SEASON Reviews are usually done at the end of the season. (Duh.) A few are done at the halfway mark, and/or at the end. Starting in 2017, Eaglemaniacal.com began treating the season like a game, and breaking it into four quarters. Since football is a hard sport, we’ll take a hard look, at where our team stands at the moment (in relation to where it started), and where it needs to go.
2 – 2 overall, 0 – 0 division, 1 – 1 conference, 3rd place in the NFC East
W: Falcons (1 – 3)
L: Buccaneers (2 – 2)
W:Colts (1 – 3)
L: Titans (3 – 1)
While the Eagles do have a couple of major issues to clean up, the team has both the player talent and coaching expertise to do so. The most glaring problem is defending the pass. Some people would also throw in a lack of QB pressure, but that’s symptomatic of the pass defense problem. If the coverage can get QB’s to hold the ball a second or two longer, that QB pressure issue, immediately goes away on it’s own.
The other great concern is protecting the QB. We’ve allowed 14 sacks in 4 games. Only 5 teams have allowed more. We’ve also allowed 34 hits on the QB. Only one team has allowed more. Then again when your play selection is 61% pass, and half your rushes come out of the Shotgun formation, no one is going to buy your play-action. That’s going to leave the QB getting beat to shit. Run the ball from under Center, and QB Carson Wentz might actually finish the season on the active roster.
None of this requires a detective to figure out. None of it requires a genius to scheme. None of it requires weeks to implement or trades to make happen. We have the coaches, we have the players, we can do this on the fly.
QB: (B) This isn’t me grading on a curve. Nick Foles started the season and got us to 1 – 1, before handing the keys to the Carson Wentz. Wentz looks better than he has any actual right to, coming back from ACL and LCL reconstruction. My only knock on the QB’s is that they haven’t elected to keep the ball more often when running RPO’s.
RB: (A) Running the ball hasn’t been a problem. Jay Ajayi has 155 yards and 4.2 per tote. Wendell Smallwood 123 yards and 5.6 per tote. Corey Clement 112 and 4.1. Throw in Josh Adams for 5.0 per tote (just 30 yards rushing), and the only issue with our run game is that we don’t lean on it heavy enough. That however, is on the coaches, not the players.
TE: (A) Does anyone realize that Zach Ertz is on pace to catch 123 balls for 1300 yards this year? Not saying he will, but he is on pace to do so. Add in Dallas Goedert, and Josh Perkins and the Eagles have a level of depth that borders on obscene.
WR: (D) This grade would be higher if I was just looking forward, but this report is based on what we actually did in the first four games. Injuries to Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins have helped to so far hobble us.
Alshon Jeffery’s return helps immensely, but until Nelson Agholor learns how to catch again, or until a light goes on for Shelton Gibson, we’re essentially down to one threat at this position. I don’t understand the role Kamar Aiken is playing on this team.
OT: (D) Jason Peters and Lane Johnson need to do a better job of slowing down speed rushers on the edge. Perhaps less lining up in the Shotgun would be of some assistance? During stints where Halapoulivaati Vaitai has had to fill in for Peters, he’s looked okay actually. Not good, but okay. His feet still are a tad slow, but at least he doesn’t require a RB to baby-sit him, and the team is no longer rolling plays away from his side.
OG: (C) There are entirely too many plays where a guy comes running up the gut at our QB. When blocks get made, they’re sustained, but at other points there’s a miscommunication and the rusher comes free. Otherwise Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks are looking pretty good in the run game.
C: (C) The pivot is the communications hub for the O-Line. There is no excuse for a veteran like Jason Kelce, to have so many communications breakdowns, this early in the year.
DE: (B) Brandon Graham doesn’t have a single sack yet, but he is setting the edge, stacking vs the run, and getting pressure here and there. Derek Barnett is getting after it as a pass rusher. I still miss Vinny Curry vs the run, but Barnett is no slouch. Micheal Bennett is listed as a DE, but it seems like he does most of his damage when he kicks inside on passing downs. Chris Long is the man, both on AND off the field. The reason I don’t give this position a higher grade, is because rookie Josh Sweat has yet to play a down. Now is the time to get him some reps, so that when the inevitable injury happens, he’s already up to speed. The stakes are still low right now. You don’t want to have to lean on a green rook, when a loss could knock you from playoff contention.
DT: (B) Fletcher Cox leads the team with 3 sacks and leads the interior vs the run and for goal line stands. Destiny Vaeao was the Week One starter in place of the injured Timmy Jernigan, but Vaeao has apparently been subplanted by Haloti Ngata. Cox and Ngata are holding the fort, but Ngata wasn’t brought here to play this much, this early. As a result, the rotation strategy that helped so much last year, isn’t really being used now. It makes one worried about how fresh players will be for the late season push.
OLB: (D) Nigel Bradham was suspended for a game, but in the three games since returning, he’s made his presence felt. Kamu Grugier-Hill has started the last three games, but hasn’t yet put his stamp on the defensive unit. If he doesn’t get in gear soon, he may only be remembered as an emergency Kicker. Nate Gerry got one start on opening day (presumably as a fill-in for Bradham) but hasn’t recorded a stat in three games since. This layer of the Defense hasn’t been bad, they just haven’t stood out at all.
MLB: (B) In 4 games, Jordan Hicks already has 31 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3 passes defensed. If you wondered if we missed him last year, the answer is YES! With 2/3 of our starting LB’s playing at a high level, it allows the Defensive Line to do what they need to do to wreak havoc, knowing that someone has their back.
S: (C) Starring Malcolm Jenkins as The Sheriff. As far as the rest of this group, Rod McLeod was merely okay until he was lost for the season. As the guy who’s primary job it was to stay and play deep, he never seemed to even be in on tackle attempts when we got hit for big plays. This is passed off as other players getting beat on their assignment, but it makes me wonder where McLeod’s eye discipline was taking him. Having lost him for the season, Corey Graham is now the guy back there, and he inspires so much confidence that the Eagles are advertising that they’re cross-training CB Rasul Douglas (an idea that I love), and looking at available free agents. Graham is a heck of a sub/Nickle/Dime player, but he’s not an every down player.
CB: (F) This grade is accurate but it’s very unfair. I know. If it’s accurate, how is it unfair, right? The system that the Eagles play in, has our Corners giving up cushions that start at 4 yards. This means opposing WR’s are never re-routed, so they end up at the spots where they practice being. Their timing is never delayed, so they end up where they should be when the QB hits that 3rd, or 5th step in his dropback. 1-2-3, balls out. 1-2-3-4-5, balls out. This retards our pass rush. So our opponents end up playing catch, and leave the game with completion percentages of 70%. Or higher. I’m highly critical of Jalen Mills, but most of my criticism is of his mouth. He’s a physical, man-press CB. He lacks the catch-up speed of a zone Corner. There’s a reason he fell to the 7th round and didn’t go in the 2nd despite his size, fieriness, and work ethic. If there was a player that I think should thrive in this system, it’s Ronald Darby. Then again maybe he just hasn’t had enough chances since teams seem to pick on Mills. I’m still waiting to see Sidney Jones start, but that’s a coaching decision, so you can’t blame a player for it. Most of this is circumstantial and not on the players, but it still is an accurate picture of the position, despite it not being a fair assessment of who the players are, from a talent standpoint.
LS: (C) Haven’t had a real reason to bitch about Rick Lovato. My issue with the Long Snapper position is the same as it ever was: “Is this ALL that this guy does?!” Back when we had Mike Bartrum as a LS, he also was our third TE who caught touchdowns in goal-to-go situations. In six seasons here, Bartrum caught 9 balls for 4 scores, recorded 22 tackles and even recovered a fumble. Jon Dorenbos got us 37 tackles. We get none of that stuff with Lovato.
P: (C) I miss Donnie Jones. Cameron Johnson punts deep, but he doesn’t place them well. Hitting it hard isn’t always the same as hitting it well. (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about.) Out of 20 punts 9 have been returned and 5 have been touchbacks. Only 3 were fair caught and only 2 have been downed by coverage. That means the opponent not us, is dictating their field position. His kicks don’t have to pin the opponent down, just get the returner penned in. I know he’s young, but he doesn’t seem to be picking up the idea that his placement should help the coverage team. He has to stop out-kicking his coverage.
K: (C) Jake Elliott has a couple of missed field goals, but they were longer range kicks. Also with only 8 total attempts this year, it’s not like he’s been spraying misses all over. He’s been serviceable, but not not clutch yet.
PR/KR: (B) The only thing that stands out in memory when it comes to punt returns this quarter has been RB Corey Clement bobbling a few. Honestly, even before that happened, the smarter move would have been to save him for Offense, and let a guy like WR DeAndre Carter earn his keep doing that, when RB Darren Sproles couldn’t. Between Sproles and Carter we’ve amassed 71 yards on 5 returns (14.2ypr). Clement only averages 2.8 with a long return of 10. No reason to put him back there again. As a team we’re averaging 19.0 per kickoff return, so it seems to make more sense to just take the touchback unless we’re down double digits in the third and are trying to make something happen. This is more or less exactly what the Eagles are doing.
KC: (A) Of 18 kickoffs, only 3 have been returned, for an average of 16.0 yards with a long of 25. On 20 punts, we’ve seen 9 returns, vs 3 fair catches, for an average of 5.6 yards with a long of 11. These are great numbers, but they would be better if punt placement dissuaded returners from even trying to run one back.
SINCE LAST QUARTER:
Last quarter was last year. We locked up home-field advantage and subsequently won the Super Bowl, as underdogs every week. Under the circumstances, the first quarter of a season will be letdown regardless of what a team does. So getting all pantie bunched over a 2 – 2 start seems unnecessary.
This first quarter showed us where we are, and what we need to fix. It also showed us the rest of the league. (Aha!) NOW we get to REALLY start with the season. This is where Head Coach Doug Pederson can start to ratchet up the sense of urgency.
MISSION FOR THIS QUARTER:
The NFL recorded a record number of touchdown passes through four games this year. That’s likely due to drives extended by penalties that favor the offensive side of the ball. What that means is teams are going to be living and dying by the pass on offense.
We get Minnesota, New York (giants), Carolina and Jacksonville in the next 4. Three of those teams were 2017 playoff teams. A 3 – 1 second quarter (with one win being the giants) would put us solidly in the drivers seat, in terms of controlling our destiny. Let’s see where we get with that, before looking any further.
Our mission this quarter is tighten up the pass defense so that we can resurrect our pass rush. If we’re going to have any hope of winning the division, we need to get out ahead of problems caused by rule changes. This team lived on our Defense last year, and that’s how we need to be in order to make hay in 2018.
The suggestion is to play more bump-and run on 3rd and under 10, and on 2nd and over 12. Cushions are part of DC Jim Schwartz’s scheme. After winning a Super Bowl with them, he’s not going to ditch them due to a couple of bad regular season games. That being said, he has to realize that he needs to adjust to this year’s trends and not be one more dinosaur who couldn’t recognize the change.