Taking Stock

Posted: October 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 178 Comments »

For my weekend PE.com column, I took a look at some things we know about the Eagles at this point. We are only 6 games into the season, but I think you can make some accurate judgments at this point. I still think it is too early to know what the Eagles are from an overall standpoint. The OL injuries have made it tough to evaluate the offense. I’m not exactly sure why the defense has been inconsistent. Was the Giants game a turning point? Or just an anomaly?

We’ll see.

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Here is an extended SFX feature from NFL Films with Chip Kelly and Nick Foles mic’d up. Great stuff.

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An odd thought popped in my head. Kirk Cousins has lost his job in Washington to Colt McCoy. Would you trade Matt Barkley for Cousins?

Cousins has proven that he can have success in the NFL, but he has also shown that he can be an INT machine. Barkley remains a complete mystery since he’s never started a game and has only played in less than favorable situations.

I doubt the Skins are looking to deal Cousins right now. The thought about him vs Barkley just occurred to me while thinking about teams and their QB situations.

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Good news on the injury front.

Is that some good news or what?

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The Right Kind of Culture

Posted: October 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 149 Comments »

I remember being very impressed with Andy Reid when he mentioned building a program back in 1999. The Eagles had just come off the Ray Rhodes era where long term vision meant knowing the plan for next month. Reid was the first NFL coach I ever heard mention the word program. That’s a word we normally associate with college football. In college, you have to build a program. Kids can only stay for 4 years and the great ones are often gone in 3. You can only sustain success if you build depth and think long term. Rhodes focused on stars and thought very short term. Reid’s ideas worked well and he did build one heck of a program.

Now Chip Kelly is taking that one step further. Beyond just building a program, Kelly wants the right culture.

Dynasties get built around great players. Tom Brady in New England. The Triplets in Dallas. Joe Montana and then Steve Young in SF. But what if you don’t get the elite QB or Hall of Fame talent? Can you still have something special?

It feels like Kelly is trying to build a program that can thrive with or without great talent. One of the keys is finding selfless players that will do whatever it takes to win. I’m sure James Casey is frustrated with his lack of touches on offense. He didn’t come here to be Antonio Gates, but probably expected to be more than just a role player. Casey still blocks his butt off when he gets on the field. He plays hard on STs. Casey does what is asked of him and he does it well.

Casey is a perfect fit for Kelly’s culture. DeSean Jackson wasn’t.

You got a big glimpse into Jackson’s personality and mindset back in 2011. He wasn’t getting paid like he wanted and that affected his play and behavior in the locker room. Jackson was better under Kelly, but obviously showed enough of himself that Kelly didn’t want to keep him around. Some people saw the move as insanity. You can’t get rid of your best WR. Kelly likely saw just the opposite. You can’t keep that guy around. You’d be sending a terrible message to the other players. If you’re talented enough, you can do what you want.

Jimmy Johnson built the Cowboys into a dynasty by letting his star players do what they wanted. That team won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. As amazing as that feat is, it is almost as amazing how quickly that dynasty fell apart. Injuries forced TE Jay Novacek to retire after the 1995 season, the final SB win. Without him, the team won just one playoff game. That dynasty was so fragile that taking out one key player (and not even one of the Triplets) ripped it apart.

Kelly is fascinated by the military and how they operate. There is a culture of sacrifice. You do what is best for the group. You think about others. If you can get a talented football team to buy into that mindset, you could have something special. Soldiers are individually tough and skilled, but when they work together, they can do amazing things. This isn’t a case where being part of a group takes away the individual desire for excellence. There is a pressure to keep up with the rest of the group so that you don’t let them down. Being a good part of the group makes you better as an individual.

You can bet that Matt Tobin feels pressure playing next to Jason Peters. Tobin knows the guy to his left is an elite player that will get the job done. That makes Tobin want to play well so that the coaches can count on the left side of the line. If Tobin was playing beside Demetress Bell, Tobin would probably have a different mindset. “Don’t suck as much as that guy.”

Think about what Kelly wants on defense. He asks his defensive linemen to 2-gap. That has them reading plays and eating up blocks. You know Fletcher Cox would rather be firing off the ball and blowing up plays in the backfield. That’s so much more fun. But Kelly wants his DL to sacrifice themselves by 2-gapping. That sets up the LBs to make plays. It also puts pressure on the offense. They would rather have players going to designated gaps. It makes blocking easier. When one defender can cover 2 gaps, it is trickier to get him blocked. The DL do get a reward. If they force the offense into 3rd/long, the DL can pin their ears back and go get after the QB. It isn’t all 2-gap.

Kelly isn’t some Utopian nut-job. He understands football players aren’t perfect. He also understands that some talented players are going to be difficult to deal with at times. You can tell that Kelly and LeSean McCoy don’t always see eye to eye, but McCoy must do enough of what Kelly wants that they make it work. Cary Williams is a handful to deal with. He and Kelly are able to make it work. Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham had a real hard time adjusting to the 3-4 and new roles last year. Kelly knew they were talented so he kept them around and gave them a chance to adjust to the situation. Curry became a key role player last year and Graham has become one this year. I don’t know if those players will choose to stay here in the future, but they have each found a way to be effective in the base defense and very good in roles as designated pass rushers.

Bill Belichick established a culture in New England. It was funny last year to hear WesWelker admit that he still sometimes found himself not doing or saying certain things for fear of having to answer to Bill despite the fact he was no longer in New England. Once a Patriot, always a Patriot I guess. Kelly is obviously a different kind of coach than Belichick, but I do think Kelly admires the way things are done in NE. That organization is lucky enough to have a great QB, but they haven’t always surrounded him with great talent. The team continually wins. I think one big difference in Kelly and Belichick is that Bill covets raw talent more than Kelly does. He has drafted some players with questionable backgrounds. Call that the LT effect. Belichick had a love-hate relationship with Lawrence Taylor, but in the end he saw the impact that an elite talent could have.

Chip also has much better press conferences.

Kelly is trying to build something in Philadelphia. Time will tell just how successful he is. He’s off to a good start, having gone 15-7 so far. The big questions remain. Can these ideas win a Super Bowl? Can these ideas sustain success?

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Star WRs Don’t Stay Put

Posted: October 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 581 Comments »

I was shocked to find out that the Seahawks had traded Percy Harvin while driving home on Friday night. Harvin was a dynamic talent and that offense isn’t exactly loaded with great individual talent. Then I remembered this is Percy Harvin we’re talking about. He has worn out his welcome everywhere. Seattle played very well while Harvin was hurt for most of last year. Did they really need him?

You can’t help but think of the DeSean Jackson situation when you hear about this move. Both Harvin and Jackson were big stars in college, but both fell in the draft due to bad reputations with NFL teams. Both Harvin and Jackson have looked dominant at times in the NFL, but each guy has left his team wanting more. For Harvin, it was all about staying healthy. He has played in 60 of 86 career games. With Jackson, it was about going from dynamic deep threat to being a complete WR.

Both the Eagles and Seahawks thought their star players were worth getting rid of. Pete Carroll has developed a strong culture in Seattle. Chip Kelly is trying to develop one in Philadelphia. Both organizations decided the fit wasn’t right and made dramatic moves. You can argue whether the moves were good or bad. I think there are so many variables that is tough to truly judge the moves. I just find it fascinating that the teams were willing to move on from stars. That shows real confidence from each organization.

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I wrote a piece for BGN on the Eagles improved pass rush.

The team is on pace for 51 sacks. That number is a bit skewed by just coming off an 8-sack game, but the defense had consecutive 4-sack games before that so this isn’t like the team had one good game and it came out of nowhere. The Skins have 15 sacks this year, but 10 came in a blowout win over the Jaguars. Aside from that game, the Skins aren’t getting to the QB.

You wonder how the return of Mychael Kendricks will affect the defense. He is the best blitzer and also the best coverage LB. When you send him, he can help the rush. When you use him to cover, he can help shut down the middle of the field or a checkdown target.

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Man, that pudding sure looks good.

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DGR – PHI 27, NYG 0 – The Defense

Posted: October 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 69 Comments »

I’m posting the defensive notes now. Will post the full DGR later on.

Bill Davis and his defense did a masterful job. The Giants were averaging 35 points a game in their previous 3 contests. They were red hot. But in playing HOU, WAS and NYG, they didn’t exactly face a trio of great defenses. I didn’t see the Texans game. The Skins played on a short week and were just awful overall in that game. The Falcons could not generate a pass rush to save their lives. The Giants played well in those games, but they weren’t challenged.

Davis had other ideas.

The interesting strategy he had was to play his base defense against the Giants 3-WR look. Teams love to go 3-wide to get the Nickel defense on the field. That opens up running lanes. Davis stayed base. He would either have Nate Allen go out over the slot or he would have the OLB walk out there (Cole or Barwin). This essentially dared the Giants to throw the ball.

Davis then had his players play press coverage. That kept Giants receivers from getting a free release. The Eagles weren’t jamming them, but were playing close enough to affect how the players ran their routes. Eli Manning had been getting the ball out very quickly this year. Prior to Sunday, he had only been sacked 7 times in 5 games. He wasn’t holding the ball long at all.

The Eagles pass rush racked up 8 sacks. There were some plays when they cleanly beat blockers and were on top of Eli instantly. There were other plays where he had to hold the ball due to coverage and then pass rushers were able to get him. It seemed like Eli was under pressure all night long. There were a couple of plays when he did have good protection and Eli felt phantom pressure. That’s when you know you’ve got the QB rattled.

The Eagles did mix in Nickel and Dime looks in obvious passing situations. Davis had some creative looks.

* Interesting look from the late 1st Qtr. Eagles showed 3-man front with Curry and Cole as DEs, with Beau Allen at NT. Barwin jumped down at DE beside Cole at the last minute and drove Eli to Curry, who got the sack.

* 3rd/long. Had CBs play off. Boykin & Marcus Smith buzzed into underneath zones while the CBs played deep. This took away any quick, safe throws and prevented downfield stuff.

* Trent Cole played the Where’s Waldo role. He lined up all over the field. Connor Barwin moved around a lot as well, but Cole seemed to be all over the place. He gave the Giants fits because they never knew where he would line up or where he would attack once the ball was snapped.

It was a lot of fun watching the Giants OL get whipped. Not one of them had a good game. RT Justin Pugh was especially awful. He was beaten to the inside and the outside, repeatedly. Teams will study that tape and attack him in the coming weeks.

Great gameplan by Bill Davis. Great execution by the players. That’s how you come up with a dominant defensive showing…and a shutout.    Read the rest of this entry »


Tweaking

Posted: October 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 61 Comments »

Chip Kelly says the Eagles aren’t a “scheme operation”. He’s talking about not making drastic changes just because the team is struggling. Kelly didn’t turn the Eagles into an I-formation team after the slow start by the run game. Bill Davis didn’t switch to the 4-3 after a slow start by the defense. They kept working to improve the execution of the schemes and made some adjustments.

One simple thing Kelly did on Sunday night was use Foles more under the center. According to David Molk, this was done as a counter move to take away the effectiveness of the Giants “nut stunts”. That’s a great tweak. Simple, but effective. You don’t always have to make drastic changes to get different results.

Chip Wagon has a great post up on some things Kelly did in the run game.

Couple of things from that post. First, they show Molk’s athletic ability. He is able to get out wide and down the field on run plays. They also talk about his inability to finish blocks. Dead on the money. There are times when Jason Kelce gets out wide or in space and misses because it is so difficult to block on the move, but he gets the job done most of the time. That percentage goes way down with Molk. The key is that not many Centers would be able to even get out there like him. He offers value in that sense.

You also see pics of Jeremy Maclin blocking. We all wondered how Mac would do in this offense. He isn’t a great blocker, but he’s been better than I expected. This run game takes 9 guys blocking well for it to be really good. Obviously the QB and RB get a free pass.

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Here are a couple of other posts on the game.

Football Concepts breaks down some stuff the Eagles did. I’ve never been to the site before, but they did a good job in this post.

A Giants writer offered her thoughts on why their OL struggled so much. It is always interesting to see how the other side is looking at things. Not the greatest work, but honestly…Eagles fans are spoiled by all the brilliant All-22 posts regularly done by Sheil Kapadia, Fran Duffy, and the Chip; Wagon guys.

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That’s encouraging. The 3rd down defense was awful last year.

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Turning Point is an NFL show on the NBC Sports Network. They had Kelly and Foles mic’d up and did a segment on the Eagles. It comes about 40 minutes into the show.

Nothing groundbreaking, but it is always fun to hear guys mic’d up. The funniest thing was seeing Chip Kelly jump on Jason Peters back as they were leaving the field. Kelly balances out being a brilliant guy with still having a playful, goofy side to his personality. And he’s not trying to hide it either.

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