Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nero Kelly In Microcosm: Wide Receiver

Fiddle Wide
In the wake of the latest coin flip loss to the latest coin flip team, the 4-5 Eagles (oh, and if you add in the last four games of the 2014 collapse, it's now the 5-9 in their last 14 starts) are under scrutiny for what they are not getting from their WRs. (Something about the Dolphins loss having historical levels of ineptness from the group. I didn't watch the game, for which I am still so very grateful, but you get the point.)

So let's look at just how we got to, well, where we are right now.

When Nero came to town, he inherited a team with two Pro Bowl talents in WR DeSean Jackson and WR Jeremy Maclin. Both guys were less than what you might draw up as a true WR1 -- Jackson was boom or bust and had a bad tendency to negotiate for more money and disappear late in years or against physical CBs, and Maclin could not stay healthy -- but they also had undeniable strengths. Jackson has more big play TDs than anyone in football this decade, and Maclin had obvious ability and more consistency. Think poor man's Swann and Stallworth.

Both men had big yardage years in the Kelly offense, and both men left without the team getting anything in return. Jackson was dumped because he was uppity, and Maclin wasn't retained because he was expensive, and both were egregious personnel blunders. I didn't agree with either move at the time, and still don't, but for the sake of argument, let's call that water under the bridge. The NFL is a 100% injury rate league, and even if the team had kept both, they might have been injured by now. Jackson's tenure in DC hasn't thrilled the Racial Slurs, and Maclin could explode tomorrow. More and other talents is always a requirement.

Your clear WR1 is Jordan Matthews, last year's rookie sensation and this year's sophomore slump. Good size and toughness after the catch, but the drop rate puts a lie to the idea that he's dependable, and this issue kept him from being a first round pick in the first place, so it's not just going away with age. He's good in the slot thanks to size, but not terribly shifty, and hasn't been successful at the full route tree. He might be maxed out as a WR2/WR3 type; if he's WR1, you aren't winning. No one, to date, has thought him better than Maclin or Jackson.

Nero's other WR is the original Culture Lie in Riley Cooper. He's said to be nails as a blocker, and has had some mild value on special teams, but the plain and simple on Riles is that he's just, well, bad. Prone to drops, doesn't separate from good corners, hasn't been much after one hot month during the Nick Foles Gold season, and probably made his numbers, such as they are, against fluke fail coverage. He's been retained despite a PR nightmare, hasn't stayed particularly healthy or productive, and isn't even Nero's guy, as he's an Andy Reid holdover. I guess he's had a nice enough career for his draft position, but if he's on your team, you don't have a good WR corps. Here, he starts. Still.

Next up is this year's first round pick, Nelson Agholor from USC. Can't stay healthy, seems lost in terms of preparation, and only the occasional flash of ability is keeping everyone in town from just yelling Bust at him at this point. He's supposed to be Maclin 2.0, but so far, he's Josh Huff 2.0. And Huff 1.0 is still on the roster, and he's your man if you want a bubble screen that goes nowhere, an OPI call in the pick play, or somehow to kneel down on a kickoff return for a touchback. After that, not sure he's actually made a contribution to the team that pays him, unless you count flips for the single NFL touchdown he's ever had to be good ROI.

True disaster lurks deeper in the roster in the form of Miles Austin, who Kelly gifted with good money to be Veteran Smarts. Austin is wearing the goat horns for the latest loss, but he hasn't actually been healthy or good for years now. Once his time in Philly is done, he'll be out of the NFL. If last week is any indication, it might happen at any moment, really. Even Nero seems to know this, as the team held a cattle call for street meat WRs this week.

And that's that. The team hasn't been able to get bench production from anyone that Nero has brought in over the years, from Brad Smith to Jeff Maehl to Damaris Johnson to Ifeanyi Momah to Seyi Ajirotutu to Arrelious Benn. Either they haven't stayed healthy, only played on special teams, or, well, both. The team can get a lot out of its TEs and RBs, which is especially important when the QB isn't good enough to throw outside of the hash marks in the first place, but the point is made. In the football equivalent of finding middle inning relievers, the Eagles have been futile at finding guys that are just tolerable options. Hell, Jason Avant is clearly a better guy than anything I've listed in this paragraph, and the only thing Avant can do is catch the ball and fall down immediately, while being too old and slow to run very far down the field in the first place. But at least he catches the damn ball. Austin, Huff, Cooper and Matthews not only drop it, they pop it up in the air for INTs. Neat trick, that.

This isn't like the offensive line, where Nero hasn't put resources in a badly botched bet on healthy for aging players, or that his staff can coach up what's here. (To be fair, replacement OLs occasionally have good games. Not often enough to keep your QB1 healthy, or to win games when the tide has gone against them, but at least there's been the occasional full game of competence.) No, WR has received a #1 pick in Agholor, a #2 in Matthews, a #3 in Huff, and money that no other NFL team would play for Cooper and Austin. Along with the non-choice to retain Jackson, and the failure to understand the market and retain Maclin.

What happens when you have what might be the worst WR corps in the NFL is that you have *no* margin for error. You can't overcome penalties or sacks and pick up long third downs. You can't take the top off a defense, and keep the safeties far enough off the line for consistent big hits in the running game. You can't execute end-arounds to give the defense more to worry about; the Eagles have called that play once this year, and Agholor fumbled it for a killing turnover. You can't draw big DPI flags to change a game. You can't cause mismatches by forcing the defense to double cover a top guy, freeing up someone else for open space (aka, why Matthews is struggling so much this year). You can't punch a team in the mouth with an early deep ball, the way Reid's teams used to do, and help ensure a fast start on offense.

On a roster filled with Nero's whiffs and arrogance, WR might be the biggest indictment of why he's the worst GM in the past 50 years for this laundry, and why his era will be remembered as an unmitigated failure and disappointment. And we all get to watch it for another six weeks, and if we are very unfortunate, another year or two after that, as more bodies are shuffled at the WR slot, and we get more and more evidence that he's simply over-matched for this role.

That's actually the kind assessment. You can also drop the word Fraud here if you like.

Just be sure to drop it, because that's the operative word when discussing Eagle WRs.

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule