Game Preview – PHI at MIN

Posted: October 12th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment »

The Eagles won a big game when they went to Green Bay and upset the Packers. Two weeks after that, the Eagles get to go to Minnesota to battle the Vikings in a showdown of 3-2 teams each trying to prove they are actually good.

The Vikings had an embarrassing loss to the Bears two weeks ago and that will be with them for a while. The Eagles have played sloppy football this year and lead the NFL in dropped passes. Both rosters are loaded with talent, but each team brings questions into this game. Can Mike Zimmer win with his 1985 offense? Can the Eagles figure out the passing game, on offense and defense?

Minnesota beat Philadelphia last year in the regular season, but it feels like the Vikings are the team that should have a chip on their shoulder. They feel like the little brother in this relationship. There was the ugly 2016 game where Sam Bradford was sacked 6 times and the Vikings didn’t score a TD until the final minute of the game. The 2017 NFC title game was a Nordic nightmare. Last year the Vikings won the head-to-head game, but lost their season finale and helped the Eagles secure a playoff berth. And of course there was the Bradford trade, with the Vikings handing over a 1st rounder for the King of Sleeves.

Like I said, the Vikings feel like the little brother in this relationship.

They can’t undo any of that, but a win on Sunday would help them a lot and put the Eagles in a tough situation. This is the first of three straight road games for the Eagles and they have a tough overall schedule.

The highlight battle will be the Vikings run game against the Eagles run defense. Minnesota has run for 172 or more yards in four of five games. That is pretty darned impressive. The Eagles have the best run defense in the NFL. Starting RBs have done virtually nothing against them this year.

Dalvin Cook will be the toughest test so far. He is second in the NFL in rushing and averages 5.9 yards per carry. Cook is red hot and has a run of at least 22 yards in all but the Bears game. If you give him space, he will burn you.

The Eagles have been tough against the run for several reasons. They will load the box. Jim Schwartz will blitz DBs on expected run downs, looking to blow up plays. The DL gets up the field and blows up blocking schemes. The LBs flow to the ball and they have tackled well this year.

Minnesota came out throwing last week to try to open up the Giants defense. They could try the same thing this week, but we’re talking about a few plays, not a sustained effort to throw the ball. Zimmer wants to live or die with the run. I think the Eagles will control the run game for the most part, but I can see Cook gashing them for a long play. When defenders shoot gaps, it can create space for the runner if he can get there.

The Vikings will use screen passes as a way to deal with the Eagles pass rush and to get the ball to RBs in space. The Eagles must be disciplined. They can’t attack blindly. Those screen passes make me nervous.

Last year it was Vikings WRs who gave the Eagles fits. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen combined for 17 catches for 207 yards. They’ll be going up against Rasul Douglas, Orlando Scandrick and likely Sidney Jones on Sunday. Can that revamped secondary get the job done? Douglas is playing well, but he’s not gone up against receivers like this. These guys will be a huge test for the CBs.

I’m really interested to see if the DL can build off last week’s showing. I’m certainly not expecting another 10 sacks, but can they make plays and get regular pressure? The Vikings OL struggles in pass pro so the Eagles should have the advantage up front.

As for the Eagles offense, the OL will have a big test of their own. Can Jason Peters control Danielle Hunter? Can Lane Johnson handle Everson Griffen? If you block them, there are plays to be made. If the Vikings DL wins the battle, watch out.

DeSean Jackson is out again. I wonder if there will be some designed plays to get the ball to Nelson Agholor. The Eagles need more out of their WRs. Alshon Jeffery is reliable, but someone else must make plays. You can’t expect TE Zach Ertz to carry the passing game.

Carson Wentz has suffered from dropped passes, but he can play better as well. If he gets Agholor open down the field, Wentz must hit him. Those can be game-changing plays.

Special teams could be interesting. Darren Sproles is out and Corey Clement is on IR. Miles Sanders will be the KOR, but we don’t know who will return punts. Boston Scott just got added to the active roster and could have that role.

I don’t have a great feel for this game, in part because I don’t have a great feel for either the Vikings or Eagles. Both have been very impressive at times and disappointing at others. This isn’t a make or break game, but it sure will make life a lot easier for one of the teams.

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Game Review – PHI 31, NYJ 6

Posted: October 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment »

The Eagles won a tough, emotional game in Green Bay. Playing the hapless Jets after that was the perfect recipe for a letdown performance. And that’s exactly what happened.

The Eagles were clearly the better team, but they were sloppy and played down to the Jets. That kept the game closer than it should have been…and the Eagles won by 25. The Jets offense was awful. They gained 128 yards, with Eagles mistakes boosting that total.

The Eagles defense had a breakout game, racking up 10 sacks, 3 takeaways and even scoring 2 TDs.

The offense was another story. They only gained 265 points and accounted for 17 points. They had six possessions start at the 42-yard line or better. Normally that kind of field position leads to a lot of scoring. The Eagles only got 2 TDs out of that. There isn’t any one person or thing to blame. It was an off day for the whole offense. Do give the Jets credit. Their defense played hard. I was especially impressed by SS Jamal Adams and DT Leonard Williams. They are studs. LB Neville Hewitt was all over the field and seemed to be in on every tackle. DE Terrell Basham had a couple of TFLs and was disruptive.

Coaching

Doug Pederson didn’t have a lot of strategy situations in this game because the Eagles got up 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game. He went for it on fourth down twice, with the Eagles failing on both tries.

Pederson said the offense wasn’t in sync and that sure looked to be the case. He managed to find enough plays that worked that the Eagles could win the game, but it sure wasn’t pretty. One new wrinkle was throwing quick screens to Alshon Jeffery from a run-heavy look (2 TEs or 6 OL). There was one interesting situation. The Eagles had the ball on 3rd/1. They ran a play-action pass. Carson Wentz tried to hit Dallas Goedert, but Adams had tight coverage and broke up the play. The Eagles went for it on fourth down and got stuffed.

I thought it was a bit curious, throwing the pass there to the TE covered by the Jets best defender. Adams is the one guy you want to avoid. Maybe the Eagles didn’t expect that coverage. Or maybe Wentz made a bad read.

Jim Schwartz didn’t take any chances. He put the pedal to the floor and had his guys attacking all game long. Schwartz loaded the box to take away Le’Veon Bell as much as possible. There were multiple DB blitzes designed to blow up run plays. Schwartz wanted to put the ball in Luke Falk’s hands and that is just what happened. Bell ran the ball 15 times. Falk dropped back to pass 35 times. Not a good idea.

Schwartz attacked on passing downs as well. He blitzed his nickel corner several times on pass plays. There were all kinds of stunts and loops. He mixed personnel and rotated DL to keep them fresh. No DL played more than 46 snaps.

QB

Wentz was up and down, going 17-29-189. He threw one TD and no picks. There is something to be said for the fact he didn’t turn the ball over. You don’t want to give an over-matched opponent any help.

There were two standout plays. The first came on the opening drive, with the Eagles inside the 10. The snap was off target and went by Wentz. He chased after it and would have been tackled for a huge loss. Wentz got the ball and saw Mack Hollins so he threw the ball at Hollins feet. That turned a possible disaster into a simple incompletion. Brilliant. The Eagles scored a TD two plays later. That is great awareness and concentration.

The other great play was a bit more conventional. Wentz was under heavy pressure and ducked under a rusher. He then popped back up and hit Ertz for a big gain over the middle.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1180920149433405440

Made a great pre-snap read and throw to hit Sanders for a gain of 36. Sanders was being covered by a pass rusher so this was a completely favorable matchup. Easy big play. Not everything was so good. Wentz had Agholor open for a long TD. Threw the ball to the outside instead of the middle of the field. Needed a better throw there. Later on he had him open again and was off target. There was contact by the DB that affected the route, but you hate to miss a wide open receiver down the field.

The Jets stopped Wentz on a 4th down QB sneak, but a bad spot had a lot to do with that.

RB

Jordan Howard had another strong game. He was 13-62 and ran for a TD. Howard did most of his damage running up the middle. Miles Sanders had a good game as a receiver, going 4-49. He gained 36 yards on one pass play. Sanders is comfortable catching the ball down the field. Late in the half, Sanders caught a short pass and fought for the 1st down. He was only 9-15 as a runner.

Darren Sproles got hurt. It wasn’t much of a showing before that. He was 3-4 on the ground and dropped the only pass to come his way,  a pass on 3rd/5 that would have kept a drive going.  Read the rest of this entry »


Know Your Enemy – Vikings

Posted: October 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

Rivalries can come out of nowhere and it feels like that is what’s happened with the Eagles and Vikings. They faced each other in the 2008 playoffs, but the teams hardly seemed like rivals. They’ve had some interesting meetings (the Joe Webb Game for instance), but nothing special.

Until January of 2018.

The two teams met in the  NFC Championship game and that created a rivalry. The teams and fanbases didn’t like each other. The Eagles won in a blowout. Making matters worse, the Eagles then went on to win the Super Bowl in the Vikings home stadium. They poured salt in the wound and then some. I’m not talking about a little. The Eagles grabbed a 20-pound bag and went to town.

The teams played last year, with the Vikings winning an odd game 23-21. Both teams are playing better football right now.

Minnesota is 3-2. They have the #3 rushing attack in the league and they have a Top 5 defense. This is the kind of old school football that Mike Zimmer wanted. It is fair to question just how much success you can have with this formula in 2019. I think you can be a good team doing this, but you need the right QB for those times when the run game gets shut down and you must be able to throw the ball. Is Kirk Cousins that guy? History would say no. We’ll see if that changes this year.

Dalvin Cook is having a great year. He is second in the league in rushing and averages 5.9 yards per carry. Cook is explosive and has delivered multiple big plays this year. The Vikings have two other RBs averaging more than 5 ypc. That tells you the overall run game is functioning at a high level.

The O-line is struggling in pass protection, but they are getting the job done in the run game. The Eagles must win the battle up front.

Cousins and the Vikings passing attack are still a mystery. Last year the group was great at times. This is a very different offense. Cousins has 5 TD passes in 5 games. He hasn’t thrown for 280 yards in a game. Stefon Diggs was reportedly asking for a trade last week. Those rumors have gone away, but there is no question that Diggs and Adam Thielen are frustrated with the inconsistent passing game.

One of the issues with this team is figuring out how good the Vikings are. They have wins over Atlanta, Oakland and the Giants. None of those teams is particularly good. Minnesota’s losses came to Green Bay and Chicago, a pair of good teams.

I watched the game between the Vikings and the Bears. Chicago absolutely dominated that game. The Vikings had 95 yards of total offense at one point in the fourth quarter. They finished with 222 yards for the game, but needed to get hot to even get to that point.

The Vikings defense has been outstanding for the past four seasons. Danielle Hunter is the star up front. He’s got 5 sacks and has been regularly disruptive. The Eagles will need to contain him.

Minnesota has good LBs and a good secondary as well. That back seven can play the run and cover. They tackle well.

While the offense is different, this is the same scheme the Eagles have faced since Doug Pederson got here. There won’t be any secrets. The team that wins will execute better on the field.

The Vikings will be a good test for the Eagles. Can Jim Schwartz and his top-ranked run defense shut down Cook and the Vikings run game? Will facing a top defense bring out the best in Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense?

There is also the question of whether the Eagles can win a third straight game. Last year the Eagles seemed to go W-L-W-L until late in the year when they got hot. A win on Sunday would get the Eagles to 4-2 and keep them atop the NFC East. Good teams must be able to string wins together.

Who is the better team, the Vikings or the Eagles? You can make a case for either of them. I lean toward the Eagles because of how I saw the Bears dominate Minnesota. That was something else. Football Outsiders DVOA rankings have the Eagles ahead as well. Sunday will be a good test for both teams.

We’re heading toward the middle of the NFL season, where we find out who the good teams are. Sunday will help clear things up between these two teams.

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I doubt this makes a huge difference, but it can’t hurt.

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Erratic Attack

Posted: October 8th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

The Eagles offense was a juggernaut in 2017. It was anything but that last year. Five games into the 2019 season, we don’t know what to make of the offense.

The Eagles are 7th in points scored, but you do have to factor in a couple of defensive TDs. The offense is 24th in yards gained, hardly a compelling figure. While the overall numbers aren’t great, the situational numbers tell a different story. The Eagles are #2 in the league in third down conversion percentage and they are the #5 Red Zone offense. They move the chains efficiently and they score TDs when they get near the goal line.

There is plenty of room for improvement from the overall offense.

The run game shows signs of real potential. Jordan Howard averages 4.7 yards per carry and has already run for 4 TDs. No Eagle ran for more than 3 all of last season. Howard is a physical back, but he’s also smart and patient. He finds the hole and gets north-south. Howard runs hard and breaks tackles. He doesn’t have the speed to break off 50 yard runs, but he will get you 15 to 20 when the blocking is just right.

The team also seems to feed off Howard’s running. They love his toughness and physicality. I think Howard’s running will really serve the team well as the weather gets colder and nastier.

Miles Sanders is a work in progress. He does have the speed to break off long runs, but he’s still adjusting to the NFL. That means there are some four yard runs that go for zero. There are some two yard runs that go for -2. Sanders has made an impact in the passing game.

He leads all NFL RBs in yards per catch (13.3).

Sanders isn’t ready to be the key to the offense, but he is a key role player. He and Howard give the Eagles a good 1-2 punch. Darren Sproles is banged up now so we’ll see if Corey Clement can take advantage of that and get some offensive touches.

The Eagles have the best TE duo in the league in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. The only issue for the coaches is figuring out how best to use them.

WR is a different story. The injury to DeSean Jackson has had a definite impact on the offense. He is the field stretcher. Nelson Agholor can get deep (as he did twice on Sunday), but Jackson is significantly better at it and makes plays. Alshon Jeffery is moving the chains, but only averaging 9.9 yards per catch. Agholor hasn’t done much the past two weeks. Mack Hollins is a solid role player, but nothing else. JJ Arcega-Whiteside has somewhat disappeared. He only played two offensive snaps on Sunday.

Judging Carson Wentz is tricky as usual. He has been great at times. In Atlanta, he didn’t have his best receivers and his LG took the night off, but Wentz still almost carried his team to victory. The receivers dropped a ton of passes vs the Lions or the Eagles might have won that game. Still, Wentz has missed some opportunities. When you are one of the most talented QBs in the league, you need to play at that level. I think Wentz will when he gets a chance to play with all his weapons again.

The O-line has been up and down. They were outstanding in Green Bay. They struggled in Atlanta. They have been inconsistent too much this year. They will look great for part of a game and then get leaky for a series or two.

Doug Pederson talked about his offense being out of sync and I think that’s a good description. The talent is there. The scheme is there. The leadership is there. Things just aren’t clicking right now. You see flashes. The Eagles average 28 points per game. Last year they didn’t score 28 points in a single game until Week 6. This offense is very different that what we saw a year ago.

The next month will tell us a lot. The Vikings, Cowboys, Bills and Bears all have Top 7 defenses. If the Eagles can move the ball and score on them, all is well. If the Eagles struggle, we might have issues. Pederson and his players will need to find solutions, stop making mistakes and start making plays for the Eagles to come through this stretch in good shape.

Pederson has normally been at his best when facing top defenses. Let’s hope that trend continues.

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Reason to Believe

Posted: October 8th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

When we think back to 2017, most of the memories are of Carson Wentz or Nick Foles, Alshon Jeffery or Zach Ertz, or maybe even a dominant O-line that could take over some games. That offense was special.

That defense was pretty darn good as well, finishing 4th in points and 4th in yards allowed. Beyond that, they made game-changing plays all year long. Washington had a chance to win the opener, but Fletcher Cox ran back a fumble for a TD to seal the game. The Eagles came out flat vs SF, but a Jalen Mills pick-six late in the first half woke up the team and led to a blowout win. A Ronald Darby INT helped the Eagles to beat the Raiders on Christmas night.

The defense was even more critical in the postseason. They kept the Falcons out of the end zone on the final play to seal the divisonal round win. Then Patrick Robinson came up with an all-time great moment in the NFC championship game. His pick-six opened the flood gates and the Vikings got destroyed. That might be the single greatest moment in the history of The Linc. And then there was the Super Bowl. Brandon Graham’s strip sack all but sealed the deal and brought the Lombardi to Broad Street.

The 2019 defense got off to a slow start. They gave up 27 points and 398 yards to Case Keenum and the Skins. Matt Ryan threw for 310 yards the next week. Green Bay piled up 491 yards in their Thursday night showdown with the Eagles. Philly won the game, but Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams sliced and diced the Eagles secondary for most of the game.

There were some glimmers of hope in the Packers game.

Derek Barnett came up with a strip-sack that set up the Eagles offense to score an easy TD. The defense had a goal line stand that kept the Packers from scoring. At the end of the game, the defense came up with an INT to seal the win.

The defense really came alive against the Jets. They had 10 sacks, 3 takeaways, multiple TFLs and scored a couple of TDs. They were dominant.

The question now is whether the defense is starting to come together or if this is still a leaky unit that will be a problem for the foreseeable future.

It feels like the defense is headed in the right direction. They lead the NFL in run defense. They have multiple takeaways in 3 of 4 games. The DL seems to be coming alive. Fletcher Cox is getting a bit better every week. Brandon Graham had a breakout game. All three of his sacks came from playing DT in the Nickel or Dime. Derek Barnett has sacks in consecutive games. The young guys, Josh Sweat and Daeshon Hall, both got to the QB. Tim Jernigan will return to the mix sometime in the near future.

Eagles LBs are starting to make plays. Nigel Bradham dropped an easy pick-six in Green Bay, but then got the tipped ball at the end. Nate Gerry came up with a pick-six against the Jets. Kamu Grugier-Hill is the best athlete the Eagles have in the middle of the field and he’s getting healthier each week. That should improve the LB play.

Rodney McLeod has played at a high level the past two weeks. He came up big on multiple goal line plays against the Packers. McLeod blew up a short yardage run, just missed a sack and had an INT vs the Jets. He’s all over the field and making his presence felt.

Rasul Douglas seems to have settled in at RCB. Orlando Scandrick played well on Sunday and that could allow the coaches to move Avonte Maddox when he comes back. Sidney Jones should play this week. Ronald Darby is on the mend and Jalen Mills might make it back on the field. Cre’Von LeBlanc might be coming back. And Craig James has been serviceable since being forced into action.

There are issues.

Pass coverage still needs to get better, no matter who is on the field. Starters have been burned for big plays, not just backups.

Penalties have got to stop. Barnett has gotten flagged for unnecessary roughness at least three times. Just can’t have that.

It is fair to wonder if the pass rush will fade or if this game was the start of a hot streak. I do think pass rushers need to have some success to keep from getting frustrated. This game could be an anomaly or it could be just what the doctor ordered. We’ll find out a lot this week. The Vikings don’t have a great OL. If the Eagles can’t get to Kirk Cousins, that will be a bad sign.

The Eagles offense has looked dominant for stretches of games. The defense had their coming out party on Sunday. If this team is going to get to the postseason and make a run, they need the defense to step up and play better. Recent games have given us some good signs.

Keep your fingers crossed.

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Fran Duffy wrote an excellent piece on the defense and just how well they played.

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For your viewing pleasure.

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