TRAINING Camp arrived today! While most fans have been waiting to get a glimpse of the players, I’ve been dying to get a look at the systems we’ll be running. Of course we won’t get a real glimpse of the Defensive system until probably the third preseason game. Still, I’ll be looking for big changes in our coverage of opposing receivers.
I’m actually very excited about that.
Aside from that, I don’t really know what we can reasonably expect from this year’s camp. All that talk of open competition throughout the roster was bullshit from the jump; and I told you that it was, in plain and unbroken.
There are 22 starting positions between the Offense and the Defense, and the only spots truly up for grabs are LT, WR2, and maybe, maybe, MLB. Everything else has either been decided by, or confirmed by, economics.
The battle for LT between multi-year project Jordan Mailata, and 2019 first round pick Andre Dillard, should be a lot of fun to watch, as they bring two different approaches to the contest. Mailata raw size and power, and Dillard The two of them seem quietly determined to put the other guy on the bench. If iron truly sharpens iron, then the result should produce an excellent blindside protector for QB Jalen Hurts.
It’s already been said that WR Jalen Reagor would be operating mostly out of the Slot this season. Greg Ward is reliable, but lacks the speed to threaten deep; and while John Hightowerhas shown impressive wheels and an ability to uncover, his catch rate (34.5%) makes him impossible to take seriously as candidate to start.
That makes last year’s leading receiver Travis Fulgham, the odds-on favorite to be starter opposite rookie WR Devonta Smith. It needs to be said, with the amount of speed the Eagles have stockpiled at WR, especially when the back-ups are in, Jalen Hurts on a scramble drill could be lethal if he can improve his accuracy.
The MLB position is a toss-up. In our 4-3 base, that job belongs to T.J. Edwards right now. When we go to the Nickle or Dime, Edwards comes off the field. Then again so would most MLB’s. Second year man Shaun Bradley has more footspeed, but Edwards has better eyes and instincts, and he plays under more control. We’ll have to see how it plays out in Camp. Provided the job is truly even up for grabs.
Despite all the turnover this offseason, there really isn’t much to see, if you step back and view the big picture. The Eagles coaching staff doesn’t know enough about themselves as a group, to draw any definite lines in the sand about what must be done or how. This year is a lab for everybody. Both players and coaches.
Word to the wise:
This is not the most talented team in the NFL, but it does have a collection of young, explosive players on Offense. People are questioning whether those players will live up to their high ceilings. However, that question is an admission of multiple high ceilings.
The Defense has a few older players on it, but overall they are in their primes, and have been there, seen that. This is not a group that will get rattled easily. Even in games when we fall behind early.
While it would be silly to expect this team to win the NFC East this season, it would be equally as foolish to write them off. There is still a proven core of veterans who know how to motivate each other, hold themselves and each other accountable, and more importantly overcome adversity.
This team is a broad sword, not a scalpel. It’s roster is designed to either overwhelm with physical traits; or present match-up puzzles that defy classic solutions. This is not a finesse team. It’s built to be a brawler. That said, if the brawler can actually take a punch or two…the entire NFC, not just the East, could have a problem on its hands.
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.
EXPECT the Eagles to get off to a fast start. Head Coach Nick Siriannihas been an assistant for years, so he knows the NFL. In fact, right now, he knows the NFL better than it knows him. That will eventually change once teams get film of what he calls, when he calls it, who he leans on, how he uses time outs, how skilled he is in using the environment as a weapon, etc.
But for now…
Like any coach, Sirianni is going to try to develop certain strengths. Some things will develop on schedule. Some things possibly not at all. When things don’t pan out, he’ll have to adjust. However, when something happens that’s better than he was hoping for, or faster than he was hoping for, he needs to adjust to that too.
Use any advantage, like an advantage.
FOR EXAMPLE! Last year, WR Travis Fulgham came from out of nowhere. He had a few hot games, then he disappeared. He got targets, but the former coaching staff didn’t try very hard to scheme him open, or scheme to his strengths.
Nothing special was done during Fulgham’s emergence, so perhaps the feeling was that nothing needed to be specially adapted for him, once he’d made his presence known. This turned out to be a mistake.
That can’t happen again. If we stumble across another hot player, we need to scheme opportunities for them to capitalize on. Think of it as sleight of hand. While the opponent struggles to figure out how to stop our new shiny toy, Sirianni can focus on nailing down the principles that he wants to install as cornerstones.
This is me highlighting a possible path to Sirianni having long-term success, as an Eagles coach. Stay loose. Stay fluid. And capitalize quickly on opportunities, when players become them.
CUTTING WR DeSean Jackson was a foregone conclusion. While it remains true that he’s still faster than gossip, he can’t string together 6 consecutive downs in a game, without having to be shut down. Usually for weeks. This leaves the Eagles once again without a deep threat.
After last year’s draft, rookies WR John Hightower and WR Quez Watkinshad us Eagles fans excited. We had a couple of speedy, young pups to bring along behind Jackson, and free agent addition WR Marquis Goodwin. With Goodwin also being a speedster, we looked to be deep with deep speed.
Funny thing about Goodwin though, he also has tendency to get nicked up and miss weeks with injuries. So naturally, Covid-19 saw Goodwin opt out for the year, and fans worrying that he might miss a few games, suddenly were even less happy. And Jackson? He was of course, hurt just minutes into the 2020 season.
This left us leaning on Hightower by the end of Week 1. His speed was undeniable, but his inability to track balls, led to his 34.5% catch rate on the year. For those of you who don’t follow stats, that catch rate isn’t just bad, it’s horrendous. Watkins saw a little playing time later in the season, but he wasn’t exactly killing it out there.
In 2021, we have Hightower, Watkins, and Goodwin returning. At this point, I think these three may scare Eagles fans more than they scare opponents. Still, we need to turn one of those guys into a weapon that can stretch the field, and create room for the other receivers to work underneath.
WR Greg Ward is a Slot/possession receiver. WR Jalen Reagor looks like a Slot guy right now, but he keeps being sold to us as being able to play outside. WR Travis Fulgham looked like a solid second option for a few weeks. Then opponents realized that we didn’t have a first option, and took Fulgham away. WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is still on the roster, and was supposed to give us a physical, 50/50 ball winner.
FUN FACT! No Eagles WR has reached 600 yards since 2018.
Without a deep threat, our other receivers are going to have a much more difficult time finding separation. This means our QB will have to hold onto the ball and well…
My hope is that Hightower spends this off-season working on his hand-eye coordination. Exercises like, catching a jelly bean with both hands (Not just one). Or tracking raw eggs over his shoulder, while inside of his home. (All kinds of incentive to focus on the “ball”.) I’m not saying these are exercises that he will do. Just naming examples of some classics.
In any case, we gotta have a LEGIT deep threat in 2021.
SILVER lining to last week was, despite how shitty we looked, we still only lost by 5. My point is, that we aren’t “in over our heads” talent-wise. What we are is, in our own way. This week features a shuffling of the Offensive Line, and a head coach who said he was looking at 2017 and 2018 film. This week is the wisest the Eagles have looked from top to bottom, since they figured out several ways to mask Halapoulivaati Vaitai at LT in 2017.
A win puts us back in first place in the NFC East. A loss would have us still within striking distance, but with no shot at any sort of Wild Card seeding.
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 Seattle:
1) Attack, attack, attack:I saw our passing attack on a milk carton yesterday. Seattle is giving up 28 points per game, and can’t defend the pass. Win, lose, or tie, the Eagles need a game where we TOTALLY cut loose, and try to work on some things. With all the people calling for QB Carson Wentz’s benching, using this game as a lab is basically playing with house money. What’s to lose? It’s not like most Eagles fans could pretend to be disappointed. Many have already thrown in the towel! We need to be aggressive and either get the knockout, or go down swinging.
2)Run the damned ball:Usually I say “hand it off 20+ times”. We did that last week with 9 carries on the first drive, and just 12 carries for the REMAINDER OF THE GAME! That was 20+. Get it? That was Doug playing with my emotions.
So I’m going to breadcrumb this, this week: “Doug, hand that motherfucker off 12 to 16 times per half. Commit to running the ball to set up play-action. Make life easier for the O-Line and the QB. Save yourself some frustrating questions after the game.”
3)Go For Two: While it’s true that our Offense (cough cough, Carson) is giving the ball away entirely too often (20 in 10 games, Carson has 18 of them), it’s equally true that our Defense doesn’t generate many takeaways (just 11 in 10 games). All three of our wins are in games where we snagged two or more turnovers. All the games with 1 or less, have been losses or a tie. In every game this year where Seattle committed more than 1 turnover, they lost that game. This is an easy one to figure out.
4)Do better with hidden yardage: That means being penalized less for fewer yards. It also means returning more punts than we let roll dead. After allowing a punt to be downed at the 2, (which led to a safety last week), Special Teams Coordinator Dave Fipp needs to be on notice. His unit has gotten beyond sloppy, and worse than that, there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to make a serious, or sustained effort. He needs to find a return man who wants the job, instead of using WR Greg Ward and RB Boston Scott who are merely going through the motions.
If we do these Four Things, the final score should look a lot like:
EAGLES 32 – Seahawks 24
Check back in a couple of days forFour Things Reviewed, and we’ll discuss how it went.
JUST THROW IT AWAY! Why does he keep holding the ball so long?! He’s trying to do too much!
These are the things we keep hearing this season, about QB Carson Wentz. Many people are saying that he’s regressing. If that’s the case then the entire Offense has regressed as well. And not because of Wentz.
When Wentz doesn’t throw the ball away after 4 seconds, that’s a decision. It is a decision when he sees a receiver not uncover, and then continue to hold the ball, and wait for a window. He is making decisions that lead to sacks and turnovers. Let’s acknowledge that right at the top. So we don’t need to debate about it later.
Let me ask a couple questions here. Who repeatedly draws up a bunch of long-ass routes with no check-downs? Was that Wentz? How about those plays where our receiver routes end up in bunches, which attracts defenders, creating no windows? Does Wentz design those? When you see him hold the ball forever, notice how you never yell, “There’s a guy right there!” Why is that?
Carson Wentz, ladies and gents, is largely being fucked over by play design. That’s coaching. Head Coach Doug Pederson is falling victim to the same trap thatAndy Reid and TIK, fell victim to. The need to prove how clever they are. Thus, all these offensive coaches that Doug keeps adding to the staff, for “new ideas” and “new perspectives”.
Look, the Eagles won a Super Bowl behind a bruising run game, which opened up a mind-numbingly efficient intermediate passing game, lightly accented by a multifaceted deep game, which involved raw speed on one side, and receiver who’s open even when well covered, on the other. There was nothing “clever” about it.
Not at all.
We just took you to the woodshed.
Since then, we’ve lost Offensive CoordinatorFrank Reich, with whom Doug had an almost psychic bond. Then we got away from simple and brutal. Seriously. Three years ago 220 pound RB Corey Clementwas our small RB (after RB Darren Sproleswas injured.) This year Clement is our big back. Over the last couple of seasons we’ve devolved into a finesse running team, with underachieving TE’s, and a spotty deep passing game.
Literally everything around Wentz has taken a step back. The Offensive Line isn’t as good. The TE position is in serious transition. The run game is soft. At WR we have Travis Fulgham and our fingers crossed. Even the coaching has slid. Yet people have somehow expected Wentz to return to the MVP form of 2017. That only makes sense if you’re incapable of discerning context.
During that 2017 season, he had a high functioning team around him. This year (in case you hadn’t noticed), he’s carrying this team on his back.
I keep waiting for Doug to help him out schematically. The Eagles (and everyone else) use WR motion to get teams to declare man or zone before the snap. But what about getting to dictate where a defender goes, even after the snap? Imagine if every time the opposing defense read it right, you could make them wrong anyway?
It wouldn’t require a new playbook, or totally new philosophy. Just the incorporation of basic concepts like this:
That’s not even a whole play. However, what it does, is show a simple way to manipulate the Safety (X), while quickly getting the ball out of Wentz’s hand. No turnovers plus easy yardage. And again, that’s just a fragment of a play which could be worked in, in numerous places. There are many similar concepts out there.
It’d be nice to see Wentz get a look at a few of them.
SEASON Reviews are usually done at the end of the season. A few are also done at the halfway mark. 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 currently stands, in relation to where it started. Then we can discuss where it needs to go next.
STATUS: 3 – 4 – 1 / 1st place in the NFC East/ 23.3 points scored per game vs. 25.6 points allowed.
(L) Pittsburgh 7 – 0
(L) Baltimore 5 – 2
(W ) New York giants 1 – 6
(W ) Dallas 2 – 5
Injuries to key positions continued to rob this team of any ability to build any stability. Especially along the Offensive Line. The team has shown remarkable resiliency, battling back from double digit deficits in three straight games (PIT, BAL, NYG), respectively threatening a, almost completing a, and then pulling off a, comeback victory. This Eagles team is making the point that they will never surrender, and never retreat.
QB: (C)Carson Wentzended the first quarter with a mark of 4TD – 7INT. This quarter he’s flipped it to 8TD – 5INT. Not sexy, but clear progress. Beyond that, he’s infected his team with an “I didn’t hear no bell!” mentality. This is in spite of all the protection and weapons that he’s been missing. Jalen Hurts has played 17 snaps this quarter, but all as a gadget guy. So far there’s been no way to get him more than that without starting a media frenzy.
RB: (C)Miles Sandersrecorded back to back weeks with a 74 yard run. While 1 was a TD, the other ended up as a fumble (recovered by a teammate). In a 2 week span, he put up 198 rushing yards on 20 carries (9.9ypc). When he plays, he’s a threat. Boston Scott filled in for Sanders, catching the game winning TD in Week 7, and picking up 70 rushing yards Week 8. Both were wins. While the Eagles want him to be the nextDarren Sproles, Scott isn’t nearly as elusive, and lacks a second gear to the edge. He picks up what the line provides, but is merely functional. Corey Clement chipped in 31 yards on 7 rushes (4.4). He’s also seen a sharp up-tick in snaps these last two weeks.
TE: (D)Zach Ertz played the first two games of this quarter, before being put on IR. In those two games, he caught just 5 o f 16 balls for 39 yards. During this same quarter, Richard Rodgers has come alive. Posting 10 catches and 107 yards on just 12 targets, Rodgers even led the team in receptions (8) and yards (85) in the Eagles victory over the giants. The blocking has suffered somewhat. Dallas Goedert just got back from being on IR. Jason Croom paid us too short a visit from the Practice Squad and caught a touchdown in the process.
WR: (C)Travis Fulgham is the story of this quarter, with 27 catches on 41 targets for 378 yards (14.0ypc) and 3TD. Greg Ward has 2 scores on 14 grabs for 97 yards (7.9ypc). He either has to get better at running past the sticks, or picking up yards after the catch. So far John Hightower has 4 catches on 15 targets this quarter. While he has the speed to be a deep threat, his ball tracking skills have to improve if he’s going to have an NFL career. Fulgham is stepping up. It will be interesting to see if another player at this position will or can, step up to help spread coverages.
C: (A)Jason Kelce Has been the glue holding the interior of the line together. The result of his mentoring has the run game looking better. (When we use it.)
G: (D)Nate Herbig isn’t going to win a Mr. Universe contest, but he’s been consistent, and he teams well on combo blocks. He’s looked good enough recently, to bring up the question of Isaac Seumalo’s spot on the 2021 depth chart. Especially if Herbig keeps improving. The other spot has been manned over these last 4 games by a combination of Matt Pryor, Iosua Opeta, and Jamon Brown (back on PS). The result is, the Eagles look better running the ball than throwing it. (Except on 3rd and more than 2, or when trying to close out games.)
T: (C)Lane Johnson has tried to battle through an ankle injury, but it’s got him in and out of games, and looking like a shell of himself when he’s on the field. Jason Peters played in just one game this quarter, but it was our Week 8 win over Dallas. His issues facing speed, at times have him looking average. Not that average is a liability, but moving Peters inside would help the entire Offensive Line. Now that Jordan Mailatahas shown he can man the Left spot, we can afford to move Peters the instant that Johnson is good to go. Jack Driscoll is a rookie who largely looks like one. That’s not a knock. That’s flat reality.
DE: (B)Brandon Grahamis on pace to finish with double digit sacks for the first time in his career. More than that, he’s ramped up his play from last quarter to this. He’s always been solid vs the run, but recently he’s become an absolute liability to offensive game-plans. Derek Barnett and Josh Sweathave both cooled considerably during this quarter. Seems that Barnett plays better off the bench, and Sweat plays better when he starts. Genard Averysaw his effectiveness decrease as his snaps declined, and now is on IR. Vinny Curry played a big part in both of our last two wins, getting his hands on two killer fumble recoveries (one not recovered by him)
DT: (C)Fletcher Cox hasn’t put up many sacks numbers, but he’s still anchoring vs the run, despite seeing constant double teams. Malik Jacksonhad a strong first two games before being hurt Week 7, and trying to play through Week 8. More was expected from free agent additionJavon Hargrave. The idea was that he’d disrupt blocking scheme and occupy blockers. Put nicely, he could be doing more. Hassan Ridgeway was seeing decreasing downs before he was placed on IR.
OLB: (D) In a Week 7 win over the giants, Nate Gerrymade his first splash play of the year. Later in that game he would be injured. Aaand subsequently placed on IR. Duke Riley is simply incapable of imposing his will on an offense. The Eagles defense has been decidedly more feisty since Alex Singleton was named a starter in Week 6. His play has gotten increasingly more decisive, and he’s been willing to gamble on making the big play. Rookie Davion Taylor has played just 11 snaps this quarter. The knock on him is that he was still raw coming out of college. Not giving him more playing time, will ensure that he stays that way. If not for Singleton, this grade would be an F.
MLB: (B)T.J. Edwards played in just one game, but his sack/fumble sealed a prime-time victory over the Cowboys. For the other three games the Eagles have been going with a 2 LB alignment, so this position didn’t have a real representative for three games. Rookie Shaun Bradleyhas seen some defensive snaps in three of the four games this quarter, but hasn’t shown much playmaking ability. He has a willingness to hit, but his eyes have to get better in terms of diagnosing, so that he gets to the point of attack before it can be well established by the offense.
S: (D) Over this quarter, Jalen Mills has started wherever he’s been needed in the Secondary. As he is more of a tweener, his best position seems to be NB. Unfortunately, he didn’t see much action there and his play reflects it. Rodney McLeod has all at once, been asked to do too much and not enough. Too much Single-high Coverage, isn’t allowing our corners to gamble on creating turnovers. We have to be more proactive about creating turnovers and less reliant on just hoping they happen. Will Parks came off of IR and stepped into 2 starts in three games. He’s been solid at making tackles, but so far unremarkable. Marcus Epps so far just looks like a guy. For the second year in a row.
CB: (C)Darius Slayhas allowed a 76% completion rate over the last 4 games, as opposed to 66% over the first 4. In both quarters he’s averaged just 45 yards surrendered per game. So effectively, opponents lose half the field when he’s out there. That counts a great deal! Sadly, he doesn’t get a lot of surrounding support. Nickell Robey-Coleman makes the Defense stronger when he watches from the sideline. He’s a liability vs the run, and doesn’t make plays on the ball. Like Mills, Cre’von LeBlanc seems to be a better NB than edge player. His hustle and eyes are undeniable, but too often he seems a tick slow. Avonte Maddox has been a mixed bag since coming back from injury. In one game he’s targeted once, in another he’s targeted 10 times. In neither does he get a paw on the ball.
LS: (A)Rick Lovato hasn’t messed up a long snap, and has 4 tackles this quarter, vs just 1 in the last quarter. HE’S PLAYING LIKE A MAN POSSESSED!
P: (B)Cam Johnston is averaging 48.8 yards per boot, 10 of which have been returned for 78 yards. All of those numbers are down from last quarter, but all of those are still kick-ass numbers! It just puts in perspective how much ass Cam was stomping when the year began. Or it should. It should.
K: (D)Jake Elliottwas 5 for 5 on extra points, but 1 of 4 on FG, during this quarter. Right now the team is playing better in spite of him. In spite of.
SINCE LAST QUARTER:
We hit the realistic mark of 2 – 2. We separated ourselves from the bottom of the division. Unfortunately, continuous injury issues kept the Offensive Line and the Secondary from gelling.
MISSION FOR THIS QUARTER:
Try to win four games. The giants, Browns, Seahawks and Packers are on the menu this quarter, and most people don’t give us a chance against three of those teams. It’s too early to break out the dog masks, and to start using phrases like “Must Win” and “Playoff Mentality”. It is time for this team to challenge itself and each other, to take their individual games to the next level.
The reality is, we haven’t been very good this year, but there is no law that states that we cannot or will not improve. We have a few players coming back from injury after the Bye. We also have the motivation that this, is the last run as Eagles for some of these players. Next season, some of these guys will be back-ups on new teams, with little impact in the outcome of games. This is the last chance some of them will ever have, to make their expectations, their hopes, into reality.
So damn the pundits. Bow down to no one, and try to win ALL FOUR of these games.
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 in Four Things: Cowboys did the Eagles get around to doing? Well let’s see:
1) Bait the QB: We had a few chances at interceptions (S Rod McLeod, DB Jalen Mills and LB Alex Singleton, etc.), but Eagles players just couldn’t seal the deal. We sacked their QB 4 times, but we harassed him and forced him consistently into missing needed passes and settling for ineffectual ones. (DONE)
2) Run the ball: The mark was 25+ handoffs. We managed just 22. On those handoffs we produced 102 yards for an average of 4.6 per tote. The only reason we didn’t run the ball more, was because yet again, the coaching staff elected to get cute with the play-calling. On a night when the wind was taking no prisoners. This was the height of stupidity and stupid arrogance. (NOT DONE)
3) Shark Tank!: Early on, the ball wasn’t thrown much into the middle of the field. So the Eagles never got the chance to set this up. They didn’t get this done, but this is more on me, for setting up a marker that was dependent on what our opponent dictated. The mark was missed, but the error is mine. I will do better in the future. (NOT DONE)
4) Put on a clinic:We didn’t follow the blueprint for beating this team. In fact, we looked most of the time, like a headhunting boxer, searching for a knockout blow, instead of doing the work to set one up. The result was sloppy and uneven. (NOT DONE)
So this weeks Four Things score is 1 out of 4. Here at the team’s Bye week, we stand at 11 of 32. (That one miss being my fault.) Next week we get a Bye to rest up, and for the coaching staff to assess how to get some discipline out of this group.
The week after that, we look to extend our win streak and complete a sweep of the giants.
On The Whole: We looked bad. Let’s get that out of the way, right off. Now that that has been acknowledged, we apparently did enough to win the damned game. So obviously everything we did, wasn’t wrong.
We made the Cowboys RB-based run game look downright pedestrian, with 103 yards on 26 carries. They had a couple of WR reverses and some QB scramble yards, but nothing that they could hang their hats on.
The mission was to put the offense squarely on the shoulders of their trash talking QB, and he was clearly not up to the task. His stat line (21/40 – 52.5% – 180 – 0 – 0) doesn’t look so good when you consider that our CB’s play on deep cushions, which gives away free short completions, by design.
Lost in all of this is that this was A) The first game this year where we didn’t give up 20 points,B) A game in which we held an opponent to a single digit score, C)A game in which we allowed zero touchdowns, and D) A game in which Wentz managed to move the ball despite only having one receiver with more than 16 yards on the night.
Also, (shades of the Redskins game), Carson again threw two picks while trying to hook up with rookie WR’s Jalen Reagor and John Hightower. With WR DeSean Jackson on IR, Hightower is our home-run hitter. That said, Wentz and Hightower need to spend this Bye week playing catch somewhere, so they can finally get on the same page.
THIS week’s opponent is garbage. They are 1 – 5 trash, and they play like 1 – 5 trash. The last two weeks saw us nearly snatch two games, from teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. This year’s giants could never do that. So we need to got out there, and not play down to them. Injuries be damned.
With Dallas (2 – 4) losing to Arizona on Monday, a win over the giants on Thursday would put us at 2 – 4 – 1. Our winning percentage would be .357 to their .333. Pathetic? Sure. But it would still be the division lead? You bet! (Of course until Sunday, when Dallas shit cans Washington.)
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 giants :
1) Hand it off 20 times: The handoffs aren’t about making yards. The giants are stout inside, and we’ll be leaning in RB Boston Scott. So no one expects miracles. The handoffs are to set-up play-action, keep pass rushers off of QB Carson Wentz, and not have our Defense on the field all game long.
2) Be sack religious: Go get the QB! In recent weeks he hasn’t shared the ball as much with opponents, because he hasn’t seen serious pass rush. Pass rush is what our defense does best! So go get him!
3) Spread them out!: The giants run a base 3-4 defense. Being that we we’re down to 3rd and 4th string TE’s, we should run less 12 personnel, and more 11 and 10. Use a Slot WRs to force them out of their base, make them smaller and give ourselves the corners to run the ball. WR’s J.J. Arcega-Whitesideand Travis Fulgham, match-up well as blockers vs the giants Nickel and Dime DB’s.
4) No 50 yard field goal attempts: This is not an indictment on KJake Elliott’s ability to kick from distance. It’s to put the pressure on the Offense. This is Cortez burning the ships. Let’s be honest, the schedule only gets harder after the Bye. This game is an opportunity to work on and tighten things up. We should be able to win while doing so. If not… then the remainder of the season probably doesn’t matter.
If we do these Four Things, the final score should be:
PREDICTION: EAGLES 24 – giants 16
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 inFour Things: Ravens did the Eagles get around to doing? Well let’s see:
1) Run the ball: Wentz ran 2 called runs in this game. The touchdown and the 4th down conversion he didn’t get. His other 3 runs were from drop backs. That makes the playcalling ratio, 43 passes to 15 called runs. On 58 plays run, we were passing 74% of the time. Not winning football strategy. It’s not a wonder the game got so out of hand. (NOT DONE)
2) Stay disciplined: Outside of their QB, the Ravens ran for 74 yards on 28 carries (2.6 ypc). The Eagles Defensive line did great job of setting the edges, and pursuing runners. While the Ravens did make a few plays (on 37 total carries) our defensive discipline was clearly there today. (DONE)
3) Challenge them vertically, early: That early drop by WR John Hightower did a lot to stem Wentz’s enthusiasm to throw to deep targets. Hightower let the ball hit his pads instead of plucking it with his hands. Thus, making it clear to everyone (including his mother), what the difference between 1st round and 5th round talent, looks like. (NOT DONE)
4) Set up the Mark: We covered their starting TE too well to bait their QB into attempting to get him the ball much. This would have been a great week to turn one of our weaknesses into a trap, but… They instead made use of the back-up TE. Well isn’t that special? Bless their little hearts. (NOT DONE)
That makes this weeks Four Things score a dismal 1 of 4, bringing the season total to 7 of 24. Hey gang! In addition to being banged up, starting a 3rd string RG, and not currently knowing the injury status of Miles Sanders knee, we get just 4 days to prepare for a divisional game against the giants on THURSDAY! Oh goodie! Oh joy! I’m so happy I could shit Legos.
On The Whole:
Yay. Something something, moral victory, silver lining, next man up, yadda blah. Whatever. We lost. Again.
Valiant comeback my ass! What was that, 4 passes that hit guys in the hands that they dropped?! Miles Sanders, dropping passes, fumbling and getting hurt? I will give a dollar to the first DB who jams a receiver and helps the D-Line get a sack.
For his part, Wentz (YET AGAIN), strapped this team to his back, and attempted to climb Mt. Everest. Wouldn’t it be neat to see a second offensive player show that much competitive fire? I don’t mean WR’s I mean a RB or a TE. I want to see toughness. Ruggedness. I want to see the opposing defense afraid of someone in an Eagles jersey.
RB Boston Scott tripping up Wentz on the 2-point conversion?! You know what? If GM Howie Roseman is going to be a buyer at the trade deadline, one the things I want him to buy, is RB Jordan Howard back from Miami. If they don’t think RB Corey Clement can back-up Sanders, then get me a guy who can. Because Scott ain’t it!
On Defense, everything behind our Front Four feels suspect. There was a play where no fewer than 3 Eagles had a shot at popped up pass, and nobody came down with it! It feels like the scheme is rubbing off on CB Darius Slay, and not the other way around.
NOTE: It was nice to see Travis Fulgham get his first start, but we need to start seeing some combo routes run with TE Zach Ertz. Both to loosen the box and to get more roaming room for whomever is our deep receiver, on the other side.