This is my weekly Q&A with Bleed Green of Bleeding Green Nation, the local Philadelphia Eagles blog. Thanks to him for his time and effort on this exchange; I think it's one of the best we've had this season.
As always, be sure to click over to Bleeding Green Nation for the Eagles' perspective on the game. My questions are bulleted, his answers blockquoted. And away we go ...
- According to the Football Outsiders the Eagles rank 11th in the NFL -- sixth in the NFC -- in DVOA. Their offense ranks in 11th in the NFL, their defense 12th and their special teams 28th. Are we to believe that special teams have caused the Eagles to go 6-8 this season? Is it luck? How has one team played so well, yet fared so poorly?
I think special teams have cost them one game this year (Green Bay) but that’s about it. THis year, the Eagles have been a team of missed opportunities and a lack of big plays. The defense has been solid for the most part but has lacked the big turnovers that change games. The offense has often been able to move the ball well but is incredibly poor in the red zone. There have been games where they played tight all day but lost in the last minute (like the Bears game) and there have been games they’ve thrown away with costly mistakes at the end (like the Pats & Seahawks games). The Eagles have only really been out of one game this year, the first game against Dallas. Every other game it’s just been mistakes and missed opportunities.
- For my money, Donovan McNabb is right there with Dick Allen in the pantheon of wildly underrated Philly athletes. Even this year, when he is supposedly having an off year -- of course, his QB Rating is still higher than his career rating -- Donovan is among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. And only once has he had a real receiver to throw to -- 2004, he was dominant that year. So why are we hearing stories like the Pam Oliver story about how Donovan feels like he’s getting pushed out in Philly? Is this strictly coming from Donovan? Why would the Eagles be pushing to get rid of the face of their franchise? Is Joe Banner that (pick one: good at his job/delusional from his own power)?
Oddly enough, the week before the McNabb/Oliver story broke Joe Banner specifically said he can’t envision a scenario where McNabb is not back next year. Also, Andy Reid, who is the guy with final say on personnel matters, has vigorously defended McNabb every chance he’s gotten. So while I guess McNabb can read what reporters are guessing, and he can hear what some fans say, I really don’t know where he would get the impression from within the organization that they don’t want him. Every guy at every level of the team has given him nothing but support. Now you can point to the fact that they used their top pick on a quarterback this year, which certainly means something … but even so, Reid, Banner and owner Lurie have done nothing but praise and support McNabb.
- Last season, the Saints racked up 208 rushing yards in their playoff victory. This year, the Saints don’t have the same-caliber runners, but against the blitz Drew Brees’ rating is almost ten points higher than it is on the season (101 vs. 92 … Granted, I know it’s a flawed system). Given that the Eagles don’t have to give the same respect to the running game, will Jim Johnson employ a more passive scheme, or will he attack Brees, despite Brees' relative success against blitzing defenses?
The most dramatic improvement the Eagles have made in any area this year has been against the run. Last year they were pretty awful -- they ranked among the league’s worst. Thanks to a bunch of personnel changes, and a renewed commitment to stopping the run, the Eagles' defense has really turned it around and is currently the third-best team in the NFC against the run. So I think that’s the biggest difference the Saints will see between last year’s D and this year’s.
As for the blitz, that’s the defense. It’s not going to change, regardless of whom we play. There’s probably no better QB in football than Tom Brady against the blitz and yet Jim Johnson brought pressure on him all night. It’s about execution. There’s nothing Drew Brees, or any QB, can do when guys are running free through his offensive line and have open shots at him. So I don’t think it’s about whether you call the blitz or how often, it’s about whether you execute it well. Can the other team pick up the blitz? That’s what it will come down to, because Johnson will bring the pressure.
- Is Andy Reid still an elite coach? Should he be coaching the Eagles next season?
I think he should certainly be coaching here next year. This is a guy who won the division and a playoff game last year. He’s only 3 years removed from a Super Bowl run. Is missing the playoffs the last 2 out of 3 years, while making them something like 6 of a 9 year total, a reason to fire someone? I don’t think so. I think his job is very secure. That said, I think there were mistakes he made this year both on the field and in his role as the man with final word on personnel. I think the playoff run they went on last year led to him overrating the talent they had on the team and made them rather complacent last offseason. I’d like to see him be more aggressive after this year, because another year of no playoffs would certainly lead to a whole lot more talk about his job security.
- Presumably, the Eagles will be drafting somewhere in the middle of the first round, what will be their strategy in the draft and free agency for upgrading the roster? At which positions will they seek to bolster their roster?
I won’t even pretend to act as if I know what their strategy will be. As many people learned last year, no one knows what on earth they’ll do in the draft. I can tell you what I’d like to see, though … I think they need a corner. The nickel corner plays so often in the Eagles' D, he’s basically like another starter, and they’ve struggled with that position this year. They need a safety or two. With Dawkins getting older, and inconsistency racking the other safety spot, this is just a big area of need with very little depth. I’d love to see them bring in a bigtime DE to play opposite Trent Cole. They are in dire need of a guy that return kicks and punts. Finally, I’d like to see another offensive playmaker. Whether that’s a big WR or a great TE … whatever, we just need someone other than Westbrook to be able to make plays on offense.
- Bonus: Brian Dawkins is in a similar situation to Donovan McNabb -- aging player, production may not match his pay/reputation -- will he be playing in Philadelphia next season?
Dawkins is coming off arguably his best year last year; statistically he was incredibly productive. This year he was hurt in training camp and missed a good portion of the season. Since coming back he’s struggled to get fully into the flow, but without a training camp or preseason that’s bound to happen. That said, he’s definitely getting older and without a doubt his future replacement needs to be addressed soon. As to whether he’ll be here next year, that’s up to him. If he wants to come back the Eagles will be happy to have him back there.
Once again, many thanks to Bleeding Green Nation for the extremely informative Q & A.