What Would a New Contract For DRC Look Like?

I’ve opined before on giving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a contract extension, going as far as to call it an offseason priority. With Nnamdi Asomugha aging and only unproven recent draftees behind him, locking up Rodgers-Cromartie would go a long way to preserve continuity in the defensive backfield. Obviously, whether you want to extend him also stems from your impression of him as a player. If you’ve been following along, you know that I think DRC’s stellar play on the outside at the end of 2011 after he languished in the slot for most of the year suggests big things could be in store for him. (And reports out of training camp are stellar so far.)

But unless Howie Roseman is discussing things behind the scenes during training camp, it doesn’t look like he agrees, with either Rodgers-Cromartie’s value or his skill. Let’s go deeper and see what the difference in money might be based on letting DRC play out this contract year. Here’s a table of recent top cornerback contracts given out for players in his age range. Financial details are on the right and on the field stats are on the left (Pro Bowl appearances, games started, yards per attempt, interceptions):

Looking at the finances first, you can see there are different measures for large contracts. The total millions is a nice overall number, although it tends to overstate the “real” value of the deal (with fake years at the end). The yearly figure and guarantee may give a more accurate accounting of the contract.

It’s interesting to look at how the deals were structured and how they turned out. DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson got massive contracts that turned out to be bad for their teams—although you can see why the Redskins and Falcons, respectively, were willing to dish out that kind of dough. For example, Hall was young, even for this group, and already had two Pro Bowl appearances and 22 interceptions.

The following year, Antonio “Headcase” Cromartie received a smaller contract than his number stats warranted because of his off the field problems. Leon Hall got a slightly larger and slightly longer deal. Johnathan Joseph made out like a bandit, with nearly $10 million a year and $24 million guaranteed.

This offseason, Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan both just bested Joseph’s contract. Eric Wright has had an up-and-down career, most recently in Detroit, and he signed a more modest five-year free agent deal. Meanwhile, Lardarius Webb, who had a stellar 2011 season with the Ravens, got the largest total amount. That figure is inflated by an extra year though; as you can see the guarantee is less than some of his peers.

So, where does Rodgers-Cromartie fit in? At 26 years old, he has fewer games started than anyone other than Webb, although his other stats are better than average. He has a low yards per attempt figure and a high interception rate. Even with his atrocious play in the slot last season, 2011 was much more in line with his first two seasons in the league. DRC’s 2010 letdown that prompted him to be traded might have been an outlier.

The question becomes what Rodgers-Cromartie would command in today’s market. Given his perceived inconsistency, lack of physicality, and a deficit of experience compare to his peers, DRC probably wouldn’t be in line for a Carr or Cortland-sized contract. Wright’s deal this year and Hall’s in 2011 look like better comparables: perhaps 5 years, $40 million, $16 million guaranteed.

Let’s say though, that Rodgers-Cromartie plays out this season, putting up his career averages, and enters the market in 2012. At that point, with 60 games started, 7.2 yards per attempt against, and 16 or so interceptions, he could make the case that he’s better than Carr or Finnegan. DRC would probably received $25 million guaranteed and upwards of $10 million per year on the open market—a substantial upgrade from his current value.

By not re-signing his second cornerback now, Roseman risks the price going up next year. He may be making one of a few calculated bets, though. Perhaps he thinks DRC simply isn’t worth a long term contract. He’s betting that Rodger-Cromartie will show that he’s not worth top money. Or Howie’s looking at the other backups and assuming that someone like Curtis Marsh will be able to slide in a year from now. Or maybe Roseman is willing to use the franchise tag (at enormous one-year cost) as necessary to keep DRC on hand in 2013.

Looking at the state of the defensive backfield and the market for cornerbacks as it stands now, I would buy into DRC long term. The potential rewards, both financially and on the field, are great, and the downside to not paying him could be severe next offseason. Get it done.

Photo from Getty.

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.

Has Michael Vick Already Peaked?

Michael Vick

Last week, Ron Jaworski went on SportsCenter and talked about Michael Vick’s potential in 2012:

“Vick has shown he is capable of throwing the ball exceptionally well from the pocket,” said Jaworski. “His overall throwing skill set can be top five in the league. His objective in 2012 must be to play that way more often. It becomes an availability issue. You can’t be an elite NFL quarterback if you can’t be counted on every single week.

“I am really excited to see Michael Vick in 2012. A more disciplined player will result in fewer turnovers. I would not be surprised if we’re getting ready to see the best year of Vick’s ten-year career.”

While Jaws supposedly watched every 2011 snap of Vick, his conclusions seem half-baked, especially compared to Sheil Kapadia’s epic breakdown of Vick’s game for the Eagles Almanac (plug alert!). For example, Sheil noted all of Vick’s injuries came on hits in the pocket, not because he was running around. Availability seems to be less of an issue (an NFL team loses its starting QB, on average, for three games a season) than accuracy and decision-making.

Regardless, Jaws’ sentiments are those I think a lot of fans hold. Vick had an amazing season in 2010, then fell back to Earth in 2011. But, we are told, his first full offseason as the starter with Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid will push him back to the top. It’s not a crazy opinion, but it is an optimistic outlook, and one that I’m not sure there’s any more evidence for than that Vick has already peaked, and he’ll never again reach that height.

In the spirit of a series of posts I did about Donovan McNabb two years ago (yeesh, that long ago?), I put together a new graph showing where Vick ranked on key statistics, during the years he was the main starter. By focusing on the rankings, rather than the stats themselves, we can see how well Vick has done compared to his peers — since the last ten years has resulted in a better passing environment pretty much across the board. QB Rating is slightly bolded because it’s more of an aggregate indicator than a separate statistic.

Michael Vick Career Stats Ranks Graph

Obviously, Vick’s passing career has been less than stellar overall. Through 2006, he was below average across the board, and especially terrible in completion percentage. He went on his two year hiatus, came back as a wildcat threat in 2009, and resurrected triumphantly in 2010.

The question of “what’s next?” remains, though. There was a big drop off from 2010 to 2011, approximately from Aaron Rodgers-level to Jay Cutler-level. Was that a temporary bump in the road, soon to be righted after an offseason of hard work? That’s certainly the conventional wisdom right now.

The other answer, while not necessarily disastrous, is significantly less Super Bowl-worthy. That possibility suggests that Vick simply regressed to his career mean. His numbers were still up from 2006, but one might attribute that to slightly improved play and a much better supporting cast. Vick never had DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy in Atlanta.

Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a prediction engine for player performance. Vick may really benefit from these months of personal tutoring, allowing him to overcome the blitz-happy adjustments many teams made against him last year. Or, at 32 years old, it may be too late for him to completely change his ways. Jaws’ statement about Vick’s talent and potential are the same things people have been saying about him for the last decade.

One’s personal expectation probably has a lot to do with your thoughts on Mornhinweg and Reid’s mentor skills. In my experience, you doubt their abilities to coach and gameplan at your own risk. But I also wonder how much this ballyhooed “first full offseason as a starter” will really make a difference. Vick has been playing at a more mediocre rate since the end of the 2010 season, and we’re supposed to believe the three of them haven’t had time until this offseason to go over that?

For now, among the cautiously optimistic analysts, consider me more cautious than than optimistic.

Photo from Getty.

Bungling the Asante Trade From Start to Finish

Depending on which report you believe, the Eagles could have traded Asante Samuel before last season for either a second round pick or two third rounders. Now the Eagles look like they will have to get lucky just to pull out a fourth round pick in this inevitable deal.

What happened?

I don’t agree with some of the reporters who have suggested that the price drop is due to Samuel’s age or contract. He hasn’t gotten significantly older or more expensive in the last few months. His contract does go up, and he’s now 31. That’s true. But neither Samuel’s salary nor his age are prohibitive factors at this point. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, and $10 million is reasonable for a top cornerback.

This is the point where people start to bring up Asante’s flaws as a player: he freelances too much, doesn’t know how to tackle, blows coverages more than you would like. For the most part, you wouldn’t be wrong to make that argument. But Samuel has demonstrated those same deficiencies his entire career. Before he ever arrived in Philly, we knew he couldn’t tackle, couldn’t resist gambling for interceptions — and you can bet that Detroit and whichever other teams inquired after him in 2011 knew those things as well.

Moreover, there’s little evidence to suggest that Samuel has fallen off since a year ago. His interception rate did drop, which has a lot to do with luck. His targets increased, but so would yours if you went from playing across from Dimitri Patterson to Nnamdi Asomugha. On a per target basis, Samuel was every bit as good in 2011 as he was in 2010 — and with an utter failure of a defensive coordinator to boot.

What has changed in the last few months is that the Eagles’ leverage in negotiations has evaporated. Having bungled the 2011 trade and alienated Samuel permanently, then installed a defensive coordinator who was completely unprepared to utilize three Pro Bowl cornerbacks, the front office created a buyer’s market for Asante. Everyone knows the team can’t afford, in the books or on the field, to keep Samuel for another year. He’s worth less to the Eagles than anyone else and they have no choice but to get rid of him.

Howie Roseman has largely been hailed as a great deal maker (often as an antidote to poor drafting results), but this whole Samuel situation was terribly handled, and it has and will continue to cost the team.

Looking Backward, Forward for Asante Samuel

Asante Samuel Philadelphia Eagles

Since yesterday was Presidents Day, it seems like a good time to reflect on the Eagles own self-proclaimed president, Asante Samuel.

Samuel has had an up and down relationship with Philly fans since he arrived in 2008. First he was an overpaid slacker, then an interception machine with a fun and outsized personality, and then a few more missed tackles landed him back on the negative side of the ledger. Through it all, though, Samuel has been a one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL.

Take a look at his stats with the Eagles:

Asante Samuel Coverage Stats

While 2011 was a down year for interceptions, Samuel really hasn’t shown any decline year over year. In some ways he was the best cornerback the Eagles had last season.

Did you know that Samuel has more interceptions before age 31 than any other cornerback in the last 20 years? And many of the guys just below him (Champ Bailey, Aeneas Williams, Ty Law, Deion Sanders) managed to play well through at least a few years of their thirties.

All in all, I’m relatively bullish on Samuel’s potential to remain a high value coverage corner in the next few years. If his game were built on speed and physicality, you might project more of a dropoff. But Asante has always been an interception artist, rather than a complete player.

However, it’s a near certainty that Samuel will get to play out the remainder of his career in a different jersey. The Eagles explored trade possibilities for him last year, but never pulled the trigger (even turning down a second round pick from Detroit). After a year of turmoil in the secondary, Howie Roseman has little choice but to ship Samuel out this time, probably for no more than a third round pick.

When that happens, Asante’s play and his personality will both be missed.

Photo from Getty.

Where Did the High-Flying Pass Attack Go?

Michael Vick DeSean Jackson

I’m not sure what happened to the Eagles vaunted quick-strike passing attack of 2010. And after combing through some of the stats from last year, I still don’t have a good read on it.

Let’s just take a minute to compare Michael Vick’s passes of 20 yards or more over the last two years, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:

Michael Vick Deep Passing Stats

The numbers show a complicated picture. By some measures, Vick’s deep passes were as good as they were a year prior. Yards per target and per reception were almost identical. The interception rate was similar, and completion percentage actually bumped up to 50 percent.

On the other hand, Vick’s touchdown rate dropped precipitously from 12.3 percent of all deep passes to just 6.3 percent. There were also seemingly fewer opportunities downfield — Vick’s percentage of throws 20 yards or greater fell by more than a third.

What about for DeSean Jackson, Vick’s frequent target on deep passes?

DeSean Jackson Receiving Deep Stats

DeSean received a higher percentage of deep targets (54.2 percent vs. 44.6 percent in 2010), but his reception rate went in the opposite direction. A few drops here, a few bad passes there caused his yards per target figure to drop as well.

The odd thing about Jackson’s numbers is the interceptions column. Notice anything? Yes, all four of Vick’s interceptions throwing deep were targeted at Jackson. I’m not sure what to make of that. Was Jackson not putting in the effort to go get the ball? Was Vick forcing the ball to his top target? Whatever the problem, is it fixable?

It may be time to go back to the tape.

Photo from Getty.

Michael Vick: Under Pressure

Michael Vick Scramble

I don’t think anyone (with the possible exception of Andy Reid) was shocked when Juan Castillo didn’t work out on defense. But nearly everyone was surprised at just how far Michael Vick regressed from his star season in 2010.

The big problem Vick had was simply turnovers. After posting zero interceptions through his first eight games the previous season, Vick was picked off 14 times in 13 games in 2011. That’s not nearly good enough if the Eagles want to rebound and make a run into the playoffs next year.

So let’s go a little deeper to try to understand some of Vick’s interception woes, using some stats from Pro Football Focus. Today I want to split Vick’s plays into two categories: regular and under pressure.

Let’s look at his non-pressured stats first. When not threatened by sacks or hits, Vick completed 69 percent of his passes, good enough for 8th-best among the 24 quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. That completion rate jumps to 76 percent and 6th-best when you don’t count drops against him.

As to interceptions, Vick was slightly below average, but not by much. He was 15th out of 24, with an interception rate of 2.5 percent. For reference, Eli Manning was 14th with 2.4 percent, and Drew Brees was 11th with 2.1 percent.

Overall, Vick showed room for improvement, but no big problems when he wasn’t pressured. When he had defenders in his face, however, Vick’s performance was more of a mixed bag.

On one hand, he had the 5th-highest touchdown rate and the 2nd-lowest sack rate among those 24 quarterbacks. With only 11.6 percent of all pressured dropbacks turned into sacks, Vick’s famed elusiveness served him well avoiding a big loss.

However, Vick completed only 42 percent his passes under pressure, which ranks 18th. Worse, 4.9 percent of his passes were intercepted, beating only Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Matt Ryan scored about average, at 3.5 percent, while Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, and Sam Bradford were blemish-free.)

There are two takeaways from this information. One is relatively straightforward: Vick needs to handle the pressure better, even take a few more sacks rather than expose himself to interceptions. The rookie Dalton, who threw zero interceptions under pressure, also threw the ball away in those situations more than anyone else in the league. Vick could learn something from that example.

But the second takeaway is more nuanced. For the last two seasons, Vick has been under pressure more than nearly any other quarterback. Last year he ranked first overall with pressure in 39.8 percent of his dropbacks. In 2010 he was second, with 41.8 percent.

Given the improvement along the offensive line year-over-year, it’s likely that this has more to do with Vick than his blockers. Football Outsiders sack timing stats show that more than half of his sacks take longer than three seconds, which partially can be attributed to avoiding defenders, but also results from his tendency to hold on to the ball too long.

Vick is a playmaker when he scrambles around — his touchdown rate is actually higher with pressure than without. But avoiding sacks and trying to score big also led him to turn the ball over far too much.

Perhaps Reid and Marty Mornhinweg should focus on teaching Vick to avoid more of those situations by making pre-snap reads and quick decisions about where to go with the football. If DeSean Jackson returns, there will still be plenty of opportunities to create big plays, even without dancing around in backfield. If he doesn’t become more consistent and less turnover-prone, Vick will continue to be a liablity going forward.

Photo from Getty.

Yes, Michael Vick can be ELIte

Les Bowen:

That last part was the most important; it was what separated the Giants from, say, the 49ers. Eli was sacked 11 times in the playoffs - more than any other quarterback. He still completed 65 percent of his passes, threw for nine touchdowns and was intercepted exactly once. His QB rating was 103.3. He averaged 304.8 passing yards per game.

Good luck copying that “blueprint,” NFL GMs. And Eagles fans, do you really see Michael Vick throwing for nine touchdowns and one interception?

To be fair, Vick had 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions through his first eight games last season. So yes, I have seen it happen. Not only that, but just a year ago Eli Manning threw for a league-leading 25 interceptions.

Vick has an important offseason ahead of him, but there’s no reason to think he can’t rebound from 2011.

What’s Wrong With Nnamdi Asomugha?

Nnamdi Asomugha Eagles

While re-watching the Eagles win over the Dolphins, it was hard to miss another poor showing by Nnamdi Asomugha. The $60 million cornerback isn’t shutting down many wide receivers these days.

On Sunday, Brandon Marshall got by Asomugha for an early touchdown, and later Brian Hartline (!) beat him for a 24-yard gain. Those two plays were the only ones where Asomugha’s receiver was targeted, but they were both successful.

It’s tough to tell exactly what’s wrong with Asomugha. While adjusting to Juan Castillo’s questionable schemes, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. But at this point it’s clear that something else is going on. He’s 30 years old and may have lost a step or two. But I rarely see Asomugha getting simply outrun or otherwise beaten physically. In fact, he stuck with Larry Fitzgerald as well as anyone during the Cardinals game.

Instead, I have a new theory, one that I arrived at after replaying the Marshall touchdown nearly a dozen times.

On that play, Asomugha actually had solid coverage. Nate Allen provided help over the top, and Asomugha kept pace with Marshall, mirroring his movements underneath as he broke outside in the end zone. Then the ball arrived, and… nothing.

It was a great pass by Matt Moore, but Asomugha was in fair position to break it up. Instead, he seemed surprised that the ball arrived. He gave a half-hearted flail and the ball sailed right into Marshall’s arms.

Asomugha’s cross-field running mate, Asante Samuel, gets beat more often than Eagles fans would like. He stares into the backfield and tries to jump pass routes. But regardless of Samuel’s deficiencies, one gets the sense that he expects the ball to come his way. Not only that, but he welcomes it, he wants it. Sometimes Samuel will make a mistake and allow a needless big play, but he’s confident that if the quarterback looks his way enough, he’ll make him pay.

Watching the Marshall touchdown again, and reflecting on Asomugha’s performance this season, I think Nnamdi’s biggest problem might be that he has the opposite attitude. He doesn’t expect passes to come his way, and he doesn’t really want them.

The most effective tool Asomugha had was his aura of invincibility. Other than the 2006 season, he never had more than one interception in any of his first eight years in the league — not because he was bad, but because quarterbacks never threw at him. In the last three seasons combined Asomugha only allowed one touchdown, while never being targeted more than 30 times a year.

This year, he’s on pace for 43 targets, a 45 percent bump from 2010. This wasn’t unexpected, considering Samuel is better than any of the corners Asomugha played with in Oakland. But Asomguha’s corresponding decline was surprising.

In short, I don’t think Asomugha has suddenly become a bad cornerback. Although his advancing age and new responsibilities don’t help matters, perhaps his biggest obstacle is mental. In the last few years with Oakland, Nnamdi surely realized that as long as he gave reasonably good coverage, his reputation will keep quarterbacks from testing him.

That’s simply no longer the case. And until Asomugha adjusts to the new reality, both expecting and welcoming the challenge of passes thrown his way, he’ll continue to be a coverage liability.

Photo from Getty.

The Truth About Bad Luck

Riley Cooper Philadelphia Eagles

Friend of the blog Justin F. wrote a post at Bleeding Green Nation in which he calculated the Eagles’ Pythagorean win percentage, a metric that estimates a team’s wins based simply on points scored and allowed. Justin notes that the Eagles jump up to just over .500 if you calculate win percentage using the Pythagorean method (compared to .385 in real life). Then he offers a common explanantion:

So why is there a such a discrepancy between the Eagles’ actual win percentage and Pythagenport win percentage?

A very good question, and the answer probably is not what people want to hear and/or believe, although it is true. In one word: luck. In two words: bad luck.

What follows in the comments at BGN is a discussion that unfortunately devolves into rambling incoherency, where the luck explanation is aligned with a belief in stats and doubters read like WIP callers. But the truth is more nuanced.

Explaning the difference between actual and Pythagorean win percentage as “bad luck” is overly simplistic. That is one possible explanation, but should not be used as an all-encompassing default. Rather, we must examine whether bad luck is actually the cause.

There are certain well-known measures for luck in the NFL. For example, fumble recovery, field goal percentage, schedule strength, and injuries. However, the Eagles haven’t had a problem with any of those.

The Eagles have recovered 48 percent of fumbles, just barely below average. They’re 10th-best in field goal percentage, with Alex Henery hitting 86 percent. Meanwhile, Eagles opponents are actually worst in the NFL, making only 65 percent of their attempts. The Eagles have faced the 18th-hardest DVOA schedule, and the three games Michael Vick lost to injury were average. No evidence of bad luck here.

However, there are plenty of other non-luck outlying factors that could account for the actual-Pythagorean discrepancy. Factors like:

  • 30th in the NFL in opponent red zone TD percentage.
  • 26th in fourth quarter points allowed.
  • 32nd in interception percentage.
  • 25th in first down-inducing penalties.
  • 19th in DVOA variance.
  • 27th in missed tackles (as of week nine).

If you’re going to call the 2011 Eagles underachieving — a label I’m not adverse to using — don’t blame it on the easy out. Luck is always involved, but it shouldn’t be an automatic determination. The above factors are much more likely to be the cause.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: What an Embarrassment

Eagles Fan

There were a number of awful parts to the latest Eagles debacle. But by far the worst, to my mind, was the utterly embarrassing play of Michael Vick.

Eagles fans are used to Andy Reid refusing to run the ball. They are used to seeing a wide receiver corps that consists of a bunch of 3rd stringers. At this point, the inability of the back seven to provide any deterrence in coverage or protect yet another fourth quarter lead is commonplace and expected.

Vick had his legs yesterday, and made some typically great scrambles. But his passing was atrocious on a number of levels. Certainly the defense deserves a lot of blame today, but a $100 million quarterback cannot be outplayed by John Skelton. That’s inexcusable.

47.1% = Michael Vick’s completion percentage. That was the second-most inaccurate performance Vick has had since he returned to the NFL, and it contributed to his worst quarterback rating since 2006. I know he was missing his two favorite targets, but I’m not sure they would have helped much. Vick kept making terrible decisions, throwing into double coverage more than once. Truthfully, he’s lucky to only have two interceptions.

6 = LeSean McCoy carries in the second half. The second half playcalling was perhaps the worst by Marty Mornhinweg since he assumed those duties in 2006. Vick was having a poor day and was missing both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. McCoy was his typical self, running at a 5.8 yard per carry average — much higher than Vick’s 3.8 passing yards per attempt. And yet, with a touchdown lead, the solution was to pass?

8 = Punts by Chas Henry. He only had 20 total through the first 8 games.

3/4 = Cardinals red zone touchdown efficiency. Same as last week.

146 = Receiving yards for Larry Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald lined up against Nnamdi Asomugha last year against Oakland, the cornerback held him to only 2 receptions for 26 yards. This year, whatever Juan Castillo’s plan was, it didn’t involve copying that successful formula. Both Asomugha and Asante Samuel had key interceptions, but Skelton continued to find Fitzgerald in mismatches against linebackers and even rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett.

30th = Cardinals’ Football Outsiders DVOA rank prior to this week. They are a bad team. And they didn’t even have their starting quarterback. So what does that tell us about the Eagles? They are truly disgraceful.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: Look, It’s a Running Back!

Eagles LeSean McCoy

Finally, a win.

It wasn’t always pretty, but at least the Eagles have grabbed back a bit of pride going into the bye week. I shudder to think what the next two weeks would have been like at 1-5. Let’s break down the game a little bit, shall we?

28 = Carries by LeSean McCoy. Ah, sweet run game. As I said last week, not increasing McCoy’s workload would be a fire-able offense. So Andy Reid and company get to keep their jobs, at least for now (even though after the game McCoy intimated that having so many runs wasn’t the plan). I think the plan was to protect the offensive line, and on Sunday that meant a heavy dose of McCoy, as well as short drops and quick passes. Michael Vick did his job, not trying to hold on to the ball too long. Most of the time it was three/five steps, immediate throw.

+2 = Eagles turnover differential. How to lose games, for dummies: turn the ball over. Vick and Vince Young each threw an interception, so that hasn’t improved much. But the defense, with a career performance by Kurt Coleman and a huge assist from Rex Grossman, showed up to play.

9 of 17 = Receptions, of total, by the Redskins tight ends and running backs. The Eagles defense did a good job against the run for the first time this year (only 42 yards on 14 carries). But they definitely didn’t solve their tight end problem, seeing as Fred Davis was basically Washington’s only offensive threat. At least on the first watch, it looked like Jamar Chaney was covering Davis on the majority of plays, and he didn’t inspire much confidence in that role. Still, if that’s the biggest problem on defense, the Eagles can live (and win) with it.

2:27 = Time remaining in the second quarter, after which the Eagles let up 13 unanswered points the rest of the game. This kind of inconsistent effort is why I didn’t want to celebrate last week’s second half comeback. Through six weeks, this team has yet to play a complete game. If you want to win consistently (read: against quarterbacks with a sense of ball control), you need to play well for more than a quarter here and there.

Photo from Getty.

Offensive Responsibility: Stop the Turnovers

Michael Vick

The number one problem with the Eagles through three games is their defense. By almost every measure other than sacks, Juan Castillo’s unit ranks near the bottom of the league. But I sense there’s a healthy sense of dissatisfaction with the offense as well.

On the surface, those concerns seem overblown. The Eagles offense, after all, ranks 10th in the NFL in points per game and sixth in yards.They have the fourth-most first downs and the fourth-highest third down conversion rate. Moreover, they’ve done all of this despite an offensive line that was hastily stitched together and having their MVP quarterback get knocked out of two games.

So what’s the problem? Obviously, after last week, short yardage and red zone concerns are high on the list of many Eagles fans. We will have to see if those issues linger through the rest of the season.

But perhaps the biggest culprit in the offense’s sporadic ineptitude has simply been turnovers. Against Atlanta Michael Vick threw an interception and lost two fumbles. Then last Sunday the Giants came away with three interceptions, one from Vick and two gifts from Mike Kafka. The Eagles currently have the 6th-worst turnover per drive ratio in the NFL.

Off those six turnovers, the Eagles opponents scored 28 points — easily the difference between winning and losing against the Falcons and Giants. A large portion of that blame rests with the Eagles defense, which needs to step up and protect the lead when the offense makes a mistake. But the defense’s ineptitude doesn’t absolve the offense of responsibility either.

Until Castillo can shore up the Eagles defense, Vick (with injured hand) and company have to be extra smart with the football. Even with a sieve of a linebacker corps, both of the last two games were winnable until the end. A few more points, a couple fewer mistakes, and maybe you start turn things around again.

Photo from Getty.

Hot Read: More on DeSean, Little on Asante

Jimmy Kempski gave us a chance to examine all of DeSean Jackson’s supposed drops from last season. He only counted eight drops, instead of the 12 that Pro Football Focus found. The thing is, though, that doesn’t really change mcuh. Instead of being the 55th-worst receiver, now DeSean’s only the 49th-worst. Big deal.

I’ve already written about DeSean’s drops before, and why they might or might not be a real problem going forward. Whatever side you come down on, it’s important not to dismiss PFF’s game charting or even their subjective grading system. The truth is that these kind of statistics can be quite valuable. No numbers are perfect, and we always have to add some skepticism. Just because they are always somewhat subjective, somewhat biased, and somewhat incomplete doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them.

That was part of the point of last week’s post comparing DYAR and EPA for receivers. It wasn’t to say that DYAR is wrong or EPA is right, or certainly that stats are wrong and our eyes are right. The point is that every piece of information tells us a different story. If one number praises DeSean and another finds fault, that means something. Even if we can’t immediately figure out what that is exactly.

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ESPN’s John Clayton did his own handicapping of Kevin Kolb’s potential suitors. Interestingly enough, his thoughts are quite similar to my own predictions.

Clayton matches me with 2-1 for the Cardinals, but he thinks a lot less highly of the Seahawks.

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The most boring possible commentary on Asante Samuel, courtesy of the NFL’s Top 100 Players program. Juan Castillo says Asante plants his foot. That’s better than the rest of the meaningless superlatives thrown in there to fill three minutes, but still. I assume he’s doing some heavy-duty film study and he knows other tricks. Give me something more concrete about what makes Asante such an interception machine, please.