Sunday, February 4, 2018

Phinally Champions!!!

The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl LII Champions!

A few years ago, a fan-designed Eagles Super Bowl ring made the rounds on the Internet. This is the oldest source I could find:

The Eagles will be getting a real one after their victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII! \o/

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How to stymie the Patriots' offense in Super Bowl 52

What will the Patriots do to try to beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl?
Remember when many fans were mailing it in on the 2017 season after losing to the Seahawks, looking terrible in a victory over the Raiders, and watching the terrible Giants put up 434 yards and 29 points on us? 
In the playoff-victory jubilation, we've forgotten about that.
But the Patriots haven't.

Brady and Belichick will be studying the games in which the Eagles didn't do so well--as well as the games in which they did--scouring the film for tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, and other clues about how to beat this team. 
Nobody's invincible. It's just a matter of finding those weaknesses, and being able to exploit them. And our team's weaknesses are there for anyone to see, including my favorite football analyst: Brett Kollmann.
In his most recent video, Kollmann breaks down how teams beat the Eagles' defense this season, and how Atlanta did a terrible job of taking advantage of our secondary's aggressiveness and tendency to rely on zone coverage in the red zone. Take a look for yourself: 

In the Super Bowl, I fully expect to see the Patriots employ a variety of short slants and quick outs from shotgun at the beginning of the game. Brady has demonstrated for over 15 years that he can hit those quick passes all day long, and he will do so on Feb. 4.
The Pats will be happy to dink-and-dunk down the field early on, in order to bludgeon the Eagles' defense with its own aggressiveness later on.
That is, when the corners and safeties get frustrated at surrendering all those short completions and methodical chain-moving drives, they'll start trying to jump the routes and intercept the ball. And that's when the Patriots will strike.
Their response will be to:
  • Line up in the same formations that they've been using to throw the quick passes. This will probably be a shotgun formation with a single back and 3 receivers split out wide. 
  • Then, send Brandin Cooks and Philip Dorsett deep on double-moves like the sluggo or in-n-up routes, while sending the third receiver (think Amendola) on a shallow crosser or in route. Possibly the tight end as well.
  • If the Eagles show single coverage on Cooks or Dorsett, throw it up to one of them, and the result will probably be either a big completion, or a pass-interference flag that's just as good.
  • Since our corners, especially Jalen Mills, aren't that fast, the only hope they have of stopping speedsters like Cooks and Dorsett is to hold them. And that'll draw flags every time, especially against New England.
That's game-planning at its finest, and you just know that Belichick and the Patriots will do everything they can to set up this kind of scenario!
I also expect to see some 'rub' concepts (in case you didn't know, this involves receivers almost running into one another on their routes, in the hope/expectation that defenders will collide and at least one receiver will get completely free of coverage). This will help the Patriots' offense determine whether the Eagles' defense has adjusted to address their weaknesses against rub routes and double-moves. And if the Eagles are still vulnerable to these concepts, expect to see them all. game. long.
Just watch the game. Look for it. It'll happen.
What's not guaranteed is whether the Eagles will be ready for it. Belichick, along with his trusted advisor and confidant Ernie Adams, may well be the best coach in history at spotting opponents' tendencies and taking advantage of them. Philly has put up plenty of tape over the past 2 years showcasing this vulnerability. It's too juicy NOT to exploit. 
Jim Schwartz and the defensive coaching staff absolutely must self-scout, identify these same weaknesses, and figure out how to combat them.
Easier said than done, but there are a couple solutions:
  • One is to change these tendencies. Run a number of drills in practice that are designed to teach players to remain disciplined; defensive backs and linebackers must not be too quick to react to a receiver's moves, until the ball actually leaves Brady's hand! 
  • Another is to show blitz, but then bail out into coverage. If Brady's focused on determining who's blitzing, that may throw him off just enough to delay his ability to read the coverage, or to make him throw a little quicker than he wants to. And if everyone drops into coverage, that might close a zone that Brady was expecting to be vacant.

    It's Brady, and he's seen everything at this point, so that's probably not going to affect him too much. But it's worth a shot, and a nice bonus is that doing this several times could set Brady up to think that we're not actually going to blitz (which would tie in nicely with Schwartz's philosophical opposition to blitzing, which--again--the Pats are definitely aware of!), so that we can actually get him with a blitz later.
  • Other options include: play more press coverage to throw off the timing of the routes, and use coverages that mix zone and man, to make it harder for Brady and for the receivers to get a bead on what type of coverage the Eagles are using. Miscommunications like this may result in incompletions, or even interceptions!
The Eagles' defense will absolutely have to change something about their tendencies. If they continue to do exactly what they've done all year, Brady will carve up this defense like a Thanksgiving turkey!
If you let Brady play head games on his own terms, he will win...

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

New Eagles GIF

I made an Eagles GIF after the playoff win over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday, January 13, 2018. Here it is:

I couldn't re-size the Falcons logo or get it to move, but I think it gets the point across! 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How NOT to treat your franchise QB

Protect Your QB
I have a good friend who's a Colts fan, and we were talking about Andrew Luck, the Colts' new coaching search, etc. In the process of gathering evidence and news reports, I found an interesting article on CBS Sports about how the Colts mismanaged Luck's athletic prime. Here's the link:
In sum, they basically downplayed Luck's injury, rushed him back, failed to give him adequate O-line protection, and basically flubbed the situation at every opportunity. The team was overly dependent upon Peyton Manning when he was in Indy, and the team is now overly dependent upon Andrew Luck (as evidenced by this season's 4-12 record with Jacoby Brissett at the helm).
Take away the Colts' franchise QB, and they completely melt.
That's not how you build a team, that's not how you keep fans in the stands, and that's definitely not how to treat your franchise QB!
What does this have to do with the Eagles?
Now for the Eagles-centric take: the Eagles' ownership and front office certainly isn't beyond criticism, but it's apparent that they tried to surround Carson Wentz with good O-line protection and improved weapons in the passing and running game. When Wentz went down, that certainly wasn't good for the team! But unlike Indianapolis, the Eagles didn't utterly collapse when their starting QB got injured!
The story linked above clearly illustrates how important it is to: a) allow Wentz to fully heal instead of rushing him back, b) build a strong team with talent and depth everywhere, and c) continue to invest in an offensive line that will protect your QB and hopefully keep him healthy.
Luck's sad saga just goes to show that even franchises with some success--not just perennial bottom-dwellers--aren't always run well. I, for one, am thankful that Jeff Lurie owns the Eagles, and Howie Roseman leads the front office. They've made mistakes in the past, but they've learned from those mistakes. They want to compete, but they're patient and don't have a continuously revolving door at coach and in the front office. And they haven't done anything egregious (like the Colts' handling of the Andrew Luck situation)!
I think the Eagles are built well, and built for the long haul. I don't expect them to compete only this postseason; I expect them to be in the playoff dance for many years to come!
If they want to fulfill those expectations, it's clearly not enough to rely on a top-notch QB. It's obvious that, first and foremost, your QB needs to be protected. Look no further than the Colts, who have an all-time great RB in Frank Gore, dangerous receivers like T.Y. Hilton, Phillip Dorsett (before he was traded to New England), Donte Moncrief, and even young deep threat Chester Rogers. 
These players weren't enough to help an OL-needy team overcome injuries, especially when it came to losing their star QB. Therefore, looking ahead to the offseason, it is crucial that the Eagles (not to mention the Colts!) continue to find and develop talented players on the offensive line.
The focus for 2018
Joe Douglas' influence on the Eagles' 2017 draft was evident; the team did not trade all over the place as in past drafts, but they were able to find tough, talented players all over the board. Crucially, undrafted rookie free agents like Corey Clement and Tyler Orlosky signed with the Eagles. The team also found talent in the draft, including Derek Barnett in the 1st round, Sidney Jones in the 2nd, promising young CB Rasul Douglas in the 3rd, deep threat Mack Hollins in the 4th, LB/S Nate Gerry in the 5th, and athletic DT Elijah Qualls in the 6th! 
Not every player the Eagles draft will pan out; Derek Barnett, Corey Clement, and Rasul Douglas had the biggest impact in their rookie years. Nate Gerry barely saw the field on defense in 2017, and RB Donnell Pumphrey was put on IR (likely as a way to keep him on the roster without having him active on game day). Both of these players weren't ready to make a positive impact for the team in a meaningful NFL game--at least not as rookies. They may improve, or they may end up washing out of the NFL. It's too soon to tell for sure.
But the quality of players that the Eagles found in the 2017 draft was clearly higher than in other recent drafts. The 2013 class was top-heavy, with good players in the first 3 rounds and busts afterward. The Eagles 2014 and 2015 draft classes were mediocre, with hits and misses all over the board (and, to be honest, more misses than hits). 
So, bearing Andrew Luck's saga in mind, Joe Douglas and the Eagles' front office should pay particular attention to offensive linemen in the 2018 draft class. After all, as the above link illustrates: when you have a QB who's among the best in the NFL, you need to keep him upright!
Happy New Year, everyone! And, as always, Fly Eagles Fly!

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Back in Black

The Philadelphia Eagles' announced via their official Twitter account that their Christmas Day 2017 game against the Raiders would feature the all-black uniforms:

Considering the #BackInBlack hashtag, I was disappointed when I didn't hear AC/DC on the video.

Well, I decided to rectify that problem! Without further ado, I give you #BackInBlack, improved:

Fly Eagles Fly!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Eagles GIF revealed

A Bleeding Green Nation user by the name of ThereAreThoseWhoCallMeNorm created an Eagles gif based on a famous gif of 50 Cent laughing as he drives away. Norm is celebrated as the "gif Lord" of BGN for his funny and unique Eagles-themed gifs—indeed, Norm's gif game is on fire, as this gif page shows!

The gif goes by awfully fast, so people often wonder who is in the back of 50 Cent's car. Well, folks, here's your answer:

See if you can figure out who all these people are! :)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Should Pete Morelli be fired?


Anybody who watched the Eagles-Panthers game in Week 6 of the 2017 season could see that the refereeing crew did a terrible job!

There were numerous questionable penalties against the Eagles. But there are questionable penalties against every team, in every week of the season, so that fact alone wouldn't have been so bad...IF the same questionable penalties had been called against the Panthers as well.

But they weren't.

The game ended with this obscene penalty stat line:

  • Eagles: 10 penalties for 126 yards 
  • Panthers: 1 penalty for 1 yard 
Now, if the Eagles were playing sloppy, undisciplined football while the Panthers were playing a tight, clean game, that difference would be entirely acceptable. But that simply wasn't the case:

Watch the tight end who's blocking Brandon Graham, #55 on the Eagles. Near the end of the play, the TE is bear-hugging Graham from the side. You're not allowed to do that. That's holding, and should have backed the Panthers up by 10 yards.

No call.

Watch the same tight end, #82 (Chris Manhertz, according to the Panthers' roster) getting a little "chippy" with Eagles' LB Nigel Bradham (#53, at the bottom of the GIF) after this play is over:

The Panthers player shoved Bradham, right in front of the ref.

No call.

I used these GIFs from an article about how dominant the Eagles' run defense was in that game, simply because I could use those GIFs to demonstrate what I'm talking about. I can't find GIFs of any of the numerous plays from the 4th quarter of that game, where the Panthers' right tackle was false starting on EVERY. SINGLE. PLAY! and never getting called for it, or where LeGarrette Blount was (wrongfully) penalized for blocking up to the whistle whereas the Panthers later tackled Blount well after the whistle blew (but, of course, weren't called for it). Or Alshon Jeffrey failing to haul in a downfield pass because the Panthers' corner had his left arm pinned. And yes, it was a catchable pass--the ball hit Alshon in his free hand! Anybody with functioning eyes throws that flag every time!

I also couldn't find GIFs of questionable pass interference calls against the Eagles (especially Jalen Mills), while similar play from the Panthers' cornerbacks was allowed to slide, over and over and over again.

UPDATE: Guess what I found?... [Do yourself a favor and mute the audio, though]

This clip is far from exhaustive, but it serves as a clear illustration of a couple of the bad calls (and the bad no-call on the pass-interference against Alshon) in that game.

Now, I watch a lot of football. Not just the Eagles, but NFL football in general. I see no-calls, such as those depicted in the above GIFs, in literally every single game! I'm okay with that, as long as the refs are consistent in letting these things slide for both teams. After all, I watch these games because I want to see the players play, not because I want to see the referees throw flags every time someone makes a small mistake.

In fact, there's an old saying that holding could technically be called on nearly every play. But even referees admit that they shouldn't call it on every play! When you're running around at full speed, you can't help but break rules sometimes; it would ruin the flow of the game to have a flag interrupting things for every minor infraction.

As long as the calls about fouls (and about no-fouls) are consistent, then the refs are doing their job--which is to make sure that no one is breaking the rules to gain an advantage.

But on Thursday, October 12, 2017, Pete Morelli and his crew were NOT consistent. The Eagles were called numerous times for questionable penalties, while the Panthers committed infractions that were just as egregious--or worse--without any flags. It's like the refs were closely scrutinizing the Eagles, while not even looking at the Panthers!

The unfairness made the game immensely frustrating to watch--not just as an Eagles fan, but as a football fan! I would be just as unhappy with the officiating if the shoe were on the other foot instead, and the Eagles were getting away with undisciplined play while the Panthers were getting nitpicked.

Let's examine some objections to this narrative, though, before we call for Morelli's job. After all, we wouldn't want to ruin someone's career over a single bad day at work!

Maybe it's really not that big a deal, and Philly fans are just being the kind of 
crybabies who boo their own players and once threw snowballs at Santa
Maybe the Eagles should just stop committing so many penalties...

Nope. Everyone--from Tony Romo in the broadcasting booth, to threads on Reddit, to Eagles beat writers like Bleeding Green Nation's Brandon Gowton, NBC Philadelphia's Dave Zangaro, and Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice--all noticed the terrible officiating.

In fact, as Andrew Parent of Philly Voice notes, there was even a fan-started petition for a ban on Pete Morelli and his crew from ever officiating an Eagles' game again! That petition has gotten over 70,000 signatures, too!

Let's not cry foul about the penalty discrepancy in a single game. Hey, it's 
possible that the Eagles committed many more penalties than the Panthers, 
or perhaps their penalties were more obvious than those committed by the Panthers. 

If you watched the game, you know that's not true in this case--but it's possible, so you can't just point out a discrepancy in the numbers and use that to make a case that the refs are biased.

Given that Pete Morelli and his crew exhibited a similar bias in calling penalties against the Eagles in their game against the Lions last year (as acknowledged by a writer on Pride of Detroit, after his team squeaked out a win)...well, maybe this wasn't just a one-time problem!

Also consider that, over the last 4 Eagles games called by Morelli's crews (including the Panthers and Lions games), they've called a whopping 40 penalties for just shy of 400 yards against the Eagles, compared to only 8 penalties for 72 yards on the Eagles' opponents.

If Morelli and his officials are calling games fairly, THAT level of disparity is...unlikely. Especially since holding can be called at literally any point in the game, as mentioned above!

Stop whining; every team's fans believe that the refs hate their team! 
This is just another false 'persecution complex!'

A summary of the penalty stats in Eagles games called by Morelli since 2004 reveals a shift from an apparently evenhanded approach through November of 2012, to a whoppingly lopsided pattern beginning in September of 2013.

So who pissed in Morelli's Cheerios after the 2012 season?

On Bleeding Green Nation, I've seen a number of calls for a statistical comparison of Morelli's crew to other officiating crews. Fans want to know how the penalty discrepancy in Eagles games called by Morelli's crews over the past few years compares to the penalty discrepancy of all the other crews over the same span.

I set out to do that, but I couldn't find that data. So, I went with the easiest way to statistically examine whether the refs were justified in calling such a lopsided penalty margin: I examined what happened in the first 4 weeks of the season.
  1. If the Eagles committed an entire order of magnitude more penalties than the Panthers, then the Eagles should have been one of the most-penalized teams in the NFL, and the Panthers should have been one of the least-penalized teams.

    And, indeed, part of that prediction holds true: as of October 11, the day before the Thursday night game in question, the Panthers were the least-penalized team in the league. But the Eagles were right in the middle of the pack. Before the game on October 12, the Panthers averaged just under 5 penalties per game; the Eagles averaged exactly 7 (tied with 5 other teams who also averaged 7 penalties per game).

    The Eagles' figure is right in line with the average number of penalties called per game across the entire NFL (7.02 penalties per game through Week 4), so it's not like the Eagles have committed an unusually high number of penalties this year.

    Similarly, Carolina ranked near the bottom of the league in penalty yardage per game with only 43.6 penalty yards per game, while Philadelphia ranked 8th-most with 65.4. So it seems that when the Eagles get called for a penalty, it tends to be for a longer penalty, on average. Think pass interference--spot of the foul, whether 5 yards or 35 yards downfield--vs. false start, for which the penalty is a standard 5 yards.

    This shouldn't surprise anyone who's aware of the fact that the Eagles' starting outside CBs are Jalen Mills, a feisty 2nd-year player who was picked in the 7th round of the draft, and Rasul Douglas, a rookie. Both players are very high-quality backups, but in an ideal world, neither would be starting for this team. Pass interference penalties are going to happen sometimes with such young, physical (and, in some cases, athletically overmatched) players as your starters.

    So, based on both teams' performance up to October 12, we'd expect roughly 6 penalties to have been called on each team, and we'd expect the Eagles' penalties to go for about 50% more yardage than the Panthers' penalties. Nothing terribly shocking.
  2. So far, we don't have a good basis for expecting such a wide gap in penalties. But maybe teams play cleaner against the Eagles, for some reason?

    So, I did a little analysis of my own. Here's what I found:

    Do teams play cleaner than average against the Eagles? Not really; the league average through Week 5 was 7.02 penalties for 58.97 yards. My analysis demonstrates that the Eagles' 7 penalties for 65.4 yards is pretty much in line with the league average to that date, while the Eagles' opponents averaged 6.6 penalties for 58.4 yards--both figures are just a hair below the league average.

    My training in statistics tells me that there's clearly nothing unusual here, though anyone is welcome to run a more sophisticated analysis to double-check my instinct. I've provided a downloadable copy of my spreadsheet here for your nerdy statistical amusement, if you're so inclined.

    But my training in statistics ALSO tells me that something is horribly, horribly wrong in the red-highlighted Week 6.

    You can simply look at each week to observe that the only real outlier is Washington's 2 penalties for 15 yards in Week 1. In the Week 3 game against the Giants, both teams were penalized fairly heavily; otherwise, the 2-15 line is the only thing that really sticks out as unusual.

    And nobody complained about the penalty differential in that game, except maybe the usual grousing among friends, and/or on Twitter. Certainly no complaining of the magnitude that people are figuratively calling for the head of the lead referee, as they are now!
  3. My statistically-based conclusion is that the 2017 #PHIvsCAR game was officiated in an unusual way.

    But the stats can't tell us whether the Eagles just played a lousy, undisciplined game, or whether the refs were horrible. The game film, however, can shed light on the matter. And the GIFs and video included above demonstrate that the refs made some pretty serious errors.

    Also think back to the reaction of Philadelphia fans to the disparity in the Week 1 game against Washington. Did anybody really comment on biased officiating? No, they didn't. The penalties in that game (which I also watched) were pretty much called fairly. So, no, Eagles fans aren't just reacting like this to getting called for more penalties than the opposing team; people are reacting like this because it was plain to see that the game was clearly called unfairly.

    So, having watched the Philadelphia vs. Carolina game and having scrutinized the stats, I'd say that the refs really blew it! And they picked the wrong fan base to screw over (again!), because we're not letting it go. And neither are the roughly 75,000 people who have signed the petition.

    Just look at the top comment on that petition: Cliff Wilson signed despite being a Patriots fan, since he knows bad refereeing when he sees it. Cliff doesn't have an apparent reason to sign the petition, aside from wanting to see games officiated fairly.

OK, so maybe Pete Morelli has a bad history like the Eagles. But he's an otherwise competent ref, right? So just keep him away from Eagles games, like the petition says...

I wish it were as simple as Morelli having a random vendetta against the Eagles, or being on the take

But I doubt it. I think he's just colossally bad at his job. 
  1. Remember the 2014 playoffs, when the Cowboys beat the Lions in part because the refs made the head-scratchingly stupid decision to pick up the flag on an obvious pass interference call on Anthony Hitchens? Guess who the head ref was...

    Yep. You guessed correctly.

    Mike Pereira, former Director of Officiating for the NFL, agrees with everybody who isn't a total Cowboys homer and argues that the flag should not have been picked up. Oh, and he also pointed out that the crew missed Hitchens holding Pettigrew earlier on the same play!
  2. Morelli and his crew made several high-profile screw-ups in 2015, leading the NFL to break up Morelli's officiating crew before the 2016 season. Apparently, that's the most damning thing the NFL can do to a ref without firing him.

    By the way, according to this article by a lawyer, it appears that the NFL did not "maintain the right to bench under performing [sic] referees." She argues that the NFL's negotiated ability to hire full-time referees and to train and develop additional refs puts pressure on current referees to perform well since they can be replaced.

    Evidently not...
  3. Did Morelli's new officiating crew stop the screw-ups? No, it didn't. Steelers fans hate him, and Vikings fans really hate him for stuff like this, as well as the Vikings going 1-6 in the last 7 games that Morelli officiated.

    Even an anonymous "league source" said that penalties could be called on every play, and that the Eagles-Panthers game "can't be this much out of balance." The same article notes that the commonality appears to be that Morelli tends to call penalties disproportionately against the road team in any given game. 
And now the NFL Referees' Association (wait...the what?) and the NFL itself claim that there's no evidence that the calls were biased against the Eagles?

Yes, NFL. Yes, there is evidence. In fact, there's a mountain of evidence, as shown above. If this were a court of law, we'd be well past the standard of a preponderance of the evidence and arguably at the point of beyond reasonable doubt

Morelli and his crew did not call a fair game. And they have a history of failing to call fair games against a variety of teams, stretching back over multiple years--to the point that the NFL actually punished him in 2015 by breaking up his crew!

And they want to tell us that Morelli did, in fact, call a fair game? 


Despite what Morelli, the NFLRA, and the NFL may think, fans are not stupid. There's some evidence to suggest that people are pretty good at detecting unfairness, and we tend to react strongly to obvious injustice, particularly when it affects us personally in some way. Hence, the strong reaction to this preposterously biased job of officiating (not to mention the reactions to certain pre-game activities that seems to be hot news). 

And, to make matters worse, these refs are apparently getting paid close to $200,000 per year, plus benefits. That's quite a bit of money for part-time work; far more than many NFL fans earn in an entire year! For that kind of compensation, refs can put up with some boos from the home fans. And if they can't stand the heat, then they better get out of the kitchen!

Pete Morelli, do the right thing: retire. Not in a couple years, not after this season ends. Retire now. The fans who have made this league successful deserve to see a fair game. 

And if Morelli won't retire, then it's up to the NFL to do the right thing. Buy out Morelli's contract and take him off the field entirely, or at least demote him and promote another referee to be the new head ref...preferably an official who isn't going to be scared to call penalties against the home team because the crowd might be upset. 

The evidence shows that Morelli should have been forced out years ago. Fans, let's not put up with this any longer.

Because games shouldn't be decided by unfair refereeing.

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