Tag Archives: Billy Davis

Champs Again: Eagles Should Win a Weak NFC East

5 Sep

Order of predicted finish: 1. Eagles 2. Washington 3. New York Giants 4. Dallas Cowboys.

Note: Because the nickname of the Washington NFL franchise is considered to be an offensive racial slur to Native Americans, The Chris Murray Report will no longer use that name in its editorial content.

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

PHILADELPHIA—After all the OTAs, off-season acquisitions and sitting through preseason games, we are finally into the regular season. The Eagles will open the 2014 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (1:00 p.m. CBS).

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy says the Eagles offense will be even in better in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds will come into the 2014 season as the defending NFC East champions and there’s no reason to think they will not be in that same position when the regular-season ends in January even with a tougher schedule and the loss of speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

I don’t know if Nick Foles (27 touchdown passes, two interceptions) and LeSean McCoy (314 carries, 1607 yards) will put up the numbers they did last season, but they have a year under head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle read-option offense and they are expecting to be even better.

With additions like speedy veteran running back Darren Sproles on the team, McCoy said he’s expecting the Eagles offense to be even better in 2014 whether he touches the ball more than 300 times or not.

“I think with the mix of Sproles doing different things, sometimes a 65-yard carry can be the same as a 65-yard (pass) route with Sproles,” McCoy said. “I’m learning that it doesn’t take a lot of reps or a lot of touches to be more productive and get what you want done. You could do it with less.

“I know I’m going to be the key guy they’re watching … but the guys up front with the way they’re blocking and the guys around me, especially with Sproles in there mixing it up with screens and runs and passes. With Maclin getting back and healthy, we have a guy that can stretch the field and do things across the middle. We definitely have weapons.”

Eagles’ fans are no doubt wondering if Jeremy Maclin, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since the end of the 2012 season, can be the deep receiver that can stretch the defense in the way that Jackson did last season.

The question for the Eagles is whether or not the defense can improve upon their performance late last season in 2014? The Birds ranked fourth in the NFL in the takeaway-giveaway category last season, but was 32nd against the pass.

But the big concern for the Eagles is whether they can generate a pass-rush, something that hurt them in the loss to the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season. During the preseason, the first team didn’t get a sack.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said he’s confident in his defense because his players are more familiar with the team’s 3-4 scheme. He won’t know how better his defense is until the lights come on against Jacksonville.

“Every year is a new year, so you don’t know until the final whistle goes off in the Jacksonville game, really what our starting point is,” Davis said. “But we are more confident because we know them better.”

Both Davis and Kelly said they are expecting big things from backup defense end Vinny Curry and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The Birds added a pair of free agents in veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll to bolster the secondary.

The Eagles will win the NFC East because quite frankly the rest of the division isn’t that good. Look for them to finish 10-6. Actually, 9-7 might be enough to put the Birds over the top.

Washington (Predicted finish: 8-8)

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden's offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Robert Griffin III is expected to make more plays from the pocket in 2014 under new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense. RGIII struggled during the preseason.

Among the teams other than the Eagles that could win the NFC East, the Washington squad could be that team.

With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett running the defense and veterans like linebacker Brian Orakbo, defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Trent Murphy, along with newcomer defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had 11 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys last season, Washington will be decent on defense.

The Redskins will have a veteran secondary with players like safety Ryan Clark and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The question is whether Washington’s offense with Robert Griffin III at quarterback can be consistent. The team has the weapons on offense with running back Alfred Morris and wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon.

RGIII struggled in preseason so badly that former Washington quarterback and TV analyst Joe Theismann said the team should start Kirk Cousins instead of Griffin. The former Michigan State star did a better job of moving the team during the exhibition season—albeit against second and third string competition.

In Griffin’s defense, Washington’s first team offensive line didn’t do a good job of protecting the quarterback during the preseason. The same could be said for last season as Washington quarterbacks were sacked 43 times.

One of the things Washington did to get better for 2014 was cut center Will Montgomery, who reportedly made incorrect line calls that probably caused some of the sacks of Griffin and Cousins. This season, Kory Lichtensteiger was moved from guard to center and they also signed six-foot-3, 315-pound guard Shawn Lauvao, who played with the Cleveland Browns.

The offensive line will be the key to protecting Griffin and making holes for Morris.
New head coach Jay Gruden is sticking with RGIII as Washington’s starter for now. If Griffin struggles in the early going will Gruden pull the plug and go with Cousins?

Under Gruden’s system, Griffin won’t be running the read option. He has to make plays from the pocket and not take off and run when his first option is not open. That may be an adjustment for Griffin, but he’s also smart enough to discipline his game to do it.

If RGIII can get off to a good start and can be consistent with the weapons he has on offense, Washington can make this a competitive race and perhaps win it if a few things break their way.

New York Giants (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions and got sacked 39 times in 2013 behind patch-work offensive line.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had the worst season of his career in 2013. He threw 27 interceptions. Coming into this season, New York hired former Green Bay Packers quarterback Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator who will install a West Coast-style offense.

With the sudden retirement of running back David Wilson due to a neck injury, the Giants running game will feature former Oakland Raiders ball carrier Rashad Jennings and former Boston College star Andre Williams, who gained 2,177 yards as a senior and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

At the wideout position, Victor Cruz should be the beneficiary of the Giants new West Coast system. New York also has rookie wide receiver and former LSU star Odell Beckham, who has been slowed down by a hamstring injury. The G-men will also return Reuben Randle who has shown flashes of brilliance at times.

The key to Giants on offense will be their offensive line, which was the main culprit of the Giants woes last season. New York will have a revamped offensive line with left tackle Will Beatty (6-6, 319 pounds) as its most experienced player.

The Giants will need to develop some chemistry along that offensive line to make sure McAdoo’s schemes can work.

On defense, the Giants are hoping that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul can have the kind of season he had in 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks. The Giants also have veterans Mathias Kiwanuka and Cullen Jenkins. Key free-agent acquisitions include corner back Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain.

The Giants are average at best and don’t necessarily scare anybody on defense. But then again no one in the NFC East does.

Dallas Cowboys (Predicted finish: 7-9)

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maybe the Cowboys only hope to be a winner in 2014 for a team with a bad defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Speaking of defenses that don’t scare anybody, the Cowboys were awful on defense last season even with DeMarcus Ware and they will be awful without him this season. They lost former Penn State star Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury during OTAs.

The Boys will be without injured cornerback Orlando Scandrick and cornerback Morris Claiborne didn’t play during the preseason. Throughout the preseason, the Cowboys got pushed up and down the field.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to figure out a way to make chicken soup out of chicken bleep or lemonade out of lemons. However you want to look at it, Marinelli has to make something out of a defense that is destined to give up a whole bunch of points and a lot of yards this season.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they are stacked offensively.

Everybody’s favorite whippin’ boy, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is not only coming off of back surgery, he’s also coming off a season in which he threw 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

In week 16, his last game before his surgery, Romo rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point deficit in the last five minutes to beat Washington to keep their playoffs hopes alive to that point in the season.
With receivers like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the Cowboys are going to put points on the board.

They also have a solid running game with DeMarco Murray, who gained 1,121 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season. If you have Bryant, Witten and Murray on your fantasy team, you will no doubt score points.

It is also no doubt in my mind that Dallas’s defense will also give up just as many points as Romo and the Cowboys will score. Dallas will win games by scores like 38-31 or 51-48 and they will lose games like that as well. When you’re playing from behind or having to score on every possession, mistakes are going to be made.

Romo will throw a few “Hell-no’s” along the way which means you’ll be hearing a lot from his critics.

Advertisements

Eagles Secondary Comes up Big in Win over Cardinals

2 Dec

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cary Williams intercepts a Carlson Palmer pass in the Eagles 24-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cary Williams intercepts a Carlson Palmer pass in the Eagles 24-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles secondary came into Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals knowing that they had a tough assignment going up against Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cards physical receiving corps.

The Birds corners and safeties figured that Cardinals receivers were going to get their fair share of catches in the game, but they were determined to not allow them to totally dominate the game.

“They were going to try to be physical with us,” said safety Nate Allen. “So we knew we had to be physical and re-route them and get our hands on them and mess up their timing on the routes and I think we did a good job of that today.”

They won some battles and they lost a few battles, but more importantly the Eagles secondary helped the Eagles to win the war in a 24-21 win over the Cardinals Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

“I believe the refs let us play today and that was a good thing,” said Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher. “When you go up against guys like Floyd and Fitzgerald and you can be a little more physical, it definitely helps out.”

It could be argued, especially by the Cardinals receivers, that there were a few penalties against the defense that weren’t called in the game. On the flip side of that, Arizona receivers did their share of pushing off, too.

“If the wide receivers are going to play us physically, we’re entitled to our space,” said Eagles cornerback Cary Williams. “If a wide receiver runs into me, I’m entitled to get my hands up in defense, if I happen to hold, it’s a part of the game. They were pushing off the whole game, in my opinion, but I like those kinds of games because you’re out there being physical. You’re the playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Not only did the Birds secondary get a pair of interceptions, but they kept Fitzgerald and company from dominating the game. None of the Cardinals receivers had more than 100 yards in receptions. Michael Floyd had five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown while Fitzgerald had five catches for 72 yards.

“I think we had a great game-plan in place,” said Williams, who had one of those two interceptions off Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. “I think (defensive coordinator Billy) Davis called a good game today.

“Some scenarios we weren’t very good in communication, but for the most part secondary-wise we played pretty good thanks to the pass rush. Without that, I don’t think it would have as dominant of a performance.”

Eagles safety Nate Allen get his first interception of the year against the Cardinals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles safety Nate Allen get his first interception of the year against the Cardinals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Eagles front-seven had five sacks and forced a fumble. They constantly put pressure on Palmer throughout the game. That made it easier for the corners to go one-on-one with the Cardinals receivers.

“Those guys stepped up and took on the challenge of playing this top receiving group and there were a lot of times when they were one-on-one today,” Davis said. “Throughout the game, I was mixing in brackets and combos and clouds over the top of them, but there were a lot of snaps where it was ‘hey get your man, you gotta hold up and they did.”

After giving up a pair of second-half touchdown passes that enable to Cardinals to overcome a 24-7 deficit, the Eagles secondary clamped down on the Arizona receivers late in the game when it mattered most.

The Cardinals started their final drive at their own 10 yard-line with 2:03 left in the game, but only got as far as their own 15. On the game’s final three plays, the Eagles defensive backs allowed no room for Cardinals receivers to get open. On fourth down, Fletcher batted away a Palmer pass to Floyd.

“Fletch made a great play on that curl route and that was huge, getting off the field like that,” said Allen, who also had an interception in the game. “When push comes to shove and it’s ‘hey make a play or keep the drive going, Fletch did a great job with that.”

Eagles Defense Shuts the Door on Washington’s Comeback Hopes

18 Nov

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Brandon Boykin's four-quarter interception of Robert Griffith III preserves the Eagles 24-16 win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brandon Boykin’s four-quarter interception of Robert Griffith III preserves the Eagles 24-16 win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles 24-16 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field was more of a stark contrast to where this team was last season going into a bye-week.

Back in 2012, the last game the Eagles played before their bye-week was a heartbreaking loss to the Detroit Lions who came back from a 10-point deficit in the last five minutes in regulation to win the game in overtime.

After the Eagles jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the third quarter on a one-yard run by LeSean McCoy, the Redskins made things interesting in the fourth period on a couple of Robert Griffin III touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversions. With the offense unable to move the football in the final stanza, the Eagles defense needed to come up with one final stand to hold off the surging Redskins.

Brandon Boykin's interception in the end zone was the exclamation point to a huge win for the Birds. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brandon Boykin’s interception in the end zone was the exclamation point to a huge win for the Birds. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Washington drove from its own four-yard line down to the Eagles 18 with 40 seconds left. It looked like it was going to be another example of the Birds defense blowing a big lead in the fourth quarter.

But Eagles nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin saved the day with a drive-killing interception in the end zone that helped to preserve the win for the 6-5 Birds, who will head into the bye-week in sole possession of first-place in the NFC East. It was the Birds first win at home since Sept. 30, 2012 when they beat New York Giants on a late field goal.

“Everybody knew that someone had to step up and make it,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “There was no sense that we were going to let them get into the end zone. Everybody had that type of attitude that we were going to make a stop.”

In all honesty, the Eagles win over the Redskins was the type of game they would have lost last season.  To their credit, they found a way to pull off a huge victory when it looked like they were about to fall apart.

“Really, how are you going to react when things don’t go exactly the way you planned?” asked Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “That’s what I think I’m most proud of today, is how they reacted when it didn’t go our way, when they faced a bit of adversity, to kind of dig down deep and make a play when we had to make a play. That was a big sign for this team.”

Boykin, who remembers all too well how the Eagles defense had trouble closing out games last season, said the coaching staff under current defensive coordinator Billy Davis has done a good job of preparing them for late-game situations.

“It’s no panic, it’s not anything new to us. We practice this, so when you’re in a game situation, you treat it like practice,” Boykin said.

The Eagles also played well on defense in the other three quarters as well. For the sixth straight week, the Eagles have not allowed a team to score more than 21 points in a game.  The Birds sacked RGIII four times including his fumble in the red zone after a hard hit by linebacker Connor Barwin.  Linebacker Trent Cole also had a pair of sacks for the Eagles as well.

“They did a good job coming out in the beginning of the game and shutting down a lot of stuff that we were trying to do,” Griffin III said. “They were there where they needed to be; they were taking away the routes we were trying to run. That’s disheartening, but we have to make sure we come up with something to counteract that.”

Davis said his defense has progressed well since the first game of the season and especially since the loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 29.

“We know at the end when it gets all pressure-packed that you have to back to your fundamentals and your technique and your training,” Davis said. “This is what separates you.”

The Eagles scored their points on offense on a pair touchdown runs by LeSean McCoy and a four-yard run by quarterback Nick Foles. Alex Henery had a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter.

Eagles Are Getting Better on Defense

13 Nov

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles’ linebacker Mychal Kendricks was a rookie when the Eagles struggled through last year’s 4-12 season in which the defense blew games late in the fourth quarter or just got outright blown off the field. Quarterbacks like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Washington’s Robert Griffin III had field days carving up the Birds defense.

Through it all, Kendricks said the veterans kept telling him this wasn’t always going to be the case and that better days had to be around the corner.

“Some of the veterans told me ‘this is not the league, we’re supposed to be winning and having fun,” Kendrick recalled. “You’re supposed to win something. I just felt that morale was at an all-time low …This year I think this is what the league is supposed to be about.”

That’s because the Eagles defense has been a much better place than it was last year. Since a 52-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Eagles defense has not allowed a team to score more than 21 points. While they are not going to remind anyone just yet of the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, they have been a team that seems to get better with each game and they’re a lot better off than they were last season.

“Everybody is comfortable with what they’re doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.”Everybody knows their role; everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be doing it. Guys are flying around and having fun playing the game. That’s the difference.”

Ryans came up big against Green Bay with 11 solo tackles (13 overall), including two for a loss of yardage and he also had an interception. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Ryans is doing a good job of quarterbacking the defense.

“DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he’s having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn’t be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us,” Davis said. “He gets us in the best defense possible, and as the season has gone on we as a staff have gotten more and more comfortable in his ability to put us in good situations, and he has, and from there he’s done a great job playing the middle linebacker position, between tackle to tackle, he is a force. Whether it’s crossing routes he’s knocking out or his inside run game that he’s tackling.  He had one of the best form tackles I’ve seen in a long time last week.”

In the Eagles 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers, the defense came up with another big effort. They held the Packers to under 100 yards rushing and they forced two interceptions. The Birds managed to do it despite injuries to Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff. Najee Goode, who nearly had a pick-six and cornerback Roc Carmichael also played well for the Eagles.

The Birds secondary, which got burned for the big play quite often last season, has done a better job of limiting the big play and they’ve done a good job of tackling. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with three interceptions, said the loud music played during practice has helped the secondary do a better job of communicating with each other.

“I think what helps that is the music. That’s huge for us because the defensive backs have to over-communicate so when we get in the game it’s automatic. We’ve been working on that since whenever OTAs starting, so it’s second nature now,” Boykin said. “You have to focus on the play while other stuff is going on around you. When you get in a real environment, it’s easy.”

On the defensive line, the Birds got a solid effort from defensive tackle Vinny Curry, who seems to be getting better every time he’s on the field. Against the Packers, he had three tackles and had the lone Eagles sack in the game. Head coach Chip Kelly said Curry is getting better with each game.

“I think he’s getting better at just overall run defense,” Kelly said. “But in the run game itself, you know, I think Vinny is starting to get better and better.  It was his best game against the run this week.”

The Eagles defense has just 20 sacks in 10 games, but Davis said his squad has done a good job in putting pressure on the quarterback and making them uncomfortable in the pocket.

“Even though the sack numbers aren’t as high as we would like, but there’s pressures, there’s batted balls, there’s errant throws sometimes, just a matter of keeping the quarterback uncomfortable, and that ball that looks ugly was a bad pass had a lot to do with a throwing lane being clogged up or an arm up in the face or not having a clean lane to see in,” Davis said.

Birds Defense Plays Well in Loss to Dallas

21 Oct

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

https://thechrismurrayreport.org/2013/10/21/vicks-mobility-gives-the-eagles-a-better-chance-to-win/

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams reaches out to stop Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams reaches out to stop Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles defense did something to the Dallas Cowboys offense that the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins couldn’t do in the last two weeks.

They held Tony Romo and the Cowboys high-powered offense to under 20 points. That was the good news for the Birds defense. Of course, the bad news was that the offense provided little to no help and could only come away with a field goal in the Eagles 17-3 loss to Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field.

“All we know was that we had a game plan and we were going to execute that plan to the best of our ability and we did,” said defensive tackle Vinny Curry, who sacked Romo in the second quarter.

The Birds put pressure on Romo, sacking him twice and intercepting him twice. They held him to 69.2-passer rating.  He completed 28-of-47 passes for passes 317 yards with one touchdown pass.

The Eagles defense knew that players like wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had eight catches for 110 yards and no touchdowns, were going to put up numbers. They also figured that tight end Jason Witten was going to work the middle of the field. The Cowboys tight end caught four passes for 48 yards.

“I thought our guys did a nice job,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “(Dallas’) strength is their pass receivers and their quarterback. I thought our guys took a big step. They didn’t stop them, but it’s a very potent offense. They can put 45 on you real easy.

“I thought the pressure was better. I thought the coverage was tight. I thought I was going to give more doubles to Dez Bryant, but I didn’t have to. The corners did a nice job of handling them.”

The defense limited the Cowboy to a pair of touchdowns. That should have been enough for the Eagles to come out of the game with a win. But the offense didn’t do their part and it wasted what was probably the Eagles best defensive performance of the year.

“Anytime our defense plays that well we should win,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce.

“If you ask me before any game if our defense holds anybody to 17 points, we’re going to win or lose, I’ll tell you we’re going to win.”

In the fourth quarter, the Eagles defense put the offense in position to make the game close thanks to an interception by middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. With the Bird trailing 10-0 and the Cowboy looking to add more, the defense pressured Romo into throwing the pick.

“(The defense) was talking about getting some momentum and getting a turnover, and I was fortunate enough to come down with it,” said Ryans, who had one of the two sacks of Romo. “I was looking forward to it giving us some momentum and flipping it to our side.”

Unfortunately, the Eagles offense could only muster a field goal.  On the Cowboys next possession, Romo led them on a 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams.

When your offense is not helping you even the best defense is going to give up a score late in the game. It is akin to a pitcher in baseball having a good outing without run support.

The only solace the Eagles defense can take from this game is that they are getting better as a unit. For three straight weeks they have not allowed a team to score more than 21 points in a game.

“Guys know what they can and can’t do and you see how good we’re getting,” Ryans said. “Even though this was a solid outing, we still have some things to work on.”