August 04, 2020
The big news of this week for Eagles fans, despite their team getting back out on the field at the NovaCare Complex, has been that their head coach is not out there with his players after testing positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. But that's the new normal in 2020 for the NFL, when at any moment your coach, your best player, or anyone around your team can vanish for weeks at a time.
Safety comes first — or so they say — and in the absence of an NBA- or NHL-style bubble, the NFL will simply have to deal with the fact that positive tests are going to happen and they'll have to adjust accordingly. The good news for Doug Pederson and the Eagles is that the head coach says he's completely asymptomatic and will continue to coach virtually as much as he can. They can also sleep soundly in the fact that the guy filling in for Pederson on the practice field is someone who not only knows the team and Pederson's role well, but who is also well respected by the players: running backs coach (and assistant head coach) Duce Staley.
Training camp will continue on without Pederson in the building as the Eagles ramp up to putting on pads and actually hitting. If the task of a shortened offseason and no preseason slate of games wasn't tough enough, the Birds will now be without their coach for the first few weeks of actual on-field work.
Unfortunately, that's the reality we're all living in — and the team will have to make the best of it, because no self-respecting Eagles fan is going to let this be an excuse if the Birds fall short of a playoff berth in 2020.
Speaking of a potential playoff-less season in Philly, that's exactly where we'll start today's edition of What They're Saying...
The Eagles have been to the playoffs in three straight seasons and have two division titles and a Super Bowl over that span. But, each year they seem to be trending backwards. After winning the Super Bowl following the 2017 season, the Eagles made the 2018 playoffs as a wild card, but were able to pull off a win in the first round before being bounced by the Saints in the division round. This past season, while able to sneak into a division title, the Eagles fell at home in the wild card round of the playoffs after losing Carson Wentz to an injury.
If that trend line continues, the Eagles could be on the outside looking in when (if?) the playoffs start in January. Aside from tough competition at the top of the division in the Dallas Cowboys, CBS Sports' Patrik Walker just thinks there's too much for Philly to overcome in its quest to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year, something they haven't done since they made five straight postseason appearances from 2000-04. Here's why Walker thinks the Eagles are one of four playoff teams from last season that are most likely to miss the mark in 2020...
The NFC East is the NFL equivalent of the wild, wild west, and that doesn't bode well for the Eagles in 2020. The reason why is a glaring one, because there hasn't been a repeat division champ since Philadelphia dominated the scene from 2001 through 2004 -- the division crown having since been volleyballed back and forth between them and the Dallas Cowboys with the New York Giants and Washington Football Team peeking their head in once or twice. And so it goes, with the Eagles having won the East in 2019, it feels like the Cowboys are primed to take it back from them yet again in 2020 -- seeing as they have fewer question marks at key positions than their rivals in Eastern PA.
Doug Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman took a ton of flak following the NFL Draft, wherein they refused to trade up a bit to land CeeDee Lamb (which was the win-win of fixing a top need while also keeping him out of Dallas) and instead stood pat to select Jalen Reagor. This isn't to say Reagor isn't talented, because he is, but Lamb is a readymade WR1, whereas many view Reagor as a slot guy who'll now be asked to be much more, and quickly. Yes, there are rumors Alshon Jeffery is refocused, but there are also still reports the Eagles are willing to trade him after having battled through a mercurial last several months of him.
The addition of Darius Slay will do wonders for helping a porous secondary and the already impressive defensive front is that much more so with an addition like Javon Hargrave, but when Carson Wentz -- who still needs to prove he can stay healthy -- takes the field, will he have the weaponry (outside of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert) to stave off a potent Cowboys team that also now includes Lamb? And if he can't stay healthy, could Jalen Hurts instantly locate some Foles Magic in Year 1 and with limited or no first-team work prior? Both logic and the recent history within the division suggests the answer is no, especially considering the Slay-led defense still has question marks at safety as well. [cbssports.com]
Over at The Athletic, Sheil Kapadia, fresh off his series of deep dives into all 32 NFL teams, released his rankings of every offense. And while the Eagles didn't crack the top 10, they did move up two spots from last year's rankings. The Cowboys, meanwhile, checked in at fourth on Sheil's list.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
Last year: 14th
The Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz battery offers a strong foundation, and the Eagles have talented players like Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz to go along with a solid offensive line. But wide receiver remains a question. They decided to take a bunch of swings and are hoping that a couple will connect. If DeSean Jackson can stay healthy for 12 games or so, and first-round pick Jalen Reagor can contribute immediately, this offense has a top-five ceiling. If not, the Eagles are probably looking at a repeat of last year. One goal with Wentz will be to implement more play-action and bootleg schemes. He was the fourth-ranked quarterback on throws from outside the pocket last season. One area where he must improve: ball security. Wentz’s 48 fumbles since entering the league are tops among all quarterbacks. [theathletic.com]
If there's one thing that the Eagles offense has become known for under Doug Pederson, it's the use of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends). And in his four seasons at the helm, it's been quite successful, in large part due to the plethora of talent the Birds have at the position in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert (and Brent Celek before him).
Over at ESPN+, Matt Bowen took a look at all the personnel formations NFL teams use and identified not only the teams who use it the most, but the ones who run it the best. When it comes to 12 personnel, the Eagles used the hell out of it in 2019. And there was a good reason for that, aside from what Ertz and Goedert bring to the table.
12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs)
Why it works: With two tight ends on the field, offenses can balance the defense out against odd-man fronts. And they gain an extra run gap on the edge in standard 2x2 sets. In the passing game, having two tight ends on the field with route-running skills creates multiple matchups against base defensive personnel and sub-package looks in the nickel and dime.
The team that ran it the most: The Philadelphia Eagles have been a heavy 12 personnel team with Doug Pederson scheming open his tight ends. However, the 508 snaps the Eagles ran last season also came out of necessity, given the amount of injuries at the wide receiver position. There's a reason quarterback Carson Wentz led the NFL with 2,005 yards passing and 13 touchdown throws out of 12 personnel, while tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert ranked No. 1 and No. 2 with 53 and 41 receptions, respectively. [espn.com]
Interestingly enough, the Eagles weren't the "best" at working from this formation (that went to the Titans), but perhaps that's because teams were able to gameplan so much for it last year given all those injuries to the Eagles' wideouts and opponents being able to anticipate TE-heavy schemes.
That wasn't the only grouping where the Eagles popped up, either. They also popped up as a team to watch when it comes to using two-QB sets in 2020 after drafting Jalen Hurts back in April.
2 QB personnel
The team to watch in 2020: With the Eagles drafting quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round, I would prep for Philly to roll out some 2 QB personnel in 2020. The Oklahoma product has the athletic traits to produce on designed run concepts, with the Eagles also in a position to scheme passing-game concepts with both Hurts and Wentz on the field. [espn.com]
As we've written about many times this offseason, the Eagles were (are?) in the market for a veteran running back, and there was a lot of reported interested between LeSean McCoy and the Birds. Ultimately, however, Shady wound up signing in Tampa Bay, and during his introductory press conference on Tuesday, the Pa. native confirmed that his former team was interested, but he ultimately chose the Bucs instead.
Apparently the Eagles did have interest, which was reported a few times over the offseason, but it was about Tom Brady and warm weather and blah blah:
LeSean McCoy said that Philly was another situation he was monitoring. But “Tom Brady. Tampa. Warm weather. C’mon”— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) August 4, 2020
“Yeah well, we didn’t want him back anyway!” – some guy in South Philly, probably. [crossingbroad.com]
With Pederson sidelined for at least two weeks, Mike Kaye of NJ.com took a look at a few ways the Eagles could make up for the loss of their head coach. And one of the options was certainly interesting, especially given that the area where Pederson's experience might be most missed is in dealing with the quarterback position. Moreover, quarterbacks coach Press Taylor, who also was sent home from NovaCare due to being in close contact with Pederson, will be away from the team for some time as well. On top of that, he now has additional responsibilities as the passing game coordinator, and this is certainly not the offseason they want to slack off on coaching up the QBs — after all, they just took one in the second round and claimed to be "quarterback factory."
Would bringing back Josh McCown (as a coach this time) make sense for the Eagles, not just for the preseason, but the entire year? There was some talk about the team bringing him back as a coach following a successful season in 2019 — could he be tempted?
McCown has yet to take a job elsewhere, and he probably won’t be coaching high school football in the fall. It might make sense to offer McCown a role on the staff, not just for Pederson’s absence, but for the entire season. While Pederson and passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Press Taylor will eventually return to the facility, that doesn’t mean they will be immune from testing positive down the road.
Adding to the Eagles’ coaching staff, especially someone of McCown’s playing experience, would only strengthen the group. McCown has worked with Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld and Kyle Lauletta, and he has openly praised Jalen Hurts. The longtime quarterback also has relationships with wide receivers like Alshon Jeffery, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Deontay Burnett. Theoretically, McCown could fit into a few different pockets of the coaching staff. [nj.com]
Over the weekend, a pair of NFL quarterbacks tested positive for COVID-19. And while one of them, Matthew Stafford, has since been ruled a false positive and has been reinstated to the active roster, it's a scary not-so-hypothetical-anymore situation that teams will need to be prepared for. Had this been the regular season, even with the false positive, Stafford would have missed his team's game this weekend despite not actually having the coronavirus.
One way teams could combat a quarterback potentially testing positive before a game would be to keep one of their QBs quarantined at all times, away from the team and other QBs. That would avoid an outbreak in the QB room as well that could be even more devastating to a team. It's something Doug Pederson was asked about on Monday, and something he seems more interested in giving a chance than he was a few weeks ago when the subject was first broached.
"It's unfortunate that that happens. I think we know that these things are going to happen probably throughout the course of the season," Pederson said.
"If it happens, and you hope it happens early enough to where you don't get to the regular season, but conversations that are ongoing still with my staff and the offensive guys on staff, [passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach] Press [Taylor] and [senior offensive assistant] Rich [Scangarello], [senior offensive consultant] Marty [Mornhinweg], those guys, and haven't decided anything yet on that, obviously, but it is something to consider as we move forward."
Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia is in favor of the idea, and since he was the one who asked Pederson the question, it's only fair that we let him explain why it would make sense for Philly:
The Eagles should quarantine a quarterback as an insurance policy and the obvious choice is Nate Sudfeld.
Wentz is the starter and needs practice time. Hopefully for the Eagles, Wentz stays healthy and is able to play an entire season. If that happens, he’ll need to be game planning each week for the upcoming opponent and getting in reps with the first-string offense. And third-string quarterback Jalen Hurts needs to be at practice and in the quarterback room too. As a rookie, the 2nd-round pick is playing catch-up after an unusual offseason. In-person practices and meeting time are both really important for him. [...]
What I’m proposing is that the Eagles allow Sudfeld to practice and participate normally at training camp for now but remove him and begin quarantining him two weeks before the season. He would still be able to participate virtually in the meeting rooms and while he’d miss practice time, he’d still be able to work out and stay in shape on his own.
The phrase “quarantine” might be a little too strong. Really, what I’m proposing here is that the Eagles take extra precautions with Sudfeld and don’t expose him any more than they have to. [nbcsports.com]
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