My column for PE.com took a look back at the performance of some players during the first 7 games of the year. This isn't exactly midseason, but it's close enough.
Paul Domowich has a nice article today about how the Eagles have struggled with veteran acquisitions over the past couple of years.
The only two veteran acquisitions by the Eagles since March 2009 that you can really give clear thumbs ups to at this point are quarterback Michael Vick and fullback Leonard Weaver. And who in God's name ever thought we'd be saying that about their decision to sign Vick last year? Weaver had a terrific first season with the Eagles after signing with them last year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
In fact, Domo could have gone back further than that – how many veteran acquisitions have really worked out since Andy Reid took over? There was Jon Runyan, of course, and Carlos Emmons. Not sure how to classify Terrell Owens (short term clear success, but overall, yikes). Kevin Curtis was good for a couple of years. We might give them Asante Samuel as well, setting aside the question of whether he is worth $9 million a year or is “really” worth only $6 or $7 million. Lesser successes, for a year, included Donte Stallworth, Jon Ritchie and Shawn Barber, as well as guys who were good backups (Paul Grasmanis, Antonio Freeman, Dorsey Levens and Jeff Garcia). That’s a pretty short list for what is really a 12 year period of time.
Other guys were pulled off of the scrap heap – Chad Lewis was claimed off of waivers from the Rams, Jeremiah Trotter was re-signed for the vet minimum just before training camp, Juqua Parker was signed off the street a couple of weeks into training camp – but by and large, there just are not that many veteran acquisitions who have been successes here.
Here is an attempt to classify the veteran acquisitions of the Andy Reid era.
Can’t Buy A Good Linebacker. At this point, it sure seems like the Eagles have brought in more different veteran linebackers to be starters than at all other positions combined on the team. The list includes (deep breath) Carlos Emmons, Shawn Barber, Levon Kirkland, Mark Simoneau, Nate Wayne, Dhani Jones, Takeo Spikes, Will Witherspoon and Ernie Sims. And I’m probably missing someone. Started out pretty good, but man, that’s a lot of guys and only a couple that we can classify as a real success while playing for the Eagles.
Of course, aside from Kirkland and Wayne (with Sims TBD), all of those guys were relatively successful after they left Philly, something we couldn’t say about many other ex-Eagles in the last 12 years. Maybe we should blame our LB coaches over that period. I mean, what have Ron Rivera (1999-2003), Steve Spagnuolo (2004-2006) and Sean McDermott (2007) made of themselves? Um, wait … never mind. Jim Johnson probably didn’t understand LBs. It wasn’t like he was an LB coach before we … oh wait. Yes he was. It is tough to blame any single party here for these problems; it isn’t just talent evaluation, it isn’t just coaching, it isn’t just scheme, it isn’t just luck – it is little bits of all of it.
Miscast Wide Receivers. Early in the Reid tenure, lest we forget, Andy brought in guys to play a much bigger role than they had played on their previous team. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. Charles Johnson, Torrance Small and James Thrash were all guys who could be good second or third WRs, but were asked to be much more than that here. We improved in this category later on, promoting Kevin Curtis from Rams’ third receiver to our top receiver. That actually worked out for a year or two.
Fascination With Rehab Projects. This has been around for a while. Shawn Barber is the first example of this that comes to mind. He is also the only success story that comes to mind, though there may be others. Stacy Andrews is the big example here, but guys like Montae Reagor, Will James, Marlin Jackson and others have blown up in their faces. To the extent that there is a lesson here, the Eagles are missing it.
Small Ball Failures. Part of the reason for the lack of success is that, as Mark Mosely points out, the Eagles have “played a lot of small ball” unsuccessfully of late, but also done pretty poorly in the bargain bin of veteran free agency. Guys like James Whalen, Donald Strickland, Jabar Gaffney, Ian Scott, Rocky Boiman, Kris Wilson, Rashad Baker, Mike Bell et al. were total washouts. Blaine Bishop, Mike McMahon, Matt Schobel, Chris Clemons, Sean Jones, et al. all came in and gave us something, but that something was disappointing.
This is the category where you kind of have to give the team a pass at having the guys be non-factors, because it is sort of like drafting 7th round picks – low expected success rate, so a low price. What you can blame the team for is in those instances for not having adequate alternatives when these guys do bust, like Whalen did in 2005. If you go the small ball route, you have to have depth in July to make sure you get someone who can play.
Big Price, Moderate Production. The Eagles have invested a lot of money over the years in guys who have been ok, but not at the level that they were paid. Jevon Kearse and Jason Peters are the poster boys for this category. This isn’t a case of money wasted necessarily – Kearse and Peters play positions where there is no such thing as a bargain in free agency for a legitimate above average starter. But the money – and the players’ reputations and prior performance – made us expect elite, not above average.
And that’s kind of it. I guess I could add in Darren Howard, who signed a 6 year, $30 million deal to be our DE opposite Kearse, but wound up with four years as a situational DT. And Kevin Curtis, who got similar money, only gave us one real season. It was a good one, but we paid for more.
Stacy Andrews. Then there is the big money guy who gave us nothing at all. I’m looking at you Stacy Andrews. I can’t think of anyone else who was a more spectacular bust for the Eagles than him. And what makes it worse is that despite “protecting” ourselves in the initial deal from Andrews being a bust, which he undeniably was in 2009, we still invested over $4 million more in him in 2010. Sorry, this is the biggest organizational failure of the lot.
In sum, if you look at the history of success for this team, it is clearly not coming from smart investing in veteran free agents. In fact, you might argue that it is coming from smartly NOT investing much in veteran free agents. The success is coming from drafting and retaining talent, and as frustrating as it may sound, from consistently solid coaching.
Sean McDermott's biggest problem is the baseline. If Jim Johnson had died after the 2007 season (when the Eagles were the league's 9th or 10th best defense) rather than after 2008 (3rd in both), then the McDermott tenure wouldn't really be all that disappointing.
Consider this chart:
Versus this one:
Why you just might think McD had been the coach who got the defense really humming last year, before struggling a bit in year number two.
I can't write about McDermott without remembering some of the stuff I once wrote about Jim Johnson. Like this:
There are lots of people calling for Jim Johnson's head right now. I understand the frustration, but I think it's mistaken. He clearly doesn't have enough talented pieces with which to work. Look at his decision to play so much nickel last night. He practically had to because his linebackers are so limited in coverage. If the Eagles had come out in their base defense against the Colts, how many people think Manning wouldn't have exploited the linebackers' weakness in coverage? Anyone?
The 2001 Eagles defense was simply far more talented than the 2006 Eagles defense. It has nothing to do coaching or scheme. It has to do with the fact that the players simply weren't as good. Too many times in the NFL, fans overestimate the impact of coaching, at least right away.
So maybe don't be surprised when Jim Johnson suddenly "catches back up" to the rest of the league again this year.
This is why I think any criticism of Sean McDermott has to begin with an honest evaluation of the players with whom he's working. You can't spend an entire summer fretting over the way other teams would shred the grab bag of stopgaps at the RCB position and then pretend it's all McD's fault when, whoops, that position ends up costing us a winnable game. Blame the we're-not-rebuilding-but-yeah-we'll-probably-just-wait-until-next-year-to-grab-a-corner crowd for that one.
Nor can you blame him for the lack of real impact from Brandon Graham when, you know, that was pretty much guaranteed by the history of the last five years:
That isn't to say the guys on the bottom of the list turned out to be busts. They didn't. But over five seasons you're only talking about six guys who managed more than the 8.0 sacks Parker had last year. Those aren't awesome odds.
It's also nuts to criticize him because Chris Clemons and Jason Babin are having some success. Clemons was here in 2008, too, so if he had unlockable talent it wasn't exactly apparent to Jim Johnson either. And Babin had a nice season last year as a change-up, it just took him awhile to get on the field and learn the defense after his late signing. Plus, Juqua Parker wasn't exactly dogmeat in front of him.
With all of that said, I think there's still ample room for criticism.
The cliche about a bad coach following a good one is that it's only in the second year that you really see the dropoff. That first year, there's still enough "muscle memory" around from the previous coach that the new guy can coast through. Then things start to fall apart.
I don't know if anyone's ever put this proposition through even a semi-rigorous test. I imagine you'd get pretty different results at the pro and college levels, since in the latter case you lose half your roster every two years. But I believe the general point still holds: You can't tell right away.
In that regard, the chart up at the top of this post is a little scary. Maybe things turn around quickly and it goes from a ski slope to a two-humped camel, but right this moment, things aren't looking good. That's certainly not an argument for firing McD during the bye week, but in a league where everyone's working on the equivalent of a one-year deal, how much longer does Reid go before assuming a trend is as good as a proof?
(On a general note, this is one of the things I've found a little unrealistic about some of the discussion regarding our two quarterbacks. People keep talking about sample sizes and opponent adjustments and everything -- and that's all great -- but coaching in the NFL is more like flying a jumbo jet than it is doing corporate tax work. You have to make a lot of these decisions based on the information you have at the moment you need it, not in 2014 when we finally know, for sure, how McD will do if allowed to coach the '11, '12 and '13 seasons.)
My next concern with McDermott simply relates to his inexperience. I think it's worth noting that if things had timed out a little differently, McD might still be one of the league's hottest young position coaches, learning at the feet of Eagles defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
To my knowledge, it's rare for a guy like McDermott to be handed a DC position for a team as far along as the Eagles. I'm sure you'll crowdsource some answers back at me in the comments, but I think the Pat Shurmur route is a lot more common. You get your chance on a bad team that's making its third or fourth head coaching change since it last sniffed the playoffs, no one expects that much from you, your mistakes aren't that visible, and if you get fired in three years it probably wasn't your fault anyway because Lord knows those players all stunk.
McD hasn't had that kind of grace period. He's expected to produce immediate results, and meanwhile he's going up against guys like Mike Shanahan or Sean Payton or even Mike Heimerdinger on a weekly basis. All of whom have been coaching a lot longer than he has and must find the idea of going up against fresh meat simply smashing.
Imagine if Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg got to coach against McD every week. We'd go 14-2.
The question then becomes, how do you get experienced? By doing, obviously, but how many times do we have to watch McD get outadjusted by the opposing OC before suddenly it all clicks and he starts winning those battles? If it's two years, that's feasible. If it's five, not so much.
My final issue with McD relates to scheme and style. Let's wash away history here and pretend for a minute that we're playing franchise mode in Madden with an expansion team. We've already selected Andy Reid to coach the Eagles' offense, now what kind of defensive coordinator do we want to match him up with?
Option A is a coach who runs an attacking, risky scheme that generates a lot of negative-yardage plays and turnovers, but is also prone to giving up big scoring plays because it's always pushing the envelope.
Option B is a coach with a safer, zone-based scheme that doesn't turn the ball over as much, but plays soundly and gets off the field.
In the absence of any context, the obvious choice is simply "the better one." But since the players are set, most of that variation washes away anyway.
To my mind, we may not need Option A any more. Maybe we needed that kind of defense back in 2002, when Donovan McNabb was an unpolished quarterback and the defense had to be able to keep turning over short fields and winning games on its own. But in 2010 (through 2015)? With Vilb playing quarterback, Shady running the rock, and all those weapons catching passes? Is that still true?
Especially if instead of the mad genius pulling all the strings, it's instead a guy who could probably do with a bit more margin for error?
Final food for thought, the Eagles under McDermott are asking their defensive players to do an awful lot of different things. In McD's ideal defense, it seems you need two corners who can cover anyone, defensive ends who can rush or cover like linebackers depending on the call, linebackers who can cover tight ends one-on-one even if they lined up on the other side of the formation, etc., etc.
Within the constraints of the salary cap system, can one team really find/afford all those guys?
And how long would building that roster take?
I took some time to focus on the play of Ellis Hobbs against the Titans. Obviously, it was not his finest game. As Tommy pointed out in his detailed game review, he had a bad game overall. However, there was a difference between the first three and a half quarters and the meltdown at the end.
As a preface, let me note that I have linked to some video clips provided by NFL.com. When it asks you to sign in, just hit "ok", it should keep going. I have had better luck in terms of quality and speed with Firefox than with Explorer, in general, but it has worked on both. Whether or not it works for you may have to do with settings or a plug-in or something -- I am not a whiz with this stuff. So apologies in advance if the video part fizzles.
Finally. Took forever, but I finished my Detailed Game Review and got it posted. It's also up at the EMB. Re-watching the game was painful. I'd forgotten a couple of plays. Nothing like a dagger to the heart. Over and over.
Anyone who needs cheering up should check out The Onion's story on Ray Liotta. It put a smile on my face.
Sorry for the delay in posting my game review. I got caught up in both the Sunday and Monday night games. Normally I'll passively watch them while doing my writing and review, but this week the matchups were too good to pass up. I had to watch.
I'll have the review done this evening. I've already finished my article for PE.com. I'll let you guys know when that posts.
One question I'd like to pose to the group is this...what are your expectations going forward? I know we had a disappointing loss on Sunday, but the team is 4-3. That's a typical kind of start for a Reid team. We normally get hot after the bye. Will that happen this year with the fact that we're so young? Do we win 8 or 9 games? Do we win 10 or 11? Does anyone see us falling apart and just winning 6 or 7?
Is the team all that much different than what you expected this summer? We argued rebuilding vs retooling vs whatever else you wanna call it. Has anyone changed their mind on that situation?
Sure, we're all still sulking from a lousy weekend of Philly sports, but the fact that at least one of the Giants or Cowboys will likely lose tonight has to brighten our spirits somewhat, no? The scenarios as I see them:
Cowboys lose. This result would mean that the Cowboys are pretty cooked. Maybe not all the way charred and gray in the middle, but definitely well past medium rare and edging closer to send-it-back territory. That would be goodness. The downside is that it would mean that the Giants are probably one of the better teams in the NFC, which isn't really saying all that much since they got stomped by the Titans as well.
Giants lose. And the Cowboys would be back on track! Or at least backer-on-trackerer than before? Who knows, they might even take a little momentum from the win, and then Lord knows the sorts of unholy things that might happen should the Cowboys gain a little confidence. On the flip side, it would also mean that the Giants have lost, and I really really don't like the Giants. Like, less than the Cowboys.
Fantasy implications for yours truly. Essentially, this is one of those nights where I'm rooting for 14-13 with backup QBs scoring 2 TDs a piece for each team and a missed PAT. There is no upside for me in any of my many many imaginary football leagues. BECAUSE YOU CARE.
As always when division rivals square off, I'll be rooting for injuries. Obviously not the life- or brain-threatening kinds -- that would be barbaric -- just the sort of random bruises that prevent players from being healthy to face the Birds. Though I'll also accept the types that don't actually debilitate the players but instead encourage them to pursue their true callings as pastry chefs or accountants or whatever it is Giants and Cowboys players do when they're done losing to the Eagles.
Let us start with a quick discussion of how we'll all remember yesterday's disappointing loss to the Tennessee Titans. It seems only appropriate to take a moment to reflect on how we'll mentally file this game if only because I can remember the last two times that the Eagles lost to the Titans fairly crisply:
(1) 2002 Edition. This was the season opener, also on the road. I can't immediately recall too many of the details of the actual game, but I do remember that one of my roommates at the time was almost-but-not-quite "seeing" this woman (for at least the previous weekend and a half) and she claimed to be a Titans fan. I do not recall this woman's name, such is the depth of the relationship that she and my roommate enjoyed. Shame on me. Anyway, she decided to watch this game in our apartment and on our television and cheered loudly for the wrong team throughout. She and my roommate did not "see" each other for much longer (unrelated to the result of this game; he's a Giants fan). Regardless, a thousand curses on her and her descendents.
(2) 2006 Edition. This was the day after my buddy's wedding where I received an Andre Waters jersey as a groomsmen gift (everyone got a different retro jersey). Then Dunavin blew out his knee and Andre Waters committed suicide a day later. Not a happy day.
The 2010 Edition will quite obviously and justifiably be known as the Kenny Britt Game. Certainly we tend to focus on our side of the game, and there is certainly much to discuss there. But in 8 years I suspect we'll all remember yesterday as the day that Kenny Britt just singlehandedly destroyed the Eagles. We'll gloss over the details regarding it coming the day after the Phils got knocked out of the NLCS, or that it was yet another Andy Reid loss before a bye week, or that the Birds didn't have DeSean Jackson or Michael Vick in the lineup. It'll just be the Kenny Britt Game.
Your afternoon-after story lines and bullet points:
(a) How double-teaming Kenny Britt with Allen doesn't really work if both he and Hobbs are still 15 yards away from Britt at all times;
(b) Discussing whether or not it would help if Asante Samuel started shadowing Britt one-on-one for at least the rest of the fourth quarter;
(c) Discussing whether or not Sean McDermott would even notice if Asante Samuel started shadowing Britt one-on-one for the rest of the fourth quarter;
(d) Whispering about strategies whereby they could go over and convince Jorrick Calvin to somehow do something even worse than getting repeatedly torched by Kenny Britt and Kerry Collins so that maybe this game wasn't completely on the DBs.
The Preferred Method For Killing Mosquitoes. Apart from an oblique "I was supposed to have more help over the top the one time I got burnt by Kenny Britt" offering by Ellis Hobbs, those most responsible for the Birds' meltdown in the secondary yesterday dutifully took questions from reporters following a pretty embarrassing loss. I especially enjoyed the mixed metaphor-laden explanation from Samuel regarding what the team needs to do to improve: "We just need to kill a mosquito with an axe. Don't give them no breathing room, just put our foot on the gas." Personally, I've got a vision of someone examining the blade of their axe for evidence of a killed mosquito before getting into the driver's seat of their car and speeding off. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT THE EAGLES NEED.
In Case You Were Worried I Would Go Easy On Kenny Britt. Britt was involved in a bar fight on Thursday night where a friend of his is alleged to have punched a man and wrestled that man to the ground, at which point Britt allegedly joined the fracas and repeatedly punched the downed man. Chris Johnson was also at the bar, but is said to have tried to act as a peacemaker. It was later revealed that the man on the ground was Ellis Hobbs.
The Guy Who Didn't Have A Terrible Day. In the midst of the awfulness of the Eagles' loss, let's not forget that Eagles rookie wide receiver Riley Cooper hosted a pretty terrific coming-out party at LP field. While plenty of other players came up small in their chosen moments (and we have to count Jeremy Maclin and Mike McGlynn on that list as well as the aforementioned DBs and Jorrick Calvin), Cooper's reverse-interception on an underthrown ball from Kolb and TD catch a few plays later really stood out. Certainly it leads me to be a bit more bullish than I had been on Sunshine. I assume Marty Mornhinweg is similarly bullish, owing mostly to the fact that he appears set to give Riley a handlebar-mustache smooch there on the sidelines. Also, Riley Cooper was Tim Tebow's roommate at Florida. That's THE Tim Tebow.
(I stole that joke from Derek, admittedly. Other jokes I would steal if I had more time: the bit in the comments on Tommy's piece from this morning about the penalties being AGGRESSIVE penalties -- those are good, because they count for fewer yards when Andy Reid reviews the game tape; mean-spirited Kerry Collins jokes -- can't do those what with him destroying us and winning the game.)
In A Week When The NFL Reminded Everyone Not To Concuss Each Other Quite So Violently.... You have to hand it to King Dunlap for trying to pull Cortland Finnegan's head clean off by the facemask after an extremely annoying pick six on the game's final play (annoying because the Eagles kind of quit on the play and also because Finnegan is a jerk). Video here. Also, WTF with the guy in the Celek jersey and green hair congratulating Finnegan after he jumped into the stands? Perhaps he was secretly trying to inject him with poison?
The Game That Really Came To Mind As This One Unraveled. Bears 19, Eagles 16 from October, 2007. That was a closer game, mind you, but the Birds still coughed up a winnable game to a veteran QB.
Oh, Well, We'll Have To Mention It Eventually. If nothing else, the bed-poopage from the Birds in the fourth quarter yesterday was a bit more dramatic than the Phils' exit the evening before. I'm appropriately bummed about the Phils, but the Giants, like the Titans, made all the plays required to win -- even if their lineup didn't look as shiny on paper. The only conceivable upside of the Phils' loss is that I can stop drinking and eating bar food five nights a week for baseball games. Wait, I'm not sure that's upside.
Only Vaguely Related To The Eagles And/ Or Even The NFL. My wife claims to have seen Gisele and Tom Brady's kid at the supermarket this morning. She reports that Gisele is "really tall."
Speaking Of, And We Don't Usually Post These, But. It was Halloween costume day at LP Field and a tough loss for us. Trick or treat.
IgglesBlog Suicide Pool Update. We're down to 26 entries still standing at the end of Week 7, with 15 brave soldiers going down this week. As you might expect, the Saints and Broncos claimed the most victims this week. If there was a way that picking the Broncos this week could somehow mean that you retroactively got more than one week wrong, I think I could get behind that. 59 points at home to a division rival (the Raiders no less?) -- in case you thought it was a tough week for Eagles fans, at least we didn't give up more than half a hundred to the Giants or something. Boldest picks of the week were kungfoo monkey robots who took the Pats (dogs on the road) as well as the tastefully titled Cromartie's Seed, who took the Bucs (and you get a shout-out for taking the Bucs no matter what).
All photos except the one up top by IgglesBlog photo stringer Joe Z, who was on the case in Nash Vegas this weekend. The one up top I just took from the Titans' site. They owe us at least that much.