Top to Bottom, Eagles' Offense Is Offensive in Victory

Top to Bottom, Eagles' Offense Is Offensive in Victory

Michael Vick chucked four interceptions on Sunday, but spent a good portion of the afternoon running for his life. LeSean McCoy lost a fumble, although 54 yards from scrimmage were called back on penalties. Jeremy Maclin piled up 96 yards receiving and a touchdown, yet he too drew the hanky and later dropped the potential game winner. The offensive line struggled to keep an aggressive Browns pass rush out of the backfield, and still Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg opted for a run-pass ratio close to 3:1.

No one individual can shoulder all of the blame for the pitiful offensive effort that hangs over the Eagles' 17-16 win over Cleveland. Almost every player in the huddle had a hand in this stinker, with the coaching staff sharing plenty of responsibility in what became a proverbial perfect storm. The complete lack of play-calling balance, inability to consistently keep the quarterback clean, and constant shooting themselves in the foot very nearly, perhaps should have cost Philadelphia a game on Sunday.

The worst part is, there were few signs of it turning around any time soon, especially with the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens opening the Linc next week.

The problems began up front for the Eagles, as they often will. On the heels of a strong training camp to earn the job over free agent acquisition Demetress Bell, King Dunlap looked lost at left tackle. A measurable drop-off from Jason Peters was anticipated, but not only did Dunlap fail to assert himself in the running game (the second level is a mystery to this guy), his pass blocking was suspect as well while working across from journeyman defensive end Frostee Rucker for much of the day.

While Dunlap certainly didn't do a thing to win over skeptics, the returning linemen weren't a whole heckuva lot better. Pass protection was generally poor, particularly in the first half, and literally the only guy whose name was not called for at least one holding penalty was Todd Herremans. The unit improved as the game wore on, but it's tough to suggest with any confidence that we've seen the last of these problems.

Naturally the instability in front of Vick contributed to a subpar outing under center. No. 7 was sharp in fleeting moments, completing 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards and two scores, including the game winner with 1:18 remaining. He also made plays with his feet when he had to, buying precious seconds and scrambling four times for 28 yards. Those numbers along with the majority of his big plays were overshadowed by the four picks though, one of which was returned for the six points that handed the Browns a fourth-quarter lead in the first place.

That interception, and another that preceded it, had absolutely nothing to do with the pass rush. Vick twice had a comfortable pocket, made a bad read, and proceeded to throw right into coverage. Can't put those on anybody but the quarterback. It's hard to give him a pass for the pair he coughed up on the run, either -- once slinging across his body, another side-armed out of the intended target's reach. What's more, the Browns left others on the field, including just one play prior to Harbor's clutch grab.

Vick's seeming regression was more difficult to comprehend given that Cleveland was able to create much of the confusion by employing some of the same old tricks that have proven to rattle the erratic passer in the past. The Browns brought additional pressure by blitzing, often from a familiar area too -- the secondary. The hope was with his first full offseason as the starter in Reid's system, Vick might learn to cope when the defense sends extra rushers, but it still appeared to be a blind spot on Sunday.

Some of Vick's issues quite honestly may stem from missing so much action during the preseason. He participated in all of 12 snaps thanks to injuries, so there was concern in advance of kickoff that he might not be ready to hit the ground running. Afterwards Reid admitted Vick was probably rusty, and he eventually led the team on 16-play, 91-yard march to victory, so as a fan you can only hope everything else about his performance blows over.

As awful as both Vick and the offensive line were for stretches, the game plan was easily most confusing of all. The Eagles called 60 passes compared to 23 runs (minus three kneel downs) against a defense that ranked second versus the pass compared to 30th versus the run in 2011.

The previous season's trends aside, the flow of the action dictated an adjustment, yet it only happened once the Eagles lost the lead late. When they went into the locker room for halftime, Philly was ahead 10-3, with McCoy carrying seven times for 50 yards. After Cleveland pulled within four following a pick Vick during the third quarter, the offense went three consecutive series without calling a designed run, resulting in two consecutive three-and-outs and the pick six. Suddenly trailing 16-10, McCoy was reinstated into the offense, finishing with 20 carries for 110 yards.

It could be that Reid and Mornhinweg lost faith in the running game as big gain after big gain was trailed by yellow flags, but that wasn't the official explanation. The head coach said they believed they could exploit their opponent through the air. Even if that were the case, his reasoning flies in the face of the fact that Birds' offense lacked the ability to execute a crisp passing attack on this occasion, when at least they were experiencing some success on the ground.

Not to mention the Browns could barely move the ball themselves. Cleveland's offense managed 210 yards of total offense, 12 first downs, no TDs. They couldn't find paydirt from their best starting field position of the day, at the Philadelphia 22. Not so sure there was any need to "exploit" their defense as much as there was an incentive not to turn the ball over and give the opponent extra chances.

On a positive note, play-calling balance is something that likely corrects itself. While the Eagles under Reid have been known to be pass heavy to their detriment, and will rear its ugly head from time to time, it's a problem that's become less prominent in recent years.

The state of the offensive line and Vick's progression as a pocket passer on the other hand are things that won't change merely on a whim -- bad news with the NFL's third-ranked defense from a year ago heading to town. Maybe Vick and the men charged with keeping him upright can turn it around before then, but based on what we saw in Cleveland, there are not many reasons to feel positive about that great of a transformation taking place over the course of week.

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Trade rumors swirl around starters Jeremy Hellickson, Julio Teheran

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Trade rumors swirl around starters Jeremy Hellickson, Julio Teheran

Phillies (47-58) at Braves (36-67)
7:10 p.m. on NBC10

Two starters with uncertain futures take the mound in Atlanta on Saturday evening . Will either Phillies righty Jeremy Hellickson or Braves ace Julio Teheran be traded before, during or shortly after Saturday's first pitch? Time will tell.

Here are five things to know before Saturday night's contest at Turner Field:

1. Hellickson on the trading block
When the Phillies acquired Hellickson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in mid-November, there was always a strong possibility the veteran righty would be flipped before this year's non-waiver trade deadline. 

With Charlie Morton going down with an injury early in the year, it appeared that Hellickson would be the only member of the Phillies' improved rotation likely to be gone on Aug. 1 (maybe not true, but more on that later). So after the Marlins already shored up their rotation with the acquisition of Andrew Cashner, who is still interested in the righty?

Teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, among others, come to mind. After all, many top starters are far from free agency or locked up by their teams, making a middle-of-the-road starter like Hellickson a hot commodity at this year's deadline.

Face it: There are always teams that need starting pitching. Pitchers can go down in an instant (like Morton did) or begin to struggle out of nowhere (look at Aaron Nola). With Hellickson's early career resume and his recent resurgence, plenty of teams could make use of him (see full story)

In 21 starts this season, he has thrown 125 2/3 innings and has a 3.65 ERA, nearly a full run lower than his final ERA from 2015. He's regained his trademark command and upped his strikeout rate. However, he is still a fly ball pitcher who can be burned playing in a small ballpark (Citizens Bank park, for instance). A team like the Blue Jays that plays in the home run-friendly Rogers Centre may think twice before acquiring him.

If Hellickson is traded, it would continue a youth movement for the Phillies, and not just with the prospects they would acquire in a potential deal. Top pitching prospect Jake Thompson is on turn to start Sunday in Triple A and with the Phillies' day off on Monday, he could easily slide into Hellickson's rotation spot. 

2. Teheran could be gone as well
The Braves' scheduled starter for Saturday could also be in another uniform when the calendar flips to August. However, an injury has thrown his status into flux.

Atlanta currently has the worst record in baseball, so any and every player could be considered a trade chip at this point in the year. That includes a player like Teheran, who is signed through 2019 to a team-friendly deal that includes a team option for 2020. 

And Teheran has been easily the best pitcher for the Braves. In 20 starts this year, he has a 2.71 ERA while averaging just shy of 6.5 innings per start. He earned his second All-Star Game appearance with a career-best walk rate, not to mention a 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also only allows 6.7 hits per nine innings, contributing to a career-best 0.956 WHIP. 

But the righty left his last start on July 22 with a tight lat muscle in his back. There was talk he may need to go on the DL, but he avoided it with a few extra days between starts. 

Teheran has been healthy in the past. He's made at least 30 starts each of the last three years and has thrown at least 200 innings each of the last two. He led baseball with 33 starts last season. 

However, the lat injury may scare teams hoping to acquire him before this deadline, making this start crucial. If there's no one willing to meet the price for Teheran, the Braves can simply retain him and see if anyone wants him in the offseason.

3. Hug watch on Velasquez?
In case you missed it, the Phillies are in deep discussions with the Texas Rangers on a deal involving 24-year-old starter Vince Velasquez (see full story)

Wow. It's certainly a shocker. Velasquez has been the Phillies' best starter in his first season with the club and has made Matt Klentak look like a genius for trading Ken Giles to the Houston Astros for him in the offseason. His fastball has electrified Philadelphia at times, especially during a 16-strikeout gem in his first start at Citizens Bank Park.

So could that really be coming to an end so soon? The Rangers, as mentioned above, are in the market for a starting pitcher. Their only consistent pitcher in the last month has been a certain familiar name acquired from the Phillies last year: Cole Hamels. 

Beyond Hamels, the Rangers' rotation has been battered by injuries this year. Colby Lewis and Derek Holland are both on the 60-day disabled list and Yu Darvish has been off and on the DL in his first season after Tommy John surgery. Furthermore, Velasquez isn't eligible to become a free agent until 2022, giving value beyond any normal deadline acquisition.

But if Velasquez is under team control for so long, why would the Phillies trade him? Two possible reasons: First, a team knows its pitchers better than anyone and may be concerned with something in his health record or they simply don't value him as highly as other teams. 2. The Phillies know they can extract a tremendous haul for the flamethrowing righty.

The Rangers have some exciting prospects and young pieces that could make the Phillies jump. Slugging prospect Joey Gallo, starting outfielder Nomar Mazara and infielder Jurickson Profar intrigue teams and have been mostly deemed untouchable by Texas. But if Velasquez is in discussion, it's easy to speculate that one of those could be the headliner in a package coming back to Philadelphia. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: No one may be seeing Teheran on the mound than Freddy Galvis. The Phillies' shortstop is 6 for 14 against him with two walks. He could use a multiple-hit evening after piling up just five hits in the last week.

Braves: After tonight, Nick Markakis will have faced Hellickson more than any other hitter. Markakis has made 46 plate appearances against Hellickson and has just nine hits in those appearances. Two of the hits, though, have been home runs.

5. This and that
• Teheran has not allowed a run in his last 14 innings, dating back to July 9. 

• The Phillies and Braves have identical .240 batting averages this season. The Phils have a big advantage in home runs, however, outpacing the Braves, 101-64. 

• Ryan Howard has two career home runs off Teheran in 24 at-bats. Cody Asche has one homer in 21 at-bats against him. 

• A.J Pierzynski has nine at-bats against Hellickson and just one hit. However, the one hit is a home run.

Howie Roseman: Darren Sproles signing about culture, which is expensive to build

Howie Roseman: Darren Sproles signing about culture, which is expensive to build

The Eagles didn’t need to sign Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension on Friday morning. 

Sproles is 33, not getting any younger, and his production dropped off significantly in 2015, at least from an offensive standpoint. Sure, he’s still quick and elusive and a dynamic punt returner, but he’s a running back well on the wrong side of 30. 

The Eagles could have waited. They could have gambled — with decent odds — that Sproles, by season’s end, wouldn’t be worth the reported $4.5 million extension they handed him on Friday. If they still wanted him after this year, they could have re-signed him then. 

But they didn’t wait. They signed him now (see story).

Why? 

“I think it’s the message that you’re sending to the team and the players,” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Friday after practice, inside the bubble. “That you do the right thing here, and you’re productive, and you have a chance to stay here. And we want people to feel that way on and off the field, that this is a place that, if you do the right thing, you have an opportunity to continue to be here. And when you look around the team, he’s a great example of that. 

“That’s part of it, we’re trying to kind of build that culture of having guys here who feel like, ‘Hey, I can be here if I do the right thing and I play well.’ For us, Darren, we had been having these discussions for a while and to get it done is a great relief on our part.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the “message” or the “culture” the Eagles are trying to breed by sending it. In fact, since Roseman reascended into his power position, it’s been a theme of the offseason. The Eagles are trying to keep their own, instead of ousting them the way Chip Kelly once did. 

During the offseason, the Eagles went out and signed some free agents; Brandon Brooks, Leodis McKelvin and Nigel Bradham, just to name a few. But Roseman has continually said the most important moves the team made were the ones that brought back their own players, like Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Vinny Curry, Lane Johnson, and, of course, Fletcher Cox. 

In Sproles and Celek, the Eagles have now extended two players over 30, and they’ve elected to keep Jason Peters, who is 34 (more on Peters here).

“I think we’re kind of looking at each individual case as it comes,” Roseman said. “And when you talk about those guys, we know they still bring to our football team on and off the field. When you’re implementing some young players, it’s good to have a nice mix of guys who have done it before and also understand what it was like when teams have had success.”

With all the contracts the Eagles have handed out over the last several months, they’ll be up against the cap soon enough. As PhillyVoice.com pointed out, the Eagles, as of now, will have the least amount of salary cap space in 2017. 

Roseman is aware. 

“Yeah, I think for us, when you’re looking at this, it’s never in a one-year window,” he said. 

The contract Sam Bradford signed this offseason is pretty easy to get out of this year, but if he goes out and has a Pro Bowl season and the Eagles want to keep him on the roster next year, he’ll have a $22.5 million cap hit. It seems like it would be tough for the Eagles to keep him at that number, but Roseman said there’s “no question” they’d be able to figure out a way to do it. 

Aside from Bradford, several players, most notably starting defensive tackle Bennie Logan, will be free agents at the end of 2016. 

“We love Bennie Logan,” Roseman said. “Bennie Logan’s a heckuva player and a great person off the field. He’s someone that we see here. Just because, like I said, someone doesn’t have a contract right now, it doesn’t mean that they’re not in our plans going forward.”

Doug Pederson Q&A: Coaching philosophy, off-field Issues, QBs & more

Doug Pederson Q&A: Coaching philosophy, off-field Issues, QBs & more

As Eagles training camp kicked into gear, head coach Doug Pederson sat down with Comcast SportsNet's Quick Slants crew earlier this week at the NovaCare Complex and addressed a number of Eagles topics with co-hosts Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank.

In a nine-minute interview, Pederson talked about his philosophy of handling off-the-field issues when they arise, he spoke of how he wants this team to be different than a Chip Kelly team and — of course — he talked about his quarterbacks.

Here are some highlights of that conversation:

Quick Slants: What do you feel needs to change the most about the team from last year to this year?

Doug Pederson: "The biggest thing and really what I want to get across is we need to be a smarter football team, a tougher football team and we need to be a better-conditioned football team. That said, that covers a lot of ground, but it’s very simple when you break it down. Smarter means we need to eliminate penalties, a tougher football team is just that, we’ve got to find ways to win football games. And conditioning is just how well you perform in the fourth quarter and down the stretch. We need to be a better-conditioned football team and it’s something for them to work on."

QS: A lot of people are going to doubt you because of your lack of coaching experience. How do you handle that?

Pederson: “I’m OK with that. My life’s always been that way. Sort of been the underdog and sort of come out swinging. You just go day by day and you just work hard and you study tape and you put your players in great positions and you build relationships with your guys and eventually they’re going to run through walls for you and that’s what you want and that’s the type of coach I want the team and the players to see. And at the same time you’re fair and you’re honest and you’re up front with guys and when you come to Sundays, man, those guys are eager and ready to go.”

QS: Two of your players, Nelson Agholor and Nigel Bradham, were involved in off-the-field incidents this offseason. Agholor’s situation has been resolved but not Bradham’s. Generally speaking, what is your philosophy with this kind of thing? What message do you give to the players?

Pederson: “When the players step on the NovaCare property and they’re in the building, my message is always: ‘You’re representing the Philadelphia Eagles and the entire organization, guys, you’ve got to make smart decisions. You’re in a high-profile business. Everybody out there is a reporter, everybody’s got a cell phone, everybody wants to take your picture or antagonize you or do whatever they can do to see if you respond. You just have to be the bigger man, you’ve got to turn your back and walk away.’ And if something happens, we as a staff have to gather all the information we can and they will have to suffer the consequences if there’s going to be any down the road. So learn from your mistakes. We all make them. But let’s be smart about it and move on.”

QS: You’ve made it clear Sam Bradford is the No. 1 quarterback, Chase Daniel is No. 2 and Carson Wentz is No. 3. Why line up the depth chart that way?

Pederson: “For me, really when I evaluated the 2015 roster and the quarterback position, I felt like Sam Bradford was the guy for me. I felt like in conversations with Howie [Roseman] and when I hired [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] and [offensive coordinator Frank Reich], that he's going to be our guy. And it started there. … And then I wanted to go and get somebody. I didn't know I was going to get Chase Daniel, but I needed a quality backup and it just so happened that a Chase Daniel was there who knows the offense. So now you bring in a guy who knows the offense, who can help Sam, can help a young, third-string quarterback. At the time, I think we were picking [13th] in the draft, and then some things happened, some trades, some moves and now you're up to No. 2 and you take a quarterback. And the beauty of that is he doesn't have to play the first year right now. And we can develop him and focus our attention on Sam and getting him ready to go and get ready for Cleveland on Sept. 11.”

QS: The last 11 quarterbacks taken with a top-five pick have started at least 10 games. That goes back to JaMarcus Russell, who started just one game in 2007. So why make Wentz No. 3? What is the benefit of giving him a likely redshirt year?

Pederson: “The benefit is that he gets to learn our system, he gets to learn our players, gets to learn the city, gets to learn our fans. And gosh, coming to Philadelphia and that being your first year and you get thrown to the wolves right away? That can be very mind-blowing for a young quarterback. So being able to sort of protect him that way I think gives the longevity of his career, whether it's here or eventually somewhere else, who knows what's going to happen, but it gives the longevity and the confidence level that he'll have going into Year 2, becomes that much more important for him and really us as an organization.”

QS: What about Wentz made you think he could be the eventual franchise quarterback?

Pederson: “Well when you look at him, you kind of had flashes of Donovan [McNabb]. The athleticism, the big arm, the size, the whole thing, the way he can run and move. And the fact that he's a proven winner, he knows how to win. I know he had an injury his senior year but he was able to bounce back and win some championships. He knows how to win football games, and just watching him these last couple days with the rookies and his communication level with them, where he is mentally with our offense, is everything we sort of knew and read and studied and researched in the offseason before we drafted him and felt like he could definitely be potentially the quarterback of the future, whenever that is. But right now, like I mentioned, we're full steam ahead with Sam and we'll let everything kinda settle whenever it settles.”

QS: You’re an offensive coach and have never worked on the defensive side of the ball. Now as a head coach, what will your involvement be with the defense?

Pederson: “Yeah, I definitely want to have a hand in not necessarily game-planning but knowing and understanding the game plan and how [Jim Schwartz] plans on attacking an offense. And if there's any particular insight I have on the offense we're playing that week, I'll throw that information at him and vice versa. If he has knowledge of a defensive game plan then I'd love to hear that. Having those conversations on a weekly basis, staying plugged in, in-tune and open lines of communication and understanding how he's going about his defense that week and understanding what I'm doing.”