Eagles Problems... Solved?

Eagles Problems... Solved?

For the first time in awhile, most Eagles fans are excited about their team, and those who aren't seem to have been quieted for the moment anyway.  It's not obvious right now with the Phillies in full swing and training camp two months away, but there is definitely a positive buzz that was previously missing, the result of an offseason overhaul that made the club younger, faster, and almost certainly better.

How much better, no one can be sure just yet.  It's easy to identify exactly where and how they've improved on the depth chart.  How that applies on gameday is another story.  Will this offseason correct the more mechanical problems that have been recurring on the football field?  We explore two big hurdles the Eagles haven't quite passed yet.

Front Four Pass Rush

The focus of this offseason was clearly set on revamping the offense, unquestionably the right approach.  The defense finished third in the NFL in '08, so with only one major departure from the lineup it's safe to assume this is still an area of strength.  The nagging issue with this group continues to be whether the front four can produce a consistent pass rush, something the Eagles did nothing to address this time around.

It's admittedly a tough lineup to crack with six ends and four tackles already on the roster, but it's not exactly the most satisfying bunch.  The last thing we should do is criticize Patt and Bunk, though they do leave something to be desired in this area.  Cole is legit, so offenses key on him and often force the Eagles to beat them somewhere else.  That's where another player needs to step up.

A case can be made that those guys are already here and had already shown up toward the end of last year.  Howard had his best season in green by far with 10 sacks.  After an invisible first half, Clemons got to the quarterback 4 times over the final nine regular season games.  And we still don't have any idea what to expect from Abiamiri, Laws, or Bryan Smith, though I do like Klecko's return to the rotation. 

It helps the Eagles are able to generate pressure from other areas, but when teams live and die by the blitz, they frequently do the latter.  A veteran quarterback with a quick release can have the ball out before a defensive back even makes it to the backfield.  It makes a huge difference when the defensive line can bring the heat on their own.

Short Yardage and Red Zone Offense

This is the big one.  The Eagles gave the offense a total makeover, and while nobody is going to be complaining about a lack of big plays anytime soon, the question is are they finally able to punch it in for six when they get inside the 20, or ground out that one yard that keeps drives alive.

Looking at short yardage situations first, this would appear to be an emphatic yes.  While Tra and Jon were still serviceable in the passing game, neither was run blocking effectively.  Younger tackles should be able to get lower and create the leverage necessary to push defenders off the line of scrimmage.  A true lead blocker makes all the difference in the world as well, and having Weaver in the backfield not only opens holes, he gives them another ball carrier.

The red zone is substantially less predictable.  It's nice the Eagles won't easily be stuffed when they're on the goalline anymore, and for that reason alone there should be at least slight improvement, but can they throw it in?  Even if Maclin contributes immediately, bigger targets typically have the most success in the shortened field, and Curtis and Jackson haven't proven to be exceptions either.

Enter the tight end position and Brent Celek.  Plenty aren't convinced he is an answer, but when he had opportunities last season, he made the most of them.  4 touchdowns in the team's final four games, including two in the NFC Championship, seem to indicate Celek knows how to find open space in the end zone.  If Ingram can give them anything, the two of them might command enough attention to free up the rest of field.

Obviously that's not much of a sample size though, four games from Celek and zero for Ingram, plus three or four new starters on the O-line and a fullback working with new runners.  It's easy to speculate they're better, and honestly it would be surprising if they didn't show improvement, but it's not a given, and it needs to be if they're going to get over the hump.

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

USA Today Images

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Snap counts: Connor Barwin's snaps decrease; filling in for Bennie Logan


Snap counts: Connor Barwin's snaps decrease; filling in for Bennie Logan

During the week, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said he thought defensive end Connor Barwin could benefit from fewer snaps during games. 

That's exactly what happened on Sunday. 

Barwin, who came into the game with the most snaps by an Eagles defensive end, played 49 (64 percent) against the Vikings. He came into the game playing 79 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps. On Sunday, he had a huge strip sack of Sam Bradford. 

Taking away some of Barwin's snaps on Sunday was even more impressive considering Vinny Curry played quite a few snaps inside as a defensive tackle with the absence of Bennie Logan (groin). 

Curry played 41 snaps (54 percent) against the Vikings after playing just 40 percent of the team's defensive snaps before this weekend. 

Beau Allen, who started in place of Logan, played 51 snaps (67 percent), while rookie Destiny Vaeao chipped in a career-high 30. Vaeao has had 58 snaps in the last two weeks. 

Ron Brooks played just seven snaps before going down with a serious leg injury. That meant Jalen Mills played 27 snaps and safety Jaylen Watkins played 46 snaps. 

Malcolm Jenkins continued his impressive streak. He played all 76 snaps on Sunday and the only defensive snap he's missed was that weird fake punt in the opener against Cleveland. 

On offense, Josh Huff saw his role increase some on Sunday and he made the most of it. Huff, who had just nine snaps last week, got 20 against the Vikings and caught four balls for 39 yards. Perhaps Huff's production is why Dorial Green-Beckham's snaps dropped to 28 (48 percent). 

Matt Tobin got some extended playing time (20 snaps) at left tackle thanks to Jason Peters' bicep injury. Peters said that had the game been close, he would have been fine to go back in. 

Zach Ertz got 48 snaps (83 percent) but walked away with one catch for 14 yards. He's been on the field, but can't seem to become a part of the passing offense. 

Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles each got 26 snaps on Sunday. Wendell Smallwood got five and Kenjon Barner 3. On the season, Smallwood has 28 carries on 42 snaps. 

Here's a full look at snap counts from Sunday: 

Allen Barbre, 58 snaps, 100 percent
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, 58, 100
Jason Kelce, 58, 100
Carson Wentz, 58, 100
Brandon Brooks, 53, 91
Zach Ertz, 48, 83
Jordan Matthews, 45, 78
Jason Peters, 43, 74
Nelson Agholor 43, 74
Brent Celek, 28, 48
Dorial Green-Beckham, 28, 48
Darren Sproles, 26, 45
Ryan Mathews, 26, 45
Josh Huff, 20, 34
Matt Tobin, 20, 34
Trey Burton, 13, 22
Wendell Smallwood, 5, 9
Stefen Wisniewski, 5, 9
Kenjon Barner, 3, 5

Malcolm Jenkins, 76 snaps, 100 percent
Nigel Bradham, 76, 100
Jordan Hicks, 76, 100
Nolan Carroll, 75, 99
Rodney McLeod, 75, 99
Brandon Graham, 57, 75
Fletcher Cox, 54, 71
Beau Allen, 51, 67
Connor Barwin, 49, 64
Jaylen Watkins, 46, 61
Leodis McKelvin, 44, 58
Vinny Curry, 41, 54
Destiny Vaeao, 30, 39
Jalen Mills, 27, 36
Mychal Kendricks, 24, 32
Marcus Smith, 18, 24
Ron Brooks, 7, 9
Steven Means, 5, 7
Stephen Tulloch, 5, 7