Friday, May 27, 2016

An Eagles' History Lesson for First-Year Head Coaches

Doug Pederson was officially named the eighth head of the Philadelphia Eagles going back to 1976 when a young Dick Vermeil took over the reins in what turned out to be a very successful seven-year run that featured a trip to the Super Bowl in 1980. In his first season at the helm, Vermeil guided the team to 4-10 record to match the same total of wins of his predecessor Mike McCormack produced in his final year with the team. Things rapidly improved in season three with nine wins when the schedule first expanded to 16 games. The Eagles won 11 games the next season and they went 12-4 in that Super Bowl run.

After a succession of three mediocre seasons under the guidance of the Swamp Fox Marion Campbell as Vermeil's replacement, the Eagles turned to former Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan as their new head coach of the team. Coming off a Super Bowl win with the Bears, he proceeded to go 5-10-1 in his first year as head coach and it took him three years to turn things around with a 10-6 record in 1988. Ryan's teams won at least 10 games the next two seasons as well but the kiss of death was three-straight early exits from the playoffs. Few fans would argue against the fact that Ryan put together the most talented Eagles' teams in this franchise's history, which only makes his lack of success in the postseason all the more harder to swallow.

Following Buddy's abrupt dismissal in 1991, the likes of Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes stalked the sidelines as the head coach for the next eight seasons and while the Eagles did go to the playoffs six times they could never advance past the Divisional Round. New ownership gave the franchise a fresh start with Jeff Lurie and in 1999 he tapped Andy Reid as his new head coach. The former offensive coordinator for Green Bay was coming off a very successful run under the tutelage of Mike Holmgren, who can be traced back to Bill Walsh at San Francisco so the pedigree was strong.

Reid's first season as head coach resulted in a slight improvement from Rhodes' 3-13 disaster in 1998 with a 5-11 mark. Things rapidly improved from there with five-straight seasons of 11 wins or more and four-straight trips to the NFC title game. The Eagles went a disappointing 1-3 in those conference championships and the lost to New England in their lone trip to the Super Bowl. Reid never achieved that level of success in his remaining eight seasons with the team, but he did lead Philly back to the NFC title game in 2008. Reid's teams won 10 or more games eight times during his 14-year tenure, but he went out on a bad note with a combined 12 wins in his final two seasons at the helm.

In a somewhat surprising move, Lurie decided to take a chance on Oregon head coach Chip Kelly as Reid's replacement and the gamble paid off right away with a 10-6 record and NFC East title in 2013. Things went downhill from there and in just three short seasons Kelly had worn-out his welcome in the City of Brotherly Love. Ironically enough, he is now the head coach of the 49ers trying to resurrect the glory years of when Walsh was the head coach there.

The big question is can Pederson successfully follow in the footsteps of his mentor after serving as Reid's offensive coordinator in Kansas City in the same way that Andy broke away from Mike Holmgren to enjoy the best run of any head coach in franchise history?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Can the Eagles Win More than 7 Games?

The experts in Las Vegas have spoken and the "over/under" has been set at seven for Philadelphia's projected win total this season. Before the draft, I had boldly predicted a 9-7 run in 2016 that resulted in a NFC East Division title. Quite a bit has changed since then so I decided to revisit the situation to update my projections.

The Eagles still have the overall talent to win nine games in a relatively weak division, but the lack of a solid running game along with a dark cloud of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position has definitely lowered the probability that they actually reach this suddenly lofty goal.
Team vice president Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson's decision to move up in the draft to get Carson Wentz as their quarterback of the future has caused a distinct problem for the here and now.

I read somewhere that the "over/under" for how many games Wentz actually starts this season was set at 3.5. In the meantime, a disgruntled Sam Bradford remains penciled-in as the team's starting quarterback for the upcoming season. In scenario one, Bradford lights things up right out of the gate against Cleveland and the Eagles continue to win enough games to stay in the hunt for the NFC East crown deep into December.This would keep Wentz on the bench as long as Bradford stays healthy. The Birds go on to win those nine games and Wentz remains the quarterback of the future for the entire season.

Unfortunately, we have to seriously consider scenario two. Bradford has yet to really prove that he is a starting NFL quarterback that can lead a team to the playoffs. I am still giving Philly the win at home against the Browns in the season opener, but things can quickly go sideways from there. Chicago on the road and Pittsburgh at home could easily end as losses and things do not get much easier from there with four of the next five games on the road. To make matters worse, there is a stretch of games in late November and early December where the Eagles face Seattle and Cincinnati on the road with Green Bay at home sandwiched in between for good measure.

A this juncture, Philly should be ready to raise the white flag and turn to Wentz as its starter for the final four games of the year starting with a home matchup against Washington on Dec. 11. The changeover could easily happen earlier in the year if the Birds lose more games than expected, but no matter how you add things up I am having trouble coming-up with more than six wins this year whether Bradford, Wentz or even Chase Daniel is under center at quarterback.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Can Wendell Smallwood Reinvigorate the Eagles' Running Game ?

Everyone knew that the Eagles needed to draft a running back given the recent departure of DeMarco Murray and the tenuous future of Ryan Matthews as the current lead runner given his injury-filled past. I was hoping that they would draft Ezekiel Elliott, but we all know how that whole situation played out. Team vice president and de facto director of player personnel Howie Roseman finally pulled the trigger in the fifth round by selecting Wendell Smallwood out of West Virginia.

There have been quite a few success stories in the NFL at the running back position when it comes to players selected in the later rounds of the draft or even as an undrafted free agent. From what I have read, Smallwood has the skills to succeed at the next level, but my question is can he help an Eagles' running game right out of the gate after it took a major step backwards in 2015?

I was a big LeSean McCoy fan when the Eagles drafted him out of Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2009 draft. He went on to make an impact his rookie year with 637 rushing yards on 155 carries while adding another 308 yards receiving on 40 catches. Shady's best season with the team was in 2013 when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,607 yards while adding 539 yards through the air. Despite running for more than 1000 yards in four of his last five seasons with the team, then head coach Chip Kelly viewed the Eagles all-time leading rusher as expendable and decided to trade him to Buffalo before the start of the 2015 season for a player that is no longer with team (LB Kiko Alonzo).

Getting back to Smallwood, at 5-foot-11 and 201 lbs he is not thought of as every down back, but the last time I looked at the tale of the tape on McCoy he comes in at 5-foot-11 and 208 lbs. The most exciting aspect of Smallwood besides some respectable speed is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. In 2014, he caught 31 balls for 326 yards while rushing for 722 yards on the ground. His production as a receiver went down last season, but in his final college campaign for the Mountaineers he rushed for 1,519 yards on 238 carries which seems pretty durable to me.

As mentioned, Matthews is still penciled-in as the starter and Darren Sproles is still on the roster entering his 12th season in the league. All three of these backs offer many of the same attributes as far as their playing style so there may be a bit of redundancy at the running back position. That being said, I am still hoping that Smallwood can break through the pack as the heir apparent to McCoy's legacy as the best Eagles' running back since Wilbert Montgomery was tearing up the shoddy turf at Veterans Stadium in the late 70's and early 80's.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Why the Eagles Should Trade Sam Bradford

A few weeks before the 2016 NFL Draft I painted a scenario of how the Eagles could go 9-7 this season and win the NFC East. That was before they decided to trade away some vital picks to Cleveland to move-up to No. 2 in the draft to land Carson Wentz as their franchise quarterback of the future. One of the biggest miscalculations in my rational was the team's ability to actually land former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with eighth overall pick of the draft. As it turns out, Philly would have never had a shot at adding the best back in the draft to its roster given that the rival Dallas Cowboys used the fourth pick to add a huge missing piece to their offensive attack.

Fast forward to the present and nothing has changed with current Eagles' starting quarterback Sam Bradford's demands to be traded in light of the fact that he is now just holding a spot in the lineup until Wentz is deemed ready to take over the helm. I recently found some player prop bet odds on Bovada that has set the "over/under" on Wentz's total starts in the 2016 NFL regular season at 3.5, so it is safe to assume that he is going to be under center in a starting role sometime this year.

The only other viable quarterback on Philly's roster right now is Chase Daniel, who signed this offseason as a free agent from Andy Reid's squad in Kansas City. Daniel has only made two career starts since coming into the league in 2009 so it is anyone's guess as to how well he would perform in the full-time starting role. I for one am more than willing to find out since the Eagles' chances to win even five or six games this upcoming season is in serious doubt. If it is only a matter of time before new head coach Doug Pederson hands the keys to his offense to Wentz, why not jettison Bradford and his inflated salary for whatever you can get. He obviously does not want to be here and right now I would think that most of the fans in town would not be all that upset to see him go.

Bradford was Chip Kelly's brainchild instead of trying to work with Nick Foles, who still showed some solid promise in his early NFL career. Team vice-president Howie Roseman has already done his best to erase anything Kelly did in his brief stint as head coach and director of player personnel so why hold onto Bradford, which was probably one of Kelly's most ill-fated moves (after DeMarco Murray)?

Going back to Daniel, he already has experience working with Pederson when the two were together in Kansas City as player and offensive coordinator. He has never really been given a chance to see what he can do as a starter and he might even do quite well in a familiar offensive scheme. Even if Daniel does go on to stink up the joint then all it really means in the grand scheme of things is that Wentz will get his NFL baptism of fire a bit earlier then expected.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

5 Reasons Why Sam Bradford is Carson Wentz's New Best Friend in Philly

The Eagles' decision to basically trade away this year's and next year's draft to move up and get quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2 was greeted with wide-scale speculation from the Philly faithful and for good reason. It will take a few years before we actually know whether or not team vice president Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson knew what the hell they were doing, but Wentz now has five good reasons of his own to thank current starting quarterback Sam Bradford for a smoother than expected transition to becoming the new face of the franchise.

First, Bradford's child-like reaction to the Eagles' trade has backfired both in the locker room and in the court of public opinion. In my mind, it would be hard to see him even with the team on opening day after completely alienating himself from the organization while demanding a trade. If he does step on the field in the season opener as the starting quarterback against Cleveland, the fans will turn on him like angry wolves.

Second, Bradford was a former No.1 overall draft pick that has yet to live up to all the expectations put on him when he first came into the league. If Bradford does stick around as the starter for most of next season and Wentz does go on and become a bust, he can blame Bradford for showing him the way.

The third reason why Wentz owes a great deal of gratitude for Branford's recent hissy fit is the Eagles' fans themselves. These tortured souls have long memories and if you turn on the team they will turn on you. Even if Wentz stinks up the field when he finally does get a chance to start, the fans will cheer him wildly just because he is not Sam Bradford.

Moving down the list, the fourth reason why Wentz should think of Bradford as his best friend is for setting the bar pretty low with his overall performance last year. Some football experts will look at Bradford's stats and argue that he had a pretty good year, but the bottom line is still wins and losses and when Bradford did get his chance to get the Eagles into the playoffs in key game against Washington in late December he failed to get the job done.

The final reason why Wentz should get a free pass this season compliments of Sam Bradford is the simple fact that hope springs eternal in Philadelphia. We have been starved for a fresh face at quarterback that actually has the skills to get this team back into the playoffs on a consistent basis. Donovan McNabb had his fair share of ups and downs during his 11-year tenure in this town, but he was a big reason for Andy Reid'success during a run that included five trips to the NFC title game and one Super Bowl appearance. Since then, it has been one disappointment after another.

Michael Vick had nothing left in the tank and Nick Foles was never really given a chance to prove he was a franchise-type quarterback. If Bradford does remain with the team, then that will only build even more anticipation and excitement for Wentz's eventual debut. At this point I would give Chase Daniel the starting job so he can actually help the Eagles' new franchise quarterback get ready to take over the reins.