Tag Archives: Philadelphia Eagles

Seeing light at the end of the tunnel

As hard as it might be to believe, the New York Giants are still in contention to win the NFC Eastern Division.  Despite their 3-7 record, which included 4 losses by seven points or less, the Giants are only 1  game out of first place in the extremely challenged NFC East.

The fact that they are still in the race, in and of itself, should not be the sole reason for optimism. Whoever emerges as the NFC East division champion will still have to face what is likely to be far better competition.  The real reason for optimism regarding the New York Giants is that they are playing better each week.  And their marked improvement is tangible.

Revisiting last week’s 27-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, all one had to do was look into Daniel Jones eyes to know that the outcome of this game would be different from the 6 losses incurred earlier in the season. Jones gritty determination and improvement with ball handling was clearly evident.  No longer willing to be a laughingstock, Jones put this team on his back for the entire 60 minutes and drove them to a complete game 27-17 win which included two long rushing touchdowns by himself (one of which was negated by a holding penalty).   Although probably deserved, Jones can’t be given all of the credit for the win.

Assisted by quality performances for a second week in a row by Wayne Gallman and free agent acquisition Alfred Morris, the Giants running game is clearly improving. Gallman ran for 53 yards on 18 carries and had two rushing touchdowns in the game.  He appears to be implementing a jump cut which has helped him gain a few extra yards per carry.  Morris, who had a very impressive game against his former team (Washington) the week earlier, continued his effective running to the tune of 34 yards on 8 carries. Without a homerun threat like Saquon Barkley, the Giants appear to be forging ahead with a running game that is finding its identity thanks to improving offensive line play.

Whatever they are doing with this offensive line, it is resulting in increased production with at least 160 yards on the ground in each of the past 3 games.  Whether it’s rotating players in and out of the lineup, the insertion of Shane Lemieux into the left guard position when Will Hernandez was out, improved performances by Andrew Thomas at left tackle or the encouraging performance of Matt Peart whenever he has been in the game, it is working.   Hopefully the surprise firing of offensive line coach Marc Columbo and the hiring of Dave DeGuglielmo will not be too disruptive to the development of the line.

As for the receiving corps, Darius Slayton continues to be their highest production player with 5 receptions for 93 yards against Philadelphia.  Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Dion Lewis and Tight End Evan Engram formed a competent supporting cast.  Newly inserted free agent rookie Austin Mack has the appearance of a keeper after his long reception in last week’s victory over Washington.

Now for the “bend but not break” defense which up until last week both bent and broke. Not this week (or last).  Although the Giants D gave up double digit leads in six straight games this year, perhaps a statement is being made with this second straight win. We have said it repeatedly; there is talent on this defense.  However, there is a clear lack of talent in some key places, like cornerback opposite the impressive James Bradberry. Isaac Yiadom gives up more big plays than he makes. The rookie cornerback covering the slot receiver, Darnay Homes appears to be instrumental in defending more big plays.  The same can be said of Safety Jabrill Peppers, who led the team with 7 tackles including a ½ sack against the Eagles. Rookie safety Xavier McKinney will be coming off the IR soon. There are great expectations in place for him.

Patrick Graham’s defense did what it was supposed to do. With the exception of allowing a Boston Scott 50-yard catch and run, the Giants D limited the Eagles big plays. Perhaps most importantly, unlike several of the games played earlier in the season, the Giants were able to get off the field on third down. Pressure up front continues to be provided by Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams. Newly acquired Trent Harris contributed by providing an important sack.  The linebackers, led by the overachieving Blake Martinez, continue to be effective.

Our friend and renowned football enthusiast Gregory Frank provided his insights on the Giants 27-17 win last Sunday.  Here are his observations:

  1. Although Daniel Jones has gotten the brunt of the blame for his tendency to be turnover prone, much of that blame can be also be attributed to an offensive line that still has far to go in being an effective pass-blocking unit.  According to ESPN, the Giants are last in the NFL in pass blocking win rate, at 44%.  What is pass blocking win rate, you ask.  An offensive lineman needs to sustain his block for at least 2.5 seconds.  If he can do so, that’s a win.  Whether that statistic is what led to the recent firing of offensive line coach Marc Columbo is unclear, but it certainly didn’t help.
  1. James Bradberry showed Sunday that he is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now.  Against the Eagles, Bradberry allowed just two completions for a mere 15 yards, while breaking up two passes.  Those two break-ups, by the way, added to his tied-for-the-league total of 14.
  1. The NFC East intra-divisional record is 8-8, and is an abysmal 2-18-1 outside the division.  If the Giants can beat Dallas later this season, they will finish with an intra-division record of 4-2.  One or two more wins, perhaps against Cincinnati and Cleveland, may be enough to secure the division title.  Yes, it’s that kind of season for the NFC East, but a playoff berth is a playoff berth, however you get there.

The Giants undoubtedly played their best game of the season against the Eagles in last week’s victory.  Can they keep the momentum going and ultimately take charge of the NFC Eastern Division?  Time will tell.   One thing seems clear; head coach Joe Judge appears to be leading the New York Giants in the right direction.

Huddleball.com welcomes all fan insight and opinions.  If you want to blog with us this season, please email us at huddleball@gmail.com

Why I love this game

Few memories in a father and son’s relationship are as lasting and meaningful as a Superbowl victory. Especially when the road to achieving it was long and difficult. Such was the case for myself growing up a New York Giants fan in the 1970’s. I shared this bond with my father in 1986 when Bill Parcells’ New York Giants defeated the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XXI.

What the photo doesn’t tell you is how many Sunday’s, Thursdays and Saturday’s you gave up watching your team play and fail to advance to the Big Game. Don’t get me wrong, I am the furthest thing from being an Eagles fan.  But this photo brings back this very special memory for me.

Growing up in the shadows of the Meadowlands, I was a captive participant in my dad’s weekly pilgrimage to Giants Stadium from the age of 6 onward. A more humble approach to appreciating a team I could not imagine. The team had early wins in their team history that had earned them credibility with their fans. The Giants played in a number of classic games that took place before the Superbowl ever existed and won two NFL Championships. This success undoubtedly earned his trust and admiration for the GMEN.  My early experience was quite different, to say the least.

The Giants of my childhood had a tight end name Gary Shirk who would regularly catch passes on third down almost always one-yard short of the first down marker.  The Giant had a runner named Leon Perry who was often one-yard short of the first down on his third down running attempts.  God forbid the coach consider a trick play or ask the QB to get the first down using his feet.  These ideas were unheard of at the time.  First downs were a hard thing to come by until then GM George Young made a trade with the Houston Oilers to acquire journeyman running back Rob Carpenter.  The good news was that Carpenter still had something left in the tank when he came to the Giants.

The Defensive story was a little different.  From John Mendenhall to George Martin, the often berated Gary Jeter and of course Harry Carson, the defense had star players. Stars that will seldom be remembered because the Giants had losing records during those years. Good defensive performances didn’t matter that much if you could not put some points on the board.

The Eagles have experienced a long and difficult road to the Superbowl.  I have heard rumours that former Eagles QB Ron Jaworkski still has nightmares of being sacked Giants linebacker and all-time great Lawrence Taylor.  Yes, the Eagles history has been more frustrating than the Giants. The Giants have four Superbowl wins while the Eagles had none. Although I have tried diligently to pay as little attention to their franchise as is possible, I do know that Philadelphia had lost both of their previous visits to the Superbowl. Until Sunday.

The Eagles, with backup quarterback Nick Foles, played a game for the ages. They needed to be near perfect to beat this Patriots team.  And near-perfect they were.  Backup Nick Foles outdueled Brady. And the Eagles defense played until the final snap.  The Eagles played sixty minutes of football; the only way you are going to beat the New England Patriots.  The rest is history.

This NFL season could be characterized as one with questionable officiating.  It has become unclear what constitutes a catch. And penalty calling remains as inconsistent as ever.  But the outcome of this Superbowl feels fair and just.

As unbelievable as this may sound, the Philadelphia Eagles Superbowl victory should serve as inspiration to those fathers and sons who have suffered through losing season after losing season following their team.  The reality of today’s NFL is that a team can go from bad to good almost overnight as a result of good drafting and effective use of free agency. As the saying goes, in the NFL, on any given Sunday, anything can happen.  The Philadelphia Eagles Superbowl win is proof.

Colin and Sean’s Week 12 Fantasy Football Podcast

Colin and Sean are back again with their Week 12 podcast, discussing five under-the-radar players they expect to score monster points.  Then they discuss streaming defenses to get you ready for the fantasy football playoffs.

Click Here To Listen To the Week 12 Podcast

Questions/Comments? Send a message on Twitter @Cummingpodcast or email us at seanandcolinpodcast@gmail.com

Did Eagles Make Correct Decision Releasing Chip Kelly?

After only three years as head coach, the Philadelphia Eagles “released” Chip Kelly on Tuesday night.  What is most interesting, however, is that the team and media used “released” instead of “fired.”  Was the separation mutual?  Did Chip Kelly want to leave Philadelphia?  Or, did Eagles owner Jeffrie Lurie realize that Chip Kelly was taking the team in the wrong direction, and he wanted to release Kelly before things got worse?

One thing is for certain: Kelly’s role as general manager for the Eagles organization was getting in the way of Kelly’s role as head coach, and that situation had to change.

In Lurie’s first news conference since releasing Chip Kelly, he said that he “did not offer the opportunity for Kelly to be coach but not have control of the personnel.”  Therefore, Lurie was also not satisfied with how Kelly was coaching the team, too, even though limiting Kelly’s power as general manager was a primary factor.

The decision to release Kelly was based both on bad coaching and bad general manager decisions Kelly made.  Lurie said the decision to release Kelly was a “clear and important decision,” and, in making the decision he used a “three-year evaluation,” asking, “what’s the trajectory” before stating, “the end result was mediocrity.”

Lurie also stated that he wants “a collaborative approach between coaching and personnel.”  Releasing Chip Kelly was the only way to fix both problems simultaneously as the team had nowhere to go but down with Chip Kelly as head coach going forward.

The fact that Chip Kelly got rid of talented players and did not replace them with adequate talent is one of the major issues for Eagles fans.  After all, the argument can be made that all Kelly had to do was tweak the defense while his offense exploded with efficiency during his first two years as head coach.

Now, the team is stuck with players like DeMarco Murray – removing him is expensive – and Kiko Alonso, who has done nothing this season but is most likely staying because Kelly traded LeSean McCoy for him in the offseason.

Kelly has left the the outside receiver position in shambles, and that mistake could take years to fix.  Riley Cooper should not be on the team.  Josh Huff has shown nothing to prove he can be an elite receiver in this league.  Nelson Agholor had a bad year, and, although it is too soon to adequately judge him, he seems to have a long way to go.

In addition, the team is stuck with an unresolved question at quarterback.  Sam Bradford does not seem to be the player who will take the Eagles far into the playoffs – if he can even get into the playoffs at all – and, regardless of what happens, Philadelphia lost a second-round draft pick in this year’s draft to acquire him.  With Kelly’s poor draft choices in the past considered, the pick may not have been too important before the firing; however, the new coach may have been able to do something effective with that second-round pick.

Will the new coach even want to keep Sam Bradford, who is free to leave in free agency at the end of the season?  If the answer is no, the Eagles would be worse off for letting another player go with little to no compensation in return, again.  Therefore, after looking at Chip Kelly’s personnel moves, the team is much better off without him.

Looking at him from the coaching perspective, moreover as an offensive-minded coach, further explains why his release is a good decision for the team.  The offense’s production has decreased every year since his first year, and the blame focuses directly on Kelly for getting rid of the Eagles core offensive playmakers during his first two years.  He believed his gimmicky scheme was better than talent.  He was wrong.

As a result, he is leaving the team in a much worse state now than than when he became head coach just three years ago, and it is amazing that it only took three years to set the Eagles on a rebuilding phase that could take years to complete.

Under that undeniable fact, finding a reason why he should still be head coach is extremely difficult.

He was not a personable coach to his players or the majority of people around him, so, when the hard times came and losses started rolling in, he didn’t have relationships built with players that he could use to turn things around.  As reported by Phialdelphia media, few hugs and teary-eyed conversations between players and Chip have occurred before or after the release, and, since he was fired after practice on Tuesday, the timing of his firing and the lack of players surrounding him in that moment represents how awkward he was at communicating to his players.

The team checked out on him.

This situation represents how giving too much power too quickly before receiving adequate results can hurt a team for years in advance.  He took a 4-12 team and turned them into a 10-6 team in his first season but lost his first – and only – playoff game, and the team steadily regressed from that point onward.  He should not have been given total power based on those results alone.

Now, Eagles fans have to hope that the next coach can better utilize the players Kelly brought in and somehow get around a massive rebuilding process.  In addition, the firing means that Howie Roseman is moving back to a more powerful role in personnel decisions again.  Is that good or bad?  He has made some good and bad decisions in the past, but, at the least, he will be an improvement over Kelly.   Who wouldn’t be an improvement over Kelly as general manager?

Eagles fans can celebrate now because they have their team back after the tyrannical rule of Chip Kelly has ended.  Most Philadelphia fans seem shocked – considering the timing – but pleased by the overall decision.  While listening to Philadelphia sports radio after the firing, no one seems upset, and, instead, a mass celebration rides the airwaves of Philadelphia.

One thing is for certain: the Eagles are in a much better situation without Chip Kelly as head coach.

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

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

Arizona Cardinals: King Olaf and a Date with History

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

King Olaf Tryggvason ruled Norway from 995 to 1000 C.E. and was hailed as a master of both mountain climbing and oar-jumping. The latter art involved leaping from oar to oar on the outside of longships as they were being rowed. His majesty was also a capable knife juggler.

When the Vikings weren’t raiding, plundering and pillaging they indulged in those tests of skill and more, such as wrestling, fist fighting and stone lifting competitions. And then there was horse fighting, with two stallions pitted against each other within sight and smell of fenced-off mares. Brimming with testosterone and bloodlust, the Vikings had a taste for both sport and the expansion of empire.

The modern-day Vikings hail from Minnesota, and they’re a crew on the rise. Their forebears were known to attack by sea, but these marauders infiltrated Arizona by air for the Dec. 10 clash with the Cardinals, one of the premier matchups of that NFL week.

The contest featured big plays, fumbles, lead changes and drama. But it came down to this:

Muhammad Ali had the rope-a-dope. Allen Iverson had the killer crossover. Deacon Jones had the head slap, Kareem had the sky hook and LeBron has the talcum powder toss. Signature moves all. Recently acquired Arizona defensive tackle Dwight Freeney? He has the spin move.

With the game tied and under five minutes to play, QB Carson Palmer drove Arizona 55 yards to the Minnesota 29 and Chandler Catanzaro booted a 47-yard field goal to put the Cards up 23-20 with 1:23 remaining. Minnesota surged right back into range of a game-tying try from kicker Blair Walsh with 18 seconds left. Then Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater dropped back and looked to get Minnesota a little closer for the tie, or even pitch one deep for a winning touchdown. That’s when seven-time Pro Bowler Freeney whirled with menace around Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil and sacked Bridgewater just as he cocked his arm to throw. The ball popped loose and Calais Campbell pounced on it to preserve the narrow victory for Arizona.

Catanzaro earned NFC special teams player of the week honors, Arizona reached 11 wins and clinched a playoff spot and 35-year old Freeney earned a $200,000 bonus for reaching four sacks on the season. He will now earn $100,000 for each sack he notches for the rest of the season.

Statistical oddity: The Cardinals’ opponents have not missed a field goal this year in 22 attempts.

Sunday night, Arizona will step into the prime time spotlight again when they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.

NBC started airing Sunday night games in 2006 in a broadcast dubbed “Football Night in America”, a brazen swipe at the brand that Monday Night Football starting building Sep. 21, 1970.

The Browns defeated the Jets in that first MNF contest 31-21, clinching the win when Joe Namath threw a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. Keith Jackson handled the play by play and was joined in the booth by Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Jackson was awarded the job because neither Vin Scully nor Curt Gowdy were able to get out of their contracts with other networks.

Meredith was a former Dallas Cowboy quarterback and Cosell was plucked from the sports desk of WABC-TV in New York. Never far from controversy, Cosell infamously showed up ill and allegedly intoxicated for the November 23rd Giants-Eagles game that year and proceeded to vomit on Meredith’s cowboy boots. The incident earned Cosell a cab ride home at halftime, and he and Meredith went on to exchange mostly congenial on-air verbal barbs for years. Meredith served as a folksy foil to the bombastic Cosell, producing an unlikely but potent brew and an innovative angle on sports broadcasting.

Has NBC’s prime-time NFL experiment succeeded? No doubt. The network has poached a chunk of the MNF audience and consistently scores the higher ratings of the two, adding to the Sunday sorrows of football widows nationwide.

Arizona will take the field Sunday night in the city known for Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, the Rocky franchise, and exquisite cheesesteak sandwiches. Philadelphia fans don’t lack passion, as they famously proved at halftime of the final game of the 1968 season when they loudly booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs. Philly’s opponent that day? The Minnesota Vikings, the team the Cardinals just conquered.

And you thought I would never tie all this together.

Tonight Arizona faces an Eagles team that closed out November with three straight losses to sub-.500 teams. Already angered that the team was underperforming compared to expectations, Eagles fans were calling for coach Chip Kelly’s head. Cue the snowballs. But Philly righted the ship with a huge win at New England, garnished with another against Buffalo last week. They are tied for first in the anemic NFC East with a 6-7 record.

Calculating playoff scenarios at this point in the season is an excellent way to kill time you might have spent, say, with loved ones. Thankfully the New York Times’ NFL Playoff Simulator has saved you the trouble, and has spit out the news that Philadelphia has a 43% chance of making the playoffs. Despite a disappointing season, the brass ring is still within reach.

Coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals are seeking something more precious, and are not content with 11 wins, a ticket to the playoffs, and a chance to set a franchise record this evening with their 12th win.

“Somebody texted me, ‘Hey, you punched your ticket,” Arians noted. “I said, `Yeah, we’re trying to upgrade to first class.”

Winners of seven straight, Arizona keeps pushing toward a playoff bye and home field advantage throughout. Carson Palmer is having an MVP-type season, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdown passes. Tom Brady is the only other QB to do so this season. Larry Fitzgerald has caught 11 TD passes in his last seven games against the Eagles. The Cardinals’ defense has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game in the league.

Philadelphia is ranked 16th in offense and 26th in defense. But the Eagles are 5-1 in the last 6 games QB Sam Bradford has started and finished, and they’ve generally played well against good opponents. When in rhythm, they pass the eye test with ease.

One more number? Game time temperature is expected to be a brisk 35 degrees.

Arizona clinches the division with a win or a Seattle loss today, and secures a playoff bye if Green Bay cooperates and loses to Oakland. But don’t fritter away your time contemplating the scenarios.

Go hug your kids. Or someone else’s.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles Leaders Need To Step Up On Sunday Night Football

Some people will tell you that the Eagles Sunday matchup against the Cardinals isn’t important, but that statement is only half the truth.  If the Eagles lose to the Cardinals, they still have a good chance to win the division by beating the Redskins and Giants in the last two weeks of the season.  However, if the Eagles beat the Cardinals, they may not have to worry about the outcome of their week 17 matchup against the Giants, their only road game left in the regular season.  The Cardinals have been given an advantage from the NFL because the game was flexed into primetime.  The two teams were supposed to play at 1:00 ET, 10:00 in Arizona, before the Patriots game, but, after the Eagles beat New England, they were flexed to the 8:30 ET slot – 5:30 in Arizona.  Thanks a lot, NFL, for taking that advantage away.  Nonetheless, the Eagles need to be tested by the best before their final two-game stretch against division rivals.  Which Eagles players need to have big performances?

*Sam Bradford:  Sam Bradford’s contract is over at the end of the season, and Chip Kelly, no matter how much he tries to deny it, is technically the GM.  What will Kelly do?  Is Bradford worth a franchise tag or contract extension? Bradford has three weeks left in the regular season to make an argument for the extension, and a decision will have to be made soon.  Right now, the franchise tag seems destined for his future, but is Bradford the quarterback who is going to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl at some point?  Is Kelly willing to risk heading into next year’s season with his fourth starting quarterback in four years?  Bradford has improved during the season, but have we seen the ceiling or floor of his production?  Most Eagles fans seem to hope that someone better is out there, but there’s slim pickings at the quarterback position these days.  Is Colin Kaepernick a better option?  Will Bradford shine against a solid Cardinals defense and prove he’s worth keeping?  He threw the deep ball well last week.  Will he be given the opportunity again this week?  Bradford has a lot to prove over these next three weeks.

*Darren Sproles:  The Eagles’ backfield is finally evolving into the triple-threat attack Chip Kelly wanted since trading away LeSean McCoy.  Sure. the media makes money by talking about how DeMarco Murray is losing rushing attempts, but, in my opinion, the triple-threat attack is what Kelly has been working towards since he started coaching in Philadelphia.  Therefore, arguing about or discussing a running back controversy is a waste of space and time.  What is worth discussing, however, is that, throughout the more equal distribution used recently, Sproles has been benefitting more than any other running back.  He has led the team in rushing yards in both of the past two games, and he has the team’s only rushing touchdown since Ryan Matthews scored one in week 10.

*Fletcher Cox:  If there’s one player on the Eagles team who deserves to be in the Pro Bowl, Cox is the first person who comes to mind.  This guy is the real deal, and, even though he is a defensive lineman, he has literally won games for the team this season.  After the Bills game, the always colorfully outspoken Rex Ryan, the son of ex-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, said, “I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I’m not laughing now,” after Cox recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and the team’s only sack.  For the year, his 6.5 sacks are tied for the lead on the team with Brandon Graham, and he is tied for the lead in forced fumbles, too.  He is ranked second on the team in fumbles recovered.  Cox will need to put constant pressure on Carson Palmer and stop Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson from getting past the Eagles defensive line.  Cox is the leader of the defensive line.

*Malcolm Jenkins:  Jenkins is the leader of the secondary, and the defensive backfield’s ability to create turnovers and limit receivers have been crucial to winning this season.  His 99-yard interception return off Tom Brady two weeks ago broke a 14-14 tie and sparked the Eagles towards two more unanswered touchdowns to give the Eagles a 35-14 lead.  As a whole, the Eagles secondary has 9 of the Eagles 15 interceptions this season, and the Eagles rank fourth among all NFL teams in interceptions (Arizona ranks third with 16, though).  Earlier in the season, the Eagles defense ranked first in the league in interceptions and had an interception in six of their first nine games.  Then, they had a three-game stretch against the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Lions – all losses – in which they didn’t finish with one.  However, the team had two against the Patriots and one against the Bills – both wins – and are now 6-2 in games in which they have at least one interception.

*Nelson Agholor:  It took Agholor 13 games into his rookie season, but he finally scored a touchdown.  His end zone celebration, circling awkwardly around the end zone, during which he almost tripped himself, was both comical and a pleasure to watch after his 53-yard touchdown.  Hopefully he exorcised the rookie jitters with that celebration, and he is ready to play like a pro now.  The Eagles desperately need a wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically.  Considering that Agholor came into the 13th game of his rookie season with 163 yards and zero touchdowns, last week was the closest he has come to a breakout performance.  How will he follow up last week’s performance against an extremely tough Cardinals’ secondary?

*Eric Rowe:  The Cardinals have three wide receivers who can punish a defense: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown.  Rowe will need to bring his “A” game because, after good performances against the Patriots and Bills, this game will tell a lot about how prepared he is to take the next step in his rookie career.  He will not have a lot of extra assistance on Sunday Night Football against the three dangerous receivers.  The Eagles second-round draft pick struggled against Calvin Johnson in his first real game action of the season, but he has improved since then. Byron Maxwell missed Wednesday’s practice with a back injury, but he was back at practice Thursday; however, Rowe will still be alone in coverage frequently.  When the Eagles played the Cardinals in a 24-20 Cardinals win last season, Larry Fitzgerald finished the game with 160 yards and a touchdown, and John Brown had 119 yards and a touchdown.  Fitzgerald’s longest catch was 80 yards, and Brown’s was 75.  Michael Floyd has at least 100 yards receiving in four of his past five games.  The Eagles secondary have their work cut out for them.

*Chip Kelly:  Kelly saved his job when the Eagles beat the Patriots, and a two-game winning streak has quieted most critics.  However, I still have a problem with Kelly’s misuse of time.  To beat the Cardinals, Chip needs to manage the clock more effectively and keep the Cardinals offense off the field.  Snapping the ball with 15 or more seconds on the play clock throughout the game – even when playing with a lead – will not keep the Cardinals offense warming up the bench, which is what they need to be doing if the Eagles want to win this game.  Watching Kelly continue to use his up-tempo scheme when draining the clock is the better option is agonizingly frustrating, and that is the main reason I would still like the team to move on from Kelly at the end of the season.  Hopefully his use of time management changes.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

NFL Week 14: The Storylines Drive The League

When you think about it, football teams play regular-season games 16 days out of 365 days in a year.  Sure, the games are important, but, admit it: the storylines drive the league.  The storylines behind the games bring the necessary drama to the field and enhance the overall enjoyment of the game.  So, with that being said, let’s look at the notable stats and storylines of week 14.

* The New England Patriots face the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football this week and will try to stop a three-game losing streak, a rare spot for the team to find themselves. The Patriots have gone 213 straight games without losing three consecutive games, and only the San Francisco 49ers, with 292 straight games between 1980-99 have more.

* The Kansas City Chiefs are riding strong on a miracle six-game winning streak after starting the season with a 1-5 record.  With their recent success, it is hard to remember how poor of a start they had at the beginning of the season.  However, they need the momentum to keep rolling against the San Diego Chargers if they want to be just the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-5 through their first six games.  The only other team to do that was the 1970 Bengals, who went 1-6 before going on a seven-game winning streak.

* When the Cincinatti Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they will have the opportunity to clinch the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.  As a result, Andy Dalton could become just the second starting quarterback to make the playoffs in all of his first five seasons in the league.  The only other quarterback to do that is Joe Flacco. (Bengals fans, however, are hoping that this will be the year when they finally get past the wild-card round, though).

* The Giants (5-7) face off against the Dolphins (5-7) on Monday Night Football, and, even though the two teams have identical records going into the game, they have completely different divisional standings.  The Dolphins are buried in the bottom of the AFC East, while the Giants are tied for the lead atop the NFC East with the Eagles and Redskins.  Does this give the Giants an advantage?  Well, figure this into the equation: the Giants have the most losses (4) when leading after three quarters and the most losses when leading with five minutes left in the fourth quarter (5).

* The Seattle Seahawks have had great success over the past two seasons with two Super Bowl appearances, so, when they had a losing record (4-5) after their Week 10 loss to the Cardinals, questions about them even making the playoffs surrounded the team.  However, they have rebounded over the past three weeks with Russell Wilson throwing at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games, becoming the second player in franchise history to do that feat.  Will Wilson keep the fireworks shooting against the Ravens?

* So, who is going to be the league MVP this year: Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, or Adrian Peterson? Whether or not your answer is Newton, think about this: Newton has 30 games with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.  If he does that again against the Atlanta Falcons, he will be tied with Steve Young for the most in NFL history.

* If you’re leaning towards Adrian Peterson as the MVP, consider this: when Mike Wallace scored the touchdown against the Cardinals that tied the game at 20-20 with five minutes left on the clock Thursday, he scored the Vikings’ first offensive touchdown not by Adrian Peterson in 15 quarters (almost four games)!  Peterson also scored his 100th touchdown Thursday.

* Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, they are proving to be shining stars in the spotlight.  They are 4-0 in primetime games this season and have another primetime game – Sunday Night Football – against the Eagles next week.  Is that bad luck for Eagles fans, who were supposed to play the Patriots last week in primetime but got flexed out of the spot, yet, after beating the Patriots, the league moved them into the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals?

* With the Heisman trophy set to be awarded soon, five straight awards have gone to quarterbacks in the past five years, and, of them, only Robert Griffin III made the playoffs in his first season.  Jameis Winston still has an outside chance to make the playoffs in his first year.  The Buccaneers (6-6) are tied with the Falcons and one game behind the Seahawks for the sixth playoff spot and two games away from the Vikings for the fifth playoff spot.  Will Tampa Bay start a playoff-worthy stretch of wins against the Saints Sunday?  Winning is now crucial for the Buccaneers.

* Is the NFC East the most mediocre, disinteresting, or most interesting division to watch right now?  The NFC East is the only division in the league in which every team has a losing record, and an argument why any of the four teams can win the division can be made.  Eagles play the Bills; Cowboys play the Packers; Giants play the Dolphins; Redskins play the Bears.  Who will come out victorious on Sunday and in the divisional race as a whole?

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

Around The NFC East: Looking Into Week 14 And Beyond

With three 5-7 teams and one 4-8 team, the NFC East is the worst division in football right now.  Even the AFC South, another symbol of mediocrity, has at least two teams with a .500 record right now.  That is not the case in the NFC East, though, where every team currently has a losing record, and no team is the decided favorite to win the division.

After the Redskins 16-19 loss to the Cowboys last night, the Redskins have failed again to win two consecutive games all season.  What is worse, though, is that, this time, they couldn’t break the trend against consecutive NFC East opponents after beating the Giants last week but losing to the Cowboys this week.  They are tied with a 2-2 divisional record with the Eagles, but they still sit atop the NFC East because they have head-to-head advantages over the Eagles and Giants at the moment.  However, they finish the season playing on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively.  Their remaining schedule goes as follows: @Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, @Philadelphia Eagles, @Dallas Cowboys.  With the Bears (5-7) and Bills (6-6) as their next two opponents, they have the easiest two-game stretch among NFC East teams coming up, but they still need to prove that they can win two consecutive games this season before the advantage is given to them.  In addition, with three away games left on the schedule, they could have a difficult time winning the division considering that they have not won an away game all season, currently standing 0-5 in away games and 5-2 at home.

The Giants (5-7) are in a difficult spot because Washington and Philadelphia currently hold the tiebreaker edge against them, and they have just one divisional game left in Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Giants, who are currently 2-3 in the division compared to the Redskins and Eagles at 2-2, have had multiple opportunities to run away with the division throughout the season, but they have not been able to take advantage of the situation and have the worst record of the NFC East teams over their past three games (0-3).  Their next four contests go as follows: @Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, @Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles.  The Dolphins (5-7) are in the bottom of the AFC East, and they are a long shot to make playoffs this year.  The Carolina Panthers (12-0), the only undefeated team in the NFL, may have a first-round bye locked down by the time they face the Giants but are playing great football now regardless.  The Minnesota Vikings (8-4), currently tied atop the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers (8-4), are likely to be fighting for their playoff lives in the Week 16 game before the Giants face the Eagles.

The Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) are an erratic team in an inconsistent division over their past three games. They gave up 45 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions but then beat the Patriots, 35-28, at the Patriots stadium.  That outcome just doesn’t make sense.  Since the Eagles play the Redskins and Giants in Weeks 16 and 17, they would have the tiebreaker advantage against both teams if they win both games, and, since they are currently 2-2 in the division, they can go to 4-2 by the end of the season.  However, the Eagles schedule is not the easiest in the NFC East moving forward.  The Eagles schedule goes as follows: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, @New York Giants.  Playing at home over the next three games could be seen as an advantage from one perspective; however, the next two weeks should be especially difficult, and the Eagles are 2-3 at home.  When they face the Bills (6-6) this week, they will be playing against LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia for the first time since he was traded in the offseason.  The Cardinals (10-2) have one of the best defenses in the league and the highest scoring offense in the league.  The Eagles will need play exceptionally well to beat the Cardinals before finishing the season against two division rivals.

The Dallas Cowboys (4-8) are surprisingly still in the playoff race because the NFC East is just that bad this season. The 4-8 teams in other NFC divisions – Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, and St. Louis Rams – are at least four games behind the leaders in their respective divisions.  But that’s not the case with the NFC East, and the Dallas Cowboys, who have lost twice as many games as they have won and suffered through a seven-game losing streak, are only one game behind the leaders and still in contention in the division.  What makes the situation even more striking, though, is that three of their four wins have come against divisional opponents, giving them a 3-2 record in the division – the best divisional record among NFC East teams.  Their remaining schedule goes as follows: @Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, @Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins.  Dallas just won their first game without Tony Romo playing quarterback, but they could struggle to continue that streak.  The Packers (8-2) are fighting to win the NFC North over Minnesota, and the Jets (7-5) currently hold the last wildcard spot in the AFC and will be hungry to keep the momentum moving with five teams tied or at least one game away from them in AFC standings.

None of the NFC East teams have shown any trend towards running away with the lead in the division, and, over the past three games, the records show no clear-cut front runner: Giants (0-3), Eagles (1-2), Redskins (1-2), and Cowboys (2-1).  Sure, Dallas has the best record over their past three games, but they have a tough schedule remaining and have struggled without Tony Romo playing quarterback.  The NFC East is a division of mediocrity, but, form another viewpoint, it can also be seen as one of contention.  It is fair to wonder if any of these teams will be able to make a deep playoff run even if they win the division, but the hope of the underdog winning makes the issue compelling.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

Philadelphia Eagles: Do Bold Coaching Moves Equal Permanent Changes?

DeMarco Murray had a clear-cut demotion against the Patriots, and Darren Sproles, along with ex-Oregon Duck Kenjon Barner, saw an increase in rushing attempts.  Sproles had 15 attempts, while Barner had 9, and Murray had 8.

Chip Kelly said the reason for Murray’s demotion was because the Patriots have a “big group of linebackers.”  The logic in that statement, according to Kelly, is that Sproles (5-9 190 pounds) and Barner (5-9 195 pounds) have an easier time evading “big linebackers” than Murray (6-foot 217 pounds) because they are smaller and more elusive.  Sproles and Barner combined for 105 yards rushing, so the strategy worked, but they will be playing smaller linebackers going forward.  Will the scheme change accordingly?  That Murray is not a great fit for the Eagles offense is becoming clear, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to see declining snaps going forward.

Murray finished the game with 24 yards, but, take away one 19-yard run, and he had five yards on his other seven carries.  He has not scored a touchdown in the last four games, has just 54 yards rushing over the past two weeks, and has just one 100+ yard rushing game this season.  Will Murray’s declining attempts become an ongoing trend?

The wide-receiver position was also in flux during the Patriots game.  Chip Kelly benched Miles Austin – and released him today – and rookie Jermaine Krause saw increased snaps in the game.  Krause had one catch for four yards, but he presents an interesting prospect for a team that needs improved performance from their wide receivers desperately right now.  The Eagles receivers underperformed as a whole against the Patriots – like most of the season: Riley Cooper (1 reception, 14 yards), Brent Celek (1 reception, 16 yards), Nelson Agholor (0 receptions, 0 yards), Josh Huff (0 receptions, 0 yards), Zach Ertz (2 receptions, 9 yards, 1 TD), Jordan Matthews (3 receptions, 36 yards, 1 TD).  Darren Sproles’ four receptions were the most on the team.

The Eagles need to start using Sproles, who had 100 all-purpose yards against the Patriots, to cover up for bad performances by the Eagles wide receivers more frequently.  Sitting Austin against the Patriots – and then releasing him today – was a small step towards fixing the problem, but the team needs to continue getting Sproles more involved in the passing game.

The defensive line and linebacker positions have continued to be an ever-revolving transition as the season goes along, yet the Eagles pressured Tom Brady frequently Sunday.  In relation, Vinny Curry saw an increase in snaps, playing 55 of 89 defensive snaps (62 percent).  He played 21 percent of snaps against the Lions and 19 percent against the Buccaneers (both 45-point losses), and he had not previously played more than 42 percent of defensive snaps all season before Sunday.

The change was based partly on scheme, with the Eagles playing dime and nickel to combat the three-receiver sets used frequently by the Patriots, and partly because Bennie Logan is nursing a knee injury.  Anyway, Curry has a knack for pressuring the quarterback, and, even though he did not get a sack Sunday, his performance helped the Eagles get four sacks against Tom Brady (two by Connor Barwin and two by Brandon Graham) and maintain constant pressure on the quarterback.  The team would be wise to use Curry more frequently in the future.

At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso played 79 percent of the defensive snaps, second-most among linebackers on the team.  He had more snaps than last year’s starting inside linebackers combined: Mychal Kendricks (54 percent) and DeMeco Ryans (24 percent).  Linebacker Brandon Graham (75 percent) also played more snaps than Ryans and Kendricks.  Alonso has seen wavering amounts of snaps recently (69 percent vs. Tampa Bay, 57 percent vs. Detroit), so it will be interesting to see if he gets on the field more often going forward.

The changes Kelly made worked well yesterday, but the question now is if he will stick with the positive changes going forward.  Will he make more?  Will he go back to what he has done before?  Who knows? Only time will tell, but, at least, he would be wise to use more of Sproles and Curry.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming