Archive for December, 2010

Bowl Week: Players to Watch

While the Eagles are poised for a playoff run, there is always a part of me focused on the future. The NFL Draft and the prospect evaluations leading up to it are one of my favorite aspects of the NFL. With that being said, I will be watching a lot of college bowls not to satisfy my interest in the BCS system, but to scout. Over the course of the college football season, I get to watch about a dozen teams play a bunch. The rest, not so much. This year, some of my favorite prospects are Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, Patrick Peterson of LSU, and Greg Jones of Michigan State. I will take Bowl Week to evaluate some players that I haven’t seen much of yet this season.

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami. I haven’t seen Miami play this year at all really, and everybody seems to be gushing about Brandon Harris. They say he is good in run support and has the speed and ball skills to start in the NFL. He could be a candidate for the Eagles’ first or second round pick, and I want to see if he has the consistency to be a player for us down the road.

Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina. Bruce Carter, from his measurables, looks to be the perfect WILL linebacker for this system. I have heard he can blitz and he is phenomenal in coverage. I’d like to see him in action against Tennessee for the whole game.

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Whenever I have watched Wisconsin, I have taken it for granted that Carimi is an all-world left tackle who would be selected in the top ten picks. Recently, his footwork and pass protection skills have come into question, and he is in the middle of a very fuzzy offensive tackle picture along with Derek Sherrod, Nate Solder, and Anthony Costanzo. I want to see him work against TCU, who will have athletes lined up across from him.

Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida. There have been a ton of contradicting reports about Jenkins. Florida has rarely been on television this season, and Jenkins has always been the puppy with huge paws that still had x number of years to realize his potential. Now, he could declare for the draft, and I haven’t seen the progress that he’s made yet.

Chimdi Chekwa, CB, Ohio State. Chekwa has made a lot of all-american teams this year behind Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. He has forced four turnovers this season and has very good size. I have heard comparisons to Saints standout Malcolm Jenkins. I’ve seen some Ohio State, but I never really noticed Chekwa. Ryan Mallett won’t be scared to test him either.

Tejay Johnson, S, TCU. I had never heard of Johnson before he made pretty much every all-american team in the country. I have no idea what to expect from him, and he’ll have a tough matchup against Wisconsin.

Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU. I’m intrigued by this massive offensive line prospect. As an Eagle, he would play right guard, and at 6’6″, 350, he seems like the kind of player that would enamor Andy Reid.

Ideally, the Eagles would get a long-term solution at cornerback in the first round. That would probably be either Janoris Jenkins or Brandon Harris. Then, I would want the Eagles to draft a bunch of offensive linemen such as Marcus Cannon or John Moffitt, with a linebacker, tight end, and return man thrown in. Here’s an early potential scenario.

Round 1: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

Round 2: Marcus Cannon, OG, TCU

Round 3: Kendric Burney, CB, North Carolina

Round 4: Ben Ijalana, OG, Villanova

Round 4: Mason Foster, LB, Washington

Round 5: Cameron Graham, TE, Louisville

Round 7: James Brewer, OT, Indiana


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Individual Performances vs. Vikings

Most Eagles had down games last night as they fell to the Vikings 24-14 at home, but there were a few bright spots. Here, I will analyze the performance of the Eagles’ starters.

Michael Vick, QB: Vick had his worst game as an Eagle by far. He was very careless with the ball, fumbling twice and throwing an interception. He could have thrown five picks, but the Vikings’ Lito Sheppard, Frank Walker, and Jamarca Sanford dropped some absolute gifts. Vick’s decision-making was terrible, attempting to force the ball into receivers who had already given up on the play and were clearly covered. His accuracy was also spotty, missing Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson on deep balls that would have easily gone for scores. He was also under immense pressure all night, and he decided to tuck the ball and run at the right times.

LeSean McCoy, RB: McCoy was the only Eagle who played hard. He ran with great balance and vision and made a lot of Vikings miss throughout the game. He really didn’t make any mistakes and made some plays even though the offensive line didn’t open up many holes for him. His performance was very impressive when he had the ball in his hands, but some of his blitz pickups were late, forcing Vick to scramble around or get sacked.

DeSean Jackson, WR: Jackson had his opportunities as the Vikings couldn’t always handle his speed and acceleration, but Vick never connected with him on a big play. He should have had way more than two catches, but Vick was not afforded enough time in the pocket and missed Jackson deep at the beginning of the game. Jackson did save an interception by committing offensive pass interference and saved another from being returned as he tackled Husain Abdullah on the spot. He did, however, quit on quite a few routes after he was initially well covered even though Vick was keeping the play alive and had nowhere to go with the ball. Jackson’s performance was not as bad as people will make it out to be, though.

Jeremy Maclin, WR: Maclin had the quietiest six catch outing I have ever seen. Vick missed him deep once, but after that, he didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the game. He did make a great catch along the sideline which set up the Eagles’ first score. Still, Maclin is expected to make more of an impact on the game and he was not as effective as his stats would suggest.

Brent Celek, TE: Celek was another Eagle who performed well. He was very sure handed and caught ten passes from Vick, totaling 97 yards. I have no problem with how he played, but he was handled poorly. He should have helped in pass protection more often as the Eagles got chewed up with pressure off the edge all night.

Jason Peters, OT: For the most part, he kept Jared Allen under wraps. He rarely got help with him, and he forced Allen upfield, allowing Vick to step up and scramble to his left underneath him. He made a few mistakes, but ones I can live with when going up against a premier pass rusher with little-to-no help.

Winston Justice, OT: Justice had a terrible game as he was whistled for false starts and was abused in pass protection. He allowed at least two sacks by my count and did a poor job picking up speed rushers off the edge. He wasn’t much of a force in the run game either. Very disappointing performance.

Todd Herremans, OG: Was easily the best run blocker for the Eagles on the night, but he was part of a unit that was victimized by the blitz. The issues seemed to be more with communication than anything else, and Herremans was the best offensive lineman for the Eagles.

Max Jean-Gilles, OG: His play really never jumped out at me, which is usually a good thing for offensive linemen. However, he seemed to have terrible chemistry with the guys next to him (Winston Justice and Mike McGlynn) and was ineffective in the run game.

Mike McGlynn, C: The offensive line was never in a rhythm and was had no answer for the edge blitz of Minnesota. Although I may be wrong, this communication issue is probably the center’s fault, who is responsible for calls at the line. On many occasions, the Vikings brought five rushers and the Eagles failed to get a hat on a hat. McGlynn was usually the guy standing around as Mike Vick took crushing blow after crushing blow. I guess line coach Juan Castillo should have his guys practice by playing musical chairs or something in the offseason.

Juqua Parker, DE: Parker got an “A” for effort as he was breathing down Joe Webb’ s neck all night. However, he simply lost contain on him on many rollouts and failed to set the edge against Adrian Peterson in the run game. He had a poor performance not because he didn’t show up, but because he looked like he was physically overmatched. I would guess that he’s playing through a minor knee or ankle injury. Darryl Tapp, though he’s not a starter, was awful against the run and disappeared for long stretches. He had his worst game as an Eagle.

Trent Cole, DE: Cole had a sack and was relatively average rushing the passer, but was also victimized on Adrian Peterson cutbacks and a Percy Harvin end around. He wasn’t terrible, but he’s counted on to be a force, and he certainly was outplayed by Jared Allen last night despite picking up his tenth sack of the season.

Antonio Dixon, DT: Dixon had a very quiet game, but Peterson did not find much success attacking the Eagles’ A or B gaps. He forced many of the cutbacks and bounces, but the linebackers and defensive ends did not swarm to the ball as usual.

Mike Patterson, DT: Much like Dixon, Patterson did not make much noise last night, but was not picked on or abused as some other Eagles were. His performance was right about where it usually is, middle of the road.

Moise Fokou, OLB: Fokou has been a huge reason for the Eagles’ stout run defense, and was a huge reason for its collapse last night. He was not particularly good against either the run or pass, and this overall was a night to forget for Fokou.

Jamar Chaney, MLB: Chaney was not as great as he was against New York but was stellar in coverage. He made a great play working deep against Visanthe Shiancoe and did not play a big third down conversion to Percy Harvin badly at all. He does have to work on locating the football and getting his head turned around in coverage. Against the run, he missed a few tackles, and did not show the range he did against the Giants. He looked very pedestrian against the Vikings, though he was not a major liability.

Ernie Sims, OLB: Sims had a bad game from his WILL spot, whiffing on a few tackles and losing contain on the back-end on a couple of occasions. He was not exposed in coverage, but played very small and had stiff hips.

Asante Samuel, CB: Webb wisely stayed away from Asante Samuel, taking only three shots at him. Asante deflected two of those passes and jarred the third one free after a huge hit, which he was flagged for. The hit knocked Sidney Rice out of the game and will likely draw a fine from Mr. Goodell. As good as Samuel was in coverage, he missed a few tackles on Adrian Peterson, and could have stopped a few of his big gainers. Overall, it was a stellar performance for Samuel though.

Dimitri Patterson, CB: Patterson struggled mightily once again in coverage, getting beat deep once, missing a few tackles, and being flagged for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty. It’s becoming apparent that while he can be phenomenal against bigger and slower receivers, he is just physically unable to handle the speed, quickness, and explosiveness of guys like Mario Manningham and Percy Harvin. He was benched for Joselio Hanson, who did a better job on Harvin, though he was not great either. This right cornerback spot is looking like the biggest weakness on this Eagle team, depending on who is attacking it.

Kurt Coleman, S: Coleman, along with LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek, was one of the few bright spots in the Eagles loss. He saved about three touchdowns with his solid tackling and looked like a veteran out there. Towards the end of the game, he did lose contain when he played in the box, allowing a 28 yard Adrian Peterson scamper. He was easily the most consistent tackler for the Eagles throughout the night, and was not lost in coverage, or at least Webb was unable to expose him.

Quentin Mikell, S: Mikell was routinely around the ball, recovering a fumble and leading the team in tackles. He was pretty good in coverage as well, and turned in an average performance for the Eagles.

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Eagles Benefit From Loss to Vikings

The Eagles didn’t show up last night against Minnesota. Michael Vick easily had his worst game as an Eagle, throwing errant and ill-advised passes and was lucky to have only turned the ball over three times. The run defense let Adrian Peterson toy with them, Dimitri Patterson was terrible once again, and the offensive line had no clue how to stop pressure from getting to Vick. All of this was…the best thing that could happen to the Eagles.

We all can read body language, and the Eagles thought the league would just roll over for them after showing everybody what they were capable of doing in just 7 minutes and 28 seconds in New York. The Eagles were cocky, arrogant, and thought they had won before Minnesota got off the bus. Well, this loss will surely wipe the smirk off of DeSean Jackson’s face. The Eagles have a very young, very fast team with stars all over the field. The blend of talent and youth causes as much immaturity as it does big plays, and the Eagles realized that they haven’t won or proven anything yet. Had they steamrolled Minnesota and destroyed Stephen McGee’s Cowboys by thirty a piece, this same disaster could have taken place in the playoffs against the Giants or Packers. Had we played that way against either of those two teams, the outcome of the game would have been the same as last year’s embarrassing exit against the Cowboys.

However, I won’t pretend that losing a shot at a first round bye isn’t a big deal. Having to beat three good teams instead of four is a considerable advantage, and I do not look forward to playing the Bears at Soldier Field. I’ve seen about four games played there now, and the Bears have had an unbelievable footing advantage in all those games. The field is poorly maintained on purpose, and Chicago is the only team that is ever properly equipped to deal with the grass. Throw in a home crowd, and Chicago realistically has a ten point advantage when playing at home despite the fact that they somehow lost to Seattle and Washington at Soldier Field.

Still, it is my belief that in the grand scheme of things, a bye will not matter. Either the Eagles will play up to their potential, or they will play the way they did last night. I don’t care how many weeks off the Eagles are given, if their effort is as pathetic as it was against Minnesota, they will lose the first game they play, and lose by a lot. If they play the way they are capable of playing, as they did in Washington or against Indianapolis, they will beat whoever they line up against. The Eagles’ “A” game is better than any other team’s “A” game out there, New England included.

Also, as the Eagles are locked into the number three seed in the playoffs, they will likely bench Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Asante Samuel against Dallas. The stars will certainly need their rest as they have taken a pounding this year. Had we won last night, we would have played everybody against Dallas, risked an injury, and we still may not have gotten a bye. Under that scenario, we would have had to play three games in twelve days. We still do, but we give our best players a long period of rest while giving the youngsters (Jamar Chaney, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, Trevard Lindley) who need every rep they can get more time on the field.

The Eagles have been flying high, but they sorely needed that pinch to bring them back down to Earth. They are very beatable and very human. From here on out, the Eagles need to learn their lesson that they won’t beat anybody until they prove it on the field. Unlike the Patriots, Saints, Steelers, or Bears, this team needed to hear this message loud and clear. The loss stings, but it should. Without a lot of veteran leadership on this squad, the Eagles need to learn as they go, and the Vikings just sent us a gift-wrapped, very, very humbling and valuable experience.

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Why Maclin Should Be #1

All Eagle highlight reels, or NFL highlight reels for that matter, are teeming with the breathtaking speed and ankle-breaking agility of DeSean Jackson. He leads the Eagles in receiving yardage, and is one of the most dangerous players in the league. However, he does not even belong as the top target for Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb, or whoever the quarterback may be. Jeremy Maclin does.

On a team that features Michael Vick, Jackson, and LeSean McCoy, few have noticed Maclin’s 64 catches or 10 receiving touchdowns. He is two inches taller and around twenty-five pounds heavier than Jackson and physically is much closer to the mold of a traditional #1 receiver. His size allows him to be a much more reliable target when he cannot get separation from a defender and suits him to run short and intermediate routes much better than his smaller teammate. Maclin has the complete package. That’s why he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft and not Jackson. He has great speed and acceleration, but he is also strong, tough, and able to make contested catches. Not taking anything away from Jackson, but his skillset is less complete than Maclin’s. Jackson is a showstopper. He can run by or around anybody in the league and is the ultimate weapon. So, weapon should be his position, not his role. Let him return punts, take end arounds, run the wildcat, and run deep crossing routes. To truly maximize the skills of these unique athletes, do not force Jackson into a #1 receiver role in an Andy Reid offense. He will be running a lot of digs, hitches, and slants that will result in him taking more big hits that Maclin is more adept at absorbing.

DeSean Jackson has 23 plays of over 40 yards in his last 30 games. He is best suited as an x-factor that defenses will have no idea how to account for. He should be a permanent punt returner, because even if he doesn’t touch the ball, he will affect field position should opposing teams choose to kick the ball out of bounds. Even if they don’t, Jackson brings almost 1 in 7 punts back for over a 20 yard return. On offense, Reid and Morninwheg should pinpoint cracks in the defense and allow Jackson to align to succeed. Don’t split him out wide on every play. If he will be more effective in the slot, put him there. Send him in motion or run a jet sweep. Put him in the backfield on a couple of occasions. The Eagles need to be creative with their weapons to make sure that defenses account for each ability of each player. I would throw a new formation out there every week for a play or two that just keeps defenses thinking. If you like how they adjust or fail to adjust to it, stay with it. Line Jackson up at tight end on Maclin’s side and see if you can’t get him matched up on a strong safety or linebacker once in a while. My point is if you throw enough at a defense, there will be something that will give them pause. When they hesitate, we can run right by them. All this will be made easier if we afford ourselves the flexibility to move our most dynamic and fearsome playmaker anywhere on the field to create mismatches.

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Is Jamar Chaney That Good?

After Stewart Bradley’s dislocated elbow against Dallas, rookie seventh round selection out of Mississippi State Jamar Chaney stepped in not only as the starter, but the starter at MIKE, which means he also had to handle the signals for the entire defense. Giants message boards ridiculed him, believing that Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs would run all over him. In the end, he had a stunning performance, and piled up 16 tackles to the Jonathan Goff’s 2 (the Giants MIKE linebacker). He was also credited with a forced fumble, all though that was more because he was in the vicinity of the football than because he actually stripped Mario Manningham. Always being around the football does pay dividends sometimes, though.

After his performance, some analysts such as Brian Baldinger have already declared Chaney to be one of the best middle linebackers in the league. Now, is this true? Certainly not yet, but he has the potential to be regarded as one. Most viewed Chaney as a third or fourth round prospect because of his speed and coverage abilities. He was the fastest linebacker in the draft, clocking in at 4.54 at the Combine and unofficially in the high 4.4s at his pro day. Most were concerned about his ability to attack downhill, shed blocks, and be powerful at the point of attack. Nobody is really sure why he fell so far on draft day, as no character red flags pop up anywhere around this rookie.

He looks like he is a perfect fit for this defense and made a very positive impression in New York in all phases of the game. The mistakes he made were in coverage, but he seemed much less tentative than he did in Dallas, where Jon Kitna pretty much had his way with him in coverage. The Giants’ fourth touchdown (the Eli-Boss connection in the fourth quarter) was Chaney’s responsibility as he bit on an underneath route when Quentin Mikell was expecting inside and underneath coverage on a seam route by Boss. Judging by Mikell’s reaction, the play was clearly on Chaney. Rookies will make these types of mistakes, though. Chaney went out there and made plays from start to finish against a very good, very balanced offensive attack. That is the most encouraging part of his outing.

He should see the field even without Stewart Bradley hurt. He is much better than Bradley in coverage due to his speed, and should be the third down MIKE. Also, if he can learn the other two linebacker spots, the Eagles will have the luxury of competition at the SAM and WILL spots. Additionally, Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims, Omar Gaither, and Akeem Jordan will all be free agents this coming offseason, and the Eagles will not have to spend their money unnecessarily to bring guys back  if they can get starter-like production out of Chaney and Moise Fokou.

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Jeff Owens Promoted

Jeff Owens, one of the Eagles’ seventh round picks, has been added to the 53 man roster. Despite having four good tackles on the roster in Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Brodrick Bunkley, and Trevor Laws, the Eagles made the move after they placed safety Nate Allen on injured reserve. Philly pulled the trigger not because they needed another defensive lineman in the rotation, but because they feared another team would swoop in and grab Owens to sign them on their active roster. It’s not often that a rookie seventh round pick is so highly sought after, especially considering that the Eagles have allowed players such as current Rams receiver Danny Amendola to be snatched from their practice squad.

Jeff Owens is what comes to mind when you think of the prototype for an Eagle defensive tackle. Short, squatty, and powerful. At only 6’1″ but a substantial 305 pounds, Owens benched 225 pounds more than any other defender at the Combine earlier this year with an astonishing 44 reps. He is known as jovial, extroverted loudmouth who was named to be the “Personality of the SEC”. He also received a Senior Bowl invite. His strengths lie in his run stuffing abilities, and to see the field he will need to polish his pass rush moves. However, he seems to have the physical attributes to be effective at this level and is a perfect fit for this scheme. The Eagles obviously have plans for him, and don’t be surprised to see him take over as the seventh or eighth defensive lineman for the birds.

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The Eagles’ unsung heroes

Everybody talks about Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy, but the Eagles have ridden a few other players to their 10-4 record at this point in the season. These players have flown completely under the radar, but deserve very high praise. First up is Antonio Dixon, the second year undrafted player out of the University of Miami. After surprisingly making the team last year, the 6’3″, 325 pound defensive tackle has made a huge impact on the Eagles’ stingy run defense. After injuries to Brodrick Bunkley and Stewart Bradley, reserves had to step up to make sure the run defense didn’t suffer. Dixon more than stepped up. The heaviest defensive player on the Eagles by nearly 20 pounds has been a rock anchoring a run defense that has stopped runners such as Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Chris Johnson in their tracks. His play deserves pro-bowl consideration and has brought much needed stability and consistency to a young and injury-prone unit.

When the Eagles lost all-pro fullback Leonard Weaver for the season in week 1 against the Packers, the Eagles suffered a big loss. Weaver brought great power running, a strong option in the passing game, and tough blocking to the table. Without him, the Eagles lost one of their most valuable weapons and the offense was in danger of losing a whole dimension. However, Owen Schmitt was signed in September as a free agent. A third year player out of West Virginia, Schmitt has stepped right into the offense and has been very productive. He has very underrated blocking skills and is an adequate receiver out of the backfield. He affords the Eagles even more flexibility with their stars and makes playcalling a whole lot easier for Reid and Morninwheg with his wide array of skills.

The third unsung hero for Philadelphia this season has been King Dunlap, the Eagles’ 6’9″ swing tackle. He has started four games this season, and has been effective on both sides. He has not played great by any stretch of the imagination, but he has been good enough. He has been called upon more than anybody had hoped for, but he has done just enough to keep Michael Vick alive and well. In fact, he handled John Abraham against the Falcons, keeping the less mobile Kevin Kolb on his feet and comfortable en route to an Eagle victory. After Winston Justice gave up six sacks a few years ago coming off the bench, Eagles fans hold their breath when a starting tackle goes down. Dunlap certainly has not performed perfectly, but he has avoided a disaster. That’s all the coaches can ask of him.

Dimitri Patterson did not expect to see much playing time this season, but after a flurry of injuries in the defensive backfield, he was forced to start at right corner. He has been targeted a lot, but for the most part has played very well. He is easily the best tackling corner the Eagles have and maybe one of the best in the league. He has great anticipation skills as well and is capable of creating turnovers. He does lack deep speed, and therefore he can be torched on the deep ball. Still, he has exceeded everybody’s expectations. Kurt Coleman is another defensive back who has been a pleasant surprise when he was forced into a starting role. A rookie seventh round pick isn’t supposed to make the team let alone start, but Coleman has held his own when he has been thrown into the fire. The final unsung hero is Moise Fokou, 2009’s seventh round pick. He was inserted into the starting lineup after guys like Akeem Jordan proved to be thoroughly ineffective. Like Antonio Dixon, he has helped this run defense emerge as a top 10 unit and has played sound, fundamental football.

David Akers is the only Eagle to have completed ten or more NFL seasons, and with so much youth (24 players are still in their first three years on the team), the Eagles will need their young guns to grow up fast and contribute. If they do, the Eagles should be a very competitive team into future years.

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