More On Andy & Complexity

Posted: June 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , | 15 Comments »

We had a discussion yesterday and earlier today about Andy Reid and his love of trying to outsmart opponents.  Some people like Andy’s way of doing things.  I agree, but think he does it too much.

I really believe that last line is the key point.  Running a complex scheme and being creative are good things.  However, all things are best in moderation.  As the Bible states, “There is a time to reap.  A time to sow.  A time to be complex.  A time to let your playmakers do their thing.”

Trent Dilfer talked several times last season about his days playing for Tony Dungy.  He thought highly of Tony as a person, but hated…HATED…the Dungy offense.  Tony wanted to run the ball, punt, and play defense.  Guess what?  That doesn’t win titles.

The obvious counter is to point out the 2000 Ravens.  So great, one team in the last 15 years was able to do it.  Like those odds, 1/15?  Bill Cowher tried for years to win with the formula of running the ball and playing good defense.  He didn’t break through and win the Super Bowl until Big Ben arrived.  I know Ben was terrible in the game, but he played well that year.

You want to win with running and defense?  You better have one of the great defenses of all time.  Since that’s not likely, you better get creative.  Andy is smart to use his brains and come up with an offensive system that can do a lot of things.

The problem is that there are times when you must be basic.  Remember the 2001 NFC title game?  The Rams offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the 1st half.  In the 2nd half they came out and ran Marshall Faulk right down our throats.  There was nothing fancy.  Martz lined up in jumbo packages and ran on us.  That gave them the lead and control of the game.

Think back to the Super Bowl that the Rams won.  There is a great NFL Films clip where Dick Vermeil instructs Martz to run more because he thinks Kurt Warner’s got a tired arm.

Martz is famous for running a complex system.  He does all kinds of crazy things.  He still does understand from time to time that there is a need to simplify.  The Bears offense was struggling early on, especially the O-line.  Martz started having them run more and the balanced attack led to a much more productive offense.  They killed us.

I’m not strictly calling on Andy to run more.  We’ve had that discussion 655, 321 times over the years.  I do want more balance, but I’ll even settle for less trickery in the passing game.  Instead of rolling to the right in the Red Zone how about throwing a slant pass?  How about throwing a fade pass?

Again, I’m not asking Andy to switch the offense in a major way.  Complex overall is a good thing.  The point is that there are times when trying to trick the opponent isn’t the way to go.  I thought that a reader comment yesterday from mcud offered good insight.

At the end of the day, you have to be able to let your players do what they do, and let the chips fall where they may.

Would Hickory have won the state title if they had run the picket fence (or whatever Gene Hackman wanted to run) instead of just letting Chitwood do what he was born to do? Maybe the decoy would have worked, but I think scheme gets you only so far, and then you have to let guys be the men they are, for better or for worse. At crunch time, spread the floor, allow your guy to be better than the other guy.

 

In the key moments of a game you cannot consistently rely on trickery.  You must execute basic plays.  You must rely on your players to make plays.  Every now and then you mix in a good fake and hit the TE down the middle for a big gain.  But that fake has to be set up by running the ball over and over.  The slant ‘n go only works really well if you run enough slants.

Andy’s style of offense has led to a lot of points and a lot of big plays.  It can still be better by working on more efficient execution of basic plays.  I have no doubt that we’ll be amongst league leaders in TD passes of more than 50 yards this year.  I’m more concerned with what we do the first time we face 3rd/6 against a good defense late in the game.  The long TDs will set records and help you win some games.  Executing the basic plays in crucial situations will help you win championships.

Andy made an interesting comment in his Philly.com chat yesterday.  Look at the question and answer.

Comment From Chris East Falls: What are you going to do differently this year so that Brent Celek gets involved more?
Andy Reid:
We did a great job with our down the field throws last season. Our short to intermediate game we need to go back and look at that and point a more emphasis on that.

Is Andy talking about short passes to Brent Celek or short passes in general?  There was no follow-up and I’d love to know what he means.  I hope he means we need a better short / intermediate passing game overall.  That’s an area where we were great at times, but not good enough on a consistent basis.  And part of short / intermediate passes is just executing basic plays.

The 2011 offense  could be the greatest Eagles offense of all time.  I’m really intrigued to see if Reid and Vick are able to take the next step.

* * * * *

Les Bowen had a good article on Eagles RG Danny Watkins yesterday.  One part really stood out to me.

The qualities that have made Watkins valuable to the West Kelowna firefighters – not just the brute strength, but the presence of mind, the focus, the resolve and composure under pressure – also helped make him the Eagles’ first-round draft choice in April, 23rd overall. It wasn’t a happenstance pick, because someone else was already taken. The Eagles had called the Watkinses a week before and said they’d likely draft Danny in the first round if New England didn’t get him first, choosing six slots earlier.

Does that change the way any doubters feel about the pick, knowing the Eagles planned on Watkins as far as a week before the draft.  The draft is always a fluid situation, but obviously he was a prime target.


Eagles Odds and Ends

Posted: April 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , | 5 Comments »
Andy ponders pass plays.

Where's Mini-Me?

 

Sorry for the late post.  I was busy writing my column for PE.com.  I put together a mock draft for the Eagles.  I’ll post a link when it goes up on the site.  One hint as to my draft…no Canadians.  Or Quarterbacks.

* * * * *

Speaking of QBs…I watched a TCU game last night to take another look at Andy Dalton.  The Eagles set up a visit with him.  I’m sure this is just a ploy.  I simply don’t see him being a guy that makes sense to add to the roster.

Or…maybe Andy Reid is smitten with the red head.  Reid sees in Dalton what he could have been, if only the football gods hadn’t cursed him with the body of an O-lineman.  Andy could be trying to live out his QB fantasy through a young red head named Andy.  They could hang out together as Big Red and Little Red.  Life would be pretty sweet.  This is now starting to make a lot of sense.

* * * * *

I was doing some research recently and an odd thought occurred to me.  The Eagles signed DE Phillip Hunt this offseason, but he’s not the first guy with that build that we’ve gone after or shown interest in.  Just in the last few years we checked out or went after:

Marcus Howard – 6004, 237
Dexter Davis – 6014, 244
Phillip Hunt – 6005, 244

There isn’t a big point to this.  Just sorta interesting.  All 3 were productive pass rushers in college.  Howard has bounced around the league and spent time at LB and DE.  Davis is entering year 2 with the Seahawks.  Hunt is a big mystery.  Or maybe I should say “small mystery”.

* * * * *

No one knows what to make of the Kevin Kolb trade situation right now.  The most recent rumor had the Bengals interested.  This didn’t make a bit of sense to me.  Cincy would have to send over high draft picks and then give Kevin a big pay day.  That just doesn’t sound like a Bengals move to me.  I still think the Cardinals make the most sense, but this discussion is moot for now.  Of all the offseasons for the friggin’ league/players to fight…why now???


Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , | 13 Comments »

“No, really…she will.”

Tampa CB Aqib Talib is one of the few people I know that can really say that.  For those who haven’t read the glorious details of the NFL’s best story of 2011, go here.  I’ll just share my favorite line or two.

Talib dropped the gun, Billings picked it up and took off running, and Talib’s mother pull out her own gun and fired three shots at Billings.  Aqib then allegedly grabbed the gun from his mother and fired two shots of his own.

I mention this to bring up the subject of character.  I was a huge fan of Talib’s heading into the draft a few years back.  I thought he would be a terrific pick for the Eagles.  He was big, athletic enough, and a productive ballhawk.  The Eagles traded out of pick 19 in 2008.  Talib went 20th.

I don’t know if the Eagles even had Talib on their board.  He had some character concerns coming out of Kansas.  Some teams liked him, others didn’t.  The Bucs had no reservations and took him.  Talib has rewarded them by being a good player.  He has also punished them by being a pain in the butt off the field.  Character really is the ultimate x-factor.

The Eagles have generally taken high character guys.  Freddie Mitchell was a knucklehead, but the only time he became a real distraction was Super Bowl week when cameras were on him and the team 24/7.   There are some other exceptions.  DeSean Jackson and Lito Sheppard weren’t choirboys coming out of college.  Jack Ikegwounu had some issues.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other players, but the majority have been solid guys.

Andy Reid spoke to that point in a interview with Dave Spadaro about 10 days ago.  I’m not sure if it is episode 1, 2, or 3.  It’s all worth watching.  Andy talked about the need to build a strong environment by taking high character players and then having the ability to take some chances on guys who do have issues.  No football coach in the NFL can surround himself with only choirboys and expect to win a championship.  That’s just reality.

Last year the Eagles felt they needed an infusion of the right kind of players.  They went after team leaders, good students, and high character prospects.  That foundation now gives them the freedom to take a chance on someone this year.  That’s important because a potentially key target for the Eagles does have some issues.

Colorado CB Jimmy Smith won’t be on all 32 draft boards.  He has failed some drug tests.  He’s had some other issues at CU.  To my knowledge, Smith has never been arrested or suspended.  We’re not talking about a violent criminal.  Smith is immature and makes some dumb decisions.

Smith is someone you take a chance on for a couple of reasons.  If you put him in a strong, professional environment, this is the kind of guy who might be able to change.  He played 4 years at Colorado.  That tells you he showed up for class enough to stay eligible.  He also did enough on the practice field to keep the coaches either happy or satisfied.

Also, the ceiling is very high.  He is an outstanding player.  He has a great combination of size, speed, and cover skills.  He may not have consistently played up to his potential in games, but you wonder how much of that is circumstantial.  He didn’t get many passes thrown his way.  His team was mediocre.  Put him on an NFL defense with a winning team and you might get a much better product.   If you are going to take a chance on a player, it might as well be on someone with big time talent.

Clearly no team will take him without doing a lot of research and meeting him in person to get a feel for his personality.  Smith is a risk, but the reward is enticing…a CB with Pro Bowl potential.  You wouldn’t want a team full of Jimmy Smiths, but mixing one guy into a defense with solid citizens like Trent Cole, Stewart Bradley, and Nate Allen is a risk I can live with.


Will the Eagles Draft a QB?

Posted: March 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

Andy Reid loves QBs.  He’s an offensive guy, having played and coached on that side of the ball basically his whole life.  He went to BYU, a QB factory back in his era.  He coached under Mike Holmgren, a QB guru.  He learned personnel matters from Ron Wolf, who believed that teams should take a QB every year.  Wolf generally meant using a late round pick to see if you could uncover a guy who would blossom in the NFL.  So, when we talk about Andy and QBs, we have to keep all of this in mind.

Andy loves Mike Vick.  He and the staff are high on Mike Kafka.  They love Kolb, but he’s a goner once the CBA situation is resolved.  That means we’ll have 2 QBs and an opening.  Because Vick has some durability issues it is likely the team will add a veteran to play behind him.  They need a player who can start a game or two and be functional.

Let’s talk about Kafka for a second.  I had a couple of people curious about him and his level of play.  You have to understand who Mike is and where he’s coming from.  Mike was a 4th round pick from Northwestern.  He started at NW in 2006 and 2009.  In between, he was mostly a backup.  This isn’t a guy who has 35 starts under his belt.  He didn’t go to a school that is well known for putting out NFL passers.  Kafka is raw.  The Eagles knew that when they picked him.  They loved his ability, athleticism, and intangibles, but knew he would take time to develop.

Kafka looked good at times in the summer of 2010.  There were other times when he looked completely lost.  That’s the life of a young QB adjusting to the pro game.  Kafka had to learn a new offensive scheme and also had to adjust to playing in a pro style offense instead of the spread.  That’s a lot for a young guy to take in.  Also, he couldn’t have been getting any extra attention from the staff since they were focused on getting Kolb ready to be the starter and trying to get Vick back up to speed.  Project Kafka was low on the “To Do” list.

The coaches were happy with the progress that Kafka showed.  They saw what they expected: a talented, but flawed young player with a lot to learn.  He seems coachable, which can make a world of difference.  Wanting to be coached and working hard to learn and improve is a huge part of developing as a QB.  Kafka is on the right track, but I think he needs at least one more year before he can be a viable backup for a playoff team.

If you assume that we have Vick, a veteran, and Kafka, that means all 3 QB spots are full.  That makes taking a QB tough to do.  Yet, we hear the Eagles are taking a look at Colin Kaepernick.  They took a look at Tyrod Taylor.  What’s the deal?

Go back to Andy’s background.  He puts premium value on QBs.  Reid and the Eagles won’t go into the draft hoping to land a QB, but they also don’t want to pass up a player who might fall to them.  Back in the 2006 draft the Eagles loved Matt Leinart.  They figured he’d go high, possibly #3 to the Titans.  The Eagles had the 14th pick.  Leinart slid down the board and the Eagles were prepared to take him if he fell to 14.  The Cards (luckily) took him 10th.  Donovan was still playing at a very high level back then.  He hadn’t yet torn his ACL.  Andy had no interest in replacing Donnie, but he sure wasn’t going to let a franchise QB go right by him in the draft.

As we head into this draft you have to know the Eagles have a similar mindset.  Reid has no intention of moving up for a QB.  He’s not going to spend pick 23 on Jake Locker or Kaepernick.  But…what happens if Locker or Kaepernick is on the board when the Eagles 2nd round pick rolls around.  If Andy likes the guy, he easily could roll the dice and take the player.

You have to keep in mind that I said “if Andy likes the guy”.  Just because a QB is highly regarded by Mike Mayock or ESPN or whoever doesn’t mean that the Eagles are interested.  QB is the position where teams/coaches are the pickiest.  You are looking for your guy.  If you don’t get the #3 OT prospect you move on to #4.  QB isn’t like that.  Personality and fit are huge factors.

We don’t know which QBs, if any,  Reid likes from the current group.  This is a very poor QB class, from the top on down.  I do think Reid is fascinated by athletic guys like Locker and Kaepernick.  Should either of them fall to our 2nd round pick Reid would be very tempted.  He and Howie Roseman would be having an interesting discussion.  I don’t think those guys will fall that far so this is probably a moot point.

The middle round targets aren’t compelling at all.  Pat Devlin is interesting, but he’s not as good a prospect as Kafka was last year.  Same for Ricky Stanzi.  And Greg McElroy.  There is something to like about these guys, but there are plenty of flaws.  Andy Dalton gets a ton of credit for being a leader and a winner.  He is both of those things and a player that is easy to like.  His intangibles are off the charts.  My problem is that he’s not a consistently good intermediate/downfield passer.  That brings up a point a few people touched on.  Can you coach guys to be more accurate or more consistent?

Yes and no.  You have to look at the background of the players.  Jake Locker played in a pro style offense for 2 years under a QB guru and showed little improvement.  That really bothers me.  Cam Newton played for 3 schools in 3 years.  He was in 3 different offenses with different coaches.  I expect him to be raw.  I hold Jake to a higher standard because of where he came from.

I love Locker’s potential, but his lack of substantial improvement scares the heck out of me.  He didn’t complete a pass in the bowl game until the 3rd Qtr this year?  That’s disturbing.  He still led UW to a win in the game, but I’m looking for a QB.  Guts and toughness isn’t enough in the NFL.  I need passing ability.  The Eagles coaches could work with Locker on technique and try to really hone his mechanics, but after 2 years with Steve Sarkisian he still looks very raw.  That’s a red flag to me.  Locker may suffer from the same problems Donovan McNabb had.  Guys with tremendous talent can do things there own way and get good results in high school and even college.  That catches up to you against top competition and certainly in the NFL.  McNabb had 5 years of good coaching and stability at Syracuse that gave him a better foundation.  Reid and the coaches were able to get him to work on things and show improvement.  His old bad habits never went completely away (just ask the worms at The Linc).  Can Locker even get to that point or is he destined to be Kyle Boller, pt. 2?

Dalton played in a run heavy spread offense.  He started for 4 years and had good skill players and stability.  I hold him to a somewhat higher set of expectations.  Pro coaching could help him, but I still don’t get the talk about him being a 2nd round pick.  I just don’t see it.  Mayock thinks he’s similar to Kolb.  I think Dalton is more athletic, but not as good of a passer.  Dalton is similar to Kafka in terms of size, skills, and potential so I don’t see the value in adding him.

There are some late round guys the Eagles could like.  They would take these guys and try to put them on the Practice Squad.  Jerrod Johnson had a nightmare Senior season.  In the past I thought he could be a somewhat early pick, but he was awful in 2010.  Johnson is huge and talented.  I’d be willing to use a 7th rounder on him.  A couple of people have asked about Tyrod Taylor.  I don’t like him as a QB.  Taylor is a very good athlete.  He can improvise.  He can throw downfield effectively.  The problem is that he can’t consistently move the chains with his passing.  Against Duke and Wake Forest he’s a good QB, but I don’t see him as an NFL passer.  Taylor made an amazing play in the Orange Bowl that showed how dynamic he can be.  I kept waiting to see more of that, but never did.  Good college QB, but limited pro prospect.  People will try to compare him to Vick, but that’s a major reach.  I watched Vick put Va Tech on his back and lead them to the National Title game vs FSU.  In that game, Vick was the best player on the field.  Taylor wasn’t the best player in his own backfield this year.  Heck, maybe not 2nd best.

The Eagles could spend a late round pick on Taylor to see if they could develop him.  He would be a major project.  It is also possible the Eagles could be looking at him as a WR/RS type.  Taylor is quick, fast, and elusive.  He ran for 2,196 yards and 23 TDs in college.  Taylor isn’t without some potential, QB or otherwise.


Big Red Talks About the Eagles Defense

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments »

PE.com has a 3-part video series between Dave Spadaro and Andy Reid.  I encourage you to watch it, if you haven’t already.  A lot of the discussion is simple, obvious stuff (coaches rarely open up), but Dave did get some good nuggets from Andy. The most helpful info involved our “new” defense.

Andy reiterated that the defense will be the same basic ideas that have been here during his tenure. One thing I don’t think enough people appreciate is that things changed over the years, under both JJ and Sean McDermott. You take a basic approach and tweak it based on new personnel, changes in rules, or schematic shifts in the game. Think about some examples:

* Do you think JJ’s playbook had a section for a FS like Brian Dawkins prior to his hiring by the Eagles? Jim saw Dawk’s potential and figured out a variety of ways to use him.
* Remember 2006? JJ decided to mix things up and use Dawk like a LB in the Nickel/Dime looks. That lasted half the year (or less).
* We played our DTs in a 1-gap style for most of JJ’s tenure. He switched after the arrival of DL coach Pete Jenkins.
* We used to have pass rushing DTs. The arrival of Darren Howard led us to start mixing in DEs on the inside. Eventually both DTs on passing downs became DEs.
* With Carlos Emmons at SAM we used him to shut down TEs. Other years JJ mixed up his coverages. In 2008 he used the WLB and SS to split the job.
* With Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, and Al Harris we played a ton of physical, press coverage. That changed as the rules changed in 2004 and as our personnel changed.

So what will happen in 2011? We’re going back to the 1-gap, attacking scheme we used to run, with some adjustments. The front is referred to as the “Wide Nine” because the DEs will line up out wide (the nine technique). Quick aside, let’s talk about alignment/terminology.

0 technique – NT in the 3-4
1 technique – NT in the 4-3, shaded to the outside of the C
3 technique – DT in the 4-3, lines up on the outside eye of the G (position that Warren Sapp made famous)
5 technique – DE in the 3-4, lines up on the outside eye of the T

4-3 DEs line up in a variety of places. In Jim Washburn’s scheme the DEs are out wide, outside of the TE even. This is the 9 technique. Keep in mind that this is a base look. There are times when the DEs move around. Washburn will use under fronts where the line slides away from the TE. This has a DE line up right over the OT. Sometimes the DE will line up over the OT to help set up a stunt. The DE goes inside and the DT loops around him.

Our DTs will basically line up in the same place as last year (and the past), but they will fire off the ball and attack. As Reid said in the interview, the goal is for the DL to play on the other side of the LOS.

LB play is going to change. Everyone sick of hearing about “downhill LBs” can rejoice. We now will have guys doing more read and react. Some people will be put off by that phrase since it sounds passive. Don’t be. Previously our LBs attacked up the field. Think of all the times we saw a guy attacking a FB on run plays. The LBs will now read the play at the snap. They have a second or so to diagnose and find the ball, then go get it.

Jamar Chaney should thrive in this system. He runs very well and has good instincts. Stewart Bradley runs well for a big MLB. He should be okay. The key for him will be finding the ball without taking false steps and getting out of position. Moise Fokou is a guy I’ll need to watch tape on. He can run, but tends to be more of a bull in a china shop. Can he sit back, read the play, and then go to the ball? That’s different than being up on the line and making contact right at the snap.

Reid didn’t go into the secondary. I think we’ll be looking at a mixture of zone and man based on how our personnel shakes out and who we’re playing that day.

Juan Castillo mentioned the Bears defense a few times after getting the DC job. Some people take that as him wanting the Tampa 2. That’s not what I took from him. He was focusing on effort and how hard they play. I’ve gotten into football discussions with friends and I always tell people that the most fascinating thing for me in terms of defense is how hard the Bears play. This defense has played with max effort for 5 plus years. How do you do that? At some point players tend to tune out a coach.

The man getting the credit now is Rod Marinelli, but Lovie Smith had the Bears playing this way when Rod was going 0-16 up in Detroit. Lovie isn’t a rah-rah guy. He’s a quiet, professional leader. Yet, he somehow gets his guys to play harder on defense than any other team in the league. Some of you may think all of this is hyperbole, but I’ve always felt there is a noticeable difference in the energy the Bears bring to the field. I was happy to hear Castillo talk about the Bears because that means I’m not the only one who notices it.

Effort, attitude, and hustle are great, but you must have talent. The Bears have signature players like Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, and Brian Urlacher. The Eagles have some good pieces in place, but there are some holes to fill. I promise you the Eagles will add a CB, either in FA or the draft. Beyond that, I guarantee nothing. We have to see who is available and how the whole CBA mess works out.

Back to Castillo for a minute. He spent a lot of time discussing blitzes with JJ over the years. I think Juan will keep the blitz very much a part of our scheme. His time running the OL should have made it clear to him how disruptive and effective the blitz can be when done right. Juan still probably still has nightmares about Antoine Winfield. I know Michael Vick and I do.

Castillo and Washburn are working on the playbook as we speak. They are combining their ideas with JJ’s basics, maybe even a thing or two from Sean. The one section where they better get completely rid of McDermott’s ideas is the Red Zone. We were awful there in 2010. Way too passive. Washburn and the Titans were very good in the Red Zone last year so hopefully some of his ideas will help us. There’s only one way to go…up. I mean, how much more awful could our Red Zone defense be? The answer is none…none more awful (right Nigel?).

I’m actually excited to see how the defense looks. We were all shocked to find out Juan Castillo got the DC job. Now that the shock of that has subsided I’m starting to like some of his ideas. We still don’t know if he can run a defense, but I do like what I’m hearing. And I’m thrilled with Washburn coaching the D-line and bringing his ideas over from Tennessee. The whole 2-gap DT thing just wasn’t my cup of tea. I want my linemen firing off the ball and being disruptive.

As I said, I like what I’m hearing. The real proof will be in the pudding, though. We’ve got to see how all of this works in games and through the course of a season. All Juan has to do is live up to the level set forth by Marion Campbell, Buddy Ryan, Wade Phillips, Jeff Fisher, Bud Carson, and Jim Johnson. What could go wrong?