On Mike Caldwell's Culpability

Sorry, Les, but this just isn’t true:

From Caldwell’s perspective, obviously, you’re a position coach, you don’t pick the players. You didn’t tell anybody the Eagles would be just fine with fourth-round rookie Casey Matthews opening last season in the middle. Your job is to do the best you can with what they give you.

Of course the buck stops up the line with Juan Castillo, Andy Reid, and Howie Roseman. But you don’t go into the season with just a fourth-round pick as your starting middle linebacker unless the position coach either thinks it can work or shuts his mouth and nods whenever a higher-up tells him what’s what. In either case he is at least partially responsible for the resulting disaster.

After all the time spent discussing the sway that guys like Jim Washburn, Howard Mudd, and Ted Williams have on evaluating and teaching players, how can we wipe away any culpability that Caldwell has when his unit fails so miserably?

Quarterback Draft Inflation: From Kafka to Foles

Nick Foles Arizona

I have a theory about the Eagles third round selection of quarterback Nick Foles. Despite the relatively early pick, it has nothing to do with replacing Michael Vick or even Mike Kafka. It’s about the NFL draft and the dramatic quarterback inflation that has occurred in the last two years.

Let’s take a quick journey back to 2010. Sam Bradford went first to the Rams and Denver jumped up to 25 overall to get Tim Tebow. The next quarterbacks off the board were Jimmy Clausen (#48), Colt McCoy (#85), and the Eagles’ Kafka (#122). That order of quarterbacks coming off the board — two in the opening round, another one in each of the following — is right in line with what had been going on ever since the draft was whittled down to seven rounds in 1994.

But that pattern, largely consistent for the previous 15 years, was thrown out the window over the last two. In 2011, four quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, and six in the top 40 picks. That rivaled two of the biggest quarterback-heavy drafts in recent memory, 1999 and 2004, despite talent that few considered equal. Then this most recent draft saw another four quarterbacks taken in the first, something that’s never happened in two straight years. Overall, the 2012 draft was slightly behind the 2011 pace, but it was still far ahead of nearly any prior draft.

Here, see for yourself, in table and graphical forms:

QB Draft Order Table

QB Draft Order Graph

What does this mean about Foles? It means that the Eagles likely drafted a worse quarterback in an earlier round than they ever would have before. For example, the team selected Kafka in the fourth round of 2010, presumably to be a long term backup they could groom. He was the fifth quarterback drafted overall.

Foles, taken a round and a half before Kafka, was only the seventh-best quarterback according to draft order. Perhaps this year’s crop of quarterbacks, and Foles in particular, is better than the group teams had to choose from in 2010 — and nearly every prior year. But my impression is that most experts considered this, pre-draft, to be at best an average class after the two stars.

Two years may be too soon to confirm a trend, but the evidence is there. Quarterbacks have never been more highly valued in the NFL. Desperate teams without a franchise signal-caller give big contracts to former backups and trade for anyone with promise. It only makes sense that such a frenzied demand would trickle down to the draft. As that happens, quarterbacks with starting potential rise from the second and third rounds into the top 30 picks, and those who might have been considered late round projects jump up to take their place.

Suddenly, this starts to look less like a fluke and more like a serious shift in how quarterback prospects are valued. We would be wise to view the Foles pick with that in mind.

Photo from Getty.

Worst NFC East Ever?

It’s tough to watch this year’s NFC East. Eagles fans have long prided themselves on the fact that their team plays in one of the toughest divisions in the league. This year, that just isn’t true.

I charted the Football Outsiders overall team efficiency DVOA for each NFC East team since 2000. The results are below:


So it turns out, on a purely average DVOA basis, that this is not the worst NFC East in the last decade. In fact, this year’s group is barely below the 2010 average.

Perhaps the real reason this year’s group seems so awful has more to do with the lack of even one good team. To this point, among all “best teams in the NFC East,” this year’s Giants are by far the worst. In every year other than 2000, at least one team has posted a DVOA score of at least 20 percent, and the 2011 Giants would be no better than third in the division in any other year since 2005.

The way they’ve played this year, the Eagles should not have even the 3 percent chance they have of winning the division. Widespread mediocrity will do that for you.

Follow Up: What a Good Team Looks Like

On Monday, I demonstrated one flaw in the composition of the 2011 Eagles. There are too many starters who are new to the team, because they’re either recent draft picks or recent free agent pickups.

But just for comparison’s sake, here’s what a good team looks like. The 2011 Eagles starters overlaid with the (currently 12-0) 2011 Green Bay Packers starters, arranged by number of years with their respective teams:

Eagles Packers Team Composition

(Click for bigger version.)

Define 'Bad Team'

Phil Sheridan, for the Inquirer:

It’s one thing to be a bad team. Indianapolis without Peyton Manning is a bad team. Jacksonville, which fired coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday, is a bad team. Bad teams lose to better teams. Pretty simple.

But this team has shown that it can be very good. And that makes an effort, or a lack it - as in Sunday’s game against New England - all the more galling for fans.

I don’t disagree with the overall point of Sheridan’s column, but his definition of a bad team is questionable. For starters, there isn’t one monolithic version of a bad team. At 4-7 and in line for a top ten draft pick, the Eagles are bad. Just because they’re not as bad as the hapless Colts, you can’t classify them differently.

Furthermore, I’m not sure how good the Eagles have shown themselves capable of being. They beat St. Louis (2-9) in the least convincing 31-13 win of the year. They beat Washington (4-7) when Rex Grossman mistook Kurt Coleman for one of his wide receivers. Then one fluky blowout of a flawed Dallas team (7-4) and one squeaky victory against the Giants (6-5). That’s not a high ceiling.

Fun, Fun, Fun Until the Touchdowns Are Done

I would be nervous too if I had shelled out big bucks for a Nate Allen jersey. But if Merrill Reese the Keebler Elf, hinge-hipped cheerleaders, and oddly compelling strobe-lit cartoon dancing doesn’t get you ready for the season opener, there’s always the classics to fall back on.

Week One
Philadelphia Eagles @ St. Louis Rams
1 pm ET on FOX

The Optimist's Guide to the 2011 Eagles

DeSean Jackson Philadelphia Eagles

With the pessimist fan’s guide already done, it’s time to turn to the dreamers, the optimistic few in this City of Brotherly Despair. These precious souls are always looking for the best, expecting another Super Bowl run. There’s no reason to jump off that bandwagon now. Eventually you’ll be right, and here’s why that could come this season:

  • Last year’s Eagles team had a tremendous number of problems. There was a quarterback controversy, a miserable right side of the offensive line, not enough pass rush, weak linebackers, and a giant hole at right cornerback that sucked in any unsuspecting player who tried to fill it. And yet, the Eagles still managed to go 10-6 and win the NFC East. And they could have easily been 11-5 if they played their starters in the season finale. This wasn’t a bad team in 2010.

  • Remember all those problems I just laid out? The Eagles addressed all of them in the offseason. Some of the spots went from areas of weakness to immediate strengths. Cornerback is now the deepest unit in the league. The defensive line has been upgraded with two big free agents. Offensive line and linebacker may not yet inspire confidence, but there’s no doubt that change has come to both positions and improvement wouldn’t be that difficult.

  • If you watched Thursday night’s NFL season opener, you saw the blueprint for a great team: a transcendent quarterback, spread offensive weapons, a relentless pass rush, and shutdown cornerbacks. That describes the Super Bowl champ Packers perfectly, and now the Eagles too. Forget the preseason. This Andy Reid-coached, Michael Vick-led passing attack will set franchise records. The defense, in turn, is built to feast on opponents who struggle to keep up.

  • If there was ever a schedule made for winning a playoff bye week, this is it. The NFC East looks like it’s in a down cycle. The Cowboys got back Romo but had lots of other turnover. The Giants lost a number of starters to injuries and free agency just in the last month. And the Redskins are starting Rex Grossman. Meanwhile, the Eagles take on the NFC West, another four wins. Then they play Atlanta instead of New Orleans and Chicago instead of Green Bay. Looking at the schedule, there’s no reason the Eagles can’t go 12-4 or 13-3.

Many contrarian commentators want to play down the Eagles’ chances because it’s always fun to hate. But this team has as good a chance as any in the Andy Reid era of finally breaking through and bringing home that elusive Lombardi Trophy.

Photo from Getty.