Eagles vs. Saints: The Day After

Unfortunate ending to a really entertaining season, but can’t say it was that surprising.  In fact, the only surprise is in how little blame there is to be placed (as long as you’re not a WIP lunatic).  The fact is, the Eagles played a relatively good game yesterday.  The problem is, so did the Saints.  Clearly both teams were very evenly matched and the Saints just happened to be winning when the music stopped.  Tough break, but don’t overreact.  Picking it apart a bit:

– A lot of people on Alex Henery’s case, which is a little unfair.  I’m certainly not a Henery fan (and think he’ll have to compete for a job next year), but we can’t pretend that a 48 yard kick in 20 degree weather is an easy shot.  For example, look at this chart from an article at AdvancedNFLStats.com from 2012:

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 2.23.54 PM

I’m not exactly sure what the data set is, but assuming it’s reasonable, that means the kick was, at best, a roughly 50/50 proposition.  If anything, Chip might deserve a bit more blame for kicking it instead of going for it.

The lack of touchbacks hurt as well, but again, kicking in 20 degrees is difficult, and I’m not sure how many other kickers would have done much better (definitely some, but my guess is not a lot).

– Nick Foles took a bad sack just before the previously mentioned FG attempt.  Again, though, it’s pretty hard to be mad at that.  He’s a young player who made a mistake due to inexperience.  It happens.  He also looked like he missed a few opportunities downfield, but I can’t say that with much confidence without an All-22 review.  Regardless, when you play a low-risk game, you’re going to miss some of those shots.  That’s part of the trade-off for not throwing any interceptions.

– The kick-coverage killed them at the end of the game.  The Eagles were one of the weaker STs units in the league this year.  So not surprise there.  Once again, it’s hard to blame the team.  The roster just isn’t that deep, which we’ve known for a while.  That hurts STs.  Another draft or two should fix that, it just wasn’t possible to do in one offseason.

– Roc Carmichael was victimized on a key 3rd and 12, and had a terrible mistake in punt coverage (when he kicked the ball into the End Zone).  But….it’s ROC CARMICHAEL!   This gets back to team depth.  If the roster was deeper, Carmichael wouldn’t have been on the field, and maybe those plays get made.  CB depth has to be near the top of the list for offseason needs, so I expect that to be remedied as well.

– The offense was very inconsistent, and downright nonexistent early on.  The Saints, though, were the 10th ranked defense by DVOA coming into the game.  They were missing Kenny Vaccaro, but the fact is, that was a good defense.  Putting up 24 points isn’t a great performance, but it’s also not bad.  The Saints allowed more than 24 points just four times this year.  

– Riley Cooper had a bad drop.  No real defense here, other than to say that all WRs drop passes sometimes.  Also, the Eagles still took the lead after that play.  It was a bad mistake, but no team is perfect (the Saints certainly had some similar mistakes as well).

There were other issues as well, but the overall message is: the game unfolded pretty much as we expected.  I’ll soon start going through the season in more detail and we can talk about what improvements should be made (I’ve got some different ideas than most), but for now, you should feel encouraged, despite the loss.  Here:

– Your 2nd year, 6’5″ Quarterback just and one of the greatest seasons (albeit abbreviated) in the history of the league.

– You have perhaps the best coach in the league (outside the untouchables like Belichick, Payton, Harbaugh).

– The rest of the division is a mess, and there’s very little chance that the Eagles don’t open as NFC East favorites next season.

– Nick Foles is 24 years old.  LeSean McCoy is 25.  Zach Ertz is 23.  Brandon Boykin is 23.  Fletcher Cox is 23. Mychal Kendricks is 23. Lane Johnson is 23.  Jason Kelce is 26.

That’s a pretty good “core”.  Add in potential contributors Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff (both 24), and I’m not sure there’s a team better positioned for the next 5-6 years than the Eagles.

Moreover, D-Jax is only 27.  So is Connor Barwin.

Lastly, Chip Kelly is only 50 (young in HC years), and just won 10 games in his first year.

Week 17: Eagles v. Cowboys Post-Game Notes

Well that was….agonizing.  The offense simply didn’t do its job, if it had, the game would have been a blowout.  Not going to dwell too much on it, though.  Only thing really worth investigation is whether Foles had places to throw the ball instead of taking the sacks.

For now, some quick notes:

– One of the biggest issues the past few years has been the lack of impact players on defense.  My perspective is that, in general, you can scheme to score points, but need talent to prevent them.  The Eagles haven’t had that….until now (maybe).  Mychal Kendricks played a great game, and looks to have found some measure of consistency (his biggest issue last year).  Boykin, outside of the really stupid PR penalty, also played a very good game.  The development of those two players is HUGELY important for the future of the team, especially when you consider the very real possibility (hopefully) that the team won’t be picking in the first half of the draft for a while.  Fletcher Cox didn’t make many players, but it looked like he was seeing consistent double-teams.  If that’s true, then he’s doing his job as well.

– Jason Garrett made some very poor strategic decisions, to the Eagles advantage of course.  Punting on 4th and 2 in Eagles territory is just completely indefensible, especially when you consider how good the Eagles’ offense is (despite its performance yesterday).  It’s shocking to me that coaches still do things like that, when so much work has been done to show it’s clearly the wrong move.  According to Expected Points, from AdvancedNFLStats.com, Garret gave away MORE THAN A FULL POINT with that decision.  He also struggled with more than just 4th down calls…

– The Cowboys’ biggest advantage coming into the game was on Special Teams.  Moreover, their return man, Dwayne Harris, was healthy again and among the more dangerous return men in the league.  Yet….he brought just 2 kicks out of the end zone (averaging 32.5 yards on those returns).  Another huge strategic blunder.  It doesn’t matter that the kicks were in the back of the end zone.  As an underdog, you need to (a) up the variance, and (b) leverage your strengths.  They did the complete opposite by not returning every kick.  This isn’t an isolated occurrence either.  Look at this, from Jared Cohen,

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 11.17.26 AM

 

You can see Dallas in the upper-left quadrant.  They’re above average in returns, yet attempt them far less than average.  Yes, there is some cross-causation here (it’s possible they’re above average because the only return kicks that don’t go deep into the end zone).  However, remember they were big underdogs here, with a QB that couldn’t push the ball downfield.  Maybe they should have taken a shot at giving Dwayne Harris a few shots against a poor Eagles STs unit?  Yeah…but I’m sure happy they didn’t.

Let’s just hope Jerry Jones isn’t lying when he says he’s keeping Garrett….

– Billy Davis….I’m done.  He’s at the top of the list as far as changes I’d like to see the team make.  The personnel still needs improvement, and blown coverages can’t get blamed on him, but he just doesn’t seem to have any feel for the strategic ebb and flow of the game.  He also seems to be completely ignorant of the risk/reward equation of blitzing in various situations.

The toughest part about judging coaches is that you never know if the players are actually executing what they’re told.  However, allowing the Cowboys, in a vitally important situation, to get Dez Bryant matched up one-on-one with Patrick Chung as a result of a simple, single-man pre-snap motion is absolutely ridiculous.  It shouldn’t happen. It CAN’T happen.

Also, when blitzes aren’t working, the answer is NOT to blitz more!  Here, Davis seemed to have no idea who he was playing against.  Kyle Orton, at this stage of his career especially, is a check-down, quick-read QB.  He’s not great, but if there’s a wide-open receiver, he’s going to complete the pass.  He also can’t push the ball downfield.  So why blitz?  If the QB is routinely taking 3-step drops, it doesn’t matter what blitz you call, there isn’t enough time to for it to get home.  Instead, Davis should have been happy to rush just 4 linemen and drop everyone else into coverage.  Orton’s not mobile, so the LBs are all free to man-up or drop into an underneath zone.

Against a QB with great accuracy (like Drew Brees for example), you can’t do this, because coverage is much more difficult.  Against Kyle Orton, though, the coverage doesn’t have to be perfect, he’s not that good!  He made one legitimately great throw all game (to Terrance Williams).  Other than that, his ball-placement was off, sometimes by a lot.  If that’s the case, the last thing you want to do is make things easy for him by leaving receivers uncovered (a side-effect of blitzing).

Most unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time occurrence; Davis has struggled with this all year.

– One last blitz point….it’s a high-variance strategy!  In other words, it’s something you should generally avoid if you are the favorite.  If you’re the better team, you don’t need the high-reward!  As a result, the payoff isn’t worth the associated risk.  As a significant favorite, it’s the OTHER team that should be forced to make riskier plays.

To be fair, though, I don’t think many DCs (if any) really conceptualize blitzing or general defensive strategy like this.  That’s not a good excuse for Davis though, it just means the whole profession needs some instruction.

Now some happy thoughts:

– 10 wins, a division title, a home playoff game, the league’s top rated passer, the league’s leading rusher, the most 20+ yard plays in NFL history.  As I said in the pre-game notes, this season has been a resounding success.  We’re playing with house money now.

– The Eagles went 7-1 over the second half of the season.

– Drew Brees is legitimately great, and scares me regardless of where the game is, but getting him out of the dome really is a big deal.

– The Saints are 2-3 in their last 5 games.  It’s been a very difficult stretch (losses have come against Seattle, Carolina, and St. Louis), but still.  This team isn’t quite as good as the Saints you’re used to hearing.  That said, they have a point differential of +110, nearly twice the Eagles’ mark of +60.  (My first reaction to the -2.5 line is that it’s off by a couple of points).

– Despite that, if I told you pre-season that the Eagles were a 50/50 proposition to make it to the divisional round of the playoffs, my guess is you’d have been thrilled and/or called my insane.

– Playoffs!

Notes from Yesterday

Yesterday’s game went down just about exactly as expected.  I’ve got a few notes, and I’m going to try to steer clear of the obvious ones.

The Eagles average starting field position was the 36 yard line.  Arizona’s was the 19 yard line.   In a game between two evenly matched teams, that’s a HUGE difference.  Some of that was the turnovers, some of that was Donnie Jones.  I get the sense that he’s flown under most fans’ radars, but Jones has been a very important piece this year (relatively speaking).  Yesterday, he had 7 punts inside the Arizona 20 yard line.   Against a poor offense (which the Cardinals are), that’s a very big deal.  Remember pre-season, one of the things I highlighted was how bad the Eagles average field position differential was last year (nearly -7 yards) and that it was very unlikely to be that bad again, or even close to that bad.  I haven’t seen the season numbers for this year, but its safe to say there’s been some mean reversion there, regardless of why it’s occurring (Jones? TOs? Luck?  Likely all 3).

– The Eagles passing game was incredibly balanced yesterday, and illustrates a big point in Nick Foles’ favor.  He really doesn’t seem to have “favorite” receivers.  Yesterday, Jackson, Cooper, Ertz, Celek, and McCoy all had 6 targets.  Avant had 4.  That’s the definition of balance, and it shows Foles was “taking what was there”.

– Foles did NOT play that well.   This definitely qualifies as a “lucky” game.  He had the INT called back, but more worrisome were the handful of open passes that he missed badly on.  That’s what we saw in the Dallas debacle, and it’s still without explanation.  Fortunately, it was less pronounced yesterday.  Perhaps I’m digging too deep for criticism, but I don’t think it’s nit-picking to say QBs should hit almost every pass when he has time to deliver and sees a wide-open receiver well within his range.  Can’t expect him to be perfect, but missing more than 1-2 of those per game is too many.

– Billy Davis hurts my brain.  Some questionable scheming by Davis yesterday.  Most notably, and I’ve made this point before, he continues to send CB or S blitzes and “disguising” them at the snap by having the players stay in base position.  Note that this means the CB is often around 20 yards from the QB at the snap.  See the problem?

The fastest players in the league run 4.3 40 yard dashes (roughly).  That’s with perfect conditions and no pads.  So even in that situation the player will take at least 2.15 seconds to get to the QB.  Moreover, when you account for the pads, sub-optimal alignment (not in a sprinter’s start), and the obvious potential for blockers to be in the way, you have to figure it’s going to take more than 3 seconds for the CB to get there.  Meanwhile, while he’s en route, you’ve essentially taken a defender off the field.  He’s in no man’s land.  It’s quickly becoming one of my least favorite plays in football, but Davis continues to call it.

– Eagles were just 5 of 16 on 3rd down.  Nothing to add here.  It was a good defense, but you’d still like to see that conversion rate much higher.  It’s a big reason the game was close.

– Brandon Graham had 2 sacks.  That’s not really news.  However, he did it with just 13 snaps.  That’s a pretty good impact rate.

– The Eagles are lucky they played the Cardinals, the defensive backfield looked very vulnerable for much of the game.   Have to wait for All-22 to confirm, but it looked like the Safeties especially had a tough game.  Didn’t matter because Carson Palmer is not a good QB anymore (at least he wasn’t yesterday), but that will hurt a lot against a good passing offense (say Detroit?).  Can’t believe I’m saying this, but they really need Earl Wolff to come back…

Big win regardless of caveats. .500 record from here on (with one game against Minnesota) gets them to the 9 wins we thought they’d get to.  Whether that equals a playoff game depends almost entirely on the last game of the season.

Notes from Yesterday

Just a few notes from yesterday’s game:

– I don’t understand Chip’s decision to dial down the offense in the second half.  It makes complete sense to become more conservative and to take fewer risks when you have a lead (think equation).  HOWEVER, when the opposing team is basically begging for you to take a shot, you should take it.

Early in the game, it was clear the Eagles were going to take shots downfield when they had Cooper matched up one-on-one with a DB with no safety over top.  It almost led to an early TD (Cooper lost sight of the ball).  Anyway, late in the game the Redskins were packing 8 in the box and playing a single deep safety.  That means you’ve got both D-Jax and Cooper against a CB, and the safety can only help on one of them.

Somehow, a situation Chip was hoping for and targeting early in the game lost its appeal.  Keep in mind that this is not a high-risk play.  Throwing it deep to Cooper when he’s in single coverage is very unlikely to produce an outcome worse than an incomplete pass.

Given that we saw this exact same situation play out last time the team played the Redskins, after which Chip claimed he learned his lesson, I’m worried this will be a recurring issue.  Obviously, that would necessitate having big leads, which would be awesome, but it’s still a bad habit.  My only guess as to the reasoning is that Chip still doesn’t fully trust Foles.

– Overall a good win, but let’s remember that the Redskins aren’t a good team.  We’ll learn a LOT more about the team when it faces Arizona and Detroit after the bye week.  To date, the Eagles “best” win came against a Green Bay team playing with its 3rd string QB.  It remains to be seen whether the Eagles rank within the “mediocre” division of the NFL.  They’ve lost against Dallas and San Diego…which would suggest they’re at the bottom of that subset of teams.  If so, they’ll have trouble against the Cardinals.

– Still researching the topic, but safe to say that Nick Foles is at least close to doing something unprecedented.

He now has a career rating of 97.6, with 22 TDs and just 5 interceptions.  He’s also rushed for 3 TDs.

His rating this season is currently 128.  The single-season record is 122.5 (Aaron Rodgers).

Under Chip Kelly, he’s seen significant playing time in 6 games…he’s won 5 of them.

His career interception rate is now 1.2%.  The NFL Record for a career rate is 1.7% (Aaron Rodgers…yeah, he’s really good).

As I showed at the end of last week, few QBs have, at ANY point in their careers, had a career rating that as high as Foles does now.  The fact that Foles has it 15 appearances and 11 starts into his career is a very good sign.

Naturally, it’s a safe bet that Foles won’t maintain this level of play.  The next question, though, is:

What are the odds a “bad” QB could have a stretch of games like this?

How about a “mediocre” QB?

We could probably turn to Bayesian analysis to help out, but for now, it’s enough to know that the odds of either situation aren’t very good.  When you then consider that fact that he’s doing it to start his career, I think it’s safe to say Foles’ odds are now pointing heavily in favor of at least “solid NFL starter” and potentially much higher.

– Last point.  Chip was correct in going for it on 4th and 1.  There’s just not much to gain from punting the ball there, especially in comparison to the relatively high likelihood of maintaining possession.  I was much more concerned about the play-call.  It looked like a delayed handoff, which would be an inexplicable call (especially to Bryce Brown).  However, it may also have just been a miscommunication.  Unfortunately, the announcers had already stopped calling the game and were too busy to bother talking about it.  I don’t think we even got a replay.  I’ll have to review the film, but my first impression was: right strategy, wrong play.

 

P.S. It’s week 12 (practically) and the Eagles are entering their bye week in first place.

Eagles vs. Giants: Week 8 Post-Game Thoughts

Backlog of posts for this week, including another guest post from Jared, who did the 4th down decision series, a note about “momentum”, and more on expected points and underdog strategy.  First, though, I have to say a few things about yesterday’s game.

– If you’re forced into playing a 4th round rookie at QB, all bets are off.  To that end, don’t read too much into the performance.  The defense was OK (not as good as some have claimed, but not a disaster) and there were plenty of opportunities for the offense to move, Barkley just couldn’t get it done.  That marks the second week in a row that the Eagles lost a game that they would have likely won with just average QB play.  If they get that, we’re looking at 5-3, 1st place in the division, and a whole different storyline.

– Keep the defensive performance in context.  The defense looked competent, and many are running with the “they’ve turned a corner” storyline, but I think it’s too early for that.  Consider:  The Giants are a TERRIBLE offense.  Additionally, while the Eagles kept the Giants out of the end one, they also allowed the Giants to score points on 5 of the first 6 drives, and forced just one three-and-out in the first half (the 1st possession).  The also sacked Eli Manning just once (he had been sacked 18 times in the first 7 games of the season, or roughly 2.5 per game).  So yes, the point total against was a good result (15), but in context, it was just an OK performance.

– Vinny Curry was back on the bench.  This is just one of Kelly’s (and Davis’) many perplexing decisions during the game.  As I said pre-game, this was a great opportunity to play Curry without worrying about his problems against the run.  Instead, he got just 12 snaps (and the Eagles struggled to get a pass rush).  I have no particular insight here, other than saying that logic is clearly not the determining factor in the playing time decisions.

– Matt Barkley isn’t the guy.  I’m usually the first person to urge caution and restraint when making snap judgments based on small sample sizes.  However, there were two plays Barkley “made” that I found extremely troubling. I’m sure everyone knows which ones I’m talking about (the fumble and the 4th and 20 check down).  Normally, we could pass these things off as “rookie mistakes”.  Unfortunately, it seems like Matt Barkley’s biggest strength should be “Football IQ”.  He’s been starting for big-time programs forever.  Nothing about either of these situations is materially different in the pros.  Maybe I’m being to harsh on him (as I said, most rookies would deserve a pass), but he’s a unique player by virtue of his experience.

– Are the Eagles stuck in no man’s land?  I probably should have listed this first, because it’s arguably the most important point, but I’ll leave it here as a reward for reading this far.  Here’s the dilemma:

1) The Eagles clearly do not have the talent to seriously contend for a Super Bowl.

2) The Eagles are currently just one game out of first place (behind a very suspect team).

Given the potential 2014 QB draft class, the long-term best interests of the team are probably served by losing, improving the draft slot, and using the draft to build the foundation of “Chip’s” team.

Unfortunately, given the profit-incentive and the general short-term incentives of NFL coaches, it’s too much to ask for the Eagles to NOT do everything they can to make the playoffs.  That means when Vick is healthy, he plays, unless Foles comes back before then and remembers how to throw the ball.

There’s probably not a worse outcome for the Eagles this season than a 7-9 finish and missing the playoffs by a game.  Sadly, that appears to be the most likely result at this point in the season.  Note, if both Foles and Vick are out for a while, then this doesn’t hold (they won’t win many more games in that case).

– Kendricks had a very good game.  Cox played well also.  Have to end on a good note, so here it is.  Pending review, of course, the 2 Eagles players that have the biggest potential for “foundation” status on defense (Boykin may work his way into this category soon) had good games.  Let’s not get too excited, for reasons I mentioned above (bad offense), but it’s a good sign nonetheless.

P.S. I’m not ignoring the decision-making from Chip, I just realized that it probably needs its own post.

Eagles vs. Cowboys: Week 7 Post-Game Notes

Eww…(can I stop there?)

Let’s put aside everything else from today’s game for a moment and focus on the biggest issue:  the complete, shocking, inexplicable, incompetence of Nick Foles today.  The WRs deserve some blame for dropping catchable balls, the O-Line deserves some blame for not protecting better, and Chip Kelly deserves a lot of blame for not calling the game like he should (Play-Action dammit!).  However, Foles was awful, and will rightfully shoulder most of the blame for today.

As a supporter of Foles, where does that leave me?  Disappointed, obviously, but not as despondent as some may have expected.  Let’s do this in bullet form.

– People who are writing off Foles after today are clearly falling victim to confirmation bias.  They’re convinced he can’t play, and today was an overwhelming affirmation of that sentiment.  HOWEVER, just as 1 great game (last week), didn’t warrant proclaiming Foles “the future”, one terrible game doesn’t warrant throwing him away.  Simply put, 1 game can NEVER be held to mean that much.  Like everything else, we need to assimilate it into what we already know about Foles, then adjust our expectations accordingly.  So it definitely hurts, but let’s not go crazy here.

– I feel compelled to remind everyone that the case for starting Foles was not entirely (perhaps not even largely) built upon Foles’ being good.  The case for Foles was that A) he’s an unknown, and we have to know, so play him, B) Mike Vick is not a long-term answer, so starting him for a non-contending team is useless, and C) if Foles is good, you have an asset, if he sucks, you have a good draft pick.

Given the divisional competition, you could maybe convince me that the “contending” bit is debatable, but the fact remains, playing Foles still seems to make the most sense.

– Today’s performance was very….confusing.  Foles has weaknesses, no doubt.  The problem is that today, his issues came almost entirely from what we though were his strengths.  He was woefully inaccurate. He lacked the poise we’ve come to expect.  He didn’t move as well in the pocket as we’ve seen before.  He didn’t take advantage of open underneath receivers or “what the defense gave him” in common NFL analyst parlance.

I have no particular insight as to what happened, which is why it confuses me.  If he was victimized on poorly thrown deep-balls, I’d get it.  If he was sacked a bunch of times because he’s slow, I’d get it.   This though?  WTF…Maybe he was actually injured (skeptical), maybe he just had a terrible day (possible), maybe the “pressure” of starting in a big, meaningful game got to him, maybe he left his contact lenses at home and couldn’t see (does he where glasses?)  Regardless, it was either a fluke, or he can’t play in this league.

– Temporary end to the “QB Competition”.   Despite what I think is best for the long-term future of this team, it’s clear what Chip Kelly thinks.  Michael Vick is the starting QB.  I should note, though, that even if Foles played well, I think we’d see Vick back in there when healthy.  The reason I said “temporary” above is because we kind of have to assume that Vick will be injured again before the end of the season.  We haven’t seen the last of Foles.

– Foles didn’t turn the ball over.  Doesn’t mean much, given that he didn’t complete passes to his own team either, but it’s pretty remarkable that, given how awful the game was, he didn’t actually throw a pick or fumble the ball.  Matt Barkley provided a good illustration of what really bad QB play will do to you….keep that in mind when judging Foles.

That’s all I’ve got on Foles.  Maybe the All-22 will shed some light on the subject.  In the meantime, remember:

– Dallas looked pretty bad as well, so the division race is still wide open.

– The Eagles play the Giants and Raiders the next two weeks….they could be back in first place sooner than you think.

Eagles v. Bucs: Post-Game Thoughts

I was tied up most of the weekend for wedding festivities (not mine), so I didn’t have a chance to post anything about the Bucs, other than my odds column for BGN (which, BTW, I nailed…again).  I’ve got a few things from the Bucs game, but I really want to get back to the strategic discussion I started at the end of last week, so I’ll keep this relatively short.

– Nick Foles…still looks good.  I’ve long been a Foles supporter, though that was more for the rational aspect of the argument than it was a strong case for Foles being a good player.  However, it looks as if the Foles discussion is now about his ability.  Basically:

Foles supporters point to his numbers, which are VERY good, and wonder what all the haters are looking at.

Foles detractors are watching him play, and claiming he fails the “eye test”.  Similarly, they’re wondering what the hell the Foles supporters are watching.

I do understand the detractors.  His arm strength isn’t great, and occasionally his passes get wobbly (especially to the sidelines).  However, the ball seems to get where it needs to go.  That was a very good defense he just tore apart, and I’m not sure what more you could ask for.  He’s got weaknesses, but so does nearly every QB, and I’ll take a “weak” arm over stupidity and inaccuracy every time (in no way does that refer to Vick).

– The Offense had just 1 three-and-out.  That’s a pretty clear illustration of the point I made preseason about a Foles-led offense.  There won’t be as many big plays (though he did hit a couple deep throws this time), but there also won’t be many go-nowhere drives.  Yesterday, the Eagles only went three-and-out once (though the LeSean fumble killed another drive).

– Riley Cooper finally made a “Riley Cooper” play and it was glorious.  The deep TD to Cooper was underthrown.  In these situations, it’s far too common for the WR to run to the spot where the ball is thrown and then wait for it to get there, which turns the pass into a 50/50 jump ball.  Cooper, though, adjusted his speed so that he would arrive at the point of the throw in stride.  As a result, the CB also had to adjust his speed; if he hadn’t he would have run into Cooper and been called for PI.  In essence, Cooper used his size and positioning to box out the CB as they ran.  Given his attributes, we should see this more often from him.

– Zach Ertz was targeted 5 6 times and played 42 offensive snaps.  He only caught 2 of those 5 3 of the 6 targeted balls, but it’s nice to see him finally playing a significant role.  He was a very high draft pick and, given the lack of WR depth, he should be making an impact.  Keep an eye on him as the season progresses to see just how much Chip likes/trusts him.

– Damaris Johnson is allowed to play offense.  It was just 8 snaps, but I’m encouraged nonetheless.  I think he can be a valuable WR out of the slot, and have been surprised by the lack of playing time he’s received over the first stretch of the season.  Similar to Ertz, it looks like Chip might be slowly working up to what we thought his player-usage would be during the pre-season.  Maybe it just took time for these guys to learn the play-book to Chip’s satisfaction.

– The defense still sucks.  They were hurt by poor field position on a few drives, but the defense had issues against what had been one of the worst offenses in the league.  Individual weaknesses aside, Billy Davis is still blitzing way too ineffectively.  I understand that the front 4 has failed to generate pressure, but there’s got to be more reason used when scheming these blitzes.  Rushers are still coming from too far away and or not rushing soon enough.  It’s an attempt to “disguise”, which I castigated Davis for not doing early in the year, but it’s a poor attempt.  He doesn’t have much to work with (talent-wise), but he’s also not doing much with the little he has.

Fortunately the offense is good enough to bail him out of a few games.

That’s all for now, I told you it’d be short.   Tomorrow or Wednesday we’ll start breaking down the last strategy post into pieces and hopefully build on it.

Eagles v. Giants Week 5: Post-Game Notes

A win’s a win, and the Eagles are now 2-0 in the division (and the conference).  There were some bright spots, and of course some sore spots as well (though those are less surprising).  Here are my immediate takeaways:

– The Eagles scored 36 points.  Yes, it was against a bad defense, but it reinforces the point I’ve been trying to make:  “Chip Kelly’s offense” works, and it works very well.  He doesn’t have the talent yet to really let things go, but the results are already there.  If Kelly doesn’t succeed in the NFL, it won’t be because his “college” schemes don’t work.

– Chip did make what I believe was a big strategic error, though it didn’t matter in the end. After scoring a TD in the 4th quarter, the Eagles led by 7 points.  Chip elected to kick the extra point to make it an 8 points game.  I disagree with that call (vehemently).  The Eagles defense clearly can’t be relied on.  Additionally, the Giants had no time-outs.  As far as I’m concerned, Chip needs to take every opportunity to use his offense to make things easier for his defense. Getting 2 points there makes is a 2 score game, again, in the 4th quarter when the Giants have no timeouts.  Missing it still gives you a 7 point lead.

Was Chip really that confident that the defense could defend a 2 pt conversion?

This was exactly the type of high-leverage situation that the 2 pt conversion should be used for.  Low risk (still lead by 7), BIG reward (make the Giants score twice).

It didn’t end up making a difference, but that doesn’t make it the right call.  If you can’t get it right when it doesn’t count, there’s no reason to believe you’ll get it right when it does.  This defense needs help, and being aggressive in those situations is a good way to give it some.

– Nate Allen doesn’t seem to understand even the basics of safety play.  On the first drive, he inexplicably got beat deep two times in a row.  It shouldn’t happen once, but I understand that everyone makes mistakes and occasionally misjudges a WR’s speed.  HOWEVER, for it two happen two plays in a row is inexcusable.

Nate, you’re not that fast, you can’t let WRs get behind you, especially when you’re supposed to be the “help”.  Also, the tackling angles are just terrible.

I dont mean to suggest that everything bad is because of Nate, Earl Wolff certainly had his issues, as did the CBs, but Nate’s were the most glaring and costly.

– Nick Foles can play.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone.  When he does come in, though, the Eagles must throw the ball.  Straight handoffs to McCoy aren’t going to work unless Foles has already established himself as a threat.  Additionally, play-action should be almost mandatory.  It took Chip way to long to call it.  Use the threat of Shady to give Foles space, and he’ll move the offense.  Then, once the defense has been forced to back off, you can give it to Shady.

– This game was a good illustration of the difference between a BAD team and a MEDIOCRE one.  Anyone who thought the Eagles were “bad”, should have been disabused of that notion by the end of today’s game.  Overall, if the Eagles are a “true” 8-9 win team, their current record makes perfect sense.  Lose to the really good teams (KC and Denver), split against other mediocre teams (SD and Washington), and beat the bad teams (Giants).

For me, the surprise so far hasn’t been the Eagles, it’s been the opponents.  The Eagles still look like the team we expected, it’s just a matter of how the rest of the division comes out (I’m hopeful).

– The Eagles pass rush isn’t good enough, and I’m blaming the scheme.  I hate that their playing the 3-4 with players clearly not suited for it.  It’s showing in the results.  Even against the Giants, one of the league’s worst offensive lines, the team struggled to get any pressure without blitzing (until late in the game when Giants were forced to pass).

I guess I just don’t understand the value of “installing” the defense.  This is a multi-year project, but I don’t see why you can’t wait to install the base defense until you have the pieces to make it work.

– No turnovers.  Big part of today’s win.  Everyone took care of the football, save one throw by Vick that should have been picked (deep completion to DeSean).  The team did, however, take 8 penalties for 88 yards.  Some of them were questionable and others flat-out wrong, so I’m not going to blame them for that.   Overall, a much “cleaner” game than we’ve seen recently from the team.  If they can keep that up, it’ll go a long way towards mitigating the poor defense.

 

Eagles vs. Broncos: Post-Game Thoughts

Abbreviated post-game thoughts due to two reasons: Breaking Bad finale is on soon and I need to prepare, and there’s really very little from today’s game that qualifies as important.

– This was an “upside” game, so don’t freak out that they lost.  Getting destroyed by one of the greatest offenses in recent history doesn’t tell us anything about the team.  For the most part, I’m giving the defense a pass.  Denver has put up points on everyone so far, and 14 of the points allowed came off STs.  No shame in it.

I’ve definitely got some issues with Bill Davis’ play-calling and personnel usage (play Vinny f@ck%*g Curry for f*$@k’s sake), but the fact is that there was likely no “answer” today.  Write it off and move on.

– The biggest takeaway was the apparent revelation that Chip Kelly has been castrated.  Knowing you’ll need a lot of points and then kicking a FG from 4th and 4 inside the red zone is an absolutely ridiculous, suboptimal, indefensible, (insert own adjective here) decision.  It’s a decision that “Chip Kelly” is not supposed to get wrong, and I’m at a complete loss as to why he did.

Something to watch going forwards.  If Chip isn’t aggressive, then he isn’t really “Chip”, he’s just some guy.

– Lane Johnson…needs to be much better.  When you take an OT (or anyone) in the top 5, he absolutely MUST be a “stud”.  So far, Johnson isn’t close. Yes he’s a rookie and we should expect some inconsistency, but we should also see flashes of greatness, and I don’t think we’re getting that.

– It’s important to keep things in context, especially this early in the season.  The Eagles have 3 losses against teams with a combined record of 10-2.  The next three opponents have a combined record of 2-10.  As a result, the next few games will tell us a lot more about the Eagles than these last three have.  Denver and KC are ranked 1st and 3rd in point differential right now, and both teams are undefeated.  Losses there don’t mean anything other than that the Eagles are not among the best teams in the league (which we already knew).  Here is the Eagles remaining schedule:

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 8.31.38 PM

How many of those games really scare you?  The fact is, the Eagles probably just finished their toughest stretch of games.  I know they’ve looked bad, but remember that they won’t be playing anyone nearly as good as Denver for the rest of the season.

– The Cowboys might not be good.  Dallas has 2 wins, but they’ve come against St. Louis and the Giants.  Not exactly on par with KC and Denver.  I still believe the Eagles can be the best team in this division.

– Next week is VERY important.  Probably doesn’t need to be said, but getting a win against the Giants, who look AWFUL, is vital.  Either the Eagles are as good as I think they are (in which case they’ll win comfortably), or they’ll lose to the winless Giants (in which case they’re as bad as the national pundits say they are).  Regardless, we’ll know a lot more than we know today.

That’s all.  Keep your head up.  No reason to panic yet.  If the Eagles lose next week, though, then you have my permission to lose your shit.

 

 

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.