UNLESS your team just won the Super Bowl, there’s obviously some stuff you need to work on. Last year ended with some other team going home as the champs, so we’re in that category of teams who need to get their shi- (ahem) that need to get better in at least one area.
MISSION: Get better in a few key areas.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We should strive to get better in ALL areas. Gotcha.
Clichés aside, we need to focus on a few key areas that hurt us repeatedly during the 2018 season. Those areas are:
1) Running the ball.
Our deficiency was more than just injury related. We rely on scheme to help clear lanes for our run game. Last year our scheme fell flat when our vertical threat (WR Mike Wallace) went down, and teams didn’t have to pull a man out of the box. WR DeSean Jackson gives us that again, but the our LG concerns me. He has a tendency to fall off of blocks. This has to get cleaned up if we’re to have a balance Offense.
2) Getting sacks. Not hurries. Not pass rush. We need actual sacks. Takedowns. Hits on meat. QB bodies littering the ground. I want to sacks this year. Lots of rough, violent, dirty sacks. The presence of DT Fletcher Cox should be helping us produce more hard numbers.
Hurries look like this:
Sacks create more fumbles than hurries do. Sack-fumbles can turn into scoop and scores, reeeeeal easy. They also shake opposing QB’s, and get their o-linemen yelled at. Teammates argue over whose man that was. Hurries can lead to interceptions, but as last year proved, if we’re going against a cool-headed QB, it more often leads to completion percentages of 70 and above.
3) Keeping the pocket clean.
For all the talk about QB Carson Wentz needing to slide, most of the time when QB’s get hurt, they’re in the pocket. If you look at many of his highlights, they feature him ducking under defensive linemen while IN the pocket. That can’t keep being a thing. The wall in front of him has to get better at producing 4 count protection. If a lineman can’t give you a 4 count, on 7 out of 10 pass pro downs in camp, he shouldn’t be a Starter. Period.
4) Return yardage. I get the statistical reason that many kickoffs aren’t returned anymore, but we’ve got to get more punt return yardage. In a sense, a punt return is the first offensive play of a drive. Returning a punt at least one third of it’s kicked distance, should be that unit’s routine objective. (Yes, a score would be better, but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.) It’s highly unlikely that it one third returns would happen even half of the time, but a goal you don’t shoot for is a goal you are guaranteed not to hit. The recent addition of RB Darren Sproles should help here. A lot.
So that’s Four Things we need to work on. (Did you smile?)
Four PEOPLE we need to work on this year are:
LG Isaac Seumalo, RB Miles Sanders, DE Derek Barnett, and OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill.
Suemalo. He simply has too many plays where he doesn’t finish with his hands on his man. He also doesn’t root opponents off the line when they line up over his helmet. That’s a power issue. Our guy here needs to do more squats.
Much of the Eagles run game relies on movement, and sliding sideways to open the hips of defenders, to prevent them from anchoring. Because of that, Seumalo (as well as C Jason Kelce) is able to generate high ratings for “shielding” or “running shove” type blocks, instead of locking on and putting a defender “on skates”.
With 4 starts in 2016, 2 in 2017 (SB), and 9 in 2018, he wasn’t relied on to do as much power run blocking as he’ll be asked to do in 2019. He needs to be able to consistently win at the point of attack, or this unit will look the way it did when he started from Week 5 to Week 14. The run game was anemic, because we could only run inside to the right. That has to change in 2019.
Sanders. He can be eased into a running and catching role. Those things come naturally to him. NFL pass protection will be another story. If he can’t pick up a blitz, he’ll never be more than a situational back. Luckily he has Duce Staley as a coach, so he’ll be well taught. The issue lies entirely with his application of what he learns.
Many fans expect/want him to emerge as the Eagles top RB. That’s the result of fans here not doing their homework on RB Jordan Howard. That’s also the result of fans not acknowledging the Eagles preference for splitting up the RB workload. Sanders will play, but he will have to share the ball. That is the culture here. Teaching him our culture has to be a key component of this preseason.
Barnett. What I want to see from him, is how fast he disengages from blocks, where a hand lands on his chest. Does he chop and spin? Does he rip and toss? Or does he get grabbed by the yoke of his collar and neutralized?
We’re at a point where we need to see production from Barnett, and there is no better indicator of his coming production, than seeing how fast he goes from blocked to unblocked. Th reason for wanting to measure time from “hand in chest”, is to see how long it takes for him to defeat a good block, not just a lousy one. I want to see that Barnett can generate sacks, not just be gifted with one here and there.
Grugier-Hill. KGH flashed in some games last year, but disappeared far too often. Of course, he also spent last year making the jump from Special Teamer to Defensive Starter. We all knew going in, that it was going to be a bumpy ride. While he didn’t seem to be blowing many assignments out there, he just didn’t make his presence felt enough by opposing offenses.
With the addition of MLB Zach Brown, I’d like to see KGH take a step towards helping him get settled into the system. That will indicate KGH’s comfort level, and help forecast whether he’ll still be waiting to read, or reacting to keys and then trying to make plays.
This isn’t the list of things we need to win the Super Bowl. This is the list of things we need to improve on from 2018.
Last year despite being decimated by injury, we finished 9 – 7, just one game behind the Cowboys who finished 10 – 6 and won the division. We were swept by them, in two games, by a total margin of 13 points. The first game was 7, the second was 6. In overtime.
With a healthier team, and improvement in the aforementioned areas, we’re not just talking about reversing that sweep. We’re talking about sweeping the NFC East this year.
Let’s get to it.