Revisiting the Antiquated/Wrong/Dumb Things I Wrote About the Eagles in the Fall
It’s so fashionable in 2018 to say “I told you so!”
There’s always some creep on Twitter, lurking in the shadows, waiting for you to be wrong about something, just so they can flag down the “old takes exposed” guy and let you know just how big of an idiot you really are.
I’m not sure when it happened, but it seems like every opinion or every paragraph is viewed as a “hot take” these days. Maybe it’s because the idiocy of FOX News/CNN/MSNBC makes it really trendy to dislike the media in general, so when that “gotcha!” moment presents itself, you just have to go for it.
Anyway, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the stuff I wrote about the Eagles earlier this season to see, number one, if I was off-base or dumb, and number two, to look at how far they came in fixing some of their issues en route to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Think about some of the things we were talking about back then. Remember the story about Jim Schwartz trying to usurp control of the NovaCare Complex? Remember the hand-wringing over 4th and 8 and Doug Pederson’s sketchy play calling? That all seems like ancient history.
I will say that I actively tried to stay away from dropping super hot opinions on Crossing Broad dot com. I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of “Doug Pederson is a moron,” or “Alshon Jeffery is overrated” or whatever. But I did come across some things that seem wildly dated now, probably good for some laughs after the Birds lifted the Lombardi trophy.
I wrote about the sideways stuff after the week one win:
“Doug Pederson called a couple of bubble-esque screen plays in the 30-17 victory, much to the ire of Birds fans who just wanted Carson Wentz to throw the football down the field.
Knee-jerk reaction aside, you do wonder if it’s the type of play that works in the NFL.
It’s been incredibly popular in the college game since the resurgence of the spread offense, utilized heavily by Big 12 and west coast teams that veered from the traditional football that was still being played in the Big 10 and SEC.”
People gave me crap for this because they wanted to split hairs over bubble screens, tunnels, flat passes, and whatever. The whole story was about throwing the ball horizontally vs. throwing it vertically, okay?
Doug took a lot of crap for this play call, which was allegedly a run/pass option that Carson Wentz didn’t execute very well:
Not the time to get cute, that's on Doug pic.twitter.com/WfJ5e0O6SB
— Kansas More Chaints (@AdrianFedkiw) September 10, 2017
The whole “bubble” thing ended up being somewhat of a wash, because the Eagles got away from it a bit during the main chunk of the season. You’d see it pop up every so often, but once the running game got going in week four, the Eagles’ offense operated in a much more north/south fashion and the east/west passing stuff was used less frequently.
Following the hamstring injury, I wrote:
“Pumphrey wasn’t going to play much this season, but the injury could significantly stunt the growth of a player that many see as an eventual replacement for the aging Darren Sproles.”
Well, I guess it wasn’t off-base at the time. None of us knew what Corey Clement would become, nor did we know that the Birds would go out and get Jay Ajayi midway through the season. And Sproles hurt himself a short time later, so go figure.
Of the Birds’ 2017 draft picks, only Derek Barnett and Rasul Douglas played meaningful minutes. Pumphrey, Sidney Jones, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins, Nate Gerry, and Elijah Qualls were either injured or contributed in a peripheral manner.
The running game
“Two weeks doesn’t provide much of a sample size for NFL statistics, especially when you’ve started the season with two road games against two pretty good teams, but let’s jump into it anyway, because we’re 12.5% of the way through a schedule that only features 16 games to begin with.
Secret’s out! The Eagles running game isn’t that great.”
Imagine that, judging the running game after two weeks.
But the concerns were valid at the time, because in the Washington and KC games, this is what they did on the ground:
- 41 rushing attempts (24th out of 32 teams)
- 165 total rushing yards (18th)
- 82.5 yards per game (20th)
- 4 yards per attempt (12th)
- 0 touchdowns (11 NFL teams didn’t have a rushing score, including Dallas and NYG)
That really was a huge storyline, wasn’t it? The evolution of the Eagle running game really brought balance to the offense and made a big difference from week five all the way through the Super Bowl win.
Calling an audible
After the Chargers win:
“I’m also not sure about running Smallwood on third and 8 on the first drive of the third quarter. It seemed like Wentz may have called an audible there.”
Of course he did. Doug Pederson wouldn’t run Wendell Smallwood on third and eight. I should have heard the “kill kill” at the line but I guess I wasn’t paying attention when I was writing that story.
From the Eagles/Cardinals takeaways:
“I wondered if the absence of Wendell Smallwood might change the way the Eagles ran the ball this week, but it really didn’t.”
You know, now that I think about it, Smallwood wasn’t bad this year, was he? He mostly did the job when called on and had the nagging injury. I think he just got overtaken by Clement and then lost in the shuffle when Ajayi came in. Smallwood actually finished with 47 carries for 174 yards and score, plus 13 catches for about 100 yards. He made some nice contributions early on but just sort of became squeezed out of the rotation.
I wrote about it a few times right around week five and week six. I had leaned towards Stefen Wisniewski from the beginning, but kind of half-assed this paragraph:
“I’d have to go back and watch the entire film again before coming up with a credible hot take here, but we’ve seen in past weeks that Wisniewski has been much more steady on the left side. If nothing else, the idea of keeping him there should help Jason Peters and Jason Kelce find continuity and consistency throughout the game, as opposed to having to readjust every couple of drives.”
My error was not throwing 100% support behind ‘Wis,’ since he was clearly the better option than Chance Warmack.
Looking back, I can’t believe the left guard rotation was even a thing. How did that even happen in the first place? With the way Wisniewski played down the stretch, it makes you wonder.
Left footed punting
I didn’t do a great job of explaining this line:
“I also found it intriguing how (Tony Romo) described returners catching balls from left footed punters. Is there really a difference in spin and flight of the ball? I’d never heard that before.”
Obviously a the ball spins and falls differently from a righty to a lefty, but Romo made it sound like it was mechanically completely different, which isn’t the case. I messed that one up.
After the Carolina win:
“For what it’s worth, Doug Pederson and Andy Reid are a combined 10-1 this season, and the only loss was when the teams played each other.”
Andy made sure to bring that number down.
Andy Reid addresses lack of Kareem Hunt carries: 'Could we have called him more? Yeah, we look back at it and maybe we could have, maybe we could have handed it to him more'https://t.co/M9O8YFDO9X pic.twitter.com/d2JmLGK8xs
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) January 8, 2018
When Jason Peters went down, remember the talk of moving Lane Johnson over to left tackle?
“Peters is a huge loss, but Hali Vaitai covered for him well enough. He held his blocks on both second half touchdown passes and I didn’t hear his name called outside of an early false start penalty that I’d chalk up to a lack of reps. I found it interesting that the Eagles did a straight swap at left tackle instead of moving Lane Johnson over. That seems like the right call, but we’ll see if they change their minds going into Week 8.”
Good thing they didn’t. Vaitai was excellent in the playoffs and Johnson was his typically solid self all season long.
Imagine if they had decided to move Johnson instead? That was a big deal, trusting big V to be the guy on the left. They started him with some help (extra blockers and backs) before taking off the training wheels.
Regarding Zach Ertz and his huge week eight performance against Washington:
“If Chip Kelly did anything right, it was drafting Ertz. He just needed a franchise quarterback to unlock his talent.”
Of course, at the time, I had no idea Nick Foles would step in and finish the season. Turns out Chip’s biggest contribution wasn’t drafting Zach Ertz, but giving us a blueprint for unlocking Nick’s talents and turning him into a stone cold killer. I do think Doug and company looked at the 2013 film and studied the designs that Foles had success with went he went for 27 and 2.
I sort of harped on this all year long, especially regarding LeGarrette Blount:
“If Pederson decides to keep going to the stretch, it just doesn’t make any sense to keep giving it to Blount, because the line isn’t going to open up lanes that are wide enough for him to burst through for meaningful gains. “
No, I don’t think the Eagles’ east/west running made sense on most occasions, but it was more about the personnel and not the design. The outside zone worked a lot better for Sproles, Ajayi, and Clement to run, not Blount.
Ironically, they scored a touchdown with Blount running outside zone in the playoffs. I hated the call at the time, but he got into the end zone on a 4th and goal with Trey Burton throwing a massive block:
After 14 plays on the drive, the Eagles finally punch it into the endzone. https://t.co/tJnPBaLitS
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) January 13, 2018
At least they ran it from under center and not the shotgun, because I felt like Blount was poor coming out of the shotty all year long.
But if this block doesn’t happen, do the Birds win that divisional round game? –
Burton had a lot of sneaky-important plays this season.
A Basketball Comparison
I wrote a column comparing Alshon Jeffery to JJ Redick:
“There’s a Philadelphia athlete who was brought in on a short-term deal to solve a specific offensive problem. The numbers aren’t amazing, but you see the occasional flash of individual brilliance while he makes the teammates around him better. Sometimes fans become frustrated when #17 fails to do the main thing he was brought here to do, but there are absolutely more positives than negatives.
That guy is actually two guys. It’s JJ Redick and Alshon Jeffery, who are both going through eerily similar seasons with the Sixers and Eagles.”
I thought it was somewhat clever at the time, but then Alshon went out and scored two touchdowns the very next week I believe..
And none of us knew that Jeffery was playing with a torn rotator cuff, so it sort of invalidates every opinion everybody had regarding his early-season play and trouble making contested catches. I wonder how bad the injury really was.
I was nice to him after the Dallas win:
“Cris Collinsworth is kind of dopey, but I don’t think he “hates” Philadelphia like everybody says. I thought he had some nice things to say about Fletcher Cox, Darby, and Wentz. One thing that was weird was the single arm tackle Jalen Mills made on Dez Bryant. Collinsworth praised Bryant for his stiff-arm move when I’m 99% sure Mills made the better play there to get the bigger guy to the ground.”
My mistake was giving him credit for anything.
If I had only known how awful he would be during Super Bowl 52..
No tank tops
The Schwartz vs. Pederson story was bizarre. I’m glad they put aside their (alleged) differences to win it all.
In response to Jeff McLane’s Inquirer story, Schwartz mentioned that he booted a player from the cafeteria because the team has a “no sleeveless shirts” rule for that room.
Seems like a weird rule to disallow tank tops in the cafeteria…
But professional teams have all sorts of guidelines that might seem foreign to the general public.”
Yea, well, turns out that rule wasn’t weird at all. They won the Super Bowl with a team that totally bought in to the program, so whatever they were doing seemed to work.