An Eagles Slant To the Wild Card Round
Like many of you, I spent the weekend watching four playoff games and fell into the habit of viewing many things through an Eagles lens.
Keeping that in mind, here are five thoughts, along with a flurry of observations.
1. Some of you hate the draft what-if game. But how else are we supposed to get through the next nine months before the Eagles play a meaningful game? So let me bring up two names: Trai Turner and Martavis Bryant.
Turner (6-3, 310) is the starting right guard for the Carolina Panthers. He was one of the more athletic interior lineman in last year’s class, and the Eagles had pre-draft interest in him. After the draft, Howie Roseman talked about the run on offensive linemen in the third round, and that included Turner.
The Eagles took Josh Huff with the 86th overall pick (third round), and Turner went off the board six spots later. The Eagles ended up with no offensive linemen and will have to come up with a plan this offseason to get younger up front.
The other player to mention is WR Martavis Bryant. Bryant (6-3, 211) was a size/speed guy who ran a 4.42 40. But he wasn’t considered as polished as some of the other wide receivers. He caught fives passes for 61 yards and a TD against the Ravens and had eight touchdowns in the regular season.
Bryant was taken with the 118th overall pick. The Eagles selected Huff 32 spots ahead of him and Jaylen Watkins 17 spots ahead of him.
I’m not drawing any conclusions after one year, but Turner and Bryant are two players to keep an eye on going forward.
2. The Eagles’ record against the eight teams still in the mix was 3-3. They beat the Cowboys, Panthers and Colts, while losing to the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks. The Eagles’ overall point differential in those six games was minus-4 (169-173).
You are what your record says you are. But I’m sure many around these parts watched the two NFC matchups – between the Cardinals/Panthers and Cowboys/Lions – and thought, ‘The Birds can play with these guys.’
3. I think the idea of moving on from LeSean McCoy this offseason seems even sillier now than it did a few days ago. The Steelers were forced to play the Ravens without Le’Veon Bell, and while they hit on some big plays in the passing game, they averaged 3.6 YPC and did not have a carry from a running back that gained more than 8 yards.
The Eagles simply do not have a lot of alternatives to McCoy. They’re not going to roll with an aging Darren Sproles or an often-injured Chris Polk. The idea that running backs are a dime a dozen or that McCoy is replaceable is silly. The Eagles are a run-first spread offense, and without a prolific tailback, the operation suffers.
The draft is said to be loaded at RB, so maybe Chip Kelly adds some young talent, but the guess here is McCoy is staying put.
4. It’s tough to watch some of these teams and not think about how little (nothing?) the Eagles got from Marcus Smith II.
Whether it was Ryan Shazier with the Steelers or C.J. Mosley with the Ravens or Kelvin Benjamin with the Panthers or Zack Martin with the Cowboys, we saw a lot of first-round picks making immediate impacts for their respective teams.
I might be the only guy left who still thinks Smith might turn into something with an offseason in the Eagles’ strength program, but considering how little the Eagles’ margin of error was in 2014, they certainly could have used something (anything!) from their first-round pick.
5. The weekend also reenforced the idea that good safeties are hard to find. It seemed like in every game, teams had safeties taking bad angles, getting beaten in coverage and missing tackles.
Some names that come to mind: Dallas’ J.J. Wilcox, Dallas’ Barry Church, Pittsburgh’s Mike Mitchell and Detroit’s James Ihedigbo.
Two Eagles-related thoughts here. One, they probably deserve even more credit than they’ve received for identifying and landing Malcolm Jenkins last offseason. He was a solid upgrade and provided a level of competency that had been missing previously.
And two, it’s going to be difficult to find another Jenkins. They clearly don’t like Earl Wolff, and Nate Allen likely will be gone. But competent safeties are tough to come by. And the Eagles need a second one badly.
DID YOU NOTICE…
* Mike Tirico saying before the Panthers-Cardinals game that he looked at the radar and the heavy rain had already passed? True story: The only class I had to drop in college was an introduction to meteorology. That stuff was no joke. If Tirico was personally looking at the radar and drawing conclusions, I’m impressed.
* The refs slowing the game down and allowing the Cardinals to substitute even though the Panthers were trying to hurry up without changing personnel? How the refs police tempo is a storyline to monitor throughout the playoffs and into the offseason.
* The Cardinals nearly take a safety? Ryan Lindley backpedaling in his own end zone has to be one of the more terrifying scenes in all of sports.
* Bruce Arians call a zone-read play with Logan Thomas on a critical third down? I thought the zone read was a college offense? To be fair, when Arians made those comments, he was referring to exposing starters to injury. And in this instance, he brought in the backup (or fourth-stringer, we should say). But still, you get the point.
* Fozzy Whitaker’s 39-yard TD in the third? Hopefully, the most lasting impact from the Panthers’ playoff run is that it spurs a generation of new Charlotte-area parents to consider naming their sons Fozzy.
* All the Eagles’ former assistants involved in this weekend’s action? Sean McDermott, Ron Rivera, John Harbaugh, Todd Bowles, Mike Caldwell, Steve Spagnuolo, Juan Castillo. Did I miss anyone?
* The back-shoulder throw from Ben Roethlisberger to Bryant? The Eagles put in a lot of work on the back-shoulder throws during training camp. But I don’t remember seeing them use it once effectively in a real game.
* Antonio Brown urging Mike Tomlin to throw a flag after an incompletion in the second? The ball clearly hit the ground, but that didn’t stop Brown from trying to get his coach to challenge. I never understand this. How certain could he have been that he caught it? And if he wasn’t certain, why go all-in trying to get your coach to waste a challenge/timeout?
* Bob Costas’ scarf? It spurred a lengthy tirade from the wife/mother in the Kapadia household. On the other hand, we both approved of Hines Ward’s coat.
* The way Andrew Luck climbed the pocket and delivered on-target to Donte Moncrief on the 36-yard touchdown. Other than Aaron Rodgers, how many quarterbacks have the skill set to make that play?
* How many times Andy Dalton threw short of the sticks on third down? I understand doing that sometimes, but my goodness. That was maddening.
* Jim Nantz and Phil Simms spending the final two minutes of the broadcast sticking up for Dalton? This has become a January tradition of sorts. I know he was playing without A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, but at no point in that game did it feel like Dalton was going to elevate his teammates to a victory. Not a good sign for your franchise quarterback.
* Mike Periera open the FOX broadcast by criticizing the process for assembling teams of officials in the playoffs? Nice foreshadowing there. For the record, I’m in the following camp as it pertains to the Cowboys-Lions game: Refs screw up all the time, but to make a call and then pick up a flag without any new evidence makes no sense.
* Golden Tate’s block on Wilcox during Reggie Bush’s TD run? Anyone else think Kelly might offer up multiple first-rounders for Tate after watching that?
* The shovel pass to Jason Witten in the red zone? Sure, it didn’t exactly work. But somewhere, Andy Reid smiled from ear to ear (presumably with a Hawaiian shirt on).
* How pathetic the Lions’ offense was down the stretch? Officiating issues aside, Detroit punted twice and fumbled twice on its final four possessions against a mediocre (being generous here) Cowboys defense. It didn’t help that Jim Caldwell got conservative, but that kind of performance is not deserving of an appearance in the divisional round.