Tag Archives: Lombardi Trophy

Nick Foles, Overcoming Adversity, and Earning Patience

Regardless of the twists and turns that his NFL career takes, the numbers ’27 and two’ will always be synonymous with Nick Foles.

It represents the touchdown to interception ratio that the Eagles’ third-year quarterback posted during the 2013 season, (technically 29 and two if you count the two touchdown passes thrown in a playoff game where Foles out dueled future Hall of Famer Drew Brees).

It also represents an NFL record and normally serves as a conversation starter about the signal-caller going forward. Foles believers cite it to illustrate just how good he was last year and to show that they are convinced he is a franchise quarterback. Foles doubters mention that the two numbers are not sustainable and that some regression in 2014 is guaranteed.

The exercise is a great example of how the same statistic can be bent in different ways to form two complex arguments.

Foles’ projections for 2014 are all over the map. I personally put him down for 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions before the season started. Regardless of what folks think he will do for an encore though, those numbers ’27 and two’ should have one unifying trait between fans and detractors.

They should be a reminder of patience as the year gets into full swing — Way more patience than what was exhibited Sunday afternoon when Foles got off to a less than stellar start against the Jaguars in the season opener.

A promising season was less than 30 minutes old, and calls for Mark Sanchez began to ring out both at Lincoln Financial Field and throughout Eagles Twitter. Philly.com even went as far as to put up a poll about the topic as the Eagles struggled through an ugly first half that saw them head into the locker room down 17-0.

I am not sure how much the page has been visited post-Sunday but as of clicking on late Thursday night calls for Sanchez were still at 33.1 percent.

Eagles-Jaguars Poll

Thankfully, Chip Kelly, Pat Shurmur, and Bill Musgrave stuck with their Pro Bowl quarterback knowing he had recovered from adversity before and could do it again.

Benching a quarterback who is healthy but ineffective has always been a real sensitive topic to me. The position comes with so much prestige that you cannot simply put the toothpaste back in the tube once it is out.

If you pull a quarterback coming off a breakout season less than a half into a new one, you better be sure the good version of Sanchez from the preseason isn’t a mirage because you may never get Foles back once the trigger is pulled.

It is not like baseball when your ace has a bad start and the manager takes the ball telling him to try again five days later. Five days later may never arrive in this instance.

Sticking with Foles paid off as the quarterback went 15-for-22 for 183 yards in the second half with two touchdown passes. The 68-yard bomb to Jeremy Maclin may have been a bit of a coverage bust, but the 25-yard pass to Zach Ertz to cut the Jaguars lead to three had some nice touch on it.

Foles was certainly shaky during the first 30 minutes, but it should say something about him that he was able to bounce back quickly, just like last November where he threw seven touchdown passes two weeks after playing an awful game against Dallas that saw him exit with a concussion. At the time, it was believed that Foles had fumbled away his chance to win the starting quarterback job with Michael Vick recovering from injury, but he quickly got another shot and made the most of it.

Lost in all of this as well is that Foles was not the only quarterback to have some Week 1 issues. Tom Brady avoided throwing an interception but was 29-for-56 — a measly 4.4 yards passing per attempt — in a 33-20 loss to the Dolphins.

Completions Attempts Yards Turnovers Score
4 8 46 2 (fumbles) 17 — 0
6 9 56 1 (interception) 10 — 0

Take a look at these blind quarterback stats for a second. The top column is Foles’ first three drives. The bottom column is Andrew Luck’s first three drives against the Broncos Sunday night.

Luck, the Eagles’ Week 2 opponent, did not have a particularly good start to the season either, but nobody freaked out and called for Matt Hasselbeck to replace him because Luck was the number one overall pick in the draft back in 2012. He gets a pass for any bad stretches he experiences, chalked up to growing pains and learning on the fly. Foles was the 88th pick in the same draft class and the sixth overall quarterback selected. He does not get those passes because most third round picks are perceived to not be franchise quarterbacks.

You would think after 2013 that we would be past this, but apparently that isn’t the case. The fact that Foles was a third round pick should be irrelevant after what he did last season. Foles’ numbers were better across the board and both quarterbacks won their respective divisions. The only difference was Luck got to play one more game because his defense held when he led a fourth quarter comeback in a playoff game while the Eagles’ special teams let Foles down.

The Colts were my Super Bowl pick, and I also had them winning on Monday when I did my Eagles predictions, but I cannot wait to see the reaction should Foles outperform Luck like he did with Brees last January.

This should be a fun time when it comes to following the Eagles. It reminds me of the 2000 and 2001 Andy Reid teams where the talent was good enough to get to the playoffs, but sky high expectations had not yet set in to the point where watching was more stressful than fun and anything short of a Lombardi Trophy would be considered an absolute failure.

The big difference I see between now and then is that the Giants were still pretty formidable in those days before falling off for a few years. Right now, the rest of the NFC East is awful.

Foles won way more than he lost in 2013 (nine wins compared to three losses specifically), and I often think about tying that into a Chip Kelly quote a few days after the playoff loss to the Saints last year.

Kelly was essentially asked by a reporter if he considered himself an ‘NFL coach after completing his first season in the most competitive league in the world. In typical Kelly fashion, he responded by saying that he thought he was an NFL coach 10 times and not one seven times, an obvious ode to the Eagles record.

Well, if we apply the same logic, Foles was a franchise quarterback nine times and not one three times. Seventy five percent — That sounds pretty damn good to me.

A record setting touchdown to interception ratio, nine wins, the first NFC East title since 2010, and a flawless fourth quarter playoff drive. Natural regression suggests he cannot repeat that, but let your mind wander for a second. What if he does? What if he comes really close to those numbers again?

And you were ready to potentially throw all of that away because of one bad half?

If Nick Foles did not already have your trust going into Sunday, he probably did not earn it, however, he should have earned your patience last season, and that should last for way more than a half.

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Predicting the Eagles Record Game-By-Game

I am a little surprised I am doing this only because this exercise rarely holds up in a couple of months.

It does not so much matter where a team’s wins are from over the course of the regular season as long as they are there after Week 17. Injuries and several other variables can throw things out of whack.

At the beginning of last season, I would have told you that the Eagles would beat Dallas at home but lose to Green Bay on the road two weeks later. Nick Foles getting hurt against the Cowboys, and Aaron Rodgers not playing against the birds obviously changed that. The Eagles still split those two games, but how they did it was the contrast to what I expected.

Still, this is a fun thing to do and evaluate, so we’re going to play win-loss with the Eagles schedule starting with this Sunday against Jacksonville and going through the season finale at MetLife Stadium against the Giants.

Let’s get to it:

Jaguars Logo

Win: This one reminds me of the 2008 opener where the Eagles just steamrolled an awful Rams team at Lincoln Financial Field. Nicky Foles, Shady McCoy, and Zach Ertz pick up right where they left off as Chip Kelly’s offense soars and Billy Davis’ defense gains confidence.

Colts Logo

Loss — I nearly gave the Eagles a road victory here, but I think the Colts take this one as Adam Vinatieri ends a Monday Night shootout with a game-winning field goal. Foles and Andrew Luck go back and forth all game, but the Colts need one this more after falling to the Broncos this Sunday. They find a way to get it done.

Redskins Logo

Win — DeSean Jackson catches a meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter, but 70,000 at Lincoln Financial Field have already belted out the Eagles fight song four times. Kelly continues to own Jim Haslett’s defenses as the birds get back over .500.

Niners Logo

Win — Back in 2011, the 49ers went into Lincoln Financial Field in Game 4 and stunned an ill-prepared Eagles team with a one-point win. That Eagles team ended up not being very good, but the Eagles will turn the tables here and leave northern California riding high with a 3-1 record.

Rams Logo

Win — Lane Johnson returns just in time to keep Nick Foles upright against a staunch Rams defensive line. In a second half rout, Brandon Boykin picks off Shaun Hill and takes it to the house while Mark Sanchez gives a troll wave to Jeff Fisher on the opposing sideline. The Eagles are 4-1, their best start to a season since 2006.

Giants Logo

Win — The Giants are better than folks think and make this one tough, but Foles makes a play in the fourth quarter that Eli Manning can no longer make. The Eagles escape on Sunday Night football and open up a three game lead in the NFC East heading into their bye week.

Cardinals Logo

Loss — The Cardinals have given the Eagles fits over the past half decade and enact some revenge from last year where the Eagles may have kept them out of the playoffs. The offense finds its groove in the fourth quarter but leaves the desert with a loss.

Texans Logo

Win — Kelly vs. Bill O’Brien. Blink and risk missing an entire series J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney each sack Nick Foles once, but the Eagles win by 10 points on the road, sitting pretty at 6-2.

Panthers Logo

Win — The third Monday Night game at the Linc between these teams since 2006. With the Eagles clinging to a 28-24 lead late in the fourth quarter, Malcolm Jenkins pays homage to Lito Sheppard and intercepts a Cam Newton throw to the end zone.

Packers Logo

Loss — The defense comes in feeling good about itself, but Aaron Rodgers picks them apart. Foles keeps up most of the way, but Green Bay has too much firepower and outlasts the Eagles 31-27.

Titans

Win — The birds return home angry after the Packers game, and an overmatched Titans squad is the victim of their frustration. Jordan Matthews has a big coming out party, and the birds roll comfortably.

Cowboys Logo

Win — It is a happy Turkey Day in Jerry World for the visiting Eagles. Tony Romo keeps the Cowboys in it for a half, but Chip Kelly’s squad beats an awful Cowboys defense into submission by the time the third quarter ends. McCoy goes for 160 yards on the ground as the birds reach nine wins. Perhaps we get another GIF similar to this, (H/T @CrossingBroad)

Jerry Jones GIF

Seahawks Logo

Loss — Kelly has a few extra days to prepare for a visit from the defending Super Bowl champions, but talent wins out as Seattle gains a stranglehold on homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Eagles defense rises up and keeps them in the game, but the offense never completely gets on track as the Seahawks send a raucous Lincoln Financial Field crowd home disappointed with a 24-16 win.

Cowboys Logo

Win — The Eagles treat a Sunday Night national audience to a show, snapping their two-year home losing streak to the Cowboys and clinching the NFC East in the process with a 38-10 romp. The loss all but seals Jason Garrett’s fate as Dallas falls to 5-9 in a miserable season. The three-year streak of 8-8 mediocrity is over as the bottoming out begins.

Redskins Logo

Win — The Eagles start slow in Washington, but a long touchdown pass from Foles to Jeremy Maclin right before halftime wakes them up. The second half is sloppy, but Cody Parkey hits a 35-yarder with no time left to win it 23-20. The Eagles secure the number two seed as the Skins’ hope of finishing 8-8 in Jay Gruden’s first year fades away.

Giants Logo

Loss — Neither team has a ton to play for. The Eagles already know their playoff positioning, and the Giants are already eliminated. Tom Coughlin goes out on a high note, denying the Eagles a perfect 6-0 record in the division with a 26-23 win.

This puts the Eagles at 11-5 and gives them a bye on wildcard weekend for the first time since 2004 when they went to the Super Bowl.

In my season predictions for all 32 teams, I have the Eagles getting revenge against the Saints at home before succumbing to the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

We can discuss this more over the next couple of days and throughout the beginning portion of the season. I believe the Eagles are going to be very good but are in need of another offseason to address the defense before they can take out the Seahawks.

The unit was better last year than many people realize, but it has not yet shown me it could win a road playoff game against that type of team. Should this actually end up being the NFC Championship Game, I may change my tune once there is 18 games of film and data on each team, but for as much as I want to go all in and say see you in Glendale, I think the Seahawks win that contest right now.

An NFC Championship appearance in Year 2 under Kelly would be nothing to scoff at though. It would mean that in two years he turned a 4-12 mess into a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy.

In an ideal world, the Eagles get one this season before Foles’ well-deserved payday, but the window of opportunity will still be very much open.

There you have it. 11-5, a second straight NFC East title, a home playoff victory, and an appearance in the final four. I want a ring, but this is a pretty good place to start.

What say you folks? Would love to hear your predictions before Sunday.

Jim Johnson Died Five Years Ago Today and I Cried a Lot

Truth be told, I cannot explain exactly why I’m writing this post.

Even after it was finished and ready to go, I had a couple second thoughts before hitting publish. I didn’t want it to seem like I was using the anniversary of someone’s death as a way to generate clicks on a blog.

I don’t have any type of cool anecdote about Jim Johnson. There is a hat of mine autographed by some players and coaches during a few trips to Lehigh for training camp back in the day.

Eagles Hat Blog Post

The Eagles former defensive coordinator unfortunately isn’t one of the signatures. Never once met the man.

I think, however, I’m doing this because despite never crossing paths with the guy, I loved Jim Johnson and never properly said goodbye.

Everyone knew Johnson’s battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse, but it felt like the end came so quickly.

On the day Johnson passed away, I had been off the grid for about 12 hours from early in the morning until around 8 p.m. I was working as a camp counselor the summer before heading off to college, and it coincidentally happened to be the one day of the entire camp season that I had to work late, unable to check my phone or access the Internet.

Anyone who knows me now would wonder how I was able to do that, but it was the case back then. As I was walking to my car, a lifeguard stopped me and delivered the news. I can’t recall exactly what I said in response, but I got in the car and immediately turned on sports radio hoping it somehow wasn’t true.

But sadly it was. The defending World Series champion Phillies were 24 hours away from pulling off a blockbuster trade with rumors about Roy Halladay running rampant, and sure enough, WIP was discussing Johnson’s life and Eagles tenure, hosts and callers as distraught as I was about to become.

Before I could pull out of the parking lot, tears had already begun dripping down my face. They got heavier as the drive continued. At one point, I had to slam on my breaks to avoid running through a red light that I barely noticed.

Loved by players and fans, respected universally by colleagues,  and deeply feared by opponents — Legend. For 10 years, he would appear on your television screen on Sundays, and you knew everything would be relatively okay. No longer seeing that gray hair tucked under an Eagles hat and headset on the sidelines wasn’t going to be the same.

I was supposed to see my then-girlfriend upon getting home from work but still trying to compose myself, I told her that I needed a little while. ‘Jim Johnson died,’ I texted (or something very similar along those lines)

I don’t think she knew who Jim Johnson was, but rather than completely blowing it off, she kinda pretended to care, so that was cool.

Still home and wiping my eyes after delivering the news to my dad, I logged onto Facebook and posted a pretty generic RIP status. One of my best friends who I always texted during Eagles games sent me a message that said something along the lines of ‘For someone who loved him so much, I’m kinda disappointed you didn’t come up with anything deeper.’

I tried again, but still shaken, this was the best I could do, unable to really put into words what it meant to me.

Jim Johnson Facebook

I was sad and mad — Sad that cancer had stopped the 68-year old from doing what he loved and what he was best at too soon, sad that in what turned out to be his final game six months earlier, his ‘bend but don’t break defense’ had broken late in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles clinging to a 25-24 lead and 10 minutes to go, Arizona marched 72 yards while eating up 7:52 of game time.

The drive ended in a touchdown. The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Johnson never got to coach another game, and the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since.

Most of all, I was sad that for all his hard work and all of the terrific defenses he oversaw, Johnson never got to hoist a Lombardi trophy.

Even in a lot of the Eagles playoff losses during Johnson’s reign, a collapse like that was so rare. A week earlier, his unit held the defending Super Bowl champion Giants to three field goals in an upset victory.

In a span of three years, he twice stifled Michael Vick during the prime of his Atlanta Falcons career, limiting him to a 53.2 completion percentage and a combined 406 passing yards, 56 rushing yards, yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions over two playoff games.

I don’t watch the Steelers on a week-to-week basis to fully appreciate Dick LeBeau, but I’ve never seen a defensive coordinator call a game and confuse opponents the way Johnson consistently did.

Going back to that Facebook status though, perhaps it wasn’t so bad. I’ve always said that coordinators need players to make their schemes truly go, but as guys came and went through the years, Johnson never lost a step.

According to an ESPN article published a week after his passing, Johnson’s defenses between 2000 and 2008 ranked second in sacks, third down efficiency, and red zone percentage.

Here’s a chart that further shows how good he was and the significant drop-off after he was gone.

Year Points Allowed Average Per Game League Rank Made Playoffs Playoff Victory
1999 357 22.3 22nd No No
2000 245 15.3 4th Yes Yes
2001 208 13 2nd Yes Yes
2002 241 15.1 2nd Yes Yes
2003 287 17.9 7th Yes Yes
2004 260 16.3 2nd Yes Yes
2005 388 24.3 27th No No
2006 328 20.5 15th Yes Yes
2007 300 18.8 9th No No
2008 289 18.1 4th Yes Yes
2009 337 21.1 19th Yes No
2010 377 23.6 21st Yes No
2011 328 20.5 10th No No
2012 444 27.8 29th No No
2013 382 23.9 17th Yes No

Sean McDermott initially had the challenge of being the guy to replace “the guy,” and he was decent but deemed not good enough at the time. So thinking he was closer to a Super Bowl than he actually was, Andy Reid fired him after two years.

Then, Andy Reid Andy Reid’d harder than he had ever Andy Reid’d before, replacing McDermott with Juan Castillo. A passionate worker and teacher but never having coached defense in the NFL before, it was an unmitigated disaster,

The missed tackles, the blown coverage assignments, the lack of effort, all of it would have had Johnson rolling in his grave had he saw what had become of his once proud defense.

Despite the still somewhat ugly numbers in that chart, things stabilized in 2013 when Chip Kelly brought in Billy Davis to run the show.

Davis took a group of scheme misfits and castoffs from other places and made a defense out of it. For the first time in a long time, things are looking kinda up on that side of the ball.

When someone like Johnson no longer has his job, the typical attitude is that the team looking to fill his role has to find an exact replica, “The Next  Jim Johnson” if you will. But that’s impossible. The reason he was so good is the exact same reason he is so irreplaceable.

Since Johnson has been gone, the game has changed a decent amount. Offenses are faster and more innovative with spread formations and wide open schemes. Still, it’s unlikely the final couple years of the Reid era would have gotten as ugly as they did had Johnson still been by his side.

The Eagles current head coach is one of the leaders of that innovation charge, but for as much as I love him, for as much as any intelligent Eagles fan loves him, part of the city has always identified with a dominant defense, and that’s a big reason Johnson was so beloved.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t have any special anecdote, but I thought this one from Reuben Frank of CSN Philly was pretty good. A few days before the 2005 Super Bowl, Frank casually asks Johnson if he’s enjoying Jacksonville and he responds bluntly with “I’ve got Tom Brady on Sunday.”

The man just ate, slept, and breathed football.

He died at the same time my situation was beginning to change and looking back, I think that’s maybe what contributed to the initial sadness. I was a month away from going to college and preparing to leave a good amount of my life behind.

It sucks because you know things will never be exactly the same, but you try to solider on because what else are you going to do?

The Eagles in time have begun picking up the pieces and appear primed to make another Super Bowl run behind rising star Nick Foles over the next few seasons.

Crying over Johnson five years later won’t bring him back or make the defense as dominant as it once was, but it will help preserve memories of a great run under a brilliant coordinator. Certain people are worth occasionally crying over. Certain people worth crying over who you’ve never met? Now that’s a bit more complex, but he was one of those folks for me.

I’ll watch the Eagles practice at Lincoln Financial Field today and at some point look skyward and tear up for a split second thinking about the legend who provided so many childhood memories.

I attempted to express some of this five years ago tonight and came up pretty empty, so now, I’m trying again.

I miss you so much, Jim Johnson, and I hope you’re having fun designing blitz packages in heaven right now.