Three Thoughts: An Eagles Slant To the Playoffs

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.Let’s take a break from the coaching search for a moment and focus on the postseason.

Here are three disjointed Eagles-related thoughts from the NFL playoffs.

1. If I’m Fletcher Cox, I find a way to spend an afternoon with J.J. Watt this offseason and pick his brain about the art of batting balls down at the line of scrimmage. Sacks are obviously great, but with offenses constantly asking their quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly, top defensive linemen need to figure out other ways to affect the passing game. One of those ways is to get in the passing lanes. Watt is coming off one of the all-time great seasons by anyone at his position. Cox is coming off a solid, promising rookie campaign. They’re different players, and they play in different systems (although we don’t know what the Eagles’ system is going to be yet). But if I’m Cox, I would want to know as much about Watt’s methods for batting balls as possible.

According to Pro Football Focus, Watt got a hand on 15 passes this season. No other defensive lineman had more than eight.

Cox, meanwhile, had just one. The Eagles, as a team, had just six, second-fewest in the NFL. Again, scheme is a factor here. When your defensive ends are caught way upfield, they’re not going to be in the passing lanes.

Here’s a look at how Cox and Watt measure up (from the combine):

 
Height
Arm Length
Hands
Vertical Leap
J.J. Watt6-53411.137
Fletcher Cox6-434.510.426

The huge difference is the vertical leap. And while size and athleticism have clearly been key for Watt, this is something he’s clearly worked at. From a New York Times article by Judy Battista:

Watt jumps — his vertical leap is 37 inches — when the quarterback cocks his arm, but Partridge gave him a critical key to timing it. He told him to watch the quarterback’s front — or off — hand. If that hand comes off the ball, [Texans DL coach Charlie Partridge] said, it decreases the chances of a pump fake. Most quarterbacks cannot fake with only one hand without dropping the ball — Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is an exception — and Watt is currently irritated that the Texans’ backup quarterback T. J. Yates, a friend, has recently begun pump faking with the scout team in practice, increasing the degree of difficulty.

Cox showed enough as a rookie to think he has a Pro Bowl ceiling. We’ll see what scheme the Eagles run up front in 2013, but Cox would be well-served to add the pass-swatting skill to his repertoire.

2. There are too many what-if draft scenarios to count with the Eagles over the years. But we should probably add one more to the list: What if they had drafted Russell Wilson last season? When asked if the Eagles liked Wilson right after the draft, here’s what Andy Reid said:

“Well, I did. I liked Wilson, yeah, I sure did,” Reid said. “He’s a heck of a player too. We had our eye on those two players and I wish that kid all the best. He’s got a great personality. Not a lot of guys have his size, but he gives you the confidence he’s going to be able to do it.”

Reid actually preferred Wilson, according to an Inquirer report. But he never had a chance to take him. Seattle snagged him with the 75th overall pick (third round), 13 spots ahead of where the Eagles took Foles. Of course, if Reid really liked Wilson, the Eagles could have taken him with the 59th overall pick (second round), where they selected Vinny Curry.

As a rookie, Wilson completed 64.1 percent of his passes and tied a rookie record with 26 touchdowns (along with only 10 interceptions). He also had 489 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Of course, there are a couple factors that come into play with this what-if scenario. For starters, please don’t take this to mean I’m bashing Foles. He played well in stretches and did not get a lot of help. It’s also fair to wonder whether Wilson would have had anywhere near the same level of success in Philadelphia, given the circumstances.

But if Wilson continues to build on his rookie season, this will be a conversation worth revisiting in the future.

3. One thing you’ll hear a lot of in the playoffs and offseason is how you can’t win in this league without a franchise quarterback. And certainly, in many respects, that is true. That’s why guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers are still alive.

While there’s no downplaying the importance of QB play, at some point, teams have to ask themselves the question: How can we be successful without one of the top-five guys in the league?

In other words, how can we best help the guy that we have? Right now, the Eagles fall into that category. They can go with Foles next year. They can draft a quarterback. Or they can add someone via free agency or trade. But chance are, they are not going to go into 2013 with an elite quarterback.

Maybe that means building an offense that relies heavily on LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, one that focuses on avoiding turnovers and taking care of the football. Maybe that means using resources on the other side of the ball in an attempt to have one of the best defenses in the league. Maybe it means an increased emphasis on special teams.

Look at the teams that are still left. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has played well, but he’s got seven career starts under his belt and was a second-round pick. Houston’s Matt Schaub was a third-round pick, and he’s thrown one touchdown and four interceptions in his last five games. Wilson was a third-round pick last year. And Baltimore’s Joe Flacco has been inconsistent. Maybe all those teams will get knocked out, and the final four will feature Brady, Manning, Rodgers and Matt Ryan. It’s entirely possible.

But it’s still important for teams like the Eagles (and their new coach) to figure out a way to build competitive squads even when they don’t have a great quarterback.

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  • Beavis

    Let’s not forget that two of the teams already bounced (Minnesota and Cincinatti) don’t necessarily have a ‘franchise’ QB starting for them.

    • Brian

      Of course, in Minnesota’s case, they had a WR starting at QB that game.

      • meh1988

        That “WR starting at QB” kicked our ass in 2010.

        • PhillyHatesStartingQB’s

          he didn’t really kick our ass. the team just didn’t show up against a bad team which was typical in the reid era

  • BdawkBdawk

    I hope Cox talks to Charles Tillman on how to force fumbles and Tim Jennings on how to create interceptions. Hell, maybe he should ask Peyton how to throw the fade.

  • FMWarner

    It’s a good point about quarterbacks. The old saw that you need an elite quarterback to win is pure hogwash. Unless you think Brad Johnson, Rich Gannon, Trent Dilfer, and Matt Hasselbeck are elite. They’ve all played in the Super Bowl in the last 10 years.

    • FMWarner

      Oh, and let’s not forget the least elite of all – Jake Delhomme.

    • The Guru

      Absolutely correct. Last year Alex Smith and Joe Flacco were two dropped punts and a drop Lee Evans TD away from being in the Super Bowl. If you don’t have a top 6 guy, you pound the ball and play defense.

    • sa_eagles

      Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson and Matt Hasselbeck all had great(arguably elite) seasons in the years they went to the Superbowl.

    • TXEaglesFan

      Well it’s a positive spin, but all of those QBs you mention the last to make a super bowl was in 2005. (hasselback). You could add Grossman 2006 to that list. But the last 6 super bowls gave been competed by QBs who are ‘elite’. So is the norm the last 6 years, or the last 10 years as you say? And the thing is, you are not considered elite until you win a super bowl. Eli, Rodgers, even Brees weren’t elite until they were. The reality is these elite guys have won SB, but also are reliably competitive and always give their teams a reasonable chance to win the SB. The other guts have one good year or one good playoff run and that is it.

      • PhillyHatesStartingQB’s

        i’m 23 years old now. i just want one magical run by any philly qb before i die. i thought 08 was the year but was let down yet again

      • aub32

        I think you bring up a very good point. The elite QBs are defined as elite because they have won SBs. However, prior to winning SBs they weren’t all considered elite. Therefore do you really need an elite QB or can you make it with one who is good and gets a couple of breaks, thus becoming elite after winning the big game. Look at Eli. The year prior to winning his 2nd ring he led the league in picks. He also missed the playoffs. He was laughed at when he considered himself elite. However, the next year he wins the SB, and people praise him ignoring the fact he only won 9 games and was extremely fortunate in the NFC Championship game. Now he is considered elite but once again failed to make the playoffs. My point is that you do in fact need a QB to win. However, they don’t necessarily have to be elite. The just have to have a good season and hopefully catch the right breaks.

      • TXEaglesFan

        Yes what I forgot to add was that those QBs who became elite had some aura of eliteness before their SB victory either by performance or draft pedigree. Vick has the draft pedigree but likely will not be with the team and nobody refers to him as elite at this point if his career. Foles while showing to be adequate, jury is out if he can even display elite potential. Which puts the eagles based on the last 6 year nfl trend far away from competing for SB, even if all other problems are addressed. Also disagree with you on manning in last years NFC championship. The guy got pounded on like crazy and kept getting up and still made enough plays to help them win. That performance is the epitome of eliteness in my book.

    • PhillyHatesStartingQB’s

      gannon and hasselbeck had elite seasons. gannon was fantastic in oakland and was an all pro twice in 5 years as a starter

  • Txeagle

    The way I see it Vck is gone. We need to know that our back up can win or steal a few games as we have never had a QB pay all 16. I don’t know who we could potentially get but I don’t see us getting a franchise QB in FA or draft. I am happy to go into the season with Foles if the OL is 2011 like and we run to set up pass. Most important is a top 10 to top 5 D. I don’t know if we have a chance at top 5. 2012 D left me wondering if we had more than 3-4 players worth keeping. Can’t imagine top 10-5 D replacing 7 players on D.

  • aub32

    It’s nice to dream about Wilson, but I do no fault the Eagles for missing out on him. They were only a few picks off, and probably didn’t see the Hawks taking a QB. At the time they had Flynn and T. Jackson. On of them could be the starter and the other would be young enough that there is still some developing that could take place. Also, I wonder how much success Wilson could have had in AR and MM’s offense. The Hawks hid Wilson early this season. He only started going off in the past couple of months, and even still he isn’t throwing nearly as many passes as Foles. Plus, you have to figure there are fans who would have had it in for Russell from the get go. Part of Foles’ appeal for some fans is that he looks like a Manning or Brady. He’s tall and has to focus more on learning the mental part of the game, since he isn’t such an athlete. Wilson would have been viewed as more of the same, especially given his height, and would have had a much shorter leash in some fan’s minds.

  • atlvickfan

    Wilson has an excellent line, a Pro Bowl RB, tall WRs who can go up and get jump balls in the red zone, and a great D/ST. He has played well, especially for a rookie, but let’s not pretend like he would have had the same success on the Eagles. No tall WRs here (which is especially important for a short QB) and a terrible offensive line and D/ST. Both Vick and Foles are better than they showed this year.

  • BrickSquadMonopoly

    These guys are biased against Vick Ive never read 1 positive article about any possiblity of him restructuring. Hes elite and taking the blame for this garbage ass, SAD excuse for a team. Rest assured the next head coach will be giving an elite talent consideration.

    • aub32

      I agree that I do find this and other media sites to be a bit bias, as if it’s a forgone conclusion that Vick is on his way out. Nothing from the organization has come out that would remotely indicate that. I think the next coach will and should definitely have the opportunity to decide if he wants to go with number 7. However, I think you have gone a little overboard in the other direction. Vick is without a doubt a starting caliber QB in this league. I personally think he is a better option than Foles, right now. However, the days have passed of him being an elite QB. I would definitely put him in the top half of QBs, but I am not sure at this point if he is even top ten. I wish fans and media members alike could discuss the possibility of Vick being the QB in 2013 without being too bias in one direction or the other.

      • BrickSquadMonopoly

        Funny how 4 months ago Vick was on his way out LOL…

    • The Guru

      He’s “elite”? Please send some of what you’re smoking over here.

  • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

    How many passes do top DT’s bat down? Unfair to compare him to a DE like Watt. They’re completely different beasts.

  • http://twitter.com/ScottJ610 Scott J

    Please don’t start with Wilson and Foles comparisons, and the coulda-woulda-shoudas. Nobody cried when we didn’t draft Wilson so why cry now?