Football

Non-Eagles football

Post-Draft Thoughts

Draft grades are dumb. We have no idea what is going to happen next, and you’re really splitting hairs giving one team a B- and another a B. The best you can do is judge whether or not a team addressed the needs it has, were any of their picks reaches, did they get good value and decide that they did a good job or a bad job. In those respects, the Eagles did a really good job. GM Howie Roseman and his staff needed to do much better, and knew it. I questioned if they had the ability to properly recognize and address their previous faults. I’m not about to hop on the bandwagon today, but I feel much better about the job they’re doing today than I did on Wednesday. The past two years they’ve reached (Danny Watkins, Jaiquan Jarrett) and they’ve not taken the best player on the board (Brandon Graham over Earl Thomas) and it’s burned them. But not this year.

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Thoughts on the Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine starts in Indy tommorow, more specifically the on-field drills do, the players have been in town since yesterday doing measuring and testing, and I have to admit: I like the combine. Started in 1982 when the league combined the three prominent scouting and testing services into one event, adding another word to the NFL lexicon that we pronounce slightly differently than in non-football usage along with “defense.” Since then it’s exploded into a national TV event (about 6 million people will watch it this weekend) and a major evaluation tool for crappy wannabe draftniks to use to make fearlessly wrong predictions about players. Or Al Davis, but he’s dead now.

Serious draftniks and actual talent evaluators know that the Combine is just another tool in the toolbox of player evaluations. It’s nothing more than that, but in today’s 24 hour news world too many people want it to be extremely valuable. Tape is the #1 evaluating tool a team has, but it doesn’t tell you quite everything. The Combine offers some answers to questions a team has about a player’s physical abilities. The Combine puts all participants on an equal playing field where their raw physical abilities can be displayed and graded. That’s it. Questions about a corner’s ability to turn his hips, a linebacker’s ability to move laterally or a guard’s footwork can be and are answered. Everyone knows that it doesn’t tell you anything about a player’s actual ability to play football, but that won’t stop people at Bleacher Report from saying it will.

The biggest thing the Combine is used for is actually the medical evaluations. Every participant is given a barrage of tests that are then given to all the teams. True experts like Andrew Brant and Michael Lombardi will be the first to tell you that, guys like Todd McShay won’t because they can’t make opinions on medical tests, and they get paid to make opinions that stick out.

Teams that move a guy up on their draft board because of their Combine performance are only asking to be disappointed. If anything you use it to move a guy down. As Michael Lombardi said on NFL Network yesterday: “the Combine is about elimination not evaluation.” Which brings me to why I like the Combine: I really enjoy watching the pros talk shop. With Mike Mayock, Michael Lombardi, Charley Casserly and Brian Billick on hand, there’s a lot of shop to be talked. That’s my Combine mini-rant. Take the Combine with more than a grain of salt, but don’t make a meal out of it.

Lombardi also had another great quote yesterday: “Never begin with the end in mind.” That’s good advice for life.

What a Difference 4 Years Makes

Four years ago I lived in New England, specifically New Hampshire. I was excited to be able to witness first hand the insanity that is the New Hampshire primaries in a fully open election. Meanwhile the Patriots were marching towards greatness, decimating anyone and everyone that stood in their way en route to a perfect season. Both wound up as huge disappointments. Maybe I was too busy to notice, but the political scene was underwhelming to me. There were some good moments, like the Dennis Kucinich supporter who offered me a free copy of the Constitution. “No thanks, I’ve got Al Haig’s copy” was my reply. It went right over the 19 year old’s head. But there was, at least to me, a notable lack of nutjob candidates shouting in the street, the one exception being Mike Gravel. Looks like I missed the boat by 4 years though, as Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were hilarious. And when the Super Bowl came around, I admit it, I rooted for the Giants. I wanted a perfect season ended by Eli Manning. That would be funnier than Trent Dilfer winning a Super Bowl. Hilarity ensued on that epic drive in an otherwise boring game and my wish was granted. But now, four years later… it’s not funny anymore Eli. The 2007 Giants were one of the worst Super Bowl winners, and the 2011 Giants would trump that. That’s not just hyperbole. No team has ever reached the Super Bowl with a negative point differential, but the Giants have. At 9-7, they would have the worst record to ever win a Super Bowl. In fairness, Manning did have a very good season, it pains me to say that. But the Giants didn’t, they stunk all season long. The defense was putrid, the running game was non-existent. Once again Tom Coughlin had his job on the line, and what happens? They get a very favorable matchup in the Super Bowl. The Giants have an excellent set of WRs and the Patriots DBs are a collection of stiffs, and what worked in 2007 still works today: get to Brady, and the Giants can do that. So great, they might win. We’ll get two weeks of how Eli Manning showed he was “elite” against the Patriots in Week 9, all the while ignoring that against a statistically pathetic defense the Giants totals were only 20 yards and 1 point off of what the Patriots were averaging at that time. All of this forces me to root for Tom Brady, who already has everything one could want (and some things you don’t, such as child support payments) and the insufferable Bill Belichick. Good job New York, you’ve got the nation rooting for the Evil Empire and it’s in Boston. I hope you’re happy.

Now excuse me while I go puke in a trash can.

 

Looking Deeper: What to Expect on 3rd Down Against the Falcons

Third down is where you make your money in the NFL. This isn’t any kind of revelation. 1st and 2nd down, you can do all the trickery, all the game theory, all the experimentation that you want. On 3rd down (and, should you chose to go for it, 4th down), you have to convert. Do you achieve this by putting the ball in the hands of your best players and have them make a play, or do you try to have the defense overreact to your playmakers and get it to a role player? In their Week 1 game against the Bears, the Falcons tried to get the ball to their best players and have them make a play. On every play. Not once did they try to fool the Bears. In fairness, the Bears defense is pretty hard to fool, so maybe it’s just best to go headstrong.

The Falcons had 14 3rd or 4th down plays, plus two that got called back due to penalties. On 14 of those 16 plays (12 of the 14 that counted), they were in shotgun. To no surprise, every 3rd and 4th down shotgun play included Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Eric Weems and Harry Douglas alternated as the fourth receiver. Only once did the Falcons run the ball, on 3rd and 1, Turner broke past a stacked box for a 53 yard gain. The other 13 times they passed, and every time Ryan looked at one of his three big targets first, second and third. Not once was Harry Douglas or Eric Weems the primary target on a play where White, Jones and Gonzalez were dummies to open up space for the role players. Douglas, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers were each a pass target, Snelling twice, all were on check downs, all of them were dropped.

So the Falcons game plan was get the playmakers the ball on 3rd down, and to do it in shotgun. Certainly a good philosophy to have. But when you do it on every play, it becomes really predictable and bland. This is highlighted by a sequence in the 3rd quarter, where the Falcons are facing 3rd and 17. The ball is on the left hash, the Falcons come out in shotgun, as always, in a 3 x 1 formation with Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the trips to Ryan’s right. Gonzalez is flanked by Harry Douglas to the inside and Roddy White outside the numbers. Julio Jones is alone on the left. Pre-snap, the Bears show Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings directly over White and Jones, with DJ Moore over both Douglas and Gonzalez. Gonzalez comes in motion to the left, stopping in front of Matt Ryan, then goes back to where he came. Moore floats with Gonzalez during his motion, staying with him but apparently ready to pass him off if he crosses over to the other side of the field. When Gonzalez sets he his locked in, back on his original spot, Moore is on him. Douglas is left to be picked up by Brian Urlacher in zone defense. On the snap, Jason Snelling, lined up to Ryan’s left, checks to block any oncoming pass rushers then finds open space. Douglas runs down the seam, Jones and White run fly routes. But Falcons backup center Joe Hawley is flagged for a false start due to a head bob. Gonzalez is about to give Moore some kind of move but the whistle blows before he can do it. So now it’s 3rd and 22.

The Falcons run the exact same play again. Every single thing I just described in pre-snap happened exactly the same way, except that Moore didn’t follow Gonzalez around as much during Gonzalez’s motion. He knows that Gonzalez isn’t going anywhere, and if he does that Lance Briggs will pick him up. Urlacher is set up a few yards deeper than before, but still with the same pre-snap responsibilities: Briggs and Urlacher are dropping back, splitting the area between the numbers into zones. All the receivers in the frame did the exact same thing. Douglas ran down the seam, the linebackers dropped into zone. Jones ran a fly, Gonzalez makes his move on Moore at the same place, it’s a curl route but seeing that Moore is playing zone he options to an out route. Snelling checked for a pass rusher, there was none so he headed to the middle of the field. Ryan, pressured by a straight four man pass rush, had no place to go and dumped it off to Snelling 4 yards past the line of scrimmage. On 3rd and 22. Snelling dropped the ball and would have immediately been tackled by Moore and Briggs.

The Falcons went 4 for 14 on 3rd/4th down. Maybe it’s because they were so vanilla.

Now compare this to the Eagles, who by design threw at Jason Avant, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson (from that bunch formation Dave hates), Brent Celek and Dion Lewis. The Eagles went 8 for 12 on third down, which isn’t a sustainable rate (the Falcons’ 31% on 3rd down however is, it would have been 29th in the NFL last year). One team tried to force the ball to three players, the other team spread it around to twice as many. The former had terrible results, the latter was ruthlessly efficient. Good processes lead to good results. 3rd down will be something to keep your eye on Sunday night. Will the Falcons try to spread the ball around instead? What if that doesn’t work early on? Do they stick with it or try to go back to force feeding it? Or do they chalk up the poor performance as a not likely to repeat result and force feed it from the get go?

Film Session Extra: Dave’s Additional Thoughts

To add to AndDave’s great analysis of the Week 1 win over the Rams, here are some additional points from my viewing of the game:

1) I despise the “bunch” formation that the Eagles seem to really enjoy using.

Take a look at the picture from the opening play of the 2nd quarter.  This is one of many examples of the Eagles going to their “bunch” formation.  The idea is to create chaos with the defense not knowing who to cover.  The only thing it accomplishes on a regular basis is confusion for the Eagles.  I’ve hated this formation ever since it was devised as it usually results in a no-gain or negative play.

The reason spread offenses work is that they spread out the defense. The Eagles enjoy using reverse psychology.

Which brings me to my next point:

2) LeSean McCoy is my new favorite Eagle.

On this play, the “bunch” formation looks headed for another failure.  Except LeSean McCoy has proven that his Twitter handle of Cutondime25 accurately describes his ability to turn failures into positive plays.

From the bunch formation, the Eagles decide to give it to McCoy. He has absolutely nowhere to run...

... then McCoy uses his amazing vision to cut back and make a positive play out of nothing.

McCoy closed on the line of scrimmage quickly, then carried a couple tacklers for a gain of 3 yards.  By all rights, he should have lost 3 yards.  Shady is electrifying to watch.

3) An interesting idea on defense:  putting Asante Samuel on the opposing TE.

New defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is trying to put his own stamp on this talent-laden defense.  One matchup idea the Eagles tried on several occasions in St. Louis was putting CB Asante Samuel on the Rams’ TEs.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.  I would be in favor of using this matchup in the upcoming divisional games, especially teams like Washington and Dallas that have outstanding receiving TEs.  The only downside to this idea is that Samuel still has tackling issues, so any catch could turn into a big play.  I just prefer having an experienced cover corner on a big-time receiver rather than one of the Eagles’ young LBs.

Some random notes:  Brian Billick got confused often in the broadcast booth in this one, but no mistake was more glaring than when he pined for the Eagles’ most recent running back star: Michael Westbrook…. Too many penalties and missed assignments -the Eagles got away with it against a mediocre Rams team, but they won’t be so lucky against upper echelon teams…. Brent Celek was pretty much a non-factor – that will have to change as the season progresses.

The Scratch-off Lottery Ticket that is Undrafted Free Agents

Every year in the hours immediately following the draft, teams scramble to sign undrafted free agents. Anticipating they will not be drafted, teams court these players for weeks before the draft, and if a team is looking at a set of say, CBs and there’s a run on CBs late in the draft, they might just call dibs on them with a 7th round pick. Teams generally sign 8-10, maybe more, and except for kickers and punter, they usually they pan out to be nothing more than warm bodies for camp or the 53rd man on the roster for a year. Sometimes though, you get lucky and one turns into a quality player like Stephen Neal or Adewale Ogunleye.  Maybe you hit pay dirt and get a James Harrison, Wes Welker or Pat Williams. Perhaps you hit the jackpot and get Kurt Warner or Antonio Gates. But realistically speaking, if you get a season or two out of a UDFA, that’s a pretty good get. In recent years the Eagles have seen Chad Hall, Hank Baskett, Akeem Jordan, Greg Lewis and Reno Mahe have been UDFAs who have made contributions. They’re obviously not game changers, but they’re contributors, which is as good as you can expect from a guy every team passed on for 7 rounds.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the UDFAs the Eagles signed on Tuesday, which got more attention than usual since it happened not in the hours after the draft but as the first thing done since the lockout has been lifted. That’s how starved for real football talk we are, we are excited by the signing of guys not expected to make the roster. But hey, it’s nice to talk real football.
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Eagles Free Agent Debate: Defense

With football back on the front page, we are going to take a look at the Free Agent Class of 2011 from the Eagles’ perspective.  Who should they sign?  Who should they avoid?  And in the end, what is going to happen?  We do our best psychic work over the next few days.

Today, we focus on the defensive side of the ball, which is where the Eagles likely will be focusing as well.  Let’s start with the big fish in the pond:

NNAMDI ASOMUGHA (DB, Oakland)

Why should they sign him:
The Eagles desperately need a corner after having allowed 31 passing TDs last season.  Landing the prize free agent in this year’s crop would provide incentive for teams to throw more in the direction of Asante Samuel, who is a premier ball hawk.   The yin and yang of Asomugha and Samuel’s styles are perfect: one is a man-to-man lock down corner, the other is a terrific zone ball hawk.  If the Eagles get Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a Kevin Kolb trade with Arizona, they can cover spread offenses with three of the best in the game.  Of course, if they get DRC, they probably don’t go after a corner… but why not go for broke, similar to what the baseball team across the parking lot has done with their Starting Rotation of Dreams?

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Asomugha comes with a prohibitive cost against the salary cap.  He will probably cost big money, likely 14-17 million dollars a year.  Investing a lot in Asomugha might lead to sacrifice elsewhere at other need positions, and that is not the way the Eagles usually do business.  That money would be better spent getting a corner like Johnathan Joseph or even Ike Taylor along with players at other need positions.  Asomugha is coming off a contract that just paid him $30 million over 2 years.  If this is truly about the money, he will sign elsewhere.

Will they sign him:
Unlikely.  Asomugha will likely be offered more money by other teams than the Eagles are willing to offer, especially if they can land Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade with Arizona.

RAY EDWARDS (DE, Minnesota)

Why should they sign him:
The Eagles haven’t really found the answer on the defensive line on the other side of Trent Cole.  Ray Edwards could be that guy.  He played on one of the best defensive lines last year in Minnesota and tallied 8.5 sacks.   The Eagles can’t be sure with the progress of second-year player Brandon Graham.  He played well in his rookie year until going down late in the year with a torn ACL, leading to microfracture surgery in the offseason.   Edwards would immediately solidify the other side of the line, and would not come with as steep a price tag as Asomugha.  The Eagles could likely afford both Edwards and another corner from the free agent pool for the same cost.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Edwards could be considered the defensive version of Alvin Harper:  a player who clearly benefits from the talent around him.  He was clearly the least important person on the Vikings’ defensive line and might not benefit by being more of a focused target for offensive lines.   Meanwhile, Trent Cole is locked in under contract, and Brandon Graham is still acclimating to the system.   Darryl Tapp is still in play as a free agent-to-be, but according to a recent tweet, Tapp had a meeting with new DL coach Jim Washburn and was excited to work with him.  If the Eagles had no intention of keeping him, that meeting probably doesn’t happen.  So with a rotation of three established DEs, is there really room for a player like Edwards?

Will they sign him:
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Edwards is likely going to be an Eagle when all is said and done.  Of course, Atlanta resident AndDave claims, “I don’t even use the AJC as toilet paper.”    The Eagles have never been a “go for broke” team, and have only added marquee names at positions where they have been remarkably thin over the years.  By those standards, we expect Edwards will not be wearing midnight green in the 2011 season.

CHARLES JOHNSON (DE, Carolina)

Why should they sign him:
Most of the same statements that apply to Edwards could apply to Charles Johnson.  Of course, Johnson is coming off his breakout year with 11.5 sacks anchoring a Panthers defensive line trying to overcome the loss of Julius Peppers.   Johnson was the featured pass rusher for Carolina, and made the Panthers defense quite respectable despite their poor record.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
See the section above on Edwards.  Johnson falls into the same mold of the type of player the Eagles usually don’t go after if they already have established men at the position.

Will they sign him:
There will undoubtedly be a bidding war for players like Johnson, as teams throughout the league try to stock up on pass rushers.  Johnson is one of the bigger names with some of the bigger numbers out there, and the Eagles will likely be outbid for his services.

PAUL POSLUSZNY (LB, Buffalo)

Why should they sign him:
A post on Twitter from beat writer Jeff McLane claims that Posluszny would love to join the Eagles linebacking corps.   He is coming off a season where he led the Bills in tackles with 103, and also managed 2 sacks.  He can play both inside or outside, and the Eagles love versatile defensive players. Adding Posluszny to a rotation that could also include Stewart Bradley and promising youngster Jamar Chaney would be a nice upgrade.  With the abundance of spread offenses in the league, usually only 2 LBs are on the field at any given time, meaning that all three would get reps.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Posluszny has stated publicly that his preference is to return to Buffalo, but will test the open market in the days to come.  He has missed time due to injury the past two seasons, which doesn’t bode well for a 27-year old linebacker.   This could be his only chance to cash in on a lucrative free agent deal.  Plus, the Bills will have to reach the new salary cap floor, which amounts to 99% of the cap.  That could force Buffalo’s hand into offering him a large sum of money.

Will they sign him:
Posluszny would be more of a complementary player in Philly rather than the “big fish” he is on the Buffalo defense, and the former Penn State standout would be a great fit.   However, Buffalo needs his presence more than other teams do, including the Eagles.  Buffalo will do what they can to re-sign him to anchor their defense.

JOHNATHAN JOSEPH (CB, Cincinnati)

Why should they sign him:
The best cornerback on the market with a pronouncable name.  Although, the extra “h” in his first name still makes it difficult to spell.  He was a shutdown corner on a team that needed a strong defensive presence.   Joseph is younger than Asomugha at age 27, meaning he is under the Eagles unofficial age limit of 30.  With 14 INTs over his five year career, he can be counted on to give Asante Samuel some competition in the turnover department.  He also brings the big play ability, having scored a touchdown himself for each of the past four seasons.  Plus, pretty much everyone on the Bengals is chomping at the bit to get the hell out of there.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Joseph comes with a lot of injury baggage, having missed 12 games over the last 3 seasons with various ailments.  With the new rules in the CBA, the Bengals (like the Bills with Posluszny) will have to reach the salary cap floor of 99%.  Cincinnati will likely make re-signing Joseph a priority, and will probably offer him a good amount of money to stick around.   Most importantly, Joseph will not move until Asomugha moves, and the teams that lose out on Nnamdi will add fuel to the bidding war.

Will they sign him:
If the Eagles do not get Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from the Cardinals, they will probably make a very respectable offer to Joseph.

IKE TAYLOR (CB, Pittsburgh)

Why should they sign him:
Taylor has been a constant presence on one of the top defenses in the league year after year.   He has not missed a game over the last 6 seasons.  Despite numerous changes in the Steelers secondary over the years, he has remained in the starting lineup, which says something about how much he is valued.  At 6’1″, he would be better suited to covering some of the league’s taller receivers opposite the 5’8″ Asante Samuel.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
Taylor is 31, a little bit older than the Eagles would like.  He is not as much of a threat for INTs, with only 11 in his 8-year career.  He can choose to remain in Pittsburgh in Troy Polamalu’s shadow, and still be productive in that defensive scheme.

Will they sign him:
Again, if the Eagles don’t get Rodgers-Cromartie, they will still need a CB.  Obviously, their preference would be for Asomugha or Joseph, and would only move to Taylor if they fail on all 3 of those fronts.  Taylor wants to stay in Pittsburgh, and they want him back.  It seems unlikely he even reaches the Eagles radar screen.

ALBERT HAYNESWORTH (DT, Washington)

Why should they sign him:
Haynesworth would provide a great test for new defensive line coach Jim Washburn.  He honestly believes he can coach him to a return to his Pro Bowl form of 2007-2008 when he was with Tennessee.  Haynesworth would excel in the Eagles 4-man front as a run stopper.  Plus, he’ll get to face the Redskins twice a year for some extra motivation.

Why shouldn’t they sign him:
We all know that Haynesworth was not motivated last year.  Observe:  Exhibit A.  He even made Mike McGlynn look like a Pro Bowl offensive lineman.   The lingering question remains:  was his poor attitude a product of the toxic environment in Washington, or does it reflect a deeper character flaw?

Will they sign him:
If the Eagles offer him a contract, they will undoubtedly take his character questions into consideration.  The contract will likely be incentive based with provisions that will allow the Eagles to back out if the attitude adjustment fails.  If he agrees to sign with the Eagles, he will definitely be happier for doing so.

Tomorrow, we take a look on the offensive side of the ball.

And don’t worry… we promise this will be a Favre-free zone.