Akeem Jordan, The Forgotten Man?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Where They Stop, Nobody Knows

Sheil Kapadia describes the latest movement in Linebacker Musical Chairs™. At least Ryans is back as a three-down player again:

When Juan Castillo asked for the first-team nickel defense, Chaney was the man called on to go in alongside DeMeco Ryans. Up until today, Brian Rolle had been occupying that spot at Lehigh. And in the spring, it was rookie Mychal Kendricks.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Chaney said, when I asked him if he expected to be part of that package for the next few days. “I just do what they tell me to do. Whether I’m out there with the twos or the ones, I just go out there and do my best. My job is just to make the decision hard on them.”

(Note that I resisted excerpting just the first part of Chaney’s quote.)

DeMeco Ryans, Two-Down Linebacker?

DeMeco Ryans

I was surprised last week to hear that, at least initially, DeMeco Ryans wasn’t playing as a three-down linebacker. In practices, he was coming out in the nickel formation for Jamar Chaney, an inconsistent player at best.

What happened to the versatile Pro Bowler that we were promised when Ryans was brought in from Houston? I wonder if Reid and company were ever being truthful whether said those things. Although Ryans was undervalued in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme, indications were that he was taken off the field on passing downs partially because he had lost a step after his 2010 Achillies injury.

I went back to look at the stats, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, and I didn’t find any smoking gun. Here are the numbers:

You can clearly see the effect of taking Ryans out of the game on passing downs. His total snaps decreased substantially from his last healthy season (2009) and the percentage of pass snaps he was in for, as a portion of his playing time, declined by a rather large 10 percent. But that just tells us what we already know: that Houston didn’t trust Ryans as much in pass coverage.

Was that concern warranted? That’s harder to tell. On one hand, Ryans was targeted more in pass coverage than in any other year from 2008 on. That may suggest that players he was supposed to cover we’re open more often. The total yards per catch average against him was also the highest on recorded, meaning he gave up bigger plays. On the other hand, the completion percentage of players he covered moved in the opposite direction.

It remains to be seen whether Ryans is actually a coverage liability in the Eagles defense. But the ramifications from this move will be large. Obviously, on the field it’s not ideal. Having to sub out the middle linebacker removes flexibility and creates match-up issues that opponents can exploit. It also raises questions about about both the Ryans’ long term future with the Eagles and the team’s overall linebacker strategy.

As a two-down player in an increasingly pass-heavy NFL, Ryans would be much less valuable—especially at his salary. Perhaps his acquisition wasn’t the sea change in linebacker policy that we thought. After all, a fourth round pick for Ryans isn’t as different as we would like from the fifth round pick it took to get Ernie “Shark in the Water” Sims. His salary jumps to $6.6 million in 2013, and continues at basically that level through 2015. It seem unlikely he would make that much in Philly as a two-down player.

Let me stress, finally, that Ryans can still be a major upgrade at linebacker in 2012—even if he does have to come out on passing downs. Just having a reliable veteran leader in the middle to plug some of the gaping run holes would be a big deal. We just may have to temper our expectations for Ryans beyond that role.

Photo from Getty.

Let’s Talk Linebacker

Jimmy Kempski noted the depth chart in the first practices of the year, and linebacker sticks out as a place of concern:

  • 1st team: Kendricks (SAM) – Ryans (MIKE) – Rolle (WILL)
  • 2nd team: Jordan (SAM) – Matthews (MIKE) – Chaney (WILL)
  • Nickel: Kendricks – Chaney

Now, this could be nothing. Perhaps this lineup is just the warm-up lap. But I’m definitely surprised that Ryans wasn’t taking snaps in the nickel defense. If the trend holds up, it suggests that maybe the Eagles’ big offseason acquisition is only going to be a two-down player. Not encouraging. It reminds me of this.

* * *

I agree with the overall sentiment in this BGN post by Eliott Shorr-Parks. Mychal Kendricks should be more talented and more prepared than Casey Matthews, but I worry that the Eagles are once again giving too much responsibility too quickly to a rookie.

That said, I have no idea how Shorr-Parks can write this with a straight face:

Going into Lehigh last season, there was little question that the teams best linebacker was Chaney. Chaney played great late in his rookie season, and despite having some bad games, was still arguably the teams best linebacker last year as well.

First of all, I definitely raised questions about Chaney last offseason, when everyone was quoting Brian Baldinger’s idiot comments. Second, I don’t think Chaney was the best linebacker last year—and even if he was, it’s not really an achievement I’d put up on the wall.

Chaney finished the season with 92 tackles, but more importantly 3 interceptions. Some of the picks were easy ones, but given how hard it has been for Eagle linebackers to create turnovers over the past few years, the fact is he made the plays.

"Some of the picks were easy ones"? He only had three.

Expectations should be even higher for Chaney this year, as he will have a year under his belt in Juan Castillo’s system. Chaney was the teams middle linebacker at the end of 2010, and was moved to the strong side during camp last year. While he was eventually moved back to middle linebacker in Week 4 because of the play of Casey Matthews, he still has more experience at the position than Kendricks does. It makes more sense to slide Chaney back in as the strong side linebacker than it does to appoint Kendricks the starter now.

Why would anyone have high expectations for Chaney this year, let along higher than 2011? It makes about as much sense “to slide Chaney back in as the stronge side linebacker” as it does to slide Juan Castillo back in as the defensive coordinator. Because that would be… wait, what’s that again?

Chaney is a hard worker, one of the best athletes on the defense and deserves to be on the field.

I cannot confirm that a single word in that sentence is accurate.

Disturbing Tackling Numbers for the Eagles LBs

Brian Rolle Tackling

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:

Eagles Linebackers tackling stats

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.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Linebacker

Linebackers Eagles

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.

Tackling: Eagles Linebackers vs. DeMeco Ryans

DeMeco Ryans Tackle

If you’re like me, you haven’t seen many Texans games and you don’t know much about DeMeco Ryans other than by his reputation. Some folks study by watching game film, and I highly recommend you read up for that perspective. My habit is to reach for the stats.

The stats, of course, are incomplete. This is especially true when trying to quantifying the production of a middle linebacker. With defensive linemen you can look at sacks. With corners you can look at interceptions and yards per attempt against. But middle linebackers are tough.

Largely we look at tackles to tell us about our linebackers, but that’s by far from a perfect statistic. Tackles are influenced by the broader scheme, the intricacies that make even 4-3 defenses different, and the performance of players in front and behind the defense’s middle management.

Still, it’s all we have, so we might as well use it up. Jimmy Kempski, that mustachoed maven of the NFC East, wrote a post yesterday in which he pulled “Snaps Per Tackle” from 25 inside linebackers last season.

To take what he’s done one step further, and give it a more Eagles-bent, I used similar data from Pro Football Focus. However, I only looked at snaps and tackles in the run game. Below you can find the middle linebacker performance of both Eagles linebackers and Ryans since 2008:

Eagles Linebackers DeMeco Ryans Tackling Stats

Because of all the factors involved (as well as inevitable inconsistencies in the original data), I wouldn’t blow any one of these numbers out of proportion. Tackles, missed tackles, and stops all together can give us a interesting look at production.

Examining the Eagles stats first though, it looks like stop percentage may be the most relevant stat of the bunch. Tackle percentages are all over the map, and missed tackles can depend so much on just a few plays. But stops — not tackles for a loss, but prevention of a “positive” play — seem to correspond to what our eyes tell us is a good linebacker play. For example, both Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews scored very poorly in 2011 by this measure, while Chaney’s moments of glory at the end of 2010 account for his high marks then.

Looking just at Ryans’s stats, it’s obvious that he had a down year in 2011. Not only did the new 3-4 scheme limit his playing time, but he was less productive across the board on a per snap basis. Ryans’s stop percentage dropped dramatically last year, and is the lowest figure on among all players listed above. Prior to his 2010 achilles injury though, he posted solid, if not spectacular numbers. Missed tackles were really his only run defense problem in 2008-2009.

At the end of the day, the numbers suggest some cause for worry, especially about his most recent performance. However, if Ryans can return to his pre-injury performance in a 4-3 scheme, the Eagles have found a very solid middle linebacker going forward.

Photo from Getty.

Howie Roseman Reevaluating the Draft Process

Jason Pierre-Paul

One of the headlines coming out of Howie Roseman’s comments yesterday (here and here) was that the Eagles GM is open to changing his draft strategy, given the results so far. His exact words were:

"I think those are things that you have to look at and kind of evaluate and see if maybe you’re putting too much weight on one area and not another. Those are the things that you got to learn from and figure out."

It was a vague statement, but one I’m glad to see. The last two drafts have been poor overall, and it’s vitally important that Roseman reevaluate his decision-making process going forward.

Regarding that process, Roseman had a few more quotes that shed light on some of the areas we had only assumed from his draft results. For example, Howie admitted that drafting the best player on the board is difficult when “human nature” gets involved and “you are pushing things up because there are things you want and whether that’s a specific position or a specific quality in a player — whether that’s toughness, intelligence, leadership.”

I’ve noted in the past that Roseman has almost exclusively drafted high character players with proven track records from big schools. Perhaps that’s a winning philosophy in general, but it has caused some notable misses (including everyone’s favorite bugaboo Jason Pierre-Paul).

Roseman expanded those thoughts regarding Brandon Graham:

"We’re talking about a guy that played four years at Michigan, was a two-time captain, averaged ten sacks a year. There was a great track record of success. I think for us, it wasn’t so much about the other players as it was the consistency he showed in college. A lot of times when you’re into the draft you have these decisions about making kind of what we talk about — doubles vs. Dave Kingman trying to go for the long ball. I’m not talking about a particularly player here, but those are some of the tough decisions that you have because you have other factors involved."

Kingman, the 6’6” slugger/strike out artist from the ’70s and ’80s, sounds like an oblique reference to Pierre-Paul, but the point applies generally as well. With picks like Graham, Nate Allen, Danny Watkins, and Jaiquawn Jarrett, Roseman has tended toward safe, “doubles” players with leadership and steady performance — if not tremendous upside.

Maybe that’s reassuring, since all but Jarrett have at least shown the ability to be solid NFL starters. But we’re also not looking at any of these guys saying, “Wow,” like we are with DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy — players who had big questions marks coming out of college but also amazing star potential.

The final comment I want to highlight stems from a rewriting of history that Roseman supporters have often used:

“We feel like we’re having success, and if you get five or six players in every draft who make the team and three of them are starting, you’re drafting pretty well. Do we want impact guys in the first round? Of course we do. We want to draft those Pro Bowl guys and hit on every guy in the first round, but we’re going to look under every rock for impact guys, and if we get them in the sixth round or from the CFL or in free agency, the main thing is getting good players who can help us win.”

Roseman has done well at finding contributors in the later rounds, guys like Jamar Chaney, Kurt Coleman, Brian Rolle, and Jason Kelce. But other than Kelce (whose rookie season was overrated), none of these guys look like starters on a playoff team. They were starters for the Eagles in 2011 because of failures in the earlier rounds, and performed at about replacement level. More “successful” results like that won’t help the team get back to the Super Bowl any time soon.

At least Howie seems to realize that.

Photo from Getty.

No, Seriously, Howie's Doing a Great Job

Chris McPherson, for the Eagles website:

The Eagles’ prolific run in free agency last offseason overshadowed the fact that the foundation for the team’s long-term success has been built in the past two NFL drafts.

Through aggressive maneuvering and clever moves, the Eagles have acquired eight starters in the past two drafts. None of the 2011 playoff teams in the NFC and only one playoff team in the entire league, the Denver Broncos, has drafted more starters in that timeframe…

Among the playoff teams this year, seven of them have first-round picks from the past two seasons that have yet to crack the starting lineup. The Eagles, overall, have drafted two starters on offense, five on defense and another on special teams in the past two years.

Those eight “starters” would be:

  • Brandon Graham — Not a starter, not healthy, not Jason Pierre-Paul.
  • Danny Watkins — Below average 27-year-old starter at right guard.
  • Jamar Chaney — Chaney is closer to the CFL than the Pro Bowl.
  • Brian Rolle — Better than Chaney, but shouldn’t be more than a 4th LB right now.
  • Kurt Coleman — Good backup, bad starter.
  • Jason Kelce — Promising young player, best rookie season of the bunch.
  • Nate Allen — Inconsistent, needs improvement to really own starting spot.
  • Alex Henery — He’s fine, but he’s also a kicker.

And yet, surprisingly, the Eagles are not in the playoffs. There’s a disconnect somewhere, I just can’t find it.

Rewind: Notes on the Eagles-Cowboys Game

Michael Vick Eagles Cowboys Shotgun

One of the unheralded stories of 2011 is the regression of Michael Vick. After borrowing Superman’s cape last season, Vick returned to mere mortal status once again. Just as a simple measurement, in 2010 he had quarterback passer rating above 90 in 10 out of his 12 games. This year, he’s only had 5 out of 12.

However, things seem to be picking back up for Vick as he and the coaches are potentially finding some answers for him. He’s had back-to-back 100+ QB rating games for the first time this season over the last two weeks.

I charted all of Vick’s passes this week and noticed that he’s hardly ever doing three step drops from under center anymore. In fact, I counted only two of those, and both went for incompletions.

The majority of pass calls (20 of 36) involved Vick in shotgun, and half of those added five step drops on top of the pre-snap depth. Whether his height factors in to this I can’t say, but he’s clearly more comfortable and effective in shotgun, and generally as far back from the line of scrimmage as possible. The added depth gives him more time to find deep receivers and also more space to scramble if necessary.

* * *

Danny Watkins is awful. I want to really emphasize this point. After watching him fairly closely the whole game, it’s clear that he didn’t deserve to be on the field.

At least half a dozen times, Watkins single-handedly let his defender get by him (often instantaneously) to get pressure on Vick or a backfield tackle on LeSean McCoy. It was Kyle DeVan, Stacey Andrews, Winston Justice-against-the-Giants bad.

Tommy Lawlor wrote of Watkins, “Solid game. Got driven back in pass pro a time or two, but did stick with the blocks.”

I wish that were the case. In reality, Watkins needs to make a big leap in the offseason to be even an average NFL starter.

* * *

Speaking of below replacement level starters, Jamar Chaney was almost as bad.

If you run straight up the middle and fail to block the middle linebacker against 31 teams in the NFL, it must be a tackle for a loss more often than not. Against the Eagles, it’s a nine yard gain. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the run defense frequently looks like it only has 10 players out there.

Chaney demonstrates no ability to get off blocks. But more importantly, even when unblocked he’s indecisive and slow. You can tell that he’s athletic enough to run with most tight ends, but in run defense he never charges the line. At best he’s a speed bump 3 yards into the run, but most of the time he doesn’t even provide that.

* * *

  • Just to prove I’m not always negative, let me say some good things about Casey Matthews. He looked, frankly, great this week. Speedy, instinctive, good in space, and quick to take on tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. I’d actually like to see him get some of Chaney’s snaps in the base defense next week.

  • Clay Harbor was instrumental as a blocker on the back-to-back end-arounds to DeSean Jackson. Set the edge with a hard block on Sean Lee the first time, then faked a block on Ware, shouldered Lee, and got up to the third level on Jackson’s second try. That said, there’s no reason Harbor should be one-on-one with DeMarcus Ware in pass protection. That led to a sack.

  • Brent Celek, on the other hand, continues to show me nothing but poor run blocking. But every week they add another brilliant tight end screen to the playbook, and he’s great at that.

  • Brandon Hughes got some significant looks as the dime corner, especially when Nnamdi Asomugha came inside to cover Jason Witten. Hughes was beaten once each by Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, two good receivers, both times he was targeted.

Photo from Getty.

Rewind: Notes on the Eagles-Jets Game

Brent Celek Eagles Reception

I rewatched the Eagles-Jets game last night and came away with several short nuggets for your enjoyment. Here you go:

  • The Trent Cole and Jason Babin delayed blitz routine is fun to watch. Jimmy at Blogging the Beast has a nice breakdown of it. Though they’ve run this for a few weeks, it was especially effective against the Jets. I expect that the Cowboys tackles will be more prepared to pass their rushers off to the inside, which is when the Eagles should go double A-gap blitz instead.

  • On the other side of the blitzing coin, there’s no need to pull zone blitzes that drop Cole into coverage. It’s just counter-productive. Mark Sanchez completed his long pass to tight end Dustin Keller against Cole. Of course, it helped that he could use a pump fake to move Kurt Coleman out of position.

  • Casey Matthews definitely has potential as a nickel linebacker. He’s at least playing at game speed now and recognizing backs out of the backfield quickly, which is a massive improvement from before. He wasn’t a horrible pick in the fourth round, but I have no idea what Juan Castillo and company were thinking starting him, especially as a rookie.

  • Meanwhile, Brian Rolle seems to be hitting a bit of a rookie wall. Where Matthews was flying around the field, Rolle looked slower than usual.

  • Asante Samuel shifted over into the slot on the right side once or twice when he didn’t have a receiver to match up with on his side. That said, he was immediately called for pass interference on a slant route.

  • Pro Football Focus charted the Eagles defense with 9 blitzes out of 31 plays. In general, blitzing (even sending 6+) is very positive for this team, since most of the coverage problems originate with linebacker or safety play.

  • I loved the little play action screen pass in the third quarter, when the Eagles brought Brent Celek across the formation as if he was going to trap block, then he let the defensive end go, turned, and was open for the quick pass. Almost converted for the first down.

  • The Jamar Chaney interception was all Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC jumped the slant route and knocked the ball into the air. It really shouldn’t be as hard for him to adjust to the slot as he makes it out to be, but he’s clearly more comfortable on the outside.

  • LeSean McCoy’s 33 yard TD run was a classic example of his skills. He dodged the first free rusher and then bounced to the opposite side of the field, dancing around another defender. Then he turned on the burners. Touchdown.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: A Fall From Grace

Andy Reid Vince Young Eagles

At the end of Sunday’s game two players were firmly seated on their respective benches. One was Tom Brady, leader of an elite but far from perfect team, who took a rest after amassing a three touchdown lead. The other was DeSean Jackson, talented underachiever on a league-basement team, who was benched for poor play while the Eagles were trying desperately to come back.

There may be a more apt and fair comparison, but to me that distinction illustrates exactly how far the Eagles have fallen. They used to be an elite squad. Not anymore.

Let’s check the numbers:

7 = Times the Patriots entered Eagles territory. They scored 5 touchdowns and went 1 for 2 on field goal attempts on those 7 possessions. That touchdown percentage would be worst in the league for opponent trips to the red zone, let alone crossing the 50 yard line.

2 = Official tackles by Jamar Chaney. There is no doubt that on Sunday Chaney missed more tackles than he made. See the entries under “No need for linebackers” and “fundamentally sound” in the Eagles coaching handbook.

400 = Largely worthless passing yards by Vince Young. That is, however, a single game career high.

40% = Completion percentage on passes targeted at DeSean Jackson. Young’s total would have been even higher if not for Jackson letting two touchdowns and another 75 to 100 yards slip through his fingers. DeSean’s stock has never been lower. It is increasingly likely not only that he’s playing for another team next season but that the Eagles won’t be able to get back much for his services.

10 = Eagles penalties, for 60 yards.

6 = First half carries by LeSean McCoy. The Patriots secondary is bad and the Eagles were able to take advantage of that matchup frequently, so I won’t belabor the “Why won’t you run the ball?” point. But the Patriots were also deficient against the run, no matter what Reid said in his post game press conference. Especially in a game when the goal needed to be keeping Tom Brady off the field, McCoy should have been more of a factor. You can bet that’s what Jim Washburn was heckling Marty Mornhinweg about on the sideline.

.125 = Eagles win percentage at Lincoln Financial Field since Week 16 of last season. Seeing so many fans stream out of the stadium with a quarter left to play can’t have made Jeff Lurie happy.

Photo from Getty.

Eagles-Giants Rewind: Observations All Around

DeSean Jackson Eagles Giants

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.

By the Numbers: Showed Me

Michael Vick Eagles

In previewing week eight, I called the Cowboys match up a “show me” game. In other words, show me something that should give some hope that the Eagles can actually accomplish what will be an uphill battle to the playoffs.

They certainly didn’t answer all of my questions, but the 34-7 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys was nothing if not proof that the Eagles can play at an elite level. Let’s break down the win.

7 = Number of receptions by Brent Celek, more than in the last three games combined. Jason Avant also had a big day, as Michael Vick torched the Cowboys over the middle of the field. Celek noted after the game that Dallas often lined up in deep Cover Two formations to prevent the big pass play. The formations worked, in a sense, but the Eagles picked them apart underneath those safeties.

185 = Rushing yards for LeSean McCoy on 30 attempts. Only three Eagles in history had more rushing yards than McCoy in a single game. Only three times has a running back received more rushing attempts in Andy Reid’s 12 years as head coach. McCoy is not only quickly convincing the rest of the NFL that he deserves to be included in the conversation about the best running back, but he seems to have already sold Reid. 58 carries in the last two games means Reid took my humble advice and, well, ran with it. (It also helps to have Jason Peters back.)

1 = Embarrassed coach. Rob Ryan, after the game: “I got out-coached, out-everything. It’s all on me.”

13 = Straight wins after the bye for Reid. Looked like he was one step ahead of Ryan the whole game.

100% = Eagles “Drive Success Rate.” Football Outsiders says that the Patriots have the highest rate in the league of drives with either a first down or touchdown, at 79%. The Eagles accomplished that on every drive Sunday night. The offense also converted more than half of their third down chances for the first time this season since week one.

88% = Cowboys “Drive Success Rate.” Oddly enough, the Cowboys offense also scored well against this metric. Of course, only in their final two drives did they manage to reach a third set of downs.

9.3 = Rushing yards per attempt by DeMarco Murray on 8 carries. The Eagles defense had a great day, its best against a quarterback not named Grossman. But there were still some problems that didn’t look fixed. Murray had no problem gashing the defense when he had the ball in his hands. Poor tackling was still an issue from Jamar Chaney and others. Kurt Coleman also allowed a ghastly 70 yard touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson.

Perhaps the truest thing that can be said about Sunday’s victory was that the Eagles won the way they are built to win. This team was constructed to jump out to big leads and then force the opponent to comeback against a relentless pass rush and Pro Bowl cornerbacks. Howie Roseman and Reid essentially had this performance in mind when they made all those offseason changes. We’ll see if that revived blueprint can hold going forward.

Photo from Getty.