My Buddy

Posted: July 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 22 Comments »

Buddy Ryan is the reason I’m an Eagles fan. He first put the hooks in me when he was coaching the Bears defense. I don’t remember a specific moment that got my attention, but the 1984 Bears defense was the start of it all. There was a famous game between the Bears and Raiders. It was almost like the first version of the Body Bag Game.

The 1984 Bears were finished #1 in the league and set an NFL record with 72 sacks. They were great.

And then the 1985 Bears showed up. They took defense to a whole other level.

There were 10 games where the opponent scored 10 or fewer points. Two of those games were shutouts. The ’85 Bears had 34 INTs. That is an astonishing total. The Eagles have 46 over the past 3 years combined. The Bears didn’t just take the ball away. They scored 5 TDs. The Bears then pitched 2 shutouts in the postseason and won the Super Bowl 46-10. For my money, that was the best season by a defense in the history of the NFL.

The Bears had great players. They also had Buddy and his 46 Defense.

Mike Singletary Chicago BearsJanuary 27, 1986S 587credit:  Bill Smith - spec

I was just getting into the X’s and O’s of football when the 46 Defense took over the NFL. I was enamored with the 46. It was so creative and different from anything else being run by teams.

I was excited to see what Buddy could do as head coach of the Eagles. And he didn’t disappoint, as I wrote for PE.com.

The end result was disappointing. No playoff wins. Unfulfilled potential. Far too many “What if’s?”.

But that doesn’t erase the great memories and all the fun of the Ryan era. In some ways, it makes things even better. Think about how many people become bandwagon fans of the Lakers, Yankees, Patriots or Cowboys. Fans see them on TV. They see all the titles. They start pulling for those teams. but it is all based on winning.

I became an Eagles fan because of Buddy Ball, not postseason glory. I loved watching the Eagles play. The team was fun. They felt special, even though they don’t have the postseason success to prove that. They are like a boxer that won big fights, but never the title fights. The good moments were sensational. They just didn’t come in January.

I also think Buddy’s impact on the Eagles has been long lasting, as I talked about in the piece. He is a big reason that the Eagles are Philly’s team. It wasn’t that way when Buddy came to town, but is has been true since he left.

If it wasn’t for Buddy Ryan, you wouldn’t be reading this. I might be writing about the Baltimore Orioles or the Sixers (god forbid) or maybe something completely outside of sports. How does Tommy’s Tips To A Whiter Bathroom sound?

Buddy got a Super Bowl ring when he helped the Jets win SB III. He got another ring when the Bears won in 1985 and his players carried him off the field. When the Eagles win a Super Bowl some time in the next 37 years, I feel like Buddy will be part of that. His arrival in 1986 woke the franchise up and got it moving in the right direction. While Buddy didn’t deliver the results we wanted, his impact on the organization and the city is still here to this day.

Buddy’s impact shouldn’t be defined by rings and trophies. His impact is more about people and relationships. Buddy’s players loved him and were incredibly loyal. The fans loved Buddy’s players and continue to do so to this day. Reggie, Seth, Clyde and Jerome haven’t played for the Eagles for more than 2 decades, but those names mean something to Eagles fans. No last names are needed. Buddy loved being the coach of the Eagles. That really meant something to him.

It feels funny to use the word “love” so much when writing about Buddy Ryan, but it also seems darned appropriate.

Thank you, Buddy, for teaching me to truly love great defense and for making me an Eagles fan.

Buddy-Reggie

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Feeling Nostalgic

Posted: July 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 12 Comments »

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on Buddy Ryan. That made me want to go watch a random game from back in his day.

Believe it or not, there was a time when CBS had the best football broadcasts (and it wasn’t close). Dick Stockton was the announcer in this game and was terrific. It is a shame he’s stayed active so long because he is awful now. Just looking at the CBS graphics gets me all warm and tingly for the old days.

Look how fast Reggie was back then. He slowed down as he got older (proving he was human).

Seeing Seth Joyner in his prime always gets me thinking about LB play. The last truly great 4-3 LB was Willie T from 1993-1996. That wasn’t his whole career, but he was at the top of his game in that span. Jeremiah Trotter and Carlos Emmons were good, but not great. Shawn Barber might have been something special if he stayed, but he didn’t.

Jordan Hicks showed big time potential last year. We’ll see if he can build on that or if it was a bit of a fluke. I’m also curious to see how Mychal Kendricks does now that he’ll be getting the best coaching of his career.

And it sure is fun to watch The 46, at least when it works.

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More on Character

Posted: July 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 35 Comments »

There were some interesting questions and comments after yesterday’s post on character.

I wrote that you wouldn’t want a team full of choirboys. Someone asked why not. Football, even modern football, is a violent game. You are asking men to attack each other for 3 hours. You can find some intelligent, well-adjusted people to do this, but not 53. At some point you are going to have to take chances on questionable character types if you are trying to assemble a talented team to win games.

There is no way the 53 best players available to you are high character guys. You can pass on them, but that talent will go elsewhere and then your team of choirboys has to deal with teams that have more talent. You have to take some chances to have a realistic shot to compete with the best teams.

The Eagles took a chance when they drafted DeSean Jackson. He fell to the 2nd round because of character concerns. Most of those concerns didn’t come true in the NFL. He was a good risk.

King Dunlap got benched in his Senior season at Auburn. The coaches were frustrated with him and sat him to play a freshman. That killed Dunlap’s draft value. The Eagles took a chance in the 7th round and he has had a solid NFL career.

There were character questions with Winston Justice as a prospect. Character was never an issue with him in the NFL. Getting married and becoming a father helped him to mature. His issues were all football related.

Both Lito Sheppard and Freddie Mitchell had maturity questions coming out of college. Both players had maturity issues in the NFL.

You have to take some chances. The key is to limit those chances and be smart about them.

I think a big problem is that we tend to hear “character” and immediately think of a rapist, wife-beater or drug user. Character isn’t always that extreme. Sometimes maturity is the question. Maybe a player has a huge ego and that’s a concern. Maybe a player’s temper makes him a potential problem. With Danny Watkins, the problem was dedication to the game. He just didn’t love football. To many coaches, that’s the biggest sin of all. They can live with other issues if a player lives and dies to get on the field.

Someone brought up my Michael Irvin example and mentioned Irvin would be getting suspended in today’s game. I agree. I wasn’t mentioning Irvin as someone I liked, but he’s a great example of the true problem of talent vs character. He produced. He was a team leader. He helped his team win big. It is easy to talk about not wanting or getting rid of unproven or marginal headaches. Greg Hardy wasn’t that good on the field last year. Not bringing him back wasn’t an overly tough decision. Coaching someone like Irvin or Lawrence Taylor would be so much tougher. Great players with serious issues. It is much harder to do the right thing when that guy is a star player with a Super Bowl ring on his finger.

I don’t think you can make a permanent rule. I think you must judge things on a case-by-case basis. What kind of a team do you have that year? What are the concerns with a prospect? Is the risk worth the reward? And so on.

*****

NFL.com ranked Doug Pederson as the league’s worst coach. I can live with that, but not their logic. Go read Jimmy Bama’s post. He breaks down the situation perfectly

It is fair to rank Pederson last, but that logic is terrible.

*****

RIP Buddy.

Dave Spadaro wrote a nice piece on Buddy’s funeral.

I love the fact that so many former players are so loyal. Speaks to the bond Buddy had with his guys.

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Bad Boys

Posted: July 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 40 Comments »

Talent vs character. You don’t want a team full of choirboys, but you also don’t want players you can’t trust. Finding the right balance is incredibly challenging. When you get it right, you often have a championship team. Get it wrong, and success will come and go because high talent/low character players can’t be trusted from week to week, let alone year to year.

The Eagles have made character a key in player acquisition for years. Howie Roseman took that up a notch in 2010 and then Chip Kelly made it The Point of Emphasis. You can argue the merits of just how important character is. I think it is important that a team not draw any lines in the sand. There are exceptions to every rule. If you can find the right exception, you might have one heck of a player.

The tougher question really involves what good character is. Michael Irvin used drugs. He partied like a madman. He made sure hookers weren’t going hungry. That was Irvin the person. Irvin the player was a hard worker that gave maximum effort every Sunday. He took practice seriously and worked his tail off during the week.

Would you rather have Irvin or Jordan Matthews or Jason Avant?

I mention Matthews and Avant because both were high character players. They weren’t as talented as Irvin, but that’s the trade-off. If you have talent and character, you obviously take that player. Usually you lose some talent when you pass on a player with character issues.

I think it is okay to take some chances on players, but you have to be careful. Have you been paying attention to Dallas?

Ouch.

Dallas has taken a lot of chances recently. They signed Greg Hardy last year. They signed LB Rolando McClain the year before. They drafted DEs Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. That’s a lot of resources spent on turds. And those guys have all been suspended or caused significant problems. Their performances have not been worth the headaches.

Rex Ryan had a saying in Baltimore that a bunch of ants could carry a cockroach. The Ravens were willing to take a chance on a player, but only because they had a good nucleus of hard workers and strong leaders to help deal with the questionable player. Dallas did not have a strong core of players who could bring out the best in troubled guys. And really, I’m not sure a good core can deal with that many questionable guys.

The Eagles took a chance on Jalen Mills and Alex McCalister this year. Mills is playing in a secondary with strong character guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Nolan Carroll and Chris Maragos. Other players like Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and Rodney McLeod seem to be high character guys.

McCalister is a DE playing with Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Barwin is a great team leader. Graham and Curry are hard workers that have done enough to earn second contracts with the Eagles. They will set a good example for McCalister on what he needs to do to succeed.

One of the other keys here is the investment. Mills and McCalister were late round picks. Dallas spent good money on Hardy. Lawrence and Gregory were high picks. Those players were expected to deliver big results because of the resources used to acquire them. All were expected to be starters or key players. When they screw up, it really hurts the team.

Another factor to consider is long term trust. McClain signed with Dallas in 2014 and had a terrific season. He played up to his talent level, which is considerable. The Cowboys were impressed enough to bring him back last year. McClain was then suspended for the first 4 games of 2015 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. When he came back, McClain was up and down. Dallas decided he was worth bringing back again. Oops. Now he is suspended for 10 games. I assume they’ll get a steal when they sign him for 2017.

Think about a guy like Jason Pierre-Paul. The Eagles were one of several teams that didn’t have him on their draft board due to character concerns. JPP wasn’t a criminal or anything like that, but there were issues about his partying and work ethic. He had a solid rookie season in 2010 and then exploded in 2011. He had 16.5 sacks and looked like a dominant figure for years to come. JPP’s play fell dramatically in 2012 and 2013. He was better in 2014 and then had the dreadful fireworks accident prior to last season.

One of the reasons that JPP’s play fell off was that he quit working as hard in the offseason. He let success get to his head. He partied more than he should have and didn’t handle his business. The fireworks incident last year was dumb. You’re a professional athlete. Why take the chance on playing with backyard explosives?

JPP was a great player for one season and helped the Giants win a Super Bowl. Since then, he’s been erratic at best. In the end he’s probably a smart pick because he helped you win the title, but he’s also fool’s gold because you can’t trust him.

I think Jerry Jones was too relaxed on character and I think Chip Kelly was too strict. There has to be a bit of a middle ground, where you take a chance here and there. And all chances are not equal. Jalen Mills was involved in an incident. He doesn’t have a history of being a troublemaker. He hasn’t been a regular at the courthouse. That makes you more comfortable with taking a chance on him. McClain has a slew of events in his past. Relying on him was dumb.

Would Denver have won it all last year without Aqib Talib and Von Miller, who have each had issues? Would Seattle have won without Marshawn Lynch, who was let go by the Bills in part because of his off-field issues? Remember that Percy Harvin was also part of that team. This isn’t just about recent years either. Brett Favre was chugging beer and popping pills when the Packers won the title. We all know what Dallas was doing when they won 3 titles.

Sometimes bad boys win.

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The Importance of Jim Schwartz

Posted: June 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 42 Comments »

Marion Campbell is an underrated defensive mind and was a terrific defensive coordinator. He helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in 1980.

Buddy Ryan helped build the Eagles from a team that couldn’t win into a team that was on the verge of being an NFL powerhouse.

Bud Carson took over the defense in 1991 and helped the team win a playoff game after the 1992 season.

Jim Johnson became the defensive coordinator in 1999 and helped the Eagles reach 5 NFC title games and one Super Bowl.

Since Johnson passed away, the Eagles have had Sean McDermott, Juan Castillo and Bill Davis serve as the full-time DC’s for the team. And in that span the Eagles have been to just 3 playoff games. They have lost them all.

For whatever reason, it seems the Eagles are an organization that needs a defensive guru to run that side of the ball. Thankfully Doug Pederson did not try to go find an up and coming coach, but instead hired a proven DC who can deliver strong results. There is no guarantee that Schwartz will deliver great results, but he’s got a strong track record and should do a good job here.

All of these defensive gurus were tough, demanding coaches. They could be hard on their players. They also were great motivators. Players wanted to excel for them. There was a line in Tim Kawakami’s great piece on Buddy Ryan that really resonated with me.

What I learned from watching Buddy Ryan’s teams, and talking to Buddy, and to his players: Fear is a part of every NFL game, and if you can instill fear in your opponent, you cannot lose.

Now, sometimes Ryan and his teams went over the line. But pro football players–especially defensive players–want to be pushed, want to be on the attack, and want to intimidate their opponent.

Because they know that this game isn’t for the meek. Really, no professional sport is about that at all.

I don’t think it has ever occurred to me to focus on the primal nature of defense and defensive players. Defenders want to inflict pain. They don’t want to injure opponents, but they want to make them hurt at the end of every play. You aren’t going to get players to go out and punish opponents by being nice and encouraging them. You need someone who can push buttons and really drive his players to the edge. Not over the edge, but to it.

This isn’t just about being tough and macho. All of these defensive coaches could put together complex gameplans. Players had to be smart if they were going to succeed in those schemes.

Jim Schwartz runs a simpler system than the defensive gurus we’re talking about here, but don’t be fooled into thinking Schwartz just rolls the ball out there and yells “Attack!”. He will design creative blitzes. He will use stunts and loops with his DL. He will mix up coverages to keep offenses from knowing exactly what to expect.

Schwartz will tailor his system to the players he has. If the Eagles can run a basic system and get the best of offenses, so be it. If Schwartz needs to be more creative and aggressive, he will do that. The key is that he wants his players to attack. Rather than focus on being creative, he wants to find the best way to get his players to make plays, especially behind the line of scrimmage.

Chip Kelly and Bill Davis always talked about the need to confuse opposing QBs. Maybe. If you are Greg Maddux and can get batters out with movement and deception, so be it. If you are Nolan Ryan and can overwhelm them with 99 mph fastballs, why the heck would you worry about confusion? Do what you do best. The point isn’t to outsmart the opponent, but rather to pound him into submission.

Over the years, Schwartz has shown that he has a good feel for the appropriate balance of brains and brawn. You want players to be smart, but also fast and physical. Too much thinking can be a bad thing.

Think about Mychal Kendricks. He has the ability to be a good LB. He was in Pro Bowl consideration after the 2014 season. Instead of building on that, he took a step back in 2015. Kendricks didn’t lose speed or strength. Something got into his head. He lost his confidence and began guessing while out on the field. That led to him getting out of position on even some basic plays and having some rough moments.

Schwartz is going to tell Kendricks to quit thinking. Instead, go attack a specific gap. If the ball is there, tackle it. If not, find it and go hit the QB/RB/TE/WR who has it. Seek and destroy.

I don’t know that Schwartz will be dusting off Ray Rhodes speeches that began “Imagine an intruder is in your house and has a gun to your wife’s head…”, but I do expect Schwartz to do a much better job of connecting with these players on a primal level and motivating them to perform better than in recent years. He was able to get players to buy into his ideas in Buffalo, Detroit and Tennessee.

The days of toolboxes and dinner with the Matthews family are over. Schwartz is going to tell the Eagles defense to go knock the crap out of the opponent, over and over and over. If the players listen and buy in, the defense can produce some really impressive results.

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