Hope For Doug

Posted: July 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 88 Comments »

Life is so much easier when you have the benefit of hindsight.

I was not excited when the Eagles hired Andy Reid back in 1999. I was open-minded about him and definitely curious, but not excited at all. On the other hand, I was ecstatic when the Eagles lured Chip Kelly away from Oregon. Big Red did a great job and got the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Chip got the Eagles to the wild card round in his first year, but went backwards after that. There is no debate about who the better coach is/was.

So what do we make of Doug Pederson?

To me, he’s the biggest mystery on the Eagles. Seems like a genuinely nice guy. Good assistant coach. But is he the guy you want running your NFL franchise? I go back and forth on that issue.

I recently decided to compare Pederson to the best Eagles coaches of the last 40 years, Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid. I wrote about the comparison for PE.com. It is easy to judge Vermeil and Reid now, but what about when they were hired? Where had they come from? What was their background? Things like that.

Pederson turned out to be more similar to them than I expected. It was actually funny just how similar Vermeil and Reid were. I’d never really thought about comparing the two of them. Pederson’s background is different because he played so long while the other guys got right into coaching. I would say that hurts Pederson except that he spent so much of his career essentially as a player-coach. He stood on the sideline thinking about the game and advising the QB who came to the sideline after a series or during a timeout. This is very different from a Duce Staley or Greg Lewis who spent their time on the field actually playing and not just studying the game.

I’m still very nervous about Pederson. He could turn out to be a terrific coach, but he could also be a disaster. There are a lot of unknowns with him.

Having the perfect background guarantees nothing. Success will happen because of what you do and the decisions you make. Steve Spurrier was a phenomenal college coach. He came to the NFL full of hubris. Spurrier surrounded himself with cronies and didn’t exactly bring the greatest work ethic. He went 12-20 in 2 seasons and then got fired. Think about Marty Mornhinweg. He coached college football for a decade. He was the QBs coach in Green Bay when they won the Super Bowl in 1996. He then followed his friend Steve Mariucci to SF. Marty was the OC of an offense that did some historically great things in 1998. He was in SF for 4 years before getting the head coaching job in Detroit.

Marty hired a poor staff. His QB coach was a young guy from Lehigh. His OC was Maurice Carthon, who only had experience as a RBs coach at that time. His DC was Vince Tobin, who had succeeded Buddy Ryan with the Bears. Tobin did good things in Chicago, but was handed an elite defense. On his own, he was a mediocre coach. Marty didn’t have much at QB in his first season – Charlie Batch, Ty Detmer and late round rookie Mike McMahon. The Lions were poorly run back then, but Marty didn’t help himself. He was gone after 2 years.

Pederson followed the Andy Reid playbook.

  • Hire a strong, veteran DC
  • Draft a QB early
  • Sign a veteran QB you know well
  • Keep some key assistants from the previous staff
  • Hire good offensive assistants to help you
  • Build the offensive line

Boom, boom and boom. A lot of this is common sense, but for some reason, other coaches ignore it. They try to reinvent the wheel. Why do that?

Pederson is smart enough to know who he is and what his limitations are. He’s not trying to change the game of football. He’s trying to get the Eagles back to winning, partially by stealing ideas from the guy who previously had the team winning.

I still have my concerns when it comes to Pederson, but the more I think and write about him, the more comfortable I get. I will feel even better when he beats Dallas, the Eagles pitch a shutout or Pederson hoists the Lombardi Trophy…for the third year in a row. Nobody wants just one Super Bowl. Right?

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The Swamp Fox Dies

Posted: July 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 50 Comments »

Former Eagles player and coach Marion “Swamp Fox” Campbell has died. PE.com has notes on him.

Campbell was hired as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator in 1977 under head coach Dick Vermeil. Employing a 3-4 scheme, Campbell coached the Eagles’ defense into one of the best units in football. In fact, the Eagles allowed the fewest points in the NFL during his six-season span as defensive coordinator.

Campbell built and ran the defense that got the Eagles to their first Super Bowl. Can you imagine the Eagles allowing the fewest points over a 6-year span? That’s incredibly impressive defense.

He is one of only four people in franchise history to serve as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

That is pretty amazing.

Campbell won just 17 games as the Eagles’ head coach from 1983-85, but he left his mark on the franchise in a number of ways. Not only did he serve on the Eagles’ coaching staff for nine years, but he was also an All-Pro, two-way player for the Eagles from 1956-1961. A standout at the University of Georgia, “Swamp Fox,” as he was affectionately referred to, was a key member of the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team. According to Ray Didinger in The New Eagles Encyclopedia, Campbell played most of that entire season with torn ligaments in his ankle, requiring pain-killing shots before and at halftime of every game. Still, he suited up for all 12 of the Eagles’ games, leading them to a 17-13 championship-clinching win over the Green Bay Packers at Franklin Field on December 26, 1960.

So Campbell helped the Eagles win their final NFL title and got them to their first Super Bowl. How is this guy not considered a saint or something like that? He really does have a remarkable place in franchise history.

There is another legacy for Campbell. The Eagles were a mediocre to bad defensive team for the 20 years prior to his arrival. Once he came in and established the Eagles as a defensive force, that stuck around. Look at the 1985 Eagles defense. Three of the best players were Reggie White, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters. Ever heard of them? They went on to star for Buddy Ryan and Bud Carson. Mike Reichenbach, Buddy’s MLB for 3 years, played for Campbell.

Think of all the terrific defensive coaches who came after Campbell. Buddy and Ray Rhodes were head coaches. There were defensive coordinators like Wade Phillips, Jeff Fisher, Bud Carson, Emmitt Thomas and Jim Johnson. You had terrific position coaches like Mike Trgovac, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Steve Spagnuolo and Sean McDermott. That is a lot of defensive gurus. And they all came after Campbell.

The Eagles are at their best when the defense is outstanding. The 1980 team was #1 in the league in scoring defense and went to the Super Bowl. The 2004 team was second in the league in scoring defense and went to the Super Bowl. There just seems to be something in the franchise’s DNA that it needs dominant defense for the team to be special.

So now Jim Schwartz has a chance to add his name to the legacy of great defensive coaches. We’ll see if he can build the Eagles into a great defense. And if that happens…if…history tells us there could be another trip to the Super Bowl.

*****

I’m curious how many fans understand The Swamp Fox nickname? That’s more of a southern thing and really takes someone with a good knowledge of history. Without looking it up, how many of you knew who the real Swamp Fox was?

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More on Ben & Wentz

Posted: July 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 36 Comments »

I wrote a piece comparing Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger on Friday. The two of them are quite alike. There is one huge difference and that is character. Wentz has a squeaky clean reputation. Roethlisberger has had to deal with multiple accusations of sexual assault. Obviously everyone hopes Wentz maintains his clean reputation. Money and celebrity can change people, but they usually enhance issues that already exist rather than completely changing a person.

Let’s get back to football for now. Big Ben was drafted 11th overall in 2004. The Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season. Veteran Tommy Maddox was projected to be the starter. He got hurt early on and Ben started the final 13 games of the season, going undefeated in those starts. The Steelers won by running the ball and playing good defense. They were first in rushing attempts and second in yards. The defense was first in yards and points allowed.

Ben was able to be a complementary QB. He didn’t have to carry the team, except in 2-minute situations. Only 4 of his starts ended with the opponent withing a touchdown of the Steelers. That team played at a high level and that limited the pressure on Ben. There were 5 games where Pittsburgh didn’t score 21 points. They won all of them, but that goes to show you that if Ben avoided turnovers and was just effective, that could be good enough to win.

When Maddox got hurt, Big Ben was thrown to the wolves. There was no Chase Daniel on that team. As it turned out, that worked out just fine for Ben and the Steelers. That team won big in his rookie year and then won the Super Bowl the next season. Ben came along slowly as a passer. He didn’t throw 500 passes in a season until his sixth year. In 4 of his first 5 years, he didn’t throw 20 TDs in a season. Over the years, Ben has developed into a QB that can throw a ton of passes and carry a team on his back.

Should the Eagles play Wentz at all in 2016?

Mike Mayock thinks so.

“The way I look at it is this: As soon as Carson Wentz is ready to play—whether it’s Week 1, Week 5, Week 11 or next year—I think he’s going to play,” Mayock said. “I think it’s important that he gets some snaps this year. I’m bullish on this kid. But he only threw the ball 612 times, if I remember correctly, in his career. The kid from Cal threw it 1,000 more times. The kid from Cal has 1,000 more live reps at a higher level, so you kind of put that in perspective a little bit. But I think when Carson Wentz is ready to play, they’ve got to play him.”

Of course, there’s a caveat. When Wentz is ready, play him—but protect him from what NFL defenses have in store.

“If he gets some reps this year … they’ve got to protect him,” Mayock explained. “When I say protect, Ray, I’m not talking—not just the offensive line, pass protection—I’m talking about the run game and I’m talking defense. If you look at Joe Flacco, who only threw the ball about the same amount of times at the same level. He came into Baltimore and they had a run game and defense and he started all 16 games. I think that’s healthy. But until they can protect him with a run game and defense, I don’t think you can throw him in there. I think the franchise itself—it starts with Doug Pederson—has to have a plan. Regardless of the hell that goes on in the city the next day, they have to stick to the plan.”

Flacco and the Ravens. Let’s check out that comparison. The Ravens were coming off a 5-11 season. They drafted Flacco in the first round and had him compete with Troy Smith for the starting job. Smith got hurt that summer and Flacco ended up starting the whole year. Baltimore led the league in rushing attempts and finished third in rushing yards. The defense was second in yards allowed and third in points allowed. Flacco had the same edict as Big Ben…don’t lose the game for us. We can win by running the ball, playing good D and coming up with a big play or two on offense.

The Ravens went 11-5 that season and have been a good team since drafting Flacco. They were bad last season when Flacco got hurt and the team was overwhelmed with injuries.

Injuries opened the door for both Big Ben and Flacco to play as rookies. Both had the right situation to help them learn while playing. The Eagles are in a slightly different situation. They are not likely to have the #1 defense. And I can say with 98 percent certainty that the Eagles will not lead the NFL in rushing attempts, no matter who is at QB.

Should the Eagles try to force Wentz onto the field at some point?

I think the coaches have to view this as a fluid situation. How does Wentz look at the beginning of Training Camp? How does he look in the preseason? How is he later in TC? Wentz’s level of play will be up and down based on how the coaches use him and the complexity of the situations he’s in. He might look dominant in the 4th quarter of the preseason opener when he’s going against third and fourth stringers. He then could look terrible in practice a few days later when going against the starting defense. The coaches have to be able to see the real Wentz and decide where he’s at.

The real key to all of this is the big picture. I don’t care about what Wentz does in 2016. He is the future of the franchise. Aaron Rodgers sat for 3 years. Tom Brady sat for a little over one year. Tony Romo sat for 3 years. Drew Brees sat for one year. Philip Rivers sat for 2 years. Don’t rush the future. Play him when he is ready. If there are injuries, play Chase Daniel. Don’t force Wentz on the field to see where he’s at.

The flip side is that if Wentz plays at an extremely high level, don’t be afraid to play him just because he is a rookie.

Doug Pederson and his staff have a plan for Wentz, but it isn’t set in stone. You make the plan based on current data, which could change drastically once you start watching him in action every day.

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An Interesting Comparison

Posted: July 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 44 Comments »

Let me see if  I have this description right.

Big – yes.

Strong arm – yes.

Athletic – yes.

Loves to throw downfield – yes.

Is that Carson Wentz…or Ben Roethlisberger? Watch college highlights of the two and tell me how similar they look to you.

And now Carson

I think you will see more than a few similarities.

Go by the numbers.

Ben

6-5, 241
40 – 4.81
VJ – 30 inches
SS – 4.32
3C – 6.81

Carson

6-5, 237
40 – 4.77
VJ – 30.5
SS – 4.15
3C – 6.86

That’s almost kinda crazy, huh?

If Carson can have anything close to Big Ben’s career, the Eagles will have made a great investment. The Steelers played in one Super Bowl between 1980 and 2003, losing to Dallas in 1995. They drafted Ben in 2004 and have been to 3 Super Bowls, winning a pair of them. Pittsburgh was a very good franchise before Ben got there, but they couldn’t get over the hump.

People love to talk about winning titles based on defense. Sure the Ravens did it in 2000 and the Bucs in 2002. Denver somewhat did that last year, although their offense was middle of the pack, not bad. But those tend to be anomalies. Ask Steelers fans of the 1990’s about trying to win the big game by running the ball and playing good defense. They couldn’t do it. Once they got their QB, the world changed.

I know there are some concerns with Carson. Will the jump from a small school to the NFL be too much? Can he learn to read defenses quicker? Does he hold the ball too long? Those were all concerns with Ben and he overcame them, although he still holds the ball too long at times. That weakness also helps him to create some big plays.

There is no doubting the fact Carson has a lot of talent. His potential is through the roof.

Now it is up to Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo to take that potential and turn it into good NFL results.

I can’t wait to see him play this summer.

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Factoring in Factors

Posted: July 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 67 Comments »

Josh Huff sucks. The Eagles need to cut him. Mychal Kendricks didn’t have a good year in 2015. I’m done with him. Marcus Smith is so bad he makes those guys look like stars. LOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

These are the kind of comments some fans will make in regard to young players that have been inconsistent, disappointing or flat out bad.The problem we have with young players is knowing what’s cold, hard reality versus what is circumstantial. Circumstances do matter. For some reason, people don’t like to admit that. I guess it is easier to make a snap judgment than to consider a world where external factors can sometimes play a critical role in a person’s success or failure.

Reggie White was dominant at Tennessee, in the USFL, playing for Buddy Ryan, for Bud Carson and then for the Packers. Mike Mamula was terrific in college, where his athleticism let him get the best of blockers on a consistent basis. Mamula was less effective in the NFL, where blockers could match his athleticism. Trent Cole was solid in college, but undersized. Cole came to the NFL and got bigger and stronger. That enhanced the physicality in his game and helped him to be an even better pro than college player.

That’s the most basic version. The truly special player is special no matter what. Other players go up and down based on other factors.

Fred Barnett was a terrific WR for the Eagles in the early 1990s. He and Randall Cunningham formed a deadly duo and had a few spectacular highlight plays. Barnett averaged 69-1053-5 in his 3 full, healthy seasons (he tore an ACL in 1993). Then Jon Gruden was hired to come in with the WCO. Barnett struggled throughout 1995. He hated the WCO, where he suddenly was running more across the field than down it. Barnett wasn’t a RAC guy. He started 14 games that year and went 48-585-5. Barnett was 29 years old. He was coming off his best season. Barnett didn’t like the offense and it didn’t fit his skills. He left in the offseason.

Irving Fryar came home to Philly in 1996, at the age of 34. He proved to be a perfect fit for the WCO and had the best season of his career, going 88-1195-11. That wasn’t a fluke. He posted similar numbers in 1997.

Scheme fit matters. It is very real and can make a huge difference, as it did there.

There really are a lot of factors to consider when evaluating a player. Scheme, fit, age, health, money, teammates, family, coaching staff are just some of the things to keep in mind when evaluating performance. Some things you know, some you don’t. Remember Sam Rayburn (the DT, not the politician)? He was a UDFA that showed a ton of promise and at one point he was a key piece of the trade for TO. The Niners really wanted him and the Eagles weren’t about to let him go. Rayburn had 6 sacks in 2004 and was really impressive. But then he got hurt and became addicted to painkillers. The injury didn’t take him off the field, but it greatly affected his performance and the drugs changed his life from a dream to a nightmare.

I remember Marcus Hayes being critical of Brian Dawkins following the 1998 season. We all saw Dawk’s talent, but there was some inconsistency. The perfect storm hit in 1999. Dawk entered his fourth season, the prime of his career, and got to play for Jim Johnson, who saw him as a unique talent and not just a good FS. Brian Dawkins went from talented young DB to elite player seemingly overnight. Great timing by the Football Gods in that case.

Greg Lewis is the new WRs coach. Can he make a difference with Josh Huff? What about the designers of the playbook, Doug Pederson and Frank Reich? Maybe their schematic changes will fit him perfectly. There is also the panic factor. Huff has to get going or he will get gone. That sense of desperation can bring out the best in a player. There are only so many “next years” before you find yourself out of the league. Huff has NFL ability. He’s got to show he can be a reliable performer, which is a lot easier said than done.

Kendricks has been a good NFL player. Just not in 2015. The problem there is that once your performance slips, there are no guarantees you will get back on the right track. Reggie Brown was a productive WR for the Eagles from 2005-2007. He caught 160 passes for 16 TDs in that span. He wasn’t great to be sure, but showed real potential. And then he got DeSean’d. The Eagles brought in DeSean Jackson in 2008. Brown was hurt in the OTAs and DeSean took his place with the starters. Reggie never got that spot back. It was like the rookie destroyed his confidence. Reggie only caught 27 passes in the NFL after that.

Did the presence of stud rookie Jordan Hicks bother Kendricks last year? Maybe. It is certainly worth considering. This year they will play together, but it isn’t certain that Kendricks will get back to his 2014 form. It would help a lot if he did.

Marcus Smith is a great mystery man. He has done virtually nothing in 2 years so the clock is really ticking on his career. Either he wakes up in a major way this summer or he’s hitting Jimmy Bama up for an internship with Philly Voice next year. It is easy to say Smith is a bust and he’s done. But history shows that’s not necessarily true.

Jerry Hughes, a tweener DE/LB, was a 1st round pick by the Colts. After 2 years, he had played in 24 games with 1 start. He had 1 sack in that time. Things finally clicked in his third season and he jumped to 6 starts and 4 sacks. The next season he only started once, but had 10 sacks and became a terrific role player. Hughes had to adjust to the NFL. He had to get bigger and stronger. The coaches had to figure out how to use him. It took time, but luckily both sides kept working and Hughes is now considered a good pass rusher. He’s got 30 career sacks.

The coaching and scheme change may bring out the best in Hughes. Or he might prove to be another Jerome McDougle, the player who was constantly about to turn things around, but never got to start an NFL game.

We’re going to learn a lot about the young players on the Eagles in 2016. Let’s just hope most of that is good.

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