What to Make of Babins Abrupt Departure

What to Make of Babins Abrupt Departure

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Just when you think the Eagles’ rapidly-decomposing season
couldn’t take any more unexpected turns, the team announces on Tuesday they’ve
parted ways with a high-profile veteran with five games remaining. That Jason
Babin will not be in Philadelphia in 2013 was not the surprise here though. Actually,
that much was probably inevitable.

Babin was signed last summer for two reasons and two reasons
only.

First, Brandon Graham tore his ACL toward the end of his
rookie season, which it turned out required microfracture surgery to repair. He
was predictably limited in ‘11, able to appear in only three games. Babin was the
insurance policy. Even if Graham never fully recovered, never met the
expectations placed on a defensive end taken with the 13th overall
pick in the draft, the Eagles could squeeze some production out of Babin for
awhile.

Along the way, Babin happened to have an 18-sack season. Sure,
he was a liability against the run, but coaches will look the other way on a
lot with totals like those.

One year later, the gaudy numbers haven’t been replicated,
and we still don’t really know if Graham can play. However, that’s not
necessarily why Babin wouldn’t have returned for a third season with the Birds
in all likelihood. The reason he wasn’t coming back is the same as the second
reason that brought him here in the first place.

When Andy Reid goes, Jim Washburn goes with him. And when
Wash goes, the wide-9 goes with him.

And when the wide-9 goes, Babin’s usefulness goes with it.

In nine years in the NFL, Babin has only ever achieved
success in the wide-9. He played in a 3-4 alignment, he played in a standard 4-3.
He played for Houston, for Seattle, for Kansas City, he even played here for a year.
Through the first six seasons of Babin’s career before his breakout campaign in
Tennessee, he accumulated a combined 16.5 sacks – one-and-a-half fewer than he managed
over 16 games one year ago.

It’s highly improbable the next head coach of the Eagles is
going to employ a wide-9, as few teams do. And there is almost zero chance whoever
it is would retain Washburn, the defensive line coach for whom Babin has a
great affinity for, a man whose reputation is stained in Philly. For that
matter, I seem to recall Washburn promising to quit if his unit didn’t top
their 46 sacks from last season, so it’s a non-issue.

Once the front office, whoever they're comprised of, started pouring over the roster this
offseason, they were going to see a 33-year-old defensive end coming off of a
down season, earning $5 million per year, no longer a scheme fit. As you can
see, it was elementary.

Of course, that still does not entirely explain Babin’s
mid-season termination. It’s highly unusual for any team to release a two-time
Pro Bowler, a player who is at least minimally productive, with any number of
games left on the slate.

There is undoubtedly some element of truth to the statement
Andy Reid gave along with Babin’s release, that it would give their young players
more opportunities to get on the field. Graham is certainly one of them, as is
second-round pick Vinny Curry, who was finally activated for the first time on
Monday night.

That being said, obviously there was a sense Babin would
serve as a disruption if he was moved to the bench or deactivated altogether.
And assuming that is in fact the case, it speaks to a broader problem there. We
can’t speak to what exactly, but rest assured this story is not over yet. More
will come out. Tidbits have already begun to leak.

Not that many Eagles fans are really shedding tears over
Babin’s departure. His one-trick-pony style of play never endeared him to this
town, he’s had a colossal bust of a season – which by the way, he’s spent the
better part of the year defending – plus his eccentric personality never took,
either. And it’s not like this team is going anywhere anyway.

In case you were concerned though, you don’t have to worry
that Babin was the one that got away. He already had one foot out the door.

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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

Nearly back from injury, Mathews hopes to rejuvenate Eagles' running game

Nearly back from injury, Mathews hopes to rejuvenate Eagles' running game

It’s been a fairly rocky season for Ryan Mathews, who cost the Eagles the Lions game with a late fumble, was demoted by head coach Doug Pederson for a spell, hurt his knee against the Seahawks and missed two games and is on pace for a third straight season under 600 rushing yards.

Mathews, who missed the double-digit losses to the Packers and Bengals, is expected to return on Sunday, when the fading Eagles face the Redskins.

Mathews is an interesting case. When he’s gotten at least nine carries this year, the Eagles are 4-2. When he’s gotten fewer or hasn’t played, the Eagles are 1-5.

Here’s the Mathews conundrum: He’s averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per carry and ranks eighth in the entire NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. Yet he’s gotten more than 11 carries only three times – in wins against the Browns, Vikings and Falcons.

Without him the last two weeks, the Eagles ran 37 times for a total of 134 yards, just 3.6 a pop. And lost.

He’s no Shady, Westbrook or Duce, but he does move the chains.

“I think Ryan brings definitely a different dimension,” center Jason Kelce said. “He’s an extremely powerful, explosive back. He hits the hole hard. There’s been some games he’s been absolutely dominant when he’s gotten the opportunities. 

“He’s done a great job for us. Good to have him back, glad he’s healthy and back out there and hopefully we can get something going for him up front.”

Mathews actually ranks 11th in the NFL since 2010 with 36 rushing touchdowns.

He said he feels 100 percent three weeks after injuring his knee in Seattle.

“I feel good,” he said at his locker after practice Thursday. “Tried to get back out there with my teammates and get back in the groove of things. 

“I’m good enough to practice and go. It’s just getting back in the rhythm, getting the timing down. I missed two weeks and it’s kind of hard. Just trying to get back in the groove of things.”

The Eagles take a 5-7 record and three-game losing streak into their 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday against the 6-5-1 Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins have won four straight over the Eagles. A win would give them their first five-game winning streak over their NFC East rival since a six-game stretch from 1981 through 1984.

“It’s hard,” Mathews said. “We just have to learn from the mistakes and push forward. We can’t change anything in the past, we can’t undo the games. We get another chance Sunday to go out there and play our best.”

Rookie Wendell Smallwood has been the Eagles’ leading rusher the last three weeks, but the Eagles haven’t had anybody run for as many as 50 yards since the Atlanta game – the last time they won.

The Eagles have some very faint playoff hopes at this point. But it won’t hurt to get Mathews back.

“Well, he's definitely a bigger back,” Pederson said. “He's a little bit more between-the-tackles and has that veteran experience that you see out of him. 

“It will be good to get him back out on the field Sunday and get him some more work.”

This has been a weird year for the Eagles’ running game, which has generally been fairly effective when Pederson commits to it. 

But that rarely happens. 

Either the Eagles find themselves too far behind to stick with it or Pederson just decides to have Carson Wentz throw the ball 50 times and the running backs whither on the bench.

“It’s tough,” Mathews said. “We as a group have to do our job and when our number is called we have to make plays. We’ll get it going.”

The Eagles haven’t had anybody get 20 carries in a game since opening day. Nobody’s gotten more than 13 carries since Mathews against the Falcons.

Mathews, twice a 1,000-yard rusher, could well be playing his final few games as an Eagle.

Curiously, his 4.64 average in an Eagles uniform is fifth-best ever by players with a minimum of 200 carries behind three quarterbacks – Michael Vick (6.70), Randall Cunningham (6.62) and Donovan McNabb (5.67) – and LeSean McCoy (4.65).

So with a strong final few games, he could actually own the highest rushing average in franchise history by a running back.

Mathews, who’s gotten nine or more carries in back-to-back games only twice in two years with the Eagles, said his only remaining goal is to finish strong.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “That’s the main thing you want to do. Take it one game at a time and just try to get better and finish off strong.”