Mid-Season Evaluation of Carson Wentz, Part II

Note: This is a two-part evaluation of Carson Wentz. You can read part one here, which compares Wentz’s production to top rookie quarterbacks drafted since 2009. In part two, I break down the film on areas in which Wentz can improve.

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

It’s pretty clear that Wentz is playing at a high level for a rookie quarterback. There are only a small handful of rookie quarterbacks in recent history that have matched Carson Wentz’s production. And as I’ve documented before, Wentz’s tape is equally impressive; from his precise ball placement, to his demonstrated ability to perform the advanced aspects of quarterbacking, like adjusting plays at the line, working through his progressions, and manipulating defenders with his eyes. I don’t want to rehash all of that, so for brevity’s sake, you can review my thoughts here:

I instead want to dig into some areas in which Wentz can improve his game, most notably (1) throwing under pressure, (2) deep passing, and (3) red zone decision making and accuracy. I’m also going to touch on his wide receiver play, because it is clearly impacting his production to date.

Handling Pressure

Because PFF no longer provides the public with access to its advanced statistics (if anyone is aware of another site that tracks pressure, please let me know), I have to get creative in order to evaluate Wentz’s performance under pressure. An imperfect way to evaluate this is to look at the number of times Wentz has been hit or sacked. Of course, pressure can occur without a QB hit or sack, but we will have to make do for now.

Weeks QB Hits Per QB Sacks Per INTs
1-4 4.5 1.75 1
5-9 6.2 2.4 4

As you probably guessed by now, week 5 was the first game that Lane Johnson missed due to suspension. Big V’s play has undoubtedly improved since his first start, but the offensive line simply is not as good with Johnson on the sideline.

Wentz had issues sailing passes in college, especially when he was under pressure. That issue went largely unnoticed in the first quarter of this season, but has, perhaps not coincidentally, reared its ugly head after Johnson was suspended.

A prime example of this was the first interception Wentz threw against the New York Giants. Kelce tripped over backup guard Stefan Wisneiwski, allowing his man to collapse the pocket on Wentz. Wentz didn’t react well to the pressure; he did a half-ass scramble to the right and threw off his back foot after after Big V lost engagement on his man. Sloppy mechanics led to sloppy accuracy, and the pass sailed on Wentz and was intercepted with ease.

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Wentz needs to be smarter here. He could have stood tall in pocket and delivered an accurate pass, as Pederson recognized after the game: “I felt like he didn’t have to move. He could have stayed right there in the pocket and delivered the football.”  And while Wentz could not technically throw the ball away since he was inside the pocket and subject to intentional grounding rules, he could have essentially accomplished this by spiking the ball in Agholor’s direction.

On the following drive, Wentz tried to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure. The below clip stops right as Wentz is about to release the ball so you can see how close he is sandwiched between Brooks and Kelce.

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Pederson thought Wentz had enough space to deliver the football: “The pocket was clean enough to deliver the football…but that quick pressure, from a quarterback standpoint, makes you throw a bit high.” It’s hard to tell from this angle just how much space Wentz had to operate. But regardless, you can see that Wentz stops short on his follow through, which caused the pass to sail.

Almost every quarterback struggles throwing under pressure. It’s why you hear defensive coordinators talk about pressure being more important than sacks. So we should not be overly concerned here. But it is an area that Wentz can and should improve moving forward.

Improving Mechanics/Timing on Deep Ball

Wentz has excelled at throwing the deep ball at times, but like most rookie quarterbacks, his deep passing is inconsistent. On the season, Wentz has completed 33.3% of his passes over 21 yards in length, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, according to ESPN.com.

The issue I’ve noticed comes down to mechanics and timing. When Wentz has a clean pocket, he is usually mechanically sound and delivers a beautiful deep ball. But if Wentz is under pressure or his mechanics are off, his deep passing suffers.

I want to highlight two examples. The first comes against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.  The Eagles dial up a play action pass with the hopes of hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep go route. It’s a routine 7 step drop, but as you will see, Wentz takes 10 steps, which throws off the timing of the play:

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This might seem like nitpicking, but NFL passing attacks are predicated on timing. As Ron Jaworski once pointed out, each route is synced to a quarterbacks drop down to the millisecond: “You’re throwing a skinny post, and you have 2.1 seconds on a five-step drop, and the weight is on the back foot and, bang, the hips open, and boom, the ball is right there when the receiver makes his break at 19 yards. You drop back 100 times, you have to do that 100 times properly. Not 50 or 75. The mechanics have to be perfect every single time. Weight on back foot, snap the hips open, drive, consistent throwing slot.”

In other words, those three extra steps made the difference between hitting Agholor in stride for a touchdown and Agholor having to stop and come back to fight for the ball.

Against the Browns, the Eagles ran a similar play, but with Jordan Matthews running the go route.  Wentz comes out of play action with his back to the defense, which is something quarterbacks are taught not to do because it limits the amount of time that a quarterback has to examine the defense:

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You can see the impact it has on the accuracy of the throw, which was about 7 yards too deep and too far towards the sideline. Matthews had no chance on the ball, and this stemmed from Wentz’s sloppy mechanics coming out of the snap.

The good news is that these lapses in mechanics are common for rookie quarterbacks. Wentz has shown the ability to be mechanically sound, so Pederson & Co. do not need to completely revamp his mechanics. Wentz should be able to iron these issues out over the next few seasons.

Improving Redzone Decision Making and Accuracy

First the good news: Wentz has zero turnovers inside the redzone. The absolute worst thing that you can do as a quarterback is take away points from your team. Wentz has avoided that altogether, and for that, he deserves credit.

Now for the bad news: the Eagles rank 25th in red-zone efficiency on the season, scoring touchdowns on only 47.22% of their drives, according to SportingCharts.com. There are a number of reasons behind this. Pederson’s play calling has, at times, been too conservative for my liking. Receivers have dropped easy touchdown catches. And, Wentz has had a couple of plays that he would probably like back.

Jimmy Kempski did a good job breaking down one play I wanted to highlight: Wentz’s misfire to Jordan Matthews on the last play of the Giants game. I won’t rehash Kempski’s analysis. He’s spot on. So go check it out.

Another play happened this past week against the Falcons. The Eagles are are faced with a 3rd and 10 in the 4th quarter. The Falcons are showing press man coverage with a single high safety. The Eagles run man beaters on the bottom of the screen: DGB runs a quick slant while Agholor runs a corner route towards the flag.

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The play works as designed. DGB gets inside leverage on his defender and has plenty of green field ahead of him to get the first down (and possibly a touchdown). But Wentz misses him. It looks like Wentz had predetermined that he was targeting Agholor, because he never looks DGB’s way.  This isn’t the wrong decision, per se, since Agholor has a half step on his defender. But Wentz sails the throw, putting it high and further up the field, a spot where Agholor doesn’t have a chance to make a play.

By now, you should have noticed a common theme among the issues I’ve covered: they require minor tweaks, not wholesale changes to Wentz’s game. That is a great sign for Wentz’s potential moving forward. Wentz should be able to fix these issues in the coming offseasons, which will only make him a more complete quarterback.

Poor Wide Receiver Play 

We cannot fully evaluate Wentz without examining the shortcomings of the players that surround him. That is most notable with his receivers, who are arguably the worst receiving unit in the league. To be more direct, outside of Jordan Matthews, the Eagles wide receivers stink.

I was hopeful that Dorial Green-Beckham might evolve into a functional wide receiver, but he has completely fallen to the wayside over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Nelson Agholor has never eclipsed 65 yards in a single game in his career. We are probably past the point at which we can reasonable expect Agholor to turn it around.

The Eagles receivers aren’t even making routine catches anymore, and it’s created significant issues for the Eagles offense. Kempski created this video of all of the 24 drops by the Eagles receivers. I’m just going to warn you that this is depressing and infuriating all at once.

Based on Kempski’s calculations, 22% of Wentz’s incomplete passes were the result of dropped passes. If those passes were caught, Wentz’s completion percentage would rise from 65% to 72.6%.

What’s worse, I counted four passes that were dropped in the end zone. Add those four touchdown passes to Wentz’s total, and his TD% rises from 2.9% to 4.18%. Wentz would rank 6th in TD% of the 19 rookie quarterbacks I examined (as opposed to 13th) if those passes were caught.

Of course, every quarterback deals with dropped passes, so it’s unreasonable to give Wentz full credit for those stats. But, Wentz still ranks 5th in the NFL in passes dropped and the 5.14% drop rate is 4th overall. Compare that to Dak Prescott, who has only 4 dropped passes on the entire season, and it’s not hard to see how Wentz is being held back by his teammates poor play.

Bottom line

While Wentz’s play has regressed over the last five weeks, he is still playing at a high level from a historical perspective. The areas in which Wentz can improve his game generally involve minor tweaks, not wholesale changes. And we should expect to see even better production from Wentz once the front office is able to improve the talent at his disposal.

 

Mid-Season Evaluation of Carson Wentz, Part I

Note: This is a two-part evaluation of Carson Wentz. You can read part two here

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

When Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins for a pair of draft picks on April 4, 2010, it marked the beginning of a six year odyssey for the Eagles to find his replacement. There were moments of hope — Michael Vick in 2010, Nick Foles in the second half of 2013 — but the majority of the last six years has involved watching false prophets fail to rise to the occasion: from Vick, to Foles, to Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, to name a few. Watching each season with the Eagles shorthanded at the most important position in all of sports was like reading a book for a second time and hoping for a different ending. The inconsistent play at quarterback brought an inevitable sense of doom that hung over the team’s fate like an anvil.

For once, salvation seems like a realistic possibility, and it comes at the hands of a 6’5, 235 lb. rookie quarterback from Bismarck, North Dakota. It is somewhat fitting that the Eagles effectuated the trade with the Cleveland Browns to acquire that draft picks used to select Wentz on April 21, 2016, just days from the six year anniversary of trading McNabb. Wentz’s sensational start to the season provided a level of excitement this city has not experienced since McNabb’s second year in the league: a mix of reveling in the moment with dreams of unlimited possibilities in the future; 10-years of continued success, multiple Pro Bowls,  and perhaps, a parade down Broad Street.

Of course, that early season success was unsustainable, especially given the weapons at Wentz’s disposal. He was bound to regress, and regress he did. Just compare his performance through the first four games to his performance in the last five games to see the difference:

Games

Record

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

1-4

3-1

251.75

67.79

5.2%

.07%

7.5

104.07

5-9

2-3

222.80

61.69

1.1%

2.2%

6.38

74.54

But all hope is not lost. Wentz has not suddenly forgotten how to play football. Nor is he headed down the same path as RGIII, whose career represents the modern reincarnation of a Greek tragedy.

Instead, the numbers and tape suggests that, while Wentz undoubtedly has areas of his game in which he can and must improve, he has a chance to be a franchise caliber quarterback.

By The Numbers

I compiled the season averages for every quarterback drafted in the first two rounds since 2009 that started at least 10 games in their rookie year, and threw in Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott for good measure. While there is a difference in the amount of games played by each quarterback, these numbers still provide a good baseline by which we can judge Wentz’s performance to date.

QB

Yards

CMP%

TD

TD%

INT

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Carson Wentz

235.7

65.0

.9

2.9

.5

1.6

6.8

87.6

Jameis Winston

252.62

58.3

1.375

4.1

.9375

2.8

7.6

84.2

Marcus Mariota

234.83

62.2

1.583

5.1

.83

2.7

7.6

91.5

Blake Bortles

207.7

58.9

.785

2.3

1.214

3.6

6.1

69.5

Teddy Bridgewater

224.5

64.4

1.076

3.5

.92

3.0

7.3

85.2

EJ Manuel

197.2

58.8

1.1

3.6

.9

2.9

6.4

77.7

Andrew Luck

273.4

54.1

1.43

3.7

1.125

2.9

7.0

76.5

Robert Griffin III

213.3

65.6

1.33

5.1

.33

1.3

8.1

102.4

Ryan Tannehill

205.9

58.3

.75

2.5

.81

2.7

6.8

76.1

Russell Wilson

194.9

64.1

1.625

6.6

.625

2.5

7.9

100.0

Cam Newton

253.2

60.0

1.31

4.1

1.06

3.3

7.8

84.5

Blaine Gabbert

147.6

50.8

.8

2.9

.73

2.7

5.4

65.4

Christian Ponder

168.5

54.3

1.18

4.5

1.18

4.5

6.4

70.1

Sam Bradford

219.5

60.0

1.125

3.1

.93

2.5

6.0

76.5

Matthew Stafford

226.7

53.3

1.3

3.4

1.53

5.3

6.0

61.0

Mark Sanchez

162.9

53.8

.8

3.3

1.3

5.5

6.7

63.0

Matt Ryan

215.0

61.1

1.0

3.7

.68

2.5

7.9

87.7

Joe Flacco

185.7

60.0

.875

3.3

.75

2.8

6.9

80.3

Dak Prescott

252.2

66.5

1.5

4.8

.25

.8

8.1

104.2

You can look at these numbers in a variety of ways. I decided to break them down with charts comparing (1) Wentz’s production to the average of every quarterback listed above; (2) Wentz’s production to the average of every quarterback drafted in the top 5; (3) where Wentz ranks compared to the other 18 quarterbacks in each respective category; (4) how Wentz compares to known busts; and (5) how Wentz compares to the five quarterbacks that have gone onto have the best careers of the group.

Wentz v. Average of All 19 QBs

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

QB Avg

213.09

59.13

4.05

3.01

7.0

80.87

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

Wentz v. Average of QBs Drafted with Top 5 Pick

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Top 5 QBs

225.91

58.73

3.79

3.24

7.08

79.68

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

Wentz’s Rank in Each Category (of 19 total QBs)

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD

TD%

INT

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Wentz

5th

3rd

8th

13th

3rd

3rd

10th

5th

Wentz v. Average of Busts: Sanchez, Ponder, Manuel and Gabbert

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Busts

169.05

54.42

3.57

3.9

6.22

69.05

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

Wentz v. Average of 5 Best QBs: Newton, Wilson, Luck, Mariota, and Ryan

Name

Y/G

Cmp%

TD%

INT%

Y/A

Rate

Top 5

234.26

60.3

4.64

2.78

7.64

88.04

Wentz

235.7

65.0

2.9

1.6

6.8

87.6

No matter which chart you look at, the same general conclusions emerge: Wentz is playing at a high level for a rookie quarterback, recent regression be damned. That is especially true when it comes to completing passes and protecting the football.

The two areas of below average production — Y/A and TD% — deserve a dose of perspective.  As I wrote about two weeks ago, Wentz’s low Y/A can partially be explained by Pederson calling a fairly conservative gameplan. He is content on attacking defenses with the short passing game and relying on his defense to keep the game close, and has limited the opportunities that Wentz has to attack defenses downfield. The low TD% is the result of a number of factors: the Eagles receivers have dropped several easy touchdowns, the Eagles tend to rely on the run once inside the red-zone, and Wentz has left some plays on the field (as we will see in a moment). In other words, there is no reason to expect that Wentz cannot improve in these areas as he continues to grow as a player.

Here are 5 other observations from these numbers:

  • Wentz ranks in the top 3 (of 19 quarterbacks — or top 15%) in 3 out of 8 of those statistical categories (Cmp%, INT, and INT%), the top 5 (approximately top 25%) in 5 out of the 8 categories (the aforementioned 3 categories plus yards per game and QB rate), and the top 50th percentile in every category except two: Y/A and TD%. That’s high marks considering the quarterbacks on this list.
  • The “five best” group was picked based on personal preference, but I don’t think the end result would change too much if you tinkered with that list. Regardless, Wentz is right on par with the production we saw from Newton, Wilson, Mariota, Luck and Ryan during their rookie seasons.
  • While it is too early to crown Wentz as a franchise quarterback, it might not be too early to breath a sight of relief that Wentz is not a bust. Look at the chart comparing Wentz’s production to the “busts” then consider this article written by Bill Barnwell on Wentz and Prescott. Barnwell used data to attempt to answer how soon we can know whether a young quarterback is destined for stardom. While you usually need to wait two years for the best to separate from the pack, you don’t have to wait long for the worst quarterbacks to stick out like a sore thumb: “The lesson to take away from all of this, as best I can tell from history, is that the excitement around Prescott and Wentz is justified, in part because they’ve managed to avoid failing immediately. The washout rate for players who struggle at the very beginning of their professional careers, even first-round picks, is higher than I expected. Whether by a lack of opportunity or an inability to adapt, cases like that of Brees (who struggled early then rebounded to become a Pro Bowler) are few and far between.”
  • Anyone else notice how the quarterbacks drafted in the top 5 have worse averages than the group as a whole?
  • Part of that is because Dak Prescott is playing at a historic rate. It’s fair to question how much Prescott benefits from the talent around him (especially his offensive line). And it’s fair to wonder what would happen if we had Wentz and Prescott switch teams. But we cannot completely write off Prescott’s production, either. He is playing extremely well and the Cowboys look like they found their quarterback of the future.

Again: it’s early. We are only at the halfway point of Wentz’s first season. As Barnwell suggested, we likely need 2-3 seasons before drawing definitive conclusions. But from an historical perspective, the early returns are promising.

 

Five Big Things from the Eagles Loss to Giants

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles left MetLife Stadium in a more precarious position than that in which they entered. 4-4 overall, 0-3 in the division, and having lost three of their last four games. With tough games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Packers over the next three weeks, the Eagles are at the crossroads between staying in the playoff hunt and their season ending before December.

With that said, here are five big things from the Eagles loss to the Giants.

1.  Zach Ertz played his best game of the year

Zach Ertz had his best game of the season, catching 8 of 8 targets for 97 yards. Wentz looked to him early and often, and Ertz repaid that confidence, turning in the type of performance we had hoped to see all season.

You would have never guessed it had you jumped on social media during the game, as Ertz was lambasted by Eagles fans who have lost patience with the third year tight end. Some of it is understandable. Ertz’s production doesn’t match his big, shiny new contract and he avoids contact like DeSean Jackson despite being built like Brent Celek.

But the criticism has gone too far. At one point during the game, Ertz was ripped for not getting a first down on this pass from Carson Wentz:

Had Wentz hit Ertz in stride, that is likely a first down. But given the ball placement, there simply was no way for Ertz to have gotten the first down. That didn’t matter to some, who were quick to criticize Ertz for falling short of the sticks.

It seems like we are letting our (legitimate) frustrations with what Ertz is not distract us from what he actually does well. Ertz is not going to transform into a human wrecking ball in the mold of Brent Celek — carrying guys an extra 5 yards for a first down. But Ertz is still a talented player. He’s a great route runner and, as the still shot above shows us, is capable of making spectacular catches.

If the Eagles continue to feed him the ball, he should continue to produce at a high level. And for a team starving for anyone to make a play, this is welcomed news.

2. The refs were bad, but did not cost the Eagles the game

In each of the four losses this year, the officiating has seemed especially egregious. Perhaps I am magnifying these mistakes when the Eagles lose, but it’s hard not to notice some fairly blatant calls being missed by the refs.

But let’s be honest. The refs aren’t the reason the Eagles are 4-4. The Eagles are. Consider this:

  • The refs didn’t allow the Lions to score 21 points in the first half;
  • The refs didn’t force Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor to drop easy touchdown catches against the Lions;
  • The refs didn’t cause the Eagles to miss 9+ tackles against the Redskins;
  • The refs didn’t prevent the Eagles defensive line from sacking Kirk Cousins a single time;
  • The refs didn’t force Carson Wentz to throw 5 interceptions since the bye week;
  • The refs didn’t cause the Eagles to blow a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter against the Cowboys;
  • The refs didn’t force the Eagles receivers to drop 6 passes last week in the loss to the Cowboys;
  • The refs didn’t cause Doug Pederson’s questionable play calling and clock management against the Cowboys or Giants;
  • The refs didn’t cause Doug Pederson to refuse to kick 2 field goals yesterday, which made the difference between the game;
  • The refs aren’t the reason the Eagles have the 20th rated run offense in total yards; and
  • The refs aren’t the reason the Eagles have the 21st worst red zone offense in the NFL (which might be worse after yesterday’s poor performance).

I could go on, but you get the point. If the Eagles did their jobs, we wouldn’t be talking about the refs, we would be talking about the playoffs. So while it’s fair to criticize the refs, we shouldn’t let that distract from how poorly the Eagles have played.

3. Doug Pederson continues to look like a rookie

There is an argument to be made that Pederson is the chief reason behind the Eagles losses to the Giants and Cowboys, as his questionable decisions this week and indefensible decisions last week came at the most inopportune of times.

I’m not going to rehash the mistakes he made. You saw the game. You already know them off the top of your head. I instead want to offer some perspective.

Pederson is expected to go through growing pains, especially since this is the first time he has ever called plays at the NFL level. While the 40 second play clock seems like an eternity when watching casually on TV, a lot has to be processed and decided during that period of time, including:

  • What is the down and distance;
  • What calls have we already made that have worked and not worked;
  • What is the defensive personnel;
  • What type of coverage does this defense prefer with that personnel on the field;
  • What play calling works best against that personnel;
  • What is the defenses tendencies on this particular down and distance;
  • Who do we have in the game;
  • Do we need to make a substitution.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… Even veteran head coaches struggle with this at times (hello, Andy Reid). So of course a rookie head coach who has never called plays before is going to be prone to mental lapses.

That’s not an excuse for all of Pederson’s mistakes. Some if them were bad, even after you take into account his lack of experience. But it is an explanation for why mistakes that seem so obvious and avoidable are happening with increased regularity.

I know we live in a react now society, where hot-takes and instant analysis are preferred over looking at things with the long view, but we should tap the brakes on crushing Pederson for now. He was hailed as brilliant after the Eagles started 3-0. He didn’t just become a bad coach in a matter of a few games. He’s learning on the go, is running a simplified version of his offense to make things easier on Wentz, and his offense is almost devoid of talent. If he makes these mistakes next season, then we should be concerned.

4. Ditto Carson Wentz

I am going to go into more detail on Wentz’s struggles later this week, so I will be brief here. The warts I saw in Wentz’s college tape — poor deep ball accuracy, faulty mechanics, tendencies to throw high — were noticeably absent during his first three games of the season. While he has improved overall on these issues, they are starting to rear their ugly head again, particularly since the bye week.

The most obvious explanation is that these types of mistakes happen when a rookie quarterback is under pressure (real or perceived). The first thing to go in that situation is the mechanics. On both interceptions yesterday, Wentz was pressured and made two high throws.

I am not overly concerned with his performances. As I wrote during the middle of his impressive 3-0 start, I expected him to struggle at times. That’s par for the course with rookie quarterbacks.

Bottom line: when you are evaluating Wentz’s play, keep in mind that (1) he’s a rookie going through typical growing pains, and (2) he has almost no help on offense, as I mentioned yesterday on Twitter:

5. The division is almost certainly out of the question, but the wild card isn’t.

Breaking news: at 0-3 in the division, the Eagles are almost certainly out of competing for a division title. Even if they win their remaining three division games, it would take a pretty significant collapse from the other NFC East teams for that to matter. While I am not ruling it out entirely, the chances aren’t in the Eagles favor.

The good news is that at 4-4, the Eagles aren’t technically out of the wild card. They have left themselves almost no margin for error for the rest of the season. Here is a list of the teams competing for the two wild card spots in the NFC. Notice that the three teams at the top have already beaten the Eagles and thus (at least for now) own the tie breaker:

Team Record Eagles Record Against
Giants 5-3 0-1
Redskins 4-3-1 0-1
Lions 5-4 0-1
Packers 4-4 0-0
Saints 4-4 0-0
Cardinals 3-4-1 0-0
Buccaneers 3-5 0-0
Panthers 3-5 0-0
Rams 3-5 0-0

The Eagles don’t play the Saints, Cardinals, Bucs, Panthers or Rams this year, but they do play the Packers, Giants and Redskins. If the Eagles have any shot of securing the wild card, they must win those three games. Otherwise, they will have 7 losses (assuming they win the rest of their games), and will likely not own a single tie-breaker with the teams with which they are competing for those wild card spots. Yikes.

The Eagles have legitimate gripes about the way their schedule has unfolded. They have played three straight games against a team coming off their bye week and have the red-hot Falcons next, who have had 10 days off thanks to playing on Thursday Night Football.

To make matters worse, the Eagles schedule only gets harder from here. They have the hardest remaining strength of schedule for the rest of the season, and their next three games are particularly brutal, facing the Falcons (6-3, .625%), at the Seahawks (4-2-1, .643%), and home versus the always dangerous Aaron Rodgers led Packers (4-4, .500%).

The good news for the Eagles is that they have yet to look like they don’t belong with the big boys. They blew out the Steelers and Vikings, and arguably should have beaten the Cowboys and Giants. So they should be competitive in these games. They just need to limit the schmorgesborg of mistakes that have plagued them since the bye week.

And if the Eagles just miss out on the playoffs this year, we will likely look back at these winnable games we let slip away with even more despair.

It’s Time to Take the Training Wheels off Carson Wentz

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

We are almost at the halfway point of the regular season and are getting a better understanding of the make-up of the Philadelphia Eagles. They have a strong defense, mediocre offense, and excellent special teams. Add in a penchant for self-inflicted wounds (drops, fumbles, penalties, missed tackles, and coaching brain farts), and it’s easy to see why the Eagles are 4-3 instead of 5-2 or 6-1.

The temptation is to look to the outside for help: a receiver that can consistently catch the football or a running back that can run five steps without fumbling would be a welcomed addition. The Eagles flirted with this idea before the trade deadline but didn’t pull the trigger, a likely smart choice given the poor track record of midseason trades. So Terrell Owens in his prime is not walking through that door (although the 41-year old version would if presented with the opportunity); the Eagles only chance to improve is from within.

This can happen in a number of ways. For starters, the Eagles can be a better version of themselves. I know that sounds like the start of a cheesy motivational speech, but if the Eagles catch and tackle like professional athletes should, limit penalties and improve their 22nd ranked redzone offense, they could win 10 games. They won’t be sexy. They won’t set scoring records. But they will have a shot at the division and playoffs. In other words, they will closely resemble the team that Andy Reid has built in Kansas City.

But another way in which they can improve their chances to win is by putting more responsibility on Carson Wentz. For a team that lacks legitimate playmakers on offense, giving Wentz — who has the potential makeup of a franchise quarterback —  more responsibility and opportunities to make plays just makes sense.

That starts with opening up the vertical passing game. Wentz’s critics cite his 24th ranked 6.69 yards per attempt as evidence that Wentz is nothing more than a Checkdown Charley. But this ignores the limitations that are imposed on Wentz by Pederson’s conservative play calling.

Pederson has combined the short passing concepts of the West Coast offense with a heavy reliance on running back and wide receiver screens. It’s a defensible strategy to an extent; Wentz is a rookie, the Eagles have question marks on their offensive line and lack legitimate skill position players on the outside.

But Pederson has become so conservative over the last too weeks that it’s becoming counterproductive. Through the first five weeks of the season, Wentz averaged 7.632 yards per attempt.  Against the Vikings and Cowboys, Wentz averaged a comically bad 4.815 yards per attempt. The short passing game made some sense against the Vikings given their dominant defensive line and pass rush. But the Cowboys do not have a strong defense, and Pederson’s reluctance to stretch the field allowed Dem Boyz to sit on the short routes and sell out to stop the run.

Based on my film review, only 16 of the 71 plays run by the Eagles involved at least one receiver running a deep route (totaling 20 yards or more). That’s less than one-quarter of all plays run by the Eagles on Sunday night and only 37% of the 43 pass plays. And the numbers look worse upon closer examination, as five of those plays did not present a realistic chance of actually throwing deep:

  • One deep route was used as a decoy to clear out space for a running back screen to Darren Sproles;
  • Three other plays involved Agholor running a go route to clear out underneath routes for receivers — Wentz did not even look at Agholor on the plays;
  • And one play would have been virtually impossible to hit the deep route simply because of the play design. Wentz ran a bootleg to his left off play action and had Jordan Matthews running a deep route on the same side of the field. Wentz dumped the ball off to the short check down, but hitting Matthews in stride would have required him to either throw across his body on the run (never smart) or stop, plant, and throw to Matthews before the defense got pressure (never easy).

Remove those 5 plays, and that leaves only 11 plays where Wentz even had the opportunity to attack the Cowboys vertically.

Of those 11 plays, I could find only two examples in which Wentz passed on an opportunity to throw deep when he should have let it rip. With 9:02 left in the third quarter, the Eagles lined up with trips right and Dorial Green-Beckham isolated at the bottom of the field.  Wentz completes a 14-yard pass to DGB for a first down. Yes, one of the best examples I could even find involved Wentz completing a pass for a first down.

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But look at Jordan Matthews (second receiver from the top). He’s running a go route from the slot, has inside leverage on his defender and no safety help over the top. If Wentz throws that towards the center hash, odds are Matthews is coming down with it for a huge gain and perhaps even a touchdown. But again, Wentz threw the ball for a damn first down. It’s hard to call this a bad decision.

The other play occurred with 14:50 left in the second quarter. The Eagles were at their own 25 yard line on a 1st and 10, and Wentz dumped the ball off to Ryan Mathews for a gain of one yard.

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But watch the play develop at the top of the screen, you can see a tight opening for Wentz to hit Ertz for a big gain. The defense was in Cover-2 zone, so there is a risk that the cornerback could have dropped back into that space. But the tight window was there, and Wentz was not under pressure. He could have taken the shot if he wanted.

On the few times Wentz attacked the Cowboys deep, his receivers dropped the football. This clip shows two different plays with the same result: Jordan Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham dropping catchable passes for big gains (although the DGB pass technically didn’t travel over 20 yards):

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That’s four plays where the Eagles could have realistically attacked the Cowboys deep. Again: the Eagles ran 71 plays total.

There’s a delicate balance between being too aggressive or too conservative. We obviously don’t want Pederson calling four verticals all game, but we also don’t want him turning Wentz into Alex Smith or Sam Bradford. We’ve already read that book and know how it ends.

So how do the Eagles fix it? The most obvious answer is to start drawing up plays with more vertical passing concepts. Profound stuff, I know. But Pederson called more deep passes earlier in the year, and Wentz excelled at it. It’s unclear why Pederson has become so reluctant to attack defenses vertically the last two weeks — perhaps it was the game killing interception that Wentz threw against the Lions, or Pederson lost faith in the receivers or was simply trying to protect Big V — but regardless of the cause, Pederson needs to give Wentz the opportunity to attack defenses deep.

Pederson also should consider making some personnel changes with the receivers. Agholor simply cannot serve as our primary deep threat anymore. He’s not explosive enough to blow by defenders, not strong enough to out muscle them, and is only catching 58.3% of his passes. I don’t want to give up on a first round pick after a season and a half, but he hasn’t earned the amount of opportunities he is receiving.

While Pederson’s options are less than ideal, he should divvy those deep passing opportunities between Ertz and DGB. I know fans are growing tired of the Ertz talk — and rightfully so — but beggers can’t be choosers. Ertz is one of the only receivers on the team with good size, that runs great routes and has shown the ability to make tough catches. While DGB has a case of the drops, he at least gives Wentz a size mismatch to exploit.

Pederson should also consider calling more designed runs for Wentz. I’m not suggesting we turn Wentz into RG3, but he has only 19 runs on the year according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Using Wentz’s athleticism 3-4 times a game gives defenses another thing to worry about and could make life easier on Ryan Mathews and the Eagles anemic rushing attack.

We are at a turning point in the season. The Eagles face a must win game against the New York Giants (they cannot afford to start 0-3 in the division), and have a tough sled of games against the Falcons, Seahawks, Packers and Bengals to follow. So it’s time for Pederson to take the training wheels off Carson Wentz. There’s a risk it backfires — Wentz is just a rookie — but we’ve already seen that the conservative approach isn’t working. So what’s there to lose?

Eagles Cowboys Preview

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

 

This is the game we have all be waiting for. Eagles v Cowboys. Wentz v Prescott. Sunday Night Football. It is one of the most anticipated games between these teams in recent memory. Here’s an advanced scouting report with a focus on key numbers and matchups that could determine the outcome of this game.

When the Cowboys are on Offense

Battle in the Trenches

Everyone will be talking about Dak Prescott v Carson Wentz, but the most important matchup in this game is the Eagles defensive line against the Cowboys vaunted offensive line. It’s a matchup of strength versus strength, and it’s no secret the two units aren’t fond of one another.

The Eagles have the number one rated pass rush in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and their defense ranks 1st in overall DVOA, 1st in pass DVOA, and 13th in run DVOA.  The Eagles are 4th in the NFL in total sacks, with 22. The one weakness, as of late, has been the run defense. They’ve allowed 72 rushes for 381 yards 5.2 YPC and 1 touchdown in their last three games. Some will immediately blame the wide nine technique, since it creates large running lanes between the Eagles lineman to exploit, but the truth is the missed tackles have been more of an issue.

The Cowboys have the number one offensive line in the league, according to Football Outsiders. They rank 1st in run blocking, ninth in pass blocking and have allowed only 9 sacks on the season, which is the third best mark in the league.

This therefore presents a salivating matchup of two of the best lines in the league. If there was any edge, it might come down to health. The Eagles are without one of their best lineman in Bennie Logan, while the Cowboys get back their best lineman, and one of the best lineman in all of football, in Tyron Smith. Smith has missed several weeks with a back injury, and the All Pro Left Tackle returns just in time to square off against the Eagles.

For my money, the winner of this matchup will come down to whether Jim Schwartz dials up the blitz effectively. I’m just not sure the Eagles can afford to rely on their front four to generate pressure. Two weeks ago, the Eagles faced Football Outsider’s second best offensive line in football in the Washington Redskins. They rarely blitzed, got 0 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and were gashed by Kirk Cousins and the ground game all day.

The Vikings have the worst offensive line in football according to Football Outsiders, but the Eagles were able to manufacture pressure because Jim Schwartz abandoned his philosophical aversion to blitzing by sending an extra rusher 12 times.  It worked. The Eagles got 6 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 8 tackles for a loss and 9 passes defended.

I broke down some of these blitzes on Twitter, but never got to put up a post, so I am going to force them in here. Schwartz’s game plan was nothing short of brilliant. He sent blitzes often, varied the location of the pressure, and never let the Vikings offense get in rhythm.

If the Eagles can get pressure, the entire dynamic of the game changes. But if Prescott is able to operate with a clean pocket, the Eagles defense could be in for a long day.

Dak Prescott

Prescott has been fantastic this year. He’s completed 68.7%, for 1,486 yards, 8.2 y/a, 7 tds, and 1 int. Prescott’s 82.9 QBR is the second best mark in the league. He’s athletic, but chooses his runs smartly, and has added 3 rushing touchdowns on the year. Prescott makes smart decisions, has only two turnovers on the year, and has solidified himself as the Cowboys quarterback of the future (and perhaps, present).

I’m interested to see how Prescott does under pressure and when his team is behind on the scoreboard.  Prescott has only been sacked 9 time on the season, which is tied for the third best mark in the league among qualifying quarterbacks. Prescott has also rarely played from behind. He never trailed once against the Bears, Bengals or Packers and was behind for only portions of the wins over the Redskins. The only time he was behind for an extended period of time was against the 49ers, when he faced a 14-0 deficit in the 2nd quarter. But, that’s the 49ers, one of the worst teams in the NFL.

In other words, Prescott has benefited from playing in favorable situations throughout most of the season. That isn’t to take anything away from what he’s accomplished. But as we saw with Wentz the last two weeks, being under pressure and playing from behind changes the dynamic considerably. If the Eagles can get a lead and Schwartz can effectively dial up pressure with the blitzes, the Eagles might be the first team to make Prescott look like a rookie.

Ezekiel Elliott

Elliot has 137 carries, 703 yards and 5.1 ypc, 5 tds. If he keeps this pace up, he’s a lock to win the offensive rookie of the year award (Sorry, it’s true).

Elliot started slow during the first two games of his career: tallying 20 carries, 51 yards and 1 touchdown against the Giants, followed by 21 carries for 83 yards and 1 td against the Redskins. But since then, Elliot has been on fire, averaging 165.5 total yards and 5.93 ypc in his last four games. Granted, three of those games were against the Bears, 49ers and Bengals, who rank 20th, 29th and 23rd in run DVOA, respectively. But the Packers have the #2 rated run DVOA, and Elliot hung 28 for 157 yards on them. The kid can ball.

The Eagles are going to need to maintain gap discipline and tackle like they did against the Vikings, not the Redskins (where, by my count, they missed at least 9 tackles). The Cowboys entire offense is predicated on controlling the ball; they lead the league in time of possession; missing tackles will just make life harder on the D.

Three other stats that likely only interest me.

(1) 82 of Elliot’s 137 carries come with multiple tight ends on the field (43 with two, 39 with three tight ends). The remaining 55 come with one tight end on the field. In other words, Elliot has yet to gain a single carry without a tight end on the field. So if you see the Cowboys lining up with 4 wide receivers, odds are they won’t be running the ball.

(2) Another trend I noticed: if you see the Cowboys run a man in motion, odds are Elliot isn’t running the ball. Elliot has only 8 carries when the Cowboys put a man in motion on the season. His 129 other carries did not involve a man being put in motion.

(3) We’ve heard the old adage that runners get stronger as the game progresses. I haven’t tested whether that theory is true league wide, but it hasn’t been so far for Elliot. In his first through 10th carries of each game, Elliott averages 6 yards per carry and has 3 touchdowns. On his 11th through 20th carries, his ypc drops to 4.7 and he has 2 touchdowns. And on carries 21-30, he averages only 3.7 ypc and has 0 touchdowns.

Dez Bryant

Bryant returns just in time to face the Eagles, a team that he has performed well against during his career. In 9 career games, Bryant averages 5.4 catches, 86.11 yards and .88 touchdowns. But if we focus on the last 7 games, his numbers rise to 5.7 catches for 97.85 yards and 1.14 touchdowns. No one needs to be reminded of the damage Bryant caused to Bradley Fletcher back in week 14 of the 2014 season: 6 catches, 114 yards, 3 touchdowns. In my mind, that game — and Davis’ refusal to adjust — marked the turning point in Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach. Bryant got off to a slow start this year because Witten and Beasely have served as Prescott’s security blankets. But  with Bryant returning from injury and the team playing in prime time, expect the Cowboys to get Bryant involved early in the game.

Cole Beasely

Speaking of Beasely, it’s time to start giving him credit as a legitimate slot receiver. He is firmly entrenched as Prescott’s favorite target, is a great route runner and has caught a ridiculous 84.6% of his targets. On the year, Beasely has 33 catches, 390 yards and 3 touchdowns, which puts him on pace for a career year. And with Ron Brooks out, Beasely will likely match up against Malcolm Jenkins in the slot, who Beasely roasted the last time the two matched up, catching 9 passes for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jenkins had a terrible game against the Redskins, getting beat by Vernon Davis on a wheel route for a 37 yard gain and giving up 2 touchdowns passes. He rebounded nicely against the Vikings, but a lot of his production came as a blitzer. Outside of the battle in the trenches, Beasely v Jenkins could be a key matchup for the game. If Jenkins struggles, the Cowboys could dink and Dak their way down the field all game.

When the Eagles are on Offense

Big Picture

This matchup presents an opportunity for the Eagles offense to get back on track, as the Cowboys defense isn’t stout, but instead benefits from spending the least amount of time on the field than any other defense in the league.

The Eagles rank 24th overall offensively in DVOA, 19th in running game, 19th in passing attack. Their offensive line is about middle of the pack, which is a marked improvement over Chip Kelly’s last two years in Philly. They rank 13th in run blocking, 18th in pass blocking.

Conversely, Dallas ranks 20th in defensive DVOA, 22nd against the pass, 8th against the run.  The Cowboys have allowed only 92.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 10th best in the league. They’ve also allowed only 2 rushing touchdowns all year, which tops the NFL.

Carson Wentz

After starting the season on a tear, Carson Wentz has cooled off significantly the last two games.  Wentz has completed 118/185 passes, completing 63.8% of his passes, for 1324 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 7.2 y/a, a quarterback rating of 92.7 and a QBR of 54.1.

That Wentz has regressed after Lane Johnson’s suspension is not by happenstance. Johnson’s replacement, Big V, was an unmitigated disaster against the Redskins, giving up 3 sacks. He surprisingly played better against the Vikings, who have one of the best pass rushes in the league. But some of that was by design, as Doug Pederson provided Big V help with tight end and running back chips throughout the game. Indeed, Brent Celek and Trey Burton saw their playing time increase to 48% and Burton 22% of the snaps last week to provide Big V help. That, in turn, limited the number of pass catchers out on the field. But, it’s better than Wentz being on his backside almost immediately.

Wentz should not be under duress for most of this game. The Dallas defensive line is anemic, their 11 sacks is tied for 24th in the league and their 24 quarterback hits ranks 31st.

Eagles Receivers

Since the bye week, Wentz’s target selection has been questionable: Agholor leads the team with 17 targets, Matthews is second with 15, followed by DGB (12), Ertz (9), Sproles (8), Huff (7), Mathews (6), Burton (4) and Smallwood (2). Ertz has averaged 3 targets per game since coming back from injury.

The west coast offense is designed to spread the ball around to multiple targets. But given the limitations of most of the Eagles pass catchers, it would be wise for Pederson, Reich and Wentz to start force feeding the ball to Matthews and Ertz. Agholor just is not getting it done, and feeding him the ball at a high clip is one of the reasons the offense is struggling.

The Cowboys secondary is not spectacular, but it has improved thanks in large part to Byron Jones, who is an athletic freak at the back end of the Cowboys defense. (Not to rub salt in the wounds, but the Eagles drafted Agholor ahead of Jones — yikes). The Cowboys have also benefited from improved play from Morris Claiborne. He’s allowed just 21 catches on 40 targets for 191 yards and zero touchdowns. While he has never validated his lofty draft status (6th overall in 2012), he is finally starting to serve as a functional starter.

But make no mistake, there will be opportunities to be had for the Eagles. This secondary isn’t special, so the Eagles should be able to make plays.

Ryan Mathews

Ryan Mathews has had two critical fumbles in the last three games, one of which cost the Eagles a victory. But his issues extend beyond that. He’s carried the ball 67 times for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 3.9 yards per carry rank 28th out of 40 qualifying running backs. That simply is not good enough. I thought Mathews was in for a good year based on his impressive production last year, when he was clearly the best back on the team. But now, Mathews is struggling and DeMarco Murray, who was a train-wreck last year, is one of the best running backs in football again. Because, reasons.

While the Cowboys have been effective against the run, they have struggled to stop pass catchers out of the backfield. Ty Montgomery caught 10 passes for 98 yards against the Cowboys two weeks ago, while Giovani Bernard caught 6 for 46, and the Bears running backs caught 6 for 62. In other words, Darren Sproles might have himself a decent game tomorrow.

Efficiency/Avoiding Costly Mistakes/Penalties

If I were to pick one key for the Eagles offense this week, it is to be efficient and avoid costly mistakes. As you can see from the numbers, the Cowboys defense isn’t actually very good. They instead benefit from facing the third fewest plays in the league because the Cowboys offense leads the league in time of possession.

Opportunities will be few and far between, so the Eagles must avoid beating themselves. They have a habit for inopportune mistakes; a penalty negating a big play, a drop on third down, etc. They will need to limit those mistakes so that they aren’t leaving their defense on the field for extended periods of time. If they can do so, they should have a chance to put up points. But if they don’t, this could be a repeat of the loss to the Redskins.

The Pick

I have gone back and forth on this one. The Cowboys are the more complete team playing better and more disciplined football. They should win this game — indeed, they have been favored by 4.5 points all week, a tell-tale sign that Vegas thinks the Cowboys are the better team. But something tells me the Eagles defensive line will take this game personally (as the have done in the past) and will wreak havoc on Prescott and the Cowboys offense. I also expect the Eagles offense to get back on track against a Cowboys defense that has been protected by its highly efficient offense.

Give me the Birds 24-17. 

Season record: 3-3

 

 

The Eagles Should Trade for Alshon Jeffery

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

I am preparing for an oral argument right now, so my time is limited. But I wanted to get some quick thoughts down on the rumors that first circulated on Monday night regarding the Eagles pursuing trading for a wide receiver.

The initial report involved the Eagles in talks over San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith, who is a 27 year-old, one trick pony on a $9.3 million a year contract. That’s the definition of meh. But Smith still presents an upgrade over the cast of characters manning the wide receiver spots not named Jordan Matthews. That of course is more of an indictment on the Eagles receivers than it is a compliment to Smith. But I digress.

So  Howie Roseman is doing his thing, working to maximize Carson Wentz’s ability to throw deep by getting him a receiver that can stretch the field. Don’t love it. Don’t hate it. Have at it, Howie.

But then Jason La Canfora dropped this:

Whether this was a “report” or educated speculation is unclear, but it gained steam when Benjamin Allbright confirmed the talks and provided further details about the potential move.

Now this is interesting.

Yes, the history of mid-season trades is not kind, and that is putting it mildly. The Professor (no, not this Professor) John Clayton broke down 10 of the most memorable midseason trades of all-time and they were mostly memorable for how spectacularly they failed: Herschel Walker to the Vikings, John Hadl (who?) to the Packers, Roy Williams to the Cowboys (ha), and Trent Richardson to the Colts (Ryan Grigson strikes again!), highlight some of the trades on this list. So if history is any indication, trading for Jeffery is fraught with risk.

But the Eagles should still do the deal. Jeffery is a 26 year old Pro Bowl receiver. He’s 6’3, 230 lbs and runs a 4.4 40.  The Bears are only considering the move because they are in rebuilding mode and Jeffery is a free agent at the end of the season. Acquiring him at a discounted rate is a rare opportunity that the Eagles should jump on without hesitation.

Sure, it likely won’t help them compete for a Super Bowl this year — learning a new playbook on the fly is no small feat (and are the Eagles really Super Bowl contenders?) — but long term? Jeffery is a complete receiver entering the prime of his career. His production — 174 catches, 2,554 yards, 17 touchdowns, on 14.65 yards per catch from 2013-14 alone —  is something the Eagles have lacked from the receiving position since they lost Jeremy Maclin to the Kansas City Chiefs. While Jefferey isn’t lighting the world on fire this season, he would still be a significant upgrade for the Birds. Consider this:

And while Jeffery doesn’t have any touchdowns this year (something that would likely change if his quarterback wasn’t Brian Hoyer and Matt freaking Barkley), his 16.3 yards per catch rank 12th in the league, according to ESPN.com. That type of deep threat would make the Eagles offense significantly more difficult to defend and would finally provide Wentz a legitimate target to attack defenses down field. I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired watching Nelson Agholor flail at that role.

And unlike Smith, Jeffery is more than just a deep threat. He is a physical receiver, good route runner, and does a great job of making difficult caches. Watch how he brakes Jalen Mills ankles on this stop and go route in week 2 and then adjusts mid-air to make a difficult catch in traffic:

 

I didn’t have the time to make more clips of Jeffery doing Jeffery-like things, so watch this Youtube video (on mute) instead.

But this isn’t just about what Jeffery can do. It’s also about what Jeffery’s presence means for other players on the Eagles offense. For starters, Jeffery’s ability to stretch the field opens up underneath routes for Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles to exploit and takes pressure off the much maligned running game.

It also means that Matthews no longer has to be miscast as the Eagles primary receiving option, but can instead fill the roll as a damn good number two option. And this would undoubtedly help Ertz as well. I know we joke that Ertz will break out any day now, but having a legitimate receiving threat on the outside could make life a living hell on opposing team’s safeties. Right now, they are sitting on the routes Ertz runs over the middle because they don’t have to cheat to the outside to cover Agholor, Huff or DGB. With Jeffery  on the field they could no longer do that. That extra space over the middle should make life easier for Errtz (I hope).

Two final thoughts on his injury history and the expected opportunity cost. Lots of people are complaining that Jeffery is an injury prone receiver. And while I cannot totally dismiss those concerns, I do want to provide a dose of perspective:

  • Jeffery has played in 58 of 71 possible games, which amounts to an 81.69% play rate.
  • Julio Jones has played in 72/87, which is 82.75%.
  • And Dez Bryant has played in 87/103, which is 84.4% of possible games.

I wouldn’t put Jeffery on their level as a receiver (although he’s arguably not far off Dez). But this was more to show you that a receiver can still help a team even if they are missing approximately 1/5th of their potential games.

Lastly, I would be less bullish on this move if the Eagles were offering a 1st round pick. That changes the calculation entirely. But I feel much more confident trading a mid-round pick for a potential top-10 receiver just entering his prime. As I’ve explored before, the expected start rate (i.e., amount of games a pick from a specific round has started on a historical basis) for a third round pick is 34.8% of the possible games. That number drops to 23.4% for a 4th round pick, and 17.5% for a 5th. Those aren’t great odds. So if that’s all it costs to obtain a potential top-10 reciever entering his prime? Sign me up.

 

Time to Get DGB More Touches

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3

When the Eagles traded backup lineman Dennis Kelly to the Titans in exchange for the talented but much-maligned Dorial Green-Beckham, expectations were low. Characterized as a classic low risk, high reward move, the Eagles took a shot in the dark that a change of scenery would help DGB maximize his potential.

At first blush, DGB’s production has been underwhelming, catching 11 passes for 131 yards and zero touchdowns. Spread out over 5 games, that yields a pedestrian average of 2.2 catches and 26.2 yards per game. But prior to last week, DGB’s production had steadily improved, a sign that the coaching staff was gaining confidence in the second year receiver:

Week Rec Yds Y/R
1 2 14 7.0
2 2 18 9.0
3 3 33 11.0
5 3 43 14.33
6 1 23 23.00

Last week would have been DGB’s most productive as an Eagle but for a block in the back penalty on Wendell Smallwood that negated DGB’s impressive 38 yard catch. While most focused on how well Carson Wentz evaded pressure, kept his eyes down field and threw an accurate pass from an impossible arm angle, DGB was equally impressive, breaking off his route to provide Wentz an open target, high pointing the ball and breaking a tackle to gain another 20+ yards:

If that play stands, DGB would have ended the day with 2 catches for 61 yards and a 30.5 average yards per catch. Not record setting, but again a sign of improvement.

DGB’s most enticing asset remains his physical profile: standing at 6’5, 237 lbs and running a 4.49 40, he dwarfs every cornerback and safety in the league and even rivals the size of most linebackers. DGB has proven adept at using that size to his advantage. Against the Lions, DGB bulldozed linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who is 6’2, 241 lbs, with a stiff arm that would have made Bo Jackson proud:

 

Green-Beckham is by no means a complete receiver, something the coaching staff will readily admit. He cannot run a complete route tree — far from it — and has had problems with drops and consistency:

While Green-Beckham’s 61% catch rate is nothing to write home about, it is on par with some of the best receivers in the game, including Julio Jones (62%), Amari Cooper (60%), Mike Evans (53%), Antonio Brown (64%) and DeAndre Hopkins (54%). I know, I know, sample size! But DGB has improved significantly over last season, when he caught only 51% of the balls thrown his way. So we should be encouraged by his improvement thus far.

With Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff failing to validate their draft position, it’s time for the Eagles to expand DGB’s role in the offense. They can do this in a number of ways.

For starters, they can continue to get Green-Beckham the ball in space. Despite his size, Green-Beckham has done well creating yards after the catch, with his 67 YAC ranking third on the team. The Eagles have targeted Green-Beckham most often with wide receiver screens, where his size and speed can turn a quick 2 yard catch into 10+ yards.

But the Eagles can also start utilizing DGB as their primary deep threat. As we saw with Wentz’s first career interception, Agholor is not excelling in that role: he lacks elite speed and isn’t strong enough to fight off more physical defenders. Green-Beckham, on the other hand, has already shown that he is capable of filling this role. He’s caught two deep passes from Wentz so far this year, both on Wentz’s favorite route, the deep in. Last week was a 23 yard catch on 1st and 20, and he made a similar catch against the Steelers during their week 3 win:

Defenses aren’t respecting Agholor as a deep threat, but they would have to respect Green-Beckham given his size. Sending Green-Beckham on a few go routes per game could open up the underneath routes for Zach Ertz (who needs to step it up), Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles and take pressure off running back Ryan Mathews, who is averaging a woeful 3.9 yards per carry on the year.

The Eagles also need to work Green-Beckham into the redzone offense. Last season, almost 10% of DGB’s catches were for touchdowns, thanks in large part to his size, strength and ability to high point the ball on fade routes. DGB flashed that potential early in the preseason, but curiously has only gotten one such opportunity during the regular season (a pass which Carson Wentz under threw):

The Eagles rank 20th in the NFL in redzone touchdown efficiency, scoring touchdowns on only 52.63% of its drives, according to TeamRankings.com. While the Vikings have arguably the league’s best defense, cornerback Xavier Rhodes is 6’1 and Terrance Newman is 5’10. In a game where points will likely be hard to come by, it makes sense for the Eagles to take advantage of the clear size mismatch that DGB provides.

Green-Beckham has a long way to go before he can become a legitimate number two receiver. But that shouldn’t stop the Eagles from taking advantage of what he does well now, especially given the lack of weapons they have at their disposal.

 

In case you missed it: I broke down the good, the bad and the ugly on the Eagles loss to the Redskins.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from Eagles/Redskins

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles have done what they always do: provide a false sense of hope to its long-suffering fans for just long enough to suck us back in, only to turn around crush our dreams in glorious fashion.

After starting the season a surprising 3-0, capped off with a 34-3 romp over the Super Bowl contending Pittsburgh Steelers, it should come as a surprise to no one that the Eagles subsequently lost to the lowly Detroit Lions and mediocre Washington Redskins.

And while the losses weren’t entirely shocking — again, this is the Eagles, and, this is the NFL, where parity exists by design — it’s the way the Eagles lost that has to leave the greater Delaware Valley exceedingly frustrated.

Penalties. Missed tackles. Bad coaching. Bad quarterback play. All of it was on full display in 60 minutes of football that likely took at least 2 years off my life and left me with a few more gray hairs than I started with.

So without further ado, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly take-aways from that terrible loss to the Redskins.

The Good: most of Carson Wentz’s 2nd half

I know what you are thinking: Wentz played his worst game of the season. He completed 11-22, for 179 yards, 0 tds, 0 ints, and a 77.7 quarterback rating. How on earth can you say he played well?

For starters, there wasn’t much else from which to choose. But I also thought Wentz rebounded nicely for most of the second half, making some spectacular plays to carry the Eagles back into a game they had no business being in.

Wentz has been criticized by some for not attacking defenses down field. As I’ve explained before, the criticism seems to conflate the infrequency with which Wentz attacks defenses downfield with an inability to actually do so. While the numbers support the former, there is no support whatsoever for the latter. Look no further than this sublime 54 yard completion to Jordan Matthews between two defenders.

#AirYards

Wentz has also impressed all season long with his athleticism. But unlike most athletic rookie quarterbacks, Wentz is not using his legs to take off at the first sign of trouble, but is instead using his legs to extend plays while keeping his eyes down field looking for an open receiver. That skill takes some years to cultivate, while others (see, RGIII) never figure it out.

Late in the 4th quarter with the Eagles down 7 and facing a 3rd and 9, Wentz navigated the pocket to avoid pressure, kept his eyes down field and delivered a strike to Nelson Agholor for an 18 yard gain and a first down.

Wentz’s best play of the game did not even count, thanks to a block in the back penalty on Wendell Smallwood. Wentz again used his athleticism to avoid the sack, kept his eyes down field and released the ball while being tackled to the ground. That is an Aaron Rodgers/Big Ben-esque play from a rookie quarterback making only his fifth start.

The Eagles offensive line looked like they were training for a matador bull fight. The Eagles receivers reverted back to dropping passes at the most inopportune times. And yet, Wentz persevered, rebounding from a slow start to put the Eagles on the cusp of victory. We obviously want to see more consistency from Wentz moving forward, but it was hard not to be impressed with his performance during parts of this game.

The Bad: Wentz’s 1st half (plus end of the game) and Doug Pederson

While Wentz played well in the second half, he played poorly in the first. Wentz was hit early, as the Halapoulivaati Vaitai experiment was an unmitigated disaster. This seemed to throw Wentz off his game, as he completed only 3-8 passes for 28 yards, 3.5 ypa and a 47.9 passer rating. And Wentz reverted back to his college tendency of missing receivers high. I counted at least three high passes in the first half alone which contributed to the stalled drives and played a part in allowing the Redskins to jump out to a big lead.

Wentz’s poor play continued at the worst possible time: during the Eagles final drive of the game as they tried to comeback from a touchdown deficit. Wentz was sacked twice on second and third down, thanks in large part to Wentz taking too long in the pocket to get rid of the football. These sacks were entirely avoidable. Throw the ball away. Scramble. Do anything but take the sack. They were rookie moments at the worst possible time and effectively ended the Eagles chances in the game.

Doug Pederson had a few rookie moments of his own on Sunday.  Fifth round draft pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai was making the first start of his career and faced off against Pro Bowl outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Yet, Pederson left Vaitai out on an island for most of the first half and at critical junctures in the second.

It’s hard to blame the rookie. Pederson either misread Big V’s readiness to start or failed to adjust quickly enough to provide him the help that he needed. While I am surprised that Pederson is sticking with Big V this week against the Vikings’ vaunted defense, Pederson needs to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Provide Big V help more frequently, and if that doesn’t work, pull him and go to the veteran Stefan Wisniewski.

Pederson also confirmed  Eagles fans’ worst fear by replicating Andy Reid’s porous clock management at the end of the game. To set the scene: the Eagles were facing 4th and 20+ yards with about 1:40 left in the game, down 7. Pederson (correctly) chose to punt the ball, hoping that the Eagles defense would get a quick 3 and out and give the ball back to the offense with enough time to tie the game.

Inexplicably, Pederson took a timeout before punting the football, leaving the Eagles with only two timeouts on the ensuing Redskins drive (remember, it was past the two minute warning by this point, so there was no other way to stop the clock).

It didn’t end up mattering since the Redskins converted on 3rd down and ran out the clock to win the game. But it could have have mattered if the Eagles got the stop on third down and had no way to stop the clock. The outcome should not overshadow the process.

Pederson deserves a pass since he has exceeded expectations so far this season. But he will need to step up his game with the undefeated Minnesota Vikings coming into town this week.

Runner up: Malcolm Jenkins: there is no way to sugarcoat this. Jenkins had one of his worst games wearing an Eagles uniform. He missed tackles, got burned by Vernon Davis on a wheel route for a big play and gave up at least one touchdown in coverage (the second was in zone coverage, so Jenkins deserves only part of the blame). Jenkins has been one of the Eagles best players for the better part of the last two seasons, so we shouldn’t be concerned about this continuing. But it was a bad game from the safety.

 

The Ugly: Referees and the Defense

Last week, I held off on writing a piece that highlighted just how bad the officiating was in the Eagles loss to the Lions. It would have sounded like sour grapes, especially since the Eagles played so poorly in the first half.

The Eagles played bad again on Sunday, but the officiating was terrible for a second week in a row. The Eagles were called for 13 penalties for 134 yards after being called for 14 penalties totaling 111 yards the week before. Combined, that’s 27 penalties for 245 yards, compared to 11 penalties for 93 yards called on their opponents.

These things usually even themselves out in the long run, and the poor officiating seems to be a league wide epidemic, but it’s hard to ignore that the Eagles have received the short end of the stick in the last two games.

Here are two side by side comparisons of calls made against the Eagles but not the Redskins. To be clear: this is not to suggest the calls against the Eagles were wrong, but this is to say that the officiating missed more blatant penalties committed by the Redskins.

With that said, the Eagles don’t deserve any excuses. The coaches and players lost this game on their own merit. Perhaps most egregiously was the performance from the defense. I counted (at least) 9 missed tackles in this game, many of which were the byproduct of players taking bad angles, using bad technique, or giving bad effort. Here is each missed tackle in one depressing video:

But it wasn’t just missed tackles. The Eagles were porous on third down, allowing the Redskins to covert 7 of 13 opportunities. This contributed, in part, to a 34 to 25 minute disparity in time of possession.

The defense (and at times, special teams), just could not get out of their own way. Consider the following sequences of plays on two different drives. On the Redskins’ first touchdown drive, the following happened:

  • The Eagles punted the ball out of bounds at the 14 yard line, but were called for a chop block, which is a 15 yard penalty. This moved the Redskins up to the 29 yard line.
  • On the next play, Destiny Vaeao was called for encroachment, giving the Redskins another free 5 yards.
  • Without doing anything, the Redskins went from being pinned inside their own 15 to the 34 yard line. According to at least one study, this increased the Redskins odds of scoring from 26.7% to 36.3%, a 10 point increase.
  • On the following play, Jalen Mills was burned by DeSean Jackson for a 35-yard gain.
  • The Redskins scored a touchdown two plays later.

Or consider this sequence of events, with the Eagles down 7 with 12:09 left in the 4th quarter:

  • Malcolm Jenkins is beaten by Vernon Davis on wheel route for a 37 yard gain.
  • Malcolm Jenkins misses an easy tackle, allowing Chris Thompson to gain about 5 more yards.
  • Rodney McLeod is called offsides, which negated one of the rare instances in which the defensive line got pressure on Cousins and forced an incompletion.
  • The Redskins ended up getting a field goal.

 

That’s 10 points the Redskins scored thanks in large part to boneheaded mistakes and penalties from the Eagles. Did I mention the Eagles lost by 7?

Runner up: Jalen Mills. The rookie cornerback had a rough game, as he was repeatedly abused by former Eagle DeSean Jackson. Mills didn’t fair much better against Pierre Garcon, as the receiver caught two big plays against Mills. The day could have been even worse, as Jackson dropped a surefire touchdown on a play in which he had Mills beaten. Yet, through it all, Mills was finger waving like he was Dikembe Mutombo. Someone should tell Mills to stop, especially when he is playing so poorly.

Big Picture

This was the second week in a row the Eagles played sloppy, undisciplined football. They don’t have enough elite talent on their roster to overcome self-inflicted wounds. If they are going to have any chance against the Vikings, they will need to get back to playing fundamentally sound football in all three phases of the game.

 

Eagles/Lions Preview: Easy Win or Trap Game?

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

 

The 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles face the 1-3 Detroit Lions coming off their bye week. On paper, this is a winnable game. The Eagles are coming in hot while the Lions have lost three in a row and are without some of their best players. But NFL games are not played on paper. And with upcoming games against the Redskins, Vikings, Giants, Cowboys, Falcons, Seahawks, Packers and Bengals, who are a combined 21-10, this has all the symptoms of a trap game.  Whether the Eagles can win a game they should will shed light on the makeup of this team and coaching staff.

Here is a scouting report on the Lions and how the Eagles can beat them.

Big Picture

While the Lions are 1-3, they lost the three games by a combined 11 points. They have talent on their team — this isn’t the Cleveland Browns we are talking about  — but they are wholly inconsistent. The Lions were up big against the Colts and Titans, but allowed second half comebacks by both teams. Against the Packers, the Lions were down big, but made it a game in the second half. In other words, they have a hard time putting together a full game. In that sense, they remind me of the Eagles at the tail end of the Andy Reid and Chip Kelly eras: capable of wowing you one minute and making you pull your hair out the next.

The Lions are also the third most penalized team in the NFL, with 39 penalties on the year, according to NFLPenalties.com. I lost track of how many positive plays were negated by penalties when I watched the tape, but I counted at least three touchdowns that were called back, two of which occurred on back to back plays against the Colts.

The Lions are also without three of their best players for this game: defensive end Ziggy Ansah, tight end Eric Ebron, and linebacker DeAndre Levy, while running back Dwayne Washington is listed as doubtful.  That’s in addition to running back Ameer Abdullah, who is lost for the season on injured reserve.

So other than being inconsistent, penalty prone and injured, the Lions are a dangerous team!

Offense

Sarcasm aside, the Lions are actually a threat on offense, which is spearheaded by Matthew Stafford and the passing attack. The Lions are both productive and efficient: they have the 9th most passing yards per game, rank 10th in offensive efficiency per FootballOutsiders.com, and 10th in DAVE, which projects future offensive efficiency.

Stafford has completed 67% of his passes for 1198 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 93.9.  Stafford is still capable of wow throws and has one of the strongest arms in the league. But Stafford trusts his arm too often, leading to questionable decision making. Stafford could easily have 6 or 7 interceptions on the year but for dropped picks and penalties.

The Lions have made a concerted effort to get Stafford on the run more frequently. I saw plenty of boot legs off play action and Stafford has also shown a willingness to take off and run or use his legs to extend plays in the pocket.

Despite losing Calvin Johnson, the Lions have good receivers that the Eagles must respect. That starts with free agent addition Marvin Jones, who ranks second in the NFL with 482 yards and an absurd 21 yards per catch. The Lions send Jones on go routes up the far side of the field multiple times a game. When defenses sell out to stop the deep pass, Jones has shown an ability to stop on a dime and catch the back shoulder fade.

While Jones is the preferred deep threat, the Lions throw a heavy dose of short passes and wide receiver screens to Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin. Tate has gotten off to a slow start this year, but offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter (love saying that name) stated that Tate should have a huge game this week. Bolding is 36, but hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down or avoiding his physical style of play, so the Eagles secondary must be sound in tackling.

The Lions running game is underwhelming, ranking 20th in the league in total rushing yards and 22nd in rushing yards per game. With that said, Theo Riddick is a dangerous weapon on offense. Eagles fans need no reminders; Riddick torched the Eagles last year, catching 5 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in last year’s Thanksgiving day massacre.

While Riddick isn’t nearly as accomplished, his agility and lateral mobility rivals LeSean McCoy. He makes absurd moves in tight spaces and has broken at least 10 different defenders’ ankles on the year with moves like this:

With the Eagles looking to get pressure on Stafford, I would expect a steady diet of screens and designed pass plays to Riddick out of the backfield. Can Mychal Kendricks and Jordan Hicks do better defending Riddick than last year? That remains to be seen, but will go a long way towards determining the outcome of this game.

The key for the Eagles defense, as it has been the entire year, is the defensive line. The Lions have given up 10 sacks on the year, the 8th highest mark in the league. With Schwartz having and extra week to prepare for his former team, I expect to see some exotic blitzes and different looks. If the Eagles can get pressure — and I suspect that they will — they should be able to limit the passing game’s effectiveness and force Stafford into turning the ball over.

Defense

The Lions run an attacking 4-3 defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Unlike Schwartz, Austin prefers to create pressure with multiple fronts and blitzes. This could pose a problem for rookie signal caller Carson Wentz, especially given that the Eagles are on the road in a hostile environment.

If you just looked at the numbers, you would think the Lions are wholly inept on defense. They rank 25th in total yards allowed per ESPN.com22nd in passing yards allowed and 22nd in rushing yards allowed. And they are even worse from an efficiency stand point, ranking 32nd in defensive DVOA per FootballOutsiders.com and 32nd in DAVE.

The Lions have also done a poor job at creating turnovers this year. They have only 1 interception and zero fumble recoveries, while they rank 25th in turnover differential.

If there is one area where the Lions excel, it’s getting sacks. The Lions have recorded 9 sacks on the year, tied for 8th best mark in the league. But, the Lions are without their best pass rusher in Ziggy Ansah, so that could limit how much pressure they get on Carson Wentz.  To make matters worse, the Lions are also missing their best linebacker, DeAndre Levy, so they could struggle even more against the run.

While the numbers aren’t particularly kind to the Lions, they look good on tape at times. But they still suffer from the same inconsistency issues as the offense. They shut down the Colts in the first half, giving up 10 points, only to give up 25 in the second. They limited the Titans to 3 points in the first half, only to surrender the lead by giving up 12 points in the second. And against the Packers, they gave up 31 points in the first half, but limited Aaron Rodgers and the vaunted Packers offense to only 3 points in the second. If the Lions ever put together a full game, they could be a good defense. They haven’t yet, so let’s hope they don’t start this week.

I expect the Eagles to use multiple tight end fronts to limit the Lions pass rush and give Wentz time to pick apart their suspect pass defense. I expect a heavy dose of passes to Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz, and for Darren Sproles to be a dynamic threat in the passing attack out of the backfield. Assuming they can protect Wentz, the Eagles offense should be able to move the ball at will. They will just need to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals, because the Lions offense is not as bad as their record might suggest.

 

 

Prediction

Two weeks ago, I had the gut feeling that the Eagles would win, but went with logic and picked the Steelers. This week, my gut is telling me the Lions win this in a classic trap game. Everything points to an easy Eagles victory: the Eagles are hot, the Lions are not, and the Lions are injured. But winning games on the road is very difficult in the NFL, especially for a rookie quarterback. This could very easily be a game where the Eagles come out flat and overlook their opponent, Matthew Stafford gets hot, and the Lions defense decides to show up for a full four quarters. If so, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Eagles lose.

But, I don’t like picking games off gut feelings. I trust what I see in the tape and the numbers. The Eagles are the better team playing more disciplined football. Sometimes it really is that simple. But most importantly, I think this Eagles defense is a legitimate top 5 unit. So even if the Eagles offense sputters, I think the defense carries the day. That means  the defensive line creating havoc and forcing Stafford into multiple interceptions.

I am taking the Eagles in a close one, 23-21.

Season Record: 2-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Graham’s Relentless Pursuit to Erase the Memory of Earl Thomas

Patrick Causey, Follow him on Twitter @pcausey3

Brandon Graham has served as an outlet for fans’ frustrations ever since he was drafted ahead of Earl Thomas. That frustration grew as Graham’s career got off to a slow start, thanks to a combination of injuries, bad play, and being miscast in a scheme that did not fit his skill set. While Thomas has been selected to five Pro Bowls and three First Team All Pros, Graham has yet to receive a Pro Bowl nod or finish a season with double digit sacks.

Even after Graham’s play improved, praise was always given with the Earl Thomas caveat: “yea, but he’s no Earl Thomas.” “Even now, I hear everybody. It’s already talk on my Twitter,” Graham quipped back in 2014. Graham has resorted to blocking out the noise, both figuratively and literally, especially on Twitter.

But Graham has finally found a scheme that fits his strengths, something Jim Schwartz recognized this offseason. And it’s paid immediate dividends. Through three games, Graham has 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and 7 tackles. PFF.com rates Graham as the 4th best edge rusher in the NFL, behind only Von Miller, Carlos Dunlap and Nick Perry. So while Graham isn’t an All Pro talent like Thomas, he is producing at a high enough level to warrant retiring the “he’s not Earl Thomas” talk.

Graham doesn’t overpower players with his size: he’s 6’2, 269 lbs, he doesn’t have a flashy spin move like Dwight Freeney, and he’s not an athletic freak like Jevon Kearse. But what Graham lacks in measurables and flash, he overcomes with a relentless motor.

Indeed, if there was one word to describe Brandon Graham, it would be relentless. He rarely gives up on a play; and it’s that lunch-pail mentality that should (at least by now) endear him to a blue collar city like Philadelphia:

Some might dismiss this play because it occurred in the preseason — it’s just the preseason! — after all. But that’s exactly my point: how many starters make this kind of hustle play during the preseason?

Even when Graham is blocked, he isn’t. Two of his three sacks on the year only happened because Graham never stopped working, never stopped hustling, never stopped pursuing the quarterback:

The other sack, against the Steelers in week 3, highlights the benefits of lining up in the wide nine. Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert is 6-6, 330 lbs, making him four inches taller and 60 lbs heavier than the 6’2, 269 lb Graham. But that size advantage means nothing in space. Gilbert failed miserably at trying to beat Graham to the edge, thanks to Graham’s quickness advantage (4.71 40 time v Gilbert’s 5.12) and the space he received by lining up out wide:

The average size of NFL tackle is reportedly 6’5, 310 lbs, so Graham should enjoy a similar advantage for most of this season. Given the scheme fit and his relentless motor, we should expect Graham’s strong start to continue. And that is especially true for divisional games, where Graham has owned some of the divisions best offensive tackles, like Tyron Smith and Trent Williams.

But Graham isn’t just excelling in pass rushing situations. Despite being a liability in run coverage early in his career, Graham has worked his tail off to become an asset. And that is critically important in Schwartz’s attack scheme, which demands defensive ends to set the edge against the run and funnel the running back to the center of the defense, where behemoths Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan await.

There were valid concerns prior to the start of the season that the Eagles run defense, which has been stout since Cox and Logan were inserted in the middle of the line, would regress based on the wide nine alignment. But Graham and Connor Barwin’s effectiveness against the run has helped the Eagles defense rank third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, at 71.0.

Graham has popped out on film against the run in a number of ways. From setting the edge to using his quickness to get into the backfield and blow up plays for a loss.

And of course, that relentless motor comes in handy against the run too. When offensive lineman couldn’t block Graham, they’ve resorted to tackling him to the ground. Against the Bears, even that wasn’t enough as Graham was able to bring down the running back for a four yard loss:

Graham still hears the doubters. He uses their criticism as fuel on his relentless path to erase any doubt that the Eagles made the right decision drafting him ahead of Earl Thomas. While Graham might never get to prove all the doubters wrong, that’s just fine too. Because he’s playing damn good, regardless.

In Case You Missed It

Brent discussed injury risk and the quarterback highlander battle between Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott.

Tyler turned to the film to break down a key (but overlooked) running play in the Eagles win over the Steelers.

And I dove deep into the film to discuss why criticisms of Carson Wentz regarding his inability to throw deep or work through his progressions are misplaced.