Tag Archives: Fletcher Cox

Chip Kelly, Marcus Mariota, and How the Power of the ‘What If’ Question Could Turn NFL Economics Upside Down

“Let’s dispel that right now. I think that stuff’s crazy. You guys have been going with that stuff all along. I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft. We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to get somebody like that, because we have too many other holes we have to take care of.”

It has been 50 days since Chip Kelly stood behind a podium and delivered the aforementioned quote. On the surface at the time, it was viewed as Kelly bowing out of Marcus Mariota sweepstakes and attempting to pour water on what he viewed as a media-induced fire.

The biggest change between then and now — the morning of the NFL Draft — is also the most obvious change — time.

On a Wednesday afternoon in March, Kelly wasn’t faced with a now-or-never franchise altering decision with the quarterback of his dreams dangling right before his eyes behind a forbidden fence. It’s easy to say something seven weeks before one actually has to decide on something.

None of this is to say Kelly is a liar. Rather, it’s to float the question ‘What’s his definition of mortgaging ‘the future’? And how might his definition deviate from the norm given the anything but normal circumstances?

NFL economics are fascinating in that they are often bound by certain unwritten but understood parameters. If a team hypothetically called the Indianapolis Colts right now and offered their next 25 first round picks for Andrew Luck, the Colts would do it in a heartbeat, but the Colts would never be presented with that scenario because no team would call with that type of proposal.

Head hurt? Yeah, mine too.

Kelly will not call the Tennessee Titans and offer 25 future first round picks for Mariota tomorrow night. I can guarantee that, but to guarantee anything else would be naive and ignorant to the way the Eagles czar operates and the power of human psychology that could be at work before him.

Mariota is Kelly’s Andrew Luck, his can’t-miss prospect. While he has never seriously compared the two young quarterbacks he has mentioned Mariota in the same breath as Peyton Manning, an even higher compliment.

For the past few weeks, I have looked for reasons to rule such an unrealistic reunion out. I got nowhere and instead ending up writing this, unable to dismiss the possibility. Folks who know much more about the inner-workings of the team have sought for the same roadblocks and kept on traveling.

Bargaining power is a valuable and envious asset, and in this particular situation, the Tennessee Titans have all of it right now. Or do they?

Based on Ken Wisenhunt’s coaching career, there is deductive reasoning to believe that the Titans have little interest in the Oregon quarterback. One of the most intense dynamics would be if the Titans in a game of chicken with the Eagles drive up the price so high that Kelly calls their bluff and folds. Would Tennessee actually invest a second overall pick in a quarterback it may not be fully sold on or would they select someone else and leave Mariota on the board where Kelly could jump back in and give up less?

More accurate of a bargaining power statement is to say that the Titans if they play it right have much of it, and Kelly has none.

Decision power, while much riskier of a principle, is even more powerful than bargaining power though. And decision power in this instance could theoretically belong to Kelly. And if decision power in this instance does theoretically belong to Kelly, it may not be a difficult decision at all.

Two words. One question: ‘What if’

It’s a phrase that can dominate our lives. We can ask it optimistically, pensively, and sometimes even regrettably, with the goal of avoiding the third scenario. Oftentimes it’s posed because the goal that follows the ‘what if’ is not attainable. That’s painful. Other times, it’s asked because the ‘what if’ was there for the taking, and one didn’t seize the opportunity. That’s much more painful.

What if Mariota is there to be had and all it takes is one more young player, perhaps one as talented as Fletcher Cox, one more future pick? Would Kelly be able to sleep at night knowing his star pupil, the player he molded into one of the top quarterbacks in college football was available and he didn’t go the distance to get him?

The ‘what if’ question can be all-encompassing. One is resigned to the notion that it will make future tasks more difficult. Avoiding major injuries, identifying underrated talent, and player development skyrocket from highly important to super essential with hardly any margin for error.

With the extra pressure though comes an unconventional way to land a franchise quarterback and turn league norms upside-down while progressing from good to great and legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

But what if it’s not worth it?

What if it is and Kelly never dares to find out?

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Go Ahead and Open Up the Mock Drafts Now

The clock has stuck midnight. The fat lady has sung. Insert your preferable cultural reference here.

An Eagles season that had so much promise as recently as 14 days ago is now over.

They will end the season with a better record than at least one of the 12 teams in the playoffs and maybe more, but unlike an exhilarating end to the 2013 season, there will be no January this time around, no NFC East title, no home playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field.

A big reason why the Eagles suffered this fate is because aside from the Colts, Cowboys, and maybe the Panthers, they couldn’t beat teams that have qualified for the playoffs often enough.

In some of those contests like the Packers and Seahawks game, they were outclassed. In others like the Cardinals, one or two fluke plays could have easily swung things and made a difference in the season.

Meaningless regular season football really sucks. We thankfully have not had much of it in the past decade, but for the second time in three years, there will be a Week 17 game at the Meadowlands with little to directly play for.

Perhaps in ways the repetitive location is fitting in this instance. It was only two short years ago that a 4-12 team quit on their soon to be ex-head coach Andy Reid in an embarrassing 42-7 loss to the Giants to cap off a lost season.

For all Reid did for this franchise, he left the roster mostly in shambles. There was a running back, a couple wide receivers, and some injured offensive linemen, but depth at any position was hard to come by. The defense was devoid of homegrown talent, and the secondary was (and mostly still is) a complete wasteland.

Between an offensive genius taking the NFL by storm, career years from LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, historically good quarterback play from Nick Foles, a draft class that provided immediate impact in the form of Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, and Bennie Logan, and an offensive line staying healthy for all 16 games, the Eagles were able to go from 4-12 to a 10-win team that nearly knocked off Drew Brees in the playoffs.

Billy Davis, a defensive coordinator with a spotty track record and much to prove, took a jumbled collection of noodles and ketchup and made a presentable Italian meal out of it.

Everything clicked and were it not for a bad kicker and a fluke return, the Eagles may have well reached the NFC Championship Game in Chip Kelly’s first season.

Many of those aforementioned things did not click this season. Jackson is wearing a different uniform. McCoy, while still very productive, was far from the player who won the rushing title last season. Nick Foles threw more interceptions and got hurt. When Foles was healthy, the offensive line was not as the quarterback would constantly fear pressure playing behind backups and end up retreating and throwing off his back foot immediately after taking a snap.

Outside of Jordan Matthews, this year’s draft produced little impact. Josh Huff provided one of the most electric moments of the season but made a ton of rookie mistakes in the process. First round pick Marcus Smith cannot play. While the jury remains out, there is little indication to think Jaylen Watkins and Taylor Hart can at the moment.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the way to expedite the process in the NFL is to draft well. Years of bad drafting under the Reid regime eventually caught up with the team. In 2012, they started to reverse course some, but too many dysfunctional issues overshadowed a strong rookie class in Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Brandon Boykin, Foles, and Bryce Brown. It wasn’t enough to save their jobs, but it was progress.

Kelly and Howie Roseman continued that progress in 2013 but took a big step back this past May by bungling their first round pick in a talent rich draft, fumbling the best chance they had to inject talent onto an improving but still semi-flawed roster.

With a little bit of luck and mostly really solid coaching, the Eagles have gone from a punching bag to a decent team in two years but remain a couple notches below some of the NFL elite who will be playing in January.

Key decisions will be made before May, and some holes will be plugged in free agency. For better or for worse, we will be blogging throughout those periods, but the way to keep building Rome, the way to prevent three consecutive losses in December, will be to nail the May portion of the offseason and prevent a repeat of what took place in 2014.

We are more than five months away, but go ahead, unfortunately. Open up the mock drafts.

Five Numbers I Hope to See in the Box Score when Eagles-Seahawks Concludes

Before the season, I predicted that the Eagles would head into today’s game with a 9-3 record and a 6-0 mark at home. And then I picked them to lose to the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, thinking Pete Carroll’s defense would be too much for them.

Well, sure enough, the Eagles enter this highly anticipated NFC showdown at 9-3 and undefeated at home, and the more I look at the matchup, the more I think they’re going to improve to 10-3 and 7-0 at home.

Even after holding both the Cardinals and 49ers to three points in back-to-back weeks, the Seahawks just don’t scare me that much away from CenturyLink Field. The Eagles have been lights out at the Linc this season, and I expect that to continue today.

Let’s hit the five numbers that I believe could help make it happen and hope to see in the box score as this one concludes:

  1. Less than 70 rushing yards for Marshawn Lynch — The Seahawks essentially run their offense through two players, Russell Wilson and Lynch. With Golden Tate in Detroit and Percy Harvin exiled to the Jets, that’s it. Contain them, and you win the game. Seattle is 3-3 this season in games where Lynch is held below 70 yards. They are 5-1 when he eclipses that mark. After holding the NFL’s leading rusher DeMarco Murray to a season low 73 yards on Thanksgiving, the Eagles front seven should be ready to go.
  2. At least one sack for Fletcher Cox — The third-year defensive end has a sack in three of his last four contests and had his formal coming out party in front of a national audience on Turkey Day with two tackles for loss to go with the sack. It really seems like Cox is coming into his own after battling consistency issues early on in his career. Dropping Russell Wilson one or more times today would be a great way to show that.
  3. Mark Sanchez completing at least 63 percent of his passes — After dealing with some accuracy issues and only completing 56.7 percent of his attempts against the Panthers and Seahawks, Sanchez has been on point over the past two contests going 50-for-72, equating to 69.4 percent. I don’t expect that today against the Seahawks secondary, but staying above the 60 percent mark will be key in keeping the offense moving in perhaps his toughest challenge to date.
  4. Darren Sproles returning a punt at least 20 yards — If the Eagles have a distinct advantage in one area today, it is special teams. I’m expecting an impact play from either Sproles or Huff Daddy, and ideally there will be way more Seahawks punts than Seahawks kickoffs.
  5. LeSean McCoy averaging more than four yards per carry — Reports of McCoy’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The Eagles Pro Bowl running back has looked electric over his past two games, but the Titans and Cowboys front seven is no Seahawks. Running room will be tougher to come by today, but the Eagles are 5-1 this season when McCoy averages four or more yards per carry. Let’s make it 6-1 and push it to three straight games in a row over the century mark.

The Jeremy Maclin-Richard Sherman matchup gets an honorable mention and warrants watching as well obviously. I don’t expect Maclin to go for 150+ yards like he has three time prior this season, but he should be able to hold his own.

There you have it, folks. Seventy, one, 63, 20, four, and hopefully double digit wins and playing for a second consecutive NFC East title next Sunday night.

Fist pump away, Chip.

Fist Pump GIF

Checking Back on the Eagles Numbers I Wanted to See

I am afraid to check these numbers, but let’s do it. Here are the stats we wanted to see:

  1. Less than 45 rushing yards for Trent Richardson
  2. No more than one turnover for Nick Foles
  3. Jeremy Maclin with 90+ receiving yards
  4. At least 14 first half points
  5. Andrew Luck sacked three or more times

How did we do?

  1. No — Richardson somehow ran for 79 yards. The Eagles did force a key fumble on one of his carries, and I thought Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox played nice games, but the run defense looked shaky overall and will need to be better with Alfred Morris coming to town.
  2. Yes — Only one interception for Nick Foles and no fumbles. I wrote more about the Eagles quarterback and earning respect here.
  3. No — Half of that total, 45 yards to be exact, but Maclin did catch the game-tying touchdown from Foles with three minutes to go. Up and down performance but came through late.
  4. No — Only six first half points for the Eagles. Last year against the Redskins, they had two excellent first halves, outscoring the Skins 43-7. Hopefully they find their groove in the opening 30 minutes on Sunday.
  5. No — Neither Luck nor Foles was sacked all game, but it seemed like some of Billy Davis’ blitz packages got home and at least made the Colts signal-caller uncomfortable.

Not as good of a showing as Week 1 here, but the Eagles won, so all good. We have a short week upon us, so stay tuned for another edition Saturday night.

Checking Back with the Eagles Numbers I Wanted to See

One last post before I catch a few hours of sleep.

Before the game, I discussed five numbers that I wanted to see in the Eagles box score when the season opener concluded yesterday.

More context is available here, but these were the numbers.

  1. Less than 21 points scored by the Jaguars
  2. Nick Foles sacked no more than two times
  3. At least 50 receiving yards for Zach Ertz
  4. A minimum of one tackle for loss by Fletcher Cox (and hopefully more)
  5. No less than 1.5 combined sacks for Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham

How did we do? Were they achieved?

1. Yes — It looked like it would be difficult at first, and the Eagles needed some help from their special teams unit, but the defense held the Jaguars to only 17 points, and none in the final 44 minutes.

2. No — Foles was sacked five times in the first half and fumbled twice. This is a concern, and we will attempt to go more in depth on it later, but he was not sacked at all in the second half so hopefully some progress made there by both him and a makeshift offensive line.

3. Yes — Ertz only caught three passes, but similar to teammate Jeremy Maclin, he made them count, posting 77 yards. Nice start for the breakout candidate.

4. No — Cox did not have a tackle for loss, but he was tied for the team lead with six tackles and looked active throughout the game, culminating in a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery in the final minute. Would need to watch some tape but thought the third-year defensive lineman played well.

5. No — No sacks for either player, but Graham did have two tackles for loss and both guys looked solid throughout the contest. Interested to see how Pro Football Focus and some other sites grade them out.

Two out of five certainly isn’t perfect, but I think you could make a case for some caveats with two of the other three.

We’ll think of some more numbers and do this again a week from now before the Eagles and Colts meet on Monday Night.

Five Numbers I Would Like to See on the Stat Sheet When Eagles-Jaguars Concludes

As far as Eagles openers go, today is kinda weird for a multitude of reasons.

First off, it is against an AFC opponent. Second, it is at home — the first time the Eagles have begun a season at Lincoln Financial Field since 2010, and last but certainly not least, pretty much everyone — myself included — expects them to win and to win comfortably.

That is a bit unusual for Week 1 games in the NFL. The birds are the trendy pick in survival pools around the country today and have the biggest spread on any game, entering as 10.5 point favorites over the Jaguars.

In ways, it speaks to how far the Eagles have progressed considering they were in essentially the same position as Jacksonville back in December 2012. The Eagles were 4-12, and the Jaguars were 2-14. Both teams would pick in the top four of the draft and had to hire new coaches. The Eagles went with the super innovative Chip Kelly while the Jags gave the job to Gus Bradley, who might have been minutes away from being the Eagles coach had Kelly opted to stay at Oregon.

Kelly turned things around immediately as the Eagles went 10-6 and won the NFC East while Bradley went 4-12 in his first year running the show.

What does this all mean? It means that later today will hopefully allow us to grade the Eagles on style points as opposed to just scoring more points. A Week 1 victory is a Week 1 victory, but how the Eagles hopefully do it might provide a little more insight about them as the season gets going.

With that said, here are five Eagles numbers that I hope to see in a box score come 4:15 p.m. today.

  1. Less than 21 points scored by the Jaguars — In its first four games last season, the Eagles defense gave up 27, 33, 26, and 52 before settling into a nice groove. Facing Chad Henne and a young Jacksonville offense gives Billy Davis’ unit a nice opportunity to start fast and feel good about itself as Andrew Luck looms in Week 2.
  2. Nick Foles sacked no more than two times — Everyone is going to be focusing on Foles’ interceptions — or hopefully lack thereof — following his insane 27:2 ratio last season, but one part of his game that he can improve upon is taking less sacks that cost the Eagles field position. Foles was sacked more than two times in six starts last season, and the Jaguars have some solid pass rushers in Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, who were part of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks last season. Hopefully Allen Barbre proves to be an adequate replacement for Lane Johnson and strides are made today.
  3. At least 50 receiving yards for Zach Ertz — I have ‘the kid from Stanford who they got playing for em’ down for 60 receptions, 800 yards, and eight touchdowns. For my dude to achieve that yardage number, he would theoretically need to turn in 50 yards each game. He exceeded this mark three times last season and should see more snaps now after looking like an absolute stud in the preseason. Do the damn thing, Zach.
  4. A minimum of one tackle for loss by Fletcher Cox (and hopefully more) — Cox is a player I will be keeping my eye on early on. The third year pro is playing in a two-gap scheme when he really belongs as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but he can be so good. Cox really flashes at times but will then turn invisible for a few weeks. Toby Gerhart and his 231-pound frame is not the easiest guy to bring down behind the line of scrimmage, but I would be hella pumped if Cox could show some consistency and do it at least once today.
  5. No less than 1.5 combined sacks for Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham — I really want to set this at 2.5, but I’m holding back because I am unsure how many snaps each player will see. These two are quite possibly the best pass-rushers on the team but neither one starts because similar to Cox, they are leftovers from the Andy Reid regime and not exactly scheme fits in Davis’ hybrid 3-4. Still they looked hungry in the preseason. Zane Beadles is a nice player, but the Jaguars’ offensive line is not particularly strong. Curry and Graham might be the Eagles best shot at making Henne uncomfortable. Feed them, Billy Davis. Let them have extra dessert.

There you have it. That is what I will be looking for in about 15 hours: 21, two, 50, one, 1.5, and hopefully a nice W to begin a really fun season.