NFC South: Philadelphia Eagles

Free-agency review: Eagles

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Most significant signing: Considering the struggles at safety the past couple of seasons, Malcolm Jenkins has to be the most significant signing. Jenkins is coming off a strong season, but has been inconsistent in the past. He might not be a Pro Bowler, but he's a definite upgrade over what Philadelphia has had of late. His versatility -- he's a former college corner -- is a big plus.

Most significant loss: The Eagles haven't had a significant loss. One free agent who left was backup defensive end Clifton Geathers, who signed with Washington. But that's hardly significant -- for either team. Quarterback Michael Vick hasn't drawn a lot of attention in free agency, which suggests many teams agree with the Eagles that his career is at, or very near, the end.

Biggest surprise: The trade for running back Darren Sproles. Had New Orleans just cut Sproles, it's possible the Eagles would have lost out on him. And it's not as if he was a strong need. But Sproles was a terrific weapon to add for this offense because of his versatility -- he can line up anywhere and catch passes. His presence also means the Eagles could be creative in how they deal with other players -- a trade to recoup some draft picks perhaps? Or it could just mean they have another player defenses must worry about. He might not be the same as he was three years ago, but the Eagles don't need Sproles to be that dynamic given who else they have on the roster.

What's next? The Eagles still need more help on defense, even after also signing cornerback Nolan Carroll. The secondary in particular could be strengthened more -- perhaps with strong safety Calvin Pryor in the draft? The Eagles have added depth and key special teams players. They need to find a few players to develop into starters in the draft.
I'm still not in love with the New Orleans Saints' decision to part ways with running back Darren Sproles. And if they're hoping to avoid regret, then the Philadelphia Eagles probably weren't the ideal trade partners.

Not only are the Eagles among the Saints' chief rivals for NFC supremacy, but Philly coach Chip Kelly's dynamic offense will probably be a great fit for Sproles, who can thrive in a limited role there as LeSean McCoy's sidekick.

However, at least the Eagles aren't in the NFC South, and at least the Saints made them give up something in return (a fifth-round pick). If the Saints had released Sproles, they would have had no say in where he wound up and gotten nothing in return (see: Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware and several other recent examples).

Since the Saints had already made it clear last week that they were intending to let Sproles go, it's something of a boon for them to land a fifth-round pick. That's not exactly a "throwaway" pick. And perhaps the Saints can use it as ammo to trade up -- like what they did with the fourth-round pick they got for running back Chris Ivory last year.

Just as importantly, the Saints cleared out $3.5 million in salary-cap space this year by letting Sproles go (he'll count just $750,000 in "dead money" against their cap). And they're obviously following an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new playbook this offseason, having released several veterans while investing heavily in new safety Jairus Byrd.

Letting Sproles go does make some sense for a number of reasons I've outlined previously. The Saints are still well-stocked at the running back position with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. And Sproles is 30 years old and has shown signs of declining production in recent years.

I still believe Sproles can be a dangerous weapon in a limited role. And I'm sure he will be in Philly.

But he probably wouldn't have come close to replicating his remarkable 2011 season in either city -- which is the biggest shame of all.

Upon Further Review: Saints-Eagles

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5

Phil Sheridan and Mike Triplett break down the New Orleans Saints' 26-24 win and a disappointing end to the Philadelphia Eagles' season.

Live blog: Saints at Eagles

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
Join our NFL experts for playoff football between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles on wild-card weekend.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8 p.m. ET. See you there.

The way things have gone for the Philadelphia Eagles this season, you half expected to hear that Drew Brees fell down an elevator shaft or was hit by some space junk. But no, the New Orleans Saints' superb quarterback will not go the way of Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Tony Romo the week before their teams played the Eagles.

Of course, that doesn't mean anyone knows which Brees will show up for the first-round playoff game Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. Will it be the Brees with the 8-0 record at home, or the Brees who has gone 3-5 on the road this season?

In search of the answer to this and other questions, reporters Mike Triplett in New Orleans and Phil Sheridan in Philadelphia exchanged insight and info.

Phil Sheridan: Let’s start with the obvious: the disparity between the Saints at home and on the road. Is it mostly Brees? The fast track at the Superdome versus grass fields elsewhere? Exposure to electromagnetic waves in the outdoors? Some combination?

Mike Triplett: Shoot, if I had the answer to that question, I’d probably be interviewing for some of these head-coaching vacancies around the league. It really is a mystery. Of course, the most obvious answer is that it’s harder for all teams to play on the road -- especially when weather conditions become a factor. And the Saints have had some road struggles in the past (including an 0-3 playoff record with Sean Payton and Drew Brees). But even in those playoff losses, their offense showed up. We've never seen a season quite like this, where they've had so much trouble scoring points on the road.

Honestly, it’s really come down to the football stuff: Early turnovers that put them in a hole, drive-killing penalties, an inability to stop the run. I expect their offense will still put up plenty of yards and points in this game, but I’m curious to see if they can avoid those costly turnovers -- and if they can find a way to contain LeSean McCoy. Those are the trends they must reverse from their previous road losses.

While we’re dwelling on the negative, what could be the Eagles’ fatal flaw? If something goes wrong for them in this game, what do you think it will be?

Sheridan: The Snowball Effect. While the Eagles' defense has done a remarkable job of keeping points low -- 11 of the past 12 opponents have scored 22 or fewer -- there is a persistent suspicion that the smoke could clear and the mirrors could crack. Matt Cassel hung 48 points on them two weeks ago, the most since Peyton Manning put up 52 in Week 4. Even Sunday night, Kyle Orton was only a couple of slightly better throws away from scoring another touchdown or two. Brees is obviously capable of making those throws. If the Saints can move the ball the way many teams have, plus translate the yards into points, it could force the Eagles to play catch-up. And we haven’t really seen Nick Foles in a shootout-type game yet. Jay Cutler didn't show up two weeks ago when the Bears came to town, and a freak snowfall took Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson out of their game.

The stats say Rob Ryan has transformed the Saints' defense from a farce into a force. Does that align with what you see when you watch them? Does Ryan have the scheme and the personnel to be physical with the Eagles' receivers while getting pressure on Foles?

Triplett: That’s absolutely true, Phil. Ryan has been an outstanding fit for this team. I know Philly fans didn't see his best results with the Dallas Cowboys the past two years. But it must have been a perfect storm here, where the Saints' defense had just given up the most yards in NFL history under former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in 2012. The players were ready for a change -- and Ryan is all about change. He constantly adapts his approach from week to week, building around his players’ strengths and tailoring game plans for certain opponents.

Several young players are having breakout years -- including pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette (12 sacks each this season) and cornerback Keenan Lewis, who is a true No. 1 corner. He’s physical with long arms and plays well in man coverage. I imagine he’ll be matched up a lot against DeSean Jackson.

From what I've read about Chip Kelly, it seems as though he’s a kindred spirit of both Ryan and Sean Payton -- trying to create confusion and mismatches. Is it possible for you to boil down his philosophy to one or two paragraphs?

Sheridan: Force the issue. That’s the underlying principle. It’s behind the no-huddle, up-tempo approach, and it drives many of the unusual things he does with formations and blocking schemes. Kelly wants to spread the field horizontally and vertically, forcing defenses to account for every offensive player and every square foot of grass. He’ll line right tackle Lane Johnson out like a wide receiver, or left tackle Jason Peters at tight end on the right, or DeSean Jackson in the backfield, just to see how the defense responds. If he sees a mismatch, he’ll exploit it until the defense corrects it.

It must be said that Kelly inherited a lot of offensive talent that was pretty darn good under Andy Reid. The line has been outstanding and, just as important, healthy. Jackson, McCoy and the other skill players are exceptional. The X factor has been the way Foles has mastered what Kelly wants to do. There are a lot of quick reads and decisions for the quarterback to make -- whether it’s a zone-read or a package play with run/pass options -- and Foles has translated Kelly’s dry-erase board to the field very well, leading the Eagles to a 7-1 record since they were 3-5 at the midway point.

Payton is a similar creative offensive mind with an NFL pedigree. The first time I met him, he was the Eagles' quarterback coach on Ray Rhodes' late 1990s teams, trying to win with Bobby Hoying and various Detmers. Is he any different or more driven since serving his one-year suspension? Is there a sense the Saints are back where they belong and determined to make a deep run?

Triplett: I think it’s a great comparison. Although the offenses don’t look identical, the philosophies are the same -- create, identify and exploit mismatches. The Saints will actually rotate in a ton of different personnel groupings early in games, as well as mix up their formations, to see how defenses react.

Payton hasn't changed drastically this season. One of the things that stood out to me most early in the season was his patience in games -- how he’d stick with a methodical attack, settling for a lot of check-down passes, etc., to win games against teams such as Chicago and San Francisco. Lately, Payton's been a little stumped in similar-style games on the road, though.

Overall, the idea with him is that he is hyperfocused on every detail that can help this team win. Brees keeps saying Payton’s leaving no stone unturned. It started with switching defensive coordinators on his second day back on the job, then things such as changing the team’s conditioning program, then recently switching out the left tackle and kicker heading into Week 16.

I’ll leave you with a quick question, Phil. Who are the one or two players we haven’t talked about much who could have a big impact on this game? From my end, the answer would probably be those young pass-rushers, Jordan and Galette.

Sheridan: I’m going to go with the Eagles’ key pass-rushers, too -- Fletcher Cox, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. The Eagles didn't sack Orton at all Sunday night in Dallas. Orton is no Brees, but he does get the ball out quickly. So it might not result in many sacks against the Saints, but the defense has to disrupt Brees' rhythm as much as possible. Cole had eight sacks in the second half of the season. Cox has been outstanding at collapsing the pocket. Barwin is as likely to jam Jimmy Graham at the line of scrimmage as rush the passer.

But somebody from that group -- or maybe it will be Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry -- has to make Brees feel uncomfortable, or it’s going to be a long night for the Eagles. As you pointed out, the Saints have made more mistakes on the road than at home. Forcing some of those mistakes, preferably early, could make the air feel colder and the wind feel sharper.


Observation deck: Panthers-Eagles

August, 15, 2013

The Carolina Panthers better put in a hurry-up defense quickly.

That became apparent in Thursday night’s 14-9 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

With the defensive starters playing most of the first half, the Panthers struggled to stop Philadelphia’s fast-paced attack. The Eagles piled up 257 yards of total offense in the first half.

Carolina's defense was on its heels, reacting instead of being proactive, most of the night.

Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly’s scheme is unique, but the Panthers are going to face elements of it in the regular season. They have to play Atlanta (twice), a team that’s proficient in the no-huddle offense. They also have to face Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, a pair of quarterbacks who can make things happen with their ability to run.

Things could have been even worse, but Carolina’s first defense was able to produce three turnovers to stop Philadelphia drives. But it’s pretty obvious the unit isn’t a finished product.

The Panthers have some work to do in getting ready for no-huddle offenses and mobile quarterbacks.

Some other quick observations on the Panthers:
  • It wasn’t all bad news for the defense. Cornerback Josh Norman had an interception on a Hail-Mary pass just before the end of the first half and cornerback Josh Thomas picked off Nick Foles early on. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn have been getting most of the first-team work in camp, but the interceptions by Norman and Thomas might put them in the mix for starting jobs.
  • I liked the fact the Panthers gave running back DeAngelo Williams 12 carries in the first half. I thought Williams was underutilized last season. He’s an explosive player and, if given enough chances in the regular season, Williams will make things happen.
  • Defensive end Greg Hardy produced a first-half sack. But give some of the credit to rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who got good penetration on the play.
  • Wide receiver Steve Smith is 34, but still going strong, largely because he runs such great routes.
  • Rookie Kenjon Barner might have hurt his chances at claiming future playing time as a return man by muffing a third-quarter punt return.
  • With receivers Domenik Hixon, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards sitting out due to injuries, David Gettis and Ted Ginn Jr. made the most of increased opportunities. Gettis had five catches for 82 yards and Ginn had two catches for 39 yards.

Bucs unload Arrelious Benn

March, 15, 2013
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to be the NFC South’s most active team this offseason.

On Friday, the Buccaneers traded wide receiver Arrelious Benn and a seventh-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for a sixth-round pick this year and a conditional pick in 2014.

A second-round pick in 2010, Benn never has played up to his potential. Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick in the same draft, has emerged as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 receiver. Benn had only four catches in eight games last year before suffering a season-ending injury. He also dealt with injuries as a rookie.

Also on Friday, defensive tackle Roy Miller, who started 14 games last season, signed a two-year deal with Jacksonville. The Bucs have Gerald McCoy as one starter at defensive tackle and Gary Gibson is a reliable backup. But Tampa Bay likely will have to find another defensive tackle in the draft or free agency.

Mike Nolan also draws interest

January, 1, 2013
As the Atlanta Falcons get ready for the postseason, they suddenly have a lot of potential distractions.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has become the latest Atlanta assistant to get an interview for a position as a head coach. Nolan reportedly will interview in Philadelphia. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong also will be interviewing for spots.

Since the Falcons have a bye this week, their assistants are allowed to interview.

Koetter, Nolan and Armstrong are all dedicated professionals and I’m sure they’ll do their best to fulfill their duties to the Falcons this week. But that’s not going to be easy to juggle the interviews with their regular duties.

The fact they’re interviewing also could cause some distractions for the players. But, if the Falcons really are going to make a deep playoff run, they have to be able to handle distractions.

Wrap-up: Eagles 23, Buccaneers 21

December, 9, 2012
Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 23-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: This one was particularly painful for the Buccaneers in terms of how they lost and what it means. They had a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter, but ended up losing on the last play of the game to one of the NFL’s worst teams. But it goes much deeper than that. The Bucs now are on a three-game losing streak, they’re 6-7 and their playoff hopes could be fading away.

Defensive collapse: The pass defense has been a problem all season, and that was only accentuated in this one. Philadelphia rookie quarterback Nick Foles threw for 381 yards and led two touchdown drives in the final 3:26.

Super letdown: The Buccaneers used this day to celebrate an early 10-year anniversary of their Super Bowl championship. Scores of players and coaches from that squad returned and the Bucs had a rare day in which their game was allowed to be shown on local television. But the current Bucs didn’t play anything close to championship football. The Buccaneers have made big strides this year, but they’re not going to consistently sell out their stadium the way they did in their glory years unless they start winning games like this.

What’s next: The Buccaneers play at New Orleans next Sunday.

Gruden: Brad Johnson deserves respect

December, 7, 2012
There has been a lot of reflection this week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their Super Bowl victory.

Many of the players and coaches will be back in town to be honored as the Bucs host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Much of the hype about the event has focused on guys like Ronde Barber, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Alstott and Jon Gruden, who coached that team.

Speaking of Gruden, click this link and then play the video of him talking about the championship season. The first thing Gruden talks about is how he thinks quarterback Brad Johnson didn’t get the respect he deserved.

That’s an excellent point. Johnson is kind of the forgotten man of that team. That’s understandable because he was surrounded by some big-time names and much of the focus was on the defense. But Johnson quietly had a nice season and gave the Bucs the kind of quarterback play that predecessors Shaun King and Trent Dilfer didn’t.

Johnson led the NFC with a 92.9 passer rating while completing 62.3 percent of his passes. He also set what was then a team record with 22 touchdown passes and, at one point, threw 187 consecutive passes without an interception.

It’s hard for a quarterback to get overshadowed, but that’s exactly what happened to Johnson. As the Bucs celebrate their big weekend, let’s think about what Johnson did that year and give him the respect he earned.

No blackout for Buccaneers

December, 6, 2012
There will be a rare event in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The Buccaneers will have a home game broadcast live on local television. The team just announced it has met the 85-percent threshold to lift the blackout of the game with Philadelphia.

That’s only the second time this has happened this season (the other was when the Saints came to town) and only the fourth time since the start of the 2010 season.

The Eagles normally are a good draw in Tampa Bay, but their disappointing season probably isn’t drawing a large amount of transplanted fans. I think this one has more to do with the fact the Bucs are in the playoff hunt and they also are honoring their Super Bowl championship team.

A limited number of tickets remain.

Video: AccuScore -- Eagles-Bucs

December, 6, 2012

Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers for the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay matchup.

Wrap-up: Broncos 31, Buccaneers 23

December, 2, 2012

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-23 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday:

What it means: For the second straight week, the Bucs got to the corner and couldn’t quite turn it. There’s no question the Bucs are on the right path, but this was another game in which they showed they’re not ready to beat a good team. But they’re close. They lost by a point to Atlanta last week, and they controlled the Denver game for the first half before the Broncos took control by scoring 21 points in the third quarter. At 6-6, the Bucs remain in the playoff picture for this season. But the postseason might be a more realistic goal for next season. Somewhere along the way, the Bucs have to figure out how to beat good teams if they truly want to take the next step.

What I liked: The way Tampa Bay compensated for its problems in the secondary in the first half. The Bucs held Peyton Manning to one first-half touchdown pass, and that was to defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. They were able to keep their young cornerbacks from getting exploited, and that was largely because Tampa Bay’s offense did such a nice job of controlling the ball and keeping Manning off the field.

What I didn’t like: The offense went completely cold in the third quarter. That gave Manning an opportunity to pick on rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, and the complexion of the game changed rapidly.

What else I didn't like: The Bucs put virtually no pressure on Manning. They are without defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who is out for the season with an injury. But ends Michael Bennett and Da'Quan Bowers and tackle Gerald McCoy can generate a pass rush. They didn't do it against the Broncos, and that's why Manning hung the secondary out to dry.

Injury watch: Kickoff returner/reserve cornerback LeQuan Lewis went down with a knee injury, which didn't look good, late in the fourth quarter. If Lewis misses any time, the Bucs might turn to rookie running back Michael Smith as their kick returner.

It happened again: Remember early in the season when the Bucs still were going hard against the New York Giants with Eli Manning lined up in the victory formation? The Bucs did the same thing to his brother. Peyton Manning took a knee twice at the end of the game, and the Bucs came after him. Manning didn't get touched, but his offensive lineman didn't react kindly, and there was some pushing and shoving with Tampa Bay defenders. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano talked to Manning after the game, but it wasn't clear whether the quarterback had any problem with Tampa Bay's tactics. I'm sure Manning will be asked about it in his postgame interview.

What’s next: The Bucs host the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.

Statistical superlatives on the Panthers

November, 27, 2012
I only do statistical superlatives when a team wins, so the Carolina Panthers haven’t had many of these posts this season. But let’s give them their due right now.

With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a by-the-numbers look at Carolina’s 30-22 victory against Philadelphia on Monday night.
  • The Panthers scored 10 points in the fourth quarter while holding the Eagles scoreless. Prior to that Carolina had not held an opponent scoreless in the fourth quarter in any of its last 23 games. That tied an NFL record. In the 93-year history the only other team to never shut out an opponent in the fourth quarter over a 23-game span was the Cincinnati Bengals in 1997 and ’98.
  • Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had two passing touchdowns in the first half and two rushing touchdowns in the second half. He became the first player since Jeff Garcia in 2000 to have two passing touchdowns in the first half and two rushing touchdowns in the second half, or vice versa.
  • Newton had his third career game with four total touchdowns and no turnovers while also becoming the first quarterback to reach 20 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons.
  • Newton’s 89.3 Total QBR was his best score of the season and the second best of his career (his high was 92.5 in a win against Tampa Bay last December).
  • Newton was outstanding on deep throws, an area in which he had struggled prior to this game. On throws of 15 yards or more, Newton completed all five of his passes and averaged 35.2 yards per attempt with two touchdowns.
  • Both of Newton’s rushing touchdowns came in goal-to-go situations. Newton has six goal-to-go rushing touchdowns this season. Over the last two seasons, Newton has 15 touchdowns in those situations. That ties him with Arian Foster for second in the NFL in that span. Only Ray Rice (17) has more goal-to-go rushing touchdowns.

Wrap-up: Panthers 30, Eagles 22

November, 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 30-22 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night:

What it means: Suddenly, there’s a ray of hope that coach Ron Rivera might be able to keep his job next season. One win against a very bad team isn’t going to change everything and neither is a 3-8 record. But this may be a starting point for Rivera and his team to finish the season on a bit of an upswing. I don’t think Jerry Richardson wants to pull the plug on Rivera, but he needs to see some progress the rest of the way. There are several more games on the schedule that look winnable. If Rivera can win a few of those, he may have a shot to stick around.

Newton’s big night: Cam Newton always seemed to be at his best in big games when he was at Auburn. Maybe he should be in prime time more often. In his “Monday Night Football” debut, Newton was both efficient and explosive. He threw two touchdown passes and had two touchdown runs and didn't make any major mistakes.

What I liked: The Panthers showed they actually can close out a game. Squandering fourth-quarter leads had been a problem all season, but Carolina got the job done this time.

What I didn’t like: Carolina’s run defense. Philadelphia rookie running back Bryce Brown had a huge night, rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers haven’t been very good against the run since the latter years of John Fox’s tenure.

Unsung hero: Backup tight end Gary Barnidge caught the first touchdown pass of his career in the first quarter. He also recovered a fumble on a Philadelphia kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Milestone time: Carolina’s Steve Smith surpassed the 11,000-yard mark in career receiving.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Kansas City on Sunday.