The 7 most important Eagles after the trade deadline

The 7 most important Eagles after the trade deadline

You can’t fault Eagles executive vice president/general manager Howie Roseman for failing to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline. It sounded like teams were asking for an awful lot in return, and the only thing worse than doing nothing is swapping a high draft pick for a rental who doesn’t truly make a difference — see Golden Tate, 2018.

Now the Eagles must somehow improve with only the talent already on the roster. Fortunately, this is not out of the realm of possibility! Most everybody associated with the franchise has been more productive or performed at a higher level at some point within the last two years, which suggests there are members of this squad who have the capacity to play better.

The Eagles need more from the following people if they’re not only going to make the playoffs, but to have any prayer of winning another Super Bowl.

Carson Wentz

It goes without saying the quarterback is imperative to most any team’s success. In this case, he’s also way, way down the list of what’s wrong with the Eagles in 2019. Still, Wentz has been a B-plus player for much of this season, and this squad needs him to be an A.

Jim Schwartz

It seems like Schwartz is the scapegoat whenever something is amiss with the Eagles’ defense when, truth be told, he hasn’t been given much to work with the first half of this season. Nevertheless, the defensive coordinator needs to find a way to generate a consistent pass rush and figure out which group of cornerbacks can actually cover.

On the bright side, he’s done it before. Schwartz took a secondary with Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc at cornerback and Tre Sullivan and ancient Corey Graham at one safety spot and transformed it into a playoff-caliber unit almost overnight in 2018. Even this season, the Eagles won games with players who are no longer on the roster.

Schwartz’s job doesn’t even seem that difficult this time around as key players continue to get healthy. Now he needs to figure out how to tie it all together, because allowing 24 points per game is not good enough.

Doug Pederson

I was beginning to believe there might be some truth to the theory the rest of the NFL was catching up to Pederson. Maybe he caught lightning in a bottle with the run-pass option or RPO-based offense at a time when it was still somewhat innovative, or maybe the schemes weren’t evolving quickly enough from 2017, which is an eternity in the NFL.

The Bills game appeared to prove that wrong. Pederson not only made adjustments but showed imagination with his play designs. The latter was never more evident than Miles Sanders’ touchdown run out of a two-back formation that utilized Jordan Howard as a lead blocker (see film review). Even just the sheer amount Wentz lined up under center on Sunday showed an adjustment on the part of the head coach.

There are times Pederson needs to scheme guys free or outcoach the other sideline. Last week, he looked up to the task, but his job will only get harder in the playoffs against opponents arguably more talented than the Eagles.

Ronald Darby/Jalen Mills

Say what you want about the Eagles' cornerbacks — the team won a Super Bowl with Darby and Mills as the starters, right? And based on what we’ve seen from the rest of the group, they’re probably still the best options the defense has on the outside.

No, they’re not exactly Jalen Ramsey and Darius Slay, but Darby and Mills are NFL-caliber players when healthy, which is more than can be said for some of the corners who have been rostered this season. If they’re healthy, there’s no reason to think they can’t contribute, either, as both are only 25 years old and should be motivated in contract years.

But it also comes down the alternative. The Eagles are relying on Darby and Mills because Rasul Douglas is slow, Avonte Maddox is inexperienced and Sidney Jones looks lost. Darby and Mills don’t even have to be great to be better than the guys the Eagles have been trotting out there since the middle of last season.

DeSean Jackson

The Eagles need Jackson back on the field in the worst way. The offense simply isn’t as dynamic without a vertical threat, and the same was true last season.

Torrey Smith didn’t post great numbers in 2017 but his speed kept defenses honest, the impact of which was felt by the other receivers. Alshon Jeffery averaged 13.8 yards per reception in ’17 (with a bum shoulder), compared to 13.0 yards last season and 10.6 so far this season. Nelson Agholor averaged 12.4 in ’17, 11.5 last season and 9.0 this season. Heck, Sanders, a running back, is second on the team right now with a whopping 14.4 yards per catch.

The Eagles lacked the ability to stretch the field on a consistent basis for quite awhile, and nobody is better at doing precisely that than Jackson, who trails only Jerry Rice for the most touchdowns over 50 yards in NFL history. Who knows what the story is with the mystery “abdomen” ailment — just keep your fingers crossed it’s healed, because he’s a difference-maker.

Fletcher Cox

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Eagles' defense the previous two seasons and in particular last year compared to 2019 is Cox. Sure, the line received more production from Michael Bennett and Chris Long than it has from Derek Barnett (though he isn’t playing poorly), Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat, but in part because of all the disruption up the middle.

Cox finished 2018 with 10.5 sacks and was second in the NFL with 34 quarterback hits. And that was largely while playing alongside the likes of Haloti Ngata, Treyvon Hester, Destiny Vaeao and Bruce Hector, so while it will be nice to get Tim Jernigan back, the injuries are no excuse.

Cox needs to dominate. When he’s pushing the pocket, the ends get home because the quarterback has nowhere to go, and the linebackers and defensive backs aren’t in coverage as long. The good news is Cox is improving, with 2.5 sacks in the Eagles’ last two games, but he’s still nowhere near the force he’s been in previous seasons, which is what this team has really been missing.

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Lane Johnson says one awful Eagles game made him shave his head for good

Lane Johnson says one awful Eagles game made him shave his head for good

Lane Johnson is officially in offseason mode, and he kicked off Pro Bowl week - which he's now officially part of - by showing up on former teammate Chris Long's podcast and shooting the breeze for an hour.

The duo bantered about plenty, from dealing with failure and ego as football players, to Johnson's time as a grave digger. About halfway through, Johnson offered up a seldom-heard explanation for his hairstyle, or lackthereof.

Johnson, of course, famously keeps his hair short (read: nonexistent) on top, and keeps his beard long. He explained to Long that it took some serious self-reflection, and a couple rough games early in his rookie season, to officially start shaving his head:

I was in college, it was my senior year, and my friend goes, 'Bro, are you f***ing losing your hair?' I said, what are you talking about? Then I went to the mirror, and I'd clearly been in denial for some time. I said, 'Bro, this s*** is terrible.' 

So I played with it my senior year, it was bad. I'd comb it over, wear my hats, feather it out in the back, try to look cool. Then I got to the Eagles, and after getting bull-rushed by Dwight Freeney and giving up three sacks to Justin Houston, I just shaved that s*** off. I've been a different man ever since.

The Eagles, you might remember, lost in Week 2 that year to Freeney's Chargers, and then lost in Week 3 to Houston's Chiefs, to fall to 1-3. They went 9-3 the rest of the way, a startling and fun turnaround. I'm not saying it's all thanks to Johnson shaving his head... but maybe?

That's about as good a reason as I can think of to make a hairstyle change. Johnson has been one of the best right tackles in the NFL since he started shaving his head, so maybe he's on to something. He spends very little time focusing on his hair, and plenty of time focusing on his game.

When you go back and look at Johnson with hair, it's... extremely jarring:

Johnson is basically unrecognizable in that video. He looks like a child! Thank goodness for Freeney and Houston shellacking Johnson as a rookie, or he might still be clinging to that brutal hairdo.

Maybe Johnson should've floated this idea to the Eagles' coaching staff years ago. Who knows what a haircut could've done for Nelson Agholor?

You can listen to, and watch, the full conversation between Johnson and Long below:

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Eagles reportedly getting close to hiring Marquand Manuel as DBs coach

Eagles reportedly getting close to hiring Marquand Manuel as DBs coach

The Eagles are reportedly getting close to filling at least one of their four vacant coaching jobs. 

According to ESPN, the Eagles have interviewed former Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel for their defensive backs coach position and “a deal could happen as early as today.” 

The Eagles are looking for a new DBs coach after Cory Undlin, who held the position for five seasons, left to take the defensive coordinator position under Matt Patricia in Detroit. The Eagles’ other vacancies are at offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach and defensive line coach. 

The Eagles have also reportedly interviewed Browns DBs coach DeWayne Walker for the vacant DBs coach position. 

Whoever gets the job is going to have some work ahead of them. The Eagles’ secondary has plenty of questions marks heading into the 2020 season. Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod are all set to be free agents. Malcolm Jenkins wants a new contract. And Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones are former high-round draft picks who couldn’t get on the field in a playoff game. 

Manuel, 40, comes with a relatively impressive resume. He was the Falcons’ defensive coordinator from 2017-18 and before that was their secondary coach from 2015-16. He began his coaching career with the Seahawks as a low-level assistant and was eventually the assistant secondary coach. He also had an eight-year NFL career at safety as a sixth-round pick; Doug Pederson values former players on his coaching staff. 

When Dan Quinn took the Falcons’ head coaching job in 2015, he brought Manuel with him and promoted him to DBs coach. He then promoted him again two years later. So Manuel has been coaching in that Cover 3 scheme for years. The Eagles use many zone concepts. 

Here’s what Quinn said about Manuel before the 2018 season, via Falcons.com: 

From the time I've met him from now, one thing that's cool to see that has stayed consistent is the energy and enthusiasm he has for players. He made the transition from player to coach really seamlessly because he knew the boundaries of coach, but he also stepped across to say, I can push you. That's not easy to do. He's always had mental quickness of a quarterback or someone who gets concepts really quickly. That transferred into this coaching fast. He can communicate concepts and ideas quickly to people on the run, in the moment, that's a really valuable asset as a coach.

During Manuel’s four years in Atlanta, both as DBs coach and defensive coordinator, the Falcons had the 24th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. But in his second season in Atlanta, the Falcons went to the Super Bowl. He was promoted after that season. But after two years as DC, Manuel was fired by the Falcons after the 2018 season and was not in the NFL in 2019 as Quinn took back DC responsibilities. 

This would be an important hire for the Eagles and it sounds like they’re getting close to making it. 

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