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State of the Eagles: Doug vs. Howie Cage Match Special

Spoiler: I have Howie winning in four.

Indianapolis Colts v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Author’s note: I wrote the majority of this article prior to the Jalen Hurts news. So it won’t have much of that in here. For right now I’ll say that I think starting him is the right call. The future of the quarterback position is clearly a huge question mark right now, and if you want to fix it you need as much information as possible as quickly as possible, especially if you end up with a top 10 draft pick. As far as Hurts himself goes, and the future/legacy of Wentz, I’ll save that for the end of the season after we’ve seen Hurts play a few games.

Now onto your regularly-scheduled programming.


Well, it’s been 4 games since my last post, and the Eagles have collapsed with 4 straight losses. To add salt to the wound, two of the teams in the horrid NFC East - the Washington Football Team and the New York East Rutherford Giants - have begun to look somewhat competent. When you throw in the fact that the Cowboys’ season was turned on its head by Dak Prescott’s freak injury, you can make an argument that the Eagles are really the only team in the whole division trending downward in a year when they were supposed to have a significant advantage by being the only team with a returning coaching structure in a pandemic-ravaged offseason.

For this post, I am going to abandon my usual format of offering generalized thoughts about the team and making predictions about their next 4 games. I’m not even going to really get into Jalen Hurts. Instead I am going to discuss the biggest issue the Eagles face now, and into the future: Doug vs. Howie. This comes in at over 2300 words, so if you’re crunched for time, I’ll sum up the main points here:

  • I think this issue is far too complicated to simply assign the blame for this mess to one person over the other. Doug is not the only reason for the Eagles’ struggles, but he’s not faultless either.
  • That being said, I think Howie is easily the biggest problem in the organization, especially considering how his fingerprints seem to crop up everywhere, and he should definitely be the one who gets fired, if anyone does.
  • Of course, what I think will actually happen is Doug will get fired after his first losing season since winning the Super Bowl, and Howie will survive, like he always does.

Want to read more than the Cliffsnotes? Let’s get into it!

In Corner #1: Doug Pederson

Let me start off by saying I like Doug as a guy and as a coach. And while he has clearly been hamstrung by Howie’s undue influence in the organization - I’m speaking to the report that Howie selected all of the coaching candidates for Doug to hire - he’s also not perfect. He could have avoided Howie’s intrusion into the assistant coaching search by picking better candidates to replace Frank Reich and John DeFilippo in the first place, for instance. (Aside: I actually think Press Taylor belongs somewhere on this coaching staff, but not as quarterbacks coach. He seems like a smart guy, but not one with the air of authority quarterbacks need.) However, Doug has largely failed to find any decent coaching hires outside of the initial staff he put together in 2016. Since then, the play designs of Doug’s “brain trust” have had the excitement of tapioca pudding, and his in-game playcalls are either overly “cute” or just plain monotonous.

What’s worse - and even borderline criminal - is use of personnel. This Achilles heel of Doug is why I want to pull my hair out over “player the Eagles drafted vs. player the Eagles could have drafted” hot take nonsense. This year’s flavor is Jalen Reagor vs. Justin Jefferson. Yes, we all know Reagor has largely been invisible in the offense and that Jefferson is having a great rookie season with the Vikings. But how would Jefferson’s production even translate to the Eagles? I mean, Pat freaking Shurmur got more production out of Golden Tate (by all means a polished NFL receiver that needs little development or positional coaching) than Doug’s brain trust did. And even beyond that, the Eagles have a receiver right now who out-produced Jefferson in his first 4 games. His name is Travis Fulgham, in case you forgot about him. I wouldn’t blame you since he’s pretty much disappeared from the offense and is clearly the #2 X-receiver by the ancient and washed Alshon Jeffery, who as we all know will only catch passes if they aren’t thrown by Wentz. So spare me these takes over things that can’t be changed and will accomplish little other than destroying a young man’s confidence and make him hate the fan base (if he’s reading them). And if you’re thinking I’m giving Howie a pass here, I’m not. There’s a whole section of this article about him if you scroll down.

And then there’s the question of Doug’s overall philosophy. I actually think Doug is a gifted playcaller - he called every play in the 2017 run, after all - but when the playbook is garbage (albeit one you helped create) how much can that do for you? To me, Doug’s offense seems to rely too heavily on exploiting matchups. He wants to put fast people on slow people, tall people on short people, throw against base defense and run against nickel and dime. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. Exploiting matchups are the life purpose of players like DK Metcalf and Rob Gronkowski. But it’s something that works best when it complements a more foundational offensive philosophy.

When you make matchups the identity of your offense you need a lot of things to go right in order to find consistent success - an elite offensive line, versatile and talented skill position players, and a quarterback elusive enough to make one guy miss and accurate enough to throw balls that are 70/30 instead of 50/50. The Eagles have been missing at least one of these things since 2018, and in 2020 they are missing all of them, and this is the result - an offense that’s completely lost, with zero creativity, because there are no matchups to exploit, no elusiveness to leverage, and the 50/50 balls are now 10/90 balls.

The obsession with matchups has leaked into the positional coaching too. I mean, what other explanation is there for Carson completely missing a wide-open Reagor and Fulgham against the Seahawks? Here’s the analysis from Brian Baldinger:

He must have identified that Goedert - who I am assuming was the primary read on this play - was against a linebacker and locked onto him. Didn’t even bother to look at Reagor or Fulgham. That has to be what he’s being coached to do, in a vain attempt to simplify the offense and make things easier for him. If your primary read has a good matchup, lock in and go. It’s why he waits so long for people to get open instead of throwing them open. It’s why he consistently misses wide-open receivers for positive yards. After Reich and Flip left, all Doug was left with was his matchups, and now this is what he has to show for it - a broken offense with a broken quarterback.

While a lot of things have been “not great” with Doug, I don’t think it’s all bad. In fact, I think Doug is, in spite of his limitations, is low on the list of issues with the Eagles. (That just shows how deep the list really goes.) I do think he needs a strong support system to succeed. He needs a good staff of assistants and a good GM. Right now he has neither. What he has in spades is a strong locker room presence and the ability to get his players to show up for him. That is something very rare among coaches and it’s why ones like John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, and Bill Belichick have stuck around for so long, even in their relatively “poor” seasons. You don’t fire a guy with that kind of ability to unite the team after one bad season. I believe, at the very least, he deserves a reprieve for his first losing season since the Super Bowl win - a chance to get the coaching staff right and to work with a real GM. Of course, I put the possibility of that happening at basically nil.

Why? Because our competitor in the other corner is practically joined at the hip with the owner.

In Corner #2: Howie Roseman

So much of what can be said about Howie has already been said. For his entire tenure as Eagles’ general manager, he has been a known quantity: a guy who came from outside of the traditional “football world” who was, as one might expect of an outsider, a scattershot evaluator of talent. He is a man who would always leaving you wanting more out of his drafts, but who also made up for that with cunning trades and shrewd free agent signings. He was the master of the “market inefficiency” - adept at exploring avenues for acquiring talent that other GMs were either ignorant of or were too afraid to venture. He also managed the salary cap with such expertise that the Eagles were never gasping for cap space.

For years these talents shone bright enough to blind us from his warts, finally peaking in his masterstroke 2016-2017 offseasons. Inheriting the Chip Kelly disaster that left the team bereft of talent, in 2 short years he assembled a roster so talented and so deep that not even the loss of an MVP quarterback could slow its march to capturing the team’s first Lombardi trophy by beating one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

But that was then. This is now. Howie’s shining moment has faded faster than a shooting star - a streak in the night not forgotten, but long since past. And what we’re left with is a general manager that doesn’t appear to be doing anything well. We already knew he wasn’t great at drafting - but when is the last time he really hit big on a free agent signing? When was the last time the Eagles “won” a trade? Where are these market inefficiencies he is supposed to be seizing? And don’t even look at the salary cap - now impossibly bloated in a desperate attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle, using tactics most infamously employed by Jerry Jones, which at one time earned him our unending ridicule.

Beyond that, his fingerprints seem to be all over everything wrong with this organization over the past few seasons. Remember last December, when Carson Wentz willed this team to the playoffs? What did we say? “It’s his team now! This is Carson’s team!” Now, less than 365 days later, he’s been benched for a rookie - one that Roseman drafted in the second round, when he could have drafted another wide receiver, or a lineman, or a linebacker, or literally any other position. Could you imagine being Carson? You are finally given full ownership over your team - a team where you need to walk by the statue of your backup discussing one of the greatest play calls in Super Bowl history every day on your way to work - and in a few short months your general manager uses his precious resources drafting someone who, regardless of explanations, is a threat to your job. In hindsight, I am not surprised Wentz has collapsed. Imagine suffering a serious concussion, then your boss hires your potential replacement, and then your first child is born in the shadow of your injury - it will certainly change your perspective, if not your entire priorities. To an extent, I don’t even blame Wentz completely for his struggles. What is the point of playing with confidence for your team if your team implies it lacks confidence in you?

And then there is the absolute mess of a coaching staff, which takes on a whole new meaning with the reports that Howie picked the candidates for Doug to interview. Why Howie was entrusted with this responsibility is anyone’s guess. If anything, the Eagles should have hired a consultant to help with the search if they really didn’t trust Doug. But instead you hand the job to a guy that’s never played football? Unreal. These kinds of clandestine power grabs fall in line with various reports over the years (there are three separate links there) that Howie is relentless in his career aspirations - that he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to acquire power, even at the expense of others. The truth of these allegations are certainly up for debate, but one thing has not: Howie has generally left destruction in his wake as he has moved up the power structure of the Eagles. No matter who Lurie brings in to help the team, Howie outlasts him. Howie is the one true survivor, the undefeated champion, the king sitting atop a mound of skulls. Whether this is because Howie and Lurie are basically family at this point, or if Howie has some kind of dirt on Lurie, we’ll never know. And it doesn’t matter.

As long as Howie is here, as he goes, so go the Eagles.

At the Final Bell

You might have guessed this, but I have Howie coming out unscathed from this mess, as he always does. The only thing more depressing than that thought is the fact that we all generally know this is what will happen. Howie was here before Doug arrived, and he’ll still be here when Doug is gone. Maybe Lurie will surprise us all by canning them both, but I doubt it. We know that Roseman set the Carson Wentz debacle in motion by drafting Hurts, so if there’s any job that Hurts manages to save in these last few weeks, it should be Doug’s. Somehow, it will end up saving Howie’s.

But for right now, all we can do is bide our time, and wait and see.

Go Birds.

Poll

What SHOULD Lurie do in the offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Fire Doug, keep Howie
    (49 votes)
  • 62%
    Fire Howie, keep Doug
    (2044 votes)
  • 32%
    Fire them both
    (1054 votes)
  • 3%
    Keep them both
    (108 votes)
3255 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What WILL Lurie do in the offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Fire Doug, keep Howie
    (1105 votes)
  • 12%
    Fire Howie, keep Doug
    (297 votes)
  • 12%
    Fire them both
    (315 votes)
  • 29%
    Keep them both
    (734 votes)
2451 votes total Vote Now

Poll

BONUS: Will you continue to follow the Eagles if Howie remains as GM?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Yes, of course. Stupid question.
    (998 votes)
  • 45%
    Yeah, but I won’t really be all that excited about it.
    (1120 votes)
  • 14%
    No. Keeping Howie would be malpractice and I won’t waste any more time on this team if he stays.
    (347 votes)
2465 votes total Vote Now