Tom, Eagles' blogger at eagleseyeblog.com, answered questions about the battle for first place in the NFC East.
1. At UltimateNYG, we believe the late Jim Johnson was one of the best defensive coordinators of all time. His successor Sean McDermott was criticized last season because the defense did not play well. Has McDermott made necessary adjustments to improve his defense? Uncharacteristically, the Eagles are giving up a lot of points. (23.2 points per game, 22nd in the league)…
EE: McDermott was stymied from the get-go in 2009 with a disabled MLB (Stewart Bradley, torn ACL in preseason) and a hobbled left corner (Sheldon Brown, all kinds of ankle, neck and shoulder injuries)…and except for DE Trent Cole, not enough push in the front four to generate a meaningful pass rush…Now he’s got Antonio Dixon busting things up at DT, Brandon Graham helping out Juqua Parker on the opposite DE side of things, a rejuvenated Bradley at MLB, a new FS in Nate Allen, and some refreshing corner play from Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson. So the adjustments made by McDermott are mostly seen in personnel changes. Many of those points allowed have been in “prevent defense” time of games where the Eagles had big leads…And frankly, Special Teams have constantly put the defense on a short field. ST play on kickoffs has been horrible prior to the past two games. But that problem seems to have been addressed and rectified with the acquisition of some new ST specialists off the waiver wires.
2. Is RDE Trent Cole licking his chops? The Giants offensive line is a mash unit. David Diehl and Shaun O' Hara are out. Reserve Adam Koets is done for the year. And on Wednesday, suffering with back problems, former Eagle Shawn Andrews did not practice. At this time, his status for Sunday's game is uncertain. If Andrews does not play, the Giants are left with William Beatty at left tackle and
Kevin Boothe at left guard. Yikes!! What do you think McDermott will do to attack this Giants offense?
EE: I think Trent Cole is preparing for war with Shawn Andrews, but it’s so up-in-the-air whether Andrews starts or plays at all, it will boil down to Cole just relying upon technique and his classic swim moves to get to the pocket, no matter who’s lined up against him. As Dave Spadaro at PE.com says,
New York is as balanced and as explosive as any offense in the league. The Eagles must pressure Manning and hit him without giving up big plays on the back end. The first priority, though, is Bradshaw. He has emerged as a Pro Bowl force who has quickness and power. The Giants run an excellent scheme and are averaging more than 30 points per game in the last six weeks. This is a legit offense. You wonder if McDermott would match up Asante Samuel with Nicks just a little bit more than usual, but that has never been the style of this defense. Patterson matches up better physically with Nicks than does Hobbs, but Hobbs has that veteran experience going against a young receiver.
3. Can you inform us how Steve Spagnuolo became defensive coordinator of the Giants? How in the world would Andy Reid let this guy go? Do you know who in the Giants organization obtained him? Coughlin? Reese?
EE: Andy Reid would never hinder an associate staffer from moving up in the NFL. Spagnuolo began his coaching career in 1999 with the Eagles as a linebackers and DB coach. Spags knew by 2006-07 that Jim Johnson wasn’t going to retire soon or go anywhere else. Spags was ready to step up and spread his wings as a defensive coordinator. Andy gave him his blessing and said, “ I think the Vikings and the Giants may be interested in promoting you.” Now, this was the end of the 2006 season, and Giants’ fans may remember, the Giants started out 6-2 but ended up 8-8…yet still made the playoffs. Philly beat the G-Men 23-20 in the wild-card. If you follow the time-line after that, Tom Coughlin was given a somewhat shaky one-year extension as head coach by the Giants on January 10, 2007. GM Ernie Acorsi resigned. Coughlin almost immediately fired Giants’ DC Tim Lewis on January 10…and began recruiting Spags to replace him. Brad Childress was also after Spags for the Vikings at the same time. New GM Jerry Reese was not hired by the Giants until January 17. Coughlin already had Spags on the line by then. Spags signs with the Giants on January 21, 2007. So I think it’s safe to say Coughlin went out and got Spags and basically put his own job on the line by making that move without waiting for Reese to initiate a broader search.
4. After his superb performance on Monday Night Football, Michael Vick is all the rave. Apparently, after watching the game tape of Vick, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin became nauseated. Can Vick keep up his flawless play? If he continues playing at this high level, do the Eagles plan on signing him to a long term deal? Do they plan on keeping Kevin Kolb?
EE: The NFL seems to be about “trending” right now…two weeks ago, all the talk was about Eli and the Giants being the best in the NFC…now it’s suddenly trended to Vick and the Eagles because of two monster performances by “Starship 7”… It’s almost comical. Yes, Vick has elevated his game…he actually has studied and worked at being a QB for the first time in his life. He’s admitted that publicly. But the reality remains--- he’s still just one big hit away from becoming irrelevant. That’s why Andy Reid says having two “starter quality” QB’s on your roster is the new paradigm in the NFL. That’s where Kolb’s value comes in, too. The guy could start and manage an offense effectively for at least half of the teams in the league right now. That’s what Reid calls “a beautiful thing”… So that’s why I say Reid wants to keep them both. But with the impending owner-players’ union negotiations coming up, it’s almost impossible to predict what the Eagles would pay to sign both Vick and Kolb to long-term deals. I think the Eagles just want to get through 2010 and then see what’s happening with the union contract from there…
5. Last season, the Eagles struggled in the red zone. They were 23rd in the league in Red Zone TD%. What was the problem? And has Reid and Mornhinweg corrected this problem?
EE: The problem was lousy execution by a tattered and torn offensive line. There was no more Tra Thomas, no more Jon Runyan…both released by the Eagles prior to the season. There was no push left on the OL. The Eagles couldn’t push through a 3rd-and-2 or 4th –and-1…center Jamaal Jackson was hurt and lost for the playoffs…the Andrews brothers disappeared…back-up linemen like Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles did their best to substitute, but to not much avail. False-start penalties and problems getting the plays in abounded. It was a mess. We started calling it “The Pink Zone” in Philly. This season, when Vick's in the game, Red Zone efficiency has improved greatly...mostly due to the fact that the O-Line, with 3rd-year pro Mike McGlynn at center and a healthy Jason Peters and Todd Herremans on the left side, has gotten a lot more push...and of course, Vick becomes an extra runnning back. But if Kolb's in the game at QB, all bets are off, and Red Zone is still the Twilight Zone for the Eagles
6. How do you think Mornhinweg will attack the number 2 defense in the NFL? At UltimateNYG, time and again, we have put a spotlight on the lack of quality Giants linebackers. Will Mornhinweg feature TE Brent Celek? Celek has had stellar games against the Giants.
EE: I think Celek will not be a factor much at all…it seems Celek is having a downturn in his personal game. He seems to have trouble holding on to the ball after absorbing an initial hit these days. They’re not going much to Celek anymore…unless this is the ultimate decoy set-up to turn him loose. What the Eagles will probably do on offense is a combination of play-action deep drops by Vick to give him time to make his read on the safeties and the linebackers, and a bunch of quick hits into the line by LeSean McCoy and Jerome Harrison. I think the Eagles want to establish a running game of sorts against the Giants. They want to neutralize the Giants’ excellent front four. Once they have the Giants’ DL somewhat neutralized, then Vick will go into his roll-outs and his deep throws to his wide receivers. His hot read, of course, will be: take off!
7. Besides DeSean Jackson ( the next "Crazy Legs" Hirsch) and Jeremy Maclin, let us not forget about WR Jason Avant. How has Avant played this year? Are the coaches happy with his play? Recall, in the 2009 Divisional playoff, Avant was the receiver who caught the infamous 3rd and long which was a hinge play. His clutch catch, without question, allowed the Eagles to keep a drive alive and was the difference maker in their playoff matchup.
EE: Avant has been running a lot of “clear-out” routes this season to date…he’s a terrific team player so it doesn’t seem to bother him that he’s getting less feature plays. It’s just that Maclin has emerged as such a good possession receiver in his own right, with the extra ability to blow by corners and get yards-after-catch, Avant has receded into more of a supporting role. It’s a bit of a shame in that Avant is possibly the Derek Mason of the NFC, i.e., a great hands and possession receiver. The good news is---he’s still healthy and always available.
8. In my opinion, Andy Reid is the second best coach in the NFL. Besides being a master of game adjustments, he has an eye for talent. Of the 2010 draft class, which Eagles rookie or rookies have made an impact?
EE: It’s been an amazing Draft Class of 2010---all of the Eagles’ 13 draft picks have made the team and most are contributing in a significant way, except for DE Ricky Sapp, who’s on the IR. Rookie Nate Allen is the starting free safety. LB’s Jamar Chaney and Keenan Clayton are ST contributors. Safety Kurt Coleman started last week in place of Nate Allen who was nursing a sore neck. WR Riley Cooper has helped out on ST and has caught a TD pass. DE Brandon Graham (#1 pick) is in the rotation and seems to be gaining traction. TE Clay Harbor is starting to see action in relief of Celek. OT Austin Howard is getting some reps and will be eventually worked into the O-Line. Mike Kafka is the 3rd backup QB. Cornerback Trevard Lindley is doing well on St and nickelback assignments. DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim has been rarely activated but remains on the roster.
9. On offense and defense, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Eagles teams? How has their special teams played thus far?
EE: The real strength of the Eagles offense has turned out to be the passing arm of Michael Vick. Who knew this guy could develop into a supreme pocket passer? It’s truly amazing to behold when it’s on. Defensively, it’s the increased speed and swarming ability of the 2010 unit compared to 2009. Weaknesses? Offensively, the Eagles lack that one road-grading type right guard that could establish a dominant offensive line. Defensively, their MLB (Stewart Bradley) is still a step slow in coverage after his ACL surgery. And their rookie safeties tend to get lost a bit on back coverage when the deep ball’s in the air. As for special teams, the kickoff return squad was just awful up until about two weeks ago…giving up huge chunks of yardage on returns. It seems to be improving. Sav Rocca is doing a great job of directional and distance punting…but is prone to the occasional shank. The punt-return team is mediocre at best, but every now and then they put DeSean Jackson back there…look out. David Akers is still money as a placekicker.
10. If you were the Giants offensive coordinator, what would be your game plan against the Eagles?
EE: I’d first find out if the Eagles DL could be softened up a little by pounding them with Jacobs and Bradshaw as much as possible…then I’d show play-action and see if I could isolate Nicks or Manningham on a safety deep. I’d run slants across the middle all day long trying to isolate a receiver on a linebacker. I’d kill the Eagles pass rush with three-step drops.
11. What does Giants' defensive coordinator need to do to contain Michael Vick and the Eagles potent offense? Did the Colts do something exotic? Or did Vick and the offense not have a good day?
EE: Everyone else has been throwing Cover 2 at Vick and putting a linebacker spy on him, and also rushing him from the edges, trying to “contain” him and force him to throw…but guess what, it’s not working. In actuality, it didn’t really work for the Colts, either. A few mistakes in execution and some dubious calls kept the Eagles from turning that game into a rout as well. Fact is, defensive minds need to realize Vick is actually more dangerous as a passer now than as a runner. It’s a complete switch in thinking from the past. Used to be you wanted him to throw, and not let him beat you with his legs. Now, it’s just the opposite. Other variables include: you want to take DeSean Jackson out of his game early---press him at the line, frustrate him, get him discouraged early…he’ll quit on you when he’s feeling left out. Also, if you get a chance to sack Vick, by all means go for the strip. If you chase him from behind, you must at the very least try to strip the ball---it’s right there for the taking, up for grabs. Finally, if you get a chance for a clean hit on Vick, you’ve got to make him pay. I know, sounds cruel, but that is football. Your best chance to win may be to knock Vick out of the game.
EE: My head says the Eagles should be favored by 3 at home…but my gut says, it’s a matter of probability for the Giants losing streak (0-4) to the Eagles to end. No worries…we may very well meet in the playoffs anyway. Giants 24, Eagles 20.
Thank you Tom.