Gameday – PHI at CIN

Posted: December 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 220 Comments »

Big news. Jordan Matthews is out.

Not good.

He is far and away the Eagles best receiver. So what happens now? Nelson Agholor is playing and will have a big shot at redemption. This could actually be huge for him. It gives him a chance to get passes thrown his way. Sometimes being put in a tough situation brings out the best in a player. Agholor won’t just be playing for himself. His team needs him.

Neither the Bengals nor the Eagles have been scoring much recently so this becomes a defensive struggle with focus on the run game. The Eagles run the ball better and defend the run better so that should give them an advantage in this type of game. With Matthews out, the Eagles should run more than they usually do. RB Ryan Mathews is also out so that means extra work for Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles. This could also be a game to mix in more QB runs. Watch for that.

Donnie Jones is going to be a key player in this game. Punting is not a bad thing when you have a good defense and the other team struggles to score points. If the Eagles can play field position football and good defense, that helps in a game like this.

I wrote my game preview for PE.com, but that was before the Jordan Matthews news. His absence does change things.

This is a huge game for the Eagles. It will be interesting to see how the team responds. The last 2 weeks they lost to guys who will one day be in the Hall of Fame. Andy Dalton isn’t on that level. The defense has to make some plays today. The offense has to find a way to score points. It wouldn’t hurt if Sproles could break a long punt return to help the offense out. Every point could be critical in a game like this.

One note to Doug Pederson…don’t go for it in scoring territory. Kick the FG and put points on the board. Put pressure on Cincy to have to score.

This doesn’t have to be pretty. The Eagles just have to find a way to win.

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Know Your Enemy – The Bungles

Posted: December 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 30 Comments »

I don’t mean to taunt them by going to the old name of the Bungles. That’s just the way they’ve played this year. Cincy started 8-0 last year. They are 3-7-1 this season, with the only win since September coming against the winless Browns. Yikes.

What’s gone wrong?

A better question might be “what hasn’t gone wrong?”. Injuries. Coaching changes. Underachieving veterans. Underachieving rookies. Struggling kicker. You name it and the 2016 Bengals have probably been hurt by it. Very weird. They almost have a vibe of the 2012 Eagles. Andy Reid’s tenure was winding down and when things went wrong, they went really wrong. That team started 3-1 and finished 4-12. The Bengals started 2-2 and have gone just 1-5-1 since. Is this the final season for Marvin Lewis?

Lewis has done a terrific job in Cincy, building a consistent winner and keeping his players out of trouble in recent years. The old Bengals lost a lot and got in all kinds of trouble.The problem with Cincy’s success is that their coaching staff has been raided several times in recent years. As we saw with Reid, you can’t lose great assistant after great assistant and replace them with the same caliber of players. There is a reason that the Eagles weren’t as good after losing Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Steve Spagnuolo and John Harbaugh. It feels like coaching attrition is hurting the Bengals this year.

QB Andy Dalton has been tough to evaluate since joining the league. There are times when he looks like a stud and other times when he looks like the lost Detmer brother. Here is an in-depth piece on Dalton, covering the good and bad. Right now he’s struggling.

One of the key reasons is that RB Gio Bernard is on IR and elite receiver A.J. Green is hurt. He is reportedly targeting a return in Week 14 so the Eagles may catch a huge break (Don’t drop it!!!) in missing him. There was a point this season when Bernard and Green made up 45 percent of Dalton’s targets. That seems nuts to me. You want to feed good players, but you have to spread the ball better than that.

The OL has had issues. C Russell Bodine was so bad that he just got benched. RT Cedric Ogbuehi has not played well. I’ve seen LG Clint Boling have some problems. This group has been disappointing after being a strength in previous seasons.

The defense can’t seem to stop the run (28th in the league). In 3 of the past 7 games, they have given up 180 or more rushing yards. That’s not good. When you can’t stop the run, that leads to other issues. Opposing QBs have a rating of 92.2 this season. Sacks and INTs are down from last year. The Bengals have been better in recent weeks, just giving up 56 points in the past 3 games.

It is hard to win close games when PK Mike Nugent is so unreliable. He has missed 5 FGs and 4 extra points this year.

*****

The Bengals and Eagles have a weird history. Cincy won in 2012, 34-13. It was a close game for a half, but the Eagles fell apart in the 2nd half. I think we all remember the highly frustrating 13-13 tie back in 2008. Cincy won in the 2004 season finale, 38-10. The Eagles rested starters so this was Koy Detmer at QB, Eric McCoo at RB and Freddie Mitchell as the key receiver.

You have to go all the way back to 2000 to find the Eagles winning. The score was 16-7 and that was an ugly game.

The best game was back in 1997. The Eagles beat Cincy 44-42 with Bobby Hoying playing the best game of his career. He was 26-42-313 with 4 TDs. Irving Fryar was 7-122. Talk about fool’s gold. I thought Hoying was going to be a stud and he and Fryar would have some really good games after that.

*****

The Eagles will need to run the ball to win on Sunday. The OL has to open holes for Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles. Brandin Brooks will be back at RG so the line will be all veterans.

Jeff Stoutland did a video piece on rookies Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai for PE.com. You can see that those 2 guys have the physical traits needed to be good starters in the NFL.

*****

Here is my preview of the game for PE.com.

This is a game the Eagles need to win.

Ugh. That certainly doesn’t help.

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The Biggest Pieces

Posted: December 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 294 Comments »

You need 2 things to win in the NFL…the right coach and the right QB. You can question Carson Wentz’s ceiling, but it should be obvious to just about everyone that he is very talented and can at the least be a good starter. Things are less certain with Doug Pederson.

I like Pederson. I think he’s done a good job this year. I certainly don’t agree with all of his decisions, gameday or otherwise, but I think he’s been more right than wrong this season. There are a few key things you have to keep in mind. First, one of the reasons he was hired was to change the atmosphere in the building. The organization had lost the family/friendly vibe under Chip Kelly. Jeffrey Lurie and Andy Reid worked hard for years to build that up and it was important for Lurie to find a coach who could help restore that. I think Pederson has done a good job of that.

Pederson was asked to have the team compete right away. Many new coaches love to change players and rebuild the roster right away. That let’s them find “their guys” and build the team how they want it. Pederson inherited a team that was too good to rebuild. He embraced the players that were already in Philly. Think about the starting lineup in the season opener of 2015 vs 2016. There weren’t many changes. The coaching staff kept an open mind, even with disappointing players like Marcus Smith and Josh Huff. Pederson and his assistants brought out the best in some players over the summer.

The other big item for Pederson was to draft and develop a QB. Obviously this is something Pederson probably already wanted to do, but with Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel in place you could see a coach possibly not wanting to use a lot of draft resources to add another QB. Pederson quickly fell in love with Carson Wentz as a prospect and was all-in on going up to get him.

If you simply focus on the W-L record, Pederson gets a C or something in that range. I think Lurie and Howie Roseman are looking at the big picture and all that was asked of Pederson. As much as they want him to win this year, they also know developing Wentz is the biggest thing that will help the Eagles to get back to being one of the best teams in the league. So let’s talk about that.

Wentz is on pace to throw 570 passes this year. Donovan McNabb only threw more than that once in his career, and that came when he threw 571 in his 10th season. It seems crazy to have Wentz throw that much when you consider that Eagles receivers are not having a great year and the offensive line has had four different starting lineups and we’re not even in December yet. Just run the ball, play good defense and try to keep games close, right? Not if you’re trying to test/teach/develop a QB.

I wrote my PE.com column on Pederson’s efforts to develop Wentz.

We’ll review Wentz in-depth once the season is over. For now I’ll put it in simple terms. Carson Wentz isn’t like any other rookie QB I’ve ever seen play for the Eagles. He reminds me of Donovan McNabb from the 2000 season, but that was Year 2 for Donnie Mac. More current guys like Kevin Kolb, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley pale in comparison. Forget about just the physical stuff. I’m talking about overall performance. And remember that Wentz was the #3 QB throughout the offseason.

Back to Pederson for a minute. One thing that hurts him is his PCs. He seems like a genuinely good guy and he wants to be honest. He wants to answer questions. Pederson does an awful job of answering questions at times. Somewhere between his brain and his vocal chords, things get lost in translation and he gives some bizarre answers. He also tries to be Mr. Positive in the PCs. “I’m gonna love on him” is an answer that should never be used again. Save that for when your kids screw up, not your millionaire employees. I don’t want Pederson to turn into Bruce Arians and start ripping players, but he does need to choose his words more carefully. Fair or not, coaches are judged by fans and the media and that perception can be important.

I think you can already see enough signs that Wentz is the right QB. We probably won’t have a real good feel for Pederson until after the 2017 season. I’m cautiously optimistic, but next year should offer more proof, one way or the other.

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Biggest Frustration

Posted: November 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 116 Comments »

With the Eagles having lost 6 of 8, there is a lot to complain about. Not enough talent. Too many penalties. Questionable coaching decisions. You can find a lot of areas to question.

My biggest frustration is too much stupidity.

I don’t expect perfection from a team. I watch a lot of college and pro football and have for years. Even the very best teams are going to make mistakes. The ’85 Bears once gave up 38 points in a game. The ’99 Rams were once held to 11 points in a game. Brian Dawkins missed tackles. Terrell Owens dropped passes. David Akers missed FGs. Jerome Brown once finished an entire season with just 1 sack. No team is perfect. No player is perfect.

I can deal with Nelson Agholor dropping passes. I can handle Zach Ertz not breaking tackles. I can live with Jalen Mills missing some tackles. Those are performance errors. I’m not happy about them, but you are going to have mistakes. That’s just reality.

What I can’t stand are the mental errors. Agholor not being on the line of scrimmage for the pass play in the Seattle game is 1,000 times worse than any dropped pass. All he is asked to do in that spot is stand on or right by the LOS. Instead, he’s back almost a full yard. And it’s not like he’s an OL trying to cheat and get an advantage against an edge rusher. I could understand that. You push the officials as much as you can for advantages. Sometimes you get burned. Agholor just didn’t line up correctly. That is dumb. Agonizingly dumb.

There is no other moment this year that comes close to that, but this team has made a lot of dumb errors and it frustrates the heck out of me.

Najee Goode’s late hit in the Atlanta game is probably number two for the year. Luckily this didn’t end up costing the Eagles the game.

So very dumb.

Carson Wentz throwing the ball away in the Falcons game…on 4th down. That was pretty dumb. It was at least an awkward situation, especially for a rookie.

DGB has ruined a screen play in each of the last 2 games by blocking on the play. Once is bad, but twice in a row? This absolutely better not happen again. Those penalties wiped out long gains.

Zach Ertz had 3 false start penalties in a game. A TE shouldn’t have 3 in a season, let alone in a game.

There were some blown coverages in the Giants game. I don’t know which player is at fault.

The defense had 12 men on the field on Monday night and that led to Green Bay going for it on 4th/5 instead of punting. That basically sealed the game.

D-linemen failed to contain Wilson and Rodgers on some plays in the last couple of weeks. I know it is hard and they are special QBs, but you need to keep them in the pocket. Once they get outside, bad things happen. DEs used inside moves and left the outside wide open. Can’t do that.

Pederson has had his moments. The screen pass against Dallas is going to bug me for the next 5 years at a minimum. The challenge on Monday night didn’t end up hurting the Eagles, but that was a terrible challenge.

You can find dumb moments in every game. There are dumb moments off the field as well. Agholor in the strip club. Josh Huff in his car. Nigel Bradham with the gun at the airport.

I don’t know if stupidity is contagious, but it feels like it when you watch this team. Doug Pederson and his staff need to find a way to fix the mental errors. We aren’t trying to understand physics here. I don’t need Nelson Agholor to have a working knowledge of Planck’s constant. He just has to make sure he is standing at the right spot when the ball is snapped. If he can then start catching passes, we might actually be on to something.

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Effort Isn’t Enough

Posted: November 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 119 Comments »

It is amazing how one word can get abused by so many people.

Fans – “Pathetic effort by the Eagles.”

Doug Pederson – “The players gave good effort.”

Let’s start with something that should be an obvious fact in sports, no matter what level. Effort is a minimum. Forget about size, talent and everything else. Anyone on Earth can play hard. And they should.

Doug Pederson is sending the wrong message by talking about effort as if it is a big selling point on this team. I have no problem when a coach mentions effort. I can live with “We played poorly, but I liked our effort.” There is only so much a coach can say publicly after a tough game. Standing in front of the media and ripping the team to shreds just isn’t going to happen. I really don’t understand why some fans would even want that.

On Monday Tim McManus asked Pederson about the fact he went out of his way to praise the team’s effort. McManus pointed out that the Eagles have been in playoff contention all year. Why should effort be the standard for this team to shoot for? Why does the fact the team is still playing hard tell Pederson that the team is heading in the right direction? Great question and dead on the money.

Stammer. Deep sigh. Stammer. Stammer.

Pederson then eventually got into discussing that this team is building for the future. There is a plan. There is a process. He talked about where Seattle and Oakland are currently and that they’ve been building to this over the course of years. Pederson sees the Eagles there in 3 or 4 years. I sure hope he’s right.

The problem with Pederson right now is that he’s mixing his messages to the media. Just a few weeks back this was a “great team’. Now he’s publicly lauding their effort. See the difference? Pederson should have never referred to this as a great team. He also shouldn’t be talking about effort as a key point for believing in this team.

The Eagles are 5-6., but there is plenty to like about this team. This is a young, building group. They are going through a tough stretch right now, but the Eagles have either had the lead or been close in every game. This team has a mental and physical toughness about them. They don’t panic when things go wrong. They keep grinding away. That kind of attitude is important in a young team.

The Arizona Cardinals are a veteran team that expected to compete for the Super Bowl. They just lost to Atlanta 38-19 on Sunday. The Cards are 4-7-1, but 2 of those wins came against the Niners, who are beyond awful. The Cardinals have a veteran QB, talented receivers, a stud RB, a good front seven and some star DBs. And somehow that team is worse than the Eagles.

Carson Wentz has the same number of wins this year as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Stop and think about that for a minute. All 4 of those QBs could some day be in the Hall of Fame.

The Eagles are struggling right now, but the problem is the 3-0 start skewed expectations and too many people can’t get past that. Doug Pederson didn’t help matters by over-praising the team along the way.

While there is plenty to like about this team, there are also more than a few issues. Putting Julio Jones on the Eagles doesn’t make this a 9-2 team. Putting Richard Sherman on the Eagles doesn’t make this a 9-2 team. There is a need for a talent upgrade, but the current group of players has other issues to deal with. Last night more than a few fans were griping about effort. I think that is ridiculous.

This team plays hard. You want to see guys slacking, go watch DRC and Nnamdi in 2012. There were legitimate effort questions with that bunch. This team is playing hard. But go back to my earlier point. Effort is a minimum.

Jeffrey Lurie doesn’t pay millions of dollars for effort. He pays Fletcher Cox to make plays. He pays Zach Ertz to make plays. He pays Vinny Curry to make plays. This team has holes in the roster, but the talent currently in place isn’t playing well enough. If anyone knew why, they’d be a genius. Sports history is filled with players who slump or have an off-year.

Good players grind away and work their way through the struggles. Aaron Rodgers was struggling earlier in the year. People started to really wonder if he was seriously declining. Anyone who watched him last night would disagree. Cox got paid to be a dominant defensive lineman. He started off pretty well, but has slumped in recent weeks. He is still disruptive and still eats up blockers, but the Eagles didn’t pay him mega-bucks for that. They need direct results.

Everyone wants to blame someone. Pederson can’t coach. Schwartz isn’t doing a good job. Maybe it’s DL coach Chris Wilson. Maybe the money ruined Cox. I don’t know that there is a smoking gun here. Sometimes players just go up and down. That’s just a reality in sports. Very few players are legitimately great every week for years and years.

The Eagles DL has been disappointing recently.

Part of what happened early is that the Eagles played more with the lead and that let them rush the passer more aggressively. They’ve also gone up against good OLs and mobile QBs in recent weeks. You have to look at a variety of factors.

You also have to be honest. The DL has been disappointing in that stretch. They have not made big plays and have made some big mistakes. You could live without the sacks if they were playing disciplined football, but penalties and missed assignments are hurting the defense.

Pederson said nice things to the media, but his message to the team was more aggressive. He talked about the rest of the season as a time for players to show who wants to be here and who can get the job done. I think that is the right thing for him to do. He’s been patient. He’s been upbeat. This is the time to let players know there will be changes in the offseason. The players control who stays or goes by how they perform. That’s not a threat. That’s reality. You have to show that you are part of the future. Potential is okay for rookies, but just about everyone else should be held to a different standard.

Forget effort. We need to see results.

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