September 04, 2017
As the Eagles embark on a season with great anticipation and lofty ambitions, one ominous sound keeps clanging in the distance, like a car alarm that won’t stop its incessant racket.
Is the roster good enough to contend for the playoffs? Yes.
Is Carson Wentz the franchise quarterback of the future? Definitely.
Is the defense among the top 10 in the NFL? No doubt.
Can Doug Pederson succeed in his second season as head coach? There goes that alarm again. The heart says yes, but the gut says no. The heart wants the most likable coach in recent Eagles history to prosper. The gut says that’s wishful thinking.
The 2017 season is one of the simplest to preview in recent memory. There is no debate that GM Howie Roseman put together a roster filled with talent, on both sides of the ball. Equally noteworthy is the team’s undeniable leadership, led by Wentz, defensive stalwarts Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins and their coordinator, Jim Schwartz. This team is built to win – now.
But then there’s Pederson, who dazzled in his first three games as an NFL head coach last season before bungling his way to a 7-9 record. Nine games were decided by a touchdown or less – more than any other team – and the inexperienced coach managed to win only one of those. Several of the close losses were the direct result of dubious coaching decisions.
Pederson’s competence came under new scrutiny over the weekend when longtime NFL executive Mike Lombardi – now a broadcaster on the NFL Network and weekly contributor on my WIP radio show – said the Eagles coach “might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.”
Lombardi pointed out that Pederson was really not the offensive coordinator in his three-year stint with that title in Kansas City – Andy Reid was – and that the ex-quarterback’s previous head-coaching experience consisted of four years in a private Christian high school. That’s it. And now he’s in charge of an NFL franchise with major aspirations.
The preseason raised new concerns about just how intelligently the Eagles have been performing under Pederson when the coach had to bench Wentz after one quarter of the third preseason game to preserve the young man’s health. Protecting the franchise quarterback should be been the No. 1 priority, no? It didn’t appear to be.
When the Birds practiced for a week with Miami before the second preseason game, the contrast between Pederson and Adam Gase – a candidate for the head-coaching job here before he signed with the Dolphins – was startling. Gase seemed to have a distinct plan, and the authority to impose it. Pederson came across as a great guy to share a beer with after the game.
The heart says yes, but the gut says no. Pederson is such a friendly, upbeat presence in all of his dealings that it’s impossible to root against him – something fans could not say about the snippy Chip Kelly or the robotic Reid. Philadelphia desperately needs a winner, now, this season. Is it realistic to expect success with Pederson as the head coach?
Here are the predictions my heart is making: A 2-0 start on the road, a big season for Wentz, 10 wins (at least) and a playoff berth.
Unfortunately, my gut wants a forum, too. It says Wentz gets hurt behind a disappointing line, the team finishes 6-10 and Pederson gets fired.
There will be no moral victories for the Eagles this season. Either they will move forward, or the coach will move out. It’s really that simple. The only way for Doug Pederson to silence that alarm is to win.
All you need to know about the importance of the NFL preseason is this amazing statistic: The two quarterbacks who took 83 percent of the snaps for the Eagles in the four fake games are no longer on the roster. The Birds did most of the preparation for the 2017 season with two stiffs – Matt McGloin and Dane Evans – who had no real chance to make the team.
So, what’s the point? Why charge fans for four intolerable contests that in no way represent the drama and excitement of professional football? Why televise these lame facsimiles of the real thing every year? Above all, does anybody think there’s a need for four of these?
Other than dreamers like McGloin and Evans, no one believes that four is the right number. Not the coaches, who use their starters less and less each year. Not the players, who see the preseason schedule as something merely to survive. Not the fans, who cringe at paying far too much for boring games that are required in season-ticket packages.
And not even commissioner Roger Goodell, who as recently as last week reiterated his own feelings about the number of practice games.
“Coaches and football people think that you could do this in three [games], and I actually think that’s better for the fans,” he said. “I actually don’t think the preseason games are of the quality that I’m really proud of.”
Duh. The only holdup in reducing the number of preseason contests is the debate over increasing the number of games in the regular season. Goodell would love to move it to 18 but would settle for 17. The players association, worried about ominous concussion studies, is adamantly opposed to adding any more real games.
What the NFL needs to do – right now – is separate the two issues. The league needs to cut the preseason to three games, starting next year. If Goodell wants an extra regular-season game (or two), he should present his argument during the next collective-bargaining talks, not now.
Please, please let this be the last summer where we have to endure four of these blights on the sports schedule. No one should ever again have to endure the endless futility of Matt McGloin and Dane Evans the way we did this summer.
The best story of the season for the worst team in baseball – the Phillies, of course – has been the emergence of Rhys Hoskins as a star attraction on a ballclub in desperate need of one. Chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball. All fans do, and Hoskins hit 11 of them in his first 18 games. Wow.
An equally amazing story, one missed by all of the cheerleaders covering the Phils these days, is the indictment Hoskins provided against an organization that consistently proves it has no feel for when to promote young talent. There is no logical reason why Hoskins wasn’t playing in Philadelphia months before he finally got his chance.
As it is, the young first baseman had to move to left field because GM Matt Klentak doesn’t believe in promoting his better players for lesser ones already entrenched in the big leagues. It’s why Jorge Alfaro took so long to get here, and why Scott Kingery remains in Lehigh. Alfaro and Kingery will be regulars in the lineup next season, but they lost months of major-league experience because of this idiotic philosophy.
The truth is, Alfaro would not have even gotten back to Philly if another nonentity, Andrew Knapp, didn’t get hurt. Klentak’s credo is that most of his moves are organic, caused by natural openings that evolve through injuries or trades. He doesn’t believe in promoting someone like Kingery just because he projects as the team’s long-time second baseman.
Hoskins hit 67 home runs in the past season and two-thirds before he got the call. He proved immediately that he was a far better option at first base than Tommy Joseph, and offered far more promise than veteran outfielders like free-agents Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick. Yet, there he stayed, trying out the new position for less than one week before his promotion.
The bottom line is, Matt Klentak still has offered no proof that he has any idea how to run a baseball organization. The recent emergence of Rhys Hoskins is only the latest example of this.
Does anybody else see what I see?
Then say something, please.
It’s getting lonely here.
And finally ...
• Never has a long snapper made the imprint on his community the way Jon Dorenbos did in Philadelphia. An Eagle for over a decade, Dorenbos was not just an uncannily accurate snapper, he was an entertainer and a friend to so many fans for all those years. Last week he was traded to New Orleans, where, at 37, he will continue his great work on and off the field. Thank you, Jon Dorenbos.
• Donnel Pumphrey is an exact clone of Darren Sproles, minus the quick first step, the elusiveness, the durability and the determination. In other words, Pumphrey proved in the preseason that his historic college stats were just that – college stats. GM Howie Roseman should have admitted his fourth-round mistake and cut the overrated running back. The only good news is, at least Roseman kept a far better runner, undrafted free-agent Corey Clement, on the roster, too.
• While the endless process involving domestic-abuse charges against Ezekiel Elliott continues, the Dallas running back proved again last week what a charmer he is. He actually said the woman whose top he pulled down at a St. Patrick’s Day party last winter took no offense because she had sex with him later that night. OK, then. All is forgiven.
• In his strongest comments yet, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said over the weekend that his team is not rebuilding. “A rebuild, to me, is when you go to the bottom and you pick high, high, high – and essentially, you’re not trying that hard to win. That’s not in our DNA.” Fine. Now isn’t it time to stop bragging about the farm system and start actually winning games? Hextall is starting his fourth year as GM. It’s time.
• The importance of sports in America was reinforced last week through the extraordinary efforts of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, who set out to raise $200,000 to aid in flood relief, and, at last count, had accumulated more than $18 million in pledges. Watt is more than a sports hero. He’s a real hero, and so are all the generous people who responded to his appeal.