News and notes for 9/22
Through two games, Doug Pederson has yet to waste a timeout. In fact, of the 12 he has had at his disposal in his first four halves as an NFL play-caller, the Eagles' first-year head coach has used just six. We haven't had a chance to see how he might put them to use in a late-and-close situation - outscoring opponents 58-24 kinda limits those opportunities - but the point is, they were there. Of the six timeouts he has spent, three came in the final two minutes of his two first halves, both of which saw the Eagles in position to run a final drive that resulted in points. The other timeouts were spent late in the fourth quarter, with a victory already in hand.
Maybe that's a silly way to start an argument that says the Eagles have found themselves a guy who looks like he should be a head coach in this league for a very long time, but, then, it's kind of a silly argument to make at this juncture. Two games, two inferior opponents with suspect defenses and, it turns out, two quarterbacks playing through injuries. Yet it was right around three years ago this time that we were already zeroing in on some of the blind spots in Chip Kelly's game, including a curious batch of time-management in a Week 2 loss to the Chargers. Put another way: If we hadn't seen everything we've seen and instead saw Pederson grimacing and mouth-breathing his way through camera shot after camera shot of his quarterback jogging to the sideline after another first-quarter play he couldn't get off in time, we certainly wouldn't be telling ourselves to wait for a larger sample size.
The reality, of course, is that there is no good way to quantify coaching performance, other than those pesky little numbers in the win and loss columns. But the brand of football we've seen the Eagles play in wins over the Browns and Bears is one that deserves some attention. The easiest way to describe it involves a heavy dose of subjective, abstract terms. They look crisp. They cohesive. They look organized. We don't really oil our machines anymore, but if we did, they'd be a well-oiled one.
Ben Roethlisberger spent time with Carson Wentz before April’s NFL draft, but Roethlisberger figured he’d see Wentz more often in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns had the No. 2 pick at the time, and aware of Wentz’s early-season success, Roethlisberger gave a nod to his division rival during a conference call with Philadelphia reporters on Wednesday.
"Heady player, smart, understands the game," Roethlisberger said. "Physically gifted, both with his legs and his arms. Can make all the throws. I was really surprised – I thought I was going to be facing him two times a year in Cleveland."
The Browns traded the pick to the Eagles, who are 2-0 with Wentz at quarterback. The Browns are 0-2 and this weekend will start their third quarterback in three games. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger is preparing to play the Eagles – and the Wentz-Roethlisberger storyline will be a dominant topic.
"He’s playing well," Roethlisberger said. "He’s played two games, but he’s not trying to do too much. He’s taking what the defense gives them, makes plays with his feet when he needs to, and throws the ball where it needs to. So I think he’s doing some good things."
*Jim Schwartz did a few quirky things I thought were interesting. One was his five-man defensive line grouping, when he had Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan in the game at the same time. Schwartz didn’t use it much, but he did generate some pressure with it. He had Cox line up over the center, Graham and Logan shaded to the outside of the guards and Barwin and Curry were on the edges in the wide-9.
*On another play, Schwartz had both Ron Brooks and Rodney McLeod blitz off of the defense’s right edge, while dropping Graham on the left side into coverage. However, Graham slipped as he dropped into his zone, which may have led to the reception on that play. I liked the design, though, because while McLeod was clearly blitzing, Brooks disguised his well coming out of the slot. The Bears didn’t see Brooks coming, leaving him with a clear path to the quarterback.
*One more Schwartz quirk: He had Cox and Graham line up right next to each other on one play so they were both shaded outside of the right tackle. I’m not sure the purpose of that, but I imagine it may have been to present a new look and potentially confuse Chicago’s offensive line. I assumed pre-snap there would be a stunt coming with Cox going inside and Graham going outside, but they both executed a normal pass rush, with Graham on the right guard and Cox on the right tackle.
WR Antonio Brown: Brown's presence in opposing team's scouting reports is obvious. But since Brown rarely has slim production in back-to-back weeks, he'll be looking to recover from last week's four-catch, 39-yard outing against the Bengals. Rain seemed to disrupt the timing of Brown and Roethlisberger. The Eagles must stay tight on Brown by the sideline, where he's so dangerous at catching passes.
RB DeAngelo Williams: The Steelers have fed Williams in the last two games without Le'Veon Bell, and Williams has rewarded the faith with a league-leading 237 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. If the Eagles defense plans to stop the pass, Roethlisberger has no problem checking into running plays. Williams is physical runner who puts his head down and hits the hole quickly.
RG David Decastro: DeCastro vs. Fletcher Cox will be an intense matchup any time Cox is matched up at left defensive tackle. Two high-level talents getting after it. DeCastro was rewarded with a six-year, $58-million contract extension after an All-Pro season, and he's eager to validate that deal with his play. This is a good chance to do just that.
This is the formula the Eagles must follow to win games. Every phase of the team contributes. The offense exercises ball security and takes advantage of changes of possession, particularly turnovers. High-level play in the red zone is a must. Controlling the clock and running the football are important.
Defensively, winning at the line of scrimmage, putting relentless pressure on the backfield and taking the football away are where games are won.
The Eagles are off to a 2-0 for a variety of reasons and following the formula is the key to the success. Wentz, in his two starts, has raised the level of play of everyone around him, and the Eagles are doing these four important things to help win games.
1. No Giveaways
One of only three teams without a giveaway (along with Oakland and Arizona), the Eagles have been remarkable in this category, especially with a rookie leading the way. The team's plus-4 turnover ratio ranks behind only Arizona and Minnesota in the NFL and it is a far cry from the last two seasons of Chip Kelly's time here (the Eagles were minus-5 in 2015 and minus-8 in 2014).
"Of course, it's important for us. We're still making too many mistakes and we're leaving some points out there, but we've taken care of the football," center Jason Kelce said. "Now, we have to clean up some of the penalties. We still have a lot of work to do."