We have now had two weeks to stew about the start to this Eagles season – the 14th (and possibly final) under the current head coach, Andy Reid. If you had asked me, before the season, how many wins I would have given the Birds coming out of the bye week, I would have said 3 or 4, so the current 3-3 record is not devastating, but it is just the nature of how they got here that is so troubling. But, I will say this – in the recent NFL, it does not really matter how you get there, you just gotta get there. If you don’t believe me, drive up I-95 for about two hours and check out the two shiny, new trophies that have been added to Giants Stadium (it will always be called that to me) in the past 5 years. Neither of those Giants teams were all that good in the regular season (last year’s version was OUTSCORED on the season), but they got in the tournament and got hot at the right time. Now, by no means am I comparing this Eagles team to the Super Bowl champs, but it certainly isn’t because of any perceived talent disparity because, on paper, this team is more talented than either of those championship Giants teams.
Anyway, it has been two weeks of self-analysis for the Birds as they prepare to welcome local hero, Matt Ryan, and his undefeated Atlanta Falcons. So, let us here at BSB do some analysis of our own. It’s time for the Eagles report card – and we are starting at the top…
Front Office/Coaching Staff
Player Personnel: A- (Howie Roseman, Andy Reid)
Anyone who can’t stand to hear any good things about this team right now (and, I can’t say that I blame you), skip this section – but don’t stop reading altogether because, trust me, this is not a rose-colored post from an Eagles apologist. There will be some harsh words in many of the other categories, as there is plenty of blame to go around, I just really do not think it should lie at the feet of anyone making the personnel decisions. First of all, in the salary cap era, it is hard to build a deep, solid team at every position and still have superstars. Yes, in retrospect, is Michael Vick overpaid? Absolutely. But, was it a terrible contract? Absolutely NOT. It was actually a rather brilliantly-structured contract, for which the front office deserves a LOT of credit. Whereas most teams, when they sign QBs to $100 million contracts are tying their whole franchise’s future to them, the Eagles can be free and clear of Vick – if need be – after this year. And, even in the interim, it’s not like his “massive” contract affected the roster flexibility in the least, as they had one of the biggest NFL spending sprees in recent memory last year. The point is that it is not entirely fair to judge a decision based upon the end result – you can really only judge on the information available at the time the decision was made.
Okay, so they signed a high-reward QB to a relatively low-risk contract. So, even though it may not work out, still a move I hope they make again. What else goes into a strong personnel department? Filling holes, right? Well, after last year what was the biggest hole on this team? The middle of the defense, right? What did they do? They acquired the best available middle linebacker in Demeco Ryans (at a bargain price, nonetheless) and they traded up for the best d-tackle in the draft in Fletcher Cox along with spending their second-round picks on OLB Michael Kendricks and DE Vinny Curry. Another hole was created when Jason Peters went down in the offseason. What did they do? They went out and signed Demetress Bell. Now, in retrospect, Bell has been a TOTAL bust, but everyone, at the time, thought he was the best tackle on the market.
So, they made smart contract decisions and aggressively identified and filled their team needs. What else is there? Evaluation of talent and performance on draft day. This has been a weakness of Roseman in the past, but this spring the Eagles were almost unanimously dubbed as “winning the draft.” They were given Mel Kiper, Jr.’s best draft grade. And, this was a weakness of this front office in the past. But, they did what they needed to do and landed a potential Pro Bowl d-tackle (Cox), a legit starting OLB (Kendricks), and a high-upside pass rusher (Curry) in the first two rounds. Then, they added their starting nickle corner (Brandon Boykin) in the 4th round, and their #2 RB (Bryce Brown) in the 7th round. Oh, and before I forget, they also nabbed everyone’s favorite Eagles QB, Nick Foles, in the THIRD ROUND.
Maybe an “A-” isn’t even high enough? The only thing I can downgrade them is that they didn’t really have a backup plan for Jason Kelce, who just happens to have suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two.
Coaching Staff: D- (Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg, Juan Castillo, Bobby April, et al)
So, anyone who has read anything I have put on this site knows that I really hate piling on with the “popular opinion,” but this time the masses are exactly right they really need to RUN THE F’ING BALL. They have, arguably, the best running back on the planet, an inexperienced and struggling o-line, and a turnover-prone, confidence-lacking QB, so WHY THE HELL ARE THEY RUNNING AN OFFENSE BUILT AROUND 7-STEP DROPS?!? I’m at my wits end. Watching this offense continue to spit in the face of every other opinion and throw the ball 65+% of the time is infuriating. I almost forget to get frustrated about it anymore. Yes, I know that these were the plays being called in 2004 when they set all sorts of team scoring records and again in 2010, when they even demolished those 2004 records en route to setting new ones. But, just because it worked with a certain collection of talent 2 years ago and 8 years ago does NOT mean that you have the talent to do it again now.
And, then there’s the defense. Yes, it is improved, but that has NOTHING to do with the playcalling or coaching. Nnamdi Asomugha is the best man-to-man cover corner on the planet not named Revis. And, he’s played upwards of 40% of the snaps this year in ZONE COVERAGE. The wide-9 technique led the Eagles to league-best sack totals last year, but they are currently mired in their longest period of time without a sack since some guy named Marion Campbell was coaching this team (I barely remember the Ray Rhodes Era). And, they remain the team with the lowest blitz frequency in the league. They have blitzed 38 times this YEAR. Jim Johnson used to blitz roughly 38 times a quarter. I know that they do not have the same ferocious blitzers that Jim Johnson had, but I would like to see guys like Kurt Coleman and Michael Kendricks take a shot at the QB once in a while. I do agree that the defense is improved, but Juan Castillo had to go. With the immense talent that this unit has to be so incredibly underperforming is a travesty. And, that falls on the guy who put him there. To sum up the entire coaching staff’s performance, I would like to quote Doogan:
“I’ve held back from saying it all year because it’s a moot point. But I thought this entire coaching staff should’ve been gone after last year. 8-8 with that much talent is a joke. And they’ve done NOTHING to change my mind this year, that for damn sure. The act of making Juan Castillo the DC in the first place should have been a fireable offense. The fact that it blew up in Reid’s face should seal the deal. Let’s get Cowher. I’m done with Reid and VERY close to done with Vick, and if anything, I tend to stay loyal to coaches and player for too long.”
Finally, to quickly sum up my stance on the special teams this year: Juan Castillo was not the first person I would have fired – not even remotely. I cannot even fathom how Bobby April still has a job after the monumental steps backwards that every single aspect of the special teams have taken in the two years he has been the Special Teams Coordinator. It’s almost insulting.
Quarterback: C (Michael Vick)
This was actually a tough grade to make because Michael Vick has led three clutch fourth-quarter drives to put the Eagles ahead. The Birds are 3-3 against a pretty rough schedule, and they have beaten two of the better teams in the league in the Giants and Ravens. I also think that it is really hard to evaluate Vick right now because of the absolute ineptitude of the offensive line, particularly those on the interior. But, that might just be an excuse because there is another side of this coin – namely, the turnovers. It has been said and said again, so I won’t belabor the point, but you can’t win NFL games when you turn the ball over. In fact, the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game 78% of the time, which is a significantly higher percentage than teams that have more rushing yards (73%), greater time of possession (70%), more total yards (68%), higher 3rd-down conversion rates (68%), or more first downs (66%), and just about any other stat except for team with more points (100%).
And, I think it would be absolutely foolhardy to even consider throwing a rookie QB into this make-or-break season behind this brutal offensive line, so any Nick Foles commentary probably needs to be its own full post.
Interior Offensive Linemen: F (Evan Mathis, Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds, Jason Kelce)
Here’s a shot at the personnel department that I could have taken up top – DON’T DRAFT A GUARD IN THE FIRST ROUND UNLESS YOU’RE 100% SURE HE CAN PLAY. Oh, and, by the way, double that if the dude had spent the first 23 years of his life without ever playing football. Danny Watkins has been a trainwreck inside this year, and I am not sure what they can do about it. Evan Mathis – who actually got Pro Bowl consideration last year – has been a total no-show this year. I am not sure if it is because the rest of the interior of the line has been dreadful or what, but he has been pretty bad. And, Dallas Reynolds looks to be exactly what everyone thought he was – a practice squad guy. As soon as it happened, I said aloud to the guys I was watching the game with: “Other than McCoy and Vick, Jason Kelce is the guy the Eagles can least afford to lose.” And, the only thing that looks to have been wrong about that statement is that I included Michael Vick in the qualifier. There is one thing I do not understand: where is Jamaal Jackson? Was he just too expensive to keep around as a backup? I am pretty sure he has not landed on another team somewhere, and I am also pretty sure that if he is in any shape whatsoever, he would be better than Reynolds. I am interested to see what this guy Matt Tennant can do – a guard that the Eagles just signed after he was cut by New England.
Offensive Tackles: D+ (Todd Herremans, King Dunlap, Demetress Bell)
What a disappoinment this group has been. The “D+” grade might even be a bit generous, but it is hard to know just how bad they are when the middle of the line is a turnstile. Honestly, I (and many others) thought that the Eagles front office pulled off a bit of a coup signing Demetress Bell so late in the game as a homeless man’s Jason Peters. But, he looks more like a homeless man’s Antone Davis. He has been so dreadful that I actually agree with starting King Dunlap over him, and I think we all know my opinions on The King, by now. Todd Herremans is a workhorse, but even he has taken a beating this year. I don’t know if it’s the Howard Mudd schemes or what, but this o-line looks gassed by the third quarter – and it’s not like they have been putting together all that many scoring drives.
Oh, and after watching Terrell Suggs last week for the Ravens and knowing that Jason Peters is not on IR leads people to start dreaming of having the big guy back at left tackle before the end of the season. Considering he was the BEST PLAYER ON THE TEAM last year – at any position – I am also salivating at the thought.
Running Backs: B+ (LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Stanley Havili)
What can we say about Shady McCoy that hasn’t already been said? There isn’t a running back on the planet that I would rather have on my team (I do think that Arian Foster and, possibly, Adrian Peterson might be better backs, but have proven to be far less durable/reliable). He does it all. He has even developed into a pretty solid blocker in the backfield. He has fumbled twice already this year, but that’s just picking nits. Bryce Brown has been rather ordinary, but he’s a rookie. And, Stanley Havili has been fantastic. Who knew that the Eagles even used a roster spot on a fullback? But, it looks like it has been a great decision because this Havili character has been terrific.
Wide Receivers: B- (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Riley Cooper)
Honestly, I am a little disappointed with Jeremy Maclin these days. I really thought that he would break out this year into a true elite receiver in this league. And, when he’s good (and healthy), he shows flashes, but there are just far too many stretches where he just totally disappears. I don’t know if that’s poor playcalling or poor decision-making by the QB or what, but you have to think most of the blame has to go on Maclin himself. That being said, he is still one of the best #2 WRs in the game and is a key piece to this offense. On the flip side (and both of these opinions might be a bit contrarian), I think DeSean Jackson is as integral a part of this offense as anyone. He literally changes games, even if he doesn’t catch a single pass. Defenses are so concerned with taking away the bomb to Jackson that the term “two-deep safeties” probably needs a “very” on the front of it to be truly descriptive. And, that opens up a TON of room for the Avants, Celeks, and McCoys of the world to do their work in the middle of the field. IF ONLY they would run the ball, imagine how effective it would be and, even more importantly, imagine how effective the play-action would be. D-Jax is doing his job – and doing it really well this year.
Third receiver, Jason Avant, remains steady as she goes. He might go down as one of the more underrated receivers we have seen here in a very long time. Damaris Johnson was supposed to be an NFL-ready punt returner, who needed a lot of work as a receiver. So far, it looks like he’s the opposite (more on that later…). Riley Cooper made his 2012 debut against the Lions in Week 6 and could start to be worked into the offense on obvious passing downs, but he still looks like he’s a long way from making any substantial impact.
Tight Ends: A- (Brent Celek, Clay Harbor)
What if I told you that Brent Celek, NOT DeSean Jackson led the Eagles in catches of more than 20 yards this year, would you believe me? Hell, I don’t even believe myself, but it’s true. Brent Celek has been terrific this year – second on the team in both receptions and yards – despite being needed more and more to help pass protect. And, Clay Harbor, who is also a solid pass-blocker, has shown to be a pretty decent short yardage/redzone target this year, as 3 of his 8 catches have gone for either a first down or a touchdown.
Defensive Tackles: B- (Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton)
First of all, I love Cullen Jenkins. I think he’s a real leader on and off the field. I also think that he brings a lot of versatility to this loaded (on paper) defensive line. Second of all, I think Fletcher Cox is going to be a star. But, don’t take my word for it because I also thought that Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson would be stars, as well. Either way, Cox looks like the real deal already, and he’s one of those guys that I’m really glad to have wearing my colors and not someone else’s. The middle of this line is so important in the wide-9 (as evidenced last year when they were gashed), and adding Cox aside Jenkins has really made a difference. Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton have been space-fillers, but they haven’t caused real issue when they on the field, though Landri probably should be supplanted as the team’s starter for Cox at some point soon. And, apparently the aforementioned Mike Patterson may be coming back in a week or two, which can only help the depth, even if he doesn’t turn out to be the star that I thought he would. The reason this grade isn’t higher is because they haven’t really generated any pass rush up the middle (in fact, they are the only team in the league this year without a sack from a defensive tackle), but I only consider that the icing on the cake from the tackles – their number one job is to occupy blockers and fill gaps, and this unit has been doing that all year.
Defensive Ends: D (Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt, Darryl Tapp)
This might seem a bit harsh, but I actually considered going even lower simply because this has been the most disappointing Eagles units – to me, personally – of any in recent memory. I actually thought this d-line would be the best in football, bar none. And, now they’re on the verge of setting franchise records for sack futility? Trent Cole‘s argument that they are seeing more mass-protect schemes than anyone else in the league was not a terrible argument after the Steelers game, as the Steelers used two- and three-tight end sets all game and even added backs chipping and such. But, the argument blew up in his face when the Lions ran basic blocking schemes at Mr. Cole and he failed to even register a single tackle, let alone live in the backfield, as he used to. And, then there’s Jason Babin. The perfect specimen for the wide-9 defense because of his raw quickness. Well, where the hell has he been? This defensive scheme is predicated upon getting pressure on the quarterback and becomes scarily vulnerable when that pressure doesn’t materialize. The wide-9 is essentially a trade-off that says “we know that you can run on us all day, but we’re okay with that because we are going to pressure you on every pass attempt.” Well, that’s great and all until you CAN’T GET TO THE QUARTERBACK – and then you’re just putting far too much unneccesary pressure on the tackles and Mike-backer to make plays. Fortunately, the tackles and Demeco Ryans have been so good this year that it hasn’t totally killed them, but that’s a scary proposition.
Where have Darryl Tapp and Philip Hunt been? Weren’t we told that these two could start on just about any other team around the league? Well, that seems almost laughable now, given the total lack of impact either of them have made all year. The lone bright spot in this group has been this unit’s whipping boy the past two seasons – Brandon Graham. Graham is finally rounding into shape and, while not really showing the promise that made him the 13th overall pick two years ago, he has been rather solid as a rotation lineman this year. Just don’t bring up the fact that they traded up so that they could take him ahead of some guy in their division that just goes by the initials JPP.
Middle Linebackers: A- (Demeco Ryans, Casey Matthews)
We have gotten every bit of what we could have expected out of Demeco Ryans when the Eagles picked him up this offseason. He has been all over the field, making plays in both the running and passing games. And, from what we can tell, he has brought with him a real veteran presence to a team in serious need of one. He’s not the boisterous, Brian Dawkins-like leader; he is more of a calming influence on a group that can sometimes seem a bit overhyped (particularly those safeties with whom he works closely). And, the best part about Ryans is that he has answered all the questions about whether or not he can still be a three-down ‘backer in this league. He absolutely can, which is crucial to this defense because it means that we rarely ever have to see Casey Matthews on the field any more.
Outside Linebackers: B- (Michael Kendricks, Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney)
This group is still a work in progess, but they are coming along rather well. Michael Kendricks has been a joy to watch play this year and is probably making as much, if not more, of an impact as fellow rookie Fletcher Cox. Either way, the Birds look to have added two perennial starters to their defense in this draft. Akeem Jordan and Jamar Chaney have been decent, while not, in any way, spectacular this year. I would like to see some more big plays out of this group – and that includes Kendricks – before really saying that this linebacking corps has emerged as an elite unit on this team, but considering where they were last year, at this time, let’s be happy with what we’ve got.
Cornerbacks: B+ (Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh)
To all the Nnamdi haters out there, call me, and we can discuss just how wrong you are about this guy. Call me delusional, if you’d like, but there is only one cornerback on the planet right now that is better than Nnamdi Asomugha in single, man-to-man coverage, and that guy happens to be injured and out for the year. Think back to the Giants game. The defense was utterly dominant except for one drive. The Giants drove down the field in the middle of the third quarter, seemingly at will, and scored. Well, that was the only drive the Eagles played without Nnamdi (who was tending to an eye problem). Okay, think about last week. For three quarters, the Eagles put Nnamdi man-up on Calvin Johnson. He had 3 meaningless catches for 32 yards. In the fourth quarter, they got the ingenius idea to start playing a zone-blitz defensive scheme. Calvin Johnson went crazy with something like 10 catches for approximately 894 yards in the fourth quarter – all while Nnamdi sat in zone coverage. Stupid. Now, has he been a disappointment? Yes. It has been really disappointing to see how poorly he does play zone coverage. But, let’s think about why we never knew that…BECAUSE EVEN THE RAIDERS WEREN’T STUPID ENOUGH TO PLAY ZONE WHEN YOU HAVE A COVER CORNER AS GOOD AS NNAMDI! Hopefully, Todd Bowles knows how to best use him – and we have to assume he does, as he was the secondary coach.
On the other side of Nnamdi is the great Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie. Asante Samuel for DRC on that side has been an interesting swap. I, one of the biggest Asante supporters you’ll find, might even call it an even swap. For everything you lose as far as a playmaker in Asante (and it’s a LOT – hopefully we won’t be reminded on Sunday), you gain in DRC a guy who is willing to play bump-and-run on short yardage situations and someone who actually understands that NFL cornerbacks have to occasionally make tackles.
Brandon Boykin and Brandon Hughes have been pretty solid as the nickle and dime backs, respectively, although I am not sure that Hughes is anywhere near as good as Chris Collinsworth (most overrated announcer in any sport at the moment) claimed on that Sunday Night broadcast. He does not appear to be a guy who can play an entire series without getting mercilessly exposed. Boykin, on the other hand, looks like he may be the steal of the draft when it’s all said and done. He actually looks like he is not too far away from being a viable starting corner in this league. I never thought that a pair of rookies would make me forget about the one and only Joselio Hanson so quickly (I’m not entirely joking…). Curtis Marsh, though, looks lost and might not be long for professional football.
Safeties: C (Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, David Sims, Colt Anderson)
The two starting safeties – Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen – have been decent this year, but I knocked this grade down a bit because of the real lack of depth at this spot. David Sims (who they acquired from Indy) is okay, and Colt Anderson is a sensational special teamer, but neither really look like NFL-caliber safeties quite yet (I still don’t understand why the cut O.J. Atogwe, but he must have looked really bad…). As for Coleman and Allen – they are coming along, and I actually think they could turn into a real solid pair of safeties, but they still have a lot of work to do. Coleman is a big-hitter, but doesn’t really play the run as well as one might think. He also seems rather lost out there sometimes, as evidenced by the multiple times Nnamdi confronted him on the sidelines about miscommunication, as well as the countless times he has been shown to have bitten badly on the play-fake. Allen has been solid – and when he went down with a hamstring injury against the Lions, the defense seemed to really suffer. But, I accredit that more to the aforementioned lack of depth at the position. On the positive side (not sure what this says for the defense, as a whole, though), Coleman and Allen are 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles, behind only Demeco Ryans.
Kick Coverage: F
If there was an “F-” they would have received it. To add a little more credit to this defense is that the Eagles have allowed the single-worst field position in the NFL and have still allowed fewer points than all but 7 other teams. To be fair, this team had to play the first five games without one of the league’s single best special teams players in Colt Anderson, and the unit did look slightly better against the Lions with Anderson back (of course, he made a couple fantastic plays…he’s awesome). But, do we really think that one guy – even a guy as good as Anderson – can make that big of a difference? I hope so, but I am not optimistic.
Return Game: D- (Damaris Johnson, Brandon Boykin, Mardy Gilyard)
As pleasant of a surprise Brandon Boykin has been as a nickleback, he has been nearly that disappointing as a kick returner. It might be the schemes though (again, FIRE BOBBY APRIL ALREADY), as the Eagles are the only team in the NFL without a 40+-yard kickoff return in the past two seasons (April’s reign). Similarly (and I said this above), Damaris Johnson was supposed to be relatively NFL-ready as a punt returner and a project as a WR. He looks like the complete opposite. He looks absolutely lost out there returning kicks. If he fair catches one more ball on the 5-yard line, I might throw something through my new TV. It’s a simple concept, Damaris – if you are standing inside the 10-yard line, LET THE BALL BOUNCE. The good news is that the Eagles may actually be a little sick of it too, as Mardy Gilyard was back there a couple times against the Lions. We will see if he’s any better.
Kicking Game: B+ (Alex Henery, Mat McBriar, Chas Henry)
Alex Henery has been really good, though he has yet to be called upon to make a big fourth-quarter kick yet, so we’re still waiting to see him “make his money.” That being said, he has only missed one of his 12 FG attempts, and that was a 47-yarder. His long this year is a 49-yarder. Credit to Andy Reid for not just handing the job to the big-footed Chas Henry. He had to earn it against Mat McBriar out of camp, as McBriar was the last Eagle cut this year. That is good because (a) it gave him a real familiarity with the team and (b) it was so late that no one else had the chance to scoop him up. Then, when Henry proved that all he was was a big leg with no sense of touch or consistency, the Eagles flipped the script and called McBriar back, who has been superb. I’m happy because, to me, Henry’s guaranteed shank every game was not made up for by his 60-yard bombs. Oh, and it’s so much less confusing now that our kicker and punter aren’t homonyms.
The Eagles play four, count ’em, FOUR teams coming off of their bye week, including the division-rival Redskins in Week 11. They also had to play the division-rival Giants team after the Giants Thursday night game gave them 3 extra days rest. Oh, and if that wasn’t awful enough, get this – the Eagles play on Monday Night the week before BOTH Cowboys games this year. Absolutely absurd