Notes on Nick Foles

Been swamped the past few days, hence the lateness of this post.  I originally intended to just post my normal post-game notes, but I think at this point everyone has already read enough about that game.  It was awesome, encouraging, etc.., but it was also against the Raiders, so let’s try to contain ourselves just a bit.

I do, though, want to talk more about Nick Foles (of course).  A few points:

- First, I promised to update this chart (Foles’ rating by game), so here it is:

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You can come to your own conclusions.  Remember, I only included games in which Foles threw at least 10 passes.

- Nick Foles DID play last year.  In some of the write-ups about him that I’ve seen, its as though the kid’s first action came this season.  It didn’t.  He played in 7 games last year and had 265 pass attempts.  He finished with a QB Rating of 79.1, which as I’ve showed, is VERY good for a rookie.  He did benefit from some dropped interceptions, so have to discount the rating, but he ALSO played behind a bad O-Line and, at times, didn’t have his best “weapons”.

So it’s not as if his performance over the past few weeks came out of nowhere (both good and bad).  Over the entire offseason, I tried to emphasize that Foles’ performance as a rookie was strong, and while he wasn’t (and still isn’t) the definite “answer”, his play certainly should have earned him a chance to start.

- What exactly are Foles’ strengths and weaknesses?  Coming into this year, I thought we had Foles pegged.  He showed good pocket awareness and was very accurate on the short-intermediate throws.  The big question marks involved his arm strength.  He struggled a bit on sideline throws and while he was able to get the ball downfield, his accuracy on those throws was poor.

Well….the past two starts for Foles have completely undercut those assumptions.  Against Dallas, his short-throw accuracy was terrible and his awareness was severely lacking.  Conversely, against the Raiders, he clearly demonstrated an ability to not only push the ball downfield on deep throws, but to do so with good accuracy.  I mentioned at the end of last year and over the offseason that the deep-throw accuracy was something he SHOULD be able to improve upon, whether through better technique or actual strength-training.  It’s possible what we saw against the Raiders was an outgrowth of that type of improvement.

Overall, we essentially have to completely rebuild our assumptions about him.  Barring another Cowboys-like performance, I’d be surprised if Foles didn’t start the rest of the way, so we should get plenty of chances to refine our expectations, but for now we’re back to square one.  Theoretically, he CAN do everything (except run fast).  But we need to know which parts of his game are consistent enough to be called “strengths” and which ones are inconsistent enough to be called “weaknesses”.

- How does he stack up when compared to other notable QBs?  I wanted to do a full post on this, but it looks like ChipWagon beat me to it, at least partially.  However, let me take an abbreviated crack at it.  Here is Nick Foles, in comparison to notable quarterbacks over similar Pass Attempt samples to start their careers.  Note, this is by no means a representative sample.  I picked QBs who are both successful and had a similar number of attempts their first year in the league (so I didn’t have to calculate).  Big note here is that Foles’ numbers are over parts of the first 2 seasons, whereas the rest came from 1 season (I did include the 3 attempts Brady had his rookie season).

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So…yeah, pretty good.  The interception rate in particular is phenomenal.  Remember that Foles benefited from a relatively high number of dropped INTs last year.  However, this year I don’t recall seeing many, though I haven’t seen the actual count from Football Outsiders (I don’t think it’s available until year-end, if I’m wrong about this please tell me).  Also, despite Foles famous lack of speed, his sack rate is either better or comparable to every player in that table other than Matt Ryan.  To beat a dead horse, POCKET mobility and awareness is much more important that straight line speed or rushing ability.

The biggest caveat, of course, is that we’re looking at these numbers after perhaps the greatest statistical performance by a QB in the history of the NFL.  That’s  a bad time to do it, but I didn’t want to wait.  To rectify, I’ll update Foles’ numbers after this week and maybe each week from here on so we can get a continuing look at how he stacks up.

Pre-Season Review

The final preseason game has been played, roster cuts are finalized, and barring any last-minute surprises, the team we see now is the team we’ll see on opening night,  Consequently, it’s a good time to review the preseason.  Basically, I’m looking at what units/players surprised and disappointed and how that might affect the overall team’s performance.  I’ll start with what I felt were the biggest surprises.

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Special Teams – Terrible last year, this unit looks to be SIGNIFICANTLY improved.  The kick/punt coverage looks like it could actually be a STRENGTH of the team, though we’ll need to see the regular season play before we know that.  Regardless, I’m now confident it will be much better than last year.   Similarly, the return game looks solid.  Remember that for the Eagles, just getting league-average play from this unit would be a big improvement. As a reminder, here is Football Outsiders’ Special Teams Rankings from last season:

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Click to enlarge if you want.  I’ve highlighted the Eagles in green.  I’ve also highlighted two specific measures, “Punt” and “Hidden Pts”, by bolding them in red.  Both of these stand out as the 2012 Eagles’ biggest ST weaknesses.  The “Punt” category is self-explanatory, and we’ve seen significant improvement in the preseason.  The “Hidden Pts” measure refers to elements of the game that are outside the Eagles’ control.  So things like opponents’ field goal %, opposing kick distance, etc… That category is likely to improve as well.

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Defensive Line

Throughout the preseason, the defensive line looked a lot stronger than I thought it would be.  Perhaps I had lower expectation than everyone else, but I did not think the team would make the 3-4 transition as well as it has along the line.  We knew Cox would be good (despite some early issues), but beyond that, there were a lot of question marks.  Now, aside from Sopoaga, I’m legitimately happy with the overall group.  In fact, I think it’s the deepest unit on the team.

Vinny Curry still confuses me; he’s consistently disruptive but the coaches didn’t seem to even consider elevating him on the depth chart.  He must not be doing something he’s being asked to, but that’s hard to see on the tape.

Bennie Logan, if you recall, was the Eagles draft pick I liked the least.  From all accounts, it seemed like the Eagles chose him almost a full round early.  However, he’s definitely showed signs of being a valuable contributor.   I don’t know if he can hold up as the starting NT over a full season, but if he can, he’ll supplant Sopoaga by the end of the year.

Regarding Sopoaga, I’d like to remind everyone that he is exactly as we expected him to be.  HE WAS NOT GOOD LAST YEAR.  We knew this.  Nobody should be surprised by his underwhelming play.  However, the team was converting to the 3-4 and it was imperative that they added someone with NT experience.  That’s what they got.  I’ve seen some speculation that he’s “saving it” for the regular season, but that seems like wishful thinking to me.  At best, he’s a mediocre NT.  Rather than be disappointed by that, remember that he’s just a place-holder until the team can fill his role permanently (maybe with Logan).

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Starting Linebackers

Again, we’re talking about performance relative to expectations.  Essentially, I expected very little from this group.  Barwin was a “big” addition, but is recent play didn’t seem to match his reputation.  He’s looked good, and should provide at least competent play at the OLB position.  Mychal Kendricks might be the team’s biggest potential “surprise” this year.  We all saw his potential last year; at times, he looked GREAT.  However, he also struggled with poor tackling.  Shifting to the 3-4, he’s now moved to the ILB role.  As of right now, it looks like it suits him pretty well.  Depending on how the D-Line plays, I think Kendricks can be an EXCELLENT pass-rusher/blitzer.  Outside of Cox, Kendricks has the most “upside” of any defensive player on the team, and nothing he did this preseason has changed that analysis.

The Cole/Graham experiment has worked out about as well as everyone thought it would.    Both guys can be passable OLBs.  However, given Graham’s potential as a pass-rusher, I still believe his “future” lies with a 4-3 team.  He’ll be a valuable DE in Nickel situations, but I just don’t see him playing a big role in the team’s OLB plans beyond this year.  Trent Cole, by virtue of his age, doesn’t really have a “long-term”.  He’s in a similar situation to Graham, in that his best use is clearly as a 4-3 DE.  The good news is that attempting to shift both from DE to OLB could have been a DISASTER.  The preseason dispelled some of those concerns.

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Offensive Line

I don’t think this unit is getting enough press for underwhelming play.  To be clear, they’ve been mostly GOOD, and nothing to be concerned about.  HOWEVER, I thought this would be a real strength of the team.  Getting Jason Peters back healthy, adding a top 5 OT in the draft, and moving Herremans back to guard all seemed like very positive moves.  All told, I thought we might be looking at one of the best OLs in the league, depending on how well Lane Johnson played.  I think it’s time to ratchet those expectations back a bit.

Peters didn’t play much in the preseason, so he’s got the most “uncertainty” regarding his expected level of play.  Still, I think everyone might be putting too much weight into his 2011 performance.  He was DOMINANT, especially in the run game.  Is it possible that a ruptured Achilles tendon robbed him of some of his explosiveness?  Absolutely.  I still expect a very good year from him, but it’s dawned on me that expecting him to again be among the best OTs in the game may be too optimistic.  Hopefully I’m wrong, and he’s just gearing up for the regular season, but it’s possible.

The Herremans/Kelce combo is a larger concern.  Everyone seems to remember Kelce as a very good center, but in fact, his rookie season was fairly inconsistent.  He certainly showed the ability to be consistently good, but I think his “rep” surpassed his actual play.  Similarly, Herremans at G was expected to be VERY GOOD, not just solid.

Lane Johnson is too tough to evaluate at this point, but he looks to be playing in-line with expectations.  He’s going to look great at times, and struggle every now and then as he adjusts to the NFL.

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The TEs (really Chip Kelly’s use of them).

This might be premature, since it’s likely that Chip Kelly hasn’t even come close to revealing his main playbook.  However, I have to say I was disappointed by the overall use of the TEs throughout the preseason.  I expected that to be a focal point of the offense, and it wasn’t. I really liked seeing Harbor/Ertz lined up in the slot (and targeted), but it just didn’t happen as often as I thought it would.  Ertz, in particular, seemed underutilized in the passing game (6 catches total), though it was hard to tell if that was based on coverage or play-design.

On the other hand, Celek looks good, and could finally put up statistics that match his purported “ability”.  With D-Jax on the outside and a heavy rushing attack with Shady/Brown, I doubt many defenses will be able to pay much attention to Celek.

Finally:

Just 7 Days until Game #1…

Preseason Game #3: What you should REALLY be watching for…

The third preseason game is tomorrow night.  It’s standard at this point for Eagles commentators/beat writers/bloggers to put up a “what I’m watching” post, and I’m no different.  I will say, however, that I tend to look at things a bit differently.  For example, at Birds 24/7, Tim McManus is watching:

- Kenny Phillips

- Cole/Graham

- Watkins

- Herremans

- Russell Shepard

Click the link to see his rationale, but none of those strike me as particularly meaningful, though they’re all of some interest.

Defensive Line, especially Logan/Curry

So far, the defensive line is FAR ahead of where I (and most others) expected them to be.  Preseason performance obviously has to be discounted, but there’s no doubt the group looks stronger than I thought they’d be.  Of note here are Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry.  Both players have shown signs of being very good players in this defense.  However, both have also been predominantly matched up against backups.  I want to see what they do when playing against #1s.

Logan, in particular, is an important piece, by virtue of Sopoaga playing in front of him.  Sopoaga isn’t exactly a world-beater at NT, and isn’t likely to produce anything beyond mediocre play.  Every team needs some draft luck in order to contend, and hitting on a 3rd round NT would certainly qualify.  If Logan can contribute, it eliminates a big hole in the defensive roster.

Rumor has it both Logan and Curry will rotate in early tomorrow night.  If we’re talking long-term (and we should be), that’s the biggest thing to watch.  Can either player be a significant contributor?

Nate Allen

It’s looking more likely that Nate Allen will be starting for the Eagles this year, at least in Game 1.  The question here is, can he be average?  With what is expected to be a very good offense, the Eagles don’t need a GREAT defense, just a passable one.  Last year, the team’s Safety play was horrendous.  Missed tackles and bad angles against the run and broken coverage in the pass game.  I’m confident that Patrick Chung (while he’s healthy) will provide solid, if unspectacular, play.  If Nate Allen can do the same, the Eagles will have filled the biggest hole on the team.

Michael Vick

Now that he’s the unquestioned starter, I hope to see a better representation of Chip’s playbook.  We won’t get it all (he’ll save a lot for the regular season), but we should get a much better feel for how the offense will function.  Beyond that, I’m looking for one thing from Vick:  Can he hit throw the bubble screen accurately?  So far, it looks like the WR screen will be a foundation of the offense.  However, it’s not as easy a throw to make as it looks.  To be successful, the ball has to be delivered quickly and with precise accuracy.  If the throw ends up on the WR’s back shoulder, it essentially ruins the play.  With DeSean especially, it can mean the difference between a huge gain and a negative play.

TEs in the Slot

There might not be an area of this offense I’m more excited about.  With the TEs the Eagles have, specifically Clay Harbor and Zach Ertz, this should be a consistent source of positive match-ups.  I want to see a lot of it.  At the highest level, it forces the defense to change its personnel.  Normally, the defense would be in a Nickel alignment, with 3 CBs to cover the offense’s 3 WRs.  However, a CB won’t be able to consistently cover Harbor/Ertz.

There are a few options for the defense, but none of them are that attractive.  It also plays to both Harbor and Ertz’s strengths, namely the Size/Athleticism combination.

Health Insurance

I’m not overly concerned with the bottom of the roster.  It’s obviously important for the players, but for the team’s overall performance, the last few spots on the roster aren’t going to matter much.  However, I want to remind everyone that a few of the Eagles’ offseason additions and presumed starters must still be considered injury risks.  Specifically:

- Patrick Chung.  He’s missed 14 games over the past 3 seasons.  In all likelihood, he won’t play 16 games this year.  Someone has to be able to step in and provide adequate play.  I’m not sure that person is on the roster.

- Bradley Fletcher. He played all 16 games last year and in 2010, so I’m more confident in him than I am in Chung.  Let’s not forget that he’s torn the ACL in his right knee TWICE (as well as the MCL once).  The Eagles aren’t exactly deep at CB.

Therefore, if you want to watch what’s really important during the second half of the game, keep your eyes on the DBs.  It was the team’s biggest weakness last year, and while it should improve based on the current starters, there’s very little depth.  If the wheels are going to come off this year, it’ll likely have something to do with this position group.

Whether its Wolff, Coleman, Phillips (not likely), Whitley, Lindley, etc… doesn’t really matter.  The Eagles just need SOMEBODY that can step in and deliver non-catastrophic play.

 

Quick Thoughts on Vick

Much of what needs to be said about Vick as the starting QB has been.  I just wanted to add a few things to the discussion:

- I thought Foles was the better choice, but that’s because I’m more concerned with the long-term than near-term.   No doubt Vick earned the spot, and I think he’ll perform well.

- However, keep Vick’s skill/ability in perspective.  If he plays like he has over the majority of his career, this could be a shorter stint than many realize.  Kelly won’t put up with poor decisions and inaccuracy when he has a backup QB he has confidence in.

- In that vein, the obvious question is: How long is Vick’s leash?  Kelly said Vick doesn’t need to “look over his shoulder”, but frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible.  The world now knows that Foles has some ability and can play in this offense.  If the Eagles drop 3-4 games in a row (maybe that Denver, NYG, Tampa away game stretch?), will Kelly still be as confident?

Almost by definition, selecting Vick is a choice of “Win Now” over “Develop for the future”. Therefore, if the team is around .500 and Vick falters a bit, how do you not pull him for Foles?  You’ve already stated you’re trying to win this year.

Basically, the pressure is on Vick to play very well.  However, if he plays to his long-term averages, I think we’ll see Foles get a shot.

- The key to Vick playing very well?  For me, it comes down to two things, which I’ll be watching closely for every game.  (Health is a given, but it’s not something Vick really controls)

1) Patience.  Does Vick have the discipline to consistently take 5-6 yard gains?  Put another way, can Vick consistently lead TD drives that don’t involve 20+ yard passes?  I hope so, but I’m skeptical.  His entire career has suggested he looks for the big play first, the smart play second.

2) Short throw accuracy.  Can Vick consistently put the ball exactly where it needs to be, hitting receivers in stride?  Yards after catch figures to be vital in this offense.  “Catchable” is not good enough.  I anticipate seeing a lot of WR screens and slants.  Those will fail if not delivered perfectly.

- What about the rest of the offense?

This is good for DeSean and Shady.  Vick’s deep throw ability is his clearest advantage over Foles.  As a result, DeSean will likely be much better off with Vick at QB.  Any time the defense wants to stack the box (for instance with a multi-TE set), DeSean will have an opportunity for a home-run, which Vick will undoubtedly be happy to throw.

Conversely, the presence of the deep threat (Vick-DeSean combo) will stop defenses from consistently bring safeties down to the LOS.  That should give Shady the space he needs to get past the first level, at which point he’s more dangerous than any back in the league. The one area this might hurt Shady is in the passing game.  I think Foles would be better at throwing to Shady out of the backfield.  Naturally, that’s a secondary option, so the tradeoff is still overwhelmingly positive for Shady.

This is bad for the O-Line, the TEs, and Damaris (if he gets playing time).  Perhaps Vick’s worst attribute is his inability to intelligently navigate the pocket.  He’s too quick to roll out, which is extremely harmful to the OLs ability to block.  The short drops should help, but that assumes Vick will actually deliver the ball on-time.  His history suggests he’ll be prone to holding the ball after the 3-step drop, looking for a downfield option.  Vick creates a lot of sacks, and is unquestionably harder to pass-protect than Foles.

The TEs and Damaris figure to be hurt as well.  This goes back to the “ball-in-stride” point. I have no idea how much playing time Damaris will get, but I hope it’s a lot.  His game, though, requires pinpoint accuracy from the QB.  If he has to hesitate or break momentum to catch the pass, it negates his best attribute (his quickness).   It’s a similar story for the TEs, though probably not as big of a difference from Vick to Foles.

One could argue that Vick’s deep throw ability and his ability to draw a defensive spy will give the TEs more space to work with than they’d have with Foles.  That’s positive.  On the other hand, the TEs are worse than WRs at both catching the ball and adjusting their speed/routes.  Vick’s combination of inaccuracy and power (he throws the ball very fast) will likely lead to more difficult catches for the TEs than they’d have with Foles at QB.

- Lastly, if you were a backup QB and could hand-pick any NFL starter to sit behind, Vick would be high on the list.  “Staying healthy” for Vick means playing 14-15 games.  In all likelihood, Foles will get a chance to start a game or two this season, at which point we’ll really be able to tell how different the offense is with each QB (we haven’t seen anything close to the whole playbook yet).

 

Preseason Focus

I was hoping to do a full All-22 Rewind (like I did for each game last season) for the 1st preseason game.  I’ve got some new ideas regarding format that I wanted to try and I was anxious to see a few of the younger players on tape.  However, apparently the NFL Game Rewind subscription does NOT include All-22 film for preseason games.  As you can imagine, that throws a fairly large wrench into my preseason plans.  As a result, until the regular season, I won’t be able to post play or player diagrams.  If any of you know an alternate source of All-22 film, please let me know.

In light of that, here is a quick review of the first preseason game.  First, though, I want to remind everyone of the overall goals for this season.

Goals for 2013

- Install the offense and prove that it can work.

- Install the new defensive scheme.

- Fix the special teams, ideally bringing the unit at least close to league average.

- Identify a few young players that can fill long-term starting roles.

That’s really it.  Obviously the goal is also to win, but considering how bad the team was last season and the fact that there is a new coach and entirely new system to install, this season’s main purpose is as a stepping stone to future success.  This is the filter through which I’m viewing the preseason.  I encourage everyone else to do the same.

So…Preseason game 1, through the lens that I just described:

Install the offense and prove that it can work.

The Eagles were successful with both Vick and Foles at the helm on Friday.  Not only that, but we also saw perhaps the perfect distillation of the QB battle overall.  Vick led a very quick TD drive, built around 2 great throws, one to Avant and the other the bomb to DeSean.  That’s the explosiveness and deep-throw ability that has tantalized coaches since Vick entered the league.  We saw a bit of the option game, but not enough to get a great feel for how it will be run.

Foles, on the other hand, also looked great, though in a much different way.  The first drive turnover was obviously a low-light.  Remember that Foles knows he’s in an intense QB battle, and likely sees himself as slightly behind.  Therefore, throughout the preseason, I expect to see Foles “force” things more often than we saw last season.  The first turnover was a prime example.  The protection broke down (most of the blame lies here), at which point Foles has to either hit a check-down/someone’s feet or pull the ball down and take a sack.  He did neither, and fumbled.

The next drive though, was as perfect a view of the “Foles Offense” as the first scoring drive was of the “Vick Offense”.  More methodical, more first downs.  Reliant on short-to-intermediate throws.  Foles was very accurate on this drive, especially his throw to Avant on the 3rd down out.  I’m not sure Vick makes that play.  The ball was delivered in-stride, allowing Avant to turn upfield and get the first down.  I think this will be a VERY important aspect of Chip Kelly’s offense, and Vick does not do this particularly well.

Overall, it was a positive night for the offense.  We did not see anything close to the full “system”, but both QBs looked comfortable, and the O-Line looked decent, especially considering Jason Peters (the best OL) did not play.  Add a healthy LeSean into the mix, and this “goal” looks very achievable.

- Install the new defensive scheme

This side of the ball didn’t go so well.  However, I think many are overreacting.  Having your first test in a completely new defense against Tom Brady is not exactly an ideal measure of progress.  There are a lot of players (in the front 7) changing positions, meaning this will likely take longer to install than the offense.

Also, we can’t overlook the fact that NOT EVERY PLAYER IS GOING TO WORK OUT.  Shifting from the 4-3 to the 3-4, we can expect that at least a few players will not make the change successfully.  This year, hopefully this preseason, is about identifying which players can’t make the switch so that they can be replaced.

So, don’t be disappointed if the defense looks like crap for a few weeks (and possibly for this season).  In fact, expecting anything better than league average this year is way too optimistic.  This is the defensive progression:

Terrible —> Bad —> Mediocre —> Solid, if unspectacular —> Good —-> Great

After last season, we’re just looking for at least “Bad”.

- Fix the Special Teams

Looking good on this account.  Still some weakness obviously, but very encouraging.  The punt coverage/return looked at least competent, which is a HUGE improvement over last year.

Remember that the Eagles had, by far, the WORST net starting field position in the league last year.  That was partially due to turnovers, but was also largely the side effect of terrible special teams.  Fixing this unit will, by itself, help both the offense and defense A LOT.

On the offensive side of the ball, in 2012 the Eagles were actually about average in terms of yards/drive.  The problem was that the team started farther back than everyone else.

It won’t be as popular, and I don’t expect to see beat writers focusing on it, but bring the STs up to average would be a major accomplishment for this year.

- Identify a few young players that can fill long-term starting roles.

Lastly, we have what may actually be the most important long-term goal.  Basically, the Eagles have a lot of holes/question marks right now.  Some of these are being filled by older players who will not be here much longer (Trent Cole?).  The team needs to start filling positions with players who can hold their spots for at least 4-5 years.  Once those “core pieces” are identified, it becomes much easier to improve the roster, simply because there is something to build from.

So, the guys who are MOST IMPORTANT to the Eagles long-term future are:

Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Mychal Kendricks, Bennie Logan, Jason Kelce, Brandon Boykin, Vinny Curry, etc…

Lane Johnson and Fletcher Cox stand out as perhaps the biggest “pieces”.  The Eagles really need both of these guys to be stars.  I’ve been very surprised at the lack of attention Johnson has drawn.  Considering he was the 4th OVERALL pick, you’d think Eagles fans would be all over him.  As I have shown before, it’s near impossible to become a title contender in the NFL if you don’t hit on your 1st round picks, ESPECIALLY if those picks are in the top 5.

Without the All-22, it’s tough to do a fair evaluation, but:

Lane Johnson looked promising.  Given what we heard pre-draft, I was mainly looking for how “comfortable” he is.  He did not look lost, which is a big plus.

Zach Ertz was mixed, but we should have expected that.  Good receiver, suspect blocker. If I were Chip, I’d think about essentially making Ertz a WR this year.  Teach him how to block during practice and put him on the line occasionally during non-competitive games.  In the meantime, use him out wide to supplement the depleted WR corps.  Putting Ertz in the slot and asking a CB to cover him on a slant seems like a tall order for the defense.  I’d force that matchup all game long and see how the defense reacts.

Cox did not have a good game.  We’ll have to keep an eye on him to see if it was an aberration or if the scheme change will affect him more than any of us thought.

Kendricks was also mixed, which is more troubling.  We got a full season of up-and-down play from him last year.  The hope for this season is for him to find some consistency.  The scheme change might slow that progression down, but the leash just can’t be as long this year as it was during his rookie campaign.

Boykin was tough for me to see, so I’ll defer to other evaluators here.  Sounds like he was solid, though he spent most of his time in the slot.  I’d love to see him get a change outside, even if it’s just temporary to see if he can hang.

Curry and Kelce both looked good from my vantage point.  Curry, in particular, stood out.  Not sure what he did in the offseason, but he looks about 50% larger this year.  Of all the players making the D transition, it looks like Curry made the biggest actual physical adjustment.  Wasn’t expecting much from him, so this might be a nice surprise for the long-term roster.  Just one game though, so we’ll have to see if he can keep it up.

I don’t expect all of the players I listed above (and any similar profile guys I left off) to become long-term starters, but for the Eagles to return to prominence, at least a few of those guys have to pan out.  If you’re wondering what to watch for during the rest of the preseason action (and throughout the regular season), this is it.  Can any of these guys turn into valuable starters or even star players?  If not, it’s not going to matter what kind of system Chip Kelly runs or who the QB is.

Jeremy Maclin Reaction – “Meh”

I got side-tracked by the McNabb debate, and therefore have not yet commented on the relatively large injury hit the Eagles took when Maclin went down with a torn ACL.

My reaction?

As far as potential injuries go, this one isn’t that big of a deal (to the team, it’s obviously devastating to Maclin).  Allow me to make a two quick points, then add some detail:

- Maclin is a good receiver, not a great one.

- The Eagles, in particular, are well-positioned to handle a serious injury to the WR corps (as long as it isn’t to D-Jax).

Maclin is a good receiver, not a great one.

This one probably doesn’t need much explanation, I think just about everyone is in agreement here.  However, let’s take a look at Maclin’s contribution, in context with the rest of the league.

For his career (4 seasons), Maclin’s average per season numbers are:

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Take a close look.  He’s only played all 16 games once and has actually averaged closer to 14 games per season.  He averages just over 4 catches a game.  He averages just UNDER 60 yards per game.  4 catches, 60 yards.  Not a stat line that jumps off the page, is it?

His season averages (remarkably consistent from his rookie year) obviously look the same.  65 catches a year for 860 yards are good numbers, but how good?

Well, last season:

- There were 33 receivers who caught more than 64.5 passes.  Maclin, with 69, was among them (though 27 receivers caught more).

- 30 receivers registered more than 860 yards.  Maclin ranked 31st, with 857 (told you he was consistent).

As I said, Maclin is a decent receiver, but he’s far from irreplaceable.  Compared with the rest of the league, he’s nearly the definition (statistically) of an average starting WR (assuming 2 starters per team).

The Eagles, in particular, are well positioned to handle a serious injury to the WR corps.

The biggest point here is that the Eagles, prior to the injury, were likely to be running a lot of 2 WR sets anyway (presumably the result of multi-TE sets).  That means the team does not need to be quite as deep as has been necessary in the past.  Desean Jackson is a key player, because the team needs his speed to help stretch defenses and open up the underneath game (or hit home runs if defenses commit low).

Outside of that, the Eagles WR needs mainly consist of guys who can produce at a league average level.  They don’t need game breakers, just a couple of players who can catch the ball and take advantage of limited defensive attention.  Between Avant, Cooper, maybe Damaris, and the rest of the potentials, I think the team’s covered.

Remember, the Eagles aren’t trying to replace a top-flight guy here.  In fact, it’s not all that difficult to replace a large portion of Maclin’s production.  Let’s say 80%.  That means, based on Maclin’s career averages, 51.6 catches and 690 yards.

Last season, 57 receivers had more than 690 yards receiving.  73 WRs had more than 600 yards receiving.  Not exactly an exclusive club.

Also, 67 players caught more than 51 passes last year.  Again, not that exclusive, not hard to replicate.

In other words, Brandon Gibson-level production from last year gets you 80% of Maclin.

Basically, if this season goes poorly, it will NOT be because the team was missing Maclin.  Comparing to last year, this injury loss isn’t even on the same planet as losing Jason Peters last season.

It sucks for Maclin and gives beat writers a storyline to run with, but isn’t actually that big of a hit for the team.  Want to know how the Eagles will replace Maclin?

- Change the offense to emphasize the RB and TE spots (already being done prior to injury)

- Find a league average WR to take the #2 spot on the field.  Wait, do we still have Jason Avant?  Yes?  Then we’re done.

The Jason Phillips injury, on the other hand….

More McNabb (lets talk about Eras)

Didn’t really mean for this to become a multi-day subject (naive), but given what I’ve seen in the comments and on Twitter, it’s clear my job isn’t finished yet.  To refresh, I posted yesterday about McNabb’s career and why he deserves a lot more credit than he gets.  I made a few player comparisons with other great QBs to show McNabb is not out-of-place in that company.

In response to this, several people mentioned that the players I cited (Jim Kelly for example) played in a different era, and therefore it is not fair to compare things like QB Rating.  McNabb’s habit of throwing the ball into the ground was also mentioned.  I’ll address both of those “weaknesses” now.

QB Rating and other stats across Eras

Before I even try to account for this, let me say I remain unconvinced by this argument.  The formula for QB Rating has not changed.  It’s an apples-to-apples comparison.  This argument is most compelling when we talk about advanced statistics.  In baseball, for example, you could argue that previous eras should not be judged with stats like on-base percentage or WAR, because the players in those days did not know what those stats were.  If they did, it’s logical to believe they would have adjusted their individual games to improve.

However, this argument doesn’t hold for many NFL stats.  The importance of throwing many more TDs than INTs is not a new concept.  Similarly, I wasn’t there but I’m pretty sure everyone knew that completing a high percentage of your passes was a good thing.

Regardless, that’s the argument I’m facing (QB Rating inflation, offensive inflation, etc…), so let’s take a shot at it.

First, let’s adjust for league-average play.  I’m going to lean heavily on Pro-Football-Reference.com today.  If you don’t visit that site, you’re missing out.  In fact, if I had just one website to choose for NFL access, it’d be that one.  Anyway, among the valuable stats on there is Rate+.  Basically, this compares each QB’s rating each year to league average.  100 is average, with higher numbers equalling better performance.  So this accounts for changes in the league.  Here are the season breakdowns for 3 different players.  See if you can guess who they are.

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 8.26.07 AMScreen Shot 2013-07-30 at 8.22.48 AM Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 8.25.18 AM

Any ideas?  Obviously one of them is McNabb, but which one?

The point isn’t that any one of these careers is better than the others; the point is that it’s very difficult to discern which is best.  What do you value?  Is it the # of above average seasons?  Is it the highest “peak”?

The three players, in order from left to right, are Jim Kelly, Donovan McNabb, and Troy Aikman.

Notes:

- Kelly had 10 seasons of 100 or better (average or better).  Aikman had 9.  McNabb had 9 (and a 99 and 98).  Keep in mind that the key here is longevity.  Obviously, HOF QBs need to be well above average.  However, being above average for a decade is very difficult to do.

- How about “good” seasons?  Let’s look at seasons in which each player recorded a Rate+ measure of 110 or greater.  Kelly has 5, McNabb has 5, Aikman has 5.

Again, the point is not that McNabb is BETTER than either of these players (though he was, definitely better than Aikman), it’s that they clearly belong in the same category.  The reason I typically don’t use Aikman for comparison is because his SB rings distort the argument (everyone values titles differently).

Also, remember that this is just PASSER RATING.  It does not take into account the 29 TDs that McNabb ran for (or the 3400+ yards).  That’s a huge part of McNabb’s resume that people are overlooking in the QB comparisons.

So that’s QB Rating, adjusted for league changes and different “eras”.  What else can we look at?

Remember Approximate Value?  That’s the PFR statistic that attempts to create an apples-to-apples comparison for every player, regardless of position.  I used it for the draft skill vs. luck series.  It’s far from perfect, but since we’re comparing players of the same position, I’m very comfortable using it.

So here’s our next mystery game.  Guess who?

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Rather than just reveal the names, I’ve put them in a chart (below) so you can see the career progression of each QB.

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I realize that Bradshaw and Aikman both get bonus points for SB wins, but if that’s the point of differentiation, then Kelly is still unexplained and you’re saying McNabb was 4 points away from being a HOFer, a ridiculously fine line to draw.  Overall, using Approximate Value, it’s clear that McNabb, once again, belongs among this group.

The “Worm-Burner” Weakness

The next aspect of the anti-McNabb case I want to address is the point people use to discredit the strongest part of McNabb’s resume.  Donovan McNabb has one of the most impressive TD/INT ratios of all-time (2.0).  He also has one of the lowest interception rates ever (2.2%, 4th overall behind Rodgers, Brady, and Neil O’Donnell).

The man did not throw interceptions.  That’s a very good thing.

However, in response to this, people frequently mention that McNabb played too conservatively.  Many times, he threw the ball into the ground, giving nobody a chance to catch it.  The common refrain is that he didn’t “give his guys a chance”.

Is this a fair critique?

Well let me put this a different way.

Imagine you are McNabb.  Your best receivers each year are: Chad Lewis, James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis.  No joke, those were the Eagles leading recievers from 2000-2008, with TO excluded.

Now tell me, with those WRs, how comfortable would you be throwing 50/50 balls?  Do you think it’s an admirable decision to let James Thrash fight it out with a DB for the pass? Reggie Brown?

Donovan McNabb had just one full season with an elite WR, 2004.  That year, he completed 64% of his passes, threw for 31 TDs with just 8 interceptions.  He also led his team to the Super Bowl, losing by 3 points to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Given just one chance, McNabb took full advantage of having an elite WR, putting up historically great numbers and getting to the Super Bowl.  Also note, he played with the same roster in the playoffs as in the regular season.

Compare that to Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills, with Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed.  Or to Troy Aikman’s Cowboys, with Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin (among others).

McNabb put up similar numbers (better if you include the running stats) with a FAR inferior cast around him.  That has to count for something.  His reticence to “force the throw” is completely understandable, and in fact was likely the optimal play the vast majority of the time.  Not sure I can make it any clearer: based upon the standard set by the current HOF QBs, McNabb definitely belongs.  At least the Eagles franchise has recognized that and will retire his number.  Forget all the bullshit (you’d be bitter too) and focus on the numbers, it’s not nearly as “borderline” as people make it.

What else you got?

Donovan McNabb; a Defense of an Unappreciated HOFer and the Greatest Eagles QB Ever

Lot’s to talk about, but I’m going to limit today’s post to Donovan McNabb.  Given his “retirement” and the fact that others are running McNabb columns today, I figured the time was right to finally put my thoughts about McNabb into post form.  As I’ve alluded to before, I believe McNabb is the greatest Eagles QB ever AND a Hall of Fame caliber player. 

As usual, I will not be rehashing all the draft-day stuff or the TO event, you can go elsewhere for that.  Here, I’ll just give you what I believe is often missing from McNabb discussions: CONTEXT.  I have much more to say about all the external crap, but I’m already at 1500+ words, so that’ll have to wait.

The Stats

Given all the noise and drama surrounding McNabb’s career with the Eagles, it’s almost understandable that many commentators/fans don’t fully appreciate how good #5 was.  Here are some major statistics, followed by the comparable numbers for other QBs.  Again, just trying to provide objective context.

- Career Record (regular season): 92-49-1, .647 win percentage

P. Manning with the Colts – .688 win percentage

B. Favre with the Packers – .632 win percentage

J. Elway with the Broncos – .641 win percentage

- Passer Rating with the Eagles: 86.5

D. Marino – 86.4

B. Favre with GB – 85.8

J. Kelly – 84.4

T. Aikman – 81.6

- 9 Playoff Wins

P. Manning – 9

J. Kelly – 9

D. Marino – 8

- 2.16 TD/Int Ratio with the Eagles

P. Manning – 2.08

D. Brees – 1.96

J. Montana – 1.71

D. Marino – 1.66

Donovan McNabb’s career with the Eagles was among the best QB/Team runs of ALL-TIME.  Look at the names above and how McNabb with the Eagles compares.  My guess is that, if asked, most fans wouldn’t place #5’s run in this company.  However, it EASILY belongs, and in some cases exceeds the statistical greatness of some legendary players.

So what’s the problem?

I’m guessing most people don’t consider McNabb a HOFer because of the ridiculous concept of his “big-game” performance.  McNabb did not win a Super Bowl.  NFL writers typically cling to this criteria when measuring greatness, despite its obvious outrageousness.  First off, this is not basketball, one man can not win a ring single-handedly.  This should be obvious, but the importance of winning titles is so ingrained in hack-writing that it’s frequently glossed over.

Ascribing such importance to titles is how you get fans seriously arguing that Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman are among the best QBs ever.  It’s a complete joke, yet it will probably lead to a HOF that includes Eli Manning while excluding McNabb (also a complete joke).

However, regardless of how stupid I think it is, playoff performance is an important criteria for evaluating a QBs career.  Let’s look at McNabb’s.

“Big-Game” performance

As I showed above, McNabb has more playoff wins than Dan Marino and just as many as Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly.  Despite that, people cite McNabb’s “clutch” performance as among his biggest weaknesses, pointing to him throwing up in the Super Bowl and his empty ring finger as evidence of his shortcomings.  Once again, though, we need to put his performance in the correct context.

Donovan McNabb lost 7 postseason games.  Lets look at a few of them:

2001 – Eagles (11-5) lose to the Giants (12-4) by a score of 20-10.

This was McNabb’s first playoff lost, in his second playoff game.  The Eagles had defeated  the Bucs the week before.  In this game, McNabb passed for just 181 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  Not very good numbers (though not terrible either).  How about that context?

- The Eagles rushed just 14 times for just 46 yards.  BTW, McNabb had 17 of those rushing yards.

- The Eagles offensive leaders (other than McNabb) were Charles Johnson, Brian Mitchell, and Torrance Small.

- The Giants went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to the Baltimore Ravens (the historically great defense).

2002 – Eagles (11-5) lost to the Rams (14-2) by a score of 29-24

Donovan McNabb passed for 171 yards, with 1 TD and 1 Int.  He also ran for 26 yards and a TD.  Not great numbers, but again, we need context:

- The Eagles had a lead at halftime.

- Kurt Warner passed for just 212 yards and 1 TD that day, meaning McNabb and Warner had extremely similar statistical games (McNabb had 1 more TD and 1 more Int).

- St. Louis fumbled the ball twice, but recovered both of them.  The Eagles fumbled once, but lost it. (LUCK!!!)

- Putting up 24 points in a playoff game is a pretty good performance.

- The Rams were historically good on offense that year, scoring more than 500 points.  Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Hakim, etc…(as compared to McNabb, Staley, Buckhalter, Lewis,…)

- The Rams had the best point differential in the league that year and went to the Super Bowl, losing by 3 points to the Patriots, in what would mark Tom Brady’s arrival.

2003 – The Eagles (12-4) lose to the Bucs (12-4) by a score of 27-10

This is a VERY important game in the McNabb/Eagles canon.  The team, playing at home,  only put up 10 points.  Clearly a very disappointing game, and the finger was pointed directly at the offense, and obviously, at McNabb.  However, this game, more so than any other, is misunderstood.  McNabb went 26-49 for 243 yards, no TDs, and 1 interception.  He also fumbled twice.  A bad game, no way around it.  HOWEVER, the context:

- The 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs allowed just 196 points and are among the greatest defenses in recent NFL history.  The Bucs were 44% better than league average on defense that year, second only to the previously mentioned Ravens defense for the BEST in the last 12 years (likely longer than that as well).

- The Bucs defense had 5 Pro Bowlers that year and 3 1st-team All-Pros.  The roster included Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, as well as Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly (who had 8 INTs and 21 passes defensed that year).

- Against this defense, McNabb’s “weapons” consisted of Duce Staley, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, and Antonio Freeman.  For the 2002 season, those were the Eagles leading offensive players.  Brian Westbrook was on the team, but did not yet feature in the offense.

Suddenly McNabb’s 243 yards and no TDs doesn’t look so bad.  The Eagles only chance in this game was for the DEFENSE (+31% that year) to shut down the Bucs offense as completely as the Bucs did to the Eagles.

This did not happen.

The Bucs did score on the 92 yard Int return by Ronde Barber, but neither of McNabb’s fumbles turned into Tampa Bay points.

Blaming McNabb for this loss is ridiculous.

2004 – The Eagles (12-4) lose to the Panthers (11-5) by a score of 14-3. 

This is the bad one.  This loss is the ONLY time during the “Peak” that the Eagles lost to a clearly inferior team.  McNabb passed for just 100 yards and had 3 interceptions and no TDs (obviously).

No real contextual mitigation here.  McNabb played terribly.  His supporting cast sucked (as usual), but that excuse doesn’t go anywhere near as far as would be needed to absolve #5 of his performance. UPDATE: I forgot that McNabb was injured during the 2nd quarter of this game and missed a play.  He remained in the game until midway through the 4th quarter.  Note that all 3 of his interceptions occurred after the injury.  

If you want to denigrate McNabb’s career, this is THE game to point to.  As I’ve shown above, the other losses aren’t nearly as bad as people remember them being.  This one, depending on how much leeway he gets for being injured, may be worse.

2005 – The Super Bowl.  The Eagles (13-3) lose to the Patriots (14-2) by a score of 24-21.

This, along with the previous 2 losses above, form the bulk of the anti-McNabb “evidence”.  McNabb threw up at the end of the game, and didn’t more the offense as quickly as the situation demanded.  That’s true.  However,

- McNabb threw for 357 yards.  He had 3 interceptions, but he also threw for 3 TDs.

- The Eagles rushed for just 45 yards, meaning McNabb was the entire offense.

- The Patriots had a point differential that year of +177, the 11th best measure over the past 10 seasons (out of 320 teams).

- The Patriots allowed just 16.2 points per game that season, the Eagles scored 21 against them.

- In the playoffs that year, Peyton Manning and the Colts put up just 3 points against the Patriots.

- The Patriots may have cheated (Spygate!!!).

Conclusion

After looking at McNabb’s statistics, with the context I provided, it should be clear to any objective observer that #5’s career was remarkable and deserves to be celebrated to a much greater extent that it is.  The “big-game” performances that McNabb takes hits for were not as clear-cut as they seem.  As far as I can tell, there is just one game where McNabb clearly performed far below expectations (Carolina).  Just as evaluating an entire career based on Super Bowl wins is ridiculous, so is ascribing any more meaning to one playoff game versus all the rest.  Remember, I only covered the losses (most of them).  The only ones I excluded were the loss to the Cardinals (the Eagles scored 25 points and lost, again, to the NFC Super Bowl rep) and the 2010 loss to the Cowboys (which was an awful defensive performance and included some Mike Vick).

The man had a Hall Of Fame career, regardless of whether the hack-writers recognize it.   If you had the type of career #5 had and received the same amount of shit for it, you’d be bitter too.  I wish McNabb’s personality was more affable, but everything he’s upset about is 100% justifiable.  He doesn’t get the credit he deserves; not everyone (very few in fact) can be magnanimous enough to ignore that.

Look at the stats, watch the highlights; you’ll see an All-Time Great.  It’s time for everyone to agree on that.

Lastly:

 I’ve used this before, but here is Hall of Famer Jim Kelly compared to Donovan McNabb:

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Tell me how Kelly is a HOFer and McNabb isn’t?

Salary Cap and Roster Cuts

UPDATE:  I mentioned that GCobb had made a ridiculous assertion about Evan Mathis.  Turns out it was actually Denny Basens, who writes at GCobb.com, so adjust my previous point accordingly.

Focus has shifted to the roster and the salary cap, with everyone putting out a stay/go list and predicting who is going to stay.  Here is my take on it.  Sorry in advance for the lack of data.

First, everyone needs to understand that this is NOT a team that is one offseason away from seriously contending for a Super Bowl.  If everything goes right, the Eagles could certainly make the playoffs, but right now that’s the high-end of where the team can expect to be.

Understanding that, the team needs to be very careful with its salary cap space.  Right now, it’s more important to find the right pieces at GOOD VALUES then it is to pay up in free agency looking for impact players to help immediately turn the team around.

Free agency is essentially an auction, with all 32 teams valuing each player (obviously not all teams go after every player).  However, by definition, signing a FA means you are overpaying, in that you are valuing the player more highly than the rest of the market (winner’s curse).  It’s a dangerous game to play, as Eagles fans will know from recent “dream team” experience.  I believe the Eagles’ focus will (should) be on finding depth in free agency, with specific attention paid to “character” guys who will help Chip Kelly install his own atmosphere (Dennis Dixon seems like a prime example if he signs).

So don’t be disappointed if there are no huge player signings.  Conversely, if there is a big signing, remember it doesn’t always work out the way it seems (Nnamdi anyone?).  I’ll be much more excited with 4 or 5 low-profile “solid” signings than with 1 “big-time” addition.

In the meantime, who stays/goes?

I’ve had a lot of fun reading some articles that suggest nearly the entire defense will be released.  While few of them deserve to start, the fact is you still need to field a team, making it very difficult to cut EVERYONE.

Here is GCobb‘s.  Which is notable because he makes a ridiculous claim that Evan Mathis should go.  He believes that any player that doesn’t “dominate” should be replaced.  Ignoring the fact that Mathis was among the best guards in football this year (for those that actually watch the game), it’s outrageous to believe that any team subject to a salary cap could actually “dominate” at every position, especially at a relatively low-impact one like OG.  Needless to say, I won’t be taking anything GCobb Denny Basens at GCobb.com says seriously ever again, and I encourage all readers to do the same.

Before I go player-by-player, let me say something important when it comes to player evaluation.  As I just mentioned, you can’t expect EVERY player to be great.  The fact is, on a lot of good teams there are bad starters.  However, the overall talent allows the coaches to hide the weaknesses of these players.  The Eagles were so bad this season that there was no cover for anybody.  For example, on a good team, you might be able to sneak Akeem Jordan in there as a starter and compensate with a great MLB and strong D-Line.  So some of the players everyone is sick of may in fact be able to make contributions as role players once the rest of the roster gets upgraded.

Finally, here is my opinion on a selection of potential roster changes:

- Bell (already gone, but he was obvious)

- Nnamdi, an easy cut.  Rather than dissect what went wrong, I’d rather all Eagles writers/fans just agree never to speak of this signing again.

- Vick, yet another easy one.  For those still thinking he might be on the team, please remember that HE IS NOT A GOOD QUARTERBACK and now he’s old with an extensive history of injuries.  Not happening.

- Jenkins.  Ideally Jenkins would be plugged in as a 3-4 end in the new system, and I’d be happy if that happened, but all current accounts say he has an attitude problem and will complicate the coaching transition.  Normally I discount such things, but with a new coaching regime, it’s perhaps the only chance to complete a wholesale atmospheric change of the team.  If Jenkins isn’t a good soldier, he’s gone without a second thought.

- Peters stays, provided his rehab is on schedule.  This is becoming a popular suggestion for a potential cut, since his cap hit is around $11 million.  However, with the above cuts, the Eagles will have plenty of cap space.  Also, a healthy Peters (even if he comes back at 80% of what he was) is a BIG help to the offense.  While he clearly isn’t a long-term solution, it gives the Eagles an OT bridge until they can get a younger starter in there.  For example, keeping Peters would allow the team to draft Lotulelei and worry about OT either later in the draft (where I’ve shown they can find a starter) or next year.

- Demeco stays.  He is overpaid ($6.7 mil hit I think), but he is definitely a “character” guy and another veteran the Eagles can count on for one more year while they fill other roster holes.

- Trent Cole.  This is definitely the highest potential for “surprise cut”.  His contract makes that difficult, but judged purely on his play, Cole’s not going to win many fans among the new coaches.  Can he transition to a rush-linebacker?  Maybe, but I think Graham is better suited to that role.  Cole might end up staying, but probably gets shifted to a situational player rather than an every-down lineman (a near-lock if the team goes 100% to the 3-4).

- Invisible Man, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews.  Pick two of them to get rid of, doesn’t really matter which ones, though Jordan occasionally contributed on special teams in the past.  Only reason you keep one is so you don’t have so many holes to fill.  Matthews may get the nod because of his Oregon ties.

- DRC.  Anyone suggesting DRC should go is out of their mind.  He is inconsistent and will command a big salary, but the Eagles need to keep him (franchise tag if necessary).  It’s hard enough to replace one starting corner (and both safeties), but replacing the entire defensive backfield is a recipe for disaster.  Also, DRC is one of only a few guys in the league that can actually check some of the big superstar receivers in the league.  If I’m going against a Megatron or Brandon Marshall-type, I want DRC on my team.

- Colt Anderson.  This is a surprisingly tough decision, but I say he stays on one condition: He never steps foot on the field as a defensive player.  As a special-teamer and a locker-room guy, I love Colt.  However, he’s shown he clearly doesn’t have the ability to play on defense.  Some teams keep a roster spot for a “special teams ace”.  If Kelly decides to, then Colt stays.  Otherwise, goodbye Colt.

- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman.  Love to see both of them go, but this will be a case of what’s available.  Most likely scenario is the Eagles sign a safety and draft one, then let everyone battle it out and pick the least-terrible option.  It’s just not easy to go out and find a starting-quality safety now that the NFL is so pass-happy.  I will say that I’d be OK with Allen as a back-up for a year, while I think Kurt Coleman’s weaknesses have been so clearly exposed that he shouldn’t be on the field.

One final point – I cannot overemphasize how important the #4 pick in the draft is, and not just because it needs to be an All-Pro.  Shifting to the 3-4 seems like a foregone conclusion, but the Eagles do NOT have anyone on the roster that can play NT.  That means if the team does not draft Lotulelei, it needs to either sign a FA (only real fit is Kemoeatu of the Ravens, and he’s 34 years old) or hope one of the other NT prospects falls to the 2nd round, which is unlikely.  If the team cannot find a NT, I have no idea what it will do, but odds are it won’t be pretty.

Team Construction: Eagles vs Ravens/Falcons

Now that we know the Super Bowl participants, I thought it might be instructive to examine how each team was constructed and compare it to the Eagles current roster.

I used the depth charts from ESPN for each team, though with the Eagles I put the injured OL and DeSean back in.  Before we pick it apart, here is each starting line-up, with the source of each player listed.  As we’ve discussed, elite players come almost exclusively from the 1st and 2nd round, so I’ve bolded each player that was acquired with either a 1st or 2nd round pick (either through the draft or via trade).

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- We can immediately see the importance of hitting on your 1st round draft picks.  The Falcons have 7 starters who were acquired with 1st round picks.  The Ravens have 5.  The Eagles have just 3 4 (Peters should be listed as “Trade (1)”.  Needless to say, this year’s top pick is hugely important .

- The next BIG difference is the number of starters drafted in the 4th round or lower.  The Falcons have just 3 such players, the Ravens just 4 (including undrafted FAs).  The Eagles have 8!  As we’ve seen, late round picks provide depth players, not stars.  On average, these guys should not be starting.  Looking at the Ravens and Falcons starters, they are either high draft picks or free agents.  (Yes, some of the FAs were originally drafted with late round picks, but the idea is the teams only picked these players up after it was clear they were good.)

- This brings me to a big lesson for every fan.  Over the past few years, coming out of training camp, Eagles fans have gotten excited because a late-round pick has made the starting line-up (Matthews, Chaney, Coleman, Harris….)  Let’s stop that nonsense.  From now on I want everyone to try to remember:  If a rookie chosen with a late-round pick is starting out of camp, it’s much more likely that it is a glaring weakness than a “draft steal”.  

- The most unfortunate part of this examination is that it appears as though the Eagles will need at least 2-3 years to put a Super Bowl roster together, and that’s assuming they hit on almost every 1st and 2nd round pick.  Roseman really needs to be as good at talent evaluation as Lurie believes he is, because the Eagles can’t afford to waste any more top picks.