Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Steelers

Feeling Lucky: 2014-2015 NFL Predictions

The Seattle Seahawks will put a halt to a near-decade long streak, becoming the first team since the 2005 New England Patriots to win a playoff game coming off a Super Bowl title.

Pete Carroll’s squad will do more than just win one game in January though. They will once again represent the NFC in Glendale on February 1, 2015, but the Seahawks will not repeat as champions.

If you picked up on the subtle headline hint, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts will dethrone the Legion of Boom and hoist the Lombardi Trophy nearly five months from now.

Andrew Luck rises, Russell Wilson nearly does it again, Nick Foles takes another step forward, Colin Kaepernick takes a small step back, and Robert Griffin’s slide continues.

That and more as we predict team-by-team records and how the playoffs will play out below.

You can choose for yourself how much stock you put in my predictions. Last season, I did nail Seattle as my preseason Super Bowl champion but picked them to beat the Texans in the big game so…welp.

I cannot promise that I will be spot on. If I could, I might as well be in Vegas right now, but unlike hack Mike Freeman, I will try to hold myself accountable if they are embarrassingly bad.

Without further ado, let’s hit it.

NFC East

Eagles (11-5) (2)

Giants (8-8)

Redskins (6-10)

Cowboys (5-11)

Thoughts: It would be a big surprise if the Eagles do not win this semi-comfortably, and if things go according to plan, they will jump out to a quick one-game lead over everyone after this weekend. The Giants are not as bad as some seem to think but won’t be good enough to seriously challenge for a wildcard spot. Redskins and Cowboys bring up the rear in a relatively weak division.

NFC North 

Packers (10-6) (4)

Bears (9-7)

Vikings (8-8)

Lions (5-11)

Thoughts: The Seahawks can make just about an squad look bad, so I’m not reading into the Packers loss last night a ton. Aaron Rodgers hides a lot of their flaws, but they will once again find a way to take the division. The Bears come up just short again, the Vikings are a pleasant surprise, and the Lions remain the Lions.

NFC South

Saints (10-6) (3)

Bucs (8-8)

Panthers (8-8)

Falcons (7-9)

Thoughts: Always the toughest division to handicap. I think the Saints are a cut above the rest and expect Tampa Bay to be better now that they are free of the Greg Schiano experience. I love me some Kelvin Benjamin, but who else is Cam Newton throwing to outside of Greg Olsen? The Falcons get the honor of being the best last place team in the league.

NFC West

Seahawks (13-3) (1)

Cardinals (10-6) (5)

49ers (10-6) (6)

Rams (3-13)

Thoughts: It nearly happened last year, and this season it actually will — Three playoff teams out of the wild, wild west. Seattle avoids the Super Bowl hangover. I am no Bruce Arians fan, but that Cardinals team is solid. They beat out the 49ers, but Jim Harbaugh’s squad overcomes a rough start to grab the final playoff spot in the conference. The Rams win the Jameis Winston/Marcus Mariota sweepstakes.

AFC East

Patriots (11-5) (3)

Jets (8-8)

Dolphins (7-9)

Bills (4-12)

Thoughts: The more things change, the more things stay the same. The Pats roll once again while the Bills sit in the cellar. The Dolphins and Jets hang around but can’t quite crash the playoff party.

AFC North

Bengals (10-6) (4)

Ravens (8-8)

Steelers (7-9)

Browns (4-12)

Thoughts: Andy Dalton once again gets the Bengals to the playoffs and once again loses in the first round. The Ravens just miss for two straight years. I would have had the Steelers with another win or two a month ago, but they just looked awful in the preseason. Johnny Manziel gets the gig pretty early and Cleveland but makes numerous NFL front offices breathe a sigh of relief that they passed on him last May.

AFC South

Colts (12-4) (2)

Texans (9-7) (6)

Jaguars (5-11)

Titans (4-12)

Thoughts: The Colts have this thing clinched by Week 12 with the Jaguars and Titans as complete afterthoughts. Bill O’Brien works his quarterback magic and gets the Texans to the playoffs in Year 1.

AFC West

Broncos (13-3) (1)

Chargers (11-5) (5)

Chiefs (8-8)

Raiders (3-13)

Thoughts: The Broncos cruise to another division title as they play out the schedule hoping for redemption in the playoffs. Mike McCoy’s Chargers take another step forward while Andy Reid’s Chiefs take a slight step back. The Raiders remain the Raiders, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Playoffs: 

AFC Wildcard Weekend

Chargers over Bengals

Patriots over Texans

NFC Wildcard Weekend

Saints over 49ers

Cardinals over Packers

AFC Divisional Playoffs

Colts over Patriots

Broncos over Chargers

NFC Divisional Playoffs

Eagles over Saints

Seahawks over Cardinals

AFC Championship Game

Colts over Broncos

NFC Championship Game 

Seahawks over Eagles

Super Bowl

Colts over Seahawks

Would love to hear your predictions if you have any because FOOTBALL BACK

Chip GIF

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Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild Mark Sanchez. We Have the Technology

Work with me for a second here as we progress through this fake conversation.

The date is Monday, March 24, and Chip Kelly is sitting in his NovaCare Complex office watching tape from the 2013 season.

Footage from the fourth quarter of the first Cowboys game just finished playing featuring rookie Matt Barkley throwing three interceptions after having to relieve a concussed Nick Foles.

Kelly: Secretary, bring me a smoothie and set me up on a Skype call with Howie, Pat, and Bill. 

Secretary: Sure coach, but if you don’t mind me asking, who is Bill, Billy Davis? We have a lot of Bill’s who work for us. 

Kelly: No, not him. Bill Musgrave, our new quarterbacks coach. 

Secretary: Wait, wasn’t the old quarterbacks coach also named Bill? Billy Lazor or something?

Kelly: Yes, he’s in Miami now. You know I hate wasting time, and right now you’re being inefficient with these questions. Get them on the phone, please.

(Shurmur’s ring tone is the Michigan State fight song. Musgrave, in the process of completing his move from Minnesota to Philadelphia, takes a few rings to answer)

Kelly: Afternoon, guys. I’ll cut to the chase real quick. We need to address our quarterback situation. Nick may be the starter for the next 1000 years, but he has suffered some type of injury just about every year going back to his college days at Arizona. I like Matt, but watching some tape from last year, I’m not sure he’s ready to be our backup. Let’s hear some suggestions.

Shurmur: Why don’t we make it easy and just re-sign Mike, Chip? He liked it here and already knows the system.

Kelly: Pat, you gotta keep up here, dawgy. Mike signed with the Jets last Friday. That’s why I’m calling. Bill, you’ll be their position coach. What have you got? (Silence) Bill, talk!

Musgrave: Sorry, Chip, little hard to hear over the Minnesota wind outside the airport here, can’t wait to get to Philly. I used to coach Joe Webb…

Roseman: Bill, no! I realize you’re new here, but we don’t mention that name around these parts after what Webb did on a Tuesday night in December 2010.

Kelly: Howie, let’s make Bill feel welcome and let him finish. In December 2010, I was preparing for Nick Fairley and Auburn’s defense. I wasn’t here for any of that. Go ahead, Bill.

Musgrave: Sorry, Howie, I should have thought of that,, but yeah Joe Webb, very athletic, he would be my choice.

Kelly: Meh. Let’s…

Roseman: Uh Chip, not to interrupt, but I just got a text. Webb signed with the Panthers 30 seconds ago.

Kelly: No loss. Pat, now that you’re all caught up, what do you think?

Shurmur: Well Chip, I used to coach Colt McCoy in Cleveland, threw 14 touchdown passes for me in 2011. What about him?

Kelly: I don’t hate it, but he’s had some bad shoulder injuries. Let me jump in here guys. You know who I like? Mark Sanchez.

(Silence for 10 seconds)

Kelly: I said I like Mark Sanchez, guys. Wind blowing up again, Bill?

Musgrave: Nah Chip, I heard you that time. I’m just kinda shocked. I’d be happy to try to coach him up, but he had 27 turnovers in his final year with the Jets. Are you sure?

Shurmur: Yeah, Chip, I’m kinda with Bill here. I know you were still at Oregon, but in Mark’s final four games with the Jets in 2012, he threw eight interceptions to only one touchdown pass and completed 50.4 percent of his passes. Plus, you mentioned shoulder troubles with Colt. Mark had surgery for a torn labrum in the fall. I just…

Kelly: Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology — and good wide receivers. Get the deal done, Howie. We’ll talk about DeSean later.

(Phone clicks as Kelly immediately returns to watching film)

I have not yet really broached the topic that is the revitalization of Mark Sanchez throughout this preseason. I avoided it in part because I didn’t believe what I was seeing. I also thought there were more pressing issues to address, but to ignore writing about Sanchez any longer would be irresponsible given what we are witnessing.

Considering Kelly announced that Sanchez will not play against his former employer when the Eagles host the Jets Thursday night, now seems like a good time to go more in-depth on him. Sanchez’s preseason is over — a three game stretch that saw him go 25-31 for 281 yards, two touchdowns, and only one interception while leading six touchdown drives.

Most impressive perhaps is that in the third game, Sanchez successfully moved the ball against the Steelers’ starters on defense, who were still playing deep into the third quarter.

The sixth year signal-caller was poised and comfortable in Kelly’s up-temp offense, looking like the quarterback who defeated Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady in playoff games during his first two years in the league and nothing like the deer-in-headlights quarterback who lost his way during his final two years with the Jets.

Consider me as surprised as anyone. I never had any major reason to dislike Sanchez but watching how bad things had gotten for him had almost become a must-see circus from afar. Nothing would top the butt fumble, but you started tuning in just to see what crazy turnover he would commit next.

Needless to say, I was not excited when the Eagles signed him. I had been decently high on Matt Barkley going back to when the birds drafted him. In Kelly’s system, a quarterback needs to be a good, quick decision-maker above all, and Sanchez, with 95 turnovers over four seasons, was far from that.

As I alluded to earlier in the fake conversation, I thought a guy like Colt McCoy — who has a lesser resume but also fewer turnovers — would have been a solid pick if they didn’t give the job to Barkley.

Even as training camp started, I held out hope that Barkley would be able to beat Sanchez out. I really don’t think Barkley played poorly either, but it became crystal clear during the opening game against the Bears, that I was not going to get my wish.

I was wrong, and unlike pond scum hack Mike Freeman, I will try to admit when I am wrong about something.

Sanchez right now looks like a great signing for 2.25 million dollars and one of the best backup quarterback options in the NFL.

Eagles Mark Sanchez
Cowboys Brandon Weeden
Giants Ryan Nassib
Redskins Kirk Cousins
Packers Matt Flynn
Bears Jimmy Clausen
Lions Dan Orlovsky
Vikings Teddy Bridgewater
Panthers Derek Anderson
Saints Luke McCown
Bucs Mike Glennon
Falcons T.J. Yates
Seahawks Tarvaris Jackson
49ers Blaine Gabbert
Cardinals Drew Stanton
Rams Shaun Hill
Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo
Dolphins Matt Moore
Jets Michael Vick
Bills Thaddeus Lewis
Bengals Jason Campbell
Steelers Bruce Gradkowski
Ravens Tyrod Taylor
Browns Johnny Manziel
Colts Matt Hasselbeck
Titans Charlie Whitehurst
Jaguars Blake Bortles
Texans Case Keenum
Broncos Brock Osweiler
Chiefs Chase Daniel
Chargers Kellen Clemens
Raiders Derek Carr

What we have in that chart is a list of all the projected backup quarterbacks in the league. The 32 of them combine for 12 playoff wins. Matt Hasselbeck owns five, Michael Vick has two, T.J. Yates is responsible for one, and Sanchez has four.

If you are high on rookies like Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jimmy Garoppolo, you could say that they are better options than Sanchez, but once the first three become starters, it is tough to make a solid case that Chad Henne, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Cassel are better.

No one on that list can say they have out-dueled two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks en route to road playoff victories.

After being left hung out to dry with no competent weapons and a defensive oriented staff in New York, Sanchez again looks like a capable quarterback with guys like Jordan Matthews, my dude Zach Ertz, James Casey, and Arrelious Benn to sling the ball to.

The bad Sanchez flashed at one point against the Patriots with an ill-advised throw into double coverage intended for Casey that resulted in an interception, but mistakes have been few and far between.

All of a sudden, Sanchez is an asset again after being an afterthought as recently as five months ago. The best part is that other teams know it too. The Rams just lost starter Sam Bradford to a torn ACL and in the past have been on record as wanting Sanchez.

This is what I am referring to when I constantly say on Twitter that the Eagles’ bottom half of the roster is the best it has been in quite some time. Talent at a few starting positions probably needs to improve before they can really challenge the Seahawks in the NFC, but depth is a valuable thing, and they have reserve players who could start for other teams.

It sounds like Sanchez doesn’t want the Rams though as much as they might want him, and the Eagles have no reason to move him unless the Rams absolutely blow them away. Sanchez, of course, wants to be a starter again, but why be in such a hurry to leave the coaching staff that is helping to save your career?

Sanchez Tweet

Some folks will want to see Sanchez show competency in a regular season game before they believe this is for real, however, I think some quarterback needy teams would be willing to take a chance even if they never get to see that.

In a perfect world, they won’t. I believe Nick Foles is way better than Sanchez. Therefore, I won’t go as far as saying ‘Foles could get hurt and the offense won’t miss a beat,’ but I do now believe that Sanchez could step in for a week or two, move the offense, and win a game if the Eagles needed him. I didn’t think that a month ago.

It appears I was wrong, and as weird as it is for me to see him in a different shade of green, I couldn’t be happier about being wrong here.

The ideal outcome is that Sanchez will carry a clipboard throughout the season and then take what he learned here and sign somewhere in the offseason where he can really compete to be a starter again.

If Chip Kelly stays in the NFL long enough, his influence will touch many people and places. His Year 1 offense already set several Eagles records. Other organizations are already trying to catch up to him when it comes to the sports science department and play-calling. His coaching tree has already started to grow with Bill Lazor going from Eagles quarterbacks coach to Dolphins offensive coordinator, hired to try to take what he learned from Kelly and apply it elsewhere.

The last paragraph and Kelly’s resume will only grow as the years go by. Hopefully there is a Super Bowl on it soon that will sit at the top, but rebuilding Mark Sanchez?

That wouldn’t be too far behind.

Alex Henery Made a Really Enjoyable Game Slightly Less Enjoyable and Gave the Eagles Brass More to Think About

Everything was going exceptionally well.

The Eagles were leading 31-7, Alex Henery had converted a 36-yard field goal earlier and was putting kickoffs deep in the end zone.

Then, it happened.

With less than nine minutes remaining, the embattled kicker missed a 31-yard chip shot wide right, and just like that, a really fun game became slightly less fun.

I immediately hoped there was some kind of bad snap or hold that contributed to the miss but did not notice anything of the sort right away.

The Eagles have a problem at kicker with no clear solution. I already wrote in-depth about Henery last week, so I don’t know how much I can really add.

Henery is now 1-for-3 in the preseason including a really ugly 47-yard miss and the aforementioned mistake tonight. Had he simply made the kick, the job would have been his in my opinion.

But Henery missed and gave everyone more to think about.

I admittedly was not thinking of Cody Parkey the other day, so the Eagles could do something to surprise everyone but scrolling the free agents available, it is slim pickings, understandably so.

This list is from April, but it is the best I can find and mostly holds true.

Free Agent Kickers

Rob Bironas might be an option.

Spare me calling for David Akers. I love him, but if he was any good, he would already be kicking for a team right now.

Bironas was 25-29 last season. Henery was 23-28. In nine years kicking for Tennessee, Bironas has a career 85.7 percent while Henery has an 86 percent conversion rate over three seasons.

This is not all about Rob Bironas, but I am attempting to show that there is no clear upgrade here. Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman are smart, and Kelly didn’t exactly give the incumbent a ringing endorsement tonight.

Henery Tweet

If someone clearly better was available right now, he would already be inside the Novacare Complex.

My take: Alex Henery is not very good at his job right now, but I would still go into Week 1 with him as your kicker. If you need a clutch field goal to beat the Jaguars, the team has bigger problems than we currently realize. The Monday Night game against the Colts could very well be played indoors if the retractable roof at Lucas Oil Stadium is closed, creating favorable kicking conditions.

This gives both the Eagles and Henery time to prevent making a decision they may ultimately regret. As little confidence as people have in him right now, I am hesitant to cut a guy who began his career 51-for-58. Even then, Henery had his flaws, but not so long ago, he was a good kicker, and it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for him to be a good one again — be it here or elsewhere.

You may not love the plan, but I believe it is the best course of action right now. When push comes to shove, I think the Eagles will come to that conclusion too, but Henery certainly isn’t making it easy for them.

Introducing Your Official Alex Henery Kickoff Tracker

We’re going to attempt brevity here because I would like to eat dinner before blogging and tweeting about a preseason football game.

The chart below is your official Alex Henery kickoff distance tracker, which will be updated all night during the game. I wish we didn’t have to do this, but based on the playoff game against the Saints last year, we do.

Kickoff Number End zone Touchback Starting Field Position  Average Starting Field Position 
1 Yes (-4) No 17 17
2 Yes Yes 20 18.5
3 Yes (-1) No 22 19.7
4 Yes (-6) No 24 20.8
5 Yes Yes 20 20.6
6 Yes Yes 20 20.5
7 No (+5) No 26 21.3
8 Yes Yes 20 21.1
9 Yes (-2) No 29 22
10 Yes Yes 20 21.8
11 Yes (-4) No 21 21.7
12 Yes Yes 20 21.6
13 Yes (-6) No 21 21.5
14 Yes Yes 20 21.4
15 Yes (-4) No 21 21.4

Cody Parkey chart here

Kickoff Number End zone Touchback Starting Field Position Average Starting Field Position
1 Yes (-5) No 15 15
2 Yes (-4) No 45 30

*Numbers in the end zone column indicate where the kick was fielded

The first five kickoffs came against the Bears while the last six were against the Patriots last Friday night. As you can see, Henery’s kickoffs have been pretty good through two games, so hopefully we’re tracking a lot of touchbacks and deep kicks into the end zone tonight.

When I have time, I will clean this chart up before the regular season starts, but it will serve its intended purpose for now.

If Cody Parkey or Murderleg sees some action, we’ll adjust accordingly for them in the chart.

For a more detailed post on Henery and the Eagles situation at kicker, click here.

The Eagles Host the Steelers in a Preseason Game Tonight and I Would Like to See These Five Things Happen

The Eagles play their third preseason game at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight, and for all intents and purposes, it is their final exhibition contest.

Yes, they still face the Jets at Lincoln Financial Field a week from today. I get that the fourth preseason game is a night for guys locked in position battles and in some cases fighting for their football lives.

That is nothing to joke about, but tonight is the last time that the Eagles starters will be on the field together before the opener against Jacksonville on September 7th.

The third preseason game — for that reason — is often considered the most important of the bunch.

This is only my opinion, but it seems that the Steelers have lost some luster over the past two or three years. They are coming off uncharacteristic back-to-back 8-8 seasons and lost a playoff game to Tim Tebow the year before that.

Still, Ben Roethlisberger is fresh off a nice outing last week against the Giants that featured a 76-yard touchdown pass to star wide receiver Antonio Brown. I expect them to compete in a solid AFC North division this year, making them a solid opponent for the final dress rehearsal.

As I mentioned before, we can worry about sorting out the bottom of the roster next week. I’m mainly focused on the starters in this one, so without further ado, here are five things I’m looking for tonight.

  1. A clean game from Allen Barbre — I was not concerned with Lane Johnson’s replacement for the first four games at the beginning of camp. I am now. It is often difficult to evaluate offensive line play without coaches tape, but it doesn’t require an offensive line guru to know that Barbre has looked shaky through two games at right tackle. He played well when called upon to step in for Jason Peters against the Packers last season. Hopefully that Barbre shows up against Jacksonville (and three more times after that), but I would like to see that Barbre tonight.
  2. A made field goal by Alex Henery — If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Henery is 0-for-1 on field goals this preseason, and I would like to see him change that even if it comes on a chip shot. I explored the Henery issue more in-depth a few days ago. Even with the acquisition of rookie Cody Parkey, I still expect Henery to enter the season as the Eagles kicker. He has the power to prove a lot of people wrong but needs to make the team to do that and another missed field goal would give Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman more to ponder there.
  3. Maclin, Cooper, and Matthews Catching Passes from Nick Foles — Tonight marks the first time ever that this trio is on the field together. Unsurprisingly, Nick Foles looked good targeting fringe-level receivers last Friday in New England. The wide receiver position remains a question mark for many fans. Foles has a chance to throw to the big boys and ease some concerns about them in the process.
  4. Marcus Smith generates a pass rush — Smith seems to be the most popular overreaction topic right now with some folks already declaring him a bust and drawing comparisons to the infamous Brandon Graham over Earl Thomas decision by the Andy Reid regime in 2010. My take: Smith looked pretty good against the Bears and not so good last week against the Patriots. I like a lot of the instincts I see in terms of knowing where to be, but he needs to be coached up as a pass-rusher. I am guessing a hurry or sack would feel really good, and with how long Big Ben sometimes holds the ball, maybe he will get one.
  5. Nolan Carroll to erase memories of Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh — Carmichael and Marsh are good guys and bad NFL cornerbacks. Carroll was signed away from the Dolphins to be a decent NFL cornerback, expected to provide depth in the secondary and maybe push Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher for a starting job. I don’t need to see anything spectacular tomorrow night. Just get through the game healthy and don’t get toasted doing it.

Aside from a few bumps and bruises and rookie Josh Huff suffering a shoulder injury, the Eagles are relatively healthy for late August standards.

Let’s do it one more time while accomplishing these things and worry about figuring out the last few roster spots this time next week.

An Eagles History Lesson: The Great Collapse of 2012 That Ended the Andy Reid Era Began Against the Steelers

Fifty years from now when someone not yet born does the current equivalent of typing “2012 Philadelphia Eagles” into Google, one will likely reach the immediate conclusion, “Wow, that team was really awful.”

They would be correct, except there is a bit of a catch. The Eagles finished the season 4-12, their worst record since 1998 when they were 3-13 in Ray Rhodes’ final year running the show before Andy Reid was hired.

The 2012 team scored the fourth lowest number of points in the league and surrendered the third highest. They were terrible, but there was a time early on when they weren’t.

The Eagles play the Steelers tonight in a preseason game, and while it doesn’t count, it is the first time the two teams have met since October 7, 2012. I find that if you watch sports long enough, you begin to internalize what other teams mean to you and automatically link that to said team.

For example, regardless of what they do in the coming years, the New York Mets will always be synonymous with their September 2007 choke job for me.

The Steelers, to me, are the team that helped begin an eight-game losing streak that would end the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia.

The 2012 Eagles were poorly coached, poorly constructed, and not particularly likable, but by way of some talent and a spunky Michael Vick playing quarterback early on, they somehow won their first two games, each by one point. The only other time the birds had started a season 2-0 under Reid was back in 2004 when they went to the Super Bowl.

An ugly loss in Week 3 followed, but Week 4 was more of the same. Two weeks after beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles knocked off the defending champion Giants by two points with another fourth quarter comeback.

They easily could have been 0-4 but instead were 3-1 and sitting in first place in the NFC East.

A win at Heinz Field the following Sunday would have made the birds 4-1 for only the third time in the Reid era, yet no one was particularly excited. They figured it was too good to be true and were about to be proven correct.

The Steelers carried a 10-0 lead into halftime as a fumble by Vick on the Pittsburgh 1-yard line prevented the Eagles from getting on the board. They came alive though with an early touchdown in the third quarter and took a 14-13 lead with less than seven minutes remaining as Vick found Brent Celek for a touchdown from two yards out.

It looked like the Eagles might pull off another Houdini act, but this time, their defense couldn’t hold one more time.  The Steelers converted a key third and long deep in their own territory and another third down on the Eagles side of the field. They controlled the ball for six and a half minutes, setting up a chip shot field goal for Shaun Suisham as time expired.

Right down the middle.

16-14 Steelers.

Back home the following week, the Eagles blew a 10-point lead with five minutes remaining and lost in overtime to the 1-3 Detroit Lions.

Honestly, they deserved to be 0-6 but were one or two plays from somehow being 5-1. The reality was that they were 3-3, which wasn’t good enough for a desperate Reid who Andy Reid’d nearly as hard as he Andy Reid’d 21 months early when he gave Juan Castillo the job. This time, he threw his defensive coordinator overboard in a last-ditch effort to stop the bleeding.

The decision only made the cut deeper though. For the first time in 14 years, Reid lost a regular season game following a bye week. The Eagles would proceed to lose eight consecutive contests before beating Tampa Bay 23-21 on a last-second touchdown.

Four wins by a combined total of six points. The bottom had fallen out. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had no choice but to fire Reid, a guy many previously believed would be his ‘coach for life.’

As a result of driving back to State College after covering Penn State road games, I missed more games during the 2012 season than I have in most other seasons combined (I did watch this one). Conventional wisdom suggests that is a good thing given how south the season went, but not seeing them every Sunday still made me sad.

That team easily could have gone 0-16, but could the dumpster fire have been prevented had they just beat Pittsburgh?

I do not normally spend a ton of time thinking about the 2012 season, but when it comes to mind, I get hung up on it because in my opinion, it is an interesting case study in organizational behavior.

More inside information would be needed to really explore it, but it is not every day you see an absolute control freak in Reid lose complete control of a situation.

If the Eagles had came up with a stop against Pittsburgh on that final drive, would the meltdown against Detroit seven days later have still happened? Furthermore, could the entire losing streak have been avoided?

The great and also infuriating thing about sports is that we will never know and can only infer.

Conventional wisdom says no — an ugly stretch was coming either way. The Eagles were a bad team getting a few lucky breaks early on, and then things caught up with them. The collapse probably would have happened anyway. Still, in a 16-game season, 4-1 is a lot different from 3-2 and dare I say it, 5-1 leaves way more margin for error than 3-3.

To completely fail to acknowledge other factors would be ignorant. A series of poor personnel decisions in the years leading up to the 2012 season put the keys in the ignition on the road to Reid’s firing, but the loss to Pittsburgh and embarrassing defeat to Detroit revved the engine.

What if?

What if the Eagles had escaped the steel city with a victory? Would Chip Kelly be on the sidelines tonight when the squads play an exhibition game 22 and a half months later. Would Reid still be here instead of Kansas City?

I do not know the answer to that, but I do know that what may seem like a harmless game a half century from now was a damn important one in Eagles history.

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.