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January 13, 2018

Eagles Mailbag: Game day is here

Eagles NFL
011318JayAjayi Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Help us, Jay Ajayi. You're our only hope.

In our weekly Eagles chat on Thursday, there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. Yesterday we published a mailbag to answer some of the overflow. There were so many extra questions, however, that we'll do another mailbag today.

Question from Drew S: To me Big V is a major concern this weekend, and every weekend. I’m not saying he’s awful, but I’m far from comfortable with him, especially with Foles as kind of a statue back there. He cannot afford to have a bad game.

Vaitai allowed more sacks than the rest of his offensive line starter teammates combined this season, so I agree he's a concern.

That said, I think the return of Stefen Wisniewski helps. If the Eagles were still rolling out Vaitai and Chance Warmack on the left side of the line, that would obviously not be ideal. The Falcons don't typically blitz a lot, so if that holds true, the Eagles will have to block four guys with their five. 

Having Lane Johnson on the other side helps enormously as well, because you can just ask him to handle his business all day on that side of the line. That is crucial in being able to give Vaitai help on the other side.

Question from H8_the_H8ers: If Atlanta stacks the box, won’t that leave Jeffery in man to man, and isn’t he built to win those matchups with his size and positioning?

There's no reason the Falcons can't play zone defenses when they stack the box. That aside, I personally don't have high hopes for Jeffery in the playoffs with Nick Foles. As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, Jeffery got off to a slow start with Carson Wentz, and that was with a quarterback willing to make tight window throws.

Jeffery's game is predicated on a mix of timing with the quarterback, and the ability to win contested catches against defenders with close coverage, as you noted. He is simply not a player who is able to gain separation from opposing defensive backs. He never has been, and he never will be.

In fact, on average, according to the NFL's 'Next Gen Stats,' Jeffery averages just 1.8 yards of separation between himself and the nearest defender at the time of catch or incompletion. That is the lowest amount of separation in the NFL among all receivers and tight ends with a minimum of 40 targets.

Because of his inability to create separation, it is imperative that Jeffery be on the same page with his quarterback, or he's simply not going to be a very effective player. It is also necessary for the quarterback to be willing to throw to Jeffery even when there is a defender nearby. That's not Foles, nor should it be. Asking Jeffery to win contested catches is more than just throwing it up and saying, "Go get it." It also takes timing, a strong arm, and confidence to make those throws. I don't think Foles has any of those three right now with Jeffery.

Question from LostInChiTown: BB Doug has had this team ready with a good game plan all year. Talent trumps coaching, but with a better overall team than the Falcons, shouldn’t he be able to coach around Foles’ limitations?

That is going to a be a major challenge for Doug this evening, and it’ll be interesting to see what he and his staff have come up with over the last two weeks. It’s a big opportunity for Doug to start being mentioned among the upper tier of NFL coaches if he could somehow figure out how to get the offense going with a badly struggling quarterback.

Question from Eagle 1960: What do you think about the Eagles using LeGarrette Blount to pound on Deion Jones, the Falcons’ speedy but light linebacker?

I actually like Jay Ajayi more as a power runner than Blount, but certainly, the Eagles would love to get a lead and be able to pound the hell out of the run thereafter. The Falcons' run defense ranked ninth in the NFL this season, so they're no slouch in stopping the run. However, your point about their linebackers being undersized is well taken. Jones is 222 pounds. The Falcons' other primary linebacker, De'Vondre Campbell, goes 232. 

Both Jones and Campbell are very good in coverage, but the physical style of the Eagles' running backs could be favorable to Philly.

Question from Tony Franklin’s big toe: It’s been what, five-six weeks since Carson went down? Do you think Howie and Doug regret not bringing in a third veteran quarterback just in case Foles is ineffective or gets hurt, who could maybe be a better alternative than Sudfeld? The newcomer would have like six weeks in the offensive system.

I think that's a fair question. I believe the Eagles' line of thinking was that if you bring in another quarterback, he basically has to learn the playbook on his own. Once Wentz went down, the focus of Pederson, John DeFilippo, and the offensive staff was full go on getting Foles ready to play. 

The logistics of bringing in a third quarterback at that point are difficult. If you bring a third guy in, he's not getting any real coaching. They could do little more than plop a playbook down in front of him and say, "Learn this." Certainly, they weren't going to take time away from Foles at that point to rush to get a third quarterback up to speed. So essentially, if this prospective third quarterback were to play, he wouldn't have a clue what he was doing in a sophisticated offense. I can't really knock them for that.

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