WHICH Eagles players are poised to have a breakout season? Before we can say that a player had one, first we need to define exactly what a breakout season looks like. Better still, we fans need to declare what our standard is, well ahead of time. Let’s start by setting the bar, high.
First, let’s rule out rookies. While rookie WR Devonta Smithcould have a huge year, it would be unfair before Training Camp, to expect the Moon and stars from him. Especially with this team’s history of developing WR’s.
So now let’s start with QB Jalen Hurts. In 2020, during his four starts (just those four), he put up 148 attempts, 77 completions (52%), for 1061 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. He also posted 46 rushes, 272 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, and 3 scores. These numbers led to his 1 – 3 record, and for good reason.
In Hurts four starts, his completion percentage fell each week (56.6, 54.5, 53.8, and 35.0%, respectively.) Teams quickly caught onto him bootlegging right, as if he were in an Option offense, and they made it harder and harder for him to use that, to set up passes. In 2021 he’s going to have to demonstrate an ability to take advantage of containment based strategies against him.
A breakout season from Hurts would look something like 493 attempts, 316 completions (64%), for 4,300 yards, 29 touchdowns and fewer than 15 interceptions. Adding 102 rushes for 595 yards (5.8) and say… 5 scores, would put him in the conversation for greatest season ever by an Eagles QB.
Again. Set that bar, high.
Now onto last year’s first round flop, WR Jalen Reagor. No, I won’t compare him to Vikings WR “Justin Jefferson”. This isn’t about comparing players. This is about individual accomplishment. This is about Reagor, how he spent the downs he played, and no one else. The focus, is on Reagor.
In 2020, our first round pick played in 9 games. He was targeted 54 times, made 31 catches for a catch rate of 57.4%, 396 yards (at 12.7 per), and caught one touchdown. (For those who want to know: His catch rate was 57.5% for QB Carson Wentz, and 57.1 % for Hurts. Wentz threw him his lone TD catch, in our win over Dallas.)
In the 9 games Reagor played, he averaged 3 catches for 44 yards per game. That hardly cuts it for a first rounder. With him playing in the Slot now, 15 yards per quarter shouldn’t be too much to ask. He’d average 60 yards per game, for 960 yards on the year. So let’s call it 960, and a score in at least half the games for breakout consideration. So 960 and 8. That’s the bar. Anything below that, isn’t even a conversation. That’s the kind of energy we need to keep.
I don’t think RB Miles Sanders counts here. He’s twice rushed for 800+ yards, so even 1,000 – 1,200 rushing yards will just seem like a great year, not a breakout. If TE Dallas Goedert sees 900 yards, or 12 scores, sure that would be breakout. But I don’t see him doing that.
On Defense, we’re hardly starting anyone who isn’t already an established veteran. Nobody can say that DE Brandon Graham, DT Fletcher Cox or CB Darius Slay are just now making their mark on the league, and LB Alex Singleton had his, last year.
Barring a situation where a starter’s hurt and a back-up comes from nowhere, no one on D is having a breakout year.
Summing up! On Offense, Hurts and Reagor are poised to have breakout seasons. On Defense, without a major injury, no one is on deck to do so. Sorry, but that’s the bottom line.
LAST year the Philadelphia Eagles basically drowned in a toilet. We went 4 – 11 – 1 overall, and 2 – 4 in the division. The toilet I speak of, was the NFC East. We won just 4 games and it still took all of 14 games to eliminate us from playoff contention. Which of course was followed by a form of Front Office seppuku, because hey… why not, right?
Head Coach Doug Pederson was fired and Nick Sirianni was hired to replace him. Right now it has all the ear marks of a horrible, just horrible mistake, but… Either he’ll win us over, or we’ll just keep drinking until paper beats scissors.
So here is what the Eagles look like now, exactly a week prior to the start of the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB: Ignore all this nonsense about “guys competing for the starting job”. Jalen Hurtsis the guy. Whether or not he’s “The Man”, remains to be seen. However, unless we draft his replacement in 7 days, Hurts is the guy. He will not come into this season being a year wiser in the system. The new coach is bringing a new system, and no one has even seen it yet. So in a very real sense, Hurts will still be a rookie that everyone already has NFL tape on. While that tape shows a dynamic player, it also shows an arm that is questionable at times. Local productJoe Flacco,was signed to be just bad enough, to legitimize Hurts even to his detractors. REAL TALK: In a very real sense, Hurts has to start and play well,to save General Manager Howie Roseman’s job. If Hurts turns out to be a dud, then having traded away Carson Wentz, pretty much guarantees that Roseman will be escorted out of the building by security, before the New Year. In the meantime, while the Eagles have the most dynamic player at this position in the division, the coaching staff refuses to even name a starter. And I don’t give away free pluses. (-)
Miles Sanders has electrifying ability, but his durability and reliability have both been inconsistent. He went from a player who could be split out wide as rookie, to a player who couldn’t break a Swing pass in 2021. (Regardless of which QB played.) He missed 4 games in 2020, all of which were against division rivals. The Eagles were 2 – 2 without him vs the division, and went 0 – 2 with him vs the division. Boston Scott is at his best when catching passes (the game winner he caught from QB Carson Wentz to beat the giants, was a thing of beauty)
The Eagles however, seem to think he’s rotational back, despite him wearing down noticeably with increased use. The recent re-signing of Jordan Howardwas a stroke of pure genius! Provided the Eagles actually let the man play. He gives the team a legit lead back if Sanders were to get hurt, and also gives the team a tough between the tackles runner, who can make an opponent pay if he gets daylight. This is already very well-rounded group. Whomever they add as their fourth, will be a luxury. (+)
Travis Fulgham has good/not great speed, and good/not great size. He’s most dangerous on intermediate routes, and knows how to use his body to box-out defenders. He can however get downfield, and make huge plays when he sees favorable coverage. He’s a solid #2 that the Eagles tried to pass off as #1, unsuccessfully. Greg Ward in the Slot gets open quickly, so he led the team in catches in 2020. Unfortunately, many of his catches were for meager gains, so in 2021 he will likely take a back seat to a much more athletic Jalen Reagor. Reagor is said to be the team’s new Slot, presumably to take advantage of his ability to elude and break tackles. John Hightowerhas real speed to stretch a defense, and showed the ability to uncover quickly, but his 34.5% catch rate is a problem that may provide an opening forQuez Watkinsor J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. There’s a number two playing as a one, and a couple guys fighting over the Slot, but there’s no one in this group that scares anyone. With a legit #1, these five would be an interesting tool-kit. But without a hammer, you can’t say that you have legit toolbox. (-)
TE: The Eagles as an organization have decided that Dallas Goedert is the future at this position. In a 1-2 combination, Goedert is a great second option. As number one, he lacks elite traits, and may not be as necessary as many fans think. During the four games when he was on Injured Reserve in 2020, the Eagles scored 22 or more points in every game. In the eleven games when Goedert did play, the Eagles hit that mark just three times. It’s funny. Even from week one last year, everyone knew the Eagles Front Office was trying to sandbag Zach Ertz, and they did a great job of it. Now they want to trade him and SURPRISE! they aren’t finding any takers for a 30 year old, 12 million dollar player that they smeared, and essentially demoted. The irony is, he’s probably still better than 80 percent of NFL players at his position. Including Goedert. For the moment, it’s still a great 1-2 combo. (+)
OT: RT Lane Johnson had an awful 2020. He only saw seven games, and in those seven he was never himself, due to an ankle surgery that he didn’t let heal properly before coming back. When he’s healthy he’s one of the best in the game. Word is, he’s plenty healthy right now. LT Jordan Mailata made a bit of a name for himself last year, when he went from long-term project, to possible diamond in the rough.
Andre Dillard was drafted to inherit that LT spot, but he was lost for 2020 with a torn bicep. So expect ACTUAL competition on that left side in camp. Jack Driscollnotched four starts throughout his rookie year, before going on IR with an MCL injury. A perennial Pro Bowler on one side. Competition between experienced young players on the other side. Then a second year man, with a few starts under his belt already. It may not be what it used to be in 2017, but this group is the most solid group in the division. (+)
G: RGBrandon Brooks returns after missing 2020 with a torn Achilles tendon. When healthy, Brooks is a premier player at this position. Isaac Seumalo is the LG. He’s got above average movement skills, but lacks the aggression, power, or size that is generally coveted at this position. He also doesn’t always anchor well, and so he can be driven back into the QB more often than any coach should be comfortable with. Nate “Real Big” Herbig started twelve games and was serviceable. He could stand to turn some of his fluff into muscle, and to fire-out on his run blocks with more of a mean streak, but for a second year man, he’s great depth to have. Matt Pryormay make the 2021 roster due to his experience also playing OT, but he took a huge step backward in 2020. He had ten starts all over the line, but he seemed to struggle everywhere he lined up. Iosua Opeta notched two starts as a rookie. Without Brooks, this group is just slightly subpar. However, with him in the lineup, the Eagles interior has to be taken very seriously again. (+)
C: Not wanting to go out on a 4 – 11 – 1 record, Jason Kelce has decided to put retirement off for at least one more year. His presence will add solidity to a right side that could be dominant in 2021, and give the new coaching staff a platform to build on.Luke Juriga saw 14 snaps during the Cleveland game when Kelce had to go off with an injury. Kelce raised hell on the sideline and Juriga soon had his seat back. Nate Herbig can also play this position, as can G Ross Pierschbacher. While Pierschbacher is listed as a G, the Eagles depth there and his history of playing the pivot as a college senior, likely means he’s here to provide depth and versatility inside. While the Eagles won’t carry four during the season, they currently have an array of solid options to pick from for their back-up. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: Kelce, Brooks and Johnson, will likely give the Eagles a dominant right side on the Offensive Line. It will be unlike anything Hurts had to work with, when he took over for final four games of the 2020 season. Better still, Jeff Stoutland is still the Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator. Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and a running QB. If the Eagles can find a #1 WR, and if the new offensive system is any good, this team is going to turn heads hard enough to break necks. That said, while there is plenty of talent on this roster, the Eagles don’t have that #1 WR, and the new system hasn’t even seen a single practice yet. So again, passing grades aren’t free around here. (-)
DE:Brandon Graham started off hot last year. He notched 7 of his 8 sacks, 11 of his 16 QB hits, and 9 of his 13 tackle for losses, in the first eight games. Then he went cold as a dead man, posting 1 sack, 5 hits, and 4 TFLs, over the remaining eight games. In short, he disappeared when the playoff hunt began in earnest, making his first Pro Bowl nod feel hollow. After four seasons, Derek Barnett seems like a player who has maxed out his ceiling already. He produced 5.5 sacks while playing 49% of the defensive snaps in 2020. Yet he’s still making 10M$ in 2021. Josh Sweat on the other hand, seems to have a ton of upside. He had 6.0 sacks and 3 FF last year, despite playing just 38% of the snaps. Joe Ostman is a high-effort type, with a low athletic ceiling. In last year’s Wide Nine system, fresh players produced more results than individual talent. If this new system asks for a more classic approach, all indications are that the Eagles won’t fare well here. (-)
DT: Fletcher Coxmeans more than stats to this defense, but his numbers have spent the last two years trending in the wrong direction. Especially for a player making 24M$ in 2021. He had 10.5 sacks and 34 QB hits in 2018. He had 6.5 sacks and 9 QB hits in 2020. It’s not a three year slide, so he isn’t a has-been. Yet. However, this year those numbers need to tick up, or he’ll be on par with DeMarcus Lawrence.Javon Hargrave took a while to hit his stride as a new Eagle, but he settled in nicely near the end of the year. Perhaps the Eagles have found Cox the partner in crime that he’s needed for so long. Returning from a bicep injury that ended his 2020, is Hassan Ridgeway. Ridgeway was a solid, and highly disruptive rotational player who will likely see even more snaps with the departure of Malik Jackson. That is, if he can stay healthy. He’s missed nine games in each of his two years as an Eagle. Two good starters and a quality back-up. (+)
OLB:Alex Singleton, started last season as a Special Teamer. However due to Nate Gerry being injured, during Week four Singleton got an opportunity to play Defense. The result was that him being the difference in the Eagles first win of the season. Two weeks later he was a starter, and showing the NFL why he was the CFL Defensive Player of the Year (2017).
Now Singleton enters 2021 as a starter with a fresh new contract. America! Land of motherfuckin’ opportunity! Davion Taylor was drafted as a project, and so didn’t see much time as a rookie. That said, it’s hard to know if he fits in the new coaching staff’s plans, or if they’ll have the patience for a project. That’s especially true with the signing of free agentEric Wilson, formerly of the Vikings. Wilson put up 122 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 picks last year. Which incidentally was his first as a starter. Did I mention that he’ll be just 27 this season? Suddenly the Eagles have two legitimate starters at this position for the first time since 2017. (+)
MLB:T.J. Edwards is said to have athletic limitations, because he’s a Tackle to Tackle player, and not a sideline to sideline player.
He’s a young, so he still has room to improve, but he already slips blocks well enough, wraps up, can get home on a blitz, and even pull down a pass. The biggest hole in his game, seems to be how often he’s subbed out for Nickel and Dime packages. Shaun Bradleyhas to learn how to get off blocks faster, and not let eye candy pull him out of position. He has a lot of energy and could be an emotional spark plug, but in his second year, he’ll have to be a more disciplined player. (+)
S:Rodney McLeodseemed a long-shot to make the 2021 roster, but at least for the moment, he’s still here. He has the eyes and mind of a seasoned veteran, but after suffering another season-ending leg injury (knee), it’s reasonable to question how much speed he’ll still have at age 31. Free Agent Anthony Harris comes over from the 38 – 7’s . Sorry, the Vikings. He has experience playing for new Defensive CoordinatorJonathan Gannon, when both were in Minnesota. With six years of NFL experience, Harris has only been a primary starter for the last three. Statistically, he looks like a ballhawk one year, and then an in-the-box player, the next year. Now with a new team (on a one year deal), he seems like a seventh year player who is still trying to find himself.
With three starts to close-out last season, Marcus Epps made a strong enough case for the Eagles to feel good about letting Jalen Mills leave via free agency. K’Von Wallace is the reason that Harris’s deal is one year. He’s expected to step up this year. Still, there are too many question marks back there, right now. (-)
CB:Currently the Eagles have ten players under contract at this position, but really only four or five of them matter. Darius Slayis coming off of his worst season as a pro. For over a decade now, I’ve been telling Eagles fans (first on Yardbarker, and then here onEaglemaniacal.com), that the Eagles Cover One/Cover Three look, has been making chumps of even the top CB’s. With Slay we saw it happen yet again,just last season. Doesn’t matter. New DC Gannon is said to be bringing a Cover Two look, that lets Corners play Corner. Slay still has his physical capabilities, so it stands to reason that in a scheme that isn’t working against him, he’s still at least better than average. Avonte Maddox was a feisty Nickel in his rookie year, but injuries and opponents taking advantage of his 5’9’’ frame, seems to have destroyed his confidence. He’s just out there going through the motions, and ending up being less than average. But hey, maybe a new system will enable him to recapture his swagger at Nickel. (I say ‘maybe’ because the Eagles will draft a Corner pretty early. Maddox won’t be the starter on the outside.) Grayland Arnold, Craig James, and Michael Jacquetall got a chance to play, and all them allowed completion percentages of 80 or higher. Again, there are ten players here and only one of them is worth starting. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL: Many of the players here, seem to have been picked for a defensive system that the Eagles are no longer going to run. The Wide Nine system is so specialized that it’s hard to see this unit being successful without a couple of high-impact changes at a couple of positions (DE, CB). (-)
K: Jake Elliottlooked like trash last year. He connected on just 14/19 field goal tries (73.6%), yet again proving useless from 50 or more (2/5, 40%). His extra point kicking 24/26 (92.3%) was a career-low, as was his 61.8 yard kickoff average. Worst of all, the moldy fondant on the over-priced wedding cake… was his (1/3) field goal kicking from 20 to 29 yards. (-)
P: Arryn Siposs is a 29 year old, ex-Australian Football League player, who’s never played an NFL game. He had a cup of coffee with the Lions before they cut him last year. His AFL highlights make him intriguing, but he’ll be impossible to me to co-sign until we at least see him a preseason game. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL:
There are no clutch legs on the team. So close games and defensive battles where winning field position matters, looks like it will be a problem this year. (-)
BOTTOM LINE: Right now, there is no aspect of the game(Offense, Defense, Special Teams) that the Eagles can be given a passing grade in. On the one hand, there so much change coming with a new coach who has never called plays in a game. Talent-wise, the roster isn’t awful at anything. It just isn’t great at anything. And you need to be great at something to win a division. If the newness of the Eagles gets traction, they could take the NFL by total surprise. That said, history is not on their side. Which you realize, makes the Eagles an underdog. And NOBODY on Earth loves an underdog, more than Philadelphia.
NOW that the Carson Wentzsaga has concluded, everyone is staring directly at new Head Coach, Nick Sirianni, and expecting him to have detailed answers on how we’re going to not end up 4th in the division this year. Whatever those answers are, this team is going to need spokesmen to pitch it, not just in the locker room, but outside of it.
Under Doug Pederson, the Eagles voices to the public were most often DE Brandon Graham, S Malcolm Jenkins, S/CB Jalen Mills, and C Jason Kelce. All of which were outspoken and who brought and energy of enthusiasm to interviews.You always felt that these guys were totally “bought in” to what the coaches were preaching. Pederson’s program had great salesmen.
Sirianni needs to find salesmen who bring both energy, and verbal agility to promoting the team. Jenkins left before last year, Kelce keeps hinting at retiring, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Mills will be shown the door. Graham would seem a likely candidate, but he may become a cap casualty. TE Zach Ertz would be a great pick, but he won’t be here so…
When the time comes for Sirianni to have answers, he’s going to need players to sell fans on the notion that things are going as planned. He’ll need players that fans find credible. He’ll need players who the locker room won’t tune out, or dismiss as a coach’s pet. There aren’t a lot of great options on the roster, but THE 12 is making do, with what we have.
Ideally with Sirianni being an offensive guy, you’d want an offensive player. QB Jalen Hurts would be one of the default options. Provided that he ends up being the starter. WRJalen Reagorseems ill at ease, and almost annoyed when talking with the press.
Possible candidates would be RB Miles Sanders, TE Dallas Goedert, and LB Alex Singleton. Sanders is animated and personable. Goedert gives quick answers and remembers to smile, but he doesn’t usually help steer the discussion. Singleton brings energy and enthusiasm, and unlike the other two, promotes the team beyond parroting company lines.
Getting everyone to buy into what the new coach is selling, (once he knows what it is), would help him out immensely. Besides, this new regime is going to need strong voices. Just in case the Eagles luck runs out, and we finally have to face some adversity. You know, injury bugs, locker room divides, lunatic accountants who are allowed to run a whole franchise into the ground, because he either gives spectacular blowjobs, or has video of owner Jeff Lurie hanging out with Jeffery Epstein and Jerry Sandusky.
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for the Four Thingsarticles. It’s to point out what we need to address BEFORE the game. Then AFTER the game, there’s a no-bullshit assessment of whether or not the Eagles did any of what they needed to do, to ensure the win.
So how much of what I mentioned inFour Things: BROWNS did the Eagles get around to doing? Well let’s see:
1) The limit is 150: We held the Browns to 137 yards rushing. So technically we hit the mark. However, our Defense wore down, and began to wilt under an attack that saw 34 handoffs in inclement conditions. Compared to just 22 pass attempts. The Browns coach did a masterful job of calling this game. Didn’t he Doug?(DONE)
2) Hand it off 20+ times: The Eagles handed the ball off 21 times this week. So technically we hit this mark too. Of course NINE of those attempts came on one drive. Specifically on the first possession. So, for the remainder of the game, we only handed it off 12 times. Or roughly 4 times per quarter. The rest of the game was put on an unprotected Carson Wentz’s shoulders. This is probably why Miles Sanders attempted to rip a handoff away from Wentz on a critical 3rd and 7. (DONE)
3) Return punts:The Browns punted 5 times.WR Greg Ward returned 2 punts for 8 yards, with his longest return being 10 yards. Do the math. The Offense is getting no support at all this season from Special Teams. Hidden Yardage used to be this team’s middle name. Now we can’t be bothered to try to earn any. (NOT DONE)
4) Go zero to sixty: For the first time in 6 weeks, Wentz completed 60 percent of his passes. Exactly 60 percent. I won’t knock it. He spent the day being beat to shit, the only people catching balls were TE’s, and his coach stopped dialing up runs, on a day that was a rainy mess. (DONE)
The underdogs put together 3 of the 4things, and made a game of it. Makes you wonder what ONE fewer turnover would have meant. (Or if the Brown’s QB fumbling wasn’t ruled as stopped forward progress.) In any case, next week we get a Seattle team that beat us 17 – 9, TWICE last year. We’ll be heavy underdogs in that one as well.
On The Whole:
Three takeaways from this game. (Get it?! Too soon?)
1) LB Alex Singleton wants a starting job next year. The guy was all over the place today, and did a much better job of getting off blocks than he did a week ago. It’s good to see evolution in at least one guy out there.
2) CB Avonte Maddox is trash. He doesn’t cover, can’t catch tipped balls, and won’t tackle. I don’t understand why the coaches keep starting him. CB has to be THE priority in this next Draft. One in the first, and a tall Nickel in the fourth, if we can swing it.
3) It’s time to move LTJason Petersto RG. The truth is, Peters will be excellent in the role, and will have people (who have short memories) wondering why we didn’t stick to this move earlier. Sadly, if a move to LG had come a couple years ago, moving him inside wouldn’t feel like a demotion.
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for the Four Things articles. It’s to point out what we need to address BEFORE the game. Then AFTER the game, there’s a no-bullshit assessment of whether or not the Eagles did any of what they needed to do, to ensure the win.
So how much of what I mentioned in Four Things: giants did the Eagles get around to doing? Well let’s see:
1) Hand the ball off 20+ times: Despite our RB’s combining for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns, with an 8.0 per carry average, we only handed it off 19 times as compared to 37 pass attempts. I can’t put this any plainer than these numbers do. (NOT DONE)
2) Play gap control defense:The defensive line though frequently out-muscled at the point of attack, did a decent job of staying in the their lanes. The problem was when anybody besides LB T.J. Edwards came down to fill. Our LB play today was atrocious. The giants first goal line TD was an absolute microcosm of what is wrong here. The giants RB jumped over the pile, while NO Eagles LB ever left the ground to meet him. That lack of anticipation is why our LB’s are generally just Special Teams refugees who get more defensive snaps than their talent or dedication could ever warrant. (NOT DONE)
3) Spread them out: We did this intermittently, and it allowed all sorts of running room for. What we didn’t do, was push the ball down the field. It seemed more like the coaching staff was trying to work next year’s receiving corp in, as opposed to winning today (DONE)
4) Mix up our coverages:What? No. The Eagles don’t know what that is. Incidentally in my 2020 Season Review: Second Quarter, I mentioned CB Nickell Robey-Coleman being trash, and how I was on the razor’s edge regarding CB Avonte Maddox. He is also trash. While I think both are hampered by this FUCKED UP defensive system, when either man goes to make a play, he’s consistently a day late and dollar short. (NOT DONE)
This week we notched 1 of 4 Four Things, getting us to 12 of 36 on the season. We are missing too many fundamentals to be an effective team.
Next week we get a 6 – 3 Cleveland team that just squeaked by the Texans today. Hey, remember back when could look at the schedule, see the Browns name, and write a “W” next to it, in ink? Ah the days of yore. When we had a President, not a low-rent dictator. Before a third of the nation was on fire, and eating in a restaurant was less risky than sky-diving. I fucking hate this year.
On The Whole:
Unlike Nell here, no one saved the Eagles from having a train run on them. I’m very aware of what that actually means, but based on what we saw today, it would be hard to convince me that that’s not what happened to our Defense vs the giants.
The giants ran for 151 yards on 36 totes today (4.1) for 3 scores, while only attempting 28 passes. They didn’t have to risk a turnover, because we couldn’t make them throw it enough.
Offensively, we looked bland. There was no aggression in the passing game to match the great job we were doing on the ground. That said, it felt largely like the coaching staff was trying to work in the youth, and jump-start the TE position.
There were three bad snaps from C Jason Kelce, and a bit where he and Wentz got their feet tangled during a snap. These things happen to all pivots, but 4 instances in one game?! Sometimes it’s not meant to be your day, and this more than anything else, seems like it was the case for the Birds.
VICTORY made us the top team in the NFC East, last week. Now it’s time to build on that. The giants (0 – 4), Broncos (1 – 3 (Jets)), and Texans (0 – 4). These are the teams that the Steelers have beaten. Texans by 7, Broncos by 5, giants by 10. Pittsburgh is no one to be afraid of. Especially if QB Carson Wentz gets back either WR Alshon Jeffrey or DeSean Jackson.
A win this week, keeps our lead over the division. Regardless of what our rivals do. It would also get us to .500, and give our roster a chance to feel like they’d weathered a storm together.
The point of Four Things isn’t to predict a winner, it’s to discuss which tactics will practically guarantee our Eagles this win. CAUTION: I don’t have the faintest clue as to what a point spread is, and I know even less about how it works. I know football and that’s IT. If you use FT as a gambling tool, you are trying to lose your money.
So let’s talk about the Four Things we need to focus on this week versus the Steelers:
1) Jump short routes: The Steelers passing game looks almost airtight. Their best WR boasts a catch percentage of 89.5, through four games. However, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that the emphasis is to get the ball out of the QB’s hand, as fast as possible. This is why their top two receivers average just 10 yards per catch. We need to jump those short routes. Make plays on the ball. Force them out of their comfort zone, make their 38 year old QB hold the ball longer, and give the NFL’s sack leading defense the time to do what it does.
2) Trim their edges: Want some good news? The Steelers run a similar 3-4 to the one we castrated for years when the Redskins ran it. The 10 yard Out should be there anytime TE Zach Ertz wants it. This would be a great game to see the RB Screen make it’s re-appearance. They should also be highly susceptible to play-action. Conversely, this is NOT a week we want to see Wentz running much.
3) Set the edge vs the run: Pittsburgh doesn’t do a lot of WR rushing. They like to pound it between the Tackles with RB’s, which suits us just fine. Our objective here is not blowing containment on the right side of our Defense. When there is no LB on his outside hip, the RDE has to rush up the field, instead of immediately flattening down the line of scrimmage. We can’t give away big runs to this team and expect to win.
4) Fight for catches: Eagles receivers have to start winning some of these contested passes. It’s frustrating to see receivers on other teams bail out their QB, then listen to announcers chide Wentz for not delivering a perfect ball, every time. Our guys need to treat every throw like it’s their personal property. They wouldn’t let another man snatch their phone, or their car keys, or their paycheck. The ball needs to be prioritized on that level.
If we do all these things we should win, with a score looking like:
PREDICTION: EAGLES 27 – Steelers 21
Check back in a couple of days for Four Things Reviewed, and we’ll discuss how it went.
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for the Four Things articles. It’s to point out what we need to address BEFORE the game. Then AFTER the game, there’s a no-bullshit assessment of whether or not the Eagles did any of what they needed to do, to ensure the win.
So how much of what I mentioned in Four Things: 49ers did the Eagles get around to doing? Well let’s see:
1) Be the Aggressors: As far as I’m concerned this game was a signature win for Wentz. With a decimated supporting cast around him, he put this team on his shoulders. Again. His running (7 – 37 – 5.2 – 1) was deliberate and aggressive. Same with his 42 yard touchdown pass to Fulgham, who wasn’t even on the roster last week. Despite no line and no receivers, the Eagles stayed on the hunt. (DONE)
2) Support the D-Line: The D-Line came up with 4 sacks today, but underneath coverage and second level containment was spotty. Especially in the first half. We got some good football out of LB T.J. Edwards (3 – 0 – 0 – 0) and LB Alex Singleton (2 – 0 – 1 – 0) who also brought back his interception 30 yards for a score in the 4th quarter. Still, if we weren’t going against second and third string QB’s this would have been our 3rd loss of the season. (NOT DONE)
3) Run the damned ball, Doug!: Today we saw 28 pass attempts and 28 runs. Three of those were deliberate runs by Wentz. So out of 52 plays, call it 32 called passes to 25 called runs (52% pass). This is a serious change from the 66% pass rate we’ve been sporting. It helped set up play-action, and acted as a force multiplier for practice squad players. I’m telling you: When the starters get back… (DONE)
4) Screen the defense: There was a decent Screen to TE Zach Ertz (5 – 4 – 9 – 2.2 – 0), but aside from that, it looks like this team has forgot how to run Screens. (NOT DONE)
That puts this week’s Four Thing’s score at 2 of 4 (5 of 16 on the season). Next week, depending on what Covid says, we get the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had this week off, so they’ll either be rested or rusty. My guess is the former, not the later.
On The Whole:
While I saw a number of positives in this game, I saw a number of things that concern me.
First, Miles Sanders is far too eager to run out of bounds, or go down when running up the middle. I shouldn’t see my QB fighting for yards, and trying harder to break tackles than my RB. Sanders said last year that he left about 300 yards on the field. Well he’s doing that again in 2020.
Second, something has to be done about LB (LOL) Nate Gerry (5 – 0 – 0 – 0). He’s a liability vs the pass AND the run. I understand that rookie LB Davion Taylor is raw, but teams are picking on Gerry at this point. Picking on him! I wasn’t a fan of rookie LB Shaun Bradley being drafted here, but I’m at the table with a bib on, looking for someone to serve me some crow.
Third, our guys are forgetting to get their arms involved in tackling. There are too many shoulders being thrown. As a result, we’re allowing touchdowns of the highlight reel variety, on what seems a weekly basis. Also too many of our DB’s seems to be shying away from impacts, instead of bringing the hot high heat.