Thursday, September 14, 2017

NFL Week 2 Keys to an Eagles' Victory at Kansas City

The Eagles pay a visit to our old friend Andy Reid this Sunday in a 1 p.m. start at Arrowhead against the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only will Reid face the same team that he coached for 14 years, he will be pitted against Philly's current head coach Doug Pederson, who served as his offensive coordinator for three seasons in Kansas City before taking on the top spot with the Eagles in 2016. The history between Reid and Pederson when it comes to their mutual stint in Philly actually goes back to 1999 in Reid's first year as head coach. He brought Pederson over from Green Bay as his starting quarterback while Donovan McNabb learned the ropes from the sidelines as the team's top pick in that year's draft.

Coming off last week's huge upset against New England on the road, it is no wonder that the Chiefs are favored to win again this Sunday at home. It will be a tall task for the Birds to pull off a second-straight win on the road after knocking off Washington in Week 1, but if they follow my three keys to victory, it will give the protegee a fighting chance to show up his mentor this upcoming Sunday afternoon.

Offense

Last week against Washington, my key to winning on offense was LeGarrette Blount. He did score a touchdown on a short pass play, but he still only gained 46 yards on the ground on 14 carries as part of the team's paltry 58 rushing yards on the day. Running the ball against Kansas City all day long may not be an option giving that the Eagles are probably going to need to score some points to win this game. While Nelson Agholor was able to step up his game last week with six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, the key on offense this week is Alshon Jeffrey in the passing game as the team's No. 1 wide receiver. He was targeted seven times last week and he came up with three catches for 38 yards. He should have a chance to put up some big numbers this week with Kansas City's top pass defender Eric Berry lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles.

Defense

The Eagles followed my defensive key to a tee last week by keeping constant pressure on Redskins' quarterback Kirk Cousins without the use of multiple blitzes. The strip fumble for a touchdown to seal the win was simply icing on the cake. This week, along with keeping pressure on Alex Smith, the defensive key is to put a lid on rookie running back Kareem Hunt. He went off against New England for 148 yards and a score on just 17 carries. If he is allowed to run wild into the Eagles' secondary this week, it is going to be a long day at Arrowhead on this side of the ball.


Special Teams


Philly's special teams were dealt a major blow last week when place kicker Caleb Sturgis injured his hip. He is out for at least four weeks so in his place the Eagles signed Jake Elliott off Cincinnati's practice squad. The key to this week's special teams play is to avoid putting Elliott in a precarious position of having to win this game with his foot. Hopefully he can kick the ball deep into the end zone to force touchbacks and hopefully the Eagles can score touchdowns to avoid having to settle for field goal attempts.



Friday, September 8, 2017

NFL Week 1 Keys to an Eagles' Victory at Washington

The Philadelphia Eagles kickoff the 2017 NFL regular season with a road trip to FedEx Stadium to square off against the NFC East rival Washington Redskins in a 1 p.m. start this Sunday afternoon. Both teams are picked to finish in the bottom half of the division race behind Dallas and the New York Giants, so it will be an added plus for whichever one can come away with an opening day victory.

All season long, I will be breaking down what the Eagles need to do the most on offense, defense and special teams to come away with a win. This week they remain slight favorites on the road, but when you look at the recent history between the two, Washington has gotten the best of things lately with a five-game winning streak over their rivals to the north on Interstate 95.

Offense

The biggest key this week on offense is to get running back LeGarratte Blount involved in the game plan early and often. He was one of Philly's marquee free agent signings this past offseason after racking up 1,161 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns for New England last season. He was used sparingly in the preseason with little success moving the ball on the ground, but that performance should be heavily discounted with this Sunday's game counting in the standings.

Defense

Kirk Cousins want to get paid like a NFL elite quarterback and if he ever does come to a long-term deal with the Redskins, he should give some of the credit to the Eagles' defense. In two games against the Birds last season, Cousins threw for a combined 497 yards and four touchdowns in a pair of tight victories. If the Eagles are going to have any shot at snapping this five-game skid against the Redskins, they are going to have to put some serious pressure on Cousins with just their front four linemen. One of Washington's biggest playmakers, DeSean Jackson is now in Tampa Bay and Cousins' favorite receiver in 2016, Pierre Garcon is playing for San Francisco. This sets up a perfect opportunity to test his ability to connect with targets such as wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed with defenders such as Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and hopefully rookie Derek Barnett in his face all game long.

Special Teams

It goes without saying that one of the keys every week on special teams is place kicker Caleb Sturgis's ability to make the field goals he is supposed to. The Eagles lost a number of tight games last season including two to the Redskins so they need to take full advantage of every scoring opportunity in Sunday's contest. Just as a side note, Sturgis did go a perfect 5-for-5 against the Redskins in two games last season.

The biggest key on special teams this week is Wendell Smallwood in the return game. While most kickoffs are touched back to the 25, he should still get a chance to break off a big return at some point in this game. When two teams are as closely matched as these two, winning the battle of field position can mean the difference between winning and losing the game. Big plays on special teams have a way creating a huge swing in momentum and I think Smallwood is in the perfect position to make something big happen this Sunday afternoon.




Friday, September 1, 2017

My Top Takeaways from the Eagles' Preseason

The Eagles wrapped up their four-game preseason schedule with a listless 16-10 loss to the New York Jets on Thursday night in advance of next Sunday's regular season opener against the NFC East rival Washington Redskins in a 1 p.m. start at FedEx Field.

My biggest takeaway from this year's 2-2 preseason was that the team, as a whole, comes into the regular season in relatively good health. Some marquee NFL players such as New England wide receiver Julian Edelman and Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill are already done for the season due to injury, so anytime you can get through a meaningless round of exhibition games without any major injuries that should be considered a huge success.

Carson Wentz firmly established himself as Philly's franchise quarterback last season as a rookie. One of his early highlights in his sophomore campaign was a pair of touchdown throws against Miami in Week 3 of the preseason. The fact that he completed passes to Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith to post those scores makes things all that much better considering that they were both brought in as a major upgrade to the Eagles' receiving corps.

A recent trade that sent Philadelphia's former No. 1 receiver Jordan Matthews to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby was already validated to a certain extent with Darby's 48-yard interception return against his old team in the Eagles' 20-16 victory against the Bills in a Week 2 preseason contest.

While I was happy to see both Jeffrey and Smith make a solid contribution in limited preseason action, I am a bit concerned with the team's other big free agent acquisition LeGarrette Blount as a quick fix for the Eagles' running game. I was a big Wendell Smallwood fan as a rookie last year, but I still do not see him as an every down running back in the NFL. Blount had a monster season with New England last year in the Patriots' run to a Super Bowl title, but he was still viewed as expendable by a head coach that understands the true value of his players. While you cannot make all that much from what Blount did or did not do in the preseason, he needs to hit the ground running (literally) against the Redskins on opening day.

I have been impressed with the Eagles' willingness to keep wheeling and dealing with minor trades here and there. They are obviously committed to heading into a new season with the best roster possible. Most of the moves (as in the trade for Darby) have be focused on improving the team's biggest weakness; the defensive secondary. One of their latest moves was a trade with the New York Jets for defensive back Dexter McDougle in exchange for another defensive back Terrence Brooks. While I really do know whether this is an actual upgrade in depth or just a wash, I do like the fact that Howie Roseman continues to work the phones while Philly works to finalize its 53-man roster.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Wentz is Ready to Fly with Jeffrey and Smith in the Lineup

Philadelphia paid a small fortune to move up to the second spot in first round the 2016 NFL Draft to select former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. First year head coach Doug Pederson had every intention of letting his quarterback of the future sit back and learn the various nuances of the position he once played for the Eagles while another No. 2 pick Donovan McNabb studied the game as a backup way back in 1999.

Wentz's time as a backup quickly came to an end when Philly was handed a golden opportunity to trade then-starter Sam Bradford to Minnesota for the first round pick it gave up to land Wentz in the first place. His first season at the helm as the Eagles' latest starting quarterback proved to be a much more valuable experience than carrying a clip board on the sidelines. Wentz started all 16 games as a rookie and ended the season with 3,782 passing yards and 16 touchdown throws. He was also picked off 14 times while suffering 33 sacks in that baptism by fire. The Eagles went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the third-straight season.

Tight end Zach Ertz was the team' leading receiver in 2016 with 78 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan Matthews caught 73 balls for 804 yards and three touchdowns as the No.1 receiver and Nelson Agholor struggled in the No. 2 spot with 36 catches for 365 yards and two scores. Phiily's offense ended the year ranked 24th in the NFL in passing yards.

Flash forward to Thursday night's Week 3 preseason matchup against Miami. The highlights came early and often starting with Wentz hooking up with his new No. 2 receiver Torrey Smith for a 50-yard touchdown pass. These are the type of big play scores that have been missing from this offense ever since former head coach Chip Kelly decided to part ways with DeSean Jackson before the 2014 regular season. Wentz was not done for the night just yet and later in the first quarter he threw a 14-yard scoring strike to his new No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffrey. Pederson had saw enough and decided to give this trio a seat on the bench for the rest of the night.

Jeffrey, from Chicago and Smith, from San Francisco were two of the Eagles' biggest offseason free agent additions along with former New England running back LeGarrette Blount. While this group of skill players may not be as formidable as ones that teams like the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers boast in their starting lineup, they have the potential to make Philadelphia's offense much better than it was in Wentz's rookie year.

You should never take too much away from preseason games, but the second-year vet did look dialed-in with his new duo of receivers in what was his final tune-up before the games start counting for real in the standings.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Newest Eagle Make a Big First Impression

In one of my previous posts on EaglesLincs, I talked about the crowded situation in the Eagles' current receiving corps. A day later, the team decided to make some room on that list by trading Jordan Matthews and a third round pick in next year's draft to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby.

Given Matthews potential with second-year quarterback Carson Wentz throwing him the ball along with his positive impact with the rest of the team in the locker room, many players and fans were upset to see him go. The reality of the NFL comes down to winning games and sometimes that calls for tough decisions that are designed to ultimately make the entire team better at the expense of losing highly popular players. Darby took the first step towards making this trade a huge plus for the Birds' beleaguered defensive secondary with his play (ironically enough) in Thursday night's 20-16 victory over the Bills.

The third-year vet out of Florida State's biggest play of the night was a 48-yard interception return and he was also instrumental in breaking up a pair of Buffalo pass plays to help seal Philly's first win of the preseason. It was no big secret that one of the biggest areas of concern heading into the 2017 regular season was the shaky play of the cornerbacks that were already on the roster before this trade. The addition of Darby adds some much needed stability in the secondary and his presence in the defensive backfield has the potential to actually elevate the play of the front seven.

Matthews will be missed and the offense now needs players such as Nelson Agholor and rookie Mack Hollins to step up their games to help fill the void. However, Darby's early play is encouraging enough to justify this recent trade.