DEFENSIVE Coordinator Jonathan Gannon came to Philadelphia saying that his defensive system wasn’t a system. He said that he wanted to “be multiple”. As in: Use multiple defensive fronts (4 – 3 , 3 – 4, 5 – 2, 4 – 2, etc.) He did much of that last year, primarily playing out of a 4 – 3 base. This year however, we’re hearing rumblings of using more 3 – 4.
I will never say that the Eagles shouldn’t strive for versatility, but we can’t allow ourselves to fall in love with the 3 – 4 this year. By “fall in love with”, I mean starting more than one game in it. By “fall in love with”, I mean more than 15 snaps per game in it, or using it EVERY single week. The 3 – 4 can be a weapon. It just needs to be concealed carry. Not hanging off the brim of our baseball cap.
Understand, most of the players we have on Defense, were plucked from 4 – 3 systems in college, and have played 4 – 3 as pros. That means 4 – 3 is what they are good at. They have become experts in 4 – 3. So why strand them in something they aren’t proficient in? The idea is to spend as much time as we can, getting the most out of our players.
We do have players here, who have played in a 3 – 4. DE Brandon Graham played OLB, and DT Fletcher Coxplayed DE, in a 3 – 4 Wide Nine, back when Bill Davis was here. You remember him?Chip Kelly brought him here, and he ran our Defense into the ground. You may remember that I wrote an article called “WANT A SUPER BOWL? THEN FIRE BILL DAVIS”. Then we fired Bill Davis and won a Super Bowl. Yeah, that Bill Davis.
My point is that switching 4 – 3 players, to 3 – 4 players didn’t work well for us. So again, why strand them? Look, sprinkling in a little 3 – 4 could be a major weapon for us. A major one if used just 5 to 8 downs per game (out of an average of 60). An opponent isn’t going to devote much time to stopping something we run only about 10 percent of the time. The time isn’t there. Not with less than a week of prep time. That alone makes it scary.
Also, with DT’s Cox, Javon Hargrave, Jordan Davis, andMilton Williams playing in the ‘A’ gaps, it’ll be much easier to keep our LB’s clean. Compare that to using a NT with open spacing, which allows opposing G’s to get up on our ILB’s. It’s no contest. The 4 – 3 should be the base, and we shouldn’t do to much with the 3 – 4.
RIGHT now, RB Miles Sanders is the most physical, proven runner on the roster. Let me repeat that. Right now, Miles Sanders is currently our “big back”. He’s the guy that we’d use to wear down defenses, and get the hard, short yardage. This has never been his role or what he specializes in, but right now, he’s the best suited to it, so he has to commit to it.
Before you get all worked up over rookie RB Kennedy Brooks, here’s some of his college tape: Exhibit A ; Exhibit B. Breaks tackles more like 195 than 213, doesn’t he? And that’s college! So as I was saying…
The Eagles have been a ‘RB by committee’ team, since 2014. We’ve rushed for over 2000 yards three times since then. We ran for 2115 in 2017 (Super Bowl); put up 2027 in 2020 with two QB’s running for about 300 yards each; then ran for 2715 last year. Rushing for 2000 yards in a season means that a team averages about 125 yards per game, on the ground. Which is very good.
The thing is, how a team gets those 125 yards, matters. In 2017 and in 2021 we had a big RB, and went to the playoffs. In 2020 we didn’t have a big back and we went 4 – 11 – 1. Big backs wear down defenses, making it easier to eat clock and score points. It also lends an intimidation factor, which yields a psychological advantage, making it easier to score.
Part of last year’s success was predicated on big RB Jordan Howard wearing down defenses with hard running, and then making them chase smaller, faster RB’s. If we don’t wear down opposing defenses, they’ll have more energy left to chase with. This could spell trouble for QB Jalen Hurts, who’s game is largely built upon being a runner. Remember his ankle sprain?
If this year’s rushing yards are 500 fewer than last year’s, and this year’s passing yards are 500 more than last year’s, then no one will care. (Especially if we’re winning.) However, right now, it seems that we don’t have the tools to replicate last year’s success on the ground.
I don’t know why we keep complicating this, by having seasons where we don’t have a big RB on the roster, but it’s something that we do. That said, if Sanders is our big back, we’ll need to see him finish his runs harder this year. Otherwise we might be screwed.
REALIZE this: The only thing that could hold the Eagles back in 2022, is whether or not QB Jalen Hurts can read a defense. This is not me taking a shot at Hurts. Last year I said that we should start him, and though he doesn’t strike me a franchise QB, I still think the job should be his in 2022. So I’m not taking shots.
The last time Hurts took the field, his inability to read a defense was put on national display. He came here not knowing how to read a progression, so the coaching staff put him on a high-low read concept, on the right side of the field. (For when he would scramble right, and then throw the ball down the sideline. Sound familiar?)
As we saw last year, Hurts waits until a receiver is wide open, before throwing the ball. That resulted in a lot of incompletions, and late completions resulting in tackles instead of touchdowns. More important than getting Hurts more WR talent, is him knowing when to get the ball out. He has to be taught how to throw his receivers open. How to put the ball opposite a defender, where the receiver can run under it, and not have to break stride.
Here’s an example: Hurts has been throwing with WR A.J. Brown during the offseason. Still in this video, Brown has to gear down and reach behind him (not in front of him), to make this catch.
Brown having to gear down, gives the defense a better chance to catch up to him. Also, in a game, with his head turned back like this, Brown wouldn’t see a defender closing on him. Ouch!
The easiest way to train Hurts, would be during Training Camp, before the pads go on. Draw up plays, and tell Hurts where the ball should be placed on each route. Coaches on every team already do this of course, but unlike other drills, teaching him to see passing windows, anticipate them, and place the ball, would be the focus, not merely the suggested best practice.
Every year we see plenty of camp reports where a QB’s proficiency is judged by how often the ball hits the ground. Don’t do that this year. Window and placement work means that a LOT of early passes will end up with grass stains. Prior to pads, grass stains don’t equal failure. This is fine tuning. You wouldn’t say a guitarist tuning his guitar was failing at it. Well this is exactly that.
COUPLE weeks ago, I said that we should pass on adding fading stars like CB James Bradberry and instead, focus on developing our young players. In fact, Bradberry was one of two stars that I specifically named in that article! For the record, I still think sticking with youth was the way to go. However, since Bradberry is an Eagle now, I want to make a few things crystal clear.
First, James Bradberry, welcome to the Eagles. You said that our Defensive Line is what tempted you to come here. That is our gift to you. That being said, to him who much is given, much is expected.
Second, in itself signing Bradberry isn’t a bad move. He’s been a good player in this league for years now, and he has active hands, in terms of denying the ball to receivers. He gave up a ton of yards in 2021, but I’m not concerned that he can’t play anymore. I’m concerned that his starting, means our youth doesn’t gain much experience. That will keep us from developing that youth, and hurt our long term picture.
Third, I’ve spent this offseason banging a pot to draw attention to CB Zech McPhearson. He was a fourth round pick in last year’s Draft, and spent 2021 learning, and rightfully sitting behind CB Steven Nelson, whom we brought in on a one year deal. Giving a player a one year deal, basically says that that player isn’t in the long term picture. This ostensibly, put McPhearson in the on-deck circle.
So when Nelson was allowed to walk, my thinking was “BOOM! The future is now”. Instead, we inked another player (Bradberry) to a one year deal. It would be one thing if we’d added a CB in this years Draft; but since we didn’t, that makes it seem like McPhearson is still our top young guy waiting in the wings. So why the delay? Long term it makes no sense at all.
My only guess is that the Front Office sees something about the team that says “PARADE!” this year. If that’s the case, there are a couple of key things we’ll need to power through first. But I’ll wait to discuss that, in this year’s upcoming ‘THE 12’ series.
MANY Eagles fans were hoping that we would add S Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu. I said in February that we should re-sign FSRodney McLeod, and I’ve long been pounding the table that S Marcus Epps should take over for McLeod. Well, we seem to be doing the thing I wanted, without the stop-gap move of re-signing McLeod. Which has me thrilled. Let’s play our youth!
I know many fans wanted “a name”. I however, want to see the Eagles produce young, impact players that we either drafted, or claimed off of waivers in their first year or so. Like Marcus Epps. In 2019 he was drafted by the Vikings in the 6th round, and they cut him in September of that same year. He’s been an Eagle ever since. I want to show that we can grow those guys.
The giants are cutting CB James Bradberry. No surprise there. I told you that, in early April. Though he had 4 picks, his yardage allowed is way up. Teams seem to have found something on tape about him that they can exploit. Yet I’m seeing and hearing Eagles fans say that we should bring him in here. Why?! Why do we need to drag in everyone’s fading star?
Why not start CB Zech MacPhearson opposite CB Darius Slay? MacPhearson was low-key amazing last year. (Seriously, click the link.) Facts:1) Without signing someone else, the Eagles let CBSteven Nelson go; 2) They followed that by not signing, trading for, or drafting a CB.
We traded for picks, a player, signed people, but didn’t add a CB, even in the 6th round. Draft and Free Agent, we completely de-prioritized the Secondary this year. Ignored it! Shunned it! You probably didn’t notice that at all, until just now. The Eagles weren’t at all concerned with finding Nelson’s replacement. Which strongly suggests that they already have one.
When Training Camp starts, if we have any sense, our starting Secondary should look like:
CB Darius Slay
CB Zech MacPhearson
SS Anthony Harris
FS Marcus Epps
NCB Avonte Maddox
Guys like S K’Von Wallace are going to be in the mix, because the Eagles spent a 4th round pick on him. Honestly, I think I prefer him more as a box Safety than back deep. Even better would be if we saw more of the Two-Deep look, that we were promised last year. Single-high is going to bumpy for almost any young player, so it’s no wonder Wallace is progressing slowly.
Not exactly a shadow in coverage, CB Andre Chachereis more of a NCB. In fact, his play suggests that he too should get a look at the FS spot. His passion and physicality may limit how often QB’s throw into his area, for fear of losing a favorite target to a concussion. He’s also one hell of a gunner on Special Teams, which may work against him getting Defensive snaps.
My point is, we have guys that we should be and could be developing. That said, it’s hard for a young guy to learn from mistakes and show what he’s got, if like Wallace, he only sees 184 snaps in a 17 game season. (It’s 10.8.) Even worse, it becomes almost impossible to develop our young guys, if we keep stacking “names” and fading stars ahead of them.
Look, an NFL roster is a highly fluid thing. So the make up of what we have here, may change as you read this. People get elevated, signed, cut, and moved for all kinds of reasons. Usually for talent, but sometimes as financial easement, or to attract another player. (Example: WR A.J. Brown wanted 80M$ guaranteed to stay in Tennessee. If QBCarson Wentz were still our starter, would Brown have accepted just 57M$ guaranteed to move to Philly? Nope. Brown’s best friend, QB Jalen Hurts made Brown 23M$ more affordable. So we got him at like 30% discount.)
Hey we get it. If an All-Pro CB suddenly becomes available, sure the Front Office is going to chase it. As fans we understand that. We may not always like it, but we get it. That said, while we are still constructed this way, while the roster looks like this, let’s give this version of the Secondary a fair chance. Let’s play our youth.
NOTE: Every day of the Draft I will add to this article, tracking the hits (H), questionables (Q), and misses (M).
EAGLES fans, get excited about 2022! Two days ago, I said“Properly armed, the Eagles can win the NFC East.” I then went on to explain what and who I meant by, “properly armed”. I said on Tuesday that we should trade up from #15 to #13 to draft DT [Jordan Davis], and then we should add big, physical WR [Treylon Burks] at #18. That in itself would have been great.
And then on Thursday night, General ManagerHowie Roseman, pulled off not one, but two master strokes, mere minutes apart. Let’s get at it!
Round 1 (13th overall): DT Jordan Davis(H)
Davis is not a pass rusher. What he is, is a pocket collapser, and a run stuffer. He’s a guy who demands a double-team, and he’s virtually unblockable one-on-one when he finds his way into an ‘A’ gap. By the way, we will be pairing/rotating this kid with DT’s Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.
With the three man triangle of Davis, Cox, and MLB T.J. Edwards, seeing the Eagles finish once again in the NFL’s Top 10 vs the run (9th in 2021), almost seems like a given. Surely it’s the basis that the Eagles pass rush will be built upon, now that the DE’s will see a ton of one-on-one match-ups. And this was all done by adding ONE GUY. If you don’t love this pick, you don’t understand football.
I said on Tuesday, that to avoid Baltimore grabbing Davis at #14, we should package our #15 and #101 picks to Houston for the 13th pick. What happened instead, was Howie packaged our #15 with two 4th rounders and 5th, to move up to 13. Dumping late rounders in a shallow Draft, when we have a ton of guys on futures contracts already? Absolute master stroke, Howie.
Round 1 (18th overall): TRADE for WR A.J. Brown. (H)
I wanted WR Treylon Burks with this pick, but Brown is so much better. Everything I said about why I wanted Burks, is true about Brown, and then some. With Brown it’s all been proven at the NFL level, and he’s more physical. In addition to which, he keeps his nose clean off the field. So we already know that we’re getting a real professional.
The knock on him is that in three seasons, he’s already had seven missed games due to injury. The worry is that now that the Eagles have given him a 4 year, 100M$ (57M$ guaranteed) contract, he might not ball out anymore. Really? Did I mention that he spent the offseason working out with QB Jalen Hurts? Before he was traded here. Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to get at it? Or does it sound like a guy with a point he wants to make?
Aren’t you excited to see just what Hurts and Brown worked on this Spring? Shiiiiid, I know I am! With this ONE MOVE, the Eagles Offense is suddenly stacked! This guy was totally worth the 18th and 101st pick. Hell, if I was the GM, we’d have already blown it on Davis. So score one more for Howie!
Round 2 (51st overall): C Cam “Beef” Jurgens(Q)
The Front Office sees traits of C Jason Kelce in him, but I’m still not really all that excited. Jurgens moves well enough for all the second level stuff in the run game. He’s also smart enough to recognize fronts, and make the blocking scheme calls. Which is great. That’s all good news.
What he doesn’t do, is generate a new line of scrimmage with his blocks. Watching the videos (one and two), he doesn’t drive defensive linemen backwards, without a combo block. He turns them out of the hole, or ushers them down the line when they chase the ball carrier. Get them going backwards though? No.
He’s lean and has a lack of lower body mass, which betrays a high center of gravity. Not possessing a natural anchor, it opens the door to him being ridden back into his QB, at the NFL level. If he’s Kelce 2.0, then great. If he’s not, this was a wasted pick.
Round 3 (83rd overall): LB Nakobe Dean (H)
He has first round talent, but his medical history saw him slide two rounds. No one is saying what his injury is specifiaclly, but my guess is that he tore his pectoral muscle off the shoulder bone. A quick glance at him shirtless would confirm that, but even after scouring the Internet for a couple hours, there doesn’t seem to be even one. (Which is side-eye inducing.)
Here’s why he’s a hit, and not questionable or a miss. So far he has opted not to have surgery to repair the tear. Doesn’t matter why. Don’t focus on that. Get him in here for mini-camp and OTA’s. Let him see the pros and realize that to stay one, he’ll need to be at his best to win a roster spot. He’ll decide on the surgery, which will basically sideline him for his rookie year.
We don’t need him this year. We have MLB T.J. Edwards, who is coming off a good year. We have OLB Kyzir White on a one year deal. Get Dean the surgery, let him take his time to heal, and then get him out here, better than he’s been in years. We got a steal. To watch it pay off, all it will cost us, is some patience.
Round 6 (181st overall): OLB Kyron Johnson (M)
He’s a 3-4 OLB used mostly as a pass rusher in college. His draft dimensions are listed at 6’0” 235, which would be undersized for that role in the NFL. However, he has college listing that put him at 223 pounds as a senior. Which would make him a liability in the NFL, in the role to which he is accustomed. In coverage, he has 5 passes defensed in a 51 game career.
The have been some rumblings about the Eagles wanting to use a 3-4 front, from time to time, so Johnson may have been selected with an eye towards that. Or, he may have been selected to light a larger fire under 2021 draft pick, OLB/DE Patrick Johnson in competition for that role. If he’s motivation, this is a good pick. If the Eagles are looking to rely on him on Sundays… Meh.
Round 6 (198th overall): TE Grant Calcaterra (M)
In 2019, after waking up from a hit suffered in practice, at the age 20, Calcaterra made the decision to retire from college football. It wasn’t because of one hit that he retired. It was because after multiple concussions, he realized that they were coming closer and closer together.
He took a year off and made a comeback in 2021, posting decent numbers as a receiver, but offering little in the way of physicality as a blocker. Knowing what we know, it’s hard to blame him for being less physical. Unfortunately, his position demands it. If retirement was his reality at 20, then someone was trying to tell him something. He just wasn’t wise enough to listen.
You want to root for this kid? Root for him to live. Root for him not to make the final cuts, or the Practice Squad. Root for him to be 50, and still recognize his wife and his kids. Having suffered multiple concussions means that CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is already part of his future’s landscape. Root for it not to be made worse by wearing midnight green.
I said on Tuesday that because it’s a shallow draft, we should load up in the first three rounds, and treat the remaining picks like lottery scratch-offs. Apparently Howie reads my articles, because that’s exactly what we did. He was aggressive in the first round, took what fell to him in the next two, and then practically bailed on the rest of it. Which was genius actually.
The top of this Draft was excellent. As a fan, I can only put it behind the 2002 Draft (Lito Sheppard, Mike Lewis, Sheldon Brown, and Brian Westbrook, in that order), in regards to how excited it got the fan base. Jordan Davis and A.J. Brown will make an impact in 2022.
The middle was saw us do some important pantry stocking. Nothing we have a pressing need for, but good to have in the house already. Neither Beef Jurgens (I do love the nickname), nor Nakobe Dean has to start in 2022. The game can be shown to them at a pace that allows them to be great when we do need them.
The bottom of this Draft is a head scratcher. Neither guy even seems like a Special Teams contributor. Maybe they’re here to push players already on the roster? Hell, I’m just disappointed that WR(?) Jalen Reagor is still on the roster.
PROPERLY armed, the Eagles can win the NFC East. We’ll need to do some remodeling, but not full-on rebuilding. With the current combination of the Eagles being really good at some things, and our rivals being bad at some things, the door is open. More than just a little. We just need to add the right pieces to shore up our own weaknesses, before we attempt to stroll/walk/dip through it.
We have what seems like 700 picks in this Draft, but today I’m just going to focus on these five:
Round 1: No. 15 (from MIA)
Round 1: No. 18 (from NO)
Round 2: No. 51
Round 3: No. 83
Round 3: No. 101 (from NO)
Here are the players I want to see become Eagles this week:
Round 1: No. 15 – DT Jordan Davis: Some might consider this a few picks early, others will say it’s an outright reach. There’s a good chance that he won’t even be there at 15, so I wouldn’t gamble on that. Just to be sure, I’d offer this pick (#15) and #101 to Houston, for the #13 pick, to avoid losing Davis to Baltimore at #14.
What I see is five years (rookie contract) of a space eating, run-stuffer who absorbs double-teams, and helps to keep our LB’s clean, in a division that still runs the ball. Adding this guy would upgrade the entire defense on that alone. When DT Fletcher Cox is gone next year, Davis gives us someone to build around. He’d also help keep DT Javon Hargrave effective, and let DT Milton Williams play more DE.
Round 1: No. 18 – WR Treylon Burks: The Eagles made overture after overture to free agent WR’s this offseason, all of whom turned us down. Eventually the Eagles settled for WR Zach Pascal. Yes, settled. If you think our Front Office is done trying to upgrade our WR position, then you my friend have lost the plot.
The Eagles have fast guys at WR (Watkins, Hightower). We got guys you never heard of (Allen, Cain). Guys who can’t catch (Reagor). We have clever guys (Ward), TE guys (Arcega-Whiteside), shrug-worthy guys (Pascal). What we don’t have, is a big, fast, and physical guy. And that’s where Burks comes in.
Burks is so different from WR Devonta Smith, but WOW, what a potential combo! Smith is a precise route runner who creates separation and gives the QB, friendly places to put the ball. Burks can win contested catches and shed tackle attempts. So for each of them, Safety help is needed to prevent a routine catch from turning into six points. Which would make it very hard for a defensive coordinator to write a coverage concept, that wouldn’t get shredded on a weekly basis.
Round 2: No. 51 – S Daxton Hill: Though he plays a lot of Nickel CB, he can play anywhere in the secondary. Let me reiterate: Anywhere in the secondary. He’s a DB with 4.3 speed, and it shows up on film. Many athletes leave their impressive 40 times at the Combine. This kid had his on display before he got there. Better still, he attacks the football and causes interceptions for other players off of deflections.
The F.O. chased CB Stephon Gilmore in free agency, but they didn’t chase a bunch of CB’s. Pretty much just Gilmore, because… Well because he’s him. Otherwise we have Slay, Maddox, and 7 young CB’s to evaluate. Spending a high pick on another one, only makes that evaluation more complicated.
What we need, is a FS with Jaws-like closing speed, who is nearly impossible to outrun. This could be that guy.
Round 3: No. 83 – DE Joshua Paschal: He didn’t rack up a ton of sacks in college, and he’s not a pass rush demon. What he is, is a big, assignment solid DE. He sets the edge vs the run, and gains consistent penetration, proving disruptive both as a DE, and DT. He even flashes the ability to play as a 3-4 DE.
The best thing about him, is that he doesn’t just make plays when he isn’t blocked, or when he’s poorly blocked. This guy makes plays even after beating squared up offensive linemen. He plays a man’s game already. The idea of sitting him next to Jordan Davis for the next three of four years (or longer) is a happy thought.
This is how I’d like to see the first three rounds go.
Some NFL Drafts have good fourth rounds. When we look back in 5 years, I doubt this will be one of them. This is a shallow draft, in terms of finding many difference makers at RB, TE, QB, G, and DT. That being the case, we should grab what we need, and everything from the fourth round and on, view as a lottery scratch-off.
KEEP in mind, when these predictions come out, no one knows who will be drafted by which team. So this is an assessment of the team, as it is staffed by veteran players with track records.
While rookies may contribute heavily to their team, they don’t usually shake up the NFC East as a division. That being said, there’s a pretty good chance that what you see here, will be how it shakes out for the year.
If you’ve read all of the articles leading up to this, you’ll understand my conclusion. Good job! If you didn’t, you’ll likely be annoyed because YOU did a bad job of preparing. (Read the supporting articles!)
Now let’s look at 2022:
Offense, defense, special teams. Three units, multiplied times four teams, equals twelve total units in the division. Easy math, right? Out of twelve units, only three units across the division either stayed strong or got stronger. Nine units however, either stayed weak or got noticeably weaker during the free agency period. Put plainly, so far the NFC East is already weaker than it was in 2021.
Strongest Offense: DALLAS
They have all kinds of issues with their offensive line, but they have a real QB, and they have the most dangerous collection of skill players in the division. Philadelphia has a great offensive line situation, which allows for the smoke and mirrors, which they use to offset a lack of WR talent or a QB who can read a defense.
Weakest Offense: NEW YORK
Their offensive line is shit. It’s just shit! They have the least talented QB in the division. In fact, it can now be argued that he might not be as good as his new back-up (eventual replacement). Their RB clearly has his eye on the exit, and they lost their underachieving TE, and replaced him with- No. They’re about to draft a TE. They have to be. There’s no way they can be serious about going into 2022 with him as the starter.
Strongest Defense: PHILADELPHIA
This was the easiest call. In 2021 the Eagles surrendered fewer passing yards and fewer rushing yards than the Cowboys. The Cowboys allowed 21.1 points per game to the Eagles 22.6. From that, the Eagles added not just a pass rusher, but a sack artist, as well also upgrading speed at LB. The Cowboys lost a starting DE and a starting S, then replaced neither with a player of similar caliber. The other two teams aren’t even part of this conversation.
Weakest Defense: NEW YORK
New defensive coordinator, a soft secondary, and a bunch of edge players, but no real DE’s or OLB’s. This is the current state of the defensive side of the ball in New York. It’s a toolbox full of hammers and mallets, but no screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches or even a tape measure. And at some point in the next two weeks, a kid out of college will be expected to provide a spark of hope. Yikes.
Strongest Special Teams: PHILADELPHIA
Washington has the much better punting situation, but Philadelphia has a far superior kicking game. However, since punts never produce last minute wins, the edge goes to points.
Weakest Special Teams: DALLAS
New York’s punting situation isn’t “bad”, it’s more of a big question mark. The kicking situation in Dallas however, is pure comedy. This team does such an amazing job of fucking this up every year! They deserve a round of applause for the work they do. I mean c’mon, it has to be deliberate. No one is this bad, this long, without a supreme level of effort being put into it.
PROJECTED WINNER: DALLAS
You’re thinking “Philadelphia won two of these categories to Dallas’s one. So how can Dallas still be the favorite?!”
For the record I totally agree, except there’s two things nagging my mind:
The first thing is, 17 – 37, and 21 – 41. Those are the scores that Dallas has won by, in the two games Jalen Hurts started against them. Those aren’t just loses, they’re blowouts. While Dallas continues to dominate Hurts, picking the Eagles as the favorite is out of the question.
The second thing is, a two game sweep has an effective difference of four games. The make-up distance in a playoff race, between let’s say 4 – 6 vs 6 – 4, is four games. If the Cowboys sweep the Eagles again, that gap would be very hard to make up. Given that the last Eagles QB to beat Dallas was Carson Wentz, there is nothing in recent history to indicate that the Eagles will turn this around this season.
DARK HORSE WINNER: PHILADELPHIA
Overall, Philadelphia looks like the strongest team in the East. The issue is at their QB position. Which is huge. If Jalen Hurts were to take a a couple of steps forward in being able to read defenses, and utilizing his second WR, this Eagles team would sweep the division, and win it in a walk. However, until we see that for Philadelphia, QB is a huge question mark at best, and a liability at worst.
LAST year the Eagles went 9 – 8 and made the playoffs. The year started off with the team going 2 – 5. Then Head Coach Nick Sirianni started babbling about flowers, and how the team was flowers, and how flowers need to be watered daily, and we just knew that he was about to be fired. Instead, the players embraced their inner daffodils, and went on a 7 – 3 tear. What followed was a playoff exit so quick, that the Eagles should have just played the game in street clothes, with their luggage on the sideline. Should fans be excited about the Eagles immediate future, or was 2021 just fool’s gold?
With the NFL Draft just 13 days away, let’s get a look at the Eagles roster, as it stands today:
QB: Jalen Hurts (8 – 7, 61.3, 16/9) for all of his athleticism as a runner (784/5.6/10), he struggles with reading defenses and his timing. In fact, I called him a one read passer, months before anyone else began to talk about it. He can keep drives alive with his legs, but without being a better passer, he’s not maximizing his weapons, which by definition, is holding them back.
Gardner Minshew (1 – 0, 68.3%, 4/1) isn’t a back-up, he’s a second starter. His arm isn’t a rifle and isn’t laser accurate, but those same critiques have been made about the starter. Minshew is hyper-competitive and brings truckloads of swagger. Though he lacks Hurt’s mobility, Minshew can scoot and find the sticks when he needs to.
Though the two players at this position are different in their approaches, the overall effect (and we saw this in 2021 when Hurts was out), is that there isn’t a massive fall-off in efficiency, when either steps in. While this position isn’t remotely top ten, it gets the ball into the end zone reliably, and it’s super-stable. (+)
RB: Miles Sanders(754/5.5./0) didn’t score at all in 2022, but he was the second leading rusher on the team behind the QB, who had two more carries on the year than Sanders. Part of that was Sanders missing five games. The other part of that was that the QB wasn’t of much use if he wasn’t running.
The 5’6” 203 pound Boston Scott (373/4.3/7) was re-signed for some reason. His presence doesn’t make much sense, given that 5’9” 200 pound Kenneth Gainwell(291/4.3/5) is a younger, cheaper version of Scott, and he runs better routes. Also on the roster is 5’9” 193 poundJason Huntley(70/3.9/0), whose game is also very Scott-like.
Last year when the Eagles run game terrorized the league, they had a powerback in Jordan Howard (406/4.7/3) to wear down defensive interiors. Howard is no longer on the roster, and the Eagles no longer have a physical runner on the roster. Without a physical runner, they will not see the run game dominate that way it did in 2021. (-)
WR:Devonta Smith(64/916/14.3/5) set the all-time Eagles mark for receiving yards by a rookie. His numbers however, are misleading. In nine games (HALF) he caught 3 or fewer balls. In eight games (HALF) he had 50 or fewer receiving yards. In seven games his catch percentage was 50% or lower. These are not the marks of a number one receiver. If you want to argue that Smith isn’t the problem, then be prepared to point out exactly who is.
Quez Watkins (43/647/15.0/1) saw 3 targets or fewer, in ten of the seventeen games he played. He had 50 or fewer receiving yards, fourteen times. The under-use of Watkins is nearly a crime. Speaking of crime, Jalen Reagor(33/299/9.6/2) continues to steal the Eagles money, and murder fan hopes.
Free agent addition Zach Pascalwas added due to his familiarity with the Eagles coach, and system. Pascal isn’t a burner, and doesn’t have the best hands. While he may have been signed to add a veteran voice to the position, he doesn’t add an accomplished veteran voice. This position is a sloppy patchwork, and it needs some order put to it. (-)
TE: Dallas Goedert(56/830/14.8/4) Is the total package at TE. Not only is he a good in-line blocker, but he can also be a downfield threat.Jack Stoll(4/22/5.5/0) is a blocker who saw just 5 targets last year. If he can’t be developed into more of a receiving threat, his presence will make covering the other receivers easier.
Tyree Jackson (3/22/7.3/1) was making progress switching from QB to TE, then tore his ACL in the season finale. The Eagles love him, but he’ll likely be on I.R. into the season. Richard Rogers (2/11/5.5.0) was brought back (once again), to provide reliable depth as a receiver. (-)
OT: LT Jordan “IHOP” Mialatais just 24 years old. Massive, mobile, intelligent, and highly aggressive, Mialata is a people mover in the run game, and a brick wall in pass protection. RT Lane Johnsonhad another All-Pro season and even caught a 5 yard touchdown. The first of his career.
Andre Dillardwas once thought of as a bust, now he’s seen as sort of a luxury. Dillard doesn’t supply Mailata’s physical dominance in the run game, but when asked to fill in, he was more than up to the task. Le’Raven Clark is sort of a reclamation project. He was allowed some bad habits in Indy, but the Eagles think they can be cleaned up and net the team a steal. (+)
G: LG Landon Dickerson spent his rookie season putting on a show. He was a huge part of why the Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Jack Driscollis a super-versatile, work-pail guy. He stepped in for the injuredIsaac Seumalo, and had nine starts before his year ended on a high ankle sprain.
Nate Herbig isn’t the most athletic fellow, but he’s also not about to walked back into the QB. Sua Opeta is also serviceable. (+)
C: Jason Kelceis widely regarded as the best in the sport. Does that say enough? Depth? Jack Anderson is the back-up and he also plays G. (+)
In A Nutshell: The Offensive Line is the true engine of this unit. Ridiculously deep and versatile, it makes it possible for the team to platoon RB’s, trade TE’s mid-season, start a back-up QB, and still score without benefit of a well-conceived passing attack. There is no skill position that was upgraded during the offseason. (-)
DE:Josh Sweattied for the team lead with 7.5 sack last year. In past years he’d been a productive blindside rusher. However, when Brandon Grahamwas injured, Sweat stepped into playing as the strongside rusher, and he seemed over-matched. The responsibilities switch and physicality seemed too much for him initially, but as the year wore on, he picked it up.
Derek Barnett is actually a solid football player. The problem with that, is that he wasn’t drafted merely to be “solid”. As a result, he’s not judged by what he produces, but instead by what he doesn’t produce. That said, while it makes total sense for the Eagles to draft an upgrade over him, it also made sense to bring him back for 2022.
Graham has never been a 10 sack player. So it’s only natural to wonder what he has left at 34, and coming off the torn Achilles tendon, that cost him 2021. He’s been very good at getting pressure, and even better at setting the edge vs the run game. Tarron Jacksonwould surprise me if he makes the active roster this year.
This position is the epitome of what plagues the Eagles. At this (and other) positions, they Eagles have tons of “good solid” players, and “good solid” locker room guys. What the Eagles need is a player who gets actual sacks, not just pressures. A player who destroys plays, not just disrupts them. This position needs an impact player. (-)
DT: He doesn’t get to the QB like he used to, butFletcher Cox was brought back for one more year. Him being frequently double-teamed, at least opens things up for others. One of those others, isJavon Hargrave. Hargrave tied for team lead with 7.5 sacks, and had 18 QB hits (more than doubling his previous career high of 8). He also posted a career best 63 tackles, with 9 (career high) being for a loss.
Milton Williamsstarted two games in 2021. Both were against Dallas. Now let us never speak of that again. I’m kidding. Actually if you look at his stat line in both games, you’ll see that his numbers reflected the growth in his game. For example, in the first game he was tentative and waited for help. In the second game…
Marlon Tuipulotu played like trash, with a side order of ass last year, but then again I said he would. He’s too slow off the line. Slow motion in college, means you will be a still picture in the NFL. The Eagles added Renell Wren to the roster. Wren is a reclamation project with an injury history. Cincinnati junked him, but the Eagles think they can restore him.
We’ll see. (+)
OLB: Free agents Haason Reddickand Kyzir White were given nice contracts to come back to the region. Reddick is from New Jersey, but he played football in Philadelphia, in the Eagles stadium, for the Temple Owls. White is from a suburb of Allentown PA, which (depending on traffic on 76), is about an hour and half from Philly. Both grew up being Eagles fans.
Reddick has 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons, and was signed to bolster the pass rush. While the Eagles have had ‘backers who could pass rush, they’ve never employed a designated one in a 4 – 3 system. So this is historic. White reads like a smaller (just 216 pounds), faster version of cast-off Alex Singleton. Sort of a run and chase player.
Davion Taylor was drafted as a third round project two years ago, and aside from durability issues (both seasons ended on I.R.), his play is coming along nicely. This position gives the Eagles a scary Nickel, and a rock-solid base rotation. Patrick Johnson is listed at this position, but really, at 248 he needs to add 7 to 12 pounds, and put his hand on the ground. (+)
MLB: T.J. Edwards is so underrated that it’s nearly a criminal offense. His 130 stops were just seven behind the Eagles all-time mark of 137, (set last year by Alex Singleton). Edwards had six games with double digit tackles, and is now the Eagles signal-caller. He had to fight for his role and he won it, no question.
Old rumor on Edwards, was that he’s more Tackle to Tackle, than sideline to sideline. Initially the Eagles seemed to be listening to that, and took him out during passing situations. Despite starting 6 of 8 games, he played about 34% of the defensive snaps, and the Eagles were 3 – 5 for their troubles. Once the Eagles (suddenly!) started leaving him on the field for 95% of the snaps, they went 6 – 2. Then they sat him (and the other starters) for the 21 – 56 loss to Dallas.
Shaun Bradley has become a core Special Teamer, but he doesn’t add much value as depth, due to the fact that he’s only played 131 defensive snaps in 2 years. Incidentally, he and Haason Reddick were college teammates. Davion Tayloralso has some experience and value here. (+)
S: Culture change! With longtime mainstay, Rodney McLeod finding a new home in Indy, the Eagles are left with a number of question marks and short-term answers at this position. Expect to see the Eagles spend one of their first five Draft picks here. That said, let’s talk about who’s currently under contract.
Anthony Harris is returning after a less than stellar 2021. While he posted 72 tackles, he had just 1 interception and 3 passes defensed. Marcus Epps is the next most experienced player here, but he’s only started eight games in three seasons. Behind Epps, is K’Von Wallacewith six career starts in two seasons. Jared Mayden has no starts in his one year career.
While Epps has shown flashes in limited opportunity, Wallace has seemed slow to pick-up on NFL football. Epps could be very good with more seasoning, but he likely won’t see that opportunity. (-)
CB: The Eagles have seventy of these guys on the roster, but let’s focus on just the top four. Darius Slay posted five takeaways, and three scores, while allowing just 33 receiving yards per game. The guy simply went berserk in 2021.
Zech MacPhearsonplayed 179 defensive snaps as a rookie in 2021. He was targeted all of 17 times, only allowing 9 completions, for 96 yards. That’s 96 yards on 179 snaps. Opposing QB’s saw him out there and opted not to take their chances. He may be why the Eagles elected to let Steven Nelsonstroll off into the wilderness.
Avonte Maddoxhad five starts in the Nickel, and contributed 1 pick and 2 forced fumbles across his 2021 campaign. Andre Chachere is a bigger, more physical Nickel. He allows catches, but he looks to deliver the big hit. Which is why his missed tackle percentage was so high (21.1). A position switch would suit his level of aggression.
The Eagles are still trying to add top-shelf FA talent here. That said, this team could go into Week One with these guys, and it would be a solid group already. (+)
In A Nutshell: Linebacker and pass rush were seen as trouble spots for this defense, and so both deficiencies were addressed. While talent at Safety is a question mark, the players have played in the system , so they’ll know where they need to be, and will know how to communicate. (+)
K: Jake Elliott went 30/33 (90.9%) kicking field goals. All of which were career highs. He was a perfect 3/3 from 50 yards and out. He also hit all 44 extra points. Clutch. (+)
P: Arryn Siposs was having a great 2021, then things got shaky for him down the stretch. In four of the last five games, he averaged under 40 yards per punt. On the season he averaged 43.9, which isn’t bad, but it should have been better. (+)
In A Nutshell: The Eagles can depend on their legs to help bring victories.
Offensively this team doesn’t scare anyone passing the ball, and they won’t be as dominant running it this year. Given that the Eagles did nothing talent-wise to improve the Offense so far, it’s going to be hard to supply any sense of urgency to players on that side of the ball.
Defensively, there were a couple of low key changes, with one being a clear upgrade. Also the return of Brandon Graham’s on-field leadership, should pay very high dividends. This side of the ball stands a real chance of being much improved in 2022.
Last year the Eagles got to face a number of weak teams at the end of the year. They made it to 9 – 8, and snuck into the playoffs. Good news everyone! The Eagles get to play the rest of NFC East again this year. Most of which has weakened. So 9 – 8 is not only possible for the Eagles, but likely. Honestly, they are a couple of lucky bounces away from 11 – 6.
LAST year Dallas went 12 – 5 and won the NFC East. They earned a home playoff game. Then they proceeded to shit the bed 17 – 23, against a 6th seed 49ers team. People will want to critique how the last play of that game went down, but the fact is, the game shouldn’t have even been a contest. This has long been the story of the Cowboys. The larger, deeper issues are frequently ignored, in favor of shiny distractions. That said, is this the year they change the story?
With the NFL Draft being 13 days away, this is what the Cowboys roster currently looks like:
QB: Dak Prescott (11 – 5, 68.8%, 37/10) won his division, and posted career highs in completion percentage and touchdown passes. This included 13 TD’s and 0 interceptions over the final four games. He also had five games with 300+ yards passing, and five games with a completion percentage over 75.
Those stats point to him being back from the ankle injury that stole his 2020 season. Well, mostly back. One of the things that has helped Prescott in the past, has been being big and mobile, not just a big target. In an average year with 16 starts, Prescott averaged 60 rushes, 305 yards, 5.0 pyc, and 5 scores. Last season his numbers were (48 – 146 – 3.2 – 1). Keep an eye out.
Preseason Hall of Famer Cooper Rush (1 – 0, 63.8% – 3/1) added to his legend when he went undefeated in 2021. Filling in for Prescott during Week Eight, Rush put 325 yards on the Vikings, in a 20 – 16 Cowboys win. Seems that this position is worth every penny being spent on it. Ben “Bring It On” DiNucci is also still cashing his paychecks. (+)
RB: For the fifth year in a row, Ezekiel Elliott (1002/4.2/10) saw his rushing yards per game decline. He was held to fewer than 50 rushing yards in eight games last year. He only cracked the century mark twice. He did manage to rush for 1,000 yards though. That has to count for something. I guess.
Tony Pollard (719/5.5/2) is an average player. Fortunately for him, he seems to know it, so he hits holes as quickly as he can. He’s not a threat to break a 60 yard run, so he makes up for it by producing smaller chunk runs, more consistently. As long as his 205 pound frame is playing the “RB 1B” role, fans will wonder why he doesn’t get more than 8 carries per game.
Dallas also has three FB’s on the roster, most recently signing free agent Ryan Nall. They won’t keep three, so this is clearly an “iron sharpens iron” type of move. In any case, look for the team to flashback to the 1990’s, to re-emphasize lead blocking. Just the fact that they’ll be the only team doing it, will make them very hard to prepare for. Especially for a generation of defenders who wouldn’t be familiar with FB as a routine weapon. (+)
WR: I said last year that three was a crowd here, and I was right. However instead of ditching Michael Gallup (35/445/12.7/2), they traded Amari Cooper(68/865/12.7/8) to Cleveland. This means that CeeDee Lamb (79/1102/13.9/6) has graduated from Robin to Batman.
Over his first couple of years, even in a lesser role, Lamb has been plagued by drops and lapses in focus. Now that he’s going to have more intense attention focused on him, there have to be serious questions about if he’s mentally ready for the role.
Gallup lost nearly half of last year being on I.R with a calf injury. He then played in eight games before tearing his ACL, and going on I.R. again. His return goal is Week One. Which would mean no training camp. Steelers free agent James Washington (24/285/11.9/2), was signed to a one year deal. Essentially swapping out Cooper for Washington. That is clearly a step down.
There can be no arguing that this group is several steps back from what they were a year ago. That said, if Gallup can stay healthy in 2022, this trio could still be dangerous. (+)
TE: Boom! Dallas hit Dalton Schultz (78/808/10.4/8) with the franchise tag, before anyone else could take a shot at luring him away with a long-term deal. Schultz proved to be a sure-handed security blanket in 2021. While not an explosive athlete, his presence in the red zone will help provide the run game with more room to operate.
After cutting Blake Jarwin, there are bodies, but there really is no reserve talent here. Given the amount of traffic that will come Schultz’s way, this position will produce. However, if Schultz can’t stay healthy this season, this position is screwed. They are literally one player deep here. Just one. Uno. Single-ito! (-)
OT: At the moment LT Tyron Smith and swingman Terence Steele are the only real game in town. Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2015. Last year he played just 11 o f 17, and this year he’ll be 32. Not a good look! Steele has been more of a fill-in than a regular starter. Some weeks he played on the right, and when Smith was out, Steele played left.
While the talent is decent here, there is absolutely no consistency or reliability here. Making matters worse, there is no real depth. They have Isaac Alarcon, Josh Ball, and Aviante Collins. None of whom played a single down of football in 2021. (-)
G: All-Pro Zack Martin gives this line a rally point at RG, but he’s likely going to spend a good portion of 2022, helping the guy who will be working on his right-hand side. Babysitting doesn’t allow a player to operate at maximum ferocity. So expect the right-side of the line to suffer. At least early in the year.
Connor McGovern is still on the roster and started six games in 2021. However, it’s hard to pin down just how the Cowboys organization views him. At the moment he’s the clear LG, but a single flap of butterfly wings in China, might change that. Matt Farniok played a total of 23 offensive snaps, late in three games in 2021. The average score of those games: 50 – 14.
Right now it seems like there’s a weakened right, and the left is largely a question mark. Maybe the Draft is where an answer will come from, but as of this moment. This position is weak. (-)
C: Tyler Biadasz was the only lineman to start every game, so hooray for durability. He also had 9 penalties in 2021, which was second only to a guy who’s no longer a Cowboy. At this point no one seems entirely sold on Biadasz. That’s largely because he’s still being unfairly compared to Travis Frederick. A guy named Braylon Jones is the back-up. Iffy starter and no depth? (-)
In A Nutshell: The Cowboys have weapons, but right now, they lack reliable players on the offensive line. Employing a throwback wrinkle like routine lead blocking, might help the run game, but it’s going to hurt the passing game. There is no way to put a FB on the field, without taking some speed off the field. Should be interesting to watch. (-)
DE: DeMarcus Lawrence is no longer a premier pass rusher, but he can still get pressures. He also sets a pretty good edge vs the run, making things easier for those playing behind him. Free agent Donte Fowler looks to inherit the starting role vacated by Randy Gregory (DEN). Fowler had a couple of good years in 2017and 2019. The Cowboys are hoping to re-ignite that.
Dorance Armstrong will give a good effort, but is by no means a special player. Which is why Fowler was added. Tarell Basham is just a back-up. He plays from a two point stance, and at 6’4” that leaves his chest exposed at the snap. He also spends far too much time watching football, while he’s on the field. They also have some guy named Chauncey Golston. (-)
DT: Osa Odighizuwa got the fan base excited with how disruptive he can be, but his 280 pound frame seemed to wear down over just 14 weeks. No shame in that for a rookie, but this year he won’t be a rookie. Keep an eye on him. Carlos Watkins won’t cost any coaching staff a single wink of sleep. Yet Dallas re-signed him.
Neville Gallimore missed most of 2021, but once healthy, he took over for Odighizuwa, and was sort of “Meh”. Quinton Bohanna is a 360 pound gap plugger, who changes direction as well as an Applebee’s. This position is a cry for help. (-)
OLB: Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons is the total package. He pass rushes. He covers. He slices, he dices, is non-stick, and stain resistant! Parsons has been hyped as the next Lawrence Taylor, likely stemming from Parson’s 13 sacks as a rookie. That said, despite playing 904 snaps on defense, he only produced 84 tackles, and just two games with 10 or more tackles.
On the other side is Leighton Vander Neck. Sorry. Vander Esch. Injuries have rendered him half the player that he was as a rookie, which is why the Cowboys signed him to a one year “prove it” deal. Vander Esch hasn’t recorded 50 solo tackles since 2018, and playing outside in this system, will almost ensure that he doesn’t again in 2022. There is no depth here. (+)
MLB: I said last year, moving 211 pound FS Keanu Neal, to LB was stupid, and it turns out that I was right. AGAIN! Neal is now in Tampa, and now it seems that the middle will be manned by (drum roll) Luke Gifford?
Gifford played 32 defensive snaps in 2021. He only played 1 defensive snap in 2020. Maybe he won the coaching staff’s trust with those additional 31 snaps? It would not surprise me to see Vander Esch take over this spot. However until the subject comes up, I can only “speculate.” (-)
S: Jayron Kearse came into 2021 having played 73 games with just 12 starts. In 2021 he was given 15 starts, and had a pretty “meh” year. Just 2 interceptions, but he did lead the team in tackles (101). It was enough to convert last year’s prove it contract, into a two year pact.
Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson are former starters who are under 27 years old. Both will likely compete for the other starting spot. Unless a player is drafted high here. (-)
CB: Trevon Diggs led the NFL with 11 interceptions. Cowboys fans would like for that to be the whole story, but it isn’t. He had 11 interceptions, because teams didn’t shy away from targeting him 103 times. Why not target a guy giving up 907 passing yards and 16.8 yards per catch? (For contrast the Eagles Darius Slay was targeted just 85 times, gave up 10.7 yards per catch, and just 535 yards.)
Anthony Brown’s first year under the new defensive system yielded 16 starts, 71 tackles, 3 picks and 17 passes defensed. All were career highs. Surely he’s looking forward to 2022. Jourdan Lewis started 13 games as the Nickle and also saw career highs in interceptions (3), tackles (61), and passes defensed (11). Kelvin Joseph rounds out the top four. How trash do you have to be to have played in 80 games with just 1 start, in your rookie year? Ask C.J. Goodwin. He knows. (+)
In A Nutshell: It’s the Cowboys. So whether they over or underachieve, you always expect to see a ton of talent on this team. So when looking at this unit, it’s amazing to see how hollow it is, right down the middle. Three positions: DT, MLB, and S, seem to be waiting to find salvation in the draft. Not wise. (-)
K: Chris Naggar is what people in sportscasting call, “a landmine”. Just one slip of the tongue… Dear Cowboys fans: You’ll be comforted to know that Naggar is experienced, and has never missed an NFL field goal attempt. He hit the 37 yarder that he kicked last year. He however, was just 1/2 (50%) on extra points. I have Brett Maher’s phone number if you want it… Hell, right now Bill Maher might be a better option than what you have. (-)
P: Bryan Anger was re-signed after averaging a career best 48.4 yards per punt, with 0 blocked, and opponents averaging just 6.5 yard per return (+)
In A Nutshell: I spent 4 years as a comedy writer, and even my twisted imagination couldn’t come up with something like the Cowboys Kicker situation. It’s pure comedy. For rival fans, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (-)
The Cowboys are in trouble. They have spent so much money (QB, RB) and draft capital (WR’s, CB’s, LB’s) on peripheral players, that they haven’t made sure that they can win in the trenches. On either side of the ball. Unless something huge happens, Dallas is going to spend 2022 getting out-physicalled, and never really get a chance to find their footing in many games. The lack of quality depth (OT, TE, G, DE, DT LB, and S) means that when injuries start to hit, the drop-offs will be dramatic. This team feels 8 – 9, but we’ll call it 9 – 8 because New York is still in the division.