Risky Business

Posted: August 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 217 Comments »

Dorial Green-Beckham is an absolute stud wide receiver. All you need is a time machine to get back to the year 2013 when he was a Sophomore at Missouri and caught 59 passes, with 12 of them going for TDs. DGB looked like exactly what NFL coaches would want in a #1 WR.

Big.

Good hands.

Athletic.

Playmaker.

Strong, physical player.

If you told me in 2013 that the Eagles would trade Dennis Kelly for DGB, I would have asked you to go with Lane Johnson for a drug test. (Too soon?) But that was then and this is now.

DGB was kicked out of Mizzou. He went to Oklahoma and finished out his college career before being taken in the 2nd round by the Titans. As a rookie, DGB was 32-549-4. Those are solid numbers for a rookie WR. There is no questioning the fact that DGB has NFL size and ability.

The Eagles had hopes for their WR corps. They hoped Nelson Agholor would make the jump in his second year that so many young players do. They hoped Josh Huff would take a step forward. They hoped that either Chris Givens or Reuben Randle would take advantage of 1-year prove-it deals. They took a flyer on T.J. Graham, a speedy receiver with bad hands. The Eagles thought Jordan Matthews would be the foundation for the group and the others simply had to fit around him.

Unfortunately, Agholor has had an offseason to forget, both on and off the field. Huff has been wildly inconsistent. Givens and Randle have each flashed at times, but neither has looked like a player desperate to prove his worth to the Eagles or the rest of the league. Graham remains fast and with bad hands.

You can see where Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson felt this was a move worth making. Beckham is a huge receiver. That’s something the Eagles don’t have. Beckham instantly has the highest upside of any Eagles receiver. Simply put, he had the kind of talent they felt was too good to pass up, baggage or not.

The downside to this move is that Pederson is a rookie coach. And he doesn’t have some tremendous track record as an assistant. A young coach like that is better off with a team of grinders and overachiever types. He needs players to buy in to his ideas and actions. The 2016 Eagles can be a competitive team, but aren’t going to win the Super Bowl. This year is about building the team for the future. You want players that are smart, tough and who will play their asses off. That’s how you build a foundation.

This could turn out to be a terrific move if DGB somehow clicks with this coaching staff and his new teammates and comes anywhere close to playing up to his talent level.

This will be a bad move if DGB proves to be another headache for Pederson. Young coaches can be overwhelmed by distractions. Pederson has to stay focused on building this team and not obsessing on how to deal with another underachiever. In theory, the presence of DGB should get Agholor, Huff, Givens and Randle fired up. It is a signal to them that they aren’t getting the job done. But there is something strange about adding an underachiever to spark the underachievers you already have on your team.

Mr. Charles, Mr. Wonder is here to give you a ride to the airport.

*****

As to the O-line side of things, this move is all about the future. I said recently I would rather have the Eagles start Dennis Kelly at RT and leave Allen Barbre at LG.

The Eagles are going to try Isaac Seumalo at LG and Barbre at RT. Seumalo could be the LG for the next 5 to 10 years if he adjusts to the NFL and plays to the level of his ability. Barbre is a temp at RT, holding the spot until Lane Johnson can take back over. In the future. Johnson will likely move to LT. The Eagles would love Halapoulivaati Vaitai to be the RT of the future. We’ll have to wait and see about that.

Unless Seumalo is just awful, the Eagles seem to want to get him on the field. There is no substitute for experience so there is definite logic in trying to force him onto the field. This week’s game will be big for Seumalo. He doesn’t have to magically turn into Larry Allen. He does have to show definitive improvement.

The Eagles may not be headed to the Super Bowl this year, but they need a functional LG. Seumalo has to prove he can be that guy.

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Game Review – PS# 1 – PHI 17, TB 9 – The Offense

Posted: August 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 317 Comments »

What a huge win, right? So good to see the Eagles atop the division. Yeah right. You’d rather win than lose, but the game on Thursday was hardly a game tape that coaches will be breaking out for years to come. At the same time, we do have to remember that this was the first game under a new coaching regime and with totally different schemes. It wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense if things were totally smooth and polished.

For some perspective, read about Andy Reid’s first preseason game here.

Or here.

The Eagles lost 10-7. Bobby Hoying led the best drive of the game for the Eagles. Chris Fontenot made the big catch and run. How many people honestly remember Fontenot? After 3 games that preseason, the Eagles had scored a total of 29 points. Ouch. There were some ugly days in Big Red’s first year.

Back to the Bucs game. I’m not going to cover every player. If there is something noteworthy to share, I’ll do it.

QB

Sam Bradford – Had Ertz wide open for a first down (possibly a TD), but instead dumped the ball short on his only pass.

Chase Daniel – Didn’t play well but it is really hard to figure out how much of that is on him. Had to deal with poor blocking and poor play from his receivers. They didn’t get open often enough and struggled with catching the ball. Still, Daniel didn’t help matters. He didn’t have a great presence on the field, which I had anticipated because he knows the offense so well. He also made some bad throws. Daniel did run for a short TD.

Carson WentzI wrote about Wentz for PE.com.  Short version…showed big time talent, but also that he’s raw and needs plenty of work. I certainly came away feeling good about him. You can teach QBs a lot, but you can’t teach them natural talent, and Wentz has plenty of that. You know Bradford and Daniel had to be sitting there watching him and thinking “I wish I could do that.”

RB

Ryan Mathews – Picked right up where he left off last year. Terrific 1-cut runner with good burst. Ran hard and broke tackles. Could have a big year if he can just stay healthy. 2-15 with a TD.

Kenjon Barner – Solid showing. 7-35 on the ground. Ran well inside and outside. Ran through initial contact multiple times. That’s important for a RB like Barner, who some see more as a scatback type. Had 2 passes thrown his way. One was an overthrow. The other was a catch that got wiped out by a penalty. Tried to chip block a DE in the 2nd Qtr and whiffed. Didn’t jump out at me, but looked like a solid rotational back. Also the KOR and PR. Had a 13-yd PR and a 47-yd KOR.

Cedric O’Neal – Didn’t have great blocking, but went 5-16. Moved the chains on 3rd/1 run. Showed solid burst and wiggle for a RB that is 215 pounds. Looked better than I expected.

Byron Marshall – I was hoping to come away with a better feel for Marshall, who played both WR and RB in college. Only 5 carries for 6 yards. Didn’t have much of a chance on some of those plays.

TE

Brent Celek – Drove DE Noah Spence about 7 yards downfield on early run play. Do you need to know anything else?

Zach Ertz – Had a really nice 19-yard gain on pass from Wentz. But Ertz’s real highlight was his blocking. Had the key block on Mathews TD run. Blocked well on other run plays. Looks like the light may have gone on for him as a blocker. Failed to catch high pass from Wentz late in the half. That might have cost the Eagles a shot at a long FG.

Trey Burton – Quiet game, unfortunately. I was really hoping to see him get the ball in his hands. Did a good job on the early TD run.

Chris Pantale – I was pleasantly surprised. Jimmy Bama has been down on him recently, but I thought Pantale showed some potential in the game. He played both FB and TE. Blocked effectively from both spots. Not shy about attacking his targets. Form does need work. Caught one pass on a crossing route. Ball was behind him, but Pantale reached back, secured it and then held on when hit. Has to take it up another level to seriously challenge for a roster spot, but solid showing.

MJ McFarland – Another guy who surprised me. McFarland looked agile and athletic while running pass routes. Caught a short pass over the middle and turned that into a gain of 16. Had defender all over him, but stayed focused and made a good catch.

WR

Very disappointing performance from this group. No one expected to see Fred Barnett or TO running around out there, but the WRs really struggled to get open. When they did, they struggled to hold onto the ball. Make sure you go read Jimmy Bama’s outstanding piece on Rueben Randle’s awful night.

Sadly, Randle wasn’t alone. Josh Huff had the ball stripped from him after a nice catch and run. Nelson Agholor tried to block LB Levonte David on a screen and got destroyed. TJ Graham had a drop. At least he played hard on STs.

Paul Turner – Fun to watch. Lacks size and speed, but Turner is a natural receiver. Runs smooth routes. Shows a good feel for getting open. Plays faster than he times. Gets in and out of his breaks quickly. Catches the ball smoothly. Led the team with 6 catches for 34 yards. As much as I like him, I need to see more before I know whether he is a legit threat to make the roster. Being a good backup/3rd stringer is very different from being someone who plays in real games and can help the team.

OL

The starters were only on the field for 3 snaps. They did a good job, for whatever that’s worth.

Andrew Gardner – With Jason Peters out and Matt Tobin running with the 1’s, Gardner played with the 2’s. Terrible game. I loved him in 2014 and 2015 as a RG, but he looked completely overwhelmed at LT. Whipped over and over.

Isaac Seumalo – Backup LG. Not the debut he was looking for. Way too sloppy. That said, he did have some moments. Has a really good combination of size and strength. Good athlete. Check out this impressive reach block that Fran Duffy shared on Twitter.

Seumalo gets off the ball really quickly. He engages his blocker and then maintains contact for 20 or so yards. That kept his guy from making the play. You can see the raw talent the coaches love. Still made too many mistakes. Had one play where he inexplicably turned away from a rusher and that guy hit the QB. I have no idea what Seumalo was thinking. When he did get his hands cleanly on the defender, usually won. The potential is definitely there.

Josh Andrews – Up and down game. This is his third preseason with the Eagles. He’s played plenty of summer football so expectations are a bit higher with him. Snapped the ball early on one play. Had some other plays where he got pushed around. Got hurt in the 2nd half and didn’t return.

Stefen Wisniewski – Disappointing. Heard lots of good things about him this spring and summer. Didn’t play to that level on Thursday night. Was going against a mixture of starters and backups. A player with Wiz’s combination of talent and experience should have played better. Had some good moments. Had some good run blocks. Can move his man when he fires off the ball and makes good contact. Flashed good athleticism on some other blocks. Talented, but inconsistent.

Dennis Kelly – Watching the game broadcast, I thought he had a really rough night. Looked better when I studied the tape. Let too many rushers get into his body. Still won most of those battles, but allowed himself to get pushed back. Had some really good run blocks. I don’t think people understand how athletic Kelly is. Must drive the coaches nuts that someone as big and athletic as him can’t play at a higher level.

Dillon Gordon – Was inconsistent as blocking TE at LSU, but is now playing LT in the NFL. Crazy. Looked better on Thursday night going against DL than when he was a TE in college. Has really taken to pro coaching. Incredibly raw, but you can see potential. Bends his knees and moves well. Uses his hands aggressively. Footwork is okay. Plays with a wide base, which can make him vulnerable to power rushes. As you would expect, had some issues when rushers used moves on him (spin move for example).

Barrett Jones – Played LG. Love his frame and showed some movement skills, but needs to be bigger, stronger.

Bruce Johnson – 3rd string C. Took over when Andrews got hurt. Up and down performance. Had a bad snap that could have been costly, but Wentz got rid of the ball. Due to the injury, came in with no warning. Looked nervous. Settled down and had some good moments.

Darrell Greene – Disappointing. Big, strong OG prospect who the Eagles gave a big bonus to after the draft so they could secure his services. Greene looked to be at fault on the Red Zone INT. He shoved his defender to the inside, but then stuck with him rather than seeing other defender looping. That player pressured Wentz into the bad throw. I thought Greene would look more polished than he did. Showed good strength/power on some blocks. Has an NFL body.

Halipoulivaati Vaitai – Big V was the #3 RT. Not a good debut. Had problems with his footwork. Looked very good at LT as a Senior at TCU, but was somewhat awkward at RT on Thursday. Didn’t consistently use his hands well. Looked stiff and slow at times. Needs to step his game up to push for a roster spot. Still has long term potential, but looks like a project right now.

*****

Defense will be posted on Tuesday.

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Other Than That

Posted: August 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 183 Comments »

You know the old joke “Other than that, what did you think of the play Mrs. Lincoln?”? Feels like the Eagles are going through a rough patch where that joke applies. It sure seems like RT Lane Johnson is going to be suspended for 10 games. That would be rough with a good OL situation, but the Eagles backups were a mess on Thursday night. Today we found out Carson Wentz has a broken rib and will miss at least the next couple of games. The receivers, who struggled so much in the game, had a severe case of the drops today at practice.

Other than that…

Life isn’t that bad for the Eagles right now, it just feels that way. Wentz was not going to play much this year so missing practices and a couple of preseason games won’t have a major impact on the season. It does hurt Wentz in the sense that he needs all the work this summer that he can get because he won’t get that much during the season.

Some are debating whether Wentz should have even been on the field when he did get hurt (next to last play for him). The O-line was struggling in a major way so leaving him out there meant Doug Pederson was taking a chance with a valuable asset. It is absolutely fair to question the wisdom of that move. At the same time, preseason snaps can be invaluable for someone like Wentz. Practice is important, but actual game reps are critical. Hitting is live and that makes a difference for offensive players, since practices have limited contact. The speed of the game also goes up a notch when you face an actual opponent and not your own defense. The best education for Wentz is lots of game time. Ironically, getting him extra snaps on Thursday will cost him a couple of games.

Everyone now expects Johnson to get suspended. Ugh. It sounds like he made a real effort to find out if his supplement would get him in any trouble, but he obviously didn’t get the right answers from the right people. It seems utterly ridiculous to me that the NFL can’t do a better job in this area. They need to put out a definitive list of what is approved. Any player who strays from that is then at his own risk.

I am not a huge fan of moving Barbre to RT and then trying to find a LG. Barbre wasn’t exactly great at RT in the summer of 2014 and then was sloppy in the opener until he got hurt. And Seumalo was less than great in the opener. I would have liked the coaches to leave Barbre at LG and given Dennis Kelly a few practices with the 1’s at RT. Kelly didn’t play well in the opener, but he has some experience there. I also believe in the value of stability and continuity. With a look of Peter-Seumalo-Kelce-Brooks-Barbre, you only have returning starters at two spots. That is less than ideal.

No matter how you slice it, the Eagles need one or more linemen to step up. That could be Barbre, Seumalo, Kelly or several other guys. The teams needs players to win jobs, not just look less awful than the other options.

Could there be outside help?

Beatty missed all of last year due to injuries, but has 63 career starts, most at LT. He would be a solid veteran addition to the OL group. We’ll see if anything comes of this.

The Eagles are good at LT, C and RG. They have a few weeks left to sort out LG and RT.

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Just Like the Good Old Days

Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 208 Comments »

There it was in front of me, the Eagles running the 4-3 defense. And what a magnificent sight it was. Even better, this was a good 4-3 defense. Schemes aren’t magical. It takes the right combination of players and coaches to make something work. The Eagles appear to have that with Jim Schwartz, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Malcolm Jenkins and the rest of the D.

We didn’t see a group that threw exotic blitzes at Tampa. We saw mostly base looks. The Eagles just happen to have some very talented defenders, and for the first time in a while, the group plays in a scheme that should consistently bring out the best in them.

What was so encouraging is that the defense didn’t look new. Those guys weren’t confused on where to line up and who to cover. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of mental mistakes. You saw players in the right gaps. You saw the front four working together to bring consistent pressure. DBs aggressively came down in run support, but weren’t out of control. Receivers weren’t running by them on play-action passes and getting wide open.

The biggest issue was screen passes. The Eagles got burned by those several times. That is something Schwartz and his coaches will work on, but I think they also know that is something they will have to live with. You can’t attack on every snap and also expect your players to sniff out every screen.

Attacking did work. The Eagles had 3 sacks, 5 TFLs, 2 FFs and 3 INTs. Tampa finished the game with 21 carries for 31 yards. The Eagles mixed in some 8-man fronts, but the real key was the guys up front being in the right gaps and being disruptive. This allowed them to “play the run on the way to the QB”, which is exactly what Schwartz wants.

One of the most encouraging moments came in the second half. The Bucs had a 3rd and short situation. The Eagles showed a very aggressive blitz. CB C.J. Smith knew the situation and broke on the ball, knocking it to the ground. This was a UDFA rookie making a nice play. More importantly, it was the marriage of blitzing and coverage. The cover guys have to understand what is going on in front of them and how that will play into the overall situation. Smith saw the blitzer in front of him would have a free run at the QB. Smith knew the QB would have a hot read and try to get rid of the ball quickly. Smith then acted on that and broke on the ball at the perfect moment. That’s team defense. The overall scheme worked. And if a rookie UDFA gets that, it shows you the players are being well coached and that the scheme is well thought out.

The starting defense saw more action than the starting offense. My guess is that Schwartz wanted plenty of reps for his guys in the new scheme so they could get comfortable on the field and he would have some tape to coach them off over the weekend. Games help you see things that practice just can’t.

The biggest question mark on the defense is the secondary and we still don’t know what to make of that group. The starters will play more next week against the Steelers. And they will face a group of quality receivers so that should be a good test.

Right now Jim Schwartz should feel pretty good about what he saw. The talent is there for this group to be good. It was good to see so many young players and backups play well, showing this group might be deeper than we expected. Of course, Schwartz won’t be telling his players about their TFLs or their takeaways. He’ll be talking about missed tackles, poor angles and sloppy coverage. He isn’t going to start handing out gold stars to this group anytime soon, which is exactly the kind of coaching those players need. Tough love makes for a tough defense.

*****

Some good moments.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/763879145096876032

*****

Good news on the injury front.

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Not Pretty, But Lots to Like

Posted: August 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 56 Comments »

The Eagles won their preseason opener 17-9. The result is irrelevant, with the key being how the team played. There were some positives, but also plenty of negatives. You can tell the Eagles are a long way from being a finished product. At the same time, you can see some real potential.

Let’s start with Carson Wentz. There was an electric atmosphere when he came in the game, not just with the fans. Wentz’s teammates were anxious to see what he could do and his presence woke up a sleeping offense. He wasn’t able to cure all the blocking and receiving issues, but Wentz’s sheer talent made a difference on a handful of plays. You very quickly could see the difference in him and someone like Chase Daniel. Or recent draftees like Nick Foles, Mike Kafka and Kevin Kolb. You could see why Wentz was the #2 overall pick. He has big time talent and makes those around him better.

A lot of people will be ripping Daniel for how he played. That’s understandable, but you can’t blame him for much of that. With Jason Peters out, backup LT Matt Tobin moved up to the starting unit. That put #3 LT Andrew Gardner on the field early. And Tampa had their starting defense in the game. So there was the starting RDE going against the Eagles third string LT. I don’t have to tell you how that went.

There were other failures up front. It also hurt that receivers weren’t getting open and Daniel wasn’t exactly Mr. Calm and Confident on the field. The problems seemed to make each other worse. Until Wentz came in and brought energy and excitement with him.

Wentz showed a strong arm. He was athletic, moving around in and outside the pocket. He didn’t panic under pressure. I made the joke on Twitter that Wentz tonight took more shots than Rocky did in all the movies. Wentz is tough as nails. He made one huge mistake, throwing a Red Zone INT. You can do a lot of things, but that’s not one of them. Under pressure, he was off target and put too much air under a pass. Simply can’t do that.

I thought the defense played well all game long. There were breakdowns here and there, but the group had 4 takeaways, constantly pressured Bucs QBs and held Tampa to just 9 points. As expected, the DL was the best group on the field. Fletcher Cox had his first strip-sack of the year. I was excited by how well the backup DL played. Guys like Beau Allen and Taylor Hart, who many felt were pure 3-4 players, showed up and played well.

One of the big questions all spring/summer has been about what will happen with backup Safeties. Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds and Jaylen Watkins all played well tonight. Rookie Blake Countess had some good moments as well. Reynolds was more physical than in the past. He tackled well and aggressively went after runners and receivers. We know he has ball skills. The question with Reynolds has always been whether he can hit/tackle consistently. As for Watkins, he showed up in coverage, which we knew he could do. His versatility and man coverage skills are reasons the coaches want him on the team. Watkins did not tackle well early on. That prompted this.

So on the next play…

I take full credit. Watkins won’t be mistaken for Wes Hopkins anytime soon, but he doesn’t have to be a punishing hitter. Watkins just has to show the coaches he can be trusted to tackle on a consistent basis. Reynolds had 7 tackles, 5 solo. Watkins had 4 solo tackles and a PBU. Both players helped their cause to make the team. One of them could be active on gameday. This battle will continue for another several weeks.

Some guys who disappointed:

Jalen Mills
Eric Rowe
Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Stefen Wisniewski
All the top WRs
Andrew Gardner
Isaac Seumalo

One game is just one game, but these players need to bounce back in a big way next week.

DE Steven Means lived up to the hype, which was nice. He was disruptive and had a sack. And rookie Paul Turner did his part. He led the Eagles with 6 catches and 34 yards, which should tell you how bad the passing game was.

All in all, this was a good night for the Eagles. Doug Pederson did a solid job. His defense was outstanding. And the team’s highly touted (and costly) rookie QB looks like the real deal. The present looks a bit murky, but the future looks very bright.

*****

Lots more to come on this game as I get a chance to study the tape.

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