Eagles news and notes for 12/18
In 2008, the Ravens hired a 45-year-old John Harbaugh to be their new head coach. A little over three months later, the Ravens gave the first-year head coach a quarterback when they selected FCS product Joe Flacco in the first round of the draft. Then, the rookie started right away.
Yeah, the Eagles’ situation this year seems to mirror — in a lot of ways — what the Ravens did in 2008. They hired a new young coach, drafted a strong-armed quarterback from the old Division I-AA and started him immediately.
The Eagles would be pretty lucky if Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz turned into anything like what Harbaugh and Flacco have been for Baltimore.
So what was it like for Harbaugh, as a first-year head coach, to be tethered to a rookie quarterback?
“Well, it wasn't too bad,” Harbaugh said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. “He's pretty good. It'd be better than the alternative of not being tethered to a talented quarterback. That wouldn't be quite as good. I was just trying to figure out how to be a head coach and Joe was trying to figure out how to be a quarterback, and over the years, I think we've kind of developed a really close bond. We shared a lot of amazing experiences together and a lot of heartache. It kind of forms that combination.”
Here's three matchups that could define the game, one Baltimore is desperate to win, while Philly seeks to play spoiler:
1. Eagles cornerback Leodis McKelvin vs. Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday his unit's tendency to give up big plays "was the tale of the game" in Sunday's loss to the Redskins. So, naturally, the Ravens might try to hit on some long passes this week just like Washington did against Philadelphia's secondary.
And Wallace is one of the NFL's speediest and most dangerous deep threats. He's averaged 15.1 yards per catch since entering the NFL in 2009.
McKelvin, meanwhile, failed to stick with Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson last week on a 80-yard touchdown and has given up several long plays this season.
If Wallace and McKelvin are matched up Sunday, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is likely to look that way. McKelvin won't want to get beat deep -- not if the Birds plan to avoid a repeat performance of their last loss.
THE EVALUATION of NFL free agents is similar to the evaluation of major league prospects in that a certain time of year rolls around and suddenly people are awash in opinions about players that they've never seen play on a regular basis.
You need only look back a couple of offseasons to find a glaring example of this phenomenon. One month, you're counting Lombardi trophies while breathlessly watching a news helicopter follow DeMarco Murray to his first day of work. The next month, you're watching DeMarco Murray play and thinking, "Wait, this is DeMarco Murray?"
The lesson of Murray and Byron Maxwell and a substantial majority of the free agents the Eagles have signed since their last playoff win is that there is often a huge difference between a player's ability to impact a fantasy football team and his ability to impact a real one.
It's a notion that gained some premature pertinence around these parts with Thursday's news that the Eagles had declined their opportunity to add former first-round draft pick Michael Floyd to their much-maligned receiver corps after the Cardinals released him in the wake of his DUI arrest in Arizona. Rather than spending the $1.3 million in salary-cap space that claiming Floyd would have required - money that could otherwise be rolled over into 2017 and thus spent improving a team that isn't already eliminated from playoff contention (in principle, if not mathematically) - the Eagles allowed Floyd to pass by them on the waiver wire, where he was eventually claimed by the Patriots.
Forget the fact that passing on Floyd was almost self-evidentially the right move (even if the Eagles love Floyd, they're better off tacking $1.3 million onto their best offer this offseason, when he will become a free agent, than wasting that money on three meaningless weeks of his services). The more interesting thing to note was the real-time reactions of Eagles and Cardinals fans as they followed the developments of Floyd's arrest, release, and rebirth.
An obvious question here is this: How are the Eagles going to scheme things and score points against a Baltimore defense ranked first in the NFL against the run and first in the NFL in takeaways? If you’re a believer in run/pass ratio, you might want to take a breather for this one. Conventional wisdom says the Eagles are going to have to rely on quarterback Carson Wentz in a big, big, big way and load up on the throwing game against a Ravens defense without its best cornerback, Jimmy Smith (ankle injury).
“They have a very good defense and we respect them, but we have to go out and do what we do best and execute,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who has 19 receptions, 191 yards and a touchdown in the last two weeks. “I think no matter how you do it, you want to establish the running game and then go from there. We have to protect Carson and we have to make plays down the field. I think we’ve put in a strong game plan so now it is the players’ jobs to go out and get it done.”
Losing Sproles – still in the concussion protocol after absorbing that big hit as he attempted to catch a punt in Sunday’s game against Washington – puts an even larger burden on the running backs, who were stretched to the limit last week when Wendell Smallwood left the game with a knee injury followed by Sproles and his concussion. Kenjon Barner will be active behind Ryan Mathews, and rookie Byron Marshall, promoted from the practice squad this week, will be active for the first time in his career.
The Eagles lose explosiveness and versatility without Sproles, who played 50 percent of the offensive snaps in the first 13 games of the season. Sproles averages 4.7 yards per carry and he has 47 receptions. He can line up anywhere in the formation and force defenses to account for his quickness and reliability, particularly on third down when he gets lined up in space and creates separation and a safe target for Wentz.
And without Sproles, the punt return game loses one of the game’s great weapons. Barner will fill in for Sproles there, and Barner has had some success in past preseasons returning punts, but he’s got two career regular season punt returns for a total of minus-3 yards.