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…

A Decade and a Half with Big Red: Top Twelve Memories of the Andy Reid Era

Andy Reid is the best coach of a Philadelphia professional sports team in my lifetime.  Without question.  And, now, after 14 highly successful years, we will have a new front man of a team so desperate to reach the top of the mountain.

It was a freezing cold day (Philadelphia temperatures never broke 30 degrees) on January 11, 1999, when the Eagles announced that some no-name quarterbacks coach from the Packers (and, it is not like Brett Favre looked like the most “well-coached” quarterback to ever play…) would be their next head coach.   We were coming off of a miserably forgettable 3-13 season with Ray Rhodes, and it looked as if the Birds were entering a pretty bleak period.

Andy Reid’s first game with the Eagles started amazingly, as the Eagles rocketed out to a 21-0 first quarter lead over Arizona, only to blow it late, 25-24.  Yesterday, was Reid’s last game with the Eagles, and, again, it started amazingly, as the team recovered a surprise onside kick on the opening kickoff, only to turn the ball over en route to another embarrasing loss – 42-7 – to the hapless New York Giants.

And, in between those two games were plenty of thrilling moments that never actually led to the ultimate prize.  From a list of many, many memorable moments both good and bad (brilliantly chronicled on philly.com today), I have listed 12 memories that I will most hold on to from these great (but altogether unsatisfying) 14 years.

12). Pickle Juice
After a surprisingly encouraging 5-11 first season in Philly, Andy Reid decides to open Week One of 2000 season with a surprise onside kick in Cowboy Stadium.  The Eagles recover the ball and march down the field for an opening TD.  Duce Staley rushed for 201 yards, as the Birds destroyed the Cowboys, 41-14.  The Eagles shocked everyone by winning the NFC East and getting Coach Reid his first of an amazing TEN playoff wins when they beat the Bucs, 21-3 in the Wild Card Round.

(NOTE:  The Philadelphia Eagles franchise has been in existence since 1933, and they have won a TOTAL of 19 playoffs games in their entire history.  Andy Reid was the coach for more than half of the team’s all-time playoff wins.)

11). The Backup Quarterbacks
There was just something about the “backup quarterbacks” in Reid’s tenure.  Maybe because their starting quarterbacks have been rather fragile (McNabb/Vick/Kolb) over the years.  Maybe it was because Reid was so good at picking (or grooming) QBs.  Or, maybe the system was right for someone to step in.  But, no matter what, the next guy up always stepped up.  My first vivid memory of this was a Monday Night game against the juggernaut 49ers, when Koy Detmer (in for an injured McNabb) threw 2 TDs before breaking his arm.  A.J. Feeley then stepped in threw another one, as the Birds cruised to a 34-14 upset of the Niners.  Then there was 2006-07, when McNabb tore his ACL and Jeff Garcia came in to have a Pro Bowl season a win over the hated Giants in the playoffs and a near upset of the Saints in the Divisional Round.  And, then of course, is the recent memory of just 2 years ago when Kolb went down on Opening Day and Michael Vick came in to thrill against the Packers and lead the team to a meteoric rise to another division title.  Even Kevin Kolb – who did not exactly impress in his first opportunity when McNabb was benched at halftime in Baltimore in 2009 – won Player of the Week in replacement of an injured McNabb in 2009.

Continue reading “A Decade and a Half with Big Red: Top Twelve Memories of the Andy Reid Era”

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.

Chooch, Babin, and D-Jax…

Just a mundane check on the front page of ESPN.com today offers three more pieces of off-the-field news to the laundry list of sports storylines meant strictly to depress fans of Philadelphia sports.

  • Ruiz was suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season for testing positive for amphetimines.
  • The already lost Eagles season will finish without their best wide receiver, as DeSean Jackson (who was actually having a sneakily decent season this year) was placed on season-ending IR today.
  • And, in maybe the most surprising (and head-scratching) news of the day – Jason Babin, fresh off an 18-sack season a year ago, was flat-out released by the Birds today.

Now, we can just sit in wait for the inevitable “Andrew Bynum to Miss Entire Season” headline which is right around the corner.

Happy Tuesday…

Here’s a stat for you with your morning coffee:

The Eagles had 4 first downs inside the Saints 10-yard line last night.  Just in those four trips, they were OUTSCORED by the Saints, 7-6.  That’s right, 4 times with the ball, inside the 10, and they GAVE UP more points than they scored.

Good morning!

Eagles Midseason Report Card

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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

Special Teams

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.

Random Complaint

Schedule-Maker:  F-
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

Breaking: Eagles Fire D-Coordinator Juan Castillo

More on the state of the Eagles later this week, but the news just broke that the Eagles have fired Juan Castillo in the wake of that devastating fourth-quarter collapse against the Lions on Sunday.  Secondary coach Todd Bowles was promoted to take his spot.  A couple random knee-jerk reactions to this:

  • This smells of a move of (warranted) desperation on the part of a head coach who sees his job in serious peril.
  • Todd Bowles – who was the interim head coach for the Dolphins last year and who received several head coaching interviews this offseason – might be the next Eagles head coach.
  • I have some very, very cautious optimism that this will mean a total readjustment to the defensive scheme vis a vis Nnamdi.  Can we FINALLY use this SUPREME talent the RIGHT WAY?!?!?!?!?  PLEASE…  For three quarters yesterday, we saw just how INCREDIBLY good this guy is when you put him on one receiver man-to-man.  He eliminated the best receiver on the planet.  Then, they took him off Megatron in the fourth quarter and he had over 100 yards…IN A QUARTER.
  • Wasn’t this plan doomed to fail from the beginning?  How can you promote your offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, then hire the best and most respected D-Line coach in Jim Washburn one year and then the hot, up-and-coming, head-coach-in-waiting Secondary coach in Todd Bowles the next year?  How can you have these strong personalities under a guy who has never coached on that side of the ball and not expect dissent?  Just a really poorly conceived idea from the jump.
  • Maybe the loss Sunday has a silver lining, because going into a bye is the best time to make a major change, so this may have been the only time they would have done this.  Needless to say, this defense is WAY, WAY, WAY too talented to blow consecutive fourth-quarter leads and be pushing the franchise record for most consecutive plays without registering a sack.
  • One more thing:  Fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the White…Yes, Mr. Bowles is a Temple Owl!

Your 2012 Philadelphia Eagles: Unit by Unit

Here we are at the dawn of another Eagles season with exceedingly high expectations that are, at the same time, warranted and terrifying.  There are aspects of this team that have the potential to be scarily elite, and there are aspects of this team that have the potential to be just scary – and, in some instances (particularly, the quarterbacks), the potential is there for either one.  So, let us take a quick look at each of the individual “units” on this team, one by one, in my order of strength.

1). Defensive Line
With all due respect to the 9-7, outscored-on-the-season, “defending champs” to our North, the Philadelphia Eagles have the best defensive line in the NFL.  And, yes, I will stick by that claim with a long history of non-homerism (as you will see in my take on some of the other units on this list).  This unit combines undebatably elite starters on the outside, one solid veteran and one sky’s-the-limit rookie starters on the inside, and legitimately frightening depth all over.  Last year’s numbers for Trent Cole and Jason Babin may have been bolstered a bit by the “wide-9” scheme, but there is no debate that these two guys are among the best in the business at getting after the passer.  They are quick and relentless off the edges, but they do not hurt you at all (especially Cole) in run defense.  And, while everybody knows that the Birds were gashed up the middle last year, I haven’t heard one person put any of that on Cullen Jenkins – who is widely-considered one of the most underrated defensive players in the league.  And, now, in his second year with the team and a full offseason to establish himself, I expect the leadership to go through him this year.  All indications point to the other starting tackle to be the top draft choice, Fletcher Cox.  There is a good possibility that he is the best defensive rookie in the league this year and, at the very least, if ready to step in as an upgrade from day one.  There is also talk of Derek Landri and Antonio Dixon being starting-caliber tackles coming in on rotations.  And, there is always Mike Patterson, who we know is at least capable – when healthy.  To give Cole or Babin a blow, the Birds can turn to a quartet of potential breakout stars, led by Darryl Tapp, the speedy rookie, Vinny Curry, a promising second-year player in Philip Hunt, and even some guy named Brandon Graham, who is finally healthy and who may not be ready to cement his “bust” status quite yet.

2). The Weapons
With the NFL in this transition towards the spread offense and such, it is probably best to combine the WRs, RBs, and TEs into a single group these days.  And, when you do that with this roster, you find yourself with more speed and athleticism than you know what to do with – along with a couple major question marks.  First, we must start with everyone’s darling, LeSean McCoy.  Now, don’t get me wrong on this – I LOVE this guy, and the season he put on tape last year was probably the single best season for an Eagles running back in my lifetime.  HOWEVER (and I HATE to be the wet blanket here), let us pump the brakes on Shady just for a second here because in the era of fantasy football, people sometimes miss out on REAL football.  Shady is absolutely worth every penny they paid for him and if he duplicates last season again this season, then I will be totally sold.  But, I would like to see it for more than just one season.  Fine – I’m a wet blanket.  Can I make it up to you?  I really like that they paid DeSean Jackson his money because I think he becomes the perfect stretch-the-field, NUMBER TWO receiver.  And, that is exactly what we need because I think we have a legit superstar #1 receiver in Jeremy Maclin just waiting to be unleashed.  And, this year, injury-free and ready to go, should be the year that he makes that jump.  I expect Maclin to breakout this year the way McCoy did a year ago.  Now, I’m not a huge Riley Cooper guy (especially now that he’s out with a broken collar bone), but I really like Jason Avant as a possession guy, and I have heard some really good things about their 6th-round pick out of Iowa, Marvin McNutt.  And, then there’s always the up-and-down Brent Celek, whose range of possibilities this year runs from top-5 tight end to barely a starter.  I am not a huge fan of Clay Harbour, but the coaching staff seems to find him valuable, and Penn State graduate, Brett Brackett should make the team as a third tight end.

3). Secondary
I had a lot of trouble where to rank this group.  I knew the top 2 units were clearly better, and I have no doubt that the bottom two are where they belong, but it is this middle two that gave me a lot of trouble.  I finally decided that I am going to judge this group based on the past performance of the guys on the outside and the fact that, as good as Asante Samuel was last year, he may have been more of a distraction – from a personal and personnel sense – than a help to the team.  If you erased last year from history, you would be hard-pressed to make the argument that Nnamdi Asomugha isn’t the BEST player on this roster.  Now, I know that last year did happen, but what if we gave Nnamdi a pass for a whole lot of reasons.  If he returns to anywhere near the player he was in Oakland just two years ago, then this defense might look a LOT different.  On the other side is a guy that I look at as the defense’s version of Jeremy Maclin, in that I think he is ready to official plant himself as one of the game’s best.  Dominique Rogers-Cromartie had to be out of his element last year in the slot.  Now, he gets a chance to return to his Pro Bowl-caliber play on the outside.  Nnamdi on one side and DRC on the other might be the best pair of corners in the league – sounds nuts, but I believe that.  However, this unit is not without its major question marks.  I am an unabashed Joselio Hanson fan, but how many plays is too many for him to be on the field before he gets exposed?  The other options in the nickle are 4th-round steal, Brandon Boykin (who is going to be DYNAMIC on kick and punt returns, but might not be ready for nickle corner duties) and converted running back, Curtis Marsh.  So, basically this unit relies on the corners staying healthy.  As for the safeties, I am a believer in Nate Allen, and Kurt Coleman is gritty and tough.  But, the big coup might turn out to be the addition of O.J. Atogwe.  An acquisition that was largely overlooked, this guy brings experience, toughness, and leadership to the back line.  He makes up for what I do not like about Temple’s own, Jaiquawn Jarrett – who, no matter how hard he hits, might actually have to cover someone to really be useful in the NFL.

4). Quarterbacks
The reason I put the d-backs ahead of the QBs is not because of Michael Vick.  I think Vick is clearly a top-10 quarterback and definitely good enough to win a Super Bowl.  And, I am not afraid of the catastrophic, season-ending injury because, if that happens, then all of this conversation is moot anyway.  What I am concerned with is the fact that, as bad as Vince Young played last year, at least there was someone there that we thought could win a game or two.  And, in fact, if he did win just a single game while in there, the Eagles would have won the division and the Giants would have missed the playoffs.  So, I am concerned with the 1-2 week injury to Vick – which seems to happen every year of his career and, as Doogan always says, staying healthy is a skill.  When Vick missed 2 games in the middle of November, can Nick Foles, Trent Edwards, or Mike Kafka win a game?  I’m not sure, and in a league where every win could be the difference between the Eagles season last year and the Giants season last year, that’s a pretty important thing.

5). Offensive Line
If not for Howard Mudd – the best offensive line coach in the history of the sport – I would rank this unit as the worst on the team.  But, that might be harsh.  Or, it might be because Jason Peters is just THAT good.  I like Demetress Bell (who will start over King Dunlap), but anyone is a significant downgrade from the best o-lineman in the game.  I am worried about the loss of Peters – VERY worried.  That being said, Todd Herremans is as solid as it gets on the right side (Vick’s blindside), and Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce are very, very solid inside.  If last year’s first-round pick, Danny Watkins turns into a legitimate starting guard, the interior of this line could actually be quite good.  But, again, when you lose a guy like Peters, you have to expect a significant step backwards in the performance of the entire unit.

6). Linebackers
I do not put a lot of stock in preseason games, particularly Preseason Week One, but I do put some stock into training camp, and I expected rave reviews from camp and/or the first preseason game about newly-acquired middle linebacker, Demeco Ryans.  Well, that is not what we are getting.  In fact, we are getting some cautionary reports about how Ryans is no Jeremiah Trotter and that he’s not really attacking the way everyone expected.  Maybe he is still getting his feet wet with a new team.  Maybe it is taking him a little bit of time to adjust back to the 4-3 (for which he is MUCH better-suited).  But, regardless, this unit was GOD-AWFUL last year, and the only way I see it becoming even adequate is if Ryans is a solid, reliable middle linebacker.  And, he was on the field for 15+ plays against the Steelers without recording a single tackle – again, it’s preseason, but it’s also a bit alarming.  Backing up Ryan will be Casey Matthews, who couldn’t cut it as the opening-day starter, but is still a pretty good rotation guy to have on the team.  On the outside, this unit is either unproven or proven to be barely mediocre.  As good as Fletcher Cox will probably be, Mychal Kendricks may turn out to be the more important rookie to the 2012 Eagles.  If Kendricks can solidify the strongside ‘backer position, this defense will markedly improved.  If not, we could be in for another long year of 15-yard runs at will because there really isn’t another option unless you want more missed tackles from Akeem Jordan.  Fortunately, most reports have been glowing about Kendricks, the undersized, big-hearted 2nd-round pick.  The weakside will be manned either by another undersized guy in Brian Rolle or 3rd-year guy, Jamar Chaney.  Rolle looked decent last year, but that might be because he was a replacement for awful.  Chaney has been slightly more than “just a guy” in each of his two years, but has shown flashes of starter ability.  Chaney was probably the favorite to win this job, but a strained hamstring has kept him out of action for a while now, and Rolle may steal the spot.  Either way, the Will backer doesn’t appear to exactly be a position of strength for this team.  While the linebackers should be better than they were last year, that is not exactly saying anything, as they were historically awful last year.  And, “improved” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.”  If this defense returns to being one of the better defenses in the league, it is much more likely to be in spite of the linebackers than because of them.

 

The Death of Garrett Reid

I will not be arrogant and say “you have to be a parent to know what it must feel like to lose a child” because I think that to discount someone’s empathetic perspective is flat-out ignorant.  However, just speaking for myself, I can absolutely say that, before the birth of my first child, I did not have the same level of sympathy and understanding of the pain for a parent who has had to bury a child as I do today.  Maybe it is because of this still-fresh emotion I have or because of the closeness to home with which the Garrett Reid death hit me (our long-time football coach at a funeral service in Broomall attended by 900 people, including Roger Gooddell…), but this story has really evoked a level and depth of sadness in me that few sports/news stories have been capable of doing.

I did not know Garrett Reid.  I do not know Andy Reid.  I doubt that I even know anyone that knows anyone in the Reid family, despite growing up in the next town over and attending neighboring high schools.  But, sports have a funny way of making us feel awfully close to total strangers.  We don’t ever really get to know film actors because, well, they’re always acting.  And, when we do see their true human sides, it’s usually because they did something disappointing or offensive or stupid.  As for musicians, we may know some of their inner thoughts or deepest secrets through their lyrics, do we really feel like we know them?  Do we feel like we have joint experiences or are we just acutely aware of their experiences?  And, then there are our politicians, whose whole career is based around the majority of people feeling like they know them, and yet, they may be the most distant of anyone, when it comes right down to it. 

But, sports figures are out there.  They bleed, sweat, and cry in front of us.  Their rejoicing is a matter of public record to be replayed over and over again on SportsCenter.  Their interactions with teammates, coaches, opposing players, fans who love them, and fans who hate them are all dissected and analyzed under the intense media microscope on which everyone is to draw their own judgments of the individual people they are.  And, we believe in them; we celebrate their successes right along with them; and, we feel pain when they feel pain.  For many of us, some of the most important moments of our lives are also the most important moments in our favorite athletes’ lives.  Chase Utley’s “World F*cking Champions” speech felt like it was said to me directly.

So, when something happens like what happened to the Reid family over the weekend, we feel it.  Genuinely and legitimately.  And, this was one of the worst things that can happen to a person.  You always hear things like “burying a child is one of the worst things a human being can endure” or “when you have a child, all you think about is the life they may lead, the successes they may find, the triumphs they may realize, so, one day, for that all to be taken away is almost too much to handle” or “your one job as a parent is to protect your child from harm, so when harm finds them, you cannot help but feel like, somehow, you’ve failed.”  Well, when my child was born in October of last year, these sentiments immediately turned from cliche to gospel.  I am not saying – in any way – that the Reids have failed or that they will not be able to handle this in time, but what I am saying is that, deep down, there is a part of them feeling that way right now, and just the thought that someone feels that right now hits me with a raw, empty emotion.

I don’t know the answer to all of this – I don’t even know why I felt the need to write this.  But, what I can say is that I wish there was something someone could do to alleviate the suffering felt by the Reid family right now because I can only imagine it to be a suffering that takes one to the brink of total emptiness and despair, and no one should have to go through that kind of agony. 

Our thoughts are with you, Reid family…