Mahomes and Other Black Quarterbacks Continue to Shatter Old Stereotypes

Mahomes and Jackson

Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are not only changing the game but elevating it to a higher level because of their arm strength and mobility.

If nothing else, the way that Patrick Mahomes’ managed to win Super Bowl LIV should keep Black quarterbacks of the future from being forced into different positions in the NFL. 

By Chris Murray 

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report 

Throughout a lifetime of watching football-which dates back to the late 1960s, I wa

s always hoping for a time when African-Americans playing quarterback in the NFL would be seen as something so routine that we don’t really notice it.

My hope is that the way Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led his team to victory in Super Bowl LIV finally gets us closer to that reality.

Mahomes, who was also named the game’s Most Valuable Player, brought his team all the way back from a 10-point deficit against a San Francisco 49ers defense that was first in the league against the pass and second overall in total yards allowed. For the game, Mahomes threw two touchdown passes and passed for 286 yards.

But that’s the way Mahomes had done it throughout the playoffs. The league’s MVP in 2018, brought the Chiefs back from double-digit deficits in all three of Kansas City’s postseason wins.

Mahomes becomes only the third Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl and the second to be named the game’s MVP.

But being named the MVP for the game for all of the NFL Marbles hasn’t kept past winners, like for example, former Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, from having to justify their existence despite having one the greatest performances in Super Bowl history.

Being one of the most prolific passers in the game didn’t keep Warren Moon, a with a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, from having to fight through doubts about his ability. It also didn’t keep former Philadelphia Eagle Randall Cunningham, the original mobile quarterback, from having to fight them either.

When guys like Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Cam Newton,  Colin Kaepernick, and Vince Young came along, there were more than a few observers of the game who would devalue the ability of these guys by saying that they were more “athletic”, implying a lack of the intelligence necessary to stand in the pocket and read pro-level defenses.

I’m hoping that the success of African-American quarterbacks during the 2019 NFL season will lay waste to this mindset once and for all. This season, African-American quarterbacks have had an unprecedented run of success, not only in statistical categories but also in league honors.

For example, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose mother, Felicia Jones looks like a genius for not allowing anyone to make her son change positions in college or the NFL, elevated the quarterback position to another level.  Bigger and faster than Michael Vick, Jackson wowed fans with his legs and his arm. He set an NFL rushing record for quarterbacks gaining 1,206 yards. He passed for 3,127 yards and threw a league-leading 36 touchdown passes, and won this year’s MVP award unanimously.

Even in a shocking loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, Jackson accumulated 508 yards of total offense-365 passing and 143 yards rushing.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was the best player on a losing team. He passed for 3, 722 and tossed 20 touchdown passes. He completed 64 percent of his passes. He also gained 544 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.  For his efforts, Murray was 2019’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The common thread between Mahomes, Jackson, and Murray is that they are duel-threat quarterbacks who can run and pass. More than a few football experts are saying that the mobile dual-threat quarterback is the wave of future and that the standard drop-back passer is a thing of the past mainly because defensive players are just as fast as the players on offense.

Mahomes, Murray, and Jackson have proven that they can pass from the pocket, but they can use their legs to buy time and to make plays downfield in the passing game.

Outside of the aforementioned superstars, four Black quarterbacks, Jackson, Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Dallas’s Dak Prescott were among the top quarterbacks in touchdown passes. Winston and Prescott led the NFL in passing yards.

By the way, Wilson, Mahomes, Jackson, and Houston Texans quarterback Dashaun Watson led their teams into the playoffs.

The common denominator in the success of this current crew of Black quarterbacks is that you have coaches like the Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh who have figured out that you have to gear your offensive scheme to what your player does best instead of trying to shoehorn into an offensive scheme that doesn’t fit your quarterback’s skill set.

With all the success of this current generation of Black quarterbacks and the success, I don’t want to hear any of you so-called draft experts or pundits overusing the term “athleticism” or telling him to switch positions.

It’s a bad stereotype, intellectually lazy and an insult.

Now that 2019 has proven that, do better!

Finally! Former Eagles Wide Receiver Harold Carmichael is Now a Hall of Famer

 

Former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael was recently inducted in the 2020 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Philadelphia Eagles great Harold Carmichael will finally, at long last, be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

One of the great joys that I’ve had as a sportswriter is seeing really good athletes that have been underrated and overlooked through no fault of their own finally get the accolades and respect that they deserve.

For many years, wide receiver Harold Carmichael, one of the Philadelphia Eagles all-time greats, has been denied entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This is in spite of being one of the best receivers of an era of the NFL where the game was geared more to the run than to the pass.

As the Hall of Fame voters got younger and memories of bygone years faded, it appeared as if the exploits of the Jacksonville, Florida native would be forgotten and he would never wear that coveted gold Hall of Fame jacket that he so richly deserved.

After 31 years of eligibility, Carmichael on Wednesday was finally selected for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Slate for the Class of 2020.  The former Southern University star was a seniors’ selection by a special Blue-Ribbon panel at a meeting held last week at the Hall-of-Fame’s offices in Canton, Ohio.

Carmichael actually found out the news that he made it to the Hall of Fame Monday from Hall of Fame President David Baker, but he had to keep it a secret from friends and family. But he did tell his wife, Bea, the news after he got the phone call.

“I said, ‘Bea, I’m in’ and she started screaming and I got scared because thinking people were thinking that I was beating her up, but she was so elated,” Carmichael said in a conference call with the Philadelphia-area media. “We settled down after about five and we said let’s drink a toast. We got some Crown Royal Apple and we started toasted that for a while. It was still trying to sink in for me. She was the only person around. They asked me not to say anything for a while and that was one of the hardest things for me to do.”

I can’t think of a nicer, more congenial guy to be selected into the Hall of Fame. Carmichael is proof positive that nice guys do finish first. I’m also happy that sportswriters like myself, the Philadelphia Tribune’s Donald Hunt, and a host of other reporters and broadcasters made the case for Carmichael through their columns and feature stories.

Carmichael, who played with the Eagles from 1971 to 83 and with the Dallas Cowboys in 1984, was among 10 senior players chosen for induction, a list that includes former Pittsburgh Steelers star Donnie Shell, the late Winston Hill, a former New York Jets offensive lineman who protected Joe Namath during the Jets upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, and former Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris. All of these guys should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago in my opinion.

That is definitely the case for Carmichael.

During his 13-year career with the Birds, the 6-foot-8 Carmichael played on some really bad teams, yet managed to still become one of the best receivers in the NFL. In 1972 and 1973, Carmichael led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. Unfortunately, the Eagles 2-11-1 in 1972 and 5-8-1 in 1973.

When Carmichael retired in 1984, he had 590 receptions for 8,895 yards with 79 touchdowns. He was a four-time All-Pro and was a seven-time all-NFC selection. When he retired, he was fifth on the all-time list.

What makes Carmichael’s accomplishments as a wide receiver so special is that he caught the bulk of his passes in an era when defensive backs could bump pass receivers downfield as long as the ball was not in the air. That’s why it was called bump and run coverage. Since 1978, a defensive back can only bump a receiver within five yards away from the line of scrimmage.

“They could beat you up from the snap of the ball all the way to the goal line,” Carmichael said. “There was not that much pass interference when you’re battling a defensive back, you’re both bumping each other.

“That was the nature of the game. Who was going to be the strongest and who’s going to get the best position on the ball?  It was tough back then because they could put their hands down the field.  A lot of people say they were shorter than me, but some of these guys were stronger than me and faster than I was. The thing I had to do was get my body position on them. Defensive backs today have to be careful because you can’t touch them.”

One of the things that prepared Carmichael for those battles he would have with cornerback was his practices at historically Black Southern University. Coming in his walk-on, Carmichael’s toughest challenge came in the form of his teammate and future Hall of Famer Mel Blount, who would terrorize NFL receivers during his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Carmichael said Blount was often physical with him in practice. He said Blount would two-hand touch other guys in practice but would come after him a lot harder.

“I would say to this day that Mel Blount was one of the defensive backs that got me ready to come into the NFL,” Carmichael said. “If I caught a ball on him he would want to clothesline or forearm me and used to wonder why, but then I thought about it because I dated his cousin in high school. She probably said something to him because (Blount) wanted to beat me every day in practice. He’s one of the toughest defensive back I went against. There’s a bunch of guys I went against, Mike Haynes (New England and Los Angeles Raiders) and Lester Hayes (Oakland Raiders), but Mel Blount got me ready for the NFL.”

Since that rule change, the passing game has flourished and receivers have been putting up astronomical numbers in the passing game. If the rules had been what is now, Carmichael might have caught more passes for more yards than the players of today.

Still, Carmichael managed to catch 40 or more passes in nine straight seasons. From 1972 to 1980, Carmichael caught at least one pass in 127 straight games. He was a part of a four-year playoff run in which the Eagles won their first NFC East crown and made their first appearance in the Super Bowl by defeating the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship Game.

That said, Carmichael, who is also on the NFL’s All 1970s team, finished his career with more receiving yardage than guys like former Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns star Paul Warfield and former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Lynn Swann.

That’s why I have often said that Carmichael should have been in the Hall-of-Fame a long time ago. I think with all the astronomical numbers that guys like Jerry Rice and Randy Moss have put up over the years at the receiver position, it’s easy to overlook the guys from the 1960s or 1970s like Carmichael or Dallas Cowboys all-time great wide receiver Drew Pearson, another guy who deserves to be in Canton.

Every time I’ve run into Carmichael at an Eagles game, I’ve told him that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Now, I can’t wait to congratulate him in person.

Jackson Ready for Playoff Run

Lamar Jackson photo

Lamar Jackson hopes to start fast in the Baltimore Ravens AFC Divisional Playoff matchup against the Tennessee Titans Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iif2NWLiZZI

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson helped his team become the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But can he get them to the Super Bowl?

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

Owings Mills, Md.—For all the rave reviews and the talk of having revolutionized football that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has received during the 2019 regular-season, the big question for the former Louisville star could get answered this weekend.

Can he lead them to a Super Bowl?

Jackson, the odds-on favorite to be NFL’s Most Valuable Player, has a tough task ahead of him in the Ravens AFC Divisional Playoff matchup against a very physical Tennessee Titans squad looking to spring a huge upset Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

In a season where he’s been mobbed by children at a local mall, named an All-Pro and starred on just about every highlight reel on every sports media outlet from ESPN to YouTube, Jackson said he is focused on the single goal of a Super Bowl win.

“It’s cool, It’s cool … I’m just trying to work. I want a Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “All the accolades and stuff like that, I’ll cherish that, but I’m trying to chase something else right now. … I’ve been wanting a
Super Bowl since I was a kid. That’s why I play the game because I want to win.”

Throughout the season, Jackson has become the ultimate weapon as a duel-threat quarterback with record-setting numbers. In his first full season as a starter, he set an NFL record for rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback by gaining 1,206 yards, breaking a record held by former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

“The new era that we’re in now in the NFL, he knows his matchups,” said Ravens veteran safety Earl Thomas, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. “He uses the big tight ends, throws where only they can catch the ball and we all know what he can do once he starts to run.”

When the season began, more than a few NFL experts wrote Jackson off as a “running quarterback”, but he’s changed the minds of many in that regard. Jackson passed for 3,127 yards, completed 66.1 percent, was third in the league in quarterback rating, and led the league with 36 touchdown passes.

“He’s good at everything, he was already so good at everything,” said tight end Mike Andrews, who caught 64 passes from Jackson for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. “I think mentally the quarterback position is so hard and so tough. After a year of being in the system, seeing defenses in the NFL, he’s been able to learn and been able to grow mentally in the whole football mindset.”

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson’s running ability and his knack for getting the ball in tight spaces is a big help the Ravens in the red zone.

“He can also extend the play, hold the ball, move if he has to and he’s really done well with that,” Harbaugh said.

Jackson’s teammates like wide receiver Willie Snead IV said Jackson is driven by a desire to win and will take all the necessary to get there like working with his receivers after practice and during the offseason prior to training camp.

“It’s all set on Lamar. He wants to be great because of his work ethic and as a competitor. He wants to be the best. He wants the best for us,” Snead IV said. “He wants to see us all eat. I’m on board for that.”

But the true worth of Jackson’s season will be having to do it under the spotlight of a single-elimination playoff run where every opposing coach, including Saturday’s opponent, has seen him on tape and is scrutinizing his every step, hoping to find some weakness in what he does to exploit throughout the course of the game.

As he approaches his second playoff game, Jackson says he’s more prepared than he was during last January’s Wild Card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and he’s ready for anything the Titans throw at him.

“I’m not a rookie anymore, I’ve been around. I’ve seen everything that they can bring …  And we’re going to see it,” Jackson said. “Can’t start too late. You have to attack fast. It doesn’t really matter what quarter is, first or second, you have to attack. You have to finish the game strong. You can’t just go into the game playing half-assed.”

During the team’s organized teams last spring, Jackson said Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has been testing him in practice by throwing a number of blitzes and disguised coverages at him.

“(Martindale) used to disguise crazy blitzes during OTAs and stuff like that, and it just helped me a lot, knowing where guys would be and knowing the area of the field. I just have to get the ball out where my receiver can get it or no one can.”

Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin III said the Ravens coaching staff has done a good job of preparing Jackson for any kind of wrinkle the Titans or any other teams will throw at him during the course of the game.

“Whatever they play we can adjust to that in-game so we’re not sitting ducks like ‘they played man-to-man all season and now they’re playing zone, what are we gonna do?’ Griffin III said. “When you do put stuff on tape and teams do something to take that away, you can adjust to give them a new problem.

“I think that’s what we’ve done all year (with Jackson). We continue to give teams new problems with Lamar running, Lamar throwing, our receiver packages, our tight end packages, jet sweeps … we keep giving teams new problems. …We want to be the math that they can’t figure out.”

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said he has been using backup quarterback and former starter Marcus Mariota simulating Jackson to prepare his defense. But that’s not enough to fully capture Jackson’s speed in-game conditions.

“Other than try to tie (Jackson’s) shoelaces together, not many people have had success,” Vrabel said with a little tongue and cheek during a phone interview with the Baltimore-area media. “We’ll have to prepare and try to get our players as ready as possible to defend not only him but (running Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards.”

If you want to see what happens, catch the game on Saturday night at 8pm on CBS-3.

NFC Championship: A Matter of Luck For Two Snakebitten Franchises and Cities Starving for a Title.

AH6B8656 copy (1)

Can the Eagles rely on Nick Foles to take them to the Super Bowl? The Birds will take on the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo By Webster Riddick.

This weekend’s NFC Championship matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings pits two hard luck franchises against each other.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field will be a matchup of two franchises that have lost six Super Bowls in total and have had more than their share of post-season disappointments.

From 2001 to 2008, the Eagles went to five NFC title games, losing four of them. When the team did win the NFC Championship in the 2004 season, they went on to lose to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings haven’t won a NFC title game since the 1976 season, where they lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI. Since then, they’ve lost four title games, three of which were lost in the final minute or in overtime.

(In other words, they know exactly how the New Orleans Saints, whom they defeated on Sunday on a fluke play with seconds left in the game, feel…)

CaseKeenum

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum looking to lead his team to a win over the Eagles.

Since neither team has won the Super Bowl—the Eagles won a pre-Super Bowl NFL Championship in 1960—something has to give, right? The football gods are going to reward one of these long suffering fan bases with a trip to the Super Bowl and another chance to win an elusive championship.

But now that we’ve talked about all that history, let’s talk about the game itself.

Neither of the quarterbacks participating in Sunday’s game is going to make anyone forget former Eagles great Donovan McNabb, Vikings Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton or even Vikings short-termer Brett Favre. But Nick Foles and Minnesota’s Case Keenum, two guys who didn’t distinguish themselves as part of the Los Angeles or St. Louis Rams squads in the early Oughts, have managed to get their teams to the conference final despite pronouncements to the contrary.

Foles is coming off a solid performance in the win over the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round in which he completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards with no touchdown passes, but also no interceptions.  He was efficient and kept the Eagles offense moving at key stretches, mixing passes to tight-end Zach Ertz, and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor with screens to running backs Jay Ajayi and   Corey Clement and smash mouth running from running back LeGarrette Blunt.

That’s something the Eagles will have to do against a Vikings defense that ranks at the top of the NFL.

“The quick, short passing game obviously can help, the running game can help,” said head coach Doug Pederson. “Somewhere in there, if you can take a shot, you take a shot and whether you hit, like first play of the game, if you hit it or not, that kind of gets your blood flowing a little bit. And sometimes even tempo, hurry-up, no-huddle offense can get your quarterback into that kind of rhythm.”

It also helps that the Eagles running game, while not great, moved the ball well enough to keep the Falcons defense off balance. The Eagles as a group rushed for 96 yards including a couple of 10-yard plus runs on jet sweeps by Agholor.  Ajayi also averaged close to four yards per carry.

It kept the Eagles from being one-dimensional, Ertz, the tight end, said.

“Yeah, I thought we were really good on first and second down in the second half of that game last week,” he said “We kind had the RPOs (run pass options) early on first down that put us in those positions to be successful. I thought Doug [Pederson] a really good job. One of the things that stood out is that we never got in those third-and-really long situations, third-and-11-plus situations where you have to have the running back and the tight-end chip. You never want to be in those situations and we kind of stayed out of those, so that was definitely huge for us.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense is not taking Keenum and the Vikings offense lightly. This is an offense coming off the high of the “Minneapolis Miracle”, when Keenum hit Stefon Diggs on a 61-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left to defeat the New Orleans Saints.

Keenum, who was the NFL’s 12th rated passer, has been efficient. In the game against the Saints, Keenum was 25-of-40 for 318 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

But the Eagles defense is no slouch—they are the fourth ranked defense in the league and are first against the run.  The Vikings running game ranked seventh during the regular season despite the loss of rookie Dalvin Cook. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are averaging close to four yards per carry.

Defensive end Brandon Graham recognizes this and says the defense does as well.

“Oh, yeah, you can’t take nobody lightly and I think Case does a good job as far as moving in the pocket, being able to extend plays with his legs and you know just being able to trust himself going out there,” he said. “You know, going out there, making plays because he’s got the receivers. He’s got the running game that’s been helping him take a lot of pressure off of him.”

The Eagles, who managed to become the Number One seed despite a slate of injuries that includes MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz, are once again the underdog despite this being a home game.

So expect the return of the Dog Masks. And a shoulder chip you can see from space.

“The disrespect continues,” said Eagles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “For us to be the No 1 seed and to have this championship run through the Linc, what more do you want? At the end of the day, respect is not given, we gotta go out and take it like we’ve been doing all year. I think we’ll go out and dominate.”

The NFC Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings will be played on Sunday night at 6:40 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia. Tickets are sold out, but if you want to catch the game, it’ll be on Fox-29, beginning with the Fox NFL-Sunday pregame show at 6 p.m.

Eagles Defense and Rookie Carson Wentz Has Philly Buzzing After 3-0 Start

jordan-matthewsandcarsonwentz

Eagles wide receiver and Carson Wentz shake hands after they connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the Birds 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.

 

During bye week, there’s a lot for Birds fans to feel good about.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Philadelphia Eagles enter the bye-week on the kind of good note that they probably weren’t expecting at this point in the season with an untested rookie quarterback.

The Birds are 3-0 for the first time since 2014, thanks to a stout defense and an offense designed around the skills of rookie Carson Wentz and the City of Brotherly Love is buzzing with excitement again, especially after last Sunday’s 34-3 thrashing of a Pittsburgh Steelers team considered a major contender in the AFC

While it’s easy to focus on the stellar play of Wentz, the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week, the defense has managed to shut down opposing offenses.  So far, this season the Eagles defense has allowed just two touchdowns in three games.

The Eagles are fourth in the NFL in total defense, second in stopping the run, allowing just 71 yards per game, and eighth against the pass.  In fact, the Eagles defense has yet to allow a touchdown pass this season.

Yes, it’s only three games into the season, but considering that they were next-to-last in touchdown passes allowed and 28th in passing yardage allowed last season, it’s definitely an  improvement. If they can maintain this level of play, the Eagles will be tough to beat for the rest of the season.

But don’t tell the team that.

“We can still be better,” said Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who had two sacks in Sunday’s game. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think about this team. Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves credit for creating an aggressive, attacking 4-3 defense that puts pressure on opposing quarterbacks and gives very little yardage in the running game. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said Schwartz does a good job of rotating fresh bodies on the defensive line.

“It’s a good thing because when you rotate, you do not want to drop off,” said Graham, who had a sack and a fumble recovery against the Steelers. “The backups are just as good as the one guys. When you have a good rotation, you have a good bench. You don’t want it to drop off.”

The Eagles shut down down one of the league’s best ground attacKD when they held the Steelers to just 29 yards on the ground for the game. The Birds made the Steelers a one-dimensional team and sacked Ben Rothlisberger four times and forced two turnovers.

“[The]Defense has been getting big stops whenever we get the opportunity. Getting pressure on the quarterback; doing a great job stopping the run,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.  “And as a team, we just are staying patient in these games and as soon as our opponents make mistakes we pile it on. Just a patient team.”

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, Wentz is doing a good job of managing the game thanks to a short, but accurate passing game that patiently moves the ball down the field and lulls the defense to sleep to come up with the big play.

Wentz, who completed 23-of-31 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, spread the ball around to seven different receivers. He didn’t try to force anything and didn’t make any mistakes with the football.

“He puts himself in a position where he doesn’t have to put pressure on himself,” said Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught a 12-yard touchdown from the rookie in Sunday’s game. “He works his butt off every day.”

It also helps that Wentz has enough mobility to buy time when rushers are on his heels.  In the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Wentz escaped the Pittsburgh rush and found a wide-open Darren Sproles, who sped into the end zone untouched for a 73-yard touchdown pass.

One of the things that will help the Eagles down the road is if they improve the running game.  Both Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner showed speed and quickness in the running game. Smallwood gained 79 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. Barner added 42 with a touchdown as well.

“(Smallwood) is a downhill runner. A one-cut runner. He did a great job for us,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, said. “Darren, Kenjon and Wendell really stepped up and did a nice job.”

After taking this week off, the Eagles will hit the road to Motown to take on a lackluster Detroit Lions squad Oct. 9th at Ford Field.

The Other Guys The Eagles Drafted

Sure, Carson Wentz got a lot of the attention as the Philadelphia Eagles first round draft pick. But the team picked up a few other pieces in the 2016 NFL Draft.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Wendell Smallwood

Can Wendell Small be the next great running back for the Eagles. Photo by wvusports.com

The 2016 NFL Draft will obviously be remembered for the Philadelphia Eagles wheeling and dealing into the No. 2 spot to get quarterback Carson Wentz, the man they hope will be the Birds next franchise quarterback.

But I thought that there were a few more things that the Eagles needed to do in the draft on the offensive side of the ball in addition to getting a new number one quarterback.

I think they addressed the things that they needed. The only problem is, we won’t really know for quite some time how good the pieces they picked up in the draft will be.

That said, I thought the Eagles did a good job of adding some depth on their offensive line and finding a running back that would fit head coach Doug Pederson’s scheme.

Perhaps the most intriguing Eagles draft  pick in is former West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood (5-11, 208).  When you look at what he did at the collegiate level, Smallwood, a back similar to the Kansas City Chiefs Jamaal Charles is an ideal fit for Pederson’s version of the West Coast offense.

In 2015, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing, gaining 1,512 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. He averaged 6.4 yard per carry and ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Smallwood also caught 26 passes for 160 yards and has experience as a pass blocker.

Smallwood has a good shot to get some playing time alongside guys like Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. He’s definitely a good three-down back and reminds me of, dare I say, LeSean McCoy.

But the downside for Smallwood, a native Wilmington, Delaware, is that he’s had some off-field incidents that have raised more than a few eyebrows. In July 2014, he was arrested for allegedly trying to get a witness change her story implicating a friend in a robbery attempt.  No charges were filed against Smallwood. He’s also made a few offensive statements on social media.

But from most accounts and from the Eagles extensive background checks, Smallwood is a mature young man who has stayed out of trouble since  and is looking to do the right thing.

“We spent a lot of time with him and we feel that this is a good kid,” said Howie Roseman, Eagles vice president of football operations. “He’s got to prove it on and off the field, but we have no doubts about what kind of player and person he is.”

After former coach Chip Kelly inexplicably refused to bring in more offensive linemen last season via the draft last season, Pederson and Roseman made sure that the Birds brought in some beef on the offensive line after the team struggled in that department last year.

Third round draft pick Isaac Seumalo (6-4, 303) played just about every position on the offensive line during his collegiate career at Oregon State.  He will probably challenge Allen Barbre for the left guard spot and some observers are saying that Seumalo could be the team’s next center.

According to Pro Football Focus.com, Seumalo is a solid pass protect who can locate and knock down opposing defenders while on the move. More importantly, Seumalo is probably better than anyone the Eagles currently have on the roster.

Former TCU tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (6-6, 320), is big enough to block out the sun and most opposing defenders. He has played at both left and the right tackle. He will probably back up veteran Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters, who’s at the tail end of his career.

Vaitai will eventually be playing at one of those tackle positions if Peters retires or gets hurt during the season. If that does happen, Vaitai would move to the right tackle slot while Lane Johnson would take Peters’s spot.

But let’s not put the cart before the horse here, Vaitai and Seumalo both have to show that they can beat out guys who are already immersed in the Eagles offensive scheme.

But at the end of the day, having solid depth at the offensive line position can only help an offense that couldn’t block many people last year.

 

 

Cam Newton Proves His Draft Day Critics Wrong

SuperCam2

Cam Newton flexing his Superman pose after scoring a touchdown against Tampa Bay. Newton led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will be coming into Super Bowl 50 with a myriad of accolades thanks to the NFL and a target placed on his back by the Denver Broncos defense.

Newton was voted the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writer’s of America. He’ll be taking on future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning when the Super Bowl is played on Feb. 7 at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

When you look at his stats this season, it reminds me of something one would see in a John Madden football video game. Newton passed for 3,837 yards and threw 35 touchdown passes. He also ran for 636 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns.

In total, Newton accounted for 4,473 yards and 45 touchdowns. At 6-5, 245 pounds, Newton is bigger than some linebackers and defensive ends and is a punishing runner.

During the 2015 season, Newton made himself into one of the league’s elite players and arguably elite quarterbacks. He was voted the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.

But what makes all of the praise he’s getting now so ironic is that many of the people lauding him were pouring haterade by the gallon on Newton in the days leading up to his being taken as the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Coming out of college, draft experts and NFL pundits alike trashed Newton by throwing out every racist stereotype of Black quarterbacks that had ever existed.

Never mind that he had won a national championship at Auburn, a junior college championship the previous year and was the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, all the so-called experts questioned his intelligence and his leadership.

Most of the criticism centered on a perceived inability to read NFL defenses and how that inability would all but ensure he wouldn’t make it in the NFL. These “experts” also said he was arrogant because he told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he planned on being an icon and an entertainer.

Some so-called experts including Hall of Famer and Fox Sports football analyst Terry Bradshaw, said that former University of Missouri star Blaine Gabbert and University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker were better than Newton.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless said Newton didn’t have accuracy of a Tim Tebow, who is now a college football analyst on the Worldwide Leader In Sports.

One columnist of a popular sports website said Newton was going to be a bust along the lines of quarterbacks Ryan Leaf, Matt Leinart and Vince Young.

Of course, Newton did get kicked off the football team at Florida for stealing a laptop, a crime in which all of the charges were dropped due to a pre-trial intervention program in Florida. There were also reports of academic misconduct as well.

And then there’s the charge that Newton father, Cecil, was trying to peddle his son’s services to Mississippi State for $180,000. That allegation was never proven and Auburn was not sanctioned by the NCAA because of it.

Meanwhile, as the investigation into those alleged NCAA violations was reported on all the major sports networks, Newton never wavered in his focus in leading the Tigers to a national championship. One of those games include Newton leading Auburn back from a 24-0 deficit on the road against a Nick Saban-coached University of Alabama squad that was coming off a national championship the year before.

And yet, Newton’s critics said that the recent Auburn University graduate didn’t have the IQ or leadership ability to be an NFL quarterback, which was completely absurd because you don’t win a national championship without being a team leader and having the mental toughness to stay focused in the face of all of the hoopla around the possibility of NCAA sanctions.

But despite struggling to adjust to the pro game, something all young quarterbacks do, and despite doing some sulking on the sidelines his second year in the league, something that you’d also expect from a 23-year-old and that veterans such as Steve Smith Sr. quickly got him out of, Newton has led the Panthers to three straight playoff appearances including this year’s Super Bowl run.

This year, Newton showed that he could make other around him better, something he did at Auburn. When Carolina’s best receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a season-ending injury, Newton utilized his tight end, Greg Olsen as a deep receiver and he’s made Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery into better receivers.

Whether Newton leads Carolina to a Super Bowl victory or not on Feb. 7 , he can say to his Draft Day critics that old Kool Moe Dee lyric, “How ya like me now?”

Birds Add Depth at Key Positions, But Not A Super Bowl Contender Just Yet

Rowe has the ability to play corner and safety for the Birds.

Second-Round Draft Choice Eric Rowe has the ability to play corner and safety for the Birds.

Eagles top draft choice Nelson Agholor hopes to make a big impact in his rookie season with the Birds.

Eagles top draft choice Nelson Agholor hopes to make a big impact in his rookie season with the Birds.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—So now that the Philadelphia Eagles have made their picks in 2015 NFL Draft, the question fans are asking themselves is if the team is better now than it was before head coach Chip Kelly made some highly publicized moves to make over the team in his image.

To be honest, I don’t think so at this point. There are too many unanswered questions on both sides of the ball to drink the “Philadelphia Eagles are a Super Bowl Contender” Kool-Aid at this point.

Let’s look at the draft picks.

Former University of Southern California star Nelson Agholor, the wide receiver the Eagles picked at number oneis almost a clone of the wide receiver Kelly let go to the Kansas City Chiefs, Jeremy Maclin.

At 6-foot, 190 pounds, he is almost the same as Maclin from a physical standpointAgholor is also a speedy wide out with a reputation running good routes and being a deep threat. He’s coming off a season in which he caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I have the ability to compete and do things I need to do to get open and in blocking,” Agholor said. “I’d like to go where I can help the team and manipulate the coverage.”

Agholor will join a receiving corps that will include veteran Miles Austin, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper and Josh Huff.  It’s a decent group of pass-catchers—Matthews is coming off a pretty good rookie season with 67 receptions for 872 yards and eight touchdowns.

At the same, it’s not a crew that strikes fear into anyone. While Kelly thinks that Agholor can stretch opposing defenses, he’s not going to make anyone forget that DeSean Jackson is no longer in Eagles Green.

“I think he’s got good linear speed that can get down the field and I think people will have to be leery about that,” Kelly said. “He’s got excellent speed, outstanding hands, catches the ball away from his body. Outstanding route runner, real student of the game.”

But the real issue for the Birds is at quarterback. In Sam Bradford, the team has a couple of question mark: Can he learn the system, and can he stay off of Injured Reserve for 16 weeks? That last one is something he hasn’t done since 2012, although he’s saying that he’ll be ready for training camp, meaning that he’ll be healed from his most recent ACL repair. The one edge that he does have is that he ran a similar spread-option offense at Oklahoma.  

Kelly believes that Bradford’s ability to make quick decisions make him an ideal fit for the Eagles fast-paced no-huddle offense. The burden won’t be all on Bradford with running back DeMarco Murray in the Eagles backfield.

But the Birds are a bit shaky on the offensive line.  They got rid of Todd Herremans and have been trying to move guard Evan MathisThe offensive line could be the difference between the Eagles making the playoffs and having to watch from home, especially since the line will not only be protecting a quarterback with a newly repaired knee, but making holes for a running back that has his own fragility issues.

On the defensive side of the football, the draft enabled the Eagles to have some depth in the secondary.  In the second round, the Eagles drafted Utah defensive back Eric Rowe.   At 6-1, 205 pounds, Rowe has the kind of versatility that Kelly likes for his defense, similar to safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has also played cornerback and safety.

Rowe said he studies film of NFL stars like New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Cleveland’s Joe Haden.

I love to hit, I love to come on the blitz and tackle,” Rowe said. “On the press man, l love to take charges on the line of scrimmage. I would say I’m an aggressive corner.”

Prior to his senior year, Rowe played 36 games at the safety position. He played cornerback in his final season with the Utes and had 13 passes defended with one interception. Rowe runs a 4.4 40-yard dash so he has the speed to keep up opposing receivers.

“We’re looking for safeties that can cover and this kid has actually played corner so he’s got those skills,” Kelly said. “He’s a taller and longer guy, so you hope those are things, but we’ll get him in here and look at everything he can do. The fact that he’s got that many starts under his belt at safety but then really excelled at corner this last year is very intriguing to us.”

The Birds further bolstered their defense in the third round by drafting former University of Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had 147 tackles during his senior year. In the sixth round, the Birds picked up two more defensive backs in cornerbacks former Kansas star JaCorey Shepherd and Kansas State’s Randall Evans, who also has played both safety and corner.  

The Eagles closed out the draft with seventh round pick with Boston College defensive end Brian Mihalik, who 4.5 sacks during his senior year.

For the Birds to even be consider a Super Bowl contender, the defense, which gave up 30 touchdown passes last season, has nowhere to go but up.  It also has to stay healthy. Newly acquired inside linebacker Kiko Alsonso and DeMeco Ryans have to show that they are 100 percent ready to go.  

The rookies on both sides of the ball have to grow up quick because they’re not going to have too much margin for error.  

 

Eagles Fans: Curb Your Enthusiasm and Your Pessimism, It’s Not as Good or Bad As You Think

Newest Eagles quarterback Tim Tebow is hoping to catch on as a starter with the Birds.

Newest Eagles quarterback Tim Tebow is hoping to catch on as a starter with the Birds.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—The early reviews of Chip Kelly’s offseason moves have sparked two very distinct reactions from fans.

If you listen to an old high school chum of mine who is also a diehard Eagles fan, the moves that Kelly has made, moves that include trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills, letting wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson go due to free agency and just plain hubris, and trading Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for an injury-prone Sam Bradford, mark the beginning of the Birds apocalypse..

My friend expects the Eagles to be winless by the halfway point of the season and for Kelly to be unceremoniously ridden out of town on a rail. Until then, he’s done with the team.

Then you have those Eagles fans that my Significant Other equates to fans of Tyler Perry movies; fans so willing to trust anyone in Eagles Green that they’ll cheer any move they make, even if it’s one that the management of her crazy, but beloved, Oakland Raiders wouldn’t.

After all, the Birds signed the NFL’s leading rusher, former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, to a lucrative free agent deal. The Eagles have also acquired former San Diego Chargers running Ryan Matthews and former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell to help the team’s struggling pass defense.

Another move that turned heads this week was the signing of quarterback Tim Tebow, a move that rankles Kelly’s detractors and is seen by his supporters as proof of his willingness to think outside the box.

But here are some things to think about as you debate the Eagles offseason moves.

Murray, the man replacing McCoy, is not chopped liver. He almost single-handedly took a Dallas Cowboys team with a mediocre defense to the playoffs in 2014 and running style seems to fit what Kelly wants in a back, someone who’s going to power through the hole and not dance around as McCoy sometimes did..

Matthews will be a solid backup to keep the Birds from overusing Murray. At 6-foot, 220 pounds, he has no fear of contact and will hit the hole quickly. He gained 1,255 yards rushing and scored six touchdowns with the San Diego Chargers in 2013.

And don’t forget about Darren Sproles, who can still run as a speedy change of pace back that can catch passes on third down situations.

And if you’re thinking that Maxwell was simply riding on the coat tails of Richard Sherman, his superstar counterpart in Seattle, consider this: according to the website, Pro Football Focus.com, a website that keeps track of virtually every play of every NFL play, Maxwell held opposing quarterbacks to an average quarterback rating of 78.5.

And because teams didn’t want to throw in Sherman’s direction, Maxwell was the fourth most targeted corner in the league.

That said, don’t get too excited or start picking your hotel room in San Jose, the site for Super Bowl 50 just yet. This team is a long way from being a finished product.

The Eagles still need a safety that can cover and knock the living snot out of a ball carrier or a receiver unfortunate enough to catch a pass in his presence. The team also needs to increase its depth in the secondary. Maxwell may be a part of the solution, but the problem is still there.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles need to fill the rather large holes left by Maclin and Jackson at wide receiver. Let’s be honest here, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews are scaring no one.

But the real mystery is at quarterback. With the current crew, there’s no one that gives you any real long or short term hope.

First, you have Sam Bradford, the quarterback that the Eagles got from the Rams and who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2012.

You also have Mark Sanchez, who literally threw the Eagles out of the playoffs last season.

And then there’s Tebow, a quarterback with a rating so low that it would appear he’s done nothing but throw to Byron Maxwell his entire career.

On one hand, bringing Tebow in to run the read-option makes sense because he ran a similar offense in college. The Eagles have run the read-option 514 times over the last two years more than any other team. Tebow is more mobile than Bradford and backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. He has 989 career rushing yards.

But if you’re going to be a quarterback in the NFL, it might be a good idea if you knew how to pass.

Tebow has completed just 47 percent of his passes. While there are some football observers who say that since Kelly’s offense is geared to the run and shorter passes a QB with a big arm isn’t necessary, defenses get wise to that after a while.

With the draft on the horizon, I still wouldn’t put it past Kelly to come up with some crazy scheme to get Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or draft a mobile quarterback, possibly UCLA’s Brett Hundley. But like most of his offseason moves, no one knows what’s coming.

So while Philadelphia Eagles fans shouldn’t head to the Walt Whitman or Ben Franklin Bridges to take that final leap, they also shouldn’t bet the mortgage and car payment on a trip to Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in February, either.