Defensive Adjustments: The Limits of Creativity

Three games into the season, we have a pretty good idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 2013 Eagles.  At least I do; it seems many others are confused.  Let me be clear:  If you are at all concerned/worried/disappointed with the Offense, you’re not watching the same games I am.  As I explained last week, the Eagles, in their last game, gave us a pretty clear example of what the offense’s “scoring floor” is.  I won’t address it any further today, but let’s just say that 16 points is a pretty good “reasonable worst-case scenario”.  Considering the turnovers and the skill of the opposing defense (Chiefs), I’m confident that’s what we saw, or at least close to it.

I’m definitely confused as the usage patterns of the offensive personnel (extremely starter-heavy), but there’s no reason to really question it at this point.  The offense is working very well, it just needs to avoid the unforced turnovers (think Kelce snap).

The defense, however, is another story.  It’s bad, it’s worse than I expected, and there’s no way to couch that statement.  Football Outsiders has the Eagles as the 29th ranked defense after three weeks, above only San Diego, Green Bay, and Washington.  Most worrisome, as you probably know, is the pass defense (also ranked 29th).  The run defense, by comparison, is well within the “mediocre” range we were hoping for (ranked 18th by FO).

So now we know the facts.  The real question is, can the Eagles actually do anything about it at this stage? 

I think they can, though how much it’ll help is up for debate.  I mentioned after the San Diego game that the Eagles were in a true “try anything” situation, meaning that the default assumption on every SD possession had to be a score, and likely a TD.  Therefore, the downside to taking additional risk (by doing things like big-blitzing) was limited.

I probably should have been more careful about the “try anything” description, because it looks like Bill Davis took it too literally.  If you haven’t already seen it, definitely read Derek Sarley’s breakdown from the KC game on Philly.com, found here.  It’s really informative and will help you make sense of the Eagles defensive issues.  I’m going to steal a couple of screenshots from him to illustrate what I’m talking about, namely: the limits of “creativity”.

Look at this picture:

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 9.46.25 AM

 

Derek has boxed the most important part.  That’s Brandon Graham lined up over the CB.  There are a couple of potential results to this play, and I can’t think of one that I like:

- Graham blitzes.  This one makes little sense to me.  Graham should definitely be used as a pass-rusher, but having him attack from a pre-snap position so far from the QB is outrageous to me.  At that point, you might as well take him off the field, because he’s essentially out of the play already.  He’s simply too far to get to the QB in time (especially against Alex Smith.)

- Graham shows coverage or jams the WR at the line, then drops into a short coverage zone.  Of the three options, this makes the most sense, though that’s not saying much.  It still results in using Graham in coverage, which doesn’t play to his strengths at all. We also have to question how seriously the offense views the “coverage” threat.  Surely no team would actually put a DE on a WR in man-to-man coverage.

- Graham plays the WR man-to-man.  Not much to say here, other than it’d be close to a fireable offense for a DC.

The result of the play, BTW, was #2.  Graham ended up in coverage, picking up the RB on a wheel route.  Notice that the BEST RESULT of this alignment involves Graham trying to run step-for-step down the field with a RB.

All-in-all, I’d say this play qualifies as “creativity for the sake of being creative”.  I’ve racked my brain, and I just can’t think of a really positive aspect to this strategy.  To be fair, it certainly falls under the “try anything” category, so if Bill Davis actually read my breakdown, then I deserve some blame as well.

In a similar vein, Derek notes that, according to PFF, Brandon Boykin rushed the passer on 11 of his 46 snaps.  Think about that for a moment.  11 different times, the Eagles chose to take their best CB out of coverage.  On a team with a decent CB corps, that’s not a big deal, and may be productive since we can assume the offense isn’t expecting it.  However, on a team like the Eagles, whose DBs don’t belong anywhere near the 1st String, that’s a really difficult decision to rationalize.

Again, “try anything”, so for that I apologize.  Let me update that.  First, I have to note the whole 3-4 defense switch conundrum.  My preseason position was that this season is purely a building block for the future.  In that sense, it doesn’t matter if the Eagles’ defense sucks.  You might as well install the 3-4, see if anyone can play in it, and have a year of experience for the guys who will stick around.  HOWEVER, that position was under the assumption the Nick Foles would be the QB.  By selecting Vick, the coaching staff sent a clear signal that it did, in fact, expect to win this year.  Once that decision’s been made, you simply must do everything you can to win, including holding off on your philosophical preferences in order to play to the team’s strengths.  There can be no half-measures…

So Billy (I can call you that, right?), here’s what you should be doing right now.

1) Get your best players on the field.  That means Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.  I don’t mean to suggest that these guys are Pro Bowlers or anything, but the fact is they are easily among the top 11 defensive guys on the team.  Against the Chiefs, Curry played just 12 defensive snaps.  Graham played just 17.

To me, that’s unacceptable.  Get them on the field, let them rush the passer, which hopefully till let you back off the blitzes a bit.  God knows the Eagles can use as many guys in coverage as possible.

2) Stop blitzing Brandon Boykin.  This holds for Graham as well, and perhaps for Trent Cole.  Let guys do what they do best.  It’s early, but at the moment Boykin covers better than anyone on the team.  Let him keep doing that.  Let Graham rush the passer from the DE position.  It’s clear, to me at least, that he’s not going to be a long-term 3-4 OLB.  Stop pretending, maximize his value for this year by playing him where he belongs, and say goodbye after the season.

3) Be creative, but keep it within reason.  For example, how about taking that B-Graham alignment from above, and running Earl Wolff or Kurt Coleman out there instead of Graham.  Cary Williams can handle coverage, provided he isn’t asked to press.  Have Wolff jam at the line then cover the flat (which is hurting the Eagles a lot so far).  Scary thought, but maybe try the Wide-9 more often, at least until teams prove they can commit to the run (especially against an unbalanced team like Denver).

4) Stop playing a single-high safety so deep.  This part is starting to annoy me.  Essentially, the Eagles are trying to apply a band-aid to the back of the defense by keeping a S really deep in the middle of the field.  The only problem is that this is a relatively low-risk/low-reward strategy, which is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what the Eagles should be doing.

The brings me to Blitz Theory.  Unfortunately, I’m at 1200 words and have to go to class, so that’ll have to wait.  Briefly, though, the Eagles, in their current position, are heavily incentivized to make high-risk defensive plays (provided there’s a reasonable expectation of corresponding return).  The team will allow A LOT of points.  The key will be to also create a lot of positive defensive plays.  That means TOs, that means sacks.  With a weak defense, 3rd and 5 isn’t that promising a situation (for the D).  You need 3rd and 10 or longer (and as we’ve seen, even that’s not assured).  If that means selling out a few times and risking a big play, so be it.  The other team is probably going to score anyway.

Have to leave it there, but I promise I have a lot more to add to that thought

Hey, Wha happened? Eagles vs. Chiefs Post-Game notes

Eww.   Maybe those Thursday night games really are a bad idea.  Both teams looked awful; lots of mental errors and sloppy mistakes.

The upshot, of course, is that the Eagles are now 1-2, and head to Denver next week, which is a likely loss.  As a result, I expect to see people jumping off the bandwagon at a steadily increasing pace over the next two weeks.  Me?  I’m staying.

The ultimate question is: Are the Eagles bad players or are they playing badly?  The short answer is that we don’t know.  Some players we thought would be good might not be (Todd Herremans?).  However, each the following factors played a significant role in at least one of the Eagles’ losses:

- Muffed punt.

- Ass-Snap (what I’m calling the Kelce debacle from last night)

- Multiple illegal formation penalties on the O-Line.

- Poor clock management

Notice the similarity? They’re each INTERNAL problems that have nothing to do with talent.  In theory, the Eagles can fix every one of them.  That’s what I mean when I say “playing badly”.  While the Eagles certainly need some talent upgrades at multiple positions, that isn’t why they’ve lost 2 games.

So, I think the best way to proceed is to split the good notes from the bad.  Which do you want to see first?  Thought so.

The Bad

-  Since 2008, NFL teams have converted on:

3rd and 10 –  20.7%

3rd and 15 – 10.8%

3rd and 19 – 7.0%

The Eagles allowed the Chiefs to convert one of each of the above situations.  It was the most frustrating part of the game.  I’m not going to go into it in great detail here, I’m assuming the play-diagrammers will handle that (if not I’ll put one up next week).  However, those stats (pro-football-reference.com) prove what we already knew…on 3rd and 10 or longer, the Defense MUST get off the field.  Those situation don’t require anything special.  Playing your base defense and tackling should come close to assuring the offense doesn’t pick up the required yardage.

Allow 3 such conversions is just terrible defensive play.

- According to the NFL game book, Vinny Curry played just 12 defensive snaps. (I’ll just let that one simmer).

- Zach Ertz, he of the high second round pick, had just 1 reception for 5 yards.  Through 3 games, he has 4 catches on just 6 targets.  Given where he was selected, he HAS to have a bigger impact.  His blocking needs to improve before the team can put him on the line, but his receiving skills are supposed to be excellent.  So….where are they?

- Michael Vick looked like Michael Vick.  Hate to say “I told you so”, but I stressed this throughout the preseason: Vick is going to have games like last night.  It’s inevitable.  He doesn’t make progressions, holds the ball too long, doesn’t move well in the pocket, has a lot of balls tipped at the line, and consistently doesn’t see open check-down receivers.   Those are his weaknesses; it’s unfortunate that we saw all of them last night.  It’s rare that he’ll play that poorly, but you have to expect it at least 2-3 times per season.

- The offensive line struggled.  Another one of my preseason themes was that, if the Eagles are going to contend for a playoff spot, the Offensive line has to be the strongest position group on the team.  I do have to note that they were playing against a VERY good defensive line last night.  Tamba Hali is really good,  Dontari Poe looks like he’ll actually be a disruptive player, and I don’t know who Justin Houston is, but he already has 22 career sacks in just 35 career games.  Still, the line needs to be much better, and as we get further into the season, it becomes less likely it’ll get there.

There’s a lot more “Bad” from last night, but I’d like to have a good weekend, so I’m going to move onto the other side.

The Good

- A number 1, as I explained at the top, the Eagles have beat themselves!  That’s little consolation when it comes to the W-L record, but the fact is, it DOES matter how you lose. The Eagles are not losing on skill.  That means it’s possible for the team to stop hurting itself and win a bunch of games.

- This is still the NFC East.  It’s early, but it looks like nobody in the division will truly be eliminated until they lose their 9th game.

- The Eagles played TERRIBLY against a good defense and scored 16 points.  That’s not a bad scoring “floor”.  For reference, last season the Eagles scored fewer than 16 points SIX times.  Once the defense gets fully built, it will be very difficult to outscore this team.

- The Eagles next stretch of games looks a lot less daunting than originally thought.  Playing the Broncos in Denver is very difficult, but the key to this stretch was that the Eagles THEN play the Giants and Bucs, both on the road.  Granted, if the Eagles play as poorly as they did last night, they can lose to anyone.  However, road games against the Giants and Bucs don’t look nearly as bad now as they did before the season started.  It still looks like the Eagles come out of it at 2-4, but 3-3 is at least foreseeable.

I promise there’s more good, but I’ve gotta go catch a flight to New Orleans.  Moral of the story:  It’s too early to panic.

Game #3: Eagles vs. Chiefs pre-game notes

Big game tonight.  Andy Reid’s return to Philly, but more importantly, a chance for the Eagles to take a 2nd win out of the first 3 games.  In the NFC East, 2-1 would look pretty damn good.  It’s a short week, so my normal schedule is a bit screwed up, however, there were a few things I wanted to get out there in preparation for tonight’s game:

- This one deserves its own post, but: The Eagles and Chip Kelly should be about as aggressive on fourth down as possible.  I’ve covered this at a league-average level, but I also mentioned the logical adjustments we should make according to how good/bad the offense/defense is.  Remember, using expected points, that a very good offense means possession of the ball is worth MORE than the averages we looked at.  Similarly, a bad defense means the OPPOSING team’s expected points at each yard line increase.

Well the Eagles’ offense looks very good.  It’s still unclear how the defense will shake out, but we thought they’d be a bit worse than average and they haven’t done anything to suggest that expectation was too low.

Logically, that means the Eagles have even more incentive to go for it on 4th down than most teams do.  They’re success rate should be higher, and the “value” of a punt should be lower.  Again, it deserves its own full analysis.  However, it’s pretty clear to me that the “right” call with this team is to go for it in 4th and 1-3 yard situations (maybe even 4-5 yards).  Additionally, field goals don’t mean very much, since there’s a good chance the opposing team comes right back and scores.

- The pass-rush needs to be better.  The Eagles defense might see a lot of the same tonight.  Heavy passing game, stressing short drops.  That gave the team fits on Sunday, but hopefully they’ve made a few adjustments since then.  I’ll be paying close attention to how they “disguise” the rush, since that was a big weakness against the Chargers.  However, it’s important to note that players need to win one-on-one battles as well.  That was also a big problem, though it’s a tougher one to fix.

- Is the offense as good as it looks?  This early in the season, it’s always tough to know how to apportion credit.   Is the Eagles offense amazing, or are the Redskins and Chargers defenses terrible?  Judging by the Redskins and Chargers’ other games, it might be more bad defense than we’d like to believe. Tonight, the Eagles face what appears to be a legitimately good defense.  They held the Jaguars to just 2 points in week one (not a huge accomplishment, but impressive nonetheless) and, on Sunday, held the Cowboys to 16 points.  The Cowboys, as much as we dislike them, are a good offensive team, and keeping them to 16 points is a really good performance (they scored 36 in week 1 against the Giants, though 14 of those came from TOs).  For what it’s worth, Football Outsiders has the Chiefs as the #1 defense so far.

By the end of tonight, for better or worse, we should have a bit more confidence in the offense’s “true” ability.

- The penalties.  Sunday’s game was sloppy.  The Eagles took 9 penalties, giving San Diego 77 free yards, including 4 first downs.  There were a lot of “differences” on Sunday, but the penalties are near the top of the list.  The O-Line illegal formation calls are absolutely unacceptable.  That’s the definition of an unforced error, and I struggle to understand how it’s even possible to commit that penalty, especially after the ref warns you multiple times.

I’m more concerned, though, with Cary Williams.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to finish a game review, but it seemed to me that Williams’ pass interference calls all occurred when he was in press coverage.  The book on WIlliams, before coming here, was that he likes playing off receivers and gives up a lot of short catches.  The upside is that he tackles well and doesn’t allow a lot of YAC.  On Sunday, the Eagles lined him up at the LOS.  The receivers then ran by him and he grabbed the jersey to stay close.

Williams should not be committing obvious penalties like that, but the coaches might not be doing him any favors with their positioning calls.  Maybe it was just one game, but I’m very curious to see how often he lines up at the LOS tonight.

That covers the large concepts.  I’ll put together a “benchmark” post after this week’s games, but so far, the Eagles look very much like the team we expected to see.   Tonight’s game looks like a toss-up to me.  I think the Chiefs are a playoff team (thought that before the season, not jumping on after 2 wins).  The offense doesn’t strike me as “explosive”, but then again, the Chargers’ offense didn’t either.

If the team can cut the penalties and find just a semblance of a pass-rush, I think the Eagles come out on top.

Adventures in tackling: Williams and Kendricks edition

I’ve been hard on Bill Davis over the past couple of days, and while he did not have a good game, the fact is that several players the Eagles rely on to play well did not.  Therefore, I figured I’d highlight a bad defensive play that was purely the result of players not doing their jobs; the Ryan Matthews 20 yard run.

Situation:  Game tied at 3.  4:49 remaining in the 1st quarter.  SD has 2nd and 8 at its own 9 yard line.  This is important to note.  SD began the possession with terrible field position (penalty on kick return after an Eagles field goal) and was still able to score a TD.  This play played a large role in the success of the drive.

Here is the pre-snap look:Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.25.13 PM

I’ve illustrated the movement of the O-Line as well as the rush angles for the D-line.  Note Patrick Chung is in the box on the left, and rushes on this play.  Also, the blue lines are the resulting running lanes Matthews has after the play develops.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.25.05 PM

Above is the play just before Matthews gets the handoff.  Notice his running lanes.  Kendricks as one blocked, Ryans as another blocked.  However, nobody has sealed the left edge, which Matthews sees and capitalizes on.

Next, the handoff has been made and Matthews has chosen his lane (cutting back away from the direction of the line’s blocking).  At this point, Kendricks is the only Eagle (on screen) in position to make the play.  Cary Williams, of screen, has noticed the run and come out of coverage (this view is more instructive than the All-22, though it keeps Williams off-frame until next shot).

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.57 PM

Below, we see Williams attacking and Kendricks pursuing.  This is the most important frame in the breakdown.  At this point, the Eagles have the play well-contained.  The LOS is the 9 yard line, so if the tackle is made, the resulting gain will likely be just 3-4 yards.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.50 PM

Look at the angles I highlighted above.  Put simply, they’re not good.  If Williams cuts off the sideline, Matthews has nowhere to go.  Instead, he pursues aggressively (not necessarily a bad decision).

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.44 PM

Above, we see the result of the angles I highlighted in the last frame.  Kendricks is beat, though it’s not really his fault.  Both he and Matthews are running laterally towards the side-line, and I don’t think expecting Kendricks to match Matthews’ speed is fair.  The bigger issue here is Cary Williams.  His poor previous angle means the sideline is now open for Matthews; all he has to do is beat Williams to the spot.

Below, we see the moment of truth.  Williams has put himself in position to make a tackle, but he’s also failed to contain Matthews, meaning if Williams DOESN’T make the play, nobody else can.  Conversely, had he contained, Kendricks would be in position to make the tackle.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.38 PM

That leads us to…Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.32 PM

Williams doesn’t make the tackle.  Contain is broken, so nobody else is in position to make the play.  A 3-4 yard gain has turned into a 20 yard gain, moving the Chargers from 2nd and 8 at its own 9 yard line to 1st and 20 at their 29 yard line.

Just to review, at one point the play looked like this:Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.50 PM

Which led to this:Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 5.24.32 PM

I still don’t understand Davis’ reluctance to incorporate the 4-3 into his defense, at least until the team has the personnel to commit to the 3-4.  However, if guys like Williams and Kendricks (to a lesser extent here), don’t perform, it doesn’t matter what defensive scheme the team runs, or how well blitzes are disguised.

We know Nate Allen isn’t good.  We know the backup CBs will be overmatched.  It’s wasted energy to lament those areas.

Guys like Williams and Kendricks, however, are fair game, and need to be much better.

Snap Count Insights…or Questions

I said after the game that the biggest disappointment for me was Bill Davis, the defensive coordinator.  Put simply, the defense was SO BAD at times, that a response of “let’s try anything because it can’t possible be worse than this” was warranted.  I still have to go through the All-22, but at the moment, it seems like Davis wasn’t nearly as creative as he could have/should have been.

At 1:42 pm on Sunday (early in the game), I tweeted this:

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 5.41.02 PM

 

As Eagles players have since confirmed, Rivers was consistently identifying the Eagles defensive alignment and pass-rushers pre-snap, then making the corresponding adjustments.  I’ve repeatedly stressed that I’m not a scout, nor do I have any professional experience.  The fact that I (and many spectators) quickly saw an issue should tell you how obvious it MUST have been to Davis.

Frankly, Rivers’ comfort level was so obvious that it should have warranted an immediate adjustment.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen (at least not to the extent it should have.)

In that vein, I paid particular attention to the defensive snap counts from Sunday’s game.  Seeing as it was competitive the entire time (as compared to game 1), I thought it would give us a really good idea of what Chip Kelly’s current roster hierarchy and player usage philosophy is.  It’s likely, of course, that Davis has full control of the defense, though I haven’t confirmed that.  Regardless, what I saw was, in light of the performance, unsettling.

- Jeff Maehl played 5 total snaps (3 offense, 2 STs).  Maehl is not a defender.  However, given the Vinny Curry controversy, it’s very fair to question if 5 snaps of Jeff Maehl is worth an active roster spot.  That suggests to me that either Chip is being really stubborn, or the Curry inactivity is the result of an “attitude” or “example-setting” rationale.  Everyone knew going into the game that the pass-rush was going to be vital to success.  Passing over Curry for Maehl (who was barely used), looked bad then and much worse now.  It’s possible that Curry wouldn’t have helped at all (I think he’s being overrated by the general fan base); but he DEFINITELY would have helped more than Jeff Maehl (and several others).

- Jordan Poyer played just 7 snaps, all on STs.  Given what we know about the Eagles CBs and what happened during the game, it’s clear that Poyer has ZERO trust from the coaching staff.  If he couldn’t get on the field in game where the Eagles lost a starting CB and were getting absolutely shredded with the pass, then when can he play?  If at this point, he is solely a STs player, we again have to question the value of his roster spot.  Granted, STs have been very good so far, so obviously they’re doing something right there.  If this continues though, we might have to revisit the “overweighting STs” storyline.

- Geathers played 14 snaps on defense, Square played 12.  I haven’t yet looked at their individual performances, and I assume they were just as ineffectual as the starters.  However, could they really have been any worse than the starters, who weren’t getting anything remotely resembling pressure?

As the game progressed and it was clear the defense was not going to stop SD absent some good luck, wouldn’t it have made sense to rotate backups/young players into the game more frequently?  They gain experience and/or make an impact on the game.  The veterans get a breather and/or a message that their performance simply isn’t good enough.  As I said before, what’s the downside?  The veterans/starters couldn’t possibly have believed they “deserved” to keep playing.

- One Caveat, though it doesn’t excuse Davis.  Rivers used a lot of quick throws and three-step drops.  In that case, it’s nearly impossible to pressure the QB, there simply isn’t enough time.  The counter-move is to drop more players into coverage.  Ideally, you’d hide players at the line, disguising them as pass-rushers, then have them drop underneath the short passing lanes in hopes of either cutting off passing lanes or forcing an interception.  Pending All-22 review, I didn’t see Davis try this often enough, and when he did, there was no adequate disguise.  Of course, dropping players into coverage assumes they’ll actually know to COVER…which apparantly is not an entirely reasonable assumption (see Eddie Royal’s hilariously open TD grab against an Eagles D rushing just 3 players).

 

Eagles vs. Chargers: Post-Game Thoughts

The result is obviously a disappointment, and once again there’s a lot to discuss.  I’m going to structure this with bullet points.

- The benefits of Bayesian Analysis.  Before the season, I had the Eagles as a 9 win team (maybe 9.1 if we’re being exact).  Before this game, I had the Eagles as a 9 win team.    Now, I STILL have the Eagles as a 9 win team.  Remember we’re talking “value” not actual wins, but the point is you should never forget your original beliefs.  Human thinking is subject to a LOT of different cognitive biases, among which is the Recency Effect.  In short, people usually overweight more recent experiences and underweight older events.  This will need a full post, but the quick point for now is that the Eagles look very much like the team we expected to see.  If we are searching for the team’s “true” value, the game today is just one piece of evidence, which must be added to our prior information and viewed in context with everything we “know”.  The Eagles lost a game they should have won; yet that’s no reason to panic.

- The offense is SCARY good.  The Eagles’ offense played a rather poor game.  Sloppy penalties, dropped catches, overthrown passes, a missed field goal.  And yet, the Eagles still scored 30 points.  If those mistakes are cleaned up, the team very easily could have scored 40+.  That’s extremely encouraging.  I expected the Eagles offense to be very good, but it looks as though it can exceed my expectations.  Last season, just two teams averaged more than 30 points per game (Patriots and Broncos).  I think the Eagles, this year, can get very close to that mark.  

- Bill Davis needs to improve. The defense was terrible, and much of that is due to low talent and bad play.  However, it looked to me like Davis could have attacked the game much differently.  The biggest disappointment, and ultimately the biggest reason the Eagles lost, was the play of the Defensive line.  I said pre-game that pressure was going to be the key to the game, and clearly the Eagles failed in that respect.  The players share some blame, but after a certain amount of time, that blame shifts to the DC.  This is pending a full All-22 review, but it looked like there were a LOT of A gap blitzes (right/left of the center).  They didn’t work, but Davis kept calling them.  

After it was apparent the Eagles couldn’t get pressure with either 4 pass-rushers or the blitz, Davis should have changed tacks.  How about moving to the 4-3?  I saw it once or twice, and it’s possible I just missed a few other times, but given that the team’s personnel still best fits the 4-3 alignment, that should have been a 2nd half staple.  

I know what a lot of you are saying.  Nate Allen is terrible and the CBs were bad (besides Boykin, who had a solid game).  However, Nate Allen is not a long-term guy.  Presumably, the CB corps will see some upgrades next offseason as well.  That leaves Davis as the only “long-term” guy we need to worry about.

This was going to be ugly for the defense regardless of what Davis did; but I had hoped to see a few more in-game adjustments, if for no other reason than what they were doing wasn’t even coming close to working.

- Chip Kelly screwed up the End-game.  Lost in the speed of the game was Chip Kelly’s poor late-game management.  In short, on their final drive, the Eagles should not have been in the no-huddle offense.  At that point, it’s clear the defense can’t be relied on to get a stop.  Additionally, given the situation, running clock would likely have forced the Chargers to burn a TO or two.  Chip stayed with the no huddle, and in doing so left more than enough time for SD to move into game-winning FG position.  That was an unforced error, and one that cost the team dearly.  

Also, while more subjective, Chip’s play-call on the one snap Nick Foles played was puzzling.  Foles’ strength is his short-medium accuracy and pocket presence.  Given 2nd and 10 in the red zone, the Eagles just needed to pick up a few yards, hopefully giving a re-entered Vick a manageable 3rd down.  Instead, the call was an end zone fade.  With Foles coming off the bench cold, it was a very strange call to make.  

In theory, Chip should improve with experience.  However, it’s not as if these are situations he hasn’t faced before.  In his first true “pressure” test, Kelly failed.

- This week’s game against the Chiefs is BIG.  If you’ll recall my preseason “roadmap to 9 wins”, the first benchmark was after week 3, at which point the team needed 2 wins.  I explained that it really doesn’t matter which 2 teams the Eagles beat (though the Redskins would be nice), just as long as they came out 2-1.  Obviously, to hit that mark, the team needs to beat the Chiefs.  

- The Silver Lining.  Part of my confidence in the Eagles performance this year lay in the fact that the NFC East is not a terribly competitive division.  I expected the Redskins to be good, but figured the Cowboys and Giants were both coming into the season overrated.  Through two weeks, things could not have gone better for the Eagles.  As I’m writing, we’re 2:30 minutes away from a Giants loss, meaning all 4 NFC East teams dropped games today.  8 wins might take this division this year.

Week 2: Eagles vs. Chargers Pre-game Notes

This is a very good matchup for the Eagles; they should win this game.

I’d have said that (and did) before last week, so now I’m even more confident.  I’ve seen a few articles and commentators talking about the danger of being “overconfident”, and it’s a valid concern.  However, the Chargers just do not match up very well with the Eagles.  Outside of one specific vulnerability, which I’ll get to in a minute, I’m not seeing a lot to be concerned about.

- The Chargers run game isn’t very good.  Last year, the team ranked 28th in the league according to Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA stat.  Ryan Mathews, the Chargers’ #1 RB, averaged just 58.9 rushing yards per game in 2012.  It’s always tricky when comparing a team’s performance year-over-year, so these stats should be taken with a grain of salt.  The team does have 3 new starters on the O-Line (though one is King Dunlap).  The point, however, is that San Diego doesn’t have anywhere near the rushing attack the Redskins do.  As a result, we should see the Eagles focusing mainly on pass defense, at least until the Chargers prove they can threaten with the run.  Last week, Ryan Matthews had just 13 carries, and I don’t see any reason to believe he’ll be a larger focus this week.

 – The Chargers passing game is just OK.  Similar caveats apply (year-over-year comparison, roster changes, etc…), but Football Outsiders had the 2012 Chargers ranked 16th overall in Passing DVOA.  Philip Rivers is obviously the key here.  He’s a very good QB.  It seems like people are down on him, but look at his stat line from last season:

64.1% Comp., 26-15 TD-INT ratio, 88.6 Passer Rating.

Now he only threw for 225 yards per game, but if the Eagles are going to lose, it’s going to be because Philip Rivers beat them (or they beat themselves).

- The Biggest Vulnerability for the Eagles.  The shallowest position on the Eagles team is CB.  Bradley Fletcher, a starter, will not play.  That’s a problem.  Brandon Boykin will start in Fletcher’s place, and I’m confident he can fill in adequately.  However, behind Boykin and Williams, the Eagles don’t have anyone I trust.  Further, if Boykin or Williams goes down with an injury, we could see some fireworks (not good ones).  That brings me to…

- The Key to the Game (the only one).  As I just explained, the Eagles CBs might have trouble defending the Chargers passing attack.  How does the team counter?  With a disruptive D-Line.  Given the lack of rushing threat, I expect to see Trent Cole in full pass-rush mode for most of this game.  I hope Vinny Curry will be active, that would help. I also expect to see Kendricks on multiple blitzes and Brandon Graham for more than 16 defensive snaps.  Basically, Bill Davis will do everything he can to get to Rivers before Rivers can get to the CBs.  

Did I mention that King Dunlap is starting at OT for the Chargers?

I did?  Good.  Then you’re already smiling.

As I mentioned in the week 1 post-game notes, I’d like to see Davis use a 4-3 alignment more often.  It allows the team to get its best pass-rushing line-up on the field and will help keep offenses off balance.  I don’t think he’ll do it, but it makes a lot of sense to me, so I’ll be keeping a eye out for it.

- Vick’s accuracy.  He needs to be better.  He left a lot on the field in game 1, on throws that shouldn’t have been difficult to complete.  For the offense to truly “take off”, he needs to hit those consistently.  As I explained in the Rewind, Chip Kelly’s packaged plays will scheme receivers open.  That works as long as Vick can get them the ball.  If he can do that consistently, the team will be extremely difficult to defend.  

- Where’s Damaris?  Good question, I’m hoping we’ll see him soon.  

- More Bryce Brown.  Brown had 9 rushing attempts in game 1.  I expect that number to climb into the 10-15 range as the season progresses.  It’s tough to get him on the field when the offense is moving at warp-speed, but Kelly has to know that keeping Shady healthy is vital to making a playoff run.  Given Brown’s talent, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take the RB role for entire drives, but that might not happen until later in the season.  Still, expect to notice him more this week, with a few more touches, and more importantly, more effective running.

- Kelly Challenges.  A minor issue, but given how horrendous last week’s challenge was, it bears watching.  This is such a simple part of the game, it’s astonishing so many coaches/teams struggle with it.  It won’t come into play often, but losing a TO on a foolish challenge is an unforced error.  That holds for both unwinnable challenges (last week) and low reward challenges.

- Guys I’ll be focused on:  Sopoaga, Logan, Johnson, Boykin.  

- Prediction:  Eagles 31 – Chargers 20  

Lastly, from ColdHardFootballFacts:

Screen Shot 2013-09-14 at 8.40.34 PM

See that second line there?  There’s obviously more to this data than just the time/location of the games, but the fact remains: it’s very tough for anyone to play a road game on the opposite coast.

Rest assured, the Eagles will “come down” at some point this season.  However, it’s very unlikely that it happens this week.