The Eagles Best Case Scenario for 2011

Eagles DeSean Jackson

If yesterday was “bash Andy Reid” day, today seems to be all about finding the silver lining. Tommy Lawlor wants you to know that “the Eagles are closer to being a good team than you think.” Paul Domowitch says “the worst is over.”

Let me do you the courtesy of quashing your hopes before you get too excited. This team is not, and will not, be a good team this year.

The optimists want you to believe that the Eagles turned a corner in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Bills. That after the demoralizing 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter, Juan Castillo’s defense adjusted and finally played up to its potential. They only let up 3 points the rest of the way.

Yet, even beside the fact that the Bills got more conservative in the fourth quarter, we’ve seen this type of one-half improvement before. Remember, against San Francisco the Eagles got out to a 23-3 lead through the middle of the third quarter. But eventually, they collapsed. The fact that in last week’s loss the defensive collapse was in the the first half rather than the second is a pretty weak argument to stand on.

Believe it or not, even a bad defense that gives up more than 26 points per game tends to keep the offense from scoring on the majority of drives. Sometimes those stops are evenly dispersed throughout the game, sometimes you manage to keep the opponent down for two quarters before letting up the lead. But at the end of the day, you’re still giving up too many points. I wouldn’t read much into one fourth quarter shutout by this defense, just because the Eagles took Jarrad Page off the field.

We hope that the youngsters who are now getting a shot, like Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, and Danny Watkins, will be better than the players they replaced. But none of them have shown that they consistently can be even average starters.

Perhaps the turnover rate will revert closer to the mean, but there’s no guarantee of that either. Michael Vick has been especially loose with the ball, whether throwing it to no one over the middle to avoid a sack or holding it out away from his body when scrambling. And drops have been common from every Eagles receiver.

Oh, and lest we forget, Juan Castillo is still your defensive coordinator.

The very best case scenario, in which the Eagles mostly fix their problems and rally for the remainder of the season, is unlikely. But even in that hypothetical, it’s doubtful they’d accomplish more than the 2010 San Diego Chargers, who sunk to 2-5 after some horrible special teams play. That team had a top ten offense and defense, strung together four straight wins, and still missed the playoffs at 9-7.

The 2011 Eagles are remarkably and unexpectedly bad. And it’s not hard to predict improvement when things seemingly can’t get any worse. But do me a favor. Save your optimism for next year.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: What Did You Expect?

Fred Jackson Eagles

I don’t often pick against the Eagles. Generally I have a pretty optimistic take on the team and its talent. That’s been reasonable, considering the series of winning seasons Andy Reid has strung together. But not this week. This week I picked against the team, and I didn’t have many reservations either.

The 2011 Eagles are not a winning football team. You can make excuses, come up with different angles about how there have just been a lot of mistakes, a few too many turnovers. But that’s true for all bad teams.

I’ll admit, this year’s group completely fooled me. After the offseason, I thought a deep playoff run was in the cards. But they are failing in all phases, with coaching and personnel and everything in between. Time to, begrudgingly, look at the story the stats tell this week:

1 = Play over 25 yards by the Buffalo offense. I don’t want to hear any more talk about how the Eagles defense just needs to stop the big plays. On Sunday, they mostly did. It was the consistent chunks of yardage that killed them. The defense couldn’t stop Fred Jackson, to the tune of 26 carries, 111 yards. They couldn’t stop Ryan Fitzpatrick, who put up a completion percentage of almost 80 percent.

0 = Points allowed by the Eagles in the fourth quarter, a record low for them after being outscored 36 to nothing over the previous three weeks. You could also spin this as a positive, that the defense finally adjusted and came up on top at the end. But I don’t see it that way. For starters, the Bills shut things down and focused on the run game to bleed the clock in the final quarter (a foreign concept in Philadelphia).

45 to 14 = Runs called vs. passes called by the Eagles. That’s a 76 percent pass-run ratio, which is actually only slightly higher than the 73 percent Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have gone with for the season. That’s insane. First of all, that’s 5 percent higher than last year and 11 percent higher than 2008. Second, and more importantly, the coaches are ignoring what could be an absolutely record-breaking season for LeSean McCoy. Even at his current meager workload, McCoy is projected for more than 1400 rushing yards, 60 receptions, and 20 touchdowns. He’s averaging 5.75 yards per carry. Only 8 running backs in modern NFL history (75+ rush, 5+ games started) had yards per carry above that for a season.

6 = Official quarterback hits on Michael Vick. I know that Howard Mudd’s unit is near the top of the Adjusted Sack Rate leaderboard, and are only likely to climb after Sunday’s one-sack performance. But Vick is getting pressured and hit constantly back there, and I don’t see anyone to blame other than the offensive line. The Bills ran a number of blitzes and stunts to get pressure, but you have to expect that since Vick has shown he will torch defenses that give him time.

Photo from Getty.

What Does the Danny Watkins Promotion Mean?

Eagles Danny Watkins

Geoff Mosher of The News Journal reports today that Danny Watkins, the Eagles first-round pick this year, will replace Kyle DeVan as the starting right guard this Sunday against Buffalo for his first NFL start.

This is big news for Watkins, obviously. After the Eagles gave him every chance to start in the preseason, Watkins looked completely unprepared to start. There were certainly limiting factors. He was hurt by the lockout and a brief holdout, both of which prevented him from making the transition to the NFL as fast as possible.

Still, at 26 years-old, Watkins was supposed to be NFL-ready when he arrived in Philly. The fact that he didn’t even dress for three out of the first four games strikes major doubt into estimations of Howie Roseman’s drafting, especially when the starter DeVan was so bad. Pro Football Focus pegged DeVan with the blame on both 49ers sacks, as well as four QB pressures last week. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t buy a first down in short yardage. But really, how much did the Eagles expect out of a guy they pulled off the street a week before the season started?

With this news, we’re left wondering if Watkins was promoted due to his own progression or because the Eagles simply had no other choice. The jury is definitely still out on Watkins, and I’m not ready at all to write him off just because he couldn’t start right away. But I’m leaning toward the second option for two reasons.

First, nothing has really changed since Sunday when the Eagles decided that Watkins wasn’t good enough to put on a uniform. He couldn’t show sudden progress in practice just a day or two later. The only thing that happened recently was the coaches reviewing the game tape and seeing how bad DeVan was against the 49ers.

Second, promoting Watkins mirrors a move the Eagles made just a week ago, when they officially promoted Nate Allen to the starting lineup. Another high draft pick, Allen had been dogged with injuries but also looked completely out of his element in the preseason. He wasn’t inserted into the lineup because he healed or because he suddenly fixed his problems. No, it took a tackle “attempt” by Kurt Coleman against the Giants. Since that point, Allen hasn’t exactly looked like a stud, either.

The Eagles figured that if they’re going to get beat, it might as well be with the guys they’ve recently invested top picks in. As such, the countdown to Jaiquawn Jarrett’s promotion begins… right now.

Photo from Getty.

Dissecting the Recent Rumors on McNabb

Dissecting the Recent Trade Rumors on Donovan McNabb Philadelphia Eagles

There’s been a lot of rumors flying around over the last week. Time to step back and look at them piece by piece. Let’s use Mike Florio’s McNabb magnum opus as a jumping off point, since it seems pretty obvious to me that his source is inside the Eagles organization:

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Eagles are receiving offers from teams that have not been identified publicly at the request of the teams making the offers.  This is happening for two reasons:  (1) some of the teams have incumbent starting quarterbacks who would be confused, to say the least, if they learned that McNabb could be joining the club; and (2) none of the teams want fans or the media to know that they are courting McNabb, in the event that they fail to land him. This doesn’t explain the fact that the Bills, Rams, and Raiders have been named as potential trade partners.  According to the source, however, the Eagles have disclosed to no one the names of the teams with whom they are or aren’t talking.

Put simply, in order for Florio to be so sure there are teams talking to the Eagles that no one has heard of, he has to have talked to someone with the Eagles. Think about it.

First of all, no one could know that there are other teams in the mix who haven’t been mentioned unless they were working for one of those teams or for the Eagles. Since those teams clearly have no desire to make it public, and wouldn’t know there are multiple “teams” interested, it had to have been the Eagles.

Second, only the Eagles have an incentive to get this information out there — true or not. If there are only negotiations with Oakland, Buffalo, etc. than this could give Philadelphia the upper hand. I’m not saying the new rumor isn’t true — there probably are a number of teams who have quietly inquired about the price tag on McNabb. But this is just as self-serving to the Eagles as McLane’s McNabb-to-Rams report.

In any case, who could these teams with “incumbent starting quarterbacks” be? Basically you’re talking about teams that don’t have a mix of quarterbacks (looking at you Oakland), but rather have a nominal starter. This category of teams would probably include teams like Carolina, Jacksonville, San Francisco, maybe even Tennessee.

We initially believed that Jeff McLane’s erroneous report that McNabb could be a Ram by the end of the week was the Eagles themselves, who were floating a phony rumor in the hopes of sending a “speak now or forever hold your piece/peace” vibe to other interested teams.  Based on our source, McLane apparently had a different source.

“Based on our source…” — i.e. “From what the Eagles told me, they had nothing to do with McLane’s report.” And again, I think it’s funny that Florio would discredit the possibility McLane’s report was the Eagles putting out stuff to boost the offers on McNabb, when that’s exactly what his report here does as well!

It’s possible that McLane’s source was McNabb himself, or agent Fletcher Smith.  (McLane’s subsequent report that McNabb prefers playing for the Vikings suggests he has a pipeline into the McNabb camp.)  This approach by McNabb would allow him to push the issue to a head without pulling a Jay Cutler and openly demanding a trade.

Interesting idea. Thought not sure if it’s really in McNabb’s best interest to push a trade to the Rams that hasn’t actually been discussed — unless he’s really just fed up with the whole process and finally wants out of Philadelphia. But this type of analysis treads awfully close to Deadspin’s interpretation.

The McLane report isn’t the only nugget that might not reflect reality.  ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio says that no one is willing to offer more than a third-round pick.  But as our source pointed out, “Has he talked to every team and have they told him their offer?”

Or I don’t know, maybe he just talked to one team that’s interested in keeping the price low… Sal Pal is close to worthless these days.

Finally, the Associated Press reported that the Eagles want the 42nd pick or higher in the 2010 draft.  (And, of course, the AP report was taken as gospel truth because the AP has never been wrong.)  Said the source, “Does anyone really believe the Eagles would pick such a random number and draw a line in the sand?”  We’re told that something higher than this reported threshold already has been offered.  The source believes that the “42 or higher” requirement was leaked by one or more other teams in order to frame the value — and possibly to create local pressure on the Eagles, many of whose fans generally are anxious, to say the least, to see McNabb get run out of town.

First of all, yes, I can see the Eagles saying they want a first round pick or early 2nd rounder (probably plus something extra) for McNabb and not budging. And how exactly does this create local pressure? The fact that the Eagles are asking for a high pick doesn’t sound crazier than anything else — a better way to put the pressure on the Eagles would be to release Sal Pal’s report, or (better yet) say the team would be willing to take a 3rd rounder.

Instead, this basically affirms the stance the Eagles took if they were the ones to leak the 33rd overall pick and FS O.J. Atogwe deal to McLane — they want first round value, and aren’t afraid to ask for it. By telling the AP this, the Eagles front office has essentially told the teams that are snooping around, offering late-second or third round picks to get serious or get left behind. And Florio affirms that the Eagles have in fact gotten an offer “higher than this reported threshold.”

As we understand it, the Eagles have received a variety of offers, with draft picks only and players only and players and picks.  We’re told that the Eagles have never placed an asking price on McNabb.  Instead, they’re doing exactly what we reported in early March that they’d do — sitting back and waiting for the offers to come and evaluating them at the appropriate time.

Ha. No asking price on McNabb. I don’t believe that for one second. Maybe early in the process, but by now the Eagles have to be seriously telling teams, either through the press or in direct talks, that they want at least one high pick.

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By the way, a couple notes on Michael Lombardi’s post yesterday about McNabb and similar rumors:

A team executive told me the Raiders and Vikings are discussing the availability of backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels. Trading Rosenfels would only happen if the Vikings know for certain that Brett Favre is coming back.

The Sage Rosenfels chatter is the most obvious sign Oakland is in serious negotiations with Philadelphia about McNabb. They’re trying to show they can go other directions.

Many executives I talked to last week wondered why the 49ers are not actively pursuing McNabb. With McNabb, the 49ers would be the favorites to win the NFC West. As I often write, the biggest problem in the NFL is evaluating your own team, and the 49ers really believe they’re set at QB.

Agreed 100%. If San Francisco isn’t one of those teams who, according to Florio, are in quiet talks with the Eagles, they truly are incompetent.

Sizing Up the Rumored Contenders for McNabb

Oakland Raiders Donovan McNabb Trade Rumors Jamarcus Russell

Trade winds are blowing, folks. Looks like the action’s dwindled to a few teams competing for Donovan McNabb. One piece of news comes from sources talking to Tommy Lawlor:

“The latest reports I’m getting are that the Raiders are the frontrunners… The Jaguars remain interested, but it seems as if the Raiders are being more aggressive with their offer.  I don’t have any firm details, but the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft is being talked about.  Jacksonville may try to come up with a counter-offer, but it doesn’t seem like they want to get into a bidding war.”

Lawlor also says Buffalo was more involved in trade talks yesterday, but that the Bills conversations have died down today.

Mike Florio has a tipster who gives some ridiculous terms of a trade with the Raiders:

“Per the tip — uncorroborated but nevertheless intriguing — McNabb and cornerback Asante Samuel would go to Oakland, and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha would go to Philadelphia.”

I don’t buy that one. Asomugha is better than Samuel, but not by an amount of McNabb. Especially since the cornerbacks are the same age and the Raiders just gave Nnamdi a lot of money. Still, interesting to see outlines of deals emerging. Oakland could be deeper into conversations about getting McNabb than we thought.

Finally, no more reputable a source than the Associated Press reports that “a person familiar with trade discussions involving McNabb” says the Eagles:

“will only consider a deal for the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback if it includes a pick among the top 42 in next month’s NFL draft.

That’s a strange number. Until you consider that its just outside the Bills’ second round pick. Maybe the Eagles are trying to signal to the Bills how serious they are about getting at least their 2nd round pick.

Also it means maybe Eagles fans should temper their enthusiasm about getting a high 1st round pick like one from the currently discussed teams. If the Eagles are putting it out there that they want a high 2nd rounder, it may mean that top picks are already off the table.

In any case, let’s take a closer look at the three teams being talked about:

  • Oakland Raiders — Draft Picks: #8 overall, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, two 5ths, two 7ths. Drafting a 1st round quarterback bust is killer in the NFL. Tim Couch, Joey Harrington, and now JaMarcus Russell. You whiff in the first round and it just messes up your team for years. Maybe the Raiders think trading for a proven quarterback is the way to jump start a turnaround. While I disagree with Lawlor’s assessment that McNabb might actually be “open” to starting the season in Black and Silver, Oakland may not care. They had no problem trading their 2011 first round pick to the Patriots for another veteran who didn’t want to be there, Richard Seymour, then slapped the franchise tag on him last month to keep him around for another year.
  • Buffalo Bills — Draft Picks: #9 overall, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, two 6ths, 2 7ths. Another team that’s made some bad decisions on quarterbacks, and now has a new coach in Chan Gailey who doesn’t seem all that intent on grooming someone for awhile in the competitive AFC East — he’s said he wants the position resolved before the draft. The problem is McNabb may not want to go to upstate NY either. Buffalo really doesn’t have much talent — maybe even less than Oakland. And I’m not sure the Bills, unlike the unconventional Raiders, will be as willing to play it year to year with McNabb.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars — Draft Picks: #10 overall, 3rd, 4th, 5th, two 6th. It’s easy to say that after committing to David Garrard two years ago as starting quarterback that Jacksonville must not want anyone else. But Garrard has really stalled the last two seasons, since getting his 6-year, $60 million deal, showing he’s little more than a mediocre passer. Coach Jack Del Rio has expressed concern about Garrard and even the QB himself has acknowledged that he’s competing for the starting job with journeyman back up Luke McCown. If the team is even considering starting McCown, especially knowing it needs desperately to sell tickets, McNabb might be a good place to start.

Besides uncertainty at the quarterback position, there’s one interesting common thread through all three of these teams: each one was bad, but not bad enough to ensure a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. For example, I don’t think there’s much separating St. Louis and Buffalo. They’re both bad franchises that need to rebuild. The difference — which may be why Buffalo’s pursuing McNabb and St. Louis is shooting down rumors — is that the Rams can go out and pick the best quarterback in the NFL draft (presumably Sam Bradford). Buffalo has no shot at Bradford, and a small chance even to get less-liked Jimmy Clausen, who could end up with Mike Shanahan in Washington with the 4th pick.

One thing I still don’t understand is why San Francisco hasn’t been linked to McNabb. Alex Smith really isn’t any better than Brad Gradkowski or David Garrard and the 49ers have a team that overall could be ready to take the next step with a solid quarterback. With two picks in the first round, I’d be clamoring for McNabb if I were Mike Singletary.

What We Learned Yesterday

Donovan McNabb Trade Rumors Philadelphia Eagles Rams Bills Raiders Jaguars

So yesterday was rather hectic. You can see the bizarre up and down nature of the day, rife with Andy’s reveal, very specific trade rumors, and more at yesterday’s updated thread.

But now that we’ve moved on from thinking the McNabb trade is immediately imminent, what have we learned?

  • Don’t believe every rumor you hear over the next few days and weeks. The Rams rumor sounded nice and the whole web got caught up in it, but sometimes where there is smoke there is no fire at all.
  • With that said, you can now safely assume that McNabb will not be in Midnight Green next year. It’s nice to look at Andy’s words and see that he never rules out that possibility, but you have to consider his words before yesterday. All Andy had said was that he was happy with his quarterbacks and that he wasn’t looking to trade any of them. After probably weeks of limited interest, the Eagles front office decided to kick trade talks up a notch — by going public with their interest. There’s no way they do that if they aren’t set on trading McNabb.
  • It sounds like someone close to the Eagles might have unleashed the 33rd pick and FS OJ Atogwe rumor to drive up McNabb’s price. Whether or not the Rams are actually involved in talks (and I never thought they were a likely candidate), clearly there are now trade conversations going on with multiple teams. The Rams rumor and Andy’s announcement that the Eagles were open for offers has worked — at least to some degree — to drive up immediate interest.
  • Tommy Lawlor says the Bills, Raiders, and Jaguars have “all made serious inquiries into trading McNabb.” According to Lawlor’s sources the teams “have shown some willingness to deal their 1st round pick” but the Eagles are also “exploring scenarios where a lesser pick and veteran player would be the compensation.” If true, the Eagles have finally gotten multiple teams to bite. That’s what they’ve needed all along — a little bidding war. We’ll keep track of this.
  • It seems like the Eagles are getting desperate enough that they won’t be trading McNabb to a playoff contender. One would have thought that Reid would try to accomodate his best and closest player, but with serious rumors about Oakland, that’s tough to do. I still have to ask: where is San Francisco?
  • I think the more you hear about the specifics of a particular offer, the more likely it is that that offer is not true. Any actual trade, if talks are progressing well, will take place entirely behind closed doors. It’s in neither team’s best interests to publicize details and risk talks collapsing. We’ll probably get rumors about who’s talking to whom constantly now, but the actual announcement will come out of the blue.

Keep checking back for more updates, news, and analysis. The blog may not be much longer for this world…