Adventures at Summer Camp: Lehigh Day 1

Because someone has to read all the news coming out of the Eagles training camp.

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Confirmed: DeSean Jackson let frustration over his contract hurt his performance:

“Human nature-wise, yes it affected him,’’ Culley said. “It did. He tried not to let it affect him. Sometimes he didn’t do a very good job of that. It affected him in meetings. It affected him on the field. There were days when it didn’t. But it made him inconsistent. And that’s where the human nature part of it comes in.”

“I saw a couple of times last year where I saw him maybe trying to maybe save himself because (he was thinking), ‘I’m not under contract and I don’t want to get hurt,’’’ Culley said. “I don’t think there was a fear factor involved. I think it was more, ‘I don’t want to get hurt because I don’t have a contract.’ The first two-and-a-half years he was here, that wasn’t an issue. A couple of times last year, that came up. And I believe it came up simply because of that.”

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Punters, ahoy. The Eagles brought in not one, not two, not three, but four veteran punters for tryouts yesterday. It’s not that surprising once you understand how bad Chas Henry was last year. Reuben Frank says the most likely candidate to sign is former Pro Bowl Cowboy Mat McBriar. I honestly didn’t realize he had fallen off last year and was cut. Turns out, he couldn’t lift his foot.

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The Felony That Wasn’t. I love how the charges were dropped against Dion Lewis because the DA concluded there was “no evidence a fire alarm was ever pulled.”

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Backup Running Backs Will Push… Who? I absolutely don’t understand where this headline comes from. Sheil’s replacement isn’t looking so hot.

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Speaking of Mr. Kapadia, he brings us a great quote from Howard Mudd on where Danny Watkins is in his second year. Sounds like the mental side of the game is the real roadblock for our friendly neighborhood fireman:

“Comfort in the position, eliminating doubt about himself,” Mudd said. “That just happens to players. That just happens. That’s part of the growing process. I call that the valley of darkness. You get somewhere and then you start doubting yourself, doubting, doubting… and then the ball is snapped and you don’t have a clue where you are. You can be very amateurish, if you will. All of a sudden, it starts to click again and you quit doubting yourself. Do well, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you get there. So Danny, that’s what I think the offseason’s done for him.”

Jimmy Kempski tells us that Mudd also alluded to the Vandervelde-Reynolds backup center competition as the position battle he’s most looking forward too. I’m not sure if that’s positive or depressing. Final Mudd note: I discount every positive thing he says about Demetress Bell by half. There’s only one Jason Peters, and unfortunately he couldn’t keep his balance on a Roll-A-Bout.

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In other meta-reportage, Jimmy needs to stop wasting his time talking to guys like Keenan Clayton after practice. Clayton’s competing with Moise Fokou for the coveted “last linebacker cut” trophy. Then again, at least our favorite NFC bEast blogger didn’t get stiffed like ol’ timer Paul Domowitch.

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Rampant Tight End Speculation! The Eagles have now been linked to Visanthe Shiancoe and (gag) Jeremy Shockey. Raise your hand if you’re shocked that the Brett Brackett hype was purely media-driven. No one? Good.

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Andy Reid Weight Loss Watch. He totally walked home from practice, guys.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

Eagles Offensive Line

What the Eagles did: In Howard Mudd we trust.

That sentence basically sums up where the Eagles stand in relation to their offensive line right now, in the post-Jason Peters 2012 continuity. (I like to think that somewhere out there is an alternate timeline where Julian Vandervelde, not Peters, tore his Achillies. Asante Samuel fetched a first round draft pick, too.)

Peters had one of the best seasons for an offensive lineman that I’ve ever seen. He was dominant in every phase of the game. It will not be possible to replicate his performance, and the Eagles offense will undoubtedly suffer significantly from his absence. Either King Dunlap or Demetress Bell, most likely the latter, will try to step into Peters’s shoes, but we shouldn’t hope for anything more than average play.

On top of that 6’4”, 340 lb. hole, Mudd also has to turn Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins into good offensive linemen. I’m not sure that any topic inspired more argument among fans last year than the Eagles rookie linemen. There are lots of people who insist that Kelce and Watkins were above average, even worthy of Pro Bowl considerations. That’s just not true, as far as my eyes and stats could tell.

Finally, there are the two starters I’m not worried about: Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. Neither player is particularly dominant, but continued solid performance will be of paramount necessity with the rest of the line questionable.

What I would have done: Despite my reservations about the Eagles line, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. After Peters’ injury, Howie Roseman pounced on Bell and made sure to retain Dunlap. Neither is a sure thing, but at least there are two reasonable options in the wake of that shocking development. Long term, assuming Peters recovers, the line is locked up, so a high draft pick wasn’t strictly necessary.

Way-too-early prediction: Do I trust Howard Mudd? At the end of the day, the answer is yes, so I’m willing to be optimistic about Kelce, Watkins, and even Bell. I wouldn’t be surpised, however, if Mathis falls back to earth a little bit without a dominant tackle at his side.

Photo from Getty.

My 2012 Eagles Draft Predictions

Danny Watkins Eagles NFL Draft

Last year at this time I made eight predictions about what the Eagles would do in the draft. Some of them were more conservative than others, and I missed on one of my biggest guesses — saying that the team wouldn’t draft at their assigned first round spot. Still, I managed to get six of eight correct, and predicted the general thrust of the draft rather well (linebacker and offensive line, not defensive line).

So I’m back again for another round of likely folly. Here are my predictions for what we will see over the next few days.

  1. Carpet-bombing the defense: early and often. Big picture: all the talented young players are on offense. You can quibble with this if you want, since there’s no reason to give up already on guys like Brandon Graham or Nate Allen. Still, the defense needs more playmakers going forward, and the only way to do that is to spend at least three out of the Eagles first four picks on defensive players. I expect the team to come out of the draft with as many as half their picks going toward the front seven.

  2. No rookie running back, no safety. Unless the Eagles fall in love with one prospect, I just don’t see much benefit in adding another young running back or safety. Both positions have a single open back up job and that spot really needs to be filled with a veteran whose only responsibility is to fill in this year if something goes wrong. Instead, watch out for an Ellis Hobbs-type trade for a marginalized veteran player.

  3. One offensive lineman, maximum. Last year the Eagles snatched up three interior linemen to build out Howard Mudd’s new blocking scheme. If not for Jason Peters’s injury, I’m not sure they would have bothered drafting even one this year, but a long term project at tackle now makes sense.

  4. Chad Hall 2.0. Andy Reid loves the multidimensional ability that Hall brings to the offense so much that he’s willing to overlook his complete lack of NFL-caliber skills. I think the Eagles will draft someone like Florida’s Chris Rainey to return kicks and serve as a speedier x-factor on offense. Best case scenario, the team also gets its long-term replacement for Jason Avant with this guy.

  5. Choir boys. Howie Roseman made some comments to reporters recently in which he seemed to flirt with the idea of taking more character risks. His actions over the last two drafts say otherwise. I expect the Eagles’ fascination with captains, seniors, and consistent, big-school performers to continue (e.g. no Vontaze Burfict).

  6. Michael Vick is still safe. With few good quarterback options in this draft and the whole organization focused on getting Vick back on track in 2012, there’s no good case to reach for a quarterback of the future. Trent Edwards is tremendously uninspiring, but his competition is likely to be either a late round flier (Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore) or a veteran to be pursued later.

  7. Surprise neglect of cornerback early on. With Asante Samuel gone, there’s plenty of room to go after Dre Kirkpartrick or another cover guy in the first round. But of the Eagles defensive spots, cornerback still has the most options. The team is heavily committed to Nnamdi Asomugha over the next few years and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a likely candidate for a contract extension. Curtis Marsh is the wildcard. He made no impact in 2011, but was always considered a project with all the skills. Todd Bowles may not need another youngster.

  8. At least ten rookies. Last year one of my failed predictions was that the Eagles wouldn’t use all of their picks. But of course, they love drafting players and will probably end up trading back to add picks at least once.

I’m not making a prediction for the first round, although I already laid out what I think the Eagles are thinking (Peter King shoutout). Fletcher Cox is the potential trade-up candidate, Luke Kuechly the likely front-runner if they stay at 15 overall. Barring that I’m less sure, although a versatile pass rusher like Melvin Ingram makes the most sense of the remaining players.

Photo from Getty.

Low Expectations for Demetress Bell

Demetrius Bell

I’m a big believer in the market economics of the NFL. If 32 NFL teams pass on a player until the sixth round, he doesn’t have a particularly high chance of success. It’s the same with free agents who don’t receive serious interest on the market.

Derek Landri, who re-signed with the Eagles yesterday, would be in the latter category. He was a productive back-up with the team last year, but even after perhaps his best season as a pro, no other team offered him a long term deal — and the Eagles weren’t anxious to get him back either. He seems to still have an uphill battle to make the roster, especially if the team jumps in with a first round defensive tackle.

The same thought process leads me to question Demetress Bell’s value as well. Bell shopped himself around quite a lot, visiting a handful of different cities in order to seek a long term deal. But he was never offered one, even by the suddenly desperate Eagles.

Technically, Bell’s contract is 5 years, $35 million, but everyone knows he’s not coming back after 2012. The $8.5 million roster bonus in 2013 makes that a foregone conclusion. What does it say about Bell that in the modern NFL where left tackles are one of the top two or three most important positions on the field, he couldn’t find one team to give him a legitimate multi-year deal? Is he really any better than King Dunlap?

On the other hand, he was undoubtedly the best player the Eagles could get when they learned that Jason Peters was lost for the year. That has to count for something. And over the last two seasons, he’s been as good or better than Todd Herremans according to Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking efficiency statistic:

Tackles Pass Blocking Efficiency

Maybe Bell will play up to his potential this season, or even exceed his past performance now that he has Howard Mudd as a guru. Maybe he’ll manage to stay healthy the whole year. Or maybe he’ll give the Eagles exactly what they paid for, a questionable veteran on a relatively meager deal.

Impossible to say for sure, but I’m not really looking forward to finding out the answer.

Photo from Getty.

Howard Mudd is the 'Real Deal'

Bo Wulf, for the Eagles Website:

"After the visit (with the Eagles), I talked to him and I said, ‘Jason, what do you think about coach Mudd?’" said Bell. "He said, ‘He’s the real deal … If you want to be a Pro Bowler, come here and you have coach Mudd and me behind you and you don’t have a choice.’ So that’s a great business decision for me."

You don’t get much better endorsements. Apparently, Mudd is also the reason Demetress changed the spelling of his name.

(via Derek)

Trouble on the Post-Jason Peters Offensive Line

Jason Peters Injured

Losing Jason Peters for the year, as the Eagles did when he ruptured his achilles last week, is a devastating blow to the team’s hopes in 2012. Peters, if not the best offensive tackle in the league, is certainly in the top five. He’s a nimble mountain on the field, protecting Michael Vick and steamrolling defenders for LeSean McCoy. No matter when it happened, this injury would cause a big step back on offense.

However, despite some reporters’ unconvincing headlines, the Eagles are especially unprepared to deal with Peters’s injury. The team is lucky that there are still free agent options available and that they have a variety of early round picks if they want to go that route. But compared to past years, the Eagles have few players on the roster who can step into Peters’s shoes.

Because Juan Castillo (remember him?) built his lines from the outside-in, the most important tackle spots often had multiple potential replacements. Back in 2006, 2007 the Eagles had three players other than starters Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan prepping to step into their shoes. Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews, both tackles in college, were starters at guard, and Winston Justice was learning as a backup tackle.  

There was nothing guaranteed about their success, and indeed Andrews flamed out spectacularly after that. But there was no question as to what options were available if and when Thomas/Runyan couldn’t go. Even before Peters’s injury though, the depth at offensive tackle had worn thin. King Dunlap has shown flashes of potential in limited action, but has a meager pedigree and limited expectations. Justice, an adequate starter for two seasons, was shipped off for pennies to Indianapolis.

Moreover, Howard Mudd’s offensive line seems to be assembled in the opposite direction from Castillo’s. Whereas Jamaal Jackson was a huge linemen who would have shifted out to guard at least, Jason Kelce’s sub-300 lb. frame couldn’t play anywhere but center. Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins both played tackle in college, but projected to guards in the NFL (not that you would trust Watkins out there anyway). The team may try one or both on the outside, but neither has the potential to star as a tackle, like Herremans, Andrews, and Justice did.

Building and maintaining a NFL roster is tremendously difficult. At any moment, even in the offseason, an injury can take a position from strength to weakness. That’s why depth is so important, and unfortunately, the Eagles have burned through their tackle depth over the last few years and failed to replace it. In the last three drafts, Howie Roseman drafted just one tackle — Fenuki Tupou, who never took a single regular season snap.

Likely that will change this year, and the Eagles will take at least one early draft pick to compete for Peters’s spot. But depth isn’t necessarily something you can manufacture in a few weeks. With that in mind, it may already be too late to avoid disaster.

Photo from Getty.

Coaches as Experts

Tommy Lawlor, in a well-argued column critiquing Juan Castillo:

I’ve been re-reading parts of Bill Walsh’s brilliant book Finding The Winning Edge. He talks about the need for a coach to be an expert. He must be so thoroughly trained that he knows everything that’s going on and can coach/teach the players appropriately. I don’t doubt that Juan understands the role of all 11 players and can theoretically explain things. The problem is that I don’t know if he can teach those concepts well.

It’s worth noting that this applies across Andy Reid hires. When he has brought in a veteran coach like Mornhinweg/Mudd/April/Washburn, those went well. When he promoted Castillo/McDermott/Segrest, things didn’t work out. Current defensive assistants Mike Caldwell and Michael Zordich likely fall into the latter category.

A Muddled Future

Jeff McLane, for the Inquirer:

"I don’t know what [Mudd’s] going to do, to tell you the truth," center Jason Kelce said Thursday. "Talked to him a little bit earlier, and I don’t think he even knows. I think a lot of it is going to depend on what happens with the entire coaching situation."

Indirect confirmation that there is or was uncertainty within the organization about whether or not Andy Reid would return in 2012.

"There’s no way I would be where I’m at in my rookie year without Howard," said Kelce, who was a sixth-round draft pick. "He saw something in me and then right away he started working with me on techniques and different things that would suit a guy that’s my size in the NFL."

With a quote like that, the elephant in the room looms ever larger: why isn’t the Mudd magic also wearing off on a first round pick with better physical skills?

'Remarkable Talent'

Paul Domowitch, for the Daily News:

"Oh yeah, I really believe that," Mudd said this week. "If anyone doesn’t think [Peters is the best left tackle in the league], I would categorically ask them to give me one who is as good. I didn’t say better. I said as good. So that puts him in a pretty rarified place.

"The only other guy I’ve coached who’s like him is Walter [Jones]. That’s it. He’s got remarkable talent. Balance. Athleticism. Strength. He’s so fast. You’ve seen him lead screens and things like that. It’s kind of awesome really the physical talent that he has."

Great profile of Jason Peters, who’s arguably the best Eagles player right now. Honorable mention to Shady.

By the Numbers: What Did You Expect?

Fred Jackson Eagles

I don’t often pick against the Eagles. Generally I have a pretty optimistic take on the team and its talent. That’s been reasonable, considering the series of winning seasons Andy Reid has strung together. But not this week. This week I picked against the team, and I didn’t have many reservations either.

The 2011 Eagles are not a winning football team. You can make excuses, come up with different angles about how there have just been a lot of mistakes, a few too many turnovers. But that’s true for all bad teams.

I’ll admit, this year’s group completely fooled me. After the offseason, I thought a deep playoff run was in the cards. But they are failing in all phases, with coaching and personnel and everything in between. Time to, begrudgingly, look at the story the stats tell this week:

1 = Play over 25 yards by the Buffalo offense. I don’t want to hear any more talk about how the Eagles defense just needs to stop the big plays. On Sunday, they mostly did. It was the consistent chunks of yardage that killed them. The defense couldn’t stop Fred Jackson, to the tune of 26 carries, 111 yards. They couldn’t stop Ryan Fitzpatrick, who put up a completion percentage of almost 80 percent.

0 = Points allowed by the Eagles in the fourth quarter, a record low for them after being outscored 36 to nothing over the previous three weeks. You could also spin this as a positive, that the defense finally adjusted and came up on top at the end. But I don’t see it that way. For starters, the Bills shut things down and focused on the run game to bleed the clock in the final quarter (a foreign concept in Philadelphia).

45 to 14 = Runs called vs. passes called by the Eagles. That’s a 76 percent pass-run ratio, which is actually only slightly higher than the 73 percent Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have gone with for the season. That’s insane. First of all, that’s 5 percent higher than last year and 11 percent higher than 2008. Second, and more importantly, the coaches are ignoring what could be an absolutely record-breaking season for LeSean McCoy. Even at his current meager workload, McCoy is projected for more than 1400 rushing yards, 60 receptions, and 20 touchdowns. He’s averaging 5.75 yards per carry. Only 8 running backs in modern NFL history (75+ rush, 5+ games started) had yards per carry above that for a season.

6 = Official quarterback hits on Michael Vick. I know that Howard Mudd’s unit is near the top of the Adjusted Sack Rate leaderboard, and are only likely to climb after Sunday’s one-sack performance. But Vick is getting pressured and hit constantly back there, and I don’t see anyone to blame other than the offensive line. The Bills ran a number of blitzes and stunts to get pressure, but you have to expect that since Vick has shown he will torch defenses that give him time.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: A Miserable Disaster

Michael Vick Bench

Let me revise my opening statement from a week ago: Last night’s Yesterday’s loss was cruel a disaster. The Eagles showed extended stretches of dominance on both offense and defense, but made vital mistakes, suffered awful injuries, and came up just short in the end ended up losing by two touchdowns to a depleted Giants team. Oh, and the coaching stunk.

Let’s break it down with some statistics:

13:42 = Time of possession advantage to the Eagles. They had the ball over 50 percent more than the Giants, ran 21 more offensive plays, and reached 11 more first downs. Yet the Eagles only scored 16 points. How is that possible? One word: coaching. Those numbers are indicative of the talent disparity in the Eagles favor. Only horrible play calling (see: Schmitt, Owen and shovel pass, predictable) could cause the Eagles to settle for three field goals in the red zone.

4 = Times the Eagles were stopped in short yardage situations, including three plays from the one-yard-line and a fourth down attempt. We will have to see if this becomes a theme. Howard Mudd’s offensive line philosophy requires smaller, athletic linemen. That hasn’t been a benefit on short yardage. During his time in Indianapolis, Mudd’s lines averaged only 19th in Power Success.

6th = Most rushing yards in game for an Eagles player in the post-Duce Staley era. Pretty much the only positive you can take away from this game is the play of LeSean McCoy, who has quietly made his case for being the best offensive player on the team, if not the whole league. McCoy’s play warranted the almost even split of run to pass calls Andy Reid doled out yesterday.

4 = Big plays allowed of 25 yards or more, including three touchdowns. Sometimes it’s easy to assign blame, like on the Brandon Jacobs touchdown wheel route when Casey Matthews (AKA white Ernie Sims) failed to pick him up. Sometimes it’s more difficult, like on the patented Eli Manning interception gift that Victor Cruz somehow beat out Nnamdi Asomugha and Jarrad Page for the go-ahead TD. It doesn’t matter, though. Other than experimenting with Brian Rolle at weakside linebacker, hardly a sure thing, the cupboard’s empty. With big personnel holes and a coordinator who seems completely incapable of making schematic adjustments, the Eagles defense is lost.

8 = First week of the NFL season that the Eagles have any hope of seeing Michael Vick return to the field after his broken hand. The team faces teams that are a combined 7-1 over the next three weeks. Unless Vince Young or Mike Kafka can summon some heretofore unseen magic and the defense improves rapidly, this team could rapidly dig a hole for themselves that’s too deep for even Vick to get them out of.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: Eagles vs. Rams Week One

DeSean Jackson Philadelphia Eagles Touchdown St. Louis Rams

You all watched the Eagles beat the Rams 31-13 on Sunday afternoon. The score was convincing, even if the performance was more mixed. Let’s go inside the numbers to see what worked and what didn’t, and what we might takeaway for next week.

19 = The Eagles total rushing yards in the first half from running backs. That was on 9 carries for a pitiful 2.1 yards per carry. The Eagles ran a number of classic Howard Mudd stretch plays in the first half, and the blocking was horrible on almost every one. Not sure why the line looked so unprepared to handle those calls, but LeSean McCoy was scrambling like a mad man for a yard here or there. They settled down more in the second half, although mixing in some straightforward runs seemed to help.

118 =  The Rams total rushing yards in the first half, by contrast. This figure is obviously helped by the big Steven Jackson touchdown run, but even without it the Rams still averaged over 5 yards per carry. By the end of the game things weren’t as bad, but that was largely because the Rams had to throw more to catch up. I’ll have to watch again to check this qualitatively, but Jamar Chaney was the only Eagles linebacker to get tackles at an above average rate.

6.7 = Rams yards per passing attempt to wide receivers. This is an astoundingly low number for a team that was trying to throw its way back into contention for most of the second half. Now, the Rams were a  dink and dunk passing game last year and were plagued by drops yesterday. But for the most part the Eagles vaunted cornerbacks shut down all outside passes.

5 and 10 = Sacks and hits on the quarterback caused by the Eagles defensive line. Last season, the line had only 27 sacks and 52 quarterback hits — total. After one game, the unit is already one-fifth of the way there.

6.8 = Sack rate on all Eagles quarterback dropbacks in 2010. It was exactly the same in this game despite, or perhaps because of, the revamped offensive line. And while Michael Vick scrambled to safety (and daylight) on only 9 percent of pass attempts last year, he did so at more than twice that rate on Sunday. Many folks saw improvement in the second half pass protection, but Vick only had 8 pass attempts and 3 completions. The passing game wasn’t much more in sync.

Overall, when there was pass protection to speak of, Vick shredded the Rams defense. And once the Eagles gained the lead, the attacking defensive line and shutdown corners are built to stymie any comeback. That bodes well for the future, but the offensive line and linebackers will have to improve early and often next week if the Eagles want the same result against a better team in Atlanta.

Photo from Getty.

Mystery Solved: Howard Mudd Is Overrated

Howard Mudd Offensive Line Coach Philadelphia Eagles

The perception of Howard Mudd seems to have shifted since training camp began, as Mudd went from a mythical offensive line genius to a real coach who makes some downright questionable decisions. In the last month he’s kicked to the bench productive veterans just because they didn’t meet his standards, forced a new and completely opposite blocking system on his players, disrupted the stable parts of the line, promoted inexperienced rookies to starting spots with the team, and then pulled one out again.

Considering one of the hallmarks of a good line is consistency, these changes don’t bode well for keeping Michael Vick off his back. I had reservations a couple months ago, back when I only had circumstantial evidence for Mudd being overrated.

Then it was a just question. Now it’s a certainty in my mind. Mudd rode a decade-plus of seemingly great lines in Indianapolis to achieve his respected status. Turns out, that was probably a lie.

Back in July, I described how Mudd’s lines ruled Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate, a statistic that takes into account total sacks, pass attempts, situation, and defense. The Colts were either first or second in the NFL for Adjusted Sack Rate in ten of the twelve years he was their coach. And the only two years in which the Colts weren’t that high, their offensive line was still ranked in the top ten.

The problem is, that doesn’t take into account the quarterback effect of Peyton Manning, which in this case is huge. Peyton has successfully avoided sacks his entire career, despite pressure that his offensive line let through.

To prove this, all we have to do is look at the sacks and pressure stats collected by Pro Football Focus. In 2008 and 2009, the average NFL offensive line gave up pressure on the QB on 15.4 percent of pass attempts and sacks on 3.6 percent of attempts. On average, offensive lines gave up one sack for every four non-sack pressures. In other words, for every five pressures there was one sack — a reasonable conclusion.

The Colts, during that same span, gave up fewer sacks: only 1.4 percent of all attempts. And yet the line also allowed much more non-sack pressure than average: 18.6 percent of dropbacks. In the end, Manning was sacked only once for every 14 non-sack pressures, an incredibly low figure.

Let me reiterate. The Colts line gave up over 20 percent more regular pressure than the average club. And yet they allowed fewer sacks. Presumably, Mudd isn’t some rogue genius at preventing pressure from becoming sacks. That quality would fall on probably the best quarterback in the NFL over the last decade, who’s arrival in Indianapolis happened to coincide with Mudd’s.

Mudd may still be a good hire, we can’t know how he’ll do in Philly. But his reputation appears largely undeserved — more of a lucky pairing than any particular coaching brilliance. And that only further highlights the questionable offensive line shakeup he’s undertaken since he arrived.

Photo from Getty.