Eagles Better or Worse 2017: Coaching

Eagles Better or Worse 2017: Coaching

One thing our Better or Worse feature has failed to account for in previous years is the coaching staff. However, watching the Eagles in 2016, one thing was apparent, and that was this team isn’t going to get significantly better unless the coaching does, too. There have simply been too many ups and downs on the sideline to ignore it any longer.

Doug Pederson returns as head coach, with almost his entire staff intact – namely Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator. Only the wide receivers room underwent major renovations, with Mike Groh taking over for Greg Lewis. So the question is: can Pederson learn from the mistakes of his first season in charge, and continue to grow with this team, or will he be a detriment to the Eagles’ growth and drag the franchise down with him?

BETTER

Wide receivers

The Eagles didn’t just get a sorely needed influx of talent at wide receiver. The move from Greg Lewis to Mike Groh is undeniably an upgrade, even just based on a comparison of their experience.

Groh has been coaching since 2000 after a brief NFL career. He became a wide receivers coach at Alabama in 2011, then for the Bears in 2013. He’s coach a trio of 1,000-yard receivers at the pro level in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery with the Bears and Kenny Britt with the Los Angeles Rams last season.

Lewis actually had a lengthy NFL career as a wideout, and coached receivers for three years at the college level. The Eagles were only his second pro stop, though, and first as receivers coach – and the result was poor. Some of that is on the talent, but when you hear Nelson Agholor saying it’s Groh who taught him something as fundamental as the proper stance to explode off the line of scrimmage, the differences are quite clear.

The Eagles needed better receivers, but they needed a better teacher, too. There’s no question they have both now.

WORSE

Demands

Doug Pederson has two jobs in 2017, and they’re tied so closely together, it’s really one job – 1. Carson Wentz must grow as a quarterback, and 2. make the Eagles a better team in the process. Pederson shouldn’t go into this season on the hot seat by any means, but if Wentz and the Eagles take a step back, that certainly might be grounds for firing come January.

There’s no simple benchmark for Pederson in this department. It doesn’t mean Wentz has to be in the Pro Bowl, or the Eagles absolutely have to make the playoffs. Although, we probably should see Pro Bowl potential in Wentz, and an Eagles squad that at least competes for a playoff bid. This season is all about progress, and if that progress is not made, Pederson will have to answer for it.

THE SAME

Jim Schwartz

After 16 seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, we more or less know who Schwartz is. He’s going to rush four out of his wide-nine front, then pray that it’s enough pressure and his unit is good enough on the back end to force stops. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

The problem for the Eagles last season was consistency, which seemed largely to be a reflection of the talent. The pass rush was strong, but quarterbacks who got rid of the ball quickly were able to pick on a bad group of cornerbacks. Schwartz tried blitzing and mixing up his coverages more, but the final product was a slightly-above-average defense. Given what Schwartz had to work with, this outcome should actually create optimism about what he can do with a few new pieces in 2017.

Dave Fipp

Honestly, the best thing Chip Kelly ever did for the Eagles was to hire this man. Fipp goes into his fifth season coaching special teams, which have been outstanding every year of his tenure. Any thought there might be a drop-off after Kelly left was put to rest. Whatever Fipp is doing, it works just as well under Pederson.

Top assistants

The rest of the assistants remain the same as well, but there are some particularly noteworthy names here. Jeff Stoutland did a remarkable job patching the offensive line together in 2016, considering all the injuries and absences up front. Duce Staley (running backs) and Cory Undlin (defensive backs) are two more Kelly holdovers with glowing reputations. And John DeFilippo’s role in getting Carson Wentz ready to play last year should not go overlooked. Pederson’s staff is top notch.

THE UNKNOWN

Doug Pederson

Pederson did some things well in his first year on the job, and he did some things poorly. That’s sort of to be expected for a first-time head coach, especially one as green as he was. But the things Pederson did poorly, he tended to do very poorly – terribly, in fact. Coaching cost the Eagles games in 2016.

Pederson showed a real blind spot in Week 6 at Washington, the first week of Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension. With a fifth-round rookie seeing his first NFL action at right tackle against Ryan Kerrigan, Pederson had Wentz drop back to pass early and often, to predictably disastrous results. Two weeks later in Dallas, Pederson called for a punt rather than attempt a 53-yard field that could seal the game, even though Caleb Sturgis nailed a 55-yard field goal earlier.

It was “little” things, too. Pederson had Wentz dropping back 40 times per game, which would be a lot for a seasoned vet, let alone a rookie. Pederson was aggressive on fourth downs, but not always when the situation called for it, and sometimes when it didn’t. And who could ever forget the time he threw a challenge flag on a play where winning would result in a net gain of about two yards?

Now, it’s easy to chalk this all up to being new to the job, and it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect some improvement. Then again, that’s not exactly guaranteed. We watched Chip Kelly do the exact same things over and over for three years, and make no changes even as his teams regressed. We watched Andy Reid do a lot of the same things for 14 years, and Pederson is a Reid disciple.

We also tend to evaluate coaches in a bubble, too. The reality is they all do strange things from time to time. Maybe the only difference between Pederson in 2016 and some other NFL coaches is the Eagles didn’t have the talent to overcome the occasional questionable coaching decision. Unfortunately, that was the difference last season between the 7-9 record the Eagles had, the 9-7 record they possibly could have – and why some people still have their doubts about the guy in charge.

BETTER OR WORSE?

With more or less the same staff in place, whether the Eagles coaches are better or worse is largely dependent upon Pederson’s trajectory. He should get better in Year 2 on the job, even if there aren’t any guarantees. The upgrade at wide receivers coach is no small thing, either. No one knows whether Pederson is the right man to lead this franchise for the long haul, but it’s reasonable to assume he’ll at least make some moderate gains. Better

 

 

Previously:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line
Linebackers
Defensive backs

Chip Kelly shares how close Eagles got to trading for Marcus Mariota

Chip Kelly shares how close Eagles got to trading for Marcus Mariota

Chip Kelly will make a transition this fall from coaching on the sidelines to analyzing games in the television booth for ESPN.

The former Philadelphia Eagles head coach sat down with his new co-worker Adam Schefter about his new challenge of doing television. Chip seems excited at the opportunity to study new trends and see where the game is going.

He also spoke about a couple of the hot button issues from his days with the Eagles. Those were the days before Carson Wentz was the quarterback in Philly so the Birds were always in search of a franchise quarterback.

"It is the most important position on a football team," Kelly said of the quarterback position. "When you have a good one, everybody else becomes a better player."

"That’s why everybody is always looking for the next great one."

Perhaps the Eagles' most hyped hypothetical from the Chip era was the inability to trade up to get Marcus Mariota from the Tennessee Titans in 2013. Schefter asked Chip if there was anything they could have done differently to land Mariota in Philly.

"No," Chip said. "From all the conversations with Tennessee, they weren’t moving off the pick. Rightly so. They were looking for the same thing to get themselves a really top quality quarterback. We didn’t really get into a conversation about what we could or couldn’t offer.

"We didn’t offer anything because they weren’t taking any offers for it. I would have loved to coach him."

A couple of other areas of interest to Philly fans:

On night Shady got traded

"That was one of those deals where the trade had been initiated but not approved yet from the league. Before anything ever got approved, we weren’t going to say or comment or do anything in that situation. Then obviously the story got out before we ever had a chance to communicate with the guys being traded. I never got the chance to talk to LeSean before he got traded. I always say that’s on us."

Is Chip done with coaching? Could he see return to coaching?

"I’m excited about what I’m going to do for ESPN then I’m going to see what happens after that. I don’t have any set plans how long I’m going to do anything. We all like to think we have control of our lives but we really don’t. The unknown really keeps you going. It gives you a little bit of energy, a little bit of juice. I know what I’m going to be doing in the fall. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing after that."

On the Running of the Bulls in Spain

"Everybody is dressed the same. You usually have a white t-shirt and a red bandana. When I was in the ring for maybe 20 minutes, it was hot, I'm trying to figure out how many bulls are left. I'm ready for this thing to end. Out of the corner of my eye, in the middle of Pamplona, Spain, I saw a guy in a Tim Tebow jersey in the middle of the ring. I decided to stay near him. No bull was going to go near Tim Tebow, so no bull is going to go near me."

You can listen to the full Chip Kelly with Adam Schefter podcast right here.

Eagles Better or Worse 2017: Offensive line

Eagles Better or Worse 2017: Offensive line

The Eagles didn’t change much about their offensive line from last season. In fact, they retained pretty much everybody, even handed out a few contract extensions, while also going out and signing Chance Warmack in free agency.

The question is whether that was good enough. There are plenty of question marks among a nucleus of Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson, and standing still didn’t necessarily provide many answers.

BETTER

Depth

The Eagles haven’t been this deep up front in years. First and foremost, 2016 draft picks Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai both got significant, meaningful experience in their rookie seasons, and should only be better for it going forward. Vaitai gives the club a capable backup at right tackle, while Seumalo will compete to start at left guard, but can play pretty much anywhere in a pinch.

Chance Warmack bolsters a strong interior. Formerly the 10th-overall choice by the Titans in 2013, Warmack hasn’t really panned out in the NFL, plus missed all but two games last season with a hand injury. However, he has 48 career starts under his belt, only turns 26 in September, and is reunited with Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland from his college days at Alabama. It’s a great situation.

Veteran Stefen Wisniewski was retained after his one-year trial, and can fill in at guard or center, giving the Eagles quality backups at all three positions.

Trades could change the outlook here, as Allen Barbre and Jason Kelce have both been rumored on the block. Even if both were to go – which seems unlikely – the Eagles’ depth looks improved based on the increased experience alone.

Lane Johnson

Theoretically, Johnson could test positive for performance-enhancing drugs and wind up being suspended for the entire 2017 season. However, we’re going to assume he’s learned his lesson.

Johnson was slapped with a 10-game ban last season after his second positive test, and it turned out to be a crushing blow for the Eagles. Case in point: the team had a 5-1 record with Johnson, but went 1-9 without him. As long as he can put that stuff behind him once and for all, the arrow is still pointing up. Johnson is only 27, and there’s absolutely no debate about his importance to the offense now.

WORSE

Getting older

Between Johnson, Seumalo, Vaitai and Warmack, the Eagles have no shortage of young talent along the offensive line. Evan Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks are only 28 this year. That being said, two of the most vital members of the unit are going to be on the wrong side of 30 – and their performance has already shown some signs of decline.

Jason Peters rebounded after a dismal 2015 campaign that left doubts about his viability at left tackle, earning his ninth invitation to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s no longer the dominant force who was once considered the best O-lineman in the league, but was still one of the more dependable players blindside players out there. Nonetheless, Peters is 35, and despite being rewarded with a contract extension two weeks ago, there naturally is concern that the age- and injury-related decline could be sudden.

Meanwhile, Jason Kelce has already been drawing criticism for the past two seasons, and the fact that he turns 30 in November isn’t likely to help. Though still one of the NFL’s top centers in space, people still have hang-up about his size, and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be getting any stronger with age. Kelce is a better player than he is often credited for at the local level, but that 30th birthday is something to watch.

If the Eagles’ line takes a step back in 2017, it will likely be because one or both of these guys isn’t hacking it anymore.

THE SAME

Brandon Brooks

Brooks was as advertised last season at right guard after signing as a free agent from the Texans. At 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, Brooks is capable of engulfing defenders in the ground attack, particularly at the second level, and he was perfectly solid in pass protection as well. He has the tools to go from good to great, and seeing as he only turns 28 in August, reason to think he may still have that leap in him.

Even if Brooks is what he is, that’s a plus-blocker in both phases. The only concern here really is he wound being a late scratch two times in three weeks with an illness in 2016, and was later diagnosed with anxiety as the apparent cause the symptoms. Brooks addressed the issue, so his unexpectedly winding up on the inactive list two hours before a game should be a thing of the past.

THE UNKNOWN

Left guard

The unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and the Eagles’ competition at left guard is a perfect example. Allen Barbre and Isaac Seumalo are going head-to-head for the job, and whoever wins, the offensive line should be fine.

Barbre started 28 games at left guard over the past two seasons, and was surprisingly better than serviceable, even when everything around him was falling apart in 2015. A third-round pick out of Oregon State in 2016, Seumalo appeared in nine games for the Eagles as a rookie and started four, and did not look out of place.

For obvious reasons, it would be better for the Eagles’ long-term outlook if Seumalo wins the battle, as is sort of expected. Should that come to pass, it could allow the Eagles to move Barbre, in which case, Warmack is right there to back him up. Or, if Kelce is traded, and Seumalo moves to center, Warmack is there to push Barbre. Wisniewski can play left guard, too! In other words, we don’t know precisely how it will shake out, but the Eagles have plenty of options.

BETTER OR WORSE?

Barring a sudden drop-off from Peters, the Eagles appear to be in good shape up front. Even if something happens to Peters, Johnson can play left tackle, and Vaitai takes over on the right. There is no shortage of moves along the interior, so consider that group vastly improved before any trades are made. The only question is depth behind Vaitai at tackle, though Seumalo can play outside as well. Everything points to an already solid group staying that way, and in many cases, continuing to develop. Better

 

Previously:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line
Linebackers
Defensive backs