Are Eagles' Offensive Woes More Troublesome Than Issues on Defense?

Are Eagles' Offensive Woes More Troublesome Than Issues on Defense?

Let's make one thing perfectly clear right up front: the Philadelphia Eagles' defense is not where it needs to be. They are a sieve against the run, allowing 140.2 yards per game on the ground, and Swiss cheese through the air, permitting opposing quarterbacks to post a passer efficiency rating of 104.3. Both are the third-highest totals in the NFL.

We could rail on and on about the dearth of linebackers, the state of the safeties, the unit's collective inability to tackle or create turnovers, the absence of leadership, the failings of the wide nine technique, or the decision to promote Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. Each would be a fair critique after five games.

Yet for all the well-documented inadequacies on defense, somehow the Eagles have had an opportunity to win every week this season. And while it's true the defense has surrendered three fourth-quarter leads so far, it's arguably been mistakes on offense that have proven to be the most debilitating aspect in all four of this team's losses.

Isn't it about time the guys on the other side of the ball are held up to the flame?

This might be a difficult concept to fathom initially, considering we are talking about statistically one of the best offenses in the league (third in yards with 445.6 per game) versus statistically one of the worst defenses. However, the simplest explanation is we can measure how ineffective the defense has been with some ease, while the offense continues to pile up big numbers that tend to hide some of their flaws.

And no, this isn't merely aimed at the litany of dropped passes and turnovers that ended comeback bids in three of the last four contests. Jeremy Maclin's drop in Week 2, his fumble in Week 4, and Jason Avant's drople-ception on Sunday were backbreakers, but the team was already behind in each situation, with no guarantee they would successfully punch it in to the end zone.

Those all contributed to losing efforts, but in every instance, the offense long before had not executed up to their potential. We'll delve into the reasons why, but first, believe it or not, there is evidence that suggests the defense isn't quite as horrible as you probably think.

HOW BAD IS THE DEFENSE REALLY?
The Eagles are conceding 26.4 points per game, tied for sixth-worst. Taken at face value, it's just more ammunition against the defense.

Except that number doesn't tell the complete story.

The league average is 24.8 points per game, which is a difference of just eight points total, or one possession. And although there are still some very good defenses in the NFL that are far superior, a whopping 16 teams -- that's half the league -- are averaging between 24 and 28. It's not entirely bad teams, either. Six are .500 or better, while Buffalo and New Orleans are in first place.

Even using an example that falls outside that range, 15 spots ahead of the Eagles are the defending champion 5-0 Green Bay Packers, ranked 11th and averaging 22.2. The real difference is only three touchdowns, or less than one per game. One of the touchdowns against the Birds was a pick-six, which isn't on the defense at all, so in terms of points on the board, Philly's defense is only two touchdowns worse over a full five games than the consensus best team in the NFL.

A difference that is supposed to be negligible with the high-powered Birds' offense.

Again, by no means does this let the defense off the hook in any way. They still reside toward the bottom of the league, where most of the teams were destined to finish with losing records before the season even began. This only indicates they have not performed so poorly that the rest of the club's efforts could not have been salvaged.

WHAT DO WE EXPECT OF THE OFFENSE?
Look at the game-by-game point totals allowed in each loss: 35, 29, 24, 24 (minus the INT returned for TD).

Working our way backwards, if somebody told you coming into this season that the Eagles' defense would hold their opponent to 24 points every week, how many games would you have anticipated them winning? Keeping in mind of course that they set a franchise record for scoring in 2010 with essentially this same cast, the third-most prolific offense in the league averaging 27.4 points per game.

Not only did the defense hold the 49ers and Bills to 24 points each, they did it while the offense committed eight turnovers between those two games. That's three fumbles, and five interceptions. That's eight times a drive ended without points, in many cases handing their opponent excellent field position, forcing a porous defense to defend a short field.

All things considered, 24 points doesn't sound so terrible. These were winnable games.

29 points versus the Giants are a lot to spot one team, but again, struggles on the other side of the ball complicated matters. The Eagles only scored 16 themselves, after averaging 32.2 during their six game winning streak against New York -- whose defense, by the way, has been decimated by injury. Philly also turned the ball over three times, two leading to touchdowns the other way.

The 35 points to the Falcons are much easier to pin on the defense, but again, Mike Vick turned the ball over three times here. That brings the offense up to 14 turnovers in four losses.

SO HOW MUCH OF THIS IS THE DEFENSE'S FAULT AGAIN?
How many defenses can survive when their teammates are giving the ball away 3.5 times per game, altering the field position battle and momentum?

How many defenses can survive when the offense puts six on the board less than half the time they reach the red zone? Only four clubs have made more trips inside the 20-yard line than the Eagles, but only four clubs have come away with a lower percentage of touchdowns than 49.2%.

How many dropped passes can one team overcome? What is an acceptable amount of drive-killing penalties by the offensive line? Is the defense to blame when Mike Kafka has to replace an injured Vick? Or when the kicker misses chip-shot field goals?

Remember, this unit is supposed to be the cornerstone of this team.

Everybody knew the defense, with a first-year coordinator, and inexperienced linebackers and safeties, could struggle out of the gate. Everybody knew there were weaknesses, or at the very least serious question marks.

However, with the exception of an offensive line which certainly got no worse, the offense is constructed almost exactly the same as last season. There are a few new faces who have had their hands in devastating mistakes, like Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown, but most of the trouble spots have been their core players -- Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant.

For all their Pro Bowl talent on that side of the ball, they have fallen miserably short of the standard they set over the previous few seasons. But Juan Castillo? Sure, blame the new guy, even though his defense has been forced to shoulder the burden of the offense's plentiful miscues, and are still just a few stops away from being merely average rather than pathetic.

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

The NFL isn't the only league with a draft coming up this month.

Julius Erving and Allen Iverson have some work to do, too.

The newly-formed BIG3 three-on-three league will hold the first player draft for its eight teams on April 30 in Las Vegas. Iverson is a player, captain and coach for 3's Company. Erving is the coach of Tri-State.

The BIG3 comes to the Wells Fargo center on July 16 during Week 4 of 10.

There are 24 spots remaining on the rosters. Over 70 former NBA players are hoping to be selected. Former Sixers Jumaine Jones, Larry Hughes, Reggie Evans, Joe Smith, Xavier Silas, and Lee Nailon are among those eligible for the draft.

Other draft entrants include (in alphabetical order): Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Marcus Banks, Keith Bogans, Earl Boykins, Derrick Byars, Josh Childress, Brian Cook, Ndudi Ebi, Steve Francis, Kendall Gill, Donte Greene, Shane Heal, Mike James, Ivan Johnson, Voshon Lenard, Rashad McCants, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Lawrence Moten, Ronald "Flip" Murray, Andre Owens, Smush Parker, Jamario Moon, Ruben Patterson, Isaiah "J.R." Rider, Eddie Robinson, four-time All-Star Latrell Sprewell, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Sweetney, Etan Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and James White.

How the rosters currently stand:

3's Company: Allen Iverson (captain, player-coach), DerMarr Johnson (captain)

Ball Hogs: Brian Scalabrine, Player X, Rick Barry (coach)

Ghost Ballers: Captains Mike Bibby (captain), Ricky Davis (captain), George Gervin (coach)

Killer 3s: Chauncey Billups (captain), Stephen Jackson (captain), Charles Oakley (player-coach)

Power: Corey Maggette (captain), Cuttino Mobley (captain), Clyde Drexler (coach)

Three-Headed Monsters: Rashard Lewis (captain), Jason Williams (captain), Gary Payton (coach)

Trilogy: Kenyon Martin (captain), Al Harrington (captain), Rick Mahorn (coach)

Tri-State: Jermaine O’Neal (captain), Bonzi Wells (captain), Julius Erving (coach)

The BIG3 was founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz. It will kick off June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Roob's 25 Random Points: NFL draft edition

Roob's 25 Random Points: NFL draft edition

This isn't an entirely random 25 Random Points because we are three days away from the NFL draft, so it's kind of top-heavy in random draft thoughts.

But there's also the usual nonsense about regional rail, parallel parking, pro bowling, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the best live band in Philly.

Sorry if this one isn't quite random enough. I promise the next one will be far more pointless! 

1. There's a chance the Eagles will select a defensive end in the first round of this year's draft and if they do there's a chance he'll be a terrific, productive player. Historically? That hasn't been the case. In fact, no team in NFL history has been worse drafting defensive ends. Nobody. Let's start with this: In the last 30 years, there have been only 11 defensive ends league-wide who were drafted in the first round and never recorded more than four sacks. Only one team has drafted more than one of those 11 and that's the Eagles, who drafted three of them: Jon Harris in 1997, Jerome McDougle in 2003 and Marcus Smith in 2014. Now, Smith is still active and can add to his total if he makes the roster. But four sacks in three years doesn't augur well for the future.

2. Now consider this: Since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982, the Eagles have selected nine defensive ends in the first three rounds of the draft. Those nine players have averaged 3.4 sacks per season in an Eagles uniform. Yep. Fewer than 3 1/2 sacks per season! Who has the highest average of the group? None other than the unfairly maligned Mike Mamula, who had 31 1/2 sacks in five seasons as an Eagle -- 6.3 per season. Nobody else is close: Brandon Graham (4.1 sacks per season), Vinny Curry (3.8), Derrick Burgess (2.8), Greg Jefferson (2.7), Victor Abiamiri (1.3), Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (1.0), Jerome McDougle (1.0), Jon Harris (1.0). 

So of the nine defensive ends the Eagles have drafted in the first three rounds, Mamula has been, by far, the most productive. And six averaged fewer than 3.0 sacks a season in an Eagles uniform. And I didn't even include Chris Gocong, a college defensive end who the Eagles converted to linebacker. It's really hard to be this bad at something!

3. Everybody loves mock drafts. They're so popular now that many analysts do multiple versions of the first round and then they keep "updating" their mocks as the draft gets closer. Which makes me wonder what the purpose of those earlier mock drafts is. You're basically saying ... 'OK, this is completely wrong and I'm going to fix it soon, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway because OMG IT'S A MOCK DRAFT. And then I'm going to change it next week and throw it out there again and more people will read it because OMG IT'S A MOCK DRAFT! And it will be completely wrong again.' People love reading mock drafts even though deep down they understand they're meaningless!

4. It also cracks me up when analysts breathlessly claim that a player is DROPPING DOWN THE DRAFT BOARD or SHOOTING UP THE DRAFT BOARD. Actually, they're really not. There is often a perception of players rising and falling, but most of the time it's not really happening. NFL teams set their boards based on a lot of information, most of which the public never sees. When bits of that information leak out, then that's reflected in mock drafts, and you have the illusion of players rising and falling. But in reality, teams have already set a value for that player. So he's not really rising or falling at all. Mock drafts just THINK he is. Now, if a player gets hurt in his pro day, yeah, that will affect his actual status. But those are the exceptions. Most of the time you hear people talking about a player "shooting up the draft board" or "plunging down the board?" Not really happening. It's all an illusion!

5. All that said, I feel like the first couple days of the draft are the most revealing time of the season for NFL teams because it's the one point where they really tip their hand about what they like about their roster and what they don't like. For 363 days, NFL coaches and executives tell you they love everybody on their team. For a couple days in April, they can't hide the truth any longer. That's when we truly learn what they are thinking.

6. I love a good train trestle.

7. My top 20 Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame omissions: 1. Todd Rundgren, 2. Warren Zevon, 3. The Monkees, 4. Dire Straits, 5. Kate Bush, 6. The B-52's, 7. Roxy Music, 8. Bon Jovi, 9. Cheap Trick, 10. The Replacements, 11. T. Rex, 12. Guided by Voices, 13. The Smiths, 14. Jethro Tull, 15. Television, 16. Three Dog Night, 17. The Cars, 18. Big Star, 19. Iron Maiden, 20. Gentle Giant.

8. Who do I want at No. 14? Let's say Gareon Conley, John Ross, Corey Davis, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Jabrill Peppers, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris and Reuben Foster are all on the board. That won't be the case, but let's say they are. What direction would you go? There's no right or wrong answer. You can make a good case for any of those guys. We know the Eagles are desperate for pass rush help. We know they desperately need corners and a running back. But for me, it's all about weapons for Carson Wentz, and there's no guarantee Alshon Jeffery or Torrey Smith will be here beyond this year. So a young, play-making wideout is at the top of my list. Someone Wentz can grow with for the next several years. It comes to whether you like Ross or Davis better. Ross is obviously faster, but Davis is a big, tough, strong, smart, physical kid who has pretty good speed of his own. If I were making the pick? I'm going with Davis.

9. What about cornerback? The class is so deep the Eagles should be able to get some help in the later rounds. There could be four or five corners taken in the first round, and since there are teams that don't need corners, it will push quality guys into the second, third and even fourth rounds. Remember, Eric Allen? Second round. Sheldon Brown? Second round. Bobby Taylor? Second round. The Eagles have five of the first 139 picks and I would be fine using two of them on corners.

10. Speaking of corner ... I haven't given up on the notion of Jalen Mills as a potential starter. I know he doesn't have world-class speed, but, man, I like the way he plays. He's tough, he's aggressive, he doesn't back down, he's got that LSU swagger. Yeah, he got beat deep too many times last year, but tell me a rookie cornerback who doesn't get beat. Every time he kept his head up and kept fighting. Mills battled some pretty darn good wide receivers last year and held his own much of the time. Is he best-suited to be a slot or a third corner? Maybe. But I want to at least give him a shot in training camp. I like his game, and I think he has a chance to be a player.

11. OK, if you're at a restaurant and you're on the phone, don't eat. And if you're eating, don't use the phone. M'kay?

12. It's amazing how many bad quarterbacks the Eagles have had in their history. Did you know only four QBs in Eagles history have won more than 20 games as a starter? Donovan (92), Jaws (69), Randall (63) and Norm Snead (28). And only six have won at least 10 games and have a winning record: McNabb (92-49-1), Jaws (69-67-1), Randall (63-43-1), Norm Van Brocklin (19-16-1), Nick Foles (15-9) and Rodney Peete (15-9). Only McNabb, Jaws and Tommy Thompson in the 1940s have won more than one playoff game. Carson Wentz needs 22 wins to become the fourth-winningest QB in franchise history. Which is sad.

13. If you wanted to, you could take local rail from Newark, Del., to New Haven, Conn. I have this all figured out. If you took a 6:22 a.m. SEPTA train from Newark you would get to Market East at 7:46 a.m. and connect to a Trenton train at 7:51 a.m., arriving in Trenton at 8:54 a.m. Then you would cross the platform and take the north-bound 9:21 a.m. New Jersey Transit train, arriving at Penn Station at 10:35 a.m. After a quick subway ride up to Grand Central via the 1-2-3 train and the S shuttle (or 7 train), you would jump on the 11:34 a.m. Metro North train, arriving in New Haven at 1:26 p.m. Voila, Newark to New Haven in only seven hours! Matter of fact, other than two segments -- New Haven to Providence and Perryville, Md., to Newark, Del. -- you could take local rail from Fredericksburg, Va., to Newburyport, Mass. If you really wanted to.

14. I remember sitting there in the media room in the basement of the Vet in April of 1988 thinking the Eagles really screwed up taking Keith Jackson with the 13th pick. Jackson had caught only 13 passes for 358 yards his senior year at Oklahoma and averaged just 16 catches for 390 yards in four years with the Sooners. He wasn't considered a good blocker and he never caught many passes. Jackson of course went on to earn first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in each of his first three seasons with the Eagles and averaged 61 catches for 689 yards and five TDs in his all-too-brief four-year stint with the Eagles.  

15. Two years later, the Eagles drafted Illinois wide receiver Mike Bellamy in the second round, and I was convinced he was the next Mike Quick. He was smooth, polished, productive. And never caught a pass as an Eagle. I think Jackson and Bellamy are the two Eagles draft picks over the years I was most wrong about.

16. The point being we all have our opinions on the draft, but you really don't know for a year or two what kind of draft a team really had. Consider the Eagles' 1986 draft. Nobody knew at the time, but the Eagles drafted two of the best players in franchise history 25 picks apart in rounds that don't even exist anymore -- Seth Joyner in the eighth round and Clyde Simmons in the ninth round. Joyner was released on final cuts and returned home to Pearl River, N.Y., before rejoining the Eagles. He didn't become a star until his third year. Simmons didn't have his first double-digit sack season until his fourth year. But Joyner went on to become the only player in NFL history with 50 sacks and 25 interceptions, and Simmons ranked 10th in NFL history with 121 sacks at the point he retired after the 1999 season (behind eight Hall of Famers and Leslie O'Neal). That was one of the greatest drafts in Eagles history. But nobody knew it for years.

17. Sometimes I feel like people are underestimating the Eagles' defense. Let's not forget they ranked 12th in the NFL last year, held quarterbacks to the fifth-lowest completion percentage in the NFL, allowed the fifth-fewest first downs, allowed the eighth-fewest touchdowns and ranked third in the red zone. All this under a first-year defensive coordinator and rookie head coach. Now, they also ranked last in the NFL allowing big plays. Which is why they're focusing on corner and pass rush. But they have tools to work with. It's not a total rebuild at all. They underachieved up front last year, but they're still solid on the defensive line, linebacker and safety. If they figure cornerback out, there's absolutely no reason this can't be a top-10 defense in 2017.

18. I don't get why the Google maps app on my phone always tries to direct me to a random place on the other side of the world when I ask for directions. If I just type "drug store," it will try to send me to a drug store in Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta, India. If I type "gas station," it will try to send me to a gas station in Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya, Australia. Dude. I'm in Philly. I've also learned that screaming at my cell phone doesn't help.

19. Crazy that 18 of the Eagles' last 24 first-round picks have been linemen. That goes back to 1991! The only players they've taken in the first round the last 26 years are quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz; wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Freddie Mitchell and Nelson Agholor; and cornerback Lito Sheppard. If the Eagles take a non-lineman this year at No. 14, it'll be the first time since 1982 through 1984 they haven't taken a lineman in the first round for three straight years. They drafted Mike Quick, Michael Haddix and Kenny Jackson in the first round those years.

20. All of which means Lito is the only defensive player who wasn't a lineman the Eagles have drafted in the first round since Ben Smith in 1990!

21. Is there something seriously wrong with me if I pump my fist a few times and scream, "AWWW YEAH," after a particularly good parallel parking job?

22. Best live local band from Philly is Sheer Mag.

23. It's not "sampling." It's stealing.

24. I'll be surprised if Wentz doesn't throw at least five more touchdowns and five fewer interceptions in 2017 than he did in 2016 (16 TDs, 14 INTs). How does 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions sound?

25. I was in a restaurant the other day and they had pro bowling on the big-screen TV. Turns out it was a big match between the New York Kingpins and the Philadelphia Hitmen. Did you know we have a pro bowling team? Go Hitmen?