Thursday, November 05, 2009

Analyze The Enemy - Philadelphia Eagles

There are certain parallels that we can draw between our local sports teams. They all play in divisions that contain rivals who many of us obsess about and cheer against at every opportunity. For instance, who do Mavs fans feel more negative feelings towards than the San Antonio Spurs? For the Rangers, I bet it would be the Angels, and for the Cowboys it would have to be the Eagles in the last decade.

You don't care for them for many reasons. They win too much is somewhere on that list. We don't like to admit our dislike (sometimes hate) for our opponents is usually stemmed in jealousy, but it often is. They are enjoying success - more than the team we love - and we want to hold on to the few shreds of dignity that remain for us by pointing out what the rivals can't do.

For the Spurs, they give us nothing to grab on to. Since 1999, they have won 4 World Titles. Pretty difficult to ridicule them unless you want to tease them for not winning 5. For the Angels, all it takes is one World Series in 2002 to make Rangers fans just sit and stew. And then we have the Philadelphia Eagles. They are to be strongly admired - through all of the disdain - because they have built the organization the proper way. Yet, they have never won the ultimate prize, and because of that, we seem to rationalize the last decade with some level of humor. The Eagles never won the Super Bowl, and therefore we don't consider them the model franchise in this 10-year span of time. But, should that be the barometer?

Or should it be how they stack up against their NFC East bunkmates?

From 2000-Present - NFC East Standings

TeamReg SeasonPlayoffs (SB Rec)
Eagles97-53-110-7 (0-1)
Giants85-676-5 (1-1)

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These numbers tell quite a story; In 10 years, the Eagles are basically averaging a 10-6 record, the Giants 9-7, the Cowboys are 8-8, and the Redskins about 7-9.

A look at their Franchise Page on shows us that the Eagles have gone through this decade of success with only one Head Coach, Andy Reid, who is the longest tenured coach in the NFC, and 2nd longest in the NFL (Jeff Fisher). Their leading passer for the entire decade is Donovan McNabb - only Peyton Manning has held his team's starting role longer. And, basically, just 2 RBs for the entire decade with Duce Staley and the Brian Westbrook. They have been as stable as Popovich and Duncan in San Antonio and the Mike Scioscia system in Anaheim. You hire a guy who has a vision, knows how to apply that vision to reality, and you get out of his way.

Andy Reid and the 2000's Eagles will never get the full approval of the league if they never win the big one, but they have been in the hunt every year, and that is all a fan can ever ask of a team. From there, you just have to hope that you can get a smile from lady luck at the right time and get that ring. So far, it never happened in Philly. And Cowboys' fans hope it never does.

As is always the case when a group doesn't quite get to the ultimate goal, there has been unrest in the city for the Reid/McNabb regime in recent years. Both have been moved to the hot seat at times, and it seems like just about every spring we wonder if the Eagles are ready to move on from their franchise QB, only to invite him back for the following season. He seems fairly insecure in his own skin, but you try being the QB for the Eagles someday. Tony Romo will get no sympathy from McNabb for what he has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Reid, meanwhile, continues to be thought of as a top level coach, with a system on offense (Run? Who needs to Run?) and defense (Blitz, Blitz, Blitz) that is uniquely Philadelphia Eagles football.

Let's check out what the National Football Post says about their talent level going into 2009:

Philadelphia —

BLUE CHIP: HC, Reid; QB, McNabb; RB, Westbrook; OT, Peters; DE, Cole; CB, Samuel.

ALMOST BLUE: WR, D. Jackson.

As you can see, the Eagles are among the top teams in the league when it comes to top-notch players. I am quite sure that DeSean Jackson is now "blue chip", so with 6 players and a coach thought to be among the very best at their position, there is no mystery why they are quality.

They did experience some significant subtractions in their system in the last 12 months, with the death of their legendary Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson last summer. With all due respect to Dick LeBeau and Monte Kiffin, Johnson is as big a genius DC as there has been in the last 20 years on the defensive side of the ball in my opinion.

A veteran of 22 years as an NFL assistant, Johnson was considered one of the top defensive minds in the league, known for complex schemes that confused opponents and pressured the quarterback from every angle. His defenses consistently ranked among the best in the league, including last season, when the Eagles finished third in total defense and fell one victory short of the Super Bowl.

From 2000-08, Johnson's Philadelphia defenses ranked second in the NFL in sacks (390). During his 10-year tenure, the Eagles made the playoffs seven times and he produced 26 Pro Bowl selections.

The Cowboys QB and the Eagles QB position have both accounted for 4 interceptions. The offenses have fumbled virtually the same exact number of times (Dallas has lost 6 fumbles, the Eagles have lost 5). And yet, Philly sits high atop the NFL in turnover ratio at +12, while the Cowboys are still at -1. What gives? We all know it is because their defense, in the post-Jim Johnson era still have Jim Johnson characteristics. They get the ball back. 21 takeaways in 7 games is outstanding (3 per game!). The Cowboys have 9 in 7 games. And that is the only reason the Eagles are 5-2. It may also be the only reason the Cowboys are ONLY 5-2. But, this piece is not about the Cowboys.

The other big subtraction from their defense would be the exit of their defensive QB Brian Dawkins . I expected that to hurt them more this season, but, the prospect of going into Philadelphia seems less difficult knowing #20 Dawkins doesn't have to be concerned about each play.

Losing Jim Johnson and Brian Dawkins were substantial, but the defense is still generating takeaways and wins. They clearly had Eli Manning flustered on Sunday afternoon, so new DC Sean McDermott is doing something right. McDermott has been with the Eagles staff since 1998, so he truly has had a chance to pick Jim Johnson's brain for every piece of information so he would be ready for this day.

The Eagles had huge plans to get their offensive line improved, by adding the Mountain Left Tackle Jason Peters from Buffalo back in April:

The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to trade for Buffalo Bills left tackle Jason Peters early Friday, according to multiple sources.

By Friday night, according to a source, Peters had signed a four-year extension worth $53 million in new money. The Eagles acquired him with two years remaining on his Bills contract. In total, Peters will make $60 million over the next six seasons.

For Peters, the Bills will receive a first-round pick (28th selection overall), a fourth-rounder in next weekend's draft and a sixth-round pick in 2010, according to a source.

"Jason Peters is the best left tackle in football," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He is a powerful and athletic tackle and I have admired his play over the last few years on film. I have always believed that success in the NFL is derived from the strong play of the offensive and defensive lines. This offseason we have added two young, top-flight offensive linemen in Jason and Stacy Andrews."

I have agreed with Reid about the status of Peters for quite sometime, but it is difficult to say he is the best LT in football the way he has been beaten for sacks recently. Gerry Fraley is on the case :

For the first time since 1996, the Dallas Cowboys will face someone other than Tra Thomas at offensive left tackle for Philadelphia.

The Eagles traded for Jason Peters to replace Thomas, now with Jacksonville.
A change of scenery has not helped Peters, who struggled with Buffalo last season. Peters has allowed four sacks in seven games this season and 15 1/2 sacks in his last 20 games.

Offensively, the Eagles have had injuries along the Offensive Line (LG and RT in particular) and once again have found that Westbrook is good for about 13 games a year. But, they have weapons now for McNabb. Brent Celek is turning into a better verison of LJ Smith (who saw that coming?) and DeSean Jackson is every bit the exciting player that some of us thought he would be. I am kidding. I thought he would be great, but if anyone knew he would be this great, he would have been a top 5 pick last year. To add Jeremy Maclin makes this group of WRs small, but extremely fast. Perfect for Andy Reid, but it might not make sense if they end up bringing in a new offense down the road.

Defensively, they really only have 2 ways to get sacks. Blitz and Trent Cole. Cole has 28 sacks since the start of 2007, but nobody else is even close (Darren Howard, 13). Their secondary is very deep at Corner, led by Asante Samuel - 5 INTs this season and Sheldon Brown. But their 3rd and 4th corners are solid as well. MLB has been all over the road since Stewart Bradley tore his ACL in training camp. They rolled with Jeremiah Trotter briefly, Joe Mays, and Omar Gaither, before they traded for Will Witherspoon at the deadline :

The Philadelphia Eagles acquired linebacker Will Witherspoon from the St. Louis Rams on Tuesday for rookie wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round pick in 2010.

The Eagles made the trade to get Witherspoon, an eight-year veteran who spent his first four seasons with Carolina. He was the Rams' starter at the weakside spot and had 36 tackles and one forced fumble this season.

"He's a three-down linebacker, and he can play both the MIKE position and the WIL linebacker position," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of Witherspoon, who will play the middle. "He's very good at both of them. He's a good cover linebacker. He has the flexibility to cover tight ends and running backs and that type of thing, which is a plus."

This is the Eagles. In Philadelphia. At Night. Composure and Physical Football will be the key.

We shall offer the game plan Friday morning, but for now, here is some more reading for you to enjoy:

Domowitch and his review to this point :

The Eagles, who made their fifth trip to the NFC Championship Game in the last 8 years in January, entered the season as the league's tenth youngest team, and the youngest in the NFC East, with an average age of 26.81 years. Twenty-seven of their 53 players are 26 or younger. Thirteen of those 26 have less than 2 years of NFL experience.

Ten of their 22 starters against the Giants last week, including seven of their 11 offensive players, either weren't with the team or weren't starters at the beginning of last season.

Yet, here the Eagles are, off to their best seven-game start (5-2) since 2004, with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the division Sunday night when they host the 5-2 Cowboys at the Linc.

The Eagles got a major break from the NFL schedule-maker, who gave them a soft early-season schedule, which included five teams - the Panthers, Chiefs, Bucs, Raiders and Redskins - with a current combined record of 8-28.

It gave young players like wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy and free safety Macho Harris, and new additions like offensive linemen Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews and fullback Leonard Weaver and safety Sean Jones a chance to get acclimated to a new system and new teammates without the Eagles digging themselves into an early hole.

"We're still a work in progress," Reid said. "You've got to just keep pushing along. These guys are working hard. As long as they're willing to work hard and the coaches keep coaching, good things should happen.

"If guys get down on themselves and start thinking less of themselves as a player because they're making a couple of mistakes, then you've got a problem."

Reid and his staff have had their hands full in the season's first 2 months. They've had to deal with a potential crisis at middle linebacker after starter Stewart Bradley, and then his replacement, Omar Gaither, went down with season-ending injuries. They came up big there, swinging a trade-deadline deal with the Rams for Will Witherspoon, who has stepped right in and played well in both the base and nickel packages.

They had to grab the duct tape and patch their offensive line after left guard Todd Herremans went down with a stress fracture in his foot and Stacy Andrews struggled early on with his surgically-repaired knee, and his Pro Bowl brother Shawn, who was supposed to replace iron man Jon Runyan at right tackle, was placed on season-ending injured reserved due to a persistent back problem.

Herremans finally returned in Week 6, while Winston Justice so far has done a surprisingly serviceable job as Shawn Andrews' replacement at right tackle.

The soft early schedule also has been a great benefit to rookies like Harris, Maclin, McCoy and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, who head into the meat of the schedule much more battle-tested and prepared than they were 2 months ago.

So why did the Cowboys pass on DeSean Jackson? :

The Eagles have made a priority of returning Donovan McNabb to the Super Bowl, and it is evident in their recent draft philosophy. They acquired two young game-breaking receivers: DeSean Jackson with a second-round pick in 2008, and rookie Jeremy Maclin with a first-rounder this year. Jackson has six touchdowns this season, all covering more than 50 yards.

The Cowboys will position veteran Terence Newman and first-year starter Mike Jenkins -- both first-round cornerbacks -- across from the Eagles receivers.
Dallas owner and GM Jerry Jones and his scouting department made a very calculated and deliberate decision to choose their young cornerback over Philadelphia's celebrated wide receiver last year.

Jackson was a prospect who intrigued the Cowboys, who were fascinated with his speed but wary of his off-the-field problems. Their philosophy also intervened. The Cowboys have preferred to trade for established receivers from Joey Galloway to Roy Williams or to sign a tainted veteran such as Terrell Owens, whom the Eagles also tried and eventually rejected.

The Cowboys believe the failure rate is too high and the money too expensive to draft receivers in the first round, and Jones wants to win the Super Bowl every year and lacks the patience to submit to three or four years of development. For the moment, the Cowboys can point to undrafted free agent Miles Austin, the only player with a higher average of yards per reception than Jackson, who has made a far more instant contribution.

"There have been more busts at the wide receiver position than any in the NFL," a Cowboys source explained. "They're hard to evaluate with all the spread offenses, so it's hard to project them into pro systems, and then it takes them a long time to develop. You see a great cornerback, covering all over the place, you can never have enough of those guys, so I'm going to take that every time."

So it is not a coincidence that Newman and Jenkins will crouch across the line of scrimmage from Jackson and Maclin. The Cowboys and Eagles have conflicting approaches on how to build winning football teams.

Bob, aren't you going to write about Michael Vick? Here :

More telling is the fact that Vick’s playing time has decreased as the season has progressed. In his Week 3 debut against the Chiefs, Vick was on the field for 11 plays. He was on the field for five plays the following game and just two plays in the loss at Oakland in Week 6. Against the Giants this past Sunday, he gained four yards on a third-and-one. On the only other time he touched the ball, he technically lost a yard on a kneel-down.

Simply put, the Philadelphia coaching staff realizes that Vick no longer has his speed and quickness. This isn’t to say that Vick, who is 29, can’t recoup it. But at this point, one could make the argument that Vick wouldn’t still be on the 53-man roster if he weren’t such a unique and well-noted human reclamation project.

Finally, Eagles Fun facts :

When the weather gets cold, the Eagles usually start winning. Since 2000, the Eagles are second in the NFL in winning percentage after Oct. 31. They are 53-23-1 in games played in November and December since 2000, including 24-11 against NFC East teams. Their .695 winning percentage ranks second to the New England Patriots, who are 57-18.

Running back Brian Westbrook missed last week's game against the New York Giants with a concussion. Andy Reid said Westbrook still had a "slight headache" Saturday.

"We're going to make sure he's OK to perform," Reid said at his Monday press conference. "We're not going to do anything to put him in jeopardy there."

The Eagles are 9-5 against the Cowboys in Westbrook's career. He has rushed for 734 yards on 178 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per rush, and has scored seven rushing touchdowns. He has caught 63 passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys and has thrown a touchdown pass.

Donovan McNabb is 11-6 in his career as a starter against the Cowboys, with 205.9 passing yards per game and 25 touchdowns. He has completed 301 of 543 passes (55.4 percent) for 3,501 yards with 25 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and has a passer rating of 82.0.

The Eagles are taking full advantage of their speedy receivers, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. They have scored a 50-plus-yard touchdown in six of their seven games and lead the league with 12 touchdowns of 20 or more yards. Nine of those are passing touchdowns.


Jesse said...

Westbrook and McNabb are true Cowboy killers, but it looks like Philly has done a good job stacking up the talent around them. McCoy is a good young back, Celek is underrated, and the two young receivers are electric.

The Cowboys are going to have to score some points to win this game.

Doctor Jones said...

Bob, by the time I became conscious of Dallas Cowboy football (by about Aikman's 2nd year) I was told to hate the Redskins more than any. I have to say though even at an early age throughout the 90's--if you watch the games and heed the rivalries, the Eagles are hands down the most hated.

I think it is due in part to Buddy Ryan, their blitzing Defense who loved to injure QB's in the 90's and their horribly immoral fans.

I'm an Andy Reid fan actually, but I have a hate for all things Philadelphia. No matter how many titles the Skins and Giants rack up, the Eagles will always be the most feared/hated.