Eagles 2019 breakout candidate: Derek Barnett needs to pick up where he left off

Eagles 2019 breakout candidate: Derek Barnett needs to pick up where he left off

This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at five young Eagles who have a chance to enjoy a “breakout season” in 2019. 

Up first: Derek Barnett 

Age: 23 

How acquired: 2017 first-round pick 

Entering: Year 3 

You could really argue that Barnett had already started his breakout season in 2018 but got hurt. His torn rotator cuff forced him to get surgery and end his season far too early. 

His numbers in 2018 didn’t look great; he had 16 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in six games, but those last two games he was already hurt. So, I’m going to break down his shortened 2018 season even more. In four games, before the injury, Barnett had 13 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks; he was the Eagles best defensive end to that point. (He played his last two games of 2018 with a bum shoulder after missing a week.) 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in May noted that Barnett was playing at a high level before the injury in 2018. 

“With him,” Schwartz said, “it’s a matter of picking up where he left off.” 

So Barnett was on pace for a season with 52 tackles and 10 sacks. That might not sound elite, but just 10 players in the league put up those numbers last season: Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt, Danielle Hunter, Dee Ford, T.J. Watt, Jason Pierre-Paul, DeForest Buckner, Bradley Chubb, Calais Campbell and DeMarcus Lawrence. I’m not suggesting Barnett was — or will be — as good as some of those players, but he was on pace to be in their company. 

Maybe it’s unfair to extrapolate Barnett’s production from four games to an entire season — it is a relatively small sample size — but this is a guy who went in the first round for a reason. He has that type of talent. So I’m more inclined to believe what I saw in those four games is real, that Barnett was starting to tap into the talent that made him the 14th pick in 2017, as opposed to thinking he was off to a flukey good start to 2018. In fact, he went sack-less in his first two starts of 2018 and had 2 1/2 in Week 3 and Week 4 before the injury, so you can even argue he was still trending up before he got hurt. 

And we know Barnett will have opportunity. Despite missing spring practices as he continues to recover from that shoulder surgery, Barnett is going to be a starter this season and he’s going to play a ton. Barnett and Brandon Graham are the Eagles’ starters, while Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and possibly Shareef Miller are set to be their backups. The Eagles aren’t nearly as deep at the position as they were a year ago, when they began the season with Michael Bennett and Chris Long coming off the bench, so they’re really counting on Barnett to have a big year. 

And head coach Doug Pederson last month specifically praised Barnett for working hard to return from his injury. It’s kind of hard to stand out when you’re injured, but Barnett did it this spring. 

The crazy thing is that Barnett, who already has two NFL seasons under his belt, just turned 23 on June 25. The Eagles have three rookies this summer who are 24. Because he was a first-round pick, the Eagles have control of Barnett’s rights through the 2021 season, at which time he’ll still be just 25 with five years of experience. If 2019 is a breakout season for Barnett, the Eagles could be getting a great player for a long time. 

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Doug Pederson says assistant coaches will be held accountable

Doug Pederson says assistant coaches will be held accountable

As the Eagles sit at 5-7, a popular discussion topic this week is about the future of their coaching staff. It’s a natural conversation to have.

While it seems unlikely Doug Pederson is going anywhere (Reuben Frank’s numbers back this up), it also seems very possible that there could be some major coaching staff changes coming this offseason. I even went through some of the names earlier this week.

And on Thursday, as Pederson was explaining his message to the team for this week, he brought up the performance of the coaching staff unprompted.

“It’s as much on us as coaches as it is on players,” Pederson said. “So I look to that as well. We’re responsible for how our players play and that starts with me. I hold my coaches accountable first and then obviously it goes down to the players.”

So how are assistant coaches held accountable?

“You hold them accountable by the way their position plays, No. 1,” Pederson said.

Pederson said that after the season, he’s evaluated by his bosses first. But then he evaluates every member of his own staff.

“It’s primarily myself,” Pederson said, when asked who evaluates his assistants. “Obviously, again, I’m going to be evaluated first. And then I can evaluate the staff from there.”

Obviously, there are some mitigating circumstances for these position coaches, like injury and expectations based on talent level. But the primary way to evaluate, for instance, a linebackers coach, is to evaluate how the linebackers have performed.

Pederson on Thursday said he’s very transparent about this process.

“I’m up front with the coaches from Day 1, from all the way back to OTAs, when we’re coming out of that offseason, before OTAs,” Pederson said. “I make a statement with the coaches and I’m probably giving you more information than you need, but I want to be up front with them as well. I say, ‘Listen, your performance is based on your players and how well they perform.’”

Last offseason, after a 9-7 record and a playoff win, the Eagles moved on from receivers coach Gunter Brewer and defensive line coach Chris Wilson. In both cases, the Eagles hired the assistant position coach already on staff to replace them.

That’s been a common theme during the Pederson Era, when coaches leave, their replacement has oftentimes come from within the building. That promotes morale, but maybe it limits the amount of fresh ideas coming to the team.

The Eagles are focused on the last four games of the 2019 season and they should be; the playoffs are still in play. But there will be — and should be — some tough decisions coming once the season ends.

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How the loss of Jordan Howard has damaged the Eagles

How the loss of Jordan Howard has damaged the Eagles

Jordan Howard still hasn’t been cleared for contact nearly five weeks after he hurt his shoulder, and at this point it certainly seems more likely than not that he will miss a fourth straight game when the Eagles face the Giants Monday night at the Linc.

A lot of factors have contributed to the Eagles’ three-game losing streak, but Howard’s absence is an under-rated huge one.

The Eagles were 5-4 and averaging 23 points per game with the fourth-year running back, and they’re 0-3 and averaging less than 17 points without him.

With Howard on the field, the Eagles were controlling the clock and keeping defenses off-balance. Doug Pederson spoke more than once about how an authoritative running attack had become the team’s identity.

That identity no longer exists.

Howard injured his shoulder in the win over the Bears on Nov. 3.

Pederson didn't mention Howard's injury after the game or the next day, and when the Eagles went into the bye there was no reason to believe it was serious.

Pederson first referred to Howard's injury as a “stinger,” or nerve damage in the shoulder area, on Nov. 15, nearly two weeks after Howard first got hurt.

Howard has practiced on a limited basis since the injury, but Pederson said Thursday he still hasn’t been cleared for contact and said there’s no change in his status.

Although rookie Miles Sanders has played very well, the Eagles miss Howard tremendously.

Through nine games, he was 14th in the NFL with 525 rushing yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Most importantly, he was moving the chains and getting in the end zone.

Going into Week 10, he had rushed for 28 first downs, 14th-most in the league (despite averaging just 13 carries per game), and he had six rushing TDs, 6th-most in the league.

In the three games Howard has missed, Sanders has averaged 4.6 yards per carry but has only 40 carries as Pederson has moved away from the running game.

The Eagles don’t have a rushing touchdown since Howard got hurt.

Interesting to note that in the nine games Howard played, the Eagles ranked 5th in the NFL in time of possession at 32:13 per game. Without Howard, they’re 13th at 30:44.

There are obviously other factors, but the Eagles’ offensive scoring is also down dramatically without Howard, from 23.3 to 16.7.

And most notably, instead of increasing Sanders’ workload with Sanders out, Pederson has simply decided not to run nearly as much.

In the nine games with Howard, the Eagles had the 6th-most rushing attempts in the NFL and a 55-45 pass-run ratio.

In the three games without Howard, the Eagles have the 3rd-FEWEST rushing attempts in the NFL and a 69-31 pass-run ratio.

The Eagles, who have lost running backs Corey Clement and Darren Sproles to season-ending injuries, signed Jay Ajayi a few weeks ago, but he’s only averaging 3.1 yards on eight carries so far.

When can we expect to see Howard?

It’s impossible to tell.

Pederson said Thursday he doesn’t expect this injury to be season-ending, but the season is over in 24 days, and Howard hasn’t played in 32 days.

Adding to the equation is the fact that Howard is scheduled to become a free agent after this season and the Eagles need to decide whether to offer him a long-term deal or not.

The season is slipping away, the Eagles haven’t won a game in over a month and one of the players they miss the most remains sidelined with an injury that won't go away.

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