Tag Archives: DeMarco Murray

Who Is The Eagles Most Invisible New Addition?

The Eagles just suffered a 40-17 bashing from the Arizona Cardinals.  The game measured how well the Eagles can perform against playoff-level talent – just in case they can sneak into the playoffs – and they got rolled by the Cardinals.  Eagles fans just wanted was a good game against a top-ranked Cardinals team but did not receive anything close.

After watching the game, the hope of a deep playoff run has pretty much disappeared as the team has serious deficiencies in talent from the personnel moves made over the past two years.  The question now is not who is the best player on the team, but, rather, who among the 2015 additions has become the most invisible person on the field.

DeMarco Murray On The Sidelines

DeMarco Murray was on the sidelines for the majority of the game.  He finished the game with two carries, and, even though he is a perfect 12-for-12 on conversions this season, he was not given a carry on a crucial 4th and inches with 50 seconds left in the second quarter on a drive that would have tied the game at 17.

Since the Eagles barely used Murray in the game, the Cardinals would have seen Murray entering the game and knew he was getting the ball.  However, the pre-snap routine signaled exactly what the call was going to be anyway, like directions for assembling the defense to stop the play.  Riley Cooper’s motioning to the right before the snap clearly telegraphed that the Eagles were going to run it off the right tackle.

Any defensive player could clearly see how the play would develop pre-snap, yet, on the other hand, why were they using Cooper and not an offensive lineman as the lead blocker anyway?  In addition, the Eagles strength on the offensive line is the left side, where Pro Bowl lineman Jason Peters plays, but they decided to go off the right tackle.

When 94.1 WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi asked Kelly why he did not use Murray considering Murray’s record of short conversions, Chip said he wanted to “go with the bigger back.”

DeMarco Murray is 6-foot, 217 pounds while Ryan Mathews is 6-foot, 220 pounds.  Neither one is technically the “bigger back.”  Murray or Mathews would have both struggled to make the play considering the poor play calling, but, by not using Murray, it is fair to wonder if he fits anywhere in this team’s offense.

With Kelly’s questionable GM decisions added to the equation, the Eagles are likely stuck with Murray for the future. What team will take on his salary if the Eagles want to move on from him?  The team could cut him, but they would suffer a considerable salary-cap hit.  Still, is it worth paying Murray the way designated by his $40 million salary to sit on the bench and run the ball twice a game?

It is fair to question if Kelly is just signing people at whim and throwing them into the mix of the team without any rhyme or reason for how they fit into the overall scheme and the salary-cap situation if they don’t work out.

The Eagles Traded LeSean McCoy for What?

At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso has done little to nothing this season, and, what is worse is that Kelly exchanged the Eagles franchise-leading running back for him in the offseason.

Alonso had a good game against the Falcons in week 1 with a one-handed interception, but he has done little since then.  He has 26 tackles this season.  When compared to the 159 tackles he had in his rookie season, he would have to play five to six seasons at his current rate to come close to what he did in his rookie season in Buffalo.

Alonso played 57 percent of snaps against Buffalo and 53 percent of snaps against Arizona after playing a season-high 79 percent against the Patriots, but he played 100 percent of snaps in every game he played with Buffalo in 2013.  His production has disappeared.

When you trade away a running back who rushed for 2,926 yards combined in 2013-14, is it not fair to ask for something close to equal compensation?

This Eagles team was defined by hard hits years ago, but the team has now become a group of players who seem more interested in stripping the ball than making a tackle.

The Eagles First-Round Pick Doesn’t Work Out As Planned, Again

The outside receivers are the weakest part of the Eagles offense.  The team spent its first pick in this year’s draft on Nelson Agholor but are getting little to nothing in return.  Agholor played 89 percent of offensive snaps against the Cardinals, and, even with all those snaps, he finished the game with one target and zero catches.  Is that not the definition of disappearing from a game?

The only player who had more offensive snaps in the game – excluding offensive linemen – was Sam Bradford (98 percent).

When the Eagles lost to the Cardinals last season, 24-20, Jeremy Maclin had 12 receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns.  The Eagles could have really used production like that again Sunday night.  The Eagles outside receivers – Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, and Nelson Agholor – combined for six receptions for 74 yards.  Philadelphia had 334 yards and two touchdowns from wide receivers against the Cardinals last year and 233 yards and one touchdown this year.  That is what you would call subtraction by subtraction.

This lack of production is not a one-game occurrence, though.  The outside receivers have been severely underperforming all season.  If you combine the overall yards of the current outside receivers for the season, they have 856 yards – just 17 more yards than slot receiver Jordan Matthew’s 839 yards for the season.

Will any Eagles receiver go over 1,000 yards this season?

The wide receivers are the weakest link of the Eagles offense, and Agholor has the fewest yards among all starting wide receivers.  He was billed to be a key part filling in for Jeremy Maclin, but he would be lucky to end the season with anywhere between 400-500 yards.  He would also be lucky to finish the season with more than two touchdowns since he scored his first touchdown in week 14.

Agholor has been held to zero yards in two of the past three weeks – against the Patriots and Arizona – and he has not produced more than 64 yards in a game all season.  The moves Kelly made at the wide receiver position are clearly not panning out.

How are Kelly and the Eagles wide receivers going to look if DeSean Jackson and the Redskins knock the Eagles out of the playoffs for the second year in a row?

Who Is My Pick?

For all that, who among Agholor, Alonso, and Murray is the most invisible new addition on the team?  My pick is Alonso.  Agholor had a touchdown last week before vanishing on the field against the Cardinals, Murray has had good games in the middle of the season before becoming non-existant in recent weeks.  Alonso hasn’t done anything recently.  Who is your pick?

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

Eagles-Dolphins Scouting Report

The Eagles (4-4) face the Dolphins (3-5) in the Eagles first one o’clock game since October 11th.  The Eagles are still fighting to stay competitive in the NFC East, where they, the Giants, and the Redskins are currently holding onto hope as they race to the finish line.  The Dolphins, on the other hand, are buried at the bottom of their division behind the Patriots (8-0) and Jets (5-3), and, with a 0-4 record in their division, they currently have the worst divisional record in the NFL.

The Dolphins immediate success after Dan Cambell became the interim head coach in Week 6 turned out to be a mirage because the games they won in convincing fashion were against the Tennessee Titans (2-6) and Houston Texans (3-5).  However, The Dolphins’ success and overall power ranking in the NFL came to a screeching crash when they met their two division rivals, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, the past two games and lost by a combined score of 24-69.

Run/Pass Ratio:  Although the Eagles had an even distribution of running and passing last week, their overall tendency this season is to pass the ball 58 percent of the time against 42 percent running.  The Dolphins pass the ball the third-most overall this season: 64 percent pass against 36 percent run.  However, that tendency has to take into account that the Dolphins did not run frequently until Dan Cambell became head coach for them four games ago.

Pass Defense:   Miami allows a 22nd ranked 97.1 opposing passer rating, with opposing quarterbacks throwing 16 touchdowns against 6 interceptions.  The Eagles allow a 6th ranked 82.2 passer rating, with opposing quarterbacks throwing 13 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.  The Eagles give up an average of 6.9 yards per attempt, ranking ninth in the league, while Miami has given up a 25th-ranked 7.8 yards.  The Dolphins, however, have given up less yards and touchdowns overall to wide receivers.  In addition, both teams rank low in receiving yards given to running backs: (Eagles, 222 yards, 30th) and (Dolphins, 263, 27th).

Advantage:  Eagles

Dolphins Quarterback:  Dolphin’s offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was the Eagles quarterback coach in Chip Kelly’s first year as head coach, has had trouble developing Ryan Tannehill this season after he posted substantial numbers last year in Lazor’s first season as Miami’s offensive coordinator.  The Dolphins point production has dropped from 24.3 (11th last season) to 21.4 (21st).  Tannehill’s passer rating is down from 92.8 last season to 88.7. He has 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this season after just 12 interceptions last season.  He has not thrown a touchdown in the past two weeks after throwing six combined against Houston and Tennessee, highlighting the fact that he is definitely not matchup-proof and can be shut down by the better defenses in the league.

Eagles Quarterback:  Sam Bradford looked more comfortable in overtime than he has looked in high-pressure situations at anytime this season.  The deer-in-the-headlights look was gone, and he seemed confident.  He had trouble once again getting started, though.  His completion percentage (69.4%) was the second-highest of the season, but he also had just 36 attempts.  His one touchdown Sunday gives him two touchdowns over the past three weeks; however, he did not throw an interception for the first time since Week 4.  He is still tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the NFL – with 10 – behind Matthew Stafford (11), Andrew Luck (12), and Peyton Manning (13).  Although Tannehill, with 9 interceptions, is not far behind.  Bradford’s production in the first half of games, 821 yards, is in stark contrast to the second half of games: 1,236 yards. Therefore, I’ll halt in saying that he has turned the corner until he finally shows up at the beginning of a game.

Advantage:  Eagles

Dolphins Wide Receivers:  In the offseason, the Dolphins signed wide receivers DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, along with tight end Jordan Cameron, in an effort to improve their passing offense.  However, it hasn’t worked out quite as planned.  Stills had a good year last season, with 63 receptions for 931 yards with New Orleans, but he is a boom-or-bust type of wide receiver this year – with more busts than boom.  For example, he had a good 46-yard reception Sunday, but his overall production this season (16 receptions, 279 yards) is below what should be expected of a No. 1 receiver this late in the season.  Cameron has had trouble reproducing the output he had in his 2013 breakout season with the Browns (80 receptions, 917 yards), when he ranked among the top tight ends in the league.  DaVante Parker has disappeared from the stat sheets since Week 3, and he is questionable to play against the Eagles due to a foot injury.  Jarvis Landry, who had the most targets against the Bills last week (12) and goes up against an Eagles interior that was just torched by Cole Beasley, may be the most important wide receiver to watch as he has been the most productive wide receiver recently.  Rishard Matthews was a big producer at the beginning of the season and has been producing close to Landry’s output, so he is worth keeping an eye on, too.  Greg Jennings is largely an afterthought.  The Dolphins do not really have a consistent No. 1 wide receiver, and any one of them could produce.

Eagles Wide Receivers:   Bradford targeted Jordan Matthews on 36.4 percent of his routes against the Cowboys, and Matthews had an impressive game, finishing with nine receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown.  The question now, however, is whether he can reproduce that performance again this season.  The last time he had over 100 yards receiving was in Week 1, when he produced 102 yards, and he has not finished a game with more than 59 yards since Week 2.  However, when he had his best game of the season in 2014 – 138 yards and two touchdowns against Carolina – he followed that with 107 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay the next week.  Miles Austin, who had the most receiving yards in the two games prior to Week 9, had just one reception for 27 yards.  Zach Ertz continues to be a good option for Sam Bradford as he saw six targets and caught five for 44 yards.  Josh Huff, however, barely produced (2 receptions, 10 yards), and it’s fair to wonder if he will have a breakout game again this season.  Nelson Agholor did not play against the Cowboys, and whether or not he will play will be important to monitor.  The Eagles don’t have a consistent No. 1 wide receiver, so the production could come from anywhere.  The most important aspect to watch from this position is whether Matthews can have another big game.

Advantage:  Even

Rush Defense:  The Dolphins allowed over 100 yards to both Bills’ running backs last week: Karlos Williams (110 yards) and ex-Eagle LeSean McCoy (112).  Only the Cleveland Browns have allowed more rushing yards per game than Miami (142.1).  The Eagles have allowed an opposing running back to run for more than 100 yards for the second consecutive week, and losing Jordan Hicks for the season, along with the lingering injuries of DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso, and Mychal Kendricks, does not help the situation.

Advantage:  Eagles

Dolphins Running Backs:  Lamar Miller is the clear-cut No.1 running back in Miami, and, since Dan Cambell took over as head coach, Miami has been using him frequently.  Before Cambell took over, Miller had 37 rushes in four weeks, and he never had more than 13 attempts in a game or 53 yards.  In the four weeks after Cambell took over, though, he has 52 rushes combined and two games with over 100 yards rushing.  Against the Titans and Texans, he had two of the best games of his career, but he cooled down considerably the next two weeks, when he faced the Patriots and Bills and ended with a combined 21 rushes for 59 yards.  Where the Eagles have to be careful, though – if they are not going to allow they’re third consecutive 100-yard rusher – is Miller’s ability to move the ball as a receiver.  Last week, the majority of his production came off receptions (7 receptions, 97 yards), and he had only 44 yards rushing.  Miller has seen 18 targets – 12 of which came in the past two weeks when he had trouble rushing – through the four weeks after Campbell became coach, so the Eagles will need to be very cautious about this Sunday.

Eagles Running Backs:  The Eagles averaged 70 yards running in their first four games, but, now, they are averaging 173.3 yards over their last four games and have at least 150 yards in each contest.  That result has come with an ever-changing offensive line.  It’s clearly time to stop talking about who is the lead back between DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews because they are both major and generally equal contributors on the offense.  The only difference is that Ryan Matthews has more yards and touchdowns with a lot less attempts.  Over the past two games, Matthews has 17 rushes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, while Murray has 36 rushes for 148 yards and one touchdown.  However Murray has 8 receptions for 83 yards the past two games, with 6 catches for 78 yards against Dallas.  The Eagles most likely will not change their approach to utilizing the two running backs against Miami.  The only question, though, is where Darren Sproles fits in the mix – if at all.  Sproles has disappeared from the offense since a stand-out Week 1 performance.

Advantage:  Even

Score prediction:  Eagles 27, Dolphins 20

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

10 Takeaways From The Eagles-Dallas Game

1. The Eagles win gave the Dallas Cowboys (2-6) their sixth consecutive loss and their longest losing streak in 26 years.  In 1989, they had a eight-game losing streak that ended with a win in the middle of the season, but then they followed that win with another seven consecutive losses.  They finished 1-15 that year, so, even though they can’t finish that bad this year, they’re likely out of the playoff race.

2.  Heading into the game, the Eagles heavily favored passing in their gameplan.  However, last night, they had 36 passes against 35 runs, and they produced 172 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the ground.  Ryan Matthews ran the ball 11 times, and DeMarco Murray ran 19, so the distribution was similar to how they’ve been used this season.  However, for a team that went into the game passing the ball 59% of the time, a more even distribution was good to see.  The Eagles have 639 yards rushing in their four wins and 334 in their four losses.

3.  The Eagles came into the game being outscored 33-10 in the first quarter of games all season, and that trend continued Sunday night.  The score after the first quarter was 7-0 with Dallas holding the lead, meaning that the Eagles now have been outscored 40-10 in the first quarters of games.  The Eagles did not cross the 50-yard line in the first quarter, and they ran the ball five times against ten passes, but the ground game didn’t get working until the second quarter. When will they get off to a good start again?

4.  Penalties, of which the Eagles had 10 for 70 yards, were a real momentum killer and a key component in Dallas’ game-tying drive that brought the game into overtime.  Defensive pass interference is a very subjective call to make – probably the most subjective penalty in the sport – and the referees were very giving in what they considered interference.  However, they missed a crucial illegal-formation penalty that would have given the Cowboys a longer kick to convert in order to bring the game into overtime.

5.  The Eagles defense allowed Darren McFadden to run for 117 yards, and that total was just the second time all season they’ve allowed a running back to total 100 yards or more.  The only other player to do it was Jonathan Stewart in Week 7.  That means the Eagles have given up more than 100 yards to a running back in two consecutive games after not doing it at all through the first six contests.  Is this a trend we should expect to continue?  Miami’s Lamar Miller is one of the better running backs in the league.

6.  Jordan Matthews is starting to develop a real knack for coming up big in games against the Cowboys, and he was great against the Cowboys Sunday, finishing with 9 receptions on 12 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown.  His 41-yard touchdown reception to end the game in overtime displayed the strength of his character, considering that he had just cost the Eagles five yards on a false-start penalty six plays prior to the touchdown.  What is most important, though, is that he caught 9 of the 12 passes thrown his way because he has dropped a lot of balls recently.  He now has a combined 213 yards and two touchdowns in two games against Dallas this season.

7.  Jordan Hicks’ 67-yard interception return for a touchdown that broke a 14-14 tie and pretty much saved the season, combined with the fact that the rookie is becoming the quarterback of the defense, has qualified him as the Eagles best defensive draft pick by Kelly.  In fact, Kelly’s best overall pick so far would be a three-way contest between Jordan Matthews, Hicks, and Lane Johnson.  Heading into the Week 9 contest, Hicks, the third-round rookie, ranked among the top players in the league in solo tackles (37), despite playing only six games against seven or eight for every other player ranked above him except one.  After last night, he is now tied for the ninth most in the league with 43.  Hopefully the injury he suffered to his pectoral muscle will not be too serious because Hicks is really talented and needs to be playing.  He will have a MRI today, and the results will tell how the team will handle him going forward.

8.  Speaking of rookies and draft picks, as of last night’s game, the Eagles are still getting little to nothing in return for their first-round draft picks from the past two years.  2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith still hasn’t figured a way to contribute in any way other than special teams, and the fact that he is a long-shot to become a part of the defense is becoming an ever-present reality.  When the Eagles coaches made the decision not to use Vinny Curry as an outside linebacker after the bye week, the general thinking was that Smith could have an opportunity to fill the role.  However, he played 17 special-teams snaps against the Cowboys and nothing more.  Connor Barwin (94% of defensive snaps) and Brandon Graham (78%) seem locked as the primary outside linebackers.  But, can Smith become a part of the defense at some point?

9.  Caleb Sturgis came up big for the Eagles when they needed him most and hopefully put his early-season struggles behind him.  The Eagles have had a lot of let downs from kickers over the past two seasons as kickers have failed to convert in tough situations, but Sturgis’ 53-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a 27-24 lead with one minute, 51 seconds on the clock was spectacular.  Sturgis has not missed an extra point after missing one in each of his first two starts with the Eagles.  He has converted 10 of 11 field goals in the past four games, including 2 of 3 field goals of 50 yards or more and 7 of 9 from 30 yards or greater.  Having a trustworthy kicker is invaluable, so hopefully his streak and clutch playing can continue.

10. The Eagles (4-4) are still in the playoff race in the NFC East and only half a game away from the Giants (5-4), whom they will play in the last game of the season. The Giants beat Tampa Bay yesterday, 32-18, but they now play the seemingly unstoppable Patriots, so a win is most definitely not a guarantee.  The Patriots just dismantled the Redskins yesterday, 27-10, so the Redskins (3-5) are currently third in the division and play the newly-rejuvenated passing offense of the New Orleans Saints.  The Eagles face the Dolphins, who lost 33-17 to the Bills on Sunday after suffering a 7-36 pummeling by the Patriots two weeks ago.  The NFC East is up for grabs; the Cowboys are pretty much out of the race, and the Giants and Eagles are the current frontrunners.  The division is sure to be to be a race to the finish line.

Questions/Comments? Follow me: @sean__cumming

Eagles-Cowboys Scouting Report: Previewing the NFC East Showdown

The Eagles and Cowboys meet for the second and last time in the regular season, and the game will impact who makes the playoffs in a division that is still up for grabs.  This contest is a chance for the Eagles to put the nail in the Cowboys’ coffin, while the Cowboys hope to halt a five-game losing streak that started after their Week 2 win against the Eagles.  The showdown between the Eagles and Cowboys is always one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, and, as such, this game should be a battle to the end.

Run/pass ratio:  Both teams favor passing over running, but the Eagles have a much greater tendency to pass the ball than run.  The Eagles currently pass the ball 59% of the time against 41% rushing while the Cowboys pass the ball 53% of the time against 47% rushing.

Pass Defense:  Both defenses are relatively similar in overall passing yards allowed, but Dallas has given up 116 less yards through seven games: Dallas (1,638) and Philadelphia (1,754).  The discrepancy, however, is in how many of those yards are allowed to wide receivers, and Dallas has the distinct advantage in that statistic.  The Eagles have given up the 12th most yards to wide receivers (1,338), while Dallas has given up the third fewest (971).  That gives the advantage to Dallas’ secondary; however, it also displays that the Cowboys have had difficulty covering receiving running backs as they have given up the 7th most receiving yards to running backs.  In addition, the Eagles have the more opportunistic defense, with a league-leading 19 takeaways against 4 for Dallas.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys Quarterback:  Matt Cassel is a severe downgrade from Tony Romo, who broke his clavicle in Week 2 against the Eagles when rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks sacked him.  Romo is expected to come back for the Cowboys Week 11 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, but that may be too late to save the season if they don’t win Sunday, considering that Cowboys quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have a combined 0-5 record in starts in his absence.  Brandon Weeden was subpar in replacing Romo in every game except against the Eagles, and Matt Cassel does not seem to be a noticeable improvement.  Last week, despite the defense giving him multiple opportunities to put up more than 12 points against Seattle, Cassel could not capitalize, and his final drive made him look like a rookie decision-maker.  In two starts with the Cowboys, Cassel has one touchdown against three interceptions, and, last week, Cassel completed 13 of 26 passes (52%) for 97 scoreless yards for a team that currently ranks 24th in the league in passing yards.  Against the Giants he threw for 227 yards, but his three interceptions took away what could have been a decent day.  Strangely enough, though, Matt Cassel has thrown for over 300 yards once in the past three years, and that was against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.  Regardless, Cassel should not be a major threat against the Eagles secondary as he appears to be severely struggling to pick up the Cowboys passing concepts currently.

Eagles Quarterback:  Sam Bradford has continued his early-season struggles, and he seems to be laboring to find his identity as the quarterback on the team.  Eagles receivers have been dropping a lot of his throws, sure, but Bradford has not really displayed the ability to overcome those obstacles, and his accuracy is rarely stunning.  A recent analysis on him stated that one of the main causes of dropped balls comes from the fact that Bradford is throwing into areas where Eagles wide receivers fear they’ll take a hard hit, and this fear of ending up in a hospital bed causes them to flinch and drop the ball at the last moment.  Even though the Eagles receivers have a league-high 25 dropped passes this season, Tom Brady dealt with 11 dropped passes in Week 7 alone and was still able to throw for 355 yards and two touchdowns.  To ensure Bradford’s future success, the Eagles need to find a way to even out their tendency to pass the ball so much, ideally moving closer to a 50/50 share of run/pass, and maybe that can limit the mistakes Sam Bradford makes.  Bradford has thrown nine touchdowns against ten interceptions and has more than one interception in four of seven games but multiple touchdowns in only two.  If he can get the offense going in a solid rhythm following the bye week, though, he is still viewed as the favorable quarterback over Matt Cassel.

Advantage: Eagles

Cowboys Wide Receivers:  Dez Bryant, despite starting last week for the first time since September 13th, played 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.  However, even though his volume was plentiful, his production (2 receptions off 6 targets for 12 scoreless yards) was underwhelming.  However, he will be more accustomed to playing with Matt Cassel and, as a result, presumably more of a threat to the Eagles.  Bryant did not play in the first matchup against the Eagles, but he has a history of posting big numbers against the team.  The last time he faced the Eagles, he had six receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns; and, in the past three years, he has posted 35 receptions for 581 yards and 7 touchdowns in 6 games, matchups in which the Cowboys have won 4-2. Terrance Williams led the Cowboys with 4 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown the last time the two teams met, but, even though he is a player whom the Eagles must watch, he does not play at the same talent level as Bryant.  Thus, how the Eagles deal with Bryant, if he is fully healed, will be extremely important in determining the outcome of the game.  The other factor to be considered, though, is that the Eagles secondary leads the league in takeaways, so, against a turnover-prone quarterback, they have an advantage.

Eagles Wide Receivers:  The Eagles are still waiting for Nelson Agholor to have his breakout game, and the general hope in Philadelphia is that it occurs sooner rather than later.  The 2015 first-round pick’s production this season (8 receptions, 108 yards, zero touchdowns) is at – or, even below – what an elite receiver produces in one game.  Jordan Matthews has had two weeks to work on fixing dropped passes, so the Eagles hope he can become the No. 1 receiver that everyone projects him to be.  Surprisingly, though, over the past two games, Miles Austin, the 31-year-old ex-Dallas Cowboy playing in his first year with the Eagles, leads the team in receiving yards (112) followed by tight end Zach Ertz (106).  Jordan Matthews, in comparison, has 73 yards in the past two matchups, while Josh Huff and Darren Sproles have 24 and 34 yards, respectively.  Riley Cooper did not play against the Panthers, but he had 76 yards against the Giants and the Eagles only touchdown in the past two games.  The Eagles sorely need more touchdowns from their wide receivers.  Deciding who will be the Eagles leading receiver in any game is a shot in the dark, but Ertz and Austin will be interesting players to watch going forward based on their success before the bye.

Advantage: Even (unless Dez Bryant looks healthier than last week)

Run Defense:  The Eagles have allowed only one running back to rush for at least 100 yards: Jonathan Stewart in Week 7 with 125.  Aside from that performance, the most yards produced by a running back against the Eagles was Atlanta Falcons’ now backup running back Tevin Coleman with 80 yards in Week 1.  The Cowboys, as well, have allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season, and it was Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman in Week 3.  The Cowboys defense, like the Eagles, has been stingy in every other game in between.  Therefore, running the ball should be difficult for both teams.

Advantage: Even

Cowboys Running Backs: The Cowboys are averaging 127.9 rushing yards per game this season, ranking sixth in the league.  They are now running the ball almost entirely with Darren McFadden over the past two weeks and just released Joseph Randle, who is second in the league in yards-per-rush (5.18) among running backs with at least 100 carries since 2014.  Randle suffered an oblique strain and lost his starting position two weeks ago in the Giants game, and, recently, the team released him after he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.  In his absence, they signed Trey Williams, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, off the Redskins practice squad.  However, it is hard to see him, Christine Michael, or Rod Smith taking too many snaps away from McFadden.  Regardless, Williams could be a surprise for the Eagles to keep an eye on in the backfield.  McFadden had ten rushes for 31 yards when he played the Eagles in Week 2, but his role has changed drastically since then.  He has had 49 attempts in the last two weeks compared to 37 in the first five games.  He had a good performance against the Giants two weeks ago, with 152 rushing yards and a touchdown, but, last week, he was held to 64 scoreless yards by the Seahawks.  Therefore, stopping the run will largely include stopping McFadden, and, if the Eagles can stop McFadden, it’s hard to imagine Cassel winning the game for the team.

Eagles Running Backs: The Eagles are averaging a 15th ranked 114.4 rushing yards per game this season, and their average run, 4.2 yards, is only slightly below Dallas’ 4.5.  The discrepancy, however, lies in how the Eagles’ average yards vary between Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray.  Matthews has 56 carries to Murray’s 88, but Matthews has 342 yards against Murray’s 307.  Moreover, Matthews is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt to Murray’s 3.5, and, to put that into an even larger context, Matthew’s 6.1 average led the league heading into Week 7, slightly edging Todd Gurley (6.0 before his Week 8 matchup), who is becoming one of the best running backs in the league.  Matthew’s production created a media storm following the Eagles into their bye week regarding whether Murray or Matthews should be the starter, and, in response, it’s difficult to tell who will be the lead back, but it will be one of the most interesting factors of the game to watch.  Murray has become somewhat predictable with the runs on which he gains the most yards and has had difficulty running the outside zone.  In fact, DeMarco Murray averages 2.7 yards per carry when running over tackles or around the edge but 4.5 yards running behind the guards or up the middle.

Advantage: Even

Final Analysis:  The Eagles cannot lose a game after a bye week – with two weeks to prepare – for a backup quarterback.  The Cowboys defense will keep the game close, but I believe Matt Cassel will not be able to bring his team to victory when the game becomes a shootout in the end.

Score Prediction: 20-14 Eagles win

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Fantasy Football: Top 5 Most Interesting Players of Week 7

1.  Lamar Miller (RB: Dolphins):  With Miami’s new head coach, Dan Cambell, installing what can be assumed to be a run-heavy scheme, Miller now appears to be on the fantasy radar for an upgrade in production.  Miami ran on 26-percent of plays in the first four games but 50-percent in Week 6 against the Titans, and, Miller, the unquestionable beneficiary, received 20-plus touches for the first time all season (19 rushes, 2 receptions).  Previously, he had not rushed more than 13 times in a game, in Week 1, and, in Weeks 2-4, he had 24 rushes for 78 yards combined.  However, on 19 carries last week, he totaled 113 yards (5.9 yards-per-carry) and a touchdown, and owners are hoping that trend continues.  He has no comparable competition for touches from Damien Williams or Jonas Grey, so he should be the workhorse back for his team, and, this week, they play the Houston Texans, who have allowed an average of 109 yards-per-game and 6 touchdowns on the ground.  Whether or not Cambell sticks with a run-heavy scheme again will be interesting to see going forward, but teams desperately needing a solid RB2 going forward will be holding their breath, both anticipating and hoping that Cambell stays committed to the run and Miller is the beneficiary.  Will Miller continue to produce like a top running back?

2. Stefon Diggs (WR: Vikings):  Minnesota desperately needs to find an answer at the wide-receiver position because they need someone to take attention away from Adrian Peterson.  Last year, everyone anointed Cordarelle Patterson as the wide receiver to own in Minnesota before the season started, but, after one breakout game, he fizzled out into fantasy obscurity.  Now, however, Stefon Diggs is looking like the receiver to own in Minnesota after two straight weeks of solid production.  Against a top-rated Denver defense that usually holds opposing wide receivers to minimal yardage, the rookie fifth-round pick had 6 receptions on 10 targets for 87 yards then followed that up with 7 receptions on 9 targets for 129 yards against the Chiefs in which he got his first start and logged 82-percent of snaps.  13 catches and 216 yards over two weeks is hard to ignore on a Minnesota team that desperately needs a No. 1 receiver.  This week, he plays a Detroit defense that has given up the 7th most fantasy points to wide receivers this season.  For people who may be scrambling to fill a roster spot for a last-minute injured player, such as Keenan Allen, Diggs could be the guy to replace him.  Are you digging Diggs as the next rookie breakout fantasy star?

3. DeMarco Murray (RB: Eagles):  DeMarco Murray has become the unquestioned leader in the Eagles backfield the past two weeks as he has 42 rushes to Ryan Matthews’ 17 in that duration.  Over the past three weeks, Murray has the seventh-most rushing attempts (50) amongst running backs and the tenth most yards (228).  He has a touchdown in each of his last two games.  Against the Giants last week, he earned his first 100-yard rushing game as an Eagle, and, this week, he goes up against a Panther’s defense that ranks 12th in run defense and 15th in rushing average.  However, the Carolina Panthers should improve now that All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly returned last week.  When Kuechly returned last week, the Panthers held Marshawn Lynch to 54 yards on 17 carries.  Murray will be tested this week against Carolina, but he should be started as his volume of carries alone should give him the opportunity to finish as a top-10 running back.  Will Chip Kelly continue to use Murray as much?  And, will Murray continue to respond with rising production?

4. Jeremy Maclin (WR: Chiefs):  Jeremy Maclin has been cleared to play Sunday after passing the concussion protocol on Friday, and he is expected to play against the Steelers.  The real question now is if he will be able to bring life to the ailing Chiefs offense.  When Jamaal Charles tore his ACL before the Chiefs played the Vikings last week, it seemed that Maclin would be the beneficiary of more points in Charles’ absence.  However, he he had his worst performance of the season, finishing the game with three receptions off four targets for 48 yards.  This brings up the question of whether Maclin can still put up WR2 points with no one else but Travis Kelce to take attention away from him.  This week, he goes up against a Steelers defense that gives up the 11th most points to wide receivers and just gave up an incredible 196 yards to Arizona receiver John Brown.  Maclin has only one touchdown this season, but his 531 yards rank 7th amongst wide receivers; his 56 targets rank 13th, and his 39 receptions rank 8th in the league.  Will he be able to keep putting up yards in the absence of Jamaal Charles?

5. Cam Newton (QB: Panthers): Cam Newton is the ultimate dual-threat quarterback this season, and his rushing attempts are coming voluminously.  Newton, almost half-way to his total rushes last season through six games in 2015, has 50 rushing attempts to 103 last season.  He has averaged at least four yards-per carry over the past three weeks and has a rushing touchdown in three of his last four games.  However, the major debate on Newton so far this season is whether his team’s 5-0 success is the product of a dominating team or an opportunistic schedule since the teams he’s beaten – Jaguars, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Seahawks – have a combined record of 9-20.  When Carolina met the Eagles last year in Week 10, he was held to six yards rushing and sacked 9 times.  Moreover, his passing stats this season are mediocre: 55.4-percent completion percentage, 215.6 yards-per-game, and a 83.2 passer rating. The Eagles are ranked highly against the run, so will Newton perform well if he is forced to win the game through the air?

Eagles-Panthers Scouting Report: Previewing the Week 7 Matchup

The 3-3 Eagles are coming off consecutive wins against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants in which they outscored their opponents 66-24, and they now have won three of their last four games after going 1-4 to start the season.  This week, though, they are going up against the 5-0 Carolina Panthers, who are coming off of a comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks.  When the Eagles and Panthers met last season, the Eagles handily defeated the Carolina Panthers, 45-21, scoring 31 points in the first half alone to take a 31-7 lead into the half.  This year, though, Cam Newton is not ailing from injuries that limited his production last season, such as ankle surgery, fractured ribs, or a near-fatal car crash.

The Carolina Panthers are 5-0; however, the team has benefitted from an opportunistic schedule to start the season.  The opponents they have beaten – Jaguars, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Seahawks – have a combined record of 9-20.  As a result, it’s hard to judge the team at this point as they still have a lot to prove.

Run/Pass Ratio:  The Carolina Panthers rank first in the league in rushing attempts, running the ball 51-percent of the time against 49-percent passing.  That stat, however, is altered by the fact that Cam Newton has run the ball 50 times so far this season.  The Eagles, in contrast, have a 59-percent pass to 41-percent rush ratio.

Panthers vs. Eagles Pass Defense:  Both teams rank highly in yards-per-attempt allowed to opposing quarterbacks: Carolina (3rd, 6.1) and Eagles (6th, 6.6).  Yet, the Eagles have given up an average of 20 more yards-per-game to quarterbacks through the air.  Therefore, statistically speaking, the Panthers have the edge in passing defense.

Panthers QB:  The main characteristic about Cam Newton is that, as described above, he is a dual threat.  The massive 6-foot-5, 245-pound signal caller has 50 rushes this season, which is almost half the 103 he had all of last season.  On those 50 rushes, he has 225 yards and 3 touchdowns, whereas he had 539 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns all last year.  They use a variety of read options and triple options to spark Newton on the ground.

Thus, using a spy to minimize the effectiveness of a quarterback who is averaging ten rushes a game will be crucial for the Eagles.  That duty will be in large part be given to Connor Barwin, who handled the job well last year and had 3 1/2 sacks in the Eagles’ blowout win.  Overall, the Eagles held Newton to 6 yards on two rushes, but Newton was nursing an ankle injury, and his current offensive line has three new starters who are doing a much better job blocking.

Through the air, Newton has thrown for 1,078 yards in five games on a team that ranks 30th in the league in passing yards-per-game (201).  Sam Bradford, in contrast, has thrown for a 12th-ranked 1,573 yards, and the Eagles average 250 yards-per-game, ranking 14th.  Shutting down the Panthers rushing attack, then, seems more important than stopping their passing production.

Eagles QB:  Sam Bradford has not had a great start to the season, and it seems like he is making mental errors while becoming accustomed to the offense.  He does not seem to understand what his receivers are going to do when they are given option routes, and his decision making has been substandard.  He is currently tied for the second-most interceptions (9), behind only Peyton Manning (10), and that is not a statistic in which you want to be trailing Peyton Manning.  His turnovers, including five interceptions in the past two weeks, will become costly when the Eagles play more opportunistic teams than the Saints and Giants.

Cam Newton’s 83.2 passer rating is only marginally better than Bradford’s 80, but Newton has five less interceptions than Bradford.  Therefore, they’re not that different statistically through the air, except that Bradford has 1,561 yards through six games to Newton’s 1,078 through five.  However, their teams use different schemes regarding running and passing.  Sam Bradford will have to become more acclimated to the mental aspect of the offense if the Eagles want to defeat the top-tier teams in the league.

Panthers Wide Receivers:  Carolina has just 356 yards after-the-catch receiving, a production that ties the Minnesota Vikings for least in the league.  In addition, Carolina has only 14 plays that have gone for 20 yards or more, ranking last in that category, too.  6-foot-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin, who had three receptions for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Eagles last season, was a revelation in his rookie season with the Panthers last year, finishing the season tied with Greg Olsen in yards (1,008) and leading the team in touchdowns with nine.  However, after tearing his left Achilles, he is out for the entire 2015 season, and no other wide receiver has filled in for his production consistently.

That leaves tight end Greg Olsen, who is seeing 29 percent of Cam Newton’s targets, as the primary receiver with little production of significance coming from any other receiver on the team.  Therefore, stopping Olsen, who had six receptions for 119 yards against the Eagles last year, will be crucial for the Eagles.  Ted Ginn could be a surprising player against the Eagles, but his targets have decreased significantly since the first two weeks of the season, and, against the Seahawks, he was second in routes run (29) to Corey Brown (35).  If the Eagles can shut down Olsen, they will likely be able to shut down the Panthers through the air.

Eagles Wide Receivers:  When the Eagles played the Panthers last season, Jordan Matthews had his best game of the season with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.  This season, though, Matthews does not have Jeremy Maclin to draw attention away from him, and that loss is hurting his overall production.  Currently, Matthews is 14th in the league amongst all wide receivers in total targets and 13th in receptions, but he is ranked 23rd in receiving yards.  Teams are focused on limiting his yards-after-catch.  Matthews has more yards through six games this season (384) than last season (226), but he has the second most drops in the NFL.

Nelson Agholor was out last week and appears likely to miss the game this week.  In his absence, Riley Cooper, who played the fewest number of snaps amongst all receivers, became the top producer on the team.  However, it is impossible to predict how Chip Kelly will portion his snaps if Agholor is out again.  Tight end Zach Ertz received the most snaps, but his production was minimal.  Josh Huff, too, did not produce much with increased snaps, and only Miles Austin saw increased production with more snaps.  Nonetheless, how Chip Kelly will use his wide receivers against the Panthers is anyone’s guess.

Panthers vs. Eagles Rush Defense:  The Panthers rank 12th in run defense and have allowed 483 yards through five games.  They are ranked 15th in the league in rushing average (3.9).  The Eagles are ranked 8th in run defense (565 yards through six games) and 3rd in rushing average (3.5).  The teams are close is average rushing yards allowed per game: Eagles (94.2) and Panthers (96.6).

Panthers Running Backs:  After scoring zero touchdowns in Weeks 1-4, Jonathan Stewart bounced back and scored two touchdowns against the Seahawks last week.  However, his highest rushing total for the season, 78 yards, came against the Seahawks last week.  Clearly, he is not the most prolific runner in the NFL.  Stewart has 298 yards rushing this season, but Cam Newton has 225, even though Stewart has 79 rushing attempts to Newton’s 50.  They don’t have any running backs of note behind Stewart.  Therefore, the rushing attack begins and ends with Newton and Stewart.  Thanks in large part to Newton, though, who has rushed for a first down on 36-percent of his rushing attempts (18 of 50) – more than any other quarterback in the league – the Panthers are averaging 133 yards-per-game, ranking third in the league.  In comparison, the Eagles are averaging 101 yards-per-game, ranking 19th in the league.

Eagles Running Backs:  DeMarco Murray is making a significant claim on the lead-back role in Philadelphia through the past two games.  In that span, Murray has more attempts than Ryan Matthews by 42-17.  Classifying Matthews as the change-of-pace back to Murray as the featured back is a fair statement at this point.  Darren Sproles, with a combined seven rushes for 31 yards over the past two weeks, has disappeared from the backfield and, after playing on only 31-percent of the Eagles’ snaps against the Giants, was thrown to twice.  He is the primary punt returner, but it is fair to question his role outside of that duty.

Overall, Murray is playing better with increased rushes.  He had four runs of ten yards or more last week after having just five through the first five weeks.  He will likely receive around 20 attempts again against the Panthers but will go up against two top-tier linebackers: Luke Kuechly, undeniably one of the best linebackers in the league, and Thomas Davis.  On the defensive line, he’ll have to contend with Kawaan Short, who was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 6.  Nonetheless, he should be in line for another big game.

Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Panthers 20

Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Things Learned Through 6 Weeks

1. The Eagles secondary is improving significantly as the Eagles effectively shut down Odell Beckham Jr. in their contest against the Giants.  Eli Manning targeted Beckham seven times in the first half, and he caught all seven throws for 61 yards and a touchdown.  However, in the second half, Beckham had one target, but Manning led him out of bounds, and he did not get the reception; he had no receptions in the second half.  Riley Cooper, with 76 yards and a touchdown, had more production than Beckham in the game.  The Eagles mixed zone and man coverages and played Beckham both at the line of scrimmage and off the line to throw him off.  Then, once the Eagles had the lead, all they had to do was double cover Beckham and keep him from getting a long reception.  It was a great scheme from defensive coordinator Bill Davis, but, for the first time in a long while, the secondary is really starting to become a strong point for the Eagles defense.

2.  2015 third-round draft pick Jordan Hicks is the Eagles best draft pick this season, and no other 2015 draft pick is comparable.  On Monday, he had a team-leading 10 tackles, and, in each of the three games prior to the Giants matchup, he had a fumble recovery.  His 31 tackles rank second on the team behind Malcolm Jenkins’ 32.  Hicks has a knack for reading the offense, diagnosing plays, and finding opposing players to tackle before they gain extra yards.  After DeMeco Ryans was injured, the Eagles were down to zero projected starters at the inside-linebacker position from the beginning of the season since Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso have have been out for weeks.  That left Najee Goode as the linebacker next to Hicks.  However, no egregious mistakes were made.  Hicks is a great find for a third-round pick, and it will be tough to sit him when Alonso and Kendricks come back.  He’s playing better than the Eagles first-round draft picks from the past two years and is exciting to watch.

3.  DeMarco Murray is starting to get more rushes, and, with added volume, his yards are starting to increase. Prior to the Saints game, Murray had 29 attempts in three games for a underwhelming 47 yards – with 13 of the 29 attempts coming against Dallas.  Then he received 20 rushes against the Saints, on which he ran for 83 yards and a touchdown, and 22 attempts for 109 yards and another touchdown against the Giants, totaling 42 rushes for 192 yards in the past two weeks.  What is more important, though, is that he averaged 5 yards-per-carry against a Giants defense that allowed 3.5 prior to the matchup.  After complaining about not getting enough touches two weeks ago, he’s getting them, and his production is increasing with them.  The Eagles look like they’re going back to having a featured back again as Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles, especially Sproles, are getting less attempts in comparison.

4.  The Eagles scored their first touchdown in the first quarter of a game all season against the Giants.  In fact, the Giants game was the first matchup of the season in which the offense looked like it was ready to go from the start of the game, and they took a 17-7 lead into the half.  The Eagles struggled in third-down efficiency, though, converting on just one of six third downs (17 percent) in the first half, but a 32-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper and a great interception by Nolan Carroll gave them 14 of the 17 points they earned to take a 10-point lead into the half.  The team is getting points from all around, and the defense is helping out a lot.  With Agholor out, tight end Zach Ertz played more snaps than any other receiver (86 percent), and Jordan Matthews (79 percent), Miles Austin (64 percent), and Josh Huff (56 percent) saw a drastic change in snap counts.  Riley Cooper, who played 49 percent of snaps, led all receivers in yards with 76 and had the only receiving touchdown.  Matthews saw less snaps than in earlier games, but all the other receivers had more snaps.  Is this the trend we should expect to see going forward, even when Nelson Agholor comes back?

5.  The Eagles defensive line is starting to become one most formidable lines in the NFL.  Fletcher Cox was the Defensive Player of the Week against the Saints last week, during which he sacked Drew Brees three times, had two forced fumbles – one of which he recovered himself – and six tackles.  Cox is turning into one of the best defensive linemen in the league, and, at the end of the season, if he keeps up this production, he could be a top-10 pass rusher.  Against the Giants, he had another sack and a forced fumble as offensive lineman are having an extremely difficult time keeping him from getting to quarterbacks.  In addition, Brandon Graham is starting to become a key piece of the defense as well.  His role on the Eagles defense has been questionable for years following the Eagles selecting him as the first pick in 2010, but, with Trent Cole gone, he is starting to become a crucial member of the defense.  The way Cox and Graham played on the third- and fourth-and-1 stops at the end of the first quarter against the Giants, holding Rashad Jennings from getting a first down twice from one yard away, was a gigantic boost for the team and a major momentum changer.  Connor Barwin, who had a team-leading 14.5 sacks last season and two through six games this season, and Vinny Curry, whose 9 sacks last season ranked second on the team, are two other players on the line who are cycled in and out and always seem to be in the right spot at the right time.  Offenses are going to have to change their whole game plan regarding how they block the Eagles defensive line.