4 things Eagles need to do better in 2nd half of 2018 NFL season

4 things Eagles need to do better in 2nd half of 2018 NFL season

As the Eagles got to enjoy their bye week, they were able sit back on Sunday afternoon and watch Washington get spanked by Atlanta 38-14. That dropped Washington’s record to 5-3 and the Eagles aren’t far behind at 4-4. 

With half of the season to go — and with two games against Washington left on the schedule — the Eagles are poised to make a run at the NFC East. Especially because they’ll get the Cowboys at home on a short week Sunday night. 

Sure, the Eagles have some tough games left (at New Orleans, at Los Angeles), but they have really winnable division games still on that schedule too. The division is there for the taking. 

But they’ll need to do these four things better if they want to get to the playoffs: 

Score more points

This one is pretty simple. The Eagles averaged over 28 points per game in their 2017 Super Bowl season. They’re scoring just 22.3 this season, which ranks 21st in the NFL. The scariest part of this is that Carson Wentz has been statistically great over the last four games and the Eagles are still floundering some offensively. Wentz has had a passer rating of over 115 in each of the last four games, but the Eagles are just 2-2 in that stretch. They eclipsed 30 points just once this season and that came against the Giants, who they will get one more time down the stretch. 

To put this offensive drought in perspective, the Eagles have reached 30 points once in eight games this season. They did it in 11 of 19 games last season, including the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. 

The Eagles clearly understood they needed to get better offensively and Howie Roseman delivered. Now, it’s up to Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh to figure out how to use Golden Tate. They should be able to; and adding a big-time player on offense ought to help things get going. 

Protect the QB 

Wentz has been playing great, but it’s hard for him to make plays from the seat of his pants. In six games this season, Wentz has been sacked 21 times (3.5 per game). He was sacked just 28 times in 13 games (2.15 per game) last season. After getting sacked just once against the Giants, he’s been sacked eight times in the last two games. This can’t continue. 

Obviously, a lot of blame needs to go to the offensive line, but they’re not alone. Some of it falls on Wentz and some of it falls on the running backs, who need to do a better job of pass protecting when they’re back there. 

Now, this won’t be super easy to fix, especially because right tackle Lane Johnson will likely be out at least a couple weeks as he heals from an MCL sprain. And on the other side, 36-year-old Jason Peters is playing through a partially torn biceps after already playing through a groin injury. That’s not ideal. But if Darren Sproles really is close to returning, he’ll be able to help. He’s the Eagles’ best third-down back and is a very good pass protector. 

Prevent big plays 

The Eagles have the fourth-best red zone defense in the NFL, giving up touchdowns just 41.4 percent of the time once opponents pass the Eagles’ 20-yard line. That’s great. But where the Eagles’ defense needs to improve is preventing big plays. They’ve given up seven plays of 40-plus yards this season; three have gone for touchdowns. Jalen Mills has given up several big plays this year and you’d think teams in the second half have seen the same tape we all have; they’re going to target him. 

The bright spot here is that without Rodney McLeod I thought these big plays were going to become even more frequent. McLeod, of course, was the deep centerfielder in this defense. But I’ve been incredibly impressed by rookie Avonte Maddox, who has taken over that role. 

Finish games stronger

The Eagles have lost four games this season. Two of them came after collapses where the Eagles had a two-touchdown lead in the second half. And it felt like they nearly gave up a lead in London to the Jaguars before the bye. The good news there is they didn’t. 

But finishing games doesn’t fall on just the defense. Sure, you’d like to see them clamp down late in games, but it’s a team effort in those situations. The defense has to be stout, but the offense has to score or at least get first downs and kill the clock and the coaching staff needs to figure out the right balance of staying aggressive, winding the clock when possible and not giving up big plays. 

It was pretty telling in that Jacksonville game that it kind of felt like the Eagles were going to blow it until the clock hit zero. That’s a feeling we didn’t have last season. When they got up, they finished games. This team needs to get back to that.

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Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Former Eagle Connor Barwin hired as special assistant to the general manager

Connor Barwin spent a lot of time at the Eagles’ complex the last couple months of the season, and now we know exactly why.

The Eagles on Friday afternoon announced that Barwin, who spent four years playing for the Eagles, has joined the team's front office in the role of special assistant to the general manager.

I'm done playing football, but my football career is not over," Barwin said in an interview on the team’s web site. "I want to stay involved. I want to help this team wherever I can and also learn the other side of the game from the coaches and the personnel side. There's still a lot that I can learn about the on-field part of the game, as well. I love being around the game. I still want to win a Super Bowl, multiple Super Bowls.

According to the Eagles’ web site, Barwin will work with the player personnel staff during the offseason and work on player development during the season, with an emphasis on mentoring players making the challenging transition from college to the NFL.

Barwin, 33, retired after spending last year with the Giants. He began his career with the Texans before signing a six-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles before the 2013 season.

He spent four of those seasons here and made his only Pro Bowl in 2014, when he had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks - the most by any Eagle over the last eight seasons.

Despite playing only four years here, Barwin ranks 15th in franchise history with 31 1/2 sacks, tied with Mike Mamula.

When Chip Kelly and his staff were fired after the 2015 season and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz switched from a 3-4 defense under Bill Davis to a 4-3, Barwin moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. He had five sacks in 2016 and was released after the season.

Barwin spent 2017 with the Rams and 2018 with the Giants. He had 56 1/2 sacks in 10 seasons.

"I got to play for a bunch of really great coaches and look inside how other organizations are run," Barwin said. "That's some insight that I can bring to the Eagles."

Even after he left the Eagles, Barwin always considered Philadelphia home. He has made a huge impact in the community with his Make the World a Better Place foundation, which refurbishes and rebuilds parks and rec centers in Philadelphia.

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Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

Eagles reportedly interviewing Graham Harrell for offensive coordinator job

We have a new and interesting name in contention to be the Eagles’ next offensive coordinator.

The Eagles on Friday interviewed Southern California offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.

This is an interesting approach from the Eagles and Harrell would certainly qualify as an outside-the-box hire. 

Harrell, 34, spent last season at USC but notably has an extensive history with Mike Leach and his Air Raid Offense. Harrell played for Leach at Texas Tech from 2004-08 before going to the CFL and NFL and then coached under Leach at Washington State from 2014-15. 

So Harrell would likely be able to bring some new and potentially exciting concepts to Doug Pederson’s offense. Remember, Jeff Stoutland is the Eagles’ run game coordinator, which meant that Mike Groh was pretty much the pass game coordinator for the last two seasons before he was fired. Since he wouldn’t call plays, that would basically be Harrell’s role if he got the job in Philly. 

At USC, Harrell was hired by head coach Clay Helton when Kliff Kingsbury left after a month to take the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. USC wanted to have an Air Raid style, so they turned to Harrell. 

In his one year as the offensive coordinator at USC, the Trojans improved drastically in major statistical categories on offense from 2018: 

Points per game: 26.1 to 32.5
Yards per game: 382.6 to 454.0 
Passing yards per game: 248.2 to 335.8  

Check out this interesting excerpt from an Aug. 1 story in Sports Illustrated about Harrell’s hire at USC and his thoughts on the offensive system he comes with:

“People hear Air Raid and they think five wide receivers, no tight ends, 60 pass attempts and 50 points a game. To Harrell, the Air Raid is something else. It is working to death a small number of plays, with shorter playcalls, perfecting those plays and out-executing — not out-scheming — the opponent. Option-based coaches, like former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, operate under similar mentalities, but with a different focus: rushing the football. Leach does it through the air. “You can’t do everything. I think a lot of people try to take a little bit of everything offensively,” Harrell says. “If you do that, you don’t have much of an identity. You’re just O.K. at everything and not really good at something.”

At times over the last few seasons, the Eagles have found success after simplifying. They’ve also found success using an up-tempo pace to get Carson Wentz into a rhythm. These seem like concepts that would mesh with Harrell’s philosophy. 

And we also know that Pederson values coaches who, like himself, were once players. After he left Texas Tech, Harrell played one season (but was injured) for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and then was a backup quarterback in Green Bay for a few seasons and with the New York Jets for a season in 2013. Harrell’s only NFL game action came in 2012 as a member of the Packers. He played in four games and threw just four career passes. 

Since then, though, he’s been a quick riser in the coaching world. And he has some fresh ideas that might help an Eagles offense that has been far too stagnant at times over the last couple seasons. 

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