Cheat Sheet: Ten Thoughts On the Eagles
1. Let’s start with draft positioning. As things currently stand, the Eagles have the fourth overall pick behind the Chiefs, Jaguars and Raiders. If the Eagles lose, the only game to keep an eye on is Raiders-Chargers at 4:25 p.m. If Oakland wins and the Birds lose, the Eagles move up to the No. 3 spot. Now if the Eagles beat the Giants, things get a bit messy because four teams – the Titans, Bills, Browns and Cardinals – are all currently at 5-10. If they all lose, the Eagles could theoretically fall as low as the ninth pick (the Lions are also at 4-11). Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the Beast has calculated strength of schedule for all 32 teams. But a reminder that those numbers will change, depending on this weekend’s results.
2. The Michael Vick era in Philadelphia is likely to end Sunday afternoon. This will be his 34th start for the Eagles. There have been ups, downs and everything in between since Vick first took over for Kevin Kolb back in 2010. Two games stand out to me. One was the Monday night game against the Redskins in 2010 when Vick went 20-for-28 for 333 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran eight times for 80 yards and a pair of scores. The second game was later that year when the Eagles outscored the Giants, 28-7, in the fourth quarter for a 38-31 victory. Vick went 21-for-35 for 242 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran 10 times for 130 yards and a score. Many will look back and say Vick was always the same QB here that he was in Atlanta. I just don’t think that’s true. With the Falcons, he completed 53.8 percent of his passes and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt. With the Eagles, those numbers were 60.2 percent and 7.6 yards per attempt. He worked to get better as a passer, and the Eagles were 18-15 in games he started. In the end, the results were not as fruitful as everyone wanted them to be, but Vick worked hard on improving his game. That shouldn’t be completely lost in all of this.
3. Speaking of Vick, I’m guessing Jeffrey Lurie is going to be paying extra special attention Sunday afternoon when the QB refuses to slide on a scramble or gets crushed as a result of a leaky offensive line. As we reported earlier this week, Vick’s contract includes a $3 million injury guarantee. That means if he suffers a serious injury that prevents him from passing a physical with another team for the 2013 season, the Eagles will owe him $3 million. If Vick gets through the game healthy, the team has until Feb. 6 to release him and get out of paying the $3 million.
4. If you only read one item on the coaching changes around the league, it should be this piece by Don Banks of SI.com. A lot of interesting nuggets. When discussing Reid’s future, he mentioned a few different teams. One is the Jacksonville Jaguars. They are far from a marquee franchise, but owner Shahid Khan is apparently looking to make a splash. Banks also mentions the possibility of Reid joining the Arizona Cardinals. Wouldn’t that be something? Reid and Kolb together again. Plus, he’d have a talented defense to work with. As for the Chargers, Banks indicates they might not be willing to pay the price Reid is going to command on the open market.
5. I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: Eagles fans can appreciate what Reid accomplished and still think it’s time to move on. That point seems to be lost on many in the national media, and you’re going to hear a lot of analysts next week talk about how under-appreciated Reid was in Philadelphia. But the truth is, this team is 12-19 in its last 31 games. The franchise has not won a playoff game in four seasons. The coaching staff has been in disarray. And the quarterback situation is up in the air. Reid has accomplished a lot and given fans many great memories, but it’s time to go in a different direction. It’s really as simple as that.
6. Many have asked about timing. There really is no point for Lurie to wait. My guess is the move will be made official no later than Monday. Reid may get one final press conference. And Lurie will address questions about the team’s upcoming search. As I pointed out yesterday, assistants on teams that have first-round byes can interview with the Eagles next week. That means the Eagles don’t have a lot of time to waste if they’re interested in guys like Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and others.
7. As head coaches and general managers are let go Monday, be sure to keep a close eye on assistants. During the Reid era, we’ve seen first-hand the importance of assembling a staff. Whoever the new coach is will have to find a capable offensive and defensive coordinator, along with other assistants. If the new guy has not been a head coach in the NFL before, which seems likely, it’s particularly important to find established coordinators right away.
8. If there’s one stat that particularly makes the last two years of Reid’s tenure look bad, it’s turnover margin. I went back and looked at the five worst teams in turnover margin in 2011 to see which improved this year. Here’s the chart:
Bucs -16 +4 +20
Redskins -14 +14 +28
Eagles -14 -23 -9
Steelers -13 -14 -1
Cardinals -13 +1 +14
Three of the teams – the Redskins, Bucs and Cardinals – showed significant improvement. The Steelers stayed about the same. And the Eagles got significantly worse. Often times, I get irritated when analysts mention turnover margin because it’s so obvious. Of course you’re going to perform better when you give the ball away less and take the ball away more. The Eagles recognized their problem in the offseason, but their methods for finding a solution failed miserably.
9. If I’m Lurie and Howie Roseman, I’m asking every head-coaching candidate for their plans on improving the Eagles’ special teams. Bobby April’s unit has let the Birds down way too many times in the past two seasons. The Eagles are 24th in Football Outsiders’ special-teams rankings. While the defense has not played well, it’s been dealt the worst starting field position in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, opponents have started drives, on average, at the 31.65-yard line (32nd). Part of that is turnovers, and part of it is special teams. On the flip side, the Eagles have started drives at their own 25.16 (27th). With so many games being decided by one possession, this has to be a point of emphasis with the new regime.
10. There will be a lot of talk about building blocks in the coming weeks. We’ll certainly expand on this topic, but I am intrigued to see what kind of offense the new coach will want to run, given the personnel. LeSean McCoy has to be an important piece. DeSean Jackson provides a vertical threat and can open things up for others, even though he’s lacking in some areas (red zone specifically). The offensive line is a giant question mark. If Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans return healthy, you could be looking at one of the better units in the league. And quarterback, of course, is a question mark, although Nick Foles is probably the favorite to start next season. Defensively, in the front seven, Fletcher Cox has shown Pro Bowl potential, and DeMeco Ryans is a nice piece. Brandon Graham appears to be a player on the rise, but you don’t know what to expect from others like Trent Cole and Vinny Curry. Other than Brandon Boykin, the secondary could be facing a complete overhaul. The new coach has some tools to work with, but his biggest challenge will be in determining how scheme will best fit the Eagles’ personnel.