Posts for josh huff

Who Stays, Who Goes Post-Chip?

Mark Saltveit - January 5, 2016

Now that Chip Kelly is gone, you can expect some of his boys to be out, too. But only Ed Marynowitz (who replaced Howie Roseman as Chip’s guy in personnel) has been fired so far, and no one has quit.

All of the position coaches and coordinators face replacement by the new coach, of course, but at a minimum Duce Staley is likely to stay (if he isn’t hired as coach or coordinator himself). Jeffrey Lurie would be trolling Eagles fans if he kept Billy Davis, but with Shurmur slated to interview for the head coach job, it wouldn’t be a shock if he stayed on as offensive coordinator.

Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin have done well with their units and aren’t especially tied to Kelly. On the other hand, Chip’s close associates Jerry Azzinaro (asst. HC & DL) and Ryan Day (QB coach) should be packing their bags already. Whether Chip gets a new job or not, they’re gone.

It will be interesting to see if the team keeps the sports science unit Chip built. The Eagles have done well in avoiding games lost to injury, but the sleep detectors and urine tests seemed to irritate players a lot. [Editor’s note: This will be interesting to see if the Eagles essentially dial back the clock and remove many of the advancements – smoothies, heart rate monitors, player tracking system, etc. – but I can’t imagine the more invasive stuff – sleep monitors and pee samples – stays.]

Among players, Jason Kelce was a vocal supporter of Chip’s system and had trouble getting push even in it this year. But he predates Kelly and the team has so many holes on the offensive line that they’d be foolish to replace him.

Ex-Oregon players Josh Huff, Kiko Alonso, Brandon Bair and Taylor Hart are obvious targets, and none have made themselves indispensable on the field. Kenjon Barner was a reasonable third running back this year, comparable to Bryce Brown with fewer fumbles. Shurmur actually played him more in Week 17 than Chip generally did, which is a good sign for him.

Safety Walter Thurmond was the most successful ex-Duck this year, but he’s a free agent. When interviewed, he was kind of meh about returning, indicating that, sure, he’d love to, but doesn’t think the team has enough money for him. Good safeties are in short supply, so expect him to follow the money elsewhere.

Eagles – Cardinals: 4 Developments

Mark Saltveit - December 21, 2015

The Eagles made this game more interesting than you might have expected, well into the third quarter, even as defensive backs dropped like flies. Then they started turning the ball over and giving up big runs, and the Cardinals blew them out.

Which is exactly what you would expect with an 11-2 team playing a 6-7 team. This would have been an upset comparable to the Patriots game if the Birds had pulled off the victory. Keeping it close for a while mostly just made it more painful when the predictable collapse arrived.

So what did we learn, good and bad? Here are some new developments from tonight’s game.

1. DeMarco Murray dropped off the two-deep roster.

Though he was no longer the most-used back last week against the Bills, DeMarco still had the second most carries in that game and appeared to be part of a balanced three-way rotation.

Last night, that all went away. Murray didn’t get a carry until the second half and was an afterthought at best. So, when he finally did get the ball, did he come in all angry and fresh and rip off big runs? Nope. He ran twice for a grand total of three yards.

I don’t know if he mouthed off to the coaches, or they just finally admitted that he sucks and feeding him more snaps isn’t going to fix it.

Unfortunately, Ryan Mathews didn’t exactly seize the opportunity to cement himself as the number one back. He piled up 58 yards on 11 carries, including a 20 yard gain, but also fumbled away a drive, and miscommunicated with Sam Bradford on a short pass, leading to a pick six. And he failed to get the first down on a fourth-and-one at the Arizona 8, though the play call and blocking had a lot to do with that. Continue Reading

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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?

Why Didn’t Josh Huff and DeMarco Murray Get More Touches?

Mark Saltveit - November 24, 2015

At least Chip Kelly admitted that he was out-coached Sunday.

The Eagles scored two first half touchdowns, fueled by Josh Huff (39 yard catch-and-run, 39 yard kickoff return) and DeMarco Murray (three 10+ yard runs). Then they went away from these players and the offense fizzled. Huff ended the game with only 17 offensive snaps (of the team’s 71) and not a single target after his touchdown. Murray had 30 snaps (42%), but only 13 carries (for 64 yards, 4.9 YPC).

The lack of runs was puzzling. [Editor’s note: Mark is new here and clearly wasn’t around for the Andy Reid Era. Welcome to Philadelphia, Mark.] Chip’s system does best with a rough balance between run and pass, something like 45% – 55%, and they averaged 4.9 yards per carry on Sunday (including 11 on a beautiful read-option keeper by Sanchez). Yet they ran on only 28 plays and passed 41 times, completing just 26 with three sacks and three back-breaking interceptions.

In Murray’s case, he fumbled twice, which may be one reason he didn’t get more touches. (The Birds kept the ball both times, as the first was re-fumbled by the Bucs and the second ruled down by contact.) That doesn’t explain why Kenjon Barner, who played well, only got one snap before garbage time and Sproles saw little action even after scoring a touchdown. Sanchez couldn’t deliver even screens to Sproles through the air. So run it.

Of course conventional wisdom says to pass more when you fall behind. But that’s not the way Chip’s system works. It’s built on big runs at tempo speed, especially as you wear down your opponent. Oregon scored (and still scores) at record levels running, by breaking 10, 20 and 40 yards plays. And those runs open up the passing game.

The passes Sunday were short, too– only a yard and a half longer than the runs (at 6.4 YPC). If your goal is to come back quickly, that’s not the kind of passes that will do it. And Sanchez was pretty wild with his throws. He overthrew Celek and Ertz on consecutive plays to kill one first quarter drive, and missed at least half a dozen screens or simple throws to the flat.

Even assuming the need to pass, it makes no sense that the team went away from Huff on a day they sorely needed play makers. He was clearly in a rhythm. On his touchdown, he caught a simple slant six yards past the line of scrimmage and made six defenders miss as he cut all the way across the field, running with vision and decisiveness. But that was his only target of the game.

At his press conference yesterday, Chip Kelly seemed a bit puzzled himself: Continue Reading

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Does Sam Bradford Need Contacts?

Mark Saltveit - November 17, 2015

Sam Bradford had a pretty good game against Miami before he got injured. But looking at the coaches’ tape emphasizes how skewed he was in favor of short passes. The three big catch-and-runs to Brent Celek hid this fact statistically, but Bradford left a lot of meat on the bone with his reluctance to throw long. Either he just hates to throw long, or he literally can’t see receivers more than 8 yards away. Let’s chip in to get the man an eye exam.

This was a big factor when things started to sour in the second quarter. Just after the two minute warning, Sam threw short of the sticks on 3rd and five — which takes some effort — but Huff fought through three defenders to get the first down anyway.

Then, after a run was stuffed, it was 2nd and 14. Bradford threw to Sproles just over the line of scrimmage, even though he had Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews five yards down field, crossing each other on mesh routes, wide open. Yes, Sproles is good in the open field, but on this play he was flat-footed and facing the backfield, while Agholor and Matthews (if hit in stride) were in much better position to run past nearby defenders for a big gain.

Sproles in the flat? Why?

Sproles in the flat? Why?

Even if they were tackled immediately, they would have had five more yards than Sproles got. No matter how short the passes available to him are, Bradford seems more comfortable throwing shorter yet.

The following play was 3rd and 12. (See the photo at the top of this post.) Cooper came wide open running an out from the seam, safely past the sticks. Sam threw instead to Ertz, with two men on him, six yards short of a first down. (He also threw behind him, resulting in an incompletion and a punt.)

When a short catch-and-run might have been a good choice, Bradford still picked the wrong one. On the play right before the blocked punt, facing 3rd and 14, he didn’t wait quite long enough for the stick route by Huff to develop, out near the first down marker. Instead, he threw at Ryan Mathews in the flat, 12 yards short of the promised land.

Checkdown to Mathews; Ertz was wide open, Huff had a stick route

Checkdown to Mathews; Ertz was wide open, Huff had a stick route

OK, I don’t have to face Ndamukong Suh racing in to flatten me. I get that. But there were two check down receivers wide open on the play– Mathews running toward the left sideline and Zach Ertz mid-field. Sam threw to (and way behind) Mathews, who spun counter-clockwise to get his hands on it but couldn’t hang on. But even if he had pulled it in, or Bradford had hit him in stride, the odds of getting the first down were very slim. All the closing CB had to do was push him out of bounds, with Mathews’ own momentum helping.

Ertz was on the right hash mark with room to run, and Eagles tight ends already had 120 yards on three tight end crosses at that point in the game. I still think the longer pass to Huff was the better choice, despite a tighter window, but hitting Ertz in stride was the only way a short pass was going to pick up this first down.

Sam Bradford was generally pretty good Sunday (19-25 for 236 yards, 1 TD), and I haven’t given up on him yet as a quarterback. He has even shown he can go long, in the Washington game. But he defaults to ultra-short, and the Eagles’ coaches need to correct this tendency. Bradford now has a couple of weeks to study film all day and get on top of this. If he doesn’t, I’ll join everyone else in concluding he has no upside worth exploring.

UPDATE: Some commenters argued that the first picture was taken after the ball was thrown and reflected the DBs moving to the ball. OK, here’s an earlier still taken as the ball was thrown. That cornerback (McCain) was not in any position to contest a sideline pass to Cooper. He was flat-footed and never dropped below the 36, while Cooper was in stride crossing the 30 and headed downfield. The other CB, Jamar Taylor, actually would have been in a better position to make a play but he was plastered to Miles Austin and going the other direction full speed.

Mathews INC as Bradford threw; McCain flat-footed at the 36

Mathews INC as Bradford threw; McCain flat-footed at the 36

The Many Wide Open Receivers Sam Bradford Didn’t See

Mark Saltveit - October 28, 2015

In Sunday’s frustrating loss to Carolina, Sam Bradford actually played much better than earlier in the season, and he was hurt by a bad rash of receiver drops. You’ve heard that several times already, and it’s true.

On most of the check downs he was criticized for, Carolina just did a great job of covering and Bradford made the right call. Other plays were designed swing passes.

But a close look at the coaches tape shows that he also missed several open receivers who would have made much better targets.

Start with the interception, which Jordan Matthews definitely should have caught — even though it was one of the few times Bradford threw behind his receiver in this game (after doing that far too often earlier in the season). Three receivers were open on the play for short passes at the 25, and Matthews was much less open than Josh Huff or Miles Austin out wide (circled in blue):

Bradford's read on Matthews int

On the next drive, Bradford took a coverage sack on 2nd and 9, and — as on many plays — Carolina’s secondary covered all of the receiving options very well. Here though, Bradford missed a great opportunity to run on the right side of the line. Every potential tackler within 20 yards had a blocker. Instead, Kawaan Short smothered him for a 7-yard loss: Continue Reading

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Everyone is Wrong About How Chip Kelly “Needs” To Use DeMarco Murray

Mark Saltveit - October 21, 2015

One of the most prevalent narratives about this Eagles team is that Chip Kelly wants runners who go north/south (end zone to end zone), not east/west (sideline to sideline). That’s why he traded Shady and picked up DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, as he said himself. So why hasn’t Murray been doing well?

On Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden blamed it on Murray running east/west, by which he meant that the Eagles were running to the outside, with sweeps and outside zone plays. That’s a misunderstanding of what Chip means by north/south, which is hitting the hole and running through contact, instead of dancing sideways to avoid defenders.

Chip didn’t mean that it’s bad to for the running back to execute the called outside run, or that he himself shouldn’t be calling them — they’re a very big part of his offense. Chip loves misdirection, and outside runs are critical to get the defense flowing one way so you can run a counter the other way, whether it’s a bootleg, a bubble screen to the other side, or a slot screen like the one that Josh Huff gained 15 yards on in the first quarter.

(That clip in that link is from Fran Duffy’s excellent breakdown of Chip’s latest tweaks to the running game.)

counter screen to Huff vs Giants 10-18-2015

Gruden’s comments made no sense [Editor’s note: I think his comments about running from the shotgun did, however. Generally speaking, at least.] LeSean McCoy jitterbugged sideways even on inside zone runs up the middle last year. Sometimes he evaded defenders and picked up a big gain, but often he was tackled for a loss as a result. On the other hand, one of DeMarco Murray’s staple plays for the Cowboys last year was the outside zone stretch play, where he ran horizontal to the line of scrimmage until a hole opened up, then cut back.

But once he found a hole, he pounded it decisively, breaking arm tackles and picking up a lot of yards after contact. ProFootballFocus tabulates yards after contact (YCo), which is a good measure of N/S running. Murray led the NFL in runs with three or more yards after contact (137), and Ryan Mathews was even better on a percentage basis (35%, ahead of Le’Veon Bell). Shady, on the other hand, was one of the worst in the league.

There have been a lot of reasons for Murray’s disappointing results so far. The offensive line has been bad, obviously, and Chip’s play calling was getting predictable (they always ran to the opposite side of where the RB lines up) until the last two games. Murray’s hamstring injury was probably a factor too, as he looked distinctly slow compared to Mathews and Sproles, who ran much better with the same line and play calls.

But several of Murray’s big runs against the Giants went around the end. Here’s a clip of his touchdown. Does it look like running toward the sideline is DeMarco’s problem?

Murray TD vs Giants 20-18-2015

Eagles – Giants: 7 Ruined Narratives

Mark Saltveit - October 20, 2015

The Eagles game worked out the right way, leaving the Birds in first place in the miserable NFC East weeks before I thought they’d be able to claw their way into that position. It was an ugly game, obviously, but it broke a lot of popular theories about this team and the Giants. That’s at least interesting. Here are a few of the failed stories:

1) Sam Bradford was rusty, he’ll get better.

Nope, he’s getting worse. It was intolerable when Bradford threw two interceptions in each of the first two games. Then he kept his slate clean against the Jets and Washington, leading to false optimism. Now he has has returned to Sanchezian double-INT games, and upped the ante with a third tonight.

I’m not going to advocate benching Sam because people forget all of the problems that Sanchez had: besides interceptions, he failed to see wide open receivers (e.g. the Seattle game), and never threw downfield or even outside the numbers. And while he could theoretically run with the ball, the fact that he never did — and his success the one time he did, in the first Dallas game — made his refusal to do so even more painful.

But Bradford was just bad tonight. His long throws have been routinely short all year, and his three interceptions tonight were made worse by the fact that he wasn’t even under any pressure. The Eagles had a hefty lead. It was a battle of wills between Sam trying to let the Giants back into the game, and their stubborn refusal to accept his gift. In the end, New York “won” that epic crap-off.

A lot of you wondered earlier in the year why Bradford didn’t take shots down the field. Well, tonight Sam showed you!

I suppose Bradford could still turn this season around and prove that he’s a legitimate franchise quarterback, but right now, the best thing you can say for him is that he helped the team a lot by not signing a long-term contract when they asked him to.

2. Eli Manning is awesome in Ben McAdoo’s offense.

The praise for Eli and McAdoo was totally out of hand before this game, and up through the first drive which in fact was a thing of beauty for New York. The MNF crew were even going on about Tom Coughlin’s “New Age West Coast offense,” which, yeah, is cutting edge 1985 stuff.

What that offense mostly is, is predictable. The Eagles destroyed it last year in a humiliating shutout, and only allowed one TD drive tonight before they got New York’s number. Sure, the Giants are executing better and improved their offensive line somewhat — Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t even playing well yet last October when the Eagles faced him — but the Eagles have figured a couple of things out since then, too.

Against the Eagles tonight, Eli Manning was the same old Eli, looking nervous and getting picked off a lot. The short-passing game undoubtedly did reduce the margin of victory, though, since the Eagles’ run defense was a steely-eyed monster and any alternative was was bound to do better. Even the Colts’ Swinging Gate play. Continue Reading

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