Quadruple Option Week 6: Eagles-Giants

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Welcome back to the Quadruple Option. It’s been a while. As always, we’re breaking down the complex game of football into the author’s four arbitrarily chosen points of focus.

1- Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy 

I guess this is kind of cheating, but these two issues are definitely linked. Until Foles straightens out McCoy is still likely to struggle. Look at this piece by Bucky Brooks from NFL.com.

As he says, defenses are committing eight players in the box often. Even the best offensive lines are going to struggle to create leverage at the point of attack against defenses like that, if they don’t have to respect the quarterback as a rushing threat–and especially when they don’t have to respect him as a passing threat.

With Foles struggling to hit open receivers, there’s more incentive for defenses to leave defensive backs in man coverage with little or no safety help over the top. Receivers aren’t winning a lot of one-on-one battles, and when they are Foles isn’t hitting them consistently.

So, great. That’s a summary of the offense’s problems without getting into the offensive line, but what can the Eagles do to counteract this against the Giants?

Also illustrated in Brooks’ summary of what’s wrong with the Eagles’ offense is the note that corners are not respecting deep routes, because of Foles’ inaccuracy on them. Given that the Eagles have been stuck with a patchwork offensive line and those plays take longer to develop, Foles has been getting hit as he delivers those passes–and he’s struggled without pressure too.

Remaining committed to this could be a catastrophic idea, which is probably why I don’t coach football. However, I believe that sticking to double move and longer-developing routes could be the key to cracking the ceiling on the defenses the Eagles are facing right now. The Eagles should be able to catch Giants corners trying to jump shorter routes and cash in some bigger plays. If that happens, defenses will commit more defenders to the secondary, and it may in turn open up some running lanes for McCoy. Here’s hoping, anyway.

2- Inside Offensive Linemen

The Eagles run a lot of zone-read plays, which are very dependent upon the center and play-side guard generating push. David Molk and Matt Tobin have filled in about as well as can be expected, but they are a noticeable drop-off from Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis.

The most immediate solution to this would be Nick Foles keeping more often on zone-read plays. Molk and Tobin would likely handle themselves better against a defensive lineman or linebacker who is open to the idea of misdirection. At the moment, they’re facing guys who are fairly certain they know where the play is headed.

The other solution is being more creative with your blocking schemes on rushing plays; running more traps, isos, and stretch plays.

3- Defensive Backs vs Eli Manning

Malcolm Jenkins has been a vision since joining this team. There’s nothing bad to say about him. Nate Allen has been mostly fine this season. Brandon Boykin, slot corner extraordinaire, has also been fine. However…

The outside corners, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, have been miserable. I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done schematically to help them, but well, there they are.

Eli Manning has actually snuggled into Ben McAdoo’s west coast passing scheme quite well over the last few weeks. And, even though Eli Manning is known for committing some pretty awful turnovers, this is terrifying, so I’m going to stop talking about this.

4- The Collective and Fluctuating Psyche of Eagles Fans 

This is going to be a weird night for everyone. The Eagles decided to have a black out, and are wearing black shirts and black pants for the first time in the team’s history. The last couple of times there were major uniform stories for the Eagles, it involved the Yellow Jackets and the brief return of Kelly Green. The yellow ones led Kevin Curtis to have his day in the sun. The KGs led to Kevin Kolb being concussed and Mike Vick leading an almost-comeback against the Packers. Weird uniform choices lead to weird things.

Meanwhile, if the Eagles lose this game, the coaching staff and the players go into the bye having to hear about blowing a prime opportunity to take some control in the division (Dallas will probably lose at Seattle, and obviously beating the Giants would be a leg up). Plus, if the struggles on offense continue, the existential terrors surrounding the fan base will continue.

Prediction: Eagles 31, Giants 24 

This is probably just blind faith in Chip Kelly. However, this reminds me a lot of the Patriots-Bengals game last week. This team is probably sick of hearing/reading everything that’s been said about them this week. They are going to come out ready to hit something, and there’s value in that. The Giants have been providing a shocking amount of bulletin board material as well. There’s no better time for the offense to get going than this game.

No Apology Necessary

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Because nice things are never nice enough, Philly Sports Take Furnace 94.1 WIP decided to have Harry Gerard (HG) “Buzz” Bissinger on their morning show to demand credit for Nick Foles’ rough start. This is despite the team coming off a victory and being tied for the best record in the NFL.  The man with the algebraic first name,  you might remember, wrote some pretty unflattering things about Foles in a Philadelphia Magazine hit-piece before the season started. Obviously, this was an interview scheduled to provide thoughtful insight on the quarterback’s struggles this season, and not at all an opportunity for a local radio station to engage in the kind of self-gratifying schadenfreude that drives sports-talk radio. I’m sure that’s not what they had in mind at all.

Buzz once again decided to get into all the reasons Nick Foles is less of a leader because he won’t publicly criticize his teammates, or throw temper tantrums, or be at least a replacement-level dick by the standards of someone who achieves such staggering levels of Dickishness Above Replacement–not that we need advanced metrics to explain why Buzz Bissinger is a stain. I’m not going to link to his discussion on the radio station, because it will surely be easy enough to find on their website.

Harry decided to feed into a distracting narrative that I’m sure won’t be used as debate fodder for later this year and draft season, no matter how well the Eagles may play. The only solution to this great existential crisis that has been heaped upon the city’s favorite football team is to win the Super Bowl, because there is never any other solution. And I get that the fans are starved for a championship, and that high-performance offenses that disappoint in January are something to which the town has become accustomed. But, the discussion surrounding the Eagles doesn’t have to start and end with Nick Foles’ “It” factor, or whatever deluded ideas people have about leaders.

The Eagles have been, as Jimmy Kempski expertly put it, an “Emoji Poop 4-1” this season. This is true for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Nick Foles, the subject of Harry-Buzz’s ire. Not a single person who has watched the team can deny how terrible he’s looked, and how the few flashes of high-level competency he’s shown in the midst of his struggles haven’t nearly outweighed the negatives. This could be a slump, or it could be the end of the world. Of course, despite LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles (who were huge contributors to the team’s success last season) struggling, the team is 4-1.

He’s provided enough reason to be confident and terrified. He led the team to the NFC East crown last season, and left a playoff game with a lead. In the midst of his struggles this year, he led them to a win over Washington while the defense struggled against Kirk Cousins and company. He also had “The Dallas Game” last season and his roller coaster this season. Wondering if he is the team’s answer at quarterback is scary, because: if not him, who? Franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by, and quarterbacks drafted in the hopes of living up to that billing, only to be cast aside a few years later, infinitely outnumber them. So, people like Buzz and the sideshows that ask for his commentary are just placing pressure on a pain point for fans because they know the reaction it will generate.

That’s not exactly a revelation, but it doesn’t make it any easier to tolerate. However, it should be at least a little reassuring to know that while the quarterback, star running back, offensive line, and parts of the defense struggle the team still finds a way to win. It’s the unneeded proof that there’s more to winning football games than your quarterback’s level of psychopathy. Just look at the last stretch of Super Bowl winners: Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, and Eli Manning. All of them, like Nick Foles, have had stretches of inconsistency, had their “elite” status debated, and more importantly none of them are the kind of malcontent gunslinger Bissinger is looking for.

Most importantly, however, they were all surrounded by great teams that won, even on some of their bad days. Special teams and sporadic quality from the offense and defense have put the Eagles in position to do that so far this season. That wasn’t the case over the first five games last season, when the team was wildly inconsistent and started 2-3. Not that all things will ever be perfectly equal in scenarios like this, but it’s hard not to feel like the Eagles are better this season despite some clear flaws.

This team isn’t losing because Foles is a chicken as HGBB suggests, or any of the other myriad reasons this team could have potentially lost over the first five weeks. In fact they aren’t losing much at all. So the city of Philadelphia does not owe Buzz Bisisnger the apology he so desperately craves, and it needs not worry about its football team yet. If the Eagles can’t fix any of the problems that have cropped up during their first five games over the course of the next eleven, then I’ll apologize to Buzz on behalf of everyone else–but in the meantime, they are tied for the best record in the NFL, which the fans should be able to enjoy without one of the self-proclaimed “best journalists in the country” screaming at them.

Quadruple Option Week 2: Eagles-Colts

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Welcome back to the Quadruple Option, where the upcoming game is narrowed down to its four most relevant points of focus, as arbitrarily chosen by the author. This week, the QO focuses on the Indianapolis Colts, who the Eagles are visiting on Monday Night Football to round out Week 2 on the NFL calendar.

1- Eagles Offensive Line vs Colts Pass Rush

The Eagles entered this season with one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, by any measure. Less than 30 minutes into their season opener, it became one of their biggest question marks. Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre were lost to injury within 5 plays of each other. Barbre is now done for the season, and Mathis is on Injured Reserve with the designation to return (he is eligible for the Nov. 10 game vs Carolina). Filling the two holes in the line will be Andrew Gardner at right tackle and Dennis Kelly at left guard. This state of flux for the offensive line is worrisome, but not so much when considering the absence of a Colts pass rush.

Robert Mathis, the key to the Colts’ pass rush, is out for the season with a torn achilles (and would have missed this game for a PED suspension anyway). Expected to fill his role is second year player from Germany via Florida State, Bjoern Werner. He hasn’t adapted particularly well to the NFL thus far, as became very evident to a national audience last weekend in the Sunday night game at Denver. Erik Walden, their other pass rushing linebacker, doesn’t produce at a fear-warranting level either. Jerrell Freeman, an inside linebacker, had the second-most sacks on the roster last season with 5.5, is also out for this game, and will be replaced by Josh McNary, who will be making his first start.

The Colts have no pass rush to speak of, and the Eagles’ offensive line has had a week to settle into place, as opposed to Gardner and David Molk being thrown into their roles in the middle of a game. Barring the unforeseen coming out party for Werner or Walden, this part of the game will end up being advantageous for the Eagles. Foles will have more time to throw (and second guess himself, maybe), and it opens the gameplan to longer-developing plays if necessary.

2- Colts Pass-Catchers  vs Eagles Coverage

This matchup is a little more dicey for the Eagles. The Jaguars’ passing attack got on the Eagles early through creative route design and miscommunications and mistakes in the Eagles’ secondary. This is expertly detailed by Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7 here. The Colts will use T.Y. Hilton in a way that attempts to confuse the deep safety in an attempt to get him open for big gains.

This has been successful against some of the better defenses in football in the past (Seattle, San Francisco), and should make Eagles fans at least a little wary, since the secondary has yet to inspire very much faith. As for the rest of the Colts’ weapons, they have Reggie Wayne, a perennial Pro Bowler who looked fine in his first game back from a torn ACL against Denver, Hakeem Nicks- who needs no introduction to Eagles fans, and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. In Pep Hamilton’s west coast scheme, Eagles fans will see their fair share of the top three receivers and each of those tight ends. The Eagles’ linebackers aren’t the best in coverage, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those two.

If the Colts are going to beat the Eagles, it will be this way–as they surely aren’t going to drown them in the sweet, terrible molasses that is Trent Richardson and the rushing attack. Ahmad Bradshaw could make some noise out of the backfield, but the Eagles have been pretty strong against the run under Billy Davis (4th lowest YPC in NFL last season).

3- Andrew Luck vs Everyone

There is (arguably, I guess) no skill-position player more responsible for his team’s offensive success or failure on a week-to-week basis. You will notice this when plays inevitably break down for whatever reason, and Luck is forced to make something out of them. He appears to thrive on chaos in those situations. The Colts, while not completely bereft of talent, rely on Luck a ton.

He is one of a handful of quarterbacks who adds a great deal of value in the running game too. He also has the tendency to make some absurdly ill-advised throws, on which the Eagles will need to capitalize, because he has the habit of digging the Colts out of all different kinds of deficits.

4- Nick Foles vs Himself

Bad Foles appeared again last week. He stared into empty spaces while open, eligible receivers ran free, and would then get hit or get sacked or overthrow someone. It was like last season’s first Dallas game all over again. The offense succeeded almost in spite of Foles in the 2nd half. It’s really important not to mistake him improving on a first half of masochistic performance art as him playing well. He still missed a ton of throws and was partially bailed out by playing a terrible defense.

We know that Nick Foles can be great. We’ve seen him look rough too. The real Nick Foles is in there somewhere. If he’s going to have a bounce-back game, he’ll have plenty of time to do so against a weak Colts pass rush. Despite the fact that LeSean McCoy is the engine in this offense, Nick Foles is still the conductor. If he flounders early again, the Eagles are going to have a much harder time recovering than they did against Jacksonville.

The Verdict:

Eagles 41, Colts 20

In the simplest reduction of this, the Colts are still the worst “good” team in the AFC. There are gaping holes along the offensive line (two rookies at the guards and the center the Ravens didn’t want–all starting). Their defense can’t rush the passer. They have good corners that are at times made to look better against terrible quarterbacks. The offense has talent, and they will probably score at least two touchdowns tonight–but the Eagles operate on a different wavelength right now. I think they end up taking the Colts for a walk.