Monday, November 7, 2016

Five Moves For The Eagles, Now That The Playoffs Are Pretty Much Out Of The Question

Doug E. Stale
After today's loss in New York, my laundry has dropped four of its last five, including all three division games. At 4-4, they are in last place in the NFC East, have shown themselves to be deficient in decision making and fourth quarter execution, and probably are even worse than we think, given the number of unsustainable big plays they've been getting in special teams.

And all of this is monumentally frustrating, because in many of the losses in this stretch, they've been a play or two away, with many of the plays not made solely left at the doorstep of rookie HC Doug Pederson. In Detroit, he failed to trust his QB on the most important play of the game, leaving things in the hands of a fumble prone RB on a play that had to go too far, anyway. A week later in DC, the team failed to set a tone early with help for a rookie T making his first start. In Dallas, he refused to allow his QB to test a suspect secondary deep, eventually leading to a choked off field. And in New York today, he repeatedly left points on the board with overly aggressive fourth down tries, and underwhelming play calling on those critical downs.

That's all water under the bridge now, and unlike previous HC Nero Kelly, Pederson isn't so tied into his own Super Genius to prevent any possibility of growth. But the real trouble is that the second half of the schedule is a lot tougher than the first.

Nov 13 - Atlanta
Nov 20 - at Seattle
Nog 28 - Green Bay
Dec 4 - at Cincinnati
Dec 11 - Washington
Dec 18 - at Baltimore
Dec 22 - NY Giants
Jan 1 - Dallas

Given their road game woes, I don't see them winning either in Seattle or Cincy, and the home games are no picnic, especially with the Falcons having major weapons on offense, and Green Bay likely desperate and firing hard to right their season. It's unlikely that they will be favored in any of these games, and very unlikely that they win more than one out of the next four games. Which would put them at 5-7 going into the final four games, in a division where it honestly looks like every other team is going to be over .500.

So the playoffs are, well, gone.

Forget the 3-0 start, because that win against the Steelers turned out to be a mirage. Forget the win against Minnesota, because it turns out that team was just as big of a paper tiger as the Eagles were. Even if they close with a rush with lots of home game goodness, it's not going to be enough, barring collapses in the rest of the division.

So, having said that, let's get to the stuff that needs to happen to set this club up for its best chance in 2017.

1) Stop overdosing on Darren Sproles.

Look, I love Sproles, and every Eagle fan should. He's a borderline Hall of Fame candidate with all-around yardage, his heart is as big as all outdoors, and he's clearly the best RB on the roster right now. He's also ancient by NFL standards, not getting any younger, and won't be part of the next Eagles playoff team. Using him for more than a handful of touches per game, and keeping other players from getting hammered in special teams, is just Pederson sucking a binkie. Give the RB1 spot to rookie Wendell Smallwood, and see if you've got something worthwhile. Or risk going into 2017 not knowing if you need to spend a high draft pick on a RB.

2) Give up on Nelson Agholor.

He's out of excuses. He's healthy, and gets no separation. He's not really fast enough, definitely not strong or big enough, and there's absolutely nothing special about him. I'd much rather spend the next eight games seeing if Bryce Treggs can do something, if Dorian Green-Beckham can get a few more plays in his wheelhouse, and if Jordan Matthews can exist anywhere except the slot. Agholor's going to be out of football in 18 months; let's just cut to the chase already, because at this point, I think Treggs has more of a future. Unless you consider the CFL a future.

3) Start rotating offensive linemen.

Here's something we have to come to grips with, and hopefully sooner rather than later; C Jason Kelce is killing this team. Between the earlier poor snaps, the ever-growing number of penalties, and the plain and simple fact that the guy has always been undersized, he's just far too erratic to be an asset. I get that he's vocal and a clubhouse presence, and that he's been to Pro Bowls. But honestly, none of that matters between the lines. It's time to see if there's anything behind him that might make for a better option, especially in the interior running game. (As for the other spots on the line, we're getting to the point in the season where T Jason Peters gets hurt a lot, and he'd old and expensive; let's see just how bad the options are behind him. At least Hala Vaitai is getting better, and maybe G Brandon Brooks can handle the bigger job. Stefen Wisniewski had some good moments today, too. I doubt they have backups that are actual options here, but just losing with Kelce is starting to get old. Kind of like, well, Kelce.

4) Give Carson Wentz some counter scouting... and maybe even some tough love.

We all love the kid; he's the single best reason to be a fan of the laundry right now. But some warts are starting to emerge. His tendency to keep the ball on run action on critical short down and distances, for one. His inability to avoid sacks on blitz pressure late in games, for another. Missing deep balls with underthrows, for a third. The recent amped up early problem that's leading to first quarter turnovers. And most tellingly, his inability in this spate of close but not quite games to pull the team's ass out of the fire with fourth quarter heroics.

No one wants to see a QB change; that would be beyond pointless. But we also can't just assume the kid is going to get better without feedback, or have him think that the only thing he can do is wait until the WRs stop stinking up the joint. Speaking of which...

5) Play your best personnel. That would be your tight ends.

The Eagle tight ends are an odd mix of mismatched talents. Veteran Brent Celek has good hands, but no separation, and is pretty much just a tackle now. Youngster Trey Burton is more like a movement guy, kind of like an old school fullback, but only in the passing game. (He's also useful on special teams.) And starter Zach Ertz is the best at stretching a defense, but damn near hopeless in the red zone, for reasons that no one has ever really figured out.

Here's the thing, though -- they can all play football. Unlike, say, Agholor, and frequently, Green-Beckham. They all have better hands than Matthews, too.

So play them all, at once. Line Ertz out wide and see if you can turn him into a DeMaryius Thomas kind of threat. Keep Celek in on just about every play to help the line. Use Burton instead of Sproles in the passing game, and see if you can get some separation with power on linebackers. Because just trotting out these terrible WRs isn't working. It's also really not going to work against teams with actual secondaries, like Cincy and Seattle.

Oh, and a bonus?

Strap Pederson to a PlayStation and have him play Madden 24/7 in the off-season for a few months. Honestly. Because I'm not sure we can all wait out the years until he's figured out this whole calling critical plays that aren't terrible on their face problem...

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