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Eagles Mailbag: Self inflicted identity theft

Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

In our submittal post I asked who is the Eagles’ MVP through four games: Reed Blankenship, AJ Brown, Jake Elliott, or D’Andre Swift. With 66% of the vote, the winner is... Jake Elliott!

If only he had 61%. Elliott is in his seventh year with the Eagles, in both years with the team and in field goal attempts he has had half the career that David Akers has. But if you want to say that he is already the best kicker in team history, you won’t get any argument from me. And if he isn’t, it’s just a matter of time. He has hit two 61 yarders. With the game on the line, he has yet to miss. He is five for five on FGs in the final minute of the game to take the lead or tie, and is two for two in OT. Akers was 8 for 11 in the final minute to take the lead or tie, though two of those misses were from 57 and 59; and he was 4 for 6 in OT.

On to your questions. Several questions were about Dallas Goedert, which we’ll talk about in a separate piece.

Some questions have been lightly edited for typos

Fly Like An Eagle: A lot of people complain that we’re not playing our A game and we’ve yet to see the Eagles at their best, which I would agree. But how much of our difficult games would you attribute to the fact that teams are playing up to the Eagles level? For example every time we play a team that gives up a lot of sacks it seems like we struggle to get to the quarterback and they scheme the ball out quickly.

Certainly when you are coming off a Super Bowl season, and one where you were a dominant regular season team, you’re going to get a little more attention from teams than they would give, say, the Cardinals. The Eagles are not catching anyone off guard.

But I don’t think the other teams have really raised their game to the Eagles level. The Patriots are just plain lousy and didn’t play well, they gained 43 yards on their first five possessions and then were chasing the game with an offense that can’t put up points, they scored 30 points just once last year and this year are 30th in scoring. The Vikings lost four fumbles, which is extremely unlucky by Minnesota. The Buccaneers might be cromulent, but they played poorly against the Eagles, the Baker Mayfield renaissance called out that night. The Commanders gave the Eagles trouble last year, divisional games can be weird, there’s usually that one team that’s a thorn in your side, for the past few years it’s been Washington. Since 2019 eight of the nine games vs WASTEAM have been within 10 points. (The one that wasn’t was when Carson Wentz was sacked nine times.)

A problem this team is facing right now is that they have gotten away from their offensive identity from last year, and it was a planned change.

Last season the Eagles had a 56/43 run/pass ratio which was the 22nd lowest pass rate; and used 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1RB), on 72% of first downs, which was 5th most, and 12 personnel (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) on 21% of first downs, which was 22nd. And last season no team threw to their WRs more often than the Eagles, and every team threw to their RBs more often. They tore up the league.

So far, none that is no longer the case, and it’s likely to stay that way.

This season the Eagles have a 54/45 run/pass ratio, which is the 28th lowest pass rate; they use 11 personnel on 62% of 1st downs, which is 10th most, and 12 personnel on 30% of 1st downs, which is 9th most. And they are down to 9th in WR target share and up to 17th in RB target share. Tight end share is virtually unchanged, 18% for 18th last year, 17% for 20th this year.

The Eagles traded for D’Andre Swift in part because of his abilities as a pass catcher, and his great start is not only giving them no reason to get away from using him, but he’s on pace to have the fewest catches of his career, even if you don’t count Week 1. I would expect to see a little more of Swift as a pass catcher.

Every team is going to make adjustments like getting the ball out quicker against the Eagles pass rush, or playing safeties deep to try to negate the deep threat of AJ Brown and Devonta Smith. But the Eagles are also helping the opposition out by getting away from their own strengths.

JimWhit: Why does Hurts look so slow?

There are a few potential answers.

The scary one is that he’s just slower now. Eventually the bill will come due on the wear and tear he is accumulating as a runner, it happens to everyone. I do not think that is what is happening, but one day it will, and we’re getting a glimpse of it.

One possibility is that despite not showing up on the injury report he is physically bothered by something. Something that isn’t enough to limit him in practice, a minor nagging ailment. Maybe it was from a hit he took in a game, or maybe it was something in practice or training camp. If in March it is revealed that Hurts was playing through say a minor groin or hip abductor injury, we’ll go “well, that explains that.” It doesn’t help that he’s taken hits at a higher rate this season, 7.7%, than last year, 4.8%, though maybe that’s a chicken or the egg situation. Is he not 100% because of the hits he’s taken, or is he taking more hits because he’s not 100%?

Or perhaps that hit and fumble in New England shook his confidence a bit. He put his team in a position to lose, and though they didn’t lose, such a mistake can change the way someone plays, at least in the short term. We can’t overlook that he hasn’t fumbled since. His longest streak of games without fumbling is three, last year, and one of those games was the Week 18 Giants game. If he doesn’t fumble on Sunday, he’ll be on a career long streak.

immynimmy: Why is Jack Stoll not talked about as one of the best TE backup blockers in the league?

Because no one talks about blocking backup tight ends. But yeah, he’s been good at blocking. But he also offers nothing as a receiver, so playing him is essentially like playing a man down when passing. That’s not so much of a problem with this team when the other options are so good and playing well, but it’s a handicap, and as we saw above they’re playing more 12 personnel. Against Washington Stoll played just 6 snaps as the team went extremely heavy with 11 personnel to keep Emmanuel Forbes on the field for WASTEAM, and Jalen Hurts had his best game as a passer this season. I do not think that is a coincidence.

Kephas: 4 games into the 2023 season, is this the biggest collection of “meh” teams the NFL has assembled? I mean, The Athletic has Tampa Bay as the 10th best team, and ESPN has them as the 9th…

Well, they’re wrong. Tampa is exceeding expectations, but they’re not that good. Two of their wins were against the Vikings, who stink, and the Bears, who are just embarrassingly bad. This time last year ESPN had the Packers 4th and the Bucs 8th, while the 49ers were 12th… power rankings/polls are subject to large biases is win totals and the last game played. The Bucs are 3-1 so they’re going to get ranked over 2-2 teams that have played better.

As for the meh factor… 2021 was pretty meh. The top seed in the NFC had 13 wins but a 79 point differential, which is really weak for a 1 seed, the top seed in the AFC was even worse at 65. They both went one and done, and the other 13 win team also lost in the 2nd round, so the two best teams by record in the regular season didn’t even make it to the conference title game. The Super Bowl was a 4 seed vs a 4 seed. The worst team in the league won 3 games, which wouldn’t get you the #1 pick in 8 of the previous 10 seasons. 8 teams won 8 or 9 games. There was a tie. That was a meh year.

TraugDog: Is there anyone out there we can target (via trade) that could help us either in the Slot or at Safety? It looks like that might be our Achilles heel in a deep playoff run.

The obvious call for Howie Roseman is to the Panthers for safety Jeremy Chinn, who they would have drafted if they didn’t take Jalen Hurts. The Panthers secondary is already decimated with injuries though, so it may be tough for them to make a trade.

But if I’m adding a DB in-season, I’d prefer it to be a CB. I think the Eagles would too considering they just signed Bradley Roby to the practice squad.

I’m calling the Colts about Kenny Moore and seeing if they’ll eat some salary; the Raiders about Marcus Peters, and the Panthers about Troy Hill if they won’t deal Chinn. You’re not getting quality during the season, just getting something more than a warm body is about what you can hope for.

The problem is that there could be competition, with Tre’Davious White out for the year the Bills might be shoppers too. The Patriots just traded for JC Jackson, but that was more about the Chargers being done with him and the Patriots galaxy braining it.

Wentzylvanian: Does Swift’s performance so far solidify #0 as a good RB number? Or is it a wildcard that could be any skill position (no way an O-lineman could pull it off - maybe if they allowed 00).

Who is one player on offense the Eagles could snag from a bottom feeder team to bolster depth?

#0 is a great number if you have speed, so being quick and being named Swift made it a great choice before he ever played a down. Seeing him in action has only made it better. 0 should only be used for RBs, punt/kick returners, one trick deep threat WRs, and CBs.

As for the second question… having already mentioned Jeremy Chinn I’ll throw this out there: I wonder what the Bears would want for TJ Edwards.

GottaBeGreen: Is it too early to use a high draft pick on a WR this year? (first or second round) AJ Brown will have 3 years left after this year and Davonta Smith has 2 after this year.

There’s already not enough ball to go around to AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert, bringing in a high draft pick at WR will only add to that. But this draft is loaded at WR, so it you want to add someone this will be the time to do it. I would draft one in a later round, Quez Watkins and Olamide Zaccheaus both scheduled to be free agents so there very well may be a job opening.

D_C_U: Two questions: why are the Eagles holding Penny out, and why can’t they give one of the rookies a chance at slot corner?

Penny doesn’t play special teams, so if they’re only dressing three RBs, Penny is the man out. He also did not endear himself with the coaches with his pass blocking, so dressing four RBs probably isn’t happening in the near future.

As for the slot… Ringo and Ricks are not slot corners. The option with them would be to do what they’re already doing with Josh Jobe and play Bradberry in the slot when needed and Jobe on the outside. I want to say don’t overreact to one bad play by Jobe, but the Eagles did bring in Bradley Roby so it’s open season on overreacting.

robbyonfire: point PAT kicks are drudgery, almost automatic, and time- consuming, so why not eliminate them? Here is my alternative suggestion and no one has to like it - I am just wondering if this boring, robotic play can be streamlined or improved upon?

Here goes... count every touchdown as seven points. The coach can take the seven points TD, or elect to try for one additional point via a play from scrimmage from the two yard line, run or pass. If successful the team scores 8 points total on TD plus conversion.

If the D shuts down the extra point from scrimmage attempt the value of the TD is reduced to 6 points.

This way there is NEVER a PAT kick to add one point to a six point touchdown and the game - every time a coach elects to take 7 points for a TD with no conversion attempt, is speeded up.

So you take the 7 point TD; or you score 6 or 8 points on the TD drive per the conversion from scrimmage result.

Is this suggestion OK, or am I missing something?

This idea has been floated around, and I love it. It adds strategy, it adds risk, and it flips a play that is extremely boring to one that is always exciting. I’d add that if the defense is able to run it back, they get a point, similar to the 2 point conversion. The NFL has looked at the XFL’s kickoffs as a potential change. The XFL and USFL are merging, I would love to see them use this. The only oppositions to it that I can see are “this isn’t how the game was meant to be played” to which I would respond by pointing out that passing the ball used to be illegal. The other opposition would be for safety reasons, which is reasonable, but I would point out there that Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm blocking on a PAT.

pier 3 iggle: The OC and DC have been dicey so far, at least for a team that has a perfect record. Steichen and Gannon improved after their 1st four games. Can we expect a big improvement going forward?

We should expect an improvement in the second half of the season as Brian Johnson and Sean Desai continue to adapt to their players. I just wouldn’t expect it to be massive. The only other teams with new play callers on offense and defense are those with a new head coach. So in a way this is like having a new coaching staff. You can kind of look at this as a situation where a veteran core team gets a new head coach, but one who had some previous success. It’s not unusual for a successful experienced head coach brought in to win to relatively struggle at first.

Jimmy Johnson in Miami, Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, Bill Parcells in New England, and Dick Vermeil in Kansas City all had their worst seasons there in their first year. Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City and Marv Levy in Buffalo had their second worst season in their first year, with their worst being their last. Some of those coaches were more successful than others, but no one was hitting the panic button in those first seasons.

Now of course Nick Sirianni was the head coach last year, and the core of the roster is the same, so the comparison isn’t totally fair. But this isn’t your standard coaching situation.

But it’s also not far off from one in today’s NFL. Nine of the 13 other playoff teams from last year changed a primary play caller this year: the Bills (DC), Buccaneers (OC), Chargers (OC), Cowboys (OC), Dolphins (DC), Jaguars (OC), Ravens (OC), Vikings (DC), and 49ers (DC); and the Giants and made and in-season change, Brian Daboll claims he didn’t take over play calling duties, but it was pretty clear on Monday he had. Other than the 49ers, all of those teams have had their share of early season problems.

captain nodar: Why does Hurts continue to take sacks by going out of bounds? He is a smarter player than that. I know he is trying to focus downfield and make a play, but there is simply no excuse to take a running out of bounds sack, as you are out of the pocket and just need to throw the ball away into the sideline.

It’s frustrating when players do this. It’s not like they’re risking an interception.

I wonder if it’s the NFL version of when NBA players don’t take a really long range shot they know they have no chance making at the end of a quarter or with the shot clock about to expire to not hurt their shooting percentage. This isn’t a Jalen Hurts specific thing, but for example in his career Hurts has taken 10 sacks for a 0 yard loss, if those were instead incompletions his career completion percentage would drop half a point, from 62.9 to 62.4. Sack percentage hasn’t reached the same level as completion percentage in QB discourse–it should–so upping that to keep the completion percentage up is a selfishly worthwhile trade off.

NomadEaglesFan: Is there any chance that we will see the corners play more press coverage in short yardage situations?

I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Sean Desai didn’t press much when he was with the Bears, and it doesn’t fit Darius Slay and James Bradberry’s games.

sssetz: After that penalty on the Howell hit right as he was going out of bounds BUT also reaching for a first down, what if the NFL changed the official rule to if a player has BOTH feet out instead of just one? One foot out means the player is technically out of bounds, but I feel like for the players running full speed they need to clearly be a bit more “OUT”. Thoughts?

The league is not going to change a rule to make the game more physical. Certainly not the late hit rule.

folesandpederson: My question is can we remove ALL NY Giants games from national TV with Daniel Jones for the rest of our lives as starting quarterback ???. How can U show up as a coach with Jones as your qb this year ???? Seriously

Four of the Giants first six games are on national TV. Four of six! They’re on Sunday Night Football again in two weeks, against the Bills. They also have a Monday Night Football game in Week 14 against the Packers, the Giants will be coming off a bye for that game. Maybe they’ll have a new starting QB for that game. Or a new coach.

The Giants have as many prime time games scheduled this season as the Eagles. But rather than be upset or annoyed about it, I choose to embrace it. Embrace it with me. The Giants were huge frauds last year, but because most people weren’t really paying attention their fraudulence went under the radar. This year, with Coach of the Year™ Brian Daboll and $81M man Daniel Jones, all eyes have been on them. The nation just watched the Giants score a total of 15 points in their three prime time games this season. Now everyone knows what we already knew: the Giants are massive frauds.

Cravin’ LeBlanc: Why can’t we be happy at 4-0?


Seriously though… because this team is supposed to be a Super Bowl contending team, and through four games they don’t quite look like one. This team is, so far, less than the sum of its parts.

There’s no singular reason why, but there are multiple factors, some of which we talked about earlier here. Hurts isn’t playing his best as a runner. The offense hasn’t always put its best personnel on the field like they were last year. They have new play callers on both sides of the ball, early season struggles should be expected. Also name a random Eagle from last year and they probably had a career year, or near career year, a drop off is natural.

And yet they’re undefeated. 4-0 is great. It’s better than 30 other teams. If they go 7-6 the rest of the way they’re an 11 win team. Getting the 7th seed would be a massive disappointment but if things go south they’re already two games up on the 7th seed.

There’s still plenty of time for this team to hit high gear. When they absolutely pummel a team like they did last year, we should and will feel better. Go Birds.

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