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Monday, November 26, 2012

Battle of the 2011 Spending Sprees:

Or, the Jim Johnson Memorial Bowl.

The nation likely groans at tonight’s prime time matchup of 2-8 Carolina at 3-7 Philadelphia.  The two teams, each of which spent hardcore in 2011 – Philadelphia putting together a “Dream Team” that at times played a lot more like a nightmare – put tons of money in while other teams sat and waited, and both now sit near the bottom of the league for 2012, both facing regime change and have already endured some change.

For the Eagles, who notably fired DC Juan Castillo, things haven’t gotten better since  (In this article  from October, I suggest that Ron Rivera may have helped put Castillo into the job).  The defense has gotten worse under Todd Bowles.  The offense was struggling before Michael Vick went out; the team will also be without RB Lesean McCoy and slot WR Jason Avant. Their OL has been reduced to almost nothing, having lost four starters. Only Evan Mathis at LG, a former Panther draftee, is still on the line; if you want to stretch it further, only Brent Celek and starting WR Desean Jackson/Jeremy Maclin start on offense from the team’s initial plans this year.

Nick Foles starts at QB; the 3rd round pick who started his first game last week.   He has accuracy issues, not ideal for a WCO, and the line issues don’t help.  So far for the year, he’s at 55% completion, 1 TD/3 INT and a 58.9 rating; he’s taken a sack in 6 plays out of 78 dropbacks, 7.7% of attempts.  The Arizona prospect was a two year starter in the Pac-12, and it appears the team was looking toward him before Vick’s concussion forced the change.  It’s hard to say that Foles is an heir apparent – without much time in Foles so far, and a new coach on the horizon, I don’t know that Foles is a guy you build around.

Bryce Brown starts at RB; the 6’, 225 lb Kansas St product has never started a game, and reps behind McCoy have been sparse.  He’s got 32 attempts (141 yards/4.4 per carry, 40 of those on one play) and 1 catch for 8 yards; McCoy was averaging 17.7 carries and 4 catches per game.  With McCoy and Vick out, Brown is the only other ball carrier; behind him are the 11 total touches of FB Stanley Havili, followed by the 4 carries for WR (it’s worth expecting a reverse, but for the most part, the Eagles get no trickier than that, and tend to rely on screens for misdirection). Backup Dion Lewis, all 5’8, 195 of him, has only appeared 15 games for a total of 99 yards from scrimmage. Brown, for what it’s worth, has shiftiness and has been a good between the tackles runner when asked, and could carry a heavy load Monday.

Desean Jackson would remain the focus on defense, and he’s had trouble getting plays made at times; his 15.7 yards per reception are powerful, but he only has 2 TD on the season.  Maclin’s 4, and McCoy’s 5 (3 receiving) outpace his; Maclin and TEs Celek and Clay Harbor are taking the intermediate work, but they’re adequate enough when an accurate ball gets to them.  Last week, Foles hit mostly checkdowns, giving McCoy 6/67; he targeted Celek a lot, netting 5 catches for 61 yards; he hit backup WR Riley Cooper for 61 yards and Demoris Johnson for a 21 yard dump ball; he found Jackson twice for only five yards.  Notably, Foles fumbled three times, and somehow none were lost).

Defensively, the Eagles come in 23rd in points, and 12th in yards (13th/222 yards against the pass, and 18th/118 yards against the rush per game). They’re 36% on third down, giving up 1/7 on 4th down.  Those don’t look like awful numbers, but the scoring issue has hurt – they’ve just given up a lot more points, and you can’t win that way (obviously). 

Switching out of the Wide-9 has hurt the pass rush; though the team wasn’t killing it this year anyway (16 sacks is 1.6/game; less than half the 33 they’ve given up). Jason Babin leads then with 4.5 sacks after being a league leader last year; Trent Cole only has 1.5 and Cullen Jenkins has 2 from inside.  Rookie Fletcher Cox does have 3, after scoring one in each of the last two weeks.   Adding Demeco Ryans has helped solidify the interior, as has Cox; it doesn’t make enough of a difference, however, with the run still struggling.

Having shipped off Asante Samuel, the coverage issues have remained at times, as Nnamdi Asomugha is still a threat but isn’t the same in zone coverage. Not having the same level of rush opens up the middle, to a point, and neither Nate Allen nor Kurt Coleman have come down with many plays. They gave up a total of 4 TD passes to Robert Griffin III last week, including 49 and 61 yard TD strikes.

Tonight's game is a total wildcard - given that both teams are bad, and play down to a poor opponent at times, but can rise to the occasion and almost beat a good team, too.  The Eagles have so many different new parts that it's difficult to know what to expect. 

My own personal opinion on Reid, and a lot of the coaching staff involved tonight?  I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see most of these coaches together in some form.  If Reid took Rivera as DC, it wouldn’t be unlikely at all to see a lot of Eagles staffers and Panthers staffers together in whatever new franchise that was.   For what’s left, while I wouldn’t necessarily pine for Reid myself, it wouldn’t be hard to want Castillo or Howard Mudd as an OL coach; it would be fantastic to have Bobby April for ST; Shelby, NC’s Jim Washburn is one of the best DL coaches in the league.  It’s even interesting to see former Eagle Duce Staley on the coaching staff.

Coaches tend to stick together, and Reid/Rivera make sense.  But, if not, whoever picks Rivera probably gets the package deal of he, McDermott, and Steve Wilks, at the very least.  And in the right situation, I would find that trio having success together in 2013.
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