Good Times, Good Times

Posted: October 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 178 Comments »

The Eagles are starting to get a lot of praise.

Football Outsiders also has the Eagles at #2 in their DVOA rankings. The Eagles are the top NFC team, just behind KC and just ahead of the Steelers.

Honestly, all of this positivity makes me a bit nervous. It feels so much more natural when the Eagles are being doubted than praised. I guess this is a good problem to have and one I could get used to.

I wrote a piece for PE.com on the Eagles being a good team. You probably have to go back to 2010 to find something like this. The Eagles made the playoffs in 2013, but were a weird team. The 2014 team went 10-6, but were also weird. This team feels legit. They are winning games by playing good football. There aren’t any gimmicks or an abundance of lucky plays. This team controls the line of scrimmage and then makes big plays in key situations. That’s winning football.

And as I mentioned yesterday, doing it with a franchise QB gives it a different vibe as well. Even in 2010, Michael Vick felt a bit like lightning in a bottle. Carson Wentz is a young player on the rise. He should get better and better as he gains experience and hones his craft.

I have no idea what the ceiling is for this team, but I’m sure as heck enjoying the ride.

*****

More good news.

Big V and Kenjon Barner helped the team in the absence of Smallwood and Johnson, but there is no question that adding those players will give the Eagles a boost. Johnson is one of the best RTs in the league. Smallwood has the burst and athleticism the backfield lacks without him. He has become a good pass-catcher and is important as a 3rd down option for Wentz.

The Eagles need all their weapons as they prepare for a key game with the Skins. The Eagles beat them in the opener and sweeping the season series would boost the team’s chances of winning the NFC East. Without looking it up, I think the Eagles last swept the Skins in 1937. Sure seems like that.

I hate having to wait for Monday night since the team played last Thursday, but that will give all the injured players an extra day to get rest so they can be ready for a huge midseason game. The Skins don’t want to fall 2.5 games back in the division race. They will be a fired up team.

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A Different Kind of 5-1

Posted: October 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 160 Comments »

The Eagles are 5-1, their best start since they were 5-1 back in 2014. You’ll hear that phrase a lot for the next week.

I remember the 2014 team peaked at 9-3 after crushing the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. That might have been the peak of the Chip Kelly era. Life seemed so good, but the team went 1-3 down the stretch and didn’t even make the playoffs.

Before that peak, the Eagles had been 5-1 earlier in the season. I was curious to see how that hot start stacked up against the current 5-1 start.

2014

PHI 34, JAX 17
PHI 30, IND 27
PHI 37, WAS 34
SF 26, PHI 21
PHI 34, STL 28
PHI 27, NYG 0

The Eagles fell behind in the opener, 17-0. They woke up and dominated the game after that, but trailing a crappy Jaguars team (3 wins on the year) should have been a sign things wouldn’t be ideal that year.

The next week was a Monday night game that was back and forth. The Eagles scored the final 10 points to win.

The WAS game was another back and forth affair. Both teams led by as many as 10 points. The Skins were in control early, the Eagles late. The Eagles could not put the Skins away and had to hang on for the W.

Things were ugly in San Francisco. Nick Foles was 21-43-195 in the air and Shady McCoy was 10-17 on the ground, raising the question…how the hell was that game so close? Riley Cooper had a chance to catch the winning TD late, but dropped it.

The Eagles built a 34-7 lead over the Rams before QB Austin Davis remember he was Austin Davis and started shredding the Eagles less than ideal secondary. Next thing you know the game is 34-28 and the Eagles are holding on for dear life. Against Austin Davis. Ugly W.

Ah, the glorious shutout. Bill Davis didn’t have a great tenure in Philly, but he gets a lifetime pass from me for delivering a shutout. And of Eli and the Giants no less! What a magical night that was.

Now look at the 2017 games.

PHI 30, WAS 17
KC 27, PHI 20
PHI 27, NYG 24
PHI 26, LAC 24
PHI 34, ARZ 7
PHI 28, CAR 23

The Eagles have been in control for most of those games. They built early leads and controlled the games. That Chargers game looks close, but then you remember the Eagles worked the final 6:44 off the clock. The Carolina game was the one time when the opponent had the ball at the end with the chance to win.

Think about the QBs the Eagles played in the two seasons.

2014: Blake Bortles, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Colin Kaepernick, Austin Davis, Eli Manning

2017: Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton

I think you can see the group 2017 is tougher. Remember that Cousins had little experience back then and has now established himself as a good starter.

One of the other big differences is that the 2014 played 4 of the first 6 games at home. The current team has been just the opposite, having to win on the road. The current team hasn’t faced great competition, but playing on the road so much helps me to believe in them. That’s always a challenge in the NFL.

Probably the biggest difference is simply Carson Wentz. I think the current team is more talented, but not significantly. The one position where there is absolutely no comparison is Wentz. Shady is worlds better than LeGarrette Blount, but RB isn’t nearly as much of an impact position as QB.

Carson Wentz is a franchise QB. We can argue how good he is or might become, but clearly this is a guy you want starting for your team. Nick Foles had the amazing 2013 season, but came crashing back to Earth in 2014. He got hurt at midseason and finished with 13 TDs, 10 INTs and a rating of 81.4.  Wentz already has the same number of TD passes, but hasn’t turned the ball over as much and is an actual weapon as a runner.

Records can be deceiving. Stats can be deceiving. The 2014 team got off to a hot start, but there were always signs that the team had some issues. The 2017 Eagles haven’t come close to peaking, but are playing good football and winning games. This team is 6th in the league in scoring and 9th in points allowed. There are difference-makers on offense, defense and STs.

We’ll have to wait and see how things turn out, but this team feels very different than the 5-1 bunch from 2014.

*****

Doug Pederson said he expected Jordan Hicks to practice this week so this wouldn’t seem to be a move in regard to him.

Chris Maragos might be done for the season. If so, the team could add a LB to take his spot. That would help the depth at LB if Hicks did miss time in the future.

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Mr. Right

Posted: October 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 182 Comments »

It is easy to look around the NFL right now and feel that Doug Pederson is doing one heck of a job. He should be getting more credit than he is for the Eagles hot start.

Look at the Giants. Ben McAdoo helped them go 11-5 last year and expectations were sky high this season. Right now they are 1-5. A lot of things went right for the Giants last year. This season McAdoo has had to deal with all kinds of issues and hasn’t been able to push any of the right buttons. He’s got players openly quitting on him. That is a terrible sign for a coach only in his second season.

Part of the problem is that McAdoo inherited a veteran QB and the organization wanted to win right away. They signed a lot of free agents rather than trying to build a core of players. They went with the mercenary route. That worked great last year, but not so much in 2017.

Whether fair or not, McAdoo has become a punching bag for fans and the media.

There are all kinds of problems in Cleveland. The team didn’t see Carson Wentz as worthy of a high pick in the 2016 draft so they gladly traded back with the Eagles. The Browns aren’t the first team to miss on a QB, but they are a mess because they have so little that is going right. They are 1-21 since passing on Wentz and haven’t built anything special. They don’t have a dominant OL. They don’t have a shutdown secondary. There isn’t some fierce pass rush.

Now we’re hearing reports that Hue Jackson wanted to and expected to draft Deshaun Watson back in April. He and team management clearly weren’t on the same page and they traded the 12th overall pick to the Texans, who then selected Watson.

Jackson does not have a good roster, but also hasn’t exactly gotten the most out of the group.

The Bucs are a disappointing 2-3. Dirk Koetter won’t be mistaken for Vince Lombardi anytime soon.

The Raiders went 12-4 last year, but are off to a 2-4 start this season. Jack Del Rio is catching some flak for his team’s struggles.

Pederson has the Eagles off to a 5-1 start. His young QB is playing at a high level. Things look good in the short term and for the long term. Pederson has shown a good feel for game management, motivating his team and developing young talent. Pederson is pushing the right buttons.

Go back to Andy Reid’s first few years. He was trying to build a winning team and establishing the right culture. Reid was aggressive and creative. Everyone remembers the onside kick against Dallas. He used that tactic in other games. The Eagles ran some brilliant fake FGs back in those days. There was a fake punt that turned into a long TD for Brian Dawkins in 2002.

There were trick plays on offense. Torrance Small had two pass attempts in 1999. Duce Staley had one. Brian Mitchell was 1 for 4 as a passer in 2000. Donovan McNabb caught some passes. In 2002, James Thrash ran the ball 18 times.

Pederson is aggressive in his own way. He goes for it on 4th down as much as any coach in the league. He’s not afraid to take chances. Pederson went for 2 after the Eagles scored to take a 16-10 lead on Thursday night. These moves can have strategic value, but the players also love them. They like having a coach who will take some chances. In this regard, Doug Pederson is more like Chip Kelly than Chip Kelly ever was.

The Eagles have been good enough on offense that they haven’t really had to do all the gadget stuff that Reid did. Pederson has done a bit of that, but not too much.

Pederson is getting the most out of his players, whether offense, defense or STs. Nelson Agholor is actually playing like a 1st round pick. Jake Elliott has been amazing as a replacement kicker. LeGarrette Blount is averaging more than 5 yards per carry and is playing at a high level. Patrick Robinson was a veteran minimum signing and he’s playing some of the best football of his career.

Pederson isn’t going over positional details with each of these players, but he has created the overall atmosphere that has allowed players to thrive. Pederson has shown a good knack for knowing how to handle players. When Lane Johnson got suspended last year, Pederson put rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai in as the starting RT. This looked like a bad decision after the first game. Pederson didn’t panic and Vaitai got a better each week.

While Pederson is patient, he’s also realistic. He made Isaac Seumalo the starting LG in the summer. The coaches felt Seumalo played well enough as a rookie that they needed to get him on the field. Seumalo was up and down in the preseason and then struggled for two games in the regular season. Pederson decided to bench him and go with a combination of Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack. After three games of platooning them, Pederson went with Wiz.

The coaches wanted to see both players in action. They hoped Warmack would impress and earn more reps. That didn’t happen so Wiz got the job. Pederson was patient enough to let things play out, but reasonable enough to not force the issue when it was clear Wiz was the better player.

Players love that. They want a chance to show what they can do on the field. They want a chance to compete. Players also want to know they won’t be benched at the first mistake. Pederson has done a really good job of handling these situations so far.

Pederson also seems to be on the same page with both the personnel department and his coaching staff. That isn’t to say it is all sunshine and rainbows (or chocolate pudding and PBR), but the differences tend to be small and they get worked out.

One of the benefits of the up and down 2016 season is that Pederson showed he could handle adversity. There was the Sam Bradford trade a week before the season started. There was the Johnson suspension. There was the meltdown in Dallas. There was pretty much Agholor’s entire season. There was the debacle in Cincinnati. There was going for 2 vs the Ravens, not getting it and losing. Pederson developed some thick skin and that should help him and the team going forward.

Jeffrey Lurie is getting everything he hoped for when he hired Pederson.

A winning team.

A young QB who looks like a star in the making.

A cohesive organization with a strong culture.

Pederson has to show that he can guide the Eagles to more than just a fast start, but this sure has the vibe of a playoff team and there is every reason to be encouraged about the next few months and years.

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Moves

Posted: October 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 349 Comments »

The Eagles are 5-1. Things seem pretty good. There is a lot to like about the team right now.

Then you hear former Penn State star and Pro Bowl LB NaVorro Bowman was cut by the Niners. Should the Eagles go get him?

MLB Jordan Hicks got hurt against Carolina and missed half the game. He already missed another game this season. Young Joe Walker and veteran Najee Goode can replace him in the base defense, but neither is ideal right now. Goode is a limited player. Walker is just inexperienced.

Mychal Kendricks secretly has to love Hicks going down. Kendricks replaces him in the Nickel and that means a lot of extra snaps for him. Kendricks led the Eagles with 15 tackles on Thursday night.

If the Eagles signed Bowman, they could cut Walker and likely get him to the practice squad. Bowman isn’t a star anymore, but would be an upgrade over Walker. The problem is that Walker plays on STs, as does Goode. Would Bowman want to do that, and be a backup? No.

The other problem with adding someone like Bowman is that the Eagles have good chemistry right now. The whole is better than the sum of the parts, as the saying goes. The LBs have played terrific football this year, no matter who is on the field. They aren’t filling up the stat sheet with huge plays, but they are making a lot of tackles, many of them at important times (3rd and 4th down).

Doug Pederson said on Friday that Hicks would be practicing this week. If he’s going to play, you’re good at LB and there is no need to make any changes. If Hicks was out a month or something like that, I would say making a play for someone like Bowman could make some sense.

There is risk by sticking with the current group. Hicks could re-injure his ankle and be out for a few weeks. Bowman will likely be with another team by then. The Eagles would probably have to make do with their own guys. Still, I think standing pat is the smart move.

*****

Former Eagles scout John Middlekauff is now part of the media out in the Bay area and says the Niners are shopping multiple veterans. He mentioned that RB Carlos Hyde is available at a reasonable price.

RB is a spot where I would consider a move. Wendell Smallwood has missed two games in a row and isn’t sounding all that likely for this week. Corey Clement is effective in a limited role, but is only 25-71 for the season.

Hyde and LeGarrette Blount would give you a heck of a 1-2 punch with big guys. You could have Smallwood and Kenjon Barner as the 3rd down backs, depending on who is healthy. Hyde is 73-332-2 for the year. I doubt he’d be thrilled about joining a RB rotation, but would probably love being on a winning team for the first time in a while.

I would only make a move like this if the price was right. The current RBs are getting the job done and Smallwood will be back soon.

The Eagles can worry about long term solutions for RB in the offseason.

*****

The trade deadline is Oct. 31st. We’ll see if any injury situations force the Eagles to make a move.

*****

There is an old adage in sports that sometimes the best trades are the ones you didn’t make.

Remember that all offseason we talked about Mychal Kendricks getting dealt for a late round pick. Jason Kelce too, or possibly even cut. Kendricks is having his best season since 2014, when he was a starter and played well. Kelce is having his best season in a couple of years. The Eagles would be hurting without these two. Good thing that Howie Roseman and the coaching staff showed patience and decided to keep them around.

What about some draft targets?

I wanted the Eagles to get Corey Davis. TEN took him way early and he’s 7-73 so far this season. Marcus Mariota has missed time with injuries so the Titan offense has had problems.

There were rumors that the Eagles had interest in RB Christian McCaffrey. He has been disappointing, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. He does have 37 catches this year, but only averages 7.9 yards per reception. He hasn’t been much of a playmaker so far.

WR Mike Williams was a huge injury concern and that turned out to be accurate. He is getting ready to make his NFL debut this weekend. I certainly hope he stays healthy and plays well, but for now I’m glad he’s not an Eagle.

WR John Ross was another player we heard talk about. Injuries were an issue with him and he’s been hurt so far in his short NFL career.

I really wanted CB Marshon Lattimore, but didn’t see any way he would fall to the Eagles. He didn’t and he’s playing well for the Saints.

The Eagles had serious interest in Gareon Conley, the other CB from Ohio State. That all changed when there were rape allegations just before the draft. Conley has had to deal with his off-field situation and injuries. His rookie season isn’t going well, but it’s way too early to know if he can play.

Dalvin Cook looked like the real deal, but then tore his ACL.

A lot of fans wanted the Eagles to take LB Reuben Foster. He looked great this summer, but then got hurt in the season opener and hasn’t played since. Injuries were a concern with him.

One big lesson from all of this is that injuries are a huge X-factor.

Derek Barnett is still very much a work in progress, but he’s been a solid part of the DE rotation so far. He might have played his best game on Thursday night. I think he’s going to be a good starter in the future.

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Pressure

Posted: October 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 123 Comments »

The Panthers sacked Carson Wentz three times and he only threw 30 passes. Cam Newton threw 52 passes and the Eagles sacked him just twice. The pass to sack ratio there favors Carolina by a wide margin. Just looking at the stats, you would conclude the Panthers D-line was better on Thursday night.

That’s not the case at all.

Carolina didn’t get much pressure early in the game so they began to blitz. Two of their sacks came from a LB and a CB. That tells you they were aggressive and creative in getting pressure.

The Eagles didn’t blitz much. They didn’t have to. The D-line consistently got good push. They didn’t have free runners landing highlight hits on Newton all night long, but they affected him with pressure. Newton threw 52 passes and only got 239 yards. That is…bad. Consider that in the previous game, Newton threw 33 passes and had 355 yards.

The pressure generated by the Eagles did two big things. First, it sped him up. The Panthers love to throw the ball downfield. They couldn’t do that with the Eagles DL getting regular pressure on Newton. Suddenly he was throwing the ball to RBs and TEs in the flat. Rookie Christian McCaffrey had 10 catches for 56 yards.

The other thing pressure did was make Newton uncomfortable. That led to some poor decisions and to sloppy mechanics. There was a play late in the game when Newton did try to go deep to McCaffrey. Pressure on the play took away his chance to step into the throw and the pass landed a few yards out of bounds. There was a play late in the game where Rasul Douglas should have had an INT. That happened because Derek Barnett hit Newton as he threw. He got rushed into making a decision and also made a poor throw.

Go back to last week. The Cardinals got into several 3rd & longs. Each time, Carson Palmer dropped back and immediately dumped the ball off to an underneath receiver. Those were complete give-up plays. There is nothing wrong with a screen or draw in those situations, but Palmer couldn’t wait to get rid of the ball. The reputation of the Eagles DL caused problems. They got some pressure in the game, but just the fear of them affected the Arizona offense.

That’s impressive.

The Giants built their whole gameplan around avoiding the Eagles rush. They were throwing the ball about as fast as you’ll ever see.

The best part of all this is that the Eagles don’t just rush the passer. They are 2nd in the NFL in run defense right now (and tops in the NFC). The D-line has been tremendous against the run this season. Vinny Curry has been especially outstanding. The DTs eat up blocks and also make plays. Tim Jernigan has 6 TFLs already.

Good run defense makes a huge difference. It makes offenses one-dimensional and puts pressure on the QB to get everything done through the air. When that happens, the Eagles can attack the QB and put pressure on him. All the negative plays have led to lots of long yardage situations. That’s when teams get scared and just dump the ball off. The Eagles have done a great job this year of playing the sticks. They attack the ball and keep the receiver short of the line to get, which leads to punting situations.

All of this starts with the front four…or should I say the front eight. The starters are Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Vinny Curry. They play most of the reps. But you can’t ignore Chris Long, Beau Allen, Justin Hamilton, Elijah Qualls, Derek Barnett and Steven Means. Those guys all combine to get the job done. Destiny Vaeao played in the opener before getting hurt.

Jim Schwartz plays a lot of guys up front and isn’t afraid to play backups in key situations. He rolls his guys in and out, always trying to keep his players as fresh as possible. Everyone contributes. Allen had a sack and TFL last week. Long had a strip sack in Los Angeles. Hamilton got pressure on multiple plays on Thursday night and even got half a sack.

You can debate whether the DL wore down last year. That should not be the case this season.

This line still has a ways to go to get to the level they want to be at. Right now they are getting the job done, but this group of players isn’t satisfied with that. They want to be great. We’ll have to wait and see if that happens. With guys like Cox and Graham, anything is possible.

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