John Breitenbach wrote a post on BGN about the underrated abilities of Akeem Jordan. He goes through all the phases of the game with Pro Football Focus stats and includes nice game shots. Here’s his final analysis:
I’m not trying to make Jordan out to be some sort of superstar but it’s a shame he receives such little respect from Eagle fans. He was undrafted (and went to a tiny school) but he’s worked his way to become at the very least a serviceable NFL starter. At just 26, who’s to say he won’t get better? If you’re looking for someone to challenge Kendricks for the strongside spot, pay less attention to Jamar Chaney, and more to #56.
I’m not going to make Breitenbach’s argument into a straw man; it’s a reasonable and measured conclusion. Maybe Jordan is better than we think. However, I think there are three main rebuttal points:
- Jordan isn’t as good in coverage as those numbers illustrate. Breitenbach places Jordan’s coverage stats (09-11) side-by-side with Lance Briggs, and Jordan looks good. Certainly his completion percentage is lower (and therefore better). But, for one thing, Breitenbach doesn’t mention that the sample sizes are quite different. Jordan had only 372 coverage snaps during those three seasons, compared to 607 for Briggs just last year. When you look at targets per coverage snap (i.e. how often he was picked on), Jordan suddenly looks subpar.
- I don’t think there’s much evidence, based on Breitenbach’s numbers, that tackling is one of Jordan’s “greatest strengths.” He missed 9.2% of his tackles from 09-11, which would have been good enough for 20th last year among 4-3 outside linebackers with at least 25% of their team’s snaps. That actually does make him one of the better tacklers on the Eagles LB corps, but that’s not a whole lot to brag about.
- Finally, the most damning evidence against Jordan is simply that he hasn’t been able to hold a starting job—even when his competition has been so bad. Breitenbach mentions the atrocious Ernie Sims. Moise Fokou, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney… the list goes on and on of the guys coaches played before Jordan. He got more snaps after Fokou was benched, then placed on injured reserve in the last month of 2011, but that wasn’t a vote of confidence as much as Plan Z.
Jordan is a great special teams player and he’s fine as a backup. But I doubt any good defense considers Akeem for a starting role.
In my recent linebacker review, I evaluated all the youngsters with a fairly skeptical eye. However, in discerning some difference between their various deficiencies, I noted what now seems to be patently false.
I said, “Brian Rolle is the opposite of Chaney, smaller but smarter and a better tackler to boot.” Well, the last part just isn’t true, according to the statistics provided by Pro Football Focus. Derek Sarley alerted me to this article by PFF from a year ago.
The stat they come up with is Total Attempts (sacks, tackles, assists, and missed tackles) per Missed Tackle. From 2008 to 2010, the top 15 linebackers in the NFL had more 20 or more attempts for every miss. Meanwhile, the bottom 15 qualifying linebackers registered fewer than 8.8 attempts per miss. Here are the numbers for returning Eagles:
The thing that should stick out to you is Rolle’s atrocious number. According to PFF’s charters, he had a missed tackle once every five times he had the chance. None of the linebackers really have good results here, but Rolle’s is by far the worst. If he had qualified for PFF’s study last year, he would have been the single worst LB tackler in the league.
I was never that high on Rolle, given his limited upside. But apparently my eyes deceived me about his tackling. If he’s both small and a poor tackler, that makes him a real liability, and an underdog to retain his starting weakside role.
Chaney, Casey Matthews, and Moise Fokou were all pretty poor tacklers last year as well, and in truth their numbers above may actually underestimate the problem. At the risk of relying on my memory of last season again, Chaney’s problem was often that he failed to even get to the ball. That poor diagnosis and reaction wouldn’t factor in to this statistic, which just counts actual tackling attempts.
Still, we might be able to count on at least one of the youngsters to improve in 2012. Want a scarier statistic? Over the last three seasons, DeMeco “Savior” Ryans has a 9.3 attempts/missed tackle ratio. That’s no better than Chaney or Matthews.
Photo from Getty.
What the Eagles did: I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse group of NFL linebackers than the ones the Eagles employed last year. The position was an incompetent game of musical chairs. If the defense has any hope of rebounding from that, they’ll have to get a major upgrade from their two newcomers.
DeMeco Ryans comes to the middle of the defense with lots of hype. He was a two-time Pro Bowler in a 4-3 defense in Houston, and will certainly be a huge upgrade. Simply having an experienced veteran leader and sure tackler in the middle will boost the Eagles defense significantly. The question of whether he can return to his elite pre-injury self does remain, though.
The second newcomer upon whom much relies is second round pick Mychal Kendricks. The former Cal star has already been slotted in at the strongside linebacker spot, and so far in minicamps the reports have been nothing but positive. There’s a definite danger in projecting Kendricks to start as a rookie, as Eagles fans know all too well. Still, his pedigree is significantly higher than Casey Matthews — and any other current linebacker on the squad not named Ryans.
After that, all we have is a host of unreliable youngsters — the same players who played so poorly last season. As long as the two newcomers work out, this won’t be too much of a problem. Surely one of the bunch can be adequate enough in the weakside job.
The frontrunner for that spot seems to be Jamar Chaney, a player the Eagles coaches must love, because he’s shown next to nothing on the field. Chaney has the athleticism to be a great linebacker, but he’s a poor tackler and worse at finding the ball-carrier in the first place. A strong coach might be able to get something out of him, but Mike Caldwell and Juan Castillo probably aren’t the men for that job.
Brian Rolle is the opposite of Chaney, smaller but smarter and a better tackler to boot. He held the weakside job last year and was the most consistent of any of the young players. Still, I don’t know that many people would hold Rolle’s overall performance in particularly high esteem. He didn’t embarrass himself, as some of the others did, but judging from his frame and rookie play, Rolle’s ceiling is not particularly high. In the long run, he would be best suited for a backup and special teams role.
Next comes Casey Matthews, who was unfairly thrown into the fire at middle linebacker last year. To my eyes, though, his play improved when he returned later in the season, and reports this year say he put on significant weight, from 230 lb. up to the 250 lb. range. That raises questions about whether he has become too big to compete on the weakside, although getting the best three linebackers on the field should always be the priority. Matthews, despite his disastrous rookie season, seems to have the most upside between him, Rolle, and Chaney.
Finally, there’s Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, and Akeem Jordan. Clayton, the LB-safety tweener, has shown nothing in two years that justifies keeping him around (plus he just had sports hernia surgery). Fokou played so poorly last year that he took only seven defensive snaps after week nine and none after week twelve. Jordan filled in at strongside linebacker in his place, proving that he could at least be an adequate stopgap. His best play comes out on special teams, though, as the latest Football Outsiders report details.
What I would have done: On paper, if everything goes right, this linebacker corps can be solid. The problem is, everything doesn’t always go as planned. With some luck, Kendricks will grab hold of the strongside job and prove his worth. But it’s just as likely the rookie will need time to adjust to the faster professional game. And while Ryans has all the talent, he’ll need to prove he can rebound from last season’s down year with the Texans. If anything goes wrong with either or both of the Eagles newcomers, you’re immediately back to where you were in 2011.
With that in mind, I would have been more aggressive in trying to add one or two more potential veterans and backups. Someone like Dan Connor would have made a nice Plan B, or even a lesser free agent. Chaney, Matthews, and Rolle should have to fight to make ther roster, let alone the starting 11.
Way-too-early prediction: I think Clayton gets cut, barring some miraculous display of talent we have so far missed. The fact that he barely found the field last year was not a good sign. Fokou’s fall from grace doesn’t bode well for him either. Greg Lloyd, the middle linebacker prospect drafted in the seventh round last year, and the other camp bodies are at best practice squad fodder. Unless one of the other guys can show their worth there, Jordan could retain his roster spot based solely on his special team play.
As to the rest, I’m optimistic but realistic about both newcomers. I don’t expect either to set the world on fire, just hopefully be above average. The trio of Rolle, Chaney, and Matthews will be where the competition lies during training camp. I’m anxious to see which, if any, can prove their worth.
Photo from Getty.
Free agency is nearly upon us, and the Eagles have just under $10 million available to spend. Some of that money will hopefully go toward locking up young stars like LeSean McCoy. Other funds will be freed up when they trade Asante Samuel (sooner, rather than later if they want to make any free agent splash).
But there are some veteran players they can cut if they need more room under the salary cap. Here are the most five most likely, with numbers from Eagles Cap:
Jamaal Jackson — Cap Savings: $1.9 million
Jackson really should have been gone last offseason. Jason Kelce may not have been that good, but he’s the future at center.
Winston Justice — Cap Savings: $2.3 million
Justice is only two years removed from signing that long term extension. But then he was inconsistent in 2010, injured in 2011. Presumably the Eagles will retain King Dunlap as swing tackle, making Justice expendable. And with his $4 million price tag, no one is going to be clamoring for him in a trade.
Darryl Tapp — Cap Savings: $1.6 million
Compared to other NFL defensive ends, Tapp played well in a rotational role last year. But compared to other Eagles players, he generated the least pressure. Why keep him around when you can get the same or potentially better production out of Philip Hunt, at one-fifth the cost?
Joselio Hanson — Cap Savings: $1 million
The Eagles already cut Hanson once right before last season, and he’s turning 31 this year. Depending on how the coaches view the progression of young corners like Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes, they may decide it’s time to give them a try instead.
Moise Fokou & Akeem Jordan — Cap Savings: $1.3 million
Alright, so this is two players. But both Fokou and Jordan are expendable, low-upside pieces at a position that the Eagles are likely to add anywhere from two to four new players this offseason.
Photo from Getty.
I rewatched the Eagles-Giants game last night. Here are a few more brief observations.
Other than the interception, which he lucked into, Jamar Chaney did not have a good game. First of all he’s (become?) a very poor tackler. There were at least three or four completely missed tackles on his part. But his bigger problem is play recognition and reaction. Both Brian Rolle and Akeem Jordan are relatively quick to diagnose and attack run plays. Chaney tends to move slowly in both run and pass defense. The long pass to Victor Cruz on the Giants final drive was his fault.
Another player who needs to step up his game is Clay Harbor. He didn’t get beaten as a run blocker, but rather failed to sustain the blocks. His man eventually tackled LeSean McCoy on multiple occasions. Not good enough effort. Also, Vince Young’s first interception came when the ball hit Harbor in the helmet (although pass interference should also have been called).
Danny Watkins could also work on sustaining blocks and looking for guys at the next level, but overall he’s holding his own at this point. He’s a legitimate starter. So far Watkins has only improved, and we can hope that continues.
I liked referee Mike Carey yelling at the Eagles and Giants players, getting in their faces after an early skirmish. You don’t see that often.
One of the things that worked really well was switching Cullen Jenkins out to defensive end. Juqua Parker often slid inside on those plays, and they each got a lot of pressure.
Both Parker and Darryl Tapp played really well as the second-string defensive ends. Jim Washburn’s revival of the second defensive line unit (even with street free agents like Derek Landri) might be a more impressive feat than turning Jason Babin into a Pro Bowler.
The Giants deployed a 3-4 base or 3-3 nickel look more than a handful of times. I’m not sure it was the best decision, given the state of their linebacker corps and the way the Eagles have played against 3-4 teams thus far in the season.
The biggest way the Giants kept McCoy under control was by maintaining containment. He wasn’t able to bounce inside runs outside nearly as often as he had through the first 10 weeks.
The Eagles tried Ronnie Brown as a fullback a few times and it predictably failed. They must see Owen Schmitt as a big liability. However, it did help to set up an inside trap run to Brown that converted a 3rd and 3 in the fourth quarter.
Not sure the goal on QB sneaks should be to run behind Kelce/Watkins. They both have a tendency to lose leverage and get pushed, if not backwards, at least not forward. If you watch Jason Peters and Evan Mathis on the same play, they start slowly but end up pushing their linemen back two yards or so. Might be time to try that side.
Photo from Getty.
One of the most frustrating aspects of playing sports video games is process of allocating a certain arbitrary number of “skill points” to the entire team. 10 points to the offensive line. 10 to the wide receivers. 15 to the quarterbacks. 5 to the kicker?
The process is about as harrowing as fake team management can get. There are always just too few points to make the choices easy. Do I go short at wide receiver or running back? Safety or linebacker?
Of course, the truth is that this process is consistent, on a much simpler scale, with what real front offices have to deal with. No matter how much room under the salary cap you have to sign All Stars, you’ll never sign one to every position. You’ll always have to make compromises.
With that said, I still think there’s ample room to criticize Eagles management for their consistent neglect of one rotating position on the roster. Last year it was either right guard or right cornerback. In years prior we had punt returner, back up tight end, fullback. Where generally you would allot at least a modicum of points to a position, there’s always one spot it seems that the Eagles leave barren.
But let’s stop a moment here and go over all the ways you can fill a potential hole in your roster. Signing a Pro Bowler long term is probably the most consistent and most expensive path, and the Eagles have done plenty of that over the years. You could also grab a veteran starter on a short term deal or through a trade, a tactic the team has consistently employed with linebackers. The Nate Allen/Danny Watkins route means drafting a talented rookie and giving him every chance to win the job over the veteran insurance policy (Marlin Jackson/Evan Mathis). Perhaps you give the same chance to a lower round rookie like Jason Kelce, but having an alternate veteran starter in place already is more important.
The Eagles chose none of these normal options last season with regard to right guard and right cornerback. Who was surprised when injured Stacy Andrews and perennial back ups Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles couldn’t get the job done? Or when Ellis Hobbs, mediocre on his own, went down for the year and Dimitri Patterson proved woefully unprepared to take over?
And yet I look at the linebackers for this coming season and I see a unit that could blow up faster than either of last year’s problem spots. Even if you trust the supposed soon-to-be Pro Bowler Jamar Chaney and the consistently underwhelming Moise Fokou, how can you justify slotting in undersized, unprepared fourth round pick Casey Matthews at starting middle linebacker? Given how unlikely it is that he’ll succeed immediately, I’m surprised that there seems to be no back up plan. Akeem Jordan is a lesser version of Ike Reese. Maybe Jamar Chaney could slide over, but that just opens up another hole where similarly unproven players like Keenan Clayton would have to contribute.
I could at least see some logic in 2010 at guard. Throwing some veterans against the wall and hoping one sticks is a plan, albeit a weak one. But now at middle linebacker you have one mid-round rookie and basically nothing else.
The Eagles are a remarkably smart organization and I’m sympathetic to the herculean task of assembling a team that’s good at every position. But there’s a difference between having a couple of question marks (like the injury problems at right tackle) and announcing that you’ll be completely ignoring one of the holes in Whac-A-Mole. Problems are almost guaranteed to pop up. Why are there no contingencies in place?
Photo from Getty.
The Eagles have 15 players who just became free agents. Some of them will return, but most will probably move on. Who will still be around when training camp starts later this week? Let’s break down their chances, from least likely to most likely:
0% — Antoine Harris, Bobby McCray, Reggie Wells: Who? I bet there aren’t more than a handful of fans who even remembered these guys were still on the team. I certainly forgot.
5% — Ernie Sims, Ellis Hobbs: Both short term rentals were acquired for middle round draft picks, and neither worked out. No reason to bring them back unless you really can’t find anyone else.
10% — Quintin Mikell, David Akers: Q had a good run here, and he still plays at a high level. But you just don’t draft two safeties in the second round and then give a soon-to-be 31-year-old a new contract. His leadership will be missed. Similar situation for Akers. Can’t last once your successor comes along.
20% — Max Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole, Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan, Dimitri Patterson: Five young guys who each could return in the right circumstance as a backup and special team contributor, but their spots have already been filled by younger players with more upside. Time to move on.
35% — Jerome Harrison: Coming to the Eagles midway through the season, Harrison provided a spark on offense and was a huge boost over the previous backup running back, Mike Bell. I wouldn’t mind having him back, and neither would the Eagles, but I wonder if there are better fits out there for both parties. Harrison certainly would like a chance to start, if he can find the right opportunity.
60% — Stewart Bradley: With the rest of the linebacker corps young and unproven, the Eagles need at least one veteran presence. Bradley would be the logical choice, even for a one year contract. And yet the Eagles don’t seem all that interested in bringing #55 back. He might command more from another team on the open market, and there are other stopgap solutions (the only type of linebacker Andy Reid has ever seen) all over free agency.
85% — Sav Rocca: 2010 was quite possibly the Aussie’s best year yet as a punter. With no other plan in place, it would be surprising to see the Eagles let him walk.
Let me know if you disagree. And, as updates come flying in on Tuesday, join me in the comment section to sound off on the latest rumors and news.
Photo from Getty.
This is the seventh in a series of posts breaking down the Eagles position by position in advance of the upcoming draft and (hopefully) free agency. We’ve already looked at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, and defensive line. Today we’ll examine the linebackers.
2010 Recap: Stewart Bradley returned to middle linebacker after missing all of 2009 with a knee injury, but didn’t display the same explosive form he showed in the NFC Championship Game run in 2008. Pro Football Focus grades showed that he improved as the year went on, but Bradley hurt his elbow in week 14 and missed the rest of the year. New addition Ernie Sims was highly touted after the Eagles traded a fifth round pick for the former Lion, but had more of an impact hitting his teammates too hard in practice than he ever had in a game. Moise Fokou took over for Akeem Jordan at strongside linebacker and did alright. He certainly wasn’t anything special, but there weren’t many problems either. The brightest spot was seventh round pick Jamar Chaney, who started in place of Bradley over the last few games and performed better than anyone expected. Jordan, Omar Gaither, and fourth round pick Keenan Clayton mostly contributed on special teams.
Who’s Leaving: The team declined to offer restricted free agent tenders to Sims, Gaither, or Jordan, signalling that they don’t want any of them back. Bradley, who has four years of experience, was tendered at the second-round level, meaning any team who wanted to sign him under the current rules would have to send the Eagles a pick in that round. Presumably Bradley will be back in midnight green next season. He deserves a shot to show he can improve in year two after his ACL tear.
2011 Depth Chart: The likely starters are Fokou at strongside, Bradley in the middle, and Chaney on the weak side. Clayton would need a big jump in year two to win a job over one of the other three. That leaves two or three more back up spots, which will likely be filled in the draft of free agency. The team already signed one competitor, Rashad Jeanty, a veteran back up and special teams player with the Bengals in 2009 before a fractured tibula caused him to miss all of last season.
Potential Additions: Eagles have never drafted a linebacker higher than the second round in the Andy Reid era, and both of those picks were busts. Furthermore, the team has only drafted one linebacker as high as the fourth round since 2007, despite constant turnover at the position. Thus, unless new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has a completely opposite philosophy from his predecessors, I don’t expect the Eagles to draft any highly-ranked linebackers. They will likely draft one or two more in the mid-to-late rounds, along with a free agent or two who can give at least token competition to the starters.
Future Outlook: The Eagles don’t have any old linebackers. That means there’s a lot of potential, but not much guaranteed. Maybe Chaney, Fokou, and Clayton are the future of the Eagles linebacker corps, or maybe none of them have the talent to make it long term. Bradley’s been around for four seasons and is still a question mark. Most likely, until the front office changes priorities and chooses to focus more resources (money, high draft picks) on the position, it will remain a question mark every year.
Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.
Defense is an area where the Eagles, both under the late Jim Johnson and second-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, like to rotate players. Often the depth on the defensive line is as important as the starters, given how many substitutions the Eagles make in any given game.
Yet there are essentially four types of defensive players — full-time starters, contributors who play most of the time, situational players and backups. The fabulous data compiled by Pro Football Focus can give us a better read on those divisions as they shake out in the early part of the season.
Let’s dive into the numbers…
*The defense went with a big 3-4 look, with three down lineman and two stand-up rushers. Akeem Jordan dropped into coverage, and Ernie Sims and Nate Allen blitzed. Impossible to figure out which LBs were going to blitz, especially with Allen tacked on to that. Rodgers threw the ball into triple coverage for the pick. Here’s hoping we see that look again.
*Stewart Bradley has the speed to peel off and run with JerMichael Finley. That’s what makes hims so versatile. But he just can’t run into Finley when the ball’s in the air.
*Juqua Parker’s not dead yet, huh? Putting big pressure on opposite Trent Cole on multiple occasions. Three sacks in the first 16 minutes of the game…
The Eagles preseason game against Cincinnati on Friday night didn’t quite go as planned. The Eagles had problems on offense — in multiple areas — and failed to stop the Bengals’ own offense on multiple occasions.
One of the worst moments for the Eagles’ first-team defense came in second quarter, when they couldn’t stop a 6-yard touchdown by running back Bernard Scott.
You can see the whole play here, but let’s break it down frame by frame to see what happened:
How does the saying go: “The more things change, the more things look like the 2009 Eagles?” Something like that.
Last Friday night’s preseason debacle against the Cincinnati Bengals featured all of the troubles of last season, revisited upon these new-look Eagles: defensive front that can’t get pressure, offensive line with major protection issues, overmatched secondary, scrambling quarterback, failure to convert on third-and-short. Even special teams ineptitude.
Let’s take a closer look at my notes from the game…
Competition is good. But handing a young player a job based on his potential, lauding him constantly, and then yanking the job away before he’s had adequate time to learn or show his best is folly. Especially now when the team is throwing him into a completely different situation as a “joker” (the linebacker-defensive end hybrid position).
Last month I looked at EPA/Play as a way to see the Eagles’ defensive playmakers. There were several caveats to those numbers, biggest of which was the lack of any kind of cost analysis. It’s great that Darren Howard was making plays — but given his contract, could his production have been bought for less? That’s what I’m exploring today.
I went back to Win Probability Added (WPA) from Advanced NFL Stats, and paired it with the 2009 salary data at EaglesCap.com. I figured the cap number was the most accurate figure to use, even though some of that is inflated from impossible to reach bonuses, etc., because taking just the salary doesn’t account for some of the massive signing, workout bonuses. Here’s what I got for the offense:
- DeSean Jackson is a ridiculous bargain. That went without saying before, but these numbers just emphasize it. In terms of performance for the money, DeSean was worth two Jason Avants, five Leonard Weavers, or fifty-six Kevin Curtises in 2009.
- All three starting wide receivers were really good deals last year, even with Jeremy Maclin’s rookie contract. Of course, it remains to be seen if Avant’s new deal keeps him among the value group. Ditto for Weaver.
- Considering Kevin Kolb only really played in two games, it’s interesting to note that he was still pretty cost-effective.
- Before Brent Celek’s new deal bumped his salary/bonuses by about $3 million, his WPA/$ per Mil would have been 1.44, the highest on the offense. Wow.
- If Michael Vick becomes a victim of his latest run-in with the law, that would mean all the bottom six on this chart would be gone this offseason — a strong trend.
- Asante Samuel, Darren Howard look a lot less valuable when you factor in the money they were making.
- Almost anyone who was playing for close to the minimum, yet was good enough to make the team, was a good deal for the Eagles: Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Jeremiah Trotter, Macho Harris, Antonio Dixon. This is why it’s tremendous when a late-round draft pick or undrafted free agent can contribute.
- No wonder Sheldon Brown was unhappy. He produced the third-most +WPA for the team, but was paid less than Joselio Hanson.