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Birdbrained Week 5: Solving The Safety Position

Also: major concerns after one quarter of play; press coverage; and predicting Howie’s next moves

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy team! It’s mailbag time.

If you ever want to get your questions in, hit me up on Twitter @BenjaminSolak. If you don’t have a Twitter, you can also e-mail me at benjamin [dot] solak [at] gmail, but I will probably tell you to get a Twitter (and answer your question anyway).

Aaaand here we go!

I kinda talked about this with the Eric Thomas thing last week; but it applies to Le’Veon as well: Understanding the comp pick formula really frees you up to make some aggressive in-season trades. Let’s use Bell as the example:

Because Le’Veon Bell would likely be one of the larger free agent contracts when he hits the market after this season, the team that loses Bell to free agency will receive a compensatory Draft pick — likely a third- or fourth-rounder.

Philadelphia could be the team to recoup that selection.

So what’s the price to rent one of the top running backs in the league for 2018, and then acquire a 2020 third round selection? That’s the question you’re asking here.

Now, typically, when you add a free agent, you don’t have to worry about making the team worse, right? He either adds talent, or your team stays the same. But with Bell, if you’re trading for him, you have to convince him to sign the franchise tag, and then...actually play. As the Eagles — a team very unlikely to extend Bell beyond 2018 — that might be a difficult sell.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be Earl Thomas or Le’Veon Bell — it doesn’t have to be a disgruntled, future free agent that you trade for. And because future Draft picks are 90% a myth — think about the number of trades that happen on Draft night — you shouldn’t be afraid of moving a Day 2 pick or multiple Day 3 picks for the sake of proven players.

I expect moves. Even if the Eagles win out from now until the deadline, or lose out the same. Howie’s always looking for value, and that won’t change this season.

No, not really.

Before the season, when you looked at the Eagle defense, you’d likely circle defensive tackle depth or safety depth as the two biggest concerns. Maybe LB depth, but I feel like training camp handled that bump pretty nicely. Now a quarter of the way through the season, safety depth really has been exposed as the issue, in terms of personnel.

I probably have lost some confidence in Jim Schwartz, because he’s really struggling to get creative on the back-end. I thought he had done a nice job of growth in this regard coming into the season, but a leopard never changes its spots, I suppose. My confidence in the front-seven as a whole remains unwavering, as does my trust in Malcolm Jenkins to superhero-will the Eagles to win after win.

For the offense, you likely circled the Carson Wentz health situation as the biggest red flag — and really, to this point in the season, it technically has been, in that Carson’s only played two games. By the same token, the pass-catching depth was a big point of worry in September, but all it took was a good Goedert game and then an Alshon return to quell those concerns.

I suppose my salient point with the offense: let them get everyone back and in a few weeks with a new offensive coordinator before we go panicking. The switch at LG has been made to Seumalo, but I generally expect the offense to look much better when, you know, all of Darren Sproles and Corey Clement and Alshon Jeffery and 100% of Jay Ajayi and Carson Wentz are on the field at the same time.

I am not even close to panic mode about the offensive line. They’ve had two shaky weeks against two complex fronts. It’s all okay.

This kinda follows that ‘Schwartz adjusting’ idea, so let’s address it here.

The general schema, from my understanding, is this: let’s assume pressure is going to arrive to the quarterback quicker than 2.5 seconds (that’s the average NFL time to throw). That’s pretty much enough time for the QB to get to his first, maybe his second read depending on the concept.

If you’re playing Cover 3 with your corners off the line — that’s the typical Schwartz deployment — then your corners can play downhill into quick-breaking hot routes, thereby scoring PBUs or quick tackles against the quick throw game teams will use to combat your pass rush.

If you’re playing Cover 3 press, or just pure Cover 1, then you can more easily take away those underneath routes, sure — but if and when you get beat by quick underneath releases, you allow for YAC. And, if and when you get beat instead by one-on-one throws like the go route or back-shoulder fade, you give up bigger chunks of yardage.

Of course, Philadelphia can get into situations (Tampa Bay) in which, despite playing Cover 3, they’re still giving up big chunk plays (deep ins and comebacks were the great culprit there). I agree that, at that point, you’d like to see Schwartz potentially press or run trap coverages to discourage those routes.

I’d also welcome more variance generally, just to keep offenses on their toes. We saw a move that direction against the Titans, but some really bad execution on the field — and likely too much variance in the play-calling to boot. There’s a balance to be struck here. More press is definitely a possibility — but it doesn’t really lend itself to the structure and philosophy of Jim Schwartz’s entire defense.

I’m taking these three together, since they’re definitely linked. Let’s start with the big question:

Why was Avonte Maddox — a rookie cornerback — seeing safety reps over Deiondre’ Hall, a player who has actually played safety before in his life?

I dunno. I have no idea what that logic was. Simply none.

Maddox as a safety is something I find very perplexing. Think about it this way: slot corners play in the tightest of spaces in the secondary. There are bodies everywhere else — inside, outside, deep — so all the work of slot receivers happens very immediately. That’s why the primary trait of slot receivers is quickness: they need to separate in an instant, given the tight confines.

Deep safeties play in the most open of spaces in the secondary. Everything is happening equidistant to them (generally speaking). Their job isn’t to get somewhere in a split second, but rather get everywhere in a reasonably short period of time. They don’t need quickness so much as they need range — long-distance quickness, I suppose — which is a marriage of recognition and long speed.

Maddox’s primary trait is his quickness; his long range speed is certainly impressive, but that’s not what stands out on tape, and his recognition skills are yet untested. Furthermore, things like ballhawking skills — size and vertical leap to attack the catch point, physicality when attacking seam routes — also remain untested, and at his size, the outlook is a little bleak. He simply doesn’t translate to the safety position nearly as well as he does the slot.

Hence him playing in the slot for all of camp and the preseason.

Now, Deiondre’ Hall isn’t nearly as fast as Maddox — he’s built far more like a box safety who can cover tight ends than he is a free safety like McLeod. If the Eagles were to get Hall on the field, it would be more likely as the box guy, while Jenkins would step back into McLeod’s role as the deep safety.

But at least then you’d have Hall playing a role he’s familiar with, instead of Maddox in a role he’s never seen before. To me, that seems preferable — but what do I know, really?

Given the issues in the secondary, not seeing Hall at all in the near future — read: this week — would be rather a condemnation on that trade. The Eagles are desperate for an impact player at safety, and they traded for a safety who has yet to see the field. If that continues, that’s a bad look.

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