagles. He joined an NFL coaching staff for the first time in Philly. He has strong feelings for this organization and wants to see it return to the glory days. He now has the chance of a lifetime.

Pederson wasn’t gifted enough to be a good starting QB. Coaching is a different story. He’s done well for himself since starting that part of his career. There are no physical limitations this time. He will succeed or fail based on effort, decision-making, hiring the right people and a little bit of luck.

It also wouldn’t hurt if he could find his own version of Donovan McNabb. Instead of losing his job to a hot shot young QB, that guy could actually be the foundation for Pederson’s success.

*****

Sorry for the delay in writing this. A couple of things came up and I was away from the computer for a frustrating amount of time.

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