The Mariota What-Ifs

No matter how good Nelson Agholor and Eric Rowe turn out to be, the Eagles 2015 draft will always be the “didn’t get Mariota draft.” Now, I am not saying that – historically-speaking – that will always be a bad thing. In fact, we may look back and think, “whew, did we dodge a bullet.” The reported insane package of multiple #1s plus elite-caliber players like Mychal Kendricks and, particularly, Fletcher Cox, that never happened may haunt Tennessee fans down the road a whole lot more than the ghost of Mariota haunts us. However, whether the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner is a boom or bust in Tennessee, we will absolutely never know just what the Chip Kelly-Marcus Mariota marriage would have turned out to be in the NFL. And, by all accounts, we were very close to finding out.

Ahh…what could have been

This happens in sports all the time – particularly in drafts. What if the Phillies took Frank Thomas over Jeff Jackson? What if the Sixers took Paul Pierce over Larry Hughes? What if the Eagles took Earl Thomas instead of Brandon Graham, like everyone thought they were going to? And, while the draft is the most obvious place for this, there are a million others every day in sports. Injuries, play calls, referee decisions, etc. are all easy examples of small occurrences that may lead to monumental events in the sporting world.

But, there is something really interesting about this Mariota-Kelly “what-if” that seems different. Because it was so obvious and because of the potentially historic ramifications, I feel a little robbed, if nothing else, of the immense intrigue that this combination would provide. So, what turned the tide? How did this not happen? There are many factors – obviously – some of which have been talked about ad nauseum, some of which have barely been mentioned, if at all. But, since this seems like an important flagpost moment in Philadelphia sports, I wanted to try and document some of the butterfly wing-flappings that resulted in the hurricane of Mariota ending up a Titan.

Mariota’s Pre-Draft Performance

The bottom line is that, come draft day, the Birds had no chance because the Titans, with the #2-pick, decided that they wanted Mariota to be their quarterback. Whether it was a football decision or an ownership decision (more on that below), they clearly came to that decision late in the process and was almost certainly a result of the pretty incredible performance that Mariota put on – both on the field and in interviews – in the pre-draft process. Teams fell in love with Marcus, himself, and they seemed to see enough about his physical abilities to override the concerns about never taking a ball from center or ever calling a single play in a huddle. When the college football season ended (and meaningful GAMES were finished being played), the experts were united about the football acumen of the two top QBs – Winston was far and away a better on-the-field prospect than Mariota (off-field concerns notwithstanding). But, by the time the draft rolled around, despite no gamefilm being added to either resume, Mariota had earned himself a large portion of the experts’ opinions of who was the best QB on the field. That didn’t exactly help the Eagles chances of either Mariota dropping or Tennessee accepting any deal for him.

Nor did Chip’s incredibly open pining for the guy…

The “Publicness” of the Chase

Personally, I think this is where Chip and the Eagles missed the boat the most. Now, it’s probably unfair to blame Chip for this since the media saw the obvious marriage and would probably have run with it anyway, but I definitely believe that the Eagles could have done a MUCH better job hiding their intentions. Despite never saying anything to the media (which I have no problem with, by the way, but that’s a topic for another post), there was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Eagles were going all-in for Mariota. They flat-out lost the poker game to Ruston Webster and the Titans front office. While I do believe that all teams do a good job making up their minds in a vacuum, but comments like “this guy’s going to win multiple Super Bowls” probably didn’t hurt the opinion of him in front offices around the league. And, I also think the Eagles refusal to downplay their interest in Mariota also added to the “publicness” of the Bradford camp that they will not sign an extension anywhere else.

So, would you make the case that we should have held on to Mr. Foles?  Many have…

The Nick Foles Trade

This is probably the one that is most cited as a potential factor. Would the Eagles have been able to “sell” Nick Foles to Tennessee or someone else in order to get Tennessee value in return for Mariota? It is at least worth a discussion on whether or not Foles was actually more valuable than Bradford on the open market, even though the Foles for Bradford trade actually required the Eagles ponying up a second-round pick in 2016. But, the clear indication of the Bradford camp that he will not be signing an extension with anyone other than the Eagles potentially made him actually harder to move than Foles would have been. Oh, ya, that and the whole $12.5 million MORE owed to Bradford than Foles. I am not saying that Chip was wrong in making the Foles-for-Bradford trade because I think, given the current situation, I think I am happier having Bradford than Foles right now. What I am saying is that there is a good chance that the trade actually negatively affected the Eagles chances of landing Chip’s dream QB.

Bradford > Foles? On the field – yes. In trade talks – probably not.

Then again, maybe Tennessee just wasn’t willing to fall all the way to #20, and the Eagles had no way to getting anything higher…

Eagles-Giants, Week 17

But, what if they had played Matt Barkley and, inevitably, lost that Week 17 against the hated Giants instead of winning a meaningless game? What if they were 9-7 instead of 10-6? They would have been about four spots higher and picking at #16. It is unlikely that #16 would have carried much more weight than #20 with Tennessee, but what about other teams in the top 10? It was widely reported that many GMs (including Tennessee’s Ruston Webster, who flat-out said it) thought there were only about 15 or 16 players with “first round talent” in this year’s draft. So, going to #20 was seen as a move to the second round, by some. But, #16 would have been a first round pick. Who knows how that would have changed things?

Then again, it’s not like any pick is a sure thing. Just ask the Titans about the last QB they took in the first round…

Jake Locker

Jake freaking Locker may have cost the city of Philadelphia Marcus Mariota. Who would have guessed that? But, if Locker was anywhere near what he was supposed to be, the Titans wouldn’t have any need for a QB (and, realistically, probably wouldn’t have been picking #2 in the draft, either, but that’s another discussion). But, Locker stunk…and then “retired”…even after going 8th in the draft just four years ago. You could even argue that Locker showed just enough potential that the Titans passed on other QBs in more recent drafts because they still thought there was hope for Locker. Admittedly, this argument kind of falls a little short when you examine those drafts. They picked Locker at #8 in 2011. The next two QBs off the board were Blaine Gabbert at #10 and Christian Ponder at #12, so it’s not like they missed the boat in that draft. Then, in 2012 the Titans first pick was WR Kendall Wright at #20. The next QB off the board?  Brandon Weeden. In 2013, they used their first pick on G Chance Warmack.  The next QB that they “missed out on” was E.J. Manuel. And, then last year, the Titans took OT Laylor Lewan at #11. Thirteen picks later was the next QB taken, and his name was Johnny Football, or something like that. So, the argument that Tennessee could have drafted someone else to fill the franchise QB role falls a little flat, but we can still blame Jake freaking Locker’s awfulness for us not having Mariota right now. And, in the end, the Titans entered this year with the #2 pick in a 2-QB draft with Zach Mettenberger at the top of their depth chart.

How did this guy have anything to do with MY football team?

And, possibly, for other non-football reasons, that was a big concern…

Bud Adams’ Health/Succession Planning

While this angle has been incredibly underreported, I am of the firm belief that this is the main reason why the Eagles pro shops are not selling #8 Mariota jerseys right now. I believe that it was a management decision in Nashville to draft a franchise quarterback because they are planning on putting the team up for sale in the next year or so. Bud Adams passed away in 2013 just two months shy of his 91st birthday. Adams, a co-founder of the old AFL, and the longest-tenured NFL owner at the time of his death, left rather sparse directions on who would assume ownership of the Titans, leading to a lot of in-fighting and eventually a consortium being created that consisted of Adams’ two living daughters and the only son of his deceased son. It is one of the more precarious ownership situations in the NFL and will almost certainly lead to some sort of sale or buy-out or legal rangling in the coming years, or even months. And, prior to Thursday night, what could a potential buyer see in this franchise that is of any value? Nothing. It is – almost inarguably – the most boring team in the league in a second-rate media market. While Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler may have made the Titans a better football team in the long-run, they sure as hell were not increasing an asking price in the short-term. Nor was Sam Bradford or Fletcher Cox or Mychal Kendricks or the Eagles 2017 first-round pick. BUT…if they had a young, exciting franchise QB right now, then maybe the value of this team goes up. So, the bottom line is that I think that the management overruled the “football” people and told them to take a QB – period. And, because of that, once it was clear that the Bucs and Titans would be the two teams picking at the top of the draft this year, the fate was sealed.

But, what if that wasn’t the ultimate 2015 draft order…?

The Tiebreaker

Tennessee lost the tiebreaker (strength of schedule) to the Bucs for the #1 pick, and it was awfully close. If a few of those hundreds of other games went the other way, then Tennessee could have taken their franchise QB (Jameis Winston) at #1, and the Eagles could have been dealing with the Bucs instead. Presumably, the Bucs would have just taken Mariota at #2 like the Titans did, but they have a stable ownership group and a coach who has made the Super Bowl with Rex freaking Grossman, so who knows? But, they were both only one game “ahead” of both the Jags and Raiders, who are more than content with their QB situations and clearly would have passed on Mariota at #1 or #2 – or, more likely, taken the king’s ransom that the Eagles were offering.

So, there are any number of games that could have decided this fate – many of which took place in one fateful weekend in December…

Week 16 and The Curse of Jordan Todman

DECEMBER 20, 2014 – The Eagles lost that stomach-punch game against Washington on Saturday night. Not only did it eliminate the Birds from the playoffs, but it gave the Skins (another team who may have passed on Mariota) another W and moved them out of contention for a top-2 pick. But, in the long run, while it cost the Eagles a shot at a 2015 playoff berth, it may not have been the most impactful game that week on the future of our Birds.

DECEMBER 21, 2015 – The Raiders, a team with a decent young QB in place in Derek Carr, beat the Bills for their 3rd win in the past five weeks. They finished the season 3-13 and earned the #4 pick in the draft. But, this team started 0-10. How are they only picking 4th? I firmly believe that if the Raiders held picks #1 or #2, that Marcus Mariota would be an Eagle today. And, this still was not even the most important game of the day for the Eagles future.

DECEMBER 21, 2015 – The Jacksonville Jaguars – the doormat of the league – actually have a QB. #3 overall pick in 2014, Blake Bortles. They have their wagon hitched to Bortles. They have a TON of needs and would be dying for a bowl-them-over package to move down. Well, they had a shot at that in Week 16 last year. Entering the game at 2-12, the Jags got a late incredible TD from Jordan Todman to beat the also 2-12 Tennessee Titans. That “win” by the Jags meant that the Titans would have a top-2 pick and Jacksonville would be picking 3rd. It meant that the 2015 NFL draft would net the Titans Marcus Mariota and the Eagles Nelson Agholor.

How a backup RB ruined my life…

And, it meant that there was no chance for Chip to reunite with his star pupil…in 2015……

Mariota Staying in School

Finally, I have to mention one other thing that is often forgotten in this whole process. Mariota entered the draft this year as a redshirt junior, which means he was eligible for the draft in 2014. And, he actually strongly considered coming out. Now, at the time, it didn’t really hit the radar of the Eagles because their QB had just finished the BEST QUARTERBACK SEASON IN NFL HISTORY, and Mariota had yet to win any Heismans or anything. In fact, before deciding to return to school, Mel Kiper had Mariota at #33 on his “Big Board.” But, do you really think that, even with Foles’ incredible season, that Chip would have passed on a chance to draft Mariota? I sure don’t. So, the Eagles could have just sat at #22, kept their mouths shut, and taken Mariota with their own first round pick last year. And, all it would have cost them was all the air time they will inevitably have to spend explaining the inexplicable Marcus Smith pick. Actually, I wish I had never brought this up…now, I’m depressed again.

…But, It Ain’t Over

In the end, the marriage of Chip and Marcus wasn’t meant to be…yet. Call me crazy, but I still believe that this dream isn’t over quite yet. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this year or next. But, unless Mariota lights the world on fire in Tennessee, he may be available down the road. And, it’s not like we’re tied to anyone under center…ugh.  In Chip We Trust!

Today’s Top Twelve: 2013 Eagles MVPs

YOUR First-Place Philadelphia Eagles…that has a nice ring to it.  It’s not exactly something that sounds weird or uncommon considering we’re really only two years removed from a decade-plus era of division dominance, but from the sheer depth of those two long years, it certainly is a beautiful phrase.  As most of you know, I actually tend not to overreact.  I believe football – and its 16-game season – is just one huge “sample size issue,” so I usually come off as an overoptimistic ray of sunshine during the seemingly darkest days and a sobering bath of cold water during the seemingly brightest of days.  And, while the Eagles commentary on the site has been non-existent, this year has been no different.  I was preaching “cold water” patience after the Washington game when the world declared Chip Kelly’s offense nothing short of “revolutionary.”  But, I was preaching “ray of sunshine” patience after the Broncos annihilated a team that looked completely lost with a coach that all-of-a-sudden looked overmatched.  Patience.  That is what we needed in both instances.  Well, after the beating the Redskins on Sunday and entering the bye on a 3-game winning streak, I am ready to actually agree with the commonly-held belief that our Eagles are in the driver’s seat in the NFC Least.  And, while it probably will only result in a 9-7 division title and a home dog status in the playoffs when San Fran or Carolina come to town, this is progress.  And, progress is what we needed so desperately after the last half-decade of the Reid Era were littered with quick fixes, free agency fool’s gold, and tricking ourselves into thinking that on-paper talent was more important that team chemistry, proper coaching selections, players that hunger for victory, and (as Doogan as always refers to) the SKILL of staying healthy.  And, as the great Bill Walsh always said – “you set base camp in the playoffs…then you climb the mountain.”  Just get to the tournament.  And, that is what the Eagles are in a great position to do over the next month and a half.  In Chip We Trust!  

But, how did we get here?  Well, below, in my humble opinion, are the 12 most important people to shape the 2013 Eagles resurgence.  

Honorable Mentions:  Mychal Kendricks (if the list went to 13, he would be #13 – he’s been great in his second year, I just personally want a little more consistency from a strongside linebacker but that will almost certainly come with experience – he’s a budding star); Riley Cooper (after looking like a guy who didn’t belong in the NFL for much of the season, he has exploded with Foles at the helm – it has to make one think about whether Foles’ development has been this good for Cooper or whether Cooper’s has been part of the reason for the Foles explosion…hmmmm); Brandon Boykin (he’s been terrific in the slot and even stepped up when he had to start); Benny Logan (has been such a revelation, that he made Isaac Sopouaga completely expendable – which, in and of itself, was a good thing – and has really blossomed, helping to make this 2013 draft class look like it could be really special); Colt Anderson (there is a rare Eagles post when I don’t mention Mr. Anderson – he hasn’t seemed to make quite the difference that he has in years’ past, but you would still be hard-pressed to find a person on this planet that covers kicks and punts better than my boy, Colt); Donnie Jones (we probably all forgot how nice it is to actually have a good punter)  

12). Cedric Thornton – A defensive lineman with only 1 sack is among the dozen most valuable players on a first-place team?  And, selected over a linebacker pushing 70 tackles through 11 games?  Well, I think so.  I think Thornton’s development has been absolutely crucial to the strides that this defense has made.  He has played the run exceptionally well and is rushing the passer so well that teams seem to start sliding protection in his direction, which has opened up things for the edge rushers.  Thornton has shown the potential to be a real star in this league and may even get some Pro Bowl consideration from those in the know. 

11). Cary Williams – Now, I was “offline” during the whole training camp fiasco, so I never got to chime in on Cary Williams and the ordeal with the sconces (or whatever the hell that word is), but let’s just say that the summation of my thoughts were – “Wow, this is being way overblown.”  Now, I don’t fully blame the media – who certainly has a history of blowing things way out of proportion because I think Cary’s refusal to just shut the hell up certainly aided the overdramatization of it all.  But, really, what were we really fired up about?  Seriously.  I think Williams’ addition – not necessarily on the field because he has proven to be not much more than an average cornerback – has been team-changing.  We suffered through two years of a defense led by a polite, mild-mannered offensive line coach-turned coordinator who was abused by a foul-mouthed, cranky defensive line coach.  On the field, we were subject to a cornerback who was as overly cerebral as he was overly paid and a defensive end who pretended to be “cultured” all the while emulating the crankiness of his position coach clearly to the detriment of the defense, as a whole.  And, “cerebral” and “cultured” may be great at dinner parties, but those traits don’t exactly win football games.  Now, I am not at all insinuating that Cary Williams isn’t intelligent (far from it, actually) nor am I implying that he isn’t cultured (hell, he taught me what a sconce is – though, I’m still not sure I’m even spelling it right), but what I am explicitly saying is that Cary Williams brought with him the F-YOU attitude that this defense has lacked since the great Brian Dawkins left for the Rocky Mountains.  This F-YOU attitude has pervaded throughout the defense and now they play with anger.  Again, Williams has been little more than a mediocre cornerback in his play (which, has sadly been quite the upgrade from last year), but I don’t think I’m overstating the effect a guy like that can have on a young group – especially when he wears a Super Bowl ring on his finger (and loves to talk about that…among other things).  

The Most Valuable Mediocre Cornerback in the League

 

10). Connor Barwin – If you were to judge Barwin’s impact from just the past couple of games, he would actually probably be a good bit higher on this list.  But, I want to take the whole season into account, and Barwin took a little time getting established on this defense.  But, since he found his way, he has been a man on a mission.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more dominant games ahead for the guy who rides his bike to work.  

Wait, there are eight Eagles more valuable than the greatest QB of all-time?!?

 

9). Nick Foles – What?!?!?  The NFL’s leader in passer rating is only the 9th most valuable guy on his own team?  Yes, he is.  I’m not trying to sell him short here.  I’m just saying that Foles has only started 5 of 11 games this year, and one of those was arguably the worst game ever played by an NFL quarterback.  All that said, the 4 games (plus most of the first Giants game) that Foles has been out there have been legendary.  And, there is no doubt that the reason that the Eagles are now the legit favorites to win the division is squarely because of the stuff Foles has done.  But, I just have to give deference to some of the other guys who actually have played more than half of the team’s games.  

8). Jason Peters – Jason Peters has been considered – by many actual “experts” – the best tackle in football, when healthy.  And, while he hasn’t completely returned to his pre-injury form this year, he has come around as of late and is playing his best football of the year right now.  And, that is not surprising, considering he is still just barely a year removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon – TWICE.  If Peters is what he is and isn’t going to return to his All-Pro form – which is entirely possible given his age and health history – then the Eagles still have a high-quality left tackle, who is tailor-made for this system.  If Peters is actually still recovering and will only get healthier – which is also quite possible given the severity of his injury – then we might not yet totally realize just how incredible this offense could be.  With the ever-improving rookie Johnson on one side, a returned-to-form Peters on the other, and a stellar interior (more on that coming up), the sky is the limit for this unit.   

(NOTE:  I never played offensive line in the NFL – or on any level of football.  I never coached or scouted or evaluated talent for a football team on any level.  I don’t even know most of the techniques needed to become a good offensive lineman.  But, line play is one of my favorite things to pay attention to, and while I don’t really know anything about what makes a good lineman, I like to think that I do, so humor me in these “evaulations,” as I like to think of them…) 

 

7). Fletcher Cox – Similar to my feeling on Barwin, as stated above, I believe that just looking at this team over the past month or so, Cox may actually be at the top of this list.  But, he was a bit inconsistent in the beginning of the year, which is completely understandable, considering he’s only in his second year in the league, and his first year in this brand-new system.  It is incredibly encouraging (I am getting downright giddy about his potential) that every game for the past couple of weeks, Cox has put in the best game of his career.  He keeps upping his play every time out – capped by this week’s utter domination of the Washington Professional Football Team, where he lived in the backfield.  He saved what could have been a devastating collapse on that final play when he forced RG3-and-out (see what I did there?) to give away the final drive when Boykin fair caught the pass in the end zone for the game-winning interception.  Coach Kelly said that “Boykin saved his butt,” but what he really meant – and everyone knows it – is that Cox saved his butt.  While I am loving the offensive line, I am even more bullish about this defensive line, which is starting to be utterly dominant week in and week out, and there isn’t a guy over 25 among them.  It is not unreasonable to think that Fletcher Cox might be the best player on the best D-line in football within a year or two.  

6). Evan Mathis – Evan Mathis has become an unknown star on this team.  Even in the dreadful seasons of 2011 and 2012, the one consistently bright spot on this team has been Mathis, who has – without any recognition – gone out and gotten the job done.  He is big enough to protect the middle, strong enough to open holes for Shady (and, even more so, the inside-the-tackle running threat of Bryce Brown when he comes in to change it up), and, maybe most importantly, athletic enough to hit the second-level or pull, as this complex offense requires.  Maybe a bit of a head-scratcher as a Top-6 MVP on this team, but the interior of this line has been sensational all year (and, particularly during Foles’ ascension), and a lot of that credit belongs to Mathis.  

He's everything I hate...and that's why I love him

 

5). DeSean Jackson – Cocky, quick-tempered, diva wide receivers are a dime a dozen in the NFL.  And, many of them are nowhere near worth the trouble.  But, we have one that is.  This offense works because of DeSean Jackson.  And, sometimes it works best when Jackson doesn’t even touch the ball (just don’t tell him that).  He is so feared in the NFL, that every single defensive gameplan that the Eagles face is tailored towards taking away the D-Jax home run.  Safeties can’t cheat on the run.  Corners can’t blitz.  And, most importantly, the focus of a defense is always tested because one misstep could result 7 points.  The overattention paid to Jackson has opened up things for the emerging Riley Cooper, and more importantly, has allowed Kelly and the staff to design plays to find mismatches – particularly LeSean McCoy on a linebacker, which was perfectly exemplified Sunday when McCoy scored on the wheel route against his ill-equipped defender – linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.  If you’ve ever played a team sport, you know that Jackson is one of those guys that you love to have wearing your colors.  There is something to be said for the guy on your team that just gets under the skin of opposing teams.  Opposing teams expend a whole lot of energy hating DeSean, which, if it takes them off their game just a little bit, plays right into DeSean’s master plan and is a big part of his, let’s just call it, “charm.”  

4). Jason Kelce – What is the definition of the Most Valuable Player?  Well, that debate runs hot at times (just ask any Mike Trout supporter), but to me, it’s pretty simple.  A team’s MVP is the player who would have the most negative affect on a team’s success were they to no longer be a part of that team.  Even with a clear definition, it is still an interesting debate because there is almost never a way to truly measure this – even qualitatively, let alone quantitatively (with all due respect to supporters of the grossly overrated baseball statistic of WAR).  That being said, what happened last year after Jason Kelce was injured in the later part of the Eagles Week Two win over the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion, Baltimore Ravens (that’s right, most people forget that 1 of the FOUR wins the Eagles had last year was over the World Champs)?  Let me give a quick recap (VERY quick because everyone would probably just as soon forget it) – after beating the Ravens to go to 2-0, the Birds went to Arizona and laid an egg before coming back and limping through an improbable win over the Giants at the Linc.  The Birds were 3-1 before the wheels fell off and they only won 1 of their final 12 games.  There have been countless reasons cited as to what happened – everything from divided locker rooms to coaching staff infighting to flat-out bad players.  But, the one thing that I have not really heard at all was the loss of the center.  The NFL is littered with promising seasons derailed by an injury to a team’s center and the Birds not only lost a center last year, but one of the best in the league.  Now, I am not saying that the 2012 Eagles were a 12-4 team with a healthy Jason Kelce, but I think the 2013 Eagles could be a 10-6 team with a healthy Jason Kelce – and a playoff afterthought without him.  That is pretty much exactly how I would define “valuable.”  

3). DeMeco Ryans – I seriously debated putting Ryans #1 on this list – and how crazy would that have sounded 12 months ago?  Now, I love DeMeco Ryans.  I loved him in Houston, and I was elated when the Birds acquired Ryans from the Texans for, essentially, a 4th-round pick.  But, he was borderline bad last year and, at times, looked like he was all but done as an NFL player.  Fast-forward to 2013 and he is, in my opinion, the far and away most important player on this surprisingly rejuvenated Eagles defense.  He flies to the ball, rarely misses a tackle, and always seems to be in the right place and the right time.  He has seems to be – despite being, by all accounts, a quiet, reserved guy – the unquestioned leader of this defense.  And, as history shows, the best defenses in the NFL are those led by the middle linebackers.  (Don’t agree?  Why don’t you mention that to Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, or Jack Lambert…)  And yet, there’s an interesting twist in the backstory of the Great Ryans Renaissance of 2013 – Ryans was only made expendable in Houston because (a) he did not look like the same player after rupturing his Achilles in 2010 and (b) he seemed like a poor fit for the Texans’ new 3-4 defense.  Now, three years removed from probably the worst injury a linebacker could suffer (see the concerns laid out in a nice article here, written a year ago – before Ryans’ resurgence), Ryans is somehow looking much like the stud who busted into the league in 2006 with over 150 tackles for the Texans.  And, even more incredibly, he has been doing it for a team that plays a whole lot of the very 3-4 brand of defense for which Ryans was considered a total misfit.   

The Heart and Soul of the New-Look Eagles D

 

2). LeSean McCoy – Yes, this team’s surprising success has been on the backs of the unexpected defensive resurgence and the even-more-unexpected emergence of Nick Foles as the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen.  But, while those two welcome developments may be the most surprising, the most important Eagle on the field this year comes as a surprise to no one.  With all respect to that guy up in Minneapolis, Shady McCoy is quite possibly the best running back on the planet.  And, he couldn’t be more perfect for the brilliant offensive mind of Chip Kelly.  He hits the holes when they’re there and makes people miss in the backfield when they’re not.  He is a terrific pass-catcher and a very underrated pass-blocker.  He is the talent that makes this offense go and would be – if not for the stupid stats being put up in the Mile High City – a legitimate candidate for league MVP.  He has been that good.  My only complaint is that he needs to stop giving us heart attacks with these seemingly season-ending injuries that only keep him out a series or two.  

1). Chip Kelly – I can say it when it’s true – and it’s true more often than I would like to believe – I WAS WRONG.  I was not a huge fan of the Chip Kelly hire.  I wouldn’t say that I outright hated it because I was intrigued and saw the lure, but I really thought that this team needed an identity of toughness to pull itself from the wreckage left by the last regime that – while wildly successful – stayed too long and left behind a dumpster fire of poor drafts, jaded veterans, and a rabid, yet cynical fanbase just waiting for a reason to believe.  And, for some reason, 85-points-per-game in Eugene, Oregon, while intriguing, didn’t exactly scream “toughness” to me.  But, man, was I wrong.  I don’t think I could create even a fictional coach that would more be exactly what I would want in my head coach.  He is highly involved in the analytics, but not afraid to go by his “gut.”  He loves the high-powered, high-paced offensive schemes, but, still believes completely in running the football.  He believes that football is won in the trenches by large men.  He values efficiency and a minimization of errors without sacrificing explosive play.   He believes in his offensive system, but understands when it needs tweaking.  He is not too stubborn to change his mind and admit where he was wrong, but he is also the unquestioned head man, who takes full accountability of everything under his purview. He recognizes the things on which he is not an expert and trusts the men he has chosen to fill those gaps.  He is solely focused on how to be the best – all the way down to how you eat and sleep – and leads this by example.  And, most importantly, he only cares about one thing – winning.  Time will tell if all of this adds up to the long-elusive Super Bowl title in Philadelphia, but if you couldn’t tell, I’m smitten.  I’m a believer.  And, I didn’t even want to be.  But, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Eagles success this year is more of a result of Chip Kelly than anyone else in the entire organization.  And, I don’t think it’s really all that close…

Eagles Therapy

Another week, another loss that was nothing short of embarrassing.  And, now we have to look forward to another prime time debacle, as the Birds are, legitimately, 10.5-point ‘dogs against the Cowboys this Sunday night.  And, yes, I know, I know – the Phillies have a win more recently than the Eagles.  It amazed me when Doogan told me that A MONTH AGO…and it’s still true.

So, clearly we need to “talk.”  I am just gonna ramble on about random topics and hope it makes me forget about 3-8, forget about Chooch’s ADHD or Andrew Bynum’s knees, and forget about the dissolving of the Big East before Temple even plays a single conference game.  Oh, what a month it has been!  So, here are the random Eagles thoughts on this cold November day.

 

It’s Time…Obviously

Hi, I’m Bryan, and I was an Andy Reid Apologist.  I couldn’t help myself.  The guy took us to 5 NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.  He averaged 10 wins a season for more than a decade.  He went a dozen years without losing a first-round playoff game and a baker’s dozen without ever losing after a bye week.  And, he did it all after inheriting, arguably, the most dysfunctional and flat-out bad football team in franchise history.  We lived through Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Bobby Hoying, Rodney Peete, and not one, but two Detmers.  And, Andy Reid brought us out of it.  But, even I, a disciple of that sentiment, am ready to move on.  The time has come (and gone), and we need to turn the page.  Period.

The Next Guy Up

So, the question then obviously lends itself to – Who’s Next?  The way I see it there are three species of head coaching candidates out there right now.

  1. The Highly Successful Former Coach Currently in Broadcasting
    We all know the names – Cowher, Gruden, Billick, Dungy, even Mariucci.  This particular species would give the big impact owners want, the legitimacy fans want, and the authority and credibility the players may want.  But, it also comes with the big-dollar price tag, as well as, in most cases, an equally big ego.  My guess is that Jon Gruden and, maybe Brian Billick, are the only two in this group with any chance of succeeding Reid.  And, then there is the wild card that is Sean Payton.  Clearly, Payton would be essentially a DREAM hire, but it is really hard to imagine him leaving New Orleans.  And, if he does, it will probably be only for his hometown of Dallas.
  2. The Highly Successful College Coach – Often with a “System” that will Change the Game
    Until very recently, this almost never worked.  The NFL is littered with the corpses of Lane Kiffin, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis, Barry Switzer, and Bobby Petrino.  Even some of the most highly successful college coaches like Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban failed miserably in the pro game.  However, owners in the NFL (and, the NBA, for that matter) are always drawn to the guy with the fancy resume thinking that they are bringing in some mad football genius.  And, now they can even point to the Jim Harbaughs, Pete Carrolls, and Greg Schianos, as to why this will work.  And, who knows, maybe it will.  Those three may all be heading to the playoffs this year; Jimmy Johnson won several Super Bowls in the ’90s; and, people often forget that Tom Coughlin was hired away from Boston College by the expansion Jaguars before winning a pair of Super Bowls in New York.  With the way the NFL is going – and its rules committee – maybe Chip Kelly’s crazy offensive system will revolutionalize the game as we know it.  Or, maybe guys like Bill O’Brien, Brian Kelly, David Shaw or even Bo Pellini would bring a fire and accountability to these pampered NFL millionaires.  One thing is certain – we will find out because someone will hire them – and it might just be the Eagles.  I wouldn’t rule out Oregon’s Chip Kelly, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien or even Stanford’s David Shaw from consideration here.
  3. The Hot Young Assistant Coach
    Usually this has been a pretty competent way to find a new coach.  And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a DC or OC.  Andy Reid was an offensive line coach; John Harbaugh was a special teams coordinator; Leslie Frazier was a defensive backs coach.  These names are harder to really know, and probably won’t become apparent until the playoffs play out.  If I had to throw out one name to keep an eye on it would be the 49ers DC, Vic Fangio.  There is no need to go into the job he has done with that Niners defense, but he’s actually a Philly guy.  Fangio hails from the Scranton area, went to East Strousburg, and was actually a coach for the USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in the mid-80’s.  Another name out there that I heard for the first time when BSB’s own, Gross, made his bold prediction is Rob Ryan.  Gross has predicted that Ryan, the current Cowboys DC and son of former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, will be the next head coach of the Birds.  Honestly, anyone who grew up watching Rob’s dad’s teams here would probably welcome either Rob or his brother back to our city, regardless of the unneccessary pomp and bluster that they both bring with them.
Either of these guys look like Andy Reid's successor?

Should Jeffrey Lurie Speak Up?

Apparently, the city is demanding that Jeffrey Lurie speak to the fans in this trying situation.  The whole fanbase has completely lost faith in the entire organization and is clamoring to hear from the head man, himself.  My opinion:  Lurie is absolutely within his right for doing what he has always done – speak once at the beginning of the season and once again at the end of the season.  I honestly do not understand all the vitriol aimed at an owner who has opened up his checkbook time and time again to try and put the best product on the field, but has done so without meddling in the football operations in ANY way.  It is a combination rarely found in sports owners – particularly in the NFL.  There are countless examples of high-spending, but highly meddlesome (and destructive) owners – the Jerry Jones/Al Davis-type.  And, then there is the opposite type headlined by guys like Mike Brown who don’t even care enough to upgrade the ancient practice facility for his Bengals.  The Robert Krafts, Dan Rooneys, and Wellington Maras of the league are few and far between – and they win.  Jeffrey Lurie is from the same mold as these guys, and we should welcome and encourage that.  Lord knows, I would not want anyone that even resembled Daniel Snyder anywhere near the owner’s box in the Linc.

Where Have You Gone, Joe

I usually don’t mind playing the role of contrarian and disagreeing with the masses.  But, this one if one where I am not all that proud to be on the other side, but here goes:  we will miss Joe Banner – and probably already do.  Ya, I said it.  Banner and his condescending nature were very good for this franchise.  You need someone to play the role of a$$hole.  You just do.  And, he played it as well as it has ever been played in the NFL.  He let guys go when they got old, and he was a hard negotiator with the current and future talent.  Now, depending on the new coach they bring in, they might not need the Banner “style,” but you never know how much you need something until it is gone.

Anyone ever think we'd miss THIS guy?!?

The Jason Babin Situation

18 sacks one year.  Released midseason the next (without injury).  That just doesn’t happen in the NFL.  But, honestly, it is probably a good sign.  Despite what he will tell you, Babin was not having a good season and clearly would not be back next year at that high dollar mark, particularly with the depth at that position.  So, cut him loose, send a message to the locker room, and let the kids play.  I am curious to see what Brandon Graham and Philip Hunt can do.

Oh, and was anyone else secretly – and maliciously – happy when he was claimed by the 2-9 Jaguars after running his mouth about being excited to play for a contender?

The LeSean McCoy Debacle

3-6 on the season, down 25 points, less than 2 minutes left before a 6th consecutive loss, and NOW is when Andy Reid and company decide they want to run the ball?!?  It almost makes poetic sense that Shady McCoy was concussed on that play against the Redskins two weeks ago.  This coaching staff really has to realize that they are NOT in the playoff hunt this year, and we really need to start thinking long-term, even if the guys making these decisions are not going to be here, which leads me to…

In Ray We Trust

The great Ray Didinger stepped out of character recently by speaking strongly and dramatically.  The usually cool, calm, voice-of-reason Hall of Fame writer wrote a brash, provocative piece on Philly.com this week, calling for the immediate firing of Andy Reid IF he wants to play Michael Vick again this season.  Histrionics like this are usually reserved for us overreactionary, sophomoric bloggers, not Hall of Fame writers who have made a name for themselves with their measured rationality, which is all the more reason to take the message seriously.  The season is lost.  Andy Reid will not be back.  If he wants to be given the respect and privilege to finish out the season, he has to do so thinking about a future in which he will not be playing the part of head coach.  Unless convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that playing Nick Foles behind this joke of an offensive line would be clearly detrimental to his development as an NFL quarterback (which is not out of the realm of possibility), Reid MUST play the kid to see what he can do.

Ray Didinger: If Reid wants to play Vick, he should be fired

Unchartered Territory

Obviously a lot of what has gone on this season is flat-out appalling, but the play of the safeties – particularly, Kurt Coleman in the past couple of weeks – has been downright offensive.  I cannot recall ever seeing receivers so unbelievably – laughably – wide open so consistently as I have in the past couple of Eagles games.  And, it’s not like we’re talking 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line, where the defense is lined up in goal line formation, and the QB pulls off a nice play fake and the 3rd tight end slips to the end zone – that happens.  We are talking about 60-yard touchdowns without a defender in sight.  This happened on the first two Carolina possessions on Monday night.  What is going on?!?

What to Watch For

If you are like me – a sports masochist (and if you’re from Philly, you probably have to be) – you will still be tuned in for the final 5 games of this dreadful season.  So, what do we watch for?  Well, there are a couple things – and they are all focused on the future because that is really what I care about now.

  1. Nick Foles
    Considering quarterback is the most important position in sports, most of the attention for the next 5 games has to be on the play of Nick Foles.  Is he the one or do we have to shop this offseason for another one?  And, if so, where do we go for said “new guy?”  If the jury is still out on Foles, do the Eagles target a guy like Alex Smith or Matt Flynn to come in here, start for a year or two, while Foles learns?  Or do they keep Vick around (under a restructured contract, clearly) and let the two compete?  Or, do they cut bait and use their high draft pick on a Geno Smith or a Matt Barkley?
  2. Nate Allen
    This secondary is a mess.  Nnamdi has appeared to be a disaster (though I think he is much more valuable than people give him credit for) and may go the route of Babin.  DRC is a free agent who will most likely walk.  And, Coleman hasn’t given the Eagles any reason to bring him back next year.  That leaves Nate Allen.  Is Allen a starting safety in this league?  I think he can be, but there are question marks.  Maybe these 5 games will give us some insight either way.
  3. Bryce Brown
    For Bryce Brown, the football player, the good is really, REALLY good, but there are serious and frightening red flags at every turn.  178 rushing in his first NFL start – wow!  Red flag:  it came against an abysmal defense and was accompanied by two crucial fumbles.  He was the #1 ranked high school player in the country when he committed to Tennessee his senior year.  Red flag:  he never started a single collegiate game at two different schools.  So, while we can all dream about how good Bryce Brown could be, I’m very interested to find out just how good he will be.
  4. The Whole Defensive Line
    I still believe that this unit is overflowing with talent, but when will they show it?  It should be interesting to see if Trent Cole ever comes back to the bonafied 1st-team all-NFL defensive end that he has been for the better part of a decade.  And, will Brandan Graham we the guy the Eagles thought he would be when they traded up for him and took him over the “boom-or-bust” JPP – who clearly has boomed?  Same question about Fletcher Cox on the inside?  And, will my favorite current Eagle, Cullen Jenkins, earn himself a spot on the roster in 2013?  All of these will probably be decided over the course of the next 5 games.