Eagles news and notes for 12/15
How about this: Any coaches the Eagles would replace them with would be similarly limited until the front office provided them with the personnel necessary to achieve their schematic visions.
While Billy Davis certainly made the least of his weapons, Schwartz has run into some of the same problems as his predecessor throughout his first year at the helm. Turns out, very few systems can hide liabilities in the defensive backfield, and even fewer can generate an edge rush without the requisite personnel. A new chef might be able to make the chicken salad more edible, but, at some point, even the best recipe needs the right ingredients. Which is why there might be something instructive to glean from the way the numbers say things have played out 14 weeks into 2016.
Take the Giants.
Their current defense looks like a completely different unit from the one that took the field in its first year under Spagnuolo, when it was one of the worst in the NFL by practically every measure. The difference has been personnel, which makes some sense when you look at that personnel and think about its corollaries with the Jim Johnson units that launched Spagnuolo onto the national radar.
The additions of Olivier Vernon at defensive end and Damon Harrison at defensive tackle have paid huge dividends in run defense. Vernon hasn’t put up the sack numbers that tend to catch people’s eyes, but he has been the same type of disruptor on the edge as Brandon Graham has been for the Eagles (Graham, you’ll note, also does not have the sack numbers).
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, a free-agent signee from the Rams, has had a similar impact on the Giants’ pass coverage. The Giants are also looking like they hit big on last year’s second round draft pick, with strong safety Landon Collins establishing himself as one of the NFL’s premier run-stopping safeties (though his pass coverage remains a work in progress).
Immediately after the Eagles' bad loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Doug Pederson was asked what the difference was between the 3-0 start to the Eagles' season, and what they have become. The first thing he mentioned was the right tackle position.
“There are probably a lot of factors," he said. "One, you can look at the adversity. We’ve lost our right tackle there, and things started going the other direction (with) some injuries thrown in there. Teams have film on us and film on Carson. They’ve attacked differently. It just all begins to kind of snowball. It gets us obviously in the situation we’re in.”
While some felt that Pederson's answer was a cop out, he wasn't exactly wrong.
Johnson's suspension was felt immediately, as Vaitai was pressed into action as a rookie Week 6 against the Redskins, when he was eaten alive by Washington's pass rush, most notably by Ryan Kerrigan. Vaitai continued to struggle for a few more games, before showing improvement.
Just as Vaitai began feeling more comfortable, he sprained his MCL against the Seahawks, which forced Allen Barbre to move over from his starting LG spot to RT, with Stefen Wisniewski filling in at LG.
The Eagles had to make due with that shuffled line arrangement for a few weeks, before Barbre suffered a hamstring injury against the Redskins, making way for deep reserve Matt Tobin in the second half. As you saw Sunday against the Redskins, Tobin sprained his MCL during the final drive, stayed in the game, and allowed a game-sealing sack to Kerrigan before Carson Wentz even had a chance to blink.
As it stands right now, the Eagles are only an estimated $521,022 under the projected salary cap for 2017, according to Over The Cap, seemingly leaving the front office precious little room to maneuver in free agency this coming offseason.
With the Eagles' season beginning to wind down, it's only natural to look ahead to the challenges facing the team this offseason. Aside from whatever concerns there are with the coaching staff and/or general manager, we know the roster has grave defects at the cornerback and wide receiver positions, and could use upgrades at several others.
We also know the Eagles are not in possession of an inordinate number of draft picks in 2017. They recouped a first-rounder they once lacked from the Vikings in the Sam Bradford trade and have an extra fifth incoming from the Browns as part of the Carson Wentz deal. Otherwise, standard fare.
That means unless the Eagles absolutely ace the draft — and given their track record, that's unlikely — their best means for immediate improvement would be through free agency. And while the club can create some additional space by dumping some existing players, and the cap might increase more than expected, there still won't be enough money leftover to make a huge splash.
Granted, building through free agency isn't necessarily a good idea. The idea that the Eagles don't have the freedom to make the moves they want isn't comforting, either.
The sight of DeSean Jackson's strutting into the end zone on an 80-yard touchdown pass Sunday was familiar to Eagles fans who have watched him make those kinds of plays for nine seasons. Those same fans are also familiar with seeing the Eagles defense fall victim to big plays.
Jackson's reception was the 12th passing play of more than 40 yards against the Eagles this season. That's the second-highest total in the NFL, trailing two teams that have allowed 13. Their 50 passing plays of 20-plus yards allowed are tied for the most in the NFL. Since 2010, the Eagles have allowed 81 passing plays of 40-plus yards - tied with New Orleans for the most in the NFL.
Jim Schwartz has been the defensive coordinator only this season, but the big play was part of the Eagles' undoing in the their eighth loss. "I think that was the tale of this game," Schwartz said.
It was a better day for Schwartz's defense against Washington on Sunday than in previous weeks. That didn't make it any easier to take Jackson's 80-yarder or a 33-yard reception by Jae Crowder in the final minutes, when the Eagles nursed a one-point lead.
"The plays we didn't make [canceled out] the plays we did," Schwartz said.