ASIDE from possibly getting a Wide Receivers coach who can actually coach Wide Receivers, this team won’t be much different from last season. In fact, it’s basically the same team it’s been since 2016. And that’s sort of a problem.
Regardless of who is named our Offensive Coordinator, what we run on Offense will still be built on Head Coach Doug Pederson’s TE-based West Coast concept. What we run on Defense will still be Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz’s Wide 9/Single-High concept.
In failing to move on from Schwartz, we missed an opportunity to level the playing field, by wiping the board clean of all of our tendencies, keys and “tells”. We also missed an opportunity to stabilize the Defense. Honestly, even the most ardent Schwartz supporter, would have to admit that the week to week product of this unit is anything but consistent.
And it’s been that way for years.
While on one hand it’s great to have a solid identity, we’re in a division where every one of our rivals will be brand new in 2020. We are the only known quantity in the division, and the only team which has plenty of film on what we run, how we run it, and how we want to run it.
Though it’s true that Dallas and Washington’s coaches have highly trackable histories, radically different personnel will change how thee coaches implement their favorite concepts. Those conditions put us at a MASSIVE disadvantage in terms of initial intelligence gathering.
New York’s head coach comes with no trackable history whatsoever. However, if they sign Jason Garrett to be their offensive coordinator, there will be a definite power shift in the middle of the division, since he has a deep working knowledge of every roster in our division. New York goes from third place, to threatening for first.
Garrett also has an intimate familiarity with every weakness and mental flaw possessed by each of the Cowboys key players, as well as knowledge of how Dallas likes to cover or hide those flaws. It would then be a matter of the rest of us watching NY vs Dallas, to learn how to take the Cowboys apart.
Understand, if New York can pull off signing Garrett, it will be seismic for the division, and the aftershocks will not be survivable for Dallas in particular.
Our saving grace may be the preseason. Since these new coaches need to make sure players understand the concepts and their own roles, smarter coaches will run some of their concepts. Thereby tipping their hand. and giving us a sneak peek. Idiot coaches will decide not use the practice games for practice, and likely get off to slow (sputtering) starts.
All this basically reduces the importance of our assistant search, to near nil. That is, unless the Eagles promote from within. (HEY DOUG! PROMOTE DUCE STALEY!! IS THIS TOO SUBTLE!!!? AM I DOING IT AGAIN!? BEING TOO SUBTLE, I MEAN?)
There’s a ton of chatter about the Eagles needing a new voice in the room, but a new voice doesn’t necessarily mean a trusted voice during high pressure moments. Getting a person to listen against what their instincts tell them, is no easy sale. It’s harder when they don’t implicitly trust you.
While yes, Staley is part of this old regime, his elevation would allow him to put a more definitive stamp on Doug’s system. Play design, play install, package assignments, formations, and rotational patterns, are all things that would subtly impact a system that was only the same, on the surface. Regardless of who calls the plays.
As of today, the Eagles are behind the curve in terms of intel and element of surprise. Without any new wrinkles added, the story of 2020 will be of how the rest of the NFC East has caught up to/caught onto us.
IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN KIDDIES!!!
GENERALLY when I talk football, it’s about my Eagles. I tend to keep mum about our rivals, unless we have a game coming up against one of them. Otherwise, I’ve reserved most talk about them for my Pre-Draft Preview, which drops each April. (Look for it).
In 2017 however, I decided to try something new, and give our fan base a running commentary of what the division is doing around us. This ensures that Eagles fans ARE actually the best informed, and most knowledgeable fans, in the NFL. (Provided you visit this site often.) These updates will come out three times during the season: After Weeks 3, 9, and 15.
Note: This was supposed to come out weeks ago, but since the Eagles playoff push was going to affect how Dallas’s season was viewed, I pushed it back so that a clear verdict could be written for the Cowboys season. Then there was the workload for OUR playoff week…
Since then every team beside the Eagles, has fired their head coach. This report will focus on the state of the team as of season’s end, and not attempt to calculate the impact of the firings or hirings. I almost skipped this, but this report HAS to happen so that I can wrap up the 2019 season.
This is where we left off in PART 2.
This is where things are today:
Washington Redskins: 3 – 13, dead last in the division
Congratulations on the number two pick in the next draft! (That’s assuming that the next draft doesn’t involve Iran.) If they could, the ‘skins would use that pick to draft an entire offense. They need to. Ranking 32nd in points and passing yards, 31st in yardage, and 22nd in rushing, is a sign that maybe your team has trouble winning ball games.
Defensively they’re nearly as awful. While coming in 31st vs the run, 27th in both points and yards allowed, they fared okay vs the pass. They managed an 18th ranked spot there, despite the most injury decimated secondary in the division, and possibly the NFL.
Washington’s RB of the future is Adrian Peterson and their best QB is Case Keenum. They spent a 2018 second round pick on RB Derrius Guice, and he’s played less than six games in his two year career. 2019 First round QB Dwayne Haskins started 7 games, and threw all of 7 touchdowns. Which was equal to the number of interceptions he tossed. They do have WR Terry McLaurin, but that just seems like a punchline to a joke with no set-up. For instance: “THE ARISTOCRATS!” See? The set-up is important.
They have a front seven worthy of my envy, as pass rushers. However, their 2019 3-4 system, exposed them to any offense where the QB was awake for 60% of the game. I’m gonna miss that predictability.
New York Giants: 4 – 12, 3rd place in the division
Look at that sweet #4 draft spot!
What’s to say about this team? The floundering started in 2018, after the new GM started a fire-sale and divested the team of key talent. So this was a continuation of that. All season long, the giants looked like a team with no focus, no direction, and no personality.
This was only natural, given that they took keys to the kingdom from QB Eli Manning, and gave them to rookie QB Daniel Jones. Basically, in search of a “spark”, the coaching staff switched from Dasani to Evian.
Okay that may have been a bit harsh. March of Dimes may not be the most exciting guy, and might not have the best arm, and might lack any major intangibles, and…and… Where was I going with this?
Oh, right. In truth, rookies are just trying to figure stuff out. So it was only natural that the team looked a little lost out there this season. It will be interesting to see how Jones approaches his first pro offseason.
Dallas Cowboys: 8 – 8, runner-up in the division
How does such a “talent-loaded” team finish .500? This despite a very healthy roster, in a division where half the teams are rebuilding, and the division winner was decimated by injuries. How indeed! I’m not going to talk around the issue. You already can, and already do, get that from any professional journalists. I’m a fan. So let’s real talk this motherfucker, shall we?
The Owner’s answer to Dallas’s woes, was poor coaching. So poor coaching is how a team finishes offensively 1st in yardage, 2nd in passing yardage, 5th in rushing yardage, and 6th in scoring. (In case you’re wondering, that’s solidly a Top 10, and likely a Top 3 offense.)
It’s also why they finished 9th in yards allowed, 10th in passing yards allowed, and 11th in both rushing yardage allowed, and points allowed. (That’s also a Top 10 unit.) Yeah. That sounds like some pretty shitty coaching, right? (In case you missed it, that was sarcasm.)
The fans and media’s favorite flavor of the month, is blaming the Owner for meddling all the time. It’s true that he does, but this team was poised to win even with the meddling. In fact, the Owner has meddled every year since he bought the team. If you want to blame him for the meddling when it doesn’t work, you have to praise him when it does work.
The problem wasn’t the coach, and it isn’t the Owner. Well, it is, but not how you think it is.
This team is loaded with players who can’t deliver in the clutch. How many Cowboys games this year turned on just a handful of downs? Division rivals won’t want to hear this, but the Cowboys were probably 15 to 20 made plays away from being 12 – 4 or 13 – 3. And I mean 15 to 20 plays collectively on the season.
Because the Owner doesn’t hold his players accountable for anything, on or off the field, nobody on this team has any deep motivation to give all-out effort when the Cowboys backs are to the wall. You saw how they rallied to save their coach’s job, and how hard they fought to win what everyone knew would be the division’s lone playoff spot. (That was also sarcasm.)
The team is wall-to-wall with guaranteed money. It’s a boarding school filled with rich kids, and now they’re getting an interim (7 – 9) headmaster. And trust, this is an interim (6 – 10) situation. Being that it’s the Owner, not the coach (5 – 11) who’ll sets the culture of the Cowboys, you can expect a similar mindset from the players for next season.
Didn’t even need the mic for that.
So that’s the state of our division rivals as your Eagles head into the offseason. It’s about time to start looking ahead to how these four teams will go about re-arming for the 2020 season.
SEASON Reviews are usually done at the end of the season. (Duh, right?) A few are done at the halfway mark, and/or at the end. Starting in 2017, Eaglemaniacal.com began treating the season like a game, and breaking it into four quarters. Since football is a hard sport, we’ll take a hard look at where our team stands at the moment (in relation to where it started), and where it needs to go next.
STATUS: 9 – 7, WINNER of the NFC EAST, 4th Seed in the NFC, Sole Playoff Representative of the Division.
W New York giants (4 – 12)
W Washington Redskins (3 – 13)
W Dallas Cowboys (8 – 8)
W New York giants (4 – 12)
Combined: (19 – 45)
We needed to win all four games. We won all four games.
People can talk about how “unpretty” the wins were. They can talk about how bad our opponent’s records were. Doesn’t matter. We’re here, and no argument made against that, can change that. We fought. We clawed. We earned this, because we kept believing and we stuck together.
Losers fall apart (giants). Losers tap out (Like Zeke did). Losers change horses midstream (See: Dan Snyder). Winners win because they don’t quit. They give an all out effort. Winners get to feel elation. Winners get to know that they were vindicated. Losers? They can only wish to stand where we do today.
QB: (A) Carson Wentz put this team on his back, and made those around him better. Amazingly enough, he also made himself better as over these last four games he’s been more cognizant not holding the ball forever as he waits to make a big play. The game winning touchdown he threw at Washington, was an example of him trusting his receiver to make a play, not just his own arm. As a result, he’s now doing a better job of throwing guys open. There are still overthrows of his deep ball, but I suspect that will iron out when he gets some higher grade firepower back on the roster.
RB: (B) Some fans would give this position a higher grade, but that would mean only seeing the good and not the bad. Jordan Howard hasn’t touched the ball in this quarter. So Miles Sanders and Boston Scott have taken up the load. They both have at times, been dynamic with the ball and reliable as blockers. What neither has been, is an inside runner who consistently finishes runs hard. Both are great to keep on the field, especially as compensatory pieces, but neither is a true Alpha. Teams don’t get worn down and tired, tackling those guys. Howards absence has highlighted the need for him. (Or at least someone (Holyfield) like him.)
TE: (B) This position is usually the Zach Ertz Show. However, injuries have given Dallas Goedert and Josh Perkins a chance to strut their stuff, showing not just talent, but reliability. Goedert in fact, despite being a back-up, developed into a Top Ten player at his position (10th in yards, 9th in catches, and only 6 players at his position have more touchdowns).
Perkins leaves something to be desired as a blocker, but for a 3rd string target, he’s an absolute luxury. He’s the Range Rover that you only drive when your Tesla Model X, and Mercedes G-Class are being detailed. Good thing we had these guys too! The broken rib that Ertz suffered in Week 16 would have been a death knell for teams like Kansas City, or San Francisco. However, since our reserves are so silky smooth, Philadelphia hardly felt a bump in the road.
WR: (D) Greg Ward by himself would get a “B” grade. Over the last quarter he’s put up 21 catches for 210 yards (10.0 yards per catch), and one game winning TD. The other 3 players active at this position, over that same span, posted 8 catches for 113 yards (16.6ypc) and no scores. To be fair to Deontay Burnett, he only played in the last game and still caught 2 for 48. That means the other two players produced just 6 catches for 85 yards over 4 games. Amazingly, our Eagles won 4 straight games despite this.
OT: (C) We’ve played the last three games without Lane Johnson. We instead relied on Halapoulivaati Vaitai to man the right side. Vaitai hasn’t been great, but he’s been servicable. In fact, many of his mistakes seem more attributable to coaches not compensating for his athletic limitations. Jason Peters has been Jason Peters as a blocker, but his name is being called far too often for penalties recently.
OG: (C) Isaac Suemalo remains an up and down player. While he moves well in space, he’s not particularly stout at the point of attack. Brandon Brooks was playing at a Pro Bowl level, until he was hurt during the last game of the season. Matt Pryor stepped in and handled himself well, but he hasn’t played a single full game in his two year career.
C: (B) Despite less than stellar Shotgun snapping, Jason Kelce is doing a good better of the blocking calls, so there were fewer “A” gap rushers running free this quarter.
DE: (B) Brandon Graham isn’t getting sacks like he did around midseason, but he is doing a much better job of playing the run first and keeping contain. So I find myself not missing Chris Long quite as much, as I did around midseason.
Derek Barnett would do well to study containment. He flattens out too soon to chase down the line, and usually gets neither the pressure nor the tackle. Instead of doing his job first, he’s trying to make the play first. He’s playing inside-out and it frequently leaves us vulnerable on his side whereas Graham is locking down the other side.
Vinny Curry! We won a Super Bowl starting that guy on the blindside. In the two games he played for the injured Barnett this quarter, Vinny was making a case that maybe we have the wrong guy starting. Hey, I’m just being honest! Josh Sweat has cooled off somewhat since midseason, which is probably part of the reason that Philly’s own Shareef Miller was added to the active roster as the season came to a close.
DT: (A) Statistics don’t tell the story of the job that this position is doing. They are playing excellent team concept football, dictating that RB’s can’t run up the middle and that QB’s can’t step up or hang I the pocket. They aren’t recording many stats, but they’re causing opposing offenses to run off-schedule. Amazing.
Adding man-mountain Anthony Rush to the rotation with Fletcher Cox, has helped limit teams desire to run the ball inside. In fact, we went from a 3 – 4 team before Rush, to 6 – 3 since. I assure you that’s not a coincidence. If you think it is, check out both Dallas games, both before and after Rush was added.
OLB: (C) T.J. Edwards is an upgrade over Kamu Grugier-Hill. He’s more physical and instinctive, and so far there’s nothing to indicate that we’ve lost anything in underneath coverage. Nate Gerry hasn’t made a splash play in a while, but he’s making a lot of clean, unassisted tackles. Nothing is being schemed for him, but that feels like it may change in the postseason.
MLB: (B) The feel of the Defense has changed since Nigel Bradham took over for Nate Gerry in the middle. Opponents haven’t been able to rely on their run games in weeks, so we’ve made offenses one dimensional against us. And not just against bad offenses. We held the NFL’s #1 offense to 9 points (3 field goals). Bradham isn’t making splash plays, but he’s everywhere we need him to be, when the moment arises. We didn’t have that with Gerry, and we didn’t always have that last year, with Jordan Hicks. We may be making plans for Nigel to play on the inside if the Eagles pick up his option.
S: (C) Malcolm Jenkins is even playing Special Teams. That is leadership by example. It says no job is too small or unimportant. It sends a message that every play, every down, is all hands on deck. Rod McLeod is frequently in tough positions when the ball is thrown long, some of which he can’t recover from. The scheme does him no favors.
CB: (B) Since Miami the DC seems to be letting these guys play a little more Press Coverage at the line. It’s still not enough, but some Press, beats no Press at all. The results speak for themselves. Players at this position have 18 passes defensed in the last 4 weeks. An unit that showed improvement last quarter, continued that trend.
Sidney Jones (whom I all but left for dead in my last report), has made clutch plays in three of the last four games including an interception while covering a receiver, who in a previous game had skinned us alive. Rasul Douglas lacks the long speed to be routinely put in man situations, but if the ball isn’t thrown over his head, he will try to get his mitts on it. There is also no denying that Jalen Mills and CreVon LeBlanc add a fiery competitiveness, that has rubbed off on their fellow corners.
Talent-wise, we have no A+ or even A type players, at this position. We have a number of B level guys, who all have some sort of obvious limitation. So what we have here, are no stars, but a stable of solid to very solid players. That being said, due to the system we play, these guys will give up big plays here and there. However, recognizing all this doesn’t mean I graded them on a curve. This position got what they earned.
LS: (A) Rick Lovato is consistent.
P: (B) Cam Johnston stepped his game up in these last four games. Last quarter saw 20 punts for 12 returns (60% return rate), for 79 yards (6.5ypr). This quarter had 22 punts for 9 returns (40%) for 51 yards (5.6ypr). That’s across the board improvement, but those aren’t the most baller stats.
Of those 22 punts only 3 were fair caught and only 1 was a touchback. Of our 28 punts down inside the 20 this year, 11 were in these last four games. Of the 9 punts that we downed this year, 6 were in this quarter. That says that Cam took a real hard look in the mirror and opted to work within the system. That’s some real big boy stuff, right there
K: (C ) Jake Elliott was 5 for 8 kicking field goals this year, but two of those misses were from 55 and 53 yards, outside, with intermittent gusts of wind. Spend a day attempting 30 yarders, before you judge this guy too harshly for those. Kickoffs remain a concern though. 21 kickoffs, 10 returns (47% return rate), for 245 yards (24.5ypr).
That return rate is up from 36%. The returns ar up from 23.7. We are trending wrong people!
PR/KR: (F) I won’t even post the numbers. Our return game is a wide-open wound.
KC: (C) Teams are taking more chances trying to make a big play, by attempting returns, that means it’s only a matter of time before someone gets lucky against us. Worse yet, when teams do return it we don’t stop them well short of the 25. So for opponents, taking a chance on a return is a risk-free proposition.
SINCE LAST QUARTER:
We won the division and made it into the tournament that will determine the league champion. We got our shit together when we needed to, and we had our selves a successful season. Yes, I said it was a successful season. As in Regular Season.
Now we’re trying to have a successful Post-season. THAT success will be determined by hoisting the SB trophy in February. Make no mistake though, we accomplished the first part of that quest already.
Bask in that. Until Kickoff Sunday at 4:40, vs the Seahawks.
MISSION FOR THIS QUARTER:
The regular season is over. We are now in the post-season. There is no quarter given here. Not by the calendar, nor the fans, nor the opposition to come. There is however, a mission, and it is this:
Win one game. Win a second. Win a third. Then win that fourth game.
THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES ARE YOUR 2019 NFC EAST CHAMPIONS!!!
Once again, I predicted score wrong, but I was pretty on-point about the spread. (I predicted 18 points, the margin turned out to be 17.) At no point this week, did I think this game would be close. Turns out, I nailed it.
The story many will tell, will be of RB Boston Scott (19 – 54 – 2.8 – 3 – 0 / 4 – 84 – 21.0 – 0), taking over after Rookie RB Miles Sanders (9 – 52 – 5.7 – 0 – 0) went down with an ankle injury. The REAL story is of how QB Carson Wentz (23/40 – 57.5 – 289 – 1 – 0), continues to make everyone around him better, regardless of their Draft pedigree.
While Boston Scott led the Eagles in receiving yards, it was WR Greg Ward (6 – 43 – 7.1 – 0) who paced the roster in receptions, TE Dallas Goedert (4 – 65 – 16.2 – 0) who led in targets with 10, and TE Josh Perkins (4 – 50 – 12.5 – 1) who caught Wentz’s lone scoring strike. The point is, Wentz spread the ball around. Perfectly conducting the Offense, to make us more than the sum of our parts.
We made plenty of noise on Defense as well, with DE Derek Barnett (2 – 2.0 – 0 – 0) playing this game of the other side of the line of scrimmage, as both of his tackles were for losses. The same could be said of DE Brandon Graham (3 – 1.0 – 0 – 0) who also made all of his tackles in the backfield.
There’ll be no media coverage of how the Eagles defensive interior pissed all over the line of scrimmage, and marked it as their own territory. DT Timmy Jernigan (2 – 1.0 – 0 – 0) played like a someone was holding his family hostage. He absolutely wrecked any semblance of a blocking scheme, and he seemed to always be caving in the point of attack. DT Anthony Rush (1 – 0 – 0 – 0) strong-armed his way into a TFL as well.
DT Fletcher Cox (1 fumble recovery) doesn’t make much of an appearance on a stat sheet, but his 4th quarter recovery of a fumble forced by SS Malcolm Jenkins (7 – 0 – 0 – 0), put the game out of New York’s reach, for good. And Sidney Jones (3 – 0 – 1 – 0)! Did you see that step for step coverage of giants WR Darius Slayton (4 – 50 – 12.5 – 0)? Slayton fell cleanly on the play, and Jones plucked the ball out the air, driving a dagger into the face of the giants hopes. Slayton had a very different day in this game, than he did when CB Ronald Darby (IR) was playing human turnstile, in the last match-up.
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for these “Four Things” articles. We introduce an idea of what needs addressing BEFORE the game, so that fans have to honestly answer questions about those things, AFTER the game. This helps to get us, and keep us, all on the same page.
So, of the Four Things we were looking for in this last game, what exactly did we see?
1) Protect the QB: The Eagles did decent (not great), job of getting Wentz outside of the pocket. However, the coaching staff left most of his protection up to the clock in his head. Wentz didn’t disappoint, as he made a point of either quickly vacating the pocket or throwing the ball away.
In fact, my second favorite pass of the day was an incompletion. On the third play of the 2nd quarter, Wentz spotted pass interference, and threw to WR Robert Davis (no stats), to draw the officials attention to the penalty. That’s an Aaron Rodgers, Jim Kelly, Peyton Manning kind of tactic. It worked, and we got 13 yards out a pass that never stood a chance of being completed. Nothing protects a QB like his own saavy, and Carson Wentz’s saavy magnified his physical protection in this game. (DONE)
2) Take away Barkley: RB Saquon Barkley (17 – 92 – 5.4 – 1 – 0 / 3 – 25 – 8.3 – 0) did what he always does. He spends most of a game under wraps, and then makes noise with one big play. This week it was a 68 yard rushing touchdown. Before that he had 11 carries for 10 yards (0.9 yards per carry), then the 68 yarder, and afterwards 5 carries for 14 yards (2.8 ypc). We made him not matter. We took him away from being able to help his team, on all but one down, and made his team play around him for the rest of the game. (DONE)
3) Vary our attack: Boy did we ever! HC Doug Pederson emptied the attic this week. Strikes to WR’s on the outside. A 28 yard laser down the middle to Dallas Goedert, 14 yards worth of toe drag swag to Goedert on a clutch 3rd and 8, a cross body throw to a third string TE for a 24 yard score… And then when Sanders went out, Scott came in and we continued to pound the rock inside. That is, when we weren’t running Jet Sweeps, and throwing 39 yard screens… We threw a little bit of everything at the giants. I’d hate to be the team that has to watch tape and figure out what, or whom they need to stop. (DONE)
4) Hold auditions: This was done, but not the way I envisioned it. Due to CB Jalen Mills being out, and Darby being just placed on IR, both Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas (3 – 0 – 0 – 0) had to start, and play the whole game. There was no way to play one off of the other. Instead of two half game auditions, we got two full game auditions, for Darby’s spot in 2020. During which both players defensed three passes each, and allowed no WR more than 68 yards (68, 50, 39, and 12). (DONE)
That brings the week to a perfect 4 of 4, and the REGULAR season total to 38 of 64 (.593), which is just about commensurate with our record of 9 – 7 (.562). To have gotten it to match exactly, our record would had to have been 9 – 6 – 1.
Given that over the last 4 weeks we’re 15 of 16 (.937) in Four Things, and are undefeated during that span, it would seem that the team is peaking at just the right time, because we’re taking care of exactly the right things.
On The Whole:
This was an excellent victory. It was a slugfest that more or less became a blowout, on the road, in inclement weather, while still losing key players. I defy you to ask for better character building on the doorstep of the playoffs.
Now we begin our journey to the Super Bowl.
ONCE again the Eagles are back at the head of the division, and please don’t start with how “unsexy” the division is. Your car isn’t a Rolls Royce, but you still love it and fuss over it, right? Well in that same spirit, this division may not be the NFC West, but we’re gonna drive this motherfucker ’til the wheels fall off.
Yes, yes, I know! That’s not to say that the East is ours free and clear. We still have one more payment to make on it. And it’s due next week.
Despite all the missing weapons, QB Carson Wentz (31/40 – 77.5% – 319 – 1 – 0) led his team to (what right now is) the signature game of his career. That’s not to say that he was without help. For the second week in a row, rookie RB Miles Sanders (20 – 79 – 3.9 – 1 – 0 / 5 – 77 – 15.4 – 0) put up 150+ yards from scrimmage.
Stepping up for TE Zach Ertz (4 – 28 – 7.0 – 0) who injured his ribs early on, was TE Dallas Goedert (9 – 91 – 10.1 – 1). Geodert hit pay dirt with a 6 yard dart from Wentz. Don’t look now, but WR Greg Ward (4 – 71 – 17.7 – 0) may be trying to coax Wentz into throwing the ball down the stripe a little more, after breaking off a 38 yard gain for his QB. Even rookie WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2 – 39 – 19.5 – 0) made a declaration of sorts, by opening the game with a 27 yard grab, and catching both balls thrown to him.
Defensively, the stat line for MLB Nigel Bradham (2 – 0 – 0 – 0) doesn’t tell how instrumental he was in rendering Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (13 – 47 – 3.6 – 0 – 0 / 7 – 37 – 5.2 – 0) ineffectual for the day. The same can be said for DT Fletcher Cox (3 – 0 – 0 – 1). It’s a shame that the fumble he forced, didn’t turn into points.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until it happens. DE Vinny Curry (2 – 1.0 – 0 – 0) needs to be brought back in 2020.
DE Josh Sweat (2 – 1.0 – 0 – 0) is justifying the coaches patience with him, and is starting to look like the steal he was drafted to be. (Though he has a tendency to flirt with neutral zone infractions. Crown of your helmet Josh!) DT Anthony Rush (1 – 0 – 0 – 0) gives us a physical presence inside that makes it hard for a run game to get traction. I thought I saw him make a Tackle For Loss, but the (generous) spotting of the ball made it a run for no gain. In fact, Bradham (1), Curry (1) and Sweat (2) all had TFL’s. Just what we needed against this team.
Much maligned CB Sidney Jones (1 – 0 – 0 – 0), made yet another excellent play on the ball, in a critical fourth down situation. In fact, the play he made was potentially what saved the game, and possibly the season. He still tackles like a young Deion Sanders, but if he can get his confidence back up, we may have a guy that we can trade out of the conference. (Tackling is too important to risk keeping him.)
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for these “Four Things” articles. To introduce an idea of what needs addressing BEFORE the game, so that fans have to honestly answer questions about those things, AFTER the game. This helps to get us, and keep us, all on the same page.
So, of the Four Things we were looking for in this last game, what exactly did we see?
1) Keep Bradham clean: Our D-Line not only kept Bradham from having to fight off offensive linemen, they made plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage! This was the deluxe version of what we needed here. (DONE)
2) Force them into their base defense: Apparently the Eagles coaches and I see things very similarly. According to a Next Gen stat that was put up on the television screen, deep into the 4th quarter, the Eagles had run 2TE formations, 56% of the game. That forced the Cowboys to play newcomer OLB Malcolm Smith (2 – 0 – 0 – 0) clearly more than they wanted to. So much so that at one point you could see that he was visibly winded. This allowed us to victimize him several times. Good show! (DONE)
3) Gut the middle: The idea was to keep them in their base, and make their LB’s play chase all day long. If they’re chasing, they aren’t dictating the action or making big plays. So we made them chase TE’s, and we forced them to follow Sanders all around the formation. We also threw 6 passes to RB Boston Scott (3 – 12 – 4.0 – 0 – 0 / 6 – 7 – 1.1) and he caught all of them. Almost all of them were routes towards the sideline to force LB’s into lateral coverage, or pull a Nickel out of position. We even ran Wentz a couple times on designed runs. Worked like a charm, and the Cowboys stayed off-balance all game. (DONE)
4) Don’t over-commit vs the run: Since the front seven played well enough on it’s own, there wasn’t much call for that. We showed some heavy fronts, but they never really brought the house aside from short yardage moments. We did a lot of “threaten and bail”, which forced Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (25/44 – 56.8% – 265 – 0 – 0) to read our coverages more often than film study would have suggested was necessary. We didn’t over-commit to the run, and made it harder for him to throw the ball against us. (DONE)
For the third time this year, we nailed a perfect 4 of 4 for the week, boosting our season tally to 34 of 60 (.566). Next week we can clinch the NFC East and a home playoff game with a win vs the giants. That game by the way, has been FLEXED from 1:00 pm to 4:25 pm.
On The Whole:
We’ve been a team in need of consistency for weeks now. Recently our QB play has gotten more stable and creative. Carson was moved around a lot today. Bootlegs, called QB runs, split out wide… Everything except QB Sneaks. (Weird, right?)
Play at RB has become more dynamic recently. I said after the Miami game that Sanders reminded me of Brian Westbrook. Weeks later, I stand by that. He is effective both with, and without the ball in his hands.
Lots of people want to draw a comparison between he and LeSean McCoy, probably due to body type. However, young McCoy was a more dangerous natural runner, but needed the football to make plays. Sanders is a much scarier draw out-wide, than McCoy ever was.
And then there’s situational football. As you could see on Sanders “Take a Knee 2.0” today, for him making the play isn’t always about what you do as a runner. He gave up a TD in exchange for sealing a win.
Defensively we need to decide on who we are. If we’re going to be a team that doesn’t rush 5, we need to scheme more rushes or packages that actually get hands the QB more. For two years I’ve been saying that we don’t cover long enough for the rush to get home. That wasn’t true today.
If we’re going to affect games, dictate action and cause turnovers, we need our Defense to be more sudden. Our plodding pass rush of the last month has to improve if we intend to make any noise in January.
THIS is still not a playoff game. Following an Eagles win, we still need to win next week. This game alone decides nothing for us. Nothing. Dallas can clinch this week if they beat us. However, we still have another regular season game to win after this week.
Many fans will disagree with me, and call this a playoff game. Oh really? Alright amateur Kotite, which round do we advance to with a win this week? Week 17, you say? You mean not the playoffs? But how could that be, if this game is a playoff game? Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Last time we faced Dallas, they beat our asses, and made it look easy. Some of it was on us, coming out emotionally flat. Some of it was that they executed, and took advantage of the opportunities we wouldn’t stop providing. They weren’t a great team that day, but we were a very bad one.
Whether we are playing for a playoff berth, or redemption, or to avoid being swept, our team has plenty of reasons to be emotionally jacked for this one. It also doesn’t hurt to have 69,000 screaming fans as back-up. There will be no emotional flatness this time.
So let’s talk about the Four Things we need to focus on this week versus the Cowboys:
1) Keep Bradham clean: The last time we faced the Cowboys, we’d just cut MLB Zach Brown, and OLB Nigel Bradham was out with an injury. So we played OLB Nate Gerry at MLB in that game, and we found out (again) that he’s not suited to that role.
This time Bradham is playing MLB. Even though he is a lot more mentally suited to the role, he’s still physically smallish for the position (due to how this division plays offense). That means he could use a hand from the DT’s to keep blockers out of his lap, so that he can roam, make tackles, and keep us from over-committing to stopping the run.
If DT’s Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan aren’t going to make tackles for losses, they have to win at the point of attack, and keep the offensive linemen from advancing the line of scrimmage. This also what we need out of 350 pound NT Anthony Rush. Don’t get me wrong! Tackles for losses would be awesome, but it’s more important that we play fundamentally sound, and take away the inside run.
2) Force them into their base defense: The key to beating the Cowboys will be 12, 21, and 22 personnel groupings. With them missing OLB Leighton Vander Esch, they had to lean on their reserves at that position. As if the fall-off in talent weren’t already a killer, their back-ups have pulled up lame as well.
In fact, it got so bad that on Monday, the Cowboys signed former Seahawks OLB Malcolm Smith. Smith is 30 and hasn’t played any meaningful football since 2017 when he tore his pectoral muscle playing for Oakland. (His 2018 season was throw-away.)
That Rams game last week? It was a total outlier. The Rams like to play more 11 personnel on offense. It allowed the Cowboys to lean on a third DB, not play back-up LB’s, and kept speed on the field. Instead of leaning on the Cowboys weakness, the Rams leaned away from it. The Eagles lack enough WR’s to even play much 11 personnel. Soooooo… You see where this is headed, right?
3) Gut the middle: The backbone of the Cowboys defense is their LB play. We have to snap that spine. Nooo, I’m not saying that we should injure a player. I’m saying that we need to go full-on Bane against their very defensive identity.
We need to see if MLB Jaylon Smith can consistently cover RB Boston Scott in the Flat on one down, and then play against the interior run on the next. The match-up between OLB Sean Lee and TE Zach Ertz sounds fun, right? Or TE Dallas Goedert vs the fill-in for Vander Esch? How about splitting RB Miles Sanders in the Slot vs any LB, with Boston Scott in the backfield.
And if they go small vs 12, 21, or 22, then audible to an off-Guard running play, between LG Isaac Seumalo and LT Jason Peters.
4) Don’t over-commit vs the run: We have to be fundamentally sound vs the run. By playing fundamentally sound, I mean that the DE’s have to set the edges, before they chase a RB or QB.
Getting greedy has cost us too often recently.
I’m no longer calling for the Eagles to play much Cover Two. DC Jim Schwartz isn’t smart enough to make that adjustment. However, if we play fundamentally sound up front, then Schwartz can be creative on the back end.
QB Dak Prescott has had good days vs our Cover One look, but at times, he’s also been just average against it. The smaller we can make his throwing windows, the more likely we can get an average performance out of him.
If we don’t over-commit, and can add more players in coverage, it gives our Secondary a chance to follow and trust their eyes more. Too often our coverage concept takes players out of real chances to be disruptive while the ball is in the air. Mixing up some coverages will get Prescott to share the football with us, and let us hug him a lot.
If we do all these things, we’re just about guaranteed to win. Now that we’ve covered what should happen, let’s get into what likely will happen:
Styles dictate fights. The Rams game last week has the media buzzing that the Cowboys are back. The problem is, the Rams play a style of offense that the Eagles can’t, due to a lack of personnel. The Eagles on the other hand, use a style that makes it hard for the Cowboys to match-up with, due to current injuries. Defensively the Cowboys come into this game at a severe tactical disadvantage.
The Eagles come in at a disadvantage on Defense as well, but it’s a slight disadvantage, not a severe one. We’re healthier than we’ve been in three years facing the Cowboys, but we play a style that allows the Cowboys to score reliably. Again that goes back three years.
This will be a slugfest. This will be a war. This might be the best game you watch all season long.
PREDICTION: EAGLES 30 – Dallas 22