The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles’ September Recap

As pain of the tough loss to the 49ers begins to subside just a bit, it’s time to take a realistic look back at the first month of the Eagles‘ season. Yes, if the Birds could have reached the endzone from the one yard line in the waning minutes of the San Francisco game, a 4-0 start would look tremendous heading into October. But when you look at the schedule, the sluggish starts to their games, their inconsistent offense and defense, and all the injuries sustained the past four weeks, 3-1 is nothing sort of amazing. If fact, with games against the lowly Rams and then the Giants coming up, I think most Eagles fans will be thrilled if their team heads into the bye week with a 5-1 record.

Before we start looking ahead, let’s analyze the three biggest stories so far, and what needs to happen for their success to continue.

#1 Nick Foles, You Are The Man…I Think
Foles recovered from a dreadful start against Jacksonville to post a second half stat line of 5-for-21, 183 yards & 2 touchdowns, followed by successively improving performances against the Colts and the Redskins. Foles became just the eighth quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 320 yards in each of the first three games of the season. And, perhaps even more encouraging, after practically ignoring Foles in 2013, the national media teased last Sunday’s game as “Nick Foles and the Eagles…” as opposed to “LeSean McCoy and the Eagles…” or last year’s “DeShawn Jackson’s Eagles…” After a year-and-a-half of questions surrounding the team’s QB, it seemed like Foles had finally arrived as “the guy.” That was before Sunday, when he put up one of the worst quarterback ratings of his career. I know–it’s just one game, and Sunday could simply be a minor blip on the radar of his steadily climbing career.

If there was a sliver of optimism from the Eagles’ final, yet futile drive in San Francisco, it was that Head Coach Chip Kelly showed the utmost confidence in the third-year pro by putting the game’s outcome in Foles’ hands, as opposed to some combination of Jason Peters’ blocking/McCoy running, as what I would have done in that situation. Granted, the woeful play of the decimated offensive line played a huge role in the decision (and was repeated by Kelly in his “day-after interviews” multiple times). But Kelly has been making all the right moves so far (or at least most of the right moves) in his short tenure in Philadelphia, and his decision to allow the game’s outcome to be decided by his quarterback could provide Foles with a world of confidence that his head coach has his back.

At least for this season.

#2 The Injuries
Without three-fifths of the team’s offensive line and the services of the team’s best defender due to injuries, Eagles fans should just be happy the team even had a shot a winning the game in San Fran. I had a chance recently to chat with Eagles reporter Al Thompson (“Footballstories” Magazine) and he was optimist about the Birds’ ability to overcome the medical setbacks on the offensive line and at middle linebacker.

Clearly the Eagles will benefit from the return of Lane Johnson from his four-game suspension, which will also allow Todd Herremans to move back to his more comfortable guard position. Fans can also take comfort in the fact that Center Jason Kelce should be able to return from his sports hernia in time to shake off the rust and be back to full strength for the playoff push. The team should be in good shape on the health front in a few weeks provided they can stay away from another rash of O-line injuries and if Mychal Kendricks can recover from his calf injury.

#3 The Running Game
On the one hand, the addition of Darren Sproles to the backfield has looked like the steal of the season. If fact, a national broadcaster said that if the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year, the New Orleans Saints should get a chunk of the championship prize money for giving Sproles away for just a fifth-round pick. He’s one of just three NFL players to have two 50+ yard receptions, he was named Offensive Player of the Week after setting career highs in both receiving yards and total years again Indianapolis, and he’s helped change field position numerous times on special teams, including returning an 82-yard punt for a touchdown against the Niners.

McCoy, meanwhile, came into the San Francisco game averaging less than 3-yards per carry, and that number went DOWN this past Sunday (10 carries for just 17 yards). Against the 49ers, the entire Eagles backfield combined for just 22 total yards for the game. It is true that McCoy has been dinged-up in a couple of the games with injuries, and the dreadful offensive line the Eagles had on display in their last ball game no doubt was a major contribution for lack of a ground assault. However, McCoy and the Eagles’ rushing attack MUST improve if the team is to have any postseason success, no matter how much luck they have in-tow and have already used through the team’s first four games. The upstart Cowboys are also 3-1 and, of more concern for Birds fans, are having great success moving the ball on the ground, which allows Tony Romo the wiggle room he usually needs to overshadow his often inconsistent passing. It won’t matter how many regular season victories the Eagles enter the playoffs with–it won’t mean a thing if they don’t get to at least the second round of the playoffs (see the 2011 Phillies).

Feel free to email your comments and opinions on the Eagles’ 3-1 start to the season to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for our live show this Thursday from 6-7 pm. We’ll also be discussing the use of technology in football on this week’s program on RCN-TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles Season Recap

One of my pet peeves in the sports broadcasting industry is commentators who make dozens of ridiculous predictions each sports season for the sole purpose of claiming “victory” once one of his/her inane insights happen to come true. These same people will quietly forget or ignore the other, incorrect guesses they made in an effort to make themselves look smarter than they may actually be.

We made our own predictions on an Eagles preview edition of RCN SportsTalk and, in the interest of full disclosure, I went back to see how we did. Here’s the good…and the bad…predictions we made about the Eagles 2013 season, keeping in mind these were made by our panelists and myself several weeks prior to the start of the season.

Preseason prediction #1: The Eagles will end the year with a .500 record or better.
When the team started the year 1-3 and their defense had more holes than Gruyére Swiss, this prediction wasn’t looking too solid. Even when the Eagles lost to the Giants—giving New York their first win of the season—not many people thought this team would break even record-wise, led alone win the division. Between fate (you couldn’t have ask for more opposing teams’ number-one players to go down with injuries), an improved defensive scheme, and an offense that learned to trust new starting quarterback Nick Foles, the team won seven of its last eight games. Despite a frustrating loss to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs, this year’s 10-7 season was a success and built a solid foundation for 2014.

Preseason prediction #2: Michael Vick will start 10-12 games this year.
WRONG! Not one of us on the panel thought that Vick had the slightest chance to go the entire season without missing at least a few games due to injury and/or ineffectiveness. However, Vick went down with debilitating injuries early and often and Nick Foles took full advantage of the increased playing time, turning in a performance for the record books. For a time, he had the highest quarterback passer rating in the HISTORY of the game. Despite a lackluster finish, he ended the year third on the all-time list sandwiched by future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Foles’ rapid ascension to the starting quarterback spot made Vick—even after recovering from injuries–an afterthought by season’s end.

Preseason prediction #3: Nick Foles will finish the year as the starting quarterback.
Correct—but….
Most of our panel believed that Foles would eventually win the job anyway, or he’s be the last QB standing by default. Matt Barkley never did anything to indicate that he would be a signal-caller to run this offense in training camp, and the limited times we saw him during the season suggests he’ll only return next year as a third-stringer at best. I know people don’t want to hear any possibility that Foles DOESN’T return as the starter next year, and I still highly doubt that the team will seriously look to move him. However, there’s a few well-respected Eagles’ journalists that I’ve spoken with that insist the team will at least venture into the possibility of “selling high” and getting a bundle in return for him—or at least, ASKING for a king’s ransom, and keeping Foles if no team bites.

Preseason prediction #4: Mychal Kendricks will emerge as a star.
This prediction came true very early in the season as the second-year, 23-year-old out of California established himself as the top-notch middle linebacker this team has sorely needed since the first departure of Jeremiah Trotter. But what we didn’t foresee back in early August was the way the players around Kendricks would step up their games. Connor Barwin also become a force on defense for the Eagles, disrupting passing lanes and rarely allowing a ball carrier to break free in his territory. By season’s end, Trent Cole looked extremely comfortable after adjusting to his “hybrid” position in the Eagles new 3-4 alignment. Really, there weren’t too many weaknesses in this defense overall—with the exception of depth, especially at outside linebacker and safety. Improving on the core with Kendricks at the center of it all will be the Eagles number one priority this offseason. Adding bigger, taller and stronger players into the fold was a focus of Chip Kelly’s post-season analysis and will be the main mission of the front office this offseason.

Preseason prediction #5: Jeremy Maclin will return next year.
At the time this prediction was made and contrary to many other players like him in the last year of a contract, Maclin had made the classy decision to NOT sit-out of training camp. Perceived as a critical piece of the puzzle in Kelly’s new offense, Maclin participated in preseason drills for the betterment of the team, only to tear his ACL, and lose all negotiating leverage he had when trying to extend his contract.

This will be a key issue for the team to address in the coming months. With the emergence of Riley Cooper as a solid number two receiver (despite that dropped pass over the middle in the Saints game), and another steady season by slot receiver Jason Avant, it appears that Maclin will not have a place on next year’s team. The Eagles have dropped the public relations ball on previous players who gave their heart-and-soul to the team (i.e., Reggie Brown, Brian Dawkins) only to be spurned a respectable offer to return. I know Maclin is not in that group’s class of all-time greats, but if the team is truly looking to embark on a new year, it should bite a small financial bullet and bring Jeremy back. It still remains to be seen if one of the top-skilled position players from a year ago will be back this fall.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Eagles season and on what steps the team needs to take this offseason to further its playoff drive for next season. Post a comment below or email your sports opinions to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in on Thursdays at 6pm for the latest local, regional and national sports conversations.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Would Eagles Trade Nick Foles?

 

Would Eagles Trade Nick Foles?

I have a ton of respect for the Philadelphia Eagles beat writers. From the time I covered the team on a regular basis to the times where we are fortunate to have them on our “RCN SportsTalk” show, they always provide valuable insights on the team and on the NFL. They don’t buy in to starting wild or ridiculous rumors to try to sell their papers, nor do they start controversies just to put themselves in the news. They base their stories and opinions on solid facts and, whether you agree with their commentaries or not, they’re always thought-provoking, using logic and reliable gut instinct.

It is with this in mind that I mention comments raised by the Morning Call’s Eagles beat writer Nick Fierro on last week’s “SportsTalk” show…

At first, I was stunned at the thought of the Eagles trading arguably the most popular personality in Philadelphia right now (for the record, co-host Dennis Laub wholeheartedly agreed with him). When Nick offers his sage wisdom, I’ve learned to consider his observations and think long and hard before disagreeing with him. So let’s consider the upside to trading your starting quarterback:

• Foles’ stock will never be higher than it is right now, and he’s not likely to continue playing at this high a level going forward.

• Trading Foles now would get you two or three other quality pieces (with one being a draft pick that could be packaged in a deal to get you a new starting QB or a stud pick for another position).

• There are some quality signal callers available in the draft that might be closer to Chip Kelly’s “ideal” quarterback to run his spread offense. (Although Kelly has said publicly and repeatedly that Foles is his guy, there are indications that Foles is not the typical back to run this offense).

Would this be enough reasoning for the Eagles to trade Foles after the season? It would open the door for a possible return of Michael Vick, perhaps as a stop-gap starter and mentor to the quarterback you’d select in the draft. Even though most fans and critics have called the 2013 a success on many levels, the next few weeks might just determine what the front office decides to do with Foles and their plans going forward. One would think it’ll be harder from a PR standpoint to trade Foles if he leads the team to multiple playoff victories…or would it only enhance the value Philadelphia could get in return for him?

For the record, Nick did not say he would a proponent of trading Foles, nor did he say it was a done deal once the season concludes. But recent Eagles history indicates they’re not a team that stands pat very often, and if Kelly’s coaching style this year has taught us nothing else, it’s proven that he is not afraid to take risks.

What would you do if you were Eagles GM Howie Roseman? Would you ‘stick-with-Nick’ and make him your quarterback for the future? Or do you sell high and try to solve other issues with more proven players at other positions and take your chances on drafting a young QB? Send your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or post your views in our comments section. Have fun debating Foles’ fate in Philadelphia as the Birds look to continue Swinning games this winter.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Nick or Vick?

 

NICK OR VICK?

The most frequently asked question over the next week will not be about the government shutdown. It will have nothing to do with The Voice, Breaking Bad, or any kind of regular television show. And the most frequently asked question will have nothing to do with the NHL, the MLB playoffs or even the Halloween season. No, the most frequently discussed–and debated– question over the next several days in Eastern Pennsylvania will be: Who should be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles–Michael Vick or Nick Foles?

The question is an old one, posed by fans in many NFL cities each year, every year, in the modern football era. It’s sometimes even discussed with regards to your favorite collegiate or scholastic teams. But Philadelphia is not your ordinary sports town, and sports fans in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys are the most passionate fans in the world. The fact that the Eagles find themselves tied with their NFC East rival Cowboys with a 2-0 division record, combined with Nick Foles’ solid play in Vick’s medically-induced absence this past Sunday against Tampa Bay, will push this question to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

While I’m not going to try to persuade you to root for one player over the other, there is a very important decision you have to first make before arriving at your pick:

“What should be the Eagles’ goal this season?”

There’s many reasons why people choose one quarterback or the other, but you first must answer that question before you consider whom Chip Kelly should select for this Sunday’s key game against another division opponent.

When a high school or college coach takes over a program, I usually encourage fans to give a new head coach at least three to four years to implement a system, and to establish their “type” of players. In the NFL, there’s not as much room for patience. However, Eagles fans must have expected 2013 to be a honeymoon year for Kelly, with no realistic expectations better than seven or eight wins–even in the incredibly inept NFC East. That being said, there is absolutely NO SHOT the Birds win more than one playoff game this year–AT BEST.

If you think this team, with its pathetic defense and insufficient wide receiving corp (without Jeremy Maclin), has any shot of exceeding that goal, your thoughts on the quarterbacks shouldn’t even be considered. The team could resign Vick at season’s end, so simply naming Foles as the guy because he’s younger and under contract for next season does not give you the best answer.

The Eagles have to worry about who will be the best signal caller for 2014 and beyond, and that’s what you need to consider. It’s not about winning this Sunday, or next Sunday, or the week after that. It’s not about dog-fighting, money or race. Foles’ age, his decision making, and his accuracy should be factored into your decision. For Vick, his dynamic presence, laser-arm, his favorable relationship with his teammates and his mobility are his assets. But which of these attributes will best lead this team a year or two from now? That should determine who you want to see start the rest of this season.

Unless you want the Birds to lose–and lose often–to enhance their draft selections in the offseason. A deficiency in this year’s quarterback could actually help Philadelphia’s rebuilding process by giving them the ability to draft a blue chip prospect–maybe even a quarterback–for next year and beyond.

But this constant battle that will be stimulating talk shows (and yes, we’ll be addressing this–briefly–on Thursday’s RCN SportsTalk at 6pm) over the coming days and weeks, will largely be a waste of time.

Besides, whichever quarterback doesn’t start for the Eagles this season could always play shooting guard for the 76ers.