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Birdbrained Mailbag: Where did the Eagles’ explosive plays go?

And why I don’t think we’ll be seeing many more in the immediate weeks

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-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).


Let’s first start by defining where exactly Philadelphia is in terms of explosive plays. They currently rank 21st in the league in explosive runs at 11% and 12th for explosive passes at 9%. That’s Sharp Football Stats — if you go Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, the Eagles only have 30 plays that have earned 20+ yards: 25th in the league.

Definitions of explosive plays are weird and hard to trust because of the variance thereof.

I don’t think the issues stem from the loss of Torrey Smith, who didn’t really offer much as a explosive player. Blount strikes me as a bit more reasonable, only in that he was a part of the rushing attack, which has been sorely lacking in consistency, which forces the passing offense to generate short yardage gains.

Philadelphia has incurred injury to literally every position group on the offense save for tight end to start the season (unless you really want to count Richard Rodgers as a significant injury). Next week against the Cowboys, they’re going to be integrating Golden Tate, potentially playing without Lane Johnson, and still be working with their poor running back corps. We shouldn’t expect a change anytime soon, in my eyes.

Depends on what you subscribe to, actually. Shelton Gibson put a 4.50 up in the 40-yard dash at the Combine and then a 4.39 at the West Virginia Pro Day, which is faster than Nelson Agholor’s 4.42 at his Combine. But typically you have to adjust Pro Day numbers up a little bit. So maybe. My gut tells me if they raced today, Aggy would win.

I really think the Eagles roster has receivers who can win deep — Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor — already rostered and playing. It’s a matter of play style and other limitations at this point: Philadelphia really struggles to run the football, so they need to work the short passing game to generate those quick, easy positive plays; and their pass protection issues are mitigated when Carson gets the ball out quickly, which again spells short-yardage throws.

Gibson struggles to make the field for this team because he’s a fifth-round pick who is incredibly limited. Gibson struggles with route-running and doesn’t have great instincts in the middle of the field in terms of spacing and leverage. He is a one-trick pony, and when he’s on the field, you’re restricted in what you can ask of him.

I have been a Cameron Johnston truther since Day 1. Reports of his struggles in camp were greatly exaggerated and quickly quelled. Glad to see Johnston shine.

Fun fact: the Eagles currently lead the league in net yards/punt at 46.6. That’s a whole two yards above the second-best team (Seattle at 44.5). Tennessee comes in at 10th with 42.5, which means the Eagles are as far away from second place as second place is from tenth place.

The Birds are also giving up very few yards/return (6.4, or 7th-best in the league), which helps that net number stay so strong comparatively. So a shout-out goes to the entire punt coverage unit and Dave Fipp, the excellent special-teams coach for Philly. (But Johnston also leads the league in gross yards/punt, so double shout-out to our super jacked boot.)

Philly does need improvements in terms of punts inside the 20 (T-21st at 11th) but a lot of that has to do with Doug Pederson’s unwillingness to punt from near midfield — so Johnston has less opportunities to put the ball in that area of the field.

Go Blue, by the way. (I hope Alexis doesn’t read this.)

Firstly, the list:

  • Brandon Graham
  • Golden Tate
  • Ronald Darby
  • Jay Ajayi
  • Haloti Ngata
  • Mike Wallace
  • Corey Graham
  • Darren Sproles
  • Jordan Hicks
  • Paul Worrilow
  • LaRoy Reynolds
  • DJ Alexander
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Jordan Matthews
  • Nate Sudfeld
  • Jake Elliott

A healthy list, to say the least. We can probably condense the important ones to this:

  • Brandon Graham
  • Golden Tate
  • Ronald Darby
  • Jordan Hicks
  • Nate Sudfeld

To which I would answer: Darby

After this season really exposed the Achilles heel of this defense, you probably want to upgrade on Jalen Mills on the outside (with Sidney Jones?) and then move Maddox to the slot long-term. Without retaining Darby, you’d either have to play Mills or Rasul Douglas as your other outside corner, and this coaching staff seems really bearish on Douglas getting playing time. He must not be ready, or not be panning out at all.

As such, if you retain Darby — at a modest figure, hopefully — you’re not stuck starting one of Mills/Douglas on the outside. It wouldn’t shock me if Howie/Doug/Schwartz still decide to let Darby walk (especially if they have to choose between Darby and Brandon Graham) and start Mills - Maddox - Sidney, but I’d look to retain Darby.

To the Graham point: if you’re keeping Bennett (you should) with Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat both available, you’ve already got three nice players. Graham is getting older and is really looking for a big bag this offseason, and you may not be able to give that much money with two younger, fresher, cheaper options in the wings.

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