“…the special thing is that no one in the locker room doubted me. Everyone just kept believing.”

Certain things cannot be quantified. Certain things cannot be explained. People openly mocked Doug Pederson following the win against the Rams in early December. Pederson said it’s next man-up. That felt like a cliche at the time. Sure, the Eagles could replace Darren Sproles and Jordan Hicks. Even Hall of Fame LT Jason Peters, too.

But Carson Wentz? No shot.

Continue reading ““…the special thing is that no one in the locker room doubted me. Everyone just kept believing.””

Loss to Detroit could prove costly

It shouldn’t have happened. It’s a game the Eagles should have won, and with three divisional road games, the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers on deck it might be a game the Eagles wish they had back. It’s easy to blame Ryan Mathews. Why did he fight for extra yardage? But the Eagles made careless mistakes all afternoon.

The Eagles, shockingly, began the game sluggish. Detroit didn’t really do anything special in the first half, but the Lions found themselves in the end zone three times during the first 30 minutes. Theo Riddick, who caused problem after problem last Thanksgiving’s debacle, torched Philly’s vastly improved defense early. The Eagles had an opportunity to stall Detroit’s opening drive on 3rd and 11 from Philly’s 21, but Anquan Boldin beat slot corner Ron Brooks inside for a nice gain. Again, on the second drive, Marcus Smith sacked Matt Stafford on first down, but Destiny Vaeao jumped offside on 2nd and 12 in what would’ve been a Stafford incompletion. The little things throughout the game proved to be the difference in the outcome.

And even when the Eagles got after Stafford, towards the end of the first half, they made costly mistakes, namely Fletcher Cox ripping off Stafford’s helmet. It was third down, and the Lions would’ve settled for a field goal, making the score 17-7. The penalty led to a Marvin Jones touchdown reception. Those four points proved substantial for the Eagles.

It was a different defense in the second half, however. The Eagles shut down the Lions, which makes the Mathews fumble even more difficult to swallow. Detroit had 10 total yards in the second half before the fumble. Punter Donnie Jones could’ve pinned Detroit inside the 10-yard line, and the Eagles defense could’ve continued their defensive dominance.

Carson Wentz played well enough to win the game, although he should’ve had his first interception on Philadelphia’s first drive. He forced a ball into Nelson Agholor. Wentz had two delay of game penalties, also. One happened in the second quarter, which is inexcusable. It takes a second to call time out, and the Eagles had three of them. It didn’t really matter since Philadelphia scored a touchdown later that drive. The Eagles blew a prime chance to take the lead midway through the third after a Stafford fumble. Dorial Green-Beckham should have reeled in 16-yard score. It’s imperative when the opponent provides a gift inside their 20 the Eagles take advantage, and not settle for a field goal. The Eagles would’ve been in total control had Green-Beckham secured that third down reception. Football has many would’ve, could’ve, should’ve moments, but, given Philly’s upcoming schedule, it feels like the Eagles will regret this loss.

The beginning of the game had a weird feeling to it. Not only did Detroit march down on the opening drive, Josh Huff muffed the ensuing kick-off. It probably didn’t mean anything, especially since Huff recovered it, but it might’ve been a foreshadowing for the miscue-infested Eagles. Blame the refs if you’d like, but the Eagles did plenty ill-advised actions throughout the game. It wasn’t like the Eagles looked complacent, but something was off about how they played. The refs didn’t help. Anytime a team has 12 more penalties and 93 more penalty yards than an opponent, questions should surface. But the Eagles had every opportunity to win that game, so blaming anyone but Philadelphia players seems a stretch.

The result might not matter if the Eagles dominate the division, and Philadelphia gets their first taste of that at Washington this Sunday. Philly have lost three straight against Washington, but the Eagles enter the game in Maryland as favorites. There isn’t really such thing as a must win for a 3-1 team, but with their upcoming schedule the Eagles have to approach it like one.

Let the Wentz Era begin

It wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly. Maybe if Sam Bradford suffered an injury midway through the season. Maybe if the Eagles didn’t have a chance to make the postseason come November. Maybe then Carson Wentz would start, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Wentz will make his first career start in his first career game. So it begins.

When Bradford re-signed in Philadelphia, it was the right move. It’s a tough act, balancing winning and rebuilding. The Eagles trusted their defense strongly, as they should. The second they traded up to draft Wentz, parting ways with several draft picks in the process, it felt as though Philly declared themselves as rebuilders. Bradford wanted out, and fans thought it would be best if Wentz would start right away. But Howie Roseman had different ideas. His blueprint was for Wentz to basically redshirt this season, because the Eagles, as constructed on defense, had a chance to make the playoffs.

Who knows what value Bradford would’ve garnered next offseason. Maybe he played really well, leading the Eagles to a nine-win, division-clinching season. A team could’ve parted with a first rounder, and extended Bradford to make him their team’s future. But it feels like most teams have their quarterback in place, or at least they will after next year’s draft. Circumstances change always, and the moment Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee during practice the Vikings had to do something drastic to salvage their season. Minnesota acquired a talented quarterback. Many, many people think Bradford stinks. He’s overpaid. He’s overrated. He’s never made the playoffs. Bradford’s not worth a first round pick, let alone a conditional fourth rounder. But Bradford will help Minnesota tremendously. The Vikings, because of their defense and Adrian Peterson, have a real chance to win the NFC. It might not feel that way right away, since Bradford will learn his third new offense in 14 months. But Bradford, even if he doesn’t start until Week 2, will figure out Norv Turner’s offense.

Experts and fans alike have different viewpoints of players than teammates. Bradford provided a spark towards the end of last season, and it’s not just because he made some nice throws in big-time wins. He was a leader down the stretch. A guy who wasn’t known for his talk in St. Louis delivered pre-game speeches that lifted his teammates. Ultimately Bradford didn’t do enough to make the postseason, and who really knows what happens with the Eagles if he had. Malcolm Jenkins believed in Bradford, as CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank reported. Jenkins doesn’t care about a 2017 first round pick, and he sure as hell doesn’t care about a conditional 2018 one. And that’s what makes dealing Bradford hard, especially eight days away from opening day. Bradford has an ideal situation now. No one feels bad for him. There’s no excuse after Bradford grasps the playbook. The Eagles defense will play confidently no matter who quarterbacks the team, but that doesn’t mean they’d rather have Bradford running the show this season.

With Wentz starting, the expectations change from a fan perspective. Playoffs, although possible in such an unknown division, appear unreachable. But the Eagles coaching staff truly believes Wentz can lead this group to a playoff berth as early as this season. Wentz will sink or swim this season. Wentz would’ve been fine sitting for the year. He would’ve improved his understanding of a new offense and grow stronger in the weight room. The best experience, however, remains real-life experience. Actually playing, throwing interceptions, misreading coverage, making good plays, figuring out NFL defenses and everything else that comes with being a quarterback that’s how a player gets better.

Just last week the Eagles beat the Colts easily. Bradford, in typical third preseason game fashion, looked sharp, and ready. It wasn’t Super Bowl expectations like after last season’s third preseason game, but people expected Philadelphia to compete in the NFC East. Things changed in Minnesota, which led to things changing in Philadelphia. Roseman obviously received two draft picks for Bradford, but despite how some view Philly as clear winners in the trade, it’s important to understand the courage it took for Roseman and Pederson to make that deal. And it’s because they trust Wentz.

Philly’s Offensive Outlook

Sam Bradford was accurate last Thursday, but he did so without throwing the ball down field. He’ll micromanage the game, especially if Philadelphia does not have the vertical threats necessary for a high-power offense. It’s the smart approach to this season, because the Eagles desperately need to win as many games as possible since they do not have a pick in the first round in 2017. Pederson said yesterday he wanted Bradford to complete 65 to 67 percent of his pass attempts. Bradford completed 65 percent of his passes last season, while averaging a pedestrian seven yards per attempt. For the sake of keeping the defense honest, Bradford will have to throw the ball down the field every once in a while. The Eagles hoped Chris Givens would provide a deep threat, but he’s not a guarantee to make the roster. The Eagles hope Dorial Green-Beckham can quickly learn the playbook since he has the physical tools to make a difference in the passing game. DGB averaged 17.2 yards per catch his rookie season, which would’ve ranked first among Eagles with 30 or more catches last season. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Green-Beckham joined Sammy Watkins, James Jones, Allen Robinson, Kenny Britt and Torrey Smith as wide outs with at least 32 receptions and 17.1 yards per reception. Green-Beckham had a relative small sample size, but the Eagles desperately need a playmaker to stretch the defense.

Kansas City, with Alex Smith at quarterback, put up big play after big play last season. Only Buffalo, Minnesota, Seattle and Carolina had a higher big play percentage (rush plays over 10 yards and pass plays over 25) than Kansas City. Kansas City had four players with over 350 rushing yards, including Smith. The Chiefs usually had a workhorse in Jamaal Charles handle the bulk of the carries, but he tore his ACL five games into the season, which gave Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware opportunities behind a terrific offensive line.

The Eagles don’t have a guy you can pencil in for 20 carries every game since Ryan Mathews has only played one full season. Kenjon Barner flashed his ability through the first two preseason games. Wendell Smallwood hasn’t played yet, but that’ll change against the Colts. Darren Sproles should give the Eagles plenty of lift in the screen and short yardage game, but the Eagles probably need Smallwood to be a bigger factor than many fifth-round rookies. Only four active fifth-round running backs, according to Pro-Football-Reference, carried the ball at least 70 times during their rookie season (Tim Hightower, Karlos Williams, Zac Stacey and Vick Ballard). Smallwood should carry the ball at least 70 times this season unless Barner plays better than expected. Sproles has the ability to completely change the course of two or three games every year. At times it felt like Sproles wasn’t utilized correctly last season. He made some big impact plays, most notably against New England, but after scoring a touchdown on a beautiful fade from Bradford against Green Bay in the infamous third preseason game it felt like Bradford and Sproles would develop a nice connection, and that just wasn’t the case. Sproles had a strong first game against Atlanta with 76 receiving, and 126 total yards, which was 18 percent of his yards on the season. Sproles only had one more game with more than 50 yards receiving.

Philadelphia’s offensive line does have potential, but with Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension looming, one injury to Jason Peters severely hampers their depth. The Eagles, however, could use plenty of three tight end formations to help with the run game. Jimmy Kempski wrote a wonderful breakdown of how Kansas City used their tight ends in each phase of a highly rated offense. Philly has two proven receiving tight ends in Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, and they’re hopeful Trey Burton can piggyback on a strong training camp once the season begins. Burton’s big highlight took place last season on Thanksgiving against the Lions, which Kempski references in his piece.

Houston and Denver each made the playoffs last season with offenses ranked in the bottom 10, but Houston’s defense, according to Football Outsiders, ranked eight overall, and Denver had a historical defense. Eight of the 12 playoff teams finished in top-15 in offense and defense ranking.

The playoffs are definitely possible, but it won’t be the offense that leads them there

Carson Wentz

Preseason football barely tells anything about the potential success of a team. Ideally the first unit offense and defense look sharp in limited series, and then the rest of the roster fights for a spot on the final 53. This year was different because: Carson Wentz.

Last season the Eagles beat the Packers in Week 3 of the preseason. It’s the week that teams play their starters into the second half. Aaron Rodgers didn’t play that night, but Sam Bradford and his offensive teammates played flawless football against a solid defense. Seriously, Bradford finished the game 10-10 for 121 yards, three touchdowns and a 156.7 passer rating. After that game people thought Philadelphia could win the whole damn thing.

The Eagles then barely won seven games, fired their coach and traded away three starters.

Moral to the story: preseason doesn’t mean anything.

But after signing Bradford and Chase Daniel, then trading up to draft Wentz, and subsequently deciding he’d basically redshirt this season, preseason became everything for fans. Fans wanted to see Wentz, and preseason looked like the only time to see him.

Thursday’s preseason opener lacked excitement after the first seven minutes. Philly led 14-6 with 7:01 left in the first quarter, and a whopping six total points were scored the rest of the way. But despite the dullness, Wentz shined for a handful of plays. His first completion to Zach Ertz was a thing of beauty. Wentz struggled, as rookies do, some snaps. He threw passes too high. Under distress, according to Pro Football Focus, Wentz completed three of 10 passes, including an interception. Wentz, if you wanted to specifically classify he performance, had an up-and-down game. The preseason presented an opportunity for Wentz to figure out the NFL speed, and how to navigate an offense. Wentz, for the most part, played with undrafted rookies or borderline roster players. His best moments unsurprisingly happened with NFL-proven players like Ertz.

Before the preseason opener, Doug Pederson announced Wentz would play most, if not all, of the second half. Any coach can say what the game plan will be, but the game plan’s so tentative due to circumstances out of a coach’s control. Preseason, however, is different, because it’s a glorified practice. Wentz played a series in the first half, but Pederson didn’t do anything wrong by keeping him into the fourth quarter. Wentz broke his rib with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter on the play that could’ve happened at any junction. Wentz faced pressure, but Tampa Bay wasn’t hitting him every snap. Aside from the injury, the Buccaneers hit him on one of his runs, the play right before he suffered the hairline fracture and the roughing the quarterback penalty the play before his interception. Wentz has the athleticism to avoid rushers. It’s one of his strengths, which the Eagles should use to their advantage. Obviously if Wentz runs around he’s more susceptible for injury, but he did a great job sliding on Thursday. It’s an area where Wentz has to improve. He was able to be careless in college, because of the nature of his offense. It was a pro-style one, but they utilized his mobility with design runs or read options.

Wentz had durability questions surrounding him at North Dakota State. He said this was the first time he broke his ribs, though. Injuries can happen with dumb luck, but obviously someone can be more injury-prone than others. He broke his wrist his senior year of college, and then, according to Wentz, broke his thumb and had shoulder and arm issues in high school.

There’s really no point in rushing back Wentz. Only if he’s 100 percent with little chance of re-injury should he play in Week 4 against the Jets. It would be a downer if the only action fans saw from Wentz this year were 24 pass attempts, but getting him healthy should be Philly’s only priority.

Can Sam Bradford breakthrough?

Sam Bradford plays like an average quarterback. Ask anyone to describe Bradford. Mediocre probably best describes Bradford, while overpaid and overrated chronicle him, too.

Bradford completed the most passes for a rookie in NFL history in 2010. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year later that season. The former Heisman trophy winner looked like one of the next best NFL quarterbacks. But coaching changes, injuries and inconsistent performances greatly redirected Bradford’s career. Now he’s set to begin his second year in Philadelphia with a highly paid back-up waiting for him to fall, and the 2016 second overall pick that an entire fan base would rather see play.

It’s hard to imagine a stranger football season in Philadelphia. There are some expectations since the Eagles should have one of the better defenses in football. But with a new coach whose only head coaching experience primarily took place on Friday nights, and the lack of skill position players, the Eagles could be in for a long season. Philly cannot afford to be bad, though. The Eagles do not have a first round pick. That pick was used to draft a player who will most likely begin the season inactive.

The case for Bradford has been that even though his numbers sometimes proved otherwise he’s an accurate passer. Some credit Chip Kelly’s simple offense for the reason Bradford broke the Eagles’ completion percentage record last year, but Bradford had precision dating back to his Oklahoma days. His numbers were terrible at times in St. Louis. He completed only 53.3 percent of his passes in his sophomore year. It’s easy to dismiss Bradford’s ability, because of his poor performance in St. Louis. But Bradford saw new coordinator after new coordinator, and Bradford’s wide receivers were bad. Kenny Britt had 748 yards in 2014 when Bradford missed the entire season after tearing his ACL. Since 2010 every NFL team has had a receiver with 750 or more yards. Every team except the St. Louis Rams. Last season Bradford had two receivers with more than 850 yards (Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz).

I didn’t watch many St. Louis games when Bradford played, but I’m a believer in continuity. Now the Eagles changed their head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. The Eagles plan on using Bradford as trade bait after this season ends. But Bradford at least had a fully healthy off-season. He didn’t rehab. He just focused on becoming a better quarterback, and he even worked out with Matthews and Ertz. Bradford’s role in the offense will be different. That type of continuity matters. Look back to the Eagles’ season opener a year ago. Bradford had timing issues with nearly every wide out in a game that set the tone for Philly’s season. Over the course of the season it approved, but Bradford’s receivers had plenty of drops. Enough to make a nine and a half minute video.  Watching Bradford connect with Ertz and Matthews down the stretch in meaningful football games brings hope for this year’s offense.

It’s unclear exactly how a Doug Pederson offense will look. Only New England had a fewer turnover percentage than Kansas City’s offense last year, and only Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Buffalo averaged more yards per carry, so anticipate a more conservative offensive approach. Bradford will be asked to change the play at the line of scrimmage based on the defense. He’ll have more freedom than he did last year. The key to Bradford having a productive season begins and ends with the offensive line. Offensive lines make any average or below average running back look good. The Eagles’ biggest question mark lies at running back depth, because Ryan Mathews has only once played a full season, and Darren Sproles serves more as a scat back than a traditional inside the tackle back. Wendell Smallwood might have to give 10-15 touches a game.

This, in all likelihood, will be Bradford’s final season in Philadelphia. He’s auditioning for any quarterback needy team every time he steps on the field. Bradford has the opportunity to create new labels, and maybe Bradford can finally breakthrough at age 28.

Should the Eagles trade Bradford?

Sam Bradford signed a two-year deal in March. Days later the Eagles made Chase Daniel an expensive back up. The Eagles also made it known they would draft a quarterback somewhere in the 2016 NFL Draft. Bradford, however, didn’t know it would be the second pick in the entire draft.

Yes, Bradford only signed a short contract. He wanted to prove his worth in Philadelphia because knowing what’s happening with the Jets, 49ers and Broncos, there’s no reason why another team wouldn’t have offered Bradford any type of contract. Bradford was probably under the impression that if he played well enough the Eagles would extend him after next season, but that’s out the window after Philadelphia picks a quarterback second overall. It’s easy to look at Bradford’s career numbers and win-loss record, and come away woefully unimpressed. It’s different if the Eagles kept their eighth pick, and used a third round pick on a project quarterback because Bradford would have a legitimate chance to be Philadelphia’s long-term answer at quarterback. With Carson Wentz almost certainly an Eagle, Bradford no longer has a future in Philadelphia.

In a perfect world this all makes sense. Bradford plays well next year, and the Eagles trade him to a team in need of a quarterback. The Eagles get a nice draft pick in exchange, and the opportunity to begin building around Wentz. And then Bradford, since he played so well, signs a long-term contract to be a franchise quarterback. But this isn’t a perfect world, and Bradford probably thought he could be Philadelphia’s future quarterback, and that’s not happening.

Bradford has a point if he really wanted to be the future quarterback of the Eagles, and he felt slighted that the Eagles checked him off of that list. Bradford’s hardly ever had consistent coaching in the NFL. The Rams routinely changed coordinators, and coaches, during Bradford’s tenure, and this year Bradford will go through yet another offensive change. Maybe all Bradford wanted was consistency. Yes, Bradford has made a ton of money in his career, but most people consider him an average quarterback, and he probably thought he’d change that perception in Philadelphia. But what’s been reported, wasn’t that Bradford felt slighted, that Bradford feels upset because the pressure of having a second overall pick sitting behind him places too much weight on Bradford’s shoulders, then maybe Bradford should be traded.

This is Bradford’s job. He’s the quarterback, and he has a fantastic opportunity. He really developed wonderful chemistry with Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews. The Eagles do not have much talent on offense, so any type of positive season would most likely net Bradford a chance to seek a long-term team next season. Yes, if Bradford does play poorly midway through next year you bet the Eagles will make a change, but it might not even be Wentz. Daniel will most likely serve as Bradford’s back up. So, Bradford can be upset all he wants, but the reality is if he plays well enough, he’ll get exactly what he wants: a team that wants him.

Featured Image: Jeff Fusco/ Philly Magazine