Ranking the NFL Head Coaching Vacancies

Ranking the NFL Head Coaching Vacancies

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Over the past few months, we’ve often heard or read some
people’s concerns that the Eagles might not be able to attract a high caliber
of coach for any number of reasons. Those range from a supposed dearth of
talent on the roster to not wanting to work with general manager Howie Roseman,
among others. However, we want you to rest assured that none of this is an
issue.

Jeffrey Lurie called coaching the Philadelphia Eagles the
best job in the NFL at his press conference on Monday. I don’t know if I would
go that far – it might not even be the best job available – but candidates will
view this is as an attractive destination regardless. For one thing, there are
only seven openings, so if somebody has aspirations to coach in this league,
they’ll have to start somewhere.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Who has the most
talent? Who already has a franchise quarterback? Who has the best facilities?
Where are the owners that are committed to winning a championship? Where are
the best places to live? All of that comes into play.

In the end, what fits one coach might not suit another, but
if you really wanted to rank the vacancies from best to worst, you could. In
fact, we have.

1. Chicago

Of all the places on this list, Chicago is probably the
closest to Super Bowl-ready. They won 10 games this season, barely missing the
playoffs, and haven’t won fewer than seven since 2004. Their success is largely
built around a solid defense with multiple veteran cornerstones: Brian
Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and Julius Peppers to name a few.
There is a franchise quarterback in place in Jay Cutler, a passionate fan base,
and an owner committed to winning. With the right hire, the Bears will have
little problem carrying on their reputation as a tough opponent year in and
year out.

2. San Diego

Forget the beaches. The Chargers are a prominent destination
for one reason and one reason only: Philip Rivers. San Diego has by far the
best quarterback situation, a four-time Pro Bowler who has won in the postseason.
Rivers’ play has fallen off over the past two years, but with a new direction
and an infusion of talent, he could easily turn it around. That’s the problem
though: the rest of the roster isn’t all that close. Having said that, Rivers
is 31 so he should have a few good years left, at least long enough that the
Bolts could be back in contention while he is still under center.

3. Philadelphia

You could make the case for Cleveland over Philly, and we’ll
get into why in a moment. Ultimately we think the Eagles are the better job
though. Philadelphia is a nicer place to live, the owner desperately wants to
win, and the organization is stable. On the field, they are brimming with young
talent, including Nick Foles who did demonstrate some potential he could perhaps
be molded into a franchise quarterback with proper tutelage. Plus, they have a
high draft pick, and there is even reason to believe the team isn’t as bad as
their record if several key players recover from injury.

4. Cleveland

The Browns are a franchise on the rise now that Joe Banner
is running the operation – just look at what he accomplished while he was here.
They are going to turn it around, but also remember it did not happen overnight
with the Eagles. The Browns need to assemble a front office along with hiring a
head coach, so there is a great deal of uncertainty in that process. There are
some quality players inside the locker room, but the quarterback is about to
turn 30 in just his second NFL season – if that’s even the direction the new
regime chooses to go. Something tells me being the next next head coach in Cleveland will be a much better position.

5. Arizona

Our perception of Arizona has changed somewhat since Kurt
Warner elevated them to a Super Bowl several years ago. A coach can win there.
The Cardinals have top-rate facilities, and believe it or not, the fans do
care. However, the team itself is a project. Unless Andy Reid plans on propping
up Kevin Kolb once more, they appear to be lacking a franchise quarterback, and
worse yet, they have an offensive line of matadors that couldn’t keep any
passer upright. Plus, owner Bill Bidwell has a reputation for being frugal, so
the next coach shouldn’t count on too many lavish free-agent spending sprees.

6. Kansas City

Ordinarily having the number one pick in the draft might be
reason alone to take a job. Sure, the team sucks, but the head coach can get
his franchise quarterback and begin developing him from day one. Unfortunately
for Kansas City, the class of 2013 might be lacking a player of that caliber.
That could mean a full year of trying to squeak by with a Matt Cassel or an
Alex Smith in a business where you might only have three – if that – before
you’re out on the street again. The Chiefs are a family business with a diehard
fan base, but it could be a long, long time before they are back in serious
contention.

7. Buffalo

What are the redeeming qualities to this job, outside of it
being a head coaching job in the NFL? It’s Buffalo (high of 26 degrees today!),
ownership is only able and/or willing to compete on a budget, and the team
hasn’t made the playoffs in this millennium. The roster isn’t completely
hopeless, but they don’t have a quarterback, and have only used one first-round
pick on the position since Jim Kelly retired in 1996. When somebody takes this
job, it proves there is somebody for every opening, which should mostly
alleviate any concerns that Eagles fans may have about luring a quality
candidate.

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Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews experienced something new on Sunday. Something he hoped he’d never have to experience. 

He was relegated to spectator.  

After never missing a game dating back to little league – through high school, college, and into his third season in the NFL – a right ankle injury kept him out of Sunday’s 32-14 loss in Cincinnati. 

“It’s definitely not fun,” Matthews said. “But it’s one of those things where I try not to dwell on it or be like ‘woe is me.’ There’s people going through way worse things in America than me missing a football game.”

The Eagles certainly could have used Matthews on Sunday. But they should get him back this weekend when the Birds host Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Linc. Along with Ryan Mathews and Dorial Green-Beckham, Matthews is listed as questionable. 

But he seems confident he’ll be good to go. 

“I think one game is definitely going to be enough for me,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely going to try to get back out there Sunday.” 

On Friday, during his first media availability in two weeks, Matthews said he chose to find the positives in his absence from Sunday’s game. Namely that Paul Turner and Trey Burton got some extra reps. 

Burton had five catches for 53 yards and Turner, in just his second NFL game, had six catches for 80 yards. 

“I try to see the positives,” Matthews said. “I liked seeing what PT was able to go out there and do. I was happy for him and his first live-game action, being able to go out there and make plays. I was also proud of Trey. His role got to expand with me being out and I think he played extremely well. He got to show what he can do and show how he can help this team. We just have to continue to utilize him moving forward. There’s always a positive in it. 

“We might not see it now, in a loss, but just think, some of those guys are going to be weapons for us in the future. And we saw they can go out and perform well without me in there, so I think it’s going to end up being a positive. But I definitely can’t wait to get back out there.”

Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the team would still try to get Turner involved. Since the team sees Turner primarily as a slot receiver, that means Matthews could see time outside this weekend. There’s an even better chance when taking Green-Beckham’s injury into account. 

Before the season, Pederson talked a lot about wanting to play Matthews both inside and outside, but this season, Matthews has been in the slot for 74 percent of his snaps. Forty-four of his 57 catches have come from the slot too. 

On the play where Matthews hurt his ankle against the Packers, he was actually lined up outside and caught a back-shoulder throw from Wentz. 

“I was actually joking with Carson,” Matthews said, “I was like ‘bro, the reason I got hurt was because our back shoulder was better than Jordy [Nelson] and Aaron [Rodgers’]. So it didn’t mesh well with the universe. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way on Monday night for everybody to see, so the football gods took my ankle. So it’s all good. … That’s a joke.”

Matthews, despite being in his third season, is clearly one of the Eagles’ leaders on offense, especially in a very young receivers room. He’s looking forward to playing Washington after he thinks they were the first team that “actually came out and beat” them earlier in the year. 

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim. But Matthews thinks it’s important for the team to finish strong, especially with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. 

With Wentz, Matthews thinks the Eagles have already taken the first step toward building something special. 

“He’s the guy,” Matthews said. “He looks like the guy, he walks like the guy, he talks like it. And he goes out there and plays like it. It’s more we have to continue to ride around him and coach Pederson and be positive and go out there and produce.”

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27