Barrett Brooks

Similarities between 2017 Eagles and 2005 Steelers

ap-nick-foles-jay-ajayi-jerome-bettis-eagles-steelers.jpg
AP Images

Similarities between 2017 Eagles and 2005 Steelers

Playoff football is here, baby! 

Six out of my 12 years in the NFL, I was blessed to be a part of the playoffs. My first two years with the Eagles, one year with the Lions, a year with the Giants and two with the Steelers.

During those playoff games I was one and done three times, done in the divisional round once, in the championship game twice, and I won Super Bowl XL.

As I watch the Eagles enter this divisional round, it brought me back to experiences that I will never forget. One impressive game was the Steelers at the Colts in the 2005 season. I remember the game clearly, as I looked across the sideline at Peyton Manning in his prime against our defense. There were so many key matchups in this battle with the Colts. Outside LB Joey Porter against perennial All-Pro left tackle Tarik Glenn. DT Casey Hampton against All-Pro center Jeff Saturday. The list of Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers on the field was evident, and it was very apparent at that point that this was a game for the ages.

When not on the field, I made it a point to take in the moment. I realized that I was in a special moment in my career, not because I was in my 11th year, but more so because I understood that there was something special going on. I knew we were going to win the Super Bowl because everything fell into place. This was the game when Jerome Bettis fumbled and Big Ben made the shoestring, saving tackle. 

I was at goal-line TE going into the end zone. Jerome was never a fumbler, and we ran 16 power to the right — our bread and butter play. Alan Faneca, our Pro-Bowl left guard, pulled to the right. All I had to do was cut the DE in the end zone. It was a guaranteed six points, and Bettis fumbled. Wow, what a play by Big Ben. 

This was one of the many plays during the year that led to Super Bowl XL in Detriot, Bettis' hometown. We as a team had to send JB into retirement with a ring. I just knew there was something special about this team going into the playoffs as a 6-seed.

Well ... Philadelphia, I feel like this team has the same mojo going on this year. I'm not saying that my Birds are going to the big game, but the Eagles have taken the next-man-up philosophy to a different level. Losing All-Pro players and future Hall of Famers throughout the season and still entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed is an unbelievable accomplishment.

So I wrote all this to say, make sure you don't lose sight of the moment. Take in the experience of a top-seeded Eagles team ready to fight the odds and naysayers. It can be done as long as the 53 men and coaches believe, even when no one else does.

How Eagles must protect Nick Foles from Raiders' force of nature

usa-khalil-mack-raiders.jpg
USA Today Images

How Eagles must protect Nick Foles from Raiders' force of nature

The Eagles faithful had a reason to relax a little bit with the way QB Nick Foles played last week. He is a very capable leader in this offense and showed the ability to transition the game plan to suit his style of play. There was not much difference in the play-calling and head coach Doug Pederson was comfortable opening up the offense and pushing the ball down the field. The reason for the offensive success was the O-line protected him and allowed the passing plays to progress to the second and third reads. 

An upright Foles is a talented player when he is afforded the time in the pocket. We all know he is not as fleet of foot as a Carson Wentz or Big Ben, but Foles has a very strong arm. He throws catchable balls to his receivers, whereas playing with a QB like Wentz or Ben changes your mentality and the dynamics of the launch point of where the ball is being thrown. They can be anywhere evading and escaping the pass rush, looking downfield for the big play.

Blocking for Nick Foles is a bit different. He will be where he is expected to be: in the pocket. The O-line knows that Foles will be three, five or seven steps back inside the pocket, which at times makes it easier to block for him. The only thing is that the defense also knows this. He will be standing back in the pocket like a sitting duck. 

The Eagles' O-line changed up the blocking schemes a little bit. They were able to protect the left side of the line with blocking and aggressive pass sets. You can do that against the Giants, who are at this point ranked 32nd — last in the NFL — in total defense.

This week's defense, the Oakland Raiders, are not much better, ranked 21st in total defense. But they do have last year's Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack. Mack has recorded a sack in each of the last five games, with two against Dallas last week. He will mix things up for the Eagles because he plays on both sides of the defensive line. Mack beat All-Pro Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith for a sack with an inside pass rush last week, then beat former All-Pro tight end Jason Witten for a sack on the right side.

The Eagles must run protections that slide to the left, protecting the left tackle's side from Mack's pass rush on the inside move. The perfect protection to help both sides is called 2 Jet, Fox 2 or Hound 2 protections. This would mean sliding the protection to the left side if Mack lines up over the left tackle, but it also sends a running back to the right tackle as a chip blocker, helping the All-Pro right side.

I loved this protection because it's a six-man protection, meaning the five O-linemen and an RB frontside to chip. Slide protection should be a major staple in this week's play-calling — protect Foles' front side with a chipper and his backside with the O-line sliding to help the left tackle.

Major props and congratulations to the right side of the Eagles' line. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks both made their first Pro Bowl and it is well-deserved.

Even without Wentz, Eagles will chuck it

Even without Wentz, Eagles will chuck it

The question that everyone is waiting to get answered is can Nick Foles lead this team into the postseason by clinching home-field advantage and a first-round bye?

Winning two of the final three games will give the Eagles both home field and the bye. Also, an Eagles win and a Vikings loss this weekend would accomplish both of those goals, as well. 

And I am confident in Foles' ability to lead this team. His challenge will be to get the ball to his playmakers. This is the difference between Foles and Carson Wentz. Wentz is the playmaker. Foles has to be the facilitator for the playmakers. Our expectations for Foles have to be focused on just that — a facilitator.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has lost his best offensive playmaker, but he believes in his new starting QB's ability to throw the ball. In fact, I see the Eagles’ offense throwing more because of the trust Pederson has in his veteran QB. So, I know everyone is dead set on the Birds running, but I would put money on Pederson's run-to-pass ratio being 2-to-1 in favor of passing.

There are playmakers everywhere in this offense on which Foles can rely:

• Alshon Jeffrey — 50/50 ball, red-zone threat.

• Nelson Agholor — slot WR and explosive player.

• Zach Ertz — red-zone threat and more than likely Foles' security blanket to pick up first downs.

• Corey Clement — screen game and red-zone threat.

But more importantly, the other phases of the team will have to adjust to Wentz's absence.

The defense may have to play more reps throughout the course of a game. Wentz was unbelievable at extending drives with his scrambling and picking up the first down. At times, picking up the first down on a 3rd-and-8 was as easy as 3rd-and-2 to this offense.

So, how aggressive will the Eagles be in 3rd-and-longs? It is a little easier to be aggressive with Wentz at the helm, which means, the defense will have to step up. There will be more reps for the defense during games. It may be up to 10 more plays for this defense in a game. That’s 10 more opportunities the opposing QBs will have to execute with their offense.

Coach Dave Fipp will also need to get his special teams back on track after struggling in punt protect against the Rams last week. Having a punt blocked and allowing good returns for the better part of the last few games forced the Eagles to bring back special teams guru Bryan Braman.