Stopping John Brown is the key to the Eagles – Cardinals game

Mark Saltveit - December 20, 2015

Philadelphia matches up well against Arizona. They beat them in a tough 2013 game, and lost last year only because of a stupid defensive play.

The Eagles led 20-17 with 1:21 left. Arizona had the ball on their own 25. Might be a good time for a prevent defense, right? Instead, Cary Williams played tight on Williams, who predictably ran by him. Worse, safety Nate Allen bit on a double move, trying to be a hero by going for an interception on a short pass that was just a fake.

Brown flew by both for an easy touchdown. And no doubt, he’s one of the fastest receivers in the game. But half-decent coverage could have stopped the play or at least limited it to a long gain.

Since then, Allen signed with the Raiders as a free agent, and Cary Williams is out of football after the Seahawks cut him. The Eagles also replaced DBs coach John Lovett with Cory Undlin, who players rave about, and the unit as a whole is much better. So far, they’ve given up 44 passes of 20 yards or longer in 13 games. Last year, in 16, they surrendered 72.

But the secondary is still a work in progress. EJ Biggers is erratic at best. Nolan Carroll broke his ankle. Against Tampa Bay and Detroit, DC Bill Davis tried moving Malcolm Jenkins out of the nickel CB role back to a more traditional safety position. The Eagles gave up 45 points each to two of the league’s worst teams.

After they put Malcolm back in the slot and called up Ed Reynolds from the practice squad to play safety, the Birds beat New England and Buffalo, giving up only 28 and 20 points. And Reynolds clinched the Bills game with his late interception.

How well the Eagles handle John Brown tonight will be a good marker of their chances to win. Whether he faces Byron Maxwell or rookie Eric Rowe, Brown remains a deep threat who demands safety help to neutralize. The Eagles will need good coaching from Undlin, a smart defensive game plan and individual execution by Reynolds and Rowe, two green players, to have a chance at pulling off this upset.

News From the Enemy

Mark Saltveit - December 15, 2015

Philadelphia has a very strong set of reporters and columnists covering the Eagles. Ask anyone who has lived in other cities. But individually and collectively, they have some very real biases and blind spots. So you can learn a lot by reading the beat reporters from whatever team the Birds are playing next.

One reason is that they don’t have to worry about angering the Eagles organization, or losing access to star players by writing something critical. They might also just be better reporters, or have the advantage of not having pissed players off in the past.

Tyler Dunne, a beat reporter for the Buffalo News, wrote an epic and nuanced portrait of LeSean McCoy with lots of detail you don’t see in the Philadelphia press.

The Shady he describes is a complex and very likable character who fits all the facts we know about him — good and bad. He’s passionate, loyal, generous, intensely dedicated, emotional, and bluntly honest. He’s also argumentative, stubborn, bullheaded, vengeful and resistant to coaching. One Eagles teammate put it this way: “You try to show him something and if he didn’t believe it, it didn’t matter what you showed him – he wasn’t going to believe it.”

Several former teammates mention, without details, that Shady argued with them about women (as a group). The profile doesn’t detail the arguments, but given his history (siccing thousands of twitter followers on his ex-girlfriend during a fight, advertising a women-only party with a sexy dress code, and allegedly having a woman thrown off his party bus) we can guess that McCoy was not taking a feminist ally stance.

What’s especially interesting is that Dunne has a wealth of sources just not found in local articles. He quotes McCoy’s older brother LeRon (“He’s just a moody person… He takes things personal”), his high school coach in Harrisburg (“He’s got a lot bottled up”), and a young RB at his old high school, who Shady mentored.

Most strikingly, Dunne quotes three current Philadelphia Eagles speaking on the record about their former teammate — Bryan Braman, Brent Celek, and fellow running back Kenjon Barner.

Where Philadelphia’s leading beat reporter, Jeff McLane, relies on anonymous sources and McCoy himself — who he has known for years — to present LeSean as a model citizen beloved by teammates, Dunne gives us a well-rounded character, flawed, loyal, heart on his sleeve. A guy you can imagine teammates loving, and shaking their heads over at the same time.

Dunne’s portrayal of McCoy matches the complex portrait painted by Seth Wickersham in ESPN The Magazine last August. This is a competitive and emotional guy, someone who cares, who rages, who doesn’t want to follow a coach’s strict rules, and — as Dunne says explicitly — a guy who bickered with Chip Kelly all last year.

In other words, a much more human and believable Shady than the one you read about in local newspapers.

Eagles – Bills: 6 Incidents

Mark Saltveit - December 13, 2015

Poor Rex Ryan. He loves to be the fun asshole center of attention with stunts like making IK Enemkpali a team captain against the Jets and Geno Smith, whose jaw (and career) IK broke.

In today’s game against the Eagles though, the press was obsessed with the Chip Kelly vs. LeSean McCoy grudge match. Even Rex making Shady the lone team captain barely got noticed.

There were plenty of quiet improvements for the Eagles, from Sam Bradford’s steady progress to Caleb Sturgis getting touchbacks on 5 of 6 kickoffs, and the development of the team’s 4-minute offense to pin down leads, using the 3-headed monster at RB that the Eagles dreamed of last summer.

Sam Bradford threw his first interception since October, after 10 in the first seven games, but you can’t blame this one on him. He put the ball right in Zach Ertz’ Brent Celek’s hands, and the DB just grabbed it away from him.

In fairness, though, Bradford’s failure to throw the ball away on 3rd down with 2:07 left in the game was inexcusable. Was he hoping to run off 7 seconds to get past the 2 minute warning? It makes no sense.

And I’m not one to complain about referees, but today’s officiating was horrible, from inept clock management to repeated blatant holds and even tackles on the Eagles DL that were not called until the end of the game.

But let’s be honest, people wanted to see some shit go down with all the hype about Shady’s revenge. So here are the six most interesting incidents from the game, as it actually expressed itself.

1. Shady kisses the Eagle, gets booed

As the teams took the field, McCoy knelt down to kiss the Eagle emblem, and the stands erupted with boos. Probably not how he imagined things going, but that’s Philadelphia for you.

2. Shady shoves Fletcher Cox after a run

The Eagles were clearly talking trash to McCoy, and with 13:46 left in the 2nd period, he came up from one tackle to jab Fletcher Cox in the shoulder. Instead of retaliating (right in from the of the ref), Cox wisely held his arms up in innocence. McCoy was lucky not to be penalized.

The Eagles defensive line did their shoving on the field, especially in the second half. More on that later.

3. Donnie Jones’ 52-yard completion to Bryan Braman

You’ve heard of arm punts. This was a foot pass, yet another artillery shot from Donnie Jones, with the left-footer’s spin drilling right through punt returner Thigpen’s hands. Just as they diagrammed it, Bryan Braman collected the ball for a key turnover. That led to Agholor’s first receiving touchdown, four plays later.

4. Late hit on Thigpen out of bounds on punt return

It wasn’t a huge confrontation, but Riley Cooper’s late hit near the end of the 3rd quarter moved the ball up from the Bills 27 41 to the Eagles 44 after yet another great punt by Donnie Jones. Buffalo converted this into a touchdown to tie the game. It could easily have lost the game for Philadelphia.

5. Huff gives himself up for Ertz’ 41-yard gain

Josh Huff has never been shy of contact. He executed a pick play to free up Zach Ertz with extra relish, getting knocked flat while Ertz rambled for 41 yards into the red zone. With the game tied 20-20 and 4 and a half minutes left in the game, it couldn’t have been a bigger play.

You hate to see Huff injured, and that’s the inevitable result of his all-out, self-sacrificing play. But his toughness led to the Eagles kicking the game-winning field goal with 3:26 left in the game.

6. Shady runs away.

After all his trash talking and posturing, McCoy disappeared in the second half. He had 12 carries for 63 yards before the break, but eight for only 11 yards after it. And seven of those eight came running the ball with 1:45 left at his own 31, when the Eagles were playing prevent defense and happy to encourage any run for obvious reasons.

Before the game, I predicted that Shady would have a couple big runs but finish with 60-70 yards and leave with an injury in the 3rd quarter. It turns out that he didn’t even need the injury to get capped at that mid-level production and have his revenge fantasies denied.

So at the end of the game, unsurprisingly, he ran off the field with 14 seconds left, rather than acknowledge the unhappy reality of the game. That fits, for a guy who refused Fletcher Cox’s hand during the game, who refused to talk to the press after the game, and has made a big deal over refusing to talk to Chip or shake his hand since the trade.

Oh, and by the way? Chip denied after the game that he ever called Shady this week. And in retrospect, it doesn’t make much sense that McCoy wouldn’t recognize Chip’s digits, even if he did delete his contact from his phone.

How funny would it be if that whole Inquirer story about McCoy hanging up on Chip was based on a prank phone call that Shady thought was real?

DeMarco needs some of Shady’s anger

Mark Saltveit - December 13, 2015

LeSean McCoy is pissed. He’s hanging up when Chip Kelly calls, won’t shake his hand, and photoshopped him out of all the selfies they took together.

The media love it and will explode in ecstasy if Shady runs for 279 yards today, because anger and revenge is everybody’s favorite sports narrative.

But anger cuts both ways. It fuels your effort, but clouds your judgment. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Then your lizard brain takes over and you forget your careful planning, flailing wildly.

One of Chip’s mantras is “Play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with you.” Overemotional players start fights, get penalties, and try to do too much on their own.

The Eagles will try to take advantage of Shady’s ego and pissiness with a combination of trash talk, game planning and inside knowledge of his moves. He might go off on them, but just as likely he’ll break a couple of big runs early, then leave the game injured in the third period after racking up 70-80 yards.

On the other hand, DeMarco Murray could use a bunch of McCoy’s anger. The latest reports say he went to Jeff Lurie last week because he thought Chip and Duce Staley were unapproachable.

Duce? You done lost everybody right there, young man. Chip, sure. He is kind of intimidating in person, a half-Belichick almost with his hard-case New England ball-busting. But your former-player position coach? No wonder DeMarco’s not hitting holes hard if he’s afraid of his own coaches.

Murray’s big free agent contract apparently turned him into a winsome high-school art student, resenting the alpha jocks and mooning over Morrissey songs.

Is he mad that he’s been demoted to fourth-string running back on the Eagles? Good. He should be furious and humiliated and raging to prove his manhood by pounding the Bills’ DL. You show ’em champ.

Because the only thing worse than playing with too much emotion is not having any at all.

Eric Rowe: Not Awful

Mark Saltveit - December 11, 2015

Yes, Megatron and Matthew Stafford picked on him in the Lions game, after Nolan Carroll broke his ankle. But as most intelligent observers noted, Eric Rowe played pretty solid defense against one of the best wide receivers in all of football, despite being a rookie rushed into the game [editor’s note: set up to fail] and giving up four inches in height to the 3-time All-Pro first teamer.

Tom Brady is not shy about picking on a weak link either, as Curtis Marsh learned in the 2014 Eagles – Patriots joint training camp. The Pats went right at him play after play. Sunday against the Patriots, Brady naturally tested Rowe, too, but the rookie confirmed his talent with an outstanding performance in his first NFL start against football’s best quarterback.

It gets better: he brings safety-level hard hitting to his game. His hit in this GIF stopped LeGarrette Blount short of the first down, and planted nightmares in his psyche that will linger for weeks.

It’s a mystery why Rowe, a second round pick, has been unable to get off the bench this year, but now that Nolan Carroll is out for the year injured, the Eagles will get a chance to see what he can do. With any luck, we’ll see more of Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff, too (now that Miles Austin was released).

Whether this team gets into the playoffs because of their terrible division or not, they are short on talent in several areas and in the midst of a terrible year. It’s the perfect time to see how their underused younger players can do.

Eagles – Patriots: Christmas Comes Early

Mark Saltveit - December 6, 2015

Just when the Eagles looked like they were hitting an all-time low, they string us out on a heaven’s high. Would you prefer to be an even-tempered, slightly above average Chiefs fan? Not me. This is the payoff that makes it worth it.

Everything was unpredictable about this game, to everyone except Kyle (who called the win).. Except that the NFL seems to work that way. As soon as something is obvious to everyone, you can be sure it isn’t going to happen. This is a Sunday where Blaine Gabbert not only led his team to victory, but also had a higher quarterback rating than Tom Brady and four times more rushing yards than Adrian Peterson.

So yeah, it’s crazy that the Patriots even struggled, much less lost, but it was sort of predictable. And their near-comeback from 21 points down was predictable, too. Tommy Lawlor called it:

tommy lawlors tweet about nervous with lead

But even given all that anti-logic, this was a crazy game. Here are five especially surprising miracles from today’s game.

1) The heroes of the game

Malcolm Jenkins and Connor Barwin did well, which is no surprise. It’s great that Jason Peters rallied despite injuries to throw a crucial block on third down and allow Bradford to extend the Eagles’ final drive. But he’s a stud. You expect that. Ditto Sproles’ big plays.

But no one predicted Riley Cooper would make two clutch, late plays to seal the victory — first, slapping an onside kick out of bounds, then catching the 14-yard pass that Peters’ block made possible.

We knew Tom Brady would try to pick on rookie Eric Rowe, since Nolan Carroll is out for the season with a broken ankle. We did not expect Rowe to break up the first and last plays of the Patriot’s final drive with two crucial shutdowns. Continue Reading

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The Chess Match: Chip vs. Belichick

Mark Saltveit - December 6, 2015

Perhaps the most interesting matchup in today’s game against New England is the battle of the coaches. Chip is a New England native who still spends all of his vacations in New Hampshire and visited the Patriots’ practices while he was still an assistant at UNH.

Belichick, meanwhile, had Chip come in to Foxboro in 2011 to school the Pats on his no-huddle offense and one-word play calls. He used those tactics to blitz Denver in the divisional round that season, 45-10, shutting down Tebowmania in the process.

Now the two coaches meet head-to-head, for the first time outside of training camp. And the mind games have already started. You may have noticed that Belichick added WR Damaris Johnson to the Pats roster Tuesday. New England has multiple injured receivers, but Johnson had been out of the league since September 5 and there are better receivers on the street.

The real reason Belichick signed Johnson is probably that he was a (completely ineffective) kick returner for the Eagles in 2013. So he knows Chip’s NFL scheme and can give away the secret inside knowledge.

Dirty pool, right? Maybe, but if so Chip started it.

You know that obscure wide receiver (Jonathan Krause) that Chip signed from the practice squad right before Thanksgiving? He was on the Patriots’ practice squad for most of the 2014 season and all of this year’s training camp, learning their system, playing against their DBs and scouting Amendola and Edelman up close.

He has a lot more to tell the Eagles coaches than Belichick might learn from Damaris, who was acquired by Andy Reid in 2012 and last played for Chip alongside Curtis Marsh and Alex Henery. In fact, Chip may have promoted Krause mostly to keep him out of Belichick’s clutches as injuries piled up on the Pats’ roster.

Eagles – Lions: 5 Counterpunches

Mark Saltveit - November 26, 2015

The Eagles surprised everyone by being even worse than last week. It didn’t seem possible.

On the team’s own website, Chris McPherson apologized to fans for the game, Ike Reese called out [some of] the players for not doing everything they could to win, and Greg Cosell identified Malcolm Jenkins as the guy who missed key tackles allowing Ameer Addullah’s 23-yard run today as well as Doug Martin’s 84-yard run last week.

That was the team’s own announcers. And everyone else was more negative, as they should have been.

You know how bad they played, and you probably watched at least part of the game, or you wouldn’t be reading this. So there’s no point rehashing that part of the story. Here are five other points worth considering. Not everyone played terribly or gave up. And since this team is sure to get blown up this off-season, perhaps including the coaches, it’s important to note where the problems were.

1. Real injuries hurt this team.

It wasn’t only lack of effort. The offense was moving well until Jason Peters left the game, after a lineman rolled up on his leg. Then the drive moved backwards and Caleb Sturgis sproinked a field goal off the post. Jason Kelce had entered the game hobbled by a bad knee, and the offense couldn’t weather these two weak spots at key positions in their ultrathin offensive line.

Sanchez was under severe pressure the rest of the game, taking six sacks and nine hits while the run game evaporated. This team’s problems this year started with Chip Kelly not investing enough in the offensive line, and that failure (more than scheme or play calling) has been the root of this team’s troubles.

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