Throwing Cold Water on Dubious Roster Battles

Reuben Frank put out a list of the top ten roster battles heading into training camp. He hits on some of the biggest ones: Atogwe vs. Coleman, Rolle vs. Chaney, Hanson vs. Boykin. But he also lists a bunch of questionable ones:

  • Dion Lewis vs. Bryce Brown? I’m excited to see if Brown can make the transition to the NFL. He clearly has 5x the physical potential of Lewis. But I’m not really seeing the competition for backup running back. There’s just no way Brown is going to come in after sitting out nearly all of college and immediately pick up the complexity of the Eagles offense and the intricacies of pass blocking, other essential bits. Then again, don’t read this as an endorsement of Lewis, who seems like a poor backup to one of the best players on the roster.
  • Riley Cooper vs. Damaris Johnson? It’s unclear whether the Eagles will keep five or six wide receivers, but I don’t really see the big receivers competing against the smaller ones. Cooper and Marvin McNutt would serve similar roles on the roster, as would Johnson and Chad Hall. Those are the real one-on-one battles. Winners of each competition will be guaranteed a spot on the roster. After that, all they can do is hope the Eagles keep six guys.
  • Clay Harbor vs. Brett Brackett? With the Eagles using more two tight end sets, the question is really whether Brackett can play his way onto the roster — not whether he can beat out Harbor, a more experienced player and much better blocker.
  • Mike Kafka vs. Nick Foles? As with Lewis/Brown, this isn’t a ringing endorsement of Kafka. But Frank is the first person to suggest that Foles even has a shot to replace him in his rookie year.

Ahead of all of the above, I’d rate these battles: Demetress Bell vs. King Dunlap, Jaiquawn Jarrett vs. the Chopping Block, Derek Landri vs. Antonio Dixon vs. Cedric Thornton.

Anticipating the Impact of Todd Bowles

Todd Bowles is 6’2”, 203 lbs. Well, at least he was that big when he played in the NFL as a free safety for eight years.

Normally, the height and weight of a coach wouldn’t matter much. But in the case of Bowles, we can draw a clear line between his frame and his personnel preferences as a secondary coach.

As you can see at right, teams where Bowles has been the secondary coach consistently draft tall defensive backs (the same way Jim Washburn only picked tall defensive ends). In fact, he’s only drafted one defensive back under six feet since 2003, and that was in the seventh round. Clearly, Bowles’s preference is for bigger, more physical players. He probably would not, for example, have endorsed the selections of Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard, two 5’10” corners.

More relevant: Asante Samuel is not the type of cornerback Bowles had in mind as his prototypical starter. As I’ve mentioned before, the Samuel trade was about ego, a broken locker room, and justifying the 2011 personnel decisions — not on-the-field performance or the salary cap. But I doubt Bowles was campaigning for Samuel to stick around.

Instead, he’s probably quite content with his starters at cornerback for 2012. Nnamdi Asomugha is 6’2”, 210 lbs and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is 6’2”, 182 lbs. Hopefully Bowles can help mold a solid defensive backfield around the two of them. Curtis Marsh also stands to gain quite a lot from the Bowles hire, since his athletic 6’1”, 197 lbs frame would be perfect for his new coach’s system.

On the other hand, Kurt Coleman probably shouldn’t get too comfortable as a starter. I’ve discussed his athletic limitations before, but Bowles may be particularly keen to find someone with a higher ceiling. The counter-example of course, is 5’9” Brandon Boykin, whose selection Bowles must have approved. But perhaps he is willing to make an exception for the physical slot corner, regardless of his size, given the value he presented in the fourth round.

Alright, you’re probably saying, this is fun roster speculation and all, but what does it really mean? I’ll admit, not much right now. We already knew who the likely starters were and presumably Bowles will play whomever is the best in practice, not go simply by their official measurements. The more important question remains: is Bowles really a great coach? Every reporter hailed the addition as brilliant, but I’m less impressed by the fossil record:

Photo from Getty.

First Shoe Drops: Tamari Leaves Eagles Beat

Jonathan Tamari:

Lastly, a bittersweet personal note: I’ll be leaving the ‪#Eagles‬ beat by the end of July to become the Inquirer’s Washington correspondent

We’ll miss Jon, who was always a real pro covering the team. Hope he’ll enjoy his new politics post, especially in the lead up to the election.

Word through the grapevine is that Jeff McLane may be moving on as well — leaving the paper entirely. A complete changing of the guard seems to be underway.

Update: Zach Berman, of The New York Times and the relatively new Philadelphia SportsWeek, has been hired as a beat reporter in Tamari’s place. Chad Graff is also covering the team, at least through training camp.

Eagles O-Line: Not That Young

Jimmy Kemspki provides us with a great master list of offensive line ages around the NFL:

Philly has the 13th oldest OL in the league, but their situation is a little odd, in that 4/5 of their line has very low mileage.  Todd Herremans has 92 career regular season starts.  The next highest total?  Evan Mathis, with 37, or a little more than two full seasons worth of games.

This is one of those moments when you remember that even though the Eagles will start two sophomores in the interior line, Danny Watkins is only six months younger than 28-year-old tackle Demetress Bell.

'I Love You, Too'

Tim McManus, from the Michael Vick “V7” clothing line unveil:

Judging by the fan reception, the feeling is mutual. Almost everyone who approached Vick tried to push the envelope: Maybe I can get just one more thing signed? How about a handshake? A picture? A hug? This is the year, they’d say. I can just feel it. One lady was so overcome that she began hollering in Vick’s direction as soon as she got into earshot.

“I’m going to fall over, oh my goodness,” she cried. Vick played it up, and when he got an, “I love you Mike,” he responded, “I love you, too” to the entertainment of the crowd.

It was all love. And when you reflect on a time not too long gone by, that is astounding all in itself.

The headline seems a little far-reaching, but Vick has certainly come a long way. See also: Tom McAllister on Vick.

Mining the New Football Outsiders Almanac 2012

The Football Outsiders Almanac appeared online yesterday, and you should obviously go get yourself a copy. With apologizes to our esteemed local publication, the FOA 2012 is the gold standard for the NFL offseason. The amount of statistical detail Aaron Schatz and everyone else at Football Outsiders puts into their work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. With that in mind, I’m going to highlight a few pieces that stuck out to me.

* * *

The Almanac jokes that, “of course we’re predicting a Philadelphia rebound,” but I don’t actually see it. They give a mean projection of 8.6 wins in 2012, which is barely more than the Eagles amassed last year. Moreover, it’s the lowest projected win total going back to at least 2009. The 2011 optimistic outlook pegged them at 11.7 wins. Oops.

* * *

FO marked Demetress Bell down for only five blown blocks in his last 20 starts. If he can stay healthy and Howard Mudd can work some magic, maybe there’s reason for some optimism at left tackle after all.

* * *

The Eagles dropped from third to eighth in offensive DVOA, but the Almanac suggests that “half” of that decline came from Vince Young’s poor play. Let’s hope Mike Kafka proves to be a better backup.

* * *

Two running backs and one tight end was the Eagles’ third most common offensive formation, but the Eagles ran the ball from it only one third of the time — the lowest percentage in the league by a long shot. On the other hand, this is the first year since 2009 that the offense ranked higher than 23rd in overall run percentage. The mantra appears to have been, “run, just not behind Owen Schmitt.”

* * *

The Almanac attributes only 12 sacks to blown blocks, the lowest figure in the league. Moreover, three of those are in LeSean McCoy’s column.

* * *

Despite those 18 sacks, I wonder if Jason Babin might be playing himself into a platoon job at left defensive end. Runs to his side averaged 4.91 adjusted line yards, second-worst in the NFL. On the other side, Trent Cole was second-best in the league, allowing a paltry 2.4 yards.

* * *

For the second year in a row, the Eagles defense ranked near the tail end of the league defending running backs coming out of the backfield. This is what’s colloquially known as the Casey-Matthews-covering-Brandon-Jacobs problem.

* * *

Bobby April is universally hailed as a special teams maestro, but his unit has declined in DVOA each year since he arrived. This year’s biggest problems came in the form of kick returners (Dion Lewis plus a down year for DeSean) and Chas Henry, who FO estimates cost the Eagles 11.5 points over the course of the season in field position alone. Yikes.

* * *

The Almanac is very optimistic about Michael Vick’s chances to rebound all the way back to his 2010 form. In fact, despite assuring us that his interception rate jump from 1.6 percent to 3.3 percent in 2011 was a normal regression to the mean, FO predicts he’ll go back to a 1.9 percent rate this season. Among starters, that would put him among the top five in the league.

* * *

There’s tons more where this came from, so go buy the book and share what stands out to you.

Keep an Eye Out

Sheil Kapadia announced today that he’s leaving his Moving the Chains blog behind at Philly.com. But what could have been a dreary day for the Eagles blogosphere instead became a bright one. Turns out that Sheil and 97.5 The Fanatic beat reporter Tim McManus will team up to cover the Eagles with a new blog at Philadelphia Magazine.

Kudos to both of them, especially friend of the blog (and Eagles Almanac author) Sheil, who now gets to write about the NFL full-time (to his readers’ benefit). Be on the lookout for when they kickoff in a few weeks.

Eagles Almanac Now Available on Kindle and Nook

I’ve been wowed by the positive response to the Eagles Almanac 2012. Thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy so far, and for all your feedback. Please keep your thoughts coming: email us, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook. After all of our hard work, it’s nice to know what you think.

And for those of you who haven’t bought your copy yet, now is the perfect chance. The gorgeous (if I do say so myself) PDF version is still available on our website, and now we have two new ways to read it: on the Amazon Kindle store and the Barnes & Nobles Nook store. Tell your friends to buy it today!

Morality and Michael Vick

In honor of the Eagles Almanac, Tom McAllister posted his entire essay from the preview magazine many of the same authors contributed to last summer. The piece, if you haven’t read it before, is amazing:

Before he was an Eagle, Vick was someone else’s problem, which enabled me to discuss him with self-righteous equanimity. When he was a backup, he wasn’t an issue, because it was like he wasn’t really on the team, so I could sarcastically cheer his minimal contributions and convince myself the Eagles were winning despite him. But now that he’s the face of the franchise, is leading the league in Pro Bowl voting, and is a ratings bonanza for the NFL, it is impossible to avoid the central question: is it okay to cheer for Michael Vick?

Relive Victor Cruz Torching Nnamdi Asomugha

Matt Bowen identifies the offensive concepts and corresponding coverage in Victor Cruz’s 28-yard touchdown reception in the Giants’ week three win over the Eagles. It’s informative, although he oddly doesn’t come to any real conclusions besides that it was a great play by Cruz:

The way I see it, Giants QB Eli Manning puts this ball up for his WR to go make the play. As I said above, this is the right call from a defensive perspective and the Eagles are in the proper position to steal one. However, Cruz attacks the ball and plays the pass at the highest point.

It might be the right defensive call in the abstract. But when you have Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the best man-cover corners in the NFL, and you put him in zone coverage (sharing responsibility with walking liability Jarrad Page), it seems suboptimal. Of course, Asomugha sure didn’t show that he understands the concept of “ball skills” either.

Should Michael Vick Run More Against the Blitz?

Check out this chart, numbers courtesy of Pro Football Focus. It shows the breakdown in Michael Vick’s performance when he dropped back to pass against the blitz, in 2010 and then 2011. The chart is stacked so that you see how all the individual slivers add up to 100 percent:

What do we see? Sacks, down slightly. Touchdowns, down slightly. Other completions, up from 35 percent to 44 percent. Regular incompletions, down 3 percent. All good — except for the touchdowns.

Then there’s Vick’s runs and his interceptions. Granted, juxtaposing these two stats isn’t necessarily fair play. But there’s an interesting correlation, whereby Vick cut his scrambling in half from 14 percent to 7 percent of plays against the blitz while his interception rate on those plays jumped from 1.6 percent to 5.6 percent.

On one hand, calming down in the pocket and passing under pressure is an important skill to be an elite quarterback. On the other hand, maybe Vick would get himself into less trouble if he allowed himself to run a little bit more and forced his throws a little bit less.

Luries Getting Divorced

Jeff and Christina Lurie:

"Please be assured that this decision will have no impact whatsoever on the ownership, the business and the operations of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. We are certain that our family’s future and our collective future as colleagues will be a bright one."

A strange offseason gets stranger. All I have to say on this is: easier said than done. Depending on their ownership structure and financial situation, this could easily result in the Luries having to sell the team.

Eagles Draft More Linemen Than Anyone Else

Great numbers by Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the bEast. Turns out, the Eagles have drafted more total offensive and defensive lineman in the last five years than any other team. Alright, so they’re not actually first by percent of total picks, but still, Andy Reid values numbers in the trenches.

Note that the Eagles have taken 18 linemen in the last five drafts. That’s the same as the Redskins and Cowboys combined.

Adam Schefter Stirs the Lurie-Reid Pot

Adam Schefter, when asked if Bill Cowher might be a candidate to replace Reid in the undetermined future:

My belief is that Reid will stay on in that job as long as he wants. Jeffrey Lurie will not fire him. When the time comes for Reid to go, whenever that is, it will be because he opts to go.

People seem to be getting worked up about this because they’re taking Schefter’s words too literally. He’s obviously wrong that Lurie won’t fire him. In fact, the owner has backed himself into a corner this year where if the team doesn’t improve from “unacceptable,” he’ll have little choice but to fire Reid. What Schefter’s words reiterate is simply that Lurie doesn’t want to fire Reid. Give him a playoff win and he’ll be happy keeping the status quo.

In other news, Reid (or someone else at NovaCare) apparently convinced Jason Babin that running with the bulls isn’t such a bright idea.