I Knew It

Tommy Lawlor:

Regular reader Jyot heard former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah on the radio out in Seattle. Jeremiah said that the Eagles wanted to draft QB Russell Wilson in the 3rd round if he was available. The Seahawks took him ahead of us and the Eagles then went for Nick Foles.

Andy Reid basically spilled the beans on this during a press conference right after the draft. I was surprised he was so candid about how much the team liked Russell Wilson.

The most interesting dynamic is that you couldn’t find 2 QBs less alike. Wilson is short, but athletic. Foles is tall, but unathletic. Wilson struggles in the pocket. Foles is a pocket passer. Both guys did transfer, one from the Big Ten, the other out of the Big Ten.

I definitely called this right after the draft. #NotSoHumbleBrag

Introducing The Eagles Almanac 2012

Eagles Almanac 2012Today I’m proud to introduce Eagles Almanac 2012.

This is a project that that has been in the works secretly for months, a collaboration between 10 of your favorite writers, bloggers, and reporters to create the single best, most comprehensive guide to the 2012 Philadelpha Eagles season. The book, which you can download now as a PDF, is more than 80 ad-free pages of absolutely wall-to-wall Eagles content. There’s statistics, analysis, opinion, predictions, and even a dash of personal reflection thrown in for good measure.

The Eagles Almanac features long articles and in-depth essays on all the biggest offseason questions, and provides insight into a whole host of topics. And it does it all in a beautiful, magazine-quality layout:

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I’ve personally taken on the task of editing and publishing the Eagles Almanac, but all together it was a collaborative effort between myself and a bunch of fabulous authors:

Mike Tanier (Football Outsiders and The New York Times), broke down the failings of Juan Castillo’s defensive play calling.

Tommy Lawlor (Iggles Blitz) penned a comprehensive draft review, as well as a personal recollection of the 1992 Eagles season.

Sheil Kapadia (Moving the Chains) analyzed what exactly happened to Michael Vick last year.

Jason Brewer (Bleeding Green Nation) looked at how 2012 is shaping up to be make-or-break season for Andy Reid, after 13 years on the job.

Jimmy Kempski (Blogging the bEast) put together the only NFC East preview you will ever need to read.

Tom McAllister (Bury Me In My Jersey) discussed the fragility of rabid Eagles fandom at age 30.

Derek Sarley (IgglesBlog) asked if Nnamdi Asomugha is on his last legs, and wondered what’s going on with Evan Mathis.

Sam Lynch (IgglesBlitz) looked ahead to the team’s problems and potential in 2013 and beyond.

Gabe Bevilacqua (IgglesBlog) gives advice for living in a (cruel) world where the Giants have won two of the last five Super Bowls.

And your truly examined LeSean McCoy’s breakout 2011 season and how he can actually improve from here.

Plus so much more! Given the hard work that’s gone into this book from all of us, I think it’s a steal at our price of $4.99, and I hope you think so too. At the end of the day, it’s a chance to get more top-notch Eagles content and support your favorite writers at the same time.

Buy the Eagles Almanac 2012 today!

(And while you’re at it, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.)

Still Waiting for Jaiquawn Jarrett to Show Something

Dave Spadaro, via Tommy Lawlor:

I don’t see Kurt Coleman being challenged for the starting job by Jaiquawn Jarrett. Coleman had a very strong spring and is in terrific shape. The real question is: Where does Jarrett fit into the equation here?

Spuds coaches his comment with the idea that Coleman is just doing a great job, but when Jarrett can’t even get a qualified endorsement from the team’s own media (let alone coaches or other players), it’s very worrisome. Jarrett has no legitimate competition for back up safety, but if he can’t demonstrate anything positive now, over a year since he was drafted, at some point the team has to admit the mistake publicly and cut its losses. I’m starting to wonder if that time will come this offseason.

Banner, Dawkins and Business in Philadelphia

I’ve been waiting for the former player reaction to Joe Banner’s departure and now we have Brian Dawkins’s comments on 97.5 The Fanatic, as recorded by Sheil Kapadia:

"I just think that the way things have been done for so long there, and we did have some success, but the way that some of the guys that are in house had to always scrap, fight and do different things in order to just get a deal, it kind of wears on guys," Dawkins said. "And that was really the philosophy of this team, the way that they did things. I’m not saying that it’s going to change 100 percent going forward. The thing that I would love to see is guys in house be able to be kept. That was one of the things that always kind of frustrated me as a player, that guys who are in house and doing everything they can to improve the team are let go pretty easily, and then you go out and pay big bucks for free agents coming in."

"When you feel like every guy that you see on your team constantly has to go through the same ringer and have the same conversations and have the same type of dealings that you have, it’s a frustrating thing," Dawkins said. "I just know that certain situations and certain things could have been handled differently, and there would have been a completely different feeling about doing business in Philadelphia."

Tommy Lawlor also commented on this yesterday, and I think he comes across as defensive. Yes, the players he listed — such as Vincent, Douglas, and Staley — were ones the front office made the right call on. But what about Jeremiah Trotter, whose absence hurt the Eagles defense on their Super Bowl run? What about Sheldon Brown, whom the Eagles thought they could replace with Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson? What about Dawkins and Quintin Mikell, both of whom probably deserved another couple of years? What about Banner’s incalcitrance toward DeSean Jackson while paying Steve Smith more than $2 million?

Even more than any individual player, it’s the negative attitude in the locker room that really hurts. Healthy businesses in every industry have to make tough choices and sometimes let people go. But if employees — especially key performers — feel disrespected, that’s going to haunt you in the long run.

Update: Some more choice quotes from Trotter and Brian Westbrook:

"It was hard for players to trust the front office… Even when you let guys go at the end of their careers, there’s a way of doing that," Trotter said. "The way Brian Dawkins left, there’s no way that he should have been ran out the door the way he was. Or if you’re going to let him go, just say ‘hey, we’re going to move in a different direction.’ Don’t tell the public that we offered him a good contract, but he didn’t want that."

"And for him, it was a straight business," said Westbrook. "It was by the numbers, and the problem that you have in that as a player is you build relationships, so it’s not necessarily only by the numbers. There’s a value having Brian Dawkins on that team, even though he’s not the guy that he was at 25, and by the numbers at 33, he should be declining in his play. It’s a value of having those types of guys on your team instead of letting him to go to Denver and allowing him to go to two Pro Bowls after that."

Small Fish in a Big Pond

Tommy Lawlor on UDFA Damaris Johnson:

Damaris is very quick and he has a good burst. He is able to gain initial separation. He just lacks the long speed you would ideally prefer. One thing I really like about him is that he plays fast. There is very little dancing and hesitation when Johnson gets the ball. That’s partly why he’s such a good KOR. He gets it and goes. That style of play actually makes him look faster than he is. One other thing about that…Johnson is able to make cuts at close to full speed. This is where his size is a benefit. He’s got good body control and is able to stop/start quickly and change directions on the move.

Damaris does look much faster on tape than his 40 time indicates — and he better be, considering his tiny stature. On a broader note, when was the last time the Eagles had so many potential contributors who were small in stature? I’m not sure anyone other than Barry Sanders did as much as Brian Westbrook at 5’8”, but this team has DeSean Jackson, Dion Lewis, and whoever emerges from the Johnson-Chad Hall roster battle. And that’s just on offense. Brian Rolle is one of the smallest linebackers in the NFL, and the slot corner competition is between two 5’9” players.

DeSean Jackson and the Red Zone Offense

Tommy Lawlor:

I’d love to see DeSean Jackson make a RZ impact, but I’m doubtful. He’s just not at his best moving in traffic and confined spaces. He can be a good decoy.

I know DeSean is at his best running past defenders 30 yards downfield, but the Eagles inability to get him open in the red zone continues to shock me. This is not a player with just straight-line speed; we’ve all seen him make insane moves in small spaces on punt returns. How can Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg not find creative ways to get him open down by the goal line?

Furthermore, if the Eagles red zone offense really hinges on the performance of backup tight ends, fourth wide receivers, and practice squad-caliber fullbacks, that is a coaching failure to the highest degree.

What Derek Landri Tells Us About DT Draft Plans

There’s no denying that Derek Landri was a great surprise find for the Eagles last season. While he looked good in training camp, the team couldn’t find a roster spot for him, but after Antonio Dixon was lost for the year, they got a pass rushing boost picking up Landri after week four.

Here’s a chart I posted before, showing Landri as the top pass rusher per snap among Eagles defensive tackles last year:

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Tommy Lawlor spent some time yesterday talking about his favorite player of all time. He speculated as to why Landri hasn’t re-signed with the Eagles yet:

I imagine the Eagles are offering him a cheap deal and also aren’t guaranteeing any playing time. [Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, and Dixon] are locks to play. The rookie and Ced Thornton should be battling for snaps. And there sits Derek Landri on the outside.

I think Tommy’s observation is astute, and it gives us a window into the Eagles plans regarding the defensive tackle position. Barring injury, Jenkins and Patterson will be the starters, and Dixon’s back-up spot is secure since he signed his second round tender.

The Eagles only kept four defensive tackles last season, and they are likely to do the same in 2012. Knowing that, Landri should be happy to sign on as the fourth guy, right? And the Eagles should be happy to have him, right?

Well, unless the Eagles are thinking about drafting another defensive tackle early in the draft. I’m sure Howie Roseman would like to have Landri back, but he won’t be handing out any kind of guarantee if Landri has no chance (outside of injuries) to make the roster. On the flipside, Landri won’t be eager to re-sign if he knows what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Landri may decide he doesn’t have any better options than to fight an uphill battle in Philly. But the length of time he’s taken to make his decision suggests that neither side is eager to have him back. And that, in turn, points to the imminent arrival of another, more important defensive tackle prospect.

Photo from Getty.

Tommy Lawlor's Master Offseason Plan

Tommy gives us what his plan of attack would be:

First, I’m not all that active in free agency. It occurred to me the other day that the last 2 Super Bowl winners were very quiet in FA in the year they actually won. Les Bowen wrote about this dynamic on Monday (great minds think alike, I guess). I think we need to learn from these teams. Stability and continuity are important. Sometimes you are better off letting the FAs and draft picks already on your roster develop and figure things out.

Go read the whole thing, as he takes you from free agency through the draft. Overall I agree with Tommy’s arguments. I’d be happy with Hawthorne on the outside and Kuechly in the middle. However, it’s important to note that in this scenario the Eagles would probably also sign someone now for the middle linebacker spot. Someone like Dan Connor would be a plausible option to keep them from seeming too desperate for Kuechly in the first round and back the rookie up later if he were to falter.

RG3 to Philly? It’s Pretty Crazy

Robert Griffin III Eagles

Heisman-winning quarterback and draft analyst man-crush Robert Griffin III met with the Eagles at the NFL Combine late last week, sparking a mini-resurgence of speculation (read: hope) that by some twist of fate RG3 could be coming to Philadelphia.

Jimmy Kempsi wrote, “it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Eagles make some sort of blockbuster trade to move up to 2 to get him.” He goes on to make some good points: Michael Vick will turn 32 before the season starts, his contract isn’t really for the full six years, and the cost of paying a first round quarterback isn’t prohibitive any more. Despite those reasons, there are still major barriers to bringing Griffin to the Eagles.

Let’s start with the fact that the Eagles are completely outgunned in trade negotiations. All indications are that the Rams are looking to sell out of the second overall selection. Do you know what it would take for the Eagles to even get into the conversation for that pick? According to the draft value chart, giving up the Eagles 2012 1st, two 2nd, 3rd, and 2013 1st round picks still leaves the team coming up slightly short.

For comparison, let’s take two of the teams cited most often in trade rumors: the Browns and the Redskins. Cleveland has the 4th and 22nd overall picks. Just those two selections are already worth more than the massive Eagles bounty described above. Former Eagles GM Tom Heckert definitely has the inside track on Griffin. Washington, meanwhile, could match Philly’s offer with just their 1st and 2nd round picks this year and 1st rounder next year.

You can draw comparisons with Vick today and Donovan McNabb in 2007, the year the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb, but the cost is so much more prohibitive for Griffin. Using an early second round pick when you already have a starting quarterback is questionable, forfeiting almost your entire draft is prohibitive.

And that brings up the second major reason to shoot down any Griffin ideas: the opportunity cost is far too high. Giving up that many high picks would mean ignoring needs at a bunch of positions, including linebacker, defensive line, cornerback, and wide receiver. Given the general lack of young talent, especially on defense, the Eagles cannot afford to waste the opportunity to finally get a good, full draft.

Drafting Griffin, despite these concerns, would be writing the next year or two off. The Eagles front office would be admitting to the fans and — more importantly — a veteran group of players that they can’t win in 2012. They would be telling Michael Vick, who everyone hopes will work to improve himself this offseason, that he’s not really their franchise player. That could be a disaster.

What it comes down to is that the timing is off. Tommy Lawlor called the situation “awkward,” but it’s more than that. 2012 is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for more than just Andy Reid. Vick needs to get back to his 2010 form. DeSean Jackson, if he even accepts the franchise tag, could be gone after 2012. Veterans like Cullen Jenkins, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, and Trent Cole may only have a year or two of high-level play left, and poor drafting has left the cupboard bare behind them.

Next year should answer a lot of questions about this team and the way it’s constructed. The Eagles could rebound and make a playoff run, in which case you will want a strong crop of young players in place to fill in the holes and keep up the momentum. Alternatively, if the Eagles flop there will be a NovaCare house cleaning like we haven’t seen since 1999. In that case, the team will be in a natural position to draft a new franchise quarterback and rebuild around him going forward.

Watching RG3 highlights is intoxicating, and I would love it if he ended up with the Eagles. But it’s not going to happen. Let’s just make that clear.

Photo from Getty.

Drafting Linebackers Not Named Luke Kuechly

Tommy Lawlor:

Football has become more and more of a passing league. The emphasis on size has gone away. Teams need a SAM to be someone that can hold his ground on run plays that come at him, but that can be done by a 6’1, 240 LB. The key now is for him to be able to hang with TEs, based more on athleticism that just size. Teams are now moving TEs around so if that happens with the SAM on the field, he must be able to play more in space.

This is just the introduction to a great breakdown Tommy has over on Scouts Notebook of the best SAM linebackers in the draft. Check it out. It makes a lot of sense to address middle linebacker in free agency, perhaps with a player like Stephen Tulloch, then shore up the outside spot with an early pick of Zach Brown or Keenan Robinson.

Senior Bowl Nuggets

If I’m going to bash him for his poor articles, the least I can do is commend Jeff McLane for giving us fun anecdotes from the Senior Bowl:

A few funny/odd moments from the Senior Bowl today. When @LesBowen and I were going to have our q&a with Howie, Drew Rosenhaus spotted us and said to Howie, “Don’t let them double team ya, Howie.” Um, OK. So, Drew, will DeSean be OK with the franchise tag? “Uh, no comment.”

The other came when we were talking to Washburn and Les teased him about the report that he kept Spags from coming to the #Eagles, and as Les went to pat him on the shoulder, Wash gave him a swim move & swatted his hand away. “Good Times with Wash” should be a reality show.

For actual, consequential notes, I suggest you visit Jimmy and Tommy, since they are killing it from Mobile.

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.

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.

Choices at Safety

Tommy Lawlor:

We’d all love the Eagles to go find Dawk, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, or someone like that, but these are rare talents. You simply can’t hold the Eagles (or any team) to that standard. Can the Eagles upgrade on the current set of Safeties? That’s certainly possible, but I think the player would have to be special.

It’s obviously a false dichotomy to say that the Eagles only choices are essentially to stick with what they have or bring in a “special player.” That kind of attitude also suggests that the Eagles should have stayed with Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown as starting wide receivers, and that drafting someone like Earl Thomas wasn’t possible.

I still hold out hope for Nate Allen to rebound in 2012 and perhaps Jaiquawn Jarrett will show his talent, but Kurt Coleman is at best a good backup safety and none of the three have consistently demonstrated above-average play. What’s wrong with signing a non-Jarrad Page veteran and making the youngsters actually earn one or both starting jobs next year?