Eagles links and news for 9/23
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich explained fixing the Eagles’ poor conversation rate isn’t just as simple as being better on third down. The improvement must start earlier in the series.
“Stay in phase,” explained Reich. “I haven’t looked at it … I just made a cut up the other day of all of our third downs. And as I started to look back, I just knew there were a lot of third-and-really longs. I don’t know the exact numbers. I didn’t get to that point.”
“But you’ve got to stay in phase. You’ve got to get third and manageable. That’s going to be key. And penalties will put you into third-and-long. If you get in second-and-long, you’ve got to be good on second-and-long to kind of get it back in phase.”
Reich is right: the Eagles are facing a lot of “third-and-really longs.” Philadelphia’s average “to go” distance on third down is 8.8 yards. Only the Vikings and the Browns are facing longer situations on average. The Eagles are averaging a paltry 3.83 yards per attempt on 22 third down pass attempts. Eight rushing attempts on third down have only been good for one yard per carry.
Brandon Graham thinks he once won a bet for Jim Schwartz, which might have some bearing on the coordinator's fondness for the defensive end he was happy to inherit from Chip Kelly and Bill Davis last winter.
As Schwartz reminded reporters Thursday, Schwartz was head coach of the Lions in 2010, and his staff coached the North team at the Senior Bowl. Graham, then a Michigan star, was named the game's most valuable player.
Graham said he overheard a conversation between Schwartz and another coach before the game. " 'Who you got this game?' " Graham said the other coach asked. "(Schwartz) said, 'I'll go with my defensive end.' It was kinda cool, because the whole week he'd been just hard, hard core. That's just how he is."
In fact, earlier that week, Detroit native Graham recalled thinking, "Lord, don't let me go to the Lions," because he didn't know how to take Schwartz's gruff manner.
Graham said he came to feel the week with Schwartz helped him a lot, and he enjoys playing for him now. Even though "you never know what he's thinking, whether he's about to go off on you or (praise you). He just MAD .
"I love Schwartz, though. He's an honest guy, gonna shoot you straight. All he wants is guys that love football just as much as him. He's been putting us in great situations . . . You want to go out there and play for a guy like that."
It is a necessary aspect of Wentz's maturation - the thrust and parry between a defensive coordinator and a quarterback, the knowledge and experience that he can accumulate only over time. Make no mistake, too: The battle of wits is between the coordinator and the quarterback. A team's offensive system, Reich said, is less important to a defensive coordinator's game plan than the manner in which the quarterback implements that system.
The focus is always on the player first - minimizing his strengths, exploiting his weaknesses - and with every game Wentz will reveal what he does and does not yet know and what his intrinsic skills will allow him to do. So when the Chicago Bears and their defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, presented a challenge Monday night with their group of excellent edge pass-rushers, it wasn't enough that head coach Doug Pederson and Reich devised a series of quick, short passes out of a no-huddle approach to help shepherd Wentz through the game's first possession. Wentz had to be decisive, and he had to use his terrific arm strength to make crisp, well-timed throws to his receivers, and because he was and did, the Eagles embarked on a tone-setting scoring drive.
The whole exercise appeared effortless for him. It won't always.
Jim Schwartz doesn't need reporters to remind him. He knows. The Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator is well aware of just how dangerous the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best wide receiver is, aware that Antonio Brown could break Sunday's game wide open as quickly as he bursts out of his devastating cuts.
"We know what number he wears," Schwartz said. "We won't have any trouble finding him."
So Schwartz, much like Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, didn't spend a lot of time talking about Brown's talents during his weekly news conference Thursday. Why state the obvious? Brown's combined 5,031 receiving yards over the past three seasons tell the story well enough.
Instead, the Eagles' defensive czar pointed out what he finds most intimidating about Pittsburgh's offense, a unit that's averaged 31.7 points over its past 10 regular-season games. The rest of the skill position players, Schwartz said, are no slouches.
"It's not just [Brown]," Schwartz said. "They got a track meet at wide receiver. They've got some guys that can fly, that can take the top off a defense. [Eli Rogers] is a really shifty guy in the slot. Their tight end is big. They've got a couple different tight ends they can work in there, they have a running back who is leading the NFL in rushing and a future Hall of Fame quarterback."
1. Battle of two 2-0 teams. Team with the biggest average margin of victory in the NFC (Philadelphia, 17.0) versus team with the biggest average margin of victory in the AFC (Pittsburgh, 15.0) in the first two weeks.
2. You may have over the years read my disdain for the quirk in the NFL scheduling process that has each AFC team playing each NFC team just once every four years, meaning that rivalry games like Steelers-Eagles (and Giants-Jets and Cowboys-Texans and Washington-Baltimore and Oakland-San Francisco) are played once every four seasons. It’s terrible that the league doesn’t find a way to play these game more often, because unless Ben Roethlisberger is still playing at age 42, this is the last time (and only the second overall) that he’ll ever set foot on the Eagles’ home ground in a game that matters.
3. The Steelers have played one regular-season game in Philadelphia since 1997. It happened eight years ago today. Eagles 15, Steelers 6—a game that would be one of Pittsburgh’s speed bumps on the way to a Super Bowl win over the Cardinals that season. The game was a rough one for Roethlisberger. The Eagles sacked him eight times, allowed just 131 passing yards, and left the Steelers with problems to solve on the offensive line. I remember the game. When I looked it up, I thought: There will be more than 21 points scored this week.