Sunday, March 21, 2010

Offseason and What is Going On


In 2008 the Eagles defense was sensational.  They finished in the Top 5 in virtually every category and Top 3 in a lot of them.  The stars played like stars and the role players did a terrific job as well.  In 2009 the defense fell to 12th in yards allowed and 20th in points allowed.  There was a real mixture of problems. 

Before we talk about the problems, let's look at a trend


That is the point total allowed in the first 8 games, the second 8 games, and the playoffs.  Notice how the numbers went up?  Anything we can read into that? 

We had some veteran players who either wore down or just weren't getting the job done.  We had role players who had shone in '08 disappear down the stretch in '09. 

* Chris Clemons started slow in 2008, but played well late in the year and got our hopes up that he was going to be a good player in 2009.  That never happened.  He was credited with only 4 solo tackles and 3 sacks this year. 

* Joselio Hanson got off to a good start in '09.  He picked off a pass and had 3 PBUs in the season opener.  That was far and away his best game of the year.  MmmBop was solid for the first 7 games, but then got suspended for a month.  He returned and got hurt.  At the end of the year he was a liability in coverage.  Tony Romo was targeting him with regularity in the last 2 games. 

* Will Witherspoon was great upon arrival.  He had a sack, INT, and FF in his first game here.  He ended the season with... 1 sack, 1 INT, and 1 FF.  The playmaking ability disappeared instantly, for some odd reason.  He did cover well throughout the year, but his run defense was very inconsistent.  I'm not knocking the guy falsely since he's been cut.  Go back and read my Game Reviews.  Down the stretch I was writing "Up and down game" in regard to Will more often than not. 

* Sean Jones never showed that he could handle playing FS.  He wanted to come up and play in the box.  The Eagles took a chance because of his potential, but it didn't work out. 

* Chris Gocong was a 2-down run stuffer.  He is good at that role.  The problem is that he's only made small strides as a pass defender.  He isn't terrible, but after 2 1/2 years of starting it is disappointing not to see more progress.  The Eagles gave him some snaps at MLB.  If he was versatile, that might make him worth keeping around.  Chris was completely lost in the middle.  One of the problems Chris had is that teams figured out the way to run on us was to go to a 3-WR set.  That took Gocong and the DTs off the field.  Draw plays out of the shotgun killed us.  The team obviously feels that committing to a 2-down run stuffer isn't the smart way to go. 

* Darren Howard is a tricky subject.  You look and see 6.5 sacks and 2 FFs and think that he was a valuable reserve.  2 of those sacks came in the season opener.  2 came late in the year against the Giants.  The rest of the year he was pretty quiet.  The problem with Darren is that he's not a guy that gets regular pressure.  Mike Mamula got good pressure on QBs, but had trouble getting sacks.  Let's use a baseball analogy.  Howard isn't a guy that hits mostly doubles, but gets the occasional homer.  He is a guy that strikes out or hits a home run.  The simple case against him is this...his sack total dropped from 10 to 65...he's about to turn 34 this fall...and he didn't have so much as one solo tackle in any of the games against Dallas.  He's an aging player who's play is declining and who failed to show up in 3 huge losses to our biggest rival. 

* Sheldon Brown played well early in the 2009 season.  He got burned for the go-ahead TD in the first Dallas loss and that seemed to be the beginning of the end.  He struggled the next week at SD.  He hurt his hamstring and struggled at Chicago. Dallas ate him alive in the last couple of games.  Multiple guys got the best of Sheldon.  Sheldon was very up and down in the 2nd half of the season.  Injuries hurt him to be sure.  Still, he's going to turn 31.  He wasn't a fast corner even in his younger days.  Is Sheldon a top shelf CB when healthy or a player who will begin to decline?  Playing well against a pedestrian passing attack like SF is fine, but we can't have a CB who struggles when we face a good passing attack (DAL, SD). 

Sheldon and Joselio are the only players on this list who are still Eagles.  The question is whether that is true at the end of this week, this spring, or this summer.  At the very least, Hanson will be challenged for his spot.  Brown is probably headed in a different direction.  He wants a raise.  That won't happen.  I've heard rumblings that the Eagles will shop him around. 

So what are the Eagles thinking?  Why make these moves now? 

The point is to find players you are committed to.  The defense was very good in 2008 so the team brought back those guys for 2009.  Things didn't work out so well.  You decide who the building blocks are and then make that the foundation.  For us that is the DTs, Trent Cole, Stewart Bradley, Asante Samuel, and Quintin Mikell.  Moise Fokou and Darryl Tapp will join them as starters.  We have other players to mix in with them:  Juqua Parker, Antonio Dixon, Akeem Jordan, Macho Harris, Quintin Demps.  There are still holes to fill. 

The Eagles could have kept Spoon and Howard around, but simply didn't see either guy fitting in to the long term plans.  Spoon only had a year left on his deal.  Howard was a player on the decline.  Keeping them around would have been the band-aid solution we talk about.  Howard's role can be taken by Juqua and/or Victor Abiamiri this year.  Both guys have played DT in the Nickel.  VA actually does it quite well.  WLB is still a mystery to me.  I have to believe the Eagles have some plan in place. 

There are still moves to be made.  GM Howie Roseman was interviewed by this week and made mention that moves would take place between now and the draft.  Dave Spadaro had this blurb in a recent column:

League meetings in Orlando straight ahead. This is the time when the talks really heat up and trades and deals are made. Why do I have the feeling that this week is going to be very, very interesting?

The moves could just be trades involving Gocong and Sheldon.  That would likely net us some draft picks, which is a good thing with such a deep draft.  Maybe the Eagles have been talking to teams about player-for-player swaps.  Those aren't all that common in the NFL, but this is an odd year.  I wish a QB move would happen, but don't hold your breath.  I'm still hearing mixed things about what exactly is going on. 

There are some pro targets we could still look at.   

* S Donte Whitner
* S O.J. Atogwe

* DL Anthony Hargrove
* DL Jimmy Wilkerson

* LB Derrick Johnson
* LB Rocky McIntosh
* LB Nick Roach
* LB Clint Ingram
* LB Thomas Howard

* CB Richard Marshall
* CB Carlos Rogers

I've talked about many of these guys already.  Some are UFAs and other RFAs.  One of the things to keep in mind is that we might gain picks if we do trade Gocong or Sheldon.  If so, we might turn around and use a pick to deal for an RFA.  Say we get a 3rd rounder for Sheldon.  Could we turn that into CB Richard Marshall or LB Derrick Johnson?  That's an intriguing thought. 

I haven't heard any good rumors about these players.  This is pure speculation.  I listed Hargrove and Wilkerson as DL because they are the kind of guys that came into the league as DEs, but have really made their mark as Nickel DTs.  We just cut Darren Howard and that could possibly make them attractive targets.  Each guy has issues and that may be enough to keep them off our wish list. 

I didn't list any guys that play C or TE.  It sounds like Nick Cole is going to get a chance to be the C.  We also have a few other guys behind him with some potential.  TE is a solid position in my mind.  Brent Celek is a terrific young player.  Cornelius Ingram is a player the team is excited about.  He is coming off a torn ACL, but that happened last summer so he should be ready by May.  The team is also optimistic about Martin Rucker.  They like what they've seen in practice.  The only problem I have with this group is that all 3 are pass catchers.  I'd love to have a blocker or at least a blocker/catcher among the group.  Alex Smith did well in that roll for us last year.  There is a real deep group of TEs in the draft.  We could find a blocker or big guy to challenge for a roster spot without having to use a high pick. 

The Eagles may not like any of the players I listed above, due to their talent evaluation, baggage, or the compensation required to get them.  Again, I'm just speculating.  You can bet the Eagles are talking to the other 31 teams about all kinds of players.  You want to feel teams out to see who is available and at what price.  One guy that a lot of fans have asked me about is Browns ILB D'Qwell Jackson.  I don't think he is going anywhere.  Cleveland knows how good he is.  Plus, we're set at MLB with Stewart Bradley.  There is virtually no chance that Bradley is moved from the middle.  A guy as talented as Jackson could move to WLB for us, but I don't think we're giving up a 1st for him and then moving him to a spot he's never played.  I know the Eagles like to be creative, but not so much when 1st round picks are involved.  One thing to keep in mind to the RFA situation...the compensation asking price for players may have been higher in early March.  With so little action in the RFA market you may see teams lowering their demands as they realize that something is better than nothing. 

I do think the Eagles will add a player or two between now and draft weekend, if for nothing other than depth/competition.  The recent cuts have opened some spots on the roster. 

These cuts are not about saving money.  The Eagles would gladly pay Darren Howard if he was consistently disruptive.  The Eagles would absolutely have kept Will Witherspoon if he was a playmaker in multiple games.  Instead, the Eagles saw a pair of older players who didn't play well in consecutive losses to Dallas at the end of the year.  You can argue that there is a youth movement going on.  We have a strong defensive core in place.  Let's surround them with ascending players or guys in their prime so that the defense can get back to championship level by 2011 or 2012. 

I know some people think I'm being too optimistic in regard to Darryl Tapp.  That's a possibility.  He could turn out to be a lesser version of Juqua Parker.  I don't think that is the case.  The arguments against Tapp are the fact that he's coming off a 2.5 sack season and that Seattle was so willing to let him go. 

The Seahawks would like to transition to a 3-4 defense.  Pete Carroll obviously doesn't see Tapp as the guy he wants for OLB.  Plus, that franchise is in the middle of rebuilding.  Take the draft pick and go add a young player who is a better fit for the team.  Tapp wasn't available because he was a lousy player or someone the 'Hawks were looking to dump. 

As for his performance in 2008...Tapp was pushed back to being the #3 DE.  The coaching staff had Patrick Kerney at LDE and 1st round pick Lawrence Jackson at RDE.  The fact that Tapp was benched in favor of a 1st round pick hardly makes him unique.  As for the notion of only having 2.5 sacks...ever hear of Derrick Burgess?  He was our starting RDE for all of 2004 and had 2.5 sacks.  He went to Oakland the next year and got to spend a lot of time at LDE and posted 16 sacks.  Burgess was able to play a lot on the left side, which is where he's most comfortable.  He had played RDE opposite of Kearse for us in '04 and struggled to beat LTs.  Tapp is more natural at LDE.  Am I saying he'll turn into Derrick Burgess?  No way.  I do think he can be a solid 8-sack guy on the left side.  For some players there is a huge difference in playing LDE and RDE. 

The return of Stewart Bradley to MLB will give the D a huge boost.  He played very well in 2008, especially late in the year.  Moise Fokou will have a whole offseason to practice at SAM.  I know many are concerned about his size.  He's up to 236 pounds already. 

We do have holes at FS, WLB, and very possibly CB.  Those areas must be addressed.  Draft picks can contribute in the secondary.  LB is more of a mystery.  I'm just not sure what the Eagles want to do. 

The offseason is 2 1/2 weeks old.  Things started quiet, but we've seen the action pick up in the last 10 days.  That trend could continue with some wheeling and dealing at the owners meetings.  Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed for some QB action. 


RDW said...

Agree with almost all points except I can't see fokou at SAM and I think Jordan is terrific at Will. Note he won the starting job in 2008 and improved his stat count every game. That drop-off this year roughly coincided with Akeem's knee injury. Even at 236 Fokou can't match-up with Witten and the other TE's in the NFC East. It's especially difficult because Assante is such a sissy.

I orginally hoped for a DE in the draft but with Tapp and Reids weak tenders on GoCong and Gaithers it seems he might break his pattern and go LB. Sean Weatherspoon is a top athlete with a high motor who is also smart and can play all 3 positions. Losing Bradley left the Eagles far too small allowing Dallas to abuse us. A tad short at 6-1 Sean is a leaper and strong in pass coverage. He's 245 and will likely add at least 5. He can play SAM and MLB if Bradley goes down.

I'd also consider Earl Thomas if he were there at 24 but would pass on Mays. My ideal is to get Nate Allen in the 2nd. Reid has to get a top line FS to reduce the horrendous number of passing TDs.

In that regard I am easier on Sheldon than you. He also was solid until he pulled his hammy. There is enough talent at CB Reid will have several choices at 70. Talent that with a little seasoning can start at nickel and challenge Sheldon before year end. I'd even consider taking a 2nd CB at 87 although I think AJ Edds would be a solid pickup, even if we take Weatherspoon at 24. AJ is a pure SAM with good speed but very solid fundamentals and football IQ. He excels at pass defense but he's also solid on the run and screens and gets penetration. These two would solidify the LBs for many years. It would be the most versatile and talented group under Reid.

That's not to say Wilson (24), Nate Allen (56), BTA (best D talent avail at 70), and AJ Edds would not be a terrific draft. I just think Weatherspoon is so good and so versatile we can lock down LB and still get a CB Stud at 70.

It would be ideal to get a #1 for McNabb (say Cardinals, SF) and a #3 for Vick (buffalo?) and add a Carlos Dunlap and a BPA in the 3rd but as it is Reid can made a serious step toward turning over the D this year. I suspect he might look for some OL talent in those 1st four picks but my strong preference is stay D and rent a veteran guard for now. Address OL in 2011.

Jason said...

If there was a team that offered a 3rd for Vick and we traded McNabb, I would definitely have a hard time turning down the deal. However, what do we do at backup QB? I am fine with Kolb as the starter, but I don't think you can draft two backup QBs and be comfortable. I also don't really know who is left available in FA as a backup QB. Like I said, I would have a very tough time turning down that deal, but I also think we would leave ourselves extremely vulnerable at QB if we trade both McNabb and Vick.

RDW said...

Agree there's risk in trading both. I've lost all faith in McNabb. I know he's better than average but he's too inconsistent. He was brutal against Dallas and last year against the Cardinals. I think a 1st this year is simply too valuable to pass up. But if we trade either one we have to draft a QB in the top 100 and if we trade both rent a Vet and draft a Qb. Garcia might be a year too old but this O is so good we don't need a star. We need a guy who won't beat himself, won't try to do too much and is reasonably accurate.

I think this draft is that good. My dream scenario is McNabb to the Cards for # 26 and Vick to Buffalo for #72. We have 24, 26, 56, 70, 72, 87. Those 1st 3 picks should be starter quality and the last 3 quality depth now, strong starting potential.

eagles nut said...

I would be seriously disappointed if the Eagles trade Sheldon for anything less than a 2nd which is unlikely considering his age. Sheldon has been durable throughout his career. He battled injuries last year but half a season is not enough to call him declining because of age. All CBs are going to lose a little speed which is why it makes sense to move Sheldon to FS and then draft a CB high. I know some fans don't like the Eagles switching players from their "natural" position but Sheldon's skill set is perfectly suited for the safety position.

As far as QB goes, there aren't any good options on the FA market. Perhaps if we trade McNabb we could get a QB back in the deal. For example, if McNabb went to MIN try to get Rosenfels back. If to BUF, try to get Fitzpatrick back.

RDW said...

Tom's optimism on Tapp is warranted if you look past sacks. Dallas crushed us early attacking the left side on the ground and then with a series of quick screens and a few draws. Parker is a nice pass rusher but weak run stopper. The combination of Parker, Assante and Fokou was seriously undersized, especially without Bradley. Tapp is much better on the run and with Parker and Abiamiri in the rotation will allow Cole to take a few less snaps a game and stay a little fresher, longer into the season. I'd still like them to draft DE early as long as they don't reach but this is an upgrade over 2009.

RDW said...

I can't imagine we can get a 2nd for Sheldon. He's going to be 31a and he's was injured part of the year. I'm a big fan. They needed him to play hurt after losing Hobbs and he did. But he also got burnt. He was never a pro bowler or big pick guy. I think he's terrific but I can't see even a 4th at his age.

RDW said...

True, there's nothing out there at QB. That's why McNabb and Vick should have value. What makes this opportunity unique is the draft is so deep and our offense so talented. A wiley Vet, with this team, can be effective.

If we trade both and Kolb breaks his leg game one we're probably hosed. If it's a 3-4 week thing a Garcia type can fill in. If we have to rely on a rookie taken in the 3rd or 4th round we made a mistake.

Stephen said...

Moise Fokou is not a player I am high on. He looked very lost when he was out there. I'd be thrilled if we had a good plan B for SAM.

Netherman said...

@RDW, I like your thinking. I would even give up McNabb for the Rams #2 and a conditional pick next year. At 33 there are going to be 1st round grade guys. Maybe you even pick Feeley back up in the trade to solidify your backup role. Then trade Vick later and add someone like Skelton as a project. I am really hoping Weatherspoon falls to us, but I would be perfectly happy with Iupati, Weatherspoon, Wilson, Hughes, Thomas, or JPP at that spot too. This looks like one of those years where you can really use those extra picks and bolster a roster. I want them to grab Edds too in case Fokou continues to be a penalty machine. Let's say you snagged McCourtey or Robinson with 33, Saffold with our second, Burnett with a third. I could definitely be happy with that.

RDW said...

I think Reid has great options at SAM. I'd been hoping to go DE early but Tapp takes some pressure off there. Losing Bradley was deadly. I'm a GoCong fan but he's not a pass defender and should not have been expected to become one. Clearly McDermot doesn't care for him. At the end of the season we had all weakside LBs besides Trot. Sean Weatherspoon is 6-1, 245, very strong, fast and athletic. He can play all 3 LB spots. I'd also like to add AJ Edds of Iowa a pure SAM. At 6-4, 246 average speed but above average football IQ an ideal SAM. He's there at 87 and maybe in the 4th. I'd take both. I'd expect Weatherspoon to start at SAM, Bradley and Jordan with Edds ready to compete before year end. If Bradley or Jordan miss time the option might be to move Sean over and put AJ at SAM.

I want to keep Fokou but he's not a SAM. He can matchup with NFC TE's. Even at 236 he's giving up 30 pounds to Witten. I keep Gaithers as well as backup at Will and MLB. He's not a star but he's reliable and cheap.

Christian said...

IF we trade McNabb to the 49ers for a first and a third then their backup QB or even Alex Smith would easily packed in. Same with the Bills or Cardinals.
But if we trade McNabb, I´m almost sure that we won´t trade Vick. Vick would mentor Kolb a bit and would take pressure of him. Vicks role would expand.

Trade Gocong +X for D.Jackson to the Browns!

If you are really thinkg about trading Sheldon you would create a huge huge new hole. And every team in the league would know the eagles will take a CB in round one. Can´t trade him before the draft. And why should we be able to get a better CB for the pick we get for Sheldon? The team offering us this pick must be stupied because they could get the better CB with the same pick. Not much sense in it in my eyes.

RDW said...

I'd take the Rams's 2nd in a heartbeat. But the strong consensus they're going QB. I'm a bit surprised. I thought their coach would prefer one of the DT's and might go for McNabb or Vick. Mcnabb is still an above average Qb and a workout freak. He'll play 5 more years. If Bradford is a bust the Rams are screwed.

The mind boggles at the options the Eagles could have if they get 33 and say 72 for Vick from buffalo.

He's one dream: Weatherspoon (24), Carlos Dunlap (33), Nate Allen (56), Cb Stud (70) development QB (72), Edds (87). At 70 there will be at least 5 talented CBs. Maybe not ready to start day one but able to learn from Sheldon and replace him next year. Weatherspoon and Allen start day one. Dunlap competes as the most physically talented De on the roster.

Pitmanite said...

the last thing we want is vick mentoring kolb. outside of having oodles of talent vick hasn't shown any real grasp on understanding what it takes to be a great qb. also, there's no way vick comes back here happy to be kolb's backup so my bet is he wouldn't even try to mentor him.

eagle joe said...

Tommy, very insightful article, can you comment on ESPN rumors article about Mcnabb to 49ers now that there is a regime change in San Francisco.It seems owner tried to pursue Warner and Cutler at one time but GM who was let go was against it.Owner would like to win now.

RDW said...

I agree Vick is no mentor. It's to his credit he's been the boy scout but he never really studied the game. Kolb is a coaches son. He does not want to be here and why would he? So Reid has to try to get value for him and a credible replacement. That's not a slam dunk but it's best for all.

Cliff said...

Longest post ever, followed by the longest comments ever.

LOL. Funny how I thought it was the off-season.

Myron said...

One thing, Tommy, you need to note regarding the ascending pattern of points allowed throughout the season: Jim Johnson was a *master* at making late-season adjustments in divisional games. Do you remember how in 2008 the Giants and Cowboys hung 30+ points on us in both of their initial games with the Eagles? And then in their second games with the Eagles, they were mostly held in check by the defense. That is something you have to accept that we may not have with McDermott: the Jim Johnson divisional game adjustment factor.

Regarding the Linebacker situation: what does everyone think of this idea... draft Jerry Hughes in the first round. He played DE in college, but he looked very fluid in the linebacker drills during the Combine. Perhaps he could lose some weight and play LB? He'd be ideal as a 3-4 OLB, but maybe he could play WILL or SAM in a 4-3 too? And then if he doesn't pan out at that position, install him as a pass-rushing DE. Or is this just another Gocong situation waiting to happen? :)

Tom Ballman said...

FYI. D'Qwell Jackson has a second round tender. He started wlb is rookie year and I think second year as well. Plus he is disgruntled contract wise. I would REALLY hate to see any rookie linebacker on the field next year at SLB or WLB unless that person is Weatherspoon fom Missouri or maybe some other top 100 pick. What is that likelyhood?

Way too risky (like trying to convert DT into fullbacks) not to deal for a LB and it seems by the moves made thus far in preparation for the draft (filling obvious voids with vets, LDE, FS) that keeping BPA is the definite primary motive.

Oh this wait is brutal.

Suprise us FO, get the kick ass proven young LB. Don't shy away on account of the Will Witherspoon experience.

Pitmanite said...

I don't pretend to know much about Tapp, so I am more than glad to defer to Tommy on this one. The only issue I had was his rebuttal to people who were looking at Tapp's production as a concern. It felt like Spadaro's spin where somehow when he does his math 2+2=14.

Tommy said something like, "don't look at his sack numbers because you have to keep in my he was the 3rd DE so only had 5 starts." He then went on to say that he thinks he'll have between 6-8 sacks and MAYBE MORE. Saying things like the scheme didn't fit his strengths, he's moving to LDE, which fits his strengths better, and he'll be opposite T. Cole are all sound arguments. But it just sounded funny to say that he was stuck behind two guys who didn't have more than 5 sacks on a 5-11 team, yet somehow this added up to him possibly having 10 sacks for us. Granted teams are more inclined to start a 1st round pick (L. Jackson), but if Tapp was lighting it up in practice and in game situations, there's no way a coach on the hot seat whose watching his team get crushed wouldn't play the absolute best players at each position.

I like that the Eagles are purging their defense of guys who clearly aren't playmakers and bringing in a good young DE like Tapp. I don't think we're a contender with the way our defense stands, and if Mcnabb is back, so if we don't see the playmakers out there right now I'd much rather we get rid of guys like Howard, Clemons,etc, and try to add some young studs through the draft.

Alexander said...

Trading Sheldon would really disappoint me. He's already proven that he's not going to allow his contract to affect his play.

Yes he's aging and yes we need to spend an early pick on a future replacment, but he's also a very good player on a cheap contract

Lito had to be traded based on how he performed on the field when healthy. Completely different situation for Sheldon. Brown should be fully healthy again next year.

Trading him wouldn't make the team better

Edward said...

Adam Caplan has reported on his Twitter that Andy Reid said the Eagles played 90% 1-gap defense last season. All that talk we had earlier in the offseason about that was wrong then it seems!

I guess Patterson and Bunk just can't get to the QB.

RDW said...

The tackels are never going to be many sacks because they're not on the field in passing situations. Howard and Abiamiri played DT in the nickel packages. DT is a strength of this team. The Eagles were tied at 3rd in the NFL in sacks. The back seven scrambled personnel all year, we never replaced Dawkins, and GoCong isn't a true SAM.

Tapp isn't the answer but he is a solid pickup. They need a front line FS and a true SAM as well as depth at LB and CB.

Weatherspoon and Allen can be impact players and there will be a top CB prospect at 70. There are 3 or 4 guys with the talent to be front line CBs but a little raw. They don't need someone to step in. Sheldon and Hobbs should be healthy and this prospect can be brought along.

Pitmanite said...

ultimate dream scenario:

we trade donovan for a 1st rd pick. as a result of a false rumor started on Tommy Lawlor's eagles blitz blog that Eric Berry has a major cocaine problem; E. Berry falls to us at our first pick (speaking of which, did you guys hear Berry has a major coke problem). we use our second 1st round pick on another defensive stud. we then swing a trade for derrick johnson for our 3rd rd pick. i watch all of this with joy from a bar in nyc, and then later that night i am invited into a threesome with minka kelly and megan fox.