Know Your Enemy – Da Bears

Posted: September 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 196 Comments »

Chicago is 0-1, having lost their opener to the Texans 23-14. The Bears got out to a 14-10 lead at the half, but then got shutout in the 2nd half and Houston was able to win the game. There was nothing compelling about the game, good or bad. To put it simply, the Bears were okay, but not good enough.

Expectations were not sky high coming into the year. Chicago lost highly-regarded offensive coordinator Adam Gase and workhorse RB Matt Forte. The defense added some solid pieces, but no one you would call an impact player. Most people had the Bears pegged as the worst team in the NFC North. That said, people have enough respect for coach John Fox that they think the Bears could still be a .500 team.

Jay Cutler is the ultimate wild card, obviously. At his best, he is an outstanding QB. The problem is that he’s highly inconsistent. Gase got Cutler to play well last year, especially cutting down on INTs. How will Cutler perform without Gase? Cutler is also missing his security blanket. Forte was the team’s leading rusher, caught 44 passes and was a good pass protector. TE Martellus Bennett is also gone. QBs love TEs that have good size and good hands.

We won’t know the Bears identity on offense until we’ve seen this group play a while. They have Jeremy Langford taking over at RB. He is talented, but I don’t see him in the same class as Forte. Chicago does have a pair of big, talented wideouts in Alshon Jeffrey and Kevin White. They combined to go 7-139-1 last week. Eddie Royal is a good slot receiver.

The OL is a work in progress. RT Bobby Massie struggled in pass pro last week. The interior trio of LG Josh Sitton, C Cody Whitehair and RG Kyle Long will be outstanding in time. Sitton just came over from GB and he’s getting used to the new offense. He was up and down in the opener. Whitehair is talented, but must get stronger. He got destroyed multiple times last week. Long is a stud. He’s just adjusting to RG after spending last year at RT.

The Bears don’t have an explosive offense, but they also don’t look like a good ball control group. That requires good blocking and consistent QB play. Last week they had 2 plays of more than 20 yards, both passes to Jeffrey. The Bears only gained 71 yards of offense in the 2nd half last week. They really struggled.

Their defense kept them in the game as long as they could. A 4th quarter FG finally put the game out of reach. Chicago runs a 3-4 with Vic Fangio calling the plays. He was in SF with Jim Harbaugh and is a quality DC. I’m sure Fox shares his thoughts as well.

Chicago has the makings of a good front 7. The OLBs are Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, 1st round pick Leonard Floyd and Sam Acho. Those guys can rotate to stay fresh. The ILBs are Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, active players who make a lot of tackles. The DL doesn’t feature any big names, but I was impressed when watching them against Houston.

The secondary is a bit of a mystery. They have 3 DBs questionable for the game. The secondary is mostly young guys and veteran CB Tracy Porter. Like the Eagles, the Bears are trying to develop some young DBs.

Chicago let go of long time PK Robbie Gould and replaced him with veteran Connor Barth. Deonte Thompson is the KOR. He had a long return of 26 yards. Royal is the PR and has always been dangerous there. He had a 31-yard return last week. Here’s your entertaining sidenote. Back in 2008 I was upset when the Eagles missed out on Royal and had to settle for DeSean Jackson in the draft. Oops.

The Eagles are the better team in this game. That sounds great, but Week 2 is proof that each game is its own little world. The Rams were dreadful last week, but found a way to upset Seattle today. The Browns were terrible last week. They lost to Baltimore today, but played much better. The Lions and Saints looked like offensive juggernauts last week and both lost defensive struggles today.

This is the home opener for Chicago. It is also MNF. That used to mean close, kind of crazy games.

2008 – CHI 24, PHI 20

2009 – PHI 24, CHI 20

2011 – CHI 30, PHI 24

And then the Eagles played Chicago in 2013 and beat then 54-11 on SNF. Does that mean the Bears are due to win? This has no meaning in reality, but for those demented people like me who give validity to jinxes and streaks…beware.

*****

Looking around the NFC East…

The Skins are 0-2. Both losses came at home. And they got PIT without Le’Veon Bell. And they got Dallas without a pair of DEs or MLB Rolando McClain. And Tony Romo. 0-2 is just two game, but this is a pretty disastrous start for the Skins.

Their run D stinks and they haven’t been able to slow down a star WR in either game, despite giving mega-bucks to CB Josh Norman. Oh yeah…QB Kirk Cousins is struggling. Has be been distracted by the success he had in 2015? Is he trying to do too much, to prove he is worth a huge QB deal? We don’t know the answer, but he’s not playing well right now. PFT reported some in the locker room are mad at him. That seems incredibly premature if it is true. Cousins just led the team to a division title. He earned some trust.

Then again…he’s never beaten a team with a winning record. You can’t pick on crappy teams forever.

Dallas is 1-1. Their defense is a mess. Their rookie skill players are learning on the job. You can see a lot of talent, but they’re mixing in some tough mistakes as well. Dak Prescott looks better than the castoffs they put on the field last year.

It is too early to read this Cowboys team. They still have some serious talent. They also have some major holes.

The Giants are 2-0, but both are ugly wins. They beat a rookie QB last week and then needed a blocked FG returned for a TD to win today. They have won a pair of close games and that was an issue last year so they are better in that regard. The defense is infinitely better than 2015. The Giants have only allowed 32 total points so far. Last year they were 0-2 and had allowed 51 points in the two losses.

The NFC East is not a great division right now, which bodes well for the Eagles. This team looks to have as good a shot as anyone right now. Winning the NFC East isn’t anyone’s ultimate goal, but it is a good starting point for a team that is…retooling.

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Mills to Start?

Posted: September 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 435 Comments »

It sure sounds like CB Leodis McKelvin is going to miss Monday night’s game. That would leave the Eagles with 3 healthy CBs in Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks and rookie Jalen Mills. Carroll will start on one side. And the other?

There is a real possibility that Mills will get the nod. I think he absolutely should. Mills played well last Sunday. Brooks was up and down. Obviously Brooks has more experience, but he only had 3 career starts coming into this season so it isn’t as if he’s someone you can plug in at CB and count on. Mills is more naturally gifted and is more instinctive. There is the added benefit that starting Mills allows Brooks to focus on playing the slot. It can be tricky to shuffle between the slot and playing outside.

Check out Mills in action.

The thing you love about that is Mills playing smart football. He’s off the receiver and focused on the sticks since it is 3rd/7. Mills keeps his eyes on the QB while also knowing where the WR is. Mills knows he has Safety help over the top so he focuses on the underneath coverage. If RG3 doesn’t make a bad throw, Mills is right there to pick it off.

This wasn’t the only play where Mills looked good while doing his job. He really impressed me. I was worried when McKelvin went out of the game, but Mills and Brooks did a good job of filling his shoes.

Les Bowen wrote a good piece on the situation. He got the DBs to share their thoughts.

Carroll said he isn’t too worried about having to nurse Mills through the game, if the rookie starts.

“He’s one of the more ready corners I’ve been around, as a young guy . . . I don’t think he’s scared. He embraces the challenge. I don’t have to tell him anything,” Carroll said.

“He’s confident. You can see that in his play, you can see that from his demeanor. There’s not too much we have to tell him when he’s out there.”

Jim Schwartz has also praised Mills quite a bit. Schwartz loves the attitude Mills plays with, especially his competitive spirit. CB is one spot where confidence and attitude really do matter. Corners are out on an island. They need to be cocky, almost delusional. Mills was up and down in the preseason, but now seems to be fully healthy and fully confident.

CB is uncertain down the road. McKelvin is 31. Carroll is a UFA next year. Brooks is more of a role player than anything else. It would be nice to see if Mills is a player the Eagles can count on to be part of the future. Monday night will be a huge opportunity for him.

*****

The Eagles added QB Aaron Murray to the practice squad earlier this week.

The team needed depth at QB and Pederson knew Murray from their time together in KC.

Solid arm. Some mobility. Knows the offense. Solid choice for a young #3 QB. We’ll see if he has a future with the team. Pederson learned from Andy Reid, who learned from Ron Wolf. You add QBs on a regular basis and always look for more.

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Game Review – PHI 29, CLE 10 – Defense

Posted: September 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 174 Comments »

Jim Schwartz had the Eagles defense playing at a high level in the preseason. The question was how much of that would carry over to the regular season. Would the defense be good? Could they be dominant? One game doesn’t provide any definitive answers, but things sure look good after the 29-10 win over the Browns.

Cleveland had 288 yards of offense and scored 10 points. The last time the Eagles played D like that in an opener was 2009 when the Panthers scored 10 points and gained just 189 yards. Carolina had 7 turnovers that day. Sean McDermott used all kinds of new tricks and it overwhelmed the Panthers. They were just awful on that day.

Schwartz didn’t do a whole lot of creative things. He basically just “unleashed the hounds” and the Eagles D executed well. Back in 2009 the Eagles went on to finish 12th in total defense. That was pretty impressive considering the disaster that the MLB position was. A preseason injury to Stewart Bradley wrecked the position all year. From Omar Gaither to Joe Mays to Will Witherspoon to even Chris Gocong, the Eagles tried just about everyone. They even re-signed Jeremiah Trotter. Good D, but poor MLB play. This Eagles defense looks to be more talented so looking for a Top 10 unit wouldn’t be unreasonable.

I wrote in my preview that I didn’t think the Browns would be able to sustain drives. I was worried about big plays, either through RG3’s legs or his explosive arm. Cleveland had a couple of drives go 7 plays. Only one drive covered more than 60 yards. It really was chunk plays or punts. The Eagles had 4 drives of at least 8 plays and 3 that covered 60 or more yards.

On Cleveland’s one TD drive, they got lucky. WR Terrell Pryor pushed off on Nolan Carroll as the ball came down, but didn’t get flagged. A few plays later, the Eagles thought they had a 3rd down stop, but there was a late flag on Malcolm Jenkins that gave CLE a 1st/Goal. Two officials were watching the play right in front of them. No call. A third official was further away and behind the play. He threw the flag. Making matters worse, Vinny Curry was tackled on the play. That’s an obvious holding call that didn’t get made.

The Browns were only 2 of 10 on 3rd downs. They did run for 120 yards, but 68 of those came on draw plays when the Eagles were playing soft. Most of those yards came at the end of the half of the end of the game when the Eagles were willing to trade yards for seconds going off the clock. Still, you can bet Schwartz won’t be happy about his team giving up 120 on the ground. That figure has to come down.

DL

The Eagles were getting mixed results with the rush early in the game. Cleveland threw the ball quickly and also mixed in 6 and 7-man protections. They were aware of how good the Eagles pass rush was this summer. The DL started to take the game over in the 2nd half. That was very encouraging. There is nothing more frustrating than a DL that dominates early and then disappears.  Read the rest of this entry »


Game Review – PHI 29, CLE 10 – Offense

Posted: September 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 188 Comments »

To borrow a line from Pete Townshend, sort of, the kid is alright. There was excitement in the air with Carson Wentz’s first start, but I don’t think anyone realistically expected him to throw for 278 yards and 2 TDs while leading the Eagles to a dominant win. But that’s just what happened. Maybe dominant is a bit too strong, but something very close to that.

There were a lot of unknowns heading into the game. How would Wentz play? How would Doug Pederson do in his first real game as a coach? Would the Eagles WRs make plays and, you know, catch the ball? Could the defense continue playing like they did this summer? Were the Cleveland Browns going to be as bad as they looked on paper?

All of those questions came up with favorable answers for the Eagles. It was kinda like reaching into the bottom of the fridge for your last PBR, only to find there are a few more that had gotten pushed back to the corner. Jackpot! In some ways, that’s how Sunday felt. Rookie QB looks like a stud. Rookie coach has a good game. OL blocks well. WRs make plays. Defense plays lights out. No major injuries. Quite a way to start the 2016 season.

The thing I liked best about the win is that it wasn’t fluky. Remember when Chip Kelly unleashed his offense on Monday night in 2013? The Skins didn’t know what hit them. It was awesome, but that moment couldn’t really be duplicated. The moment people saw the offense, they could start to get ideas on how to stop it. Remember 2009? Carolina turned the ball over 7 times. That made for a great day, but you couldn’t count on that happening again. Fun blowout, but not a blueprint you could follow. How about 2014? Darren Sproles ran for a 49-yard TD. He had an interstate up the middle of the field. Jeremy Maclin caught a 68-yard TD pass when the Jags forgot to cover him. Fletcher Cox ran a strip sack back for a TD. Great moments, but not stuff you can count on.

Now think about Sunday. Did anything happen in that game that the Eagles can’t replicate? There were no wide open, gimme TDs. There were no huge plays. Cleveland turned the ball over once. They turned it over on downs a couple of time, but those plays didn’t play a big role in the outcome. The Eagles were more talented than the Browns and they out-executed them. And it wasn’t as if the Eagles were perfect. They can play a lot better in the future.

Sunday was a great start to the season, but it wasn’t a fluke. That was just some good football.

OFFENSE

I enjoyed watching the Eagles on offense. Pederson took ideas from Andy Reid and Chip Kelly and built a hybrid attack. That’s smart. Both men are gifted offensive minds. Stubborn and somewhat flawed, but very gifted. Pederson is just getting started, but I liked what I saw.

He knows the Eagles don’t have dynamic playmakers. They have to be creative to maximize the talented personnel on the roster. Pederson used players creatively. He was down Trey Burton at TE so put OL Matt Tobin into 3-TE packages. They worked really well. DT Beau Allen became the FB on some goal line plays. Pederson had 4 different RBs get carries.  Read the rest of this entry »


Catching On

Posted: September 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 173 Comments »

Eagles WRs had a rough spring. We thought Chris Givens or Reuben Randle had a chance to start for the team, but both failed to impress. Nelson Agholor had issues on and off the field. Dorial Green-Beckham was still a Titan. Jordan Matthews played well, but was more steady than flashy. And Josh Huff…he was all over the place. He seemed to be the king of the drops.

Summer wasn’t much better. Givens and Randle eventually got the boot. Paul Turner won the hearts of Eagles fans, but his size/speed just wasn’t enough for the coaches to want him on the final roster. Huff made some plays in the preseason and made you understand why the coaches were so patient with him. Agholor started making news on the field, although drops were still an issue.

DGB came in late, but immediately became a fan favorite. He’s just so different than any receiver the Eagles have had in recent years. TO was thick, but not overly tall or long. Hank Baskett had some size, but never seemed to use it. DGB is 6-5, 237, can catch and is a gifted athlete. He has a rare combination of skills. He seemed to feel comfortable immediately and has been a different person than he was in Tennessee. On some level, you have to be wondering if he’ll turn out to be a star and this will be the Football Gods version of payback for Cris Carter.

On cutdown weekend, the Eagles added some guy named Bryce Treggs. Who? He ran 4.39 at Cal’s Pro Day, which the Eagles attended. They talked to Treggs on the visit so this is a player the team has had some interest in for a while. When the Niners cut him, the Eagles jumped at the chance to claim the speedster. As much as the Eagles liked the potential of their WRs, the one thing missing was someone with dynamic speed. Treggs has that.

I was curious how the WRs would play in the opener. I was thrilled when Matthews caught his TD early in the game. That wasn’t a special play, but you had to love the timing between Carson Wentz and him. Matthews isn’t a speedster. What he can do is run a good route and make a tough catch, as he did on that play. A WR doesn’t have to run by the CB to be a threat. He just has to be in a spot where the QB can get him the ball and the DB can’t get to it.

Matthews was 7-114-1 in the opener. I was surprised at how many times the ball came his way. I don’t think Wentz was forcing him the ball. I just think Matthews was open and Wentz trusted him. There were a couple of drops and a couple of plays where the timing was off, but that was an impressive start for two players who hadn’t been in a game together.

Agholor caught a 35-yard TD, beating Joe Haden down the right sideline. Agholor showed speed on the play, but also skill. He ran a good route and then made a smooth catch. Agholor didn’t get 3 yards behind the DB, but was open and Wentz put the ball right where it needed to be.

Huff had some passes thrown his way, but he and Wentz could not connect. He did draw a holding call on a 3rd down that extended a drive. DGB had 2 passes thrown his way. He caught both for 14 total yards. Neither was anything special, but I did like the physicality he showed. DGB is big and plays big. It used to drive me crazy to see Baskett try to pretend he Kevin Curtis or whatever small, speedy you choose from that era. Play to your size.

We didn’t get to see Treggs in action. He is practicing this week and might get on the field. It will be fun to see just how fast he is and what he can do for the offense. Wentz has a strong arm and likes to throw deep.

The WRs were 13-185-2 in the opener and I’m sure that is better than anyone realistically expected. No one is going to think this is the 1998 Vikings (Carter-Reed-Moss) or the 1999 Rams (Bruce-Holt-Hakim-Proehl), but the Eagles WR corps now looks a lot better than it did a couple of months ago. The WRs are all young so their best football is in front of them.

And if any of them don’t pan out, the Eagles will just unleash Paul Turner on the world.

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