The Jump

Posted: May 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 60 Comments »

Whenever a new coach takes over a team and makes serious changes, it starts a new clock, so to speak. 2016 was Year One for Doug Pederson. There were new schemes on offense and defense. There was a new starting QB ( a rookie at that) and a fair amount of personnel changes.

Year One is about learning. And adjusting. You set a baseline for things.

2017 will be Year Two. And there should be a jump this year.

Go back to Andy Reid’s first years. The 1999 team went 5-11. The 2000 team made a huge jump, going 11-5 and looking worlds different. Donovan McNabb was no longer a helpless rookie and the team found ways to win close games instead of losing them.

I don’t anticipate a huge jump this year because the Eagles went 7-9 and were highly competitive last year. They were a couple of plays away from being a playoff team. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of room for improvement, but the 2016 team was better than the ’99 bunch. There isn’t as much room for improvement.

I wrote about the players and the jump for PE.com. Not everyone will improve. Someone will always find a way to disappoint. As long as that someone isn’t Carson Wentz, the Eagles should be okay. I am certain he will be better. The question for me is how big a jump he makes. Obviously I think part of his improvement will be related to a better supporting cast (you know…receivers who can actually catch the ball).

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Evan Silva of RotoWorld has Wentz as one of his fantasy football breakout candidates for this year.

Wentz started his rookie year fast against one of the NFL’s easiest Weeks 1-6 schedules (CLE, CHI, PIT, DET, WAS), only to fall flat the rest of the way. Experiencing recurring mechanical flaws amid pass-protection breakdowns with an atrocious pass-catcher corps, Wentz was Pro Football Focus’ lowest-graded passer from Week 7 on with a dismal 9:13 TD-to-INT ratio and 5.77 yards-per-attempt average over Philadelphia’s final 11 games.

Popular sentiment remains positive on Wentz entering year two, and the Eagles’ pass-catching upgrades further that optimism. Perimeter receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith join middle-field targets Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz to form a multi-dimensional passing game. Draft busts Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, respectively, played 78% and 57% of the Eagles’ 2016 offensive snaps. Agholor may open the season as a game-day scratch, while DGB’s roster odds are long. After Wentz finished fifth in the NFL in pass attempts (607), an efficiency boost derived from improved weapons would go a long way toward Wentz realizing his breakout potential.

That comment about the schedule…3 of those teams finished with winning records. The first 2 games were easy. Things changed drastically for the rest of the season.

It really would have been interesting to see the Eagles if they had a different bye week and/or didn’t have the Lane Johnson suspension. If you are going to have bad luck, do it in Year One of the new regime. Save the good fortune for better teams down the road.

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More OTAs today.

And Jim Schwartz will meet the media. Should be interesting to hear what he’s got to say.

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The Front Seven

Posted: May 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 59 Comments »

Jim Schwartz doesn’t run a complex defense. He wants good pass rushers and playmakers. He then sets them free to attack and wreak havoc. When he has a good front seven, this works. When he doesn’t…you better have a good offense.

Luckily, the Eagles have a good front seven. Very good, in fact.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com ranked his top front sevens around the league. (warning…there is an obnoxiously loud ad that plays when you open that)

9) Philadelphia Eagles

Seven key cogs: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Nigel Bradham, Derek Barnett.

Philadelphia’s cornerbacks made this group look worse that it really was last season. The Eagles‘ front consistently applied pressure under Jim Schwartz. And the unit boasts enviable depth, with players like Chris Long and Beau Allen not listed above. Cox and Graham would be bigger stars if the Eagles weren’t knee-deep in that 7-9 bull—- the last two seasons. Jernigan and Barnett should add more juice than departed Eagles Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan supplied.

I think I would have put the Eagles a bit higher, but Rosenthal studies the league thoroughly and is pretty good at these types of evaluations.

He had the Chargers at 8 and Steelers at 7. I would have put the Eagles ahead of them.

No matter how you slice it, the front seven should be even better this year. Jernigan is a better pass rusher than Logan. The combination of Barnett and Chris Long is an upgrade over Connor Barwin. The Eagles are deeper and have better players.

I also think of one of the things that should boost the Eagles in the rankings is that they have an outstanding DE (Graham), DT (Cox) and LB (Hicks). That gives them playmakers inside, outside and on the second level.

It will be interesting to think about this list in 6 months and see where the teams rank at that point.

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Speaking of DL, PE.com has a video of Elijah Qualls in action.

The young man is a lot of fun to watch. He is thick, but agile. He is disruptive. You’ll see him referred to as a run-stuffer because of his compact, thick build at 6-1, 313, but the Eagles got him to get upfield and make plays.

Just your typical NT, run-stuffer type.

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Can we forgive him for missing a week of OTAs?

I’m willing to do it.

I’m interested to see if Marcus Smith shows up. He cannot afford to miss OTAs as a fringe player. He’s got to go above and beyond to prove to the coaches he deserves to be on the roster and contribute to this team. The Eagles have 4 good DEs in Graham, Curry, Barnett and Long. They will likely only keep one more guy. That could be Smith, Steven Means or Alex McCalister.

The Eagles need someone to be the 5th DE. They don’t care who it is. They need someone to step up and win that job.

Smith is working his way out of town. He can change that, but I wouldn’t bet a bug of Funyons on it. We’ll have to wait and see what Means and McCalister do.

The only advantage Smith has is that he showed the ability to contribute on STs last year. Means and McCalister have to show they can do that. Or maybe additions like Nate Gerry and Mack Hollins will fill those roles. There is flexibility in building a roster. The Eagles could always go light at DE (4 players) and heavy at another spot, knowing that player would contribute on STs.

The players should sort this out by how they perform in the OTAs, Training Camp and the preseason games. They’ll show who deserves a job and who doesn’t.

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Shifting Dollars

Posted: May 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 107 Comments »

This should be a nice, quiet weekend for the Eagles (and all football teams).

That helps the Eagles cap situation. Per OTC, they now have $3.64M in cap space.

The Eagles have some flexibility if they want to make a minor move. I wasn’t anticipating anything, but Jimmy Bama made an interesting point.

Could the Eagles be looking to make a move?

There aren’t a lot of obvious holes on the roster, beyond CB. That is a position where we really don’t know what to expect, as I wrote recently. The Eagles just got a look at players at the OTAs. Maybe they saw something they didn’t like and feel like a move has to be made.

The big name on the market is Darrelle Revis, but I just don’t see him playing for the Eagles. His best days are behind him and he’s due big money from the deal he played under last year. It will take a big deal to get him to sign somewhere and I don’t think he is worth that.

Sam Shields, Brandon Flowers, and Tramon Williams are still on the market. Alterraun Verner is too, although he reportedly wasn’t in good shape for a recent workout for another team. None of those guys are compelling.

Maybe some other team is looking to trade a veteran CB. As I look around other rosters, I don’t see many good candidates. The Eagles aren’t making some mega-deal to get Richard Sherman or Malcolm Butler.

Some speculated this move was strictly to free up room to sign Derek Barnett. That’s possible, but the Eagles aren’t in a rush to get him signed. They can wait to cut Ryan Mathews and then have the $4M in space from that to get Barnett officially inked.

This move to free up space can’t be random. At the same time, that doesn’t mean a deal is coming today or that any move being made will be significant or all that interesting. There aren’t great players available right now so you wonder what this move could be. We’ll have to wait to see what happens.

The Eagles have some space. What will they do with it?

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I made a comment about there not being many holes on the roster. I chose the word “holes” for a specific reason.

The Eagles do not have a great roster. There are obviously areas that could be improved. Those aren’t holes. That is when you lack a functional starter at a particular position. You can argue that at CB, but I’m not sure you can do that anywhere else.

You might not like Jason Kelce at C or Mychal Kendricks at WLB or whoever, but these are players who have proven they can start and be effective. That doesn’t mean they’re headed to the Hall of Fame any time soon, but they can get the job done. Both players have talent, but have been too inconsistent.

A hole could also refer to a lack of depth at a spot. CB is the biggest possible weakness in terms of depth. Lots of unknowns. Players could pan out, but you just don’t know.

LB depth is uncertain as well. Najee Goode is a solid backup. Joe Walker showed a lot of promise last summer, but he’s coming back from a major injury. I’m a big fan of Steven Daniels, but he is new to the team and has to show he can fit in and stay healthy. Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry and Don Cherry are young players with potential, but they are completely unproven. If Walker gets healthy and Daniels fits in, the Eagles could have good depth at LB.

There are starting-caliber players on the street who are better than some backups on the current roster. The problem is that those starters cost more money, don’t like playing STs and don’t always make good backups. They want to start.

Trying to improve depth is very tricky. You want young, cheap, hungry players. You mix in a Chris Long or Allen Barbre here or there, but you don’t want too many of those guys.

We’ll see what happens.

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Retro Day

Posted: May 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 78 Comments »

The Eagles have had lots of good pass rushers. There was only one Reggie White. He was truly special.

I know it hurts to see him in the Packers uniform, but that was a great day. Reggie got his ring. It wasn’t the same thing as him winning with the Eagles, but it was still great. He was my favorite player and that’s the happiest a Super Bowl has ever made me. My guy got to be a champion.

Keith Jackson was on that team as well so that also helped.

I have no idea what Bill Parcells and his coaches were thinking in terms of their gameplan, They really thought Max Lane against Reggie was a good idea, even when it was clear Reggie was killing him? Crazy. Not Tuna’s best game.

Can’t talk about Reggie without seeing some Eagles clips.

https://twitter.com/fduffy3/status/866720051935813632

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Seth Wickersham of ESPN has a great story up on the Seahawks and the dysfunctional relationship between Richard Sherman and those around him. Go read that. Really an outstanding piece.

I bring it up here because the piece talks about how the offense and defense don’t get along, specifically lots of animosity toward the star QB, who many feel is put on a pedestal.

Where have I heard of something like that?

The Eagles, 1986-1993. Seth Joyner and the defense against Randall Cunningham and the offense.

As I read that story, all I could think about was Mark Bowden’s great book.

If you love Gang Green, do yourself a favor and read the book. It will frustrate you at times, but there are so many great stories and Bowden is a brilliant writer. Eagles fans are so lucky they got to have him cover the team for a season and then write a book about it.

Seattle has a lot of fiery, volatile personalities on that team. They are lucky Pete Carroll was able to guide them to a title and almost to another one. The Eagles were also volatile, but that team only won a single playoff game. Buddy Ryan could never find his version of Marshawn Lynch. Buddy wanted to run the ball and play D, but he built mediocre O-lines and couldn’t find a good RB.

It would have been fun to watch those Eagles teams if they did have a gifted back like Lynch to feed the ball to. The one team that did win in the postseason had the 1-2 punch of Herschel Walker and Heath Sherman at RB.

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The CB Mystery

Posted: May 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 77 Comments »

The Eagles had a good offseason. Maybe a veyr good offseason. Time will tell on that. You can look at the roster and make a solid argument that the team is better at every position group than last year with one exception.

CB.

You can make the argument the Eagles are better at corner, but there is a lot of hope that goes into that thinking. Right now there is a lot of mystery as to how things will shake out.

Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas could form a dynamic duo for the next 5 years, but we’re not sure what will happen in 2017. Doug Pederson said Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson are the starters for now. Ron Brooks is the projected slot corner. The Eagles would love Douglas to win a starting job, but since he’s a 3rd round rookie it isn’t fair to pencil him into the lineup. You need to see him in action first.

Mills only started twice last year, but played extensively. He finished 5th on the team in tackles, so that should give you an idea of how much he was on the field. Mills was inconsistent. He would show a lot of promise on one play and then a lot of issues on the next. The coaches loved his confidence and the way he attacked things. Mills wasn’t afraid to make a mistake.

Mills has a solid combination of size and athleticism, but he’s not special in any way. He is the kind of player who needs smarts and instincts to help him play well. You can see where having a year of experience under his belt will make a big difference for him. That isn’t to say he will suddenly turn into Troy Vincent this year, but he will have a better understanding of the Eagles scheme and what offenses are doing so he should play at a higher level. The Eagles just need him to be an effective starter.

Robinson has been a good starter. He’s also struggled at times, both with his performance and with staying healthy. Robinson has started 49 games in his career, including 6 last season. He is physically gifted (former 1st round pick) and at his best is an aggressive CB who can make plays. The problem is that his confidence becomes an issue at times, causing him to become hesitant.

The Eagles DL will be the best that Robinson has played behind in the NFL. That could make a big difference. Robinson played on some awful Saints defenses. To be fair, he was part of the problem. But they were awful in terms of coaching and talent. Playing with more talent and in a more stable environment could help to bring out the best in Robinson.

Mills and Robinson could be effective starters. But there is risk. One is a late round pick and the other a career underachiever. That’s not a compelling duo.

If Mills was able to crack the lineup last year, shouldn’t Douglas be able to do that this year? One would hope so. Mills was a 4-year starter at LSU. He faced top competition, in practice and in games. That really helps you to get ready for the NFL. Douglas played at a junior college for 2 years. He was a backup at West Virginia in 2015 and finally became a starter last year. He doesn’t have anything close to the same resume as Mills.

But Douglas is bigger, better and more skilled. Douglas had a terrific showing at the Senior Bowl, where he did face some really good receivers. He fits the Eagles scheme and like Mills, is a confident, aggressive player. It is possible Douglas will push for a starting role.

In an ideal world. the Eagles would probably love Douglas and Mills to start on the outside, with Robinson taking over in the slot, a place where he has played well in the past. Ron Brooks was effective there last year, but Robinson is a better CB than him so you would think the team would prefer Robinson to win that job.

There are others.

Dwayne Gratz started 13 games back in 2014 so he has some experience. Gratz is a good athlete and would love to show he belongs on the field. The Eagles aren’t counting on anything from him, but would love to see Gratz play well and win a roster spot, if not push for playing time.

C.J. Smith surprised me with how well he played last summer. He won a roster spot, but didn’t get onto the field much at all. Aaron Grymes had a good summer, but got hurt late and that ruined his season. He might have gotten some playing time if not for the injury. Grymes could be a player to watch this summer. If he can build on what he did last year, Grymes could challenge for a role. Mitchell White is here to compete. He’s been around the league a few years, but most of his experience came from the CFL.

UDFAs Randall Goforth and Jomal Wiltz want to shock people and steal jobs. None of us thought C.J. Smith was going to make it last year. You never know how a player is going to respond to the pro environment. It brings out the best in some guys.

In some ways, CB feels like WR did last summer. Before you get too depressed, hear me out. There are a mixture of young players and low-budget veterans. Remember how the Eagles signed Reuben Randle, Chris Givens and T.J. Graham? None of those guys impressed us at all. That could happen again this year with Robinson, Gratz, Grymes and White. But there is a difference.

The WRs were dealing with Frank Reich and Greg Lewis. The DBs will be dealing with Jim Schwartz and Cory Undlin, a pair of proven coaches who are also very demanding. Lewis tried to be Mr. Nice Guy with his players last year and it didn’t work. Schwartz and Undlin don’t know who Mr. Nice Guy is. They’ll be hard on the DBs as long as they can.

The results might still be the same.

They might. But there won’t be a lack of effort in trying to get Robinson, Gratz and the others to play their best.

I also think having a good pass rush is going to help this year’s CBs. A good pass rush can make a world of difference for DBs. There is no equivalent factor for WRs. Good QB play certainly helps, but at the end of the day, the WR still has to get open and catch the ball. As Mills proved last year, a pass rusher can hit the QB as he throws, causing the ball to miss an open receiver by a few yards and the closest CB can still take credit for that.

Robinson, Mills and Douglas are going to be huge factors in getting this to be an effective secondary in 2017. But so will Jernigan, Cox, Graham, Barnett, Curry and Long. If the pass rush is good enough, that will help the CB mystery to have a happy ending.

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