Tag Archives: Tom Brady

Sunday Morning Haiku and Trying to Stomach Rooting for the Patriots

(Screenshot via NFL.com)

Morning, folks.

As you’re well aware, the Eagles do not play today following Thursday’s Thanksgiving beatdown of Dallas. If you need a break from Sunday stress, you have a one week respite.

If you’re anxious to get back at it like me, there are other games you can keep an eye on that will impact the jumbled playoff picture in the NFC.

The two games in particular to hone in on are the Falcons hosting the Cardinals at 4 p.m., and even more importantly, the Packers hosting the Patriots slated for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff.

The Eagles currently lead the Packers by half a game, but the Packers of course have the tiebreaker over the birds after a blowout victory in Lambeau two weeks ago.

I actually think the Cardinals could lose a few more games. They have only scored 17 combined points in their past two games and have a tough stretch against the NFC West coming up.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.19.43 AM

The Packers on the other hand, have a pretty favorable schedule following their date with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick today.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.21.35 AM

The Eagles at some point need to get ahead of them by a game in order to avoid a potential January date in Lambeau, and the Patriots might be their way of doing it.

For a multitude of reasons, it is hard to root for the Patriots, but to make the Eagles path to the Super Bowl easier, that is the task today.

Enjoy today before Seahawks week, and a fantastic matchup between my favorite coach in sports (Chip Kelly) and my third favorite coach in sports (Pete Carroll).

Past history be damned. Root for the Patriots if you can stomach it, and don’t get too used to Sundays without Eagles football. Aside from a Week 16 Saturday game in D.C., we’ll hopefully be going all the way through the first day of February.

Let’s hit the haiku:

Super Bowl champs loom

As playoff picture takes shape

Go Patriots Go

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Eagles-Panthers History Lesson: Jeff Garcia Rescues the 2006 Season from the Brink of Collapse on Monday Night Football

As another Eagles-Panthers primetime showdown approaches tonight, I automatically flash back to a 2006 contest featuring these two squads.

Tonight, backup turned starter Mark Sanchez will be tasked with taking over for Nicky Foles and leading the Eagles to a Monday Night home victory over Carolina, but seven years and 11 months ago, Jeff Garcia had the exact same assignment.

I promised this was coming a few months ago, and I haven’t been this excited to wrote a post since this piece back in July. That game is one of my favorite Eagles memories because of how improbable it seemed beforehand.

In today’s advanced statistics driven NFL, we get so numbers obsessed that we forget about some of the really great stories unfolding before our eyes. I know I am personally guilty of this, and I also know that some of the greatest of these stories are seconds away from never making it past the opening paragraph.

Jeff Garcia and a 2006 Monday Night Football game against the Panthers is one of these stories.

The date was December 4, 2006, and two teams woke up that Monday morning in Philadelphia desperately needing a win. The Panthers were fresh off an 11-5 season and NFC Championship game appearance but entered the matchup at only 6-5 after losing to a bad Redskins team the Sunday prior.

If the Panthers were heading into the game a bit banged up, the Eagles were certainly worse. That 2006 Eagles team ended up being one of my favorite over the past two decades, but they also might have made for the wildest roller coaster. On October 8, they were 4-1 and some considered an epic victory over Terrell Owens and the Cowboys the biggest regular season win of Andy Reid’s coaching tenure to date. Then, the drop started.

The Eagles lost three straight. The ride briefly stopped with a home victory over the Redskins but took another downward spiral as Donovan McNabb suffered a torn ACL in a home loss to the Titans. Next came a blowout loss to the Colts, and for the first time all season, the Eagles were under .500 at 5-6.

The toughest point of the roller coaster had been reached where you felt as if you were going to throw up if the drop lasted another millisecond. The only person who could press the button was a fiery, redheaded, 36-year old quarterback on his fourth team in as many years.

Heading into the season, the thought was that the Eagles could be a playoff team if a few things fell into place, but the general consensus was also that if McNabb were to suffer a severe injury for the second consecutive year, the season would be over.

A weird dynamic was at work though. McNabb was having a pretty nice statistical season before getting hurt against the Titans, but the Eagles kept finding ways to lose games in the the fourth quarter. They looked overmatched in the first game and a half without their franchise quarterback, but Garcia had quietly directed the offense well.

While some folks were still calling for Reid to go to fan-favorite A.J. Feeley, there was a belief that if the uncharacteristically shaky defense could raise their game even a bit, then Garcia and the offense could keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive.

It would have to start that night though if it was going to start at all. The Cowboys at 8-4 and the Giants at 6-6 both sat ahead of the birds in the NFC East. After Carolina, the Eagles would play three consecutive divisional road games, and 5-7 would have been a tough hole to climb out of.

Garcia, Feeley, and the inconsistent defense would all be key elements on that night, and the roller coaster was going to continue for at least three more hours as the Eagles season hung in the balance.

The game began on an ugly note as the Eagles went three and out on their opening two drives before Jake Delhomme found Steve Smith for a nine-yard touchdown.  A series of punts followed, but with Garcia struggling and the Panthers still leading 7-0, an already on-edge crowd had grown restless. Boos rang down after an incompletion in the second quarter.

People watching in other parts of the country may have thought that was unfair, and they might have been right, but in order to understand the frustration, one has to recall the state of Philadelphia sports at the time. The Flyers were in the midst of one of their worst seasons in franchise history. The Sixers were weeks away from trading franchise icon Allen Iverson, and the Phillies had narrowly pushed their playoff drought to 13 seasons two months earlier.

It was looking more and more likely that the city would go a calendar year without seeing a playoff game in any sport. They needed something to cheer about, and they were about to get it, but first, the group of fans who wanted Feeley instead of Garcia were very close to getting their wish.

Still down 7-0 midway through the second quarter, Garcia had taken a vicious hit, and looked for a second like he would not get up. Feeley, the biggest Eagle name linked to Oregon Football before Chip Kelly, had his helmet on and was a yard or two out on the field. The Lincoln Financial Field crowd roared as they saw him, fondly remembering his string of success in 2003 when McNabb and Koy Detmer suffered injuries.

That is as far as Feeley would get to the Eagles huddle though. All of a sudden, Garcia got up and motioned to Reid and the Eagles sideline that he was okay. A few minutes later, he showed it, completing a 51-yard pass to Donte Stallworth and then finding Brian Westbrook cutting across the middle of the field to tie the game at 7-7.

The Panthers would run a nice two-minute drill as Delhomme found Keyshawn Johnson for a one-yard touchdown seconds before halftime, but 14-7 somehow felt better than 7-0. The roller coaster had not yet stopped, but it had slowed down some.

Garcia tied the game with a beautiful 30-yard strike to Stallworth six minutes into the third quarter and ran down the field towards the end zone in celebration. He was having fun again, but his work was far from over as DeAngelo Williams took a screen pass to the house a few minutes later. 21-14 Panthers with the defense not doing the offense many favors.

Garcia got close again towards the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the drive stalled forcing a David Akers field goal. John Kasay would add a field goal of his own for the Panthers a few minutes later to push the lead back to seven. The Eagles were very much in the game, but at some point they would need to get a lead instead of attempting to play from behind all night. A few minutes later, Garcia hit second-year receiver Reggie Brown for a 40-yard touchdown.

It looked like the birds could really do this, but they still needed a stop from their defense. Midway through the quarter, they got one as Brian Dawkins picked off Delhomme and returned the interception 38 yards into Panthers territory. Akers knocked through a 25-yard field goal with 3:13 to go, and the Eagles had their first lead in three weeks.

The home team was far from home free however.

I do not think I will ever see a defensive coordinator as good as Jim Johnson again in my lifetime, but his players had let him down multiple times late in games that season. It looked like they were headed that way again as Delhomme and the Panthers embarked on what seemed like a promising drive.

Three different completions brought the Panthers into Eagles territory, and a couple runs put them seven yards away from the end zone with less than a minute to play. At best, it looked like the Eagles would get to overtime, and another crushing loss was one completion away.

I still get pretty into Eagles games, but I did so even more back then, and by that point, I had bit most of my nails down pretty good. I was in tenth grade and had to be awake in six hours for school. I had a test in my Honors Chemistry class in nine hours, but I had stayed up for Monday Night Eagles games for years as a kid. I also hated chemistry. Make no mistake about it, I was getting an A in the class, but I wasn’t going to let studying for a subject I didn’t care too much about get in the way of this game.

Everyone in my family was asleep, so I didn’t yell at the TV, but I recall saying out loud to no one in particular multiple times on that final drive :

Someone make a play. 

If the Panthers took a few shots at the end zone, Delhomme would likely target Smith or Johnson, their two best receivers. They shouldn’t have felt pressure to force anything though as they had a couple shots and a chip shot field goal that would tie the score should they need it on fourth down.

It would never get to fourth down. It would never even reach second down. On first and goal from the 7-yard line, Delhomme dropped back and looked for Johnson on a fade route in the back right corner of the end zone. Forget overtime, he was going for the kill shot right then and there with a half minute remaining. Get the Panthers to 7-5 and virtually end the Eagles season in front of a national audience.

Lito Sheppard, a Pro Bowl cornerback when healthy, was matched up on the veteran Johnson in single coverage as the play developed — At least he tried to be.

Sheppard was generously listed at 5-foot-10. Johnson was 6-foot-4, and if Delhomme made any sort of decent throw, his receiver would stand a good chance to make a play on the ball. He didn’t make a good throw though.

Delhomme had underthrown Johnson, and Sheppard was in prime position to end the game, cradling the ball while making sure to land with his feet in bounds.

On television at first, it was tough to tell if he actually got both his feet in bounds as he fell to the ground, still in control of the ball. I remember it being a long few seconds before the referee finally pointed to say that it was indeed the Eagles ball.

Johnson, still in the back of the end zone, was livid, demanding a flag for pass interference, insisting that Sheppard had pushed off.

The following is a quote from Johnson printed in the Associated Press game story:

“I feel like I was pushed and grabbed. The throw was fine. The guy pushed me.”

Johnson continue to voice his displeasure in the back of the end zone, but there was no sign of yellow on the field. I jumped out of my chair which had been positioned less than three feet away from my TV during the final drive.

The camera eventually panned away from Johnson. The fans celebrated, and a smiling Garcia sprinted onto the field for a final kneel down with 24 seconds left. After looking like he may have been knocked out of the game a couple hours prior, Garcia had stopped the steep drop and was ready to send the roller coaster back upward.

A usually stoic Andy Reid fist pumped, and broadcaster Joe Theisman quipped, ‘There’s the headline in the Philly papers tomorrow morning: Emotional Andy.”

Michael Barkann began Eagles Post Game Live in a creepy but hilarious manner with his hand in the shape of a a crawling insect.

“It’s aliiiiiivvveeeee,” he cheerfully yelled on a live show just before midnight on a cold December night. “The Eagles season is alive and kickin, baby.”

Indeed it was, Michael. Indeed it was.  Garcia would win all three of those divisional road games to get the Eagles to 9-6 before sitting out the season finale and resting for a playoff run.

After a 26-23 victory over the Giants, the Eagles season would end in the Superdome as they fell 27-24 to the Saints in the second round of the playoffs. From the Carolina game onward, Garcia would go 103-for-177 with nine touchdowns and only three interceptions.

An article about his time in Tampa Bay the following season still hangs in my childhood bedroom with no plan of being taken down.

Garcia

Garcia had taken the Eagles on a wild run that few outside of him thought was possible. The Colts game may have inspired a bit of confidence, but on an epic Monday Night against Carolina is when the results started to roll in.

Who knows what might have happened had Garcia not gotten up midway through the second quarter? Perhaps Feeley comes in and plays lights out, but Garcia reminded everyone about the most valuable life lesson there is. He got up. When things weren’t going well and no one believed in him, he literally was knocked down and got back up.

Hypotheticals are a dangerous thing, but what if Garcia had not stayed in the game and Feeley been ineffective? The Eagles went 8-8 the following year in 2007, and that would have meant three straight seasons of no playoffs for Reid. Conventional wisdom suggests he would not have survived that. The Eagles would have been looking for a new coach as early as January 2008. Chip Kelly was just then beginning to establish himself after his first season as Oregon’s offensive coordinator and surely would not have been the guy.

Tonight’s scene from a long-term standpoint might not be set had Garcia not gotten up. Sometimes though, try as they might, professional football players can’t get up. McNabb couldn’t get up when he tore his ACL, and Nicky Foles couldn’t pick himself up after a vicious hit to the shoulder last Sunday.

That’s what backups are for. Garcia was a great one, and for as big of a Foles fan as I am, Sanchez looked like a competent one in the preseason and last week. Now, we really get to find out though if he can truly exorcise his demons that remain from the Jets.

As far as quarterbacks go, Sanchez and Garcia could not be more different. Garcia attended San Jose State and exited college football undrafted in 1994, spending five years with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL before hooking on with the 49ers. He did not become a full-time starting quarterback until age 30 and did not win a playoff game until a month before his 33rd birthday.

Sanchez on the other hand was thought to be the chosen one, growing up in Long Beach, California and attending the storied USC. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft and a starting quarterback in the NFL before his 23rd birthday. Before his 25th birthday, he had beaten Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady in road playoff games.

Then, he fell just as quickly as he rose to stardom. There was the butt fumble, sure, but more than that, there was an awful stretch in December of 2012 that saw him transform into a turnover machine:

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Sanchez is not nearly as mobile as Garcia and less accurate but has a much stronger arm. As I said, as far as quarterback attributes go, they are polar opposites, but both have found levels of NFL success at certain parts of their NFL careers.

Nearly eight years ago after a rough time in Cleveland and Detroit following a solid run in San Francisco, Garcia rediscovered his mojo and captivated a city.

For at least the next month, Sanchez will have a chance to do exactly the same team. He will do it surrounded by a better Eagles team than the 2006 Eagles squad and perhaps against a worse Panthers team who stumbles in on a three-game losing streak at 3-5-1.

If it happens, he’ll do it by playing his style and being the best Mark Sanchez he can be, but it sure won’t be hard to reminisce about Jeff Garcia and a magical Monday Night in 2006 should Sanchez be found smiling come midnight tonight.

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.

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.

Five Things I Hope to See Tonight Before the Eagles Leave Foxboro

The real thing is less than 25 days away, but the Eagles second dress rehearsal for the big show goes down at Gillette Stadium tonight as the birds face the Patriots in a preseason tilt.

Unless Chip Kelly gets even more innovative than normal and decides to hold practice on the moon for a few days, this will be the last time the Eagles are on the road until they face the Colts on Monday Night Football in Week 2.

Unlike Chicago last week though, this wasn’t a short trip. The Eagles have been holding joint practices with the Patriots most of the week. This decision has seemed to bother a decent amount of people. Countless radio callers seem annoyed by the idea that Jeffrey Lurie is friends with Robert Kraft and that Kelly and Belichick are close, a few even referring to the latter relationship as ‘hero worship.’

It is not just limited to fans either. Two weeks ago, Cary Williams called the Patriots “cheaters” ‘cheaters, pumpkin eaters’ (H/T @BleedingGreen, H/T @BrandonGowton)

My take before we get to the meat of this post: Joint practices are becoming more common throughout the league, and I cannot think of a better partner than the Patriots. A few reasons for this:

  • Location — Obviously you’re not traveling across the country in the preseason. These teams typically play an exhibition game for this exact reason, and this rules out someone like Denver as an option for the Eagles.
  • Regular season schedule — These teams will not see each other until the 2015 regular season unless they meet in the Super Bowl. No need to worry about giving anything away.
  • The Patriots are still really freakin good — If the Eagles are going to practice with some other team, wouldn’t you prefer the Pats to a squad like the Jets or Bills? Facing Geno Smith or E.J. Manuel won’t make a young defense better. Facing Tom Brady for three days will.

Back to the actual game tonight though. Last week, yours truly made the mistake of watching the preseason opener at a local establishment. I ended up missing the first 20 minutes doing laps in my car looking for a parking spot and didn’t see a ton more from there, unable to focus. I found a replay of it the following afternoon and created a live blog, but tonight, I’ll be posted up from the comfort of my own home.

Here are five things that I hope to see before the Eagles come home from Brady and Belichick’s kingdom:

  1. A Nick Foles led touchdown drive — I’m not worried about the quarterback’s lackluster performance last week, and frankly, I think anyone who who is concerned is seriously wasting their time. I have zero doubt Foles is going to have a great season. That said, I’d like to see him walk away from this one with some points under his belt, especially because he will likely play well into the second quarter.
  2. Alex Henery to attempt a field goal — Even with the priority on the above point, a drive stalling in Patriots territory wouldn’t be the worst thing because it allows Henery to get some work in. At this point, I have no idea why Carey Spear is still here. Henery — for better or for worse — is going to be the kicker.
  3. A stop by the first team defense — Last year when these two teams met in the first preseason game at the Linc, Tom Brady carved an overmatched Eagles defense up for a pair of touchdown passes. Word out of Foxboro by just about every reporter in attendance is that Billy Davis’ unit is doing a much better job holding its own this summer. Even though it won’t mean anything tangible right away, a three and out, forced punt, or turnover would have them feeling really good about themselves.
  4. More good(e) plays from Najee Goode — The potential lack of depth at inside linebacker behind starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks really frightens me. Goode eased some of that fear last week with a few nice tackles in space. Keep it up, kid. (Also, thanks for following me on the Twitter machine)
  5. Hungry Vinny Curry and moar Beau Allen — Not exactly a scheme fit in Davis’ 3-4 base defense that relies on a two-gap scheme, Curry is going to have to scratch and claw for every snap he gets in the regular season. Vinny Curry is hungry, and tonight, we feed him and try to give the Eagles defensive coordinator more incentive to get him on the field to rush the passer. Another sack from Curry and a tackle for loss from the mammoth Allen who was very active in his first career game last week would be solid.

Everyone knows not to read too far into a preseason game, and staying healthy is obviously more important than anything on this list, but if the Eagles can pull off these five things — or some variation of them — I will go to bed happy tomorrow night.

Editor’s Note: Normally, I would use this space beneath a post to advertise some of my old content related to the subject, but I would be cheating all readers out of a great experience here if I didn’t link to these two excellent longform pieces from Grantland and ESPN on Kelly and the Eagles. Read them when you have a chance. If time permits, I’ll be re-reading every day leading up to the opener.

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.