The Player Matters

Posted: July 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 116 Comments »

DeMarco Murray had a great season in 2014. Ask an Eagles fan and they will tell you that Murray produced great numbers because he was finally healthy all year long and finally had good blocking. Ask a Dallas fan and they will tell you most of the credit goes to the O-line. Any back would have posted big numbers.

So which is it?

NFL players chose Murray as the 4th best player in the entire league. I think that tells you they think the RB matters.

This argument goes back years. RB is the most replaceable position in football. There are tons of guys who are between 5-9 and 6-2 and who weigh 190 to 230 pounds. RB is the most instinctive position in football. “Run away from the guys in the other colored jersey.”

UCLA put LB Myles Jack at RB and he looked like a star. Washington put Shaq Thompson at RB some last year and he looked like a natural back there. Curtis Enis was a LB at Penn State before moving to RB. He became a Top 10 pick. Duce Staley was a WR who moved to RB. Ricky Watters played some WR before becoming a full-time RB. And so on.

Denver was a machine from 1995-2005. Whoever they put at RB produced. Terrell Davis. Mike Anderson. Olandis Gary. Clinton Portis.

Can Dallas be the new Denver? Can they plug in anyone behind that OL and get big numbers?

Dallas doesn’t need an elite RB to get results. They do need an elite back to get elite results. That’s the thing that gets lost here. Murray didn’t just have a good year. He was spectacular. He ran for 1,845 yards and 13 TDs. To put that in perspective…after 4 years (YEARS!) Brian Westbrook had run for 2,235 yards and 13 TDs. Emmitt Smith, one of the greatest RBs of all time, never ran for 1,800 yards in a season.

DeMarco Murray was freakishly good in 2014.

Back to Denver. Terrell Davis rushed for 1,538, 1,750 and 2,008 yards from 1996-1998. Those are spectacular numbers. He was a special player.

Olandis Gary ran for 1,159 yards and 7 TDs in 1999. Mike Anderson ran for 1,487 yards and 15 TDs in 2000. The Broncos then invested a 2nd round pick in Clinton Portis and he rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of his first 2 years. Nobody came close to the level that Davis played at. He was on a different level.

We also have to remember that Denver wasn’t just any team. They had a brilliant offensive coach in Mike Shanahan. His offensive coordinator was Gary Kubiak. The OL coach for the first part of the Denver run was Alex Gibbs, the man who mastered cut blocking and the one-cut running style that allowed those runners to thrive. Those guys built and perfected a system that works to this day. Shanahan had success with RBs in Washington. Kubiak did the same in Houston.

Dallas has Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Bill Callahan…all solid NFL coaches. They know what they are doing. But they aren’t Shanny, Kubs and Gibbs.

My guess is that Jerry Jones enjoyed seeing Rolando McClain go from nobody to Comeback Player of the Year material. That helped him decide to go after another underachieving Raider, Darren McFadden. Could McFadden benefit from playing in Dallas? Sure. But he’s never run for even 1,200 yards in a season. I don’t think he is going to suddenly turn into a great workhorse runner.

Between McFadden, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams and Lache Seastrunk, the Cowboys need to find a couple of guys that can be the foundation of the offense. None of those guys has shown they can do that to this point. That doesn’t mean someone can’t step forward, but there is a lot of projecting going on.

Dallas will miss Murray.

From the Eagles perspective, the question now becomes how good can he be in this offense? I think he can thrive, just as LeSean McCoy did for 2 years. The Eagles also hedged their bet by signing Ryan Mathews to make sure they had good depth and could get away from feeding one player the ball all game long. Murray won’t run for 1,845 yards for the Eagles, but that will largely be due to the fact he doesn’t get 390 carries.

I love the Murray acquisition because I think it helps the Eagles and hurts Dallas. We’ll re-visit this topic in the offseason to see which team ran the ball better and why. My guess is that will be a happy discussion.

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Future Eagle?

Posted: July 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 108 Comments »

We talked a bit about the draft yesterday. I hate to do it again, but I have found a player that will definitely be picked by the Eagles. Book it.

Kelby Brown.

All-American ILB at Duke.

Playmaker.

Great student…currently working on graduate degree.

Good frame at 6-2, 230.

Plays on passing downs.

Oh yeah…and just tore his ACL…giving him 4 ACL tears in 5 years.

When the Eagles take him in the 4th round, Chip Kelly can say that without the ACL issues, this player would not have been around that long.

I’m joking, of course. Just giving Chip Kelly a hard time on his ACL fetish.

At least I think I’m joking…

* * * * *

NJ.com found an NFL executive who thinks the Eagles won’t miss Herremans or Mathis at all.

“I don’t know how much either one of them has left,” the executive said of the 30-something guards. “Herremans had a nice career, but you look at the past few years he wasn’t the same. Then, he got hurt last year.

“(Mathis), that’s the craziest thing I ever saw. He either got the worst advice from an agent ever, or he made the dumbest mistake ever. You watch him last year? He’s just a guy at this point. Why do you think he hasn’t been signed?”

And

“Peters,” the executive said, “yeah he’s still real good, probably the best. He’s just a physical freak. You talk to our guys about him they’ll tell you he’s the best. People talk about Tyron Smith in Dallas. He’s good, but I’ll still take Peters.

“(Johnson) is OK, too. You see him developing, getting better. They’re all right there. And the center (Kelce) is good, too. With him, and the two tackles you can find guys to play guard.”

“I haven’t seen a lot of (Barbre), but he’ll be fine,” the executive said. “Moffitt was OK before he hurt his knee. So you have to see how that goes.”

I think that might be overs-stating things just a bit. I think the OL can succeed without Herremans and Mathis because of the talent returning and Kelly’s run-heavy scheme, but there will be some tough moments as well.

And Mathis might be overrated by PFF, but he is still a good player. I don’t have an answer for him not signing yet. That could be him taking his time in looking for the right situation. Or it is possible that teams are shying away from him for now due to his asking price. Mathis may be hit with a nasty bit of economic reality. Guys who are in their 30’s and coming off missing half a season rarely get raises.

Herremans found a good home in Indy. Let’s hope Mathis finds something similar where we can cheer for him, but he won’t affect the Eagles in a competitive way.


Peeking Ahead

Posted: July 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 44 Comments »

I know we have yet to see the 2015 Eagles in action, but it is never too early to start some good draft talk. Right?

The one player that intrigues the heck out of me is DB Jalen Ramsey from Florida State. He will be a Junior in 2015, but has already established himself as quite a player. He actually started some games for the dominant defense on the 2013 National Championship team.

Ramsey played CB and FS that year. In 2014 he became a full-time starter as the Star, a hybrid position that allows him to move around and do a variety of things. I think the Eagles would love Ramsey as a Safety because he has good man cover skills, but is also very versatile. Ramsey passes the eye test. He lists at 6-1, 201 and is athletic enough that he is a member of the track team.

I have no idea if Ramsey will be on the board when the Eagles pick, but if he is, I’m betting he is one of the players the team will be strongly considering.

* * * * *

Of course the Eagles might be looking for an OL in the 1st round. Or maybe a QB. Jimmy Bama has done a bit of draft writing already and has some thoughts up on USC QB Cody Kessler.

Bama isn’t sold on Kessler. Nor should he be. Kessler is somebody to watch this year, but you need to focus on the final year of a prospect’s game tape. Players can take a serious step forward as they get experience. Some do go backward, unfortunately.

This doesn’t appear to be a strong QB class, but we’ll see how the guys play this year. All it takes is one or two to emerge and things can look very different.

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Undlin the Elixir?

Posted: July 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 95 Comments »

Cory Undlin is the Eagles new DBs coach. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, but the secondary was so bad last year that his hiring has generated lots of discussion. Most people think hiring Undlin was a great move that will help the Eagles secondary to play better in 2015.

Dave Mangels wrote a very interesting piece for BGN recently about Undlin. He compared this hire with bringing in Todd Bowles to fix the secondary in 2012. (here are some snippets, but do yourself a favor and go read the whole piece)

Undlin is seen as the breath of fresh air who will correct the flaws of a broken secondary. And he very well may be. But we’ve seen this story before, and it had a bitter ending.

Todd Bowles came to the Eagles with an even better reputation than Undlin. Bowles had been the assistant head coach/secondary coach for the Dolphins and was elevated to interim head coach after Tony Sparano was fired in December of 2011. He interviewed for head coaching jobs and was considered a prime candidate to be a defensive coordinator. He wound up taking the Eagles DB coach job and was tasked with improving a poorly performing secondary. Expectations and plaudits were high.

And

Todd Bowles was and remains a good coach. He came into a helpless situation and couldn’t improve it. When he was given complete control of the Eagles defense, it actually got worse. “Players would play hard for Bowles” was the key talking point when he replaced Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator, but they didn’t and the Eagles continued to spiral into the abyss. Since then he put together a terrific defense with theCardinals and then was deservedly hired as head coach of the Jets. Todd Bowles wasn’t the problem, but he wasn’t the solution either, the systemic problems of the end of the Andy Reid era were too great for a position coach to correct.

Mangels makes a great point that we cannot count on a position coach to magically fix a unit, no matter how good his resume is. However, he is a bit off with the Bowles discussion.

Bowles actually did help the secondary. He was strictly the DBs coach for the first 6 weeks. Then came the bye, when Juan Castillo was fired. Bowles took over as DC after that.

In his 6 weeks as just the DBs coach, the defense was ranked 12th in yards and 13th in points. The Eagles gave up 6 TD passes and had 7 INTs. QBs completed just 52.7 percent of their passes. And the Eagles were facing 38 passes a game. Teams were trying to throw on them. Rookie Brandon Weeden was especially awful, but the Eagles also faced Eli, Big Ben, Joe Flacco and Matt Stafford.

Castillo’s firing changed everything. Some players were very bothered by it, most notably DRC. He wasn’t the same guy after Juan left. Making matters worse, his position coach now ran the defense and had less time to spend with him. The Eagles then gave up 7 TD passes in the next 3 games. They didn’t have any picks. There was the infamous run of QBs compiling passer ratings of 125 or higher. The season became a real nightmare.

Bowles was trying to run a scheme he didn’t believe in and doing so in a toxic environment. DL coach Jim Washburn loved his players, but didn’t help to unify the defense. There was his DL and then the rest of the defense and then the rest of the team.

The results were predictably bad.

Had Castillo not been fired and Bowles stayed strictly as DBs coach, that defense doesn’t fall apart like that and give up those gaudy numbers. There would have been some bad games to be sure, but nothing like that epic collapse.

I feel pretty confident in saying that Bill Davis won’t be fired at the bye week this year and that Cory Undlin won’t be running the Eagles defense. Reid was a desperate coach. He thought firing Castillo might spark the defense. He was…wrong. Chip Kelly is desperate to win, but not because his job is on the line. He wants to win, but doesn’t have the normal 5-year plan that so many NFL coaches talk about.

There are no guarantees that Undlin is going to turn out to be a good hire. He does have a good track record. He does seem to fit the scheme. Most importantly, he does have some new talent to work with. If Kelly had handed last year’s secondary to Undlin and said “Fix it!” then I think this situation would be a lot more iffy.

The 2015 secondary doesn’t have to be dominant. They just need to cut down on the long pass plays. Eliminate some key mistakes and the team should be that much better. A couple of plays may have cost the Eagles a couple of wins last year.

* * * * *

An interesting comparison for Undlin might be Howard Mudd. He took over the OL in 2011. The Eagles had Jason Peters at LT and Todd Herremans somewhere. They drafted Danny Watkins to be the RG and Jason Kelce to be the C. The team signed mostly unknown Evan Mathis to compete for a job and he ended up winning the LG spot. When no one else worked out at RT, Herremans was moved there and the OL had a good year.

The right position coach can lead to a big turnaround. And sometimes giving that coach new pieces to work with can make a big difference. Mudd shuffled his guys around until he found 5 he liked and he figured out how best to configure them.

Undlin will have a versatile secondary to work with this year. He can move players around until he finds the right 4 to 5 guys and the best way to use them.

If Walter Thurmond turns out to be the Safety version of Evan Mathis, we’ll all be ecstatic. If he turns out to be Ryan Harris, that’s not so good.

* * * * *

Bobby April ran the Eagles STs from 2010-2012. He was thought of as one of the 2 or 3 best STs gurus in the NFL at that time. I thought hiring him was a brilliant move.

Oops.

The Eagles were ranked 17th in STs in 2009. April was hired to get them up among the best in the league. There was improvement in 2010 as the Eagles finished 14th. Things went horribly wrong after that. The Eagles fell to 20th in 2011 and then plummeted to 28th in 2012.

April had no excuses. He had some good pieces to work with and just didn’t get results. Reid might not have focused on STs the way Kelly does now, but April should have produced better results.

To me, April is the best recent example of a coach that was hired to fix a unit, but didn’t. Good intentions. Bad results.

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Ryan Day

Posted: July 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 35 Comments »

Chip Kelly runs the Eagles offense. Pat Shurmur is the passing game guru. Ryan Day is here to coach the QBs.

Day is the third QB coach in 3 years. It isn’t that Kelly can’t find the right guy, his QB coaches keep getting hired to go somewhere else for a better job. Bill Lazor (now the OC in Miami) and Bill Musgrave (now the OC in Oakland) both had NFL backgrounds. Day comes straight from the college ranks. How will he do?

Tim McManus wrote a good piece about Day recently.

Ryan Day played quarterback for Chip Kelly when the coach was in full-out mad scientist mode. Serving as New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator at the time, Kelly rotated offensive systems in and out at a dizzying pace as he searched for the perfect concoction. Day was the signal-caller in the middle of the whirlwind.

“At that time, we were changing offenses every week. We would go from Run ‘n Shoot to the Wing-T to the Veer. One week we threw it six times, the next week we threw it 65 times,” Day recalled. “Coach kind of had a laboratory there, and it was a lot of fun to be around.”

So much fun that Day found it hard to pull himself away — much to the detriment of his grade point average.

“Coach used to laugh: when I was in college, in the spring I would get like a 3.0 but in the fall I would be around a 1.5,” he said. “I used to spend pretty much the whole fall in there listening to the meetings, listening to some of the game-planning and kind of learning how that went, which is kind of why I became a coach. I just liked it and I got around Coach and he made it exciting for me. Maybe without that, I wouldn’t have gotten into coaching.”

Kelly gave Day his first gig, making him New Hampshire’s tight ends coach following his senior year. His career path since has led him from Boston to Philly and back again a couple times over. A grad assistant at Boston College (2003-04) and Florida (’05), Day was hired as Temple’s wide receivers coach in ’06. He left for the same position at BC and remained there for five years before heading back to Philadelphia to become the Owls’ offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach in ’12. Then it was back to BC, where he served as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach before Kelly scooped him up this offseason to coach the Eagles’ QBs. Day had been following Kelly’s career from afar and enjoyed watching the evolution of his offense as he took it from New Hampshire to Oregon and then to the NFL. With connections to both the city and the Eagles coaching staff, he viewed this as the right time and opportunity to move his young family.

It will be very interesting to see how Day does this year. Lazor got great results in 2013, but was very tough on his QBs. From an article by Jeff McLane:

Lazor was credited with helping to develop Foles during his record-setting second season, but the two occasionally butted heads over the coach’s intensity, according to a source familiar with the relationship.

Musgrave was supposed to be more of a player-friendly coach. Last year’s results were far from ideal. How much of that had to do with the QB coaching is impossible to say. There were OL injuries to deal with. Defensive coaches had a year of tape to study so the element of surprise was gone.

We don’t know what kind of coach Day will be. My guess is that he will be demanding. Day played for Kelly at UNH and Kelly was very tough on his QBs. Here are some comments from Tyler Murphy, who just played QB for Day at Boston College.

“Coach Day is a down-to-earth kind of guy. If I feel like something’s wrong or I’m not comfortable with something, I can just go right to him. I don’t have to hesitate; I can just say it. He’s not afraid to tell me if I’m doing a bad job at this, or if I’m not doing a good job leading. As a veteran, you have to be sure you’re doing the right things and setting the right example for the younger players. We’ve built a bond and I don’t want to let him down,” Murphy said.

Interesting that Murphy brought up leadership. That was the top priority for Day when dealing with college QBs. Here Day is talking about Chase Rettig, his QB at BC in 2013.

Day will have to stress a lot more with mechanics and fundamentals now that he’s working with NFL passers. Being a gritty game manager isn’t enough at this level. Obviously Kelly thinks Day can do that kind of teaching.

One advantage Day does have is that he played in Kelly’s system. He can talk to QBs about what he did in this system.

It is way too early to have any idea of how Day will do. You can be encouraged by the fact that Mark Sanchez had a good spring and Matt Barkley just played the best football of his young career. The real test will be to see how Day does with Sam Bradford. We’re still a month away from getting any info on that situation.

If Day does a good job with the QBs, it will help the Eagles to have another big year on offense and it will solidify Day’s status as one of the hot young coaches in football.

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